Pau is a pretty city, neat, of gay appearance; but the highway is paved with little round stones, the side-walks with small sharp pebbles: so the horses walk on the heads of nails and foot-passengers on the points of them. From Bordeaux to Toulouse such is the usage, such the pavement. At the end of five minutes, your feet tell you in the most intelligible manner that you are two hundred leagues away from Paris....
Here are the true countrymen of Henry IV. As to the pretty ladies in gauzy hats, whose swelling and rustling robes graze the horns of the motionless oxen as they pass, you must not look at them; they would carry your imagination back to the Boulevard de Gand, and you would have gone two hundred leagues only to remain in the same place. I am here on purpose to visit the sixteenth century; one makes a journey for the sake of changing, not place, but ideas.... It was eight o'clock in the morning; not a visitor at the castle, no one in the courts nor on the terrace; I should not have been too much astonished at meeting the Béarnais, "that lusty gallant, that very devil," who was sharp enough to get for himself the name of "the good king."
His château is very irregular; it is only when seen from the valley that any graces and harmony can be found in it. Above two rows of pointed roofs and old houses, it stands out alone against the sky and gazes upon the valley in the distance; two bell-turrets project from the front toward the west; the oblong body follows, and two massive brick towers close the line with their esplanades and battlements. It is connected with the city by a narrow old bridge, by a broad modern one with the park, and the foot of its terrace is bathed by a dark but lovely stream.
Near at hand, this arrangement disappears; a fifth tower upon the north side deranges the symmetry. The great egg-shaped court is a mosaic of incongruous masonry; above the porch, a wall of pebbles from the Gave, and of red bricks crossed like a tapestry design; opposite, fixt to the wall, a row of medallions in stone; upon the sides, doors of every form and age; dormer windows, windows square, pointed, embattled, with stone mullions garlanded with elaborate reliefs. This masquerade of styles troubles the mind, yet not unpleasantly; it is unpretending and artless; each century has built according to its own fancy, without concerning itself about its neighbor.
On the first floor is shown a great tortoise-shell, which was the cradle of Henry IV. Carved chests, dressing-tables, tapestries, clocks of that day, the bed and arm-chair of Jeanne d'Albret, a complete set of furniture in the taste of the Renaissance, striking and somber, painfully labored yet magnificent in style, carrying the mind at once back toward that age of force and effort, of boldness in invention, of unbridled pleasures and terrible toil, of sensuality and of heroism. Jeanne d'Albret, mother of Henry IV., crossed France in order that she might, according to her promise, be confined in this castle. "A princess," says D'Aubigné, "having nothing of the woman about her but the sex, a soul entirely given to manly things, a mind mighty in great affairs, a heart unconquerable by adversity."
She sang an old Bearnaise song when she brought him into the world. They say that the aged grandfather rubbed the lips of the new-born child with a clove of garlic, poured into his mouth a few drops of Jurançon wine, and carried him away in his dressing-gown. The child was born in the chamber which opens into the lower tower of Mazères, on the southwest corner.
His mother, a warm and severe Calvinist, when he was fifteen years old, led him through the Catholic army to La Rochelle, and gave him to her followers as their general. At sixteen years old, at the combat of Arnay-le-Duc, he led the first charge of cavalry. What an education and what men! Their descendants were just now passing in the streets, going to school to compose Latin verses and recite the pastorals of Massillon.
Those old wars are the most poetic in French history; they were made for pleasure rather than interest. It was a chase in which adventures, dangers, emotions were found, in which men lived in the sunlight, on horseback, amidst flashes of fire, and where the body, as well as the soul, had its enjoyment and its exercise. Henry carries it on as briskly as a dance, with a Gascon's fire and a soldier's ardor, with abrupt sallies, and pursuing his point against the enemy as with the ladies.
This is no spectacle of great masses of well-disciplined men, coming heavily into collision and falling by thousands on the field, according to the rules of good tactics. The king leaves Pau or Nérac with a little troop, picks up the neighboring garrisons on his way, scales a fortress, intercepts a body of arquebusiers as they pass, extricates himself pistol in hand from the midst of a hostile troop, and returns to the feet of Mlle. de Tignonville. They arrange their plan from day to day; nothing is done unless unexpectedly and by chance. Enterprises are strokes of fortune....
The park is a great wood on a hill, embedded among meadows and harvests. You walk in long solitary alleys, under colonnades of superb oaks, while to the left the lofty stems of the copses mount in close ranks upon the back of the hill. The fog was not yet lifted; there was no motion in the air; not a corner of the blue sky, not a sound in all the country. The song of a bird came for an instant from the midst of the ash-trees, then sadly ceased. Is that then the sky of the south, and was it necessary to come to the happy country of the Béarnais to find such melancholy impressions? A little by-way brought us to a bank of the Gave: in a long pool of water was growing an army of reeds twice the height of a man; their grayish spikes and their trembling leaves bent and whispered under the wind; a wild flower near by shed a vanilla perfume.
We gazed on the broad country, the ranges of rounded hills, the silent plain under the dull dome of the sky. Three hundred paces away the Gave rolls between marshaled banks, which it has covered with sand; in the midst of the waters may be seen the moss-grown piles of a ruined bridge. One is at ease here, and yet at the bottom of the heart a vague unrest is felt; the soul is softened and loses itself in melancholy and tender revery. Suddenly the clock strikes, and one is forced to go and prepare himself to eat his soup between two commercial travelers.
To-day the sun shines. On my way to the Place Nationale, I remarked a poor, half-ruined church, which had been turned into a coach-house; they have fastened upon it a carrier's sign. The arcades, in small gray stones, still round themselves with an elegant boldness; beneath are stowed away carts and casks and pieces of wood; here and there workmen were handling wheels. A broad ray of light fell upon a pile of straw, and made the somber corners seem yet darker; the pictures that one meets with outweigh those one has come to seek.
From the esplanade which is opposite, the whole valley and the mountains beyond may be seen; this first sight of a southern sun, as it breaks from the rainy mists, is admirable; a sheet of white light stretches from one horizon to another without meeting a single cloud. The heart expands in this immense space; the very air is festal; the dazzled eyes close beneath the brightness which deluges them and which runs over, radiated from the burning dome of heaven. The current of the river sparkles like a girdle of jewels; the chains of hills, yesterday veiled and damp, extend at their own sweet will beneath the warming, penetrating rays, and mount range upon range to spread out their green robe to the sun.
In the distance, the blue Pyrenees look like a bank of clouds; the air that bathes them shapes them into aërial forms, vapory phantoms, the farthest of which vanish in the canescent horizon--dim contours, that might be taken for a fugitive sketch from the lightest of pencils. In the midst of the serrate chain the peak Midi d' Ossau lifts its abrupt cone; at this distance, forms are softened, colors are blended, the Pyrenees are only the graceful bordering of a smiling landscape and of the magnificent sky. There is nothing imposing about them nor severe; the beauty here is serene, and the pleasure pure.
The statue of Henry IV., with an inscription in Latin and in patois, is on the esplanade; the armor is finished so perfectly that it might make an armorer jealous. But why does the king wear so sad an air? His neck is ill at ease on his shoulders; his features are small and full of care; he has lost his gayety, his spirit, his confidence in his fortune, his proud bearing. His air is neither that of a great nor a good man, nor of a man of intellect; his face is discontented, and one would say that he was bored with Pau. I am not sure that he was wrong: and yet the city passes for agreeable, the climate is very mild, and invalids who fear the cold pass the winter in it.
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