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The French gentleman's natural use of Americanisms in speech was as surprising to us as was Lydia's knowledge of French history to him, and the ice being now fairly broken, we chatted away gaily as we passed through the handsome dining room, the ancient _salle des gardes_ of Queen Catherine, where our new _cicerone_ pointed out to us in the painted ceiling her own personal cipher interwoven with an arabesque.
From the great dining room a door, on which are carved the arms of the Bohiers, leads directly, one might say abruptly, into a chapel, "as if,"
said Monsieur Crapaud, "to remind those who sit at meat here that the things of the spirit are near at hand."
The chapel is a little gem, with rich glass dating back to 1521. Another door in the dining room leads to Queen Catherine's superbly decorated salon, and still another to the apartments of Louise de Vaudemont. In these rooms, which she had hung in black, the saintly widow of Henry III spent many years mourning for a husband who had shown himself quite unworthy of her devotion. The more that we saw of this lovely palace, the better we understood Catherine's wrath when she saw the coveted possession thrown into the lap of her rival. She had come here with her father-in-law, Francis, as a bride, and naturally looked upon the chateau as her own.
"But Diane held on to it," said Walter. "We have just been reading that remarkable scene when, after Henry had been mortally wounded in the tournament with Montgomery, Catherine sent messages to her, demanding possession of the castle. You remember that her only reply was, 'Is the King yet dead?' and hearing that he still lived, Diane stoutly refused to surrender her chateau while breath was in his body. We have our Dumas with us, you see."
"Yes, and here, I believe, he was true to history. That was a battle royal of dames, and I, for my part, have always regretted that Diane had to give up her palace. Have you seen Chaumont, which she so unwillingly received in exchange? No! Then you will see something fine in its way, but far less beautiful than Chenonceaux, which for charm of situation stands alone."
And after all, Diane still possesses her chateau; for it is of her that we think as we wander from room to room. In the apartment of Francis I her portrait by Primaticcio looks down from the wall. As in life, Diane's beauty and wit triumphed over her rivals; over the withering hand of age and the schemes of the unscrupulous and astute daughter of the Medici, so in death she still dominates the castle that she loved.
Pray do not think that I am in love with Diane; she was doubtless wicked and vindictive, even if not as black as Dumas paints her; but bad as she may have been, it is a satisfaction to think of her having for years outwitted Catherine, or as Miss Cassandra said, in language more expressive if less elegant than that of Monsieur Crapaud, "It is worth much to know that that terrible woman for once _did_ get her _come uppings_."
If it was of Diane de Poitiers we thought within the walls of the chateau, it was to Mary Stuart that our thoughts turned as we wandered through the lovely forest glades of the park, under the overarching trees through whose branches the sun flashed upon the green turf and varied growth of shrubbery. We could readily fancy the young Queen and her brilliant train riding gaily through these shaded paths, their hawks upon their wrists, these, according to all writers of the time, being the conventional accompaniments of royalty at play.
Ronsard was doubtless with the court at Chenonceaux, as he was often in the train of the young Queen, whom he had instructed in the art of verse making. Like all the other French poets of his time, he laid some of his most charming verses at the feet of Mary Stuart, whose short stay in France he likened to the life of the flowers.
"Les roses et les lis ne regnent qu'un printemps, Ansi vostre beaute seulment apparrue Quinze ou seize ans en France est soudain disparue."
I think Ronsard, as well as Chastelard, accompanied Mary upon her sad return to Scotland after the death of Francis, and how cold and barren that north country must have seemed after the rich fertility and beauty of Touraine! Do you remember our own impressions of Holyrood on a rainy August morning, and the chill gloom of poor Mary's bedroom, and the adjoining dismal little boudoir where she supped with Rizzio,--the room in which he was murdered as he clung to her garments for protection? I thought of it to-day as we stood in the warm sunshine of the court, with the blooming parterres spread before us, realizing, as never before, the sharp contrast between such palaces of pleasure as this and Mary's rude northern castles. An appropriate setting was this chateau for the gay, spirited young creature, who seems to have been a queen every inch from her childhood, with a full appreciation of her own importance. It seems that she mortally offended Catherine, when a mere child, by saying that the Queen belonged to a family of merchants while she herself was the daughter of a long line of kings. In some way, Mary's words were repeated to Catherine, who never forgave the bitter speech, all the more bitter for its truth.
