Unfrequented France II.

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PART II.

DESCENTS OF THE RHÔNE AND
THE TARN



CHAPTER X.

FROM LYONS TO AVIGNON


FROM Lyons to Avignon by river is one of the finest sails in Europe, to my thinking the scenery surpassing that of the Danube or the Rhine.  Picturesque and interesting as are the railway journeys by both right and left banks, the steamer offers a thousandfold of charm.

    By half-past five o'clock on a brilliant August day, myself and friend were aboard the little Gladiateur, finding thereon a scene of indescribable liveliness and bustle.  All kinds of merchandise were being stowed away—bedding, fruit, bicycles, bird-cages, passengers' luggage, cases, and packages of every imaginable description.

    A stream of peasants poured in, bound for various stations on the way, all heavily laden, some accompanied by their pet dogs.  First-class passengers were not numerous.  We had an elderly bridegroom, who might have been a small innkeeper, with his youthful bride, evidently making a cheap wedding trip; a family party or two; an excitable man with a sick wife; a couple of pretty girls with two or three youths—brothers or cousins; a sprinkling of priests and nuns—that was all.  The peasants with their baskets and bundles, at the other end of the vessel, made picturesque groups, and the whole scene was as French as French could be.

    I was just thinking how pleasant it was thus to escape the routine of travel, to find one's self in a purely foreign atmosphere, picking up by the way French habits and ways of thought, when one of the officials of the company bustled up to me.

    "Pray pardon me, madame," he said, bringing out a note-book.  "I see that you are English.  Will you be so very kind as to give me the name and address of the great tourist agency in London?  We are organizing an entirely new service between Lyons and Avignon; we are going to make our steamers attractive to tourists.  You will oblige us extremely by giving a little information."

    Crestfallen and with a sinking of the heart, I took his pencil—I could, of course, not do otherwise—and wrote in big letters:

                                MM. THOMAS COOK ET CIE,
                                                                    Ludgate Hill,
                                                                                        Londres.

    But those few words I had written sufficed to dispel the delightful vision of the moment before.  Another year or two, then, and the Rhône will be handed over to Messrs. Cook, Gaze and Caygill—benefactors of their kind, no doubt, but ruthless destroyers of the romance of travel!  Instead of French folk, with whom we can chat about their crops, rural affairs, and passing scenes, gaining all kinds of information, feeling that we are really in France, and forgetting for a while old associations, henceforth we shall find on board these steamers our near neighbours, whom, no matter how much respected, we are glad to quit for a time.  From end to end of the vessel we shall hear the voices of English and Transatlantic tourists, one and all most probably "disappointed in the Rhône;" but, indeed, for the river, we should as well be at home!  However, I said, all this disenchantment happily belongs to the future; let us enjoy the present experience—one long bright summer day, so full of impressions as to seem many days rolled into one.  Years have glided on, meantime the cycle and the motor, in a great measure, have replaced slower methods of locomotion, but such prognostics have not been fulfilled.  The Rhône has escaped vogue.

    The whistle sounds, punctually to the stroke of six; we are off.

    It is a noble sight as we steam out of the quay de la Charité: the vast city rearing its stately front between green hills and meeting rivers; above, white châteaux and villas dotting the greenery—below, the quays, bordered with dotting warehouses that might be palaces, so lofty and handsome are they, and avenues of plane-trees.

    The day promises to be splendid, but mists as yet hang over the scene.  Leaving behind us majestic city suburbs and the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône—one silvery sheet flowing into the other—we glide between low-lying banks bordered with poplars, and soon reach the little village of Irigny, its sheltering hills dotted with country houses.  As we go swiftly on we realize the appropriateness of the epithet applied to the Rhône.  Truly, in Michelet's phrase, "C'est un taureau furieux descendu des Alpes, et qui court à la mer."  If we are impatient to reach our destination in the heart of the Cévennes, the Rhône seems still more in haste to reach the sea.  This extraordinarily swift current of the bright blue waters and the unspeakable freshness and purity of the air make our journey very exhilarating.  Past Irigny we are so near the low, poplar-bordered shore to our left, that we could almost reach it with a pebble, whilst to the right lies Millery.  From this point the river winds abruptly, and we see far-off heights and gentle declivities nearer shore, with vineyards planted on the slopes.  The country on both sides is beautifully wooded, and very verdant.

    The first halt is made at Givors, a little manufacturing town set round with vine-clad banks; here the little river Giers flows into the Rhône, one of the numerous tributaries gathered on the way.  Just below the town is a graceful suspension bridge.  But for the mists we should have a lovely view a little further on, where the hills run nearer together, the wooded escarpments running steep down to the water's edge.  On both banks the scenery becomes charming.  Close to our left hand rise banks fringed with silvery-green willows, and above a bold line of summits, part wood, part vineyards, with white houses peeping here and there; on our right, a little island-like group of poplars, the whole picture very sweet and pastoral.

    As we near Vienne the aspect changes.  There is an Italian look about the vines trellised on trees and festooned around the river-side châlets.

    The approach to the ancient city itself is very striking.  A light suspension bridge spans the river banks just where Vienne faces the village of St. Colombe, ancient as itself.  On the right we see the massive old tower built by Philippe de Valois; to the left, behind the houses crowded together pell-mell, rises the majestic pile of the cathedral.  Here another tributary, the Gère, flows into the Rhône.  Vienne was reputed a fosterer of poetry in classic times.  At "beautiful Vienne," Martial boasted that his works were read with avidity.  The scenery now shows more variety and picturesqueness.  In one spot the river winds so abruptly that we seem all on a sudden to be landlocked, the hills almost meeting where the impetuous current has forced a way.  The cleft hills as they slope down to the shore show deliciously fresh and verdurous dells and combes.  Everywhere we see the vine, and with every bend we seem nearer the South.  Between Vienne and Roussillon the aspect is no longer French, but Italian—the distant undulations being of dark purple, flecked with golden shadow, the nearer, terraced with the yellowing vine.

    Our next halting-place is Condrien, on the right bank, celebrated for its white wines, a pretty little town, with vineyards and gardens close to the riverside, the bright foliage of garden acacia and vine contrasting with the soft ochres and greys of the building-stone.  Above the straggling town on the sunny hill are deep-roofed châlets, and close to us—we could almost gather them—patches of glorious sunflowers in the river-side gardens.  The mists had now cleared off, and we were promised a superb day.

