THE PONT DU GARD

“At eventide it delighted him much to sit by the blazing fire
of fagots on the hearth and tell us tales of the Reign of
Terror, when during the Revolution he had dug a pit and had
hidden there many a poor fugitive. Then my mother would sing
the sweet old Provençal songs, _La Bello Margountoud_, _L’aucen
engabia_….

“Ballads and stories would be told by her while I drank in
with delight the wild legends of Provence.”–MISTRAL’S ACCOUNT
OF HIS PARENTS.

There are so many famous things connected with Provence that one never
comes to the end of them. There are dances and festivals and fires on St.
John’s Eve in honour of Baal (as there are, or were till quite lately,
in Scotland). There are rich wines and the far-famed _bouillabaisse_,
a dish of fish of mixed sorts, boiled with saffron, and, to feminine
palates, extremely nasty!

Great was our delight to see, in passing a side-road leading to a small
hostelry, a sign-board with the mystic word printed in triumphant letters.
This was local colour indeed! Our enthusiasm rose to boiling-point; I
doubt if even our critical friend could have chilled us at that moment.

Here was Provence and _bouillabaisse_; nothing disappointing; the
concoction not one whit less nauseous than one might have expected!

Dumas writes with ardour about the dish:–

“While polenta and macaroni possess all the characteristics of
primitive and antediluvian simplicity, _bouillabaisse_ is the
result of the most advanced state of culinary civilisation;
comprising in itself a whole epic of unexpected episodes and
extraordinary incidents.”

The celebrated wines of Chateauneuf-des-Papes, Sainte Baume, and others I
doubt if we tasted; but all the wines seemed ambrosial to us; especially
when it was “weather for singing the Peyrenolle,” a very ancient song
of which only the name remains in this saying of the people.

The dance of the _farandole_ is of Greek origin and must be infinitely
graceful, but alas! we only heard of it, never saw it danced. The dancers
join hands to form chains, each chain led by a man or a woman, who plays
a merry air on the _gaboulet_. These chains, following their leaders,
then form into lines, passing rapidly before one another in contrary
directions–like divergent currents–dancing in time to the music. And
then they swing off into circles and dance round and round maypoles and
walnut-trees, till the whole place is wild with merriment. On occasions
of great rejoicing the people used to dance the _farandole_ through the
streets, all joining in the whirling circles, rich and poor. It was like
a wind of joy flying through the city!

The people of Provence have also some Saracen dances, bequeathed to them
by that marauding people when they lived in the Mountains of the Moors,
in their rock-set fortresses: _Li Mouresco_ and _lis Ouliveto_, which
was danced after the olive harvest.

This pervasive characteristic of dance and song for which Provence is
so famous, doubtless springs from the fact that this people have never
ceased to be pagans.

The clergy of the Middle Ages in vain tried to suppress this element.
There are strange stories of the mingling of ancient customs
and diversions with Christian ceremonies: dancing and songs, the
antique chorus, and love-poems sung or recited in the very churches;
ecclesiastical discipline being far less stringent in the south than in
the north of France, where classic influences had been weaker. Religion
was associated in the minds of the Provençals with gaiety and festivals;
and the clergy, in order to attract and retain the people, had found
it necessary to recognise this pagan spirit which took its origin in
far-off generations when the Greeks founded Marseilles and its numerous
off-shoots; when for five and a half centuries the Romans ruled and
civilised the country. In the ninth and tenth centuries, moreover, the
clergy and the people of the south were more or less closely assimilated,
and this touch of paganism in the priesthood made possible what at first
sight challenges belief.

At Limoges, for instance, during the feast of St. Martial, the people used
to substitute for the words of the Latin liturgy some original couplets
in the Romance tongue: “St. Martial, pray for us, and we will dance for
you,” and they furthermore broke out into a dance in the church, without
the faintest sense of incongruity; for to these people worship, song,
and rhythmic movement were parts of one and the same impulse.

And–if one comes to that–on what ground have they been divorced?

The feast of Flora was celebrated in Provence till the sixteenth century,
when it was suppressed; the “mimes” and actors of antiquity were familiar
figures of the Middle Ages; among them a class of women jongleurs who
went about from city to city; and the wild feast of the Lupercal is said
to have had its mediæval representative in this essentially pagan land.

This was the epoch when Latin had about ceased to be a living tongue,
and from its corpse, so to speak, had arisen a multitude of dialects all
over the Roman world, among them the Romance or Provençal, the _Langue
d’Oc_, in which poems and legends were now written. Authors at this
time were nearly always monks, but they treated their subjects with
much freedom, as, for instance, in the _Vision of St. Paul_,[12] who
descends to the Infernal Regions to visit the “cantons of hell” and to
see the luckless sinners in their misery, each tormented appropriately
according to the nature of their transgression. The poem was evidently
a crude forerunner of the Divine Comedy.

From this popular literature the troubadour poetry of the next centuries
sprang, without, however, extinguishing its predecessors, which continued
to exist side by side with the new forms of art.

That character makes destiny is very clearly evidenced in Provençal
history. This rich, eventful, romantic story is just what a people
renowned for _bonté d’esprit_, grace, good looks, poetry, eloquence,
sentiment, passion, must inevitably weave for themselves in the course of
ages. From the time when paleolithic man was making rude stone implements
and living in caves or holes in the earth, this country has been busily
forming and developing the human body and soul, perhaps in a more clear
and visible sequence of progress that can easily be traced elsewhere.

The variety and persistence of ancient legends and customs serves to
indicate the road of evolution from stage to stage with picturesque
vividness. The prehistoric is not far off in this land, where Time
loses its illusory quality and seems to assume the character that all
philosophers attribute to it when they speak of the _Eternal Now_.

The mountains contiguous to the mountains of the Moors, the beautiful
Esterelles, so familiar to visitors on the Riviera, have a legend of
a fairy Estelle, or Esterella, who used to be worshipped there and to
receive sacrifices. The woodcutters dread the apparition. Her smile is
of such unearthly beauty that any man who sees her is so fascinated
that he is for ever drawn by a resistless longing to find her again,
and some “have spent years leaping from crag to crag, while others have
wandered away to lead the life of a hermit in forest shades.” Is this
a myth typifying the search after the Ideal and the Beautiful?

