Osse, la bien aimee 
                     Toi, du vallon 
                     Le choix, la fille ainee 
                     Le vrai fleuron! 
                     C'est sur toi qu'est fixee 
                     Dans son amour, 
                     La premiere pensee 
                     Du roi du jour 
                     Comme a sa fiancee 
                     L'amant accourt. 
                     Xavier Navarrot.

Between Toulouse and Tarbes the scenery is quite unlike that of the Gard and the Aude. Instead of the interminable vineyards round about Aigues-Mortes and Carcassonne, we gaze here upon a varied landscape. Following the Garonne with the refrain of Nadaud's famous song in our minds -

     "Si la Garonne avait voulu," -

we traverse a vast plain or low vale rich in many-coloured crops: buckwheat, sweeps of creamy blossom, dark-green rye, bluish-green Indian corn with silvery flower-head, and purple clover, and here and there a patch of vine are mingled together before us; in the far distance the Pyrenees, as yet mere purple clouds against the horizon.

We soon note a peculiarity of this region - vines trained to trees, a method in vogue a hundred years ago. "Here," wrote Arthur Young, when riding from Toulouse to St. Martory on his way to Luchon, "for the first time I see rows of maples with vines trained in festoons from tree to tree"; and farther on he adds, "medlars, plums, cherries, maples in every hedge with vines trained." The straggling vine-branches have a curious effect, but the brightness of the leafage is pleasant to the eye. No matter how it grows, to my thinking the vine is a lovely thing.

The rich plain passed, we reach the slopes of the Pyrenees, their wooded sides presenting a strange, even grotesque, appearance, owing to the mathematical regularity with which the woods are cut, portions being close shaven, others left intact in close juxtaposition, solid phalanxes of trees and clearings at right angles. The fancy conjures up a Brobdingnagian wheat-field partially cut in the green stage. Sad havoc is thus made of once beautiful scenes, richly-wooded slopes having lost half their foliage.

A hundred years ago Lourdes was a mere mountain fortress, a State prison to which unhappy persons were consigned by lettres de cachet. Apologists of the Ancien Regime assert, in the first place, that these Bastilles were comfortable, even luxurious retreats; in the second, that lettres de cachet were useful and necessary; in the third, that neither Bastilles nor lettres de cachet were resorted to on the eve of the Revolution. Let us hear what Arthur Young has to say on the subject. "I take the road to Lourdes," he writes in August 1787, "where is a castle on a rock, garrisoned for the mere purpose of keeping State prisoners, sent hither by lettres de cachet. Seven or eight are known to be here at present; thirty have been here at a time; and many for life - torn by the relentless hand of jealous tyranny from the bosom of domestic comfort, from wives, children, friends, and hurried, for crimes unknown to themselves, most probably for virtues, to languish in this detested abode, and die of despair. Oh liberty, liberty!"

Great is the contrast between the lovely entourage of this notorious place and the triviality and vulgar nature of its commerce. The one long, winding street may be described as a vast bazaar, more suited to Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims than to holders of railway tickets and contemporaries of the Eiffel Tower.

A brisk trade is done here, the place wearing the aspect of a huge fair. Rosaries, crosses, votive tablets, ornamental cans for holding the miraculous waters, drinking-cups, candles, photographs, images, medals are sold by millions. The traffic in these wares goes on all day long, the poorest "pilgrim" taking away souvenirs.

The Lourdes of theology begins where the Lourdes of bartering ends. As we quit the long street of bazaars and brand-new hotels, the first glimpse gives us an insight into its life and meaning, makes us feel that we ought to have been living two or three hundred years ago. We glance back at the railway station, wondering whether a halt were wise, whether indeed the gibbet, wheel, and stake were not really prepared for heretics like ourselves!

The votive church built on the outer side of the rock from which flows the miraculous fountain is a basilica of sumptuous proportions, representing an outlay of many millions of francs. Its portico, with horse-shoe staircase in marble, spans the opening of the green hills, behind which lie grotto and spring. We are reminded of the enormous church now crowning the height of Montmartre at Paris; here, as there and at Chartres, is a complete underground church of vast proportions. The whole structure is very handsome, the grey and white building-stone standing out against verdant hills and dark rocks. A beautifully laid-out little garden with a statue of the miracle-working Virgin lies between church and town.

Looking from the lofty platform on the other side of the upper church, we behold a strange scene. The space below is black with people, hundreds and thousands of pilgrims, so called, priests and nuns being in full force, one and all shouting and gesticulating with fierce zealotry, a priest or two holding forth from a temporary pulpit.

Between these closely-serried masses is a ghastly array. On litters, stretchers, beds, chairs, lie the deformed, the sick, the moribund, awaiting their turn to be sprinkled with the miraculous waters or blessed by the bishop. These poor people, many of whom are in the last stage of illness, have for bearers, volunteers; these are priests, young gentlemen of good family, and others, who wear badges and leather traces, by which they attach themselves to their burden.

All day long masses are held inside the church and in the open air; at a given signal the congregation stretching out their arms in the form of a cross, prostrating themselves on the ground, kissing the dust.

We must descend the broad flight of steps in order to obtain a good view of the grotto, an oval opening in the rocks made to look like a stalactite cave, with scores and hundreds of ex-votos in the shape of crutches. Judging from this display, there should be no more lame folks left in France. The Virgin of Lourdes must have healed them all. In a niche of the grotto stands an image of the Virgin, and behind, perpetually lighted with candles, an altar, at which mass is celebrated several times daily.

On one side, the rock has been pierced in several places, deliciously pure, cool water issuing from the taps. Crowds are always collected here, impatient to drink of the miraculous fountain, and to fill vessels for use at home. We see tired, heated invalids, and apparently dying persons, drinking cups of this ice-cold water; enough, one would think, to kill them outright. Close by is a little shop full of trifles for sale, but so thronged at all hours of the day that you cannot get attended to; purchasers lay down their money, take up the object desired, and walk away. Here may be bought a medal for two sous, or a crucifix priced at several hundred francs.

