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- A LITTLE TOUR IN FRANCE - 4/42 -


looks yellow and faded. The whole thing is disfigured and decayed; but it is a capital subject for a sketch in colors. Only I must wish the sketcher better luck - or a better temper - than my own. If he ring the bell to be admitted to see the court, which I believe is more sketchable still, let him have patience to wait till the bell is answered. He can do the outside while they are coming.

The Maison de Tristan, I say, may be visited for itself; but I hardly know what the remnants of Plessis- les-Tours may be visited for. To reach them you wander through crooked suburban lanes, down the course of the Loire, to a rough, undesirable, incon- gruous spot, where a small, crude building of red brick is pointed out to you by your cabman (if you happen to drive) as the romantic abode of a super- stitious king, and where a strong odor of pigsties and other unclean things so prostrates you for the moment that you have no energy to protest against the obvious fiction. You enter a yard encumbered with rubbish and a defiant dog, and an old woman emerges from a shabby lodge and assures you that you are indeed in an historic place. The red brick building, which looks like a small factory, rises on the ruins of the favorite residence of the dreadful Louis. It is now occupied by a company of night-scavengers, whose huge carts are drawn up in a row before it. I know not whether this be what is called the irony of fate; at any rate, the effect of it is to accentuate strongly the fact (and through the most susceptible of our senses) that there is no honor for the authors of great wrongs. The dreadful Louis is reduced simply to an offence to the nostrils. The old woman shows you a few fragments, - several dark, damp, much-encumbered vaults, de- nominated dungeons, and an old tower staircase, in good condition. There are the outlines of the old moat; there is also the outline of the old guard-room, which is now a stable; and there are other vague out- lines and inconsequent lumps, which I have forgotten. You need all your imagination, and even then you cannot make out that Plessis was a castle of large ex- tent, though the old woman, as your eye wanders over the neighboring _potagers,_ talks a good deal about the gardens and the park. The place looks mean and flat; and as you drive away you scarcely know whether to be glad or sorry that all those bristling horrors have been reduced to the commonplace.

A certain flatness of impression awaits you also, I think, at Marmoutier, which is the other indisuensable excursion in the near neighborhood of Tours. The remains of this famous abbey lie on the other bank of the stream, about a mile and a half from the town. You follow the edge of the big brown river; of a fine afternoon you will be glad to go further still. The abbey has gone the way of most abbeys; but the place is a restoration as well as a ruin, inasmuch as the sisters of the Sacred Heart have erected a terribly modern convent here. A large Gothic doorway, in a high fragment of ancient wall, admits you to a garden- like enclosure, of great extent, from which you are further introduced into an extraordinarily tidy little parlor, where two good nuns sit at work. One of these came out with me, and showed me over the place, - a very definite little woman, with pointed features, an intensely distinct enunciation, and those pretty man- ners which (for whatever other teachings it may be responsible) the Catholic church so often instils into its functionaries. I have never seen a woman who had got her lesson better than this little trotting, murmur- ing, edifying nun. The interest, of Marmoutier to-day is not so much an interest of vision, so to speak, as an interest of reflection, - that is, if you choose to reflect (for instance) upon the wondrous legend of the seven sleepers (you may see where they lie in a row), who lived together - they were brothers and cousins - in primitive piety, in the sanctuary constructed by the blessed Saint Martin (emulous of his precursor, Saint Gatianus), in the face of the hillside that overhung the Loire, and who, twenty-five years after his death, yielded up their seven souls at the same moment, and enjoyed the curious privilege of retaining in their faces, in spite of this process, the rosy tints of life. The abbey of Marmoutier, which sprung from the grottos in the cliff to which Saint Gatianus and Saint Martin re- tired to pray, was therefore the creation of the latter worthy, as the other great abbey, in the town proper, was the monument of his repose. The cliff is still there; and a winding staircase, in the latest taste, en- ables you conveniently to explore its recesses. These sacred niches are scooped out of the rock, and will give you an impression if you cannot do without one. You will feel them to be sufficiently venerable when you learn that the particular pigeon-hole of Saint Gatianus, the first Christian missionary to Gaul, dates from the third century. They have been dealt with as the Catholic church deals with most of such places to- day; polished and furnished up; labelled and ticketed, - _edited,_ with notes, in short, like an old book. The process is a mistake, - the early editions had more sanctity. The modern buildings (of the Sacred Heart), on which you look down from these points of vantage, are in the vulgar taste which seems doomed to stamp itself on all new Catholic work; but there was never- theless a great sweetness in the scene. The afternoon was lovely, and it was flushing to a close. The large garden stretched beneath us, blooming with fruit and wine and succulent vegetables, and beyond it flowed the shining river. The air was still, the shadows were long, and the place, after all, was full of memories, most of which might pass for virtuous. It certainly was better than Plessis-les-Tours.

