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Through Spain to the Sahara
THE ALHAMBRA. FROM AN ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPH.
SUNDAY AT TOURS.—LA COLONIE DE METTRAY.—BEAUTIFUL DORDOGNE.—A FRENCH PARSONAGE.—THROUGH THE LANDES.—THE SOPORIFIC EFFECTS OF ARCACHON.
ON a golden autumn afternoon we found ourselves in the old city of Tours, bound for Spain and the enchanted lands lying north of the Great Sahara. Pleasant it was to look backward and forward; backward to the busy life in England, forward to the bright holiday of travel, repeating to ourselves again and again the sentiment, if not the words, of Catullus:—
“Jam mens prætrepidans avet vagari, Jam læti studio pedes vigescunt, Oh! dulces comitum, valete, coetus, Longe quos simul a domo profectus Diversæ variæ viæ reportant.”
We were to be made so much richer and so much wiser by the experiences of the next few weeks; a new country was about to be mapped out on our chart: we were to speak another language, breathe another atmosphere, feel the influences of another religion. For the present we were at home, among French faces and French voices; and, however impatient we might be to reach the wonderful country lying beyond the Pyrenees, we could but willingly linger in these lovely border-lands.
It was Sunday, and our hearts were yet full of the tender beauty of the region through which we had come, when we reached Tours, and joined the stream of church-goers. The Cathedral on that glowing autumn afternoon was a sight to remember, standing as it did against a bright blue sky, with a rosy flush of sunset upon its spires. Nothing can be richer than the façade, and yet so simple is the construction as a whole, that one comes away with a clear idea of it in every part. We lingered in the light for a little, and then went in. A mediæval-looking priest, with shaven head, was preaching to a crowd of reverent peasants—and we listened, no less reverent, to a sermon that might have been preached hundreds of years ago. The preacher had a melancholy, monastic face, and a fervid eloquence that would, perhaps, have stirred up any other congregation, though none could have been more devout than these simple-hearted vintagers and farmers. We stayed till the sermon drew to a close, and then went on by train to Mettray.
It was at Tours that the Saracens were driven back, and it seemed to us a good starting-point for a journey which had for one of its objects the study of Moorish monuments in Spain. We amused ourselves with speculating upon the condition of Europe had the Saracens succeeded at Tours. But for that defeat, we might have had now—who knows?—a Caliphate at Marseilles, and, perhaps, a Cordova at Oxford. But, no; climate, if not Anglo-Saxon spirit, would have driven the sunshine-loving Moors from our island, so that, even in dreams we cannot spread Islamism farther than the Rhine,—which is a consolation to good churchmen and patriots!
I purpose narrating our journey from the very beginning, because on our way from Paris to Bayonne we made two excursions which I should strongly recommend to every one; firstly, to the great agricultural Reformatory of Mettray, and secondly, to the Protestant Orphanages of La Force in the province of La Dordogne. We reached Mettray in about twenty minutes. Such a sweet, peaceful, little spot lying in the heart of the wine-country! The village postman conducted us, through a dusky winding road that was all a-twitter with the twilight songs of birds, to a large Swiss cottage that proved to be an inn, where we slept as if we had lived there all our lives.
The chirping of the birds woke us early, and we hastened to pay our visit to la Colonie, as the great Reformatory is cheerfully and properly called. For Mettray is neither more nor less than a collection of farms and factories, carried on by such waifs and strays of society as its humane founders have been able to snatch from destruction. Once having entered the gates, the whole system of the place suggested itself to us. To our right, to our left, peeped from the trees pretty-looking farm-buildings and workshops, all resounding with the noise of the wheel, the hammer, the saw, and the turning-lathe, and made sunny and pleasant with trellised vines and well-kept gardens. Every place was orderly, quiet, and cheerful; and, as we passed along, the young farmers and artisans greeted us, if not with blithe, at least with contented faces. Leaving our letters of introduction at the porter’s lodge, we made a survey of the place accompanied by an intelligent person employed as superintendent of the boys. Our first object of interest—for we knew something of agriculture ourselves—was the farm; and here was meat and drink to delight the most orthodox Suffolk farmer going. Beautifully stalled bullocks; pigs, cleanly littered or scampering about, of the proper breed, small of bone, long of body, sleek of skin; stores of grain, of root, and of forage; a good supply of modern farm-implements,—in fine, every accessory to good farming on a miniature scale.
