A Chateau Fete
( Originally Published 1911 )
PARIS, September 16th.
WE found Angela eagerly awaiting us when we reached our destination, and I must admit still more eagerly awaiting another arrival, as Mr. Mclvor was expected by a train due here later than ours. Since she had been with his Scotch and English relatives, Angela insists upon having her fiancé called Mr. Mclvor, as that is the custom in his own country. She, however, much prefers our calling him by his own delightful Scotch name, Ian, and we like him well enough to fall in with her desires. Ian arrived in due time, and our party is now complete.
"How fortunate it is that the hour was in our favor instead of the Doctor's," exclaimed Walter; for according to French etiquette to have left Angela here unchaperoned with her lover in the same city, even if not in the same hotel, would have shocked all ideas of propriety. "I fancy that M. La Tour, good fellow as he is, couldn't understand our leaving Angela here by herself even for a single night."
"No," I said, "and I didn't think it necessary to tell him."
"Queer notions these people have! As if Angela didn't know how to take care of herself!"
No one knows better, and I told Walter how Angela managed in London. She reached there in the afternoon, instead of in the morning as she had expected. Something about the auto-mobile had given out and they had finally to take a train from York. When she reached the hotel where she was to meet the Dudleys, she found a note telling her to follow them to Southampton as they were obliged to take the night boat. Angela immediately looked up trains and finding that the next train would be one hour too late for the boat, what do you think she did? She telegraphed to the Captain to wait for her ! Did you ever hear of anything so delicious? Walter calls it a piece of American effrontery, but I call it quickwitted, don't you? Of course the Captain could not keep his boat waiting for any person of less distinction than the Queen; but by good luck (Angela is always lucky) the vessel was late in sailing that evening. The Dudleys, who were anxiously waiting for her on deck, saw her coming, just as the sailors were about to take up the gang-plank, and begged the Captain for a moment's delay. Of course Angela looked charmingly pretty as she tripped up the incline ; and she never realized that her little telegram could be taken otherwise than seriously until she heard the Captain say to the first officer, as she stepped on deck : "She was worth waiting for, after all." At this the child was so overcome with confusion that she did not know which way to look, and evidently did not recover her self-possession during the crossing. Walter insists that she is still blushing over her own daring. If she is, it is vastly becoming to her, as I have never seen Angela look more brilliantly beautiful.
We are living in an atmosphere so charged with romance, that it would be positively dangerous for two unmated beings to join our party at this time. Miss Cassandra pays Archie and myself the compliment of appearing to be radiantly happy over Lydia's engagement, although I know that she drops a tear in secret over M. La Tour and his château. I tell her that this is not an entirely safe environment for her, especially as one of her old time suitors is in Paris ; he met us at Morgan's this morning and has been dancing attendance on Miss Cassandra this evening, which last, Walter says, is a very disrespectful way to speak of the decorous call of a dignified Quaker gentle-man.
However that may be, Miss Cassandra laughed gaily at my serious warning, and with a flash of her bright blue eyes dismissed her quondam suitor and my solicitude in one brief sentence:
"Thee is very flattering, my dear, and I admit that Jonah is an excellent person; but he is quite too slow for me!"
"That may be; very few people are quick enough for you, dear Miss Cassandra; but you must acknowledge that Mr. Passmore was not at all slow about calling upon you to-night."
It is really too bad to tease our Quaker lady; but she takes it all so literally and is so charmingly good-humored withal that it is a temptation not easy to resist.
We are making the most of our few days in Paris, as we leave here early next week. Lydia announced at breakfast that she felt it her duty, and she hoped that we should feel it to be ours to make a pilgrimage to St. Denis this afternoon.
" After enjoying ourselves in the châteaux of the Kings and Queens of France, it is,,, she says, "the very least that we can do to go to St. Denis and see them decently and honorably buried."
Miss Cassandra quite agreed with Lydia, and Archie, although he says that it is a ghoulish sort of expedition, would go anywhere with her, of course.
