France – Dijon Of The Dukes

Dijon is a memory of golden vesper bells that sounded from a distance, dimly audible above the pattering of the rain. Cold arcs glowed against thick-walled buildings and marked the course of a stone-paved street until lost like lights in a tunnel. Vague, barely distinguishable against the black night, was a bold thrust of rampart and spire where buildings, ancient and modern, had been blended to a vast unit of masonry by the play of mist and shadow.

Bulking gables loomed suddenly overhead and suddenly disappeared as one moved forward. Romanesque arch and Renaissance entryway, traceries of gray and jet, light-less and forbidding, succeeded one another with all the promise of such romance and adventure as lay behind “The Sire de Maletroit’s Door.”

On a corner under a grilled iron lamp that might well have been forged by the blacksmiths of Gondicaire, a poilu stood leaning on his rifle. Granted that he may have been performing no more picturesque service than that of a guard for a group of infantry on manceuvers, but his helmet was glistening like silver, and his wet rain-coat shone like a suit of mail. Poor imagination, indeed, that would not see a medieval lance in the slim white bayonet that rose above his shoulder . . . poor vision that would not have made of him a ghostly visitant to a city of ghosts, a halberdier of Charles the Bold.

In the denser shadows over the way a woman moved with quick, sure steps—a traveler from Paris, probably, or a good housewife hurrying home to clamoring children and a warm fire. But was she? It seemed more likely that she must be the Duchess Imogene of unsavory legend hastening from the ducal palace to the scene of some new conspiracy.

Hoof-beats mingled with the echoing of the chimes, hoof-beats and a clanking of metal. Surely the clock of the centuries had been turned back and Old Burgundy lived again in all its insolent magnificence. Surely one of these yawning and mysterious alleys would presently disgonge a troop of armed knights, splendid and sinister, their plumes drooping in the wet, their brave trappings of velvet swishing about the legs of their horses. Such a pageant was little enough to ask of Time in such a place and on such a night!

I never saw Dijon again under quite the same circumstances. One must be in the proper mood if one would speak with ghosts. But never afterward did the City of the Dukes lose its peculiar charm. The angelus of a July midday or the vesper bell at twilight never failed to bring back the thrill of that first impression. One can imagine why Charles the Bold could never rest easy in his splendid mausoleum at Bruges when this, the city of his pride, contained so much of his memory and spirit.

Dijon was a Gallic city before the coming of the Romans and a military base during the days of the empire, but not until the rise of the Valois dukes did it acquire any importance. Auxerre continued to be the capital of the duchy of Burgundy until the early part of the eleventh century. Dijon as the seat of government under the Capetian dynasty made little progress.

With the arrival of Philip the Brave in 1364, however, the city became aware of its destiny. Philip announced himself a good-roads advocate. He directed that each householder should grade and drain at his own expense that portion of the street before his own house. The duke then bore the cost of a new pavement. Folks came from miles around to see those streets—the only streets within a day’s journey upon which a horse could stand without sinking to his barrel.

Those were mad days for Burgundy—and, for that matter, for all of France—a mad king on a crazy throne; a wild duke wielding the royal scepter with one hand while he scattered golden ducats with the other. The rich covered themselves with dazzling ornament; the poor died a little earlier than usual. They could become no poorer. In the cemeteries of Paris the mad mobs danced the dance of death. Conditions were ripe for the rise of a Joan of Arc.

Goldsmiths, scores of them, followed Philip to Dijon. The brother of King Charles V had begun to dream his royal dream, and he proceeded to build a capital out of the marsh town that he had found there. From Flanders, his heritage from his wife, came the riches that were to make Dijon the envy of kings for a hundred years. Master builders, sculptors, artisans skilled in the working of wood and stone, carvers of ivory, jewelers, artists, weavers of tapestry, armorers, and needleworkers with a facile touch trooped in from Bruges and Ghent at the call of this medieval Aladdin. And at his behest they threw up the golden towers of the fairy city. Little wonder that his widow was forced to place her keys on his coffin when he died—token of her renunciation of his debts.

Philip began the construction of a ducal palace to re-place the ruined chateau of the Capetian dukes. The first of the towers erected under his supervision remains to-day as the Tour de Bar. Some years later he completed the monastery of Chartreuse de Champnol, a building suitable to be what he had intended it to be, the last resting-place of the ducal line. There the tombs of the emperor dukes were carved, and there the tired bones of the busy warriors were to lie undisturbed until turned out by those amateur Gabriels, the revolutionists of 1793.

