He ceased speaking, and his audience crowded around him to shake hands with him, and to bless him; and before the sun was in the middle of the sky he had left St. Florent on his mission, in company with Forte and Peter Berrier.
The chateau of Durbelliere, the family seat of the Larochejacquelins, was situated in the very centre of the Bocage, between the small towns of Chatillon and Vihiers—in the province of Poitou, and about twelve leagues from St. Florent.
It was a large mansion, surrounded by extensive gardens, and a considerable domain. There were few residences of more importance as betokening greater wealth in the province of Poitou; but it was neither magnificent nor picturesque. The landlords of the country were not men of extensive property or expensive habits—they built no costly castles, and gave no sumptuous banquets; but they lived at home, on their incomes, and had always something to spare for the poorer of their neighbours. Farming was their business—the chase their amusement—loyalty their strongest passion, and the prosperity of their tenantry their chief ambition.
The chateau of Durbelliere was a large square building, three stories high, with seven front windows to each of the upper stories, and three on each side of the large door on the ground floor. Eight stone steps of great width led up to the front door; but between the top step and the door there was a square flagged area of considerable space; and on the right hand, and on the left, two large whitewashed lions reclined on brick and mortar pedestals. An enormous range of kitchens, offices and cellars, ran under the whole house; the windows opened into a low area, or rather trench, which ran along the front and back of the house, and to which there were no rails or palings of any kind. The servants’ door was at the side of the house, and the servants and people coming to them, to save themselves the trouble of walking round to this door, were in the habit of jumping into the area and entering the kitchen by the window. Doubtless some lady of the house, when the mansion was first built, had protested strongly against this unsightly practice; but habit had now accustomed the family to this mode of ingress and egress, and the servants of Durbelliere consequently never used any other.
The back of the chateau was just the same as the front, the same windows, the same broad steps, the same pedestals and the same whitewashed lions, only the steps, instead of leading on to a large gravelled square, led into a trim garden. There were no windows, whatsoever, on one side of the house, and on the other only those necessary to light the huge staircase of the mansion.