Part 3 out of 13
"My lords," said the king, curtly, "I am surprised to see you here.
Methinks the proper place for you both this morning would be at the
side of your relative, the Duchess de Bouillon."
"Sire," replied the young duke, "I came to see if the sun had risen.
I behold it now; and since the day has dawned on which my aunt is to
appear before her accusers, I hasten whither duty calls, to take my
place among her adherents."
"And you, cardinal?" said Louis, to the handsome brother of the Duke
"I, my sovereign, am accustomed to say my orisons before turning my
thoughts to the affairs of this world. Now that I have worshipped at
the shrine of my earthly divinity, I am ready to admit the claims of
my noble sister-in-law."
The king received all this adulation as a matter of course, and,
without vouchsafing any reply, turned to his confessor. Pere la
Chaise looked displeased; he had no relish for court nonsense at any
time; but what availed his exhortations to humility, if his royal
penitent was to have his ears poisoned with such abominable stuff as
Louis guessed somewhat the nature of his confessor's vexation, for
he blushed, and spoke in a mild, conciliatory tone:
"Pardon me, father, if this morning I have ventured to permit the
things of this world to take precedence of things spiritual. But a
king should be ready at all hours to do justice unto all men; and as
this is the day fixed for the trial of a noble lady of France, for
crimes of which I hope and believe that she will be found innocent,
I have deemed it proper to show my impartiality by upholding those
who have the courage to avow themselves champions or defenders of
the Duchess de Bouillon. Come, father, let us hasten to the chapel."
He rose from his couch, and, with head bowed down, traversed his
apartments, until he reached a side-door which communicated with the
rooms of the Marquise de Maintenon. On either side were long rows of
obsequious courtiers, imitating as far as they could the devotional
demeanor of the king; and, following the latter, came Pere la
Chaise--the only man in all the crowd who walked with head erect.
His large, dark eyes wandered from one courtier to another, and
their glances were as significant as words. They asserted his
supremacy over king and court; they proclaimed him the ambassador of
the King of kings.
At the threshold Louis turned, and, letting fall the mantle of his
humility, addressed his courtiers.
"My lords," said he, imperiously, "we dispense with your attendance
in chapel this morning, and you are all free to go whithersoever you
With a slight bend of the head, he passed through the portiere and
disappeared. The courtiers had comprehended the motive of their
dismissal: it was a command from his majesty to repair to the Hotel
de Bouillon. They hastened to avail themselves of the royal
permission, and one and all were shortly after in presence of the
duchess, offering sympathy, countenance, and homage.
While she received her numerous visitors with cordiality, Marianna
Mancini tempered her affability with just enough of stateliness to
make it appear that their presence there was a matter of course, and
not of significance. She had arrayed herself with great splendor for
this extraordinary occasion of mingled humiliation and triumph. She
wore a dress of rose-colored satin, whose folds, as she moved,
changed from the rich hues of the carnation to the delicate tinge of
the peach-blossom. Her neck and arms were resplendent with diamonds,
and her whole person seemed invested with more than its usual
majesty and grace.
She saw Eugene, who was making vain endeavors to approach her. With
mock-heroic air, she raised her white arm, and motioned away those
who were immediately around her person.
"Let me request the mourners," said she, "to give place to the
priest, who advances to hear the last confession of the criminal.
Poor little abbe! How will he manage to sustain the weight of the
iniquities I shall pour into his ears?"
A merry laugh followed this sally, and all eyes were turned upon
Eugene, who, blushing like a maiden, kissed his aunt's outstretched
hand, but was too much embarrassed to reply to her greeting.
"Prince," said a tall personage coming forward, "will you allow me
to act as your substitute? My shoulders are broad, and will gladly
bear the burden of all the sins that have ever been committed by
your charming penitent."
"I dare say. Monsieur la Fontaine," replied Eugene, recovering
himself, "and they will incommode you no longer than the time it
will occupy you to weave them into a tissue of pleasant fables."
"Thanks, gallant abbe!" cried Marianna, pleased. "You look upon my
crimes, then, as fiction?"
"Yes, dearest aunt," said Eugene, resolutely; "they are, I heartily
believe, as fictitious as those attributed to my dear and honored
As he spoke, Eugene's large eyes looked courageously around, to read
the countenances of the men that were listening. Whatever they might
think of the mother, the chivalry of her son was indisputable, and
no one was disposed to wound his filial piety by so much as a
The silence that ensued was broken by La Fontaine. "Did you know,"
said he, "that Madame de Coulanges had been summoned to trial
"Yes," replied the duchess, "but I have not heard the result. Can
you tell it to us, my dear La Fontaine?"
"I can. The judges paid her a compliment which I am sure she has not
received from anybody else, since the days of her childhood."
"What was it!"
"They gave in a verdict of--innocent."
A hearty laugh followed this satire of La Fontaine's, and the
duchess indulged in so much mirth thereat, that her eyes sparkled
like the brilliants on her person, and her cheeks flushed until they
rivalled the deepest hues of her pink dress.
"Ah!" cried La Fontaine, bending the knee before her, "La mere des
amours, et la reine des graces, c'est Bouillon, et Venus lui cede
ses emplois." [Footnote: La Fontaine's "Letters to the Duchess de
Bouillon," p. 49.]
"Go on, go on, fabulist!" cried Marianna, laughing.
La Fontaine continued:
"Ah, que Marianne a de beautes, de graces, et de charmes; Elle sait
enchanter et l'esprit et les yeux; Mortels, aimez-la tous! mais ce
n'est qu'a des dieux, Qu'est reserve l'honneur de lui rendre les
[Footnote: See Works of La Fontaine.]
"Do you, then, desert and go over to my enemies?" asked the duchess,
"I!" exclaimed La Fontaine, rising to his feet. "Who could so
"Why, did not you say 'elle gait enchanter'? And is not that the
very crime of which I am accused?"
La Fontaine was about to make some witty reply to this sportive
reproach, when the Duke de Bouillon announced to the duchess that
she must prepare herself to appear before her judges.
"I am ready," was the response, and Marianna passed her arm within
that of her husband.
"My friends." said she, addressing all present, "I invite you to
accompany me on my excursion to the Arsenal. Come, Eugene, give me
your other arm. It is fit that the criminal should go before her
accusers between her confessor and her victim."
"Madame," returned Eugene, frowning, "I am no confessor. A confessor
should be an anointed of the Lord, which I am not."
"Not anointed!" exclaimed the duchess. "I have an excellent receipt
for unguent given me by La Voisin; and, if you promise that I shall
not be made to mount the scaffold for my obliging act, I will anoint
you myself, whenever you like."
"Mount the scaffold!" cried La Fontaine. "For such as you, duchess,
we erect altars, not scaffolds. True, you have bewitched our hearts,
but we forgive you, and hope to witness, not your disgrace, but your
And, indeed, the exit of the Duchess de Bouillon had the appearance
of an ovation. The streets were lined with people, who greeted her
with acclamations, as though they were longing to indemnify one
sister for the obloquy they had heaped upon the other. The
aristocracy, too, felt impelled to avenge the insult offered to
their order by the impeachment of the Countess de Soissons. In the
cortege of the Duchess de Bouillon were, all the flower of the
French nobility; and such as had not joined her train were at their
windows, waving their handkerchiefs and kissing their hands to
Marianna, who, in a state-carriage drawn by eight horses, returned
their greetings with as much unconcern as if she had been on her way
to her own coronation.
Next to her equipage was that of the Countess de Soissons; and
bitter were the feelings with which Eugene gazed upon the multitude,
who, but a few days before, had driven his mother into exile. He was
absorbed in his own sorrowful musings, when the carriage stopped,
and it became his duty to alight and hand out his aunt.
