Chatting thus pleasantly, we come nearer and nearer the city, painted in violet tints against an azure sky, to find it, as we approach, a splendid phantasmagoria. What we deemed citadels, domes and parapets, prove to be the silvery dolomite only: limestone rock thrown into every conceivable form, the imposing masses blocking the horizon; the shadow of a mighty Babylon darkening the heaven; but a Babylon untenanted from its earliest beginning - a phantom capital, an eldritch city, whose streets now for the first time echo with the sound of human voice and tread.

I can think of but one pen that could aptly describe the scene: the pen of a Shelley dipped in iridescence and gold; of a poet whose inner eye could conjure up visions of loveliness and enchantment invisible to the rest of mortal born. I do not know how Montpellier-le-Vieux would look on a dull, gray day; doubtless imagination would people it then with gnomes, horrid afrits, and shapes of fear. To-day, under an exquisite sky, pearly clouds floating across the blue, a soft southern air wafting the fragrance of wild pink, thyme and lavender, it was a region surely peopled by good genii, sportive elves and beneficent fairies only. We were in a spirit, a phantasmal world; but a world of witchery and gracious poetic thrall only.

But as yet we are on the threshold, and, like other magic regions, the Cite du Diable unfolds its marvels all at once, as soon as the novice has entered within its precincts. Before us rose the colossal citadel so-called, pyramid upon pyramid of rock, which our guide said we must positively climb, the grandest panorama being here obtained; a bit of a scramble, he added, but a mere bagatelle - the affair of a few minutes only.

I hesitated. We were at the foot of a chaotic wall of enormous blocks, piled one upon the other, with deep, ugly fissures between - the height, from base to summit, that of St. Paul's Cathedral. In order to reach even the lower platform of these superimposed masses it was necessary to be hoisted up after the manner of travellers ascending the Pyramids, only with this disadvantage - that holding on to the rocks where any hold was possible, and planting the feet as firmly as was practicable on the almost vertical sides, we had here to bestride chasm after chasm.

'Don't be afraid,' cried our guide. 'It is nothing.'

'I would venture if I were you,' urged my friend mildly. So up I went.

The climbing, beyond a somewhat breathless scrambling and painful straining of the limbs, was nothing to speak of. For a few moments I could revel in the marvellous spectacle before me.

Lying on a little platform, perhaps two yards square, high above the bright heavens, I had, far around and beneath, the wide panorama of the dolomite city, vista upon vista of tower and monolith, avenues, arches, bridges, arcades, all of cool, tender gray, amid fairy-like verdure and greenery. Not Lyons itself, seen from the heights of La Fourviere, shows a more grandiose aspect than this capital of the waste, unpeopled by either the living or the dead!

Hardly had I realized the magic of the prospect when I became conscious of frightful giddiness. The flowery shelf of rock on which I lay was only a foot or two removed from the edge of the piled mass just climbed so laboriously, and, sloping downwards, seemed to invite a fall. From this side the incline was almost vertical, and the turf below at a distance of over a hundred feet. No descent was practicable except by bestriding the same fissures, two feet wide, and clinging to the sides of the rocks, as before. I now felt that terrible vertigo which I am convinced accounts for so many so-called suicides from lofty heights. To throw myself down seemed the only possible relief from the terrible nightmare. Had I been longer alone I must, at least, have allowed myself to slip off my resting-place, with certain risk to life and limb. As it was, I called to my companion, who had scaled another story - had, indeed, reached the topmost shelf of the citadel; and she tripped down looking so airy and alert that I felt ashamed of my own weakness.

Pale and trembling, I pointed to the horrible staircase by which we had come.

'Get me down some other way,' I said to the guide, who now followed, not slightly embarrassed. Had he possessed the physique of our punter of the rapids, or of our conductor, now attending to his horses at the farm, he could have shouldered me like a baby. But he was slight of build and by no means robust. Not a creature was within call, and those dreaded fissures had to be bestridden. There was no other means of descent.

'It is of no use to try, I cannot get down,' I repeated, and for a moment a sombre vision of broken limbs and a long incarceration at the farm passed before my mind's eye.

Reassuring me as best he could, our poor guide now grasped one of my hands, with the other got a strong grip of the rock, and the first dreaded step was achieved. The second presented greater difficulties still. Once more he tried to carry me, but found the task beyond his strength. I remembered that he was a bridegroom of a few months only; what would be the young wife's feelings if he now came by mishap? So I closed my eyes, shutting out the prospect beneath, and allowed myself to be dragged down somehow, never more to venture on such giddy heights. The incomparable view had been too dearly purchased.

The moral of this incident is, let tourists subject to vertigo carry a smelling-bottle with them, or, better still, stay below.