One of the wizards of stone-carving brought from Flanders by Philip was Claus Sluter, who lost his own personality in works that have made him immortal. Virtually nothing is known about him except that he lived and that he put a breathing soul into his marbles. He was attached to the Dijon court to chisel a tomb for the duke, but he never accomplished that mission. He died in 1406, leaving the work to his nephew, Claus de Werve. Sluter’s greatest work is “The Well of the Prophets.” The cloister of the Chartreuse de Champnol in which it was built disappeared when the torch of the revolution passed through Dijon. But the group of the prophets somehow escaped. It is there just as the master left it although a newer building has arisen from the ashes of the ducal monastery.

Where Philip the Brave had hoped to lie amid his illustrious descendants until judgment day, an asylum for the insane raises its gloomy walls, preserving, perhaps, some-thing of the atmosphere of Philip’s own days. The tombs of the dukes, wrecked by the sansculottes, have been re-stored and removed to the museum in the old palace. The dust of Sluter and his illustrious nephew still lies in an unmarked spot beneath the chapel floor.

Philip died. John the Fearless, his son, sold the furniture of the ducal residence to raise money to meet the funeral expenses, and for a time the expansion of Dijon was halted. But John was too much of a Valois to neglect any opportunity for lavish display. As soon as he could extort from Flanders the money necessary, he continued work on Philip’s palace.

The Salle des Gardes and the tower that Philip built, sole relics of the original castle, stand in the Place des Dues amid quantities of flowers and a number of latter-day buildings. The tower, a gaunt, unornamented square structure with a pyramidal roof, strangely enough is designated not by the name of its builder or of the royal race which made it part of one of the greatest palaces of Christendom but by the title of a man who was held prisoner in it for one year. The Tour de Bar it is called, and the man whose memory it recalls was no Burgundian at all but Rene of Bar, King of Naples, destined to be the Nemesis of Charles the Bold.

One who stands in its shadows and looks up at its five stories of ancient mystery must wonder what visions came to the troubadour king when he gazed from his prison window into the court where gathered the masters of the Burgundian arms. Gentle Rene ! He had more thought for a well rounded chanson than for a well equipped squadron of cavalry. He understood his prosody better than his tactics. He could hardly have dreamed that he was the instrument designed for the overthrow of an empire.

In the Salle des Gardes now one may see the best of the relics of the emperor dukes : samples of arms, wood-carving, ivory-work, metal-craft, and sculpture. Here are the tombs of Philip the Brave and John the Fearless in the best setting that could have been provided for them. Save for a rearrangement of the mourning figures that form the procession about the marble sarcophagus, these masterpieces of Burgundian sculpture show little signs of the destruction visited upon them by the revolution. On top of them fair-faced marble angels kept constant watch over the alabaster effigies of the illustrious dukes.

“Do they rest easy, these dukes?” I asked Monsieur Duquesne, who on many a rainy afternoon pointed out to us new treasures in the museum.

“Mais oui,” he answered with a smile. “They were not the best of men, the dukes. But they were good enough for their times. Philippe le Hardi had a chance to make his peace with God before his death. Jean sans Peur was on his way to make atonement for his sins when he was assassinated. Yes, they rest very well, the dukes.

“But there are other voices that whisper to one in here, monsieur. A ghost-hunter who summons the dead with a ouij a-board or other such survivals of black magic would never hear these voices. But to a true antiquarian they are as loud as the noises in the Rue de la Liberte. When they taught me physics in the artillery school, monsieur, they told me that if one dropped a pebble into the ocean the ripples would go on to the end of the world. I like to think that echoes are like that. Sound-waves set in motion when Charles the Bold vaulted into his saddle near the door there must still be traveling. It makes the past seem more real to me to imagine that my ears have been attuned to catch those vibrations.”

He smiled at the conceit.

“Centuries must be long that the imagination cannot bridge, monsieur,” I answered him, and his smile broadened.

“I see you understand,” he said. “Who can say that ghosts do not exist merely because they have no being out-side of one’s imagination? . . . I should not be a French-man if I did not more than half believe in fairies.

“I am quite scientific in my theories, monsieur. What is the old axiom : `For every action there is an equal and similar reaction’? N’est-ce pas?

“It is the eternal law of compensation, and I know there are some of our ancestors who do not lie very happily in their graves. I know that the druids are still walking in our woods near the Creux du Diable. And although I am no theologian I am sure that divine justice would require the Duchess Imogene, for instance, to expiate upon earth the crimes that she committed upon earth.

“She is one of my constant companions wherever I go about the city, monsieur. When it rains, I feel her tears. When there is wind in the crevices of this old building I hear her sighing and moaning and shrieking. I think monsieur will know what I mean.”

