The king returned to his apartments with hurried steps. The reason he
walked as fast as he did was probably to avoid tottering in his gait. He
seemed to leave behind him as he went along a trace of a mysterious
sorrow. That gayety of manner, which every one had remarked in him on
his arrival, and which they had been delighted to perceive, had not
perhaps been understood in its true sense: but his stormy departure, his
disordered countenance, all knew, or at least thought they could tell the
reason of. Madame's levity of manner, her somewhat bitter jests, -
bitter for persons of a sensitive disposition, and particularly for one
of the king's character; the great resemblance which naturally existed
between the king and an ordinary mortal, were among the reasons assigned
for the precipitate and unexpected departure of his majesty. Madame,
keen-sighted enough in other respects, did not, however, at first see
anything extraordinary in it. It was quite sufficient for her to have
inflicted some slight wound upon the vanity or self-esteem of one who, so
soon forgetting the engagements he had contracted, seemed to have
undertaken to disdain, without cause, the noblest and highest prize in
France. It was not an unimportant matter for Madame, in the present
position of affairs, to let the king perceive the difference which
existed between the bestowal of his affections on one in a high station,
and the running after each passing fancy, like a youth fresh from the
provinces. With regard to those higher placed affections, recognizing
their dignity and their illimitable influence, acknowledging in them a
certain etiquette and display - a monarch not only did not act in a
manner derogatory to his high position, but found even repose, security,
mystery, and general respect therein. On the contrary, in the debasement
of a common or humble attachment, he would encounter, even among his
meanest subjects, carping and sarcastic remarks; he would forfeit his
character of infallibility and inviolability. Having descended to the
region of petty human miseries, he would be subjected to paltry
contentions. In one word, to convert the royal divinity into a mere
mortal by striking at his heart, or rather even at his face, like the
meanest of his subjects, was to inflict a terrible blow upon the pride of
that generous nature. Louis was more easily captivated by vanity than
affection. Madame had wisely calculated her vengeance, and it has been
seen, also, in what manner she carried it out. Let it not be supposed,
however, that Madame possessed such terrible passions as the heroines of
the middle ages, or that she regarded things from a pessimistic point of
view; on the contrary, Madame, young, amiable, of cultivated intellect,
coquettish, loving in her nature, but rather from fancy, or imagination,
or ambition, than from her heart - Madame, we say, on the contrary,
inaugurated that epoch of light and fleeting amusements, which
distinguished the hundred and twenty years that intervened between the
middle of the seventeenth century, and the last quarter of the
eighteenth. Madame saw, therefore, or rather fancied she saw, things
under their true aspect; she knew that the king, her august brother-in-
law, had been the first to ridicule the humble La Valliere, and that, in
accordance with his usual custom, it was hardly probable he would ever
love the person who had excited his laughter, even had it been only for a
moment. Moreover, was not her vanity ever present, that evil influence
which plays so important a part in that comedy of dramatic incidents
called the life of a woman? Did not her vanity tell her, aloud, in a
subdued voice, in a whisper, in every variety of tone, that she could
not, in reality, she a princess, young, beautiful, and rich, be compared
to the poor La Valliere, as youthful as herself it is true, but far less
pretty, certainly, and utterly without money, protectors, or position?
And surprise need not be excited with respect to Madame; for it is known
that the greatest characters are those who flatter themselves the most in
the comparisons they draw between themselves and others, between others
and themselves. It may perhaps be asked what was Madame's motive for an
attack so skillfully conceived and executed. Why was there such a
display of forces, if it were not seriously her intention to dislodge the
king from a heart that had never been occupied before, in which he seemed
disposed to take refuge? Was there any necessity, then, for Madame to
attach so great an importance to La Valliere, if she did not fear her?
