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On the other side of the Gave and nearly opposite St. Savin, are the ruins of St. Ovens, and near them the fallen walls of the Castle of Bancens and the village of Adast, where lived and wrote the poet Despourrens, whose graceful and feeling songs there made his name a household word. His birth-place is unknown, and Béarn and Bigorre made the honour an Homeric dispute in miniature.
The French composer Boieldieu once thought of establishing a musical colony in the beautiful valley of Argeles, the idea of which he detailed in a letter to his friend Berton, in 1830.
The little village of Pierrefitte closes in the enchanting vale of Lavedan, or Argeles. It lies on the confluence of two Gaves, the foaming waters of one of which rush to the right hand along the defile leading to Cauterets, while the more placid stream of the other flows along the smooth valley, over which runs the road to Louz St. Sauvin and Barege.
On visiting this beautiful scene for the first time, the traveller's attention is attracted to the slate blocks by which the meadows and gardens are enclosed in a most original manner; then to the water-channels which border the highway, and are so useful for its lubrication ; then to the Raphaelesque head-dresses of the young Béarnese; and finally and most of all, to the characteristic forms of the mountains as they develop themselves far and near. Everything is new and strange to his eye. But the heart of the Anglo-Saxon islander, who condemns himself to a banishment in Cauterets, that Ultima Thule of France, and who knows by actual experience how impossible it is to assimilate himself with the frequenters of a Pyrenean bathing place, will sink within him, when nigh above Pierrefitte, the Pic de Souterne shuts out the world behind him. On every jutting rock that presents itself in the defile which conducts him to Cauterets, he seems to read the warning legend, "Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate;" he thinks of the long weeks of tyrannical retirement before him, in a place where not even the charms of natural beauty are sufficient to compensate for the solitude he will experience, even in the midst of a restless multitude of men. How lively must be his recollection of that one interesting moment of the day when the post arrives, and when he rushes impatiently to the office, and flying with his prize of letter or paper to some lone spot, lives for the moment with friends and fellow-countrymen again!
It is one consolation, however, that a man can carry some friends with him in his trunk who will shorten his banishment. But even Goëthe and Horace cannot make up for all that he misses in such places as these.
Nature has been bountiful to these mountain valleys. Condemned to an eight-months' winter, she makes good use of her brief summer respite, by drawing forth short-lived blossoms from every chink and YOL VI.
crevice. Here springs up a tuft of blood-red wild carnations, with their long stalks and bristling crowns, and there a solitary iris unfolds itself gracefully and displays its velvet calix to the passing eye. Here the fiery poppy waves upon its slender stem, swayed by every zephyr, and there a bunch of cyclamen scents the air, hither and thither are scattered its rosy leaves, looking like butterflies in their airy flight.
In contrast to this ephemeral Flora, lie over and in the roaring Gave the most singularly shaped blocks of granite in gigantic confusion, as though they had been shot from Titanic slings, in some pre-historic times. Silently they tell how many centuries the rushing stream has flowed, how many long winters they have been covered with their snowy mantles, when neither consumptive beauties, nor blasés tourists enliven the road, and nothing but the dismal howl of the prowling wolf or hungry bear disturbs the awful monotony of the scene.
The cleft through which the road from Pierrefitte to Cauterets runs, is in some parts so narrow that the Gave and the road seem to contest the ground. So difficult was this road before 1838, that four horses and six oxen were sometimes necessary to drag a carriage along it. Four years were occupied in the formation of the present road. In its design and its natural beauties it leaves nothing to be desired, and may be compared to some of the most admired Alpine passes.
At first it makes its way in zig-zags, which are partly formed on terraces, and partly hewn out of the hard rock. Everywhere, when the walls are not perpendicular, one sees leafy spots and green meadows, with, here and there, a hut and groups of alders, ashes, limes, and nut-trees, through whose tangled shade the rapid Gave rushes on its course.
