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Chapter 57

Chapter LVII:
Conclusion of the Story of a Naiad and of a Dryad.

"Phyllis," said Saint-Aignan, with a glance of defiance at Montalais,
such as a fencing-master would give who invites an antagonist worthy of
him to place himself on guard, "Phyllis is neither fair nor dark, neither
tall nor short, neither too grave nor too gay; though but a shepherdess,
she is as witty as a princess, and as coquettish as the most finished
flirt that ever lived. Nothing can equal her excellent vision. Her
heart yearns for everything her gaze embraces. She is like a bird,
which, always warbling, at one moment skims the ground, at the next rises
fluttering in pursuit of a butterfly, then rests itself upon the topmost
branch of a tree, where it defies the bird-catchers either to come and
seize it or to entrap it in their nets." The portrait bore such a strong
resemblance to Montalais, that all eyes were directed towards her; she,
however, with her head raised, and with a steady, unmoved look, listened
to Saint-Aignan, as if he were speaking of an utter stranger.

"Is that all, Monsieur de Saint-Aignan?" inquired the princess.

"Oh! your royal highness, the portrait is but a mere sketch, and many
more additions could be made, but I fear to weary your patience, or
offend the modesty of the shepherdess, and I shall therefore pass on to
her companion, Amaryllis."

"Very well," said Madame, "pass on to Amaryllis, Monsieur de Saint-
Aignan, we are all attention."

"Amaryllis is the eldest of the three, and yet," Saint-Aignan hastened to
add, "this advanced age does not reach twenty years."

Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, who had slightly knitted her brows at
the commencement of the description, unbent them with a smile.

"She is tall, with an astonishing abundance of beautiful hair, which she
fastens in the manner of the Grecian statues; her walk is full of
majesty, her attitude haughty; she has the air, therefore, rather of a
goddess than a mere mortal, and among the goddesses, she most resembles
Diana the huntress; with this sole difference, however, that the cruel
shepherdess, having stolen the quiver of young love, while poor Cupid was
sleeping in a thicket of roses, instead of directing her arrows against
the inhabitants of the forest, discharges them pitilessly against all
poor shepherds who pass within reach of her bow and of her eyes."

"Oh! what a wicked shepherdess!" said Madame. "She may some day wound
herself with one of those arrows she discharges, as you say, so
mercilessly on all sides."

"It is the hope of shepherds, one and all!" said Saint-Aignan.

"And that of the shepherd Amyntas in particular, I suppose?" said Madame.

"The shepherd Amyntas is so timid," said Saint-Aignan, with the most
modest air he could assume, "that if he cherishes such a hope as that, no
one has ever known anything about it, for he conceals it in the very
depths of his heart." A flattering murmur of applause greeted this
profession of faith on behalf of the shepherd.

"And Galatea?" inquired Madame. "I am impatient to see a hand so
skillful as yours continue the portrait where Virgil left it, and finish
it before our eyes."

"Madame," said Saint-Aignan, "I am indeed a poor dumb post beside the
mighty Virgil. Still, encouraged by your desire, I will do my best."

Saint-Aignan extended his foot and hand, and thus began: - "White as
milk, she casts upon the breeze the perfume of her fair hair tinged with
golden hues, as are the ears of corn. One is tempted to inquire if she
is not the beautiful Europa, who inspired Jupiter with a tender passion
as she played with her companions in the flower-spangled meadows. From
her exquisite eyes, blue as azure heaven on the clearest summer day,
emanates a tender light, which reverie nurtures, and love dispenses.
When she frowns, or bends her looks towards the ground, the sun is veiled
in token of mourning. When she smiles, on the contrary, nature resumes
her jollity, and the birds, for a brief moment silenced, recommence their
songs amid the leafy covert of the trees. Galatea," said Saint-Aignan,
in conclusion, "is worthy of the admiration of the whole world; and if
she should ever bestow her heart upon another, happy will that man be to
whom she consecrates her first affections."

Madame, who had attentively listened to the portrait Saint-Aignan had
drawn, as, indeed, had all the others, contented herself with
accentuating her approbation of the most poetic passage by occasional
inclinations of her head; but it was impossible to say if these marks of
assent were accorded to the ability of the narrator of the resemblance of
the portrait. The consequence, therefore, was, that as Madame did not
openly exhibit any approbation, no one felt authorized to applaud, not
even Monsieur, who secretly thought that Saint-Aignan dwelt too much upon
the portraits of the shepherdesses, and had somewhat slightingly passed
over the portraits of the shepherds. The whole assembly seemed suddenly
chilled. Saint-Aignan, who had exhausted his rhetorical skill and his
palette of artistic tints in sketching the portrait of Galatea, and who,
after the favor with which his other descriptions had been received,
already imagined he could hear the loudest applause allotted to this last
one, was himself more disappointed than the king and the rest of the
company. A moment's silence followed, which was at last broken by Madame.

