In Chateau Land - lightnovelgate.com
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"And why did Louis, the Father of his people, the good King Louis, imprison Ludovico all those years?" asked Miss Cassandra.
"King Louis, although the best and wisest King that France had known for many a day, was but mortal," said M. La Tour, twisting his moustache as if somewhat puzzled by our Quaker lady's direct question, "and having a sound claim to the Duchy of Milan, through his grandmother Valentine Visconti, he proceeded to make it good."
"By ousting Ludovico, and his lovely wife, Beatrice, who was really far too good for him; but then most of the women were too good for their husbands in those days," said Miss Cassandra.
"Fortunately," said M. La Tour, "the Duchess of Milan had died two years before Ludovico's capture and so was spared the misery of knowing that her husband was a prisoner in France."
We were glad to emerge from the dismal dungeons into the light and air by stepping out upon a terrace, from which we had a fine view of the chateau and the Collegiate Church of St. Ours adjoining it.
The Chateau of Loches, once a fortress guarding the Roman highway, later belonged to the house of Anjou and was for some years handed about by French and English owners. As might have been expected, this fortress was given away by John Lackland (whose name sounds very odd, done into French, as Jean-Sans-Terre), but was regained by his brother, Richard Coeur de Lion. It was finally sold to St. Louis, and the chateau, begun by Charles VII, was completed by Louis XII.
The tower of Agnes Sorel, with its garden terrace, is the most charming part of the chateau, crowning, as it does, a great rock on the south side which overlooks the town.
Charles seems to have met the enchanting Agnes while at Loches, whither she had come in the train of the Countess of Anjou, whose mission to France was to gain the liberty of her husband, King Rene, who had been taken prisoner in battle, and was confined in the Tour de Bar, which we saw at Dijon.
From all accounts Agnes appears to have been a creature of ravishing beauty and great charm, as the ancient chroniclers describe her with a complexion of lilies and roses, a mouth formed by the graces, brilliant eyes, whose vivacity was tempered by an expression of winning sweetness, and a tall and graceful form. In addition to her personal attraction, this "Dame de Beaulte" seems to have had a sweet temper, a ready wit, and judgment far beyond that of her royal lover. According to many historians, Agnes was the good angel of the King's life, as Joan, the inspired Maid, had been in a still darker period of his reign. Brantome relates a story of the favorite's clever and ingenious method of rousing Charles from his apathy and selfish pursuit of pleasure while the English, under the Duke of Bedford, were ravaging his kingdom. "It had been foretold in her childhood, by an astrologer," said Agnes, "that she should be beloved by one of the bravest and most valiant kings in Christendom," adding, with fine sarcasm, "that when Charles had paid her the compliment of loving her she believed him to be, in truth, this valorous king of whom she had heard, but now seeing him so indifferent to his duty in resisting King Henry, who was capturing so many towns under his very nose, she realized that she was deceived and that this valorous king must be the English sovereign, whom she had better seek, as he evidently was the one meant by the astrologer."
[Illustration: AGNES SOREL]
"Brantome was a bit out here," said M. La Tour, "as Henry V. had died some years before and his son Henry VI was only six or seven years of age at this time, and it was the Duke of Bedford who was ravaging the fair fields of France and taking the King's towns _a sa barbe_. However, that is only a detail as you Americans say, and there must be some foundation for Brantome's story of Agnes having aroused the King to activity by her cleverness and spirit, for more than one historian gives her the credit of this good work for Charles and for France. You remember that Brantome says that these words of the _belle des belles_ so touched the heart of the King that he wept, took courage, quitted the chase, and was so valiant and so fortunate that he was able to drive the English from his kingdom."
"It is a charming little tale," said Lydia, "and I, for one, do not propose to question it. Brantome may have allowed his imagination to run away with him; but the good influence of Agnes must have been acknowledged in her own time and later, or Francis I would not have written of her:
"'Plus de louange son amour s'y merite etant cause de France recouvrer!'"
"And I, for my part, don't believe a word of it!" said Miss Cassandra emphatically. "No ordinary girl, no matter how handsome she might be, would sit up and talk like that to a great King. I call it downright impertinent; she wasn't even a titled lady, much less a princess."
For a Quaker, Miss Cassandra certainly has a great respect for worldly honors and titles, and Lydia took pleasure in reminding her that Joan of Arc was only a peasant girl of Domremy, and yet she dared to speak boldly to Charles, her King.
"That was quite different, my dear," said Miss Cassandra. "Joan was an _honest_ maid to begin with, and then she was raised quite above her station by her spiritual manifestations, and she had what the Friends call a concern."
Then noticing the puzzled expression on M. La Tour's face, she explained: "I mean something on her mind and conscience with regard to the King and the redemption of France, what you would call a mission."
"Yes," Lydia added, "_une mission_ is the best translation of the word that I can think of; but it does not give the full meaning of the expression 'to have a concern,'" and as he still looked puzzled, she added, comfortingly: "You need not wonder, Monsieur, that you do not quite understand what my aunt means, for born and bred in Quakerdom as I have been, I never feel that I grasp the full spiritual significance of the expression as the older Friends use it."
