The road between Le Rozier and Millau is delightful; the verdure and brilliance of the valley in striking contrast with the sombre, dark-ribbed Causse Noir frowning above. For two-thirds of the way we follow the Tarn as it winds - here a placid stream - amid poplars, willows, and smooth green reaches. Gracious and lovely the shifting scenes of the landscape around, stern and magnificent of aspect the Causse, its ramparts as of iron girding it round, its gloomy escarpments showing deep clefts and combes, lines of purply gold and green breaking the gray surface.

Close under this mighty shadow - a bit of fairyland by the dwelling of evil genii - are sunny little lawns, peach-groves, orchards, and terraced gardens overlooking the river; beyond, fertile fields, and here and there, perched on the crags, some quaint village or ruined chateau. The road is bordered for the most part with walnut-trees, affording rich foliage and delicious shadow. The colours of every feature in the scene - luxuriant belt of field and garden, blue hills and sky - have a southern warmth and brilliance.

Growing close to road and river are apple-trees laden with ruddy fruit. In England such crops would be pillaged in a day. Among peasant proprietors, each respects the possession of his neighbour. This fact and one or two others impressed my companion much. It was her first acquaintance with rural France, and she had undertaken the journey purely as a lover of nature and art, not at all as a student of political economy, agriculture, or statistics. Peasant property was no more in her way than the Impressionist school of modern art in mine. But being keenly observant, and feeling, as any other member of the propertied class must do, aghast at the condition of rural affairs in England - vast tracts of cultivated land deteriorating into waste, agricultural wages lowered to nine shillings a week, vagrancy on the increase in consequence of the general migration to the towns, the sons of country squires enlisting in the ranks, or betaking themselves to manual labour in the Colonies - aghast, I say, at these signs of the times among ourselves, she could but feel some surprise at her French experiences. The entire absence of mendicants in the departments we had lately traversed - these reputed among the poorest in France - was altogether a revelation to her, as indeed it must be to any stranger on French soil. Even in a neglected-looking place like Peyreleau, where the people are wholly unused to the sight of tourists, and life is evidently one of extreme laboriousness, no hand is held out for an alms. In our long drives across country, where strangers in a carriage and pair are assuredly taken for millionaires, we were never asked by man, woman or child for a sou.

Again, the good, neat, suitable clothes of the country-people struck my friend no less. The total absence of tawdriness and finery on Sundays, the equally total absence of rags and squalor on week-days, afforded a striking contrast to what we are accustomed to see at home. It is more especially in the matter of foot-gear that the working-classes in France show to advantage. My friend noticed with admiration the well- stockinged, well-shod children, all having good strong shoes - stockings evidently bought or made for them, not the ill-fitting belongings of others, gifts of charity or bargains of the pawnshop. The men and women, too, are uniformly well shod, with strong, clean, home-knit stockings. Again, the implied sense of security in these unprotected gardens and wayside orchards is a novelty to the English mind. At Hastings, which may also be called the metropolis of vagrancy, it is impossible to keep a poor little wallflower or a primrose in one's garden. An apple-tree would be pillaged on any public road in England before the fruit was half ripe. Not only here, but in Anjou and many other regions, I have walked or driven for miles, amid unprotected vineyards and fruit-trees, the ripening crops being within reach of passers-by. No one pillages his neighbour.

Yes, peasant property is a detestable, nay, an iniquitous, institution, only to be compared to the Inquisition itself. No one who does not already possess several thousand acres of land ought to be permitted by law to purchase a single rood. Nine shillings a week, Christmas doles of beef and flannel petticoats from the Hall, the workhouse as a reward for fifty years' patient following the plough - these make up the only Utopia worth mentioning. Every right-minded person, every true Christian, has come to such conclusions long ago. Yet when it is possible to spend weeks in a civilized country without encountering a beggar; when we see an entire population well-clothed, cheerful, and self-supporting in old age; when we see fruit-crops ripening in all security by the roadside, and inquire throughout the length and breadth of the land for a poor-house in vain; when we find judge and jury dismissed at assize after assize because there are no criminals to try, we are tempted to exclaim:

'Peasant property or no, they manage these things better in France!'

'There is no want here,' our driver said, and the fact is self-evident.

As we approach Millau we meet streams of country folk disporting themselves, some afoot, others in rustic vehicles - the men wearing clean blue blouses over the Sunday broadcloth, the women neat black gowns, kerchiefs, and spotless white coiffes. The fields are deserted. Man and beast are resting from the labours of the week.

