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Ten Years Later

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Chapter XXXVII. The Butterfly-Chase.


The king, on retiring to his apartments to give some directions and to arrange his ideas, found on his toilette-glass a small note, the handwriting of which seemed disguised. He opened it and read—“Come quickly, I have a thousand things to say to you.” The king and Madame had not been separated a sufficiently long time for these thousand things to be the result of the three thousand which they had been saying to each other during the route which separated Vulaines from Fontainebleau. The confused and hurried character of the note gave the king a great deal to reflect upon. He occupied himself but slightly with his toilette, and set off to pay his visit to Madame. The princess, who did not wish to have the appearance of expecting him, had gone into the gardens with the ladies of her suite. When the king was informed that Madame had left her apartments and had gone for a walk in the gardens, he collected all the gentlemen he could find, and invited them to follow him. He found Madame engaged in chasing butterflies, on a large lawn bordered with heliotrope and flowering broom. She was looking on as the most adventurous and youngest of her ladies ran to and fro, and with her back turned to a high hedge, very impatiently awaited the arrival of the king, with whom she had appointed the rendezvous. The sound of many feet upon the gravel walk made her turn round. Louis XIV. was hatless, he had struck down with his cane a peacock butterfly, which Monsieur de Saint-Aignan had picked up from the ground quite stunned.

“You see, Madame,” said the king, as he approached her, “that I, too, am hunting on your behalf!” and then, turning towards those who had accompanied him, said, “Gentlemen, see if each of you cannot obtain as much for these ladies,” a remark which was a signal for all to retire. And thereupon a curious spectacle might have been observed; old and corpulent courtiers were seen running after butterflies, losing their hats as they ran, and with their raised canes cutting down the myrtles and the furze, as they would have done the Spaniards.

The king offered Madame his arm, and they both selected, as the center of observation, a bench with a roof of boards and moss, a kind of hut roughly designed by the modest genius of one of the gardeners who had inaugurated the picturesque and fanciful amid the formal style of the gardening of that period. This sheltered retreat, covered with nasturtiums and climbing roses, screened the bench, so that the spectators, insulated in the middle of the lawn, saw and were seen on every side, but could not be heard, without perceiving those who might approach for the purpose of listening. Seated thus, the king made a sign of encouragement to those who were running about; and then, as if he were engaged with Madame in a dissertation upon the butterfly, which he had thrust through with a gold pin and fastened on his hat, said to her, “How admirably we are placed here for conversations.”

“Yes, sire, for I wished to be heard by you alone, and yet to be seen by every one.”

“And I also,” said Louis.

“My note surprised you?”

“Terrified me rather. But what I have to tell you is more important.”

“It cannot be, sire. Do you know that Monsieur refuses to see me?”

“Why so?”

“Can you not guess why?”

“Ah, Madame! in that case we have both the same thing to say to each other.”

“What has happened to you, then?”

“You wish me to begin?”

“Yes, for I have told you all.”

“Well, then, as soon as I returned, I found my mother waiting for me, and she led me away to her own apartments.”

“The queen-mother?” said Madame, with some anxiety, “the matter is serious then.”

“Indeed it is, for she told me... but, in the first place, allow me to preface what I have to say with one remark. Has Monsieur ever spoken to you about me?”

“Often.”

“Has he ever spoken to you about his jealousy?”

“More frequently still.”

“Of his jealousy of me?”

“No, but of the Duke of Buckingham and De Guiche.”

“Well, Madame, Monsieur’s present idea is a jealousy of myself.”

“Really,” replied the princess, smiling archly.

“And it really seems to me,” continued the king, “that we have never given any ground—”

“Never! at least I have not. But who told you that Monsieur was jealous?”

“My mother represented to me that Monsieur entered her apartments like a madman, that he uttered a thousand complaints against you, and—forgive me for saying it—against your coquetry. It appears that Monsieur indulges in injustice, too.”

“You are very kind, sire.”

“My mother reassured him; but he pretended that people reassure him too often, and that he had had quite enough of it.”

“Would it not be better for him not to make himself uneasy in any way?”

“The very thing I said.”

“Confess, sire, that the world is very wicked. Is it possible that a brother and sister cannot converse together, or take pleasure in each other’s company, without giving rise to remarks and suspicions? For indeed, sire, we are doing no harm, and have no intention of doing any.” And she looked at the king with that proud yet provoking glance that kindles desire in the coldest and wisest of men.

“No!” sighed the king, “that is true.”

“You know very well, sire, that if it were to continue, I should be obliged to make a disturbance. Do you decide upon our conduct, and say whether it has, or has not, been perfectly correct.”

