A long dull road or street, a statue of the navigator La Perouse, a bandstand with a few trees about it, and plain, modern buildings without character, some larger and more pretentious than others, but all uninteresting. Is this Albi? No, but it is what appears to be so to the stranger who enters the place from the railway-station. The ugly sameness is what the improving spirit of our own times has done to make the ancient town decent and fit to be inhabited by folk who have seen something of the world north of Languedoc and who have learnt to talk of le comfortable. The improvement is undoubted, but so is the absolute lack of interest and charm; at least, to those who are outside of the persiennes so uniformly closed against the summer sun.

Albi, the veritable historic Albi, lies almost hidden upon a slope that leads down to the Tarn. Here is the marvellous cathedral built in the thirteenth century, after the long wars with the Albigenses; here is the Archbishop's fortified palace, still capable of withstanding a siege if there were no artillery; here are the old houses, one of pre-Gothic construction with very broad Romanesque window, slender columns and storied capitals, billet and arabesque mouldings; another of the sixteenth century quite encrusted with carved wood; and here are the dirty little streets like crooked lanes, where old women, who all through the summer months, Sundays excepted, give their feet an air-bath, may be seen sitting on the doorsteps clutching with one bony hand the distaff and drowsily turning the spindle with the other.

To live in one of these streets might disgust the unseasoned stranger for ever with Southern life; but to roam through them in the early twilight is the way to find the spirit of the past without searching. Effort spoils the spell. Strange indeed must have been the procession of races, parties and factions that passed along here between these very houses, or others which stood before them. Romans, Romanised Gauls, Visigoths, Saracens and English; the Raymonds with their Albigenses, the Montforts with their Crusaders from the north, the wild and sanguinary pastoiureux and the lawless routiers, the religious fanatics, Huguenots and Catholics of the sixteenth century, and the revolutionists of the eighteenth. All passed on their way, and the Tarn is no redder now for the torrents of blood that flowed into it.

Notwithstanding that the name Albigenses was given after the council of Lombers to the new Manichaeans, Albi was less identified with the great religious and political struggle of Southern Gaul in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries than were Castres and other neighbouring towns. If, however, it was comparatively fortunate as regards the horrors of that ferocious war, it was severely scourged by the most appalling epidemics of the Middle Ages. Leprosy and the pest had terrors greater even than those of battle. The cruelty of those feudal ages finds one of its innumerable records in the treatment of the miserable lepers at Albi. Having taken the disease which the Crusaders brought back from the East, they were favoured with a religious ceremony distressingly similar to the office for the dead. A black pall was thrown over them while they knelt at the altar steps. At the close of the service a priest sprinkled some earth on the condemned wretches, and then they were led to the leper-house, where each was shut up in a cell from which he never came out alive. The black pall and the sprinkled earth were symbols which every patient understood but too well.

In nothing is the stern spirit of those ages expressed more forcibly than in the religious buildings of Languedoc. The cathedral of St. Cecilia at Albi is the grandest of all the fortified churches of Southern France, although in many others the defensive purpose has made less concession to beauty. Looking at it for the first time, the eye is wonder-struck by its originality, the nobleness of its design, and the grandeur of its mass. The plan being that of a vast vaulted basilica without aisles, the walls of the nave, rise sheer from the ground to above the roof, and are pierced at intervals with lofty but very narrow windows, the arches slightly pointed and containing simple tracery. The buttresses which help the walls to support the vaulting of the nave and choir are the most remarkable feature of the design, and, together with the tower, which rises in diminishing stages to the height of 260 feet and there ends in an embattled platform, account for the singularly feudal and fortress-like character of the building. The outline of the buttresses being that of a semi-ellipse, they look like turrets carried up the entire face of the wall. The floor of the church is many feet above the ground, and the entrance was originally protected by a drawbridge and portcullis; but these military works were removed in the sixteenth century, and in their place was raised, upon a perron reached by a double flight of steps, a baldachino-like porch as airily graceful and delicately florid as the body to which it is so lightly attached is majestically stern and scornful of ornament. The meeting here of those two great forces, the Renaissance and feudalism, is like that of Psyche and Mars. But in expression the porch is Gothic, for although the arches are round-headed, they are surmounted by an embroidery of foliated gables and soaring pinnacles. It can scarcely be said that the style has been broken, but the contrast in feeling is strong.

Enter the church and observe the same contrast there. Gothic art within the protecting walls and under the strong tower puts forth its most delicate leaves and blossoms. Across the broad nave, nearly in the centre, is drawn a rood-screen - a piece of stonework that has often been compared to lace, but which gains nothing by the comparison. The screen, together with the enclosure of the choir, with which it is connected, is quite bewildering by the multiplicity of arches, gables, tabernacles, pinnacles, statues, leaves, and flowers. The tracery is flamboyant, and the work dates from the beginning of the sixteenth century. The artificers are said to have been a company of wandering masons from Strasburg.

Two vast drum-shaped piers, serving to support the tower, are exposed to view at the west end of the nave; but, for the bad effect thus produced, compensation is offered by the very curious paintings, supposed to be of the fifteenth century, with which the surfaces of these piers are covered. They represent the Last Judgment and the torments of the damned. Each of the seven capital sins has its compartment, wherein the kind of punishment reserved for sinners under this head is set forth in a manner as quaint as are the inscriptions in old French beneath. The compartment, illustrating the eternal trouble of the envious has this inscription:

  'La peine des envieux et envieuses. Les envieus et envieuses sont 
  en ung fleuve congelé plongés jusques au nombril et par dessus les 
  frappe un vent moult froid et quant veulent icelluy vent éviter se 
  plongent dedans ladite glace.'

All the wall-surfaces, the vaulting included, are covered with paintings. The effect clashes with Northern taste, but the absence of a columnar system affords a plausible reason for relieving the sameness of these large surfaces with colour. The Gothic style of the North, holding in itself such decorative resources, gains nothing from mural paintings, but always loses something of its true character when they are added. Apart from such considerations, the wall-paintings in the cathedral of Albi have accumulated such interest from time that no reason would excuse their removal.

This unique church was mainly built at the close of the thirteenth century, together with the Archbishop's palace, with which it was connected in a military sense by outworks. These have disappeared, but the fortress called a palace remains, and is still occupied by the Archbishop. It is a gloomy rectangular mass of brick, absolutely devoid of elegance, but one of the most precious legacies of the Middle Ages in France. It is not so vast as the papal palace at Avignon, but its feudal and defensive character has been better preserved, for, unlike the fortress by the Rhône, it has not been adapted to the requirements of soldiers' barracks. At each of the angles is a round tower, pierced with loopholes, and upon the intervening walls are far-descending machicolations. The building is still defended on the side of the Tarn by a wall of great height and strength, the base of which is washed by the river in time of flood. This rampart, with its row of semi-elliptical buttresses corresponding to those of the church and its pepper-box tower at one end, the fortress a little above, and the cathedral on still higher ground, but in immediate neighbourhood, make up an assemblage of mediaeval structures that seems as strange in this nineteenth century as some old dream rising in the midst of day-thoughts. And the rapid Tarn, an image of perpetual youth, rushes on as it ever did since the face of Europe took its present form.