    The traveller's mind is all at once struck by the extreme solitude of this noble, vast-bosomed, swift-flowing river.  We had been on the way for hours without seeing a steamer or vessel of any kind, our little craft having the wide water-way all to itself.  Whilst the Saône is the most navigable river in the world, quite opposite is the character of its brother Rhône.  Not inaptly has the one—all gentleness, yieldingness, and suavity—won a feminine, the other—all force, impetuosity and stern will—obtained for itself a masculine, appellative!  And well has the Lyonnais sculptor given these characteristics in his charming statues adorning the Hôtel-de-Ville of his native city.

    The Rhône has been called "un chemin qui marche trop vîte"; the rapidity of its currents and the difficulties of navigation up-stream are obstructions to traffic.  But before the great line of railway was laid down between Paris and Marseilles, it was nevertheless very important.  If we converse with French folk whose memory goes back to a past generation, we shall find that the journey south was invariably made this way.  Formerly sixty-two steamers daily plied with passengers and goods between these riverside towns, now connected by railway.  At the present time seven or eight suffice for the work.

    This solitude adds to the majesty and impressiveness of the Rhône.  Our little craft seems insignificant as a feather—a mere bird skimming the vast blue surface.  After the clearing of the mists, we have a spell of unbroken blue sky and bright sunshine, followed by a deliciously cool, grey English heaven, with sunny glimpses and varied cloudage.

    Passing Serrières, with pastures and meadows close to the water's edge, and groups of cattle grazing under the trees, we reach Annonay, crested by a quaint ruin, the birthplace of the great balloonists, the brothers Montgolfier.  The first balloon ascent was made from this little town in 1783.  Boissy d'Anglas, the heroic president of the Assembly in its stormiest days, was also born here.

    Next comes St. Vallier, an ancient little town close to the bank, with its castle of the beauty who never grew old, Diane de Poitiers—she whose mysterious cosmetic was a daily plunge in cold water; so say the initiated in historic secrets.  Opposite to St. Vallier rises a chain of sunny, vine-covered hills, with sharp clefts showing deep shadow.

    At Arras, on the right bank, is seen another picturesque ruin.  No river in Europe boasts of more ruins than the Rhône.  Then we reach the legendary rock called the Table du Roi.  Just as Æneas and his companions made plates of their flat loaves, and so fulfilled the Sybil's prediction, St. Louis saw in this tabular block a dinner-table, providentially designed for the use of himself and his ministers.  The great advantage of such a table lay in its immunity from listeners, thus the story runs.  This al fresco banquet above the banks of the Rhône took place on the eve of the Seventh Crusade.

    At this point the river is magnificent.  Beyond the nearer hills rise the crumbling walls of a feudal stronghold, another ruin of imposing aspect.  One hoary tower only is seen, half hidden by the folds of a valley.  On every slope the vines make golden patches, little terraces being planted close to the rocky summits.  This persistence in a phylloxera-ravaged district is quite touching.

    Passing Tournon and Tain, we soon come in sight of the famous little village of the Hermitage, a sunburnt, granitic slope, its three hundred acres once being a mine of gold.  Formerly a hectare of this precious vineyard was worth 30,000 francs.  The phylloxera invaded it!

    We now see in the far distance the blue range of the Dauphinnois Alps, and can it be—is yonder silvery glimmer on the farthest horizon the mighty Mont Blanc?  Nothing can be lovelier than these wide mountain vistas, far above broad blue river, plain, and hill.

    Passing the stately Gothic château of Châteaubourg, where sojourned St. Louis, we get a glimpse of the sharply outlined limestone heights bordering on the vineyards of St. Percy, no less celebrated than those of the Hermitage.  On the topmost crag stand out in bold relief the superb ruins of Crussol.  At every turn we see walls of feudal strongholds frowning above the bright, broad river.  By the time we reach Valence, soon after mid-day, we have only passed one barge.

    Valence is beautifully situated.  Facing the river and tawny, abrupt rocks, rises the splendid panorama of the French Alps.  Here we leave more than half our passengers and merchandise.  The cook, having now nothing to do, comes on deck to chat with a friendly traveller.  I may as well mention that we fared as well on this little steamer as at a second-class table-d'hôte.  There was a small dining-room below, as well as a very fairly comfortable saloon.  The attendants were exceedingly civil, and charges regulated by a tariff.

    As an instance of the prevailing desire to please, I cite the following piece of amiability on the part of the chef.  I had given tea and a tea-pot, with instructions, to the waiter.  The chef, however, anxious that there should be no blunder, came up to me and begged for information at first hand.

    "Pray excuse me," he said; "but I did not understand whether the milk and sugar were to form part of the decoction."

    I gave him a little dissertation on tea-making, with the result that future travellers by the Gladiateur, will obtain a fragrant cup admirably prepared.  Even a French chef cannot be expected to know everything in the vast field of cookery.

    Below Valence the scenery changes.  The hills on either side of the river recede, and we look above low reaches and lines of poplar upon the far-off mountain range of Dauphine and Savoy.  Here and there are little farmsteads close to the shore, with stacks of wheat newly piled and cattle grazing—everywhere a look of homely plenty and repose.  The river winds in perpetual curves, giving us new horizons at every turn.

    Lavoulte, on the right bank, is a picturesque congeries of red-tiled houses massed round a square château.  The town indeed looks a mere appendage of this château, so conspicuous is the ancient stronghold of the Vivarais.  Livron, perched on a hill, looks very pretty.  Soon we come to perhaps the grandest ruin cresting the bank of the Rhône, the donjon and château fort of Rochemaure, standing out formidably from the dark, jagged peaks, running sheer down to the river's edge.

    After Le Teil is passed the clouds gradually clear.  We have the deep warm blue of a southern sky and burning sunshine.

    Viviers—former capital of the Vivarais, to which it gave the name—is most romantically placed on the side of a craggy hill, its ancient castle and old Romanesque cathedral conspicuous above the house-roofs.  Just above the verdant river-bank run its mediæval ramparts tapestried with ivy, the yellowish stone almost the colour of the rocks.