“Oh, certainly—perfectly correct.”

“Often alone together,—for we delight in the same things,—we might possibly be led away into error, but have we been? I regard you as a brother, and nothing more.”

The king frowned. She continued:

“Your hand, which often meets my own, does not excite in me that agitation and emotion which is the case with those who love each other, for instance—”

“Enough,” said the king, “enough, I entreat you. You have no pity—you are killing me.”

“What is the matter?”

“In fact, then, you distinctly say you experience nothing when near me.”

“Oh, sire! I don’t say that—my affection—”

“Enough, Henrietta, I again entreat you. If you believe me to be marble, as you are, undeceive yourself.”

“I do not understand you, sire.”

“Very well,” said the king, casting down his eyes. “And so our meetings, the pressure of each other’s hand, the looks we have exchanged—Yes, yes; you are right, and I understand your meaning,” and he buried his face in his hands.

“Take care, sire,” said Madame, hurriedly, “Monsieur de Saint-Aignan is looking at you.”

“Of course,” said Louis, angrily; “never even the shadow of liberty! never any sincerity in my intercourse with any one! I imagine I have found a friend, who is nothing but a spy; a dearer friend, who is only a—sister!”

Madame was silent, and cast down her eyes.

“My husband is jealous,” she murmured, in a tone of which nothing could equal its sweetness and charm.

“You are right,” exclaimed the king, suddenly.

“You see,” she said, looking at him in a manner that set his heart on fire, “you are free, you are not suspected, the peace of your house is not disturbed.”

“Alas,” said the king, “as yet you know nothing, for the queen is jealous.”

“Maria Theresa!”

“Stark mad with jealousy! Monsieur’s jealousy arises from hers; she was weeping and complaining to my mother, and was reproaching us for those bathing parties, which have made me so happy.”

“And me too,” answered Madame, by a look.

“When, suddenly,” continued the king, “Monsieur, who was listening, heard the word ‘banos,’ which the queen pronounced with some degree of bitterness, that awakened his attention; he entered the room, looking quite wild, broke into the conversation, and began to quarrel with my mother so bitterly that she was obliged to leave him; so that, while you have a jealous husband to deal with, I shall have perpetually present before me a specter of jealousy with swollen eyes, a cadaverous face, and sinister looks.”

“Poor king,” murmured Madame, as she lightly touched the king’s hand. He retained her hand in his, and in order to press it without exciting suspicion in the spectators, who were not so much taken up with the butterflies that they could not occupy themselves about other matters, and who perceived clearly enough that there was some mystery in the king’s and Madame’s conversation, Louis placed the dying butterfly before his sister-in-law, and bent over it as if to count the thousand eyes of its wings, or the particles of golden dust which covered it. Neither of them spoke; however, their hair mingled, their breaths united, and their hands feverishly throbbed in each other’s grasp. Five minutes passed in this manner.






Chapter XXXVIII. What Was Caught after the Butterflies.


The two young people remained for a moment with their heads bent down, bowed, as it were, beneath the double thought of the love which was springing up in their hearts, and which gives birth to so many happy fancies in the imaginations of twenty years of age. Henrietta gave a side glance, from time to time, at the king. Hers was one of those finely-organized natures capable of looking inwardly at itself, as well as at others at the same moment. She perceived Love lying at the bottom of Louis’s heart, as a skillful diver sees a pearl at the bottom of the sea. She knew Louis was hesitating, if not in doubt, and that his indolent or timid heart required aid and encouragement. “And so?” she said, interrogatively, breaking the silence.

“What do you mean?” inquired Louis, after a moment’s pause.

“I mean, that I shall be obliged to return to the resolution I had formed.”

“To what resolution?”

“To that which I have already submitted to your majesty.”

“When?”

“On the very day we had a certain explanation about Monsieur’s jealousies.”

“What did you say to me then?” inquired Louis, with some anxiety.

“Do you not remember, sire?”

“Alas! if it be another cause of unhappiness, I shall recollect it soon enough.”

“A cause of unhappiness for myself alone, sire,” replied Madame Henrietta; “but as it is necessary, I must submit to it.”

“At least, tell me what it is,” said the king.

“Absence.”

“Still that unkind resolve?”

“Believe me, sire, I have not found it without a violent struggle with myself; it is absolutely necessary I should return to England.”

“Never, never will I permit you to leave France,” exclaimed the king.

“And yet, sire,” said Madame, affecting a gentle yet sorrowful determination, “nothing is more urgently necessary; nay, more than that, I am persuaded it is your mother’s desire I should do so.”

