Part 3 out of 4
It was curious to hear our conductor, himself evidently accustomed to a
hard, laborious life, speak of the inhabitants of Sauveterre. He
described their condition much as a well-to-do English artisan might
speak of the half-starved foreign victims of the sweater--so wide is
the gulf dividing the Caussenard from the French peasant proper.
'Just think of it,' he said; 'they don't even dress the rye for their
bread, but eat it made of husks and all. Rye-bread, bacon, potatoes,
that is their fare, and water: if it were only good water one would
have nothing to say--bad water they drink. But they are contented,
'What do they do for a doctor?' I asked.
He made a curious grimace.
'They doctor themselves till they are at the point of death, and then
send for a doctor. But it is not often. They are healthy enough,
With regard to the ministrations of religion, they are in the position
of dalesfolk in some parts of Dauphine. A cure from St. Enimie, he told
us, performed Mass once a fortnight in summer, and came over as
occasion required for baptisms, marriages, and burials. In winter alike
ordinary Mass and these celebrations were stopped by the snow. The
services of the priest had then to be dispensed with for weeks, even
months, at a time.
I next tried to gain some information as to schools, but here my
informant was not very clear. Yes, he said, there was schooling in
summer; whether lay or clerical, whether the children were taught the
Catechism in their mother-tongue--in other words, the patois of the
Causse--or in French, I could not learn.
Do these wild-looking mountaineers exercise the electoral privilege? Do
they go to the poll, and what are their political views? Are their sons
drafted off, as the rest of French youth, into military service? Does a
newspaper, even the ubiquitous _Petit Journal_, penetrate into
these solitudes? It was difficult to get a satisfactory answer to all
my questions, and quite useless to make a tour of inquiry in the
village. One must speak the patois of the Caussenard to obtain his
confidence, and though the population is inoffensive, even French
tourists are advised on no account to adventure themselves in these
parts without being accompanied by a native of the country.
One thing is quite certain: The four thousand and odd wild, sheepskin-
wearing inhabitants of the entire region of the Causses must erelong be
nationalized--like the Breton and the Morvandial, undergo a gradual and
complete transformation. Travellers of another generation on this road
will not be stared at by the fierce-looking, picturesque figures we now
pass in the precincts of Sauveterre. Brigands they might be, judging
from their shaggy beards, unkempt locks, and Robinson Crusoe-like
dress; also their fixed, almost dazed, look inspires anything but
confidence. Still, we must remember that Sauveterre is in the Lozere,
and that the Lozere enjoys the enviable pre-eminence of 'white
assizes'--a clean bill of moral health.
After quitting the village, which has a deserted look as of a plague-
stricken place, the road descends. We now follow the rim of a far-
stretching, tremendous ravine, its wooded sides running perpendicularly
down. For miles we drive along this giddy road, the only protection
being a stone wall not two feet high. The road, however, is excellent,
our little horses steady and sure-footed, and our driver very careful.
We are, indeed, too much interested in the scenery to heed the
frightful precipices within a few inches of our carriage-wheels. But
the retrospection makes one giddy. The least accident or mishap,
contingencies not dwelt upon whilst jogging on delightfully under a
bright sky, might, or rather must, here end in a tragedy. Tourists
should be quite sure of both driver and horses before undertaking this
By-and-by the prospect becomes inexpressibly grand, till the impression
of magnificence culminates as our road begins literally to drop down
upon St. Enimie, as yet invisible. Our journey must now be compared to
the descent from cloud-land in a balloon. Meantime, the stupendous
panorama of dark, superbly-outlined mountain-wall closes in. We seem to
have reached the limit of the world. Before us, a Titanic rampart,
rises the grand Causse Mejean, now seen for the first time; around,
fold upon fold, are the curved heights of Sauveterre, the nearer slopes
bright green with sunny patches, the remoter purply black.
It is a wondrous spectacle--wall upon wall of lofty limestone, making
what seems an impenetrable barrier, closing around us, threatening to
shut out the very heavens; at our feet an ever-narrowing mountain pass
or valley, the shelves of the rock running vertically down.
When at last from our dizzy height our driver bids us look down, we
discern the gray roofs of St. Enimie wedged between the congregated
escarpments far below, the little town lying immediately under our
feet, as the streets around St. Paul's when viewed from the dome. We
say to ourselves we can never get there. The feat of descending those
perpendicular cliffs seems impossible. It does not do to contemplate
the road we have to take, winding like a ribbon round the upright
shafts of the Causse. Follow it we must. We are high above the
inhabited world, up in cloudland; there is nothing to do but descend as
best we can; so we trust to our good driver and steady horses, obliged
to follow the sharply-winding road at walking pace. And bit by bit--how
we don't know--the horizontal zigzag is accomplished. We are down at
How can I describe the unimaginable picturesqueness of this little town
wedged in between the crowding hills, dropped like a pebble to the
bottom of a mountain-girt gulf?
St. Enimie has grown terrace-wise, zigzagging the steep sides of the
Causse, its quaint spire rising in the midst of rows of whitewashed
houses, with steel-gray overhanging roofs, vine-trellised balconies,
and little hanging gardens perched aloft. On all sides just outside the
town are vineyards, now golden in hue, peach-trees and almond groves,
whilst above and far around the gray walls of the Causse shut out all
but the meridian rays of the sun.
As I write this, at six o'clock on the evening of the 5th of September,
the last crimson flush of the setting sun lingers on the sombre,
grandiose Causse Mejean. All the rest of the scene, the lower ranges
around, are in a cool gray shadow: silvery the spire and roofs just
opposite my window, silvery the atmosphere of the entire picture.
Nothing can be more poetic in colour, form, and combination.
Close under my room are vegetable gardens and orchards, whilst in
harmony with the little town, and adding a still greater look of old-
worldness, are the arched walls of the old chateau-fort. As evening
closes in, the fascination of the scene deepens; spire and roofs,
shadowy hill and stern mountain fastness, are all outlined in pale,
silvery tones against a pure pink and opaline sky, the greenery of near
vine and peach-tree all standing out in bold relief, blotches of
greenish gold upon a dark ground. I must describe our inn, the most
rustic we had as yet met with, nevertheless to be warmly recommended on
account of the integrity and bonhomie of the people.
Somewhat magniloquently called the Hotel St. Jean, our hostelry is an
auberge placing two tiny bedchambers and one large and presumably
general sleeping-room at the disposal of visitors. We had, as usual,
telegraphed for two of the best rooms to be had. So the two tiny
chambers were reserved for us, the only approach to them being through
the large room outside furnished with numerous beds. The tourist,
therefore, has a choice of evils--a small inner room to himself,
looking on to the town and gardens, or a bed in the large outer one
beyond, the latter arrangement offering more liberty, freedom of
ingress and egress, but less privacy. However, the rooms did well
enough. A decent bed, a table, a chair, quiet--what does the weary
traveller want beside?
Here, as at Le Vigan, we were received with a courteous friendliness
that made up for all shortcomings. The master, a charming old man, a
member of the town council (conseiller municipale), at once accompanied
me to the post-office, where the young lady post-mistress produced
letters and papers, probably the first English newspapers ever stamped
with the mark of St. Enimie. The townsfolk stared at me in the
twilight, but without offensive curiosity, I may here give a hint to
future explorers of my own sex, that it is just as well to buy one's
travelling-dress and head-gear in France. An outlandish appearance,
sure to excite observation, is thus avoided. In the meantime the common
inquiry was put to us, 'What will you have for dinner?' It really
seemed as if we only needed to ask for any imaginable dish to get it,
so rich in resources was this little larder at the world's end. The
exquisite trout of the Tarn, here called the Tar; game in abundance and
of excellent quality; a variety of fruit and vegetables-such was the
dainty fare displayed in the tiny back parlour leading out of the
kitchen. Soup in these parts, it must be confessed, is not very good.
In other respects we fared as well for our five francs per diem,
including lights and attendance, as if at some big Paris hotel paying
The fastidious are warned that certain luxuries we have learned to
regard as necessary to existence are unheard of in the Lozere. A bell,
for instance--as well expect to find a bell here as in Noah's Ark! A
very good preparation for this journey would be the perusal of Tieck's
humorous novelette called 'Life's Superfluities' (Des Lebens
Uberfluss), wherein he shows that with health, a cheerful disposition,
and sympathetic companionship, we may do without anything in the way of
an extra at all. Shelter, covering, bed--beyond these all is mere
Having dined, we made inquiries as to the morrow's journey on the Tarn,
and that somewhat portentous shooting of the rapids we longed for, yet
could hardly help shrinking from.
Our host soon set our minds at rest, and smiled when I suggested
discomfort and peril.
'Make your minds easy,' he said; 'I will myself answer for your
He then gave me the following printed programme of the day's excursion,
which I translate below, as it shows into what excellent hands the
stranger falls at St. Enimie. The most timid lady travellers may safely
trust themselves to these town councillors and maires of the little
villages bordering the Tarn. Not only will they be taken he very
greatest care of; not only are they perfectly secure from any form of
extortion: they make acquaintance throughout every stage of the way
with the very best type of French peasant, a class of men, as will be
shown in these pages, of whom any country might justly be proud. I have
now a fairly representative experience of the French peasant. The
dignity, sobriety, and intelligence of the Lozerien I have nowhere
found surpassed. It was a happy thought of the leading men in these
parts to organize a kind of tourist agency among themselves, thus
keeping out strangers and speculators sure to spoil the business by
overcharges. A village mayor here, a municipal councillor there, in all
about a score of the inhabitants, have formed what they call 'La
Compagnie de Batellerie St. Jean,' which ensures the traveller a fixed
tariff, good boats, and, above all, experienced boatmen, for what is
during the last stage of the way a somewhat hazardous journey. The
prospectus runs thus:
'NOTICE TO TOURISTS.
'The Hotel St. Jean at St. Enimie places at the disposal of tourists a
service of boats between that town and Le Rozier.
'The service is divided into four stages, the entire journey without
halt occupying six hours.
'The corresponding members of the company at the four stations are as
'At St. Enimie, St. Jean, hotel proprietor and town councillor.
'At St. Chely, Bernard, town councillor.
'At La Malene, Casimir Montginoux, hotel proprietor.
'At St. Prejet, Alphonse Solanet, mayor.
'The charge for the complete transit, whether the boat numbers one
passenger or several, is forty-two francs, which may be paid to any of
the boatmen or at any stage of the journey.'
St. Enimie is what Gibbon calls 'an aged town,' its sponsor and
foundress being a Merovingian princess. For the pretty legend
concerning this musically-named maiden, I refer readers to the guide-
books, liking better to fill my pages with my own experiences than with
matter to be had for the asking elsewhere.
Had it been somewhat earlier in the year, we might perhaps have decided
to make a little stay here. But in the height of summer the heat is
torrid on the Roof of France. In winter the cold is Arctic, and there
is no autumn in the accepted sense of the word; winter might be at
hand. We were advised by those in whose interest it was that we should
remain, to lose no time and hurry on. Having bespoken the four relays
of boatmen for next day, we betook ourselves to our little rooms,
somewhat relieved by the fact that we were the only travellers, and
that the large, general bedroom adjoining our own would be therefore
untenanted. We had reckoned without our host, the comfortable beds
therein being evidently occupied by various members of the family when
the tourist season was slack. We were composing ourselves to sleep,
each in our own chamber, when we heard the old master and mistress of
the house, with some little grandchildren, steal upstairs and, quiet as
mice, betake themselves to bed. Then all was hushed for the night.
