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Gérard de Nerval



Here are the two towers of Saint Leu d’Esserent, the village on the height, separated by the railway from the part that borders the Oise. You rise toward Chantilly while going alongside high, solemn sandstone hills, then there’s a bit of the forest. La Nonette shines in the fields that edge the last houses of the town. La Nonette, one of those sweet little rivers where I used to go crayfishing. On the other side of the forest flows her sister, the Thève, where I almost drowned for not wanting to seem cowardly to little Célénie!
          Célénie often appears in my dreams, like a water nymph, a naïve temptress, wildly inebriated by the scent of the fields and crowned with water parsley and water lilies, showing, in her childish laugh, between dimpled cheeks, the pearly teeth of an undine. And of course the hem of her dress was often wet, as befits girls like her. You had to pick flowers for her along the marly edges of the ponds of Commelle or among the rushes and osier beds that border the dairy farms of Coye. She liked the grottos lost in the woods, the ruins of old chateaux, the collapsed temples whose columns were festooned with ivy, the home of the woodcutters, where she sang and recounted the old legends of this area: Mme. de Montfort, a prisoner in her tower, who sometimes flew off as a swan, sometimes frisked about as a beautiful carp in the moat of her castle; the pastry chef’s daughter who delivered cakes to the Count d’Ory and who, forced to spend the night with her lord, asked for his dagger to open the knot in her lacework and stabbed him in the heart; the red monks who carried off women and hurled them into underground caverns; the daughter of the Sire de Pontarmé, smitten with handsome Lautrec and locked up for seven years by her father, after which she died; and the knight, returning from the Crusade, who used a thin golden knife to unstitch her shroud of fine linen, and when she came back to life she turned out to be a vampire thirsting for blood… Henri IV and Gabrielle, Biron and Marie de Loches, and I don’t know how many other tales that peopled Célénie’s memory: Saint Rieul speaking to the frogs, Saint Nicolas reviving the three children chopped up like pâté by a butcher in Clermont-sur-Oise. Saint Leonard, Saint Loup, and Saint Guy have left in these regions a thousand examples of their sainthood and their miracles. Célénie climbed up onto the rocks or onto the druidic dolmens and told these stories to the young shepherds. From the old area of the Sylvanectes, that little Velléda left me memories that time revives. What became of her? I will find out around La Chapelle-en-Serval or Charlepont or Montméliant… She had aunts everywhere, endless numbers of cousins: so many dead among them, and no doubt many unhappy ones, in a land that was so happy back then!
          At least Chantilly bears its poverty nobly; like these old gentlemen in white linen with their irreproachable bearing, it has this proud attitude that disguises the faded hat or the worn-out clothes… Everything is clean, organized, circumspect; the voices resonate harmoniously in the sonorous halls. One senses the habit of respect, and the ceremony that formerly reigned in the chateaux rules to some degree the relationships among the placid inhabitants. Chantilly is filled with very old retired servants, walking their limping dogs. Some of them have become masters, taking on the venerable look of the old lords that they served.

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