The praying, chanting, and prostrating are at their height when the violet-robed figure of a bishop is caught sight of, tripping down a side-path leading from the town. Blessing any who chance to meet him on the way, chatting pleasantly with his companion, a portly gentleman wearing the red ribbon of the Legion of Honour, the bishop hastens towards the grotto, dons his sacerdotal robes of ivory-white and gold, and celebrates mass. The ceremony over, there is a general stir. Adjusting their harness, the bearers form a procession, the bishop emerges from the grotto, and one by one the thirty and odd litters are drawn before him to be sprinkled, blessed - and healed! alas, such, doubtless, is the fond delusion of many.

The sight of so many human wrecks, torsos and living skeletons all agog for life, health, and restoration, is even less heart-breaking than that of their companions. Here we see a mother bending with agonized looks over some white-faced, wasted boy, whose days, even hours, are clearly numbered; there a father of a wizen-faced, terribly deformed girl, a mite to look at, but fast approaching womanhood, brought hither to be put straight and beautiful. Next our eye lights on the emaciated form of a young man evidently in the last stage of consumption, his own face hopeful still, but what forlornness in that of the adoring sister by his side! These are spectacles to make the least susceptible weep. Grotesque is the sight of a priest who must be ninety at least; what further miracle can he expect, having already lived the life of three generations?

The last litter drawn by, the enormous crowd breaks up; tall candles are offered to those standing near, and a procession is formed, headed by the bishop under his gold and white baldachin, a large number of priests following behind, then several hundred men, women, and children, the black and white robes of the priests and nuns being conspicuous. Chanting as they go, outsiders falling on their knees at the approach of the baldachin, the pilgrims now wind in solemn procession round the statue in front of the church, and finally enter, when another religious celebration takes place. Services are going on all day long and late into the night. Hardly do these devotees give themselves time for meals, which are a scramble at best, every hotel and boarding-house much overcrowded. The table d'hote dinner, or one or two dishes, are hastily swallowed, and the praying, chanting, marching and prostrating begin afresh. At eight o'clock from afar comes the sound of pilgrims' voices as the procession winds towards the grotto.

There is picturesqueness in these nocturnal celebrations, the tapers twinkling against the dark heavens, the voices dying away in the distance. Superstition has its season as well as sulphur-baths and chalybeate springs. The railway station is a scene of indescribable confusion; enormous contingents come for a few hours only, the numbered trains that brought them are drawn up outside the main lines awaiting their departure. Here we are hustled by a motley throng; fashionable ladies bedizened with rosaries, badges, and medallions; elegant young gentlemen, the jeunesse doree of a vanished regime, proudly wearing the pilgrim's badge, all travelling third-class and in humble company for their soul's good; peasant women from Brittany in charming costumes; a very, very few blue blouses of elderly civilians'; enormous numbers wearing religious garb.

It seems a pity that a bargain could not be struck by France and Germany, the Emperor William receiving Lourdes in exchange for Metz or Strasburg! Lourdes must represent a princely revenue, far in excess, I should say, of any profit the Prussian Government will ever make out of the annexed provinces; and as nobody lives there, and visitors only remain a day or two, it would not matter to the most patriotic French pilgrim going to whom the place belonged.

The tourist brings evil as well as good in his track, and the tax upon glorious scenery here is not the globe-trotter but the mendicant. Gavarnie is, without doubt, as grandiose a scene as Western Europe can show. In certain elements of grandeur none other can compete with it. But until a balloon service is organized between Luz and the famous Cirque it is impossible to make the journey with an unruffled temper. The traveller's way is beset by juvenile vagrants, bare-faced and importunate as Neapolitans or Arabs. Lovers of aerial navigation have otherwise not much left to wish for. Nothing can be more like a ride in cloudland than the drive from Pierrefitte to Luz and from Luz to Gavarnie. The splendid rock-hewn road is just broad enough to admit of two carriages abreast. On one side are lofty, shelving rocks, on the other a stone coping two feet high, nothing else to separate us from the awful abyss below, a ravine deep as the measure of St. Paul's Cathedral from base to apex of golden cross. We hear the thunder of the river as it dashes below by mountains two-thirds the height of Mont Blanc, their dark, almost perpendicular sides wreathed with cloud, on their summits gleaming never-melted snow, here and there the sombre parapets streaked with silvery cascades. At intervals the Titanic scene is relieved by glimpses of pastoral grace and loveliness, and such relief is necessary even to those who can gaze without giddiness on such awfulness. Between gorge and gorge lie level spaces, amid dazzlingly-green meadows the river flows calm and crystal clear, the form and hue of every pebble distinct as the pieces of a mosaic. Looking upwards we see hanging gardens and what may be called farmlets, tiny homesteads with minute patches of wheat, Indian corn, and clover on an incline so steep as to look vertical. Most beautiful and refreshing to the eye are the little hayfields sloping from the river, the freshly-mown hay in cocks or being turned, the shorn pasture around bright as emerald. Harvest during the year 1891 was late, and in the first week of September corn was still standing; nowhere, surely, corn so amber-tinted, so golden, nowhere, surely, ripened so near the clouds. In the tiny chalets perched on the mountain ridges, folks literally dwell in cloudland, and enjoy a kind of supernal existence, having for near neighbours the eagles in their eyries and the fleet-footed chamois or izard.

These vast panoramas - towering rocks of manifold shape, Alp rising above Alp snow-capped or green-tinted, terrace upon terrace of fields and homesteads - show every variety of savage grandeur and soft beauty till we gradually reach the threshold of Gavarnie. This is aptly called "chaos" which we might fancifully suppose the leavings, "the fragments that were left," of the semicircular wall now visible, thrown up by transhuman builders, insurmountable barrier between heaven and earth. No sooner does the awful amphitheatre break upon the view, than we discern the white line of the principal fall, a slender silvery column reaching, so it seems, from star-land and moon-land to earth; river of some upper world that has overleaped the boundaries of our own. No words can convey the remotest idea of such a scene.

