Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

of the highest gifts, or the infallible measure and test of greatness.

Kitchener's strength lies in his power to create surely the supremest and grandest faculty of Nature herself; and nothing that I can name is more striking and more impressive in his character than his power to combine Blackwood's Magazine.

and organize material, no matter how rough and unsuitable, into a new, harmonious, and definite shape. His success from first to last is due to this power, a power he possesses in a higher degree and more concrete form than any other servant of the modern State.

I.

A FARM IN THE CANTAL. (HAUTE-AUVERGNE.)

The farm lies in a wonderful country. In order quite to comprehend our volcanic Puys and Plombs, you should, I believe, stand on the pointed crest of the Puy Mary. Before you, in the middle of the ancient crater, rises an ash-grey peak of clinkstone: the Puy de Griou, a perfect sugar-loaf. All round, the mountains define the circle of the ancient orifice, sheer on three of their sides, separated by wooded passes and by the deep fissure of rocky valleys which radiate from the crater like the beams of a star. On their further side the mountains roll down towards the plain in immense wavy plateaux which, at their highest point, attain some six thousand feet of altitude. These endless rolling pastures on the mountain tops are the wealth of our country and the sine quâ non of our agriculture. I have never climbed higher than the long cliff behind our house, which bounds on the north the lovely valley of the Cère; even that is an ascent of some thousand feet. Green at its base with pastures, our hillside is crowned with a cornice of fluted rocks, andesite and breccia, which tower above the serried beech woods, mantled underneath. When at last you reach Les Huttes (the first village on

the plateau), you see that our valleywide, romantic, irregular as it appears -is, none the less, a sort of cañon or ravine sunk between two high tablelands. These last are covered with pasture and dotted here and there with odd little huts or cabins, which in fact are cheese-farms; for the people of the valleys send their herds to pasture on the mountain from May till after Michaelmas. The plateau is not flat; it rolls and undulates like the sea, and any of its higher points affords a marvellous view. To the north, the Puy de Griou rises sheer, as fine and as sharp as the Fusiyama in a Japanese print. The long-backed ridges of the Plomb de Cantal and Puy Mary, each with its doubled hump, crouch beside it like great dragons with lean, grey, ravined flanks, while the endless blue of the rolling plains stretches in the distance.

The Plomb is an old friend; with the black peak of the Lioran, it closes our horizon in the valley, as you look to the north-east. Although the highest of our mountains (1,858 metres)-standing, in fact, over 6,200 feet in its grassy stockings--it is less effective than the frail ash-grey peak of Griou (1,694 metres). There are plenty more. In front of us rises the splendid saddleshaped back of the Courpou-Sauvage,

strewn with rocks which simulate fantastic ruins. Out of sight, but close at hand, rise Peyre-Arse, L'Usclade, Peyroux, Bataillouze, Puy Violent, Chavaroche, le Roc des Ombres. Their names alone preserve the image of a terror long forgotten. For the Wild Creature, with Burnt Rock and Rock Ruddy, with the Scorched Mountain, the Warful, Mount Violent and the Rock of Shadows, rests now at peace. For a thousand years and more the woods wave, the pasture flowers, the herds feed upon their rocky sides. Only the black stones, rolled smooth so long ago, fallen among our fields of flowering buckwheat; only these, and the veins of lava, bursting from their veil of mountain-pink and heather, tell still of that enormous upheaval of an elder world.

It is astonishing with what personality an accustomed eye invests a mountain. We say: "The Lioran is darker than usual this morning," as we should say: "Emilia has a headache." And what a pleasure when, towards September, the Courpou-Sauvage begins to blush with the blossoming heather! No mountains have ever seemed to me so friendly as these. They are not very high above our valley, which is placed itself some 2,000 feet above sea-level, so that we behold a scant two-thirds of their real height. But their forms are lovely in their infinite variety. Time cannot wither them, nor custom stale. Woods cling to them; cliffs and rocks jut from them in peak or turret; cascades and fountains and innumerable streams gush from their hearts of fire; pasture, fern or heather robe them higher than the girdle; only the peaks are bare and take a thousand colors in the changing lights.

My husband's old house of Olmet stands some way up the northern bank of the valley of the Cère, with the farm at its feet. Farm and house no longer belong to each other, but they are still

on cordial terms; which is as well, since from our hinder terrace our eye drops involuntarily on all the life and business of our neighbors. The farm has been recently rebuilt by its new owner, and is no longer the picturesque hovel we used alternately to admire and deplore. But our tiny mountain manor, or moorland cottage, still bears the stamp of three hundred years on its thick solid walls and tower. The roof is beautiful, very steep, as befits a land of six months' snow, and a soft ash-grey in color, being covered with thick heart-shaped tiles of powdery mica-schist, which surmount with a pyramid either tiny solid tower: a balcony starts out from it, whence you could sling a stone into the bottom of the valley, for Olmet stands on a jutting rock, to the great advantage of our view. The house is stunted from the front, where the garden is on the level of the first floor; but, seen from below, there is about the place a look at once austere and peaceful, rustic and dignified, as befits this land of hay and lava, of mountain peak and cream.

