X. NORMAN CHATEAUX

We never remained all summer at our place. August was a disagreeable month there - the woods were full of horse-flies which made riding impossible. No nets could keep them off the horses who were almost maddened by the sting. They were so persistent that we had to take them off with a sharp stick. They stuck like leeches. We generally went to the sea - almost always to the Norman Coast - establishing ourselves in a villa - sometimes at Deauville, sometimes at Villers, and making excursions all over the country.

Some of the old Norman chateaux are charming, particularly those which have remained just as they were before the Revolution, but, of course, there are not many of these. When the young ones succeed, there is always a tendency to modify and change, and it is not easy to mix the elaborate luxurious furniture of our times with the stiff old-fashioned chairs and sofas one finds in the old French houses. Merely to look at them one understands why our grandfathers and grandmothers always sat upright.

One of the most interesting of the Norman chateaux is "Abondant," in the department of the Eure-et-Loir, belonging until very recently to the Vallambrosa family. It belonged originally to la Duchesse de Tourzel, gouvernante des Enfants de France (children of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette). After the imprisonment of the Royal Family, Madame de Tourzel retired to her chateau d'Abondant and remained there all through the Revolution. The village people and peasants adored her and she lived there peacefully through all those terrible days. Neither chateau nor park was damaged in any way, although she was known to be a devoted friend and adherent of the unfortunate Royal Family. A band of half-drunken "patriots" tried to force their way into the park one day, with the intention of cutting down the trees and pillaging the chateau, but all the villagers instantly assembled, armed with pitchforks, rusty old guns and stones, and dispersed the rabble.

Abondant is a Louis XV chateau - very large - seventeen rooms en facade - but simple in its architecture. The Duchess occupied a large corner room on the ground-floor, with four windows. The ceiling (which was very high) and walls covered with toiles de Jouy. An enormous bed a baldaquin was trimmed with the same toile and each post had a great bunch of white feathers on top.

In 1886, when one of my friends was staying at Abondant, the hangings were the same which had been there all through the Revolution. She told me she had never been so miserable as the first time she stayed at the chateau during the lifetime of the late Duchesse de Vallambrosa. They gave her the Duchesse de Tourzel's room, thinking it would interest her as a chambre historique. She was already nervous at sleeping alone on the ground-floor, far from all the other inmates of the chateau. The room was enormous - walls nearly five metres high - the bed looked like an island in the midst of space; there was very little furniture, and the white feathers on the bed-posts nodded and waved in the dim light. She scarcely closed her eyes, could not reason with herself, and asked the next morning to have something less magnificent and more modern.

In all the bedrooms the dressing-tables were covered with dentelle de Binche[15] of the epoch, and all the mirrors and various little boxes for powder, rouge, patches, and the hundred accessories for a fine lady's toilette in those days, were in Vernis Martin absolutely intact. The drawing-rooms still had their old silk hangings - a white ground covered with wreaths of flowers and birds with wonderful bright plumage - hand-painted - framed in wood of two shades of light green.

  [15] Binche, name of a village in Belgium where the lace is made.

The big drawing-room was entirely panelled in wood of the same light green, most beautifully and delicately carved. These old boiseries were all removed when the chateau was sold. After the death of the Duchesse de Tourzel the chateau went to her niece, the Duchesse des Cars - who left it to her niece, the Duchesse de Vallambrosa, a very rare instance, in France, of a property descending directly through several generations in the female line.

It was sold by the Vallambrosas. The old wood panels are in the Paris house of a member of that family. The park was very large and beautifully laid out, with the fine trees one sees all over Normandy.

Twenty years ago a salle de spectacle "en verdure" still existed in the park - the seats were all in grass; the coulisses (side scenes) made in the trees of the park - their boughs cut and trained into shape, to represent green walls, a marble group of allegorical figures at the back. It was most carefully preserved - the seats of the amphitheatre looked like green velvet and the trees were always cut in the same curious shapes. It seemed quite a fitting part of the fine old place, with its memories of past fetes and splendours, before the whirlwind of liberty and equality swept over the country.

Many of the chateaux are changing hands. The majorat (entail) doesn't exist in France, and as the fortunes must always be divided among the children, it becomes more and more difficult to keep up the large places. Life gets dearer every day - fortunes don't increase - very few young Frenchmen of the upper classes do anything. The only way of keeping up the big places is by making a rich marriage - the daughter of a rich banker or industrial, or an American.

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