A Book of the Cevennes/Round About Le Puy

CHAPTER IV


ROUND ABOUT LE PUY


Limitations of language—Guides to Le Velay—Espaly—The castle—Death of Charles VI.—The Orgues—Baron de S. Vidal—La Roche Lambert—Polignac—The oracle of Apollo—S. Paulien—Roman remains—Julien, the sculptor—Barrier of the Loire—Vorey—La Lepreuse—Chamalières—Mézenc—Les Estables—Ascent—La Foire aux Violettes—The violet harvest—Flora of Mézenc—Gerbier de Jonc—View—Lake of Issarlès—Menaced—A man without a chance in life—Le Monastier—Stevenson's estimate of the people—The abbey—Change of names—Arlempdes—Caves of Chacornac—Mandrin—The haunted mill of Perbet.


THERE exist but a limited number of terms wherewith to describe an infinite variety of natural objects that possess one common character, but differ from one another in every other particular. Needle,

spike, pinnacle, spire, obelisk have to serve for all rocks that start up from the soil and terminate in a point. Ravine, gorge, fissure, chasm, canon have to be employed indiscriminately for those clefts in the surface, rents formed by the contraction on cooling of the earth's crust, or by the erosion of water. And yet all the difference in the world exists between spires of tufa and trap and those of granite or of limestone. The gorge down which swirls the river between calcareous walls is one thing, that which is cleft into a street lined
Basalt, Espaly - A book of the Cevennes.jpg


Basalt, Espaly

with basaltic columns is another, yet the same term must be employed for both.

If it fell to me to describe all the most remarkable sites in Le Velay, I should have to use these expressions ad nauseam, and leave off with the consciousness that I had conveyed to the mind of the reader but a poor idea of the wonders of a wondrous land.

Happily for me, my purpose is not so extensive. I have not undertaken to write a guide-book. Baedeker has given us the skeleton of a tour in this region in five pages. Joanne has clothed the bones with flesh and blood in thirteen or fourteen, and Ardouin Dumazet has breathed into it the breath of life in three hundred and seventy. Moreover, a Syndicat d'Initiative exists at Le Puy that distributes gratis a capital guide to the sights around. But it does more than this. Throughout the summer, at a trifling cost, it organises excursions, provides vehicles to every point of interest that can be visited in a day.

A farmer does not take to market all the corn thrashed out of his stack, but a sample of his produce. He opens his hand and displays the grain to a would-be purchaser, and all I can pretend to do in this chapter is to give a few samples of what Le Velay has to show to a visitor, and I shall begin with Espaly, easily reached by electric tram. There, out of the valley of the Borne, rise two volcanic crags, washed by the river. One of these is surmounted by a toy castle, a battlemented summer-house that belongs to a gentleman of Le Puy. The other, and by far the finer, was once capped by the castle of the bishops of Le Puy. In this a bishop-designate halted the night before making his entry into the city, and here, before he was suffered to enter, the consuls of the town exacted from him an oath to respect its liberties. Charles the Dauphin, son of Charles VI., was staying in this castle in 1422, on October 25th, when, at 7 p.m., he received the tidings of the death of his father, which had taken place five days before. He at once ordered the De profundis to be chanted, and put on mourning, which he quitted on the 27th to array himself in purple velvet. Mass was performed, and then the banner of France was unfurled to shouts of "Vive le Roy!" After that he departed for Poitiers, where he was crowned.

By far the finest view of the rocks is to be had from the bridge over the Borne.

Of the castle almost nothing remains. It was blown up by order of S. Vidal, and now the fragments are incorporated in a wall set with peepholes, and surmounted by what looks like a gigantic gasholder, but which is intended to serve as a pedestal for a colossal statue of S. Joseph.

The Orgues d'Espaly attract visitors. The organ front forms the face of a spur of Mont Denise, and is composed of ranges of basaltic columns. We shall see others far finer in the gorge of the Allier and in the mountains of Vivarais.

Some way up the valley of the Borne stand the well-preserved ruins of the castle of Saint Vidal, the sturdy Leaguer. Near this are a cascade of the Borne and the ravine of Estreys.

Antoine, Baron de la Tour, and de Segard, and de S. Vidal, Governor of Le Velay, made a desperate and ineffectual effort, conjointly with the Governor of the Vivarais, in 1572, to capture the castle of Beaudiné in Velay, held by the Huguenot captain, La Vacheresse, who had secured it by stratagem, and who from it issued to ravage the country, destroy churches, hang priests and monks, and levy blackmail on the villages.

