The Roof of France
by Matilda Betham-Edwards
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The charm of this drive consists in the sharp contrasts presented at unexpected turns. Now we are in a sweet, sunbright, sheltered valley, where all is verdure and luxuriance. At every door are pink and white oleanders in full bloom, in every garden peach-trees showing their rich, ruby-coloured fruit—the handsome-leaved mulberry, the shining olive, with lovely little chestnut-woods on the heights around. Now we seem in a wholly different latitude. The vegetation and aspect of the country are transformed. Instead of the vine, the peach, and the olive, we are in a region of scant fruitage, and only the hardiest crops, apple orchards sparsely mingled with fields of oats and rye. And yet again we seem to be traversing a Scotch or Yorkshire moor—so vast and lonely the heather-clad wastes, so bleak and wild the heavens.

But every zone has its wild-flowers. As we go on, our eyes rest upon white salvias, the pretty Deptford pink, wild lavender, several species of broom and ferns in abundance. The wild fig-tree grows here, and the huge boulders are tapestried with box and bilberry. One rare lovely flower I must especially mention—the exquisite, large-leaved blue flax (the Linum perenne), that shone like a star amid the rest.

It is Sunday, and as we pass the village of Arre in its charming valley, we meet streams of country folks dressed in their best, enjoying a walk. No one was afield. Here, as in most other parts of rural France, Sunday is regarded strictly as a day of rest.

After a long climb upwards, our road cut through the rock being a grand piece of engineering, we come upon the works of a handsome railway viaduct now in construction. This line, which, when finished, will connect Le Vigan with Millau and Albi, will be an immense boon to the inhabitants—one of the numerous iron roads laid by the Republican Government in what had hitherto been forgotten parts of France. Close to these works a magnificent cascade is seen, a sheet of glistening white spray pouring down the dark, precipitous escarpment.

Hereabouts the barren, stony, wilderness-like country betokens the region of the Causses. We are all this time winding round the rampart like walls of the great Causse de Larzac, which stretches from Le Vigan to Millau, rising to a height of 2,624 feet above the sea-level, and covering an area of nearly a hundred square miles. This Causse affords some interesting facts for evolutionists. The aridity, the absolutely waterless condition of the Larzac, has evolved a race of non-drinking animals. The sheep browsing the fragrant herbs of these plateaux have altogether unlearned the habit of drinking, whilst the cows drink very little. The much-esteemed Roquefort cheese is made from ewes' milk, the non-drinking ewes of the Larzac. Is the peculiar flavour of the cheese due to this non-drinking habit?

The desert-like tracts below this 'Table de pierre,' as M. Reclus calls it, are alternated with very fairly cultivated farms. We see rye, oats, clover, and hay in abundance, with corn ready for garnering.

Passing St. Jean de Bruel, where all the inhabitants have turned out to attend a neighbour's funeral, we wind down amid chestnut woods and pastures into a lovely little valley, with the river Dourbie, bluest of the blue, gliding through the midst. Beyond stream and meadows rise hills crested with Scotch fir, their slopes luxuriant with buck-wheat, maize, and other crops—here and there the rich brown loam already ploughed up for autumn sowing. Well-dressed people, well-kept roads, neat houses, suggested peace and frugal plenty.

What a contrast did the little village of Nant present to Le Vigan! It was like the apparition of an exquisitely-dressed, pretty girl, after that of a slatternly beauty. Nant, 'proprette,' airy, well cared for, wholesome; Le Vigan, dirty, draggle-tailed, neglected, yet in itself possessed of quite as many natural attractions. We had been led to expect a mere country auberge, decent shelter, no more—perhaps even two-curtained, alcoved beds in a common sleeping-room! What was our astonishment to find quite ideal rustic accommodation—quarters, indeed, inviting on their own account a lengthy stay!

A winding stone staircase led from the street to the travellers' quarters. Kitchen, salle-a-manger and bedrooms were all spick and span, cool and quiet; our rooms newly furnished with beds as luxurious as those of the Grand Hotel in Paris. Marble-topped washstands and newly- tiled floors opened on to an outer corridor, the low walls of which were set with roses and geraniums as in Italy. Below was a poultry- yard. No other noise could disturb us but the cackling of hens and the quacking of ducks. On the same floor was a dining-room and the kitchen, but so far removed from us that we were as private as in a suite of rooms at the celebrated Hotel Bristol.

Nant is a quite delightful townling; we only wished we could stay there for weeks. It is a very ancient place, but so far modernized as to be clean and pleasant. The quaint, stone-covered arcades and bits of mediaeval architecture invite the artist; none, however, comes!

The sky-blue Dourbie runs amid green banks below the gray peak, rising sheer above the town; around the congeries of old-world houses are farms, gardens and meadows, little fields being at right angles with the streets. In the large, open market-place, where fairs are held, just outside the town, is a curious sight. The corn is gathered in, and hither all the farmers round about have brought their wheat to be threshed out by water-power.

Next morning, by half-past eight, our landlady fetched me to see some farms. She was a delicate, even sickly-looking little woman, although the mother of fine, healthful children, and very intelligent and well- mannered. Without showing any inquisitiveness as to my object, she at once readily acceded to my request that she should accompany me on a round of inspection. First of all, however, and as, it seemed, a matter of course, she carried me off to see the Bonnes Soeurs—in other words, the nuns, often such important personages in rural places.

I had already seen so much of nuns, nunneries and the like, that I sorely begrudged the time thus spent. Good manners forbade a demur. There was nothing to do but to feign some slight interest in the schoolrooms, dormitories, playground, chapel—facsimiles, as were the nuns themselves, of what I had seen dozens of times before.

But one thing these nuns had to show I had never seen before. I allude to their herbarium. The mother superior, so it seems, was a capital herbalist and doctor, consulted in case of sickness by all the country- folks for miles round, and, in order to supply her pharmacopoeia, had yearly collections made of all the medicinal plants in which the neighbourhood abounds. Here in a drying chamber, exposed to air and sun, were stores of wild lavender for sweetening the linen presses; mallows, elder flowers, gentian, leaves of the red vine, poppies, and many others used in medicine. What I was most interested in was the vast stores of the so-called the des Alpes, a little plant of the sage tribe, of which I had heard at Gap, in the Hautes Alpes. The country- people in that part of France, as in the Aveyron, use this little plant largely as a febrifugal infusion; they also drink it as tea. My landlady showed me great bundles of it that she had dried for household use. The thought struck me, as I surveyed the mother superior's herbarium—here is an excellent hint for the projectors of home colonies. Surely, if poor people are to be made self-supporting in one sense, they should be made so in all.

Why should not every home colony—for the matter of that, every isolated village—have its medicine-chest of simple field remedies? The originators of home colonies have only to translate that excellent little sixpenny work, 'Les Remedes de Campagne,' written by Dr. Saffray, and published by Hachette, and put it into the hands of these backwoodsmen of the old country. The least intelligent would soon learn to cure common ailments by the use of remedies ever at their doors, and not costing a penny. Having taken leave of the nuns, madame la patrone next conducted me to the country on the other side of the town, stopping to chat with this acquaintance and that. I suppose lady tourists are wholly unknown in these parts, for these good people, having glanced at me, said to madame:

'A relation, I suppose, and you are showing her about?'

All seemed pleased to learn that I was an Englishwoman come to see their corner of the world.

We then paid a visit to some elderly farming-folks, friends of hers, just outside the town. We found the farmer and his wife at home, and both received us very cordially. The old man had a shrewd, pleasant face, and, without any ado or ceremony, bade me sit down beside him whilst he finished his morning soup. I chatted to him of my numerous travels in various parts of France, and after listening attentively for some time, he said:

'You must be finely rich' (joliment riche) 'to travel as you do.'

'Not at all,' said I; 'my fortune is my pen. I see all that I can, and, on my return to England, write a book for the amusement and instruction of others, which more than covers the expense of my journey.'

The old man's eyes twinkled; he touched his forehead, and then said something to his wife in patois. I laughingly begged him to translate the remark, which he did with a smile.

'I said to my wife that you must have a good head' (une bien forte tete) 'to do that.'

'Le bon Dieu has given me eyes to see and a memory to retain,' said I. 'I have only to look well about me and take note.'

He paused, and added after a little reflection:

'Above all, you must talk with learned people.'

'That is not always necessary,' I replied. 'On the contrary, what serves my purpose best is to talk with country-folk like yourself, who can tell me about the details of farming in these parts—prices, crops, and so on—not with fine ladies and gentlemen, who do not know a turnip when they see it growing.'

This observation seemed to gratify him exceedingly. We then talked of land tenure in France and in England. When I made him understand that the law of entail still existed in my country, he shook his head gravely. When I added that the English peasant did not possess an acre of land, a garden, not even a house or a cow, he looked graver still.

'Il faut que tout cela change' (All that will have to be changed), he remarked; and I told him that I fully concurred in the sentiment, and that a great change of opinion on this subject was taking place in England.

His wife, who had meantime listened attentively to our conversation, now joined in. The fact that we had no conscription seemed to strike her more than any other piece of information I had as yet given.

'You English people are very fortunate,' she said. 'Think of what it is to be a mother, and rear your son to the age of twenty, then to see him torn from your arms and shot down by a mitrailleuse. War, indeed! Grand Dieu! the world has seen enough of it.'

We then had a long talk on farming matters, the old man quite ready to devote half an hour even at this time of the day to a stranger. Like many another French peasant of the poorer class, he was the owner of a house and garden only, his occupation being that of bailiff on the estate of a large owner. Here, as everywhere else throughout France, a great diversity may be seen in the matter of land tenure—peasant properties from five acres upwards, large holdings either let on lease, as in England, cultivated by their owners, or lastly, as in the present instance, managed by farm stewards. The system of metayage, or half- profits, is not in force.

On five acres, my informant told me, a man with thrift and intelligence may rear and maintain a family. The crops are very varied, corn, maize, oats, rye, buckwheat, hay, being the principal. Butter is not made on any considerable scale, but sheep, pigs, goats, and poultry are reared in abundance.

