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.

Going to call on the peasants was as charming an affair as a chapter in one of George Sand's rural tales. I went one Sunday morning with my hostess, who knew them well and engaged their most garrulous confidence. I don't mean that they told her all their secrets, but they told her a good many; if the French peasant is a simpleton, he is a very shrewd simpleton. At any rate, of a Sunday morning in August, when he is stopping at home from work, and he has put on his best jacket and trowsers, and is loafing at the door of his neighbour's cabin, he is a very charming person. The peasantry in the region I speak of had admirably good manners. The curé gave me a low account of their morals; by which he meant, on the whole, I suspect, that they were moderate church-goers. But they have the instinct of civility and a talent for conversation; they know how to play the host and the entertainer. By "he," just now, I meant she quite as much; it is rare that, in speaking superlatively of the French, in any connection, one does not think of the women even more than of the men. They constantly strike the foreigner as a stronger expression of the qualities of the race. On the occasion I speak of the first room in the very humble cabins I successively visited - -in some cases, evidently, it was the only room - -had been set into irreproachable order for the day. It had usually a sort of brown-toned picturesqueness, begotten of the high chimney-place, with it's swinging pots, the important bed, in it's dusky niche, with it's flowered curtains, the big-bellied earthenware on the cupboard, the long-legged clock in the corner, the thick, quiet light of the small, deeply set window; the mixture, on all things, of smoke-stain and the polish of horny hands. Into the midst of this "la Rabillon" or "la Mère Léger" brings forward her chairs and begs us to be seated, and seating herself, with crossed hands, smiles handsomely and answers abundantly all questions about her cow, her husband, her bees, her eggs, and her last-born. The men linger half outside and half in, with their shoulders against dressers and door-posts; every one smiles, with that simple, clear-eyed smile of the gratified peasant; they talk much more like George Sand's Berrichons than might be supposed. And if they receive us without gross awkwardness, they speed us on our way with proportionate urbanity. I go to six or eight little hovels, all of them dirty outside and clean within; I am entertained everywhere with thebonhomie, the quaintness, the good faces and good manners of their occupants, and I finish my tour with an esteem for my new acquaintance which is not diminished by learning that several of them have thirty or forty thousand francs securely laid by.

And yet, as I say, M. le Curé thinks they are in a bad way, and he knows something about them. M. le Curé, too, is not a dealer in scandal; there is something delightfully quaint in the way in which he deprecates an un-Christian construction of his words. There is more than one curé in the valley whose charms I celebrate; but the worthy priest of whom I speak is the pearl of the local priesthood. He has been accused, I believe, of pretentions to what is called illuminisme; but even in his most illuminated moments it can never occur to him that he has been chronicled in an American magazine, and therefore it is not indiscreet to say that he is the curé, not of Gy, but of the village nearest to Gy. I write this sentence half for the pleasure of putting down that briefest of village names and seeing how it looks in print. But it may be elongated at will, and yet be only improved. If you wish to be very specific, you may call it Gy-les-Nonnains - -Gy of the Little Nuns. I went with my hostess, another morning, to call upon M. le Curé, who himself opened his garden door to us (there was a crooked little black cross perched upon it), and, lifting his rusty calotte, stood there a moment in the sunshine, smiling a greeting more benignant than words.

A rural presbytère is not a very sumptuous dwelling, and M. le Curé's little drawing room reminded me of a Yankee parlour (minus the subscription books from Hartford, on the centre-table) in some out-of-the-way corner of New England. But he took us into his very diminutive garden, and showed us an ornament that would not have flourished in the shade of a Yankee parlour - -a rude stone image of the Virgin, which he had become possessed of I know not how, and for which he was building a sort of niche in the wall. The work was going on slowly, for he must take the labour as he could get it; but he appealed to his visitors, with a smile of indulgent irony, for an assurance that his little structure would not make too bad a figure. One of them told him that she would send him some white flowers to set out round his statue; whereupon he clasped his hands together over his snuff-box and expressed cheerful views of the world we live in. A couple of days afterward he came to breakfast, and, of course, he arrived early, in his new cassock and band. I found him in the billiard-room, walking up and down alone, and reading his breviary. The combination of the locality, the personage, and the occupation made me smile; and I smiled again when, after breakfast, I found him walking up and down the garden, puffing a cigarette. Of course he had an excellent appetite; but there is something rather cruel in those alternations of diet to which the French parish priest is subjected. At home he lives like a peasant - -a fact which, in itself, is not particularly cruel, inasmuch as he is usually a peasant born. But his fellow peasants don't breakfast at the chateau and gaze adown the savoury vistas opened by cutlets à la Soubise. They have not the acute pain of being turned back into the stale atmosphere of bread and beans. Of course it is by no means every day or every week even that M. le Curé breakfasts at the chateau; but there must nevertheless be a certain uncomfortable crookedness in his position. He lives like a labourer, and yet he is treated like a gentleman. The latter character must seem to him sometimes a rather heavy irony on the other. But to the ideal curé, of course, all characters are equal; he thinks neither too ill of his bad breakfasts, nor too well of his good ones. I won't say that the excellent man I speak of is the ideal curé, but I suspect he is an approach to it; he has a grain of epicureanism to an ounce of stoicism. In the garden path, beside the moat, while he puffed his cigarette, he told me how he had held up his head to the Prussians; for, hard as it seemed to believe it, that pastoral valley had been occupied by ravaging Teutons. According to this recital, he had spoken his mind civilly, but most distinctly, to the group of officers who had made themselves at home in his dwelling - -had informed them that it grieved him profoundly that he was obliged to meet them standing there in his cassock, and not out in the fields with a musket in his hands and a dozen congenial spirits at his side. The scene must have been picturesque. The first of the officers got up from table and asked for the privilege of shaking his hand. "M. le Curé," he said, "j'estime hautement votre caractère."

Six miles away - -or nearer, by a charming shaded walk along a canal - -was an ancient town with a legend - -a legend which, as a child, I read in my lesson-book at school, marvelling at the wood-cut above it, in which a ferocious dog was tearing a strange man to pieces, while the king and his courtiers sat by as if they were at the circus. I allude to it chiefly in order to mention the name of one of it's promenades, which is the stateliest, beyond all comparison, in the world; the name, I mean, not the street. The latter is called Les Belles Manières. Could anything be finer than that? With what a sweep gentlemen must once have taken off their hats there how ladies must once have curtsied, regardless of gutters, and how people must have turned up their toes as they walked!