For some years Charles seems to have been under the spell of the beauty and charm of Agnes Sorel, upon whom he bestowed honors, titles, and lands, the Chateau of Loches among other estates. From her false dream of happiness the royal favorite was rudely awakened by the Dauphin, afterwards Louis XI, who entered the room where the Queen's ladies in waiting were seated, and marching up to Agnes in a violent rage, spoke to her in the most contemptuous language, struck her on the cheek, it is said, and gave her to understand that she had no right to be at the court.
"Which," as Miss Cassandra remarks, "was only too true, although the Dauphin, even at this early age, had enough sins of his own to look after, without undertaking to set his father's house in order."
Agnes took to heart the Dauphin's cruel words, and resisting all the solicitations of the King, parted from him and retired to a small house in the town of Loches, where she lived for five years, devoting herself to penitence and good works.
"It seems," said Miss Cassandra, "that repentance and sorrow for sin was the particular business of the women in those days; when the men were in trouble they generally went a hunting."
M. La Tour, being a Frenchman, evidently considers this a quite proper arrangement, although he reminded Miss Cassandra that the wicked Fulk Nerra, "your Angevin ancestor," as he calls him, "expiated for his sins with great rigor in the Holy Land, as he dragged himself, half naked, through the streets of Jerusalem, while a servant walked on each side scourging him."
After living quietly at Loches for five years Agnes one day received a message that greatly disturbed her and caused her to set forth with all haste for Paris. Arrived there, and learning that the King was at Jumieges for a few days' rest after the pacification of Normandy, she repaired thither and had a long interview with him. As Agnes left the King she said to one of her friends that she "had come to save the King from a great danger." Four hours later she was suddenly seized with excruciating pain and died soon after. It was thought by many persons that the former royal favorite was poisoned by the Dauphin; but this has never been proved.
The body of Agnes Sorel was, according to her own request, transported to Loches and buried in the choir of the Collegiate Church of St. Ours, where it rested for many years. The beautiful tomb was first placed in the church, but was later removed to the tower where it stands to-day and where Agnes still reigns in beauty. Upon a sarcophagus of black marble is a reclining figure, modest and seemly, the hands folded upon the breast, two lambs guarding the feet, while two angels support the cushion upon which rests the lovely head of _la belle des belles_, whose face in life is said to have had the bloom of flowers in the springtime.
The inscription upon the tomb is:
"Here lies the noble Damoyselle Agnes Seurelle, in her life time Lady of Beaulte, of Roquesserie, of Issouldun, of Vernon-sur-Seine. Kind and pitiful to all men, she gave liberally of her goods to the Church and to the poor. She died the ninth day of February of the Year of Grace 1449.
Pray for her soul. Amen."
You may remember that at the Abbey of Jumieges we saw a richly carved sarcophagus which contains the heart of Agnes Sorel. M. La Tour says that she left a legacy to Jumieges, with the request that her heart should be buried in the abbey. At one time a beautiful kneeling figure of Agnes, offering her heart to the Virgin in supplication, surmounted the black marble sarcophagus; but this was destroyed, when and how it is not known.
In one of the oldest parts of the chateau are the bedroom and oratory of Anne of Brittany. From these rooms there is a lovely view of the Indre and of the old town with its steep gables, crenelated roofs, and picturesque chimneys. The walls of the little oratory are richly decorated with exquisite carvings of the Queen's devices, the tasseled cord and the ermine, which even a coat of whitewash has not deprived of their beauty.
M. La Tour, whom Lydia has dubbed "our H.B.R." handy-book of reference, tells us that the origin of Queen Anne's favorite device is so far back in history that it is somewhat mythical. The ermine of which she was so proud is said to have come from her ancestress, Madame Inoge, wife of Brutus and daughter of Pindarus the Trojan. It appears that during a hunting expedition an ermine was pursued by the dogs of King Brutus. The poor little creature took refuge in the lap of Inoge, who saved it from death, fed it for a long time and adopted an ermine as her badge.
We had spent so much time in the Chateau Royale and in the various dungeons that there was little space left for a visit to the very remarkable Church of St. Ours adjoining the chateau, which, as Viollet le Duc says, has a remarkable and savage beauty of its own. After seeing what is left of the girdle of the Virgin, which the verger thought it very important that we should see, we spent what time we had left in gazing up at the interesting corbeling of the nave and the two hollow, stone pyramids that form its roof.
Miss Cassandra and I flatly refused to descend into the depths below, although the verger with a lighted candle stood ready to conduct us into a subterranean chapel, which was, at one time, connected with the chateau. We had seen quite enough of underground places for one day, and were glad to pass on into the more livable portion of the castle, which is now inhabited by the sous-prefect of the district, and from thence into the open, where we stopped to rest under the wide-spreading chestnut tree planted here by Francis I so many years since.