Only one sound broke the stillness. Between one and two in the morning
our driver descended from his attic. A quarter of an hour later there
was a noise of wheels, pattering hoofs, and harness bells. He had
started, as he told us was his intention, on his homeward journey,
traversing the dark, solitary Causse alone, with only his lantern to
show the way. Soon after five o'clock our old host, evidently
forgetting that he had such near neighbours, or perhaps imagining that
nothing could disturb weary travellers, began to chat with his wife,
and before six, one and all of the family party had gone downstairs. I
threw open my casement to find the witchery of last night vanished,
cold gray mist enshrouding the delicious little picture, with its
grandiose, sombre background. That clinging mist seemed of evil
bodement for our expedition. Ought we to start on a long day's river
journey in such weather? Yet could we stay?
I confess that there was something eerie in the isolation and
remoteness of St. Enimie. Compared to the savagery and desolation of
the Causses, it was a little modern Babylon--a corner of Paris, a bit
of boulevard and bustle, but with such narrow accommodation, and with
such limited means of locomotion at disposal, the prospect of a stay
here in bad weather was, to say the least of it, disconcerting. I
prepared in any case for a start, made my tea, performed my toilet, and
packed my bag as briskly as if a bright sun were shining, which true
enough it was, although we could not see!
When, soon after seven o'clock, I descended to the kitchen, I found our
first party of boatmen busily engaged over their breakfast, and all
things in readiness for departure.
'The sun is already shining on the Causse,' said our old host. 'This
mist means fine weather. Trust me, ladies, you could not have a better
We did our best to put faith in such felicitous augury. Punctually at
eight o'clock, accompanied by the entire household of the little Hotel
St. Jean, we descended to the landing-place, two minutes' walk only
from its doors.
THE CANON OF THE TARN.
Amid many cordial adieux we took our seats, the good old town
councillor having placed a well-packed basket at the bottom of the
boat. Excellent little restaurants await the traveller at the various
stations on the way, but all anxious to arrive at their journey's end
in good time will carry provisions with them.
The heavy gray mist hung about the scene for the first hour or two,
otherwise it must have been enchanting. Even the cold, monotonous
atmosphere could not destroy the grace and smilingness of the opening
stage of our journey--sweet Allegro Gracioso to be followed by stately
Andante, unimaginably captivating Capricioso to come next--climax of
the piece--the symphony closing with gentle, tender harmonies. Thus in
musical phraseology may be described the marvellous canon or gorge of
the Tarn--like the pen of true genius, enchanting, whatever the theme.
Quiet as the scenery is at the beginning of the way, without any of the
sublimer features to awe us farther on, it is yet abounding in various
kinds of beauty. Above the pellucid, malachite-coloured river, at first
a mere narrow ribbon ever winding and winding, rise verdant banks, tiny
vineyards planted on almost vertical slopes, apple orchards, the bright
red fruit hanging over the water's edge, whilst willows and poplars
fringe the low-lying reaches, and here and there, a pastoral group,
some little Fadette keeps watch over her goats.
The mists rise at last by slow degrees. Soon high above we see the sun
gilding the limestone peaks on either side. Very gradually the heavens
clear, till at last a blue sky and warm sunshine bring out all the
enchantment of the scene.
The river winds perpetually between the bright green banks and shining
white cliffs. Occasionally we almost touch the mossy rocks of the
shore; the maiden-hair fern, the wild evening primrose, wild Michaelmas
daisy, blue pimpernel, fringed gentian, are so near we can almost
gather them, and so crystal-clear the untroubled waters, every object--
cliff, tree, and mossy stone--shows its double. We might at times fancy
ourselves but a few feet from the pebbly bottom, each stone showing its
bright clear outline. The iridescence of the rippling water over the
rainbow-coloured pebbles is very lovely.
All is intensely still, only the strident cry of the cicada, or the
tinkle of a cattle-bell, and now and then the hoarse note of some wild
bird break the stillness.
Before reaching the first stage of our journey the weather had become
glorious, and exactly suited to such an expedition. The heavens were
now of deep, warm, southern blue; brilliant sunshine lighted up gold-
green vineyard, rye-field bright as emerald, apple-orchard and silvery
parapet on either side.
But these glistening crags, rearing their heads towards the intense
blue sky, these idyllic scenes below, are only a part of what we see.
Midway between the verdant reaches of this enchanting river and its
sheeny cliffs, between which we glide so smoothly, rise stage upon
stage of beauty: now we see a dazzlingly white cascade tumbling over
stair after stair of rocky ledge; now we pass islets of greenery
perched half-way between river and limestone crest, with many a combe
or close-shut cleft bright with foliage running down to the water's
Little paths, laboriously cut about the sides of the Causses on either
side, lead to the hanging vineyards, fields and orchards, so
marvellously created on these airy heights, inaccessible fastnesses of
Nature. And again and again the spectator is reminded of the axiom:
'The magic of property turns sands to gold.' No other agency could have
effected such miracles. Below these almost vertical slopes of the
Causse, raised a few feet only above the water's edge, cabbage and
potato beds have been cultivated with equal laboriousness, the soil,
what little of soil there is, being very fertile.
On both sides we see many-tinted foliage in abundance: the shimmering
white satin-leaved aspen, the dark rich alder, the glossy walnut,
yellowing chestnut, and many others.
Few and far between are herdsmen's cottages, now perched on the rock,
now built close to the water's edge. We can see their vine-trellised
balconies and little gardens, and sometimes the pet cats run down to
the water's edge to look at us.
And all this time, from the beginning of our journey to the end, the
river winds amid the great walls of the Causses--to our left the spurs
of the Causse Mejean; to our right those of Sauveterre. We are
gradually realizing the strangeness and sublimity of these bare
limestone promontories--here columns white as alabaster--a group having
all the grandeur of mountains, yet no mountains at all, their summits
vast plateaux of steppe and wilderness, their shelving sides dipping
from cloudland and desolation into fairy-like loveliness and fertility.
St. Chely, our first stage, comes to an end in about an hour and a half
from the time of leaving St. Enimie. We now change boatmen--punters, I
should rather call them. The navigation of the Tarn consists in skilful
punting, every inch of the passage being rendered difficult by rocks
and shoals, to say nothing of the rapids.
Here our leading punter was a cheery, friendly miller--like the host of
the hotel at St. Enimie, a municipal councillor. No better specimen of
the French peasant gradually developing into the gentleman could be
found. The freedom from coarseness or vulgarity in these amateur
punters of the Tarn is indeed quite remarkable. Isolated from great
social centres and influences of the outer world as they have hitherto
been, there is yet no trace either of subservience, craftiness, or
familiarity. Their frank, manly bearing is of a piece with the
integrity and openness of their dealings with strangers.
Shrewd, chatty, kindly, the municipal councillor--Bernard by name--
showed the greatest interest in us, his easy manners never verging on
impertinence. He was much pleased to learn that I had come all the way
from England in order to describe these regions for my country-folks,
and told us of the rapidly increasing number of French tourists.
'It is astonishing!' he said--'quite astonishing! Two or three years
ago we had a score or two of gentlemen only; then we had fifty in one
summer; now we have hundreds--ladies as well; hardly a day passes
without tourists. I have to leave the management of my mill to my son,
as I am perpetually wanted on the river at this season of the year.'
'Such an influx of strangers must surely do good in the country?' I
'Ca ne fait pas de mal' (It does no harm), was his laconic reply; but
one could see from his look of satisfaction that he highly appreciated
the pacific invasion. The plain truth of the matter is, that the Canon
du Tarn is proving a mine of wealth to these frugal, ingenuous
How pleasant to reflect that the gold thus showered into their laps by
Nature will not be squandered on vice or folly, but carefully
husbanded, and put to the best possible uses! What the effect of a
constantly-increasing prosperity may be on future generations, no one
can predict. Certain we may be that the hard-earned savings of these
village mayors and municipal councillors will go to the purchase of
land. The process of turning sands to gold will proceed actively; more
and yet more waste will be redeemed, and made fertile.
A charming chateau, most beautifully placed, adorns the banks of the
river between St. Chely and La Malene; alas! untenanted, its owner
being insane. Nowhere could be imagined a lovelier holiday resort; no
savagery in the scenes around, although all is silent and solitary;
park-like bosquets and shadows around; below, long narrow glades
leading to the water's edge.
At La Malene, reached about noon, we stop for half an hour, and
breakfast under the shade. Never before did cold pigeon, hard-boiled
eggs, and water from the stream have a better flavour. Our municipal
councillor was much concerned that we had no wine, and offered us his
own bottle, which we were regretfully obliged to refuse, not being
claret-drinkers. Then, seeing that our supply of bread was somewhat
small, he cut off two huge pieces, and brought them to us in his bare
hands. This offer we gratefully accepted.
'Ah! what weather, what weather!' he said. 'You said your prayers to
good purpose this morning. This is the day for the Tarn.'
Magnificent was the day, indeed, and sorely did La Malene tempt us to a
halt. It is a little oasis of verdure and luxuriance between two arid
chasms--flake of emerald wedged in a cleft of barren rock. The hamlet
itself, like most villages of the Lozere, has a neglected appearance.
Very fair accommodation, however, is to be had at the house of the
brothers Montginoux, our boatmen for the next stage, and all
travellers, especially good walkers, should make a halt here if they
For ourselves, two motives hastened departure. In the first place, we
had heard of formidable rivals in the field; in other words,
competitors for whatever rooms were to be had at our destination, Le
Rozier. Three distinguished personages, deputies of the Lozere, were
making the same journey; whether before us or behind us, we could not
exactly make out. One thing was certain: like ourselves, they were
bound for Le Rozier. This alarming piece of information, coming as it
did on the heels of our last night's experience, made us doubly anxious
to get to our journey's end and insure rooms. What if we arrived to
find the auberge full--not an available corner anywhere, except,
perhaps, in the general bedchamber left for belated waifs and strays,
such as Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson describes in his voyage with a
Again the weather, although most favourable for to-day's excursion,
betokened change. The light fleecy clouds playing about the summits of
the Causses, on either side grew heavier in appearance. We must hasten
on. We heard, too, a pitiful story of two American ladies who had
lately made this journey in a perpetual downpour, arriving at Le Rozier
drenched to the skin, and having seen nothing. We had not crossed the
Atlantic certainly to shoot the rapids of the Tarn, but it would be
deplorable even to have come from Hastings and meet with such a fiasco.
We now took leave of our worthy miller and his companion, giving a
liberal pourboire, as I am sure all travellers will do. It must be
borne in mind that the return journey occupies the punters three or
four times the duration of the journey downstream. Each stage is an
entire day's work, therefore, for which the tariff alone is
insufficient remuneration. Our new boatmen are the brothers Montginoux
--young men, very pleasant, very intelligent, and exceedingly skilful in
their business. The elder, who stands with his face towards us, is full
of enthusiasm for the scenery, and knows the river so well that during
the greater part of the way he is able to chat to us, pointing out
every remarkable feature in the shifting scene, and giving us a good
deal of information.
Both brothers, as is the universal rule in these parts, are exceedingly
good-looking, and have that frank, dignified manner characteristic of
the French peasant at his best. Peasant, did I say? These young men
might have passed for gentlemen anywhere; they are instances of the
great social transformation taking place throughout France. 'Le paysan,
c'est l'aristocrat de l'avenir,' French people say; and true enough we
see every day sons of peasants like the late Paul Bert, enrolled in the
professional ranks, attaining not only a respectable position, but
eminence in science, literature, and art. Turn over a dictionary of
French contemporary biography--how often do these words come after a
well-known, even distinguished, name: 'Fils d'un paysan'!
The first care of our young punters was to cut willow-branches, and
spread at the bottom of the boat in order to keep our feet dry. Do what
they will, the boat is flooded from time to time, and but for this
precaution renewed at intervals, we should be in sore discomfort.
On quitting La Malene, with its fairy-like dells, hanging woods, and
lawny spaces, the third and most magnificent stage of our journey is
entered upon, the first glimpse preparing us for marvels to come.
