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opportunity to study my fellow-passengers at close range.
There were sittings for ten, and all were taken; but at the next station, where the platform was crowded with young women, one youth called out that there was plenty of room, so our numbers were suddenly increased to fifteen. One man held two damsels on his knees, exacting a kiss in payment when they left the train several stations farther on. Another held his arm very protectingly about the waist of the girl who had taken refuge on my upturned suitcase. Meanwhile, I was wondering if an affectionate nature was a strong national characteristic of the Basque people.
Darkness had fallen when I reached the end of the line at St.-Jean-Pied-dePort, and was driven rapidly up the hill to the Hôtel de France, accompanied by the merry tinkle of bells, a sound to which I became accustomed in the days which followed, for hotel buses, donkeycarts, cow-teams, and the goats on the hillside, all herald their coming by cheery, jingling bells. The first object which attracted my attention as I entered the inn was an old-fashioned, gleaming brass water-jug hanging against the wall, now doing duty as a reservoir. An instant later, passing the kitchen door, I caught a glimpse of the enormous fireplace, with its dazzling array of copper utensils hanging over
the mantel, in strong contrast with the smoke-begrimed walls and the heavy oak beams above. Beside the chimney, and close to the ceiling, was a shelf containing the row of family shoes, in accordance with a custom that has come down through the ages. So I fell asleep with the impression that I had left the modern world behind me, and had entered into the life of another era.
In the morning I was suddenly aroused by the most fearful creaking. I lay wondering what could possibly be the origin of such an unearthly din, till a flash of inspiration told me that this must be one of those carts with the solid wooden wheels, guaranteed to make such a racket that no evil spirits ever venture near. Hurrying to my window, I beheld the very cart of which I had read, a two-wheeled vehicle laden with sacks of wool from the mountains, and drawn by a yoke not of oxen, but of cream-white cows! So elaborately caparisoned was this odd pair that their identity was almost lost. Their bodies were covered with white canvas to keep off the flies, their faces protected by a
fine netting, and over their yoke was stretched a sheepskin resembling a great fur rug, while a festive row of red tassels dangled between their horns.
Well in advance of this quaint load of merchandise walked the driver, for all the world like a band-master. He solemnly marched forward for a few paces, then, finding he had outdistanced his team, made curious brandishing motions with his long stick, returning to give them a gentle prod on their flanks, and then with a word of admonition turned to lead the way again.
I discovered later that even milch cows are used as draft animals, for the farms are small, and the labor not heavy enough to require oxen. Mules, hitched three abreast, are everywhere employed for moving the heavier loads. The strangest combination of all I saw was attached to a coal team at Fuenterrabia, where the wheel horses were three mules, led by a tandem arrangement of a horse and a huge cow.
Enticed by this scene, I hastily dressed in order to lose none of the sights of market-day at St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
It would be more exact to call it "meeting-day," for there was no great evidence of merchandise save a few fruits, vegetables, and small wares displayed in the improvised booths that lined both sides of the main street of the new town, just below the old city walls. Here were eggs and cheese, chickens, with their feet tied together, sprawling helplessly on the ground, and ducks, stowed away carefully in a big basket, calmly surveying their unaccustomed surroundings. Now and then a prospective customer arrived, inquired the price, and with a judicial air lifted the struggling purchase in order to estimate its weight and worth. There were pigs, too, of all sizes, very much alive, loudly objecting to the indignity of being tethered by one hind leg. Small flocks of sheep were resting in the shade beneath the massive, towering walls of the medieval fortifications. Donkeys, the patient beasts of burden of all hill countries, were quietly waiting, ready to take the rude mountain trails when evening came.
Half a dozen men were chatting, with only a passing interest in the animated
scene about them. One was tall and spare, while the others were rather below medium height. All were smooth shaven. They had well-rounded heads, straight brows, regular noses, and square, determined chins. There was an intellectual, even distinguished, look upon their faces. Over and over again, as I roamed the streets on festive occasions, I was startled by the strong family resemblance, especially among the men.
Both men and boys wear the characteristic cap of the Basque country, of dark blue, round in shape, with a slight overhang from a fullness above, much like a diminutive tam-o'-shanter. All but the younger men still cling to the short blouse of fine black cloth, hanging free from the shoulders, pleated before and behind, with a double row of buttons and fastenings of braid, the whole resembling an abbreviated college gown. They wear dark trousers and the shoes that are part of the costume of the Basques of all ages and sexes. These shoes are made of canvas, usually white, with soles of braided hemp, often fastened by strings about the ankles. The
costume of the women is quite as somber as that of the men, for it usually consists of a black gown and black bonnet, a tiny cap sometimes being substituted for the latter.
As I mingled with the market-day throng, I wondered where all these visitors hailed from, for the population of St.-Jean is not very large, and the surrounding country is sparsely settled. There was an air of good humor and good fellowship everywhere. Evidently these lineal descendants of the sturdy mountaineers of several centuries ago, who fought stubbornly for their rights, are to-day well satisfied with their lot in life, full of real content, and unruffled by the weighty problems of state. This
well on toward midnight before the young proprietor of the Hôtel de France succeeded in inducing the last of the revelers to start homeward, and the echoes of their uncertain voices, raised in song, were heard for some time before peace and quiet once more descended on the streets of St.-Jean.
One day I spoke to a young man of thirty whose dress proclaimed that he came from the outside world. In response to a comment of mine in French, he answered in English. Ten years or more ago he left home for our Western States to act as shepherd. Finally, he succeeded in acquiring a flock of his own, and now with his savings of fifty thousand francs had returned to the land of
his youth. He was anxious to visit his old home, but confessed, that thus far, he has found himself a stranger in a strange land.
During his absence French has become the every-day language of business and social intercourse, while he knew only the speech of his childhood. To be sure, all his old friends can converse with him in Basque; still, he was bewildered by the foreign invasion he finds all about him, the prosperous resorts filled with summer visitors, and the varied interests which have followed in their train. One girl friend of his boyhood days had married an American officer; another, and this seems almost as epoch-making in his eyes, was the wife of a Frenchman.