The Incourdoules have their Golden Goat which haunts the most inaccessible
fastnesses, living in a cavern full of precious stones and treasure.[13]

One day a mysterious man appeared and began to build a _cabanoun_, or
hut, in a lonely spot. He wore a sheepskin, red turban, and blue sash;
and when a woodcutter spoke to him he laughed mockingly and cried:–

“Taragnigna, Taragnigna!
Fai attension a la mouissara.
Vau a la vigna,
Vau a la vigna–
Vai-ti-pia!
Vai-ti-pia!
Taragnigna mia!”

(“Cobweb! cobweb!
Mark that spy!
I am going to the vineyard.
I am going to the vineyard.
We are in danger–we are lost!
Cobweb mine!”)

Whereupon an enormous black spider came swinging from the branch of
a pine, with menacing looks. The woodcutter said it was as large as
a _tesa-negra_ (blackhead or linnet). He flees in horror, but can’t
resist returning on the morrow to the mysterious _cabanoun_. He feels a
shivering feeling creep over him as he approaches, and is again greeted
by a burst of laughter. “_Ha, ha, ha, mon vieux, toccan li cique sardino
ensen_” (“Let us touch the five sardines together, neighbour,” _i.e._,
shake hands–common Provençal expression).

“Taragnigna! Taragnigna!
Fai attension a moun Vesin!”

and the great spider fixed his eyes on Sieur Guizol, the woodcutter, and
ran nimbly down its silken cord. Then the strange host comes down from
among the rafters and begins to talk. Finally, he tells his guest that
he has come to seek the _Cabro d’Or_, and breaks out again in a wild
song–“Taragnigna, you and I are going to make our fortunes.”

“Barba Garibo, e giorno, leve vo!
Porte de zenzibo,
Dame do a tre mério.
Un ome come vo
Ch’ ha vist tante cause
E ben giust che se repause
Che vos par d’aisso?
Barba Garibo! Barba Garibo!”

(“Uncle Garibo! it is day, arouse thyself!
Bring dry raisins,
Two or three small new potatoes–
A man like you,
Who so many things hast seen,
It is most just he should repose himself.
What think you of it? What think you of it?
Uncle Garibo! Uncle Garibo!”)

And the spider seemed to dance in a wild ecstasy, vibrating on his line
with immense impetus, quite close to Sieur Guizol’s face.

Then Guizol asks if his host really believes in the Golden Goat, and
the man addresses the spider indignantly.

“Ha! dost thou hear him Taragnigna? He doubts that the _Cabro d’Or_
lives here! But he won’t doubt when he gets some of his gold!”

And then he goes on to say that after that he will marry Guizol’s
daughter, Rosette, and they will all go down to the woodcutter’s home,
and the spider shall dance Li Mouresco every night.

“And thou shall give us _lis Ouliveto_,” he adds, addressing the
formidable insect; “for the Sieur does not know perhaps that I am a
_cornamousaire_.”

He draws out a bagpipe and commences to play.

“What, _brave ome!_ art thou going to dance? Now let me see if you have
forgotten the farandole,” and the musician lilted up a wild fantastic
tune, “and Sieur Guizol’s feet began to keep time to the music, and anon
faster and faster as the player played, faster and faster poor Guizol
danced, while the spider swung about as though in rapture.”

Thus the poor woodcutter is drawn under the will of the recluse and his
spider, and night after night, against his better judgment, against his
wish, he goes to meet the sorcerer at the hole in the mountain where
the Golden Goat guards his treasure.

* * * * *

Guizol is set to work to excavate, the other watching and holding aloft
two pine-torches. Fortunately for Guizol, Gastoun, the lover of Rosette,
had followed him one night, wondering uneasily at his regular absences
from home. Suddenly the gold-seeker leaps up, seeing a flag of stone.

“The treasure!” he yells. There is not a moment to lose, for if they do
not get the gold before the goat awakes, the chance is over.

“Oh, thou dear little _bletta oulivié_” (olive rod used for gold finding),
“thou didst not deceive me after all,” the man shouts, pouncing on a
vase and other buried objects. They begin to find the gold, when the
sorcerer suddenly takes an iron bar and knocks down his companion and
thrusts him into the hole crying, “Gold, gold, all mine now!”

But Gastoun rushes in and the two engage in a death-wrestle in the pitch
darkness.

“_Lo cabro d’or, lo dian!_” screams the man and rushes away past his foe,
who is dressed in a goat-skin; and so finally the story ends happily
with the rescue of the stunned Guizol and the betrothal of Gastoun and
Rosette.

When Gastoun afterwards visited the _cabanoun_ of the recluse, he found
it all burnt and a blackened skull lying among the stones. “A rustling
sound was heard and a huge black spider ran hastily across the stones and
climbed on the dead man’s skull,” fixing its eyes on the intruder. Then
it shot out its line and wafted itself to the few half-burnt rafters,
“and there it swung round and round in a perfect gavotte.” And for many
a day after, as it was rumoured in the mountains, there were strange
sounds at nightfall from the ruined _cabanoun_, and the peasants said
they heard the drone and cry of the _cornemuse_ and saw a skeleton seated
on a stone playing a horrible dance.

This story–founded on a legend that is said to exist in some form or
other all over the world–affords a quick picture of the place and the
people; but it is further remarkable as a story which seems founded on
some case of mesmeric power, probably by no means uncommon among these
mountaineers, a Celtic people, it is said, and perhaps for that reason
especially sensitive to this mysterious force.

There is a version of the legend at Nice in which the treasure-chamber
is under the bed of the Paglion. On a round table a life-sized gold goat
and kid are watched over by an exemplary demon who takes only an hour’s
sleep out of the twenty-four. If a bold adventurer can then creep in
and blow the golden trumpet that the demon is so ill-advised as to keep
handy for the purpose at his side, that imprudent spirit is forced to
remain fixed to the chair, while a swarm of little goblins come trooping
in to offer their services in carrying the treasure to any spot that
the seeker may decide.

The entrance to this treasure-chamber is the house of a magician between
the Tina dei Pagani (the Pagan’s Wine-vat, or Roman amphitheatre) and
the temple of Apollo, at Cimiez. The district is somewhat haunted by
demons and the sort of society that they frequent. The Witches’ Rock,
rising high beyond Mont Chauve in inaccessible crags, was dear to the
uncanny crew, and it was here they danced their “unearthly reels.”

