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Ten Years Later

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Chapter LVIII. Royal Psychology.


The king returned to his apartments with hurried steps. The reason he walked as fast as he did was probably to avoid tottering in his gait. He seemed to leave behind him as he went along a trace of a mysterious sorrow. That gayety of manner, which every one had remarked in him on his arrival, and which they had been delighted to perceive, had not perhaps been understood in its true sense: but his stormy departure, his disordered countenance, all knew, or at least thought they could tell the reason of. Madame’s levity of manner, her somewhat bitter jests,—bitter for persons of a sensitive disposition, and particularly for one of the king’s character; the great resemblance which naturally existed between the king and an ordinary mortal, were among the reasons assigned for the precipitate and unexpected departure of his majesty. Madame, keen-sighted enough in other respects, did not, however, at first see anything extraordinary in it. It was quite sufficient for her to have inflicted some slight wound upon the vanity or self-esteem of one who, so soon forgetting the engagements he had contracted, seemed to have undertaken to disdain, without cause, the noblest and highest prize in France. It was not an unimportant matter for Madame, in the present position of affairs, to let the king perceive the difference which existed between the bestowal of his affections on one in a high station, and the running after each passing fancy, like a youth fresh from the provinces. With regard to those higher placed affections, recognizing their dignity and their illimitable influence, acknowledging in them a certain etiquette and display—a monarch not only did not act in a manner derogatory to his high position, but found even repose, security, mystery, and general respect therein. On the contrary, in the debasement of a common or humble attachment, he would encounter, even among his meanest subjects, carping and sarcastic remarks; he would forfeit his character of infallibility and inviolability. Having descended to the region of petty human miseries, he would be subjected to paltry contentions. In one word, to convert the royal divinity into a mere mortal by striking at his heart, or rather even at his face, like the meanest of his subjects, was to inflict a terrible blow upon the pride of that generous nature. Louis was more easily captivated by vanity than affection. Madame had wisely calculated her vengeance, and it has been seen, also, in what manner she carried it out. Let it not be supposed, however, that Madame possessed such terrible passions as the heroines of the middle ages, or that she regarded things from a pessimistic point of view; on the contrary, Madame, young, amiable, of cultivated intellect, coquettish, loving in her nature, but rather from fancy, or imagination, or ambition, than from her heart—Madame, we say, on the contrary, inaugurated that epoch of light and fleeting amusements, which distinguished the hundred and twenty years that intervened between the middle of the seventeenth century, and the last quarter of the eighteenth. Madame saw, therefore, or rather fancied she saw, things under their true aspect; she knew that the king, her august brother-in-law, had been the first to ridicule the humble La Valliere, and that, in accordance with his usual custom, it was hardly probable he would ever love the person who had excited his laughter, even had it been only for a moment. Moreover, was not her vanity ever present, that evil influence which plays so important a part in that comedy of dramatic incidents called the life of a woman? Did not her vanity tell her, aloud, in a subdued voice, in a whisper, in every variety of tone, that she could not, in reality, she a princess, young, beautiful, and rich, be compared to the poor La Valliere, as youthful as herself it is true, but far less pretty, certainly, and utterly without money, protectors, or position? And surprise need not be excited with respect to Madame; for it is known that the greatest characters are those who flatter themselves the most in the comparisons they draw between themselves and others, between others and themselves. It may perhaps be asked what was Madame’s motive for an attack so skillfully conceived and executed. Why was there such a display of forces, if it were not seriously her intention to dislodge the king from a heart that had never been occupied before, in which he seemed disposed to take refuge? Was there any necessity, then, for Madame to attach so great an importance to La Valliere, if she did not fear her? Yet Madame did not fear La Valliere in that direction in which an historian, who knows everything, sees into the future, or rather, the past. Madame was neither a prophetess nor a sibyl; nor could she, any more than another, read what was written in that terrible and fatal book of the future, which records in its most secret pages the most serious events. No, Madame desired simply to punish the king for having availed himself of secret means altogether feminine in their nature; she wished to prove to him that if he made use of offensive weapons of that nature, she, a woman of ready wit and high descent, would assuredly discover in the arsenal of her imagination defensive weapons proof even against the thrusts of a monarch. Moreover, she wished him to learn that, in a war of that description, kings are held of no account, or, at all events, that kings who fight on their own behalf, like ordinary individuals, may witness the fall of their crown in the first encounter; and that, in fact, if he had expected to be adored by all the ladies of the court from the very first, from a confident reliance on his mere appearance, it was a pretension which was most preposterous and insulting even, for certain persons who filled a higher position than others, and that a lesson taught in season to this royal personage, who assumed too high and haughty a carriage, would be rendering him a great service. Such, indeed, were Madame’s reflections with respect to the king. The sequel itself was not thought of. And in this manner, it will be seen that she had exercised all her influence over the minds of her maids of honor, and with all its accompanying details, had arranged the comedy which had just been acted. The king was completely bewildered by it; for the first time since he had escaped from the trammels of M. de Mazarin, he found himself treated as a man. Similar severity from any of his subjects would have been at once resisted by him. Strength comes with battle. But to match one’s self with women, to be attacked by them, to have been imposed upon by mere girls from the country, who had come from Blois expressly for that purpose; it was the depth of dishonor for a young sovereign full of the pride his personal advantages and royal power inspired him with. There was nothing he could do—neither reproaches, nor exile—nor could he even show the annoyance he felt. To manifest vexation would have been to admit that he had been touched, like Hamlet, by a sword from which the button had been removed—the sword of ridicule. To show animosity against women—humiliation! especially when the women in question have laughter on their side, as a means of vengeance. If, instead of leaving all the responsibility of the affair to these women, one of the courtiers had had anything to do with the intrigue, how delightedly would Louis have seized the opportunity of turning the Bastile to personal account. But there, again, the king’s anger paused, checked by reason. To be the master of armies, of prisons, of an almost divine authority, and to exert such majesty and might in the service of a petty grudge, would be unworthy not only of a monarch, but even of a man. It was necessary, therefore, simply to swallow the affront in silence, and to wear his usual gentleness and graciousness of expression. It was essential to treat Madame as a friend. As a friend!—Well, and why not? Either Madame had been the instigator of the affair, or the affair itself had found her passive. If she had been the instigator of it, it certainly was a bold measure on her part, but, at all events, it was but natural in her. Who was it that had sought her in the earliest moments of her married life to whisper words of love in her ear? Who was it that had dared to calculate the possibility of committing a crime against the marriage vow—a crime, too, still more deplorable on account of the relationship between them? Who was it that, shielded behind his royal authority, had said to this young creature: be not afraid, love but the king of France, who is above all, and a movement of whose sceptered hand will protect you against all attacks, even from your own remorse? And she had listened to and obeyed the royal voice, had been influenced by his ensnaring tones; and when, morally speaking, she had sacrificed her honor in listening to him, she saw herself repaid for her sacrifice by an infidelity the more humiliating, since it was occasioned by a woman far beneath her in the world.

