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Louise de la Valliere

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Chapter XXVIII. The Ambassadors.


D’Artagnan had, with very few exceptions, learned almost all of the particulars of what we have just been relating; for among his friends he reckoned all the useful, serviceable people in the royal household,—officious attendants who were proud of being recognized by the captain of the musketeers, for the captain’s influence was very great; and then, in addition to any ambitious views they may have imagined he could promote, they were proud of being regarded as worth being spoken to by a man as brave as D’Artagnan. In this manner D’Artagnan learned every morning what he had not been able either to see or to ascertain the night before, from the simple fact of his not being ubiquitous; so that, with the information he had been able by his own means to pick up during the day, and with what he had gathered from others, he succeeded in making up a bundle of weapons, which he was in the prudent habit of using only when occasion required. In this way, D’Artagnan’s two eyes rendered him the same service as the hundred eyes of Argus. Political secrets, bedside revelations, hints or scraps of conversation dropped by the courtiers on the threshold of the royal ante-chamber, in this way D’Artagnan managed to ascertain, and to store away everything in the vast and impenetrable mausoleum of his memory, by the side of those royal secrets so dearly bought and faithfully preserved. He therefore knew of the king’s interview with Colbert, and of the appointment made for the ambassadors in the morning, and, consequently, that the question of the medals would be brought up for debate; and, while he was arranging and constructing the conversation upon a few chance words which had reached his ears, he returned to his post in the royal apartments, so as to be there at the very moment the king awoke. It happened that the king rose very early,—proving thereby that he, too, on his side, had slept but indifferently. Towards seven o’clock, he half-opened his door very gently. D’Artagnan was at his post. His majesty was pale, and seemed wearied; he had not, moreover, quite finished dressing.

“Send for M. de Saint-Aignan,” he said.

Saint-Aignan was probably awaiting a summons, for the messenger, when he reached his apartment, found him already dressed. Saint-Aignan hastened to the king in obedience to the summons. A moment afterwards the king and Saint-Aignan passed by together—the king walking first. D’Artagnan went to the window which looked out upon the courtyard; he had no need to put himself to the trouble of watching in what direction the king went, for he had no difficulty in guessing beforehand where his majesty was going. The king, in fact, bent his steps towards the apartments of the maids of honor,—a circumstance which in no way astonished D’Artagnan, for he more than suspected, although La Valliere had not breathed a syllable on the subject, that the king had some kind of reparation to make. Saint-Aignan followed him as he had done the previous evening, rather less uneasy in his mind, though still slightly agitated, for he fervently trusted that at seven o’clock in the morning there might be only himself and the king awake amongst the august guests at the palace. D’Artagnan stood at the window, careless and perfectly calm in his manner. One could almost have sworn that he noticed nothing, and was utterly ignorant who were these two hunters after adventures, passing like shadows across the courtyard, wrapped up in their cloaks. And yet, all the while that D’Artagnan appeared not to be looking at them at all, he did not for one moment lose sight of them, and while he whistled that old march of the musketeers, which he rarely recalled except under great emergencies, he conjectured and prophesied how terrible would be the storm which would be raised on the king’s return. In fact, when the king entered La Valliere’s apartment and found the room empty and the bed untouched, he began to be alarmed, and called out to Montalais, who immediately answered the summons; but her astonishment was equal to the king’s. All that she could tell his majesty was, that she had fancied she had heard La Valliere’s weeping during a portion of the night, but, knowing that his majesty had paid her a visit, she had not dared to inquire what was the matter.

“But,” inquired the king, “where do you suppose she is gone?”

“Sire,” replied Montalais, “Louise is of a very sentimental disposition, and as I have often seen her rise at daybreak in order to go out into the garden, she may, perhaps, be there now.”

This appeared probable, and the king immediately ran down the staircase in search of the fugitive. D’Artagnan saw him grow very pale, and talking in an excited manner with his companion, as he went towards the gardens; Saint-Aignan following him, out of breath. D’Artagnan did not stir from the window, but went on whistling, looking as if he saw nothing, yet seeing everything. “Come, come,” he murmured, when the king disappeared, “his majesty’s passion is stronger than I thought; he is now doing, I think, what he never did for Mademoiselle de Mancini.” 6

In a quarter of an hour the king again appeared: he had looked everywhere, was completely out of breath, and, as a matter of course, had not discovered anything. Saint-Aignan, who still followed him, was fanning himself with his hat, and in a gasping voice, asking for information about La Valliere from such of the servants as were about, in fact from every one he met. Among others he came across Manicamp, who had arrived from Fontainebleau by easy stages; for whilst others had performed the journey in six hours, he had taken four and twenty.

“Have you seen Mademoiselle de la Valliere?” Saint-Aignan asked him.

Whereupon Manicamp, dreamy and absent as usual, answered, thinking that some one was asking him about De Guiche, “Thank you, the comte is a little better.”