And I did know. So long as human tongue shall circulate a tale of scandal, the beautiful Duchess Imogene can never remain quietly in her unmarked grave.

The story of Imogene is piquant but not entirely original in plot or development. There was the case of Potiphar’s wife, not to mention the sundry amorous ladies of the “Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles.”

History does not identify her. From the legend it is evident that she must have lived in Dijon at the time of the Valois dukes, but the authentic records give no evidence that a Duchess Imogene ever shared the throne. And yet it seems quite possible that she might have had a place overlooked by the chroniclers. Among the twenty-two legal and illegal wives of Philip the Good, for instance, there certainly should have been room for a lady of Imo-gene’s character and attainments.

In the service of the duke was a Count William, a courtier of parts, whose sword-arm was without equal between Bruges and Marseille. He had fought against the Orleanists in France and had risen to a favor that made him the envy of powerful chieftains and the principal figure in a gay and scintillant court.

It was natural under the circumstances that the ladies of the ducal household should have cast longing glances at him. Love and arms were the twin functions of government in those days, as, indeed, they have been frequently since. Heroism was presented in a barbaric glitter, and passions were still quite elemental.

William had no eye for the flamboyant beauties of the ducal court. He took little part in the gaudy functions at which these coy belles were the principal attraction. Hand-kerchiefs dropped by velvet-cloaked women at midnight in dark ruelles, roses flung to him from latticed windows, ill-spelled notes that found their way into his chamber, all failed to lure him.

When he had paid his respects to the duke and the duchess and had fulfilled the demands of etiquette by bowing stiffly to the sundry unclassified ladies of the audience-chamber, William would march out of the castle without waiting even to remove his mail, and leap into the saddle of his mount though the beast might have come a full day’s journeying without forage. And he would ride out through the gate into the forest.

Legend, which is all eyes, knows that he proceeded only a few miles to a hut, where he removed his accoutrements of war, armed himself with a shorter sword, and unsaddled his horse. Thence he walked to one of the ducal hunting lodges outside the walls—home of the beautiful Mathilde, the duke’s niece. The girl, who was only sixteen, had been closely guarded by her mother against the allurements of the court, and William would not have dared to go boldly to the lodge. Instead, he walked into a summer-house at the end of the rose-gardens and whistled softly. A little white dog leaped out of the shrubbery, recognized him, and set off at full speed toward the lodge. The messenger, thus trained to inform the beautiful Mathilde of her lover’s presence, was the only living creature in all the world that shared their secret. William would whisper his love through the grilling of a gate, and with a single hand-clasp or parting kiss fortify his hopeless ambition. Then he would walk back to the hut in the woods, don his armor, and return to court.

The women would gather their silken robes prettily and pout at the sight of him, but never did it occur to them that he might have interests of heart somewhere outside the walls of Dijon. It was because of this lack of perception that the Duchess Imogene essayed the role of Mrs. Potiphar, sacrificed her pride, and received a snub in return.

One afternoon she came upon William in the Salle des Chevaliers alone and confided to him that her “doddering old idiot of a husband” did not understand her. She finished her recital in tears and threw her arms about the count’s neck.

“I love you,” she said, for she was as subtle as she was consistent. “But we can’t talk about it here. Come to the postern-gate alone at midnight to-night, and a trusted guide will take you to my chamber. I should give you the key, but unfortunately the Sieur de Grammont had it—I cannot imagine how or why—on the night that the assassins slew him on the Paris road. So it has been lost.”

William shuddered a little. De Grammont’s scandalous interest in the chaste duchess had been the subject of many a quiet conversation up to the day of his mysterious taking off. And there were those of the court who even went so far as to say that the cooling of his amour might have had something to do with the assassination. . . . The count knew that he had come to a bad turn in the road.

“I am sorry, my lady,” he replied, wishing that some-thing might give him an excuse for flight. “I am sure that such misunderstandings as those between yourself and your noble husband might be ironed out. In all my service with the duke I have found him reasonable. And as for a trip to the postern-gate to-night, I must beg to be excused be-cause Raimond Carbonelle of Provence has promised to teach me how to play the hautbois.” And he loosed himself from her clinging embrace with more force than diplomacy.

“You are badly shaken, my lady,” he said. “I shall send one of your tirewomen.” He left her, well knowing that trouble was brewing.

The trouble speedily came. The duchess dried her tears, went straight to her husband, and presented Joseph’s cloak.

