At an early hour next morning I was making my way up the gorge beside the Tarn; but before leaving Peyreleau, I wandered about its steep streets - in some places a series of steps cut in the rock - noted Gothic doorways, and houses with interior vaulting, and climbed to the top of a machicolated tower built over the ivy-draped wall of a ruined castle. The place is very charming to the eye; but in this region one soon becomes a spoilt child of the picturesque, and the mind, fatigued by admiration, loses something of its sensibility to the impressions of beauty and grandeur, and is capable of passing by almost unmoved what, where Nature deals out her surprises with a calmer hand, might engrave upon the memory images of lasting delight. This is the chief reason, perhaps, why I hate the hurry of the sightseer who, even in his pleasure, makes himself the bondman of time and the creature of convention.

It was pleasant and easy walking on the bank of the river, for as yet the cliffs were far apart, and in the valley there were strips of meadow and flowering buckwheat. The water, where it was not broken into white anger by the rocky channel, was intensely green with the reflection of poplar and alder, although of crystal clearness. I watched the large trout swimming in the pools, and wished I had a rod, but consoled myself with the thought that if I had brought one I should probably have not seen a fish. Opportunities are never so ready to show themselves as when we have not the means of seizing them. While I was looking at the river, a boat shot into view round a bend of the gorge and came down like an arrow over the rapids. It contained a small party of tourists and two boatmen, who stood in. the flat-bottomed craft with poles in their hands, with which they kept it clear of the rocks. I understood at once the delicious excitement of coming down the Tarn in this fashion. Bucketfuls of water are often shipped where the stream rushes furiously between walls of rock; but the men have become so expert with practice that the risk of being capsized is very slight. In a few minutes the boat had vanished, and then the gorge became wilder and sterner; but just as I thought the sentiment of desolation perfect, a little goatherd, who had climbed high up the rocks somewhere with his equally sure-footed companions, began to sing, not a pastoral ditty in the Southern dialect, but the 'Marseillaise,' thus recalling with shocking incongruity impressions of screaming barrel-organs at the fête of St. Cloud.

The gorge narrowed and the rocks rose higher, the topmost crags being 1,000 or 1,200 feet above the water. Although everything here was on a grander scale, all the strong peculiarities of formation which I had remarked elsewhere in Guyenne and Languedoc, wherever the layers of Jurassic rock have split asunder and produced gorges more or less profound, were repeated in this cañon of the Tarn.

Competent geologists, however, have noted a distinctive difference, namely: that, of all the rivers running in the fissures of the causses, the Tarn is the only one whose water does not penetrate to the beds of marl beneath the lias; and this is said to partly explain the great height and verticality of the cliffs, for when the water reaches the marl it saps the foundations of the rocks, and these, subsiding, send their dislocated masses rolling to the bottom of the gorge.

I overtook a man and two boys who were hauling and pushing a boat up-stream. The man was wading in the water with a towing-rope over his shoulder, and the boys were in the punt plying their boat-hooks against the rocks and the bed of the river. They made very slow headway on account of the strength and frequency of the rapids. In coming down the Tarn, all that the boatman has to do is to use his gaffe so as to keep clear of the rocks; but the return-journey is by no means so pleasant and exciting.

I passed a little cluster of hovels built against the rock, and here a kind woman offered me some sheep's milk, which I declined for no better reason than because it was sheep's.

Towards mid-day I reached the village of Les Vignes, which takes its name from the vineyards which have long been cultivated here, where the gorge widens somewhat, and offers opportunities to husbandry. The great cliffs protect vegetation and human life from the mountain climate which prevails upon the dismal Causse Méjan and the Causse de Sauveterre, separated by the deep fissure. Until tourists came to the Tarn, Les Vignes was quite cut off from the world, but now it is a halting-place for the boatmen and their passengers; and a little auberge, while retaining all its rustic charm, provides the traveller with a good meal at a fair price. The rush of strangers during the summer has not yet been sufficient to spoil the river-side people between Sainte-Enimie and Peyreleau by fostering that spirit of speculation which, when it takes hold of an inn-keeper, almost fatally classifies him with predatory animals.

