I seem to have got into another world, almost another century, in this old town. I had always promised the Florians I would come and stay with them, and was curious to see their installation in one of the fine old hotels of the place. The journey was rather long - not particularly interesting. We passed near Caen, getting a very good view of the two great abbayes[13] with their towers and spires quite sharply outlined against the clear blue sky. The train was full. At almost every station family parties got in - crowds of children all armed with spades, pails, butterfly nets, and rackets, all the paraphernalia of happy, healthy childhood. For miles after Caen there were long stretches of green pasture-lands - hundreds of cows and horses, some of them the big Norman dray-horses resting a little before beginning again their hard work, and quantities of long-legged colts trotting close up alongside of their mothers, none of them apparently minding the train. We finally arrived at the quiet little station of Valognes. Countess de Florian was waiting for me, with their big omnibus, and we had a short drive all through the town to their hotel, which is quite at one end, a real country road running in front of their house. It is an old hotel standing back from the road and shut in with high iron gates. There is a large court-yard with a grass-plot in the middle, enormous flower-beds on each side, and a fine sweep of carriage road to the perron. A great double stone staircase runs straight up to the top of the house, and glass doors opposite the entrance lead into the garden. I had an impression of great space and height and floods of light. I went straight into the garden, where they gave me tea, which was most refreshing after the long hot day. They have no house party. The dowager countess, Florian's mother, is here, and there was a cousin, a naval officer, who went off to Cherbourg directly after dinner. The ground-floor is charming; on one side of the hall there are three or four salons, and a billiard-room running directly across the house from the garden to the court-yard; on the other, a good dining-room and two or three guests' rooms; the family all live upstairs.

  [13] Abbaye aux Hommes, Abbaye aux Dames.

It is a delightful house. My room is on the ground-floor, opening from the corridor, which is large and bright, paved with flagstones. My windows look out on the entrance court, so that I see all that goes on. As soon as my maid has opened the windows and brought in my petit dejeuner, I hear a tap at the door and the countess's maid appears to ask, with madame's compliments, if I have all I want, if I have had a good night, and to bring me the morning paper. The first person to move is the dowager countess, who goes to early mass every morning. She is a type of the old-fashioned French Faubourg St. Germain lady; a straight, slender figure, always dressed in black, devoted to her children and to all her own family, with the courteous, high-bred manner one always finds in French women of the old school. She doesn't take much interest in the outside world, nor in anything that goes on in other countries, but is too polite to show that when she talks to me, for instance, who have knocked about so much. She doesn't understand the modern life, so sans gene and agitated, and it is funny to hear her say when talking of people she doesn't quite approve of, "Ils ne sont pas de notre monde."