As I write, other impressions come to mind of this ancient town on the edge of the great plain of Languedoc. A little garden in the outskirts became familiar to me by daily use, and I see it still with its almond and pear trees, its trellised vines, the blue stars of its borage, and the pure whiteness of its lilies. A bird seizes a noisy cicada from a sunny leaf, and as it flies away the captive draws out one long scream of despair. Then comes the golden evening, and its light stays long upon the trailing vines, while the great lilies gleam whiter and their breath floods the air with unearthly fragrance. A murmur from across the plain is growing louder and louder as the trees lose their edges in the dusk, for those noisy revellers of the midsummer night, the jocund frogs, have roused themselves, and they welcome the darkness with no less joy than the swallows some hours later will greet the breaking dawn.

I left Albi to ascend the valley of the Tarn in the last week of June. I started when the sun was only a little above the plain; but the line of white rocks towards the north, from which Albi is supposed to take its name, had caught the rays and were already burning. The straight road, bordered with plane-trees, on which I was walking would have had no charm but for certain wayside flowers. There was a strange-looking plant with large heart-shaped leaves and curved yellow blossoms ending in a long upper lip that puzzled me much, and it was afterwards that I found its name to be aristolochia clematitis. It grows abundantly on the banks of the Tarn. Another plant that I now noticed for the first time was a galium with crimson flowers. I soon came to the cornfields for which the Albigeois plain is noted. Here the poppy showed its scarlet in the midst of the stalks of wheat still green, and along the borders were purple patches of that sun-loving campanula, Venus's looking-glass.

Countrywomen passed me with baskets on their heads, all going into Albi to sell their vegetables. Those who were young wore white caps with frills, which, when there is nothing on the head to keep them down, rise and fall like the crest of a cockatoo; but the old women were steadfast in their attachment to the bag-like, close-fitting cap, crossed with bands of black velvet, and having a lace front that covers most of the forehead. When upon this coif is placed a great straw hat with drooping brim, we have all that remains now of an Albigeois costume. As these women passed me, I looked into their baskets. Some carried strawberries, some cherries, others mushrooms (boleti), or broad beans. The last-named vegetable is much cultivated throughout this region, where it is largely used for making soup. When very young, the beans are frequently eaten raw with salt. Almost every taste is a matter of education.

The heat of the day had commenced when I reached the village of Lescure. This place is of very ancient origin. Looking at it now, and its agricultural population numbering little more than a thousand, it is difficult to realize its importance in the Middle Ages. The castle and the adjacent land were given in the year 1003 by King Robert to his old preceptor, the learned Gerbert, who became known to posterity as Pope Sylvester II. In the eleventh century, Lescure was, therefore, a fief of the Holy See; and in the time of Simon de Montfort the inhabitants were still vassals of the Pope. In the fourteenth century they were frequently at war with the people of Albi, who eventually got the upper hand. Then Sicard, the Baron of Lescure, was so completely humiliated that he not only consented to pay eighty gold livres to the consuls of Albi, but went before them bareheaded to ask pardon for himself and his vassals. Already the feudal system was receiving hard blows in the South of France from the growth of the communes and the authority vested in their consuls. What is left of the feudal grandeur of Lescure? The castle was sold in the second year of the Republic, and entirely demolished, with the exception of the chapel, which is now the parish church. Of the outer fortifications there remains a brick gateway, with Gothic arch carrying a high machicolated tower, connected to which is a fragment of the wall. To this old houses, half brick, half wood, still cling, like those little wasps' nests that one sees sometimes upon the sides of the rocks.

On entering the small fourteenth-century church, I found that it had been decorated for a funeral. A broad band of black drapery, upon which had been sewn at intervals Death's heads and tears, cut out of white calico, was hung against the wall of the apse, and carried far down each side of the nave. To me all those grinning white masks were needless torture to the mourners; but here again we are brought to recognise that taste is a matter of education.

More interesting than anything else in this church is the Romanesque holy-water stoup, with heads and crosses carved upon it, and possibly belonging to the original chapel of the castle. The chief archaeological treasure, however, of Lescure is a church on a little hill above the village, and overlooking the Tarn. It is dedicated to St. Michael, in accordance with the mediaeval custom of considering the highest ground most appropriate to the veneration of the archangel. It is Romanesque of the eleventh century, and belonged to a priory of which no other trace is left. The building stands in the midst of an abandoned cemetery; and at the time of my visit the tall June grasses, the poppies and white campions hid every mound and almost every wooden cross. Over the gateway, carved in the stone, is the following quaint inscription, the spelling being similar to that frequently used in the sixteenth century:

    'Sur la terre autrefois nous fûmes comme vous. 
    Mortels pensés y bien et priés Dieu pour nous.'

Beneath these lines are a skull and cross-bones, with a tear on each side.

Facing the forgotten graves, upon this spot removed from all habitations, is the most beautiful Romanesque doorway of the Albigeois. The round-headed arch widening outwards, its numerous archivolts and mouldings, the slender columns of the deeply-recessed jambs, the storied capitals with their rudely-proportioned but expressive little figures, and the row of uncouth bracket-heads over the crowning archivolt, represent the best art of the eleventh century. They show that Romanesque architecture and sculpture had already reached their perfect expression in Languedoc. The figures in the capitals tell the story of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, and of fiends busily engaged in tormenting mortals who must have been in their clutches now eight hundred years. The nave has two aisles, and massive piers with engaged columns support the transverse and lateral arches. The columns have very large capitals, displaying human figures, some of which are extraordinarily fantastic, and instinct with a wild imagination still running riot in stone. How far are we now from the minds that bred these thoughts when Southern Gaul was struggling to develop a new Roman art by the aid of such traditions and models as the Visigoth, the Frank, and the Arab had not destroyed in the country, and such ideas as were brought along the Mediterranean from Byzantium!

Lastly, I came to the apse, that part of a Romanesque church in which the artist seizes the purely religious ideal, or allows it to escape him. Here was the serenity, here the quietude of the early Christian purpose and hope. Perfect simplicity and perfect eloquence! Nothing more is to be said, except that there were stone benches against the wall and a piscina - details interesting to the archaeologist. Then I walked round the little church, knee-deep in the long grave-grass, and noted the broad pilaster-strips of the apse, the stone eaves ornamented with billets, the bracket or corbel heads just beneath, fantastic, enigmatic, and not two alike.

Leaving this spot, where there was so much temptation to linger, I began to cross a highly-cultivated plain towards the village of Arthez, where the Tarn issues from the deep gorges which for many a league give it all the character of a mountain-river. I thought from the appearance of the land that everybody who lived upon it must be prosperous and happy, but a peasant whom I met was of another way of thinking. He said:

'By working from three o'clock in the morning until dark, one can just manage to earn one's bread.'