Two months later he was wounded at Espaly, as related. In the same year he was successful in dispossessing the Calvinists of five other castles. Then he besieged and took the town of Tence, hung the pastors, and gave up the inhabitants to massacre.

In 1577 he laid siege to Ambert in Auvergne, but failed to take it, and retired discomfited. By royal command, in 1580 he advanced upon S. Agrève, which had become the head-quarters of the Calvinists in the Vivarais. During the siege he lost an eye. After having taken measures for the defence of Le Puy, which was menaced by Polignac, who was at war with the city, he hastened to the relief of Bédoués in the Gevaudan, that was besieged by the redoubted Captain Merle, but was unsuccessful.

A few years later, in 1586, he left Le Puy with six cannons to assist the Duke of Joyeuse in the siege of Malziac. It was taken, and he was appointed governor; he also obtained the governorship of Marvejols, which capitulated after a siege of eight days. In 1588 he was before S. Agrève for the second time, and he took it and levelled the town walls. Devoted to the cause of the League, he hotly and zealously contested the governorship of Velay with De Chattes, who had been appointed by Henry IV. In 1590 he beseiged Espaly again, burnt the town, and blew up the castle. In a negotiation in 1591 between the Royalists and the Leaguers the quarrel took so personal a turn that S. Vidal and the commandant of Le Puy challenged De Chattes and another to duel, and in it S. Vidal fell.

Still further up this picturesque stream is the Castle de La Roche Lambert, the theatre of Georges Sand's novel Jean de la Roche.

"I may say without exaggeration that I was reared in a rock. The castle of my fathers is strangely incrusted into an excavation in a wall of basalt five hundred feet high. The base of this wall, with that face to face with it of identically the same rock, form a narrow and sinuous valley, through which winds and leaps an inoffensive torrent in impetuous cascades, athwart delicious meadows shaded by willows and nut trees.

"This Château de la Roche is a nest—a nest of troglodites, inasmuch as the whole flank of the rock we occupy is riddled with holes and irregular chambers which tradition points to as the residence of ancient savages, and which antiquaries do not hesitate to attribute to a prehistoric people.

"The castle of my fathers is planted high up on a ledge of rock, but so that the tops of the conical roofs of the towers just reach above the level of the plain. One detail will illustrate our situation. My mother having poor health, and having no other place to walk save one little platform before the castle on the edge of the abyss, took it into her head to create for herself a garden at the summit of the crag on which we were perched."

The castle, which Georges Sand describes as in a dilapidated condition, and a "vrai bijou d'architecture," is small, and its chambers are scooped out of the rock. It has been carefully restored, and is a museum of medieval antiquities, armour, old cabinets, and tapestry.

The road from Le Puy to Paris quits the valley of the Borne, and ascends the slopes of Mont Denise. As it mounts it commands grand views. To the east is stretched the long chain culminating in Mézenc, and
CASTLE OF LA ROCHE LAMBERT- A book of the Cevennes.jpg


CASTLE OF LA ROCHE LAMBERT

Mégal with its group of sucs. M. Paulett Scrope's panorama should be taken so as to identify the peaks.

After turning the flank of Mont Denise, the most modern of the volcanoes, a basin opens before one, out of which starts up the lava mass, like a huge pork-pie, that supports the scanty remains of the Castle of Polignac, the eagle nest of this mighty family. At the foot of the crag lies the village like a red girdle encircling it. Only the donjon of the fortress remains perfect, repaired in 1893-7 by Heracleus Armand XXV., Duke of Polignac. The entire platform was at one time covered with buildings; now only foundations can be traced. But the fallen masses have revealed the fact that this was a stronghold before the Polignacs were thought of. It was certainly a prehistoric fortress, then a Gaulish oppidum, next a Roman station. The name has been supposed to derive from Apollo, who is thought to have had a temple here, whence oracles were delivered. Within the precincts is a vault in which is the mouth of a well 250 feet deep reaching to a spring. It is conjectured that a colossal mask of stone, with open mouth, represents the bearded head of a local Apollo, and that priests concealed in the subterranean chamber uttered oracles which were made to issue from the mouth. What is more certain is that an inscription of the time of the Emperor Claudius has been found here, and that Roman tablets are built into the walls of the little Romanesque church below the rock.

