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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 24
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    At Narbonne I took up my abode at the house of
    a _serrurier mecanicien_, and was very thankful for the
    accommodation. It was my misfortune to arrive at
    this ancient city late at night, on the eve of market-
    day; and market-day at Narbonne is a very serious
    affair. The inns, on this occasion, are stuffed with
    wine-dealers; for the country roundabout, dedicated
    almost exclusively to Bacchus, has hitherto escaped
    the phylloxera. This deadly enemy of the grape is
    encamped over the Midi in a hundred places; blighted
    vineyards and ruined proprietors being quite the order
    of the day. The signs of distress are more frequent
    as you advance into Provence, many of the vines being
    laid under water, in the hope of washing the plague
    away. There are healthy regions still, however, and
    the vintners find plenty to do at Narbonne. The
    traffic in wine appeared to be the sole thought of the
    Narbonnais; every one I spoke to had something to
    say about the harvest of gold that bloomed under its
    influence. "C'est inoui, monsieur, l'argent qu'il y a
    dans ce pays. Des gens a qui la vente de leur vin
    rapporte jusqu'a 500,000 francs par an." That little
    speech, addressed to me by a gentleman at the inn,
    gives the note of these revelations. It must be said
    that there was little in the appearance either of the
    town or of its population to suggest the possession of
    such treasures. Narbonne is a _sale petite ville_ in all
    the force of the term, and my first impression on ar-
    riving there was an extreme regret that I had not
    remained for the night at the lovely Carcassonne. My
    journey from that delectable spot lasted a couple of
    hours, and was performed in darkness, - a darkness
    not so dense, however, but that I was able to make
    out, as we passed it, the great figure of Beziers, whose
    ancient roofs and towers, clustered on a goodly hill-
    top, looked as fantastic as you please. I know not
    what appearance Beziers may present by day; but by
    night it has quite the grand air. On issuing from the
    station at Narbonne, I found that the only vehicle in
    waiting was a kind of bastard tramcar, a thing shaped
    as if it had been meant to go upon rails; that is,
    equipped with small wheels, placed beneath it, and
    with a platform at either end, but destined to rattle
    over the stones like the most vulgar of omnibuses.
    To complete the oddity of this conveyance, it was
    under the supervision, not of a conductor, but of a
    conductress. A fair young woman, with a pouch sus-
    pended from her girdle, had command of the platform;
    and as soon as the car was full she jolted us into the
    town through clouds of the thickest dust I ever have
    swallowed. I have had occasion to speak of the activity
    of women in France, - of the way they are always in
    the ascendant; and here was a signal example of their
    general utility. The young lady I have mentioned
    conveyed her whole company to the wretched little
    Hotel de France, where it is to be hoped that some
    of them found a lodging. For myself, I was informed
    that the place was crowded from cellar to attic, and
    that its inmates were sleeping three or four in a room.
    At Carcassonne I should have had a bad bed, but at
    Narbonne, apparently, I was to have no bed at all. I
    passed an hour or two of flat suspense, while fate
    settled the question of whether I should go on to
    Perpignan, return to Beziers, or still discover a modest
    couch at Narbonne. I shall not have suffered in vain,
    however, if my example serves to deter other travellers
    from alighting unannounced at that city on a Wednes-
    day evening. The retreat to Beziers, not attempted
    in time, proved impossible, and I was assured that at
    Perpignan, which I should not reach till midnight, the
    affluence of wine-dealers was not less than at Nar-
    bonne. I interviewed every hostess in the town, and
    got no satisfaction but distracted shrugs. Finally, at
    an advanced hour, one of the servants of the Hotel
    de France, where I had attempted to dine, came to
    me in triumph to proclaim that he had secured for
    me a charming apartment in a _maison bourgeoise_. I
    took possession of it gratefully, in spite of its having
    an entrance like a stable, and being pervaded by an
    odor compared with which that of a stable would
    have been delicious. As I have mentioned, my land-
    lord was a locksmith, and he had strange machines
    which rumbled and whirred in the rooms below my
    own. Nevertheless, I slept, and I dreamed of Car-
    cassonne. It was better to do that than to dream of
    the Hotel de France.

