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Chapter 30

Chapter XXX:
Madame.

From the manner in which the king had dismissed the ambassadors, even the
least clear-sighted persons belonging to the court imagined war would
ensue. The ambassadors themselves, but slightly acquainted with the
king's domestic disturbances, had interpreted as directed against
themselves the celebrated sentence: "If I be not master of myself, I, at
least, will be so of those who insult me." Happily for the destinies of
France and Holland, Colbert had followed them out of the king's presence
for the purpose of explaining matters to them; but the two queens and
Madame, who were perfectly aware of every particular that had taken place
in their several households, having heard the king's remark, so full of
dark meaning, retired to their own apartments in no little fear and
chagrin. Madame, especially, felt that the royal anger might fall upon
her, and, as she was brave and exceedingly proud, instead of seeking
support and encouragement from the queen-mother, she had returned to her
own apartments, if not without some uneasiness, at least without any
intention of avoiding an encounter. Anne of Austria, from time to time
at frequent intervals, sent messages to learn if the king had returned.
The silence which the whole palace preserved upon the matter, and upon
Louise's disappearance, was indicative of a long train of misfortunes to
all those who knew the haughty and irritable humor of the king. But
Madame, unmoved in spite of all the flying rumors, shut herself up in her
apartments, sent for Montalais, and, with a voice as calm as she could
possibly command, desired her to relate all she knew about the event
itself. At the moment that the eloquent Montalais was concluding, with
all kinds of oratorical precautions, and was recommending, if not in
actual language, at least in spirit, that she should show forbearance
towards La Valliere, M. Malicorne made his appearance to beg an audience
of Madame, on behalf of the king. Montalais's worthy friend bore upon
his countenance all the signs of the very liveliest emotion. It was
impossible to be mistaken; the interview which the king requested would
be one of the most interesting chapters in the history of the hearts of
kings and of men. Madame was disturbed by her brother-in-law's arrival;
she did not expect it so soon, nor had she, indeed, expected any direct
step on Louis's part. Besides, all women who wage war successfully by
indirect means, are invariably neither very skillful nor very strong when
it becomes a question of accepting a pitched battle. Madame, however,
was not one who ever drew back; she had the very opposite defect or
qualification, in whichever light it may be considered; she took an
exaggerated view of what constituted real courage; and therefore the
king's message, of which Malicorne had been the bearer, was regarded by
her as the bugle-note proclaiming the commencement of hostilities. She,
therefore, boldly accepted the gage of battle. Five minutes afterwards
the king ascended the staircase. His color was heightened from having
ridden hard. His dusty and disordered clothes formed a singular contrast
with the fresh and perfectly arranged toilette of Madame, who,
notwithstanding the rouge on her cheeks, turned pale as Louis entered the
room. Louis lost no time in approaching the object of his visit; he sat
down, and Montalais disappeared.

"My dear sister," said the king, "you are aware that Mademoiselle de la
Valliere fled from her own room this morning, and that she has retired to
a cloister, overwhelmed by grief and despair." As he pronounced these
words, the king's voice was singularly moved.

"Your majesty is the first to inform me of it," replied Madame.

"I should have thought that you might have learned it this morning,
during the reception of the ambassadors," said the king.

"From your emotion, sire, I imagined that something extraordinary had
happened, but without knowing what."

The king, with his usual frankness, went straight to the point. "Why did
you send Mademoiselle de la Valliere away?"

"Because I had reason to be dissatisfied with her conduct," she replied,
dryly.

The king became crimson, and his eyes kindled with a fire which it
required all Madame's courage to support. He mastered his anger,
however, and continued: "A stronger reason than that is surely requisite,
for one so good and kind as you are, to turn away and dishonor, not only
the young girl herself, but every member of her family as well. You know
that the whole city has its eyes fixed upon the conduct of the female
portion of the court. To dismiss a maid of honor is to attribute a crime
to her - at the very least a fault. What crime, what fault has
Mademoiselle de la Valliere been guilty of?"