“Desire!” exclaimed the king; “that is a very strange expression to use to me.”

“Still,” replied Madame Henrietta, smilingly, “are you not happy in submitting to the wishes of so good a mother?”

“Enough, I implore you; you rend my very soul.”

“I?”

“Yes; for you speak of your departure with tranquillity.”

“I was not born for happiness, sire,” replied the princess, dejectedly; “and I acquired, in very early life, the habit of seeing my dearest wishes disappointed.”

“Do you speak truly?” said the king. “Would your departure gainsay any one of your cherished thoughts?”

“If I were to say ‘yes,’ would you begin to take your misfortune patiently?”

“How cruel you are!”

“Take care, sire; some one is coming.”

The king looked all round him, and said, “No, there is no one,” and then continued: “Come, Henrietta, instead of trying to contend against Monsieur’s jealousy by a departure which would kill me—”

Henrietta slightly shrugged her shoulders like a woman unconvinced. “Yes,” repeated Louis, “which would kill me, I say. Instead of fixing your mind on this departure, does not your imagination—or rather does not your heart—suggest some expedient?”

“What is it you wish my heart to suggest?”

“Tell me, how can one prove to another that it is wrong to be jealous?”

“In the first place, sire, by giving no motive for jealousy; in other words, in loving no one but the person in question.”

“Oh! I expected more than that.”

“What did you expect?”

“That you would simply tell me that jealous people are pacified by concealing the affection which is entertained for the object of jealousy.”

“Dissimulation is difficult, sire.”

“Yet it is only be means of conquering difficulties that any happiness is attained. As far as I am concerned, I swear I will give the lie to those who are jealous of me by pretending to treat you like any other woman.”

“A bad, as well as unsafe, means,” said the young princess, shaking her pretty head.

“You seem to think everything bad, dear Henrietta,” said Louis, discontentedly. “You negative everything I propose. Suggest, at least, something else in its stead. Come, try and think. I trust implicitly to a woman’s invention. Do you invent in your turn?”

“Well, sire, I have hit upon something. Will you listen to it?”

“Can you ask me? You speak of a matter of life or death to me, and then ask if I will listen.”

“Well, I judge of it by my own case. If my husband intended to put me on the wrong scent with regard to another woman, one thing would reassure me more than anything else.”

“What would that be?”

“In the first place to see that he never took any notice of the woman in question.”

“Exactly. That is precisely what I said just now.”

“Very well; but in order to be perfectly reassured on the subject, I should like to see him occupy himself with some one else.”

“Ah! I understand you,” replied Louis, smiling. “But confess, dear Henrietta, if the means is at least ingenious, it is hardly charitable.”

“Why so?”

“In curing the dread of a wound in a jealous person’s mind, you inflict one upon the heart. His fear ceases, it is true; but the evil still exists; and that seems to me to be far worse.”

“Agreed; but he does not detect, he does not suspect the real enemy; he does no prejudice to love itself; he concentrates all his strength on the side where his strength will do no injury to anything or any one. In a word, sire, my plan, which I confess I am surprised to find you dispute, is mischievous to jealous people, it is true; but to lovers it is full of advantage. Besides, let me ask, sire, who, except yourself, has ever thought of pitying jealous people? Are they not a melancholy crew of grumblers always equally unhappy, whether with or without a cause? You may remove that cause, but you never can remove their sufferings. It is a disease which lies in the imagination, and, like all imaginary disorders, it is incurable. By the by, I remember an aphorism upon this subject, of poor Dr. Dawley, a clever and amusing man, who, had it not been for my brother, who could not do without him, I should have with me now. He used to say, ‘Whenever you are likely to suffer from two affections, choose that which will give you the least trouble, and I will allow you to retain it; for it is positive,’ he said, ‘that that very ailment is of the greatest service to me, in order to enable me to get rid of the other.’”

“Well and judiciously remarked, Henrietta,” replied the king, smiling.

“Oh! we have some clever people in London, sire.”

“And those clever people produce adorable pupils. I will grant this Daley, Darley, Dawley, or whatever you call him, a pension for his aphorism; but I entreat you, Henrietta, to begin by choosing the least of your evils. You do not answer—you smile. I guess that the least of your bugbears is your stay in France. I will allow you to retain this information; and, in order to begin with the cure of the other, I will this very day begin to look out for a subject which shall divert the attention of the jealous members of either sex who persecute us both.”