She received him with unruffled smiles, and they entered the
corridors of the Arsenal. Behind them came a gay concourse of
nobles, drawn out in one long glittering line, which, like a gilded
serpent, glided through the darksome windings of that gloomy palace
The usher that was stationed at the entrance of the council-chamber
was transfixed with amazement at the sight. He rubbed his eyes, and
wondered whether he had fallen asleep and was dreaming of the fairy
tales that years ago had delighted his childhood. And when he saw
the duchess smile, and heard her ringing laugh, he was so bewitched
with its music that, instead of challenging her train of followers,
he suffered them every one to pass into the chamber without a
At the upper end of the hall of council, seated around a table
covered with a heavy black cloth, were the judges in their funeral
gowns and long wigs, which floated like ominous clouds around their
sinister faces. Close by, at a smaller table similarly draped, sat
the six lateral judges of the criminal court, and the scribes, who
were prepared to take notes of all that was said during the trial.
When Marianna came in, with her cortege stretching out behind her
like the tail of a comet, the pens dropped from their hands and the
solemn judges themselves looked around in undisguised astonishment.
The duchess, affecting complete unconsciousness of the sensation she
was creating, came in smiling, graceful, and self-possessed. While
the frowning faces of the judiciary scanned the gay host of
intruders, who were desecrating the solemnity of the council-chamber
with their levity, the duchess advanced until she stood directly in
front of their table, and there she smiled again and inclined her
The judges were still more astounded--so much so, that they were at
a loss how to express their indignation. It took the form of
exceeding respect, and their great black wigs were all
simultaneously bent down in acknowledgment of the lady's greeting.
The only one among them who allowed expression to his displeasure
was the presiding judge, Laraynie, who, with a view to remind the
criminal that her blandishments were out of place, stiffened himself
"The Duchess de Bouillon has been summoned before this august
tribunal to answer for the crimes with which she has been charged,"
said he, severely. "Are you the accused?"
"My dear president," returned Marianna, flippantly, "how can you be
so absurd? If you have forgotten ME, I perfectly remember YOU. You
were formerly amanuensis to my uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, who promoted
you to the office, because of your dexterity in mending pens. Yes, I
am the Duchess de Bouillon, and nobody has a better right to know it
than you, who wrote out my marriage contract, and were handsomely
paid for your trouble."
"Our business is not with the past, but the present," replied
Laraynie, haughtily. "The question is not whether you are or are not
the niece of the deceased Cardinal Mazarin, but whether you are or
are not guilty of the crimes for which you have been summoned
"Which summons, you perceive, I have obeyed," interrupted the
duchess. "But I pray you to understand that I acknowledge no right
of yours to cite a duchess before your tribunal, sir. If I come at
your call, it is because it has been made in the name of the king,
my sovereign and yours!" [Footnote: The duchess's own words.--See
Renee, "The Nieces of Mazarin," p. 395.]
"You have obeyed the citation, because it was your duty to obey it,"
returned Laraynie. "But I see here a multitude who have come neither
by indictment nor invitation. It is natural enough that the Duke de
Bouillon should accompany his spouse on an occasion of such solemn
import to her safety; but who are all these people that have
obtruded themselves upon our presence?"
"Did you not comply with my husband's request that I might be
accompanied to the Arsenal by a few of my friends?"
"Yes--his petition was granted."
"Well, then," replied Marianna, turning toward the brilliant
assembly that had grouped themselves around the room in a circle,
"these are a few of my most particular friends. You see on my right
the Dukes de Vendome and d'Albret, and the Prince of Savoy; on my
left, the Prince de Chatillon, and others with whose names and
persons you were familiar in the days of your secretaryship under
"To our business!" cried Laraynie, angrily. "We will begin the
"First let me have a seat," replied the duchess, looking around, as
though she had expected an accommodation of the kind. There was not
even a stool to be seen in the council-chamber. But at the table of
the judges stood a vacant armchair, the property of some absent
member; and in the twinkling of an eye Eugene had perceived and
rolled it forward. He placed it respectfully behind his aunt, and
resumed his position on her left.
This bold act was received by the judiciary with a frown, by the
other spectators with a murmur of applause, and by the beautiful
daughter of the house of Mancini with one of those bewitching smiles
which have been celebrated in the sonnets of Benserade, Corneille,
Moliere, St. Evremont, and La Fontaine.
She sank into the luxurious depths of the arm-chair, and her
"particular friends" drew nearer, and stationed themselves around
"Now, gentlemen," said she, in the tone of a queen about to hold a
levee, "now I am ready. What is it that you are curious to know as
regards my manner of life?"
"First, your name, title, rank, position, age, and--"
"Oh, gentlemen!" cried Marianna, interrupting the president in his
nomenclature, "is it possible that you can be so uncivil as to ask a
lady her age? I warn you, if you persist in your indiscreet
curiosity, that you will compel me to resort to falsehood, for I
positively will not tell you how old I am. As regards the rest of
your questions, you are all acquainted with my name, title, rank,
and position. Let us come to the point."
"So be it," replied the president, who was gradually changing his
tone, and assuming a demeanor less haughty toward the duchess. "You
are accused of an attempt on the life of the Duke de Bouillon."
"Who are my accusers?" asked Marianna.
"You shall hear," replied Laraynie, trying to resume his official
severity. "Are you acquainted with La Voisin?"
"Yes, I know her," said Marianna, without any embarrassment
"Why did you desire to rid yourself of your husband?" was the second
"To rid myself of my husband!" cried the duchess, with a merry
laugh. Then turning to the duke, "Ask him whether HE believes that I
ever meditated harm toward him."
"No!" exclaimed the duke. "No! She has ever been to me a true and
loving wife, and we have lived too happily together for her ever to
have harbored ill-will toward me. Of evil deeds, my honored wife is
"You hear him, judges; you hear him!" exclaimed Marianna, her face
beaming with exultation. "What more have you to ask of me now?"
"Why were you in the habit of visiting La Voisin?"
"Because she was shrewd and entertaining, and because she promised
me an interview with spirits."
"Did you not show her a purse of gold, and promised it to her in
case these spirits made their appearance?"
"No!" said Marianna, emphatically, "and that for the best of
reasons. I never was possessed of any but an empty purse--a
melancholy truth, to which my husband here can bear witness. That I
may have promised gold to La Voisin is just possible, but that she
ever saw any in my possession is impossible."
Marianna glanced at her friends, who returned her look with
approving nods and smiles.
"You deny, then," continued the judge, not exactly knowing what to
say next, "you deny that you ever made an attempt to poison your
"I do, and I am sure that La Voisin never originated a calumny so
base. But I confess that I was dying to see the spirits. Unhappily,
although La Voisin called them, they never came."
"You confess, then, that you DID instigate La Voisin to cite
"I certainly did, but it was all to no purpose. The spirits were
excessively disobliging, and refused to appear."
Another murmur of approbation was heard among the friends of the
duchess, some of whom applauded audibly.
"You are accused not only of raising spirits, but of citing the
devil," pursued Laraynie, in tones of marked reproof. "Have you ever
seen the devil?"
"Oh, yes! He is before me now. He is old, ugly, and wears the
disguise of a presiding judge."
This time the applause rang through the council-chamber. It was
accompanied by shouts of laughter, and no more attempt was made by
the amused spectators to preserve the least semblance of decorum.
The president, pale with rage, rose from his seat, and darting fiery
glances at the irreverent crowd, whom the duchess had named as her
particular friends, he cried out:
"The trial is over, and I hereby dismiss the court."
"What--already?" said the duchess, rising languidly from her seat.
"Have you nothing more to say to me, my dear President Laraynie?"
Her "dear president" vouchsafed not a word in reply; he motioned to
his compeers to rise, and they all betook themselves to their hall
of conference. When the door had closed behind them, Marianna
addressed her friends.
