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most trying to a person's patience. Variety in the appearance of visitors may, perhaps, have some share in relieving this monotony, and when it comes in the shape of fashionable gowns and bonnets its effect on a female cicerone may possibly counterbalance a great deal of wearisome repetition.
Outside the château we lingered für some time longer beneath the shade of the avenues of chesnut which extend towards the river, and then, retracing our steps through the halls, returned to where we had left our carriage, under the care of the driver. He was soon ready to depart ; and just as the sun was setting we reached the steep bridge of Blois, the river flooded with a golden light, and the old château darkly frowning above.
The chef had not been unmindful of our wants in our absence, and travellers' appetites did justice to his care and skill ; a very excellent dinner being crowned by some of that delicate condiment famed throughout the country as the crême de Saint-Gervais, which one of our party, very knowing in these matters, was of opinion was simply “ a very nicely whipped cream.”
Without exhausting the attractions which Blois holds out to the stranger, but having fully enjoyed what we did see—and this included the fine church of St. Nicholas with the singular and variously-carved capitals of its columns, besides numerous quaint specimens of domestic architecture—we now turned our faces in the direction of Amboise.
An hour on the railway sufficed to carry us there, and an omnibus deposited us (with the baggage as usual-a concomitant as inevitable as a travelling Turk's carpet) at the door of the “Swan,” though a more appropriate ensign would be that of St. Martin; for this reason, that above the doorway is portrayed, in the rude sculpture of the fourteenth century, an emblem in stone of the charitable saint in the act of dividing his cloak with the beggar. It has alv: ays struck me that St. Martin gets more credit for this act than he deserves. It was little privation to him to give away half his cloak when he was so comfortably clad in other respects; now,
had he divested himself of some of his other garments and snipped them in two, there would have been more self-denial made manifest, though the saint might perhaps have cut rather a more ludicrous figure. Scarcely more ludicrous, however, than he has been made to assume in this sculptured effigy, where the saint vies with his horse and his horse with the beggarin awkwardness of expression and ungainliness of attitude. But there was an air of bonhommie about the whole affair which pleased us excessively, and, were the relievo nine, I would not exchange it for a much more artistical piece of work.
“ The Swan,” which stands at the foot of the bridge, in the faubourg of Amboise, is a building apparently as ancient as the sculpture I have been speaking of. Such strange-looking pignons and turrets and winding staircases have not graced a hostelry since the days when St. Martin was looked upon, with St. Julian, as the professed patron of hungry travellers. We justified our claim to the latter appellation by clamouring loudly for breakfast, and, as a preliminary to its being got ready, the pretty, good-natured hostess (Madame Dubois, be it known, – she will not
quarrel with me for employing phrases so rightly applied), and her no less good-natured attendant, set to work to remove from the breakfasttable a variety of objects of furniture which had been put away on it for the night, as if they were safer there than on the floor. When this feat was accomplished, and without spreading a tablecloth (a luxury not much prized in Touraine), scalding café au lait, smoking cutlets, and newlymade bread and butter were introduced, of which we proved ourselves, I hope, not unworthy.
In the mean time, that the fineness of the morning might not be wasted, a calèche had been got ready, and, when we were equally so, it was brought to the door, from whence, under the auspices of St. Martin, we set out for the château of Chenonceaux, that being the principal object of our day's excursion. Some private instructions with regard to a roast fowl on our return were replied to by Madame Dubois with a faithful assurance that she would prepare something whose similitude never clucked, and thus, with a trustful reliance on the future, we started merrily for the château of Diana of Poitiers.
In crossing the second bridge over the Loire, which throws a little island between the branches that divide the faubourg from Amboise, we glanced upwards at the turrets of the old castle, in the hope of getting a glimpse of the captured sheik, whose imprisonment is so deep a stain on the chivalry of France. We were not fortunate enough to see him at this time, though we did so on our return, when, the bright sun having warmed the air to a temperature more nearly approaching to that of his own clime, Abd’-el-Kader was plainly visible, reclining in a fauteuil, at one of the open windows of his pavilion-tower, enveloped in a large white bernous. What his occupation was we could not, at the distance at which we stood, very clearly discern, but, to judge by an occasional motion of his hand, it seemed as if he were looking over some papersperhaps a copy of the treaty on the faith of which he trusted his liberty to France ! The seclusion in which he lives is complete ; but this is at his own desire, as, it seems, he has no ambition to be made a lion of and show himself through the bars of his cell. His followers, however, indulge in more liberty, and are occasionally seen. One infant Hannibal, too young yet for mischief, has a French bonne for its nurse, and is brought up in the faubourg of Amboise, being taken to the château twice a week to visit its parent.