The landscape now changes altogether, and we are reminded that we have quitted the Lozere for the Aveyron. The air has lost the matchless purity and exhilarating briskness of Sauveterre and Montpellier-le-Vieux. Alike sky, atmosphere, and vegetation recall the south. Pink and white oleanders bloom before every door; the quince, the mulberry, the peach, ripen in every garden. We long to get at our boxes and exchange woollen travelling-dresses for cottons and muslins.

Pleasant and welcome as is this soft air, this warm heaven, this bright, rich-coloured, flowery land, we strain our eyes to get a last glimpse of the Causse Noir. To betake ourselves to cosmopolitan hotels, cities and railways, after this sojourn in elfdom, was like closing the pages of 'Don Quixote' or Lucian to read a debate in the House or listen to a sermon.

And now that I am no longer held spellbound by wizardry and genii, good or evil, and the first glow of enthusiasm is over, let me jot down a few hard facts for the reader's edification - give in a few words the geological and general history of the Causses, if nothing more - a bare outline to serve the tourist on his way. The origin of the phenomenon is thus explained by the great French geographer, Elisee Reclus, in his chapter on 'Le Plateau Central de la France.' [Footnote: See his 'Geographie Universelle,' vol. ii.: 'La France,' 1885.] 'There is no doubt,' he writes, 'that at a remote period all these plateaux of jurassic rock formed a single Causse, deposed by the sea in the southern strait of the granitic group of France. Although the Causse Mejean, placed almost in the centre of the series of plateaux, is a hundred metres loftier than the rest, its formation accords with theirs. All show the same features. From the banks of the Herault to those of the Lot and the Aveyron, all show the same development of continuous strata. The ancient glaciers spread on the highest summits of the Cevennes as they melted, gradually cut into the rock, channelled openings - finally, forcing their way through the layers, have formed these gigantic defiles, now the marvel of geologists. If the rivers flow in an unbroken stream in these deep gorges, on the contrary, water is altogether absent from the plateaux above. The ground, riddled everywhere into holes and fissures, is hardly moistened by a shower. The rain, as if falling through a sieve, immediately disappears. In some places the chasms of rock have widened, the intermediate projections given way, and huge cavities of rightful depth - avens or tindouls, as they are locally called - are formed in the limestone. But the surface of the Causse is almost universally uniform, and these subterranean wells are only indicated by slight openings. Nowhere a foundation springs forth. Alike as to formation, aspect, and climate, the Causses are unique in France.'

This entire chapter is a necessary preparation for no matter how hasty a journey in the Lozere; equally to be recommended is the study of the Causses by M. Onesime Reclus in his work 'La France.' [Footnote: 'L'orage aux larges gouttes, la pluie fine, les ruisseaux de neige fendue, les sources joyeuses ne sont pas pour le Causse, qui est fissure, crible, casse, qui ne retient point les eaux, tout ce que lui verse la nue, entre dans la rocaille. Et c'est bien, bien bas que l'onde engloutie se decide a reparaitre, elle sort d'une grotte, au fond des gorges, au pied de ces roches droites, symetriques, monumentales, qui porte le terre-plein du Causse. Mais ce que le plateau n'a bu qu'en mille gorgees, la bouche de la caverne le rend souvent par un seul flot, les gouttes qui tombent du filtre s'unissant dans l'ombre en misseaux, puis en rivieres. Aussi, les sources du pied du Causse, sont-elles admirables par l'abondance des eaux, par la hauteur et la sublimite des rocs, de leur "bouts de mondes." Trop de soleil si le Causse est bas, trop de neige s'il est eleve, toujours et partout le vent, qui tord les bois chetifs, pour lac, une mare, pour riviere un ravin, de rocheuses prairies tondues par des moutons et des brebis a laine fine, des champs caillouteux d'orge, d'avoine, de pommes de terre, rarement de ble, voila les Causses! Le Caussenard seul peut aimer le Causse, mais qui n'admirerait les vallees qui l'entourent?']

I may add that the only traces of volcanic action in the Causses have been found at Sauveterre, near the so-called capital. Here basaltic rocks exist amid the limestone.

It is not only the geologist and the botanist, in search of an emotion, to use a French phrase, who will find a paradise here. The palaeontologist is no less happy. Sparsely peopled, isolated from civilization as is the 'great jurassic island' in our own day - lost as it seems to have been in the pages of French history - it was inhabited by our prehistoric forerunners, contemporaries of the great cave-bear. The entire department of the Lozere is a rich palaeontological field, and the Causse Mejean especially has afforded abundant treasure-trove. In the vast caverns and grottoes of its walls, great quantities of flint implements and fossils, human and animal, have been discovered. A collection of these may be seen in the museum of Mende.