They certainly do work exceedingly hard, these peasant-proprietors and métayers, never counting their hours like the town workmen, but wishing that the day were longer, and if they can contrive to save anything in these days it is only by constant self-denial. A man's labour upon his land to-day will only support him, taking the bad years with the good, on the condition that he lives a life of primitive simplicity. Even then the problem of existence is often a terribly hard one to solve. In the South of France the blame is almost everywhere laid to the destruction of the vines by the phylloxera, but here in the plain of Albi the land is quite as suitable for corn as it is for grape-growing, which is far from being the case elsewhere; nevertheless, the peasants cry out with one voice against the bad times. They have to contend with two great scourges: hail that is so often brought by the thunder-storms in summer, and which the proximity of the Pyrenees may account for; and the south-east wind - le vent d'autan - that comes across from Africa, and scorches up the crops in a most mysterious manner. But for this plague the yield of fruit would be enormous. On the other hand, the region is blessed with lavish sunshine from early spring until November, and a half-maritime climate, explained by the neighbourhood of the ocean - not the Mediterranean - renders long periods of drought such as occur in Provence and Lower Languedoc rare. In the valleys the soil is extremely fertile, and, favoured by moisture and warmth, its productive power is extraordinary. Four crops of lucern are taken from the same land in the course of a season. Unfortunately, these valleys being mere gorges - cracks in the plain, with precipitous rocky sides - the strip of land bordering the stream at the bottom is usually very narrow.

On reaching Arthez, the character of the country changed suddenly and completely. Here the plain with its tertiary deposits ended, and in its stead commenced the long series of schistous rocks wildly heaped up and twisted out of their stratification, by which the Tarn is hemmed in for seventy miles as the crow flies, and nearly twice that distance if the windings of the gorge be reckoned. When the calcareous region of the Gévaudan is reached, the schist, slate, and gneiss disappear. On descending to the level of the river at Arthez, I saw before me one of the grandest cascades in France - the Saut de Sabo.

It is not so much the distance that the river falls in its rapid succession of wild leaps towards the plain as the singularly chaotic and savage scene of dark rocks and raging waters, together with the length to which it is stretched out, that is so impressive. The mass of water, the multitude of cascades, and the wild forms of the rocks, compose a scene that would be truly sublime if one could behold it in the midst of an unconquered solitude; but the hideous sooty buildings of a vast iron foundry on one bank of the river are there to spoil the charm.

I stayed in the village of Arthez for food and rest, but not long enough for the mid-day heat to pass. When I set forth again on my journey, the air was like the breath of a furnace; but as the slopes were well wooded with chestnuts, there was some shelter from the rays of the sun. There were a few patches of vineyard, the leaves showing the ugly stains of sulphate of copper with which they had been splashed as a precaution against mildew, which in so many districts has followed in the wake of the phylloxera, and hastened the destruction of the old vines. The Albigeois has ceased to be a wine-producing region, and, judging from present signs, it will be long in becoming one again.

The valley, deepening and narrowing, became a gorge, the beginning of that long series of fissures in the metamorphic and secondary rocks which, crossing an extensive tract of Languedoc and Guyenne, leads the traveller up to the Cevennes Mountains, through scenery as wild and beautiful as any that can be found in France, and perhaps in Europe. But the difficulties of travelling by the Tarn from Arthez upwards are great, and, indeed, quite forbidding to those who are not prepared to endure petty hardships in their search for the picturesque. Between Albi and St. Affrique, a distance that cannot be easily traversed on foot in less than four days, railways are not to be thought of, and the line of route taken by the diligence leaves the Tarn far to the north. In the valley the roads often dwindle away to mere paths or mule-tracks, or they are so rocky that riding either upon or behind a horse over such an uneven surface, with the prospect of being thrown into the Tarn in the event of a slip, is unpleasant work. Those who are unwilling to walk or unable to bear much fatigue should not attempt to follow this river through its gorges. All the difficulties have not yet been stated. Along the banks of the stream, and for several miles on either side of it, there are very few villages, and the accommodation in the auberges is about as rough as it can be. The people generally are exceedingly uncouth, and between Arthez and Millau, where a tourist is probably the rarest of all birds of passage, the stranger must not expect to meet with a reception invariably cordial. Even a Frenchman who appears for the first time in one of their isolated villages, and who cannot speak the Languedocian dialect, is looked upon almost as a foreigner, and is treated with suspicion by the inhabitants. This matter of language is in itself no slight difficulty. French is so little known that in many villages the clergy are compelled to preach in patois to make themselves understood.

This region I had now fairly entered. The road had gone somewhere up the hills, and I was walking beside the river upon sand glittering with particles of mica. This sand the Tarn leaves all along its banks. It is one of the most uncertain and treacherous of streams. In a few hours its water will rise with amazing rapidity and spread consternation in a district where not a drop of rain has fallen. Warm winds from the south and south-west, striking against the cold mountains in the Lozère, have been condensed, and the water has flowed down in torrents towards the plain. The river is as clear as crystal now, and the many-coloured pebbles of its bed reflect the light, but a thunderstorm in the higher country may change it suddenly to the colour of red earth.

The path led me into a steep forest, where I lost sight of the Tarn. The soil was too rocky for the trees - oaks and chestnuts chiefly - to grow very tall; consequently the underwood, although dense, was chequered all through with sunshine. Heather and bracken, holly and box, made a wilderness that spread over all the visible world, for the opposite side of the gorge was exactly similar. Shining in the sun amidst the flowering heather or glowing in majestic purple grandeur in the shade of shrubs stood many a foxglove, and almost as frequently seen was its relative digitalis lutea, whose flowers are much smaller and of a pale yellow. Now and again a little rill went whispering downward through the woods under plumes of forget-me-nots in a deep channel that it had cut by working age after age. Reaching at length a spot where I could look down into the bottom of the fissure, I perceived a small stream that was certainly not the Tarn. I had been ascending one of the lateral gorges of the valley, and had left the river somewhere to the north. My aim was now to strike it again in the higher country, and so I kept on my way. But the path vanished, and the forest became so dense that I was bound to realize that I was in difficulties. I resolved to try the bank of the stream, and reached it after some unpleasant experience of rocks, brambles and holly. Here, however, was a path which I followed nearly to the head of the gorge and then climbed to the plateau. There the land was cultivated, and the musical note of a cock turkey that hailed my coming from afar, as he swaggered in front of his harem on the march, led me to a spot where a man was mowing, and he told me where I should find the Tarn, which he, like all other people in the country, pronounced Tar.

Evening was coming on when I had crossed this plateau, and I saw far below me the village of Marsal on the banks of the shining Tarn. The river here made one of those bold curves which add so much to its beauty. The little village looked so peaceful and charming that I decided to seek its hospitality for that night.

There was but one inn at Marsal that undertook to lodge the stranger, and very seldom was any claim of the sort made upon it. The peasant family who lived in it looked to their bit of land and their two or three cows to keep them, not to the auberge. The bottles of liquor on the shelf were rarely taken down, except on Sundays, when villagers might saunter in, to gossip and smoke over coffee and eau de vie, or the glass of absinthe, which, since the failure of the vines in the South of France, has become there the most convivial of all drinks, although it makes men more quarrelsome than any other. In these poor riverside villages, however, where a mere ribbon of land is capable of cultivation - which, although exceedingly fertile, is constantly liable to be flooded by the uncertain Tarn - men have so little money in their pockets that water is their habitual drink, and when they depart from this rule they make a little dissipation go a very long way.

