Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 33

Chapter XXXIII:
The Mediator.

When the king made his appearance in Madame's apartments, the courtiers,
whom the news of a conjugal misunderstanding had dispersed through the
various apartments, began to entertain the most serious apprehensions. A
storm was brewing in that direction, the elements of which the Chevalier
de Lorraine, in the midst of the different groups, was analyzing with
delight, contributing to the weaker, and acting, according to his own
wicked designs, in such a manner with regard to the stronger, as to
produce the most disastrous consequences possible. As Anne of Austria
had herself said, the presence of the king gave a solemn and serious
character to the event. Indeed, in the year 1662, the dissatisfaction of
Monsieur with Madame, and the king's intervention in the private affairs
of Monsieur, was a matter of no inconsiderable moment.

Transcriber's note: Dumas is mistaken. The events in the following
chapters occurred in 1661. - JB

The boldest, even, who had been the associates of the Comte de Guiche,
had, from the first moment, held aloof from him, with a sort of nervous
apprehension; and the comte himself, infected by the general panic,
retired to his own room. The king entered Madame's private apartments,
acknowledging and returning the salutations, as he was always in the
habit of doing. The ladies of honor were ranged in a line on his passage
along the gallery. Although his majesty was very much preoccupied, he
gave the glance of a master at the two rows of young and beautiful girls,
who modestly cast down their eyes, blushing as they felt the king's gaze
fall upon them. One only of the number, whose long hair fell in silken
masses upon the most beautiful skin imaginable, was pale, and could
hardly sustain herself, notwithstanding the knocks which her companion
gave her with her elbow. It was La Valliere whom Montalais supported in
that manner by whispering some of that courage to her with which she
herself was so abundantly provided. The king could not resist turning
round to look at them again. Their faces, which had already been raised,
were again lowered, but the only fair head among them remained
motionless, as if all the strength and intelligence she had left had
abandoned her. When he entered Madame's room, Louis found his sister-in-
law reclining upon the cushions of her cabinet. She rose and made a
profound reverence, murmuring some words of thanks for the honor she was
receiving. She then resumed her seat, overcome by a sudden weakness,
which was no doubt assumed, for a delightful color animated her cheeks,
and her eyes, still red from the tears she had recently shed, never had
more fire in them. When the king was seated, as soon as he had remarked,
with that accuracy of observation which characterized him, the disorder
of the apartment, and the no less great disorder of Madame's countenance,
he assumed a playful manner, saying, "My dear sister, at what hour to-day
would you wish the repetition of the ballet to take place?"

Madame, shaking her charming head, slowly and languishingly said: "Ah!
sire, will you graciously excuse my appearance at the repetition? I was
about to send to inform you that I could not attend to-day."

"Indeed," said the king, in apparent surprise; "are you not well?"

"No, sire."

"I will summon your medical attendants, then."

"No, for they can do nothing for my indisposition."

"You alarm me."

"Sire, I wish to ask your majesty's permission to return to England."

The king started. "Return to England," he said; "do you really say what
you mean?"

"I say it reluctantly, sire," replied the grand-daughter of Henry IV.,
firmly, her beautiful black eyes flashing. "I regret to have to confide
such matters to your majesty, but I feel myself too unhappy at your
majesty's court; and I wish to return to my own family."

"Madame, madame," exclaimed the king, as he approached her.

"Listen to me, sire," continued the young woman, acquiring by degrees
that ascendency over her interrogator which her beauty and her nervous
nature conferred; "young as I am, I have already suffered humiliation,
and have endured disdain here. Oh! do not contradict me, sire," she
said, with a smile. The king colored.

"Then," she continued, "I had reasoned myself into the belief that Heaven
called me into existence with that object - I, the daughter of a powerful
monarch; that since my father had been deprived of life, Heaven could
well smite my pride. I have suffered greatly; I have been the cause,
too, of my mother suffering much; but I vowed that if Providence ever
placed me in a position of independence, even were it that of a workman
of the lower classes, who gains her bread by her labor, I would never
suffer humiliation again. That day has now arrived; I have been restored
to the fortune due to my rank and to my birth; I have even ascended again
the steps of a throne, and I thought that, in allying myself with a
French prince, I should find in him a relation, a friend, an equal; but I
perceive I have found only a master, and I rebel. My mother shall know
nothing of it; you whom I respect, and whom I - love - "

The king started; never had any voice so gratified his ear.

"You, sire, who know all, since you have come here; you will, perhaps,
understand me. If you had not come, I should have gone to you. I wish
for permission to go away. I leave it to your delicacy of feeling to
exculpate and to protect me."

"My dear sister," murmured the king, overpowered by this bold attack,
"have you reflected upon the enormous difficulty of the project you have
conceived?"

"Sire, I do not reflect, I feel. Attacked, I instinctively repel the
attack, nothing more."

"Come, tell me, what have they done to you?" said the king.

The princess, it will have been seen, by this peculiarly feminine
maneuver, had escaped every reproach, and advanced on her side a far more
serious one; from the accused she became the accuser. It is an
infallible sign of guilt; but notwithstanding that, all women, even the
least clever of the sex, invariably know how to derive some such means of
turning the tables. The king had forgotten that he was paying her a
visit in order to say to her, "What have you done to my brother?" and he
was reduced to weakly asking her, "What have they done to you?"

"What have they done to me?" replied Madame. "One must be a woman to
understand it, sire - they have made me shed tears;" and, with one of her
fingers, whose slenderness and perfect whiteness were unequaled, she
pointed to her brilliant eyes swimming with unshed drops, and again began
to weep.

"I implore you, my dear sister!" said the king, advancing to take her
warm and throbbing hand, which she abandoned to him.

"In the first place, sire, I was deprived of the presence of my brother's
friend. The Duke of Buckingham was an agreeable, cheerful visitor; my
own countryman, who knew my habits; I will say almost a companion, so
accustomed had we been to pass our days together, with our other friends,
upon the beautiful piece of water at St. James's."

"But Villiers was in love with you."

"A pretext! What does it matter," she said, seriously, "whether the duke
was in love with me or not? Is a man in love so very dangerous for me?
Ah! sire, it is not sufficient for a man to love a woman." And she
smiled so tenderly, and with so much archness, that the king felt his
heart swell and throb in his breast.

"At all events, if my brother were jealous?" interrupted the king.

"Very well, I admit that is a reason; and the duke was sent away
accordingly."

"No, not sent away."

"Driven away, dismissed, expelled, then, if you prefer it, sire. One of
the first gentlemen of Europe obliged to leave the court of the King of
France, of Louis XIV., like a beggar, on account of a glance or a
bouquet. It was little worthy of a most gallant court; but forgive me,
sire; I forgot, that, in speaking thus, I am attacking your sovereign
power."

"I assure you, my dear sister, it was not I who dismissed the Duke of
Buckingham; I was charmed with him."

"It was not you?" said Madame; "ah! so much the better;" and she
emphasized the "so much the better," as if she had instead said, "so much
the worse."

A few minutes' silence ensued. She then resumed: "The Duke of Buckingham
having left - I now know why and by whose means - I thought I should have
recovered my tranquillity; but not at all, for all at once Monsieur found
another pretext; all at once - "

"All at once," said the king, playfully, "some one else presents
himself. It is but natural; you are beautiful, and will always meet with
men who will madly love you."

"In that case," exclaimed the princess, "I will create a solitude around
me, which indeed seems to be what is wished, and what is being prepared
for me. But no, I prefer to return to London. There I am known and
appreciated. I shall have friends, without fearing they may be regarded
as my lovers. Shame! it is a disgraceful suspicion, and unworthy a
gentleman. Monsieur has lost everything in my estimation, since he has
shown me he can be a tyrant to a woman."

"Nay, nay, my brother's only fault is that of loving you."

"Love me! Monsieur love me! Ah! sire," and she burst out laughing.
"Monsieur will never love any woman," she said; "Monsieur loves himself
too much; no, unhappily for me, Monsieur's jealousy is of the worst kind
- he is jealous without love."

"Confess, however," said the king, who began to be excited by this varied
and animated conversation; "confess that Guiche loves you."

"Ah! sire, I know nothing about that."

"You must have perceived it. A man who loves readily betrays himself."

"M. de Guiche has not betrayed himself."

"My dear sister, you are defending M. de Guiche."

"I, indeed! Ah, sire, I only needed a suspicion from yourself to crown
my wretchedness."

"No, madame, no," returned the king, hurriedly; "do not distress
yourself. Nay, you are weeping. I implore you to calm yourself."

She wept, however, and large tears fell upon her hands; the king took one
of her hands in his, and kissed the tears away. She looked at him so
sadly and with so much tenderness that he felt his heart giving way under
her gaze.

"You have no kind of feeling, then, for Guiche?" he said, more disturbed
than became his character of mediator.

"None - absolutely none."

"Then I can reassure my brother in that respect?"

"Nothing will satisfy him, sire. Do not believe he is jealous. Monsieur
has been badly advised by some one, and he is of nervous disposition."

"He may well be so when you are concerned," said the king.

Madame cast down her eyes, and was silent; the king did so likewise,
still holding her hand all the while. Their momentary silence seemed to
last an age. Madame gently withdrew her hand, and from that moment, she
felt her triumph was certain, and that the field of battle was her own.

"Monsieur complains," said the king, "that you prefer the society of
private individuals to his own conversation and society."

"But Monsieur passes his life in looking at his face in the glass, and in
plotting all sorts of spiteful things against women with the Chevalier de
Lorraine."

"Oh, you are going somewhat too far."

"I only tell you what is true. Do you observe for yourself, sire, and
you will see that I am right."

