A Battle Royal Of Dames
( Originally Published 1911 )
PENSION B—, TOURS, September 6th.
This being a beautiful day, and the sun-shine more brilliant than is usual on a September morning in this region, we unanimously agreed to dedicate its hours to one of the most interesting of the neighboring châteaux. The really most important question upon which we were not unanimous was whether Chenonceaux or Chinon should be the goal of our pilgrimage. Miss Cassandra unhesitatingly voted for Chenonceaux, which she emphatically announced to be the château of all others that she had crossed the ocean to see. "It was not a ruin like Chinon," she urged, "the buildings were in perfect condition and the park and gardens of surpassing loveliness."
"Of course we expect to go to Chinon, dear Miss Cassandra," said I; "it is only a question of which we are to see today."
"Yes, my dear, but I have great faith in the bird in the hand, or as the Portuguese gentleman expressed it, `One I have is worth two I shall haves.' The finger of fate seems to point to Chenonceaux to-day, for I dreamed about it last night and Diana (Miss Cassandra always gives the name of the fair huntress its most uncompromising English pronunciation) was standing on the bridge looking just like a portrait that we saw the other day, and in a gorgeous dress of black and silver. Now don't think, my dears, that I approve of Diana ; she was decidedly light, and Lydia knows very well that the overseers of the meeting would have had to deal with her more than once ; but when it comes to a choice between Diana and Catherine, I would always choose Diana, whatever her faults may have been."
"Diane," corrected a shrill voice above our heads.
We happened to be standing on the little portico by the garden, and I looked around to see who was listening to our conversation, when again "Diane" rang forth, followed by "Bon jour, Madame," all in the exquisite accent of Touraine.
"It is Polly, who is correcting my pronunciation," exclaimed Miss Cassandra, "and I really don't blame her." Looking up at the cage, with a nod and a smile, she cried, "Bon jour, joli Marie!"
"Good-by, Madame," rejoined the parrot, proudly cocking her head on one side and winking at Miss Cassandra in the most knowing fashion, as if to say, "Two can play at that game."
Polly has learned some English phrases from the numerous guests of the house, and cordially greets us with "Good-by" when we enter and "How do you do?" when we are leaving, which, you may remember, was just what Mr. Monard, who had the little French church in Philadelphia, used to do until some person without any sense of humor undertook to set him straight. We trust that no misguided person may ever undertake to correct Polly's English or Miss Cassandra's French, for as Walter says, "To hear those two exchanging linguistic courtesies is one of the experiences that make life and travel worth while, and the most amusing part of it is that the Quaker lady is as unconscious of the humor of the situation as the parrot."
"And, after all," said Miss Cassandra, re-turning to her argument after Polly's interruption, "when a woman is so beautiful at fifty that a young king is at her feet, giving her jewels from morning until night, it is not strange that her head should be turned. And you must remember, Zelphine," added Miss Cassandra in her most engaging manner, "that your favorite Henry James said that he would rather have missed Chinon than Chenonceaux, and that he counted as exceedingly fortunate the few hours that he passed at this exquisite residence."
After this Parthian shaft Miss Cassandra left us to put on her hat for Chenonceaux, for to Chenonceaux we decided to go, of course. Miss Cassandra's arguments were irresistible, as usual, and as Walter added philosophically, "Her choice is generally a wise one, and where everything is so well worth seeing one cannot go far astray." We took a train that leaves, what our local guidebook is pleased to call the monumental railway station of Tours, between ten and eleven o'clock and reached the town of Chenonceaux in less than an hour. All of these jaunts by rail are short and so conveniently arranged that one always seems to have ample time for the inspection of whatever château and grounds one happens to be visiting.
At the station we found an omnibus which conveyed us to the Hotel du Bon Laboureur, the Mecca of all hungry pilgrims, where a substantial luncheon was soon spread before us, enlivened, as Walter puts it, by a generous supply of the light wine of the country. Looking over my shoulder, as I write, he declares that I am gilding that luncheon at the Bon Laboureur with all the romance and glamour of Chenonceaux, and that it was not substantial at all; but on the contrary pitifully light. Perhaps I am idealizing the luncheon, as Walter says, but as part and parcel of a day of unallayed happiness it stands out in my mind as a feast of the gods, despite all adverse criticism. Being a mere man, as Lydia expresses it, Walter feels the discomforts of travel more than we women folk. He says that he is heartily tired of luncheons made up of flimflams, omelettes, entrées, and the like, and when the inevitable salad and fowl appeared he quite shocked us by saying that he would like to see some real chicken, the sort that we have at home broiled by Mandy, who knows how to cook chicken far and away better than these Johnny Crapauds with all their boasted culinary skill.