I have mentioned that this old man possessed a house and garden. Rare, indeed, is it to find a deserving peasant without them in France! But he let these, meantime occupying the large, rambling old farmhouse, formerly an abbey, belonging to his employer. When too old to work, he would, with his little savings, retire to the cottage, from which none could eject him.

As will be seen, the agriculture in this part of the Aveyron presents no special features. What strikes the stranger, as he rambles about the well-cultivated belt of country immediately around Nant, is the sobriety, contentment, and independence of the people. All are suitably and tidily dressed. Of beggary there is not a trace, and if life is laborious, the sense of independence lightens every burden.

At present the entire education of girls and that of little boys is in the hands of the nuns. In spite of every attempt to render popular education unsectarian throughout France, how long it will be ere the same mental training is accorded both sexes—ere, to use Gambetta's noble words, 'our girls and boys are made one by the understanding before they are made one by the heart'! Is it any wonder that Boulangism, miracle-seeking, or any other mental aberration, gets the upper hand in France, so long as young girls are reared by convent-bred women, and their brothers and lovers-to-be in the school of Littre, Herbert Spencer, and Darwin?


It is a charming drive from Nant to Millau. Our road winds round the delicious little valley of the Dourbie, the river ever cerulean blue, bordered with hay-fields, in which lies the fragrant crop of autumn hay ready for carting. By the wayside are tall acacias, their green branches tasselled with dark purple pods, or apple trees, the ripening fruit within reach of our hands. Little Italian-like towns, surrounded by ochre-coloured walls, are terraced here and there on the rich burnt- amber walls, the limestone ridges above and around taking the form of a long line of rampart or lofty fortress, built and fashioned by human hands. In contrast to this savagery, we have ever and anon before our eyes the sweet little river, no sooner lost to sight amid willow- bordered banks than found again.

Nervous people should avoid these drives, on account of the steep precipices, often within a few inches of the horses' heels. Wherever on the shelves of rock a few square yards of soil are found or can be laid, are tiny crops of buckwheat, potatoes, and beetroot. The weather has a southern warmth and brilliance, and in and out the burning-hot mountain wall on our left large beautiful brown lizards disport themselves. The road is very solitary. Till within the precincts of Millau, we meet only a few peasants and two Franciscan brothers.

The approach to Millau is very pretty. Almond and peach orchards, vineyards and gardens, form a bright suburban belt. Two rivers, the Tarn and the Dourbie, water its pleasant valley, whilst over the town tower lofty rocks in the form of an amphitheatre. Nant may be described as a little idyll. After it Millau comes disenchantingly by comparison.

Never was I in such a noisy, roystering, singing, lounging place. There was no special cause for hilarity; nothing was going on; the business of daily life seemed to be the making a noise.

In spite of its pretty entourage, too, the town is not engaging. Its hot, ill-kept, malodorous streets do not call forth an exploring frame of mind. The public garden is, however, a delightful promenade, and. the well-known photographer of these regions has his atelier in one of the most curious old houses to be seen anywhere.

Climbing a narrow, winding stone stair, we come upon an open court, with balconies running round each story, carved stone pillars supporting these; oleanders and pomegranates in pots make the ledges bright, whilst above the gleaming white walls shines a sky of Oriental brilliance. The whole interior is animated. Here women sit at their glove-making, the principal industry of the place, children play, pet dogs and cats sun themselves; all is sunny, careless, southern life—a page out of 'Graziella.'

There are several mediaeval facades, and some curious old carved arcades also; much, indeed, that is sketch worthy, if our artists could be brought to deem anything worth sketching in France, out of Brittany and Normandy.

Millau, once one of the stanchest Protestant communities of the Cevennes, was quite ruined by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

May not French history up to the date of the Revolution be summed up in a single sentence—one woman created France; another ruined it? The glorious work of Jeanne d'Arc was for a time wholly undone by the machinations of that arch enemy of mankind, Madame de Maintenon. We must travel in the Cevennes, and learn by heart the vicissitudes of these once-flourishing little Protestant centres to realize the bloodstained page in French history played by the bigoted adventuress whose sole ambition was to become Queen of France.

And how worthy of such a career the last little episode of her court life! When the old king, a shadow of his former self, lay on his dying bed, and whispered that his chief consolation in dying was the thought that she would rejoin him in heaven, Madame de Maintenon made no reply. She was, indeed, wearied of the task that had been, in her eyes, so inadequately rewarded—amusing for thirty and odd years a dull, resourceless, ennuye and ennuyant husband; and had no desire to see any more of him, either in this world or the next.

At present there is but a sprinkling of Protestants in Millau.

We took train to Mende. It is one of those delightfully slow trains which enable you to see the scenery in detail, after the leisurely fashion of Arthur Young, trotting through France on his Suffolk mare.

Part of the way lies through a romantic bit of country: chateau-crowned hills follow each other in succession, every dark crag having its feudal shell, whilst patchwork crops cover the lower slopes.

Everywhere vineyards predominate, so persistent the faith of the French cultivator in the vine, so touching the efforts made to entice it to grow on French soil. Few and far between are little wall-encompassed villages perched on the hilltops.

At Severac-le-Chateau romance culminates in the stern, yellowish-gray ruin cresting the green heights. A most picturesque little place is this, seen from the railway. We now leave behind us cornlands and the vine, and reach the region of pine and fir woods.

On the railway embankment we see the yellow-horned poppy and the golden thistle growing in abundance; many another flower, too, as brilliant brightens the way-a large, handsome broom, several kinds of mullein, with fern and heather.

Bright and strongly contrasted are the hues of the landscape—purply- black the far-off mountains, emerald-green the fields of rye and clover at their feet. A large portion of the land hereabouts is mere wilderness; yet the indomitable peasant wrenches up the boulders, cleans the ground of stones, and turns, inch by inch, the waste into productive soil. At every turn we are reminded of the dictum of 'that wise and honest traveller,' Arthur Young: 'The magic of property turns sands to gold.'

We are now in the region of the Causses; around us rise the spurs of Sauveterre and Severac. The scenery between Marvejols and Mende is grand; sombre, deep-green valleys, shut in by wide stretches of stupendous rocky wall, dark pinewoods, and brown wastes.

Then evening closes in, and the rest is lost to us. As on my first visit to Mende, a year ago, I lose the romantic approach to this wonderfully placed little city.

The Hotel Manse, whither we now betake ourselves, is a great improvement on the other mentioned in my first chapter in matters of situation, sanitation, and comfort; the people are very civil and obliging in both.

Here, however, we are not in the very heart of the stuffy, dirty, ill- kept town, but on the outskirts, looking on to suburban gardens and pleasant hills, with plenty of air to breathe.

Our rooms are so spacious, well-furnished, and clean that once more we regret we cannot stay for weeks. Such quarters might indeed tempt many a tourist to idle away a month here. The people are well-mannered, affable, and strikingly handsome; and if the town requires an advanced aedileship, no one need see much of it. Abundance of excursions are to be made from Mende, and the prices of hotels are very moderate.

At Millau we saw a drunken man, and in the streets of Mende one old woman came up to us begging an alms. I note these facts as we have so rarely encountered either drunkards or mendicants on our way.

Strangers might naturally expect a somewhat low standard of morality in a department so isolated from the great French highways and social centres as that of the Lozere. The railway to Mende, as I have before mentioned, dates from a few years only; up till that time the little bishopric in the mountains would often be completely shut off from the outer world by the snow, the only link being the telegraphic wire. Nevertheless, an exceptional freedom from crime distinguishes the country, as may be gathered from the following statement in a French newspaper, dated August 29th, 1888.

'The opening of the assizes of the Lozere, which should have taken place on the 3rd of September, will now be unnecessary, the list of cases being nil.' What are called 'white sessions' (assises blanches), for the matter of that, are of no infrequent occurrence in the department of the Lozere, eminently an honest one. This is the second time that 'white sessions' have distinguished it during the present year.

As the Lozere is essentially a region of peasant owners, far from the richest of their class, I commend the fact to the opponents of peasant property—albeit, I know too well, to small purpose. The people have no right to the soil in the eyes of these political economists. Whether the possession of the soil makes them better or happier is wholly beside the question. Just as the great autocrat Louis XIV, after very serious reflection on the matter, came to the solemn conclusion that his subjects had no right to any property whatever, and that the sovereign was the divinely-ordained owner of everything supposed to belong to them, so certain writers believe that, according to some direct Providential arrangement—a second choosing of a special people —not a Canaan alone, but every inch of Mother Earth, is the heaven-sent heritage of the superior few.


So, just upon twelve months later, I once more found myself climbing to the summit of the lofty plateau between Mende and St. Enimie.

It was a fortnight earlier in the year, and the weather was perfect; light clouds that had threatened rain cleared off, mild sunshine brightened the scene, and the air, although brisk and invigorating, was by no means cold. Still more enticing now looked the billowy swell of gold and purple mountains, and the dark cliffs frowning over green valleys. To-day, too, the exhilarating conviction of fulfilment was added to that of looking forward. A second time I had reached the threshold of the long-dreamed-of region of marvels, at last really to cross it and enter in.

I was on my way to the Causses at last! More striking and beautiful than when first seen now seemed the upward drive from Mende—the beautiful gray cathedral cushioned against the soft green hills, the cheerful little town in its fertile valley, its wild entourage of far- stretching waste and barren peak. More musical still sounded in my ears the purling of the Lot, as unseen it ran between sunny pastures over its stony bed far below.

Little I thought, indeed, although of firm intention, when making the journey so far twelve months all but two weeks ago, that on this 5th of September, 1888, I should be gazing on the same scene—a scene reminding me now, as then, of the vast reedy plateau gazed on at Saida, dividing the Algerian traveller from the Sahara.

This time I did not stop to make tea gipsy-wise on the turf in front of the farmhouse; nor, to my disappointment, did the children run out to share the contents of my bonbon-box. Not a soul was abroad; an eldritch solitude reigned everywhere.

The Causse of Sauveterre is not reached till we have left the farmhouse and ruined chateau far behind. From that point the roads diverge, and we see our own leading to St. Enimie wind like a ribbon till lost to view in the gray, stony wilderness.