M. La Tour reminds us, among other associations of Loches, that the Seigneur de Saint Vallier, the father of Diane de Poitiers, whose footsteps we followed at Chenonceaux, was once imprisoned here. Even the powerful influence of Diane scarcely gained her father's pardon from Francis I. His sentence had been pronounced and he was mounting the steps of the scaffold when the reprieve came.
With our minds filled with the varied and vivid associations of Loches, we left the castle enclosure and from without the walls we had a fine view of the massive dungeons, the Chateau Royal, with the beautiful tower of Agnes Sorel, and the charming terrace beside it. Through many crooked, winding lanes and postern doors M. La Tour conducted us by the gate of the Cordeliers, with its odd fifteenth century turrets, to a neat little garden cafe. Here we refreshed ourselves with tea and some very dainty little cakes that are a _specialite de la maison_, while Walter gracefully mounted his hobby, which, as you have doubtless gathered ere this, is the faithfulness of Alexander Dumas to history.
"What need had Dumas to call upon his imagination when the court life of France, under the Valois and Bourbons, furnished all the wonders of the Thousand and One Nights?" Walter really becomes eloquent when launched upon his favorite subject, and indeed we all are, more or less, under the spell of Dumas and Balzac. With the heroes and heroines of Alexandre Dumas, we have spent so many delightful hours that Touraine seems, in a way, to belong to them. It would not surprise us very much to have Porthos, Athos, and Aramis gallop up behind our carriage and demand our passports, or best of all to see that good soldier and perfect gentleman, D'Artagnan, standing before us with sword unsheathed ready to cut and come again; but always it must be remembered quite as reckless of his own precious skin as of that of his enemies.
"I wonder if we shall ever again see their like upon the pages of romance," said Walter turning to M. La Tour.
"Good soldiers and brave gentlemen, better and braver than the royal masters whom they served so faithfully!" said M. La Tour, raising his hand in the delightfully dramatic fashion of the French as if proposing a toast: "May their memories long linger in Touraine and the Blesois, which they have glorified by their deeds of valor!"
What do you think we have been doing this evening? Still under the spell of Loches and its weird associations, we have been trying to turn the French verse, which Lydia copied for you, into metrical English. It seemed so strange that we four twentieth century Americans and one Franco-American should be translating the pathetic little verse of the poor prisoner who,
"_Malgre les ennuis d'une longue souffrance,_"
kept up a brave heart and counted his blessings.
We all tried our hand at it, Miss Cassandra, M. La Tour and all. I send you the verse that seemed to our umpire the best. One of the charming Connecticut ladies, whom we met at Amboise, called upon us this evening and was kind enough to act as umpire in our little war of wits. She was so polite as to say that all of the translations were so good that it was difficult to choose between them, but this is the one that she thought most in the spirit of the original lines:
Despite the weary hours of pain A cruel fate ordains for me, Some dear possessions yet there be; Sweet hope and tender love remain.
It is for you to guess who wrote this verse. One thing I tell you to help you out or to puzzle you still more with your guessing, M. La Tour wrote one of the verses; his knowledge of English construction is remarkable.[A]
This young Frenchman, who is usually politely reticent about his own affairs, although so generously expansive in communicating his historic and legendary lore, confided to Walter, this evening, in the intimacy of smoking together, that his mother is an American. This accounts for his perfect and idiomatic English and for his knowledge of our cities. He talks about Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston as if he had seen them and yet he has never crossed the water, being like most Frenchmen entirely satisfied with what his own country affords him.
Since Walter has learned that M. La Tour is half American, he begs to be allowed to call him Mr. La Tour. Foreign handles and titles, as he expresses it, do not sit easily upon his tongue.
The Frenchman laughed good naturedly at this and said, "Yes, yes, M.
Leonard, call me what you will. Philippe is my name; why not Philippe?"
Walter says this would be quite as bad as Monsieur, unless he could change it to plain Philip, which would seem quite too simple and unadorned a name for so elegant and decorative a being as M. Philippe Edouard La Tour, who shines forth radiantly in the rather sombre surroundings of the Pension B---- like the gilded youth that he is. What havoc he would make among the hearts of the _pensionnaires_ if this were indeed the young ladies' seminary that Walter calls it! M. La Tour is particularly resplendent in evening costume, and when he appears equipped for dining Madame B----calls him "_beau garcon_." He possesses, as Miss Cassandra says, that most illusive and indescribable quality which we call distinction for lack of a better word. While admiring him immensely, she solemnly warns Lydia against the wiles of foreigners. And I think myself that Archie had better turn his steps this way if he expects to find Lydia heart whole, as M. La Tour loses no opportunity of paying her charming little attentions in the way of choice offerings, from the flower market on the Boulevard Beranger near by. This evening he produced some delicious bonbons which he must have imported from Paris for her delectation, although I must admit that they were properly and decorously presented to Madame Leonard, your old, and, to-night, your very sleepy friend,
[A] Mrs. Leonard added a postscript to her letter in which she gave Mrs.