Louise de la Valliere



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Chapter XXII. The Journey.

The next day being agreed upon for the departure, the king, at eleven o’clock precisely, descended the grand staircase with the two queens and Madame, in order to enter his carriage drawn by six horses, that were pawing the ground in impatience at the foot of the staircase. The whole court awaited the royal appearance in the Fer-a-cheval crescent, in their travelling costumes; the large number of saddled horses and carriages of ladies and gentlemen of the court, surrounded by their attendants, servants, and pages, formed a spectacle whose brilliancy could scarcely be equalled. The king entered his carriage with the two queens; Madame was in the same one with Monsieur. The maids of honor followed their example, and took their seats, two by two, in the carriages destined for them. The weather was exceedingly warm; a light breeze, which, early in the morning, all had thought would have proved sufficient to cool the air, soon became fiercely heated by the rays of the sun, although it was hidden behind the clouds, and filtered through the heated vapor which rose from the ground like a scorching wind, bearing particles of fine dust against the faces of the travelers. Madame was the first to complain of the heat. Monsieur’s only reply was to throw himself back in the carriage as though about to faint, and to inundate himself with scents and perfumes, uttering the deepest sighs all the while; whereupon Madame said to him, with her most amiable expression:—“Really, Monsieur, I fancied that you would have been polite enough, on account of the terrible heat, to have left me my carriage to myself, and to have performed the journey yourself on horseback.”

“Ride on horseback!” cried the prince, with an accent of dismay which showed how little idea he had of adopting this unnatural advice; “you cannot suppose such a thing, Madame! My skin would peel off if I were to expose myself to such a burning breeze as this.”

Madame began to laugh.

“You can take my parasol,” she said.

“But the trouble of holding it!” replied Monsieur, with the greatest coolness; “besides, I have no horse.”

“What, no horse?” replied the princess, who, if she did not secure the solitude she required, at least obtained the amusement of teasing. “No horse! You are mistaken, Monsieur; for I see your favorite bay out yonder.”

“My bay horse!” exclaimed the prince, attempting to lean forward to look out of the door; but the movement he was obliged to make cost him so much trouble that he soon hastened to resume his immobility.

“Yes,” said Madame; “your horse, led by M. de Malicorne.”

“Poor beast,” replied the prince; “how warm it must be!”

And with these words he closed his eyes, like a man on the point of death. Madame, on her side, reclined indolently in the other corner of the carriage, and closed her eyes also, not, however, to sleep, but to think more at her ease. In the meantime the king, seated in the front seat of his carriage, the back of which he had yielded up to the two queens, was a prey to that feverish contrariety experienced by anxious lovers, who, without being able to quench their ardent thirst, are ceaselessly desirous of seeing the loved object, and then go away partially satisfied, without perceiving they have acquired a more insatiable thirst than ever. The king, whose carriage headed the procession, could not from the place he occupied perceive the carriages of the ladies and maids of honor, which followed in a line behind it. Besides, he was obliged to answer the eternal questions of the young queen, who, happy to have with her “her dear husband,” as she called him in utter forgetfulness of royal etiquette, invested him with all her affection, stifled him with her attentions, afraid that some one might come to take him from her, or that he himself might suddenly take a fancy to quit her society. Anne of Austria, whom nothing at that moment occupied except the occasional cruel throbbings in her bosom, looked pleased and delighted, and although she perfectly realized the king’s impatience, tantalizingly prolonged his sufferings by unexpectedly resuming the conversation at the very moment the king, absorbed in his own reflections, began to muse over his secret attachment. Everything seemed to combine—not alone the little teasing attentions of the queen, but also the queen-mother’s interruptions—to make the king’s position almost insupportable; for he knew not how to control the restless longings of his heart. At first, he complained of the heat—a complaint merely preliminary to others, but with sufficient tact to prevent Maria Theresa guessing his real object. Understanding the king’s remark literally, she began to fan him with her ostrich plumes. But the heat passed away, and the king then complained of cramps and stiffness in his legs, and as the carriages at that moment stopped to change horses, the queen said:—“Shall I get out with you? I too feel tired of sitting. We can walk on a little distance; the carriage will overtake us, and we can resume our places presently.”