“Hush! this time some one is really coming,” said Madame; and she stooped to gather a flower from the thick grass at her feet. Some one, in fact, was approaching; for, suddenly, a bevy of young girls ran down from the top of the hillock, following the cavaliers—the cause of this interruption being a magnificent hawk-moth, with wings like rose-leaves. The prey in question had fallen into the net of Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, who displayed it with some pride to her less successful rivals. The queen of the chase had seated herself some twenty paces from the bank on which Louis and Madame Henrietta were reclining; and leaned her back against a magnificent oak-tree entwined with ivy, and stuck the butterfly on the long cane she carried in her hand. Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente was very beautiful, and the gentlemen, accordingly, deserted her companions, and under the pretext of complimenting her upon her success, pressed in a circle around her. The king and princess looked gloomily at this scene, as spectators of maturer age look on at the games of little children. “They seem to be amusing themselves there,” said the king.

“Greatly, sire; I have always found that people are amused wherever youth and beauty are to be found.”

“What do you think of Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, Henrietta?” inquired the king.

“I think she has rather too much flax-yellow and lily-whiteness in her complexion,” replied Madame, fixing in a moment upon the only fault it was possible to find in the almost perfect beauty of the future Madame de Montespan.”

“Rather too fair, yes; but beautiful, I think, in spite of that.”

“Is that your opinion, sire?”

“Yes, really.”

“Very well; and it is mine, too.”

“And she seems to be much sought after.”

“On, that is a matter of course. Lovers flutter from one to another. If we had hunted for lovers instead of butterflies, you can see, from those who surround her, what successful sport we should have had.”

“Tell me, Henrietta, what would be said if the king were to make himself one of those lovers, and let his glance fall in that direction? Would some one else be jealous, in such a case?”

“Oh! sire, Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente is a very efficacious remedy,” said Madame, with a sigh. “She would cure a jealous man, certainly; but she might possibly make a woman jealous, too.”

“Henrietta,” exclaimed Louis, “you fill my heart with joy. Yes, yes; Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente is far too beautiful to serve as a cloak.”

“A king’s cloak,” said Madame Henrietta, smiling, “ought to be beautiful.”

“Do you advise me to do it, then?” inquired Louis.

“I! what should I say, sire, except that to give such an advice would be to supply arms against myself? It would be folly or pride to advise you to take, for the heroine of an assumed affection, a woman more beautiful than the one for whom you pretend to feel real regard.”

The king tried to take Madame’s hand in his own; his eyes sought hers; and then he murmured a few words so full of tenderness, but pronounced in so low a tone, that the historian, who ought to hear everything, could not hear them. Then, speaking aloud, he said, “Do you yourself choose for me the one who is to cure our jealous friend. To her, then, all my devotion, all my attention, all the time that I can spare from my occupations, shall be devoted. For her shall be the flower that I may pluck for you, the fond thoughts with which you have inspired me. Towards her I will direct the glance I dare not bestow upon you, and which ought to be able to rouse you from your indifference. But, be careful in your selection, lest, in offering her the rose which I may have plucked, I find myself conquered by you; and my looks, my hand, my lips, turn immediately towards you, even were the whole world to guess my secret.”

While these words escaped from the king’s lips, in a stream of wild affection, Madame blushed, breathless, happy, proud, almost intoxicated with delight. She could find nothing to say in reply; her pride and her thirst for homage were satisfied. “I shall fail,” she said, raising her beautiful black eyes, “but not as you beg me, for all this incense which you wish to burn on the altar of another divinity. Ah! sire, I too shall be jealous of it, and want restored to me; and would not that a particle of it should be lost in the way. Therefore, sire, with your royal permission, I will choose one who shall appear to me the least likely to distract your attention, and who will leave my image intact and unshadowed in your heart.”

“Happily for me,” said the king, “your heart is not hard and unfeeling. If it were so, I should be alarmed at the threat you hold out. Precautions were taken on this point, and around you, as around myself, it would be difficult to meet with a disagreeable-looking face.”

Whilst the king was speaking, Madame had risen from her seat, looked around the greensward, and after a careful and silent examination, she called the king to her side, and said, “See yonder, sire, upon the declivity of that little hill, near that group of Guelder roses, that beautiful girl walking alone, her head down, her arms hanging by her side, with her eyes fixed upon the flowers, which she crushes beneath her feet, like one who is lost in thought.”

“Mademoiselle de Valliere, do you mean?” remarked the king.

“Yes.”

“Oh!”

“Will she not suit you, sire?”

“Why, look how thin the poor child is. She has hardly any flesh upon her bones.”

“Nay: am I stout then?”

“She is so melancholy.”