It is rather odd that none of us have ever been to St. Denis, not even Ian Melvor who lived in Paris for months while he was studying medicine. We set forth this afternoon in truly democratic fashion on top of a tram, on one of the double-deckers that they have over here, to Angela's great delight. A rather lively party we were, I must admit, despite the sobriety of our errand.
There was nothing that especially interested us in the prosperous manufacturing town of St. Denis, and we went directly to the basilica, which with the mingling of the Romanesque and Gothic in its architecture is much more beautiful than we had expected. It is sufficiently ancient to satisfy our antiquarian taste, as the site of the original abbey dates back to 275, having been erected over the remains of St. Dionysius or St. Denis. The present edifice owes its existence to the Abbé Suger who reigned here in the days of Saint Louis. There have been many restorations, of course, and some very bad ones as late as the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. In this basilica the Emperor Napoleon was married to the Arch-duchess Marie Louise and, what is more interesting to us, here Joan of Are hung up her arms, in 1429. It is wonderful to see the monuments to royalties as far back in French history as Queen Frédégonde and King Dagobert, who founded an abbey here as early as 638. The tomb of Dagobert is a most remarkable and realistic representation of the King's soul leaving his body and its reception in heaven; the means of transportation is a boat with oars-men, both going and coming, if I may so express it, that is the soul of Dagobert goes forth upon the unknown sea in a boat, and in another carving on the tomb he is welcomed to the shores of heaven, still in a boat. It is very interesting, as there is a poetic as well as a realistic side to the strange conception. Near Dagobert's monument some one had left a visiting card, after the curious French fashion.
It seemed so very late in the day to be calling upon King Dagobert," as Walter re-marked.
After this ancient mausoleum, that of Louis and Anne de Bretagne seemed quite modern, and very handsome, much in the style of the Visconti monument at the Certosa near Pavia. Not far from this tomb we came upon that of Henry II and Catherine de Médicis, in which they are represented in that gruesome fashion so frequent in English cathedral tombs,—the nude figures below, while above in a beautiful chapel, with marble columns and pillars, there are handsome bronze figures of the King and Queen devoutly kneeling. Very inappropriately at the four corners are placed bronze figures of Faith, Hope, Charity and Good Works. Catherine is said to have planned this mausoleum herself, and, strange to relate, in the choir we found another monument to the same King and Queen.
"Just like the grasping creature to want two tombs!" exclaimed Miss Cassandra. "Most people are satisfied with one."
It appears that in her old age Catherine disapproved of the nude figures on the first monument, and had this one made with two decently robed effigies, in marble, resting upon a bronze couch.
We went down into the crypt, all of us except Angela, who still has an aversion to under-ground resorts. Ian went with us; but after a hurried glance at the most important tombs he made his way back to the sunshine and to Angela. The rest of the party went through everything quite resolutely, although we found this ancient crypt of the good Abbé Suger even more gruesome than most crypts. The guide directed us to a tiny window, through which we could see the place where poor Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were finally buried, at least all that could be found of their remains. Here a light was burning, which they told us was never allowed to go out. In strange contrast to this solemn little chapel, there is a kneeling figure of the Queen on one side of the crypt in a ball dress with jewels around her neck. This statue, by Petitot, although strangely inappropriate in costume, is beautiful in expression, and in the modelling of the face, arms, and hands, the latter being very lovely.
Here also is a "Caveau Impérial," constructed by the order of Napoleon III, as the burial place of his dynasty. This tomb is quite untenanted, of course, as no Bonapartes lie at St. Denis; although the bones of the Valois, Orleans and Bourbon families, who have come and gone in France, probably forever, are royally entombed here, from their early sovereigns down to Louis XVIII.
I tell you all this because I think you have not been to St. Denis, and we found it so much more interesting than we had expected. Walter and Archie made their acknowledgments to Lydia, in due form, and indeed we should never have made this pilgrimage had she not been enterprising enough to lead us forth toward St Denis and its royal tombs.