And he continued on his way until he reached the ante-chamber where D’Artagnan was, whom he asked to explain how it was that the king looked, as he thought, so bewildered; to which D’Artagnan replied that he was quite mistaken, that the king, on the contrary, was as lively and merry as he could possibly be.

In the midst of all this, eight o’clock struck. It was usual for the king to take his breakfast at this hour, for the code of etiquette prescribed that the king should always be hungry at eight o’clock. His breakfast was laid upon a small table in his bedroom, and he ate very fast. Saint-Aignan, of whom he would not lose sight, waited on the king. He then disposed of several military audiences, during which he dispatched Saint-Aignan to see what he could find out. Then, still occupied, full of anxiety, still watching Saint-Aignan’s return, who had sent out the servants in every direction, to make inquires, and who had also gone himself, the hour of nine struck, and the king forthwith passed into his large cabinet.

As the clock was striking nine the ambassadors entered, and as it finished, the two queens and Madame made their appearance. There were three ambassadors from Holland, and two from Spain. The king glanced at them, and then bowed; and, at the same moment, Saint-Aignan entered,—an entrance which the king regarded as far more important, in a different sense, however, than that of ambassadors, however numerous they might be, and from whatever country they came; and so, setting everything aside, the king made a sign of interrogation to Saint-Aignan, which the latter answered by a most decisive negative. The king almost entirely lost his courage; but as the queens, the members of the nobility who were present, and the ambassadors, had their eyes fixed upon him, he overcame his emotion by a violent effort, and invited the latter to speak. Whereupon one of the Spanish deputies made a long oration, in which he boasted the advantages which the Spanish alliance would offer.

The king interrupted him, saying, “Monsieur, I trust that whatever is best for France must be exceedingly advantageous for Spain.”

This remark, and particularly the peremptory tone in which it was pronounced, made the ambassadors pale, and brought the color into the cheeks of the two queens, who, being Spanish, felt wounded in their pride of relationship and nationality by this reply.

The Dutch ambassador then began to address himself to the king, and complained of the injurious suspicions which the king exhibited against the government of his country.

The king interrupted him, saying, “It is very singular, monsieur, that you should come with any complaint, when it is I rather who have reason to be dissatisfied; and yet, you see, I do not complain.”

“Complain, sire, and in what respect?”

The king smiled bitterly. “Will you blame me, monsieur,” he said, “if I should happen to entertain suspicions against a government which authorizes and protects international impertinence?”

“Sire!”

“I tell you,” resumed the king, exciting himself by a recollection of his own personal annoyance, rather than from political grounds, “that Holland is a land of refuge for all who hate me, and especially for all who malign me.”

“Oh, sire!”

“You wish for proofs, perhaps? Very good; they can be had easily enough. Whence proceed all those vile and insolent pamphlets which represent me as a monarch without glory and without authority? your printing-presses groan under their number. If my secretaries were here, I would mention the titles of the works as well as the names of the printers.”

“Sire,” replied the ambassador, “a pamphlet can hardly be regarded as the work of a whole nation. Is it just, is it reasonable, that a great and powerful monarch like your majesty should render a whole nation responsible for the crime of a few madmen, who are, perhaps, only scribbling in a garret for a few sous to buy bread for their family?”

“That may be the case, I admit. But when the mint itself, at Amsterdam, strikes off medals which reflect disgrace upon me, is that also the crime of a few madmen?”

“Medals!” stammered out the ambassador.

“Medals,” repeated the king, looking at Colbert.

“Your majesty,” the ambassador ventured, “should be quite sure—”

The king still looked at Colbert; but Colbert appeared not to understand him, and maintained an unbroken silence, notwithstanding the king’s repeated hints. D’Artagnan then approached the king, and taking a piece of money out of his pocket, he placed it in the king’s hands, saying, “This is the medal your majesty alludes to.”

The king looked at it, and with a look which, ever since he had become his own master, was ever piercing as the eagle’s, observed an insulting device representing Holland arresting the progress of the sun, with this inscription: “In conspectu meo stetit sol.”

“In my presence the sun stands still,” exclaimed the king, furiously. “Ah! you will hardly deny it now, I suppose.”

“And the sun,” said D’Artagnan, “is this,” as he pointed to the panels of the cabinet, where the sun was brilliantly represented in every direction, with this motto, “Nec pluribus impar.” 7

Louis’s anger, increased by the bitterness of his own personal sufferings, hardly required this additional circumstance to foment it. Every one saw, from the kindling passion in the king’s eyes, that an explosion was imminent. A look from Colbert kept postponed the bursting of the storm. The ambassador ventured to frame excuses by saying that the vanity of nations was a matter of little consequence; that Holland was proud that, with such limited resources, she had maintained her rank as a great nation, even against powerful monarchs, and that if a little smoke had intoxicated his countrymen, the king would be kindly disposed, and would even excuse this intoxication. The king seemed as if he would be glad of some suggestion; he looked at Colbert, who remained impassible; then at D’Artagnan, who simply shrugged his shoulders, a movement which was like the opening of the flood-gates, whereby the king’s anger, which he had restrained for so long a period, now burst forth. As no one knew what direction his anger might take, all preserved a dead silence. The second ambassador took advantage of it to begin his excuses also. While he was speaking, and while the king, who had again gradually returned to his own personal reflections, was automatically listening to the voice, full of nervous anxiety, with the air of an absent man listening to the murmuring of a cascade, D’Artagnan, on whose left hand Saint-Aignan was standing, approached the latter, and, in a voice which was loud enough to reach the king’s ears, said: “Have you heard the news?”

