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Chapter 64

Chapter LXIV:
Madame's Four Chances.

Anne of Austria had begged the young queen to pay her a visit. For some
time past suffering most acutely, and losing both her youth and beauty
with that rapidity which signalizes the decline of women for whom life
has been one long contest, Anne of Austria had, in addition to her
physical sufferings, to experience the bitterness of being no longer held
in any esteem, except as a surviving remembrance of the past, amidst the
youthful beauties, wits, and influential forces of her court. Her
physician's opinions, her mirror also, grieved her far less than the
inexorable warnings which the society of the courtiers afforded, who,
like rats in a ship, abandon the hold into which on the very next voyage
the water will infallibly penetrate, owing to the ravages of decay. Anne
of Austria did not feel satisfied with the time her eldest son devoted to
her. The king, a good son, more from affectation than from affection,
had at first been in the habit of passing an hour in the morning and one
in the evening with his mother; but, since he had himself undertaken the
conduct of state affairs, the duration of the morning and evening's visit
had been reduced by one half; and then, by degrees, the morning visit had
been suppressed altogether. They met at mass; the evening visit was
replaced by a meeting, either at the king's assembly or at Madame's,
which the queen attended obligingly enough, out of regard to her two sons.

The result of this was, that Madame gradually acquired an immense
influence over the court, which made her apartments the true royal place
of meeting. This, Anne of Austria perceived; knowing herself to be very
ill, and condemned by her sufferings to frequent retirement, she was
distressed at the idea that the greater part of her future days and
evenings would pass away solitary, useless, and in despondency. She
recalled with terror the isolation in which Cardinal Richelieu had
formerly left her, those dreaded and insupportable evenings, during
which, however, she had both youth and beauty, which are ever accompanied
by hope, to console her. She next formed the project of transporting the
court to her own apartments, and of attracting Madame, with her brilliant
escort, to her gloomy and already sorrowful abode, where the widow of a
king of France, and the mother of a king of France, was reduced to
console, in her artificial widowhood, the weeping wife of a king of
France.

Anne began to reflect. She had intrigued a good deal in her life. In
the good times past, when her youthful mind nursed projects that were,
ultimately, invariably successful, she had by her side, to stimulate her
ambition and her love, a friend of her own sex, more eager, more
ambitious than herself, - a friend who had loved her, a rare circumstance
at courts, and whom some petty considerations had removed from her
forever. But for many years past - except Madame de Motteville, and La
Molena, her Spanish nurse, a confidante in her character of countrywoman
and woman too - who could boast of having given good advice to the
queen? Who, too, among all the youthful heads there, could recall the
past for her, - that past in which alone she lived? Anne of Austria
remembered Madame de Chevreuse, in the first place exiled rather by her
wish than the king's, and then dying in exile, the wife of a gentleman of
obscure birth and position. She asked herself what Madame de Chevreuse
would have advised her to do in similar circumstances, in their mutual
difficulties arising from their intrigues; and after serious reflection,
it seemed as if the clever, subtle mind of her friend, full of experience
and sound judgment, answered her in the well-remembered ironical tones:
"All the insignificant young people are poor and greedy of gain. They
require gold and incomes to supply means of amusement; it is by interest
you must gain them over." And Anne of Austria adopted this plan. Her
purse was well filled, and she had at her disposal a considerable sum of
money, which had been amassed by Mazarin for her, and lodged in a place
of safety. She possessed the most magnificent jewels in France, and
especially pearls of a size so large that they made the king sigh every
time he saw them, because the pearls of his crown were like millet seed
compared to them. Anne of Austria had neither beauty nor charms any
longer at her disposal. She gave out, therefore, that her wealth was
great, and as an inducement for others to visit her apartments she let it
be known that there were good gold crowns to be won at play, or that
handsome presents were likely to be made on days when all went well with
her; or windfalls, in the shape of annuities which she had wrung from the
king by entreaty, and thus she determined to maintain her credit. In the
first place, she tried these means upon Madame; because to gain her
consent was of more importance than anything else. Madame,
notwithstanding the bold confidence which her wit and beauty inspired
her, blindly ran head foremost into the net thus stretched out to catch
her. Enriched by degrees by these presents and transfers of property,
she took a fancy to inheritances by anticipation. Anne of Austria
adopted the same means towards Monsieur, and even towards the king
himself. She instituted lotteries in her apartments. The day on which
the present chapter opens, invitations had been issued for a late supper
in the queen-mother's apartments, as she intended that two beautiful
diamond bracelets of exquisite workmanship should be put into a lottery.
The medallions were antique cameos of the greatest value; the diamonds,
in point of intrinsic value, did not represent a very considerable
amount, but the originality and rarity of the workmanship were such, that
every one at court not only wished to possess the bracelets, but even to
see the queen herself wear them; for, on the days she wore them, it was
considered as a favor to be admitted to admire them in kissing her
hands. The courtiers had, even with regard to this subject, adopted
various expressions of gallantry to establish the aphorism, that the
bracelets would have been priceless in value if they had not been
unfortunate enough to be placed in contact with arms as beautiful as the
queen's. This compliment had been honored by a translation into all the
languages of Europe, and numerous verses in Latin and French had been
circulated on the subject. The day that Anne of Austria had selected for
the lottery was a decisive moment; the king had not been near his mother
for a couple of days; Madame, after the great scene of the Dryads and
Naiads, was sulking by herself. It is true, the king's fit of resentment
was over, but his mind was absorbingly occupied by a circumstance that
raised him above the stormy disputes and giddy pleasures of the court.