    The scenery here is wild and striking.  Far away flashes the grand snow-tipped Mont Ventoux, limestone cliffs show dazzlingly white against the warm heavens, deep purple shadows resting on the vine-clad slopes, whilst close to the water's edge are stretches of velvety turf and little shady vales.  At one point the opposite coasts are as unlike in aspect as summer and winter; the right bank all grace and fertility, the left all barrenness and desolation.  And still we have the noble river to ourselves as it winds between rock and hill.  Pont St. Esprit is another old-world town with a wonderful bridge, making a charming picture.  It stands close to the water's edge, the houses grouped lovingly round its ancient church with tall spire.  Here we do at last meet a steamer bound for Valence.

 

APPROACH TO AVIGNON


    After leaving Pont St. Esprit the scenery grows less severe, till by degrees all sternness is banished, and we see only a gentle pastoral landscape on either side.

    Bagnols, with its handsome old stone bridge, church with perforated tower, facing the river, makes a quaint and picturesque scene.  This curious town, one of the most characteristic passed throughout the entire journey, lies so close to the water's edge that we could almost step from the steamer into its streets.  Meantime, the long, bright afternoon, so rich in manifold impressions, draws on; cypresses and mulberry-trees announce the approach to Avignon.  A golden softness in the evening sky, a heavy warmth and languor in the air, proclaim the South.  Every inch of the way is varied and rememberable.  Feudal walls still crest the distant heights, as we glide slowly between reedy banks and low sandy shores towards the papal city.

    At last it comes in sight, rather more than twelve hours since quitting the quay of Lyons, and well rewarded were we for having preferred the slower water-way to the four hours' flight in the railway express.

    The approach to Avignon by the Rhône may be set side by side in the traveller's mind with the first glimpse of Venice from the Adriatic, or of Athens from the Ægean.

    The river, after winding amid cypress-groves, makes a sudden curve, and all of a sudden we see the grand old city, its watch-towers, palaces, and battlements pencilled in delicate grey against a warm amber sky, only the cypresses by the water's edge making dark points in the picture.  Far away, over against the city, towers the stately snow-crowned Mont Ventoux and the violet hills shutting in Petrarch's Vaucluse.  How warm and southern—nay, Oriental—is the scene before us, although painted in delicatest pearly tints!  It is difficult to believe that we are still in France; we seem suddenly to have waked up in Jerusalem!

 

AVIGNON, CHÂTEAU DES PAPES

――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XI.

TO MENDE BY WAY OF LE VIGAN


ON a former occasion I had set out for the Gorge of the Tarn from Le Puy, thence by train journeying to Langeac, from that little junction to another named Langogne, and from that point finishing the long day in the crazy old diligence plying between Langogne and Mende.  An amazing six hours' drive it was, and well worth the fatigue, every bit of the way abounding in scenery, splendid or pastoral.  France can hardly show fairer or more striking scenes than these highlands of the Lozère.

    The first part of our way lay amid wild mountain passes, deep ravines, dusky with pine and fir, lofty granite peaks shining like blocks of diamond against an amethyst heaven.  Alternating with such scenes of savage magnificence are idyllic pictures, verdant dells and glades, rivers bordered by alder-trees wending even course through emerald pastures, or making cascade after cascade over a rocky bed.  On little lawny spaces about the sharp spurs of the Alps, we see cattle browsing, high above, as if in cloudland.  Excepting an occasional cantonnier at work by the roadside, or a peasant woman minding her cows, the region is utterly deserted.  Tiny hamlets lay half hidden in the folds of the hills or skirting the edges of the lower mountain slopes; none border the way.

    During the long winter these fine roads, winding between steep precipices and abrupt rocks, are abandoned on account of the snow.  The diligence ceases to run, and letters and newspapers are distributed occasionally by experienced horsemen familiar with the country and able to trust to short cuts.

    What the icy blasts of January are like on such stupendous heights we can well conceive.  At one point of our journey we reach an altitude above the sea equal to that of the Puy de Dôme.  This is the lofty plateau of granitic formation called Le Palais du Roi, a portion of the Margéride chain, and as an old writer says, "la partie la plus neigeuse de la route"—the snowiest bit of the road.  On a superb September day, although winter, as I found, was at hand, the temperature was of an English July.  As we travelled on, amid scenes of truly Alpine grandeur and loveliness, the thought arose to my mind, how little even the much-travelled English conceive the wealth of scenery in France!  Our cumbersome old diligence carried only French passengers.  Nowhere else in Europe does the English tourist still find himself more isolated from the commonplace of travel.

    Many of the landscapes now passed recalled scenes in Algeria, especially as we get within sight of the purple, porphyritic chain of the Lozère.  We gaze on undulations of delicate violet and grey, as in Kabylia, whilst deep down below lie oases of valley and pasture, the dazzling golden green contrasting with the aerial hues of distant mountain and cloud.

    Nothing under heaven could be more beautiful than the shifting lights and shadows on the remoter hills, or the crimson and rosy flush of sunset on the nearer rocks; at our feet we see well-watered dales and luxuriant meadows, whilst on the higher ground, here as in the valley of the Allier, we have proofs of the astounding, the unimaginable patience and laboriousness of peasant owners.

    In many places rings of land have been cleared round huge blocks of granite, the smaller stones, wrenched up, forming a fence or border, whilst between the immovable, columnar masses of rock, potatoes, rye, or other hardy crops, have been planted.  Not an inch of available soil is wasted.  These scenes of mingled sternness and grace are not marred by any eyesore: no hideous chimney of factory with its column of black smoke, as in the delicious valleys of the Jura; no roar of mill-wheel or of steam-engine breaks the silence of forest depths.  The very genius of solitude, the very spirit of beauty, brood over the woods and mountains of the Lozère.  The atmospheric effects are very varied and lovely, owing to the purity of the air.  As evening approaches, the vast porphyry range before us is a cloud of purple and ruddy gold against the sky.  And what a sky!  That warm, ambered glow recalls Sorrento.  By the time we wind down into the valley of the Lot, night has overtaken us.  We dash into the little city too hungry and too tired, it must be confessed, to think of anything else but of beds and dinner; both of which, and of excellent quality, awaited us at the old-fashioned Hôtel Chabert.

