CHAPTER VIII. ROAMING.
En route! the sky is blue, the sun is shining, and our feet are eager to tread on the grass. From Crozon to Leudevenec the country is quite flat, and there is not a house nor a tree to be seen. As far as the eye can reach, reddish moss spreads over the ground. Sometimes fields of ripe wheat rise above the little stunted sea-rushes. The latter are flowerless now, and look as they did before the springtime. Deep wagon-tracks, edged by rolls of dried mud, make their appearance and continue for a long time; then they suddenly describe a bend and are lost to the eye. Grass grows in large patches between these sunken furrows. The wind whistles over the flats; we walk on; a welcome breeze dries the beads of perspiration on our cheeks, and when we halted we were able to hear, above the sound of our beating arteries, the rustling of the wind in the grass.
From time to time, a mill with rapidly revolving wheels would rise up and point the way. The creaking wooden fans descended, grazed the ground and then rose. Standing erect in the open garret-window, the miller watched us pass.
We walked on; coming to a hedge of elm-trees which probably concealed a village, we caught sight of a man standing in a tree, at the foot of which was a woman with her blue apron spread out to catch the plums he was throwing to her. I recollect a crop of dark hair falling in masses over her shoulders, two uplifted arms, the movement of the supple neck and the sonorous laughter that floated over the hedge to me.
The path we were following grew narrower. Presently the plain disappeared and we found ourselves on the crest of a promontory dominating the ocean. Looking towards Brest, it seemed to extend indefinitely; but on the other side, it projected its sinuosities into the land, between short hills covered with underwood. Each gulf is ensconced between two mountains; each mountain is flanked by two gulfs, and nothing can equal the beauty of those vast green slopes rising almost in a straight line out of the sea. The hills have rounded tops and flattened bases, and describe a wide, curved chain which joins the plateaux with the graceful sweep of a Moorish arch; following so closely upon one another, the colour of their foliage and their formation are almost exactly alike. Propelled by the sea-breeze, the breakers dashed up against the foot of these hills, and the sun, falling on them, made them gleam; the whole surface of the ocean was blue and glittering with silver, and we could not get enough of its beauty. Then we watched the sunbeams glide over the hills. One of the latter had already been deserted by them, and appeared more indistinct than the rest, while a broad black shadow was rapidly gathering over another. As we approached the level of the shore the mountains that faced us a moment ago seemed to grow loftier; the gulfs deepened and the ocean expanded. We walked on, oblivious to everything, and let our eyes roam at will, and the pebbles that our feet dislodged rolled down the hill quickly and disappeared in the bushes edging the road.
The roads followed hedges that were as compact and thick as walls; we climbed up and we climbed down; meanwhile, it was growing dark, and the country was settling into the deep silence characteristic of midsummer evenings.
As we failed to meet anybody who could show us the way, the few peasants we had questioned having responded by unintelligible cries, we produced our map and our compass, and, locating ourselves by the setting sun, we resolved to head straight for Daoulas. Instantly our vigour returned, and we started across the fields, vaulting fences and ditches, and uprooting, tearing and breaking everything in our way, without giving a thought to the stiles we left open or the damaged crops.
At the top of a slope, we discovered the village of l'Hopital lying in a meadow watered by a stream. A bridge spans the latter and on this bridge is a mill; beyond the meadow is a hill, which we started to climb nimbly, when suddenly we saw, by a ray of light, a beautiful yellow and black salamander creeping along the edge of a ditch with its slender tail dragging in the dust and undulating with every motion of its speckled body. It had come from its retreat under a big stone covered with moss, and was hunting insects in the rotten trunks of old oak-trees.
A pavement of uneven cobblestones echoed beneath our feet, and a street stretched out before us. We had arrived in Daoulas. There was light enough to enable us to distinguish a square sign swinging on an iron rod on one of the houses. We should have recognised the inn even without the sign, as houses, like men, have their professions stamped on their faces. So we entered, for we were ravenous, and told the host above all things not to keep us waiting.
While we were sitting in front of the door, waiting for our dinner, a little girl in rags came along with a basket of strawberries on her head. She entered the inn and came out again after a short while, holding a big loaf of bread in both hands. Uttering shrill cries, she scampered off with the alertness of a kitten. Her dusty hair fluttered in the wind and stood out straight from her wizened face, and her bare legs, which she lifted high in the air when running, disappeared under the rags that covered her form.
After our meal, which comprised, besides the unavoidable omelet and the fatal veal, the strawberries the little girl had brought, we went up to our rooms.