I found this single auberge closed, and all the family in an adjoining field around a waggon already piled with hay, to which a couple of cows were harnessed. My appearance there brought the pitchforks suddenly to a rest. If I had been shot up from below like a stage-devil, these people could not have stared at me with greater amazement and a more frank expression of distrust. First in patois, and then, seeing that I was at a loss, in scarcely intelligible French, they asked me what my trade was, and what object I had in coming to Marsal. I tried to explain that I was not a mischievous person, that I was travelling merely to look at their beautiful rocks and gorges, but I failed completely to bring a hospitable expression into their faces. An old man of the party was the worst to deal with. He put the greatest number of questions and understood the least French, and all the while there was a most provokingly keen, suspicious glitter in his little gray eyes. Presently he beckoned me, and led the way, as I thought, to the inn; but such was not his intention. He stopped at the door of the communal school, where the schoolmaster was already waiting for me, for he had evidently been warned of the presence of a doubtful-looking stranger, who had come to the village on foot with a pack on his back, and who, being dressed a trifle better than the ordinary tramp, was probably the more dangerous for this reason. Like most of the village schoolmasters in France, this gentleman was also secretary at the mairie, a function highly stimulating to the sense of self-importance, and no wonder, considering that the person who fills it frequently supplies the mayor, who may scarcely be able to sign his name to official documents, with such intelligence as he may need for his public duties.

This schoolmaster was affable and pleasant, but as a crowd quickly collected to see what would happen, he was not going to let a good opportunity slip of showing how indispensable he was to the safety of the village. He said that personally he was quite satisfied with my explanations, but that in his official capacity he was compelled to ask me for my papers. These were forthcoming, and the serious official air with which he pretended to read the English passport from beginning to end was very pretty comedy, considering that he did not understand a word of the language.

Having asserted his importance, and made the desired impression, he invited me into his house, introduced me to his young wife, who was charmingly gracious, and who would have been pleased to see any fresh face at Marsal - English or Hottentot. I was really indebted to the schoolmaster, for he harangued in patois the people of the inn drawn up in line, and by seizing a word here and there, I made out that I was a respectable Englishman travelling to improve my mind, and that they might receive me into their house without any distrust. And they did receive me, almost with open arms, when their doubts were removed.

The old man slunk off, and I never saw him again; but the young couple to whom the inn had been given up now proved to me that their only wish was to please. They were rough people, but sound at heart and honest, as the French peasants, when, judged in the mass, undoubtedly are. The hostess, who, by-the-bye, gave me a soup-plate in which to wash my hands, was greatly perplexed to know how to get up a dinner for me, and, as she told me afterwards, she went to the schoolmaster and held a consultation with him on the subject. An astonishing dish of minced asparagus fried in oil was concocted in accordance with his prescription. It was ingenious, but I preferred her dish of barbel from the Tarn, notwithstanding the multitudinous bones which this fish perversely carries in its body, to choke the enemy, although nothing could be more absurd than such petty vengeance.

The schoolmaster's wife said to me, with a suggestion of malice at the corners of her mouth, that she was afraid I should be troubled by a few fleas at the auberge.

'Oh, bast!' observed her husband; 'monsieur in his travels has doubtless already encountered a flea or two.'

'Yes, and other bestioles,' said I.

Madame's local knowledge did not deceive her, but her expression 'a few fleas' did not at all represent the true state of affairs. And I had forgotten the precious powder and the little pair of bellows, without which no one should travel in Southern France.

The morning air was fresh, and the fronds of the bracken were wet with dew, when I left Marsal, and took my course along the margin of the river through meadows that dwindled away into woodlands, where the rocky sides of the gorge rose abruptly from the stream. Haymakers were abroad, and I heard the sound of their scythes cutting through the heavy swathes with all their flowers; but the sunshine had not yet flashed down into the deep valley, and the grasshoppers were waiting to hail it from their watch-towers in the green herbage and on the purple heather. As the breeze stirred the leaves of the wood, it brought with it the perfume of hidden honeysuckle. Golden oriels were busy in the tops of the wild cherry trees, feeding upon the ripe fruit, and calling out their French name, loriot; and when they flew across the river, a gleam of brilliant yellow moved swiftly over the rippled surface. For an hour or so I remained in the shade of trees, and then the sandy path met a road where the gorge widened and cultivation returned. Here I left the stream for awhile.

Now came sunny banks bright with the common flowers that deck most of the waysides of Europe. Bedstraw galium and field scabious, ox-eyes and knapweed, bladder-campions and ragged robins, mallows and crane's-bill - all the flowers of the English banks seemed to be there. Where the bare rock showed itself, yellow sedum spread its gold, and in the little clefts stood stalks of cotyledon, now turning brown. At the base of the rocks, where there was still some moisture, were the blue flowers of the brooklime veronica, and the brighter blue of the forget-me-not. Having passed a village, I met the Tarn again. Here the beauty of the rushing water, and all that was pictured upon it, tempted me to sit down upon a bank; but I had no sooner chosen the spot than I changed my intention. A red viper was curled up there, and sleeping so comfortably that it really seemed unkind to wake it with a blow across all its rings. When I thought, however, of the little consideration it would have shown me had I sat upon it, I added it without compunction to the number of aspics I had already slain.

My mind was taken off the contemplation of this good or evil deed by a scene that seemed to contain as much of the picturesque as the eye could seize and the mind dwell upon, without being bewildered and fatigued. I had turned the bend of the wooded gorge, and, looking up the river, saw what resembled a dyke of basalt stretching sheer across the stream, with a ruined castle on a bare and apparently inaccessible pinnacle, another ruin on the opposite end of the ridge, and, between the two, a little church on the brink of a precipice. Houses were clustered at the foot of the rocks by the blue water.

This was Ambialet, so called from the extraordinary loop which the Tarn forms here in consequence of the mass of schistous rock which obstructs its direct channel. After flowing about two miles round a high promontory, where dark crags jut above the dark woods, the stream returns almost to the spot from which it was compelled to deviate, and the lower water is only separated from the upper by a few yards of rock. There are several similar phenomena in France, but there is none so remarkable as that at Ambialet.

Although nothing is now to be seen of its defensive works, except the ruined castle upon the high rock, Ambialet was one of the strongest places in the Albigeois. Now a small and poor village, it was in the Middle Ages an important burg, with its consuls, its council of prud'hommes, and its court of justice. It became a fief of the viscounts of Beziers, and was thus drawn into the great religious conflict of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Viscount of Beziers having espoused the cause of Count Raymond of Toulouse. An army of Crusaders, which had been raised to crush the Albigenses, having Simon de Montfort at its head, appeared before Ambialet in 1209, and, although the burghers were quite capable of withstanding a long siege, they were so much impressed by the magnitude of the force brought against them, and also by Simon's sinister reputation, that they surrendered the place almost immediately. But when the army was campaigning elsewhere, these burghers, growing bold again, attacked the garrison that had been left in the town and castle, and distinguished themselves by one of those treacherous massacres which were among the small incidents of that ruthless war. When Simon reappeared in the Albigeois, the people of Ambialet, cowards again, laid down their arms. The castle was soon afterwards the meeting-place of De Montfort and Raymond VI.; but the interview, which it was hoped would lead to peace, had no such result, and the war was carried on in Languedoc and Guyenne with renewed fury.

