" GIRLS, I have had a scintillation in the night: listen and approve!" said Amanda, coming into the room where her comrades sat upon the floor, in the first stages of despair, at the impossibility of getting the accumulated rubbish of three months' travel into a couple of immense trunks.
"Blessed girl! you always bring a ray of light just at the darkest moment," returned Lavinia, with a sigh of relief, while Matilda looked over a barricade of sketch-books bristling with paint-brushes, and added anxiously,—
"If you could suggest how I am to work this miracle, you will be a public benefactor."
"Behold the amendment I propose," began Amanda, perching herself on one of the arks. "We have decided to travel slowly and comfortably, through France to Switzerland, stopping where we like, and staying as long as we please at any place we fancy, being as free as air, and having all the world before us where to choose, as it were."
"The route you have laid out is a charming one, and I don't see how you can improve it," said Lavinia, who, though she was supposed to be the matron, guide, and protector of the younger girls, was in reality nothing but a dummy, used for Mrs. Grundy's sake, and let the girls do just as they pleased, only claiming the right to groan and moan as much as she liked when neuralgia, her familiar demon, claimed her for its own.
"One improvement remains to be made. Are these trunks a burden, a vexation of spirit, a curse?" demanded Amanda, tapping one with her carefully cherished finger-tips.
"They are! they are!" groaned the others, regarding the monsters with abhorrence.
"Then let us get rid of them, and set out with no luggage but a few necessaries in a shawl-strap."
"We will! we will!" returned the chorus.
"Shall we burn up our rubbish, or give it away?" asked Lavinia, who liked energetic measures, and was ready to cast her garments to the four winds of heaven, to save herself from the agonies of packing.
"I shall never give up my pictures, nor my boots!" cried Matilda, gathering her idols to her breast in a promiscuous heap.
"Be calm and listen," returned the scintillator. "Pack away all but the merest necessaries, and we will send the trunk by express to Lyons. Then with our travelling-bags and bundles, we can follow at our leisure."
"'Tis well! 'tis well!" replied the chorus, and they all returned to their packing, which was performed in the most characteristic manner.
Amanda never seemed to have any clothes, yet was always well and appropriately dressed; so it did not take her long to lay a few garments, a book or two, a box of Roman-coin lockets, scarabæ brooches, and cinque-cento rings, likewise a swell hat and habit, into her vast trunk; then lock and label it in the most business-like and thorough manner. Matilda found much difficulty in reconciling paint-pots and silk gowns, blue, hats and statuary, French boots and Yankee notions. But order was at length produced from chaos, and the young lady refreshed her weary soul by painting large red M's all over the trunk to mark it for her own.
Miss Lavinia packed and repacked four or five times, forgetting needfuls, which, of course, were always at the very bottom. At the fifth plunge into the depths her patience gave out, and with a vow to be a slave no longer to her treacherous memory, she tumbled every thing in, performed a solemn jig on the lid till it locked, then pasted large, but illegible placards in every available spot, and rested from her labors with every nerve in a throbbing condition.
Shawl-straps of the largest, strongest sort were next procured, and the three bundles made up with much discussion and merriment.
Into Amanda's went a volume of Shakspeare of great size and weight, but as indispensable as a tooth-brush to its owner; toilet-articles tied up in a handkerchief, a few necessary garments, and much paper,—for Amanda was inspired with poetic fire at unexpected moments, also had five hundred bosom friends, in answering whose epistolary gushings much stationery was consumed. A pistol, a massive crust of bread, and an oval box containing all the dainty appliances for the culture, preservation, and ornamentation of the finger-nails, made up her store.
Matilda's bundle consisted of sketch-books, a trifle of haberdashery, a curling-stick that was always tumbling out at inopportune moments, yards of blue ribbon, and a camp-stool strapped outside in company with a Japanese umbrella, a gift from the stout doctor, destined to be cursed in many languages by the unhappy beings into whose backs, eyes, and stomachs it was poked before its wanderings ended.
Lavinia confined herself to a choice collection of bottles and pill-boxes, fur boots, a gray cloud, and several French novels,—the solace of wakeful nights. A scarlet army blanket, with U. S. in big black letters on it, enveloped her travelling medicine-chest, and lent a cheerful air to the sombre spinster, whose black attire and hoarse voice made the sobriquet of Raven most appropriate.
With these imposing bundles in one hand, little pouches slung over the shoulder, plain travelling-suits, subdued hats, and resolute but benign countenances, our three errant damsels set forth one bright June day, to wander through France at their own sweet will. Not a fear assailed them; for all men were civil, all women friendly, and the world wore its sunniest aspect. Not a doubt perplexed them; for the gifted Amanda spoke many tongues, understood all sorts of money, could grapple successfully with Murray and Bradshaw, and never got into the wrong corporation when she traced a route with unerring accuracy through the mysteries of an Indicator. No lord and master, in the shape of brother, spouse, or courier, ordered their outgoings and incomings; but liberty the most entire was theirs, and they enjoyed it heartily. Wisely and well too; for, though off the grand route, they behaved themselves in public as decorously as if the eyes of all prim Boston were upon them, and proved by their triumphant success, that the unprotected might go where they liked, if they conducted themselves with the courtesy and discretion of gentle-women.
How pleasant were the early sail down the Rance from Dinan to St. Malo, the comfortable breakfast in the flowery little court of Hotel Franklin, and the stroll afterward .about the quaint old town, looking at the churches, buying fruit, and stoutly resisting the temptations of antique jewelry displayed in the dingy shops! Lavinia never forgave herself, however, for not securing a remarkable watch, and Amanda sighed months afterward for a Breton collar and cross of charming antiquity and ugliness.
Matilda boldly planted her camp-stool, unfurled her umbrella, and, undaunted by the crowd of round-capped, blue-bloused, wooden-shoed children about her, began to draw the church.
"I intend to study architecture, and to sketch all the cathedrals we see," said the ardent art-student, struggling manfully with the unruly umbrella, the unsavory odors from the gutter, and the garrulous crowd leaning over her shoulder, peering under her hat-brim, and examining all her belongings with a confiding freedom rather embarrassing.
"Do you know what impertinent things these little scamps are saying to you?" asked Amanda, pausing in a lecture on surface drainage which she was delivering to Lavinia, who was vainly struggling to cram a fat wine bottle, a cabbage leaf of strawberries, and some remarkable cakes into the lunch-basket.
"No: I don't; and that is the advantage of not knowing any language but my own," complacently replied Matilda, who considered all study but that of art, as time wasted, and made her small store of French answer admirably, by talking very loud and fast, and saying, "Oui, oui, oui" on all occasions with much gesticulation, and bows and smiles of great suavity and sweetness.
"Clear out this rabble, or come back to the hotel and wait for the bus. We shall have the whole town round us soon, and I can't stand it," said Amanda, who had no romantic admiration for the Great Unwashed.
"You think I can't do it? Voila!" and, rising suddenly to an unexpected height, Matilda waved the umbrella like a bâton, cried "Allez!" in a stern voice, and the children fled like chaff before the wind.