Then we passed on to the workshops, which were like so many hives, only a little quiet, considering the age of the bees. Some of these workmen, in blue blouses and wooden shoes, were mere mannikins of six or seven years old; but if to a stranger the discipline appears a little hard, it must be remembered that each and all have been snatched from the discipline of prison. All these eight hundred boys, whom we saw working under such kind and pitiful supervision, were, in fact, criminals, and well for them and for society that the benevolent founders of Mettray had come to the rescue in time.
The type of physiognomy was strikingly low, narrow forehead, flat skull, vicious mouth, and deep-set, cunning eyes, which would seem as if the physiognomy, as well as the propensity, of vice, is hereditary; for most of these children were the offspring of crime and vagabondage. The lowest type of face, intellectually as well as morally speaking, was not that of the Parisian, but that of the peasant; and it interested us to find that, as a rule, the best-behaved Mettray boys were also the most intelligent. Each boy is at liberty to follow the trade he likes best, and, oddly enough, the favourite one seems to be that of tailoring. We found in the little world of Mettray, as in the great world beyond, that every one had fallen naturally into his place. The stupid boys loved to follow the plough, the inventive to handle the carpenters’ tools, the lovers of nature to tend the cattle, the effeminate to cook the dinners, the enterprising to manage the farm. All are at liberty, also, to attend evening classes, and, as a reward of merit, to learn music.
“If it were not for that,” said the good-natured superintendent to us, “we should fancy Mettray a prison. The boys are summoned to work by music every day, and sing at chapel on Sunday. Oh! if you only knew how they enjoy it!”
We could easily understand this, for when the little band of musicians was summoned to give us a concert, nothing could equal the alacrity with which the summons was obeyed. There was a good deal of shyness and excitement at first, but a real, hearty relish of the music as soon as it began, perfectly delightful to witness. The superior intelligence, I might almost go so far as to use the word refinement, of these boys from their fellows, was quite remarkable. Not one of them had a brutish or brutal look. When the concert was over, we went into the chapel and the class-room. The latter was decorated with pictures, maps, and “honourable mentions,” of former Mettray boys, who had fought in the Crimea, in Algeria, in Mexico. Portraits of the Emperor were not wanting, nor, indeed, anything to encourage these poor little outcasts to love their country, to go out into the world and to make men of themselves. I was pleased to find the wards and dormitories also decorated with pictures and medallions, the highly-prized rewards of good conduct; while the outside of every building was trellised with grapes, a more material reward, not of special good conduct, but of indiscriminate industry.
“The grapes belong to the boys and are divided when ripe,” said our guide; “it’s very pleasant to see that not a bunch is surreptitiously touched, and that every one gets his share at the proper time. But only consider what a saint we have at our head! Who could help growing better with such an example as Monsieur De M—— before him?”
The gentleman in question is the founder of Mettray, and spends all his time and thought among the outcast children of his adoption. It was quite touching to find how he had leavened the whole lump of this little society with his own goodness; and very proud and happy we felt at receiving an invitation to breakfast with him and his daughter the Countess B——. But before speaking of this pleasant breakfast, I must mention one of the most curious features in the Colonie of Mettray. Every one has seen in The Times the advertisement of some persistent and philanthropic clergyman, who undertakes to make unmanageable boys perfectly tractable and gentlemanly in a few months’ time. But they manage these things better in France, as will be seen by the way in which the benevolent supporter of Mettray has effectually supplied the want of such obliging clergymen.
Monsieur De M——’s pet project is what he calls, “La maison paternelle,”—in other words, a refined sort of prison for the refractory sons of gentlemen. The prison is attractive enough outwardly, and looks like a pretty Swiss house, but, in spite of carpets and curtains, the interior is gloomy. We were conducted all over the building, and our guide was at great pains to give us a clear idea of what was, evidently, his pet project. Unruly boys are sent here under the charge of a tutor for terms of one, two, or more months; they are kept to hard study, and during their hours of work the key of their cells is turned upon them, and their behaviour is watched by the tutor through a tiny pane of glass let in the doors. As a reward of good conduct, more cheerful kinds of cells looking on to the garden and adorned with pictures are given, but the peep-hole and the key are never wanting.
