A MIDSUMMER DRIVE THROUGH THE PYRENEES
EDWIN ASA DIX, M.A.
Ex-Fellow in History of the College of New Jersey at Princeton
New York & London G.P. Putnam's Sons The Knickerbocker Press
"How comes it to pass," wondered a traveler, over twenty years ago, "that, when the American people think it worth while to pay a visit to Europe almost exclusively to see Switzerland and Italy; when in 1860 twenty-one thousand Americans visited Rome and only seven thousand English; so few should think it worth while to visit the Pyrenees? It is certainly the only civilized country we have visited without finding Americans there before us. Is it accident or caprice, or part of a system of leaving it to the last,—which 'last' never comes? The feast is provided,—where are the guests? The French Pyrenees form one of the loveliest gardens in Europe and a perfect place for a summer holiday. 'La beaute ici est sereine et le plaisir est pur.'"
The query is still unanswered to-day. The stream of summer journeyings to Europe has swollen to a river; it has overflowed to the Arctic Ocean, to the Baltic, to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The Pyrenees—a garden not only, but a land of sterner scenery as well,—almost alone remain by our nation of travelers unvisited and unknown.
A BISCAYAN BEACH
BAYONNE, THE INVINCIBLE
SAINT JOHN OF LIGHT
THE CITY OF THE ARROW-PIERCED SAINT
AN OLD SPANISH MINIATURE
AN ERA IN TWILIGHT
"THE LITTLE PARIS OF THE SOUTH,"
THE WARM WATERS AND THE PEAK OF THE SOUTH
THE GOOD WATERS OF THE ARQUEBUSADE
OVER THE HIGHWAY OF THE HOT SPRINGS
MIRRORS AND MOUNTAINS
A COLOSSEUM OF THE GODS
THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
THE VALLEY OF THE SUN
THE INTERLAKEN OF THE PYRENEES
OUT TOWARD THE PLAIN
A DIFFICULT BIT ON THE ROUTE THERMALE, FRONTISPIECE
BEACH AND VILLA EUGENIE AT BIARRITZ
"HERE TOO ARE THE FISHERMEN'S CABINS,"
A BAYONNE ARCADE
A CONSPICUOUS ENTRY INTO ST. JEAN DE LUZ
THE CAMERA AT THE CUSTOM-HOUSE
A DISILLUSIONIZING LEGEND
THE LEGEND AS REFRAIN
A BEARNAIS MARKET-WOMAN
A SYMBOL OF VENGEANCE
DULL PROSPECTS AT GABAS
CAILLOU IN COSTUME
THE BELLES AND DAMES OF GOUST
ROAD-MENDERS ON THE PASS
"ACCOUTRED AS SHE IS, SHE PLUNGES IN,"
"THE TOWN IS WAITING FOR THE DILIGENCE,"
A CAFE CONJURING-SCENE
LAC DE GAUBE AND VIGNEMALE
ONE CORNER OF THE OMNIBUS
THE CIRQUE OF GAVARNIE FROM THE CHAOS
THE INN-YARD AT GRIP
"THERE IS NAUGHT OF THE PRETENTIOUS ABOUT THE HOTEL D'ANGLETERRE,"
PIC DE LA PIQUE, AND PATH TO THE PORT DE VENASQUE
THE EVENING FETE AT BIGORRE
RELIEF-MAP OF THE CENTRAL PYRENEES.
"In fortune's empire blindly thus we go; We wander after pathless destiny, Whose dark resorts since prudence cannot know, In vain it would provide for what shall be."
A trip to the Pyrenees is not in the Grand Tour. It is not even in any southerly extension of the Grand Tour. A proposition to exploit them meets a dubious reception. Pictures arise of desolate gorges; of lonely roads and dangerous trails; of dismal roadside inns, where, when you halt for the night, a "repulsive-looking landlord receives the unhappy man, exchanges a look of ferocious intelligence with the driver,"—and the usual melodramatic midnight carnage probably ensues. The Pyrenees seem to echo the motto of their old counts, "Touches-y, si tu l'oses!" the name seems to stand vaguely for untested discomforts, for clouds and chasms, and Spanish banditti in blood-red capas; to be, in a word, a symbol of an undiscovered country which would but doubtfully reward a resolve to discover.
Yet there is a fascination in the project, as we discuss a summer tour. There, we know, are mountains whose sides are nearly Alpine, whose shoulders are of snow and glacier, whose heads rise to ten and eleven thousand feet above the sea. There, we know, must be savage scenery,—ravines, cliffs, ice-rivers, as in the Alps; valleys and streams and fair pastures as well, and a richer southern sunlight over the uplands; besides a people less warped by tourists, intensely tenacious of the past, and still tingling with their old local love of country,—a people with whom, "to be a Bearnais is greater than to be a Frenchman."
To visit the Pyrenees, too, will be almost to live again in the Middle Ages. The Roman, the Moor, the Paladin, Froissart, Henry of Navarre, have marked the region both in romance and in soberer fact. Its valleys have individual histories; its aged towns and castles, stirring biographies. The provinces on its northern flanks, once a centre, a nucleus, of old French chivalry, are saturated with mediaeval adventure. One visits the Alps to be in the tide of travel, to find health in the air, to feel the religion of noble mountains. In the Pyrenees is all this, and more,—the present and the past as well. As we call down the shades of old chroniclers from the dust of upper library tiers, we grow more and more in desire of a closer acquaintance. Caesar, Charlemagne, Roland, the Black Prince, Gaston Phoebus, Montgomery and knightly King Henry stand in ghostly armor and beckon us on.
Facts of detail prove farther to seek. We inquire almost in vain for travelers' notes on the Pyrenees. Those who had written on Spanish travel spoke of the range admiringly. But these authors, we find, invariably, only passed by the eastern extremity, or the western, of the great mountain wall; the mountains themselves they did not visit. Search in the large libraries brings out a few scant volumes of Pyrenean travel, but all, with two or three exceptions, bear date within the first three-fifths of the century. It is with books, often, as with the Furancon, the wine of the Pyrenees, and with certain other vintages: age improves them only up to a certain limit; when put away longer than a generation, they lose value.
Taine's glowing Tour, itself made nearly thirty years ago, is a delight, almost a marvel; the style, the torrent of simile, the vivid thought, rank it as a classic. But M. Taine's is less a book of travel than a work of art; in the iridescence of the descriptions, you lose the reflection of the things described. Even hand-books, the way-clearing lictors of travel, prove, as to the Pyrenees region, first scarce and then scanty. The few we unearth in the stores are armed only with the usual perfunctory fasces of facts,—cording information into stiff, labeled bunches, marshaling details into cramped and characterless order, scrutinizing the ground with a microscope, never surveying it in bird's-eye view. Two recent novels we eagerly buy, hearing that their scenes are laid in that vicinity; but each merely speaks, in easy omniscience, of the "distant chain of blue mountains," or of the "far-off snow-peaks outlined against the horizon," and the fiction proves hardly worth sifting for so little fact. Plainly the Pyrenees lack the voluminous literature of the Alps. Plainly we shall have, in part, to grope our way. The grooves of Anglo-Saxon travel are many and deep, lined increasingly with English speech and customs; but they have not yet been cut into these Spanish mountains.
 Voyage aux Pyrenees.
The search enlarges the horizon, however. The lonely roads we learn to qualify in thought with occasional branches of railway; the dangerous trails, with certain cultivated highways; the dismal road-side inns, with spasmodic hotels, some even named confidently as "palatial." We read of spas and springs and French society, more than of chasms and banditti. We realize in surprise that over all the past of these mountains flows now in bracing contrast the easy, laughing tide of modern French fashion,—life so different in detail, so like in kind, to the day of trapping and tourney.
It is enough:
"Now are we fix'd, and now we will depart, Never to come again till what we seek Be found."
Difficulties always lessen after a decision. I casually question a doughty Colonel, who has been an indefatigable traveler; he has twice girdled the earth, and has many times cross-hatched Spain; he has not been to the Pyrenees, but heartily urges the trip. He assures me that the banditti there have become, he believes, comparatively few; that they now rarely slit their captives' ears, and that present quotations for ransoms, so he hears, are ruling very low, much lower than at any previous epoch. Thus comforted, we interview other traveled friends; but our goal is to all an unvisited district. We find no kindly Old Travelers returned from Pyrenees soil, to counsel us, advise us, and inflict well-meant and inordinate itineraries upon us. At least, then, we are not alone in our ignorance; it is evident that our knowledge of the region is not blamably less than that of others, and that the Pyrenees are in literal fact a land untrodden by Americans.
Questions of accessibility now arise. It seems a far cry from Paris to the doors of Spain. The Pyrenees are not on the way to Italy, as are the Alps. They are not on the way around the world, as are the Mountains of Lebanon and the Sierras. They are not strictly on the way even to Spain. But we consider. Our country men are streaming to Europe, quick-eyed for unhackneyed routes, throwing over the continent new and endless net-works of silver trails. They travel three full days to reach the Norway fjords, and five in addition to see the high noon of midnight. They journey a day and night to Berlin, and forty-two hours consecutively after, without wayside interest, to visit the City of the Great Czar; if they persevere toward the Kremlin, and around by "Warsaw's waste of ruin," they will have counted a week in a railway compartment. Constantinople and Athens lie two thousand miles away, Naples and Granada nearly as far; all sought, even in summer, though quivering in the tropics' livid heat. We came round to our Pyrenees: it needs from Paris but nine hours to Bordeaux, with coigns of vantage between; in four hours from Bordeaux, you are by the waters of the Bay of Biscay, or in six, in the centre of the Pyrenees chain.
