So, just upon twelve months later, I once more found myself climbing to the summit of the lofty plateau between Mende and St. Enimie.

It was a fortnight earlier in the year, and the weather was perfect; light clouds that had threatened rain cleared off, mild sunshine brightened the scene, and the air, although brisk and invigorating, was by no means cold. Still more enticing now looked the billowy swell of gold and purple mountains, and the dark cliffs frowning over green valleys. To-day, too, the exhilarating conviction of fulfilment was added to that of looking forward. A second time I had reached the threshold of the long-dreamed-of region of marvels, at last really to cross it and enter in.

I was on my way to the Causses at last! More striking and beautiful than when first seen now seemed the upward drive from Mende - the beautiful gray cathedral cushioned against the soft green hills, the cheerful little town in its fertile valley, its wild entourage of far-stretching waste and barren peak. More musical still sounded in my ears the purling of the Lot, as unseen it ran between sunny pastures over its stony bed far below.

Little I thought, indeed, although of firm intention, when making the journey so far twelve months all but two weeks ago, that on this 5th of September, 1888, I should be gazing on the same scene - a scene reminding me now, as then, of the vast reedy plateau gazed on at Saida, dividing the Algerian traveller from the Sahara.

This time I did not stop to make tea gipsy-wise on the turf in front of the farmhouse; nor, to my disappointment, did the children run out to share the contents of my bonbon-box. Not a soul was abroad; an eldritch solitude reigned everywhere.

The Causse of Sauveterre is not reached till we have left the farmhouse and ruined chateau far behind. From that point the roads diverge, and we see our own leading to St. Enimie wind like a ribbon till lost to view in the gray, stony wilderness.

A considerable portion of the land hereabouts is cultivated. We see little patches of rye, oats, Indian corn, clover, potatoes, and here and there a peasant ploughing up the soil with oxen.

As we proceed, the enormous horizon ever widens; long shadows fleck the purply-brown and orange-coloured undulations; scattered sparsely are little flocks of sheep, of a rich burnt-umber-brown, but herbage is scant and little cattle can be nourished here. The swelling hills now show new and more grandiose outlines; at last we come in sight of the dark mass of the Causse de Sauveterre, and soon we enter upon the true 'Caussien' landscape in all its weird and sombre grandeur. Just as when fairly out on the open sea we realize to the full its beauty and sense of infinity, so it is here. The farther we go the wider, more bewilderingly vast becomes the horizon: wave upon wave, billow upon billow, now violet-hued, with a tinge of gold; now deep brown, partly veiled with green, or roseate with sunlit clouds - the gray monotony of stone and waste is thus varied by the way.

By the roadside slender trees of the hornbeam tribe are planted at intervals, and where these are wanting, tall flagstaffs take their place, to guide the wayfarer when six feet of snow cover the ground. Wild-flowers in plenty brighten the edges of the road - stonecrops, cornflowers, purple 'lady's fingers,' and many others; but wedged as we are in our not too comfortable caleche, to get out and pluck them is impossible.

The road from Mende to the summit of the plateau can only be described as a vertical ascent; before beginning to descend, we have a few kilometres of level, that is all. As we approach the village of Sauveterre, we see one or two wild figures - shepherds, uncouth in appearance as Greek herdsmen; poorly dressed, but robust-looking, well-made girls and women, short-skirted, bare-headed, footing it bravely under the now hot sun.

Portions of the land on either side consist of waste, quite recently laid under cultivation; the huge blocks of stone have been wrenched up, heaven knows how, and conspicuously piled up in the midst of the newly-created field, a veritable trophy. How much more commendable than that commemorative of blood-stained victory! The rich red earth amply repays these Herculean labours. With regard to the tenure of land, I should suppose the state of things here must be very much what it was in the age of primitive man. I fancy that any native of these parts, any true Caussenard, has only to clear a bit of waste and plant a crop to make it his own; a stranger would doubtless have his right to do so contested, or, maybe, some patriarchal system is still in force, and the village community is not yet extinct in France.

'Voila la capitale de Sauveterre!' soon cries our driver, pointing to a cluster of bare brown, apparently windowless, houses, and a tiny church, all grouped picturesquely together.

A poor-looking place it was enough when we obtained a nearer view, reminding me of a Kabyle village more than anything else; not, however, brightened with olive or fig tree! Nothing in the shape of a garden is to be seen, only dull walls of close-set dwellings, with narrow paths between. Windows, however, our driver assured us, were there; but the village is built with its back to the road.

The great privation of these poor people is that of a regular water-supply - one large, by no means pellucid, pond, with cisterns, are all the sources they can rely upon from one end of the year to the other; not a fountain issues from the limestone for miles round, not a stream waters the entire Causse, a region extensive as Dartmoor or Salisbury Plain. When we consider that this plateau has a height above the sea-level equal to that of Skiddaw, we can easily imagine what the long eight months' winter here is like. For the greater part of the time the country is under several feet of snow, and the Caussenard warms his poor tenement as best he can with peat.