    But we were already midway in September.  Winter, we learned, was at hand, and truly enough, on the 19th of September it overtook us.  Perforce we had to content ourselves with a glimpse of that wonderful table-land les Causses, truly called "The Roof of France," and forego the shooting of the rapids till another season.

    By carriage—an expensive and tedious but gainful method of travel—we reached Rodez, spending the night at St. Chély d'Apcher.

    At St. Amans, where we halted for breakfast, still the sun shone warm and bright, and the blue sky was of extraordinary depth and softness.  I was reminded of Italy.  As we sauntered about the long straggling village, a scene of indescribable contentment and repose met our eyes.  We are in one of the poorest departments of France, but no signs of want or vagrancy are seen.  The villagers, all neatly and suitably dressed, were getting in their hay or minding their flocks and herds, with that look of cheerful independence imparted by the responsibilities of property.  Many greeted us in the friendliest manner, but as we could not understand their patois, a chat was impossible.  They laughed, nodded, and passed on.

    No sooner were we fairly on our way to St. Chély than the weather changed.  The heavens clouded over, and the air blew keenly.  We got out our wraps one by one, wanting more.  If the scenery is less wildly beautiful here than between Mende and St. Amans, it is none the less charming, were we only warm enough to enjoy it.  The pastoralness of many a landscape is Alpine, with brilliant stretches of turf, scattered châlets, groups of haymakers, herds and flocks browsing about the rocks.  Enormous blocks of granite are seen everywhere superimposed after the manner of dolmens, and everywhere the peasant's spade and hoe are gradually redeeming the waste.  It was nightfall when we reached St. Chély d'Apcher, reputed the coldest spot in France, and certainly well worthy of its reputation.

    It stands on an elevation 3,000 feet above the sea-level.  If the Lozère is aptly termed the Roof of France, then St. Chély may be regarded as its chimney top.  Summer here lasts only two months.  No wonder that the searching wind seemed as if it would blow not merely the clothes off our shoulders, but the flesh off our bones.  Yet the people of the inn smiled and said:

    "Wait here another month and you will find what we call cold!"

    Doubtless to some travellers Siberian experiences on these plateaux would be more endurable than dog days in Provence.  Warned by previous disappointment, next year I boldly confronted the latter drawback.

    From Avignon by way of Nimes, now twelve months later, with a friend I journeyed to Le Vigan, thus making a roundabout way to the Causses and the Tarn.  Nimes in August we found hot as Cairo in May, and thankful were we to exchange the torrid atmosphere and heavy, sulphurous heavens for the cool air and pastoral scenery of Le Vigan.

    Past olive grounds and mulberry plantations, ancient towns cresting the hill-tops, cheerful farmeries dotted here and there—such are the pictures descried from the railway.  It was hard to pass Tarascon without a halt, but we were too anxious to shoot the rapids for lingerings.  Ancient and curious little towns we got glimpses of on the way, all being stoically resisted.

    I had heard nothing in favour of Le Vigan.  The hotel was described to us as a fair auberge.  The very place was marked down in my itinerary simply because it seemed impossible to reach the region we were bound for from any other starting-point.  At least, the two other alternatives had drawbacks: we must either make a circuitous railway journey round to Mende, or a still longer detour by way of Millau.

    Having therefore expected literally nothing either in the way of accommodation or surroundings, what was our satisfaction next day to wake up and find ourselves in quite delightful quarters, amid charming scenery!  Our hotel, Des Voyageurs, is as unlike the luxurious barracks of Swiss resorts as can be.  An ancient, picturesque, straggling house, brick-floored throughout, with spacious rooms, large alcoves, outer galleries and balconies facing the green hills, it is just the place to settle in for a summer holiday.  On the low walls of the open corridor outside our rooms are pots of brilliant geraniums and roses; beyond the immediate premises of the hotel is a well-kept fruit and flower garden; everywhere we see bright blossoms and verdure, whilst the low spurs of the Cevennes, here soft green undulations, frame in the picture.

    The weather was now that of an English summer, with alternating clouds, sunshine and fresh breezes.  The inhabitants we found no less winning than their entourage; everywhere we were received as friends.

    The Gard is foremost of all other departments in the matter of silkworm rearing, the Ardèche alone surpassing it in the number of silk-factories.  In all the villages around Le Vigan are small silkworm farms, the peasants rearing them on their own account, and selling them to the manufacturers.

    The workroom of a silk factory affords a curious spectacle.

    At long, narrow tables, stretched from end to end of the workshop, sit rows of girls manipulating the cocoons in bowls of hot water—in Gibbon's phrase, "the golden tombs whence a worm emerges in the form of a butterfly"—carefully disengaging the almost imperceptible film of silk therein concealed, transferring it to the spinning-wheel, where it is spun into what looks like a thread of solid gold.  Throughout the vast atelier hundreds of shuttles are swiftly plied, and on first entering the eye is dazzled with the brilliance of these broad bands of silk, bright, lustrous, metallic, as if of solid gold.  This flash of gold is the only brightness in the place, otherwise dull and monotonous.

    Gibbon gives a splendid page on the "education of silkworms," once considered as the labour of queens, and shows impatience with the learnèd Salmasius, who also wrote on the subject, because, unlike himself, he did not know everything.  He tells us how two Persian monks, long resident in China, amid their pious occupations viewed with a curious eye the manufacture of silk; how they made the long journey to Constantinople, imparting their knowledge of the silkworm and its strictly guarded culture to the great Justinian; finally, how a second time they entered China, "deceived a jealous people by concealing the eggs of the silkworm in a hollow cane, and returned in triumph with the spoils of the East."  "I am not insensible of the benefits of an elegant luxury," adds the historian, "yet I reflect with some pain that if the importers of silk had introduced the art of printing, already practised by the Chinese, the comedies of Menander and the entire decade of Livy would have been perpetuated in the sixth century."

    So charming proved Le Vigan that we lingered on; the pleasant little place and its people proved to us as Capua to Hannibal's soldiers, as Circe's cup to Odysseus.

    We ought not to have stayed there an unnecessary hour.  We should have continued our journey at once.  On and on we lingered, nevertheless, and when at last we braced ourselves up for an effort, the terrible truth was broken to us.  Instead of being nearer to the goal of our wishes, we had come out of the way, and were indeed getting farther and farther from that mysterious, so eagerly longed-for region, the terribly unattainable Causses.  Our project at last began to wear the look of a nightmare, a harassing, feverish dream.  We seemed to be fascinated hither and thither by an ignis fatuus, enticed into quagmires and quicksands by an altogether illusive, mocking, malicious will-o'-the-wisp.