As the château was closed against visitors, we could only profit by what the outside offered as we drove beneath its lofty walls, and of these we soon lost sight as we wound through the narrow town, and quitted it by rather a steep ascent, where the troglodyte propensities of the inhabitants on the shores of the Loire were brought close under our inspection. The caves here were, however, used less for habitations than cellars, though several were garnished with windows and some with chimneys. In general the houses, regularly fashioned by the builder's art, stood on one side of the road, and the cellars, constructed amid cavernous rocks, were on the other. In this district the vintage was in full progress, and opposite every door were immense casks of crushed grapes, which filled the air with their perfume. Indeed, this odour of wine pursued us henceforward throughout our journey, impressing a character on the scene peculiarly its own.
The ascent continued for some time after leaving Amboise, but the way was not tedious, the morning being so bright and fresh, and rich
vineyards skirting the road entirely to the summit. There the vines were replaced by the forest of Amboise, through which we drove to La Croix de Bléré, a neat village, where we quitted the grande route and pursued a much better one, running parallel to the Cher, and leading to Chenonceaux. We followed it for four or five miles, beneath a côteau which lay open to the south, swarming with vignerons, who were gathering a plentiful harvest, and rapidly filling the casks which stood by the wayside in carts, drawn by the sleekest and best-conditioned donkeys I ever saw; fellows who looked as if they knew how to enjoy themselves, under their own fig-trees perhaps, and occasionally making merry with the lees of wine. At length the driver indicated to us some turrets rising above the trees, and a little farther on we came to a long avenue of lime and poplar, which led direct to the château. At the end of the avenue, where two large sphynxes—by modern hands—stop the way, we left the carriage, and Chenonceaux stood before uste
The first effect which it produces on a stranger is admiration at its beauty and antiquity; the next, surprise at the singularity of its construction ; for, on approaching nearer, he finds that it is literally built on the river, a deep and narrow branch of which forms the last moat, and the main body of the current runs beneath the bridge which supports the rear of the building. A guardian tower, itself protected by huge, roaring dog, stands on terra firma on one side, like a sentinel, to intercept all comers. It is the abode of the concièrge, who presently game out from the front door of the château, diverting our attention from the elaborately-ornamented exterior by intimating that she was prepared to show us the inside. Prepared she might have been, but it was after her own fashion, and that a sour one, which led to a remonstrance on our part, when we found she wished to hurry us through the rooms with as little ceremony as if we had been a flock of sheep. The reason which she assigned for this was, that some of the family were going to breakfast in the outer room of the principal suite; but we turned her flank by intimating that, if we took a cursory view of this part of the château in the first instance, it would only be to return to it afterwards at more leisure; and to this stipulation she was obliged to agree, though in a grumbling way.
The courtesy of M. de Villeneuve, the present proprietor of Chenonceaux, is so great, in allowing free access to everybody, that it is a pity his design should be marred by a churlish attendant; but, having established our point, we did not allow the ill-temper of our guide to spoil our own, but gave
to the enjoyment of the place without reserve. And there are few places that I remember which so completely reward the attention bestowed on them as this. Preserved by the greatest good fortune from the accidents of wars and revolutions, uninjured by time or neglect, Chenonceaux stands now as perfect as it was in the day when, with a heavy heart, Diana of Poitiers took leave of it to bury herself within the walls of Chaumont, for which she was compelled by Catherine de' Medicis to exchange her pleasant residence. Our useful friend “ Murray,” in speaking of Diana's expulsion, says, “ She was dispossessed of her fair mansion on the death of Henry, by the wicked and unscrupulous Catherine.” There is no doubt that Catherine was wicked and unscrupulous enough in most of her acts ; but if ever there was an occasion when she was justified in exercising her power, it was when she
dispossessed” the woman who, throughout the whole of Catherine's
wedded life, had usurped her place in her husband's affections, had trampled on her authority, and shown by every possible ostentatious device how the claims of the wife could be set aside by the fascinations of the mistress. Speak of Catherine as you will, but do not dispraise her to excite a false sympathy for the adulterous wife of the Duke de Brézė, to whose memory is raised that gorgeous monument at Rouen, with its hypocritical inscription and crocodile emblems.