The Paris road leads onwards to S. Paulien, the ancient Ruessio capital of the tribe of the Velavi. It has little to interest the visitor. A stone now surmounted by a cross is called Lou Peyrou dou tresvirs, the stone of the Triumviri, on which are carved three heads; the church, reconstructed in the ninth century, stands on the ruins of an edifice of the fourth. Some Roman fragments are incrusted in the walk. Above the town, built into modern constructions, are many fragments of the old city. The chapel of N. Dame du Haut-Solier has been regarded as occupying the site of a temple dedicated to the sun, and is built up of Gallo-Roman materials. Hereabouts the spade is continually turning up relics, among others were found a head of Jupiter Serapis, and inscriptions, of which one is commemorative of Etruscilla, wife of the Emperor Decius. The chapel of the Sisters of S. Joseph possesses a Romanesque doorway with bold zigzag ornament, removed from the ruined commandery of Montredon.

S. Paulien was the birthplace of the sculptor Julien, of whose work some specimens may be seen in the museum at Le Puy. He was a shepherd boy, the son of very poor parents, but he had an uncle in the Jesuit Order. One day this priest, walking on a bit of wild moor scantily covered with coarse grass and juniper bushes, lit on his nephew, then aged fourteen, guarding his flock, and engaged in modelling a figure out of clay with a bit of stick. The lad looked up with his brown, intelligent eyes, coloured, and said—

"Sorry, mon père, that the figure is so bad."

"Bad!" exclaimed the priest. "Do you call that bad? On the contrary, I pronounce it admirable. Go on and prosper." He hastened back to S. Paulien, burst in on the Julien family, and insisted on their surrendering the lad to him. "He is moulding a saint out of clay," said the Jesuit. "Give me that lump of humanity, and I will shape it into a great artist." So the uncle carried off young Julien and committed him to the sculptor Samuel at Le Puy. The pupil speedily surpassed his master, and went to Lyons, and thence to Paris, where he was under Coustin, sculptor to the King. He was elected to the Academy in 1778, and was highly favoured by Louis XVI. But evil days came, not for nobles only, but also for artists. The Revolution broke out, and men were more busy in framing constitutions than in fostering art. Not till the times of the Consulate and Empire was occupation found for sculptors and painters. However, Julien had made sufficient money before the upheaval to be able to purchase for himself a little estate near Le Puy, and to that he retired till better days came. He was born in 1731, and died in the Louvre, in 1804. His bust as a shepherd boy adorns a fountain at S. Paulien.

After traversing the basin of Emblavès below Le Puy, the Loire enters a second defile, where its passage was barred by a great current of clinkstone, or laminated lava, poured forth from Mézenc, and of this two colossal remnants exist, the rocks Miaune and Gerbison, rising one on each side of the river to a height of 1,800 feet above it. This enormous dyke suddenly thrown across the valley must have caused the waters of the Loire to accumulate into a vast lake, till they effected their escape by sawing through it.

Where, further up, the Arzon flows into the Loire is Vorey, lapped in a fold of the mountains, facing Gerbison, which is striated with rills descending in small cascades.

On June 16th, annually, is celebrated at Vorey a Mass "de la Lepreuse," which is attended by the people of the hamlets of Vertaure and Eyravazet. Once upon a time a ragged leper woman arrived at the latter cluster of houses and begged for food. No one would give her even a crust of bread or a bowl of milk. She went on to Vertaure, and there fared as ill; and she crept for the night into an abandoned shed, where she remained too exhausted to proceed further, and there she died. Whereupon the people dug a deep pit and cast in the corpse and the woodwork and thatch of the shed, and heaped earth over the grave. The spot is still pointed out, and is called Las Cabannas. After that, for several years in succession, hailstorms smote the harvests and blighted the vines, whereas about Las Cabannas all remained green and flowery. Then the inhabitants of the two hamlets conceived that they were being punished for their lack of charity, and vowed a Mass in perpetuity for the repose of the leper-woman's soul. Her body was exhumed, conveyed to Vorey, and there buried in holy ground, and she herself received a popular canonisation as Ste. Juliette.

