From Autun to Lyons is a journey that calls for little comment, unless made, as wise Arthur Young made it a hundred years ago, on horseback; or unless we take the steamer at Chalon, and enjoy the scenery of the Saone, Mr. Hamerton's favourite river.

We were too impatient, however, to reach the Causses to stop, even for the sake of a sail on the Saone, and made haste to catch the very next Gladiateur bound to Avignon. Why all these Rhone steamers should be called Gladiateur I don't know, but so it is.

By half-past five this bright August day we are on the deck of the little steamer, to find a scene of indescribable liveliness and bustle. All kinds of merchandise were being stowed away - bedding, fruit, bicycles, bird-cages, passengers' luggage, cases, and packages of every imaginable description.

A stream of peasants poured in, bound for various stations on the way, all heavily laden, some accompanied by their pet dogs. First-class passengers were not numerous. We had an elderly bridegroom, who might have been a small innkeeper, with his youthful bride, evidently making a cheap wedding-trip; a family party or two; an excitable man with a sick wife; a couple of pretty girls with two or three youths - brothers or cousins; a sprinkling of priests and nuns - that was all. The peasants with their baskets and bundles, at the other end of the vessel, made picturesque groups, and the whole scene was as French as French could be.

I was just thinking how pleasant it was thus to escape the routine of travel, to find one's self in a purely foreign atmosphere, among French people, picking up by the way French habits and ways of thought, when one of the officials of the company bustled up to me.

'Pray pardon me, madame,' he said, bringing out a note-book. 'I see that you are English. Will you be so very kind as to give me the name and address of the great tourist agency in London? We are organizing an entirely new service between Lyons and Avignon; we are going to make our steamers attractive to tourists. You will oblige us extremely by giving a little information.'

Crestfallen and with a sinking of the heart, I took his pencil - I could, of course, not do otherwise - and wrote in big letters:

                     MM. Thomas Cook et Cie., 
                     Ludgate Hill, 

But those few words I had written sufficed to dispel the delightful visions of the moment before. Another year or two, then, and the Rhone will be then handed over to Messrs. Cook, Gaze and Caygill - benefactors of their kind, no doubt, but ruthless destroyers of the romance of travel.

Instead of French folk, with whom we can chat about their crops, rural affairs, the passing scenes, gaining all kinds of information, feeling that we are really in France, and forgetting for awhile old associations, henceforth we shall find on board these steamers our near neighbours, whom, no matter how much respected, we are glad to quit for a time. From end to end of the vessel we shall hear the voices of English and Transatlantic tourists, one and all most probably 'disappointed in the Rhone;' but, indeed, for the river, we should as well be at home! However, all this disenchantment happily belongs to the future; let us enjoy the present experience - one long bright summer day, so full of impressions as to seem many days rolled into one.

The whistle sounds, punctually to the stroke of six; we are off.

It is a noble sight as we steam out of the quay de la Charite: the vast city rearing its stately front between green hills and meeting rivers; above, white chateaux and villas dotting the greenery - below, the quays, bordered with warehouses that might be palaces, so lofty and handsome are they, and avenues of plane-trees.

The day promises to be splendid, but mists as yet hang over the scene. Leaving behind us majestic cities and suburbs and the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone - one silvery sheet flowing into the other - we glide between low-lying banks bordered with poplars, and soon reach the little village of Irigny, its sheltering green hills dotted with country houses. As we go swiftly on we realize the appropriateness of the epithet ever applied to the Rhone. Truly in Michelet's phrase, 'C'est un taureau furieux descendu des Alpes, et qui court a la mer.' If we are in haste to reach our destination in the heart of the Cevennes, the Rhone seems still more in haste to reach the sea. This swift current of the bright blue waters and the unspeakable freshness and purity of the air make our journey very exhilarating. Past Irigny we are so near the low, poplar-bordered shore to our left that we could almost reach it with a pebble, whilst to the right lies Millery. From this point the river winds abruptly, and we see far-off hills and gentle declivities nearer shore, with vineyards planted on the slopes. The country on both sides is beautifully wooded, and very verdant.

