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whom, by the by, Père Bonaventure had described to his guest overnight, laconically enough, as 'un petit saint'!
The conveyance turned out to be a roomy two-wheeled gig, drawn by a stout white cob, and driven by a civil but taciturn driver, who was identical with the proprietor of the concern already referred to. A hoar frost, the first of the season, lay spread like a sheet over the country; and, as we wound down the zigzag road leading from the heights of Conques into the valley below, chilly shade and mist succeeded to the bright winter sun that had been some time gladdening the regions above. Trotting at an easy pace down the dale, northwards, with the turbid Dourdou on our left, we passed Grandvabre, a village less wholly insignificant than those that crown the hill tops roundabout, such as Montignac, St. Marcel, and Pomiers; for in addition to a parish church, with parsonage and resident parson, which all these tiny hamlets possess in common, Grandvabre shows rather more signs of population than they, with the usual accompaniment of population and civilization, a couple of inns whose trade, of course, lies chiefly in the sale of strong liquors. Penned in between tall cliffs on the right and the expanding waters of the Dourdou on the left, with yet other superincumbent mountains on the opposite side of the river, Grandvabre occupies a secluded and romantic position in the hollow of a narrow, wooded gorge. The name Vabre occurs several times in different parts of Rouergue. Thus we meet with Vabre near Villefranche on the Aveyron, in the western division of the province; Vabres adjoining St.-Affrique in the south ; Vabre de Rieupeyroux ; and the diminutive form Vabrette: the spelling in one case at least being varied by the addition of a final s.
Soon after leaving Grandvabre we reached the point where—at the far end of the glen of Conques —the tributary Dourdou, broad and rapid, empties itself into the yet broader and stately Lot. Abruptly cut short by the river in front, the road now turns sharp to the right, when you come in sight of a handsome modern bridge of red brick, built some dozen years since. This takes you across the wide stream of the Lot into the historically and geologically famous province of Auvergne : a name that has not changed materially since the days of Cæsar, who describes the people of this part of Gaul as the Arverni. Once over the bridge, the road again twists to the right, and soon begins to wind up a vine-clad hill, with chestnut woods above and below. At this season of its maturity the prickly fruit keeps dropping at intervals on the ground, causing just noise enough to mark the pervading solitude. The chestnuts harvest themselves, falling fast and thick all through October, when they are eagerly picked up and gathered into baskets by the peasantry, with whom they make a staple article of food during the coming winter. The stooping garnerers in these extensive chestnut forests remind one of our own country-folk, whom the dweller in rural parts may ofttimes see busy in a like stooping posture, gathering up the tiny three-cornered nuts that fall in such profusion during autumn beneath the spreading English beech, a tree nobler far than the chestnuts of Rouergue and Auvergne, but few in number and sparse in comparison with these latter, as they crowd for leagues together the highland crests on either bank of the Lot.
On getting to the foot of a long rise, and leaving the cumbersome, brown-leather, bemired gig, it was a pleasant change to walk for a full hour up the fine, continuously ascending post-road hewn out of the rock. This roadway constitutes in effect a pass over the wall of mountain that shuts in the confined watershed of the Lot, and finally brings you out amid the less rugged and soaring uplands immediately north of it. At a considerable distance beneath the pass flows the beautiful stream, softening whilst it emphasizes the landscape. Lofty hills, too, spring almost flush from the river's
brink on each side, capped to their summits by dense woods or more smiling vineyards; and many a receding peak of yet higher elevation peers grandly out of the background. Arrived at the top of the ascent, you look down from the high ground upon our old acquaintance the hamlet of St.-Projet nestling low by the water's edge. Some miles farther on, amid fine highland scenery, the village of Cassaneouze is skirted rather than penetrated, after which the hills begin by degrees to lessen in size and boldness ; except, indeed, that in the far distance northwards there looms a vast conical mass, hazy and indistinct, which can be no other than the mountain, not unknown to fame, called 'Cantal, high towering 'mid the clouds. Hence the department that has been carved out of the southern portion of Auvergne ? takes its name.
Having set out before seven, a halt was made shortly after noon to rest the horse and dine at a capital wayside inn within half a mile of the village of La Feuillade. A huge piled fire in what served at once for kitchen and common hall of the hostelry gave out a not unwelcome warmth after the long open-air drive ; at the same time that, with log heaped upon log, it recalled Horace's lines,
Ligna super foco
Auvergne, in the old maps, is conterminous with the two modern departments of Puy-de-Dôme and Cantal.
A dinner, thoroughly French, from soup to dessert, was served for the writer in an adjoining chamber by the landlady and her maid ; the entire cost of the entertainment, wine included, being summed up in a two-franc piece.
Resuming the journey towards two o'clock, the way lay through La Feuillade, and thence over a still hilly and wooded country; the road being for the most part bordered by hedges, conspicuous among which were considerable stretches of holly bespangled with glistening berries. While many a meadow and orchard and ploughed field were passed by the curricle, whose wheels rolled smoothly over an excellent high road, it was enough to have dipped into the historical annals of Conques Abbey to lead one to contrast the present aspect of the country and of the public highway, with the wilds and meres and rough bridle-paths presented by Upper Auvergne in the year 1029, when, as we learn, Robert the Pious, King of France, travelled this way. For of this king, whose passion it was to visit famous shrines, we read that, whilst journeying north after paying his devotions at the tomb of St. Saturninus near Toulouse, he alighted at Ste-Foy de Conques, and afterwards at St. Gerald's Abbey in Aurillac, thus going substantially over the same ground that one had travelled to-day.'
Notice de l'Abbaye de Conques, p. 22.