Had Madame, therefore, been the instigator of the revenge, she would have been right. If, on the contrary, she had remained passive in the whole affair, what grounds had the king to be angry with her on that account? Was it for her to restrain, or rather could she restrain, the chattering of a few country girls? and was it for her, by an excess of zeal that might have been misinterpreted, to check, at the risk of increasing it, the impertinence of their conduct? All these various reasonings were like so many actual stings to the king’s pride; but when he had carefully, in his own mind, gone over all the various causes of complaint, Louis was surprised, upon due reflection—in other words, after the wound has been dressed—to find that there were other causes of suffering, secret, unendurable, and unrevealed. There was one circumstance he dared not confess, even to himself; namely, that the acute pain from which he was suffering had its seat in his heart. The fact is, he had permitted his heart to be gratified by La Valliere’s innocent confusion. He had dreamed of a pure affection—of an affection for Louis the man, and not the sovereign—of an affection free from all self-interest; and his heart, simpler and more youthful than he had imagined it to be, had to meet that other heart that had revealed itself to him by its aspirations. The commonest thing in the complicated history of love, is the double inoculation of love to which any two hearts are subjected; the one loves nearly always before the other, in the same way that the latter finishes nearly always by loving after the other. In this way, the electric current is established, in proportion to the intensity of the passion which is first kindled. The more Mademoiselle de la Valliere showed her affection, the more the king’s affection had increased. And it was precisely that which had annoyed his majesty. For it was now fairly demonstrated to him, that no sympathetic current had been the means of hurrying his heart away in its course, because there had been no confession of love in the case—because the confession was, in fact, an insult towards the man and towards the sovereign; and finally, because—and the word, too, burnt like a hot iron—because, in fact, it was nothing but a mystification after all. This girl, therefore, who, in strictness, could not lay claim to beauty, or birth, or great intelligence—who had been selected by Madame herself, on account of her unpretending position, had not only aroused the king’s regard, but had, moreover, treated him with disdain—he, the king, a man who, like an eastern potentate, had but to bestow a glance, to indicate with his finger, to throw his handkerchief. And, since the previous evening, his mind had been so absorbed with this girl that he could think and dream of nothing else. Since the previous evening his imagination had been occupied by clothing her image with charms to which she could not lay claim. In very truth, he whom such vast interests summoned, and whom so many women smiled upon invitingly, had, since the previous evening, consecrated every moment of his time, every throb of his heart, to this sole dream. It was, indeed, either too much, or not sufficient. The indignation of the king, making him forget everything, and, among others, that Saint-Aignan was present, was poured out in the most violent imprecations. True it is, that Saint-Aignan had taken refuge in a corner of the room; and from his corner, regarded the tempest passing over. His own personal disappointment seemed contemptible, in comparison with the anger of the king. He compared with his own petty vanity the prodigious pride of offended majesty; and, being well read in the hearts of kings in general, and in those of powerful kings in particular, he began to ask himself if this weight of anger, as yet held in suspense, would not soon terminate by falling upon his own head, for the very reason that others were guilty, and he innocent. In point of fact, the king, all at once, did arrest his hurried pace; and, fixing a look full of anger upon Saint-Aignan, suddenly cried out: “And you, Saint-Aignan?”

Saint-Aignan made a sign which was intended to signify, “Well, sire?”

“Yes; you have been as silly as myself, I think.”

“Sire,” stammered out Saint-Aignan.

“You permitted us to be deceived by this shameless trick.”

“Sire,” said Saint-Aignan, whose agitation was such as to make him tremble in every limb, “let me entreat your majesty not to exasperate yourself. Women, you know, are characters full of imperfections, created for the misfortune of mankind: to expect anything good from them is to require them to perform impossibilities.”

The king, who had the greatest consideration for himself, and who had begun to acquire over his emotions that command which he preserved over them all his life, perceived that he was doing an outrage to his own dignity in displaying so much animosity about so trifling an object. “No,” he said, hastily; “you are mistaken, Saint-Aignan; I am not angry; I can only wonder that we should have been turned into ridicule so cleverly and with such audacity by these young girls. I am particularly surprised that, although we might have informed ourselves accurately on the subject, we were silly enough to leave the matter for our own hearts to decide.”