“It is an admirable institution, this maison paternelle,” I said, a little doubtfully; “and must relieve parents of a good deal of responsibility; but it would never do to lock up English boys, and watch them at their lessons through a peep-hole.”
The superintendent smiled.
“We had one English boy here once——” he said, and then stopped short.
“Well, and how did it answer in that solitary case?”
“Very ill, I assure you. He burst open the lock, refused to work, defied his tutor,—in fine, all but created a mutiny, and heartily glad were we to get rid of him.”
It was now ten o’clock, Monsieur De M——’s breakfast hour, and we were conducted to the simple yet elegant house which he inhabits among his adopted children. We found a man past middle age, exquisitely polished in manner, enthusiastic almost to the pitch of inspiration, kindly, grave, cheerful. It was worth the journey from Paris to make such an acquaintance. The Countess, too, was charming, and seemed almost as interested in the little world of Mettray as her father. But to talk with Monsieur De M—— was like being transported into a new and purer world. He seemed gifted with unselfishness as with a sixth sense, and handled sin and the sorrow born of it tenderly and trustfully as none but the Apostles of humanity can.
But even good and great men have their hobbies, and the hobby of M. De M—— was his maison paternelle. So earnest and eloquent, indeed, was he in the cause that he all but converted us to the belief in bars and bolts as a cure for naughtiness. He gave us a prospectus of the establishment, which I transcribe below, and which will give the reader a truer idea of its spirit than any comments of mine. It is incontestable that, however antagonistic such a system may be to our English notions, it has hitherto worked well in France.
But a breakfast—even a French breakfast of twenty dishes—soon comes to an end, and we found ourselves compelled to quit our hospitable entertainer, just as we were fairly seizing the spirit of his great undertaking. Reluctantly we bade adieu to the peaceful asylum of Mettray, and sauntered through the vineyards to the railway station. It looked a lovely land to live in, especially now, when it lay bathed in the rosy splendour of autumn. Here and there, a stately old chateau peeped from amidst the chestnut-trees, or we came upon a grave peasant, who might have been one of George Sand’s heroes, driving his team across a sweet-smelling beetfield. As we passed the village church, a wedding party issued from the gate. The bride, who was a brunette, looked very handsome in her bright purple dress and orange-wreath, and the bridegroom and whole happy party saluted us. We ought to have stopped to wish them joy, but we didn’t think of it in time; and when we turned back, ashamed of our English shyness, the white ribbons of the last bridesmaid were disappearing round the corner. “Mon Dieu, those English are cold-hearted people!” I can hear these honest peasants say over their wedding-feast. “They meet our Jeanne and her Jeannot coming from church and never stop to utter a blessing!”
Pretty Jeanne! I hope that our negligence may prove no ill omen to her after-life. It was downright shyness, and not ill nature, on our part, after all.
From Mettray we proceeded by rail to Tours, and on to Libourne, a pleasant and picturesque bit of rail, spoiled in this instance, however, by the late inundations of the Loire. One reads of these inundations, and laments over them at home, but is far from realising the actual state of things without personal experience. Horace’s ode on the overflowing of the Tiber gives a more approximate idea of the prevailing ruin and dismay than anything; and my fellow-traveller (we don’t intend quoting Latin all the way) broke out with:—
“Piscium et summa genus hæsit ulmo, Nota quæ secies fuerat columbis; Et superjecto pavidæ natârunt Æquore damæ.”
We travelled all the way from Tours to Libourne with an English gentlemen, who gave us horrifying accounts of the Spanish inns.
“Sleep at Cordova!” he uttered, with a positive shriek of dismay; “sleep at Cordova! I warn you not to attempt it; I forbid you to attempt it. It’s awful! it’s disgusting! it’s impossible! I was travelling in Spain with my wife a year ago, and we stayed a night at Cordova. The beds and floors were alive with vermin, and, as a last resource of sleeplessness and disgust, we betook ourselves to arm-chairs and railway rugs. Whatever you do, don’t sleep at Cordova.”
