« AnteriorContinuar »
also something of a wag) at last hit upon a little plan of his own for bringing confusion upon the heads of his debtors. Being told one morning for the hundredth time by Madame, very calmly, that Monsieur had just gone out to the barber's, the very next moment a report of a formidable kiss brought the alleged absentee before the watercarrier's eyes, his cheeks crimson with jealousy. • Misérable !' ejaculated the outraged spouse. “Pas misérable, mais malin,' objected the man of Auvergne, who speedily pacified the tempest he had raised in the marital breast by explaining that the kiss had been bestowed upon his own horny hand, and not on the lady's ruby lips. The issue of the trick was that the little bill' which had necessitated it was promptly settled.
Aurillac would not be the typical provincial town of France that it is, were there any lack of those conventual retreats for women which form one of the salient features of French social life, and which we cannot ignore without shutting our eyes to facts. In these refuges for the portionless, the enthusiastic, and the unfortunate, different quaint garbs are worn and different duties performed according to the Order to which they are affiliated. The leading distinction is between the contemplative and the active Orders. The former are always closely cloistered, and so also are many of the active Orders, when their particular form of activity is compatible with seclusion within walls. Thus those which receive young ladies to educate are generally, as the French say, 'cloîtrés ;' while such as nurse the sick are of necessity uncloistered. It is to be observed that, true to the organizing instinct of their Church, these numerous religious houses belong in every case to some particular Order, with its own code of rules and a central authority for the whole body. No house stands alone. Each is supported by the traditions and weight of a common constitution and government. When, therefore, you learn to what Order any particular sisterhood is attached you may know at once their duties, method of life, and the cut and colour of the distinctive dress they wear. The principal nunneries of Aurillac would seem to be those of the Visitation, Poor Clares, and Carmelites. For the latter an elegant stone church was being built, with domestic buildings annexed, including a good bell-turret in the centre of the block. Hither the cloistered sisterhood were on the point of shifting their quarters from an adjoining residence, less commodious and less monastic in character. At the back of their new domicile runs an ample garden, square in form, and fenced in by tall brick
walls, within whose inclosure many a nun, both young and old, of this ascetic Order will doubtless, as years roll on, take her solitary walk of meditation ; or, may be, enjoy a stroll in company with her sisters, and find in this limited area her sole opportunities of breathing the air and taking exercise. Were this garden wall of less elevation the passing railway train and neighbouring station might offer a variety in the subjects of thought and observation open to such recluses as might wander within the close. No less marked a symbol, indeed, of the restless activity of modern life is the railway at hand, than the Carmelite cloister, spick and span new though it be, is of old-world ways of thought and action.
These tastefully designed buildings newly erected for an austere Order recall the fact that nine hundred years ago there existed in this same town of Aurillac another monastery, the walls of which sheltered a man of humble birth, a vinedresser's son, but whose talents, in the words of Sismondi, shone ‘like a meteor illuminating a dark sky. The name of this monk was Gerbert. After a number of years of cloister life spent in St. Gerald's Abbey at Aurillac, he took service successively in the courts of the Duke of Lorraine, of Hugh Capet, and of the Emperor Otho III., ultimately touching what was then the highest pinnacle of human glory; for the peasant boy of Auvergne and the 'poor monk of Aurillac,' favoured by the Emperor whose tutor he had been, ascended the papal throne itself by the title of Sylvester the Second.
Nor is the town that gave a retreat to Gerbert -peasant, recluse, scholar, statesman-known to history only through its connection with the poor vinedresser of Auvergne, afterwards Pope of Rome. In the year 900 (about half a century anterior to the time of Sylvester II.) there was living in this ancient city of Upper Auvergne Gerald, Count of Aurillac, who by his edifying fiety and austerities acquired the reputation of a Saint, going meanly clad, fasting thrice a week, and always betaking himself supperless to bed. And, severe to himself, he could also, on occasion, saint though he was, be severe enough to others, for we are told by an admiring biographer that such was the abhorrence in which he held praise and flattery, that he would not hesitate to order any slave a flogging who might presume thus to offend. This, some may think, was virtue with a vengeance !
But it is time to pass from a flight of the imagination that has taken us for a moment far away into the dim cloudland of the ninth and tenth cen
turies, and to set our foot once more in the Aurillac of our own day.
From the narrow privacy of a Carmelite nunnery (referred to above) to the free-and-easy publicity of an inn, the transition is abrupt. The seclusion of the cloister, with its home life among familiar faces, forms as marked a contrast as may be to a hostelry open to all comers, who are unknown to one another, and necessarily change from day to day. Yet even the brown-frocked denizens of yonder handsome new convent in the outskirts of Aurillac, with its back to the railway, must often enough, spite of their habits of seclusion and religious contemplation, be brought face to face with the hard facts and stern realities of life; a condi. tion of things which places them, so far at least, on common ground with the sturdy, blouse-clad citizens and farmers of the neighbourhood, who seemed to be among the chief patrons of the inn which chance had assigned to the homeward-bound traveller for his temporary quarters. Its sign has escaped his memory, but one side fronted the shingly bed of the Jourdain, with its lime-bordered quay, and the other looked upon a dark, winding street nearly parallel with the stream.
Aurillac lies out of the usual track of tourists, a circumstance that no doubt contributes to the