On reaching the auberge I walked straight into the kitchen as usual. A fowl and a leg of mutton were turning on the spit, and the hostess was very busy with stewpans and other utensils on various parts of her broad hearth. I soon learnt that a party of several persons had arrived before me, and that all these preparations were for them. My application for a meal was not met with a refusal, but it was evident that I should have to wait until others were served, and that, they having bespoken the best of everything in the house, my position was not as satisfactory as could be desired. I suppose I must have looked rather sad, for one of the party who had so swooped down upon the little inn and all its resources suggested that I should take my meal at their table. I should have accepted this offer with more hesitation had I known that they had brought with them the pièce de résistance, the leg of mutton, nearly as large as an English one, that was browning upon the spit before the blazing wood. After thinking myself unlucky, it turned out that I was in luck's way.

I was presently seated at a long table with about a dozen others of both sexes, all relatives or old friends. They belonged to the small town of Severac, and had driven in two queer countrified vehicles about fifteen miles in order to spend a happy day at Les Vignes. They were terribly noisy, but boundlessly good-natured. Not only was I made to share their leg of mutton, but also the champagne which they had brought with them. The modest lunch that I had expected became a veritable feast, and having been entangled in the convivial meshes, I had to stay until the end of it all. The experience was worth something as a study of provincial life and manners. These people - husbands and wives and friends - had come out with the determination to enjoy themselves, and their enjoyment was not merely hearty; it was hurricane-like. There were moments when pieces of bread and green almonds were flying across the table, and the noise of voices was so terrific that the quiet hostess looked in at the door with a scared expression which made me think she was wondering how much longer the roof would be able to remain in its right place. Then, the jokes that were exchanged over the table were as broad as the humour of the South is broad. I felt sorry for the women, but quite unnecessarily. Although the local colour was not refined, human nature present was frank, hospitable, and irresistibly warm-hearted. The vulgarity of the party was of the unselfish sort, and therefore amusing. The enjoyment of each was the enjoyment of all; and even when the tempest of humour was at its height, not a word was said that was intended to be offensive. As a compliment to me, they all rose to their feet, glasses in hand, and the hostess was again startled by a mighty rush of sound repeating the words 'Vive l'Angleterre!' far up and down the valley.

Instead of going on to La Malène that afternoon, as I had intended, I went after crayfish with one of the members of this jovial party, who had brought with him the necessary tackle for the sport. There are various ways of catching crayfish; but in this district the favourite method is the following: Small wire hoops, about a foot in diameter, are covered with netting strained nearly tight, and to this pieces of liver or other meat are tied. A cord a few yards long, fastened to the centre of the netting, completes the tackle. The baited snare is thrown into the stream, not far from the bank, and generally where the bottom is strewn with stones. No more art is needed. The crayfish, supposing them to be in the humour to eat, soon smell the meat or divine its presence, and, coming forth from their lairs beneath the stones, make towards the lure with greedy alacrity. Their movements can be generally watched, for although they are not delicate feeders, they are as difficult as Chinamen to please in the matter of water, and are only to be found in very clear streams. As is the case with their congeners - the sea crayfish and the crab - greediness renders them stupid, and, rather than leave a piece of meat which is to their taste, they will allow themselves to be pulled with it out of the water. It sometimes happens that the netting is covered with these creatures in a few minutes, and that all the trouble the fisherman has is to haul them up. But they are capricious, and, notwithstanding their voracity, there are times when they will not leave their holes upon any consideration. Such was their humour to-day. The cause of their sullenness was said to be a wind that rippled the surface of the water; but, whatever the reason, not a crayfish did we catch.

The breeze which was supposed to have upset the temper of the crustaceous multitude in the Tarn blew up bad weather before night. The panic-stricken leaves upon the alders and poplars announced the change with palsied movements and plaintive cries; the willows whitened, and bent towards the stream; and muttered threats of the strife-breeding spirits in nature seemed to issue from caverns half hidden by sombre foliage. As the gorge darkened, the gusts grew stronger, and the moaning rose at times to a shriek. Now the thunder groaned, the lightning flashed, and the face of the river gleamed. I returned to the inn just as the hissing rain began to fall. I was by this time alone, for the party from Severac had left at the approach of the storm.

As I took my solitary evening meal in a low building cut off from the inn, composed of a large salle-à-manger - the same in which the feast was held - and a bedroom, where I was to pass the rest of the night, I could not help contrasting the exuberant joviality of the morning with the absolute want of it now. The place seemed much too big for me; I had rather it had been half as large, to have got rid of half the shadow. Instead of the tempestuous laughter, there was the thunder's roar. There was also the lightning's flash to drive the shadows out of the corners from time to time. It was a wild and awful night.