On the Rocca di Dom at Avignon witches and wizards (_masc_ and _masco_)
used to assemble in the far-off days when there were only a few windmills
built upon the rock.

The story of the Hunchback of the Rocca di Dom is told of other places
also, but it seems to suit this spot better than any. Duncan Craig gives
a picturesque version of it.

The hunchback wandered up one night when the mistral was thundering
over the hill, setting the sails of the windmills tearing madly round.
And the moonlight was shining on the rock, calm through all the tumult.
The man can have had no tendency to insomnia, for he fell fast asleep
in the uproar, and when he woke it was to sounds of barbaric music and
the clashing of cymbals. And presently La Rocca was alive with a crowd
of faces, high-crowned conical hats, black satins and silks; and to the
great scandalisation of the watcher, grave and respected citizens of
Avignon arm-in-arm with the witches. And they were all dancing as hard as
they could dance, and the dust raised by the mistral whirled with them,
and the windmill sails tore round scrooping and creaking. New arrivals
would come on the scene, and these would receive strange salutations.

“Bon Vèspre, Cousin Chin!” (“Good evening, cousin dog.”) “Bono sero,
Cousin Cat!” “Bono niue, Coumpaire Loup!” (“Good-night, gossip Wolf.”)
“Coume vai, Misè Limace?” (“How are you, Mistress Snail?”) “Pas maw,
pas maw, Cousin Jano.”

And so they danced to their Saracenic music, and presently they began
to sing together a curious doggerel:–

“Dilun, Dimars e Demecre tres! Dilun, Dimars e Demecre tres!” (“Monday,
Tuesday, and Wednesday, three.”) And they sang it over and over and over
again.

At last this seems to have got upon the poor man’s nerves, for suddenly
he starts up and shouts–

“Dijou, Divendre, e Dissate, sieis.” (“Thursday, Friday, and Saturday,
six.”)

“Oh, lou brave gibous!” shriek the witches in chorus. “The dear hunchback
has come up here to complete our verse for us; Zou, we will make a man
of him.”

And they come towards him in a whirling circle, dancing round and round
him till he is dazed and dazzled and seems to lose consciousness, when
suddenly he finds himself breathless on the rock alone and–straight as
a pine!

Another hunchback, hearing of this strange cure, went up to La Rocca on
a night of storm, all ready to finish the witches’ rhyme for them. This
time it was:–

“Dilun, Dimars, e Demecre tres,
Dijou, Divendre, e Dissate sieis.”

“E Dimenche, set,” cried the hunchback, with enthusiasm. Whereupon there
was an awful howl and a great shudder that convulsed all the wicked crew.

“Who dares to speak of the Holy Day in these our revels?” a voice asked.

“Es lou gibous, lou marrit gibous! Zou, la gibo, la gibo. Gibo davans,
gibo darriè!”

And the luckless man found that, so far from being cured, he was
now doubly deformed–the old hump on the back and a new one on the
chest–through the malicious sorcery of the witches of La Rocca.

* * * * *

Provence is full of proverbs and quaint sayings, many of them very like
our own country saws about the weather and so forth.

“Ne per Magio, ne per Magiàn,
Non te leva o pelicàn.”

(“Neither for May, nor for warmest May,
Your winter coat should you take away.”)

“Se Febraro non febregia
Mars marsegia.”

(“If February be not cold
March will pierce the young and old.”)

“Non est tout or che relus,” is our old friend, “All is not gold that
glitters.”

There is a Nizard proverb very neatly put. “Experience keeps a school:
and it is the only one where thoughtless men will learn.”

Another saying expresses an all too common fate in a few words: “A dou
mau de la cabro de Moussu Sequin, que se bategue touto la niue ‘me lou
loup, e piei lou matin, lou loup la manje.”

(“He had the bad fortune of Monsieur Sequin’s goat, which fought all
night with the wolf, and then the wolf eat him in the morning.”)

There are many madrigals and songs of all sorts, all of them
characteristic; most of them inexpressibly charming. Perhaps the best
known is Magali, a quaint and tender expression of undying love which
death itself cannot daunt. Magali persistently refuses and flees from
the love of her adorer, who declares he will follow her even to the grave.

The following few quatrains taken here and there, will give the character
of the poem:–

“Less than the sound of wind that murmurs
Care I for thee or heed thy lay;
I’ll be an eel, and in the ocean
Through the blue waters glide away.”

“O Magali, if thou dost turn
Eel in the ocean,
Then ’tis a fisher I will be
And fish for thee.”

“If in the sea thy net thou castest
And in its toils I fall a prey,
I’ll be a bird, and to the forest
On my light pinions fly away.”

“O Magali, if thou dost turn
Fowl in the forest,
Then ’tis a fowler I will be
And capture thee.”

“Vain is thy passion, vain thy pursuit,
Never a moment shall I stay,
But in some oak’s rough bark I’ll guise me,
And in the dark woods hide away.”

“O Magali, if thou dost turn
Oak in the forest,
Then ’tis the ivy I will be,
And cling to thee.”

* * * * *

“Should’st thou once pass yon convent’s portals,
Naught shalt thou find but lifeless clay;
Round me the white-veiled sisters weeping,
As in the grave my corpse they lay.”

“O Magali, when thou, alas!
Art dead and silent,
I’ll be the earth that buries thee:
Then mine thou’lt be.”

“Now I believe no mocking mean’st thou;
Faithful thy vows; my heart they move,
Take from mine arm this crystal bangle,
Wear it in token of my love.”

“O Magali, see how the stars
That bright were shining
Now thou art come, O Magali,
Turn pale and flee.”[14]

It is most singular what an effect of song there is everywhere in this
country. The rivers seem to sing as they flow; the tall yellow reeds
sing as the wind stirs them; the olives have a little whispered canzo
of their own, and the mistral–even he roars a sort of rough baritone
in the general concert. No wonder the troubadours were born in this most
lyrical of lands.

They had songs for every possible occasion: the morning song or _aubade_,
the _serena_ or evening song, the _canzo_ or love-song, the _tenso_
for argumentative moods, the _descort_ when reproaching a cruel lady,
the complicated _sestina_ for moments of unbridled literary energy, the
_sirvente_ for general expression of views, the _planh_ or complaint, for
laments, as, for example, when Folquet of Marseilles (whose acquaintance
we are to make presently) writes of the death of Count Barral, Viscount
of Marseilles.[15]

“Like one who is so sad that he has lost the sense of sorrow,
I feel no pain or sadness; all is buried in forgetfulness.
For my loss is so overpowering that my heart cannot conceive
it, nor can any man understand its greatness.”