“The heart, sire, is an organ which requires positively to be reduced to its material functions, but which, for the sake of humanity’s peace of mind, should be deprived of all its metaphysical inclinations. For my own part, I confess, when I saw that your majesty’s heart was so taken up by this little—”

“My heart taken up! I! My mind might, perhaps, have been so; but as for my heart, it was—” Louis again perceived that, in order to fill one gulf, he was about to dig another. “Besides,” he added, “I have no fault to find with the girl. I was quite aware that she was in love with some one else.”

“The Vicomte de Bragelonne. I informed your majesty of the circumstance.”

“You did so: but you were not the first who told me. The Comte de la Fere had solicited from me Mademoiselle de la Valliere’s hand for his son. And, on his return from England, the marriage shall be celebrated, since they love each other.”

“I recognize your majesty’s great generosity of disposition in that act.”

“So, Saint-Aignan, we will cease to occupy ourselves with these matters any longer,” said Louis.

“Yes, we will digest the affront, sire,” replied the courtier, with resignation.

“Besides, it will be an easy matter to do so,” said the king, checking a sigh.

“And, by way of a beginning, I will set about the composition of an epigram upon all three of them. I will call it ‘The Naiad and Dryad,’ which will please Madame.”

“Do so, Saint-Aignan, do so,” said the king, indifferently. “You shall read me your verses; they will amuse me. Ah! it does not signify, Saint-Aignan,” added the king, like a man breathing with difficulty, “the blow requires more than human strength to support in a dignified manner.” As the king thus spoke, assuming an air of the most angelic patience, one of the servants in attendance knocked gently at the door. Saint-Aignan drew aside, out of respect.

“Come in,” said the king. The servant partially opened the door. “What is it?” inquired Louis.

The servant held out a letter of a triangular shape. “For your majesty,” he said.

“From whom?”

“I do not know. One of the officers on duty gave it to me.”

The valet, in obedience to a gesture of the king, handed him the letter. The king advanced towards the candles, opened the note, read the signature, and uttered a loud cry. Saint-Aignan was sufficiently respectful not to look on; but, without looking on, he saw and heard all, and ran towards the king, who with a gesture dismissed the servant. “Oh, heavens!” said the king, as he read the note.

“Is your majesty unwell?” inquired Saint-Aignan, stretching forward his arms.

“No, no, Saint-Aignan—read!” and he handed him the note.

Saint-Aignan’s eyes fell upon the signature. “La Valliere!” he exclaimed. “Oh, sire!”

“Read, read!”

And Saint-Aignan read:

“Forgive my importunity, sire; and forgive, also, the absence of the formalities which may be wanting in this letter. A note seems to be more speedy and more urgent than a dispatch. I venture, therefore, to address this note to your majesty. I have retired to my own room, overcome with grief and fatigue, sire; and I implore your majesty to grant me the favor of an audience, which will enable me to confess the truth to my sovereign.

“LOUISE de la VALLIERE.”

“Well?” asked the king, taking the letter from Saint-Aignan’s hands, who was completely bewildered by what he had just read.

“Well!” repeated Saint-Aignan.

“What do you think of it?”

“I hardly know.”

“Still, what is your opinion?”

“Sire, the young lady must have heard the muttering of the thunder, and has got frightened.”

“Frightened at what?” asked Louis with dignity.

“Why, your majesty has a thousand reasons to be angry with the author or authors of so hazardous a joke; and, if your majesty’s memory were to be awakened in a disagreeable sense, it would be a perpetual menace hanging over the head of this imprudent girl.”

“Saint-Aignan, I do not think as you do.”

“Your majesty doubtless sees more clearly than myself.”

“Well! I see affliction and restraint in these lines; more particularly since I recall some of the details of the scene which took place this evening in Madame’s apartments—” The king suddenly stopped, leaving his meaning unexpressed.

“In fact,” resumed Saint-Aignan, “your majesty will grant an audience; nothing is clearer than that.”

“I will do better, Saint-Aignan.”

“What is that, sire?”

“Put on your cloak.”

“But, sire—”

“You know the suite of rooms where Madame’s maids of honor are lodged?”

“Certainly.”

“You know some means of obtaining an entrance there.”

“As far as that is concerned, I do not.”

“At all events, you must be acquainted with some one there.”

“Really, your majesty is the source of every good idea.”

“You do know some one, then. Who is it?”

“I know a certain gentleman, who is on very good terms with a certain young lady there.”

“One of the maids of honor?”

“Yes, sire.”

“With Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, I suppose?” said the king, laughing.

“Fortunately, no, sire; with Montalais.”

“What is his name?”

“Malicorne.”

“And you can depend on him?”

“I believe so, sire. He ought to have a key of some sort in his possession; and if he should happen to have one, as I have done him a service, why, he will let us have it.”

“Nothing could be better. Let us set off immediately.”

The king threw his cloak over Saint-Aignan’s shoulders, asked him for his, and both went out into the vestibule.






Chapter LIX. Something That neither Naiad nor Dryad Foresaw.


Saint-Aignan stopped at the foot of the staircase leading to the entresol, where the maids of honor were lodged, and to the first floor, where Madame’s apartments were situated. Then, by means of one of the servants who was passing, he sent to apprise Malicorne, who was still with Monsieur. After having waited ten minutes, Malicorne arrived, full of self-importance. The king drew back towards the darkest part of the vestibule. Saint-Aignan, on the contrary, advanced to meet him, but at the first words, indicating his wish, Malicorne drew back abruptly.

“Oh, oh!” he said, “you want me to introduce you into the rooms of the maids of honor?”

“Yes.”

“You know very well that I cannot do anything of the kind, without being made acquainted with your object.”

“Unfortunately, my dear Monsieur Malicorne, it is quite impossible for me to give you any explanation; you must therefore confide in me as in a friend who got you out of a great difficulty yesterday, and who now begs you to draw him out of one to-day.”

“Yet I told you, monsieur, what my object was; which was, not to sleep out in the open air, and any man might express the same wish, whilst you, however, admit nothing.”