Then comes the young countess, very energetic and smiling, with her short skirt and a bag on her arm, going to market. She sees me at the window and stops to know if I am going out. Will I join her at the market? All the ladies of Valognes do their own marketing and some of the well-known fishwomen and farmers' wives who come in from the country with poultry would be quite hurt if Madame la Comtesse didn't come herself to give her orders and have a little talk. This morning I have been to market with Countess Florian. The women looked so nice and clean in their short, black, heavily plaited skirts, high white caps, and handkerchiefs pinned over their bodices. The little stalls went all down the narrow main street and spread out on the big square before the church. The church is large, with a square tower and fine dome - nothing very interesting as to architecture. Some of the stalls were very tempting and the smiling, red-cheeked old women, sitting up behind their wares, were so civil and anxious to sell us something. The fish-market was most inviting - quantities of flat white turbots, shining silver mackerel, and fresh crevettes piled high on a marble slab with water running over them. Four or five short-skirted, bare-legged fisher girls were standing at the door with baskets of fish on their heads. Florian joined us there and seemed on the best of terms with these young women. He made all kinds of jokes with them, to which they responded with giggles and a funny little half-courtesy, half-nod. Both Florians spoke so nicely to all the market people as we passed from stall to stall. The poultry looked very good - such fat ducks and chickens. It was funny to see the bourgeoises of Valognes all armed with a large basket doing their marketing; they looked at the chickens, poked them, lifted them so as to be sure of their weight, and evidently knew to a centime what they had to pay. I fancy the Norman menagere is a pretty sharp customer and knows exactly what she must pay for everything. The vegetable stalls were very well arranged - the most enormous cabbages I ever saw. I think the old ladies who presided there were doing a flourishing business. I did not find much to buy - some gray knitted stockings that I thought would be good for my Mareuil[14] boys and some blue linen blouses with white embroidery, that all the carters wear, and which the Paris dressmakers transform into very pretty summer costumes. I bought for myself a paper bag full of cherries for a few sous, then left the Florians, and wandered about the streets a little alone. They are generally narrow, badly paved, with grass growing in the very quiet ones. There are many large hotels standing well back, entre cour et jardin, the big doors and gate-ways generally heavy and much ornamented - a great deal of carving on the facades and cornices, queer heads and beasts. Valognes has not always been the quiet, dull, little provincial town it is to-day. It has had its brilliant moment, when all the hotels were occupied by grands seigneurs, handsome equipages rolled through the streets, and its society prided itself on its exclusiveness and grand manner. It used to be said that to rouler carrosse at Valognes was a titre de noblesse, and the inhabitants considered their town a "petit Paris." In one of the plays of the time, a marquis, very fashionable and a well-known courtier, was made to say: "Il faut trois mois de Valognes pour achever un homme de cour." One can quite imagine "la grande vie d'autrefois" in the hotel of the Florians. Their garden is enchanting - quantities of flowers, roses particularly. They have made two great borders of tall pink rose-bushes, with dwarf palms from Bordighera planted between, just giving the note of stiffness which one would expect to find in an old-fashioned garden. On one side is a large terrace with marble steps and balustrade, and beyond that, half hidden by a row of fruit-trees, a very good tennis court. We just see the church-tower at one end of the garden; and it is so quiet one would never dream there was a town near. The country in every direction is beautiful - real English lanes, the roads low, high banks on each side, with hawthorn bushes on top - one drives between thick green walls. We have made some lovely excursions. They have a big omnibus with a banquette on top which seats four people, also a place by the coachman, and two great Norman posters, who go along at a good steady trot, taking a little gallop occasionally up and down the hills.

  [14] Mareuil is the name of the village near our place in France.

Countess de Nadaillac, Countess Florian's sister-in-law, arrived to-day with her daughter for a short visit. We had a pleasant evening with music, billiards, and dominoes (a favorite game in this country). The dowager countess always plays two games, and precisely at half-past nine her old man-servant appears and escorts her to her rooms. We all break up early; the ten o'clock bell is usually the signal. It rings every night, just as it has done for hundreds of years. The town lights are put out and the inhabitants understand that the authorities are not responsible for anything that may happen in the streets of Valognes after such a dangerous hour of the night.

... There are some fine places in the neighborhood. We went to-day to Chiffevast, a large chateau which had belonged to the Darus, but has been bought recently by a rich couple, Valognes people, who have made a large fortune in cheese and butter. It seems their great market is London.

