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 56

Chapter LVI:
Story of a Dryad and a Naiad.

Every one had partaken of the banquet at the chateau, and afterwards
assumed their full court dresses. The usual hour for the repast was five
o'clock. If we say, then, that the repast occupied an hour, and the
toilette two hours, everybody was ready about eight o'clock in the
evening. Towards eight o'clock, then, the guests began to arrive at
Madame's, for we have already intimated that it was Madame who "received"
that evening. And at Madame's _soirees_ no one failed to be present; for
the evenings passed in her apartments always had that perfect charm about
them which the queen, that pious and excellent princess, had not been
able to confer upon her _reunions_. For, unfortunately, one of the
advantages of goodness of disposition is that it is far less amusing than
wit of an ill-natured character. And yet, let us hasten to add, that
such a style of wit could not be assigned to Madame, for her disposition
of mind, naturally of the very highest order, comprised too much true
generosity, too many noble impulses and high-souled thoughts, to warrant
her being termed ill-natured. But Madame was endowed with a spirit of
resistance - a gift frequently fatal to its possessor, for it breaks
where another disposition would have bent; the result was that blows did
not become deadened upon her as upon what might be termed the cotton-
wadded feelings of Maria Theresa. Her heart rebounded at each attack,
and therefore, whenever she was attacked, even in a manner that almost
stunned her, she returned blow for blow to any one imprudent enough to
tilt against her.

Was this really maliciousness of disposition or simply waywardness of
character? We regard those rich and powerful natures as like the tree of
knowledge, producing good and evil at the same time; a double branch,
always blooming and fruitful, of which those who wish to eat know how to
detect the good fruit, and from which the worthless and frivolous die who
have eaten of it - a circumstance which is by no means to be regarded as
a great misfortune. Madame, therefore, who had a well-disguised plan in
her mind of constituting herself the second, if not even the principal,
queen of the court, rendered her receptions delightful to all, from the
conversation, the opportunities of meeting, and the perfect liberty she
allowed every one of making any remark he pleased, on the condition,
however, that the remark was amusing or sensible. And it will hardly be
believed, that, by that means, there was less talking among the society
Madame assembled together than elsewhere. Madame hated people who talked
much, and took a remarkably cruel revenge upon them, for she allowed them
to talk. She disliked pretension, too, and never overlooked that defect,
even in the king himself. It was more than a weakness of Monsieur, and
the princess had undertaken the amazing task of curing him of it. As
for the rest, poets, wits, beautiful women, all were received by her with
the air of a mistress superior to her slaves. Sufficiently meditative in
her liveliest humors to make even poets meditate; sufficiently pretty to
dazzle by her attractions, even among the prettiest; sufficiently witty
for the most distinguished persons who were present, to be listened to
with pleasure - it will easily be believed that the _reunions_ held in
Madame's apartments must naturally have proved very attractive. All who
were young flocked there, and when the king himself happens to be young,
everybody at court is so too. And so, the older ladies of the court, the
strong-minded women of the regency, or of the last reign, pouted and
sulked at their ease; but others only laughed at the fits of sulkiness in
which these venerable individuals indulged, who had carried the love of
authority so far as even to take command of bodies of soldiers in the
wars of the Fronde, in order, as Madame asserted, not to lose their
influence over men altogether. As eight o'clock struck her royal
highness entered the great drawing-room accompanied by her ladies in
attendance, and found several gentlemen belonging to the court already
there, having been waiting for some minutes. Among those who had arrived
before the hour fixed for the reception she looked round for one who, she
thought, ought to have been first in attendance, but he was not there.
However, almost at the very moment she completed her investigation,
Monsieur was announced. Monsieur looked splendid. All the precious
stones and jewels of Cardinal Mazarin, which of course that minister
could not do otherwise than leave; all the queen-mother's jewels as well
as a few belonging to his wife - Monsieur wore them all, and he was as
dazzling as the rising sun. Behind him followed De Guiche, with
hesitating steps and an air of contrition admirably assumed; De Guiche
wore a costume of French-gray velvet, embroidered with silver, and
trimmed with blue ribbons: he wore also Mechlin lace as rare and
beautiful in its own way as the jewels of Monsieur in theirs. The plume
in his hat was red. Madame, too, wore several colors, and preferred red
for embroidery, gray for dress, and blue for flowers. M. de Guiche,
dressed as we have described, looked so handsome that he excited every
one's observation. An interesting pallor of complexion, a languid
expression of the eyes, his white hands seen through the masses of lace
that covered them, the melancholy expression of his mouth - it was only
necessary, indeed, to see M. de Guiche to admit that few men at the court
of France could hope to equal him. The consequence was that Monsieur,
who was pretentious enough to fancy he could eclipse a star even, if a
star had adorned itself in a similar manner to himself, was, on the
contrary, completely eclipsed in all imaginations, which are silent
judges certainly, but very positive and firm in their convictions.
Madame looked at De Guiche lightly, but light as her look had been, it
brought a delightful color to his face. In fact, Madame found De Guiche
so handsome and so admirably dressed, that she almost ceased regretting
the royal conquest she felt she was on the point of escaping her. Her
heart, therefore, sent the blood to her face. Monsieur approached her.
He had not noticed the princess's blush, or if he had seen it, he was far
from attributing it to its true cause.

"Madame," he said, kissing his wife's hand, "there is some one present
here, who has fallen into disgrace, an unhappy exile whom I venture to
recommend to your kindness. Do not forget, I beg, that he is one of my
best friends, and that a gentle reception of him will please me greatly."

"What exile? what disgraced person are you speaking of?" inquired Madame,
looking all round, and not permitting her glance to rest more on the
count than on the others.

This was the moment to present De Guiche, and the prince drew aside and
let De Guiche pass him, who, with a tolerably well-assumed awkwardness of
manner, approached Madame and made his reverence to her.

"What!" exclaimed Madame, as if she were greatly surprised, "is M. de
Guiche the disgraced individual you speak of, the exile in question?"

"Yes, certainly," returned the duke.

"Indeed," said Madame, "he seems almost the only person here!"

"You are unjust, Madame," said the prince.

"I?"

"Certainly. Come, forgive the poor fellow."

"Forgive him what? What have I to forgive M. de Guiche?"

"Come, explain yourself, De Guiche. What do you wish to be forgiven?"
inquired the prince.

"Alas! her royal highness knows very well what it is," replied the
latter, in a hypocritical tone.

"Come, come, give him your hand, Madame," said Philip.

"If it will give you any pleasure, Monsieur," and, with a movement of her
eyes and shoulders, which it would be impossible to describe, Madame
extended towards the young man her beautiful and perfumed hand, upon
which he pressed his lips. It was evident that he did so for some little
time, and that Madame did not withdraw her hand too quickly, for the duke
added:

"De Guiche is not wickedly disposed, Madame; so do not be afraid, he will
not bite you."

A pretext was given in the gallery by the duke's remark, which was not,
perhaps, very laughable, for every one to laugh excessively. The
situation was odd enough, and some kindly disposed persons had observed
it. Monsieur was still enjoying the effect of his remark, when the king
was announced. The appearance of the room at that moment was as follows:
- in the center, before the fireplace, which was filled with flowers,
Madame was standing up, with her maids of honor formed in two wings, on
either side of her; around whom the butterflies of the court were
fluttering. Several other groups were formed in the recesses of the
windows, like soldiers stationed in their different towers who belong to
the same garrison. From their respective places they could pick up the
remarks which fell from the principal group. From one of these groups,
the nearest to the fireplace, Malicorne, who had been at once raised to
the dignity, through Manicamp and De Guiche, of the post of master of the
apartments, and whose official costume had been ready for the last two
months, was brilliant with gold lace, and shone upon Montalais, standing
on Madame's extreme left, with all the fire of his eyes and splendor of
his velvet. Madame was conversing with Mademoiselle de Chatillon and
Mademoiselle de Crequy, who were next to her, and addressed a few words
to Monsieur, who drew aside as soon as the king was announced.
Mademoiselle de la Valliere, like Montalais, was on Madame's left hand,
and the last but one on the line, Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente being
on her right. She was stationed as certain bodies of troops are, whose
weakness is suspected, and who are placed between two experienced
regiments. Guarded in this manner by the companions who had shared her
adventure, La Valliere, whether from regret at Raoul's departure, or
still suffering from the emotion caused by recent events, which had begun
to render her name familiar on the lips of the courtiers, La Valliere, we
repeat, hid her eyes, red with weeping, behind her fan, and seemed to
give the greatest attention to the remarks which Montalais and Athenais,
alternately, whispered to her from time to time. As soon as the king's
name was announced a general movement took place in the apartment.
Madame, in her character as hostess, rose to receive the royal visitor;
but as she rose, notwithstanding her preoccupation of mind, she glanced
hastily towards her right; her glance, which the presumptuous De Guiche
regarded as intended for himself, rested, as it swept over the whole
circle, upon La Valliere, whose warm blush and restless emotion it
instantly perceived.

The king advanced to the middle of the group, which had now become a
general one, by a movement which took place from the circumference to the
center. Every head bowed low before his majesty, the ladies bending like
frail, magnificent lilies before King Aquilo. There was nothing very
severe, we will even say, nothing very royal that evening about the king,
except youth and good looks. He wore an air of animated joyousness and
good-humor which set all imaginations at work, and, thereupon, all
present promised themselves a delightful evening, for no other reason
than from having remarked the desire his majesty had to amuse himself in
Madame's apartments. If there was any one in particular whose high
spirits and good-humor equalled the king's, it was M. de Saint-Aignan,
who was dressed in a rose-colored costume, with face and ribbons of the
same color, and, in addition, particularly rose-colored in his ideas, for
that evening M. de Saint-Aignan was prolific in jests. The circumstance
which had given a new expansion to the numerous ideas germinating in his
fertile brain was, that he had just perceived that Mademoiselle de Tonnay-
Charente was, like himself, dressed in rose-color. We would not wish to
say, however, that the wily courtier had not know beforehand that the
beautiful Athenais was to wear that particular color; for he very well
knew the art of unlocking the lips of a dress-maker or a lady's maid as
to her mistress's intentions. He cast as many killing glances at
Mademoiselle Athenais as he had bows of ribbons on his stockings and
doublet; in other words he discharged a prodigious number. The king
having paid Madame the customary compliments, and Madame having requested
him to be seated, the circle was immediately formed. Louis inquired of
Monsieur the particulars of the day's bathing; and stated, looking at the
ladies present while he spoke, that certain poets were engaged turning
into verse the enchanting diversion of the baths of Vulaines, and that
one of them particularly, M. Loret, seemed to have been intrusted with
the confidence of some water-nymph, as he had in his verses recounted
many circumstances that were actually true - at which remark more than
one lady present felt herself bound to blush. The king at this moment
took the opportunity of looking round him at more leisure; Montalais was
the only one who did not blush sufficiently to prevent her looking at the
king, and she saw him fix his eyes devouringly on Mademoiselle de la
Valliere. This undaunted maid of honor, Mademoiselle de Montalais, be it
understood, forced the king to lower his gaze, and so saved Louise de la
Valliere from a sympathetic warmth of feeling this gaze might possibly
have conveyed. Louis was appropriated by Madame, who overwhelmed him
with inquiries, and no one in the world knew how to ask questions better
than she did. He tried, however, to render the conversation general,
and, with the view of effecting this, he redoubled his attention and
devotion to her. Madame coveted complimentary remarks, and, determined
to procure them at any cost, she addressed herself to the king, saying:

"Sire, your majesty, who is aware of everything which occurs in your
kingdom, ought to know beforehand the verses confided to M. Loret by this
nymph; will your majesty kindly communicate them to us?"