"My lords," said she, "I must apologize for the exceeding dulness of
the scene you have just witnessed. But who would ever have imagined
that such wise men could ask such a tissue of silly questions? I had
hoped to experience a sensation by having a distant glimpse of the
headsman's axe, and lo! I am cheated into an exhibition of President
Laraynie's long ears!" [Footnote: The duchess's own words. This
account of the trial is historical.--See Renee, "The Nieces of
Mazarin," p. 395.]
"Come, Marianna," said her husband, passing her arm within his. "It
is time for our drive to the Pre aux Clercs; the king and court are
doubtless there already."
"And I shall annoy Madame de Maintenon by entertaining his majesty
with an account of the absurd comedy that has just been performed in
the council-chamber of the Arsenal."
So saying, Marianna led the way, and, followed by her adherents,
left the tribunal of justice, and drove off in triumph to the Pre
Instead of accompanying his aunt from the council-chamber to her
carriage, Eugene fell back, and joined two young men, who were
walking arm in arm just behind the duke and duchess.
They greeted him with marked cordiality, and congratulated him upon
the presence of mind with which he had captured the judicial arm-
chair, and pressed it into the service of his aunt.
"My cousins of Conti are pleased to jest," replied Eugene. "Such
praise befits not him who removes a chair, but him who unsettles a
"Have you any such ambitious designs?" asked Prince Louis de Conti,
"Why not?" returned his brother, Prince de la Roche. "It would not
be the first time that such a feat had been performed by an
ecclesiastic. Cardinal Mazarin removed the throne of France from the
Louvre to his bedchamber, and what Giulio Mazarini once
accomplished, may perchance be repeated by his kinsman, the abbe."
"Who tells you that I am a priest?" said Eugene.
"First--your garb; second, the will of your family; and third, the
command of the king."
"You forget the will of the individual most interested. But of that
anon--I have a request to make of you both."
"It is granted in advance," exclaimed the brothers with one voice.
"Thank you, gracious kinsmen. Will you, then, accept a seat in my
carriage, and drive with me to the Pre aux Clercs?"
"With pleasure. Is that all?"
"Almost all," replied Eugene, laughing. "What else remains to be
done, must be performed by myself."
"Ah! There is something then in the wind? May we ask what it is?"
"You will witness it, and that is all I require of you. But here is
my carriage. Be so kind as to step in."
Conrad stood at the portiere, and, while the young Princes de Conti
were entering the coach, he drew from under his cloak a slender
parcel, which he presented to his lord.
Eugene received it with a smiling acknowledgment. "Is all prepared?"
"Yes, your highness. Old Philip is in ecstasies, and the other
lackeys are like a pack of hounds on the eve of a fox-chase."
"They shall hear the fanfare presently," returned Eugene, following
his cousins, and taking his seat opposite to them.
"What is that?" asked the Prince de Conti pointing to the long, thin
roll of white paper which Eugene held in his hand.
"I suspect that it is a crucifix, and Eugene is going to entrap us
into a confession," returned De la Roche, who loved to banter his
"We shall see," replied Eugene, opening the paper, and exhibiting
its contents. "A whip!" exclaimed De Conti.
"Yes, a stout, hunting-whip!" echoed De la Roche. "Are we to go on a
fox-hunt, dear little abbe?"
"We are, dear, tall prince, and we shall shortly set out."
"Things begin to look serious," observed De Conti, with a searching
glance at the pale, resolute face of his young relative. "You do not
really intend to chase your fox in presence of the king?"
"Yes, I do. I intend to prove to his majesty that I am not
altogether unskilled in worldly craft, and, as regards my fox, I
intend that all Paris shall witness his punishment."
"You mean that you have been insulted, and are resolved to disgrace
the man that has insulted you?" asked De la Roche.
"You have guessed," said Eugene, deliberately, as he unwound the
long lash of the whip, and tried its strength.
"But Eugene," said De Conti, earnestly, "remember that such
degradation is only to be wiped out with blood, and that your cloth
will not protect you from the consequences of so unpriestly an act."
Eugene's eyes flashed fire. "Hear me," said he. "If my miserable
garb could prevent me from vindicating my honor as a man, I would
rend it into fragments, and cast it away as the livery of a coward.
A man's dress is not a symbol of his soul; and so help me, God! this
brown cassock shall some day be transformed into the panoply of a
soldier. But see! The carriage stops, and we are about to taste the
joys ineffable of seeing the King of France drive by."
Two outriders in the royal livery were now seen to gallop down the
allee, as a signal for all vehicles whatsoever to drive aside until
the royal equipages had passed by.
In this manner Louis was accustomed to exhibit himself to the
admiring gaze of his subjects, and to bestow upon them the
unspeakable privilege of a stray beam from the "son of France."
Never had he shed his rays upon a more numerous or more magnificent
concourse than the one assembled in the Pre aux Clercs; for the
Duchess de Bouillon had just entered with her cortege, and the allee
was lined on either side with splendid equipages and their
outriders--pages, equestrians, and foot-passengers.
His majesty was gazing around, bowing affably to the crowd, when he
perceived the Duchess de Bouillon, and caught her eye. Louis waved
his hand, and smiled; and this royal congratulation filled up the
measure of Marianna's content. At that moment his face was illumined
by an expression of genuine feeling, perhaps a reflection of the
light of a love which had shone upon it in the golden morning of his
The king's coach had gone by; following came the equipages of the
royal family, and the princes of the blood: then--
"My dear cousin," said Eugene, "be on your guard, and if the glasses
of our carriage-windows begin to splinter, close your eyes, for--"
At this moment the coach darted suddenly forward, and took its place
behind the royal cortege. There was a tremendous concussion of
wheels and shafts, a crash of broken panes, a stamping and
struggling of horses; and, above all this din, the frantic oaths of
the coachmen that had suffered from the collision.
"What do you mean, you ill-mannered churl! What do you mean by
driving in front of my horses?" cried a loud and angry voice.
"What do you mean yourself, clown!" was the furious reply of the
Jehu addressed. "My horses were merely advancing to take the
position which belongs to them of right, and how dare you stop the
"Do you hear?" asked Eugene, with composure. "The drama begins, and
I and my whip will shortly appear on the stage. It was my trusty old
Philip who began the fray, and--it has already gone from words to
blows, for it seems to me I heard something like a box on the ear--"
"You did indeed!" exclaimed the Prince de Conti; "but what on earth
can it mean?"
"You will find out presently," replied Eugene. "But wait a moment, I
must listen for my cue--"
"Your cue will have to be a thunder-clap, if you are to hear it
above all this racket," said De la Roche, slightly lowering one of
the windows, and looking cautiously out. "Devil take me! but it is a
veritable pitched battle. These knights of the hammer-cloth are
dexterous in the use of their fists, and every one of your servants,
Eugene, are engaged in the fight!"
The prince's last words were lost to his listeners, for a tremendous
crash drowned his voice, and something fell heavily to the ground.
"This is my cue," cried Eugene. "Come--I am about to make my debut."
And before he had time to rise from his seat, the portiere flew
open, and Conrad hastily took down the carriage-steps.
"Is his coach overturned?" asked the prince.
"Yes, your highness, and he is inside. His footmen tried to get him
out; but with the help of some of our friends we fell upon them, and
so gave them plenty of occupation, until your highness was ready to
"Well--let him out, Conrad. I am ready for him! Come," added he,
turning to his cousins. "Come, and let us survey the field."
In truth, the Pre aux Clercs, at this moment, resembled a battle-
ground. Although the royal cortege had long gone by, the promenaders
were too curious to follow; they all remained to see the end of this
turbulent opening. Every one had witnessed old Philip's manoeuvre,
and everybody knew that the point of attack was the carriage of
Barbesieur Louvois, for the footmen of the Countess de Soissons had
been seen to seize the horses' reins, and force them out of the way.
