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been brought from the mainland, the Rock not affording timber or stone fit for building, or even the means of sustenance for the people employed in its construction—all supplies being conveyed to the island either by boats or in waggons, which at particular times of the tide are driven across the strand.
This latter mode of transit can only be accomplished at rare intervals, and ought not to be attempted, except under the guidance of some person thoroughly acquainted with the tides, and the position of the quicksands which lie between the mainland and the rock. I believe it is possible to be swallowed up in these sands, but rather fancy that the danger is somewhat exaggerated and made the most of, as its existence, real or supposed, enables the fishermen of St. Michel to earn a comfortable livelihood by acting as guides. The real danger lies in the rapidity with which the tides rise and fall, as you may walk almost dryfoot to-day to St. Michel, while to-morrow or next day you will find thirty feet in depth of tempestuous sea rolling between it and the mainland, and many a good ship and many a gallant crew have perished in those treacherous waters.
After I had been a few days at Avranches, and had seen as much of the immediate neighbourhood as was possible in such very hot weather, we determined upon making a pilgrimage to the Rock ; and as we knew that there was “a tide in the affairs” of St. Michel, having consulted the people learned in such subjects, and ascertained the temper of the moon, we fixed upon a day for the trip; but as I have mentioned the moon, I may as well put on record my opinion that the moon has nothing to do with the tide ; and I think there was much sound sense in the observation of our old gardener, Larry Quilligan, when the village schoolmaster was trying to explain to him the influence of the moon over the tide—“Why, thin, sir, what's the use of giving all that trouble to the moon ? Don't we all know that the earth turns round on her axe (for so Larry expressed himself) every day, and isn't it quite natural the water should fall down the hill, and come back again when the right side comes uppermost ?" It was a strange thing that Larry could never go a step further in his astronomy. He admitted freely enough that the earth turned on its axis every day, in order, as he somewhat originally expressed himself, to give the sun time to rest himself, and see his family; but when I, at that time fresh from Trinity College, Dublin, and proud of the honours I had taken for proficiency in Brinkley's Astronomy, endeavoured to persuade him that the earth performed an annual journey round the sun, and was at that moment going at an inconceivable rate of velocity, he laughed at me outright.
“Well, well,” said he, "I wonder a sensible gentleman like your honour would talk so like a fool, to tell me the earth went round the sun. Will any man tell me that the cabbages I planted there last night are not in the same spot still ?” And when I attempted to explain to him that he had been moving along with the cabbages, and, was therefore, unconcious of their progress, his answer was, "Your honour is making game of me now, at all events. I can bring twenty men to prove that all day yesterday I was playing ball at the cross-roads, and was drinking all night at Micky Brian's public-house-how, then, could I be moving along with the cabbages ?" In spite of my “Insignes in artibus pro
gressus," I was, as Addison happily expresses himself, utterly flabbergasted by this argument, and retired discomfited from the presence of Larry and his two apprentices, who put more faith in the man who could graft an apple-tree or rear a crop of asparagus, than in the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College, Dublin.
Well, as the French say, « Revenons”-I will not finish the quotation, because it is too old and hacknied. I made my way into the town, and engaged a carriage for our trip. Falstaff refused to march through Coventry with his regiment, and I should be very sorry to drive through Regent-street, or round Merrion-square, in an Avranches carriage. The builder, in his endeavours to arrive at perfection, had apparently changed his mind some twenty times in the course of its construction, and he eventually produced something which was at once a diligence, a chariot, a phaeton, and an Irish jaunting-car. It however appeared in good serviceable condition, and capable of containing a large party. We therefore struck a bargain, and, along with the voiture, engaged the services of a Norman "cocher,” who was somewhat of a character in his way. He rejoiced in the name of Pierre, and appeared at first sight a heavy, dull
, clumsy-looking man, with a very red face ; but on looking at him closely, you would divine, from the expression of his eyes, and the play of his enormously large mouth, which, with a little stretching, would have tied behind, that he possessed an inexhaustible fund of wit and humour. At the appointed hour our friend Pierre and his miscellaneous vehicle drove up to the door, and we started on our pilgrimage to St. Michel. We were a party of eight, six ladies and two gentlemen, of whom I, the Irish Traveller, was one. The other, who was also from the Emerald Isle, requires some slight description. He was rather advanced in life, was very grey, and not a little bald, and wore a hat with a wide leaf, which imparted an artificial gravity and decorum to his appearance, those attributes by no means forming in reality a part of his character. He laboured under a hallucination that his talent had been thrown away, and his energies misapplied, in consequence of his parents not having brought him up as an opera-singer, instead of a grave and learned pillar of the law. Most men have hallucinations of this kind. Old Horace, who knew mankind well, has alluded to this circumstance in his "Qui fit Macænas,” and his “Optat Epilibia Bos Piger." It is recorded of Liston, that he went to his grave under the impression that in him a great tragedian had been lost to the world, and that instead of making the public laugh as an inimitable comedian, he ought to have walked the stage as “Hamlet” or “Romeo ;' and I myself know an eminent judge who to this day declares that his parents and guardians spoiled a good cook in order to make him a bad lawyer. Our fellow-traveller was fully persuaded that he could sing, and so he certainly could, so far as singing consists in knowing the words of every song in the world; but his economy as to tune was marvellous. He knew but one air (and even that one very imperfectly), and to it all his songs, humorous or pathetic, amatory or heroic, were obliged to submit.