A considerable portion of the land hereabouts is cultivated. We see little patches of rye, oats, Indian corn, clover, potatoes, and here and there a peasant ploughing up the soil with oxen.

As we proceed, the enormous horizon ever widens; long shadows fleck the purply-brown and orange-coloured undulations; scattered sparsely are little flocks of sheep, of a rich burnt-umber-brown, but herbage is scant and little cattle can be nourished here. The swelling hills now show new and more grandiose outlines; at last we come in sight of the dark mass of the Causse de Sauveterre, and soon we enter upon the true 'Caussien' landscape in all its weird and sombre grandeur. Just as when fairly out on the open sea we realize to the full its beauty and sense of infinity, so it is here. The farther we go the wider, more bewilderingly vast becomes the horizon: wave upon wave, billow upon billow, now violet-hued, with a tinge of gold; now deep brown, partly veiled with green, or roseate with sunlit clouds—the gray monotony of stone and waste is thus varied by the way.

By the roadside slender trees of the hornbeam tribe are planted at intervals, and where these are wanting, tall flagstaffs take their place, to guide the wayfarer when six feet of snow cover the ground. Wild-flowers in plenty brighten the edges of the road—stonecrops, cornflowers, purple 'lady's fingers,' and many others; but wedged as we are in our not too comfortable caleche, to get out and pluck them is impossible.

The road from Mende to the summit of the plateau can only be described as a vertical ascent; before beginning to descend, we have a few kilometres of level, that is all. As we approach the village of Sauveterre, we see one or two wild figures—shepherds, uncouth in appearance as Greek herdsmen; poorly dressed, but robust-looking, well- made girls and women, short-skirted, bare-headed, footing it bravely under the now hot sun.

Portions of the land on either side consist of waste, quite recently laid under cultivation; the huge blocks of stone have been wrenched up, heaven knows how, and conspicuously piled up in the midst of the newly- created field, a veritable trophy. How much more commendable than that commemorative of blood-stained victory! The rich red earth amply repays these Herculean labours. With regard to the tenure of land, I should suppose the state of things here must be very much what it was in the age of primitive man. I fancy that any native of these parts, any true Caussenard, has only to clear a bit of waste and plant a crop to make it his own; a stranger would doubtless have his right to do so contested, or, maybe, some patriarchal system is still in force, and the village community is not yet extinct in France.

'Voila la capitale de Sauveterre!' soon cries our driver, pointing to a cluster of bare brown, apparently windowless, houses, and a tiny church, all grouped picturesquely together.

A poor-looking place it was enough when we obtained a nearer view, reminding me of a Kabyle village more than anything else; not, however, brightened with olive or fig tree! Nothing in the shape of a garden is to be seen, only dull walls of close-set dwellings, with narrow paths between. Windows, however, our driver assured us, were there; but the village is built with its back to the road.

The great privation of these poor people is that of a regular water- supply—one large, by no means pellucid, pond, with cisterns, are all the sources they can rely upon from one end of the year to the other; not a fountain issues from the limestone for miles round, not a stream waters the entire Causse, a region extensive as Dartmoor or Salisbury Plain. When we consider that this plateau has a height above the sea- level equal to that of Skiddaw, we can easily imagine what the long eight months' winter here is like. For the greater part of the time the country is under several feet of snow, and the Caussenard warms his poor tenement as best he can with peat.

It was curious to hear our conductor, himself evidently accustomed to a hard, laborious life, speak of the inhabitants of Sauveterre. He described their condition much as a well-to-do English artisan might speak of the half-starved foreign victims of the sweater—so wide is the gulf dividing the Caussenard from the French peasant proper.

'Just think of it,' he said; 'they don't even dress the rye for their bread, but eat it made of husks and all. Rye-bread, bacon, potatoes, that is their fare, and water: if it were only good water one would have nothing to say—bad water they drink. But they are contented, pardie.'

'What do they do for a doctor?' I asked.

He made a curious grimace.

'They doctor themselves till they are at the point of death, and then send for a doctor. But it is not often. They are healthy enough, pardie!'

With regard to the ministrations of religion, they are in the position of dalesfolk in some parts of Dauphine. A cure from St. Enimie, he told us, performed Mass once a fortnight in summer, and came over as occasion required for baptisms, marriages, and burials. In winter alike ordinary Mass and these celebrations were stopped by the snow. The services of the priest had then to be dispensed with for weeks, even months, at a time.

I next tried to gain some information as to schools, but here my informant was not very clear. Yes, he said, there was schooling in summer; whether lay or clerical, whether the children were taught the Catechism in their mother-tongue—in other words, the patois of the Causse—or in French, I could not learn.

Do these wild-looking mountaineers exercise the electoral privilege? Do they go to the poll, and what are their political views? Are their sons drafted off, as the rest of French youth, into military service? Does a newspaper, even the ubiquitous Petit Journal, penetrate into these solitudes? It was difficult to get a satisfactory answer to all my questions, and quite useless to make a tour of inquiry in the village. One must speak the patois of the Caussenard to obtain his confidence, and though the population is inoffensive, even French tourists are advised on no account to adventure themselves in these parts without being accompanied by a native of the country.

One thing is quite certain: The four thousand and odd wild, sheepskin- wearing inhabitants of the entire region of the Causses must erelong be nationalized—like the Breton and the Morvandial, undergo a gradual and complete transformation. Travellers of another generation on this road will not be stared at by the fierce-looking, picturesque figures we now pass in the precincts of Sauveterre. Brigands they might be, judging from their shaggy beards, unkempt locks, and Robinson Crusoe-like dress; also their fixed, almost dazed, look inspires anything but confidence. Still, we must remember that Sauveterre is in the Lozere, and that the Lozere enjoys the enviable pre-eminence of 'white assizes'—a clean bill of moral health.

After quitting the village, which has a deserted look as of a plague- stricken place, the road descends. We now follow the rim of a far- stretching, tremendous ravine, its wooded sides running perpendicularly down. For miles we drive along this giddy road, the only protection being a stone wall not two feet high. The road, however, is excellent, our little horses steady and sure-footed, and our driver very careful. We are, indeed, too much interested in the scenery to heed the frightful precipices within a few inches of our carriage-wheels. But the retrospection makes one giddy. The least accident or mishap, contingencies not dwelt upon whilst jogging on delightfully under a bright sky, might, or rather must, here end in a tragedy. Tourists should be quite sure of both driver and horses before undertaking this drive.

By-and-by the prospect becomes inexpressibly grand, till the impression of magnificence culminates as our road begins literally to drop down upon St. Enimie, as yet invisible. Our journey must now be compared to the descent from cloud-land in a balloon. Meantime, the stupendous panorama of dark, superbly-outlined mountain-wall closes in. We seem to have reached the limit of the world. Before us, a Titanic rampart, rises the grand Causse Mejean, now seen for the first time; around, fold upon fold, are the curved heights of Sauveterre, the nearer slopes bright green with sunny patches, the remoter purply black.

It is a wondrous spectacle—wall upon wall of lofty limestone, making what seems an impenetrable barrier, closing around us, threatening to shut out the very heavens; at our feet an ever-narrowing mountain pass or valley, the shelves of the rock running vertically down.

When at last from our dizzy height our driver bids us look down, we discern the gray roofs of St. Enimie wedged between the congregated escarpments far below, the little town lying immediately under our feet, as the streets around St. Paul's when viewed from the dome. We say to ourselves we can never get there. The feat of descending those perpendicular cliffs seems impossible. It does not do to contemplate the road we have to take, winding like a ribbon round the upright shafts of the Causse. Follow it we must. We are high above the inhabited world, up in cloudland; there is nothing to do but descend as best we can; so we trust to our good driver and steady horses, obliged to follow the sharply-winding road at walking pace. And bit by bit—how we don't know—the horizontal zigzag is accomplished. We are down at last!


How can I describe the unimaginable picturesqueness of this little town wedged in between the crowding hills, dropped like a pebble to the bottom of a mountain-girt gulf?

St. Enimie has grown terrace-wise, zigzagging the steep sides of the Causse, its quaint spire rising in the midst of rows of whitewashed houses, with steel-gray overhanging roofs, vine-trellised balconies, and little hanging gardens perched aloft. On all sides just outside the town are vineyards, now golden in hue, peach-trees and almond groves, whilst above and far around the gray walls of the Causse shut out all but the meridian rays of the sun.

As I write this, at six o'clock on the evening of the 5th of September, the last crimson flush of the setting sun lingers on the sombre, grandiose Causse Mejean. All the rest of the scene, the lower ranges around, are in a cool gray shadow: silvery the spire and roofs just opposite my window, silvery the atmosphere of the entire picture. Nothing can be more poetic in colour, form, and combination.

Close under my room are vegetable gardens and orchards, whilst in harmony with the little town, and adding a still greater look of old- worldness, are the arched walls of the old chateau-fort. As evening closes in, the fascination of the scene deepens; spire and roofs, shadowy hill and stern mountain fastness, are all outlined in pale, silvery tones against a pure pink and opaline sky, the greenery of near vine and peach-tree all standing out in bold relief, blotches of greenish gold upon a dark ground. I must describe our inn, the most rustic we had as yet met with, nevertheless to be warmly recommended on account of the integrity and bonhomie of the people.

Somewhat magniloquently called the Hotel St. Jean, our hostelry is an auberge placing two tiny bedchambers and one large and presumably general sleeping-room at the disposal of visitors. We had, as usual, telegraphed for two of the best rooms to be had. So the two tiny chambers were reserved for us, the only approach to them being through the large room outside furnished with numerous beds. The tourist, therefore, has a choice of evils—a small inner room to himself, looking on to the town and gardens, or a bed in the large outer one beyond, the latter arrangement offering more liberty, freedom of ingress and egress, but less privacy. However, the rooms did well enough. A decent bed, a table, a chair, quiet—what does the weary traveller want beside?

