All this time Le Vigan was to us as Capua to Hannibal's soldiers - Circe's charmed cup held to the lips of Odysseus.

We ought not to have stayed there an unnecessary hour. We should have continued our journey at once. On and on we lingered, nevertheless, and when at last we braced ourselves up for an effort, the terrible truth was broken to us. Instead of being nearer to the goal of our wishes, we had come out of the way, and were indeed getting farther and farther from that mysterious, so eagerly longed-for region, the terribly unattainable Causses. Our project at last began to wear the look of a nightmare, a harassing, feverish dream. We seemed to be fascinated hither and thither by an ignis fatuus, enticed into quagmires and quicksands by an altogether illusive, mocking, malicious Will-o'-the- wisp.

I was painfully reminded of what had been a pleasing puzzle in childish days: the maze at Needham Market, famous throughout Suffolk, and familiar to all Suffolk-bred folk. This is a wonderfully constructed shrubbery or thicket, cut into numerous little circular and semicircular paths, so contrived that the most ingenious are caught like flies in a spider's trap. Round and round, backwards and forwards, in and out, scuttle the uninitiated, only to find themselves at the precise point whence they had started hours before. The conviction of being thus foiled in my purpose, and for the second time, weighed upon my spirits. My companion also became somewhat dejected. The superb weather might forsake us. September was at hand. It really seemed as if we were doomed to return to our dogs and cats at Hastings without having reached the Roof of France after all.

True, a matter of eighty miles only divided us from our destination, but surely the most impracticable eighty miles out of Arabia Petraea! We were bound for a certain little town called St. Enimie, but between us and St. Enimie stretched a barrier, insurmountable as Dante's fog isolating Purgatory from Paradise, or as the black river separating Pluto's domain from the region of light. We seemed as far off the Causses as Christian from the heavenly Jerusalem when imprisoned in Castle Doubting, or as the Israelites from Canaan when in the wilderness of Zin.

To reach St. Enimie, then, meant two long days' drive, i.e., from six a.m. to perhaps eight p.m., in the lightest, which stands for the most uncomfortable, vehicle, across a country the greater part of which is as savage as Dartmoor. Our first halting-place would be Meyrueis, and between Le Vigan and Meyrueis relays could be had, but at that point civilization ended. The second day's journey must lie through a treeless, waterless, uninhabited desert; in other words, as a glance at the map will show, we must traverse the Causse Mejean itself.

Romantic as this expedition sounded, our host, the royal cook, shook his head at the proposal. Suppose we were overtaken by a storm in that wilderness? Suppose any accident happened to horses or harness? Suppose - -

'In fact,' he said, 'there is nothing for these ladies to do but make the round to Mende by railway.'

'To Mende!' I cried aghast. 'Back to Nimes, back to heaven knows where! Never! Get to St. Enimie we can, we will, we must, without making the round by railway to Mende.'

After a good deal of somewhat painful excitement, a rueful inspection of the only kind of vehicle that was practicable on the stony, uphill Causse, the Helvellyn we wanted to climb, I gave in. Yes, it was out of the question to drive for fourteen hours at a stretch, seated on such a knifeboard. I had made a blunder in thinking eighty miles only eighty miles under any circumstances. Crestfallen, and having in mind the dictum of the great Lessing: 'Kein mensch muss muessen,' I again took in hand maps and guidebooks. At this stage of affairs came to aid the voiturier who had gallantly proposed to drive us to the top of the Lozerien Helvellyn, provided we could sit on a knifeboard. He was one of the handsomest men we saw in these parts, which is saying a good deal. Tall, well-made, dignified, with superb features and rich colouring, it seemed a thousand pities he should be only a carriage proprietor in this out-of-the-way spot. He appeared, however, as every other good-looking person does here, altogether unconscious of his magnificent physique and striking features. What occupied him much more was evidently his business, and the duty incumbent upon him to make things pleasant to strangers.

'If these ladies,' he said in country fashion, thus addressing ourselves - if these ladies will let me drive them to Millau, they can have my most comfortable carriage, as the roads are excellent. They can sleep at a good auberge on the way. From Millau it is only five hours by railway to Mende, and from Mende only a four hours' drive to St. Enimie.'

We joyfully hailed the proposal. It seemed a roundabout way to St. Enimie, but it did seem a way; and, at any rate, if we were going back, we were not going back to the precise point from which we had started.

My companion still persisted in the melancholy conviction that we should never get to the Causses, but I comforted her with the observation that if we did not get to the Causses, we should at all events get somewhere. Before starting, our host presented us with a letter of introduction to the master of the auberge at our halting-place for the night - the little village of Nant, half-way between Le Vigan and Millau.

