Vic-sur-Cere, half an hour distant from Aurillac, is an earthly paradise, a primitive Eden, as yet unspoiled by fashion and utilitarianism. The large 'Etablissement des Bains,' described in French and English guide-books, has long ceased to exist; bells, carpets, curtains, and other luxuries are unknown; but the unfastidious traveller, who prefers homeliness and honesty to elegance and extortion, may here drink waters rivalling those of Spa without being exposed to the exorbitant prices and insolence of the Spa hotel-keepers. Rustic inns, or rather pensions, may be had at Vic-sur-Cere, in which the tourist is wholesomely lodged and handsomely 'tabled' at a cost that would enrapture Mr. Joseph Pennell. Two or three hundred visitors, chiefly from the neighbouring towns, spend the summer holidays here, one and all disappearing about the middle of September.

When we arrived, we had the entire place to ourselves - inn, river-side walks, and dazzlingly green hills. No palm island in mid-Pacific could offer a sweeter, more pastoral halting-place. It is indeed a perfect little corner of earth, beauty of the quiet kind here reaching its acme; and neither indoors nor abroad is there any drawback to mar the traveller's enjoyment.

From the windows of our hotel, close to the station, we enjoy a prospect absolutely flawless - Nature in one of her daintiest moods is here left to herself. The inn stands amid its large vegetable, fruit and flower gardens; looking beyond these, we see the prettiest little town imaginable nestled in a beautiful valley, around it rising romantic crags, wooded heights, and gentle slopes, fresh and verdant as if the month were May. Through the smooth meadows between the encompassing hills winds the musically-named stream, the Iraliot, and from end to end the broad expanse of green is scented with newly-mown hay. The delightful scenery, the purity of the air, the excellent quality of the waters, ought to turn Vic-sur-Cere into a miniature Vichy. Fortunately for the lovers of rusticity and calm, such has not as yet been the case, and the simple, straightforward character of the people is still unspoiled by contact with the outer world. Here, also, the pervading aspect is of well-being and contentment. 'Everybody can live here,' we were told by an intelligent resident; 'only the idle, the drunkard, and the thriftless need come to want.'

Vagrancy is altogether absent; the children are neatly dressed and very clean; the men and women have all a look of cheerful independence as they toil on their little farms or mind their small flocks and herds.

Here also, as elsewhere, the greatest variety exists in the matter of holdings. We find tiny freeholds and large tenant farms side by side. With few exceptions, all possess a house and bit of land. Folks toil hard and fare hard, but live in no terror of sickness or old age. The house and bit of land will not support a family; with the savings of a man's best years, it is the harbour of refuge when work is past.

Without meeting here the urbanity and hospitable welcome that awaited us near Aurillac, we found the peasant farmers exceedingly civil to strangers; and when once made to understand the motives of my inquisitiveness, they were quite ready to give me any information I required.

One farm I visited in the neighbourhood was a tenant-holding of about 1,000 acres, let at a fixed rental of L600 a year, and this is far from the largest farm hereabouts. The stock consisted of seventy-eight cows, five horses, four pair of team oxen, besides large numbers of sheep, pigs, and poultry. Five women-servants were boarded in the house, and several cheese-makers employed on the alps during summer.

The farmer's wife received us pleasantly, and after a little explanation, when she quite understood the reason of my visit, answered all questions with ease and intelligence. She was resting from the labours of the day, a piece of knitting in her hands, which she politely laid aside whilst chatting.

The kitchen was large, clean, and airy, its principal ornaments consisting of rows of prize medals on tablets, awarded at different agricultural shows. On the shelves were rows of copper cooking vessels, burnished as those of a Dutch interior. The bed-chambers were apart.

Certainly, the housewife's personal appearance left something to desire, but we were assured that on Sundays she turned out for Mass gloved, veiled and bonneted like any town lady. French peasants will not set about the day's labour in smart or shabby-genteel clothes.

Here, as near Aurillac, modern agricultural methods, machinery and artificial manures are not yet the order of the day. As an instance of what peasant farmers in France can effect whilst following old plans, let me cite the predecessor of my hostess's husband. This man had lately retired, having saved up enough money to live upon. He had, in fact, become a rentier.

