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Chapter 9

I hardly know what to say about the tone of
Langeais, which, though I have left it to the end of
my sketch, formed the objective point of the first ex-
cursion I made from Tours. Langeais is rather dark
and gray; it is perhaps the simplest and most severe
of all the castles of the Loire. I don't know why I
should have gone to see it before any other, unless it
be because I remembered the Duchesse de Langeais,
who figures in several of Balzac's novels, and found
this association very potent. The Duchesse de Lan-
geais is a somewhat transparent fiction; but the
castle from which Balzac borrowed the title of his
heroine is an extremely solid fact. My doubt just
above as to whether I should pronounce it excep-
tionally grey came from my having seen it under a
sky which made most things look dark. I have, how-
ever, a very kindly memory of that moist and melan-
choly afternoon, which was much more autumnal than
many of the days that followed it. Langeais lies
down the Loire, near the river, on the opposite side
from Tours, and to go to it you will spend half an
hour in the train. You pass on the way the Chateau
de Luynes, which, with its round towers catching
the afternoon light, looks uncommonly well on a hill
at a distance; you pass also the ruins of the castle
of Cinq-Mars, the ancestral dwelling of the young
favorite of Louis XIII., the victim, of Richelieu, the
hero of Alfred de Vigny's novel, which is usually re-
commended to young ladies engaged in the study of
French. Langeais is very imposing and decidedly
sombre; it marks the transition from the architecture
of defence to that of elegance. It rises, massive and
perpendicular, out of the centre of the village to
which it gives its name, and which it entirely domi-
nates; so that, as you stand before it, in the crooked
and empty street, there is no resource for you but to
stare up at its heavy overhanging cornice and at the
huge towers surmounted with extinguishers of slate.
If you follow this street to the end, however, you
encounter in abundance the usual embellishments of
a French village: little ponds or tanks, with women
on their knees on the brink, pounding and thumping
a lump of saturated linen; brown old crones, the tone
of whose facial hide makes their nightcaps (worn by
day) look dazzling; little alleys perforating the thick-
ness of a row of cottages, and showing you behind,
as a glimpse, the vividness of a green garden. In
the rear of the castle rises a hill which must formerly
have been occupied by some of its appurtenances,
and which indeed is still partly enclosed within its
court. You may walk round this eminence, which,
with the small houses of the village at its base, shuts
in the castle from behind. The enclosure is not
defiantly guarded, however; for a small, rough path,
which you presently reach, leads up to an open gate.
This gate admits you to a vague and rather limited
_parc_, which covers the crest of the hill, and through
which you may walk into the gardens of castle.
These gardens, of small extent, confront the dark
walls with their brilliant parterres, and, covering the
gradual slope of the hill, form, as it were, the fourth
side of the court. This is the stateliest view of the
chateau, which looks to you sufficiently grim and gray
as, after asking leave of a neat young woman who
sallies out to learn your errand, you sit there on a
garden bench and take the measure of the three tall
towers attached to this inner front and forming sever-
ally the cage of a staircase. The huge bracketed cor-
nice (one of the features of Langeais) which is merely
ornamental, as it is not machicolated, though it looks
so, is continued on the inner face as well. The whole
thing has a fine feudal air, though it was erected on
the rains of feudalism.

The main event in the history of the castle is the
marriage of Anne of Brittany to her first husband,
Charles VIII., which took place in its great hall in
1491. Into this great hall we were introduced by
the neat young woman, - into this great hall and
into sundry other halls, winding staircases, galleries,
chambers. The cicerone of Langeais is in too great a
hurry; the fact is pointed out in the excellent Guide-
Joanne. This ill-dissimulated vice, however, is to be
observed, in the country of the Loire, in every one
who carries a key. It is true that at Langeais there
is no great occasion to indulge in the tourist's weak-
ness of dawdling; for the apartments, though they
contain many curious odds and ends of, antiquity, are
not of first-rate interest. They are cold and musty,
indeed, with that touching smell of old furniture, as
all apartments should be through which the insatiate
American wanders in the rear of a bored domestic,
pausing to stare at a faded tapestry or to read the
name on the frame of some simpering portrait.

To return to Tours my companion and I had counted
on a train which (as is not uncommon in France)
existed only in the "Indicateur des Chemins de Fer;"
and instead of waiting for another we engaged a vehicle
to take us home. A sorry _carriole_ or _patache_ it proved
to be, with the accessories of a lumbering white mare
and a little wizened, ancient peasant, who had put on,
in honor of the occasion, a new blouse of extraordinary
stiffness and blueness. We hired the trap of an energetic
woman who put it "to" with her own hands; women
in Touraine and the B1esois appearing to have the
best of it in the business of letting vehicles, as well as
in many other industries. There is, in fact, no branch
of human activity in which one is not liable, in France,
to find a woman engaged. Women, indeed, are not
priests; but priests are, more or less; women. They
are not in the army, it may be said; but then they _are_
the army. They are very formidable. In France one
must count with the women. The drive back from
Langeais to Tours was long, slow, cold; we had an
occasional spatter of rain. But the road passes most
of the way close to the Loire, and there was some-
thing in our jog-trot through the darkening land, beside
the flowing, river, which it was very possible to enjoy.

Henry James