The Loire receives a goodly addition of water through the Arzon, and below Vorey descends through profound gorges to Chamalières, a village inhabited by quarrymen, and preserving one of the most curious and interesting Romanesque churches of the department. It is of the twelfth century, and has an arcaded clerestory. There are three windows in this clerestory on each side, and between the windows blind arches, some circular, some trefoil-headed. The tower is of two stages, with four windows on the first and two on the second, on each side; it is capped by a curious octagonal stone spire, rising from an octagonal lantern, with trefoil-headed windows, and nothing but a slight moulding indicates the junction.

Mezenc - A book of the Cevennes.jpg


Mezenc

The Mézenc, the highest of the Cevennes, rises out of a dreary plateau. It is, says M. Paulett Scrope:—

"The most elevated of an extensive system of volcanic rocks, resting partly on granite or gneiss, and in part on the Jurassic formation, which by their position and constitution prove themselves to be the remains of a single and powerful volcano, of the same character as those in the Mont Dore and Cantal. Its products, however, are disposed in a somewhat different manner, being spread over an almost equally extensive surface without accumulating into such mountainous masses around their centre of eruption. Two causes seem to have contributed to occasion this diversity of aspect, namely: first, that the eruptions of this volcano appear to have been less frequent than in the other instances; secondly, that its lavas consist either of basalt or clinkstone almost exclusively. They therefore were possessed of great comparative fluidity; and having burst out on one of the highest eminences of the primary platform, which afforded a considerable slope in most directions, they appear to have flowed to great distances immediately upon their protusion from the volcanic vent.

"We shall be fully justified, by the universal declination of these volcanic beds from the Mont Mézenc, in fixing the site of the eruptions in its immediate proximity; and on the south-east of this rocky eminence, in the vicinity of the Croix des Boutières, there still exists a semicircular basin whose steep sides are entirely formed of scoriæ and loose masses of very cellular and reddish-coloured clinkstones."

The desolate tableland over which one travels to reach Mézenc is well described by Georges Sand in her novel Le Marquis de Villemer, and the backward and unprogressive character of the inhabitants has not altered since her time.

The carriage is left at the village of Les Estables, a poor and dirty place, where the natives shiver through half the year. Their condition is indeed miserable. Their cottages, built of lava-blocks, are thatched with straw, or roofed with clinkstone (phonolith). The street is filthy, encumbered with stones and deep in slime. Were it not for the lace industry and for the violet harvest, the place would be deserted. The cattle are lean and poor in quality, from lack of lime in the soil; the harvests ripen so late that when gathered in the crops are frequently spoilt.

At Ste. Eulalie, on the Sunday after the 12th July, is held the Foire aux Violettes. To that stream the cottagers from Les Estables and all the hamlets about Mézenc, laden with baskets heaped up with violets, and not violets only, but also the thousand aromatic herbs that luxuriate in this desolate region. The violets of Mézenc are so numerous and so large that in spring the mountain is arrayed in royal purple. The Mézenc violet is, moreover, more intense in colour than that of the Alps, and it retains its colour longer when dried. To this fair come the merchants of Lyons, Marseilles, and Nîmes. Every kind of simple used by druggists, every herb used for the production of essences, is there to be procured. But the violet is the staple of the trade. The air is scented with it, but the sweetness cannot neutralise the bad savour of the village—that defies suppression.

The flowers are gathered at the end of May by women and children. Then they are dried in the hayloft, never allowed so to do in the sun. And when we buy the crystallised violet at Gunters, or try the withered flowers as a cure for cancer, ten to one but we are employing the produce of Mézenc, and putting a few petits sous into the pockets of those leading a hard life in this southern Siberia.

The flora of Mézenc is subalpine, with many gaps. One rare plant alone is found on it, the Senecio leucophyllus, that flowers in August and September, and is found also on the Pyrenees at heights between 3,000 and 6,000 feet. It resembles the Senecio maritimus that grows on the Mediterranean littoral, which is cultivated in our gardens as an ornamental plant on account of its imbricated and silvery foliage.

Oaks here are low-growing and yield acorns once in six years, and beech once in four, whereas the service tree gives its fruit every year. This arrest of oak and beech is due to spring frosts when the trees are in flower, and an early winter forbids the glands and mast to ripen even when formed.