All had ended well, however, and I could once more enjoy the scene. When the first bewilderment of wonder and admiration is over; when the fantastic city no longer appears a vision, but a reality, pile upon pile of natural rock so magically cast in the form of architecture, we realize countless beauties unperceived at first. The intense limpidity and crystalline clearness of the atmosphere, the brilliance of the limestone, the no less dazzling hue of the foliage everywhere adorning it, the beautiful lights and shadows of the more distant masses, line upon line of far off mountain-chain, mere gold and violet clouds rising above the rugged outline of the Causses, the deep, rich tones of the nearer - these general effects are not more striking than the details close under our feet. About every fragment of rock is a wealth of leaves, flowers and berries, the dogwood and bilberry with their crimson and purple clusters and tufts, wild lavender and thrift, whilst the ground is carpeted with the leaf of the hepatica.

We found also the pretty purple and white toad-flax, [Footnote: Linaria versicolor] the handsome gold-flowered spurges, [Footnote: Euphorbia sylvatica and E. cyparissea] the elegant orange and crimson-streaked salvia, [Footnote: Salvia glutinosa] with others more familiar to us. If the adorer of wild flowers is a happy person here in September, what enchantment would await him in the spring!

Like the Russian Steppes and the African Metidja, these wastes are a mosaic of blossoms. The foot-sure, hardy and leisurely traveller must not content himself with the bird's-eye view of this dolomite city just described. He should spend hours, nay, days here, if he would conscientiously explore the stone avenues, worthy to be compared to Stonehenge or Carnac; the amphitheatre, vast as that of Nimes or Orange; the fortifications, with bulwarks, towers, and ramparts; the necropolis, veritable Cerameicus, or Pere-la-Chaise; the citadel, the forum, the suburbs; for the enthusiastic discoverers of Montpellier-le-Vieux, or the Cite du Diable, have made out all these.

The most striking rocks have been fancifully named after the celebrated structures they resemble. We find the Chateau Gaillard, the Sphinx, the Gate of Mycenae, or of the Lions, the Street of Tombs supposed to resemble Pompeii, some of colossal dimensions. Thus the citadel measures a hundred and fifty feet from the ground, at this point Montpellier-le-Vieux attaining an altitude of two thousand five hundred feet above the sea-level. When I add that the Cite du Diable measures nearly two miles in length and a mile in breadth, and that its city and suburbs, so-called, cover a thousand hectares, an area a third less than that of Windsor Forest, the enterprising tourist will have some feeble notion of the waste before him. The place is indeed altogether indescribable - surely one of the most striking testimonies to the force of erosion existing on the earth's surface. The explanation of the phenomenon is found here. At a remote period of geological history the action of mighty torrents let loose sculptured these fantastic and grandiose monoliths, bored these arcades and galleries, hollowed these fairy-like caves. Erosion has been the architect of the Cite du Diable, partly by impetuous floods, partly by slow filtration. Water has gradually, and in the slow process of ages, built up the whole, then vanished altogether. Nothing strikes the imagination more than the absolute aridity of the region now. Not a drop left in the bed of ancient lake or river, not a crystal thread trickling down the rock channelled by ancient cascades, and nevertheless abundance of greenery and luxuriant foliage everywhere! The waterless world of stone is not only a garden, but a green forest! Immediately around us flowers, ferns, and shrubs adorn every bit of silvery gray rock, whilst wherever space admits we see noble trees, pines, oaks, beeches, some of marvellous growth, yet perched on heights so remote and lofty as to appear mere tufts of grass.

And then the wonderful deliciousness and invigorating quality of the air! It is like tasting the waters of the Nile, an experience never to be forgotten.

Those, indeed, who have once breathed the air of the Lozere will have only one desire: to breathe it again.

True, Montpellier-le-Vieux, departmentally speaking, is in the Aveyron, if so phantom-like a city can be said to have a local habitation and a name. But the Lozere chain is still in sight; its breezes are wafted to us; we seem still in my favourite department of the eighty-seven, that now being the proper number, including the newly-created one of the Territoire de Belfort. I note the fact, as so many errors find their way into print on the subject of French geography. As we reflect on the mine of wealth this newly-discovered marvel may, we should say must, inevitably become to its owners and their near neighbours, a terrible vision rises before the mind. The gradually-diminishing area of the picturesque world, in proportion to the enormously-increasing percentage of tourists, can have but one ultimate result. In process of time the dolomite city must undergo the fate of other marvels of the natural world. Waggonettes drawn by four horses will convey the curious from the Grand Hotel and Hotel Splendide at Le Rozier to the Cite du Diable. Who can tell? A steam tramway may be placed at the disposal of globe-trotters sleeping at Maubert, and a patent lift or captive balloon for the ascension of the citadel. But no! We may at least console ourselves with the reflexion that such a contingency is far off. It will take more than a generation or two to vulgarize the Cite du Diable, which in our days may be considered as remote from London as Bagdad. The ideas of tourists in general must undergo entire transformation ere they will cease to endorse Shelley's opinion: 'There is nothing to see in France.'