“Believe me, my dear Monsieur Malicorne,” Saint-Aignan persisted, “that if I were permitted to explain myself, I would do so.”

“In that case, my dear monsieur, it is impossible for me to allow you to enter Mademoiselle de Montalais’s apartment.”

“Why so?”

“You know why, better than any one else, since you caught me on the wall paying my addresses to Mademoiselle de Montalais; it would, therefore, be an excess of kindness on my part, you will admit, since I am paying my attentions to her, to open the door of her room to you.”

“But who told you it was on her account I asked you for the key?”

“For whom, then?”

“She does not lodge there alone, I suppose?”

“No, certainly; for Mademoiselle de la Valliere shares her rooms with her; but, really, you have nothing more to do with Mademoiselle de la Valliere than with Mademoiselle de Montalais, and there are only two men to whom I would give this key; to M. de Bragelonne, if he begged me to give it to him, and to the king, if he commanded me.”

“In that case, give me the key, monsieur: I order you to do so,” said the king, advancing from the obscurity, and partially opening his cloak. “Mademoiselle de Montalais will step down to talk with you, while we go up-stairs to Mademoiselle de la Valliere, for, in fact, it is she only whom we desire to see.”

“The king!” exclaimed Malicorne, bowing to the very ground.

“Yes, the king,” said Louis, smiling: “the king, who is as pleased with your resistance as with your capitulation. Rise, monsieur, and render us the service we request of you.”

“I obey, your majesty,” said Malicorne, leading the way up the staircase.

“Get Mademoiselle de Montalais to come down,” said the king, “and do not breathe a word to her of my visit.”

Malicorne bowed in token of obedience, and proceeded up the staircase. But the king, after a hasty reflection, followed him, and that, too, with such rapidity, that, although Malicorne was already more than half-way up the staircase, the king reached the room at the same moment. He then observed, by the door which remained half-opened behind Malicorne, La Valliere, sitting in an armchair with her head thrown back, and in the opposite corner Montalais, who, in her dressing-gown, was standing before a looking-glass, engaged in arranging her hair, and parleying the while with Malicorne. The king hurriedly opened the door and entered the room. Montalais called out at the noise made by the opening of the door, and, recognizing the king, made her escape. La Valliere rose from her seat, like a dead person galvanized, and then fell back in her armchair. The king advanced slowly towards her.

“You wished for an audience, I believe,” he said coldly. “I am ready to hear you. Speak.”

Saint-Aignan, faithful to his character of being deaf, blind, and dumb, had stationed himself in a corner of the door, upon a stool which by chance he found there. Concealed by the tapestry which covered the doorway, and leaning his back against the wall, he could thus listen without being seen; resigning himself to the post of a good watch-dog, who patiently waits and watches without ever getting in his master’s way.

La Valliere, terror-stricken at the king’s irritated aspect, rose a second time, and assuming a posture full of humility and entreaty, murmured, “Forgive me, sire.”

“What need is there for my forgiveness?” asked Louis.

“Sire, I have been guilty of a great fault; nay, more than a great fault, a great crime.”

“You?”

“Sire, I have offended your majesty.”

“Not in the slightest degree in the world,” replied Louis XIV.

“I implore you, sire, not to maintain towards me that terrible seriousness of manner which reveals your majesty’s just anger. I feel I have offended you, sire; but I wish to explain to you how it was that I have not offended you of my own accord.”

“In the first place,” said the king, “in what way can you possibly have offended me? I cannot perceive how. Surely not on account of a young girl’s harmless and very innocent jest? You turned the credulity of a young man into ridicule—it was very natural to do so: any other woman in your place would have done the same.”

“Oh! your majesty overwhelms me by your remark.”

“Why so?”

“Because, if I had been the author of the jest, it would not have been innocent.”

“Well, is that all you had to say to me in soliciting an audience?” said the king, as though about to turn away.

Thereupon La Valliere, in an abrupt and a broken voice, her eyes dried up by the fire of her tears, made a step towards the king, and said, “Did your majesty hear everything?”

“Everything, what?”

“Everything I said beneath the royal oak.”

“I did not lose a syllable.”

“And now, after your majesty really heard all, are you able to think I abused your credibility?”

“Credulity; yes, indeed, you have selected the very word.”

“And your majesty did not suppose that a poor girl like myself might possibly be compelled to submit to the will of others?”

“Forgive me,” returned the king; “but I shall never be able to understand that she, who of her own free will could express herself so unreservedly beneath the royal oak, would allow herself to be influenced to such an extent by the direction of others.”

“But the threat held out against me, sire.”

“Threat! who threatened you—who dared to threaten you?”

“Those who have the right to do so, sire.”

“I do not recognize any one as possessing the right to threaten the humblest of my subjects.”

“Forgive me, sire, but near your majesty, even, there are persons sufficiently high in position to have, or to believe that they possess, the right of injuring a young girl, without fortune, and possessing only her reputation.”

“In what way injure her?”

“In depriving her of her reputation, by disgracefully expelling her from the court.”

“Oh! Mademoiselle de la Valliere,” said the king bitterly, “I prefer those persons who exculpate themselves without incriminating others.”

“Sire!”

“Yes; and I confess that I greatly regret to perceive, that an easy justification, as your own would have been, is now complicated in my presence by a tissue of reproaches and imputations against others.”

“And which you do not believe?” exclaimed La Valliere. The king remained silent.

“Nay, but tell me!” repeated La Valliere, vehemently.

“I regret to confess it,” repeated the king, bowing coldly.

The young girl uttered a deep groan, striking her hands together in despair. “You do not believe me, then,” she said to the king, who still remained silent, while poor La Valliere’s features became visibly changed at his continued silence. “Therefore, you believe,” she said, “that I pre-arranged this ridiculous, this infamous plot, of trifling, in so shameless a manner, with your majesty.”