Yet Madame did not fear La Valliere in that direction in which an
historian, who knows everything, sees into the future, or rather, the
past. Madame was neither a prophetess nor a sibyl; nor could she, any
more than another, read what was written in that terrible and fatal book
of the future, which records in its most secret pages the most serious
events. No, Madame desired simply to punish the king for having availed
himself of secret means altogether feminine in their nature; she wished
to prove to him that if he made use of offensive weapons of that nature,
she, a woman of ready wit and high descent, would assuredly discover in
the arsenal of her imagination defensive weapons proof even against the
thrusts of a monarch. Moreover, she wished him to learn that, in a war
of that description, kings are held of no account, or, at all events,
that kings who fight on their own behalf, like ordinary individuals, may
witness the fall of their crown in the first encounter; and that, in
fact, if he had expected to be adored by all the ladies of the court from
the very first, from a confident reliance on his mere appearance, it was
a pretension which was most preposterous and insulting even, for certain
persons who filled a higher position than others, and that a lesson
taught in season to this royal personage, who assumed too high and
haughty a carriage, would be rendering him a great service. Such,
indeed, were Madame's reflections with respect to the king. The sequel
itself was not thought of. And in this manner, it will be seen that she
had exercised all her influence over the minds of her maids of honor, and
with all its accompanying details, had arranged the comedy which had just
been acted. The king was completely bewildered by it; for the first time
since he had escaped from the trammels of M. de Mazarin, he found himself
treated as a man. Similar severity from any of his subjects would have
been at once resisted by him. Strength comes with battle. But to match
one's self with women, to be attacked by them, to have been imposed upon
by mere girls from the country, who had come from Blois expressly for
that purpose; it was the depth of dishonor for a young sovereign full of
the pride his personal advantages and royal power inspired him with.
There was nothing he could do - neither reproaches, nor exile - nor could
he even show the annoyance he felt. To manifest vexation would have been
to admit that he had been touched, like Hamlet, by a sword from which the
button had been removed - the sword of ridicule. To show animosity
against women - humiliation! especially when the women in question have
laughter on their side, as a means of vengeance. If, instead of leaving
all the responsibility of the affair to these women, one of the courtiers
had had anything to do with the intrigue, how delightedly would Louis
have seized the opportunity of turning the Bastile to personal account.
But there, again, the king's anger paused, checked by reason. To be the
master of armies, of prisons, of an almost divine authority, and to exert
such majesty and might in the service of a petty grudge, would be
unworthy not only of a monarch, but even of a man. It was necessary,
therefore, simply to swallow the affront in silence, and to wear his
usual gentleness and graciousness of expression. It was essential to
treat Madame as a friend. As a friend! - Well, and why not? Either
Madame had been the instigator of the affair, or the affair itself had
found her passive. If she had been the instigator of it, it certainly
was a bold measure on her part, but, at all events, it was but natural in
her. Who was it that had sought her in the earliest moments of her
married life to whisper words of love in her ear? Who was it that had
dared to calculate the possibility of committing a crime against the
marriage vow - a crime, too, still more deplorable on account of the
relationship between them? Who was it that, shielded behind his royal
authority, had said to this young creature: be not afraid, love but the
king of France, who is above all, and a movement of whose sceptered hand
will protect you against all attacks, even from your own remorse? And
she had listened to and obeyed the royal voice, had been influenced by
his ensnaring tones; and when, morally speaking, she had sacrificed her
honor in listening to him, she saw herself repaid for her sacrifice by an
infidelity the more humiliating, since it was occasioned by a woman far
beneath her in the world.
Had Madame, therefore, been the instigator of the revenge, she would have
been right. If, on the contrary, she had remained passive in the whole
affair, what grounds had the king to be angry with her on that account?