The king frowned; it is a hard trial a jealous woman makes her husband submit to whose fidelity she suspects, when, although herself a prey to jealousy, she watches herself so narrowly that she avoids giving any pretext for an angry feeling. The king, therefore, in the present case, could not refuse; he accepted the offer, alighted from the carriage, gave his arm to the queen, and walked up and down with her while the horses were being changed. As he walked along, he cast an envious glance upon the courtiers, who were fortunate enough to be on horseback. The queen soon found out that the promenade she had suggested afforded the king as little pleasure as he had experienced from driving. She accordingly expressed a wish to return to her carriage, and the king conducted her to the door, but did not get in with her. He stepped back a few paces, and looked along the file of carriages for the purpose of recognizing the one in which he took so strong an interest. At the door of the sixth carriage he saw La Valliere’s fair countenance. As the king thus stood motionless, wrapt in thought, without perceiving that everything was ready, and that he alone was causing the delay, he heard a voice close beside him, addressing him in the most respectful manner. It was M. Malicorne, in a complete costume of an equerry, holding over his left arm the bridles of a couple of horses.

“Your majesty asked for a horse, I believe,” he said.

“A horse? Have you one of my horses here?” inquired the king, trying to remember the person who addressed him, and whose face was not as yet familiar to him.

“Sire,” replied Malicorne, “at all events I have a horse here which is at your majesty’s service.”

And Malicorne pointed at Monsieur’s bay horse, which Madame had observed. It was a beautiful creature royally caparisoned.

“This is not one of my horses, monsieur,” said the king.

“Sire, it is a horse out of his royal highness’s stables; but he does not ride when the weather is as hot as it is now.”

Louis did not reply, but approached the horse, which stood pawing the ground with its foot. Malicorne hastened to hold the stirrup for him, but the king was already in the saddle. Restored to good-humor by this lucky accident, the king hastened towards the queen’s carriage, where he was anxiously expected; and notwithstanding Maria Theresa’s thoughtful and preoccupied air, he said: “I have been fortunate enough to find this horse, and I intend to avail myself of it. I felt stifled in the carriage. Adieu, ladies.”

Then bending gracefully over the arched neck of his beautiful steed, he disappeared in a second. Anne of Austria leaned forward, in order to look after him as he rode away; he did not get very far, for when he reached the sixth carriage, he reined in his horse suddenly and took off his hat. He saluted La Valliere, who uttered a cry of surprise as she saw him, blushing at the same time with pleasure. Montalais, who occupied the other seat in the carriage, made the king a most respectful bow. And then, with all the tact of a woman, she pretended to be exceedingly interested in the landscape, and withdrew herself into the left-hand corner. The conversation between the king and La Valliere began, as all lovers’ conversations generally do, namely, by eloquent looks and by a few words utterly devoid of common sense. The king explained how warm he had felt in his carriage, so much so indeed that he could almost regard the horse he then rode as a blessing thrown in his way. “And,” he added, “my benefactor is an exceedingly intelligent man, for he seemed to guess my thoughts intuitively. I have now only one wish, that of learning the name of the gentleman who so cleverly assisted his king out of his dilemma, and extricated him from his cruel position.”

Montalais, during this colloquy, the first words of which had awakened her attention, had slightly altered her position, and contrived so as to meet the king’s look as he finished his remark. It followed very naturally that the king looked inquiringly as much at her as at La Valliere; she had every reason to suppose that it was herself who was appealed to, and consequently might be permitted to answer. She therefore said: “Sire, the horse which your majesty is riding belongs to Monsieur, and was being led by one of his royal highness’s gentlemen.”

“And what is that gentleman’s name, may I ask, mademoiselle?”

“M. de Malicorne, sire.”

The name produced its usual effect, for the king repeated it smilingly.

“Yes, sire,” replied Aure. “Stay, it is the gentleman who is galloping on my left hand;” and she pointed out Malicorne, who, with a very sanctified expression, was galloping by the side of the carriage, knowing perfectly well that they were talking of him at that very moment, but sitting in his saddle as if he were deaf and dumb.

“Yes,” said the king, “that is the gentleman; I remember his face, and will not forget his name;” and the king looked tenderly at La Valliere.

Aure had now nothing further to do; she had let Malicorne’s name fall; the soil was good; all that was now left to be done was to let the name take root, and the event would bear fruit in due season. She consequently threw herself back in her corner, feeling perfectly justified in making as many agreeable signs of recognition as she liked to Malicorne, since the latter had had the happiness of pleasing the king. As will readily be believed, Montalais was not mistaken; and Malicorne, with his quick ear and his sly look, seemed to interpret her remark as “All goes on well,” the whole being accompanied by a pantomimic action, which he fancied conveyed something resembling a kiss.

“Alas! mademoiselle,” said the king, after a moment’s pause, “the liberty and freedom of the country is soon about to cease; your attendance on Madame will be more strictly enforced, and we shall see each other no more.”

“Your majesty is too much attached to Madame,” replied Louise, “not to come and see her very frequently; and whenever your majesty may chance to pass across the apartments—”

“Ah!” said the king, in a tender voice, which was gradually lowered in its tone, “to perceive is not to see, and yet it seems that it would be quite sufficient for you.”

