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Chapter 22

I spent but a few hours at Carcassonne; but those
hours had a rounded felicity, and I cannot do better
than transcribe from my note-book the little record
made at the moment. Vitiated as it may be by
crudity and incoherency, it has at any rate the fresh-
ness of a great emotion. This is the best quality that
a reader may hope to extract from a narrative in
which "useful information" and technical lore even of
the most general sort are completely absent. For
Carcassonne is moving, beyond a doubt; and the
traveller who, in the course of a little tour in France,
may have felt himself urged, in melancholy moments,
to say that on the whole the disappointments are as
numerous as the satisfactions, must admit that there
can be nothing better than this.

The country, after you leave Toulouse, continues
to be charming; the more so that it merges its flatness
in the distant Cevennes on one side, and on the other,
far away on your right, in the richer range of the
Pyrenees. Olives and cypresses, pergolas and vines,
terraces on the roofs of houses, soft, iridescent moun-
tains, a warm yellow light, - what more could the dif-
ficult tourist want? He left his luggage at the station,
warily determined to look at the inn before committing
himself to it. It was so evident (even to a cursory
glance) that it might easily have been much better
that he simply took his way to the town, with the
whole of a superb afternoon before him. When I say
the town, I mean the towns; there being two at Car-
cassonne, perfectly distinct, and each with excellent
claims to the title. They have settled the matter be-
tween them, however, and the elder, the shrine of
pilgrimage, to which the other is but a stepping-stone,
or even, as I may say, a humble door-mat, takes the
name of the Cite. You see nothing of the Cite from
the station; it is masked by the agglomeration of the
_ville-basse_, which is relatively (but only relatively) new.
A wonderful avenue of acacias leads to it from the
station, - leads past, rather, and conducts you to a
little high-backed bridge over the Aude, beyond which,
detached and erect, a distinct mediaeval silhouette, the
Cite presents itself. Like a rival shop, on the in-
vidious side of a street, it has "no connection" with
the establishment across the way, although the two
places are united (if old Carcassonne may be said to be
united to anything) by a vague little rustic fau-
bourg. Perched on its solid pedestal, the perfect de-
tachment of the Cite is what first strikes you. To take
leave, without delay, of the _ville-basse_, I may say that
the splendid acacias I have mentioned flung a sum-
merish dusk over the place, in which a few scattered
remains of stout walls and big bastions looked vener-
able and picturesque. A little boulevard winds round
the town, planted with trees and garnished with more
benches than I ever saw provided by a soft-hearted
municipality. This precinct had a warm, lazy, dusty,
southern look, as if the people sat out-of-doors a great
deal, and wandered about in the stillness of summer
nights. The figure of the elder town, at these hours,
must be ghostly enough on its neighboring hill. Even
by day it has the air of a vignette of Gustave Dore, a
couplet of Victor Hugo. It is almost too perfect, - as
if it were an enormous model, placed on a big green
table at a museum. A steep, paved way, grass-grown
like all roads where vehicles never pass, stretches up
to it in the sun. It has a double enceinte, complete
outer walls and complete inner (these, elaborately forti-
fied, are the more curious); and this congregation of
ramparts, towers, bastions, battlements, barbicans, is
as fantastic and romantic as you please. The approach
I mention here leads to the gate that looks toward
Toulouse, - the Porte de l'Aude. There is a second,
on the other side, called, I believe, the Porte Nar-
bonnaise, a magnificent gate, flanked with towers thick
and tall, defended by elaborate outworks; and these
two apertures alone admit you to the place, - putting
aside a small sally-port, protected by a great bastion,
on the quarter that looks toward the Pyrenees.

