The punctuation and spelling from the original text have been faithfully preserved. Only obvious typographical errors have been corrected.
[A DISTRICT OF FRANCE,]
WILD SPORTS, VINEYARDS AND FORESTS;
Legends, Antiquities, Rural and Local Sketches.
HENRI DE CRIGNELLE,
ANCIEN OFFICIER DE DRAGONS.
TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT IN FRENCH,
AUTHOR OF "NOTES OF A HALFPAY;" "LIFE OF BRUMMELL;" "MURRAY'S HAND-BOOK FOR RUSSIA," ETC., ETC.
SAUNDERS AND OTLEY, CONDUIT-STREET.
LONDON: PRINTED BY WILLIAM TYLER, BOLT-COURT.
Born in one of the most beautiful provinces of France, in a country of noble forests and extensive vineyards; brought up in the open air amidst the blue hills, and ever wandering over the fields and mountains with a gun on my arm—all the hours of my youth, if I may so say, were spent in search of partridges and hares in the dewy stubbles, and in the pursuit of the wild cat and the boar in the shady depths of the woods.
When relating the adventures of these different shooting rambles to a friend, talking over with him our mode of sporting so different from that of England, and when in imagination I carried him along with me into the dells and dark ravines, and described to him the chase and death-struggle of the ferocious wolf, or the odd characters and antediluvian customs of the primitive people amongst whom I passed the days of my happy boyhood, astonished, he could hardly believe that such sports and such singular personages existed within so short a distance of his own country.
"Why not scribble all this?" he would say, "your sketches would make capital light reading."
"But to write is not easy; and, besides, what a poor figure I and my dogs and wolves, woodcocks and vineyards, would cut after the terrible Mr. Gordon Cumming. How could any description of mine interest the public in comparison with those of that famous shot and his three coffee-coloured Hottentots, with his bands of panthers and giraffes, his troops of yellow lions dancing sarabands round the fountains, and his jungles and swamps swarming with elephants and hippopotami?"
"But we might be able to go to Le Morvan," said my friend, "whereas few indeed, if they wished it, can go to the South of Africa to shoot elephants through the small ribs; neither is it probable that many of us would like to pass several years of their valuable lives shut up in a loose, rolling, sea-bathing-machine-like wagon, with their own beloved shadow alone for all Christian company. Let us have a narrative of your exploits?"
"You do not consider what you ask," I replied; "my gossip may have amused you, but the effusions of my pen would to a certainty make you yawn like graves."
"Nonsense," whispered the flatterer, "you will open to us a new country, you will confer a real service upon hundreds of restless Englishmen, who when summer comes know not for the life of them where to go, or where not to go;—write your work, and advise them to turn their steps to Le Morvan at the time of the vintage."
But now another, a huge difficulty, sprung up. Printers do not lend their types for nothing any more than they give gratis their time and paper. To publish a book is always an expensive affair; misfortune, which had touched me with its wing, which has been the sad guest of my house, deprived me of the power of undertaking it myself: and where to find a person so generous as to take upon himself the responsibility of the undertaking? Happily I was in England, in the land of kind hearts and warm sympathies. A noble lady, the mother of a distinguished English nobleman, who passes her life in doing good, took an interest in my forlorn history, and was pleased to honour me with her patronage. With this mantle of protection thrown around me, and my generous friend having undertaken to bear the responsibilities of publishing, the difficulties were soon swept away, and Le Morvan was written.
I had hoped that I should in this Preface be permitted to mention her name, which would have been less a compliment to her than an honour to me; but her modesty has refused this public acknowledgment of my unbounded gratitude,—a veil of respectful reserve shall therefore remain suspended over her name. As for me and mine, we shall treasure it in our thankful hearts—every day shall we pray that the Great Giver of all good may confer upon her His most precious and gracious blessings.
HENRI DE CRIGNELLE.
LONDON, August, 1851.
English propensity to ramble—Where and how—Le Morvan—Vezelay—Description of the town—Historical associations connected with it—Charles IX.—Persecutions of the Protestants—View from Vezelay—Scenery and wild sports—The Author—Object of the Work p. 1
Le Morvan—Forests—Climate—Patriarchs and Damosels—Peasants of the plain and the mountains—Jovial Cures—Their love of Burgundy—The Doctor and the Cure 14
Geology—Fossil shells—Antediluvian salmon—The Druids—Chindonax, the High Priest—Roman antiquities—Julius Caesar's hunting-box—Lugubrious village—Carre-les-Tombes—The Inquisitive Andalusian 26
Le Morvan during the Middle Ages—Legendary horrors—Forest of La Goulotte—La Croix Chavannes—La Croix Mordienne—Hotel de Chanty—Chateau de Lomervo—A French Bluebeard—Citadel of Lingou 35
Castle of Bazoche—Marechal de Vauban—Relics of the old Marshal—Memorials of Philipsburg—Hotel de Bazarne—Madame de Pompadour's maitre d'hotel—Proof of the cures' grief—Farm of St. Hibaut—Youthful recollections—Monsieur de Cheribalde—Navarre the Four-Pounder—His culverin 43
Bird's-eye view of the forests—The student's visit to his uncle in the country—Sallies forth in the early morning—Meets a cuckoo—Follows him—The cuckoo too much for him—Gives up the pursuit—Finds he has lost his way—Agreeable vespers—Night in the forest—Wolves—Up a beech tree—A friend in need—The student bids adieu to Le Morvan 55
Charms of a forest life to the sportsman—The Poachers—Le Pere Seguin—His knowledge of the woods and of the rivers—The first buck—A bad shot 65
Le Pere Seguin's collation—The young sportsman and the hare—The quarrel—The apology—The reconciliation—The cemetery—Bait for barbel—Le Pere Seguin's deceased friends—The return home 75
Passage of the woodcock in November—Laziness of that bird—Night travelling—Mode of snaring them at night—Numbers taken in this way—This sport adapted rather for the poacher—The braconnier of Le Morvan—His mode of life—The poacher's dog—The double poacher 88
The woodcock—Its habits in the forests of Le Morvan—Aversion of dogs to this bird—Timidity of the woodcock—Its cunning—Shooting in November—The Woodcock mates—The Woodcock fly 100
Fine names—Gustavus Adolphus and the cabbages—Gustavus Adolphus no hero!—The Parisian Sportsman—Partridge shooting despicable—Wild boar-hunting—Rousing the grisly monster—His approach—The post of honour—Good nerves—The death—The trophy and congratulations 117
The Mares—Manner in which they are formed in the depths of the forest—Mare No. 1.—Description of it—The appearance of the spot—Mode of constructing the hunting-lodge—Approach of the birds—Animals that frequent the Mares in the evening 141
Appearance of the Mare in the morning—Forest etiquette—Mode of obtaining possession of the best Mare—Every subterfuge fair—The jocose sportsman—The quarrel—Reveries in the hut—Comparison between meeting a lady and watching for a wolf 157
Mare No. 2.—Description of it—Not sought after by the sportsman—The sick banker—The doctor's prescription—The patient's disgust at it—Is at length obliged to yield—Leaves Paris for Le Morvan—Consequences to the inmates of the chateau—The banker convalescent 170
Summer months in the Forest—Mare No. 3.—Description of it—The Woodcock fly—The Banker has a day's sport—Arrives at the Mare—Difficult to please in his choice of a hut—Proceeds to a larger Mare—His friends retire—The Banker on the alert for a Wolf or a Boar—Fires at some animal—The unfortunate discovery—Rage of the Parisian—Pays for his blunder, and recovers his temper 188
The Cure of the Mountain—Toby Gold Button—Hospitality—The Cure's pig—His hard fate and reflections—The Cure of the plain—His worth and influence—The agent of the Government—Landed Proprietors—Their influence—The Orator—Dialogue with a Peasant 207
The wolf—His aspect and extreme ferocity—His cunning in hunting his prey—His unsocial nature—Antiquity of the race—Where found, and their varieties—Annihilated in England by the perseverance of the kings and people—Decrees and rewards to encourage their destruction by Athelstane, John, and Edward I.—Death of the last wolf in England—Death of the last in Ireland 221
The battues of May and December—The gathering of sportsmen—Preparations in the forest—The charivari—The fatal rush—Excitement of the moment—The volley—The day's triumph, and the reward—The peasants returning—Hunting the wolf with dogs—Cub-hunting—The drunken wolf 236
Wolf-hunting, an expensive amusement—The Traquenard—Mode of setting this trap—A night in the forest with Navarre—The young lover—Dreadful accident that befell him—His courage and efforts to escape—The fatal catastrophe—The poor mad mother 248
Shooting wolves in the summer—The most approved baits to attract them—Fatal error—Hut-shooting—Silent joviality—The approach of the wolves—The first volley—The retreat—The final slaughter—The sportsman's reward—The farm-yard near St. Hibaut—The dead colt—The onset—Scene in the morning—Horrible accident—The gallant farmer—Death of the wolves, the dogs, and the peasant—The wolf-skin drum—Anathema of the naturalists 261
Fishing in Le Morvan—The naturalist—The Gour of Akin—The English lady—The mountain streams—Chateau de Chatelux—Sermiselle—New mode of killing pike—Pierre Pertuis—The rocks and whirlpool there—The syrens of the grotto—Chateau des Panolas—The Cousin—The ponds of Marot and lakes of Lomervo—Mode of taking fish with live trimmers—The Scotch farmer 280
Village fetes—The first of May—The religious festivals—The Fete Dieu—Appearance of the streets—The altars erected in them—Procession from the church—Country fairs—The book-stalls at them—Pictures of the Roman Catholic Church—Before the Vendange—Proprietor's hopes and fears—Shooting in the vineyards—The first day of the Vendange—Appearance of the country—Influx of visitors at this season—The consequences—Herminie—Her sad history—Le Morvan—Recommended to the English traveller—Lord Brougham and Cannes—Contrast between it and Le Morvan 297
English propensity to ramble—Where and how—Le Morvan—Vezelay—Description of the town—Historical associations connected with it—Charles IX.—Persecutions of the Protestants—View from Vezelay—Scenery and wild sports—The Author—Object of the Work.