“What news?” said Saint-Aignan.

“About La Valliere.”

The king started, and advanced his head.

“What has happened to La Valliere?” inquired Saint-Aignan, in a tone which can easily be imagined.

“Ah! poor girl! she is going to take the veil.”

“The veil!” exclaimed Saint-Aignan.

“The veil!” cried the king, in the midst of the ambassador’s discourse; but then, mindful of the rules of etiquette, he mastered himself, still listening, however, with rapt attention.

“What order?” inquired Saint-Aignan.

“The Carmelites of Chaillot.”

“Who the deuce told you that?”

“She did herself.”

“You have seen her, then?”

“Nay, I even went with her to the Carmelites.”

The king did not lose a syllable of this conversation; and again he could hardly control his feelings.

“But what was the cause of her flight?” inquired Saint-Aignan.

“Because the poor girl was driven away from the court yesterday,” replied D’Artagnan.

He had no sooner said this, than the king, with an authoritative gesture, said to the ambassador, “Enough, monsieur, enough.” Then, advancing towards the captain, he exclaimed:

“Who says Mademoiselle de la Valliere is going to take the religious vows?”

“M. d’Artagnan,” answered the favorite.

“Is it true what you say?” said the king, turning towards the musketeer.

“As true as truth itself.”

The king clenched his hands, and turned pale.

“You have something further to add, M. d’Artagnan?” he said.

“I know nothing more, sire.”

“You added that Mademoiselle de la Valliere had been driven away from the court.”

“Yes, sire.”

“Is that true, also?”

“Ascertain for yourself, sire.”

“And from whom?”

“Ah!” sighed D’Artagnan, like a man who is declining to say anything further.

The king almost bounded from his seat, regardless of ambassadors, ministers, courtiers, queens, and politics. The queen-mother rose; she had heard everything, or, if she had not heard everything, she had guessed it. Madame, almost fainting from anger and fear, endeavored to rise as the queen-mother had done; but she sank down again upon her chair, which by an instinctive movement she made roll back a few paces.

“Gentlemen,” said the king, “the audience is over; I will communicate my answer, or rather my will, to Spain and to Holland;” and with a proud, imperious gesture, he dismissed the ambassadors.

“Take care, my son,” said the queen-mother, indignantly, “you are hardly master of yourself, I think.”

“Ah! madame,” returned the young lion, with a terrible gesture, “if I am not master of myself, I will be, I promise you, of those who do me a deadly injury; come with me, M. d’Artagnan, come.” And he quitted the room in the midst of general stupefaction and dismay. The king hastily descended the staircase, and was about to cross the courtyard.

“Sire,” said D’Artagnan, “your majesty mistakes the way.”

“No; I am going to the stables.”

“That is useless, sire, for I have horses ready for your majesty.”

The king’s only answer was a look, but this look promised more than the ambition of three D’Artagnans could have dared to hope.






Chapter XXIX. Chaillot.


Although they had not been summoned, Manicamp and Malicorne had followed the king and D’Artagnan. They were both exceedingly intelligent men; except that Malicorne was too precipitate, owing to ambition, while Manicamp was frequently too tardy, owing to indolence. On this occasion, however, they arrived at precisely the proper moment. Five horses were in readiness. Two were seized upon by the king and D’Artagnan, two others by Manicamp and Malicorne, while a groom belonging to the stables mounted the fifth. The cavalcade set off at a gallop. D’Artagnan had been very careful in his selection of the horses; they were the very animals for distressed lovers—horses which did not simply run, but flew. Within ten minutes after their departure, the cavalcade, amidst a cloud of dust, arrived at Chaillot. The king literally threw himself off his horse; but notwithstanding the rapidity with which he accomplished this maneuver, he found D’Artagnan already holding his stirrup. With a sign of acknowledgement to the musketeer, he threw the bridle to the groom, and darted into the vestibule, violently pushed open the door, and entered the reception-room. Manicamp, Malicorne, and the groom remained outside, D’Artagnan alone following him. When he entered the reception-room, the first object which met his gaze was Louise herself, not simply on her knees, but lying at the foot of a large stone crucifix. The young girl was stretched upon the damp flag-stones, scarcely visible in the gloom of the apartment, which was lighted only by means of a narrow window, protected by bars and completely shaded by creeping plants. When the king saw her in this state, he thought she was dead, and uttered a loud cry, which made D’Artagnan hurry into the room. The king had already passed one of his arms round her body, and D’Artagnan assisted him in raising the poor girl, whom the torpor of death seemed already to have taken possession of. D’Artagnan seized hold of the alarm-bell and rang with all his might. The Carmelite sisters immediately hastened at the summons, and uttered loud exclamations of alarm and indignation at the sight of the two men holding a woman in their arms. The superior also hurried to the scene of action, but far more a creature of the world than any of the female members of the court, notwithstanding her austerity of manners, she recognized the king at the first glance, by the respect which those present exhibited for him, as well as by the imperious and authoritative way in which he had thrown the whole establishment into confusion. As soon as she saw the king, she retired to her own apartments, in order to avoid compromising her dignity. But by one of the nuns she sent various cordials, Hungary water, etc., etc., and ordered that all the doors should immediately be closed, a command which was just in time, for the king’s distress was fast becoming of a most clamorous and despairing character. He had almost decided to send for his own physician, when La Valliere exhibited signs of returning animation. The first object which met her gaze, as she opened her eyes, was the king at her feet; in all probability she did not recognize him, for she uttered a deep sigh full of anguish and distress. Louis fixed his eyes devouringly upon her face; and when, in the course of a few moments, she recognized Louis, she endeavored to tear herself from his embrace.

