It is upon this occasion my rare and happy privilege to introduce the reader to something absolutely new. How many English-speaking tourists have found their way to the Roof of France - in other words, the ancient Gevaudan, the romantic department of the Lozere? How many English - or for the matter of that French travellers either - have so much as heard of the Causses, [Footnote: From calx, lime] those lofty tablelands of limestone, groups of a veritable archipelago, once an integral whole, now cleft asunder, forming the most picturesque gorges and magnificent defiles; offering contrasts of scenery as striking as they are sublime, and a phenomenon unique in geological history? On the plateau of the typical Causse, wide in extent as Dartmoor, lofty as Helvellyn, we realize all the sombreness and solitude of the Russian steppe. These stony wastes, aridity itself, yet a carpet of wild-flowers in spring, are sparsely peopled by a race having a peculiar language, a characteristic physique, and primitive customs. Here are laboriously cultivated oats, rye, potatoes - not a blade of wheat, not an apple-tree is to be discerned; no spring or rivulet freshens the parched soil. The length and severity of the winter are betokened by the trees and poles seen at intervals on either side of the road. But for such precautions, even the native wayfarer would be lost when six feet of snow cover the ground. Winter lasts eight months, and the short summer is tropical.

But descend these grandiose passes, dividing one limestone promontory from another - go down into the valleys, each watered by lovely rivers, and we are, as if by magic, transported into the South! The peach, the almond, the grape ripen out of doors; all is smilingness, fertility, and grace. The scenery of the Causses may be described as a series of exhilarating surprises, whilst many minor attractions contribute to the stranger's enjoyment.

The affability, dignity, and uprightness of these mountaineers, their freedom from vulgarity, subservience, or habits of extortion, their splendid physique and great personal beauty, form novel experiences of travel. The general character of the people - here I do not allude to the 'Caussenard,' or dweller on the Causse alone, but to the Lozerien as a type - may be gathered from one isolated fact. The summer sessions of 1888 were what is called assizes blanches, there being not a single cause to try. Such an occurrence is not unusual in this department.

The Lozere, hitherto the Cinderella, poorest of the poor of French provinces, is destined to become one of the richest. Not only the Causses, but the Canon du Tarn, may be regarded in the light of a discovery by the tourist world. A few years ago the famous geographer, Joanne, was silent on both. Chance-wise, members of the French Alpine Club lighted upon this stupendous defile between the Causse de Sauveterre and the Causse Mejean; their glorious find became noised abroad, and now the Tarn is as a Pactolus flowing over golden sands - a mine of wealth to the simple country folk around. The river, springing from a cleft in the Lozere chain, winding its impetuous way, enriched by many a mountain torrent, through the Aveyron, Tarn, and Garonne, finally disemboguing into the Garonne, has lavished all its witchery on its native place.

Every inch of the way between the little towns of St. Enimie and Le Rozier is enchanted ground by virtue of unrivalled scenery. In time the influx of tourists must make the river-side population rich. The sandy bed of the Tarn must attain the preciousness of a building site near Paris. This materialistic view of the question affords mixed feelings. I have in mind the frugality of these country folks, their laboriousness, their simple, upright, sturdy ways. I can but wish them well, even at the price of terrible disenchantment. Instead of rustic hostelries at St. Enimie, gigantic hotels after the manner of Swiss tourist barracks; the solitude of the Causses broken by enthusiastic tittle-tattle; tourist-laden flotillas bearing the ensign of Cook or Gaze skimming the glassy waters of the majestically environed Tarn!

On the threshold of the Lozere, just outside the limits of the department, lies another newly-discovered marvel, more striking, stranger than the scenery of the Causses - as beautiful, though in quite another way, as the Canon or Gorge of the Tarn. This is the fantastic, the unique, the eerie Cite du Diable, or Montpellier-le-Vieux, with its citadel, ramparts, watch-towers, amphitheatres, streets, arcades, terraces - a vast metropolis in the wilderness, a Babylon untenanted from the beginning, a Nineveh fashioned only by the great builder Nature. Little wonder that the peasants formerly spoke of the dolomite city, when forced to speak at all, with bated breath, and gave it so ill-omened a name. The once uncanny, misprized, even accursed city, since surnamed Montpellier-le-Vieux, from a fancied resemblance to Montpellier, is now very differently regarded by its humble owners.

