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Cheverny, with its well wooded park, and its avenue six kilometres in length, is a noble domain; but the outside of the chateau, although its architecture has been highly praised, did not impress us particularly.
This may be because the mansion is situated on a level sweep of lawn, laid out after the English style, instead of crowning a great bluff like Blois, Amboise and Chaumont. The interior of Cheverny leaves nothing to be desired. It is elegant, aristocratic, and yet most delightfully homelike, with its spacious hall, richly decorated royal bedroom, and salon as livable as an English drawing room, with books, magazines and writing materials scattered over the centre table. On the panelled walls are gathered together a goodly and graceful company of noble lords and beautiful ladies, among them a fine full-length portrait of Philippe Hurault, Count de Cheverny, Chancellor of Finance under Henry IV, and opposite him his beautiful and stately wife, Anne de Thou, Dame de Cheverny, in a gown of black velvet garnished with rich lace. This noble lady was related, in some way, to the gallant young De Thou who perished on the scaffold with his friend Cinq Mars. Over the chimney-place is a charming portrait by Mignard of the daughter, or daughter-in-law, of Anne de Thou, Marie Johanne de Saumery, Marquise de Montglat, Countess de Cheverny. The subject of this lovely portrait bears with distinction her long array of cumbersome titles, while the airy grace of the figure and the innocent sweetness of the rounded girlish face are irresistibly attractive. Above the chimney-place, in which this portrait is set in the white wainscot, is the monogram (HV) which one finds all over the chateau, a proof that this ancient family is _legitimiste_ to the core, and devoutly loyal to whatever is left of the ancient line of the Bourbons. In the _salle a manger_, the monogram of the last Henry of this royal house is especially conspicuous. We were puzzling over the name of the pretender of to-day when the guide informed our ignorance, with a most superior manner of knowing it all and wondering that we did not know it also. From what he gave forth in rapid French with many gestures, we gathered that on the death of the Comte de Paris his eldest son, Philippe Robert, Duc d'Orleans, became heir to the house of Bourbon, founded in 886 by Robert le Fort, with the title Philippe VII.
The Duc de Bourdeaux, always known as the Comte de Chambord after he became owner of the chateau of the same name, was heir to the throne, through the elder branch of the house, that is, as the grandson and eldest descendant of Charles X, the last of the elder branch that reigned in France. Some little time before his death, the Comte de Chambord was reconciled to the younger or Orleans branch, which had usurped the throne after the expulsion of Charles X. By this act the Comte de Paris was recognized as the legitimate successor to the throne.
The present Duke of Orleans, should the monarchy be restored, would rule as Philippe VII. The Comte de Chambord took the title Henri V, as the next Henri after the king of Navarre, Henri IV. The Comte de Chambord bequeathed the Chateau of Chambord, which was his personal property, to his kinsman, the Duke de Parme, who was a Bourbon of the Spanish line, being the descendant of the grandson of Louis XIV, who was elected to the Spanish throne in 1700. From the pride with which this information was communicated we realized that this very superior _gardien_ was, like the noble master and mistress of Cheverny, legitimist to the ends of his fingers.
[Illustration: Neurdein Freres, Photo.
ANNE DE THOU, DAME DE CHEVERNY]
While listening to this genealogical disquisition our eyes turned to a most attractive looking tea table which was set forth with superb silver, and thin slices of bread and butter and cake. With appetites sharpened by our long ride through the fresh air, I fear that we all gazed longingly at that tempting regale, and for Miss Cassandra, Lydia and I positively trembled. With her strong feeling that the world was made for herself and those whom she loves, it would not have surprised us to see the good lady sit down at this hospitable looking table and invite the rest of the party to join her. Lydia adroitly led the conversation toward Chambord and the afternoon tea which our chauffeur had promised us there, adding, gracefully, "It is very kind of the Marquise to allow us to go through her beautiful chateau while the family is in residence." "Yes," assented Miss Cassandra, "but how much more hospitable if she would invite us to drink tea with her!" After admiring the beautifully decorated ceiling and the handsome leather hangings, we left the dining room and its temptations for what was a much greater attraction to the men of the party, the fine suits of armor in the Salle des Gardes.