The first halt is made at Givors, a little manufacturing town set round with vine-clad banks; here the little river Giers flows into the Rhone, one of the numerous tributaries gathered on the way. Just below the town is a graceful suspension-bridge. But for the mists we should have a lovely view a little further on, where the hills run nearer together, the wooded escarpments running steep down to the water's edge. On both right and left banks the scenery is now charming. Close to our left hand rise banks fringed with silvery-green willows, and above a bold line of hills, part wood, part vineyards, with white houses peeping here and there; on our right, a little island-like group of poplar, the whole picture very sweet and pastoral.

For the most part our passengers, alike first and second class, pay scant heed to the scenery; the tiny salle-a-manger below and the resources of the kitchen seem more attractive.

The excitable man with the sick wife, however, no sooner caught sight of me with pencil and note-book than he rushed up, anxious to impart information, also to pour out his own troubles.

'That sick lady yonder is my wife; does she not look ill? Oh, the misfortune to have a sick wife!'

Then he went on to relate to me the history of his wife's long illness, dilating on his own unhappiness in being so afflicted. It never seemed to occur to him that it might be worse to be ill one's self, even than to inflict one's illnesses on others. He had tried every imaginable remedy, and now, as a last expedient, was about to take her to her paternal home in the South, to see what native air might do. Poor lady! ill and depressed she looked indeed.

As we get nearer Vienne the aspect of the country changes. There is an Italian look about the vines trellised on trees, and festooned under the tiled roofs of the little riverside chalets.

The approach to the ancient city itself is very striking. A light suspension-bridge spans the river-banks just where Vienne faces the village of St. Colombe, ancient as itself. On the right we see the massive old town built by Philippe de Valois; to the left, behind the houses, crowded together pell-mell, rises the massive pile of Vienne Cathedral. Here another tributary, the Gere, flows into the Rhone. Vienne was reputed a fosterer of poetry in classic times. At 'beautiful Vienne,' Martial boasted that his works were read with avidity. The scenery now shows more variety and picturesqueness. In one spot the river winds so abruptly that we seem all on a sudden to be landlocked, the hills almost meeting where the swift, impetuous stream has forced a way. The cleft hills as they slope down to the shore show little dells and combes deliciously fresh and verdurous. Everywhere we see the vine, and with every bend we seem nearer the South. Between Vienne and Roussillon the aspect is no longer French, but Italian - the distant undulations dark purple, flecked with golden shadow, the nearer terraced with the yellowing vine.

Our next halting-place is Condrien, on the right bank, celebrated for its white wines, a pretty, Italian-looking little town, with vineyards and gardens close to the riverside, the bright foliage of the acacia and vine contrasting with the soft yellows and grays of the building- stone. Above the straggling town on the sunny hill are deep-roofed chalets, and close to us - we could almost gather them - patches of glorious sunflowers in the riverside gardens. The mists had now cleared off, and we were promised a superb day.

The traveller's mind is all at once struck by the extreme solitude of this noble, vast-bosomed, swift-flowing river. We had been on our way for hours without seeing a steamer or vessel of any kind, our little craft having the wide water-way all to itself. Whilst the Saone is the most navigable river in the world, quite opposite is the character of its brother Rhone. Not inaptly has the one river - all gentleness, yieldingness, and suavity - won a feminine, the other - all force, impetuosity and stern will - obtained for itself a masculine, appellative! And well has the Lyonnais sculptor given these characteristics in his charming statues adorning the Hotel de Ville of his native city.

The Rhone has been called 'un chemin qui marche trop vite'; the rapidity of its currents and the difficulties of navigation up-stream are obstructions to traffic. But before the great line of railway was laid down between Paris and Marseilles, it was nevertheless very important. If we converse with French folk whose memory goes back to a past generation, we shall find that the journey South was invariably made this way. Formerly sixty-two steamers daily plied with passengers and goods between these riverside towns, now connected by railway. At the present time seven or eight suffice for the work.

To render the Rhone adapted for navigation on a large scale, extensive works are necessary in order to regulate its current and deepen its bed. The question has long occupied the leading Chambers of Commerce throughout France. Plans of the proposed ameliorations have been made; works have even been begun. But the Rhone has that terribly powerful Compagnie de Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee to contend with. It remains to be seen whether wide public interests will be finally sacrificed to a grasping railway company. For myself, I owe the P.-L.-M. a great and lasting grudge.