Lydia and I were congratulating ourselves that no one could understand this rude diatribe when we noticed, at the next table, our acquaintance of Langeais, Lydia's aphoristic French-man, if I may coin a word. This did not seem a good time to renew civilities, especially as he was evidently laughing behind his napkin. I motioned to Walter to keep quiet and gave him, a look that was intended to be very severe, and then Miss Cassandra, with her usual friendly desire to pour oil upon the troubled waters, stirred them up more effectually by adding : "Yes, Walter, but in travelling one must take the bad with the good; we have no buildings like these at home and I for one am quite willing to give up American social pleasures and luxuries for the sake of all that we see here and all that we learn."
Can you imagine anything more bewildering to a Frenchman than Miss Cassandra's philosophy, especially her allusion to American social pleasures and luxuries, which to the average and untravelled French mind would be represented, I fancy, by a native Indian picnic with a menu of wild turkey and quail'? It was a very good luncheon, I insisted, even if not quite according to American ideas, and variety is one of the pleasures of foreign travel,-this last in my most instructive manner and to Lydia's great amusement. She alone grasped the situation, as Walter and Miss Cassandra were seated with their backs to the stranger. In order to prevent further criticisms upon French living I changed the subject by asking Walter for our Joanne guidebook, and succeeded in silencing the party, after Artemus Ward's plan with his daughter's suitors, by reading aloud to them, during which the stranger finished his luncheon and after the manner of the suitors quietly took his departure.
"We shall never see him again," I ex-claimed, "and he will always remember us as those rude and unappreciative Americans !"
"And what have we done to deserve such an opinion," asked Walter.
"Attacked them on their most sensitive point. A Frenchman prides himself, above everything else, upon the cuisine of his country, and considers American living altogether crude and uncivilized."
"And is that all, Zelphine, and don't you think it about time that they should learn bet-ter; and who is the he in question, anyhow?"
When I explained about the Frenchman, who was seated behind him and understood every invidious word, Walter, instead of being contrite, said airily that he regretted that he had not spoken French as that would probably have been beyond Mr. Crapaud's comprehension.
A number of coaches were standing in front of the little inn, one of which Miss Cassandra and Lydia engaged in order to save their strength for the many steps to be taken in and around the château; but they did not save much, after all, as the coaches all stop at the end of the first avenue of plane trees at a railroad crossing and after this another long avenue leads to the grounds. Walter and I thought that we decidedly had the best of it, as we strolled through the picturesque little village, and having our kodaks with us we were able to get some pretty bits by the way, among other things a photograph of a sixteenth century house in which the pages of Francis I are said to have been lodged.
Passing up the long avenue we made a détour to the left, attracted by some rich carvings at the end of the tennis court,—and what a tennis court it is !—smooth, green, beautifully made, with a background of forest trees skirting it on two sides.
The approach to the château is in keeping with its stately beauty. After traversing the second avenue of plane trees, we passed between two great sphinxes which guard the entrance to the court, with the ancient dungeon-keep on the right and on the left the Domes buildings, which seem to include the servants' quarters and stables. Beyond this is the drawbridge which spans the wide moat and gives access to a spacious rectangular court. This moat of clear, running water, its solid stone walls draped with vines and topped with blooming plants, defines the ancient limits of the domain of the Marques family who owned this estate as far back in history as the thirteenth century. Where the beautiful château now stands there was once a fortified mill. The property passed into the hands of Thomas Bohier, in the fifteenth century, who conceived the bold idea of turning the old mill into a château, its solid foundations, sunk into the Cher, affording a substantial support for the noble superstructure; or, as Balzac says, "Messire de Bohier, the Minister of Finances, as a novelty placed his house astride the River Cher." A château built over a river ! Can you imagine anything more picturesque, or, as Miss Cassandra says, anything more unhealthy? The sun shone gaily to-day, and the rooms felt fairly dry, but during the long weeks of rain that come to France in the spring and late autumn these spacious salles must be as damp as a cellar. Miss Cassandra says that the bare thought of sleeping in them gives her rheumatic twinges. There are handsome, richly decorated mantels and chimney-places in all of the great rooms, but they look as if they had not often known the delights of a cheerful fire of blazing logs.