It is quite easy to "do" Mézenc from Le Puy in a day. That admirable institution, the Syndicat d’Initiative, provides a conveyance, starting from the capital every Sunday morning in summer at 5 a.m., and from Estables the mountain may be climbed in an hour and a half. The conveyance is back at Le Puy at 10 p.m., and the cost of a seat is but five francs. But if the visitor desires to extend his expedition, he should seek the Gerbier de Jonc and the lake of Issarley and return by Le Monastier. But this will occupy two days.

The Gerbier de Jonc is a conical clinkstone mountain, not so high as the Mézenc, but commanding quite as fine a prospect. It has been compared not inaptly to a pine cone, bristling with foils of phonolith that make the ascent by no means easy. Indeed, from the source of the Loire at its foot it is but a climb of 530 feet, but the dislocation of the rock and the steepness make the climb somewhat laborious.

"Yet—how one is repaid for the labour! The view over the Vivarais is one of inexpressible beauty. No other belvedere offers a view of such an ocean of peaks, puys, ridges, and precipices, such folds of mountains, such abysses, and such plateaux. I do not know any impression I have received quite comparable to that produced by the view from the Gerbier. The glare of southern sunlight gives extraordinary relief to the rocks and woods, the vast stretches of turf, to this illimitable world of mountains of every shape. There are panoramas more vast and sublime, but none more striking. The clouds drifting across the sky cast great patches of shadow over the storm-tossed and solidified ocean; and when the wind disperses the veil, it seems as though the abysses gaped suddenly under one's eye, so deep are the clefts, so tumultuous are the crests of the mountains. And the Alps! yonder they are, far away on the horizon. To the south is the immeasurable mass of the tossed Cevennes; blue to the north stands the great boundary heap of Mont Pilat. Above the haze to the east calcareous walls rear themselves, much hacked about, and some heights thrusting forward their cliffs like the beaks of birds. On the side of Le Velay is a platform bristling with sucs. At the foot of the Gerbier is the nascent rill of the Loire crossing the road and flowing through a vast prairie in which ooze forth a thousand springs that plunge into the ravine in which the Loire gathers its waters."—Ardouin Dumazet.

The lake of Issarlès is indisputably the most beautiful of the sheets of water in the Cevennes. It is circular, and has no visible exit. It swarms with trout, yet they do not breed in it, as these fish will not spawn unless they can go up stream to a suitable gravelly bed, and no stream enters Issarlès.

Gerbier de Jonc - A book of the Cevennes.jpg


Gerbier de Jonc

But if no stream issues visibly from the lake, numerous springs rise at the bottom of the bank that bounds it, due doubtless to filtration through the scoria, and unite to form a current sufficient to turn a mill before

it reaches the Loire distant three-quarters of a mile.

This beautiful tarn, 330 feet deep in the middle, has been menaced more than once. The lake belonged in the Middle Ages to the Chartreuse of Bonnefoy, the ruins of which are in the neighbourhood, and which was founded in 1156 by a Seigneur of Mézenc. The Carthusians used the lake not only as a fishpond to furnish their table, but also as a reservoir for the irrigation of their meadows by means of canals.

In 1793 it ran its first risk. With the laudable object of draining marshy land and rendering such lake bottoms as could be reclaimed serviceable for culture, a law was passed on the 14th to 16th Frimaire (4th to 6th December), and at the beginning of 1794 the Citizen Auzillon was deputed to inspect and report on Issarlès. But he was driven back by storms of snow, and obliged to postpone his examination of the lake. He started again in July, and was accompanied by the deputy sent down from Paris to organise an expedition for hunting out and bringing to the lamp-post or the guillotine the priests and royalists who were supposed to be in concealment in the neighbourhood. Auzillon declared in his report that the draining of the lake would cause an unwarrantable expense and prove unprofitable. It lay, he said, in the crater of an extinct volcano, and that he had been unable by sounding to discover the depth.

The lake has been again threatened, this time with conversion into a reservoir for the water-supply of factories, to be established at a lower level.

A scene, however beautiful it may be, always acquires additional charm when with it is connected something of human interest. And this must serve as an excuse for my introducing here a story that attaches to Issarlès.