Every nation has its characteristics, and amongst those which are peculiar to the genius of the English people, is their ardent and insatiable love of wandering.
To locomote is absolutely necessary to every Englishman; in his heart is profoundly rooted a passion for long journeys; each and all of them, old and young, healthy and sickly, would if they could take not merely the grand tour, but circulate round the two hemispheres with all the pleasure imaginable. At a certain period of the year, when the weathercock points the right way, the sun burns in the sign of the Lion, and the husbandman bends his weary form to gather in the golden corn, the legs of the rich Englishman begin to be nervously agitated, he feels a sense of suffocation, and pants for change—of air, of place, of everything; he girds up his loins, and without throwing a glance behind him, it is Hey, Presto! begone! and he is off. Where?
It is autumn, blessed autumn, the season of harvest and sunny days; the English are everywhere—they fly from their own dear island like clouds of chilly swallows, light upon Europe as thick as thrushes in an orchard, and are soon mingled with every nation of the earth, like the blue corn flowers in the ripe barley fields. Yes, from north to south, from east to west, go where you will, you cannot proceed ten miles without meeting a smiling rosy English girl coquettishly concealed under her large green veil, and a grave British gentleman, whistling to the wide world in the sheer enjoyment of having nothing to do but to look at it.
I have seen green veils climbing the Pyramids; I have seen green veils diving down into the dark mines of the Oural; I have seen an English gentleman perched like a chamois on the top of St. Bernard, hat in hand, roaring "God save the Queen." I have seen some sipping Syracusan wine, puffing a comfortable cloud from obese cigars, most irreverently seated in the big nose of St. Carlo Borromeo. One-half of England is gone to China, the other half to Africa; these will speak to you of Kamschatka, those of the mountains of the Moon, just as a London cockney or a Parisian badaud would speak to you of Greenwich or of Bagnolet. Some have boxed with the bears of the Pyrenees; others have killed lions and tigers by dozens; one has crossed the Nile on a crocodile, another vows he waltzed with a dying hippopotamus, and several have bagged camelopards and elephants by scores. In short, they have trodden with a bold disdainful step all the high-roads and by-roads of our wondrous planet, displaying, in every quarter of the compass, the daring and devil-may-care spirit of their youth and the spleen of their mature age, as well as the yellow guineas from their long and well-filled purses.
Well, then, ask of all this wandering tribe, who boast of having been everywhere, and seen everything; ask those travelling birds who have flown through France and Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Palestine; who have sledged in Russia and fished in Norway; who have lost themselves in the prairies of the far West, or in the Pampas, the gorges of the Andes, or the Alleghanies; who have bronzed their epidermis in the fierce heat of the tropics, or moistened their fair chevelure in the diamond spray of Niagara; who have, in fine, journeyed through calm and hurricane, snow-storms, sirocco, and simoom; who have rubbed noses—male noses—of the tattooed savage; mounted donkeys, ostriches, camelopards, lamas, and dromedaries; mules, wild asses, negroes, and elephants; ask them all if once in their lives—one single once—they have seen or even heard of LE MORVAN?
Not one of these thousands will answer yes. Le Morvan, where is it? what is Le Morvan? Is it a mountain, a church, a river, a star, a flower, a bird? Le Morvan, who knows anything about Le Morvan? Echo answers, "Who knows?" Paddy Blake's replies, "Nobody." And yet all of you roving English, who delight in athletic sports and rural scenes—the forest glade and murmuring streams, a view halloo and the gallant hound; who love the bleak and healthy moors, the cool retreats, the flowery paths, and mountain solitudes, how happy would you be in Le Morvan. Where, then, is Le Morvan?
Le Morvan is a district of France, in which are included portions of the departments of the Nievre and the Yonne, having on the west the vineyards of Burgundy, and on the east the mountains of the Nivernois. Its ancient and picturesque capital, Vezelay, crowns a hill 2,000 feet in height, and commands a panoramic view of the country for thirty miles round. It has all the characteristics of a town of the feudal times, with high embattled and loopholed walls, numerous towers, and deep and strong gateways, under which are still to be seen the grooves of the portcullis, the warder's guard-room, and the hooks that supported the heavy drawbridge.
The capital of Le Morvan partially owed its rise to a celebrated nunnery, founded by Gerard de Roussillon, a great hero of romance and chivalry, who lived, loved, and fought under Pepin, the father of the grand Charlemagne. This nunnery, which was sacked and burnt to the ground by the Saracens, those terrible warriors of the East, was restored in the ninth century, and fortified; and as the sainted inmates were believed to have amongst their relics a tress of the golden hair of the beautiful and repentant Magdalen, troops of the faithful—and people were ready to believe a great deal in those days—flocked to Vezelay, when it soon became a large and flourishing town.
In the tenth century, when the people, in their endeavour to shake off a few links of their fetters, refused to bend their bodies in the dust before their lords and their minds before their priests—when the seeds of liberty, till then lying in unprofitable ground, though watered for centuries by the tears of tyranny and oppression, first germinated and rose above the earth, who gave the signal of resistance in France?—the inhabitants of Vezelay. Yes; it is to her citizens that the honour belongs of having first refused to submit to the power, the domineering power, of political and ecclesiastical rule; it was her brave inhabitants who, assembling in secret, thought not of the peril, but, having promised help and protection one to the other, flew to arms. A short and desperate struggle ensued, but the victory remained in the hands of the abbot of Vezelay. Hundreds of brave men were put, without mercy, to the sword, and many, with less mercy, burnt alive or died by the torture in the dark dungeons of the abbatical palace. Vezelay still preserves in its archives the names of twelve of these martyrs.
Again in the twelfth century, when the cry to the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre shook all Europe, and every nation poured forth her tens of thousands to drive the infidel from that land in which their Redeemer had lived and died an ignominious and cruel death, it was at Vezelay that Pope Eugenius III. assembled a great council of the princes of the church, the great barons, and chivalry of those times. It was in her immense cathedral, one of the oldest and largest in the kingdom, amidst the clang of arms, war cries, and religious chaunts, and in the presence of Louis le Jeune, King of France, that St. Bernard preached, in 1146, the Second Crusade.
Vezelay is celebrated as having been the birth-place of Beza, the great Protestant Reformer (1519), who succeeded not only to the place but to the influence of Calvin, and was, after that eminent man's death, regarded as the head and leader of the Genevese church.
It was to Vezelay, the only town that dared to offer them the protection of its walls, that the unfortunate Protestants fled after the horrible massacre of St. Bartholomew's—the base political cruelty of the brutal homicide, Charles IX. Tracked and hunted down like wild beasts, and a price set upon their heads, they found staunch and noble hearts in the inhabitants of Vezelay; but, ere long, an army of their insatiable foes arrived and besieged the town, and treachery at a postern one stormy night made them masters of it, when scenes of horror followed under the mask of religion that even at this distance of time make one recoil with terror and disgust at the dogmas of the corrupt faith which dictated them.
Roasting men alive, and boiling women, dashing out the brains of many a cherub boy and prattling girl, was the pleasing and satisfactory pastime with which Pope Gregory, Catherine de Medicis, and her congenial son gladdened their Christian hearts. The blood of their victims still cries to us from the ground of their Golgotha; for on the south side of the town there is a large green field, called Le Champ des Huguenots. The damning fact, from which this spot received its name, has been handed down to us by the historian. It is as follows:
The Catholics, having instituted a strict search in the woods and caverns of the environs, made so many prisoners that they were puzzled what to do with them—nay, in what manner they should take their lives. Among many ingenious experiments, it was suggested that they should bury them alive up to their necks in the field to which we have alluded; and this was accordingly done with nine of them, whose heads were bowled at with cannon-balls taken from the adjoining rampart, as if they had been blocks of wood instead of live human heads. The shrieks of the miserable beings excited no compassion; on the contrary, it afforded amusement to their executioners: so that games of skittles upon the same principle were played the whole length of this meadow.