“The greater contrast to myself, who am accused of being too lively.”

“She is lame.”

“Do you really think so?”

“No doubt of it. Look; she has allowed every one to pass by her, through fear of her defect being remarked.”

“Well, she will not run so fast as Daphne, and will not be as able to escape Apollo.”

“Henrietta,” said the king, out of temper; “of all your maids of honor, you have really selected for me the one most full of defects.”

“Still she is one of my maids of honor.”

“Of course; but what do you mean?”

“I mean that, in order to visit this new divinity, you will not be able to do so without paying a visit to my apartments, and that, as propriety will forbid your conversing with her in private, you will be compelled to see her in my circle, to speak, as it were, at me, while speaking to her. I mean, in fact, that those who may be jealous, will be wrong if they suppose you come to my apartments for my sake, since you will go there for Mademoiselle de la Valliere.”

“Who happens to be lame.”

“Hardly that.”

“Who never opens her lips.”

“But who, when she does open them, displays a beautiful set of teeth.”

“Who may serve as a model for an osteologist.”

“Your favor will change her appearance.”

“Henrietta!”

“At all events you allowed me to choose.”

“Alas! yes.”

“Well, my choice is made: I impose her upon you, and you must submit.”

“Oh! I would accept one of the furies, if you were to insist upon it.”

“La Valliere is as gentle as a lamb: do not fear she will ever contradict you when you tell her you love her,” said Madame, laughing.

“You are not afraid, are you, that I shall say too much to her?”

“It would be for my sake.”

“The treaty is agreed to, then?”

“Not only so, but signed. You will continue to show me the friendship of a brother, the attention of a brother, the gallantry of a monarch, will you not?”

“I will preserve for you intact a heart that has already become accustomed to beat only at your command.”

“Very well, do you not see that we have guaranteed the future by this means?”

“I hope so.”

“Will your mother cease to regard me as an enemy?”

“Yes.”

“Will Maria Theresa leave off speaking in Spanish before Monsieur, who has a horror of conversation held in foreign languages, because he always thinks he is being ill spoken of? and lastly,” continued the princess, “will people persist in attributing a wrongful affection to the king when the truth is, we can offer nothing to each other, except absolute sympathy, free from mental reservation?”

“Yes, yes,” said the king, hesitatingly. “But other things may still be said of us.”

“What can be said, sire? shall we never be left in tranquillity?”

“People will say I am deficient in taste; but what is my self-respect in comparison with your tranquillity?”

“In comparison with my honor, sire, and that of our family, you mean. Besides, I beg you to attend, do not be so hastily prejudiced against La Valliere. She is slightly lame, it is true, but she is not deficient in good sense. Moreover, all that the king touches is converted into gold.”

“Well, Madame, rest assured of one thing, namely, that I am still grateful to you: you might even yet make me pay dearer for your stay in France.”

“Sire, some one approaches.”

“Well!”

“One last word.”

“Say it.”

“You are prudent and judicious, sire; but in the present instance you will be obliged to summon to your aid all your prudence, and all your judgment.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Louis, laughing, “from this very day I shall begin to act my part, and you shall see whether I am not quite fit to represent the character of a tender swain. After luncheon, there will be a promenade in the forest, and then there is supper and the ballet at ten o’clock.”

“I know it.”

“The ardor of my passion shall blaze more brilliantly than the fireworks, shall shine more steadily than our friend Colbert’s lamps; it shall shine so dazzlingly that the queens and Monsieur will be almost blinded by it.”

“Take care, sire, take care.”

“In Heaven’s name, what have I done, then?”

“I shall begin to recall the compliments I paid you just now. You prudent! you wise! did I say? Why, you begin by the most reckless inconsistencies! Can a passion be kindled in this manner, like a torch, in a moment? Can a monarch, such as you are, without any preparation, fall at the feet of a girl like La Valliere?”

“Ah! Henrietta, now I understand you. We have not yet begun the campaign, and you are plundering me already.”

“No, I am only recalling you to common-sense ideas. Let your passion be kindled gradually, instead of allowing it to burst forth so suddenly. Jove’s thunders and lightnings are heard and seen before the palace is set on fire. Everything has its commencements. If you are so easily excited, no one will believe you are really captivated, and every one will think you out of your senses—if even, indeed, the truth itself not be guessed. The public is not so fatuous as they seem.”