'It is only an auberge,' he said apologetically; 'you must not expect much. But the patron is a friend of mine; he will do his very best for you after what I have written.'

The letter of introduction being, of course, an open one, we read it. 'Permit me to commend to your attentive care,' wrote the royal cook, 'two respectable ladies - - ' Here amusement got the better of curiosity; we laid down the missive and had a hearty laugh over what seemed at best a strange, almost ludicrous, compliment. Surely he might have substituted an adjective of a more flattering nature, accorded us some more winning attribute - charming, amiable, learned. Could we lay claim to none of these?

I summed up the matter in our favour, after all. Such a testimony coming from a courtier, as the chef of a king's cuisine must be called, was, perhaps, the very highest he felt able to give; and to be respectable means more than meets the ear.

Does not La Bruyere say: 'Un homme de bien est respectable par lui-meme et independamment de tous les dehors'? He had, perhaps, that axiom in his mind.

Having sent on our four big boxes to Millau by diligence, we set off for the first stage of our journey. The weather was perfect, and I cannot at any time reconcile my experiences of French weather with those of another ardent explorer of France a hundred years ago. 'Amusements,' wrote Arthur Young from the North of France in September, 1787, 'in truth, ought to be taken within doors, for in such a climate none are to be depended on without; the rain that has fallen here is hardly credible. I have, for five-and-twenty years past, remarked in England that I never was prevented by rain from taking a walk every day, with going out while it actually rains; it may fall heavily for many hours, but a person who watches an opportunity gets a walk or a ride. Since I have been at Liancourt we have had three days in succession of such incessantly heavy rain that I could not go a hundred yards from the house without danger of being quite wet. For ten days more rain fell here, I am confident, had there been a gauge to measure it, than ever fell in England in thirty.'

We are accustomed to reverse this comparison, and I should say that the years 1787-88-89, during which the Suffolk squire journeyed through the country on horseback, must have been revolutionary in a meteorological as well as a political sense. I have now made travels and sojourns in various parts of France during fifteen years, and I should say to all who want sunshine for their holiday trip, go to France for it.

Upon this, as upon the occasion of former expeditions, a rainy day never came except when a spell of bad weather was an unmitigated boon, enforcing rest, and giving leisure for the utilization of daily experiences.

On the whole, the route now decided upon has much to recommend it, especially to travellers unfit for excessive fatigue. The drive from Le Vigan to Millau is thus divided into two easy stages, and the scenery for the greater part of the way is diversified and interesting.

Gradually winding upwards from the green hills surrounding our favourite little town, its bright river, the Arre, playing hide-and-seek as we go, we take a lonely road cut around barren, rocky slopes covered with stunted foliage, here and there tiny enclosures of corn crop or garden perched aloft.

The charm of this drive consists in the sharp contrasts presented at unexpected turns. Now we are in a sweet, sunbright, sheltered valley, where all is verdure and luxuriance. At every door are pink and white oleanders in full bloom, in every garden peach-trees showing their rich, ruby-coloured fruit - the handsome-leaved mulberry, the shining olive, with lovely little chestnut-woods on the heights around. Now we seem in a wholly different latitude. The vegetation and aspect of the country are transformed. Instead of the vine, the peach, and the olive, we are in a region of scant fruitage, and only the hardiest crops, apple orchards sparsely mingled with fields of oats and rye. And yet again we seem to be traversing a Scotch or Yorkshire moor - so vast and lonely the heather-clad wastes, so bleak and wild the heavens.

But every zone has its wild-flowers. As we go on, our eyes rest upon white salvias, the pretty Deptford pink, wild lavender, several species of broom and ferns in abundance. The wild fig-tree grows here, and the huge boulders are tapestried with box and bilberry. One rare lovely flower I must especially mention - the exquisite, large-leaved blue flax (the Linum perenne), that shone like a star amid the rest.

It is Sunday, and as we pass the village of Arre in its charming valley, we meet streams of country folks dressed in their best, enjoying a walk. No one was afield. Here, as in most other parts of rural France, Sunday is regarded strictly as a day of rest.

After a long climb upwards, our road cut through the rock being a grand piece of engineering, we come upon the works of a handsome railway viaduct now in construction. This line, which, when finished, will connect Le Vigan with Millau and Albi, will be an immense boon to the inhabitants - one of the numerous iron roads laid by the Republican Government in what had hitherto been forgotten parts of France. Close to these works a magnificent cascade is seen, a sheet of glistening white spray pouring down the dark, precipitous escarpment.