And so La Champagne leaves its long wake across the Atlantic, and we journey down from Paris to the little city of the Maid of Orleans; wander to Tours, the approximate scene of the great Saracenic defeat; drive along the quays of Bordeaux, and visit its vineyards and finally come on, in the luxurious cars of the Midi line, to the shores of Cantabria and the popular watering-place of Biarritz.
A BISCAYAN BEACH.
Clearly we are in advance of the summer season at Biarritz. It is the latter part of June. The air is soft and warm, the billows lap the shore enticingly. But fashion has not yet transferred its court; the van of the column only has arrived. A few adventurous bathers test the cool surf; the table-d'hote is slimly attended; the liverymen confidentially assure us, as an inducement for drives, that their prices are now crouching low, for a prodigious leap to follow.
But everything has a pleasing air of anticipation. Since we are to be out of the season at all, we are glad we are in advance of it. This is the youth of the summer, not its old age. People are looking forward; events are approaching, instead of receding; the coming months seem big with indefinite promise of benefit and pleasure.
We quickly become imbued with the general hopefulness of the place. Every one has the look of one making ready. You hear, all day long, when far enough from the waves, a vague, joyous hum of bustle pervading the town. The enterprising click of hammer or trowel falls constantly on the ear. The masons are at work upon the new villas, and our hotel is completing a fine addition for a cafe; the stores along the busy little main street are being put in order, the windows alluringly stocked, and bright awnings unrolled above them, fenders from the summer's heat. The hotels are fairly awake. Everything is rejoicing that the semi-hibernation is over.
Biarritz, the town, is as delightful, if not as picturesque, as we had hoped. Perhaps it is too modern to be picturesque. In this part of the world at least, one rather requires the picturesque to be allied with the old. The nucleus of Biarritz is old, but that is out of sight in the modern overgrowth; Biarritz, as it is, is of this half century.
This is not, on the whole, to be regretted. Biarritz has no history, no past of associations, no landmarks to be guarded. Vandalism in the form of the modern rebuilder can here work more good than harm. Save for its location at the edge of the wild Basque country, and what it has seen, itself sheltered by obscurity, of the forays of that restless people, the place has little to tell. It is a watering-place, pure and simple, buoyed entirely by the prospering ebb and flow of modern fashion. Let us take it as of to-day, not of yesterday, content to seek its charms under that aspect alone, enjoying it for itself, not for its pedigree.
Biarritz is a prerogative instance of the magnetism of royalty,—of the social power of the court as an institution. It was a watering-place, in a small way, before Eugenie's advent; but there was not a tithe of its present size and popularity. In 1840, it numbered in all not more than fifty houses, a few of them lodgings or humble cafes, but the greater part staid little whitewashed summer-dwellings with green verandas and occasional roof-balconies; set down irregularly, without street or system, along the sunny slopes of the bluff. Murray's Handbook for 1848 gives it passing notice, and disrespectfully styles it the dullest place upon earth for one having no resources of friends upon the spot. But in the modern edition of forty years later, the same manual has come to describe the place in a very different strain; assigns it a population of nearly 6,000; details, with respect, its fashionable rank, its villas and increasing hotels, its graded streets and driveways; and among other things adds the simple remark that "about twenty-one thousand strangers now visit Biarritz every year." Evidently there has been some advance within the span.
It was the Empress of the French who distilled the life-elixir for the quiet little resort. As a maiden, she had spent long summers by its shore, and when she was become the first lady in the land, she turned still to Biarritz, and the midsummer tide of fashion followed after her. Across the downs, on the bluff, stands the Villa Eugenie, the handsel of Biarritz's prosperity; and here about us is the town that grew up to make her court.
Fair France lost as well as gained when the burning walls of the Tuileries crashed in. In these days of the plain French Republic,—of its sober, unornamental, business government,—the contrast is vivid with the glitter and "go" of Louis Napoleon's regime. And the nation feels it, and involuntarily grieves over it. The twenty years have far from sufficed to smother that certain inborn Gallic joy in monarchy,—autocratic rule, a brilliant court, leadership in fashion, and all the pomp and pageantry which the French love so well.
Little more than a century ago, stable governments seemed at last to be ruling the world; civilization had come to believe itself finally at peace; war, it was complacently said, had finished its work; the coming cycles would prove so far tamed as to have outgrown fightings and revolutions. Cultured modern history, like Nature, would refuse to proceed per saltum. Yet the hundred years since gone by have brought wars as fierce, "leaps" of government as tremendous, as any century in the past. It is this same fair France that has contributed more than her share of them, and the Fall of the Second Empire was one of the most dramatic. The world is not, after all, so securely merged from the darkness of the Dark Ages. Within that short century, in Paris itself, the very capital of cultured Europe, there has twice uprisen a human savagery immeasurably exceeding all the tales we are to tell of the fierce past of the Pyrenees.
It needs an effort to-day to picture the social power of France and Eugenie twenty years ago. The mantle has not fallen to England and Alexandra. Only a people like the French can endue fashion with absolutism.
So it was, that when the Empress came to Biarritz, "all the world" came also. From the building of her villa dates the true origin of Biarritz. From that time its growth was progressive and sound. When the empire finally fell, this creature of its making had already passed the danger-point, and so stood unshaken; Biarritz had become too popular, its clientele too devoted, to part company. Even in the winter it has its increasing colony; in summer its vogue is beyond caprice. The sparkle of the royal occupation has gone, and the royal villa is tenantless; but the place no longer needs a helping hand, for it is abundantly able to walk alone.
In the afternoon we wander down to the sands. The tide is low. The long billows of the Bay of Biscay roll smugly in, hypocritical and placid, with nothing to betray the unenviable reputation they sustain in mediis aquis. The broad, smooth beach is not notably different in kind from other beaches; but we instantly see the peculiar charm of its location. The shore sweeps off in a long, lazy crescent, rounding up, a mile or two to the northward, with the light-house near Bayonne. Southward we cannot follow it from where we stand, for the near irregularities of cliff cut it off from sight. Back from the beach rises the bluff, curving northward with the crescent; at our left it comes boldly down toward the water, partitioning the beach and breaking up at the edge into strange, gaunt capes and peninsulas. Black masses of rock, large and small, are crouching out among the waves, tortured by storms into misshapen forms and anguished attitudes, patted and petted into fantastic humps and contortions. The strata dip at an angle of about twenty-five degrees, and the stone is friable and defenceless. Soothingly now the water is running over and around these rocks, or whitens their outlines with foam; granting their piteous torsos, in merciful caprice, a day's brief respite from the agony of its scourgings.
The afternoon sun shines brightly against the bathing pavilion, irradiating its red and yellow brick. Along the narrow; sheltered platform at its front, sit matronly French dowagers, holding their daughters, as it were, in leash, and talking of women and things, and affairs of state. Though early in the season, the beach is well sprinkled with people. A few attempt the bathing again, but the rest saunter here and there or enjoy beach-chairs at a stipulated rental. The elderly French gentleman, a dapper and interesting, specimen rarely paralleled at home, strolls about contentedly on the asphalt promenade back from the beach, smoking a cigar and fingering a light bamboo. Younger men, also well-dressed, pass in couples, or walk with a mother and daughter,—never with the daughter alone. Boatmen and candy-peddlers ramble in and out, a Basque fisherman or two linger about the scene, and dogs, a pony and a captive monkey, add an element of animal life.
Despite its sunny holiday temperament, Biarritz was one of certain Biscayan villages once denounced as "given up to the worship of the devil,"—thus denounced by Henry IV's bloodthirsty inquisitor, Pierre de Lancre, a veritable French Jeffreys, and the same who in 1609 put to death no less than eight hundred persons on the ground of sorcery. "He tells us that the devils and malignant spirits banished from Japan and the Indies took refuge here in the mountains of Labourd. Above all, he asserts that the young girls of Biarritz, always celebrated for their beauty, 'have in their left eye a mark impressed by the devil.'"
Happily we have no devil in this nineteenth century, and in the clear glance of these Biarritz peasants loitering on the sands, we find that his brand-marks have disappeared with him.
A few of the faces we meet are English; many are Spanish, and show that Biarritz draws its worshipers from the South as from the North. Indeed, a large proportion of its summer society wears the mantilla and wields the fan. Other marks, too, of Spanish dress are here, as where little girls in many-hued outfit romp along the sands, dragooned by dark-faced nurses in true Iberian costume. Three or four brilliant red parasols add amazingly to the general effect of the scene.
We repair to the stone parapet before the pavilion, and gravely paying our dues for chairs, sit and watch the picture. There is no charge for sitting on the beach, but this is severely frowned upon at Biarritz. The dues are two sous per chair, and, with true Continental thrift, they are always rigorously collected. Whether one wanders into the open square of the Palais Royal at Paris, or listens to the music in the Place de Tourny at Bordeaux, or watches the waves at Biarritz, the old woman with her little black bag at once appears upon the scene. Some Frenchless friends in Paris, on one occasion, guilelessly seated in the gardens of the Palais Royal, took the collector simply for a pertinacious beggar-woman, and waved her airily off. She returned to the charge, of course, in indignant French, and grew angrier every moment as she found herself still loftily ignored. A warm fracas was in prospect, when a passing American fortunately cleared up the complication; the woman would have called in a gendarme unhesitatingly, to enforce her diminutive claim.
