La Grenadiere Page 01
HONORE DE BALZAC
To D. W.
La Grenadiere is a little house on the right bank of the Loire as you go down stream, about a mile below the bridge of Tours. At this point the river, broad as a lake, and covered with scattered green islands, flows between two lines of cliff, where country houses built uniformly of white stone stand among their gardens and vineyards. The finest fruit in the world ripens there with a southern exposure. The patient toil of many generations has cut terraces in the cliff, so that the face of the rock reflects the rays of the sun, and the produce of hot climates may be grown out of doors in an artificially high temperature.
A church spire, rising out of one of the shallower dips in the line of cliffs, marks the little village of Saint-Cyr, to which the scattered houses all belong. And yet a little further the Choisille flows into the Loire, through a fertile valley cut in the long low downs.
La Grenadiere itself, half-way up the hillside, and about a hundred paces from the church, is one of those old-fashioned houses dating back some two or three hundred years, which you find in every picturesque spot in Touraine. A fissure in the rock affords convenient space for a flight of steps descending gradually to the "dike"--the local name for the embankment made at the foot of the cliffs to keep the Loire in its bed, and serve as a causeway for the highroad from Paris to Nantes. At the top of the steps a gate opens upon a narrow stony footpath between two terraces, for here the soil is banked up, and walls are built to prevent landslips. These earthworks, as it were, are crowned with trellises and espaliers, so that the steep path that lies at the foot of the upper wall is almost hidden by the trees that grow on the top of the lower, upon which it lies. The view of the river widens out before you at every step as you climb to the house.
At the end you come to a second gateway, a Gothic archway covered with simple ornament, now crumbling into ruin and overgrown with wildflowers--moss and ivy, wallflowers and pellitory. Every stone wall on the hillside is decked with this ineradicable plant-life, which springs up along the cracks afresh with new wreaths for every time of year.
The worm-eaten gate gives into a little garden, a strip of turf, a few trees, and a wilderness of flowers and rose bushes--a garden won from the rock on the highest terrace of all, with the dark, old balustrade along its edge. Opposite the gateway, a wooden summer-house stands against the neighboring wall, the posts are covered with jessamine and honeysuckle, vines and clematis.
The house itself stands in the middle of this highest garden, above a vine-covered flight of steps, with an arched doorway beneath that leads to vast cellars hollowed out in the rock. All about the dwelling trellised vines and pomegranate-trees (the grenadiers, which give the name to the little close) are growing out in the open air. The front of the house consists of two large windows on either side of a very rustic-looking house door, and three dormer windows in the roof--a slate roof with two gables, prodigiously high-pitched in proportion to the low ground-floor. The house walls are washed with yellow color; and door, and first-floor shutters, all the Venetian shutters of the attic windows, all are painted green.
Entering the house, you find yourself in a little lobby with a crooked staircase straight in front of you. It is a crazy wooden structure, the spiral balusters are brown with age, and the steps themselves take a new angle at every turn. The great old-fashioned paneled dining-room, floored with square white tiles from Chateau-Regnault, is on your right; to the left is the sitting-room, equally large, but here the walls are not paneled; they have been covered instead with a saffron-colored paper, bordered with green. The walnut-wood rafters are left visible, and the intervening spaces filled with a kind of white plaster.
The first story consists of two large whitewashed bedrooms with stone chimney-pieces, less elaborately carved than those in the rooms beneath. Every door and window is on the south side of the house, save a single door to the north, contrived behind the staircase to give access to the vineyard. Against the western wall stands a supplementary timber-framed structure, all the woodwork exposed to the weather being fledged with slates, so that the walls are checkered with bluish lines. This shed (for it is little more) is the kitchen of the establishment. You can pass from it into the house without going outside; but, nevertheless, it boasts an entrance door of its own, and a short flight of steps that brings you to a deep well, and a very rustical-looking pump, half hidden by water-plants and savin bushes and tall grasses.