The king was obliged to admit that Madame was an angel for sense, and the very reverse for cleverness. He bowed, and said: “Agreed, Madame, I will think over my plan of attack: great military men—my cousin De Conde for instance—grow pale in meditation upon their strategical plans, before they move one of the pawns, which people call armies; I therefore wish to draw up a complete plan of campaign; for you know that the tender passion is subdivided in a variety of ways. Well, then, I shall stop at the village of Little Attentions, at the hamlet of Love-Letters, before I follow the road of Visible Affection; the way is clear enough, you know, and poor Madame de Scudery would never forgive me for passing though a halting-place without stopping.”

“Oh! now we have returned to our proper senses, shall we say adieu, sire?”

“Alas! it must be so, for see, we are interrupted.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Henrietta, “they are bringing Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente and her sphinx butterfly in grand procession this way.”

“It is perfectly well understood, that this evening, during the promenade, I am to make my escape into the forest, and find La Valliere without you.”

“I will take care to send her away.”

“Very well! I will speak to her when she is with her companions, and I will then discharge my first arrow at her.”

“Be skillful,” said Madame, laughing, “and do not miss the heart.”

Then the princess took leave of the king, and went forward to meet the merry troop, which was advancing with much ceremony, and a great many pretended flourishes of trumpets, imitated with their mouths.






Chapter XXXIX. The Ballet of the Seasons.


At the conclusion of the banquet, which was served at five o’clock, the king entered his cabinet, where his tailors were awaiting him for the purpose of trying on the celebrated costume representing Spring, which was the result of so much imagination, and had cost so many efforts of thought to the designers and ornament-workers of the court. As for the ballet itself, every person knew the part he had to take in it, and how to perform it. The king had resolved to make it surprise. Hardly, therefore, had he finished his conference, and entered his own apartment, than he desired his two masters of the ceremonies, Villeroy and Saint-Aignan, to be sent for. Both replied that they only awaited his orders, and that everything was ready to begin, but that it was necessary to be sure of fine weather and a favorable night before these orders could be carried out. The king opened his window; the pale-gold hues of the evening were visible on the horizon through the vistas of the wood, and the moon, white as snow, was already mounting the heavens. Not a ripple could be noticed on the surface of the green waters; the swans themselves, even, reposing with folded wings like ships at anchor, seemed inspirations of the warmth of the air, the freshness of the water, and the silence of the beautiful evening. The king, having observed all these things, and contemplated the magnificent picture before him, gave the order which De Villeroy and De Saint-Aignan awaited; but with a view of insuring the execution of this order in a royal manner, one last question was necessary, and Louis XIV. put it to the two gentlemen in the following manner:—“Have you any money?”

“Sire,” replied Saint-Aignan, “we have arranged everything with M. Colbert.”

“Ah! very well!”

“Yes, sire, and M. Colbert said he would wait upon your majesty, as soon as your majesty should manifest an intention of carrying out the fetes, of which he has furnished the programme.”

“Let him come in, then,” said the king; and as if Colbert had been listening at the door for the purpose of keeping himself au courant with the conversation, he entered as soon as the king had pronounced his name to the two courtiers.

“Ah! M. Colbert,” said the king. “Gentlemen, to your posts,” whereupon Saint-Aignan and Villeroy took their leave. The king seated himself in an easy-chair near the window, saying: “The ballet will take place this evening, M. Colbert.”

“In that case, sire, I will pay all accounts to-morrow.”

“Why so?”

“I promised the tradespeople to pay their bills the day following that on which the ballet should take place.”

“Very well, M. Colbert, pay them, since you have promised to do so.”

“Certainly, sire; but I must have money to do that.”

“What! have not the four millions, which M. Fouquet promised, been sent? I forgot to ask you about it.”

“Sire, they were sent at the hour promised.”

“Well?”

“Well, sire, the colored lamps, the fireworks, the musicians, and the cooks, have swallowed up four millions in eight days.”

“Entirely?”

“To the last penny. Every time your majesty directed the banks of the grand canal to be illuminated, as much oil was consumed as there was water in the basins.”

“Well, well, M. Colbert; the fact is, then, you have no more money?”

“I have no more, sire, but M. Fouquet has,” Colbert replied, his face darkening with a sinister expression of pleasure.

“What do you mean?” inquired Louis.

“We have already made M. Fouquet advance six millions. He has given them with too much grace not to have others still to give, if they are required, which is the case at the present moment. It is necessary, therefore, that he should comply.”

The king frowned. “M. Colbert,” said he, accentuating the financier’s name, “that is not the way I understood the matter; I do not wish to make use, against any of my servants, of a means of pressure which may oppress him and fetter his services. In eight days M. Fouquet has furnished six millions; that is a good round sum.”

