Infomotions, Inc.Wanderings by southern waters, eastern Aquitaine / Barker, Edward Harrison, 1851-1919



Author: Barker, Edward Harrison, 1851-1919
Title: Wanderings by southern waters, eastern Aquitaine
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): gorge; valley
Contributor(s): Widger, David, 1932- [Editor]
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Title: Wanderings by southern waters, eastern Aquitaine

Author: Edward Harrison Barker

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Language: English

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[Illustration: A BIT OF OLD FIGEAC. _Frontispiece_.]



WANDERINGS

BY

SOUTHERN WATERS


_EASTERN AQUITAINE_



BY

EDWARD HARRISON BARKER

AUTHOR OF 'WAYFARING IN FRANCE'


WITH ILLUSTRATIONS




LONDON

RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON

Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen

1893





CONTENTS


THE VALLEY OF THE OUYSSE AND ROC-AMADOUR

FROM THE ALZOU TO THE DORDOGNE

WAYFARING UNDERGROUND

IN THE VALLEY OF THE CELE

IN THE ALBIGEOIS

ACROSS THE ROUERGUE

THE BLACK CAUSSE

THE CANON OF THE TARN

IN THE VALLEY OF THE LOT

[Illustration:
OAK CHIMNEY-PIECE AT THE SINECHAUSSEE (NOW HOTEL DE VILLE) OF MARTEL.]




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


A BIT OF OLD FIGEAC--_Frontispiece_

OAK CHIMNEY-PIECE AT THE SINECHAUSSEE (NOW HOTEL DE VILLE) OF MARTEL

THE PONT VALENTRE AT CAHORS

ROC-AMADOUR

PORCH OF THE CATHEDRAL OF ALBI

AMBIALET

CIGALA, THE SHOEBLACK.

[Illustration: THE PONT VALENTRE AT CAHORS.]






WANDERINGS BY SOUTHERN WATERS




THE VALLEY OF THE OUYSSE AND ROC-AMADOUR.


From the Old-English town of Martel, in Guyenne, I turned southward
towards the Dordogne. For a few miles the road lay over a barren
plateau; then it skirted a desolate gorge with barely a trace of
vegetation upon its naked sides, save the desert loving box clinging
to the white stones. A little stream that flowed here led down into
the rich valley of Creysse, blessed with abundance of fruit. Here I
found the nightingales and the spring flowers that avoid the
wind-blown hills. Patches of wayside took a yellow tinge from the
cross-wort galium; others, conquered by ground-ivy or veronica, were
purple or blue. Presently the tiled roofs of the village of Creysse
were seen through the poplars and walnuts. A delightful spot for a
poetical angler is this, for the Dordogne runs close by in the shadow
of prodigious rocks and overhanging trees. What a noble and stately
river I thought it, as the old ferryman, with white cotton nightcap on
his head, punted me across! I took the greater pleasure in its breadth
and grandeur here because I had seen it an infant river in the
Auvergne mountains, and had watched its growth as it rushed between
walls of rock and forest towards the plains.

What witchery of romance and spell-bound fancy is in the song of the
Dordogne as it breaks over its shallows under high rocky cliffs and
ruined castles! Everything that can charm the poet and the artist is
here. The grandeur of rugged nature combines with the most enticing
beauty of water and meadow, and the voices of the past echo with a
sweet sadness from cliff to cliff. It is said that several of these
castles were built to prevent the English from coming up the river,
but this may be treated as one of the many fanciful legends respecting
the British period which are repeated throughout Aquitaine.

By cutting off a curve of the Dordogne I soon came to the river-side
village of Meyronne, and here I stopped for a meal at a very pleasant
little inn, where to my surprise I found that I had been preceded a
few days before by another Englishman, who, accompanied by a
Frenchman, had come up from Bordeaux in a boat. They must have found
it very hard work rowing against the rapids. The hostess here was
evidently a woman who treasured her household gods, but who liked also
to show them. She gave me my coffee in a china cup that looked as if
it had belonged to her great-grandmother; and in the bright little
room where she served my lunch was a large walnut buffet elaborately
and admirably carved, bearing the date 1676.

After Meyronne my road ran for a few miles beside the broad and
curving river. The forms of the great cliffs on each side were ever
changing. Over a sky intensely blue sailed the fleecy April clouds
before the soft west wind, and whenever the sun shone out with
unveiled splendour, the rays fell with summer warmth. While the
tinkling of sheep-bells from the ledges of the rocks came down to me,
the passionate warble of nightingales, that could not wait for the
night, must have risen from the leafy valley to the ears of the
listless shepherd-boy gathering feather-grass where goats would not
dare to venture, or eating his dark bread in the sun on the edge of a
precipice. Time flowed gently like the river, and I was surprised to
find myself at Lacave so soon. This village is near the spot where the
Ouysse falls into the Dordogne. A little beyond the clustering houses,
upon the edge of a high rocky promontory overlooking the Ouysse, is
the castle of Belcastel, still retaining its feudal keep and outer
wall. In this fortress the English are said to have kept many of their
prisoners.

I now left the Dordogne and ascended the valley of the Ouysse. This
stream is one of the most remarkable of the natural phenomena of
France. To judge from its breadth near the mouth, one would suppose
that it had flowed fifty or a hundred miles, but its entire length is
less than ten miles. It is already a river when it rises out of the
depths of the earth. The narrow valley that it waters is a gorge 500
or 600 feet deep through the greater part of its distance. The
traveller at the bottom supposes, or is ready to suppose, that he is
in some ravine of the high mountains; in reality, it is simply a
fissure of the plateau that was once the bed of the sea. There is no
igneous, no metamorphic rock here; nothing but limestone of the
Jurassic formation. The convexities on one side of the fissure
correspond with marked regularity to the concavities on the other.

For awhile I walked on the lush grass by the brimming river, where in
the little creeks and bays the water-ranunculus floated its small
white flowers that were to continue the race. Then I left the water
and the green ribbon that followed its margin, and, taking a
sheep-track, rose upon the arid steeps, where the thinly-scattered
aromatic southern-wood was putting forth its dusty leaves. The bare
rocks, yellow, white, and gray, towered above me; they were beneath
me; they faced me across the valley; wherever I looked they were
shutting me off from the outer world. No nightingales were singing
here, but I heard the melancholy scream of the hawk and the harsh
croak of the raven. And yet, when I looked down into the bottom of
this steep desert of stones, what soft and vernal beauty was there!
Over the grass of living green was spread the gold of cowslips, just
as if that strip of meadow, with its gently-gliding river, had been
lifted out of an English dale and dropped into the midst of the
sternest scenery of Southern France.

As I went on I soon found that the stony wastes had their flowers too.
It would seem as if Nature had wished to console the desert by giving
to it her loveliest and most enticing blossoms. I came upon colonies
of the poet's narcissus, breathing over the rocks so sweet a fragrance
that it was as if a miracle had been wrought to draw it out of the
earth. I walked knee-deep through blooming asphodels, beautiful and
strange, but only noticed here by the wild bee. I gathered sprays of
the graceful alpine-tea, densely crowded with delicate white bloom,
and marvelled at the wanton splendour of the iris colouring the gray
and yellow stones with its gorgeous blue.

Still following the Ouysse, I came to a spot where the valley ended in
an amphitheatre formed by steep hills more than 600 feet high, and
covered for the most part with dwarf oak. In the hollow under the dark
cliffs was a little lake or pool forty or fifty yards from shore to
shore. The water showed no sign of trouble save where it overflowed
its basin on the western side, and formed the river that I had been
keeping in sight for hours. The pool filled the Gouffre de St.
Sauveur. Until the Ouysse finds this opening in the earth it is a
subterranean river, and it must flow at a great depth, probably at the
base of the calcareous formation, inasmuch as it continues to rise
from the gulf the whole year, although from the month of August until
the autumn rains nearly every water-course in the country is marked by
a curving line of dry pebbles. The funnel-shaped hole descends
vertically to the depth of about ninety feet, but there is no means of
knowing how far it descends obliquely. The tourist may occasionally
catch sight of a shepherd boy or girl with goats or sheep upon the
bare or wooded rocks, but his feeling will be one of deep loneliness.
He will see ravens and hawks about the crags, and about the river half
covered in summer with floating pond-weed, watercress, and the broad
leaves of the yellow lily, he will notice many a water-ouzel bobbing
with white breast, water-hens gliding from bank to bank, merry bands
of divers, and the brilliant blue gleam of the passing kingfisher,
which here is allowed to fish in peace, like the otter.

The Gouffre de St. Sauveur has its legend. It is said that when the
church of St. Sauveur, on the neighbouring hill, was in imminent
danger at the time of the Revolution, the bells were thrown into the
pool so that they should not fall into the hands of the enemy.
Imaginative people fancy that they can sometimes hear them ringing at
the bottom of the water.

After leaving the pool--now very sombre in the shadow of the wooded
hill--I crossed a ridge separating me from the Gouffre de Cabouy, out
of which flows a tributary of the Ouysse. Thence I reached the deep
and singularly savage gorge of the Alzou, which brought me to
Roc-Amadour, when the after-light of sunset was lingering rosily upon
the naked crags.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rocks reach far overhead, dazzlingly white where the sunbeams strike
them, and below is a green line of narrow valley. A tinkling of bells
comes from the stony sides of the gorge, where sheep are browsing the
scant herbage and young shoots of southern-wood; and from the curving
fillet of meadow, where the grass seems to grow while the eye watches
it, rises the shrill little song of the stream hurrying over its
yellow bed, which may be dry again to-morrow. This Alzou is no more to
be depended upon than a coquette. After a period of drought, a storm
that has passed away hours ago will cause it suddenly to come hissing
down over the dry stones; but the next day no trace of the flow may be
found save a few pools. Or it may grow to a torrent, even a river,
that in its wild career scoffs at banks, and spreads devastation
through the valley.

It is April, and the nightingales, the swallows, the flowers, the
bees, and the kids, whose trembling voices are heard all about the
rocks, tell me that the spring has come. I cannot rest in my cottage
on the side of the gorge, not even on the balcony that seems to hang
in the air over the depth; the sounds from the valley, especially
those that the imagination hears, are too enticing.

Upon a high ledge of rock to which I have climbed, not without some
unpleasant qualms, I stretch myself out upon a strip of short turf
sprinkled with the flowers of the white rock-rose and bordered with
candy-tuft, and try to drive out of mind the only disagreeable thought
I have at this moment--that of getting down to the path, where I was
safe. The worst part of climbing precipitous places is not the going
up, but the coming down. Not a human being or dwelling is in sight, so
that I can contemplate the wildness of the scene to my mind's content.
But a very hoarse voice not far above tells me that I am not alone. A
raven perched upon a jutting piece of rock, that curiously resembles
some monstrous animal, is watching me, and he looks a very crafty old
bird who could speak either French or English if he liked. Presently
he flaps heavily off to the opposite side of the gorge, and fetches
his wife. They fly over me almost within gunshot, going round and
round, expressing an opinion or sentiment with an occasional croak,
but apparently quite willing to make their dinner-hour suit my
convenience. Do they suppose that I have really taken the trouble to
climb up here to die out of the world's way and the sight of my
fellow-creatures, like that very unearthly poet whose story Shelley
has written? Do they think that they are going to make a hearty meal
upon me this evening or to-morrow morning? I remain quite still,
pleased at the thought of cheating the greedy, croaking scavengers of
Nature, and hoping that they will grow bold enough to settle at length
somewhere near me. But they are too suspicious; perhaps with their
superior sight they note the blinking of my eyes as I look upwards at
the dazzling sky, or instinct may tell them that I am not lying down
after the manner of a dying animal. Their patience is more than a
match for mine, and so I come down from my ledge and make my way back
to my cottage before the pink blush of evening has faded from the
rocks.

When the angelus has sounded from the ancient sanctuary, and all the
forms of the valley are dim in the dusk, the silence is broken again
by a very quiet little bell, which might be called the fairies'
angelus if it did not keep ringing all through the spring and summer
nights. It is like a treble note of the piano softly touched. It
steals up from amongst the flags, hyacinths, and box-bushes of the
neglected little garden which I call mine, terraced upon the side of
the gorge just beneath the balcony. Now, from all the terraced gardens
planted with fruit-trees, comes the same sound of low, clear notes,
some a little higher than others, but all in the treble, feebly struck
by unseen musicians. How sweetly this tinkling rises from the earth,
that trembles with the bursting of seeds and the shooting of stems in
the first warm nights of spring! And to think that the musicians
should be toads--yes, toads--the most despised and the most unjustly
treated of creatures!

This cottage is at Roc-Amadour, and before writing about the place I
cannot do better than go down to the level of the stream, and look up
at the amazing cluster of buildings clinging to the rocks on one side
of the gorge, while the old walls are whitened by the pale brilliancy
of the moon. Above the roofs of all the houses is a mass of masonry,
vast and heavy, pierced by narrow Romanesque windows--a building
uncouth and monstrous, like the surrounding crags. It stands upon a
ledge of the cliff, partly in the hollow of the rock, which, indeed,
forms its innermost wall. Higher still a great cross shows against the
sky, and near to it, upon the edge of the precipice, are the ramparts
of a mediaeval fortress, now combined with a modern building, which is
the residence of the clergy attached to the sanctuary of Notre Dame de
Roc-Amadour.

[Illustration: ROC-AMADOUR.]

The sanctuary--it is inside the massive pile under the beetling rock,
and over the roofs of the houses--explains why men in far-distant
times had the strange notion of gathering together and constructing
dwellings upon a spot where Nature must have offered the harshest
opposition to such a project. The chosen site was not only
precipitous, but lay in the midst of a calcareous desert, where no
stream nor spring of water could be relied upon for six months in the
year, and where the only soil that was not absolutely unproductive was
covered with dense forest infested by wolves.[*] And yet, in course of
time, there grew up upon these forbidding rocks, in the midst of this
desert, a little town that obtained a wide celebrity, and was even
fortified, as the five ruinous gateways, with towers along the line of
the single street, prove even now, notwithstanding the deplorable
recklessness with which the structures of the ancient burg have been
degraded or demolished during the last half-century. Nothing is more
certain than that the origin of Roc-Amadour, and the cause of its
development, were religious. It was called into existence by pilgrims;
it grew with the growth of pilgrimages, and if it were not for
pilgrims at the present day half the houses now occupied would be
allowed to fall into ruin. It is impossible to look at it without
wonder, either in the daylight or the moonlight. It appears to have
been wrenched out of the known order of human works--the result of
common motives--and however often Roc-Amadour may suddenly meet the
eye upon turning the gorge, the picture never fails to be surprising.
It has really the air of a holy place, which many others famed for
holiness have not.

  [*] Robert du Mont, in his supplement to Sigibert's Chronicles,
     wrote, more than five hundred years ago, of Roc-Amadour: 'Est
     locus in Cadurcensi pago montaneis et horribile solitudine
     circumdatus.'

The founder of the sanctuary was a hermit, whose contemplative spirit
led him to this savage and uninhabited valley, whose name, in the
early Christian ages, was _Vallis tenebrosa_, but in which Nature had
fashioned numerous caverns, more or less tempting to an anchorite. He
is called Amator--_Amator rupis_--by the Latin chroniclers--a name
that, with the spread of the Romance language, would easily have
become corrupted to Amadour by the people. According to the legend,
however, which for an uncertain number of centuries has obtained
general credence in the Quercy and the Bas-Limousin, and which in
these days is much upheld by the clergy, although a learned
Jesuit--the Pere Caillau--who sifted all the annals relating to
Roc-Amadour felt compelled to treat it as a pious invention, the
hermit Amator or Amadour was no other than Zaccheus, who climbed into
the sycamore. The legend further says that he was the husband of St.
Veronica, and that, after the crucifixion, they left the Holy Land in
a vessel which eventually landed them on the western coast of Gaul,
not far from the present city of Bordeaux. They became associated with
the mission of St. Martial, the first Bishop of Limoges, and at a
later period Zaccheus, hearing of a rocky solitude in Aquitania, a
little to the south of the Dordogne, abandoned to wild beasts,
proceeded thither, and chose a cavern in the escarped side of a cliff
for his hermitage. Here, meditating upon the merits of the Mother of
Christ, he became one of her most devoted servants in that age, and
during his life he caused a small chapel to be raised to her upon the
rock near his cavern, which was consecrated by St. Martial. All this
is open to controversy, but what is undoubtedly true is that one of
the earliest sanctuaries of Europe associated with the name of Mary
was at Roc-Amadour.

It is recorded that Roland, passing through the Quercy in the year 778
with his uncle, Charlemagne, made a point of stopping at Roc-Amadour
for the purpose of 'offering to the most holy Virgin a gift of silver
of the same weight as his bracmar, or sword.' After his death, if
Duplex and local tradition are to be trusted, this sword was brought
to Roc-Amadour, and the curved rusty blade of crushing weight which is
now to be seen hanging to a wall is said to be a faithful copy of the
famous Durandel, which is supposed to have been stolen by the
Huguenots when they pillaged the church and burnt the remains of St.
Amadour.

That in the twelfth century the fame of Roc-Amadour as a place of
pilgrimage was established we have very good evidence in the fact that
one of the pilgrims to the sanctuary in 1170 was Henry II. of England.
He had fallen seriously ill at Mote-Gercei, and believing that he had
been restored to health through the intercession of the Virgin, he set
out for the 'Dark Valley' in fulfilment of a vow that he had made to
her; but as this journey into the Quercy brought him very near the
territory of his enemies, the annalists tell us that he was
accompanied by a great multitude of infantry and cavalry, as though he
were marching to battle. But he injured no one, and gave abundant alms
to the poor. Thirteen years later, the King's rebellious son, Henry,
Court Mantel, pillaged the sanctuary of its treasure in order to pay
his ruffianly soldiers. This memorable sacrilege had much to do with
the insurmountable antipathy of the Quercynois for the English.

I have before me an old and now exceedingly rare little book on
Roc-Amadour, which was written by the Jesuit Odo de Gissey, and
published at Tulle in 1666. In this, Court Mantel's exploit is spoken
of as follows:

'Les guerres d'entre nos Rois tres Chretiens et les Anglais en ce
Royaume de France guerroyant ruinerent en quelque facon Roc-Amadour;
mais plus que tous Henri III., Roi d'Angleterre, ingrat des graces que
son pere Henri II. y avait recues, en depit de son pere qui
affectionnait cette Eglise, son avarice le poussant, pilla cet
oratoire et enleva les plaques qui couvraient le corps de S. Amadour
et emporta ce qui etait de la Tresorerie; mais Dieu qui ne laisse rien
impuni chatia le sacrilege de cet impie Prince par une mort
malheureuse. De quoi lise qui voudra Roger de Houedan, historien
Anglais en la 2 partie de ses Annales.'

There are early records of miracles wrought at Roc-Amadour. Gauthier
de Coinsy, a monk and poet born at Amiens in 1177, has left a poem
telling how the troubadour, Pierre de Sygelard, singing the praises of
the Virgin in her chapel at Roc-Amadour to the accompaniment of his
_vielle_ (hurdy-gurdy), begged of her as a miraculous sign to let one
of her candles come down from her altar. According to the poem, the
candle came down, and stood upon the musical instrument, to the horror
and disgust of a monk who was looking on, and who saw no miracle in
the matter, but wicked enchantment. He put the candle back
indignantly, but when the minstrel sang and played it came down as
before. The movement was repeated again before the monk would believe
that the miracle was genuine. The poem, which is in the Northern
dialect, and is marked throughout by a charming _naivete_, commences
with a eulogium of the Virgin:

    'La douce mere du Createur
    A l'eglise a Rochemadour
    Fait tants miracles, tants hauts faits,
    C'uns moultes biax livres en est faits.'

The huge, inartistic, but imposing block of masonry that appears from
a little distance to be clinging, after the manner of a swallow's
nest, to the precipitous face of the rock, and which is reached from
below by more than 200 steps in venerable dilapidation[*], contains
the church of St. Sauveur, the chapel of the Virgin, called the
Miraculous Chapel, and the chapel of St. Amadour, all distinct. The
last-named is a little crypt, and the Miraculous Chapel conveys the
impression of being likewise one, for it is partly under the
overleaning rock, the rugged surface of which, blackened by the smoke
of the countless tapers which have been burnt there in the course of
ages, is seen without any facing of masonry.

  [*] Since the foregoing was written the old slabs have been turned
     round, and the steps been made to look quite new.

If by looking at certain details of this composite structure one could
shut off the surroundings from the eye, the mind might feed without
any hindrance upon the ideas of old piety and the fervour of souls
who, when Europe was like a troubled and forlorn sea, sought the
quietude and safety of these rocks, lifted far above the raging surf.
But the hindrance is found on every side. The sense of artistic
fitness is wounded by incongruities of architectural style, of ideas
which meet but do not marry. The brazen altar, in the Miraculous
Chapel was well enough at the Paris Exhibition of 1889, where it could
be admired as a piece of elaborate brass work, but at Roc-Amadour it
is a direct challenge to the spirit of the spot. Then again, late
Gothic architecture has been grafted upon the early Romanesque. Those
who restored the building after it had been reduced to a ruin by the
Huguenots in 1562 set the example of bad taste. The revolutionists of
1793 having in their turn wrought their fury upon it, the work of
restoration was again undertaken during the last half-century, but the
opportunity of correcting the mistake of the previous renovators was
lost. The piece of Romanesque architecture whose character has been
best preserved is the detached chapel of St. Michael, raised like a
pigeon-house against the rock; but even this has been carefully
scraped on the outside to make it correspond as nearly as possible to
some adjacent work of recent construction.

The ancient treasure of Roc-Amadour has been scattered or melted down,
but the image of the Virgin and Child, which according to the local
tradition was carved out of the trunk of a tree by St. Amadour
himself, is still to be seen over the altar in the Miraculous Chapel.
It is probably 800 years old, and it may be older. There is no record
to help hypothesis with regard to its antiquity, for since the
pilgrimage originated it appears to have been an object of veneration,
and the commencement of the pilgrimage is lost in the dimness of the
past. Like the statue of the Virgin at Le Puy, it is as black as
ebony, but this is the effect of age, and the smoke of incense and
candles. The antiquity of the image is, moreover, proved by the
artistic treatment. The Child is crowned and rests upon the Virgin's
knee; she does not touch him with her hands. This is in accordance
with the early Christian sentiment, which dwells upon the kingship of
the Child as distinguished from the later mediaeval feeling, which
rests without fear upon the Virgin's maternal love and makes her clasp
the Infant fondly to her breast.

The 'miraculous bell' of Roc-Amadour has not rung since 1551, but it
may do so any day or night, for it is still suspended to the vault of
the Miraculous Chapel. It is of iron, and was beaten into shape with
the hammer--facts which, together with its form, are regarded as
certain evidence of its antiquity. The first time that it is said to
have rung by its own movement was in 1385, and three days afterwards,
according to Odo de Gissey, the phenomenon was repeated during the
celebration of the Mass. All those who were present bore testimony to
the fact upon oath before the apostolic notary.

Very early in the Middle Ages the faith spread among mariners, and
others exposed to the dangers of the sea, that the Lady of Roc-Amadour
had great power to help them when in distress. Hugues Farsit, Canon of
Laon, wrote a treatise in 1140, 'De miraculis Beatae Virginis rupis
Amatoris,' wherein he speaks of her as the 'Star of the Sea,' and the
hymn 'Ave maris stella' is one of those most frequently sung in these
days by the pilgrims at Roc-Amadour. A statement, written and signed
by a Breton pilgrim in 1534, shows how widely this particular devotion
had then spread among those who trusted their lives to the uncertain
sea:

'I, Louis Le Baille, merchant of the town of Pontscorf, on the river
Elle, in the diocese of Vannes, declare with truth that, returning
from a voyage to Scotland the 13th of the month of February, 1534, at
about ten o'clock at night, we were overtaken by such a violent storm
that the waves covered the vessel, in which were twenty-six persons,
and we went to the bottom. During the voyage somebody said to me: "Let
us recommend ourselves to God and to the Virgin Mary of Roc-Amadour.
Let us put her name upon this spar and trust ourselves to the care of
this good Lady." He who gave me this good counsel and myself fastened
ourselves to the spar with a rope. The tempest carried us away, but in
so fortunate a manner that the next day we found ourselves on the
coast of Bayonne. Half dead, we landed by the grace of God and the aid
of His pitiful mother, Notre Dame de Roc-Amadour. I have come here out
of gratitude for this blessing, and have accomplished the journey in
fulfilment of my vow to her, in proof of which, I have signed here
with my hand.--Louis BAILLE.'

Such streams of pilgrims crossed the country from various directions,
moving towards the sanctuary in the Haut-Quercy, that inns or 'halts'
were called into existence on the principal lines of route, and
lanterns were set up at night for the guidance of the wanderers. The
last halt was close to Roc-Amadour, at a spot still called the
_Hospitalet_. Here were religious, who bound up the pilgrims' bleeding
feet, and provided them with food before they descended to the burg
and completed the last part of their pilgrimage--the ascent of the
steps--upon their knees. The _sportelle_, or badge of Notre Dame de
Roc-Amadour, ensured the wearer against interference or ill-treatment
on his journey. It is acknowledged that the English respected it even
in time of war. At the Great Pardon of Roc-Amadour, in 1546, so great
was the crowd of pilgrims, who had come from all parts, that many
persons were suffocated. The innkeepers' tents gave the surrounding
country the appearance of a vast camp. Sixteen years later, when
Roc-Amadour fell into the hands of the Huguenots, and the religious
buildings were pillaged and partly destroyed, the pilgrimage received
a blow from which it never quite recovered. It ceased completely at
the Revolution, but has since been revived, and some thousand genuine
pilgrims, chiefly of the peasant class, now visit Roc-Amadour every
year.

For nearly 300 years the history of the Quercy and Roc-Amadour was
intimately associated with that of England. Henry II. did not at first
claim the Quercy as a part of Eleanor's actual possessions in
Aquitaine; but he claimed homage from the Count of Toulouse, who was
then suzerain of the Count of Quercy. Homage being refused, Henry
invaded the county, captured Cahors, where he left Becket with a
garrison, and thence proceeded to reduce the other strongholds.
Roc-Amadour appears to have offered little if any resistance. The
Quercy was formally made over to the English in 1191 by the treaty
signed by Philip Augustus and Richard Coeur-de-Lion; but the aged
Raymond V. of Toulouse protested, and the Quercynois still more
loudly. These descendants of the Cadurci found it very difficult to
submit to English rule. Unlike the Gascons, who became thoroughly
English during those three centuries, and were so loath to change
their rulers again that they fought for the King of England to the
last, the Quercynois were never reconciled to the Plantagenets, but
were ever ready to seize an opportunity of rebelling against them. It
is well known that Richard Coeur-de-Lion lost his life at the hand of
a nobleman of the Quercy. While Guyenne was distracted by the family
quarrel of the first Plantagenets, the troubadour Bertrand de Born by
his gift of words so stirred up the patriotic and martial ardour of
the Aquitanians that a league was formed against the English, which
included Talleyrand, Count of Perigord, Guilhem (or Fortanier) de
Gourdon, a powerful lord of the Quercy, De Montfort, the Viscounts of
Turenne and Ventadour. These nobles swore upon the Gospels to remain
united and faithful to the cause of Aquitaine; but Richard, partly by
feats of war and partly by diplomacy, in which it is said the argument
of money had no inconsiderable share, broke up the league, and
Bertrand de Born, being abandoned, fell into the Plantagenet's hands.
But he was pardoned, probably because Richard was a troubadour himself
in his leisure moments, and had a fellow-feeling for all who loved the
'gai scavoir.' Meanwhile, the Lord of Gourdon was not to be gained
over by fair words or bribes, and Richard besieged his castle, some
ruins of which may still be seen on the rock that overhangs the little
town of Gourdon in the Quercy. The fortress was taken, and Richard in
his fury caused the stern old man who defended it and two of his sons
to be put to death. But there was a third son, Bertrand de Gourdon,
who, seeking an opportunity of avenging his father and brothers,
joined the garrison of the castle of Chalus in the Limousin, which
Richard soon afterwards besieged. He aimed the bolt or the arrow which
brought Richard's stormy life to a close. Although forgiven by the
dying Coeur-de-Lion, Bertrand was flayed alive by the Brabancons who
were in the English army. He left no descendants, but his collaterals
long afterwards bore the name of Richard in memory of Bertrand's
vengeance.

A member of a learned society at Cahors has sought to prove that
Gourdon in the Quercy is the place where the family of General Gordon
of Khartoum fame had its origin. It is true that the name of this town
in all old charts is spelt Gordon; but, inasmuch as it is a compound
of two Celtic words meaning raven's rock, it might as feasibly have
been handed down by the Gaelic Scotch as by the Cadurcians.

The Plantagenets came to be termed 'the devil's race' by the people of
Guyenne. This may have originated in a saying attributed to Richard
himself in Aquitaine: 'It is customary in our family for the sons to
hate their father. We come from the devil, and we shall return to the
devil.'

In 1368 the English, having again to reduce the Quercy, laid siege to
Roc-Amadour. The burghers held out only for a short time, and the
place being surrendered, Perducas d'Albret was left as governor with a
garrison of Gascons. Froissart quaintly describes this brief siege.
Shortly before the army showed itself in the narrow valley of the
Alzou, the towns of Fons and Gavache had capitulated, the inhabitants
having sworn that they would remain English ever afterwards. 'But they
lied,' observes Froissart. Arriving under the walls of Roc-Amadour,
which were raised upon the lower rocks, the English advanced at once
to the assault. 'La eut je vous dy moult grant assaust et dur.' It
lasted a whole day, with loss on both sides; but when the evening came
the English entrenched themselves in the valley with the intention of
renewing the assault on the morrow. That night, however, the consuls
and burghers of Roc-Amadour took council of one another, and it was
unanimously agreed that the English had shown great 'force and virtue'
during the day. Then the wisest among them urged that the place could
not hold out long against such an enemy, and that if it was taken by
force they, the burghers, would be all hanged, and the town burnt
without mercy. It was, therefore, decided to surrender the town the
next day. This was accordingly done, and the burghers solemnly swore
that they would be 'good English' ever afterwards. For their penance
they undertook to send fifty mules laden with provisions to accompany
the English army on its march for fifteen days. The fact that the
burghers owned fifty mules in the fourteenth century shows how much
richer they were then, for now they can scarcely boast half as many
donkeys, although these beasts do most of the carrying, and even the
ploughing.

It is difficult now to find a trace of the wall which defended the
burg on the side of the valley; but here, not far above the bed of the
Alzou, are some ruins of the castle where Henry II. stayed, and which
the inhabitants still associate with his name. It is improbable that
he built it; it is more reasonable to suppose that it existed before
his marriage with Eleanor in 1152. His son, 'Short Mantle,' also used
it when he came to Roc-Amadour, and behaved, as an old writer
expresses it, 'like a ferocious beast.' Some ruined Gothic archways
may still be seen from the valley, the upper stones yellow with
rampant wallflowers in the early spring. The older inhabitants speak
of the high walls, the finely-sculptured details, etc., which they
remember; and, indeed, it is not very long ago that the ancient castle
was sold for a paltry sum, to be used as building material. The only
part of the interior preserved is what was once the chapel. It is
vaulted and groined, and the old vats and casks heaped up in it show
that it was long used for wine-making, before the phylloxera destroyed
the vineyards that once covered the sides of the stony hills. A little
below this castle is a well, with an extraordinary circumference, said
to have been sunk by the English, and always called by the people 'Le
puit des Anglais.' It is 100 feet deep, and those who made it had to
work thirty feet through solid rock.

       *       *       *       *       *

After wandering and loitering by rivers too well fed by the mountains
to dry completely up like the perfidious little Alzou, I have returned
to Roc-Amadour, my headquarters, the summer being far advanced. The
wallflowers no longer deck the old towers and gateways with their
yellow bloom, and scent the morning and evening air with their
fragrance; the countless flags upon the rocky shelves no longer flaunt
their splendid blue and purple, tempting the flower-gatherer to risk a
broken neck; the poet's narcissus and the tall asphodel alike are
gone; so are all the flowers of spring. The wild vine that clambers
over the blackthorn, the maple and the hazel, all down the valley
towards the Dordogne, shows here and there a crimson leaf; and the
little path is fringed with high marjoram, whose blossoms revel amidst
the hot stones, and seem to drink the wine of their life from the
fiery sunbeams. Upon the burning banks of broken rock--gray wastes
sprinkled with small spurges and tufts of the fragrant southernwood,
now opening its mean little flowers--multitudes of flying grasshoppers
flutter, most of them with scarlet wings, and one marvels how they can
keep themselves from being baked quite dry where every stone is hot.
The lizards, which spend most of their time in the grasshoppers'
company, appear equally capable of resisting fire. In the bed of the
Alzou a species of brassica has had time since the last flood to grow
up from the seed, and to spread its dark verdure in broad patches over
the dry sand and pebbles. The ravens are gone--to Auvergne, so it is
said, because they do not like hot weather. The hawks are less
difficult to please on the score of climate; they remain here all the
year round, piercing the air with their melancholy cries.

I needed quiet for writing, and could not get it. Of all boons this is
the most difficult to find in France. It can be had in Paris, where it
is easy to live shut off from the world, hearing nothing save the
monotonous rumble of life in the streets; but let no one talk to me
about the blessed quietude of the country in France, unless it be that
of the bare moor or mountain or desolate seashore. In villages there
is no escape from the clatter of tongues until everybody, excepting
yourself, is asleep. The houses are so built that wherever you may
take refuge you are compelled to hear the conversation that is going
on in any part of them. In the South the necessity of listening
becomes really terrible. The men roar, and the women shriek, in their
ordinary talk. A complete stranger to such ways might easily suppose
that they were engaged in a wordy battle of alarming ferocity, when
they are merely discussing the pig's measles, or the case of a cow
that strayed into a field of lucern, and was found the next morning
like a balloon. It is hard for a person who needs to be quiet at times
to live with such people without giving the Recording Angel a great
deal of disagreeable work.

I would not have believed that so small a place as Roc-Amadour, and
such a holy one, could have been so noisy if my own experience had not
informed me on this subject. Every morning at five the tailor who did
duty as policeman and crier came with his drum, and, stationing
himself by the town pump, which was just in front of my cottage, awoke
the echoes of the gorge with a long and furious _tambourinade_. While
the women, in answer to this signal, were coming from all directions,
carrying buckets in their hands, or copper water-pots on their heads,
he unchained the pump-handle. Now for the next two hours the strident
cries of the exasperated pump, and the screaming gabble of many
tongues, all refreshed by slumber and eager for exercise, made such a
diabolic tumult and discord as to throw even the braying of the
donkeys into the minor key. Of course, sleep under such circumstances
would have been miraculous; but, then, no one had any right to sleep
when the rocks were breaking again into flame, and the mists which
filled the gorge by night were folding up their tents. I therefore
accepted this noise as if it had been intended for my good, and the
crowd in front of the pump was always an amusing picture of human
life. It was at its best on Sunday, for then the tailor--who also did
a little shaving between whiles--had put on his fine braided official
coat, as well as his sword and best _kepi_. (On very grand days he
wore his cocked hat, and was then quite irresistibly beautiful.) He
had to look after the women as well as the water. The latter was
precious, and it was necessary to protect it in the interest of the
community. Then the pump was parsimonious, and all the women being
impatient to get their allowance and go, it was needful that someone
in authority should stand by to decide questions of disputed priority,
and to nip quarrels in the bud which might otherwise lead to a fight.
Poor man! how those women worried him every morning with their
_badinage_, and how glad he was to chain up the pump-handle and turn
the key!

But this was only the opening act of the day's comedy, or rather the
_lever de rideau_. The little square by the old gateway, whose
immediate neighbourhood lent a mediaeval charm to my cottage, was the
centre of gossip and idling. I did not think of this when I pitched my
tent, so to speak, in the shadow of the old masonry. Knowing full well
that the noise of tongues is one of the chief torments of my life, I
am always leaving it out of my calculations, and paying the same bill
for my folly over and over again. But then I know also that in
provincial France, unless you live in an abandoned ruin upon a rock,
it is well-nigh impossible to obtain the quietude which the literary
man, when he has it not, imagines to be closely allied to the peace
that passeth all understanding. The square served many purposes,
except mine. The women used it as a convenient place for steaming
their linen. This, fashioned into the shape of a huge sugar-loaf, with
a hollow centre, stood in a great open caldron upon a tripod over a
wood-fire. At night the lurid flames and the grouped figures,
illuminated by the glare, were picturesque; but in the daytime the
charm of these gatherings was chiefly conversational. Then the
children made the square their playground, or were driven into it
because it was the safest place for them, and every Sunday afternoon
the young men of Roc-Amadour met there to play at skittles.

In quest of peace, I was driven at first into the loft of the inn, of
which the cottage was a dependency. Here the vocal music of the
inhabitants was somewhat muffled, but the opportunities for studying
natural history were rather excessive. A swarm of bees had established
themselves in a corner where they could not be dislodged, and they had
a way of crawling over the floor that kept my expectations constantly
raised. The maize grown upon the small farm having been stored here
from time immemorial, the rats had learnt from tradition and
experience to consider this loft as their Land of Goshen. When I took
up my quarters among them they were annoyed, and also puzzled. They
could not understand why I remained there so long and so quiet; but at
length they lost patience and gave up the riddle. Then their impudence
became unbounded; they helped themselves to the maize whenever they
felt disposed to do so, and stared at me with the utmost effrontery as
they sat upon their haunches nibbling; they ran races under the tiles
and held pitched battles upon the rafters. Talking one day to the
proprietor of the house about his rats and other live stock, I tried
to excite and distress him by describing the depredation that went on
day and night in the loft. But it was with a calm bordering on
satisfaction that he listened to my story. Then he told me that the
rats ate about two sacks of maize every year.

'And you do not put it elsewhere?' 'Non pas! I leave it here for
them.'

'For the rats?'

'Certainly, for the rats. If I did not give them plenty of maize they
would eat a hundred francs' worth of linen in a single winter. It is
an economy to feed them.'

And there were about a dozen string-tailed cats about the place that
never ventured into the loft. They must have been either afraid or too
lazy to attack the rats in their stronghold. A man who could accept a
plague of rodents in this philosophical spirit could not be otherwise
than mild in his dealings with all animals, including men. My old
friend liked to let every creature live and enjoy existence. He became
so fond of his pigs that it grieved him sorely to have one killed.
Much domestic diplomacy had to be used before the fatal order could be
wrung from him. He would have gone on fattening the beast for ever had
he been allowed, soothing his conscience over the waste with the vague
hope that this pig of exceptional loveliness and vigour would grow to
the size of a donkey if it were permitted to take its time. He never
worried his _metayer_ over money matters, or insisted upon seeing that
everything was equally divided. Notwithstanding, that he had been made
to smart all his life for his trustfulness and indolent good-nature,
experience had taught him nothing of this world's wisdom. No beggar,
although known to be a worthless rascal, ever asked him for a piece of
bread or a night's lodging in his barn without obtaining it. The old
man would lock his ragged guest up for the night, and before letting
him out in the morning would often carry some soup to him--stealthily,
however, so as not to be observed. As he was always ready to give, and
hated every harsh measure, it was to his wood that the unscrupulous
went in winter, when they wanted fuel. Sometimes an informer would say
to him: 'M---- So-and-so is cutting down your wood.' 'Oh, bast! _le
pauvre_. It is cold weather!' was the reply that he would be most
likely to make. His good qualities would have ruined him had not
destiny with great discernment and charity nailed him to his little
patrimony, where he was comparatively safe.

The bees in the loft were instructive and the rats amusing, but the
fleas were neither the one nor the other--they were merely exciting.
And so it came to pass that I forsook the place, and by climbing a
little staircase cut in the rock, against which the house was built,
reached a cavern far above the roof and found at last my ideal
writing-place upon the ledge in front of it, where the mallow and the
crane's-bill crept over a patch of turf. Here the voices of the noisy
little world below were sufficiently toned down by distance. The
noisiest creatures up here were the jackdaws, which were constantly
flying in and out of the holes in the church wall that rose above me
from another and wider ledge of rock. A pair of sooty-looking
rock-swallows that had made their nest in the roof of the cavern were
much irritated by my presence, but, like the rats, they became
reconciled to it. The little martins, always trustful, never hesitated
from the first to fly into the cave and drink from the dripping water.
When the dusk came on, the bats, which had been hanging by their
winged heels all day in dusky holes and corners, fluttered out one
after another, and went zigzagging until they were lost to sight over
the old stone roofs on which the moss had blackened.

A little before the bats came out was the time when to do aught else
but let the sight feast upon the beauty of the rocky little world
bounded by the walls of the narrow gorge would have been literally to
waste the golden moments. Then it was that the naked crags, which
caught the almost level rays of the setting sun, grew brighter and
more brilliantly coruscating, until they seemed ready to melt from the
intensity of their own heat; then this fiery golden colour would
slowly fade and wane into misty purple tones, which lingered long when
there was no more sun. Why did it linger? All the sky that I could see
was blue, and of deepening tone. But the most wonderful sight was yet
to come, when, while the valley was fast darkening, and along the
banks of the Alzou's dry channel the walnut-trees stood like dark
spectres of uncertain form, those rocks began to glow with fire again
as if a wind had risen suddenly and had fanned their dying embers, and
the luminous bloom that spread over them was not that of the earthly
rose, but of the mystical rose of heaven. What I saw was the
reflection of the after-glow, but the glow in the sky was hidden.
Sometimes, as the rocks were fading again and a star was already
glittering like steel against the dark blue, another flush arose in
the dusk, and a faint redness still rested upon the high crags, when
the owl flew forth with a shriek to hunt along the sides of the gorge.

One morning, as I climbed to my eyrie, I was shocked to see my oblong
writing-table, which I had hoisted up there with considerable
difficulty, in an attitude that my neighbour Decros's donkey
endeavoured to strike in his most agitated moments--it was standing
upon two legs, with the others in the air. The heavy branch of a large
fig-tree that had been flourishing for many years upon the overhanging
rock far above had come down upon the very spot where I was accustomed
to sit, and thus the strange antics of the table were accounted for.
From that day the thought of other things above, such as loose rocks,
which might also have conceived an antipathy for the table, and might
not be so considerate towards me as the fig-tree, weakened my
attachment to my ideal writing-place, for the discovery of which I was
indebted to the indefatigable tongues of the women of Roc-Amadour.

The mention of my neighbour's donkey recalls to mind an interesting
religious ceremony in which that amiable but emotional beast figured
with much distinction. Once every year all the animals at Roc-Amadour
that are worth blessing are assembled on the plain near the Hospitalet
to receive the benediction of the Church. The ceremony is called _La
benediction des betes_. The animals are chiefly goats, sheep, donkeys,
and mules. They are sprinkled with holy water, and prayers are said,
so that they may increase and multiply or prosper in any other way
that their owners may desire. As the meeting of the beasts took place
very early in the morning, I reached the scene just as it was breaking
up, and the congregation was dispersing in various directions. I met
Decros coming down the hill with his donkey, and saw by the expression
of his lantern jaws--he never laughed outright--that something had
amused him very much.

'So you have been to the Blessing of the Beasts? said I.

'_He_ has been,' replied the man, pointing to the ass, and not wishing
to be confounded with the _betes_ himself.

The donkey stuck his long ears forward, which meant, 'Yes, I have,'
and there was a deal of humour in the expression.

'And how did he behave?'

'Beautifully; he sang the whole time. The men laughed, but the women
said, "Take the beast away!" "No, I won't," said" _Il chante la
benediction_."'

September brought the retreat, and the great pilgrimage, which lasts
eight days. The first visitors to arrive were the beggars and small
vendors of _objets de piete_. Some came in little carts, which looked
as if they had been made at home out of grocers' boxes, and to which
dogs were harnessed. At their approach all the Roc-Amadour dogs barked
bravely, just as in the old days when the song was written of the
'beggars coming to town.' Others trudged in with their bundles upon
their backs, hobbling, hungry and thirsty, but eager for the fray.
Some in a larger way of business came in all sorts of vehicles, and a
bazaar man arrived in a caravan of his own. Then followed the crowd of
genuine pilgrims, nearly all of them peasants, humbly clad, but with
money in their pockets which they were determined not to spend
foolishly upon meat, drink, and lodging, for the good of their souls
was uppermost in their minds, and the length of their stay would
depend upon their success in making the money last. By far the greater
number were women, and the many bent backs and withered faces among
them were a pretty safe sign that they had not all come to implore the
aid of the Virgin in that special form of domestic trouble from which
so many thousands have sought relief century after century in her
sanctuary of Roc-Amadour.

The plain white linen coif--very ugly, but delightfully
primitive--worn by a large proportion of these peasants showed that
they had crossed the Dordogne from the Bas-Limousin. Many had come all
the way on foot, taking a couple of days or more for the journey, and
a few had trudged over the hot roads and stony _causses_[*] barefoot,
just like pilgrims of the Middle Ages.

  [*] This Languedocian word, which has come to be generally used in
     describing the limestone uplands, as distinguished from the
     valleys and gorges of a very extensive district of Southern
     France, is said to be a corruption of _calx_.

Indeed, these people were essentially the same in all social and
mental characteristics as their predecessors of five or seven
centuries ago; their faith was the same, their daily habits were the
same, their language was the same, and their mode of dress, as far
as the women were concerned, had scarcely changed. They came down
the narrow street and under the old crumbling gateways in a
continuous stream, holding their rosaries in their hands, together
with their baskets and bundles, and praying aloud, even before they
reached the foot of the steps. Arriving there, they dropped down
upon their knees, and commenced the arduous ascent, interrupted by
two hundred genuflexions, during which they repeated an _Ave Maria_
and a special invocation to Notre Dame de Roc-Amadour. Although the
stranger belonging to the outer world--so different in every way
from that of these simple people--with his mind coloured by
particular prejudices, habits of thought, religious or philosophical
reasoning, may feel out of sympathy with such pilgrims, he cannot
but recognise their sincerity and the serene fulness of their faith.

