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Wanderings by southern waters, eastern Aquitaine by Edward Harrison Barker

Part 3 out of 5

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machicolated tower, connected to which is a fragment of the wall. To
this old houses, half brick, half wood, still cling, like those little
wasps' nests that one sees sometimes upon the sides of the rocks.

On entering the small fourteenth-century church, I found that it had
been decorated for a funeral. A broad band of black drapery, upon
which had been sewn at intervals Death's heads and tears, cut out of
white calico, was hung against the wall of the apse, and carried far
down each side of the nave. To me all those grinning white masks were
needless torture to the mourners; but here again we are brought to
recognise that taste is a matter of education.

More interesting than anything else in this church is the Romanesque
holy-water stoup, with heads and crosses carved upon it, and possibly
belonging to the original chapel of the castle. The chief
archaeological treasure, however, of Lescure is a church on a little
hill above the village, and overlooking the Tarn. It is dedicated to
St. Michael, in accordance with the mediaeval custom of considering
the highest ground most appropriate to the veneration of the
archangel. It is Romanesque of the eleventh century, and belonged to a
priory of which no other trace is left. The building stands in the
midst of an abandoned cemetery; and at the time of my visit the tall
June grasses, the poppies and white campions hid every mound and
almost every wooden cross. Over the gateway, carved in the stone, is
the following quaint inscription, the spelling being similar to that
frequently used in the sixteenth century:

'Sur la terre autrefois nous fumes comme vous.
Mortels penses y bien et pries Dieu pour nous.'

Beneath these lines are a skull and cross-bones, with a tear on each

Facing the forgotten graves, upon this spot removed from all
habitations, is the most beautiful Romanesque doorway of the
Albigeois. The round-headed arch widening outwards, its numerous
archivolts and mouldings, the slender columns of the deeply-recessed
jambs, the storied capitals with their rudely-proportioned but
expressive little figures, and the row of uncouth bracket-heads over
the crowning archivolt, represent the best art of the eleventh
century. They show that Romanesque architecture and sculpture had
already reached their perfect expression in Languedoc. The figures in
the capitals tell the story of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, and of
fiends busily engaged in tormenting mortals who must have been in
their clutches now eight hundred years. The nave has two aisles, and
massive piers with engaged columns support the transverse and lateral
arches. The columns have very large capitals, displaying human
figures, some of which are extraordinarily fantastic, and instinct
with a wild imagination still running riot in stone. How far are we
now from the minds that bred these thoughts when Southern Gaul was
struggling to develop a new Roman art by the aid of such traditions
and models as the Visigoth, the Frank, and the Arab had not destroyed
in the country, and such ideas as were brought along the Mediterranean
from Byzantium!

Lastly, I came to the apse, that part of a Romanesque church in which
the artist seizes the purely religious ideal, or allows it to escape
him. Here was the serenity, here the quietude of the early Christian
purpose and hope. Perfect simplicity and perfect eloquence! Nothing
more is to be said, except that there were stone benches against the
wall and a piscina--details interesting to the archaeologist. Then I
walked round the little church, knee-deep in the long grave-grass, and
noted the broad pilaster-strips of the apse, the stone eaves
ornamented with billets, the bracket or corbel heads just beneath,
fantastic, enigmatic, and not two alike.

Leaving this spot, where there was so much temptation to linger, I
began to cross a highly-cultivated plain towards the village of
Arthez, where the Tarn issues from the deep gorges which for many a
league give it all the character of a mountain-river. I thought from
the appearance of the land that everybody who lived upon it must be
prosperous and happy, but a peasant whom I met was of another way of
thinking. He said:

'By working from three o'clock in the morning until dark, one can just
manage to earn one's bread.'

They certainly do work exceedingly hard, these peasant-proprietors and
_metayers_, never counting their hours like the town workmen, but
wishing that the day were longer, and if they can contrive to save
anything in these days it is only by constant self-denial. A man's
labour upon his land to-day will only support him, taking the bad
years with the good, on the condition that he lives a life of
primitive simplicity. Even then the problem of existence is often a
terribly hard one to solve. In the South of France the blame is almost
everywhere laid to the destruction of the vines by the phylloxera, but
here in the plain of Albi the land is quite as suitable for corn as it
is for grape-growing, which is far from being the case elsewhere;
nevertheless, the peasants cry out with one voice against the bad
times. They have to contend with two great scourges: hail that is so
often brought by the thunder-storms in summer, and which the proximity
of the Pyrenees may account for; and the south-east wind--_le vent
d'autan_--that comes across from Africa, and scorches up the crops in
a most mysterious manner. But for this plague the yield of fruit would
be enormous. On the other hand, the region is blessed with lavish
sunshine from early spring until November, and a half-maritime
climate, explained by the neighbourhood of the ocean--not the
Mediterranean--renders long periods of drought such as occur in
Provence and Lower Languedoc rare. In the valleys the soil is
extremely fertile, and, favoured by moisture and warmth, its
productive power is extraordinary. Four crops of lucern are taken from
the same land in the course of a season. Unfortunately, these valleys
being mere gorges--cracks in the plain, with precipitous rocky
sides--the strip of land bordering the stream at the bottom is usually
very narrow.

On reaching Arthez, the character of the country changed suddenly and
completely. Here the plain with its tertiary deposits ended, and in
its stead commenced the long series of schistous rocks wildly heaped
up and twisted out of their stratification, by which the Tarn is
hemmed in for seventy miles as the crow flies, and nearly twice that
distance if the windings of the gorge be reckoned. When the calcareous
region of the Gevaudan is reached, the schist, slate, and gneiss
disappear. On descending to the level of the river at Arthez, I saw
before me one of the grandest cascades in France--the Saut de Sabo.

It is not so much the distance that the river falls in its rapid
succession of wild leaps towards the plain as the singularly chaotic
and savage scene of dark rocks and raging waters, together with the
length to which it is stretched out, that is so impressive. The mass
of water, the multitude of cascades, and the wild forms of the rocks,
compose a scene that would be truly sublime if one could behold it in
the midst of an unconquered solitude; but the hideous sooty buildings
of a vast iron foundry on one bank of the river are there to spoil the

I stayed in the village of Arthez for food and rest, but not long
enough for the mid-day heat to pass. When I set forth again on my
journey, the air was like the breath of a furnace; but as the slopes
were well wooded with chestnuts, there was some shelter from the rays
of the sun. There were a few patches of vineyard, the leaves showing
the ugly stains of sulphate of copper with which they had been
splashed as a precaution against mildew, which in so many districts
has followed in the wake of the phylloxera, and hastened the
destruction of the old vines. The Albigeois has ceased to be a
wine-producing region, and, judging from present signs, it will be
long in becoming one again.

The valley, deepening and narrowing, became a gorge, the beginning of
that long series of fissures in the metamorphic and secondary rocks
which, crossing an extensive tract of Languedoc and Guyenne, leads the
traveller up to the Cevennes Mountains, through scenery as wild and
beautiful as any that can be found in France, and perhaps in Europe.
But the difficulties of travelling by the Tarn from Arthez upwards are
great, and, indeed, quite forbidding to those who are not prepared to
endure petty hardships in their search for the picturesque. Between
Albi and St. Affrique, a distance that cannot be easily traversed on
foot in less than four days, railways are not to be thought of, and
the line of route taken by the _diligence_ leaves the Tarn far to the
north. In the valley the roads often dwindle away to mere paths or
mule-tracks, or they are so rocky that riding either upon or behind a
horse over such an uneven surface, with the prospect of being thrown
into the Tarn in the event of a slip, is unpleasant work. Those who
are unwilling to walk or unable to bear much fatigue should not
attempt to follow this river through its gorges. All the difficulties
have not yet been stated. Along the banks of the stream, and for
several miles on either side of it, there are very few villages, and
the accommodation in the auberges is about as rough as it can be. The
people generally are exceedingly uncouth, and between Arthez and
Millau, where a tourist is probably the rarest of all birds of
passage, the stranger must not expect to meet with a reception
invariably cordial. Even a Frenchman who appears for the first time in
one of their isolated villages, and who cannot speak the Languedocian
dialect, is looked upon almost as a foreigner, and is treated with
suspicion by the inhabitants. This matter of language is in itself no
slight difficulty. French is so little known that in many villages the
clergy are compelled to preach in _patois_ to make themselves

This region I had now fairly entered. The road had gone somewhere up
the hills, and I was walking beside the river upon sand glittering
with particles of mica. This sand the Tarn leaves all along its banks.
It is one of the most uncertain and treacherous of streams. In a few
hours its water will rise with amazing rapidity and spread
consternation in a district where not a drop of rain has fallen. Warm
winds from the south and south-west, striking against the cold
mountains in the Lozere, have been condensed, and the water has flowed
down in torrents towards the plain. The river is as clear as crystal
now, and the many-coloured pebbles of its bed reflect the light, but a
thunderstorm in the higher country may change it suddenly to the
colour of red earth.

The path led me into a steep forest, where I lost sight of the Tarn.
The soil was too rocky for the trees--oaks and chestnuts chiefly--to
grow very tall; consequently the underwood, although dense, was
chequered all through with sunshine. Heather and bracken, holly and
box, made a wilderness that spread over all the visible world, for the
opposite side of the gorge was exactly similar. Shining in the sun
amidst the flowering heather or glowing in majestic purple grandeur in
the shade of shrubs stood many a foxglove, and almost as frequently
seen was its relative _digitalis lutea_, whose flowers are much
smaller and of a pale yellow. Now and again a little rill went
whispering downward through the woods under plumes of forget-me-nots
in a deep channel that it had cut by working age after age. Reaching
at length a spot where I could look down into the bottom of the
fissure, I perceived a small stream that was certainly not the Tarn. I
had been ascending one of the lateral gorges of the valley, and had
left the river somewhere to the north. My aim was now to strike it
again in the higher country, and so I kept on my way. But the path
vanished, and the forest became so dense that I was bound to realize
that I was in difficulties. I resolved to try the bank of the stream,
and reached it after some unpleasant experience of rocks, brambles and
holly. Here, however, was a path which I followed nearly to the head
of the gorge and then climbed to the plateau. There the land was
cultivated, and the musical note of a cock turkey that hailed my
coming from afar, as he swaggered in front of his harem on the march,
led me to a spot where a man was mowing, and he told me where I should
find the Tarn, which he, like all other people in the country,
pronounced Tar.

Evening was coming on when I had crossed this plateau, and I saw far
below me the village of Marsal on the banks of the shining Tarn. The
river here made one of those bold curves which add so much to its
beauty. The little village looked so peaceful and charming that I
decided to seek its hospitality for that night.

There was but one inn at Marsal that undertook to lodge the stranger,
and very seldom was any claim of the sort made upon it. The peasant
family who lived in it looked to their bit of land and their two or
three cows to keep them, not to the auberge. The bottles of liquor on
the shelf were rarely taken down, except on Sundays, when villagers
might saunter in, to gossip and smoke over coffee and _eau de vie_, or
the glass of absinthe, which, since the failure of the vines in the
South of France, has become there the most convivial of all drinks,
although it makes men more quarrelsome than any other. In these poor
riverside villages, however, where a mere ribbon of land is capable of
cultivation--which, although exceedingly fertile, is constantly liable
to be flooded by the uncertain Tarn--men have so little money in their
pockets that water is their habitual drink, and when they depart from
this rule they make a little dissipation go a very long way.

I found this single auberge closed, and all the family in an adjoining
field around a waggon already piled with hay, to which a couple of
cows were harnessed. My appearance there brought the pitchforks
suddenly to a rest. If I had been shot up from below like a
stage-devil, these people could not have stared at me with greater
amazement and a more frank expression of distrust. First in _patois_,
and then, seeing that I was at a loss, in scarcely intelligible
French, they asked me what my trade was, and what object I had in
coming to Marsal. I tried to explain that I was not a mischievous
person, that I was travelling merely to look at their beautiful rocks
and gorges, but I failed completely to bring a hospitable expression
into their faces. An old man of the party was the worst to deal with.
He put the greatest number of questions and understood the least
French, and all the while there was a most provokingly keen,
suspicious glitter in his little gray eyes. Presently he beckoned me,
and led the way, as I thought, to the inn; but such was not his
intention. He stopped at the door of the communal school, where the
schoolmaster was already waiting for me, for he had evidently been
warned of the presence of a doubtful-looking stranger, who had come to
the village on foot with a pack on his back, and who, being dressed a
trifle better than the ordinary tramp, was probably the more dangerous
for this reason. Like most of the village schoolmasters in France,
this gentleman was also secretary at the _mairie_, a function highly
stimulating to the sense of self-importance, and no wonder,
considering that the person who fills it frequently supplies the
mayor, who may scarcely be able to sign his name to official
documents, with such intelligence as he may need for his public

This schoolmaster was affable and pleasant, but as a crowd quickly
collected to see what would happen, he was not going to let a good
opportunity slip of showing how indispensable he was to the safety of
the village. He said that personally he was quite satisfied with my
explanations, but that in his official capacity he was compelled to
ask me for my papers. These were forthcoming, and the serious official
air with which he pretended to read the English passport from
beginning to end was very pretty comedy, considering that he did not
understand a word of the language.