"I will observe; but, in the meantime, what satisfaction can I give my
brother?"

"My departure."

"You repeat that word," exclaimed the king, imprudently, as if, during
the last ten minutes, such a change had been produced that Madame would
have had all her ideas on the subject thoroughly changed.

"Sire, I cannot be happy here any longer," she said. "M. de Guiche
annoys Monsieur. Will he be sent away, too?"

"If it be necessary, why not?" replied the king, smiling.

"Well; and after M. de Guiche - whom, by the by, I shall regret - I warn
you, sire."

"Ah, you will regret him?"

"Certainly; he is amiable, he has a great friendship for me, and he
amuses me."

"If Monsieur were only to hear you," said the king, slightly annoyed, "do
you know I would not undertake to make it up again between you; nay, I
would not even attempt it."

"Sire, can you, even now, prevent Monsieur from being jealous of the
first person who may approach? I know very well that M. de Guiche is not
the first."

"Again I warn you that as a good brother I shall take a dislike to De
Guiche."

"Ah, sire, do not, I entreat you, adopt either the sympathies or the
dislikes of Monsieur. Remain king; better for yourself and for every one
else."

"You jest charmingly, madame; and I can well understand how the people
you attack must adore you."

"And is that the reason why you, sire, whom I had regarded as my
defender, are about to join these who persecute me?" said Madame.

"I your persecutor! Heaven forbid!"

"Then," she continued, languishingly, "grant me a favor."

"Whatever you wish."

"Let me return to England."

"Never, never!" exclaimed Louis XIV.

"I am a prisoner, then?"

"In France - if France is a prison - yes."

"What must I do, then?"

"I will tell you. Instead of devoting yourself to friendships which are
somewhat unstable, instead of alarming us by your retirement, remain
always in our society, do not leave us, let us live as a united family.
M. de Guiche is certainly very amiable; but if, at least, we do not
possess his wit - "

"Ah, sire, you know very well you are pretending to be modest."

"No, I swear to you. One may be a king, and yet feel that he possesses
fewer chances of pleasing than many other gentlemen."

"I am sure, sire, that you do not believe a single word you are saying."

The king looked at Madame tenderly, and said, "Will you promise me one
thing?"

"What is it?"

"That you will no longer waste upon strangers, in your own apartments,
the time which you owe us. Shall we make an offensive and defensive
alliance against the common enemy?"

"An alliance with you, sire?"

"Why not? Are you not a sovereign power?"

"But are you, sire, a reliable ally?"

"You shall see, madame."

"And when shall this alliance commence?"

"This very day."

"I will draw up the treaty, and you shall sign it."

"Blindly."

"Then, sire, I promise you wonders; you are the star of the court, and
when you make your appearance, everything will be resplendent."

"Oh, madame, madame," said Louis XIV., "you know well that there is no
brilliancy that does not proceed from yourself, and that if I assume the
sun as my device, it is only an emblem."

"Sire, you flatter your ally, and you wish to deceive her," said Madame,
threatening the king with her finger menacingly raised.

"What! you believe I am deceiving you, when I assure you of my affection?"

"Yes."

"What makes you so suspicious?"

"One thing."

"What is it? I shall indeed be unhappy if I do not overcome it."

"That one thing in question, sire, is not in your power, not even in the
power of Heaven."

"Tell me what it is."

"The past."

"I do not understand, madame," said the king, precisely because he had
understood her but too well.

The princess took his hand in hers. "Sire," she said, "I have had the
misfortune to displease you for so long a period, that I have almost the
right to ask myself to-day why you were able to accept me as a sister-in-
law."

"Displease me! You have displeased me?"

"Nay, do not deny it, for I remember it well."

"Our alliance shall date from to-day," exclaimed the king, with a warmth
that was not assumed. "You will not think any more of the past, will
you? I myself am resolved that I will not. I shall always remember the
present; I have it before my eyes; look." And he led the princess before
a mirror, in which she saw herself reflected, blushing and beautiful
enough to overcome a saint.

"It is all the same," she murmured; "it will not be a very worthy
alliance."

"Must I swear?" inquired the king, intoxicated by the voluptuous turn the
whole conversation had taken.

"Oh, I will not refuse to witness a resounding oath," said Madame; "it
has always the _semblance_ of security."

The king knelt upon a footstool and took Madame's hand. She, with a
smile that no painter could ever succeed in depicting, and which a poet
might only imagine, gave him both her hands, in which he hid his burning
face. Neither of them could utter a syllable. The king felt Madame
withdraw her hands, caressing his face while she did so. He rose
immediately and left the apartment. The courtiers remarked his
heightened color, and concluded that the scene had been a stormy one.
The Chevalier de Lorraine, however, hastened to say, "Nay, be comforted,
gentlemen, his majesty is always pale when he is angry."

Alexandre Dumas pere