Above all the pious murmuring rise the harsh voices of those who have
come to sell, and who, putting no restraint upon their eagerness to
get money, thrust their rosaries and medals almost in the pilgrims'
faces. Beggars squatting or lying against the wall on either side of
the steps exhibit the bare stump of a leg that wofully needs washing,
a withered arm, or the ravages of some incurable and gnawing disease.
Yet are they all terribly energetic, wailing forth prayers almost
incessantly, or screaming spasmodically an appeal to charity, and
adding to the dreadful din by jingling coppers in tin cups. In the
immediate precincts of the church, where the hurly-burly of piety,
traffic, and mendicity reaches its climax, are the vendors of candles
for the chapel and of food for the pilgrims, whose diet is chiefly
melon and bread. Creysse, by the Dordogne, produces melons in
abundance, which are brought to Roc-Amadour by the cartload, and sold
for two or three sous apiece. And to see these pilgrims devour the
fragrant fruit in the month of September makes one think that if Notre
Dame de Roc-Amadour were not very pitiful the consequences would be
disastrous to many.

There was a humorous beggar on the steps who amused me much, for I
watched him more closely than he supposed. He had something the matter
with his legs--paralyzed, perhaps--but the upper part of his body was
sound enough. With one hand he shook the tin cup, but the other, which
held a short pipe, he kept steadfastly behind his back. Now and again
he turned his face to the wall, as if to drop a tear unseen, but
really to take a discreet pull at the pipe. I think he must have
swallowed the smoke. Then he would face the crowd again, and repeat
his doleful cry:

'De la charite! de la charite! Chretiens, n'oubliez pas le pauvre
estropie! Le bon Dieu vous benira.'

After all, why should not a beggar smoke? If tobacco is a blessing,
why should a man be debarred from it because his legs are paralyzed,
and he is obliged to live on charity?

As one of the first thoughts of every genuine pilgrim to this ancient
sanctuary is to get shrived, the chaplains, who, with their Superior,
are ten in number, have something to do to listen to the story of sins
that is poured into their ears almost in a continuous stream during
the eight days of the retreat. The rush upon the confessionals begins
at five in the morning, and goes on with little intermission all day.
The penitents huddle together like sheep in a snowstorm around each
confessional, so that the foremost who is telling his sins knows that
there is another immediately behind him who, whenever he stops to
reflect, would like to give him a nudge m the back. The peasants,
whether it be that they have never cultivated the habit of whispering,
or whether their zeal be such as to chase from their minds all
considerations of worldly shame and human respect, say what they have
to say without regard to the rows of ears behind them, and what takes
place at these times is almost on a par with the public confessions of
the primitive Church.

It is at night, however, during the retreat that the visitor to
Roc-Amadour will see the strangest sight if he gives himself the
trouble, for then the church of St. Sauveur becomes a _hospice_ where
the weary may find the sleep that refreshes and restores the
faculties after the work of the day, as sung by St. Ambrose. The
church is filled with pilgrims lying upon the chairs, upon the bare
stones that the feet of other pilgrims have worn into hollows,
sitting with their backs against the walls and piers, snoring also in
the confessionals--the most comfortable quarters. Some remain awake
most of the night praying silently or aloud. This is how the
peasantry of the Quercy and the Limousin enter into the spirit of the
September pilgrimage to Roc-Amadour. It is not because they need the
money to pay for accommodation in the inns that they use the church
by night as well as by day, but because they wish to go through their
devotional programme thoroughly. And those who go to the inns often
make one room serve for a family of three or four grown-up persons.
If there vis one person who does not belong to the family, the others
see no harm in admitting him or her; indeed, they think that as
Christians they are almost bound to do so.

On the night following the opening of the retreat, Roc-Amadour is
illuminated, and the spectacle is one that renders the grandest
illuminations in Paris mean and vulgar by comparison. It is not in the
costliness of the display that its splendour lies; it is in what may
almost be termed the zeal with which Nature works with art towards the
same end. Without the rocks and precipices the spectacle would be
commonplace; but the site being what it is, the scene has a strange
and wonderful charm that may be called either fairylike or heavenly,
as the imagination may prefer. The artistic means employed are simple
enough--paper lanterns and little lamps of coloured glass; but what an
effect is produced when chains of fire have been stretched across the
gorge from the summits of the rocks on either side, when the long
succession of zigzags reaching up the cliff, and forming the Way of
the Cross, is also marked out with fire, when the ramparts on the
brink of the precipice are ablaze with coloured lamps, recalling some
old poetical picture of an enchanted castle, and a little to the
right, on the summit of the cliff where the Via Crucis ends at
Calvary, the great wooden cross which French pilgrims carried through
the streets of Jerusalem stands against the calm starlit sky like a
cross of blood-red flame!

A little below the summit of the cliff, from the large cavern which
has been fashioned to represent the Holy Sepulchre, there issues a
brilliant light, together with the sound of many voices singing the
'Tantum ergo.' A faint odour of incense wanders here and there among
the shrubs, and mingles with the fragrance of flowers upon the
terraces. Presently the clergy and the pilgrims come forth, and,
forming a long procession, descend the Way of the Cross; and as the
burning tapers that they carry shine and flash amongst the foliage,
these words, familiar to every pilgrim to Roc-Amadour, sung by
hundreds of voices, may be heard afar off in the dark desolate gorge:

	'Reine puissante, Mere d'Amour,
	    Sois-nous compatissante,
	    O Vierge d'Amadour!'

It is now the vigil of All Souls--the 'Day of the Dead.' No more
pilgrims come to Roc-Amadour. A breeze would send the sapless
walnut-leaves whirling through the air, but there is no breeze; Nature
seems to hold her breath as she thinks of the dead whom she has
gathered to her earthy breast. At sundown the people creep out of
their houses silently and solemnly; they meet at the bottom of the
steps, and when they are joined by the clergy and choirboys, all move
slowly upward, praying for the dead and kneeling upon each step. As
their forms seen sideways show against the dusky sky, they look like
shadows from the ghostly world, and still more so when the rocks on
the other side of the gorge brighten again, as with the blood of the
pomegranate made luminous, and through the air there spreads a
beautiful solemn light that is tenderly yet deeply sad, and which adds
something unearthly, something that cannot be named, to the ascending
figures.

As the dusk deepens to darkness the funereal _glas_ begins to moan
from St. Saviour's Church. Two bells are rung together so as to make
as nearly as possible one clash of sound. At first it is a moan, but
it soon becomes a strident cry with a continuous under-wail. At the
Hospitalet on the hill the bell of the mortuary chapel is also
tolling. It is the bell of the dead who lie there in the stony
burying-ground upon the edge of the wind-blown _causse_, calling upon
the bells of Roc-Amadour to move the living to pity for those who have
left the earth.

As I return to my cottage the dim street is quite deserted, and the
arch of the ruined gateway, so often resounding with the voices that
come from light hearts, is now as dark and silent as a grave. For two
hours the bells continue to cry in the darkness, from the church
overhead and from the chapel by the tombs. I can neither read nor
write, but sit brooding over the fire on the hearth, piling on wood
and sending tall flames and many sparks up the chimney; for that
continuous undercry of the iron tongues, 'Pray for the dead! pray for
the dead!' fills the valley and seems to fill the world. No fireside
feeling can be kindled; it is wasting wood to throw it upon the hearth
to-night, for that doleful wail penetrates everywhere: even the demon
that lurks at the bottom of Pomoyssin must shudder as he hears it.
When at length the bells stop swinging and their vibrations die away,
a screech-owl flies close by the open gallery of the house, which we
call a balcony, and startles me with its ghostly scream.

The day comes again, fair and hopeful. I am waiting for the old
truffle-hunter, with whom I made an appointment for this morning.
Presently I see him coming up the bed of the stream, plodding over the
yellow stones, which have been dry for four months. I recognise him by
his pig, which walks by his side. They are both truffle-hunters, and
have both an interest in the business, as will be seen. The man is
gray and old, with a sharp prominent nose, suggestive of his chief
occupation, and with a bent back--the effect, perhaps, of stooping to
pull the pig's ear in the nick of time should the beast be tempted to
snap up one of the savoury cryptogams. When it is added that he wears
a short blouse and a low, broad-brimmed felt hat, I have described the
appearance of the truffle-hunter. Now, inasmuch as the pig is about to
play the most important part in the morning's work, its portrait
should likewise be drawn. The animal is of a dirty-white colour, like
all pigs in this part of France, and is utterly devoid of grace and
elegance. It is, in fact, an extremely ugly beast, with an arched back
and a very long turned-up nose; but it is four years old, and is
accounted 'serious.' Like all other pigs used for truffle-hunting, it
is of the female sex. The animal has been carefully educated; it wears
a leather collar as a mark of distinction, and is allowed the same
liberty as a dog.

We climb the rocky side of the gorge, which is hot work, for the south
wind is blowing, and the sun is blazing in a blue sky. The walnuts by
the line of the stream are changing colour, and the maples are already
fiery; but otherwise there are few signs of autumn. On reaching the
plateau we come at once to the truffle-ground. Here the soil is so
thin, so stony, and withal so arid, that, were it not for the scant
herbage upon which sheep and goats thrive, it would produce nothing
but stunted oak, juniper, and truffles. Even the oaks only grow in
patches where the rock is not close to the surface. The truffles are
never found except very near these trees, or, in default of them,
hazels. This is one of the mysteries of the cryptogamic kingdom, which
no one has yet been able to explain. The truffle-hunters believe that
it is the shade of the trees which produces the underground fruit, and
the opinion is based upon experience. When an oak has been cut down,
or even lopped, a spot near it that was rich in truffles year after
year is soon scoffed at by the knowing pig.

Our work lies amongst the dwarf oaks, for there are no hazels here. At
a sign from the old man, the pig sniffs about the roots of a little
tree, then proceeds to dig with her nose, tossing up the larger stones
which lie in the way as if they were feathers. The animal has smelt a
truffle, and the man seizes her by the ear, for her manner is
suspicious. This is the first time they have been out together since
last season, and the beast has forgotten some of her education. She
manages to get a truffle into her mouth; he tugs at her ear with one
hand, and uses his stick upon her nose with the other. The brute
screams with anger, but will not open her jaws wide enough for him to
slip his stick in and hook the truffle out. The prize is swallowed,
and the old man, forgetting all decorum, and only thinking of his
loss, calls his companion a pig, which in France is always an insult.
Our truffle-hunting to-day has opened badly, although one party thinks
differently. In a few minutes, however, another truffle is found, and
this time the old man delivers a whack on the nose at the right
moment, and, seizing the fungus, hands it to me. Now he takes from his
pocket a spike of maize, and, picking off a few grains, gives them to
the pig to soothe her injured feelings, and encourage her to hunt
again. This she is quite ready to do, for a pig has no _amour propre_.
We move about in the dry open wood, keeping always near the trees, and
truffle after truffle is turned up from the reddish light soil mixed
with fragments of calcareous rock. The forgotten training soon comes
back to our invaluable auxiliary; a mere twitch of the ear is a
sufficient hint for her to retire at the right moment, and wait for
the corn that is in variably given in exchange for the cryptogam.
Indeed, before we leave the ground, the animal has got so well into
work that when she finds a truffle she does not attempt to seize it,
but points to it, and grunts for the equivalent in maize. The pig may
be a correct emblem of depravity, but its intelligence is certainly of
a superior order.




FROM THE ALZOU TO THE DORDOGNE.


Although the last days of May had come, the Alzou, usually dry at this
time, was running with swift, strong current through the vale of
Roc-Amadour. There had been so many thunderstorms that the channel was
not large enough for the torrent that raced madly over its yellow
pebbles. I lingered awhile in the meadow by the stream, looking at the
rock-clinging sanctuary before wandering in search of the unknown up
the narrow gorge.

In a garden terraced upon the lower flank of the rock, the labour of
generations having combined to raise a soil there deep enough to
support a few plum, almond, and other fruit trees, a figure all in
black is hard at work transplanting young lettuces. It is that of a
teaching Brother. He is a thin grizzled man of sixty, with an
expression of melancholy benevolence in his rugged face. I have
watched him sitting upon a bench with his arm round some little
village urchin by his side, while the children from the outlying
hamlets, sprawling upon a heap of stones in the sun, ate their mid-day
meal of bread and cheese or buckwheat pancakes that their mothers had
put into their baskets before they trudged off in the early morning. I
have noticed by many signs that he is full of sympathy for the young
peasants placed in his charge. Yet with all his kindness he is
melancholy. So many years in one place, such a dull routine of duty,
such a life of abnegation without the honour that sustains and
encourages, such impossibility of being understood and appreciated by
those for whose sake he has been breaking self upon the wheel of
mortification since his youth, have made him old before the time and
fixed that look of lurking sadness in his warmly human eyes.

There are few problems more profound than that of the courage with
which men like him continue their self-imposed penal-servitude until
they become too infirm to work and are sent to die in some refuge for
aged _freres_. They have accepted celibacy and poverty, that they may
the better devote their lives to the instruction of children. They
have no sacerdotal state or ideal, no ecclesiastical nor social
ambition to help them. They must be always humble; they must not even
be learned, for much knowledge in their case would be considered a
dangerous thing. Their minds must not rise above their work. They
guide dirty little fists in the formation of pot-hooks, and when they
have led the boys' intelligence up a few more steps of scholarship the
end is achieved. The boy goes out into the world and refreshes his
mind with new occupation; but the poor Brother remains chained to his
dreary task, which is always the same and is never done.

And what are the wages in return for such a life? Food that many a
workman would consider insufficiently generous for his condition, a
bed to lie upon and clothes which call down upon the wearer the
sarcasms of the town-bred youth. What a land of contrast is France!

There are three Brothers here, but this one, the eldest, is the head.
Others come and go, but he remains. Most of his spare time is given to
the garden. When the eight o'clock bell begins to swing he will leave
his lettuces and soon perch himself on the little platform behind his
shabby old desk in the dingy schoolroom, which even in the holidays
cannot get rid of its ancient redolence of boys. The school-house, now
so much like a prison, was once a mansion, and the most modern part of
it is of the period which we should call in England Tudor. A Gothic
doorway leads into a hall arched and groined, the inner wall being the
bare rock, as is the case with most of the houses at Roc-Amadour. A
gutter cut in the stone floor to carry off the drippings formed by the
condensation of the air upon the cold surface shows that these
half-rock dwellings have their drawbacks.

I leave Roc-Amadour and take my way up the valley. Nature has now
reached all that can be attained in vernal pride and beauty here. In a
little while she will have put on the careworn look of the Southern
summer. Many a plant now in splendid bloom, animated by the spirit of
loveliness that presides over the law of reproduction, will soon be
casting its seed and bringing its brief destiny to a close. Now all is
coquetry, beauty, and ravishment. The rock-hiving bees, unconscious
instruments of a great purpose, are yellow with pollen and laden with
honey. They find more, infinitely more, nectar than they can carry
away. The days are long, and every hour is full of joy. But already
the tide is at the turn. The nightingale's rapturous song has become a
lazy twitter; the bird has done with courtship; it has a family in
immediate prospect, if not one already screaming for food, and the
musician has half lost his passion for music. It will come again next
year. How swiftly all this life and colour of spring passes away! So
much to be looked at and so little time!

This narrow strip of meadow that winds along the bottom of the gorge
is not the single tinted green ribbon it lately was. The light of its
verdure has been dimmed by the light of flowers. The grass mounts
high, but not higher than the oxeye daisies, the blue racemes of
stachys, the mauve-coloured heads of scabious, the bladder-campions,
the yellow buttercups and goat's-beard. The oxeyes are so numberless
in one long reach of meadow that a white drapery, which every breeze
folds or unfolds, seems to have been cast as light as sea-foam upon
the illimitable forest of stems. The white butterflies that flutter
above are like flecks of foam on the wing. Elsewhere it is the blue of
the stachys and the spiked veronica that rules. Deeper in the herbage
other races of flowers shine in the fair groves of this grassy
paradise, and every blossom, however small, is a mystery, a miracle.
Here is the star of Bethlehem, wide open in the sunshine and showing
so purely white amidst the green, and yonder is the purple fringe-like
tuft of the weird muscari. Along the banks of the stream tall
lilac-purple, stock-like flowers rise proudly above the grasses. They
belong to the hesperis or dame's violet, a common wild-flower in this
valley. Upon my left is the abrupt stony slope of the gorge. Between
it and the meadow are shrubs of yellow jessamine starred with blossom.
But the stony steep that dazzles the eyes with the sun's reflected
glare has its flowers too. Nature, in her great passion for beauty,
even draws it out of the disintegrated fragments of time-worn rock,
whose banks would otherwise be as stark and dry as the desert sand.
Lightly as flakes of snow the frail blossoms of the white rock-rose
lie upon the stones. Then there are patches of candytuft running from
white into pink, crimson flowers of the little crane's-bill, and
spurges whose floral leaves are now losing their golden green and
taking a hue of fiery brown.

An open wood, chiefly of dwarf oak, and shrubs such as the wayfaring
tree, the guelder-rose, and the fly-honeysuckle, now stretches along
the opposite side of the gorge. Here scattered groups of columbine
send forth a glow of dark blue from the shadowy places; the lily of
the valley and its graceful ever-bowing cousin, the Solomon's seal,
show their chaste and wax-like flowers amidst the cool green of their
fresh leaves; and the monkey-orchis stands above the green moss and
the creeping geraniums like a little rocket of pale purple fire just
springing from the earth towards the lingering shreds of storm-cloud
that are melting in the warm sky.

In a few weeks what will have become of all this greenness and
beautiful colour of flowers? The torrid sun and the hot breath of
summer will have burnt up the fair garment of spring, and laid bare
the arid sternness of the South again. The nightingale still warbles
fitfully in the green bushes, but the raven, perched up yonder upon
the stark rock, croaks like a misanthrope at the quick passing away of
youth and loveliness. What sad undertones, mournful murmurs of the
deep that receives the drifted leaves, mingle with the spring's soft
flutings and all the voices that proclaim the season of joy!

While listening and day-dreaming, I was overtaken by a man and his
donkey, both old acquaintances. Every day, except Sundays and the
great Church festivals, when the peasants of the Quercy abstain from
work, like those of Brittany, this pair were in the habit of trudging
together side by side to fetch and bring back wood from the slopes of
the gorge. The ass did all the carrying, and his master the chopping
and sawing. It was a monotonous life, but both seemed to think they
were not worse off than the majority of men and donkeys. The man was
contented with his daily soup of bread-and-water, with an onion or a
leek thrown in, and a suspicion of bacon, and the beast with such
herbage as he could find while his master was getting ready another
load of wood. The man was an old soldier, who had seen some rough
service, for he was at Sedan, and was afterwards engaged in the
ghastly business of shooting down his own countrymen in Paris. But,
with all this, he was as quiet a tempered creature as his donkey,
which he treated as a friend. The army, he told me, was the best
school for learning how to treat a beast with proper consideration.

I asked why.

'Because,' replied he, 'when a soldier is caught beating a horse, he
has eight days of _salle de police_.'

Man and donkey having disappeared into a wood, my next companion was a
small blue butterfly that kept a few yards in front of me, now
stopping to look at a flower, now fluttering on again. Some insects,
as well as certain birds, appear to derive much entertainment from
watching the movements of that fantastic animal--man.

Arcadian leafiness: rocky desolation befitting the mouth of hell.
Grass and flowers on which souls might tread in the paradise of the
Florentine poet. Stony forms, monstrous, enigmatic, reared like
symbolic tokens of defeated gods, or of the worn-out evil passions
that troubled old creation before the coming of man, and the fresh
order of spiritual and carnal bewilderment. Why should I go on and
seek further amazement, while from the lowest to the highest I can
read not one of the mystic figures of the solitude around me? What is
my relation to them, and theirs to me? Why should that beetle in the
grass, upon whose back all the colours of the prism change and glow
like supernatural fire, trouble me with the cause and motive of its
beauty? Why should yonder rock, standing like a spar of some ship
wrecked in a cataclysm of the awful past, draw me to it as though it
were the image of a grand, yet unattainable and blighted, longing of
the human soul?

The gorge became so narrow and the rocks so high that there was a
twilight under the trees, which still dripped with the rain-drops of
last night's storm. Hesperis, columbine, and geranium contrasted their
floral colours with the deep green of the young grass. Some spots of
dark purple were on the ground where the light was most dim. They were
the petals and calyxes of that strange flower, lathraea, of the
broom-rape family. Each bloom seemed to be carried in the cup of
another flower. The plant had no leaves, for it was a thief that drew
its nutriment from the root of an honest little tree that had
struggled upward in the shade of strong and greedy rivals, and had
raised its head at length into the sunshine in spite of them.

After some difficulty in working round and over rocks that barred, the
passage, I came to a spot where it was impossible to follow the gorge
any farther. The walls narrowed to an opening a few yards wide, where
the stream fell in a cascade of some thirty feet. I took my mid-day
meal like a forester in the midst of this beautiful desolation, and
then, having found a spot where I could escape from the gorge of the
Alzou, I climbed the steep towards the north.

Here there was a blinding glare of sunshine reflected by the naked
stones. Goats looked down at me from the upper rocks near the line of
the blue sky. When I reached the boy who tended them, I asked him the
way to the road that I wished to strike upon the plateau. After
staring at me for some time, he screwed up his mouth, and said: '_Je
comprenais pas francais, you.' You_ did not apply to me, but to
himself, for it means _I_ in the Southern dialect.

Here was a boy unable to speak French, although all children in France
are now supposed to be educated in the official language of the
republic. Such cases are uncommon. In the Haut-Quercy, where _patois_
is the language of everybody, even in the towns, one soon learns the
advantage of asking the young for the information that one may need.

I found the road I wanted, and also the spot marked on the map as the
Saut de la Pucelle. It is one of those numerous _gouffres_ to be found
in the Quercy, especially in the district of the Dordogne.

Here a stream plunges beneath the surface of the earth to join the
subterranean Ouysse, or the Dordogne. A ravine, sinking rapidly,
becomes a deep, dark, and gloomy gully, at the end of which is a wall
of rock. The stream pours down a tunnel-like passage, at the base of
the rock, with a melancholy wail. Where the sides are not too steep
they are covered with trees and shrubs.

As I stood amidst the poisonous dog-mercury, under the hanging ivy and
the hart's-tongue ferns, watching the stream glitter on the edge of
everlasting darkness, and listening to its death-dirge, I pictured
awful shadows issuing from the infernal passage and seizing the
terror-stricken ghost of the guilty horseman, of whom I had heard from
a local legend.

This legend, as it is commonly told, is briefly as follows: Centuries
ago a virtuous young woman was persecuted by the lord of a
neighbouring castle, who was not at all virtuous. One day, when she
was mounted upon a mule, he gave chase to her on horseback. He was
rapidly gaining upon her, and she, in agony of soul, had given herself
up for lost, when, by one of those miracles which were frequent in
those days, especially in the country of Notre Dame de Roc-Amadour,
the mule, by giving a vigorous stamp with one of his hind-legs, kicked
a yawning gulf in the earth, which he, however, lightly passed over
with his burden, while the wicked pursuer, unable to check his steed
in time, perished in the abyss.

Another legend of the Maiden's Leap is more romantic, but less
supernatural. It is a story of the English occupation of Guyenne, and
the revolt of the Quercynois in 1368. Before the main body of the
British force that subdued Roc-Amadour as related by Froissart arrived
in the Haut-Quercy, the castle of Prangeres, near Gramat, was entered
by a troop of armed men in the English service under Jehan Pehautier,
one of those brigand captains of whom the mediaeval history and
legends of Guyenne speak only too eloquently. An orphan, Bertheline de
Castelnau, _chatelaine_ of Prangeres in her own right, was in the
fortress when it was thus taken by surprise. Captivated by her beauty,
Jehan Pehautier essayed to make Bertheline his prisoner; but she made
her escape from the castle by night, and endeavoured to reach the
sanctuary of Roc-Amadour on foot. Her flight was discovered, and
Pehautier and a party of horsemen started in pursuit. She would have
been quickly captured had she not met a mounted knight, who was no
other than her lover, Bertrand de Terride. She sprang upon his horse,
and away they both went through the oak forest which then covered the
greater part of the _causse_; but the gleam of the knight's armour in
the moonlight kept the pursuers constantly upon his track. Slowly but
surely they gained upon the fugitives. Suddenly Bertheline, who knew
the country, perceived that Bertrand was spurring his horse directly
towards the precipice now called the Saut de la Pucelle. It was too
late, however, to avoid the gulf; she had only time to murmur a brief
prayer before the horse bounded over the edge of the rock. To the
great wonder and joy of the lovers, the animal cleared the ravine, and
alighted safely on the other side. But a very different fate awaited
the pursuers. On they came, crashing through the wood, shouting
exultantly, for they believed that the prey was now almost in their
grasp, when suddenly the air was rent with cries of horror, mingled
with the sound of crashing armour, and bodies falling upon the rocks
and upon the bed of the stream. An awful silence followed. The dead
men and horses were lying in the dark water. As Pehautier felt the
solid earth leave him, he gave out his favourite oath, 'Mort de sang!'
in a frightful shriek, and the words long afterwards rang in the ears
of Bertheline and Bertrand.

As I returned to this spot some months later in order to explore the
cavern, I may as well give an account of the adventure here. I was
accompanied by my neighbour Decros, who gave his donkey on this
occasion a half-holiday. Decros, although a native of the locality,
could not tell me how far the cavern extended, for he had never been
tempted to explore its depths himself, nor had he heard of anybody who
knew more than himself about it. A story, however, was told of a
shepherd-boy who long ago went down the opening, and was never seen
again.

'Perhaps,' said I, 'we shall find his skeleton.' This observation
brought a peculiar expression to my companion's face, which meant that
he had no ambition whatever to share the surprise of such a discovery.
Although he had done his duty bravely in the war of 1870, he was by no
means free from the awe with which these _gouffres_ inspired the
country-people, and his soldiering had still left him a Cadurcian
Celt, with much of the superstition that he had drawn in with his
native air. One morning he found that his donkey had nearly strangled
himself over-night with the halter, and Decros could not shake off the
impression that this accident was an omen intended to convey some
message from the other world. He was ready to go with me into any
cavern; but I am sure he would have much preferred scaling dangerous
rocks in the broad sunlight, for there he would have felt at home.

There was not too much water to offer any danger, so we stooped down
and entered the low vault after lighting candles. The roof soon rose,
and we were in a spacious cavern, the sides of which had evidently
been washed and worn away into hollows by the sea that rolled here
long before the mysterious race raised its dolmens and tumuli upon the
surrounding knolls. The passage was wide enough for us to walk on the
margin of the stream, or where the water was very shallow; but had
much rain fallen, the expedition would have been perilous, for the
descending torrent would then have been strong enough to carry a man
off his legs.

Stalactites hung from the rocks overhead, and as we proceeded they
became more numerous, more fantastic, and more beautiful. They were
just as the dropping water had slowly fashioned them in the darkness
of ages, where day and night were the same, where nothing changed but
themselves, save the voice of the stream, which grew louder or softer
according to the play of winds and sunshine and clouds upon the upper
world. Some tapered to a fine point, others were like pendant bunches
of grapes; all were of the whiteness of loaf-sugar. No tourists
stricken with that deplorable mania for taking home souvenirs of
everything, and ready to spoil any beauty to gratify their vanity or
their acquisitiveness, had cast stones into the midst of the fairy
handicraft of the wizard water for the sake of a fragment; nor had the
village boys amused themselves here at the expense of the stalactites,
for happily they had been well trained in the horror of the
supernatural. The cavern ran for a certain distance south-west; then
the gallery turned at a sharp angle north-north-west, and continued in
this direction. We followed the stream some three or four hundred
yards, and then it entered a deep pool or lake under low rocks. We
tried a side-passage to see if it led round this obstacle, but it soon
came to an end. As I stood on the brink of the deep, black, silent
pool, I had a great longing to know what lay beyond; but I had to
content myself with imagining the unrevealed wonders of the cavern. It
would be just possible, by crouching down in a little boat, to pass
under the rock, which is probably no insuperable obstacle. The roof is
just as likely to form a high vault on one side of it as on the other.
The water is the serious obstacle; but it is safe to say, from the
character of the formation, that the deep pool does not extend very
far. A peculiarity of these underground streams of the _causses_ is
that they generally form a chain of pools.

If a shepherd-boy really lost his life in this cavern, he must have
done so by trying to pass the pool, unless he was washed into it by a
sudden rush of water after a heavy storm. It must be confessed that
the spot is calculated to fill one with superstitious dread. The calm
of the deep water into which the stream glides makes it quite easy to
imagine, with the help of the surroundings, that there is an evil
spirit lurking in it--perhaps that of the wicked Pehautier whom the
demons dragged down here. I had another grim thought: Supposing this
water, in obedience to some pressure elsewhere, should rise suddenly
and flood the lower part of the cavern! There is no knowing what
tricks water may play in this fantastic region, where the tendency of
rivers is to flow underground, and where one gallery may be connected
with a ramification of water-courses extending over many miles of
country, and with reservoirs which empty themselves periodically by
means of natural syphons. There is a world full of marvels under the
_causses_ of the Lot, the Aveyron, and the Lozere; but although much
more will be known about it, a vast deal will remain for ever hidden
from man.

I will now return to my wayfaring across the Causse de Gramat in the
early summer.

I had passed through the village of Alvignac--a little watering-place
that draws all the profit it can from a ferruginous spring which rises
at Miers hard by, but otherwise uninteresting, and had left on my
right the village of Thegra, where the troubadour Hugues de St. Cyr
was born, when suddenly the landscape struck me with the sentiment of
England. For some hours I had been walking chiefly over the stony
_causse_, searching for a so-called castle that was not worth the
trouble of finding. I had seen spurge and juniper, and ribs of rock
rising everywhere above the short turf, until I grew weary of the
sameness. Now, the sun, whose ardour was already melting into the
tenderness of evening, shone upon a broad valley, where the grass
stood high in rich meadows separated from other meadows and green
cornfields by hedges, from the midst of which rose many a tall tree.
The blackbird's low, flute-like note sounded above the shrilling of the
grasshoppers.

The little village of Padirac was entered at sundown. The small inn
where I chose my quarters for the night had a garden at the back,
where vines in new leaf were trained, over a trellis from end to end.
There were also broad beans in flower, peas on sticks, currant-bushes,
and pear-trees. It was a quiet, green spot, and as I strolled about it
in the twilight, vague recollections of other gardens chased one
another, but it would have been hard to say whether they were pleasant
or sad. My dinner or supper was of sorrel soup and part of a goose
that was killed the previous autumn, and, after being slightly salted,
was preserved in grease.

Lean tortoiseshell cats, with staring eyes and tails like strings,
kept near at hand, and seemed ready to commit any crime for the
smallest particle of goose. String-tailed, goggle-eyed, meagre cats
that seize your dinner if you do not keep watch over it, and when
caressed promptly respond by scratching and swearing, appear to be
held in high favour throughout this district. They are expected to
live upon rats, and it is this that makes them so disagreeable, for
although they kill rats for the pleasure of the chase, they do not
like the flavour of them. On this subject there is a standing quarrel
between them and society, which insists upon their eating the animals
that they kill. In order that the cats shall have every facility for
the chase, holes are often cut in the bottom of house-doors, so that
at night they may go in and come out as the quarry moves them. Should
any food have been left about, what with the rats and the cats, not a
trace of it will be seen in the morning. This I know from experience.

Being within a mile or so of the Puit de Padirac--that gloomy hole in
the earth which was supposed to be one of the devil's short-cuts
between this world and his own, until M. Martel proved almost
conclusively that it was not the way to the infernal city, but to a
subterranean river, and a chain of lakes that could be followed for
two miles--I set out the next morning to find it. I might have spent
hours in vain casting about, but for the help of a peasant, who
offered, quite disinterestedly, to be my guide. He was an old man,
with a very Irish face, and eyes that laughed at life. But for his
language he would have seemed a perfectly natural growth of Cork or
Kerry.

Here may be the place to remark that the stock of the ancient Cadurci
appears to have been much less impaired here in an ethnological sense
by the mingling of races than in the country round Cahors. The
peasants, generally, have nothing distinctively Southern in their
appearance, although they speak a dialect which is in the main a Latin
one, the Celtic words that have been retained being in a very small
proportion. Gray or blue eyes are almost as frequent among them as
they are with the English, and many of the village children have hair
the colour of ripening maize.

We left the fertile valley and rose upon the stone-scattered _causse_
where hellebore, spurges, and juniper were the only plants not cropped
close to the earth by the flocks of sheep which thrive upon these
wastes. All the sheep are belled, but the bells they wear are like big
iron pots hanging upon their breasts. Each pot has a bone that swings
inside of it and serves as a hammer. The chief use of these bells is
to prevent the animal from leaving its best wool, that of the breast,
upon the thorns of bushes.

We have now reached the brink of the pit, which is not bottomless, but
looks so until the eye faintly distinguishes something solid at a
depth that has been measured at 175 feet. The opening is almost
circular, with a diameter at the orifice of 116 feet. This prodigious
well, sunk in successive layers of secondary rock, looks as if it had
been regularly quarried; but men could never have had the motive for
giving themselves so much trouble. Did the rock fall in here? No
explanation is satisfactory. How it fills one with awe to look into
the depth while lying upon a slab of stone that stretches some
distance beyond the side of the pit! Bushes with twisted and fantastic
arms, growing, they or their ancestors, from time immemorial in the
clefts of the rock, reach towards the light, and the elfish
hart's-tongue fern, itself half in darkness, points down with frond
that never moves in that eternal stillness which all the winds of
heaven pass over, to a thicker darkness whence comes the everlasting
wail and groan of hidden water.

This horrid gulf being in the open plain, with not even a foot of
rough wall round it as a protection for the unwary, I asked the old
man if people had never fallen into it.

'Yes,' he answered, 'but only those who have been pushed by evil
spirits.'

He meant that only self-murderers had fallen into the Puit de Padirac.
'Pushed by evil spirits.' Perhaps this is the best of all explanations
of the suicidal impulse. Strong thoughts are sometimes hidden under
the simplicity of rustic expression. He told me the story of a man
who, having gone by night to throw himself into the Puit de Padirac,
came in contact with a tough old bush during his descent which held
him up. By this time the would-be suicide disliked the feeling of
falling so much that, so far from trying to free himself from the bush
and begin again, he held on to it with all his might and shrieked for
help. But as people who are not pushed by evil spirits give the Puit
de Padirac a wide berth after sundown, the wretched man's cries were
lost in the darkness. The next morning the shepherd children, as they
led their flocks over the plain, heard a strange noise coming from the
pit, but their horror was stronger than their curiosity, and they
showed their sheep how to run. They went home and told their fathers
what they had heard, and at length some persons were bold enough to
look down the hole, from which the dismal sound the children had
noticed continued to rise. Thus the cause of the mysterious noise was
discovered, and the man was hauled up with a rope. He never allowed
the evil spirits to push him into the Puit de Padirac again.

The people of these _causses_ have a supernatural explanation for
everything that they cannot account for by the light of reason and
observation. They have their legend with regard to the Puit de
Padirac, and it is as follows: St. Martin, before he became Bishop of
Tours, was crossing one day this stony region of the Dordogne to visit
a religious community on the banks of the Solane, whither he had been
despatched by St. Hilary. He was mounted on a mule, and was ambling
along over the desert plunged in pious contemplation, when he heard a
little noise behind, and, looking round, he was surprised to see a
gentleman close to him, who was also riding a mule. The stranger was
richly dressed, and was altogether a very distinguished-looking
person, but the excessive brilliancy of his eyes was a disfigurement.
They shone in his head like two bits of burning charcoal. 'What do you
want, cruel beast?' said St. Martin. This would scarcely have been
saintly language had he not known with whom he had to deal. The
gentleman thus impolitely addressed returned a soft answer, and forced
his company upon the saint, who wished him--at home. Presently
Lucifer, for it was he, began to 'dare' St. Martin, after the manner
of boys to-day. 'If I kick a hole in the ground I dare you to jump
over it,' was the sort of language employed by the gentleman with the
too-expressive eyes. 'Done!' said St. Martin, or something equivalent.
'Digging pits is quite in my line of business!' exclaimed the devil,
in so disagreeable a voice that the saint's mule would have bolted had
the holy rider not kept a tight rein upon her. At the same moment the
ground over which the infernal mule had just passed fell in with a
mighty rumble and crash, leaving a yawning gulf. 'Now,' said Lucifer,
'let me see you jump over that!' Whereupon, the bold St. Martin drove
his spurs into his mule and lightly leapt over the abyss. And this was
how the Puit de Padirac was made. The peasants believe that they can
still see on a stone the imprint left by the hoof of St. Martin's
mule. This adventure did not cause the saint and the devil to part
company. They rode on together as far as the valley of Medorium
(Miers). 'Now,' said St. Martin, 'you jump over that!' pointing to a
little stream that was seen to flow suddenly and miraculously out of
the earth. Before challenging the arch enemy he had, however, taken
the precaution to lay two small boughs in the form of a cross on the
brink of the water. In vain the devil spurred his mule and used the
worst language that he could think of to induce the beast to jump. The
animal would not; but, as the spurring and swearing were continued, it
at length went down on its knees before the cross. But this did not
suit the devil's turn. On the contrary, the proximity of that emblem
which St. Martin had placed unobserved on the ground made him writhe
as though he had fallen into a font. Then with the speed of a
lightning flash he returned to his own kingdom--possibly by the Puit
de Padirac. A church dedicated to the saint was afterwards built near
the scene of his triumph, and the healing spring where it comes out of
the earth is still known by the name of _Lou Fount Sen Morti_--St.
Martin's Fountain.

Having left the pit, we went in the direction of Loubressac, to which
village my companion belonged. While still upon the _causse_ a spot
was reached where a small iron cross had been raised. The stone
pedestal bore this inscription:

		    'SOUVENIR DE HELENE BONBEGRE,
		  MORTE MARTYRE EN CE LIEU EN 1844.
       VIEILLE-ESCAZE ET LAVAL ONT FAIT CONSTRUIRE CETTE CROIX.
		  PRIEZ POUR CES DEUX BIENFAITEURS.'

The old man knew Helene Bonbegre when he was young, and he told me the
tragic story of her death on this spot. She was going home in the
evening, and her sweetheart the blacksmith accompanied her a part of
the distance. They then separated, and she went on alone. They had
been watched by the jealous and unsuccessful lover, whose heart was on
fire. Where the cross stands the girl was found lying, a naked corpse.
The murderer was soon captured, and most of the people in the district
went to St. Cere to see him guillotined. It was a spectacle to be
talked over for half a century. The blacksmith never forgave himself
for having left the girl to go home alone, and it was he who forged
the cross that marks the scene of the crime and sets the wayfarer
conjecturing.

The peasant changed his ideas by filling his pipe. He smoked tobacco
that he grew in a corner of his garden for his own use, and which he
enjoyed all the more because it was _tabac de contrebande_. He gave me
some, which I likewise smoked without any qualm of conscience, and
thought it decidedly better than some tobacco of the regie. He lit his
pipe with smuggled matches. Had I been an inspector in disguise, I
should never have made matters unpleasant for him; he was such a
cheery, good-natured companion. He had brought up his family, and had
now just enough land to keep him without breaking his back over it. He
was quite satisfied with things as they were. I did not ask him if he
was a poacher, but took it for granted that he was whenever he saw a
good chance. Almost every peasant in the Haut-Quercy who has something
of the spirit of Nimrod in him is more or less a poacher. Those who
like hare and partridge can eat it in all seasons by paying for it.
Occasionally the gendarmes capture a young and over-zealous offender,
but the old men, who have followed the business all their lives, are
too wary for them. They are also too respectable to be interfered
with.

At Loubressac I took leave of my entertaining friend, but not before
we had emptied a bottle of white wine together. It was a _vin du
pays_, this district having been less tried by the phylloxera than
others farther south and west. I was surprised to find white wine
there, the purple grape having been almost exclusively cultivated for
centuries in what is now the department of the Lot.

In the room of the inn where I lunched there were four beds; two at
one end and two at the other. There was plenty of space left, however,
for the tables. The rafters were hidden by the heads of maize that
hung from them. The host sat down at the same table with me, and when
he had nearly finished his soup he poured wine into it, and, raising
the plate to his lips, drank off the mixture. Objectionable as this
manner of drinking wine seems to those who have not learnt to do it in
their youth, it is very general throughout Guyenne. Those who have
formed the habit would be most unhappy if they could not continue it.
_Faire chabron_ is the expression used to describe this sin against
good manners. The aubergiste was very friendly, and towards the close
of the meal he brought out a bottle of his old red wine that he had
treasured up 'behind the faggot.'

Before reaching this village I had heard of a retired captain who
lived here in a rather dilapidated chateau, and who was very affable
to visitors, whom he immediately invited to look through his
telescope, which, although not a very large one, had a local
celebrity, such instruments being about as rare as blue foxes in this
part of the world. Conducted by the innkeeper, I called upon this
gentleman. The house was one of those half-castellated manors which
became scattered over France after the Renaissance, and of which the
greater number were allowed to fall into complete or partial ruin when
the territorial families who were interested in them were extinguished
or impoverished by the Revolution. They are frequently to be found in
Guyenne, but they are generally occupied by peasants either as
tenant-farmers or proprietors; two or three of the better preserved
rooms being inhabited by the family, the others being haunted by bats
and swallows and used for the storage of farm produce. It suited the
captain's humour, however, to live in his old dilapidated mansion,
scarcely less cut off from the society that matched with his position
in life than if he had exiled himself to some rock in the ocean.

The ceremony of knocking or ringing was dispensed with for the
sufficient reason that there was neither bell nor knocker. We entered
by the open door and walked along a paved passage, which, was
evidently not held as sacred as it should have been by the roving
fowls; looked in at the great dark kitchen, where beside the Gothic
arch of the broad chimney was some ruinous clockwork mechanism for
turning the spit, which probably did turn to good purpose when
powdered wigs were worn; then ascended the stone staircase, where
there was room for four to walk abreast, but which had somewhat lost
its dignity by the balusters being used for hanging maize upon.
Presently we came to a door, which the aubergiste knocked sharply with
his knuckles.

There was a sound of footsteps within, and then the door opened. I was
standing before a rather florid man of about fifty, with close-cropped
hair, a brush moustache, and a chin that seemed undecided on the score
of shaving. He wore a flannel shirt open at the throat, and a knitted
worsted _tricot_. This was the captain. He evidently did not like
Sunday clothes. When he settled down here, it was to live at his ease,
like a bachelor who had finished with vanities. But although no one
would have supposed from his dress that he was superior to the people
around him, his manners were those of a gentleman and an officer who
had seen the world elsewhere than at Loubressac. The simple, easy
courtesy with which he showed me his rooms, and pointed his telescope
for me, was all that is worth attaining, as regards the outward polish
of a man. This was so fixed upon him that his long association with
peasants had taken none of it away. The few rooms that he inhabited
were plainly furnished; in others were heaps of wheat, maize and
beans. Passing along a passage I noticed a little altar in a recess,
with a statue of the Virgin decked with roses and wild flowers. '_C'est
le mois de Marie_,' said the captain. He lived with a sister, and she
took care that religion was kept up in the house.

It being the _Fete-Dieu_, preparations were being made in the village
for the procession that was to take place after vespers. Sheets were
spread along the fronts of the houses, with flowers pinned to them,
and _reposoirs_ had been raised in the open air. I did not wait for
the procession, as I expected to be in time for the one at the next
village, Autoire. I took a path that led me up to the barren _causse_,
from which the red roofs of Autoire soon became visible under an
amphitheatre of high wooded hills.

As I approached the little village, the gleam of white sheets mingled
with the picture of old houses huddled together, some half-timber,
some with turrets and encorbelments, nearly all of them with very
high-pitched roofs and small dormer windows. The procession was soon
to start. I waited for it at the door of the crowded church, baking in
the sun with others who could not get inside, one of whom was a woman
with a moustache and beard, black and curly, such as a promising young
man might be expected to have. The number of women in Southern France
who are bearded like men shocks the feelings of the Northern wanderer,
until he grows accustomed to the sight. The cure was preaching about
the black bread, and all the other miseries of this life that had to
be accepted with thankfulness. Presently the two bells in the tower
began to dance, and the rapid ding-dong announced that the procession
was forming. First appeared the beadle, extremely gaudy in scarlet and
gold, then the cross-bearer, young men as chanters, little boys, most
strangely attired in white satin knee-breeches and short lace skirts,
scattering rose-leaves from open baskets at their sides; the cure came
bearing the monstrance and Host, followed by Sisters with little girls
in their charge; lastly was a mixed throng of parishioners. Most of
the women held rosaries, and a few of them, bent with age, carried
upon their heads the very cap that old Mother Hubbard wore, if
tradition and English artists are to be trusted. As the last of the
long procession passed out of sight between the walls of white linen,
the wind brought the words clearly back:

    'Genitori, Genitoque
    Laus et jubilatio.'

Now I entered the little church that was quite empty, and where no
sound would have been heard if the two voices in the tower had not
continued to ring out over the dovecotes, where the white pigeons
rested and wondered, and over the broad fields where the bending
grasses and listening flowers stood in the afternoon sunshine, 'Laus
et jubilatio,' in the language of the bells.

The church was Romanesque, probably of the twelfth century. The nave
was flanked by narrow aisles. Upon the very tall bases of the columns
were carved, together with foliage, fantastic heads of demons, or
satyrs of such expressive ugliness that they held me fascinated. Some
were bearded, others were beardless, some were grinning and showing
frightful teeth, others had thick-lipped, pouting mouths hideously
debased. A few were really _bons diables_, who seemed determined to be
gay, and to joke under the most trying circumstances; but the greater
number had morose faces, puckered by the long agony of bearing up the
church. Such variety of expression in ugliness was a triumph of art in
the far-off age, when the chisel of an unremembered man with a teeming
imagination made these heads take life from the inanimate stone.

The road from Autoire to St. Cere soon led me into the valley of the
Bave, a beautiful trout-stream, galloping towards the Dordogne through
flowery meadows, on this last day of May, and under leaning trees,
whose imaged leaves danced upon the ripples in the green shade. As I
had no need to hurry, I loitered to pick ragged-robins upon the banks,
flowers dear to me from old associations. Very common in England, they
are comparatively rare in France.

New pleasures await the wayfarer every hour, almost every minute, in
the day, and however long he may continue to wander over this
wonderful world of inexhaustible variety, if he will only stop to look
at everything, and so learn to feel the charm of little things.

I met a beggar, and fell into conversation with him. He asked me for
nothing, and was surprised when I gave him two sous. He was a ragged
old man, with a canvas bag, half filled with crusts, slung upon his
side. I had already met many such beggars in this part of France. They
travel about from village to village, filling their bags with pieces
of bread that are given them, and selling afterwards what they cannot
eat as food for pigs. As they rarely receive charity in the form of
money, they do not expect it. This kind of mendicant is distinctly
rural, and belongs to old times.