"Madame," replied the king, with perfect grace of manner, "I dare not -
you, personally, might be in no little degree confused at having to
listen to certain details - but Saint-Aignan tells a story well, and has
a perfect recollection of the verses. If he does not remember them, he
will invent. I can certify he is almost a poet himself." Saint-Aignan,
thus brought prominently forward, was compelled to introduce himself as
advantageously as possible. Unfortunately, however, for Madame, he
thought of his own personal affairs only; in other words, instead of
paying Madame the compliments she so much desired and relished, his mind
was fixed upon making as much display as possible of his own good
fortune. Again glancing, therefore, for the hundredth time at the
beautiful Athenais, who carried into practice her previous evening's
theory of not even deigning to look at her adorer, he said: -

"Your majesty will perhaps pardon me for having too indifferently
remembered the verses which the nymph dictated to Loret; but if the king
has not retained any recollection of them, how could I possibly remember?"

Madame did not receive this shortcoming of the courtier very favorably.

"Ah! madame," added Saint-Aignan, "at present it is no longer a question
what the water-nymphs have to say; and one would almost be tempted to
believe that nothing of any interest now occurs in those liquid realms.
It is upon earth, madame, important events happen. Ah! Madame, upon the
earth, how many tales are there full of - "

"Well," said Madame, "and what is taking place upon the earth?"

"That question must be asked of the Dryads," replied the comte; "the
Dryads inhabit the forest, as your royal highness is aware."

"I am aware also, that they are naturally very talkative, Monsieur de
Saint-Aignan."

"Such is the case, Madame; but when they say such delightful things, it
would be ungracious to accuse them of being too talkative."

"Do they talk so delightfully, then?" inquired the princess,
indifferently. "Really, Monsieur de Saint-Aignan, you excite my
curiosity; and, if I were the king, I would require you immediately to
tell us what the delightful things are these Dryads have been saying,
since you alone seem to understand their language."

"I am at his majesty's orders, Madame, in that respect," replied the
comte, quickly.

"What a fortunate fellow this Saint-Aignan is to understand the language
of the Dryads," said Monsieur.

"I understand it perfectly, monseigneur, as I do my own language."

"Tell us all about them, then," said Madame.

The king felt embarrassed, for his confidant was, in all probability,
about to embark in a difficult matter. He felt that it would be so, from
the general attention excited by Saint-Aignan's preamble, and aroused too
by Madame's peculiar manner. The most reserved of those who were present
seemed ready to devour every syllable the comte was about to pronounce.
They coughed, drew closer together, looked curiously at some of the maids
of honor, who, in order to support with greater propriety, or with more
steadiness, the fixity of the inquisitorial looks bent upon them,
adjusted their fans accordingly, and assumed the bearing of a duelist
about to be exposed to his adversary's fire. At this epoch, the fashion
of ingeniously constructed conversations, and hazardously dangerous
recitals, so prevailed, that, where, in modern times, a whole company
assembled in a drawing-room would begin to suspect some scandal, or
disclosure, or tragic event, and would hurry away in dismay, Madame's
guests quietly settled themselves in their places, in order not to lose a
word or gesture of the comedy composed by Monsieur de Saint-Aignan for
their benefit, and the termination of which, whatever the style and the
plot might be, must, as a matter of course, be marked by the most perfect
propriety. The comte as known as a man of extreme refinement, and an
admirable narrator. He courageously began, then, amidst a profound
silence, which would have been formidable to any one but himself: -
"Madame, by the king's permission, I address myself, in the first place,
to your royal highness, since you admit yourself to be the person present
possessing the greatest curiosity. I have the honor, therefore, to
inform your royal highness that the Dryad more particularly inhabits the
hollows of oaks; and, as Dryads are mythological creatures of great
beauty, they inhabit the most beautiful trees, in other words, the
largest to be found."

At this exordium, which recalled, under a transparent veil, the
celebrated story of the royal oak, which had played so important a part
in the last evening, so many hearts began to beat, both from joy and
uneasiness, that, if Saint-Aignan had not had a good and sonorous voice,
their throbbings might have been heard above the sound of his voice.

"There must surely be Dryads at Fontainebleau, then," said Madame, in a
perfectly calm voice; "for I have never, in all my life, seen finer oaks
than in the royal park." And as she spoke, she directed towards De
Guiche a look of which he had no reason to complain, as he had of the one
that preceded it; which, as we have already mentioned, had reserved a
certain amount of indefiniteness most painful for so loving a heart as
his.

