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Chapter 31

Chapter XXXI:
Mademoiselle de la Valliere's Pocket-Handkerchief.

Madame was not bad-hearted - she was only hasty and impetuous. The king
was not imprudent - he was simply in love. Hardly had they entered into
this compact, which terminated in La Valliere's recall, when they both
sought to make as much as they could by their bargain. The king wished
to see La Valliere every moment of the day, while Madame, who was
sensible of the king's annoyance ever since he had so entreated her,
would not relinquish her revenge on La Valliere without a contest. She
planted every conceivable difficulty in the king's path; he was, in fact,
obliged, in order to get a glimpse of La Valliere, to be exceedingly
devoted in his attentions to his sister-in-law, and this, indeed, was
Madame's plan of policy. As she had chosen some one to second her
efforts, and as this person was our old friend Montalais, the king found
himself completely hemmed in every time he paid Madame a visit; he was
surrounded, and was never left a moment alone. Madame displayed in her
conversation a charm of manner and brilliancy of wit which dazzled
everybody. Montalais followed her, and soon rendered herself perfectly
insupportable to the king, which was, in fact, the very thing she
expected would happen. She then set Malicorne at the king, who found
means of informing his majesty that there was a young person belonging to
the court who was exceedingly miserable; and on the king inquiring who
this person was, Malicorne replied that it was Mademoiselle de
Montalais. To this the king answered that it was perfectly just that a
person should be unhappy when she rendered others so. Whereupon
Malicorne explained how matters stood; for he had received his directions
from Montalais. The king began to open his eyes; he remarked that, as
soon as he made his appearance, Madame made hers too; that she remained
in the corridors until after he had left; that she accompanied him back
to his own apartments, fearing that he might speak in the ante-chambers
to one of her maids of honor. One evening she went further still. The
king was seated, surrounded by the ladies who were present, and holding
in his hand, concealed by his lace ruffle, a small note which he wished
to slip into La Valliere's hand. Madame guessed both his intention and
the letter too. It was difficult to prevent the king going wherever he
pleased, and yet it was necessary to prevent his going near La Valliere,
or speaking to her, as by so doing he could let the note fall into her
lap behind her fan, or into her pocket-handkerchief. The king, who was
also on the watch, suspected that a snare was being laid for him. He
rose and pushed his chair, without affectation, near Mademoiselle de
Chatillon, with whom he began to talk in a light tone. They were amusing
themselves making rhymes; from Mademoiselle de Chatillon he went to
Montalais, and then to Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente. And thus, by
this skillful maneuver, he found himself seated opposite to La Valliere,
whom he completely concealed. Madame pretended to be greatly occupied,
altering a group of flowers that she was working in tapestry. The king
showed the corner of his letter to La Valliere, and the latter held out
her handkerchief with a look that signified, "Put the letter inside."
Then, as the king had placed his own handkerchief upon his chair, he was
adroit enough to let it fall on the ground, so that La Valliere slipped
her handkerchief on the chair. The king took it up quietly, without any
one observing what he did, placed the letter within it, and returned the
handkerchief to the place he had taken it from. There was only just time
for La Valliere to stretch out her hand to take hold of the handkerchief
with its valuable contents.

But Madame, who had observed everything that had passed, said to
Mademoiselle de Chatillon, "Chatillon, be good enough to pick up the
king's handkerchief, if you please; it has fallen on the carpet."

The young girl obeyed with the utmost precipitation, the king having
moved from his seat, and La Valliere being in no little degree nervous
and confused.

"Ah! I beg your majesty's pardon," said Mademoiselle de Chatillon; "you
have two handkerchiefs, I perceive."

And the king was accordingly obliged to put into his pocket La Valliere's
handkerchief as well as his own. He certainly gained that souvenir of
Louise, who lost, however, a copy of verses which had cost the king ten
hours' hard labor, and which, as far as he was concerned, was perhaps as
good as a long poem. It would be impossible to describe the king's anger
and La Valliere's despair; but shortly afterwards a circumstance occurred
which was more than remarkable. When the king left, in order to retire
to his own apartments, Malicorne, informed of what had passed, one can
hardly tell how, was waiting in the ante-chamber. The ante-chambers of
the Palais Royal are naturally very dark, and, in the evening, they were
but indifferently lighted. Nothing pleased the king more than this dim
light. As a general rule, love, whose mind and heart are constantly in a
blaze, contemns all light, except the sunshine of the soul. And so the
ante-chamber was dark; a page carried a torch before the king, who walked
on slowly, greatly annoyed at what had recently occurred. Malicorne
passed close to the king, almost stumbled against him in fact, and begged
his forgiveness with the profoundest humility; but the king, who was in
an exceedingly ill-temper, was very sharp in his reproof to Malicorne,
who disappeared as soon and as quietly as he possibly could. Louis
retired to rest, having had a misunderstanding with the queen; and the
next day, as soon as he entered the cabinet, he wished to have La
Valliere's handkerchief in order to press his lips to it. He called his
valet.