Ambialet was enjoying comparative freedom and self-government in an age when many a town was still in the midnight darkness of feudal servitude. It had its communal liberties and organization before the eleventh century. There is a very interesting charter in existence, dated 1136, by which Roger, Viscount of Beziers and Albi, recognises and confirms these liberties. Although it opens in Latin, the body of the charter is in the Romance language. It shows that the idiom of Southern Gaul in the twelfth century was a little nearer the Latin than that which is spoken now. The document is full of curious information. It tells us that the inhabitants of Ambialet were liable to be fined if they did not keep the street in front of their houses clean. Perhaps the towns in the South of France were less foul in the twelfth century than most of them are now. We learn, too, that the profits in connection with the most necessary trades were fixed in the interest of the greater number. Thus, the butchers were required to take oath that they would reserve for their own profit no more than the head of the animal that they killed. What sort of face would a butcher of to-day make if he were asked to work on such terms? The tavern-keepers had to take oath that they would buy no wine outside of the boundaries of the viscounty of Ambialet, which shows what was thought in the twelfth century of the practice of purchasing in the cheapest market to the neglect of communal interests. The price of wine, like that of bread, was fixed, and five worthies (prohomes) were appointed to examine weights and measures, and to confiscate those which were not just. The concluding part of the charter confirms the right of the youth of Ambialet to their traditional festivals and merry-making: 'E volem e auctreiam que lo Rei del Joven d'Ambilet puesco far sas festas, tener sos senescals e sos jutges, e sos sirvens e sos officials,' etc. The whole passage is worth giving in English, because historians tell us very little about the festive manners of the twelfth century:

'We wish and order that the King of Youth of Ambialet shall keep his festivals, have his seneschals, judges, servants, and officials, and that on the day appointed for the merry-making, the King of Youth shall demand from the most recently married man in the viscounty, and woman who shall have taken a husband, a pail of wine and a quarter of walnuts; and if they refuse, the king can order his officers to break the doors of their house, and neither we nor our bailiffs shall have the right to interfere. And any person who shall have cut ever so little from the leaves of the elm, planted upon the place, shall be sentenced by the King of Youth to pay a pail of wine, and the king can enforce it as above. Moreover, we declare that on the first day of May the youth shall have the right to set up a maypole, and any person who shall cut a portion of it shall owe a pail of wine, and the king can compel him to pay it, for such is our wish. We have granted this favour to the youth because, having been a witness of their merry-making, we have taken great pleasure and satisfaction therefrom.'

This custom has been continued to the present day. The youth of Ambialet have their annual festival, and the most recently married couple of the commune are called upon to 'pay' their pail of wine, although the exact measure is not strictly enforced.

The rocks at Ambialet at one time supported a multitude of dwellings, of which there would be no trace now had they been entirely of masonry. In addition to partial chambers made with the pick-axe, one sees here and there a series of stairs cut out of the mica-schist. The strength of the burg made it a place of refuge for numerous families in the Albigeois, who had retreats upon these rocks to which they repaired in time of danger. All that made up the grandeur and importance of the place has passed away. Among those who now guide the plough and scatter the grain for bread are descendants of the old nobility of the Albigeois.

Fascinated by the quietude and picturesque decay of this beautiful spot by the Tarn, instead of leaving it in a few hours, as I had intended, I remained there for days. Let no wayfarer, if he can help it, be the slave of a programme.

On the side of the promontory already mentioned, a rough bit of ancient forest, steep and craggy, stretches down to the strip of cultivated land beside the river. Here chance led me to take up my abode in an old farm-house - a long building of one story, with dovecot raised above the roof, and massive walls that kept the rooms cool even in the sultry afternoons. It was half surrounded by an orchard of plum, peach, apple, and cherry trees, and at the border of this were three majestic stone-pines, whose vast heads were lifted so high and seemed so full of radiance that they appeared to belong more to the sky than to the earth. The gleam of the oriel's golden breast could be seen amidst the branches, but the little birds that flew up there were lost to sight in the sunny wilderness of tufted leaves.

On the stony slope above the orchard, the stock of an old and leafless vine, showing here and there over the purple flush of flowering marjoram and the more scattered gold of St. John's-wort, told the story of the perished vineyard. For centuries a rich wine had flowed from these slopes, but at length the phylloxera spread over them like flame, and now where the vine is dead the wild-flower blooms. A little higher a fringe of broom, the blossom gone, the pods blackening and shooting their seeds in the sun, marked the line of the virgin wilderness. Then came tall heather and bracken, dwarf oak and chestnut, box and juniper, all luxuriating about the blocks of mica-schist, a rock that holds water and is therefore conducive to a varied and splendid vegetation, wherever a soil can rest upon it. Towards the summit the trees and shrubs dwindled away, and then came the dry thyme-covered turf scenting the air. The tall thyme, the garden species in the North, had already flowered, but the common wild thyme of England, the serpolet of the French, was beginning to spread its purple over the stony ground. A great wooden cross stood upon the ridge, and hard by, buffeted by the wintry winds and blazed upon by the summer sun, was the ancient priory of Nôtre Dame de l'Oder.

I ring the bell. Presently a little wicket is pulled back, and a dark eye glitters at me from the other side of the door. It belongs to a serving brother, who, perceiving that I am not in petticoats, allows me to enter.

While I am waiting for the Père Etienne, a Franciscan of wide learning, whose acquaintance had already brought me both pleasure and profit, I sit in the cloisters watching another Father counting the week's washing, which has just been brought in, and neatly folding up handkerchiefs and undergarments. He has placed a board across a wheelbarrow, and the heap of linen is upon this. Seated upon a stool, he leisurely takes each great coarse handkerchief with blue border, which, like the rest of the linen, has not been ironed, folds it into four, lays it upon another board, smooths it with his large, thin yellow hand, and so goes on with his task without saying a word or raising his eyes. He is a gaunt, angular, sallow man of about fifty, with hollow cheeks and long black beard. He has a melancholy air, and does his work as though he were thinking all the while that it is a part of the sum of labour he has to get through before reaching that perfect state of felicity in which there is no more washing to be done or counted. If there were only monks in the priory, this one would have very little to do in looking after the linen; but there are many boys who, although they are being educated with a view to the religious life, have not yet put off such worldly things as shirts.

Very different from the sombre-looking Franciscan, bent over the wheelbarrow, is the Père Etienne. He is as cheerful and sprightly as if he were now convinced that a convent is the pleasantest place on earth to live in, and that outside of it all is vanity and vexation. He teaches the boys Latin, Greek, English, and the physical sciences. Although he has never been out of France and Italy, he can speak English, and actually make himself understood. He is a botanist, and he and I have already spent some hours together in his cell before a table strewn with floras and plants, both dry and fresh. This time we are joined by a young monk who has been gathering flowers on the banks of the Tarn, and has placed them between the leaves of a great Latin Bible.

