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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'None whatever. Go and see.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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