V. CEREMONIES AND FESTIVALS
There were also the chatelaines of Thury en Valois - a fine chateau and estate, not very far from us in the other direction. They had splendid gardens and their fruit and vegetables were famous all over the country. Mme. de Thury was a compatriot - the daughter of an American general; the young Comte de Melun from Brumetz - very delicate looking, with a refined student's face. His father was a great friend of the Marechal MacMahon and one of the leaders of the Catholic clerical party, and the young man was very religious. Their woods touched ours and once or twice when we were riding late, we saw him kneeling at a little old shrine, "the White Lady," which was almost hidden under the big trees - so little left that the ordinary passer-by would have seen nothing. There were also the owners of Colinance - rather an ugly square house standing low, surrounded by a marsh, but a good property - and three or four men I did not know - the bride's brother and one or two of her relations.
There was hardly time to introduce every one, as dinner was announced almost immediately. We were a large party, about twenty. All the women, except the bride and me, were dressed in black, high or a very little open - no lace, nor jewels. Henriette was right. I would have looked absurd if I had worn a low dress. The dinner was very good, very abundant and very long. The men said the wines were excellent. The talk was animated enough - it was principally the men who talked. I didn't think the women said much. I listened only, as I was too new in the country to be at all up in local topics.
After coffee the men went off to smoke and we women remained alone for some time. I wasn't sorry, as one had so few opportunities of seeing the neighbours, particularly the women, who rarely went out of their own places. One met the men hunting, or in the train, or at the notary's.
The notary is a most important person in all small country towns in France. Everybody consults him, from the big landowner when he has discussions with his neighbour over right of way, to the peasant who buys a few metres of land as soon as he has any surplus funds. We were constantly having rows with one of our neighbours over a little strip of wood that ran up into ours. Whenever he was angry with us, which happened quite often (we never knew why), he had a deep, ugly ditch made just across the road which we always took when we were riding around the property. The woods were so thick and low, with plenty of thorns, that we could not get along by keeping on one side and were obliged to go back and make quite a long detour. The notary did his best to buy it for us, but the man would never sell - rather enjoyed, I think, having the power to annoy us.
Mme. de Thury and I fraternised a little and I should have liked to see more of her, but soon after that evening they had great trouble. They had a great deal of illness and lost a son. I never saw Thury till after both of them were dead. The chateau had been sold, most of the furniture taken away and the whole place had a deserted, neglected look that made one feel quite miserable. The big drawing-room was piled up with straw, over the doors were still two charming dessus-de-porte, the colours quite fresh - not at all faded - chickens were walking about in another room, and upstairs in a pretty corner room, with a lovely view over woods and park, was a collection of photographs, engravings (one the mother of the late owner), a piece of unfinished tapestry, samplers, china vases, books, papers, two or three knots of faded ribbon, all tossed in a corner like a heap of rubbish. The things had evidently been forgotten in the big move, but it looked melancholy.
The chateau must have been charming when it was furnished and lived in. Quantities of rooms, a long gallery with small rooms on one side, the "garconniere" or bachelors' quarters, led directly into the church, where many Thurys are sleeping their last sleep. The park was beautiful and there was capital shooting. W. had often shot there in the old days when their shooting parties were famous.
We ended our evening with music, the bride playing extremely well. Mme. de Thury also sang very well. She had learnt in Italy and sang in quite bravura style. The evening didn't last very long after the men came in. Everybody was anxious to get the long, cold drive over.
I enjoyed myself very much. It was my first experience of a French country entertainment and it was very different from what I had expected. Not at all stiff and a most cordial welcome. I thought - rather naively perhaps - that it was the beginning of many entertainments of the same kind, but I never dined out again in the country. It is only fair to say that we never asked any one to dine either. It was not the habit of the house, and I naturally fell into their ways. Luncheon was what people liked best, so as not to be too late on the road or to cross the forest after nightfall, when the darkness was sometimes impenetrable. Some of the chatelaines received once a week. On that day a handsome and plentiful luncheon was provided and people came from the neighbouring chateaux, and even from Paris, when the distance was not too great and the trains suited.
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