Beside the lake some years ago resided a man of singular character, a man over whose fortunes Fate seemed to have decreed "pas de chance." A memoir of this man was written after his death by an acquaintance. Pierre Noirot was born at Nîmes of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother. His father, Jacques, was a descendant of one of the Camisards, who had run his knife into the heart of the Abbé du Chayla at the Pont de Montvert. Noirot père had inherited from his ancestors nothing but an implacable hatred of Catholicism. He was a coarse-minded man of a brutal character, and was wholly uneducated. Having become a soldier, he passed from barrack to barrack, always quarrelsome, always discontented, always finding fault, so that he acquired the name of Captain Grumbler. When he left the army, he retired to Nîmes and lived on his pension. Inconsistently enough, he married a Catholic, a little needlewoman. Pierre was the fruit of this union. Mme. Noirot had him baptised privately by a priest of her religion. Jacques heard of this the same day, and mad with rage he fell on his wife and beat her so severely, though only just recovering from her confinement, that she died of the injuries inflicted upon her. From this moment the father bore an implacable dislike to his son. He sent him into the mountains to be fostered by peasants in the village of Issarlès, and thenceforth cared no further for him than to send grudgingly the meagre sum necessary for his keep.

Pierre grew up in rough surroundings. His foster-parents, Antoine and Véronique Vidil, had three children, two boys and a girl, but lost their sons in one day by typhoid fever. Only the little Geneviève remained to them, and the orphan, Pierre, whom thenceforth the Vidils regarded as their own. But among these rude peasants affection displayed itself uncouthly. Antoine Vidil was a man who rarely spoke, and expressed himself in monosyllables only, and when he corrected the children it was without discretion and with a heavy hand. The woman Vidil, stout and florid, was the reverse of her husband. She was effusive, noisy, variable in temper. Sometimes she treated the little Pierre with plenty of food and smothered him with caresses, at another time she stinted him in his diet and scolded him for nothing at all.

Pierre's sensitive soul was wounded by the injustice wherewith he was treated, and he found his only happiness in the society of Geneviève.

The Vidils, without consulting the "Captain," brought up Pierre in the Catholic faith, and sent him to the village school. There from the first he became the butt of the children. Pale, delicate, taciturn, and a dreamer, he consorted with none, and he obtained the nickname of lou mou, the Dumb One. Endowed with exceptional intelligence, he rapidly made his way, and in three months had learned to read. Then he begged to be sent to college. The case was embarrassing. It was necessary to consult the Captain. Vidil wrote in two lines to the père Noirot: "The child desires to go to college. Where shall he be put?" The Captain replied even more laconically, "Where you will." The Vidils, at their own cost, sent him to the college at Aubenas; and by the death of an aunt he was furnished with small means to relieve them and to defray the cost of his education. He was not more happy at Aubenas than he had been at Issarlès. He had no friend. Always alone, he spent his time when out of class in reading. His father held no communication with him, and Aubenas was too far from Issarlès for the Vidils to see him. He tasted of happiness only in the holidays, when he returned to Geneviève. Study was his great consolation. Philosophy and mathematics proved an irresitible attraction to his eager mind. Always first in his class, he surprised the professors, and sometimes alarmed them by his precocity.

At the age of seventeen he entered the Polytechnic School, and was the first to pass in his examination. The régimen of this institution suited him. He spent all his spare hours in the library. Pierre read voraciously books treating of the destiny of man and the problems of the universe, even at this early age. He felt assured of being able to enter one of the learned professions, when an event occurred that dashed his hopes. On the eve of All Saints, 1856, he was seated at his examination, when a despatch, "Very urgent," was put into his hand. On opening it he read: "Nîmes, 31st October, 1856. Captain Noirot is dead. Apoplexy. Come at once. Doctor Moulon."

Pierre packed his valise and departed. He found that his father's affairs were in a deplorable condition. He had taken to cards and to drinking. Pierre paid all old Noirot's debts with the money left him by his aunt, but in so doing exhausted that sum. He was consequently unable to return to college, and nothing else was left him but to enlist. He was, however, too young by six months, and accordingly returned to the Vidils, who received him with a warm welcome. These good people had planned to marry him to Geneviève, but he was too shy to speak, and when he departed left without a word to her to intimate his affection. He was sent to garrison Toulouse. There he proved quiet, orderly, attentive to his duties, respectful to his officers, and courteous to his comrades-in-arms. But he made no friends. One day he received this letter:—

"ISSARLÈS, May 1st, 1859.

"My Little One,

"I am obliged to apply to the béate, who is more skilled in writing than myself, to inform you that misfortune has overtaken us. Father is dead—may God rest his soul!—and Geneviève has died of a languor. I am growing old, and am alone. Come and comfort maman Véronique, who loves you, and has none but you left to her in the world.

