In future, tourists bound northward will be able to reach Neussargues on the Clermont and Nimes railway by a direct line from Mende and St. Flour. As this new line is not yet completed, and I had set my heart upon revisiting Rodez and Vic-sur-Cere, we took the more circuitous route, going over the same ground I had traversed the year before. It was once my ambition to visit one by one every noteworthy spot in France. The appetite grows by what it feeds on, and now I never see any striking place without making up my mind to see it twice.

Great was my delight at Rodez to find a bright, cheerful, spick and span hotel, newly opened since last year. The time-honoured house of Biney has two credentials worthy of mention - very low charges and good food. Its modern rival has greater claims upon the wayfarer's gratitude - pleasant, wholesome rooms, neat chambermaids, and the kind of modernization so necessary to health and comfort. The Hotel Flouron, too, is presided over by a lady, and when we have said this we have implied a good deal. A grand old town is the capital of the Aveyron. We must see it again and again to realize its superb position and the unique splendour of its cathedral, towering over the wide landscape as our own Ely Cathedral over the eastern plains. To-day it was not flushed with the flaming red and gold of sunset, as when first I saw it a year before, but its aspect was perhaps all the more grandiose for sombre colouring.

From both extremities of the town we obtain vast panoramas; we look down as if from a mountain-top, the plateau or isthmus on which Rodez stands being two hundred and fifty feet above the circumjacent plain, the river Aveyron almost cutting it off from the mainland. Within a few yards of the Hotel Flouron we reach the edge of this escarpment, and gaze upon the wide valley of the Aveyron, village-crested hills, and the dim blue outline of the far-off Larzac.

From the public promenade at the other end of the city we look westward upon a richly-cultivated plain set round with the Cantal mountains, gold-green vineyards, wine-red soil, and deep purple distance.

The physical characteristics of some French departments are as nicely defined as their political demarcations. Nothing can afford a sharper contrast than the Aveyron, with its ruddy soil and red rocks, and the green, pastoral Cantal, land of smiling valleys, unbroken pastures, and hills that wear a look of perpetual spring. These differences cannot fail to strike the traveller who journeys from Rodez to Vic-sur-Cere; a charming bit of railway it is, especially in autumn, when the chestnut woods begin to show autumn crimson and gold.

And Vic-sur-Cere, too, delights even more on a second visit. The spot is indeed a corner of Eden - a happy valley, to be transformed, alas! into a miniature Vals. My hostess told me that a casino, hotel, and bathing establishment are about to be built, all bringing their concomitant evils or advantages, as we may respectively regard cosmopolitan comforts, high prices, frivolous distractions, and a fashionable crowd.

How kindly the good folks of the homely Hotel du Pont welcomed their guest of last year, filling my basket at departure with gifts of flowers, fruit, and little cheeses, begging me to return the following summer! At Clermont-Ferrand, good fortune for the first time directed me to a really comfortable hotel, as on previous visits, alike in lodgings and hotels, I had been cheated, bullied, and made uncomfortable. Let me signal alike the fact and the name: at the Hotel de la Poste I was enabled really to enjoy this interesting old town, the views of the Puy de Dome from every opening, the noble, Romanesque church of Notre Dame du Port, the magnificent display of the shops-no town in all France where you can buy more beautiful jewellery, bronzes and porcelain than at Clermont.

My companion quitted me here, proceeding by night express to Paris, and I took the long, slow, wearisome parliamentary to Lyons, a ten hours' journey, which wiser travellers will not fail to break half-way. The only express train between Clermont and Lyons leaves very early in the morning, so we have a choice of evils.

I do not know why the Puy de Dome should be my favourite mountain, but so it is, and never did it look lovelier than to-day, as, with its sister volcanoes, pyramid upon pyramid of warm purple, it towered above the green Limagne; gradually the rest receded from view, till at last nothing was left but that solitary dome of amethyst under the golden heaven. At Lyons - where I awaited a dear French friend - I always make a point of seeing the famous town-clock, work of a modern sculptor, a son of Lyons.

This clock, or rather the marble facade adorning it, is not only a work of genius, but a sermon in stone, perpetually preached to the surging, buzzing crowds below. It stands high above the central hall of the Exchange, at business hours a scene of extraordinary bustle and excitement, which the public can always watch from the gallery above, and from which they command an excellent view of the clock.

The noble piece of sculpture forming the facade represents the various stages of human life - three female figures composing the group - the Hour that is gone, the Hour that is here, the Hour that is coming. Simple as is the arrangement of the whole, nevertheless, so skilful is the pourtrayal that each figure seems to move before our eyes. We almost see the despairing past sink into the abyss, her passive, erect sister, the dominant hour, letting go her hand, whilst, radiant and impatient for her own reign to begin, the joyous impersonation of the future springs upward as if on wings.