In the following translation of some extracts from a tenso, the
troubadours Bernart de Ventadour and Peirol discuss relations of personal
feeling and artistic creation:

_Peirol._ Little worth is the song that does not come from the heart,
and as love has left me, I have left song and dalliance.

_Bernart._ Peirol, you commit great folly, if you leave off those for
such a reason; if I had harboured wrath in my heart, I should have been
dead a year ago, for I also can find no love nor mercy. But for all that
I do not abandon singing, for there is no need of my losing two things.

And so they go on sharpening their wits in gay debate.

The _Ballada_ is the merriest and most joyous of all these songs. It is a
dance-song of the people dating from Greek times. It is sung and danced
by one person only, and seems to be a sort of outburst of individual
joy and delight in life. Its secret is said to lie in the “rhythm and
graceful waving motion, in conjunction with the musical accent”; the
effect, says Hueffer, “must have been of surpassing charm.”

“A l’entrada del tems clar, eya
Per joya recommençar, eya,
E per jelos irritar, eya,
Vol la regina mostrar
Q’el’ est si amoroza,
Alavi, alavia, jelos
Laissaz nos, laissaz nos
Ballar entre nos, entre nos.”

(“At the beginning of the bright season, eya,
In order to begin again joy, eya,
And to irritate the jealous, eya,
The queen resolves to show how amorous she is,
Away, away, ye jealous,
Let us, let us dance by ourselves, by ourselves.”)

“Amo de longo renadivo,
Amo jouiouso e fièro a vivo,
Qu’endibes dins lou brut dóu Rose e dóu Rousau!
Amo di séuvo armouniouso
E di calanco souleiouso,
De la patrio amo piouso,
T’apelle! encarno-te dins mi vers prouvençau!”

“CALENDAU”–MISTRAL.

(“Soul of my country ever new,
Joyous and fiery, gallant, true,
Who laughest in the waves of the Rhone,
Upstirred by Rousau on his throne,
Soul of the pine’s wood harmony,
And of each sun-creek of the sea;
Soul of my Fatherland’s dear shrine,
Inspire Provençal verses mine.”)

TRANSLATION BY DUNCAN CRAIG.

“You seem to have found a very interesting book,” said Barbara, with an
amused smile, to which I had grown accustomed.

“You have been poring over it for half an hour. I suppose it’s poetry,”
Barbara went on, with philosophical but not at all disdainful aloofness
from that particular form of human aberration.

“No–o; not conventionally speaking, poetry.”

In truth it was the local time-table.

But it was poetry after all. Consider the list of names: Avignon,
Tarascon, Beaucaire, Arles, Nimes, Montpellier, Béziers, Carcassonne,
Albi, Aigues Mortes, Carpentras, Cabestaing, Uzès, Vaucluse, L’Isle sur
Sorgue, Aix-en-Provence–all printed irreverently in heartless columns,
as if they were not worth mentioning except for their relation to time
and tide.

“Now which of all these desecrated shrines of history shall we go to?”

Barbara said they were one and all Greek to her at present, and she
would be happy with any of them.

“Suppose we just drift along this line–this bejewelled line–and let
things happen to the south-east, with only a few tooth-brushes in a
hand-bag?”

Barbara was perfectly willing, but said she _must_ take a night-gown
and a comb as well.

* * * * *

It was a glorious morning when the train puffed out of the station at
Avignon and took a sharp swerve in order to give us a fine last view of
that “little city of colossal aspect,” as Victor Hugo calls it. Always
that dominating palace on the height stretching long and massive across
the hillside. The high mountains to the south-east stood entrancingly
blue, Mont Ventoux looking as heavenly and innocent as if the bare
thought of harbouring–much more of deliberately producing a mistral
were a baseness of which she was utterly incapable. She would hesitate
at so much as a stiff breeze! Yet we had caught her in the act but
yesterday and had left behind in our boxes damning proof of her guilt
in the remnants of two once quite respectable hats which her _protégé_
had playfully divided into segments as we crossed the street to post
our letters.

[Illustration: TARASCON FROM BEAUCAIRE, SHOWING KING RENÉ’S CASTLE.
_By E. M. Synge._]

“Let us go to Tarascon!”

Barbara jumped at it, and we centred our hopes and imaginings on that
most Provençal of Provençal cities as the train puffed along on its
leisurely way.

The towers of Chateau Renard in the middle distance have a romantic,
mysterious effect, standing as they do on a rocky little hill just far
enough away to look strangely mysterious, with the soft bloom of the
spaces and the peaked ranges behind it. The station of Barbentane is
on the line, but we did not succeed in making out the village on the
hill-top.

Ardouin-Dumazet writes:–

“Les cultures enveloppent jusqu’au Rhone le petit massif sur lequel se
dresse la haute Tour de Barbentane.”

This gives one at once the character of the country. Further on we
come to La Montagnette de Tarascon, which “contrasts its bare slopes
with the opulent plain. It is like an island rising out of verdure–the
white calcined rock takes in an amusing fashion, the airs of a chain of
rocky mountains. The Montagnette is a miniature of the Alpilles, those
miniature Alps.”

The Alpilles–strange little knobbly mountains–grow into greater
prominence as we move eastward and the outline shows itself more than
ever eccentric and altogether out of fashion, as one imagines fashion
among mountains.

They have a style of their own, a marked personality that is very
fascinating. They were yet to explore, with their memories of the
campaign of Marius, their Courts of Love, their rock-hewn city of Les
Baux, their Trou d’Enfer, their haunts of the famous witch Tavèn and
her demon-companies. We had half a mind to divert from our route at once
and take the little local train up into the heart of the range, but not
liking to think ourselves lacking in decision of character, we nailed
our colours to the mast, and resolved to see Tarascon first.

The famous town lies charmingly on the river-side; a mass of roofs and
towers, with its castle of King René–that most delightful and lively
of monarchs; a real drawing-master castle, absurdly picturesque, with
two vast round machicolated towers (very troublesome to shade), and a
frowning entrance between them. (Surely all drawing-masters have taken
this castle as their model since time began!) On the landward side is
a dry moat and a stretch of grass and weeds (the weeds worked in with a
sharp professional touch in the foreground). Just across the Rhone the
vast bridge, which Tartarin thought too long and slender, leads to the
town and high up on the hill, proud and desolate, the rival castle of
Beaucaire.