Here, as at Le Vigan, we were received with a courteous friendliness that made up for all shortcomings. The master, a charming old man, a member of the town council (conseiller municipale), at once accompanied me to the post-office, where the young lady post-mistress produced letters and papers, probably the first English newspapers ever stamped with the mark of St. Enimie. The townsfolk stared at me in the twilight, but without offensive curiosity, I may here give a hint to future explorers of my own sex, that it is just as well to buy one's travelling-dress and head-gear in France. An outlandish appearance, sure to excite observation, is thus avoided. In the meantime the common inquiry was put to us, 'What will you have for dinner?' It really seemed as if we only needed to ask for any imaginable dish to get it, so rich in resources was this little larder at the world's end. The exquisite trout of the Tarn, here called the Tar; game in abundance and of excellent quality; a variety of fruit and vegetables-such was the dainty fare displayed in the tiny back parlour leading out of the kitchen. Soup in these parts, it must be confessed, is not very good. In other respects we fared as well for our five francs per diem, including lights and attendance, as if at some big Paris hotel paying our twenty-five!

The fastidious are warned that certain luxuries we have learned to regard as necessary to existence are unheard of in the Lozere. A bell, for instance—as well expect to find a bell here as in Noah's Ark! A very good preparation for this journey would be the perusal of Tieck's humorous novelette called 'Life's Superfluities' (Des Lebens Uberfluss), wherein he shows that with health, a cheerful disposition, and sympathetic companionship, we may do without anything in the way of an extra at all. Shelter, covering, bed—beyond these all is mere superfluity.

Having dined, we made inquiries as to the morrow's journey on the Tarn, and that somewhat portentous shooting of the rapids we longed for, yet could hardly help shrinking from.

Our host soon set our minds at rest, and smiled when I suggested discomfort and peril.

'Make your minds easy,' he said; 'I will myself answer for your safety.'

He then gave me the following printed programme of the day's excursion, which I translate below, as it shows into what excellent hands the stranger falls at St. Enimie. The most timid lady travellers may safely trust themselves to these town councillors and maires of the little villages bordering the Tarn. Not only will they be taken he very greatest care of; not only are they perfectly secure from any form of extortion: they make acquaintance throughout every stage of the way with the very best type of French peasant, a class of men, as will be shown in these pages, of whom any country might justly be proud. I have now a fairly representative experience of the French peasant. The dignity, sobriety, and intelligence of the Lozerien I have nowhere found surpassed. It was a happy thought of the leading men in these parts to organize a kind of tourist agency among themselves, thus keeping out strangers and speculators sure to spoil the business by overcharges. A village mayor here, a municipal councillor there, in all about a score of the inhabitants, have formed what they call 'La Compagnie de Batellerie St. Jean,' which ensures the traveller a fixed tariff, good boats, and, above all, experienced boatmen, for what is during the last stage of the way a somewhat hazardous journey. The prospectus runs thus:


'The Hotel St. Jean at St. Enimie places at the disposal of tourists a service of boats between that town and Le Rozier.

'The service is divided into four stages, the entire journey without halt occupying six hours.

'The corresponding members of the company at the four stations are as follows:

'At St. Enimie, St. Jean, hotel proprietor and town councillor.

'At St. Chely, Bernard, town councillor.

'At La Malene, Casimir Montginoux, hotel proprietor.

'At St. Prejet, Alphonse Solanet, mayor.

'The charge for the complete transit, whether the boat numbers one passenger or several, is forty-two francs, which may be paid to any of the boatmen or at any stage of the journey.'

St. Enimie is what Gibbon calls 'an aged town,' its sponsor and foundress being a Merovingian princess. For the pretty legend concerning this musically-named maiden, I refer readers to the guide- books, liking better to fill my pages with my own experiences than with matter to be had for the asking elsewhere.

Had it been somewhat earlier in the year, we might perhaps have decided to make a little stay here. But in the height of summer the heat is torrid on the Roof of France. In winter the cold is Arctic, and there is no autumn in the accepted sense of the word; winter might be at hand. We were advised by those in whose interest it was that we should remain, to lose no time and hurry on. Having bespoken the four relays of boatmen for next day, we betook ourselves to our little rooms, somewhat relieved by the fact that we were the only travellers, and that the large, general bedroom adjoining our own would be therefore untenanted. We had reckoned without our host, the comfortable beds therein being evidently occupied by various members of the family when the tourist season was slack. We were composing ourselves to sleep, each in our own chamber, when we heard the old master and mistress of the house, with some little grandchildren, steal upstairs and, quiet as mice, betake themselves to bed. Then all was hushed for the night.

Only one sound broke the stillness. Between one and two in the morning our driver descended from his attic. A quarter of an hour later there was a noise of wheels, pattering hoofs, and harness bells. He had started, as he told us was his intention, on his homeward journey, traversing the dark, solitary Causse alone, with only his lantern to show the way. Soon after five o'clock our old host, evidently forgetting that he had such near neighbours, or perhaps imagining that nothing could disturb weary travellers, began to chat with his wife, and before six, one and all of the family party had gone downstairs. I threw open my casement to find the witchery of last night vanished, cold gray mist enshrouding the delicious little picture, with its grandiose, sombre background. That clinging mist seemed of evil bodement for our expedition. Ought we to start on a long day's river journey in such weather? Yet could we stay?

I confess that there was something eerie in the isolation and remoteness of St. Enimie. Compared to the savagery and desolation of the Causses, it was a little modern Babylon—a corner of Paris, a bit of boulevard and bustle, but with such narrow accommodation, and with such limited means of locomotion at disposal, the prospect of a stay here in bad weather was, to say the least of it, disconcerting. I prepared in any case for a start, made my tea, performed my toilet, and packed my bag as briskly as if a bright sun were shining, which true enough it was, although we could not see!

When, soon after seven o'clock, I descended to the kitchen, I found our first party of boatmen busily engaged over their breakfast, and all things in readiness for departure.

'The sun is already shining on the Causse,' said our old host. 'This mist means fine weather. Trust me, ladies, you could not have a better day.'

We did our best to put faith in such felicitous augury. Punctually at eight o'clock, accompanied by the entire household of the little Hotel St. Jean, we descended to the landing-place, two minutes' walk only from its doors.


Amid many cordial adieux we took our seats, the good old town councillor having placed a well-packed basket at the bottom of the boat. Excellent little restaurants await the traveller at the various stations on the way, but all anxious to arrive at their journey's end in good time will carry provisions with them.

The heavy gray mist hung about the scene for the first hour or two, otherwise it must have been enchanting. Even the cold, monotonous atmosphere could not destroy the grace and smilingness of the opening stage of our journey—sweet Allegro Gracioso to be followed by stately Andante, unimaginably captivating Capricioso to come next—climax of the piece—the symphony closing with gentle, tender harmonies. Thus in musical phraseology may be described the marvellous canon or gorge of the Tarn—like the pen of true genius, enchanting, whatever the theme. Quiet as the scenery is at the beginning of the way, without any of the sublimer features to awe us farther on, it is yet abounding in various kinds of beauty. Above the pellucid, malachite-coloured river, at first a mere narrow ribbon ever winding and winding, rise verdant banks, tiny vineyards planted on almost vertical slopes, apple orchards, the bright red fruit hanging over the water's edge, whilst willows and poplars fringe the low-lying reaches, and here and there, a pastoral group, some little Fadette keeps watch over her goats.

The mists rise at last by slow degrees. Soon high above we see the sun gilding the limestone peaks on either side. Very gradually the heavens clear, till at last a blue sky and warm sunshine bring out all the enchantment of the scene.

The river winds perpetually between the bright green banks and shining white cliffs. Occasionally we almost touch the mossy rocks of the shore; the maiden-hair fern, the wild evening primrose, wild Michaelmas daisy, blue pimpernel, fringed gentian, are so near we can almost gather them, and so crystal-clear the untroubled waters, every object— cliff, tree, and mossy stone—shows its double. We might at times fancy ourselves but a few feet from the pebbly bottom, each stone showing its bright clear outline. The iridescence of the rippling water over the rainbow-coloured pebbles is very lovely.

All is intensely still, only the strident cry of the cicada, or the tinkle of a cattle-bell, and now and then the hoarse note of some wild bird break the stillness.

Before reaching the first stage of our journey the weather had become glorious, and exactly suited to such an expedition. The heavens were now of deep, warm, southern blue; brilliant sunshine lighted up gold- green vineyard, rye-field bright as emerald, apple-orchard and silvery parapet on either side.

But these glistening crags, rearing their heads towards the intense blue sky, these idyllic scenes below, are only a part of what we see. Midway between the verdant reaches of this enchanting river and its sheeny cliffs, between which we glide so smoothly, rise stage upon stage of beauty: now we see a dazzlingly white cascade tumbling over stair after stair of rocky ledge; now we pass islets of greenery perched half-way between river and limestone crest, with many a combe or close-shut cleft bright with foliage running down to the water's edge.

Little paths, laboriously cut about the sides of the Causses on either side, lead to the hanging vineyards, fields and orchards, so marvellously created on these airy heights, inaccessible fastnesses of Nature. And again and again the spectator is reminded of the axiom: 'The magic of property turns sands to gold.' No other agency could have effected such miracles. Below these almost vertical slopes of the Causse, raised a few feet only above the water's edge, cabbage and potato beds have been cultivated with equal laboriousness, the soil, what little of soil there is, being very fertile.

On both sides we see many-tinted foliage in abundance: the shimmering white satin-leaved aspen, the dark rich alder, the glossy walnut, yellowing chestnut, and many others.

Few and far between are herdsmen's cottages, now perched on the rock, now built close to the water's edge. We can see their vine-trellised balconies and little gardens, and sometimes the pet cats run down to the water's edge to look at us.

And all this time, from the beginning of our journey to the end, the river winds amid the great walls of the Causses—to our left the spurs of the Causse Mejean; to our right those of Sauveterre. We are gradually realizing the strangeness and sublimity of these bare limestone promontories—here columns white as alabaster—a group having all the grandeur of mountains, yet no mountains at all, their summits vast plateaux of steppe and wilderness, their shelving sides dipping from cloudland and desolation into fairy-like loveliness and fertility.