And now the coaches were all emptied of their occupants, who crowded
around the spot which Eugene, with his two cousins, was seen
approaching. They began to comprehend that this was no uproar among
lackeys, but a serious misunderstanding between their masters. The
Dukes de Bouillon, de Larochejaquelein, and de Luynes, the Princes
de Belmont and Conde, and many other nobles of distinction, came
forward and followed Prince Eugene to the field of action. The
coachman and lackeys of Barbesieur Louvois were trying to force the
footmen of the Countess de Soissons to right their overturned coach.
Old Philip cried out that the Princes de Carignan took precedence of
all manner of Louvois of whatever generation, and that he would not
stir. His companions had applauded his spirit, and both parties
having found allies among the other retainers of the nobles on the
ground, the battle had become general, and the number of fists
engaged was formidable.
The tumult was at its height when the clear, commanding tones of
Eugene's voice were heard.
"Churl and villain!" exclaimed he, "are you at last in my power?"
In a moment every eye was turned upon the speaker, who, just as
Barbesieur was emerging from the coach-window, seized and held him
prisoner. The belligerent lackeys were so astounded, that on both
sides the upraised fists were suspended, while old Philip, taking
advantage of the momentary lull, cried out in stentorian tones:
"Armistice for the servants! Their lords are here to decide the
Down went the fists, and all parties gazed in breathless silence at
the pale, young David, who confronted his Goliath with as firm
reliance on the justice of his cause as did the shepherd-warrior of
ancient Israel. Eugene was pale and collected, but his nostrils were
distended, and his eyes were aflame. Barbesieur's great chest heaved
with fury, as he felt himself in the grasp of his puny antagonist,
and turning met the glance of the son of Olympia de Soissons.
For a few moments no word was spoken. The two enemies exchanged
glances; while princes, dukes, counts, and their followers, looked
on with breathless interest and expectation.
Barbesieur now made one supreme effort to escape, but all in vain.
With one thrust of his muscular arm, Eugene forced him back into the
coach, his nether limbs within, his great trunk without the window.
"Miserable coward," said the prince, "who to escape from the dangers
of a fray among lackeys, have taken refuge in the carriage of a
nobleman! Monsieur Louvois will assuredly have you punished for your
presumption; but before he hears of your insolence toward him, you
shall be chastised for the injuries you have inflicted upon me."
"Dare harm one hair of my head," muttered Barbesieur, between his
teeth, "and your life shall be the forfeit. My father will avenge
"So be it; but first, let me avenge my mother," cried Eugene,
raising his whip on high.
"Eugene, Eugene," exclaimed the Duke de Bouillon, trying to reach
his kinsman in time to prevent the descending stroke, "you are
mistaken. This gentleman is no intruder in the coach of the Louvois;
it is Barbesieur de Louvois himself!"
"It is you that are in error," returned Eugene, holding fast to his
prisoner, who looked like some great monster in a trap. "This is not
Monsieur Louvois; this is a leader of mobs, an instigator of riots.
He is the knave that incited the people of Paris to malign my
mother, and to stone her palace.--Here! Philip! Conrad! Men of my
household, do you not recognize this man?"
"Ay, ay!" was the prompt response, "he is the very man that led on
"He is. The captain of the guard allowed him to escape, but before
he left I promised him a horsewhipping, and I never break my word.--
You are a villain, for you have defamed a noble lady.--Take this!
You are a liar, for you have accused her of crime.--Take this! You
are a poltroon, for while you were inciting others to violent deeds,
you hid your face, and denied your name.--Take this!"
At each opprobrious epithet, the lash fell heavily upon the
shoulders of Barbesieur, and every blow was answered by a cry of
mingled pain and rage. The multitude looked on in silence, almost in
terror; for who could calculate the consequence of such an indignity
offered to such a family!
"And now," said Eugene, throwing the whip as far as he could send
it, "now you are free! My mother's defamer has been lashed like a
hound, and her son's heart is relieved of its load."
So saying, he turned his back, and joined the group, among whom his
cousins were awaiting his return.
"Which of you, my lords," said he, "cried out that I was mistaken in
the identity of yonder knave?"
"It was I, Eugene," replied the Duke de Bouillon.
"But you see your error now, do you not, uncle? since not only I,
but my whole household proclaim him to be the ring-leader of that
riot, which forced my mother into exile."
"And yet he is assuredly Barbesieur Louvois," laughed the Prince de
"Well--we shall see," was the reply. "He has disengaged himself from
his coach-window, and if he is a gentleman he will know what he has
And Eugene returned to the place where Barbesieur was now standing,
calling out to his friends to follow him.
"Are you quite sure, my lords, that this individual is Monsieur
They answered with one voice, "We are!" while all eyes were fixed
upon the tall figure which, now relaxed and bent with shame,
resembled the stricken frame of an old man; while his eyes were
sedulously cast down, that they might not meet the glance of the
meanest man who had witnessed his disgrace.
"I am still incredulous," said the prince. "But I reaffirm that this
is the brutal ringleader of the mob that attacked my mother's home,
and since I am ready to swear upon my honor that it is he, have not
I performed my duty by chastising him?"
"Yes, Prince of Savoy, if you are sure that it is he," was the
"I can prove that it is he. When, in spite of my warning, he
uplifted his right arm to urge the rabble to a new attack on the
palace, I aimed a bullet at his elbow, and it reached its mark. Now,
if this man be Monsieur Louvois, and not the knave I hold him to be,
let him raise his right arm, and so brand me as a liar."
As he heard this challenge, Barbesieur trembled, and his face paled
to a deadly whiteness. His right hand was buried in the breast of
his coat, and well he knew that every eye was riveted upon that
spot. He made one superlative effort to straighten his arm, but no
sooner had he moved it than he uttered a stifled cry of pain, and
the wounded limb fell helpless to his side.
"My lords," said Eugene, inclining his head, "you see that I am no
calumniator. This is the churl who maligned my mother's name."
"And I am Barbesieur Louvois!" cried the churl, gnashing his teeth
with rage. "I am Barbesieur Louvois, and you shall learn it to your
sorrow, for my father will avenge the insult you have offered to his
"Your father!" echoed the Prince de Conti. "But yourself! What will
you do to mend your bruised honor? A nobleman knows but one means of
Barbesieur blushed, and then grew very pale. "You see that I am
incapable of resorting to this means," replied he, in much
"Then you will not challenge the Prince de Carignan?"
"It is not in my power to send a challenge. My right arm is useless
"Sir," said De Conti, haughtily, "there are blots on a man's honor,
which can only be wiped out with blood; and when the right hand is
powerless, a nobleman learns to use his left."
"I claim the privilege of waiting until I shall have regained the
use of my right hand," returned Barbesieur with a sinister glance at
De Conti. "I cannot be sure of my aim with an unpractised left hand;
and when I meet this miserable manikin, I wish to kill him.--Eugene
of Savoy, you have offered me a deadly affront; and as soon as my
wound is healed, you shall hear from me."
"Don't give yourself the trouble of sending me a challenge,"
returned Eugene coolly, "for I will not accept it."
"Not accept it!" echoed Barbesieur, unable to suppress the gleam of
satisfaction that WOULD shoot across his countenance. "Your valor
then, which is equal to put opprobrium upon a defenceless man, will
not bear you out to face him in a duel? What say these gentlemen
here present, to such behavior on the part of a prince of the ducal
house of Savoy?"
"When I shall have spoken a few more words to you, they can decide.