On the bluff, beyond the pavilion, Eugenie's villa, a square, rich building of English brick, surveys the scene its existence has brought about. Around us, on the beach, the nurses sit in the shade of the rocks and discourse on the respective failings of their charges. Children dig in the sand with pail and shovel, with the same zest as at home. Child-nature changes little with locality. So recently from the great unknown, it is not yet seamed and crusted by environment. I suppose that children fairly represent the prehistoric man. Impulse, appetite, passion,—all the gusts of the moment sway them. We quell our emotions so uniformly, as we grow on, that we finally hardly feel their struggles. The children have richer life than we, in some respects:
"Faith and wonder and the primal earth Are born into the world with every child."
I make no doubt that Nimrod, or Achilles and Ajax, great children that they were, as ready to cry as to feast, to laugh as to fight, hunting mightily, sulking in the tent, or defying the lightning,—intense, sudden, human all through,—drank down their strong, muddy potion of existence with a smack far heartier than the reflective sips of life which civilization has now taught us to take. Childhood is wide and free and abounding and near to nature, and we can take thoughts from it, and ponder, perhaps dubiously, on the distance we since have traveled.
The children dig in the sand, and throw it over the nurses, just as they are doing at Old Orchard and Old Point. Here, with a maid, is a pair of children who freely show one attribute of childhood not so pleasing as others,—cruelty. They have a little monkey, fastened by collar and chain, and it is pitiful and yet ludicrous to see the close watch the animal keeps on his captors' movements. He has found a slack chain his best policy, and adapts his every motion anxiously and solicitously to the leaps of the boy. But the utmost vigilance avails him little. When the child is weary with running and sudden turns, which have called for marvelous dexterity of accommodation on the part of the monkey, the chain is hauled up, with the animal clinging worriedly to it, and he is flung far out into the fringe of waves, to pick his shivering way up again and again from the water. These children have a white rat, also, which they chase over the sand, and souse into puddles, and otherwise maltreat. It is useless to interfere parentally, and we hardly see our way to buying either rat or monkey, even to ensure them a peaceable old age. One wonders why children have this queer taint of cruelty. Unconscious cruelty it may be, but it seems none the less out of place in their fresh, unused nature. We outgrow some rude vices as well as rude virtues, in becoming older, and there is comfort in that.
The bluff, coming out to the sea, cuts off, close at hand, the curve of the shore toward the south, and we climb by a sloping path. From the top, we look down upon, the beach we have left; back upon the downs cluster the numberless private villas which form a feature of Biarritz; to the left, over the near roofs and hotels of the town, we can see the first far-off pickets of the Pyrenees; while immediately in front now appear below us three or four rocky bays and coves, broken by the lines of the cliff and partly sheltered by the rocks out at sea. "Many of these rocks," writes an old-time visitor, in the pleasantly aging English of 1840, "are perforated with holes, so that, with a high sea and an incoming tide, and always, indeed, in some degree, when the tide flows, the water pours through these hollows and rents, presenting the singular appearance of many cascades. Some of the rocks lying close to the shore, and many of those which form the cliff, are worn into vast caverns. In these the waves make ceaseless music,—a hollow, dismal sound, like distant thunder,—and when a broad, swelling wave bounds into these caverns and breaks in some distant chamber, the shock, to one standing on the beach, is like a slight earthquake. But when a storm rises in the Bay of Biscay, and a northwest wind sweeps across the Atlantic, the scene is grand beyond the power of description. The whole space covered with rocks, which are scattered over the coast, is an expanse of foam, boiling whirlpools and cataracts, and the noise of the tremendous waves, rushing into these vast caverns and lashing their inner walls, is grander a thousand times than the most terrific thunder-storm that ever burst from the sky."
 INGLIS: Switzerland and the South of France.
In these little coves now float idle pleasure-boats, bright with paint and listless awnings, and ready to be manned by their stout Basque rowers. Here, too, are the fishermen's cabins, snugly built in against the rocks, and garnished with baskets and poles, and with men repairing their nets. The irregular curves of the bluff, broken here into abrupt and dislocated masses, lend themselves readily to winding paths, and we ramble on, curving upward and downward, over short bridges and through little tunnels under the rocks, each turn giving a new view of the bay or the town.
Finally we round another promontory, cross a last bridge to a large rock-islet standing out from the mainland, and lo! the crescent of the coast is completed, and far to the south we see a low mountain ending the curve; it is Spain.
In the dreamy summer stillness, we sit with, content, looking at those distant hills, listening to the lapping of the waves, watching the sun sink lower toward the sea. The afternoon sunlight makes a glade across the waters,—seeming to one from a western sea-board like some strange disarrangement in the day.
The rounded mountains before us are indeed in Spain, a communicative fisherman tells us. At the foot of the outermost, eighteen miles away, is hidden the old Spanish town of Fuenterrabia. On its other side, in a hollow of the coast, lies San Sebastian. Nearer us, though well down along the sweep of the grey clay bluffs, is St. Jean de Luz, which, with the others, lies on our intended way.
We seem to see, conforming to the crescent of that foreign coast, the menacing crescent of the Armada, parting from Spanish shores, just three hundred years ago to a month, to crush Anglo-Saxon civilization. There before us lies the land of intolerance and bigotry which gave it being, the land of Philip the Second and his Inquisition. But for Drake and Howard and England's "wooden walls," events would have moved differently during the last three centuries,—in our country as in theirs.
The last spark of the sun has disappeared in the water. We turn into the town in the fading light, passing another large bathing pavilion in a sheltered cove, and saunter homeward through an undulating street, the aorta of Biarritz. It is not a wide street, but it is busy and brisk, and it has a refurbished look like newly scoured metal. Neat dwelling-houses, guarded behind stone walls and well-kept hedges, display frequent signs of furnished apartments to let Small and large shops alternate sociably in the line; there is the epicerie or grocery-store, with raisins and olives and Albert biscuits in the window; next is a lace and worsted shop, where black Spanish nettings vie with gay crotchet-work,—
"By Heaven, it is a splendid sight to see Their rival scarfs of mix'd embroidery,"
all made by hand, and bewilderingly low-priced. Now we come to a mirrored cafe, the Frenchman's hearth-side; it compels a detour into the middle of the street, since the sidewalk is quite preempted by its chairs and tiny tables. Here is another Spanish store, conspicuous for its painted tambourines with pendent webs of red and yellow worsted, and for its spreading fans, color-dashed with exciting pictures of bull-fights and spangled matadors. A hotel appears next, across the way, standing back from the street, with: a small, triangular park between; and then comes a pretentious bric-a-brac bazaar, and another cafe, and a confectioner's, and a tobacco-store,—each presided over by a buxom French matron, affable and vigilant, and clearly the animating spirit of the establishment.
Tiny carriages of a peculiar species, with donkeys and boy drivers, line the streets. The carriage holds one,—say an infirm dowager seeking the afternoon breeze,—and if the driver's attendance is desired, he is able to run beside it for miles. It is light and noiseless, comfortably cushioned, always within call, and governed by a beneficently trifling tariff. These vinaigrettes, as they are called, would be appreciated at home, if habit took kindly to novelties. How greatly they might simplify problems of calling and shopping! Our conveyances are all cumbrous. We must have the huge barouche, the coach, the close-shut coupe. Even the phaeton yields to the high T-cart. But convention is autocratic, and would frown on these vinaigrettes as it frowns on many useful ideas. Another unfortunate victim of its taboo is the sedan-chair, which would be lustily stared at to-day, yet the utility of which might be made positively inestimable. One who reads of the Chinese palanquins, or sees the carrying-chairs of Switzerland, convenient and always in demand, or who watches these agile little vinaigrettes darting along the ways, wonders that similar devices do not force their way, if need be, into universal favor.
Another mode of conveyance, once peculiarly popular with Biarritz, might be more difficult of exportation. This was the promenade en cacolet. The town of Bayonne is but five miles distant, by a delightful road, and formerly, particularly before the railroad came in, to ridicule old ways, every one went to Bayonne en cacolet. It is no longer so, and the world has lost a unique custom. The contrivance was very simple: the motive power was a donkey or a horse, and the conveyance consisted of a wooden frame or yoke fitting across the animal's back, with a seat projecting from each side. One seat was for the driver, usually a lively Basque peasant-woman; the other was for the passenger. There was a small arm-piece, at the outside of each seat, and generally there was a cushion. This was once a favorite means of travel between Bayonne and Biarritz. It was expeditious, enlivening,—and highly insecure; that was one of its charms. Throughout the ride there was a ludicrous titillation of insecurity; but it was greatest at the start and at the finish. For, the seats being evenly balanced, to mount was in itself high art. Driver and passenger needed to spring at precisely the same instant, or the result was dust and ashes. Trial after trial was needed by the neophyte; he must be, as an eye-witness of long ago aptly describes it, "as watchful of the mutual signal as a file of soldiers who wait the command 'make ready,—present,—fire!' A second's delay,—a second's precipitation,—proves fatal; the seat is attained, and at the same moment up goes the opposite empty seat, and down goes the equestrian between the horse's feet.... In descending, it is still worse; because there is more hurry, more impatience, on arriving at the end of a journey; and an injudicious descent does not visit its effects upon one but upon both travelers; for unless the person who descends be extremely quick in his motions, his seat flies up before he has quite left it, and oversets him, and the opposite weight, of course, goes plump to the ground,—with as fatal effects as cutting the hammock-strings of a middy's berth."