" V. VIDIL.

"P.S.—You will find in a fold of this letter a thousand francs wherewith to buy a substitute."

Geneviève was dead—had died of despondency, perhaps because he had not spoken that which would have given her an object for which to live. From that day no smile ever brightened up his features. He returned to Issarlès. The Vidils had done well, and had amassed a little money.

Twenty years passed. In 1879 M. Firmin Boissin, who had been at college at Aubenas with Noirot, went to Issarlès to visit his friend there, the Curé Téraube; and when there learned that his old schoolfellow lived near, but in strange fashion—solitary, speaking to few, spending his time in study and in contemplation, still wrapped in philosophic pursuits. He had brought away with him from Nîmes some of the doctrinal books that had belonged to his ancestors, but which père Noirot had not read. All his spare cash was expended in the purchase of others.

M. Boissin visited him. Noirot's first words were: "Explain to me, if you can, the contradiction that exists between the foreknowledge of God and free-will in man. How can man be a free agent when his course, his every act is irrevocably predestined?"

The iron of Calvinism had entered into his soul, and was festering it.

M. Boissin and he had many disputes on this perplexing theme. Pierre was ever revolving the question in his mind fruitlessly, making no further progress than does a squirrel in its rotating cage. At last, one day, he exclaimed bitterly, "How well I can understand the saying of Ackermann, 'I have lost all faith—I believe now in nothing but in the existence of evil.' And the evil is the Great Cause—is God."

A few days later Pierre disappeared. Mme. Vidil came in alarm to the presbytère to inform the Curé that she could not find her foster-son, and that she fancied he had fallen into the lake. The alarm was given, the whole village turned out, and he was discovered in the water. The Curé managed to drag him out by the hair of his head. Pierre Noirot was conveyed to his bed. Life was not quite extinct. The Abbé Téraube, stooping over him, said, "Monsieur Noirot, do you recognise me?" The dying man made a sign in the affirmative. "Do you commit yourself into the hands of God, and put your trust in the infinite mercy of Christ?"

At these words the eyes of Noirot opened; he looked up and said in a whisper: "Je vois—je sais—je crois—je suis désabusé."

The Abbé, laying his hand on the unfortunate man's head, pronouned Absolution. Then kneeling at his side, he recited the Lord's Prayer. At the words, "Thy will be done," the spirit of him, qui n'avait pas de chance, passed away.[1]

Le Monastier is the place whence Robert Louis Stevenson started with his donkey after having spent there a month.

He says :—

"Monastier is notable for the making of lace, for drunkenness, for freedom of language, and for unparalleled political discussion. There are adherents of each of the four French parties—Legitimists, Orleanists, Imperialists, and Republicans—in this little mountain town, and they all hate, loathe, decry, and calumniate each other. Except for business purposes, or to give each other the lie in a tavern brawl, they have laid aside even the civility of speech. 'Tis a mere mountain Poland. In the midst of the Babylon I find myself a rallying point; everyone was anxious to be kind and helpful to a stranger."

The book was published in 1879. Since then Legitimists, Orleanists, and Imperialists are no more such. They have acquiesced in being good Republicans. Perhaps they have found other themes on which to contend. I do not think that the peasant has much respect for the Republic, but he is content to live quietly under it. As for the deputies he sends to the National Assembly, for them he has no respect at all. They go up needy attorneys and return flush with money.

A peasant said to me one day: "Have you been at a chase and seen the poor brute down, all the hounds tearing at it and fighting each other for scraps of the carcass? That prey is France, and the hounds are the parties."

In 680 Calminius, Count of Auvergne, founded a Benedictine monastery under the red crags of La Moulette that rises to the east of the monastery. The abbey buildings which had suffered in the Wars of Religion were rebuilt in 1754 and are characterless. They have been converted into mairie and corn market. Everywhere in France we see Virgil's Sic vos non vobis exemplified. Monks erect monasteries that serve as barracks and schools, asylums and municipal buildings to a future generation.

The abbatial church remains, an edifice of the eleventh century, but with an apse of the fifteenth. The facade is Romanesque with mosaic work of lava, and the arcades of window and doorway are striped in the same manner.