IV.

Your business at Tours is to make excursions; and if you make them all, you will be very well occupied. Touraine is rich in antiquities; and an hour's drive from the town in almost any direction will bring you to the knowledge of some curious fragment of domestic or ecclesiastical architecture, some turreted manor, some lonely tower, some gabled village, or historic site. Even, however, if you do everything, - which was not my case, - you cannot hope to relate everything, and, fortunately for you, the excursions divide them- selves into the greater and the less. You may achieve most of the greater in a week or two; but a summer in Touraine (which, by the way must be a charming thing) would contain none too many days for the others. If you come down to Tours from Paris, your best economy is to spend a few days at Blois, where a clumsy, but rather attractive little inn, on the edge of the river, will offer you a certain amount of that familiar and intermittent hospitality which a few weeks spent in the French provinces teaches you to regard as the highest attainable form of accommodation. Such an economy I was unable to practise. I could only go to Blois (from Tours) to spend the day; but this feat I accomplished twice over. It is a very sympathetic little town, as we say nowadays, and one might easily resign one's self to a week there. Seated on the north bank of the Loire, it presents a bright, clean face to the sun, and has that aspect of cheerful leisure which belongs to all white towns that reflect, themselves in shining waters. It is the water-front only of Blois, however, that exhibits, this fresh complexion; the in- terior is of a proper brownness, as befits a signally historic city. The only disappointment I had there was the discovery that the castle, which is the special object of one's pilgrimage, does not overhang the river, as I had always allowed myself to understand. It overhangs the town, but it is scarcely visible from the stream. That peculiar good fortune is reserved for Amboise and Chaurnont.

The Chateau de Blois is one of the most beautiful and elaborate of all the old royal residences of this part of France, and I suppose it should have all the honors of my description. As you cross its threshold, you step straight into the brilliant movement of the French Renaissance. But it is too rich to describe, - I can only touch it here and there. It must be pre- mised that in speaking of it as one sees it to-day, one speaks of a monument unsparingly restored. The work of restoration has been as ingenious as it is pro- fuse, but it rather chills the imagination. This is perhaps almost the first thing you feel as you ap- proach the castle from the streets of the town. These little streets, as they, leave the river, have pretensions to romantic steepness; one of them, indeed, which resolves itself into a high staircase with divergent wings (the _escalier monumental_), achieved this result so successfully as to remind me vaguely - I hardly know why - of the great slope of the Capitol, beside the Ara Coeli, at Rome. The view of that part of the castle which figures to-day as the back (it is the only aspect I had seen reproduced) exhibits the marks of restoration with the greatest assurance. The long facade, consisting only of balconied windows deeply recessed, erects itself on the summit of a considerable hill, which gives a fine, plunging movement to its foundations. The deep niches of the windows are all aglow with color. They have been repainted with red and blue, relieved with gold figures; and each of them looks more like the royal box at a theatre than like the aperture of a palace dark with memories. For all this, however, and in spite of the fact that, as in some others of the chateaux of Touraine, (always excepting the colossal Chambord, which is not in Touraine!) there is less vastness than one had expected, the least hospitable aspect of Blois is abundantly impressive. Here, as elsewhere, lightness and grace are the key- note; and the recesses of the windows, with their happy proportions, their sculpture, and their color, are the empty frames of brilliant pictures. They need the figure of a Francis I. to complete them, or of a Diane de Poitiers, or even of a Henry III. The base


A LITTLE TOUR IN FRANCE - 4/42

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