Finding that we had not yet seen the Galerie Louis XIV, which, for some reason, is not generally shown to visitors, our friendly _cicerone_ who, as he expressed it, knows Chenonceaux as he knows the palm of his hand, conducted us again to the chateau. For him all doors were opened, as by magic, and we afterwards learned that he had some acquaintance with Monsieur Terry, the present owner of this fair domain.
Although the Galerie Louis XIV, on the upper floor of the long gallery, is not particularly beautiful or well decorated, it is interesting because here were first presented some of the plays of Jean Jacques Rousseau, _L'Engagement Temeraire_ and _Le Devin du Village_. Such later associations as this under the _regime_ of the _Fermier General_ and Madame Dupin are those of an altogether peaceful and homelike abode. In his _Confessions_ Rousseau says: "We amused ourselves greatly in this fine spot. We made a great deal of music and acted comedies. I wrote a comedy, in fifteen days, entitled _L'Engagement Temeraire_, which will be found amongst my papers; it has not other merit than that of being lively. I composed several other little things: amongst others a poem entitled, _L'Allee de Sylvie_, from the name of an alley in the park upon the banks of the Cher; and this without discontinuing my chemical studies or interrupting what I had to do for Madame D----n." Rousseau was at this time acting as secretary to Madame Dupin and her son-in-law, Monsieur Francueil. Elsewhere he complains that these two _dilettanti_ were so occupied with their own productions that they were disposed to belittle the genius of their brilliant secretary, which, after all, was not unnatural, as the "New Eloisa" and his other famous works had not then been given to the world.
Monsieur Crapaud explained to us that Madame Dupin was not only a beauty and a _precieuse_, but an excellent business woman, so clever, indeed, that she managed to prove, by hook or by crook, that Chenonceaux had never been absolutely crown property and so did not fall under the _coup de decret_. She retained this beautiful chateau during the Revolution, and lived here in heroic possession, during all the upheavals and changes of that tumultuous period.
Thanks to Monsieur Crapaud, we missed no part of the chateau, even to the kitchens, which are spacious and fitted out with an abundant supply of the shining, well-polished coffee pots, pans, and _casseroles_ that always make French cookery appear so dainty and appetizing. He accompanied us, with charming amiability, through this most important department of the chateau, and never once, amid the evidences of luxurious living, did he even look supercilious or, as Lydia expressed it afterwards, "As if he were saying to himself, 'I wonder what these benighted Americans think of French cookery now!'" Not even when Miss Cassandra asked her favorite question in royal palaces, "How many in family?" was there a ghost of a smile upon his face, and yet he must have understood her, as he turned to a guide and asked how many persons constituted the family of Monsieur Terry. This Cuban gentleman who now owns the chateau is certainly to be congratulated upon his excellent taste; the restoration of the building and the laying out of the grounds are all so well done, the whole is so harmonious, instinct with the spirit of the past, and yet so livable that the impression left upon us was that of a happy home. In the past, Chenonceaux witnessed no such horrors as are associated with Amboise and so many of the beautiful castles of Touraine. Small wonder that Henry II wrote of this fair palace, as we read in a little book lying on one of the tables: "Le Chasteau de Chenonceau est assis en un des meillures, et plus beaulx pays de nostre royaume."
"I must confess that I feel sorry for poor Diana," said Miss Cassandra, as we lingered among the flowers and shrubbery of the lovely gardens.
"What became of her after Catherine turned her out of her chateau?"