We may say with regard to scenery what Lessing says of pictures, we only see in both what we bring with us to the view. More disconcerting than the importunities of beggars and donkey-drivers are the supercilious remarks of tourists. To most, of course, the whole thing is "a sad disappointment." Everything must necessarily be a disappointment to some beholders; and with critics of a certain order, the mere fact of not being pleased implies superiority. The hour's walk from the village to the Cirque is an event also in the life of the flower-lover. We have hardly eyes for Gavarnie, so completely is our gaze fascinated by the large luminous gold and silver stars gleaming conspicuously from the brilliant turf. These are the glorious flower-heads of the white and yellow Pyrenean thistle that open in sunshine as do sea-anemones, sending out lovely fringes, sunrays and moonbeams not more strikingly contrasted. As we rush hither and thither to gather them - if we can - their roots are veritable tentaculae, other lovely flowers are to be had in plenty, the beautiful deep-blue Pyrenean gentian, monk's-hood in rich purple blossom, rose-coloured antirrhinum, an exquisite little yellow sedum, with rare ferns. On one side, a narrow bridle-path winds round the mountain towards Spain; on the other, cottage-farms dot the green slopes; between both, parting the valley, flows the Gave, here a quietly meandering streamlet, whilst before us rises Gavarnie; a scene to which one poet only - perhaps the only one capable of grappling with such a subject - has done justice -

                     "Cirque, hippodrome, 
     Stage whereon Stamboul, Tyre, Memphis, London, Rome, 
     With their myriads could find place, whereon Paris at ease 
     Might float, as at sundown a swarm of bees, 
     Gavarnie, dream, miracle!"

     [Footnote: "Un cirque, un hippodrome, 
     Un theatre ou Stamboul, Tyre, Memphis, Londres, Rome, 
     Avec leurs millions d'hommes pourraient s'asseoir. 
     Ou Paris flotterait comme un essaim du soir. 
     Gavarnie! - un miracle! un reve!" - Victor Hugo, "Dieu."]

How to give some faint conception of the indescribable? Perhaps the great French poet has best succeeded in a single line -

     "L'impossible est ici debout."

We feel, indeed, that we are here brought face to face with the impossible.

Let the reader then conjure up a solid mass of rock threefold the circumference of St. Paul's Cathedral; let him imagine the facade of this natural masonry of itself exceeding the compass of our great Protestant minster; then in imagination let him lift his eyes from stage to stage, platform to platform, the lower nearly three times the height of St. Paul's from base to apex of golden cross, the higher that of four such altitudes; their gloomy parapets streaked with glistening white lines, one a vast column of water, although their shelving sides show patches of never-melted snows; around, framing in the stupendous scene, mountain peaks, each unlike its majestic brother, each in height reaching to the shoulder of Mont Blanc. Such is Gavarnie.

My next halting-place was a remote Pyrenean village admirably adapted for the study of rural life. Within a few hours' journey of the Spanish frontier, Osse lies in the beautiful valley of Aspe, and is reached by way of Pau and Oloron. At the latter town the railway ends, and we have to drive sixteen miles across country, a delightful expedition in favourable weather. The twin towns, old and new Oloron, present the contrast so often seen throughout France, picturesque, imposing antiquity beside utilitarian ugliness and uniformity. The open suburban spaces present the appearance of an enormous drying-ground, in which are hung the blankets of the entire department. Blankets, woollen girdles or sashes, men's bonnets are manufactured here. "Pipers, blue bonnets, and oatmeal," wrote an English traveller a hundred years ago, "are found in Catalonia, Auvergne, and Suabia as well as in Lochaber." We are now in the ancient kingdom of Beam, with a portion of Navarre added to the French crown by Henry IV, and, two hundred years later, named the department of the Basses Pyrenees.

Every turn of the road reveals new features as we journey towards Osse, having always in view the little Gave d'Aspe, after the manner of Pyrenean rivers, making cascades, waterfalls, whirlpools on its way. Most beautiful are these mountain streams, their waters of pure, deep green, their surface broken by coruscations of dazzlingly white foam and spray, their murmur ever in our ears. When far away we hardly miss the grand contours of the Pyrenees more than the music of their rushing waters. No tourists meet us here, yet whither shall we go for scenes sublimer or more engaging? On either side of the broadening velvety green valley, with its tumbling stream, rises a rampart of stately peaks, each unlike its neighbour, each having a graciousness and grandeur of its own. Here and there amid these vast solitudes is seen a white glittering thread breaking the dark masses of shelving rock, mountain torrent falling into the river from a height of several hundred feet. Few and far between are the herdsmen's chalets and scattered cornfields and meadows, and we have the excellent carriage road to ourselves. Yet two or three villages of considerable size are passed on the way; of one, an inland spa much frequented by the peasants, I shall make mention presently.

For three hours we have wound slowly upward, and, as our destination is approached, the valley opens wide, showing white-walled, grey-roofed hamlets and small towns all singularly alike. The mountains soon close round abruptly on all sides, making us feel as if we had reached the world's end. On the other side of those snow-capped peaks, here so majestically massed before our gaze, lies Spain. We are in a part of France thoroughly French, yet within a few hours of a country strikingly contrasted with it; manners, customs, modes of thought, institutions radically different.

The remoteness and isolation of Osse explain the existence of a little Protestant community in these mountain fastnesses. For centuries the Reformed faith has been upheld here. Not, however, unmolested. A tablet in the neat little church tells how the original place of Protestant worship was pulled down by order of the king in 1685, and only reconstructed towards the close of the following century. Without church, without pastor, forbidden to assemble, obliged to bury their dead in field or garden, these dales-folk and mountaineers yet clung tenaciously to their religion. One compromise, and one only, they made. Peasant property has existed in the Pyrenees from time immemorial, and in order to legitimize their children and enjoy the privilege of bequeathing property, the Protestants of the Vallee d'Aspe were married according to the rites of the Romish Church. In our own days, here as elsewhere throughout France, the religious tenets handed down from father to son are adhered to without wavering, and at the same time without apparent enthusiasm. Catholics and Protestants live amicably side by side; but intermarriages are rare, and conversions from Rome to rationalism infrequent. The Sunday services of the little Protestant church are often attended by Catholics. Strangers passing through Osse, market-folk, peasants and others, never fail to inspect it curiously. The Protestant pastor is looked up to with respect and affection alike by Catholic and Protestant neighbours. The rival churches neither lose nor gain adherents to any extent. This fact is curious, especially in a spot where Protestantism is seen at its best. It shows the extreme conservatism and stability of the French character, often set down as revolutionary and fickle. In England folks often and avowedly change their religion several times during their lives. Is not the solemn reception into Rome of instructed men and women among ourselves a matter of every day? In France it is otherwise, and when a change is made we shall generally find that the step is no retrograde one.