These meetings, and the library of the priory, with its valuable works by local historians, strengthened the spell by which Ambialet held me. The monks whom one occasionally meets in Languedoc are generally men of better culture than the ordinary rural clergy, most of whom show plainly enough by their ideas and the vigorous expressions which they rarely hesitate to use in any company that they are sons of the soil. As priests, situated as they are, this coarseness of manners and circumscribed range of ideas, so far from being a disadvantage, forms a bond of union between them and the people. A man to be deeply pitied is he who, having a really superior and cultivated mind, is charged with the cure of souls in some forlorn parish where nobody has the time or the taste to read. Such a priest must either bring his ideas down to those of the people around him, or be content to live in absolute intellectual isolation. He may turn to the companionship of books, it is true, but his library is very small; and if, as is probable, his income is not more than £40 a year, he is too poor to add to it. Such a revenue, when the bare needs of the body have been met, does not leave much for satisfying a literary appetite.

The priory of Nôtre Dame de l'Oder was founded in the twelfth or thirteenth century by the Benedictines, but a church already existed on the spot as early, it is supposed, as the eighth century. The one now standing, and which became incorporated with the priory, probably dates from the eleventh. If the interior is cold by the severity of the lines scarcely broken by ornament, the artistic sense is warmed by the beauty of the proportions and general disposition. The apse, with its three little windows, has the perfect charm of grace and simplicity. A structural peculiarity, to be especially noted as one of the tentative efforts of Romanesque art, is the use of half-arches for the vaulting of the two narrow aisles. Unfortunately, the plastering mania, which has robbed the interior of so many French churches of their venerable air, has not spared this one. A singularly broad flight of steps, partly cut in the rock and covered with tiles, leads up to the portal; but as the building has been closed to the public since the application of the law dispersing religious communities, these steps look as if they belonged to the Castle of Indolence, so overgrown with grass are they and abandoned to the wandering wild-flowers. Great mulleins have been allowed to spring up from the gaps between the lichen-spotted tiles.

When there was a regular community of monks here, the ancient pilgrimage to Nôtre Dame de l'Oder was kept up, and near the top of the via crucis, which forms a long succession of zigzags upon the bare rock, a dark shrub or small tree allied to box may be seen railed off with an image of the Virgin against it. According to the legend, a Crusader returning from the Holy Land made a pilgrimage to the sanctuary upon these rocks at Ambialet, and planted on the hill the staff he had brought with him. This grew to a tree, to which the people of the country gave the name of oder. In course of time it came to be so venerated that Nôtre Dame d'Ambialet was changed to Nôtre Dame de l'Oder. The existing tree is said to be a descendant of the original one.

The monks at the priory told me that nearly all the old historical documents relating to Ambialet had been taken away by the English and placed in the Tower of London. In various parts of the Quercy, I had also been told exactly the same with regard to the documents connected with the early history of the locality. There are people who still speak of this as a proof of the intention of the English to return. How the belief became so widespread that the English placed the documents which they carried away in the Tower of London, I am unable to explain.

Memory takes me back again to the farmhouse by the Tarn. It is well that there is plenty of space, for the household is numerous. There are the farmer, his wife and children, an aged mother whose voice has become a mere thread of sound, and who thinks over the past in the chimney-corner, sometimes with a distaff in her hand; two old uncles, a youth of all work, who has been brought up as one of the family, and a little bright-eyed, bare-legged servant girl, whose brown feet I still hear pattering upon the floors. One of the old men is a white-bearded priest of eighty-five, who has spent most of his life in Algeria, and has himself come to look like the patriarchal Arab in all but the costume. He has no longer any sacerdotal work, but he has other occupation. His special duty is to look after a great flesh-coloured pig, and many a time have I seen him under the orchard trees following close at the heels of the grunting beast while reading his office. His old breviary, like his soutane, is very much the worse for wear, the leaves having been thumbed nearly to the colour of chocolate; but if he had a new one now, he would find it hard to believe that it had the same virtue as the other. Notwithstanding his years, he can do harder work than watching a pig. I have seen him haymaking and reaping, and always the merriest of the party. Before taking the fork or the sickle in hand, he would hitch up his soutane, and reveal a pair of still active sacerdotal legs in white linen drawers. The sight of the old man bending his back while reaping, his white beard brushing the golden corn, was pathetic or comic as the humour might seize the beholder. As gay as any of the cicadas that keep the summer's jubilee in the sunny tree-tops, he sings songs that have nothing in common with psalms, and he needs little provocation to dance. French has become an awkward language to him, but his tongue is nimble enough both in Languedocian and Latin. When he hears that the evening soup is ready, he hurries the pig home, flourishes his stick above his head in imitation of the Arabs, and shouts in his cheeriest voice, 'Oportet manducare!'

The other uncle's chief business is to look after a couple of cows, and as the farm has no pasturage but the orchard, he is away with them the greater part of the day along the banks of the Tarn. One evening I met him by the river, and he stopped me to quote a passage from the Georgics which he had recalled to mind. His face beamed with satisfaction. I knew that he had not been brought up to cow-tending, but was, nevertheless, taken aback when the unfortunate old bachelor wished me to share the pleasure he felt in having brought to mind a long-forgotten passage of Virgil. The surprises of real life never cease to be startling. Speaking to me afterwards of the growing extravagance of all classes, he said:

'When I was young there were only two cafés in Albi, and none but the rich ever entered them. Now every man goes to his café. I remember when, in middle-class families in easy circumstances, coffee was only drunk two or three times a year, on festive occasions.' Very different is the state of things now in France.

The figure of the old man bending upon his stick glides away by the dark willow-fringe of the Tarn, and I am standing alone in the solemn splendour of the luminous dusk - the clear-obscure of the quickly passing twilight, beside the bearded corn, whose gold is blended with the faint rosiness that spreads through the air of the valley, and lets free the fragrance of those flowers which keep all their sweetness for the evening. There is still a gleam of the lost sun upon the priory walls, and over the dark rocks and wooded hollows floats a purple haze. The dusk gathers apace, and the poplars that rise far above the willows along the river, their outlines shaded away into the black forest behind them, stand motionless like phantom trees, for not a leaf stirs; but the corn seems to grow more luminous, as if it had drunk something of the fire as well as the colour of the sun, while the horns of the sinking moon gleam silver-bright just over the topmost trees, painted in sepia upon a cobalt sky. How weird, phantasmal, enigmatic the forms of those trees now appear! Some like hell-hags, with wild hair flying, are rushing through the air; others, majestic, solitary, wrapped about with dark horror, are the trees of Fate; some have their arms raised in the frenzy of a torturing passion; others look like emblems of Care when hope and passion are alike dead: each touches the spring of a sombre thought or a fantastic fancy.