St. Chely, our first stage, comes to an end in about an hour and a half from the time of leaving St. Enimie. We now change boatmen—punters, I should rather call them. The navigation of the Tarn consists in skilful punting, every inch of the passage being rendered difficult by rocks and shoals, to say nothing of the rapids.

Here our leading punter was a cheery, friendly miller—like the host of the hotel at St. Enimie, a municipal councillor. No better specimen of the French peasant gradually developing into the gentleman could be found. The freedom from coarseness or vulgarity in these amateur punters of the Tarn is indeed quite remarkable. Isolated from great social centres and influences of the outer world as they have hitherto been, there is yet no trace either of subservience, craftiness, or familiarity. Their frank, manly bearing is of a piece with the integrity and openness of their dealings with strangers.

Shrewd, chatty, kindly, the municipal councillor—Bernard by name— showed the greatest interest in us, his easy manners never verging on impertinence. He was much pleased to learn that I had come all the way from England in order to describe these regions for my country-folks, and told us of the rapidly increasing number of French tourists.

'It is astonishing!' he said—'quite astonishing! Two or three years ago we had a score or two of gentlemen only; then we had fifty in one summer; now we have hundreds—ladies as well; hardly a day passes without tourists. I have to leave the management of my mill to my son, as I am perpetually wanted on the river at this season of the year.'

'Such an influx of strangers must surely do good in the country?' I asked.

'Ca ne fait pas de mal' (It does no harm), was his laconic reply; but one could see from his look of satisfaction that he highly appreciated the pacific invasion. The plain truth of the matter is, that the Canon du Tarn is proving a mine of wealth to these frugal, ingenuous peasants.

How pleasant to reflect that the gold thus showered into their laps by Nature will not be squandered on vice or folly, but carefully husbanded, and put to the best possible uses! What the effect of a constantly-increasing prosperity may be on future generations, no one can predict. Certain we may be that the hard-earned savings of these village mayors and municipal councillors will go to the purchase of land. The process of turning sands to gold will proceed actively; more and yet more waste will be redeemed, and made fertile.

A charming chateau, most beautifully placed, adorns the banks of the river between St. Chely and La Malene; alas! untenanted, its owner being insane. Nowhere could be imagined a lovelier holiday resort; no savagery in the scenes around, although all is silent and solitary; park-like bosquets and shadows around; below, long narrow glades leading to the water's edge.

At La Malene, reached about noon, we stop for half an hour, and breakfast under the shade. Never before did cold pigeon, hard-boiled eggs, and water from the stream have a better flavour. Our municipal councillor was much concerned that we had no wine, and offered us his own bottle, which we were regretfully obliged to refuse, not being claret-drinkers. Then, seeing that our supply of bread was somewhat small, he cut off two huge pieces, and brought them to us in his bare hands. This offer we gratefully accepted.

'Ah! what weather, what weather!' he said. 'You said your prayers to good purpose this morning. This is the day for the Tarn.'

Magnificent was the day, indeed, and sorely did La Malene tempt us to a halt. It is a little oasis of verdure and luxuriance between two arid chasms—flake of emerald wedged in a cleft of barren rock. The hamlet itself, like most villages of the Lozere, has a neglected appearance. Very fair accommodation, however, is to be had at the house of the brothers Montginoux, our boatmen for the next stage, and all travellers, especially good walkers, should make a halt here if they can.

For ourselves, two motives hastened departure. In the first place, we had heard of formidable rivals in the field; in other words, competitors for whatever rooms were to be had at our destination, Le Rozier. Three distinguished personages, deputies of the Lozere, were making the same journey; whether before us or behind us, we could not exactly make out. One thing was certain: like ourselves, they were bound for Le Rozier. This alarming piece of information, coming as it did on the heels of our last night's experience, made us doubly anxious to get to our journey's end and insure rooms. What if we arrived to find the auberge full—not an available corner anywhere, except, perhaps, in the general bedchamber left for belated waifs and strays, such as Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson describes in his voyage with a donkey?

Again the weather, although most favourable for to-day's excursion, betokened change. The light fleecy clouds playing about the summits of the Causses, on either side grew heavier in appearance. We must hasten on. We heard, too, a pitiful story of two American ladies who had lately made this journey in a perpetual downpour, arriving at Le Rozier drenched to the skin, and having seen nothing. We had not crossed the Atlantic certainly to shoot the rapids of the Tarn, but it would be deplorable even to have come from Hastings and meet with such a fiasco.

We now took leave of our worthy miller and his companion, giving a liberal pourboire, as I am sure all travellers will do. It must be borne in mind that the return journey occupies the punters three or four times the duration of the journey downstream. Each stage is an entire day's work, therefore, for which the tariff alone is insufficient remuneration. Our new boatmen are the brothers Montginoux —young men, very pleasant, very intelligent, and exceedingly skilful in their business. The elder, who stands with his face towards us, is full of enthusiasm for the scenery, and knows the river so well that during the greater part of the way he is able to chat to us, pointing out every remarkable feature in the shifting scene, and giving us a good deal of information.

Both brothers, as is the universal rule in these parts, are exceedingly good-looking, and have that frank, dignified manner characteristic of the French peasant at his best. Peasant, did I say? These young men might have passed for gentlemen anywhere; they are instances of the great social transformation taking place throughout France. 'Le paysan, c'est l'aristocrat de l'avenir,' French people say; and true enough we see every day sons of peasants like the late Paul Bert, enrolled in the professional ranks, attaining not only a respectable position, but eminence in science, literature, and art. Turn over a dictionary of French contemporary biography—how often do these words come after a well-known, even distinguished, name: 'Fils d'un paysan'!

The first care of our young punters was to cut willow-branches, and spread at the bottom of the boat in order to keep our feet dry. Do what they will, the boat is flooded from time to time, and but for this precaution renewed at intervals, we should be in sore discomfort.

On quitting La Malene, with its fairy-like dells, hanging woods, and lawny spaces, the third and most magnificent stage of our journey is entered upon, the first glimpse preparing us for marvels to come. Smiling above the narrow dark openings in the rock are vineyards of local renown. Here and there a silvery cascade flashes in the distance; then a narrow bend of the river brings us in sight of the frowning crag of Planiol crowned with massive ruins, the stronghold of the sire of Montesquieu, which under Louis XIII. arrested the progress of the rebellious Duke de Rohan.

For let it not be supposed that these solitudes have no history. We must go much farther back than the seigneurial crusades of the great Richelieu, or the wholesale exterminations of Merle, the Protestant Alva or Attila, in the religious wars of the Cevennes-farther back even than the Roman occupation of Gaul, when we would describe the townlings of the Causses and the banks of the Tarn. Their story is of more ancient date than any of recorded time. The very Causses, stony, arid wildernesses, so unpropitious to human needs, so scantily populated in our own day, were evidently inhabited from remote antiquity. Not only have dolmens, tumuli, and bronze implements been found hereabouts in abundance, but also cave-dwellings and traces of the Age of Stone. Prehistoric man was indeed more familiar with the geography of these regions than even learned Frenchmen of to-day. When, as I have before mentioned, in 1879 a member of the French Alpine Club asked the well- known geographer Joanne if he could give him any information as to the Causses and the Canon du Tarn, his reply was the laconic:

'None whatever. Go and see.'

It would take weeks, not days, to explore these scenes from the archaeological or geological point of view. I will content myself with describing what is in store for the tourist.

We now enter the defile or detroit, at which point grace and bewitchingness are exchanged for sublimity and grandeur, and the scenery of the Causses and the Tarn reach their acme. The river, narrowed to a thread, winds in and out, forcing laborious way between the lofty escarpments, here all but meeting, yet one might almost fancy only yesterday rent asunder.

It is as if two worlds had been violently wrenched apart, the cloven masses rising perpendicularly from the water's edge, in some places confronting each other, elsewhere receding, always of stupendous proportions. What convulsive forces of Nature brought about this severance of vast promontories that had evidently been one? By what marvellous agency did the river force its way between? Some cataclysmal upheaval would seem to account for such disrupture rather than the infinitely slow processes suggested by geological history.

Meantime, the little boat glides amid the vertical rocks—walls of crystal spar—shutting in the river, touching as it seems the blue heavens, peak, parapet, ramparts taking multiform hues under the shifting clouds, now of rich amber, now dazzlingly white, now deep purple or roseate. And every one of these lofty shafts, so majestic of form, so varied of hue, is reflected in the transparent green water, the reflections softening the awful grandeur of the reality. Nothing, certes, in nature can surpass this scene; no imagination can prefigure, no pen or pencil adequately portray it. Nor can the future fortunes of the district vulgarize it! The Tarn, by reason of its remoteness, its inaccessibility—and, to descend to material considerations, its expensiveness as an excursion—can never, fortunately, become one of the cheap peep-shows of the world.

The intense silence heightens the impressiveness of the wonderful hour, only the gentle ripple of the water, only the shrill note of the cicada at intervals, breaks the stillness. We seem to have quitted the precincts of the inhabited familiar world, our way lying through the portals of another, such as primeval myth or fairy-tale speak of, stupendous walls of limestone, not to be scaled by the foot or measured by the eye, hemming in our way.

This defile, so fancy pictures, was surely the work of Titans in the age of the ancient gods; their play, their warfare, were over hundreds of thousands of years ago: only these witnesses left to tell of their greatness! The famous Cirque des Baumes may be described as a double wall lined with gigantic caves and grottoes. Here it is the fantastic and the bizarre that hold the imagination captive. Fairies, but fairies of eld, of giant race, have surely been making merry here! One and all have vanished; their vast sunlit caverns, opening sheer on to the glassy water, remain intact; high above may their dwellings be seen, airy open chambers under the edge of the cliffs, deep corridors winding right through the wall of rock, vaulted arcades midway between base and peak, whence a spring might be made into the cool waves below. All is still on a colossal scale, but playful, capricious, phantasmagoric.

Nor when we alight at the Pas de Soucis are these features wanting. Here the river, a narrow green ribbon, disappears altogether, its way blocked with huge masses of rock, as of some mountain split into fragments and hurled by gigantic hands from above.