You have so outraged my mother, the Countess de Soissons, that the
falsehood with which you have befouled her honored name can never be
recalled! Not content with forcing her, by your persecutions, into
exile, your emissaries preceded her to every point whereat she
sought shelter, and incited the populace to refuse her the merest
necessaries of life! For wrongs such as these, nothing could repay
me but the infliction of a degradation both public and complete. I
have disgraced you; the marks of my lash are upon your back, and
think you that I shall bestow upon you one drop of my blood
wherewith to heal your stripes? No! I fight with no man whom I have
chastised as I would a serf; but if you have a friend that will
represent you, here is my gauntlet: let him raise it.--Gentlemen,
which of you will be the proxy that shall cleanse the sullied honor
of Barbesieur Louvois with his blood?"
"Not I," said the two Princes de Conti, simultaneously.
"Nor I," "Nor I," "Nor I!" echoed the others.
"Nor I," cried the Duke de la Roche Guyon stepping forward so as to
be conspicuous and generally heard. "I am the son-in-law of Monsieur
Louvois, and unhappily this man is the brother of my dear and
honored wife. But he is no kinsman of mine; and if I raise this
glove, it is to return it to the Prince of Savoy, for among us all
he has not an enemy. He stands in the midst of his friends, and they
uphold and will sustain him, let the consequences of this day be
what they may."
With a deep inclination of the head, the duke returned his glove to
Eugene, who, greatly affected, could scarcely murmur his thanks.
With glaring eyes and scowl of hatred, Barbesieur had listened,
while his brother-in-law's repudiation of the tie that bound them to
one another had deepened and widened the gashes of his disgrace.
With muttered words of revenge, he mounted the horse of one of his
grooms, and galloped swiftly out of sight of the detested Pre aux
"Gentlemen," resumed the Duke de la Roche Guyon, "I am about to seek
an audience with Monsieur Louvois, to relate to him the events that
have just transpired; and to exact of him as a man of honor that he
will seek no revenge for the affront offered to his son. Which of
you, then, will accompany me as witness?"
"All, all," cried the cavaliers, with enthusiasm. "We sustain the
Prince of Savoy, and if Minister Louvois injures a hair of his head,
he shall be answerable for the deed to every nobleman in France."
"And you, dear Eugene, whither are you going?" asked De Conti,
putting his hand on his cousin's shoulder, and contemplating him
with looks of affectionate admiration.
"I?" said Eugene, softly. "I shall return home to the hall of my
ancestors, there to hang this gauntlet below my mother's portrait.
Would that kneeling I could lay it at her feet!"
He was about to turn away, when De Conti remarked, "I wonder whether
Barbesieur will have the assurance to attend the court-ball to-
"We shall see," replied Eugene, with a smile.
"We! Why, you surely will not present yourself before the king,
until you find out in what way his majesty intends to view your
attack upon the favorite son of his favorite minister?"
"I shall go to the ball to ascertain the sentiments of his majesty.
You know how I abhor society, and how awkward I am in the presence
of the beau monde; but not to attend this ball would be an act of
cowardice. I must overcome my disinclination to such assemblies, and
learn my fate to-night."
"Are you really in earnest, ma toute belle?" said Elizabeth-
Charlotte of Orleans. "Are you serious when you relinquish your
golden hours of untrammelled existence, to become my maid of honor?"
The young girl, who was seated on a tabouret close by, lifted her
great black eyes, and for a moment contemplated the large, good-
natured features of the duchess; then, smiling as if in satisfaction
at the survey, she replied:
"Certainly, if your highness accords me your gracious permission to
attach myself to your person."
"And does your father approve? Has the powerful minister of his
majesty no objection to have his daughter enter my service?"
"I told him that if he refused I would take the veil," returned the
young girl, with quiet decision.
The duchess leaned forward, and contemplated her with interest.
"Take the veil!" exclaimed she. "What should such a pretty creature
do in a convent? You are not--you cannot be in earnest. Let those
transform themselves into nuns who have sins upon their consciences,
or sorrow within their hearts: you can have had no greater loss to
mourn than the flight of a canary, or the death of a greyhound."
The maiden's eyes glistened with tears. "Your highness, I have lost
"Oh, how unfeeling of me to have forgotten it!" exclaimed the
duchess. "But, in good sooth, this heartless court-life corrupts us
all; we are so unaccustomed to genuine feeling, that we forget its
existence on earth. Dear child, forgive me; I am thoughtless, but
not cruel. Give me your hand and let us be friends."
The girl pressed a fervent kiss upon the hand that was outstretched
to meet hers. "Oh!" cried she, feelingly, "my grandmother was right
when she told me that you were the best and noblest lady that ever
graced the court of France."
"Did your grandmother say that, love?" asked the duchess. "I
remember her as one of the most delightful persons I ever met. She
was a spirited, intelligent, and pure-minded woman; and many are the
pleasant hours we have passed together. I was really grieved when
the Marquise de Bonaletta disappeared from court, and went into
"She left the court for love of my mother, whose marriage was a most
unhappy one; and who, although she had much strength of mind, had
not enough to cope with the malignity of the enemies that were of
her own household."
"Your father was twice married, was he not?"
"Yes, your highness; and, by his first marriage, had a son and a
daughter. With the latter, the present Duchess de la Roche Guyon, my
mother lived in perfect harmony, but her step-son, Barbesieur, hated
her, and finally caused her to quit her husband's house, and take
refuge with her mother, the Marchioness de Bonaletta."
"I remember," returned the duchess. "Both ladies left Paris at the
same time, and nothing was ever heard of them afterward. They
retired to the country, did they not?"
"Yes, your highness. My grandmother had inherited a handsome estate
from her husband; and thither they took refuge from the persecution
of Barbesieur--my brother, and yet the enemy who, before I had
attained my sixth year, had driven me to a state of orphanage, by
alienating from me my father's affection. Well--I scarcely missed
his protection, for dear mother's love filled up the measure of my
heart's cravings for sympathy, and her care supplied every
requirement of my mind. But my happiness was short-lived as a dream;
my mother's health had been sorely shattered by her many trials, and
I was not yet fourteen when it pleased God to take her to Himself."
The duchess listened with tender sympathy. "I see, dear child," said
she, "that you are a loving daughter, for two years have gone by
since your misfortune, and yet your eyes are dim with tears."
"Ah, your highness, time has increased, not lessened, my sorrow. The
longer the separation, the harder it is to bear, and I know not from
what source consolation is to flow. For a time, however, I had the
sympathy of my grandmother to soothe my grief. We visited her grave,
we spoke of her together. For love of her who was so eager for my
improvement, I applied myself heartily to my studies. Hoping,
believing that she looked down from heaven upon her child, I strove
to prove my love by cultivating to their utmost the powers which God
had bestowed upon me."
"And no doubt you have become such a learned little lady, that you
will be quite formidable to such triflers as we," said the duchess,
with a smile.
"No, indeed, dear lady. I am slightly proficient in music and
painting--these are my only accomplishments."
"Ah, you love music? How it delights me to know this, for I, too, am
passionately fond of it! When I was a maiden in Heidelberg, I used
to roam about the woods, singing in concert with the larks and
nightingales; and my deceased father, the Elector Palatine, finally
declared that I was no German princess, but a metamorphosed lark,
whom he constantly expected to see spread out her wings, and depart
for Bird-land. Sometimes, when my reveries are mournful, I could
almost wish myself a lark, hovering over the fields that lie at the
foot of our dear castle at Heidelberg, or nestling among its towers,
wherein I have passed so many joyous hours. Now, if I were a Hindoo,
I would look forward with pleasure to the day of my transmigration;
for as a lark, I would fly to my dear native home, and sing the old
air of which my father was so fond:"
"'The sky that bends over the Neckar is fair,
And its waters are kissed by the soft summer air'--"
As the duchess attempted to hum this familiar strain, her voice grew
faint, and her eyes filled with tears. She dashed them hastily away.