    I was obliged to cultivate relations with the cuisine
    of this establishment. Nothing could have been more
    _meridional_; indeed, both the dirty little inn and Nar-
    bonne at large seemed to me to have the infirmities
    of the south, without its usual graces. Narrow, noisy,
    shabby, belittered and encumbered, filled with clatter
    and chatter, the Hotel de France would have been
    described in perfection by Alphonse Daudet. For what
    struck me above all in it was the note of the Midi,
    as he has represented it, - the sound of universal talk.
    The landlord sat at supper with sundry friends, in a
    kind of glass cage, with a genial indifference to arriv-
    ing guests; the waiters tumbled over the loose luggage
    in the hall; the travellers who had been turned away
    leaned gloomily against door-posts; and the landlady,
    surrounded by confusion, unconscious of responsibility,
    and animated only by the spirit of conversation, bandied
    high-voiced compliments with the _voyageurs de com-
    merce_. At ten o'clock in the morning there was a
    table d'hote for breakfast, - a wonderful repast, which
    overflowed into every room and pervaded the whole
    establishment. I sat down with a hundred hungry
    marketers, fat, brown, greasy men, with a good deal of
    the rich soil of Languedoc adhering to their hands
    and their boots. I mention the latter articles because
    they almost put them on the table. It was very hot,
    and there were swarms of flies; the viands had the
    strongest odor; there was in particular a horrible mix-
    ture known as _gras-double_, a light gray, glutinous,
    nauseating mess, which my companions devoured in
    large quantities. A man opposite to me had the dir-
    tiest fingers I ever saw; a collection of fingers which
    in England would have excluded him from a farmers'
    ordinary. The conversation was mainly bucolic; though
    a part of it, I remember, at the table at which I sat,
    consisted of a discussion as to whether or no the maid-
    servant were _sage_, - a discussion which went on under
    the nose of this young lady, as she carried about the
    dreadful _gras-double_, and to which she contributed
    the most convincing blushes. It was thoroughly _meri-
    dional_.

    In going to Narbonne I had of course counted upon
    Roman remains; but when I went forth in search of
    them I perceived that I had hoped too fondly. There
    is really nothing in the place to speak of; that is, on
    the day of my visit there was nothing but the market,
    which was in complete possession. "This intricate,
    curious, but lifeless town," Murray calls it; yet to me
    it appeared overflowing with life. Its streets are mere
    crooked, dirty lanes, bordered with perfectly insignifi-
    cant houses; but they were filled with the same clatter
    and chatter that I had found at the hotel. The market
    was held partly in the little square of the hotel de
    ville, a structure which a flattering wood-cut in the
    Guide-Joanne had given me a desire to behold. The
    reality was not impressive, the old color of the front
    having been completely restored away. Such interest
    as it superficially possesses it derives from a fine
    mediaeval tower which rises beside it, with turrets at
    the angles, - always a picturesque thing. The rest of
    the market was held in another _place_, still shabbier
    than the first, which lies beyond the canal. The Canal
    du Midi flows through the town, and, spanned at this
    point by a small suspension-bridge, presented a cer-
    tain sketchability. On the further side were the venders
    and chafferers, - old women under awnings and big um-
    brellas, rickety tables piled high with fruit, white caps
    and brown faces, blouses, sabots, donkeys. Beneath
    this picture was another, - a long row of washerwomen,
    on their knees on the edge of the canal, pounding
    and wringing the dirty linen of Narbonne, - no great
    quantity, to judge by the costume of the people. In-
    numerable rusty men, scattered all over the place,
    were buying and selling wine, straddling about in
    pairs, in groups, with their hands in their pockets, and
    packed together at the doors of the cafes. They were
    mostly fat and brown and unshaven; they ground their
    teeth as they talked; they were very _meridionaux_.

    The only two lions at Narbonne are the cathedral
    and the museum, the latter of which is quartered in
    the hotel de ville. The cathedral, closely shut in by
    houses, and with the west front undergoing repairs, is
    singular in two respects. It consists exclusively of a
    choir, which is of the end of the thirteenth century
    and the beginning of the next, and of great magnifi-
    cence. There is absolutely nothing else. This choir,
    of extraordinary elevation, forms the whole church. I
    sat there a good while; there was no other visitor. I
    had taken a great dislike to poor little Narbonne,
    which struck me as sordid and overheated, and this
    place seemed to extend to me, as in the Middle Ages,
    the privilege of sanctuary. It is a very solemn corner.
    The other peculiarity of the cathedral is that, exter-
    nally, it bristles with battlements, having anciently
    formed part of the defences of the _archeveche_, which
    is beside it and which connects it with the hotel de
    ville. This combination of the church and the for-
    tress is very curious, and during the Middle Ages was
    not without its value. The palace of the former arch-
    bishops of Narbonne (the hotel de ville of to-day
    forms part of it) was both an asylum and an arsenal
    during the hideous wars by which the Languedoc was
    ravaged in the thirteenth century. The whole mass
    of buildings is jammed together in a manner that
    from certain points of view makes it far from apparent
    which feature is which. The museum occupies several
    chambers at the top of the hotel de ville, and is not
    an imposing collection. It was closed, but I induced
    the portress to let me in, - a silent, cadaverous person,
    in a black coif, like a _beguine_, who sat knitting in one
    of the windows while I went the rounds. The number
    of Roman fragments is small, and their quality is not
    the finest; I must add that this impression was hastily
    gathered. There is indeed a work of art in one of
    the rooms which creates a presumption in favor of the
    place, - the portrait (rather a good one) of a citizen
    of Narbonne, whose name I forget, who is described
    as having devoted all his time and his intelligence to
    collecting the objects by which the. visitor is sur-
    rounded. This excellent man was a connoisseur, and
    the visitor is doubtless often an ignoramus.
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