The spectacle recalls the opening lines of the great Promethean drama of the Greek poet. Truly we seem to have reached the limit of the world, the rocky Scythia, the uninhabited desert! The bright sunshine and balmy air hardly soften the unspeakable savagery and desolation of the scene, fitting background for the tragedy of the fallen Fire-giver.

Dominating the whole, as if threatening to fall, adding chaos to chaos, and filling up the vast chasm altogether, are two frowning masses of rock, the one a monolith, the other a huge block. Confronting each other, tottering as it seems on their thrones, we can fancy the profound silence broken at any moment by the crashing thunder of their fall, only that last catastrophe needed to crown the prevailing gloom and grandeur.


At this point we alight, our water-way being blocked for nearly a mile. It is a charming walk to Les Vignes: to the left we have a continuation of the rocky chaos just described, to the right a path under the shadow of the cliffs, every rift showing maidenhair fern and wild-flowers in abundance, the fragrant evening primrose and lavender, the fringed gentian. The weather is warm as in July, and of deepest blue the sky above the glittering white peaks. Half-way we meet the rural postman, whose presence reminds us that we are still on the verge of civilization, eerie as is all the solitude and desolation around.

At Les Vignes we lose our pleasant, chatty, well-informed young boatmen, the brothers Montginoux, and embark for the fourth and last time. We have now to shoot the rapids.

A boat lay in readiness; two chairs placed for us, and willow branches in plenty below; our baskets and bundles carefully raised so as to be above water. In the least little detail the greatest possible attention is thus paid to our comfort. I would suggest that if lady tourists had the courage to imitate a certain distinguished Frenchwoman—an explorer—and don male attire here, the shooting of the rapids would be a more comfortable business. The boatmen cannot prevent their little craft from being flooded from time to time, and though they scoop up the water, skirts are apt to prove a sore incumbrance. Foot-gear and dress should be as near water-proof as possible upon this occasion.

We were somewhat disconcerted at the sight of our first boatman, an aged, bent, white-haired man, hardly, one could fancy, vigorous enough, to say nothing of his skill, for the hazardous task of shooting the rapids. He at once informed us that his name was Gall, to which the first place is given in French guide-books. Even such a piece of information, however, hardly reassured us.

Our misgivings were set at rest by the first glance at his companion.

'My colleague, brother of Monsieur le Maire,' said the veteran, presenting him.

A handsome, well-made man in his early prime, with a look of indomitable resolution, and a keen, eagle-like glance, our second boatman would have inspired confidence under any circumstances, or in any crisis. I could but regret that such a man should have no wider, loftier career before him than that of steering idle tourists through the rocks and eddies of the Tarn. Enough of character was surely here to make up a dozen ordinary individualities. You saw at a look that this dignified reserve hid rare qualities and capacities only awaiting occasion to shine conspicuously forth.

How Carlyle would have delighted in the manly figure before us, from which his simple peasant's dress could take not an iota of nobility!

This French rustic, brother of a village mayor, was endowed by Nature beyond most, the spirit within—there could be no doubt of that— matching an admirable physique. Of middle stature, with regular features and limbs perfectly proportioned, every pose might have served for a sculptor's model, whilst his behaviour to-day sufficiently indicated his fitness for weightier responsibilities and more complex problems. Never shall I forget the study before us during that short journey from Les Vignes to Le Rozier. The old man Gall we could not see, being behind; his companion stood at the other end of the boat facing the rapids, and having his back turned towards us.

With form erect, feet firmly planted, sinews knit, every faculty under command, he awaited the currents.

It was a soldier awaiting the enemy, the hunter his prey.

The white crests are no sooner in sight than he seizes his pole and stands ready for the encounter.

A moment more and we are in the midst of the eddying, rushing, foaming rapids. We seem to have been plunged from a lake of halcyon smoothness into a storm-lashed sea. Around us the waves rise with menacing force; now our little boat is flooded and tossed like a leaf on the turbulent waters; every moment it seems that in spite of our brave boatman we must be dashed against the rocks or carried away by the whirlpool!

But swift and sure he strikes out to the right and to the left, never missing his aim, never miscalculating distances by an inch, till, like an arrow shot by dexterous archer, the little craft reaches the calm. Whilst, indeed, it seems tossed like a shuttlecock on the engulphing waves, it is in reality being most skilfully piloted. The veteran at the stern we could not see, but doubtless his skill was equally remarkable. The two, of course, act in concert, both knowing the river as other folks their alphabet.

To each series of currents follows a stretch of glassy water for awhile, and we glide on deliciously. It was instructive to watch the figure at the helm then; he laid down his pole, his limbs relaxed, and he indulged in cigarette after cigarette, pausing to point out any object of interest on the way.

The swirling, rushing, eddying currents once more in sight, again he prepared himself for action, and for a few minutes the task would be Herculean—the mental strain equally phenomenal. His keen, swift, unerring glance never once at fault, his rapid movements almost mechanically sure, he plied his pole, whilst lightly as a feather our little boat danced from cascade to cascade, all but touching the huge mossy slabs and projecting islets of rock on either side.

There was wonderful exhilaration in this little journey. We felt that every element of danger was eliminated by the coolness and dexterity of our conductors, yet the sense of hazard and adventuresomeness was there! My more stout-hearted companion was a little disappointed, would fain have had an experience nearer akin to Niagara. It is as well to remind the traveller that these apparently playful rapids are by no means without risk. Several are literally cascades between rocks, hardly allowing space for the boat to pass. Here the least imprudence or want of skill on the part of the boatman might entail the gravest consequences. At one of the points, indeed, a party of tourists very nearly lost their lives some years since, their boatman being unfamiliar with the river.

The scenery changes at every turn. Just as one moment we are in lake- like waters, smooth as a mirror, the next apparently in mid-ocean, so we pass from sweet idyllic scenes into regions of weird sternness and grandeur. Now we glide quietly by shady reaches and sloping hills, alive to the very top with the tinkle of sheep-bells; now we pass under promontories of frowning aspect, that tower two or three thousand feet above the water's edge. The colours of the rock, under the shifting clouds, are very beautiful, and golden, bright and velvety the little belts and platforms of cultivated land to be counted between base and peak. We have to crane our necks in order to catch sight of these truly aerial fields and gardens, all artificially created, all yet again illustrations of the axiom: 'The magic of property turns sands to gold.'

Truly marvellous is the evidence of this love of the soil in a region so wild and intractable! High above we obtain a glimpse of some ancient village, its scrambling roofs shining amid orchard-trees and firwoods, or an isolated chalet of goatherd or shepherd breaks some solitude. One ruined chateau crests the jagged cliffs, a real ruin among the semblances of so many.

Again and again we fancy we can descry crumbling watch-towers, bastions, and donjons on the banks of the Tarn, so fantastic the forms of the Causses on either side. What a scene for a Dore!

Soon straight before us, high above the wooded heights that hem us in, rises the Causse Noir—dark, formidable, portentous as the rock of Istakhar keeping sentinel over the dread Hall of Eblis, or the Loadstone Mountain of the third Calender's story, which to behold was the mariner's doom. The Causse Noir from the Tarn is a sight not soon forgotten. With black ribs set close about its summit, it wears rather the appearance of a colossal castellation, an enormous fort of solid masonry, than of any natural mass of rock.

What with this spectacle, the excitement of the rapids, the varied landscape, the study of that statuesque figure before us, the brother of M. le Maire, this stage of the way seemed all too short. We regretted—but for the sake of our boatman—that there were not twenty- five more rapids still to be passed before we reached our destination. We regretted, too—who could help it?—that we were not hardy pedestrians, able to clamber amid the rocks overhead, and make that wonderful expedition on foot described by the discoverers of this region, as the writers I have before alluded to may indeed be called. But if the half may not always prove better than the whole in travel, at least it is better than nothing, and the day's excursion here described had of itself amply repaid the long journey from England.

Sorry, then, were we to come in sight of the bridge spanning the Tarn, behind the village of Le Rozier. Just eight hours after quitting St. Enimie we alighted for the last time, and, following our boatmen, took a winding path that led to the village.

It was a scene of quiet, pastoral beauty that now met our eyes. The Tarn, its sportive mood over, the portals of its magnificent gorge closed, now flows amid sunny hills, quitting the wild Lozere for the more placid Aveyron; immediately around us are little farmsteads, water-mills, and gardens, whilst opposite, like a black thundercloud threatening a summer day, the Causse Noir looms in the distance!


Next morning we woke up to a delightfully wet day, the very best piece of good fortune that can occasionally overtake the traveller. We could write, sketch, chat with the people of the house—above all, enjoy a brief period of entire repose. For my own part, I hail nothing so enthusiastically in my travels as a day of unmitigated downpour. Not the most astounding landscape, not the most novel experience, can evoke a warmer outburst of gratitude and welcome. I suppose there are tourists who never feel the need of rest, who, like the Flying Dutchman, are impelled to move on perpetually, who do not want to nurse their impressions, if I may legitimize the expression. I, for one, cannot understand the condition of body and mind implied in such a temperament. Were life long enough and did circumstances and seasons permit, I should make a six weeks' halt at least between every stage of a journey, sipping experiences as we sip exquisitely flavoured liqueurs, and making the whole last as long as possible.

To our intense satisfaction, we had not been anticipated by those much- dreaded deputies of the Lozere. We had a choice of rooms, although later in the day a large contingent of tourists arrived—two or three French families travelling in company. The hotel at Le Rozier is a primitive, but quite lodgeable, place—open, airy, cheerful. Bells, bolts and bars are apparently unheard of. When we remonstrated with the patrone on the insecurity of our doors, there being no means whatever of fastening them, she gazed at us with the greatest possible astonishment. 'Grand Dieu!' her face said, 'is there a country under heaven in which folks are such ruffians that no one can sleep safely in his bed?'

'N'ayez pas peur' (Have no fear), was the reply; such a question in her eyes was evidently the naivest in the world.

The primitive—I am almost tempted to say ideal—condition of things here was more strikingly illustrated a little later.

I had begged madame to give me change for a hundred-franc note; she immediately accompanied me back to my room, unlocked a drawer, and displayed a heap of money—notes, gold and silver.