"My dear child," said she, after a pause, "I know not why your sweet
companionship should have brought to mind visions of home and
happiness that are long since buried in the grave of the past. I
seldom indulge in retrospection, Laura; it unfits me for endurance
of the heartless life we lead in Paris. But sometimes, when we are
alone, you will let me live over these sunny hours, and--"
Again her voice faltered, and she buried her face in her hands,
while Laura looked on with sympathetic tears.
There was a silence of several moments, at the end of which the
duchess gave a short sigh, and looked up. Her face was quite
composed, and, smiling affectionately upon her young companion, she
resumed their conversation.
"And now, dear child, go on with what you were relating to me. My
little episode of weakness is ended, and I listen to your artless
narration with genuine pleasure. You lived with your grandmother on
her estate, and you were tenderly attached to each other?"
"Yes, indeed, I loved my grandmother to adoration. My lonely heart
had concentrated all its love upon her who loved ME not only for my
own, but for my mother's sake; and we were beginning to find
happiness in our mutual affection, when death again snatched from me
my last stay, my only friend. My dear grandmother would have gone
joyfully, but for the sake of the poor child she was leaving behind.
When she felt her end approaching, she sent for my father, who
obeyed the summons at once. He arrived in time to receive her last
injunctions. They had a long private interview, at the end of which
I was called in, and formally delivered over to the guardianship of
my father, who promised me his love and protection. But my
grandmother added these words, which I have carefully treasured in
"'If you should ever need advice or countenance from a woman, go to
the Duchess of Orleans. She is a virtuous and benevolent princess,
and will befriend you. With her for a protectress, you will be as
safe from harm as in the sheltering arms of your own mother.'"
The duchess extended her hand. "I thank your grandmother, dear
child, for her confidence in my benevolence: if I have never
deserved it before, I will earn it now; and be assured that in me
you will find a loving protectress. But why should you need any
influence of mine? Your father is the most powerful subject at
court, and the whole world will be at your feet. Young, handsome,
and rich, every nobleman in France will be your suitor."
"But I can never marry without love," replied Laura,
enthusiastically. "Love alone could reconcile me to the exigencies
of married life, and I must choose the man that is to rule over my
destiny. Let me be frank, and confess to your highness why I desire
to place myself under your protection. My father is trying to force
me into a marriage with the Marquis de Strozzi, the Venetian envoy.
He is young, handsome, rich, and may perhaps become Doge of Venice.
He is all this--but what are his recommendations to me? I do not
love him! More than that, he is the friend of Barbesieur, and
therefore I dislike him. The match, too, is of Barbesieur's making:
he it was that influenced my father to consent to it. I have already
declared that, sooner than marry the marquis, I will take the veil.
But my vocation is not for the cloister, and therefore I implore
your highness's protection. I beseech you, give me the place made
vacant by the marriage of your maid of honor, and save me from a
life of misery. In my father's house I am solitary and unloved: but
even loneliness of heart I could endure, if I were permitted to
endure it in peace! But a compulsory marriage is worse to me than
death! Save me, dear lady, and I will be the humblest and most
obedient of your subjects!"
The duchess smilingly shook her head. "I am afraid," said she, "that
the daughter of Louvois will not be permitted to accept the office
you ask, my child. Do you know that my maids of honor are paid for
"Yes, your highness; but I crave permission to serve you without
salary. I am rich, and, as regards fortune, independent of my
father. On condition that I assume her name, my grandmother left me
the whole of her vast estates. I have wealth, then, more than enough
to gratify my wildest caprices;--but no mother--no friend. Oh, take
pity on me, and befriend a poor orphan!"
"A poor orphan!" laughed the duchess. "A rich heiress, you mean--a
marchioness of fifteen years, who is possessed of sufficient
character to dispute the mandates of the powerful minister of the
King of France! But your resolute bearing pleases me. You are not
the puppet of circumstances, nor is your heart hardened by ambition.
It follows whither youthful enthusiasm beckons, and scorns the rein
of worldly restraint. I like your spirit, Laura, and I love YOU. You
may count upon me, therefore, as far as it lies in my power to serve
you. But understand that I am not a favorite at court. The king
honors me occasionally with his notice; but the two great magnates,
the 'powers that be,' De Montespan, and her rival De Maintenon, both
dislike me. They have reason to do so, for I do not love them. I am
at heart an honest German woman, and have no taste for gilded
corruption. I honor and love my brother-in-law, whom God preserve
and bless! But if the Lord would take these two marchionesses to
Himself, or send them below, to regions more congenial to their
tastes than heaven, I assure you that I would not die of grief at
their loss. De Montespan is merely a dissolute woman, who abandoned
her husband and children to become the mistress of a king. But that
De Maintenon! Her hypocrisy is enough to turn one's stomach. She not
only supplants her benefactress in the affections of her lover, but
dresses up her sins in the garments of a virtue, and affects piety!
She teaches his majesty to sin and pray, and pray and sin, hoping to
compound with Heaven for adultery, by sanctimony: perchance
expecting, as brokerage for her king's regenerated soul, an earthly
reward in the shape of a mantle edged with ermine! When I think of
that Iscariot in petticoats, I am ready to burst with indignation!"
The duchess grew so excited that she had to wipe her face with her
embroidered handkerchief. After cooling herself for a few moments,
"Yes! and to think that the princes of the blood and the queen
herself, are obsequious to these two lemans of a king! May I freeze
in the cold blast of royal disfavor, before I degrade my rank and
womanhood by such servility! And mark this well, little marchioness,
if you take service with me. Who goes to court with me, pays no
homage to the mistresses of the king.--But why do you kneel, my
child? What means this humility?"
"How otherwise could I give expression to my reverence, my
admiration, my love?" exclaimed Laura, her countenance beaming with
beautiful enthusiasm. "And how otherwise could I thank my God that
so noble, so brave, so incomparable a woman is my protectress! Let
me kiss this honored hand that has never been contaminated by the
touch of corruption!"
"You are a sweet enthusiast," said Elizabeth-Charlotte, bending down
and kissing Laura's brow. "In your eye there beams a light that
reveals to me a kindred spirit. Beautiful, young, hopeful though you
be (and I am none of these), there is a congeniality of soul between
us that leaps over all disparity, and proclaims us to be friends.
Come, dear child, to my heart."
With a cry of joy, Laura threw herself into the arms of the duchess,
who held her fast, and kissed her o'er and o'er.
"Sweet child," exclaimed she, "your spontaneous love is like a
flower springing from the hideous gaps of a grave. I greet it as a
gift of God, and it shall reanimate within me happiness and hope.
You are but fifteen, Laura, and I am a mature woman of thirty; but
my heart is as strong to love as yours; for many years it has pined
under clouds of neglect, but the sun of your sympathy has shone upon
it, and, warmed by its kindly beams, it will revive and bloom."
"And oh how I shall love you in return!" cried the happy girl. "As a
mother whom I trust and revere--as a sister to whom I may confide my
girlish secrets--as a guardian angel whose blessing I shall implore.
But in the world, and when I bear your train, I will forget that I
am aught but the lowliest handmaiden of her royal highness,
Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchess of Orleans."
"And when we are alone and without witnesses, we will speak of those
we have loved; and I, alas! of some whom I have not loved; for,
Laura, MY marriage was a compulsory one. The altar on which I
pledged my faith was one of sacrifice; and I, the bride, the lamb
that was immolated for my country's good. Ah! many tears have I shed
since I was Duchess of Orleans; but your tender hand shall wipe them
away, and in your sweet society I shall grow joyous again. We will
sing the ditties of my fatherland; and, provided no one is within
hearing, I will teach you our German dances, which, because of the
corruption that dwells within their hearts, these French people
stigmatize as voluptuous. With such a birdling as you to carol
around me, the lark that once dwelt in my heart, will find its voice
again, and awake to sing a hymn of thankfulness to God, who has
enriched me with the blessing of your love."