"Fetch me," he said, "the coat I wore yesterday evening, but be very sure
you do not touch anything it may contain."

The order being obeyed, the king himself searched the pocket of the coat;
he found only one handkerchief, and that his own; La Valliere's had
disappeared. Whilst busied with all kinds of conjectures and suspicions,
a letter was brought to him from La Valliere; it ran thus:

"How good and kind of you to have sent me those beautiful verses; how
full of ingenuity and perseverance your affection is; how is it possible
to help loving you so dearly!"

"What does this mean?" thought the king; "there must be some mistake.
Look well about," said he to the valet, "for a pocket-handkerchief must
be in one of my pockets; and if you do not find it, or if you have
touched it - " He reflected for a moment. To make a state matter of the
loss of the handkerchief would be to act absurdly, and he therefore
added, "There was a letter of some importance inside the handkerchief,
which had somehow got among the folds of it."

"Sire," said the valet, "your majesty had only one handkerchief, and that
is it."

"True, true," replied the king, setting his teeth hard together. "Oh,
poverty, how I envy you! Happy is the man who can empty his own pockets
of letters and handkerchiefs!"

He read La Valliere's letter over again, endeavoring to imagine in what
conceivable way his verses could have reached their destination. There
was a postscript to the letter:

"I send you back by your messenger this reply, so unworthy of what you
sent me."

"So far so good; I shall find out something now," he said delightedly.
"Who is waiting, and who brought me this letter?"

"M. Malicorne," replied the _valet de chambre_, timidly.

"Desire him to come in."

Malicorne entered.

"You come from Mademoiselle de la Valliere?" said the king, with a sigh.

"Yes, sire."

"And you took Mademoiselle de la Valliere something from me?"

"I, sire?"

"Yes, you."

"Oh, no, sire."

"Mademoiselle de la Valliere says so, distinctly."

"Oh, sire, Mademoiselle de la Valliere is mistaken."

The king frowned. "What jest is this?" he said; "explain yourself. Why
does Mademoiselle de la Valliere call you my messenger? What did you
take to that lady? Speak, monsieur, and quickly."

"Sire, I merely took Mademoiselle de la Valliere a pocket-handkerchief,
that was all."

"A handkerchief, - what handkerchief?"

"Sire, at the very moment when I had the misfortune to stumble against
your majesty yesterday - a misfortune which I shall deplore to the last
day of my life, especially after the dissatisfaction which you exhibited
- I remained, sire, motionless with despair, your majesty being at too
great a distance to hear my excuses, when I saw something white lying on
the ground."

"Ah!" said the king.

"I stooped down, - it was a pocket-handkerchief. For a moment I had an
idea that when I stumbled against your majesty I must have been the cause
of the handkerchief falling from your pocket; but as I felt it all over
very respectfully, I perceived a cipher at one of the corners, and, on
looking at it closely, I found that it was Mademoiselle de la Valliere's
cipher. I presumed that on her way to Madame's apartment in the earlier
part of the evening she had let her handkerchief fall, and I accordingly
hastened to restore it to her as she was leaving; and that is all I gave
to Mademoiselle de la Valliere, I entreat your majesty to believe."
Malicorne's manner was so simple, so full of contrition, and marked with
such extreme humility, that the king was greatly amused in listening to
him. He was as pleased with him for what he had done as if he had
rendered him the greatest service.

"This is the second fortunate meeting I have had with you, monsieur," he
said; "you may count upon my good intentions."

The plain and sober truth was, that Malicorne had picked the king's
pocket of the handkerchief as dexterously as any of the pickpockets of
the good city of Paris could have done. Madame never knew of this little
incident, but Montalais gave La Valliere some idea of the manner in which
it had really happened, and La Valliere afterwards told the king, who
laughed exceedingly at it and pronounced Malicorne to be a first rate
politician. Louis XIV. was right, and it is well known that he was
tolerably well acquainted with human nature.

Alexandre Dumas pere