If the social aspect is encouraging at Osse, the same may be said of peasant property. Even a Zola must admit some good in a community unstained by crime during a period of twenty years, and bound by ties of brotherhood which render want impossible. A beautiful spirit of humanity, a delicacy rare among the most polished societies, characterize these frugal sons and daughters of the soil. Nor is consideration for others confined to fellow-beings only. The animal is treated as the friend, not the slave of man. "We have no need of the Loi Grammont here," said a resident to me; and personal observation confirmed the statement.

As sordidness carried to the pitch of brutality is often imputed to the French peasant, let me relate an incident that occurred hereabouts, not long before my visit. The land is minutely divided, many possessing a cottage and field only. One of these very small owners was suddenly ruined by the falling of a rock, his cottage, cow and pig being destroyed. Without saying a word, his neighbours, like himself in very humble circumstances, made up a purse of five hundred francs, a large sum with such donors, and, too delicate-minded to offer the gift themselves, deputed an outsider to do it anonymously. Another instance in point came to my knowledge. This was of a young woman servant, who, during the illness of her employer, refused to accept wages. "You shall pay me some other time," said the girl to her mistress; "I am sure you can ill afford to give me the money now."

Peasant property and rural life generally here presented to me some wholly new features; one of these is the almost entire self-sufficingness of very small holdings, their owners neither buying nor selling, making their little crops and stock almost completely supply their needs. Thus on a field or two, enough flax is grown with which to spin linen for home use, enough wheat and Indian corn for the year's bread-making, maize being mixed with wheaten flour; again, pigs and poultry are reared for domestic consumption - expenditure being reduced to the minimum. Coffee is a luxury seldom indulged in, a few drink home- grown wine, but all are large milk-drinkers. The poorest is a good customer of the dairy farmer.

I was at first greatly puzzled by the information of a neighbour that he kept cows for the purpose of selling milk. Osse being sixteen miles from a railway station, possessing neither semi-detached villas, hotels, boarding-houses, convents, barracks, nor schools, and a population of from three to four hundred only, most of these small farmers - who were his patrons?

I afterwards learned that the "ha'porth of milk," which means much more in all senses than with us, takes the place of tea, coffee, beer, to say nothing of more pernicious drinks, with the majority. New milk from the cow costs about a penny a quart, and perhaps if we could obtain a similar commodity at the same price in England, even gin might be supplanted. Eggs and butter are also very cheap; but as the peasants rear poultry exclusively for their own use, it is by no means easy at Osse to procure a chicken. A little, a very little money goes to the shoemaker and general dealer, and fuel has to be bought; this item is inconsiderable, the peasants being allowed to cart wood from the communal forests for the sum of five or six francs yearly. The village is chiefly made up of farmhouses; on the mountain-sides and in the valley are the chalets and shepherds' huts, abandoned in winter. The homesteads are massed round the two churches, Catholic and Protestant, most having a narrow strip of garden and balcony carried along the upper storey, which does duty as a drying-ground.

One of these secluded hamlets, with its slated roofs, white walls, and brown shutters, closely resembles another; but Osse stands alone in possessing a Protestant church and community.

Although the little centre of a purely agricultural region, we find here one of those small, specific industries, as characteristic of French districts as soil and produce. Folks being great water-drinkers, they will have their drinking-water in a state of perfection. Some native genius long ago invented a vessel which answers the requirement of the most fastidious. This is a pail-shaped receptacle of yewen wood, bound with brass bands, both inner and outer parts being kept exquisitely clean. Water in such vessels remains cool throughout the hottest hours of the hottest summer, and the wood is exceedingly durable, standing wear and tear, it is said, hundreds of years. The turning and encasing of yewen wood, brass-bound water-jars is a flourishing manufacture at Osse.

Here may be seen and studied peasant property in many stages. I would again remark that any comparison between the condition of the English agricultural labourer and the French peasant proprietor is irrelevant and inconclusive. In the cottage of a small owner at Osse, for instance, we may discover features to shock us, often a total absence of the neatness and veneer of the Sussex ploughman's home. Our disgust is trifling compared with that of the humblest, most hard-working owner of the soil, when he learns under what conditions lives his English compeer. To till another's ground for ten or eleven shillings a week, inhabit a house from which at a week's notice that other can eject him, possess neither home, field nor garden, and have no kind of provision against old age, such a state of things appears to our artless listener wholly inconceivable, incommensurate with modern civilization and bare justice.

As an instance of the futility of comparisons, I will mention one experience. I was returning home late one afternoon when a poorly-dressed, sunburnt woman overtook me. She bore on her head a basket of bracken, and her appearance was such that in any other country I should have expected a demand for alms. Greeting me, however, cheerfully and politely, she at once entered into conversation. She had seen me at church on Sunday, and went on to speak of the pastor, with what esteem both Catholics and Protestants regarded him, then of the people, their mode of life and condition generally.

"No," she said, in answer to my inquiry, "there is no real want here, and no vagrancy. Everybody has his bit of land, or can find work. I come from our vineyard on the hillside yonder, and am now returning home to supper in the village - our farmhouse is there". She was a widow, she added, and with her son did the work of their little farm, the daughter-in-law minding the house and baby. They reared horses for sale, possessed a couple of cows, besides pigs and poultry.

The good manners, intelligence, urbanity, and quiet contentment of this good woman were very striking. She had beautiful white teeth, and was not prematurely aged, only very sun-burnt and shabby, her black stuff dress blue with age and mended in many places, her partially bare feet thrust in sabots. The women here wear toeless or footless stockings, the upper part of the foot being bare. I presume this is an economy, as wooden shoes wear out stockings. We chatted of England, of Protestantism, and many topics before bidding each other good-night. There was no constraint on her part, and no familiarity. She talked fluently and naturally, just as one first-class lady traveller might do to a fellow-passenger. Yet, if not here in contact with the zero of peasant property, we are considering its most modest phase.