Turning aside from these execrable deeds of man to the works of Nature and of Nature's God, which have always been and always must be lovely and worthy of our deepest admiration, let us dwell for a moment upon the splendid view from the castle-terrace, which forms the principal promenade of Vezelay. Shaded by large and venerable trees, through the lofty branches of which many a storm has howled for nearly four hundred years, the sight from hence is one of the finest panoramic views in France.
All around, whether on the slope of the hills by the river-side, in the middle distance, or near the mountains which form the horizon, are seen hundreds of little villages, and many a white villa scattered among the green vines as daisies on the turf. To the left and right are St. Pere and Akin, two hamlets, which seem like faithful dogs sleeping at the foot of the mountain crowned by Vezelay. The province in which this cloud-capped fortress-town is situated is a retired spot out of the beaten track of the tourist, the man of business, or the man of pleasure—lost, as it were, in the very heart of beautiful France, like a wild strawberry in the depth of the forest—encircled by woods, and unknown to the foreigner, who, in his rapid journey to Geneva or to Lyons, almost elbows it without dreaming of its existence.
Le Morvan rears in its sylvan depths a population of hardy and honest men and lovely women, fresh as roses, and gay as butterflies. There the soft evening breezes are charged with the songs of ten thousand birds, the odours of the eglantine, the lily of the valley, and the violet, which, shaking off its winter slumbers, opens its dark blue eye and combines its perfume with that of its snowy companion.
Le Morvan is a country that would delight an Englishman, for it is full of game; here the sportsman may vary his pleasures as fancy dictates. The forest abounds with deer; the plain with rabbits and the timid hare; and in the vineyards, during the merry season of the vintage, the fat red-stockinged and gray-clad partridges are bagged by bushels. Here the sportsman may watch in the open glades the treacherous wild cat and the bounding roebuck; and, should these sports appear too tame, he may, if foot and heart are sound, plunge into the dark recesses of the forest in pursuit of the savage and grisly boar, or the fierce and prowling wolf.
When evening comes, bringing with it peace and rest to the industrious peasant, when the moon shall light her bright lamp in the star-spangled heavens, and shed her silvery rays across the plain, the hunter may lead forth the village belle, and foot it merrily on the mossy greensward, to the sound of the bagpipe and the rustic flute, by fountains which never cease their monotonous but soothing plaint, and under the long shadows of the ancient oaks and tall acacias.
Happiness, says Solomon, consists not in the possession of that gold for which men toil so unremittingly and grave deep wrinkles on the heart and brow. Happiness lights not her torch at the crystal lustres in the halls of royalty; she rarely chooses for her home the marble palaces of the wealthy, nor is she often the companion of the great, robed in costly apparel; rarely does she braid her hair with pearls, or wear the rosy lightning of the ruby on her fair bosom.
Happiness is known only to him who, free and contented, lives unknown in his little corner, deaf to the turmoil and insensible to the excitements of the selfish crowd, and ignorant of the sorrows and sufferings of great cities. She is found in the enjoyment of the sunshine and the open air, in the shady groves and flowery fields, by the side of the murmuring brooks, and in the society of the gay, frank, and simple-minded peasant of my own dear country. Oh! my white and pretty pavillon, whose walls are clad with fragrant creepers and the luscious vine, whose porch is scented with the woodbine and the rose—oh! lovely valleys, dark forests, deep blue lakes which sleep unruffled in the bosom of the hills, beautiful vine-clad hills, where in the morning of my youth I chased those flying flowers, the bright and painted butterflies—oh! when, when shall I see you all again—like the bird of passage, which, when the winter is over, returns to his sunny home? When shall I see thee again? Oh! my sweet Le Morvan! Oh! my native land! Happy, thrice happy they who cherish in their hearts the love of nature, who prefer her sublime and incomparable beauties to the false and artificial works of man, accumulated with so much cost and care within the walls of her great cities. Happy, too, are those who have not been carried away by the fatal flood of misfortune from the paternal hearth, who have always lived in sight of that home which sheltered their merry childhood, and whose lives, pure and peaceful as the noiseless stream of the valley, close in calmness and serenity like the twilight of a bright summer's day.
Le Morvan—Forests—Climate—Patriarchs and Damosels—Peasants of the plain and the mountaineer—Jovial Cures—Their love of Burgundy—The Doctor and the Cure.
Le Morvan, anciently Morvennium, or Pagus Morvinus, as Caesar calls it in his Commentaries, comprises, as we have before remarked, a portion of the departments of the Nievre and the Yonne, lying between vine-clad Burgundy and the mountains of the Nivernois. Its productions are various; in the plains are grown wheat, rye, hemp, oats, and flax: on the mountain side the grape is largely cultivated; and in the valleys are rich verdant meadows, where countless droves of oxen, knee-deep in the luxuriant grass, feed and fatten in peace and abundance.
But the real and inexhaustible wealth of Le Morvan is in its forests. In these several thousand trees are felled annually, sawn into logs, branded and thrown by cart-loads into the neighbouring torrent, which, on reaching a more tranquil stream, are lashed into rafts, when they drift onwards to the Seine, and are eventually borne on the waters of that river to the capital. The forests of the Nievre are some of the most extensive in France; thick and dark, and formed of ancient oaks, maple, and spreading beech, they cover nearly 200,000 acres of ground. Those of the Yonne are larger but of a character far less wild.
The climate of this part of France is delightful; with the exception of occasional showers, very little rain falls; the sky is serene, and scarcely ever is a vagabond cloud seen in the ethereal blue to throw a shadow upon the lovely landscape beneath. For six months of the year the sun is daily refulgent in the heavens, and sets evening after evening in all his glorious majesty. But in the woods it is not thus; the storms there are sometimes terrible, and, like those of the tropics, arise and terminate with wonderful rapidity. These tempests, which purify the atmosphere, leave behind them a delicious coolness, the trees and shrubs, as they shake from their trembling leaves their sparkling tears, appear so bright—the flowers which raise again their drooping heads, load the air with such delightful odours—the whole forest, in short, seems so refreshed and full of life, that every one hails their approach, the toil-worn peasant breathes without complaint the sultry air, and observes with pleasure the dark and lowering clouds gathering in the far horizon.
From the mountains, those huge ladders of granite that God has planted upon the earth, as if to invite ungrateful man to come nearer to him, descend many a stream and dancing rill of pure and crystal waters. No part of France can be said to be more salubrious. "Centenarians" are by no means uncommon, and a patriarch of that age may be found in several families.
When Sunday comes, always a jour de fete as well as a day of prayer, it is very pleasing to see one of these venerable men, dressed in his best clothes, walking to church at the head of his children, grand-children, and great grand-children. Long and of snowy whiteness is his hair, and glossy white as threads of purest silver is his beard—his hat, of quaker broadness in the brim, is generally encircled, in the early days of Spring, with a wreath of the common primrose, and his dark cloth mantle, of home-spun fabric, hangs gracefully on his shoulders, showing underneath it the dark red sash that girds his still healthy and vigorous frame. Tall and grave, erect and majestic as the oaks of their native forests, these patriarchs bespeak every one's respect, and when looking on them you might imagine they were men of another age, a generation of by-gone years, you might fancy them some ancient Druids that have escaped from their dusty tombs, from centuries of night, to tread once more the pathways of this planet.
And the women, heaven and earth! how sweetly pretty, how amiable and adorable; and such eyes, dark and lustrous!—full of witchcraft, burning and humid as an April sun after a shower. Some there are, also, of pensive blue, pregnant with promises, soft and almond-shaped, like the divine eyes of the Italian Cenci. Supple as the young and slender branches of willow, are these divinities, fresh as new opened tulips, and brisk and gay as the golden-speckled trout in the sparkling current. In their charms is found a terrestrial paradise, a compound of delicious qualities which intoxicate the senses, hook the heart, and like the bite of the Sicilian tarantella, steep the loved one in delirium.
Yes, the women of Le Morvan are lovely, ardent, and tender-hearted as the dove, especially those who dwell within the forest districts; for nothing contributes so much to bring forth the loving principle of the affections as the silent melancholy of the umbrageous woods, and the soft and perfumed breezes that pervade them. Here, in the dusk and stillness of the summer evenings, these wood-nymphs hear in the lofty branches of the linden, the endearing love songs of the feathered tribe, and when night throws its charitable gloom over their blushing cheeks, they whisper at the trysting place what they have heard and seen to their rustic admirers.
We have just briefly sketched the two extremes, the old men of Le Morvan and its sprightly damosels: we must now mention the inhabitants generally, and these vary like its productions according to locality. The peasant of the plains is civil, gentle, and industrious, but cunning and dangerous as an old fox; and if he thinks money may be squeezed from your pocket, be sure there will be no sleep for him till he has taken some out of it. Full of fun, he loves above all the dance, the song, the merry laugh, and good cheer—and the uncorking of a bottle would be for him a supreme delight, if this excellence itself was not superseded, by the far greater blessedness of emptying it.