The bold front of an early Renaissance castle, with round towers at
the angles, capped with pointed roofs, drew me from the highroad. It
was the Chateau de Montal, in connection with which I had already
heard the story of one Rose de Montal, a young lady of some three
centuries ago, who had given her heart to a nobleman of the country,
Roger de Castelnau. By-and-by the charms of another lady caused him to
neglect the fair Rose de Montal. She remained almost constantly at a
window of one of the towers, scanning the country, and longing to
catch sight of the faithless Roger. One day he came down the valley of
the Bave, and she sang from the height of her tower a plaintive
love-song, hoping that he would stop and make some sign; but he passed
on, unmoved by the tender appeal of the noble damsel. As he
disappeared, she cried, 'Rose, plus d'espoir!' and threw herself from
the window.

The _metayer_, now placed in charge of the castle, showed me over it.
It was a sad spectacle. The building, one of the best preserved and
most elaborately decorated works of the Renaissance in this part of
Guyenne until a few years ago, then fell into the hands of a vulgar
speculator, who detached all the carvings that could be removed
without difficulty, and sold them in Paris. The noble staircase and
all its delicate sculpture remain, but these only add to the regret
that one feels for what is no longer there. Had the Commission of
Historic Monuments placed the Chateau de Montal upon its list, it
would probably have escaped spoliation, although, in the case of
private property, the State has no power to prevent destruction,
however grievous the national loss.

I entered St. Cere at sundown. This bright little town lies in the
midst of fertility. It is on the banks of the Bave, and at the foot of
a hill that rises abruptly from the plain, and is capped by two towers
of a ruined feudal stronghold, which show against the horizon far into
the Quercy, the Correze, and the Cantal. Some of the old streets have
quite a mediaeval air, with their half-wood houses with stories
projecting upon the floor-joists, and others of a grander origin with
turrets resting on encorbelments. I had the luck to find a good
old-fashioned inn here, and to pass the evening in very pleasant
company.

The next morning I climbed to the top of the neighbouring hill to have
a closer view of those towers which had been my landmarks on the
previous day, passing through the little village of St.
Laurent-les-Tours, which lies immediately under the old fortress after
the manner of so many others of feudal origin. The towers are
rectangular _donjons_ of the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, one
being nearly a hundred and fifty feet high. The castle was raised upon
a table of calcareous rock; but only the towers, a portion of the
outer wall built of enormous blocks of stone, and a ruined archway
marking the spot where the drawbridge once hung, remain to tell the
tale of the past.

That the Romans had fortified this height there is the strongest
evidence in the fact that the substructure of the rampart that once
surrounded the castle is of cubic stones laid together according to
the method so much practised by the Romans, and known as _opus
reticulatum_. Moreover, the coins, pottery, and arms found here seem
to afford conclusive proof that this remarkable hill was one of the
fortified positions of the Romans in Gaul.

The spot has its Christian legend, which is briefly this: In the
castle that crowned the height in the time of the Visigoth kings was
born St. Esperie, daughter of a Duke of Aquitaine. Being pressed to
marry, notwithstanding the vow she had made to consecrate her life to
God, she hid herself in a neighbouring forest for three months. She
was at length discovered by her enraged brother and lover, who cut off
her head. Like St. Denis, St. Esperie picked up her head, to the
unspeakable astonishment and dismay of her persecutors. They fled from
her, but she followed them as far as a little stream that flows into
the Bave at St. Cere. Esperie is a saint much venerated in the
Haut-Quercy. The church of St. Cere is dedicated to her, and the name
given to the town is supposed to be a corruption of Esperie.

From St. Cere I took the road to Castelnau-de-Bretenoux, returning for
some distance by the way I came. Inns being now very scarce in the
district, I decided to take my chance of lunch in a small village
called St. Jean-Lespinasse. Another saint! The map of France is still
covered with the names of saints, in spite of all the efforts of
revolutionists and pagan reformers to make the people abandon their
'Christian superstitions.' Those who in the 'ages of faith' built up
this association of saints and places could have had no conception of
the power that these names would have in binding Christianity to the
soil in the faithless or doubting ages to come. The only inn at St.
Jean-Lespinasse was kept by a blacksmith, and the room where I had my
meal was over the forge. Bread and cheese and eggs were, as I
expected, the utmost that such a hostelry could offer in the way of
food for a wayfarer's entertainment. Before leaving the village I
found the church--a curious old structure of the Transition period,
with a large open porch covered with mossy tiles, held up by rough
pillars. There were stone benches inside, on which generations of
villagers had sat and gossiped in their turn. In the interior were
columns engaged in the wall of the nave, with the capitals elaborately
and heavily foliated with pendent bunches of flowers and fruit, much
more in accordance with English than French taste.

I crossed the Bave, and followed a road bordered with hedgerows of
quince that presently skirted sunny slopes covered with lately-planted
vines. Thunder was moaning and growling in the distance when I reached
the much-embowered village of Castelnau, upon a height immediately
under the reddish walls and towers of the immense feudal stronghold,
the fame of which went far and wide in the Middle Ages. Its name in
the Southern dialect means 'new castle,' but it dates from the
eleventh or twelfth century. Extensive additions were made in
subsequent ages, notably a wing in the Renaissance style, which was
inhabited until the middle of the present century, when all but the
walls was destroyed by fire.

The feudal castle was built upon the plan of a triangle, with a tower
at each angle, the one at the apex being the _donjon_. The form of
this lofty keep is rectangular, and the machicolations and
embattlements which were added in the fifteenth century are in a
perfect state of preservation. Upon the platform, which I was able to
reach by means of ladders and the half-ruinous spiral staircase,
viper's bugloss spread its brilliant blue flowers over the dark
stones, and enticed the high-soaring bees. The view of the wide and
beautiful Dordogne Valley from these old battlements was not less
grand because more than one-half of the sky was of a bluish-black--a
mysterious canopy that concealed the genius of the storm, but from the
turbulent folds of which there darted every minute a dazzling line of
light. The tower on which I stood, although the highest of the three,
had never been struck by lightning, but one of the others had been
repeatedly struck, and the ruined masonry showed abundant signs of the
scorching it had undergone in this way. Lightning is capricious and
incomprehensible in its preferences.

This castle was besieged by Henry Plantagenet in 1159, but without
success. Subsequently he made another effort, and then reduced it. His
son Henry made it his headquarters for some time after he had
revolted. In 1369 Thomas de Walkaffera the English seneschal who held
Realville on behalf of his sovereign, was besieged there by a Lord of
Castelnau, assisted by other barons. The garrison was overcome and
massacred. Another Lord of Castelnau, John, Bishop of Cahors, convened
a meeting of the States of the Quercy in his fortress, at which a
rising against the English was decided upon. It resulted in their
temporary expulsion from the Quercy.

Besides the towers and exterior walls, there are some chambers of the
old castle in good preservation. The chapel is still roofed, and the
altar-stone is in its place. In an elevated chamber at the lower end,
the dead were laid while awaiting burial.

Descending to the village, I entered the parish church--a Gothic
building of the fourteenth century, containing many interesting
details. The oak stalls, each with a quaint human figure carved upon
it, are exceedingly curious. Outside the church little girls were
playing, in the charge of a Sister who had a beautiful sweet face. She
showed me the way to the next village, where I hoped to find shelter
from the gathering storm. I have a pleasant picture in the mind of
Castelnau--a bowery, ancient, mossy place, with vines climbing about
the houses or on trellises in the little steep gardens, and a golden
bloom of stonecrop upon the rough walls.

I reached the village of Prudhomat just as the storm burst over it,
and took shelter in a small inn, which, like most of those in the
country, had its room for the public upstairs. Two women who were
there made the sign of the cross each time the lightning flashed--a
widespread custom of the French peasantry; but a couple of men who
were eating salad and bread paid no heed to the furious cannonade that
was kept up by the darkened heavens. It was four o'clock, and they
were having their _gouter_. The peasants of the Quercy do not live on
the fat of the land; but they generally have five meals a day, two
more than the middle-class French. They begin with soup at a very
early hour in the morning; then they have their dinner about ten,
which is chiefly soup; at three or four they have a _gouter_ of bread
and cheese, salad or fruit; and at six or seven they have their
supper, which is soup again.

The old woman who sat near the window worked diligently with her
distaff laden with hemp, except when the flashing lightning made her
stop to raise her thin hand to her forehead. She was twisting the
thread from which the sheets of the country are made. They are coarse,
but they last longer than the hands that work the hemp, and descend
from mother to daughter.

More than two hours I waited in this auberge while the rain fell in
torrents, the lightning blazed, and the thunder crashed. The whole sky
was the colour of slate. When at length a line of bright light
appeared in the western sky, I could curb my impatience no longer,
and, hoisting my pack, I was soon on the road to Carennac.

A little beyond the village I passed a gipsy encampment ranged along
the side of the highway on a strip of waste land. There were no tents;
but there were four or five miserable little caravans, roofed over
with tattered and dirty canvas. They were tents on wheels. Some thin
and ascetic-looking old mules and wizen donkeys had been taken out of
the shafts, and were now nibbling the short wayside grass, the young
burdocks and mulleins, which, but for the rain, would have filled
their mouths with dust. Small portable stoves--alas! not the
traditional fire with three stakes set in the ground and tied at the
top, with the pot swinging therefrom--had been lighted outside the
caravans, and gipsy women were making the evening soup. Bright-eyed,
shock-headed, uncombed, unwashed, but exceedingly happy gipsy children
were tumbling over one another on the wet turf, showing so much of
their brown skin between their rags that they would have been more
comfortable and quite as decent had they been naked. A hideous old
man, merely skin and bones, sitting nose and knees together upon a
sack, did not take my curiosity in good part, but glared at me
morosely. The younger men of this interesting community were
elsewhere--perhaps mending saucepans, or reassuring ducks alarmed by
the thunderstorm. A musician of the party must have been kept in by
the bad weather, for from one of the caravans came the diabolic
screech of a wheezing concertina that had got rid of all its ideals
and dreams of distinction.

The bright line in the west moved very slowly upwards, and the rain
continued to fall, although less drenchingly than before. The setting
sun strove with the cloud-rack and coloured the veil of vapour that
its rays could not pierce. The nightingales and thrushes in the
shrubs, and the finches amidst the later blossoms of the may, took
heart again, and the song rose from so many throats near and far that
the whole valley of the Dordogne was filled with warbling. As the
birds grew drowsy the frogs came out to spend a happy night on the
margins of the pools and the brooks, until their joyful screaming and
croaking was a universal chorus. I was by the side of the broad river
that flowed calmly through the fairest meadows. The face of the
stream, the pools in the road, the grass and the leaves, were
brightened with the orange glow of a veiled light as of some sacred
fire shining in the dusk through clouds of incense. It grew warmer and
warmer until it purpled and died away in grayness and mournful shadow.
The beauty of nature at such moments, when the colours brighten and
fade like the powers of the mind as the human day is closing, takes a
solemnity that is unearthly, and it is good to be alone with the
mystery.

It was dark when I reached Carennac. I did not realize how wet I was
until I sat down in an auberge and tried to make myself comfortable
for the night. It is not easy, however, to be happy under such
circumstances. When the fire on the hearth was stirred up and fed with
fresh wood to cook my dinner of barbel that had just had time to die
after being pulled out of the Dordogne, I placed myself in the
chimney-corner to dry before the welcome blaze. How cheering is a
fire, even in June and in Southern France, on a rainy night, when the
sound of sighing trees comes down the chimney and the tired wayfarer's
clothes are sticking to his legs and back! How cheering, too, at such
a time is a dinner, however modest, in the light and warmth of the
fire. A humble barbel has then a more delicate flavour than a
salmon-trout cooked with consummate art for people who never know what
it is to be hungry.

The next morning I was in the cloisters belonging to the Benedictine
priory of Carennac, of which Fenelon was the titular prior. Hither he
came for quietude, and here he wrote his 'Telemaque,' a historical
trace of which is found in a little island of the Dordogne, which is
called 'L'Ile de Calypso.' It is recorded that the mother of the great
Churchman and writer, when she feared that she would be childless,
went on a pilgrimage to Roc-Amadour, and that Fenelon was the
consequence of that act of devotion.

The cloisters of Carennac, built from plans furnished by that fountain
of ecclesiastical art in the Middle Ages, the monastery of Cluny,
must, judging from the remnants of tracery in the arcades, and the
delicately carved bosses of the vaults, have been once a spot where
the spirit of Gothic architecture found delight. Now the spirit of
ruin dwells there, leading the bramble and the celandine to conquer,
year after year, some fresh territory upon the ancient quadrangle's
crumbling wall. Above, where the sunbeam strikes upon the wrinkled
stone, the lizard basks and the bee fresh from its hive hums as
blithely among the yellow flowers of the celandine as if the blocks
raised by men in their reaching towards Heaven were nothing more than
the rocks that cast their shadows upon the Dordogne. Upon the ground,
man, by using no rein of respect to curb the lower needs of life, has
desecrated the spot with pigsties! Some inhabitant of Carennac, into
whose hands the cloisters passed in recent times, thought that a place
which was good enough for Benedictine monks to walk in might, with a
little fresh masonry, be made fit for pigs to feed and sleep in. But
an end had come to this idyllic state of things. The cloisters of
Carennac had just been placed on the list of historic monuments. The
adjoining church had been 'classed' long before.

This church, a small Gothic edifice of the twelfth century, has a
far-projecting porch enriched with a specimen of mediaeval carving
which is a long delight to the few archaeologists who find their way
to the almost forgotten village of Carennac. The composition, which
fills the tympan of the scarcely-pointed arch, represents Christ
surrounded by the twelve Apostles. The influence of Byzantine art is
perceptible in the treatment. Very few such masterpieces of
twelfth-century carving have been so well preserved as this. The
seated figure of Christ in the act of blessing His Apostles, the right
hand upraised, the left resting upon a clasped book, impresses the
beholder by its majesty and serenity. Very different are the figures
of the Apostles: these are men, and of a very common type too, such as
the Benedictines were accustomed to see in their own cloisters, or
among their dependents at Carennac. But how animated are the forms,
and how expressive the faces! The mouldings which serve as a border to
the composition are much more Romanesque or Byzantine than Gothic, and
the columns that support it have capitals which are purely Romanesque.
In the interior of the church is a fifteenth-century group of seven
figures, representing the scene of the Holy Sepulchre; an admirable
composition, showing to what a high degree of excellence French
sculpture had attained even at the dawn of the Renaissance.




WAYFARING UNDERGROUND.


Upon the stony plateau above Roc-Amadour is a cavern well known in the
district as the Gouffre de Revaillon. It had for me a peculiar
attraction on account of the gloomy grandeur of the scene at the
entrance. When I saw it for the first time I understood at once the
supernatural horror in which the peasant has learnt to hold such
places. It responds to impressions left on the mind of the 'Stygian
cave forlorn,' the entrance to Dante's 'City of Sorrow,' and that
other cave where Aeneas witnessed in cold terror the prophetic fury of
the Sibyl.

This effect of gloom, horror and sublimity is the result of geological
conditions and the action of water, which together have produced many
similar phenomena in the region of the _causses_, but in no other
case, I believe, with such power in composing the picturesque. Imagine
an open plain which in the truly Dark Ages whereof man has had no
experience, but of whose convulsions he has learnt to read a little
from the book whose leaves are the rocks, cracked along a part of its
surface as a drying ball of clay might do, the fissure finishing
abruptly and where it is deepest in front of a mass of rock that
refused to split. This was apparently the beginning of the Gouffre de
Revaillon. Then came another submersion which greatly modified the
appearance of things. There was evidently a deluge here after the land
had dried and cracked, and it must have lasted a very long time for
the waves to have hollowed, smoothed and polished the rocks inside the
caverns and elsewhere as we now see them. Those who have observed with
a little attention a rugged coast will, without being geologists,
recognise the distinctly marine character of the greater number of
these orifices in the calcareous district of the _causses_. The
washing and smoothing action of the sea along the sides of the gorges
which cut up the surface of the country in such an astonishing manner
is not so easy to distinguish. But the reason is obvious. This
limestone rock is by its nature disintegrating wherever it is exposed
to the air and frost, and the foundations of the bastions which
support the _causses_ are being continually sapped by water which
carries away the lime in solution and deposits a part of it elsewhere
in the form of stalactite and stalagmite in the deep galleries where
subterranean rivers often run, and which probably descend to the
lowest part of the formation. Thus by the dislodgment of huge masses
of rock which have rolled down from their original positions, and the
breaking away of the surfaces of others, the most convincing traces of
the sea's action here have nearly disappeared. In the gorge of the
Alzou, however, near Roc-Amadour, about 100 feet above the channel of
the stream, there is a considerable reach of hard rock approaching
marble, the polished and undulating surface of which tells the story
of the ocean, just as the sides of the caverns in much more elevated
positions tell it.

In the rock where the fissure ends at Revaillon is an opening like a
vast yawning mouth, the roof of which forms an almost perfect dome.
Adown this a stream trickles towards the end of summer, but plunges
madly and with a frightful roar in winter and spring. The steep sides
of the narrow ravine are densely wooded, and the light is very dim at
the bottom when the sun is not overhead. I made my first attempt to
descend the dark passage in the early summer, but there was too much
water, and I was soon obliged to retreat. One afternoon in October I
returned with a companion, and we took with us a rope and plenty of
candles. We carried the rope in view of possible difficulties in the
shape of rocks inside the cavern, for it should be borne in mind that
in _gouffres_ of this character the stream frequently descends by a
series of cascades. The weather was very sultry, and the sky towards
the west was of a slaty blue. A fierce storm was threatening, but we
paid no attention to it--a mistake which others bent on exploring
caverns where streams still flow should be warned against. There is
probably no force in nature more terrible, or which makes a man's
helplessness more miserably felt, than water suddenly rushing towards
him when he is underground.

The sun was still shining, however, when we reached the Gouffre de
Revaillon and descended into the ravine over roots of trees coiling
upon the moss like snakes, some arching upward as if about to spring
at the throat of those who disturbed the elfish solitude. At our
coming there rose from the great rock such a multitude of jackdaws
that for some seconds they darkened the air. With harsh screams the
birds soared higher and higher above their fortress, which they had
possessed for ages in perfect security. We reached the bed of the
stream, where scattered threads of water tinkled as they fell over
huge blocks into little pools below, and then went whispering on their
way towards the darkness. At the botton of a long slant of greenish
slimy stone, patched here and there with moss, I stopped a few
minutes, feeling that I could not grasp without an effort the deep
gloom and grandeur of my surroundings. The jackdaws had all flown
away, and there was no sound now but the tinkle and gurgle of the
water. Great snails crawled upon the tufts of rank grass wet with the
autumnal dews that the sun had failed to dry, and upon the glistening
hart's-tongue ferns, and they looked just the kind of snails that
witches would collect to make a hell-broth. Dark ivy hung down from
the rocks, and under the vaulted entrance of the cavern was a clump of
elders, very sinister-looking, and giving forth when touched an evil
narcotic odour. Near these forlorn shrubs was a solitary plant of
angelica, now woebegone, its fringed leaves drooping, waiting for the
rising water to wash it into the darkness. There were willow-herbs
still in bloom, but the crane's-bill struggled with the gloom farther
than any other flowering plant, and its bright little purple lamps
shone in the very mouth of Night. Gnats there were too, spinning in
the semi-darkness, now sinking, now rising, keeping together, a merry
band of musicians, each with a small flute, piping perhaps to the
little goblins that swung on spiders' webs, and slept upon the fronds
of the ferns.

Candles were now lighted, and we left the glimmer of day behind us. A
little beyond the great dome the roof became so low that we had to
creep along almost on hands and knees, but it presently rose again,
and to a great height. The first obstacle--the one that sent me back a
few months before--was a steep rock down which the water then fell in
such a cascade that there was no getting a foothold upon it. Now the
water scarcely covered it, and there was no difficulty in reaching the
bottom. Here, however, was a pool through which we had to wade
knee-deep. The cavern continued, and the stalagmite became interesting
by its fantastic shapes. Here was a mass like an immense sponge, even
to the colour, and there, descending from the roof down the side of
the rock, was the waved hair of an undine that had been changed into
white and glistening stone. The stalactites were less remarkable. The
sound of dropping water told us that another cascade was near. This we
left behind by climbing along the side of the gallery, clinging to the
rock, and in the same way four more obstacles of precisely the same
character were overcome. All the distance the slope was rapid, but at
intervals there was a sudden fall of from ten to fifteen feet, with a
black-looking pool at the foot of the rock, hollowed out by the action
of the tumbling torrent. The last of these falls was the worst to
cross. To this point the cavern had been already explored, but no
farther apparently, the local impression being that it ended just
beyond. It was an ugly place. The rock over which the water fell was
almost perpendicular, and the pool at the bottom was larger and deeper
than the others. Seen by the light of day, any schoolboy might have
scoffed at the difficulty of getting beyond it, but when you are
descending into the bowels of the earth, where the light of two
candles can only dissolve the darkness a few yards around you, every
form becomes fantastic and awful, and the effect of water of unknown
depth upon the imagination is peculiarly disturbing. But we made up
our minds to go on if it were possible. The passage was very narrow,
and the sides offered few salient points to which one could cling. We
moved along a very narrow ledge in a sitting posture, and then, when
we had gone as far as we could in this way, and there was nothing
beyond to sit upon, we made a spring. My companion, being the more
agile, nearly cleared the pool, but I went in with a great splash, as
I expected, and thought myself lucky in being only wetted to the
waist. The water was not very cold, the temperature of the cavern
being much higher than that of the outer air.

We reckoned that we had by this time travelled underground about half
a mile, and as we had been descending rapidly all the way, the
distance beneath the surface must have been considerable. My theory
with regard to this stream was that it was a tributary of the
subterranean Ouysse; but the fact that the cavern ran north-west made
me change my opinion, and conclude that this water-course took an
independent line towards the Dordogne.

A little beyond the last pool the running water suddenly vanished. We
looked around to see if it had taken any side passage; but no: it
simply disappeared into the earth, although no hole was perceptible in
its stony channel. It passed by infiltration into some lower gallery,
where the light of a candle had never shone, and is never likely to
shine. But we had not reached the end of the cavern, although the
passage became so low that we had now really to go down on all-fours
in order to proceed. We had not to keep this posture long, for again
the roof rose, although to no great height. We walked on about fifty
yards or more, and then came to the end. There was no opening anywhere
except by the way we entered. We were like flies that had crawled into
a bottle, and a very unpleasant bottle it might have proved to us. We
noticed--at first with some surprise--that, although there was not a
drop of water now in this _cul-de-sac_, our feet sank into damp sand
that had evidently been carried there by water. Sticks were also lying
about, and the walls up to the roof were covered with a muddy slime.
It was evident that this hole had been filled with water, and not very
long ago; probably the last thunderstorm accounted for the signs of
recent moisture. While we were talking about this, a strange, muffled,
moaning sound reached our ears. We looked at one another over the tops
of two candles. 'Thunder,' said my companion. In a few minutes the
same dismal moan, long drawn out, came down the cavern, which acted
like a speaking-tube between us and the outer world, and conveyed a
timely warning. Was it in time? We were not quite sure of this, for as
we issued from the _cul-de-sac_ we heard the water coming down the
rocks with a very different voice from that which it had not many
minutes before. It was clear that the storm was beginning to tell upon
the stream, and if the rain had been falling for half an hour, as I
had already seen it fall in the Quercy, we might find the work of
recrossing those pools and climbing up the cascades anything but
cheerful. Already where we had been able to walk on dry stones the
water was now up to our ankles. The first cascade to surmount was the
worst. We decided to try it on the side opposite to the one by which
we descended, for we observed a jutting and highly-polished piece of
stalagmite, which promised to help the manoeuvre. One went first, and
the other waited, holding the candle. I was in the rear. When my
companion had reached the top of the cascade, I threw him the coil of
rope--a useless encumbrance, as it happened--and in so doing put out
the candle. Before I was sure that I had a dry match upon me, I failed
to seize the humour, although I felt the novelty of the situation.
During those seconds of uncertainty, the sound of the water--really
fast increasing--seemed to become a deafening roar. However, we both
had dry matches, and were able to relight our candles; but it might
have been otherwise, wet as we were. Without light we should have been
as helpless beneath those rocks as mice in a pitcher. The first
cascade conquered, we felt much more comfortable, for the picture of
being washed into that _cul-de-sac_ had flashed upon the mind of each.

As the next and the next cascade were passed, our spirits rose still
more; and when we saw the gray daylight in the distance, our gaiety
was quite genuine, and we no longer 'laughed yellow,' as the French
phrase it. The stream was rapidly becoming a frantic torrent, but we
were not afraid of it now. On reaching the dome, we saw the water
pouring over rocks that were dry when we entered, and the clouds
seemed to be emptying their rain in frenzy.

An hour later the stream that was lisping so innocently as it threaded
its way amongst the stones, and dropped from rock to rock before the
storm, sent up a wild roar from the bottom of the valley, and shrieked
like a tormented fiend, as it leaped into the black mouth of the
Gouffre de Revaillon. Tons of water had probably collected there at
the bottom of the gulf. And I, in my shortsightedness, had hoped that
the cavern was two or three miles long! I had great reason to be
thankful that it ended where it did, for the excitement of adventure
would have carried us on, and we might have gone too deep into the
earth to hear the thunder.

On emerging from the darkness, we made all the haste we could to reach
the nearest inn. The storm was still at its height; the thunder was an
almost continuous roar; and the quick lightning-flashes lit up the
streaming country. We were quite drenched on reaching a little wayside
auberge. Water was soon boiling upon the wood-fire, and having set
rheumatism at defiance with steaming glasses of grog, we left for
Roc-Amadour, where, on our arrival, we found our friends about to
start with lanterns to look for us in the Gouffre de Revaillon.

       *       *       *       *       *

Noticing one day a low cavern in the rocks beside the Ouysse, I asked
if anyone had ever entered it, and was told that a man had done so;
that he had found a long, low gallery, which he followed for two or
three hundred yards, and then gave up the attempt to reach the end. It
was well known that the hole, being on a level with the water, was
much used by otters. The desire to explore this cavern becoming
strong, I spoke to Decros about the adventure. He was ready to go with
me; and so we started, taking with us enough candles to light a
ball-room.

On our way over the hills from Roc-Amadour, we passed two dolmens, one
of which was in good preservation. There are several hundred of them
in the Quercy; and the peasants, who call them _pierros levados_
(raised stones), also 'tombs of the giants' and _cairous_, in which
last name the Celtic word _cairn_ has been almost preserved, treat
them now with indifference, although it is recorded of one of the
early bishops of Cahors that he caused a menhir to be broken to pieces
because it was an object of idolatrous worship. Those who have been to
the trouble of excavating have almost invariably found in each dolmen
a _cella_ containing human bones. In some of them flint implements
have been discovered; in others iron implements and turquoise
ornaments, showing that the tombs, although all alike, belong to
different periods. Tumuli are also numerous, but only a few menhirs
and traces of cromlechs are to be seen.

Close to the Gouffre de Cabouy, whose outflow forms a tributary of the
Ouysse, is a cottage where a man lives whose destiny I have often
envied. When he is tired of fishing or shooting, he works in his
thriving little vineyard, which he increases every year. The river is
as much his own as if it belonged to him; he gets all he wants by
giving himself very little trouble, and has no cares. We needed this
man's boat for our expedition, and we found it drawn into a little
cove beside the ruined mill, long since abandoned. It was a somewhat
porous old punt, with small fish swimming about in the bottom; but it
was well enough for our purpose. In the warm sunshine of the October
afternoon we glided gently down the quiet stream, which is very deep,
but so clear that you can see all the water-plants which revel in it,
down to the sand and pebbles. Near the banks we passed over masses of
watercress, and what might be likened to floating fields of lilies and
pond-weed.

It needed no little reflection and expenditure of art to insert the
prow of the boat into the mouth of the cavern. What an ugly and
uninteresting hole I then thought it! Having run the punt as far as we
could into the opening, there still remained about six feet of water
to cross before reaching the sandy mud beyond. A plank, however, that
we brought with us served as a bridge. The story of the otters was no
fable, for here were the footprints of the beasts all over the mud. We
lighted candles and looked into the hole. The ground rose and the roof
descended, so that to enter it was necessary to lie perfectly flat,
and to crawl along by a movement very like that of swimming; then the
passage became so small that there was only room for one to go at a
time. Neither of us was ambitious to go first, for there was just a
chance of an otter seizing the invader by the nose; but neither liked
to show the white feather. Each in turn went in a few yards, planted a
lighted candle in the mud, and then found some pretext for returning.
The hot air of the cavern was almost suffocating, and one felt so
helpless flattened against the earth, with the rock pressing so tight
upon the back that even to wriggle along was difficult. 'Decros is a
native,' thought I, 'and he ought to be used to this kind of work. I
will let him understand that he is expected now to do his duty.' In he
went again, and planted another candle about a yard in front of the
last one. Then he stopped and fired a shot from the revolver that we
carried in turn for the otters, and the sound of the detonation seemed
to echo in a muffled fashion from the bowels of the earth.

'How many otters have you killed?' I shouted.

'None,' he replied. 'I just fired to let them know that we are here.'

I then asked him if he was going on, and I fancied that he tried to
shrug his shoulders, but found the rock in the way. His practical
reply, however, was to slowly back out. When he was able to stand up
again, he said he believed he had seen the end of the cavern, and
would like me to take another look. I now realized that if the secrets
of the fantastic realm which my fancy had pictured were to be revealed
to me, there must be no more shirking. When I flattened myself out
again upon the mud, it was with the determination to go right through
the neck of the bottle, for such the passage figuratively was. At one
moment I felt tightly wedged, unable to move forward or backward, in a
hot steamy atmosphere that was not made any pleasanter by the smoke of
the burnt powder; but, the sight of the now rising roof encouraged me
to further efforts, and presently I was able to stand upright--in
fact, I was in a cavern where a giant of the first magnitude could
have walked about with ease, but where he might have been a prisoner
for life. I was resolved, however, that Decros should not escape his
share of the adventure, so I called to him to come on, and he quickly
joined me. To my great disappointment, the cavern soon came to an end.
Where, we asked, could the otters be hiding themselves? Examining the
place more carefully, we found a passage going under the rock at the
farther extremity, but nearly filled with sand which the river had
washed up in time of flood. Here, then, was the continuation of the
cavern. The passage had been made by water, for a subterranean stream
must at one time have found an exit here into the Ouysse, and now
water was reversing the process by filling up the ancient conduit. But
for the otters that kept it open, we should probably have seen no
trace of it; and it was for this that we had wriggled our way into the
hideous hole like serpents! I left with the impression that there was
much vanity in searching for the wonders of the subterranean world.

Having brought back the boat, we stopped at the cottage by the
vineyard and tried the juice of the grapes which three weeks before
were basking in the sun. It was now a fragrant wine of a rich purple,
with a certain flavour of the soil that made it the more agreeable.
The fisherman's wife also placed upon the table a loaf of home-made
bread, of an honest brown colour, some of the little Roc-Amadour
cheeses made from goat's milk, and a plate of walnuts. The window
looked out upon the sunny vines, whose leaves were now flaming gold or
ruddy brown; the blue river shone in the hollow below, and through the
open door there came the tinkling of bells from the rocky wastes where
the small long-tailed sheep were moving slowly homeward, nibbling the
stunted herbage as they went.

This sound reminded us that the sun would soon drop behind the hill,
and that the Pomoyssin, to which we intended to pay a visit on our way
home, was not a spot that gained attractiveness from the shades of
night. I had heard the country-people speak of it as a peculiarly
horrible and treacherous _gouffre_, and its name, which means
'unwholesome hole,' corresponds to the local opinion of it. The
shepherd children would suffer torture from thirst rather than descend
into the gloomy hollow and dip out a drop of the dark water which is
said to draw the gazer towards it, and then into its mysterious depths
under the rock, by the spell of some wicked power. Some years ago a
woman, supposed to have been drawn there by the evil spirit, was found
drowned, and since then the spot has been avoided even more than it
was before.

It was to this place, then, that we went when the sun was setting. The
way led up a deep little valley which was an absolute desert of
stones. A dead walnut-tree, struck apparently by lightning, with its
old and gnarled branches stretching out on one side like weird arms,
was just the object that the imagination would place in a valley
blighted by the influence of evil spirits, in proximity to a passage
communicating from their world to this one. Presently, as we drew near
some high rocks, Decros, pointing to a dark hollow in the shadow of
them said, 'There it is.' We went down into the basin to the edge of
the water that lay there, black and still, Decros showing evident
reluctance and restlessness the while, so strongly was his mind
affected by all the stories he had heard about the pool. Moreover, it
was rapidly growing dusk. In this half-light the funnel in which we
were standing certainly did look a very diabolic and sinister hole.
The fancy aiding, everything partook of the supernatural: the dark
masses of brambles hanging from the rocks, the wild vines clinging to
them with leaves like flakes of deep-glowing crimson fire, and
especially the intermittent sound of gurgling water.

I was glad to have seen the Pomoyssin under circumstances so
favourable, but it was with relief that I left it and began to climb
the side of the gorge from this valley of dreadful shadows towards the
pure sky that reddened as the brown dusk deepened below.




IN THE VALLEY OF THE CELE.


It was a burning afternoon of late summer when I walked across the
stony hills which separate the valley of the Lot from that of its
tributary the Cele, between Capdenac and Figeac. I did not take the
road, but climbed the cliffs, trusting myself to chance and the torrid
_causse_. I wished that I had not done so when it was too late to act
differently. There was nothing new for me upon the bare hills, where
all vegetation was parched up except the juniper bushes and the
spurge. At length I found the road that went down with many a flourish
into the valley of the Cele, and I reached Figeac in the evening,
covered with dust, and as thirsty as a hunted stag. Here I took up my
quarters for awhile.

Figeac is not a beautiful town from the Haussmannesque point of
view--the one that is destined to prevail in all municipal councils;
but it is full of charm to the archaeologist and the lover of the
picturesque. There are few places even in France which have undergone
so little change during the last five or six hundred years. Elsewhere,
thirteenth and fourteenth century houses are becoming rare; here they
are numerous. There are streets almost entirely composed of them.
These streets are in reality narrow crooked lanes paved with pebbles,
slanting towards the gutter in the centre. Some are only three or four
yards wide, and the walls half shut out the light of day. You look up
and see a mere strip of blue sky, but trailing plants reaching far
downward from window-sills, one above the other, light up the gloom
with many a patch of vivid green. You venture down some dim passage
and come suddenly upon a little court where an old Gothic portal with
quaint sculptures, or a Renaissance doorway with armorial bearings
carved over the lintel, bears testimony to the grandeur and wealth of
those who once lived in the now grimy, dilapidated, poverty-stricken
mansion. Pretentious dwellings of bygone days have long since been
abandoned to the humble.

Here is a typical house in the Rue Abel, which is scarcely wide enough
for two to walk abreast. The oak door is elaborately carved with heads
and leaves, flowers and line ornament, all in strong relief. One
grimacing puckered head has a movable tongue that once lifted a latch
on being touched. Near the ground the oak has been half devoured by
the damp. This door would have been sold long ago to antiquaries or
speculators if the house since the Revolution had not become the
property of several persons all equally suspicious of one another, and
with the Cadurcian bump of obstinacy equally developed. They had no
respect for the carving, and they were eager to 'touch' the money; but
their interests in the house not being the same, they could never come
to an understanding over the door; consequently, in spite of very
tempting offers, the piece of massive oak continues to hang upon its
rusty hinges. So much the better for the student of antiquities, for,
without denying that museums are eminently useful, it is certain that
they deprive objects of a great deal of their interest and their power
of suggesting ideas by detaching them from their surroundings.
Moreover, it is not at all sure that these things, when they have been
bought up and carried away, will ever be put in a place where anybody
can see them who may have the wish to do so. And then, when a thing
has been put into a museum, it becomes such labour and painfulness to
look for it; and most of us are so lazy by nature. I will make a frank
confession. For my own part, I should scarcely look at this old door
if it were in the Cluny or any other museum; but here, in ancient
Figeac, I see it where it was many lustres ago, and the pleasure of
finding it in the midst of the sordidness and squalor that follow upon
the decay of grandeur and the evaporation of human hopes makes me feel
much that I should not feel otherwise, and calls up ideas as a
February sunbeam calls gnats out of the dead earth and sets them
spinning.

I venture up the stone staircase, although most of the finely carved
balusters are gone, and the arch-stones have so slipped out of place
that they seem to cling together by the will of Providence rather than
by any physical law. The stairs themselves, although of fine stone
that has almost the polish of marble, are cracked as if an earthquake
had tormented them, and worn by the tread of innumerable feet into
deep hollows. I reach a landing where a long corridor stretches away
into semi-darkness. The floor is black with dirt, and so are the doors
which once opened into rooms where luxury waited upon some who were
born, and upon others (perchance the same) who died. A sound reaches
me from the far-end of the corridor that makes me feel like a coward.
It is the raving of a madman. How he seems to be contending with all
the fiends of hell! Sometimes his voice is so low, and the words crowd
one upon another so fast, that the muttering is like the prolonged
growl of a wild beast; then the mood changes, and the unseen man seems
to be addressing an invisible audience in grand sonorous sentences as
though he were a Cicero; and perhaps he may be, but as he speaks in
_patois_ his eloquence is lost upon me. What a terrible excitement is
in his voice! How it thrills and horrifies! And he is alone, quite
alone in this dismal old house with the fiends who harass him. This I
learn from a young girl whom I meet at the bottom of the staircase.
She tells me that the man is only mad at the time of the new or the
full moon (I forget which), and that his raving lasts but two or three
days. Then nobody ventures near him; but at other times he is quite
rational and harmless. He has left, however, upon me an impression
more lasting perhaps than that of the old tottering staircase that
threatens to close up every moment like a toy snake that has been
stretched out.

Most of the old houses are entered by Gothic doorways, and the oak
doors are studded with large nail-heads. The locks and bolts are of
mediaeval workmanship. Sometimes you see an iron ring hanging to a
string that has been passed through a hole in the door. It is just
such a string as Little Red Riding-hood (an old French fable,
by-the-bye) pulled to lift the latch at the summons of the wicked
wolf. And what a variety of ancient knockers have we here! Many are
mere bars of iron hanging to a ring; but others are much more
artistic, showing heads coifed in the style of the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, serpents biting their own tails, and all manner
of fanciful ideas wrought into iron. In wandering about the dim old
streets, paved with cobble stones, architectural details of singular
interest strike one at every turn. Now it is the encorbelment of a
turret at the angle of a fifteenth or sixteenth century mansion that
has lost all its importance; now a dark archway with fantastic heads
grimacing from the wall; now an arcade of Gothic windows, with
graceful columns and delicate carvings--a beautiful fragment in the
midst of ruin.

What helps much to render these dingy streets, passages, and courts of
Figeac so delightfully picturesque is the vegetation which, growing
with southern luxuriance in places seemingly least favourable to it,
clings to the ancient masonry, or brightens it by the strong contrast
of its immediate neighbourhood in some little garden or balustraded
terrace. Wherever there are a few feet of ground some rough poles
support a luxuriant vine-trellis, and grapes ripen where one might
suppose scarcely a gleam of sunshine could fall. The vine clambers
over everything, and sometimes reaches to the top of a house two
stories high. The old walls of Figeac are likewise tapestried with
pellitory and ivy-linaria, with here and there a fern pushing its
deep-green frond farther into the shadow, or an orpine sedum lifting
its head of purple flowers into the sunshine that changes it to a
flame.

There is much in the life of this place that matches perfectly with
the surroundings. Enter by a Gothic doorway, and you will come upon a
nail-maker's forge, and see a dog turning the wheel that keeps the
bellows continually blowing. The wheel is about a foot broad, and
stands some three feet high. The dog jumps into it at a sign from his
master, and as the wheel turns the sparks from the forge fall about
the animal in showers. Each dog is expected to work five or six hours;
then, when his task is done, he is allowed to amuse himself as he
pleases, while a comrade takes his turn at the wheel. The nail-makers
discovered long ago that dog labour was cheaper than boy labour, and
not so troublesome. Nevertheless, these wheels belong to an order of
things that has nearly passed away.

The crier or _tambourineur_, as he is generally called, because he
carries a drum, which he beats most lustily to awaken the curiosity of
the inhabitants, is making the round of the town with an ox, which is
introduced to the public as 'le boeuf ici present.' The crier's
business is to announce to all whom it may concern that the animal is
to be killed this very evening, and that its flesh will be sold
to-morrow at 1 franc 25 centimes the kilo. It will all go at a uniform
price, for this is the local custom. Those who want the _aloyau_, or
sirloin, only have to be quick. The ox, notwithstanding that he has a
rope tied round his nose and horns, and is led by the butcher,
evidently thinks it a great distinction to be _tambourine_; his
expression indicating that this is the proudest day of his life. Every
time the drum begins to rattle he flourishes his tail, and when each
little ceremony is over he moves on to a fresh place with a jaunty
air, as if he were aware that all this drumming and fuss were
especially intended for his entertainment. No condemned wretch ever
made his last appearance in public with a better grace.

Another day I see this crier going round the town accompanied by a boy
every available part of whose person is decked with ribbons, and all
kinds of things ordinarily sold by drapers and haberdashers. Over each
shoulder is slung a pair of women's boots. The boy is a walking
advertisement of an exceptional sale, which a tradesman announces with
the help of the crier and his drum.

A band of women and girls come up from the riverside, walking in
Indian file, and each with a glittering copper water-pot on her head.
What beautiful water-pots these are! They have the antique curve that
has not changed in the course of ages. They swell out at the bottom
and the top, and fall gracefully in towards the middle. As the women
quit the sunshine and enter the deep shadow of the street the shine of
their water-pots is darkened suddenly, like the sparks of burnt paper
which follow one upon another and go out.

The sound of solemn music draws me into a church. A requiem Mass is
being chanted. In the middle of the nave, nearer the main door than
the altar, is a deal coffin with gable-shaped lid, barely covered by a
pall. A choir-boy comes out of the sacristy, carrying a pan of live
embers, which he places at the head of the coffin. Then he sprinkles
incense upon the fire, and immediately the smoke rises like a
snow-white cloud towards the vaulting; but, meeting the sunbeams on
its way, it moves up their sloping golden path, and seems to pass
through the clerestory window into the boundless blue.

Now the procession moves towards the cemetery. It is a boy's funeral,
and four youths of about the same age as the one who lies in darkness
hold the four corners of each pall, two of which are carried in front
of the coffin. After the hearse come members of the confraternity of
Blue Penitents, one of whom carries a great wooden cross upon his
shoulder. Others carry staves with small crosses at the top, or
emblems of the trades that they follow. The dead boy's father is a
Penitent, and this is why the confraternity has come out to-day. They
now wear their _cagoules_ raised; but on Good Friday, when they go in
procession to a high spot called the Calvary, the leader walking
barefoot and carrying the cross on his shoulder in imitation of
Christ, they wear these dreadful-looking flaps over their faces. Their
appearance then is terrible enough; but what must that of the Red
Penitents, who accompanied condemned wretches to execution, have been?
In a few years there will be no Blue Penitents at Figeac. As the old
members of the confraternity die, there are no postulants to fill
their places. Already they feel, when they put on their 'sacks', that
they are masquerading, and that the eye of ridicule is upon them. This
state of mind is fatal to the conservation of all old customs. The
political spirit of the times is, moreover, opposed to these religious
processions in France. That of the _fete-Dieu_ at Figeac would have
been suppressed some years ago by the Municipal Council had it not
been for the outcry of the tradespeople. All the new dresses, new
hats, and new boots that are bought for this occasion cause money to
be spent that might otherwise be saved, and those who are interested
in the sale of such things wish the procession through the streets to
be kept up, although in heart they may be among the scoffers at
religion.

The religious confraternities in Aquitaine date from the appearance of
the _routiers_ at the close of the twelfth century. These _routiers_
were then chiefly Brabancons, Aragonese, and Germans. According to an
ecclesiastical author and local historian, the Abbe Debon, the lawless
bands spread such terror through the country that they stopped the
pilgrims from going to Figeac, Conques, and other places that had
obtained a reputation for holiness. A canon of Le Puy in Auvergne,
much distressed by the desertion of the sanctuary of Notre Dame de
Puy, which rivals that of Roc-Amadour in antiquity, formed the design
of instituting a confraternity to wage war against the _routiers_ and
destroy them. A 'pious fraud' was adopted. A young man, having been
dressed so as to impersonate Notre Dame du Puy, appeared to a
carpenter who was in the habit of praying every night in the
cathedral, and gave him the mission of revealing that it was the will
of the Holy Virgin that a confraternity should be formed to put down
the brigands and establish peace in the country. Hundreds of men
enrolled themselves at once. The confreres, from the fact that they
wore hoods of white linen, obtained the name of Chaperons Blancs. Upon
their breasts hung a piece of lead with this inscription: 'Agnus Dei
qui tollis peccata mundi dona nobis pacem.' The confraternity spread
into Aquitaine, and the _routiers_ were defeated in pitched battles
with great slaughter; but the _chaperons_ in course of time became
lawless fanatics, and were almost as great a nuisance to society as
those whom they had undertaken to exterminate. They were nevertheless
the ancestors in a sense of the confraternities of penitents who, at a
later period, became so general in Europe.

The monthly fair at Figeac offers some curious pictures of rural life.
The peasants crowd in from the valleys and the surrounding _causses_.
Racial differences, or those produced by the influences of soil and
food--especially water--for a long series of generations, are very
strongly marked. There is the florid, robust, blue-eyed, sanguine
type, and there is the leaden-coloured, black-haired, lantern-jawed,
sloping-shouldered, and hollow-chested type. Then there are the
intermediates. Considered generally, these peasants of the Haut-Quercy
are not fine specimens of the human animal. They are dwarfed, and very
often deformed. Their almost exclusively vegetable diet, their
excessive toil, and the habit of drinking half-putrid rain-water from
cisterns which they very rarely clean, may possibly explain this
physical degeneration of the Cadurci. Their character is honest in the
main, but distrustful and superficially insincere by nature or the
force of circumstance. Their worst qualities are shown at a fair,
where they cheat as much as they can, and place no limit to lying.
Their canon of morality there is that everyone must look after
himself. I have been assured by a priest that they never think of
confessing the lies that they tell in bartering, because they maintain
that every man who buys ought to understand his business. I much
wondered why, at a Figeac fair, when there was a question of buying a
bullock, the animal's tail was pulled as though all his virtue were
concentrated in this appendage. I learnt that the reason of the
tugging was this: Cattle are liable to a disease that causes the tail
to drop off, but the people here have discovered a very artful trick
of fastening it on again, and it needs a vigorous pull to expose the
fraud. Among other tricks of the country is that of drenching an
ill-tempered and unmanageable horse with two _litres_ of wine before
taking him to the fair. He then becomes as quiet as a lamb. I heard
the story of a _cure_, who was thus imposed upon by one of his own
parishioners. He wanted a very quiet horse, and he found one at the
fair; but the next day, when he went near the animal, it appeared to
be possessed of the devil. All this is bad; but there is satisfaction
to the student of old manners in knowing that everything takes place
as it did centuries ago. The cattle-dealers and peasants here actually
transact their business in _pistoles_ and _ecus_. A _pistole_ now
represents 10 francs, and an _ecu_ 3 francs.