“Oh, heavens!” she murmured, “is not the sacrifice yet made?”

“No, no!” exclaimed the king, “and it shall not be made, I swear.”

Notwithstanding her weakness and utter despair, she rose from the ground, saying, “It must be made, however; it must be; so do not stay me in my purpose.”

“I leave you to sacrifice yourself! I! never, never!” exclaimed the king.

“Well,” murmured D’Artagnan, “I may as well go now. As soon as they begin to speak, we may as well prevent there being any listeners.” And he quitted the room, leaving the lovers alone.

“Sire,” continued La Valliere, “not another word, I implore you. Do not destroy the only future I can hope for—my salvation; do not destroy the glory and brightness of your own future for a mere caprice.”

“A caprice?” cried the king.

“Oh, sire! it is now, only, that I can see clearly into your heart.”

“You, Louise, what mean you?”

“An inexplicable impulse, foolish and unreasonable in its nature, may ephemerally appear to offer a sufficient excuse for your conduct; but there are duties imposed upon you which are incompatible with your regard for a poor girl such as I am. So, forget me.”

“I forget you!”

“You have already done so, once.”

“Rather would I die.”

“You cannot love one whose peace of mind you hold so lightly, and whom you so cruelly abandoned, last night, to the bitterness of death.”

“What can you mean? Explain yourself, Louise.”

“What did you ask me yesterday morning? To love you. What did you promise me in return? Never to let midnight pass without offering me an opportunity of reconciliation, if, by any chance, your anger should be roused against me.”

“Oh! forgive me, Louise, forgive me! I was mad from jealousy.”

“Jealousy is a sentiment unworthy of a king—a man. You may become jealous again, and will end by killing me. Be merciful, then, and leave me now to die.”

“Another word, mademoiselle, in that strain, and you will see me expire at your feet.”

“No, no, sire, I am better acquainted with my own demerits; and believe me, that to sacrifice yourself for one whom all despise, would be needless.”

“Give me the names of those you have cause to complain of.”

“I have no complaints, sire, to prefer against any one; no one but myself to accuse. Farewell, sire; you are compromising yourself in speaking to me in such a manner.”

“Oh! be careful, Louise, in what you say; for you are reducing me to the darkness of despair.”

“Oh! sire, sire, leave me at least the protection of Heaven, I implore you.”

“No, no; Heaven itself shall not tear you from me.”

“Save me, then,” cried the poor girl, “from those determined and pitiless enemies who are thirsting to annihilate my life and honor too. If you have courage enough to love me, show at least that you have power enough to defend me. But no; she whom you say you love, others insult and mock, and drive shamelessly away.” And the gentle-hearted girl, forced, by her own bitter distress to accuse others, wrung her hands in an uncontrollable agony of tears.

“You have been driven away!” exclaimed the king. “This is the second time I have heard that said.”

“I have been driven away with shame and ignominy, sire. You see, then, that I have no other protector but Heaven, no consolation but prayer, and this cloister is my only refuge.”

“My palace, my whole court, shall be your park of peace. Oh! fear nothing further now, Louise; those—be they men or women—who yesterday drove you away, shall to-morrow tremble before you—to-morrow, do I say? nay, this very day I have already shown my displeasure—have already threatened. It is in my power, even now, to hurl the thunderbolt I have hitherto withheld. Louise, Louise, you shall be bitterly revenged; tears of blood shall repay you for the tears you have shed. Give me only the names of your enemies.”

“Never, never.”

“How can I show any anger, then?”

“Sire, those upon whom your anger would be prepared to fall, would force you to draw back your hand upraised to punish.”