Perhaps these pages may tempt a stray sketcher or lover of wild flowers to follow my route, but the peasant-owner of Montpellier-le-Vieux, although reaping a fair harvest from his unique possession, will not certainly become a millionaire through the patronage of Messrs. Cook, Gaze and Caygill. And, truth to tell, it is not even every ardent lover of natural beauty who would be held captive here. It requires a peculiar temperament to appreciate this gray, silent, fantastic world of stone. When once within its precincts, our mood is not precisely that of delight or exhilaration; it is more akin to the eerie and the awesome. We are spellbound, not so much by the sublimity or loveliness of the place, but by its absolute uniqueness, its total unlikeness to any other on the face of the globe, its kinship with the few incomparable marvels Nature has given us; creations of her mysterious, freakish, daemonic humour. Strange that a neighbourhood so weird should have exercised only a wholesome influence on the character of the people! As far as we can judge, no franker, cheerier, more straightforward folks are to be found in France, to say nothing of that little fact of white assizes, so creditable to the department.

Perhaps the fine prospect framing in Montpellier-le-Vieux is best appreciated as we walk back to the farm, the mind not then being full of expectancy. What a superb coup d'oeil! Distance upon distance, one mountain range rising above another, almost in endless succession, the various stages showing infinite gradation of colour - subtle, distracting, absolutely unpaintable! No wonder the air is unspeakably fresh and exhilarating, seeing that it blows north, south, east and west from lofty Alps. We have in view the sombre walls of the three Causses, the wide outline of the Larzac, in a vast semicircle the western spurs of the Cevennes, whilst from east to west stretch the Cantal chain, the Lozere, and the Cevennes des Gardons. [Footnote: So called from this portion of the Cevennes rising above the valleys of the streams and rivers Gardon.]

We are on the Roof of France indeed! Having escaped a broken leg or dislocated shoulder, my only regret was that we could not spend at least a month within reach of the Cite du Diable. What explorations in search of rare flowers! what sunset effects! what impressions to be obtained here! How delightful, too, to make friends with the young owners of this strange property - the strangest surely out of the 'Arabian Nights,' 'Vathek,' or 'The Epicurean!' - and get the farmhouse turned into quite an ideal hostelry! I saw in my mind's eye the dunghill replaced by a pretty flower-garden, a tablecloth spread for breakfast, the floors swept and scoured, carpets and armchairs in the best bedrooms, and even - my ambition went so far - trays, bells, and door-fastenings introduced into these wilds. As the Utopia could not be realized this year, I chatted with our hosts upon 'le confort,' whilst they brought out one liqueur after another - rum, quince-water, heaven knows what! - with which to restore us after our fatigues. Whilst I conversed on this instructive topic: 'Yes,' said the handsome, slatternly little mistress of the Cite du Diable, turning to her husband, 'we must buy some hand-basins, my dear.'

We had not noticed the fact that the six bedchambers at Maubert were altogether unprovided with these luxuries, for luxuries they must be called in a region where there is absolutely nothing whatever to render them necessary. Without smoke, fog, artificial or atmospheric impurities of any kind, one might surely remain here in a condition of ideal cleanliness from January to December.

Invigorated by the various petits verres of home-made cordials this hospitable young couple had pressed upon us, we now set off jauntily for Le Rozier. My companion, with a courage and endurance I could but envy, mounted the caleche; I followed close behind on foot with the little dog.

It was amusing to watch the imperturbability of our conductor as the somewhat antiquated vehicle swayed this side and that, at every moment, as it seemed, in jeopardy of overthrow. For a mile and a half from the farm the road, or, rather, cart-track, may be described as a kind of steeplechase on wheels, every step of the way showing either a stone-heap or a ditch, the word 'rut' being quite an inadequate definition. Now I saw the hood of the carriage nod to the right, now to the left, as some stone-heap impeded the way; now it curtseyed forward, almost disappearing altogether as some gully was plunged into, horses, driver, and vehicle, wonderful to relate, emerging as if nothing unusual had happened, my companion sitting bolt upright and coolly enjoying the view.

All this time it was instructive to watch the behaviour of the little dog. Whenever I lingered behind to gather a flower or gaze around, the intelligent little creature stopped too and waited for me, with a look that plainly said, 'You must not be left behind, you know.' Nothing would induce him to rejoin his master till I had caught him up.

The drive back to Le Rozier is another balloon descent from the clouds. Like St. Enimie, the little town lies, figuratively speaking, at the bottom of a well, and as we approach we could almost drop a plummet- line on to the house-tops. It is a dizzy drive, and many will shut their eyes as their horses' hoofs turn the sharp curves of the precipitous mountain-sides, only an inch or two between wheel and precipice.

And here is a caution to the adventuresome. During our stay a family- party set off on mule-back from Maubert to Peyreleau somewhat late in the day. Darkness and rain overtaking them, they were obliged to take shelter for the night in a peasant's cottage, thankful enough to obtain even such rough hospitality.

Let no one undertake an expedition in these regions without proper information and the support of accredited guides - men well known and well-recommended by residents on the spot.