“Nay,” said the king, “it was neither ridiculous nor infamous; it was not even a plot; merely a jest, more or less amusing, and nothing more.”

“Oh!” murmured the young girl, “the king does not, and will not believe me, then?”

“No, indeed, I will not believe you,” said the king. “Besides, in point of fact, what can be more natural? The king, you argue, follows me, listens to me, watches me; the king wishes perhaps to amuse himself at my expense, I will amuse myself at his, and as the king is very tender-hearted, I will take his heart by storm.”

La Valliere hid her face in her hands, as she stifled her sobs. The king continued pitilessly; he was revenging himself upon the poor victim before him for all he had himself suffered.

“Let us invent, then, this story of my loving him and preferring him to others. The king is so simple and so conceited that he will believe me; and then we can go and tell others how credulous the king is, and can enjoy a laugh at his expense.”

“Oh!” exclaimed La Valliere, “you think that, you believe that!—it is frightful.”

“And,” pursued the king, “that is not all; if this self-conceited prince take our jest seriously, if he should be imprudent enough to exhibit before others anything like delight at it, well, in that case, the king will be humiliated before the whole court; and what a delightful story it will be, too, for him to whom I am really attached, in fact part of my dowry for my husband, to have the adventure to relate of the monarch who was so amusingly deceived by a young girl.”

“Sire!” exclaimed La Valliere, her mind bewildered, almost wandering, indeed, “not another word, I implore you; do you not see that you are killing me?”

“A jest, nothing but a jest,” murmured the king, who, however, began to be somewhat affected.

La Valliere fell upon her knees, and that so violently, that the sound could be heard upon the hard floor. “Sire,” she said, “I prefer shame to disloyalty.”

“What do you mean?” inquired the king, without moving a step to raise the young girl from her knees.

“Sire, when I shall have sacrificed my honor and my reason both to you, you will perhaps believe in my loyalty. The tale which was related to you in Madame’s apartments, and by Madame herself, is utterly false; and that which I said beneath the great oak—”

“Well!”

“That is the only truth.”

“What!” exclaimed the king.

“Sire,” exclaimed La Valliere, hurried away by the violence of her emotions, “were I to die of shame on the very spot where my knees are fixed, I would repeat it until my latest breath; I said that I loved you, and it is true; I do love you.”

“You!”

“I have loved you, sire, from the very first day I ever saw you; from the moment when at Blois, where I was pining away my existence, your royal looks, full of light and life, were first bent upon me. I love you still, sire; it is a crime of high treason, I know, that a poor girl like myself should love her sovereign, and should presume to tell him so. Punish me for my audacity, despise me for my shameless immodesty; but do not ever say, do not ever think, that I have jested with or deceived you. I belong to a family whose loyalty has been proved, sire, and I, too, love my king.”

Suddenly her strength, voice, and respiration ceased, and she fell forward, like the flower Virgil alludes to, which the scythe of the reaper severed in the midst of the grass. The king, at these words, at this vehement entreaty, no longer retained any ill-will or doubt in his mind: his whole heart seemed to expand at the glowing breath of an affection which proclaimed itself in such noble and courageous language. When, therefore, he heard the passionate confession, his strength seemed to fail him, and he hid his face in his hands. But when he felt La Valliere’s hands clinging to his own, when their warm pressure fired his blood, he bent forward, and passing his arm round La Valliere’s waist, he raised her from the ground and pressed her against his heart. But she, her drooping head fallen forward on her bosom, seemed to have ceased to live. The king, terrified, called out for Saint-Aignan. Saint-Aignan, who had carried his discretion so far as to remain without stirring in his corner, pretending to wipe away a tear, ran forward at the king’s summons. He then assisted Louis to seat the young girl upon a couch, slapped her hands, sprinkled some Hungary water over her face, calling out all the while, “Come, come, it is all over; the king believes you, and forgives you. There, there now! take care, or you will agitate his majesty too much; his majesty is so sensitive, so tender-hearted. Now, really, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, you must pay attention, for the king is very pale.”

The fact was, the king was visibly losing color. But La Valliere did not move.

“Do pray recover,” continued Saint-Aignan. “I beg, I implore you; it is really time you should; think only of one thing, that if the king should become unwell, I should be obliged to summon his physician. What a state of things that would be! So do pray rouse yourself; make an effort, pray do, and do so at once, my dear.”

It was difficult to display more persuasive eloquence than Saint-Aignan did, but something still more powerful, and of a more energetic nature than this eloquence, aroused La Valliere. The king, who was kneeling before her, covered the palms of her hands with those burning kisses which are to the hands what a kiss upon the lips is to the face. La Valliere’s senses returned to her; she languidly opened her eyes and, with a dying look, murmured, “Oh! sire, has your majesty pardoned me, then?”

The king did not reply, for he was still too much overcome. Saint-Aignan thought it was his duty again to retire, for he observed the passionate devotion which was displayed in the king’s gaze. La Valliere rose.

“And now, sire, that I have justified myself, at least I trust so, in your majesty’s eyes, grant me leave to retire into a convent. I shall bless your majesty all my life, and I shall die thanking and loving Heaven for having granted me one hour of perfect happiness.”

“No, no,” replied the king, “you will live here blessing Heaven, on the contrary, but loving Louis, who will make your existence one of perfect felicity—Louis who loves you—Louis who swears it.”

“Oh! sire, sire!”

And upon this doubt of La Valliere, the king’s kisses became so warm that Saint-Aignan thought it was his duty to retire behind the tapestry. These kisses, however, which she had not the strength at first to resist, began to intimidate the young girl.