Smiling above the narrow dark openings in the rock are vineyards of
local renown. Here and there a silvery cascade flashes in the distance;
then a narrow bend of the river brings us in sight of the frowning crag
of Planiol crowned with massive ruins, the stronghold of the sire of
Montesquieu, which under Louis XIII. arrested the progress of the
rebellious Duke de Rohan.
For let it not be supposed that these solitudes have no history. We
must go much farther back than the seigneurial crusades of the great
Richelieu, or the wholesale exterminations of Merle, the Protestant
Alva or Attila, in the religious wars of the Cevennes-farther back even
than the Roman occupation of Gaul, when we would describe the townlings
of the Causses and the banks of the Tarn. Their story is of more
ancient date than any of recorded time. The very Causses, stony, arid
wildernesses, so unpropitious to human needs, so scantily populated in
our own day, were evidently inhabited from remote antiquity. Not only
have dolmens, tumuli, and bronze implements been found hereabouts in
abundance, but also cave-dwellings and traces of the Age of Stone.
Prehistoric man was indeed more familiar with the geography of these
regions than even learned Frenchmen of to-day. When, as I have before
mentioned, in 1879 a member of the French Alpine Club asked the well-
known geographer Joanne if he could give him any information as to the
Causses and the Canon du Tarn, his reply was the laconic:
'None whatever. Go and see.'
It would take weeks, not days, to explore these scenes from the
archaeological or geological point of view. I will content myself with
describing what is in store for the tourist.
We now enter the defile or detroit, at which point grace and
bewitchingness are exchanged for sublimity and grandeur, and the
scenery of the Causses and the Tarn reach their acme. The river,
narrowed to a thread, winds in and out, forcing laborious way between
the lofty escarpments, here all but meeting, yet one might almost fancy
only yesterday rent asunder.
It is as if two worlds had been violently wrenched apart, the cloven
masses rising perpendicularly from the water's edge, in some places
confronting each other, elsewhere receding, always of stupendous
proportions. What convulsive forces of Nature brought about this
severance of vast promontories that had evidently been one? By what
marvellous agency did the river force its way between? Some cataclysmal
upheaval would seem to account for such disrupture rather than the
infinitely slow processes suggested by geological history.
Meantime, the little boat glides amid the vertical rocks--walls of
crystal spar--shutting in the river, touching as it seems the blue
heavens, peak, parapet, ramparts taking multiform hues under the
shifting clouds, now of rich amber, now dazzlingly white, now deep
purple or roseate. And every one of these lofty shafts, so majestic of
form, so varied of hue, is reflected in the transparent green water,
the reflections softening the awful grandeur of the reality. Nothing,
certes, in nature can surpass this scene; no imagination can prefigure,
no pen or pencil adequately portray it. Nor can the future fortunes of
the district vulgarize it! The Tarn, by reason of its remoteness, its
inaccessibility--and, to descend to material considerations, its
expensiveness as an excursion--can never, fortunately, become one of
the cheap peep-shows of the world.
The intense silence heightens the impressiveness of the wonderful hour,
only the gentle ripple of the water, only the shrill note of the cicada
at intervals, breaks the stillness. We seem to have quitted the
precincts of the inhabited familiar world, our way lying through the
portals of another, such as primeval myth or fairy-tale speak of,
stupendous walls of limestone, not to be scaled by the foot or measured
by the eye, hemming in our way.
This defile, so fancy pictures, was surely the work of Titans in the
age of the ancient gods; their play, their warfare, were over hundreds
of thousands of years ago: only these witnesses left to tell of their
greatness! The famous Cirque des Baumes may be described as a double
wall lined with gigantic caves and grottoes. Here it is the fantastic
and the bizarre that hold the imagination captive. Fairies, but fairies
of eld, of giant race, have surely been making merry here! One and all
have vanished; their vast sunlit caverns, opening sheer on to the
glassy water, remain intact; high above may their dwellings be seen,
airy open chambers under the edge of the cliffs, deep corridors winding
right through the wall of rock, vaulted arcades midway between base and
peak, whence a spring might be made into the cool waves below. All is
still on a colossal scale, but playful, capricious, phantasmagoric.
Nor when we alight at the Pas de Soucis are these features wanting.
Here the river, a narrow green ribbon, disappears altogether, its way
blocked with huge masses of rock, as of some mountain split into
fragments and hurled by gigantic hands from above.
The spectacle recalls the opening lines of the great Promethean drama
of the Greek poet. Truly we seem to have reached the limit of the
world, the rocky Scythia, the uninhabited desert! The bright sunshine
and balmy air hardly soften the unspeakable savagery and desolation of
the scene, fitting background for the tragedy of the fallen Fire-giver.
Dominating the whole, as if threatening to fall, adding chaos to chaos,
and filling up the vast chasm altogether, are two frowning masses of
rock, the one a monolith, the other a huge block. Confronting each
other, tottering as it seems on their thrones, we can fancy the
profound silence broken at any moment by the crashing thunder of their
fall, only that last catastrophe needed to crown the prevailing gloom
SHOOTING THE RAPIDS.
At this point we alight, our water-way being blocked for nearly a mile.
It is a charming walk to Les Vignes: to the left we have a continuation
of the rocky chaos just described, to the right a path under the shadow
of the cliffs, every rift showing maidenhair fern and wild-flowers in
abundance, the fragrant evening primrose and lavender, the fringed
gentian. The weather is warm as in July, and of deepest blue the sky
above the glittering white peaks. Half-way we meet the rural postman,
whose presence reminds us that we are still on the verge of
civilization, eerie as is all the solitude and desolation around.
At Les Vignes we lose our pleasant, chatty, well-informed young
boatmen, the brothers Montginoux, and embark for the fourth and last
time. We have now to shoot the rapids.
A boat lay in readiness; two chairs placed for us, and willow branches
in plenty below; our baskets and bundles carefully raised so as to be
above water. In the least little detail the greatest possible attention
is thus paid to our comfort. I would suggest that if lady tourists had
the courage to imitate a certain distinguished Frenchwoman--an
explorer--and don male attire here, the shooting of the rapids would be
a more comfortable business. The boatmen cannot prevent their little
craft from being flooded from time to time, and though they scoop up
the water, skirts are apt to prove a sore incumbrance. Foot-gear and
dress should be as near water-proof as possible upon this occasion.
We were somewhat disconcerted at the sight of our first boatman, an
aged, bent, white-haired man, hardly, one could fancy, vigorous enough,
to say nothing of his skill, for the hazardous task of shooting the
rapids. He at once informed us that his name was Gall, to which the
first place is given in French guide-books. Even such a piece of
information, however, hardly reassured us.
Our misgivings were set at rest by the first glance at his companion.
'My colleague, brother of Monsieur le Maire,' said the veteran,
A handsome, well-made man in his early prime, with a look of
indomitable resolution, and a keen, eagle-like glance, our second
boatman would have inspired confidence under any circumstances, or in
any crisis. I could but regret that such a man should have no wider,
loftier career before him than that of steering idle tourists through
the rocks and eddies of the Tarn. Enough of character was surely here
to make up a dozen ordinary individualities. You saw at a look that
this dignified reserve hid rare qualities and capacities only awaiting
occasion to shine conspicuously forth.
How Carlyle would have delighted in the manly figure before us, from
which his simple peasant's dress could take not an iota of nobility!
This French rustic, brother of a village mayor, was endowed by Nature
beyond most, the spirit within--there could be no doubt of that--
matching an admirable physique. Of middle stature, with regular
features and limbs perfectly proportioned, every pose might have served
for a sculptor's model, whilst his behaviour to-day sufficiently
indicated his fitness for weightier responsibilities and more complex
problems. Never shall I forget the study before us during that short
journey from Les Vignes to Le Rozier. The old man Gall we could not
see, being behind; his companion stood at the other end of the boat
facing the rapids, and having his back turned towards us.
With form erect, feet firmly planted, sinews knit, every faculty under
command, he awaited the currents.
It was a soldier awaiting the enemy, the hunter his prey.
The white crests are no sooner in sight than he seizes his pole and
stands ready for the encounter.
A moment more and we are in the midst of the eddying, rushing, foaming
rapids. We seem to have been plunged from a lake of halcyon smoothness
into a storm-lashed sea. Around us the waves rise with menacing force;
now our little boat is flooded and tossed like a leaf on the turbulent
waters; every moment it seems that in spite of our brave boatman we
must be dashed against the rocks or carried away by the whirlpool!
But swift and sure he strikes out to the right and to the left, never
missing his aim, never miscalculating distances by an inch, till, like
an arrow shot by dexterous archer, the little craft reaches the calm.
Whilst, indeed, it seems tossed like a shuttlecock on the engulphing
waves, it is in reality being most skilfully piloted. The veteran at
the stern we could not see, but doubtless his skill was equally
remarkable. The two, of course, act in concert, both knowing the river
as other folks their alphabet.
To each series of currents follows a stretch of glassy water for
awhile, and we glide on deliciously. It was instructive to watch the
figure at the helm then; he laid down his pole, his limbs relaxed, and
he indulged in cigarette after cigarette, pausing to point out any
object of interest on the way.
The swirling, rushing, eddying currents once more in sight, again he
prepared himself for action, and for a few minutes the task would be
Herculean--the mental strain equally phenomenal. His keen, swift,
unerring glance never once at fault, his rapid movements almost
mechanically sure, he plied his pole, whilst lightly as a feather our
little boat danced from cascade to cascade, all but touching the huge
mossy slabs and projecting islets of rock on either side.
There was wonderful exhilaration in this little journey. We felt that
every element of danger was eliminated by the coolness and dexterity of
our conductors, yet the sense of hazard and adventuresomeness was
there! My more stout-hearted companion was a little disappointed, would
fain have had an experience nearer akin to Niagara. It is as well to
remind the traveller that these apparently playful rapids are by no
means without risk. Several are literally cascades between rocks,
hardly allowing space for the boat to pass. Here the least imprudence
or want of skill on the part of the boatman might entail the gravest
consequences. At one of the points, indeed, a party of tourists very
nearly lost their lives some years since, their boatman being
unfamiliar with the river.
The scenery changes at every turn. Just as one moment we are in lake-
like waters, smooth as a mirror, the next apparently in mid-ocean, so
we pass from sweet idyllic scenes into regions of weird sternness and
grandeur. Now we glide quietly by shady reaches and sloping hills,
alive to the very top with the tinkle of sheep-bells; now we pass under
promontories of frowning aspect, that tower two or three thousand feet
above the water's edge. The colours of the rock, under the shifting
clouds, are very beautiful, and golden, bright and velvety the little
belts and platforms of cultivated land to be counted between base and
peak. We have to crane our necks in order to catch sight of these truly
aerial fields and gardens, all artificially created, all yet again
illustrations of the axiom: 'The magic of property turns sands to
Truly marvellous is the evidence of this love of the soil in a region
so wild and intractable! High above we obtain a glimpse of some ancient
village, its scrambling roofs shining amid orchard-trees and firwoods,
or an isolated chalet of goatherd or shepherd breaks some solitude. One
ruined chateau crests the jagged cliffs, a real ruin among the
semblances of so many.
Again and again we fancy we can descry crumbling watch-towers,
bastions, and donjons on the banks of the Tarn, so fantastic the forms
of the Causses on either side. What a scene for a Dore!
Soon straight before us, high above the wooded heights that hem us in,
rises the Causse Noir--dark, formidable, portentous as the rock of
Istakhar keeping sentinel over the dread Hall of Eblis, or the
Loadstone Mountain of the third Calender's story, which to behold was
the mariner's doom. The Causse Noir from the Tarn is a sight not soon
forgotten. With black ribs set close about its summit, it wears rather
the appearance of a colossal castellation, an enormous fort of solid
masonry, than of any natural mass of rock.
