Following a squirrel that sported among the trees, we had strayed from the beaten track, when, through the leafless branches, we caught sight of roofs and houses and, wandering towards them, found ourselves by the side of a miniature lake, round whose margin were grouped the daintiest rural cottages that monarch could desire or Court architect design.
History had told us of the creation of this unique plaything of the capricious Queen, but we had thought of it as a thing of the past, a toy whose fragile beauty had been wrecked by the rude blows of the Revolution. The matter-of-fact and unromantic Baedeker, it is true, gives it half a line. After devoting pages to the Chateau, its grounds, pictures, and statues, and detailing exhaustively the riches of the Trianons, he blandly mentions the gardens of the Petit Trianon as containing “some fine exotic trees, an artificial lake, a Temple of Love, and a hamlet where the Court ladies played at peasant life.”
It is doubtful whether ten out of every hundred tourists who, Baedeker in hand, wander conscientiously over the grand Chateau—Palace, alas! no longer—ever notice the concluding words, or, reading its lukewarm recommendation, deem the hamlet worthy of a visit. The Chateau is an immense building crammed with artistic achievements, and by the time the sightseer of ordinary capacity has seen a tenth of the pictures, a third of the sculpture, and a half of the fountains, his endurance, if not all his patience, is exhausted.
I must acknowledge that we, too, had visited Versailles without discovering that the hameau still existed; so to chance upon it in the sunset glow of that winter evening seemed to carry us back to the time when the storm-cloud of the Revolution was yet no larger than a man’s hand; to the day when Louis XVI., making for once a graceful speech, presented the site to his wife, saying: “You love flowers. Ah! well, I have a bouquet for you—the Petit Trianon.” And his Queen, weary of the restrictions of Court ceremony—though it must be admitted that the willful Marie Antoinette ever declined to be hampered by convention—experiencing in her residence in the little house freedom from etiquette, pursued the novel pleasure to its furthest by commanding the erection in its grounds of a village wherein she might the better indulge her newly fledged fancy for make-believe rusticity.
About the pillars supporting the verandah-roof of the chief cottage and that of the wide balcony above, roses and vines twined lovingly. And though it was the first day of January, the rose foliage was yet green and bunches of shrivelled grapes clung to the vines. It was lovely then; yet a day or two later, when a heavy snowfall had cast a white mantle over the village, and the little lake was frozen hard, the scene seemed still more beautiful in its ghostly purity.