The old building is in the form of a vast square pavilion, flanked on each corner by a bracketed turret upon which there is a wealth of Renaissance ornamentation. On the east side are the chapel and a small outbuilding, which form a double projection and enclose a little terrace on the ground floor. Over the great entrance door are carvings and heraldic devices, and over the whole façade of the château there is a rich luxuriance of ornamentation which, with the wide moat surrounding it, and the blooming parterres spread before it, give the entire castle the air of being en fête, not relegated to the past like Langeais, Amboise, and some of the other châteaux that we have seen.
However Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Médici may have beautified this lovely pal-ace on the Cher, its inception seems to have been due to Bohier, the Norman général des finances of Charles VIII,.or perhaps to his wife Katherine Briçonnet, a true lover of art, who like her husband spent vast sums upon Chenonceaux. The fact that Bohier died before the château was anywhere near completion makes the old French inscription on the tower, and elsewhere on the walls, especially pathetic, "S'il vient a point, m'en souviendra" (If completed, remember me). Even unfinished as the Norman financier left Chenonceaux, one cannot fail to remember him and his dreams of beauty which others were destined to carry out.
Unique in situation and design is the great gallery, sixty metres in height, which Philibert de l'Orme, at Queen Catherine's command, caused to rise like a fairy palace from the waters of the Cher. This gallery of two stories, decorated in the interior with elaborate designs in stucco, and busts of royal and distinguished persons, is classic in style and sufficiently substantial in structure, as it rests upon five arches separated by abutments, on each of which is a semicircular turret rising to the level of the first floor. Designed for a salle des fêtes, this part of the castle was never quite finished in consequence of the death of Catherine, who intended that an elaborate pavilion, to match Bohier's château on the opposite bank of the river, should mark the terminus of the gallery. The new building was far enough advanced, however, to be used for the elaborate festivities that had been planned for Francis II and Queen Mary when they fled from the horrors of Amboise to the lovely groves and forests of Chenonceaux.
Standing in the long gallery, which literally bridges the Cher, we wondered whether the masques and revels held here in honor of the Scotch Queen were able to dispel sad thoughts of that day at Amboise, of whose miseries we heard so much yesterday. Mary Stuart, more than half French, was gay, light-hearted and perhaps in those early days with a short memory for the sorrows of life; but it seems as if the recollection of that day of slaughter and misery could never have been quite effaced from her mind. To Catherine, who revelled in blood and murder, the day was one of triumph, but its horrors evidently left their impress upon the delicate physique as well as upon the sensitive mind of the frail, gentle Francis.
Since we have heard so much of the evil deeds of Catherine it has become almost unsafe to take Miss Cassandra into any of the palaces where the Medicean Queen is honored by statue or portrait. When we passed from the spacious salle des gardes, later used as the dining hall of the Briçonnet family, into the room of Diane de Poitiers, it seemed the very irony of fate that a large portrait of the arch enemy of the beautiful Diane should adorn the richly carved chimney-place. I should not say adorn, for Catherine's unattractive face could adorn nothing, and this severe portrait in widow's weeds, with none of the pomp and circumstance of royalty to light up the sombre garb, is singularly undecorative. Although she had already announced that she had no great affection for Diane, Catherine's portrait in this particular room excited Miss Cassandra's wrath to such a degree that her words and gestures attracted the attention of the guide. At first he looked perplexed and then indignantly turned to us for an explanation : "What ailed the lady, and why was she displeased He was doing his best to show us the château." We reassured him, smoothed down his ruffled feathers, and finally explained to him that Miss Cassandra had a deep-rooted aversion to Queen Catherine and especially resented having her honored by portrait or bust in these beautiful French castles, above all in this room of her hated rival.
"Diane was none too good herself," he replied with a grim smile; "but she was beautiful and had wit enough to hold the hearts of two kings." Then, entering into the spirit of the occasion, he turned to Miss Cassandra and by dint of shrugs, and no end of indescribable and most expressive French gestures, he made her understand that he had no love for Catherine himself, and that if it lay within his pouvoir he would throw the unlovely portrait out of the window; no one cared for her,—her own husband least of all. This last remark was accompanied with what was intended for a wicked wink, exclusively for Walter's benefit,. but its wickedness was quite overcome by the irresistible and contagious good humor and bonhomie of the man. Finding that his audience was en rapport with him, he drew our attention to the wall decoration, which consists of a series of monograms, and asked us how we read the design.
