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 fete 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 canon of the Tarn.