The inhabitant of the mountain, on the other hand, is sober, severe and roughly barked—clothed with silence and gravity, smiling but once a year—the day he has cheated a good man of the plain; he does not please so much at first sight: but if in any danger, if you are surprised by a hurricane, surrounded with wolves; or you have lost your way, in a night as dark as the grave itself, you call and ask his help, oh! it is then that his sterling qualities shine forth in all their splendour. Always ready, always on the look out, the ear for ever bent to catch the well-known sounds of the forest, the slightest indication of distress awakes his vigilance; it is then he comes, it is then he flies, and his arm, gun, and eyes—his cabin, dog, and lean horse are all at your command.
Admirable example of courage and of devotedness: money for him is nothing; happy to be useful, he obliges for the mere pleasure of obliging. Many, many times have I seen poachers, cottagers, charcoal-burners, and wood-cutters, poor as Job, hardly breeched, hungry as a whole Irish borough, leave their work, their sport, their field, their tree half down,—abandon in the roads, under the guard of the dogs, their carts and oxen, and go some dozen of miles, through storm and tempest, through rush, rock, and swamp, to set a sportsman in his right way again. Without saying a word, with steps attendant on his weary progress, they trudge on before, making a sign for him to follow; and when they have placed him once more on his road, a nod, a shake of the hand, a smile, a kind word falling from his lips, pays them the full price of all their troubles. Never have I seen one of them accept the least pecuniary reward for such services—they do nothing but their duty, they say; and as they are happy in the firm conviction that the whole forest belongs to them, they think they are only doing the honours of their green drawing-rooms. Thus it always happens, that when, by their good care, you have escaped certain danger, it is with great difficulty, and only after a deluge of rhetoric, that they consent to accept for their daughters or wives a red wool dress, a gold cross, or a row of large blue Pundaram beads; or for themselves a few dozen of iron bullets, a bag of shot, or a flask of powder. This abnegation, this frankness of the heart, this kind sympathy for every stranger, is universal among the mountaineers; these benevolent and kindly feelings are a portion of their holy traditions, and as such are most religiously grafted by every mother into the soft wax-like hearts of her dear little ones.
But while delighting to describe the virtues of these denizens of the forests, these amiable fauns and jolly satyrs, I must not forget those jovial trencher-men, the cures of Le Morvan. Every sportsman possesses, or should possess, the digestion of an ostrich; for his appetite is generally prodigious, and the viands that fall in his way are not always the most savoury. When, however, the venison pasty, the truffled turkey, or the pain de gibier is within his reach, no one is so capable of enjoying and doing justice to these delicacies of the table, of knocking off so dexterously the neck of the champagne bottle when the corkscrew is absent, or whose legs are stretched out so gracefully at the sight of brimming glasses and recherche viands.
In these, his fallen moments, and after a good day's sport, a Morvinian would tell you he could drink all the Burgundian cellars dry,—aye, and those of Champagne too; and as to smoking, why, he would smoke a whole crop of tobacco.
To all keen sportsmen, therefore, who love good eating and wine, and intend to pay a visit to Le Morvan, I would give this piece of advice, and I would say to them, place it in the secret drawer of your memory; nay, carry it written, and, if necessary, painted on your knapsack or scratched upon your gun—fail not to make the acquaintance of the cure the darling cures. Ask who are they that love the best cuisine—who dote upon the most delicious morsels—who will have the oldest, purest, and most generous wines?—you will be answered, the cures. For whom are destined the largest trout, the fattest capons, and the best parts of the venison?—for whom the softest and most choice liqueurs, wine of the best bouquet, the largest truffles, the most luscious honey, the best vegetables, and finest fruits?—for the cures. And the most clever men-cooks, the happiest receipts, and latest culinary inventions—for whom are they? the answer is always, for messieurs les cures. Forget them not, therefore, for they are really worth remembering; besides, they have excellent hearts and are capital fellows, boon companions, full of bonhommie and good-nature: in fact, such cures it is impossible to find anywhere else.
But the great Architect of the universe has said, nothing is perfect—everything human has its weak point. Well, it cannot be helped, and it must be told, the cures of Le Morvan have their weak points; trifles, to be sure—mere bagatelles—but still they have them. They are rather too fond of old wine and good cheer. These two charming little defects excepted,—you have in the Morvinian cure goodness double distilled, and the essence of generosity, and, be it said, abnegation. This love of the bottle they imbibe from their dear colleagues of Burgundy; for it is well known, and has never been disputed, that the Burgundian cures are the greatest exterminators, uncorkers, and emptiers of wine-bottles in all Christendom. The first thing these jovial clergymen think of when they open their eyes in the morning, is an invocation to Bacchus, somewhat in the following strain: "O Bacchus! son of Semele, divine wine-presser! O vineyards! full of the purple grape! O wine-press! inestimable machine!" &c. Their second movement is to extend the right arm, and clasp within their digits a flask of old Pouilli, the contents of which they swallow without once stopping to take breath. "An infallible remedy," say they, "against the devil and all future indigestions."
Fortified thus with this their first orison, they throw on their cassock, and descend to the cellar, to count the bottles, or tap and taste the barrels of some doubtful vintage. The thorough-bred Burgundian cure, particularly one who has lived and got old and fat in the solitude of a retired presbytery,—whose rubicund nose reveals his admiration for the vineyards of his native province, and whose three chins tell you that with pullets, and venison, and clouted cream he has lined his scrip,—is certainly one of the most jovial and best of men.
Ask him for indulgences, absolution, masses and prayers for the living and the dead; he will grant them all. Ask him for his niece in marriage; ask him to marry you, to baptize you, to bury you; he will do it all—yes, all for nothing! It is not in his nature to refuse anything. Ask him for his new cassock, his cane, or his hat, his black silk stockings, or his silver buckles, and they are yours. No one so ready to forgive an insult or forget an injury as he. But, by the blood of the Mirabels, give him not a bottle of bad or sour wine, for he will neither forget nor forgive it; and above all things, never give him a hint that it would be well if he gave up his favourite fluid, for be assured, you would forfeit his friendship for ever. Sooner would he consent to lose a leg or all his teeth, than give up his life-loved Burgundy! Tell him he will have an attack of apoplexy; tell him that he will be taken off suddenly by inflammation, and that water therefore should be his beverage; he will reply with a smack of his lips, and a castanet noise with his fingers. "Nonsense, my boy—stuff and rubbish! Pass the wine, my son; pass it again. Pass the ham, gentlemen. Fill a bumper. Hurrah for old Burgundy! hurrah for her wines! Confound the pale fluid, and a fig for the gout!" Such are the ebullitions of his heart in his jovial moments; and the following lines, which would spoil in the translation, give a lively picture of them:
"Pour trop bien boire un cure de Bourgogne De son pauvre oeil se trouvait deferre, Un docteur vint:—Voici de la besogne Dit-il, pour plus d'un jour;—Je patienterai! Ca vous boirez:—Eh bien! soit, je boirai! Quatre grands mois:—Plutot douze, mon maitre. Cette tisane!—A moi? hurla le pretre, Vade retro! Guerir par le poison! Non, par ma soif! perdons une fenetre, Puisqu'il le faut, mais—Sauvons la Maison."
Geology—Fossil shells—Antediluvian salmon—The Druids—Chindonax, the High Priest—Roman antiquities—Julius Caesar's hunting-box—Lugubrious village—Carre-les-Tombes—The Inquisitive Andalusian.
Le Morvan, independently of its hunting and fishing, its lovely climate and fine wines, pretty girls and jolly cures, possesses a more important class of beauties and perfections, secrets and enigmas, over which the savans would pore and ponder through many a day and many a night: those men who, like Eve, long to grasp the fatal apple—the apple which destroys while it attracts—the apple whose flavour, alas! is so bitter,—the apple of science. Let the geologists, who are ever bending in earnest study over the mysteries of nature, and breaking stones by the road-side,—who are ever seeking to analyse the materiel of creation,—who are always contemplating the internal and geognostic constitution of the globe, the red or the blue clay, the yellow gravel, the trappe, the limestone, the granite, or the slate, to satisfy themselves what this poor planet is made of,—let them come and ransack Le Morvan. Let them bring their hammers and chisels, their compasses and barometers, and above all, their passport,—precious document! an hundredfold more useful in France, in these liberty days, than a pair of shoes or a shirt,—let them come, and I promise them endless discoveries, a rich and ample harvest.
In the meadow lands, when, for the purpose of sinking wells, the soil is penetrated to an immense depth, the workmen often come to thick strata of schist, in which they find imbedded trunks and roots of trees, and stalks of plants and ferns, which now grow in tropical climates only.
