Of the four hundred and fifty passengers who crossed with us from Dover to Calais, in August, 1888, we lost every trace when quitting the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee line at La Roche. Writing a hundred years ago, the great agriculturist, Arthur Young, gave his countrymen the following excellent piece of advice, which, it need hardly be said, has been generally neglected from that day to this: 'It may be useful to those who see no more of France than by once passing to Italy, to remark that if they would view the finest parts of the kingdom they should land at Dieppe, and follow the Seine to Paris, then take the great road to Moulins, and thence quit it for Auvergne, and pass to Viviers, the Rhone, and so by Aix to Italy. By such a variation from the frequented road the traveller might suffer for want of good inns, but would be repaid by the sight of a much finer and more singular country than the common road by Dijon offers, which passes in a great measure through the worst parts of France.'

The Suffolk squire who rode through France on the eve of the Great Revolution, in spite of his conscientious desire to see all that the country had to show, lost much from want of roads, maps, and any kind of accommodation. Nowadays, as will be seen from the following pages, good food and good beds await the traveller in the most remote districts; but in vain! Ninety-nine tourists out of a hundred remain of the poet Shelley's opinion - there is nothing to see in France - and hurry on as fast as the express can carry them to Geneva.

At the clean, bright, friendly little town of Auxerre we find ourselves as isolated from the beaten track as well can be. We are free to roam, sketch, stare at will, and no one notices us; not even an importunate beggar molests the sketcher as she brings out her book in the middle of the street.

This immunity from observation and annoyance forms a minor charm of French travel.

Auxerre possesses a beautiful little cathedral. It is one-towered, as that of Sens, a circumstance probably due to want of funds for the completion.

We always carry away in the memory some striking characteristic of French cathedrals, and no one can forget the exquisite tint of the building-stone here, a ruddy hue as of gold lighting up the dark, richly-sculptured mass without, nor the charming cluster of airy columns joining the Lady Chapel to the choir within, daintiest bit of architectural fancy. Whilst we were revelling in the contrast afforded by the intense glow of the stained glass and the pure white marble - the interior being one of the loveliest, if least spacious, in France - the sacristan's wife came up and said that if we waited a few minutes longer we should see a wedding.

'Although,' she added with an air of apology, 'a wedding of the third class.'

Now, whilst fairly familiar with French ways, I had never heard of marriages being divided after the manner of railway-carriages, into first, second, and third class. Our informant hastened to enlighten us. It seems that only wedding-parties of the first and second classes are entitled to enter by the front-door, to music of the full church orchestra, and to carpets laid down from porch to altar, every detail of pomp and ceremony depending on the price paid.

I must say that were I a French bride I should bargain for a wedding of the first class at any sacrifice. To have the big doors of the front portal flung open at the thrice-repeated knock of the beadle's staff; to hear Mendelssohn's 'Wedding March' pealed from the great organ; to march in solemn procession up the aisle, preceded by that wonderful figure in cocked hat, red sash, pink silk stockings, and shoes sparkling with huge buckles, all the congregation a-titter - it seems to me it were worth while being married simply for the intoxication of such a moment.

The third-class wedding-party, entering by a small side-door, and passing without music to the altar, made nevertheless a pretty picture: the bride, a handsome demoiselle de boutique, or shop assistant, in white, with veil and wreath; behind her, girls in bright dresses bearing enormous bouquets; bridegroom and supporters, all in spick and span swallow-tail coats, with white ties and gloves, like beaux in a French comedy, backwards and forwards; the priests looking gorgeous, although in their second-best robes, their gold plates shining as they collected the money; for whether married first, second or third class, the Church exacts its due. I felt real commiseration for these middle-class, evidently hard-working people, as the gold plate was presented again and again, first, I presume, for the Church; secondly, for the poor; thirdly, for Heaven knows what. Then two of the bridesmaids, each taking the arm of a white-gloved, swallow-tailed cavalier, made the round of the wedding guests, begging money of them. In fact, there seemed no end to the giving. Small wonder that marriages are on the decline in France! We left the bridal party still on their crimson velvet fauteuils - twelve being the number allotted to a wedding of the third class, the remaining guests being accommodated on rush-bottomed chairs - and next visited the underground Church of St. Germain.

What a contrast it presented to the lightness, brilliancy, and gaiety, if we may use such a word, of the cathedral! There the effect on the mind is of pure delight; we feel the exhilaration, not the austerity, of religion. Very different is the impression produced by St. Germain, which may be described as a church of tombs, a temple consecrated to the dead. Although on a smaller scale, this ancient burial-place of saints and martyrs recalls the awful mausoleum of Spanish kings. The Escurial itself is hardly more impressive.