"You remember, Madame, that Chaumont was given her in exchange, although Catherine gave her to understand that she considered the smaller chateau of Anet a more suitable place for her to retire to, her sun having set.
For this reason, or because she preferred Anet, Madame Diane retired to this chateau, which she had beautified in her early years, and in whose grounds Jean Goujon had placed a charming figure of herself as Diane Chaseresse. This marble, destroyed during the Revolution, has been carefully restored, and so Diane now reigns in beauty at the Louvre, where this statue has found a place."
Monsieur Crapaud, whose name, it transpires, is La Tour, an appropriate one and one easily remembered in this part of the world, returned to Tours in the same train with us, and to our surprise we found that he also was stopping at the Pension B----. The manner in which he said "My family always stop at the Pension B----" seemed to confer an enviable distinction upon the little hostel, and in a way to dim the ancient glories of the Hotel de l'Univers.
A FAIR PRISON
PENSION B----, TOURS, Wednesday, September 7th.
WALTER has been triumphing over me because, even after his unseemly behavior yesterday, M. La Tour has formed a sudden attachment for him which is so strong that he insisted upon staying over to go with us to Loches this afternoon. He says that we may miss some of the most interesting points there if left to the tender mercies of the guides, who often dwell upon the least important things. Our new acquaintance proved to be so altogether delightful as a _cicerone_, when he conducted us through the old streets of Tours this morning, that we are looking forward with pleasure to an afternoon in his good company.
The old part of the town, M. La Tour tells us, was once a quite distinct ecclesiastical foundation, called Chateauneuf, of which every building, in a way, depended upon the Basilica of St. Martin. When the dreadful Fulk, the Black, set fire to it, in the tenth century, twenty-two churches and chapels are said to have been destroyed. Among those that have been restored are Notre Dame la Riche, once Notre Dame la Pauvre, and St. Saturnin, which formerly contained, among other handsome tombs, that of Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briconnet, the couple who did so much for Chenonceaux. This ancient Chateauneuf, like the court end of so many old cities, has narrow, winding streets overtopped by high buildings. These twisting streets are so infinitely picturesque with their sudden turns and elbows that we are quite ready to overlook their inconvenience for the uses of our day, and trust that no modern vandalism, under the name of progress, may change and despoil these byways of their ancient charm. Wandering through the narrow, quaint streets of the old city, with their steep gabled and timbered houses, through whose grilled or half-opened gates we catch glimpses of tiled courtyards and irregular bits of stone carving, over which flowers throw a veil of rich bloom, we feel that we are living in an old world. Yet M.
La Tour reminds us that beneath our feet lies a still older world, for as we follow what is evidently a wall of defence we come upon the remains of an ancient gateway and suddenly realize that beneath this Martinopolis, Chateauneuf and Tours of the fifth century, lie the temples, amphitheatres, and baths of the more ancient Urbs Turonum of the Romans.
In the midst of our excursion into the past, Miss Cassandra suddenly brought us back to the present by exclaiming that she would like to go to some place where the Romans had never been. She has had quite enough of them in their own city and country, and now being in Touraine she says that she prefers to live among the French.
M. La Tour laughed heartily, as he does at everything our Quaker lady says, and answered, with French literalness, that it would be hard to find any land in the known world that the Romans had not occupied, "Except your own America, Madame." Then, as if to humor her fancy, he conducted us by way of little streets with charming names of flowers, angels, and the like, to the Place du Grand Marche, where he showed Miss Cassandra something quite French, the beautiful Renaissance fountain presented to Tours by the unfortunate Jacques de Beaune, Baron de Semblancay. This fountain was made from the designs of Michel Colombe by his nephew, Bastian Francois. It was broken in pieces and thrown aside when the Rue Royale was created, but was later put together by one of the good mayors of Tours and now stands on the Place du Grand Marche, a lasting monument to the Baron de Semblancay, treasurer under Francis I, who was accused of malversation, hanged at Montfaucon and his estates, Azay-le-Rideau with the rest, confiscated by the crown. M. La Tour considers the treatment of the Baron de Semblancay quite unjust, and says that he was only found to have been guilty of corruption when he failed to supply the enormous sums of money required by Francis I and his mother, who, like the proverbial horseleach's daughters, cried ever "Give! give!" It seems one of the reprisals of time that the name of the donor should still be preserved upon this beautiful Fountain de Beaune of Tours, as well as upon the old treasurer's house in the Rue St.