I was busily building around me a vaporous rampart of tobacco-smoke, as a barrier to gloomy suggestions from without, when the door suddenly opened, and in walked two gendarmes - one a very self-important-looking brigadier, with thin sharp nose and keen, weasel-like eyes. My immediate impression was that they had come to question me respecting my intentions - inasmuch as I was not going to work in the same way as other tourists - and possibly to ask me for my papers; but I was mistaken. They had merely taken shelter from the rain, and they had not found a refuge too soon, for their appearance was that of half-drowned rats. The brigadier called for a bottle of beer, and while he and his younger companion were drinking it I learnt from their conversation what business had taken them out of doors that night. Their object was to surprise the fish-poachers at the illegal, but very exciting and picturesque, sport of spearing by torchlight. Now, as I had already seen these night-poachers at work on the Tarn, I may as well describe their method here.

I was walking one dark night on the bank of the river near Ambialet, when a glare of lurid light suddenly shot up from the water some distance in front of me, illuminating the willows, and even the black woods, on each side of the gorge. I imagined myself at once in a Canadian forest, near an Indian camp-fire. The light came gliding in my direction, and presently I distinguished the forms of men in a boat, all lit up by the glare. One was punting; another was holding aloft, not a torch, but blazing brushwood - which I afterwards learnt was broom-that he replenished from a heap in the boat; and a third was in the stern, gazing intently at the water, and holding in his hand a staff, which he plunged from time to time to the bottom of the stream. I understood that this was the pêche au flambeau, of which I had already heard.

The Tarn being in summer shallow, and of crystal clearness except in time of flood, it offers every facility for this kind of fishing. The flat-bottomed boat glides along with the current; the fish, dazzled by the sudden light, sink at once to the bottom, and lie there stupefied until they are either speared or the cause of their bewilderment passes on. The spear head used is a small trident. When the moon is up, the fish are not to be fascinated by artificial light; consequently the darkest nights are chosen for this kind of poaching.

The two gendarmes, then, had been looking for poachers, and, not liking the weather, they had been unable to resist the auberge light that beckoned them indoors. While they were talking, in walked the most hardened and skilful poacher of the place, whose acquaintance I had made earlier in the day, and who made no secret to me of his business. So far from being abashed by the presence of the gendarmes, he gave them a genial salutation, and, sitting down beside them, talked to them as if he had been on the pleasantest terms with them for years. He was a man of about fifty, who boasted to me that he had been a poacher from the age of fifteen, and had never been caught. He was therefore an artful old fox, and one very difficult to run down. He made the most of his opportunities in all seasons, and laughed at those who troubled their heads about the months which were open or closed. His coolness in the presence of the gendarmes was charming. He actually offered to furnish the brigadier with a dish of trout at any time on a day's notice, and argued that they had no right to seize a net wherever found, because the meshes were not of the lawful size. 'If you doubt it,' said the brigadier, 'just show me yours.' Then he added with a grin: 'I shall pinch you some day, mon vieux.' The other did not seem to believe it, and I am inclined to think that no one will 'pinch' him but Death.

Of the few really attractive callings left, that of the poacher must be given a prominent place, especially in France, where the law is not too severe upon a man who tries to make an honest living by breaking the law so far as it relates to fish and game. The excitement of catching wild creatures must be greatly increased by the risk that the hunter or fisher runs of being caught himself. A poacher is by no means looked down upon in France. He is considered a useful member of society, especially by hotel-keepers. I know a very respectable beadle of a singularly pious parish who is an inveterate poacher. On week-days he is slinking about the woods and rocks with his gun, and has generally a hare or a partridge in his bag; but on Sundays he wears a cocked hat, a gold-laced coat with a sword at his side, and he brings down his staff upon the church pavement with a thundering crack at those moments when the wool-gathering mind has to be hurried back and fixed upon the sacredness of the ritual. He is a well-knit, agile fellow, who knows every inch of his ground, and he has led the gendarmes who have surprised him such dances over rocks, and placed them in such unpleasant positions, that they have come to treat him with the respect and consideration due to a man of his talent and resource. The French poacher must not be judged by the same ethics as the English poacher. Generally speaking, game is not preserved in France. There are extensive tracts everywhere where anybody can shoot, provided that he has satisfied the license formality and observes the regulations with regard to the seasons. The poacher is a man who thinks it waste of money to pay for a gun-license, and a waste of opportunities to respect the breeding season. If he is a fisher, he not only scoffs at the close time, but uses illegal means to achieve his purpose, such as nets with meshes smaller than they should be, and the three-pronged spear. In the Tarn and other French rivers the fish have been destroyed in a woeful manner by poison and dynamite, but it is the rock-blaster and the navvy, not the regular poacher, who is chiefly to be blamed for this. Men who have the constant handling of dynamite, and who move from place to place, are rapidly destroying the life of the rivers and streams. Having noted a good pool, they return by night and drop into it a dynamite cartridge, the explosion of which brings every fish, big and small, to the surface. With these destructive causes, which do not belong to the natural order of things, should be mentioned another that does, namely, the frequency of floods in the season when the trout are spawning. But for this drawback, and the unfair methods of fishing, the Upper Tarn would be one of the finest trout streams in the world. As it is, an expert angler would find plenty of sport on the banks of the river above Le Rozier, and as all anglers are said to be lovers of nature, he would never be dull in the midst of such entrancing scenery as is to be found here.