'Good heavens, madame!' I cried, 'do you keep your money in a room given up to strangers?'

'Il n'y a pas de danger' (There is no danger), she replied, with almost a contemptuous toss of the head, as she took out what she wanted and turned the key in its loosely fastened lock. Anyone with a pocket-knife could have wrenched it off.

We begin to understand why there should be 'white assizes' in the Lozere!

I exchanged my bedroom containing the drawer full of money, and which was the best in the house, for a quieter one, higher up. Nothing could be homelier than my present quarters, an attic bare as a barn, and almost as spacious. There was a bed in it of excellent quality, a chair and one very rickety table furnished with jug and washbasin—no more. I believe at night the bats, to say nothing of rats and mice, were tolerably familiar with this part of the house. The floor sadly showed its unacquaintance with soap and scrubbing-brush, but there were compensating advantages. I was far away from the noise and savoury smells of the kitchen; my window opened on to a wonderful view, and turning the bed into a sofa, I could write or read as cosily as at home.

Nor did my companion spend less happy hours below. Her room had a more cosmopolitan appearance. The table serving as washstand stood securely on its four legs. She had even the luxury of a table and an arm-chair.

The rain was a veritable windfall of good luck to her as well as myself, affording leisure to paint the floral treasures culled by the way. How those sweet sketches brightened the bare room!

There was the golden thistle, the horned poppy, the fringed gentian, the blue pimpernel, the rare orobanche ramosa, the yellow salvia, and pinks in profusion.

Blessed, thrice blessed, the traveller with companions whose mind to them a kingdom is! What disenchantment to have had the glorious experiences of the last few days followed by a spell of boredom! Diderot says: 'Ceux qui souffrent, font souffrir les autres' (Those who suffer make others suffer); and certainly to be in company of the bored is to become bored one's self.

That long wet day passed like an hour. Towards sunset the rain ceased, and at last the three deputies of the Lozere made their appearance. They looked drier and more cheery than could be expected, although to have shot the rapids of the Tarn in such weather was about as mortifying a circumstance as could befall any travellers.

They displayed the true verve Gauloise in dealing with a trying situation, smoked cigarettes, chatted with the people of the house, and made friends with everybody.

Le Rozier is an attractive little place, and its one inn stands airily in the village street; on the other side of the way, a little lower down, is its rival, the Hotel Dieudonne, which, although within a stone's throw, is in another village and another department. Behind us lies the Lozere, in front the Aveyron, and perched most picturesquely on a pyramidal green hill, crowned with a fine old church tower, rises the little Aveyronnais village of Peyreleau. Travellers have therefore a choice of inns and of prospects, the twin townlings being both most advantageously placed between the three Causses, and accommodation very fair in both.

As we sauntered about in the bright sunshine following the storm, watching the red light on the dark flanks of the Causse Noir, on which we can now discern the feudal tower of Capluc, gathering the fringed gentian just outside the town, interchanging friendly talk with the cheery peasant-folk, the thought arose: What a paradise for weary brain workers! What a perfect summer retreat! Removed from the routine of daily life, escaped for a time from the artificiality of ordinary travel, how happy were the lover of nature, of pastoral existence, of quietude in such a spot! No whistle of railway, no bustle of streets, only the placid rippling of the Tarn and the wind gently swaying the pine-trees.

Alas! I was soon to undergo the cruellest disillusion.

'There are now three religions in these parts,' said our host to us: 'the Catholic religion, the Protestant religion, and the religion of the Salvation Army.'

He then added, much as if such a piece of news could but give us the liveliest satisfaction:

'Not so very long ago Booth was here himself!'

The Salvation Army on the very Roof of France! That solitude of solitude invaded by fife and drum; the wastes of Sauveterre echoing the hackneyed air, 'Hold the Fort;' Hallelujah lasses in hideous poke- bonnets parading the picturesque streets of St. Enimie; the very rapids silenced by the stentorian exordiums of these Salvationist orators! Could any disenchantment be more complete?

Now, whilst accrediting every member of the Salvation Army with the best possible intentions, I quite approve of the severe measures taken in so many English towns, and also in some places abroad, against one of the most tremendous social nuisances that ever afflicted humanity. Doubtless these good people, whether Protestants or Catholics of Le Rozier and Peyreleau, follow their religion in all sincerity; for Heaven's sake, then, let us leave our neighbours' creeds and spiritual concerns alone. In a community in which assizes, not once only, but often, are found to be unnecessary, there being no criminals to try, General Booth and his noisy followers are surely out of place. In the face of such results as these, the religion of the people must be pronounced adequate to their needs.

Let the Salvationist chiefs occupy themselves instead with mastering the principles of Spinoza's 'Tractatus Theologico-Politicus,' Colenso's 'Pentateuch,' and, thrown into the bargain, Sir G. B. Airey's essay on 'The Earlier Hebrew Scriptures.'

One piece of information, however, in no small degree consoled me for that terrible nightmare of the Salvation Army on the banks of the Tarn.

'There are three religions in these parts, but one political belief only,' added our host. 'Everybody in the department of Lozere is a stanch Republican,' and a conclusion, novel to many minds, may be drawn from this fact also. The Republic is not the demoralizing force some would have it believed. An entire department may show a clean bill of moral health when the assizes come round, and yet be ardently devoted to a democratic form of government!

Whilst Le Rozier is a prosperous, well-to-do little place, its twin village Peyreleau has a woefully forlorn and neglected appearance. If a French Chadwick or Richardson would preach the gospel of sanitation there, and, by force of precept and example, teach the people how to sweeten their streets and make wholesome their dwellings, I for one would wish God-speed to the undertaking. Perhaps over-much of devotion has made these village-folks neglectful of health and comfort. Let us by all means give them instead a dose of positive philosophy. Certain amateur political economists would straightway set down the unsightliness of this remote spot to peasant property, whereas I shall show that the causes are to be sought elsewhere.

The detesters of peasant property, single-minded persons who love the land so well that they cannot support the notion of a neighbour possessing so much as an inch, remind me of certain French folks, determined antagonists, they hardly know why, of the Republic. These worthy people—the only thing that can be said against them is that they have come into the world a hundred years too late—impute every conceivable mishap or calamity, public or private, to the fact of having a Republican form of government. They entertain but lukewarm feelings for any other; they are adherents of neither the Bonapartist nor Orleanist pretenders, nor do they care a straw for the charlatan hero of the crutch and blue spectacles: their only political dogma is a dislike to the Republic.

So, if a landslip occurs and an express train runs off the line with disastrous results, they immediately cry, 'Is M. Carnot out of his senses?' If there is an inundation of the Loire and the riverside villages are under water, they lift up their hands, exclaiming: 'What can be expected under such a Government as ours?' When cholera breaks out at Toulon, or the phylloxera makes further inroads in the Cote d'Or, or murrain appears among sheep, they protest that nothing in the shape of bad news astonishes them. The only wonder is that, under a Republic, honest folks keep their heads on their shoulders!

On a par with this is the reasoning of the would-be political economists alluded to. If a French peasant is lazy, it is because he has no rent to pay; if a French peasant works too hard, it is because he owns a bit of land. If a cottage is untidy, it is because its occupants are not farm labourers in receipt of ten shillings a week; in fact, the possession of land—except in the hands of English squires— is the most impoverishing, demoralizing, satanic force imaginable, and the only way of turning modern France into a Utopia would be to clap every peasant proprietor alive into nice comfortable, well-conducted workhouses, after the English model.

Now, in the first place, peasant proprietors in many parts of France, as I have shown elsewhere, enjoy not only the comforts, but also the luxuries, of their neighbours of the towns; and in the second, the untidiness, excessive thrift, and even squalor, occasionally found in out-of-the-way places, are to be attributed to quite other causes than that of having no rent to pay. Tidiness, seemliness, order, are taught, like everything else, by example, and from one cause and another this example has not been widely set the French peasant.

The matter is one requiring much more space than can be devoted to it here. I would only observe that the life of French country gentlemen is often simple to homeliness, and that their poorer neighbours have few practical illustrations of the value of comfort and hygiene. I have been astonished to find in the houses of rich landed proprietors in Anjou and Berri, brick-floored bedrooms, carpetless salons, dejeuner served on the bare table, and servants in waiting with their unstockinged feet thrust in sabots.

This condition of things is slowly changing, but there is another and yet more formidable obstacle to the progress of ideas in isolated rural districts. I now allude to the celibate clergy. There are doubtless many estimable parish priests in France, but how can these worthy men revolutionize the homes of the peasant? Their own is often hardly more comfortable or hygienic. If feminine influence presides over a priestly household in the country, it is generally of the homeliest kind. The mother, sister, housekeeper of a village abbe belongs in all probability, like himself, to the peasant class, and, unlike himself, gets no glimpse from time to time of a more polished society and cosmopolitan ways. Let the clergy marry in France, laicize all schools, alike for rich and poor, and what may be called the aesthetic side of domestic economy, to say nothing of hygiene, would soon spread to the remotest corners of the country. Will it be believed, at Nant, in that conventual establishment I have before described, there was absolutely no lavatory for the children at all? They were just taken to a fountain in the courtyard, there to be washed after the manner of little Bedouins.

There is also another cause which in part accounts for the ofttimes squalid and unsanitary condition of the peasant's home. Educated Frenchwomen as a rule have little love of the country, and convent-bred Frenchwomen have still less sympathy with their humbler neighbours in rural districts, whose Republican convictions are well known. Thus it comes about that, generally speaking, the housekeeping sex of different ranks remains apart. And as the well-to-do peasant regards domestic service in the light of degradation, his daughters in turn may become heads of houses without ever having once been inside a home conducted on modern principles. One word more: ill-kept, ofttimes squalid as is the house of the French peasant owner, he can say with Touchstone, 'Tis a poor thing, but 'tis my own.' The son of the soil in France may want carpets, wardrobes, clean swept hearths: he at least owns a home from which only imprudence or thriftlessness can eject him.


After a day of gloom and downpour the weather became again perfect—no burning sun, no cold wind; instead, we had a pearly heaven with shifting sunlight and cloud, and the softest air.

