In Chateau Land Part 9

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Ramsey two other translations, asking her which she thought M. La Tour had written:

Despite these dragging hours wherein I prove The painful weight of destiny's decree, Yet fare I well, for none can take from me The gifts of gentle hope and tender love.

Despite the dreariness of durance long and sore, Where fate's relentless hand still holds me fast, My dungeon I have made my treasure-house; its store Is love, and hope for freedom at the last.



TOURS, THURSDAY, September 8th.

WE HAVE been having what they call "golden weather" here; but to-day the skies are overcast, which does not please us, although this cloudy weather may still be golden to the wise Tourangeau, who, as George Sand said, "knows the exact value of sun or rain at the right moment."

This most unpromising day is our one opportunity to see Chinon, and as luck will have it Miss Ca.s.sandra is laid up in lavender, with a crick in her back, the result, she says, of her imprisonment at Loches yesterday, and what would have become of her, she adds, if she had sojourned there eight or nine long years like poor Ludovico? The threatening skies and Miss Ca.s.sandra's indisposition would be quite enough to keep us at home, or to tempt us to make some short excursion in the neighborhood of Tours, were we not lured on by that _ignis fatuus_ of the traveler, the unexplored worlds which lie beyond. There will be so much to be seen in and near Blois, and in order to have time for the chateau, and to make the excursions to Chambord and the other castles, we must be at Blois to-morrow evening. So this is the only day for Chinon, which Walter wishes so much to see while M. La Tour is with us.

Although, like Mr. Henry James, I may be obliged to write you that I have not seen Chinon at all, I decided to stay at home to-day with Miss Ca.s.sandra and sent the men off to Chinon, Lydia with them. Miss Ca.s.sandra expostulated and so did Walter and Lydia; but I held my position with great firmness, and I observed that the trio set forth without me in gay good spirits. Of course my good man will miss me, especially when he comes across the interesting Joan of Arc landmarks; but he is in excellent company with M. La Tour, and I have gained a day of repose which one needs when the a.s.sociations are as interesting and thrilling as they are here in Touraine. Miss Ca.s.sandra slept so sweetly all morning that I had another long ramble in and out of the quaint streets of the ancient Chateauneuf, which is what you and I love best to do in old cities whose very stones, like those of Venice, are written over with legend and story. The sun came out at noon, and I was fortunate in getting enough light on the house of Tristan l'Hermite to take a photograph from the court, which will give you some idea of this interesting old building. So you see my day at home has had its compensations, a crowning one being a letter from Archie, who is in Paris, saying that he would join us at Blois to-morrow. This news proved so stimulating to Miss Ca.s.sandra that she was able to get up and come downstairs in time to greet the travelers on their return from Chinon.

They were most enthusiastic over their morning among the ruins, and full of the lore of the old stronghold where the Maid of Orleans first met the King, Lydia quoting:

"Pet.i.te ville grand renom a.s.sise sur pierre ancienne Au haut le bois, au pied la Vienne,"

until I stopped their rhapsodies over the ancient by giving them my bit of up-to-date information that Archie was _en route_ for Blois. Walter uttered such a shout of joy as this old hostel has not heard since the victories of the first Napoleon were celebrated here. I tried to see Lydia's face, but she turned away at the critical moment to speak to Miss Ca.s.sandra, and so I lost my chance of seeing whether she was surprised and excited over my news. When she turned to me later and said, "How glad I am for you, Zelphine, and what a pleasant addition Dr.

Vernon will make to the party," her face wore its wonted expression of sweet composure.

Walter says, "You really must see Chinon, Zelphine; we can make a separate trip there with Archie. It is much farther from Blois than from Tours, but by taking a motor car we can go to Angers at the same time."

Mr. La Tour (you notice that I take Walter's privilege in writing of him) says that we really should pay our respects to Angers, the cradle of our Angevin kings. He quite resents Mr. Henry James having written down this old town in his notebook as a "sell," and says that although Angers has become a flourishing, modern city, there is much of the old town left and the chateau is well worth seeing.