Although Cheverny cherishes its Bourbon traditions, like the proverbially happy nation and happy woman it has no history to speak of, having even escaped the rigors of the French Revolution. In the past, as to-day, this chateau seems to have been a homelike and peaceful abode, its long facade and pavilions having looked down through many centuries upon a smiling garden and a vast lawn, which shut it in from the world beyond even more effectually than its great gates.
From Cheverny our way lay across a stretch of open, level country and then through the forest of Chambord, which includes 11,000 acres of woodland. By the time we reached the chateau, we were, as Miss Cassandra expresses it in classic phrase, "faint yet pursuing" for lack of the refreshment to which we were not made welcome at Cheverny. Our chauffeur, being accustomed to famished pilgrims, conducted us at once to a garden cafe quite near the chateau, from whence we could study its long facade while enjoying our tea and _patisserie_. And what a huge monument is this chateau of Chambord to the effete monarchy of France, built up from the life-blood and toil of thousands! It impressed us as more brutally rich and splendid than any of the palaces that we had seen, rising as it does in its great bulk so unexpectedly from the dead level of the sandy plain, with no especial reason for its existence except the will of a powerful sovereign. It is not strange that the salamander of Francis I appears upon so many of the chateaux of France, for to this art-loving, luxurious, and _debonnaire_ King she owes Chambord, Fontainebleau, St. Germain and the smaller chateaux of Azay-le-Rideau, Anet and Villers-Cotterets. Although Francis I brought from Italy, to beautify his palaces, Leonardo Da Vinci, Primaticcio, Benvenuto Cellini, Florentin Rosso and other foreign artists, it has been decided by those who know more about the matter than we do, that Chambord owes more to its first architect, Maitre Pierre le Nepvue, dit Trinqueau, than to anyone else. It seemed to us that this master hand was happier in the construction of Chenonceaux, Blois and some of the other chateaux of France, than here at Chambord, but this is a matter of individual taste. Vast, palatial, magnificent Chambord certainly is, and much more attractive on the north facade, where the chateau is reflected in the waters of the Cosson, than from the cafe where we were seated.
The long line of buildings in the south front is somewhat monotonous, even broken as it is by the several towers, and the great central lantern, which appears to the best advantage from this side. Rich as is all the ornamentation of Chambord, it is skyward that it breaks forth into the greatest exuberance of Renaissance decoration. We reached the central lantern, with the single fleur-de-lis atop, by one of the remarkable staircases for which the palaces of Francis I are so famous.
This staircase, which is formed by two spirals starting from different points, and winding about the same hollow shaft in the centre, is so constructed that persons can go up and down without meeting. Mr. Henry James considered this double staircase "a truly majestic joke," but in days when courts lived and moved and had their being in intrigues, schemes and plots, it doubtless had its uses.
[Illustration: Neurdein Freres, Photo.
CHaTEAU OF CHAMBORD]
Mademoiselle de Montpensier gives in her diary an amusing account of her first acquaintance with this double stairway. She came, when a child, to Chambord to visit her father, Gaston, Duke of Orleans, who stood at the top of the stairs to receive her, and called to her to come to him. As she flew up one flight her agile parent ran down the other; upon which the little girl gave chase, only to find that when she had gained the bottom he was at the top. "Monsieur," she said, "laughed heartily to see me run so fast in the hope of catching him, and I was glad to see Monsieur so well amused."