Louise did not answer a syllable; a sigh filled her heart almost to bursting, but she stifled it.

“You exercise a great control over yourself,” said the king to Louise, who smiled upon him with a melancholy expression. “Exert the strength you have in loving fondly,” he continued, “and I will bless Heaven for having bestowed it on you.”

La Valliere still remained silent, but raised her eyes, brimful of affection, toward the king. Louis, as if overcome by this burning glance, passed his hand across his forehead, and pressing the sides of his horse with his knees, made him bound several paces forward. La Valliere, leaning back in her carriage, with her eyes half closed, gazed fixedly upon the king, whose plumes were floating in the air; she could not but admire his graceful carriage, his delicate and nervous limbs which pressed his horse’s sides, and the regular outline of his features, which his beautiful curling hair set off to great advantage, revealing occasionally his small and well-formed ear. In fact the poor girl was in love, and she reveled in her innocent affection. In a few moments the king was again by her side.

“Do you not perceive,” he said, “how terribly your silence affects me? Oh! mademoiselle, how pitilessly inexorable you would become if you were ever to resolve to break off all acquaintance with any one; and then, too, I think you changeable; in fact—in fact, I dread this deep affection which fills my whole being.”

“Oh! sire, you are mistaken,” said La Valliere; “if ever I love, it will be for all my life.”

“If you love, you say,” exclaimed the king; “you do not love now, then?”

She hid her face in her hands.

“You see,” said the king, “that I am right in accusing you; you must admit you are changeable, capricious, a coquette, perhaps.”

“Oh, no! sire, be perfectly satisfied as to that. No, I say again; no, no!”

“Promise me, then, that to me you will always be the same.”

“Oh! always, sire.”

“That you will never show any of that severity which would break my heart, none of that fickleness of manner which would be worse than death to me.”

“Oh! no, no.”

“Very well, then! but listen. I like promises, I like to place under the guarantee of an oath, under the protection of Heaven, in fact, everything which interests my heart and my affections. Promise me, or rather swear to me, that if in the life we are about to commence, a life which will be full of sacrifice, mystery, anxiety, disappointment, and misunderstanding; swear to me that if we should in any way deceive, or misunderstand each other, or should judge each other unjustly, for that indeed would be criminal in love such as ours; swear to me, Louise—”

She trembled with agitation to the very depths of her heart; it was the first time she had heard her name pronounced in that manner by her royal lover. As for the king, taking off his glove, and placing his hand within the carriage, he continued:—“Swear, that never in all our quarrels will we allow one night even to pass by, if any misunderstanding should arise between us, without a visit, or at least a message, from either, in order to convey consolation and repose to the other.”

La Valliere took her lover’s burning hand between her own cool palms, and pressed it softly, until a movement of the horse, frightened by the proximity of the wheels, obliged her to abandon her happiness. She had vowed as he desired.

“Return, sire,” she said, “return to the queen. I foresee a storm yonder, which threatens my peace of mind and yours.”

Louis obeyed, saluted Mademoiselle de Montalais, and set off at a gallop to rejoin the queen. As he passed Monsieur’s carriage, he observed that he was fast asleep, although Madame, on her part, was wide awake. As the king passed her she said, “What a beautiful horse, sire! Is it not Monsieur’s bay horse?”

The young queen kindly asked, “Are you better now, sire?” 3

Chapter XXIII. Triumfeminate.

On the king’s arrival in Paris, he sat at the council which had been summoned, and worked for a certain portion of the day. The queen remained with the queen-mother, and burst into tears as soon as she had taken leave of the king. “Ah, madame!” she said, “the king no longer loves me! What will become of me?”

“A husband always loves his wife when she is like you,” replied Anne of Austria.

“A time may come when he will love another woman instead of me.”

“What do you call loving?”

“Always thinking of a person—always seeking her society.”

“Do you happen to have remarked,” said Anne of Austria, “that the king has ever done anything of the sort?”

“No, madame,” said the young queen, hesitatingly.

“What is there to complain of, then, Marie?”

“You will admit that the king leaves me?”

“The king, my daughter, belongs to his people.”

“And that is the very reason why he no longer belongs to me; and that is the reason, too, why I shall find myself, as so many queens before me, forsaken and forgotten, whilst glory and honors will be reserved for others. Oh, my mother! the king is so handsome! how often will others tell him that they love him, and how much, indeed, they must do so!”

