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    Chapter 26

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    Chapter 26
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    It was a pleasure to feel one's self in Provence
    again, - the land where the silver-gray earth is im-
    pregnated with the light of the sky. To celebrate
    the event, as soon as I arrived at Nimes I engaged
    a caleche to convey me to the Pont du Gard. The
    day was yet young, and it was perfectly fair; it ap-
    peared well, for a longish drive, to take advantage,
    without delay, of such security. After I had left the
    town I became more intimate with that Provencal
    charm which I had already enjoyed from the window
    of the train, and which glowed in the sweet sunshine
    and the white rocks, and lurked in the smoke-puffs
    of the little olives. The olive-trees in Provence are
    half the landscape. They are neither so tall, so stout,
    nor so richly contorted as I have seen them beyond
    the Alps; but this mild colorless bloom seems the
    very texture of the country. The road from Nimes,
    for a distance of fifteen miles, is superb; broad enough
    for an army, and as white and firm as a dinner-table.
    It stretches away over undulations which suggest a
    kind of harmony; and in the curves it makes through
    the wide, free country, where there is never a hedge
    or a wall, and the detail is always exquisite, there is
    something majestic, almost processional. Some twenty
    minutes before I reached the little inn that marks the
    termination of the drive, my vehicle met with an ac-
    cident which just missed being serious, and which
    engaged the attention of a gentleman, who, followed
    by his groom and mounted on a strikingly handsome
    horse happened to ride up at the moment. This young
    man, who, with his good looks and charming manner,
    might have stepped out of a novel of Octave Feuillet,
    gave me some very intelligent advice in reference to
    one of my horses that had been injured, and was so
    good as to accompany me to the inn, with the re-
    sources of which he was acquainted, to see that his
    recommendations were carried out. The result of our
    interview was that he invited me to come and look at
    a small but ancient chateau in the neighborhood,
    which he had the happiness - not the greatest in the
    world, he intimated - to inhabit, and at which I en-
    gaged to present myself after I should have spent an
    hour at the Pont du Gard. For the moment, when
    we separated, I gave all my attention to that great
    structure. You are very near it before you see it; the
    ravine it spans suddenly opens and exhibits the
    picture. The scene at this point grows extremely
    beautiful. The ravine is the valley of the Gardon,
    which the road from Nimes has followed some time
    without taking account of it, but which, exactly at the
    right distance from the aqueduct, deepens and ex-
    pands, and puts on those characteristics which are best
    suited to give it effect. The gorge becomes romantic,
    still, and solitary, and, with its white rocks and wild
    shrubbery, hangs over the clear, colored river, in whose
    slow course there is here and there a deeper pool.
    Over the valley, from side to side, and ever so high
    in the air, stretch the three tiers of the tremendous
    bridge. They are unspeakably imposing, and nothing
    could well be more Roman. The hugeness, the soli-
    dity, the unexpectedness, the monumental rectitude of
    the whole thing leave you nothing to say - at the time
    - and make you stand gazing. You simply feel that
    it is noble and perfect, that it has the quality of
    greatness. A road, branching from the highway, de-
    scends to the level of the river and passes under one
    of the arches. This road has a wide margin of grass
    and loose stones, which slopes upward into the bank
    of the ravine. You may sit here as long as you please,
    staring up at the light, strong piers; the spot is ex-
    tremely natural, though two or three stone benches
    have been erected on it. I remained there an hour
    and got a cornplete impression; the place was per-
    fectly soundless, and for the time, at least, lonely;
    the splendid afternoon had begun to fade, and there
    was a fascination in the object I had come to see. It
    came to pass that at the same time I discovered in it
    a certain stupidity, a vague brutality. That element
    is rarely absent from great Roman work, which is
    wanting in the nice adaptation of the means to the
    end. The means are always exaggerated; the end is
    so much more than attained. The Roman rigidity
    was apt to overshoot the mark, and I suppose a race
    which could do nothing small is as defective as a race
    that can do nothing great. Of this Roman rigidity
    the Pont du Gard is an admirable example. It would
    be a great injustice, however, not to insist upon its
    beauty, - a kind of manly beauty, that of an object
    constructed not to please but to serve, and impressive
    simply from the scale on which it carries out this
    intention. The number of arches in each tier is dif-
    ferent; they are smaller and more numerous as they
    ascend. The preservation of the thing is extra-
    ordinary; nothing has crumbled or collapsed; every
    feature remains; and the huge blocks of stone, of a
    brownish-yellow, (as if they had been baked by the
    Provencal sun for eighteen centuries), pile themselves,
    without mortar or cement, as evenly as the day they
    were laid together. All this to carry the water of a
    couple of springs to a little provincial city! The con-
    duit on the top has retained its shape and traces of
    the cement with which it was lined. When the vague
    twilight began to gather, the lonely valley seemed to
    fill itself with the shadow of the Roman name, as if
    the mighty empire were still as erect as the supports
    of the aqueduct; and it was open to a solitary tourist,
    sitting there sentimental, to believe that no people has
    ever been, or will ever be, as great as that, measured,
    as we measure the greatness of an individual, by the
    push they gave to what they undertook. The Pont du
    Gard is one of the three or four deepest impressions
    they have left; it speaks of them in a manner with
    which they might have been satisfied.

    I feel as if it were scarcely discreet to indicate the
    whereabouts of the chateau of the obliging young
    man I had met on the way from Nimes; I must con-
    tent myself with saying that it nestled in an en-
    chanting valley, - _dans le fond_, as they say in France,
    - and that I took my course thither on foot, after
    leaving the Pont du Gard. I find it noted in my
    journal as "an adorable little corner." The principal

    feature of the place is a couple of very ancient towers,
    brownish-yellow in hue, and mantled in scarlet Vir-
    ginia-creeper. One of these towers, reputed to be
    of Saracenic origin, is isolated, and is only the more
    effective; the other is incorporated in the house,
    which is delightfully fragmentary and irregular. It
    had got to be late by this time, and the lonely _castel_
    looked crepuscular and mysterious. An old house-
    keeper was sent for, who showed me the rambling
    interior; and then the young man took me into a
    dim old drawing-room, which had no less than four
    chimney-pieces, all unlighted, and gave me a refec-
    tion of fruit and sweet wine. When I praised the
    wine and asked him what it was, he said simply,
    "C'est du vin de ma mere!" Throughout my little
    joumey I had never yet felt myself so far from Paris;
    and this was a sensation I enjoyed more than my
    host, who was an involuntary exile, consoling him-
    self with laying out a _manege_, which he showed me
    as I walked away. His civility was great, and I was
    greatly touched by it. On my way back to the little
    inn where I had left my vehicle, I passed the Pont
    du Gard, and took another look at it. Its great arches
    made windows for the evening sky, and the rocky
    ravine, with its dusky cedars and shining river, was
    lonelier than before. At the inn I swallowed, or tried
    to swallow,a glass of horrible wine with my coach-
    man; after which, with my reconstructed team, I drove
    back to Nimes in the moonlight. It only added a
    more solitary whiteness to the constant sheen of the
    Provencal landscape.
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