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"How could I help asking him," this in Walter's most persuasive tone, "when he has taken the trouble to come over here to dine with us? In common decency I could do nothing else."
"Of course nothing will ever come of this, as M. La Tour's parents have no doubt arranged an advantageous marriage for him, but----"
"Do you want anything to come of it, Zelphine?"
"How you tease! You know very well that I do not; but poor Archie's holiday is being spoiled, all the same."
"Well, he can't go with us anyhow, Zelphine dear, for to-morrow is his mother's birthday, and he will have to leave here betimes, in order to be at home to lunch with Madame La Tour. I must go out on the terrace now and comfort Archie."
"Don't be _too_ comforting, Walter, and why didn't you tell me before that M. La Tour could not go with us to-morrow?"
"I did not quite realize how important his movements were, and after all he holds out a hope of rejoining us at Chinon, on Monday."
This conversation with my good man, dear Margaret, will give you a fairly satisfactory idea of a very unsatisfactory state of affairs except that I am not quite sure about Chinon. Walter looked so mischievous, when he added that bit of information, that I am inclined to think he made it up, on the spur of the moment, just to give me something to think about.
By the way, I am leaving the most important item for the end of this long letter. M. La Tour brought a charming note from his mother, inviting us to lunch with her any day that suits us. The Chateau La Tour is somewhere between Blois and Paris, not much out of our way; but we really have not time to stop over even for a few hours, as Angela writes from Paris that the Dudleys leave her on Tuesday to sail from Cherbourg.
The child cannot stay at a hotel alone, and she says that she is so busy over her trousseau that she has not time to join us here even for a few days. So you see we have only Monday for Chinon, a night at Angers and a full day on Tuesday, as we return to Paris, via Orleans, where we wish to have several hours _en route_ for the Joan of Arc a.s.sociations.
It would be a delightful experience to lunch at the Chateau La Tour, but under the circ.u.mstances, a trifle embarra.s.sing. Archie would flatly refuse to go, I am sure, and Walter would think it a perfect bore, so it is just as well that we have a good, ready-made excuse. I don't know what Miss Ca.s.sandra thinks about the situation of affairs, as for once in her life she is as discreet and non-committal as Lydia; but she is evidently much disappointed about the luncheon at the Chateau La Tour.
She is always ready for a new experience, and is eager to meet Madame La Tour, who claims cousinship with her. However, this last pleasure may be only deferred, as Madame hopes to call upon us in Paris later in the month.
HoTEL DE FRANCE, Blois, September 11th.
THIS has been a golden day of pure delight, with a brilliant sunshine from early morn to dewy eve, and a cool, refreshing air, an altogether ideal day for our prolonged visitations among the chateaux around Blois!
Lydia and I went to the little Protestant church with Miss Ca.s.sandra this morning, as a salve to our consciences, Archie says, in view of the giddy round of pleasure that we had planned for the afternoon. He and Walter tried to beguile Lydia from our side, to spend the morning in roaming about Blois with them; but she is a loyal little soul and resisted all their blandishments with sweet steadfastness, saying that after following the Huguenots through all the miseries that were heaped upon them, the least that we can do is to honor their memories in their chapel here at Blois.
Archie says that we are quite right and that this sentiment is praiseworthy; but that as he and Walter were unable to honor these heroic souls in their own language, to attend such a service would be a mockery.
"Yes," Walter added, "it would seem like a bit of play-acting to sit there in church, like two whited sepulchres, trying to look as if we understood when we should not know six words of what was being said."
Miss Ca.s.sandra, being accustomed to religious service where not a word is spoken in any language, naturally does not think much of these arguments; but having a strong liking for my two men she is quite willing to excuse them from accompanying us to the chapel. Nor do I wonder that they are glad to have a fine morning in which to roam about this interesting old town together, and to give zest and point to their rambles, M. La Tour has told them of an ancient coin a.s.sociated with the history of Blois. This coin is said to be the oldest doc.u.ment in existence on, or in, which the name of Blois is inscribed, it also bears the name of the officer of the mint at Blois at the time of its issue, far back in history. Of course Walter and Archie are very anxious to see this ancient coin, and M. La Tour has given them a letter of introduction to the man who has charge of it, which he a.s.sured them would admit them to a view of it Sundays or holidays, or any time in the day or night.
