V.

 

AFTER this came two or three pictures of quite another complexion - -pictures of which a long green valley, almost in the centre of France, makes the general setting. The valley itself, indeed, forms one delightful picture, although the country which surrounds it is by no means a show region. It is the old region of the Gâtinais, which has plenty of history, but no great beauty. It is very still, deliciously rural, and immitigably French. Normandy is Norman, Gascony is Gascon, but this is France itself - -the typical, average, "pleasant" France of history, literature, and art - -of art, of landscape art, perhaps, especially. Wherever I look in the country I seem to see one of the familiar pictures on a dealer's wall - -a Lambinet, a Troyon, a Daubigny, a Diaz. The Lambinets perhaps are in the majority; the mood of the landscape usually expresses itself in silvery lights and vivid greens. The history of this part of France is the history of the monarchy, and it's language is, I won't say absolutely the classic tongue, but a nearer approach to it than any local patois. The peasants deliver themselves with rather a drawl, but what they speak is good clean French that any cockney can understand, which is more than can be said sometimes for the violent jargon that emanates from the fishing folk of Etretal.

Each side of the long valley is a long low ridge, which offers it a high, bosky horizon, and through the middle of it there flows a charming stream, wandering, winding, and doubling, smothered here and there in rocks, and spreading into lily-coated reaches, beneath the clear shadow of tall, straight, light-leaved trees. On each side of the stream the meadows stretch away flat, clean, and magnificent, lozenged across with rows of sober foliage under which a cow-maiden sits on the grass hooting now and then, nasally, to the large uddered browsers in front of her. There are no hedges, nor palings, nor walls; it is all a single estate. Here and there in the meadows stands a cluster of red-roofed hovels - -each a diminutive village. At other points, at about half an hour's walk apart, are three charming old houses. The chateaux are extremely different, but, both picturesquely and conveniently, each has it's points. They are very intimate with each other, so that these points may be amicably discussed. The points in one case, however, are remarkably strong. The chateau stands directly in the little river I have mentioned, on an island just great enough to hold it, and the garden flowers grow upon the further bank. This, of course, is a most delightful affair. But I found something very agreeable in the aspect of one of the others, when I made it the goal of certain of those walks before breakfast which of cool mornings in the late summer do not fall into the category of ascetic pleasures. (In France, indeed, if one did not do a great many things before breakfast, the work of life would be but meagrely performed.)

The dwelling in question stands on the top of the long ridge which encloses the comfortable valley to the south, being by it's position quite in the midst of it's appurtenant acres. It is not particularly "kept up", but it's quiet rustiness and untrimmedness only help it to be picturesque. A grassy plateau approaches it from the edge of the hill, bordered on one side by a short avenue of horse-chestnuts, and on the other by a dusky wood. Beyond the chestnuts are the steep-roofed, yellow-walled farm buildings, and under cover of the wood a stretch of beaten turf, where, on Sundays and holidays, the farm-servants play at bowls. Directly before the chateau is a little square garden enclosed by a low stone parapet, interrupted by a high gateway of mossy pillars and iron arabesques, the whole of it overclambered by flowering vines. The house, with it's yellow walls and russet roof, is ample and substantial; it is a very proper gentilhommière. In a corner of the garden, at the angle of the parapet, rises that classic emblem of rural gentility, thepigeonnier, the old stone dovecote. It is a great round tower, as broad of base as a lighthouse, with it's roof shaped like an extinguisher, and a big hole in it's upper portion, in and out of which a dove is always fluttering.

You see all this from the windows of the drawing-room. Be sure that the drawing-room is panelled in white and grey, with old rococo moulding over the doorways and mantelpiece. The open garden gateway, with it's tangled vines, makes a frame for the picture that lies beyond the little grassy esplanade where the thistles have been suffered to grow around a disused stone well, placed at quaint remoteness from the house (if, indeed, it is not a relic of an earlier habitation), a picture of a wide green country rising beyond the unseen valley, and stretching away to a far horizon in deep blue lines of wood. Behind, through other windows, you look out on the gardens proper. There are places that take one's fancy by some accident of expression, by some mystery of accident. This one is high and breezy, both sunny and shady, plain yet picturesque, extremely cheerful, and a little melancholy. It has what in the arts is called "style," and so it took mine.