Having asserted his importance, and made the desired impression, he
invited me into his house, introduced me to his young wife, who was
charmingly gracious, and who would have been pleased to see any fresh
face at Marsal--English or Hottentot. I was really indebted to the
schoolmaster, for he harangued in _patois_ the people of the inn drawn
up in line, and by seizing a word here and there, I made out that I
was a respectable Englishman travelling to improve my mind, and that
they might receive me into their house without any distrust. And they
did receive me, almost with open arms, when their doubts were removed.

The old man slunk off, and I never saw him again; but the young couple
to whom the inn had been given up now proved to me that their only
wish was to please. They were rough people, but sound at heart and
honest, as the French peasants, when, judged in the mass, undoubtedly
are. The hostess, who, by-the-bye, gave me a soup-plate in which to
wash my hands, was greatly perplexed to know how to get up a dinner
for me, and, as she told me afterwards, she went to the schoolmaster
and held a consultation with him on the subject. An astonishing dish
of minced asparagus fried in oil was concocted in accordance with his
prescription. It was ingenious, but I preferred her dish of barbel
from the Tarn, notwithstanding the multitudinous bones which this fish
perversely carries in its body, to choke the enemy, although nothing
could be more absurd than such petty vengeance.

The schoolmaster's wife said to me, with a suggestion of malice at the
corners of her mouth, that she was afraid I should be troubled by a
few fleas at the auberge.

'Oh, bast!' observed her husband; 'monsieur in his travels has
doubtless already encountered a flea or two.'

'Yes, and other _bestioles_,' said I.

Madame's local knowledge did not deceive her, but her expression 'a
few fleas' did not at all represent the true state of affairs. And I
had forgotten the precious powder and the little pair of bellows,
without which no one should travel in Southern France.

The morning air was fresh, and the fronds of the bracken were wet with
dew, when I left Marsal, and took my course along the margin of the
river through meadows that dwindled away into woodlands, where the
rocky sides of the gorge rose abruptly from the stream. Haymakers were
abroad, and I heard the sound of their scythes cutting through the
heavy swathes with all their flowers; but the sunshine had not yet
flashed down into the deep valley, and the grasshoppers were waiting
to hail it from their watch-towers in the green herbage and on the
purple heather. As the breeze stirred the leaves of the wood, it
brought with it the perfume of hidden honeysuckle. Golden oriels were
busy in the tops of the wild cherry trees, feeding upon the ripe
fruit, and calling out their French name, _loriot_; and when they flew
across the river, a gleam of brilliant yellow moved swiftly over the
rippled surface. For an hour or so I remained in the shade of trees,
and then the sandy path met a road where the gorge widened and
cultivation returned. Here I left the stream for awhile.

Now came sunny banks bright with the common flowers that deck most of
the waysides of Europe. Bedstraw galium and field scabious, ox-eyes
and knapweed, bladder-campions and ragged robins, mallows and
crane's-bill--all the flowers of the English banks seemed to be there.
Where the bare rock showed itself, yellow sedum spread its gold, and
in the little clefts stood stalks of cotyledon, now turning brown. At
the base of the rocks, where there was still some moisture, were the
blue flowers of the brooklime veronica, and the brighter blue of the
forget-me-not. Having passed a village, I met the Tarn again. Here the
beauty of the rushing water, and all that was pictured upon it,
tempted me to sit down upon a bank; but I had no sooner chosen the
spot than I changed my intention. A red viper was curled up there, and
sleeping so comfortably that it really seemed unkind to wake it with a
blow across all its rings. When I thought, however, of the little
consideration it would have shown me had I sat upon it, I added it
without compunction to the number of _aspics_ I had already slain.

My mind was taken off the contemplation of this good or evil deed by a
scene that seemed to contain as much of the picturesque as the eye
could seize and the mind dwell upon, without being bewildered and
fatigued. I had turned the bend of the wooded gorge, and, looking up
the river, saw what resembled a dyke of basalt stretching sheer across
the stream, with a ruined castle on a bare and apparently inaccessible
pinnacle, another ruin on the opposite end of the ridge, and, between
the two, a little church on the brink of a precipice. Houses were
clustered at the foot of the rocks by the blue water.

This was Ambialet, so called from the extraordinary loop which the
Tarn forms here in consequence of the mass of schistous rock which
obstructs its direct channel. After flowing about two miles round a
high promontory, where dark crags jut above the dark woods, the stream
returns almost to the spot from which it was compelled to deviate, and
the lower water is only separated from the upper by a few yards of
rock. There are several similar phenomena in France, but there is none
so remarkable as that at Ambialet.

Although nothing is now to be seen of its defensive works, except the
ruined castle upon the high rock, Ambialet was one of the strongest
places in the Albigeois. Now a small and poor village, it was in the
Middle Ages an important burg, with its consuls, its council of
_prud'hommes_, and its court of justice. It became a fief of the
viscounts of Beziers, and was thus drawn into the great religious
conflict of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Viscount of
Beziers having espoused the cause of Count Raymond of Toulouse. An
army of Crusaders, which had been raised to crush the Albigenses,
having Simon de Montfort at its head, appeared before Ambialet in
1209, and, although the burghers were quite capable of withstanding a
long siege, they were so much impressed by the magnitude of the force
brought against them, and also by Simon's sinister reputation, that
they surrendered the place almost immediately. But when the army was
campaigning elsewhere, these burghers, growing bold again, attacked
the garrison that had been left in the town and castle, and
distinguished themselves by one of those treacherous massacres which
were among the small incidents of that ruthless war. When Simon
reappeared in the Albigeois, the people of Ambialet, cowards again,
laid down their arms. The castle was soon afterwards the meeting-place
of De Montfort and Raymond VI.; but the interview, which it was hoped
would lead to peace, had no such result, and the war was carried on in
Languedoc and Guyenne with renewed fury.

[Illustration: AMBIALET.]

Ambialet was enjoying comparative freedom and self-government in an
age when many a town was still in the midnight darkness of feudal
servitude. It had its communal liberties and organization before the
eleventh century. There is a very interesting charter in existence,
dated 1136, by which Roger, Viscount of Beziers and Albi, recognises
and confirms these liberties. Although it opens in Latin, the body of
the charter is in the Romance language. It shows that the idiom of
Southern Gaul in the twelfth century was a little nearer the Latin
than that which is spoken now. The document is full of curious
information. It tells us that the inhabitants of Ambialet were liable
to be fined if they did not keep the street in front of their houses
clean. Perhaps the towns in the South of France were less foul in the
twelfth century than most of them are now. We learn, too, that the
profits in connection with the most necessary trades were fixed in the
interest of the greater number. Thus, the butchers were required to
take oath that they would reserve for their own profit no more than
the head of the animal that they killed. What sort of face would a
butcher of to-day make if he were asked to work on such terms? The
tavern-keepers had to take oath that they would buy no wine outside of
the boundaries of the viscounty of Ambialet, which shows what was
thought in the twelfth century of the practice of purchasing in the
cheapest market to the neglect of communal interests. The price of
wine, like that of bread, was fixed, and five worthies (_prohomes_)
were appointed to examine weights and measures, and to confiscate
those which were not just. The concluding part of the charter confirms
the right of the youth of Ambialet to their traditional festivals and
merry-making: 'E volem e auctreiam que lo Rei del Joven d'Ambilet
puesco far sas festas, tener sos senescals e sos jutges, e sos sirvens
e sos officials,' etc. The whole passage is worth giving in English,
because historians tell us very little about the festive manners of
the twelfth century:

'We wish and order that the King of Youth of Ambialet shall keep his
festivals, have his seneschals, judges, servants, and officials, and
that on the day appointed for the merry-making, the King of Youth
shall demand from the most recently married man in the viscounty, and
woman who shall have taken a husband, a pail of wine and a quarter of
walnuts; and if they refuse, the king can order his officers to break
the doors of their house, and neither we nor our bailiffs shall have
the right to interfere. And any person who shall have cut ever so
little from the leaves of the elm, planted upon the place, shall be
sentenced by the King of Youth to pay a pail of wine, and the king can
enforce it as above. Moreover, we declare that on the first day of May
the youth shall have the right to set up a maypole, and any person who
shall cut a portion of it shall owe a pail of wine, and the king can
compel him to pay it, for such is our wish. We have granted this
favour to the youth because, having been a witness of their
merry-making, we have taken great pleasure and satisfaction

This custom has been continued to the present day. The youth of
Ambialet have their annual festival, and the most recently married
couple of the commune are called upon to 'pay' their pail of wine,
although the exact measure is not strictly enforced.

The rocks at Ambialet at one time supported a multitude of dwellings,
of which there would be no trace now had they been entirely of
masonry. In addition to partial chambers made with the pick-axe, one
sees here and there a series of stairs cut out of the mica-schist. The
strength of the burg made it a place of refuge for numerous families
in the Albigeois, who had retreats upon these rocks to which they
repaired in time of danger. All that made up the grandeur and
importance of the place has passed away. Among those who now guide the
plough and scatter the grain for bread are descendants of the old
nobility of the Albigeois.

Fascinated by the quietude and picturesque decay of this beautiful
spot by the Tarn, instead of leaving it in a few hours, as I had
intended, I remained there for days. Let no wayfarer, if he can help
it, be the slave of a programme.

On the side of the promontory already mentioned, a rough bit of
ancient forest, steep and craggy, stretches down to the strip of
cultivated land beside the river. Here chance led me to take up my
abode in an old farm-house--a long building of one story, with dovecot
raised above the roof, and massive walls that kept the rooms cool even
in the sultry afternoons. It was half surrounded by an orchard of
plum, peach, apple, and cherry trees, and at the border of this were
three majestic stone-pines, whose vast heads were lifted so high and
seemed so full of radiance that they appeared to belong more to the
sky than to the earth. The gleam of the oriel's golden breast could be
seen amidst the branches, but the little birds that flew up there were
lost to sight in the sunny wilderness of tufted leaves.

On the stony slope above the orchard, the stock of an old and leafless
vine, showing here and there over the purple flush of flowering
marjoram and the more scattered gold of St. John's-wort, told the
story of the perished vineyard. For centuries a rich wine had flowed
from these slopes, but at length the phylloxera spread over them like
flame, and now where the vine is dead the wild-flower blooms. A little
higher a fringe of broom, the blossom gone, the pods blackening and
shooting their seeds in the sun, marked the line of the virgin
wilderness. Then came tall heather and bracken, dwarf oak and
chestnut, box and juniper, all luxuriating about the blocks of
mica-schist, a rock that holds water and is therefore conducive to a
varied and splendid vegetation, wherever a soil can rest upon it.
Towards the summit the trees and shrubs dwindled away, and then came
the dry thyme-covered turf scenting the air. The tall thyme, the
garden species in the North, had already flowered, but the common wild
thyme of England, the _serpolet_ of the French, was beginning to
spread its purple over the stony ground. A great wooden cross stood
upon the ridge, and hard by, buffeted by the wintry winds and blazed
upon by the summer sun, was the ancient priory of Notre Dame de

I ring the bell. Presently a little wicket is pulled back, and a dark
eye glitters at me from the other side of the door. It belongs to a
serving brother, who, perceiving that I am not in petticoats, allows
me to enter.