They send over quantities via Cherbourg, which is only twenty minutes off by rail. It is a splendid place - with a fine approach by a great avenue with beautiful old trees. The chateau is a large, square house - looks imposing as one drives up. We didn't see the master of the house - he was away - but madame received us in all her best clothes. She was much better dressed than we were, evidently by one of the good Paris houses. Countess Florian had written to ask if we might come, so she was under arms. She was a little nervous at first, talked a great deal, very fast, but when she got accustomed to us it went more easily, and she showed us the house with much pride. There was some good furniture and one beautiful coverlet of old lace and embroidery, which she had found somewhere upstairs in an old chest of drawers. They have no children - such a pity, as they are improving and beautifying the place all the time. The drive home was delightful, facing the sunset. I was amused with the Florians' old coachman. He is a curiosity - knows everybody in the country. He was much interested in our visit and asked if we had seen "la patronne" - said he knew her well, had often seen her on a market day at Valognes, sitting in her little cart in the midst of her cheeses and butter; said she was a brave femme. How strange it must seem to people like that, just out of their hard-working peasant life - and it is hard work in France - to find themselves owners of a splendid chateau and estate, receiving the great people of the country. I dare say in ten or twelve years they will be like any one else, and if there were sons or daughters the young men would get into parliament or the diplomatic career, the daughters would marry some impoverished scion of a noble family, and cheeses and butter would be forgotten.

We had one delightful day at Cherbourg. The Prefet Maritime invited us to breakfast with him at his hotel. We went by rail to Cherbourg, about half an hour, and found the admiral's carriage waiting for us. The prefecture is a nice, old-fashioned house, in the centre of the town, with a big garden. We took off our coats in a large, handsome room upstairs. The walls were covered with red damask and there were pictures of Queen Victoria and Louis Napoleon. It seems the Queen slept in that room one night when she came over to France to make her visit to Louis Philippe at the Chateau d'Eu. We found quite a party assembled - all the men in uniform and the women generally in white. We breakfasted in a large dining-room with glass doors opening into the garden, which was charming, a blaze of bright summer flowers. We adjourned there for coffee after breakfast. The trees were big, made a good shade, and the little groups, seated about in the various bosquets, looked pretty and gay. When coffee and liqueurs were finished we drove down to the quay, where the admiral's launch was waiting, and had a delightful afternoon steaming about the harbour. It is enormous, long jetties and breakwaters stretching far out, almost closing it in. There was every description of craft - big Atlantic liners, yachts, fishing boats, ironclads, torpedoes, and once we very nearly ran over a curious dark object floating on the surface of the water, which they told us was a submarine. It did not look comfortable as a means of transportation, but the young officers told us it was delightful.

We got back to Valognes to a late dinner, having invited a large party to come over for tennis and dinner the next day. The Florians are a godsend to Cherbourg. They are most hospitable, and with automobiles the distance is nothing, and one is quite independent of trains. Yesterday four of our party went off to Cherbourg to make a cruise in a torpedo-boat. The ladies were warned that they must put on clothes which would not mind sea-water, but I should think bathing dresses would be the only suitable garments for such an expedition. They were remarkable objects when they came home, Mademoiselle de Nadaillac's hat a curiosity, also her white blouse, where the red of her hat-ribbons and cravat had run. However, they had enjoyed themselves immensely - at least the girl. Countess de Nadaillac was not quite so enthusiastic. They got into dry clothes and played tennis vigorously all the afternoon.

We had a pleasant family evening. Mademoiselle de Nadaillac has a pretty voice and sang well. Florian and I played some duets. I joined in the dowager's game of dominoes, which I don't seem to have mastered, as I lose regularly, and after she left us, escorted by her faithful old butler (a light shawl over his arm to put on her shoulders when she passed through the corridors), we had rather an interesting conversation about ways and manners in different countries, particularly the way young people are brought up. I said we were a large family and that mother would never let us read in the drawing-room after dinner. If we were all absorbed in our books, conversation was impossible. We were all musical, so the piano and singing helped us through. Madame de Florian, whose father, Marquis de Nadaillac, is quite of the old school, said they were not even allowed to work or look at pictures in the salon after dinner! Her father considered it disrespectful if any of his children did anything but listen when he talked. They might join in the conversation if they had anything intelligent to say. She told us, too, of some of the quite old-fashioned chateaux that she stayed in as a girl, and even a young married woman. There was one fire and one lamp in the drawing-room. Any one who wanted to be warm, or to work, was obliged to come into that room. No fires nor lamps allowed anywhere else in the house; a cup of tea in the afternoon an unheard-of luxury. If you were ill, a doctor was sent for and he ordered a tisane; if you were merely tired or cold, you waited until dinner-time.

