I. CHATEAU LIFE

My first experience of country life in France, about thirty years ago, was in a fine old chateau standing high in pretty, undulating, wooded country close to the forest of Villers-Cotterets, and overlooking the great plains of the Oise - big green fields stretching away to the sky-line, broken occasionally by little clumps of wood, with steeples rising out of the green, marking the villages and hamlets which, at intervals, are scattered over the plains, and in the distance the blue line of the forest. The chateau was a long, perfectly simple, white stone building. When I first saw it, one bright November afternoon, I said to my husband as we drove up, "What a charming old wooden house!" which remark so astonished him that he could hardly explain that it was all stone, and that no big houses (nor small, either) in France were built of wood. I, having been born in a large white wooden house in America, couldn't understand why he was so horrified at my ignorance of French architecture. It was a fine old house, high in the centre, with a lower wing on each side. There were three drawing-rooms, a library, billiard-room, and dining-room on the ground floor. The large drawing-room, where we always sat, ran straight through the house, with glass doors opening out on the lawn on the entrance side and on the other into a long gallery which ran almost the whole length of the house. It was always filled with plants and flowers, open in summer, with awnings to keep out the sun; shut in winter with glass windows, and warmed by one of the three caloriferes of the house. In front of the gallery the lawn sloped down to the wall, which separated the place from the highroad. A belt of fine trees marked the path along the wall and shut out the road completely, except in certain places where an opening had been made for the view.

We were a small party for such a big house: only the proprietor and his wife (old people), my husband and myself. The life was very simple, almost austere. The old people lived in the centre of the chateau, W.[1] and I in one of the wings. It had been all fitted up for us, and was a charming little house. W. had the ground-floor - a bedroom, dressing-room, cabinet de travail, dining-room, and a small room, half reception-room, half library, where he had a large bookcase filled with books, which he gave away as prizes or to school libraries. The choice of the books always interested me. They were principally translations, English and American - Walter Scott, Marryat, Fenimore Cooper, etc. The bedroom and cabinet de travail had glass doors opening on the park. I had the same rooms upstairs, giving one to my maid, for I was nervous at being so far away from anyone. M. and Mme. A. and all the servants were at the other end of the house, and there were no bells in our wing (nor anywhere else in the house except in the dining-room). When I wanted a work-woman who was sewing in the lingerie I had to go up a steep little winding staircase, which connected our wing with the main building, and walk the whole length of the gallery to the lingerie, which was at the extreme end of the other wing. I was very fond of my rooms. The bedroom and sitting-room opened on a balcony with a lovely view over wood and park. When I sat there in the morning with my petit dejeuner - cup of tea and roll - I could see all that went on in the place. First the keeper would appear, a tall, handsome man, rather the northern type, with fair hair and blue eyes, his gun always over his shoulder, sacoche at his side, swinging along with the free, vigorous step of a man accustomed to walk all day. Then Hubert, the coachman, would come for orders, two little fox-terriers always accompanying him, playing and barking, and rolling about on the grass. Then the farmer's wife, driving herself in her gig, and bringing cheese, butter, milk, and sometimes chickens when our bassecour was getting low. A little later another lot would appear, people from the village or canton, wanting to see their deputy and have all manner of grievances redressed. It was curious sometimes to make out, at the end of a long story, told in peasant dialect, with many digressions, what particular service notre depute was expected to render. I was present sometimes at some of the conversations, and was astounded at W.'s patience and comprehension of what was wanted - I never understood half.

  [1] W. here and throughout this volume refers to Mme. Waddington's 
  husband, M. William Waddington.

We generally had our day to ourselves. We rode almost every morning - long, delicious gallops in the woods, the horses going easily and lightly over the grass roads; and the days W. was away and couldn't ride, I used to walk about the park and gardens. The kitchen garden was enormous - almost a park in itself - and in the season I eat pounds of white grapes, which ripened to a fine gold color on the walls in the sun. We rarely saw M. and Mme. A. until twelve-o'clock breakfast.