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 25

Chapter XXV:
Despair.

As soon as the king was gone La Valliere raised herself from the ground,
and stretched out her arms, as if to follow and detain him, but when,
having violently closed the door, the sound of his retreating footsteps
could be heard in the distance, she had hardly sufficient strength left
to totter towards and fall at the foot of her crucifix. There she
remained, broken-hearted, absorbed, and overwhelmed by her grief,
forgetful and indifferent to everything but her profound sorrow; - a
grief she only vaguely realized - as though by instinct. In the midst of
this wild tumult of thoughts, La Valliere heard her door open again; she
started, and turned round, thinking it was the king who had returned.
She was deceived, however, for it was Madame who appeared at the door.
What did she now care for Madame! Again she sank down, her head
supported by her _prie-Dieu_ chair. It was Madame, agitated, angry, and
threatening. But what was that to her? "Mademoiselle," said the
princess, standing before La Valliere, "this is very fine, I admit, to
kneel and pray, and make a pretense of being religious; but however
submissive you may be in your address to Heaven, it is desirable that you
should pay some little attention to the wishes of those who reign and
rule here below."

La Valliere raised her head painfully in token of respect.

"Not long since," continued Madame, "a certain recommendation was
addressed to you, I believe."

La Valliere's fixed and wild gaze showed how complete her forgetfulness
or ignorance was.

"The queen recommended you," continued Madame, "to conduct yourself in
such a manner that no one could be justified in spreading any reports
about you."

La Valliere darted an inquiring look towards her.

"I will not," continued Madame, "allow my household, which is that of the
first princess of the blood, to set an evil example to the court; you
would be the cause of such an example. I beg you to understand,
therefore, in the absence of any witness of your shame - for I do not
wish to humiliate you - that you are from this moment at perfect liberty
to leave, and that you can return to your mother at Blois."

La Valliere could not sink lower, nor could she suffer more than she had
already suffered. Her countenance did not even change, but she remained
kneeling with her hands clasped, like the figure of the Magdalen.

"Did you hear me?" said Madame.

A shiver, which passed through her whole frame, was La Valliere's only
reply. And as the victim gave no other signs of life, Madame left the
room. And then, her very respiration suspended, and her blood almost
congealed, as it were, in her veins, La Valliere by degrees felt that the
pulsation of her wrists, her neck, and temples, began to throb more and
more painfully. These pulsations, as they gradually increased, soon
changed into a species of brain fever, and in her temporary delirium she
saw the figures of her friends contending with her enemies, floating
before her vision. She heard, too, mingled together in her deafened
ears, words of menace and words of fond affection; she seemed raised out
of her existence as though it were upon the wings of a mighty tempest,
and in the dim horizon of the path along which her delirium hurried her,
she saw the stone which covered her tomb upraised, and the grim,
appalling texture of eternal night revealed to her distracted gaze. But
the horror of the dream which possessed her senses faded away, and she
was again restored to the habitual resignation of her character. A ray
of hope penetrated her heart, as a ray of sunlight streams into the
dungeon of some unhappy captive. Her mind reverted to the journey from
Fontainebleau, she saw the king riding beside her carriage, telling her
that he loved her, asking for her love in return, requiring her to swear,
and himself to swear too, that never should an evening pass by, if ever a
misunderstanding were to arise between them, without a visit, a letter, a
sign of some kind, being sent, to replace the troubled anxiety of the
evening with the calm repose of the night. It was the king who had
suggested that, who had imposed a promise on her, and who had sworn to it
himself. It was impossible, therefore, she reasoned, that the king
should fail in keeping the promise which he had himself exacted from her,
unless, indeed, Louis was a despot who enforced love as he enforced
obedience; unless, too, the king were so indifferent that the first
obstacle in his way was sufficient to arrest his further progress. The
king, that kind protector, who by a word, a single word, could relieve
her distress of mind, the king even joined her persecutors. Oh! his
anger could not possibly last. Now that he was alone, he would be
suffering all that she herself was a prey to. But he was not tied hand
and foot as she was; he could act, could move about, could come to her,
while she could do nothing but wait. And the poor girl waited and
waited, with breathless anxiety - for she could not believe it possible
that the king would not come.

