The friendly visit of a few Russian naval officers lately put the country into as great a commotion as a hostile invasion. I started southward from Lyons on the 12th October, 1893, amid scenes of wholly indescribable confusion; railway stations a mere compact phalanx of excited tourists bound for Toulon, with no immediate prospect of getting an inch farther, railway officials at their wits' end, carriage after carriage hooked on to the already enormously long train, and yet crowds upon crowds left behind. Every train was, of course, late; and on the heels of each followed supplementary ones, all packed to their utmost capacity. As we steamed into the different stations "Vive la Russie!" greeted our ears. The air seemed filled with the sound; never surely was such a delirium witnessed in France since the fever heat of 1789!

At Valence, Montelimar, Avignon, Arles, the same tumult reigned; but before reaching the second place, the regulation number of carriages, twenty-five, had been exceeded, and as hardly one per cent of the travellers alighted, we could only pass by the disconcerted multitudes awaiting places. And a mixed company was ours - the fashionable world, select and otherwise, the demi-monde in silks and in tatters, musicians, travelling companies of actors and showmen, decorated functionaries, children, poodles, all bound for the Russian fleet!

At Marseilles, a bitter disappointment awaited some, I fear, many. No sooner were we fairly within the brilliantly-lighted, crowded station, and before the train had come to a standstill, than a stentorian voice was heard from one end of the platform to the other, crying -


And as the gorged carriages slowly discharged their burden, the stream of passengers wending towards the door marked "Way out," a yet louder and more awe-inspiring voice came from above, the official being perched high as an orator in the pulpit, repeating the same words -


The dismay of the thwarted pickpockets may be better imagined than described. Many, doubtless, had come from great distances, confident of a golden harvest. Let us hope that the authorities of Toulon were equally on the alert. Marseilles no more resembles Lyons, Bordeaux, Nantes, than those cities resemble each other. Less elegant than Lyons, less majestic than Bordeaux, gayer by far than Nantes, the capital of Southern France has a stamp of its own. Today, as three thousand years ago, Marseilles may be called the threshold of the East. In these hot, bustling, noisy streets, Paris is quiet by comparison; London a Trappist monastery! Orientals, or what our French neighbours call exotics, are so common that no one looks at them. Japanese and Chinese, Hindus, Tonquinois, Annamites, Moors, Arabs, all are here, and in native dress; and writing letters in the salon of your hotel, your vis-a-vis at the table d'hote, your fellow sightseers, east and west, to-day as of old, here come into friendly contact; and side by side with the East is the glowing life of the South. We seem no longer in France, but in a great cosmopolitan mart that belongs to the whole world.

The Marseillais, nevertheless, are French; and Marseilles, to their thinking, is the veritable metropolis. "If Paris had but her Cannebiere," they say, "she would be a little Marseilles!"

Superbly situated, magnificently endowed as to climate, the chef-lieu of the Bouches du Rhone must be called a slatternly beauty; whilst embellishing herself, putting on her jewels and splendid attire, she has forgotten to wash her face and trim her hair! Not in Horatian phrase, dainty in her neatness, Marseilles does herself injustice. Lyons is clean swept, spick and span as a toy town; Bordeaux is coquettish as her charming Bordelaise; Nantes, certainly, is not particularly careful of appearances. But Marseilles is dirty, unswept, littered from end to end; you might suppose that every householder had just moved, leaving their odds and ends in the streets, if, indeed, these beautifully-shaded walks can be so called. The city in its development has laid out alleys and boulevards instead of merely making ways, with the result that in spite of brilliant sky and burning sun, coolness and shadow are ever to be had. The Cannebiere, with its blue sky, glowing foliage and gay, nonchalant, heterogeneous crowds, reminds me of the Rambla of Barcelona. Indeed, the two cities have many points of resemblance. Marseilles is greatly changed from the Marseilles I visited twenty-five years ago, to say nothing of Arthur Young's description of 1789. The only advantage with which he accredited the city was that of possessing newspapers. Its port, he wrote, was a horsepond compared to that of Bordeaux; the number of country houses dotting the hills disappointingly small. At the present time, suburban Marseilles, like suburban London, encroaches year by year upon the country; another generation, and the sea-coast from Toulon to the Italian frontier will show one unbroken line of country houses. Of this no one can doubt who sees what is going on in the way of building.