What with this spectacle, the excitement of the rapids, the varied
landscape, the study of that statuesque figure before us, the brother
of M. le Maire, this stage of the way seemed all too short. We
regretted--but for the sake of our boatman--that there were not twenty-
five more rapids still to be passed before we reached our destination.
We regretted, too--who could help it?--that we were not hardy
pedestrians, able to clamber amid the rocks overhead, and make that
wonderful expedition on foot described by the discoverers of this
region, as the writers I have before alluded to may indeed be called.
But if the half may not always prove better than the whole in travel,
at least it is better than nothing, and the day's excursion here
described had of itself amply repaid the long journey from England.
Sorry, then, were we to come in sight of the bridge spanning the Tarn,
behind the village of Le Rozier. Just eight hours after quitting St.
Enimie we alighted for the last time, and, following our boatmen, took
a winding path that led to the village.
It was a scene of quiet, pastoral beauty that now met our eyes. The
Tarn, its sportive mood over, the portals of its magnificent gorge
closed, now flows amid sunny hills, quitting the wild Lozere for the
more placid Aveyron; immediately around us are little farmsteads,
water-mills, and gardens, whilst opposite, like a black thundercloud
threatening a summer day, the Causse Noir looms in the distance!
Next morning we woke up to a delightfully wet day, the very best piece
of good fortune that can occasionally overtake the traveller. We could
write, sketch, chat with the people of the house--above all, enjoy a
brief period of entire repose. For my own part, I hail nothing so
enthusiastically in my travels as a day of unmitigated downpour. Not
the most astounding landscape, not the most novel experience, can evoke
a warmer outburst of gratitude and welcome. I suppose there are
tourists who never feel the need of rest, who, like the Flying
Dutchman, are impelled to move on perpetually, who do not want to nurse
their impressions, if I may legitimize the expression. I, for one,
cannot understand the condition of body and mind implied in such a
temperament. Were life long enough and did circumstances and seasons
permit, I should make a six weeks' halt at least between every stage of
a journey, sipping experiences as we sip exquisitely flavoured
liqueurs, and making the whole last as long as possible.
To our intense satisfaction, we had not been anticipated by those much-
dreaded deputies of the Lozere. We had a choice of rooms, although
later in the day a large contingent of tourists arrived--two or three
French families travelling in company. The hotel at Le Rozier is a
primitive, but quite lodgeable, place--open, airy, cheerful. Bells,
bolts and bars are apparently unheard of. When we remonstrated with the
patrone on the insecurity of our doors, there being no means whatever
of fastening them, she gazed at us with the greatest possible
astonishment. 'Grand Dieu!' her face said, 'is there a country under
heaven in which folks are such ruffians that no one can sleep safely in
'N'ayez pas peur' (Have no fear), was the reply; such a question in her
eyes was evidently the naivest in the world.
The primitive--I am almost tempted to say ideal--condition of things
here was more strikingly illustrated a little later.
I had begged madame to give me change for a hundred-franc note; she
immediately accompanied me back to my room, unlocked a drawer, and
displayed a heap of money--notes, gold and silver.
'Good heavens, madame!' I cried, 'do you keep your money in a room
given up to strangers?'
'Il n'y a pas de danger' (There is no danger), she replied, with almost
a contemptuous toss of the head, as she took out what she wanted and
turned the key in its loosely fastened lock. Anyone with a pocket-knife
could have wrenched it off.
We begin to understand why there should be 'white assizes' in the
I exchanged my bedroom containing the drawer full of money, and which
was the best in the house, for a quieter one, higher up. Nothing could
be homelier than my present quarters, an attic bare as a barn, and
almost as spacious. There was a bed in it of excellent quality, a chair
and one very rickety table furnished with jug and washbasin--no more. I
believe at night the bats, to say nothing of rats and mice, were
tolerably familiar with this part of the house. The floor sadly showed
its unacquaintance with soap and scrubbing-brush, but there were
compensating advantages. I was far away from the noise and savoury
smells of the kitchen; my window opened on to a wonderful view, and
turning the bed into a sofa, I could write or read as cosily as at
Nor did my companion spend less happy hours below. Her room had a more
cosmopolitan appearance. The table serving as washstand stood securely
on its four legs. She had even the luxury of a table and an arm-chair.
The rain was a veritable windfall of good luck to her as well as
myself, affording leisure to paint the floral treasures culled by the
way. How those sweet sketches brightened the bare room!
There was the golden thistle, the horned poppy, the fringed gentian,
the blue pimpernel, the rare orobanche ramosa, the yellow salvia, and
pinks in profusion.
Blessed, thrice blessed, the traveller with companions whose mind to
them a kingdom is! What disenchantment to have had the glorious
experiences of the last few days followed by a spell of boredom!
Diderot says: 'Ceux qui souffrent, font souffrir les autres' (Those who
suffer make others suffer); and certainly to be in company of the bored
is to become bored one's self.
That long wet day passed like an hour. Towards sunset the rain ceased,
and at last the three deputies of the Lozere made their appearance.
They looked drier and more cheery than could be expected, although to
have shot the rapids of the Tarn in such weather was about as
mortifying a circumstance as could befall any travellers.
They displayed the true verve Gauloise in dealing with a trying
situation, smoked cigarettes, chatted with the people of the house, and
made friends with everybody.
Le Rozier is an attractive little place, and its one inn stands airily
in the village street; on the other side of the way, a little lower
down, is its rival, the Hotel Dieudonne, which, although within a
stone's throw, is in another village and another department. Behind us
lies the Lozere, in front the Aveyron, and perched most picturesquely
on a pyramidal green hill, crowned with a fine old church tower, rises
the little Aveyronnais village of Peyreleau. Travellers have therefore
a choice of inns and of prospects, the twin townlings being both most
advantageously placed between the three Causses, and accommodation very
fair in both.
As we sauntered about in the bright sunshine following the storm,
watching the red light on the dark flanks of the Causse Noir, on which
we can now discern the feudal tower of Capluc, gathering the fringed
gentian just outside the town, interchanging friendly talk with the
cheery peasant-folk, the thought arose: What a paradise for weary brain
workers! What a perfect summer retreat! Removed from the routine of
daily life, escaped for a time from the artificiality of ordinary
travel, how happy were the lover of nature, of pastoral existence, of
quietude in such a spot! No whistle of railway, no bustle of streets,
only the placid rippling of the Tarn and the wind gently swaying the
Alas! I was soon to undergo the cruellest disillusion.
'There are now three religions in these parts,' said our host to us:
'the Catholic religion, the Protestant religion, and the religion of
the Salvation Army.'
He then added, much as if such a piece of news could but give us the
'Not so very long ago Booth was here himself!'
The Salvation Army on the very Roof of France! That solitude of
solitude invaded by fife and drum; the wastes of Sauveterre echoing the
hackneyed air, 'Hold the Fort;' Hallelujah lasses in hideous poke-
bonnets parading the picturesque streets of St. Enimie; the very rapids
silenced by the stentorian exordiums of these Salvationist orators!
Could any disenchantment be more complete?
Now, whilst accrediting every member of the Salvation Army with the
best possible intentions, I quite approve of the severe measures taken
in so many English towns, and also in some places abroad, against one
of the most tremendous social nuisances that ever afflicted humanity.
Doubtless these good people, whether Protestants or Catholics of Le
Rozier and Peyreleau, follow their religion in all sincerity; for
Heaven's sake, then, let us leave our neighbours' creeds and spiritual
concerns alone. In a community in which assizes, not once only, but
often, are found to be unnecessary, there being no criminals to try,
General Booth and his noisy followers are surely out of place. In the
face of such results as these, the religion of the people must be
pronounced adequate to their needs.
Let the Salvationist chiefs occupy themselves instead with mastering
the principles of Spinoza's 'Tractatus Theologico-Politicus,' Colenso's
'Pentateuch,' and, thrown into the bargain, Sir G. B. Airey's essay on
'The Earlier Hebrew Scriptures.'
One piece of information, however, in no small degree consoled me for
that terrible nightmare of the Salvation Army on the banks of the Tarn.
'There are three religions in these parts, but one political belief
only,' added our host. 'Everybody in the department of Lozere is a
stanch Republican,' and a conclusion, novel to many minds, may be drawn
from this fact also. The Republic is not the demoralizing force some
would have it believed. An entire department may show a clean bill of
moral health when the assizes come round, and yet be ardently devoted
to a democratic form of government!
Whilst Le Rozier is a prosperous, well-to-do little place, its twin
village Peyreleau has a woefully forlorn and neglected appearance. If a
French Chadwick or Richardson would preach the gospel of sanitation
there, and, by force of precept and example, teach the people how to
sweeten their streets and make wholesome their dwellings, I for one
would wish God-speed to the undertaking. Perhaps over-much of devotion
has made these village-folks neglectful of health and comfort. Let us
by all means give them instead a dose of positive philosophy. Certain
amateur political economists would straightway set down the
unsightliness of this remote spot to peasant property, whereas I shall
show that the causes are to be sought elsewhere.
The detesters of peasant property, single-minded persons who love the
land so well that they cannot support the notion of a neighbour
possessing so much as an inch, remind me of certain French folks,
determined antagonists, they hardly know why, of the Republic. These
worthy people--the only thing that can be said against them is that
they have come into the world a hundred years too late--impute every
conceivable mishap or calamity, public or private, to the fact of
having a Republican form of government. They entertain but lukewarm
feelings for any other; they are adherents of neither the Bonapartist
nor Orleanist pretenders, nor do they care a straw for the charlatan
hero of the crutch and blue spectacles: their only political dogma is a
dislike to the Republic.
So, if a landslip occurs and an express train runs off the line with
disastrous results, they immediately cry, 'Is M. Carnot out of his
senses?' If there is an inundation of the Loire and the riverside
villages are under water, they lift up their hands, exclaiming: 'What
can be expected under such a Government as ours?' When cholera breaks
out at Toulon, or the phylloxera makes further inroads in the Cote
d'Or, or murrain appears among sheep, they protest that nothing in the
shape of bad news astonishes them. The only wonder is that, under a
Republic, honest folks keep their heads on their shoulders!
On a par with this is the reasoning of the would-be political
economists alluded to. If a French peasant is lazy, it is because he
has no rent to pay; if a French peasant works too hard, it is because
he owns a bit of land. If a cottage is untidy, it is because its
occupants are not farm labourers in receipt of ten shillings a week; in
fact, the possession of land--except in the hands of English squires--
is the most impoverishing, demoralizing, satanic force imaginable, and
the only way of turning modern France into a Utopia would be to clap
every peasant proprietor alive into nice comfortable, well-conducted
workhouses, after the English model.
Now, in the first place, peasant proprietors in many parts of France,
as I have shown elsewhere, enjoy not only the comforts, but also the
luxuries, of their neighbours of the towns; and in the second, the
untidiness, excessive thrift, and even squalor, occasionally found in
out-of-the-way places, are to be attributed to quite other causes than
that of having no rent to pay. Tidiness, seemliness, order, are taught,
like everything else, by example, and from one cause and another this
example has not been widely set the French peasant.
The matter is one requiring much more space than can be devoted to it
here. I would only observe that the life of French country gentlemen is
often simple to homeliness, and that their poorer neighbours have few
practical illustrations of the value of comfort and hygiene. I have
been astonished to find in the houses of rich landed proprietors in
Anjou and Berri, brick-floored bedrooms, carpetless salons, dejeuner
served on the bare table, and servants in waiting with their
unstockinged feet thrust in sabots.
