France – Chalus

WE have all, as children, thrilled over the story of Richard Caeur-de-Lion. For years he was my hero, as probably he was yours. There was such romance in his life, with its songs, and crusades, his faithful Blonde, and intermittent friendship with Philip Augustus of France. I remember a certain highly-coloured picture of his death-bed which used to hang in my nursery. It represented an open pavilion, like a cricket tent, where Richard, crowned and robed, was reclining on a lion skin, gesticulating with one arm, while a yellow-haired Berengaria of Navarre was sucking the wrist of the other. At the entrance to the tent stood Bertrand de Gourdon, bound with ropes, glaring defiance at his fallen foe; while in the background could be seen a great theatrical-looking feudal castle—walls, towers, drawbridge, all complete.

” Well,” says Richard, ” and what have I done that you should kill me? ”

” You have slain, with your own hand, my father and two brothers,” replies Gourdon fiercely, ” and I have taken my revenge. Provided you die, I care not what torment I suffer, since I shall have rid the world of such a tyrant.”

Here is another picture. A wild heathery country; all the earth green and gold, painted in washes over the warm red-brown of a sandy soil. The sun is casting long shadows across the road, lighting the heather to purple, so that the country looks as though it were wrapping itself for sleep in a royal robe; and against the crimson sky, two black, ruined towers. That is what is left of the dream of my childhood. For this is Chalus, and these are the twin Castles of Ademar, Iiscount of Limoges, the rebellious vassal who refused to give up a treasure which Richard protested had been found on his land. And the pavilion, the death-bed? We shall find nothing of that here, but at Chinon. At Chalus, the Lion-hearted received his death wound, not in the wrist—the arrow struck him in the left shoulder.

We had stopped to look up at one of the great gloomy towers, which can scarcely have been touched since the days of the siege, and I was trying to re-people the scene with the wild hordes of soldiers, who were ever at Richard’s beck and call. We were just wondering where the King himself stood when a girl, who might have been the school teacher, stopped, and, asking if we had seen the stone of Richard, led us through a very wet meadow to where, among the grass, was a low small pyramid.

” There it is,” said. the girl. ” That is where he stood, your English King. It is there that the arrow of Gourdon struck him—ah, the brave Gourdon 1 ” And she went on to tell about the siege. It was not a pretty tale. Richard was not popular among his enemies. Lion-hearts seldom are. ‘

” Sometimes when I pass the castle at night I can see the bodies of the poor guards hanging from the walls,” continued the girl. ” They seem to sway to and fro, to and fro in the breeze. One would say they were still alive.”

” He had all the garrison hanged? ” I faltered.

” All save Bertrand de Gourdon, who was skinned alive,” said the girl cheerfully. I looked round in horror. This very meadow grass, so rich and rank, was it still fed by the bodies once piled upon it? And the castle, surely that crimson stain is not of the sunset!

” They were very cruel in those days,” I observed apologetically. ” It was the manner of the times.”

” Oh yes, Madame,” she replied, ” that is true. But all the same it was a happy day for France when Richard .of England was killed. Madame knows that he was buried here? ”

” Really? ” said I, for as all the world knows his tomb is to be seen at Fontevrault.

” Oh oui, Madame. Assurement it est enterre au dessous.”

” But there is no inscription,” I objected.

” It has disappeared,” replied the girl, ” but undoubtedly there was one formerly.”