This allegory, so powerfully and poetically rendered in marble, might have been more appropriately placed. Does it not savour of irony thus to idealize the three stages of human existence 'among the money-changers of the Temple'?

Next day was Sunday, as glorious a sixteenth of September as could be desired. In company with my friend I set off for an al-fresco breakfast on the banks of the Saone.

No city in all France boasts of more umbrageous walks than Lyons, and for miles we drive along the plane-bordered quays and suburban slopes, dotted with villas and chateaux, the modest chalet of the artisan and small shopkeeper peeping amid vineyards and orchards, whilst showing a splendid front from English-like park we see many a palatial mansion of silk merchant or iron-founder. Between the sunny vine-clad hills and belt of suburban dwellings flows the placid Saone, a contrast indeed to its swift, impetuous brother - no wonder the Rhone has a masculine name!

An hour of upward climb, and we might fancy ourselves in Switzerland or at Keswick, anywhere but within an easy walk of the second Paris - so cool the shadow of the over-arching trees, so rustic the ferny rock, so quiet the woodland glades. We got lovely glimpses of the clear, blue river as, freighted with many a pleasure-boat, it winds its way towards Macon.

In a sequestered nook at the foot of these wooded hills is a curious monument, none more martial to be found in the world - the tomb of a soldier, constructed by soldiers; on a plain marble slab inscribed the words: 'Here lies a soldier,' not a syllable more.

On either side, under a small open chapel, portico-shaped, in which the stone lies, are two figures, a dragoon and a foot-soldier, who keep perpetual watch over their chief.

This is the self-chosen monument of the General Castellane, one of the first Napoleon's veterans. Perpetual Masses are celebrated here on his behalf.

We drive on to our destination, the Ile Barbe, a narrow wooded islet, dividing the Saone into two branches, and forming the favourite holiday-ground of the Lyonnais. The rich hire a special pleasure-boat or carriage; the happy tourist is, perhaps, like myself, driven thither by ever-hospitable, too hospitable, French friends, who, not content with affording their guests a day's unmitigated pleasure, invariably contrive to eliminate every element of fatigue. Holiday-making is indeed cultivated to the point of a fine art in France.

For slender purses there are cheap boats, cheap railways, and the omnibus. It does one's heart good to see scores of family parties today availing themselves of the superb weather and taking a last picnic. In every green, shady nook we see a merry group squatted on the ground, relishing their cold patties, fruit and wine, as they can only be relished out of doors. The babies, nursemaids, and pet dogs are there. Breakfast over, the holiday-makers amuse themselves, grandparents and bantlings, with fishing for minnows in the clear waters.

How merry are all! How all too swiftly fleet the bright hours!

In the spacious, terraced garden of the restaurant we find dozens of tables spread for richer folk. We prefer the cool, quiet dining-room, which we have to ourselves, after all. The food is not of the choicest, the wine compels criticism between each course, we have to wait long enough for the making of an ordinary meal; but French gaiety and good-nature overlook these drawbacks, and the charming view of the river and its wooded banks, the freshness of the air, the atmosphere of gala and relaxation, make up for everything; the bill is cheerfully paid, and all but the separate items of the day's enjoyment forgotten.

Perhaps the charm of a French picnic is enhanced by the fact that it is never made too long. Our neighbours do not make what is called 'a day of it,' but wisely prefer to take their pleasure as they do their champagne - in moderation. We drive home, feeling fresh and alert as when we set out.

Everyone is abroad. As we pass through the workman's suburb, the ultra- socialist, ultra-revolutionary quarter of the city, in which political passions have so often raged hotly, and popular feeling has taken incendiary form, we find only peacefulness and calm. The socialist and red-revolutionary, in his Sunday's best, sits before his front door, reading a newspaper, playing with his baby or chatting with a neighbour. Pet dogs and cats sun themselves with a lazy, Sunday air, girls and lovers flirt, children play, gossips tell each other the news. It is difficult to believe that we are passing the stormiest quarter of the stormiest city in France. All is as quiet as the riverside scenes we have just left.

With this delightful recollection I close my latest - not, I trust, last - French journey.

I took leave of my dear friend at Lyons, both of us hoping to breakfast together next time, not on the banks of the Saone, but on the Eiffel Tower, there to fete the glorious Revolution, in the words of our great Fox: 'How much the greatest event that ever happened in the world, and how much the best!'