Perilous balancing feats and a high degree of skill were evidently demanded of him who would journey en cacolet. Requiring thus a special training, so to speak, as well as a nice equivalence in weight between passenger and driver difficult to always realize, its use is not likely to supersede that of wheeled vehicles. To take a ride en cacolet, one might have a long hunt before finding a driver who should be his proper counterpoise; and it would be often inconvenient, not to say impracticable, thus to have to order one's driver according to measure.
It is the evening dining-hour as we find ourselves at last in the open court-yard of our hotel and seek the welcoming light of its salle. The hotels of Biarritz are handsome, even to elegance,—elegance which seems wasted on the few people now in them. But numbers do not seem to affect the anxious concern of Continental hotel-keepers. The same elaborate and formal table-d'hote is served for our small company and a few others, as will, later on, be prepared for a houseful of guests. The waiters don the same ducal costume and with it the same grave decorum; and our attendant Ganymede, bending respectfully to present his laden salver, watches my selection of a portion of the pullet with as anxious solicitude as could be shown by the mother hen herself. The solemnity of a table-d'hote, and the silencing effect it has on the most talkative, is invariable, as it is inexplicable, and accents sharply the contrast with the breezy clatter of the American summer hotel dining-hall. This is not to say that either is, in all ways, to be preferred. Each in its own setting. There is a comforting stir and whir about the great, bare, sociable dining-hall at Crawford's or at the Grand Union, which causes a European table-d'hote utterly to pale and dwindle. And there is a satisfying quiet, a self-respecting, ritualistic calm, in the frescoed salle-a-manger of the Schweizerhof, or of the Grand Hotel at Biarritz, which makes its American rival seem impetuous and unrestful, and even a trifle garish. 'Tis hard to choose. Man and mood both vary. There is no parallel. The two modes of dining are as wide apart as the countries and their characteristics, and each is, in the best sense, distinctly typical.
There is music during the evening in the little park we passed, and the best of Biarritz assembles to enjoy the programme. We charter chairs with the rest. Tables go with the chairs without extra charge, waiters follow up the tables, and soon all the world is sipping its coffee or cordials, and listening to Zampa. Outside, around the fence enclosing the little park, revolves an endless procession of the poorer people,—thrifty folk who are here as earners, not spenders, and would not dream of melting their two sous into a chair. Round the small enclosure they go, by couples or threes, like asteroids round the sun, staring with interest at the more aristocratic assemblage within,—just as the family circle stares at the boxes. And the music sings on pleasantly for all, this mild summer evening in Biarritz.
BAYONNE, THE INVINCIBLE.
"I am here on purpose to visit the sixteenth century; one makes a journey for the sake of changing not place but ideas."
In the morning, a dashing equipage rolls up to the doorway of the Grand Hotel. A "breack" is its Gallicized English name. It has four white horses, with bells on the harness, and the driver is richly bedight in a scarlet-faced coat, blazing with buttons and silver lace; a black glazed hat, and very white duck trousers. We ascend, the ladder is removed, the porter bows, his thanks, the whip signals, and we roll out of the court-yard for a six-mile drive northward to Bayonne.
We take the sea-road in going, following the bluff as it trends northward, and having dazzling views of blue sky and blue water. There is a fresh, sweet, morning breeze, which exhilarates. Truly here is the joy of travel! Kilometre-stones pass, one after another, to the rear. Still the road presses on, winding over the downs, or between long rows of pines and poplars standing even and equidistant for mile after mile. The light-house at the end of the crescent beach comes nearer. Few teams are met, and fewer travelers; for the main highway to Bayonne, which lies inland and by which we are to return, is shorter than this, and draws to itself the most of the traffic.
At length, the light-house is neared, and to the right Bayonne is seen, not far off. The breack turns to the right along the river Adour, which here runs to the sea, and, skirting the long stone jetties, we roll toward town by the Allees Marines, a wide promenade along the river, cross the bridge, rattle through the streets, and draw up before the hotel in the open square with a jingle and whip-cracking and general hullaballoo which fills the street urchins with awe and gives unmixed joy to our jolly driver.
Bayonne has been a centre.
A few cities are suns, the rest planets. This, with regard to their importance, not their size.
If Bordeaux is the sun of southwestern French commerce, Bayonne has at least been the most important planet, with the towns and villages of a wide district for its satellites.
Here we catch the first breath of the bracing mediaeval air we shall breathe in the Pyrenees. Bayonne has still a trace of the free, out-of-door spirit of its lawless prime. Miniature epics, more than one, have clustered around it. The rallying-cry, "Men of Bayonne!" has always appealed to the intensest local pride to be found perhaps in France, and the boast of the city still is that it has never been conquered. Looking back to the sharp times when every near warfare centred about Bayonne,—when feudal enmities were constantly outcropping on quick pretexts,—when the issue always gathered itself into hand-to-hand encounter, and was determined by personal prowess,—the boast is not meaningless.
The Basques, who are close neighbors to Bayonne, make the same boast. As Basques and Bayonnais were always fighting, their respective boasts seem to be continuing the conflict. But these old feuds, desperately bitter, were after all local and guerilla-like, and the advantages ephemeral. At few times did either people clash arms with the other in a general war. Thus neither conquered the other, and in peace their boasts joined hands against all comers.
Bestriding both the river Nive and the swift Adour, Bayonne seems a healthy and healthful city, viewed in this June sunshine. But there is little of the new about it. The horses are taken from the breack, we leave at the hotel a requisition for lunch, and move forth for a survey. The chief streets are wide and airy, but a turn places one instantly in an older France. We ramble with curiosity in and out among the streets and shops, finding no one preeminent attraction, but an infinite number of minor ones which maintain the equation. In fact there is little for the guide-book sight-seer in Bayonne. The cathedral leaves only a dim impression of being in no wise remarkable. The citadel affords, it is said, a wide-ranging view, but we prefer the arcades and the people to the heat of the climb. The shops along the square are small but characteristic; they are evidently for the Bayonnais themselves rather than for strangers; this gives them their only charm for strangers. But taken in its entirety and not in single effects, the town is wholly pleasing. These dark, ancient arcades, its old houses, its rough-cobbled pavements, its general appearance of fustiness, give it a charmingly individual air.
They contrast it, however, completely with Biarritz. Bayonne is a staid and serious city, Biarritz a youthful-hearted resort. Bayonne is reminiscent of the past; Biarritz is alive with its present. The genie of modern improvement has not yet come, to rebuild Bayonne. Neither fashion nor commerce has sufficiently rubbed the lamp. It holds unlessened its long-time population of about thirty thousand souls; it still drives its comfortable, trade as the second port of southwestern France; it is known as enjoying a mild commercial specialty or two, as in the line of textiles, particularly wools and woolen fabrics; and it displays an artless pride in its reputation for excellent chocolate. It even pets, a little suburb of winter visitors, and it has caught some quickening rays from the summer prosperity of its neighbor. But it will never feel the bounding impulse of rejuvenescence that has come to Biarritz. Bayonne has no potentialities. It will continue in its afternoon of peace, of easy, quiet thrift, contentedly aside from the main current of events, recounting its traditions, prodigiously and harmlessly proud of its local prestige; like a tribal chieftain of the homage of his clan.
Basques abound in the streets, and the varied costumes to be seen show the influence of that strange race. There are Spaniards here, too, and Jews in plenty, mingling with the native French element. The men wear the berret, a wool cap, like that of the Scotch lowlander, but smaller. It is of dark blue or brown, and in universal use from Bordeaux southward. When capping the Basque, particularly, with his rusty velvet sack, crimson sash, dark knee-breeches and stockings, and the sandals or wooden sabots worn on the feet, its effect is vividly picturesque. The poorer women, as elsewhere on the Continent, become hard-featured and muscular with age; saving a few beggars, they all seem to be busy,—carrying burdens, washing linen, watching their huckster-stalls or the dark little shops under the arcades. Here, however, the men themselves are not idle. One seldomer sees in southern France a sight frequent in Italy and many other parts of Europe,—that of a woman toilsomely dragging a hand-cart or shouldering a burden while her spouse walks idly by and smokes a thankful pipe.
Diminutive donkeys, hardy and hoarse, are in great use, and we hear in the streets their plaintive and sonorous denunciations of men and manners. The donkey here seems to take the place of the dog, which in Holland and Scandinavia is taught the ways of constant and praiseworthy usefulness. There, with a voluble old woman for yoke-fellow, he draws the small market-carts about the streets and grows lusty-limbed in the service. Here, the donkey does duty for both, dog and old woman, and must develop both muscle and tongue to offset their respective specialties.
An afternoon of peace, such towns as Bayonne have earned and gained. This one has added few notable pages to universal history, but its own personal biography would be an exciting one. It is worn with adventure, and old before its time. The quarrelings of its hot youth, the tension of strife and insecurity, the life of alarms it has lived, have aged it. They have aged many another city of Europe, and endeared the blessing of repose.