Memorials of the haughty Italian and her lovely rival are to be seen in all parts of the château, as well as of the gay and magnificent Francis, of Henry II., and of a host of their contemporaries, whose portraits fill one entire chamber, the royal race extending from Charles VII. to Henri Quatre. It is in this apartment that the famous picture of the royal favourite, by Primaticcio, which represents her as the Goddess of the Silver Bow, is placed. Of this portrait the author of the “Bocages and Vines” has given the following graphic description :-" There is a happy mixture, in the dress, of the classical and the costume of the period, which marks the time, and yet does not shock the imagination. She is stepping along with graceful swiftness, her head rather turned, as listening; she holds a hound and her bow; her head is, as usual, crowned with a crescent; the hair flies lightly on the air; her bodice is tight to the shape, and laced—the waist rather long and pointed ; her full petticoat is of rich stuff, with gold embroidery, but it hangs in fine folds, and her springing foot is advanced. The landscape is spirited and good, the colouring well preserved, and the whole picture admirable. This is the most remarkable portrait of Diana, though there are others.”
Whether it was owing to the artistical preparations of M. de Villeneuve's cook, to the antique jars filled with fragrant lavender which were scattered throughout the apartments, to the perfume of the soft air that stole through some of the open casements, or to all these causes combined, I cannot well say, but a more delicious atmosphere than that which pervaded the whole château I certainly never breathed. It reconciled one at once to the idea of living always amidst these relics of a departed grandeur, and supplied the idea of comfort which is generally wanting in all show places, whether old or new.
But to see only, not to possess, was our lot, and delighted we were with all we saw, whether the eye rested on the crystal goblet of François Premier, on his richly-damasquined masse d'armes, or on the mirror of Mary Stuart, into which the ladies peeped with an expression of curiosity, as if they rather expected to behold the fair features of its former lovely owner. Perhaps they were not altogether disappointed by those which were presented to their view!
The interior of Chenonceaux is an epitome of the sixteenth century in France ; the portraits of the chief actors during that time look down at us from the walls, and on every side are objects with which they were themselves familiar; their beds, their cabinets, their tapestry, their jewelled cups, their personal ornaments, everything which, while they were living, ministered to their pleasure or their pride. A few family pictures serve to keep up the link which unites the past with the present proprietorship; but there is nothing objectionably placed in Chenonceaux ; and even the bust of Rousseau, in one of the lobbies, has a certain right to be there in consideration of the Dévin du Village, which was brought out in the little theatre at the southern extremity of the upper gallery over the Cher, when the clever and amiable Madame du Pin was the mistress
of the château. The lower gallery, a ball-room in the days of Catherine de' Medicis, is appropriately decorated with large medallion portraits of French kings and great men of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. They are well executed, and the likenesses are authentic. Amongst the treasures of Chenonceaux must not be omitted the beautifully enamelled china of Bernard Palizzi, on which—or rather in which are grouped the most perfect representations of reptile nature which it is possible to imagine. The lovers of this quaint but exquisite style of art will learn with pleasure that at Tours, at the present day, exists an artist who has discovered and executes to perfection the enamelling of Palizzi.
When we had supped full of the pleasures which the interior of Chenonceax afforded, we adjourned to the beautiful grounds which surround it, and passed some time amid the shady walks which stretch beside the swiftly-fowing and abounding Cher, the squirrels that crossed our path and the jays that screamed over our heads being the only sharers with us in this delicious solitude. In these shades we could willingly have passed the entire day, watching the current as it flowed mysteriously through the dark arches on which Chenonceaux rests, or filling up the picture suggested in such a spot by the memories of the past. But " Time, like a pitiless master,” cried “ Onward!" and we were obliged to attend to the summons; we walked back to the village where our steed was stabled, refreshed ourselves with some excellent Chasselas grapes at the cost of a few sous, and returned to Amboise as we went.
Uncertainty as to where our destiny would allow us to dine that day had been the motive which prompted me to request that the poulet rôti might be ready on our return, with the design of carrying it off as a snack by the way; but hunger was too strong for us, and Madame Dubois' promise had been so well kept that we could not resist the temptation, but ate it up as the Israelites ate the Paschal lamb, with our loins girded and our staffs in our hands, not even sitting down to the repast ; and few people, perhaps, ever made a better meal or a hastier—the inexorable train being at hand to speed us on our journey:
For the sake of its cheapness, no less than for its orthography, I transcribe the mémoire of Madame Dubois, premising that the second item was for the carriage that took us to Chenonceaux. It ran thus : Amboise Hotel du cygne, Savoir.
f. c. Dejeune trois.....
4 50 Cource.......
12 0 Pruvitions
Summa... When it is considered that the “provitions” consisted of a splendid fowl, an excellent bottle of Beaugency, pain à discrétion, and a quantity of the finest and largest pears that ever were seen, the charges of our smiling hostess will not be deemed exorbitant. With many promises to return at some future day, we bade farewell, and an hour afterwards were in the capital of Touraine.
But what we saw at Tours, at Loches, at Angers, and at Nantes, must be reserved for another occasion, here ending the “ fyrste fytte" of "A Fortnight on the Loire."