On the road to Villefranche, about half a mile from Ambialet, is a mine which has been abandoned from time immemorial, and which the inhabitants say was worked by the English for gold. I have noticed, however, throughout this part of France, that nearly everything that was done in a remote age, whether good or evil, is attributed by the people to the English, and that they not infrequently make a curious confusion between Britons and Romans. As for the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Arabs, all traditions respecting them appear to have passed out of the popular mind. In the side of a stony hill on which scarcely a plant grows, a narrow passage, a few feet wide, has been quarried, and air shafts have been cut down into it through the solid rock with prodigious labour. I followed this passage until a falling in of the roof prevented me from going any farther. I could perceive no trace of a metallic vein, so thoroughly had it been worked out, but scattered over the hillside with schist, talcose slate, and fragments of quartz, was a great deal of scoriae, showing that metal of some kind had been excavated, and that the smelting had been done on the spot. That the mine was worked for gold seems quite probable, inasmuch as a lump of mineral containing a considerable quantity of the precious metal was picked up near the entrance some years ago. Besides the scoriae, I found upon the hillside much broken pottery, and from the shape of several fragments it was easy to restore the form of earthenware pots which were probably used for smelting purposes. There is no record to show who the people were who were so busy upon these rocks glittering with mica and talc. They may have belonged to any one of the races who passed over the land from the time of the Romans.

One morning, still in the month of July, I broke away from the charms of Ambialet, and shouldering again my old knapsack - which, by travelling hundreds of miles in all weathers, had become disgracefully shabby, but which was a friend too well stitched together to be thrown aside on account of ill-looks - I continued my journey up the valley of the Tarn. I had agreed to walk with the parish priest as far as the village of Villeneuve, and having found him at the presbytery, we passed through the churchyard on the edge of the rock. Here there is a remarkable cross, with the figure of Christ on one side and that of the Virgin on the other, not carved in relief, but in that early mediaeval style which consisted of hollowing out the stone around the image. The cure frankly declared that, if anyone offered him a large new cross in the place of this little one, he would be glad to make the exchange. It is unfortunate that so many rural priests place but little value upon religious antiquities other than images and relics which have a legend. Their appreciation of ecclesiastical art is too often regulated by the practical and utilitarian order of ideas. To dazzle the eye of the peasant may, and does, become the single aim of church ornamentation. Hence the brassy, vulgar altars, and those coloured plaster images of modern manufacture that one sees with regret in so many of the country churches of France.

I soon took my last look at Ambialet, its rocks and ruins on which the wild pinks nodded, and its stone-covered roofs overgrown with white sedum. I was struck by the number of prickly plants on the sandy banks of the Tarn. Those which now made the best show of bloom were the star-thistle centaurea and ononis repens. The appearance of this last was very curious, for in addition to its pink pea-blossoms it seemed to be sprinkled over with little flowers the colour of forget-me-nots. These, however, were not flowers at all, but small flying beetles painted the brilliant blue of myosotis. Another plant that showed a strong liking for these banks was the horned poppy ( glaucium luteum), which I had only found elsewhere near the sea-coast. Brown stalks of broomrape were still standing, and I lighted upon a lingering bee-ophrys, a plant which by its amazing mimicry makes one look at it with awe as if it were something supernatural.

It was an invitation to lunch at a presbytery that was the reason for my companion taking a walk of about eight miles. Passing through a small village on the way he called for the curé there, who was also an expected guest. This priest had obtained a reputation throughout the district for his humour, his eccentricity, and contempt for appearances. He had passed most of his life alone, cooking his food, making his bed, and probably mending his clothes, without the help of any woman. Being now over eighty years of age, he had realized the necessity of changing his ways, and a woman not much younger than himself had succeeded in obtaining a firm footing in his paved kitchen, which was also the dining-room and salon. His presbytery in the steep and rocky village street was no better built or more luxuriously furnished than the dwellings of his peasant parishioners. Here we found the old white-haired man, gay and hospitable, anxious to offer everything he had in the house to the visitor, but only able to think of two things which might be acceptable - snuff and sausage. 'Un peu de saucisson?' he said to me, with a winning smile after handing me his snuff-box. I assured him I could eat nothing then. 'Tè! and so you are really English, monsieur? - Un peu de saucisson?'

The curé had been shut up in this village so many years, speaking nothing but Languedocian to his parishioners, even when preaching to them, that his French had become rather difficult to understand. I was keenly alive to the exceptional study of human nature presented by this fine specimen of an old rustic priest, who was not the less to be respected because he took a great deal of snuff, hated shaving, wore hob-nailed shoes of the roughest make, and a threadbare, soup-spotted soutane with frayed edges. He was not a bit ascetic, and although he had lived so many years by himself, his good-humour and gaiety continually overflowed. It may be that a housekeeper tends to sour a priest's temper more than anything else, and this one knew it. The sacerdotal domestic help must be fifty years old when she enters the presbytery. Spinster or widow, she has that inherent purpose of every woman to be, if she can, the mistress of the house in which she lives. If she encounters no other woman in the field, against whom if she tried conclusions she would be broken like the earthen pot in the fable, she generally succeeds in achieving her ambition, although she may be in name a servant. There are such phenomena as hen-pecked priests, and those who peck them have no right whatever to do it. It is a state of things brought about by too much submission, for the sake of peace, to a mind determined to be uppermost while pretending to be humble.

When we left again for Villeneuve, we were three in number, and the old curé trudged along over the rocky or sandy paths as nimbly as either of his companions. He pointed out to me a spot in the Tarn where he said was a gulf the bottom of which had never been sounded. There are many such holes in the bed of this river, which receives much of its water from underground tributaries.

I was looking at the mournful vine-terraces, now mostly abandoned and grass-grown. 'Ah!' said the octogenarian, shaking his head, and for once wearing a melancholy expression, 'the best wine of the South used to be grown there.' Near a village a very tall pole, probably a young poplar that had been barked, had been raised in a garden, and painted with stripes of red, white, and blue. It was described to me as a 'tree of liberty,' and I was told that the garden in which it was placed belonged to the mayor for the current year. Every fresh mayor had a fresh tree.

At the village of Villeneuve I parted from my companions, who went to lunch with the curé, together with several other ecclesiastics. These occasional meetings and junketings at one another's houses are the chief mundane consolation of the rural priests, who are as weak as other mortals in the presence of a savoury dish, and, when they can afford to do so, they enter into the pleasures of hospitality with Horatian zest. Poor as they often are, they generally know the faggot that conceals a drop of old wine to place before the guest. The people in the South believe that the bounty of the Creator was intended to be made the most of, and the type of priest that one meets most frequently there in the richer parishes thinks that the next good thing to a clear conscience is a good table.

I lunched at the auberge, and I had for my companion a ruby-faced cattle-dealer of about fifty. He spent his life chiefly in a trap, followed by an old cattle-dog of formidable build and determined expression of mouth. This animal was now lying down near the table, so tired and footsore from almost perpetual running that he thought it too much trouble to get up and eat. I read in his eye that he was in the habit of breathing every day of his life a canine curse on the business of cattle-dealing. His master seemed a good-natured man, but he had a fixed idea that was unfortunate for the dog. He considered that the beast ought to be able to run from thirty-five to forty miles a day, and that if he got sore paws it was his own fault.

'And do you never give him a lift?'

'Never!' roared the cattle-dealer, laughing like an ogre.

The dog being now ten years old, I was not surprised to hear that he sometimes tried to lose himself just before his master was starting upon a long round. Considering his age, and all the running he had done in return for board and lodging, I thought his diplomacy excusable; but the cattle-dealer used strong language to express his loathing of such depravity and ingratitude in a dog old enough to be serious, and on which so much kindness had been lavished.