Like John Evelyn, we have found the sojournment so agreeable here that we could stay on and on for weeks, spending our days in visiting one interesting chateau after another. We want so much to see Villandry and Usse, and we would love to have a day at Mme. de Sevigne's, Les Rochers, or better still at Chantilly, where poor Vatel, the cook, through the letters of _la belle Marquise_ and the failure of the fish supply, took his place one summer day among the immortals. Lydia reminds me that the Chateau of Chantilly is too far north to be easily reached from here, but La Chatre is not far away, and a day and night among the haunts of George Sand would be a rare pleasure, especially if we could drive to Nohant along the road once travelled by such guests of the novelist as Theophile Gautier, Dumas, Alfred de Musset, and Balzac. The latter found her living, as he says, after his own plan "turned topsy-turvy; that is to say, she goes to bed at six in the morning and rises at midday, whilst I retire at six in the evening and rise at midnight."

Miss Ca.s.sandra, who in whatever portion of the globe she may be travelling is sure to meet people with whom she has a link of acquaintance or a.s.sociation, has discovered in the course of a long talk with M. La Tour, this evening, that she knows some of his American relatives. Indeed his Browns (how much more distinguished Le Brun would sound!) are connected in some way with her family, and she and M. La Tour are delighted to claim cousinship through these New York Browns. I am sure that to establish the exact degree of relationship would defy the skill of the most expert genealogist; but they are quite satisfied with even a remote degree of kinship, especially as this discovery brings Lydia, in a way, into the La Tour connection.

M. La Tour, who talks of visiting his American relatives next winter, is evidently preparing himself in more ways than one for his projected trip. Although his English is faultless, he seems to think it important to be familiar with a certain amount of American slang. Yesterday he turned to me, with a quite helpless expression upon his handsome face, exclaiming, "This word 'crazy' that the Americans use so much--I am crazy about this and crazy about that,--now what does that mean, Madame?--_fou de ceci, fou de cela? Vraiment il me semble qu'ils sont tous un peu fou!_"

It is needless to say that I quite agreed with M. La Tour, and after I had given him the best explanation in my power, he laughed and said: "It appears that what you call Quakers do not use this extreme language so much. Miss Mott, for example, never uses such expressions." Yesterday, when a party of our compatriots were drinking tea at a table near us, he was again much puzzled. "These young people all say that they are 'pa.s.sing away' on account of the heat of the sun, from fatigue, for various reasons. Now what is it to pa.s.s away, is it not to die, to vanish from the earth?"

The seriousness of his manner, as he gave us this literal and somewhat poetical translation of the popular slang of the day, so amused Walter that I had to send him off to make some inquiries about the route in order to prevent an outburst of laughter which our French friend, who is endowed with little sense of humor, could never have understood. Dear Miss Ca.s.sandra, who enjoyed the humor of the situation quite as much as any of us, but possesses the rare gift of laughing inwardly (the Friends do so many things inwardly while presenting a serene face to the world), exclaimed: "One of the foolish exaggerations of our modern speech! You will probably notice that the young people who are always pa.s.sing away are usually uncommonly healthy and strong and blessed with vigorous appet.i.tes. For my part, I consider it tempting Providence to be always talking about pa.s.sing away; but of course," her pride coming to the fore, "the best people among us do not use such expressions."

HoTEL DE FRANCE, BLOIS, September 9th.

As Blois is only about an hour from Tours, we reached here some time before Archie appeared, and thus had time to feel quite at home in this pleasant little hotel, and to kill the fatted calf in honor of his arrival. This latter ceremony was exceedingly simple, consisting, as it did, in supplementing the fairly good _table d'hote_ luncheon with a basket of the most beautiful and delicious fruit. Such blushing velvet skinned peaches as these of the Blesois we have not seen, even in Tours, and the green plums of Queen Claude are equally delectable if not as decorative as the peaches. These, with great cl.u.s.ters of grapes, and a bottle of the white wine of Voudray, which Walter added to the menu, made a feast for the G.o.ds to which Archie did ample justice. He looks handsomer than ever, and as brown as a Spaniard after the sea voyage. I am glad that we are by ourselves, agreeable as M. La Tour is, for as you know, Archie does not care much for strangers and our little family party is so pleasant. Archie's idea of enjoying a holiday is to motor from morning until night. We humored his fancy this afternoon and had a long motor tour, going through Montbazon and Couzieres, which we had not yet seen, although we were quite near both places at Loches. Our chauffeur, knowing by instinct that Lydia and I were of inquiring minds, told us that Queen Marie de Medicis came from Montbazon to Couzieres after her escape from Blois, and that here she and her son Louis were reconciled in the presence of a number of courtiers. This royal peacemaking we have always thought one of the most amusing of Rubens's great canvases at the Louvre, as he very cleverly gives the impression that neither the Queen nor her son is taking the matter seriously.