    True, a mere matter of eighty miles lay between us and our destination, but surely the most impracticable eighty miles out of Arabia Petræa!  We were bound for a certain little town called St. Énimie, but between us and St. Énimie stretched a barrier, apparently insurmountable as Dante's fog isolating Purgatory from Paradise, or as the black river separating Pluto's domain from the region of light.  We seemed as far off the Causses as Christian from the heavenly Jerusalem when imprisoned in Castle Doubting, or as the Israelites from Canaan when in the wilderness of Zin.

    To reach St. Énimie, then, meant two long days' drive, i. e. from six a.m. to perhaps eight p.m., in the lightest, which stands for the most uncomfortable, vehicle, across a country the greater part of which is as savage as Dartmoor.  Our first halting-place would be Meyrueis, and between Le Vigan and Meyrueis, relays could be had, but at that point civilization ended.  The second day's journey must lie through a treeless, waterless, uninhabited desert; in other words, as a glance at the map showed, we must traverse the Causse Méjean itself.

    At this stage of affairs intervened the voiturier who had just proposed to drive us to the top of the Lozérien Helvellyn, provided we could sit on a knifeboard.  He was one of the handsomest men we saw in these parts, which is saying a good deal.  Tall, well made, dignified, with superb features and rich colouring, it seemed a thousand pities he should be only a carriage proprietor in this out-of-the-way spot.

    "If these ladies," he said in country fashion, thus addressing ourselves, "will let me drive them to Millau, they can have my most comfortable carriage, as the roads are excellent.  They can sleep at a good auberge on the way.  From Millau it is only five hours by railway to Mende, and from Mende only a four hours' drive to St. Énimie."

    Having sent on our four big trunks by diligence to Millau, in perfect weather we set out for our first stage.

    On the whole, the route now decided upon had much to recommend it, especially to travellers unfit for excessive fatigue.  The drive from Le Vigan to Millau is thus divided into two easy stages, and the scenery for the greater part of the way is diversified and interesting.

    Gradually winding upwards from the green hills surrounding our favourite little town, its bright river, the Arre, playing hide-and-seek as we go, we take a lonely road cut around barren, rocky slopes covered with stunted foliage, here and there tiny enclosures of corn crop or garden perched aloft.

    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 silvery olive, with lovely little chestnut woods on the heights around.  Soon 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 being 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 grey and wild the heavens.

    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 (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 now connects Le Vigan with Millau and Albi, an immense boon to the inhabitants, one of the numerous iron roads laid by the Republic in what had hitherto been forgotten parts of France.  Close to these works a magnificent cascade is seen, 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 region 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 on 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 ewe's milk, the non-drinking ewes of the Larzac.  Is the peculiar flavour of the cheese due to the non-drinking habit?

    The desert-like tracts below this "Table de pierre," as M. Réclus 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.  Beyound stream and meadows rise hills crested with Scotch fir, their slopes luxuriant with buckwheat, 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-à-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 Hôtel Bristol.

    Nant is quite a delightful townling; we only wished we could have stayed 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 mediæval architecture invite the artist; none, however, come!

    The sky-blue Dourbie runs amid green banks below the grey 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, we found a curious sight.  The corn was gathered in, and hither all the farmers round about had brought their wheat to be threshed out by waterpower.

    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-umber walls, the lime-ridges above and around taking the form of a long lone 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 sight of amid willowy banks than found again.

    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 that of making a noise.

    In spite of its 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.

 

MENDE


    Climbing a narrow, winding stone stair, we come upon an open court, with balconies running round each storey, 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.

    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 château-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 hill-tops.

    At Sévérac-le-Château romance culminates in the stern, yellowish-grey 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 pin 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 inch by inch transforms 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 Sévérac.  The scenery between Marvejols and Mende is grand; sombre, deep-green valleys, shut in by wide stretches of stupendous rocky wall, dark pine-woods, and brown wastes.

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

 

CAUSSE DE SÉVÉRAC


    The Hôtel Manse, whither we now betake ourselves, is a great improvement on that of former acquaintance in matters of situation, sanitation, and comfort; the people are very civil and obliging in both.

    And here we were not in the very heart of the stuffy, dirty, ill-kept town, but on the outskirts, overlooking suburban gardens and pleasant hills, with plenty of air to breathe.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XII.

FROM MENDE TO ST. ÉNIMIE


SO, just upon twelve months after my first attempt, I once more found myself climbing to the summit of the lofty plateau between Mende and St. Énimie.

    It was a fortnight earlier in the year, and the weather was ideal; 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, really to cross it and enter.

    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 grey cathedral, with its unequal spires—the one a lovely specimen of Gothic in its late efflorescence, the other wholly unbeautiful—cushioned against the soft green hills, the cheerful little town in its fertile surroundings, its wild, far-stretching waste and barren peak.  More musical still sounding 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 twelve months all but two weeks before, that on this 5th of September, 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 château far behind.  From that point the roads diverge, and we see our own wind like a ribbon till lost to view in the grey, 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 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 grey 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—stone crops, cornflowers, purple lady's fingers, and many others; but wedged as we are in our not too comfortable calèche, 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, and poorly dressed, but robust-looking, well-made girls and women, short-skirted, bare-headed, footing it bravely under the hot sun.

    Portions of the land on either side consist of waste, quite recently laid under cultivation; the huge blocks of stone had been wrenched up, heaven knows how, and conspicuously piled up in the midst of the newly created field—a veritable trophy!  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 still in force, and the village community is not yet extinct in France.

    "Voilà 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 physic 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 curé from St. Énimie, 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.

    One thing is quite certain.  The four thousand and odd wild, sheepskin-wearing inhabitants of the entire region of the Gausses must ere long, may perhaps already, be nationalized—like the Breton and the Morvandial, undergoing a gradual and complete transformation.  Travellers of another generation on this road will certainly 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 Lozère, and that the Lozère occasionally 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 alongside this depth, 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.