" You see how little is needed, so don't vex me with learning your old verbs any more! " and Matilda closed her book with an air of calm satisfaction.
"Come home and rest. It is so warm here I am fairly melted," prayed Lavinia, who had been longing for summer, and of course, was not suited when she got it.
"Now, do remember one thing: don't let us be gregarious. We never know who we may pick up if we talk to people; and stray acquaintances are sad bores sometimes. Granny is such a cross old dear she won't say a word to any one if she can help it; but you, Mat, can't be trusted if we meet any one who talks English. So be on your guard, or the peace of this party is lost," said Amanda, impressively.
"We are not likely to meet any but natives in this wilderness; so don't excite yourself, Mandy, dear," replied Matilda, who, being of a social turn and an attractive presence, was continually making friends, to the great annoyance of her more prudent comrades.
In the flowery court-yard sat the group that one meets everywhere on the Continent,—even in the wilds of Brittany. The father and mother stout, tired, and rather subdued by the newness of things; the son, Young America personified, loud, important, and inquisitive; the daughter, pretty, affected, and over-dressed; all on the lookout for adventures and titles, fellow-countrymen to impress, and foreigners eager to get the better of them. Seeing the peril from afar, Amanda buried herself in Murray, to read up the tomb of Chateaubriand, the tides, population, and any other useful bit of history ; for Amanda was a thrifty soul, and
"Gathered honey all the day,
From every opening flower."
Lavinia, finding the court damp, shrouded herself in the gray cloud, put her feet on the red bundle, and fortified herself with a Turner's pill.
But Matilda, guileless girl, roamed to and fro, patted the horses at the gate, picked flowers that no French hand would have dared to touch, and studied the effect of light and shade on the red head of the garçon, who gazed sentimentally at "the blonde 'Mees,'" as he artlessly watered the wine for dinner.
The Americans had their eye upon her, and felt that, though the others might be forbidding English women, this one could be made to talk. So they pounced upon their prey, to the dismay of her mates, and proceeded "to ask fifty questions to the minute. Poor Mat, glad to hear the sound of her native tongue, fell into the snare, and grew more confiding every moment.
"She is telling the family history," whispered Lavinia, in a tone of despair.
"Now they are asking where we came from," added Amanda, casting down her book in agony.
"Wink at her," sighed Lavinia.
"Call to her," groaned Amanda, as they heard their treasured secret betrayed, and the enemy clamoring for further information about this charming trip.
"Matilda! bring me my shawl," commanded the Dowager.
"Come and see if you don't think we had better go direct to Tours," said the wary Amanda, hoping to put the enemy off the track.
The victim came, and vials of wrath were poured upon her head in one unceasing flow till the omnibus started, and the ladies were appeased by finding that the enemy did not follow.
"Promise that you won't talk to any but natives, or I decline to lead this expedition," said Amanda firmly.
"I promise," returned Mat, with penitent meekness.
"Now we've got her!" croaked the Raven; "for she will have to learn French or hold her tongue."
"The language of the eye remains to me, and am a proficient in that, ma'am," said Mat, roused by these efforts to deny her the right of free speech.
"You are welcome to it, dear," and Amanda departed to buy tickets and despatch the trunks, with secret misgivings that they would never be found again.
"Now we are fairly started, with no more weighing of luggage, fussing over checks, or packing of traps to afflict us. What a heavenly sense of freedom it gives one, to have nothing but an independent shawl-strap," said Matilda, as they settled themselves in a vacant car, and stowed away the bundles.
What a jolly day that was to be sure! Whether it was the air, the good coffee, or the liberty, certain it is that three merrier maids never travelled from St. Malo to Le Mans on a summer's day. Even the Raven forgot her woes, and became so exhilarated that she smashed her bromide bottle out of the window, declaring herself cured, and tried to sing "Hail Columbia," in a voice like an asthmatic bagpipe.
Mat amused herself and her comrades by picking up the different articles that kept tumbling down on her head from her badly built bundle; while Amanda scintillated to such an extent that the others laughed themselves into hysterics, and lay exhausted, prone upon the seats.
They ate, drank, sung, gossiped, slept, read, and revelled, till another passenger got in, when propriety clothed them as with a garment, and the mirthful damsels became three studious statues.
The new-comer was a little priest; so rosy and young that they called him the "Reverend Boy." He seemed rather dismayed, at first; but, finding the ladies silent and demure, he took heart and read diligently in a dingy little prayer-book, stealing shy glances now and then from under his broad-brimmed hat at Amanda's white hands, or Matilda's yellow locks, as if these vanities of the flesh had not quite lost their charms for him. By and by he fell asleep, and leaned in his corner, making quite a pretty picture; for the ugly hat was off, his boyish face as placid as a child's, his buckled shoes, and neat black-stockinged legs stretched comfortably out, his plump hands folded over the dingy book, and the little bands lay peacefully on his breast.
He was quite at their mercy now; so the three women looked as much as they liked, wondering if the poor dear boy was satisfied with the life he had chosen, and getting tenderly pitiful over the losses he might learn to regret when it was too late. His dreams seemed to be pleasant ones, however, for once he laughed a blithe, boyish laugh, good to hear; and when he woke, he rubbed his blue eyes and stared about, smiling like a newly roused baby.
He got out all too soon, was joined by several other clerical youths, and disappeared with much touching of big beavers, and wafting of cassocks.
Innocent, reverend little boy! I wonder what became of him, and hope his sleep is as quiet now as then,—his awakening as happy as it seemed that summer day.
Six o'clock saw our damsels at Le Mans; and, after dinner, a sunset walk took them to the grand old cathedral, where they wandered till moonrise. Pure Gothic of the twelfth century, rich in stained glass, carved screens, tombs of kings and queens, dim little chapels, where devout souls told their beads before shadowy pictures of saints and martyrs, while over all the wonderful arches seemed to soar, one above the other, light and graceful as the natural curves of drooping branches, or the rise and fall of some great fountain.
"We shall not see any thing finer than this, I'm sure. It's a perfect revelation to me," said Matilda, in a calm rapture at the beauty all about her.
"This is a pious-feeling church, and I could say my prayers here with all my soul; for it seems as if the religion of centuries had got built into it," added Lavinia, thinking of the ugly imitations at home.
"You will both turn Catholic before we get through," prophesied Amanda, retiring to study the tomb of Berengaria, Cœur de Lion's wife.
The square before the hotel was gay with a market, many soldiers lounging about, and flocks of people eating ices before the cafés. The ladies enjoyed it from the balcony, and then slumbered peacefully in a great room with three alcoves, much muslin drapery, and a bowl and pitcher like a good-sized cup and saucer.
Another look at the cathedral in the early morning, and then away to Tours, which place they found a big, clean, handsome city, all astir for the Fête-Dieu.
"We will stay over Sunday and see it," was the general vote as the trio headed for the great church, and, catching sight of it, they subsided into a seat by the fountain opposite, and sat looking silently at the magnificent pile.