While I am waiting for the Pere Etienne, a Franciscan of wide
learning, whose acquaintance had already brought me both pleasure and
profit, I sit in the cloisters watching another Father counting the
week's washing, which has just been brought in, and neatly folding up
handkerchiefs and undergarments. He has placed a board across a
wheelbarrow, and the heap of linen is upon this. Seated upon a stool,
he leisurely takes each great coarse handkerchief with blue border,
which, like the rest of the linen, has not been ironed, folds it into
four, lays it upon another board, smooths it with his large, thin
yellow hand, and so goes on with his task without saying a word or
raising his eyes. He is a gaunt, angular, sallow man of about fifty,
with hollow cheeks and long black beard. He has a melancholy air, and
does his work as though he were thinking all the while that it is a
part of the sum of labour he has to get through before reaching that
perfect state of felicity in which there is no more washing to be done
or counted. If there were only monks in the priory, this one would
have very little to do in looking after the linen; but there are many
boys who, although they are being educated with a view to the
religious life, have not yet put off such worldly things as shirts.

Very different from the sombre-looking Franciscan, bent over the
wheelbarrow, is the Pere Etienne. He is as cheerful and sprightly as
if he were now convinced that a convent is the pleasantest place on
earth to live in, and that outside of it all is vanity and vexation.
He teaches the boys Latin, Greek, English, and the physical sciences.
Although he has never been out of France and Italy, he can speak
English, and actually make himself understood. He is a botanist, and
he and I have already spent some hours together in his cell before a
table strewn with floras and plants, both dry and fresh. This time we
are joined by a young monk who has been gathering flowers on the banks
of the Tarn, and has placed them between the leaves of a great Latin

These meetings, and the library of the priory, with its valuable works
by local historians, strengthened the spell by which Ambialet held me.
The monks whom one occasionally meets in Languedoc are generally men
of better culture than the ordinary rural clergy, most of whom show
plainly enough by their ideas and the vigorous expressions which they
rarely hesitate to use in any company that they are sons of the soil.
As priests, situated as they are, this coarseness of manners and
circumscribed range of ideas, so far from being a disadvantage, forms
a bond of union between them and the people. A man to be deeply pitied
is he who, having a really superior and cultivated mind, is charged
with the cure of souls in some forlorn parish where nobody has the
time or the taste to read. Such a priest must either bring his ideas
down to those of the people around him, or be content to live in
absolute intellectual isolation. He may turn to the companionship of
books, it is true, but his library is very small; and if, as is
probable, his income is not more than 40 a year, he is too poor to
add to it. Such a revenue, when the bare needs of the body have been
met, does not leave much for satisfying a literary appetite.

The priory of Notre Dame de l'Oder was founded in the twelfth or
thirteenth century by the Benedictines, but a church already existed
on the spot as early, it is supposed, as the eighth century. The one
now standing, and which became incorporated with the priory, probably
dates from the eleventh. If the interior is cold by the severity of
the lines scarcely broken by ornament, the artistic sense is warmed by
the beauty of the proportions and general disposition. The apse, with
its three little windows, has the perfect charm of grace and
simplicity. A structural peculiarity, to be especially noted as one of
the tentative efforts of Romanesque art, is the use of half-arches for
the vaulting of the two narrow aisles. Unfortunately, the plastering
mania, which has robbed the interior of so many French churches of
their venerable air, has not spared this one. A singularly broad
flight of steps, partly cut in the rock and covered with tiles, leads
up to the portal; but as the building has been closed to the public
since the application of the law dispersing religious communities,
these steps look as if they belonged to the Castle of Indolence, so
overgrown with grass are they and abandoned to the wandering
wild-flowers. Great mulleins have been allowed to spring up from the
gaps between the lichen-spotted tiles.

When there was a regular community of monks here, the ancient
pilgrimage to Notre Dame de l'Oder was kept up, and near the top of
the _via crucis_, which forms a long succession of zigzags upon the
bare rock, a dark shrub or small tree allied to box may be seen railed
off with an image of the Virgin against it. According to the legend, a
Crusader returning from the Holy Land made a pilgrimage to the
sanctuary upon these rocks at Ambialet, and planted on the hill the
staff he had brought with him. This grew to a tree, to which the
people of the country gave the name of _oder_. In course of time it
came to be so venerated that Notre Dame d'Ambialet was changed to
Notre Dame de l'Oder. The existing tree is said to be a descendant of
the original one.

The monks at the priory told me that nearly all the old historical
documents relating to Ambialet had been taken away by the English and
placed in the Tower of London. In various parts of the Quercy, I had
also been told exactly the same with regard to the documents connected
with the early history of the locality. There are people who still
speak of this as a proof of the intention of the English to return.
How the belief became so widespread that the English placed the
documents which they carried away in the Tower of London, I am unable
to explain.

Memory takes me back again to the farmhouse by the Tarn. It is well
that there is plenty of space, for the household is numerous. There
are the farmer, his wife and children, an aged mother whose voice has
become a mere thread of sound, and who thinks over the past in the
chimney-corner, sometimes with a distaff in her hand; two old uncles,
a youth of all work, who has been brought up as one of the family, and
a little bright-eyed, bare-legged servant girl, whose brown feet I
still hear pattering upon the floors. One of the old men is a
white-bearded priest of eighty-five, who has spent most of his life in
Algeria, and has himself come to look like the patriarchal Arab in all
but the costume. He has no longer any sacerdotal work, but he has
other occupation. His special duty is to look after a great
flesh-coloured pig, and many a time have I seen him under the orchard
trees following close at the heels of the grunting beast while reading
his office. His old breviary, like his _soutane_, is very much the
worse for wear, the leaves having been thumbed nearly to the colour of
chocolate; but if he had a new one now, he would find it hard to
believe that it had the same virtue as the other. Notwithstanding his
years, he can do harder work than watching a pig. I have seen him
haymaking and reaping, and always the merriest of the party. Before
taking the fork or the sickle in hand, he would hitch up his
_soutane_, and reveal a pair of still active sacerdotal legs in white
linen drawers. The sight of the old man bending his back while
reaping, his white beard brushing the golden corn, was pathetic or
comic as the humour might seize the beholder. As gay as any of the
cicadas that keep the summer's jubilee in the sunny tree-tops, he
sings songs that have nothing in common with psalms, and he needs
little provocation to dance. French has become an awkward language to
him, but his tongue is nimble enough both in Languedocian and Latin.
When he hears that the evening soup is ready, he hurries the pig home,
flourishes his stick above his head in imitation of the Arabs, and
shouts in his cheeriest voice, 'Oportet manducare!'

The other uncle's chief business is to look after a couple of cows,
and as the farm has no pasturage but the orchard, he is away with them
the greater part of the day along the banks of the Tarn. One evening I
met him by the river, and he stopped me to quote a passage from the
Georgics which he had recalled to mind. His face beamed with
satisfaction. I knew that he had not been brought up to cow-tending,
but was, nevertheless, taken aback when the unfortunate old bachelor
wished me to share the pleasure he felt in having brought to mind a
long-forgotten passage of Virgil. The surprises of real life never
cease to be startling. Speaking to me afterwards of the growing
extravagance of all classes, he said:

'When I was young there were only two _cafes_ in Albi, and none but
the rich ever entered them. Now every man goes to his _cafe_. I
remember when, in middle-class families in easy circumstances, coffee
was only drunk two or three times a year, on festive occasions.' Very
different is the state of things now in France.

The figure of the old man bending upon his stick glides away by the
dark willow-fringe of the Tarn, and I am standing alone in the solemn
splendour of the luminous dusk--the clear-obscure of the quickly
passing twilight, beside the bearded corn, whose gold is blended with
the faint rosiness that spreads through the air of the valley, and
lets free the fragrance of those flowers which keep all their
sweetness for the evening. There is still a gleam of the lost sun upon
the priory walls, and over the dark rocks and wooded hollows floats a
purple haze. The dusk gathers apace, and the poplars that rise far
above the willows along the river, their outlines shaded away into the
black forest behind them, stand motionless like phantom trees, for not
a leaf stirs; but the corn seems to grow more luminous, as if it had
drunk something of the fire as well as the colour of the sun, while
the horns of the sinking moon gleam silver-bright just over the
topmost trees, painted in sepia upon a cobalt sky. How weird,
phantasmal, enigmatic the forms of those trees now appear! Some like
hell-hags, with wild hair flying, are rushing through the air; others,
majestic, solitary, wrapped about with dark horror, are the trees of
Fate; some have their arms raised in the frenzy of a torturing
passion; others look like emblems of Care when hope and passion are
alike dead: each touches the spring of a sombre thought or a fantastic

On the road to Villefranche, about half a mile from Ambialet, is a
mine which has been abandoned from time immemorial, and which the
inhabitants say was worked by the English for gold. I have noticed,
however, throughout this part of France, that nearly everything that
was done in a remote age, whether good or evil, is attributed by the
people to the English, and that they not infrequently make a curious
confusion between Britons and Romans. As for the Visigoths,
Ostrogoths, and Arabs, all traditions respecting them appear to have
passed out of the popular mind. In the side of a stony hill on which
scarcely a plant grows, a narrow passage, a few feet wide, has been
quarried, and air shafts have been cut down into it through the solid
rock with prodigious labour. I followed this passage until a falling
in of the roof prevented me from going any farther. I could perceive
no trace of a metallic vein, so thoroughly had it been worked out, but
scattered over the hillside with schist, talcose slate, and fragments
of quartz, was a great deal of scoriae, showing that metal of some
kind had been excavated, and that the smelting had been done on the
spot. That the mine was worked for gold seems quite probable, inasmuch
as a lump of mineral containing a considerable quantity of the
precious metal was picked up near the entrance some years ago. Besides
the scoriae, I found upon the hillside much broken pottery, and from
the shape of several fragments it was easy to restore the form of
earthenware pots which were probably used for smelting purposes. There
is no record to show who the people were who were so busy upon these
rocks glittering with mica and talc. They may have belonged to any one
of the races who passed over the land from the time of the Romans.

One morning, still in the month of July, I broke away from the charms
of Ambialet, and shouldering again my old knapsack--which, by
travelling hundreds of miles in all weathers, had become disgracefully
shabby, but which was a friend too well stitched together to be thrown
aside on account of ill-looks--I continued my journey up the valley of
the Tarn. I had agreed to walk with the parish priest as far as the
village of Villeneuve, and having found him at the presbytery, we
passed through the churchyard on the edge of the rock. Here there is a
remarkable cross, with the figure of Christ on one side and that of
the Virgin on the other, not carved in relief, but in that early
mediaeval style which consisted of hollowing out the stone around the
image. The cure frankly declared that, if anyone offered him a large
new cross in the place of this little one, he would be glad to make
the exchange. It is unfortunate that so many rural priests place but
little value upon religious antiquities other than images and relics
which have a legend. Their appreciation of ecclesiastical art is too
often regulated by the practical and utilitarian order of ideas. To
dazzle the eye of the peasant may, and does, become the single aim of
church ornamentation. Hence the brassy, vulgar altars, and those
coloured plaster images of modern manufacture that one sees with
regret in so many of the country churches of France.

I soon took my last look at Ambialet, its rocks and ruins on which the
wild pinks nodded, and its stone-covered roofs overgrown with white
sedum. I was struck by the number of prickly plants on the sandy banks
of the Tarn. Those which now made the best show of bloom were the
star-thistle centaurea and _ononis repens_. The appearance of this
last was very curious, for in addition to its pink pea-blossoms it
seemed to be sprinkled over with little flowers the colour of
forget-me-nots. These, however, were not flowers at all, but small
flying beetles painted the brilliant blue of myosotis. Another plant
that showed a strong liking for these banks was the horned poppy
(_glaucium luteum_), which I had only found elsewhere near the
sea-coast. Brown stalks of broomrape were still standing, and I
lighted upon a lingering bee-ophrys, a plant which by its amazing
mimicry makes one look at it with awe as if it were something

It was an invitation to lunch at a presbytery that was the reason for
my companion taking a walk of about eight miles. Passing through a
small village on the way he called for the _cure_ there, who was also
an expected guest. This priest had obtained a reputation throughout
the district for his humour, his eccentricity, and contempt for
appearances. He had passed most of his life alone, cooking his food,
making his bed, and probably mending his clothes, without the help of
any woman. Being now over eighty years of age, he had realized the
necessity of changing his ways, and a woman not much younger than
himself had succeeded in obtaining a firm footing in his paved
kitchen, which was also the dining-room and _salon_. His presbytery in
the steep and rocky village street was no better built or more
luxuriously furnished than the dwellings of his peasant parishioners.
Here we found the old white-haired man, gay and hospitable, anxious to
offer everything he had in the house to the visitor, but only able to
think of two things which might be acceptable--snuff and sausage. '_Un
peu de saucisson?_' he said to me, with a winning smile after handing
me his snuff-box. I assured him I could eat nothing then. '_Te!_ and
so you are really English, monsieur?--_Un peu de saucisson?_'

The _cure_ had been shut up in this village so many years, speaking
nothing but Languedocian to his parishioners, even when preaching to
them, that his French had become rather difficult to understand. I was
keenly alive to the exceptional study of human nature presented by
this fine specimen of an old rustic priest, who was not the less to be
respected because he took a great deal of snuff, hated shaving, wore
hob-nailed shoes of the roughest make, and a threadbare, soup-spotted
_soutane_ with frayed edges. He was not a bit ascetic, and although he
had lived so many years by himself, his good-humour and gaiety
continually overflowed. It may be that a housekeeper tends to sour a
priest's temper more than anything else, and this one knew it. The
sacerdotal domestic help must be fifty years old when she enters the
presbytery. Spinster or widow, she has that inherent purpose of every
woman to be, if she can, the mistress of the house in which she lives.
If she encounters no other woman in the field, against whom if she
tried conclusions she would be broken like the earthen pot in the
fable, she generally succeeds in achieving her ambition, although she
may be in name a servant. There are such phenomena as hen-pecked
priests, and those who peck them have no right whatever to do it. It
is a state of things brought about by too much submission, for the
sake of peace, to a mind determined to be uppermost while pretending
to be humble.

