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Chapter 6

You may go to Amboise either from Blois or from
Tours; it is about half-way between these towns. The
great point is to go, especially if you have put it off
repeatedly; and to go, if possible, on a day when the
great view of the Loire, which you enjoy from the
battlements and terraces, presents itself under a friendly
sky. Three persons, of whom the author of these
lines was one, spent the greater part of a perfect
Sunday morning in looking at it. It was astonishing,
in the course of the rainiest season in the memory of
the oldest Tourangeau, how many perfect days we
found to our hand. The town of Amboise lies, like
Tours, on the left bank of the river, a little white-
faced town, staring across an admirable bridge, and
leaning, behind, as it were, against the pedestal of
rock on which the dark castle masses itself. The town
is so small, the pedestal so big, and the castle so high
and striking, that the clustered houses at the base of
the rock are like the crumbs that have fallen from a
well-laden table. You pass among them, however, to
ascend by a circuit to the chateau, which you attack,
obliquely, from behind. It is the property of the
Comte de Paris, another pretender to the French
throne; having come to him remotely, by inheritance,
from his ancestor, the Duc de Penthievre, who toward
the close of the last century bought it from the crown,
which had recovered it after a lapse. Like the castle
of Blois it has been injured and defaced by base uses,
but, unlike the castle of Blois, it has not been com-
pletely restored. "It is very, very dirty, but very
curious," - it is in these terms that I heard it described
by an English lady, who was generally to be found
engaged upon a tattered Tauchnitz in the little _salon
de lecture_ of the hotel at Tours. The description is
not inaccurate; but it should be said that if part of
the dirtiness of Amboise is the result of its having
served for years as a barrack and as a prison, part of
it comes from the presence of restoring stone-masons,
who have woven over a considerable portion of it a
mask of scaffolding. There is a good deal of neatness
as well, and the restoration of some of the parts seems
finished. This process, at Amboise, consists for the
most part of simply removing the vulgar excrescences
of the last two centuries.

The interior is virtually a blank, the old apart-
ments having been chopped up into small modern
rooms; it will have to be completely reconstructed. A
worthy woman, with a military profile and that sharp,
positive manner which the goodwives who show you
through the chateaux of Touraine are rather apt to
have, and in whose high respectability, to say nothing
of the frill of her cap and the cut of her thick brown
dress, my companions and I thought we discovered
the particular note, or _nuance_, of Orleanism, - a com-
petent, appreciative, peremptory person, I say, - at-
tended us through the particularly delightful hour we
spent upon the ramparts of Amboise. Denuded and
disfeatured within, and bristling without with brick-
layers' ladders, the place was yet extraordinarily im-
pressive and interesting. I should confess that we
spent a great deal of time in looking at the view.
Sweet was the view, and magnificent; we preferred it
so much to certain portions of the interior, and to oc-
casional effusions of historical information, that the
old lady with the prove sometimes lost patience with
us. We laid ourselves open to the charge of pre-
ferring it even to the little chapel of Saint Hubert,
which stands on the edge of the great terrace, and
has, over the portal, a wonderful sculpture of the mi-
raculous hunt of that holy man. In the way of plastic
art this elaborate scene is the gem of Amboise. It
seemed to us that we had never been in a place where
there are so many points of vantage to look down
from. In the matter of position Amboise is certainly
supreme among the old houses of the Loire; and I
say this with a due recollection of the claims of Chau-
mont and of Loches, - which latter, by the way (ex-
cuse the afterthought), is not on the Loire. The plat-
forms, the bastions, the terraces, the high-perched
windows and balconies, the hanging gardens and dizzy
crenellations, of this complicated structure, keep you
in perpetual intercourse with an immense horizon.
The great feature of the-place is the obligatory round
tower which occupies the northern end of it, and
which has now been, completely restored. It is of
astounding size, a fortress in itself, and contains,
instead of a staircase, a wonderful inclined plane, so
wide and gradual that a coach and four may be driven
to the top. This colossal cylinder has to-day no
visible use; but it corresponds, happily enough, with
the great circle of the prospect. The gardens of Am-
boise, perched in the air, covering the irregular rem-
nants of the platform on which the castle stands, and
making up in picturesqueness what they lack in ex-
tent, constitute of come but a scanty domain. But
bathed, as we found them, in the autumn sunshine,
and doubly private from their aerial site, they offered
irresistible opportunities for a stroll, interrupted, as
one leaned against their low parapets, by long, con-
templative pauses. I remember, in particular, a certain
terrace, planted with clipped limes, upon which we
looked down from the summit of the big tower. It
seemed from that point to be absolutely necessary to
one's happiness to go down and spend the rest of the
morning there; it was an ideal place to walk to and
fro and talk. Our venerable conductress, to whom
our relation had gradually become more filial, per-
mitted us to gratify this innocent wish, - to the extent,
that is, of taking a turn or two under the mossy _tilleuls._
At the end of this terrace is the low door, in a wall,
against the top of which, in 1498, Charles VIII., ac-
cording to an accepted tradition, knocked his head to
such good purpose that he died. It was within the
walls of Amboise that his widow, Anne of Brittany,
already in mourning for three children, two of whom
we have seen commemorated in sepulchral marble at
Tours, spent the first violence of that grief which was
presently dispelled by a union with her husband's
cousin and successor, Louis XII. Amboise was a fre-
quent resort of the French Court during the sixteenth
century; it was here that the young Mary Stuart spent
sundry hours of her first marriage. The wars of re-
ligion have left here the ineffaceable stain which they
left wherever they passed. An imaginative visitor at
Amboise to-day may fancy that the traces of blood
are mixed with the red rust on the crossed iron bars
of the grim-looking balcony, to which the heads of
the Huguenots executed on the discovery of the con-
spiracy of La Renaudie are rumored to have been
suspended. There was room on the stout balustrade -
an admirable piece of work - for a ghastly array. The
same rumor represents Catherine de' Medici and the
young queen as watching from this balcony the _noyades_
of the captured Huguenots in the Loire. The facts of
history are bad enough; the fictions are, if possible,
worse; but there is little doubt that the future Queen
of Scots learnt the first lessons of life at a horrible
school. If in subsequent years she was a prodigy of
innocence and virtue, it was not the fault of her whilom ???
mother-in-law, of her uncles of the house of Guise, or
of the examples presented to her either at the
windows of the castle of Amboise or in its more pri-
vate recesses.

