The temperature of the Lozere is excessively variable. The traveller must always be provided with winter wraps and the lightest summer clothing. We had enjoyed almost tropic sunshine on the plateau of Sauveterre. Next day (September 19th), when half-way to St. Flour, the very blasts of Siberia seemed to overtake us. The weather was splendid at starting, and for some hours we had a brisk air only, and unclouded skies; but there were signs of a change, and I began to doubt whether I should accomplish even my second programme. Having relinquished the Causses, the rapids of the Tarn, and Montpellier-le-Vieux for this year, I had hired a carriage, intending to drive straight across the Lozere, sleeping at St. Chely, to St. Flour, chef-lieu of the Cantal, thence making excursions to the two departments. I wanted especially to see Condat-es-Feniers and La Chaldette, the two sweet spots already alluded to. The hire of the carriage with two good horses was eighty francs - forty for the two days' drive thither, and forty for the return.

It is a striking journey from Mende to St. Amans-la-Lozere, half-way halting-place between Mende and St. Chely. The region traversed is very solitary, the Causse itself hardly more so, and now, as yesterday, we follow a road wonderfully cut round the mountain-sides. Here also we find certain English notions concerning peasant property entirely disproved. So far is French territory from being cut into minute portions of land, that on this side of Mende farms are let, not by the hectare, but by the tract, many tenant farmers being unable to tell you of how many hectares their occupation consists. The extent of land is reckoned not by acreage, but by the heads of cattle it will keep.

Much of the soil between Mende and St. Amans-la-Lozere is very stony and unproductive; we heard even of a farm of several hundred acres let at a rental of fifty pounds a year. And here, as in the valley of the Allier, and on the road from Langogne to Mende, it is wonderful to see the uncompromising devotion of the French peasant to Mother Earth - neither stones, brushwood, nor morass daunting his energy. These tenant farmers are almost invariably small freeholders also, but to read certain English writers one might suppose that no such thing as a tenant farm, much less one of a thousand acres, existed in France at all, the entire superficies of the country, according to their account, being cut up into minute patches, each by a process of subdivision, growing smaller by degrees and beautifully less; in fact, the French peasant owner of the future, according to these theorists, will possess about as much of his native soil as can be got into a flower-pot, the contents of the said flower-pot being mortgaged for a hundred times its value.

By the time we have driven for an hour and a half we obtain a most beautiful view, looking back upon Mende, the gray and purple hills set in a glowing semicircle round it, showing loveliest light and shadow. The verdure of the valley is fresh as in May, and sweet scents of newly mown hay, the autumn crop, reach us as we go. We look down on smooth, lawn-like meadows, little rivers winding between alder-trees, tan-coloured cows and orange-brown sheep browsing at their ease. The contours of the pine and fir clad hills are bold and varied, whilst deep gorges and ravines alternate with the more smiling aspects. Fruit-trees and flowers are wholly absent from the sparsely scattered villages, and there is little in the way of farming going on, only the second hay-crops being turned, and the land ploughed for autumn sowing. Buckwheat, rye, oats and hay form the chief crops. The road is set on either side by young trees, service berry and mountain ash, or granite pillars almost the height of a man. These columns, recalling Druidic stones, are completely hidden by snow in winter.

Fortunately, in another year or two the Lozere will be traversed by railway, and its comparative isolation during several months of the year cease for once and for all.

Meantime we were anxiously looking out for St. Amans and our promised breakfast, and here let me note a failing of the French rustic. His notions of time and distance are often not in the very least to be relied on. Thus, a countryman will tell you such and such a place lies at a distance of 'une petite lieue,' and you will find you have to walk or drive six miles instead of three. Again, a village conductor will assure you that you will arrive at your destination 'dans une petite demi-heure,' and you find on arriving that an hour and a half have elapsed since putting the question. We were terribly tried by this habit now. Our old driver - not the master, who had accompanied us to the plateau, but his employe - seemed to have no more idea of the real distance of St. Amans than of Spitzbergen. Again and again my young companion put her head out of the window and cried: 'Well, driver, how many kilometres now to St. Amans?'

And the reply would be:

'Three more' or 'Two more - just two, mademoiselle.'

Whereas mademoiselle laughingly counted half a dozen by the milestones between each inquiry. We had fondly looked forward to a fair inn and a good meal at noon - it was nearly two o'clock when our driver triumphantly deposited us before the dirtiest, most repulsive-looking hostelry it was ever my fate to enter.

In the kitchen, with walls blackened by smoke, hens and chickens disported at will; the uneven, floor was innocent of broom or scrubbing-brush as the road; in the salle-a-manger, gendarmes, soldiers, carters, and gamekeepers were smoking, drinking and discussing at the tops of their voices.

The old man whispered a word in the ear of the patrone - a veritable hag to look at - and she immediately begged us to walk upstairs.

'You will find no elegance, but comfort here' ('Vous ne trouvez pas le luxe, mais le confortable ici),' she said.

Then, with evident pride, she threw open the door of what was evidently the public bedchamber of the inn.

Let not the reader take alarm. In these out-of-the-way places such accommodation is often all that is offered the traveller, namely, a spacious room, set round with four posters, each well curtained, so as to form a tiny room in itself. As women never, or very rarely, travel in such regions, the chief patrons being commis-voyageurs and soldiers, the inconvenience is not great. The bedding looked good and clean, and the room was airy.

We opened the window. Madame complacently spread a snowy cloth, then, with the airy aplomb of a head waiter of some famous restaurant, say, the Chapeau Rouge at Bordeaux, asked:

'And what would these ladies like for breakfast?'