“Oh! you do not know me,” cried the king, exasperated. “Rather than draw back, I would sacrifice my kingdom, and would abjure my family. Yes, I would strike until this arm had utterly destroyed all those who had ventured to make themselves the enemies of the gentlest and best of creatures.” And, as he said these words, Louis struck his fist violently against the oaken wainscoting with a force which alarmed La Valliere; for his anger, owing to his unbounded power, had something imposing and threatening in it, like the lightning, which may at any time prove deadly. She, who thought that her own sufferings could not be surpassed, was overwhelmed by a suffering which revealed itself by menace and by violence.

“Sire,” she said, “for the last time I implore you to leave me; already do I feel strengthened by the calm seclusion of this asylum; and the protection of Heaven has reassured me; for all the pretty human meanness of this world are forgotten beneath the Divine protection. Once more, then, sire, and for the last time, I again implore you to leave me.”

“Confess, rather,” cried Louis, “that you have never loved me; admit that my humility and my repentance are flattering to your pride, but that my distress affects you not; that the king of this wide realm is no longer regarded as a lover whose tenderness of devotion is capable of working out your happiness, but as a despot whose caprice has crushed your very heart beneath his iron heel. Do not say you are seeking Heaven, say rather you are fleeing from the king.”

Louise’s heart was wrung within her, as she listened to his passionate utterance, which made the fever of hope course once more through her every vein.

“But did you not hear me say that I have been driven away, scorned, despised?”

“I will make you the most respected, and most adored, and the most envied of my whole court.”

“Prove to me that you have not ceased to love me.”

“In what way?”

“By leaving me.”

“I will prove it to you by never leaving you again.”

“But do you imagine, sire, that I shall allow that; do you imagine that I will let you come to an open rupture with every member of your family; do you imagine that, for my sake, you could abandon mother, wife and sister?”

“Ah! you have named them, then, at last; it is they, then, who have wrought this grievous injury? By the heaven above us, then, upon them shall my anger fall.”

“That is the reason why the future terrifies me, why I refuse everything, why I do not wish you to revenge me. Tears enough have already been shed, sufficient sorrow and affliction have already been occasioned. I, at least, will never be the cause of sorrow, or affliction, or distress to whomsoever it may be, for I have mourned and suffered, and wept too much myself.”

“And do you count my sufferings, my tears, as nothing?”

“In Heaven’s name, sire, do not speak to me in that manner. I need all my courage to enable me to accomplish the sacrifice.”

“Louise, Louise, I implore you! whatever you desire, whatever you command, whether vengeance or forgiveness, your slightest wish shall be obeyed, but do not abandon me.”

“Alas! sire, we must part.”

“You do not love me, then!”

“Heaven knows I do!”

“It is false, Louise; it is false.”

“Oh! sire, if I did not love you, I should let you do what you please; I should let you revenge me, in return for the insult which has been inflicted on me; I should accept the brilliant triumph to my pride which you propose; and yet, you cannot deny that I reject even the sweet compensation which your affection affords, that affection which for me is life itself, for I wished to die when I thought that you loved me no longer.”

“Yes, yes; I now know, I now perceive it; you are the sweetest, best, and purest of women. There is no one so worthy as yourself, not alone of my respect and devotion, but also of the respect and devotion of all who surround me; and therefore no one shall be loved like yourself; no one shall ever possess the influence over me that you wield. You wish me to be calm, to forgive?—be it so, you shall find me perfectly unmoved. You wish to reign by gentleness and clemency?—I will be clement and gentle. Dictate for me the conduct you wish me to adopt, and I will obey blindly.”

“In Heaven’s name, no, sire; what am I, a poor girl, to dictate to so great a monarch as yourself?”

“You are my life, the very spirit and principle of my being. Is it not the spirit that rules the body?”

“You love me, then, sire?”

“On my knees, yes; with my hands upraised to you, yes; with all the strength and power of my being, yes; I love you so deeply, that I would lay down my life for you, gladly, at your merest wish.”

“Oh! sire, now I know you love me, I have nothing to wish for in the world. Give me your hand, sire; and then, farewell! I have enjoyed in this life all the happiness I was ever meant for.”

“Oh! no, no! your happiness is not a happiness of yesterday, it is of to-day, of to-morrow, ever enduring. The future is yours, everything which is mine is yours, too. Away with these ideas of separation, away with these gloomy, despairing thoughts. You will live for me, as I will live for you, Louise.” And he threw himself at her feet, embracing her knees with the wildest transports of joy and gratitude.

“Oh! sire, sire! all that is but a wild dream.”

“Why, a wild dream?”

“Because I cannot return to the court. Exiled, how can I see you again? Would it not be far better to bury myself in a cloister for the rest of my life, with the rich consolation that your affection gives me, with the pulses of your heart beating for me, and your latest confession of attachment still ringing in my ears?”

“Exiled, you!” exclaimed Louis XIV., “and who dares to exile, let me ask, when I recall?”

“Oh! sire, something which is greater than and superior to the kings even—the world and public opinion. Reflect for a moment; you cannot love a woman who has been ignominiously driven away—love one whom your mother has stained with suspicions; one whom your sister has threatened with disgrace; such a woman, indeed, would be unworthy of you.”