The storm having spent its fury, the gendarmes and the poacher left, and I was again alone. Although it was not yet ten o'clock, there was the quietude of midnight around me. The village was asleep, and I should have thought Nature asleep had I not heard the harsh scream of an owl as I entered my bedroom and threw open the window. The clouds had broken up, and the moon was shining above the great rocks at the foot of which I knew that the owl was flying silently and searching with glowing eyes for the happy, unsuspecting mouse or young hare amidst the thyme and bracken. Can Nature never rest? Is there no peace without bloodshed under the sun and moon, no respite from ravin even when the night is hooded like a dead monk?

I turned from the moonlit clouds, the rushing dark water, the long white reach of pebbles, and made a little journey round my room. The people who owned this inn may not have been very prosperous, but they were evidently rich in faith. The walls were ornamented with rosaries yards long - probably from Lourdes - and religious pictures. There were also statuettes of sacred figures, a large crucifix, and close by the bed a holy-water stoup. The inhabitants of the Lozère, like those of the Aveyron, are not only believing, they are zealous, and in their homes they surround themselves with the emblems of their faith. These are the only works of art which the villagers possess - almost their only books.

At seven the next morning I had left Les Vignes, and was making my way up the gorge, whose rocky walls drew closer together, became more stupendous, fantastic, and savagely naked. All cultivation disappeared. A rock of immense size, pointing to the sky, but leaning towards the gorge, soon attracted my notice, as it must that of any traveller who comes within view of it. This monolith, over 200 feet in height, has its base about 500 feet above the stream, but it is only a jutting fragment of the prodigious wall. It has received the name of L'Aiguille, from its needle-like shape. Below this, and partly in the bed of the stream, is another prodigious block of dolomite called La Sourde, and here the channel is so obstructed by the number and size of the rocks which have fallen into it, that the river has forced a passage beneath them, and does not reappear until the obstacle is passed. But although the water vanishes, its muffled groan arises from mysterious depths. This, together with the monstrous masses of dolomite, wrinkled, white and honeycombed, the narrowness and gloomy depth of the gorge, the fury of the water as it descends amongst the blocks to leap into its gulf, makes the imagination ask if something supernatural has not happened here. But the geologist says that this chaos of tumbled-down rocks is simply the result of a 'fault' in the stratification, and that, the foundations having given way, the masses of dolomite fell where they now lie.