"Since you constitute yourself the protector of Mademoiselle de la
Valliere," replied Madame, coldly, "I will give you those explanations
which I should have a perfect right to withhold from every one."

"Even from the king!" exclaimed Louis, as, with a sudden gesture, he
covered his head with his hat.

"You have called me your sister," said Madame, "and I am in my own
apartments."

"It matters not," said the youthful monarch, ashamed at having been
hurried away by his anger; "neither you, nor any one else in this
kingdom, can assert a right to withhold an explanation in my presence."

"Since that is the way you regard it," said Madame, in a hoarse, angry
tone of voice, "all that remains for me to do is bow submission to your
majesty, and to be silent."

"Not so. Let there be no equivocation between us."

"The protection with which you surround Mademoiselle de la Valliere does
not impose any respect."

"No equivocation, I repeat; you are perfectly aware that, as the head of
the nobility in France, I am accountable to all for the honor of every
family. You dismiss Mademoiselle de la Valliere, or whoever else it may
be - " Madame shrugged her shoulders. "Or whoever else it may be, I
repeat," continued the king; "and as, acting in that manner, you cast a
dishonorable reflection upon that person, I ask you for an explanation,
in order that I may confirm or annul the sentence."

"Annul my sentence!" exclaimed Madame, haughtily. "What! when I have
discharged one of my attendants, do you order me to take her back
again?" The king remained silent.

"This would be a sheer abuse of power, sire; it would be indecorous and
unseemly."

"Madame!"

"As a woman, I should revolt against an abuse so insulting to me; I
should no longer be able to regard myself as a princess of your blood, a
daughter of a monarch; I should be the meanest of creatures, more humbled
and disgraced than the servant I had sent away."

The king rose from his seat with anger. "It cannot be a heart," he
cried, "you have beating in your bosom; if you act in such a way with me,
I may have reason to act with corresponding severity."

It sometimes happens that in a battle a chance ball may reach its mark.
The observation which the king had made without any particular intention,
struck Madame home, and staggered her for a moment; some day or other she
might indeed have reason to dread reprisals. "At all events, sire," she
said, "explain what you require."

"I ask, madame, what has Mademoiselle de la Valliere done to warrant your
conduct toward her?"

"She is the most cunning fomenter of intrigues I know; she was the
occasion of two personal friends engaging in mortal combat; and has made
people talk of her in such shameless terms that the whole court is
indignant at the mere sound of her name."

"She! she!" cried the king.

"Under her soft and hypocritical manner," continued Madame, "she hides a
disposition full of foul and dark conceit."

"She!"

"You may possibly be deceived, sire, but I know her right well; she is
capable of creating dispute and misunderstanding between the most
affectionate relatives and the most intimate friends. You see that she
has already sown discord betwixt us two."

"I do assure you - " said the king.

"Sire, look well into the case as it stands; we were living on the most
friendly understanding, and by the artfulness of her tales and
complaints, she has set your majesty against me."

"I swear to you," said the king, "that on no occasion has a bitter word
ever passed her lips; I swear that, even in my wildest bursts of passion,
she would not allow me to menace any one; and I swear, too, that you do
not possess a more devoted and respectful friend than she is."

"Friend!" said Madame, with an expression of supreme disdain.

"Take care, Madame!" said the king; "you forget that you now understand
me, and that from this moment everything is equalized. Mademoiselle de
la Valliere will be whatever I may choose her to become; and to-morrow,
if I were determined to do so, I could seat her on a throne."

"She was not born to a throne, at least, and whatever you may do can
affect the future alone, but cannot affect the past."

"Madame, towards you I have shown every kind consideration, and every
eager desire to please you; do not remind me that I am master."

"It is the second time, sire, that you have made that remark, and I have
already informed you I am ready to submit."