“Unworthy! one who belongs to me?”

“Yes, sire, precisely on that account; from the very moment she belongs to you, the character of your mistress renders her unworthy.”

“You are right, Louise; every shade of delicacy of feeling is yours. Very well, you shall not be exiled.”

“Ah! from the tone in which you speak, you have not heard Madame, that is very clear.”

“I will appeal from her to my mother.”

“Again, sire, you have not seen your mother.”

“She, too!—my poor Louise! every one’s hand, then, is against you.”

“Yes, yes, poor Louise, who was already bending beneath the fury of the storm, when you arrived and crushed her beneath the weight of your displeasure.”

“Oh! forgive me.”

“You will not, I know, be able to make either of them yield; believe me, the evil cannot be repaired, for I will not allow you to use violence, or to exercise your authority.”

“Very well, Louise, to prove to you how fondly I love you, I will do one thing, I will see Madame; I will make her revoke her sentence, I will compel her to do so.”

“Compel? Oh! no, no!”

“True; you are right. I will bend her.”

Louise shook her head.

“I will entreat her, if it be necessary,” said Louis. “Will you believe in my affection after that?”

Louise drew herself up. “Oh, never, never shall you humiliate yourself on my account; sooner, a thousand times, would I die.”

Louis reflected; his features assumed a dark expression. “I will love you as much as you have loved; I will suffer as keenly as you have suffered; this shall be my expiation in your eyes. Come, mademoiselle, put aside these paltry considerations; let us show ourselves as great as our sufferings, as strong as our affection for each other.” And, as he said this, he took her in his arms, and encircled her waist with both his hands, saying, “My own love! my own dearest and best beloved, follow me.”

She made a final effort, in which she concentrated, no longer all of her firmness of will, for that had long since been overcome, but all her physical strength. “No!” she replied, weakly, “no! no! I should die from shame.”

“No! you shall return like a queen. No one knows of your having left—except, indeed, D’Artagnan.”

“He has betrayed me, then?”

“In what way?”

“He promised faithfully—”

“I promised not to say anything to the king,” said D’Artagnan, putting his head through the half-opened door, “and I kept my word; I was speaking to M. de Saint-Aignan, and it was not my fault if the king overheard me; was it, sire?”

“It is quite true,” said the king; “forgive him.”

La Valliere smiled, and held out her small white hand to the musketeer.

“Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said the king, “be good enough to see if you can find a carriage for Mademoiselle de la Valliere.”

“Sire,” said the captain, “the carriage is waiting at the gate.”

“You are a magic mould of forethought,” exclaimed the king.

“You have taken a long time to find it out,” muttered D’Artagnan, notwithstanding he was flattered by the praise bestowed upon him.

La Valliere was overcome: after a little further hesitation, she allowed herself to be led away, half fainting, by her royal lover. But, as she was on the point of leaving the room, she tore herself from the king’s grasp, and returned to the stone crucifix, which she kissed, saying, “Oh, Heaven! it was thou who drewest me hither! thou, who has rejected me; but thy grace is infinite. Whenever I shall again return, forget that I have ever separated myself from thee, for, when I return it will be—never to leave thee again.”

The king could not restrain his emotion, and D’Artagnan, even, was overcome. Louis led the young girl away, lifted her into the carriage, and directed D’Artagnan to seat himself beside her, while he, mounting his horse, spurred violently towards the Palais Royal, where, immediately on his arrival, he sent to request an audience of Madame.






Chapter XXX. Madame.


From the manner in which the king had dismissed the ambassadors, even the least clear-sighted persons belonging to the court imagined war would ensue. The ambassadors themselves, but slightly acquainted with the king’s domestic disturbances, had interpreted as directed against themselves the celebrated sentence: “If I be not master of myself, I, at least, will be so of those who insult me.” Happily for the destinies of France and Holland, Colbert had followed them out of the king’s presence for the purpose of explaining matters to them; but the two queens and Madame, who were perfectly aware of every particular that had taken place in their several households, having heard the king’s remark, so full of dark meaning, retired to their own apartments in no little fear and chagrin. Madame, especially, felt that the royal anger might fall upon her, and, as she was brave and exceedingly proud, instead of seeking support and encouragement from the queen-mother, she had returned to her own apartments, if not without some uneasiness, at least without any intention of avoiding an encounter. Anne of Austria, from time to time at frequent intervals, sent messages to learn if the king had returned. The silence which the whole palace preserved upon the matter, and upon Louise’s disappearance, was indicative of a long train of misfortunes to all those who knew the haughty and irritable humor of the king. But Madame, unmoved in spite of all the flying rumors, shut herself up in her apartments, sent for Montalais, and, with a voice as calm as she could possibly command, desired her to relate all she knew about the event itself. At the moment that the eloquent Montalais was concluding, with all kinds of oratorical precautions, and was recommending, if not in actual language, at least in spirit, that she should show forbearance towards La Valliere, M. Malicorne made his appearance to beg an audience of Madame, on behalf of the king. Montalais’s worthy friend bore upon his countenance all the signs of the very liveliest emotion. It was impossible to be mistaken; the interview which the king requested would be one of the most interesting chapters in the history of the hearts of kings and of men. Madame was disturbed by her brother-in-law’s arrival; she did not expect it so soon, nor had she, indeed, expected any direct step on Louis’s part. Besides, all women who wage war successfully by indirect means, are invariably neither very skillful nor very strong when it becomes a question of accepting a pitched battle. Madame, however, was not one who ever drew back; she had the very opposite defect or qualification, in whichever light it may be considered; she took an exaggerated view of what constituted real courage; and therefore the king’s message, of which Malicorne had been the bearer, was regarded by her as the bugle-note proclaiming the commencement of hostilities. She, therefore, boldly accepted the gage of battle. Five minutes afterwards the king ascended the staircase. His color was heightened from having ridden hard. His dusty and disordered clothes formed a singular contrast with the fresh and perfectly arranged toilette of Madame, who, notwithstanding the rouge on her cheeks, turned pale as Louis entered the room. Louis lost no time in approaching the object of his visit; he sat down, and Montalais disappeared.

