CHAPTER XI. TRETS AND GARDANNE.
The fortifications of Trets - The streets - The church - Roman sarcophagus - Chateau of Trets - Visit to a self-educated archaeologist - His collection made on the battle-field - Dispute over a pot of burnt bones - One magpie - Gardanne - The church - A vielle - Trouble with it - Story of an executioner's sword.
Trets is an odd little place, surrounded by its ancient walls and towers, and with its gates - but, oh! if anyone would know what a cramped, unwholesome place one of these old mediaeval burghs was, let him visit Trets. The streets are some four and some five feet across; in threading them you pass under a succession of archways, for every house desiring more space has thrust forth a couple of storeys over the street, sustained by an arch. The exhalations from the dirt-heaps, the foulness of every house, the general condition of tumble-down, compose a something to make a sanitary officer's hair stand on end. But it is very wonderful. Carcassonne is marvellous, but this is Carcassonne seen through a diminishing glass.
Trets has an ancient church, but that has a tower in ruins, and it is a marvel to the visitor how that the rain does not enter and souse the interior and congregation, so dilapidated is the whole structure. In the basement of the tower is a white marble sculptured Roman sarcophagus; on it are the heads of husband and wife, supported by genii. Within the church is a slab bearing record of the consecration, A.D. 1051.
The town has a stately chateau, now abandoned to the poor and cut up into small habitations. There is in it a grand stone staircase with ornamental plaster ceilings on the several landings; one represents a boar hunt, the other an ostrich chase.
In the chateau lives a miner, a M. Maneil, who is an enthusiastic archaeologist. The publican of the little inn at Trets told me of him: of how, when his work is over, and other labouring men come to the cabaret or the cafe, he spends his time in prowling over the battle-field of Pourrieres, searching for antiquities, and how he hoards up his little savings to buy books that deal with archaeological subjects.
It was to see M. Maneil that I visited the chateau. He has a rich collection of objects. I counted twenty-four stone hatchets, and something like three hundred beads strung for necklaces, flint arrow-heads in large numbers, also many bronze implements, a quern, pierced shells, several sculptured stones found in Dolmens, and a great many Roman coins. It is the collection of a life, made by an enthusiast, and ought to be acquired by the museum of Aix. In the mairie at Trets is an urn full of calcined bones, in very good condition. It was found by two boys some little while ago in a tumulus on the side of the road to Puyloubier. The farmer whose land it was on, hearing of the discovery, and concluding that something precious had been found, brought an action against the youthful archaeologists, and strove to recover the treasure. After a hard-fought battle he obtained his rights. They were forced to surrender their acquisition - a crock - and, to the disgust of the farmer, it contained not a coin of any sort, only bones. So he has left it in the mairie, in the hopes that some one will be induced to buy it, and so contribute a trifle towards the heavy expenses of the trial.
Now, as I was walking from the field of Pourrieres to Trets, one solitary magpie appeared on my left, flew a little way, lighted, and flew on farther, and accompanied me thus for half the journey. "One is for sorrow." My mind immediately recurred to home - to wife and children. What had or would happen? Influenza - would that decimate the flock? or a fire - would that consume my books and pictures? Nothing happens but the unexpected. Never for one moment did I obtain a glimpse, no, not half a glimpse, into the trouble in store for me, which was to arise, not from the loss of anything, but out of an acquisition.
From Trets I went on by train to Gardanne, watching the evening lights die upon the silver-grey precipices of Mont Victoire. At Gardanne I had to change, and kick my heels for two hours. Gardanne is a picturesque little town, built on a hill round a castle in ruins and a church very much restored. So restored did the church seem to be from the bottom of the hill that I doubted whether it would be worth a visit. Gardanne is surrounded by broad boulevards planted with trees. Now, no sooner has one passed inward, from this boulevard, than one finds a condition of affairs only a little less dreadful than that at Trets.
Gardanne was a walled town, but all the walls have been transformed into the faces of houses, inns and cafes, plastered and painted and so disguised as not to reveal their origin till one passes behind them. Then one is involved in a labyrinth of narrow, dark lanes scrambling up the hill, running in and out among the houses, paved with cobble stones in some places, in others resolving themselves into flights of broken steps.
On scrambling to the terrace on which the church stands on the apex of the hill, I saw that it was of very remarkable width, all under one low gable - certainly extraordinarily ugly, and newly plastered, marked out in sham blocks of stone, and made as hideous as the ingenuity of man could well achieve. However, I entered the west door, and passed into almost complete darkness, only relieved by the paschal candle that was burning at a side altar and the red lamp in the choir.
As my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, I discovered to my surprise that I had entered a very interesting eleventh-century church, of five aisles, all under one roof, without clerestory. But the evening light through the small stained windows did not suffer me to make out any details. The east end of the church rises from the crag on which it is built, without any window in it.