In the highest and steepest parts of the mountain chain may be found marine petrifactions of every variety—the sea-hedgehog, the oyster, the mussel, and the star-fish; and in the beds of trachytic rock, deposited in such order that one might fancy they had been placed there by a careful and tasty housewife, are layers of the most curious shells, univalve, bivalve, sublivalve and multivalve, madrepors, and shapeless remnants of creatures now no longer known, and petrified fish.
Some few years ago, an engineer, who was carrying a road through a rock in the mountain called the Val d'Arcy, found a salmon in the most perfect condition, even with head and tail, the unhappy wretch enclosed in the heart of a large stone. I should certainly have pronounced this fish to be a cod, had not science decided it was a salmon of a large species—genus salmo, sixty vertebrae. It is now to be seen in the Natural History department, section Salmonidae, of the Museum in the Jardin des Plantes, at Paris.
Poor old salmon! said I, and I took off my hat when I had the honour of being presented to him; Poor old salmon! what wouldst thou have said, some twelve or fifteen thousand years ago, when, free and glorious thou didst pierce the briny waves,—when, perhaps, thou wast gambolling amongst the pointed summits of the Alps, plunging in ecstacy into the emerald depths of oceans now vanished,—what wouldst thou have said, could the thought have crossed thy brain, that one day thou shouldst be here? Under a glass! ticketted, numbered, pasted to the wall! forming an item in a collection of things fabulous, and exhibiting thy venerable form, thine antediluvian physiognomy, to thousands of badauds, who either pass thee without a glance, or examine thee with unfeeling curiosity, bestowing not a thought upon thy great age or thy cruel fate, or with a whit more respect for thee and thine awful history, than a cockney would show to a whitebait caught but yesterday in the Thames, and served up to him as a fraction of his fishy feast at Blackwall.
Le Morvan, abounding in forests, was a district most congenial to the gloomy spirit of the religion of the ancient Druids; and therefore, in the earliest days of the history of France, they consecrated its groves of splendid oaks to the performance of their terrible rites. Remains of many of their massive monuments still exist, in the fields, in the deep valleys, and on the tops of the hills. Antique and mysterious all of them—three-pointed stones, three-cornered stones, and massive groups of stones in mystic circle ranged, round which, the peasant will tell you with bated breath, les Gaurics—the spirits of the giants—come to weep and bewail on the first night of each new moon. During the last century, a peasant, who was at work in a deep ditch in a beautiful field of this district, came, in the course of his excavations, upon a stone which indicated, that he was not far from one of those monuments with which he was so familiar; and, upon further investigation, it proved to be the black granite tomb of the famous Chindonax, the high-priest of the Druids. It contained many relics—the sickle and the collar of gold, the holy bracelets, the metal girdle, the sacrificial axe, the knife of brass; and, in the midst, was a glass urn, containing a pinch or two of grey powder—human dust! proud dust—sad and last remnant of the Druid Chindonax.
Tumuli were, a century ago, very numerous in the uncultivated and desert tract of Les Bruyeres; but these little artificial hillocks are disappearing very fast, for the peasants throw them down when they wish to clear and level the ground. These tumuli always contain collars in baked clay, arrow-heads, battle-axes of stone, pieces of crystal, and other articles of a similar description.
Even Julius Caesar, the cruel conqueror of Gaul, the pitiless victor of Vercingetorix—Caesar, who cut off the hands of the Gauls as the only means of preventing them from fighting—Caesar admired Le Morvan. He loved that savage country, he delighted in it; in the deep gorges of its mountains he pursued the large wolves and the wild boar, and in it he established the custom of relays of dogs the whole length of the woods.
In this our day, on the summit of a mountain near the one on which is built the town of Chinon, may be seen the thick strong walls of ancient Roman buildings—buildings that have been fortified, bristling with palisades, and surrounded by moats—where Caesar had his principal kennel, his hunting-box; in short, the spot which, in the third book of his 'Commentaries,' he calls Castrum Caninum.
In the darkest and most sombre part of this forest, the lovers of antiquity will arrest their steps, delighted, at the very curious village of Carre-les-Tombes, so called from the immense number of tombs formerly found in its environs. So very numerous were they, that in 1615 the Count de Chatelux, seigneur of the parish, had some of them sawn up to build and pave the present church and tower of the steeple, and also to roof the choir. They were seven or eight feet in length, and hollowed out like troughs. Tradition says they were all found empty, with the exception of five; in these reposed tall skeletons, blanched by time, each having a helmet on his head, and a Roman sword by his side. The stones of three only of these five tombs bore any inscription, name, mark, or sign. On one was a double cross, very coarsely engraved; on the second, a very large escutcheon, which the antiquaries, in spite of their magnifying glasses, their science, and their patience, could never decipher; and on the other, the most curious of the three, a Latin inscription, in a legible, but very ancient character.
Having one day had the simplicity to translate this inscription to a young and beautiful Andalusian widow, smart was the rap of the fan that I had for my pains. I had parried her curiosity as long as I could, for her dark and dangerous eyes and clear olive complexion, which betrayed every pulse of her southern blood, combined to put me on my guard. Reader, will you wonder?—here is the inscription:
"Qui Daemone pejus? Mulier rixosa: fug ..."
"But what does it mean?" said my curious brunette.
"Senora, that you are lovely."
"Stuff, sir! not at all;" and she tossed her graceful head pettishly; "I really wish you to translate it."
"Well—here, then: 'Qui Daemone pejus'—dark women; 'mulier rixosa'—are the loveliest."
"No, no! I say; I am sure that is not it. Say it, word for word, or I shall be angry—I vow I shall."
"Word for word!" What was I to do?
"Word for word," reiterated Dona Inez.
"Indeed, Senora, I don't know ... you would not forgive me."
"It is, then, something dreadful?"
"No, not exactly dreadful, but——"
"Dios! Dios! worlds of patience!" and she stamped her tiny foot; "will you go on? You kill me with vexation. Translate it, I say, word for word." And here the Dona, with discreet carelessness opening her fan, prepared to blush.
"'Qui Daemone pejus'—who is there worse than the devil? Hum!"—now for the pinch, thought I.
"Go on! go on!—the next words."
"Well, go on, will you?"
"Yes—a quarrelsome woman!"
Like lightning the fan closed, fell upon the unlucky index of my left hand, which was thoughtlessly reposing upon the arm of the causeuse, and nearly knocked off the first joint, by way of reward for my reluctant compliance with her feminine wishes.
"Excuse me, Senora," I said, after I had recovered my breath, "but you are very unjust. I had nothing to do with writing this ungallant phrase; it was a brutal Roman, no doubt."
"You are making game of me,—I know you are."
"No, indeed; you insisted upon my translating it word for word, and I have done your bidding."
"Then the man was a wretch who wrote them."
"I think so too, Senora."
"A brute—an animal!"
"A fool—an old horror!"
"An ignorant slanderer!"
"I wager anything you like of it." But it was of no use; unconditional assent failed to pacify her. So she went on for hours; and it cost me untold pains to earn the brunette's permission to offer her an ice, or to win one single smile.
Le Morvan during the Middle Ages—Legendary horrors—Forest of La Goulotte—La Croix Chavannes—La Croix Mordienne—Hotel de Chanty—Chateau de Lomervo—A French Bluebeard—Citadel of Lingou.
But I must return from my Andalusian belle to the rugged Le Morvan,—a patriotic, but, in spite of the broken finger, by no means so captivating a subject.
In feudal times—indeed, even so late as the last century—the district was a perfect nest of cut-throats, where no one could venture in safety for any honest purpose; without roads, and without police; full of dark caverns and half-demolished castles, affording all kinds of facilities for retreat and concealment; and thus it became the favourite rendezvous of the worst and most ferocious characters of those lawless times. It is widely different now. The hunter or the traveller—a woman or a child—may ramble through the length and breadth of its forests, equally in vain hoping for the excitement or fearing the danger of any adventure, beyond the common one of seeing a wolf or wild boar threading his way amongst the trees—a matter of no consequence at all. If, however, you love to collect wild and mournful tales—tales, even, of horror, with which to rivet the attention of the family group over the fire in the winter evenings,—stop at every ruined wall over which the lizard is harmlessly creeping; stop at every massive tower in which the owl is screeching—at every large isolated stone under which the serpent is hissing; linger along each tortuous path, and your peasant guide will tell you a tradition for each—for all.
Thus, for instance: you are perhaps a few paces in front of him, in the forest of La Goulotte; and as the mid-day sun glances through the boughs above you, you see its rays rest upon a cross at a little distance; it was, you think, placed there for the rude worshippers of the province, and you contemplate it with complacent reverence, till Pierre comes up with you. "'Tis La Croix Chavannes, Monsieur, la croix sinistre. See! in the narrow pass between the two mountains, its black and moss-covered arms extended; at the end of each is a large knob, resembling a threatening hand." You walk on, and find the cross riddled with ball, chipped and notched, and carved with odd names. By the time you have reached it, Pierre has told you it was set on the spot where, many a long year ago, the Marquis de Chavannes was found, deluged in blood and quite dead; he had been pierced through the heart by a treacherous rival, who had joined his hunting party, and who basely took advantage of a moment when, in ardent pursuit of the grisly boar, De Chavannes was utterly unsuspicious of his evil intentions.
