THE BLACK CAUSSE.
One cannot be sure of the weather even in the South of France, where the skies are supposed, by those who do not know them, to be perpetually blue. The 'South of France' itself is a very deceptive term. The climate on one side of a range of mountains or high hills may be altogether different from that on the other. In Upper Languedoc and Guyenne the climate is regulated by three principal factors: the elevation of the soil, the influence of the Mediterranean, and the influence of the Atlantic. On the northern side of the Cevennes, the currents from the ocean, together with the altitude, do much to keep the air moist and comparatively cool in summer; whereas on the other side of the chain, where the Mediterranean influence - in a large measure African - is paramount, the climate is dry and torrid during the hot months. A liability to sudden changes goes with the advantages of the more favoured region. This was enforced upon me at Millau.
At seven o'clock the sky, lately of such a fiery blue, was of a most mournful smokiness, and the rain fell in a drenching spray. It was mountain weather, and I blamed the Cevennes for it. But I was in the South, and at a season when bad weather is seldom in earnest, so I did not despair of a change when the sun rose higher. It came, in fact, at about eight o'clock, when, a breeze springing up, the clouds, after a short struggle, were swept away. The market-women spread out upon the pavement their tomatoes, their purple aubergines, their peaches, and green almonds; the harvesters, long hesitating, went out into the fields to reap; and I, leaving the Tarn, took my way up the valley of the gleaming Dourbie. Millau was soon nearly hidden in its basin, but above it, on the sides of the surrounding hills, scattered amongst the sickly vines, or the vigorous young plants which promised in a few years to make the stony soil flow once more with purple juice, were the small white houses of the wine-growers. Where I could, I walked in the shade of walnut and mulberry trees, for the heat was great, and the rain that had fallen rose like steam in the sun-blaze from the herbage and the golden stubble. In this low valley all corn except maize had been gathered in, and Nature was resting, after her labour, with the smile of maternity on her face. Nevertheless, this stillness of the summer's fulfilment, this pause in the energy of production, is saddening to the wayfarer, to whom the vernal splendour of the year and the time of blossoming seem like the gifts of yesterday. The serenity of the burnished plains now prompts him upward, where he hopes to overtake the tarrying spring upon the cool and grassy mountains. Although the mountains towards which I was now bearing were the melancholy and arid Cevennes, I wished the distance less that lay between me and their barren flanks, where the breeze would be scented with the bloom of lavender. There were flowers along the wayside here, but they were the same that I had been seeing for many a league, and they reminded me too forcibly of the rapid flight of the summer days by their haste - their unnecessary haste, as I thought - in passing from the flower to the seed. A sprig of lithosperm stood like a little tree laden with Dead Sea fruit, for the naked seeds clung hard and flinty where the flowers had been. The glaucium, although still blooming, had put forth horns nine inches long, and the wild barley, so lately green, was now a brown fringe along the dusty road. And thus all these familiar forms of vegetable life, which we notice in our wanderings, but never understand, come and go, perish and rise again - so quickly, too, that we have no time to listen to what they say; we only feel that the song which they sing along the waysides of the world is ever joyous and ever sad.
In the lower part of this valley were scattered farmhouses, which looked like small rural churches, for their high rectangular dovecots at one end had much the air of towers with broach spires. Throughout Guyenne one is amazed at the apparently extravagant scale on which accommodation has been provided for pigeon-rearing. There are plenty of pigeons in the country, but the size of their houses is usually out of all proportion to the number of lodgers, and dovecots without tenants are almost as frequently seen as those that are tenanted. They are seldom of modern construction; many are centuries old. All this points to the conclusion that people of former times laid much greater store by pigeon-flesh than their descendants do. It may have been that other animal food was relatively more expensive than at the present day.