Our musical friend, at starting, stationed himself on the driving-seat next to Pierre, who looked hard at him, trying to divine the real character of the grave, decorous-looking old gentleman who shared his seat, and who was no other than old G-, who has before now figured in
the pages of the MetroPOLITAN MAGAZINE. So long as we were driving through the street, the old fellow was quiet and demure ; but when we had left the town behind us, his lunacy came strongly upon him, and he sung song after song without the slightest intermission. As they were all English songs, and Pierre knew nothing of that language, he was altogether thrown out, and by the time our friend had arrived at the “Groves of Blarney," was as completely lost as ever were the Babes in the Wood; Old G- being a great rogue, as I dare say you have ere now discovered, purposely kept back his knowledge of French, in order to mystify Pierre. I knew he could speak it very well, for he had assisted me in making the bargain for the voiture, and had cleverly contrived to send me into the yard to examine into the state of the wheels and springs, while he managed the money part of the transaction with “Madame." I cannot say what had taken place during my absence, but when I returned I found the old sinner, not singing, for a wonder, but paying a profusion of compliments in excellent French to a very pretty young woman, whose cap, for some reason which I could not guess, was pushed very much on one side, and who, with smiles and blushes, repeated several times, “Bien obligée, Monsieur."
“There is a way of managing women if you only know how to set about it,” said old G-- quietly to me, as we walked away together; "and while you were in the yard I induced Madame to take ten francs off the price of the voiture.”
Pierre, however, knew nothing of all this, and had not mustered up courage enough to address his eccentric companion in French, but contented himself with turning round and saying to some of the pretty girls who accompanied us (for I always take care that pretty girls shall form a large portion of every party to which I attach myself), that the old gentleman was a very pleasant fellow, and that he, Pierre, would like to travel round the world with him.
Thus singing and laughing, we traversed the seven or eight miles of road between Avranches and the sea, and found ourselves at the edge of the strand. Having ascertained that the “ beach was practicable," and that the tide had gone on a visit to the other side of the world, we proceeded in a somewhat circuitous line towards the Rock, following closely in the track of a carriage which had preceded us. As we approached the island it presented a most singular appearance: a thick sea-fog had settled on all the lower parts, rendering them completely invisible, while the summit of the Rock, and the spire of the Cathedral, which, by this time, could be distinctly made out, appeared as if standing in the air without any support. Between us and the Rock we could see a number of men and women, magnified to an enormous height, walking through the shallow water, with nets and other fishing-implements on their shoulders ; seen through the fog, they appeared at least ten or twelve feet high, and reminded us of the artificial giants which appear in pantomimes. Three men detached themselves from the rest and advanced towards our carriage, which had by this time come to a standstill, the depth of the water not permitting a nearer approach. As they drew near, we perceived that their gigantic appearance was not entirely owing to the fog, two of them being of immense stature. The leader of the party was at least six feet six inches in height, and of a most power
ful frame. The second man was some two inches shorter than his companion, while the third, who was the son of the taller man, was a well-grown youth of fifteen or sixteen years of age. Their dress, as far as their lower limbs were concerned, was an exaggeration, or rather a diminution, of the Highland costume, and consisted of a pair of the shortest possible blue drawers, leaving the thighs, legs, and feet perfectly naked. Their upper garments were a shirt and a very loose blouse of a bright blue colour, with a cap of the same colour and material. From constant exposure to the sun on the unsheltered sands, their skin was stained of the deepest orange colour, which, contrasted with the bright blue of their scanty clothing, and their black, unshaven beards, gave them a wild, Arab-like appearance. Accordingly we at once christened the giant Abdallah ; the second in size we called Sidi Ben Hamet ; while to the younger, from his peculiarly dark colour, we gave the name of Gamboge. These wild-looking men took the ladies one by one in their arms, and carried them through the water to a boat which was in readiness to convey us to the island; and even old G who loved his ease, was borne on the shoulders of Sidi Ben Hamet; but when the gigantic Abdallah volunteered his services on my behalf, I recollected that, the year before, the proprietor of a merry-go-round in Paris wanted to charge me double for a ride on one of the hobbyhorses, on the plea that “ Je pesais comme quatres enfants ;" I therefore pulled off my shoes and stockings and
waded to the boat, which speedily conveyed us to the land, Abdallah, Ben Hamet, and Gamboge, who disdained the luxury of a boat, splashing through the water by our side, while our friend Pierre waited for about an hour until the tide had completely ebbed, and then followed us with the carriage and horses.