“Your friend Count William has just been saying things to me that have left my delicate ears a-tingle,” she declared. “He has been bold enough to cast aspersions on my virtue and has insulted me as no other man ever insulted me before. I ‘d like to know what you are going to do about it.”

The duke went out, sword in hand, to kill Count William. But something in the atmosphere of the drama stayed his hand. You see it is very probable that he knew a thing or two about his own wife.

William pleaded his innocence; and, facing death, he shared with the duke the secret of his love for Mathilde. All might have gone well had not the duke returned to face the importunities of the duchess. And he betrayed the secret to silence her.

The denouement came swiftly. The ducal party assembled at the hunting-lodge for a tourney. The duchess, among her ladies in waiting, paid smiling compliments to her husband’s pretty niece.

“You are lovely today, Mathilde,” she said. “But you seem pensive. Does the little white dog no longer carry your messages?”

It was an hour later that Count William sought Mathilde. She was lying on a lounge in the great hall, crying out hysterically that she had been deceived.

“I have been betrayed,” she moaned. “He has broken his vow to me to make a jest of my love with that wanton. My heart is breaking.”

She shrank from her lover, shrieking and trembling. It was only by questioning a serving-maid that the count was able to discover what had happened. The girl died shortly afterward, with William’s arms about her and William’s tears on her flushed cheeks.

The climax has a tragic quality worthy of a Valois-Burgundian court. The count arose and marched straight into the hall of the knights, where the beauty and strength of Burgundy had gathered for the tourney. Imogene was there, making eyes at a new courtier over a flagon of wine. The duke stood near the big marble fireplace, adjusting his collar of the Golden Fleece. Warriors, pages, jeweled ladies, visiting nobles, and men-at-arms gave color to the scene as William stalked into it, his naked sword across his breast.

Men and women alike gave way before him. The duke’s body-guard gripped its halberds—but with no great relish. Without seeming to see the other occupants of the room, the count strode on until he had come within a few feet of the fireplace. Then, facing the duke, he lowered his sword and spoke :

“I shall serve you no longer. A man who cannot respect a confidence is no master of mine. No sword is so sharp as a lying tongue.”

As he spoke he twirled his weapon about so that he held the slim steel by the point. Before the duke could make reply or the women could give expression to their horror, Count William had set the hilt against the fireplace and had thrown himself upon the point. He fell lifeless at the duke’s feet.

And the duchess’? She foresaw the terrible finish of the melodrama. She sprang toward a door in terror, crying out, “I didn’t tell. I didn’t. I didn’t.”

But her enraged husband was implacable. He stepped across the body of the knight, whipped out his sword, and cut off her head with a single stroke.

All of that happened at least five centuries ago—nothing at all to be reckoned in the activities of a restless spirit. It is natural that at times the weeping of the Duchess Imogene is still to be heard in Burgundy. Posterity probably understands her no better than did her “doddering old idiot” of a husband.

Twentieth-century Dijon has made itself famous for a variety of things aside from the tombs of Philip the Brave and John the Fearless. It does a thriving business in wine and grain, which, considering the district of which it is the center, is not remarkable. It is the world’s principal market for gingerbread, and two hundred American house-wives know Dijon mustard for every one who ever heard of Charles the Bold. And when one considers that Dijon imports its ginger, and that there is no supply of mustard closer than Asia Minor, this portion of the city’s industrial accomplishment seems to be a feat peculiarly Burgundian.

Some English and American visitors to Dijon have complained that the city is too modern, that its relics are few and isolated and seem to have nothing in common with the post-revolutionary structures grouped about them.

The indictment is just. Notre Dame’s statues become fewer each year. The glorious St. Benigne is a tattered cocoon from which twelfth-century magnificence has de-parted. There is an air of the Paris boulevards about the splendid promenades. The city is alive, progressive, modern.

But if the past intrudes upon the present only in an occasional tourelle at the corner of a house, a snake-skin roof, or a crumbling arch, it intrudes none the less notice-ably. One might pass by countless interesting relics in a crooked street overhung by the gables of a dead century. But a carved door or a hammered iron ornament as part of the facade of a house that was built last year clamors for attention.

The streets have been straightened. The crooked alleys of Philip’s day have been buried under stone and mortar. But in a hundred corners of Dijon Time sits watching a broken hour-glass. There an ear that would hear may catch the ghostly echoes of Old Burgundy.

Vesper bells in the distance; rain on a steel helmet; a bayonet under a cold arc; Imogene gathers her cloak about her and flits through the shadow; a clatter of hoofs; a jingle of silver spurs—through the streets ride the phantom Knights of the Golden Fleece.