Anne of Austria effected a diversion by the announcement of the famous
lottery to take place in her apartments on the following evening. With
this object in view, she saw the young queen, whom, as we have already
seen, she had invited to pay her a visit in the morning. "I have good
news to tell you," she said to her; "the king has been saying the most
tender things about you. He is young, you know, and easily drawn away;
but so long as you keep near me, he will not venture to keep away from
you, to whom, besides, he is most warmly and affectionately attached. I
intend to have a lottery this evening and shall expect to see you."

"I have heard," said the young queen, with a sort of timid reproach,
"that your majesty intends to put in the lottery those lovely bracelets
whose rarity is so great that we ought not to allow them to pass out of
the custody of the crown, even were there no other reason than that they
had once belonged to you."

"My daughter," said Anne of Austria, who read the young queen's thoughts,
and wished to console her for not having received the bracelets as a
present, "it is positively necessary that I should induce Madame to pass
her time in my apartments."

"Madame!" said the young queen, blushing.

"Of course: would you not prefer to have a rival near you, whom you could
watch and influence, to knowing the king is with her, always as ready to
flirt as to be flirted with by her? The lottery I have proposed is my
means of attraction for that purpose; do you blame me?"

"Oh, no!" returned Maria Theresa, clapping her hands with a childlike
expression of delight.

"And you no longer regret, then, that I did not give you these bracelets,
as I at first intended to do?"

"Oh, no, no!"

"Very well; make yourself look as beautiful as possible that our supper
may be very brilliant; the gayer you seem, the more charming you appear,
and you will eclipse all the ladies present as much by your brilliancy as
by your rank."

Maria Theresa left full of delight. An hour afterwards, Anne of Austria
received a visit from Madame, whom she covered with caresses, saying,
"Excellent news! the king is charmed with my lottery."

"But I," replied Madame, "am not so greatly charmed: to see such
beautiful bracelets on any one's arms but yours or mine, is what I cannot
reconcile myself to."

"Well, well," said Anne of Austria, concealing by a smile a violent pang
she had just experienced, "do not look at things in the worst light
immediately."

"Ah, Madame, Fortune is blind, and I am told there are two hundred
tickets."

"Quite as many as that; but you cannot surely forget that there can only
be one winner."

"No doubt. But who will that be? Can you tell?" said Madame, in despair.

