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    Chapter 10

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    Chapter 10
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    The consequence of my leaving to the last my little
    mention of Loches is that space and opportunity fail
    me; and yet a brief and hurried account of that extra-
    ordinary spot would after all be in best agreement with
    my visit. We snatched a fearful joy, my companion
    and I, the afternoon we took the train for Loches.
    The weather this time had been terribly against us:
    again and again a day that promised fair became hope-
    lessly foul after lunch. At last we determined that if
    we could not make this excursion in the sunshine, we
    would make it with the aid of our umbrellas. We
    grasped them firmly and started for the station, where
    we were detained an unconscionable time by the evolu-
    tions, outside, of certain trains laden with liberated
    (and exhilarated) conscripts, who, their term of service
    ended, were about to be restored to civil life. The
    trains in Touraine are provoking; they serve as little
    as possible for excursions. If they convey you one
    way at the right hour, it is on the condition of bring-
    ing you back at the wrong; they either allow you far
    too little time to examine the castle or the ruin, or
    they leave you planted in front of it for periods that
    outlast curiosity. They are perverse, capricious, ex-
    asperating. It was a question of our having but an
    hour or two at Loches, and we could ill afford to sacri-
    fice to accidents. One of the accidents, however, was
    that the rain stopped before we got there, leaving be-
    hind it a moist mildness of temperature and a cool
    and lowering sky, which were in perfect agreement
    with the gray old city. Loches is certainly one of the
    greatest impressions of the traveller in central France,
    - the largest cluster of curious things that presents
    itself to his sight. It rises above the valley of the
    Indre, the charming stream set in meadows and sedges,
    which wanders through the province of Berry and
    through many of the novels of Madame George Sand;
    lifting from the summit of a hill, which it covers to
    the base, a confusion of terraces, ramparts, towers, and
    spires. Having but little time, as I say, we scaled
    the hill amain, and wandered briskly through this
    labyrinth of antiquities. The rain had decidedly
    stopped, and save that we had our train on our minds,
    we saw Loches to the best advantage. We enjoyed
    that sensation with which the conscientious tourist is
    - or ought to be - well acquainted, and for which, at
    any rate, he has a formula in his rough-and-ready
    language. We "experienced," as they say, (most odious
    of verbs!) an "agreeable disappointment." We were
    surprised and delighted; we had not suspected that
    Loches was so good.

    I hardly know what is best there: the strange and
    impressive little collegial church, with its romanesque
    atrium or narthex, its doorways covered with primitive
    sculpture of the richest kind, its treasure of a so-called
    pagan altar, embossed with fighting warriors, its three
    pyramidal domes, so unexpected, so sinister, which I
    have not met elsewhere, in church architecture; or the
    huge square keep, of the eleventh century, - the most
    cliff-like tower I remember, whose immeasurable thick-
    ness I did not penetrate; or the subterranean mysteries
    of two other less striking but not less historic dungeons,
    into which a terribly imperative little cicerone intro-
    duced us, with the aid of downward ladders, ropes,
    torches, warnings, extended hands; and, many, fearful
    anecdotes, - all in impervious darkness. These horrible
    prisons of Loches, at an incredible distance below the
    daylight, were a favorite resource of Louis XI., and
    were for the most part, I believe, constructed by him.
    One of the towers of the castle is garnished with the
    hooks or supports of the celebrated iron cage in which
    he confined the Cardinal La Balue, who survived so
    much longer than might have been expected this extra-
    ordinary mixture of seclusion and exposure. All these
    things form part of the castle of Loches, whose enorm-
    ous _enceinte_ covers the whole of the top of the hill, and
    abounds in dismantled gateways, in crooked passages,
    in winding lanes that lead to postern doors, in long
    facades that look upon terraces interdicted to the
    visitor, who perceives with irritation that they com-
    mand magnificent views. These views are the property
    of the sub-prefect of the department, who resides at
    the Chateau de Loches, and who has also the enjoy-
    ment of a garden - a garden compressed and curtailed,
    as those of old castles that perch on hill-tops are apt
    to be - containing a horse-chestnut tree of fabulous
    size, a tree of a circumference so vast and so perfect
    that the whole population of Loches might sit in con-
    centric rows beneath its boughs. The gem of the place,
    however, is neither the big _marronier_, nor the collegial
    church, nor the mighty dungeon, nor the hideous prisons
    of Louis XI.; it is simply the tomb of Agnes Sorel, _la
    belle des belles_, so many years the mistress of Charles VII.
    She was buried, in 1450, in the collegial church,
    whence, in the beginning of the present century, her
    remains, with the monument that marks them, were
    transferred to one of the towers of the castle. She has
    always, I know not with what justice, enjoyed a fairer
    fame than most ladies who have occupied her position,
    and this fairness is expressed in the delicate statue
    that surmounts her tomb. It represents her lying there
    in lovely demureness, her hands folded with the best
    modesty, a little kneeling angel at either side of her
    head, and her feet, hidden in the folds of her decent
    robe, resting upon a pair of couchant lambs, innocent
    reminders of her name. Agnes, however, was not
    lamb-like, inasmuch as, according to popular tradition
    at least, she exerted herself sharply in favor of the ex-
    pulsion of the English from France. It is one of the
    suggestions of Loches that the young Charles VII.,
    hard put to it as he was for a treasury and a capital,
    - "le roi de Bourges," he was called at Paris, - was
    yet a rather privileged mortal, to stand up as he does
    before posterity between the noble Joan and the _gentille
    Agnes_; deriving, however much more honor from one
    of these companions than from the other. Almost as
    delicate a relic of antiquity as this fascinating tomb is
    the exquisite oratory of Anne of Brittany, among the
    apartments of the castle the only chamber worthy of
    note. This small room, hardly larger than a closet,
    and forming part of the addition made to the edifice
    by Charles VIII., is embroidered over with the curious
    and remarkably decorative device of the ermine and
    festooned cord. The objects in themselves are not
    especially graceful; but the constant repetition of the
    figure on the walls and ceiling produces an effect of
    richness, in spite of the modern whitewash with which,
    if I remember rightly, they have been endued. The
    little streets of Loches wander crookedly down the hill,
    and are full of charming pictorial "bits:" an old town-
    gate, passing under a mediaeval tower, which is orna-
    mented by Gothic windows and the empty niches of
    statues; a meagre but delicate _hotel de ville_, of the
    Renaissance, nestling close beside it; a curious _chancel-
    lerie_ of the middle of the sixteenth century, with
    mythological figures and a Latin inscription on the
    front, - both of these latter buildings being rather un-
    expected features of the huddled and precipitous little
    town. Loches has a suburb on the other side of the
    Indre, which we had contented ourselves with looking
    down at from the heights, while we wondered whether,
    even if it had not been getting late and our train were
    more accommodating, we should care to take our way
    across the bridge and look up that bust, in terra-cotta,
    of Francis I., which is the principal ornament of the
    Chateau de Sansac and the faubourg of Beaulieu. I
    think we decided that we should not; that we were
    already quite well enough acquainted with the nasal
    profile of that monarch.
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