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.

On leaving the top of the hill and descending into the town I met my fate in the form of a woman who was playing a hurdy-gurdy, and singing to its strains a Provencal ballad. I stopped at once, and asked her to let me investigate the instrument. I have a fancy for ancient musical instruments. A handle is turned that grates on one catgut string, and the fingers of the left hand, passed under the hurdy-gurdy, touch notes that stop the string at various lengths, and so vary the tone.

She told me the instrument was called the vielle, in fact - our old English viol; a very ancient instrument, which is represented as being played by one of the minstrels sculptured on the east front of Launceston Parish Church, circ. 1525. On a capital at S. Georges de Boscherville, in Normandy, is an eleventh-century representation of a huge hurdy-gurdy resting on the knees of two performers. One turns the handle, the other plays on the keys. Mr. Chappell at one time believed it was the old English Rote, from rota, a wheel, but changed his mind later, and showed that the rote had a hole through it, which enabled it to be played with both hands like a lyre or harp, and derived its name from the Anglo-Saxon "rott" - cheerful.

This branch of archaeology being one in which I was particularly interested, nothing would suffice me but buying the viol of the woman; and having acquired it, I slung it round my neck by a very dirty blue ribbon, and hastened to the station to catch my train to Aix.

Now only did I discover what the magpie portended, for with the acquisition of that hurdy-gurdy my life became a burden to me. I could not pack it into my Gladstone bag. I could not fold it up with my rugs. I was forced to travel with it slung round my neck. Naturally, in a railway carriage I was asked to perform on the singular instrument - but I was incapable of doing this. Fellow travellers disbelieved in my statement. Why did I wander through Provence, the land of troubadours, if I were no troubadour? Surely I was sulky - not incapable; unwilling to oblige - not unable to do so. When I arrived at an hotel - especially late in the evening - I found the host doubtful about receiving me. He looked at my bag, then at my hurdy-gurdy, then scrutinised my boots; wanted to know what priced rooms I required; must consult madam. On the railway platform again, I found myself an object of attention to certain men in plain clothes, with keen searching eyes - and, as I shall relate in the sequel, brought one of them down on me.

Vexed that I was unable to pass the tedious time in the train with a tune on my vielle, and entertain my fellow travellers, I began to practise on it in my room at night. Then the fellow inmates complained: they sent their compliments and desired to know whether there were wild beasts next door - they objected to be lodged near a menagerie.

My experiences with the hurdy-gurdy recall to my memory some others I went through a few years ago.

On one occasion I spent a winter in a city in the south of Germany, where I made the acquaintance of an antiquary who was very old and bedridden, and had no relations, no one to care for him but an old housekeeper. The man had belonged to the town-council, and had spent his life in collecting curiosities connected with the history of his town. Among his treasures above his bed, was the city executioner's sword, much notched. This sword was six feet long, with a huge handle, to be grasped with two hands, and with an iron ornamented knob as counterpoise at the end of the handle.

How life is made up of lost opportunities! How much of the criminal history of the city might I not have learned, if I had paid longer visits to Herr Schreiber, and listened to his account of the notches in the blade, to each of which a ghastly history attached. But the antiquary's bedroom measured fifteen feet by seven, and the window was hermetically sealed; moreover, there was a stove in the room, and - Herr Schreiber himself, always.

"Ach, mein Herr! do you see dis great piece broken out of de blade? Dat vas caused by a voman's neck. De executioner could not cut it drough; her neck vas harder dan his sword. She vas a very vicked voman; she poisoned her fader. - Do you see dis littel nick? Dis vas made by a great trater to the Kaiser and Vaterland. I vill tell you all about it."

I never heard all the stories: I should have been suffocated had I stayed to listen; but I found, whenever I called on my friend, that my eyes invariably turned to the sword - it was so huge, it was so notched, and had such a gruesome history. Poor old Schreiber, I knew, would have to bow his neck before long under the scythe of Time. How he hung on in that stuffy room under the great sword so long was a marvel to me, and would be pronounced impossible by sanitary authorities in England. Nevertheless, he did live on for a twelvemonth after I left the town. When about to depart, I said to the English chaplain: "Old Schreiber can't last long; he must smother shortly. Keep an eye on the sword for me, there's a good fellow. He has left everything to the housekeeper."

A twelvemonth after, as I was about to leave England for a run into Bohemia, I got a letter from the chaplain: "Schreiber is dead. I have the sword." I wired at once to him: "Send it me to my inn at Aix-la-Chapelle. Will pick it up on my way home."

So I went on my way rejoicing, ascended the Rhine to Mainz, trained to Nuremberg, and passed through the gap of the Bohemian mountain-chain to Pilsen, and on to Prague. After six weeks in Bohemia and Silesia, I descended the Rhine to Aix-la-Chapelle, and arrived at my inn.