It was difficult to believe in these dark deeds, how-
ever, as we looked through the golden morning at the
placidity of the far-shining Loire. The ultimate con-
sequence of this spectacle was a desire to follow the
river as far as the castle of Chaumont. It is true
that the cruelties practised of old at Amboise might
have seemed less phantasmal to persons destined to
suffer from a modern form of inhumanity. The mis-
tress of the little inn at the base of the castle-rock -
it stands very pleasantly beside the river, and we had
breakfasted there - declared to us that the Chateau de
Chaumont, which is often during the autumn closed
to visitors, was at that particular moment standing so
wide open to receive us that it was our duty to hire
one of her carriages and drive thither with speed.
This assurance was so satisfactory that we presently
found ourselves seated in this wily woman's most com-
modious vehicle, and rolling, neither too fast nor too
slow, along the margin of the Loire. The drive of
about an hour, beneath constant clumps of chestnuts,
was charming enough to have been taken for itself;
and indeed, when we reached Chaumont, we saw that
our reward was to be simply the usual reward of
virtue, - the consciousness of having attempted the
right. The Chateau de Chaumont was inexorably
closed; so we learned from a talkative lodge-keeper,
who gave what grace she could to her refusal. This
good woman's dilemma was almost touching; she
wished to reconcile two impossibles. The castle was
not to be visited, for the family of its master was
staying there; and yet she was loath to turn away a
party of which she was good enough to say that it had
a _grand genre;_ for, as she also remarked, she had her
living to earn. She tried to arrange a compromise,
one of the elements of which was that we should
descend from our carriage and trudge up a hill which
would bring us to a designated point, where, over the
paling of the garden, we might obtain an oblique and
surreptitious view of a small portion of the castle walls.
This suggestion led us to inquire (of each other) to
what degree of baseness it is allowed to an enlightened
lover of the picturesque to resort, in order to catch a
glimpse of a feudal chateau. One of our trio decided,
characteristically, against any form of derogation; so
she sat in the carriage and sketched some object that
was public property, while her two companions, who
were not so proud, trudged up a muddy ascent which
formed a kind of back-stairs. It is perhaps no more
than they deserved that they were disappointed. Chau-
mont is feudal, if you please; but the modern spirit is
in possession. It forms a vast clean-scraped mass,
with big round towers, ungarnished with a leaf of ivy
or a patch of moss, surrounded by gardens of moderate
extent (save where the muddy lane of which I speak
passes near it), and looking rather like an enormously
magnified villa. The great merit of Chaumont is its
position, which almost exactly resembles that of Am-
boise; it sweeps the river up and down, and seems to
look over half the province. This, however, was better
appreciated as, after coming down the hill and re-
entering the carriage, we drove across the long sus-
pension-bridge which crosses the Loire just beyond
the village, and over which we made our way to the
small station of Onzain, at the farther end, to take
the train back to Tours. Look back from the middle
of this bridge; the whole picture composes, as the
painters say. The towers, the pinnacles, the fair front
of the chateau, perched above its fringe of garden and
the rusty roofs of the village, and facing the afternoon
sky, which is reflected also in the great stream that
sweeps below, - all this makes a contribution to your
happiest memories of Touraine.

Henry James