Madame La Tour and her son made a formal call upon us yesterday. M. La Tour had already dropped in, in his friendly way, to inquire after our comfort and to offer his services, as a guide to anything that we might wish to see. As Madame had announced her coming we were at home to receive her. She is pretty and graceful, a charming combination of the American and French woman. We all fell in love with her. M. La Tour is frankly proud of his, mother and was anxious that we should meet her. He has evidently not yet grasped the situation of affairs, although during the visit, which was brief if somewhat embarrassing, I could see nothing but the sapphire that sparkled upon Lydia's finger. Madame La Tour very cordially invited Lydia to go to the opera with her, and M. La Tour was evidently much disappointed when she declined in consequence of another engagement.
"Lydia never said a truer word in her life!" exclaimed Walter, after the visitors had departed ; "but La Tour is very stupid not to know what sort of an engagement it is that she has on her hands."
Upon which I suggested that Walter should mention the engagement to M. La Tour, quite casually, in the course of conversation.
"Why not tell him yourself, Zelphine ? You are so much more adroit at that sort of thing."
"It is really becoming embarrassing. Some flowers came last night, forget-me-nots again, to Archie's amusement. Now if Lydia had been anything but just ordinarily nice and pleasant to him, as she is to everyone, it would be different."
"Well, and even if she had been more than ordinarily nice to La Tour why do you trouble yourself about it, Zelphine? It is something that only concerns Lydia and La Tour, and Archie perhaps in a way, but we really have nothing to do with it."
Thus, manlike, does Walter push aside all part and lot in the affaires du coeur of his fellow-travellers; but I have just had a brilliant and beautiful idea, which I intend to communicate to Archie at once. We were all talking en route of the Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte.
As this is a land where people make a fête upon every occasion, Archie shall give a breakfast at Melun or some place near the château, and invite us all, and the La Tours also, an engagement party. I have no doubt the French have some charming name for this sort of an entertainment, which we can find out. I shall write you later of the success of my plan.
Of course Archie was delighted with my suggestion, as he and Lydia have been promising themselves the pleasure of an excursion to Vaux-le-Vicomte which seems to go by the name of Vaux-Praslin at the present time. Archie and Walter did the very kindest and most friendly thing, which in the end proved to be the most advantageous to themselves. They took M. La Tour into their confidence and consulted with him as to how the little excursion should be made and where the breakfast should be given. Naturally the poor boy was very much surprised, and quite downhearted when he found out what event was to be celebrated, and we did not see him for two whole days, not until this evening, when he called and offered his congratulations to Lydia in pretty French phrases.
Angela is charmed with M. La Tour and his manners, and says that she does not see how Lydia could possibly resist his fascinations; this with a mischievous glance at Archie, who, serene and confident in his own happiness, replies that Lydia is probably making the mistake of her life in turning away from the young Frenchman and his château.
But Lydia knows that she is making no mistake and takes all this jesting in good part; but she insists that the little celebration shall be called a château fête, as Vaux-le-Vicomte is our objective point. This is in much better taste, and, after all, we don't know the French name for an engagement fête.
"We certainly don't want to ask La Tour to inform our ignorance," as Walter says. "It would be like requiring the man who is down on his luck to name the happy day. It is quite better taste, and, after all, we don't know the the occasion."
Miss Cassandra and Walter and I went to the American church this morning because we like the simple service there, and the rest of the party went to the Russian Church to hear the music, which was very good to-day. The afternoon we all spent at Versailles, where we were so fortunate as to see the fountains play. Nothing, not even the châteaux of the Loire, gives us so realizing a sense of the gayety and splendor of the life of the French court, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as this vast palace of pleasure when the gardens bask in sunshine and the fountains are playing. We recalled Madame de Sévigné's spirited description of the court and royal family setting forth upon some pleasure party, herself among them, tucked in snugly in the same carosse with her favorite, Duchesse de La Vallière, or Madame de Montespan of the many ringlets, for whom she cares nothing, these two ladies in close quarters although cordially hating each other. The Queen is in another carosse with her children, and the King, being a free lance, drives in the coach with the royal favorites or rides beside it as his fancy dictates.