“It is very seldom, indeed, that women love the man in loving the king. But if such a thing happened, which I doubt, you would do better to wish, Marie, that such women should really love your husband. In the first place, the devoted love of a mistress is a rapid element of the dissolution of a lover’s affection; and then, by dint of loving, the mistress loses all influence over her lover, whose power of wealth she does not covet, caring only for his affection. Wish, therefore, that the king should love but lightly, and that his mistress should love with all her heart.”

“Oh, my mother, what power may not a deep affection exercise over him!”

“And yet you say you are resigned?”

“Quite true, quite true; I speak absurdly. There is a feeling of anguish, however, which I can never control.”

“And that is?”

“The king may make a happy choice—may find a home, with all the tender influences of home, not far from that we can offer him,—a home with children round him, the children of another woman. Oh, madame! I should die if I were but to see the king’s children.”

“Marie, Marie,” replied the queen-mother with a smile, and she took the young queen’s hand in her own, “remember what I am going to say, and let it always be a consolation to you: the king cannot have a Dauphin without you.”

With this remark the queen-mother quitted her daughter-in-law, in order to meet Madame, whose arrival in the grand cabinet had just been announced by one of the pages. Madame had scarcely taken time to change her dress. Her face revealed her agitation, which betrayed a plan, the execution of which occupied, while the result disturbed, her mind.

“I came to ascertain,” she said, “if your majesties are suffering any fatigue from our journey.”

“None at all,” said the queen-mother.

“A little,” replied Maria Theresa.

“I have suffered from annoyance more than anything else,” said Madame.

“How was that?” inquired Anne of Austria.

“The fatigue the king undergoes in riding about on horseback.”

“That does the king good.”

“And it was I who advised him,” said Maria Theresa, turning pale.

Madame said not a word in reply; but one of those smiles which were peculiarly her own flitted for a moment across her lips, without passing over the rest of her face; then, immediately changing the conversation, she continued, “We shall find Paris precisely the Paris we quitted; the same intrigues, plots, and flirtations going on.”

“Intrigues! What intrigues do you allude to?” inquired the queen-mother.

“People are talking a good deal about M. Fouquet and Madame Plessis-Belliere.”

“Who makes up the number to about ten thousand,” replied the queen-mother. “But what are the plots you speak of?”

“We have, it seems, certain misunderstandings with Holland to settle.”

“What about?”

“Monsieur has been telling me the story of the medals.”

“Oh!” exclaimed the young queen, “you mean those medals struck in Holland, on which a cloud is seen passing across the sun, which is the king’s device. You are wrong in calling that a plot—it is an insult.”

“But so contemptible that the king can well despise it,” replied the queen-mother. “Well, what are the flirtations which are alluded to? Do you mean that of Madame d’Olonne?”

“No, no; nearer ourselves than that.”

“Casa de usted,” murmured the queen-mother, and without moving her lips, in her daughter-in-law’s ear, without being overheard by Madame, who thus continued:—“You know the terrible news?” 4

“Oh, yes; M. de Guiche’s wound.”

“And you attribute it, I suppose, as every one else does, to an accident which happened to him while hunting?”

“Yes, of course,” said both the queens together, their interest awakened.

Madame drew closer to them, as she said, in a low tone of voice, “It was a duel.”

“Ah!” said Anne of Austria, in a severe tone; for, in her ears, the word “duel,” which had been forbidden in France all the time she reigned over it, had a strange sound.

“A most deplorable duel, which has nearly cost Monsieur two of his best friends, and the king two of his best servants.”

“What was the cause of the duel?” inquired the young queen, animated by a secret instinct.

“Flirtation,” repeated Madame, triumphantly. “The gentlemen in question were conversing about the virtue of a particular lady belonging to the court. One of them thought that Pallas was a very second-rate person compared to her; the other pretended that the lady in question was an imitation of Venus alluring Mars; and thereupon the two gentlemen fought as fiercely as Hector and Achilles.”

“Venus alluring Mars?” said the young queen in a low tone of voice without venturing to examine into the allegory very deeply.

“Who is the lady?” inquired Anne of Austria abruptly. “You said, I believe, she was one of the ladies of honor?”

“Did I say so?” replied Madame.

“Yes; at least I thought I heard you mention it.”

“Are you not aware that such a woman is of ill-omen to a royal house?”

“Is it not Mademoiselle de la Valliere?” said the queen-mother.

“Yes, indeed, that plain-looking creature.”

“I thought she was affianced to a gentleman who certainly is not, at least so I have heard, either M. de Guiche or M. de Wardes?”

“Very possibly, madame.”

The young queen took up a piece of tapestry, and began to broider with an affectation of tranquillity her trembling fingers contradicted.

“What were you saying about Venus and Mars?” pursued the queen-mother. “Is there a Mars also?”

“She boasts of that being the case.”

“Did you say she boasts of it?”

