VIII. A CORNER OF NORMANDY

BAGNOLES DE L'ORNE, July-August.

It is lovely looking out of my window this morning, so green and cool and quiet. I had my petit dejeuner on my balcony, a big tree in the garden making perfect shade and a wealth of green wood and meadow in every direction, so resting to the eyes after the Paris asphalt. It seems a very quiet little place. Scarcely anything passing - a big omnibus going, I suppose, to the baths, and a butcher's cart. For the last ten minutes I have been watching a nice-looking sunburned girl with a big straw hat tied down over her ears, who is vainly endeavouring to get her small donkey-cart, piled high with fruit and vegetables, up a slight incline to the gate of a villa just opposite. She has been struggling for some time, pulling, talking, and red with the exertion. One or two workmen have come to her assistance, but they can't do anything either. The donkey's mind is made up. There is an animated conversation - I am too high up to hear what they say. Finally she leaves her cart, ties up her fruit in her apron, balances a basket of eggs with one hand on her head, and disappears into the garden behind the gate. No one comes along and the cart is quite unmolested. I think I should have gone down myself if I had seen anyone making off with any of the fruit. It is a delightful change from the hot stuffy August Paris I left yesterday. My street is absolutely deserted, every house closed except mine, the sun shining down hard on the white pavement, and perfect stillness all day. The evenings from seven till ten are indescribable - a horror of musical concierges with accordions, a favorite French instrument. They all sit outside their doors with their families and friends, playing and singing all the popular songs, and at intervals all joining in a loud chorus of "Viens Poupoule." Grooms are teaching lady friends to ride bicycles, a lot of barking, yapping fox-terriers running alongside. There is a lively cross-conversation going on from one side of the street to the other, my own concierge and chauffeur contributing largely. Of course my balcony is untenable, and I am obliged to sit inside, until happily sleep descends upon them. They all vanish, and the street relapses into perfect silence. I am delighted to find myself in this quiet little Norman bathing-place, just getting known to the French and foreign public.

It is hardly a village; the collection of villas, small houses, shops, and two enormous hotels surrounding the etablissement seems to have sprung up quite suddenly and casually in the midst of the green fields and woods, shut in on all sides almost by the Forest of Ardennes, which makes a beautiful curtain of verdure. There are villas dotted about everywhere, of every possible style; Norman chalets, white and gray, with the black crossbeams that one is so familiar with all over this part of the country; English cottages with verandas and bow-windows; three or four rather pretentious looking buildings with high perrons and one or two terraces; gardens with no very pretty flowers, principally red geraniums, some standing back in a nice little green wood, some directly on the road with benches along the fence so that the inhabitants can see the passers-by (and get all the dust of the roads). But there isn't much passing even in these days of automobiles. There are two trains from Paris, arriving at two in the afternoon and at eleven at night. The run down from Paris, especially after Dreux, is charming, almost like driving through a park. The meadows are beautifully green and the trees very fine - the whole country very like England in appearance, recalling it all the time, particularly when we saw pretty gray old farmhouses in the distance - and every now and then a fine Norman steeple.

There are two rival hotels and various small pensions and family houses. We are staying at the Grand, which is very comfortable. There is a splendid terrace overlooking the lake; rather an ambitious name for the big pond, which does, however, add to the picturesqueness of the place, particularly at night, when all the lights are reflected in the water. The whole hotel adjourns there after dinner, and people walk up and down and listen to the music until ten o'clock. After that there is a decided falling off of the beau monde. Many people take their bath at half past five in the morning and are quite ready to go to bed early. The walk down in the early morning is charming, through a broad, shaded alley - Allee de Dante. I wonder why it is called that. I don't suppose the poet ever took warm baths or douches in any description of etablissement. I remember the tale we were always told when we were children, and rebelled against the perpetual cleansing and washing that went on in the nursery, of the Italian countess who said she would be ashamed, if she couldn't do all her washing in a glass of water. It is rather amusing to see all the types. I don't think there are many foreigners. I hear very little English spoken, though they tell me there are some English here. We certainly don't look our best in the early morning, but the women stand the test better than the men. With big hats, veils, and the long cloaks they wear now, they pass muster very well and don't really look any worse than when they are attired for a spin in an open auto; but the men, with no waistcoats, a foulard around their throats, and a very dejected air, don't have at all the conquering-hero appearance that one likes to see in the stronger sex.