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Chapter 27

Chapter XXVII:
Showing How Louis, on His Part, Had Passed the Time from Ten to Half-Past
Twelve at Night.

When the king left the apartments of the maids of honor, he found Colbert
awaiting him to take directions for the next day's ceremony, as the king
was then to receive the Dutch and Spanish ambassadors. Louis XIV. had
serious causes of dissatisfaction with the Dutch; the States had already
been guilty of many mean shifts and evasions with France, and without
perceiving or without caring about the chances of a rupture, they again
abandoned the alliance with his Most Christian Majesty, for the purpose
of entering into all kinds of plots with Spain. Louis XIV. at his
accession, that is to say, at the death of Cardinal Mazarin, had found
this political question roughly sketched out; the solution was difficult
for a young man, but as, at that time, the king represented the whole
nation, anything that the head resolved upon, the body would be found
ready to carry out. Any sudden impulse of anger, the reaction of young
hot blood upon the brain, would be quite sufficient to change an old form
of policy and create another system altogether. The part that
diplomatists had to play in those days was that of arranging among
themselves the different _coups-d'etat_ which their sovereign masters
might wish to effect. Louis was not in that calm frame of mind which was
necessary to enable him to determine on a wise course of policy. Still
much agitated from the quarrel he had just had with La Valliere, he
walked hastily into his cabinet, dimly desirous of finding an opportunity
of producing an explosion after he had controlled himself for so long a
time. Colbert, as he saw the king enter, knew the position of affairs at
a glance, understood the king's intentions, and resolved therefore to
maneuver a little. When Louis requested to be informed what it would be
necessary to say on the morrow, Colbert began by expressing his surprise
that his majesty had not been properly informed by M. Fouquet. "M.
Fouquet," he said, "is perfectly acquainted with the whole of this Dutch
affair - he received the dispatches himself direct."

The king, who was accustomed to hear M. Colbert speak in not over-
scrupulous terms of M. Fouquet, allowed this remark to pass unanswered,
and merely listened. Colbert noticed the effect it had produced, and
hastened to back out, saying that M. Fouquet was not on all occasions as
blamable as at the first glance might seem to be the case, inasmuch as at
that moment he was greatly occupied. The king looked up. "What do you
allude to?" he said.

"Sire, men are but men, and M. Fouquet has his defects as well as his
great qualities."

"Ah! defects, who is without them, M. Colbert?"

"Your majesty, hardly," said Colbert, boldly; for he knew how to convey a
good deal of flattery in a light amount of blame, like the arrow which
cleaves the air notwithstanding its weight, thanks to the light feathers
which bear it up.

The king smiled. "What defect has M. Fouquet, then?" he said.

"Still the same, sire; it is said he is in love."

"In love! with whom?"

"I am not quite sure, sire; I have very little to do with matters of
gallantry."

"At all events you know, since you speak of it."

"I have heard a name mentioned."

"Whose?"

"I cannot now remember whose, but I think it is one of Madame's maids of
honor."

The king started. "You know more than you like to say, M. Colbert," he
murmured.

"I assure you, no, sire."

"At all events, Madame's maids of honor are all known, and in mentioning
their names to you, you will perhaps recollect the one you allude to."

"No, sire."

"At least, try."

"It would be useless, sire. Whenever the name of any lady who runs the
risk of being compromised is concerned, my memory is like a coffer of
bronze, the key of which I have lost."

A dark cloud seemed to pass over the mind as well as across the face of
the king; then, wishing to appear as if he were perfect master of himself
and his feelings, he said, "And now for the affair concerning Holland."

"In the first place, sire, at what hour will your majesty receive the
ambassadors?"

"Early in the morning."

"Eleven o'clock?"

"That is too late - say nine o'clock."

"That will be too early, sire."

"For friends, that would be a matter of no importance; one does what one
likes with one's friends; but for one's enemies, in that case nothing
could be better than if they _were_ to feel hurt. I should not be sorry,
I confess, to have to finish altogether with these marsh-birds, who annoy
me with their cries."

"It shall be precisely as your majesty desires. At nine o'clock,
therefore - I will give the necessary orders. Is it to be a formal
audience?"

"No. I wish to have an explanation with them, and not to embitter
matters, as is always the case when many persons are present, but, at the
same time, I wish to clear up everything with them, in order not to have
to begin over again."

"Your majesty will inform me of the persons whom you wish to be present
at the reception."

"I will draw out a list. Let us speak of the ambassadors; what do they
want?"

"Allies with Spain, they gain nothing; allies with France, they lose
much."