“Embarras de Beaucaire!”

Ardouin-Dumazet says that in his childhood his family had a neighbour,
a good woman, whose exclamation on the smallest obstacle was invariably
“Embarras de Beaucaire!” And that, he adds, “gave us a grand idea of
the encumbered state of this famous town.”

“Si vous aviez vu Beaucaire pendant la foire!”

As we looked across that stupendous bridge, the phrase brought with it
the picture of a mass of booths along the quay, shipping and flags and
merchandise; and crowds in holiday costumes of every colour, for people
flocked from all countries to buy and sell at the great fair “celebrated
even beyond the Syrian deserts.”

“Lougres difformes,
Galéaces énormes,
Vaisseaux de toutes formes….”

Dumazet records a conversation he had with one old man who remembered
the great fair in his childhood.

“Then one should see Beaucaire!”

He described the coming of hundreds of ships, carrying each a whole
stable full of horses for towing up the river on the return journey;
and how the great canal brought boats from Aigues Mortes and Albi, and
the sea brought Turks, Algerians, Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, with
silk, pearls, figs, and a thousand objects of merchandise. Then the good
people of Beaucaire were inundated with heretics and pagans. When there
were disputes between the merchants, a tribunal on the spot settled the
matter. All was arranged in departments: silks, wools, cottons, whole
streets of booths devoted to jewellery, spices, coffee, and so forth.
In the evening the company cooked their dinners between stones on the
shores of the river; “and one shouted and one laughed, and the physicians
and the acrobats and the bear-tamers called to the crowd with loud cries
amid the noise of cymbals and tambourines. Fine ladies and gentlemen
came from long distances to see all that!”

We heave a sigh of regret at the passing away of so many bright and
cheering things, such as fairs and picturesque shipping, and turn to
wander, as the fancy takes us, about the pleasant streets of Tarascon,
visiting the tomb of St. Martha, but, through misdirection, missing
the Tarasque. However, we knew all about his very singular personal
appearance from descriptions and drawings. Tarascon is now probably more
associated with Tartarin in our minds than with St. Martha, but it is
a beautiful legend of the gentle saint who by sheer force of lovingness
was able to change the ravaging Tarasque–a creature certainly born with
no hereditary turn for polite usages–into a pleasant, regenerate animal
of gentlemanly manners. Along the bright ways of the city, as the legend
goes, the procession moved: a crowd of excited people, a beautiful woman
with a light playing round her head, leading by a silken cord the reformed
monster who ambles after her as quietly as if he were a pet-lamb: this
huge hybrid of a creature, with the body of an alligator, the legs of
a grand-piano, the head of a dragon, and a “floreat tail” of heraldic
design which he flourishes affably in response to the plaudits of the
multitude.

And never again did he ravage the country round Tarascon or carry off
so much as a single babe, after St. Martha had pointed out to him, with
her usual sweet reasonableness, how wrong-headed and how essentially
immoral such conduct had been.

It is disappointing to be told by an innovating savant that this sweet
lady was not St. Martha at all, but merely the Christianised form of the
ancient Phœnician goddess Martis, the patroness of sailors, who had for
her symbols a ship and a dragon. What _is_ one to be allowed to believe?

The Phœnicians, one has to admit, plied a busy trade along these coasts.
Their language has left traces in the Provençal dialects, and images
have been found at Marseilles of Melkarth and Melita, or Hercules and
Venus, known in the Bible as Baal and Ashtaroth. There has even been
discovered a tariff for sacrifices in the temple of Baal, giving a list
of dues legally established for the payments of the priests.

(Barbara was utterly confounded to find these distinctly Biblical deities
figuring so far from home.)

The tariff is a long affair, and goes into all possible details. But
the following extract maybe worth quoting:–

“For an entire ox, the ordinary sacrifice, the priests are to receive
10 shekels. At the sacrifice, in addition, 300 shekels of flesh,” and
so on.

But it does not follow, from all this, that St. Martha did not subdue
the Tarasque. Moreover, Tarasques are being subdued every day by Marthas
not by any means arrived at saintship. The old legend, be its origin
Christian, Phœnician, Celtic or classic, reads almost like a parable
by which to convey the old truth that love and kindness have power to
subdue evil which force has failed to overcome.

St. Martha’s tomb and shrine are in the church dedicated to her at
Tarascon, and, until lately, there were yearly processions through the
city, in which the gigantic creature was paraded in triumph, the legs
of the man inside being ingeniously “dissimulated by a band of stuff.”

“… les porteurs dansent et cabriolent de façon à faire agiter
le queue et a renverser les curieux trop voisins. (Pour queue
une poutre droite.)”

The Tarasque is furious on the second Sunday after Pentecost. But later,
on the day of St. Martha, he passes, gentle as a lamb, led by a young
girl. The man inside, with his “dissimulated legs,” curvets and gambols
amiably. And the people sing the “Lagagdigadeu,” a song invented, it is
said, by King René himself, inspired perhaps by the tumult of the _fête_
passing his castle down by the Rhone. Or just the swish of the waters as
they sweep past the walls of the donjon might easily set fancies ringing
in a head like King René’s, who saw things as they are, with the song
and the radiance in them.

And the people went following the procession, shouting:–

“Lagagdigadeu!
La Tarasco!
Lagagdigadeu
La Tarasco!
De Casteu!
Laissas la passa,
La vieio masco!
Laissas la passa–
Che vai dansa….”

And the Tarasque wags his tail (a straight beam, be it remembered)
and overturns some of the crowd. And the people are delighted with the
prowess of their beast. If one is injured they cry:

“A qua ben fe, la tarascoa rou un bré” (“Well done, the tarasque has
broken his arm”).

And the clumsy procession moves away and the crowds sing and shout:
“Voulen mai nostro tarasco” (“We wish again for our tarasque”). And so
they let off any amount of superfluous energy.

[Illustration: THE CHÂTEAU OF KING RENÉ, TARASCON.
_By Joseph Pennell._]

It is a subject for reflection among sociologists whether the dying out
of pageants and dancing, festivals of harvest and seed-time–all the
natural expressions of human joy–does not constitute a serious danger
to the modern state. For either that joy will find some less healthy
kind of expression or it will be killed altogether; and in that case
the race, as a race, must be killed also, as a flower deprived of the
sunshine and the airs of heaven. It is not joy, but the lack of it that
drives a nation mad!