About half way up we reach La Botte du Limaçon, where the road rises, by means of a series of turnings, over a chalky elevation stretching like a bridge across the vale. And now the passage widens, the
. side-walls lean backwards, and the dark Peguire, like an immense pyramid, rises before us, increasing in magnitude as we approach it.
The Gave now recedes from the road. Cultivated land and houses appear and increase in number, until at length, the picturesque lake of Cauterets, formed by the junction of the Gave and the Carabasque, lies before us. The town itself is not yet visible, but the approach to it is interesting and promising.
Presently, the first building in Cauterets, the custom-house (where our carriage stops), appears; after a while, our tired horses bring the diligence to the Rue Richelieu, and a few hundred steps farther our goal, the Place St. Martin, is reached.
He only, who has already made his debût at Cauterets, knows what an · arrival there is. All that this (during two months) busy place can show, in the way of landlords, waiters, house owners, porters, carriage and
horse keepers, of chair-men and donkey-drivers, of tradesmen and shopkeepers, Spaniards and pseudo-Spaniards, are congregated, either in propria personæ or by agents, in the Place St. Martin, during the joyful hour of a fresh arrival, ready to fall upon the unhappy visitors. And woe be to the unhappy debutant, whose inexperience induces him to bestow the least attention on this flock of harpies !
Although I had undergone this ordeal the previous year, I had so great a horror of it, that in order to avoid the battle, I withdrew at once to the Lion d'Or, notwithstanding its known deficiencies; besides, the moment the porter of that hotel saw me, he seized my luggage and overwhelmed me with his well-meant attentions.
We soon arrived there, and the porter introduced me to a neat room, which, as in most houses in Cauterets, was clean and in good order, and whence the view of the High Street and distant country was quite delightful.
Tired, dusty, and uncomfortable, I sat down alone in my little room. Life certainly affords some pleasanter moments than that at which one arrives in the Hotel du Lion d'Or at Cauterets.
CAUTERETS IN THE TIME OF MARGARET DE VALOIS-ITS HYDROLOGICAL
RICHES—AN INSPECTOR OF MEDICINE ; M. DIMBARRE-JOURNEY TO RAILLERE-DISCOVERY OF THE RAILLERE “LO SPIRITATO"-MAUHOURAT-THE CAUTERETS OF TO-DAY AND THE LIFE OF THE VISITORS -THE PARK AND THE MAMELON VERTE.
BEFORE I make my readers acquainted with Cauterets present, they must allow me to tell them the story of Cauterets past, and they will find, I think, that the narrative of its antecedents will not be uninteresting
Whether the town was ever honoured by a visit from Cæsar seems to be rather a doubtful point; certainly its healing waters were not unknown in the time of the Queen of Navarre.
Margaret de Valois, who might be said to have added to the number of the Muses as well as of the Graces, was in the habit of honouring Cauterets by her residence, her verses, her music, and her learning. One of her journals presents us with so characteristic a view of the perils which then beset every kind of travelling, that I cannot refrain from giving the following extract :-“At the beginning of September," writes this highly gifted lady, "a time when the Pyrenean springs are in full use, there were many visitors at Cauterets, from France, from Spain, and many other lands, some to drink the waters, some to bathe in them, and some to wallow in their mire, which has frequently
performed wonderful cures. At this period, however, when everyone thinks of returning home, there had set in so heavy a rain, that it appeared almost as though the divine promise given to Noah was to be recalled, for every house in 'Caulderets' was so full of water, that living in it was out of the question.
“The French ladies and gentlemen supposed that they could go back to Tarbes as easily as they had come from it, but they found the watercourses so swollen and the brooks so overflowed, that nothing but dire necessity would induce anyone to venture on crossing them. When they reached Béarnese Gave, usually about two feet deep, and saw its extensive surface foaming with agitation, they hurried towards the bridge, but this being built entirely of wood, had been already swept away by the angry flood. After trying various other places, each party went their own way, and two unfortunate ladies being pursued by a bear out of the woods, fled with such speed that their horses fell dead under them just as they reached Pierrefitte, and their maids, who followed them later in the day, related that the same animal had pursued several of the servants."