And so kindly anxious was he for our comfort that, when he alighted at some half-way station between Tours and Libourne, he ran back to the carriage just as the train was moving off and called out, “Don’t sleep at Cordova.”
We took the diligence to St. Foy next day, that being the nearest post-town to La Force. It was not a comfortable journey; the road was cut straight through a monotonous country, and the conveyance was terribly overcrowded. One of the passengers was a heavy-looking priest, and one a peasant woman with a week-old baby she was carrying home to nurse. I put one or two questions to M. le Curé about the Orphan-Idiot Asylums of La Force. Did he know the pastor B—— by name? Had he seen his Orphanages? But M. le Curé, though living in the next parish, seemed alike ignorant of both La Force and its founder. “Pasteur B——, a Protestant? I don’t know him at all,” he said. We then talked of the little fosterling, asked if it were customary to put out all infants to nurse in La Dordogne. On being answered in the affirmative, we said, “You ought to preach against that, Monsieur le Curé: it is a cruel custom;” and then we questioned the nurse as to the parentage of her little charge. All at once the Curé’s face lighted up, and he looked at us as if he were revealing an astounding piece of intelligence.
“Why,” he said, “it’s the child of Madame George, my parishioner, and I baptized it myself.”
Yet he had never heard of La Force nor of Mettray!
St. Foy is an old-fashioned town, charmingly situated on the banks of the Dordogne. The road to La Force wound along the river side, and had in some places been rendered impassable by the late inundations. As we proceeded on our way, sometimes on foot, sometimes in the crazy old vehicle we had hired, we caught glimpses of scenes so sunny, so full of tender beauty, so poetic, and so peaceful, that we felt as if we would fain escape to La Dordogne whenever the troubles of the world might lie heavy upon us. River, vineyard, hill and wood, all softened and illumined by the autumn sunshine, made up a little rural world very fresh and sweet to live in; one wonders, can any one be very unhappy here?
We brought letters with us from English friends, and the good pastor and his wife received us with more than kindness. Two or three pastors from Geneva were staying in their house, so that we found ourselves in quite a little Methodist community; and not being Methodists ourselves, though full of respect for all that is good in Methodism, it startled us a little to be catechised thus:—“The great and good Spurgeon, what is he doing at this moment?” “How many believers are gathered every Sabbath in his temple?” &c. &c. It was so new, too, to feel, in a world where the spirit of inquiry had not yet penetrated, and to know that here, if nowhere else, the authors of Ecce Homo and The Pentateuch Explained were all but unknown.
Naturally the conversation fell upon the present aspect of Protestantism, or rather Methodism, in France.
“It is very difficult to be a Protestant in France,” said Pastor B——, and sighed. “When I think of the reception I had in England, and of the precious friends there whose prayers are ever with me, I compare myself to some solitary exile in a hostile land.”
He went on to tell us much that was interesting and unexpected. It seems that the Protestant population decreases in France, on account of the disinclination or disability of the young men to marry, and, in some places, the little communities threaten to die away altogether.
After dinner and coffee, one of the ministers from Geneva gave a little religious discourse, our kindly host extemporised a prayer, and we were conducted to our rooms. But long past midnight we heard earnest voices in discussion, and by daybreak the sounds commenced afresh. It was the Pastor B—— and his friends who sat up late and rose early to discuss the prospects of the Church, as their time of intercourse was drawing to a close. When we came down to breakfast the visitors had gone.
The asylums of La Force are well worth the study of any one interested in the lowest forms of helplessness and suffering. Nothing can equal the cheerfulness and orderliness of the buildings both within and without. The rooms are spacious, well ventilated, and looking on pleasant landscapes of corn-field and vineyard; a pretty church is in construction close by; and both boys and girls have large gardens in which to play or work. The climate of La Dordogne is mild and sunny; snow is almost unknown; and on this November day when we found ourselves at La Force, the temperature was very nearly that of summer. Fortunate, indeed, are these poor idiots who rejoice in such material and moral sunshine; for the loving care and sympathy with which they are surrounded is, I should say, quite unequalled. We have read of the Crimean soldiers kissing Florence Nightingale’s shadow as it fell on the wall; and as the good Pastor moved along, there were looks of love and gratitude following him that did the heart good to witness. The most touching feature of Pastor B——’s Orphanages is the way in which the blind are taught to lead the blind. We saw an idiot boy acting as writing-master to a dozen children more or less imbecile, and idiot girls tending upon the paralysed and the epileptic. In one room there were about twenty poor things all more or less personally and mentally deformed; and the distorted faces, bent limbs, oblique eyes, and soulless grins and gesticulations, were horrible. Pastor B—— shuddered at the accustomed sight, and told us that most of these children were born of sin and shame too horrible to mention. With very few exceptions all have been taught to read, to write, to sew, and to labour in the fields; the great hindrance to the good minister’s scheme is want of money.
