VI. QUISSAC AND SAUVE
"And when the start?" "Next week - not this."
"Ah, you but play with words again."
"Nay, do not doubt me; hard it is
To break at once a life-long chain."
Came we unto the riverside,
Where motionless a rustic sate,
His gaze fixed on the flowing tide.
"Ho, mate, why thus so still and squat?"
"Good sirs, bound to yon town am I;
No bridge anear, I sit and sit
Until these waters have run dry,
So that afoot I get to it."
"A living parable behold,
My friend!" quoth I. "Upon the brim
You, too, will gaze until you're old,
But never boldly take a swim!"
As far as I know, no memorial has as yet been raised to the fabulist either at Quissac or at Sauve, but as long as the French language lasts successive generations will keep his memory green. Certain of his fables every little scholar knows by heart.
Associations of other kinds are come upon by travellers bound from Quissac to Le Vigan, that charming little centre of silkworm rearing described by me elsewhere. A few miles from our village lies Ganges, a name for ever famous in the annals of political economy and progress.
"From Ganges", wrote the great Suffolk farmer in July 1787, "to the mountain of rough ground which I crossed" (in the direction of Montdardier), "the ride has been the most interesting which I have taken in France; the efforts of industry the most vigorous, the animation the most lively. An activity has been here that has swept away all difficulties before it and clothed the very rocks with verdure. It would be a disgrace to common sense to ask the cause; the enjoyment of property must have done it. Give a man the sure possession of a bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden." The italics are my own. When will Arthur Young have his tablet in Westminster Abbey, I wonder?
The department of the Gard offers an anomaly of the greatest historic interest. Here and here only throughout the length and breadth of France villages are found without a Catholic church, communities that have held fast to Protestantism and the right of private judgment from generation to generation during hundreds of years. Elsewhere, in the Cote d'Or, for instance, as I have described in a former work, Protestantism was completely stamped out by the Revocation, whole villages are now ultramontane, having abjured, the alternatives placed before them being confiscation of property, separation of children and parents, banishment, prison and death.
[Footnote: See Friendly Faces, chap. xvi.]
The supremacy of the reformed faith may be gathered from the following facts: A few years back, of the six deputies representing this department five were Protestant and the sixth was a Jew. The Conseil General or provincial council numbered twenty-three Protestants as against seventeen Catholics. The seven members of the Board of Hospitals at Nimes, three of the four inspectors of public health, nine of the twelve head-mistresses of girls' schools, twenty-nine of forty rural magistrates, were Protestants.
My host belonged to the same faith, as indeed do most of his class and the great captains of local industry. It is not as in Michelet's fondly-loved St. Georges de Didonne, where only the lowly and the toiler have kept the faith aflame.
But whilst neighbours now live peacefully side by side, a gulf still divides Catholic and Protestant. Although half a millennium has elapsed since the greatest crime of modern history, the two bodies remain apart: French annexes of Alsace-Lorraine and Germans are not more completely divided. Mixed marriages are of rarest occurrence, intercourse limited to the conventional and the obligatory. There are historic curses that defy lustration. St. Bartholomew is one of these. I must now say something about the country-folks. Calls upon our rustic neighbours, long chats with affable housewives, and rounds of farmery, vineyard and field attracted me more than the magnificent panoramas to be obtained from Corconne and other villages within an easy drive.