How strangely impressive and eloquent it was! The evening red touched its gray towers with a mellow light, like sunshine on a venerable head. Lower down, flights of rooks circled round the fretted niches, quaint windows, and grotesque gargoyles, while the great steps below, swarmed with priests and. soldiers, gay strangers and black-robed nuns, children and beggars.
For an hour our pilgrims sat and studied the wonderful façade, or walked round the outside, examining the rich carvings that covered every inch of the walls. Twilight fell before they had thought of entering, and feeling that they had seen enough for that night, they went thoughtfully home to dream of solemn shadows and saintly faces, for the cathedral haunted them still.
Next day was spent in viewing Charlemagne's Tower, and seeing the grand procession in honor of the day. The streets were hung with garlands, gay tapestries and banners, strewn with fresh boughs, and lined with people in festival array. As the procession passed, women ran out and scattered rose-leaves before it, and one young mother set her blooming baby on a heap of greenery in the middle of the street, leaving it there, that the Holy Ghost under its canopy might pass over it. A pretty sight, the rosy little creature smiling in the sunshine as it sat playing with its own blue shoes, while the golden pageant went by; the chanting priests stepping carefully, and looking down with sudden benignity in their tired faces as the holy shadow fell on the bright head, making baby blessed and saved for ever in its pious mother's eyes.
A great band played finely, scarlet soldiers followed, then the banners of patron saints were borne by children. Saint Agnes and her lamb led a troop of pretty little girls carrying tall, white lilies, filling the air with their sweetness. Mary, Our Mother, was followed by many orphans with black ribbons crossed over the young hearts that had lost so much. Saint Martin led the charity boys in purple suits of just the color of the mantle he was dividing with the beggar on the banner. A pleasant emblem of the charitable cloak that covers so many.
Priests in full splendor paced solemnly along with censers swinging, candles flickering, sweet-voiced boys singing, and hundreds kneeling as they passed. Most impressive figures, unless one caught a glimpse of something comically human to disturb the effect of the heavenly pageant. Lavinia had an eye for the ludicrous, and though she dropped a tear over the orphans, and with difficulty resisted a strong desire to catch and kiss the pretty baby, she scandalized her neighbors by laughing outright the next minute. A particularly portly, pious-looking priest, who was marching with superb dignity, and chanting like a devout bumble-bee, suddenly mislaid his temper, and injured the effect by boxing a charity boy's ears with his gilded missal, and then capped the climax by taking a pinch of snuff with a sonorous satisfaction that convulsed the heretic.
The afternoon was spent in the church, wandering to and fro, each alone to study and enjoy in her own way. Matilda lost her head entirely, and had silent raptures over the old pictures. Amanda said her prayers, looked up her dates, and imparted her facts in a proper,and decorous manner, while Lavinia went up and down, finding for herself little pictures not painted by hands, and reading histories more interesting to her than those of saints and martyrs.
In one dim chapel, with a single candle lighting up the divine sorrow of the Mater Dolorosa, knelt a woman in deep black, weeping and praying all alone. In another flowery nook dedicated to the Infant Jesus, a peasant girl was telling her beads over the baby asleep in her lap; her sunburnt face refined and beautified by the tenderness of mother-love. In a third chapel a pale, wasted, old man sat propped in a chair, while his rosy old wife prayed heartily to St. Gratien, the patron saint of the church, for the recovery of her John Anderson. And most striking of all, was a dark, handsome young man, well-dressed and elegant, who was waiting at the door of a confessional with some great trouble in his face, as he muttered and crossed himself, while his haggard eyes were fixed on the benignant figure of St. Francis, as if asking himself if it were possible for him also, to put away the pleasant sins and follies of the world, and lead a life like that which embalms the memory of that good man.
"If we don't go away to-morrow we never shall, for this church will bewitch us, and make it impossible to leave," said Amanda, when at length they tore themselves away.
"I give up trying to sketch cathedrals. It can't be done, and seems impious to try," said Matilda, quite exhausted by something deeper than pleasure.
"I think the 'Reminiscences of a Rook' would make a capital story. They are long-lived birds, and could tell tales of the past that would entirely eclipse our modern rubbish," said Lavinia, taking a last look at the solemn towers, and the shadowy birds that had haunted them for ages.
The ladies agreed to be off early in the morning, that they might reach Amboise in time for the eleven o'clock breakfast. Amanda was to pay the bill, and to make certain inquiries at the office; Mat to fly out and do a trifle of shopping; while Lavinia packed up the bundles and mounted guard over them. They separated, but in half an hour all met again, not in their room according to agreement, but before the cathedral, which all had decided not to revisit on any account.
Matilda was there first, and as each of the others came stealing round the corner, she greeted them with a laugh, in which all joined after the first surprise was over.
"I told you it would "bewitch us," said Amanda; and then all took a farewell look, which lasted so long ,they had to rush hack to the hotel in moat unseemly haste.
"Now to fresh châteaux and churches new," sang Lavinia, as they rolled away on the fourth stage of their summer journey. A very short stage it was, and soon they were in an entirely new scene, for Amboise was a little, old-time village on the banks of the Loire, looking as if it had been asleep for a hundred years. The Lion d'Or was a quaint place, so like the inns described in French novels, that one kept expecting to see some of Dumas' heroes come dashing up, all boots, plumes, and pistols, with a love-letter for some court beauty in the castle on the hill beyond.
Queer galleries and stairs led up outside the house to the rooms above. The salle-à-manger was across a court, and every dish came from a kitchen round the corner. The garçon a beaming, ubiquitous creature, trotted perpetually, diving clown steps, darting into dark corners, or skipping up ladders, producing needfuls from most unexpected places. The bread came from the stable, soup from the cellar, coffee out of a meal-chest, and napkins from the housetop, apparently, for Adolphe went up among the weather-cocks to get them.
"No one knows us, no one can speak a word of English, and if we happen to die here it will never be known. How romantic and nice it is!" exclaimed Mat, in good spirits, for the people treated the ladies as if they were duchesses in disguise, and the young women liked it.
"I'm not so sure that the romance is all it looks. We should be in a sweet quandary if any thing happened to our sheet-anchor here. Just remember, in any danger, save Amanda, first, then she will save us. But if she is lost, all is lost," replied Lavinia, darkly, for she always took tragical views of life when her bones ached.
Up the hill they went after breakfast; and balm was found for the old lady's woes in the sight of many Angora cats, of great size and beauty. White as snow, with tails like plumes, and mild, yellow eyes, were these charmers. At every window sat one; on every door-step sprawled a bunch of down; and frequently the eye of the tabby-loving spinster was gladdened by the touching spectacle of a blonde mamma in the bosom of her young family.
"If I could only carry it, I'd have one of those dears, no matter what it cost!" cried Lavinia, more captivated by a live cat than by all the dead Huguenots that Catherine de Medicis hung over the castle walls on a certain memorable occasion.
"Well, you can't, so come on and improve your mind with some good, useful history," said Amanda, leading them forward. "You must remember that Charles VII. was born here in 1470. That Anne of Brittany married him for her first husband, and that he bumped his head against a low door in the garden here above, as he was running through to play bowls with his Anne, and it killed him."
"Which? the bump or the bowls?" asked Mat, who liked to have things clearly stated.
"Don't be frivolous, child. Here Margaret of Anjou and her son were reconciled to Warwick. Abd-el Kader and his family were kept prisoners here, and in the garden is a tomb with a crescent on it; likewise a 'pleached walk,' and a winding drive inside the great tower, up which lords and ladies used to ride straight into the hall," continued the sage Amanda, who yearned to enlighten the darkness of her careless friends.
A brisk old woman did the honors of the castle, showing them mouldy chapels, sepulchral halls, rickety stairs, grubby cells, and pitch-dark passages, till even the romantic Matilda was glad to see the light of day, and repose in the pleasant gardens while removing the cobwebs from her countenance and the dust from her raiment.
A lovely view gladdened their eyes as they stood on the balcony whence the amiable Catherine surveyed the walls hung thick, and the river choked up with the dead. Below, the broad Loire rolled slowly by, between its green banks. Little boys, in the costume of Cupid, were riding great horses in to bathe after the day's work. The gray roofs of the town nestled to the hillside, and far away stretched the summer landscape, full of vague suggestions of new scenes and pleasures to the pilgrims.
"We start for Chenonceaux at seven in the morning; so, ladies, I beg that you will be ready punctually," was the command issued by Amanda, as they went to their rooms, after a festive dinner of what she called "earthworms and cacti," being fond of stewed brains, baked eels, and thistles pigweed chopped up in oil.
Such a droll night as the wanderers spent! No locks on the doors and no bells. Stairs leading straight up the gallery from the court-yard, carts going and coming, soft footsteps stealing up and down, whispers that sounded suspicious (though they were only orders to kill chickens and pick salad for the morrow), and a ghostly whistle that disturbed Lavinia so much, she at last draped herself in the green coverlet, and went boldly forth upon the balcony to see what it meant.
She intended to demand silence, in French that would strike terror to the soul of the bravest native. But when she saw that poor, dear, hard-worked garçon blacking boots by the light of the moon, her heart melted with pity; and, resolving to give him an extra fee, she silently retired to her stone-floored bower, and fell asleep in a stuffy little bed, whose orange curtains filled her dreams with volcanic eruptions, and conflagrations of the most lurid description.
At seven, an open carriage with a stout pair of horses and a sleepy driver, rolled out of the courtyard of the Lion d'Or. Within it sat three ladies, who gazed at one another with cheerful countenances, and surveyed the world with an air of bland content, beautiful to behold.
"I am fairly faint with happiness," sighed Matilda, as they drove through fields scarlet with poppies, starred with daisies, or yellow with buttercups, while birds piped gayly, and trees wore their early green.
"You did not eat any breakfast. That accounts for it. Have a crust, do," said Amanda, who seldom stirred without a good, sweet crust or two; for they were easy to carry, wholesome to chew, and always ready at a moment's notice.
"Let us save our 'entusymusy' till we get to the château, and enjoy this lovely drive in a peaceful manner," said Lavinia, still a little sleepy after her adventures in the glimpses of the moon.
So, for an hour or two they rolled along the smooth road, luxuriating in the summer sights and sounds about them; the wayside cottages, with women working in the gardens; villages clustered round some tiny, picturesque church; windmills whirling on the distant hill-tops; vineyards full of peasants tying up the young vines, or trudging by with baskets on their backs, heaped with green cuttings for the goats at home. Old men, breaking stone by the roadside, touched their red caps to the pilgrims, jolly boys shouted at them from the cherry-trees, and little children peeped from behind the rose-bushes blooming everywhere.
Soon, glimpses of the winding Cher began to appear, then an avenue of stately trees, and then, standing directly in the river, rose the lovely château built for Diane de Poictiers by her royal lover. Leaving the carriage at the lodge, our sight-seers crossed the moat, and, led by a wooden-faced girl with a lisp, entered the famous pleasure-house, which its present owner (a pensive man in black velvet, who played fitfully on a French-horn in a pepperpot tower), is carefully restoring to its former splendor.
The great picture-gallery was the chief attraction; and beginning with Diane herself—a tall, simpering baggage, with a bow, hounds, crescent, and a blue sash for drapery—they were led through a rapid review of all sorts of worthies and unworthies, relics and rubbish, without end. Portraits are always interesting. Even Lavinia, who "had no soul for Art," as Mat said, looked with real pleasure at a bas-relief of Agnes of Sorel, and pictures of Montaigne, Rabelais, Ninon D'Enclos, Madame de Sévigné, and miniatures of La Fayette and Ben Franklin. The latter gentleman looked rather out of place in such society; but, perhaps, his good old face preached the Dianes and Ninons a silent sermon. His plain suit certainly was a relief to the eye, wearied with periwigged sages and bejewelled sinners.
Here was the little theatre where Rousseau's plays were acted. Here were the gilded chairs in which kings had sat, swords heroes had held, books philosophers had pored over, mirrors that had reflected famous beauties, and painted walls that had looked down on royal revels long ago.
The old kitchen had a fireplace big enough for a dozen cooks to have spoilt gallons of broth in, queer pots and pans, and a handy little window, out of which they could fish at any moment, for the river ran below.
The chapel, chambers, balconies, and terraces were all being repaired; for, thanks to George Sand's grandmother, who owned the place in the time of the Revolution, it was spared out of respect to her, and is still a charming relic of the past.
The ladies went down the mossy steps, leading from the gallery to the further shore, and, lying under the oaks, wiled away the noon-time by re-peopling the spot with the shapes that used to inhabit it. A very happy hour it was, dreaming there by the little river, with the scent of new-mown hay in the fresh wind, and before them the airy towers and gables of the old château rising from the stream like a vision of departed splendor, love, and romance.
Having seen every thing, and bought photographs ad libitum of the wooden-faced lisper, who cheated awfully, the pilgrims drove away, satiated with relics, royalty, and "regardez."
Another night in the stony-hearted, orange-colored rooms, with the sleepless garçon sweeping and murmuring outside like a Banshee, while the hens roosted sociably in the gallery, the horses seemed to be champing directly under the bed, and the dead Huguenots bumping down upon the roof from the castle-walls. Another curious meal wafted from the bowels of the earth and cooled by all the airs that blow,—then the shawl-straps were girded anew, the carriage (a half-grown omnibus with the jaundice) mounted, the farewell bows and adieux received, and forth rumbled the duchesses en route for Blois.
"My heart is rent at leaving that lovely château" said Mat, as they crossed the bridge.
"I mourn the earth-worms, the cacti, and the tireless 'gossoon,'" added Amanda, who appreciated French cookery and had enjoyed confidences with Adolphe.
"The cats, the cats, the cats! I could die happy if I had one," murmured Lavinia; and with these laments they left the town behind them.
Any thing hotter than Blois, with its half dried-up river, dusty boulevards, and baked streets, can hardly be imagined. But these indomitable women "did" the church and the castle without flinching. The former was pronounced a failure, but the latter was entirely satisfactory. The Emperor was having it restored in the most splendid manner. The interior seemed rather fresh and gay when contrasted with the time-worn exterior, but the stamped leathern hangings, tiled floors, emblazoned beams, and carved fireplaces, were quite correct. Dragons and crowns, porcupines and salamanders, monograms and flowers, shone everywhere in a maze of scarlet and gold, brown and silver, purple and white.
Here the historical Amanda revelled, and quenched the meek old guide with a burst of information which caused him to stare humbly at "the mad English."
"Regardez, my dears, the chamber and oratory of Catherine de Medicis, who here plotted the death of the Due de Guise. This is the cabinet of her son, Henri III., where he gave the daggers to the gentlemen who were to rid him of his enemy, the hero of the barricades. This is the Salle des Gardes, where Guise was leaning on the chimney-piece when summoned to the king. This is the little room at the entrance of which he was set upon in the act of lifting the drapery, and stabbed with forty wounds."
"Ow! how horrid!" gasped Matilda, staring about as if she saw the sanguinary gentlemen approaching.
"So interesting! Do go on!" cried Lavinia, who was fond of woe, and enjoyed horrors. "This is the hall where the body lay for two hours, covered with a cloak and a cross of straw on the breast," cut in Amanda, as the guide opened his mouth. "Here the king came to look upon the corpse of the once mighty Henri le Balafré, and spurned it with his foot, saying,—I shall not translate it for you, Mat,—'Je ne le croyais pas aussi grand,' and then ordered it to be burnt, and the ashes cast into the river. Remember the date, I implore you, December 23, 1588."
As Amanda paused for breath the little man took the word, and rattled off a jumble of facts and fictions about the window from which Marie de Medicis lowered herself when imprisoned here by her dutiful son, Louis XIII.
"I wish the entire lot had been tossed out after her, for I do think kings and queens are a set of rascals," cried Mat, scandalized by the royal iniquities to which she had been listening, till the hair stood erect upon her innocent head.
The Salle des Etats was being prepared for the trial of the men who had lately attempted the Emperor's life, and a most theatrical display of justice was to be presented to the public. The richly carved stair-case, with Francis the First's salamanders squirming up and down it, was a relic worth seeing; but the parched pilgrims found the little pots of clotted cream quite as interesting, and much more refreshing, when they were served up at lunch (the pots, not the pilgrims), each covered with a fresh vine-leaf, and delicately flavored with buttercups and clover.
Amanda won the favor of the stately garçon by praising them warmly, and he kept bringing in fresh relays, and urging her to eat a third, a fourth, with a persuasive dignity hard to resist.
"But yes, mademoiselle, one more, for nowhere else can créme de St. Gervais be achieved. They are desired, ardently desired, in Paris; but, alas! it is impossible to convey them so far, such is their exquisite delicacy."
How many the appreciative ladies consumed, the muse saith not, but the susceptible heart of the great garçon was deeply touched, and it was with difficulty that they finally escaped from his attentions.
On being presented with a cast-off camp-stool, and a pair of old boots to dispose of, he instantly appropriated them as graceful souvenirs, and clasping his hands, declared with effusion that he would seat his infant upon the so-useful stool, and offer the charming boots to Madame, my wife, who would weep for joy at this touching tableau.
With this melodramatic valedictory, he suffered the guests to depart, and the last they saw of him, he was still waving a dirty napkin as he stood at the gate, big, bland, and devoted to the end, though the drops stood thick upon his manly brow, and the sun glared fiercely on his uncovered head.
"I shall write an article on garçons when I get home," said Lavinia, who was always planning great works and never executing them. "We have known such a nice variety, and all have been so good to us that we owe them a tribute. You remember the dear, tow-headed one at Morlaix, who insisted on handing us dishes of snails, and papers of pins with which to pick out the repulsive delicacy?"
"Yes, and the gloomy one with black linen sleeves who glowered at us, sighed gustily in our ears, and anointed us with gravy as he waited at table," added Amanda.
"Don't forget the dark one, with languid, Spanish eyes and curly hair, on the boat going down the Rance. How picturesque and polite he was, to be sure, as he kept picking up our beer-bottles when they rolled about the deck!" put in Mat, who had the dark youth safely in her sketch-book, with eyes as big and black as blots.
"The solemn one at Tours, who squirted seltzer-water out of window at the beggars, without a smile, was very funny. So was the little one with grubby hands, who tottered under the big dishes, but insisted on carrying the heaviest."
"The fast-trotter at Amboise won my heart, he was so supernaturally lively, and so full of hurried amiability. A very dear garçon indeed."
"Be sure you remember the superb being at Brest, whose eyes threatened to fall out of his head at exciting moments. Also, Flabot's chubby boy who adored Mat, and languished at her, over the onions, like a Cupid in a blue blouse."
"I will do justice to every one," and Lavinia took copious notes on the spot.
Orleans was a prim, tidy town, and after taking a look at the fine statue of the Maid, and laughing at some funny little soldiers drumming wildly in the Place, our travellers went on to Bourges.
"This, now, is a nice, dingy old place, and we will take our walks abroad directly, for it looks like rain, and we must make the most of our time and money," said Amanda;
"For, though on pleasure she was bent,
She had a frugal mind."
Forth they went, as soon as dinner was over, and found the waters all abroad also; for every man was playing away with a hose, every woman scrubbing her door-steps, and the children gayly playing leapfrog in the puddles.
"Nasty, damp place," croaked the Raven, obscuring her disgusted countenance behind the inevitable gray cloud, and gathering her garments about her, as they hopped painfully over the wet stones, for sidewalks there were none.
"I find it refreshing after the dust and heat. Please detach Mat from that shop window, and come on, or we shall see nothing before dark," replied the ever amiable Amanda.
Matilda would glue herself to every jeweller's window, and remain fascinated by the richness there displayed, till led away by force. On this occasion, however, her mania led to good results; for, at the ninth window, as her keepers were about to drag her away, a ring of peculiar antiquity caught their eyes simultaneously, and, to Mat's amazement, both plunged into the little shop, clamoring to see it. A pale emerald, surrounded by diamond chippings set in silver, with a wide gold band cut in a leafy pattern, composed this gem of price.
"A Francis First ring, sold by a noble but impoverished family, and only a hundred francs, Madame," said the man, politely anxious to cheat the fair foreigners out of four times its value.
"Can't afford it," and Lavinia retired. But the shrewd Amanda, with inimitable shrugs and pensive sighs, regretted that it was so costly. "A sweet ring; but, alas! forty francs is all I have to give."
The man was desolated to think that eighty francs was the lowest he was permitted to receive. "Would Madame call again, and perhaps it might be arranged?
Ah, no! Madame is forced to depart early, to return no more.