So much for Puritanism!

No one can be in the South, above all in Provence, knowing of its ancient
festivals, its music, its farandoles and Saracenic dances, and fail to
be startled into new realisation of this element that has passed out of
our life, the menace that lies in the pervading dullness, that benumbed
worship of sorrow, of “work” and “duty” without understanding and without
freshness, that absence of fantasy and outcry that binds the modern world
in a terrible and unnatural silence. Of what avail is it that the people
are law-abiding at the cost of the very spring and essence of being?
There is a Nemesis that follows this sort of virtue: and it visits the
virtues of the fathers upon the children for many a hapless generation.
There is a curious example of this in the experience of the Society of
Friends who took upon themselves to banish colour and music from their
lives, for righteousness’ sake, and have now succeeded–according to
the testimony of one of their number–in also destroying all response
to those artistic appeals, so that whole realms of being are shut off
from the children of a race that was afraid to accept their complete
inheritance as human beings. It is to be hoped that the heart too has
been atrophied, for it is difficult to imagine a hotter hell than that
must be for a man or woman capable of the full tide of emotional life
and yet unable to find expression for it in heaven or earth!

For the vast majority of mankind there are now no recurrent pleasures
worthy of the name, no balance to the dead weight of mere toil and
_ennui_, no taste of that mysterious magnetism that dwells in throngs bent
on the same object, inspired by the same joyous idea. With the world of
to-day has come a dulling of the aspect of things, a loss of _élan_ and
fire; a perilous deprivation of the primitive form of artistic outpouring.
And it is more than doubtful whether mankind can exist without it. Is
there indeed any object in trying that dangerous experiment?

Why are the majority of moralists, who are so much concerned for the
“good of humanity,” so terrified at the sight of humanity a little happy
and spontaneous?

* * * * *

It is at Tarascon, for some unknown Provençal reason, that the famous
Arles sausages are made. We wondered if the accomplished city also
provided Arles with its beautiful women.

There is some difficulty in persuading oneself of the great antiquity
of the cheerful, sleepy little town. It looks indeed by no means new,
but the wear and tear seems rather that of the life of to-day than of
centuries ago. Yet Strabo (says Paul Mariéton) mentions ταραςκον
as much frequented in his time. Moreover, at Beaucaire, just across
the Rhone, there is a quarter called _Rouanesse_, which is said to be
a corruption of _Rhodanusia_, an ancient Greek colony.

For some reason or other we happened, in our wanderings, to return and
return again to the place till at last all strangeness seemed to depart
from it. It was beginning to have for us more or less the aspect that it
probably had for the natives, allowing, of course, always for the effect
upon them of never having seen much besides the sunny main street and
broad square, with their hotels and homely houses, and the plane-trees
whose thin shade is grateful even on a November morning. To see a place
too much is never to see it at all.

We grew familiar even with the faces of the people as they came and went
along the ample pavement which sets back the houses pleasantly far from
the road.

In the middle of this spreading, easy-going, desultory main street a
row of carriages for hire stand waiting under a few small trees for
the chance traveller who descends to see the sights of Tarascon between
trains.

“Voulez-vous une voiture, Mesdames, pour voir la ville? l’Église de Ste.
Marthe, le Château du Roi René, la tarasque, et Beaucaire; tout dans
une heure et quart, ou vingt minutes sans Beaucaire.”

We made this classic round on our first visit, including Beaucaire, and
a wonderful circlet of picturesque mediævalism it is; but afterwards we
preferred to find our own way; to wander through the great stone gate
on the left and glance or saunter down dozens of alluring byways, where
one would come upon fine old doors, carved lintels, canopies, shrines at
the street corners, flowers on the window-sills, the quick perspective
of street line dark against the sky, and everywhere the sharp lights
and shadows of the south.

Sometimes, indeed, we would take a drive if only to please the
good-natured “_Tartarins_” who drove the carriages. Their black eyes and
bronzed skin were very impressive at first, but when the effect of these
had begun to wear off, we realised that close resemblance to the tenor
of an opera did not involve anything dramatic in type of character. They
were quiet, industrious, polite fellows, earning their meagre living by
a somewhat precarious industry. But of that presently.

Our particular Tartarin was somewhat shocked that we had not yet seen
the tarasque, so there was nothing for it but to set forth in quest of
the monster.

There is in the museum at Avignon a strange, uncanny beast carved in
stone which is called the tarasque, but the effigy that is, or used to be,
carried round the town at Tarascon is quite a young and giddy creature,
built of painted wood, and passes its existence during the intervals of
public function in a sort of large stable which is kept under lock and
key.

We were driven solemnly through the narrow streets, till at length the
fly drew up and we alighted at a stately portal, where, after a few
moments of waiting, the custodian appeared with his keys, and then back
the doors scrooped on their hinges.

Laughter was out of keeping with the occasion; our poor _cocher_ would
have been cut to the heart, but it was hard work to behave decorously.
Out of an old-Dutch-master gloom of background loomed forth a grotesquely
terrible monster, whose proper sphere was certainly the pantomime.
Enormous red-rimmed eyes stared ferociously at the intruders from a
round, cat-like face rayed with bristling white whiskers. There was
also a touch of hippopotamus in the cast of countenance, only it lacked
the sweeter expression of that more philosophic beast. The creature had
evidently had a new coat of paint–black with red facings–for the huge
body was beautifully glossy.

“La voilà, la tarasque!” said our coachman, with pardonable pride.

We hesitated in our comments. Barbara, rather from lack of familiarity
with the _nuances_ of the language than from any want of frankness,
murmured something about “très jolie”; and Tartarin said, “En effet,
Madame, mais on devait la voir quand on fait le tour de la ville au jour
de fête, mais c’est épatant!”

“Je le crois bien,” I murmured appreciatively.

Tartarin suggested that we might like to see the rest of the animal before
leaving, and so we made the round (he extended far into the depths of
his gloomy dwelling), admiring the pose and the noble proportions of the
creature–rather like an old-fashioned locomotive–and the formidable
nature of the tail. Then we felt that without indiscretion we might
depart. As we drove off we caught a last glimpse of that unspeakably
ridiculous beast who stood glaring at nothing in the darkness, silent
and steadily ferocious to the last. Then the great doors were swung
together and the pride of Tarascon was hidden from our view.