“That was the cause of the duel.”

“And M. de Guiche upheld the cause of Mars?”

“Yes, certainly; like the devoted servant he is.”

“The devoted servant of whom?” exclaimed the young queen, forgetting her reserve in allowing her jealous feeling to escape.

“Mars, not to be defended except at the expense of Venus,” replied Madame. “M. de Guiche maintained the perfect innocence of Mars, and no doubt affirmed that it was all a mere boast.”

“And M. de Wardes,” said Anne of Austria, quietly, “spread the report that Venus was within her rights, I suppose?”

“Oh, De Wardes,” thought Madame, “you shall pay dearly for the wound you have given that noblest—best of men!” And she began to attack De Wardes with the greatest bitterness; thus discharging her own and De Guiche’s debt, with the assurance that she was working the future ruin of her enemy. She said so much, in fact, that had Manicamp been there, he would have regretted he had shown such firm regard for his friend, inasmuch as it resulted in the ruin of his unfortunate foe.

“I see nothing in the whole affair but one cause of mischief, and that is La Valliere herself,” said the queen-mother.

The young queen resumed her work with perfect indifference of manner, while Madame listened eagerly.

“I do not yet quite understand what you said just now about the danger of coquetry,” resumed Anne of Austria.

“It is quite true,” Madame hastened to say, “that if the girl had not been a coquette, Mars would not have thought at all about her.”

The repetition of this word Mars brought a passing color to the queen’s face; but she still continued her work.

“I will not permit that, in my court, gentlemen should be set against each other in this manner,” said Anne of Austria, calmly. “Such manners were useful enough, perhaps, in days when the divided nobility had no other rallying-point than mere gallantry. At that time women, whose sway was absolute and undivided, were privileged to encourage men’s valor by frequent trials of their courage. But now, thank Heaven, there is but one master in France, and to him every instinct of the mind, every pulse of the body are due. I will not allow my son to be deprived of any single one of his servants.” And she turned towards the young queen, saying, “What is to be done with this La Valliere?”

“La Valliere?” said the queen, apparently surprised, “I do not even know the name;” and she accompanied this remark by one of those cold, fixed smiles only to be observed on royal lips.

Madame was herself a princess great in every respect, great in intelligence, great by birth, by pride; the queen’s reply, however, completely astonished her, and she was obliged to pause for a moment in order to recover herself. “She is one of my maids of honor,” she replied, with a bow.

“In that case,” retorted Maria Theresa, in the same tone, “it is your affair, my sister, and not ours.”

“I beg your pardon,” resumed Anne of Austria, “it is my affair. And I perfectly well understand,” she pursued, addressing a look full of intelligence at Madame, “Madame’s motive for saying what she has just said.”

“Everything which emanates from you, madame,” said the English princess, “proceeds from the lips of Wisdom.”

“If we send this girl back to her own family,” said Maria Theresa, gently, “we must bestow a pension upon her.”

“Which I will provide for out of my income,” exclaimed Madame.

“No, no,” interrupted Anne of Austria, “no disturbance, I beg. The king dislikes that the slightest disrespectful remark should be made of any lady. Let everything be done quietly. Will you have the kindness, Madame, to send for this girl here; and you, my daughter, will have the goodness to retire to your own room.”

The dowager queen’s entreaties were commands, and as Maria Theresa rose to return to her apartments, Madame rose in order to send a page to summon La Valliere.

Chapter XXIV. The First Quarrel.

La Valliere entered the queen-mother’s apartments without in the least suspecting that a serious plot was being concerted against her. She thought it was for something connected with her duties, and never had the queen-mother been unkind to her when such was the case. Besides, not being immediately under the control or direction of Anne of Austria, she could only have an official connection with her, to which her own gentleness of disposition, and the rank of the august princess, made her yield on every occasion with the best possible grace. She therefore advanced towards the queen-mother with that soft and gentle smile which constituted her principal charm, and as she did not approach sufficiently close, Anne of Austria signed to her to come nearer. Madame then entered the room, and with a perfectly calm air took her seat beside her mother-in-law, and continued the work which Maria Theresa had begun. When La Valliere, instead of the direction which she expected to receive immediately on entering the room, perceived these preparations, she looked with curiosity, if not with uneasiness, at the two princesses. Anne seemed full of thought, while Madame maintained an affectation of indifference that would have alarmed a less timid person even than Louise.

“Mademoiselle,” said the queen-mother suddenly, without attempting to moderate or disguise her Spanish accent, which she never failed to do except when she was angry, “come closer; we were talking of you, as every one else seems to be doing.”

“Of me!” exclaimed La Valliere, turning pale.