But it is not only by beautiful villas and gardens that the city has embellished itself. What with the lavishness of the municipality, public companies, and the orthodox, noble public buildings, docks, warehouses, schools, churches, gardens, promenades, have rendered Marseilles the most sumptuous French capital after Paris. Neither Lyons, Bordeaux, Nantes, can compare with it for sumptuosity. In the Palais de Longchamps, the splendour of municipal decoration reaches its acme; the horsepond Arthur Young sneered at now affords accommodation of 340 acres, with warehouses, said to be the finest in the world; last, but not least, comes the enormous Byzantine Cathedral not yet finished, built at the cost of a quarter of a million sterling. Other new churches and public buildings without number have sprung up of late years, the crowning glory of Marseilles being its Palais de Longchamps.

This magnificent group of buildings may be called a much enlarged and much more grandiose Trocadero. Worthily do these colossal Tritons and sea-horses commemorate the great achievement of modern Marseilles; namely, the conveying of a river to its very doors. Hither, over a distance of fifty-four miles, are brought the abundant waters of the Durance; as we stand near, their cascades falling with the thunder of our own Lodore. But having got the river and given the citizens more than enough water with which to turn their mills, supply their domestic wants, fertilize suburban fields and gardens, the Town Council seem satisfied. The streets are certainly, one and all, watered with rushing streams, greatly to the public health and comfort. A complete system of drainage is needed to render the work complete. When we learn that even Nice is not yet drained from end to end, we need not be astonished at tardy progress elsewhere. Sanitation is ever the last thing thought of by French authorities. Late in the afternoon we saw two or three men slowly sweeping one street. No regular cleaning seems to take place. Get well out of the city, by the sea-shore, or into the Prado - an avenue of splendid villas - and all is swept and garnished. The central thoroughfares, so glowing with life and colour, and so animated by day and night, are malodorous, littered, dirty. It is a delightful drive by the sea, over against the Chateau d'If, forts frowning above the rock, the deep blue waves, yellowish-brown shore, and green foliage, all in striking contrast.

We with difficulty realize that Marseilles is not the second city in France. The reason is obvious. Lyons lies less compactly together, its thickly-peopled Guillotiere seems a town apart; the population of Lyons, moreover, is a sedentary one, whilst the Marseillais, being seafarers, are perpetually abroad. The character, too, is quite different, less expansive, less excitable, less emotional in the great silk-weaving capital, here gay, noisy, nonchalant. Nobody seems to find the cares of the day a burden, all to have some of the sunshine of the place in their composition. "Mon bon," a Marsellais calls his neighbour; there is no stillness anywhere. Everybody is "Mon bon" to everybody.

The out-of-door, rollicking, careless life, more especially strikes a northerner. We seem here as remote from ordinary surroundings as if suddenly transported to Benares. The commercial prosperity of the first French sea-port is attested by its lavish public works, and number of country houses, a disappointing handful in Arthur Young's time. Hardly a householder, however modest his means, who does not possess a cottage or chalet; the richer having palatial villas and gardens. Nothing can convey a greater notion of ease and wealth than the prospect of suburban Marseilles, its green hills, rising above the sea, thickly dotted with summer houses in every part.

All who wish to realize the advance of French cities since 1870-71 should visit Marseilles. Only those who knew it long ago can measure the change, and greater changes still are necessary ere its sanitary conditions match climate and situation.

From Marseilles to Nice, from the land of the olive to that of the palm, is a long and wearisome journey. That tyrannical monopoly, the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee Railway Company, gives only slow trains, except to travellers provided with through tickets; and these so inconveniently arranged, that travellers unprovided with refreshments, have no opportunity of procuring any on the way. Whenever we travel by railway in France we are reminded of the crying need for competition. The all-omnipotent P.-L.-M. does as it pleases, and it is quite useless for travellers to complain. Every inch of the way points to the future of the Riviera - a future not far off. A few years hence and the sea-coast from Marseilles to Mentone will be one unbroken line of hotels and villas. The process is proceeding at a rapid rate. When Arthur Young made this journey a century ago, he described the country around Toulon thus: "Nine-tenths are waste mountain, and a wretched country of pines, box, and miserable aromatics." At the present time, the brilliant red soil, emerald crops, and gold and purple leafage of stripped vine, make up a picture of wondrous fertility. At every point we see vineyards of recent creation; whilst not an inch of soil between the olive trees is wasted. On the 28th of October the landscape was bright with autumn crops, some to be repique, or planted out according to the Chinese system before mentioned.