This condition of things is slowly changing, but there is another and
yet more formidable obstacle to the progress of ideas in isolated rural
districts. I now allude to the celibate clergy. There are doubtless
many estimable parish priests in France, but how can these worthy men
revolutionize the homes of the peasant? Their own is often hardly more
comfortable or hygienic. If feminine influence presides over a priestly
household in the country, it is generally of the homeliest kind. The
mother, sister, housekeeper of a village abbe belongs in all
probability, like himself, to the peasant class, and, unlike himself,
gets no glimpse from time to time of a more polished society and
cosmopolitan ways. Let the clergy marry in France, laicize all schools,
alike for rich and poor, and what may be called the aesthetic side of
domestic economy, to say nothing of hygiene, would soon spread to the
remotest corners of the country. Will it be believed, at Nant, in that
conventual establishment I have before described, there was absolutely
no lavatory for the children at all? They were just taken to a fountain
in the courtyard, there to be washed after the manner of little
There is also another cause which in part accounts for the ofttimes
squalid and unsanitary condition of the peasant's home. Educated
Frenchwomen as a rule have little love of the country, and convent-bred
Frenchwomen have still less sympathy with their humbler neighbours in
rural districts, whose Republican convictions are well known. Thus it
comes about that, generally speaking, the housekeeping sex of different
ranks remains apart. And as the well-to-do peasant regards domestic
service in the light of degradation, his daughters in turn may become
heads of houses without ever having once been inside a home conducted
on modern principles. One word more: ill-kept, ofttimes squalid as is
the house of the French peasant owner, he can say with Touchstone, 'Tis
a poor thing, but 'tis my own.' The son of the soil in France may want
carpets, wardrobes, clean swept hearths: he at least owns a home from
which only imprudence or thriftlessness can eject him.
After a day of gloom and downpour the weather became again perfect--no
burning sun, no cold wind; instead, we had a pearly heaven with
shifting sunlight and cloud, and the softest air.
The carriage-roads of the Lozere are a good preparation for ascending
Mont Blanc or the Eiffel Tower.
Here we seem to be perpetually going up or coming down in a balloon;
and to persons afflicted with giddiness, each day's excursion, however
delightful, takes the form of a nightmare when one's head rests on the
pillow. For days, nay, weeks after these drives on the Roof of France,
my sleep was haunted with giddy climbs and still giddier descents. It
was the price I had to pay for some of the most glowing experiences of
my much-travelled life. The journey to Montpellier-le-Vieux formed no
exception to the rule. Happy, thrice happy, those who can foot it
merrily all the way!
The pedestrian has by far the easier task. Throughout the two hours'
drive thither, and the somewhat shorter journey back, the horses have
to crawl at a snail's pace, their hoofs being within an inch or two of
the steep incline as the sharp curves of the corkscrew road are turned.
The way in many places is very rough and encumbered with stones; and
there is a good deal of clambering to be done at the last. Let none but
robust travellers therefore undertake this expedition, whether by
carriage or on foot.
Our landlord drove us, much to our satisfaction; his horses, steadiest
of the steady, his little dog--a distant cousin to my own pet at home--
trotting beside us, sniffing the air joyously, as if he too were a
tourist in search of exhilaration and adventure.
Over against Le Rozier, towering high above Peyreleau, its twin
village, rises a sharp pyramidal spur of the Causse Noir, its shelving
sides running vertically down. That mountain wall, impracticable as it
seems, we have to scale.
The road cut so marvellously round it is excellent, wild lavender
scenting the way. As we wind slowly upwards we see an old, bent woman
filling a sack with the flowery spikes for sale. Thus the Causse, not
in one sense but many, is the bread-winner of the people. We follow
this zig-zag path westward, leaving behind us sunny slopes covered with
peach-trees, vineyards, gardens and orchards, till flourishing little
Le Rozier and its neglected step-sister, Peyreleau, are hidden deep
below, dropped, as it seems, into the depths of a gulf.
An hour's climb and we are on the plateau, where the good road is
quitted, and we take a mere cart-track between pastures, rye-fields,
and woods of Scotch fir. So uneven and blocked with stones is the way
here, that the poorest walker will soon be glad to get down. The
deliciousness of the air, and the freshness of the scenery, however,
soon make us insensible to bodily fatigue. Every minute we obtain wider
and grander horizons, the three Causses being now in view, their
distant sides shining like gigantic walls of crystal; deep blue shadows
here and there indicating the verdant clefts and valleys we know of.
All lightness and glitter are the remoter surfaces; all warm colour and
depth of tone the nearer undulations. What a wealth of colour! what
incomparable effects for an artist!
The prospect now increases in wildness, and we seem gradually to leave
behind the familiar world. We are again in the midst of a stony
wilderness, but a wilderness transformed into a fairy region of beauty
Nothing can be softer, more harmonious, more delicate than the soft
gray tints of the limestone against the pure heaven; every bit of rock
tapestried with the yellowing box-leaf, or made more silvery still with
the flowers of the wild lavender.
East, west, north, south, the lines of billowy curves in the far
distance grow vaster, till we come in sight of what seems indeed a
colossal city towering westward over the horizon; a city well built,
girt round with battlements, bristling with watch-towers, outlined in
gold and amethyst upon a faint azure sky.
It is our first glimpse of Montpellier-le-Vieux.
The jolting now becomes excessive; we leave our carriage, conductor and
little dog to follow a traverse leading to Maubert, the farmhouse and
auberge where are to be had guides, food, and bedchambers for those who
We could not miss the way, our driver said, and woe betide us if we
did! We seem already to have found the city of rocks, the famous Cite
du Diable; so labyrinthine these streets, alleys, and _impasses_
of natural stone, so bewildering the chaos around us. For my own part,
I could not discern the vestige of a path, but my more keen-eyed
companion assured me that we were on the right track, and her assertion
proved to be correct. After a laborious picking of our way amid the
pele-mele of jumbled stones, we did at last, and to our great joy,
catch sight of a bit of wall. This was Maubert; a square, straggling
congeries of buildings approached from behind, and of no inviting
aspect. A dunghill stood in front of the house, and hens, pigs, and the
friendliest dogs in the world disported themselves where the flower-
garden ought to have been. At first the place seemed altogether
deserted. We knocked, shouted, ran hither and thither in vain. By-and-
by crawled forth, one after the other, three ancient, hag-like women,
staring at us and mumbling words we could not understand. On nearer
inspection they seemed worthy old souls enough, evidently members of
the household; but as their amount of French was scant, they hurried
indoors again. A few minutes later a young, handsome, untidy woman
popped her head from an upper window, and seeing that we were tourists,
immediately came downstairs to welcome us.
She would send for her husband to act as guide at once, she said; in
the meantime, would we breakfast?
I am sorry to confess that this young mistress of the house--a bride,
moreover, of three months--did poor credit to the gifts Nature had
lavished upon her. Very bright, good-looking, amiable and intelligent
she was, but sadly neglectful of her personal appearance, with locks
unkempt and dress slatternly--a strange contrast to the neat, clean,
tidy peasant-women we had seen elsewhere on our journey.
The farmhouse, turned into a hostelry, only required a little outlay
and cosmopolitan experience to be transformed into quite a captivating
health resort. If, indeed, health is not to be recruited on these vast,
flower-scented heights, nearly three thousand feet above the sea-level,
swept clean by the pure air of half a dozen mountain chains, where may
we hope to find invigoration?
Even now non-fastidious tourists may be fairly comfortable. A large,
perfectly wholesome upper dining-room; bedrooms containing excellent
beds; a farmhouse ordinary with game in abundance; courteous, honest
hosts, and one of the marvels of the natural world within a stroll--
surely scores of worn-out brain-workers would regard Maubert as a
paradise, in spite of trifling drawbacks.
We found a pleasant young French tourist with his blue-bloused guide
eating omelettes in the salle-a-manger. Soon the master of the house
came up--a young man of perhaps twenty-five--as well favoured as his
wife, and much neater in appearance. This youthful head of the family
possesses a large tract of Causse land, besides owning in great part
what may prove in the future--is, indeed, already proving--a mine of
wealth, an El Dorado, namely, the city of rocks, Montpellier-le-Vieux.
We now set out, our host, whilst quite ready to chat, possessing all
the dignity and reserve of the Lozerien mountaineer. As we sauntered
through patches of oats, rye, potatoes, and hay, I obtained a good deal
of information about rural affairs.
'As near as you can guess, how large is the size of your property?' I
I had learned by experience that the precise acreage of these highland
farms is seldom to be arrived at, the size of a holding in the Lozere
and the Cantal often being computed by the heads of stock kept.
He informed me that he owned four hundred hectares, that is to say,
nearly a thousand acres, a considerable portion of which consisted of
rocky waste or scant pasturage. He employed several labourers,
possessed a flock of several hundred sheep, six oxen for ploughing,
besides pigs and poultry.
Here, as elsewhere throughout France, all kinds of land tenure are
found. Thus we find land let or owned in holdings from two and a half
to a thousand hectares, some of the tenant farmers hereabouts paying a
rental of several hundred pounds a year. Roquefort cheese is the most
important production, and sheep are always housed like other cattle in
winter. Here is a hint for Welsh farmers!
'Have you any neighbours?' I asked.
'Oh, yes!' he replied, 'farmers here and there. And we have a postal
delivery every day in summer; when winter comes we get letters as we
can. I take a newspaper, too. It is not so out of the way a place as it
seems. But a church! Ah, church-going is impossible; the nearest is too
far off.' He added: 'This influx of tourists is changing everything. I
never saw anything like it. My uncle, who acts as guide here, is always
occupied now, and I am so much in request as guide too during the
summer season, that I think of letting my farm and giving myself wholly
up to the business of hotel-keeper. I should keep mules for tourists,
horses and carriages, improve the roads, and furnish my house better.
There is to be a model of Montpellier-le-Vieux at the grand exhibition
in Paris next year; that will make people come here more than ever. I
have almost decided to do as I say.'
I thought to myself that the model of a house constructed on strictly
scientific principles should be exhibited also. Nothing were easier
than the proposed transformation; but it is less money and enterprise
that are needed than knowledge of the world and its ways. I wished that
I could invite this intelligent, well-mannered young peasant and his
handsome, sprightly wife to England, in order to show them how much
more besides good food and good beds are summed up in our oft-quoted
Chatting thus pleasantly, we come nearer and nearer the city, painted
in violet tints against an azure sky, to find it, as we approach, a
splendid phantasmagoria. What we deemed citadels, domes and parapets,
prove to be the silvery dolomite only: limestone rock thrown into every
conceivable form, the imposing masses blocking the horizon; the shadow
of a mighty Babylon darkening the heaven; but a Babylon untenanted from
its earliest beginning--a phantom capital, an eldritch city, whose
streets now for the first time echo with the sound of human voice and
I can think of but one pen that could aptly describe the scene: the pen
of a Shelley dipped in iridescence and gold; of a poet whose inner eye
could conjure up visions of loveliness and enchantment invisible to the
rest of mortal born. I do not know how Montpellier-le-Vieux would look
on a dull, gray day; doubtless imagination would people it then with
gnomes, horrid afrits, and shapes of fear. To-day, under an exquisite
sky, pearly clouds floating across the blue, a soft southern air
wafting the fragrance of wild pink, thyme and lavender, it was a region
surely peopled by good genii, sportive elves and beneficent fairies
only. We were in a spirit, a phantasmal world; but a world of witchery
and gracious poetic thrall only.
But as yet we are on the threshold, and, like other magic regions, the
Cite du Diable unfolds its marvels all at once, as soon as the novice
has entered within its precincts. Before us rose the colossal citadel
so-called, pyramid upon pyramid of rock, which our guide said we must
positively climb, the grandest panorama being here obtained; a bit of a
scramble, he added, but a mere bagatelle--the affair of a few minutes
I hesitated. We were at the foot of a chaotic wall of enormous blocks,
piled one upon the other, with deep, ugly fissures between--the height,
from base to summit, that of St. Paul's Cathedral. In order to reach
even the lower platform of these superimposed masses it was necessary
to be hoisted up after the manner of travellers ascending the Pyramids,
only with this disadvantage--that holding on to the rocks where any
hold was possible, and planting the feet as firmly as was practicable
on the almost vertical sides, we had here to bestride chasm after
'Don't be afraid,' cried our guide. 'It is nothing.'