or

a

From windows or terrace we have a view that is a joy forever. "Quand on a vu l'enclos d'Olmet!" cries Madame Langeac, of the farm below, as though Marly or Versailles could not compete with our little garden-a bare hilly field orchard, running to hay, with shabby flower-patch here and there; but loud with the murmur of the rippling water which sparkles in a fountain from the rocks, and noble with the vast and various beauty of the view. To the south rise the ravined foot-hills, clothed in wood, crowned with cornices and organ-pipes of rock, their green hummocks swelling and rising to the east, ever larger and ever higher, till they reach the black cone of the Lioran, to which the valley ascends in a series of rugged steps, narrowing as it goes; to the west, on the other hand, it opens like a fan. The

M

precipitous walls of cliff soften into downs of limestone which die in the rolling plain beyond Arpa on, where, eleven miles away, one lovely hill, broken from the chain and larger and more gracious than its fellows, rises soft and blue, shaped like the breast of Ceres. To the one hand, the scene is full of grandeur and melancholy, while the western landscape smiles tranquil and noble in its dreamy peace. The mountains cease ́there, but long leagues beyond, in the vaporous blue of the distance, the plain still heaves and swells as with the movement of a sea: such an ocean of calm and space in which to bathe and renew one's-self from the troubles of the town!

II.

From early June to Michaelmas our valley and half our hills are deep in flowering hay, or busy with haymaking, or studded with hay-cocks. This year, the hay was out on the 3rd of October, when the mountains were already white with snow. As a poet says, with whom I hope to acquaint my readers:—

Noun! jusqu' ohuié digun n'o pas enbentat res

Coumo oquelo sentour des prats seguats di frès

Que porfumo, l'estiou, l'Oubergno tout entièro!

No one has ever invented anything like the smell of the new-mown hayfields which, in summer, perfumes the whole of Auvergne! Hay is our wealth, and-when it has suffered a transmutation into cheese and cattle-our only export and exchange with the valleys below. It is in order that we may grow our hay all summer for the winter's needs that our cattle are sent in troops to feed on the mountains, leaving behind only the draught-oxen for the use of the farm and the cows for milking.

We need plenty of hay, for in the stables during the five months of snow that follow All Saints you may roughly calculate four cartloads of it to every COW. On the higher slopes we cut it once in July and again in September; while June, August, and Michaelmas are harvest-time for the water-meadows in the bottoms, which yield three crops a year.

So, the summer long, the hay is cut on bill or valley, and at night the cattle pull through the narrow roads the primitive haywains-two mighty ladders set atilt on a plank above two wheels. After the wains, come the herds left at home. I love to watch them, and pass an hour most evenings seated upon our garden wall-a low stone bench above the orchard, which drops on the other side some thirty feet to the rocky lane below. Here come the cows, a score at most (for some ninety of the herd are on the mountain), beautiful kine of Salers, small and neatly made, of a bright deep-red color all over, all alike, with thick curly coats and branching horns above their deer-like heads. They are herded by a tiny cow-herd of seven; a few black goats loiter in the rear. The finely-toned cow-bells tinkle faintly across the silence. The beasts low as they pass the open door of the huge two-storied barn, into which a cow and an ox, yoked together, are backing a great toppling wain of hay. Old Gaffer Langeac, the farmer's father, has come out to view the crop. He is fiveand-eighty, and, being past work, he wears out all the week his long-treasured Sunday garments-a sleeved waistcoat of black cloth, the full sleeves buttoned into a tight wristband, a white shirt of coarse hemplinen, and dark trousers of thick homespun rase or frieze. His blue eyes, still bright, and his straggling white locks gleam under a huge soft sombrero of black felt. He is a fine old fellow

but is not this the very valley of green old age? An ancient goatherdess comes down the lane, twirling the distaff set with coarse gray hemp as she follows her flock; and as she stops to pass the time of day with her neighbor, her youngest grandchild runs out to meet her from the red-gabled cottage by the village bakehouse. The cows low to the calves in the byre; the kid in the orchard springs to its mother. One handsome haymaker leans against the wall and whispers soft nothings in the ear of Annotou, the blonde little maid at the farm. A scent of cabbage soup and hot buckwheat comes up from the cottage-kitchens. 'Tis the hour of rest and general home-coming, not greatly changed since Sappho of old used to watch it in her Ionian isle-all that the morning scattered, eve brings home!

There are empty places to-night at the vast table in Langeac's kitchen, for the Vacher, or chief cowherd and dairy-master, with two bouviers or cowboys, and a little lad, the pâtre, who watches the cows that pasture on the moor, are up on the mountain with some fifty cows, half as many young calves, a bull or two, a score of swine to fatten on the buttermilk, and some dozen goats. At the end of May, one mild afternoon, the troop set out from the valley under the farmer's care, and marched the whole night through, till the next day, in the morning, they reached the mountain farm some thirty miles away. (Every farm in our valley has thus its exalted counterpart, sometimes quite near at hand, sometimes at a considerable distance.) The farmer rode back on the morrow; but every fortnight he repeats the journey, to inspect his herds, to count the increasing number of the cheeses, and to carry their store of black-bread, fresh cabbage, news and letters (with sometimes an old newspaper or so) to the exiles who, all summer long, see neither rose nor fruit, nor face of wife or

child, on the great green pasture of the mountain-top.