When we left again for Villeneuve, we were three in number, and the
old _cure_ trudged along over the rocky or sandy paths as nimbly as
either of his companions. He pointed out to me a spot in the Tarn
where he said was a gulf the bottom of which had never been sounded.
There are many such holes in the bed of this river, which receives
much of its water from underground tributaries.

I was looking at the mournful vine-terraces, now mostly abandoned and
grass-grown. 'Ah!' said the octogenarian, shaking his head, and for
once wearing a melancholy expression, 'the best wine of the South used
to be grown there.' Near a village a very tall pole, probably a young
poplar that had been barked, had been raised in a garden, and painted
with stripes of red, white, and blue. It was described to me as a
'tree of liberty,' and I was told that the garden in which it was
placed belonged to the mayor for the current year. Every fresh mayor
had a fresh tree.

At the village of Villeneuve I parted from my companions, who went to
lunch with the _cure_, together with several other ecclesiastics.
These occasional meetings and junketings at one another's houses are
the chief mundane consolation of the rural priests, who are as weak as
other mortals in the presence of a savoury dish, and, when they can
afford to do so, they enter into the pleasures of hospitality with
Horatian zest. Poor as they often are, they generally know the faggot
that conceals a drop of old wine to place before the guest. The people
in the South believe that the bounty of the Creator was intended to be
made the most of, and the type of priest that one meets most
frequently there in the richer parishes thinks that the next good
thing to a clear conscience is a good table.

I lunched at the auberge, and I had for my companion a ruby-faced
cattle-dealer of about fifty. He spent his life chiefly in a trap,
followed by an old cattle-dog of formidable build and determined
expression of mouth. This animal was now lying down near the table, so
tired and footsore from almost perpetual running that he thought it
too much trouble to get up and eat. I read in his eye that he was in
the habit of breathing every day of his life a canine curse on the
business of cattle-dealing. His master seemed a good-natured man, but
he had a fixed idea that was unfortunate for the dog. He considered
that the beast ought to be able to run from thirty-five to forty miles
a day, and that if he got sore paws it was his own fault.

'And do you never give him a lift?'

'Never!' roared the cattle-dealer, laughing like an ogre.

The dog being now ten years old, I was not surprised to hear that he
sometimes tried to lose himself just before his master was starting
upon a long round. Considering his age, and all the running he had
done in return for board and lodging, I thought his diplomacy
excusable; but the cattle-dealer used strong language to express his
loathing of such depravity and ingratitude in a dog old enough to be
serious, and on which so much kindness had been lavished.

This man had a very bad opinion of the inhabitants of that part of the
Rouergue which I was about to cross, and he strove to convince me that
it was very imprudent of me to think of travelling on foot and alone
through such a wild country. Had I told him that I carried no other
arm but my oak stick with iron spike, he would have been still more
vehement. Frenchmen like the companionship of a revolver. I do not. In
the first place, it makes me imagine there is an assassin lurking in
every thicket; secondly, I do not know where to carry it conveniently
so that it would be of use in time of need. I place confidence in my
stick, and take my chance. To tell the plain truth, I did not believe
what my table companion said about the dangerous character of the
inhabitants. The reason he gave for their exceptional wickedness was
that they were very poor, but this view was contrary to my experience
of humanity.

While we were talking over our coffee, there was a rising uproar in
the village street. Looking out of the window, we saw two men fighting
in the midst of a crowd.

'Ah!' exclaimed the cattle-dealer, with a sonorous chuckle, 'that
ought to give you an idea of the capacities of the inhabitants.' Then,
entering into the spirit of the battle, he shouted: 'Leave them
alone--leave them alone! It is not men who are fighting; it is the
juice of the grape!'

Both combatants soon had enough of it, and very little damage was done
on either side. The scene was more ludicrous than tragic. After all,
it was well, perhaps, that these men had not learnt how to use their
fists, and that with them pushing, slapping, and rolling upon one
another satisfied honour.

The hostess of this inn, while cooking the inevitable fowl for lunch,
basted it after the Languedocian fashion, of which I had taken note
elsewhere. Very different is it from what is commonly understood by
basting. A curious implement is used for the purpose. This is an iron
rod, with a piece of metal at one end twisted into the form of an
extinguisher, but with a small opening left at the pointed extremity.
The extinguisher, if it may be so termed, is made red-hot, or nearly
so, and then a piece of fat bacon is put into it, which bursts into
flame. A little stream of blazing fat passes through the small
opening, and this is made to trickle over the fowl, which is turned
upon, the spit by clockwork in front of the wood fire. The fowl or
joint thus treated tastes of burnt bacon; but the Southerners like
strong flavours, and revel in grease as well as garlic.

Fat bacon is the basis of all cookery in Guyenne and Upper Languedoc,
where the winters are too cold for the olive to flourish, and where
butter is rarely seen. The _cuisine_ is substantial, but not refined.

A little beyond Villeneuve I found Trebas, a pleasant river-side
village, with a ferruginous spring that has obtained for the place a
local reputation for healing. Here I left the Tarn again, and followed
its tributary, the Ranee, for the sake of change. This stream ran at
the bottom of a deep gorge, the sides of which were chiefly clothed
with woods, but here and there was a patch of yellow corn-field and
green vineyard. Reapers, men and women, were busy with their sickles,
singing, as they worked, their Languedocian songs that troubadours may
have been the first to sing; but nature was quiet with that repose
which so quickly follows the great festival of flowers. Already the
falling corn was whispering of the final feast of colour. All the
earlier flowers of the summer were now casting or ripening their seed.
I passed a little village on the opposite side of the gorge. The
houses, built of dark stone, even to the roofs, looked scarcely
different from their background of bare rock. Weedy vine-terraces
without vines told the oft-repeated story of privation and
long-lasting bitterness of heart in many a little home that once was
happy. I found the grandeur of solitude, without any suggestion of
human life, where huge rocks of gneiss and schist, having broken away
from the sides of the gorge, lay along the margins and in the channel
of the stream. Here I lingered, listening to the drowsy music of the
flowing water, and the murmuring of the bees amongst the purple
marjoram and the yellow agrimony, until the sunshine moving up the
rocks reminded me of the fleet-winged hours.

Continuing my way up the gorge, I presently saw a village clinging to
a hill, with a massive and singular-looking church on the highest
point. It was Plaisance, and I knew now that I had left the Albigeois,
and had entered the Rouergue. Having decided to pass the night here,
and the auberge being chosen, I climbed to the top of the bluff to
have a near view of the church. It is a remarkable structure
representing two architectural periods. The apse and transept are
Romanesque, but the nave is Gothic. Over the intersection of the
transept is a cupola supported by massive piers. Engaged with these
are columns bearing elaborately carved capitals embellished with
little figures of the quaintest workmanship. In the apse are two rows
of columns with cubiform capitals carved in accordance with the florid
Romanesque taste, as it was developed in Southern France.

Although the little cemetery on the bluff was like scores of others I
had seen in France--a bit of rough neglected field with small wooden
crosses rising above the long herbage, tangled with flowers that love
the waste places, I yielded to the charm of that old simplicity which
is ever young and beautiful. I strolled amongst the grave mounds, and
passing the sunny spot where the dead children of the village lay side
by side, under the golden flowers of St. John's-wort, reached the edge
of the rock, whose dark nakedness was hidden by reddening sedum, and
looked at the wave-like hills, their yellow cornfields, vine terraces
and woods, the gray-green roofs of the houses below, and lower still
the stream flashing along through a desert of pebbles.

Descending to the valley, I noticed the number and beauty of the vine
trellises in the village. One, commencing at a Gothic archway,
extended from wall to wall far up a narrow lane, and here the twilight
fell an hour too soon. I wandered down to the pebbly shore of the
Rance, where bare-footed children, sent out to look after pigs and
geese, were building castles with the many-coloured stones, while
others on the rocky banks above were singing in chorus, like a
somewhat louder twittering of sedge warblers from the fringe of
willows. I wandered on until all was quiet save the water, and
returned to the inn when the fire on the hearth was sending forth a
cheerful red glow through the dusk. The soup was bubbling in the chain
pot, and a well-browned fowl was taking its final turns upon the spit.

I dined with a commercial traveller, one who went about the country in
a queer sort of vehicle containing samples of church ornaments and
sacerdotal vestments. His business lay chiefly with the rural clergy,
and, like most people, he seemed convinced that circumstances had
pushed him into the wrong groove, and that he had remained in it too
long for him to be able to get out of it. For twenty years he had been
driving over the same roads, reappearing in the same villages and
little towns, watching the same people growing old, and spending only
three months of the year with his family in Toulouse. He declared the
life of a commercial traveller, when the novelty of it had worn down,
to be the most abominable of all lives. He was one of the most
pleasant, and certainly the most melancholy, of commercial travellers
whom I had met in my rambles. He left the impression on me that there
was more money to be made nowadays in France by travelling with
samples of _eau de vie_ and groceries than with church candlesticks
and chasubles. Nevertheless, although he had his private quarrel with
destiny, he was not at all a gloomy companion at dinner.

A person who had not had previous experience of French country inns
would have been astonished at the order in which the dishes were laid
on the table. The first course after the soup was potatoes
(_sautees_); then came barbel from the stream, and afterwards veal and
fowl. The order is considered a matter of no importance; the main
thing aimed at in the South of France is to give the guest plenty of
dishes. If there is any fish, more often than not it makes its
appearance after the roast, and I have even seen a custard figure as
the first course. By living with the people one soon falls into their
ways, accepting things as they come, without giving a thought to the
conventional sequence.

Among other things that one has to grow accustomed to in rural France,
especially in the South, is the presence of beds in dining-rooms and
kitchens. At first it rasps the sense of what is correct, but the very
frequency of it soon brings indifference. In the large kitchen of this
rather substantial auberge there was an alcove, a few feet from the
chimney-place, containing a neatly tucked-up bed with a crucifix and
little holy-water shell by the side. It was certainly a snug corner in
winter, and I felt sure that the stout hostess reserved it for


At an early hour in the morning I was wayfaring again. I had made up
my mind to reach St. Affrique in a day's walk. There were some thirty
miles of country to cross, and I had, moreover, to reckon with the
July sun, which shines very earnestly in Southern France, as though it
were bent on ripening all the fruits of the earth in a single day. By
getting up earlier than usual I was able to watch the morning opening
like a wild rose. When we feel all the charm that graces the beginning
of a summer day, we resolve in future to rise with the birds, but the
next morning's sun finds most of us sluggards again.

