6 SEPTEMBER 1890, Page 16


THESE good folk of Auvergne seem to get much more fun, or at least much more play, out of life than we do ; at any rate, they have been twice en fete in the three weeks we have been

here. I suppose it is because we have in this business cut down our saints till we have only St. Lubbock left, with hie quarterly holiday, while they, more wisely, have stuck to the old calendar. But it seems all wrong that they, who get five times as much sun as we, should also get three or four times as many holidays : for sunshine is surely of itself a sort of equivalent for a holiday. Perhaps, however,- if we had lots of it, the national " doggedness as does it " might wear out. That valuable but unpleasant characteristic could scarcely have leavened a nation living in a genial climate ; but, with about half Africa on our hands, in addition to Ireland and other trifles all round the world, the coming generation will need the " dogged as does it" even more than their fathers. So let us sing with Charles Kingsley, "Hail to thee, North- Easter," or with the old Wiltshire shepherd claim that the weather in England must be, anyhow, " sech as plaazes God A'mighty, and wut plaazes He plaazes I."

Determined to see all the fan of the fair, a friend and I started for Clermont from Royat by the electric tramway, and. reached the Place de Jaude in a few minutes—the " Foram Clermontois," as it is called in the local guide-books—the- largest open space in the ancient capital of Auvergne. It is a famous place for a fair, being nearly the size and shape of Eaton Square, with two rows of plane-trees running round it, but otherwise unenclosed. As we alighted from the tram-car,. we could see a long line of booths, with prodigious pictures in. front of them, and platforms on which bands were playing, and actors gesticulating; but before starting on our tour, we were attracted by a crowd close to the stopping-place of the cars. It proved to be a ring, four or five deep, round the carpet of athletes. They were two, a man and a woman, both in the usual flesh-coloured tights, the latter without any pre- tence of a skirt. The man was walking round, changing the places of the weights and clubs, until sufficient sous had been thrown on to the carpet, the woman screening, her face from the sun with a big fan, and talking with ber nearest neighbours in the ring. She was a remarkably fine young woman, with well-cut features, and a snake- head on a neck like a column ; and, strange to say, her expression was as modest and quiet as though pink tights were the ordinary walking-dress on the Place de Jaude. The necessary sous were soon carpeted, and the performance began. It was just the usual thing, lifting and catching heavy weights, wielding clubs, &c., the only novelty being that a woman should be one of the performers. She followed' the man, doing several feats with heavy weights which were painful to witness, and we passed on to the row of booths._ The average price for entrance was 21 sons, but after experi- menting on the two first, we agreed that in such a temperature the outside was decidedly the best part of the show. These two were some Indian dancers, male and female, who stood up one after another and postured from the hips, and waved' scarfs, the rest beating time on banjos ; and a "Miss Flora, dompteuse," a snake-tamer. From this announcement over the booth entrance, we rather expected to find a countrywoman, but the performer was a squat little Frenchwoman, in the same skirtless tights, who took some sleepy snakes out of a box, pat them round her neck, and then wanted' to make us pay a second time, which we declined to do. The next booth ought to have been amusing, but no boys came to play while we stopped. It was announced' as "Le Massacre d'Innocents." A number of these "Inno- cent" puppets looked out of a row of holes in a large wooden. frame, not more than S ft. from the rail in front of it.. Standing behind this rail the player, on paying five centimes, is handed a soft ball, which he can discharge at any one of the Innocents he may select, and " cheque bon- homme renverse gagne une .demi-douzaine de biscuits." I suppose the biscuits were bad, as otherwise the absence of boys seemed incredible. Any English lower-school" boy would have brought down a bonh,omme at that dik. tance with every ball, unless the balls were somehow doctored. But no boy turned up ; so we passed on to the biggest booth in the fair, with pictures of wondrous