They were different days, those of the past of Bayonne. These streets are narrow, the houses stoutly walled, because they were built for siege as well as shelter. The doorways are low-browed, the stone-lined rooms little lighter than caves, because every man's hand might rise against his neighbor, and every man's hovel become his castle. Humanity was a hopeless discord; individual security lay only in individual strength. It is hard to conceive clearly the fierce life of the Darker Ages. The rough jostling, the discomfort and pitilessness, the utter animality of it all,—it is hard to conceive it even inadequately. The curtest historical sweep from then to now, shows how far the world has come. The savage unrest of slum and faubourg to-day shows too how far the world has yet to go. Not till civilization becomes more than a veneer, will it lose its liability to crack.
The picture is not wholly dark. There were many of the humanities. There was culture and thought and refinement, much of it of a high type. Light and shade,—both were strongly limned. But in the mass, it was barbarism. For the lower classes, occupation, brawling; mental thermometer at zero; cruelty and greed the ethical code. "You should feel here," declares Taine, "what men felt six hundred years ago, when they swarmed forth from their hovels, from their unpaved, six-feet-wide streets, sinks of uncleanness, and reeking with fever and leprosy; when their unclad bodies, undermined by famine, sent a thin blood to their brutish brains; when wars, atrocious laws, and legends of sorcery filled their dreams with vivid and melancholy images." Hear him tell over one of the trenchant tales from the annals of Bayonne:
 Tour Through the Pyrenees; translated by J. SAFFORD FISKE, New York: Henry Holt & Co.
"Pe de Puyane was a brave man and a skillful sailor, who, in his day, was Mayor of Bayonne and admiral; but he was harsh with his men, like all who have managed vessels, and would any day rather fell a man than take off his cap. He had long waged war against the seamen of Normandy, and on one occasion he hung seventy of them to his yards, cheek by jowl with some dogs. He hoisted on his galleys red flags, signifying death and no quarter, and led to the battle of Ecluse the great Genoese ship Christophle, and managed his hands so well that no Frenchman escaped; for they were all drowned or killed, and the two admirals, Quieret and Bahuchet, having surrendered themselves, Bahuchet had a cord tightened around his neck, while Quieret had his throat cut. That was good management; for the more one kills of his enemies, the less he has of them. For this reason, the people of Bayonne, on his return, entertained him with such a noise, such a clatter of horns, of cornets, of drums and all sorts of instruments, that it would have been impossible on that day to hear even the thunder of God.
"It happened that the Basques would no longer pay the tax upon cider, which was brewed at Bayonne for sale in their country, Pe de Puyane said that the merchants, of the city should carry them no more, and that if any one carried them any, he should have his hand cut off. Pierre Cambo, indeed, a poor man, having carted two hogsheads of it by night, was led out upon the market-place, before Notre Dame de Saint-Leon, which was then building, and had his hand amputated, and the veins afterwards stopped with red-hot irons; after that, he was driven in a tumbrel throughout the city, which was an excellent example; for the smaller folk should-always do: the bidding of men in high position.
"Afterwards, Pe de Puyane having assembled the hundred peers in the town-house, showed them that the Basques, being traitors, rebels toward the seigniory of Bayonne, should no longer keep the franchises which had been granted them; that the seigniory of Bayonne, possessing the sovereignty of the sea, might with justice impose a tax in all the places to which the sea rose, as if they were in its port, and that accordingly the Basques should henceforth pay for passing to Villefranche, to the bridge of the Nive, the limit of high tide. All cried out that that was but just, and Pe de Puyane declared the toll to the Basques; but they all fell to laughing, saying they were not dogs of sailors like the mayor's subjects. Then having come in force, they beat the bridgemen, and left three of them for dead.
"Pe said nothing, for he was no great talker; but he clinched his teeth, and looked so terribly around him that none dared ask him what he would do nor urge him on nor indeed breathe a word. From the first Saturday in April to the middle of August, several men were beaten, as well Bayonnais as Basques, but still war was not declared, and when they talked of it to the mayor, he turned his back.
"The twenty-fourth day of August, many noble men among the Basques, and several young people, good leapers and dancers, came to the castle of Miot for the festival of Saint Bartholomew. They feasted and showed off, the whole day, and the young people who jumped the pole, with their red sashes and white breeches, appeared adroit and handsome. That night came a man who talked low to the mayor, and he, who ordinarily wore a grave and judicial air, suddenly had eyes as bright as those of a youth who sees the coming of his bride. He went down his staircase with four bounds, led out a band of old sailors who were come one by one, covertly, into the lower hall, and set out by dark night with several of the wardens, having closed the gates of the city for fear that some traitor, such as there are everywhere, should go before them.
"Having arrived at the castle, they found the draw-bridge down and the postern open, so confident and unsuspecting were the Basques, and entered, cutlasses drawn and pikes forward, into the great hall. There were killed seven young men, who had barricaded themselves behind tables and would there make sport with their dirks, but the good halberds, well pointed and sharp as they were, soon silenced them. The others, having closed the gates, from within, thought that they would have power to defend themselves or time to flee; but the Bayonne marines, with their great axes, hewed down the planks, and split the first brains which happened to be near. The mayor, seeing that the Basques were tightly girt with their red sashes, went about saying, (for he was unusually facetious on days of battle,) 'Lard these fine gallants for me! Forward the spit into their flesh justicoats!' And, in fact, the spits went forward so that all were perforated and opened, some through and through, so that you might have seen daylight through them, and that the hall, half an hour after, was full of pale and red bodies, several bent over benches, others in a pile in the corners, some with their noses glued to the table like drunkards, so that a Bayonnais, looking at them, said, 'This is the veal market!' Many, pricked from behind, had leaped through the windows, and were found next morning, with cleft head or broken spine, in the ditches.
"There remained only five men alive, noblemen, two named D'Urtubie, two De Saint-Pe, and one De Lahet, whom the mayor had set aside as a precious commodity. Then, having sent some one to open the gates of Bayonne and command the people to come, he ordered them to set fire to the castle. It was a fine sight, for the castle burned from midnight until morning. As each turret, wall or floor fell, the people, delighted, raised a great shout. There were volleys of sparks in the smoke and flames, that stopped short, then began again suddenly, as at public rejoicings, so that the warden, an honorable advocate and a great literary man, uttered this saying: 'Fine festival for Bayonne folk; for the Basques, great barbecue of hogs!'
"The castle being burned, the mayor said to the five noblemen that he wished to deal with them with all friendliness, and that they should themselves be judges if the tide came as far as the bridge. Then he had them fastened two by two to the arches, until the tide should rise, assuring them that they were in a good place for seeing. The people were all on the bridge and along the banks, watching the swelling of the flood. Little by little it mounted to their breasts, then to their necks, and they threw back their heads so as to lift their mouths a little higher. The people laughed aloud, calling out to them that the time for drinking had come, as with the monks at matins, and that they would have enough for the rest of their days. Then the water entered the mouth and nose of the three who were lowest; their throats gurgled as when bottles are filled, and the people applauded, saying that the drunkards swallowed too fast and were going to strangle themselves out of pure greediness.
"There remained only the two men D'Urtubie, bound to the principal arch, father and son, the son a little lower down. When the father saw his child choking, he stretched out his arms with such force that a cord broke; but that was all, and the hemp cut into his flesh without his being able to get any further. Those above, seeing that the youth's eyes were rolling, while the veins on his forehead were purple and swollen, and that the water bubbled around him with his hiccough, called him baby, and asked why he had sucked so hard, and if nurse was not coming soon to put him to bed. At this, the father cried out like a wolf, spat into the air at them, and called them butchers and cowards. That offended them so, that they began throwing stones at him, with such sure aim that his white head was soon reddened and his right eye gushed out; it was small loss to him, for shortly after the mounting wave shut up the other.
"When the water was gone down, the mayor commanded that the five bodies, which hung with necks twisted and limp, should be left a testimony to the Basques that the water of Bayonne did come up to the bridge and that the toll was justly due from them. He then returned home amidst the acclamations of his people, who were delighted that they had so good a mayor, a sensible man, a great lover of justice, quick in wise enterprises, and who rendered to every man his due."
One asks where were the preceding ages of civilization. Where was the influence of Babylonia and Egypt, of Athens and of Rome? Here in mid-Europe, nearly two thousand years after Socrates, and in the second millenary of the white light of Christianity, men were like wolves, nay worse, rending their prey or each other not under the lashing of hunger but from very ferocity.
By way of contrast, take a fete given in Bayonne in happier years. An account of it, garnered from old records, I translate from the French of Lagreze. Elizabeth, sister of Charles IX and wife of Philip of Spain, was returning from the Baths of Cauterets and passing through the city; the fete was in her honor. Charles was there, the King of France, with the queen-mother, Catherine de Medici; Marguerite of Valois, and her future husband, the young Henry of Navarre.
 LAGREZE: La Societe et les Moeurs en Bearn.
"The place for the fete had been well chosen: it was an isle of the Adour. In the centre, a border of ancient oaks encircling a grassy glade framed it round into a kind of arboreal parlor. Under the shade of these great trees, in the multitude of their leafy nooks, were disposed the tables. That of royalty rose in the midst, elevated above all the rest; it was reached by four grassy steps.
"Decorated barges transported the guests to the enchanted isle; at their approach, in honor of the arrival, strains of soft music fell upon the ear. The musicians represented Neptune, Arion, six tritons, three sirens, and numberless minor marine deities; the sirens chanted sweet songs of romance and chivalry, seeking to approve the fabled charm of siren voices.