In the Middle Ages, however, geology was an undiscovered science, and the human mind was compelled - perhaps with much advantage to itself - to seek supernatural causes in order to explain the mysterious phenomena of nature, many of which, so far as subsidiary causes are concerned, have ceased to be mysterious. This spot - called the Pas de Souci - has, therefore, its poetic and miraculous legend. St. Enimie, when she established her convent near the fountain of Burlats, higher up the Tarn, interfered with the calculations of the devil, who had found the numerous orifices in this region communicating with the infernal kingdom exceedingly convenient for his terrestrial enterprises. He therefore lost no time in entering upon a tug-of-war with the saintly interloper. But she was more than a match for him. Her nuns, however, were of weaker flesh, and so he tried his wiles upon them. Their devotions and good resolutions were so much troubled by the infernal teaser of frail humanity that St. Enimie, realizing the great danger, rose to the occasion. One day or night she caught the devil unawares in the convent and tried to chain him up; but he was too strong or too crafty for the innocent virgin, and made his escape down the gorge of the Tarn, intending to reach his own fortress by the hole down which the stream plunges at the Pas de Souci, and which the peasant believes existed from the beginning of the world. St. Enimie followed at his heels as closely as she could, and he led her a wild scamper over the rocks. She hoped that St. Ilère, her confessor, who lived in a cavern of the gorge, would stop the fiend in his flight, but the saint was so busy praying that he did not notice the arch-enemy as he sped on his frantic course. St. Enimie was quite out of breath and ready to drop from exhaustion when she drew near the Pas de Souci, a little in the rear of the tormentor of souls, and he was just about to plunge into the gulf. The saint threw herself upon her knees, and exclaimed: 'Help me, O ye mountains and crags! Stop him, fall upon him!' Thereupon there was a great commotion of the ancient rocks far above under the calm sky, and they fell, one after the other, with a frightful crash. It was, however, the immense block, since named La Sourde, that stopped the devil; the others he shook off as if they had been pebbles. When La Sourde struck him it was more than he could contend with, and it flattened him out. The Needle Rock was just about to tumble, when La Sourde cried out: 'Hold on, my sister! You need not trouble yourself; I have him fast!' This explains why the Needle Rock has ever since looked so undecided. For centuries La Sourde bore the impress of a sanguinary hand, left upon it by Satan in his frantic efforts to get free, but some years ago it was washed away by an exceptionally high flood.

A little beyond this impressive and legendary spot, the gorge, widening, displays an immense concavity on the left, nearly semicircular. Here among the spur-like rocks which jut out from its steep sides - much clothed, however, with vegetation - was the hermitage of St. Ilère, and the spot where it is supposed to have been is a place of pilgrimage. Here, too, are numerous caverns, in some of which many implements of the Stone Age have been found, as well as the bones of extinct animals and others which disappeared from Europe before the historic period. To those who have the special knowledge that is requisite, the caverns of the Causses de Sauveterre and Méjan offer great enticement, for only a few of their secrets, covered by the darkness of incalculable ages, have yet been brought to light.

Again the cliffs draw closer together, and the tower-like masses on the brink of each precipice lift their inaccessible ramparts higher and higher in the blue air. Gray-white or ochre-stained layers and monoliths shine like incandescent coals in the unmitigated radiance of the sun. I pass a little group of houses in the hollow of overhanging rocks, splashed by the shadow of the wild fig-tree's leaves. One side of the gorge is all luminous with sunbeams, down to the lathy poplars leaning in every direction by the edge of the torrent, their leaves still wet with last night's rain. Another boat is being tugged laboriously up the rapids, a mule taking the first place at the end of the rope. The impetuous water looks strong enough to carry the beast off his legs; but he, like the boatman, is used to the work, and has good nerves. The path - if path it can be called, when it has lost all trace of one - now leads over large pebbles which are not pleasant to walk upon; but presently the way along the water-side is absolutely closed by vertical rocks some hundred feet high.

To enter the mad torrent in order to get beyond these terrible rocks, forming a narrow strait, was an undertaking only to be thought of if the case were desperate. I believed that there must be a path somewhere running up the cliff, and after going back a little I found one. It led me four or five hundred feet up the side of the gorge; but on looking down the distance seemed much less, because the rocks rose a thousand feet higher. I was gazing at the loftiest peak on the opposite side, when two eagles suddenly appeared in the air above it; and so long as I remained did they continue to circle over it without any apparent movement of their wings. The eyrie upon this needle-like point is well known; according to the popular belief, it has always been there.

It was in vain, however, that I searched the horizon for the vultures, whose principal stronghold - a long ledge of rock, protected from above by an overhanging cornice, and beyond the range of a fowling-piece from below - is immediately over the river in this part of the gorge. Had I left Les Vignes before daybreak, I might have seen them start off all together, the brown vultures and their black cousins, the arians, in quest of carrion; but now there was not one to be seen. As the vulture has become a rare bird in France, inhabiting only a few localities where there are very high and inaccessible rocks, and where man is crestfallen in the presence of nature, it is to be hoped that they will not be driven from the great gorge of the Tarn by being too frequently shot at in the breeding season, when they are obliged to show themselves at all hours of the day. No peasant would think of wasting a cartridge upon them; but the sharpshooting tourist, armed with a rifle, may be tempted to do so. He would probably fire many bullets before he succeeded in striking a bird five or six hundred feet above him; and even if the shot took effect, there would be very small chance of the vulture falling where it could be picked up. The bombardment would do them little damage; but it might, if often repeated, prove too trying to their nerves, and, notwithstanding their conservative principles, they might be driven at length to quit these rocks inhabited by their ancestors for centuries. To the naturalist this district is of fascinating interest, on account of the large number of carnivorous birds of various species by which it is still haunted. Besides the common brown eagle, three kinds of vulture, several species of falcons, hawks, and owls, the raven family appears to be fully represented, with the exception of the jackdaw, which possibly finds itself too weak and too slow of flight to live in the midst of such strong and ferocious air-robbers as those which have established themselves in these grand solitudes. Among smaller birds of different habits, the red partridge and the water-ousel are frequently seen. The rock-partridge, or bartavelle, is also found, but is rare. The four-legged fauna is not represented by the wolf or the boar, the forests being too scanty to afford them sufficient cover, and the largest wild quadrupeds are the badger and the fox.