"And I, dear lady, will try to deserve the happiness He has
vouchsafed to me, by loving all His creatures--even Barbesieur
"Ah! Barbesieur!" echoed the duchess, thoughtfully. "I doubt whether
he or your father will consent to give you to me, Laura. Nobody
knows better than Monsieur Louvois, how unimportant a personage at
court is the Duchess of Orleans."
"He must give me to you or to the cloister," exclaimed Laura,
quickly. "And not only relinquish me, which would be no great loss,
but my worldly good, which are an important item in his estimation.
I am absolute mistress of my fortune, and nobody but the Chevalier
Lankey has a word to say in the matter. As for him--dear old fellow!
he is the tenderest guardian that ever pretended to have authority
over an heiress; and he loves me so sincerely, that if I were to
come and say that, to save me from misfortune, he must stab me to
the heart, he would do my bidding, and forthwith die of grief for
"I can almost believe you, absurd child; for you are an enchantress,
and therefore irresistible."
"Yes--I am irresistible," replied Laura, throwing her arms around
the duchess's neck, "and I vow and declare that it is my good
pleasure to live forever in the sunshine of your highness's
presence; so I consider myself as accepted and installed."
"With all my heart, if your family be propitious! And with a view to
reconciling them, I must create an office for you of more dignity
than that of a mere maid of honor. You shall be lady of the
bedchamber; and I will announce your appointment with all due
formality to the king, the court, and my own household. You retain
the title of maid of honor, because that gives you the right to
remain constantly attached to my person; but, except on days of
extraordinary ceremony, you shall be dispensed with the duty of
following me as train-bearer."
"I shall be dispensed with no such thing!" cried Laura, playfully;
"I do not intend to delegate my duties to anybody; above all, a duty
which to me will be a privilege."
"We shall see, you self-willed girl," was the reply, "for I shall
forbid you in presence of my household, and, for decorum's sake, you
will be forced to obey. Neither shall you inhabit the third story of
the main palace, in common with the other maids of honor; you shall
occupy the pretty pavilion in the garden, and have an independent
household as befits your rank and fortune. Now, as regards your
table. You know that, by the laws of French etiquette, nobody is
permitted to sit at table with the princes or princesses of the
blood; and my lord, the duke, is so stringent in his observance of
these laws, that he would faint were he to witness a breach of them.
When his royal highness, then, dines with me, you will be served in
the pavilion, and are at liberty to invite whom you please to share
your repasts; but happily, I am honored with his presence but twice
a week; and on all other days, we shall breakfast and dine together.
The duke spends two days out hunting, and the other three with his
mistress, Madame de Rulhieres. You look surprised to hear me mention
this so coolly. Time was, when I felt humiliated to know that mine
were not the only children who kissed my husband, and called him
father. The caresses he bestowed upon his mistress, I never grudged.
She robbed me of nothing when she accepted them. As the wife of a
man whom I did not love, I could aspire to none of the joys of
wedded life; I have contented myself with fulfilling its duties, and
so conducting myself that I need never be ashamed to look my dear
children in the face. But enough of this: let us return to you. You
will keep your own carriage, use your own liveries, and be sole
mistress of your house and home, into which the Duchess of Orleans
shall not enter unannounced. You will find it larger than it looks
to be. It contains a parlor, sitting and dining rooms, a library
opening on the garden; a bed-room, three chambers for servants, and
two anterooms, large enough to accommodate your worshippers while
they await admission to your presence. This is all I have to offer
my lady of the bedchamber. May I hope that it is agreeable?"
"Agreeable!" exclaimed Laura, affectionately. "It will place me on a
pinnacle of happiness. And now that I have heard of all the favors,
the privileges, and the honors that are to accrue to me from my
residence in the pavilion, will my gracious mistress deign to
instruct me as to the duties I am to perform, in return for her
"Wilful creature, have I not already told you? On occasions of state
you are to be one of my trainbearers; and when his majesty comes to
visit me, you station yourself at my side. Then you are to drive out
with me daily, and as you alone will be with me in the carriage, we
can have many a pleasant chat, while the maids of honor come behind.
And we must be discreet, or they may inform monsieur of the
preference which madame has for her lady of the bedchamber; and
then, Heaven knows what the duke might do to us! Let us hope that he
would not poison you, as he did my poor little Italian greyhound, a
few weeks ago. He hated the dog because I loved it, and because it
was a present to me from my dear brother Carl. So be wary and
prudent, Laura: these maids of honor have sharp ears, and it is not
safe to talk when they are waiting in the anteroom, for some are in
the pay of De Maintenon and you will not have been here many days
before one of them is sold to your father. I can scarcely believe in
the reality of my new acquisition, for much as I regret to tell you
so, Laura, you cannot enter my service until Monsieur Louvois comes
hither to make the request himself. Otherwise, monsieur and Madame
de Maintenon would spread it about, that I had forcibly abducted the
Marchioness de Bonaletta, and torn her from her loving father's
"My father will be here to-day to comply with all the formalities
that must precede my installation," replied Laura. "And, if your
highness will admit him, I shall have the happiness of being in your
train at the court-ball to-night." "Of course I must admit him,
since you will it, my queen of hearts. By what magic is it that you
have won my love so completely to-day, Laura?"
"By the magic touch of my own heart that loves you so well, dear
lady--so well, that I ask no other boon of Heaven but that of
deserving and returning your affection."
"Until some lover comes between us, and robs me of my treasure,"
said the duchess, with a smile. "Have you seen the brigand yet? Do
you know him?"
Laura laughed. "He is a myth--I have no faith in his existence,"
"He exists, nevertheless, my child, and will make his appearance
before long; for you are destined to have many suitors."
"But none that approaches my ideal of manhood. Where shall I find
this hero of my dreams?--not at the court of France, your highness.
But--should he ever come out of the clouds, brave, noble, wise, as I
have pictured him, then, oh then! I should follow the destiny of
woman; leaving all other beings, even my gracious mistress herself,
to cleave unto him, and merge my soul in his! Were I to love, the
world itself would recede from view, leaving all space filled with
the image of the man I loved! Better he should never come down from
the moon--for, if he comes, I am lost!"
The magnificent halls of the Louvre were open to receive the guests
of his majesty Louis XIV. Balls were "few and far between" at the
French court, and the festivities of the evening were significant,
as betokening triumph to De Montespan and mortification to De
For Louis, like Mohammed's coffin, was suspended between the heaven
of De Mainteuon's pious attractions, and the earth of De Montespan's
carnal fascinations. Neither the exhortations of Pere la Chaise, nor
the affectionate zeal of De Maintenon, had as yet overthrown the
power of De Montespan; and more than once, when wearied with the
solemn dulness of the former, had he sought refuge from drowsiness
in the rollicking companionship of the latter, who, if she was a
sinner, wore the livery of her master, and sinned honestly and
above-board. De Montespan always profited by these little intervals
of tenderness, to obtain some signal favor from Louis, which had the
effect of perplexing the court, and rendering it a doubtful matter
to those who would fain have gone over to the victorious party,
which of his two mistresses was truly sovereign of the king's
Such a concession was this ball, wrung from Louis, first by coaxing,
and finally by pouting and tears. De Montespan was elated, for it
was a double triumph; it was given at her request, and was to take
place on her birthday.
And De Maintenon, of course, was proportionally crest-fallen. But,
after shedding just as many tears as she deemed appropriate,
Scarron's widow was clever enough to understand that wisdom lay in
acquiescence. She wiped her eyes, and suffered herself to be
caressed into a good-humor; was more amiable, more sprightly, more
fascinating than ever, with not a trace of disappointment in her
looks, save that which lay in the unusual paleness of her face.
Louis was so touched by her magnanimity, that he absolutely begged
her pardon; and she was so overcome by the condescension of his
majesty, that she asked permission to be present at the ball.