You will scarcely believe me, I fear, when I tell you that we only stopped at one chateau this afternoon. This was Archie's afternoon, you know, but the Chateau of Beauregard is so near that we simply could not pa.s.s it by, and the drive through the forest of Russy in which it stands was delightful. The chateau was closed to visitors, for which Archie said he was thankful, which rather shocked Lydia, who is as conscientious in her sightseeing as about everything else that she does.

It was a disappointment to her and to me, as there is a wonderful collection of pictures there, an unbroken series, they tell us, including the great folk of fifteen reigns. Suddenly realizing our disappointment, Archie became quite contrite and did everything in his power to gain a sight of the treasures for us, but to no purpose, as the concierge was absolutely firm, even with the lure of silver before his eyes, and when he told us that the family was in residence we knew that it was quite hopeless to expect to enter. The d.u.c.h.esse de Dino, whose interesting memoirs have been published lately, was the chatelaine of Beauregard in the early years of the last century.

We had a delightful afternoon, despite our disappointment about the chateau, and in the course of this ride Archie, who can understand almost no French, extracted more information from the chauffeur with regard to the soil, products, crops, and characteristics of Touraine than the rest of the party have learned in the ten days that we have spent here. These investigations were, of course, conducted by the aid of such willing interpreters as Lydia and myself.

"M. La Tour could tell you all about these things," said Lydia.

"And pray who is this M. La Tour that you are all quoting? Some Johnny c.r.a.paud whom Zelphine has picked up, I suppose. She always had a fancy for foreigners."

"He is a very delightful person, and if you wait long enough you will see him," said Miss Ca.s.sandra, "as he has taken a great fancy to Walter."

"To Walter!" exclaimed Archie, and seeing the amused twinkle in Miss Ca.s.sandra's eyes he suddenly became quite silent and took no further interest in the scenery or in the products of Touraine, until Lydia directed his attention to the curious caves in the low hills that look like chalk cliffs. This white, chalky soil, M. La Tour had explained to us, is hard, much like the tufa used so much for building in Italy. We thought that these caves were only used for storing wine, but our chauffeur told us that most of those which are provided with a door and a window are used as dwelling houses, and they were, he a.s.sured us, quite comfortable. These underground dwellings, burrowed out like rabbits' warrens, with earth floors, no ventilation except a chimney cut in the tufa roof to let the smoke out, and only the one window and door in the front to admit light and air, seem utterly cheerless and uncomfortable, despite our chauffeur's a.s.surances that they have many advantages. From the eloquence with which he expatiated upon the even temperature of these caves, which he told us were warm in winter and cool in summer, we conclude that he has lived in one of them, and are thankful that he could not understand our invidious remarks about them, for as Archie remarks, even a troglodyte may have some pride about his home.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Neurdein Freres, Photo.


HoTEL DE FRANCE, September 10th.

It is so delightful to be lodged so near the beautiful Chateau of Blois that we can see the facade of Francis I by sunlight, twilight, and moonlight. Built upon ma.s.sive supporting walls, it dominates a natural terrace, which rises above the valley of the Loire and the ravine of the Arroux. No more fitting site could be found for the chateau than the quadrilateral formed by these two streams. The wing of Francis I, with its n.o.ble columns, Italian loggie, bal.u.s.trades, attics, picturesque chimneys, grotesque gargoyles and other rich and varied decorations, displays all the architectural luxury of the Renaissance of which it was in a sense the final expression. It was while gazing upon this marvelous facade that Mr. Henry James longed for such brilliant pictures as the figures of Francis I, Diane de Poitiers, or even of Henry III, to fill the empty frames made by the deep recesses of the beautifully proportioned windows. We would cheerfully omit the weak and effeminate Henry from the novelist's group, but we would be tempted to add thereto such interesting contemporary figures as the King of Navarre and his heroic mother, Jeanne d'Albret, or his beautiful, faithless wife, La Reine Margot, the Pasithee of Ronsard's verse, who, with her brilliant eyes and flashing wit, is said to have surpa.s.sed in charm all the members of her mother's famous "_escadron volant_." And, as Miss Ca.s.sandra suggests, it would be amusing to see the portly widow of Henry IV descending from one of the windows, as she is said to have done, by a rope ladder and all the paraphernalia of a romantic elopement, although, as it happened, she was only escaping from a prison that her son had thought quite secure. The poor Queen had great difficulty in getting through the window, but finally succeeded and reached the ditch of the castle; friends were waiting near by to receive her with a coach which bore her away to freedom at Loches or Amboise, I forget which. This window from which Marie de Medicis is said to have escaped is in one of the apartments of Catherine. The guide, a very talkative little woman, told us that there is good reason to believe that the stout Queen never performed this feat of high and lofty tumbling; but that she made her escape from a window in the south side, and with comparative ease, as in her day there were no high parapets such as those that now surround the chateau on three sides. Our cicerone seemed, however, to have no doubts about the unpleasing a.s.sociations with Catherine de Medicis, and took great pleasure in showing us her _cabinet de travail_, with the small secret closets in the carved panels of the wall in which she is said to have kept her poisons. These rooms are richly decorated, the gilt insignia upon a ground of brown and green being a part of the original frescoes. The oratory, of which Catherine certainly stood in need, is especially handsome and elaborate.

