( Originally Published 1926 )
We had been lunching at Brives, and in the afternoon set out for Pompadour. I do not know whether many people ever visit the old castle. I should judge not for it is hard to find, and there is little to see unless, like ourselves, one comes provided with an ample store of imagination.
It was drawing toward evening, and the sky was already flushed with pink, when we came in sight of Pompadour—I remember a broad terrace with a balustrade, old ivy-mantled towers capped by pointed grey roofs, the whole surrounded by a moat, and guarded by walls and turrets.
The ancient lords of Pompadour were for the most part law-abiding people, that is to say so far as the disturbed conditions of the country during the Middle Ages allowed anyone to be law-abiding. In the twelfth century their castle was sacked by the " Routiers "-those bands of brigands who infested France during the Middle Ages-and in the seventeenth century we hear of a Monsieur de Pompadour, an official of the Court, himself something of a brigand, since he is represented as " conducting himself with regard to the peasants as if there was neither law nor king."
About a hundred years later we come across another Lord of the Castle, a very poor gentle-man we are told, who allowed himself to become involved in the plots of that dark little witch, La DDuchesse de Maine, granddaughter of the great Conde, and who, with his accomplices, was cast into the Bastille. About twenty-five years later Louis XI. bestowed the estate, with its title, on his new favourite, Madame petioles.
Every one knows the story of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, afterwards Madame de Pompadour, how she fascinated the King with her blue phaeton, her rose-coloured dresses, and her tall,. graceful figure, her oval face and perfect features,, the charming mouth, and her eyes of which no one could ever ,decide the colour. I had been reading her history by Capefigue, and though I feel sure she never set her pretty eyes on the old dilapidated castle of which she bore the name, I could almost fancy I saw her with her royal lover on the terrace in the twilight. The King, who was thirty-five, and extremely handsome, had fallen into such low spirits that no one could rouse him. He talked. incessantly of death. If he met an elderly man he would ask whether he had made arrangements about his funeral. If he were passing a cemetery he would send someone in to see how many new graves were there. The Queen was quite unable to help, but Madame de Pompadour could even make him laugh, though, as she told Madame du Hausset, her femme de chambre, she was sure " he always experienced a painful sensation when he was obliged to laugh."
But I believe he enjoyed her funny stories all the same, and that her wit was the true secret of her long empire over him. And she had other qualities which might be imitated by better women. She was not ashamed of her rather humble origin. There is the story of a poor relation, who in great distress besought the lady's maid to intercede with her mistress.
" You had better write to her yourself," said Madame du Hausset. " I know well how kind she is, I am sure she will be pleased if you tell her the truth."
So the letter was written, and the result was an immediate gift of money. As soon as the woman had decent clothes, she arrived to offer her thanks to the great lady, and in leaving, met the King, who was entering.
" Who was that person? " asked Louis.
" She was a very poor relation of mine," replied Madame.
" Then she came to ask for help? "
" But why then . . .? "
" She came to thank me for a little service I have rendered her," said Madame, blushing for fear of seeming to boast of her good deed.
" Ah," said the King; " well, since she is your relation, allow me also to oblige her. I shall order her to receive a pension of fifty louis; she can begin to draw it to-morrow."
The chambermaid adds that Madame's lovely eyes filled with tears of pleasure, and she kissed Louis' hand again and again.
I do not know why I thought of this episode as I looked at the old castle. As I say, I doubt if Madame de Pompadour ever set eyes on it! It would have been much too dull to enter into her scheme for keeping the King amused. But the ve'ry name suggests her story, and, in the heartless and profligate days in which she lived, it 'is good to think that perhaps even Louis XI. and Madame de Pompadour were not quite 'so bad as they have been painted.