The summer is glorious here, and as the climate is influenced by that
of Auvergne, it is less enervating by the Cele than in the
neighbouring valley of the Lot. There, some twenty miles farther
south, the grapes ripen two or three weeks sooner than they do upon
these hillsides. But the _vent d'autan_--the wind from the
south-east--is now blowing, and, although there is too much air, one
gasps for breath. The brilliant blue fades out of the sky, and the sun
just glimmers through layers of dun-coloured vapour. It is a sky that
makes one ill-tempered and restless by its sameness and indecision.
But the wind is a worse trial. It blows hot, as if it issued from the
infernal cavern. It sets the nerves altogether wrong, and disposes one
to commit evil deeds from mere wantonness and the feeling that some
violent reaction from this influence is what nature insists upon. It
is a wind that does not blow a steady honest gale, but goes to work in
a treacherously intermittent fashion--now lulled to a complete calm,
now springing at you like a tiger from the jungle. Then your eyes are
filled with dust, unless you close them quickly, or turn your back to
the enemy in the nick of time. The night comes, and brings other
trouble. You try to sleep with closed windows, so that you may hear
less of the racket that the wind makes outside, but it is impossible:
you stifle. You get up and open a window--perhaps two windows. The
wind rushes in, but it is like the hot breath of a panting dog. The
noise of swinging _persiennes_ that have got loose, and are banged now
against the wall, now against the window-frame, mingles with a woful
confusion of sounds within, as though a most unruly troop of ghosts
were dancing the _farandole_ all through the house. If any door has
been left open, it worries you more by its banging at intervals of a
minute than if it went on without stopping to consider. Therefore you
are compelled to rise again, and go and look for it--anything but a
cheerful expedition if you cannot find the matches. When this south
wind falls, the rain generally comes, bringing great refreshment to
the parched earth, and all the animals that live upon it.

As I have referred to the house in which I live, I may as well say
something more with regard to it and the things which it contains. It
is not one of the ancient houses of Figeac, but it is old-fashioned
and provincial. The rooms are rather large, the floors are venerably
black, and the boarded ceilings supported by rafters have never had
their structural secrets or the grain of the timber concealed by a
layer of plaster. What you see over-head is simply the floor of the
room or the loft above. And yet this is not considered a poor-kind of
house; it is as good as most good people hereabouts live in. The
furniture is simple, but solid; it was made to last, and most of it
has long outlasted the first owners. In every room, the kitchen
excepted, there is a bed, according to the very general custom of the
country. The character of the people is distinctly utilitarian,
notwithstanding the blood of the troubadours. There is even a bed in
the _salle a manger_. A piece of furniture, however, from which my eye
takes more pleasure is one of those old clocks which reach from the
ceiling to the floor, and conceal all the mystery and solemnity of
pendulum and weights from the vulgar gaze. It has a very loud and
self-asserting tick, and a still more arrogant strike, for such an old
clock; but, then, everybody here has a voice that is much stronger
than is needed, and it is the habit to scream in ordinary
conversation. A clock, therefore, could not make itself heard by such
people as these Quercynois, unless it had a voice matching in some
sort with their own. Another piece of furniture that pleases me,
because it is of shining copper, which always throws a homely warmth
into a room, is a large basin fixed upon a stand against the wall,
with a little cistern above it, also of copper. It is intended for
washing the hands by means of a fillet of water that is set running by
turning the tap. In this dry part of the world water has to be used
sparingly, and, indeed, there is very little wasted upon the body.
Everybody who has travelled in Guyenne must be familiar with the
article of household furniture just described. Every young wife
piously provides herself with one, together with a warming-pan; for
the old domestic ideas are religiously handed down here from mother to
daughter. But I must shorten this 'journey round my room,' so little
in the manner of Le Maistre.

Most of the furniture was once the property of a priest, and would be
still if he were alive. The good man is gone where even the voices of
the Figeacois cannot reach him; but he has left abundant traces of his
piety behind him. The walls of these rooms are almost covered by them.
I cannot help being edified, for I am unable to look upon anything
that approaches the profane.

When I grow thoughtful over all these works of art and _objets de
piete_--engravings, lithographs, statuettes, crucifixes, crosses
worked in wool, stables of Bethlehem, little holy-water stoops, and
the faded photographs belonging to the early period of the art
(portraits, no doubt, of brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces, all
revealing that air of rusticity in Sunday clothes which is not to be
mistaken)--I have before me the whole story of a simple life,
surrounding itself year after year with fresh emblems and tokens of
the hope that reaches beyond the grave, and the affections of nature
that become woven on this side of it, and which mingle joy and sorrow
even in the cup of a village priest.

It is in these quiet, provincial places, where existence goes on in
the old-fashioned, humdrum way, that people take care of their
household property, and respect the sentiment that years lay up in it:
they hand it down to the next generation as they received it. Little
objects of common ornament, of religious or intellectual pleasure,
thus preserved, throw in course of time a vivid light on human
changes.

And it is this vivid light that I am now feeling in these dim rooms. I
am aware that nearly everything here is the record of an epoch to
which I do not belong--that the world's mind has undergone a great
change even in the provinces since the influence that comes forth from
these silent traces of past thought were in harmony with it. What
interests me more than anything else here is an allegorical or
mystical map, designed, drawn, and coloured with all the patience and
much of the artistic skill of an illuminating monk of the thirteenth
century. I doubt if in any presbytery far out in the marshes or on the
mountains a priest could now be found with the motive to undertake
such a task. It belongs to the same order of ideas as the 'Pilgrim's
Progress.' In this map one sees the 'States of Charity,' the 'Province
of Fervour,' the 'Empire of Self-Contempt,' and other countries
belonging to a vast continent, of which the centre is the 'Kingdom of
the Love of God,' connected to a smaller continent--that of the
world--by a narrow neck of land called the 'Isthmus of Charity.' In
the continent of the world are shown the 'Mountain of Ingratitude,'
the 'Hills of Frivolity,' the territory of 'Ennui,' of 'Vanity,' of
'Melancholy,' and of all the evil moods and vices to which men are
liable. Separated from the mainland, and washed by the 'Torrent of
Bitterness,' are the 'Rocks of Remorse.' Among the allegorical emblems
in various parts of the chart is a very remarkable tree with blue
trunk and rose-coloured leaves called the 'Tree of Illusions.' Far
above it lies the 'Peninsula of Perfection,' and near to this, under a
mediaeval drum-tower, is the gateway of the 'City of Happiness.'

There is a little garden at the back of the house, where flowers and
vegetables are mixed up in the way I like. The jessamine has become a
thicket. Vines ramble over the trellis and the old wall, and from the
window I see many other vines showing their lustrous leaves against
tiled roofs of every shade, from bright-red to black. In the next
garden is my friend the _aumonier_, an octogenarian priest, who is
still nearly as sprightly of body as he is of mind. He lives alone,
surrounded by books, in the collection of which he has shown the broad
judgment, and impartiality of the genuine lover of literature. There
is a delicious disorder in his den, because there is no one to
interfere with him. He is now much excited against the birds because
they will not leave his figs alone, and someone has just lent him a
blunderbuss wherewith to slay them. Perhaps he will show them the
deadly weapon, and hope that they will take the hint; but there is too
much kindness underneath his wrath for him to be capable of murdering
even a thievish sparrow. He likes to make others believe, however,
that he is desperately in earnest. His keen sense of the comic and the
grotesque in human nature makes him one of the raciest of
story-tellers; but although he does not put his tongue in traces, he
is none the less a worthy priest. There are many such as he in
France--men who are really devout, but never sanctimonious, whose
candour is a cause of constant astonishment, who are good-natured to
excess, and who are more open-hearted than many children. Their
friendship goes out readily to meet the stranger, and, speaking from
my own experience, I can say that it wears well. In the street, on the
other side of the house, six women have perched themselves in a row.
They have come out to talk and enjoy the coolness of the evening, and,
in order that their tender consciences may not prick them for being
idle, they are paring potatoes, and getting ready other vegetables for
the morrow. They all scream together in Languedocian, which,
by-the-bye, is anything but melodious here when spoken by the common
people. It becomes much less twangy and harsh a little farther South.
How these six charmers on chairs can all listen and talk at the same
time is not easy to understand. The truth is, very little listening is
done in this part of the world. The saying _On se grise en parlant_ is
quite applicable here. People often get drunk on nothing stronger than
the flow of their own words.

All the women being now on their way to the land of dreams, and
consequently quiet for a few hours, and all the sounds of the earth
being hushed save the song of the crickets among the vine-leaves, and
in the fruit-trees of the moonlit garden, I will try to see Figeac up
the vista of the ages, and if I succeed, perhaps the reader may be
helped at the same time to gather interest in this queer old place,
whose name, having been made familiar to the English who followed
Henry II to France in the twelfth century, is perhaps a reason why
their descendants will not 'skip' at first sight these few pages of
local history.

The early history of Figeac, or what has long passed as such, is based
upon an ingenious stratification of fraud, arising out of a very old
quarrel between the monks of Figeac and the monks of Conques, and the
determination of the former to prove at all costs that their monastery
was the more ancient of the two. This would be a matter of
indifference to me had I not been myself entrapped by the snares laid
by certain abbots of Figeac for their contemporaries and posterity,
and been obliged to throw away much that I had written, and which was
far more interesting than the truth. If I had only suspected the
fraud, I might have been tempted to keep suspicion down in order to
spare the picture of the Carlovingian age which I had elaborated; but
it is known at the Ecole des Chartres, and the Abbe B. Massabie of
Figeac has, moreover, written a book that removes all doubt as to the
spuriousness of the charters upon which the abbots of Figeac, when
their jealousy of Conques reached its climax in the eleventh century,
based their pretensions to priority. The most important of these
charters, and the one that has sent various local historians on a
voyage into the airy realms of fiction, is attributed to Pepin le
Bref, and bears the date 755. Another is a Bull attributed to Pope
Stephanus II., also dated 755, in which is described the ceremony of
consecrating the church of St. Sauveur, attached to the abbey, which
in the first-mentioned document Pepin is said to have founded. Here it
is related that when the Pontiff approached the church strains of
mysterious music were heard issuing from the edifice, and such a cloud
stood before it that the procession waited for hours before entering.
Then, when the Pope walked up to the altar-stone, he found that it had
been miraculously consecrated, crosses being marked upon it in oil
still wet. Now, the charter attributed to Pepin contains many passages
copied verbatim from one preserved at Rodez, and signed by Pippinus,
or Pepin I., King of Aquitaine. Its date is 838, and it enriches the
monastery of Conques, already existing, with certain lands at Fiacus
(Figeac), which is thenceforward to be called New Conques; the motive
of this gift being to extend to the monks those material advantages
which a rich valley is able to afford, but which are not to be found
in a stony gorge surrounded by barren hills. There would have been
less scandal to Christianity if Pepin had put a curb on his pious
generosity, and had left the monks of Conques to contend with the
desert. The charter, moreover, sanctions the building of a monastery
at Figeac, which is to remain under the rule and governance of the
abbots of Conques. In the eleventh century, the discord between the
two monasteries had reached such a pass that popes and councils were
appealed to to settle the question of priority. In 1096 the Council of
Nimes laid down a _modus vivendi_ without pronouncing upon the
principle. It was decreed that the abbots of Figeac should thenceforth
be independent of the abbots of Conques.

The monks of Conques appear to have followed originally the rule of
St. Martin, and to have adopted that of St. Benedict soon after its
introduction into France. The abbey of Figeac was therefore always
Benedictine. About the year 900 the monks began to cultivate learning,
their labour having previously been devoted almost exclusively to the
soil. A certain Abbot Adhelard set them to copy manuscripts, and in
course of time Figeac possessed a valuable library, of which the
religious wars of the sixteenth century and the Revolution have left
very few traces.

The first half of the eleventh century was full of turmoil, trouble,
and torment. The 'blood-rain' that fell all over Aquitaine, and which
made people watch in terror for what might come next, was followed by
a three years' famine, which drove men in their hunger to prey upon
one another. The inns were man-traps; solitary travellers who ventured
inside of them were killed and devoured. Those were not good wayfaring
days. A man actually offered human flesh for sale in the market of
Tournus; but he was burnt alive. During this frightful period, the
Abbot of Figeac distinguished himself by his charity, and, in order to
find work for the unemployed, built a wall round the burg; but the
monastery was much impoverished in consequence.

Towards the close of the eleventh century four slender
obelisks--called 'needles' in the country--were set up on the hills
around Figeac apparently to mark the boundaries of the _sauvete_; for
the abbey enjoyed the right of sanctuary. Two of these needles still
exist. According to an absurd story, which has been repeated by
various writers, misled by the forgeries already mentioned, the monks,
when they came to this part of the valley of the Cele, found it an
uninhabited wilderness without a name, and somebody exclaimed, 'Fige
acus!' ('Set up needles!'), when the question of marking the boundary
was being discussed. This ingenious explanation of the word Figeac
will not bear examination.

Every traveller in Aquitaine must have been struck by the remarkable
number of places there whose names end in _ac_. It is commonly
supposed that the termination is derived from _aqua_, and refers to
the river or stream near which the town or village was built.

_Ac_, however, does not at all correspond to the well-known
corruptions of _aquae_ still found in the names of places in France
where the Romans constructed baths. We are on much surer ground in
assuming it to be of Celtic origin, and to have belonged in a special
manner to the dialect spoken by the Cadurci, Ruteni and other Southern
tribes. It nevertheless occurs at Carnac--that spot of Brittany where
is to be seen the most remarkable of all monuments, commonly
attributed to the Celts. The word probably meant town. It is
unreasonable to suppose that the monks found the valley of the Cele a
desert, considering how densely populated was the whole of this part
of Gaul at the time of Caesar's invasion. So inhabited was it that the
surplus population spread all over the known world, just as the
English do to-day. The popular notion with regard to the needles is
that they were intended to carry lanterns to guide the pilgrims by
night either to Figeac or to Roc-Amadour. Such lanterns were set up in
Aquitaine, and some examples may still be seen; but they are very
different in character from these obelisks, which in all probability
were used to mark the boundary of the _salvamentum_. It is true that
in the Middle Ages the right of asylum was, as a rule, confined to the
sanctuary itself or its immediate precincts; but there were
exceptions, especially in the South of France, where this sacred zone,
which in the Romance language was termed the _sauvetat_, often
extended a considerable distance beyond the walls of a monastic town.
Within these bounds persons fleeing from pursuers had the right of
asylum; but, on the other hand, there are documents to show that those
who committed crimes inside the limit were held guilty of sacrilege.

Early in the Middle Ages the town of Figeac enjoyed the privileges of
a royal borough under the protection of the kings of France, who in
course of time came to be represented there by their _viguier_
(vicar). The civic administration was in the hands of consuls as early
as the year 1001. They rendered justice and even passed sentence of
death. The burghers were exempt from all taxation and servitude. The
municipality had the right of coining money for the king, and the
ruined mint can still be seen. Such was the state of things down to
the time when the English appeared in the country. Henry II., having
taken Cahors in 1154, left his chancellor, Becket, there as governor.
The Figeacois, who at first looked upon Becket as an enemy, after he
was murdered at Canterbury, and when the fame of his saintliness began
to spread through France, dedicated a church to him. This edifice has
disappeared; but the part of the town where it was situated, or where,
to speak more correctly, it was afterwards rebuilt, is still called
the Quartier St. Thomas. So little were the English loved, however, as
a nation by the Quercynois, that, after St. Louis had been canonized,
they refused to observe his festival, because they found it impossible
to forgive him for having, by the treaty of Abbeville, passed them
over to England without their consent.

Figeac was less troubled than some other towns in the Quercy by the
English, because in different treaties the kings of France managed to
keep a grip upon it as a royal borough.

The gates of the town were, however, thrown open to the English
without a struggle about the middle of the fourteenth century, and to
punish the consuls, when they again became French, King John took away
their right to coin money; but the privilege was restored in
consideration of the ardour they had shown in freeing themselves from
the British yoke.

The victory of the Black Prince at Poitiers, followed by the treaty of
Bretigny, made the King of England absolute master of the Quercy. The
Prince of Wales came in person to take possession of Cahors in 1364,
and despatched his seneschal, Thomas de Walkaffara, to Figeac to
receive from the inhabitants the oath of fealty. They swore obedience,
but with much soreness of soul. They afterwards got released from
their oath by the Pope, and joined a fresh league formed against the
English. After enjoying the sweets of French nationality again for a
brief period, they were made English once more by the treaty of
Troyes. But the British domination in Guyenne was now approaching its
close. The maid of Domremy was about to change her distaff for an
oriflamme. The year 1453 saw the English power completely broken in
Aquitaine; a collapse which an old rhymer records with more relish
than inspiration:

    'Par Charles Septieme a grande peine
      Furent chasses en durs detroits
    Les Anglais de toute Aquitaine,
      Mil quatre cent cinquante trois.'

Figeac escaped the horrors which were spread through the South of
France by the religious wars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries;
but it was not similarly spared by those of the sixteenth century. The
Huguenots laid siege to the town in 1576, and entered it by the
treasonable help of a woman--the wife of one of the consuls. There was
the usual massacre that followed victory, whether on the side of
Protestants or Catholics, and the people became Calvinists for the
same reason that they had centuries before become English. In less
than fifty years afterwards they were all Catholics again. During this
unsettled period, however, there was great domestic dissension in the
town, owing to the circumstance that many women belonging to the old
Catholic stock had married Protestants who had come into the place. As
they could not agree with their husbands, and as many of these refused
to be converted for their sake (they may have been thankful for an
opportunity of getting rid of them), a refuge called 'L'hospice des
mal-mariees' was built for the unhappy wives. When the need for this
very singular institution no longer existed it was pulled down.

The Church of St. Sauveur, as we see it to-day, is disappointing. It
has been so much rebuilt after different convulsions, and pulled about
when there has been less excuse, that many a church in an obscure
village gives more pleasure as a whole to the eye that seeks unity of
design and inspiration in a work of art. Nevertheless, there are
details here that no archaeologist will despise. In the nave are the
piers and Romanesque capitals of an early, but not the earliest,
church on the spot. They are certainly not later than the twelfth
century. Baptismal fonts, now used as holy-water stoups, are probably
of anterior workmanship. Cut out of solid blocks of stone, their
carving shows all the interlacing lines and exquisite finish of
detail, purely ornamental, that marks the pre-Gothic period in the
South of France, when the artistic spirit of Christianity was still
confined to the close imitation of Roman and Byzantine art.

The Church of Notre Dame du Puy, built upon a height, as the word
_puy_ implies, is likewise interesting only in respect of details,
such as the sculptured archivolts of the portal and the
fourteenth-century rose-window. It, however, contains a very
remarkable example of sixteenth-century wood-carving in its massive
and elaborate reredos, a portion of which, having been destroyed by
fire, has been repaired with plaster, but so skilfully that it is very
difficult to perceive where the artistic fraud begins and where it
ends.

The extraordinary interest of Figeac to the archaeologist lies,
however, in its civic and domestic architecture. This has been
preserved simply because the inhabitants have for centuries played no
part in the political history of the country, and their pursuits or
interests having remained constantly agricultural, they have been
equally cut off from the commercial movement. But every year will
diminish the charm of this dirty old town to the antiquary. It will be
observed that all the old streets are not accidentally crooked, but
that they have been carefully laid out on curved or zigzag lines,
which turn now in one direction and now in another. The motive was a
defensive one in view of street-fighting, which was often so terrible
and so prolonged in the Middle Ages. Each curve of a street formed an
obstacle to the onward rush of an enemy, and only allowed those
burghers who were actually engaged to be exposed to arrows and bolts.
The townsmen could dispute the ground inch by inch and for days, as
they did at Cahors when they were surprised by Henry of Navarre,
although firearms had then come into use.

Wine-growing, until some eight or ten years ago, was the chief source
of revenue to the people of Figeac, as well as to those in the
neighbouring valley of the Lot. Middle-aged people here can recollect
the days when wine was so cheap that the inn-keepers did not take the
trouble to measure it out to their customers, but charged them a
uniform price of two sous for stopping and drinking as much as they
pleased. But all this has been changed by the phylloxera. From being
exceptionally prosperous, the people of the district have become poor.
Very few have now any money to lay out in replanting their vineyards.
Land has so fallen in value that it can be bought at a price that
seems scarcely credible. With 100 one might become the proprietor of
a large vineyard. Higher up the hills, where the chestnut and juniper
thrive, half the money would buy quite a considerable estate. Here and
elsewhere in France thousands of acres lie uncultivated and
unproductive, except as regards that which nature unaided renders to
man. Not all, but a very large portion, of this waste-land would well
repay cultivation if the capital needed for clearing and working it
were obtainable. That the lands suitable for wine-growing could be
rendered remunerative is absolutely certain if those who undertook the
task had the money necessary for the first outlay of planting and
could afford to wait for the return.

The valley of the Cele between Figeac and the junction of the little
river with the Lot contains some of the most picturesque scenery to be
found in the Quercy. About ten miles below Figeac it becomes a gorge,
which until past the middle of the present century was almost cut off
from communication with neighbouring towns. All the carrying was done
on the backs of mules and donkeys; but since the road was made along
the right bank of the Cele, these animals have been used less and
less. It is no uncommon thing, however, to see now a heavily-laden
pack-mule coming up the valley to the Figeac fair. It was in their
rock-fortresses by the Cele that the English companies in Guyenne are
said to have made their final resistance. The long and sustained
efforts which were needed to dislodge them from their almost
inaccessible fastnesses will be understood by anyone who may go
wayfaring like myself along the banks of this tributary of the Lot.

For the first two hours the walk was unexciting, for the valley was
too wide and too cultivated to give much pleasure to the eye that
looks for character in nature. At the village of Corn there was a
decided change. Here lofty honeycombed rocks rose behind the houses
that were built not very far above the stream, whose swiftness is
supposed to have been the origin of its name. Not one of the several
caverns extends far into the cliff. Their chief interest lies in the
traditions with which they are associated. In one of them the
inhabitants of the little burg are said to have assembled in the
Middle Ages to elect their consuls freely, and to escape possible
annoyance from their lord, whose castle was on the opposite hill.
Another, still called the Citadel, was that in which they took refuge
from the enemy, especially from the roving bands of armed men who made
common cause with England. In 1380 Bertrand de Bassoran, captain of an
English company, captured Corn, and using this place as his _point
d'appui_, he placed garrisons in the neighbouring burgs of Brengues,
Sauliac, and Cabrerets. He also compelled the consuls of Cajarc to
treat with him.

After a hasty meal in a little inn where I had to be satisfied mainly
with good intentions, I called upon the schoolmaster. The poor man was
spending most of his dinner-hour on the threshold of his small
school-house amidst the rocks because some unruly or idle urchins were
'kept in.' How much pleasanter, I thought, it would have been for him
to have produced in their case a wholesome cutaneous irritation, and
set himself, as well as the young reprobates, free! But the French law
does not tolerate the corporal punishment of children nowadays,
although the exasperated pedagogue cannot always resist the temptation
of applying his ruler upon a bunch of grimy little knuckles. This
schoolmaster, although he was past the age of fifty and had grown
corpulent, was still tied fast to the village schoolroom that was much
too small to hold thirty children comfortably. By the aid of reading,
writing, and arithmetic, he had got into a little creek where he was
safe from the stormy seas of life, and he had never allowed his
ambition to draw him out into the ocean. Nevertheless, he nursed and
rocked his little vanity like the rest of mortals. He had written what
he termed a 'Monograph of Corn.' He brought out from his desk a
copybook wherein he had set it all down with the utmost attention to
upstrokes and downstrokes and punctuation. It was a pleasure to him to
find somebody to whom he could read what he had written, and he had in
me an attentive listener.

Wandering on by the winding Cele, the charm of the little river made
me sit down upon a bank to look at the pictures that were painted on
the water by the sunshine, the clouds, and the poplars. Then,
continuing my journey, I saw on the opposite side of the stream a
cluster of houses with an ancient church in their midst, and almost
detached from this church, and yet a part of it, a tower like a
campanile capped by a wooden belfry with pointed roof and far-reaching
eaves. A bridge led across the water. I found the village to be Sainte
Eulalie d'Espagnac. Here there existed from the early Middle Ages a
celebrated convent for women of the order of St. Augustine. The
founder, Aymeric d'Hebrard, was the Bishop of a see in Spain, and he
brought thence Moorish slaves to cultivate the land with which he had
endowed his community of a hundred nuns. Down to the Revolution most
of the daughters of the nobility in the Quercy were educated here.
Little is now left of the conventual building; but the church contains
architectural details of much interest, and the tombs of those
irreconcilable enemies of the English, Bertrand de Cardaillac, Bishop
of Cahors, and the Marquis de Cardaillac--the most famous warrior of
this bellicose and illustrious family.

Having reached the village of Brengues, I went immediately in search
of the English rock-fortress of which I had already heard. A path led
me up the steep hillside to the foot of a long line of high rocks of
yellowish limestone, so escarped and so forbidding to vegetable life
that I did not see even a wild fig-tree hanging from a crevice. A path
ran along at the base of this prodigious wall, from the top of which
stretched the arid _causse_. I had only gone a little way when I saw
before me a fortified Gothic gateway jutting out from the rock to
which it was attached, and extending across the path to where the hill
became so steep as to sufficiently protect from assault on that side
those who had a motive for defending the ledge under the high cliff. I
examined this old piece of masonry with much curiosity.

The pointed form of the arch disposes of the hypothesis which has been
put forward without much reflection, that this legacy of the old wars
in Guyenne is part of the defences raised in the country by the
unfortunate Waifre, Duke of Aquitaine, when he was being chased from
rock to rock by his relentless enemy. Here we have work that is
evidently not anterior to the English occupation, and which in all
probability belongs to the fourteenth or the early part of the
fifteenth century. Now, as Brengues was undoubtedly one of those
places where the English companies firmly established themselves, and
to which they clung with great tenacity, there is very small risk of
error is coming to the conclusion that it was they who built this
fortified gateway. The masonry, composed of carefully-shaped stones,
and laid together with an excellent mortar that has become as durable
as the rock itself, has been wonderfully preserved. Had it been placed
in the valley it would have been pulled down long ago, and the
materials would have been used for building houses or pigsties. The
upper part of the wall is dilapidated, so that it is impossible to say
whether it was originally embattled or not. There is no staircase, but
the defenders had doubtless a suspended plank or beam on which they
stood when they wished to shoot arrows or bolts over the top of the
wall. On the side nearest the rock is a splayed opening ending
outwardly in a crosslet large enough for three or four men to use at
the same time.

This gateway was only an outwork to defend the ledge of rock. About
two hundred yards farther is a cavern some twenty or thirty feet above
the path, and only accessible by means of a ladder. It has been walled
up, openings being left here and there for loopholes. Near the top is
a row of three windows without arches, and at the base an opening that
served for a door, and which could easily be closed up. Although the
stones were shaped for building, they were laid together without
mortar; but the wall is so thick, and so protected by its position,
that this rough fortification has remained almost unchanged from the
date of its construction. It is a much less finished piece of work
than the gateway, but there are other rock-fortresses in the district,
attributed by general consent to the English, so similar to it in
character that there is no reason for doubting that the companies
built this one also. It is probable, however, that the gateway already
mentioned, and the one that corresponded to it on the other side of
the cavern, but of which few vestiges can now be seen, were
constructed subsequently, when the science of fortification was better
understood by the _routiers_. Such a fortress could never have been
used in a military sense by a large number of men, but to a band of
brigands and cut-throats it was a stronghold of the first order. As
they doubtless laid up in their cavern a large store of the provisions
which they obtained by their continual forays in the surrounding
region, they were capable of withstanding a long siege even against an
enemy many times as numerous as themselves, for the reason that only a
few men could attack them at the same time, and the defenders had an
enormous advantage in the struggle. It is a very general belief in the
district that there was formerly a passage by which this cavern
communicated with the _causse_; no trace of it, however, has been
discovered.

M. Delpon, author of a work published in 1831, and entitled
'Statistique du Departement du Lot,' mentions these fortified caverns
of the Quercy in the following passage, which gives a vivid picture of
the kind of life that the English companies led and made others lead
in the fourteenth century:

'They (the English) possessed in the Quercy the forts of Roc-Amadour,
Castelnau, Verdale, Vayrac, Lagarennie, Sabadel, Anglars, Frayssinet,
Boussac and Assier, and some other castles on escarped hills from
which it was difficult to expel them. They also seized upon caverns
formed by nature in the flanks of precipitous rocks, and fortified
them with walls in which all the character of English structures can
still be recognised. The garrisons that occupied these places
represented six thousand lances distributed over the Quercy, the
Rouergue, and High Auvergne. When they sallied forth, the earth, to
use an expression of one or their chiefs, Emerigot, surnamed Black
Head, trembled under their feet.[*] They robbed travellers, made
citizens prisoners--especially ecclesiastics--in order to extort
exorbitant ransoms, they took from the peasants their beasts and their
crops, and forced them to work in strengthening the dens of their
spoliators with new fortifications. In fine, the Quercy was
continually devastated, and the inhabitants only tilled the earth to
satisfy the avidity of the English companies. The population could
shield themselves from their violence only by concealing themselves in
subterranean retreats, where traces of their sojourn are still
observable. The English were continually recruited by all the depraved
men of the provinces which they laid under contribution.'

  [*] The entire passage from which these words are taken is to be
     found in Froissart's chronicles, and it runs as follows, the
     spelling being modernized: 'Que nous etions rejouis quand nous
     chevaussions a l'aventure et que nous pouvions trouver sur le
     champ un riche prieur ou marchand ou des mulets de Montpellier,
     de Narbonne, de Carcassone, de Limoux, de Beziers, de Toulouse,
     charges de draps, de brunelles, de pelleterie, venant de la foire
     de Landit, d'epiceries venant de Bruges, de draps de soie, de
     Damas ou d'Alexandrie. Les vilains nous pourvoyaient et
     apportaient dans nos chateaux le ble, la farine, le pain tout
     cuit, l'avoine pour les chevaux, le bon vin, les boeufs, les
     brebis, les moutons tous gras, la poulaille et la volataille.
     Nous etions servis, gouvernes et etoffes comme rois et princes,
     et quand nous chevaussions le pays tremblait devant nous.'

This last remark is only too well justified by the evidence which
those centuries have handed down. Indeed, to such an extent were these
companies composed of Aquitanians, that one may well ask if some of
them contained a single genuine Englishman. I have found no record in
the Quercy of the captain of a company of _routiers_ having borne an
Anglo-Saxon name. Two English captains who took Figeac by surprise (a
document relating to this event, written in Latin of the fourteenth
century, is to be found in the municipal archives) were named Bertrand
de Lebret and Bertrand de Lasale. Those who captured Martel had names
equally French. There is, of course, the hypothesis that these leaders
were Anglicised Normans, but the stronger probability is that they
were native adventurers of Aquitaine who found it to their interest to
place themselves under the protection of the King of England.

Towards the close of the fourteenth century, all those who wished to
drive the English out of Guyenne rallied round the chiefs of the house
of Armagnac. This great family of the Rouergue, which was ultimately
absorbed by the Royal House of France and became extinct, at one time
espoused the British cause; but it contributed more than any other to
the final dispersion of the English companies in Guyenne. In 1381 the
people of the Gevaudan, the Quercy, and High Auvergne, solicited the
help of the Count of Armagnac against the companies, and he accepted
the leadership of the coalition. He convened a meeting of delegates at
Rodez, to which the English chiefs were invited, and the decision that
was then come to did not say much for the sagacity or the valour of
those who represented the majority. It was agreed that the sum of
250,000 francs--equivalent to about 200,000 to-day--should be paid to
the English on condition of their surrendering the fortresses which
they occupied. This fact goes far to prove that the companies were
virtually independent, and that although all their outrages were
ostensibly committed in the British name, they were freebooters in the
fullest sense of the word. Of the sum that was to be paid to them, the
clergy were to contribute 25,000 francs, the nobles 16,660. The
inhabitants of the Quercy agreed to pay 50,833 francs. The captains of
the companies took oath that on receiving the money they would quit
Guyenne for ever. They may have kept their oath, but their followers
were not to be induced to change their habits so easily. The
_routiers_, still going by the name of the English companies,
continued to hold the least accessible places in Guyenne, fortified in
the main by nature, until long after the British sovereigns had
abandoned their ambitious designs in France.

In the fifteenth century so many of the inhabitants of the Quercy had
been killed or ruined by the companies that some districts were almost
depopulated. In the town of Gramat there were only seven inhabitants
left at the close of the Hundred Years' War. In order that the lands
should not remain uncultivated, the nobles enfeoffed them to strangers
from the Rouergue and other neighbouring provinces. This circumstance
is supposed to account in a large measure for the differences in
dialect which are to be observed in adjoining communes. There is no
evidence to-day, so far as I have been able to ascertain, of English
words having been introduced into the Languedocian of Guyenne. The
striking resemblance of many _patois_ words to those of the English
language bearing the same meaning--a resemblance that is helped by the
Southern pronunciation of vowels and diphthongs--must be referred to
linguistic influences far more remote and obscure than the political
fact that Guyenne was intimately connected with English history for
three hundred years. For example, that familiar animal the cat is
called in Guyenne _lou catou_ and even _lou cat_; but the word belongs
to the Romance language, and is the same all through Languedoc and
Provence. The fact that the English left no mark upon the language in
Guyenne is almost a conclusive proof that such of the Anglo-Saxon
stock as followed the Norman leaders into Aquitaine, and who remained
in the country any length of time, were not sufficiently numerous to
impose their idiom upon others. They probably did not preserve it long
themselves; but, like the English grooms who find occupation in France
today, they quickly adopted the language that was generally spoken
around them. Patient investigation might, nevertheless, show that the
English did leave some of their words, as well as their blood, in the
country. It would, indeed, be astonishing if this were not so. Even
the Greek colony at Marseilles and Aries, although far removed, must
have influenced the dialect of Guyenne; for the peasants of the Quercy
use the word _hermal_ to describe a piece of waste land bordering a
cultivated field, the origin of which expression was, doubtless,
Hermes, the god of boundaries. This is not the only Greek word that
has been corrupted, but nevertheless preserved, in the Quercy
_patois_.

Wherever the English were long established in their fastnesses amidst
the rocks which form the rugged sides of the deep-cut gorges of the
Quercy, many of the inhabitants have clung, century after century, to
the belief that the terrible freebooters buried a prodigious amount of
treasure with the intention of returning and fetching it on the first
opportunity. So persistently was this tradition handed down at
Brengues that many years ago a cavern, the entrance of which had been
covered over with stones and earth, having been accidentally
discovered on the plateau just above the Chateau des Anglais, it was
eagerly explored, as well as a similar cavern close by. The excitement
was increased by the circumstance that the discovery of these openings
appeared to coincide with the indications of a local witch. It was
evident that the caverns had at one time been used by men, for they
contained masonry put together with mortar. By dint of excavating,
hidden galleries were revealed; but although a human skeleton was
discovered, no treasure was found. The explorers, however, came upon a
vast collection of bones of extinct animals, and of others which,
although they are now to be found both in the Arctic and in the
tropical regions, have not existed in a state of nature in France
during the historic period. The bones of the reindeer, for instance,
were found lying with those of the hyena and the rhinoceros, many of
them embedded in the calcareous breccia so frequently seen in the
valley of the Cele. Here was evidence of a glacial and a torrid
period, separated by an aeonic gulf; but how the remains came to be
piled one upon another in this way is a secret of the ancient earth.
There are prodigious layers of these bones lying at a great depth in
the rock, where there is no cavern to suggest that the animals entered
by it, or that they were taken there by man. The beds of phosphate
which English enterprise has turned to so good an account in this part
of France, and which are followed in the earth just like a seam of
coal or a vein of metal, are merely layers of bones. While I was at
Brengues, the skeleton of a young rhinoceros was discovered in the
phosphate mine at Cajarc.

On the hill above the Cele, on the side opposite to that where the
Chateau des Anglais is to be seen, are the remains of an entrenched
camp, upon the origin of which it is almost idle to speculate. In the
same neighbourhood is a cavern situated high up in the face of a
perpendicular rock. It is inaccessible by ordinary means; but a beam
fixed at the entrance, and worn into a deep groove by a rope, shows
that it was used as a refuge. A tradition says that Waifre hid himself
there.

I passed the night at Brengues, and was awakened in the early morning
by the jingle of bells just beneath my window, and a man's voice
repeating, 'Te, Te, Te!' A couple of bullocks were being yoked, and
presently they followed the man towards the fields of tobacco and
maize by the little river, already shining in the sun. Very soon
afterwards I, too, had begun my day's work.

In a little more than an hour I was at the next village--St. Sulpice.
Here above the houses, huddled together like sheep on the lower steep
of the right-hand hill, were the ruins of a castle, hanging to the
rock that dwarfed it even in the days of its pride. I climbed to it,
and found that it was built on terraces one above the other, formed by
the rocky shelves. A considerable portion of the strong wall at the
base of the structure remains, and on each terrace there is something
left of the feudal fortress. Ivy, with gnarled and fantastic stocks,
has so overspread the masonry in places that hardly a gray stone shows
through the dense matting of sombre leaves and hoary, wrinkled stems.
Multitudes of bats cling to the ruinous vaulting where the light is
very dim, and lurk in the hollows of the rock. A stone thrown up will
bring them fluttering down and whirling about the head of the
intruder, noiselessly as if they were the ghosts that haunt the spot,
but dare not reveal to the eye of man the human shape that they once
wore. This castle belonged, and still belongs, to the D'Hebrard
family, which was connected by marriage with the Cardaillacs and most
of the ancient aristocracy of the Quercy.

Leaving St. Sulpice, another hour's walk down the valley brought me to
Marcillac, which, after Figeac, was the most important place on the
Cele in the Middle Ages. It is now, however, a mere village. According
to local historians, it was here that Palladius, Bishop of Bourges,
retired in the fifth century to escape from the persecution of the
Arians. Nothing, however, that has been written of its history, prior
to the ninth or tenth century, can be accepted with any confidence.
What can be safely affirmed is, that here, between the rocky cliffs
that border the Cele, arose one of the earliest of the Benedictine
abbeys in France. The ruined cloisters of the monastery have all the
severe charm of the simple Romanesque style of the early period, but
there is no means of knowing whether they date from the tenth,
eleventh, or twelfth century. There are several beautiful capitals
elaborately embellished with intersecting line ornament still
preserved, although no value whatever is placed upon them by the
inhabitants. The cloisters are used for stables, and other common farm
purposes.

The abbey church must have fallen into complete ruin, when a portion
of it was restored and rebuilt in the fifteenth century. Then about
half the nave--the western end--was cut off, and left open to the
weather. It is roofless, and the visitor walking, now in deep shadow,
now in brilliant light, as the fragments of masonry may hide or reveal
the sun, sees the blue sky through the arches and over the tops of the
ivy-covered walls. This part of the old church shows the transition
between the Romanesque and the Gothic styles.

It would have been a slight upon Marcillac had I left the place
without seeing the most famous of its caverns, which goes by the name
of the Grotte de Robinet. I might have looked for it in vain all day
had I not taken a guide.

First, the _causse_ had to be reached by ascending the cliffs on the
right bank of the Cele. Then I saw before me the stony undulating
land, with the sad sentiment of which I had already grown so familiar.
An old woman, nearly doubled up with age and field labour, but who
plied her distaff as she led her black goats to browse upon the waste,
made me understand that the solitude was not altogether bereft of
human life. After walking a mile or so, we descended into a deep
hollow wooded with those dwarf oaks which, together with the juniper,
hid at one time most of the nakedness of these calcareous tracts that
stretch from gorge to gorge. One might have supposed that such a dale
would have had a spring at the bottom; but no: everywhere it was
parched, arid, and rocky. The rain that falls all around goes to swell
some deep subterranean stream that issues no one knows where. This
peculiarity of the formation explains why nearly all the _caussenards_
have no water, either for themselves or their animals, except that
which they collect from the skies in tanks sunk in the earth. Since
the failure of the vines--which formerly flourished upon the _causses_
wherever there was a favourable slope--the peasants have learnt to
make a mildly alcoholic liquor by gathering and fermenting the juniper
berries, which previously they had never put to any use.

We had nearly ascended the opposite side of this wooded hollow, when
the guide, pointing through the sunlit trees to a very dark but narrow
opening in the rocks, said, 'There it is!' We had reached the cavern.
He went first, carrying aloft a wisp of burning straw, which he
renewed from time to time from the bundle that he carried under his
arm.

The practice of burning straw, so that people may have a good flare-up
for their money, has, together with the selfish custom of throwing
stones at the stalactites, gone far to spoil all the caverns of this
region, which have been much visited. The Grotte de Robinet must have
been dazzlingly beautiful at one time, but now most of the stalagmite
and stalactite has been completely blackened by smoke. Even the rocks,
over which one has to climb, and sometimes crawl, are covered with a
sooty slime, which gives one the appearance, when daylight returns, of
having been smeared with lamp-black. I put on a blouse before
entering, and had great reason to be glad that I did so. In spite of
all the mischief that has been done to it, the Grotte de Robinet is a
very remarkable cavern, and the time spent on the somewhat arduous and
slippery task of exploring its depths is not wasted. Its length is
about half a mile, and the descent, which is almost continuous, is at
times very rapid. The passage connects a succession of vast and lofty
spaces, which are not inappropriately termed _salles_. In some of
these, the dropping water has raised from the floor of the cavern
statuesque and awful forms of colossal grandeur. Some of these have
been little changed by the smoke, but stand like white figures of
fantastic giants. While looking at them, I thought how little I should
like to be in the position of a certain _cure_ of Marcillac, who spent
three days and three nights in this weird company. He frequently
entered the cavern alone, with a scientific object, and his
familiarity with it led him to despise ordinary precautions. One day
he was far underground, with only a single candle in his possession,
and no matches. A drop of water from the roof put the candle out, and
all his efforts to return by the way he came were futile. Meanwhile,
his parishioners, hunting high and low for their _cure_, chanced to
see his _soutane_, where he had left it, hanging to a bush at the
entrance of the Grotte de Robinet, and when they rescued him, there
was very little left of his passion for studying nature underground.

The most wonderful and the most beautiful object in the cavern is to
be seen in the vast hall, which is the last of the series. This hall
has a dome-shaped roof that rises to the height of about sixty feet,
and it is supported in the centre, with every appearance of an
architectural motive, by a single slender column that seems to have
been carved with consummate skill out of alabaster. No image that I
can think of conveys the picture of this exquisite stalagmite so
justly as that of a column formed of the blossoms of lilies, each cup
resting within another.

Having left Marcillac, I passed under the mediaeval village of
Sauliac, built high up on a shelf of naked rock, and then reached
Cabrerets, which lies two or three miles above the junction of the
Cele and the Lot. The village is at the foot of towering limestone
cliffs, and many of the houses are built against the gray and yellow
stone. The most interesting structure, however, is the castellated one
that clings to the face of the rock far above all inhabited dwellings.
It goes by the name of the Chateau du Diable, and it is the most
considerable of all the rock-fortresses in the valleys of the Cele and
the Lot which are attributed to the English companies. It possesses
towers and embattlements, and it was evidently intended to defend the
defile from any force advancing from the wider valley. Here,
doubtless, many a desperate struggle occurred before the companies
were dispersed and English influence was finally overcome in these
wilds of the Quercy. At a little distance from it, the long iron of a
mediaeval arrow, having fastened its head in a cleft of the rock,
remained sticking there for centuries, and was only recently removed.
The Prefect of the Department took a fancy to it, and had not the good
judgment to leave it where it had so long been an object of curiosity.
There, resting in the place where the arm of the archer had cast it,
it told a story of the old wars, and set the imagination working; but
in a collection of local antiquities it is as dumb and almost as
worthless as any other piece of old iron.




IN THE ALBIGEOIS.


A long dull road or street, a statue of the navigator La Perouse, a
bandstand with a few trees about it, and plain, modern buildings
without character, some larger and more pretentious than others, but
all uninteresting. Is this Albi? No, but it is what appears to be so
to the stranger who enters the place from the railway-station. The
ugly sameness is what the improving spirit of our own times has done
to make the ancient town decent and fit to be inhabited by folk who
have seen something of the world north of Languedoc and who have
learnt to talk of _le comfortable_. The improvement is undoubted, but
so is the absolute lack of interest and charm; at least, to those who
are outside of the _persiennes_ so uniformly closed against the summer
sun.

Albi, the veritable historic Albi, lies almost hidden upon a slope
that leads down to the Tarn. Here is the marvellous cathedral built in
the thirteenth century, after the long wars with the Albigenses; here
is the Archbishop's fortified palace, still capable of withstanding a
siege if there were no artillery; here are the old houses, one of
pre-Gothic construction with very broad Romanesque window, slender
columns and storied capitals, billet and arabesque mouldings; another
of the sixteenth century quite encrusted with carved wood; and here
are the dirty little streets like crooked lanes, where old women, who
all through the summer months, Sundays excepted, give their feet an
air-bath, may be seen sitting on the doorsteps clutching with one bony
hand the distaff and drowsily turning the spindle with the other.

To live in one of these streets might disgust the unseasoned stranger
for ever with Southern life; but to roam through them in the early
twilight is the way to find the spirit of the past without searching.
Effort spoils the spell. Strange indeed must have been the procession
of races, parties and factions that passed along here between these
very houses, or others which stood before them. Romans, Romanised
Gauls, Visigoths, Saracens and English; the Raymonds with their
Albigenses, the Montforts with their Crusaders from the north, the
wild and sanguinary _pastoiureux_ and the lawless _routiers_, the
religious fanatics, Huguenots and Catholics of the sixteenth century,
and the revolutionists of the eighteenth. All passed on their way, and
the Tarn is no redder now for the torrents of blood that flowed into
it.