Colbert turned pale. “And yet,” he said, “your majesty did not use this language some time ago, when the news about Belle-Isle arrived, for instance.”

“You are right, M. Colbert.”

“Nothing, however, has changed since then; on the contrary, indeed.”

“In my thoughts, monsieur, everything has changed.”

“Does your majesty then no longer believe the disloyal attempt?”

“My affairs concern myself alone, monsieur; and I have already told you I transact them without interference.”

“Then, I perceive,” said Colbert, trembling with anger and fear, “that I have had the misfortune to fall into disgrace with your majesty.”

“Not at all; you are, on the contrary, most agreeable to me.”

“Yet, sire,” said the minister, with a certain affected bluntness, so successful when it was a question of flattering Louis’s self-esteem, “what use is there in being agreeable to your majesty, if one can no longer be of any use?”

“I reserve your services for a better occasion; and believe me, they will only be the better appreciated.”

“Your majesty’s plan, then, in this affair, is—”

“You want money, M. Colbert?”

“Seven hundred thousand francs, sire.”

“You will take them from my private treasure.” Colbert bowed. “And,” added Louis, “as it seems a difficult matter for you, notwithstanding your economy, to defray, with so limited a sum, the expenses which I intend to incur, I will at once sign an order for three millions.”

The king took a pen and signed an order immediately, then handed it to Colbert. “Be satisfied, M. Colbert, the plan I have adopted is one worthy of a king,” said Louis XIV., who pronounced these words with all the majesty he knew how to assume in such circumstances; and dismissed Colbert for the purpose of giving an audience to his tailors.

The order issued by the king was known throughout the whole of Fontainebleau; it was already known, too, that the king was trying on his costume, and that the ballet would be danced in the evening. The news circulated with the rapidity of lightning; during its progress it kindled every variety of coquetry, desire, and wild ambition. At the same moment, as if by enchantment, every one who knew how to hold a needle, every one who could distinguish a coat from a pair of trousers, was summoned to the assistance of those who had received invitations. The king had completed his toilette by nine o’clock; he appeared in an open carriage decorated with branches of trees and flowers. The queens had taken their seats upon a magnificent dias or platform, erected upon the borders of the lake, in a theater of wonderful elegance of construction. In the space of five hours the carpenters had put together all the different parts connected with the building; the upholsterers had laid down the carpets, erected the seats; and, as if at the wave of an enchanter’s wand, a thousand arms, aiding, instead of interfering with each other, had constructed the building, amidst the sound of music; whilst, at the same time, other workmen illuminated the theater and the shores of the lake with an incalculable number of lamps. As the heavens, set with stars, were perfectly unclouded, as not even a breath of air could be heard in the woods, and as if Nature itself had yielded complacently to the king’s fancies, the back of the theater had been left open; so that, behind the foreground of the scenes, could be seen as a background the beautiful sky, glittering with stars; the sheet of water, illuminated by the lights which were reflected in it; and the bluish outline of the grand masses of woods, with their rounded tops. When the king made his appearance, the theater was full, and presented to the view one vast group, dazzling with gold and precious stones; in which, however, at the first glance, no single face could be distinguished. By degrees, as the sight became accustomed to so much brilliancy, the rarest beauties appeared to the view, as in the evening sky the stars appear one by one to him who closes his eyes and then opens them again.

The theater represented a grove of trees; a few fauns lifting up their cloven feet were jumping about; a dryad made her appearance on the scene, and was immediately pursued by them; others gathered round her for her defense, and they quarrelled as they danced. Suddenly, for the purpose of restoring peace and order, Spring, accompanied by his whole court, made his appearance. The Elements, subaltern powers of mythology, together with their attributes, hastened to follow their gracious sovereign. The Seasons, allies of Spring, followed him closely, to form a quadrille, which, after many words of more or less flattering import, was the commencement of the dance. The music, hautboys, flutes, and viols, was delightfully descriptive of rural delights. The king had already made his appearance, amid thunders of applause. He was dressed in a tunic of flowers, which set off his graceful and well-formed figure to advantage. His legs, the best-shaped at court, were displayed to great advantage in flesh-colored silken hose, of silk so fine and so transparent that it seemed almost like flesh itself. The most beautiful pale-lilac satin shoes, with bows of flowers and leaves, imprisoned his small feet. The bust of the figure was in harmonious keeping with the base; Louis’s waving hair floated on his shoulders, the freshness of his complexion was enhanced by the brilliancy of his beautiful blue eyes, which softly kindled all hearts; a mouth with tempting lips, which deigned to open in smiles. Such was the prince of that period: justly that evening styled “The King of all the Loves.” There was something in his carriage which resembled the buoyant movements of an immortal, and he did not dance so much as seem to soar along. His entrance produced, therefore, the most brilliant effect. Suddenly the Comte de Saint-Aignan was observed endeavoring to approach either the king or Madame.