I returned towards the Tarn, which I had left the day before, but with
the intention of keeping somewhat to the south of it for awhile.
However beautiful the scenery of a gorge may be, the sensation of
being at the bottom of a crevice at length becomes depressing, and the
mind, which is never satisfied with anything long, begins to wonder
what the world is like beyond the enclosing cliffs, and the desire to
climb them and to look forth under a wider range of sky grows
stronger. Such change is needed, for when there is languor within, the
impressions from without are dull. The country through which I now
passed was very beautiful with its multitude of chestnut-trees, the
pale yellow plumes of the male blossom still clinging to them and
hiding half their leaves; but here again was the sad spectacle of
abandoned, weedy, and almost leafless vineyards upon stony slopes
which had been changed into fruit-bearing terraces by the long labour
of dead generations.

The first village I came to was Coupiac, lying in a deep hollow, from
the bottom of which rose a rugged mass of schistous rock, with houses
all about it, under the protecting shadow of a strong castle with high
round towers in good preservation. It was a mediaeval fortress, but
its mullioned windows cut in the walls of the towers and other details
showed that it had been considerably modified and adapted to changed
conditions of life at the time of the Renaissance. A troop of little
girls were going up to it, and teaching Sisters, who had changed it
into a stronghold of education, were waiting for them in the court.
Hard by upon the edge of the castle rock was a calvary. The naked
schist, ribbed and seamed, served for pavement in the steep little
streets of this picturesque old village, where most of the people went
barefoot. This is the custom of the region, and does not necessarily
imply poverty. Here the _sabotier's_ trade is a poor one, and the
cobbler's is still worse. In the Albigeois I was the neighbour of a
well-to-do farmer who up to the age of sixty had never known the
sensation of sock or stocking, nor had he ever worn a shoe of wood or

No female beauty did I see here, nor elsewhere in the Rouergue.
Plainness of feature in men and women is the rule throughout this
extensive tract of country. But there is this to be said in favour of
the girls and younger women, that they generally have well-shaped
figures and a very erect carriage, which last is undoubtedly due to
the habit of carrying weights upon the head, especially water, which
needs to be carefully balanced.

How the peasants stared at me as I passed along! The expression of
their faces showed that they were completely puzzled as to what manner
of person I was, and what I was doing there. Had I been taking along a
dancing-bear they would have understood my motives far better, and my
social success with them would have been undoubtedly greater. As it
was, most of them eyed me with extreme suspicion. Not having been
rendered familiar, like the peasants of many other districts, with
that harmless form of insanity which leads people to endure the
hardship of tramping for the sake of observing the ruder aspects of
human life, the lingering manners of old times, and of reading the
book of nature in solitude, they thought I must perforce be engaged
upon some sinister and wicked work. And now this reminds me of an old
man at Ambialet, whom I used to send on errands to the nearest small
town. He liked my money, but he could never satisfy his conscience
that it was not something like treason to carry letters for me, for he
had the feeling to the last that he was in the pay of the enemy. 'Ah!'
he growled one day (not to me), 'I have always heard it said that the
English regretted our beautiful rocks and rich valleys. They are
coming back! I am sure they are coming back!' I used to see him
looking at me askance with a peculiarly keen expression in his eyes,
and as his words had been repeated to me I knew of what he was
thinking. He was the first man of his condition who to my knowledge
called rocks beautiful. The peasant class abhor rocks on account of
their sterility, and because the rustic idea of a beautiful landscape
is the fertile and level plain. In searching for the picturesque and
the grandeur of nature, it is perfectly safe to go to those places
which the peasant declares to be frightful by their ugliness.

Leaving Coupiac behind me, I turned towards the east. The road, having
been cut in the side of the cliff, exposed layers of brown
argillaceous schist, like rotten wood, and so friable that it crumbled
between the fingers; but what was more remarkable was that the layers,
scarcely thicker than slate, instead of being on their natural plane,
were turned up quite vertically. I was now ascending to the barren
uplands. Near the brow of a hill I passed a very ancient crucifix of
granite, the head, which must originally have been of the rudest
sculpture, having the features quite obliterated by time.

A rural postman in a blouse with red collar had been trudging up the
hill behind me, and I let him overtake me so that I might fall into
conversation with him, for these men are generally more intelligent or
better informed than the peasants. I have often walked with them, and
never without obtaining either instruction or amusement. When we had
reached the highest ground, from which a splendid view was revealed of
the Rouergue country.--a crumpled map of bare hills and deep dark
gorges--the postman pointed out to me the village of Roquecesaire
(Caesar's Rock), on a hill to the south, and told me a queer story of
a battle between its inhabitants and those of an adjacent village. The
quarrel, strange to say, arose over a statue of the Virgin, which was
erected not long since upon a commanding position between the two
villages. 'Now, the Holy Virgin,' said the postman, in no tone of
mockery, 'was obliged to turn her back either to one village or the
other, and this was the cause of the fight!' When first set up, the
statue looked towards Roquecesaire, to the great satisfaction of the
inhabitants; but the people of the other village, who thought
themselves equally pious, held that they had been slighted; and the
more they looked at the back of the Virgin turned towards them the
angrier they became, and the more determined not to submit to the
indignity. At length, unable to keep down their fury any longer, they
sallied forth one day, men, women and children, with the intention of
turning the statue round. But the people of Roquecesaire were
vigilant, and, seeing the hostile crowd coming, went forth to give
them battle. The combat raged furiously for hours, and it was
watched--so said the postman--with much excitement and interest by the
_cure_ of Montclar--the village we were now approaching--who,
happening to have a telescope, was able to note the varying fortune of
war. At length the Roquecesaire people got the worst of it, and they
were driven away from the statue, which was promptly turned round.
Although many persons were badly knocked about, nobody died for the
cause. The energetic intervention of the spiritual and temporal
authorities prevented a renewal of the scandal, and it was thought
best, in the interest of peace, to allow the statue to be turned
half-way to one village and half to the other.

The postman was a little reserved at first, not knowing to what
country I belonged, but when he was satisfied that I was not a German,
he let his tongue rattle on with the freedom which is one of the
peculiarities of his class. He confided to me that the best help to a
man who walked much was absinthe. It pulled him up the hills and sent
him whisking across the plains.

'I eat very little,' said my black-bearded, bright-eyed fellow-tramp;
'but,' he added, 'I drink three or four glasses of absinthe a day.'

'You will eat still less,' I said, 'if you don't soon begin to turn
off the tap.'

Considering the hard monotony of their lives and the strain imposed
upon physical endurance by walking from twenty to twenty-five miles a
day in all weathers, the rural postmen in France are a sober body of
men. This one told me that he walked sometimes eight miles out of his
way to carry a single letter.

Thus gossiping, we reached Montclar, on the plateau, a little to the
south of the deep gorge of the Tarn. Here we entered an auberge, where
the postman was glad to moisten his dry throat with the green-eyed
enemy. This inn was formerly one of those small chateaux--more
correctly termed _maisons fortes_, or manors--which sprang up all over
France in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The inhabited part
of the building was reached by a spiral staircase enclosed by a tower.
A balcony connected with the principal room enabled me to read an
inscription cut in a stone of the tower: 'Tristano Disclaris, 1615.'
But for this record left by the founder, his name would probably have
passed, long ago, out of the memory of men.

I found that the chief occupation of the people in this house was that
of making Roquefort cheeses; indeed, it was impossible not to guess
what was going on from the all-pervading odour. And yet: I was still
many miles from Roquefort! However, I knew all about this matter
before. I was not twenty miles from Albi when I found that Roquefort
cheese-making was a local industry. In fact, this is the case over a
very wide region. The cheeses, having been made, are sent to Roquefort
to ripen in the cellars, which have been excavated in the rock, and
also to acquire the necessary reputation. While my lunch was being
prepared I looked into the dairy, which was very clean and creditable.
On the ground were large tubs of milk, and on tables were spread many
earthenware moulds pierced with little holes and containing the
pressed curds.

The hostess was a buxom, good-tempered woman with rosy cheeks. She
told me that she could not give me anything better than ham and eggs.
She could not have offered me anything more acceptable after all the
greasy cooking, the steadfast veal and invariable fowl which I had so
long been compelled to accept daily with resignation. By a mysterious
revelation of art she produced the ham and eggs in a way that made me
think that she must surely be descended from one of the English
adventurers who did all manner of mischief in the Rouergue some five
or six centuries ago. Such ham and eggs in her case could only be
explained by the theory of hereditary ideas. Nevertheless, she had
become French enough to look at me with a dubious, albeit a
good-natured eye. My motive in coming there and going farther without
having any commercial object in view was more than she could fathom.
After my visit to the dairy I fancy her private notion was that I was
commissioned by the English Government to find out how Roquefort
cheese was made, with a view to competition. At length, as we talked
freely, she let the state of her mind with regard to me escape her
unawares by putting this question plump:

'How is it the gendarmes have not stopped you?'

'That I cannot tell you,' said I, much amused by her candour; 'but you
may be sure of this, I am not afraid of them.'

Her husband was listening behind the door, and I observed an
expression of relief in his face when I took up my pack and departed.
If I was to be pounced upon, he preferred, for his own peace of mind
and the reputation of his house, that it should be done elsewhere. All
the village had heard of my coming, and when I reappeared outside
there was a small crowd of people waiting to have a good look at me. I
thought from these signs that I was likely to be asked to show my
papers again by some petty functionary; but no, I was allowed to pass
on without interference. Perhaps the postman had given a good account
of me, the absinthe having touched his heart. There is much diplomacy
in getting somebody on your side while travelling alone through these
unopened districts far from railways. Wandering among the peasants of
the Tarn and the Aveyron teaches one what ignorance really means, what
blindness of intellect goes with it. And yet their enlightenment by
the usual methods would be a doubtful blessing to themselves and

I was now descending to the valley, and not long after leaving the
village an attempt to escape from the winding hot road led me into one
of those wildernesses which are to me infinitely more pleasing than
the most artistic gardens, with their geometric flower-beds and their
counterfeit lakes and grottoes. The surface of the land was thrown or
washed up into dark-brown hillocks of broken argillaceous schist,
which repelled vegetation, but the hollows were wooded with mountain
oak and many shrubs. Farther down there were other hillocks, equally
bare, but formed of the blue-looking lias marl which the husbandman
detests with good reason, for its sterility is incorrigible. This
_terre bleue_, as the peasants call it, was not the only sign of a
change in the formation; fragments of calcareous stone were mixed with
the brown soil. I was leaving the dark schist and was approaching
those immense accumulations of jurassic rock, whose singular forms and
brilliant colours lend such extraordinary grandeur to the scenery of
the Upper Tarn. There was also a change in the vegetation. A large
species of broom, four or five feet high, covered with golden blossom
the size of pea-flowers, although the common broom had long passed its
blooming, now showed itself as well as roseroot sedum, neither of
which had I seen while coming over the schist. The cicadas returned
and screamed from every tree. I captured one and examined the musical
instrument--a truly marvellous bit of mechanism--that it carried in
each of its sides. It is not legs which make the noise, as is the case
with crickets and grasshoppers, but little hard membranes under the
wings are scraped together at the creature's will. The sound is not
musical, for when it is not a continuous scissor-grinding noise, it is
like the cry of a corncrake with a weak throat; but what delight there
is in it! and how it expresses that joy in the present and
recklessness of the morrow, which the fabulist has in vain contrasted
with the virtuous industry of the ant in order to point a moral for
mankind!--vainly, because the _cigale's_ short life in the sunlit
trees will ever seem to men a more ideal one than that of the
earth-burrowing ant, with its possible longevity, its peevish
parsimony, and restless anxiety for the future. I could have lain down
under a tree like a gipsy in this wild spot, and let the summer dreams
come to me from their airy castles amongst the leaves, if I had not
made up my mind to reach St. Affrique before night. There was another
reason which, although it clashes with poetry, had better be told for
the sake of truth. Insects would soon have taken all pleasure from the
siesta. Great black ants, and great red ones, little ants too, that
could have walked with comfort through the eye of a fine needle,
notwithstanding their wickedness, and intermediate species of the same
much-praised family, would have scampered over me and stung me, and
flies of bad propensities would have settled upon me. An enthusiastic
entomologist has only to lie down in the open air in this part of
France at the end of July or in August, and he will soon be able to
observe, perhaps feel, sufficient insects travelling on their legs or
on the wing to satisfy a great deal of curiosity. Often the air is all
aflutter with butterflies, many of them remarkable for their size or
the beauty of their colouring. One I have particularly noticed; not
large, but coloured with exquisite gradations of bright-yellow,
orange, and pale-green.

