The first village I came to was Coupiac, lying in a deep hollow, from the bottom of which rose a rugged mass of schistous rock, with houses all about it, under the protecting shadow of a strong castle with high round towers in good preservation. It was a mediaeval fortress, but its mullioned windows cut in the walls of the towers and other details showed that it had been considerably modified and adapted to changed conditions of life at the time of the Renaissance. A troop of little girls were going up to it, and teaching Sisters, who had changed it into a stronghold of education, were waiting for them in the court. Hard by upon the edge of the castle rock was a calvary. The naked schist, ribbed and seamed, served for pavement in the steep little streets of this picturesque old village, where most of the people went barefoot. This is the custom of the region, and does not necessarily imply poverty. Here the sabotier’s trade is a poor one, and the cobbler’s is still worse. In the Albigeois I was the neighbour of a well-to-do farmer who up to the age of sixty had never known the sensation of sock or stocking, nor had he ever worn a shoe of wood or leather.
No female beauty did I see here, nor elsewhere in the Rouergue. Plainness of feature in men and women is the rule throughout this extensive tract of country. But there is this to be said in favour of the girls and younger women, that they generally have well-shaped figures and a very erect carriage, which last is undoubtedly due to the habit of carrying weights upon the head, especially water, which needs to be carefully balanced.
How the peasants stared at me as I passed along! The expression of their faces showed that they were completely puzzled as to what manner of person I was, and what I was doing there. Had I been taking along a dancing-bear they would have understood my motives far better, and my social success with them would have been undoubtedly greater. As it was, most of them eyed me with extreme suspicion. Not having been rendered familiar, like the peasants of many other districts, with that harmless form of insanity which leads people to endure the hardship of tramping for the sake of observing the ruder aspects of human life, the lingering manners of old times, and of reading the book of nature in solitude, they thought I must perforce be engaged upon some sinister and wicked work. And now this reminds me of an old man at Ambialet, whom I used to send on errands to the nearest small town. He liked my money, but he could never satisfy his conscience that it was not something like treason to carry letters for me, for he had the feeling to the last that he was in the pay of the enemy. ‘Ah!’ he growled one day (not to me), ’I have always heard it said that the English regretted our beautiful rocks and rich valleys. They are coming back! I am sure they are coming back!’ I used to see him looking at me askance with a peculiarly keen expression in his eyes, and