It was curious to hear our conductor, himself evidently accustomed to a hard, laborious life, speak of the inhabitants of Sauveterre. He described their condition much as a well-to-do English artisan might speak of the half-starved foreign victims of the sweater - so wide is the gulf dividing the Caussenard from the French peasant proper.

'Just think of it,' he said; 'they don't even dress the rye for their bread, but eat it made of husks and all. Rye-bread, bacon, potatoes, that is their fare, and water: if it were only good water one would have nothing to say - bad water they drink. But they are contented, pardie.'

'What do they do for a doctor?' I asked.

He made a curious grimace.

'They doctor themselves till they are at the point of death, and then send for a doctor. But it is not often. They are healthy enough, pardie!'

With regard to the ministrations of religion, they are in the position of dalesfolk in some parts of Dauphine. A cure from St. Enimie, he told us, performed Mass once a fortnight in summer, and came over as occasion required for baptisms, marriages, and burials. In winter alike ordinary Mass and these celebrations were stopped by the snow. The services of the priest had then to be dispensed with for weeks, even months, at a time.

I next tried to gain some information as to schools, but here my informant was not very clear. Yes, he said, there was schooling in summer; whether lay or clerical, whether the children were taught the Catechism in their mother-tongue - in other words, the patois of the Causse - or in French, I could not learn.

Do these wild-looking mountaineers exercise the electoral privilege? Do they go to the poll, and what are their political views? Are their sons drafted off, as the rest of French youth, into military service? Does a newspaper, even the ubiquitous Petit Journal, penetrate into these solitudes? It was difficult to get a satisfactory answer to all my questions, and quite useless to make a tour of inquiry in the village. One must speak the patois of the Caussenard to obtain his confidence, and though the population is inoffensive, even French tourists are advised on no account to adventure themselves in these parts without being accompanied by a native of the country.

One thing is quite certain: The four thousand and odd wild, sheepskin- wearing inhabitants of the entire region of the Causses must erelong be nationalized - like the Breton and the Morvandial, undergo a gradual and complete transformation. Travellers of another generation on this road will not be stared at by the fierce-looking, picturesque figures we now pass in the precincts of Sauveterre. Brigands they might be, judging from their shaggy beards, unkempt locks, and Robinson Crusoe-like dress; also their fixed, almost dazed, look inspires anything but confidence. Still, we must remember that Sauveterre is in the Lozere, and that the Lozere enjoys the enviable pre-eminence of 'white assizes' - a clean bill of moral health.

After quitting the village, which has a deserted look as of a plague- stricken place, the road descends. We now follow the rim of a far- stretching, tremendous ravine, its wooded sides running perpendicularly down. For miles we drive along this giddy road, the only protection being a stone wall not two feet high. The road, however, is excellent, our little horses steady and sure-footed, and our driver very careful. We are, indeed, too much interested in the scenery to heed the frightful precipices within a few inches of our carriage-wheels. But the retrospection makes one giddy. The least accident or mishap, contingencies not dwelt upon whilst jogging on delightfully under a bright sky, might, or rather must, here end in a tragedy. Tourists should be quite sure of both driver and horses before undertaking this drive.

By-and-by the prospect becomes inexpressibly grand, till the impression of magnificence culminates as our road begins literally to drop down upon St. Enimie, as yet invisible. Our journey must now be compared to the descent from cloud-land in a balloon. Meantime, the stupendous panorama of dark, superbly-outlined mountain-wall closes in. We seem to have reached the limit of the world. Before us, a Titanic rampart, rises the grand Causse Mejean, now seen for the first time; around, fold upon fold, are the curved heights of Sauveterre, the nearer slopes bright green with sunny patches, the remoter purply black.

It is a wondrous spectacle - wall upon wall of lofty limestone, making what seems an impenetrable barrier, closing around us, threatening to shut out the very heavens; at our feet an ever-narrowing mountain pass or valley, the shelves of the rock running vertically down.

When at last from our dizzy height our driver bids us look down, we discern the gray roofs of St. Enimie wedged between the congregated escarpments far below, the little town lying immediately under our feet, as the streets around St. Paul's when viewed from the dome. We say to ourselves we can never get there. The feat of descending those perpendicular cliffs seems impossible. It does not do to contemplate the road we have to take, winding like a ribbon round the upright shafts of the Causse. Follow it we must. We are high above the inhabited world, up in cloudland; there is nothing to do but descend as best we can; so we trust to our good driver and steady horses, obliged to follow the sharply-winding road at walking pace. And bit by bit - how we don't know - the horizontal zigzag is accomplished. We are down at last!