I am in the habit of paying yearly visits to French friends living in and near Dijon; but for the P.-L.-M., I could pleasantly vary these annual visits to the delightful Burgundian capital, going by way of Sens and Tonnerre, and returning by the Ligne de l'Est through Champagne.

But no! The latter company is not permitted by the P.-L.-M. to set down passengers in the Dijon railway-station. Those travellers desirous of making the journey Paris-ward via Troyes are therefore forced to take tickets to Is-sur-Tille, half an hour by rail from Dijon, on the Ligne de l'Est. There they are permitted, and not before, to take through tickets and register baggage to Paris. I rejoice to hear, however, that influential Dijonnais are taking the matter up, and I yet live in hopes of being able to avoid the P.-L.-M. line to and from Dijon.

It must be admitted that the great solitude of the Rhone adds to its majesty and impressiveness. Our little craft seems insignificant as a feather - a mere bird skimming the vast blue surface. After the clearing of the mists, we have a spell of unbroken blue sky and bright sunshine, followed by a deliciously cool, gray English heaven, with sunny glimpses and varied cloudage.

Passing Serrieres, with pastures and meadows close to the water's edge, and groups of cattle grazing under the trees, we reach Annonay, crested by a quaint ruin, the birth-place of the great balloonists, the brothers Montgolfier. The first balloon ascent was made from this little town in 1783. Boissy d'Anglas, the heroic president of the Assembly in its stormiest days, was also born here.

Next comes St. Vallier, an ancient little town close to the river-side, with its castle of the beauty who never grew old, Diane de Poitiers - she whose mysterious cosmetic was a daily plunge in cold water; so say the initiated in historic secrets. Opposite to St. Vallier rises a chain of sunny, vine-covered hills, with sharp clefts showing deep shadow.

At Arras, on the right bank, is seen another picturesque ruin. No river in Europe boasts of more ruins than the Rhone. Then we reach the legendary rock called the Table du Roi. Just as AEneas and his companions made of their flat loaves, plates, and so fulfilled the Sibyl's prediction, St. Louis saw in this tabular block a dinner-table, providentially designed for the use of himself and his ministers. The great advantage of such a table lay in its immunity from listeners, thus the story runs. This al-fresco banquet above the banks of the Rhone took place on the eve of the Seventh Crusade.

At this point the river is magnificent. Beyond the nearer hills rise the crumbling walls of a feudal stronghold, another ruin of imposing aspect. One hoary tower only is seen, half hidden by the folds of a valley. On every steep slope the vines make golden patches, little terraces being planted close to the rocky summits. This persistence in a phylloxera-ravaged district is quite touching.

Passing Tournon and Tain, we soon come in sight of the famous little village of the Hermitage, a sunburnt, granitic slope, its three hundred acres once being a mine of gold. Formerly a hectare of this precious vineyard was worth 30,000 francs. The phylloxera, alas! has invaded it.

We now see in the far distance the blue range of the Dauphinnois Alps, and can it be - is yonder silvery glimmer on the farthest horizon the mighty Mont Blanc? Nothing can be lovelier than these wide mountain vistas, far above broad blue river, plain, and hill.

Passing the stately Gothic chateau of Chateaubourg, where sojourned St. Louis, we get a glimpse of the sharply-outlined limestone heights bordering on the vineyards of St. Peray, no less celebrated than those of the Hermitage. On the topmost crag stand out in bold relief the superb ruins of Crussol. At every turn we see gray walls of feudal strongholds frowning above the bright, broad river. By the time we reach Valence, soon after mid-day, we have passed one barge only.

Valence is beautifully situated. [Footnote: In the early part of this century the Rhone threw up gold-dust here. The beaver, be it also mentioned, had his home then on the banks of this river, but it lived in isolation, showing little of the intelligence of the Canada beaver.] Facing the river and tawny, abrupt rocks rises the splendid panorama of the French Alps. Here we ought to stay, were we not in such feverish flurry to reach the Causses. And here we leave more than half our passengers and merchandise. The cook, having now nothing to do, comes on deck to chat with a friendly traveller. I may as well mention that we fare as well on this little steamer as at a second-class table-d'hote. There is a small dining-room below, as well as a very fairly comfortable saloon. The attendants are exceedingly civil, and charges regulated by a tariff.

