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.
We never remained all summer at our place. August was a disagreeable month there—the woods were full of horse-flies which made riding impossible. No nets could keep them off the horses who were almost maddened by the sting. They were so persistent that we had to take them off with a sharp stick. They stuck like leeches. We generally went to the sea—almost always to the Norman Coast—establishing ourselves in a villa—sometimes at Deauville, sometimes at Villers, and making excursions all over the country.
Some of the old Norman chateaux are charming, particularly those which have remained just as they were before the Revolution, but, of course, there are not many of these. When the young ones succeed, there is always a tendency to modify and change, and it is not easy to mix the elaborate luxurious furniture of our times with the stiff old-fashioned chairs and sofas one finds in the old French houses. Merely to look at them one understands why our grandfathers and grandmothers always sat upright.
One of the most interesting of the Norman chateaux is “Abondant,” in the department of the Eure-et-Loir, belonging until very recently to the Vallambrosa family. It belonged originally to la Duchesse de Tourzel, gouvernante des Enfants de France (children of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette). After the imprisonment of the Royal Family, Madame de Tourzel retired to her chateau d’Abondant and remained there all through the Revolution. The village people and peasants adored her and she lived there peacefully through all those terrible days. Neither chateau nor park was damaged in any way, although she was known to be a devoted friend and adherent of the unfortunate Royal Family. A band of half-drunken “patriots” tried to force their way into the park one day, with the intention of cutting down the trees and pillaging the chateau, but all the villagers instantly assembled, armed with pitchforks, rusty old guns and stones, and dispersed the rabble.
Abondant is a Louis XV chateau—very large—seventeen rooms en facade—but simple in its architecture. The Duchess occupied a large corner room on the ground-floor, with four windows. The ceiling (which was very high) and walls covered with toiles de Jouy. An enormous bed a baldaquin was trimmed with the same toile and each post had a great bunch of white feathers on top.