The carriage-roads of the Lozere are a good preparation for ascending Mont Blanc or the Eiffel Tower.

Here we seem to be perpetually going up or coming down in a balloon; and to persons afflicted with giddiness, each day's excursion, however delightful, takes the form of a nightmare when one's head rests on the pillow. For days, nay, weeks after these drives on the Roof of France, my sleep was haunted with giddy climbs and still giddier descents. It was the price I had to pay for some of the most glowing experiences of my much-travelled life. The journey to Montpellier-le-Vieux formed no exception to the rule. Happy, thrice happy, those who can foot it merrily all the way!

The pedestrian has by far the easier task. Throughout the two hours' drive thither, and the somewhat shorter journey back, the horses have to crawl at a snail's pace, their hoofs being within an inch or two of the steep incline as the sharp curves of the corkscrew road are turned. The way in many places is very rough and encumbered with stones; and there is a good deal of clambering to be done at the last. Let none but robust travellers therefore undertake this expedition, whether by carriage or on foot.

Our landlord drove us, much to our satisfaction; his horses, steadiest of the steady, his little dog—a distant cousin to my own pet at home— trotting beside us, sniffing the air joyously, as if he too were a tourist in search of exhilaration and adventure.

Over against Le Rozier, towering high above Peyreleau, its twin village, rises a sharp pyramidal spur of the Causse Noir, its shelving sides running vertically down. That mountain wall, impracticable as it seems, we have to scale.

The road cut so marvellously round it is excellent, wild lavender scenting the way. As we wind slowly upwards we see an old, bent woman filling a sack with the flowery spikes for sale. Thus the Causse, not in one sense but many, is the bread-winner of the people. We follow this zig-zag path westward, leaving behind us sunny slopes covered with peach-trees, vineyards, gardens and orchards, till flourishing little Le Rozier and its neglected step-sister, Peyreleau, are hidden deep below, dropped, as it seems, into the depths of a gulf.

An hour's climb and we are on the plateau, where the good road is quitted, and we take a mere cart-track between pastures, rye-fields, and woods of Scotch fir. So uneven and blocked with stones is the way here, that the poorest walker will soon be glad to get down. The deliciousness of the air, and the freshness of the scenery, however, soon make us insensible to bodily fatigue. Every minute we obtain wider and grander horizons, the three Causses being now in view, their distant sides shining like gigantic walls of crystal; deep blue shadows here and there indicating the verdant clefts and valleys we know of. All lightness and glitter are the remoter surfaces; all warm colour and depth of tone the nearer undulations. What a wealth of colour! what incomparable effects for an artist!

The prospect now increases in wildness, and we seem gradually to leave behind the familiar world. We are again in the midst of a stony wilderness, but a wilderness transformed into a fairy region of beauty and charm.

Nothing can be softer, more harmonious, more delicate than the soft gray tints of the limestone against the pure heaven; every bit of rock tapestried with the yellowing box-leaf, or made more silvery still with the flowers of the wild lavender.

East, west, north, south, the lines of billowy curves in the far distance grow vaster, till we come in sight of what seems indeed a colossal city towering westward over the horizon; a city well built, girt round with battlements, bristling with watch-towers, outlined in gold and amethyst upon a faint azure sky.

It is our first glimpse of Montpellier-le-Vieux.

The jolting now becomes excessive; we leave our carriage, conductor and little dog to follow a traverse leading to Maubert, the farmhouse and auberge where are to be had guides, food, and bedchambers for those who want them.

We could not miss the way, our driver said, and woe betide us if we did! We seem already to have found the city of rocks, the famous Cite du Diable; so labyrinthine these streets, alleys, and impasses of natural stone, so bewildering the chaos around us. For my own part, I could not discern the vestige of a path, but my more keen-eyed companion assured me that we were on the right track, and her assertion proved to be correct. After a laborious picking of our way amid the pele-mele of jumbled stones, we did at last, and to our great joy, catch sight of a bit of wall. This was Maubert; a square, straggling congeries of buildings approached from behind, and of no inviting aspect. A dunghill stood in front of the house, and hens, pigs, and the friendliest dogs in the world disported themselves where the flower- garden ought to have been. At first the place seemed altogether deserted. We knocked, shouted, ran hither and thither in vain. By-and- by crawled forth, one after the other, three ancient, hag-like women, staring at us and mumbling words we could not understand. On nearer inspection they seemed worthy old souls enough, evidently members of the household; but as their amount of French was scant, they hurried indoors again. A few minutes later a young, handsome, untidy woman popped her head from an upper window, and seeing that we were tourists, immediately came downstairs to welcome us.

She would send for her husband to act as guide at once, she said; in the meantime, would we breakfast?

I am sorry to confess that this young mistress of the house—a bride, moreover, of three months—did poor credit to the gifts Nature had lavished upon her. Very bright, good-looking, amiable and intelligent she was, but sadly neglectful of her personal appearance, with locks unkempt and dress slatternly—a strange contrast to the neat, clean, tidy peasant-women we had seen elsewhere on our journey.

The farmhouse, turned into a hostelry, only required a little outlay and cosmopolitan experience to be transformed into quite a captivating health resort. If, indeed, health is not to be recruited on these vast, flower-scented heights, nearly three thousand feet above the sea-level, swept clean by the pure air of half a dozen mountain chains, where may we hope to find invigoration?

Even now non-fastidious tourists may be fairly comfortable. A large, perfectly wholesome upper dining-room; bedrooms containing excellent beds; a farmhouse ordinary with game in abundance; courteous, honest hosts, and one of the marvels of the natural world within a stroll— surely scores of worn-out brain-workers would regard Maubert as a paradise, in spite of trifling drawbacks.

We found a pleasant young French tourist with his blue-bloused guide eating omelettes in the salle-a-manger. Soon the master of the house came up—a young man of perhaps twenty-five—as well favoured as his wife, and much neater in appearance. This youthful head of the family possesses a large tract of Causse land, besides owning in great part what may prove in the future—is, indeed, already proving—a mine of wealth, an El Dorado, namely, the city of rocks, Montpellier-le-Vieux.

We now set out, our host, whilst quite ready to chat, possessing all the dignity and reserve of the Lozerien mountaineer. As we sauntered through patches of oats, rye, potatoes, and hay, I obtained a good deal of information about rural affairs.

'As near as you can guess, how large is the size of your property?' I asked.

I had learned by experience that the precise acreage of these highland farms is seldom to be arrived at, the size of a holding in the Lozere and the Cantal often being computed by the heads of stock kept.

He informed me that he owned four hundred hectares, that is to say, nearly a thousand acres, a considerable portion of which consisted of rocky waste or scant pasturage. He employed several labourers, possessed a flock of several hundred sheep, six oxen for ploughing, besides pigs and poultry.

Here, as elsewhere throughout France, all kinds of land tenure are found. Thus we find land let or owned in holdings from two and a half to a thousand hectares, some of the tenant farmers hereabouts paying a rental of several hundred pounds a year. Roquefort cheese is the most important production, and sheep are always housed like other cattle in winter. Here is a hint for Welsh farmers!

'Have you any neighbours?' I asked.

'Oh, yes!' he replied, 'farmers here and there. And we have a postal delivery every day in summer; when winter comes we get letters as we can. I take a newspaper, too. It is not so out of the way a place as it seems. But a church! Ah, church-going is impossible; the nearest is too far off.' He added: 'This influx of tourists is changing everything. I never saw anything like it. My uncle, who acts as guide here, is always occupied now, and I am so much in request as guide too during the summer season, that I think of letting my farm and giving myself wholly up to the business of hotel-keeper. I should keep mules for tourists, horses and carriages, improve the roads, and furnish my house better. There is to be a model of Montpellier-le-Vieux at the grand exhibition in Paris next year; that will make people come here more than ever. I have almost decided to do as I say.'

I thought to myself that the model of a house constructed on strictly scientific principles should be exhibited also. Nothing were easier than the proposed transformation; but it is less money and enterprise that are needed than knowledge of the world and its ways. I wished that I could invite this intelligent, well-mannered young peasant and his handsome, sprightly wife to England, in order to show them how much more besides good food and good beds are summed up in our oft-quoted 'le confort.'


Chatting thus pleasantly, we come nearer and nearer the city, painted in violet tints against an azure sky, to find it, as we approach, a splendid phantasmagoria. What we deemed citadels, domes and parapets, prove to be the silvery dolomite only: limestone rock thrown into every conceivable form, the imposing masses blocking the horizon; the shadow of a mighty Babylon darkening the heaven; but a Babylon untenanted from its earliest beginning—a phantom capital, an eldritch city, whose streets now for the first time echo with the sound of human voice and tread.

I can think of but one pen that could aptly describe the scene: the pen of a Shelley dipped in iridescence and gold; of a poet whose inner eye could conjure up visions of loveliness and enchantment invisible to the rest of mortal born. I do not know how Montpellier-le-Vieux would look on a dull, gray day; doubtless imagination would people it then with gnomes, horrid afrits, and shapes of fear. To-day, under an exquisite sky, pearly clouds floating across the blue, a soft southern air wafting the fragrance of wild pink, thyme and lavender, it was a region surely peopled by good genii, sportive elves and beneficent fairies only. We were in a spirit, a phantasmal world; but a world of witchery and gracious poetic thrall only.

But as yet we are on the threshold, and, like other magic regions, the Cite du Diable unfolds its marvels all at once, as soon as the novice has entered within its precincts. Before us rose the colossal citadel so-called, pyramid upon pyramid of rock, which our guide said we must positively climb, the grandest panorama being here obtained; a bit of a scramble, he added, but a mere bagatelle—the affair of a few minutes only.

I hesitated. We were at the foot of a chaotic wall of enormous blocks, piled one upon the other, with deep, ugly fissures between—the height, from base to summit, that of St. Paul's Cathedral. In order to reach even the lower platform of these superimposed masses it was necessary to be hoisted up after the manner of travellers ascending the Pyramids, only with this disadvantage—that holding on to the rocks where any hold was possible, and planting the feet as firmly as was practicable on the almost vertical sides, we had here to bestride chasm after chasm.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse