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THE TWO QUEENS.
After all, I was put to shame by finding that I had done my poor mother an injustice in supposing that she intended to assume the government of the house, for no sooner was I admitted to her room than she gave me up the keys, and indeed I believe she was not sorry to resign them, for she had not loved housewifery in her prosperous days, and there had been a hard struggle with absolute poverty during the last years in England.
She was delighted likewise that I was quite ready to accompany her to thank Queen Henrietta for her intercession, and to take her advice for the future, nor did she object for that day to my mourning costume, as I was to appear in the character of a suppliant. When I caught Annora's almost contemptuous eyes, I was ready to have gone in diamonds and feathers.
However, forth we set, attended by both my brothers. Lord Walwyn indeed held some appointment at the little court, and in due time we were ushered into the room where Queen Henrietta was seated with a pretty little girl playing at her feet with a dog, and a youth of about seventeen leaning over the elbow of her couch telling her something with great animation, while a few ladies were at work, with gentlemen scattered among them. How sociable and friendly it looked, and how strangely yet pleasantly the English tones fell on my ear! And I was received most kindly too. 'Madame has brought her--our little--nay, our great conspirator, the Firebrand of the Bocage. Come, little Firebrand,' exclaimed the Queen, and as I knelt to kiss her hand she threw her arms round me in an affectionate embrace, and the Prince of Wales claimed me as an old acquaintance, saluted me, and laughed, as he welcomed me to their court of waifs and strays, cast up one by one by the tide.
His little sister, brought by the faithful Lady Morton in the disguise of a beggar boy, had been the last thus to arrive. A very lovely child she was, and Prince Charles made every one laugh by taking her on his knee and calling her Piers the beggar boy, when she pointed to her white frock, called herself 'Pincess, pincess, not beggar boy,' and when he persisted, went into a little rage and pulled his black curls.
My poor Queen, whom I had left in the pride and mature bloom of beauty, was sadly changed; she looked thin and worn, and was altogether the brown old French-woman; but she was still as lively and vivacious, and full of arch kindness as ever, a true daughter of the Grand Monarque, whose spirits no disasters could break. When the little one became too noisy, she playfully ordered off both the children, as she called them, and bade me sit down on the footstool before her couch, and tell her what I had been doing to put intendants, cardinals and Queens themselves into commotion. The little Lady Henrietta was carried off by one of the attendants, but the Prince would not go; he resumed his former position, saying that he was quite sure that Madame de Bellaise was in need of an English counsel to plead her cause. He had grown up from a mischievous imp of a boy to a graceful elegant-looking youth. His figure, air, and address were charming, I never saw them equaled; but his face was as ugly as ever, though with a droll ugliness that was more winning than most men's beauty, lighted up as it was by the most brilliant of black eyes and the most engaging of smiles. You remember that I am speaking of him as he was when he had lately arrived from Jersey, before his expedition to Scotland. He became a very different person after his return, but he was now a simple-hearted, innocent lad, and I met him again as an old friend and playfellow, whose sympathy was a great satisfaction in the story I had to tell, though I was given in a half-mocking way. My mother began by saying:
'The poor child, it is as I told your Majesty; she has only been a little too charitable.'
'Permit me, Madame,' I said, 'I did not give half so much as most charitable ladies.'
Then the explanation came, and the Queen shook her head and told me such things would not do here, that my inexperience might be pardonable, but that the only way to treat such creatures was to feed them and clothe them for the sake of our own souls.
Here the Prince made his eyes first flash and then wink at me.
'But as to teach them or elevating them, my dear, it is as bad for them as for ourselves. You must renounce all such chimeras, and if you had a passion for charity there is good Father Vincent to teach you safe methods.'
I brightened up when I heard of Father Vincent, and my mother engaged for me that I should do all that was right, and appealed to my brother De Solivet to assure the Queen that there had been much malignant exaggeration about the presumption of my measures and the discontent of other people's peasants.
Queen Henrietta was quite satisfied, and declared that she would at once conduct me to her sister-in-law, the Queen-Regent, at the Tuileries, since she had of course the 'petites entrees,' take her by storm as it were, and it was exactly the right hour when the Queen would be resting after holding council.
She called for a looking-glass, and made one of her women touch up her dress and bring her a fan, asking whether I had ever been presented. No, my first stay in Paris had been too short; besides, my rank did not make it needful, as my husband was only Viscount by favour of his uncle, who let him hold the estate.
'Then,' said the Prince, 'you little know what court is!'
'Can you make a curtsey?' asked the Queen anxiously.
I repeated the one I had lately made to her Majesty, and they all cried out:
'Oh, oh! that was all very well at home.'
'Or here before I married,' added Queen Henrietta. 'Since Spanish etiquette has come in, we have all been on our good behaviour.'
'Having come from a barbarous isle,' added the Prince.
The Queen therewith made the reverence which you all know, my grand- daughters, but which seemed to me unnatural, and the Prince's face twinkled at the incredulity he saw in mine; but at the moment a private door was opening to give admission to a figure, not in itself very tall, but looking twice its height from its upright, haughty bearing. There was the Bourbon face fully marked, with a good deal of fair hair in curls round it, and a wonderful air of complete self- complacency.
This was la grande Mademoiselle, daughter of Gaston Duke of Orleans, and heiress through her mother of the great old Montpensier family, who lived at the Palais Royal with her father, but was often at the Louvre. She stood aghast, as well she might, thinking how little dignity her aunt, the Queen of England, had to be acting as mistress of deportment to a little homely widow. The Prince turned at once.
'There is my cousin,' said he, 'standing amazed to see how we have caught a barbarous islander of our own, and are trying to train her to civilization. Here--let her represent the Queen-Regent. Now, Meg--Madame de Bellaise, I mean--imitate me while my mother presents me,' he ran on in English, making such a grotesque reverence that nobody except Mademoiselle could help laughing, and his mother made a feint of laying her fan about his ears, while she pronounced him a madcap and begged her niece to excuse him.
'For profaning the outskirts of the majesty of the Most Christian King,' muttered the Prince, while his mother explained the matter to her niece, adding that her son could not help availing himself of the opportunity of paying her his homage.
Mademoiselle was pacified, and was graciously pleased to permit me to be presented to her, also to criticize the curtsey which I had now to perform, my good Queen being so kind in training me that I almost lost the sense of the incongruity of such a lesson at my age and in my weeds. In fact, with my mother and my godmother commanding me, and Eustace and the Prince of Wales looking on, it was like a return to one's childhood. At last I satisfied my royal instructress, and as she agreed with my mother that my mourning befitted the occasion off we set en grande tenue to cross the court to the Tuileries in a little procession, the Queen, attended by my mother and Lady Morton as her ladies, and by Lord Jermyn and Eustace as her gentlemen-in- waiting.
Mademoiselle also came, out of a sort of good-natured curiosity, but the Prince of Wales shook his head.
'I have no mind to show Madame the value of a tabouret,' he said. 'Believe me, Meg, I may sit on such an eminence in the august presence of my mother and my regent aunt, but if my small cousin, the Most Christian King, should enter, I must be dethroned, and a succession of bows must ensue before we can either of us be seated. I always fear that I shall some day break out with the speech of King Lear's fool: 'Cry you mercy, I took you for a joint stool.''
This passed while I, who came in the rear of the procession, was waiting to move on, and I believe Queen Henrietta was descanting to her niece on the blessing that her son's high spirits never failed him through all their misfortunes.
However, in due time we reached the apartments of the Queen-Regent, the way lined with guards, servants, and splendid gentlemen, who all either presented arms or bowed as our English Queen passed along, with an easy, frank majesty about her that bespoke her a daughter of the place, and at home there. But what gave me the most courage was that as the door of her bedroom was opened to admit Queen Henrietta, Mademoiselle, my mother, and myself, I saw a black cassock, and a face I knew again as that of the Holy Father Vincent de Paul, who had so much impressed me, and had first given me comfort.
It was a magnificent room, and more magnificent bed, and sitting up among her lace and cambric pillows and coverlets was Queen Anne of Austria, in a rich white lace cap and bedgown that set off her smooth, fair, plump beauty, and exquisite hands and arms. Ladies stood round the bed. I did not then see who any of them were, for this was the crisis of my fate, and my heart beat and my eyes swam with anxiety. Queen Henrietta made her low reverence, as of course we did, and some words of sisterly greeting ensued, after which the English queen said:
'My sister, I have made you this early visit to bring you my little suppliant. Allow me to present to your Majesty, Madame la Vicomtesse de Bellaise, who is sincerely sorry to have offended you.'