Having reached the central lantern we found ourselves upon a flat roof, surrounded by a perfectly bewildering maze of peaks, pinnacles, lanterns, chimneys and spires, which constitute what our guide is pleased to call the _ensemble de la toiture_. This vast terrace, which covers the main building of the palace, is one of the architectural marvels of France. Here it seems as if the architect had allowed himself unlimited freedom in decoration, in which he was aided by such artists as Jean Goujon and Cousin, who zealously worked upon the ornamentation of these bell turrets, balconies and towers, as if to prove the sincerity and beauty of French art. This luxuriant flowing forth, in stone carving, of foliage, flower, boss and emblem, has resulted in an ensemble of indescribable charm, the dazzling light stone of Bourre, of which the chateau is built, lending itself harmoniously to the elaborate Renaissance decoration.
It was of Jean Goujon, whose exquisite work we see now and again in these chateaux, that some writer has said, that the muse of Ronsard whispered in the ear of the French sculptor, and thus Goujon's masterpieces were poems of Ronsard translated in marble. It is a rather pretty fancy, but Lydia and I cannot remember its author. Walter says that he can understand why the Counts of Blois built their castle here, as this place seems to have formed part of a system of fortresses which guarded the Loire, making it possible, in the time of Charles VII, for Joan of Arc to move her army up the river to Orleans; but why Francis should have transformed this old castle into a palace is not so easy to understand. When so many more attractive sites were to be found, it seems strange that he should have chosen this sandy flat upon the border of what was then the sad and barren Solange. One reason given is that the country about Chambord was rich in game, and we know that Francis was an inveterate hunter; another theory is that a charming woman, the Comtesse de Thoury, one of the early loves of the King, had a manor in the neighborhood.
"Both excellent reasons!" exclaimed Archie, "Dame Quickly is evidently an apt student of human nature."
These various surmises and bits of information were poured into our ears by the guide, a plump and merry soul, whom Archie at once dubbed Dame Quickly. As she conducted us from room to room, she turned to me and, with a flash of her black eyes, exclaimed, "If these walls could speak, what tales they could tell!" adding that, for her part, she believed that the King came here for the hunting, the Comtesse de Thoury having been a love of his youth, and, with a knowing shake of her head, "You know, Mesdames, how short is the memory of man for an early love, especially a king's memory, when another is always to be found to take the vacant place." When we explained this philosophic reflection upon their sex to the men of the party, they declared that an unfair advantage was being taken by this facetious dame, simply because they were not able to answer back and vindicate the eternal fidelity of man.
Then, as if divining what was being said, through her quick woman's instinct, she drew us toward a window in the study of Francis I and showed us these lines scratched upon one of the panes:
Souvent femme varie; Mal habile qui s'y fie.
Some discredit is thrown upon the authenticity of these lines, and if Francis wrote them in his old age, his point of view must have greatly changed since his earlier days, when he so gaily and gallantly said that a court without ladies was a year without spring and a spring without roses. Francis spent much of his time in his later years at Chambord, his chief solace being the companionship of his lovely sister, Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, the author of the Heptameron, whose beauty and intellect were the inspiration of many French poets.
One of the pleasing sides of the character of the King was his devoted affection for this sister, with whom he had spent a happy youth at Amboise, and she, loving him beyond any other being, wrote verses to express her grief when they were separated. A varied, many-sided, personality was Francis I, and with all his faults possessed of a charm of his own, and a taste in the fine arts that added much to the beauty of his kingdom. Something of this we said to Dame Quickly, who replied, with another wise shake of her head, "The history of Francis is a wonderful history, Mesdames, made up of many things. There is always state policy, and religion, _et un peu les femmes_," the knowing look and shrug with which this bit of wisdom was communicated is simply untranslatable.
Only a few of the 365 rooms of Chambord are furnished; we were shown the bedroom of the late Comte de Chambord, a ghostly apartment, it seemed to us in the fading daylight, the bed hung with elaborate tapestries, the work of the loyal hands of the ladies of Poitou. Miss Cassandra asked the guide if she would not be afraid to sleep in this dismal chamber.