"How is that?"

"Allied with Spain, they see themselves bounded and protected by the
possessions of their allies; they cannot touch them, however anxious they
may be to do so. From Antwerp to Rotterdam is but a step, and that by
the way of the Scheldt and the Meuse. If they wish to make a bite at the
Spanish cake, you, sire, the son-in-law of the king of Spain, could with
your cavalry sweep the earth from your dominions to Brussels in a couple
of days. Their design is, therefore, only to quarrel so far with you,
and only to make you suspect Spain so far, as will be sufficient to
induce you not to interfere with their own affairs."

"It would be far more simple, I should imagine," replied the king, "to
form a solid alliance with me, by means of which I should gain something,
while they would gain everything."

"Not so; for if, by chance, they were to have you, or France rather, as a
boundary, your majesty is not an agreeable neighbor. Young, ardent,
warlike, the king of France might inflict some serious mischief on
Holland, especially if he were to get near her."

"I perfectly understand, M. Colbert, and you have explained it very
clearly; but be good enough to tell me the conclusion you have arrived
at."

"Your majesty's own decisions are never deficient in wisdom."

"What will these ambassadors say to me?"

"They will tell your majesty that they are ardently desirous of forming
an alliance with you, which will be a falsehood: they will tell Spain
that the three powers ought to unite so as to check the prosperity of
England, and that will equally be a falsehood; for at present, the
natural ally of your majesty is England, who has ships while we have
none; England, who can counteract Dutch influence in India; England, in
fact, a monarchical country, to which your majesty is attached by ties of
relationship."

"Good; but how would you answer?"

"I should answer, sire, with the greatest possible moderation of tone,
that the disposition of Holland does not seem friendly towards the Court
of France; that the symptoms of public feeling among the Dutch are
alarming as regards your majesty; that certain medals have been struck
with insulting devices."

"Towards me?" exclaimed the young king, excitedly.

"Oh, no! sire, no; insulting is not the word; I was mistaken, I ought to
have said immeasurably flattering to the Dutch."

"Oh! if that be so, the pride of the Dutch is a matter of indifference to
me," said the king, sighing.

"Your majesty is right, a thousand times right. However, it is never a
mistake in politics, your majesty knows better than myself, to exaggerate
a little in order to obtain a concession in your own favor. If your
majesty were to complain as if your susceptibility were offended, you
would stand in a far higher position with them."

"What are these medals you speak of?" inquired Louis; "for if I allude to
them, I ought to know what to say."

"Upon my word, sire, I cannot very well tell you - some overweeningly
conceited device - that is the sense of it; the words have little to do
with the thing itself."

"Very good! I will mention the word 'medal,' and they can understand it
if they like."

"Oh! they will understand without any difficulty. Your majesty can also
slip in a few words about certain pamphlets which are being circulated."

"Never! Pamphlets befoul those who write them much more than those
against whom they are written. M. Colbert, I thank you. You can leave
now. Do not forget the hour I have fixed, and be there yourself."

"Sire, I await your majesty's list."

"True," returned the king; and he began to meditate; he had not thought
of the list in the least. The clock struck half-past eleven. The king's
face revealed a violent conflict between pride and love. The political
conversation had dispelled a good deal of the irritation which Louis had
felt, and La Valliere's pale, worn features, in his imagination, spoke a
very different language from that of the Dutch medals, or the Batavian
pamphlets. He sat for ten minutes debating within himself whether he
should or should not return to La Valliere; but Colbert having with some
urgency respectfully requested that the list might be furnished him, the
king was ashamed to be thinking of mere matters of affection where
important state affairs required his attention. He therefore dictated:
the queen-mother, the queen, Madame, Madame de Motteville, Madame de
Chatillon, Madame de Navailles; and, for the men, M. le Prince, M. de
Gramont, M. de Manicamp, M. de Saint-Aignan, and the officers on duty.

"The ministers?" asked Colbert.

"As a matter of course, and the secretaries also."

"Sire, I will leave at once in order to get everything prepared; the
orders will be at the different residences to-morrow."

"Say rather to-day," replied Louis mournfully, as the clock struck
twelve. It was the very hour when poor La Valliere was almost dying from
anguish and bitter suffering. The king's attendants entered, it being
the hour of his retirement to his chamber; the queen, indeed, had been
waiting for more than an hour. Louis accordingly retreated to his
bedroom with a sigh; but, as he sighed, he congratulated himself on his
courage, and applauded himself for having been as firm in love as in
affairs of state.

Alexandre Dumas pere