(That was true; I was sincerely sorry that what I had done could offend.)
My kind godmother went on to that I had offended only out of ignorance of the rights of seigneurs, and from my charitable impulses, of which she knew that her Majesty would approve, glancing significantly towards Father Vincent as she did so. She was sure, she added, that Her Majesty's tenderness of heart must sympathise with a young widow, whose husband had fallen in the service of the King, and who had an only son to bring up. I felt the Regent's beautiful blue eyes scanning me, but it was not unkindly, though she said:
'How is this, Madame? I hear that you have taught the peasants to complain of the seigniorial rights, and to expect to have the corvee and all other dues remitted.'
I made answer that in truth all I had done was to remit those claims here and there which had seemed to me to press hard upon the tenants of our own estate; and I think the Regent was moved by a look from Father Vincent to demand an example, so I mentioned that I would not have the poor forced to carry our crops on the only fine day in a wet season.
'Ah, bah!' said Queen Anne; 'that was an over-refinement, Madame. It does not hurt those creatures to get wet.'
She really had not the least notion that a wetting ruined their crops; and when I would have answered, my godmother and mother made me a sign to hold my tongue, while Queen Henrietta spoke:
'Your Majesty sees how it is; my godchild has the enthusiasm of charity, and you, my sister, with your surroundings, will not blame her if she has carried it a little into excess.'
'Your Majesty will pardon me for asking if there can be excess?' said Father Vincent. 'I think I recognize this lady. Did I not meet Madame at the little village of St. Felix?'
'Oh yes, my father,' I replied. 'I have ever since blessed the day, when you comforted me and gave me the key of life.'
'There, father,' said the Regent, 'it is your doing; it is you that have made her a firebrand. You must henceforth take the responsibility.'
'I ask no better of your Majesty,' said the holy man.
'Ah! your Majesty, I can ask no better,' I said fervently; and I knelt to kiss the beautiful hand which Anne of Austria extended to me in token of pardon.
'It is understood, then,' said she, in a gracious though languid way, as if weary of the subject, 'that your Majesty undertakes that Madame becomes more prudent in the future, and puts her benevolence under the rule of our good father, who will never let her go beyond what is wise in the bounds of a young woman's discretion.'
It might be hard to believe that I had been indiscreet, but the grand stately self-possession of that Spanish lady, and the evident gratification of my mother and Queen Henrietta, quite overpowered me into feeling like a criminal received to mercy, and I returned thanks with all the genuine humility they could desire; after which the regent overpowered my mother with wonder at her graciousness by inquiring a day for him to kiss the King's hand in the Tuileries gardens.
By this time her breakfast was being brought in (it was about one o'clock), and Queen Henrietta carried us off without waiting for the ceremony of the breakfast, or of the toilet, which began with the little King presenting his mother with her chemise, with a tender kiss. Mademoiselle remained, and so did Father Vincent, whom the regent was wont to consult at her breakfast, both on matters of charity and of Church patronage.
My mother was delighted that I had come off so well; she only regretted my being put under Father Vincent, who would, she feared, render me too devout.
The next afternoon, which was Sunday, we went, all except my brother and sister, who had what my mother called Puritan notions as to Sunday, to see royalty walk in the Tuileries gardens. The Queen was there, slowly pacing along with one of her sons on each side, and beautiful boys they were, in their rich dresses of blue velvet and white satin, with rich lace garnishings, their long fair hair on their shoulders, and their plumed hats less often on their heads than in their hands, as they gracefully acknowledged the homage that met them at each step. Perhaps I thought my Gaspard quite as beautiful, but every widow's only son is THE king of her heart; and we had so trained the boy that he did his part to perfection kneeling and kissing the hand which King Louis extended to him. Yet it had--to me who was fresh to such scenes--something of the air of a little comedy, to see such gestures of respect between the two children so splendidly dressed, and neither of them yet nine years old.
The little King did his part well, presented M. le Marquis de Nidemerle to his brother the Duke of Anjou, asked graciously whether he could ride and what games he loved best, and expressed a courteous desire that they might often meet.
My sister-in-law was also presented to the Queen, who filled her with ecstasy by making her some compliment on the services of M. la Comte d'Aubepine, and thus began our career at court. We were in favour, and my mother breathed freely.
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