Descending the path by steps cut in the rock, I again reached the margin of the Tarn. Gradually the gorge opened, slopes appeared, and upon these were almond-trees and vines planted on terraces. Flowers, too, which had little courage to bloom in the dim depths where the cliffs seemed ready to join again, and the sunbeam vanished before it dried the dew, now took heart under the broader sky. Great purple snapdragons hung from clefts in the rocks, inula flashed gorgeously yellow, white melilot raised its graceful drooping blossoms, and hemp-agrimony made the bees sing a drowsy song of the brimming cup of summer.

Some vestiges of a castle appeared upon a high-jutting craggy mass, marking the site of the Château de Montesquieu, one of the strongest fortresses of the gorge in the Middle Ages.

I guessed rightly by the vines and almonds that La Malène was not far off. Soon came that sight, ever welcome to the wayfarer - the village where he intends to seek rest and refreshment. The inn here was as unpretentious as the one at Les Vignes; but with hare, en civet, a dish of trout, and a bottle of the wine grown upon the sunny terrace above the houses, I had as good a meal as any hungry tramp has a right to expect. As for myself, I never expect anything so sumptuous, and in this way I let luck have a chance of giving me now and then a pleasant surprise. The trout in the Upper Tarn do not often reach a large size, because by growing they become too conspicuous in such clear water; but their flesh obtains that firmness which is the gift of mountain streams. The wine grown upon the slopes of the gorge is a petit vin with a sparkle in it, and it comes as a delightful change to those who have been drinking the tasteless, deep-coloured wines of the Béziers and Narbonne region, with which the South of France has been flooded since the new vineyards upon the plains and slopes of the Mediterranean have been yielding torrents of juice. The fruit of no plant is so dependent upon the soil for its flavour as that of the vine. Chalk produces champagne, and some of the best wines of Southern France are grown upon calcareous soils where the eye perceives nothing but stones. The plant loves to get its roots down into the crevices of a rock. I now drank the fragrant light wine of the Gévaudan - the calcareous district of the Upper Tarn - with a pleasure not unmixed with sorrow; for the phylloxera had found its way up the gorge, and the vineyards were already sick unto death. The pest had come some years later here than in districts nearer the plains; but it had too surely come, and the fear of poverty was gnawing the hearts of the poor men - many of them old - who had been bending their backs such a number of years, and their fathers before them, upon those terraces which had been won from the desert at the price of such long labour.

Before continuing my journey up the gorge, I climbed to the little church overlooking the village, and which stands in the midst of the rough burying-ground where the dead must lie very near the solid rock. It is a plain Romanesque building, presenting the peculiarity not often seen of exterior steps leading to the belfry. Against an inner wall is a tablet, which tells of certain men of Florac who 'pro Deo et rege legitime certantes coronati sunt, die II mensis Junii, anni 1793.' They were guillotined by the Revolutionists at Florac.

I passed the Château de la Caze, a small but well-preserved castle, showing the transition from the feudal to the Renaissance style, and still surrounded by its moat. It has five towers, and is a picturesque building; but I thought it gloomy in the deep shade of the gorge and the surrounding trees. It must be gloomier still at night when the owls shriek and hoot. If it is not haunted, it must be because there are so many abandoned solitary great houses in this part of France that the ghosts have become rather spoilt and hard to please.

What is the pale yellow flame that I see burning by the river where a slanted beam strikes down from a crenellated bastion of ruddy rock? Reaching the spot, I find two pale-yellow flames, one hanging from the bank, the other trembling upon the stream. The evening primrose has lit its lamp from the sunbeam.