A step higher and we found an instance of the levelling process characteristic of every stage of French society, yet hardly to be looked for in a remote Pyrenean village. In one of our afternoon rambles we overtook a farmeress, and accepted an invitation to accompany her home. She tripped cheerfully beside us; although a Catholic, on friendliest terms with her Protestant neighbours. Her thin white feet in toeless stockings and sabots, well-worn woollen petticoat, black stuff jacket, headgear of an old black silk handkerchief, would have suggested anything but the truth to the uninitiated. Here also the unwary stranger might have fumbled for a spare coin. She had a kindly, intelligent face, and spoke volubly in patois, having very little command of French. It was, indeed, necessary for me to converse by the medium of an interpreter. On approaching the village we were overtaken by a slight, handsome youth conducting a muck-wagon. This was her younger son, and his easy, well-bred greeting, and correct French, prepared me for the piece of intelligence to follow. The wearer of peasant's garb, carting manure, had passed his examination of Bachelor of Arts and Science, had, in fact, received the education of a gentleman. In his case, the patrimony being small, a professional career meant an uphill fight, but doubtless, with many another, he would attain his end.

The farmhouse was large, and, as is unusual here, apart from stables and cow-shed, the kitchen and outhouse being on the ground floor, the young men's bedrooms above. Our hostess slept in a large, curtained four-poster, occupying a corner of the kitchen. A handsome wardrobe of solid oak stood in a conspicuous place, but held only a portion of the family linen. These humble housewives count their sheets by the dozen of dozens, and linen is still spun at home, although not on the scale of former days. The better-off purchase strong, unbleached goods of local manufacture. Here and there I saw old women plying spindle and distaff, but the spinning-wheel no longer hums in every cottage doorway.

Meantime our hospitable entertainer - it is ever the women who wait on their guests - brought out home-grown wine, somewhat sour to the unaccustomed palate, and, as a corrective, home-made brandy, which, with sugar, formed an agreeable liqueur, walnuts - everything, indeed, that she had. We were also invited to taste the bread made of wheaten and maize flour mixed, a heavy, clammy compound answering Mrs. Squeers's requirement of "filling for the price." It is said to be very wholesome and nutritious.

The kitchen floor, as usual, had an unsecured look, but was clean swept, and on shelves stood rows of earthen and copper cooking-vessels and the yewen wood, brass-bound water-jars before mentioned. The facade of the house, with its shutters and balcony, was cheerful enough, but just opposite the front door lay a large heap of farmhouse manure awaiting transfer to the pastures. A little, a very little, is needed to make these premises healthful and comfortable. The removal of the manure-heap, stables, and cow-shed; a neat garden plot, a flowering creeper on the wall, and the aspect would be in accordance with the material condition of the owner.

The property shared by this widow and her two sons consisted of between five and six acres, made up of arable land and meadow. They kept four cows, four mares for purposes of horse-breeding, and a little poultry. Milch cows here are occasionally used on the farm, an anomaly among a population extremely gentle to animals.

My next visits were paid on a Sunday afternoon, when everybody is at home to friends and neighbours. Protestant initiative in the matter of the seventh day test has been uniformly followed, alike man and beast enjoy complete repose. As there are no cabarets and no trippers to disturb the public peace, the tranquillity is unbroken.

Our first call was upon an elder of the Protestant Church, and one of the wealthier peasants of the community. The farmhouse was on the usual Pyrenean plan, stables and neat-houses occupying the ground floor, an outer wooden staircase leading to kitchen, parlour, and bedrooms; on the other side a balcony overlooking a narrow strip of garden.

Our host, dressed in black cloth trousers, black alpaca blouse, and spotless, faultlessly-ironed linen, received us with great cordiality and the ease of a well-bred man. His mother lived with him, a charming old lady, like himself peasant-born, but having excellent manners. She wore the traditional black hood of aged and widowed Huguenot women, and her daughter-in-law and little granddaughter, neat stuff gowns and coloured cashmere kerchiefs tied under the chin.

We were first ushered into the vast kitchen or "living room," as it would be called in some parts of England, to-day with every other part of the house in apple-pie order. Large oak presses, rows of earthen and copper cooking-vessels, an enormous flour-bin, with plain deal table and chairs, made up the furniture, from one part of the ceiling hanging large quantities of ears of Indian corn to dry. Here bread is baked once a week, and all the cooking and meals take place.

Leading out of the kitchen was the salon or drawing-room, the first I had ever seen in a peasant farmer's house. A handsome tapestry table-cover, chimney ornaments, mirror, sofa, armchairs, rugs, betokened not only solid means but taste. We were next shown the grandmother's bedchamber, which was handsomely furnished with every modern requirement, white toilet-covers and bed-quilt, window-curtains, rug, wash-stand; any lady unsatisfied here would be hard indeed to please. The room of master and mistress was on the same plan, only much larger, and one most-unlooked-for item caught my eye. This was a towel-horse (perhaps the comfortably-appointed parsonage had set the fashion?), a luxury never seen in France except in brand-new hotels. As a rule the towel is hung in a cupboard. We were then shown several other bedrooms, all equally suggestive of comfort and good taste; yet the owner was a peasant, prided himself on being so, and had no intention of bringing up his children to any other condition. His farm consisted of a few hectares only, but was very productive. We saw his cows, of which he is very fond, the gentle creatures making signs of joy at their master's approach. Four or five cows, as many horses for breeding purposes, a few sheep, pigs, and poultry made up his stock. All that I saw of this family gave me a very high notion of intelligence, morality, thrift and benevolence.

Very feelingly all spoke of their animals and of the duty of human beings towards the animal world generally. It was the first time I had heard such a tone taken by French peasants, but I was here, be it remembered, among Protestants. The horrible excuse made in Italy and Brittany for cruelty to beasts, "Ce ne sont pas des chretiens," finds no acceptance among these mountaineers.