Was it for her to restrain, or rather could she restrain, the chattering
of a few country girls? and was it for her, by an excess of zeal that
might have been misinterpreted, to check, at the risk of increasing it,
the impertinence of their conduct? All these various reasonings were
like so many actual stings to the king's pride; but when he had
carefully, in his own mind, gone over all the various causes of
complaint, Louis was surprised, upon due reflection - in other words,
after the wound has been dressed - to find that there were other causes
of suffering, secret, unendurable, and unrevealed. There was one
circumstance he dared not confess, even to himself; namely, that the
acute pain from which he was suffering had its seat in his heart. The
fact is, he had permitted his heart to be gratified by La Valliere's
innocent confusion. He had dreamed of a pure affection - of an affection
for Louis the man, and not the sovereign - of an affection free from all
self-interest; and his heart, simpler and more youthful than he had
imagined it to be, had to meet that other heart that had revealed itself
to him by its aspirations. The commonest thing in the complicated
history of love, is the double inoculation of love to which any two
hearts are subjected; the one loves nearly always before the other, in
the same way that the latter finishes nearly always by loving after the
other. In this way, the electric current is established, in proportion
to the intensity of the passion which is first kindled. The more
Mademoiselle de la Valliere showed her affection, the more the king's
affection had increased. And it was precisely that which had annoyed his
majesty. For it was now fairly demonstrated to him, that no sympathetic
current had been the means of hurrying his heart away in its course,
because there had been no confession of love in the case - because the
confession was, in fact, an insult towards the man and towards the
sovereign; and finally, because - and the word, too, burnt like a hot
iron - because, in fact, it was nothing but a mystification after all.
This girl, therefore, who, in strictness, could not lay claim to beauty,
or birth, or great intelligence - who had been selected by Madame
herself, on account of her unpretending position, had not only aroused
the king's regard, but had, moreover, treated him with disdain - he, the
king, a man who, like an eastern potentate, had but to bestow a glance,
to indicate with his finger, to throw his handkerchief. And, since the
previous evening, his mind had been so absorbed with this girl that he
could think and dream of nothing else. Since the previous evening his
imagination had been occupied by clothing her image with charms to which
she could not lay claim. In very truth, he whom such vast interests
summoned, and whom so many women smiled upon invitingly, had, since the
previous evening, consecrated every moment of his time, every throb of
his heart, to this sole dream. It was, indeed, either too much, or not
sufficient. The indignation of the king, making him forget everything,
and, among others, that Saint-Aignan was present, was poured out in the
most violent imprecations. True it is, that Saint-Aignan had taken
refuge in a corner of the room; and from his corner, regarded the tempest
passing over. His own personal disappointment seemed contemptible, in
comparison with the anger of the king. He compared with his own petty
vanity the prodigious pride of offended majesty; and, being well read in
the hearts of kings in general, and in those of powerful kings in
particular, he began to ask himself if this weight of anger, as yet held
in suspense, would not soon terminate by falling upon his own head, for
the very reason that others were guilty, and he innocent. In point of
fact, the king, all at once, did arrest his hurried pace; and, fixing a
look full of anger upon Saint-Aignan, suddenly cried out: "And you, Saint-
Saint-Aignan made a sign which was intended to signify, "Well, sire?"
"Yes; you have been as silly as myself, I think."
"Sire," stammered out Saint-Aignan.
"You permitted us to be deceived by this shameless trick."
"Sire," said Saint-Aignan, whose agitation was such as to make him
tremble in every limb, "let me entreat your majesty not to exasperate
yourself. Women, you know, are characters full of imperfections, created
for the misfortune of mankind: to expect anything good from them is to
require them to perform impossibilities."
The king, who had the greatest consideration for himself, and who had
begun to acquire over his emotions that command which he preserved over
them all his life, perceived that he was doing an outrage to his own
dignity in displaying so much animosity about so trifling an object.
"No," he said, hastily; "you are mistaken, Saint-Aignan; I am not angry;
I can only wonder that we should have been turned into ridicule so
cleverly and with such audacity by these young girls. I am particularly
surprised that, although we might have informed ourselves accurately on
the subject, we were silly enough to leave the matter for our own hearts
"The heart, sire, is an organ which requires positively to be reduced to
its material functions, but which, for the sake of humanity's peace of
mind, should be deprived of all its metaphysical inclinations. For my
own part, I confess, when I saw that your majesty's heart was so taken up
by this little - "
"My heart taken up! I! My mind might, perhaps, have been so; but as for
my heart, it was - " Louis again perceived that, in order to fill one
gulf, he was about to dig another. "Besides," he added, "I have no fault
to find with the girl. I was quite aware that she was in love with some
"The Vicomte de Bragelonne. I informed your majesty of the circumstance."
"You did so: but you were not the first who told me. The Comte de la
Fere had solicited from me Mademoiselle de la Valliere's hand for his
son. And, on his return from England, the marriage shall be celebrated,
since they love each other."