The upper church stands airily in the garden of the town hospital, its fine tower all that is left of the original building. The lower remains intact. We descend into a perfect little Gothic interior, with naves, choir, and chapel, all in darkness but for the feeble glimmer of the sacristan's candle, every part showing ancient frescoes in wonderful preservation. In huge niches of the walls and under our feet, the enormous lids of the tombs yielding to our guide's touch, lie the bones of saints deposited there nearly a thousand years ago, 'English saints, many of them, who crossed the water with St. Germain,' our cicerone said with animation, evidently thinking the fact would interest us extremely. No less curious than these tombs are the frescoes, illustrating, among other subjects, the life of St. Maxime, companion of St. Germain, whose bones lie here. 'St. Maxime, St. Maxime,' I said, as I laboriously deciphered the Latin inscription on the tomb. 'Does this name, then, belong to a woman?'

'Si fait,' rejoined our guide, no little astonished at such ignorance, 'we have many names in France that do for both sexes, and she belonged to your own country.'

I did not feel in a position to contradict the statement, but no matter to what country she belonged, St. Maxime has secured double immortality - first, in the saints' calendar; secondly, in the mausoleum of Auxerre. Alike these tombs and frescoes, with the sepulchres of the Pharaohs, seem able to defy the encroachments of Time.

During the Revolution, great consternation prevailed concerning the precious relics. The bones of the saintly bishop were disinterred and hidden elsewhere for safety, and in the after-confusion were never replaced, but buried elsewhere.

The huge sarcophagus in the wall is a cenotaph.

No similar panic is likely to create a second disturbance of the sacred relics in this subterranean abbey church. And who can say? Centuries hence, devout Catholics, dark-skinned descendants of races only just emerging from cannibalism, may make a solemn pilgrimage hither and find the pictured story of St. Maxime still intact on the walls! Be this as it may, no travellers within reach of Auxerre should fail to visit its two beautiful and perfect churches, the one with its majestic front and single tower rising airily above the level landscape, its noble proportions standing out in the bright sunshine, radiant and lightsome alike within and without; the other, hidden in the bowels of the earth, giving no visible evidence of its existence, aisle, vaulted roofs, vistas of delicate columns, only to be realized in the glimmer of a semi-twilight.

But Auxerre possesses other antiquities and many ancient houses, in one of which, the Fontaine Hotel, the traveller is comfortably and reasonably housed. When we descended to our late supper in the salle a manger, we found master, mistress, and their children dining with the entire staff of servants. Such a circumstance indicates the difference between English and French ways. In an English hotel, would the chef sit down to talk with boots? - the lady bookkeeper condescend to break bread with the kitchen-maid? Just as in France there is nothing like our differentiation of domestic labour, one servant there fulfilling what are called the duties of three here, so there is no parallel to our social inequalities, kept up even in the kitchen.

The chef here, who obligingly quitted the table and the company to cook our cutlets, was a strikingly handsome man, as so many head-cooks are. The connection between cookery as a fine art and personal beauty I leave to others to discover. I must say that after a considerable acquaintance with these officials I can hardly call to mind any of mean appearance. One of the handsomest, I remember, was an accomplished young chef, who gave me lessons in the art of omelette-making at the well-known, home-like Hotel du Jura, Dijon.

Auxerre, although possessing a cathedral, is not a bishopric, its See having been annexed to that of Sens, after the Revolution.

Formerly capital of the Auxerrois part of the kingdom of Burgundy, Auxerre is now chef-lieu of the department of the Yonne, the little river making such pretty pictures between Sens and La Roche.

Between Auxerre and Autun much of the scenery has an English look. We might be in Surrey or Sussex. Lofty hedges enclosing fields and meadows, stretches of heath-covered waste, oak woods, and homesteads half hidden by orchards form the landscape. As our train crawls on, stopping at every station, we have ample time to enjoy the scenery and scrutinize the agriculture, here somewhat backward. These very slow trains off the great lines should always be resorted to by the inquiring traveller, the Bommelzug as it is called in German, the train de boeufs in French. What can be seen from the windows of the flying Rapide? Here we might almost alight and pluck the wild flowers growing so temptingly on the embankment. Brisk tourists might even turn the long halt at Avallon to good account, and get a hasty peep of one of the most wonderful sites in this part of France, not so much as hinted at from the railway. It was hard to pass Avallon by, 'most musical name, recalling the "Idylls of the King," a place that may be compared with Granada, with anything;' harder still, not to revisit the abbey church of Vezelay, beautiful in itself, so celebrated in history; so majestically placed on a ridge overlooking the two departments of the Yonne and the Nievre, but Goethe's invaluable maxim must be that of the conscientious traveller, 'An der Naechste muss man denken' (We must think of the nearest, the most important thing). Time did not now admit of a two days' halt here. As I have described Avallon and Vezelay fully elsewhere, [Footnote: I allude to several papers contributed to the Pall Mall Gazette whilst under the editorship of Mr. John Morley (September and October, 1881), also to my edition of Murray's 'Handbook to France,' part ii., 1884.] I will only now assure all tempted to take this suggestion and visit both, that they cannot be disappointed. So the train crawled on till the pretty home-like landscape was lost in the twilight, and night over took us.

It was late when we reached Autun, not too late, however, to receive a right cordial welcome from the author of 'Round my House,' who had ridden from his country home in the starlight to welcome us.