Orleans And Its Maid
( Originally Published 1911 )
ORLEANS, September 14th.
WE set forth early this morning, as we had a long day before us, and as Walter warned us, little time to loiter by the way, great as the temptation might be to stop en route.
I don't know that anything has happened, but the atmosphere seems somewhat electric, and if anything has occurred I am quite sure that it is of a cheerful nature, as there is a telltale light in Archie's eyes that seems to say when they meet mine : "I have been sworn to secrecy, find out if you can!" Lydia's face is inscrutable; but her color is a little brighter than usual and she seems to avoid meeting my gaze, and drops her eyelids in a way that she has when the sun is bright. Then, she is beside me and consequently I cannot see her face as I can Archie's. Our places have been changed in the auto; Lydia and Archie are vis à vis this morning and M. La Tour is opposite to me, but this may be quite accidental.
After Walter's solemn warning about the shortness of time, I was afraid to suggest stopping anywhere ; but Lydia had told me that she intended, if possible, to see the Château de Morains, near Saumur, where Margaret of Anjou died. She made her request with some hesitation.
"Of course we can stop," said Walter, "it won't take long, if François knows the way."
François did not know the way to the historic shrine, which is evidently neglected by English and American pilgrims; but by making inquiries he found it without much trouble. We saw the outside of the little château and what interested us especially, the inscription over the gateway which relates that this Manoir of Vignole-Souzay, formerly Dampierre, was the refuge of the heroine of the War of the Roses, Marguerite of Anjou and Lancaster, Queen of England, the most unfortunate of queens, wives and mothers, who died here the 25th of April, 1482, aged fifty-three years. This little French tablet in memory of the English Queen, who was received with such rejoicings in England upon her marriage with Henry VI, seemed to us most pathetic.
As a return for this stop at Morains, which Walter considered a particular concession to the women of the party, he suggested that we take time to stop at Villandry to see a Druid stone which M. La Tour has been telling him about. You may remember that he and Archie are somewhat insane upon the subject of Druidical remains, but I notice that Archie is not as keenly interested in the Druids, this morning, as usual. He and Lydia are talking over some places that they mean to see in or near Paris. Archie has been reading a description of Fouquet's Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte, which is only an hour's ride from Paris, near Melun. Wise in his day and generation is this brother of mine, for nothing could so appeal to Lydia's historic soul as just such an expedition as this ! This was the château at which the great financier entertained the King with such magnificence that he aroused the jealousy of his royal master. You remember Dumas's description of it, and La Fontaine's Songe de Vaux, in which he says that everything con-spired for the pleasure of the, King, music, fountains, Molière's plays, in which he was praised,--even the moon and the stars seemed to shine for him, on those nights at Vaux.
"And the fruits of the earth, and of the greenhouses yielded up their treasures for him," said M. La Tour. "In his old age Louis was wont to say that no peaches were equal to those of Vaux-le-Vicomte in flavor and quality."
"I am quite sure that he had never tasted those of Anjou!" exclaimed Walter, and at this most opportune moment François produced a basket of these same Anjou peaches, and some pears also, all surrounded by green leaves, as only the French know how to set them forth. We feasted on the fat things of the earth, as we made our way to Villandry, where we saw the ancient monument of the Druids, which was not much to see after all. Walter, however, takes a solid satisfaction in visiting the things that he feels it is his duty to see. The same sort of a rainbow illuminates his horizon after a duty of this sort is performed, that irradiates our path when you and I have accomplished a series of perfunctory visits, and yet he tells Lydia and me that we take our sightseeing quite too seriously.
M. La Tour has been telling us about the elaborate New Year's ceremonies once held at Chartres, by the Druids. The mistletoe was cut by the eubage, with a golden faucelle, or sickle, belonging to one of the Druidesses and then distributed to the people. The eubage was, it appears, a combination of priest and bard whose pleasing task it was to cut the throats of the human victims offered upon the Druidical altar of sacrifice. This distribution of the mistletoe at the beginning of the year may have led to our later use of the mistletoe in the Christmas holiday festivals. Walter says that he does not know about this, nor does M. La Tour; but they intend to look it up and communicate the result one to the other. From this conversation you will naturally infer that we are again in the land of the mistletoe.
In the meadows we noticed a delicate little mauve-colored flower, something like an orchid, which François told me was a crocus, blooming for the second time this season, and in the gardens of the little gray houses, with their red-tiled roofs, and by the roadside were gorgeous asters of all shades of purple. In the less cultivated places, heather blooms luxuriantly and yellow gorse which attracted Miss Cassandra's trained botanist's eye, and she suddenly quoted the old Scotch saw, with about the same appropriateness as some of the remarks of "Mr. F's Aunt" in Bleak House : " `When gorse is out of season, kissing is out of fashion,' " and looking straight at Archie, she added encouragingly "you see it is still blooming."