We enjoyed the service in the little church, where we heard a really eloquent discourse from an old _pasteur_ with the most beautiful, benevolent face that you can imagine. We are quite sure that this handsome, venerable clergyman comes from a long line of heroic Huguenot ancestors, and Miss Ca.s.sandra says that she did not mind so much not understanding what he said, as she was quite sure that it was all to edification, which she evidently does not always feel with regard to the long tales that the guides spin off for us, and in truth Lydia and I have tripped them up more than twice in their history. We returned to the hotel quite enthusiastic about the chapel and its pastor, and Miss Ca.s.sandra is already planning some benevolent scheme to help the evidently struggling congregation. If her means were equal to her charitable intent, what would she not do for the benefit of mankind in all quarters of the globe? Walter and Archie were so impressed by her description of "the venerable descendant of a long line of ma.s.sacred Huguenots" that they have made substantial acknowledgments to be sent by Lydia and myself to the patrons of the little chapel.
The idea of visiting three chateaux in one afternoon was rather appalling at first; but the afternoon was long, beginning soon after our twelve o'clock _dejeuner_, and the roads are fine for motoring in this level country. Our way lay for some miles by Loire, first on one bank and then on the other. This flat country, with its wide reaches of meadow land and distant horizon lines, has a charm of its own, its restfulness suits the drowsy autumn days, and no trees could be better fitted to border these roadsides and river banks than the tall slim Lombardy poplars, with their odd bunches of foliage atop like the plumes and pompons on soldiers' caps. Down by some of the streams large white poplars have spread out their branches, making coverts from the sunshine for man and beast. On these poplars we noticed what looked like huge green nests. "Are they crows' nests?" we asked, as there seem to be no end of crows all about here.
"No, not for the _corbeaux_," said the chauffeur, shaking his head and looking fairly puzzled, as he explained with some elaboration that this was a parasitic plant which drew its nourishment from various trees, and that later in the season white, waxlike berries would appear upon it.
"It is the mistletoe!" exclaimed Lydia, joyously, as if meeting an old friend in a strange land, and as she was, as usual, conducting the general information course, she asked the chauffeur if it was not used for decoration at Christmas and the New Year, being hung where lovers were likely to pa.s.s, a custom derived from the rites of the ancient Druids. The chauffeur was evidently unacquainted with the ways of the Druids, his studies in folk lore not having been extensive; but the bit about the lovers he understood, and in that curious way, that has so often surprised us, perhaps by a certain mental telepathy, he suddenly understood, slapped his hand upon his knee, and exclaimed, "Yes, yes, Mademoiselle, it is the same thing, le mis-le-toe, _le gui_."
So it is _le gui_, that we see on so many trees, and this man, evidently of the soil, as he knows all about the products here, tells us that it grows upon pear, apple and other trees and is cut off and sent in great quant.i.ties to the large towns for holiday celebrations.
From the level landscape with low-lying meadows and fields of turnips in which men and women were at work, we suddenly saw the great round towers of Chaumont rising from among the trees of a well-wooded ridge. Like Langeais, Chaumont is a strong fortress of the middle ages, dark and lowering at a first view, but with much beauty in its hillside park and gardens. We crossed a creaking, swaying suspension bridge, one is always crossing bridges here, as the Loire winds itself around these chateaux as if it delighted to encircle them in its shining arms.
