Next to this one part of my childhood, there was an extremely different one, which, although running parallel with the one described so far, did intermingle with it surprisingly little. To me they look a lost like two totally different lives.
All this came about during one of my mother’s frequent and long periods of ill health and, perhaps, also partly due to difficult material circumstances at home, or important commissions having to be executed and delivered by a specifc and very near date.
My godmother and great aunt, who many times came to the rescue, used to spend part of her summers visiting with a wealthy lady friend, widow of a well known Dutch banker and who’s life it was to entertain extensively at her Chateau, called Chateau de Chanteraine.
I do remember but little of my first visit there, it is blurred and blended with other things in my memory. It is almost as if I had always known it and seen it gradually emerge from the surrounding greyish white mist. It obviously failed to greatly impress me, at first contact but later on it was to become to me a second homestead.
The Chateau de Chanteraine was an enormous place of the seventeenth century, covered by somber green ivy. It was surrounded by a very well-kept and extensive estate and was strictly separated from the outside world by hedges, barbed wire, rows of trees and several impressive double gates of caste iron in the shape of neo-roman lance points, shields, arrows and swords. These gates were continually under lock and key. The walls of the Chateau were over three feet thick and all windows were protected by heavy wooden blinds and which, by special order of the lady of the place, were to be kept close from sundown till sunrise. There was a glass paneled double door at the front of the place and five or six monumental grey granite steps leading up to it. On each side of these steps grey granite lions stood guard, in a last effort to impress and frighten of a more progressive age and people. The same grey granite stairs, plus the same forbidding lions lead to the entrance at the back of the place, leading to the same glass paneled double door.
At the end of the left hand wing was another stair, more subdued and discreet leading to the huge old fashioned kitchen, with its red tiled floor and highly polished red copper pots and pans hanging on the walls, and long, massive, natural colored wooden table.
The sale-a-manger was a somber, majestic hall, with deep red mahogany overly carved furniture of late Italian renaissance, abounding in gaping lion heads, faunes, etc. Large mirrors extended over half walls. The sixteen massive, leather bound, mahogany chairs, also decorated with many lion heads, were so heavy that, when the ladies sat down, a man servant had to push the chair in place.
the meals amounted to majestic rituals. the immense table set for from twelve to sixteen people and covered with massive ornate and monogrammed silverware. Each individual place was set with endless spoons and forks and knives for endless special purposes, crystal glasses for the daily, at least, two kinds of wine and water glasses. There was invariably some intricate kind of decoration at the cetre of the table, composed of a silver late renaissance receptacle on top of which perched another crystal receptacle in which floated delicate roses. Massive looking, over-ornate silver saltcellars and pepper shakers wandered all over. A chandelier with many candles hung over the table and was lowered by the man servant before the evening meals to light the candles. Half an hour before the meals the maid-in-charge-of-the-dining-room and table service would open the back, outside door and sound a small brass bell, that could be heard throughout the whole estate and served as a first warning. This small, shiny brass bell was supported by an angel with spread out wings and around the bell was in relief the motto: “Quid me tollit, vocem meam audit.” There was an arm extending from the top of the bell and from which hung the chain and handle by which the bell was set in motion. On top of it sat a yawning chimera.
A double door would lead from here to the salon, which was less formal in aspect and had a marble inlay floor. Here hung two full length portraits, by Wiertz, of the father and mother of the lady of the place. Here the ladies would spend part of their afternoons doing embroideries, petits points or some other delicate and more or less useless needle work.
On the mantelpiece stood silver candelabra with manifold arms. In the late autumn evening a petrol lamp would be lit in the salon and this new fanged innovation would seem shockingly out of place and almost sacrilegious in replacing the usual many candles.
At night time everybody would retire taking along four or five armed silver candelabra, with burning candles. There used to be a servant exclusively in charge of cleaning the candleholders and lighting and replacing the candles throughout the place.
The Lady of the House and our hostess loved me and had expressed the wish and intention of adopting me officially and making me one of her heirs.