Notwithstanding that the name Albigenses was given after the council
of Lombers to the new Manichaeans, Albi was less identified with the
great religious and political struggle of Southern Gaul in the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries than were Castres and other neighbouring
towns. If, however, it was comparatively fortunate as regards the
horrors of that ferocious war, it was severely scourged by the most
appalling epidemics of the Middle Ages. Leprosy and the pest had
terrors greater even than those of battle. The cruelty of those feudal
ages finds one of its innumerable records in the treatment of the
miserable lepers at Albi. Having taken the disease which the Crusaders
brought back from the East, they were favoured with a religious
ceremony distressingly similar to the office for the dead. A black
pall was thrown over them while they knelt at the altar steps. At the
close of the service a priest sprinkled some earth on the condemned
wretches, and then they were led to the leper-house, where each was
shut up in a cell from which he never came out alive. The black pall
and the sprinkled earth were symbols which every patient understood
but too well.

[Illustration: PORCH OF THE CATHEDRAL OF ALBI.]

In nothing is the stern spirit of those ages expressed more forcibly
than in the religious buildings of Languedoc. The cathedral of St.
Cecilia at Albi is the grandest of all the fortified churches of
Southern France, although in many others the defensive purpose has
made less concession to beauty. Looking at it for the first time, the
eye is wonder-struck by its originality, the nobleness of its design,
and the grandeur of its mass. The plan being that of a vast vaulted
basilica without aisles, the walls of the nave, rise sheer from the
ground to above the roof, and are pierced at intervals with lofty but
very narrow windows, the arches slightly pointed and containing simple
tracery. The buttresses which help the walls to support the vaulting
of the nave and choir are the most remarkable feature of the design,
and, together with the tower, which rises in diminishing stages to the
height of 260 feet and there ends in an embattled platform, account
for the singularly feudal and fortress-like character of the building.
The outline of the buttresses being that of a semi-ellipse, they look
like turrets carried up the entire face of the wall. The floor of the
church is many feet above the ground, and the entrance was originally
protected by a drawbridge and portcullis; but these military works
were removed in the sixteenth century, and in their place was raised,
upon a _perron_ reached by a double flight of steps, a baldachino-like
porch as airily graceful and delicately florid as the body to which it
is so lightly attached is majestically stern and scornful of ornament.
The meeting here of those two great forces, the Renaissance and
feudalism, is like that of Psyche and Mars. But in expression the
porch is Gothic, for although the arches are round-headed, they are
surmounted by an embroidery of foliated gables and soaring pinnacles.
It can scarcely be said that the style has been broken, but the
contrast in feeling is strong.

Enter the church and observe the same contrast there. Gothic art
within the protecting walls and under the strong tower puts forth its
most delicate leaves and blossoms. Across the broad nave, nearly in
the centre, is drawn a rood-screen--a piece of stonework that has
often been compared to lace, but which gains nothing by the
comparison. The screen, together with the enclosure of the choir, with
which it is connected, is quite bewildering by the multiplicity of
arches, gables, tabernacles, pinnacles, statues, leaves, and flowers.
The tracery is flamboyant, and the work dates from the beginning of
the sixteenth century. The artificers are said to have been a company
of wandering masons from Strasburg.

Two vast drum-shaped piers, serving to support the tower, are exposed
to view at the west end of the nave; but, for the bad effect thus
produced, compensation is offered by the very curious paintings,
supposed to be of the fifteenth century, with which the surfaces of
these piers are covered. They represent the Last Judgment and the
torments of the damned. Each of the seven capital sins has its
compartment, wherein the kind of punishment reserved for sinners under
this head is set forth in a manner as quaint as are the inscriptions
in old French beneath. The compartment, illustrating the eternal
trouble of the envious has this inscription:


  '_La peine des envieux et envieuses_. Les envieus et envieuses sont
  en ung fleuve congele plonges jusques au nombril et par dessus les
  frappe un vent moult froid et quant veulent icelluy vent eviter se
  plongent dedans ladite glace.'


All the wall-surfaces, the vaulting included, are covered with
paintings. The effect clashes with Northern taste, but the absence of
a columnar system affords a plausible reason for relieving the
sameness of these large surfaces with colour. The Gothic style of the
North, holding in itself such decorative resources, gains nothing from
mural paintings, but always loses something of its true character when
they are added. Apart from such considerations, the wall-paintings in
the cathedral of Albi have accumulated such interest from time that no
reason would excuse their removal.

This unique church was mainly built at the close of the thirteenth
century, together with the Archbishop's palace, with which it was
connected in a military sense by outworks. These have disappeared, but
the fortress called a palace remains, and is still occupied by the
Archbishop. It is a gloomy rectangular mass of brick, absolutely
devoid of elegance, but one of the most precious legacies of the
Middle Ages in France. It is not so vast as the papal palace at
Avignon, but its feudal and defensive character has been better
preserved, for, unlike the fortress by the Rhone, it has not been
adapted to the requirements of soldiers' barracks. At each of the
angles is a round tower, pierced with loopholes, and upon the
intervening walls are far-descending machicolations. The building is
still defended on the side of the Tarn by a wall of great height and
strength, the base of which is washed by the river in time of flood.
This rampart, with its row of semi-elliptical buttresses corresponding
to those of the church and its pepper-box tower at one end, the
fortress a little above, and the cathedral on still higher ground, but
in immediate neighbourhood, make up an assemblage of mediaeval
structures that seems as strange in this nineteenth century as some
old dream rising in the midst of day-thoughts. And the rapid Tarn, an
image of perpetual youth, rushes on as it ever did since the face of
Europe took its present form.

As I write, other impressions come to mind of this ancient town on the
edge of the great plain of Languedoc. A little garden in the outskirts
became familiar to me by daily use, and I see it still with its almond
and pear trees, its trellised vines, the blue stars of its borage, and
the pure whiteness of its lilies. A bird seizes a noisy cicada from a
sunny leaf, and as it flies away the captive draws out one long scream
of despair. Then comes the golden evening, and its light stays long
upon the trailing vines, while the great lilies gleam whiter and their
breath floods the air with unearthly fragrance. A murmur from across
the plain is growing louder and louder as the trees lose their edges
in the dusk, for those noisy revellers of the midsummer night, the
jocund frogs, have roused themselves, and they welcome the darkness
with no less joy than the swallows some hours later will greet the
breaking dawn.

I left Albi to ascend the valley of the Tarn in the last week of June.
I started when the sun was only a little above the plain; but the line
of white rocks towards the north, from which Albi is supposed to take
its name, had caught the rays and were already burning. The straight
road, bordered with plane-trees, on which I was walking would have had
no charm but for certain wayside flowers. There was a strange-looking
plant with large heart-shaped leaves and curved yellow blossoms ending
in a long upper lip that puzzled me much, and it was afterwards that I
found its name to be _aristolochia clematitis_. It grows abundantly on
the banks of the Tarn. Another plant that I now noticed for the first
time was a galium with crimson flowers. I soon came to the cornfields
for which the Albigeois plain is noted. Here the poppy showed its
scarlet in the midst of the stalks of wheat still green, and along the
borders were purple patches of that sun-loving campanula, Venus's
looking-glass.

Countrywomen passed me with baskets on their heads, all going into
Albi to sell their vegetables. Those who were young wore white caps
with frills, which, when there is nothing on the head to keep them
down, rise and fall like the crest of a cockatoo; but the old women
were steadfast in their attachment to the bag-like, close-fitting cap,
crossed with bands of black velvet, and having a lace front that
covers most of the forehead. When upon this coif is placed a great
straw hat with drooping brim, we have all that remains now of an
Albigeois costume. As these women passed me, I looked into their
baskets. Some carried strawberries, some cherries, others mushrooms
(_boleti_), or broad beans. The last-named vegetable is much
cultivated throughout this region, where it is largely used for making
soup. When very young, the beans are frequently eaten raw with salt.
Almost every taste is a matter of education.

The heat of the day had commenced when I reached the village of
Lescure. This place is of very ancient origin. Looking at it now, and
its agricultural population numbering little more than a thousand, it
is difficult to realize its importance in the Middle Ages. The castle
and the adjacent land were given in the year 1003 by King Robert to
his old preceptor, the learned Gerbert, who became known to posterity
as Pope Sylvester II. In the eleventh century, Lescure was, therefore,
a fief of the Holy See; and in the time of Simon de Montfort the
inhabitants were still vassals of the Pope. In the fourteenth century
they were frequently at war with the people of Albi, who eventually
got the upper hand. Then Sicard, the Baron of Lescure, was so
completely humiliated that he not only consented to pay eighty gold
_livres_ to the consuls of Albi, but went before them bareheaded to
ask pardon for himself and his vassals. Already the feudal system was
receiving hard blows in the South of France from the growth of the
communes and the authority vested in their consuls. What is left of
the feudal grandeur of Lescure? The castle was sold in the second year
of the Republic, and entirely demolished, with the exception of the
chapel, which is now the parish church. Of the outer fortifications
there remains a brick gateway, with Gothic arch carrying a high
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
side.

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
charm.

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
understood.

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
duties.

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
therefrom.'

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
l'Oder.

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
Bible.

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
fancy.

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
supernatural.

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
herself.




ACROSS THE ROUERGUE.


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
leather.

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
others.

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
innocent.

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
Chandos.

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
ungenerous.

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
hillsides.

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.




THE BLACK CAUSSE.


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
day.

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
observation.

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
contains.

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
rose-colour.

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.




THE CANON OF THE TARN.


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
convention.

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
gorge.

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
town of Severac, and had driven in two queer countrified vehicles
about fifteen miles in order to spend a happy day at Les Vignes. They
were terribly noisy, but boundlessly good-natured. Not only was I made
to share their leg of mutton, but also the champagne which they had
brought with them. The modest lunch that I had expected became a
veritable feast, and having been entangled in the convivial meshes, I
had to stay until the end of it all. The experience was worth
something as a study of provincial life and manners. These
people--husbands and wives and friends--had come out with the
determination to enjoy themselves, and their enjoyment was not merely
hearty; it was hurricane-like. There were moments when pieces of bread
and green almonds were flying across the table, and the noise of
voices was so terrific that the quiet hostess looked in at the door
with a scared expression which made me think she was wondering how
much longer the roof would be able to remain in its right place. Then,
the jokes that were exchanged over the table were as broad as the
humour of the South is broad. I felt sorry for the women, but quite
unnecessarily. Although the local colour was not refined, human nature
present was frank, hospitable, and irresistibly warm-hearted. The
vulgarity of the party was of the unselfish sort, and therefore
amusing. The enjoyment of each was the enjoyment of all; and even when
the tempest of humour was at its height, not a word was said that was
intended to be offensive. As a compliment to me, they all rose to
their feet, glasses in hand, and the hostess was again startled by a
mighty rush of sound repeating the words 'Vive l'Angleterre!' far up
and down the valley.

Instead of going on to La Malene that afternoon, as I had intended, I
went after crayfish with one of the members of this jovial party, who
had brought with him the necessary tackle for the sport. There are
various ways of catching crayfish; but in this district the favourite
method is the following: Small wire hoops, about a foot in diameter,
are covered with netting strained nearly tight, and to this pieces of
liver or other meat are tied. A cord a few yards long, fastened to the
centre of the netting, completes the tackle. The baited snare is
thrown into the stream, not far from the bank, and generally where the
bottom is strewn with stones. No more art is needed. The crayfish,
supposing them to be in the humour to eat, soon smell the meat or
divine its presence, and, coming forth from their lairs beneath the
stones, make towards the lure with greedy alacrity. Their movements
can be generally watched, for although they are not delicate feeders,
they are as difficult as Chinamen to please in the matter of water,
and are only to be found in very clear streams. As is the case with
their congeners--the sea crayfish and the crab--greediness renders
them stupid, and, rather than leave a piece of meat which is to their
taste, they will allow themselves to be pulled with it out of the
water. It sometimes happens that the netting is covered with these
creatures in a few minutes, and that all the trouble the fisherman has
is to haul them up. But they are capricious, and, notwithstanding
their voracity, there are times when they will not leave their holes
upon any consideration. Such was their humour to-day. The cause of
their sullenness was said to be a wind that rippled the surface of the
water; but, whatever the reason, not a crayfish did we catch.

The breeze which was supposed to have upset the temper of the
crustaceous multitude in the Tarn blew up bad weather before night.
The panic-stricken leaves upon the alders and poplars announced the
change with palsied movements and plaintive cries; the willows
whitened, and bent towards the stream; and muttered threats of the
strife-breeding spirits in nature seemed to issue from caverns half
hidden by sombre foliage. As the gorge darkened, the gusts grew
stronger, and the moaning rose at times to a shriek. Now the thunder
groaned, the lightning flashed, and the face of the river gleamed. I
returned to the inn just as the hissing rain began to fall. I was by
this time alone, for the party from Severac had left at the approach
of the storm.

As I took my solitary evening meal in a low building cut off from the
inn, composed of a large _salle-a-manger_--the same in which the feast
was held--and a bedroom, where I was to pass the rest of the night, I
could not help contrasting the exuberant joviality of the morning with
the absolute want of it now. The place seemed much too big for me; I
had rather it had been half as large, to have got rid of half the
shadow. Instead of the tempestuous laughter, there was the thunder's
roar. There was also the lightning's flash to drive the shadows out of
the corners from time to time. It was a wild and awful night.

I was busily building around me a vaporous rampart of tobacco-smoke,
as a barrier to gloomy suggestions from without, when the door
suddenly opened, and in walked two gendarmes--one a very
self-important-looking brigadier, with thin sharp nose and keen,
weasel-like eyes. My immediate impression was that they had come to
question me respecting my intentions--inasmuch as I was not going to
work in the same way as other tourists--and possibly to ask me for my
papers; but I was mistaken. They had merely taken shelter from the
rain, and they had not found a refuge too soon, for their appearance
was that of half-drowned rats. The brigadier called for a bottle of
beer, and while he and his younger companion were drinking it I learnt
from their conversation what business had taken them out of doors that
night. Their object was to surprise the fish-poachers at the illegal,
but very exciting and picturesque, sport of spearing by torchlight.
Now, as I had already seen these night-poachers at work on the Tarn, I
may as well describe their method here.

I was walking one dark night on the bank of the river near Ambialet,
when a glare of lurid light suddenly shot up from the water some
distance in front of me, illuminating the willows, and even the black
woods, on each side of the gorge. I imagined myself at once in a
Canadian forest, near an Indian camp-fire. The light came gliding in
my direction, and presently I distinguished the forms of men in a
boat, all lit up by the glare. One was punting; another was holding
aloft, not a torch, but blazing brushwood--which I afterwards learnt
was broom-that he replenished from a heap in the boat; and a third was
in the stern, gazing intently at the water, and holding in his hand a
staff, which he plunged from time to time to the bottom of the stream.
I understood that this was the _peche au flambeau_, of which I had
already heard.

The Tarn being in summer shallow, and of crystal clearness except in
time of flood, it offers every facility for this kind of fishing. The
flat-bottomed boat glides along with the current; the fish, dazzled by
the sudden light, sink at once to the bottom, and lie there stupefied
until they are either speared or the cause of their bewilderment
passes on. The spear head used is a small trident. When the moon is
up, the fish are not to be fascinated by artificial light;
consequently the darkest nights are chosen for this kind of poaching.

The two gendarmes, then, had been looking for poachers, and, not
liking the weather, they had been unable to resist the auberge light
that beckoned them indoors. While they were talking, in walked the
most hardened and skilful poacher of the place, whose acquaintance I
had made earlier in the day, and who made no secret to me of his
business. So far from being abashed by the presence of the gendarmes,
he gave them a genial salutation, and, sitting down beside them,
talked to them as if he had been on the pleasantest terms with them
for years. He was a man of about fifty, who boasted to me that he had
been a poacher from the age of fifteen, and had never been caught. He
was therefore an artful old fox, and one very difficult to run down.
He made the most of his opportunities in all seasons, and laughed at
those who troubled their heads about the months which were open or
closed. His coolness in the presence of the gendarmes was charming. He
actually offered to furnish the brigadier with a dish of trout at any
time on a day's notice, and argued that they had no right to seize a
net wherever found, because the meshes were not of the lawful size.
'If you doubt it,' said the brigadier, 'just show me yours.' Then he
added with a grin: 'I shall pinch you some day, _mon vieux_.' The
other did not seem to believe it, and I am inclined to think that no
one will 'pinch' him but Death.

Of the few really attractive callings left, that of the poacher must
be given a prominent place, especially in France, where the law is not
too severe upon a man who tries to make an honest living by breaking
the law so far as it relates to fish and game. The excitement of
catching wild creatures must be greatly increased by the risk that the
hunter or fisher runs of being caught himself. A poacher is by no
means looked down upon in France. He is considered a useful member of
society, especially by hotel-keepers. I know a very respectable beadle
of a singularly pious parish who is an inveterate poacher. On
week-days he is slinking about the woods and rocks with his gun, and
has generally a hare or a partridge in his bag; but on Sundays he
wears a cocked hat, a gold-laced coat with a sword at his side, and he
brings down his staff upon the church pavement with a thundering crack
at those moments when the wool-gathering mind has to be hurried back
and fixed upon the sacredness of the ritual. He is a well-knit, agile
fellow, who knows every inch of his ground, and he has led the
gendarmes who have surprised him such dances over rocks, and placed
them in such unpleasant positions, that they have come to treat him
with the respect and consideration due to a man of his talent and
resource. The French poacher must not be judged by the same ethics as
the English poacher. Generally speaking, game is not preserved in
France. There are extensive tracts everywhere where anybody can shoot,
provided that he has satisfied the license formality and observes the
regulations with regard to the seasons. The poacher is a man who
thinks it waste of money to pay for a gun-license, and a waste of
opportunities to respect the breeding season. If he is a fisher, he
not only scoffs at the close time, but uses illegal means to achieve
his purpose, such as nets with meshes smaller than they should be, and
the three-pronged spear. In the Tarn and other French rivers the fish
have been destroyed in a woeful manner by poison and dynamite, but it
is the rock-blaster and the navvy, not the regular poacher, who is
chiefly to be blamed for this. Men who have the constant handling of
dynamite, and who move from place to place, are rapidly destroying the
life of the rivers and streams. Having noted a good pool, they return
by night and drop into it a dynamite cartridge, the explosion of which
brings every fish, big and small, to the surface. With these
destructive causes, which do not belong to the natural order of
things, should be mentioned another that does, namely, the frequency
of floods in the season when the trout are spawning. But for this
drawback, and the unfair methods of fishing, the Upper Tarn would be
one of the finest trout streams in the world. As it is, an expert
angler would find plenty of sport on the banks of the river above Le
Rozier, and as all anglers are said to be lovers of nature, he would
never be dull in the midst of such entrancing scenery as is to be
found here.

The storm having spent its fury, the gendarmes and the poacher left,
and I was again alone. Although it was not yet ten o'clock, there was
the quietude of midnight around me. The village was asleep, and I
should have thought Nature asleep had I not heard the harsh scream of
an owl as I entered my bedroom and threw open the window. The clouds
had broken up, and the moon was shining above the great rocks at the
foot of which I knew that the owl was flying silently and searching
with glowing eyes for the happy, unsuspecting mouse or young hare
amidst the thyme and bracken. Can Nature never rest? Is there no peace
without bloodshed under the sun and moon, no respite from ravin even
when the night is hooded like a dead monk?

I turned from the moonlit clouds, the rushing dark water, the long
white reach of pebbles, and made a little journey round my room. The
people who owned this inn may not have been very prosperous, but they
were evidently rich in faith. The walls were ornamented with rosaries
yards long--probably from Lourdes--and religious pictures. There were
also statuettes of sacred figures, a large crucifix, and close by the
bed a holy-water stoup. The inhabitants of the Lozere, like those of
the Aveyron, are not only believing, they are zealous, and in their
homes they surround themselves with the emblems of their faith. These
are the only works of art which the villagers possess--almost their
only books.

At seven the next morning I had left Les Vignes, and was making my way
up the gorge, whose rocky walls drew closer together, became more
stupendous, fantastic, and savagely naked. All cultivation
disappeared. A rock of immense size, pointing to the sky, but leaning
towards the gorge, soon attracted my notice, as it must that of any
traveller who comes within view of it. This monolith, over 200 feet in
height, has its base about 500 feet above the stream, but it is only a
jutting fragment of the prodigious wall. It has received the name of
L'Aiguille, from its needle-like shape. Below this, and partly in the
bed of the stream, is another prodigious block of dolomite called La
Sourde, and here the channel is so obstructed by the number and size
of the rocks which have fallen into it, that the river has forced a
passage beneath them, and does not reappear until the obstacle is
passed. But although the water vanishes, its muffled groan arises from
mysterious depths. This, together with the monstrous masses of
dolomite, wrinkled, white and honeycombed, the narrowness and gloomy
depth of the gorge, the fury of the water as it descends amongst the
blocks to leap into its gulf, makes the imagination ask if something
supernatural has not happened here. But the geologist says that this
chaos of tumbled-down rocks is simply the result of a 'fault' in the
stratification, and that, the foundations having given way, the masses
of dolomite fell where they now lie.

In the Middle Ages, however, geology was an undiscovered science, and
the human mind was compelled--perhaps with much advantage to
itself--to seek supernatural causes in order to explain the mysterious
phenomena of nature, many of which, so far as subsidiary causes are
concerned, have ceased to be mysterious. This spot--called the Pas de
Souci--has, therefore, its poetic and miraculous legend. St. Enimie,
when she established her convent near the fountain of Burlats, higher
up the Tarn, interfered with the calculations of the devil, who had
found the numerous orifices in this region communicating with the
infernal kingdom exceedingly convenient for his terrestrial
enterprises. He therefore lost no time in entering upon a tug-of-war
with the saintly interloper. But she was more than a match for him.
Her nuns, however, were of weaker flesh, and so he tried his wiles
upon them. Their devotions and good resolutions were so much troubled
by the infernal teaser of frail humanity that St. Enimie, realizing
the great danger, rose to the occasion. One day or night she caught
the devil unawares in the convent and tried to chain him up; but he
was too strong or too crafty for the innocent virgin, and made his
escape down the gorge of the Tarn, intending to reach his own fortress
by the hole down which the stream plunges at the Pas de Souci, and
which the peasant believes existed from the beginning of the world.
St. Enimie followed at his heels as closely as she could, and he led
her a wild scamper over the rocks. She hoped that St. Ilere, her
confessor, who lived in a cavern of the gorge, would stop the fiend in
his flight, but the saint was so busy praying that he did not notice
the arch-enemy as he sped on his frantic course. St. Enimie was quite
out of breath and ready to drop from exhaustion when she drew near the
Pas de Souci, a little in the rear of the tormentor of souls, and he
was just about to plunge into the gulf. The saint threw herself upon
her knees, and exclaimed: 'Help me, O ye mountains and crags! Stop
him, fall upon him!' Thereupon there was a great commotion of the
ancient rocks far above under the calm sky, and they fell, one after
the other, with a frightful crash. It was, however, the immense block,
since named La Sourde, that stopped the devil; the others he shook off
as if they had been pebbles. When La Sourde struck him it was more
than he could contend with, and it flattened him out. The Needle Rock
was just about to tumble, when La Sourde cried out: 'Hold on, my
sister! You need not trouble yourself; I have him fast!' This explains
why the Needle Rock has ever since looked so undecided. For centuries
La Sourde bore the impress of a sanguinary hand, left upon it by Satan
in his frantic efforts to get free, but some years ago it was washed
away by an exceptionally high flood.

A little beyond this impressive and legendary spot, the gorge,
widening, displays an immense concavity on the left, nearly
semicircular. Here among the spur-like rocks which jut out from its
steep sides--much clothed, however, with vegetation--was the hermitage
of St. Ilere, and the spot where it is supposed to have been is a
place of pilgrimage. Here, too, are numerous caverns, in some of which
many implements of the Stone Age have been found, as well as the bones
of extinct animals and others which disappeared from Europe before the
historic period. To those who have the special knowledge that is
requisite, the caverns of the Causses de Sauveterre and Mejan offer
great enticement, for only a few of their secrets, covered by the
darkness of incalculable ages, have yet been brought to light.

Again the cliffs draw closer together, and the tower-like masses on
the brink of each precipice lift their inaccessible ramparts higher
and higher in the blue air. Gray-white or ochre-stained layers and
monoliths shine like incandescent coals in the unmitigated radiance of
the sun. I pass a little group of houses in the hollow of overhanging
rocks, splashed by the shadow of the wild fig-tree's leaves. One side
of the gorge is all luminous with sunbeams, down to the lathy poplars
leaning in every direction by the edge of the torrent, their leaves
still wet with last night's rain. Another boat is being tugged
laboriously up the rapids, a mule taking the first place at the end of
the rope. The impetuous water looks strong enough to carry the beast
off his legs; but he, like the boatman, is used to the work, and has
good nerves. The path--if path it can be called, when it has lost all
trace of one--now leads over large pebbles which are not pleasant to
walk upon; but presently the way along the water-side is absolutely
closed by vertical rocks some hundred feet high.

To enter the mad torrent in order to get beyond these terrible rocks,
forming a narrow strait, was an undertaking only to be thought of if
the case were desperate. I believed that there must be a path
somewhere running up the cliff, and after going back a little I found
one. It led me four or five hundred feet up the side of the gorge; but
on looking down the distance seemed much less, because the rocks rose
a thousand feet higher. I was gazing at the loftiest peak on the
opposite side, when two eagles suddenly appeared in the air above it;
and so long as I remained did they continue to circle over it without
any apparent movement of their wings. The eyrie upon this needle-like
point is well known; according to the popular belief, it has always
been there.

It was in vain, however, that I searched the horizon for the vultures,
whose principal stronghold--a long ledge of rock, protected from above
by an overhanging cornice, and beyond the range of a fowling-piece
from below--is immediately over the river in this part of the gorge.
Had I left Les Vignes before daybreak, I might have seen them start
off all together, the brown vultures and their black cousins, the
arians, in quest of carrion; but now there was not one to be seen. As
the vulture has become a rare bird in France, inhabiting only a few
localities where there are very high and inaccessible rocks, and where
man is crestfallen in the presence of nature, it is to be hoped that
they will not be driven from the great gorge of the Tarn by being too
frequently shot at in the breeding season, when they are obliged to
show themselves at all hours of the day. No peasant would think of
wasting a cartridge upon them; but the sharpshooting tourist, armed
with a rifle, may be tempted to do so. He would probably fire many
bullets before he succeeded in striking a bird five or six hundred
feet above him; and even if the shot took effect, there would be very
small chance of the vulture falling where it could be picked up. The
bombardment would do them little damage; but it might, if often
repeated, prove too trying to their nerves, and, notwithstanding their
conservative principles, they might be driven at length to quit these
rocks inhabited by their ancestors for centuries. To the naturalist
this district is of fascinating interest, on account of the large
number of carnivorous birds of various species by which it is still
haunted. Besides the common brown eagle, three kinds of vulture,
several species of falcons, hawks, and owls, the raven family appears
to be fully represented, with the exception of the jackdaw, which
possibly finds itself too weak and too slow of flight to live in the
midst of such strong and ferocious air-robbers as those which have
established themselves in these grand solitudes. Among smaller birds
of different habits, the red partridge and the water-ousel are
frequently seen. The rock-partridge, or _bartavelle_, is also found,
but is rare. The four-legged fauna is not represented by the wolf or
the boar, the forests being too scanty to afford them sufficient
cover, and the largest wild quadrupeds are the badger and the fox.

Descending the path by steps cut in the rock, I again reached the
margin of the Tarn. Gradually the gorge opened, slopes appeared, and
upon these were almond-trees and vines planted on terraces. Flowers,
too, which had little courage to bloom in the dim depths where the
cliffs seemed ready to join again, and the sunbeam vanished before it
dried the dew, now took heart under the broader sky. Great purple
snapdragons hung from clefts in the rocks, inula flashed gorgeously
yellow, white melilot raised its graceful drooping blossoms, and
hemp-agrimony made the bees sing a drowsy song of the brimming cup of
summer.

Some vestiges of a castle appeared upon a high-jutting craggy mass,
marking the site of the Chateau de Montesquieu, one of the strongest
fortresses of the gorge in the Middle Ages.

I guessed rightly by the vines and almonds that La Malene was not far
off. Soon came that sight, ever welcome to the wayfarer--the village
where he intends to seek rest and refreshment. The inn here was as
unpretentious as the one at Les Vignes; but with hare, _en civet_, a
dish of trout, and a bottle of the wine grown upon the sunny terrace
above the houses, I had as good a meal as any hungry tramp has a right
to expect. As for myself, I never expect anything so sumptuous, and in
this way I let luck have a chance of giving me now and then a pleasant
surprise. The trout in the Upper Tarn do not often reach a large size,
because by growing they become too conspicuous in such clear water;
but their flesh obtains that firmness which is the gift of mountain
streams. The wine grown upon the slopes of the gorge is a _petit vin_
with a sparkle in it, and it comes as a delightful change to those who
have been drinking the tasteless, deep-coloured wines of the Beziers
and Narbonne region, with which the South of France has been flooded
since the new vineyards upon the plains and slopes of the
Mediterranean have been yielding torrents of juice. The fruit of no
plant is so dependent upon the soil for its flavour as that of the
vine. Chalk produces champagne, and some of the best wines of Southern
France are grown upon calcareous soils where the eye perceives nothing
but stones. The plant loves to get its roots down into the crevices of
a rock. I now drank the fragrant light wine of the Gevaudan--the
calcareous district of the Upper Tarn--with a pleasure not unmixed
with sorrow; for the phylloxera had found its way up the gorge, and
the vineyards were already sick unto death. The pest had come some
years later here than in districts nearer the plains; but it had too
surely come, and the fear of poverty was gnawing the hearts of the
poor men--many of them old--who had been bending their backs such a
number of years, and their fathers before them, upon those terraces
which had been won from the desert at the price of such long labour.

Before continuing my journey up the gorge, I climbed to the little
church overlooking the village, and which stands in the midst of the
rough burying-ground where the dead must lie very near the solid rock.
It is a plain Romanesque building, presenting the peculiarity not
often seen of exterior steps leading to the belfry. Against an inner
wall is a tablet, which tells of certain men of Florac who 'pro Deo et
rege legitime certantes coronati sunt, die II mensis Junii, anni
1793.' They were guillotined by the Revolutionists at Florac.

I passed the Chateau de la Caze, a small but well-preserved castle,
showing the transition from the feudal to the Renaissance style, and
still surrounded by its moat. It has five towers, and is a picturesque
building; but I thought it gloomy in the deep shade of the gorge and
the surrounding trees. It must be gloomier still at night when the
owls shriek and hoot. If it is not haunted, it must be because there
are so many abandoned solitary great houses in this part of France
that the ghosts have become rather spoilt and hard to please.

What is the pale yellow flame that I see burning by the river where a
slanted beam strikes down from a crenellated bastion of ruddy rock?
Reaching the spot, I find two pale-yellow flames, one hanging from the
bank, the other trembling upon the stream. The evening primrose has
lit its lamp from the sunbeam.

More rocks there are to climb, for the river again rushes between
upright walls. The path goes along the edge of a horrid precipice,
then descends abruptly by steps cut in the rock.

At a very poor hamlet, clinging to the side of the gorge at a
sufficient height to be safe from the floods, I ask a woman if anybody
there sells wine. 'Yes,' she replies, 'he does,' pointing at the same
time to a tall old white-haired man, who beckons me to follow him. He
hobbles along with a stick, dragging one leg, and leads the way into
his house under a rock. It is a mere hovel, but it has a wooden floor,
and there are signs of personal dignity--what is known in England as
'respectability'--struggling with poverty. Perhaps the ancient clock,
whose worm-eaten case reaches from the floor to the ceiling, and whose
muffled but cheery tick-tack is like the voice of an old friend,
impressed me in favour of this poor home as soon as I entered.

The crippled man, having given me his best chair, disappeared into his
cellar scooped out of the rock, and presently returned with a bottle
of wine. Then he brought out a great loaf of very dark bread, which he
placed upon the table with the wine, and a plateful of green almonds.
The French peasants observe the wholesome rule of never drinking red
wine without 'breaking a crust' at the same time. I made my new
acquaintance break a crust with me and share the contents of the
bottle. Then he talked freely of the cares that weighed upon him. He
told me that he and others who lived in the gorge had always depended
upon their wine to buy bread.

'And are the vines in a very bad way?' 'The year after next will see
the last of them.'

Many persons, he added, would be obliged to leave the district because
it would become impossible for them to live there. While we were
talking two or three little barefooted boys, whose clothes had been
patched over and over again, but still showed gaping places, watched
and listened in the open doorway with round-eyed attention. They were
robust children with health and happiness in their faces, in spite of
the hard times, for the mountain air fed them, and their troubles were
yet to come. They were the old man's grandchildren, and I suppose I
was looking at them more keenly than I should have had I reflected,
for he made excuses for their neglected appearance with an expression
of pain. Then, changing the subject suddenly, he said:

'What country do you belong to?'

'To England.'

'Ah, c'est un riche pays!'

I told him that it was rich and poor like other countries, and that
the people there had no vines at all to help them. 'It is a rich
country all the same,' repeated the old man, for the impression had
somehow become deeply fixed in his mind. There I see him still seated
at the rough table, and behind his broad bent back the wide fireplace
against the bare rock blackened with smoke.

I had left this hamlet, and was on the bank of the Tarn, when I heard
the patter of bare feet upon the pebbles behind me. Turning round, I
saw the eldest of the boys who had been watching me in the doorway. He
had an idea that I should go wrong, and followed stealthily to see. He
now told me that if I continued by the water I should soon be stopped
by rocks, and I accepted his offer to show me the way up the cliff.
His recklessness in running over the sharp stones made me ask him if
they did not hurt his feet. 'Oh no!' he replied; 'they are used to
it.' It is indeed astonishing what feet are able to get used to. The
boy's joy at the few sous which I gave him was almost ecstatic. He had
hardly thanked me when he set off running homeward to show how he had
been rewarded--for his sharpness in thinking that I should lose my
way, and allowing me to do so before saying a word.

I was by the river-side not far from Sainte-Enimie when a rather
alarming noise broke the silence and became rapidly louder. I looked
up the steep cliff, and saw to my consternation a great stone bounding
down the rocks and crashing through the vines. As I seemed to be in
the line of it I hastened on. I had only gone about ten yards when it
bounded into the air and, passing sheer over the path and bank,
plunged into the Tarn with a mighty splash. I reckoned that had I
remained where I was it would have just cleared my head. It was a
fragment of rock which, from its size, might well have been two
hundredweight. The same thing happened earlier in the day, but that
time I was not so unpleasantly near. The heavy rain of the previous
night, coming after a long period of drought, was probably the cause
of these already-loosened stones starting upon their downward career.
All these calcareous rocks are breaking up. The process of
disintegration and decomposition is slow, but it is sure. Every frost
does something to split them, and every shower of rain entering the
crevices does something to rot them; so that even they cannot last.
The Tarn is carrying them back to the sea, to be deposited again, but
somewhere else.

I was at Sainte-Enimie before sunset, and there I found the air laden
with the scent of lavender. True, all the hills round about were
covered with a blue-gray mantle; but I had never known the plant when
undisturbed give out such an aroma before. Looking down from the
little bridge to the waterside, my wonder ceased. There in a line,
with wood-fires blazing under them, were several stills, and behind
these, upon the bank, were heaps of lavender stalks and flowers such
as I had never seen even in imagination. There were enough to fill
several bullock-waggons. The fragrance in the air, however, did not
come so much from these mounds as from the distilled essence. It was
evident that Sainte-Enimie had a considerable trade in lavender-water.

I spent an unhappy evening, for the inn where I stopped--it called
itself a hotel--had been made uninteresting by enterprise; and a
couple of tourists from the South, with whom it was my lot to dine,
caused me unspeakable misery by talking of nothing else but of a
bridge which they had lately seen; If I should ever be near it, I
think the recollection of that evening will make me avoid it. It may
be a miracle in iron, but none the less shall I owe it an everlasting
grudge. These gentlemen from Carcassonne were typical sons of the
South in this, that the sound of their own voices acted upon their
imagination like the strongest coffee blended with the oldest cognac.
They would have been amusing, nevertheless, but for the horrible
intensity of their resolve to make me see that nightmare of a bridge.
If one had taken breath while the other spoke, or rather shouted, I
should have suffered less; but they both shouted together, and their
struggle to get the better of one another by force of lung,
gesticulation, and frenzied rolling of the eyes became a duel, whereby
the solitary witness was the only person harmed. What a relief to me
if they had gone down to the river bank and fought it out there! No
such luck, however. Had there been no listener, they, too, might have
wished the bridge in the depths of Tartarus.

If I passed an unhappy evening at Sainte-Enimie, I spent a worse
morning. There was a change of weather in the night, and when the day
came again, it was a blear-eyed, weeping day, with that uniform gray
sky with steam-like clouds hiding half the hills which, when seen in a
mountainous region by a person bent on movement, is enough to give him
'goose flesh.' I now felt a longing to leave the Cevennes and to
return to the lower country, but there seemed no chance of escape. The
rain continued hour after hour--and such rain! It was enough to turn a
frog against water. As the people of the inn seemed incapable of
showing sympathy, I went out to look at the town under a borrowed
umbrella. It was certainly not much to look at, especially under
circumstances of such acute depression. I walked or waded through a
number of miry little streets where all manner of refuse was in a
saturated or deliquescent state--cabbage-stumps and dead rats floating
in the gutters, potato-peelings and bean-pods sticking to the
mediaeval pitching--everything slippery, nasty, and abominable. There
were old houses, as a matter of course; but who can appreciate
antiquities when his legs are wet about the knees and his boots are
squirting water? Nevertheless, I tried to notice a few things besides
the vileness underfoot. One was a rudely-carved image of the Virgin in
a niche covered by a grating. This was in such a dark little street
that it seemed as if the sun had given up all hope of ever shining
there again. I struggled through the slush to the church, built, with
the town, on the side of a hill rising from the Tarn. I found a
Romanesque edifice--old, but rough, and offering no striking feature,
save the arched recesses in the exterior surface of the wall. A little
higher upon the hill was the convent founded by St. Enimie; but the
original building disappeared centuries ago.

On returning to the inn I passed the Fontaine de Burlats, where St.
Enimie was cured of her leprosy in the Merovingian age. It was a
change to see something that really seemed to enjoy the incessant
downpour and to enter into the spirit of it. The fountain would be
remarkable in another region by the volume of water that gushes in all
seasons like a little river out of the earth; but there are so many
such between the Dordogne and the Tarn, wherever the calcareous
formation has lent itself to the honeycombing action of water, that
this copious outflow loses thereby much of its claim to distinction.

The legend of St. Enimie is fully set forth in a Provencal poem of the
thirteenth century by the troubadour Bertrand de Marseilles, who
received his information from his friend the Prior of the monastery at
Sainte-Enimie, which in the Middle Ages was the most important
religious house in the Gevaudan. The MS. is preserved in the library
of the Arsenal, Paris. It was at the express recommendation of St.
Ilere that Enimie sought the fountain of Burla (now Burlats), and
bathed her afflicted body in its pure waters. The passage of the poem
containing this injunction is as follows:

    'Enimia verges de Dyeu,
    Messatges fizels ti suy yeu.
    Per me ti manda Dieus de pla
    Que t'en anes en Gavalda,[*]
    Car, lay trobaras una fon
    Que redra ton cors bel e mon
    Si te laves en l'aygua clara.
* * * *
    A nom Burla; vay l'en lay
    Non ho mudar per negun play.'

  [*] Gevaudan.

The relics of the saint were destroyed or lost at the time of the
Revolution; but high upon the side of a neighbouring hill a chapel has
been raised to her, and it is a place of pilgrimage.




IN THE VALLEY OF THE LOT.


The rambler in the highlands of the North knows so well what the
wretchedness of being shut up by bad weather in a mountain inn means,
that he may have grown reconciled to it, and have learnt how to spend
a day under such circumstances pleasantly. But to me, a sun-lover, to
whom the charm of the South has been irresistible, such a trial is one
that taxes to the utmost all the powers of endurance. Hence it is
that, when I think of Sainte-Enimie, I can recall nothing but
impressions of dismal wetness. This may seem shocking to those who
have seen, under a different aspect, the little town on the Upper
Tarn, named after the Merovingian saint. Be it remembered, however,
that I was shut up hour after hour in an inn crowded with peasants in
damp blouses, shouting _patois_ at each other, and clutching great
cotton umbrellas, whose fragrance under the influence of moisture, was
not idyllic; In that abominable little auberge, that styled itself a
hotel, I decided to go no farther up the Tarn, but, as soon as the
weather would set me free, to cross the _causse_ that separated me
from the Lot, and to descend the valley of this river towards the
warmer and dryer region of the plains.

Not until the afternoon were there any signs of improvement in the
weather; and then, as soon as the clouds grew lighter, I started
without waiting for the rain to stop. It was Sunday, and outside the
old church was a crowd of men and boys, who had come for vespers. The
women did not join them, but passed through the door as they arrived.
Throughout rural France, wherever religion keeps a firm hold on the
peasant, it is the custom of the men to gather for gossip in front of
the church some time before the service, and, just as the bell stops;
to make a rush at the doorway, and struggle through the opening like
sheep into a fold when there is a dog at their heels. While looking at
these men, I was again struck by the prevailing tendency of the
peasants of the Lozere to develop long, sharp noses--a feature that
often gives them a very weasel-like expression.

Having passed the ruins of the monastery, whose high loopholed walls
and strong tower showed that it had once been a fortress as well as a
religious house, I was soon rising far above the valley of the Tarn.
The winding road led me up the flanks of stony hills, terraced
everywhere for almond-trees; but after two or three hours of ascent
the almonds dwindled away, and the country became an absolute desert
of brashy hills, showing little asperity of outline, but mournful and
solemn by their wastefulness and abandonment to a degree that makes
the traveller ask himself if he is really in Europe, or has been
transported by magic to the most arid steppes of Asia. But there is a
plant that thrives in this desert, that loves it so much as to give to
it a tinge of dusty blue as far as the eye can reach on every side.
Needless to say that this is the lavender. It was in all its flowering
beauty as I crossed the treeless waste, and it gave to the breath of
the desert what seemed to be the mystical fragrance of peace.

Leaving the highway to Mende, I took a rough road on the left, which,
according to the map, led directly to Chanac by the Lot. I should
recommend no one else to take it unless he have more hours of daylight
before him than I had. Again I ran a near risk of passing the night in
the open air. The road became little better than a track; then it
crossed others, and it was a very pretty puzzle to tell which was the
one for me and which was not. It is true that I could have made
straight towards the Lot by the compass, but the descent of the
precipitous cliffs into the deep gorge, unless one knows the paths, is
only a task to be undertaken at nightfall with a light heart by those
who have had no experience of this savage district. When my perplexity
was at its worst I saw a shepherd, whose form, wrapped in the long
brown homespun cloak called a _limousine_, stood solemnly against the
evening sky. I made towards him, thinking that he would help me out of
my difficulty; but no: either he did not understand a word I said, or
did not choose to give any information. Perhaps he thought me an
escaped madman, or a dangerous tramp, with whom it was better to hold
no conversation. The sun was setting when I reached a wood of
scattered firs--a more melancholy spot at that hour than the bare
_causse_. The weather had been fine for some hours, but now a storm
that had been gathering broke. As the wind blew the rain in slanting
lines, the level sun shone through the vapour and the streaming
atmosphere. Looking above me, as I sheltered myself behind a wailing
fir, I saw that the dreary world was spanned by two glorious rainbows.
But although the scene was so wildly beautiful, the spirit of
desolation was upon me, and I felt like a homeless wanderer. I was
roaming among the firs in the dusk, when I met a shepherd boy, who put
me on a path that joined the main road to Chanac. Then began the
descent into the valley of the Lot. It was very long; the winding road
passed through a black forest of firs, and the dark night fell when I
was still far from the little town. The walk was gloomy, but in all
gloom there is something that is grand and elevating--something that
gives a sense of expansion to the soul. The cries of the unseen
night-birds, the solemn mystery of the enigmatic trees wrapped in
darkness, make us feel the supernatural that surrounds us, and is a
part of us, more than the visible movement of life in the light of the
sun.

At length the oil-lamps of Chanac flashed brightly in the hollow
below, and not long afterwards I was sitting at a table in an upper
room of a comfortable old inn, the lower part of which was filled with
roisterers, for it was Sunday night. I dined with a Government
functionary--an inland revenue _controleur_, who happened to be a
Frenchman of the reserved and solemn sort that cultivates dignity. By
dint of being looked up to by others he had acquired the fixed habit
of looking up to himself. All the time that I was in his company I
felt that, had he been an angel dining with a modern Tobias, he could
scarcely have shown greater anxiety not to sit upon his wings. Moved
by the genial spirit of the grape, or not wishing, perhaps, to crush
me altogether with the weight of his official importance, his ice
began to melt a little at about the second or third course. Forgetting
discretion, he actually smiled. The meal, which had been prepared in
anticipation of his coming, was a much more splendid entertainment
than would have been got up for me had I been alone. The cook's
masterpiece was a very cunningly contrived pasty--a work of local
genius that I was quite unprepared for. Even M. le controleur, had he
not checked himself in time, would have beamed at this achievement;
but he would never have forgiven himself such an admission of weakness
common to mortals not in the service of the Government. Just before
the dessert a superb trout that had been drawn out of the sparkling
Lot was brought in, and it had been mercifully spared the disgrace of
being sprinkled with chopped garlic.

While we were dining the wassailers in the great kitchen and general
room downstairs became more and more uproarious. Dancing had
commenced, and it was the _bourree_, the delightful _bourree_ of
Auvergne (the Upper Lot here runs not very far from the Cantal) that
was being danced. It is a measure that has no local colour unless it
is accompanied by violent stamping. The _controleur_ looked very
scandalized, and said it was abominable that the house should be given
up to such tumult and disorder. I observed, however, that as the
joyousness of the party downstairs increased my companion's face
became animated by an expression that was not one of genuine anger,
and as soon as he had drunk his coffee he remarked in a tone of
indifference that, as the evening had to be spent somehow, it might be
less disagreeable to see what was going on below than simply to hear
it. I soon followed him, and found that he was enjoying himself
thoroughly, although discreetly, in a quiet corner. The kitchen was
filled with young fellows in blouses, some sitting at tables drinking
and smoking, others standing; all were shouting, whistling or raising
peals of laughter that might have brought the house about their ears
had it been built by a modern contractor. In the centre of the room
the bare-armed kitchenmaid, who had left the platters, and a young
peasant in a blouse were dancing, their backs turned to each other,
moving their arms up and down like puppets in a barrel-organ, and
banging the floor with their sabots, with the full conviction that the
greater the noise the greater the fun. And this was the opinion of all
except the stout hostess, who looked on at the scene with a distressed
countenance from behind a mighty pile of dirty plates. The musicians
were spectators who whistled in a band the air of the _bourree_, which
is enough to make the most sedate Canon who ever sat in a stall dance,
or at least to remember with charity the promptings of his
adolescence.