We entered the town, or rather collection of fishermen's huts, through an old dismantled gate, outside of which were two large cannons said to have belonged, at some remote period, to the English, but whether they were taken in battle or rescued from some wrecked vessel, was not made clear to my understanding. We then made our way to the hotel, and after engaging rooms, and ordering some slight refreshment, we proceeded to the Cathedral and the Prison, to which strangers are not admitted, unless provided, as we were, with an order from the Governor.
In the lonely sea-girt fortress were confined from sixty to eighty convicts, some of them guilty of the most atrocious crimes. At every flight of stairs sentries were posted, and here and there the soldiers not actually on duty were whiling away the monotony of their lives by playing ecarté with cards, which, from their appearance, must have passed through the hands of many generations of warders. Printed notices were here and there posted on the walls, requesting visitors not to speak to the convicts, or pain them by appearing to notice their unfortunate and degraded position. Having inspected the Prison, we were next shown through the Cathedral, said to have been built some eight hundred years ago, and still in a wonderful state of preservation; the cloisters, particularly, appeared as fresh as if only finished the day before, and it was easy for the imagination to people them with the “monks of old,” pacing up and down in pious meditation, in which way we are bound to believe those holy men employed their time. The Salle des Chevaliers has been divided into two rooms, one being used
as a kind of workshop for the convicts, whom we were permitted to see through a glass door, busily employed in weaving a sort of coarse cloth which is subsequently manufactured into prison-dresses. Having inspected the Cathedral, our guide brought us out on a flat terrace, and opening a door in a tower, desired us to ascend. Up and up we went on our dark and winding way, until we emerged into daylight upon a gallery two feet wide, round the top of the tower, and so high up in the clouds that it made one quite dizzy to look down. On two sides of the gallery there was a low iron railing not much higher than a man's knee; but on the other two sides this slight protection had long since disappeared, and there was nothing whatever to prevent any one, mad enough to walk on the narrow ledge, from falling down on the rocks some thousand feet below. Not for a “wilderness of monkeys” would I have walked round that narrow gallery. Imagine, then, my horror at seeing two young ladies of our party passing round the unfenced sides with as much unconcern as if they were on the sands below. In the very act of turning round the corner, the wind caught the broad-leafed straw hat which one of them wore, and carried it over all the buildings below us far out on the strand ! Fortunately the fair owner made no attempt to save it; had she done so, she must have lost her balance and gone sheer down on the rocks, and who would dare to tell that tale in her distant English home?
Old GM, who always knew what to do where pretty girls were concerned, drew a bright-coloured silk handkerchief from his pocket, and tied up her lovely locks in such a becoming fashion, that when we descended to where looking-glasses were to be found (and as women live on the Rock of St. Michel, there was no danger of not finding a mirror), she appeared quite reconciled to the loss of her mushroom hat. Having reached the regions below, and laid out, as in duty bound, a certain number of francs in the purchase of several articles of carved wood, said to be manufactured by the prisoners, we discussed a light dinner, and drank two or three bottles of a wine which old Gseemed highly to appreciate, and which I can safely recommend to future visitors to St. Michel. While Pierre was preparing the carriage for our return, I wandered out to the strand, and entered into conversation with Abdallah, who gave me a slight sketch of his history. He was a native of Cologne, and for some mysterious reason, into which I did not try to penetrate, had made his way to St. Michel, where he followed the business of guide and fisherman, occasionally earning large sums by affording assistance to the crews of vessels in distress. His son, Gamboge, was by his side, which led me to inquire if he had other children. "Ah, Monsieur," said he, “ J'ai eu cinq enfants, et maintenant voila le seul qui me reste, les autres et leur mère sont là !" Here he raised his gigantic figure to its full height, and pointed with his brawny arm to the bright heaven above our heads—"Mais un jour je les reverrai.” As he spoke, the large teardrops welled into his eyes, and I hastened to change the conversation and make inquiries as to the state of the tides and the danger to ships. He informed me that where we now stood on the dry sand, there would be, on that day week, when the spring-tides set in, thirty feet of water; that the navigation was most difficult and dangerous, and that he and his companions had re