The first thing that strikes the stranger at Nice is its Italian population. These black-eyed, dark-complexioned, raven-haired, easy-going folks form as distinct a type as the fresh-complexioned, blue-eyed Alsatian. That the Nicois are French at heart is self-evident, and no wonder, when we compare their present condition with that of the past. We see no beggars or ragged, wretched-looking people. If the municipal authorities have set themselves the task of putting down mendicity, they have succeeded. French enterprise, French capital is enriching the population from one end of the Alpes Maritimes to the other. At the present time there must be tens of thousands of workmen employed in the building of hotels and villas between Marseilles and Ventimille. That the Riviera will finally be overbuilt no one can doubt; much of the original beauty of the country is already destroyed by this piling up of bricks and mortar, more beauty is doomed. But meantime work is brisk, wages are high, and the Post Office savings bank and private banks tell their own tale.

Of course the valetudinarians contribute to the general prosperity, a prosperity which it is difficult for residents in an English watering-place to realize. Thus I take up a Hastings newspaper to find a long list of lodging-house keepers summoned for non-payment of taxes. Arrived at Nice, a laundress employed by my hostess immediately came to see if I had any clothes for her. On bringing back the linen she deposited it in my room, saying I could pay her when fetching the next bundle. I let her go, but called her back, thinking that perhaps the poor woman had earned nothing for months and was in distress. My hostess afterwards informed me with a smile that this good woman had L2,500 in the bank. I could multiply instances in point.

If the condition of the working classes has immensely improved, the cost of living has not stood still. A householder informed me that prices of provisions, servants' wages, house rent and other items of domestic economy have tripled within the last twenty years. There is every prospect that this increase will continue. Last winter hotels and boarding-houses at Nice were all full; fast as new ones are built, they fill to overflowing. And, of course, the majority of visitors are rich. No others should come; they are not wanted.

In studying the rural population we must bear in mind one fact - namely, the line of demarcation separating the well-to-do peasants of the plain from the poor and frugal mountaineer. Follow the mule track from Mentone to Castillon, and we find a condition of things for squalor and poverty unmatched throughout France. Visit an olive-grower in the valley of the Var, and we are once more amid normal conditions of peasant property. My first visit was to the land of Goshen.

Provided with a letter of introduction to a farmer, I set off for the village of St. Martin du Var, a village of five hundred and odd souls, only within the last year or two accessible by railway. The new line, which was to have connected Nice with Digne and Cap, had been stopped short half-way, the enterprising little company who projected it being thereby brought to the verge of ruin. This fiasco, due, I am told, to the jealous interference of the P.-L.-M., is a great misfortune to travellers, the line partially opened up leading through a most wildly picturesque and lovely region, and being also of great commercial and strategic importance. But that terrible monopoly, the Paris-Lyon- Mediterranee, will tolerate no rivals. Folks bound from Gap to Nice must still make the long round by way of Marseilles in order to please the Company; merchandise - and, in case of a war with Italy, which may Heaven avert! - soldiers and ammunition must do the same.

The pretty new "Gare du Sud" invites patronage, and three services are performed daily. On this little line exists no third class. I imagine, then, that either the very poor are too poor to take train at all, or that there are none unable to pay second-class fare. In company of priests, peasants, and soldiers, I took a second-class place, the guard joining us and comfortably reading a newspaper as soon as we were fairly off.

It is a superb little journey to St. Martin du Var. The line may be described as a succession of tunnels, our way lying between lofty limestone cliffs and the Var, at the present time almost dry. As we slowly advance, the valley widens, and on either side are broad belts of verdure and fertility; fields, orchards, gardens, olive trees feathering the lower slopes, here and there, little villages perched high above the valley. One charming feature of the landscape is the aspen; so silvery were its upper leaves in the sun that at first I took them for snow-white blossoms. These verdant stretches on either side of the river were formerly mere waste, redeemed and rendered cultivable by means of dykes.

My destination is reached in an hour, a charmingly placed village amid beautiful mountain scenery, over against it towering the hamlet of La Roquette, apparently inaccessible as cloudland. Here a tributary stream joins the Var, the long winding valley, surrounded by lofty crags and olive-clad slopes, affording a delightful and most exhilarating prospect. The weather on this 20th of October was that of a perfect day in July.