“Do you pretend to be ignorant of it; are you not aware of the duel between M. de Guiche and M. de Wardes?”

“Oh, madame! I heard of it yesterday,” said La Valliere, clasping her hands together.

“And did you not foresee this quarrel?”

“Why should I, madame?”

“Because two men never fight without a motive, and because you must be aware of the motive which awakened the animosity of the two in question.”

“I am perfectly ignorant of it, madame.”

“A persevering denial is a very commonplace mode of defense, and you, who have great pretensions to be witty and clever, ought to avoid commonplaces. What else have you to say?”

“Oh! madame, your majesty terrifies me with your cold severity of manner; but I do not understand how I can have incurred your displeasure, or in what respect people concern themselves about me.”

“Then I will tell you. M. de Guiche has been obliged to undertake your defense.”

“My defense?”

“Yes. He is a gallant knight, and beautiful adventuresses like to see brave knights couch lances in their honor. But, for my part, I hate fields of battle, and above all I hate adventures, and—take my remark as you please.”

La Valliere sank at the queen’s feet, who turned her back upon her. She stretched out her hands towards Madame, who laughed in her face. A feeling of pride made her rise to her feet.

“I have begged your majesty to tell me what is the crime I am accused of—I can claim this at your hands; and I see I am condemned before I am even permitted to justify myself.”

“Eh! indeed,” cried Anne of Austria, “listen to her beautiful phrases, Madame, and to her fine sentiments; she is an inexhaustible well of tenderness and heroic expressions. One can easily see, young lady, that you have cultivated your mind in the society of crowned heads.”

La Valliere felt struck to the heart; she became, not whiter, but as white as a lily, and all her strength forsook her.

“I wished to inform you,” interrupted the queen, disdainfully, “that if you continue to nourish such feelings, you will humiliate us to such a degree that we shall be ashamed of appearing before you. Be simple in your manners. By the by, I am informed that you are affianced; is it the case?”

La Valliere pressed her hand over her heart, which was wrung with a fresh pang.

“Answer when you are spoken to!”

“Yes, madame.”

“To a gentleman?”

“Yes, madame.”

“His name?”

“The Vicomte de Bragelonne.”

“Are you aware that it is an exceedingly fortunate circumstance for you, mademoiselle, that such is the case, and without fortune or position, as you are, or without any very great personal advantages, you ought to bless Heaven for having procured you such a future as seems to be in store for you?”

La Valliere did not reply. “Where is the Vicomte de Bragelonne?” pursued the queen.

“In England,” said Madame, “where the report of this young lady’s success will not fail to reach him.”

“Oh, Heaven!” murmured La Valliere in despair.

“Very well, mademoiselle!” said Anne of Austria, “we will get this young gentleman to return, and send you away somewhere with him. If you are of a different opinion—for girls have strange views and fancies at times—trust to me, I will put you in a proper path again. I have done as much for girls who are not as good as you are, probably.”

La Valliere ceased to hear the queen, who pitilessly added: “I will send you somewhere, by yourself, where you will be able to indulge in a little serious reflection. Reflection calms the ardor of the blood, and swallows up the illusions of youth. I suppose you understand what I have been saying?”


“Not a word?”

“I am innocent of everything your majesty supposes. Oh, madame! you are a witness of my despair. I love, I respect your majesty so much.”

“It would be far better not to respect me at all,” said the queen, with a chilling irony of manner. “It would be far better if you were not innocent. Do you presume to suppose that I should be satisfied simply to leave you unpunished if you had committed the fault?”

“Oh, madame! you are killing me.”

“No acting, if you please, or I will precipitate the denouement of this play; leave the room; return to your own apartment, and I trust my lesson may be of service to you.”

“Madame!” said La Valliere to the Duchess d’Orleans, whose hands she seized in her own, “do you, who are so good, intercede for me?”

“I!” replied the latter, with an insulting joy, “I—good!—Ah, mademoiselle, you think nothing of the kind;” and with a rude, hasty gesture she repulsed the young girl’s grasp.

La Valliere, instead of giving way, as from her extreme pallor and her tears the two princesses possibly expected, suddenly resumed her calm and dignified air; she bowed profoundly, and left the room.

“Well!” said Anne of Austria to Madame, “do you think she will begin again?”

“I always suspect those gentle, patient characters,” replied Madame. “Nothing is more full of courage than a patient heart, nothing more self-reliant than a gentle spirit.”

“I feel I may almost venture to assure you she will think twice before she looks at the god Mars again.”

“So long as she does not obtain the protection of his buckler I do not care,” retorted Madame.

A proud, defiant look of the queen-mother was the reply to this objection, which was by no means deficient in finesse; and both of them, almost sure of their victory, went to look for Maria Theresa, who had been waiting for them with impatience.