"Well, sir," she inquired, "What is your majesty's opinion of these
three portraits?"

The king, who wished to relieve Saint-Aignan's embarrassment without
compromising himself, replied, "Why, Amaryllis, in my opinion, is
beautiful."

"For my part," said Monsieur, "I prefer Phyllis; she is a capital girl,
or rather a good-sort-of-fellow of a nymph."

A gentle laugh followed, and this time the looks were so direct, that
Montalais felt herself blushing almost scarlet.

"Well," resumed Madame, "what were those shepherdesses saying to each
other?"

Saint-Aignan, however, whose vanity had been wounded, did not feel
himself in a position to sustain an attack of new and refreshed troops,
and merely said, "Madame, the shepherdesses were confiding to one another
their little preferences."

"Nay, nay! Monsieur de Saint-Aignan, you are a perfect stream of
pastoral poesy," said Madame, with an amiable smile, which somewhat
comforted the narrator.

"They confessed that love is a mighty peril, but that the absence of love
is the heart's sentence of death."

"What was the conclusion they came to?" inquired Madame.

"They came to the conclusion that love was necessary."

"Very good! Did they lay down any conditions?"

"That of choice, simply," said Saint-Aignan. "I ought even to add, -
remember it is the Dryad who is speaking, - that one of the
shepherdesses, Amaryllis, I believe, was completely opposed to the
necessity of loving, and yet she did not positively deny that she had
allowed the image of a certain shepherd to take refuge in her heart."

"Was it Amyntas or Tyrcis?"

"Amyntas, Madame," said Saint-Aignan, modestly. "But Galatea, the gentle
and soft-eyed Galatea, immediately replied, that neither Amyntas, nor
Alphesiboeus, nor Tityrus, nor indeed any of the handsomest shepherds of
the country, were to be compared to Tyrcis; that Tyrcis was as superior
to all other men, as the oak to all other trees, as the lily in its
majesty to all other flowers. She drew even such a portrait of Tyrcis
that Tyrcis himself, who was listening, must have felt truly flattered at
it, notwithstanding his rank as a shepherd. Thus Tyrcis and Amyntas had
been distinguished by Phyllis and Galatea; and thus had the secrets of
two hearts revealed beneath the shades of evening, and amid the recesses
of the woods. Such, Madame, is what the Dryad related to me; she who
knows all that takes place in the hollows of oaks and grassy dells; she
who knows the loves of the birds, and all they wish to convey by their
songs; she who understands, in fact, the language of the wind among the
branches, the humming of the insect with its gold and emerald wings in
the corolla of the wild-flowers; it was she who related the particulars
to me, and I have repeated them."

"And now you have finished, Monsieur de Saint-Aignan, have you not?" said
Madame, with a smile that made the king tremble.

"Quite finished," replied Saint-Aignan, "and but too happy if I have been
able to amuse your royal highness for a few moments."

"Moments which have been too brief," replied the princess; "for you have
related most admirably all you know; but, my dear Monsieur de Saint-
Aignan, you have been unfortunate enough to obtain your information from
one Dryad only, I believe?"

"Yes, Madame, only from one, I confess."

"The fact was, that you passed by a little Naiad, who pretended to know
nothing at all, and yet knew a great deal more than your Dryad, my dear
comte."

"A Naiad!" repeated several voices, who began to suspect that the story
had a continuation.

"Of course close beside the oak you are speaking of, which, if I am not
mistaken, is called the royal oak - is it not so, Monsieur de Saint-
Aignan?"

Saint-Aignan and the king exchanged glances.

"Yes, Madame," the former replied.

"Well, close beside the oak there is a pretty little spring, which runs
murmuringly over the pebbles, between banks of forget-me-nots and
daffodils."

"I believe you are correct," said the king, with some uneasiness, and
listening with some anxiety to his sister-in-law's narrative.

"Oh! there is one, I can assure you," said Madame; "and the proof of it
is, that the Naiad who resides in that little stream stopped me as I was
about to come."

"Ah?" said Saint-Aignan.

"Yes, indeed," continued the princess, "and she did so in order to
communicate to me many particulars Monsieur de Saint-Aignan has omitted
in his recital."

"Pray relate them yourself, then," said Monsieur, "you can relate stories
in such a charming manner." The princess bowed at the conjugal
compliment paid her.

"I do not possess the poetical powers of the comte, nor his ability to
bring to light the smallest details."

"You will not be listened to with less interest on that account," said
the king, who already perceived that something hostile was intended in
his sister-in-law's story.

"I speak, too," continued Madame, "in the name of that poor little Naiad,
who is indeed the most charming creature I ever met. Moreover, she
laughed so heartily while she was telling me her story, that, in
pursuance of that medical axiom that laughter is the finest physic in the
world, I ask permission to laugh a little myself when I recollect her
words."

The king and Saint-Aignan, who noticed spreading over many of the faces
present a distant and prophetic ripple of the laughter Madame announced,
finished by looking at each other, as if asking themselves whether there
was not some little conspiracy concealed beneath these words. But Madame
was determined to turn the knife in the wound over and over again; she
therefore resumed with the air of the most perfect candor, in other
words, with the most dangerous of all her airs: "Well, then, I passed
that way," she said, "and as I found beneath my steps many fresh flowers
newly blown, no doubt Phyllis, Amaryllis, Galatea, and all your
shepherdesses had passed the same way before me."

The king bit his lips, for the recital was becoming more and more
threatening. "My little Naiad," continued Madame, "was cooing over her
quaint song in the bed of the rivulet; as I perceived that she accosted
me by touching the hem of my dress, I could not think of receiving her
advances ungraciously, and more particularly so, since, after all, a
divinity, even though she be of a second grade, is always of greater
importance than a mortal, though a princess. I thereupon accosted the
Naiad, and bursting into laughter, this is what she said to me:

"'Fancy, princess...' You understand, sire, it is the Naiad who is
speaking?"

The king bowed assentingly; and Madame continued: - "'Fancy, princess,
the banks of my little stream have just witnessed a most amusing scene.
Two shepherds, full of curiosity, even indiscreetly so, have allowed
themselves to be mystified in a most amusing manner by three nymphs, or
three shepherdesses,' - I beg your pardon, but I do not now remember if
it was nymphs or shepherdesses she said; but it does not much matter, so
we will continue."

The king, at this opening, colored visibly, and Saint-Aignan, completely
losing countenance, began to open his eyes in the greatest possible
anxiety.

"'The two shepherds,' pursued my nymph, still laughing, 'followed in the
wake of the three young ladies,' - no, I mean, of the three nymphs;
forgive me, I ought to say, of the three shepherdesses. It is not always
wise to do that, for it may be awkward for those who are followed. I
appeal to all the ladies present, and not one of them, I am sure, will
contradict me."

The king, who was much disturbed by what he suspected was about to
follow, signified his assent by a gesture.

"'But,' continued the Naiad, 'the shepherdesses had noticed Tyrcis and
Amyntas gliding into the wood, and, by the light of the moon, they had
recognized them through the grove of the trees.' Ah, you laugh!"
interrupted Madame; "wait, wait, you are not yet at the end."

The king turned pale; Saint-Aignan wiped his forehead, now dewed with
perspiration. Among the groups of ladies present could be heard
smothered laughter and stealthy whispers.

"'The shepherdesses, I was saying, noticing how indiscreet the two
shepherds were, proceeded to sit down at the foot of the royal oak; and,
when they perceived that their over-curious listeners were sufficiently
near, so that not a syllable of what they might say could be lost, they
addressed towards them very innocently, in the most artless manner in the
world indeed, a passionate declaration, which from the vanity natural to
all men, and even to the most sentimental of shepherds, seemed to the two
listeners as sweet as honey.'"

The king, at these words, which the assembly was unable to hear without
laughing, could not restrain a flash of anger darting from his eyes. As
for Saint-Aignan, he let his head fall upon his breast, and concealed,
under a silly laugh, the extreme annoyance he felt.

"Oh," said the king, drawing himself up to his full height, "upon my
word, that is a most amusing jest, certainly; but, really and truly, are
you sure you quite understood the language of the Naiads?"

"The comte, sire, pretends to have perfectly understood that of the
Dryads," retorted Madame, icily.

"No doubt," said the king; "but you know the comte has the weakness to
aspire to become a member of the Academy, so that, with this object in
view, he has learnt all sorts of things of which very happily you are
ignorant; and it might possibly happen that the language of the Nymph of
the Waters might be among the number of things you have not studied."

"Of course, sire," replied Madame, "for facts of that nature one does not
altogether rely upon one's self alone; a woman's ear is not infallible,
so says Saint Augustine; and I, therefore, wished to satisfy myself by
other opinions beside my own, and as my Naiad, who, in her character of a
goddess, is polyglot, - is not that the expression, M. de Saint-Aignan?"

"I believe so," said the latter, quite out of countenance.

"Well," continued the princess, "as my Naiad, who, in her character of a
goddess, had, at first spoken to me in English, I feared, as you suggest,
that I might have misunderstood her, and I requested Mesdemoiselles de
Montalais, de Tonnay-Charente, and de la Valliere, to come to me, begging
my Naiad to repeat to me in the French language, the recital she had
already communicated to me in English."

"And did she do so?" inquired the king.

"Oh, she is the most polite divinity it is possible to imagine! Yes,
sire, she did so; so that no doubt whatever remains on the subject. Is
it not so, young ladies?" said the princess, turning towards the left of
her army; "did not the Naiad say precisely what I have related, and have
I, in any one particular, exceeded the truth, Phyllis? I beg your
pardon, I mean Mademoiselle Aure de Montalais?"

"Precisely as you have stated, Madame," articulated Mademoiselle de
Montalais, very distinctly.

"Is it true, Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente?"

"The perfect truth," replied Athenais, in a voice quite as firm, but not
yet so distinct.

"And you, La Valliere?" asked Madame.

The poor girl felt the king's ardent look fixed upon her, - she dared not
deny - she dared not tell a falsehood; she merely bowed her head; and
everybody took it for a token of assent. Her head, however, was not
raised again, chilled as she was by a coldness more bitter than that of
death. This triple testimony overwhelmed the king. As for Saint-Aignan,
he did not even attempt to dissemble his despair, and, hardly knowing
what he said, he stammered out, "An excellent jest! admirably played!"

"A just punishment for curiosity," said the king, in a hoarse voice.
"Oh! who would think, after the chastisement that Tyrcis and Amyntas had
suffered, of endeavoring to surprise what is passing in the heart of
shepherdesses? Assuredly I shall not, for one; and, you, gentlemen?"

"Nor I! nor I!" repeated, in a chorus, the group of courtiers.

Madame was filled with triumph at the king's annoyance; and was full of
delight, thinking that her story had been, or was to be, the termination
of the whole affair. As for Monsieur, who had laughed at the two stories
without comprehending anything about them, he turned towards De Guiche,
and said to him, "Well, comte, you say nothing; can you not find
something to say? Do you pity M. Tyrcis and M. Amyntas, for instance?"

"I pity them with all my soul," replied De Guiche; "for, in very truth,
love is so sweet a fancy, that to lose it, fancy though it may be, is to
lose more than life itself. If, therefore, these two shepherds thought
themselves beloved, - if they were happy in that idea, and if, instead of
that happiness, they meet not only that empty void which resembles death,
but jeers and jests at love itself, which is worse than a thousand
deaths, - in that case, I say that Tyrcis and Amyntas are the two most
unhappy men I know."

"And you are right, too, Monsieur de Guiche," said the king; "for, in
fact, the injury in question is a very hard return for a little harmless
curiosity."

"That is as much to say, then, that the story of my Naiad has displeased
the king?" asked Madame, innocently.

"Nay, Madame, undeceive yourself," said Louis, taking the princess by the
hand; "your Naiad, on the contrary, has pleased me, and the more so,
because she was so truthful, and because her tale, I ought to add, is
confirmed by the testimony of unimpeachable witnesses."

These words fell upon La Valliere, accompanied by a look that on one,
from Socrates to Montaigne, could have exactly defined. The look and the
king's remark succeeded in overpowering the unhappy girl, who, with her
head upon Montalais's shoulder, seemed to have fainted away. The king
rose, without remarking this circumstance, of which no one, moreover,
took any notice, and, contrary to his usual custom, for generally he
remained late in Madame's apartments, he took his leave, and retired to
his own side of the palace. Saint-Aignan followed him, leaving the rooms
in as much despair as he had entered them with delight. Mademoiselle de
Tonnay-Charente, less sensitive than La Valliere, was not much
frightened, and did not faint. However, it may be that the last look of
Saint-Aignan had hardly been so majestic as the king's.

Alexandre Dumas pere