Hereabouts the barren, stony, wilderness-like country betokens the region of the Causses. We are all this time winding round the rampart like walls of the great Causse de Larzac, which stretches from Le Vigan to Millau, rising to a height of 2,624 feet above the sea-level, and covering an area of nearly a hundred square miles. This Causse affords some interesting facts for evolutionists. The aridity, the absolutely waterless condition of the Larzac, has evolved a race of non-drinking animals. The sheep browsing the fragrant herbs of these plateaux have altogether unlearned the habit of drinking, whilst the cows drink very little. The much-esteemed Roquefort cheese is made from ewes' milk, the non-drinking ewes of the Larzac. Is the peculiar flavour of the cheese due to this non-drinking habit?

The desert-like tracts below this 'Table de pierre,' as M. Reclus calls it, are alternated with very fairly cultivated farms. We see rye, oats, clover, and hay in abundance, with corn ready for garnering.

Passing St. Jean de Bruel, where all the inhabitants have turned out to attend a neighbour's funeral, we wind down amid chestnut woods and pastures into a lovely little valley, with the river Dourbie, bluest of the blue, gliding through the midst. Beyond stream and meadows rise hills crested with Scotch fir, their slopes luxuriant with buck-wheat, maize, and other crops - here and there the rich brown loam already ploughed up for autumn sowing. Well-dressed people, well-kept roads, neat houses, suggested peace and frugal plenty.

What a contrast did the little village of Nant present to Le Vigan! It was like the apparition of an exquisitely-dressed, pretty girl, after that of a slatternly beauty. Nant, 'proprette,' airy, well cared for, wholesome; Le Vigan, dirty, draggle-tailed, neglected, yet in itself possessed of quite as many natural attractions. We had been led to expect a mere country auberge, decent shelter, no more - perhaps even two-curtained, alcoved beds in a common sleeping-room! What was our astonishment to find quite ideal rustic accommodation - quarters, indeed, inviting on their own account a lengthy stay!

A winding stone staircase led from the street to the travellers' quarters. Kitchen, salle-a-manger and bedrooms were all spick and span, cool and quiet; our rooms newly furnished with beds as luxurious as those of the Grand Hotel in Paris. Marble-topped washstands and newly-tiled floors opened on to an outer corridor, the low walls of which were set with roses and geraniums as in Italy. Below was a poultry-yard. No other noise could disturb us but the cackling of hens and the quacking of ducks. On the same floor was a dining-room and the kitchen, but so far removed from us that we were as private as in a suite of rooms at the celebrated Hotel Bristol.

Nant is a quite delightful townling; we only wished we could stay there for weeks. It is a very ancient place, but so far modernized as to be clean and pleasant. The quaint, stone-covered arcades and bits of mediaeval architecture invite the artist; none, however, comes!

The sky-blue Dourbie runs amid green banks below the gray peak, rising sheer above the town; around the congeries of old-world houses are farms, gardens and meadows, little fields being at right angles with the streets. In the large, open market-place, where fairs are held, just outside the town, is a curious sight. The corn is gathered in, and hither all the farmers round about have brought their wheat to be threshed out by water-power.

Next morning, by half-past eight, our landlady fetched me to see some farms. She was a delicate, even sickly-looking little woman, although the mother of fine, healthful children, and very intelligent and well- mannered. Without showing any inquisitiveness as to my object, she at once readily acceded to my request that she should accompany me on a round of inspection. First of all, however, and as, it seemed, a matter of course, she carried me off to see the Bonnes Soeurs - in other words, the nuns, often such important personages in rural places.

I had already seen so much of nuns, nunneries and the like, that I sorely begrudged the time thus spent. Good manners forbade a demur. There was nothing to do but to feign some slight interest in the schoolrooms, dormitories, playground, chapel - facsimiles, as were the nuns themselves, of what I had seen dozens of times before.

But one thing these nuns had to show I had never seen before. I allude to their herbarium. The mother superior, so it seems, was a capital herbalist and doctor, consulted in case of sickness by all the country- folks for miles round, and, in order to supply her pharmacopoeia, had yearly collections made of all the medicinal plants in which the neighbourhood abounds. Here in a drying chamber, exposed to air and sun, were stores of wild lavender for sweetening the linen presses; mallows, elder flowers, gentian, leaves of the red vine, poppies, and many others used in medicine. What I was most interested in was the vast stores of the so-called the des Alpes, a little plant of the sage tribe, of which I had heard at Gap, in the Hautes Alpes. The country- people in that part of France, as in the Aveyron, use this little plant largely as a febrifugal infusion; they also drink it as tea. My landlady showed me great bundles of it that she had dried for household use. The thought struck me, as I surveyed the mother superior's herbarium - here is an excellent hint for the projectors of home colonies. Surely, if poor people are to be made self-supporting in one sense, they should be made so in all.