It was about half-past six in the evening, and the king had just partaken of refreshment. He lost no time; but the repast finished, and business matters settled, he took Saint-Aignan by the arm, and desired him to lead the way to La Valliere’s apartments. The courtier uttered an exclamation.

“Well, what is that for? It is a habit you will have to adopt, and in order to adopt a habit, one must make a beginning.”

“Oh, sire!” said Saint-Aignan, “it is hardly possible: for every one can be seen entering or leaving those apartments. If, however, some pretext or other were made use of—if your majesty, for instance, would wait until Madame were in her own apartments—”

“No pretext; no delays. I have had enough of these impediments and mysteries; I cannot perceive in what respect the king of France dishonors himself by conversing with an amiable and clever girl. Evil be to him who evil thinks.”

“Will your majesty forgive an excess of zeal on my part?”

“Speak freely.”

“How about the queen?”

“True, true; I always wish the most entire respect to be shown to her majesty. Well, then, this evening only will I pay Mademoiselle de la Valliere a visit, and after to-day I will make use of any pretext you like. To-morrow we will devise all sorts of means; to-night I have no time.”

Saint-Aignan made no reply; he descended the steps, preceding the king, and crossed the different courtyards with a feeling of shame, which the distinguished honor of accompanying the king did not remove. The reason was that Saint-Aignan wished to stand well with Madame, as well as with the queens, and also, that he did not, on the other hand, want to displease Mademoiselle de la Valliere: and in order to carry out so many promising affairs, it was difficult to avoid jostling against some obstacle or other. Besides, the windows of the young queen’s rooms, those of the queen-mother’s, and of Madame herself, looked out upon the courtyard of the maids of honor. To be seen, therefore, accompanying the king, would be effectually to quarrel with three great and influential princesses—whose authority was unbounded—for the purpose of supporting the ephemeral credit of a mistress. The unhappy Saint-Aignan, who had not displayed a very great amount of courage in taking La Valliere’s part in the park of Fontainebleau, did not feel any braver in the broad day-light, and found a thousand defects in the poor girl which he was most eager to communicate to the king. But his trial soon finished,—the courtyards were crossed; not a curtain was drawn aside, nor a window opened. The king walked hastily, because of his impatience, and the long legs of Saint-Aignan, who preceded him. At the door, however, Saint-Aignan wished to retire, but the king desired him to remain; a delicate consideration, on the king’s part, which the courtier could very well have dispensed with. He had to follow Louis into La Valliere’s apartment. As soon as the king arrived the young girl dried her tears, but so precipitately that the king perceived it. He questioned her most anxiously and tenderly, and pressed her to tell him the cause of her emotion.

“Nothing is the matter, sire,” she said.

“And yet you were weeping?”

“Oh, no, indeed, sire.”

“Look, Saint-Aignan, and tell me if I am mistaken.”

Saint-Aignan ought to have answered, but he was too much embarrassed.

“At all events your eyes are red, mademoiselle,” said the king.

“The dust of the road merely, sire.”

“No, no; you no longer possess the air of supreme contentment which renders you so beautiful and so attractive. You do not look at me. Why avoid my gaze?” he said, as she turned aside her head. “In Heaven’s name, what is the matter?” he inquired, beginning to lose command over himself.

“Nothing at all, sire; and I am perfectly ready to assure your majesty that my mind is as free from anxiety as you could possibly wish.”

“Your mind at ease, when I see you are embarrassed at the slightest thing. Has any one annoyed you?”

“No, no, sire.”

“I insist upon knowing if such really be the case,” said the prince, his eyes sparkling.

“No one, sire, no one has in any way offended me.”

“In that case, pray resume your gentle air of gayety, or that sweet melancholy look which I so loved in you this morning; for pity’s sake, do so.”

“Yes, sire, yes.”

The king tapped the floor impatiently with his foot, saying, “Such a change is positively inexplicable.” And he looked at Saint-Aignan, who had also remarked La Valliere’s peculiar lethargy, as well as the king’s impatience.

It was futile for the king to entreat, and as useless for him to try to overcome her depression: the poor girl was completely overwhelmed,—the appearance of an angel would hardly have awakened her from her torpor.