“Oh! sire,” she exclaimed, “do not make me repeat my loyalty, for this would show me that your majesty despises me still.”

“Mademoiselle de la Valliere,” said the king, suddenly, drawing back with an air full of respect, “there is nothing in the world that I love and honor more than yourself, and nothing in my court, I call Heaven to witness, shall be so highly regarded as you shall be henceforward. I entreat your forgiveness for my transport; it arose from an excess of affection, but I can prove to you that I love you more than ever by respecting you as much as you can possibly desire or deserve.” Then, bending before her, and taking her by the hand, he said to her, “Will you honor me by accepting the kiss I press upon your hand?” And the king’s lips were pressed respectfully and lightly upon the young girl’s trembling hand. “Henceforth,” added Louis, rising and bending his glance upon La Valliere, “henceforth you are under my safeguard. Do not speak to any one of the injury I have done you, forgive others that which they may have attempted. For the future, you shall be so far above all those, that, far from inspiring you with fear, they shall be even beneath your pity.” And he bowed as reverently as though he were leaving a place of worship. Then calling to Saint-Aignan, who approached with great humility, he said, “I hope, comte, that Mademoiselle de la Valliere will kindly confer a little of her friendship upon you, in return for that which I have vowed to her eternally.”

Saint-Aignan bent his knee before La Valliere, saying, “How happy, indeed, would such an honor make me!”

“I will send your companion back to you,” said the king. “Farewell! or, rather, adieu till we meet again; do not forget me in your prayers, I entreat.”

“Oh!” cried La Valliere, “be assured that you and Heaven are in my heart together.”

These words of Louise elated the king, who, full of happiness, hurried Saint-Aignan down the stairs. Madame had not anticipated this denouement; and neither the Naiad nor the Dryad had breathed a word about it.






Chapter LX. The New General of the Jesuits.


While La Valliere and the king were mingling, in their first confession of love, all the bitterness of the past, the happiness of the present, and hopes of the future, Fouquet had retired to the apartments which had been assigned to him in the chateau, and was conversing with Aramis precisely upon the very subjects which the king at that moment was forgetting.

“Now tell me,” said Fouquet, after having installed his guest in an armchair and seated himself by his side, “tell me, Monsieur d’Herblay, what is our position with regard to the Belle-Isle affair, and whether you have received any news about it.”

“Everything is going on in that direction as we wish,” replied Aramis; “the expenses have been paid, and nothing has transpired of our designs.”

“But what about the soldiers the king wished to send there?”

“I have received news this morning they arrived there fifteen days ago.”

“And how have they been treated?”

“In the best manner possible.”

“What has become of the former garrison?”

“The soldiers were landed at Sarzeau, and then transferred immediately to Quimper.”

“And the new garrison?”

“Belongs to us from this very moment.”

“Are you sure of what you say, my dear Monsieur de Vannes?”

“Quite sure, and, moreover, you will see by and by how matters have turned out.”

“Still you are very well aware, that, of all the garrison towns, Belle-Isle is precisely the very worst.”

“I know it, and have acted accordingly; no space to move about, no gayety, no cheerful society, no gambling permitted: well, it is a great pity,” added Aramis, with one of those smiles so peculiar to him, “to see how much young people at the present day seek amusement, and how much, consequently, they incline to the man who procures and pays for their favorite pastimes.”

“But if they amuse themselves at Bell-Isle?”

“If they amuse themselves through the king’s means, they will attach themselves to the king; but if they get bored to death through the king’s means, and amuse themselves through M. Fouquet, they will attach themselves to M. Fouquet.”

“And you informed my intendant, of course?—so that immediately on their arrival—”

“By no means; they were left alone a whole week, to weary themselves at their ease; but, at the end of the week, they cried out, saying that former officers amused themselves much better. Whereupon they were told that the old officers had been able to make a friend of M. Fouquet, and that M. Fouquet, knowing them to be friends of his, had from that moment done all he possibly could to prevent their getting wearied or bored upon his estates. Upon this they began to reflect. Immediately afterwards, however, the intendant added, that without anticipating M. Fouquet’s orders, he knew his master sufficiently well to be aware that he took an interest in every gentleman in the king’s service, and that, although he did not know the new-comers, he would do as much for them as he had done for the others.”

“Excellent! and I trust that the promises were followed up; I desire, as you know, that no promise should ever be made in my name without being kept.”

“Without a moment’s loss of time, our two privateers, and your own horses, were placed at the disposal of the officers; the keys of the principal mansion were handed over to them, so that they made up hunting-parties, and walking excursions with such ladies as are to be found in Belle-Isle; and such other as they are enabled to enlist from the neighborhood, who have no fear of sea-sickness.”

“And there is a fair sprinkling to be met with at Sarzeau and Vannes, I believe, your eminence?”

“Yes; in fact all along the coast,” said Aramis, quietly.

“And now, how about the soldiers?”

“Everything precisely the same, in a relative degree, you understand; the soldiers have plenty of wine, excellent provisions, and good pay.”

“Very good; so that—”

“So that this garrison can be depended upon, and it is a better one than the last.”

“Good.”

“The result is, if Fortune favors us, so that the garrisons are changed in this manner, only every two months, that, at the end of every three years, the whole army will, in its turn, have been there; and, therefore, instead of having one regiment in our favor, we shall have fifty thousand men.”

“Yes, yes; I knew perfectly well,” said Fouquet, “that no friend could be more incomparable and invaluable than yourself, my dear Monsieur d’Herblay; but,” he added, laughing, “all this time we are forgetting our friend, Du Vallon; what has become of him? During the three days I spent at Saint-Mande, I confess I have forgotten him completely.”