Our second visit brought us into contact with the bourgeois element. The farmhouse, of much better appearance than the rest, also stood in the village. The holding was about the size of that just described. The young mistress was dressed in conventional style, had passed an examination at a girls' Lycee, entitling her to the brevet superieur or higher certificate, her husband wore the dress of a country gentleman, and we were ushered into a drawing-room furnished with piano, pictures, a Japanese cabinet, carpets, and curtains.

The bedrooms might have been fitted up by an upholsterer of Tottenham Court Road. It must be borne in mind that I am not describing the wealthy farmers of the Seine and Marne or La Venidee.

The fact that these young people let a part of their large, well-furnished house need not surprise us. There is no poverty here, but no riches. I do not suppose that any one of the small landowners to whom I was introduced could retire to-morrow and live on his savings. I dare aver that one and all are in receipt of a small income from invested capital, and have a provision against sickness and old age.

The master of the house showed me his stock, five or six handsome cows of cross breed, in value from L10 to L16, the latter the maximum price here. We next saw several beautiful mares and young colts, and four horned sheep. Sheepkeeping and farming are seldom carried on together, and this young farmer was striking out a new path for himself. He told me that he intended to rear and fatten sheep, also to use artificial manure. Up to the present time, guanos and phosphates are all but unknown in these regions, only farmhouse dung is used, cows being partly kept for that purpose. Although the land is very productive, my informant assured me that much remained to be done by departure from routine and the adoption of advanced methods. The cross-breeding of stock was another subject he had taken up. Such initiators are needed in districts remote from agricultural schools, model farms, and State-paid chairs of agriculture.

Each of the four instances just given differed from the other. The first showed us peasant property in its simplest development, a little family contentedly living on their bit of land, making its produce suffice for daily needs, independent of marts and markets as the members of a primitive community.

The second stage showed us a wholly dissimilar condition, yet not without its ideal side. We were brought face to face with that transitional phase of society and pacific revolution, of happiest augury for the future. From the peasant ranks are now recruited contingents that will make civil wars impossible, men who carry into politics learning and the arts, those solid qualities that have made rural France the admiration of the world, and more than once saved her Republic.

The first instance exemplified the intense conservatism of the French peasant. Liberal in politics, enlightened in religion, open to the reception of new ideas, here was nevertheless a man absolutely satisfied with social conditions as they affected himself and his children, utterly devoid of envy or worldly ambition. To reap the benefits of his toil, deserve the esteem of his neighbours, bequeath his little estate, improved and enriched, to his heirs, surely this was no contemptible ideal either.

The last case differed from the other three. We were now reminded of the English tenant, or even gentleman-farmer - with a difference. Alike master and mistress had received a good education and seen something of the world; they could enjoy music and books. But in spite of her brevet superieur, the wife attended to her dairy; and although the husband was a gentleman in manners and appearance, he looked after the stock. They lived, too, on friendliest terms with their less-instructed and homelier neighbours, the black alpaca blouse and coloured kerchief, doing duty for bonnet, being conspicuous at their Sunday receptions. Not even a Zola can charge French village-life with the snobbishness so conspicuous in England. It will be amply shown from the foregoing examples that peasant property is no fixed condition to be arbitrarily dealt with after the manner of certain economists. On the contrary, it is many-phased; the fullest and widest development of modern France is indeed modern France itself. The peasant owner of the soil has attained the highest position in his own country. No other class can boast of such social, moral and material ascendency. He is the acknowledged arbitrator of the fortunes of France.

I will now cite two facts illustrating the bright side of peasant property in its humblest phase, where we have been told to expect sordidness, even brutality. The land hereabouts, as I have before stated, is excessively divided, the holdings being from two and a half acres in extent and upwards. It often happens that the younger children of these small owners give up their share of the little family estate without claiming a centime of compensation, and seek their fortunes in the towns. They betake themselves to handicrafts and trade, in their turn purchasing land with the savings from daily wages.

Again, it is supposed that the life of the peasant owner is one of uniform, unbroken drudgery, his daily existence hardly more elevated than that of the ox harnessed to his plough. Who ever heard of an English labourer taking a fourteen days' rest at the seaside? When did a rheumatic ploughman have recourse to Bath or Buxton? They order these things better in France.

Between Osse and Oloron stands Escot, long famous for its warm springs. The principal patrons of this modest watering-place are the peasants. It is their Carlsbad, their Homburg, many taking a season as regularly as the late King Edward. The thing is done with thoroughness, but at a minimum of cost. They pay half a franc daily for a room, and another half-franc for the waters, cooking their meals in the general kitchen of the establishment. Where the French peasant believes, his faith is phenomenal. Some of these valetudinarians drink as many as forty-six glasses of mineral water a day! What must be their capacities in robust health? The bourgeois or civilian element is not absent. Hither from Pau and Oloron come clerks and small functionaries with their families. Newspapers are read and discussed in company. We may be sure that the rustic spa is a little centre of sociability and enlightenment.

Let me now say something about the crops of this sweet Pyrenean valley. The chief of these are corn, maize, rye, potatoes, and clover; the soil being too dry and poor for turnips and beetroot. Flax is grown in small quantities, and here and there we seen vines, but the wine is thin and sour.

From time immemorial, artificial irrigation has been carried on in the Vallee d'Aspe, and most beautiful is the appearance of the brilliantly green pastures, intersected by miniature canals in every direction; the sweet pastoral landscape framed by mountain peaks of loveliest colour and majestic shape. These well-watered grasslands produce two or even three crops a year; the second, or regain as it is called, was being got in early in September, and harvest having taken place early, clover was already springing up on the cleared cornfields. Everywhere men and women were afield making hay or scattering manure on the meadows, the latter sometimes being done with the hands.

All these small farmers keep donkeys and mules, and on market-days the roads are alive with cavalcades; the men wearing gay waist-sashes, flat cloth caps, or berets, the women coloured kerchiefs. The type is uniform - medium stature, spareness, dark eyes and hair, and olive complexion predominating. Within the last thirty years the general health and physique have immensely improved, owing to better food and wholesomer dwellings. Goitre and other maladies arising from insufficient diet have disappeared. Epidemics, I was assured, seldom work havoc in this valley; and though much remains to be done in the way of drainage and sanitation, the villages have a clean, cheerful look.