The best view of the chateau is from this bridge, which connects the villages of Chaumont and Onzain. From this coign of vantage it rises before us, crowning the hill-crest with its many towers and dominating the little village at its feet and the broad river. The Loire is twice as wide here as at Blois, its surface broken up by many sand bars and stretches of pebbly beach, such brilliantly colored pebbles as we used to see in Northern Italy, when the rivers were low as these are here to-day. Much the same view is this as John Evelyn's first sight of Chaumont, on a May day long ago: "We took boate," wrote Evelyn, "pa.s.sing by Chaumont, a proud castle on the left hand; before it a small island deliciously shaded with tall trees." As we motored through the village street, whose houses run parallel with the river, we noticed that the town seemed to be _en fete_. The outside of the little church was decorated with banners, lanterns and flowers, while within it was so filled to overflowing with villagers, and small maidens in white frocks and pink and blue sashes, that we could scarcely get our noses within the doorway. The village was celebrating some church festival, the chauffeur told us; but we stupidly forget which saint was being honored, perhaps because the remainder of the afternoon was spent among those who had small claim to saint-hood, and then as Miss Ca.s.sandra says, "There are so many of these saints, how can we ever keep track of them all?"
[Ill.u.s.tration: CHaTEAU OF CHAUMONT: THE LOIRE ON THE LEFT]
"And it is so much easier to remember the sinners," Walter adds, "because there is always something doing among them."
Leaving the auto in the village, we climbed up to the castle by a steep and narrow path and entered the great doorway where the moat and drawbridge between the huge round towers again reminded us of Langeais.
Over this entrance are the graven initials of Louis and Anne of Brittany, the arms of George of Amboise with his cardinal's hat, and the double C's of Charles of Chaumont and his wife, Catherine of Chauvigny.
Here also are some scattered D's which stand for Diane of Poitiers, who consented to accept this chateau when Catherine offered her a Hobson's choice of Chaumont or nothing. We were especially interested in a rich frieze in which were intertwined the double C's and the odd device of the burning mountain, "Chaud-mont," from which, it is said, the name of the chateau was derived. As Chaumont is still inhabited, we were not shown the whole of the castle, but fortunately for us the suite of historic rooms was on view. Here again we came upon a.s.sociations with the dreadful Catherine, whose bedroom and furniture are shown to visitors. Whether or not these articles are genuine, and grave doubts are thrown upon their authenticity, they are very handsome and of the proper period. The tapestries in these rooms are all old and charming in color, of old rose and pink. A description which I came across in a delightful book by Mr. Theodore A. Cook, which M. La Tour brought us from his mother's library, gives a better idea of this tapestry than any words of mine: "Beside the door a blinded Love with rose-red wings and quiver walks on the flushing paths, surrounded by strange scrolls and mutilated fragments of old verses; upon the wall in front are ladies with their squires attending, clad all in pink and playing mandolins, while by the stream that courses through the flowery meadows small rosy children feed the water birds, that seem to blush with pleasure beneath the willow boughs of faded red."
Next to the so-called room of Catherine de Medicis is the chamber attributed to Ruggieri, the chosen aide and abettor of her schemes, which apartment very properly communicates with a private stairway leading to the platform of the tower which is said to have been used by him as an observatory. Whether or not Catherine ever inhabited these rooms, and we know that she never lived for any length of time at Chaumont, I must confess that seeing them thus conveniently placed for plotting and adventure, they impressed us even more than her secret stairways and poison cupboards at Blois. This may have been because these rooms are small and dark and dreary, Ruggieri's being in one of the corner towers, with small windows cut in the wall, which is over two metres in thickness. From whatever reason, these apartments are the most weird and ghostly that we have seen, fitted up as they are with many memorials of Catherine, and two portraits of her, one in a rich costume, an extinguisher gown with pink underskirt and wide full sleeves bordered with a band of fur, each one as large as an ordinary m.u.f.f. There is also a portrait of Ruggieri here, whose dark, sinister face adds much to the grewsomeness of the room, and standing here we could readily imagine the scene, described by a chronicler of the time, when the Queen sought Ruggieri here among his philters, minerals, foreign instruments, parchments and maps of the heavens, to consult him about the future of her offspring. This was soon after the death of Henry II, when the young King's health had begun to break down. When the Queen desired to be shown the horoscopes of her children, by some skillful arrangement of mirrors the astrologer made her four sons to pa.s.s before her, each in turn wearing crowns for a brief period; but all dying young and without heirs, each figure was to turn around as many times as the number of years he was to live. Poor Francis appeared, wan and sickly, and before he had made an entire circle he pa.s.sed out of sight, from which the Queen knew that the young King would die before the year was out, which, as we know, came true, as did some of the other prognostications. What must have filled to the brim the cup of misery which this ambitious, disappointed woman had held to her lips, was to see the rival of her sons, the bitterly hated Henry of Navarre, following their shadows upon the mirror and making over twenty turns, which meant that he would reign in France for twenty years, or more. By whatever means the astrologer accomplished these predictions, the remarkable thing about them is that the account of this interview at Chaumont was written during the reign of Henry III, before some of them had been fulfilled. Catherine, firmly believing in Ruggieri's prognostications, left the chateau a sadder if not a wiser woman.