"No," she answered, "there are no _revenants_ here, the great people who lived here do not walk, they had such an active life with their hunting and fetes that they are content to rest quietly in their beds."
We passed through the council chamber of the chateau, where there are more tapestries, these presented by the loyal inhabitants of Blois and the Limousin districts, and here also is a quite useless throne donated by some devoted legitimists. In the chapel, we were shown some tapestry worked by Madame Royale, during her imprisonment in the Temple, that daughter of Marie Antoinette who alone survived her unfortunate family and as Duchesse d'Angouleme lived to quite an advanced age.
The fast-fading daylight made it impossible to see many of the portraits in the great reception room; among them we noticed two portraits of Anne of Austria, and a Van Loo of the beautiful unloved Queen of Louis XV, Marie Leczinska. In this picture she appears so graceful and charming that one wonders how the King could have been insensible to her attractions; but one need never be surprised at the vagaries of royalty, and it is not to be expected that diplomatic alliances should be happy.
What interested the men of the party especially, was the little light wagon in which, we were told, the owner of Chambord, the Duc de Parme, went a hunting with that good legitimist, the Master of Cheverny.
"I am glad," said Walter, "that the noble Duke has a neighbor of the same stripe to go a hunting with him, the grandeur of this great palace without a friendly neighbor to come in and take a hand at cards or crack a joke with him, would be simply appalling."
"The idea of jokes in this vast mausoleum of departed grandeur!"
exclaimed Miss Cassandra. "It would be like dancing in a cemetery. Do ask that lively black-eyed dame how many there are in family when the owners are at home."
"Monsieur le Duc has twenty-two children," was the reply. "He lives in Italy, but comes here sometimes for the hunting."[B]
"And does he bring his family with him?"
"_Pas tout le monde_ at the same time, Madame, although we have enough rooms for them all."
Laughing over this ready rejoinder, we parted from our merry cicerone with exchanges of compliments and a clink of silver. I am quite sure that Walter and Archie gave her the fee twice over because of her _beaux yeux_ and her merry wit.
It is late, and I am tired after the _grande tournee_, as they call our afternoon trip here, and Walter reminds me
"That the best of all ways To lengthen our days Is _not_ to steal a few hours from the night, my dear."
[B] Since Mrs. Leonard wrote of this conversation at Chambord, the chateau has passed into the possession of Prince Sixtus de Bourbon, son and heir of the late Duke of Parma. The present owner of Chambord in making good his title to the chateau testified that not a penny of its revenue has ever been applied to any other purposes than the restoration and upkeep of the domain.
CHINON AND FONTEVRAULT
LE CHEVAL BLANC, ANGERS, September 12th.
FATE certainly seemed to be against my seeing Chinon to-day, as we awoke this morning to hear the rain pattering against our windows. A rather disconsolate party, we gathered around the table for the breakfast, which we had ordered an hour earlier, in order to make the day as long as possible. Miss Cassandra, who was the only really cheerful member of the party, reminded us of the many days of sunshine that we have had in Touraine, adding with her usual practical optimism, "And thee must remember, my dear, that constant sunshine makes the desert," this to Lydia, but we all took the wise saying to heart and were quite cheerful by the time we had finished our breakfast, perhaps also for the more material reason that Walter, through various gratuities and persuasions, had succeeded in making it of better cheer than the ordinary light _dejeuner_. Another pleasing circumstance was the assurance of the chauffeur, who arrived while we were still in the breakfast room, that the clouds were breaking away and that we should have sunshine by noon.
By the time we had reached Villandry the sun was struggling through the clouds, and as we approached Chinon, its long line of ancient ruins and the little town clustered beneath were bathed in sunshine.
[Illustration: Neurdein Freres, Photo.
RUINS OF CHaTEAU OF COUDRAY AT CHINON]
Although from several points the old chateau on the crest of the hill, dominated by the lofty Tour de l'Horloge, is beautiful and impressive, the best general view of it is from the middle of the lower bridge, from which we could see the three distinct foundations, the Chateau of St.