“We have many kind friends and supporters both in England, France, and Switzerland,” he said; “and yet we have hard work to pull through. Many people seem to think they do us good service in sending a poor orphan or idiot; we take all in, but at a cost far beyond our present means.”
We were glad, and yet sorry, to leave La Force and its generous supporters—glad to escape the sight of so much physical and mental deformity, and sorry that we could not effectually aid the noble efforts made in its behalf.
From La Dordogne to Bayonne extends the dreary desert of the Landes,—a desert only broken by pine-forests and shepherds’ huts, and offering no enticement to the impatient travellers bound to Spain. We did, however, spend a day at Arcachon near Bordeaux, for the place had been praised in our hearing as a second and more attractive Biarritz, and we wanted to know how far we might recommend it to friends at home.
I don’t think I can recommend any one to go to Arcachon, quiet and pretty as it is. In the first place, the air is so oppressively soft that we both felt stupefied by it, much as if we had taken morphine; and in the second, the houses are all built in such gimcrack style that one feels to be living in a sixpenny peep-show. But, on the other hand, there are sweet-smelling forests of young pine very refreshing to the sight and sense (if people preserve their sight and senses in soporific Arcachon), and salt-baths, and the pleasant feeling that here, if nowhere else in the world, it would be quite possible to become oblivious of every care and responsibility under the sun!
THE MISCONCEPTIONS OF LUGGAGE.—THE COMFORTS OF SPANISH RAILWAY TRAVELLING.—OUR LIBRARY.—FROM THE TROPICS TO THE STEPPES.—GREGORIA AND ISIDORA.—JOURNEY TO MADRID.
DOS billetes de primera clase para Burgos?” (Two first-class tickets to Burgos) with astonishment repeated the young woman acting as collector at the railway station of Biarritz. “To Burgos! to Burgos!”
“To Burgos,” we replied, quietly.
“If you are really going as far as Burgos,” she said, with the same look of unmitigated surprise, “I must apply to the station-master for the tickets. Have the goodness to sit down and I will see about it.”
We supposed by this young lady’s behaviour, and we afterwards found our supposition to be true, that it is a most unusual thing for ladies to travel in Spain. With one or two exceptions, we had the ladies’ coupé to ourselves from one end of Spain to the other, and very comfortable travelling we found it.
Our tickets came to hand in due time. We took our seats, the train moved slowly, and we felt fairly off to Spain. There was a pleasant excitement about such a journey just then, for every one prophesied a revolution in Madrid; it might come to-morrow, it must come soon, people said; and we were thought very venturesome to venture beyond the Pyrenees at all. Not that the sense of danger attracted us. We had come to Spain with very definite objects, and though we could not help feeling that the sooner a revolution came for the Spaniards the better, we hoped that it might not come till we were safely at Gibraltar, at least. The pictures of Velasquez, and the Moorish relics of Cordova, Seville, and Granada, were the loadstones that drew us to Spain; at the same time we could not but be alive to the great political and social questions agitating a country once so glorious, and still so capable of glorious things. But in a stay so short as ours was likely to be, we despaired of seeing more than the surface of Spanish thought and life, however much we might wish for other opportunities. It made us smile then, and it makes me smile now, to review the magnitude of our preparations for this trip. And now let me put down, if putting down be possible, a very absurd notion that, to travel comfortably, you should travel without luggage. I have travelled a good deal, and if I were writing a manual for all future tourists, I should affix, as a motto to the book,—“Always travel in your best clothes, and with half-a-dozen trunks at least.” Luggage and good clothes take the place of a train of servants. Luggage and good clothes ensure you good places, general civility, and an infinity of minor comforts. Luggage and good clothes will prove your good angels wherever you go. It is all very well for savages to travel without luggage—the Japanese Grandees don’t even carry pocket-handkerchiefs about with them; but if any one wants to travel pleasantly and profitably, let him carry a well-stored portmanteau. Surely in no country but patient Spain would two ladies have been allowed to fill the first-class compartment of a railway carriage in the way we did. Under the seats, on the seats, above the seats, were piled an infinite variety of packages, a box of medicines, a folding india-rubber bath, a basket of provisions (a precaution never to be neglected), two or three parcels of books, two or three bundles of rugs, a leather bag of sketching materials, sketching blocks of various sizes, a silk bag of needles and threads; lastly, an odd bag, containing note-books, opera-glasses, passports, a tea-pot, a water-bottle, an etna, an air-cushion, slippers, and sundries without number.
