ACROSS THE ROUERGUE.
The hostess was a buxom, good-tempered woman with rosy cheeks. She told me that she could not give me anything better than ham and eggs. She could not have offered me anything more acceptable after all the greasy cooking, the steadfast veal and invariable fowl which I had so long been compelled to accept daily with resignation. By a mysterious revelation of art she produced the ham and eggs in a way that made me think that she must surely be descended from one of the English adventurers who did all manner of mischief in the Rouergue some five or six centuries ago. Such ham and eggs in her case could only be explained by the theory of hereditary ideas. Nevertheless, she had become French enough to look at me with a dubious, albeit a good-natured eye. My motive in coming there and going farther without having any commercial object in view was more than she could fathom. After my visit to the dairy I fancy her private notion was that I was commissioned by the English Government to find out how Roquefort cheese was made, with a view to competition. At length, as we talked freely, she let the state of her mind with regard to me escape her unawares by putting this question plump:
'How is it the gendarmes have not stopped you?'
'That I cannot tell you,' said I, much amused by her candour; 'but you may be sure of this, I am not afraid of them.'
Her husband was listening behind the door, and I observed an expression of relief in his face when I took up my pack and departed. If I was to be pounced upon, he preferred, for his own peace of mind and the reputation of his house, that it should be done elsewhere. All the village had heard of my coming, and when I reappeared outside there was a small crowd of people waiting to have a good look at me. I thought from these signs that I was likely to be asked to show my papers again by some petty functionary; but no, I was allowed to pass on without interference. Perhaps the postman had given a good account of me, the absinthe having touched his heart. There is much diplomacy in getting somebody on your side while travelling alone through these unopened districts far from railways. Wandering among the peasants of the Tarn and the Aveyron teaches one what ignorance really means, what blindness of intellect goes with it. And yet their enlightenment by the usual methods would be a doubtful blessing to themselves and others.