"Rivulets of water, skillfully led in along tiny grooves, serpentined among the parterres, half hidden in rare and brilliant flowers. Dainty shepherdesses in waiting line stretched hand in hand to the water's edge, and formed a species of avenue leading to the table of honor.
"In advance of the retinue went Orpheus and Linus, accompanied by three nymphs, reciting verses to their Majesties,—who had, however, at this moment, more eyes than ears, and could not cease admiring the bevy of shepherdesses in their picturesque costumes, brightly colored and so varied. These shepherdesses, forming afterward into separate groups, each group the graceful rival of the next, wore the costumes of the different provinces and danced to music the respective dances there in usage: those of Poitiers to the music of the bagpipe, those of Provence to the kettle-drums, the Champenoises to the small hautboys, the violins and the tambourines, and so for the rest.
"The aged trees which covered with shade the banqueting tables formed a vast octagonal hall, in the centre of which rose in all its majesty a gigantic oak-tree. At its base vaulted the jet of a fountain, the limpid waters springing from a basin of glittering shells.
"The table of honor was taken by the king; his mother, Catherine de Medici; the Duke of Anjou, who was afterward to become Henry III; the Queen of Spain; Henry of Navarre, (afterward Henry IV,) and Margot, his future wife.
"The repast was served with promptness. Six proficient bagpipe-players went before five shepherds and ten shepherdesses, who advanced three by three, each bearing a salver. Six stewards guided them by crooks ornamented by flowers. Following this, eight shepherds and sixteen shepherdesses made the service at the other tables; one and two advanced at a time, depositing their salvers and retiring to make way for others.
"At the latter part of the repast, appeared six violin-players, resplendent in tinseled garb; also nine nymphs of a marvelous beauty; a swarm of musicians accompanied them, disguised as satyrs.
"Toward nightfall, to the astonishment of all, suddenly shone out a luminous rock lit up with fantastic glow; out of which came forth as by magic countless naiads, their soft robes glistening with jewels; they dart out upon the sward and join in a fair and lissome dance."
But one thing was wanting to crown this princely picnic,—a storm. It came. Says the queen Margot, who was pleased to relate herself the details of this fete: "Envious Fortune, unable to suffer the glory of this fair dance, hurled upon us a strange rain and tempest; and the confusion of the sudden evening retreat by boat across the river brought out next day as many mirthful anecdotes as the lavish festival itself had brought gratifications."
Such was a fete champetre in the sixteenth century,—filled in with all the luxuriant pomp and splendor which the French love so dearly.
Yet, only seven years after this scene of flowers and song, France was in blood, and the age had darkened once more; the evil-minded De Medicis, queen-mother and king, had given the signal for the Massacre of St. Bartholomew.
It was Bayonne, too, whose governor, when ordered in advance by the king to arrange for massacring the Huguenots in his city on that epoch-making night, dared to send back a prompt and spirited refusal. "Your Majesty," he reported, "I have examined those under my command touching your mandate; all are good citizens and brave soldiers, but I am unable to find for you among them a single executioner!"
The Queen of Spain, widow of Charles II, resided here from 1706 until 1738. Many stories are told of her good-heartedness and her lavish fondness for display. The Bayonnais were children still, and loved her for it. She, too, gave a festival and banquet,—in honor of some Spanish successes; "it lasted even till the next day among the people, and on board the vessels in the river; and the windows of every house were illuminated.... After the repast was finished," adds the grave record, "much to the satisfaction of all, a panperruque was danced through the town. M. de Gibaudiere led the dance, holding the hand of the Mayor of Bayonne; the Marquis de Poyanne bringing up the rear; so that this dance rejoiced all the people, who on their side gave many demonstrations of joy."
The world has grown stiffer since, and Mayors and Marquises are no longer wont to caper about the streets of great cities in the sportive abandon of a festival dance; in those days it seems not to have abated a jot of their serious dignity.
Bayonne is the key to all roads south and east. It has a superb citadel. It has been a valuable military position, has withstood seventeen sieges in its day, and is still an important strategic point. Here were exciting times during the Peninsular war, when Wellington on his northward march from Spain found Bayonne in his way and undertook to capture it. More a fancy than a fact, however, is probably the tradition that the bayonet was invented in this locality and took its name from the city. The story of the Basque regiment running short of ammunition and being prompted by the exigency to insert their long-handled knives into the musket-muzzles, has since had grave doubts cast upon its veraciousness. This is most unfortunate, for it was a story which travelers delighted to honor.
It is mid-afternoon as our breack clatters out again over the paved roadway of the bridge and we turn westward along the river for the return to Biarritz. A few vessels stand idly moored to the quays. The Allees Marines are quiet and still; later they will be thronged. They are the favorite promenade of Bayonne, which thus holds here a species of daily "town-meeting" as the dusk comes on. At present we see merely a few old women bearing panniers toward the city, and rope-makers at work upon great streamers of hemp which stretch from tree to tree. Soon we turn off to the southward, and are on the main highway to Biarritz.
This highway sees a considerable traffic. Bayonne furnishes carts, Biarritz carriages. Omnibuses ply to and fro; market-barrows are drawn frequently past; burden-bearers and peasants are met or overtaken trudging contentedly on. The latter cheat both the omnibus and themselves, for the fare is but a trifle, and the road hot and sandy. It is abundantly shaded by trees, but we agree that it is far better enjoyed en breach than on foot.
This is the road once famous for the cacolet. It must have been a pleasing and peculiar sight, in the years ago, to see the jolly Duchess of Berri and her fashionable companions sociably hobnobbing with their peasant drivers en cacolet in the pleasant summer afternoons.
SAINT JOHN OF LIGHT.
"Guibelerat so'guin eta Hasperrenak ardura?"
"As we pursue our mountain track, Shall we not sigh as we look back?"
The days pass happily by, at Biarritz. One quickly feels the charm of the place; it has its own delightfulness, apart from the season and its amusements. In the season, however, the amusements are not once allowed to flag. By half-past ten, fashion is astir and gathers toward the beach for the bathing hour; then parts to walk and drive, and afterward to lunch. It takes its siesta as does the nation its neighbor; meets once more for the afternoon hour on the sands, and at six drifts to the Casino, where children are soon dancing, little glasses clinking, and mild gambling games in full swing. The thought of dinner deepens with the dusk, but in the evening the tide sets again to the Casino, and a concert or a ball rounds up the day.
The scope of diversions is much the same as on the opposite edge of the Atlantic,—with due allowance for national types; but here there is perhaps more color to the scene. European watering-places are naturally cosmopolitan. Here at Biarritz, English society mingles with the French, and both are strongly reinforced from Spain. Only thirteen hours from Paris, or twenty-two, actual travel, from London, it is but one from the Spanish frontier and eighteen from Madrid. Memories of Orleans, Pavia and the Armada are canceled in the common pursuit of pleasure.
"Three hosts combine to offer sacrifice; Three tongues prefer strange orisons on high; Three gaudy standards flout the pale blue skies; The shouts are, France, Spain, Albion, Victory!"
There is besides a goodly sprinkling from other countries. A Russian nobleman and his family are to arrive at our hotel to-morrow. The spot is not difficult of access for Italians. The Austrians have long appreciated it. And do we not constitute at least a small contingent from across the ocean?
Not only visitors make up the parti-colored effect. There are all grades in Biarritz,—visitors and home-stayers, rich and poor,—
"From point and saucy ermine, down To the plain coif and rustic gown."
The natives have their peculiar air and customs, and the Basques are always picturesque. Spanish guitar-players vie with Neapolitan harpists, and both with the waves and the hum of talk. The lottery spirit shoots up here from its hot-bed in Spain. Small boys wander about the beach with long, cylindrical tin boxes painted a bright red and carried by a strap from the shoulder. The rim of the lid is marked off into numbered compartments, and in its centre is an upright teetotum with a bone projection; while the cylinder itself is filled with cones of crisp, flaky sweet-wafers, stacked one into another like cornucopias. The charge is one sou for a spin, and the figure opposite which the projecting bone-piece stops indicates the number of cones due the spinner. The figures vary from 2 to 30, and there are no blanks. Every one appears to patronize the contrivance, and you constantly hear the click of the teetotum along the beach. Though there are but two 30's in the circumference, each who spins fondly hopes to gain one, and thus the same spirit which supports Monte Carlo in splendor gives these boys a thriving trade.
We spend an idle morning on the projecting point of bluff overlooking the coves and the fishermen's cabins. This promontory uplifts a signal-station, the Atalaye. Down at the left and rear, cutting inland, is the Port Vieux, where the second bathing pavilion stands; and, sending up their cries and shoutings to the heights, we
"see the children sport along the shore, And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore."
The day is breezy and not too warm. We feel few ambitions. Has the dreamy spirit of the South come upon us so soon?
It will be a perfect spot for a picnic lunch.
We will imitate the fete champetre of Charles and Catherine held on the isle of the Adour. The ladies give their sanction, and three of us are promptly appointed commissaries. We take the path down to the street, and find a promising little grocery-store. The madame bows a welcome.
"Can one obtain here of the bread?" we ask.
"Ah, no," deprecatingly, "that is only with the baker."
"A little of cheese, then? and some Albert biscuits? And a bottle or two of lemonade, and one of light wine?"
"But yes, without doubt; monsieur shall have these instantly;" and a bright-faced little girl proceeds to collect the supplies.
"Might one carry away the bottles, and afterward return them?" we venture.