And everything was so useful in its turn. In that long, slow railway journey through Spain, we were, as I have said, always alone. We breakfasted, we dined, we wrote letters and diaries, we read all our books from beginning to end, and we mended our clothes, we made sketches, we made tea, we might have refreshed ourselves with a cold bath, but for want of water. Not a bit of our precious luggage could we have spared, and not a bit ever troubled us beyond the necessity of giving a few cuartos to the porters when changing carriages. As for books we were not half way through Spain before they were done, and yet we had taken a goodly supply; Ford’s Guide, Street’s Gothic Architecture, Don Quixote in Spanish, Stirling’s Life of Velasquez, Washington Irving’s pretty twaddle about the Alhambra, Chasles’ Memoir of Cervantes, the Manuals of Lavice and Viardot, Gautier’s book, and half a hundred books about Spain in French, German, English, and Spanish, among others, the delightful and racy sketches of his countrymen, by Don Ramon Mesonero de Romanos.
Of course our luggage accumulated as we went along. We bought books, maps, photographs, clothes everywhere, pottery of Andujar and Talavera, lace from La Mancha, embroidery at Malaga, capas at Granada, till, by the time we arrived at our journey’s end, our equipaje, as the Spaniards call it, was a sight for all beholders.
It was on the tenth of November that we crossed the Pyrenees, all glowing with the purple and gold of autumn, and entered Spain. What a change! It was like coming suddenly from the Tropics to the Steppes. As if by magic, the crimsons, the carnations, the violets, died out of the world, and all became cold and grey and barren. In Old Castile one fancies oneself in a desert—a desert only varied by occasional forests of the Pinus maritima, with its straight, weird stem and plumy tuft. The colour and character of the scene varied but slightly—here undulating plains of grey sand piled with columnar masses of granite, there forests of pine, the round bosses of bluish-green standing out sharp and clear against a bright blue sky; or breadths of brown corn-land, lightly ploughed for the autumn seed-sowing. There was something grand and harmonious about this wild monotony—broken rarely by an oasis of a village with ilex groves and yellow acacias and a narrow river winding near, and groups of wide-mouthed Sancho Panzas staring at us as we looked out of the window.
But I must go back to Burgos where the purples and crimsons ended and the desert began. We arrived a little before midnight and felt ourselves at last in Spain. The very air had, as we thought, a foreign smell, and so greatly did this feeling of novelty overcome us that all our Spanish vocabulary seemed to vanish just when it would have stood us in good stead. However, we found places in the omnibus of the Fonda del Norte, and, after waiting about three quarters of an hour, rattled thither in company of several Spanish gentlemen who were wrapped to the chin in their bandit-looking cloaks, and smoked away without intermission. Two or three long-limbed, black-eyed, rosy-cheeked young women, wearing enormous chignons of false hair, but no costume unless untidiness may be called one, led us upstairs flaring candles over our heads. “Dos cuartos,” we said; “Si, si,” they replied, and on they went, climbing stair after stair, till at last we caught hold of their sleeves in breathless expostulation; and they consented to descend. Finally we were consigned to rooms on the third floor, so spotlessly, ideally clean, that a sanitary inspector could have found nothing to suggest. The rooms had whitewashed walls, iron bedsteads that might have come out of Heal’s warehouse, deliciously cool floors of brick-red tiles, wool-mattrasses, sweet-smelling home-spun sheets, and pillows bordered with the lace of La Mancha. We slept delightfully, though the noise of the watchman calling the hours half awoke us now and then.