'I would venture if I were you,' urged my friend mildly. So up I went.
The climbing, beyond a somewhat breathless scrambling and painful
straining of the limbs, was nothing to speak of. For a few moments I
could revel in the marvellous spectacle before me.
Lying on a little platform, perhaps two yards square, high above the
bright heavens, I had, far around and beneath, the wide panorama of the
dolomite city, vista upon vista of tower and monolith, avenues, arches,
bridges, arcades, all of cool, tender gray, amid fairy-like verdure and
greenery. Not Lyons itself, seen from the heights of La Fourviere,
shows a more grandiose aspect than this capital of the waste, unpeopled
by either the living or the dead!
Hardly had I realized the magic of the prospect when I became conscious
of frightful giddiness. The flowery shelf of rock on which I lay was
only a foot or two removed from the edge of the piled mass just climbed
so laboriously, and, sloping downwards, seemed to invite a fall. From
this side the incline was almost vertical, and the turf below at a
distance of over a hundred feet. No descent was practicable except by
bestriding the same fissures, two feet wide, and clinging to the sides
of the rocks, as before. I now felt that terrible vertigo which I am
convinced accounts for so many so-called suicides from lofty heights.
To throw myself down seemed the only possible relief from the terrible
nightmare. Had I been longer alone I must, at least, have allowed
myself to slip off my resting-place, with certain risk to life and
limb. As it was, I called to my companion, who had scaled another
story--had, indeed, reached the topmost shelf of the citadel; and she
tripped down looking so airy and alert that I felt ashamed of my own
Pale and trembling, I pointed to the horrible staircase by which we had
'Get me down some other way,' I said to the guide, who now followed,
not slightly embarrassed. Had he possessed the physique of our punter
of the rapids, or of our conductor, now attending to his horses at the
farm, he could have shouldered me like a baby. But he was slight of
build and by no means robust. Not a creature was within call, and those
dreaded fissures had to be bestridden. There was no other means of
'It is of no use to try, I cannot get down,' I repeated, and for a
moment a sombre vision of broken limbs and a long incarceration at the
farm passed before my mind's eye.
Reassuring me as best he could, our poor guide now grasped one of my
hands, with the other got a strong grip of the rock, and the first
dreaded step was achieved. The second presented greater difficulties
still. Once more he tried to carry me, but found the task beyond his
strength. I remembered that he was a bridegroom of a few months only;
what would be the young wife's feelings if he now came by mishap? So I
closed my eyes, shutting out the prospect beneath, and allowed myself
to be dragged down somehow, never more to venture on such giddy
heights. The incomparable view had been too dearly purchased.
The moral of this incident is, let tourists subject to vertigo carry a
smelling-bottle with them, or, better still, stay below.
All had ended well, however, and I could once more enjoy the scene.
When the first bewilderment of wonder and admiration is over; when the
fantastic city no longer appears a vision, but a reality, pile upon
pile of natural rock so magically cast in the form of architecture, we
realize countless beauties unperceived at first. The intense limpidity
and crystalline clearness of the atmosphere, the brilliance of the
limestone, the no less dazzling hue of the foliage everywhere adorning
it, the beautiful lights and shadows of the more distant masses, line
upon line of far off mountain-chain, mere gold and violet clouds rising
above the rugged outline of the Causses, the deep, rich tones of the
nearer--these general effects are not more striking than the details
close under our feet. About every fragment of rock is a wealth of
leaves, flowers and berries, the dogwood and bilberry with their
crimson and purple clusters and tufts, wild lavender and thrift, whilst
the ground is carpeted with the leaf of the hepatica.
We found also the pretty purple and white toad-flax, [Footnote: Linaria
versicolor] the handsome gold-flowered spurges, [Footnote: Euphorbia
sylvatica and E. cyparissea] the elegant orange and crimson-streaked
salvia, [Footnote: Salvia glutinosa] with others more familiar to us.
If the adorer of wild flowers is a happy person here in September, what
enchantment would await him in the spring!
Like the Russian Steppes and the African Metidja, these wastes are a
mosaic of blossoms. The foot-sure, hardy and leisurely traveller must
not content himself with the bird's-eye view of this dolomite city just
described. He should spend hours, nay, days here, if he would
conscientiously explore the stone avenues, worthy to be compared to
Stonehenge or Carnac; the amphitheatre, vast as that of Nimes or
Orange; the fortifications, with bulwarks, towers, and ramparts; the
necropolis, veritable Cerameicus, or Pere-la-Chaise; the citadel, the
forum, the suburbs; for the enthusiastic discoverers of Montpellier-le-
Vieux, or the Cite du Diable, have made out all these.
The most striking rocks have been fancifully named after the celebrated
structures they resemble. We find the Chateau Gaillard, the Sphinx, the
Gate of Mycenae, or of the Lions, the Street of Tombs supposed to
resemble Pompeii, some of colossal dimensions. Thus the citadel
measures a hundred and fifty feet from the ground, at this point
Montpellier-le-Vieux attaining an altitude of two thousand five hundred
feet above the sea-level. When I add that the Cite du Diable measures
nearly two miles in length and a mile in breadth, and that its city and
suburbs, so-called, cover a thousand hectares, an area a third less
than that of Windsor Forest, the enterprising tourist will have some
feeble notion of the waste before him. The place is indeed altogether
indescribable--surely one of the most striking testimonies to the force
of erosion existing on the earth's surface. The explanation of the
phenomenon is found here. At a remote period of geological history the
action of mighty torrents let loose sculptured these fantastic and
grandiose monoliths, bored these arcades and galleries, hollowed these
fairy-like caves. Erosion has been the architect of the Cite du Diable,
partly by impetuous floods, partly by slow filtration. Water has
gradually, and in the slow process of ages, built up the whole, then
vanished altogether. Nothing strikes the imagination more than the
absolute aridity of the region now. Not a drop left in the bed of
ancient lake or river, not a crystal thread trickling down the rock
channelled by ancient cascades, and nevertheless abundance of greenery
and luxuriant foliage everywhere! The waterless world of stone is not
only a garden, but a green forest! Immediately around us flowers,
ferns, and shrubs adorn every bit of silvery gray rock, whilst wherever
space admits we see noble trees, pines, oaks, beeches, some of
marvellous growth, yet perched on heights so remote and lofty as to
appear mere tufts of grass.
And then the wonderful deliciousness and invigorating quality of the
air! It is like tasting the waters of the Nile, an experience never to
Those, indeed, who have once breathed the air of the Lozere will have
only one desire: to breathe it again.
True, Montpellier-le-Vieux, departmentally speaking, is in the Aveyron,
if so phantom-like a city can be said to have a local habitation and a
name. But the Lozere chain is still in sight; its breezes are wafted to
us; we seem still in my favourite department of the eighty-seven, that
now being the proper number, including the newly-created one of the
Territoire de Belfort. I note the fact, as so many errors find their
way into print on the subject of French geography. As we reflect on the
mine of wealth this newly-discovered marvel may, we should say must,
inevitably become to its owners and their near neighbours, a terrible
vision rises before the mind. The gradually-diminishing area of the
picturesque world, in proportion to the enormously-increasing
percentage of tourists, can have but one ultimate result. In process of
time the dolomite city must undergo the fate of other marvels of the
natural world. Waggonettes drawn by four horses will convey the curious
from the Grand Hotel and Hotel Splendide at Le Rozier to the Cite du
Diable. Who can tell? A steam tramway may be placed at the disposal of
globe-trotters sleeping at Maubert, and a patent lift or captive
balloon for the ascension of the citadel. But no! We may at least
console ourselves with the reflexion that such a contingency is far
off. It will take more than a generation or two to vulgarize the Cite
du Diable, which in our days may be considered as remote from London as
Bagdad. The ideas of tourists in general must undergo entire
transformation ere they will cease to endorse Shelley's opinion: 'There
is nothing to see in France.'
Perhaps these pages may tempt a stray sketcher or lover of wild flowers
to follow my route, but the peasant-owner of Montpellier-le-Vieux,
although reaping a fair harvest from his unique possession, will not
certainly become a millionaire through the patronage of Messrs. Cook,
Gaze and Caygill. And, truth to tell, it is not even every ardent lover
of natural beauty who would be held captive here. It requires a
peculiar temperament to appreciate this gray, silent, fantastic world
of stone. When once within its precincts, our mood is not precisely
that of delight or exhilaration; it is more akin to the eerie and the
awesome. We are spellbound, not so much by the sublimity or loveliness
of the place, but by its absolute uniqueness, its total unlikeness to
any other on the face of the globe, its kinship with the few
incomparable marvels Nature has given us; creations of her mysterious,
freakish, daemonic humour. Strange that a neighbourhood so weird should
have exercised only a wholesome influence on the character of the
people! As far as we can judge, no franker, cheerier, more
straightforward folks are to be found in France, to say nothing of that
little fact of white assizes, so creditable to the department.
Perhaps the fine prospect framing in Montpellier-le-Vieux is best
appreciated as we walk back to the farm, the mind not then being full
of expectancy. What a superb coup d'oeil! Distance upon distance, one
mountain range rising above another, almost in endless succession, the
various stages showing infinite gradation of colour--subtle,
distracting, absolutely unpaintable! No wonder the air is unspeakably
fresh and exhilarating, seeing that it blows north, south, east and
west from lofty Alps. We have in view the sombre walls of the three
Causses, the wide outline of the Larzac, in a vast semicircle the
western spurs of the Cevennes, whilst from east to west stretch the
Cantal chain, the Lozere, and the Cevennes des Gardons. [Footnote: So
called from this portion of the Cevennes rising above the valleys of
the streams and rivers Gardon.]
We are on the Roof of France indeed! Having escaped a broken leg or
dislocated shoulder, my only regret was that we could not spend at
least a month within reach of the Cite du Diable. What explorations in
search of rare flowers! what sunset effects! what impressions to be
obtained here! How delightful, too, to make friends with the young
owners of this strange property--the strangest surely out of the
'Arabian Nights,' 'Vathek,' or 'The Epicurean!'--and get the farmhouse
turned into quite an ideal hostelry! I saw in my mind's eye the
dunghill replaced by a pretty flower-garden, a tablecloth spread for
breakfast, the floors swept and scoured, carpets and armchairs in the
best bedrooms, and even--my ambition went so far--trays, bells, and
door-fastenings introduced into these wilds. As the Utopia could not be
realized this year, I chatted with our hosts upon 'le confort,' whilst
they brought out one liqueur after another--rum, quince-water, heaven
knows what!--with which to restore us after our fatigues. Whilst I
conversed on this instructive topic: 'Yes,' said the handsome,
slatternly little mistress of the Cite du Diable, turning to her
husband, 'we must buy some hand-basins, my dear.'
We had not noticed the fact that the six bedchambers at Maubert were
altogether unprovided with these luxuries, for luxuries they must be
called in a region where there is absolutely nothing whatever to render
them necessary. Without smoke, fog, artificial or atmospheric
impurities of any kind, one might surely remain here in a condition of
ideal cleanliness from January to December.
Invigorated by the various petits verres of home-made cordials this
hospitable young couple had pressed upon us, we now set off jauntily
for Le Rozier. My companion, with a courage and endurance I could but
envy, mounted the caleche; I followed close behind on foot with the
It was amusing to watch the imperturbability of our conductor as the
somewhat antiquated vehicle swayed this side and that, at every moment,
as it seemed, in jeopardy of overthrow. For a mile and a half from the
farm the road, or, rather, cart-track, may be described as a kind of
steeplechase on wheels, every step of the way showing either a stone-
heap or a ditch, the word 'rut' being quite an inadequate definition.