The rooms of Catherine communicate directly with the chapel, where there is a most realistic picture of The Last Judgment, and her book of the hours lies open on her _prie dieu_ as if she had just finished her devotions. For good and sufficient reasons, we do not think of this Queen at prayer as readily as we figure her taking part in affairs of state, plotting for the destruction of her enemies and trying to hoodwink the Huguenots and Leaguers in turn.
"And yet," as Walter reminds us, "Catherine was extremely devout, with all her deviltry." You may remember a portrait of her in fine enamel at the Louvre, which represents Catherine kneeling before an altar, her hands devoutly clasped, and as if to give point to the time-honored adage "handsome is that handsome does," the Queen's face, in this enamel, possesses some claim to good looks.
M. La Tour has been telling us of some old papers, recently brought to light, which prove that Catherine, during the babyhood of her children, was an anxious and watchful mother. She seems to have written careful and minute directions regarding the food and clothing of her little ones, in one instance directing that her son Henry should not be encouraged to eat largely, adding, like any wise mother of to-day, "I am of opinion that my children are rather ill from being too fat than too thin." The evidence of this opinion is borne out by Clouet's drawings of the chubby face of Henry and the fat, heavy cheeks of Francis II, both in their babyhood. It was little Francis, an una.s.sertive prince in after years, who at the age of two insisted upon discarding his petticoats, upon which the King, when consulted upon this important question, wrote to the governor of the royal nursery, "It is right indeed that my son should wear breeches if he asks for them; for I do not doubt that he knows perfectly well what is needful."
These intimate details of the youth of the royal children, trifling as they are, add a human interest to the figures of Henry II and Catherine, whom we only think of as sweeping through these chateaux in form and state, and raise a question as to whether, after all, this cruel Queen had not a heart somewhere tucked away under her jewelled bodice.
Chaumont has many a.s.sociations earlier than the days of Catherine, reaching back to Charles of Amboise, who built much of the chateau, and to his father Georges, one of the chief ministers of Louis XII. It is said that Georges of Amboise used his tact and influence to gain the papal bull necessary for the King's divorce from Jeanne of France, which was brought to Chinon by Caesar Borgia, with great state and ceremony. It was this same papal envoy who brought Georges d'Amboise his cardinal's hat. Unscrupulous as he may have been in some instances, Cardinal d'Amboise seems to have been, in the main, a wise and judicious minister and helped Louis to inst.i.tute many important reforms.
The romance of Chaumont is its a.s.sociation with the knightly figure of Henri Coiffier de Ruze, Marquis de Cinq Mars. The opening scene of De Vigny's novel rises before us, as we pa.s.s through the rooms of Chaumont.
The young Marquis was about to set forth upon his ill-fated journey into the great world, and the members of his family were gathered together for a solemn, farewell meal. De Vigny represents the poor youth neglecting his dinner, and even indifferent to his mother's sorrow over his departure in his desire to meet the beautiful eyes of Marie de Gonzague, who was seated at the other end of the table, from whom he was soon to part forever. It was by a lattice window in the rez-de-chaussee of the western tower that Cinq-Mars found Marie waiting for him, when he retraced his steps and came back at midnight for a last word with her.