A little further on is another cross, at the entrance of a deep, dark gorge: What does that cross mean? "That one is called La Croix Mordienne, Monsieur; at its foot our forefathers knelt to recommend their souls to God, before they ventured their lives in the dangers of Les Grand Ravins, where too many had been greeted by the bullet or the dagger." The granite steps of this cross—this cross which was erected for worship—are worn deep by the knees of suppliants for protection against the cruelty of their fellow-men; and it is even a more melancholy monument of the ferocity of those times, than the one which records the assassination of the unsuspecting Marquis de Chavannes.
Pursue your way, and, crossing a wild and marshy heath, you notice a lonely house surrounded by thorny broom, the aspect of which is forbidding, though it is gaily painted. Surely, you think, it can only be the gloomy tales with which my guide has beguiled this morning's walk, that make one suspect there is a history connected with that house; and you ask him its name. "That is Chanty, Monsieur; that was once an inn. The landlord was a frightful character, even for his own times. When the doomed traveller halted at his door to seek shelter from the storm, or to refresh himself and steed the better to encounter the scorching heat, the villain drugged his wine, and, at nightfall, following him into the forest, despatched and robbed his then helpless victim. Or perhaps he would detain him with stirring tales of forest life, till he found himself too late prudently to go further that night; and, on his guard against every person but the right, ordering a bed of his treacherous host, would fall into that slumber from which the miscreant took safe means to prevent his ever awaking. When, after many years of impunity in the commission of these fearful crimes, the officers of justice were at last set upon him, and his house was searched, in the cellar were found fifteen headless skeletons!"
Such a mass of silent, awful testimony perhaps never was produced to substantiate the allegation of similar villany against any man; and atrocities like these, of the early and middle ages, have given their character to the legends of Le Morvan, which, still carefully related from one generation to another, are so impressed on the minds of the people, that the honest peasant of the present day would rather make a circuit of a dozen or twenty miles, than pass in the deepening twilight near the scenes to which they relate. Not all the gold of Peru—no, nor even of California—would tempt Les Pastoures to graze their flocks or herds near the scene of these horrid events, or pass them when the stars are spangling the dark arch of heaven.
Here also may be seen the solid walls, the array of towers, the high belfry, the iron gates, and the ponderous drawbridges of the Chateau de Lomervo; and many are the dependent buildings, courts, and gardens, surrounded by the thick copse wood that covers its domain, which extends over three neighbouring hills. Under the principal facade is a large lake, whose blue waves bathe the walls; an immense mirror, ever reflecting the numberless turrets, and the grotesque birds and beasts which decorate the extremity of every waterspout; wherein, too, the tranquil marble giants, who support the broad balcony on their heads, seem to contemplate and admire their own imperturbable countenances—countenances that betrayed no shade of feeling at all that must have passed before their eyes. The gathering of armed knights for war or revelry; the rejoicings for the birth of an heir, or the lamentations for the death of the stern gray-headed lord; the bridal of one lovely daughter of the house of Lomervo, or the solitary departure of the mail-clad lover of another for the Crusades. But, it is said, they saw much more than all this: according to popular rumour, these calm deep waters are the cold and mute depositories of frightfully tragic secrets. One bright spring morning in the very olden time, says the tradition, a Lord of this domain left his castle. It was when the sweet violet first cast its odours on the breeze, when the bright and abundant bloom of the lilac and laburnum gracefully decorated the gardens, and the country was reclad in all the charming freshness of the season. After a short absence, he returned, accompanied by a lovely bride;—but ere long she died. He went again, returning with another, and was again received by his vassals with acclamations of joy; but gloomy suspicions at last arose, for in this way, in succeeding years, were brought to the Castle eleven young and beautiful damsels. One by one, they all disappeared. What became of them? No one knew, or, if they did, dared to tell. When, however, the long-dreaded lord was dead, some old women declared, that as he became tired of each wife, he stabbed her at midnight in one of his dungeons, took a sack from a heap which he kept in the corner, and, sewing her up with his own hands, carried her noiselessly to the water-gate, and laid her in the bottom of his boat. Silently and rapidly he rowed to the centre of the lake, and coolly dropped in his hapless victim amongst the sheltering reeds.
"Ah! Monsieur," the village gossips will still tell you, as they make the sign of the cross, and tremble till you see their very stuff gowns shake again; "'tis all true, Monsieur; twenty times have we seen them in the moonlight—twenty times have we seen the poor souls, in their long white robes, with their pale faces, and the spot of blood on the left side, wandering over the lake." Poor Bluebeard, for whom in childhood we used to feel such awe, was a fool to this baron bold.
There, a little in front of you, is the fortified village of Chamou, which in former years defended the eastern opening of Les Grand Ravins; also Lingou, an old citadel, three stories high, whose walls, now cracked and ivy bound, guarded them on the south. This piece of feudal architecture, full of trap-doors and dungeons, subterranean passages, and secret stairs, is another of the places dreaded and abhorred by the peasantry of Le Morvan; for near the walls, they say, at certain periods, sounds can be distinctly heard under ground, funeral chaunts, and the tolling of bells; and if you have the daring to apply your ear to the sod, you will be able to distinguish sighs and sobs, and the dull rattle of the earth thrown upon the victim's coffin.
Castle of Bazoche—Marechal de Vauban—Relics of the old Marshal—Memorials of Philipsburg—Hotel de Bazarne—Madame de Pompadour's maitre d'hotel—Proof of the cures' grief—Farm of St. Hibaut—Youthful recollections—Monsieur de Cheribalde—Navarre the Four-Pounder—His culverin.
Each of the Radcliffian horrors narrated in the last chapter, though vastly marvellous, most probably originated in some dreadful deed of blood, on which the vulgar and superstitious admiration of excitement of those days delighted to enlarge. We shall now turn to the castle of Bazoche, where, in former days, dukes, counts and barons assembled every September with their hunting-train, to enjoy the pleasures of la grande chasse and all its attendant revelry. The chateau in later years belonged to the renowned engineer, Sebastian-le-Pretre, Marechal de Vauban, who was a native of Le Morvan, and born in 1633 in the village of St. Leger de Foucheret. The humble roof under which this celebrated man first saw the light is now inhabited by a sabot-maker.
Brought up, like Henry IV., amongst the peasants of his native province, like him he loved the remembrance of all connected with it and them; and when he died in Paris (1707), he desired that he might be buried at his beloved Chateau de Bazoche, where he had so often, sauntering under the noble platanes, sought and found relaxation from the turmoil and fatigue of a soldier's life, and forgotten the jealousies and injustice of the court. In the southern part of the building is the gallant old veteran's sleeping apartment—there still stands his bed: and his armour, with several swords and other articles which belonged to him, are still preserved. On the rampart, now probably silent for ever, are four pieces of cannon of large calibre, which thundered at the siege of Philipsburg, and were subsequently presented to the Marshal by Monseigneur, the brother of Louis XIV.
Great were the works accomplished by the genius and perseverance of this famous general—famous, not only in his own profession, but as one of the honest characters of an age when honesty was rare indeed. He improved and perfected the defences of three hundred towns, and entirely constructed the fortifications of thirty-three others; was present at one hundred and forty battles, and conducted fifty-three sieges. The body of this eminent man was, in literal compliance with his orders, interred in a black marble tomb, under the damp flagstones of the castle chapel; but his heart, in melancholy violation of the spirit which dictated them, is enclosed in a monument, surmounted by his bust, in the church of the Hotel des Invalides. Opposite to it is the tomb of Turenne, and under the same roof at last repose the mortal remains of Napoleon. Could their spirits perambulate this church at the hour when the dead only are said to be awake, and we could muster the courage to listen to their whispered communings, what should we hear? How severely would this tremendous triumvirate judge some of the so-called great men of our own time!
But there are more modern edifices in Le Morvan, with far more agreeable episodes attached to them: take, for example, the Hotel de Bazarne, a celebrated hostel, built among the green lanes on the borders of a wood of acacias—a beautiful flowery wood, which, when the merry month of May has heralded the perfumed pleasures of spring, dispenses them on every breeze over the adjacent country.
Bazarne, in its healthy situation and splendid environs, boasts the best of cookery. The last owner of Bazarne was—Reader, the utmost exercise of your lively imagination will never supply you with the right name—was an ancien maitre d'hotel of Madame la Marquise de Pompadour—Madame de Pompadour's steward! What could he have to do in the wilds of Le Morvan? Grand Jean was a curious little man, lively and brisk as a bird or a squirrel, powdered, curled, and smelling of rose and benjamin as if he were still at Versailles or Choisi. Grand Jean decorated the back of his head with a little pigtail, which much resembled a head of asparagus, and was always jumping and frisking from one shoulder to the other. His snuff-box was of rare enamel, his ruffles of point-lace, and his artistic performances in the culinary art were all carried on in vessels of solid silver. He was, from the point of his toe to the tips of his hair, the aristocrat of the saucepan and the stove.