As an instance of the prevailing desire to please, I cite the following piece of amiability on the part of the chef. I had given tea and a teapot, with instructions, to the waiter. The chef, however, anxious that there should be no blunder, came up to me and begged for information at first hand.

'Pray excuse me,' he said; 'but I did not understand whether the milk and sugar were to form part of the decoction.'

I gave him a little dissertation on tea-making, with the result that future travellers by the Gladiateur will obtain a fragrant cup admirably prepared. Even a French chef cannot be expected to know everything in the vast field of cookery.

Below Valence the scenery changes. The hills on either side of the river recede, and we look above low reaches and lines of poplar upon the far-off mountain-range of Dauphine and Savoy. Here and there are little farmsteads close to the shore, with stacks of wheat newly piled and cattle grazing - everywhere a look of homely plenty and repose. The river winds in perpetual curves, giving us new horizons at every turn.

Lavoutte, on the right bank, is a picturesque congeries of red-tiled houses massed round a square chateau. The town indeed looks a mere appendage of this chateau, so conspicuous is the ancient stronghold of the Vivarais. Livron, perched on a hill, looks very pretty. Soon we come to perhaps the grandest ruin cresting the bank of the Rhone, the donjon and chateau fort of Rochemaure, standing out formidably from the dark, jagged peaks, running sheer down to the river's edge.

After Le Teil is passed the clouds gradually clear. We have the deep warm blue of a southern sky and burning sunshine.

Viviers - ancient capital of the Vivarais, to which it gave the name - is most romantically placed on the side of a craggy hill, its ancient castle and old Romanesque cathedral conspicuous above the house-roofs. Just above the verdant river-bank run its mediaeval ramparts tapestried with ivy, the yellowish stone almost the colour of the rocks.

The scenery here is wild and striking. Far away the grand snow-tipped Mont Ventoux, the limestone cliffs dazzlingly white against the warm heavens, deep purple shadows resting on the vine-clad slopes, whilst close to the water's edge are stretches of velvety turf and little shady dells. At one point the opposite coasts are as unlike in aspect as summer and winter; the right bank all grace and fertility, the left all barrenness and desolation. And still we have the noble river to ourselves as it winds between rock and hill. Pont St. Esprit is another old-world town with a wonderful old bridge, making a charming picture. It stands close to the water's edge, the houses grouped lovingly round its ancient church with tall spire. Here we do at last meet a steamer bound for Valence.

After leaving Pont St. Esprit the scenery grows less severe, till by degrees all sternness is banished, and we see only a gentle pastoral landscape on either side.

Bagnols, with its handsome old stone bridge, church, with perforated tower, facing the river, makes a quaint and picturesque scene. This curious old town, one of the most characteristic passed throughout the entire journey, lies so close to the water's edge that we could almost step from the steamer into its streets. Meantime, the long, bright afternoon, so rich in manifold impressions, draws on; cypresses and mulberry-trees announce the approach to Avignon. A golden softness in the evening sky, a heavy warmth and languor in the air, proclaim the South. Every inch of the way is varied and rememberable. Feudal walls still crest the distant heights, as we glide slowly between reedy banks and low sandy shores towards the papal city.

At last it comes in sight, rather more than twelve hours since quitting the quay of Lyons, and well rewarded were we for having preferred the slower water-way to the four hours' flight in the railway express.

The approach to Avignon by the Rhone may be set side by side in the traveller's mind with the first glimpse of Venice from the Adriatic, or of Athens from the AEgean.

The river, after winding amid cypress-groves, makes a sudden curve, and we see all of a sudden the grand old Italian-looking city, its watch- towers, palaces, and battlements pencilled in delicate gray against a warm amber sky, only the cypresses by the water's edge making dark points in the picture. Far away, over against the city towers, the stately snow-crowned Mont Ventoux and the violet hills shutting in Petrarch's Vaucluse. How warm and southern - nay, Oriental - is the scene before us, although painted in delicatest pearly tints! It is difficult to believe that we are still in France; we seem suddenly to have waked up in Jerusalem!