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 (sautees); 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.
At an early hour in the morning I was wayfaring again. I had made up my mind to reach St. Affrique in a day’s walk. There were some thirty miles of country to cross, and I had, moreover, to reckon with the July sun, which shines very earnestly in Southern France, as though it were bent on ripening all the fruits of the earth in a single day. By getting up earlier than usual I was able to watch the morning opening like a wild rose. When we feel all the charm that graces the beginning of a summer day, we resolve in future to rise with the birds, but the next morning’s sun finds most of us sluggards again.
I returned towards the Tarn, which I had left the day before, but with the intention of keeping somewhat to the south of it for awhile. However beautiful the scenery of a gorge may be, the sensation of being at the bottom of a crevice at length becomes depressing, and the mind, which is never satisfied with anything long, begins to wonder what the world is like beyond the enclosing cliffs, and the desire to climb them and to look forth under a wider range of sky grows stronger. Such change is needed, for when there is languor within, the impressions from without are dull. The country through which I now passed was very beautiful with its multitude of chestnut-trees, the pale yellow plumes of the male blossom still clinging to them and hiding half their leaves; but here again was the sad spectacle of abandoned, weedy, and almost leafless vineyards upon stony slopes which had been changed into fruit-bearing terraces by the long labour of dead generations.