Francois, a fine Renaissance building.
[Illustration: Neurdein Freres, Photo.
HOUSE OF TRISTAN L'HERMITE]
From the Rue du Grand Marche we turned into the Rue du Commerce, where on the Place de Beaune is the Hotel de la Crouzille, once the Hotel de la Valliere, with its double gables and the graceful, shell-like ornamentation which the restaurateur who occupies the house has wisely allowed to remain above his commonplace sign of to-day. In the same street is the famous Hotel Gouin, now a bank. This house, which dates back to the fifteenth century, has been carefully restored, and its whole stone facade, covered with charming arabesques, is a fine example of early French Renaissance style.
In the ancient Rue Briconnet, quite near,--indeed nothing is very far away in this old town,--is the house attributed to Tristan l'Hermite, who held the unenviable position of hangman-in-chief to His Majesty, King Louis. There is no foundation for this tradition, which probably owes its origin to a knotted rope and some hooks on the wall, which are sufficiently suggestive of hanging. This sculptured cord, or rope, not unlike the emblem of Anne of Brittany, may have been placed here in her honor, or in that of one of her ladies in waiting, as she frequently urged her attendants to adopt her device of the knotted rope, whose derivation has never been quite understood.
"However," as Miss Cassandra says, "we are not here in search of associations of the head executioner of Louis or of those of his royal master," and so we were free to enjoy the beauty of this fourteenth century house, which is quite picturesque enough to do without associations of any kind, with its substantial walls in which brick and stone are so happily combined, its graceful arcades, lovely spiral pilasters and richly carved Renaissance doorways. We noticed the words _Priez Dieu Pur_ carved over a window in the courtyard which, M. La Tour says, is thought to be an anagram upon the name of Pierre de Puy, who owned the house in 1495. In the wide paved courtyard is an ancient stone well, near which is a spiral stairway leading to a loggia, from which we had a fine view of the picturesque gables and roofs of the old town, and beyond of the broad river shimmering in the sun, and still farther away of a line of low hills crowned with white villas.
Noticing the Tour de Guise as it stood out against the blue sky, M. La Tour told us an interesting tale about this tower, which is about all that is left of the royal palace built here or added to by Henry II, who was also hereditary Count of Anjou, and did much building and road making in the Touraine of his day.
The young Prince de Joinville, son of the Duke de Guise, who for some reason was imprisoned here after the murder of his father at Blois, was permitted to attend mass on Assumption Day, 1591. Tasting the sweets of freedom in this brief hour of respite, the Prince took his courage in his two hands and suddenly decided to make a bold dash for liberty.
Laying a wager with his guards that he could run upstairs again faster than they, he reached his room first, bolted the door and seizing a cord, or rope, which had been brought to him by his laundress, he made it fast to the window, slipped out and dropped fifteen feet. With shots whistling all about him he flew around the tower to the Faubourg de la Riche, where he leaped upon the back of the first horse that he saw; the saddle turned and threw him and a soldier came up suddenly and accosted him. Fortunately, the soldier proved, by some happy chance, to be a Leaguer, who gave him a fresh mount, and soon the Prince had put many miles between himself and his pursuers. Ever since, the tower has borne the name of the young De Guise who so cleverly escaped from it.