Our fête is to be on Tuesday, and M. La Tour came to the hotel this evening with a well arranged plan. He really is a dear, and having plenty of spirit and a certain kind of pride that seems to belong to well-bred French people, he has no idea of wearing his heart upon his sleeve, even for the love of Lydia. His suggestions are most practical and sensible, and his advice to Archie is to go to Fontainebleu first and have a walk through the forest, breakfast at one of the hotels there, and motor to Vaux-le-Vicomte, by way of Melun, in the afternoon. It all sounds perfectly delightful, and I have secured a copy of the Vicomte de Bragelonne, at Brentano's, in order to read over again, his account of Fouquet's reception of the King at Vaux.
We shall be glad to see Fontainebleau again. Since we have seen the châteaux of the Loire, all of these palaces near Paris are most interesting to us, as they make us realize, as we have never done before, what a great pleasure park much of France was under the Valois and the Bourbons. If the forest of Chambord was vast with its many acres, so also was that of Fontainebleau with its 42,500 acres. Palaces of pleasure, all of these châteaux were intended to be, as were Chenonceaux, Azay le Rideau, Blois and Chambord, although many of them are stained by dark and bloody crimes. Passing through the gardens and park of Versailles to-day we forgot the terrible scenes that were enacted there in 1793, until the guide pointed out to us the Queen's apartments, and showed us the little room from which Marie Antoinette fled for safety to the King's rooms, on that October night of horror, when the Parisan mob swept down upon the palace.
Our day in the open was a brilliant success. Archie had a large automobile, or perhaps I should say a touring car, large enough to hold us all. Madame La Tour declined, and so we have our château party, with the pleasant addition of Angela and Ian, who naturally entered with great spirit into the celebration. We had all the time we needed at Fontainebleau, entering by the old Cour du Cheval Blanc, but avoiding the interior of the palace, as we had all been here before, some of us several times, and spending all our time in the gardens and forest which are ever new and always beautiful. We looked for the quincunx near which Louise de La Vallière and her companions were hiding when the king and St. Aignan overheard their girlish confidences, but not finding anything answering to Dumas's description we had to con-tent ourselves with a labyrinth which M. La Tour thinks should answer quite as well. At the end of it is the huge grape-vine, called the King's Vine, which reminded us of the vine at Hampton Court, and like it is said to produce an enormous crop of grapes.
Archie's breakfast was delightful, an al fresco entertainment under a spreading horse-chestnut tree in the garden of a hotel at Fontainebleau. The table was beautifully decorated with flowers and fruit, and the menu, which was suggested by M. La Tour, was the sort to tempt one's appetite on a warm day like this, for it is summer here and much like our September weather at home.
Walter complimented M. La Tour so heartily upon his good taste that he laughingly reminded Walter of our first acquaintance at the Bon Laboreur, and asked him if he still had a poor opinion of the French cuisine. "Not when you have anything to do with the ordering, my dear fellow!" was the response. "Perhaps my taste needed to be cultivated, for I have come to like some of your French dishes very much, and as for your wines, my taste did not need to be cultivated to like them; I took to them quite naturally." There were toasts, speeches and good wishes, Angela and Ian coming in for their full share. Altogether some-thing to be remembered was that luncheon under the chestnut tree, and near the great forest of Fontainebleau, one of the many pleasant things to be stored up in our memories in connection with our days in Château Land.
This motor trip, to Vaux-le-Vicomte, which seemed so short to us, was evidently quite an affair to Louis XIV and his court, as, according to Dumas, there was some talk of stopping at Melun over night. As we know, large bodies move slowly, and the royal party must have been sufficiently cumbersome, with the heavy coaches of the King, of the two Queens, Anne of Austria and Maria Teresa, and the several coaches of their maids of honor, to say nothing of the outriders, the Swiss Guards and the Musketeers with our friend D'Artagnan at their head. A small army was this, that passed over the road that we travel to-day, lighting up the gray-green landscape with all colors of the rainbow.