Even more thrilling than the poison closets are the secret staircase and the _oubliette_ near by, into which last were thrown, as our guide navely explained, "_tous ceux qui la genait_." Cardinal Lorraine is said to have gone by this grewsome, subterranean pa.s.sage. Not having had enough of horrors in the rooms of the dreadful Catherine, we were ushered, by our voluble guide, into those of her son, Henry III. In order to make the terrible story of the murder of the Duke of Guise quite realistic, we were first taken to the great council chamber, before one of whose beautiful chimney places Le Balfre stood warming himself, for the night was cold, eating plums and jesting with his courtiers, when he was summoned to attend the King. Henry, with his cut-throats at hand, was awaiting his cousin in his _cabinet de travail_, at the end of his apartments. As the Duke entered the King's chamber he was struck down by one and then by another of the concealed a.s.sa.s.sins. Henry, miserable creature that he was, came out into his bedroom where the Duke lay, and spurning with his foot the dead or dying man, exclaimed over his great size, as if he had been some huge animal lying p.r.o.ne before him.

"It seems as if the victims of Amboise were in a measure avenged; the Dukes of Guise, father and son, met with the same sad fate, and at the time of the a.s.sa.s.sination of Le Balfre Queen Catherine lay dying in the room below." This from Lydia, in a voice so impressive and tragic that Archie turned suddenly, and looking first at her and then at me, said: "Well, you women are quite beyond me! You are both overflowing with the milk of human kindness, you would walk a mile any day of the year to help some poor creature out of a hole, and yet you stand here and gloat over a murder as horrible as that of the Duke of Guise."

"We are not gloating over it," said Lydia, "and if you had been at Amboise and had seen, as we did, the place where the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal, his brother, had hundreds of Huguenots deliberately murdered, you would have small pity for any of his name, except for the d.u.c.h.ess of Guise, who protested against the slaughter of the Huguenots and said that misfortune would surely follow those who had planned it, which prediction you see was fulfilled by the a.s.sa.s.sination of her husband and her son."

"That may be all quite true, as you say, dear Miss Mott; but I didn't come here to be feasted on horrors. I can get quite enough of them in the newspapers at home, and it isn't good for you and Zelphine either.

You both look quite pale; let us leave these rooms that reek with blood and crime and find something more cheerful to occupy us."

The first more cheerful object which we were called upon to admire was the handsome _salle d'honneur_, with its rich wall decorations copied after old tapestries; but just a trifle too bright in color to harmonize with the rest of the old castle. In this room is an elaborately decorated mantel, called _la cheminee aux anges_, which bears the initials L and A on each side of the _porc-epic_, bristling emblem of the twelfth Louis, who was himself less bristling and more humane than most of his royal brothers. Above the mantel shelf two lovely angels bear aloft the crown of France, which surmounts the shield emblazoned with the _fleur-de-lis_ of Louis and the ermine tails of Anne, the whole mantel commemorative of that most important alliance between France and Bretagne, of which we have heard so much. The guide repeated the story of the marriage, Lydia translating her rapid French for Archie's benefit.