As a votary, always, in the first instance, of a
general impression, I walked all round the outer en-
ceinte, - a process on the very face of it entertaining.
I took to the right of the Porte de l'Aude, without
entering it, where the old moat has been filled in.
The filling-in of the moat has created a grassy level
at the foot of the big gray towers, which, rising at
frequent intervals, stretch their stiff curtain of stone
from point to point. The curtain drops without a
fold upon the quiet grass, which was dotted here and
there with a humble native, dozing away the golden
afternoon. The natives of the elder Carcassonne are
all humble; for the core of the Cite has shrunken and
decayed, and there is little life among the ruins. A
few tenacious laborers, who work in the neighboring
fields or in the _ville-basse_, and sundry octogenarians
of both sexes, who are dying where they have lived,
and contribute much to the pictorial effect, - these
are the principal inhabitants. The process of con-
verting the place from an irresponsible old town into
a conscious "specimen" has of course been attended
with eliminations; the population has, as a general
thing, been restored away. I should lose no time in
saying that restoration is the great mark of the Cite.
M. Viollet-le-Duc has worked his will upon it, put it
into perfect order, revived the fortifications in every
detail. I do not pretend to judge the performance,
carried out on a scale and in a spirit which really
impose themselves on the imagination. Few archi-
tects have had such a chance, and M. Viollet-le-Duc
must have been the envy of the whole restoring fra-
ternity. The image of a more crumbling Carcassonne
rises in the mind, and there is no doubt that forty
years ago the place was more affecting. On the other
hand, as we see it to-day, it is a wonderful evocation;
and if there is a great deal of new in the old, there
is plenty of old in the new. The repaired crenella-
tions, the inserted patches, of the walls of the outer
circle sufficiently express this commixture. My walk
brought me into full view of the Pyrenees, which, now
that the sun had begun to sink and the shadows to
grow long, had a wonderful violet glow. The platform
at the base of the walls has a greater width on this
side, and it made the scene more complete. Two or
three old crones had crawled out of the Porte Nar-
bonnaise, to examine the advancing visitor; and a
very ancient peasant, lying there with his back against
a tower, was tending half a dozen lean sheep. A poor
man in a very old blouse, crippled and with crutches
lying beside him, had been brought out and placed
on a stool, where he enjoyed the afternoon as best he
might. He looked so ill and so patient that I spoke
to him; found that his legs were paralyzed and he was
quite helpless. He had formerly been seven years in
the army, and had made the campaign of Mexico with
Bazaine. Born in the old Cite, he had come back
there to end his days. It seemed strange, as he sat
there, with those romantic walls behind him and the
great picture of the Pyrenees in front, to think that he
had been across the seas to the far-away new world,
had made part of a famous expedition, and was now
a cripple at the gate of the mediaeval city where he
had played as a child. All this struck me as a great
deal of history for so modest a figure, - a poor little
figure that could only just unclose its palm for a small
silver coin.

He was not the only acquaintance I made at Car-
cassonne. I had not pursued my circuit of the walls
much further when I encountered a person of quite
another type, of whom I asked some question which
had just then presented, itself, and who proved to be
the very genius of the spot. He was a sociable son
of the _ville-basse_, a gentleman, and, as I afterwards
learned, an employe at the prefecture, - a person, in
short, much esteemed at Carcassonne. (I may say all
this, as he will never read these pages.) He had been
ill for a month, and in the company of his little dog
was taking his first airing; in his own phrase he was
_amoureux-fou de la Cite_, - he could lose no time in
coming back to it. He talked of it, indeed, as a lover,
and, giving me for half an hour the advantage of his
company, showed me all the points of the place. (I
speak here always of the outer enceinte; you penetrate
to the inner - which is the specialty of Carcassonne,
and the great curiosity - only by application at the
lodge of the regular custodian, a remarkable func-
tionary, who, half an hour later, when I had been in-
troduced to him by my friend the amateur, marched
me over the fortifications with a tremendous accompani-
ment of dates and technical terms.) My companion
pointed out to me in particular the traces of different
periods in the structure of the walls. There is a por-
tentous amount of history embedded in them, begin-
ning with Romans and Visigoths; here and there are
marks of old breaches, hastily repaired. We passed
into the town, - into that part of it not included in the
citadel. It is the queerest and most fragmentary little
place in the world, as everything save the fortifications
is being suffered to crumble away, in order that the
spirit of M. Viollet-le-Duc alone may pervade it, and
it may subsist simply as a magnificent shell. As the
leases of the wretched little houses fall in, the ground
is cleared of them; and a mumbling old woman ap-
proached me in the course of my circuit, inviting me
to condole with her on the disappearance of so many
of the hovels which in the last few hundred years
(since the collapse of Carcassonne as a stronghold)
had attached themselves to the base of the walls, in
the space between the two circles. These habitations,
constructed of materials taken from the ruins, nestled
there snugly enough. This intermediate space had
therefore become a kind of street, which has crumbled
in turn, as the fortress has grown up again. There
are other streets, beside, very diminutive and vague,
where you pick your way over heaps of rubbish and
become conscious of unexpected faces looking at you
out of windows as detached as the cherubic heads.
The most definite thing in the place was the little
cafe, where. the waiters, I think, must be the ghosts of
the old Visigoths; the most definite, that is, after the
little chateau and the little cathedral. Everything in
the Cite is little; you can walk round the walls in
twenty minutes. On the drawbridge of the chateau,
which, with a picturesque old face, flanking towers,
and a dry moat, is to-day simply a bare _caserne_,
lounged half a dozen soldiers, unusually small. No-
thing could be more odd than to see these objects en-
closed in a receptacle which has much of the appear-
ance of an enormous toy. The Cite and its population
vaguely reminded me of an immense Noah's ark.

Henry James