Now I saw the hood of the carriage nod to the right, now to the left,
as some stone-heap impeded the way; now it curtseyed forward, almost
disappearing altogether as some gully was plunged into, horses, driver,
and vehicle, wonderful to relate, emerging as if nothing unusual had
happened, my companion sitting bolt upright and coolly enjoying the
All this time it was instructive to watch the behaviour of the little
dog. Whenever I lingered behind to gather a flower or gaze around, the
intelligent little creature stopped too and waited for me, with a look
that plainly said, 'You must not be left behind, you know.' Nothing
would induce him to rejoin his master till I had caught him up.
The drive back to Le Rozier is another balloon descent from the clouds.
Like St. Enimie, the little town lies, figuratively speaking, at the
bottom of a well, and as we approach we could almost drop a plummet-
line on to the house-tops. It is a dizzy drive, and many will shut
their eyes as their horses' hoofs turn the sharp curves of the
precipitous mountain-sides, only an inch or two between wheel and
And here is a caution to the adventuresome. During our stay a family-
party set off on mule-back from Maubert to Peyreleau somewhat late in
the day. Darkness and rain overtaking them, they were obliged to take
shelter for the night in a peasant's cottage, thankful enough to obtain
even such rough hospitality.
Let no one undertake an expedition in these regions without proper
information and the support of accredited guides--men well known and
well-recommended by residents on the spot.
LE ROZIER TO MILLAU AND RODEZ.
The road between Le Rozier and Millau is delightful; the verdure and
brilliance of the valley in striking contrast with the sombre, dark-
ribbed Causse Noir frowning above. For two-thirds of the way we follow
the Tarn as it winds--here a placid stream--amid poplars, willows, and
smooth green reaches. Gracious and lovely the shifting scenes of the
landscape around, stern and magnificent of aspect the Causse, its
ramparts as of iron girding it round, its gloomy escarpments showing
deep clefts and combes, lines of purply gold and green breaking the
Close under this mighty shadow--a bit of fairyland by the dwelling of
evil genii--are sunny little lawns, peach-groves, orchards, and
terraced gardens overlooking the river; beyond, fertile fields, and
here and there, perched on the crags, some quaint village or ruined
chateau. The road is bordered for the most part with walnut-trees,
affording rich foliage and delicious shadow. The colours of every
feature in the scene--luxuriant belt of field and garden, blue hills
and sky--have a southern warmth and brilliance.
Growing close to road and river are apple-trees laden with ruddy fruit.
In England such crops would be pillaged in a day. Among peasant
proprietors, each respects the possession of his neighbour. This fact
and one or two others impressed my companion much. It was her first
acquaintance with rural France, and she had undertaken the journey
purely as a lover of nature and art, not at all as a student of
political economy, agriculture, or statistics. Peasant property was no
more in her way than the Impressionist school of modern art in mine.
But being keenly observant, and feeling, as any other member of the
propertied class must do, aghast at the condition of rural affairs in
England--vast tracts of cultivated land deteriorating into waste,
agricultural wages lowered to nine shillings a week, vagrancy on the
increase in consequence of the general migration to the towns, the sons
of country squires enlisting in the ranks, or betaking themselves to
manual labour in the Colonies--aghast, I say, at these signs of the
times among ourselves, she could but feel some surprise at her French
experiences. The entire absence of mendicants in the departments we had
lately traversed--these reputed among the poorest in France--was
altogether a revelation to her, as indeed it must be to any stranger on
French soil. Even in a neglected-looking place like Peyreleau, where
the people are wholly unused to the sight of tourists, and life is
evidently one of extreme laboriousness, no hand is held out for an
alms. In our long drives across country, where strangers in a carriage
and pair are assuredly taken for millionaires, we were never asked by
man, woman or child for a sou.
Again, the good, neat, suitable clothes of the country-people struck my
friend no less. The total absence of tawdriness and finery on Sundays,
the equally total absence of rags and squalor on week-days, afforded a
striking contrast to what we are accustomed to see at home. It is more
especially in the matter of foot-gear that the working-classes in
France show to advantage. My friend noticed with admiration the well-
stockinged, well-shod children, all having good strong shoes--stockings
evidently bought or made for them, not the ill-fitting belongings of
others, gifts of charity or bargains of the pawnshop. The men and
women, too, are uniformly well shod, with strong, clean, home-knit
stockings. Again, the implied sense of security in these unprotected
gardens and wayside orchards is a novelty to the English mind. At
Hastings, which may also be called the metropolis of vagrancy, it is
impossible to keep a poor little wallflower or a primrose in one's
garden. An apple-tree would be pillaged on any public road in England
before the fruit was half ripe. Not only here, but in Anjou and many
other regions, I have walked or driven for miles, amid unprotected
vineyards and fruit-trees, the ripening crops being within reach of
passers-by. No one pillages his neighbour.
Yes, peasant property is a detestable, nay, an iniquitous, institution,
only to be compared to the Inquisition itself. No one who does not
already possess several thousand acres of land ought to be permitted by
law to purchase a single rood. Nine shillings a week, Christmas doles
of beef and flannel petticoats from the Hall, the workhouse as a reward
for fifty years' patient following the plough--these make up the only
Utopia worth mentioning. Every right-minded person, every true
Christian, has come to such conclusions long ago. Yet when it is
possible to spend weeks in a civilized country without encountering a
beggar; when we see an entire population well-clothed, cheerful, and
self-supporting in old age; when we see fruit-crops ripening in all
security by the roadside, and inquire throughout the length and breadth
of the land for a poor-house in vain; when we find judge and jury
dismissed at assize after assize because there are no criminals to try,
we are tempted to exclaim:
'Peasant property or no, they manage these things better in France!'
'There is no want here,' our driver said, and the fact is self-evident.
As we approach Millau we meet streams of country folk disporting
themselves, some afoot, others in rustic vehicles--the men wearing
clean blue blouses over the Sunday broadcloth, the women neat black
gowns, kerchiefs, and spotless white coiffes. The fields are deserted.
Man and beast are resting from the labours of the week.
The landscape now changes altogether, and we are reminded that we have
quitted the Lozere for the Aveyron. The air has lost the matchless
purity and exhilarating briskness of Sauveterre and Montpellier-le-
Vieux. Alike sky, atmosphere, and vegetation recall the south. Pink and
white oleanders bloom before every door; the quince, the mulberry, the
peach, ripen in every garden. We long to get at our boxes and exchange
woollen travelling-dresses for cottons and muslins.
Pleasant and welcome as is this soft air, this warm heaven, this
bright, rich-coloured, flowery land, we strain our eyes to get a last
glimpse of the Causse Noir. To betake ourselves to cosmopolitan hotels,
cities and railways, after this sojourn in elfdom, was like closing the
pages of 'Don Quixote' or Lucian to read a debate in the House or
listen to a sermon.
And now that I am no longer held spellbound by wizardry and genii, good
or evil, and the first glow of enthusiasm is over, let me jot down a
few hard facts for the reader's edification--give in a few words the
geological and general history of the Causses, if nothing more--a bare
outline to serve the tourist on his way. The origin of the phenomenon
is thus explained by the great French geographer, Elisee Reclus, in his
chapter on 'Le Plateau Central de la France.' [Footnote: See his
'Geographie Universelle,' vol. ii.: 'La France,' 1885.] 'There is no
doubt,' he writes, 'that at a remote period all these plateaux of
jurassic rock formed a single Causse, deposed by the sea in the
southern strait of the granitic group of France. Although the Causse
Mejean, placed almost in the centre of the series of plateaux, is a
hundred metres loftier than the rest, its formation accords with
theirs. All show the same features. From the banks of the Herault to
those of the Lot and the Aveyron, all show the same development of
continuous strata. The ancient glaciers spread on the highest summits
of the Cevennes as they melted, gradually cut into the rock, channelled
openings--finally, forcing their way through the layers, have formed
these gigantic defiles, now the marvel of geologists. If the rivers
flow in an unbroken stream in these deep gorges, on the contrary, water
is altogether absent from the plateaux above. The ground, riddled
everywhere into holes and fissures, is hardly moistened by a shower.
The rain, as if falling through a sieve, immediately disappears. In
some places the chasms of rock have widened, the intermediate
projections given way, and huge cavities of rightful depth--avens or
tindouls, as they are locally called--are formed in the limestone. But
the surface of the Causse is almost universally uniform, and these
subterranean wells are only indicated by slight openings. Nowhere a
foundation springs forth. Alike as to formation, aspect, and climate,
the Causses are unique in France.'
This entire chapter is a necessary preparation for no matter how hasty
a journey in the Lozere; equally to be recommended is the study of the
Causses by M. Onesime Reclus in his work 'La France.' [Footnote:
'L'orage aux larges gouttes, la pluie fine, les ruisseaux de neige
fendue, les sources joyeuses ne sont pas pour le Causse, qui est
fissure, crible, casse, qui ne retient point les eaux, tout ce que lui
verse la nue, entre dans la rocaille. Et c'est bien, bien bas que
l'onde engloutie se decide a reparaitre, elle sort d'une grotte, au
fond des gorges, au pied de ces roches droites, symetriques,
monumentales, qui porte le terre-plein du Causse. Mais ce que le
plateau n'a bu qu'en mille gorgees, la bouche de la caverne le rend
souvent par un seul flot, les gouttes qui tombent du filtre s'unissant
dans l'ombre en misseaux, puis en rivieres. Aussi, les sources du pied
du Causse, sont-elles admirables par l'abondance des eaux, par la
hauteur et la sublimite des rocs, de leur "bouts de mondes." Trop de
soleil si le Causse est bas, trop de neige s'il est eleve, toujours et
partout le vent, qui tord les bois chetifs, pour lac, une mare, pour
riviere un ravin, de rocheuses prairies tondues par des moutons et des
brebis a laine fine, des champs caillouteux d'orge, d'avoine, de pommes
de terre, rarement de ble, voila les Causses! Le Caussenard seul peut
aimer le Causse, mais qui n'admirerait les vallees qui l'entourent?']
I may add that the only traces of volcanic action in the Causses have
been found at Sauveterre, near the so-called capital. Here basaltic
rocks exist amid the limestone.
It is not only the geologist and the botanist, in search of an emotion,
to use a French phrase, who will find a paradise here. The
palaeontologist is no less happy. Sparsely peopled, isolated from
civilization as is the 'great jurassic island' in our own day--lost as
it seems to have been in the pages of French history--it was inhabited
by our prehistoric forerunners, contemporaries of the great cave-bear.
The entire department of the Lozere is a rich palaeontological field,
and the Causse Mejean especially has afforded abundant treasure-trove.
In the vast caverns and grottoes of its walls, great quantities of
flint implements and fossils, human and animal, have been discovered. A
collection of these may be seen in the museum of Mende.
The Causses, owing to their isolated position, may be said to have
escaped a history. The great wave of religious warfare that devastated
the Cevennes in the Middle Ages passed them by. Only here and there on
the skirts of Sauveterre, near Mende, and of the Causse Noir, near
Millau, as we have seen, are relics of feudal times. Close around,
under the very shadow of these vast promontories, cresting the borders
of the Tarn and the green heights between Millau and Mende, ruined
strongholds and chateaux abound. The Causse itself enjoyed immunity
alike from ferocious seigneurs and still more ferocious theologian
bandits, seeking, as they put it, the salvation of their neighbours'
souls. The merciless Calvinist leader, Merle, who burnt, pillaged, and
depopulated Mende; the equally merciless quellers of the Camisard
revolt, emissaries of Louis XII., were tempted by no more prey to
penetrate these solitudes.