One could but laugh, and yet that absurd effigy was the representative
of the beginnings of our history as a race!

The Christian version of the story is of yesterday: the arrival of the
saints on the shores of pagan Gaul and the conversion of Tarascon to the
new faith by St. Martha. Some trace the legend to Phœnician sources, as
has been already mentioned; more frequently the animal is regarded as
a Celtic deity or demon, and there are stories of Hercules and a giant
named Taras or Tauriskos: the classic form of the tradition. In any case
it belongs to the Twilight of the Gods, and if one could really trace
the family tree of that mongrel monster to its roots one would possibly
acquire a good deal of knowledge that would startle archæologists.

It was not till late in the fifteenth century, however, that the _fête_
of the tarasque was instituted by King René, that most artistic of
monarchs, who loved to see his people gay and happy; so it was somewhat
later than the real troubadour days that our cat-hippopotamus began
to enjoy a sort of established position; which shows that no one need
despair of appreciation if only he will wait long enough.

We visited more than once the shrine of the gentle conqueror of the
tarasque: standing–it was startling to remember–on the very spot
where Clovis, King of the Franks, once stood, when newly converted to
Christianity by his saintly wife Clothilde. The shrine is in a quiet,
half-subterranean chapel in the church of her name. The tomb is under
a low vault and the marble figure of the saint rests on the big stone
slab with joined hands and a look of deep peace on her beautiful face.
Certainly it is the face of a woman who might win over ravaging monsters
to sweetness and light. Above the tomb is the inscription:

_Solicita non turbima._

Broad steps flecked with colour from the stained-glass window opposite
lead down to the dim little crypt where she sleeps, and one hanging
lamp burns in the twilight and the silence which seems too deep and
too far below the surface of the life of the moment to be disturbed by
the irrelevant steps and voices of visitors, or by the troops of little
girls who come under the care of a nun to visit the shrine.

* * * * *

The regions down by the Castle of King René are delightful to loiter in on
a warm day. Of vast size and solidity, this fourteenth-century fortress
is full of the atmosphere of romance. The southern wall plunges sheer
into the Rhone; at right angles to this river front stretches the mass
of the building; tower and barbican and battlement in splendid array,
the dry moat and the road running alongside.

What observant traveller passing at the foot of some ancient tower has
not noticed the magical aspect of its line of luminous contact with the
fields of the air?

[Illustration: ENTRANCE TO KING RENÉ’S CASTLE, TARASCON
_By E. M. Synge._]

The immense block of masonry from its roots in the soil to its battlements
in the sky stands clear against the mysterious spaces, and presently
it seems to stir and lean forward, as if it might fall or drift away
in emulation of some free-born cloud that swims over its head. It is
delightful to loiter in the road by the moat just below the hillock that
rises to the river-bank and opposite the last of the towers, which stands
at the angle of the castle between land and water. At this spot nothing
can be seen of hill and river, only the tower and sky. They meet at the
magic line–inexorable stone and quivering ether; substance enthralled
and infinity in motion!

Floods of light from the steady tumult of the waters are reflected upon
the cream-white walls and fill the whole atmosphere. It seems to tremble
against the tower as one watches. And one knows that more obviously than
usual one stands at the gate of the Eternal Mystery.

* * * * *

At the top of the hillock the river bursts into view, incredibly broad,
hurrying, joyous, with Beaucaire on its opposite shore watched over by
the ruined keep on the height: the scene of that most charming of old
French romances, “Aucassin and Nicolette.”

Just before the eye, a little below King René’s Castle, is the famous
bridge; it might be the bridge between this world and the next, between
Good and Evil, between Heaven and Hell, so long it is. The great whisper
of the tide is audible now to any one who elects to pause here in
the sunshine and listen. There is a little hidden corner at the angle
between the castle and a curtain of wall that meets it into which the
water sweeping along the castle side is flung and repulsed with a great
back-surge, meeting, as it returns, the edges of the main current and so
falling into an immense conflict, fascinating to watch with its hundred
whirlpools and hollows, swellings and eddies, and all the babbling and
complaining of torrents detained in their ever-pressing errand. One
could spend hours on the spot, and in adventurous moods might yield to
the temptation of walking along the broad ledge of the curtain-wall till
one stood just above the dizzy spot where the waters swing together and
hurl themselves back with anger and trembling into the great stream.

“Mais radieux
Et ivre de votre lumière du Rhone,
Haussez les verres à la cause vaincue.”

Truly the spot in which to drink to lost causes!

“Qui donc disait qu’il n’y a ni fraicheur ni ombre en Provence!
Il semble y avoir là-bas dans le tortueux lointain de la
rivière, un infini de rêverie, un paradis melancolique….
Je contemple la noble structure du Pont Géant, ces arcades
silencieuses qui semblent dévorer de l’azur.”

PAUL MARIÉTON.

Barbara had heard of the approaching arrival of some cherished relations
in Provence, and as blood is the thickest of all substances–impenetrable
by the X or any other rays–it was arranged that she should meet them
at an appointed rendezvous and stay with them till the common fluid
that flowed in their veins had been satisfied. Then she was to return
to continue our joint adventures.

So one fine day I found myself alone at Tarascon. It is supposed to be
necessary to have some idea of what one is going to do with oneself
in a place before electing to go there, but this I believe to be a
superstition. It is only necessary to present oneself and destiny will
do the rest.

Yet I had seen everything of note in Tarascon, and Tartarin was evidently
concerned about me, for even he could suggest nothing further. We
were discussing possibilities in a desultory manner when one of his
professional brothers passed at a rattling pace with a fare evidently
just returned from doing Tarascon in the twenty minutes–“sans Beaucaire.”

The inmate of the fly was pale and lank, with colourless hair. I gave a
start–my critical Englishman of the Pont du Gard! The hat went off, and
I caught, as the carriage rolled by, the simple words, “Wretched hole;
not a decent—-” but the movement of the fly bereft me of the end of
the sentence.

“How far is it to the Pont du Gard?” I asked, with the swiftness of
inspiration.

Tartarin’s face brightened.

“Est-ce que Madame désire d’y aller?”

“Certainement.”