When the kitchenmaid went back to her plates--to the great relief of
her mistress, who would have sternly condemned her tripping if
thoughts of business had not beset her practical mind--two young men
stood up and danced another _bourree_. With the exception of the
scullion and household drudge there was no chance of getting a female
partner. In these villages and small towns the girls are kept out of
harm's way. They go to bed at eight or nine, and are hard at work
either in the fields or in the house, or washing by the stream, all
through the hours of daylight. The priests, wherever they have
influence--and in the South they have a great deal--set their faces
strongly against dancing by the two sexes, except under very
exceptional circumstances. They are right; they have peculiar
facilities for knowing the variety of human nature with which they
have to deal. Humanity is fundamentally the same everywhere, but what
is fundamental is modified by race and climate. Temperament, fashioned
by causes innate and local, exercises an immense influence upon
practical morality.

And so the revel went on. As the glasses were refilled the noise grew
louder and the smoke denser. I soon had enough of it, and taking a
candle I climbed to my bedroom, leaving the _controleur_ in his
corner. Before going to bed I did a little sewing, having borrowed a
threaded needle from the landlady with this object in view. The
wayfarer should be ready to help himself as far as he can, and
although sewing is not, perhaps, the most manly of accomplishments, no
tourist should be incapable of sewing on a button or closing up a rent
that makes the village children laugh.

My walk across the _causse_ separating two rivers had tired me, but I
might as well have remained downstairs for all the sleep that I
enticed. As the hours wore on the uproar, instead of subsiding, became
more terrific. These Southerners have voices of such rock-splitting
power that, when twenty or thirty of them, inspired by Bacchus, or
excited by discussion, shout together, one asks if it would be
possible for devils on the rampage to raise a more hideous tumult. The
house trembled as from a succession of thunderclaps. Midnight struck,
and the uproar was unabated. At one it had entered upon the
quarrelsome phase, and at two there was a fight. Chairs or tables were
overthrown, there was a smashing of glass, a rapid scuffling of feet,
and the screaming and howling as of a menagerie on fire. Above the
fiendish din rang out the shrill voice of the hostess, who was
evidently trying to separate the combatants, and who seemed to be
successful, for the hurricane suddenly lulled.

This hostess was a woman of words, but the landlady of an inn near
Rodez, which I entered one summer evening, showed herself under
similar circumstances to be a woman of action. Two young men who were
sitting at a table, after a very brief difference of opinion, stared
fixedly and fiercely into each other's face, and then sprang at one
another like a couple of tom-cats. Presently the stronger took the
other up in his arms, carried him out through the door, and, having
pitched him considerately upon the manure-heap in the yard, returned
to his place with the expression of the victorious cat. But he
reckoned without his hostess. She was not tall, but her cubic capacity
took up more place in the world than that of two or three ordinary
mortals. With her great bare arms folded across her ample person she
waddled towards the triumphant young man, and there was a look in her
eye that made him wriggle uneasily upon his chair. I think he was
tempted to run away, but shame nailed him to his seat. As soon as the
pair were at close quarters, one of the folded bolster-like arms made
a sudden movement, and the back of the strong rough hand, hardened by
forty years or more of toil, covered for an instant the youth's nose
and mouth. That single movement of a female arm, the muscular
development of which a pugilist might have envied, shed more blood
than all the clawing, tugging, and butting of the male combatants had
caused to flow. 'That is to teach you,' said the strong woman, 'not to
fight in my house again!'

But I am forgetting that I am now at Chanac. When I went down into the
kitchen at about seven o'clock, after two or three hours' sleep, the
landlady and the other women of the inn looked very tired and
sheepish. They were prepared to hear some strong criticism of the
night's proceedings, such as they would be sure to get when the
_controleur_ came down.

'You seem to have had some good amusement last night, and to have kept
it up well,' said I.

'Oh, monsieur,' exclaimed the hostess, shaking her head dolefully,
'what a night it was!'

And she went on shaking her head, while the kitchen-maid--the one who
danced the _bourree_, and was now listlessly rinsing glasses
innumerable--giggled behind her mistress's back. She evidently thought
that it was a good sort of night. In making up the bill I think that
the regretful aubergiste, who felt, that the reputation of her house
had received a cruel blow, and that all the mothers in the place were
reviling her for encouraging their sons in dissipation, must have left
the bed out of the reckoning, considering that she could not honestly
charge me for a night's rest which I did not get. At any rate, the
bill was ridiculously small.

[Illustration: CIGALA, THE SHOEBLACK.]

Now, with the help of daylight, I can see what the little town is
like. The houses--many of which have late Gothic doorways--are
clustered about the sides of an isolated hill or mamelon in the valley
of the Lot, beyond which rise the high cliffs covered with dark woods.
The town is still dominated by the tall rectangular tower that helped
to protect it in the Middle Ages, and near to this is the church,
which is both Romanesque and Gothic, and is rich in curious details.
The sanctuary is separated from the rest of the choir by the graceful
arcade of numerous little arches supported by tall and slender
columns, which is one of the most charming and characteristic features
of the Auvergnat style. The carving of the capitals exhibits in a
delightful manner the hardihood and florid fancy of this singularly
interesting development of Byzantine-Romanesque taste. Upon one of the
piers of the sanctuary are a pair of symbolical doves dipping their
beaks into the chalice that separates them, and upon another are two
grotesque and fantastic beasts facing one another with frightful jaws
wide open.

The walk from Chanac down the valley through the rest of the
department of the Lozere I did not do fairly. The sun was so hot and
the way so tedious that I at length yielded to the temptation of the
railway that I met here, and rode some fifteen or twenty miles. It was
not until the next morning at St. Laurent d'Olt that I braced myself
up to the task of faring on foot by the river through the department
of the Aveyron. Here in the upper country the stream retains its
ancient name, the Olt, which is merely an abbreviation of Oltis,
unless it be the Celtic origin of the Latin word. It is easy to see
how in rapid speech L'Olt became changed to Lot. The _t_ is still
pronounced.

The valley down which I now took my way from St. Laurent was broad and
green, but the high rocky cliffs which shut it off from the outer
world drew nearer as I went on. An old tramp who had a bag slung over
his back stopped me and said that he was 'dans la misere.' Doubtless
he guessed that I was not quite so deep in it as himself, and that I
might be able to spare him something. As I always look upon the tramp
with a fraternal interest, however disreputable he may appear, because
my own wayfaring has helped to teach me contempt for appearances, I
stopped to talk with the aged wanderer while hunting for some stray
sous. His matted gray beard and sunken cheeks gave him the air of a
Job of the studios; but no such luck had probably ever befallen him as
to be asked to pose for thirty sous the hour. Such a sum would be more
than he could gather in a day, even after selling the surplus of his
begged crusts. He talked to me of 'the picturesque,' which proved that
he had not grown gray and half doubled up without learning something
of the world's wisdom. I learnt from him that between the spot where
we met and St. Geniez there was only a hamlet, but that I should be
able to find a house there where I could get a meal.

The old man went hobbling away, wondering, perhaps, when he would meet
another foreign imbecile on the tramp, and I was soon alone upon the
margin of the river's broad bed of sand, strewn with pebbles like the
seashore. The stream was still fresh from the mountains, and it had
the joyousness and bounding movements of young life. It was very
narrow now, and many plants had grown up since the spring upon its
far-shelving banks of mica-glittering sand and many-coloured pebbles;
but often its swollen waters had rolled through this smiling valley, a
raging and uncontrollable force, spreading terror and destruction.

The cliffs drew nearer and rose higher, and then the river ran through
a gorge nearly impassable, and abandoned to all the wildness of
nature. The partial loop here formed by the Lot is hidden and defended
by a forbidding wilderness of rocks and forest, as if it were one of
the last retreats of the fluvial deities, where they can defy the
curiosity of man. The adventurous spirit prompted me to explore it,
but the lazy one said, 'Leave it.' I took the advice of the latter,
and went on by the road, which now left the river, and ascended
towards the plateau under cliffs of red sandstone. The thirsty sun had
by this time drained almost every flower-cup of its dew; but the
freshness of the morning still lingered in the hollows of the rocks,
and in the shade of the chestnut, the walnut, and elm. As the earth
warmed, it became quieter. All creatures seemed to grow drowsy, except
the sociable little quails that kept calling to one another, 'How are
you?' and the flies of wicked purpose, which become more and more
enterprising as the temperature rises.

It was long since I had seen a human being, when I heard the
click-clack of loose _sabots_ coming nearer. Presently a couple of
young bulls showed their grim visages round a corner, and after them
came a very small girl with a very long stick. She looked about six
years old, and she had great trouble to keep her little brown feet
inside the wooden shoes, which were many sizes too large for her. How
was it that those big, and perhaps bad-tempered, animals allowed
themselves to be driven and beaten by that child, whereas they would
have turned upon a dog double her size, and done their best to toss
him over the chestnut trees? What is it that the brutes see below the
surface of the human being to inspire them with such respect and fear
of this biped, even when he or she has just crawled out of the cradle?
These bulls, by-the-bye, stopped and looked at me in a way that was
anything but respectful, and I delayed the study of the metaphysical
question until I could watch them from the rear.

I found on the top of the hill the village or hamlet that the old
tramp had mentioned; but there was no sign of an inn--indeed, there
was no sign of anybody being alive in the place. I threaded the steep
little lanes between the houses and hovels, up to the ankles in dirty
straw that had been turned out of the animals' sheds, but saw nothing
moving except fowls. I knocked at various doors, and obtained no
response. It was clear that all the people, including the children,
were away in the fields, and had left the village to take care of
itself. Hungry and thirsty, I was resigning myself with a heavy heart
to trudge on, when I observed a column of blue smoke rise suddenly
from a chimney, and I was not long in finding the house to which it
belonged. It was a dilapidated building, very wretched now, but with
an air of bygone superiority. This was chiefly shown in the
Renaissance doorway, a rather elaborate piece of work, over which was
the date 1602. I ascended the steps with a little misgiving, for I
thought that perhaps some cantankerous person whose family had seen
better times might be living there, and that my questions as to food
and drink might meet with surly answers. I knocked, nevertheless, with
my stick upon the old door studded with nail-heads. It was opened, and
before me stood a woman who looked old, but who was probably
middle-aged; she was very poorly clad, very imperfectly washed, but on
her tired and toil-worn face there was no forbidding expression. I
told her that I was looking for an auberge, and she said that hers was
one _au besoin_. It was the only one that answered at all to the name
thereabouts. So the smoke had led me to the right place. I followed
the heiress of the dilapidated house--she was a descendant of the
original owner--through the dingy kitchen, where upon the hearth the
fire of sticks that she had just lighted was blazing cheerfully, into
a back room, where there were two beds without linen, and with nothing
but patchwork quilts over big bundles of dry maize leaves. It is thus
that many of the peasants of the Aveyron sleep. This is not a part of
France where the study of cleanliness and comfort is carried to
excess. If the floor of the room that I now entered had ever been
washed, the boards must have forgotten the scrubbing sensation a
century or more ago. The appearance of everything indicated that I was
in a fleas' paradise; but as it was by no means the first of the kind
of which I had had experience, I merely took the precaution of keeping
my feet off the ground, so as to offer as few travelling facilities as
possible to the enemy. The room, although it was dirty, was cheerful;
for the sunshine streamed in through the open window, and the view of
the green valley beneath and the woods beyond soon drove the fleas out
of mind. Upon the sill were plums laid out on wooden trays to dry in
the sun and become what English people call prunes.

The excellent woman, who installed me before a little table on which
she laid a cloth, said that she had little to offer me; but that all
she had was at my service. She first fished out of the wood-ashes in
which it was preserved one of those dry, stringy sausages with which
everyone who knows this part of France must be familiar. Then she
brought in some white bread which a presentiment of my coming had
perhaps caused her to buy a month before, for it was green with
mildew. She thought that I should prefer this to the very dark bread
of her own making. The choice was perplexing. My meal was chiefly made
upon a dish of firm cream like that of Devonshire, with plums and
fresh cob-nuts for dessert. Then my hostess made me some coffee, a
luxury rarely used in the house; and when she had set it on the table,
I induced her to stay and talk awhile. The conversation was made
easier because, notwithstanding her poverty, she spoke French with
much more facility than most of the people in these rural districts.
She told me that her husband and children had not yet returned from
the fields, and that she was at home because she was so tired after
threshing buckwheat all yesterday in the sun.

'In winter,' I said, 'you have an easier time?' 'Oh no! In winter we
are always working at something or another. We then make our linen
from the hemp, patch up the clothes, prepare the walnuts for pressing,
and blanch the chestnuts.[*] We have always something on hand.'

  [*] _Blanchir les chataignes_. In Guyenne, after the first sale of
     chestnuts in their natural state, the peasants prepare a large
     quantity of those that remain in a special manner, which consists
     of removing the first and second skins, and artificially drying
     the nuts until they become quite hard. They will then keep an
     indefinite period, and can be boiled for food when required. In
     the winter evenings, while the women work at their distaffs, the
     men frequently skin chestnuts either for drying or for food the
     next day.

But while there was any work to be done out-of-doors, there they were
busy from sunrise until dusk. Supper over, the beasts were looked
after. 'Then,' she added, 'we say our prayers and go to bed.' She
volunteered no statements respecting her ancestry, but when I
questioned her concerning the house, she said that her family had been
living in it for nearly 300 years. At one time they were the principal
people in the district. It was true that they had come down in the
world, but she felt thankful for the blessings that had been given
her, and was satisfied. The family were all in good health, and that
was the main thing. Her mother was still living with her--eighty-seven
years of age, and had never been ill in her life.

Here was a simple but eloquent story of human vicissitude and
uncertainty that was told without a word of regret or repining, and as
though it were a tale of no interest to anybody. This poor, humble
woman before me, whose back was still aching from the movement of
bending and lifting the flail hour after hour, was, by right of birth,
what we call in England a 'gentlewoman.' But she was poor, and
ignorant of all books except the one that contained her prayers. She
was not less a peasant than any of the women around her, nor did she
wish to be thought anything better. That her ancestors were gentlemen,
that, they may have borne a forgotten title (many that were borne in
France have been forgotten by the descendants), was as nothing to her.
She clung only to what, in her simple but grand philosophy, was really
to be valued--the blessings of life and health, opportunities of
labour, independence, and faith in God.

This woman would only take the equivalent of a shilling for her wine,
her coffee, and her food; then she made me drink some of her _eau de
noix_ (spirit prepared with the juice of green walnuts), and as I left
she pressed more nuts and plums upon me.

The old woman who had never been ill was waiting for me under a tree.
She could not speak a word of French, but she said a great deal in
_patois_, of which all that I could make out was that she was afraid
the _calour_ (heat) would hurt me if I left so early in the afternoon.
A little beyond the village I passed a party of threshers, men and
women--two rows of them facing each other like dancers; the figures
bending and straightening in unison, and all the. flails whirling
together in the air. They had spread a large cloth upon the ground,
and were thrashing out the grain upon it.

A block of granite cropping out of the sandstone indicated a change in
the formation, and this came, for the rocks gradually passed into
gneiss and schist, frequently covered with moss and ferns, golden-rod
in bloom, and purple heather. St. Geniez by the Lot was reached long
before sundown; but although I had the time, I was not tempted to walk
any farther that day.

The little town is picturesquely situated on the river-bank, and it
has some old houses with turrets, and other interesting details. There
is a late Gothic church that was formerly attached to an Augustinian
monastery, of which part of the cloisters remains. Inside the edifice
every flagstone covers a tomb, and in several instances masons'
hammers and other tools are carved upon them.

It fell out that several commercial travellers and superior pedlars
came into St. Geniez on the same day as myself, but in more genteel
fashion, for they had their traps, and would not for all the world
have risked their reputation for respectability, and rendered
themselves despicable in the eyes of customers, by entering on foot.
Nevertheless, their first impression (as I afterwards learnt), when I
sat down with them to dinner at the comfortable inn, which, thanks to
their patronage, had found the courage to style itself a hotel, was
that I might be a new rival in the field. But the difficulty was to
guess the particular field that I had marked out for my own
distinction and the confusion of competitors. Was I in the grocery
line, or the oil and colour line? Was I _dans les spiritueux_ or _dans
les articles d'eglise_? Then they had a suspicion that I was, perhaps,
a German traveller trying to open up a fresh market for potato spirit,
or those scientific syrups which are said to change any alcohol into
'old cognac' or the most venerable Jamaica rum. This may have
accounted for the somewhat chilly reserve that fell upon my table
companions as I took my seat among them. But, as this was unpleasant
for everybody, I soon found an opportunity of dispelling the mystery
that hung over me. Then they threw off all restraint, and showed
themselves to be the jolly, rollicking, good-natured beings that these
men almost invariably are. They were much more polite to me than
Englishmen generally are to strangers, who are felt to be something
like intruders--recognising me as a guest, and insisting upon my
helping myself first to every dish that was brought on the table. It
is customary for tourists to speak of the French commercial traveller
as a very ridiculous or vulgarly offensive person. I have found these
so-called 'bagmen' to be among the most pleasant-mannered, agreeable,
and intelligent people whom I have met while roaming in provincial
France. I have been disturbed at night by their uproariousness, for
they are convivial to a fault; but in my immediate relations with them
I have always found them frank, kindly, and courteous.

Before eight o'clock the next morning I had left St. Geniez behind me
in the light mist, and was again on the banks of the Lot. At a
waterside village called Sainte-Eulalie--a saint so much venerated by
the French in the Middle Ages that a multitude of places have been
named after her--was a church with a broad tower and low broach spire.
I was struck by the noble simplicity and elegance of the Romanesque
apse, which was much in the Auvergnat style. The village was very
picturesque, partly on account of its position by the sunny, babbling
water, and partly because of its numerous old houses, some with
projecting stories, and others with exterior staircases communicating
with an open gallery covered by the prolonged eaves of the roof.
Outside of the doors mushrooms (_boleti_) after being cut in slices,
were spread in the sun to dry. As I continued my way down the valley I
met several women and girls returning from the chestnut woods on the
hillsides carrying baskets of these _cepes_ on their heads. Although I
hoped to sleep that night at Espalion, I soon left the direct road and
struck off across country to the south-west in order to take in the
village of Bozouls, a place that some soldier whom I had met told me
was like Constantine in Algeria. I therefore left the valley of the
Lot, and proceeded to cross the hills and tablelands which separated
me from the gorge of its tributary, the Dourdou.

In taking by-paths to reach the _causse_, I passed over hillocks of
chocolate-coloured marl mixed with broken schist and flints: here the
broom and juniper, the heather and bracken, flourished. At length I
felt the fresh breeze and drank the invigorating air of the limestone
plateau. Descending the hill beyond, on the road to Rodez, I passed a
very strange-looking spot where huge flat blocks of bare gneiss, laid
together as though giants of the Titanic age had here been trying to
pave the world, sloped with extraordinary regularity towards the
highway. And these prodigious slabs of gneiss now lay amidst schistous
marl and calcareous rock.

Farther down in the valley was a small village of which the houses
were dwarfed by a gloomy strong hold, apparently of the fifteenth
century, whose four high and massive towers, occupying the angles of a
small quadrilateral, gave it the appearance of a vast _donjon_. At a
small inn kept by a blacksmith I was able to get a meal and the rest
that was now needed. The blacksmith's wife, a pleasant young woman;
who seemed much amused at the sight of a being from the outer and, to
her, half-fabulous world, drew part of a duck out of the grease in
which it had been preserved, and gave me this with rice for my lunch.
During the repast I was not a little worried by the questions of the
blacksmith and some other village worthies who were drinking coffee in
the small room that had to do for everybody, and who had so placed
themselves that they could watch me at their ease. Such a strange bird
as myself did not drop into their midst every day. They were not
unfriendly, but their curiosity was troublesome, and I perceived that
nothing that I might have said would have removed the impression from
their minds that I was a mysterious character.

The country beyond this village was not unpleasant to the eye, with
its vineyards on the slopes and its green pasturage in the valleys,
but the hours went by drearily as I tramped upon the long road. I felt
solitary, and was not in the mood to be interested easily;
nevertheless, I lingered on the wayside awhile before a remarkable
relic of the past: a rectangular machicolated tower of great height
and strength rising out of a dark grove of trees. The afternoon was
drawing towards evening, when I descended suddenly into a deep and
narrow ravine where the sunshine was lost, and the twilight dwelt with
greenness and dampness. At the bottom the Dourdou ran swiftly over its
pebbly bed. After following it a little distance I found myself
between towering walls of Jurassic rock, vertical towards the summit,
capped on each side by a long row of houses. There was also a church,
likewise on the edge of the precipice. This was Bozouls--a place
scarcely known beyond a small district of the Aveyron, but one of the
most curious in France. The traveller, when he reaches the gorge,
after crossing a somewhat monotonous country, is quite unprepared for
such a startling revelation of the sentiment of human fellowship in
the midst of the savagery of nature. Why did men build houses in rows
on the brink of these frightful precipices? It appears to have been
all done for the sake of the artist and the lover of the picturesque.
And yet Bozouls grew to be a village in an age when men of work and
action only knew two kinds of enthusiasm--war and religion. Either a
castle or a religious foundation must have been the beginning of this
community. There are no remains of a fortress, but the church is very
old, and its elaborate architecture suggests that it was at one time
attached to a monastic establishment. After crossing the stream I
climbed to this church by a path that wound about the rocks, and found
it an exceedingly interesting example of the Southern Romanesque. The
portal opens into a narthex, where there is a very primitive font like
a low square trough. The nave entrance has two columns on each side
supporting archivolts, and upon the capitals of these columns are
carved figures of the quaintest Romanesque character, illustrating
Biblical subjects. The nave has an aisle on each side scarcely four
feet wide, and most of the separating columns are out of the
perpendicular. The capitals here are wrought with acanthus-leaves or
little figures. The sanctuary and apse are in the style of Auvergne,
with this peculiarity, that the capitals of the slender columns are
singularly massive, and bear only the mere outline of the
acanthus-leaf for ornament.

The long street of the village, white and sunbaked, running within a
few yards of the precipice, was almost as deserted as the church. But
for a Sister who stood by the convent gate like a statue of Eternal
Silence, and a man who was killing a wretched calf in the middle of
the road, I might have asked myself if this fantastic Bozouls was not
some spectral village, reproducing the past in all except the living
beings who had gone down into their graves. When I recrossed the
Dourdou, the light was several tones lower than it was when I first
descended to the bottom of the ravine, and the vegetation was of a
deeper and sadder green. And the stream rushed onward with a low wail,
and a distressful cry, as of a soul passing down the Dark Valley and
not yet free from the panic of death.

When I had reached the plateau that I had left an hour or more ago,
the sun was about to set. As I knew that the _diligence_ to Espalion
would soon pass, I preferred to wait for it rather than to walk any
farther. The south wind was blowing with such force that I lay down on
the leeside of a bush to be sheltered from it. Here I watched the sun
burning dimly in a yellow haze on the edge of the world. The wind
wailed amongst the leaves of the hawthorn-bushes, but over the brown
land, flushed with the sad yellow gleam, came the sound of
cattle-bells, softening the harshness of the solitude, and bringing
almost a smile upon the careworn face of Nature. I watched the dingy
golden light rising up the stubble of the hills. Now the sun began to
dip behind a knoll; a far-off tree stood in the line of vision, and I
could see the leaves shaking as if in frenzy against the disc of
sullen fire. Then from the edge of the western sky shot up into the
yellow haze fair colours of pink and purple that seemed to say: 'The
south wind may blow and burn the beauty of the earth, but the west
wind will come again, its light wings laden with refreshment and joy.'
The sun was gone, the shadows of night were being laid upon the dreary
land, when the wavy clouds about the brightening moon became like a
shower of rose-petals; the breeze grew softer and softer, for it was,
in the language of the peasant, the 'sun-wind,' and the nocturnal
peace began to reign over the sadness of the day's death.

The sound of jingling bells coming rapidly nearer roused me from my
contemplative mood. The _diligence_, so called, was in sight, and a
few minutes later I took my place in the very stuffy box on wheels,
nearly filled with women and bundles. As it was only a drive of some
seven or eight miles to Espalion, the town was reached in good time
for dinner. I sat at a side-table in the large room of the inn, at the
door of which the coach stopped. The central table was already
occupied by half a dozen persons--all fat, vulgar, and noisy. They
were examples of the _petit bourgeois_ class whom one meets rather too
frequently wherever there are towns in this part of France, and with
whom the disposition to grossness is equally apparent in mind and
body. There were women in the party, but had they been absent, the
language of the men would have been no coarser. These fat and
middle-aged women, married, doubtless, and highly respectable after
their fashion, when struck by each gust of humour, such as might issue
from the mouth of a foul-minded buffoon at a fair, rolled like ships
at sea.

I passed a troubled night at Espalion, for there were a couple of
feathered fiends just underneath the window crowing against each other
with maddening rivalry. One, an old cock, had a very hoarse crow, and
seemed to be suffering from chronic laryngitis brought on by an abuse
of his vocal powers; and the other was a young cock with a very
squeaky crow, for he was still taking lessons, and, as is the case
with many beginners, he had too much enthusiasm.

I had had more than enough of this duo before the night was through,
and was out very early in the morning looking at the ancient town of
Espalion, which witnessed both the victory and the defeat of British
arms long ere the Maid of Domremy came to the rescue of the golden
lilies. Its capture took place soon after the Battle of Crecy. The
lords of Espalion were the Calmont d'Olt, who played an active part in
the wars with the English. The town deserves a prominent place among
the many picturesque old burgs stamped with mediaeval character on the
banks of the Lot. One may stand upon its Gothic bridge of the
thirteenth century and dream of the past without risk of being hustled
by a crowd except on market days. This venerable bridge must have been
admirably built to have withstood all the floods which have smote it
in the course of six centuries. The great central arch is so much
higher than the others that in crossing you go up a hill and then down
one. Close by on the river-bank is the sixteenth-century Hotel de
Ville, a castle, partly built on a rock, in the gracefully-ornamental
style of the French Renaissance, with turrets, mullioned windows, and
a loggia.

Having crossed the river, I went in search of the chief architectural
curiosity in or near Espalion--that known as the Church of Pers, or
the Chapel of St. Hilarion. It is on the outskirts of the town, and
stands in the old cemetery. I had first to find a potter who kept the
key, and I discovered him at length in a narrow street in the midst of
his clay and the vessels of his handicraft. He gave me the great key,
and it was one that some fervent archaeologist might press
reverentially to his heart, for the smith who forged it must have died
centuries ago. Entering the cemetery, I saw, surrounded by a multitude
of closely-packed tombs and grave mounds, on which the long grass
stood with the late summer flowers, a small Romanesque building that
seemed to have sunk far into the soil, like the ancient lichen-covered
slabs from which the inscriptions had been washed away by time's
inexorable and ever-wearing sea. Perhaps the soil had risen about the
walls.

This church of the twelfth century is built of red sandstone, the
blocks being laid together without mortar. On entering it such a
dimness falls, with such a sacred silence; the air is so heavy with
dampness and the odour of mildew, that you feel as if you were already
in the vestibule of the Halls of Death, where darkness and stillness
have never known the sound of a human voice or the blessed light of
the sun. The design of the building is that of a nave with transept
and apse. At each end of the transept is some curious cross-vaulting.
The columns have all very large capitals in proportion to the diameter
and height; some are ornamented with plain acanthus leaves, others are
carved with numerous small figures of men and animals, ideally uncouth
and typical of the fantastic medley of Christian symbolism and the
barbaric imagination that found a mystical relationship between the
monsters of its own creation and the problems of the universe. The
exterior of the church is not less interesting than the interior. The
charming Romanesque apse, with its three narrow windows, its blind
arcade, the capitals ornamented with the acanthus, the row of
fantastic modillions above carried all round the building, their
sculpture exhibiting the strangest variety of ideas--heads of men,
women, beasts, birds, and fabulous monsters; and then the venerable
portal, with its elaborate bas-relief of the Last Judgment, furnish
much matter for reflection and study. In this 'Judgment' Christ is
standing in the midst of the Apostles, and the dead are rising from
the tombs below. Fiends are pulling the wicked out of their coffins,
and others are throwing the condemned into the wide-opened jaws of a
frightful monster. Above are numerous figures separated by various
mouldings forming archivolts. The arch of the door is Gothic, but all
the other work is Romanesque. The belfry is simply a roofed wall
pierced with four arched openings for bells.

Espalion had once its strong fortress on a neighbouring hill--the
Castle of Calmont d'Olt. It is now a ruin. I climbed to it, and found
the undertaking more tedious than I had supposed. The narrow path
winding through the vineyards was bordered with cat-mint, agrimony,
vervain, and camomile. Then it passed through a little village, where
there were old walnut-trees and mossy walls, and a small church with
these words over the door: 'C'est ici la maison de Dieu et la porte du
ciel.' After the village, the path was almost lost amidst blocks of
sandstone and the _debris_ of the fortress, where snakes basking in
the sun slid away at my approach, hissing indignantly at the intruder.
On the summit there had been in the far-off ages an outpour of basalt,
which had crystallized into columnar prisms, and upon this foundation
of ancient lava the castle was built. A good deal of wall and the
lower part of a rectangular keep remain of this fortress, which dates
from the twelfth century. The outer wall was strengthened with
semicircular bastions, the ruins of which are seen. Fennel now thrives
amongst the fallen stones, which were dumb witnesses of so much that
was human.

Returning to the inn, I resisted the temptation held out to stop and
lunch, although the preparations in the kitchen were far advanced, and
started off on the road to Estaing. I was again following the Lot,
which here flows between high vine-clad hills. After walking a few
miles, I saw a bush over the door of a roadside cottage, and,
entering, found that the only person in charge of this very rustic inn
was a pretty girl of about seventeen. She looked a little scared at
first; but when I had sat down with the evident intention of making
myself at home, she became reconciled to the sight of me, and
consented to let me have what there was in the house to eat. This was
not much, as she took care to point out. The nearest approach to meat
there was eggs, excepting, of course, the fat bacon--quite uneatable
in the English fashion--which is the basis of all the soup made
throughout a great part of France. Having lighted a fire on the
hearth, and fried me some eggs with bits of fat bacon instead of
butter, she said she must go and call 'papa,' who was working in the
vineyard. So she left me in charge of the inn while she went to fetch
her father on the hillside. While I was alone, I looked at the sunny
view of green meadows and trees through the open door that faced the
shining river, and easily fancied that what I saw was a bit of verdant
England. In the room, too, the twittering of a pair of canaries
recalled impressions of other days; but the plague of flies was
thoroughly French, and it soon brought me back to realities. When the
girl returned with her father, she gave me some excellent goat-cheese,
and for my dessert some hazelnuts, together with a spirit distilled
from plums, similar to the _quertch_ of Alsace.

I had not been long in the sunshine again, when I noticed a large
house in the midst of the vines not far off the road. On drawing near
I found that it was ruinous, and had been long since abandoned. It had
been a rather grand house once, and must have belonged to people of
importance in the country. There was a finely-carved scutcheon with
arms over the Gothic door, and the mullioned windows, which had lost
all their glass, had something of the pathos of gentility that,
becoming poor and old, has been abandoned to all winds and weathers.
The little courtyard was full of high weeds and shrubs, and the wild
flags that grow on the rocks had laid their green leaves together to
hide the wounds of the old walls. Swallows, sparrows, and bats were
now the tenants of this mysterious house, which must have had a
troubled history. The picture has since haunted my memory; the mind
goes back to it in a strange way, and the sentiment of it, as it was
communicated to me, I find perfectly expressed in these lines by
Alphonse Karr:

    'De la solitaire demeure
    Une ombre lourde d'heure en heure,
    Se detache sur le gazon,
    Et cet ombre, couchee et morte
    Est la seule chose qui sorte
    Tout le jour de cette maison.'

Some distance farther I passed another deserted dwelling. It was
perched upon rocks, and was overgrown with ivy and clematis. The road
led me down beside the Lot, which now began to rush again over rocks
as the hills drew closer, and the valley became once more a gorge. On
one side were dense woods; on the other vines reached up to the sky.

At length I saw before me a row of houses beside the river in a bright
bit of valley hemmed in by high cliffs. On the rocks behind the houses
were a church and a castle.

This was Estaing. It is a little place full of originality, and looks
as if it had been built to set forth the dream of some old writer of
romance. The late-Gothic church is more quaint and odd than beautiful.
The architect sported with the laws of symmetry, and revelled in the
fanciful. The nave is much wider at one end than the other. The great
sundial over the door, bearing the date 1636, is scarcely less useful
now than when it was placed there. The castle is a strange pile, all
the more picturesque by its incongruity. It stands upon a mass of
schistous rock about fifty feet above the river. Most of the visible
portion of the building is late Gothic and Renaissance; but this was
grafted upon the lower walls and arches of a feudal fortress. Towers
rise from towers, mullioned windows have their lines cut in the shadow
of beetling machicolations, and higher still are dormer windows with
graceful Gothic gables. This castle is now a convent and village
school. From the court I could see the Sisters' little garden, where
flowers and melons and potherbs were curiously mixed without the
gardener's systematic art, which is so often a deadly thing to beauty;
and nasturtiums climbing the weedy walls from rough deal boxes were
basking in the steady glow of afternoon sun, which seemed to me so
intensely brilliant because I was in the dark shadow. A Sister
consented to let me go to the top of the highest tower, and she went
before me rattling her keys officially. On the way she showed me a
fine Renaissance chimney-piece with florid carvings.

After Estaing the valley became wilder, and the river fell over rocks
in a series of cascades. Clouds came up and hid the sun; a rainy wind
made the willows hoary, and set all the poplar leaves sighing and
quivering. The vines had disappeared, and the wooded gorge became very
solemn in the fading light. There was one figure in the
landscape--that of a peasant woman bending and rolling up into bundles
the hemp that had been spread out to dry. It added the human touch of
melancholy to the sadness of the picture. More and more gloomy became
the scene. Great black precipitous rocks of schist, their hollows
filled with sombre foliage, rose in solemn grandeur far above me, and
in the bottom the plunging stream foamed and roared. The mad wind
caught up the dust from the road and whirled it onward, and then the
rain began to fall. Rockier and darker became the way, and louder the
roar of the stream. So narrow was the gorge at length that the road
ran along a ledge that had been cut in the gneiss.

When I was still some miles from Entraygues (called by the peasants
Entrayou), I met a young gendarme. He did not ask me for my papers,
for he was a native of the district of Lourdes, and had been brought
into contact with so many English people at Pau that he detected at
once my Britannic accent, which has not been worn away by many years'
residence in France. To him the fact of my being an Englishman was a
sufficient assurance that I was respectable. He was a rakish,
devil-may-care fellow, who, after being a sub-officer in the army, had
lately been moved into the gendarmerie. His heart had been deeply
touched by an English governess whom he had met at Pau, and he spoke
to me about her with 'tears in his voice.' He talked much about
Lourdes, where he said the people were sincerely religious, and not
hypocritical. His opinion of the Aveyronnais was somewhat different,
but perhaps unjust, for as yet he could not have had much experience
of them. Having taken the precaution to tell me that he was anything
but a strict Catholic himself, he declared that he was a believer in
miracles.

'Why?' I asked.

'Because,' said he, 'my father saw Bernadette go up a rock on her
knees--one that no man could climb--and I myself have been a witness
of miracles at Lourdes. I have seen at least twenty people cured at
the fountain. One was a captain, who was so paralyzed that he had to
be carried to the water, and when he came away he walked as if nothing
had been the matter with him.'

Thus talking we reached Entraygues. I allowed the gendarme to take me
to the inn of his fancy, which he praised with true Southern warmth
for its comfort and good cheer. The large kitchen as we entered was
only lighted by the flame of the wood-fire on the hearth, in front of
which a fowl and a piece of veal were turning on the same spit, moved
by clockwork that said 'click-clack, click-clack;' which was as genial
an invitation to dinner as any I had ever heard. Presently the lamp
was lighted, the table was laid, and I sat down to dinner with the
innkeeper and the gendarme from the Basses Pyrenees. The meal was of
the substantial kind, such as gives complete satisfaction to the
wayfarer at the end of his day's wandering, after putting up with
frugal fare on the road. The aubergiste brought out his best wine, and
his best cheeses made from goat's milk, and which had been kept
carefully wrapped up in vine leaves. These little cheeses, when they
have been allowed to mature in a wrapping of vine or plane leaf, are
among the best made. The landlord had studied all matters relating to
the stomach within the range of his experience. He said that hares
were not fit to eat unless they had fed chiefly on thyme, and that a
starling had no value in the kitchen until it had been feeding on
juniper berries.

This night when I went to bed I had not the frantic crowing of cocks
to keep me awake, but the soft murmuring of the flowing river to lull
me asleep. The weather being now fair and calm after the troubled
evening, I threw the window open, so that I could feel the wafting of
the great invisible wings of the summer night, and listen to the
soothing song of the water repeating the tales that were told to it by
the rocks and the woods on its way down from the Lozere mountains.

I was again on the banks of this beautiful river--at no place more
beautiful than at Entraygues--when the rising sun was gilding only the
topmost vines of the high western hill that shadows it. The little
town of 2,000 inhabitants is close to the spot where the Thuyere falls
into the Lot. It lies in the angle where two lovely valleys meet. The
Thuyere comes down from the Cantal mountains, and as it reaches
Entraygues it spreads out over a broad smooth bed of pebbles, its
water as clear as rock-crystal; and when the morning sun looks down
upon it over the vine-clad hills, it is like something that has been
seen in the happiest of dreams. There is a castle at Entraygues, and,
as in the case of the one at Estaing, it is now used as a convent and
school. The archaeologist will find perhaps more to interest him in
the two thirteenth-century bridges which span the Lot and the Thuyere,
both noble specimens of Gothic work.

As I left Entraygues the bells in the church-tower were ringing--not
the monotonous ding-dong with which French people generally have had
to content themselves since the Revolutionists turned the old
bell-metal into sous, but a blithe and joyous peal of high silvery
tones that seemed to belong to the blue air, and to be the voices of
the little spirits that flutter about the morning's rosy veil. My
design was to reach the abbey of Conques before evening, but instead
of going directly towards it over the hills, I preferred to keep as
long as possible in the valley of the Lot, which is here of such
witching loveliness. As there was a road on the river-bank for many
miles, I could follow this fancy, and yet feel the comfort of walking
on good ground. Although the season was getting late, I found the
valley below Entraygues very rich in flowers. Agrimony, mint, and
marjoram, with a tall inula, and the pretty, sweet-scented white
melilot, were in great abundance along the bank. Upon the rocks, which
now bordered the road, were the deep red blossoms of the orpine sedum,
and a small crimson-flowered stock with very hoary stem. A tall
handsome plant about three feet high, with large white flowers, drew
me down a bank to where it was growing near the water. I found that it
was a very luxuriant specimen of the thorn-apple (_datura_). While I
was admiring its poisonous beauty a woman stopped on the road just
above me, and, after contemplating me in silent curiosity for a few
minutes, said to me first in _patois_ and then in French (when I
replied to her in this language):

'It is a wicked plant, that! The beasts will not touch it, so you had
better leave it alone.'

Although I did not think this association of ideas very complimentary
to myself, I thanked her for her good advice. I nevertheless took away
as a souvenir a flower and one of the thorny apples, seeing which the
peasant trudged on her way, saying no doubt that it was wasting time
and words to give advice to lunatics. Again the cliffs drew very close
together, and the valley was nothing more than a deep crack in the
earth's crust. On one side was unbroken forest; on the other vines
were terraced up the rocky steep to the height of seven or eight
hundred feet. Even amidst the jutting crags the adventurous vine
lifted its sunny leaves; but, alas! here, too, the phylloxera had
begun its work of desolation, and I had little doubt that these hills
laden with fruit were destined in a few years to become a waste of
stones like so many others that I had seen nearer the plains which had
once streamed with wine. The cultivated land by the river was only a
narrow strip, and the crops were chiefly maize and buckwheat. At
length the vine cultivation was only carried on at intervals. Then the
long blue line of water lay between high rocky hills covered with box
and broom, bracken and heather. A stream came tumbling down a deep
ravine over blocks of gneiss to join the Lot, and a little beyond this
was a hamlet.

The morning was now far advanced; so, as I was passing a cottage inn,
I wavered a minute, and the result of the wavering was that I crossed
the threshold. I said to myself: 'Perhaps I may walk on for miles, and
not find another chance so good as this.' It was one of the poorest of
inns, but it was able to give me a meal of bread and cheese and eggs,
which was as much as I could expect hereabouts. There was also a light
wine of local growth--sparkling, fragrant, and deliciously cool. What
more could I want? Two motherless girls looked after this waterside
inn, and also the ferry belonging to it. The boat lay a few feet from
the door. When I was ready to leave, the younger of the two girls
ferried me to the other side of the river, and a very pretty figure
she made for an artist to sketch--the simplicity of childhood in her
face, and the strength of a woman in her bare sunburnt arms. As is the
case with so many of the peasants in this district, where the old
Gaulish stock (the _Ruteni_ and the _Cadurci_) has been much less
influenced than in the towns by the tumultuous passage of races from
the south, the east, and the north, she was fair-haired, and naturally
fair-skinned; but exposure to the sun had darkened her by many shades.

I had been walking for some time in the department of the Cantal, but
the ferry landed me on the Aveyron side of the river. I had now
seriously to consider the shortest way to Conques, separated from me
by very rough hill country and an uncertain number of miles. I was on
a narrow path skirting the forest and the water, when I met a peasant
family dressed in their best clothes, and on their way, as I learnt,
to the village of Notre Dame, where the _fete patronale_ was being
held. The man, who seemed well pleased with himself in his new black
blouse, carried the sleeping baby, and his wife held a great coloured
umbrella over it. They were followed by a girl of about fourteen, who
wore the open-work hand-made white stockings which the young women of
these southern villages use on festive occasions as soon as they begin
to grow coquettish. I fell into conversation with these people, who
told me that, after reaching the village, I must commence the ascent
through the forest. Speaking to the man about the trout, which are
plentiful in this part of the river, he entertained me with a story of
a selfish angler who once came there, and who had a fish on his hook
as soon as he threw a fly. The people of the district--who, it seems,
know nothing about fly-fishing--watched his success with wonder and
admiration, and asked him to explain to them how he managed to catch
fish in that way; but he was surly, and refused to give them any
lessons. He had imitators, nevertheless; but after spending many hours
vainly endeavouring to hook the crafty trout, they lost patience, and
gave up the attempt.

Two or three score of houses huddled together at the foot of a rocky
cliff, a little above the water, was Notre Dame. The village was all
in movement. The space in front of the church was crowded with peasant
figures; a bell was swinging backward and forward in the wall-belfry,
as though it was trying to turn right over; stall-keepers with cakes,
barley-sugar, and other dainties dear to the village child, to whom
the opportunity of feasting even his eyes upon such things comes very
seldom, were surrounded by eager little faces, and outstretched
sunburnt hands, each clutching the sou that offered such a bewildering
field for dissipation. In the auberge hard by was a noisy throng, of
peasants sitting and standing in a cloud of smoke. Serving-women,
hired for the occasion, gaily coifed and be-ribboned, holding bottles
and glasses elbowed their way to the men who shouted the loudest for
drink, and, catching the jest in the air, gave one as good or as bad
in exchange. The scene was one for another Teniers to paint, although
there were no costumes to give a local colour to the picturesque. Most
of the older men wore the ugly short blouse--generally black in this
part of France; but ambitious youths of eighteen or twenty showed a
preference for the cloth coat which the village tailor had tried to
cut according to the Paris fashion.

Leaving the rustic revellers, the queer little church, with its
ancient calvary, rudely carved, and resting upon a single column, I
was soon in the shadow of the old chestnut forest that covered the
steep side of the high cliffs above the Lot. The path was very rocky
and toilsome. A young man, who was hastening down from his home on the
hills to join the merrymakers, said to me, in allusion to the
roughness of the way: 'Le bon Dieu ne passe pas souvent par ici,'
thereby expressing the sentiment of the peasant, who associates all
that is wild and rugged in nature with the devil. While still in the
forest, and not a little puzzled by its paths, I met a woman and a
youth, and asked them if the way I was taking led to Conques. '_Ape_'
(yes) was the reply. Not a word of French could I draw from them. When
the cliffs were at length scaled, and I was on the open tableland, I
found the south wind blowing there with great violence, although in
the valley there was scarcely breeze enough to ripple the river pools.
The sun was falling into the yellow haze of the west as I began to
descend towards the valley of the Dourdou. I came upon a tributary of
this stream in the bottom of a deep and solemn gorge, whose steep
sides were densely wooded except where the rock jutted out and
revealed its dark nakedness, and where higher, near the sky, showed
here and there a patch of heather-purple waste, on which the brilliant
light was softening into evening tones. But in the depth of the gorge,
where the redly-running stream was nearly hidden under the tent of
leaves, the air was already dim, and the forms of the trees were
beginning to blend with their own shadows.

Following the stream in its course, I found the Dourdou, and then
turned down the broader valley. I was tramping wearily on my way,
which seemed endless, when, clustered on the side of another wild and
thickly wooded gorge running up amidst the hills, I saw many houses,
and a dark pile of masonry, rising far above their roofs. I knew that
this must be Conques; it showed its religious origin so plainly in the
choice of the site. This was selected not because Nature was gentle
and pitiful to man in the cleft of those savage hills, but because she
was stern and solemn, and the veil that hides the supernatural was
felt to be thinner there, where the rocks and forest seemed to the
mediaeval mind to have remained just as the Almighty hand had
fashioned them. A monastery arose in the desert, then the abbey
church, and gradually a little lay community placed itself under the
protection of the religious one.