Were they, indeed, peopled at all? Was the so-called capital of
Sauveterre even in existence? Who can answer the questions? Nor is it
easy to determine when the entire region first fell under the
observation of French geographers, and found at last a name and a place
on the map of France.
Arthur Young, the most curious and accurate traveller of his time,
brought, moreover, into contact with the best informed Frenchmen of the
day, had evidently never heard of any portion of the Gevaudan, as the
Lozere was then called, at all answering to the Causses. But a French
traveller before alluded to--himself without doubt stimulated by the
example of our countryman--M. Vaysse de Villiers, author of the
'Itineraire Descriptif de la France,' did in 1816, or thereabouts,
accomplish the journey from Mende to Florac by way of Sauveterre.
'Never,' he wrote, 'have I seen a more complete aridity, so utter a
desert,' He goes on to describe the beauty of the Tarnon (a small river
of the Lozere) and its verdant banks. 'All this, added to the
delightfulness of the autumn day and the horrible Causse of
Sauveterre,' but just passed, transformed the dreary town and narrow
valley of Florac into a delicious retreat. In a note he gives the
accepted derivation of _Causse_ from _calx_, saying that it
was of general application, and that the word certainly filled a blank
in French nomenclature.
It is now instructive to turn to French guidebooks and see how
completely the region here described was ignored till within the last
few years. I have before me Joanne's invaluable and conscientious
guides for Auvergne, including the Cevennes, published respectively in
1874 and 1883. In the former, whilst the Causses figure in the map,
beyond a brief allusion to the Causse Noir, they are ignored
altogether. St. Enimie is not once mentioned, and nothing is said about
the gorges of the Tarn. As to Montpellier-le-Vieux, it could find no
place in a guide-book of that date, seeing that it was only discovered
ten years later. We now take the edition of 1883. Here, the route from
Mende to St. Enimie by way of Sauveterre is described also in the
fewest possible words, two pages being found sufficient for short
descriptions of the gorges of the Tarn by way of Florac, St. Enimie and
the valley of the Joute. Montpellier-le-Vieux, for the very good reason
mentioned above, is still absent. But just a year later we find the
guide-book remodelled altogether. Joanne now devotes an entire, volume
to the Cevennes, and states in his preface that the new issue of the
'General Itinerary of France' contains an account of a region very
little known to French tourists, yet well worth visiting, the region
comprising the Causses, the Canon du Tarn and Montpellier-le-Vieux. The
distinguished geographer, alas! did not live to see his little purple
volume, and, I am compelled to add, Baedeker's red rival, in the hands
of scores and hundreds of his fellow-countrymen and women bound for the
If the reader now turns to a map of France, and draws a perpendicular
line from Mende to Lodeve, and a vertical line from Millau to Florac,
he will have a pretty good notion of the area occupied by the Causses,
including that of the Larzac in Aveyron.
When it is taken into account that the superficies thus covered in the
Lozere alone reaches the total of 125,000 hectares, some idea may be
gathered of the magnitude of the whole. The entire population of these
highlands was only 6,662 souls in 1876, and there can be little doubt
that, in the slow process of time, either they will be abandoned
altogether, or by means of scientific methods utterly transformed. The
laborious, long-suffering, hitherto ignored Caussenard will not surely
be long neglected by the patriarchal Government of France. The Republic
has laid iron roads across the Lozere, thus redeeming the department
from the isolation and inertia of former times. Another tardigrade act
of justice will surely ere long complete the work, and the inhabitant
of the French steppes be made to share in the well-being and happiness
long enjoyed by his fellow-countrymen.
RODEZ, VIC-SUR-CERE REVISITED.--A BREAKFAST ON THE BANKS OF THE
In future, tourists bound northward will be able to reach Neussargues
on the Clermont and Nimes railway by a direct line from Mende and St.
Flour. As this new line is not yet completed, and I had set my heart
upon revisiting Rodez and Vic-sur-Cere, we took the more circuitous
route, going over the same ground I had traversed the year before. It
was once my ambition to visit one by one every noteworthy spot in
France. The appetite grows by what it feeds on, and now I never see any
striking place without making up my mind to see it twice.
Great was my delight at Rodez to find a bright, cheerful, spick and
span hotel, newly opened since last year. The time-honoured house of
Biney has two credentials worthy of mention--very low charges and good
food. Its modern rival has greater claims upon the wayfarer's
gratitude--pleasant, wholesome rooms, neat chambermaids, and the kind
of modernization so necessary to health and comfort. The Hotel Flouron,
too, is presided over by a lady, and when we have said this we have
implied a good deal. A grand old town is the capital of the Aveyron. We
must see it again and again to realize its superb position and the
unique splendour of its cathedral, towering over the wide landscape as
our own Ely Cathedral over the eastern plains. To-day it was not
flushed with the flaming red and gold of sunset, as when first I saw it
a year before, but its aspect was perhaps all the more grandiose for
From both extremities of the town we obtain vast panoramas; we look
down as if from a mountain-top, the plateau or isthmus on which Rodez
stands being two hundred and fifty feet above the circumjacent plain,
the river Aveyron almost cutting it off from the mainland. Within a few
yards of the Hotel Flouron we reach the edge of this escarpment, and
gaze upon the wide valley of the Aveyron, village-crested hills, and
the dim blue outline of the far-off Larzac.
From the public promenade at the other end of the city we look westward
upon a richly-cultivated plain set round with the Cantal mountains,
gold-green vineyards, wine-red soil, and deep purple distance.
The physical characteristics of some French departments are as nicely
defined as their political demarcations. Nothing can afford a sharper
contrast than the Aveyron, with its ruddy soil and red rocks, and the
green, pastoral Cantal, land of smiling valleys, unbroken pastures, and
hills that wear a look of perpetual spring. These differences cannot
fail to strike the traveller who journeys from Rodez to Vic-sur-Cere; a
charming bit of railway it is, especially in autumn, when the chestnut
woods begin to show autumn crimson and gold.
And Vic-sur-Cere, too, delights even more on a second visit. The spot
is indeed a corner of Eden--a happy valley, to be transformed, alas!
into a miniature Vals. My hostess told me that a casino, hotel, and
bathing establishment are about to be built, all bringing their
concomitant evils or advantages, as we may respectively regard
cosmopolitan comforts, high prices, frivolous distractions, and a
How kindly the good folks of the homely Hotel du Pont welcomed their
guest of last year, filling my basket at departure with gifts of
flowers, fruit, and little cheeses, begging me to return the following
summer! At Clermont-Ferrand, good fortune for the first time directed
me to a really comfortable hotel, as on previous visits, alike in
lodgings and hotels, I had been cheated, bullied, and made
uncomfortable. Let me signal alike the fact and the name: at the Hotel
de la Poste I was enabled really to enjoy this interesting old town,
the views of the Puy de Dome from every opening, the noble, Romanesque
church of Notre Dame du Port, the magnificent display of the shops-no
town in all France where you can buy more beautiful jewellery, bronzes
and porcelain than at Clermont.
My companion quitted me here, proceeding by night express to Paris, and
I took the long, slow, wearisome parliamentary to Lyons, a ten hours'
journey, which wiser travellers will not fail to break half-way. The
only express train between Clermont and Lyons leaves very early in the
morning, so we have a choice of evils.
I do not know why the Puy de Dome should be my favourite mountain, but
so it is, and never did it look lovelier than to-day, as, with its
sister volcanoes, pyramid upon pyramid of warm purple, it towered above
the green Limagne; gradually the rest receded from view, till at last
nothing was left but that solitary dome of amethyst under the golden
heaven. At Lyons--where I awaited a dear French friend--I always make a
point of seeing the famous town-clock, work of a modern sculptor, a son
This clock, or rather the marble facade adorning it, is not only a work
of genius, but a sermon in stone, perpetually preached to the surging,
buzzing crowds below. It stands high above the central hall of the
Exchange, at business hours a scene of extraordinary bustle and
excitement, which the public can always watch from the gallery above,
and from which they command an excellent view of the clock.
The noble piece of sculpture forming the facade represents the various
stages of human life--three female figures composing the group--the
Hour that is gone, the Hour that is here, the Hour that is coming.
Simple as is the arrangement of the whole, nevertheless, so skilful is
the pourtrayal that each figure seems to move before our eyes. We
almost see the despairing past sink into the abyss, her passive, erect
sister, the dominant hour, letting go her hand, whilst, radiant and
impatient for her own reign to begin, the joyous impersonation of the
future springs upward as if on wings.
This allegory, so powerfully and poetically rendered in marble, might
have been more appropriately placed. Does it not savour of irony thus
to idealize the three stages of human existence 'among the money-
changers of the Temple'?
Next day was Sunday, as glorious a sixteenth of September as could be
desired. In company with my friend I set off for an al-fresco breakfast
on the banks of the Saone.
No city in all France boasts of more umbrageous walks than Lyons, and
for miles we drive along the plane-bordered quays and suburban slopes,
dotted with villas and chateaux, the modest chalet of the artisan and
small shopkeeper peeping amid vineyards and orchards, whilst showing a
splendid front from English-like park we see many a palatial mansion of
silk merchant or iron-founder. Between the sunny vine-clad hills and
belt of suburban dwellings flows the placid Saone, a contrast indeed to
its swift, impetuous brother--no wonder the Rhone has a masculine name!
An hour of upward climb, and we might fancy ourselves in Switzerland or
at Keswick, anywhere but within an easy walk of the second Paris--so
cool the shadow of the over-arching trees, so rustic the ferny rock, so
quiet the woodland glades. We got lovely glimpses of the clear, blue
river as, freighted with many a pleasure-boat, it winds its way towards
In a sequestered nook at the foot of these wooded hills is a curious
monument, none more martial to be found in the world--the tomb of a
soldier, constructed by soldiers; on a plain marble slab inscribed the
words: 'Here lies a soldier,' not a syllable more.
On either side, under a small open chapel, portico-shaped, in which the
stone lies, are two figures, a dragoon and a foot-soldier, who keep
perpetual watch over their chief.
This is the self-chosen monument of the General Castellane, one of the
first Napoleon's veterans. Perpetual Masses are celebrated here on his
We drive on to our destination, the Ile Barbe, a narrow wooded islet,
dividing the Saone into two branches, and forming the favourite
holiday-ground of the Lyonnais. The rich hire a special pleasure-boat
or carriage; the happy tourist is, perhaps, like myself, driven thither
by ever-hospitable, too hospitable, French friends, who, not content
with affording their guests a day's unmitigated pleasure, invariably
contrive to eliminate every element of fatigue. Holiday-making is
indeed cultivated to the point of a fine art in France.
For slender purses there are cheap boats, cheap railways, and the
omnibus. It does one's heart good to see scores of family parties today
availing themselves of the superb weather and taking a last picnic.
In every green, shady nook we see a merry group squatted on the ground,
relishing their cold patties, fruit and wine, as they can only be
relished out of doors. The babies, nursemaids, and pet dogs are there.
Breakfast over, the holiday-makers amuse themselves, grandparents and
bantlings, with fishing for minnows in the clear waters.
How merry are all! How all too swiftly fleet the bright hours!
In the spacious, terraced garden of the restaurant we find dozens of
tables spread for richer folk. We prefer the cool, quiet dining-room,
which we have to ourselves, after all. The food is not of the choicest,
the wine compels criticism between each course, we have to wait long
enough for the making of an ordinary meal; but French gaiety and good-
nature overlook these drawbacks, and the charming view of the river and
its wooded banks, the freshness of the air, the atmosphere of gala and
relaxation, make up for everything; the bill is cheerfully paid, and
all but the separate items of the day's enjoyment forgotten.