It would be impossible to accuse Miss Cassandra of flirtatious intent, and yet at her glance and words Archie blushed a beautiful scarlet. I tried not to look at him, as I knew that he was inwardly swearing at the thinness of his skin, or whatever it is that makes people blush. I couldn't see Lydia without turning around and staring at her ; but Walter, who enjoyed the whole scene from his coign of vantage beside François, told me afterwards that "Lydia never turned a hair, and so you see, Zelphine," he said, laughing gaily, "it all rests between Miss Cassandra and Archie."
Seeing in the distance the curious, enigmatical Pile de Cinq Mars, we suddenly realized that we were quite near Luynes, and Walter told François to stop there as he knew that Archie would be charmed with the beauty of the situation of this château which hangs high, like an eagle's nest, upon a bluff above the lowlands and the river. While we were walking around and about the château, we suddenly came upon Mr. and Mrs. Otis Skinner standing at the entrance to a little smithy, quite near the rock-hewn steps that lead up to the château. We have seen so few Americans, and no friends or acquaintances since we left Tours, and now, as we are again approaching the old town, to meet these good friends was a great pleasure. Mr. Skinner took us into the smithy, which is so charmingly situated, and we wondered again, as at Cheverny, why even a blacksmith's work-shop is so much more picturesque here than in England or America. While Mr. Skinner was standing talking to, the blacksmith, Lydia and Archie and Mrs. Skinner managed to get snapshots of the forge. If it is satisfactory, I will send you a photograph, as we intend to exchange pictures and you shall have the very best.
After this encounter, we sped along on our way toward Tours, wondering whether Mr. Skinner was collecting material, atmosphere, etc., for a French play. We are glad that our way lay through Tours and that Archie could have even a fleeting glimpse of the old capital. To motor across the great bridge and along the wide Rue Nationale, and to have another look at St. Gatien, with its two beautiful towers, and at those other towers of Charlemagne and de l'Horloge was a joy, even if there was not time to stop over at Tours for an hour.
At Blois we gathered up our luggage, left the automobile and took the train for Orleans. We parted from our François with much regret, as we have come to like his honest, frank face and his pleasant French ways. Walter and Archie, I am quite sure, gave him a generous remembrance, Archie especially being quite in sympathy with his dreams of love in a Touraine cottage. We all wished him happiness, not without some misgivings on my part, I must admit, lest his Eloisa of the bright eyes should play him false for the charms of some one of those red-legged soldiers, who seem to possess an irresistible charm for French women, who are always ready to sing "J'aime le militaire."
From Blois to Orleans is a railroad journey of a little over an hour, through a fertile, but a rather monotonous country abounding in fields of turnips. From the quantities of this vegetable raised here, we naturally conclude that the peasants of this part of France subsist chiefly upon turnips, as the Irish do upon potatoes. We passed through many gray villages, which tone in with the shades of the silver poplars, and this with certain gray atmospheric effects in the landscape makes us realize how true to life are the delicate gray-green canvases of many of the French artists.
The Orleans station, like that of Tours, is a delusion and a snare, as we were suddenly landed at Les Aubrais, one of the outskirts of the old city and from thence had to make our way to Orleans as best we could. We had fortunately been able to send our small lug-gage directly through to Paris by putting it in the consigne, and paying ten centimes on each article. This convenient and economical device, which with all our travel we had never discovered, was revealed to us by the two charming Connecticut ladies whom we met at Amboise. Walter calls down blessings upon the pretty heads of these two wise New England women whenever we make a stop over between trains ; and Miss Cassandra ejaculates : " It takes a Yankee, my dears, to find out the best way to do everything on the top of the earth!"
Having only ourselves to dispose of, we soon found an omnibus which conveyed us to the Place du Martroi, the soul and centre of the ancient city of Orleans, where is fitly placed an equestrian statue of Jeanne d'Arc, by Foyatier. This statue does not, however, happily suggest the Maid, as the peasant girl of Domremy is here represented with a fine Greek profile, and, as Archie noticed, with his keen horseman's eye, the- charger upon which she is mounted is a racehorse and not a warhorse. It is, however, a noble and dignified memorial, on the whole, in which it differs from the grotesque affair at Chinon, and Dubray's low reliefs on the sides of the pedestal, representing important scenes in the life of the Maid, are beautiful and impressive.