The last ailment that would occur to us proves most fatal to those hardy country folks. They are very neglectful of their health, and as the changes of temperature are rapid and sudden, the chief mortality arises from inflammation of the lungs. It is difficult indeed to defend oneself against so variable a climate. On my arrival the heat was tropical. Twelve hours later I should have rejoiced in a fire. Dangerous, too, is the delicious hour after sunset, when mist rises from the valley, whilst yet the purple and golden glow on the peaks above tempts us to linger abroad.

The scenery is grandiose and most beautiful. Above the white-walled, grey-roofed villages and townlings scattered about the open, rise sharp-pointed green hills or monticules, one gently overtopping the other; surmounting these, lofty barren peaks, recalling the volcanic chains of Auvergne, the highest snow-capped point twice the altitude of the Puy de Dome, two-thirds that of Mont Blanc.

Whichever way we go we find delightful scenery. Hidden behind the folded hills, approached by lovely little glades and winding bridle-path, tosses and foams the Gave d'Aspe, its banks thickly set with willow and salicornia, its solitary coves inviting the bather. The witchery of these mountain streams grows upon us in the Pyrenees. We hunger for the music of their cascades when far away. The sun-lit, snow-lit peaks, towering into the brilliant blue heavens, are not deserted as they appear. Shepherd farmers throughout the summer dwell in huts here, and welcome visitors with great affability.

Let me narrate a fact interesting alike to the naturalist and meteorologist. On the 7th September, 1891, the heat on one of these summits, nine thousand feet above the sea-level, was so intense that a little flock of sheep were seen literally hugging the snow, laying their faces against the cool masses, huddled about them, as shivering mortals round a fire in winter. And, a little way off, the eye-witnesses of this strange scene gathered deep blue irises in full bloom.

On the lower slopes the farmers leave their horses to graze, giving them a look from time to time. One beautiful young horse lost its life just before my arrival, unwarily approaching a precipitous incline. As a rule accidents are very rare.

The izard or Pyrenean chamois, although hunted as game, is not yet a survival here, nor the eagle and bear, the latter only making its appearance in winter-time.

Tent-life in these mountain-sides is quite safe and practicable. Who can say? A generation hence and these magnificent Alps may be tunnelled by railways, crowned by monster hotels, peopled from July to October with tourists in search of disappointments.

At present the Vallee d'Aspe is the peacefullest in the world. Alike on week-days and Sundays the current of life flows smoothly. Every morning from the open windows of the parsonage may be heard the sweet, simple hymns of the Lutheran Church, master and mistress, servants and children, uniting in daily thanksgiving and prayer.

And a wholesome corrective is the Sunday service after the sights of Lourdes.

The little congregation was striking. Within the altar railings stood two anciens, or elders, of the church, middle-aged men, tall, stalwart, the one fair as a Saxon, the other dark as a Spaniard. Both wore the dress of the well-to-do peasant, short black alpaca blouses, black cloth trousers, and spotless collars and cuffs, and both worthily represented those indomitable ancestors who neither wavered nor lost heart under direst persecution.

By the time the pastor ascended the reading-desk, the cheerful, well-kept little church was full, the men in black blouses, the women wearing neat stuff or print gowns, with silk handkerchiefs tied under the chin, widows and the aged, the sombre black-hooded garment, enveloping head and figure, of Huguenot matrons of old - supposed to have suggested the conventual garb.

Among the rest were two or three Catholics, peasants of the neighbourhood, come to look on and listen. The simple, intelligible service, the quiet fervour of the assembly, might well impress a sceptical beholder. Even more impressive is the inscription over the door. A tablet records how the first Protestant church was pulled down by order of the king after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and rebuilt on the declaration of religious liberty by the National Assembly. Gazing on that inscription and the little crowd of worshippers, a sentence of Tacitus came into my mind. Recording how not only the biographers of good men were banished or put to death, but their works publicly burnt by order of Domitian, the historian, whose sentences are volumes condensed, adds: "They fancied, forsooth" - he is speaking of the tyrant and his satellites - "that all records of these actions being destroyed, mankind could never approve of them." An illusion shared by enemies of intellectual liberty, from the Caesars to their latest imitator, unhappily not wholly dispelled in our own day.

Whether the homeward journey is made through the Landes by way of Bayonne and Bordeaux, or through the Eastern Pyrenees by way of Perpignan, we are brought face to face with scenes of strangest transformation. In the former region the agency has been artificial, the shifting sands being fixed and solidified by plantations on a gigantic scale, and large tracts rendered fertile by artificial irrigation; in the latter, Nature has prepared the field, the more laborious portion of the husbandman's task is already done.

"The districts of sand, as white as snow and so loose as to blow," seen by Arthur Young towards the close of the last century, can hardly be said to exist in our own day. Even within twenty-five years the changes are so great as to render entire regions hardly recognizable. The stilts, or chanques, of which our word "shanks" is supposed to be the origin, become rarer and rarer. The creation of forests and sinking of wells, drainage, artificial manures and canals are rapidly fertilizing a once arid region; with the aspect of the country a proportionate change taking place in the material condition of the people.

No less startling is the transformation of lagoon into salt marsh, and marsh into cultivable soil, witnessed between the Spanish frontier, Perpignan and Nimes.

Quitting Cerbere, the little town at which travellers from Barcelona re-enter French territory, we follow the coast, traversing a region long lost to fame and the world, but boasting of a brilliant history before the real history of France began.

We are here in presence of geological changes affected neither by shock nor convulsion, nor yet by infinitesimally slow degrees. A few centuries have sufficed to alter the entire contour of the coast and reverse the once brilliant destinies of maritime cities. With the recorded experience of mediaeval writers at hand, we can localize lagoons and inland seas where to-day we find belts of luxuriant cultivation. In a lifetime falling short of the Psalmist's threescore years and ten observations may be made that necessitate the reconstruction of local maps.