We looked in vain for the window by which the lovers swore eternal fidelity to their love and to each other; but the chateau has doubtless undergone some changes since those early days, although it looks so ancient. Lydia and I were wishing for a copy of Cinq-Mars in order to follow the young Marquis through his sad and singular experience at Loudun, his meeting with his old friend De Thou, his brilliant exploit at Perpignan, his rapid preferment at court, and--just here Walter called us from our rapid review of the career of Cinq-Mars to show us a head of Benjamin Franklin in terra cotta. This excellent low relief of Franklin is in a case with a number of other medallions, made by an Italian, Nini, whom the owner of Chaumont brought here in the hope of turning to account some clay found on the estate. This admirable medallion excited the two antiquarians of the party more than anything we have seen here, even more than the weird sky parlor of Ruggieri.
Walter is wondering whether this is not the medallion about which Dr.
Franklin wrote to his daughter soon after his arrival at Pa.s.sy, as the first of its kind made in France. This idea seems more probable, in view of the fact that the same M. Le Ray, who owned Chaumont at that time, was Franklin's host at Pa.s.sy for nine years. All of which, as Walter says, makes it more than likely that the old philosopher came to Chaumont to have his portrait modelled by Nini, especially as his relations with the master of Chaumont were of the most friendly nature.
The old potteries in which the Italian artist worked have long since been turned into stables and a riding school.
Another familiar and even more recent figure a.s.sociated with Chaumont is Madame de Stael, who took refuge here, while reading the proofs of her work upon Germany, Chaumont being the requisite forty leagues from Paris. M. Le Ray and his family, with whom Madame de Stael was upon the most intimate terms, were in America at this time. Here in the old chateau the De Staels lived for some time, the auth.o.r.ess working in peace and quietness upon her great work. When M. Le Ray and his family returned to Chaumont, although hospitably invited to remain at the chateau, Madame de Stael insisted upon removing with her family to a villa in the neighborhood, which was placed at her disposal by M. de Salaberry. At this place, called Fosse, Madame de Stael welcomed Madame Recamier and other friends, and with the charming French trait of making the most of the joys of the hour, she wrote with enthusiasm of the happy days that she pa.s.sed near her friends at Chaumont. Even if the old Vendean soldier, the chatelain of Fosse, took little care of his estate, she said that his constant kindness made everything easy and his original turn of mind made everything amusing. "No sooner had we arrived," wrote Madame de Stael, "than an Italian musician whom I had with me, to give lessons to my daughter, began to play the guitar. My daughter accompanied on the harp the sweet voice of my fair friend, Madame Recamier; the peasants a.s.sembled below the windows astonished to find this colony of troubadours who came to enliven the solitude of their master. It was there that I pa.s.sed my last days in France, with a few friends whose memories are cherished in my heart. Surely this reunion so intimate, this solitary sojourn, this delightful dalliance with the fine arts could hurt no one."
Charming, innocent, pastoral seems this life, as Madame de Stael described it, and yet even such simple pleasures as these she was not allowed to enjoy, for during a brief visit to the home of M. de Montmorency, an attempt was made to seize her ma.n.u.scripts, which her children had fortunately put in a place of safety; her book was suppressed and she was ordered to leave France within three days.
When Madame de Stael asked why she was treated with such harshness by the government and why her book was censured, the answer given under the signature of the ministry plainly stated that the head and front of her offending consisted in her not having mentioned the Emperor in her last work. It is difficult to believe that a man who could do such great things as Napoleon could be so small as to follow this brilliant woman with bitter, relentless hatred, because she failed to burn incense at his shrine.
