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picture of a hill town of the feudal ages; while on every hand rise hills and mountains, capped here and there by rocky peaks, but yet with sides verdant with vineyards or long stretches of chestnut woods. And, in the valley beneath, the rushing torrent of the Louche discharges itself with fret and foam into the broader Dourdou. The latter more considerable stream flows past Conques in a strong current from south to north, joining the better known waters of the Lot a league or two lower down.
Though in size and population but a village, Conques lends its name to a Canton, or group of parishes, and thus claims to rank as the petty provincial capital already indicated, containing the only shops, few and unpretending enough, to be found for miles round, and one or two government officials. The scant population, as well of bourg as of surrounding country, depend mainly on the vine culture ; and we shall presently see them in the heyday of the vintage assembled in bands garnering the fruit of their labours. The harvest is, indeed, one of the few events that bring the peasantry of these quiet valleys together in company; the other chief occasion of the kind being when they flock on a Sunday into the vast minster of Ste-Foy, and contribute their share to complete the picture of a Church Interior during divine service: a picture well worth the observation of any traveller as he draws nigh to Southern Europe, with its wealth of artistic forms and colour. It may suffice to remark of this church in passing that it presents the singular feature, so far as France is concerned, of being at once conventual and parochial, the incumbent of the parish being also Provost of the House of canons regular adjoining the minster. “Le curé blanc' he is sometimes called in the neighbourhood, from his offering the unwonted spectacle of a parish clergyman habited from head to foot in white. Of both the church and its adjacent monastery we shall have more to say anon.
1 Conques in Rouergue is not to be confounded with another and larger place of the same name in Languedoc.
Almost the only noteworthy specimen of domestic architecture save the Hospital is a curious fifteenth-century house near the northern gateway, with some balustrading of carved wood built into the wall, the remains apparently of an external staircase. Nearly opposite to this old building stands a domicile of more modern type, the residence of the doctor of the place. Its white stone is relieved, as usual in France, by outside shutters painted green ; and at one end of the building-neither in front nor behind-an umbrageous, irregular, and not too trim garden, fenced in by a tall well-proportioned iron railing and wicket, likewise of a greenish hue, looks thoroughly picturesque, spite of a limited area ; and in its shady seclusion and romantic suggestiveness—set, as it is moreover, amid a confused cluster of antique tenements, o'ercapped by hill slopes and mountain heights-almost recalls an ideal garden of some Spanish or Troubadour's lay, with the appropriate serenade of song and guitar. Nor is this outcome of modern French rural taste by any means out of accord with the example over the way (referred to above) of the timber architecture of four centuries since. And the effect of the scene as a whole is heightened by the uneven broken outlinebuildings, old and new, garden, street; the latter being of the narrowest, and, at this point, roughpaved, of sharp ascent, and sinuous. In a word, many of the elements of a picture are brought together in this characteristic corner of a remote townlet among the highlands of Rouergue; a dash of colour, moreover, being thrown in by the dull brown of the old oak timbers, the grey of the rugged street pavement underfoot, and the blue of Nature's all-embracing canopy overhead, thus bringing out in relief the white and green of the bourgeois mansion opposite, flanked by its miniature garden resembling a vignette from an illustrated copy of a romance.
Here and there inscriptions of dates meet the eye and carry back the fancy to former days. On a house by the post office one reads the date 1617. Another, now in ruins, near the Hospital is inscribed 1752. The wooden screen of a lateral chapel in the great minster is marked 1644; while, not far from the church, lay loosely about an oblong stone, measuring perhaps a couple of feet in length by half as much broad, with a rude representation graven on it of the Saviour Crucified, with the date 1612.
Thus the good people of Conques have their spiritual interests cared for after their own fashion in church and convent, and their bodily miseries ministered to, more or less, in the old Gothic Hospital. On the other hand, their personal security and rights of property are looked after by a paid justice of the peace and four military police in cocked-hats and clanking broadswords. Their barrack in the narrow lane that may take rank as the principal street, is indicated by a small tricoloured flag, not of waving bunting, but fashioned out of a strip of rigid painted metal, suspended starch and stiff over the doorway. This, from the official notices posted up, seems to do duty also as a substitute for a town-hall, notwithstanding that, high among a batch of houses resting on an upper ledge of rock, stands a building of very plain form,
but conspicuous from the words Hôtel-de-Ville inscribed with gigantic characters, but which—yet more bare, dilapidated, and, to outward appearance, forlorn than the Hospital - looks as if possessed of the very Spirit of Desolation.
Slight as might elsewhere be the claim of Conques to the appellation of a town, its size bears, nevertheless, a fair proportion to that of the surrounding mountain villages, which are of a truth insignificant hamlets, with hardly a sign of what with us would be called 'civilization,' unless it be in a usually well-cared-for church, and here and there a neat parsonage. Some of these hamlets, like Montignac for example, nestle amid the leafy slopes of a steep hillside, or, as Pomiers and St.-Marcel, are raised aloft on the tableland of a mountain top. The last-named village, though accessible by a shorter and more precipitous ascent, is distant an hour's walk by the mule-path issuing from the northern gateway of the town and zigzagging by easy gradients round the mountain. After completing three parts of the journey through a continuous forest of chestnuts, the wayfarer suddenly emerges out of the woods and looks down, at a great depth beneath, upon Conques whence he started, and perceives, not without surprise, that scarce any way has been made save in a perpendicular direction ; for he finds himself on the