"Precisely, Madame, it is of Fontainebleau I was about to speak to your
royal highness," said Saint-Aignan; "for the Dryad whose story is
engaging our attention, lives in the park belonging to the chateau of his
majesty."

The affair was fairly embarked on; the action was begun, and it was no
longer possible for auditory or narrator to draw back.

"It will be worth listening to," said Madame; "for the story not only
appears to me to have all the interest of a national incident, but still
more, seems to be a circumstance of very recent occurrence."

"I ought to begin at the beginning," said the comte. "In the first
place, then, there lived at Fontainebleau, in a cottage of modest and
unassuming appearance, two shepherds. The one was the shepherd Tyrcis,
the owner of extensive domains transmitted to him from his parents, by
right of inheritance. Tyrcis was young and handsome, and, from his many
qualifications, he might be pronounced to be the first and foremost among
the shepherds in the whole country; one might even boldly say he was the
king of shepherds." A subdued murmur of approbation encouraged the
narrator, who continued: - "His strength equals his courage; no one
displays greater address in hunting wild beasts, nor greater wisdom in
matters where judgment is required. Whenever he mounts and exercises his
horse in the beautiful plains of his inheritance, or whenever he joins
with the shepherds who owe him allegiance, in different games of skill
and strength, one might say that it is the god Mars hurling his lance on
the plains of Thrace, or, even better, that it was Apollo himself, the
god of day, radiant upon earth, bearing his flaming darts in his hand."
Every one understood that this allegorical portrait of the king was not
the worst exordium the narrator could have chosen; and consequently it
did not fail to produce its effect, either upon those who, from duty or
inclination, applauded it to the very echo, or on the king himself, to
whom flattery was very agreeable when delicately conveyed, and whom,
indeed, it did not always displease, even when it was a little too
broad. Saint-Aignan then continued: - "It is not in games of glory only,
ladies, that the shepherd Tyrcis had acquired that reputation by which he
was regarded as the king of the shepherds."

"Of the shepherds of Fontainebleau," said the king, smilingly, to Madame.

"Oh!" exclaimed Madame, "Fontainebleau is selected arbitrarily by the
poet; but I should say, of the shepherds of the whole world." The king
forgot his part of a passive auditor, and bowed.

"It is," paused Saint-Aignan, amidst a flattering murmur of applause, "it
is with ladies fair especially that the qualities of this king of the
shepherds are most prominently displayed. He is a shepherd with a mind
as refined as his heart is pure; he can pay a compliment with a charm of
manner whose fascination it is impossible to resist; and in his
attachments he is so discreet, that beautiful and happy conquests may
regard their lot as more than enviable. Never a syllable of disclosure,
never a moment's forgetfulness. Whoever has seen and heard Tyrcis must
love him; whoever loves and is beloved by him, has indeed found
happiness." Saint-Aignan here paused; he was enjoying the pleasure of
all these compliments; and the portrait he had drawn, however grotesquely
inflated it might be, had found favor in certain ears, in which the
perfections of the shepherd did not seem to have been exaggerated.
Madame begged the orator to continue. "Tyrcis," said the comte, "had a
faithful companion, or rather a devoted servant, whose name was -
Amyntas."

"Ah!" said Madame, archly, "now for the portrait of Amyntas; you are such
an excellent painter, Monsieur de Saint-Aignan."

"Madame - "

"Oh! comte, do not, I entreat you, sacrifice poor Amyntas; I should never
forgive you."

"Madame, Amyntas is of too humble a position, particularly beside Tyrcis,
for his person to be honored by a parallel. There are certain friends
who resemble those followers of ancient times, who caused themselves to
be buried alive at their masters' feet. Amyntas's place, too, is at the
feet of Tyrcis; he cares for no other; and if, sometimes, the illustrious
hero - "

"Illustrious shepherd, you mean?" said Madame, pretending to correct M.
de Saint-Aignan.