St. Martin du Var has its Mairie, handsome communal schools, and large public walks or recreation ground, a parallelogram planted with trees. The place has a neglected, Italian aspect; at the same time an aspect of ease and contentment. The black-eyed, olive-complexioned, Italian-looking children are uniformly well dressed, with good shoes and stockings. French children, even of the poorest class, are always decently shod.

I found my host at dinner with his wife, little daughter, and sister-in-law. The first impression of an uninitiated traveller would be of poverty. The large bare kitchen was unswept and untidy; the family dishes - soup, vegetables, olives, good white bread, wine - were placed on the table without cloth or table-cover. As will be seen, these hard-working, frugal people were rich; in England they would have servants to wait upon them, fine furniture, and wear fashionable clothes. My letter of introduction slowly read and digested, the head of the family placed himself at my disposal. We set off on a round of inspection, the burning mid-day sun here tempered by a delicious breeze.

We first visited the olive-presses and corn-mill - this farmer was village miller as well as olive grower - all worked by water-power and erected by himself at a heavy outlay. Formerly these presses and mills were worked by horses and mules after the manner of old-fashioned threshing-machines, but in Provence as in Brittany, progress is now the order of the day.

In order to supply these mills, a little canal was dug at my host's own expense, and made to communicate with the waters of the Var; thus a good supply is always at hand.

The enormous olive-presses and vats are now being got in for the first or October harvest. This is the harvest of windfalls or fallen fruit, green or black as the case may be, and used for making an inferior kind of oil. The second harvest or gathering of the olives remaining on the trees takes place in April. Linen is spread below, and the berries gently shaken off. I may add that the periods of olive harvests vary in different regions, often being earlier or later. An olive tree produces on an average a net return of twelve francs, the best returns being alternate or biennial; the roots are manured from time to time, otherwise the culture is inexpensive. The trees are of great age and, indeed, are seldom known to die. The "immortal olive" is, indeed, no fiction. In this especial district no olive trees have, within living memory, been killed by frost, as was the case in Spain some years ago. Nevertheless, the peaks around St. Martin du Var are tipped with snow in winter. The olive harvests and necessary preparations require a large number of hands, the wages of men averaging three francs, of women, the half. Thus at the time I write of, day labourers in remote regions of Provence receive just upon fourteen shillings and sixpence per week; whereas I read in the English papers that Essex farmers are reducing the pittance of twelve and even ten shillings per week for able-bodied men.

Ten days later, my cicerone said that the first harvest would be in active progress, and he most cordially invited me to revisit him for the purpose of looking on. From the lees of the crushed berries a third and much inferior oil is made and used in the manufacture of soap, just as what is called piquette or sour wine is made in Brittany from the lees of crushed grapes. I was assured by this farmer that the impurity of olive oil we so often complain of in England, arises from adulteration at the hands of retailers. Table oil as it issues from the presses of the grower is absolutely pure; merchants add inferior qualities or poppy oil, described by me in an earlier page, and which my present host looked upon with supreme contempt. The olive, with the vine and tobacco, attains the maximum of agricultural profits. This farmer alone sells oil to the annual value of several thousand pounds, and to the smaller owner also it is the principal source of income. Peasant owners or tenants of an acre or two grow a little corn as well, this chiefly for their own use.

The interior of the corn-mill presented an amusing scene. Two or three peasants were squabbling with my host's subordinate over their sacks of flour; one might have supposed from the commotion going on and the general air of vindictive remonstrance that we were suddenly transported to a seigneurial mill. A few conciliatory words from the master put all straight, and soon after we saw the good folks, one of them an old woman, trotting off on donkeys with their sack of corn slung before them. I need hardly say that the talk of these country-people among themselves is always in patois, not a word of which is intelligible to the uninitiated.

Just above the mills are groves of magnificent old olive trees, and alongside the little railway were bright strips of lucerne and pasture, folks here and there getting in their tiny crops of hay.

