Not until the afternoon were there any signs of improvement in the weather; and then, as soon as the clouds grew lighter, I started without waiting for the rain to stop. It was Sunday, and outside the old church was a crowd of men and boys, who had come for vespers. The women did not join them, but passed through the door as they arrived. Throughout rural France, wherever religion keeps a firm hold on the peasant, it is the custom of the men to gather for gossip in front of the church some time before the service, and, just as the bell stops; to make a rush at the doorway, and struggle through the opening like sheep into a fold when there is a dog at their heels. While looking at these men, I was again struck by the prevailing tendency of the peasants of the Lozere to develop long, sharp noses—a feature that often gives them a very weasel-like expression.
Having passed the ruins of the monastery, whose high loopholed walls and strong tower showed that it had once been a fortress as well as a religious house, I was soon rising far above the valley of the Tarn. The winding road led me up the flanks of stony hills, terraced everywhere for almond-trees; but after two or three hours of ascent the almonds dwindled away, and the country became an absolute desert of brashy hills, showing little asperity of outline, but mournful and solemn by their wastefulness and abandonment to a degree that makes the traveller ask himself if he is really in Europe, or has been transported by magic to the most arid steppes of Asia. But there is a plant that thrives in this desert, that loves it so much as to give to it a tinge of dusty blue as far as the eye can reach on every side. Needless to say that this is the lavender. It was in all its flowering beauty as I crossed the treeless waste, and it gave to the breath of the desert what seemed to be the mystical fragrance of peace.
Leaving the highway to Mende, I took a rough road on the left, which, according to the map, led directly to Chanac by the Lot. I should recommend no one else to take it unless he have more hours of daylight before him than I had. Again I ran a near risk of passing the night in the open air. The road became little better than a track; then it crossed others, and it was a very pretty puzzle to tell which was the one for me and which was not. It is true that I could have made straight towards the Lot by the compass, but the descent of the precipitous cliffs into the deep gorge, unless one knows the paths, is only a task to be undertaken at nightfall with a light heart by those who have had no experience of this savage district. When my perplexity was at its worst I saw a shepherd, whose form, wrapped in the long brown homespun cloak called a limousine, stood solemnly against the evening sky. I made towards him, thinking that he would help me out of my difficulty; but no: either he did not understand a word I said, or did not choose to give any information.