We have also made a charming expedition to Quineville, a small seaside place about an hour and a half's drive, always through the same green country, our Norman posters galloping up all the hills. We passed through various little villages, each one with a pretty little gray, square-towered church. There was plenty of passing, as it was market day. We met a good many peasant women carrying milk in those curious old brass bowls one sees everywhere here. Some of them are very handsome, polished until they shine like mirrors, with a delicate pattern lightly traced running around the bowl. They balance them perfectly on their heads and walk along at a good swinging pace. They all look prosperous, their skirts (generally black), shoes, and stockings in good condition, and their white caps and handkerchiefs as clean as possible. Quineville is a very quiet little place, no hotel, and rows of ugly little houses well back from the sea, but there is a beautiful stretch of firm white sand. To-day it was dead low tide. The sea looked miles away, a long line of dark sea-weed marking the water's edge. There were plenty of people about; women and girls with stout bare legs, and a primitive sort of tool, half pitchfork, half shovel, were piling the sea-weed into the carts which were waiting on the shore. Children were paddling about in the numerous little pools and making themselves wreaths and necklaces out of the berries of the sea-weed - some of them quite bright-coloured, pink and yellow. We wandered about on the beach, sitting sometimes on the side of a boat, and walking through the little pools and streams. It was a lonely bit of water. We didn't see a sail. The sea looked like a great blue plain meeting the sky - nothing to break the monotony. We got some very bad coffee at the restaurant - didn't attempt tea. They would certainly have said they had it, and would have made it probably out of hay from the barn. The drive home was delicious, almost too cool, as we went at a good pace, the horses knowing as well as we did that the end of their day was coming.... We have been again to market this morning. It was much more amusing than the first time, as it was horse day, and men and beasts were congregated in the middle of the Cathedral Square. There was a fair show - splendid big carthorses and good cobs and ponies - here and there a nice saddle-horse. There were a good many women driving themselves, and almost all had good, stout little horses. They know just as much about it as the men and were much interested in the sales. They told me the landlady of the hotel was the best judge of a horse and a man in Normandy. She was standing at the entrance of her court-yard as we passed the hotel on our way home, a comely, buxom figure, dressed like all the rest in a short black skirt and sabots. She was exchanging smiling greetings and jokes with every one who passed and keeping order with the crowds of farmers, drivers, and horse-dealers who were jostling through the big open doors and clamoring for food for themselves and their animals. She was the type of the hard-working, capable Frenchwoman of whom there are thousands in France.

Some years ago I was on the committee for a great sale we had in our arrondissement in Paris for the benefit of "L'Assistance par le Travail," an excellent work which we are all much interested in. I was in charge of the buffet, and thought it better to apply at once to one of the great caterers, Potel and Chabot, and see what they could do for us. We made an appointment, and Mme. de B. and I drove down to the place. The manager was out, but they told us that Madame was waiting for us in the back shop. We found rather a pretty woman, very well dressed in velvet, with diamond earrings, and I was put out at first - thought that didn't look like business. However, we talked a few minutes; she said her husband was obliged to go to the country, but would certainly come and see me the next day. Then she stepped up to her desk, where there was a big book open, said she understood we wished to give an order for a buffet for a charity sale, and was at once absorbed in sandwiches, tea and coffee, orangeade, and all the requirements for such an occasion. She was perfectly practical and gave us some very useful hints - said she supposed we wanted some of their maitres d'hotel. We thought not - our own would do. That, she said, would be a great mistake. They weren't accustomed to that sort of thing and wouldn't know how to do it. One thing, for instance - they would certainly fill all the glasses of orangeade and punch much too full and would waste a great deal. Their men never filled a glass entirely, and consequently gained two on every dozen. She told us how much we wanted, made out the estimate at once, and ended by asking if we would allow them to present the tea as their contribution to the charity. It didn't take more than twenty minutes - the whole thing. She then shut up her book, went to the door with us, thanked us for giving them the order, and hoped we would be satisfied. That business capability and thriftiness runs through almost all Frenchwomen of a certain class, and when I hear, as of course I often do, the frivolous, butterfly, pleasure-loving Frenchwoman spoken of, that energetic, hard-working bourgeoise comes into my mind. We all who live in France know the type well.

