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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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