Here in Orleans, the scene of Joan's first and most remarkable success, we live more completely in the life and spirit of that wonderful period than at Chinon. The marvel of it all impressed us more forcibly than ever before. That this peasant girl, young and ignorant of the art of war, by the power of her sublime faith in her heaven-sent mission and in herself as the divinely appointed one, should have wrested this city from the English, seems nothing short of the miracle that she and her soldiers believed it to be. Even that hard headed and cold-hearted sovereign, Louis XI, was so overawed by the story of Joan's victories that he marked with tablets the little room at Domremy where she was born, and also the convent of Sainte Catherine de Fier-bois, where she was received and where she found her sword with the five crosses.
We knew that the Place du Martroi was not the scene of Joan's martyrdom, and yet this wide, noble square, with her monument in the centre, from which diverge so many streets associated with her history, stood for infinitely more to us than anything we had seen at Rouen, the actual place of her martyrdom.
From the square, M. La Tour conducted us to the cathedral, which has been criticized by Victor Hugo and many others, and which we, perhaps from pure perversity, found much more harmonious than we had expected. The façade, which the local guide-book pronounces majestic, even if bâtarde in style, is rich in decoration, and the little columns on the towers I thought graceful and beautiful, however bâtarde they may be. Two cathedrals have stood upon the site of the present Sainte Croix, the last having been destroyed by the Huguenots, to whom are attributed the same sort of destruction that marked the course of Oliver Cromwell's army in England. It is said that the great Protestant leader, Théodore de Bèze, himself blew up the four noble pillars that once supported the belfry. However this may be, and Miss Cassandra says that we are all free to believe such tales or not, as we choose, very little is left of the old edifice except the eleven chapels and the side walls. Even if Théodore de Bèze destroyed the old cathedral, the building as it now stands was the work of his former chief, for it was Henry of Navarre who laid the corner stone of the new edifice, in 1601, to fulfill a vow made to Pope Clement VIII who had absolved him from the ban of excommunication.
In the side windows, in richly colored glass, is the story of the Maid of Orleans, from the day when she heard the voices and a vision appeared to her while she kept her father's sheep in the fields near Domremy, to the hour when she and her troops gave thanks for the victory of Orleans in this cathedral. On through the eventful months of her life to the sad and shameful scenes at Rouen, where the innocent and devoted Maid was burned at the stake, while France which she had delivered, and Charles whom she had crowned, made no sign, the story is told in a series of pictures. Even if of modern glass and workmanship, these windows seemed to us most beautiful, especially those on the right-hand side through which the light streamed red, yellow and blue from the jewelled panes. The window representing the crowning of Charles VII at Rheims is especially rich in color. Joan, with a rapt ecstatic expression on her face, is here to see her King crowned and with her is the banner that she loved even more than her mystic sword. Be-low are inscribed her own simple words, "It has been with him in the suffering, it is right that it should be with him in the glory." Ever self-effacing, it was of her beloved banner that Joan was thinking, never of herself.
The whole wonderful story is written upon these windows so plainly that any child may read it. We have been thinking of Christine and Lisa, and wishing that they were here to read it with us. They will learn of Joan of Arc in their histories, but it will never be so real to them as it is here where her great work was done, and where she is so honored. Some day we promise ourselves the pleasure of bringing the children here and going with them through all the Joan of Arc country. M. La Tour, who has made the journey, says that, as the Joan of Arc cult is increasing all the time, every spot associated with her is marked and everything most carefully preserved.
"Most interesting of all," he says, "is the little church where Jeanne worshipped. Although badly restored by Louis XVIII, the nave remains intact, and the pavement is just as it was when the bare feet of Jeanne trod its stones, in ecstatic humility, during the long trance of devotion when she felt that super-natural beings were about her and unmistakable voices were bidding her to do what maid had never dreamed of doing before. In a little chapel, beside the main edifice, is the stone fount where the infant Jeanne was baptized. Fastened to the wall there hangs a remnant of the iron balustrade, that Jeanne's hands must have rested on during the hours that she passed in rhapsody, seeing what never was seen on land or sea. A few steps from the church stands the cot where the maid was born, almost as humbly as the Christ Child. Entering through the small doorway, you see the room in which Jeanne first opened her eyes to the light. On one side stands the `dresser,' or wardrobe, built half way into the wall, where the housewife stored the family belongings. Beside this is the iron arm which held the lamp, used during midnight watches. Beyond this general room is the alcove that served Jeanne as a sleeping-room. In this narrow chamber, more like a cell than a sleeping-room, Jeanne heard `voices,' and dreamed her dreams."
M. La Tour's description is so interesting that we all long to follow in his footsteps and in those of the Maid, from the clump of oak trees—of which one still stands—and the "Fountain of the Voices" to the ruins of the Château of Vaucouleurs, where the chivalrous Robert de Baudricourt, impressed by the girl's serene confidence, gave her a letter for the King, who was at Chinon, as we know.
