The day comes again, fair and hopeful. I am waiting for the old truffle-hunter, with whom I made an appointment for this morning. Presently I see him coming up the bed of the stream, plodding over the yellow stones, which have been dry for four months. I recognise him by his pig, which walks by his side. They are both truffle-hunters, and have both an interest in the business, as will be seen. The man is gray and old, with a sharp prominent nose, suggestive of his chief occupation, and with a bent back—the effect, perhaps, of stooping to pull the pig’s ear in the nick of time should the beast be tempted to snap up one of the savoury cryptogams. When it is added that he wears a short blouse and a low, broad-brimmed felt hat, I have described the appearance of the truffle-hunter. Now, inasmuch as the pig is about to play the most important part in the morning’s work, its portrait should likewise be drawn. The animal is of a dirty-white colour, like all pigs in this part of France, and is utterly devoid of grace and elegance. It is, in fact, an extremely ugly beast, with an arched back and a very long turned-up nose; but it is four years old, and is accounted ‘serious.’ Like all other pigs used for truffle-hunting, it is of the female sex. The animal has been carefully educated; it wears a leather collar as a mark of distinction, and is allowed the same liberty as a dog.
We climb the rocky side of the gorge, which is hot work, for the south wind is blowing, and the sun is blazing in a blue sky. The walnuts by the line of the stream are changing colour, and the maples are already fiery; but otherwise there are few signs of autumn. On reaching the plateau we come at once to the truffle-ground. Here the soil is so thin, so stony, and withal so arid, that, were it not for the scant herbage upon which sheep and goats thrive, it would produce nothing but stunted oak, juniper, and truffles. Even the oaks only grow in patches where the rock is not close to the surface. The truffles are never found except very near these trees, or, in default of them, hazels. This is one of the mysteries of the cryptogamic kingdom, which no one has yet been able to explain. The truffle-hunters believe that it is the shade of the trees which produces the underground fruit, and the opinion is based upon experience. When an oak has been cut down, or even lopped, a spot near it that was rich in truffles year after year is soon scoffed at by the knowing pig.
Our work lies amongst the dwarf oaks, for there are no hazels here. At a sign from the old man, the pig sniffs about the roots of a little tree, then proceeds to dig with her nose, tossing up the larger stones which lie in the way as if they were feathers. The animal has smelt a truffle, and the man seizes her by the ear, for her manner is suspicious. This is the first time they have been out together since last season, and the beast has forgotten some of her education. She manages to get a truffle