beasts and heroic men and women over the platform, on which a big-dram and clarionet invited entrance, in strains which drowned those of all the neighbouring booths. We read that inside a " Mae& historique, destructive, et amusant " was on show, but contented ourselves with the pictures outside. Facing the other side of the place, with their backs to the larger booths along which we had come, were a row of humbler stalls and booths, most of the latter being devoted to some kind of gambling. There were three or four courses des petits chevaux, not so well appointed as the permanent one in the Royat Park, but on the same lines, and a number of hazard boards and other tables, about the size of those which the thimble-riggers used to carry about at English fairs. These last were new to me. They have a hollow rim round them, into which the player puts a large marble, which runs out on to the face of the table, which is marked all over with numbers, six or eight towards the centre being red, and the rest black. If the marble stops on one of these red numbers, the player wins ; if on a black one, the table wins. The odds seemed to be more than twenty to one against the player ; but if so, the tables would surely be less crowded. As it was, they did a merry trade, never for a moment wanting a player while we looked on. Most of these were soldiers of the garrison, interspersed with peasants in blouses, who dragged out their sous with every token of disgust and resent- ment, but seemed quite unable to get away from the tables. On the whole, after watching for some time, I was confirmed in the belief that we are right in putting down gambling in all public places. Nothing, I suppose, can stop it ; but there is no good in thrusting the temptation under the noses of boys and fools.

After making the round of the fair, we strolled up the hill to the Cathedral, which dominates the city, and looks out over as fair and rich a prospect as the world has to show. Brassey, when he was building one of the railways across La Limagne, the plain which stretches away east of Clermont, is reported to have said that if France were utterly bankrupt, the surface value of her soil would set her on her legs again in two years ; and one can quite believe him. The streets of the old town, which surrounds the Cathedral, are narrow and steep, but full of old houses of rare architectural interest. Many of them must have belonged to great folk, whose arms' are still to be seen over the doors, inside the quiet courts through which you enter from the streets. In these one could see, as we passed, little groups of gossips, knitting, smoking, " causer-ing." The petit bourgeois has succeeded to the noble, and now enjoys those grand, broad staircases and stone balconies. They form an excellent setting to the Cathedral, itself a grand specimen of Norman Gothic, begun by Hugues de la Tour, the sixty-sixth Bishop, before his departure for the Crusades, and finished by Viollet-le-Duc, who only completed the twin spires in 1877. But interesting as the Cathedral is, it is eclipsed by the Church of Notre Dame du Port, the oldest building in Clermont. It dates from the sixth century, when the first church was built on the site by St. Avitus, eighteenth Bishop. This was burnt A.D. 853, and rebuilt by St. Sigon, forty-third Bishop, in 870. Burnt again, it was again rebuilt as it stands to-day, in the eleventh century. In it Peter the Hermit is said to have preached the First Crusade, when the Council called by Pope Urban II. was sitting at Clermont. Whether this be so or not, it is by far the most perfect and interesting specimen of the earliest Gothic known to me ; and the crypt underneath the chancel is unique. It is specially dedicated to St. Mary du Port, and over the altar is the small statue of the Virgin and Child, around and before which votive offerings of all kinds—crosses and military decorations, bracelets, jewels, trinkets, many of them, I should think, of large value—hang and lie. The small image has no beauty whatever—in fact, is just a plain black doll—but of untold value to many genera. tions of Auvernois, who regard it as a talisman which has, again and again, preserved their city from sword and pestilence. I am not sure whether, amongst the small marble tablets which literally cover the walls, one may not be found in memory of the great fight of Gergovia, in which Vercinge- torix, if he did not actually defeat Caesar, turned the great captain and his Roman legions away from this part of Gaul. At any rate, amongst the most prominent, is one inscribed with the names " Conlmiers," " Patay," " Le Mans," the battles which in 1870-71 stayed the German advance on Clermont, and saved the capital of Auvergne. The rest are, for the most part, private tablets, thanksgivings for the cure of all manner of sickness and disease to which flesh is heir. To this shrine all sufferers have come in the faith which finds a voice all round these old walls,—" Qu'on est henreux d'avoir Marie pour mere !" That human instinct which longs for a female protectrix and mediator "behind the veil," speaks here, too, as it did 2,000 years ago, when the egyeatha fallrOP Admic ciAteimaxor guarded the shrines of ' Athens and her-