Observing our apparent interest in Queen Anne, our guide led us out into the grounds and showed us her pavilion and the little terrace called _La Perche aux Bretons_, where the Queen's Breton guards stood while she was at ma.s.s. She is said to have always noticed them on her return from the chapel, when she was wont to say, "See my Bretons, there on the terrace, who are waiting for me." Always more Breton at heart than French, Anne loved everything connected with her native land. This trait the guide, being a French woman, evidently resented and said she had little love for Anne. When we translated her remarks to Miss Ca.s.sandra she stoutly defended the Queen, saying that it was natural to love your own country best, adding that for her part she was "glad that Anne had a will of her own, so few women had in those days; and notwithstanding the meek expression of her little dough face in her portraits, she seemed to have been a match for lovers and husbands, and this at a time when lovers were quite as difficult to deal with as husbands."

Walter, who says that he has heard more than enough of Anne and her virtues, insists that she set a very bad example to French wives of that time, as she gave no end of trouble to her husband, the good King Louis.

"Good King Louis, indeed!" exclaimed Miss Ca.s.sandra. "He may have remitted the taxes, as Mr. La Tour says; but he did a very wicked thing when he imprisoned the Duke of Milan at Loches. He and Anne were both spending Christmas there at the time, and we are not even told that the King sent his royal prisoner a plum pudding for his Christmas dinner."

"It would probably have killed him if he had," said Archie; "plum pudding without exercise is a rather dangerous experiment. Don't you think so yourself, Miss Ca.s.sandra?"

"He might have liked the attention, anyhow," persisted the valiant lady, "but Louis seems to have had an inveterate dislike for the Duke of Milan, and Mr. La Tour says that one of his small revenges was to call the unfortunate Duke 'Monsieur Ludovico,' which was certainly not a handsome way to treat a royal prisoner."

"No, certainly not," Walter admitted, adding, "but from what we have seen of the prisons of France, handsome treatment does not seem to have been a marked feature of prison life at that time; and Anne herself was not particularly gentle in her dealings with her captives."

Probably with a view to putting an end to this discussion, which was unprofitable to her, as she could not understand a word of it, the guide led us back to the chateau and showed us the room in which Queen Anne died. Whatever may have been her faults and irregularities of temper, Anne seems to have had a strong sense of duty and was the first Queen of France who invited to her court a group of young girls of n.o.ble family, whom she educated and treated like her own daughters. She even arranged the marriages of these girls entirely to suit herself, of course, and without the slightest regard to their individual preferences, which was more than she was able to do in the case of the young princesses, her children. She lived and died adored by her husband, who gave her a funeral of unprecedented magnificence, and although Louis soon married again, for reasons of state, he never ceased to mourn his _Bretonne_ whom he had loved, honored, and in many instances obeyed.

Anne's insignia of the twisted rope and the ermine tails are to be found in nearly every room in the chateau, and here also is the emblem of her daughter, a cygnet pierced by an arrow, which seems symbolic of the life of the gentle Claude of France, whose heart must often have been wounded by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as she was made to feel keenly, from her wedding day, that the King, her husband, had no love for her.

Matrimonial infelicities are so thickly dotted over the pages of French history that it is impossible to pause in our excursions through these palaces to weep over the sorrows of n.o.ble ladies. Indeed, for a French king to have had any affection for his lawful wife seems to have been so exceptional that it was much more commented upon than the unhappiness of royal marriages. These reflections are Miss Ca.s.sandra's, not mine; and she added, "I am sorry, though, that Anne's daughter was not happy in her marriage," in very much the same tone that she would have commented upon the marriage of a neighbor's daughter. "I hope the beautiful garden that we have been hearing about was a comfort to her, and there must be some satisfaction, after all, in being a queen and living in a palace as handsome as this." With this extremely worldly remark on the part of our Quaker lady, we pa.s.sed into the picture gallery of the chateau, where we saw a number of interesting portraits, among them those of Louis XIII and of his son Louis XIV, in their childhood, quaint little figures with rich gowns reaching to their feet, and with sweet, baby faces of indescribable charm. Here also is a superb portrait of Gaston, the brother of Louis XIII, and a portrait bust of Madame de Sevigne, whose charming face seems to belong to Blois, although she has said little about this chateau in her letters. Here also are portraits of Madame de Pompadour, Vigee Lebrun, as beautiful as any of the court beauties whom she painted, and a charming head of Mademoiselle de Blois, the daughter of Louise de La Valliere, whom Madame de Sevigne called "the good little princess who is so tender and so pretty that one could eat her." This was at the time of her marriage, which Louis XIV arranged with the Prince de Conti, having always some conscience with regard to his numerous and somewhat heterogeneous progeny.

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In Chateau Land Part 9 summary

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