Tartarin rubbed his hands. We could start after the _déjeuner_ and be
back at the Hôtel de la Couronne in the late afternoon. It was about
eighteen kilometres; a fine long job for Tartarin, who usually had to
take his chance with the many other drivers for quite a short round of
the town. The Pont du Gard being more usually visited from Nimes, the
expedition was a windfall for our friend.

So we set off. The carriage would not open, and as the day was warm with
the sun in spite of a cold wind, it was annoying to be shut into a stuffy
little box which hid from view half the long stretches of country, and
allowed one no time to dwell upon the features of the farms and villages,
for one could look neither back nor forward. But there were, as a matter
of fact, but few villages, only farms. _Mas_ is the Provençal for a
farm, as any reader of Mistral will soon learn, for the poet is never
tired of dwelling on the simple and, it would seem, exceptionally happy
life that is passed in these homesteads; the owner a sort of benevolent
patriarch directing the labours of sowing, sheep-shearing, the vintage,
the olive gathering, the treading of the corn, and the harvest. It is
Mistral’s own father whom he describes so often with so much affection
and reverence:–

[Illustration: THE PONT DU GARD.
_By E. M. Synge._]

“When the old man came to die he said, ‘Frederi que tems fai?’
(‘Frederick, what kind of weather is it?’) I replied, ‘Plou, moun paire.’
‘Ah! ben, se plou fai ben tems per li semenco,’ and rendered up his soul
to God.[16] You won’t wonder,” added the poet, at my writing in Mireille
this verse–

“‘Coume au mas, coume au tems de
Moun Paire, ai! ai! ai!'”

(“As at a farm in the time of my father, Alas, alas, alas!”)

The carriage soon swallowed the eighteen kilometres of level road, the
country changing in character as we neared the banks of the Gard. Here
began the great cliffs which had inspired the Romans with the truly
Imperial idea of carrying water to Nimes across the river from height
to height, for with all their engineering skill this great people did
not know that water will rise to its own level.

The magnificent bridge came suddenly into view, startling in its
forty-nine metres of solid grandeur. Three tiers of arches lifted
themselves one above the other; the lowest series short and solid, the
second more slender and taller, rising in its haughty Roman way to carry
the third and most towering of all, at whose summit in the sky used to
run the water which supplied the people of Nimes when they were Roman
citizens. It was there on hot summer days that they revelled in their
splendid baths (fed by the great aqueduct) which may still be seen in
the public gardens, with cool open marble courts some eight or ten feet
below the level of the soil, where stone Tritons and Neptunes kept watch
over the waters that flowed refreshingly among the white columns, and
lay green and still in little murmuring grottoes well sheltered from the
sun. It was then, too, that these luxurious citizens used to assemble in
their thousands to see beasts and men fight for dear life in the great
amphitheatre; and then that some Roman built the curious Tour Magne
that puzzles the learned and dominates the town to this day. The Pont du
Gard must have presented precisely the same aspect to those old Romans
as it does to us, for scarcely a stone has been disturbed in all these
centuries.

[Illustration: THE ROMAN TOUR MAGNE, NIMES, FROM THE FOUNTAIN GARDEN.
_By Joseph Pennell._]

It is not surprising that its magnificent design should have been
attributed in the middle ages to the devil.

The story is that the architect, overwhelmed with the difficulty of the
task and the number of times the river had carried away the uncompleted
arches, was almost thinking of abandoning it altogether, when the
enterprising enemy of mankind approached with the offer to construct
the bridge in such a way as never bridge had been constructed before,
for the trifling consideration of the first soul that should cross it
after its completion.

The architect went home to his wife in mingled elation and despair.

The couple had evidently not had traffic with the devil for nothing,
for they hit upon the contemptibly mean device of thrusting the penalty
of their evil compact upon helpless and innocent shoulders. The wife
suggested that they should set free a hare at one end of the bridge
and let it run across to the devourer of souls, who was to wait at the
other end with an open sack to catch his prey. And the trick succeeded.
When the poor hare arrived at the fatal end of the bridge the devil,
recognising in a fury how he had been duped, flung the animal against
the wall, where it is said its impress on the stone can be seen to this
day.[17]

The task of the tourist is to cross the river on the topmost tier of
arches, through the disused aqueduct, and I set forth to accomplish this
apparently break-neck feat. It is in reality quite easy. One has but to
walk over the bridge that runs along the lowest tier of arches and then
scramble up the rough hill on the opposite side of the river. The arches
seen thus in sharp perspective are sublime, and they seem never-ending.

On the hillside grow many sweet-smelling aromatic plants, and they tempt
one to linger that one may bruise the leaves and so enjoy the fresh
wholesomeness of the perfume. Below, at a dizzy distance, runs the Gard,
the shores rich with woods over which now is a sort of mysterious bloom
that seems in perfect keeping with the unseen Enchanted Castle filled
with exquisite works of art from all the quarters of the globe, that
hides somewhere among the foliage a little lower down the stream.

Ascending to the level of the aqueduct one sees traces of its route over
the hill on the way to Nimes. To reach it one must mount a short stair,
and then one finds oneself in an immensely long tunnel, about seven or
eight feet high, roofed in with stone slabs, which, however, are lacking
here and there, so that the passage is dimly lighted. Along this ruined
watercourse I crossed the Gard. It was like walking through a catacomb
open at intervals to the sky. Here and there through chinks between the
slabs, or in places where they had been broken away, one could catch
glimpses of beautiful reaches of the river.

One emerges at the end of the tunnel on to a rough hillside, covered with
shrubs, brambles, shaggy trees, and masses of ivy, a sort of Salvator
Rosa landscape under the clouded heavens; for the day had changed and
a mantle of grey spread itself over the majestic scene.

Scrambling down by chance steep pathways among the shrubs–losing my way
more than once by following tracks that led to the edge of some miniature
precipice–I found myself wondering, in the foolish, insistent way that
one does wonder about trivial things, whether our tourist friend had
managed to feel as disappointed as he had expected he would be with the
Pont du Gard.

It looked absolutely sublime as one retreated from it on the homeward
way; its towering arches rearing themselves tier above tier, like some
dauntless human life lived steadily for a great purpose. And the storms
of centuries have not been able to touch its splendour, though for ever
they assail it–rain and sun, rain and sun, as the Provençal children
sing–

“Plou, plou, souléio
Sus lou pont de Marseio.”