    By and by, the prospect becomes inexpressibly grand, till the impression of magnificence culminates as our road begins literally to drop down upon St. Énimie, as yet invisible.  Our journey must now be compared to the descent from cloudland 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—Titanic rampart—rises the grand Causse Méjean, 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.

 

ST. ÉNIME


    When at last from our dizzy height our driver bids us look down, we discern the grey roofs of St. Énimie wedged between the congregated escarpments far below, the little town lying immediately under our feet, as the streets around our 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 the clouds; 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. Énimie 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-grey 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 grey walls of the Causse shut out all but the meridian rays of the sun.

    As I write this, at six o'clock in the evening, the last crimson flush of the setting sun lingers on the sombre, grandiose Causse Méjean.  All the rest of the scene, the lower ranges around, are in a cool grey 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 fortress.  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 Hôtel 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?  Doubtless all is changed by this time.

    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, at once accompanied me to the post-office, where the young lady postmistress produced letters and papers, probably the first English newspapers ever stamped with the mark of St. Énimie.  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.

    Since this romantic, adventuresome, and costly journey made twenty years ago, the gorge or canon of the Tarn has became a favourite French excursion.  Tourist tickets, including boats, hotels, and guides, are issued in Paris, and conducted parties now keep the place lively during the long vacation.  At the time of my visit, the leading men of the neighbouring villages had organized a tourist agency, mayors, town councillors and others forming a so-called "Batellerie de St. Jean," ensuring strangers a fixed tariff, good boats, above all experienced boatmen, for the somewhat hazardous expedition.

    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 already 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 two little grandchildren, steal up-stairs, 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 down-stairs.  I threw open my casement to find the witchery of last night vanished, cold grey 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. Énimie.  Compared to the savagery and desolation of the Gausses, 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.  We prepared in any case for a start, made our tea, and packed our bags 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 Hôtel St. Jean, we descended to the landing-place, two minutes' walk only from its doors.


――――♦――――


 
CHAPTER XIII.

SHOOTING THE RAPIDS


AMID many cordial adieux we took our seats, the good 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 grey 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.  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 bright green banks and shining white cliffs.  Occasionally we almost touch the mossy rocks of the shore; maidenhair fern, wild evening primrose, Michaelmas daisy, blue pimpernel and fringed gentian are so near we can almost gather them, and so crystal-clear the untroubled waters, that 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 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, by 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, 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 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 Méjean; 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. Chély, our first stage, comes to an end in about an hour and a half from the time of leaving St. Énimie.  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. Énimie, 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 boatmen 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.

 

CHÂTEAU DE LA CAZE


    A charming château, most beautifully placed, adorns the banks of the river between St. Chély and La Malène.  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 Malène, reached about noon, we stop for half-an-hour, and breakfast under the shade.  Never before did cold pigeon, and hard-boiled eggs, and household bread taste so delicious!  Our bread running short, our boatmen gave us large slices from their own loaf.

 

THE STONY WILDERNESS


    On quitting this village, 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, who 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 learnèd Frenchmen of to-day.  When 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 Cañon du Tarn, his reply was the laconic:

    "None whatever.  Go and see."

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

    We now enter the defile or détroit, 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, all but meeting, yet one might almost fancy only yesterday rent asunder.

 

LES DÉTROITS


    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.

 

LES DÉTROITS


    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.

    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, fragrant evening primrose, lavender, and 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 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 being placed for us, and willow branches in plenty below; our baskets and bundles carefully raised so as to be above water.

    We were somewhat disconcerted at the sight of our first boatman, an agèd, 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 whom the first place was 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.

    How Walt Whitman would have delighted in the manly figure before us, from which his simple peasant's dress could not take 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 action 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 we could not see, he 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 boatmen 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 engulfing waves, it is in reality being most skilfully piloted.  The skill of the veteran at the stern was equally remarkable.  The two, of course, act in concert, both knowing the river as folks their alphabet.

    To each series of currents follows for a while a stretch of glassy water, 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 became Herculean, the mental strain being 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 even, a more exciting experience.  It is as well to remind the traveller that these apparently playful rapids are by no means without risks.  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 château 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.

    Soon straight before us, high above the wooded heights that hem us in, rises the Causse Noir—dark, formidable, portentous as the rock of Ishtakhar 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—except 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 French discoverers of this region, M. Martel, "the Columbus of the nether world," and his fellows.  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 beyond the village of Le Rozier.  Just eight hours after quitting St. Énimie 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 Lozère for the more placid Aveyron; immediately around us being little farmsteads, water-mills, and gardens, whilst opposite, like a black thunder-cloud threatening a summer day, the Causse Noir looms in the distance.

 

THE WINDING TARN

――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XIV.

MONTPELLIER-LE-VIEUX


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 Lozère 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 had 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 road 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 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 breadwinner of the people.  We follow this zigzag 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.

 

DOLMEN DE ST. GERMAIN


    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 road 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!

 

MONTPELLIER-LE-VIEUX


    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 grey tints of the limestone against the pure heaven; every bit of rock being 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 had done so.  We seem already to have found the city of rocks, the famous Cité 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 path amid the pêle-mêle 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, witch-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 housewife popped her head from an upper window, and seeing that we were tourists, immediately came down-stairs to welcome us.

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

    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-à-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 talk, possessing all the dignity and reserve of the Lozérien mountaineer.  As we sauntered through patches of oats, rye, potatoes, and hay, I obtained a good deal of information about rural affairs.

    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, proved 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 at last echo with the sound of human voice and tread!

    I do not know how Montpellier-le-Vieux would look on a dull, grey 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 phantasmal world; but a world of witchery and poetic thrall.

    The Cité du Diable unfolds its marvels all at once, as soon as the traveller has entered its precincts.  Before us rose the colossal citadel so-called, pyramid upon pyramid 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.

    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.

    The climbing, beyond a somewhat breathless scrambling and painful straining of the limbs, was nothing to speak of.  For a few moments I could revel in the marvellous spectacle before me.

    Lying on a little platform, perhaps two yards square, under the bright heavens, I had, far around and beneath, the wide panorama of the dolomite city, vista upon vista of tower and monolith, avenues, arches, bridges, arcades, all of cool, tender grey amid fairy-like verdure and greenery.  Not Lyons itself, seen from the heights of La Fourvière, shows a more grandiose aspect than this capital of the waste, unpeopled by either the living or the dead!