Mon Dieu! how afflicting! In that case, sixty would be possible for so rare a relic.
Madame is abîmé, but it is not to be. Forty is the utmost; therefore, "Merci" and "Bonjour."
"Hold! Where shall it be sent?" cries the man, giving in, but not confessing it, with awkward frankness.
A thousand thanks! Madame will pay for it at once; and laying down the money, she sweetly bows herself away, with the ring upon her finger.
"What a people!" ejaculated Lavinia, who always felt like a fly in a cobweb when she attempted to deal with the French, in her blunt, confiding way.
"It is great fun," answered Amanda, flashing her ring with satisfaction after the skirmish. "Will Madame kindly direct me to the house of Jacques Cœur?" she added, addressing an old woman clattering by in sabots.
"Allez toujours a droit en vous appuyant sur la gauche," replied the native, beaming and bowing till the streamers of her cap waved in the wind.
They followed these directions, but failed to find the place, and applied to another old woman eating soup on her door-step.
"Suivez le chemin droit en tombant à gauche," was the reply, with a wave of the spoon to all the points of the compass.
"Great heavens, what a language!" cried Lavinia, who had been vainly endeavoring to "support" herself, as she "fell" in every direction over and into the full gutters.
The house was found at last, an ancient, mysterious place, with a very curious window, carved to look as if the shutters were half open, and from behind one peeped a man's head, from the other a woman's, both so life-like that it quite startled the strangers. Murray informed the observers that these servants are supposed to be looking anxiously for their master's return, Jacques having suddenly disappeared, after lending much money to the king, who took that mediæval way of paying his debts.
Service was being held in the church, and the ladies went in to rest and listen, for the music was fine. Much red and white drapery gave the sanctuary the appearance of a gay drawing-room, and the profane Lavinia compared the officiating clergy to a set of red furniture. The biggest priest was the sofa, four deacons the arm-chairs, and three little boys the foot-stools, all upholstered in crimson silk, and neatly covered with lace tidies.
As if to rebuke her frivolity, a lovely fresh voice from the hidden choir suddenly soared up like a lark, singing so wonderfully that a great stillness fell on the listeners, and while it lasted the tawdry church and its mummery were quite forgotten, as the ear led the heart up that ladder of sweet sounds to heaven. Even when the others joined in, one could still hear that child-voice soaring and singing far above the rest, as if some little angel were playing with the echoes among the arches of the roof.
A proud native informed the strangers that it was a poor boy whose exquisite voice was the pride of the town, and would in time make his fortune. As the choir-boys came racing downstairs after service, pulling off their dingy robes as they ran, Lavinia tried to pick out the little angel, but gave it up in despair, for a more uninteresting set of bullet-headed, copper-colored sprigs she never saw.
Rain drove the wanderers back to the hotel, and there they made a night of it. Ordering a fire in the largest of the three stuffy little cells which they occupied, they set about being comfortable, for it had turned chilly, and a furious wind disported itself in and out through numberless crevices. Lavinia was inspired to mull some wine, and brewed a mild jorum that cheered, but did not inebriate.
Amanda produced her Shakspeare, and read aloud while the simmering and sipping went on. Matilda sketched the noble commander as she lay upon the sofa, with her Egyptian profile in fine relief, and her aristocratic red slippers gracefully visible. A large gray cat of a social turn joined the party, and added much to the domesticity of the scene by sitting on the hearth in a cosey bunch and purring blissfully.
"Now it is your turn to propose something for the general amusement, Mandy," said Mat, when the beakers were drained dry and the Montagues and Capulets comfortably buried.
"Let us attend to the culture of our nails," replied Amanda, producing her polissoir, powder, and knife.
Three cups of tepid water were produced, and the company sat eagerly soaking their finger-tips for a time, after which much pruning and polishing went on, to the great bewilderment of Puss, who poked her own paws into the cups, as if trying to test the advantages of this remarkable American custom.
"What would our blessed mother say if she saw us now?" said Mat, proudly examining ten pointed pink nails at the tips of her long fingers.
"People told us we should get demoralized if we came abroad, and this is the first step on the downward road," returned Lavinia, shaking her head over her own backslidings.
"No: it's the second step. We ate calves' brains for dinner, and what I'm sure were frogs' legs with mushrooms. You know we vowed we wouldn't touch their horrid messes, but I really begin to like them," confessed Mat, who had pronounced every dish at dinner "De-licious!"
"Ha! I will write a poem!" cried Amanda, and leaping from the sofa she grasped her pen, flung open her portfolio, and in a few brief moments produced these inspired stanzas.
THE DOWNWARD ROAD.
Two Yankee maids of simple mien,
And earnest, high endeavor,
Come sailing to the land of France,
To escape the winter weather.
When first they reached that vicious shore
They scorned the native ways,
Refused to eat the native grub,
Or ride in native shays.
"Oh, for the puddings of our home!
Oh, for some simple food!
These horrid, greasy, unknown things,
How can you think them good?"
Thus to Amanda did they say,
An uncomplaining maid,
Who ate in peace and answered not
Until one day they said,—
" How can you eat this garbage vile
Against all nature's laws?
How can you eat your nails in points,
Until they look like claws?"
Then patiently Amanda said,
"My loves, just wait a while,
The time will come you will not think
The nails or victuals vile."
A month has passed, and now we see
That prophecy fulfilled;
The ardor of those carping maids
Is most completely chilled.
Matilda was the first to fall,
Lured by the dark gossoon,
In awful dishes one by one,
She dipped her timid spoon.
She promised for one little week
To let her nails grow long,
But added in a saving clause
She thought it very wrong.
Thus did she take the fatal plunge,
Did compromise with sin:
Then all was lost, from that day forth
French ways were sure to win.
Lavinia followed in her train,
And ran the self-same road,
Ate sweet-bread first, then chopped-up brains,
Eels, mushrooms, pickled toad.
She cries, "How flat the home cuisine,
After this luscious food!
Puddings and brutal joints of meat,
That once we fancied good!"
And now in all their leisure hours,
One resource never fails,
Morning and noon and night they sit
And polish up their nails.
Then if in one short fatal month,
A change like this appears,
Oh, what will be the next result
When they have stayed for years?
Tremendous applause greeted this masterly effort, and other poems were produced with the rapidity of genius by Amanda and Lavinia, each writing the alternate verse, à la Beaumont and Fletcher, which gave a peculiar charm to these effusions.
When Matilda was called upon for a festive suggestion, she promptly replied, with a graceful yawn:—
"Let's go to bed."
The meeting, therefore, broke up, and the younger ladies retired to their cells in good order. But the Raven, excited by the jocund hour, continued to rustle and patter about the' warm room in a state of inexpressible hilarity, most exasperating to the others, who desired to sleep. Not content with upsetting the fire-irons occasionally, singing to the cat, and slamming the furniture about, this restless bird kept appearing first at one cell door with a conundrum, then at the other with a joke, or insisted on telling funny stories in her den, till the exhausted victims implored her to take an opium pill and subside before they became furious. She obeyed, and after a few relapses into wandering and joking, finally slumbered.
