ACROSS THE ROUERGUE.
Cheese, which has been the fortune of Roquefort, has destroyed its picturesqueness. It has brought speculators there who have raised great ugly square buildings of dazzling whiteness, in harsh contrast with the character and sombre tone of the old houses. Although the place is so small that it consists of only one street and a few alleys, the more ancient dwellings are remarkable for their height. It is surprising to see in a village lost among the sterile hills houses three stories high. The fact that there is only a ledge on which to build must be the explanation. What is most curious in the place is the cellars. Before the cheese became an important article of commerce these were natural caverns, such as are everywhere to be found in this calcareous formation, but now they are really cellars which have been excavated to such a depth in the rock that they are to be seen in as many as five stages, where long rows of cheeses are stacked one over the other. The virtue of these cellars from the cheese-making point of view is their dryness and their scarcely varying temperature of about 8° Centigrade summer and winter. But the demand for Roquefort cheese has become so great that trickery now plays a part in the ripening process. The peasants have learnt that 'time is money,' and they have found that bread-crumbs mixed with the curd cause those green streaks of mouldiness, which denote that the cheese is fit for the market, to appear much more readily than was formerly the case when it was left to do the best it could for itself with the aid of a subterranean atmosphere. This is not exactly cheating; it is commercial enterprise, the result of competition and other circumstances too strong for poor human nature. In cheese-making, breadcrumbs are found to be a cheap substitute for time, and it is said that those who have taken to beer-brewing in this region have found that box, which here is the commonest of shrubs, is a cheap substitute for hops. The notion that brass pins are stuck into Roquefort cheese to make it turn green is founded on fiction.
Having remained at Roquefort long enough to see all that was needful, to lunch and to be overcharged - commercial enterprise is very infectious - I turned my back upon it and scrambled down a stony path to the bottom of the valley where the Cernon - now a mere thread of a stream - curled and sparkled in the middle of its wide channel, the yellow flowers and pale-green leaves of the horned poppy basking upon the rocky banks. Following it down to the Tarn, I came to the village of St. Rome de Cernon, where the houses of dark-gray stone, built on a hillside, are overtopped by the round tower of a small mediaeval fortress which has been patched up and put to some modern use. I thought the people very ill-favoured by nature here, but perhaps they are not more so than others in the district. The harshness of nature is strongly reflected in all faces. Having passed a man on the bank of the stream washing his linen - presumably his own - with bare arms, sinewy and hairy like a gorilla's, I was again in the open country; but instead of following donkey-paths and sheep-tracks I was upon the dusty highroad. Well, even a, route nationale, however hot and dusty, so that it be not too straight, has its advantages, which are felt after you have been walking an uncertain number of miles over a very rough country, trusting to luck to lead you where you wished to go. The feeling that you may at length step out freely and not worry yourself with a map and compass is a kind of pleasure which, like all others, is only so by the force of contrast and the charm of variety. I knew that I could now tramp along this road without troubling myself about anything, and that I should reach Millau sooner or later. It was really very hot - ideal sunstroke weather, verging on 90° in the shade; but I had become hardened to it, and was as dry as a smoked herring. For miles I saw no human being and heard no sound of life except the shrilling of grasshoppers and the more strident song of the cicadas in the trees. By-and-by houses showed themselves, and I came to the village of St. Georges beside the bright little Cernon, but surrounded by wasteful, desolate hills, one of which, shaped like a cone, reared its yellow rocky summit far towards the blue solitude of the dazzling sky. I passed by little gardens where great hollyhocks flamed in the afternoon sunshine, then I met the Tarn again and reached Millau, a weary and dusty wayfarer.