The Causses, owing to their isolated position, may be said to have escaped a history. The great wave of religious warfare that devastated the Cevennes in the Middle Ages passed them by. Only here and there on the skirts of Sauveterre, near Mende, and of the Causse Noir, near Millau, as we have seen, are relics of feudal times. Close around, under the very shadow of these vast promontories, cresting the borders of the Tarn and the green heights between Millau and Mende, ruined strongholds and chateaux abound. The Causse itself enjoyed immunity alike from ferocious seigneurs and still more ferocious theologian bandits, seeking, as they put it, the salvation of their neighbours' souls. The merciless Calvinist leader, Merle, who burnt, pillaged, and depopulated Mende; the equally merciless quellers of the Camisard revolt, emissaries of Louis XII., were tempted by no more prey to penetrate these solitudes.

Were they, indeed, peopled at all? Was the so-called capital of Sauveterre even in existence? Who can answer the questions? Nor is it easy to determine when the entire region first fell under the observation of French geographers, and found at last a name and a place on the map of France.

Arthur Young, the most curious and accurate traveller of his time, brought, moreover, into contact with the best informed Frenchmen of the day, had evidently never heard of any portion of the Gevaudan, as the Lozere was then called, at all answering to the Causses. But a French traveller before alluded to - himself without doubt stimulated by the example of our countryman - M. Vaysse de Villiers, author of the 'Itineraire Descriptif de la France,' did in 1816, or thereabouts, accomplish the journey from Mende to Florac by way of Sauveterre. 'Never,' he wrote, 'have I seen a more complete aridity, so utter a desert,' He goes on to describe the beauty of the Tarnon (a small river of the Lozere) and its verdant banks. 'All this, added to the delightfulness of the autumn day and the horrible Causse of Sauveterre,' but just passed, transformed the dreary town and narrow valley of Florac into a delicious retreat. In a note he gives the accepted derivation of Causse from calx, saying that it was of general application, and that the word certainly filled a blank in French nomenclature.

It is now instructive to turn to French guidebooks and see how completely the region here described was ignored till within the last few years. I have before me Joanne's invaluable and conscientious guides for Auvergne, including the Cevennes, published respectively in 1874 and 1883. In the former, whilst the Causses figure in the map, beyond a brief allusion to the Causse Noir, they are ignored altogether. St. Enimie is not once mentioned, and nothing is said about the gorges of the Tarn. As to Montpellier-le-Vieux, it could find no place in a guide-book of that date, seeing that it was only discovered ten years later. We now take the edition of 1883. Here, the route from Mende to St. Enimie by way of Sauveterre is described also in the fewest possible words, two pages being found sufficient for short descriptions of the gorges of the Tarn by way of Florac, St. Enimie and the valley of the Joute. Montpellier-le-Vieux, for the very good reason mentioned above, is still absent. But just a year later we find the guide-book remodelled altogether. Joanne now devotes an entire, volume to the Cevennes, and states in his preface that the new issue of the 'General Itinerary of France' contains an account of a region very little known to French tourists, yet well worth visiting, the region comprising the Causses, the Canon du Tarn and Montpellier-le-Vieux. The distinguished geographer, alas! did not live to see his little purple volume, and, I am compelled to add, Baedeker's red rival, in the hands of scores and hundreds of his fellow-countrymen and women bound for the Lozere.

If the reader now turns to a map of France, and draws a perpendicular line from Mende to Lodeve, and a vertical line from Millau to Florac, he will have a pretty good notion of the area occupied by the Causses, including that of the Larzac in Aveyron.

When it is taken into account that the superficies thus covered in the Lozere alone reaches the total of 125,000 hectares, some idea may be gathered of the magnitude of the whole. The entire population of these highlands was only 6,662 souls in 1876, and there can be little doubt that, in the slow process of time, either they will be abandoned altogether, or by means of scientific methods utterly transformed. The laborious, long-suffering, hitherto ignored Caussenard will not surely be long neglected by the patriarchal Government of France. The Republic has laid iron roads across the Lozere, thus redeeming the department from the isolation and inertia of former times. Another tardigrade act of justice will surely ere long complete the work, and the inhabitant of the French steppes be made to share in the well-being and happiness long enjoyed by his fellow-countrymen.