At seven o’clock, one of the maidens of the chignon, a handsome saucy creature, named Isidora, of whom we grew very fond, brought us chocolate à l’Espagnol, namely, tiny cups of sweet, thick chocolate, flavoured with vanilla, rolls of bread, glasses of exquisite water and azucarillas, or large crystals of sugar and white of egg. Isidora delighted to give us lessons in Spanish, and went into fits of good-humoured laughter at our blunders. At eleven o’clock we went to the table d’hôte breakfast, but there was no one there excepting a Spanish-American family, consisting of a grave father, an insignificant little daughter, and a cosmopolitan son, who spoke a little English. All were very uninteresting, so there was nothing to do but study the dishes, which were all excellent, and ab ovo usque ad mala, slightly flavoured with garlic. We had tortillas or omelettes, patties of brains, water-cresses served with oil, olla podrida of bacon, sausage, cabbage, maize cobs, lentils, and other vegetables too numerous to mention, roast snipes, fig jam, and Burgos cheese. The wine was excellent too, but the invariable flavour of tar is not pleasant to the unaccustomed palate. We were served by a waitress handsomer and saucier even than Isidora. She was named Gregoria, and with her napkin swung on her left shoulder went from one to the other, saying her say, and trying to get as much entertainment as was possible out of us. We were very comfortable at Burgos, excepting that it was impossible to keep warm indoors; the sun was shining brilliantly, yet we shivered in our clean bare rooms, which were chimneyless and only warmed by charcoal pans. Round these we squatted like Arabs, but to no purpose, and we went to bed at seven o’clock, finding bed the only warm place. How the cold of winter is endured in Spain I cannot conceive, for winter does come in earnest sometimes, and no preparations seem to be made for it.
We sauntered into the most beautiful old Cathedral on the morning after our arrival, which was Sunday, hoping to find it full of peasants in holiday costume; but though there were plenty of worshippers, except for the sombreros and brown capas or cloaks of the men, and the silk and lace mantillas of the women, there was no costume at all. People seem to enjoy going to church in Spain. The ladies come in with their little dogs, drop on their knees on a mat, adjust their fans, and fall into a sort of quiet ecstasy of prayer, the dogs sitting demurely by. The men are equally devout; and every one, caballero or beggar, soldier or priest, comes in his turn, week-day and Sunday. The churches are beautifully kept, warm in cold weather, cool in summer, clean and dusky and quiet always. No wonder they are never empty.
The Cathedral of Burgos is so rich in different sorts of beauty that it would be idle for me to try and particularise any, excepting perhaps the wonderful effect of it as a whole upon the accustomed eye. At first one is quite unable to take in the wonderful simplicity, and strength, and finish of the building, or rather mass of buildings, for it is a city in itself; but later you feel, as it were, a child of the place, loving and living in every part. The colour of the outside is of a soft deep grey, and is unspeakably rich when seen, as we saw it, against quite an Eastern sky. We never grew tired of wandering about the Cathedral, with Street’s Gothic Architecture in hand to help us through its history; and no one seemed to take offence at us for pursuing such studies within the sacred walls.
I have called the building a city in itself, and if a census were made of its silent population, there might seem some reason in such a simile. Who can doubt that these sculptured saints, archangels, kings, apostles, and monks without, these bleeding Christs, Virgins, infants, and martyrs within, would equal in number the living, moving world of Burgos? And this multitude, stony, silent, dead, though it seems, is not without a power and force that stand in good stead of vitality. Every Christ has its special congregation, every martyr its believers, every saint its legend quickening thousands of devotees to this day.
There is no trace of Moorish influence in the building, and despite many excrescences of bastard-Gothic and Renaissance work, the old Cathedral is still to be seen in all its beauty, reminding you of the purest thirteenth-century Gothic of France. All who have time to study it thoroughly will at the same time acquire a good deal of history, for there is hardly a portion of it which does not show