"You remind me that I had a dream last night; my dreams are always good,
- I sleep so little."

"What was your dream? - but are you suffering?"

"No," said the queen, stifling with wonderful command the torture of a
renewed attack of shooting pains in her bosom; "I dreamed that the king
won the bracelets."

"The king!"

"You are going to ask me, I think, what the king could possibly do with
the bracelets?"

"Yes."

"And you would not add, perhaps, that it would be very fortunate if the
king were really to win, for he would be obliged to give the bracelets to
some one else."

"To restore them to you, for instance."

"In which case I should immediately give them away; for you do not think,
I suppose," said the queen, laughing, "that I have put these bracelets up
to a lottery from necessity. My object was to give them without arousing
any one's jealousy; but if Fortune will not get me out of my difficulty -
well, I will teach Fortune a lesson - and I know very well to whom I
intend to offer the bracelets." These words were accompanied by so
expressive a smile, that Madame could not resist paying her by a grateful
kiss.

"But," added Anne of Austria, "do you not know, as well as I do, that if
the king were to win the bracelets, he would not restore them to me?"

"You mean he would give them to the queen?"

"No; and for the very same reason that he would not give them back again
to me; since, if I had wished to make the queen a present of them, I had
no need of him for that purpose."

Madame cast a side glance upon the bracelets, which, in their casket,
were dazzlingly exposed to view upon a table close beside her.

"How beautiful they are," she said, sighing. "But stay," Madame
continued, "we are quite forgetting that your majesty's dream was nothing
but a dream."

"I should be very much surprised," returned Anne of Austria, "if my dream
were to deceive me; that has happened to me very seldom."

"We may look upon you as a prophetess, then."

"I have already said, that I dream but very rarely; but the coincidence
of my dream about this matter, with my own ideas, is extraordinary! it
agrees so wonderfully with my own views and arrangements."

"What arrangements do you allude to?"

"That you will get the bracelets, for instance."

"In that case, it will not be the king."

"Oh!" said Anne of Austria, "there is not such a very great distance
between his majesty's heart and your own; for, are you not his sister,
for whom he has a great regard? There is not, I repeat, so very wide a
distance, that my dream can be pronounced false on that account. Come,
let us reckon up the chances in its favor."

"I will count them."

"In the first place, we will begin with the dream. If the king wins, he
is sure to give you the bracelets."

"I admit that is one."

"If you win them, they are yours."

"Naturally; that may be admitted also."

"Lastly; - if Monsieur were to win them!"

"Oh!" said Madame, laughing heartily, "he would give them to the
Chevalier de Lorraine."

Anne of Austria laughed as heartily as her daughter-in-law; so much so,
indeed, that her sufferings again returned, and made her turn suddenly
pale in the very midst of her enjoyment.

"What is the matter?" inquired Madame, terrified.

"Nothing, nothing; a pain in my side. I have been laughing too much. We
were at the fourth chance, I think."

"I cannot see a fourth."

"I beg your pardon; I am not excluded from the chance of winning, and if
I be the winner, you are sure of me."

"Oh! thank you, thank you!" exclaimed Madame.

"I hope that you look upon yourself as one whose chances are good, and
that my dream now begins to assure the solid outlines of reality."

"Yes, indeed: you give me both hope and confidence," said Madame, "and
the bracelets, won in this manner, will be a hundred times more precious
to me."

"Well! then, good-bye, until this evening." And the two princesses
separated. Anne of Austria, after her daughter-in-law had left her, said
to herself, as she examined the bracelets, "They are, indeed, precious;
since, by their means, this evening, I shall have won over a heart to my
side, at the same time, fathomed an important secret."

Then turning towards the deserted recess in her room, she said,
addressing vacancy, - "Is it not thus that you would have acted, my
poor Chevreuse? Yes, yes; I know it is."

And, like a perfume of other, fairer days, her youth, her imagination,
and her happiness seemed to be wafted towards the echo of this invocation.

Alexandre Dumas pere