We experienced what our Puritan ancestors would have called a "fearful joy" during our afternoon at Loches, for anything more horrible than the dungeons above ground and under it would be difficult to imagine. I shall spare you a full description of them, as I refused to descend into the darkest depths to see the worst of them, and Walter is probably writing Allen a full-length account of them,--iron cages, hooks, rings, and all the other contrivances of cruelty. Loches, however, is not all cells and dungeons, as the chateau is beautifully situated upon a headland above the Indre, and the gray castle rising above the terraces, with its many towers, tourelles, and charming pointed windows, presents a picturesque as well as a formidable appearance. Our way lay by winding roads and between high walls. We thought ourselves fortunate to make this steep circuitous ascent in a coach; but once within the _enceinte_ of the castle we were on a level and felt as if we were walking through the streets of a little village. Many small white houses, with pretty gardens of blooming plants, lie below the fortress on one side, in sharp contrast to the frowning dungeons of Fulk Nerra and Louis XI which overshadow them.
The great square mass of Fulk Nerra's keep stood out dark against the blue of the sky to-day; this with the Tour Neuf and the Tour Ronde are said to be the "most beautiful of all the dungeons of France," as if a dungeon could ever be beautiful! And it was Louis XI, that expert and past master in cruelty, who is said to have "perfected these prisons,"
which only needed the iron cage, designed to suit the King's good pleasure, to complete their horror.
The invention of the iron cage has been accredited to Jean la Balue, Bishop of Angers, and also to the Bishop of Verdun. Perhaps both of these devout churchmen had a hand in the work, as fate, with a dash of irony, and the fine impartiality of the mother who whipped both of her boys because she could not find out which one had eaten the plums, clapped them both into iron cages. Louis XI was in these instances the willing agent of avenging fate. Cardinal la Balue survived the sorrows of his iron cage for eleven years, "much longer than might have been expected," as Mr. Henry James says, "from this extraordinary mixture of seclusion and exposure."
The historian, Philip de Commines, described these cages as "Rigorous prisons plated with iron both within and without with horrible iron works, eight foote square and one foote more than a man's height. He that first devised them was the Bishop of Verdun, who forthwith was himself put into the first that was made, where he remained fourteen years."
Louis was so enchanted with this fiendish device that he longed to put all his state prisoners into iron cages. We are glad to know that when he recommended this treatment to the Admiral of France for one of his captives of high degree, the jailer replied, with a spirit and independence to which the tyrant was little wont, "That if that was the King's idea of how a prisoner should be kept he might take charge of this one himself."
"De Commines knew all about the horrors of the iron cage," said M. La Tour, "for he was himself imprisoned in one of them by the Lady of Beaujeu, who was Regent of France after the death of her father, Louis XI. De Commines joined the Duke of Orleans in a conspiracy against the government of the Regent, which was discovered. He was seized and also the Duke, afterwards Louis XII. Louis himself was imprisoned by his cousin of Beaujeu and was set free by her brother Charles."
The guide pointed out the iron cage in which Philip de Commines was confined, which was horrible enough to answer to his description. Some of the lines inscribed on the walls of the round tower were doubtless composed by De Commines, among these a wise saying in Latin which Walter deciphered with difficulty and thus freely translated:
"I have regretted that I have spoken; but never that I remained silent."
A most ironical invitation, we read in the corridor leading to the tower: "Entres, Messieurs, ches le Roy Nostre Mestre."
One poor captive, who showed a cheerful desire to make the best of his lot, inscribed upon the wall of his cell these lines, which Lydia copied for you:
Malgre les ennuis d'une longue souffrance, Et le cruel destin dont je subis la loy, Il est encor des biens pour moy, Le tendre amour et la douce esperance.
In the Martelet where we went down many steps, we saw the room in which Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, was imprisoned by Louis XII for eight years, and the little sundial that he made on the only spot on the wall that the sun could strike. He also whiled away the weary hours of captivity by painting frescoes on the walls, which are still to be seen.
By such devices Ludovico probably saved his reason, but his health broke down and when relief came he seems to have died of joy, or from the sudden shock of coming out into the world again. A sad end was this to a life that had begun in happiness and prosperity and that was crowned by a felicitous marriage with beautiful Beatrice d'Este.