More rocks there are to climb, for the river again rushes between upright walls. The path goes along the edge of a horrid precipice, then descends abruptly by steps cut in the rock.

At a very poor hamlet, clinging to the side of the gorge at a sufficient height to be safe from the floods, I ask a woman if anybody there sells wine. 'Yes,' she replies, 'he does,' pointing at the same time to a tall old white-haired man, who beckons me to follow him. He hobbles along with a stick, dragging one leg, and leads the way into his house under a rock. It is a mere hovel, but it has a wooden floor, and there are signs of personal dignity - what is known in England as 'respectability' - struggling with poverty. Perhaps the ancient clock, whose worm-eaten case reaches from the floor to the ceiling, and whose muffled but cheery tick-tack is like the voice of an old friend, impressed me in favour of this poor home as soon as I entered.

The crippled man, having given me his best chair, disappeared into his cellar scooped out of the rock, and presently returned with a bottle of wine. Then he brought out a great loaf of very dark bread, which he placed upon the table with the wine, and a plateful of green almonds. The French peasants observe the wholesome rule of never drinking red wine without 'breaking a crust' at the same time. I made my new acquaintance break a crust with me and share the contents of the bottle. Then he talked freely of the cares that weighed upon him. He told me that he and others who lived in the gorge had always depended upon their wine to buy bread.

'And are the vines in a very bad way?' 'The year after next will see the last of them.'

Many persons, he added, would be obliged to leave the district because it would become impossible for them to live there. While we were talking two or three little barefooted boys, whose clothes had been patched over and over again, but still showed gaping places, watched and listened in the open doorway with round-eyed attention. They were robust children with health and happiness in their faces, in spite of the hard times, for the mountain air fed them, and their troubles were yet to come. They were the old man's grandchildren, and I suppose I was looking at them more keenly than I should have had I reflected, for he made excuses for their neglected appearance with an expression of pain. Then, changing the subject suddenly, he said:

'What country do you belong to?'

'To England.'

'Ah, c'est un riche pays!'

I told him that it was rich and poor like other countries, and that the people there had no vines at all to help them. 'It is a rich country all the same,' repeated the old man, for the impression had somehow become deeply fixed in his mind. There I see him still seated at the rough table, and behind his broad bent back the wide fireplace against the bare rock blackened with smoke.

I had left this hamlet, and was on the bank of the Tarn, when I heard the patter of bare feet upon the pebbles behind me. Turning round, I saw the eldest of the boys who had been watching me in the doorway. He had an idea that I should go wrong, and followed stealthily to see. He now told me that if I continued by the water I should soon be stopped by rocks, and I accepted his offer to show me the way up the cliff. His recklessness in running over the sharp stones made me ask him if they did not hurt his feet. 'Oh no!' he replied; 'they are used to it.' It is indeed astonishing what feet are able to get used to. The boy's joy at the few sous which I gave him was almost ecstatic. He had hardly thanked me when he set off running homeward to show how he had been rewarded - for his sharpness in thinking that I should lose my way, and allowing me to do so before saying a word.

I was by the river-side not far from Sainte-Enimie when a rather alarming noise broke the silence and became rapidly louder. I looked up the steep cliff, and saw to my consternation a great stone bounding down the rocks and crashing through the vines. As I seemed to be in the line of it I hastened on. I had only gone about ten yards when it bounded into the air and, passing sheer over the path and bank, plunged into the Tarn with a mighty splash. I reckoned that had I remained where I was it would have just cleared my head. It was a fragment of rock which, from its size, might well have been two hundredweight. The same thing happened earlier in the day, but that time I was not so unpleasantly near. The heavy rain of the previous night, coming after a long period of drought, was probably the cause of these already-loosened stones starting upon their downward career. All these calcareous rocks are breaking up. The process of disintegration and decomposition is slow, but it is sure. Every frost does something to split them, and every shower of rain entering the crevices does something to rot them; so that even they cannot last. The Tarn is carrying them back to the sea, to be deposited again, but somewhere else.

I was at Sainte-Enimie before sunset, and there I found the air laden with the scent of lavender. True, all the hills round about were covered with a blue-gray mantle; but I had never known the plant when undisturbed give out such an aroma before. Looking down from the little bridge to the waterside, my wonder ceased. There in a line, with wood-fires blazing under them, were several stills, and behind these, upon the bank, were heaps of lavender stalks and flowers such as I had never seen even in imagination. There were enough to fill several bullock-waggons. The fragrance in the air, however, did not come so much from these mounds as from the distilled essence. It was evident that Sainte-Enimie had a considerable trade in lavender-water.