Another tenant farm near consisted of 1,000 acres, stocked with 120 cows, eight pair of team oxen, besides sheep, horses and pigs. Adjoining such large holdings are small freeholds farmed by their peasant owners - dairy farms of a few acres, market-gardens of one or two, and so on.

Metayage, or the system of half-profits, is rarely found in the Cantal. Tenancy at a fixed rental is preferred, as less complicated and troublesome. [Footnote: I have described the metayage of Berri in a contribution to Macmillan's Magazine, 'In George Sand's Country,' 1886.] It was pleasant to see the people working in their little field or garden, or minding their goats and sheep, their decent appearance, cheerfulness and healthful looks testifying to the satisfactory conditions of existence.

I do not for a moment aver that such a state of things exists in every part of France; but everywhere we find the same qualities - independence, thrift and foresight - called forth by the all-potent agency of possession. I have somewhere seen the fact mentioned, and adduced as an argument against peasant property, that the owner of seven cows had not a wardrobe in which to hang so much as his wife's clothes; they were suspended on a rope. Was the writer aware of the money-value of seven cows, the capital thereby represented, and could she point to any farm-labourer in England, however well off in the matter of cupboards and clothes-pegs, possessed of seven cows, their stalls and pasture-ground - in other words, a capitalist to the extent of several hundred pounds? Few French peasants, we fancy, would exchange their house, land and stock for the furniture of an English labourer's cottage, wardrobe included. As a matter of fact, most of these small farmers own furniture, clothes and house-linen in abundance.

Cheese-making is the chief industry of the place. Far away on the summit of every green hill may be descried the red-roofed hut, or buron, of the cheese-maker. Here, with his dog, and sometimes a shepherd, he spends the summer months, descending to the valleys before the first snow falls. The dairyman, or fromager, is generally a hired workman, specially trained for the work. He is paid at the rate of L25 or L30 a year, besides board and lodging. As soon as the snows melt and the cows can be driven afield, he betakes himself to his buron on the alp, if married, leaving his wife in the valley below.

Have the fromager of the Cantal hills and the Caussenard of the Lozerien steppe their legends, folklore, songs? Have their love-stories been chronicled by some French Auerbach, their ballads found a translator in a French Hebel? Without doubt this sequestered life of shepherd and mountain has its vein of poetry and romance as well as any other. To reach one of these cheese-makers' huts is quite an expedition, and on foot is only practicable to hardy pedestrians. It is a beautiful drive from the valley of the Cere to the open pasture-ground, dotted with burons, behind its steep green hills on the southern side. As the road winds upwards, we see the crags and slopes clothed with the delicate greenery of young fir and pine. These are seedlings planted by the State; here, as in other departments, some strenuous efforts being made to replant the ancient forests. Goats are no longer permitted to browse on the mountain-sides promiscuously, as in former days, and thus slowly, but surely, not only the soil, but the climate and products of these re-wooded districts, will undergo complete transformation. And who can tell? Perhaps the Causse itself will, generations hence, cease to exist, and the Roof of France become a vast flowery garden. The country people here all speak a patois, and the fromager is not communicative. It is always well to be accompanied by a blue-bloused native on these visits. The dogs, too, that keep guard over the buron, like the cows, are very suspicious of strangers.

More attractive than the interior of the cheese-maker's hut - often dark, ill-ventilated, and malodorous - is the scene without, a wide prospect of pastoral, idyllic charm. The Cantal offers many a superb mountain panorama and grandiose scene. Nowhere is to be found more sweetness, graciousness and repose than in the valley of the Cere.

After a few days' sojourn we journeyed to Clermont-Ferrand, which I found much embellished since my long stay in that city, just ten years before. Thence, seeing the Puy de Dome flushed with the red light of the rising sun, a sight compensating for much insolence and discomfort at the Hotel de l'Univers, we proceeded to St. Germain-des-Fosses, where we parted, my young companion taking the train to Autun, I proceeding by way of Lyons to Gap, on a visit to a beloved French friend.

The weather had remained brilliantly fine throughout our expedition, although the cold of early morning was now piercing. And brilliantly fine it remained till my departure for England, early in October.