This man had a very bad opinion of the inhabitants of that part of the Rouergue which I was about to cross, and he strove to convince me that it was very imprudent of me to think of travelling on foot and alone through such a wild country. Had I told him that I carried no other arm but my oak stick with iron spike, he would have been still more vehement. Frenchmen like the companionship of a revolver. I do not. In the first place, it makes me imagine there is an assassin lurking in every thicket; secondly, I do not know where to carry it conveniently so that it would be of use in time of need. I place confidence in my stick, and take my chance. To tell the plain truth, I did not believe what my table companion said about the dangerous character of the inhabitants. The reason he gave for their exceptional wickedness was that they were very poor, but this view was contrary to my experience of humanity.

While we were talking over our coffee, there was a rising uproar in the village street. Looking out of the window, we saw two men fighting in the midst of a crowd.

'Ah!' exclaimed the cattle-dealer, with a sonorous chuckle, 'that ought to give you an idea of the capacities of the inhabitants.' Then, entering into the spirit of the battle, he shouted: 'Leave them alone - leave them alone! It is not men who are fighting; it is the juice of the grape!'

Both combatants soon had enough of it, and very little damage was done on either side. The scene was more ludicrous than tragic. After all, it was well, perhaps, that these men had not learnt how to use their fists, and that with them pushing, slapping, and rolling upon one another satisfied honour.

The hostess of this inn, while cooking the inevitable fowl for lunch, basted it after the Languedocian fashion, of which I had taken note elsewhere. Very different is it from what is commonly understood by basting. A curious implement is used for the purpose. This is an iron rod, with a piece of metal at one end twisted into the form of an extinguisher, but with a small opening left at the pointed extremity. The extinguisher, if it may be so termed, is made red-hot, or nearly so, and then a piece of fat bacon is put into it, which bursts into flame. A little stream of blazing fat passes through the small opening, and this is made to trickle over the fowl, which is turned upon, the spit by clockwork in front of the wood fire. The fowl or joint thus treated tastes of burnt bacon; but the Southerners like strong flavours, and revel in grease as well as garlic.

Fat bacon is the basis of all cookery in Guyenne and Upper Languedoc, where the winters are too cold for the olive to flourish, and where butter is rarely seen. The cuisine is substantial, but not refined.

A little beyond Villeneuve I found Trébas, a pleasant river-side village, with a ferruginous spring that has obtained for the place a local reputation for healing. Here I left the Tarn again, and followed its tributary, the Ranee, for the sake of change. This stream ran at the bottom of a deep gorge, the sides of which were chiefly clothed with woods, but here and there was a patch of yellow corn-field and green vineyard. Reapers, men and women, were busy with their sickles, singing, as they worked, their Languedocian songs that troubadours may have been the first to sing; but nature was quiet with that repose which so quickly follows the great festival of flowers. Already the falling corn was whispering of the final feast of colour. All the earlier flowers of the summer were now casting or ripening their seed. I passed a little village on the opposite side of the gorge. The houses, built of dark stone, even to the roofs, looked scarcely different from their background of bare rock. Weedy vine-terraces without vines told the oft-repeated story of privation and long-lasting bitterness of heart in many a little home that once was happy. I found the grandeur of solitude, without any suggestion of human life, where huge rocks of gneiss and schist, having broken away from the sides of the gorge, lay along the margins and in the channel of the stream. Here I lingered, listening to the drowsy music of the flowing water, and the murmuring of the bees amongst the purple marjoram and the yellow agrimony, until the sunshine moving up the rocks reminded me of the fleet-winged hours.

Continuing my way up the gorge, I presently saw a village clinging to a hill, with a massive and singular-looking church on the highest point. It was Plaisance, and I knew now that I had left the Albigeois, and had entered the Rouergue. Having decided to pass the night here, and the auberge being chosen, I climbed to the top of the bluff to have a near view of the church. It is a remarkable structure representing two architectural periods. The apse and transept are Romanesque, but the nave is Gothic. Over the intersection of the transept is a cupola supported by massive piers. Engaged with these are columns bearing elaborately carved capitals embellished with little figures of the quaintest workmanship. In the apse are two rows of columns with cubiform capitals carved in accordance with the florid Romanesque taste, as it was developed in Southern France.

Although the little cemetery on the bluff was like scores of others I had seen in France - a bit of rough neglected field with small wooden crosses rising above the long herbage, tangled with flowers that love the waste places, I yielded to the charm of that old simplicity which is ever young and beautiful. I strolled amongst the grave mounds, and passing the sunny spot where the dead children of the village lay side by side, under the golden flowers of St. John's-wort, reached the edge of the rock, whose dark nakedness was hidden by reddening sedum, and looked at the wave-like hills, their yellow cornfields, vine terraces and woods, the gray-green roofs of the houses below, and lower still the stream flashing along through a desert of pebbles.

Descending to the valley, I noticed the number and beauty of the vine trellises in the village. One, commencing at a Gothic archway, extended from wall to wall far up a narrow lane, and here the twilight fell an hour too soon. I wandered down to the pebbly shore of the Rance, where bare-footed children, sent out to look after pigs and geese, were building castles with the many-coloured stones, while others on the rocky banks above were singing in chorus, like a somewhat louder twittering of sedge warblers from the fringe of willows. I wandered on until all was quiet save the water, and returned to the inn when the fire on the hearth was sending forth a cheerful red glow through the dusk. The soup was bubbling in the chain pot, and a well-browned fowl was taking its final turns upon the spit.

I dined with a commercial traveller, one who went about the country in a queer sort of vehicle containing samples of church ornaments and sacerdotal vestments. His business lay chiefly with the rural clergy, and, like most people, he seemed convinced that circumstances had pushed him into the wrong groove, and that he had remained in it too long for him to be able to get out of it. For twenty years he had been driving over the same roads, reappearing in the same villages and little towns, watching the same people growing old, and spending only three months of the year with his family in Toulouse. He declared the life of a commercial traveller, when the novelty of it had worn down, to be the most abominable of all lives. He was one of the most pleasant, and certainly the most melancholy, of commercial travellers whom I had met in my rambles. He left the impression on me that there was more money to be made nowadays in France by travelling with samples of eau de vie and groceries than with church candlesticks and chasubles. Nevertheless, although he had his private quarrel with destiny, he was not at all a gloomy companion at dinner.

A person who had not had previous experience of French country inns would have been astonished at the order in which the dishes were laid on the table. The first course after the soup was potatoes (sautées); then came barbel from the stream, and afterwards veal and fowl. The order is considered a matter of no importance; the main thing aimed at in the South of France is to give the guest plenty of dishes. If there is any fish, more often than not it makes its appearance after the roast, and I have even seen a custard figure as the first course. By living with the people one soon falls into their ways, accepting things as they come, without giving a thought to the conventional sequence.

Among other things that one has to grow accustomed to in rural France, especially in the South, is the presence of beds in dining-rooms and kitchens. At first it rasps the sense of what is correct, but the very frequency of it soon brings indifference. In the large kitchen of this rather substantial auberge there was an alcove, a few feet from the chimney-place, containing a neatly tucked-up bed with a crucifix and little holy-water shell by the side. It was certainly a snug corner in winter, and I felt sure that the stout hostess reserved it for herself.