“I do not forget him, however,” returned Aramis. “Porthos is at Saint-Mande; his joints are kept well greased, the greatest care is being taken care of him with regard to the food he eats, and the wines he drinks; I advise him to take daily airings in the small park, which you have kept for your own use, and he makes us of it accordingly. He begins to walk again, he exercises his muscular powers by bending down young elm-trees, or making the old oaks fly into splinters, as Milo of Crotona used to do; and, as there are no lions in the park, it is not unlikely we shall find him alive. Porthos is a brave fellow.”

“Yes, but in the mean time he will get bored to death.”

“Oh, no; he never does that.”

“He will be asking questions?”

“He sees no one.”

“At all events, he is looking or hoping for something or another.”

“I have inspired in him a hope which we will realize some fine morning, and on that he subsists.”

“What is it?”

“That of being presented to the king.”

“Oh! in what character?”

“As the engineer of Belle-Isle, of course.”

“Is it possible?”

“Quite true.”

“Shall we not be obliged, then, to send him back to Belle-Isle?”

“Most certainly; I am even thinking of sending him as soon as possible. Porthos is very fond of display; he is man whose weakness D’Artagnan, Athos, and myself are alone acquainted with; he never commits himself in any way; he is dignity himself; to the officers there, he would seem like a Paladin of the time of the Crusades. He would make the whole staff drunk, without getting tipsy in the least himself, and every one will regard him with admiration and sympathy; if, therefore, it should happen that we have any orders requiring to be carried out, Porthos is an incarnation of the order itself, and whatever he chose to do others would find themselves obliged to submit to.”

“Send him back, then.”

“That is what I intend to do; but only in a few days; for I must not omit to tell you one thing.”

“What is it?”

“I begin to mistrust D’Artagnan. He is not at Fontainebleau, as you may have noticed, and D’Artagnan is never absent, or apparently idle, without some object in view. And now that my own affairs are settled, I am going to try and ascertain what the affairs are in which D’Artagnan is engaged.”

“Your own affairs are settled, you say?”

“Yes.”

“You are very fortunate in that case, then, and I should like to be able to say the same.”

“I hope you do not make yourself uneasy.”

“Hum!”

“Nothing could be better than the king’s reception of you.”

“True.”

“And Colbert leaves you in peace.”

“Nearly so.”

“In that case,” said Aramis, with that connection of ideas which marked him, “in that case, then, we can bestow a thought upon the young girl I was speaking to you about yesterday.”

“Whom do you mean?”

“What, have you forgotten already? I mean La Valliere.”

“Ah! of course, of course.”

“Do you object, then, to try and make a conquest of her?”

“In one respect only; my heart is engaged in another direction, and I positively do not care about the girl in the least.”

“Oh, oh!” said Aramis, “your heart is engaged, you say. The deuce! we must take care of that.”

“Why?”

“Because it is terrible to have the heart occupied, when others, besides yourself, have so much need of the head.”

“You are right. So you see, at your first summons, I left everything. But to return to this girl. What good do you see in my troubling myself about her?”

“This.—The king, it is said, has taken a fancy to her; at least, so it is supposed.”

“But you, who know everything, know very differently.”

“I know that the king is greatly and suddenly changed; that the day before yesterday he was crazy over Madame; that a few days ago, Monsieur complained of it, even to the queen-mother; and that some conjugal misunderstandings and maternal scoldings were the consequence.”

“How do you know all that?”

“I do know it; at all events, since these misunderstandings and scoldings, the king has not addressed a word, has not paid the slightest attention, to her royal highness.”

“Well, what next?”

“Since then, he has been taken up with Mademoiselle de la Valliere. Now, Mademoiselle de la Valliere is one of Madame’s maids of honor. You happen to know, I suppose, what is called a chaperon in matters of love. Well, then, Mademoiselle de la Valliere is Madame’s chaperon. It is for you to take advantage of this state of things. You have no occasion for me to tell you that. But, at all events, wounded vanity will render the conquest an easier one; the girl will get hold of the king, and Madame’s secret, and you can scarcely predict what a man of intelligence can do with a secret.”

“But how to get at her?”

“Nay, you, of all men, to ask me such a question!” said Aramis.

“Very true. I shall not have any time to take any notice of her.”

“She is poor and unassuming, you will create a position for her, and whether she tames the king as his lady confessor, or his sweetheart, you will have enlisted a new and valuable ally.”

“Very good,” said Fouquet. “What is to be done, then, with regard to this girl?”

“Whenever you have taken a fancy to any lady, Monsieur Fouquet, what course have you generally pursued?”

“I have written to her, protesting my devotion to her. I have added, how happy I should be to render her any service in my power, and have signed ‘Fouquet,’ at the end of the letter.”

“And has any one offered resistance?”

“One person only,” replied Fouquet. “But, four days ago, she yielded, as the others had done.”

“Will you take the trouble to write?” said Aramis, holding a pen towards him, which Fouquet took, saying:

“I will write at your dictation. My head is so taken up in another direction, that I should not be able to write a couple lines.”

“Very well,” said Aramis, “write.”

And he dictated, as follows: “Mademoiselle—I have seen you—and you will not be surprised to learn, I think you very beautiful. But, for want of the position you merit at court, your presence there is a waste of time. The devotion of a man of honor, should ambition of any kind inspire you, might possibly serve as a means of display for your talent and beauty. I place my devotion at your feet; but, as an affection, however reserved and unpresuming it may be, might possibly compromise the object of its worship, it would ill become a person of your merit running the risk of being compromised, without her future being assured. If you would deign to accept, and reply to my affection, my affection shall prove its gratitude to you in making you free and independent forever.”

Having finished writing, Fouquet looked at Aramis.

“Sign it,” said the latter.

“Is it absolutely necessary?”

“Your signature at the foot of that letter is worth a million; you forget that.” Fouquet signed.