Then occurred the one thrilling adventure of this happy journey. In the darkest hour before dawn Mat awoke, heard a suspicious noise in the middle room, and asked if Lavinia was on the rampage again. No reply, and, listening, a low, rasping, rustling sound was heard.
"Thieves, of course. Our watches and purses are on the table, and Lavinia has probably forgotten to lock the door. I must attend to this." And up rose the dauntless Matilda, who feared neither man nor ghost.
Grasping her dagger, hitherto used as a paper cutter, but always eager to be steeped in the gore of brigands, robbers, or beasts of prey, she crept to the door and peeped in. The pale glow of the fire showed her a dark figure crouching in the opposite door-way. The click of a pistol caught her ear, 'but dodging quickly, the heroic girl cried sternly from the shelter of Lavinia's bed-curtain,—
"Come out, or I'll fire!"
"Mio Dio! is it only you?" answered a familiar voice, as Amanda, shrouded in a water-proof, sprang up and lit a match.
"What are you prowling about for?" demanded Mat.
"To blow your brains out, apparently," answered Mandy, lowering her arms. "Why are you abroad?"
"To stab you, I fancy," and Mat sheathed her dagger balked of its prey.
"I heard a noise."
"So did I."
"Let's see what it is," and lighting a candle, the fair Amazons looked boldly about the shadowy room.
Lavinia lay wrapt in slumber, with only the end of her sarcastic nose visible beyond the misty cloud that enveloped her venerable countenance. The outer door was fast, and the shutters closed. No booted feet appeared below the curtains, no living eyes rolled awfully in the portrait of the salmon-colored saint upon the wall. Yet the rustling and rasping went on, and with one impulse the defenders of sleeping innocence made for the table in the corner.
There was the midnight robber at his fell work! The big cat peacefully gnawing the cold chicken, and knocking about the treasured crusts dragged from the luncheon-basket carefully packed for an early start.
"Wake and behold the ruin your pet has made!"
"We might be murdered or carried off a dozen times over without her knowing it. Here's a nice duenna!"
And the indignant ladies shook, pinched, and shouted till the hapless sleeper opened one eye, and wrathfully demanded what the matter was. They told her with eloquent brevity, but instead of praising their prowess, and thanking them with fervor, the ungrateful woman shut her eye again, merely saying with drowsy irascibility,—
"You told me to go to sleep, and I went; next time fight it out among yourselves, but don't wake me."
"Throw the cat out of window and go to bed, Mat," and Amanda uncocked her pistol with the resignation of one who had learned not to expect gratitude in this world. "Touch a hair of that clear creature and I'll raise the house! " cried Lavinia, roused at once.
Puss, who had viewed the fray sitting bolt upright on the table, now settled the vexed question by skipping into Lavinia's arms, feeling, with the instinct of her race that her surest refuge was there. Mat retired in silent disgust, and the Raven fell asleep soothed by the grateful purring of her furry friend.
"Last night's experiences have given me a longing for adventures," said Mat, as they journeyed on next morning.
"I've had quite enough of that sort," growled Lavinia.
"Let us read our papers, and wait for time to send us something in the way of a lark," and Amanda obscured herself in a grove of damp newspapers.
Lavinia also took one and read bits aloud to Mat, who was mending her gloves, bright yellow, four-buttoned, and very dirty.
"Translate as you go along, I do so hate that gabble," begged Mat, who would not improve her mind.
So Lavinia gave her a free translation which convulsed Amanda behind her paper. Coming to this passage, "Plusiers faits graves sont arrives," the reader rendered it, "Several made graves have arrived," adding, "Dear me, what singular customs the French have to be sure!" A little farther on she read, "Un portrait de feu Monsieur mon père," adding, "A fire portrait means a poker sketch, I suppose."
Here a smothered giggle from Amanda caused the old lady to say, "Bless you!" thinking the dear girl had sneezed.
"I must have some blue cotton to mend my dress with. Remind me to get some at Moulins. By the way, how do you ask for it in French?" said Mat, surveying a rent in her skirts.
"Oh, just go in and say, 'Avez-vous le fils bleu,'" replied Lavinia, with a superior air.
"A blue son! My precious granny, what will you say next?" murmured Amanda, faint with suppressed laughter.
"What are you muttering about?" asked Granny, sharply.
"Trying to recall those fine lines in "Wilhelm Meister; don't you remember? 'Wer nie sein Brod mit Thranen ass,'" replied Amanda, polite even at the last gasp.
"I read my Goethe in decent English, and don't know any thing about training asses," returned Lavinia, severely.
That was too much! Amanda cast her paper down, and had her laugh out, as the only means of saving herself from suffocation. The others gazed upon her in blank amazement, till she found breath enough to enlighten them, when such peals of merriment arose, that the guard popped his head in to see if he had not unwittingly shipped a load of lunatics.
"That was splendid! But now we must sober down, for a gorgeous being is about to get in," said Amanda, as they stopped at a station.
The gorgeous being entered, and found three demure ladies rapt in newspapers. They apparently saw nothing but the words before them; yet every one of them knew that the handsome young man had bowed in the most superior manner; also, that he was dressed in brown velvet, long gaiters, buttoned to the knee, a ravishing blue tie, buff gloves, and pouch and powder-horn slung over his shoulder. Also, that a servant with two dogs and a gun had touched his hat and said, "Oui, monsieur le comte," as he shut the door.
A slight thrill pervaded the statues as this fact was made known, and each began to wonder how the elegant aristocrat would behave. To say that he stared, feebly expresses the fixity of his noble gaze, as it rested in turn upon the three faces opposite. When satisfied, he also produced a paper and began to read. But Matilda caught a big, black eye peering over the sheet more than once, as she peered over the top of her own.
"I don't like him. Remember, we don't speak French," whispered the discreet Amanda.
"I can swear that I don't," said Lavinia, with an irrepressible smile, as she remembered the "blue son."
"The language of the eye is not forbidden me, and I can't sit baking under a newspaper all the way," returned Matilda, whose blond curls had evidently met with the great creature's approval.
A slight pucker about the Comte's lips caused a thrill of horror to pervade the ladies, as Amanda murmured under her breath,—
"He may understand English!"
"Then we are lost!" returned the tragic Raven.
"Wish he did. I really pine for a little attention. It gives such a relish to life," said Matilda, thinking regretfully of the devoted beings left behind.
The prudent Amanda and the stern Lavinia steeled their hearts, and iced their countenances to the comely gentleman. But the social Matilda could not refrain from responding to his polite advances, with a modest "Merci, Monsieur," as he drew the curtain for her, a smile when he picked up the unruly curling-stick, and her best bow as he offered his paper with a soft glance of the black eyes.
In vain Amanda tried to appall her with awful frowns; in vain Lavinia trod warningly upon her foot: she paid no heed, and left them no hope but the saving remembrance that she couldn't talk French.