I believe I added to my day's journey by my excursion across country,
but the time would have passed less pleasantly on the road. The
winding yellow line, however, appeared again, and I had to tramp upon
it. And a hot, toilsome trudge it was, through that long narrow valley
with scrubby woods reaching down to the road, but with no habitations
and no water. It was the desert. The afternoon was far advanced when
the country opened and I saw a village of coquettish appearance, for
most of the houses had been washed with red, and many of the
window-shutters were painted green.

I was parched with thirst, for the sun had been broiling me for hours;
therefore, when I saw this village on the hillside, I hurried towards
it with the impatience of a traveller who sees the palm-trees over a
well in the sands of Africa. In a place that could give so much
attention to colour there must surely be an auberge, I thought. And I
judged rightly, for there were two little inns. I found the door of
the first one closed, and learnt that the people were out harvesting.
I walked on to the next, and found that likewise closed, and was again
informed that all the family were out in the fields. The whole village
was nearly deserted; almost everyone was busy reaping and putting up
the sheaves. I stopped beside the village pump and reflected upon my
misery. I had resigned myself to water, when a woman carrying a sickle
opened the door of one of the inns. Some friendly bird must have told
her of my thirst and weariness--perhaps the merry little quail that I
heard as I came up from the plain crying 'To-whit! To-whit!' That
blessed auberge actually contained bottled beer. And the room was so
cool that butter would not have melted in it. These southern houses
have such thick stone walls that they have the double advantage of
being warm in winter and delightfully cool in summer. I had some
difficulty in resisting the temptation to stop the night at this inn;
but I did resist it, and was again on the road to St. Affrique before
the heat of the day had passed. Another toilsome trudge, during which
I met an English threshing-machine being dragged along by bullocks,
and the familiar words upon it made me feel for awhile quite at home.
The apparition, however, gave me a shock, for the antique flail is
still the instrument commonly used for threshing in the southern
provinces of France.

At a village called Moulin, lying in a rich and beautiful valley, I
met the Sorgues, one of the larger tributaries of the Tarn, and for
the rest of my journey I had the companionship of a charming stream.
Evening came on, and the fiery blue above me grew soft and rosy. Rosy,
too, were the cornfields, where bands of men and women, fifteen or
twenty together, were reaping gaily, for the heat of the day was gone,
the freshness of the twilight had come, and the fragrance of the
valley was loosened. I had left the last group of reapers behind, and
the silence of the dusk was broken only by the tree crickets and the
rapids of the little river, when a woman passed me on the road and
murmured '_Adicias!_' (God be with you!). '_Adicias!_ I replied, and
then I was again alone. Presently there was a jangling of bells
behind, and I was soon overtaken by three horses and a crowded
_diligence_. The sound of the bells grew fainter and fainter, and once
more I was alone with the summer night. The stars began to shine, and
the river was lost in the mystery of shadow, save where a sunken rock
made the water gleam white, and broke the peace with a cry of trouble.

It was late when I reached St. Affrique, and I believe no tramp
arrived at his bourne that night more weary than I, for I had been
walking most of the day in the burning sun. But although I lay down
like a jaded horse, I was too feverish to sleep. To make matters
worse, there was a cock in the yard just underneath my window, and the
fiendish creature considered it his duty to crow every two or three
minutes after the stroke of midnight. How well did I then enter into
the feelings of a man I knew who, under similar provocation, got up
from his bed, and, taking a carving-knife from the kitchen, quietly
and deftly cut off the cock's head before the astonished bird had time
to protest. Having stopped the crowing and assured himself that it
would not begin again, he went back to bed and slept the sleep of the

I was out early the next morning, looking at the extraordinary
astronomical dials of the parish church, covering much of the surface
of the outer walls. All the straight lines, curves, and figures, and
the inscriptions in Latin, must have the effect of convincing the
majority of the inhabitants that their ignorance is hopeless. Such a
display of science must be like wizard symbolism to the common people.
The dials are exceedingly curious, and there are some really
astonishing calculations, as, for instance, a table showing the
'number of souls that have appeared before the Tribunal of God.' Near
a great sundial are these solemn words: 'Sol et luna faciunt quae
precepta sunt eis; nos autem pergrimamur a Domino.' The church itself
is one of the most fantastically ugly structures imaginable. All
possible tricks of style and taste appear to have been played upon it.
It is a jumble of heavy Gothic and Italian, and the apse is twisted
out of line with the nave, in which respect, however, it is like the
cathedral of Quimper. As I left the church a funeral procession
approached, women carrying palls by the four corners a little in front
of the coffin, according to the custom of the country when the dead
person is of their own sex.

St. Affrique is a small town of about 7,000 inhabitants, lying in a
warm valley and surrounded by high hills, the sides of which were once
covered with luxuriant vineyards. These slopes, arid, barren, and
sun-scorched, are perfectly suited to the cultivation of the vine, the
fig, and the almond; but the elevation is still too great for the
olive. According to the authors of 'Gallia Christiana,' a saint named
Fricus, or Africus, came at the beginning of the sixth century into
the valley of the Sorgues, and was the founder of the burg. St.
Affrique was a strong place in the Middle Ages, and for this reason it
was disturbed less by the English than some other towns in the
Rouergue. After the treaty of Bretigny the consuls went to Millau and
swore fealty to the King of England, represented there by John

As I toiled up the side of the valley in the direction of Millau, I
noticed the Rocher de Caylus, a large reddish and somewhat
fantastically shaped block of oolitic rock, perched on the hill above
the vineyards. Here the lower formation was schistous, the upper
calcareous. The sun was intensely hot, but there was the shade of
walnut-trees, of which I took advantage, although it is said to be
poisonous, like that of the oleander.

When I reached the plateau there was no shade whatever, baneful or
beneficent. If there was ever any forest here all vestige of it has
disappeared. I was on the border of the Causse de Larzac, one of the
highest, most extensive, and hopelessly barren of the calcareous
deserts which separate the rivers in this part of France. Not a drop
of water, save what may have been collected in tanks for the use of
sheep, and the few human beings who eke out an existence there, is to
be found upon them. Swept by freezing winds in winter and burnt by a
torrid sun in summer, their climate is as harsh as the soil is

But although I was sun-broiled upon this _causse_, I was interested at
every step by the flowers that I found there. Dry, chaffy, or prickly
plants, corresponding in their nature to the aridity and asperity of
the land, were peculiarly at home upon the undulating stoniness. The
most beautiful flower then blooming was the catananche, which has won
its poetic French name, _Cupidon bleu_, by the brilliant colour of its
blossom. Multitudes of yellow everlastings also decked the solitude.

On reaching the highest ground the crests of the bare Cevennes were
seen against the cloudless sky to the south. A little to the east,
beyond the valley of the Cernon, which I intended to cross, were high
hills or cliffs, treeless and sterile, with hard-cut angular sides,
terminating upwards in vertical walls of naked stone. These were the
buttresses of the Causse de Larzac. The lower sides of some of the
hills were blue with lias marl, and wherever they were steep not a
blade of grass grew.

Having descended to the valley, I was soon climbing towards Roquefort
by the flanks of those melancholy hills which seemed to express the
hopelessness of nature after ages of effort to overcome some evil
power. And yet the tinkling of innumerable sheep-bells told that even
here men had found a way of earning their bread. I saw the flocks
moving high above me where all was wastefulness and rockiness, and
heard the voices of the shepherds. There were the Roquefort sheep
whose milk, converted into cheese of the first quality, is sent into
distant countries whose people little imagine that its constituents
are drawn from a desert where there is little else but stones.

I came in view of the village, clinging as it seemed to the steep at
the base of a huge bastion of stark jurassic rock. Facing it was
another barren hill, and in the valley beneath were mamelons of dark
clay and stones partly conquered by the great broom and burning with
its flame of gold. When I reached the village I felt that I had earned
a rest.

Cheese, which has been the fortune of Roquefort, has destroyed its
picturesqueness. It has brought speculators there who have raised
great ugly square buildings of dazzling whiteness, in harsh contrast
with the character and sombre tone of the old houses. Although the
place is so small that it consists of only one street and a few
alleys, the more ancient dwellings are remarkable for their height. It
is surprising to see in a village lost among the sterile hills houses
three stories high. The fact that there is only a ledge on which to
build must be the explanation. What is most curious in the place is
the cellars. Before the cheese became an important article of commerce
these were natural caverns, such as are everywhere to be found in this
calcareous formation, but now they are really cellars which have been
excavated to such a depth in the rock that they are to be seen in as
many as five stages, where long rows of cheeses are stacked one over
the other. The virtue of these cellars from the cheese-making point of
view is their dryness and their scarcely varying temperature of about
8o Centigrade summer and winter. But the demand for Roquefort cheese
has become so great that trickery now plays a part in the ripening
process. The peasants have learnt that 'time is money,' and they have
found that bread-crumbs mixed with the curd cause those green streaks
of mouldiness, which denote that the cheese is fit for the market, to
appear much more readily than was formerly the case when it was left
to do the best it could for itself with the aid of a subterranean
atmosphere. This is not exactly cheating; it is commercial enterprise,
the result of competition and other circumstances too strong for poor
human nature. In cheese-making, breadcrumbs are found to be a cheap
substitute for time, and it is said that those who have taken to
beer-brewing in this region have found that box, which here is the
commonest of shrubs, is a cheap substitute for hops. The notion that
brass pins are stuck into Roquefort cheese to make it turn green is
founded on fiction.

Having remained at Roquefort long enough to see all that was needful,
to lunch and to be overcharged--commercial enterprise is very
infectious--I turned my back upon it and scrambled down a stony path
to the bottom of the valley where the Cernon--now a mere thread of a
stream--curled and sparkled in the middle of its wide channel, the
yellow flowers and pale-green leaves of the horned poppy basking upon
the rocky banks. Following it down to the Tarn, I came to the village
of St. Rome de Cernon, where the houses of dark-gray stone, built on a
hillside, are overtopped by the round tower of a small mediaeval
fortress which has been patched up and put to some modern use. I
thought the people very ill-favoured by nature here, but perhaps they
are not more so than others in the district. The harshness of nature
is strongly reflected in all faces. Having passed a man on the bank of
the stream washing his linen--presumably his own--with bare arms,
sinewy and hairy like a gorilla's, I was again in the open country;
but instead of following donkey-paths and sheep-tracks I was upon the
dusty highroad. Well, even a, _route nationale_, however hot and
dusty, so that it be not too straight, has its advantages, which are
felt after you have been walking an uncertain number of miles over a
very rough country, trusting to luck to lead you where you wished to
go. The feeling that you may at length step out freely and not worry
yourself with a map and compass is a kind of pleasure which, like all
others, is only so by the force of contrast and the charm of variety.
I knew that I could now tramp along this road without troubling myself
about anything, and that I should reach Millau sooner or later. It was
really very hot--ideal sunstroke weather, verging on 90o in the shade;
but I had become hardened to it, and was as dry as a smoked herring.
For miles I saw no human being and heard no sound of life except the
shrilling of grasshoppers and the more strident song of the cicadas in
the trees. By-and-by houses showed themselves, and I came to the
village of St. Georges beside the bright little Cernon, but surrounded
by wasteful, desolate hills, one of which, shaped like a cone, reared
its yellow rocky summit far towards the blue solitude of the dazzling
sky. I passed by little gardens where great hollyhocks flamed in the
afternoon sunshine, then I met the Tarn again and reached Millau, a
weary and dusty wayfarer.

I stopped in Millau (sometimes spelt Milhau) more than a day, in order
to rest and to ramble--moderately. Although the town, with its 16,000
inhabitants, is the most populous in the department of the Aveyron, it
is so remote from all large centres and currents of human movement
that very little French is spoken there. And this French is about on a
par with the English of the Sheffield grinders. In the better-class
families an effort now is made to keep _patois_ out-of-doors for the
sake of the children; but there is scarcely a middle-aged native to
whom it is not the mother-tongue. The common dialect is not quite the
same throughout Guyenne and Languedoc; but the local variations are
much less marked than one would expect, considering that the _langue
d'oc_ has been virtually abandoned as a literary vehicle for
centuries. The word _oc_ (yes), which was once the most convenient
sound to distinguish the dialect from that of the northern half of
France, is not easy to recognise nowadays in the conversation of the
people. The _c_ in the word is not pronounced--perhaps it never
was--and the _o_ is usually joined to _be_, which has the same meaning
as _bien_ in the French language. Thus we have the forms _obe_, _ope_,
and _ape_ according to the district, and all equivalent to 'yes.' All
these people can understand Spanish when spoken slowly. Many can catch
your meaning when you speak to them in French, but reply in _patois_.
I had grown accustomed, although not reconciled, to this manner of
conversing with peasants; but I was surprised to find on entering a
shop at Millau that neither the man nor his wife there could reply to
me in French.

