From the Convent to the ancestral Chateau…
Gabrielle de Montserrat, the heroine of my first novel, Mistress of the Revolution, is eleven years old. She has been raised first by her wet nurse, then by the nuns of the Benedictine Convent of Vic, in Auvergne. Her father has died, and she does not remember anything of her mother. Then one fine day, her elder brother and guardian, the Marquis de Castel, abruptly takes her from the Convent and brings her to a home she does not know.
We were soon in sight of the chateau of Fontfreyde. My brother explained that the current building had replaced the old fortress that had controlled the valley of the Goul River and made our family powerful long before the time of the Crusades.
The chateau was situated in a low spot, in the middle of green meadows, for it rains a great deal in those parts. Oak and birch woods, which had turned gold at the time of my arrival, covered the surrounding mountains. Such was my birthplace and ancestral home, seat of the noble and ancient family of Montserrat. My true name, which I alone remember nowadays, is Marie Gabrielle Aliénor de Montserrat de Castel, or, as most people called me then, Gabrielle de Montserrat.
The trepidation with which I prepared to meet my mother chased all other thoughts from my mind. My brother
took me to the main drawing room, where she sat in a tapestry chair. Portraits of ancestors in military or court dress hung on the walls. I curtsied to Madame de Castel, who gave me her hand to kiss. I was surprised to see that I looked nothing like her. She seemed small and delicate, her hair still black with a few silver threads. She had a thin nose, a strong jaw and piercing dark eyes. Her mouth was a straight line without lips, which did not appear to be often distorted by a smile. She stared at me and turned to my brother:
“I had not expected her to be so bony. Do you think she will grow much taller? And that mass of red hair!”
I had not expected a warm welcome from a parent who had expressed no wish to see me during the first eleven years of my life, but was still mortified by her greeting. The Marquis too seemed embarrassed. He tried to reconcile the truth and my feelings.
“At her age, Madam,” he said, “many girls show little promise, but in later years improve considerably. I am sure Gabrielle will become very pretty.”
My mother, looking at me, shook her head and sighed.
Photograph of the Grand Salon of the Chateau de Talcy by Patrick Giraud
All posts in the Footsteps of Gabrielle series: