Part 2 out of 13
THE STATE RECEPTION.
The commands of the countess were promptly obeyed. All Paris (that
is, the Paris of the aristocracy) were informed that a special
reception would be held at the Hotel de Soissons, and messengers
were dispatched with official announcement of the same to the royal
household. The ponderous gates were flung wide open to admit the
carriage of state. Eugene's superb gelding was led out by his
jockey; while near the open portiere stood the equerry whose office
it was to hand the countess to her carriage.
Her turnout was magnificent. The frame of the carriage was of dead
gilt, while above the burnished wheels rose its body, in shape and
color like the wonderful lily of the Amazon. Its exterior of snowy
whiteness was relieved by the rich coloring of the arms of Carignan
and Soissons emblazoned on the panels; the interior was cushioned
with purple velvet embroidered in gold. To this sumptuous vehicle
were harnessed six white horses, whose head-gear of velvet was
adorned with ostrich-plumes so delicate, that, as the air breathed
upon them, they looked like wreaths of snowy vapor. Perched high
above the hammer-cloth, which in color and material corresponded
with the inner decorations of the carriage, sat the chub-faced
coachman, his head buried in the vast expanse of a flowing wig, and
surmounted by a gold-and-purple cocked hat. The handle of his coach-
whip was of steel inlaid with gold, and he flourished it with as
much ostentation as if it had been the baton of a field-marshal.
Behind this princely equipage were two footmen in state livery; on
either side were two outriders.
The countess emerged from her palace-doors, clad in mantle of sky-
blue velvet bordered with gold. She was followed by the prince, who,
as the equerry advanced to assist his mistress, gently waved him
away, and took his place. Olympia smiled fondly upon her son, and
with graceful negligence sank back among her luxurious cushions.
The equerry approached for orders. "Let the coachman drive leisurely
through the streets, and still more slowly when we enter the Pre aux
Eugene mounted his impatient gelding, and his mother, inclining her
head to the equerry, gave the signal for their departure.
Slowly went the cortege, through the Eue des Deux Ecus and along the
Quartier St. Honore, while from every house, as they passed, the
windows were cautiously opened, and sneering faces looked down upon
the vain pomp with which Olympia de Soissons would have sustained
the falling ruins of her good name.
But things grew worse, when the outriders would have opened a
passage for the carriage through the crowded streets. As soon as the
people recognized the liveries, all the conventional homage with
which they were accustomed to greet such splendor, was transformed
"The poisoner! the poisoner!" they cried. "She braves us in the open
streets! Away with her! Away with the accomplice of La Voisin!"
The object of all this contumely preserved an appearance of
consummate indifference to it all; but her son! her unhappy son
blushed with shame and anger. He turned his sympathizing eyes upon
her, whom he believed to be an impersonation of every feminine
virtue, and she replied to his glance by an unconscious smile.
At last they reached the Pre aux Clercs, the fashionable promenade
of the day. Here the aristocracy were accustomed to drive, the king
and queen invariably appearing there to receive, sometimes, in the
case of the former, to pay homage. How often had he leaned upon the
carriage of Olympia, while princes and princesses of the blood had
been obliged to wait behind, until the Countess de Soissons was
ready to move on, and allow them to proceed! And how they had
flattered and praised, and curried favor with the divinity of the
"It must all be enacted anew," thought the ex-favorite, as she
slightly raised her head to see if the king was in sight. "The
philter will work: from the moment I catch his eye, he is mine! This
was La Voisin's promise."
Yes--the royal equipages were there, at the other end of the shaded
avenue, and, following in their wake, were those of the court.
Olympia cast aside her nonchalance, and raised her head that she
might be seen. The crisis had come! She was now to quaff the
intoxicating drink of success, or drain the poisoned chalice of
She could see the very smile on his face as he whispered flattering
words in the ear of some beauty who was in advance, and whom Olympia
could not recognize. One moment more, and her equipage would pass!
He would meet her eye, and the passion of his youth would be
rekindled in his heart, never more to die out!
But what commotion was this among the lords and ladies that
surrounded the king? His majesty spoke with his chief equerry; the
equerry sprang forward, and presently the royal equipages came
rushing by, close, close to the caleche of the countess, who vainly
sought to meet the eye of Louis, for he was conversing with the
queen, and his head was turned away.
Scarcely had the royal carriages been put in motion, before the
entire cortege followed at the same rapid pace. Princes and
princesses of the blood,--dukes, counts, and marquises,--duchesses
and marchionesses, rushed by so swiftly that not one of her court
friends had time to give so much as a passing nod to her who
nevertheless was allied by marriage to the reigning Duke of Savoy.
The last equipage had just gone by. "Is it the will of your highness
that we follow?" asked the equerry.
The countess inclined her head, and the equerry passed the word to
the coachman: "Follow the cortege." But the horses stirred not a
Eugene repeated the order, when the coachman slowly shook his head.
"Impossible, gracious prince, impossible!--The countess would never
forgive me, and I should be despised by every coachman of
distinction, were I so far to forget my duty as to suffer that an
equipage bearing the ducal arms of Savoy should follow the carriage
of a nobleman so insignificant as the Vicomte de Charlieu. Why, he
goes back but ten generations!"
Eugene smiled and delivered the portentous message to his mother.
"He is right," replied she; "and were he wrong, it would avail me
nothing to contend with him on a point of etiquette. The coachmen of
people of quality are more tenacious of their rights than the noble
families they serve. Not long ago, the Duchesses of Chartres and of
Luynes waited four hours in the rain, because, having met in a very
narrow street, neither one of their coachmen would back out, to give
the other an opportunity of passing. I must imitate their patience,
and wait for the return of the cortege, to take my proper place."
The decision of the countess being transmitted to the coachman, he
nodded approvingly. "I thought her highness would understand,"
replied he. "Our place is after the Duchess de Bourbon, the sixth
carriage from that of his majesty. The coachman of the Duke de
Cheneuse knows it as well as I do, and he will yield us precedence
as soon as he sees me ready to fall in."
They waited--the countess in perfect composure, her large black eyes
cast upward in complete forgetfulness of the actual state of things
around her; Eugene, with visible annoyance on his face, darting
anxious and uneasy glances down the avenue through which the king
was expected to return. And so passed an hour, at the end of which
the avenue was still and empty as a desert. It now became apparent
that his majesty had selected some other route by which to reach the
Louvre, and Olympia, awaking from her golden day-dreams, began to
realize the exceeding awkwardness of her position. For the first
time her heart faltered, and a cloud passed over her face.
Eugene rode up to the portiere, and addressing the countess in
Italian: "Mother," said he, "if we remain here any longer, I shall
choke with rage."
"Home," said Olympia to the equerry. "Home! Quick! Urge your horses
to their fullest speed!"
On the evening of that eventful day, every reception-room in the
Hotel Soissons was thrown open, and the palace front was one blaze
of light. But the steward had been obliged to close the gates, and
station four armed men within them, to protect the entrance from the
rabble who had again begun to assemble, again begun to threaten.
The countess was either ignorant of this unpleasant circumstance, or
she considered it beneath her notice. From her carriage she had
passed to her cabinet, whence she had never emerged until compelled
to make her toilet for the evening. Her temporary discouragement
overcome, she entered the throne-room magnificently attired,
sparkling with jewels, and radiant with feverish expectation. She
was still upheld by the confidence she reposed in La Voisin's
predictions, and the firm faith with which she clung to the virtues
of her philter.
She could not, however, repress the scowl that darkened her brow,
as, glancing around her vast suite of empty rooms, she beheld not
one visitor!--no living being besides her own three daughters, the
young Princesses de Carignan, who came forward to kiss her hand, and
pay her their tribute of affectionate admiration.
She paid very little attention to their sweet flattery; her restless
eyes wandered from door to door, where not a form was seen but those
of the four lackeys, who were in waiting to announce the
distinguished guests as they arrived.
The mocking echo of her tread, as she traversed the void which
should have been filled with a courtly throng, sounded ominous in
her ear, and the haughty woman began to quail. She had heard it said
that when a ship was doomed to destruction, no rats were ever known
to leave port in its hold. Was she a sinking ship? Was her doom
sealed? Once more her longing eyes sought the lofty, open doors,
through which so often the court had passed to do her homage on her
throne, and she shivered almost perceptibly. But she forced a smile,
and observed to her eldest daughter: "Our guests are unusually late
to-night. Even the Duchess de Bouillon, generally so punctual, has
not yet made her appearance."
"Even your adorer, Marshal de Luxemburg, mamma, is not vet here."
returned the princess, with a smile.
The countess looked sharply at her daughter. Why had she mentioned
the name of De Luxemburg? Why named him in conjunction with the
Duchess de Bouillon? Did Johanna know that these two were her
confidants, and that they were accustomed to visit La Voisin
together? That only five days before, they had met in the den of the
soothsayer, to have their horoscope drawn for the last time? Did
Johanna know that through De Luxemburg's efforts Louis's valet had
been bribed to rob him of a lock of his hair, without which the
precious philter could never have been distilled? Oh, no! She was
silly--nervous--the events of the day had disheartened her, and she
was growing to be a craven. How should Johanna know her secrets? The
allusion to the marshal was accidental.
The wax-lights were growing fearfully short, and still the invited
guests tarried. Never in her life before had Olympia condescended to
rest her gaze upon the faces of those who served her; to-night she
could not resist an inclination to glance for one moment at their
countenances. As she looked athwart those features, erst so
submissive and so reverent, she saw significant smirks, and an
expression of disdain for which she could have felled them to the
Meanwhile the three princesses, their lips distorted with forced
smiles, stood around their mother, sometimes raising their anxious
eyes to her stormy face, sometimes exchanging uneasy glances one
with another; but not one of them daring to break the oppressive
silence by a single word.
At last the painful lull was broken by a slight rustling. The door
of the anteroom was opened, and a solitary figure was seen
traversing the long suite of apartments.
"Eugene," exclaimed Johanna. "Our little abbe!" And, delighted to
put an end to their embarrassment, the sisters went forward with
outstretched hands to meet him.
But Eugene could not respond to their greeting. His eyes were fixed
upon the chandelier, under whose blaze he beheld a pale, sinister
face, and a tall, haughty figure; his mother, attired with regal
splendor, looking every inch a queen; but ah! a dethroned queen, for
her subjects had deserted her and among them "there was none so poor
to do her reverence."
He approached her, and, as she silently extended her icy hand, he
covered it with loving kisses. "I had hardly expected to find my
dear mother here before me," said he, with a smile.
"Why so, Eugene?" asked Olympia.
"Because the hour for your reception was fixed for nine o'clock, and
it has not yet struck nine."
The countess glanced quickly at the clock on the sculptured mantel-
piece. "It is almost ten," said she.
"Your clock is nearly an hour too fast," said Eugene, who had
followed the direction of his mother's eyes. And he drew out his own
She looked at it a moment. "True--your watch is slow. Eugene. You
knew, then, before you came hither, that no one had yet arrived?"
"Dear mother," responded Eugene, "you think--"
"I think that you are a tender, loving son," said she, interrupting
him. "But it is not necessary to deceive me, dear boy. I know that
it is almost an hour past the time I had appointed; but that
signifies nothing. It was not known until late that I would receive
to-night, and this is the reception-day of the Duchess de Luynes. My
guests will naturally have gone thither first, and they will come
later to us."
"You are quite right," replied Eugene. "But would it not be better
for you to retire to your cabinet and rest until the company arrive?
I will call you as soon as the rooms begin to fill."
She shook her head slowly. "No--I remain here. It would be cowardly
to retire now. Let us calmly await our distinguished guests. They
will be coming very soon."
Eugene bowed his head in obedience to her commands, and stationed
himself by the side of his sisters. There was another long silence,
interrupted by the slow, inflexible strokes of the clock, which
announced the hour of "ten."
Great drops of anguish stood out upon the pale, high forehead of the
prince, and his sisters could no longer restrain their tears. The
countess alone looked resolute: her features betrayed no emotion
whatever; but about her mouth there hovered a vindictive smile, and
in her eyes there was a light like that which glitters in the
serpent's head that looks out from the deadly jungles of India.
"Would that I could breathe poison into the veins of yonder staring
menials at the door!" said she to herself. "Would that I could blind
their staring eyes with lightning! But for them I might leave this
fiery furnace of shame, and hide my face within the privacy of my
A sound was heard without, and the Princess Joanna unconsciously
clasped her hands with delight, exclaiming, "There comes a
The countess turned around, and glanced fiercely at her
unsophisticated daughter. "Is there anything remarkable in the sound
of a carriage, that it should occasion so much joy, mademoiselle?
Are carriages so rare within the gates of the Hotel Soissons?"
The door opened, and the gentleman-usher, with his gilded staff,
appeared on the threshold.
"Madame la Marquise Dupont de Lanin," cried he, and the lady
followed the announcement at once.
Often had the poor old marquise attended the levees of the Countess
de Soissons, but never before had she been accorded so distinguished
a reception. She was tolerated in the salons of Paris on account of
her high birth and connections; added to which she had a tongue in
her mouth like a two-edged sword, which flew hither and thither
about the reputations of those who slighted or forgot her claims to
To-night she was most graciously, most cordially welcomed. Like the
dove which brought the olive-branch to Noah, the marquise was a
messenger from dry land. The waters had subsided--the deluge of
their troubles was over.
With wreathed smiles and flattering words, Olympia came forward to
greet her first guest. The old marquise received the unprecedented
attention paid her without the least manifestation of surprise. With
her sharp old eyes, she traversed the empty vastness of the gilded
halls that were wont to swarm with the creme de la creme of Paris,
and understood the matter at once. She had scarcely had time to
reciprocate the politeness of her hostess before two other carriages
rolled into the court-yard and two more distinguished names were
announced by the usher.
This time an old duchess and an equally venerable viscount entered
the room of state. Their social STATUS was similar to that of the
marquise: they belonged to the species whom the world is compelled
to invite, but whom it detests, because they never have been known
to decline an invitation. But they, too, were heartily welcomed,
and, by one not initiated in the mysteries of the hour, they would
have been set down as the countess's dearest friends.
Eugene took no part in the conversation which ensued. He had again
resumed his taciturn and unsocial demeanor, and now, with folded
arms, he stood in the deep recess of a curtained window, sometimes
looking gloomily out into the night, anon glancing at the little
knot of adventurers, and personages of doubtful reputation, who
occasionally added another to the meagre group that were around his
mother. Olympia strove to converse gayly with her assemblage of
insupportables, but she was chafing like an infuriated lioness.
"If Marianna and De Luxemburg would but come! I might, at least,
learn how I stand at court, and find out why the king returned to
the Louvre by an unusual route. Heavens! how long will I be able to
smile upon these hateful bores? How long sustain the burden of this
The evening waned, and neither Marianna, De Luxemburg, nor any other
member of the court circle appeared, to silence the apprehensions or
soothe the wounded pride of the haughty Countess de Soissons. But
late--very late--when she had relinquished all hopes of another
arrival, the doors were flung open, and the usher, in a loud voice,
announced: "His highness the Duke de Bouillon!"
HELP IN TIME OF NEED.
Olympia, who, with three or four wrinkled old fops, and as many
withered dames, had just taken her seat at a card-table, kissed her
hand, and received her brother-in-law, with a profusion of smiles
such as never before had greeted his entrance into the salons of the
He seemed to be totally unconscious of her blandishments, as, with a
slight inclination to the company, he came very close to the
hostess, and, regardless of etiquette, whispered something in her
His communication must have been of a nature to excite mirth, for
she threw back her head, and, laughing rather more boisterously than
was her wont, rose quickly from her seat.
"Of course, my dear duke," said she, so as to be heard by all who
were around; "of course you shall have the drops for my sister. I
regret to hear that she needs them. Come with me to my cabinet, and
you shall receive them from my hand. I will even taste them in your
presence, that they may not be suspected of containing poison.
Follow me, if my kind friends will excuse us for a few moments."
With a graceful bend of her head, the countess crossed the room, and
disappeared with her brother-in-law. From the window to which he had
retired, Eugene had seen and heard what was passing, and in the
stern expression of the Duke de Bouillon's face he had read
something of more significance than a whispered request for
headache-drops. No sooner had his mother left the room than he
followed her, and as she was about to enter her cabinet, he laid his
hand upon her shoulder:
"Pardon, dear mother," said he, in fond and deprecating tones. "I
merely wish to say, that during your interview with my uncle, I will
remain in the little room adjoining. You may want me, perchance, to
execute some commission--it may be to bear an apology to our
"It will be better for Prince Eugene to take part in our
conference," said the duke, with his usual moroseness. "He is the
only son you have in Paris, and, as the representative of the
family, it is proper for him to hear what I am about to
"I consent," replied Olympia, calmly. "I have no secrets from my
son, and your highness may speak without reserve what you have come
hither at this unusual hour to say."
With these words she entered her cabinet, the others following
silently behind. The duke closed the door and looked around, to see
that there were no other occupants of the room. He peered curiously
at the heavy folds of the satin curtains which concealed the
windows, and, having satisfied himself that no listeners lurked
behind, he spoke.
"You are quite sure that we cannot be overheard?" said he,
addressing the countess.
"Perfectly sure," replied she. "Of these walls it may be said, that,
unlike walls of ordinary construction, they have no ears. Speak
without apprehension. But above all things let us be seated."
"No, madame, let us remain as we are, and hearken to my words. You
know that La Voisin was arrested last night."
"I know it. Monsieur Louvois brought me the news this morning, and
it was corroborated by the rabble that attacked us not long after
his departure from the palace. It is said that La Voisin is a
toxicologist, and that she has been in the habit of selling poison
to her patrons. Was this what you came to say?"
"With this I intended to open my communication, madame. That La
Voisin has trafficked in poisons is proved, and she will assuredly
mount the scaffold for her crimes. But the next point is to inquire
to whom her poudre de succession has been sold."
"Has the question been put to La Voisin?" asked the countess,
carelessly. "They have only to inquire of her; doubtless she will
reveal the names of her friends."
The duke came nearer, and looked sternly in her face. "The question
has been asked, and it has been answered, madame."
The countess shuddered, but recovered herself instantaneously.
Momentary as it was, however, Eugene had seen the motion, and now
his large dark eyes were fixed upon his uncle with a look of steady
"The confessions of La Voisin can be of no significance to the
Countess de Soissins," said he, haughtily. "She cannot have made any
declaration that would compromise a noble lady!"
"Nevertheless she has compromised one of the noblest names in
France," returned the duke. "She was forced to reveal the names of
"Yes! they have been as cruel as they were to poor Brinvilliers;
they have taken her to the chambre ardente." cried the countess, in
a trembling voice.
"Yes, madame, she was taken to the chambre ardente, stretched upon
the rack, and then she confessed." "Confessed what?" gasped Olympia.
"She confessed to have sold her poudre de succession; to have
foretold the future, and to have prepared love-philters."
"I do not know that there is treason in drawing horoscopes and
brewing love-philters," returned the countess, with a forced laugh.
"It is treason to brew love-philters, when they are designed to take
effect upon the King of France," replied the duke. "It is also
treason to steal a lock of his hair wherewith to prepare the
"Did she say this?" screamed the countess, with the ferocity of a
tigress at bay.
"She did. The lock of hair was obtained by Marshal Luxemburg, who
bribed the valet of his majesty; the philter was prepared for the
Countess de Soissons."
"Her tortures must then have unsettled her reason," cried Olympia.
"To end her agony, the poor delirious wretch has confessed any thing
that her executioners may have suggested."
"You are mistaken. When she had fully recovered her senses, she
repeated her declaration word for word. She signalized three persons
as her trustiest confidants. Two of the three were her accomplices;
the third is merely accused of having made use of La Voisin to raise
the devil. The two who are accused of murder are Monsieur de
Luxemburg and Madame de Soissons."
"The third?" said Olympia, hoarsely.
"My own wife," returned the duke, mournfully. "Not having been
accused of crime, she has not been sent to the Bastile; his majesty
has graciously permitted her to be imprisoned in her own hotel."
"Not sent to the Bastile!" echoed the countess, with a shudder.
"Has--any one been--sent there?"
"Yes. Two hours ago Monsieur de Luxemburg was arrested, and he is
now there in a criminal's cell."
The countess uttered a cry of anguish, and tottered to a seat, for
her trembling limbs refused to support her. She put her hand to her
head, and looked wildly around.
"And I?--am I to be arrested?"
"Yes, madame. The lettre de cachet has been sent by Louvois to the
king, and--" "And the king!" said Olympia, almost inaudibly.
"His majesty has signed it."
The countess pressed her hands upon her heart, and then, suddenly
springing to her feet, she burst into a loud, frenzied laugh. "He
has signed! He has signed!--And you--you--" muttered she, with a
scowl at the duke, "did you offer to act as bailiff for the king?"
As though he would have confronted a world to shield her from harm,
Eugene threw his arm around his mother's waist, and stood between
"If such be your errand, Duke de Bouillon, you must first be the
assassin of her son. No blow shall reach her, until it shall have
pierced the heart of her only protector!"
"Not so grandiloquent, my little abbe," replied De Bouillon,
superciliously. "Methinks, were I so disposed, I might snap the
feeble thread of your existence, without any extraordinary display
of valor, but I have no desire to deprive the countess of so valiant
a knight. I come, not to arrest, hut to deliver her. I come to save
herself from the headsman, her family from the foul blot of her
"Avenging God!" murmured the miserable woman.
"You must fly, Olympia," continued the duke, compassionating her
fearful condition, "you must fly, and without delay."
"Fly!" exclaimed Eugene, furiously. "Because a degraded wretch like
that La Voisin, in her delirium of agony, has spoken the name of the
Countess de Soissons, she shall become a fugitive from justice? No,
mother, no! Remain to confound your calumniators, and, with the good
sword of Right, and Truth, pierce the vile falsehood to its heart's
The duke shook his head. "Let not ill-advised heroism tempt you to
defy your legions of accusers. Be you innocent or guilty, you are
prejudged, and will be condemned. Believe me, the danger is urgent,
and it were sheer imbecility to confront it."
"You say the king has signed?" replied she, with a vacant stare.
Then clasping her hands, she burst into a flood of tears, repeating
o'er and o'er the piteous words, "Oh no! No! No! It cannot be! It
"Nevertheless, he has done it; done it at the instigation of Louvois
and De Montespan. But mark me well, and you too, abbe--listen to
what I am about to say. The king himself it was who sent me hither
to warn you; it is he who urges you to flight. That you may have
time to escape, the lettre de cachet is not to go into effect until
to-morrow morning. But the morrow is close at hand: hark!--the clock
strikes eleven, and you have but one hour. If after midnight you are
found within the gates of Paris, your doom is certain. The spies of
Louvois are close at hand; they watch before your palace-gates, and
await the twelfth stroke of the iron tongue that speaks from the
towers of Notre Dame, to force their way into the very room wherein
we stand. If they pass the threshold of the palace you are
The countess spoke not a word in reply. They scarcely knew whether
she had understood the terrible import of the duke's appeal. She had
remained motionless, almost breathless; her face white as death, her
large orbs distended to their utmost, gazing, not upon the tangible
objects that were before them, but upon some fearful pageant that
was passing within the shadowy precincts of her soul.
Her lips began to move, and she muttered incoherent words. "Ah! is
it so?" said she, almost inaudibly. "The end of that bright dream!
The philter! What!" cried she with sudden energy, "he warns me? He
grants me--one--one hour!" And then, overpowered by the reality of
her supreme desolation, she opened her arms, and looked defiantly
above, as if invoking the wrath of that Heaven which had forsaken
"Olympia," said the duke, touching her arm, "you have but three-
quarters of an hour to quit Paris."
"Dear mother," implored Eugene, "decide quickly whether you go or
She shuddered, and, with a deep sigh, suffered her arms to fall
listlessly at her side.
"I must drink of this chalice of humiliation," said she, mournfully.
"I must fly."
A groan of anguish broke from the depths of Eugene's suffering
heart, while a strange look shot athwart the countenance of the
duke. The groan was that of faith that faltered; the glance was that
of doubt made certainty.
"I must make my escape," iterated Olympia in a tone more resolute.
"If Louvois has effected the arrest of a woman allied to the royal
family, it is because he is secure of her conviction. Rather than
become his victim, I will endure the shame of flight. Time enough
remains to me for justification." [Footnote: The countess's own
words.--See Amadee Renee, "The Nieces of Mazarin," p. 207.]
"Justification shall come through me!" cried Eugene, raising his
right hand as though taking an oath.
"Countess, countess," urged De Bouillon, "you have but half an
"You are right," returned Olympia, summoning all her resolution to
her aid. "Time is flying, and I must be diligent."
"I promised his majesty not to leave you until you were on your way,
Olympia," was the duke's reply, "and I shall remain to fulfil my
"And I, mother," added Eugene, "will never leave you until you are
in perfect safety."
"Then let us prepare," was Olympia's rejoinder. "You, duke, be so
kind as to collect my papers and money. They are in that ebony
secretary at your elbow. Here are the keys. You will find a casket
therein, where all that you find may be deposited for the present. I
myself will gather up my jewels and such clothing as cannot be
dispensed with. Eugene, my son, go at once to the stables: order my
travelling-chariot, and see that eight of my swiftest horses are
attached to it. In Brussels I shall find a friend in the Spanish
viceroy. Send forward relays to Rheims and Namur; and let the men be
clad in liveries of dark gray. Hasten, my son; before half an hour,
I must be hence!"
When Eugene returned, he found his mother waiting. The duke hastily
threw over her shoulders a travelling-cloak bordered with fur, and
Olympia, drawing the hood closely around her face, prepared to quit
"Shall I not call my sisters to bid you adieu?" asked her son.
"No," said she, calmly. "Their absence would be remarked, and
nothing must arouse the suspicion of my guests. I leave to you,
Monsieur de Bouillon, the task of communicating my flight to my
daughters. May I request you to bear a message to the king also?
Tell him that whenever he will pass his royal word that I may return
without danger of incarceration, I shall be ready to appear before
my accusers, and defend my calumniated reputation. [Footnote: Her
own words.--See the "Letters of Madame de Sevigne," vol. iii.] Give
me your arm,--and yours, Eugene: we are late."
Silently, and without a single expression of regret, she went
through the lofty corridors of the hotel, until she reached the
private staircase by which Eugene had passed to the street that
morning. The servants had assembled to bid her adieu, and, as they
tendered their good wishes, she bent her lofty head with the
condescension of a queen. Before descending, she addressed a few
words to the steward:
"I am forced to leave Paris for a time, Latour. My enemies refuse me
the poor privilege of remaining here to refute the absurd charges
preferred against me by the senseless rabble that are in their pay.
During my absence, I leave you in full command of my household. You
shall receive your wages until you decide to seek employment
elsewhere. Farewell all!"
The chariot with eight superb horses was at the postern, and around
it stood the lackeys in their liveries of sombre gray. The countess
took her seat in the carriage, and, bending forward to kiss her son,
said, "Bear my greetings to your sisters, Eugene."
"Will my gracious uncle accept this commission?" asked he, turning
to the duke.
"Why not you?" asked Olympia.
"Because my place is with you, dearest mother," was the simple reply
of her devoted child, while he took his seat at her side.
"It is right," remarked the duke, "and I begin to feel considerable
respect for our little abbe!"
"I shall compel respect from more than the Duke de Bouillon,"
thought his nephew.
"Farewell!" said Olympia, with as much self possession as if she had
been starting for a tour of pleasure. "Tell the king that I forget
to pity my own impotence in compassionating his."
The carriage rolled away, first under the illuminated windows of the
rooms of state, where the unconscious Princesses de Carignan were
doing their best to entertain the motley assemblage, that had been
so suddenly deserted by their mother; then along the dimly-lighted
streets where Eugene's heart beat with painful apprehension lest the
crowd should recognize the fugitive; then they entered the avenue
where the court had turned its back upon Olympia and her extravagant
hopes, and at last--they reached the gates.
Meanwhile the Duke de Bouillon had returned to the salons, where he
announced the departure of the countess to her guests; the servants
had dispersed, and returned to their usual employments, all except
one, who crept stealthily out, and, turning the corner, advanced a
few paces into a dark and narrow alley. Two horsemen were waiting
his appearance there.
"Has she gone?" asked one.
"Yes," replied the man; "and relays have been ordered to hasten her
"What route did she take?"
"She goes to Brussels, by the way of Rheims, Rocroy, and Namur."
"Here are your four louis d'ors."
With these words, the two horsemen galloped away, turning their
horses' heads toward the palace of the minister of war. In the
porte-cochere stood Louvois himself, who, motioning them not to
dismount, spoke a few low words, and then handed to each one a
package of letters and a purse of gold.
"Fly with all speed," said he, in his parting injunctions. "Kill as
many horses as you list--I pay for their carcasses; but see that at
every station you arrive a full hour before the countess."
He then entered his carriage, and drove to the Louvre to inform the
king that his royal commands had been obeyed, and that the Countess
de Soissons had been suffered to escape.
As the chariot that was bearing away the disgraced Olympia drove
through the barrier and entered upon the high-road, the two horsemen
galloped past, and so completely did they distance the unhappy
travellers, that in a few moments the echo of their horses' feet had
died away into silence.
It was a glorious night--a night of sapphire skies, radiant with
stellar diamonds--one of those nights whose beauty intensifies
pleasure, and whose gentle influence soothes pain; which, to the
joyous heart seem to prefigure heaven; to the sorrowing are like the
healing touch of the Almighty hand, which, in exceeding love, has
stricken it with a passing pain.
But not a ray of hope or consolation refreshed the dreary wastes of
the heart of Olympia de Soissons. She had withdrawn herself from the
embrace of her son, and leaned far back into the corner of the
carriage. But for the glare of her large, black eyes, as they
reflected the light of the lamps on either side, she might have been
asleep, so motionless she lay; but, whenever Eugene turned a timid
glance upon her rigid features, he saw that she seemed ever and ever
to be looking away from him, and far out upon the black and
shapeless masses of the woods through which they journeyed all that
He had tried to divert her by conversation; but to his remarks she
had made such curt and random replies, that he desisted, and left
her to the bleak solitude of her own reveries.
And thus they passed the night. With fresh relays of eight spirited
horses, they travelled so swiftly, that when morning dawned, the
lofty towers of the Cathedral of Rheims were seen looming through
the mist, and the coachman drew up before the gates.
But, although a courier had been sent in advance to order it, no
relay was there. The coachman turned to Eugene for instructions.
"This is most unfortunate," replied he, "for it compels us to enter
the city and change horses at the royal post-house. While
arrangements are being made there, will it please my dear mother to
leave her carriage and partake of some refreshment?"
The countess replied with a silent bend of the head, and Eugene sent
forward a courier, with orders to have breakfast prepared. The
carriage passed the old Roman gate, and entered the city, made
famous by the coronation of so many kings of France. The rattle of
the wheels over the rough stone pavement made the countess start
with apprehension of she knew not what, and she withdrew cautiously
"It is well that the roll of this clamorous carriage cannot awaken
our foes," said she, as they stopped before the post-house.
Her rejoicings were premature; for the master of the post-horses
came leisurely forward, his face expressing a mixture of rude
curiosity with careless contempt.
"You want post-horses?" asked he, with a familiar nod.
Eugene's large eyes flashed fire. "It would appear," said he, "that
you do not know to whom you have the honor of speaking, or else you
would remove your hat."
"Oh, yes, I know who you are," answered he, insolently. "That is the
Countess de Soissons, and you are the little abbe, her son. But I
keep on my hat, for it is cool this morning, and it suits me NOT to
"It suits you, then, to be a boor, a barefaced--"
"Peace, Eugene!" interrupted Olympia, in Italian; "peace, or you
will cause me some detention that may imperil my life. See; in spite
of the undue hour, how many men are around our carriage. They are
not here by accident. Their presence only proves that Louvois'
couriers have anticipated us; and if ever we hope to pass the
frontiers of France, we must be discreet."
"And I may not, therefore, chastise this varlet! I must sit tamely
by while he insults my mother!"
"He is but a tool, Eugene. Spare the instrument, and strike the hand
that directs it against me."
"By the Eternal God, I will smite that hand!" said Eugene, while the
master of the post-horses stood staring at Olympia with an
expression of familiarity that would have cost him his life, had she
been free to take it. But sweet as the honey of Hybla were the words
"Good sir, would you be so obliging as to furnish us with eight
horses?" said she, almost imploringly.
"Eight horses! for that light vehicle? It looks much as if you were
trying to make your escape, and were sore pressed to move on."
"I am, indeed, sorely pressed," said she, in tones of distress;
"hasten, I implore of you, hasten!"
"You cannot have them before half an hour," said he, turning on his
heel, and re-entering the house.
The countess now called to one of her footmen: "Go, see if we can
have a room and some breakfast."
The man obeyed, but returned almost immediately, with a most
"They have no vacant room, and say that your highness need not
trouble yourself to leave the carriage, in search of lodgings, were
it even for five minutes."
"Then go and bring us each a cup of chocolate," replied the
countess, with a sigh.
The footman renewed his petition, and this time returned,
accompanied by a woman, who, in angry haste, approached the unhappy
"You are the Countess de Soissons?" asked she, with a bold stare.
"Yes, madame, I am; and I hope you will do me the favor to serve us
a cup of chocolate."
"You do--do you? Well, I have come out here to tell you that I shall
do no such thing. How do I know that your breath may not poison my
"Woman!" cried Eugene, springing up from his seat.
His mother put him firmly back. "I command you to keep silence,"
said she, imperiously. Then, resuming her colloquy with the woman
who stood by, with arms akimbo: "I will tell you how you can oblige
me without any risk to yourself."
"Sell me, not only the chocolate, but the cups that contain it. I
will give you a louis d'or for each one."
The woman's eyes glistened with greed of gold. "Two louis d'ors for
two cups of chocolate!" said she to herself, "that is a brave trade
for me. You shall have them," added she aloud. "I will fetch them in
And off she pattered with her slipshod shoes into the house. The
countess then addressed her son, who, leaning back in a corner of
the carriage, sat with his head buried in his hands.
"Eugene," said she, emphatically, "if you are to accompany me any
farther, it must be as a peace-loving abbe not as an irascible
soldier. If you incense these people against us, your indiscreet
zeal will cause me to be captured. I have no longing for death; I
desire to live until my son, the mighty cardinal, has trampled under
foot the least as well as the greatest of my enemies."
"Oh, mother, I have not only YOUR injuries to avenge, but mine! I
have the burning shame of yesterday to wipe out, although the wound
of my humiliation can never be healed."
"Time--Nature's sweet balm--heals every wound, and in our days of
adversity let this be our consolation. To the sharp lash of Destiny
the wise man will bow in silence; but if the blow be from the hand
of man, it is from the crucible of the suffering it imposes that
must come the strength wherewith we retaliate; from the depths of
our wounded hearts that must spring the geysers of our seething
revenge. It would gratify me to have you the companion of my flight,
but, if in the impotence of your wrath you seek to defend me, it
will be better for us to part.--Ah, here comes the chocolate! I
confess that I rejoice to scent its fragrant aroma. Let us drink,
and afterward you will decide whether you subscribe to my exactions,
or return to Paris."
The cups were cracked, without handles, and of coarse pottery--the
thrifty housewife having taken care to select the worst of her wares
to barter away. The countess smilingly accepted hers, and, as Eugene
was putting his impatiently away, she took it herself from the
"Drink," said she, "and hearken to a saying of our uncle, Cardinal
Mazarin: 'When a man is troubled in spirit, he must strengthen
himself in body. The world is a great campaign against contrarieties
with which we must daily anticipate a skirmish. And above all, on
the eve of a great battle, the soul, which is the chief, must see to
it that his soldier, which is the body, is in a condition to do him
service.' These were the words of a wise man, and they are worthy of
being remembered. Drink your chocolate, my son, for you well know
that we are about to go into action."
He took the cup from his mother's hand, and, without another word,
emptied it of its contents. The woman, meanwhile, had been watching
her cups, lamenting their approaching destruction, which, spite of
the tremendous price at which they had been purchased, she looked
upon as a sacrifice greatly to be deplored. Seeing that the
catastrophe was approaching, she stepped forward to receive her pay.
In her hand she held a large pan of water, which she raised to a
level with the portiere of the carriage.
"Now, madame," said she, "you have had your chocolate, give me my
From her jewelled purse Olympia drew out two gold-pieces, which she
offered to the woman. But, instead of receiving them, she cried out
in a shrill voice:
"Drop them in the water. After a few hours I may venture to touch
the gold that has passed through your hands!"
The crowd, whom curiosity had drawn around the carriage, now burst
out into a shout of applause.
"Right, right, Dame Margot! You are a prudent woman! Nobody knows
what might come of handling her louis d'ors."
Olympia smiled. "Yes." said she, "you are a wise woman, and, as a
token of my admiration for your prudence, here are three louis d'ors
instead of the two I had promised."
So saying, she dropped three gold-pieces in the basin. The woman
blushed, and looked ashamed. The crowd were astonished, and here and
there were heard a few murmured words of sympathy. "That was very
kind, was it not? After all, she may not be as bad as they say. It
may all be a lie about her poisoning her children!"
Olympia heard it, and a proud smile flitted over her beautiful face.
The woman still lingered at the carriage-door. "And the cups?" asked
she, wistfully. "I suppose you will break them, will you not?"
"No," replied the countess, speaking so that she might be heard by
the people. "No, my good woman, I will not break them: they shall
lie in the basin, so that, like the gold, they may be purified until
you find them worthy of being used again!"
And again her jewelled hand was extended, and from her slender
fingers the cups were carefully dropped into the basin.
"Your highness," exclaimed the woman, abashed, "I thank you a
thousand times for your generosity, and I hope you will forgive my
rudeness. I would not have been so forgetful of the respect I owe to
a lady of your rank, if I had not been put up to it by other people.
From my heart I beg your pardon, madame."
"You are sincerely forgiven," replied Olympia, gently. "I am
accustomed to contumely, and when unjustly persecuted I follow the
example of my Saviour--I forgive those that hate and revile me."
"Did you hear that?" whispered the multitude one to another. "And do
you mark what a beautiful countenance she has? Instead of being a
murderess, she may be a pious saint. Who knows?"
"No," cried the vender of chocolate, bravely diving her hand into
the basin and withdrawing her louis d'ors, "no, she is no murderess,
she is a benevolent, Christian lady."
"She is a benevolent Christian lady," shouted the people, and in
less than five minutes the countess was as popular as a prince who
has just ascended the throne.
A third time the magic purse was drawn forth, and two more louis
d'ors glittered in the hand of Dame Margot!
"May I ask of you the favor to give this to those good people, that
they may drink my health?" said Olympia.
"You are an angel," cried Margot, while her eyes grew moist with
"Yes, an angel!" echoed the crowd. "So beautiful! So good! So
They were still in the height of their enthusiasm when the half hour
had expired, and the post-horses were brought out and harnessed. The
postilion sounded his horn, and the coachman cracked his whip.
"Long live the noble Countess de Soissons!" cried Dame Margot, and
"Long live her highness!" echoed the converts, while the carriage
thundered through the streets, and the countess threw herself back
"Miserable rabble!" said she, "whose love and hate are bought with
gold, and whom philanthropists regard as the exponents of the Divine
will! 'Vox populi vox Dei,' forsooth!"--Then, turning to Eugene,
who, during the whole performance, had remained sullenly silent, she
continued: "Have you decided whether to leave or accompany me? If
the latter, it must be in the character of a diplomatist, whose
weapons are sweet words and shining gold."
"I go on with you, mother, as your loving and obedient son," said
Eugene, kissing her hand--even the one which still clasped the
wonder-working purse. "I have no right to despise this tiny
necromancer, for, by its beneficent power, you have been rescued
from dangers which I, a man, and not a coward, was impotent to
avert. I submit, dear mother, to your dictates--no longer your
champion, look upon me henceforth as your subject."
The voice was very mournful in which Eugene made this profession of
vassalage, and at its conclusion his eyes were veiled by tears of
burning humiliation. His mother affected not to perceive his
emotion, as she replied in her blandest tones:
"I thank you, my son. Your decision is a most filial and meritorious
one. The two days that have just passed over your head have proved
to me that, whatever may be your career, you are destined to render
it illustrious: either by statesmanship or prowess. Whether as an
ecclesiastic, a politician, or a soldier, you will certainly attain
"Mother, as a soldier, I MAY attain distinction; as a churchman,
never. For the present I accept my fate; but blessed will be the day
on which I go into the world free to feel the power of my manhood,
and to shape my fortunes with my own hand. Let women rise to dignity
through royal favor and family influence; man's only ally should be
his own strong arm. Far nobler to me is the lieutenant who wins his
epaulets upon the battle-field, than the prince who is born to the
command of an army."
"Have a care how you speak such high-treason at the court of Louis
XIV.," replied his mother. "It would be repeated to his majesty, and
never would be forgiven."
"I hope to do many things in my life that will be repeated to his
majesty of France--perchance some of which may never obtain his
forgiveness," replied Eugene, quietly. "But let us speak of the
present, and of you, beloved mother."
Olympia threw herself back against the soft upholstery that lined
the back of the carriage. "Rather let us speak of nothing, my child.
Neither of us had any rest last night: I would gladly sleep awhile."
She closed her eyes, and finally Nature asserted her long-frustrated
claims. In a few moments, the humiliations, the fears, and the
sufferings of the unhappy Olympia, were drowned in the drowsy waters
of profound sleep.
She was not long permitted to remain in oblivion of her woes. Her
repose was broken by the hoots and hisses of another vulgar crowd,
that swarmed like hornets about the carriage-windows. They had
arrived at another station, where, in place of finding post-horses,
they were met by another mob as vituperative as the one they had
Eugene thrust open the portiere, and, leaping into the very midst of
the rioters, he drew out his pistols. "The first one of you," cried
he, "that proffers another injurious word, I will shoot as I would a
"Hear that sickly manikin! He is trying to browbeat us!" cried some
one in the crowd.
"Yes, yes, trying to browbeat us!" echoed the chorus.
"Yes--by the eternal heavens above us!" exclaimed the prince. "The
first that moves a foot toward us, dies!"
His eyes flashed so boldly, and his attitude was so commanding, that
the people, ever cowed by true courage, faltered and fell back.
Just then Olympia opened the door on her own side of the chariot,
and, without the slightest manifestation of fear or anger, stepped
to the ground, and, with one of her bewitching smiles, made her way
to the very center of her foes. Her voice was soft and low, but, to
a, practised ear, it would have seemed like that of a lioness, who,
forced to temporize, was longing to devour.
"Good people," said the leonine siren, "pardon the irascibility of
this young man. He is my son, and, when he heard his mother's name
aspersed, his anger got the better of his discretion. Is it not
true," continued she, turning to a woman who had been most
vociferous in her maledictions, "is it not true, dear friend, that a
son is excusable who grows indignant when he hears his mother
accused of deeds the very thought of which would fill her with
horror? Perhaps you, too, have a son that loves you, and who,
knowing you to be a good and pious woman, would never suffer any man
to attack your good name."
"Yes," replied the woman, entirely propitiated, "yes, madame, I have
a son who certainly would defend my good name against any man that
"Then you will make allowances for mine, and speak a kind word for
him to your friends here, for we mothers understand one another, do
we not? And any one of us is ready to shelter the good son of some
other woman? Are we not?"
"That we are," returned the woman, enthusiastically. "I will protect
your son, never fear." And, with her arms upraised, she dashed
through the crowd, and addressed those who were nearest to Eugene,
and who, partially over their panic, were just about to remember
that they were many against their one opponent.
"Let him alone!" cried she. "He is her son! You see that we have
been deceived by those who told us that she had poisoned her
children. How should this one love her, if she were so wicked?"
"Dear friends," cried Olympia, so as to be heard by ail around, "you
have been shamefully imposed upon, if you were told that I poisoned
my dear children. I have given birth to seven, who are all alive to
testify that their poor mother is innocent."
"All seven alive! Seven children, and not one dead!" exclaimed the
"dear friend" whom Olympia had specially addressed. "Just think of
that! Why, of course she is innocent."
And here and there the shrill voices of the women were heard
repeating the words, "She is innocent, of course she is innocent!"
"You perceive, then," continued the countess, pursuing her
advantage, "that I have powerful enemies, since they precede me on
my journey with slanderous falsehoods, and try to turn the honest
hearts of the villagers of France against me and my son. I see that
they have been here, and have bribed you to insult me."
"That is true," cried a chorus of rough voices. "We were paid to
insult you and to refuse you post-horses."
"Well, then," returned Olympia, with one of her most enchanting
smiles, "I, too, will give you money, but it shall not be to bribe
you to resent my injuries. It will be to dispose of as your kind
hearts deem best."
She threw out a handful of silver, for which some began to stoop and
scramble, while others, emboldened by the sight of such a largesse,
crowded around, stretching out their hands for a "souvenir."
"Whoever, at the expiration of fifteen minutes, furnishes me eight
fresh horses, shall receive eight louis d'ors as a token of my
gratitude," said the sagacious Olympia.
No sooner were the words spoken, than every man there flew to earn
the token. In less than a minute the ground was cleared, and naught
was to be seen but a few women and children, still bent upon
searching for the silver.
The countess returned to her carriage, where she found Eugene,
looking embarrassed and ashamed. He immediately apologized for his
involuntary disregard of her injunctions.
"Dear mother, forgive me; in this last dilemma I have conducted
myself like a madman, while you have shown that you possess true
heroism. I see how very much wiser you are than I; and I solemnly
promise to attempt no more violence, where personal violence is not
offered to us. But to say that I could exchange my weapons for
yours, I cannot. I never shall learn to dissimulate and flatter."
His mother slightly raised her shoulders. "You will learn it in
time, when you will have learned to despise your fellows as I do.--
But see! Heaven be praised, here come the horses."
In a few moments, eight brown hands were outstretched to receive the
gold, and, amid the huzzas of the multitude, the Countess de
Soissons pursued her journey.
Eugene looked gloomily out of the carriage-window, and heard a
succession of deep sighs.
"Shall I tell you why you are so sad?" said Olympia to her son.
"I am sad because I feel my miserable impotence," replied he,
moodily. "I am sad because I must at last acknowledge that Mazarin
was right when he said that gold was the only divinity devoutly
worshipped on earth."
"Speak not slightingly of gold," cried Olympia, laughing; "it has
probably saved my life to-day. Unluckily we are far from the end of
our journey, and I may not have enough of this precious gold
wherewith to purchase forbearance as we go."
"We are not far from the frontier, and once in Flanders, you are
"Not so. There are no bounds to the realms of this yellow divinity.
Its worshippers are everywhere, and Louvois will seek them in France
and out of it. But I think I have a device whereby we may outwit our
mighty oppressor, and avoid further contumely."
"What is it, mother?"
"I will take another and a less public road. You shall go with me as
far as the boundaries. We can pass the night at Rocroy, and part on
the morrow: you to retrace your steps. I to continue my flight in a
plain carriage, with two horses and no attendants."
"I have promised to submit, and will obey you implicitly," returned
Eugene, respectfully. "Since you command me to go, we will part at
"Ah!" sighed the countess, "I would we were there, for indeed I am
exhausted, and yearn for rest."
Many hours, however, went by, before they reached Rocroy, and,
wherever their need compelled them to stop, they met with the same
insults; the same efforts were to be gone through, to propitiate the
rabble; and Eugene was forced to endure it all, while his martyred
heart was wrung with anguish that no words are adequate to picture.
At last, to the relief of the prince, and the great joy of his
mother, who was almost fainting with fatigue, the fortress was
reached, the foaming horses were drawn up, and the officer in
command was seen coming through a postern, followed by six of his
It was the custom in France to search every vehicle that left the
frontier; and, in compliance with this custom, the officer advanced
promptly to meet the travellers. The countess had so often submitted
to this formality, that when her name and destination were asked,
she avowed them both without the least hesitation.
"I hope," added she, "that the declaration of my name and rank will
exempt me from the detention usual in these cases, for I am in great
haste, and you will oblige me by ordering the gates to be opened at
"I am sorry to disoblige your highness," replied the officer, with a
supercilious smile, "but that very declaration compels me to refuse
you egress through the gates of Rocroy."
"What in Heaven's name do you mean, sir?" exclaimed Olympia,
"I mean that Monsieur Louvois's orders are express that the Countess
de Soissons shall not be suffered, to pass the fortress, and his
orders here are paramount."
With these words the officer turned his back, made a sign to his
men, and in less than a minute the party had disappeared, and the
inexorable gates had closed.
The countess sighed wearily. "Let us go farther," said she "In the
next village we will at least find lodgings, and rest for the
The horses' heads were turned, and the tired animals urged on, until
a neighboring town had been reached, whose stately inn, with its
brightly-illuminated entrance, gave promise of comfortable
entertainment for man and beast.
Three well-dressed individuals stood in the lofty door-way, and as
the carriage drove up they came forward to meet it. Eugene,
shielding his mother from sight, asked if they could alight to sup
and lodge there for the night.
"That depends upon circumstances," replied one of them. "You must
first have the goodness to give us your name."
"My name is nothing to the purpose," cried Eugene, impatiently. "I
ask merely whether strangers can be accommodated with supper and
beds in this house."
"The name is every thing, sir, and, before I answer your inquiry, I
must know it--unless, indeed, you are anxious to conceal it."
"A Prince de Carignan has never yet had reason to conceal his name,"
said Eugene, haughtily.
"Ah! your highness, then, is the Prince de Carignan! And may this
lady in the corner there be your mother, the Countess de Soissons?"
"Yes--the Countess de Soissons; and now that you are made acquainted
with our names--"
"I regret that I cannot receive you," interrupted the host. "Were
you alone, my house and every thing within my doors would be at the
service of the Prince de Carignan, but for his mother we have no
accommodation. We are afraid of noble ladies that use poison."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth, before he sprang up the
steps, and closed the doors of the inn in their faces.
"Ah!" muttered Olympia between her teeth, "such cruelty as this is
enough to drive any one to the use of poison! And if I live I will
be revenged on yonder churl that has sent me out into the darkness,
denying me food and rest!"
"Whither will your highness go now?" asked the footman; and, by the
tone of the inquiry, Olympia felt that her menials were rapidly
losing all respect for a "highness" that could no longer command
entrance into a public inn.
"Take a by-way to the next village, and stop at the first peasant's
hut on the road."
The coachman was growing surly, and the poor, worn-out horses were
so stiff that they could barely travel any longer. The village,
however, was only a few miles off, so that they were not more than
an hour in reaching a miserable hovel, at the door of which was a
man in the superlative degree of astonishment. He, at least, had
never heard of Louvois and Louvois's orders, so that, for the
promise of a gold-piece, he was easily induced to receive the
desponding party. But his only bed was of straw, and he feared their
excellencies would not be satisfied with his fare.
"My friend," said Olympia, "to an exhausted traveller a litter of
straw is as welcome as a bed of down;" and, with a sigh of relief,
she took the arm of her son, and entered the hut.
"Are you married?" asked she, taking her seat on a wooden stool,
near the chimney.
"Yes; and here is my wife," said he, as a young woman, blushing and
courtesying, came forward to welcome her distinguished visitors.
"Have you a wagon and horses?" continued the countess.
"A wagon, your excellency, but no horses: we have two sturdy oxen,
"Would you like to earn enough money to-night to buy yourself a
"Yes, indeed, we would," cried husband and wife simultaneously.
"Then," said Olympia to the latter, "sell me your Sunday-gown, let
me have something to eat, and throw down some clean straw in the
corner, where I may sleep for a few hours. When I awake," added she
to the man, "harness your oxen, and take me in your wagon beyond the
frontier, to Flanders. If you will do this, you shall have fifty
louis d'ors for your trouble."
The peasant grinned responsive. "That will I," cried he, slapping
his thigh; "and, if you say so, I'll take you as far as Chimay,
which is a good way beyond the frontier."
"Right," said the countess, joyfully. "To Chimay we go. Now, my good
girl, bring me your best holiday-suit."
The young woman ran, breathless with joy, to fetch her attire, while
the man went out to feed his oxen. Olympia then addressed herself to
"Now, my son, we are alone, and I claim the fulfilment of your
promise. You have seen me to a place of safety, and you must return
to Paris. Listen now to my commands, perhaps the last I may ever
"Command, dear mother, and I will obey. But do not ask me to abandon
you to the danger which still threatens you."
"You exaggerate my danger, Eugene; and, by remaining with me, you
increase it. You are too impulsive to be a discreet companion, and I
exact of you to leave me. Disguised as a peasant-woman, and
travelling in an ox-cart, my foes will never discover me, and I have
every hope of reaching my destination in safety."
"It is impossible," persisted Eugene, his eyes filling with tears.
"My child, must I then force you to do my bidding?"
"No force can compel me to do what I know to be craven and
dishonorable," cried the prince. "Mother, I must not--cannot obey."
"For one short moment, the eyes of the countess flashed fire, but as
suddenly they softened, and she smilingly extended her hand:"
"Well--let us contend no longer, dear boy; I see that, for once, I
must succumb to your strong will. Here comes the woman with my
disguise. Go out a while, and let me change my dress. Send the
footman with a little casket you will find in the carriage-box. Here
is the key. And, Eugene, do beg the man to send in our supper, that
it may be ready for us when I shall have metamorphosed myself into a
About fifteen minutes later, the countess called her son. "How do
you like me?" she said. "Am I sufficiently disguised to pass for
that fellow's wife? What a strange picture we will make--you and I,
seated on a sack of wool, and drawn by a pair of creeping oxen! 'Tis
well for you that you are an abbe; were you any thing else, you
could not venture to travel by the side of a woman of low degree.
But--come, let us enjoy our supper; I, for one, am both hungry and
She drew a stool up to the table, which was spread with a clean
cloth, and covered with platters of bread, butter, and cheese.
Between two wooden bowls stood a large pitcher of milk. These bowls
the countess filled to the brim, and handed one to her son.
"Pledge me a bumper, and wish me a prosperous journey," said she,
playfully, while she put the cup to her lips, all the while narrowly
He followed her example, and drained his bowl to its last drop.
Then, striving to fall in with her mood, he said:
"You see how obedient I am, and yet you know that I am not one of
those that would be content to live in a land flowing with milk and
"Thank you," replied his mother, "for this one act of obedience. I
could wish you were as submissive in other things. But--what is the
matter, boy? You are pale."
"I do not know," stammered Eugene, his tongue seeming paralyzed. "I
am sick--I want-fresh air! Some air, mother!"
He attempted to rise, but fell back into his seat.
"Mother," murmured he, while his features were becoming distorted by
pain, "have you drugged--"
He could articulate no longer, but gazed upon his mother with fast-
glazing eyes, until slowly his dull orbs closed, and his head
dropped heavily upon the table.
"Three minutes," said the countess, quietly. "Only three minutes,
and he sleeps soundly. La Voisin was a wonderful creature! What a
high privilege it is to reign over the will of another human being
with a might as mysterious as it is irresistible? And greater yet
the privilege of dispensing life or death! Why did I not exercise
that power over the proud man that follows me with such unrelenting
hate? Ah, Louvois, had I been braver, I had not endured your
contumely! Poor, weak fool that I was, not to wrestle with fate and
master it! But--it is useless to repine. Let me see. Eugene will
sleep four hours, and, ere he wakes, I must be beyond the frontiers
of hostile France."
She left the little room and joined the peasant's wife.
"I have prevailed upon my son to return to Paris," said she, in that
caressing tone which she had practised so successfully through the
day. "His health is delicate, and the hardships of our hurried
journey have so exhausted him that he has fallen into a profound
sleep. Do not disturb him, I entreat of you, dear friend, and, when
he awakes, give him this note."
She drew from her pocket-book a paper, and, giving it to the woman,
repeated her request that her dear boy should not be disturbed.
"I will take my seat at the door, madame, and await the wakening of
Monsieur l'Abbe, to deliver your highness's note. But will you too
not rest awhile, before you go on? I think you look as if you needed
sleep quite as much as your son."
"No, no, thank you, I must reach Flanders before sunrise," replied
Olympia, "and do beg your husband to use dispatch, for I am
impatient to start. Will you also be so obliging as to call my
servants? I must say a few words to them before we part."
When the men came in, their mistress, in spite of her costume, wore
a demeanor so lofty, that they were afraid to betray their cognition
of her disguise, and were awed back into their usual stolid and
"You have witnessed," said the countess, "the persecutions that have
been heaped upon me since yesterday, and of course you are not
surprised to find that I have adopted a disguise by which I may hope
to escape further outrage. You have both been among the trustiest of
my servants, and to you, rather than to my son, I confide my parting
instructions. He is now asleep, and I will not even waken him to
take leave; for he would wish to accompany me, and so compromise
both his safety and mine. I therefore journey in secret and alone.
As for you, be in readiness to return to Paris by daylight, and do
all that you can for the comfort of my son on the way."
"I served his father," replied the coachman, "and will do my duty by
his son, your highness. Rely upon me."
"And I," added the footman, "will do my best to deserve the praise
your highness has so kindly vouchsafed to us, by serving my lord and
prince as faithfully as I know how."
"Right, my good friends. You will always find him, in return, a
gracious and generous master. You will have no difficulty in
procuring relays or lodging on your return to Paris: oblige me,
then, by travelling with all speed, for it is important that my son
arrive quickly. And now farewell, and accept this as a remembrance."
Dropping several gold-pieces into the hands of each one, their proud
mistress inclined her head, and passed out of the hut.
"If your highness is ready," said the peasant's wife, meeting her on
the threshold, "my husband is in his wagon waiting."
"In one moment," replied Olympia; "I must return to take a last kiss
from my son."
She hastened back to the little room, and, stepping lightly,
advanced to the table, where Eugene, his head supported by his arms,
lay precisely in the position wherein she had left him. She lifted
the masses of his shaggy, black hair, and gazed wistfully upon his
pale face. "And if the stars are not false," whispered she,
tenderly, "this feeble body enshrines a mind that shall win renown
for the house of Savoy. God bless thee, my fragile, but great-
hearted Eugene! As I gaze upon thy pallid brow, my whole being is
inundated by the gushing waters of a love which to-night seems more
than maternal! So should angels love the sons of men! Take from my
lips the baptismal kisses that consecrate thee to glory! May God
bless and prosper thee, my boy!"
She bent over the sleeping youth and kissed his forehead o'er and
o'er. When she raised her head, among the raven masses of Eugene's
hair there trembled here and there a tear, perhaps the purest that
ever flowed from the turbid spring of Olympia de Soisson's corrupt
One more kiss she pressed upon his clasped hands, and then she
hurried away. The cart was before the door; she took her seat, and
slowly the creeping oxen went out into the darkness, bearing away
with them a secret which, to the wondering peasant-woman, was like
Jove's descent to the daughter of Acrisius. [Footnote: Louvois's
hate pursued the Countess de Soissous to Brussels, where the beggars
were bribed to insult her as she passed them in the streets. She was
so persecuted by the rabble that, on one occasion, when she was
purchasing lace at the convent of the Beguines, they assembled in
such multitudes at the entrance, that the nuns, to save her from
being torn to pieces, were compelled to permit her to remain with
them all night. Finally the governor of Netherlands was driven to
take her under his own personal protection, by which it became
unlawful to molest her further. After the governor became her
champion, the prejudices of the people wore gradually away, until at
last Olympia held her levees as she had done in her palmy days at
the Hotel de Soissons.--See Abbe de Choisy: Memoires, p. 224. Renee:
"Les Nieces de Mazarin," p. 212.]
Four hours passed away, and the power of the drugged cup was at an
end. Day was breaking, and, although by the uncertain light of the
gray dawn, no object in that poor place was clearly defined, still
everything was visible. Eugene raised his head and looked,
bewildered, around the room. He saw at once that his mother was not
there, and with a gesture of wild alarm he sprang to his feet.
"Mother, my mother!" exclaimed he.
The door opened, and the smiling peasant with a deep courtesy came
forward to wish his highness good-morning.
"Your mother, excellency, has been gone these four hours," said she.
"Gone! Gracious Heaven! whither, and with whom?"
"She went to Flanders, excellency, with my husband. Do not feel
unhappy, sir, I beg of you; my husband is a good, prudent fellow,
and he will take her safely to Chimay. Here is a paper she left for
you, and she bade me say that, as soon as I had given you an early
breakfast, you would return with your servants to Paris."
Eugene clutched at the note, and returned to the table to read it.
Its contents were as follows:
"My dear child, you would not obey me, and yet I could no longer
brook the danger of your attendance. Although I am no adept in the
art of poisoning, yet I have learned from La Voisin to prepare
harmless anodynes, one of which I mingled with the cup of milk you
took from my hand to-night. You sleep, dear Eugene, and I must go
forth to meet my fate alone. Your knightly repugnance to what you
looked upon as a desertion of your mother, has forced me to the use
of means which, though perfectly innocent, I would rather not have
employed. I knew no other device by which to escape your too loving
"Go back to Paris, my Eugene, and go with all speed, for there you
can protect, there alone you can defend me. There are my enemies;
and, although I dedicate you to the church, I would not have you put
in practice that precept of the Scriptures which enjoins upon you to
forgive your traducers, and bless those who despitefully use you.
No, no! From my son's hand I await the blow that is to avenge my
wounded honor and my blasted existence. Farewell! The spirit of
Mazarin guide you to wisdom and success! Olympia."
"I will avenge you, my own, my precious mother," said Eugene, his
teeth firmly set with bitter resolve. "The world has thrown its
gauntlet to us, and, by Heaven I will wear it on my front! I have
swept the dark circle of every imaginable sorrow, and my soul is
athirst for strife. 'Tis a priestly office to vindicate a mother's
good name, and I shall be the hierophant of an altar whereon the
blood of her enemies shall be sacrificed. And now, dear maligned
one," continued he, kissing the words her hand had traced,
"farewell! Thou wert my first passionate love, and in my faithful
heart nothing ever shall transcend thee!"
Half an hour later he was on the road to Paris; but, desirous to
escape notice, Eugene travelled without footmen or outriders, and
confined himself to a span of horses for his carriage. The simple
equipage attracted no attention, and no one attempted to peer at its
silent occupant, so that on the morning of the next day he had
arrived in Paris.
It was a clear, bright morning, and perchance this might be a reason
why the streets were unusually crowded; but as the prince was
remarking what a multitude were astir to enjoy the beauty of a sky
that was vaulted with pale-blue and silver, he observed at the same
time that all were going in one direction. The throng grew denser as
the carriage advanced, until it reached the Rue des Deux Ecus, when
it came to a dead stop. And after that it advanced but a few feet at
a time, for the whole world seemed to be going, with Eugene, to the
Hotel de Soissons.
At last they reached the gates, and the prince was about to alight,
when, directly in front of the palace, and within the court, he saw
the sight which had attracted the multitude thither.
Before the principal entrance of the palace were six horsemen, two
of whom in their right hands held long trumpets decked with flowing
ribbons. Behind these, bestriding four immense horses of Norman
breed, were four beadles in their long black gowns, and broad-
brimmed hats, looped up with cockades. Behind these four were two
mounted soldiers, dressed like those in front, in the municipal
colors of the city of Paris, and in place of trumpets they carried
As he saw this extraordinary group, who had apparently selected the
court of the Hotel Soissons wherein to enact some ridiculous
pageant, Eugene could scarcely believe his dazzled eyes. He looked
again, and saw the horsemen raise their trumpets to their lips,
while the air resounded with a fanfare that made the very windows of
the palace tremble in their frames.
The multitude, that up to this moment had been struggling and
contending together for place and passage, suddenly grew breathless
with expectation, when a second fanfare rang out upon the air; and,
when its clang had died away, one of the black-robed beadles cried
out in a loud voice:
"We, the appointed magistrate of the venerable city of Paris, hereby
do summon the Countess Olympia de Soissons, Princess of Carignan,
widow of the most high the Count de Soissons, Prince Royal of
Bourbon, and Prince of Carignan, to appear within three days before
our tribunal, at the town-hall of our good city of Paris."
The trumpet sounded a third time, and another beadle continued the
"And we, the appointed magistrate of the venerable city of Paris, do
hereby accuse said Countess Olympia de Soissons and Princess de
Carignan of sorcery and murder by poison. If she hold herself
innocent of these charges, she will appear within the three days by
law granted her wherein to answer our summons. If she do not appear
within three days, she shall he held guilty by contumacy, and
Scarcely had these last words been pronounced, when the people broke
out into jubilant shouts over the fearless rectitude of the
honorable city fathers, who were not afraid to lift the avenging arm
of justice against criminals in high places.
Amid the din that followed, Eugene escaped from his carriage to the
private entrance, through which twice before he had passed in such
indescribable anguish of heart.
Not a soul was there to greet the heir of this princely house, or
bid him welcome home. The servant, who, after his repeated
knockings, appeared to open the door, gazed at his young lord with a
countenance wherein terror and sympathy were strangely mingled.
"Are the princesses at home?" asked Eugene.
"No, your highness, they took refuge with their grandmother, the
Princess de Carignan."
"Took refuge!" echoed Eugene, staring at the man in dumb dismay.
"Yes, my lord, they were afraid of the people, who have gathered
here by thousands every day since the countess left. This is the
third summons that has been made for her highness, and at each one
the people of Paris have flocked to the hotel with such jeers and
curses, that the poor young ladies were too terrified to remain."
"They acted prudently," replied Eugene, recovering his self-
possession. "But where is the steward? And where are the other
"Latour accompanied the princesses, your highness, and has not
returned. The remainder of the household have taken service
"What! my valet, Dupont?"
"He thought your highness had left Paris for a long time, and looked
for another master."
"Then how comes it that you are here, Conrad?"
"I, my lord? Oh, that is quite another thing. I belong to a family
that have served the Princes de Carignan for three generations. I
myself have served them from my boyhood, and if your highness does
not discharge me, I shall not do so, were the hotel to be attacked
by every churl in Paris."
As Conrad spoke these words, Eugene turned and looked affectionately
at his faithful servant. "Thank you, Conrad, for your loyalty and
courage; I can never grow unmindful of such devotion. From this day
you become my valet, and if you never quit my service until I
discharge you, we will roam the world together as long as we both
Tears of gratitude glistened in Conrad's honest eyes. "Then to the
day of my death I remain with my dear lord," replied he, kneeling,
and devoutly kissing the hand which Eugene had extended. "And I
swear to your highness love and fealty, while God gives me life
wherewith to serve you."
"I believe you, Conrad," replied Eugene, kindly, "and I thank you
for the solitary welcome you have given me on my return to this
unhappy house. Your loving words have drowned the clang of yonder
trumpets without.--And now let us part for a while: I feel inclined
The prince turned into a hall that led to his apartments, and
entered his bed-chamber. He had scarcely taken a seat, and leaned
his weary head upon his hand, before the trumpet pealed another
blast, and the beadle again summoned the Countess de Soissons to
answer before the tribunal of justice for her crimes!
The people shouted as though they would have rent the canopy of
heaven; and Eugene, overcome by such excess of degradation, burst
into a flood of tears.
For a day Eugene remained in his room, while Conrad kept vigil in
the antechamber without. The unhappy prince had longed so intensely
for the privilege of grieving without witnesses, that he felt as if
no boon on earth was comparable to solitude. Not only his
affections, but his honor, had been mortally wounded: what medicine
could ever restore it to life?
And through the long night Conrad had listened to his slow, measured
step, as forth and back he had paced his room in the vain hope of
wooing sleep to
"steep his senses in forgetfulness."
Finally day dawned, and Conrad then ventured to knock and inquire
whether his lord would not breakfast. The door was not opened, but
Eugene thanked him, and refused. The poor fellow then threw himself
down on the carpet and slept for several hours. He was awakened by
his father, the only servant besides himself that had remained to
share the humiliations of the family, and who now came as bearer of
a letter from the Duke de Bouillon, which was to be delivered to the
prince without delay.
Delighted to have a pretext that might gain him admittance to the
presence of his master, Conrad sprang up and knocked. The door was
just sufficiently opened to give passage to the latter, was hastily
closed, and the bolt was heard to slide. But two hours later Eugene
appeared, and greeted his two faithful attendants with a gracious
inclination of the head.
"Now, Conrad," said he, "I am ready to oblige you by taking my
breakfast. Immediately after, I shall go out, and, as I go on an
affair of importance, order the state-coach, two footmen, and two
outriders. What makes you look so blank? Does it seem singular that
I ride in state through the streets of Paris?"
"God forbid, your highness!" exclaimed Conrad, "but--"
"But we have no footmen--no outriders, your highness."
"True," said Eugene, "I had forgotten. But I suppose that the
rascals may be found and re-engaged. Go after them, Conrad, and--
stay--where is the steward?"
"He went with the princesses to the Hotel Carignan, your highness."
"True--true--you told me so yesterday. Go to him, Conrad; bid him
return and resume his duties, for the Hotel de Soissons must be
open, and I must have a household befitting my rank. Be as diligent
as you can, my good fellow, and let the carriage be before the
entrance in one hour."
"But first, your highness must breakfast."
"And how can I breakfast if all the servants have deserted? Or has
the cook been more loyal than his companions?"
"No, your highness; he went with the rest, but he is in the
neighborhood, and will be glad to return."
"I am rejoiced to hear it. Fetch him, then, and let him provide
breakfast. But, above all things, find me footmen and outriders. I
would rather go out hungry than without attendants."
"Your highness shall have all you desire," returned Conrad, with
alacrity; and he kept his word. An hour later, the state-coach stood
before the portal of the palace, and the outriders and footmen were
each man in his proper place. The prince had partaken of an
excellent breakfast, and was advancing to his carriage.
When he saw old Philip, the coachman, he gave him a look of grateful
recognition, and inquired whether he had recovered from the fatigues
of their uncomfortable journey.
"I endured no fatigue, your highness," was the old man's reply. "I
was on duty, and had no right to be fatigued."
"Bravely answered," returned Eugene. "I see that you, at least, are
unchanged, and I may rely upon your loyalty. And the rest of you,"
continued he, looking searchingly around at the captured deserters,
"you have returned, I perceive."
"Your highness," replied one of them, eagerly, "I had the honor of
accompanying you to Flanders."
"Oh, I do not allude to you, Louis. I know that I can count upon
"We, too, are loyal, your highness," replied the others, "and are
ready to serve you from the bottom of our hearts. The hotel was
empty, and we had supposed ourselves to be without places. But we
are only too happy to return."
"Very well, I shall have occasion to test your fidelity this very
day. Conrad, get in the coach with me. I desire to converse with you
Conrad dared not disobey, although to sit opposite to his master in
a carriage, seemed to him the acme of presumption. He took his seat
with a look of most comic embarrassment, and stared at the prince as
though he suspected him of being suddenly attacked with insanity.
"To the Hotel Bouillon!" was the order given, and the coach went
thundering through the gates toward the Quai Malaquais. It was
stared at, precisely as before, when Eugene and his mother had
attempted to join the royal cortege at the Pre aux Clercs. The
people sneered at the equipage and escutcheon of a countess, who,
for three days in succession, had been publicly summoned before the
tribunal of justice; but of the young prince, who was the solitary
occupant of the coach, they took no notice whatever. He was not
guilty, therefore he provoked no curiosity; he was not handsome,
therefore he attracted no attention. As lonely and heart sick his
head reclined amid the velvet cushions, whose silken threads seemed
each a pricking thorn to give him pain, Eugene's resolves of
vengeance deepened into vows, and he swore an oath of enmity against
his mother's enemies, which long years after he redeemed.
Conrad was perplexed, and ashamed of the honor conferred upon him;
but when after a long pause Eugene began to speak in low, earnest
tones, the embarrassed expression of the valet's countenance gave
place to a look of interest, and finally he ventured a smile.
"Indeed, your highness," replied he, "it shall be accomplished to
your entire satisfaction, and old Philip will be delighted to be of
the party. He is already burning to revenge himself upon the Louvois
family for taking precedence of carriages that have the right to go
before them; and he has more than once approached the coachmen of
the nobles thus insulted, for their cowardice in suffering it."
"Well--you will both have an opportunity of exhibiting your powers
to-day in the Pre aux Clercs, and I only hope that the court will be
there to witness it."
"Philip will not fail, your highness, nor I either."
"Thank you. There may be an affray, and perchance a blow or two in
store for you; but I will reward you handsomely. But what is this?
The carriage has stopped, and we have not yet reached the Hotel de
Conrad sprang out to ascertain the cause of their detention.
"Your highness," said he, returning, "we cannot proceed any farther.
The street is blocked up with carriages that extend all the way to
the entrance of the hotel. Some of them are equipages of the princes
of the blood."
"Then I must go on foot, and you and Philip can profit by your
leisure to discuss the manner of your attack. But by all means let
it be in the Pre aux Clercs, where all these carriages will be
filled with occupants."
So saying, Eugene alighted, and hurried to the hotel. Its large
portals were flung wide open, and streams of elegantly-dressed
courtiers and ladies were entering the palace. In such a crowd,
where the men were in glittering uniforms, and the women,
resplendent with diamonds, wore long trains of velvet or satin,
borne by gayly-attired pages, nobody had eyes for a little abbe,
clad in russet gown, with buttons of brass; so that Eugene was more
than once forced back before he made his way to the state
apartments. Step by step he advanced, until at last he reached the
centre of the room, where the family were assembled to receive their
The duke, in the uniform of a general, stood in the midst of the
group. At his side was the duchess, the celebrated Marianna Mancini,
the rival of Olympia de Soissons, not only in the affections of
Cardinal Mazarin, but also in those of the king. When the heart of
Louis had wearied of the elder sister, its capricious longings
fluttered toward the younger, for whose sake he deserted La
Valliere, and to whom, for a season, he swore every imaginable vow
of love and eternal constancy.
Marianna had gained wisdom from the experience of her sister. Quite
convinced of the transitory nature of a king's favor, she formed the
bold design of capturing the hand as well as the heart of his
majesty of France. Perhaps Louis fathomed her intentions, and
resolved to punish her ambition, for he suddenly manifested a
willingness to marry the Spanish princess, whom Mazarin had vainly
endeavored to force upon him as a wife; and Marianna, like her
sister, sought consolation in marriage with another, and became
Duchess de Bouillon. [Footnote: This is a mistake. The one whom
Louis loved was Marie Mancini, Princess of Colonna.--TRANS.]
Years had gone by, but Marianna was still a court beauty, and she
still possessed a certain influence over the heart of her royal
admirer. She alone refused to do homage to De Moutespan, and she
alone ventured to interrupt the pious conversations of the king with
his new favorite De Maintenon. When the obsequious courtiers were
vying with each other as to who should minister most successfully to
the vanity of the monarch that considered himself as the state; when
princes and princesses listened breathlessly to the oracles that
fell from his inspired lips, the Duchess de Bouillon was not afraid
to break their reverential silence, by conversing at her ease in a
tone of voice quite as audible as that of his majesty.
She stood in the midst of that brilliant throng, accepting their
homage as though she had been born to a throne, and dispensing
gracious words with the proud consciousness that every smile of hers
was received as a condescension. And yet, in that very hour, the
Duchess de Bouillon was under impeachment for crime. Her summons had
been sent "in the name of the king;" but everybody knew that it was
the work of Louvois, and everybody knew equally well that the
compliment paid to the duchess that day, was especially gratifying
to the king, who himself had suggested it as a means of vexing his
That morning, his majesty had held a grand levee, which was
punctually attended by all who had the inestimable privilege of
appearing there. Louis received his courtiers with that gay and
smiling affability which was the result of his temperament, and had
procured for him from one of his adorers the surname of Phoebus.
But, all of a sudden, a cloud was seen to obscure the face of the
sun, and the dismayed sycophants were in a flutter to know what was
passing behind it. The firmament had darkened at the approach of the
Duke de Vendome and the Cardinal d'Albret.