“Now, by whom do you intend to send this letter?” asked Aramis.

“By an excellent servant of mine.”

“Can you rely on him?”

“He is a man who has been with me all my life.”

“Very well. Besides, in this case, we are not playing for very heavy stakes.”

“How so? For if what you say be true of the accommodating disposition of this girl for the king and Madame, the king will give her all the money she can ask for.”

“The king has money, then?” asked Aramis.

“I suppose so, for he has not asked me for any more.”

“Be easy, he will ask for some, soon.”

“Nay, more than that, I had thought he would have spoken to me about the fete at Vaux, but he never said a word about it.”

“He will be sure to do so, though.”

“You must think the king’s disposition a very cruel one, Monsieur d’Herblay.”

“It is not he who is so.”

“He is young, and therefore his disposition is a kind one.”

“He is young, and either he is weak, or his passions are strong; and Monsieur Colbert holds his weakness and his passions in his villainous grasp.”

“You admit that you fear him?”

“I do not deny it.”

“I that case I am lost.”

“Why so?”

“My only influence with the king has been through the money I commanded, and now I am a ruined man.”

“Not so.”

“What do you mean by ‘not so?’ Do you know my affairs better than myself?”

“That is not unlikely.”

“If he were to request this fete to be given?”

“You would give it, of course.”

“But where is the money to come from?”

“Have you ever been in want of any?”

“Oh! if you only knew at what a cost I procured the last supply.”

“The next shall cost you nothing.”

“But who will give it me?”

“I will.”

“What, give me six millions?”

“Ten, if necessary.”

“Upon my word, D’Herblay,” said Fouquet, “your confidence alarms me more than the king’s displeasure. Who can you possibly be, after all?”

“You know me well enough, I should think.”

“Of course; but what is it you are aiming at?”

“I wish to see upon the throne of France a king devoted to Monsieur Fouquet, and I wish Monsieur Fouquet to be devoted to me.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Fouquet, pressing his hand,—“as for being devoted to you, I am yours, entirely; but believe me, my dear D’Herblay, you are deceiving yourself.”

“In what respect?”

“The king will never become devoted to me.”

“I do not remember to have said that King Louis would ever become devoted to you.”

“Why, on the contrary, you have this moment said so.”

“I did not say the king; I said a king.”

“Is it not all the same?”

“No, on the contrary, it is altogether different.”

“I do not understand you.”

“You will do so, shortly, then; suppose, for instance, the king in question were to be a very different person to Louis XIV.”

“Another person.”

“Yes, who is indebted for everything to you.”

“Impossible.”

“His very throne, even.”

“You are mad, D’Herblay. There is no man living besides Louis XIV. who can sit on the throne of France. I know of none, not one.”

“But I know one.”

“Unless it be Monsieur,” said Fouquet, looking at Aramis uneasily; “yet Monsieur—”

“It is not Monsieur.”

“But how can it be, that a prince not of the royal line, that a prince without any right—”

“My king, or rather your king, will be everything that is necessary, be assured of that.”

“Be careful, Monsieur d’Herblay, you make my blood run cold, and my head swim.”

Aramis smiled. “There is but little occasion for that,” he replied.

“Again, I repeat, you terrify me,” said Fouquet. Aramis smiled.

“You laugh,” said Fouquet.

“The day will come when you will laugh too; only at the present moment I must laugh alone.”

“But explain yourself.”

“When the proper time comes, I will explain all. Fear nothing. Have faith in me, and doubt nothing.”

“The fact is, I cannot but doubt, because I do not see clearly, or even at all.”

“That is because of your blindness; but a day will come when you will be enlightened.”

“Oh!” said Fouquet, “how willingly would I believe.”

“You, without belief! you, who, through my means, have ten times crossed the abyss yawning at your feet, and in which, had you been alone, you would have been irretrievably swallowed; you, without belief; you, who from procureur-general attained the rank of intendant, from the rank of intendant, that of the first minister of the crown, and who from the rank of first minister will pass to that of mayor of the palace. But no,” he said, with the same unaltered smile, “no, no, you cannot see, and consequently cannot believe—what I tell you.” And Aramis rose to withdraw.

“One word more,” said Fouquet; “you have never yet spoken to me in this manner, you have never yet shown yourself so confident, I should rather say so daring.”

“Because it is necessary, in order to speak confidently, to have the lips unfettered.”

“And that is now your case?”

“Yes.”

“Since a very short time, then?”

“Since yesterday, only.”

“Oh! Monsieur d’Herblay, take care, your confidence is becoming audacity.”

“One can well be audacious when one is powerful.”

“And you are powerful?”

“I have already offered you ten millions; I repeat the offer.”

Fouquet rose, profoundly agitated.

“Come,” he said, “come; you spoke of overthrowing kings and replacing them by others. If, indeed, I am not really out of my senses, is or is not that what you said just now?”

“You are by no means out of your senses, for it is perfectly true I did say all that just now.”

“And why did you say so?”

“Because it is easy to speak in this manner of thrones being cast down, and kings being raised up, when one is, one’s self, far above all kings and thrones, of this world at least.”

“Your power is infinite, then?” cried Fouquet.

“I have told you so already, and I repeat it,” replied Aramis, with glistening eyes and trembling lips.

Fouquet threw himself back in his chair, and buried his face in his hands. Aramis looked at him for a moment, as the angel of human destinies might have looked upon a simple mortal.

“Adieu,” he said to him, “sleep undisturbed, and send your letter to La Valliere. To-morrow we shall see each other again.”

“Yes, to-morrow,” said Fouquet, shaking his hands like a man returning to his senses. “But where shall we see each other?”

“At the king’s promenade, if you like.”

“Agreed.” And they separated.