A long narrow street, steep and stony, leads to the church, which is
all that is left of the Benedictine abbey, excepting some massive
buttresses, ruinous arches, and a round tower grafted upon the
rock--remnants of the ancient monastery which must have been half a
fortress. The burg itself was fortified, and one of the gateways of
the old wall is still standing. The existing church dates from the
eleventh century, but various details point to the conclusion that it
was built on the site of a more ancient structure. For example, in the
entrance is a holy-water stoup, the basin having been scooped out of
the capital of a column which is supposed to have been one of the
supports of a very primitive altar. The figure of an emperor is carved
on one of the faces, and on another that of a pagan divinity. The
architecture of the church is simple and majestic, the only jarring
note being the cupola raised about the time of the Renaissance over
the intersection of the nave and transept. The barrel-vaulted nave,
crossed by plain broad fillets, is in keeping with the early
Romanesque severity of the facade. The ornament is nearly confined to
the tympan over the portal, the capitals of columns, and to the choir
with its seven absidal chapels. The choir itself is cross-vaulted, and
the sanctuary, except at its junction with the nave, is enclosed by an
arcade of narrow stilted arches, the only ornament of the capitals
being acanthus leaves; but those against the wall are elaborately
storied with little figures. A moulding of small billets is carried
round the apse. The great height of the nave vaulting, obtained by a
triforium and clerestory, is very remarkable in a Romanesque church of
such early construction. In accordance with the style of the period,
the capitals of the nave show a complete absence of uniformity, some
being carved with figures, and others with leaves or intricate line
ornament. To obtain an adequate impression of all the fantastic
imagination expressed in these capitals, and the craftsmanship brought
to bear upon the carving, it is necessary to climb to the triforium
galleries. The aisle windows are narrow and placed high in the wall.
The interest of the exterior is centred upon the bas-relief
representing the Last Judgment, which fills the entire tympan of the
arch covering the two main doorways. The composition, which contains
over a hundred figures, is singularly animated, and although the forms
are uncouthly proportioned, and the treatment of the subject in some
of the details touches what to the modern mind seems grotesque, it is
an exceedingly vivid and faithful reflection of the religious ideas of
the age that produced it. What now appears grotesque was then sublime
and awful. We smile at the barbaric imagination that placed here, at
the door of hell, the head of a vast and hideous monster of the
crocodile family, into whose gaping jaws the damned are being thrust
by a pantomime devil; but eight centuries ago Christian people had too
lively a faith in the materialistic horrors of the infernal kingdom to
perceive anything extravagant in this idea of stuffing a scaly monster
with condemned sinners. Eight centuries ago!--the peasant of the
Aveyron and of Finistere still look upon these Dantesque sculptures
with genuine awe. Those who blame the monks for giving the devil a
forked tail and a pair of horns, and otherwise exhausting their
invention in the endeavour to materialize the terrors of hell, are
strangely unphilosophic. The mass of humanity with whom the monks had
to deal had the minds of children in regard to metaphysical ideas;
only by the pictorial method could they be sufficiently impressed with
the joys or horrors of the future life. Bas-reliefs such as this must
have had a great influence on the conduct of many generations; nor has
their influence yet ceased, although, as popular education spreads,
the interest taken in these quaint sculptures by those for whom they
were especially intended, so far from being stimulated, is lessened.
Inasmuch as the mind needs deep ploughing for the new culture, and the
majority can get no more than a superficial raking, the peasant of
to-day is often a poorer man intellectually than his father
was--poorer by the loss of faith and the confusion of ideas.

The sculptor of this Last Judgment--a Benedictine monk, doubtless,
like the architect of the church who has left this personal record,
'Bernardus me fecit,' upon a stone in a dim corner--died centuries
ago, and although his bones or their dust may be near, his name will
never be known. But how his mind lives in the figures that took life
under his hand! With what inspired longing of the soul he must have
conceived and felt the majesty of Christ sitting in judgment at the
end of time to have expressed so much that is sublime in the holy face
and figure with his poor knowledge of art! The right hand is raised to
bless the just, and the left repels the unforgiven. Grouped around the
central figure are saints and angels. Peter, holding his keys, is
followed by a crowd of the elect, headed by an old man on crutches,
and a crowned sovereign--said to be Charlemagne--carries a reliquary.
In the lower half of the tympan Satan is enthroned, his feet resting
upon a writhing and hideously grimacing figure, supposed to be that of
Judas. Immediately above, an angel and a fiend are weighing souls in a
pair of scales, and the demon is trying to cheat. In this lower
division the infernal punishments inflicted upon sinners of different
categories are set forth. The sin of Francesca and Paolo is treated
less poetically than by Dante, for here two guilty lovers are seen
hanging to the same rope. A glutton is being stuffed with flaming
viands, sent up from the devil's kitchen. All manner of torture is
being inflicted by jubilant demons upon the souls that have fallen
into their clutches. One has caught in the net that he has just thrown
a mitred abbot and two other monks. As the dead rise from their tombs
the justiciary angels bar the way of the wicked who strive to approach
the Judge. A seraphim holds the closed book of life, upon which these
words are carved: 'Hic signatur liber vitae.' On various parts of the
portal are numerous inscriptions, some of which, like the following,
are in leonine verses:

    'Casti pacifici mites pietatis amici
    Sic stant gaudentes securi nil metuentes.'

The archaeological interest of Conques is not confined to its church.
Here, hidden from the world in this obscure little gorge, far from any
railway-station, is one of the most remarkable collections of ancient
reliquaries in France. The chief treasure is the very ancient gold
statue of St. Foy (Sancta Fides) virgin and martyr, the patron saint
of Conques. It is a seated figure nearly three feet in height, and its
appearance is thoroughly Byzantine; indeed, one may go farther, and
say that it looks much more pagan than Christian. There is nothing in
the treatment that indicates a Christian motive; while the antique
engraved gems with which it is studded, illustrating, as some of them
do, workings of the Greek and Roman mind very far removed from the
Christian idea of what is becoming in morals, make this astonishing
statue an archaeological puzzle. The explanation that these gems were
placed upon it to symbolize the victory of Christian purity over the
impurity of the ancient religions of Greece and Rome is more ingenious
than conclusive. This statue of gold (_repousse_), with regal crown
enriched with precious stones and enamels on which may be
distinguished Jupiter, Mars, Apollo and Diana, among the more
respectable of the divinities; if it was originally intended to
represent the virgin Fides, martyred at Agen, was certainly one of the
most fantastic achievements of ecclesiastical art. But whether this
was its origin or not, the style of its workmanship is considered by
competent judges to be sufficient proof that it is at least nine
hundred years old.

In favour of the opinion that the statue was made at Conques, there is
the fact that the cult of St. Foy at this place dates from the early
Middle Ages. The ancient seal of the abbey bears the motto:

    'Duc nos quo resides,
    Inclyta Virgo Fides.'

Historians of the abbey state that the relics of the saint were
brought from Agen to Conques about the year 874, and that Etienne,
Bishop of Clermont, caused a basilica to be raised here in her honour
between the years 942 and 984. It was under the direction of Ololric,
Abbot of Conques, that the existing church was built between the years
1030 and 1062. Throughout the Middle Ages the relics drew large
numbers of pilgrims to the spot. In the dialect of the country they
were called _Roumious_, because the pilgrimage to Conques was one of
those which enjoyed the privilege of conferring under certain
conditions the same advantages as were to be gained by the great
pilgrimage to Rome. The pilgrims kept the 'holy vigil'--that is to
say, they passed an entire night in prayer before the relics with a
lighted taper either fixed at their side or carried in the hand. The
pilgrimage and the ancient association of St. Foy were revived in
1874.

The darkness of night drove me to take shelter in an inn which, like
everything else here, is dedicated to St. Foy. The pilgrims' money had
not made it pretentious, nor the people who kept it dishonest
--changes which 'filthy lucre' is very apt to bring about in the
holiest places. But the pilgrims who come to Conques are, for the most
part, peasants who look well before they leap, and who so contrive
matters as never to spend more upon anything than they have set aside
for it.

Having completed the next morning my impressions of Conques, noting
among other things the curious and richly decorated _enfeux_ in the
exterior walls of the church, I returned to the bottom of the ravine,
and having crossed the old Gothic bridge over the Dourdou, began the
ascent of the rocky chestnut forest on the other side of the valley.
Small white crosses planted at intervals amidst the broom and heather
of the open wood marked the way to St. Foy's Chapel for the guidance
of pilgrims. According to the legend, it was near this spot that, the
relics of the saint having been set down by those who had carried them
from Agen, a fountain of the purest water burst forth from the earth,
and has continued to flow ever since. I found the chapel--a modern
Gothic one, with a statue of St. Foy in Roman dress in the niche over
the door--under a high rugged rock of schist. There was no one but
myself to trouble the solitude of this quiet nook on the wild
hillside, all broken up into little gullies and ravines, where the
aged chestnuts sheltered the tender moss and fern from the eager
sunbeam, and kept the dew upon the bracken until the noonday hours. An
exquisitely delicate campanula with minute flowers bloomed with
hemp-agrimony and wood-sage along the sides of the rills that
-scarcely murmured as they slid down the clefts of the impervious
rock.

As I went higher, the chestnuts became more scattered, and at length
the rough land was covered only by the tufted heather and broom. Here,
instead of the light whispering of leaves, was the drowsy song of
multitudinous bees. The breeze blew freshly on the plateau, and grew
stronger as the sun rose. Could it be a cemetery, that grouping of
stones that I saw upon the moorland? No; it was a cottage-garden,
surrounded by disconnected slabs of mica-schist, standing like little
menhirs. peasant family lived in the wretched dwelling, exposed to the
full force of the howling winds, and striving continually with nature
for their black bread and the vegetables that give flavour to the
watery soup.

A young man with a _beret_ on his head overtook me. He was a Bearnais,
who had not been long in the district, and who earned his living by
certain services that he rendered at widely-scattered farms. He had to
walk a great deal in all winds and weathers; therefore he knew the
country well, and could give me useful information. I was crossing the
hills with the intention of meeting the Lot again in the great coal
basin of the Aveyron, and thus cutting off a wide bend of the river.
All went well for some time after the Bearnais left me; but at length
I became fairly bewildered by the woods and ravines, the hills and
valleys that lay before me in seemingly endless succession. Savage
rockiness, sylvan quietude, open solitudes, bare and windblown, gave
me all the sensations of nature which expand the soul; but the body
grumbled for rest and refreshment long before I had crossed this
singularly wild tract of country almost abandoned by man. I had been
wading through bracken up to my neck, or wandering almost at hazard
through chestnut-woods for an hour or two, when hope was revived by my
meeting a peasant, who told me that I was not far from the village of
Firmi. I left the great woods, and reached a district that was new in
every sense. Entering a little gorge, to me it seemed that nature had
been cursed there ages ago, and still carried the sign of the
malediction in the sooty darkness of the rocks--jagged, tormented,
baleful--that rose on either hand. Nothing grew upon them save a low
wretched turf, and this only in patches. Beyond, the metamorphic rock
gave place to red sandstone, and the ground sloped down into the
little coal basin of Firmi. What a change of scene was there! The air
was thick with smoke, the road was black with coal-dust, most of the
houses were new and grimy, nearly all the faces were smutty. There was
a confused noise of wheels going round, of invisible iron monsters
grinding their teeth, of trollies rattling along upon rails, and of
human voices. Nature had no charm; but of beauty combined with fasting
I had had enough for awhile, so my prejudices melted before the genial
ugliness of this sooty paradise, knowing as I did that prosperity goes
with such griminess, and that where there is money there are inns
offering creature comforts both to man and beast.

Either the angel or the goblin who goes a wayfaring with me led me
this time into a heated little auberge infested by myriads of flies,
which, getting into the steam of the _soupe caix choux_ in their
anxiety to be served first, fell upon their backs in the hot mixture,
and made frantic signals to me with their legs to help them out. There
was no temptation to linger at the table when the purpose for which I
was there had been attained; so I was very soon on the tramp again,
making for the valley of the Lot.

Leaving Decazeville a few miles to the west, I took the direction of
Cransac, being curious to see the 'Smoking Mountains' in that
district. Between the little coal basin of Firmi and the large one at
Cransac and Aubin lay a strip of toilsome hill country. I had left the
round tower of the ruined castle of Firmi below, and was following a
winding path up a steep chestnut wood, when two mounted gendarmes
passed me going down. About five minutes later I heard the sound of
horses' hoofs coming near again. 'One of the gendarmes is returning,'
was my reflection, and, looking round, I saw this was really so. The
man was trotting his horse up the wood. Being sure that he was coming
after me, I walked slower, and gave myself the most indifferent and
loitering air that I could put on. In a few minutes he reined up his
horse at my side. He was a young man, and his expression told me that
he did not much like the duty that his chief had put upon him.
Addressing me, he said:

'Pardon, monsieur, you are a stranger in this country?'

'Yes, I am.'

'Will you please tell me your quality?'

In reply I asked him if he wished to see my papers.

'If it will not vex you,' he said. His manners were quite charming. If
he was a native of the Rouergue, the army had polished him up
wonderfully. After looking at the papers and finding them
satisfactory, he said: 'Je vous demande pardon, monsieur, mais vous
comprenez-----'

'Oh yes, I understand perfectly, and I assure you that my feelings are
not at all hurt!'

And so we parted on very good terms. A woman standing at a cottage
door at a little distance watched the scene with a scared and
wondering look in her face. When I was again alone, and she saw me
coming towards her, she disappeared with much agility into her
fortress and shut the door. She must have thought that, although I had
managed to escape arrest that time, I should certainly come to a bad
end.

After reaching the top of the hill, white smoke rising continually
into the blue air led me to the _Montagnes fumantes_. Coming at length
to the spot so named, 'Surely,' I thought, 'my wayfaring has brought
me at last to the Phlegraean Fields.' All about me were rocks that had
been burnt red, black, or yellow, and on their scorched surface not a
shrub, nor a blade of grass, nor even a tuft of spurge, grew. The
subterranean fires which had burnt these upper rocks had long since
gone out; but a hot and sulphurous vapour still passed over them when
the wind blew it in their direction. Continuing down the hillside, I
heard a crackling as of stones being split by heat, and presently saw
little tongues of flame shooting up from the crevices in the soil
almost at my feet, but scarcely perceptible in the brilliant sunshine.
From these and other vents, however, came intermittent puffs, or
continuous fillets of smoke, and the air was almost overpoweringly hot
and sulphurous. To wander by night among these jets of fire must be
very stimulating to the imagination, for then the hill is lit up by
them; but I thought the spot sufficiently infernal by daylight.

Beds of coal lying underneath this rocky hill, perhaps at a great
depth, have been burning for centuries, and the same phenomenon is
repeated elsewhere in the district. The popular legend is that the
English, when they were compelled to abandon Guyenne, set fire to
these coal-measures with the motive of doing all the mischief they
could before leaving. Such fables are handed down from generation to
generation. All the evil that happened to the region in the dim past
is placed to the account of the English. These burning hills in the
Aveyron have been turned to one good purpose. The hot air that escapes
from crevices where there is neither smoke nor fire is used for
heating little cabins which have been constructed for the treatment of
persons suffering from rheumatic disorders. There they can obtain a
natural vapour-bath that is both cheap and effectual.

At the foot of the cliffs lay Cransac, bristling with tall chimneys
and in a cloud of dark coal-smoke that filled the valley. Here,
instead of the solemn calm of the barren uplands, the murmurous
chanting of rills and shallow rivers, and the mystical voices that
speak from the depths of the forest, I heard the fretful buzz of a
human beehive. Here was human life intensified and yet lowered in tone
by aggregation, by the strain of organized effort that suppresses
initiative and makes the value of a man merely a question of dynamics.
The number of shops, especially of drinking-shops--sordid _cafes_ and
flashy _buvettes,_ where the enterprising poisoners of the coal-miner
stood behind their zinc counters pouring out the corrosive absinthe
and the beetroot brandy--told of the prosperity of Cransac. Evidently
it was a place in which money could be earned by those prepared to
accept the conditions. The women wore better clothes than the wives of
the peasants; but low morality, instead of the sad but always
honourable stamp of ravaging toil, was impressed on many a female
face. Even the children looked as degraded by the social atmosphere as
they were blackened by the smoke and ever-falling soot. Hastening
along the road towards Aubin, I soon found that the two places,
separated according to the map by a considerable distance, had grown
together. The long road powdered with coal-dust was now a street lined
on each side with houses and hovels. Wooden shanties with sooty,
bushes of juniper hanging over the door, and the word 'Buvette'
painted beneath, competed for the miner's money at distances of twenty
or fifty yards. One had a notice such as is rarely seen in France, and
which was significant here: 'Ready money for everything sold over the
counter.' Close by was the sign of a _sage-femme_, who, under the
picture of a woman holding aloft in triumph an unreasonably fat baby,
announced that she also bled and vaccinated. Grimy children and grimy
pigs that were intended to be white or pink sprawled upon the
thresholds or wallowed in the hot dust.

Having left the blissful coal basin, I met the Lot again near the
boundary-line of the Aveyron and entered the department named after
the river. Thence to Capdenac the valley was a curving line of
uninterrupted but ever-changing beauty.

The season was farther advanced when I continued the journey from this
point to Cahors.

A person who had contracted the 'morphia habit' would probably find
the most effectual cure for it by forced residence at Capdenac,
because the town does not boast the luxury of a chemist's shop.
Supposing the patient, however, to be a lady of worldly tastes, she
might die of _ennui_ in twenty-four hours. The Capdenac of which I am
speaking is not the utterly unpicturesque collection of houses that
has been formed about the well-known railway junction on the line to
Toulouse, but old romantic Capdenac, whose dilapidated ramparts,
dating from the early Middle Ages, crown the high rocky hill that
rises abruptly from the valley on the other side of the Lot, which
here separates the department named after it from, the Aveyron. The
situation of this town is one of the most remarkable. It is perched
upon a lofty table of reddish rock of the same calcareous composition
as that which prevails throughout the region of the _causses_. Its
walls are so escarped that the topmost crags in places overhang the
path that winds about their base far below. Only strategical
considerations could ever have induced men to build a town on such a
site. The Gauls set the example, and their _oppidum_ was long supposed
to have been Uxellodunum, but the controversy has been settled in
favour of the Puy d'Issolu.

I chose the hour of eight in the morning for climbing the rock of
Capdenac. The broad winding river was brilliantly blue, like the vault
overhead, and although the vine-clad hills, which shut in the valley,
and the bare rocks, whose outlines were sharply drawn against the sky,
were luminous, the light had the pure and clear sparkle of the
morning. Reaching the hill, I took a zigzag stony path that led
through terraced vineyards. The vintage had commenced, and men, women,
and children were busy picking the purple grapes still wet with dew.

The children only, however, showed any joy in the work, for the
bunches hung at such a distance from each other that a vine was very
quickly stripped. The _vigneron_, with his mind dwelling upon the
bygone fruitful years, when these arid steeps poured forth torrents of
wine as surely as October came round, wore an expression on his face
that was not one of thankfulness to Providence. They are a rather
surly people, moreover, the inhabitants of this district, and I do not
think at any time their hearts could have been very expansive. As I
approached a woman who had a great basket of grapes in front of her,
she hastily threw a bundle of leaves over them, casting a keenly
suspicious glance at me the while. If she meant me to understand that
the times were too bad for grapes to be given away, the movement was
unnecessary. Where now are the generous sentiments and the poetry
traditionally associated with the vintage? Not here, certainly. Men go
out into their vineyards by night armed with guns, and the depredators
whom they fear most are not dogs that have acquired a taste for
grapes. The stony path was bordered by brambles, overclimbed by
clematis, whose glistening awns were mingled with blackberries, which
not even a child troubled to pick. There was much fleabane--a plant
that deserves to be cherished in these parts, if it be really what its
name indicates, but it would have to be extensively cultivated to be a
match for the fleas. After the vineyards came the dry rock, that held,
however, sufficient moisture for the wild fig-tree, wherever it could
find a deep, crevice.

Passing underneath the perpendicular wall of rock, and the vine-clad
ramparts above it, built on the very edge of the precipice, the
winding path led me gradually up to the town. A little in front of an
arched gateway was a ruined barbican, the inner surface of the walls
being green with ferns and moss. Four loopholes were still intact. Had
it been night I might have seen ghostly men with crossbows issuing
from the gateway, but it being broad daylight, I was met by a troop of
young pigs followed by a little hump-backed woman who addressed her
youthful swine in the language of the troubadours.

In the narrow street beyond the arch a company of gigantic geese drew
themselves up in order of battle, and challenged me in chorus to come
on; but their courage was like that of Ancient Pistol. No other living
creature did I see until I had walked nearly half through the ancient
burg, between houses several centuries old, their stories projecting
over the rough pitching and the stunted fig-trees which grew there
unmolested. Some of these dwellings were in absolute ruin, with long
dry grasses waving on the roofless walls. Nobody seemed to think it
worth while to rebuild or repair anything. The town appeared to have
been left to itself and to time for at least two hundred years. And
yet there really were some inhabitants left. I found another gateway
and another ruined barbican, and near to these, on the verge of the
precipice, a high rectangular tower, which was the citadel and prison.
The lower part was occupied by the schoolmaster of the commune, and he
allowed me to ascend the winding staircase, which led to two horrible
dungeons, one above the other. Neither was lighted by window or
loophole, and but for the candle I should have been in utter darkness.
Great chains by which prisoners were fastened to the wall still lay
upon the ground, and as I raised them and felt their weight, I thought
of the human groans that only the darkness heard in the pitiless ages.
In another part of the building was a heavy iron collar that was
formerly attached to one of these chains. There were also several old
pikes in a corner.

A little beyond the citadel I found the church, a small Romanesque
building without character. An eighteenth-century doorway had been
added to it, and the tympan of the pediment was quite filled up with
hanging plants. Still more suggestive of abandonment was the little
cemetery behind, which was bordered by the ramparts. It was a small
wilderness. Just inside the entrance, a life-sized figure with
outstretched arms lay against a damp wall in a bed of nettles and
hemlock. It had become detached from the cross on which it once hung,
and had been left upon the ground to be overgrown by weeds. I have
seen many a neglected rural cemetery in France, but never one that
looked so sadly abandoned as this. It was like the 'sluggard's
garden,' where 'the thorn and the thistle grow higher and higher.'
Most of the gravestones and crosses were quite hidden by dwarf elder,
artemisia, wild carrot, and other plants all tangled together. A grave
had just been dug in this wilderness and it was about to have a
tenant, for the two bells in the open tower were sounding the _glas_,
and a distant murmur of chanting was growing clearer. The priest had
gone to 'fetch the body,' and the procession was now on its way. On
the top of the earth and stones thrown up on each' side of the new
grave were a broken skull, a jawbone, several portions of leg and arm
bones, besides many smaller fragments of the human framework. I
thought the gravedigger might at least have thrown a little earth over
these remains out of consideration for the feelings of those who were
about to stand around this grave, but concluded that he probably
understood the people with whom he had to deal. Presently this
functionary--a lantern-jawed, nimble old man, with a dirty nightcap on
his head--made his appearance to take a final look at his work. After
strutting round the very shallow hole he had dug, in an airy,
self-satisfied manner, he concluded that everything was as it should
be, and retired for the priest to perform his duty.

The great difficulty with the people of Capdenac in time of war must
have been the water supply. When their cisterns were empty, they had
the river at the bottom of the valley and a spring that flowed at
certain seasons, as it does now, at the foot of the rock on which they
had built their little town. When they were besieged, they could not
descend to the Lot to draw water; consequently they laid great store
by the stream at the base of the rock. A long zigzag flight of steps
down the side of the precipice was constructed, and it was covered by
a wall that protected those who fetched water from arrows and bolts.
Near the spring this wall was built very high and strong, and was
pierced with loopholes. It also served as an outwork. The steps and
much of the wall still exist. The spring in modern times came to be
called Caesar's Well, because the elder Champollion and others
endeavoured to prove that Capdenac was the site of Uxellodunum. The
fact, however, that the spring is dry for several months in the year,
and could never have been aught else but the drainage of the rock, is
in itself a sufficient refutation of the hypothesis; because,
according to Caesar, the fountain at Uxellodunum was so perennially
abundant that when he drew off the water by tunnelling, the Gauls
recognised in this disaster the intervention of the gods.

Capdenac appears to have given the English a great deal of trouble,
which the natural strength of the place fully explains. It must have
been a fortress of the first order in the Middle Ages, and would be so
to-day, if the French thought it worth while to use it in a military
sense; but, happily for the inhabitants of this part of France, their
territory now lies far from the theatre of any war that is likely to
occur. A charter by Philippe le Long, dated 1320, another by King
John, and a third by Charles VII., recognise the immunity of the
people of Capdenac from all public charges on account of the
resistance which they constantly opposed to the English. The rock
must, nevertheless, have fallen into the hands of a company attached
to the British cause, for the Count of Armagnac bought the place in
1381 of a band of so-called English _routiers_. Sully lived there
after the death of Henry IV., and the house that he occupied still
exists.

According to a local tradition, Capdenac was on the point of being
captured by the English, when it was saved from this fate by a
stratagem. The defenders were starving, and the besiegers were relying
upon famine to reduce them. In order to make the English believe that
the place was still well provisioned, a pig was given a very full meal
of all the corn that could be scraped together and then pushed over
the side of the rock in a cautious manner, so that the animal might
appear to be the victim of its own indiscretion. The pig fulfilled
expectations by splitting open when it struck the ground, and thus
revealed the corn that was in its body. When the English saw this,
they said: 'If the men of Capdenac can afford to feed their swine on
wheat, they must still have plenty for themselves.' Discouraged by
this reflection, they raised the siege. When they went away there was
not an ounce of bread left to divide amongst the garrison.

A market was being held at Capdenac--the lower town--as I left it.
Bunches of fowls tied together by the legs were dangling from the
hands of a score or so of peasant women standing in line. The wretched
birds had ceased to complain, and even to wriggle; but although, with
their toes upward and their beaks downward, life to them could not
have looked particularly rosy, they seemed to watch with keen interest
all that was going on. Only when they had their breasts well pinched
by critical fingers did they struggle against their fate. The legs of
these fowls are frequently broken, but the peasants only think of
their own possible loss; and women are every bit as indifferent to the
sufferings of the lower animals as men.

There was a sharp wrangle going on in the Languedocian dialect over a
coin--a Papal franc--that somebody to whom it had been offered angrily
rejected. Here I may say that one of the small troubles of my life in
this district came from accepting coins which I could not get rid of.
As a rule, the native here turns over a piece of money several times
before he satisfies himself that no objection can be brought against
it; but if, in the hurry of business, the darkness of night, or the
trustfulness inspired by a little extra worship of Bacchus, he should
happen to take a Papal, Spanish, Roumanian, or other coin that is
unpopular, he puts it on one side for the first simpleton or stranger
who may have dealings with him. Thus, without intending it, I came to
possess a very interesting numismatical collection, which I most
unconscientiously, but with little success, tried to scatter.

I made my way down the valley of the Lot, taking the work easily,
stopping at one place long enough to digest impressions before pushing
on towards a fresh point. This valley is so strangely picturesque, so
full of the curiosities of nature and bygone art, that if I had not
been a loiterer before, I should have learnt to loiter here.

Keeping on the Aveyron side of the river, I soon reached the village
of St. Julien d'Empare, where almost every house had somewhat of a
castellated appearance, owing to the dovecot tower which occupied one
angle and rose far above the roof. One of these houses had two rows of
dormer windows, covered by little gables with very long eaves in the
high-pitched roof, whose red tiles were well toned by time. The
tower-like pigeon-house, with extinguisher roof, stood at one end upon
projecting beams, and the pigeons kept going in and coming out of the
holes in their two-storied mansion. One sees dovecots everywhere in
this district, and most of them are two or three centuries old. Some
are attached to houses, and others are isolated on the hillsides
amongst the vines. When in the latter position, they are generally
round, and are built on such a scale that they really look like
towers.

There were grape-gatherers in the vineyards, but they had to search
for the fruit. The wine grown upon these hills by the Lot has been
famous from the days of the Romans; but there is very little of it
left. There is, however, a consoling side to every misfortune. A man
of Figeac told me that since the vines had failed in the district the
death-rate had diminished remarkably.

'Why?' I asked.

'Why?' replied he, with a sad smile, 'because in the happy times
everybody drank wine at all hours of the day; but now, in these
miserable times, nearly everybody drinks water.'

The new state of things would be still more satisfactory from a
teetotal point of view if Nature were less niggardly of water in these
parts. In some localities it has to be strictly economized, and this
is done in the case of streams by using it first for the exterior, and
afterwards for the interior needs of man. I, having still some English
prejudices, would rather run all the risks incurred by drinking wine,
than swallow any more than I am obliged of the rinsings of dirty
linen.

Having crossed the Lot by a suspension bridge, a roadside inn enticed
me with its little terrace, where there were many hanging plants and
flowers, and a wild fig-tree that had climbed up from the rock below,
so that it could look into people's glasses and listen to their talk
in that pleasant bower. I might have lingered here too long had it not
been for the wasps, which were even a greater nuisance than the flies.

To reach the village of Frontenac I took a little path leading through
maize-fields by the river's side. The maize was ready for the harvest,
and the long leaves had lost nearly all their greenness. The lightest
breath of air made each plant rustle like a paper scarecrow. The river
was fringed with low, triggy willows and a multitude of herbs, rich in
seeds, but poor in flowers. Among those still in bloom were the
evening primrose, soapwort, and marjoram. The river was as blue as the
heaven, and on each side rose steep hills, wooded or vine-clad, with
the yellow or reddish rock upon the ridges glowing against the hot
sky. As I was moving south-west I had the afternoon sun full in the
face. The lizards that darted across the path, raising little clouds
of dust in their hurry, found this glare quite to their taste, but it
was too much for me, and when at length I saw a leafy walnut tree I
lay down in the shade until the fiery sun began to touch the high
woods, the river, and the yellow maize-stalks with the milder tones of
evening.

A narrow grassy lane between tall hedgerows sprinkled over with
innumerable glistening blackberries led me to Frontenac, a village
upon the rocky hillside. Here is a little church partly raised upon
the site of a Roman or Gallo-Roman temple. A broken column left
standing was included in the wall of the Romanesque apse, upon the
lower masonry of which both pagan and Christian hands have worked. The
nave has been rebuilt in modern times, but in the open space before
the entrance Roman coffins crop up above the rough paving, separated
from each other only by a few feet. There is a stone coffin lying
right across the doorway, and the _cure_, whom I drew into
conversation, confided to me, with a comical smile upon his pale dark
face, that he had raised a fragment of the lid to see if anything more
enduring than man had been left there, but that he found nothing but
very fine dust. Every bone had become powder. This priest was a
companionable man, and he must have looked upon me with a less
suspicious eye than most people hereabouts, for he invited me into his
house to take a _petit verre_ with him. But the sun was getting near
the end of his journey, and I had to fare on foot to the next village;
so I thought it better to decline the offer.

The next village was St. Pierre-Toirac, also built upon the hillside
above the Lot. It is a larger place than Frontenac, and must have been
of considerable importance in the Middle Ages, to judge from its
fortified church, whose high gloomy walls give it the appearance of a
veritable stronghold. Some of the inhabitants say that it was built by
the English, but the architecture does not indicate that such was the
case. The interior is a beautiful example of the Romanesque style. The
capitals of the columns are fit to serve as models, so strongly
typical are the designs, and so exquisite is their workmanship. It is
probable that the walls of the church were raised, and that it was
turned into a fortress during the religious wars of the thirteenth
century between Catholics and Albigenses, which explain the existence
of so many fortified churches in Languedoc and Guyenne, as well as so
many ruins.

I had reached this church by an old archway, whose origin was
evidently defensive, and crossing the dim and silent square,
surrounded by mediaeval houses, some half ruinous, and all more or
less adorned with pellitory, ivy-linaria, and other wall-plants which
had fixed their roots between the gaping stones. I passed through
another archway, and stopped at a terrace belonging to a ruined
chateau or country-house. Here I was looking at the valley of the Lot
in the warm after-glow of sunset, when an elderly gentleman came up to
me and disturbed my contemplative mood by asking me not very
courteously if I wanted to see anybody. I was somewhat taken aback to
find such an important-looking person in such a dilapidated place. I
tried, however, not to appear too much overcome, and explained that it
was only with the intention of seeing the picturesque that I had found
my way to that ruinous spot. The agreeable person who had questioned
me now let me understand that it was his spot, and informed me that
nobody was allowed to see it 'sans etre presente.' Then, looking at me
very fiercely, he said:

'Are you an Englishman or a German?'

'An Englishman,' I replied, whereupon his ferocious expression relaxed
considerably, but he did not become genial.

I retired from his ruin considerably disgusted with its owner, who
contrasted badly with all Frenchmen in his social position whom I had
previously met. I asked a woman who he was, and she replied that all
she knew about him was that he was an 'espece de noble.' Her cruelty
was unintentional. The next morning I learnt from an old Crimean
soldier, who knew I was English because he had drained many a glass
with my fellow-countrymen, that the magnates of the village had held a
consultation overnight upon the advisability of coming down upon me in
a body and asking me for my papers. Nothing came of it, which was well
for me, for I had come away without my papers.

There was rain that night, and when morning came it had changed the
face of the world. The sun was shining again and warmly, but summer
had gone and autumn had come. Upon the rocky slopes the maples were on
fire; in the valley the large leaves of the walnut-trees mimicked the
sunshine, and by the river-side the tall poplars, as they bowed to the
water deities, cast upon the mirror of many tones the image of a
trembling golden leaf repeated beyond all power of numbering. A little
rain had been enough to produce this magical change. It had opened the
great feast of colour that brings the year to its gray, sad close.

But the sky was brilliantly blue when I left St. Pierre-Toirac. The
next village was Laroque-Toirac. The houses were clustered near the
foot of an escarped hill, where thinly-scattered pines relieved the
glare of the naked limestone. Upon a precipitous rock dominating the
village is a castle, the lower works of which belong to the Feudal
Ages, the upper to the Renaissance epoch--a combination very frequent
in this district. The mullioned windows and the graceful balustrade,
carried along a high archway, are in strong contrast to the stern and
dark masonry of the feudal stronghold. This picturesque incongruity
reaches its climax in the lofty round tower upon which a dovecot has
been grafted, whose extinguisher-roof, with long drooping eaves, is
quite out of keeping with the machicolations which remain a little
below the line of the embattled parapet that has disappeared. The
castle is now used for the schools of the commune, and a score or so
of little boys and girls whom I met on my way up the rough path stared
at me with much astonishment. I climbed to a bastion of the outer
works, where a fig-tree, growing from the old wall, and reaching above
it, softened the horror of the precipice; for such it really was. The
masonry was a continuation of one of those walls of rock which give
such a distinctive character: to the geological formation of this
region. The village lay far below--a broken surface of tiled roofs,
sloping rapidly towards the Lot, itself a broad ribbon of many blended
colours, winding through the sunlit plain. The castle of Laroque
belonged to the Cardaillac family. In 1342 it was stormed and taken by
Bertegot Lebret, captain of a strong company of English, who had
established their headquarters at Grealou.

As I approached Montbrun, the next village, the rocks which hemmed in
the valley became more boldly escarped. In their lower part the beds
of lias were shown with singular regularity. Box and pines and sumach
were the chief vegetation upon the stony slopes, where the scattered
masses of dark-green foliage gave by contrast a whiter glitter to the
stones. Montbrun, like so many of the little towns and villages
hereabouts, is built upon rocks immediately below a protecting
stronghold, or, rather, what was one centuries ago. The windows of
some of the dwellings look out upon the sheer precipice. The vine
clambers over ruined houses and old walls built on to the rock, and
seemingly a part of it. Of the mediaeval castle little is left besides
the keep. The Marquis de Cadaillac, to whom it belonged, strengthened
the fortifications with the hope that the stronghold would be able to
resist any attack by the English; but it was nevertheless captured by
them.

After leaving Montbrun I saw nothing more of civilization until I came
near a woman seated on a doorstep, and engaged in the exciting
occupation of fleaing a cat. She held the animal upon its back between
her knees, and was so engrossed by the pleasures of the chase that she
scarcely looked up to answer a question I put to her. The word _cafe_
painted upon a piece of board hung over another door enticed me
inside, for it was now nearly midday, and I had been in search of the
picturesque since seven o'clock, sustained by nothing more substantial
than a bowl of black coffee and a piece of bread. This is the only
breakfast that one can expect in a rural auberge of Southern France.
If milk is wanted in the coffee it must be asked for over-night, and
even then it is very doubtful if the cow will be found in time. To ask
for butter with the bread would be looked upon as a sign of eccentric
gluttony, but to cap this request with a demand for bacon and eggs at
seven in the morning, as a man fresh from England might do with
complete unconsciousness of his depravity, would be to openly confess
one's self capable of any crime. People who travel should never be
slaves to any notions on eating and drinking, for such obstinacy
brings its own punishment.

A stout woman with a coloured silk kerchief on her head met me with a
good-tempered face, and, after considering what she could do for me in
the way of lunch, said, as though a bright idea had suddenly struck
her:

'I have just killed some geese; would monsieur like me to cook him
some of the blood?'.

'Merci!' I replied. 'Please think of something else.'

An Englishman may possibly become reconciled to snails and frogs as
food, but never, I should say, to goose's blood. In about twenty
minutes a meal was ready for me, composed of soup containing great
pieces of bread, lumps of pumpkin and haricots; minced pork that had
been boiled with the soup in a goose's neck, then a veal cutlet,
covered with a thick layer of chopped garlic. Horace says that this
herb is only fit for the stomachs of reapers, but every man who loves
garlic in France is not a reaper. Strangers to this region had better
reconcile themselves both to its perfume and its flavour without loss
of time, for of all the seasoning essences provided by nature for the
delight of mankind garlic is most esteemed here. Those who have a
horror of it would fare very badly at a _table-d'hote_ at Cahors, for
its refined odour rises as soon as the soup is brought in, and does
not leave until after the salad. Even then the unconverted say that it
is still present. To cultivate a taste for garlic is, therefore,
essential to happiness here.

I crossed a toll-bridge over the river just below Cajarc, and again
entered the department of the Aveyron, my object being to ascend the
valley of a tributary of the Lot, to a spot where it flows out of a
pool of unknown depth, called the Gouffre de Lantouy. The road passed
under the village of Savagnac, built upon the hillside. A Renaissance
castle with sham machicolations, little chambers. with their
projecting floors resting on brackets turrets on _culs de lampe_ and
with extinguisher roofs, and a high terrace overgrown with vines and
fig-trees left to fight their own battle, lorded it over all the other
houses, like a sunflower in an onion-bed. But the castle, although it
gives itself such aristocratic airs, is, in these days, nothing but a
farmhouse, sacks of maize being now stored in rooms where ladies once
touched the lute with white fingers, and where gentlemen may have
crumpled their frills while swearing eternal love upon their knees.
The little cemetery adjoining the chateau has swallowed up the great
and the lowly century after century, and the rank grass, now sprinkled
with the lingering flowers of summer, barely covers their mingled
bones. The old gravestones, left undisturbed, have sunk into the soil
nearly out of sight. Such is the ending of all that is human.

A little beyond this village a peasant woman, whom I met picking up
walnuts from the road that was strewn with them, lifted her
wide-brimmed straw hat to me as I passed. This was indeed polite. I
now left the road, and followed a lane by the stream that flows out of
the _gouffre_. This valley is narrow enough to be called a gorge, and
the stony hills on either side presented a picture of utter barrenness
and desolation. But along the level of the stream the deep-green grass
shadowed by the hill was lighted up with the pale-purple death-torches
of the poisonous colchicum. After crossing a stubble-field, now
overgrown by the violet-coloured pimpernel, I reached the sinister
pool, fringed with the flag's sword-like leaves and shadowed by willows
and alders. I expected to find the water all in tumult; but no, it had
the dark, solemn stillness of the mountain tarn. The two streams that
poured out of it to meet a little lower down the valley hardly
murmured as they started upon their journey amidst the iris and sedge,
although the body of water was strong enough to turn a millwheel.

There is something that troubles the imagination in the appearance of
this lonely pool for ever silently overflowing, and so deep that
nobody as yet has been able to find the bottom. On the side of the
stony hill close by are some ruined walls of a church and convent,
said to have been built by St. Mamphaise. The peasants of the district
have an extraordinary story with regard to this convent, which is
either the cause or the consequence of the superstitious awe in which
they hold the Gouffre de Lantouy. This legend is to the effect that
the conventual building was once inhabited by women who ate children,
and that a certain mother, whose baby they had kidnapped and eaten,
cursed them so heartily and to such purpose that the _gouffre_ was
formed, and their convent, or the greater part of it, was
supernaturally carried down the hill and plunged into the bottomless
water. The legend also says that those who stand by the pool on St.
John's Eve will hear the convent bell ringing. It not being St. John's
Eve when I was there I was unable to test the truth of this part of
the legend. What I did hear was a raven croaking from the ruin, and
the sound harmonized well with the air of mystery and gloom hanging
over the spot.

There is some historic reason for believing that the convent at
Lantouy was founded by Charlemagne. Very near this spot are the
remains of some ancient fortified works, and the locality is known as
'La domaine de Waiffier.' This name is evidently the same as Waifre.
There is reason to believe that the last of the sovereign Dukes of
Aquitaine made a stand here when pursued by his implacable enemy Pepin
le Bref. The people pronounce the word 'Waiffier' as though it
commenced with a 'G.'

Towards evening I recrossed the Lot and entered Cajarc. Passing
through the little town, which is not in itself very interesting, I
took a path winding up the side of the hill, at the base of which lies
the burg. I wished to see a cascade that has a local reputation for
beauty. I reached the foot of a high, fantastic rock, from the ledges
of which masses of ivy hung woven together like a veritable tapestry
of nature. A small stream descended from the uppermost ridge upon a
rock covered with moss showing every hue of green, and then into a
dark pool below. The hillside above the cascade has been extensively
tunnelled for phosphate. An Englishman discovered the value of the
site, and dug a fortune out of it. There are several phosphate-mines
in this district, all more or less connected with British enterprise.
Phosphate inspires respect for Englishmen here, for it has been the
means of giving a great deal of employment and rendering petty
proprietors, who could barely get a living out of their thankless
soil, comparatively rich. The inhabitants, therefore, consider English
speculators in the light of public benefactors, and such they have
really proved, although the motive that brought them here was scarcely
a philanthropic one. Neither the French nor the British public has any
conception of the extent to which the mineral resources of France are
worked by the English.

Cajarc, although it looks like a village to-day, was once a fortified
town of considerable importance in the Quercy. Its inhabitants offered
an obstinate resistance to the English on several occasions. In 1290
they refused to swear fealty to the King of England until their lord,
the Bishop of Cahors, gave them the order to do so in the name of the
King of France. Subsequently in the same and the following century,
when the Ouercynois were again in arms against the English, various
attempts to take the town by surprise failed through the vigilance and
courage of the burghers. To punish them, the English, in 1368,
destroyed their bridge across the Lot, of which some remnants may
still be seen.

After leaving Cajarc in the morning I was soon alone with Nature on
the right bank of the river. Autumn was there in a gusty mood, blowing
yellow leaves down from the hills upon the water and driving them
towards the sea over the rippled, gray surface lit up with cold,
steel-like gleams of sunshine struggling through the vapour. The
wilderness of herbs and under-shrubs along the banks was no longer
aflame with flowers. Dead thistles, whose feathered seeds had drifted
far away upon the wind to found new colonies, and a multitude of
withered spikes and racemes, told the old story of the summer's life
passing into the death or sleep of winter. Yet the river-banks were
not without flowers. A rose, very like the 'monthly rose' of English
gardens, was still blooming there, together with hawkweed, wild
reseda, and a mint with lilac-coloured blossoms which one sees on
every bit of waste ground throughout this region.

A rock rising from the river's bank carried the ruin of an ancient
chapel. Only the apse was left. It contained one narrow deeply-splayed
Romanesque window, and a piscina where the priest washed his hands.
The altar-stone lay upon the ground where the altar must have stood,
and behind it a rough wooden cross had been piously raised to remind
the passer-by that the spot was hallowed.

The road now ran under high red rocks or steep stony slopes, where, on
neglected terraces overgrown with weeds, the dead or dying vines
repeated the monotonous tale of the phylloxera.

I passed through the village of Lannagol, mostly built upon rocks
overlooking the bed of its dried-up stream, and was soon again under
the desert hills, where the fiery maple flashed amid the sombre
foliage of the box. The next village or hamlet was a very curious one.
Rows of little houses, some of them mere huts, were built against the
side of the rock under the shelter of huge masses of oolite or lias
projecting like the stories of mediaeval dwellings. People climbed to
their habitations, like goats, up very steep paths winding amongst the
rocks. The overleaning walls were blackened to a great height by the
smoke from the chimneys.

It was dusk when I crossed a bridge leading to the village of
Cenevieres, where I intended to pass the night. There was a very fair
inn here, less picturesque than many of the auberges of the country,
but cleaner, perhaps, for this reason. The aubergiste was suspicious
of me at first, as he afterwards admitted, for like others he had
turned over in his mind the question, Is he a German spy? Judging from
my own experience in this part of France, I should say that a German
tourist would not spend a very happy holiday here. The sentiment of
the Parisians towards the Teuton is fraternal love compared to that of
the Southern French. These people proved themselves to be thorough
going haters in the religious wars, and the old character is still
strong in them.

Although the Germans in 1870-71 did not show themselves in Guyenne,
the resentment of the inhabitants towards them is intense, and it is
the vivacity of this feeling that renders them so suspicious of
foreigners. I noticed, however, that as I went farther down the Lot
the people became more genial, so that the long evenings in the rural
inns generally passed very pleasantly. Dinner over, I usually took
possession of a chimney-corner, the only place where one can be really
warm on autumnal nights, and while satisfying the curiosity of the
rustic intelligence concerning the English and their ways I gathered
much information that was useful to me respecting local customs and
the caverns, castles and legends of the district where I happened to
be. By nine o'clock everybody was yawning, and if the village
blacksmith, the postman, and the bell-ringer had not left by that
time, they were in an unusually dissipated frame of mind. By ten
o'clock the great kitchen was dark, and the mice were making up a
quadrille upon the hearth, supposing no cat to be looking on.