Here the madame begins to appear suspicious. It is evidently an irregular purchase at best, and this request seems to make her a trifle frosty.
"A deposit should perhaps be necessary," we suggest; "how much is desired?"
Madame gives the subject a moment's thought. "Monsieur would have to leave at least four sous on each bottle," she finally declares.
"And could madame also lend us some small drinking-glasses, it may be, and a little corkscrew?"
The old lady is visibly hardening. She is clearly averse to mysteries. We may be contrabandists, or political exiles, or any variety of refugee foreigners. She hesitates about the drinking-glasses; is not sure she has a corkscrew. But another deposit is soothingly arranged for and paid, and the articles are found.
"And now could we ask to borrow a basket?—also on deposit."
But here the madame's obligingness quite deserts her. The refusal is flat. She has no basket which can possibly be spared.
It is, we see, plainly time that we should explain our mysterious selections. Confidingly we entrust her with the secret, and lay bare our unconventional plan. At the first she listens unmoved, but the idea of "pique-nique" is soon borne in upon her, and lets in a ray of light. The frost thaws a trifle. "We are with friends," we say; "they are on the bluffs; they have desired to make a luncheon for once without the fork,—to eat their little breads in the open air, upon the rocks." Our listener nods, half doubtfully. Then we play our highest trump: "We are but on a visit to Biarritz; we have come from far away; we are Americans."
Instantly the barriers are down; madame is our firmest ally. "Run, Elise, seek the large pannier for our friends! Is it that you are of the fair America?—la belle Amerique. Ah, but monsieur, why have you not said thus before? You should most charmingly have been supplied; are they not indeed always the friends of our country,—the Americans! You shall bring here the breads you buy at the bakery; we will add knives and plates and some fruit, and Elise shall herself carry for you the full basket to the place of the pique-nique."
Verily the Stars and Stripes are words to conjure with! The picnic is a complete success. The De Medici fete is more than surpassed; even an attendant nymph, in the person of the rustic Elise, is not wanting; the historical parallel is perfect.
In fact, the parallel finally carries itself too far. So small an affair even as this, it appears, cannot escape the hostility of "envious Fortune,"—the same who untimely cut off its lamented rival. A large, black cloud, coming up over us like a vengeful harpy, forebodes the invariable downpour, and grimly compels us to shorten the feast.
On Sunday, we attend the English service; Britain is sufficiently well represented at Biarritz to support one during both summer and winter. The day is restful and calm, and we stroll out afterward along the beach and over to the deserted villa of the Empress, returning by the path on the bluff. The sound of trowels and hammers is in part stilled about the town, and the afternoon takes on a comfortingly peaceful tone in consequence. The English-speaking contingent keeps the day as quietly as may be; the Continental majority of course does not. In a few weeks, posters will adorn the Saturday bulletins, announcing the next day's bull-fight in San Sebastian, over the border; and if Sunday is quiet at Biarritz in the season, it is simply because all the world spends the day at San Sebastian.
But Spain and the Pyrenees lie before us, and we cannot tarry longer at Biarritz. We shall long feel the warm life of the fresh June days by the sea. The breack rolls again into the court-yard; we pay our devoirs to mine host and our dues to his minions, and once more we start, this time toward the south.
We are to dip into Spain for a day, and have chosen to go by road as far on the way toward the frontier as St. Jean de Luz, before taking the train. St. Jean lies on the crescent of the shore only eight miles away, and the road, like the sea-road to Bayonne, follows the curve of the higher land, and shows beach and hill and sea in turn as it trends over the downs. It is another clear, taintless morning. The sun is already high; but, though having the sky wholly to himself, he is forbearing in his power. Palisades of poplars lend us their shadows; clumps of protecting firs stand aside for the road, each with a great gash down its side and a cup fastened below to catch the bleeding pitch. Now we are facing the Pyrenees; a little to the left they rise before us, still miles away. These are not the high Pyrenees; the monarchs stand in the centre of their realm, and are hardly to be seen, even distantly, until we shall in a day or two turn inland and approach them. The mountain wall is broken and lower near the sea, both east and west; yet even here it rises commandingly, filling the horizon with its hazy hills.
The road is the counterpart of that to Bayonne. We fly smoothly on, above its hard, thin crackle of sand. We meet peasants afoot, and burdened horses, on their morning way to Biarritz or Bayonne. The men ornament their loose, blue linen frocks and brown trousers with the bright scarlet sash so popular in this region. Heavy oxen draw their creaking loads toward the same centres,—their bowed heads yoked by the horns, which are cushioned with a woolly sheepskin mat and tasseled with red netting. They pull strongly, for the loads are not light, and the clumsy wheels are disks of solid wood. Little donkeys trot amiably by, with huge double panniers that recall the cacolet. A file of marching soldiers is overtaken; small villages are passed, each one agog with the stir of our transit; while now and then we meet a dog-cart and cob or a stylish span, antennae of the coming season of fashion.
To the right is the accurate level of the sea-horizon; about us are the heath and furze and the sand-dunes; and far along to the south we can trace the arc of the beach, until it ends in the projecting hills of Spain.
* * * * *
St. Jean is reached almost too soon, for the drive has been exhilarating. We enter by a long, narrow street, which is found to be alive with people. A small procession is in motion, enlivened by a band. Every one seems in holiday dress. Our driver has before shown his easy conviction that streets were intended first for breacks, secondly for citizens; and now he urges his horses down this narrow way without a pause in their gallop. The whip signals, the bells on the harness jingle furiously, the wheels clatter along the cobbles; and, almost before we have time to order a slackening, procession and by-standers, like a flock of sheep, go in disorder to the wall, and our breack sweeps by into the central square.
It is the festival, we find, of the village's patron saint, St. John the Baptist. The twenty-fifth of June renews his yearly compact of protection. In the afternoon, there will be the full procession, led by the priests, and with a canopied effigy of the saint or of the Virgin borne in solemnity behind them. Services in the cathedral will follow, and probably an evening of illumination. We enter the cathedral. Its floor has been newly strewn with sweet hay, and near the altar, is the sacred image itself, adorned for the procession, dressed in linen and velvet and gilt lace, and with a chaplet of beads in its wooden hand. The canopy-frame, ready prepared, is close by, with its projecting handle-bars, its four upright poles and its roof of white satin embroidered with gold.
The cathedral itself is somewhat more interesting than we expected to see; it is a Basque rather than a French church, has a very high chancel and altar and no transepts, and the altar is marked by a striking profusion of color and of gilding, which does not degenerate into the tawdry and which lights up vividly under the entering noon light. The chapels at the sides are similarly decorated. Dark oaken balconies, elaborately carved, run in three tiers along the upper part of the nave. The seats in these are reserved for the men, the women being relegated to small black cushions placed on the chairless floor.
St. Jean's one great event was the marriage of Louis XIV with the Infanta of Spain, which took place in this same church. "A raised platform extended from the residence of Anne of Austria to the entrance of the church, which was richly carpeted. The young queen was robed in a royal mantle of violet-colored velvet, powdered with fleurs-de-lis, over a white dress, and wore a crown upon her head. Her train was carried by Mesdemoiselles d'Alencon and de Valois and the Princess of Carignan. After the ceremony, the queen complained of fatigue, and retired for a few hours to her chamber where she dined alone. In the evening, she received the court, dressed in the French style; and gold and silver tokens commemorative of the royal marriage were profusely showered from the windows of her apartment."
 MISS PARDOE: Louis XIV.
* * * * *
Without, as we turn for an idle stroll, we find a fair-sized town, with provincial streets like much of Bayonne. Often the stories of the houses jut out, one over the other. These projections give a relish of local color to the crooking ways, intensified by the round-tiled roofs and by occasional red or blood-colored beams and doorposts. Although we are still on the French side of the frontier, Spanish influence is already marked, while that of the Basques predominates over both. St. Jean is also a summer resort, in a modest way, chiefly for quiet Spanish families; and from the heavy stone sea-wall built along the beach we see many of their villas. In days before the railroad went beyond, the port exchanged regular and almost daily steamers with San Sebastian and Santander, thus connecting with the Spanish rail, and giving a rather important traffic advantage. It fostered, besides, extensive cod-fishing and even whaling enterprises. Its harbor has suffered since; the rails too have gone through to Spain, and St. Jean is left mildly and interestingly mournful, in its lessened power, its decayed gentility.
In St. Jean de Luz, we are fairly in the country of the Basques. One sees so many of that singular people in the streets, and along the Biscayan shore generally, that inquiries about them are almost forced upon the attention. The Basques are still the curiously ill-explained race they have always been; the learned still disagree over their origin, and the world at large scarcely knows of them more than the name. They are scattered all through this lower sea-corner of France, shading off near Bayonne; and are in yet greater numbers in the adjoining upper edges of Spain. It seems strange that the beginnings of this isolated race should to-day be almost no better settled than in the time of Humboldt or Ramond. Yet they contrive still to embroil the philologists and historians. Here the race has lived, certainly since the days of the Romans, probably since long before, out of kin with all the world, and the world's periods have passed on and left them. No one knows their birth-mark; they have forgotten it themselves. Of theories, numberless and hopelessly in discord, each still offers its weighty arguments, and each destroys the certainty of any.