At Cauterets, Margaret de Valois wrote her“Heptameron.” Accompanied by her ladies of honour, she established herself at a beautiful spot on the Gave, where the lime trees and the alders flourished so luxuriantly, that scarcely a ray of sunshine pierced the mysterious shade, or destroyed its refreshing coolness. Stretched on the flowery mead, whose softness made carpets and cushions useless, the ladies read some touching love tale by turns to their queenly mistress.
Hither also came frequent visitors to these Pyrenean springs, Rabelais, Montaigne, and Madame de Maintenon. And hither the Queen Hortense retired after the death of her son Napoleon Charles, to indulge her grief amid these mountain solitudes.
Cauterets, as regards the virtue of its healing waters, stands first among these springs. There are no fewer than twenty-three mineral wells, and they supply nine bath-establishments, where the water is used as a bath and is also taken internally. These nine buildings form two groups, one at the foot of Mount Perrante, to the east of Cauterets, and the other two kilometers to the south, at the confluence of the two Gaves, Lutour and Marcadon.
The first duty of a new-comer at Cauterets is to send for a doctor. When he has selected the spring most appropriate to his patient's malady, he gives a written order to the director of that establishment to admit the patient every day at a certaim hour.
This unavoidable ceremony renewed my acquaintance with the chief physician, M. Dimbarre. I was the more pleased at this, because the year before when the precipitate peace of Villa Franca struck every friend of Italy with grief and dismay, he was so obliging as to supply me with all the journals of the time. M. Dimbarre, whose residence is at Tarbes, has visited many consecutive summers, and has thus with all the zeal and observation of a naturalist, made himself acquainted with the numerous springs of the Pyrenees. Well read also in the language, the topography, the history, and the natural curiosities of his beautiful home, he served me as a kind of encyclopedia, from which I learnt many things which I should otherwise never have heard.
M. Dimbarre had seen me alight from the diligence, and I had just begun to unpack, when he entered my room. One object of so early a visit was to invite me to accompany him the following morning to Raillière, and as it is not improbable that this, perhaps the chief spring in the upper Pyrenees, may be known to but few if any, of my readers, I will here state what I have heard and seen of it.
In the year 1660, so runs the chronicle, a herdsman in the neighbourhood remarked as he took his flock to pasture and always stopped at the Gave for the goats to drink, that, stay as long as he would, they never touched a drop of the water. This discovery, added to the fine condition in which they always were, persuaded him that the mountain where they usually grazed must contain some spring at which they satisfied their thirst. He therefore began to watch them more narrowly, and very soon discovered that they drank at the spring which now bears the name of La Raillière, * and which from its plentiful mineral contents is called La Reine des Pyrenees.t
The same fine road which leads from Pierrefitte to Cauterets is continued to Raillière, and in July and August, during the full season, omnibuses travel thither from four in the morning till noon-day.
One is continually putting one's hand into one's pocket here. The hotel is expensive, the omnibuses are expensive, and a bath or a glass of water are here costly articles.
Although the omnibuses are drawn by four strong horses and are driven at good speed, the journey occupies twenty or thirty minutes. Soon after passing the last houses in Cauterets, and they are scarcely more than sheds of a better kind, is crossed a bridge, after which the road meanders along the left side of the Gave till it reaches the rugged Perrante. A few dark groups of firs are all the vegetation the eye here sees. The country becomes bolder and sterner until one arrives at the platform on which Raillière stands, while a backward glance overlooks
The word Raillière in the local patois signifies a place covered with stone blocks, which is exactly the case where this spring issues.
+ The above narrative is taken from the “ Annals de Bigorre," by M. J. M. J. Delille, dated 1818, a book which M. Dimbarre recommended to me. In the " Itinerary of the Upper Pyrenees,” by M. A. A., the discovery of the spring is attributed to a cow, but I believe that few of my readers will care much, whether the Columbus of La Raillière was a cow or a goat.