George at the upper or right side, the bridge which connects it with the Tour de l'Horloge, the Chateau du Milieu, and finally the Chateau de Coudray at the extreme lower or left end of the plateau. The whole is far more ruinous than the other famous castles of Touraine and requires as much imagination to make it whole and habitable as some of the ruins along the Rhine. Of the Chateau of St. George, built by the Plantagenet Kings to protect the one vulnerable point in a position almost impregnable in its day, nothing is left but parts of the lower wall.
So ruinous, indeed, is this chateau, that one is almost ready to accept Pantagruel's derivation of the name of Chinon, or Caino, from Cain, the son of Adam its founder.
We climbed up the hill and rang the bell at the Tour de l'Horloge, which is the only part of the buildings still boasting a roof, and here the concierge and his family tuck themselves away somewhere within its high, narrow walls. The bell that we rang is on the outer side of the tower, and in the course of time a girl, about as big as the old key she carried, unlocked a door in the archway through which we entered. The level spaces inside between the different buildings have been laid out as a sort of promenade which is open to the public on Sundays and holidays. The view up and down the slow, shallow river with its yellow sand-flats, little green islands, and the softly wooded country beyond seemed to us one of the most charming in Touraine. The concierge, who was attempting to act as guide to two separate parties at once, hurried us around in such a bewildering fashion that it would be almost impossible for me to give the exact locations of the different buildings. What we all remember distinctly is the bare, roofless hall, of which only a western gable and a vast chimney-piece remain, in which Joan had her audience with the King. This hall was the throne room, in 1429, when the fearless Maid appeared at Chinon, having journeyed one hundred and fifty leagues through a country occupied, in many places, by English and Burgundian troops, in order to deliver her message to the King. Although the meeting between Charles VII and Joan was by candlelight, even in the garish light of day it seemed strangely real here in this great ruinous hall. Nearly three hundred knights were present, and the King is said to have stood a little apart amidst a group of warriors and courtiers, many of them more richly dressed than himself, with the idea, perhaps, of testing Joan.
There are various accounts of this audience, but the one that we like best because it seems the most probable is that Joan knew the King at once, although she had never seen him, and going straight to him, accosted him humbly and reverently like the poor, little shepherdess that she was.
"Gentle Dauphin," she said to the King (for she did not think it right to call him King so long as he was not crowned), "My name is Joan the maid; the King of Heaven sendeth you word by me that you shall be anointed and crowned in the city of Rheims, and shall be lieutenant of the King of Heaven who is King of France. It is God's pleasure that our enemies, the English, should depart to their own country; if they depart not evil will come to them, and the kingdom is sure to continue yours."
Even after these earnest words from Joan, the King, although impressed, was not convinced, and with some reluctance allowed her to remain at Chinon. We were afterwards shown the lodgings, which this inhospitable royal host gave to the persistent visitor, in a very thick-walled little tower, and according to our guide, Joan could get in or out of her room, on an upper floor, only when her guards put a ladder up to her small window, permanent stairways being considered unsafe for such guests.
The King saw Joan again several times. She did not delude herself as to the doubts he still entertained. "Gentle Dauphin," she said to him one day, "Why do you not believe me? I say unto you that God hath compassion on you, on your kingdom and your people; St. Louis and Charlemagne are kneeling before Him, making prayer for you, and I will say unto you, so please you, a thing which will give you to understand that you ought to believe me." Charles gave her audience on this occasion, in the presence, according to some accounts, of four witnesses, the most trusted of his intimates, who swore to reveal nothing, and, according to others, completely alone. "What she said to him there is none who knows," wrote Alan Chartier a short time after [in July, 1429], "but it is quite certain that he was all radiant with joy thereat, as at a revelation from the Holy Spirit."