Early the next morning I was climbing the hill towards the Castle of
Cenevieres. This building is a most picturesque jumble of the
castellated styles of the thirteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth
centuries. The oldest part of the structure--and it is very
considerable--is that of a frowning feudal fortress of great strength,
built upon a rock, which on the side of the Lot is a perpendicular
wall some 200 feet high. The inhabitants agree in saying that the
feudal walls are the work of the English, but they are probably in
error. The original castle belonged to Waifre. It afterwards passed to
the Gourdon family, who doubtless rebuilt it upon the old foundations.
The last descendant of this family was one of the most ardent
Huguenots in the Quercy. The late Gothic superstructure, which is
still inhabited, has a very high-pitched roof, with dormer windows
covered by high gables with elaborate carvings. Very near this castle,
in the side of the cliff, is a fortified cavern, which for centuries
has gone by the name of La Grotte des Anglais. It must have been in
communication with the castle, of which it may have served as an
outwork or a place of refuge in the last extremity. I might have
passed the whole day trying to find it but for the help of a peasant,
who led the way down the rocks, hanging on to bushes of box. The
remains of a small tower, pierced with loopholes on one side of the
opening, and the other ruined masonry, leave no doubt as to the
defensive use to which this cavern was at one time put.

Having left Cenevieres, I recrossed the Lot and passed through
Saint-Martin, a village of little interest, but the point from which
it is most convenient to reach a certain cave where animals of the
prehistoric ages were obliging enough to die, so that their skeletons
might be preserved for the delight and instruction of the modern
scientific bone-hunter. This is not one of the celebrated caves in the
department, consequently the visitor with thoughts fixed on bones may
carry away a sackful if he has the patience to grub for them. If the
cavern were near Paris it would give rise to a fierce competition
between the palaeontologist and the _chiffonnier_, but placed where it
is the soil has not yet been much disturbed. I went in search of it up
a very steep, stony hill, and there had the good fortune to meet an
old woman who was coming down over the rocks with surprising
nimbleness. She knew at once what I wanted. Although she spoke French
with great difficulty, three words out of every five being _patois_,
she made me understand that her house was just in front of the cave,
and that it was not to be visited without her consent and guidance.
She therefore began to reascend the 'mountain,' as she called the
hill, making signs to me to follow. There was certainly nothing wrong
with the old woman's lungs, for it was as much as I could do to keep
pace with her, especially when she led the way up almost naked rock.
At length we reached the brow of the hill, where a cottage showed
itself in a desert of limestone, but where a little garden, by dint of
long labour, had been formed upon a natural terrace on which the sun's
rays fell warmly.

The woman left me in the cottage while she went to find her daughter.
It was composed of one small room, in which there were two beds, an
old worm-eaten walnut buffet, an eight-day clock after the pattern of
Sir Humphrey's, a hearth covered with white wood-ashes, a large
wheel-shaped loaf of black bread in a rack, onions, grapes, garlic,
and balls of twisted hemp hanging from the beams; baskets of maize and
chestnuts, and a great copper swing-pot, only a little less imposing
than the one out of which the scullion fished the fowls for Sancho
Panca. I afterwards learned that two couples slept in the two
beds--the old pair and the young pair.

Presently the old woman reappeared, followed by a much younger one,
carrying upon her head a copper water-pot, that glowed in the sun like
a wind-blown brand. Having set down her pot, the daughter, a rather
wild-looking person with sun-baked face and large gleaming eyes, took
an old-fashioned brass dish-lamp--a deformed and vulgar descendant of
the agate lamp held in the hand of the antique priestess--and, after
bringing the wick towards the lip, lighted it. I lit the candle I had
brought with me, and, followed by the old woman, we entered the
cavern, near the mouth of which was a fig-tree. The entrance was so
small that it was almost necessary to crawl for some distance; but it
must have been much larger at one time if the story that the younger
woman told me about the bones of a mastodon having been discovered
inside was well founded. As we proceeded, the roof rose rapidly, so
that the rocks overhead could not presently be seen by the light of
the candle and lamp. Farther in, the roof became lower, and it was
connected with the ground in places by natural columns of vast size,
formed in the course of ages by the calcareous deposit of the dropping
water. Near the end of the cavern, at about 100 yards from the
entrance, various holes dug in the yellow soil showed where the
bone-searchers had been at work. I had ample encouragement, for I had
only to stir the earth a little to find bones half turned to stone. I
selected two or three teeth with the hope that a scientific friend
would say they were a mastodon's or a mammoth's. If I had liked the
prospect of carrying a bag of bones on my back down the valley of the
Lot, I might have taken away many very large specimens. I called to
mind, however, an experience of early days which prevented me from
being again a martyr to science. I had found a quantity of bones in a
newly-dug gravel-pit, and fully believing that they belonged to some
animal that flourished before the flood, I carried them twelve miles
with infinite labour and suffering, and then learned that they were
part of the anatomy of a very modern cow. Since that adventure I have
left bones for those who understand them.

I had ample leisure for studying the river after leaving Saint-Martin,
for I stood upon the bank waiting for a ferryman until I lost all the
patience I had brought with me. He was taking a couple of oxen
harnessed to a cart across the stream, and the strong wind that was
blowing sent the great flat boat far out of its course.

Every day I noticed a larger fleet of floating leaves upon the water,
hurrying through the ever-curving valley, drifting over the golden
reflections of other leaves that waited for the gust to cast them too
upon the water; passing into the deep shadow of bridges whose arches
resounded with mournful murmurs, riding the white foam of the weirs,
whirling in the dark eddies beyond, gliding in the brown shade of
vine-clad hills and under the beetling brows of solemn rocks, now
mingling with the imaged dovecot with pigeons perched upon the
red-tiled roof, now with the tracery of Gothic gables or the grim
blackness of feudal walls splashed with fern and pellitory, now in a
warm glow of dying summer, and now in the melancholy gray of wintry
clouds heavy with rain. Away they went, the multitudinous
leaves--children of the poplar, the willow, the fig-tree, and vine;
some broad and clumsy like rafts or barges, others slender and
graceful like little skiffs; all stained with some brilliant colour of
autumn.

I had reckoned upon getting a mid-day meal at a village called Cregols
on the opposite bank, but when I at length reached it I had another
trial. The only place of public entertainment was an exceedingly dirty
hovel that called itself a _cafe_, and the woman who kept it declared
that she had no victuals of any sort in the house. This, of course,
was not true, but it was a polite way of saying that she did not wish
to be bothered with me. The wayfarer in the little-travelled districts
of France must not expect to find in all his stopping-places a fowl
ready to be placed on the spit for him. Had I obtained a meal at
Cregols, I should have looked for some dolmens said to be in the
neighbourhood, but failure in one respect spoilt my zeal in the other.
I am afraid, moreover, that I only half appreciated the grandeur of
some prodigious walls of rock which I passed in my rapid walk to the
little town of Saint-Cirq-la-Popie. It is deplorable to think how much
the mind is influenced by internal circumstances which ought to have
nothing to do with the spirit.

After climbing a steep wood where there were unripe medlars, I came in
sight of a small burg, lying high above the Lot in a hollow of the
hill. A fortress-like church towered far above the closely-packed
red-tiled roofs sprinkled with dormer windows, and upon a still higher
rock were the ruined walls of a castle. This was Saint-Cirq-la-Popie,
a place no less quaint than its name. I was presently seated in a
dimly-lighted back-room of an auberge, whose walls--built apparently
for eternity--dated from the Middle Ages. The hostess, who, as I
entered, was gossiping with some cronies in the dark doorway, while
she pretended to twist the wool that she carried upon the most rustic
of distaffs--a common forked stick--laid this down, and, blowing up
the embers on the hearth, proceeded to cook some eggs _sur le plat_.
This with bread, goat-cheese and walnuts, and an excellent wine of the
district--the new vintage--made my lunch. The fact that there was no
meat in the auberge reminded me that it was Friday.

Speaking generally, the inhabitants of the Lot are practising
Catholics. The churches are well filled, and the clergy are as
comfortably off as French priests can expect to be in these days. It
is no uncommon thing for a _cure_ to keep his trap. I have several
times met priests on horseback in the Quercy, but never without
thinking that they would look better if they used side-saddles.

The early Gothic Church of Saint-Cirq-la-Popie, to judge by its high
massive walls and round tower, was raised more with the idea of
defence than ornament. In the interior there is still the feeling of
Romanesque repose; nothing of the animation of the Pointed style--no
vine-leaf or other foliage breaks the severity of the lines. I
ascended the tower with the bell-ringer's boy. In the bell-loft, with
other lumber, was an old 'stretcher,' very much less luxurious than
the _brancard_ that is used in Paris for carrying the sick and
wounded. It was composed of two poles, with cross-pieces and a railing
down the sides. I ascertained that this piece of village carpentry was
used within the memory of people still living for carrying the dead to
the cemetery merely wrapped in their shrouds. They were buried without
coffins, not because wood was difficult to obtain, but because the
four boards had not yet come into fashion at Saint-Cirq-la-Popie. To
bury a person in such a manner even there would nowadays cause great
scandal, but sixty or seventy years ago it was considered folly to put
good wood into a grave. A homespun sheet was thought to be all that
was needed to break the harshness of the falling clay. And there are
people who call this age that gives coffins even to the poorest dead
utilitarian!

Among other curious things I saw in this ancient out-of-the-way burg
were two mediaeval corn-measures forming part of a heap of stones in a
street corner. They had much the appearance of very primitive
holy-water stoups, such as are to be seen in some rural churches, for
they were blocks of stone rounded and hollowed out with the chisel.
Each of these measures, however, had a hole in the side near the
bottom for the corn to run through, and irons to which a little
flap-door was once affixed in front of this hole. The commune treated
these stones as rubbish until some accidental visitor offered 500
francs for them; now it clings to them tightly, hoping, no doubt, that
the price will go up. Prowling curiosity-hunters are destined to
destroy much of the archaeological interest of these old towns. They
are doing to them what Lord Elgin did to the Parthenon. Fantastic
corbel-heads and other sculptured details disappear every year from
the Gothic houses, and find their way into private museums.

As I was taking leave of the bellringer's boy--a lad of about
fifteen--he put his hand under his blouse and, pulling out a
snuff-box, offered me a pinch. I had met plenty of boys who chewed
tobacco--they abound along the coast of Brittany--but never one who
carried a snuff-box before.

The castle whose ruins are to be seen on the bluff above the church
received Henry IV. as a guest after his memorable exploit at Cahors.

A man who was laying eel-lines across the Lot consented to take me to
the other side in his boat, and there I struck the road to Cahors,
which closely borders the river all along this valley. In several
places it is tunnelled through the rock, where the buttresses of the
cliffs could not be conveniently shattered with dynamite. All this has
been the work of late years. Previously the passage between the river
and the rocks was about as bad as it could be. The English fortified
several of the caverns in the cliffs commanding the passage, to which
the name of _Le Defile des Anglais_ was consequently given. Now the
term is applied by the country people to the caves themselves,
wherever these have been walled up for defence.

I soon reached one of these caverns, the embattled wall being a
conspicuous object from the road below. Having fallen into ruin, it
had lately been repaired at the expense of the commune. To an
Englishman the spot could not be otherwise than strangely interesting.
I imagined my own language being spoken there five or six centuries
ago, and speculated as to whether the accent was Cockney or
Lancashire, or West of England.

Several fig-trees grew beside the walled-up cavern, and I was picking
the ripest of the fruit when I heard a voice from the road below
calling upon me to come down. Peering through the boughs, I saw a man
seated in the smallest and most gimcrack of donkey-carts. It was
something like a grocer's box on wheels. The owner gave violent smacks
to the plank on which he was sitting, to let me understand that there
was room for another person. I did not think there could be, but I
left the figs and came down the rocks.

'If you are going to Saint-Gery,' said the man, 'I can take you about
five kilometres on the road.'

'But the donkey,' I urged, 'will lie down and roll.'

'What, the little beast! Not he! he will go along like an arrow.'

I accepted the invitation, and away went the donkey, making himself as
much like an arrow on the wing as any ass could. My companion, who was
a handsome fellow, with a moustache that one would expect to see upon
the face of a Sicilian brigand, was a cantonnier, and as he scraped
out the ditches and mended the roads, his donkey browsed upon what he
could find along the wayside. In summer and winter they were
inseparable companions, and had come to thoroughly understand one
another. The cantonnier confided to me that he was formerly employed
in the phosphate quarries, and that he had closed his experience in
this line by working three months without wages for an Englishman
whose speculation turned out a failure. Phosphate then lost its charm
upon the proprietor of the donkey-cart, for it had caused him to 'eat
all his economies,' and he resigned himself to the wages of a
road-mender, which were small but sure. It was getting dusk when we
parted. My next companion on the road was a poor bent-backed,
shambling, idiotic youth, who was driving home two long-tailed sheep
and a lamb, and who had just enough intelligence for this work. He
kept at my side for a mile or two, flourishing a long stick over the
backs of the sheep and uttering melancholy cries. His presence was not
cheering, but I had to put up with it, for when I walked fast he ran.
He likewise left me at length to continue my way alone, and his wild
cries became fainter and fainter. Then, in the deepening dusk, two
churches, one on each side of the river, began to sound the angelus. A
gleam of yellow light lingered in the western sky between two dark
hills, but the clouds above and the river below were of the colour of
slate. Suddenly a bright blaze flashed across the dim and misty valley
from a cottage hearth where a woman had just thrown on a faggot to
boil the evening soup, and the gloom of nature was at once filled with
the sentiment of home.

It was quite dark when I reached Saint-Gery. The narrow passage
leading to the best inn was illumined by the red glare of a forge, and
was rich in odours ancient and modern. Some twenty geese tightly
packed in a pen close to the hostelry door announced my arrival with
shrieks of derision. They said: 'It's Friday; no goose for you
to-night!' Those who suppose that geese cannot laugh have not studied
bucolic poetry from nature. The forge was attached to the inn, a very
common arrangement here, and one that enables the traveller who has
hope of sleep at daybreak--because the fleas are then thinking of rest
after labour--to enjoy the melody of the 'Harmonious Blacksmith'
without the help of Handel.

I was not cheered by the sight of goose or turkey turning on the spit
as I entered the vast smoke-begrimed kitchen, lighted chiefly by the
flame of the fire, but the great chain-pot sent forth a perfume that
was not offensive, although the soup was _maigre_. There was also fish
that had been freshly pulled out of the Lot. The cooking left
something to be desired, but the hostess, the wife of the Harmonious
Blacksmith, had thrown her best intentions into it. A rosy light wine
grown upon the side of a neighbouring hill compensated for the lack of
culinary art. It was a rather rough inn, but I had been in many worse.
Seated in the chimney-corner after dinner, and sending the smoke of my
pipe to join the sparks of the blazing wood up the yawning gulf where
the soot hung like stalactites below the calm sky and twinkling stars,
I had a long talk with the aubergiste, who told me that he had been
taken prisoner at Sedan, and had, in consequence, spent eight months
in Germany. He considered that he had been as well treated by the
Germans as a prisoner could expect to be. He had always enough to eat,
but there was no soup, and, lacking this, he thought it impossible for
any civilized stomach to be happy.

Rural inns have charms, especially when they are old and picturesque,
and smell of the Middle Ages; but to be kept a prisoner in one of them
by rainy weather is apt to plunge a restless wanderer into the Slough
of Despond. The chances are that the inn itself becomes at such times
a slough, so that Bunyan's expression is then applicable in a real as
well as in a figurative sense. There is a constant coming in and going
out of peasants with dripping sabots, of dogs with wet paws, and
draggle-tailed hens with miry feet; geese, and even pigs, not
unfrequently venture inside, and have a good walk round before their
presence is noticed and they are treated to quotations from Rabelais,
enforced with the broomstick. Then the rain beats in at the open door,
which nobody troubles to close. Under these circumstances, the rural
inn becomes detestable. So I found the auberge at Saint-Gery, where I
waited long hours for the weather to change, after having received a
soaking while climbing the escarped cliffs which rise so grandly on
one side of the little town.

A fortified cavern and a ruined castle tempted me up the rocks. On my
way I passed a small Gothic house, dating apparently from the
fourteenth or fifteenth century, with pointed arched doorway and
window lights separated by slender columns with foliated capitals
carved by no clumsy rustic workman. The boy who accompanied me had the
key. As I entered I was met on the threshold by the fragrant odour of
the tobacco-plant; I perceived that the mediaeval house was used for
drying tobacco-leaves--a purpose that could never have been in the
imagination of the original owner, for those stones were laid together
long before the herb, now so precious to the French Government, was
brought to Europe. The stalks with all the leaves attached were hung
to strings stretched from wall to wall. There is much tobacco grown
hereabouts in the valley of the Lot, but it is considered too strong
for smoking purposes, and is therefore made into snuff. When the
utmost care has been used in its cultivation and drying the price paid
by the Government to the grower does not exceed half a franc the
pound. Those who enjoy the privilege of raising it consider the money
very hardly earned.

I reached the ruined castle at the foot of the limestone buttresses
supporting the plateau above. Enough is left of the wall to show that
it must have been a strong place at one time. It is attributed by
common consent to the English. Protected on one side by the abrupt
rock, it overlooked the valley from a height that to an enemy must
have been very difficult of access. The fortified cavern is in the
escarped cliff above the castle, with which there was, perhaps, a
secret communication. The upper part of the wall is gone, but what
remains is about ten feet high and nine feet thick. Swallows build
their nests in the roof of the cavern, and the spot is noisy with the
harsh cries of countless jackdaws. These sagacious birds can doubtless
tell many stories of the English which they received from their
ancestors.

When I returned to the auberge wet and shivering, I found no sympathy,
the thoughts of the hostess being occupied by a matter that interested
her more deeply. The badgers had eaten her maize which she needed for
fattening the geese, and her tongue was busily employed in wishing
them every misfortune, both in time and eternity. Badgers are very
numerous in the district, and they continue to increase and multiply,
while the peasants jeopardise their immortal interests by cursing them
every time they see a spike of ripening maize pulled down and half
stripped of its corn. In the daytime these animals sleep comfortably,
digesting their ill-gotten meal in the holes of the rocks, which are
so honeycombed that dogs cannot easily get at the hermits. Moreover,
it is not every dog that likes the prospect of being bitten nearly in
half, the badger being much better known than trusted by the canine
race.

Another animal that flourishes here, in spite of the hatred in which
it is held by the inhabitants, is the fox, which likewise finds the
valley an Elysium on account of the convenient neighbourhood of the
rocks pierced with multitudinous holes. Badgers and foxes, with all
their vices, are preferable to the hyenas which used to infest this
part of France, as is proved by the bones found in the larger caverns.
The present inhabitants ought to take comfort from this reflection,
but they do not.

While the aubergiste's wife, a little woman who carried about with her
the outline of a wine-cask, was breathing maledictions upon the
badgers, and venting her fury upon the little boy-of-all-work--who,
being used to such outbursts, ate his morning allowance of soup with
philosophic indifference--I took up my place again in the
chimney-corner, and endeavoured to dry myself on all sides by somewhat
imitating the movement of a fowl turning on the spit.

At length the heavy pall of cloud lifted, and when the first yellow
gleam of sunshine filtering through vapour was reflected by the
puddles and streaming roofs, I walked out of Saint-Gery. When the last
houses were out of sight, solitude added to the desolate grandeur of
the scenery. It was a relief to be alone with Nature, dripping as she
was with recent tears, after the depressing influences of the inn--the
dimness, dampness, and dirt, the unreasoning anger of ignorance, the
dull routine of human beings whose chief concern was to feed
themselves and the animals which helped them to live. As an alterative
to the mind, rural life is of real value in the case of those who have
been carried round and round in the whirlpool of a great city until
they have had more than enough of the sensation; but, like other
useful medicines, rusticity is best when taken in moderate doses, and
at judicious intervals. I had stayed at Saint-Gery long enough to feel
like a fish that in jumping out of water for the sake of variety had
fallen upon the mud.

The sun that changes the face of all things, and warms the ideas no
less than the earth, now shone out from a blue sky, spreading fire
over the ruddy tops of the chestnut woods, and flashing into the dark
caverns of the ancient crags, fringed with box, sumach and juniper. I
noticed that one of these caverns had been fortified, but my curiosity
was satisfied with the distant view. A yellow chicory, quite leafless,
was still blooming on the stony banks, and I also, found a white
scabious. Green hellebore and wild madder flourished amidst the broken
limestone. A forest of brown maize-stalks, from which the golden corn
had been gathered, followed the windings of the river, now turgid and
tumultuous, and dyed sienna-red by the washings from the hills. Every
day the increasing water as it descended the weirs made a wilder
tumult. These weirs are a great beauty to the Lot, for they generally
form an angle or the arc of a circle, and the river tumbles over the
rough blocks like a natural cascade. They are connected with a series
of locks, which render the stream navigable from the sea; but one
rarely sees a barge upon it now, the railway having completely ruined
the water traffic, and caused a most elaborate and costly piece of
engineering to be practically useless.

The valley now widened out, and a village came into view, together
with a ruined castle upon a mamelon, that rose like a volcanic cone
from the plain. On the castle wall an immense wooden cross had been
set, showing against the sky with an effect truly grand. The village
was Vers, and the castle, which was built by the English, is called
the Chateau de Bears.

At Vers I was met by an old man, who insisted upon showing me another
cave fortified by the English, after taking the precaution of telling
me that he would accept nothing for his trouble. He was long and lean
and brown, and had a 'glittering, eye' like the Ancient Mariner, but
his conversation was much more cheerful than that of the hero who shot
the albatross. He was a born actor, for he accompanied his talk with
magnificent dramatic gestures, and, after letting his voice drop
suddenly to a tragic whisper, he would raise it again to the most
gusty and blustering heights of sound. He was a strong type of the
Southerner, inasmuch as all this amazing vehemence and gesticulation
was quite uncalled for. It is remarkable, however, how much may be
done by mere action and intonation to impress the listener with the
idea that the speaker must be a person of uncommon intelligence. But
when half a dozen such talkers are engaged in discussion upon some
trivial topic, and each employs the same means to enforce his views
upon the rest (this occurs nightly in the _cafes_ at Cahors), the
Northerner is inclined to think that they are all mad. The wiry old
man explained to me, in order to account for the ease and agility with
which, notwithstanding his years and his awkward _sabots_, he stepped
from block to block in the ascent, that he had been all his life a
rock-blaster. At length we reached the cavern. The English, who used
it as a refuge, had shown much sagacity in its selection, for the
enemy that attacked them there would have been compelled to climb up
the face of the rock beneath by following zigzag ledges, while the
besieged behind their loopholed wall were raining arrows and bolts
upon them. The wall, as it exists, is twenty or thirty feet high.
There is a doorway protected by an inner wall. To reach the upper
loopholes and parapet the men mounted upon oak beams resting crosswise
between the masonry and the rock. One massive beam, crumbling and
worm-eaten, as may be supposed after the centuries that it has been
there, may still be seen serving as the lintel of a window.

I made a rather long stay at Vers, in order to visit the site of a
Celtic town on the _causse_; but I did not start upon this journey
until the next day. The inn where I put up was much more comfortable
than some others which I had chosen for night-quarters while wandering
down the valley. To anybody fresh from London it would have seemed
primitive indeed, with its broad hearth and massive iron dogs, its
enormous fire built with logs and the roots of trees, and its cosy
chimney-corners, where the sitters' heads were from time to time
enveloped with wreathing smoke; but I had grown so accustomed to such
sights that this hostelry seemed to contain all the blessings and
commodities of an advanced state of civilization.

The hostess was a good and sprightly cook, and I watched her
proceedings with a keen interest as I sat upon one of the seats in the
chimney. Having hitched the pot that contained the soup upon the hook
at the end of the sooty chain, she raked out embers from the centre of
the burning mass, and made separate fires with them upon the hearth.
Others she carried to a range of small charcoal fireplaces on one side
of the spacious kitchen, and very soon afterwards she had sauce-pans
and a frying-pan and a gridiron all murmuring or hissing together.
There was too much garlic in her cookery, but I had also grown used to
that. Although the phylloxera had blighted nearly all the vineyards in
this region, the landlord here was able to put upon the table some
wine, grown upon his own hillside, not unworthy of the ancient
reputation of the Cahors district for its vintage.

After dinner I returned to the chimney-corner which was decidedly the
most comfortable place in the inn, in spite of the smoke and the close
neighbourhood of soot, and set about obtaining information from the
aubergiste and his cronies who had dropped in concerning the exact
whereabouts of a Celtic town whose ruined fortifications, I knew, were
to be found somewhere among the barren hills to the west of Vers. It
was some time before I could make these men understand what I was
really in search of, and when they understood they seemed to think I
was a little mad, until the idea struck them that I might be a dealer
in antiquities, hoping to pick up certain odds and ends that would
repay me for the trouble of walking to such a desolate and
uninteresting spot.

At length I gathered that the site of the ancient _oppidum_ was at
Murcens, a hamlet upon a hill, half a day's walk away to the west, and
that the best way to reach it was to follow the valley of the Vers. At
about seven o'clock the next morning I started, and, having been
warned that I should find no inn where I could get a meal, I took with
me some provisions.

It was a gray, dreary morning, and at that hour the weather could not
have been more November-like had I been upon the banks of the Severn
or the Trent, instead of being by one of the rivers of our ancient
southern province of Guyenne.

As I turned westward up the valley of the Vers, I passed under
detached fragments of the aqueduct built by the Romans to carry water
to Cahors. By taking advantage of the rocks which hem in the narrow
valley, they saved themselves the trouble of raising arches to the
desired height to ensure the flow. The conduit is carried along upon a
ledge hewn out of the natural wall, projecting masses of rock being
cut through with the hammer and chisel. The masonry is of undressed
stone, but so firmly cemented that it is scarcely less solid than the
rock itself.

Where an inconvenient buttress projected, a narrow passage was cut
through it for the channel, and the marks of the chisel look as fresh
as if they had been lately made. Much of this aqueduct was destroyed
in quite recent days, when the rocks were blasted to make room for the
road to Cahors. The Romans may have thought of many destructive
agencies being employed upon their work, but dynamite was certainly
not one of them. Box and hellebore, bramble and dogwood, moss and
ferns, have been striving for centuries to conceal all trace of the
conduit, and those whose foreknowledge did not lead them to look for
it might easily pass by without observing it.

The road followed the stream, now a furious torrent that a man on
horseback could hardly ford without risk of being carried away. Two or
three weeks previously a mere thread of water wound its way amongst
the stones in the centre of the channel. It is one of the many streams
which in Guyenne gradually disappear in summer, but at the return of
winter fill the long-scorched and silent valleys with the sound of
roaring waters. On either side of the gorge rose abrupt stony hills
thinly wooded, chiefly with stunted oak, or escarped craggy cliffs
pierced with yawning caverns. There was no sunshine, but the multitude
of lingering leaves lit up all the desert hills with a quiet, solemn
flame. Here and there, amidst the pale gold of the maple or the
browner, ruddier gold of the oak, glowed darkly the deep crimson fire
of a solitary cornel. In steady, unchanging contrast with these
colours was the sombre green of the box.

The stream descends in a series of cascades, and there is a mighty
roar of waters. For many yards I have for a companion a little wren,
that flies from twig to twig through the well-nigh naked hedge along
the wayside, now hidden behind a bramble's crimson-spotted leaf, now
mingled with a tracery of twigs and thorns. I can almost believe it to
be the same wren that kept up with me years ago in English lanes, and
since then has travelled with me so many miles in France, vanishing
for long periods, but reappearing as if by enchantment in some
roadside hedge, its eyes bright with recognition, and every movement
friendly. Whimsical little bird, or gentle spirit in disguise, we may
travel many a mile together yet.

My thoughts were turned from the wren by a carrier's cart, which the
people of the country would term a _diligence_. It was like a great
oblong box with one end knocked out, set on wheels. The interior was a
black hole, crammed with people and bundles. When I looked for my
little feathered friend it was gone, but we shall meet again.

Two or three miles farther up the valley, near a small village or
hamlet, I crossed a low bridge over the Vers, and by following the
road on the other side, still ascending the course of the stream, I
came to a spot where a volume of water that would soon have filled a
large reservoir flowed quietly out of a little hollow at the foot of
great rocks. It was the Fountain of Polemie which, on account of its
abundant flow in all seasons, is supposed to have been the source from
which the Romans led their aqueduct to Divona--now called Cahors. The
water of this fountain, which derives its name from Polemius, a Roman
functionary, is of limpid purity, and its constancy proves that it
rises from a great depth. The Romans must have carried the water on
arches across the valley, and probably for a considerable distance
down it, before they made use of the natural wall of rock in the
manner described, but not a trace remains of the arches, or even of
the piers.

In order to reach the tableland of Murcens, it was necessary to cross
again the roaring torrent of the Vers, and after several vain attempts
to do so, by means of the rocks lying in its bed, I came to a bridge
which solved the difficulty. The scene was now sublimely rugged and
desolate. On each side the majestic rocks reared their ever-varying
fantastic shapes towards the sky.

I knew, from what I had been told, that Murcens lay somewhere above
the escarped cliff on my left, and at no great distance, but the
difficulty was to reach it. I had heard of a path, but I soon gave up
the attempt to find it. As there was not a human being to be seen who
could give me any counsel, I commenced climbing the hill in the
direction that I wished to take. It was anything but straightforward
walking. The lower part of the steep was strewn with loose stones like
shingle, that slipped under the feet, so that I had to proceed in
zigzag fashion, taking advantage of every bush of juniper and box and
root of hellebore as a foothold. But the vegetation grew denser as I
ascended, and I had soon plenty of box and dwarf oak to help me.

Before attempting to climb the upper wall of solid limestone, I sat in
the mouth of a small cavern to eat the frugal lunch I had brought with
me, and to contemplate at my leisure the wild grandeur of the valley.
I could not have chosen a better place for feeling in one sense
dwindled, in another expanded, by the majesty of the stony solitude.
Suddenly, while I gazed, the sun breaking through the clouds made
every yellow tree brighten like melting gold, and drew a voice of joy
from all the dumb and solemn rocks.

I leave the remnants of my feast for the foxes and magpies to quarrel
over, and feel prepared to put forth a vigorous effort to reach the
_causse_. I work my way up by the clefts of the rocks, hanging on to
the tough box, and getting thoroughly asperged by the dew that has not
yet dried upon it. I have not ascended fifty feet in this manner
before I am as wet as if I had been walking in a thunderstorm. I creep
along ledges, now to the right and now to the left, and presently I am
only about twenty-five feet from the top of the rock that prevents me
from attaining my object. It is pleasanter to look up than to look
down, for, being no climber of mountain peaks, I do not enjoy the
sensation of clinging to the side of a precipice like a caterpillar to
a leaf. Now comes the real trial. The rest of the rock above me is
quite bare of vegetation. By making four or five steps upwards to the
left, then to the right, a spot can be reached where the trouble will
be over; but some of these steps need a considerable stretch of leg,
and the eye cannot measure the distance with certainty. Time is on the
wing, and the days are short. I am strongly tempted to make the essay,
but doubt holds me back. What if I, were to get half-way, and were
unable to go on or to retreat? What if I were to slip and roll down
the rocks? If I were not killed outright, who would be likely to come
to my aid in such a solitude? The ravens would have ample time to pick
my bones before those interested in my existence would know what had
happened to me. I resolve that I will not give the birds of ill omen a
chance of so rare a meal. In descending, the cold showers from the box
bushes add to my humiliation and discomfiture.

Keeping on the side of the hill, I went farther up the valley, seeking
a place where I could with better chance of success make another
attack upon the difficulties of this rocky wall. I found what I wanted
at no great distance, the only objection to the spot being the dense
growth of shrubs laden with moisture. It was almost like wading
through a stream. At length the line of high rocks was passed, and I
was upon land that, notwithstanding its steepness and the multitude of
stones with which it was strewn, had undergone some cultivation. That
wine had not long since been grown here was evident from the numerous
stumps of vines which had been killed by the phylloxera. A few
lingering flowers of hawkweed relieved the monotony of the dreary
waste. But if, while looking before me, the scene was saddening, in
looking back there was a sublime and soul-lifting picture which the
forces of Nature had been painting unmolested for ages. I can do no
more than suggest to the imagination the combined effect of those
fantastic rocks rising from the foaming torrent to the drifting,
tinted clouds; buttresses and bastions of the ancient earth laid bare
in the mysterious night of the inconceivable past, some black and
gloomy as the walls of a feudal moat, others yellow like ochre;
others, again, sun-bleached almost to whiteness, yet streaked with
ruddy veins--all flashed here and there with burning oak and maple, or
sprinkled with the purple blood of the dogwood's dying leaves.

Half an hour later I reached Murcens, only inhabited nowadays by a few
peasants in two or three scattered hovels, which are nevertheless
called farms. I had no difficulty in finding the wall of the Gaulish
town. It is broken down completely in places, but the almost circular
line is plainly marked. The site of the _oppidum_ is a little
tableland raised above the surrounding soil by a natural embankment.

The circumvallation in its best preserved places is now from seven to
ten feet high. The materials used were such as Caesar mentions as
having been employed by the Gauls in the fortification of their
_oppida_, namely, timber and rough stone. I looked for some traces of
the wooden uprights, but although there is ample proof that they
existed there down to our own time, my search was vain. Many stones
measuring several feet in length were set in a perpendicular position
to give extra stability to the wall. The ancient rampart is in places
completely overgrown with juniper. Within the wall is nothing but
level field. No trace remains of any buildings that stood there in the
far-off days when the spot was the scene of all passions and vanities,
the tragedy and comedy of human life, even as we know it now. The
peasant as he ploughs or digs turns up from time to time a bit of
worked metal, such as a coin, or a ring, but the hands which held them
may or may not be mingled with the soil that supports the buckwheat
and enables the peasant to live. The Gaulish city has no history.

I had some talk with a peasant who had been watching my movements
wonderingly. He spoke French with difficulty, but his boy--a lad of
about twelve, who had been to school--could help him over the stiles.
I got the man to speak about the ancient wall, although it was
evidently not a subject that interested him so deeply as his pigsty.
He told me that all the beams of wood had now rotted (they may have
helped to warm him on winter evenings), but that nails a foot long
were often found amongst the stones of the wall or in the soil round
about it. He had picked up several, but had taken no care of them.
When I observed that I should much like to see one, he said he thought
there was one somewhere in his house, and, calling to his wife, he
asked her in Languedocian to look for it. While she was searching he
drew my attention to a circular stone lying upon the top of his rough
garden wall. It was about a foot in diameter, and concave on one
side. 'What is it?' I asked.

'A millstone,' he replied.

True enough, it was one of the stones of an ancient handmill, such as
was used in remote antiquity, chiefly by women, for grinding corn. It
must have been as nearly as possible after the pattern of the first
implement invented by man for this purpose. The peasant set no value
upon it; I could have had it for a trifle--even for nothing, had I
been so minded; but whatever liking I may have for antiquities, it did
not gird me up to the task of carrying a millstone back to Vers. The
nail could not be found, so I was obliged to leave without a souvenir
of the Celtic city. Not far from this spot I found another millstone
that would have fitted the one I had left and made a complete mill.
They are doubtless still lying upon the dreary height of Murcens; but
whether they are there or in a museum, they are as dumb as any other
stones, although, had they the power to repeat some of the gossip of
the women who once bent over them, they might tell us a good deal that
Caesar left out of his Commentaries because he thought it unimportant,
but which we should much like to know.

I did not return by the way I came, but kept upon the plateau, going
southward, then, dropping down into another valley at the bottom of
which ran a tributary of the Vers, I crossed the stream and rose upon
the opposite hill, making somewhat at random towards the village of
Cours. On my way I started numerous coveys of red partridges from
juniper and box and other low shrubs. Had I been a sportsman carrying
a gun I could have made a splendid 'bag,' but these chances generally
fall to those who cannot profit by them. I wondered, however, at the
lack of poaching enterprise in a district so near to Cahors. It is not
often that one meets even in the least populous parts of France so
many partridges in an absolutely wild state. Immense flocks of larks
were likewise feeding upon the moorland, and the beating of their
countless wings as they rose made a mighty sound when it suddenly
broke the silence of the hills. I met a small peasant girl with a face
as dark as a Moorish child's, and eyes wonderfully large and lustrous.
She was a beautiful little creature of a far Southern or Arabian type.
At Cours I talked to a woman who was a pure type of the red-haired
Celt. How strange it is that with all the intermixture of blood in the
course of many centuries the old racial characteristics return when
they are deeply ingrained in a people!

I took shelter at Cours from a sharp storm. It was a wretched little
village upon a dreary height, and the inhabitants, to whom French was
a foreign language, stared at me as if I had been a gorilla. An
overhanging 'bush' of juniper led me to a very small inn that bore the
familiar signs of antiquity, dirt and poverty. I knocked at the old
oak door studded with nail-heads, and it presently creaked upon its
rusty hinges. It was opened by a poor woman whose manners were wofully
uncouth; but this was no fault of hers. She was honest, as such rough
people generally are. Although she must have wanted money, it did not
occur to her to extract a sou from the stranger beyond the just price.
When I had had enough of her wine and bread and cheese, and asked her
to tell me what I owed her, she carefully measured with her eye how
much wine was left in the bottle, how much bread and cheese I had
taken, and when her severe calculation was finished she replied, in a
harsh, firm voice, which meant that the reckoning being made she
intended to stand by it: 'Eleven sous.'

When I met the valley of the Vers again the storm had passed far away;
the evening rose was in the calm heaven, and the topmost oaks along
the rocky ridge burnt like tapers upon a high altar of the vast temple
whose roof is the vaulted sky. Already the deep aisles were dim with
gathering shadows. When I reached the inn at Vers it was nearly dark,
and after my day's tramp I was very glad to exchange the outer gloom
for the brightness of the cheery fireside and the warmth of the
chimney-corner beside the redly glowing logs.

The next day brought me to the end of my long journey down the valley
of the Lot, for I had decided to leave the country below Cahors until
some future day. I reached the city of Divona when the yellow glow of
the autumnal rainy sunset was stealing up the ancient walls.

It is always with a certain dread that I say anything about history,
because when I am once upon such high stilts I do not know when I
shall be able to get down again. Moreover, when one is so mounted, one
has to step very judiciously, especially in a region like this, where
the roads to knowledge are so roughly paved. Nothing would be easier,
however, than to fill a book with the history of Cahors, for the
place, since the days of the Romans, has gone through such
vicissitudes, and witnessed such stirring events, that those who wish
to turn over the leaves of its past have abundant facilities for doing
so; but it will be better for me to speak rather of what I have seen
than what I have read. Nevertheless, my impressions of this old town
at the present day would be like salad without salt if no flavour of
the past were put into them.

When, a mud-bespattered tramp, I came down the road by the winding
Lot, and saw the pale golden light rising upon the walls of churches
and towers high above me, I could not but think of some of the
terrible scenes which, in the course of 2,000 years, were witnessed by
the inhabitants of Cahors. In the fast-falling twilight I saw the
ghosts of the Vandals and Visigoths who helped to destroy the works of
the Caesars, and passed onward to the unknown; of the Franks who burnt
Cahors in the sixth century; of the Arab hordes, dabbled with blood,
who afterwards came up from the South slaying, violating, plundering;
of the English troops under Henry II. besieging and taking the town,
accompanied by the Chancellor, Thomas-a-Becket; of the Albigenses and
Catholics, who cut one another's throats for the good of their souls;
of the Huguenots and Catholics, who repeated these horrors in the
sixteenth century for the same excellent reason; but of all these
shadows, the most interesting and the most dramatic was that of Henry
IV. He was then Henry of Navarre, and the hope of the Protestants in
the South, while Cahors was one of the strongholds of Catholicism.
What a feat of war was that capture of Cahors by Henry with only 1,400
men, after almost incessant fighting in the streets for five days and
nights! How red the paving-stones must have been on the sixth day,
when it was all over, and the surviving Navarrese, smarting from the
recollection of the tiles and stones that were hurled at them from the
roofs by women, children, and old men, had given the final draught of
blood to their vengeful swords! Never was so much courage so uselessly
squandered. After the lapse of three centuries Henry's figure is still
full of heroic life, as, with back set against a shop-window, and
sword in hand, he shouted to those who urged upon him the hopelessness
of his enterprise: 'My retreat from this town will be that of my soul
from my body!'

If is really wonderful how certain buildings at Cahors have been
preserved to the present day through all the storms of the tempestuous
Middle Ages, the furious hurricane of religious hatred that brought
those centuries to a close, and that other one, the Revolution, which
ushered in the new epoch of liberty and well-dressed poverty. Of these
buildings, the cathedral has the right to be named first. As a whole
it cannot be called a beautiful structure, for its form is graceless;
but what a charm there is in its details! Even its incongruity has a
singular fascination. This most evident incongruity arises from the
combination that it expresses of the Gothic and Byzantine styles. The
facade is very early Gothic (about the year 1200), still full of
Romanesque feeling, but the church having been much pulled about in
the thirteenth century, it came to have a semi-Byzantine choir and two
depressed domes, quite Byzantine, over the nave. The facade, with its
squat towers, exhibits no lofty aim, but when one looks at the
tabernacle-work in the tympan of the divided portal, the capitals in
the jambs and the mouldings of the archivolts, the elegant arcade
above and the tracery of the great rose window, one feels that
although the Pointed style could not yet embody its dream of beauty by
means of the tower and spire, it was moving towards it through a maze
of glorious ideas destined to become inseparable from the spirit of
the perfect whole. Still more interesting than this facade is that of
the north portal (twelfth century). It is Gothic, but the general
treatment has much of that Byzantine-Romanesque which produced some
very remarkable buildings in Southern France. The portal is very wide
and deeply recessed, and the tympan is crowded with bas-reliefs, the
sculpture of which, rude yet expressive, is of a striking originality.
There is a broad arabesque moulding in the doorway suggesting Eastern
influence, and the closed arcade of the facade, with corbel-table
above and its row of uncouth monstrous heads, presents a highly
curious effect of struggling motives in early Gothic art.

The nave is much below the level of the soil, and is reached by a
flight of steps from the main entrance. These steps at the Sunday
services are crowded by the poorer class of churchgoers, sitting,
kneeling, and standing, and, like the catechumens in the narthex of
the early Christian basilica, they look as if they were separated from
the rest of the faithful on account of their not being as yet
full-fledged members of the Church. It may well be that they are the
most faithful of the faithful, for stone is a hard thing to kneel
upon, and when it is used for this purpose without ostentation, it is
a pretty safe test of sincerity in religion. The grouping of the
people here would interest at once an artistic eye, the more so
because many of the women of Cahors wear upon their heads kerchiefs of
brilliant-coloured silk folded in a peculiarly graceful and
picturesque manner, resembling the Bordelaise coiffure, but yet
distinct.

The nave of the cathedral is cold and tasteless, the whole effect
being centred upon the choir, the richness of which is quite dazzling.
The vault is a semi-dome, and the apse-like polygonal termination is
pierced with several lofty Gothic windows, so that the eye rests upon
the harmonious lines of the tracery and a subdued blaze of
many-coloured glass. Then the columns, walls and vaulting of the choir
are elaborately decorated in the Byzantine style, and, all the tones
being kept in aesthetic harmony, the result is a general effect more
beautiful than gorgeous. I observed it under most favoured
circumstances. I entered the church for the first time during the
pontifical High Mass. The vestments of the mitred bishop under his
canopy, of the officiating priest and deacons, of the canons in their
stalls, together with the white surplices and scarlet cassocks of the
many choir-boys distributed over the vast sanctuary, and the sunbeams
stained with the hues of purple, crimson, azure and green by the
windows that reached towards the sky, falling upon all these figures,
realized with a splendour more Oriental than Western a grand
conception of colour in relation to a religious ideal.

After leaving the cathedral I changed my ideas by looking for the
Gambetta grocery. It happened to be close by. The name is still over
the door, but the shop no longer looks democratic. Its plateglass, its
fresh paint and gilding, and the specimens of ceramic art which fill
the window, give it somewhat the air of one of those London shops kept
by ladies of title. Sugar, coffee, and candles now hide themselves in
the far background, as though they were ashamed of their own
celebrity.

Much more interesting than this shop is the old house where Gambetta
spent his childhood. His parents did not live on the premises where
they carried on their business. Therefore the odour of honey and
vinegar had not, after all, so much to do with the formation of the
clever boy's character. I found the house down a dark passage. The
rooms occupied by the Gambetta family are now those of a small
_restaurateur_ for the working class. After ascending some steps, I
entered a greasy, grimy, dimly-lighted room, the floor of which had
never felt water save what had been sprinkled upon it to lay the dust.
It had the old-fashioned hearth and fire-dogs and gaping sooty chimney,
a bare table or so for the customers, a shelf with bottles, and the
ordinary furniture and utensils of the provincial kitchen. Here I had
some white wine with the present occupier as a reason for being in a
place that must have often resounded with the infantile screams of
Leon Gambetta. I ascertained that he was not born in this house, but
that he was brought to it when about three months old, and that he
passed his childhood here. I was shown an adjoining room, darker,
dingier, less persecuted by soap, if possible, than the other. It was
here that Gambetta slept in those early years. Did he ever dream here
of a great room in a palace, draped with black and silver, of a
catafalque fit for a prince, of a coffin heaped with flowers?

Again I changed my ideas by crossing the Lot and searching for the
Fountain of Divona, now called the Fontaine des Chartreux. The old
name is Celtic, and as it charmed the Romans they preserved it.
Following the river downward, I came to a spot where a great stream
flowed silently and mysteriously out of a cavity at the foot of lofty
rocks overgrown by herbage and low shrubs that seemed to have been
left untouched by the hand of Autumn, that burns and beautifies. The
water came out of the hill like a broad sheet of green glass, giving
scarcely any sign of movement until it reached a low weir, where it
turned to the whiteness of snow. The Romans held this beautiful
fountain in high esteem, and if they had known how to raise the water
to the level of the town on the opposite bank of the river, they need
not have taken the trouble to carry an aqueduct some twenty miles from
the valley of the Vers. Nowadays it is the Fountain of Divona that
supplies Cahors with water.

Still following the river, I came to that famous bridge, the Pont
Valentre, which is one of the most interesting specimens of the
defensive architecture of the Middle Ages. It is probably the most
curious example of a fortified bridge in existence. In addition to its
embattled parapet, it is protected by three high slender towers,
machicolated, crenellated, and loopholed. The archway of each spans
the road over the bridge, so that an enemy who forced the portcullis
of the first, and ran the gauntlet of the hot lead from the
machicolations, would have to repeat the same performance twice before
reaching the bank on which the town is built. This bridge was raised
at the commencement of the fourteenth century. By what wonderful
chance was it preserved intact, together with its towers, after the
invention of gunpowder? The people of Cahors call it the Pont du
Diable. When a certain stone was placed in one of the towers, the
devil always pulled it out, or did so until lately.


THE END.






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