IN THE VALLEY OF THE LOT.
The country beyond this village was not unpleasant to the eye, with its vineyards on the slopes and its green pasturage in the valleys, but the hours went by drearily as I tramped upon the long road. I felt solitary, and was not in the mood to be interested easily; nevertheless, I lingered on the wayside awhile before a remarkable relic of the past: a rectangular machicolated tower of great height and strength rising out of a dark grove of trees. The afternoon was drawing towards evening, when I descended suddenly into a deep and narrow ravine where the sunshine was lost, and the twilight dwelt with greenness and dampness. At the bottom the Dourdou ran swiftly over its pebbly bed. After following it a little distance I found myself between towering walls of Jurassic rock, vertical towards the summit, capped on each side by a long row of houses. There was also a church, likewise on the edge of the precipice. This was Bozouls - a place scarcely known beyond a small district of the Aveyron, but one of the most curious in France. The traveller, when he reaches the gorge, after crossing a somewhat monotonous country, is quite unprepared for such a startling revelation of the sentiment of human fellowship in the midst of the savagery of nature. Why did men build houses in rows on the brink of these frightful precipices? It appears to have been all done for the sake of the artist and the lover of the picturesque. And yet Bozouls grew to be a village in an age when men of work and action only knew two kinds of enthusiasm - war and religion. Either a castle or a religious foundation must have been the beginning of this community. There are no remains of a fortress, but the church is very old, and its elaborate architecture suggests that it was at one time attached to a monastic establishment. After crossing the stream I climbed to this church by a path that wound about the rocks, and found it an exceedingly interesting example of the Southern Romanesque. The portal opens into a narthex, where there is a very primitive font like a low square trough. The nave entrance has two columns on each side supporting archivolts, and upon the capitals of these columns are carved figures of the quaintest Romanesque character, illustrating Biblical subjects. The nave has an aisle on each side scarcely four feet wide, and most of the separating columns are out of the perpendicular. The capitals here are wrought with acanthus-leaves or little figures. The sanctuary and apse are in the style of Auvergne, with this peculiarity, that the capitals of the slender columns are singularly massive, and bear only the mere outline of the acanthus-leaf for ornament.
The long street of the village, white and sunbaked, running within a few yards of the precipice, was almost as deserted as the church. But for a Sister who stood by the convent gate like a statue of Eternal Silence, and a man who was killing a wretched calf in the middle of the road, I might have asked myself if this fantastic Bozouls was not some spectral village, reproducing the past in all except the living beings who had gone down into their graves. When I recrossed the Dourdou, the light was several tones lower than it was when I first descended to the bottom of the ravine, and the vegetation was of a deeper and sadder green. And the stream rushed onward with a low wail, and a distressful cry, as of a soul passing down the Dark Valley and not yet free from the panic of death.
When I had reached the plateau that I had left an hour or more ago, the sun was about to set. As I knew that the diligence to Espalion would soon pass, I preferred to wait for it rather than to walk any farther. The south wind was blowing with such force that I lay down on the leeside of a bush to be sheltered from it. Here I watched the sun burning dimly in a yellow haze on the edge of the world. The wind wailed amongst the leaves of the hawthorn-bushes, but over the brown land, flushed with the sad yellow gleam, came the sound of cattle-bells, softening the harshness of the solitude, and bringing almost a smile upon the careworn face of Nature. I watched the dingy golden light rising up the stubble of the hills. Now the sun began to dip behind a knoll; a far-off tree stood in the line of vision, and I could see the leaves shaking as if in frenzy against the disc of sullen fire. Then from the edge of the western sky shot up into the yellow haze fair colours of pink and purple that seemed to say: 'The south wind may blow and burn the beauty of the earth, but the west wind will come again, its light wings laden with refreshment and joy.' The sun was gone, the shadows of night were being laid upon the dreary land, when the wavy clouds about the brightening moon became like a shower of rose-petals; the breeze grew softer and softer, for it was, in the language of the peasant, the 'sun-wind,' and the nocturnal peace began to reign over the sadness of the day's death.