The king saw in her repeated negative replies a mystery full of unkindness; he began to look round the apartment with a suspicious air. There happened to be in La Valliere’s room a miniature of Athos. The king remarked that this portrait bore a strong resemblance to Bragelonne, for it had been taken when the count was quite a young man. He looked at it with a threatening air. La Valliere, in her misery far indeed from thinking of this portrait, could not conjecture the cause of the king’s preoccupation. And yet the king’s mind was occupied with a terrible remembrance, which had more than once taken possession of his mind, but which he had always driven away. He recalled the intimacy existing between the two young people from their birth, their engagement, and that Athos himself had come to solicit La Valliere’s hand for Raoul. He therefore could not but suppose that on her return to Paris, La Valliere had found news from London awaiting her, and that this news had counterbalanced the influence he had been enabled to exert over her. He immediately felt himself stung, as it were, by feelings of the wildest jealousy; and again questioned her, with increased bitterness. La Valliere could not reply, unless she were to acknowledge everything, which would be to accuse the queen, and Madame also; and the consequence would be, that she would have to enter into an open warfare with these two great and powerful princesses. She thought within herself that as she made no attempt to conceal from the king what was passing in her own mind, the king ought to be able to read in her heart, in spite of her silence; and that, had he really loved her, he would have understood and guessed everything. What was sympathy, then, if not that divine flame which possesses the property of enlightening the heart, and of saving lovers the necessity of an expression of their thoughts and feelings? She maintained her silence, therefore, sighing, and concealing her face in her hands. These sighs and tears, which had at first distressed, then terrified Louis XIV., now irritated him. He could not bear opposition,—the opposition which tears and sighs exhibited, any more than opposition of any other kind. His remarks, therefore, became bitter, urgent, and openly aggressive in their nature. This was a fresh cause of distress for the poor girl. From that very circumstance, therefore, which she regarded as an injustice on her lover’s part, she drew sufficient courage to bear, not only her other troubles, but this one also.

The king next began to accuse her in direct terms. La Valliere did not even attempt to defend herself; she endured all his accusations without according any other reply than that of shaking her head; without any other remark than that which escapes the heart in deep distress—a prayerful appeal to Heaven for help. But this ejaculation, instead of calming the king’s displeasure, rather increased it. He, moreover, saw himself seconded by Saint-Aignan, for Saint-Aignan, as we have observed, having seen the storm increasing, and not knowing the extent of the regard of which Louis XIV. was capable, felt, by anticipation, all the collected wrath of the three princesses, and the near approach of poor La Valliere’s downfall, and he was not true knight enough to resist the fear that he himself might be dragged down in the impending ruin. Saint-Aignan did not reply to the king’s questions except by short, dry remarks, pronounced half-aloud; and by abrupt gestures, whose object was to make things worse, and bring about a misunderstanding, the result of which would be to free him from the annoyance of having to cross the courtyards in open day, in order to follow his illustrious companion to La Valliere’s apartments. In the meantime the king’s anger momentarily increased; he made two or three steps towards the door as if to leave the room, but returned. The young girl did not, however, raise her head, although the sound of his footsteps might have warned her that her lover was leaving her. He drew himself up, for a moment, before her, with his arms crossed.

“For the last time, mademoiselle,” he said, “will you speak? Will you assign a reason for this change, this fickleness, for this caprice?”

“What can I say?” murmured La Valliere. “Do you not see, sire, that I am completely overwhelmed at this moment; that I have no power of will, or thought, or speech?”

“Is it so difficult, then, to speak the truth? You could have told me the whole truth in fewer words than those in which you have expressed yourself.”

“But the truth about what, sire?”

“About everything.”

La Valliere was just on the point of revealing the truth to the king, her arms made a sudden movement as if they were about to open, but her lips remained silent, and her hands again fell listlessly by her side. The poor girl had not yet endured sufficient unhappiness to risk the necessary revelation. “I know nothing,” she stammered out.

“Oh!” exclaimed the king, “this is no longer mere coquetry, or caprice, it is treason.”

And this time nothing could restrain him. The impulse of his heart was not sufficient to induce him to turn back, and he darted out of the room with a gesture full of despair. Saint-Aignan followed him, wishing for nothing better than to quit the place.

Louis XIV. did not pause until he reached the staircase, and grasping the balustrade, said: “You see how shamefully I have been duped.”

“How, sire?” inquired the favorite.

“De Guiche fought on the Vicomte de Bragelonne’s account, and this Bragelonne... oh! Saint-Aignan, she still loves him. I vow to you, Saint-Aignan, that if, in three days from now, there were to remain but an atom of affection for her in my heart, I should die from very shame.” And the king resumed his way to his own apartments.

“I told your majesty how it would be,” murmured Saint-Aignan, continuing to follow the king, and timidly glancing up at the different windows.

Unfortunately their return was not, like their arrival, unobserved. A curtain was suddenly drawn aside; Madame was behind it. She had seen the king leave the apartments of the maids of honor, and as soon as she observed that his majesty had passed, she left her own apartments with hurried steps, and ran up the staircase that led to the room the king had just left.