It was now about half-past ten. He would either come to her, or write to
her, or send some kind word by M. de Saint-Aignan. If he were to come,
oh! how she would fly to meet him; how she would thrust aside that excess
of delicacy which she now discovered was misunderstood; how eagerly she
would explain: "It is not I who do not love you - it is the fault of
others who will not allow me to love you." And then it must be confessed
that she reflected upon it, and also the more she reflected, Louis
appeared to her to be less guilty. In fact, he was ignorant of
everything. What must he have thought of the obstinacy with which she
remained silent? Impatient and irritable as the king was known to be, it
was extraordinary that he had been able to preserve his temper so long.
And yet, had it been her own case, she undoubtedly would not have acted
in such a manner; she would have understood - have guessed everything.
Yes, but she was nothing but a poor simple-minded girl, and not a great
and powerful monarch. Oh! if he would but come, if he would but come! -
how eagerly she would forgive him for all he had just made her suffer!
how much more tenderly she would love him because she had so cruelly
suffered! And so she sat, with her head bent forward in eager
expectation towards the door, her lips slightly parted, as if - and
Heaven forgive her for the mental exclamation! - they were awaiting the
kiss which the king's lips had in the morning so sweetly indicated, when
he pronounced the word _love!_ If the king did not come, at least he
would write; it was a second chance; a chance less delightful certainly
than the other, but which would show an affection just as strong, only
more timid in its nature. Oh! how she would devour his letter, how eager
she would be to answer it! and when the messenger who had brought it had
left her, how she would kiss it, read it over and over again, press to
her heart the lucky paper which would have brought her ease of mind,
tranquillity, and perfect happiness. At all events, if the king did not
come, if the king did not write, he could not do otherwise than send
Saint-Aignan, or Saint-Aignan could not do otherwise than come of his own
accord. Even if it were a third person, how openly she would speak to
him; the royal presence would not be there to freeze her words upon her
tongue, and then no suspicious feeling would remain a moment longer in
the king's heart.

Everything with La Valliere, heart and look, body and mind, was
concentrated in eager expectation. She said to herself that there was an
hour left in which to indulge hope; that until midnight struck, the king
might come, or write or send; that at midnight only would every
expectation vanish, every hope be lost. Whenever she heard any stir in
the palace, the poor girl fancied she was the cause of it; whenever she
heard any one pass in the courtyard below she imagined they were
messengers of the king coming to her. Eleven o'clock struck, then a
quarter-past eleven; then half-past. The minutes dragged slowly on in
this anxiety, and yet they seemed to pass too quickly. And now, it
struck a quarter to twelve. Midnight - midnight was near, the last, the
final hope that remained. With the last stroke of the clock, the last
ray of light seemed to fade away; and with the last ray faded her final
hope. And so, the king himself had deceived her; it was he who had been
the first to fail in keeping the oath which he had sworn that very day;
twelve hours only between his oath and his perjured vow; it as not long,
alas! to have preserved the illusion. And so, not only did the king not
love her, but he despised her whom every one ill-treated, he despised her
to the extent even of abandoning her to the shame of an expulsion which
was equivalent to having an ignominious sentence passed on her; and yet,
it was he, the king himself, who was the first cause of this ignominy. A
bitter smile, the only symptom of anger which during this long conflict
had passed across the angelic face, appeared upon her lips. What, in
fact, now remained on earth for her, after the king was lost to her?
Nothing. But Heaven still remained, and her thoughts flew thither. She
prayed that the proper course for her to follow might be suggested. "It
is from Heaven," she thought, "that I expect everything; it is from
Heaven I ought to expect everything." And she looked at her crucifix
with a devotion full of tender love. "There," she said, "hangs before me
a Master who never forgets and never abandons those who neither forget
nor abandon Him; it is to Him alone that we must sacrifice ourselves."
And, thereupon, could any one have gazed into the recesses of that
chamber, they would have seen the poor despairing girl adopt a final
resolution, and determine upon one last plan in her mind. Then, as her
knees were no longer able to support her, she gradually sank down upon
the _prie-Dieu_, and with her head pressed against the wooden cross, her
eyes fixed, and her respiration short and quick, she watched for the
earliest rays of approaching daylight. At two o'clock in the morning she
was still in the same bewilderment of mind, or rather the same ecstasy of
feeling. Her thoughts had almost ceased to hold communion with things of
the world. And when she saw the pale violet tints of early dawn visible
over the roofs of the palace, and vaguely revealing the outlines of the
ivory crucifix which she held embraced, she rose from the ground with a
new-born strength, kissed the feet of the divine martyr, descended the
staircase leading from the room, and wrapped herself from head to foot in
a mantle as she went along. She reached the wicket at the very moment
the guard of the musketeers opened the gate to admit the first relief-
guard belonging to one of the Swiss regiments. And then, gliding behind
the soldiers, she reached the street before the officer in command of the
patrol had even thought of asking who the young girl was who was making
her escape from the palace at so early an hour.

Alexandre Dumas pere