"I recognize your majesty's great generosity of disposition in that act."
"So, Saint-Aignan, we will cease to occupy ourselves with these matters
any longer," said Louis.
"Yes, we will digest the affront, sire," replied the courtier, with
"Besides, it will be an easy matter to do so," said the king, checking a
"And, by way of a beginning, I will set about the composition of an
epigram upon all three of them. I will call it 'The Naiad and Dryad,'
which will please Madame."
"Do so, Saint-Aignan, do so," said the king, indifferently. "You shall
read me your verses; they will amuse me. Ah! it does not signify, Saint-
Aignan," added the king, like a man breathing with difficulty, "the blow
requires more than human strength to support in a dignified manner." As
the king thus spoke, assuming an air of the most angelic patience, one of
the servants in attendance knocked gently at the door. Saint-Aignan drew
aside, out of respect.
"Come in," said the king. The servant partially opened the door. "What
is it?" inquired Louis.
The servant held out a letter of a triangular shape. "For your majesty,"
"I do not know. One of the officers on duty gave it to me."
The valet, in obedience to a gesture of the king, handed him the letter.
The king advanced towards the candles, opened the note, read the
signature, and uttered a loud cry. Saint-Aignan was sufficiently
respectful not to look on; but, without looking on, he saw and heard all,
and ran towards the king, who with a gesture dismissed the servant. "Oh,
heavens!" said the king, as he read the note.
"Is your majesty unwell?" inquired Saint-Aignan, stretching forward his
"No, no, Saint-Aignan - read!" and he handed him the note.
Saint-Aignan's eyes fell upon the signature. "La Valliere!" he
exclaimed. "Oh, sire!"
And Saint-Aignan read:
"Forgive my importunity, sire; and forgive, also, the absence of the
formalities which may be wanting in this letter. A note seems to be
more speedy and more urgent than a dispatch. I venture, therefore, to
address this note to your majesty. I have retired to my own room,
overcome with grief and fatigue, sire; and I implore your majesty to
grant me the favor of an audience, which will enable me to confess the
_truth_ to my sovereign.
"LOUISE de la VALLIERE."
"Well?" asked the king, taking the letter from Saint-Aignan's hands, who
was completely bewildered by what he had just read.
"Well!" repeated Saint-Aignan.
"What do you think of it?"
"I hardly know."
"Still, what is your opinion?"
"Sire, the young lady must have heard the muttering of the thunder, and
has got frightened."
"Frightened at what?" asked Louis with dignity.
"Why, your majesty has a thousand reasons to be angry with the author or
authors of so hazardous a joke; and, if your majesty's memory were to be
awakened in a disagreeable sense, it would be a perpetual menace hanging
over the head of this imprudent girl."
"Saint-Aignan, I do not think as you do."
"Your majesty doubtless sees more clearly than myself."
"Well! I see affliction and restraint in these lines; more particularly
since I recall some of the details of the scene which took place this
evening in Madame's apartments - " The king suddenly stopped, leaving
his meaning unexpressed.
"In fact," resumed Saint-Aignan, "your majesty will grant an audience;
nothing is clearer than that."
"I will do better, Saint-Aignan."
"What is that, sire?"
"Put on your cloak."
"But, sire - "
"You know the suite of rooms where Madame's maids of honor are lodged?"
"You know some means of obtaining an entrance there."
"As far as that is concerned, I do not."
"At all events, you must be acquainted with some one there."
"Really, your majesty is the source of every good idea."
"You do know some one, then. Who is it?"
"I know a certain gentleman, who is on very good terms with a certain
young lady there."
"One of the maids of honor?"
"With Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, I suppose?" said the king,
"Fortunately, no, sire; with Montalais."
"What is his name?"
"And you can depend on him?"
"I believe so, sire. He ought to have a key of some sort in his
possession; and if he should happen to have one, as I have done him a
service, why, he will let us have it."
"Nothing could be better. Let us set off immediately."
The king threw his cloak over Saint-Aignan's shoulders, asked him for
his, and both went out into the vestibule.
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