The iron road is not yet regarded as an unmixed good. My host told me that local carters and carriers had been obliged in consequence to sell their horses and carts and betake themselves to day labour. Such drawbacks are, of course, inevitable, but the ulterior advantage effected by the railway is unquestionable. I should say that nowhere are life and property safer than in these mountain-hemmed valleys. The landlady of the little hotel at St. Martin du Var assured me that she always left her front door open all night. Nothing had ever happened to alarm her but the invasion of three English ladies at midnight, one of these of gigantic stature and armed with a huge stick. The trio were making a pedestrian journey across country, apparently taking this security for granted. Neither brigands nor burglars could have given the poor woman a greater fright than the untimely appearance of my countrywomen.

It was now too hot to visit the open tracts of pasture and cultivation alongside the Var. The farmer's wife proposed a shady walk to a neighbouring farm instead, our errand being to procure milk for my five o'clock tea. Without hat or umbrella, my companion set off, chatting as we went. She explained to me that on Sundays she wore bonnet and mantle after the fashion of a bourgeoise; in other words, she dressed like a lady, but that neither in summer nor winter at any other time did she cover her head. She was a pleasant-mannered, intelligent, affable woman, almost toothless, as are so many well-to-do middle-aged folks in France. Dentists must fare badly throughout the country. No one ever seems to have a guinea to spend upon false teeth.

We were soon out of the village, and passing the pretty garden of the Gendarmerie, reached a scene of unimaginable, unforgettable beauty. Never shall I forget the splendour of the olive trees set around a wide, brilliantly green meadow; near the farmhouse groves of pomegranate, orange and lemon with ripening fruit; beside these, medlar and hawthorn trees (cratoegus azarolus), the golden leafage and coral-red fruit of the latter having a striking effect; beyond, silvery peaks, and, above all, a heaven of warm, yet not too dazzling blue. At the farther end of the meadow, in which a solitary cow grazed at will, a labourer was preparing a ribbon-like strip of land for corn, beside him, pretending to work too, his little son of five years. My hostess held up her jug and stated her errand, proposing that the cow should be milked a trifle earlier in order to suit my convenience. The man good-naturedly replied that, as far as the matter concerned himself, he was agreeable enough, but that the cow was not so easily to be put out of her way. She was milked regularly as clockwork at a quarter to five, the clock had only just struck four; he might leave his work and take her home, but not a drop of milk would she give before the proper time! Leaving our jug, we roamed about this little paradise, unwilling to quit a scene of unblemished beauty. A more bewitching spot I do not recall; and it seemed entirely shut off from the world, on all sides, unbroken quiet, nothing to mar the exquisiteness of emerald turf, glossy foliage of orange and lemon trees, silvery olive in striking contrast, and above, a cloudless sky. In the heart of a primeval forest we could not feel more alone.

The thought occurred to me how perfect were such a holiday resort could a clean little lodging be found near! With some attention to cleanliness and sanitation, the little hotel at St. Martin du Var might satisfy the unfastidious. I am bound to admit that in French phrase it leaves much to desire.

My host gave me a good deal of interesting information about the place and the people. Excellent communal schools with lay teachers of both sexes have been opened under French regime; and the village of five hundred and odd souls has, of course, its Mairie, Hotel de Ville, and Gendarmerie, governing itself after the manner of French villages.

Whilst the ladies of the house chatted with me they knitted away at socks and stockings, in coarse, bright-coloured wool. Such articles are never bought, the home-made substitute being much more economical in the end. As an instance of the solid comfort of these apparently frugal folks, let me mention their homespun linen sheets. My hostess showed me some coarse bed-linen lately woven for her in the village. Calico sheets, she said, were much cheaper, but she preferred this durable home-spun even at three times the price. An old woman in the village still plied the loom, working up neighbours' materials at three francs a day. The flax has to be purchased also, so that the homespun sheet is a luxury; "and at the same time," the housewife added, "a work of charity. This poor old woman lives by her loom. It is a satisfaction to help her to a mouthful of bread."

The moon had risen when I took leave, hostess, little daughter, and sister all accompanying me to the station, reiterating their wish to see me again. Nothing, indeed, would have been pleasanter than to idle away weeks amid this adorable scenery and these charming people. But life is short and France is immense. The genially uttered au revoir becomes too often a mere figure of speech.

I add, by the way, that the little daughter, now trotting daily to the village school, is sure to have a handsome dowry by and by. Four thousand pounds is no unusual portion of a rich peasant's daughter in these regions. As an old resident at Nice informed me, "The peasants are richer than the bourgeoisie" - as they deserve to be, seeing their self-denial and thrift.