Literally discovered in 1882, its first explorers being two members of the French Alpine Club, the Cite du Diable is already bringing in a revenue. French tourists, who first came by twos and threes, may now be counted by the hundred a month during the holiday season. Alert to the unmistakable rat-tat-tat of Dame Fortune at their front-doors, the good folks are preparing for the welcome invasions to come. The auberge is being transformed into an inn, roads are improving, a regular service of guides has been organized, and all charges for guides, carriages, and mules have been regulated by tariff. It is hardly possible to exaggerate the weird fascination and eldritch charm of this once dreaded, ill-omened place. Only one pen - that, alas! at rest for ever - could have done justice to such a theme. In the hands of the great Sand, Montpellier-le-Vieux might have afforded us a chef d'oeuvre to set beside 'La Ville Noire' or the adorable 'Jeanne.'

Fresh and interesting as is a sojourn on the Roof of France, a name in verity accorded to the Lozere, I have not restricted myself within such limits. The climbing up and the getting down offer many a racy and novel experience. I have given not only the middle of my journey, but the beginning and the end. Those of my country-folk who have traversed the picturesque little land of the French Morran, who have steamed from Lyons to Avignon, made their way by road through the Gard and the Aveyron, and sojourned in the cheese-making region of the Cantal - I fancy their number is not legion - may pass over my chapters thus headed. Had I one object in view only, to sell my book, I must have reversed the usual order of things, and put the latter half in place of the first. I prefer the more methodical plan, and comfort myself with the reflection that France, excepting Brittany, Normandy, the Pyrenees, the Riviera and the Hotel du Jura, Dijon, is really much less familiar to English travellers than Nijni-Novgorod or Jerusalem. I no more encountered anyone British born during my two journeys in the Lozere than I did a beggar. This privileged corner of the earth enjoys an absolute immunity from excursionists and mendicants. Strong enthusiasts, lovers of France, moved to tread in my footsteps, will hardly accuse me of exaggerating either the scenery, the good qualities and good looks of the people, or the flawless charm of Lozerien travel. In years to come I may here be found too eulogistic of all classes with whom I came in contact, who shall say? A long period of increasing prosperity, a perpetually swelling stream of holiday-makers, may by degrees change, and perhaps ultimately pervert, the character of the peasants, so glowingly delineated in the following pages. Let us hope that such a contingency is at least very far off, and that many another may bring home the same cordial recollections of the boatmen of the Tarn, the aubergistes and voituriers of the Causses, the peasant owners of the Cite du Diable. I need hardly add that I give a mere record of travel. The geology of the strange district visited, its rich and varied flora, its wealth of prehistoric remains, are only touched upon. For further information the reader is referred to other writers. On the subject of agriculture I have occasionally dwelt at more length, being somewhat of a farmeress, as Arthur Young styles it, and having now studied a considerable portion of France from an agricultural point of view. The noble dictum of 'that wise and honest traveller' - thus aptly does our great critic describe the Suffolk squire - 'the magic of property turns sands to gold,' will be here as amply illustrated as in my works on Eastern and Western France.

One word more. No one must undertake a journey in the Lozere with a scantily-furnished purse. A well-known artist lately contributed a paper to the Pall Mall Gazette in which he set forth - in the strangest English surely ever penned by man, woman, or child - the facilities and delights of cycling in France on seven francs a day. Why anyone in his sober senses should dream of travelling abroad on seven francs a day passes my comprehension. Money means to the traveller not only health, enjoyment, comfort, but knowledge. Why should we expect, moreover, to be wholesomely housed and fed in a foreign country upon a sum altogether inadequate to the tourist's needs at home? The little wayside inns in out-of-the-way places mentioned by me were indeed very cheap, but taking into account horses, carriages and guides, the exploration of the Causses, the Canon du Tarn and Montpellier-le-Vieux will certainly cost twenty-five francs per diem, this outlay being slightly reduced in the case of two or more persons. Of course, when not absolutely making excursions, when settling down for days or weeks in some rural retreat, expenses will be moderate enough as far as inns are concerned. But carriage-hire is costly all the world over, and the inquiring traveller must have his carriage. There will also be a daily call upon his purse in the matter of pourboire to guides and conductors. A pound a day is by no means too liberal an allowance for the wise bent upon having the best, of everything. Those content to put up with the worst may exist upon the half.