Grand Jean acquired, in our provincial district, a reputation perfectly monumental for the richness of his venison pasties, the refined flavour, the smoothness and the exquisite finish of his omelettes aux truffes and au sang de chevreuil. All the world of Le Morvan used to visit him. And the good cures? The good cures?—ah! they all went to visit him by caravans, as the faithful wend their way across the deserts to Mecca to pray at the tomb of the Prophet. And, when he died, they mourned indeed; the worthy divines, incredible as it may be, drank water for three days, in proof of the sincerity of their woe. Who would have doubted it?
To the north of Bazarne, and on the road to the best district for sport, is seen at the foot of the gray mountains peeping cheerily, and like a white flower amidst the sombre foliage of the chestnut-trees, St. Hibaut, an immense farm, situated in an isolated spot, and built of the lava from an extinct volcano. Saint Hibaut, ah! the moment the pen traces that dear name my aching heart beats and throbs within my breast—before my eyes pass to and fro the memories of a vanished world—I seem to feel the fresh and odorous breezes from thy flowers, thy mossy banks and scented shrubs, and hear thy murmuring rills and the dash of thy wild torrents. St. Hibaut! lovely spot where flew so swiftly and so sweetly the brightest and gayest hours of my early years—St. Hibaut, the memory of thee burns within my heart: but those within thy walls, do they still think of me?
Alas! in this world of tears and deception, of moral tortures and often of physical suffering—what is there more delightful, more consolatory than to sip, nay plunge the lips, and drink, yes, drink deep from that fresh and blessed spring, the memory of by-gone days. How great the burden of the man who has been the sport of fortune, whose life has been one continued sorrow, who, never satisfied with the present moment, is always hoping for better and happier days, and always regretting those which have been and are now no more. O! Reader—if many griefs have been your portion, if it has been your sad fate to tread with naked feet the thorny paths of life, if the foul passions of envy, rage, and hatred have found a place in your heart, close your eyes, forget your miseries—open, open for a moment that golden casket called the memory, in which are preserved, embalmed and imperishable, all those happy incidents which were the delight of your youth. Yes! open wide that casket, ponder well, and with renewed fondness o'er these treasures of the mind, and believe me after such holy reflections you will feel yourself more able to meet the contumely of the world, and find yourself a happier and a better man.
Saint Hibaut, situated in a wild country, surrounded by lonely heaths and deep ravines, and water-courses whose sides are covered by almost impenetrable thickets, was at the time I speak of, that is to say, when I was eighteen years of age, the property of Monsieur de Cheribalde, the most intrepid, determined and ardent sportsman, who ever winded a horn, wore a huntsman's knife, or whistled a dog.
Distant very nearly twenty miles from any human habitation, it was at times, the favourite rendezvous, the head-quarters of a great number of chevreuil, boar and other denizens of the forest. In winter, when the snow covered the earth for several weeks, the famished and furious wolves assembled in the neighbourhood in packs, carrying off in the broad daylight everything they could lay their teeth on; sheep and shepherd, dogs and huntsman, horse and horseman, bones, hair, and skins half-tanned, old hats and shoes—even the corrupt bodies of the dead were torn from their resting-places, and eaten by these horrid animals.
On moonlight nights, these brutes would come fearlessly up to the very walls of the farm, dancing their sarabandes in the snow, howling like so many devils, shrieking and showing their long white teeth, and demanding in unmistakable terms something or somebody to devour; their yells, their cries of rage, of victory, and of love, intermingled with the funereal song of the screech-owl, and the lugubrious melodies which the current from the blast without caused in the large open chimneys,—was the concert, which from December to April lulled the inmates of St. Hibaut to sleep; music that would I doubt not have reduced even the formidable proportions of the inimitable Lablache, and made Mario sing out of tune.
But these were the good old times, the good old times! Well do I remember, when the shadows of those winter evenings lengthened, when nightfall came, and when at last the moon arose, bringing out in light and shade every object within the court-yard, and at some distance from the house, then it was that Monsieur de Cheribalde went his rounds. I see him in my mind's eye now, with his gun on his shoulder, followed by his five enormous bloodhounds strong and fierce as lions, and Navarre, surnamed the Four-Pounder, who walked a few paces to the right and left, opening his large saucer eyes, poking and squinting into every bush and corner.
Navarre, for forty years the head gamekeeper of the domain, was his master's right hand, his alter ego. He had never in his whole life been beyond his woods,—had never seen the church-steeple of a great town. To him, the dark belt of firs that skirted the horizon, was the limit of the world; and when told that the sun never set, and that when it sank behind the mountains, it was only continuing its course, to beam bright in other skies and on other lands, and to ripen other harvests,—Navarre smiled, and did not believe a word. Happy Navarre! what did it signify to him what was done, or what happened behind those hills? He was thin and dry as a match, and tall as a Norwegian spruce, with a face covered with hair; he smoked, and tossed off glass after glass of brandy, like a Dutchman. In addition to these peculiarities, Navarre was lame of the right leg, a boar having one day kindly applied his tusky lancet to his thigh, and gored him seriously, before, hand to hand, he managed to finish him with his hunting-knife.
At the first glance, Navarre's aspect appeared strange and forbidding, and savage as the locality in which he lived. The fact was, that, like Robinson Crusoe, he was frequently arrayed in a suit of skins of which he had been the architect, on a fantastic pattern, that his own queer imagination had created.
On great occasions the veteran keeper donned a helmet, or a gray three-cornered hat, of so ridiculous a shape—so royally absurd—that for my life, when he was thus attired, I could not, even in the presence of his master, refrain from laughter; then he would tell you, with a gravity it was impossible to disturb, that it had taken him fifteen days, eight skins of wild cats, and twelve squirrel's tails, to achieve this happy chef-d'oeuvre of the tailoring art. But I once said to him, "My good Navarre, in the name of heaven tell me, from what Japanese manuscript did you fish out that odious hat? Why, with such a shed, you might very well be mistaken for Chin-ko-fi-ku-o, high-priest of the temple of Twi. Do give me the address of your hatter, my dear friend." Navarre, furious, gave no reply.
But the time really to admire him—to see the head gamekeeper in all his splendour—was in winter, in a hard frost, when, covered with skins and motionless, he lay in ambush in a black ravine, waiting for a boar. Oh! then, for certain, the sight of him was anything but encouraging; for he looked like some unknown animal, some variety of the species Bonassus, a crocodile on end, a crumpled-up elephant, or a great bear on the watch. And when he loaded his rifle—a sort of culverin or wall-piece, which no one but himself knew how to manage—gracious powers! he was something to see. His first movement was to seize the gigantic weapon in the middle, as a policeman would fasten upon a favourite thief; and then he set himself to blow into the barrel with such fury, that had there been an ounce of wadding left, the blast would have blown it all through the enormous touch-hole. Being well assured after this that neither an adder nor a slow-worm had taken up his domicile within the barrel, he began to load. One charge—two charges—then a third, "as a compliment," and after this, a fourth, "for good luck." On this infernal charge—imperial, as he called it—this Vesuvius, this volcano of saltpetre, he threw half-a-dozen balls, or, if he was out of them, a handful of nails; and then he rammed—rammed—rammed away, like a pavior.
My hair stood on end, and every limb trembled when he fired it off—holy St. Francis!—the very forest bent, and coughed, and sighed; and it made as much flame, smoke, noise, and carnage, as a battery of horse artillery. One might have heard it all over Burgundy, or Provence for what I know; and hence, no doubt, his sobriquet of "the Four-Pounder." I always thought his shoulder must be made of heart of oak. On one occasion he did me the incomparable favour of loading my gun in this fashion, but luckily for me, informed me of this piece of civility before we started; and greatly was he chagrined when I declined to fire it. In the common occurrences of life, Navarre was a right good fellow; he had great good sense, could take a joke, was simple and modest in his manners, and very kind-hearted and retiring. But once in the forest, the dogs uncoupled, and the business of the chase commenced, he bounded to the front; his eyes flashed, his nostrils dilated, he took a deep breath, listened, and snuffed the air; he limped no longer; and as his courage was unequalled, and his knowledge of wood-craft profound, the proudest of every rank were content to follow where he led.
Bird's-eye view of the forests—The student's visit to his uncle in the country—Sallies forth in the early morning—Meets a cuckoo—Follows him—The cuckoo too much for him—Gives up the pursuit—Finds he has lost his way—Agreeable vespers—Night in the forest—Wolves—Up a beech tree—A friend in need—The student bids adieu to Le Morvan.