The whole nation is frugal. During the Franco-German War, my husband, who had spent all the dreary months of the invasion at his chateau in the country, was elected a member of the Assemblee Nationale, which met at Bordeaux. They were entirely cut off from Paris, surrounded by Prussian troops on all sides, and he couldn't get any money. Whatever he had had at the beginning of the war had been spent - sending off recruits for one of the great army corps near his place. It was impossible to communicate with his banker or any friends in Paris, and yet he couldn't start without funds. He applied to the notary of La Ferte-Milon, the little town nearest the chateau. He asked how much he wanted. W. said about 10,000 francs. The notary said, "Give me two days and I will get it for you." He appeared three days afterward, bringing the 10,000 francs - a great deal of it in large silver five-franc pieces, very difficult to carry. He had collected the whole sum from small farmers and peasants in the neighbourhood - the five-franc pieces coming always from the peasants, sometimes fifty sewed up in a mattress or in the woman's thick, wadded Sunday skirt. He said he could get as much more if W. wanted it. It seems impossible for the peasant to part with his money or invest it. He must keep it well hidden, but in his possession.

... We had a pretty drive this afternoon to one of Florian's farms, down a little green lane, some distance from the high-road and so hidden by the big trees that we saw nothing until we got close to the gate. It was late - all the cows coming home, the great Norman horses drinking at the trough, two girls with bare legs and high caps calling all the fowl to supper, and the farmer's wife, with a baby in her arms and another child, almost a baby, pulling at her skirts, seated on a stone bench underneath a big apple-tree, its branches heavy with fruit. She was superintending the work of the farm-yard and seeing that the two girls didn't waste a minute of their time, nor a grain of the seed with which they were feeding the chickens. A little clear, sparkling stream was meandering through the meadows, tall poplars on each side, and quite at the end of the stretch of green fields there was the low blue line of the sea. The farmhouse is a large, old-fashioned building with one or two good rooms. It had evidently been a small manor house. One of the rooms is charming, with handsome panels of dark carved wood. It seemed a pity to leave them there, and almost a pity, that the Florians could not have made their home in such a lovely green spot, but they would have been obliged to add to the house enormously, and it would have complicated their lives, being so far away from everything.

... We have had a last walk and flanerie this morning. We went to the Hospice, formerly a Benedictine convent, where there is a fine gate-way and court-yard with most extraordinary carving over the doors and gate - monstrous heads and beasts and emblems alongside of cherubs and beautiful saints and angels. One wonders what ideas those old artists had; it seems now such distorted imagination. We walked through some of the oldest streets and past what had been fine hotels, but they are quite uninhabited now. Sometimes a bric-a-brac shop on the ground-floor, and some sort of society on the upper story, but they are all neglected and half tumbling down. There is still splendid carving on some of the old gate-ways and cornices, but bits of stone and plaster are falling off, grass is growing between the paving stones of the court-yards, and there is an air of poverty and neglect which is a curious contrast to the prosperous look of the country all around - all the little farms and villages look so thriving. The people are smiling and well fed; their animals, too - horses, cows, donkeys - all in good condition.

I have played my last game of dominoes in this fine old hotel and had my last cup of tea in the stiff, stately garden, with the delicious salt sea-breeze always coming at four o'clock, and the cathedral chimes sounding high and clear over our heads. I leave to-morrow night for London, via Cherbourg and Southampton.