"Dere is vun vunderful chest come for you," said the landlord. "Ve vas not very comfortable to take him in. Ve keep him, dough."

And no wonder. The chest was shaped somewhat like the coffin of a very tall man.

"Vat ish he? He have been here four veek and doe days. - Dere is no schmell."

"I cannot take that thing - I really cannot. It is preposterous. How could the chaplain have put my sword into the hands of an undertaker? - Get me a hammer; I will knock the case to pieces."

Now, there was a reason why the chest should assume the shape of a coffin - that was, because of the crosspiece between the handle and the blade. My name and address were on the lid, at the place where usually goes the so-called "breast-plate."

The host of my inn, the waiters, the porter, the boots, all stood in breathless curiosity to see the box opened, and when the sword was exposed - "Ach!" exclaimed the host gravely, "I vas right - dere vas no schmell, because dere could be no schmell."

I could not see the force of this reasoning, remembering Herr Schreiber's room, and how long the sword had been in it; and allowing that there is no porosity in tempered steel, still, the black velvet casing of the handle might have absorbed a considerable amount of Schreiberian bacteria, bacilli, or whatever it is that physiologists assert to be so nasty and so ubiquitous, and so set on finding out our weak places and hitting us there, as swordfish "go" at whales.

I had got my sword out of its coffin, but had not considered what to do with it next, and I found myself in as great a difficulty as before. I got a porter to convey it for me to the station, and he placed it in the first-class waiting-room with the iron counterpoise on the floor, beside a divan, and leaned the tip of the blade against the wall. There it was allowed to remain; and I walked about, pretending that it did not belong to me. Presently, a well-dressed, very stately lady - she was a Graefin (countess) - came in, stalked to the divan, and seated herself on it, very upright, without observing the sword. She opened a reticule and produced a lace-edged handkerchief, with which she proceeded to dust the velvet of her dress, and in so doing, with the end of her delicately-shod foot, touched the counterpoise. At once the sword-blade began to grate against the wall. She looked up suddenly, saw the huge notched executioner's sword descending upon her bowed neck, uttered a little scream, sprang to her feet and ran, fleet as a rabbit, across the waiting-room; whilst down its full length after her with a clang fell the weapon - followed by a burst of laughter from everyone in the room but the countess.

After this, I took the sword up and marched on the platform with it at my side. This I will say for it - that, considering its size and weight, it is easily carried; for not only is there the crosspiece as hand-guard, but above this is a crescent worked in the iron, the horns extending with the convexity towards the point of the blade. By putting a couple of fingers under these horns, the sword is carried at the side, pommel downwards, blade up, with perfect ease, the balance is so true. Some difficulty attended the getting into the carriage with the sword; I had to enter backwards and bring my sword in after me, passengers keeping judiciously out of its reach till it was safely brought within.

Not the Douvres-Calais that day! only that horrible little narrow boat that always upsets me - and I - such an heroic being, bearing the mighty mediaeval sword, an object of wonder and questioning to sailors,douaniers, passengers alike. As it happened, I was the sole individual on board whose inner organs had not their sea-legs on this occasion. I lay on a bench upon deck, hugging my executioner's sword, and faintly calling: "A basin please!" Two ruffians - I can call them, nothing else - paced the deck, smoking, and passed me every forty seconds. If there is a thing which tumbles a human being of a highly-strung nervous temperament over when he feels squeamish, it is the occasional whiff of a cigar. Then, added to the occasional whiff, were occasional catches of derogatory remarks, which came home to me as unpleasantly as did the tobacco: "A chap with a sword like that should live up to it, and not grovel over a basin." - And a quotation from the Burial of Sir John Moore: "He lay like a warrior taking his rest."

My spine, with the pitching and vibration of the vessel, felt not like a spinal column, but like a loose string of beads. If by swallowing the sword I could have acquired stamina, I should have tried it; but I did not think I could keep it down. At length, with a pasty face, blear-eyes, liver-coloured lips, a battered hat, a dripping and torn waterproof, reeling, holding my ticket in my teeth, the sword in one hand and my portmanteau in the other, looking like a dynamitard every inch, and at once pounced on and overhauled by the police and customs-officers, I staggered ashore. Having that sword was as much as proclaiming that I had infernal machines about me somewhere, and even my pockets were not sacred. Having turned out all my insides at sea, I had to turn out my exterior pockets and portmanteau now. It was monstrous. That was not all. I am sure a detective followed me to town. When I got into a hansom at Charing Cross, the sword would go nowhere except between my knees, with the blade shooting up between the reins of the driver, high above the top of the conveyance. I caused great amusement as I drove through the streets of London thus.

The sword is at rest now, lodged on my staircase, and of one thing I am sure: no one is likely to run away with it. I have lost curiosities too tempting for specialists to keep their fingers from; but no one will carry away my sword. I shall go, but the sword will remain.