The princess—who was robed in a long dress, diaphanous and light as the finest network tissue from the hands of skillful Mechlin workers, one knee occasionally revealed beneath the folds of the tunic, and her little feet encased in silken slippers decked with pearls—advanced radiant with beauty, accompanied by her cortege of Bacchantes, and had already reached the spot assigned to her in the dance. The applause continued so long that the comte had ample leisure to join the king.

“What is the matter, Saint-Aignan?” said Spring.

“Nothing whatever,” replied the courtier, as pale as death; “but your majesty has not thought of Fruits.”

“Yes; it is suppressed.”

“Far from it, sire; your majesty having given no directions about it, the musicians have retained it.”

“How excessively annoying,” said the king. “This figure cannot be performed, since M. de Guiche is absent. It must be suppressed.”

“Ah, sire, a quarter of an hour’s music without any dancing will produce an effect so chilling as to ruin the success of the ballet.”

“But, come, since—”

“Oh, sire, that is not the greatest misfortune; for, after all, the orchestra could still just as well cut it out, if it were necessary; but—”

“But what?”

“Why, M. de Guiche is here.”

“Here?” replied the king, frowning, “here? Are you sure?”

“Yes, sire; and ready dressed for the ballet.”

The king felt himself color deeply, and said, “You are probably mistaken.”

“So little is that the case, sire, that if your majesty will look to the right, you will see that the comte is in waiting.”

Louis turned hastily towards the side, and in fact, on his right, brilliant in his character of Autumn, De Guiche awaited until the king should look at him, in order that he might address him. To give an idea of the stupefaction of the king, and that of Monsieur, who was moving about restlessly in his box,—to describe also the agitated movement of the heads in the theater, and the strange emotion of Madame, at the sight of her partner,—is a task we must leave to abler hands. The king stood almost gaping with astonishment as he looked at the comte, who, bowing lowly, approached Louis with the profoundest respect.

“Sire,” he said, “your majesty’s most devoted servant approaches to perform a service on this occasion with similar zeal that he has already shown on the field of battle. Your majesty, in omitting the dance of the Fruits, would be losing the most beautiful scene in the ballet. I did not wish to be the substance of so dark a shadow to your majesty’s elegance, skill, and graceful invention; and I have left my tenants in order to place my services at your majesty’s commands.”

Every word fell distinctly, in perfect harmony and eloquence, upon Louis XIV.‘s ears. Their flattery pleased, as much as De Guiche’s courage had astonished him, and he simply replied: “I did not tell you to return, comte.”

“Certainly not, sire; but your majesty did not tell me to remain.”

The king perceived that time was passing away, that if this strange scene were prolonged it would complicate everything, and that a single cloud upon the picture would eventually spoil the whole. Besides, the king’s heart was filled with two or three new ideas; he had just derived fresh inspiration from the eloquent glances of Madame. Her look had said to him: “Since they are jealous of you, divide their suspicions, for the man who distrusts two rivals does not object to either in particular.” So that Madame, by this clever diversion, decided him. The king smiled upon De Guiche, who did not comprehend a word of Madame’s dumb language, but he remarked that she pretended not to look at him, and he attributed the pardon which had been conferred upon him to the princess’s kindness of heart. The king seemed only pleased with every one present. Monsieur was the only one who did not understand anything about the matter. The ballet began; the effect was more than beautiful. When the music, by its bursts of melody, carried away these illustrious dancers, when the simple, untutored pantomime of that period, only the more natural on account of the very indifferent acting of the august actors, had reached its culminating point of triumph, the theater shook with tumultuous applause.

De Guiche shone like a sun, but like a courtly sun, that is resigned to fill a subordinate part. Disdainful of a success of which Madame showed no acknowledgement, he thought of nothing but boldly regaining the marked preference of the princess. She, however, did not bestow a single glance upon him. By degrees all his happiness, all his brilliancy, subsided into regret and uneasiness; so that his limbs lost their power, his arms hung heavily by his sides, and his head drooped as though he was stupefied. The king, who had from this moment become in reality the principal dancer in the quadrille, cast a look upon his vanquished rival. De Guiche soon ceased to sustain even the character of the courtier; without applause, he danced indifferently, and very soon could not dance at all, by which accident the triumph of the king and of Madame was assured.