The Porte de France is still standing, M. La Tour tells us, through which the shepherd maid, with her four men-at-arms and her brother Jean, embarked on her perilous journey of eleven days across a country filled with roaming bands of British and Burgundian soldiers. The places are all marked, Saint-Urbain, Auxerre, Glen, Sainte Catherine de Fierbois, where Jeanne was received in the "aumonerie" of the convent, now transformed into a Mayor's office. When we come to Orleans with the children, we must try to be here on the 8th of May, when the whole city is en fête celebrating the glorious victory of the Maid. Still talking over the projected Joan of Are pilgrimage, M. La Tour led us by the Rue Jeanne d'Are which faces the cathedral and to the Maison de l'Annonciade where Jacques Boucher, treasurer of the Duke of Orleans, received the Maid. In the court of this building, now used as a Dominican convent, is a small statue of Joan, above the well. This house is also called the Maison de Jeanne d'Arc, and in a charming Renaissance building, near by, is a collection of relics of the Maid. For some unknown reason this house is sometimes spoken of as the house of Agnes Sorel; and with about the same authority another house at the corner of the streets, Charles-Sanglier and Des Albanais, is called the Maison de Diane de Poitiers. This latter mansion, with its small towers and richly ornamented façade, is now an historical museum and is better known as the Hotel Cabu.
By the Rue Royale, which suddenly changes its name and becomes the Rue de la Republique after it crosses the Place du Martroi, we made our way to the Hotel du Ville, a handsome sixteenth century building of brick and stone. On a tablet upon the façade is a long inscription telling how many kings, queens and notable personages have stopped here; but what interested us much more is a statuette in bronze of Joan, the work of the Princess Marie d'Orléans, daughter of Louis Philippe. The modest, devout little maid, represented by this statue, is more like the real Joan, to our thinking, than most of the more pretentious monuments.
In the Salle des Marriages of the Hotel du Ville, we came suddenly upon souvenirs of a much later period than that of Joan, for here, in this room, Francis II died. He and Mary came here from Chenonceaux, and becoming violently ill from a malady in his ear which had tortured him for some time, the poor young king took to his bed never to rise again. His mother followed him here, and at Mary's instance the great surgeon Ambrose Paré was summoned. He wished to operate; the young Queen had full confidence in his judgment and skill, but Catherine resolutely opposed the use of the surgeon's knife, and poor Francis lingered a few days in great pain, and finally died in the arms of his wife. There is a painting in the Salle des Marriages of this sad scene; Mary is kneeling by the bedside of her husband and Catherine is seated nearby, her face cold and expressionless. It has been intimated that Catherine opposed Ambrose Paré because she wished to have poor Francis removed to make way for a son whom she could control and bend to her will; but with all her wickedness, it is impossible to believe in such a motive. One may, however, understand her ignorant horror of the use of the knife, and the superstitious terror that haunted her in view of the recent revelations of Ruggieri at Chaumont.
"I think it is quite evident what was amiss with King Francis!" exclaimed Miss Cassandra. "He was suffering from mastoiditis, of course, and Ambrose Paré was clever enough to find it out, and might have saved his life if he had been allowed to have his way. I have no patience with Catherine, and she knew what she was about when she set up her opinion against that of a great surgeon."
Archie says that to diagnose a case at a distance of several hundred miles requires considerable skill; but still greater is the insight into obscure maladies of our Quaker lady, who bridges over the centuries and tells us just what disease afflicted Francis II in the year of grace 1560; and he added quite seriously:
"You may be quite correct in your surmise, Miss West. Your niece and I will hunt up Ambrose Paré's diary when we get to Paris, and see what he says about the case. If you are right, I'll take you into my office as a partner."
After a somewhat strenuous morning of sightseeing and a sumptuous regale at the Hotel St. Aignan, whose name pleased us on account of its Dumas flavor, we climbed up to a lovely terrace garden from which we could overlook the town and the cathedral, to which distance certainly lends enchantment. In this pleasant resting place I am writing to you, dear Margaret, while we wait for a late train to Paris. M. La Tour expects his auto to meet us and convey us to the station and then to take him to his home. We shall miss him, as his kind attentions and vast fund of information have added much to the pleasure of our sojourn in Château Land. To-day he has managed our time so judiciously that we have seen every-thing of importance in Orleans without being hurried, and we now have this quiet hour on the hillside garden before setting forth upon our journey. He evidently has no idea of what is happening in our midst, and is as attentive as ever to Lydia, talking to her and walking with her, whenever Archie gives him a chance; and who can blame him? I have never seen Lydia more charming than she is to-day; but the soft light that shines in her eyes is not for the young Frenchman, I am sure. Walter says :
"If La Tour had his wits about him he would see what is going on under his nose; it takes a sledge hammer to drive in some other things beside a joke."
Here comes the auto, and in five minutes we shall be en route for Paris.