This appears incredible. What mystery is insoluble in the sharp light of modern research? Yet until the defenders of the view that the Basques came from Atlantis can make truce with the advocates of their Phoenician origin,—until the well-attested theory of their affinity with certain South American races can overthrow the better-attested theory that they are the remains of the ancient Iberians,—until Moor and Finn, Tartar and Coptic, can amicably blend their claims to relationship, the Basques must remain as they are,—foundlings; or rather, a race whose length of pedigree has swallowed up its beginnings.
 It is said that the Basque nomenclature of domestic animals is almost entirely Finnish.
It is these unattached sea and mountain races who are always hardest to conquer. Hence the boast of the Basques. Even the Romans, though they could defeat, could not subdue them. The strong Roman fortress of Lapurdum (now Bayonne) did not succeed in even terrifying them, though they were worsted several times by its legions. Down through all the early part of the long Christian era, the forefathers of these frank-faced fishers and mountaineers we see here in the streets of St. Jean kept their hills stubbornly to themselves. Later, as much perhaps from policy as necessity, the race came gradually to fall in with the general governments crystallizing about them. The Spanish Basques came first into the traces, though not until the thirteenth century; they were then finally incorporated into the Castilian monarchy. But they claimed and held marked rights in compensation. While special privileges—fueros—were accorded to certain other provinces as well as to them, theirs were the widest and endured the longest. They had five special exemptions: they were not subject to military conscription; nor to certain imposts and taxes, (paying a gross composition in their place;) nor in general to trial outside their province; nor to the quartering of troops; nor to any regulations of their internal affairs beyond that of the corregidor, a representative magistrate appointed by the king. These fueros lasted in substance even up to 1876, when Alfonso's government finally repealed them. While thus the Spanish Basques have, even under allegiance, held stoutly to the right of virtual self-government, their brethren north of the Pyrenees long preserved a still fuller autonomy, only coming into the national fold of France under the impetus of the Revolution.
Thus the Basques have a stiff record of independence; it keeps them in no little esteem, both with themselves and with their neighbors. Trains, travel, traffic, eat into their solidarity, and may in time disintegrate it; but a Basque has not yet lost a particle of his pride of clan; it is inborn and ineradicable; he would be no other than he is; "je ne suis pas un homme" he boasts, "je suis un Basque." You note instinctively his straighter bearing among the neighboring French peasantry; you can often single out a Basque by his air. This hardens into a peculiar result: since they are all of the same high lineage, all are aristocrats; every Basque is ex officio a nobleman; this is seriously meant and seriously believed. There are no degrees of caste, the highest is the only; the entire race is blood-proud, ancestor-proud. A Basque family might not improbably have been the originators of that celebrated family tree which remarked, in a marginal note only midway back, that "about this time the Creation took place."
They are not stilted in their pride, however; your true Basque cares much for his descent and little for its dignities. "Where the McGregor sits," he would affirm, "there is the head of the table," and so he cares nothing about the nominal headship. He lives a free, busy life in the hill-country or near the sea, stalwart, swarthy, a lover of the open air, apt at work and sufficiently enterprising, self-respecting, "proud as Lucifer and combustible as his matches," in no case pinchingly poor, but rarely rich, and never in awe of his own coat-of-arms.
Writers uniformly take a wicked pleasure in maligning the Basque language. Its spelling and syntax, its words and sentences, its methods of construction, are openly derided. Unusual word-forms and distended proper names are singled out and held up to jeers and contumely. A Spanish proverb asserts that as to pronunciation the Basques write "Solomon" and pronounce it "Nebuchadnezzar." The devil, it is alleged, studied for seven years to learn the Basque tongue; at the end of that time he had mastered only three words and abandoned the task in disgust. "And the result is," adds a vivacious writer, "that he is unable to tempt a Basque, because he cannot speak to him, and that consequently every Basque goes straight to heaven. Unfortunately, now that the population is beginning to talk French, (which the devil knows terribly well,) this privilege is disappearing."
Overhearing disjointed Basque phrases on the Biarritz beach or here in the streets and cafes of St. Jean, one will not blame the devil's discouragement. There is scarcely one familiar Aryan syllable. For centuries their speech was not even a written one; there is said to be no book in Basque older than two hundred years. But, its strangeness and isolation once allowed for, there is in reality much to defend in the Basque language. As spoken, it is far from being harsh, and falls pleasantly, often softly, on the ear; the sounds are clear, the articulations rarely, hurried as with the French. The words, other than a few proper names, do not exceed a sober and reasonable length, and as to spelling, every letter has its assigned use and duty; there are no phonetic drones. The original root-forms are short and always recognizable; the full words grow from these by an orderly if intricate system of inflections and the forming of derivatives.
The inflections are, it must be admitted, intricate. Each noun boasts two separate forms, and each of its declension-cases keeps a group of sub-cases within reach for special emergencies. There are only two regularly ordained verbs,—"to be" and "to have"; but they don different canonicals for each different ceremony, and their varying garbs seem fairly without limit. In the Grammaire Basque of M. Geze, published in Bayonne, I count no less than one hundred and eight pages of closely-set tables needed to paint the opalescent hues of these multiform auxiliaries,—and this only in one dialect, out of six in all. M. Chaho, an essayist of weight and himself a Basque, informs us artlessly and seriously that one counts a thousand and forty-five forms for their combined present indicatives, and a trifle over ten thousand forms for the two fully expanded verbs; and yet the language, he hastens to add, is so magically simple that even a Basque child never makes an error!
As to its appearance in print, the reader may judge for himself, for here is one of their favorite love-songs. These light songs abound, many being surprisingly delicate and dainty.
"Chorittoua, nourat houa, Bi hegalez airian? Espanalat jouaiteco, Elhurra duc bortean. Algarreki jouanen guiuc Elhurra hourtzen denian.
"San Josefen ermita Desertion gora da. Espanalat jouaiteco, Han da goure pausada. Guibelerat so'guin eta Hasperrenak ardura?
"Hasperrena, habiloua Maitiaren borthala. Bihotzian sar hakio Houra eni becala; Eta guero erran izoc Nic igorten haidala."
A graceful English version of the above is in existence, and will fitly complement its original:
"Borne on thy wings amidst the air, Sweet bird, where wilt thou go? For if thou wouldst to Spain repair, The ports are filled with snow. Wait, and we will fly together, When the Spring brings sunny weather.
"St. Joseph's hermitage is lone, Amidst the desert bare, And when we on our way are gone, Awhile we'll rest us there; As we pursue our mountain track, Shall we not sigh as we look back?
"Go to my love, O gentle sigh, And near her chamber hover nigh; Glide to her heart, make that thy shrine, As she is fondly kept in mine. Then thou mayst tell her it is I Who sent thee to her, gentle sigh!"
In regard to length of words, there exist undoubtedly some surprising examples, but they are merely compound expressions and quite in analogy with those of better known and less abused tongues. The German, for one, indulges in such with notorious yet unrebuked frequency. One is naturally startled at encountering in Basque such imbrications as Izarysaroyarenlarrearenbarena, or Ardanzesaroyareniturricoburua, which are actual names of places in Spanish Basque-land; but they are mercifully rare, and when analyzed prove to be rational and even poetic formations, laden with a full equivalent of import,—the first of the above two signifying "the centre of the field of the mountain of the star," and the second, "the summit of the fountain of the mountain of the vine."
These be scarcely fair samples, however. Commoner words and some of their more musical phrases are instanced in the following, taken in the dialect of this region of St. Jean:
Haran, Valley. Etchelde, Farm. Ogi, Bread. Egur, Wood. Maraza, Hatchet. Nekarsale, Workman. Aita, My father. Lo, Sleep. Etche, House. Etchetar, Household. Nerhaba, Child. Nescatcha, Maiden. Zorioneko, Happy. Ama, My mother. Neure maiteak, My loved ones.
Home words, such as these latter, give a glimpse of this people's home life. For they are devoted to their household as to their tribe, and uniformly show a certain homely honesty and simplicity underneath all their free ways. Love of smuggling does not impugn this honesty,—in their own view, at all events; for the Basque, man and woman, is a born smuggler, and believing it right is not ashamed. Indeed, they make common cause of it; for years, if a revenue officer detected and shot a Basque in the act, he had to fly the land at once, for the entire neighborhood united in seeking hot and deadly vengeance.
The race is notably fond of dancing and drama, and the villages hold frequent open-air theatricals, generally upon religious themes, which they always handle with great seriousness. They have at intervals unique contests in improvisation, rivaling Wolfram and Tannhaueser, or the Meistersingers, in this special talent. They are fruitful, too, in proverb lore, as would be expected in an old race. Their wise saws are sharp, often rasping:
"Hard bread makes sharp teeth." (Ogi gogorrari haguin sorroza.)
"One eye suffices the seller; the buyer has need of a hundred."
"Marriage-day is the next day after happiness."
"Avarice, having killed a man, took refuge in the Church; it has never gone out since."
Husbandmen, herdsmen, fishermen,—such are the majority. The farms are small, averaging four or five acres, and descend by primogeniture; flax, hemp, corn, are their staples. Basques were the first whalers, so it is declared, and St. Jean used to be a noted port for their vessels; the whales have since sought more northern banks, and St. Jean is reduced to the humbler quest of sardines and anchovies. There are iron-mines and marble-quarries, besides, to engage many; hunting and logging are favored pursuits; Basque sailors are to be found in all waters, while great numbers of the younger men are now yearly emigrating to the South American coasts, to make a better living,—and to avoid conscription.