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 37

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?"


"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

"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

"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.

Alexandre Dumas pere