Although we were not given the freedom of the grounds, we were shown the beautiful court of honor with its one fine tree, a cedar of Lebanon which spreads its branches quite close to the chapel walls. There is an old Italian well in this court, with low reliefs carved upon its sides, and graceful ornaments of wrought iron above the sweep. We pictured to ourselves the Marquis de Cinq Mars and Marie de Gonzague meeting in this court, under the friendly branches of the great cedar, and so with a tender thought for these hapless old-time lovers, we turned away from Chaumont. Still musing and dreaming over its numerous and varied a.s.sociations, we motored along toward Cheverny. This was an afternoon in which to dream,--the air was full of a delicious drowsy autumnal warmth, and a soft haze hung over the Loire and its tributaries. Involuntarily our thoughts turn back to the time when the kings and n.o.bles of France made their stately progress along these same roads, many of them Roman roads, for the great road-builders were all over this country as in England. Upon these highways over which we speed along in an auto, great lumbering stage coaches once made their way, and in the fields, as to-day, were the toilers, the husband and wife, as in the Angelus of Millet. For an instant they would look up from their work to see what all the racket was about, and take a momentary interest in the gilded coaches, the gay outriders, the richly caparisoned horses, and all the pomp and circ.u.mstance of royalty. If near the highway, they would catch a fleeting glimpse of the beautiful face of some royal or n.o.ble dame, and seeing only the rich brocade of her gown, the jewels upon her breast and the gay feathers and flowers in her hat, they would turn back to their toil with a half-formulated wonder why life was a holiday to these favored ones and only bitter toil and hardship to _nous autres_. Thomas Jefferson's proposition, that all men are created free and equal, would have shocked these simple souls as it would their lords and masters, and yet a seed of thought was slumbering in their slow minds, germinating for a future awakening, a small seed that was destined to become a thousand in the sad and terrible reprisals of the French Revolution. To these starved peasants luxury stood for happiness, never themselves knowing the satisfaction of a full comfortable meal, it would have been impossible to make them believe that this outward show and splendor did not mean that these men and women, who rolled along in coaches and fed sumptuously every day, were the supremely blessed of the earth. And yet along these roads pa.s.sed the coaches of the heavy hearted as well as of the gay. By much the same way that we are going journeyed the unhappy Princess Joanne when her husband, Louis XII, was minded to put her away to give place to a more ambitious marriage. Another royal lady to whom a crown brought naught but sorrow and disappointment was the gentle Louise de Vandemont-Lorraine, wife of Henry III, who fared this way to the home of her widowhood at Chenonceaux, and by much the same route pa.s.sed Marie de Medicis when she fled from Blois and found refuge and aid at Loches.
[Ill.u.s.tration: SMITHY NEAR GATE OF CHEVERNY]
As Cheverny and Chaumont are not far apart, we were aroused from our reflections by a sudden stop at a little smithy near the gates of the park. A most charming little smithy is this, with a niched saint on the outside, vines clambering all over the wall, and a picturesque outside staircase with a little balcony above. The blacksmith, himself, as he stood framed in by the doorway, made a picture that we thought well worth taking. Unfortunately the saint in the niche could not come in, as it was some distance from the door, but just at the right moment Lydia, quite unconsciously, stepped before the lens, and near the stone stairway which she had been examining.
"Far better than a saint!" said Archie under his breath, and then aloud, "Keep still, Miss Mott, the blacksmith will stay, I am sure, as he looks as if he had been built into that door."
I think we shall be able to send you a photograph of our little smithy, and perhaps one of the church across the road, which is quaint and interesting, with its timbered verandas (one cannot, by any stretch of courtesy, call them cloisters) and something like a lych-gate at the entrance. Within are some marbles and memorial tablets of the Hurault family. It seems that the Huraults owned the Seignory of Cheverny as long ago as the fourteenth century, "before we Americans were discovered," as Miss Ca.s.sandra says. Early in the sixteenth century, one Raoul Hurault built a chateau here, of which little or nothing is left.
The present chateau was built by a later Hurault, in 1634, and, after pa.s.sing through several hands, it was bought, in 1825, by the Marchioness Hurault de Vibraye, and being thus returned to the family of the original owners, is still in their possession. A wonderful tale was this for American ears!