The charming little watering-place of Banyulssur-Mer, reached soon after passing the Spanish frontier, is the only place on this coast, except Cette, without a history. The town is built in the form of an amphitheatre, its lovely little bay surrounded by rich southern vegetation. The oleanders and magnolias in full bloom, gardens and vineyards, are no less strikingly contrasted with the barrenness and monotony that follows, than Banyuls itself, spick and span, brand-new, with the buried cities scattered on the way, ancient as Tyre and Sidon, and once as flourishing. There is much sadness yet poetic charm in the landscape sweeps of silvery-green olive or bluish salicornia against a pale-blue sky, dull-brown fishing villages bordering sleepy lagoons, stretches of white sand, with here and there a glimpse of the purple, rock-hemmed sea. Little of life animates this coast, in many spots the custom-house officer and a fisherman or two being the sole inhabitants, their nearest neighbours removed from them by many miles. Only the flamingo, the heron, and the sea-gull people these solitudes, within the last few years broken by the whistle of the locomotive. We are following the direct line of railway between Barcelona and Paris.

The first of the buried cities is the musically-named Elne, anciently Illiberis, now a poor little town of the department of the Eastern Pyrenees, hardly, indeed, more than a village, but boasting a wondrous pedigree. We see dull-brown walls, ilex groves, and above low-lying walls the gleaming sea. This apparently deserted place occupies the site of city upon city. Seaport, metropolis, emporium had here reached their meridian of splendour before the Greek and the Roman set foot in Gaul. Already in Pliny's time the glories of the Elne had become tradition. We must go farther back than Phoenician civilization for the beginnings of this town, halting-place of Hannibal and his army on their march towards Rome. The great Constantine endeavoured to resuscitate the fallen city, and for a brief space Elne became populous and animated. With other once flourishing seaports it has been gradually isolated from the sea, and the same process is still going on.

Just beyond Perpignan a lofty tower, rising amid vineyards and pastures, marks the site of Ruscino, another ancient city and former seaport. The Tour de Roussillon is all that now remains of a place once important enough to give its name to a province. Le Roussillon, from which was formed the department of the Pyrenees Orientales, became French by the treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. Here also the great Carthaginian halted, and here, we learn, he met with a friendly reception.

Monotonous as are these wide horizons and vast stretches of marsh and lagoon, they appeal to the lover of solitude and of the more pensive aspects of nature. The waving reeds against the pale sky, the sweeps of glasswort and terebinth, show delicate gradations of colour; harmonious, too, the tints of far-off sea and environing hills. Not cities only seem interred here: the railway hurries us through a world in which all is hushed and inanimate, as if, indeed, mankind no less than good fortune had deserted it. The prevailing uniformity is broken by the picturesquely placed little town of Salses and the white cliffs of Leucate. Strabo and Pomponius Mela describe minutely the floating islands or masses of marine plants moving freely on the lake of Salses. Here, as elsewhere, the coastline is undergoing slow but steady modification, yet we are in presence of phenomena that engaged the attention of writers two thousand years ago.

From this point till we approach Cette the region defies definition. It is impossible to determine nicely where the land ends and the sea begins. The railway follows a succession of inland salt lakes and lagoons, with isolated fishermen's cabins, reminding us of lake-dwellings. In some places the hut is approached by a narrow strip of solid ground, on either side surrounded by water, just admitting the passage of a single pedestrian. The scene is unspeakably desolate. Only sea-birds keep the fisher-folk company; only the railway recalls the busy world far away.

Of magnificent aspect is Narbonne, the Celtic Venice, as it rises above the level landscape. The great seaport described by Greek historians six centuries before our own era, the splendid capital of Narbonese Gaul, rival of the Roman Nimes and of the Greek Arles, is now as dull a provincial town as any throughout France. Invasions, sieges, plagues, incendiaries, most of all religious persecutions, ruined the mediaeval Narbonne. The Jewish element prevailed in its most prosperous phase, and M. Renan in his history of Averroes shows how much of this prosperity and intellectual pre-eminence was due to the Jews. The cruel edicts of Philip Augustus against the race proved no less disastrous here than the expulsion of Huguenots elsewhere later. The decadence of Narbonne as a port is due to natural causes. Formerly surrounded by lagoons affording free communication with the sea, the Languedocian Venice has gradually lost her advantageous position. The transitional stage induced such unhealthy climatic conditions that at one period there seemed a likelihood of the city being abandoned altogether. In proportion as the marsh solidified the general health improved. Day by day the slow but sure process continues, and when the remaining salt lakes shall have become dry land, this region, now barren and desolate, will blossom like the rose. The hygienic and atmospheric effects of the Eucalyptus globulus in Algeria are hardly more striking than the amelioration wrought here in a natural way. The Algerian traveller of twenty-five years ago now finds noble forests of blue gum tree, where, on his first visit, his heart was wrung by the spectacle of a fever-stricken population. On the coast of Languedoc the change has been slower. It has taken not only a generation but a century to transform pestilential tracts into zones of healthfulness and fertility.

An interesting fact, illustrating the effect of physical agencies upon human affairs, must be here mentioned. Till within the last few years this town counted a considerable Protestant community. The ravages of the phylloxera in the neighbouring vineyards caused a wholesale exodus of vine-growers belonging to the Reformed Church, and in 1886 the number had dwindled to such an extent that the services of a pastor were no longer required. The minister in charge was transferred elsewhere.

The dull little town of Agde is another ancient site. Its name is alike a poem and a history. The secure harbourage afforded by this sheltered bay won for the place the name of Good Fortune, [Greek: agathae tuchae], whence Agathe, Agde. A Greek settlement, its fine old church was in part constructed of the materials of a temple to Diana of Ephesus. Agde possesses interest of another kind. It is built of lava, the solitary peak rising behind it, called Le Pic de St. Loup, being the southern extremity of that chain of extinct volcanoes beginning with Mont Mezenc in the Cantal. A pathetic souvenir is attached to this lonely crater. At a time when geological ardour was rare, a Bishop of Agde, St. Simon by name, devoted years of patient investigation to the volcanic rocks in his diocese. The result of his studies were recorded in letters to a learned friend, but the Revolution stopped the poor bishop's discoveries. He perished by the guillotine during the Terror. The celebrated founder of socialism in France was his nephew.