This town lies in the bottom of a basin; some of the high hills,
especially those on the east, showing savage escarpments with towering
masses of yellow or reddish rock at the summits. The climate of the
valley is delightful in winter, but sultry and enervating in summer.
It is so protected from the winds that the mulberry flourishes there,
and countless almond-trees rise above the vines on the burning

Millau presents a good deal of interest to the archaeologist. Very
noteworthy is the ancient market-place, where the first and upper
stories project far over the paving and are supported by a colonnade.
Some of the columns, with elaborately carved Romanesque capitals, date
from the twelfth century, and look ready to fall into fragments. At
one end of the square is an immense modern crucifix--a sure sign that
the civic authorities do not yet share the views of the municipal
councillors of Paris in regard to religious emblems. Protestants,
however, are numerous at Millau as well as at St. Affrique, both towns
having been important centres of Calvinism at the time of the
Revocation of the Edict of Nantes; and after the forced emigration
many of the inhabitants must have strongly sympathized with their
persecuted neighbours, the Camisards. Nevertheless, the department of
the Aveyron, taken in its entirety, is now one of the most fervently
Catholic in France.

The church is Romanesque, with a marked Byzantine tendency. It has an
elegant apse, decorated in good taste; but the edifice having received
various patchings and decorations at the time of the Renaissance, the
uniformity of style has been spoilt. The most striking architectural
feature of the town is a high Gothic belfry of octagonal form, with a
massive square tower for its base.

In the Middle Ages the government of this town was vested in six
consuls, who received twenty gold florins a year as salary, and also a
new robe of red and black cloth with a hood. In 1341 they furnished
forty men-at-arms for the war against the English, but the place was
given up to Chandos in 1362. The rising of 1369 delivered the burghers
again from the British power, but for twenty-two years they were
continually fighting with the English companies.

The evening before I left Millau I strolled into the little square
where the great crucifix stands. I found it densely crowded. Three or
four hundred men were there, each wearing a blouse and carrying a
sickle with a bit of osier laid upon the sharp edge of the blade along
its whole length, and firmly tied. All these harvesters were waiting
to be hired for the following week. They belonged to a class much less
numerous in France than in England--the agricultural labourers who
have no direct interest in the soil that they help to cultivate and
the crops that they help to gather in. I have often met them on the
dusty roads, frequently walking with bare feet, carrying the
implements of their husbandry and a little bundle of clothes. It must
be very hard to ask for work from farm to farm. I can enter fully into
the attachment of the French peasant to his bit of land, which,
although it may yield him little more than his black bread, cannot be
taken from him so long as he can manage to live by the sweat of his
brow. Many of these peasant proprietors can barely keep body and soul
together; but when they lie down upon their wretched beds at night,
they feel thankful that the roof that covers them and the soil that
supports them are their own. The wind may howl about the eaves, and
the snow may drift against the wall, but they know that the one will
calm down, and that the other will melt, and that life will go on as
before--hard, back-breaking, grudging even the dark bread, but secure
and independent. Waiting to be hired by another man, almost like a
beast of burden--what a trial is here for pride! Happily for the human
race, pride, although it springs naturally in the breast of man, only
becomes luxuriant with cultivation. The poor labourer does not feel it
unless his instinctive sense of justice has been outraged.


One cannot be sure of the weather even in the South of France, where
the skies are supposed, by those who do not know them, to be
perpetually blue. The 'South of France' itself is a very deceptive
term. The climate on one side of a range of mountains or high hills
may be altogether different from that on the other. In Upper Languedoc
and Guyenne the climate is regulated by three principal factors: the
elevation of the soil, the influence of the Mediterranean, and the
influence of the Atlantic. On the northern side of the Cevennes, the
currents from the ocean, together with the altitude, do much to keep
the air moist and comparatively cool in summer; whereas on the other
side of the chain, where the Mediterranean influence--in a large
measure African--is paramount, the climate is dry and torrid during
the hot months. A liability to sudden changes goes with the advantages
of the more favoured region. This was enforced upon me at Millau.

At seven o'clock the sky, lately of such a fiery blue, was of a most
mournful smokiness, and the rain fell in a drenching spray. It was
mountain weather, and I blamed the Cevennes for it. But I was in the
South, and at a season when bad weather is seldom in earnest, so I did
not despair of a change when the sun rose higher. It came, in fact, at
about eight o'clock, when, a breeze springing up, the clouds, after a
short struggle, were swept away. The market-women spread out upon the
pavement their tomatoes, their purple _aubergines_, their peaches, and
green almonds; the harvesters, long hesitating, went out into the
fields to reap; and I, leaving the Tarn, took my way up the valley of
the gleaming Dourbie. Millau was soon nearly hidden in its basin, but
above it, on the sides of the surrounding hills, scattered amongst the
sickly vines, or the vigorous young plants which promised in a few
years to make the stony soil flow once more with purple juice, were
the small white houses of the wine-growers. Where I could, I walked in
the shade of walnut and mulberry trees, for the heat was great, and
the rain that had fallen rose like steam in the sun-blaze from the
herbage and the golden stubble. In this low valley all corn except
maize had been gathered in, and Nature was resting, after her labour,
with the smile of maternity on her face. Nevertheless, this stillness
of the summer's fulfilment, this pause in the energy of production, is
saddening to the wayfarer, to whom the vernal splendour of the year
and the time of blossoming seem like the gifts of yesterday. The
serenity of the burnished plains now prompts him upward, where he
hopes to overtake the tarrying spring upon the cool and grassy
mountains. Although the mountains towards which I was now bearing were
the melancholy and arid Cevennes, I wished the distance less that lay
between me and their barren flanks, where the breeze would be scented
with the bloom of lavender. There were flowers along the wayside here,
but they were the same that I had been seeing for many a league, and
they reminded me too forcibly of the rapid flight of the summer days
by their haste--their unnecessary haste, as I thought--in passing from
the flower to the seed. A sprig of lithosperm stood like a little tree
laden with Dead Sea fruit, for the naked seeds clung hard and flinty
where the flowers had been. The glaucium, although still blooming, had
put forth horns nine inches long, and the wild barley, so lately
green, was now a brown fringe along the dusty road. And thus all these
familiar forms of vegetable life, which we notice in our wanderings,
but never understand, come and go, perish and rise again--so quickly,
too, that we have no time to listen to what they say; we only feel
that the song which they sing along the waysides of the world is ever
joyous and ever sad.

In the lower part of this valley were scattered farmhouses, which
looked like small rural churches, for their high rectangular dovecots
at one end had much the air of towers with broach spires. Throughout
Guyenne one is amazed at the apparently extravagant scale on which
accommodation has been provided for pigeon-rearing. There are plenty
of pigeons in the country, but the size of their houses is usually out
of all proportion to the number of lodgers, and dovecots without
tenants are almost as frequently seen as those that are tenanted. They
are seldom of modern construction; many are centuries old. All this
points to the conclusion that people of former times laid much greater
store by pigeon-flesh than their descendants do. It may have been that
other animal food was relatively more expensive than at the present

But as I ascended the valley the breadth of cultivated land grew
narrower, and the habitations fewer. On either side the cliffs rose
higher, and the walls of Jurassic rock, above the brashy steeps, more
towering, precipitous, and fantastic. Where vegetable life could draw
sustenance from crumbling, stones stretched a veritable forest of box.
Now, in a narrow gorge, the Dourbie frolicked about the heaps of
pebbles it had thrown up in its winter fury. Strong wires, attached to
high rocks, crossed the gorge and the stream, and were made fast to
the side of the road. Bundles of newly-cut box at the lower end showed
the use to which these wires were put. Far aloft upon the heated rocks
women were cutting down the tough shrub for firewood or manure, for it
is put to both uses. It serves a very useful purpose when buried in
dense layers between the vine rows. When I looked aloft, and saw those
petticoated beings toiling in the terrible heat, I thought it a pity
that there was no society to protect women as well as horses from
being cruelly overworked. Let social reformers ponder this truth: The
more the man is encouraged to shirk work, the more the woman will have
to toil to make up for wasted time. As it is, women everywhere, except
perhaps in England, work harder than men, as far as I can speak from

I was on my way to Vieux Montpellier--the 'Devil's City'--and already
the scenery began to take the character to be expected of it in such a
neighbourhood. It seemed as though the demon builder of the fantastic
town, sporting with man's architectural ideals before his appearance
on the earth, had hewn the red and yellow rocks above the Dourbie into
the ironic semblance of feudal towers and heaven-pointing spires.

The highest limestone rocks in this region, those which rise from the
plateau or _causse_ and strike the imagination by the strangeness of
their forms, are dolomite; in the gorges they approach the character
of lias towards the base, and not unfrequently contain lumps of pure
silex embedded in their mass. The redness which they so often show,
and which, alternating with yellow, white, or gray, adds to the
grandeur of their rugged outlines, is due to the iron which the rock

A young gipsy-woman, carrying a child upon her shoulders, and holding
on to a dusky little leg on each side of her neck, followed in the
wake of an old caravan drawn by a mule of resigned countenance--a
beast that seemed to have made a vow never to hurry again, and to let
the flies do their worst. She vanished upon the winding road, and
presently I saw another wayfarer seated on the bank beside the stream,
binding up a bleeding foot under the trailing traveller's joy. Before
reaching the village of La Roque-Sainte-Marguerite, I passed a genuine
rock dwelling. A natural cavern, some twenty or thirty feet above the
level of the road, had been walled up to make a house. It had its door
and windows like any other dwelling, and some convenient crevice in
the rock had probably been used for a chimney.

Having taken an hour's rest and a light meal in the village, I
commenced the ascent towards the 'Devil's City.' A mule-path wound up
the steep side of the gorge, which had been partly reclaimed from the
desert by means of terraces where many almond-trees flourished, safe
from the north wind. Very scanty, however, was the vegetation that
grew upon this dry stony soil, burning in summer, and washed in winter
of its organic matter by the mountain rains. Tall woody spurges two
feet high or more, with tufts of dusty green leaves, managed to draw,
however, abundant moisture from the waste, as the milk that gushed
from the smallest wound attested. An everlasting pea, with very large
flowers of a deep rose-colour, also loved this arid steep. I was
wondering why I found no lavender, when I saw a gray-blue tuft above
me, and welcomed it like an old friend. The air was soon scented with
the plant, and for five days I was in the land of lavender. On nearing
the buttresses of the plateau the ground was less steep, and here I
came to pines, junipers, oaks, and the bird-cherry prunus. But the
tree which I was most pleased to find was a plum, with ripe fruit
about the size of a small greengage, but of a beautiful pale

I am now upon the _causse_ and already see the castellated outworks
of the 'Devil's City.' The city itself lies in a hollow, and I have
not yet reached it. The mule-path fortunately leads in the right
direction. On my way multitudes of very dark, almost black,
butterflies flutter up from the short turf, which is flecked with
the gold of yellow everlastings. Here and there a solitary
round-headed allium nods from the top of its long leafless stem. I
walk over the shining dark leaves and the scarlet beads of the
bearberry, and am presently roaming in the fantastic streets of the
dolomitic city. To say streets is scarcely an exaggeration, for
these jutting rocks have in places almost the regularity of the
menhirs of Carnac. But the megalithic monuments of Brittany are like
arrow-heads compared to the stones of Montpellier-le-Vieux. In
placing these and in giving them that mimicry of familiar forms at
times so startling to human eyes, Nature has been the sole engineer
and artist. There is but one theory by which the working cause of
the existing phenomena can be brought to our understanding. It is
that these honeycombed and fantastically-shaped masses of dolomite
or magnesian limestone represent the skeletons of vaster rocks whose
less resisting parts were washed away by the wearing action of the
sea. Some are formed of blocks of varying size, lying one upon
another, with a pinnacle or dome at the summit; others show no trace
of stratification, but are integral rocks which in many cases appear
to have been cut away and fashioned to the mocking likeness of some
animal form by a demon statuary. Now it is a colossal owl, now a
frightful head that may be human or devilish, now some inanimate
shape such as a prodigious wineglass which fixes the eye and excites
the fancy. A mass of rock on which can be seen half sitting, half
reclining, a monstrous stony shape with head hideously jovial, has
been named the 'Devil's Chair.'