While the herds are afar, we are busy in the valleys where the recent advent of the railroad has little changed the ancestral mode of life. The farm grows almost all the necessaries of the farm. Our soil is too poor for wheat, but rye and buckwheat flourish on the mountain sides: whole slopes, too dry for hay, are a garden of tall crisp white flowers, where the buckwheat (sarrazin) waves through August until mid-September, when the flowers die, the seed turns gradually black, the stems coral-red; it is now time to reap it, we bring great sheets of linen, spread them in the field, and thrash the harvest with high-dancing flails. Ground into meal, the buckwheat yields the staple of our diet: the bourriol-a large, thin, soft, round crumpet which, eaten hot with butter, or cold with clotted cream, or dipped in new milk, is not to be despised. Every morning, the housewife's earliest care is to fill the pail of bourriols which stands in every kitchen, and to warm the milk until the cream clots and rises. Besides the buckwheat, we grow barley for the cattle and rye for bread and straw. The rye-bread, very black, at once sweet and sour, which makes, to my thinking, the most delicious bread-and-butter in the world. is shaved into large thin slices in the twohandled porringers, or écuelles, "pour tremper la soupe." Four times a day. and five at midsummer, the farmhands gather in Madame Langeac's kitchen and eat their bowl of cabbage-soup. where the bacon, potatoes, black bread and cabbage leaves make a mess so thick that the spoon stands up in it; they eat also a crumpet of buckwheat, and a noggin of Cantal cheese; this always, and sometimes a dish of curds and whey, if a cheese is in progress; a sausage if the pig has been lately killed; a fry of mushrooms in Septem

ber; a cherry tart in July; a queer stew of potatoes and curds, or some other homely treat at mid-day, to mark the importance of dinner, always washed down with a glass of black Limousin wine. Fine brawny men and buxom maids, who work hard and live long are grown upon this sober fare. With their open expression, frauk brown eyes, upturned noses, abundant hair and vigorous frames, the Auvergnats, so ridiculed in France ("ni hommes, ni femmes, tous Auvergnats", as Daumier's legend has it), would be, if but a shade or so less dirty, a wholly pleasant-looking race, obviously Celtic, kind, frank and free.

The farms they live in are roomy and solid, built of blocks of grey volcanic stone; the steep roof has several tiers of windows; one would suppose it from outside a comfortable home. But in name and in fact the attics are granaries, and all the household "pig" in one or two rooms on the ground floor. Under the huge chimney's hospitable mantle stand a couple of comfortable salt-box settles, one on either side the cavernous hearth, where, winter or summer, smoulders the half-trunk of a tree; a tall grandfather's clock by the dresser, bright with painted earthenware dishes and pewter tankards; the best bed, high as a catafalque and warmly curtained, in the corner under the stairs; a linen-cupboard of walnut or cherry-wood; a huge massive table of unstained oak, flanked by two benches, in the middle of the room; a straw-bottomed chair or so; a few rough stools: such is the furniture of a kitchen in our parts. Here all the cooking is done, and the eating; here the masters sleep, in sickness and health; here visitors are received and farm hands paid-it is, as they say in Yorkshire, the house-place. With its one cobwebbed window, its floor of dark unsmoothed volcanic stone (swept every day. but seldom washed), with

its ceiling hung with herbs and sausages and huge sides of bacon, it is a warm and homely, but not as a rule a bright or a pleasant place.

Sometimes I think the beasts have the best of it. The barns here are as large as churches. Built against the side of the mountain, they have two entrances, each on the level of the ground; the higher storey forms the barn; the lower, the byre. I have sometimes counted as many as twenty windows, set some two metres apart, along one side of those huge stone structures. Here from mid-November till mid-May the cattle live under cover, chew the cud and see in memory, no doubt, the meadows hard by with their delicious grass and the aromatic pastures on the mountain top. Here in February and March the calves are born. Nothing is quainter than to see their wild delight, their leaps, their bounds, their joy, their frantic gambols, when, for the first time in their lives, they come out into the green fields and balmy air of May.

The pigstyes, airy, spacious, comfortable, form a long line near the farm. The swine, too, are kept close in winter, but in summer they roam all over the hillsides and munch the grass like sheep. The pigs here are, I think, the ugliest and perhaps the wittiest in the world-great long-backed, long-legged creatures, larger than a sheep. They climb the rocky fells, scamper down the smooth sides of the combes, trot all night after the herds to the mountain farm in summer, are hardy, inquisitive, and sociable, beyond belief. With their coal-black heads and pink. naked bodies, my sister says they remind her of Gervex' famous Dame au Masque. But they have no shame of their ugliness, and, when they hear a friendly voice on the other side of the hedge, come trooping down from the top of the field to pass the time of day, with all the ease and assurance of an

« VorigeDoorgaan »