Why should not every home colony - for the matter of that, every isolated village - have its medicine-chest of simple field remedies? The originators of home colonies have only to translate that excellent little sixpenny work, 'Les Remedes de Campagne,' written by Dr. Saffray, and published by Hachette, and put it into the hands of these backwoodsmen of the old country. The least intelligent would soon learn to cure common ailments by the use of remedies ever at their doors, and not costing a penny. Having taken leave of the nuns, madame la patrone next conducted me to the country on the other side of the town, stopping to chat with this acquaintance and that. I suppose lady tourists are wholly unknown in these parts, for these good people, having glanced at me, said to madame:

'A relation, I suppose, and you are showing her about?'

All seemed pleased to learn that I was an Englishwoman come to see their corner of the world.

We then paid a visit to some elderly farming-folks, friends of hers, just outside the town. We found the farmer and his wife at home, and both received us very cordially. The old man had a shrewd, pleasant face, and, without any ado or ceremony, bade me sit down beside him whilst he finished his morning soup. I chatted to him of my numerous travels in various parts of France, and after listening attentively for some time, he said:

'You must be finely rich' (joliment riche) 'to travel as you do.'

'Not at all,' said I; 'my fortune is my pen. I see all that I can, and, on my return to England, write a book for the amusement and instruction of others, which more than covers the expense of my journey.'

The old man's eyes twinkled; he touched his forehead, and then said something to his wife in patois. I laughingly begged him to translate the remark, which he did with a smile.

'I said to my wife that you must have a good head' (une bien forte tete) 'to do that.'

'Le bon Dieu has given me eyes to see and a memory to retain,' said I. 'I have only to look well about me and take note.'

He paused, and added after a little reflection:

'Above all, you must talk with learned people.'

'That is not always necessary,' I replied. 'On the contrary, what serves my purpose best is to talk with country-folk like yourself, who can tell me about the details of farming in these parts - prices, crops, and so on - not with fine ladies and gentlemen, who do not know a turnip when they see it growing.'

This observation seemed to gratify him exceedingly. We then talked of land tenure in France and in England. When I made him understand that the law of entail still existed in my country, he shook his head gravely. When I added that the English peasant did not possess an acre of land, a garden, not even a house or a cow, he looked graver still.

'Il faut que tout cela change' (All that will have to be changed), he remarked; and I told him that I fully concurred in the sentiment, and that a great change of opinion on this subject was taking place in England.

His wife, who had meantime listened attentively to our conversation, now joined in. The fact that we had no conscription seemed to strike her more than any other piece of information I had as yet given.

'You English people are very fortunate,' she said. 'Think of what it is to be a mother, and rear your son to the age of twenty, then to see him torn from your arms and shot down by a mitrailleuse. War, indeed! Grand Dieu! the world has seen enough of it.'

We then had a long talk on farming matters, the old man quite ready to devote half an hour even at this time of the day to a stranger. Like many another French peasant of the poorer class, he was the owner of a house and garden only, his occupation being that of bailiff on the estate of a large owner. Here, as everywhere else throughout France, a great diversity may be seen in the matter of land tenure - peasant properties from five acres upwards, large holdings either let on lease, as in England, cultivated by their owners, or lastly, as in the present instance, managed by farm stewards. The system of metayage, or half-profits, is not in force.

On five acres, my informant told me, a man with thrift and intelligence may rear and maintain a family. The crops are very varied, corn, maize, oats, rye, buckwheat, hay, being the principal. Butter is not made on any considerable scale, but sheep, pigs, goats, and poultry are reared in abundance.

I have mentioned that this old man possessed a house and garden. Rare, indeed, is it to find a deserving peasant without them in France! But he let these, meantime occupying the large, rambling old farmhouse, formerly an abbey, belonging to his employer. When too old to work, he would, with his little savings, retire to the cottage, from which none could eject him.

As will be seen, the agriculture in this part of the Aveyron presents no special features. What strikes the stranger, as he rambles about the well-cultivated belt of country immediately around Nant, is the sobriety, contentment, and independence of the people. All are suitably and tidily dressed. Of beggary there is not a trace, and if life is laborious, the sense of independence lightens every burden.

At present the entire education of girls and that of little boys is in the hands of the nuns. In spite of every attempt to render popular education unsectarian throughout France, how long it will be ere the same mental training is accorded both sexes - ere, to use Gambetta's noble words, 'our girls and boys are made one by the understanding before they are made one by the heart'! Is it any wonder that Boulangism, miracle-seeking, or any other mental aberration, gets the upper hand in France, so long as young girls are reared by convent-bred women, and their brothers and lovers-to-be in the school of Littre, Herbert Spencer, and Darwin?