I saw this spot under circumstances very favourable to the full
reception of its fantastic, mysterious, and gloomy influence. It was
late enough in the afternoon for the feeling of evening and of the
coming night to be in the air, especially here, where dark pines stood
in the mimic streets and squares like cypresses in a cemetery. The
awful mournfulness of the shadowy groves was deepened by my own
solitariness, for although surrounded by frightful shapes that
caricatured humanity, mine was the only human form that moved amongst
the dumb but fiend-like rocks and the pines, which moaned and
whispered like unhappy ghosts. I was alone in the 'Devil's City,' and
perchance with the devil himself. When a hawk flew over and screamed
it was welcome, although there was nothing cheerful in its cry. There
could be no severer trial perhaps to the nerves of a superstitious
person than to take a solitary walk by moonlight through
Montpellier-le-Vieux. The sense of the weird and the horrible would
give him too many cold shudders for him to enjoy the grandeur and the
strangeness of the scene.

The superstitious horror in which this spot has always been held by
the peasants--chiefly shepherds--of the district, together with the
fact that the rustic, uninfluenced from without, never speaks of rocks
except in terms of contempt, however extraordinary their forms may be,
must be the reason why Montpellier-le-Vieux has only been known of
late years to persons interested in such curiosities of nature. To the
geologist it is fascinating ground, as, indeed, is the whole expanse
of these _causses_ of Guyenne and Upper Languedoc, so fissured and
honeycombed--a region of gorges and caverns, of subterranean lakes and
rivers, of bottomless pits and mysterious streams.

It is said that the dolomitic city owes its name, Montpellier-le-Vieux,
to the shepherds of Lower Languedoc, who from time immemorial have
brought their flocks in summer to pasture upon these highlands. In
their dialect they call Montpellier, which is to them what Paris is to
the peasants of the Brie, 'Lou Clapas'--literally, a heap of stones. On
seeing rocks covering several acres, and looking like the ruins of a
great city of the past, they could think of no better name for it than
'Lou Clapas Biel,' or 'old heap of stones.' This turned into French
becomes Montpellier-le-Vieux.

The 'Devil's City' can be recommended to the botanist, who need not
fear that the flowers he will find there will wither at his touch like
those gathered for Marguerite by her guileless lover. The
ever-crumbling dolomite has formed a soil very favourable to a varied
flora. As I had, however, to reach the gorge of the Tarn before
nightfall, and it was still far off, I only took away two souvenirs of
the diabolic garden--a white scabious and a bit of rock-potentil.

The name given to the tract of country I was now crossing--the Causse
Noir, fitly describes it, It is singularly dark and mournful, and
almost uninhabited. It is not, strictly speaking, a plateau, but a
succession of valleys and low hills like the bed of the ocean. The
barren land is thickly overgrown with box and juniper, and these
shrubs, which often attain a height of six or eight feet, sufficiently
account for the sombre tone of the landscape. Here and there savage
little, gorges run up between the dismal hills, with trees of larger
growth, such as oaks and pines, in the hollows. There is good reason
to believe that all these _causses_ were at one time more or less
covered by forests; but the reason commonly given for their
disappearance--namely, that they were burnt down during the religious
wars--is less likely to be the true one than that they gradually
perished because it was nobody's business to protect the seedlings
from sheep and goats--animals capable of changing the world into a
treeless desert, but which, fortunately, cease to be profitable when
they come down from the sterile highlands, where they thrive best,
into the rich plains and valleys. The disastrous floods which occur
with such appalling suddenness in the valleys of the Tarn and the Lot
are due in a large measure to the nudity of the _causses_ and the
Cevennes, where these mountains turn northward and cross the Lozere to
meet the Auvergne range. The French Government nurses the hope that it
will be able some day to cover much of the baldness of this extensive
region with magnificent pine-forests, and planting actually goes on in
places; but what with the nibbling flocks, and the increasing seventy
of the winters, the measure of success already obtained by such
laudable efforts is not encouraging.

I wished to reach Peyreleau that night, but how to get there I knew
not otherwise than by persistently keeping in a north-easterly course,
and despising all natural obstacles. I was attracted by what looked
like a road running up between two hills in the right direction; but
when I came to it I found that it was the dry channel of a stream. I
nevertheless took advantage of it, as I have of many another such in
the South, although there are few watercourses whose beds can be
walked upon with comfort. I was lucky now beyond my expectations, for
it was not long before I struck a road which I was sure could lead
nowhere but to Peyreleau. It first took me through a darkly-wooded
gorge, where evening stood like a nun in a chapel. The brilliant sky
had changed to a sad gray. There was to be no gorgeous sunset, with
rosy after-glow, softening with transparent colour the harshness of
the dark box and darker juniper. No: the day that commenced sadly was
ending sadly--going to its grave in a gray habit with drawn cowl. A
great falcon passed slowly on its way under the dull sky, but no bird
nor beast uttered a sound. The Causse Noir was as silent as a crypt.

I became very uncertain where this road over the dismal solitude was
going to lead me, for it turned about in such a way as to put me out
of my reckoning. At length I saw a deep gorge yawning below, and this
told me that I had reached the edge of the _causse_. Oh, the sublime
desolation of these heights and depths in the solemn evening! How,
mournful then is the silence of the innumerable, gray stones and
monstrous rocks which try to speak to us like creatures once eloquent
and possessing the knowledge of wondrous changes, and the key to
problems that everlastingly distress the human mind, but on which the
curse of dumbness has lain for ages!

I thought that I must have wandered beyond the peopled world, when
suddenly I saw, far down in the bottom of the widening valley, a
village or small town at the foot of a cone-shaped hill. The little
river running near satisfied me that I was in view of Peyreleau. The
descent was tedious and long, notwithstanding the loops that I cut off
of the curling road by scrambling down the steep sides of the gorge
over the loose stones and lavender. It was still daylight when I
reached a small hotel, outside of which some tourists were smoking
cigarettes and drinking beer while waiting for dinner. Until then I
had not seen a tourist after leaving Albi. All through the Albigeois
and the Rouergue, I was looked upon as an animal of unknown species,
and possibly noxious; but here I was recognised at once as one of a
familiar tribe, of small brain development, but harmless. I had
entered a region which for several years past had drawn to it many
persons--mostly French--who had heard of the grand gorge, or canon, of
the Tarn.

I had been told that the right way--the one followed by all sensible
people--of seeing the gorge from Sainte-Enimie to Le Rozier was to
come down the stream in a boat; but circumstances, or my own
perversity, had led me once more to do the thing that was considered
wrong. Instead of coming down the swift stream like a fly on a leaf,
my intention was to crawl up the gorge by such goat or mule paths as
were available on the margin of the river or on the ledges of the
cliffs. Thus I should not be obliged to treat every fresh view as if
it were a bird on the wing, but could dawdle as long as I pleased over
this or that object without being a trouble to anybody.

It was far from unpleasant, however, to spend an evening at this
water-side inn with people fresh from Paris, bringing with them the
spray of the sea that beats against the shores of high-strung life.
Nor was it unpleasant to find a little refinement in the kitchen
again, and to eat trout not saturated with the essence of garlic.


At an early hour next morning I was making my way up the gorge beside
the Tarn; but before leaving Peyreleau, I wandered about its steep
streets--in some places a series of steps cut in the rock--noted
Gothic doorways, and houses with interior vaulting, and climbed to the
top of a machicolated tower built over the ivy-draped wall of a ruined
castle. The place is very charming to the eye; but in this region one
soon becomes a spoilt child of the picturesque, and the mind, fatigued
by admiration, loses something of its sensibility to the impressions
of beauty and grandeur, and is capable of passing by almost unmoved
what, where Nature deals out her surprises with a calmer hand, might
engrave upon the memory images of lasting delight. This is the chief
reason, perhaps, why I hate the hurry of the sightseer who, even in
his pleasure, makes himself the bondman of time and the creature of

It was pleasant and easy walking on the bank of the river, for as yet
the cliffs were far apart, and in the valley there were strips of
meadow and flowering buckwheat. The water, where it was not broken
into white anger by the rocky channel, was intensely green with the
reflection of poplar and alder, although of crystal clearness. I
watched the large trout swimming in the pools, and wished I had a rod,
but consoled myself with the thought that if I had brought one I
should probably have not seen a fish. Opportunities are never so ready
to show themselves as when we have not the means of seizing them.
While I was looking at the river, a boat shot into view round a bend
of the gorge and came down like an arrow over the rapids. It contained
a small party of tourists and two boatmen, who stood in. the
flat-bottomed craft with poles in their hands, with which they kept it
clear of the rocks. I understood at once the delicious excitement of
coming down the Tarn in this fashion. Bucketfuls of water are often
shipped where the stream rushes furiously between walls of rock; but
the men have become so expert with practice that the risk of being
capsized is very slight. In a few minutes the boat had vanished, and
then the gorge became wilder and sterner; but just as I thought the
sentiment of desolation perfect, a little goatherd, who had climbed
high up the rocks somewhere with his equally sure-footed companions,
began to sing, not a pastoral ditty in the Southern dialect, but the
'Marseillaise,' thus recalling with shocking incongruity impressions
of screaming barrel-organs at the fete of St. Cloud.

The gorge narrowed and the rocks rose higher, the topmost crags being
1,000 or 1,200 feet above the water. Although everything here was on a
grander scale, all the strong peculiarities of formation which I had
remarked elsewhere in Guyenne and Languedoc, wherever the layers of
Jurassic rock have split asunder and produced gorges more or less
profound, were repeated in this canon of the Tarn.

Competent geologists, however, have noted a distinctive difference,
namely: that, of all the rivers running in the fissures of the
_causses_, the Tarn is the only one whose water does not penetrate to
the beds of marl beneath the lias; and this is said to partly explain
the great height and verticality of the cliffs, for when the water
reaches the marl it saps the foundations of the rocks, and these,
subsiding, send their dislocated masses rolling to the bottom of the

I overtook a man and two boys who were hauling and pushing a boat
up-stream. The man was wading in the water with a towing-rope over his
shoulder, and the boys were in the punt plying their boat-hooks
against the rocks and the bed of the river. They made very slow
headway on account of the strength and frequency of the rapids. In
coming down the Tarn, all that the boatman has to do is to use his
_gaffe_ so as to keep clear of the rocks; but the return-journey is by
no means so pleasant and exciting.

I passed a little cluster of hovels built against the rock, and here a
kind woman offered me some sheep's milk, which I declined for no
better reason than because it was sheep's.

Towards mid-day I reached the village of Les Vignes, which takes its
name from the vineyards which have long been cultivated here, where
the gorge widens somewhat, and offers opportunities to husbandry. The
great cliffs protect vegetation and human life from the mountain
climate which prevails upon the dismal Causse Mejan and the Causse de
Sauveterre, separated by the deep fissure. Until tourists came to the
Tarn, Les Vignes was quite cut off from the world, but now it is a
halting-place for the boatmen and their passengers; and a little
auberge, while retaining all its rustic charm, provides the traveller
with a good meal at a fair price. The rush of strangers during the
summer has not yet been sufficient to spoil the river-side people
between Sainte-Enimie and Peyreleau by fostering that spirit of
speculation which, when it takes hold of an inn-keeper, almost fatally
classifies him with predatory animals.

On reaching the auberge I walked straight into the kitchen as usual. A
fowl and a leg of mutton were turning on the spit, and the hostess was
very busy with stewpans and other utensils on various parts of her
broad hearth. I soon learnt that a party of several persons had
arrived before me, and that all these preparations were for them. My
application for a meal was not met with a refusal, but it was evident
that I should have to wait until others were served, and that, they
having bespoken the best of everything in the house, my position was
not as satisfactory as could be desired. I suppose I must have looked
rather sad, for one of the party who had so swooped down upon the
little inn and all its resources suggested that I should take my meal
at their table. I should have accepted this offer with more hesitation
had I known that they had brought with them the _piece de resistance_,
the leg of mutton, nearly as large as an English one, that was
browning upon the spit before the blazing wood. After thinking myself
unlucky, it turned out that I was in luck's way.

I was presently seated at a long table with about a dozen others of
both sexes, all relatives or old friends. They belonged to the small

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