“My dear sister,” said the king, “you are aware that Mademoiselle de la Valliere fled from her own room this morning, and that she has retired to a cloister, overwhelmed by grief and despair.” As he pronounced these words, the king’s voice was singularly moved.

“Your majesty is the first to inform me of it,” replied Madame.

“I should have thought that you might have learned it this morning, during the reception of the ambassadors,” said the king.

“From your emotion, sire, I imagined that something extraordinary had happened, but without knowing what.”

The king, with his usual frankness, went straight to the point. “Why did you send Mademoiselle de la Valliere away?”

“Because I had reason to be dissatisfied with her conduct,” she replied, dryly.

The king became crimson, and his eyes kindled with a fire which it required all Madame’s courage to support. He mastered his anger, however, and continued: “A stronger reason than that is surely requisite, for one so good and kind as you are, to turn away and dishonor, not only the young girl herself, but every member of her family as well. You know that the whole city has its eyes fixed upon the conduct of the female portion of the court. To dismiss a maid of honor is to attribute a crime to her—at the very least a fault. What crime, what fault has Mademoiselle de la Valliere been guilty of?”

“Since you constitute yourself the protector of Mademoiselle de la Valliere,” replied Madame, coldly, “I will give you those explanations which I should have a perfect right to withhold from every one.”

“Even from the king!” exclaimed Louis, as, with a sudden gesture, he covered his head with his hat.

“You have called me your sister,” said Madame, “and I am in my own apartments.”

“It matters not,” said the youthful monarch, ashamed at having been hurried away by his anger; “neither you, nor any one else in this kingdom, can assert a right to withhold an explanation in my presence.”

“Since that is the way you regard it,” said Madame, in a hoarse, angry tone of voice, “all that remains for me to do is bow submission to your majesty, and to be silent.”

“Not so. Let there be no equivocation between us.”

“The protection with which you surround Mademoiselle de la Valliere does not impose any respect.”

“No equivocation, I repeat; you are perfectly aware that, as the head of the nobility in France, I am accountable to all for the honor of every family. You dismiss Mademoiselle de la Valliere, or whoever else it may be—” Madame shrugged her shoulders. “Or whoever else it may be, I repeat,” continued the king; “and as, acting in that manner, you cast a dishonorable reflection upon that person, I ask you for an explanation, in order that I may confirm or annul the sentence.”

“Annul my sentence!” exclaimed Madame, haughtily. “What! when I have discharged one of my attendants, do you order me to take her back again?” The king remained silent.

“This would be a sheer abuse of power, sire; it would be indecorous and unseemly.”

“Madame!”

“As a woman, I should revolt against an abuse so insulting to me; I should no longer be able to regard myself as a princess of your blood, a daughter of a monarch; I should be the meanest of creatures, more humbled and disgraced than the servant I had sent away.”

The king rose from his seat with anger. “It cannot be a heart,” he cried, “you have beating in your bosom; if you act in such a way with me, I may have reason to act with corresponding severity.”

It sometimes happens that in a battle a chance ball may reach its mark. The observation which the king had made without any particular intention, struck Madame home, and staggered her for a moment; some day or other she might indeed have reason to dread reprisals. “At all events, sire,” she said, “explain what you require.”

“I ask, madame, what has Mademoiselle de la Valliere done to warrant your conduct toward her?”

“She is the most cunning fomenter of intrigues I know; she was the occasion of two personal friends engaging in mortal combat; and has made people talk of her in such shameless terms that the whole court is indignant at the mere sound of her name.”

“She! she!” cried the king.

“Under her soft and hypocritical manner,” continued Madame, “she hides a disposition full of foul and dark conceit.”

“She!”