"Your royal highness is right; I was mistaken," returned the courtier;
"if, I say, the shepherd Tyrcis deigns occasionally to call Amyntas his
friend, and to open his heart to him, it is an unparalleled favor, which
the latter regards as the most unbounded felicity."

"All that you say," interrupted Madame, "establishes the extreme devotion
of Amyntas to Tyrcis, but does not furnish us with the portrait of
Amyntas. Comte, do not flatter him, if you like; but describe him to
us. I will have Amyntas's portrait." Saint-Aignan obeyed, after having
bowed profoundly to his majesty's sister-in-law.

"Amyntas," he said, "is somewhat older than Tyrcis; he is not an ill-
favored shepherd; it is even said that the muses condescended to smile
upon him at his birth, even as Hebe smiled upon youth. He is not
ambitious of display, but he is ambitious of being loved; and he might
not, perhaps, he found unworthy of it, if he were only sufficiently well-
known."

This latter paragraph, strengthened by a killing glance, was directed
straight to Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, who received them both
unmoved. But the modesty and tact of the allusion had produced a good
effect; Amyntas reaped the benefit of it in the applause bestowed upon
him: Tyrcis's head even gave the signal for it by a consenting bow, full
of good feeling.

"One evening," continued Saint-Aignan, "Tyrcis and Amyntas were walking
together in the forest, talking of their love disappointments. Do not
forget, ladies, that the story of the Dryad is now beginning, otherwise
it would be easy to tell you what Tyrcis and Amyntas, the two most
discreet shepherds of the whole earth, were talking about. They reached
the thickest part of the forest, for the purpose of being quite alone,
and of confiding their troubles more freely to each other, when suddenly
the sound of voices struck upon their ears."

"Ah, ah!" said those who surrounded the narrator. "Nothing can be more
interesting."

At this point, Madame, like a vigilant general inspecting his army,
glanced at Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, who could not help wincing as
they drew themselves up.

"These harmonious voices," resumed Saint-Aignan, "were those of certain
shepherdesses, who had been likewise desirous of enjoying the coolness of
the shade, and who, knowing the isolated and almost unapproachable
situation of the place, had betaken themselves there to interchange their
ideas upon - " A loud burst of laughter occasioned by this remark of
Saint-Aignan, and an imperceptible smile of the king, as he looked at
Tonnay-Charente, followed this sally.

"The Dryad affirms positively," continued Saint-Aignan, "that the
shepherdesses were three in number, and that all three were young and
beautiful."

"What were their names?" said Madame, quickly.

"Their names?" said Saint-Aignan, who hesitated from fear of committing
an indiscretion.

"Of course; you call your shepherds Tyrcis and Amyntas; give your
shepherdesses names in a similar manner."

"Oh! Madame, I am not an inventor; I relate simply what took place as
the Dryad related it to me."

"What did your Dryad, then, call these shepherdesses? You have a very
treacherous memory, I fear. This Dryad must have fallen out with the
goddess Mnemosyne."

"These shepherdesses, Madame? Pray remember that it is a crime to betray
a woman's name."

"From which a woman absolves you, comte, on the condition that you will
reveal the names of the shepherdesses."

"Their names were Phyllis, Amaryllis, and Galatea."

"Exceedingly well! - they have not lost by the delay," said Madame, "and
now we have three charming names. But now for their portraits."

Saint-Aignan again made a slight movement.

"Nay, comte, let us proceed in due order," returned Madame. "Ought we
not, sire, to have the portraits of the shepherdesses?"

The king, who expected this determined perseverance, and who began to
feel some uneasiness, did not think it safe to provoke so dangerous an
interrogator. He thought, too, that Saint-Aignan, in drawing the
portraits, would find a means of insinuating some flattering allusions
which would be agreeable to the ears of one his majesty was interested in
pleasing. It was with this hope and with this fear that Louis authorized
Saint-Aignan to sketch the portraits of the shepherdesses, Phyllis,
Amaryllis, and Galatea.

"Very well, then; be it so," said Saint-Aignan, like a man who has made
up his mind, and he began.

Alexandre Dumas pere