YOU may say there is nothing in this very commonplace adventure to sentimentalise about, and that when one plucks sentimentally a brand from the burning one should pick out a more valuable one. I certainly call it a picked day, at any rate, when I went to breakfast at St. Jouin, at the beautiful Ernestine's. Don't be alarmed; if I was just now too tame, I am not turning wild. The beautiful Ernestine is not my especial beauty, but every one's, and to contemplate her charms you have only to order breakfast. They shine forth the more brilliantly in proportion as your order is liberal, and Ernestine is beautiful according as your bill is large. In this case she comes and smiles, really very handsomely, around your table, and you feel some hesitation in accusing so well-favoured a person of extortion. She keeps an inn at the end of a lane which diverges from the high road between Etretal and Havre, and it is an indispensable feature of your "station" at the former place that you choose some fine morning and seek her hospitality. She has been a celebrity these twenty years, and is no longer a simple maiden in her flower; but twenty years, if they have diminished her early bloom, have richly augmented her museé. This is a collection of all the verses and sketches, the autographs, photographs, monographs, and trinkets presented to the amiable hostess by admiring tourists. It covers the walls of her sitting-room and fills half a dozen big albums which you look at while breakfast is being prepared, just as if you were awaiting dinner in genteel society. Most Frenchmen of the day whom one has heard of appear to have called at St. Jouin, and to have left their homages. Each of them has turned a compliment with pen or pencil, and you may see in a glass case on the parlour wall what Alexandre Dumas, Fils, thought of the landlady's nose, and how several painters measured her ankles.
Of course you must make this excursion in good company, and I affirm that I was in the very best. The company prefers, equally of course, to have it's breakfast in the orchard in front of the house; which, if the repast is good, will make it seem better still, and if it is poor, will carry off it's poorness. Clever innkeepers should always make their victims (in tolerable weather) eat in the garden. I forget whether Ernestine's breakfast was intrinsically good or bad, but I distinctly remember enjoying it, and making everything welcome. Everything, that is, save the party at the other table - -the Paris actresses and the American gentlemen. The combination of these two classes of persons, individually so delightful, results in certain phenomena which seem less in harmony with appleboughs and summer breezes than with the gas lamps and thick perfumes of a cabinet particulier, and yet it was characteristic of this odd mixture of things that Mlle. Ernestine, coming to chat with her customers, should bear a beautiful infant on her arm, and smile with artless pride on being assured of it's filial resemblance to herself. She looked decidedly handsome as she caressed this startling attribute of quiet spinsterhood.
St. Jouin is close to the sea and to the finest cliffs in the world. One of my companions, who had laden the carriage with his painting traps, went off into a sunny meadow to take the portrait of a windmill, and I, choosing the better portion, wandered through a little green valley with the other. Ten minutes brought us to the edge of the cliffs, which at this point of the coast are simply sublime. I had been thinking the white sea-walls of Etretal the finest thing conceivable in this way, but the huge red porphoritic-looking masses of St. Jouin have an even grander character. I have rarely seen anything more picturesque. They are strange, fantastic, out of keeping with the country, and for some rather arbitrary reason suggested to me a Spanish or even African landscape. Certain sun-scorched precipices in Spanish Sierras must have very much the same warmth of tone and desolation of attitude. A very picturesque feature of the cliffs of St. Jouin is that they are double in height, as one may say. Falling to an immense depth, they encounter a certain outward ledge, or terrace, where they pause and play a dozen fantastic tricks, such as piling up rocks into the likeness of needles and watch-towers; then they plunge again, and in another splendid sweep descend to the beach. There was something very impressive in the way their evil brows, looking as if they were all stained with blood and rust, were bent upon the blue expanse of the sleeping sea.