“You may possibly be deceived, sire, but I know her right well; she is capable of creating dispute and misunderstanding between the most affectionate relatives and the most intimate friends. You see that she has already sown discord betwixt us two.”

“I do assure you—” said the king.

“Sire, look well into the case as it stands; we were living on the most friendly understanding, and by the artfulness of her tales and complaints, she has set your majesty against me.”

“I swear to you,” said the king, “that on no occasion has a bitter word ever passed her lips; I swear that, even in my wildest bursts of passion, she would not allow me to menace any one; and I swear, too, that you do not possess a more devoted and respectful friend than she is.”

“Friend!” said Madame, with an expression of supreme disdain.

“Take care, Madame!” said the king; “you forget that you now understand me, and that from this moment everything is equalized. Mademoiselle de la Valliere will be whatever I may choose her to become; and to-morrow, if I were determined to do so, I could seat her on a throne.”

“She was not born to a throne, at least, and whatever you may do can affect the future alone, but cannot affect the past.”

“Madame, towards you I have shown every kind consideration, and every eager desire to please you; do not remind me that I am master.”

“It is the second time, sire, that you have made that remark, and I have already informed you I am ready to submit.”

“In that case, then, you will confer upon me the favor of receiving Mademoiselle de la Valliere back again.”

“For what purpose, sire, since you have a throne to bestow upon her? I am too insignificant to protect so exalted a personage.”

“Nay, a truce to this bitter and disdainful spirit. Grant me her forgiveness.”

“Never!”

“You drive me, then, to open warfare in my own family.”

“I, too, have a family with whom I can find refuge.”

“Do you mean that as a threat, and could you forget yourself so far? Do you believe that, if you push the affront to that extent, your family would encourage you?”

“I hope, sire, that you will not force me to take any step which would be unworthy of my rank.”

“I hoped that you would remember our recent friendship, and that you would treat me as a brother.”

Madame paused for a moment. “I do not disown you for a brother,” she said, “in refusing your majesty an injustice.”

“An injustice!”

“Oh, sire! if I informed others of La Valliere’s conduct; if the queen knew—”

“Come, come, Henrietta, let your heart speak; remember that, for however brief a time, you once loved me; remember, too, that human hearts should be as merciful as the heart of a sovereign Master. Do not be inflexible with others; forgive La Valliere.”

“I cannot; she has offended me.”

“But for my sake.”

“Sire, it is for your sake I would do anything in the world, except that.”

“You will drive me to despair—you compel me to turn to the last resource of weak people, and seek counsel of my angry and wrathful disposition.”

“I advise you to be reasonable.”

“Reasonable!—I can be so no longer.”

“Nay, sire! I pray you—”

“For pity’s sake, Henrietta; it is the first time I entreated any one, and I have no hope in any one but in you.”

“Oh, sire! you are weeping.”

“From rage, from humiliation. That I, the king, should have been obliged to descend to entreaty. I shall hate this moment during my whole life. You have made me suffer in one moment more distress and more degradation than I could have anticipated in the greatest extremity in life.” And the king rose and gave free vent to his tears, which, in fact, were tears of anger and shame.

Madame was not touched exactly—for the best women, when their pride is hurt, are without pity; but she was afraid that the tears the king was shedding might possibly carry away every soft and tender feeling in his heart.

“Give what commands you please, sire,” she said; “and since you prefer my humiliation to your own—although mine is public and yours has been witnessed but by myself alone—speak, I will obey your majesty.”

“No, no, Henrietta!” exclaimed Louis, transported with gratitude, “you will have yielded to a brother’s wishes.”

“I no longer have any brother, since I obey.”

“All that I have would be too little in return.”

“How passionately you love, sire, when you do love!”

Louis did not answer. He had seized upon Madame’s hand and covered it with kisses. “And so you will receive this poor girl back again, and will forgive her; you will find how gentle and pure-hearted she is.”

“I will maintain her in my household.”

“No, you will give her your friendship, my sister.”

“I never liked her.”

“Well, for my sake, you will treat her kindly, will you not, Henrietta?”

“I will treat her as your—mistress.”

The king rose suddenly to his feet. By this word, which had so infelicitously escaped her, Madame had destroyed the whole merit of her sacrifice. The king felt freed from all obligations. Exasperated beyond measure, and bitterly offended, he replied:

“I thank you, Madame; I shall never forget the service you have rendered me.” And, saluting her with an affectation of ceremony, he took his leave of her. As he passed before a glass, he saw that his eyes were red, and angrily stamped his foot on the ground. But it was too late, for Malicorne and D’Artagnan, who were standing at the door, had seen his eyes.

“The king has been crying,” thought Malicorne. D’Artagnan approached the king with a respectful air, and said in a low tone of voice:

“Sire, it would be better to return to your own apartments by the small staircase.”

“Why?”

“Because the dust of the road has left its traces on your face,” said D’Artagnan. “By heavens!” he thought, “when the king has given way like a child, let those look to it who may make the lady weep for whom the king sheds tears.”