D and H intertwined" we answered in chorus.
At this the guide laughed merrily and explained that there were different opinions about the monogram; some persons said that King Henry had boldly undertaken to interlace the initial letters of Catherine and Diane with his own, but he for his part believed that the letters were two Cs with an H between them and, whether by accident or design, the letter on the left, which looked more like a D than a C, gave the key to the monogram, "and this," he added with the air of a philosopher, "made it true to history; the beautiful favorite on the left hand was always more powerful than the Queen on the right, not that the ways of King Henry II were to be commended; but," with a frank smile, "one is always pleased to think of that wicked woman getting what was owing her."
"Rousseau thought that both the initials were those of Diane; he says in his Confessions: `In 1747 we went to pass the autumn in Ton-raine, at the castle of Chenonceaux, a royal mansion upon the Cher, built by Henry II for Diane de Poitiers, of whom the ciphers are still seen.' "
We turned, at the sound of a strange voice, to find the Frenchman of the Bon Laboureur standing quite near us.
"These guides have a large supply of more or less correct history at hand, and this one, being a philosopher, adds his own theories to further obscure the truth." This in the most perfect English, accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders entirely French. "Chenonceaux being Diane's château and this her own room, what more natural than that her cipher should be here, as Rousseau says? And yet, as Honoré de Balzac points out, this same cipher is to be found in the palace of the Louvre; upon the columns of la Halle an Blé, built by Catherine herself; and above her own tomb at Saint Denis which she had constructed during her lifetime. All the same, it must have pleased Henry immensely to have the royal cipher look much more like D H than like C H, and there is still room for conjecture which, after all, is one of the charms of history, so, Monsieur et Mesdames, it is quite à votre choix," with a graceful bow in our direction.
Evidently Monsieur Crapaud does not consider us savages, despite Walter's unsavory remarks about the cuisine of his country, and noticing our interest he added with French exactness : "Of course, the château was not built for Diane, although much enlarged and beautified by her, and when Catherine came into possession she had the good sense to carry out some of Diane's plans. Francis I came here to hunt sometimes, and it was upon one of these parties of pleasure, when his son Henry and Diane de Poitiers were with him, that she fell in love with this castle on the Cher, and longed to make it her own. Having a lively sense of the instability of all things mortal, kings in particular, she took good care to make friends with the rising star, and when Francis was gathered to his fathers and his uncles and his cousins,—you may remember that his predecessor was an uncle or a cousin,—Henry promptly turned over Chenonceaux to Diane."
"There is a curious old story," said Monsieur Crapaud, "about Chenonceaux having been given to Diane to soothe her vanity, which had been wounded by the publication of some scurrilous verses, said to have been instigated by her enemy, Madame d'Etampes. Naturally, the petted beauty, whose charms were already on the wane, resented satirical allusion to her painted face, false teeth and hair, especially as she was warned, in very plain language, that a painted bait would not long attract her prey. These verses were attributed to one of the Bohiers, a nephew or a son of the old councillor who had built the château, and, to save his neck, he offered Chenonceaux to Henry, who begged Diane to accept it and forget her woes."
"Which she did, of course," said Walter, "as she always seemed to have had an eye to the main chance."
"I cannot vouch for the truth of the story; I give it to you as it came to me. There is no doubt, however, that certain satirical verses were written about the Duchesse de Valentinois, in which she and the King also are spoken of with a freedom not to be expected under the old régime. Perhaps you are not familiar with the quatrain :
"'Sire, si vous laissez, comme Charles désire,
"Rather bold language to use in speaking of a king, to be told that he is but wax in the hands of Diane and the Cardinal of Lorraine," said Lydia; "that was at the time of the disaster of St. Quentin, was it not?"
"Yes, Mademoiselle; you seem to be quite up on our history, which was really deeply involved in cabals at this juncture. I shall be afraid of you in future, as you probably know more about it all than I do."
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 deco-rated 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 château 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 château 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 château; 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 Médici, 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 château, 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 règnent qu'un printemps, Ansi vostre beauté seulment apparrue
Quinze ou seize ans en
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 château. 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 Téméraire and Le Devin du Village. Such later associations as this under the régime of the Fermier Général 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 Téméraire, 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'Allée 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 précieuse, 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 décret. 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 château, 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 château, 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 château 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 Châsteau 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 château?"
"You remember, Madame, that Chaumont was given her in exchange, although Catherine gave her to understand that she considered the smaller château 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 château, 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.