"In that case, then, you will confer upon me the favor of receiving
Mademoiselle de la Valliere back again."

"For what purpose, sire, since you have a throne to bestow upon her? I
am too insignificant to protect so exalted a personage."

"Nay, a truce to this bitter and disdainful spirit. Grant me her
forgiveness."

"_Never!_"

"You drive me, then, to open warfare in my own family."

"I, too, have a family with whom I can find refuge."

"Do you mean that as a threat, and could you forget yourself so far? Do
you believe that, if you push the affront to that extent, your family
would encourage you?"

"I hope, sire, that you will not force me to take any step which would be
unworthy of my rank."

"I hoped that you would remember our recent friendship, and that you
would treat me as a brother."

Madame paused for a moment. "I do not disown you for a brother," she
said, "in refusing you majesty an injustice."

"An injustice!"

"Oh, sire! if I informed others of La Valliere's conduct; if the queen
knew - "

"Come, come, Henrietta, let your heart speak; remember that, for however
brief a time, you once loved me; remember, too, that human hearts should
be as merciful as the heart of a sovereign Master. Do not be inflexible
with others; forgive La Valliere."

"I cannot; she has offended me."

"But for my sake."

"Sire, it is for your sake I would do anything in the world, except that."

"You will drive me to despair - you compel me to turn to the last
resource of weak people, and seek counsel of my angry and wrathful
disposition."

"I advise you to be reasonable."

"Reasonable! - I can be so no longer."

"Nay, sire! I pray you - "

"For pity's sake, Henrietta; it is the first time I entreated any one,
and I have no hope in any one but in you."

"Oh, sire! you are weeping."

"From rage, from humiliation. That I, the king, should have been obliged
to descend to entreaty. I shall hate this moment during my whole life.
You have made me suffer in one moment more distress and more degradation
than I could have anticipated in the greatest extremity in life." And
the king rose and gave free vent to his tears, which, in fact, were tears
of anger and shame.

Madame was not touched exactly - for the best women, when their pride is
hurt, are without pity; but she was afraid that the tears the king was
shedding might possibly carry away every soft and tender feeling in his
heart.

"Give what commands you please, sire," she said; "and since you prefer my
humiliation to your own - although mine is public and yours has been
witnessed but by myself alone - speak, I will obey your majesty."

"No, no, Henrietta!" exclaimed Louis, transported with gratitude, "you
will have yielded to a brother's wishes."

"I no longer have any brother, since I obey."

"All that I have would be too little in return."

"How passionately you love, sire, when you do love!"

Louis did not answer. He had seized upon Madame's hand and covered it
with kisses. "And so you will receive this poor girl back again, and
will forgive her; you will find how gentle and pure-hearted she is."

"I will maintain her in my household."

"No, you will give her your friendship, my sister."

"I never liked her."

"Well, for my sake, you will treat her kindly, will you not, Henrietta?"

"I will treat her as your - _mistress_."

The king rose suddenly to his feet. By this word, which had so
infelicitously escaped her, Madame had destroyed the whole merit of her
sacrifice. The king felt freed from all obligations. Exasperated beyond
measure, and bitterly offended, he replied:

"I thank you, Madame; I shall never forget the service you have rendered
me." And, saluting her with an affectation of ceremony, he took his
leave of her. As he passed before a glass, he saw that his eyes were
red, and angrily stamped his foot on the ground. But it was too late,
for Malicorne and D'Artagnan, who were standing at the door, had seen his
eyes.

"The king has been crying," thought Malicorne. D'Artagnan approached the
king with a respectful air, and said in a low tone of voice:

"Sire, it would be better to return to your own apartments by the small
staircase."

"Why?"

"Because the dust of the road has left its traces on your face," said
D'Artagnan. "By heavens!" he thought, "when the king has given way like
a child, let those look to it who may make the lady weep for whom the
king sheds tears."

Alexandre Dumas pere