We have alluded in the opening chapters to the inexhaustible wealth drawn by the inhabitants from the woods of Le Morvan, though we have as yet touched but slightly on their beauties. To see them at one coup d'oeil, in all the splendour of their extent, one ought to call for the veteran, Mr. Green, and, safely (?) lodged in his car, with plenty of sandwiches and champagne, fly and soar above these forests of La Belle France. By St. Hubert, gentle reader, your eyes would be feasted with a glorious sight. Beneath your feet you would, in autumn, behold a verdant expanse in every variety of light and shade—a sea of leaves, which, though sometimes in repose, more often moan and murmur, while the giant arms they clothe rock to and fro in the gale, like the restless waves of the troubled deep.
Here Nature displays all her sylvan grandeur; here she has scattered, with a liberal hand, every charm that foliage can give to earth, and many a lovely flower to scent the evening breeze. Descend, and in this immense labyrinth you will find a tangled skein of forest paths, in which it is never prudent to ramble alone; as will be seen by the following adventure, which befell a young student who once went to Le Morvan, anticipating infinite pleasure in spending a few weeks at the house of an old uncle, a rich proprietor and owner of a large farm in the forest of Erveau.
Residing from his infancy in the department of the Seine, he was quite ignorant of a forest life; and the morning was yet early when he arose from his bed and sallied forth to enjoy the fresh and fragrant air, of which he had a foretaste at his open window, and take a ramble till the hour of breakfast summoned him to his uncle's hospitable fare. All without was life and sweetness; every bush had its little chorister; the sun brilliant, but not as yet high in the heavens, threw his bright rays in chequered light and shade between the trees, and made the pearly tears of night, which hung quivering on each bending blade of grass, sparkle like diamonds of the purest water. The student was in raptures, and after a brief survey of the garden, he cast a longing eye upon the woods which he so much wished to penetrate. On he walked, stopping occasionally to muse on the enchanting scene around him, when all at once he espied, on the lofty branches of an ash, a cuckoo! At the sight of this splendid bird, our Parisian sportsman felt his heart pit-a-pat and jump like a girl's in love; and without stopping any longer to admire the marvels of Nature, he turned hastily back to his uncle's abode, in search of a gun, with which to annihilate the luckless harbinger of spring. He soon found one, ready loaded, in the hall; and, with his heart full of hope and his legs full of precaution, he glided mysteriously from one tree to another, endeavouring, by all possible means, to conceal his approach from the wily cuckoo, which, perched on high, was throwing into space his two dull notes, regular and monotonous as the tick-tick of an old-fashioned clock.
Warily and stealthily did the student approach; bent nearly double, he scarcely drew his breath, as his distance from the tree grew less; but, says the song of the poacher,—
"If women smell tricks, cuckoos smell powder."
"'Tis a difficult thing to catch woman at fault, More difficult still, an old cuckoo with salt."
Without appearing to do so, from the height of his leafy turret, the prudent cuckoo kept a wary eye upon the tortuous movements of his enemy; but as he saw at a glance what sort of a customer he had to deal with, he evidently did not feel any particular hurry to shift his quarters: only every time he saw the double barrel moving up to the Parisian's shoulder, and that hostilities on his part were about to be opened, he, as if just for fun, dropped his own dear brown self on the branch below him, flapped his wings, and soon perching himself on a tree a little further off, gravely re-opened his beak and resumed his monotonous chant.
The young student, piqued and mortified at this discreet behaviour of the cuckoo, which, like happiness, was always on the wing, perseveringly followed the provoking bird—one walked, the other flew, the distance increased at every flight, and thus they got over a great deal of ground; the young man still believing his uncle's farm was close behind him—the cuckoo perfectly easy, knowing full well he could find his leafy home whenever he might please to return to it. So, for the fiftieth time, perhaps, the cuckoo was vanishing in the foliage, when a sudden thought cramped the legs and cut short the obstinate pursuit of the young lawyer; he then, for the first time, remembered the wholesome advice his uncle had given him on his arrival.—"Beware, my fine fellow, beware of going alone in the forest, for to those who know not how to read their way, that is, on the bark of the trees, the mossy stones, and dry or broken twigs, the forest is full of snares and danger, of deceitful echos and strange noises that attract and mislead the inexperienced sportsman."
"By Juno," thought our hero, "as it is most certain that in Paris they are not yet clever enough to teach us geography on the bark of trees, I am an uncommonly lucky fellow to have just remembered the dear old gentleman's warning. Hang the infernal cuckoo! Go to the devil, you hideous cuckoo! Good morning, sir, my compliments at home." And then, with his terrible carbine under his arm, he retraced his steps, expecting every moment to see peeping through the trees in front of him, his uncle's large white house and lofty dove-cote.
But, alas! no such thing met his hungry eyes; still on he walked, trees after trees were passed, glade after glade, and many a long avenue, but neither white farm-house nor gay green shutters greeted his anxious sight. "How odd," thought he, "how very odd; this, I feel confident, is the identical spot near which I first noticed that odious cuckoo; here is the self-same little regiment of white daisies that my feet pressed not half an hour ago; see now, this chestnut, this immense chestnut, whose monstrous roots lie twisting about the ground like a black brood of ugly snakes—certainly this was the way I came, surely I saw these roots, and yet no house appears." And thus, from time to time, he reasoned with himself, looking on either side for some object that he could recognize with certainty; at last, grown thoroughly hungry and impatient, he hallooed and shouted, but no voice replied, not the slightest sound was floating in the air. It was then he felt he had lost his way,—that he was alone, yes, alone in the forest of Erveau, in a leafy wilderness stretching many miles.
Many a vow he made and many a blackberry he picked as he walked hither and thither, in every direction. The day wore on, the sun had long passed the meridian, and with the coming evening rose a gentle breeze, which moaned in the dry ferns; and this and the rustling of the giant creepers that reached from tree to tree, and swung between the branches, fell mournfully on the student's ear. A vague fear, a fatal presentiment of evil began to creep over him; again he shouted, the echo from a dark wild ravine alone replied; he fired his gun again and again, the echo alone answered his signal of distress, and nothing could he hear, except at intervals, far, far away in the green depths of the forest, the notes cuckoo—cuckoo.
Faint and weary, from hunger and fatigue, the young man, no longer able to proceed, fell down at the foot of a spreading beech, and gave way to an agony of grief; drops of cold sweat stood upon his brow; the clammy feeling of fear took possession of his heart, and though, perhaps, he would have had no objection to try the fortune of the pistol or the sword, in any college broil or senseless riot of the populace, the circumstances under which he then stood were so new to him, that he was quite unmanned and incapable of further exertion.
In blood-red streaks sank the setting sun, his large yellow orb glancing through the trees like the dimmed eye of some giant ogre; twilight came, and soon after every valley lay in shadow; the breeze, as if waking from its gentle slumbers, whistled in the highest branches, and, increasing in force, rocked the lower limbs, which moaned mournfully as the night closed in.
Hungry and alarmed, and now quite worn out with his lengthened walk, the young Parisian lay stretched on the moss, listening with painful anxiety to this melancholy conversation of the woods, when, suddenly, and as night fell, spreading over the earth her sable wings and shaking from the folds of her robe the luminous legions of stars, he heard a prolonged and sonorous howl in the distance—a strolling wolf—
"Cruel as Death! and hungry as the grave! Burning for blood! bony and gaunt and grim,"
had scented the Parisian and was inviting his good friends with the long teeth, to come and sup on the dainty morsel. Touched as if by a hot iron, up got the terrified youth, and striking his ten nails into the friendly tree near him like an Indian monkey, he was in an instant many feet above its base. Here, astride upon a branch, shivering and shaking, each hair on end, and murmuring many a Pater and Ave Maria, unsaid for years, he passed the most horrific night that any citizen of the department of the Seine had ever been known to spend in the middle of the forest of Erveau.
The following morning, but not until the sun had already run nearly half his course, for he never dared to leave his timber observatory before, le pauvre diable dropped down from his perch like an acorn—and, marching off with weary steps, and scarcely a hope that ere another night fell he should gain the shelter of some cottage, he dragged himself along. On he rolled from side to side, torn with the thorns and bitten by the gnats that swarmed around him, sometimes calling upon his mother, sometimes upon the saints—when a wood-cutter happily met, and seeing his exhausted condition, threw the slim student over his shoulders like a bundle of straw, and carried him to a neighbouring village. There, he was put to bed and attended with every care, when he soon recovered—and received the charming intelligence that he was about forty miles from his uncle's house—that he had been wandering for that distance in the most beautiful part of the forest of Erveau, and that if by any chance he had deviated a little more to the right in his unpleasant steeple-chase across the woods, he would have gone, in a straight line, eighty-six miles without meeting house or cottage or human soul until he found himself at the gates of Dijon, chief town of the Cote-d'Or, where he might and would, no doubt, have been able to refresh himself with a bottle of Beaune and inspect the Gothic tombs of the great Dukes of Burgundy.