At the Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte, of which we had only expected to see the outside, M. La Tour had a surprise for us, as he had managed, in some way, to secure tickets of admission. We mounted the great steps, entered the vast vestibule and passed through the salons in which are beautiful paintings by Mignard and the two Le Bruns. As we wandered through these rooms, richly furnished and hung with old tapestries, and into the rotunda, capped by its great dome, we wondered in which of these rooms Molière's play had been given.
The performance of Les Fâcheux, written especially for the occasion, was the crowning glory of the King's visit to Vaux. We learned that it was not given in any of these rooms, but in the garden, in the starlight. When the guests were seated, Molière appeared, and with well counterfeited surprise at seeing the King, apologized for having no players with him and no play to give. At this juncture, there arose from the waters of a fountain nearby, a nymph in a shell, who gracefully explained that she had come from her home beneath the water to behold the greatest monarch that the world had ever seen.
We can well believe that a play, set in this flattering key, was calculated to please the King, who was praised all through at the expense of his courtiers, who were les fâcheux, the bores. After this rare bit of adulation Molière's fortune was made.
For the host, Fouquet, who had gathered so much here to give the King pleasure, a far different fate was reserved. The sumptuous entertainment, the show of wealth on all sides, aroused bitter jealousy in the King's heart, and when some designing person (Colbert, it is said) whispered in his ear that Fouquet, not content with outshining his sovereign in the magnificence ,of his château, had raised his eyes to the royal favorite, Louise de La Vallière, the King's wrath knew no bounds. He was eager to have Fouquet arrested, while he was still accepting his hospitality.
One of the finest passages in Dumas's description of the fête at Vaux-le-Vicomte is that in which Colbert tries to inflame his royal master's jealousy, while the usually timid and gentle Louise de La Vallière urges the King to control his wrath, reminding him that he is the guest of M. Fouquet and would dishonor himself by arresting him under such circumstances.
"He is my King and my master," said La Vallière, turning to Fouquet; "I am the humblest of his servants. But he who touches his honor touches my life. Now, I repeat that they dishonor the King who advise him to arrest M. Fouquet under his own roof.... Were M. Fouquet the vilest of men, I should say aloud, M. Fouquet's person is sacred to the King because he is the King's host. Were his house a den of thieves, were Vaux a cave of coiners or robbers, his home is sacred, his palace inviolable, since his wife is living in it; and it is an asylum which even executioners would not dare to violate.' "
These words, from the woman whom he loved, influenced Louis, and for the time he relinquished his design; but eighteen days after the great festival at Vaux,M. Fouquet was arrested, near Nantes as we know, and ended his days in prison. This magnificent château, which the architect Le Vau, the artist Le Brun, and the landscape gardener Le Notre had conspired to make so beautiful, is still, in a way, a monument to the great financier, although it has passed from his family into the hands of the Duke de Praslin.
Unlike many of the châteaux, Vaux-le-Vicomte is still the home of people who love its beautiful lawns and parterres and keep them green and blooming. Armies of gardeners trim the hedges, plant the borders, and remove every stray leaf from the gravel paths. Here we saw the perfection of French gardening.
As we motored home by the light of the stars, we felt that this, our last day in Château Land, was one of the happiest that we had known. We would like to stay longer in Paris and visit the many châteaux within motoring distance of the capital ; but our holiday time is nearly over. Walter starts for Lausanne to-night, to gather up the children and bring them to London, whither we all go to-morrow. We shall have a few days there, and as many more in Oxford, where Walter has some engagements with old friends, and then to Southampton and home. We all sail October first, all except Ian McIvor, who comes over in December for a very important event. You and Allen must come some time, and visit with us the châteaux that we have seen, and see the others that we have not yet visited. For tonight, au revoir. Life has many joys, and not the least among them is to see the beautiful places of the earth, in congenial company, such as yours, dear Margaret.
Yours always devoted,