 

LA MARMITE


    Hardly had I realized the magic of the prospect when I became conscious of frightful giddiness.  The flowery shelf of rock on which I lay was only a foot or two removed from the edge of the piled mass just climbed so laboriously, and, sloping downwards, seemed to invite a fall.  From this side the incline was almost vertical, and the turf below at a distance of over a hundred feet.  No descent was practicable except by bestriding the same fissures, two feet wide, and clinging to the sides of the rocks, as before.  I now felt that terrible vertigo which I am convinced accounts for so many so-called suicides from lofty heights.  To throw myself down seemed the only possible relief from the terrible nightmare.  Had I been longer alone I must, at least, have allowed myself to slip off my resting-place, with certain risk to life and limb.  As it was, I called to my companion, who had scaled another storey—had, indeed, reached the topmost shelf of the citadel; and she tripped down looking so airy and alert that I felt ashamed of my own weakness.

    Reassuring me as best he could, our guide now grasped one of my hands, with the other got a strong grip of the rock, and the first dreaded step was achieved. The second presented greater difficulties still. Once more he tried to carry me, but found the task beyond his strength. So, shutting out the prospect beneath, I allowed myself to be dragged down somehow, never more to venture on such giddy heights. The incomparable view had been dearly purchased.

    All had ended well, however, and I could once more enjoy the scene.  When the first bewilderment of wonder and admiration is over; when the fantastic city no longer appears a vision, but a reality, pile upon pile of natural rock so magically cast in the form of architecture, we realize countless beauties unperceived at first.  The intense limpidity and crystalline clearness of the atmosphere, the brilliance of the limestone, the no less dazzling hue of the foliage everywhere adorning it, the beautiful lights and shadows of the more distant masses, line upon line of far-off mountain chain, mere gold and violet clouds rising above the rugged outline of the Causses, the deep, rich tones of the nearer—these general effects are not more striking than the details close under our feet.  About every fragment of rock is a wealth of leaves, flowers and berries, the dogwood and bilberry with their crimson and purple clusters and tufts, wild lavender and thrift, whilst the ground is carpeted with the leaf of the hepatica.

    We found also the pretty purple and white toad-flax, [Linaria versicolor] the handsome gold-flowered spurges [Euphorbia, sylvatica and E. cyparissea], the elegant orange and crimson-streaked salvia, [Salvia glutinosa] with others more familiar to us.  If the adorer of wild flowers is a happy person here in September, what enchantment would await him in the spring!  Like the Russian Steppes and the African Metidja, these wastes are then a mosaic of blossom.  The foot-sure, hardy and leisurely traveller must not content himself with the bird's-eye view of this dolomite city just described.  He should spend hours, nay, days here, if he would conscientiously explore the stone avenues, worthy to be compared to Stonehenge or Carnac; the amphitheatre, vast as that of Nimes or Orange; the fortifications, with bulwarks, towers, and ramparts; the necropolis, veritable Cerameicus, or Père-la-Chaise; the citadel, the forum, the suburbs; for the enthusiastic discoverers of Montpellier-le-Vieux, or the Cité du Diable, have made out all these.

 

 


    The most striking rocks have been fancifully named after the celebrated structures they resemble.  We find the Château Gaillard, the Sphinx, the Gate of Mycenæ, or of the Lions, the Street of Tombs supposed to resemble Pompeii, all of colossal dimensions.  Thus the citadel measures a hundred and fifty feet from the ground, at this point Montpellier-le-Vieux attaining an altitude of two thousand five hundred feet above the sea-level.  When I add that the Cité du Diable measures nearly two miles in length and a mile in breadth, and that its city and suburbs, so-called, cover a thousand hectares, an area a third less than that of Windsor Forest, the enterprising tourist will have some feeble notion of the waste before him.  The place is indeed altogether indescribable—surely one of the most striking testimonies to the force of erosion existing on the earth's surface.  The explanation of the phenomenon is found here.  At a remote period of geological history the action of mighty torrents let loose sculptured these fantastic and grandiose monoliths, bored these arcades and galleries, hollowed these fairy-like caves.  Erosion has been the architect of the Cité du Diable, partly by impetuous floods, partly by slow filtration.  Water has gradually, and in the slow process of ages, built up the whole, then vanished altogether.  Nothing strikes the imagination more than the absolute aridity of the region now.  Not a drop left in the bed of ancient lake or river, not a crystal thread trickling down the rock channelled by ancient cascades, and nevertheless abundance of greenery and luxuriant foliage everywhere!  The waterless world of stone is not only a garden, but a green forest!  Immediately around us flowers, ferns, and shrubs adorn every bit of silvery-grey rock, whilst wherever space admits we see noble trees, pines, oaks, beeches, some of marvellous growth, yet perched on heights so remote and lofty as to appear mere tufts of grass.

 

PORTE DE MYCÈNE


    And then the wonderful deliciousness and invigorating quality of the air!  Like tasting the waters of the Nile, it is an experience never to be forgotten.

    Those, indeed, who have once breathed the air of the Lozère will have only one desire: to breathe it again.

    True, Montpellier-le-Vieux, departmentally speaking, is in the Aveyron, if so phantom-like a city can be said to have a local habitation and a name.  But the Lozère chain is still in sight; its breezes are wafted to us; we seem still in what is perhaps the most picturesque department of the eighty-seven.

    The fine prospect framing in Montpellier-le-Vieux is best appreciated as we walk back to the farm, our mind not then being full of expectancy.  What a superb coup d'œil!  Distance upon distance, one mountain range rising above another, almost in endless succession, the various stages showing infinite gradation of colour—subtle, distracting, absolutely unpaintable!  No wonder the air is unspeakably fresh and exhilarating, seeing that it blows north, south, east and west from lofty Alps.  We have in view the sombre walls of the three Causses, the wide outline of the Larzac, in a vast semicircle the western spurs of the Cévennes, whilst from east to west stretch the Cantal chain.

    The drive back to Le Rozier is another balloon descent from the clouds.  With St. Énimie, the little town lies, figuratively speaking, at the bottom of a well, and as we approach we could almost drop a plummet-line on to the house-tops.  It is a dizzy drive, and many will shut their eyes as their horses' hoofs turn the sharp curves of the precipitous mountain sides, only an inch or two between wheel and precipice.