I spent an unhappy evening, for the inn where I stopped - it called itself a hotel - had been made uninteresting by enterprise; and a couple of tourists from the South, with whom it was my lot to dine, caused me unspeakable misery by talking of nothing else but of a bridge which they had lately seen; If I should ever be near it, I think the recollection of that evening will make me avoid it. It may be a miracle in iron, but none the less shall I owe it an everlasting grudge. These gentlemen from Carcassonne were typical sons of the South in this, that the sound of their own voices acted upon their imagination like the strongest coffee blended with the oldest cognac. They would have been amusing, nevertheless, but for the horrible intensity of their resolve to make me see that nightmare of a bridge. If one had taken breath while the other spoke, or rather shouted, I should have suffered less; but they both shouted together, and their struggle to get the better of one another by force of lung, gesticulation, and frenzied rolling of the eyes became a duel, whereby the solitary witness was the only person harmed. What a relief to me if they had gone down to the river bank and fought it out there! No such luck, however. Had there been no listener, they, too, might have wished the bridge in the depths of Tartarus.

If I passed an unhappy evening at Sainte-Enimie, I spent a worse morning. There was a change of weather in the night, and when the day came again, it was a blear-eyed, weeping day, with that uniform gray sky with steam-like clouds hiding half the hills which, when seen in a mountainous region by a person bent on movement, is enough to give him 'goose flesh.' I now felt a longing to leave the Cevennes and to return to the lower country, but there seemed no chance of escape. The rain continued hour after hour - and such rain! It was enough to turn a frog against water. As the people of the inn seemed incapable of showing sympathy, I went out to look at the town under a borrowed umbrella. It was certainly not much to look at, especially under circumstances of such acute depression. I walked or waded through a number of miry little streets where all manner of refuse was in a saturated or deliquescent state - cabbage-stumps and dead rats floating in the gutters, potato-peelings and bean-pods sticking to the mediaeval pitching - everything slippery, nasty, and abominable. There were old houses, as a matter of course; but who can appreciate antiquities when his legs are wet about the knees and his boots are squirting water? Nevertheless, I tried to notice a few things besides the vileness underfoot. One was a rudely-carved image of the Virgin in a niche covered by a grating. This was in such a dark little street that it seemed as if the sun had given up all hope of ever shining there again. I struggled through the slush to the church, built, with the town, on the side of a hill rising from the Tarn. I found a Romanesque edifice - old, but rough, and offering no striking feature, save the arched recesses in the exterior surface of the wall. A little higher upon the hill was the convent founded by St. Enimie; but the original building disappeared centuries ago.

On returning to the inn I passed the Fontaine de Burlats, where St. Enimie was cured of her leprosy in the Merovingian age. It was a change to see something that really seemed to enjoy the incessant downpour and to enter into the spirit of it. The fountain would be remarkable in another region by the volume of water that gushes in all seasons like a little river out of the earth; but there are so many such between the Dordogne and the Tarn, wherever the calcareous formation has lent itself to the honeycombing action of water, that this copious outflow loses thereby much of its claim to distinction.

The legend of St. Enimie is fully set forth in a Provençal poem of the thirteenth century by the troubadour Bertrand de Marseilles, who received his information from his friend the Prior of the monastery at Sainte-Enimie, which in the Middle Ages was the most important religious house in the Gévaudan. The MS. is preserved in the library of the Arsenal, Paris. It was at the express recommendation of St. Ilère that Enimie sought the fountain of Burla (now Burlats), and bathed her afflicted body in its pure waters. The passage of the poem containing this injunction is as follows:

    'Enimia verges de Dyeu, 
    Messatges fizels ti suy yeu. 
    Per me ti manda Dieus de pla 
    Que t'en anes en Gavalda,[*] 
    Car, lay trobaras una fon 
    Que redra ton cors bel e mon 
    Si te laves en l'aygua clara. * * * * 
    A nom Burla; vay l'en lay 
    Non ho mudar per negun play.'

  [*] Gévaudan.

The relics of the saint were destroyed or lost at the time of the Revolution; but high upon the side of a neighbouring hill a chapel has been raised to her, and it is a place of pilgrimage.