There seemed cruel, double-edged irony in the question. What could we expect in such a place but just something to stay the cravings of hunger: that something rendered uneatable by the terribly dirty - no, let me say, smoke-dried - look of the speaker, who seemed to be cook and waitress in one?

'Suppose we have an omelette?' suggested my young friend.

An omelette cooked by those hands! The very notion took away my appetite; however, there were new-laid eggs, and no matter the unwashed condition of the cook, the inside of a boiled egg may always be eaten with impunity. We could have anything we chose by waiting a little, our hostess said - mutton cutlets, roast chicken, partridges, fish, vegetables; the resources of that rustic larder seemed inexhaustible. Then she had choice wine, Burgundy and Bordeaux, besides liqueurs, in the cellar.

We had no time or inclination for a feast, but made an excellent meal - what with the eggs and a tiny leg of cold-boiled mutton, I do honestly believe the very best I ever tasted in my life.

The mountain-fed mutton of these regions is renowned, and the country folk boil it with just a slice of garlic by way of a flavour.

This dingy little wayside hostelry could really offer a first-rate ordinary, and, on principles not to be controverted, guests here pay, not according to what they order, but the quantity they eat. Would that all restaurant-keepers were equally conscientious!

When we went downstairs and asked for the reckoning, the old woman, who was all obligingness and good-nature, charming, indeed, but for her neglected personal appearance, replied:

'I must first see how much you have eaten, of course.'

And true enough we were charged so much per item. Here let me give the traveller a hint: never venture in out of-the-way parts of France without a well-filled muffineer and pepper-box; but for our dry clean pepper and salt brought from England, even the eggs would have been swallowed with a painful effort.

In the large kitchen I took note of extensive preparations going on for dinner, huge caldrons bubbling above the wood fire; heaps of vegetables, leeks, onions, garlic predominating, prepared for the pot, with ample provision in the shape of flesh and fowl.

At St. Amans the sun shone warm and bright, and the blue sky was of extraordinary depth and softness. I was reminded of Italy. As we sauntered about the long straggling village, a scene of indescribable contentment and repose met our eyes. We are in one of the poorest departments of France, but no signs of want or vagrancy are seen. The villagers, all neatly and suitably dressed, were getting in their hay or minding their flocks and herds, with that look of cheerful independence imparted by the responsibilities of property. Many greeted us in the friendliest manner, but as we could not understand their patois, a chat was impossible. They laughed, nodded, and passed on.

No sooner were we fairly on our way to St. Chely than the weather changed. The heavens clouded over, and the air blew keenly. We got out our wraps one by one, wanting more. If the scenery is less wildly beautiful here than between Mende and St. Amans, it is none the less charming, were we only warm enough to enjoy it. The pastoralness of many a landscape is Alpine, with brilliant stretches of turf, scattered chalets, groups of haymakers, herds and flocks browsing about the rocks. Enormous blocks of granite are seen everywhere superimposed after the manner of dolmens, and everywhere the peasant's spade and hoe is gradually redeeming the waste. It is nightfall when we reach St. Chely d'Apcher, reputed the coldest spot in France, and certainly well worthy of its reputation.

It stands on an elevation of 980 metres - i.e., over 3,000 feet above the sea-level. If the Lozere is aptly termed the Roof of France, then St. Chely may be regarded as its Chimney top. Summer here lasts only two months. No wonder that the searching wind seemed as if it would blow not merely the clothes off our shoulders, but the flesh off our bones. Yet the people of the inn smiled and said: 'Wait here another month, and you will find out what WE call cold.'

The little Hotel Bardol wore a look of cheerfulness and welcome, nevertheless. There were white and pink oleanders before the door, geraniums in the window, testifying to the fact that winter this year, at all events, had not yet begun. Men and maids bustled about intent on our comfort. Soon the big logs crackled on the hearth; with curtains drawn, tea and a good fire, the discomforts of the last hour or two were soon forgotten. Needless, perhaps, to say that we found in this small old-fashioned inn beds of first-rate quality, a good dinner, and really fine old Bordeaux.

St. Chely will necessarily become a junction town of considerable importance when the new line of railway, by way of St. Flour, is completed to Neussargues. As the proprietor of the Hotel Bardol seems fully alive to the requirements of tourists and the progress of ideas, future visitors will doubtless find many improvements - well-appointed rooms, bells, and other comforts. I hope myself to pay this obliging host another visit ere long.

The rain poured down all night, and next morning it was evident that the projected journey by road to St. Flour must be given up. A long day's drive across country in the teeth of biting wind and downpour was not to be thought of, though both my young friend and myself had set our minds upon seeing the wonderful Pont de Garabit, a tour de force of engineering, worthy to be set beside the Eiffel Tower, and an achievement of the same genius. But we were now within reach of the railway. At the cost of a great disappointment and a forfeiture of sixty francs, I determined to send the carriage back to Mende, and reach the Cantal by way of Rodez, in the Aveyron. The Pont de Garabit, like the Causses, all well, should be seen another year.

Never shall I forget the amazement of my host.

'To make a round-about journey like that by rail, when you have your own carriage and horses!' he cried. 'Are you mad? Are you a millionaire,' his face said, 'to pay eighty francs for one day's drive? And the weather - the rain? you have glass windows; you can shut yourselves in; you won't take any harm.'

Say what I would, I could not convince him that it was wiser to forfeit sixty francs than drive across the Lozere in a storm of wind and rain, with the thermometer rapidly falling to freezing-point.