On the south side of the choir is the pretty renaissance chapel of S. Chaffre, the second abbot, who was martyred by the Saracens in 732. This chapel with its painted roof dates from 1543. Names of saints became marvellously altered in the south. Theofred has been transformed into Chaffre, we have seen Evodius become Vozy, and in Hérault we come on St. Agatha disguised under the form of Ste. Chatte, and in Ardèche, Mélany is rendered Boloni. At the entrance of the town is another church, built of blocks of lava, of the twelfth century, S. Jean, but it has undergone alterations.

From Monastier one can drive to Goudet and thence walk to Arlempdes, distant but three miles, one of the most picturesque sites, with one of the most interesting castles in the Velay. At Goudet itself are the ruined castles of Goudet and Beaufort. At Arlempdes the Loire has cut its way through a mass of lava exposing prismatic columns, and the village is commanded by a castle flanked by round and square towers on a basaltic rock above it, and looking down from a sheer precipice on the Loire that glides below. The summit of the rock was irregular, and the feudal remains were grouped about on the platform equally irregularly. The chapel of Arlempdes is of the twelfth century. The Lac du Bouchet has been already spoken of. It is visited from Cayres. It is not the only object worth seeing in that direction; three-quarters of a mile off the main road from Le Puy to Langonne at Chacornac are caves excavated by the hand of man, that served Mandrin as one of his mints for forged coins. He was a native of S. Etienne; his principal factory of coins was at S. André on the sea coast, but when disturbed there he set up his workshop at Chacornac. Caught repeatedly, he managed to break out of prison again and again, but finally was broken on the wheel in 1755 at the age of forty-one. For some time he used an old castle as his place for coining, first scaring the owner out of it by spectral appearances and keeping up the idea among the peasantry around that it was haunted.

Some commotion was caused in the spiritualistic world in 1903 by stories circulating relative to a haunted mill at Perbet between Le Puy and S. Front. It was occupied by a miller, Joubert, and his wife and two daughters, Marie aged fourteen, and Philomène aged twelve. On November 27th, 1902, three peasants were returning from market at Lausanne, and had reached the glen of the Aubepine, when they heard startling noises issue from the mill of Perbet accompanied by screams of terror, and the bellowing of the cattle in the stable that was under the same roof. Next moment they saw the miller's wife—he himself was absent at the time—at the door gesticulating and calling for help. The men hastened to the door, and beheld the two girls writhing in convulsions on the floor, the crockery flying about the kitchen, and the furniture performing a waltz. Next moment a volley of stones was discharged at their heads. The men, panic-struck, crossed themselves and departed to talk about what they had seen. Next day and during several that followed crowds visited the ramshackle mill of Perbet, to witness the performances that continued till the clock, the sacred pictures, the window-panes, the crockery, every article the poor dwelling contained, had been reduced to wreckage. The children were conducted to the parish priest, who exorcised them, but all to no purpose. The editor of the Radical l'Avenir at Le Puy went to the scene, but saw none of the performances. He contented himself with collecting evidence from eye-witnesses, and convinced himself that the phenomena were due to some supernatural cause.

That the two girls were at the bottom of the diablerie admitted of no doubt. It was obvious to all. When they were removed to their uncle's elsewhere, the phenomena ceased at the mill and recommenced in the house into which they had been received.

Nevertheless it occurred to no one, not even to the freethinking editor, that all was due to clever legerdemain.

A precisely similar exhibition took place in my own neighbourhood many years ago, and was investigated by my father. In this instance there was one girl instead of two who called the performances into existence. My father speedily satisfied himself that they were due to sleight of hand. When a stone flew across the room and smashed a window every eye was turned in the direction taken by the projectile, and the girl obtained thereby an opportunity of providing herself with something fresh to throw. Plates and bowls were made to dance by horsehairs which had been attached to them by dabs of wax.

In the case of the mill of Perbet, it was noticed that the stones flung were warm, in itself a significant token that they had been in the hands of the children or secreted about their persons.

The witnesses at Perbet were doubtless all honourable men and disposed to speak the truth, but it is open to question whether there was one among them capable of observing correctly.

An account of the manifestations at the mill at Perbet found its way into the transactions of the Psychical Research Society in London. But one may say without hesitation that the whole "show was run" by Marie and Philomène, and that the only spirits responsible for the disturbance and damage done were the spirits of the two mischievous girls, who ought to have been exorcised by the use of a stick across their backs instead of Latin prayers.

  1. Révu du Vivarais, 1893.