"If the man don't get out soon, I'll tie her up in my shawl, and tell him she is mad," resolved Lavinia, whose spinster soul was always scandalized at the faintest approach to a flirtation.
"If the man does speak English, Mat will have it all her own way," thought Amanda, remembering the vow imposed upon the reckless girl.
Alas, alas for the anxious twain! The man did not get out soon, the man did speak English, and in ten minutes Matilda was off, like a colt without a halter. The anguish of her keepers added zest to the fun, and finding that the gentleman evidently thought her the lady of the party (owing to the yellow gloves, smartest hat, and irreproachable boots), and the others in sober gray and black, were maid and duenna, this reprehensible girl kept up the joke, put on airs, and enjoyed that flirtatious hour to her heart's content.
As if to punish the others for their distrust, and to reward Mat's interest in him, M. le Comte devoted himself to Mademoiselle, telling her about his hunting, his estate, and finished by inviting her and her party to call and view his château, if they ever paused at the town, which had the honor of being his summer residence. Mat responded to all these courtesies with confiding sweetness, and when at length he was desolated at being obliged to tear himself away, she
" Gave sigh for sigh,"
as he retired with a superb bow, a gallant "Bon voyage, mesdames," and a wicked twinkle of the black eyes as they rested on the faces of the frozen ladies.
"I got rather the best of the joke in that little affair: didn't I?" said Mat, gayly, as the brown velvet Adonis vanished.
"You are a disgrace to your party and your nation," sternly responded Amanda.
Lavinia spoke not, but shook her little sister till the hat flew off her head, and she had only breath enough left to declare with unquenched ardor that she would do it again the very next chance she got.
Lectures, laughter, and longings for "my Comte" beguiled the remainder of the way, and Moulang (as Mat pronounced Moulins) was reached after a pleasant trip through a green country, picturesque with the white cattle of Berri. There was not much to see, but the town was so quaint and quiet, that Amanda was seized with one of her remarkable projects.
"Let us find a little house somewhere and stay a week or two. I fain would rest and ruminate among the white cows for a while; have a little washing done, and slowly prepare to emerge into the world again. Lyons is our next point, and there we must bid adieu to freedom and shawl-straps."
"Very well, dear," responded Lavinia, with resignation, having learned that the best way to curb these aberrations of genius was to give in, and let circumstances prove their impracticability.
So Amanda inquired of the landlady if such a rustic cot could be found. Whereupon the dingy little woman clasped her dingy little hands, and declared that she had exactly the charming retreat desired. Truly yes, and she would at once make her toilette, order out the carriage, and display this lovely villa to the dear ladies.
With many misgivings the three squeezed themselves into a square clothes-basket on wheels, drawn by an immense, bony, white horse, driven by a striped boy, and adorned by Madame, in a towering bonnet, laden with amazing fruit, flowers, and vegetables. Lavinia counted three tomatoes, a bunch of grapes, poppies and pansies, wheat ears and blackberry-vines, a red, red rose, and one small lettuce, with glass dewdrops and green grubs lavishly sprinkled over it. A truly superb chapeau and a memorable one.
Away they trundled through stony streets, dusty roads, waste grounds, marshy meadows, and tumbled-down pleasure-gardens, till the clothes-basket turned down a lane, and the bony horse stopped at length before a door in a high red wall.
"Behold!" cried madame, leading them with much clanking of keys, into a cabbage garden. A small tool-house stood among the garden-stuff, with brick floors, very dirty windows, and the atmosphere of a tomb. Bags of seed, wheelbarrows, onions, and dust cumbered the ground. Empty bottles stood on the old table, cigar ends lay thick upon the hearth, and a trifle of gay crockery adorned the mantel-piece.
"See, then, here is a salon, so cool, so calm. Above is a room with beds, and around the garden where the ladies can sit all day. A maid can achieve the breakfast here, and my carriage can come for them to dine at the hotel. Is it not charmingly arranged?"
"It is simply awful," said Mat, aghast at the prospect.
"Settle it as you like, dear, only I'm afraid I couldn't stay very long on account of the dampness," observed Lavinia, cheerfully, as she put a hoe-handle under her feet and wiped the blue mould from a three-legged chair.
"It won't do, so I'll tell her you are an invalid and very particular," said Amanda, with another inspiration, as she led the landlady forth to break the blow tenderly.
"My neuralgia is useful if it isn't ornamental; and what a comfort that is!" said Lavinia, as she lightly threw a large cockroach out of window, dodged a wasp, and crushed a fit spider.
And so it was in many ways. If the party wanted a car to themselves, Granny was ordered to lie down and groan dismally, which caused other travellers to shun the poor invalid. If rooms did not suit, suffering Madame must have sun or perish. Late lunches, easy carriages, extra blankets, every sort of comfort was for her, whether she wanted them or not.
"Shall I be sick or well?" was always the first question when an invitation came, for "my sister's delicate health" was the standing excuse when parties palled, or best gowns were not get-at-able.
While Amanda conferred with the hostess among the cabbages, Mat discovered that the picturesque white cattle in the field close by were extremely fierce and unsocial; that there was no house in sight, and the venerable horse and shay would never sustain many trips to and fro to dinner at the hotel. Lavinia poked about the house, and soon satisfied herself that it abounded in every species of what Fanny Kemble calls "entomological inconvenience," and an atmosphere admirably calculated to introduce cholera to the inhabitants of Moulins.
"It is all settled; let us return," said Amanda, appearing at last with an air of triumph, having appeased the old lady by eating green currants, and admiring an earwiggy arbor, commanding a fine view of a marsh where frogs were piping and cool mists rising as the sun set.
The chickens were tough at dinner, the wine bitter, the bread sour, but no one reproached Amanda as the cause of this change. And when the hostess bowed them out, next day, without a smile, they drove away, conscious only of deep gratitude that they were saved from leaving their bones to moulder among the cabbages of Moulins.
"Now we return to civilization, good clothes, and Christian food," said Lavinia, as they surveyed their fine rooms at the Grand Hotel, Lyons.
"Likewise letters and luggage," added Amanda, as the maid brought in a bundle of letters, and two porters came bumping up with the trunks.
"Well, I've enjoyed the trip immensely, though nothing very remarkable has happened," said Mat, diving into her private ark with satisfaction.
"I should like to wander in the wilderness for years, if I could hear from my family at intervals," said Lavinia, briskly breaking open the plump, travel-worn letters.
"Then you consider our trip a success?" asked Amanda, pausing in the act of removing the dust from her noble countenance.
"A perfect success! We have done what we planned, had no mishaps, seen and enjoyed much, quarrelled not at all, laughed a great deal, and been altogether festive, thanks to you. I shall hang my shawl-strap on the castle wall as a trophy of the prowess of my Amanda, and the success of the last Declaration of American Independence," replied Lavinia.
"I, also," said Mat, opening her bundle for the one hundredth and last time.
"You do me proud; I humbly thank you," and with a superb curtsy the commander-in-chief modestly retired behind the towel.