    The road between Le Rozier and Millau is delightful, the verdure and brilliance of valley being in striking contrast with the dark-ribbed Causse Noir frowning above.  For two-thirds of the way we follow the Tarn as it winds—here a placid stream—amid poplars, willows, and smooth green reaches.  Gracious and lovely the shifting scenes of the landscape around, stern and magnificent of aspect the Causse, its ramparts as of iron girding it round, its gloomy escarpments showing deep clefts and combes, lines of purply gold and green breaking the grey surface.

 

CATHEDRAL, RODEZ


    Close under this mighty shadow—a bit of fairyland by the dwelling of evil genii—are sunny little lawns, peach-groves, orchards, and terraced villages.

    As we approach Millau we meet streams of country folk disporting themselves, some afoot, others in rustic vehicles, the men wearing clean blue blouses over the Sunday broadcloth, the women neat black gowns, kerchiefs, and spotless white coiffes.  The fields are deserted.  Man and beast are resting from the labours of the week.

    The landscape now changes altogether, and we are reminded that we have quitted the Lozère for the Aveyron.  The air has lost the matchless purity and exhilarating briskness of Sauveterre and Montpellier-le-Vieux.  Alike sky, atmosphere, and vegetation recall the south.  Pink and white oleanders bloom before every door; the quince, the mulberry, the peach, ripen in every garden.  We long to get at our boxes and exchange woollen travelling-dresses for cottons and muslins.

    Pleasant and welcome as is this soft air, this warm heaven, this bright, rich-coloured, flowery land, we strain our eyes to get a last glimpse of the Causse Noir.  To betake ourselves to cosmopolitan hotels, cities and railways, after this sojourn in elfdom, was like closing the pages of the Arabian Nights or the Fables of Pilpay for a newspaper!

    As yet, however, we were far from conventionalities.  I had set my heart upon revisiting Rodez and Vic-sur-Cère; once again, therefore, I circumambulated to Clermont-Ferrand; this time, however, not halting at Aurillac, a centre of the Cantal fromagerie, or cheese-making, and from that point of view chiefly interesting.

    Rodez is superbly situated on a lofty, sunny plateau, surrounded by hills and far mountain chains; but between these and the city, which is almost encircled by the Aveyron, lies a broad belt of fertile country, the soil of a deep claret colour.

    Just as Venice should be approached by sea at dawn, so all travellers should reach Rodez at sunset.

    Never shall I forget the first enchanting view of its glorious cathedral that September afternoon of the year before, the three-storeyed tower of flamboyant Gothic dominating the vast landscape, the rich red stone flushed to a warmer dye, the noble masonry of the whole glowing with the lustre and solidity of copper against the clear heavens.

    This lofty, triple-terraced tower is called the marvel of Southern France, and no wonder.  The cathedral of Antwerp itself is not more captivatingly lightsome and lovely.  High above the ancient city, with its encompassing river and wide-stretched plain, confronting the far-off mountains, almost on a level with their summits, visible from afar as a lighthouse in mid-ocean, rises this belfry of Rodez.

    Certain places, as well as certain individualities, exercise extraordinary fascination.  The old capital of Rouergne, and later of the Comté of Rodez, is one.  Many and many a French city I have visited of far greater architectural and historic importance; Poitiers among these, Troyes is another; yet I should never go out of my way to revisit Poitiers or Troyes, whilst certain other French cities I have visited year after year.  Great was my delight to find a new, cheerful, spick-and-span hotel, that had been opened since my former visit.  The time-honoured house of Biney has two credentials worthy of mention—very low charges and good food.  Its modern rival has greater claims upon the wayfarer's gratitude—pleasant, wholesome rooms, neat chambermaids, and the kind of modernization so necessary to health and comfort.  The Hôtel Flouron, too, was presided over by a lady, and when we have said this we have implied a good deal.

    A grand old town is the capital of the Aveyron.  We must see it again and again to realize its superb position and the unique splendour of its cathedral, towering over the wide landscape as our own Ely Cathedral over the eastern plains.  To-day it was not flushed with the flaming red and gold of sunset, as when first gazed at by me, but its aspect was perhaps all the more grandiose for sombre colouring

    From both extremities of the town we obtain vast panoramas, looking down as if from a mountain top; the plateau or isthmus on which Rodez stands being two hundred and fifty feet above the circumjacent plain, the river Aveyron almost cutting it off from the mainland.

    Vic-sur-Cère, our next halting-place, is an earthly paradise, a primitive Eden, as yet unspoiled by fashion and utilitarianism.

    When we arrived, we had the entire place to ourselves—inn, river-side walks, and dazzlingly green hills.  No palm island in mid-Pacific could offer a sweeter, more pastoral halting-place.  It is indeed a perfect little corner of earth, beauty of the quiet kind here reaching its acme; and neither indoors nor abroad is there any drawback to mar the traveller's enjoyment.

    From the windows of our hotel, close to the station, we enjoy a prospect absolutely flawless; Nature in one of her daintiest moods is here left to herself.  The inn stands amid its large vegetable, fruit and flower gardens; looking beyond these, we see the prettiest little town imaginable nestled in a beautiful valley, around it rising romantic crags, wooded heights, and gentle slopes, fresh and verdant as if the month were May.  Through the smooth meadows between the encompassing hills winds the musically-named stream, the Iraliot, and from end to end the broad expanse of green is scented with newly-mown hay.  The delightful scenery, the purity of the air, the excellent quality of the waters, ought to turn Vic-sur-Cère into a miniature Vichy.  Fortunately for us, such had not as yet been the case, and the simple, straightforward character of the people was still unspoiled by contact with the outer world.  "Everybody can get a livelihood here," we were told by an intelligent resident; "only the idle, the drunkard, and the thriftless need come to want."

    Vagrancy is altogether absent; the children are neatly dressed and very clean; the men and women have all a look of cheerful independence as they toil on their little farms or mind their small flocks and herds.

    How kindly the good folks of the homely Hôtel du Pont welcomed their guest of the year before, filling my basket at departure with gifts of flowers, fruit, and little cheeses, begging me to return the following summer!

    With what reluctance we bade them farewell and took train to Clermont-Ferrand!


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