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It may be observed that although the presence of the youthful host indicated rather physical vigour than any of the special attributes of the clerical character, his conversation was eminently professional. Whilst his brother rector in England would be discussing the politics of the day, or the last dinner or garden party of the neighbourhood, the French cure's thoughts and talk gravitated towards a chapel which he was about to fit up within his tiny church to the name and honour of "Our Lady of Lourdes'—that fashionable scene of the miracles which are being continually evolved for the edification of the faithful, by way of antidote, presumably, to the restless energy and sceptical spirit of the age. Finally, accompanied by a favourite and handsome dog, the curate was good enough to point out a short cut in the way back, after which M. l'abbé Hypert took leave of his visitor, with whom there remained a not unpleasing impression of his visit to Pomiers and of its frankly hospitable parish priest.
As one followed the sharp twists of the zigzag road down the mountain of Pomiers, the last rays of a sun already sunken below the horizon were painting in soft colours the western peaks opposite with
The good-night blush of eve— 1
At foot lay the deep-set valley of the Dourdou, the highway skirting which stream supplies the main artery of communication for the whole neighbourhood, being the only post-road in the canton, comprising an aggregate of some dozen or fourteen parishes. The line of road in question opens up a secluded and beautiful tract of country, and occasion will be taken in subsequent chapters to describe its entire course of ninety kilomètres. It runs, wide and smooth, from Rodez in Rouergue to Aurillac in Auvergne—now penetrating a gorge, now carried over a pass, or for miles together parallel with the level shore of a noisy waterway.
The moon, full and cloudless, was risen high in the firmament of heaven ere the wayfarer trod afresh the rocky paths leading up again to Conques from the glen below. Approaching through the tottering gateway on the north and past a round turret or two, dotted down here and there as if at haphazard, you might conjure up in your mind some highperched mountain fastness of feudal times, from which the rugged hill-town before you, with its antiquated portals and sombre Norman minster, looks like a survival.
By malle-poste to Rodez.-Its situation, and modern aspect.
Cathedral.-Belfry.—Market-place.- Boulevards. -. River Aveyron. - The Ruthenians of Rouergue,
FROM the old-world place and people with whom he had been some days associated, the wanderer among these byways of Guienne set out for Rodez by the malle-poste at four in the morning. That vehicle started, not from the town itself, but from the level road at the base of the hills. Thus any passenger coming from the heights above must needs be on the alert an hour sooner ; and to this end the good Père Bonaventure was kind enough to break in upon his own slumbers that he might rouse his guest by the early hour of three o'clock. A young abbé, who had arrived but overnight, chanced to be journeying the same road as far as Marcillac ; and the two accordingly joined company on a dark morning in October, lantern in hand, to pick their way as they best might through the sinuous lanes and over the rough stones that do duty for streets in this most primitive of mountain towns. Nor was the mail carriage reached till after at least one false turn, and more than one narrow escape from tripping on the steep and broken pavement.
When day began to dawn St.-Cyprien, a village five miles south, had been left well behind, and the sun was gilding the charming vine-clad heights that look down upon Marcillac, as the pair of capital stagers, sniffing the keen morning air, trotted briskly into that thriving bourg, drawing the light postal vehicle behind them. The passengers, included the aforesaid abbé, a couple of sisters wearing the habit of a religious order, and a member of the official class, so numerous in France, who, though located at Conques, denounced the place roundly as a residence—no society, no amusements, and a population at once sparse and rude. He was bound on the uninviting errand of putting in an appearance before the local judiciary of Rodez to a summons taken out by the police, which however he treated as trivial and vexatious. Marcillac, capital of the canton of the same name, and a station on the only line of railway Rouergue then possessed, straggles along both sides of the Dourdou, in this upper part of its course but a narrow rivulet spanned by one or two stone bridges of antique form. After taking fresh horses, and exchanging the smaller carriage for a diligence, the journey was continued through a fine country of hill and dale, past Salles-la-Source, locally famous for a beautiful cascade that falls in considerable volume from a rock literally overhanging the village itself. Later on, you pass beneath a railway bridge or viaduct of something like Titanic proportions, its towering height and the massive granite blocks of which it is built arresting attention and taking it out of the category of ordinary railway bridges across a mere highroad.'
Between eight and nine o'clock the diligence was beginning the long rise that leads up by easy gradients to the tableland on which, swept by every blast, stands the departmental capital, Rodez. Such of the passengers as had either business or energy to spare were glad to proceed on foot, and at the same time lessen the exposure to a cutting east wind, as the heavy vehicle toiled its slow way up the winding ascent. It was, indeed, a type of the country diligence of the old-fashioned sortponderous, yellow painted, with a cramped coupé that commanded a full view of the haunches of a pair of horses made and caparisoned for use rather than show. Behind was the usual omnibus, and, overhead, the banquette or covered seat on the roof,