"He was only too happy!" that is to say, he did his best to conceal
his consternation at the unheard-of proposition. Sainte Maintenon at
a ball! What would she do in so unrighteous a place? And worse--
still worse: what would his other charmer say when she heard of it?
What outbreak of indignation might not be expected, when De
Montespan was told that her ex-governess was to be present at a ball
given in her own honor? Between his saint and his sinner, Louis was
sorely perplexed. But he might have spared himself all uneasiness.
De Montespan was not in the least ruffled at the tidings; she rather
enjoyed the idea of setting off her own splendor against the
shabbiness of her rival.
But the court was in a state of anxious excitement on the subject.
Everybody was dying of curiosity to see the meeting of the rivals,
and the effect that was to be produced by their presence on the poor
To which of the favorites will the king throw his handkerchief? With
which of the two will he converse most? Will he feel at ease as he
treads the minuet under the eyes of the devotee? Or will he venture
to recognize HER in presence of the courtesan?
Such were the questions that were continually asked, but never
answered by the elegant crowd which thronged the halls of the palace
that evening. The rencontre of Eugene and Barbesieur was for the
moment forgotten. It was not likely that either one of the
disputants would venture to appear at court, until the king had
decided to which party belonged the blame of the affray; but, as
regarded the brush that was imminent between the king's mistresses,
that was a matter which concerned everybody, and everybody was in a
flutter to know the result.
The lord chamberlain having announced that the court was about to
make its entrance, the throng pressed forward to the Gallery of
Apollo. Four immense chandeliers lit up the gorgeous frescoes on the
ceiling, and poured a flood of radiance upon the line of stately
courtiers and elegant women who were the guests of the king's leman
that night. The ladies coquetted with their large fans, whispered
with the cavaliers close by, and dispensed smiles and bewitching
glances upon those who were too far for speech until the master of
ceremonies flung open the doors, and announced "his majesty the
There was at once profound silence; and in a moment every head was
bent, and every eye sought the floor. The men bowed low, the women
courtesied lower, and nothing was to be seen but a chaos of jewels,
velvet, brocade, and llama, surmounted by feathered, flowered, or
ringleted heads, and long, flowing wigs.
The one personage who had the right to hold himself erect in the
presence of this reverential multitude--the king--appeared, followed
by a glittering train of marshals, chamberlains, officers of the
royal household, and pages. His majesty traversed the gallery and
approached the throne, which, for this festive occasion, was hung
with white velvet, studded with golden lilies. Not far from the
royal arm-chair stood a lady, whose sad eyes looked wearily upon the
pageant, and whose pallid lips had long since forgotten how to
smile. It was Maria Theresa, the queen. She had made her entry
before the king, but it had scarcely been remarked. She was a
deserted wife, and, being without influence at court, had no favors
to bestow. She was, therefore, altogether sans consequence.
Nevertheless, she was the queen-consort, and Louis, extending his
hand, and inclining his royal head, assisted her to mount the
throne. As soon as the kingly pair were seated, his majesty's voice
"My guests are welcome."
As if by enchantment, feathers, flowers, curls, and wigs, all rose
up out of chaos, and every eye was turned upon the handsome person
of the sovereign.
While all this had been going on Eugene of Savoy stood erect, nor
once cast down his flashing eyes before the lightning of the royal
presence. He had entered quietly, had retired to the recess of a
window, and, as the crowd had simultaneously become a heap of
garments, he had curled his lip in contempt. Suddenly his eye grew
soft, and his mouth relaxed into a smile. Not far from the throne he
had seen one head--one beautiful head, and had met the glance of a
pair of glorious eyes, which were quietly surveying the scene, and,
as Eugene thought, enjoying it with an expression of suppressed
Who could she he, that, while every other person there had lost his
individuality and merged it into one monstrous concretion of
obsequiousness, had preserved her balance, and stood undazzled by
the rays of the sun of France? As young as she was lovely, whence
came the mingled self-possession and unconsciousness which made her
an observer instead of a worshipper? Eugene had never seen this
beautiful creature before; but from the depths of her starry eyes
there streamed a light that went straight to his heart, making
strange revelation of some half-forgotten bliss which, in an
anterior state of being, might once have been his own.
But how came she hither? What had her fair, unclouded brow, her
innocent face, her maidenly bearing in common with the vain,
voluptuous, and corrupt women around, who were so lost to shame as
not only to do homage to the king's mistresses, but to envy them the
infamous distinction of his preference?
Their eyes met; and in her glance of astonishment Eugene fancied
that he saw mirrored his own surprise at her extraordinary defiance
of courtly servility. She too seemed to ask, "How is it that you
stand so proudly erect, when every other head is bent in reverence
before our sovereign? Who are you, that presume to--"
But the king and his suite passed between them, and the beautiful
face was lost to sight. In its place, Eugene beheld the haughty
monarch who had caused such bitter tears to flow from the eyes of
his dear, exiled mother; and the thought of that beloved mother led
to remembrance of his father's death, and to the tyranny which would
make of his father's son an unwilling priest.
Meanwhile the king had seated himself on the throne, and the princes
and princesses of the blood had approached to pay their homage. Not
a sound was heard in that splendid gallery, save the subdued tones
of Louis, who was conversing with the Duke of Orleans; for, until
the former rose to make his grande tournee, etiquette required of
his adoring subjects to be dumb.
A slight hum, however, began to be heard at the lower end of the
hall, and all eyes were turned toward the door which opened to admit
the woman whom the king delighted to honor.
Her tall figure was set off to great advantage by a dress of purple
velvet, embroidered with silver. From her voluptuous shoulders
drooped a mantle, edged with richest ermine; and her swelling bust
was scarcely concealed by a drapery of silvered gauze. On her bosom
she wore a fleur de lis composed of emeralds, pearls, and diamonds,
and on her magnificent brow glittered a diadem of brilliants worthy
the acceptance of an empress.
So haughty was her bearing, and so obsequious were the salutations
which greeted her entrance, that hut for the pale statue that
occupied a seat next the king, Madame de Montespan might have been
mistaken for the queen.
Eugene's eyes had sought and found the young girl, whose sweet
vision had been displaced by the king, but who now, in full view of
the company, stood immediately behind the chair of the Duchess of
Orleans. Would she bow her incomparable head before that exalted
harlot? Would she outrage her maidenhood by acknowledgment of De
Montespan's title to consideration? No! Thank God, she was true to
her pure, womanly instincts. Her face crimsoned, her delicate brows
were slightly drawn together, and her head was unconsciously raised,
as if in protest against the public scandal of this woman's
When Eugene saw this, his heart leaped with joy, and he yearned to
throw himself at her feet.
"In Heaven's name who can she be, that fairy-queen, who fears not
mortal man?" thought he. "Who--"
But suddenly his eye shot fire, and the expression of his face was
transformed. He had met the glance of Barbesieur Louvois, who, under
shelter of De Montespan's favor with Louis, and the protection of
his father, had intruded himself into the company of the proudest
nobles in France. How was it possible that the master of ceremonies
had allowed to a disgraced man the privilege of appearing before the
king and queen?
"Gracious Heaven!" thought Eugene, "are honor and shame but empty
words? Is this, indeed, the Marchioness de Montespan, whose entrance
is greeted like that of a sovereign, while the Countess de Soissons
wanders in foreign lands, a fugitive from justice? Justice?--No! A
fugitive from oppression, and the kinsman who should have protected
her--her oppressor! And is yonder swaggering cavalier the caitiff
whose back is smarting with the lash of my hunting-whip? And those
smiling courtiers there, who take him by the hand--are they the
noblemen that upheld me in the act? By Heaven, they greet him as
though, like me, his veins were blue with the blood of kings! But
no!--not all! The Princes of Conti have refused to recognize him:
they bow to the minister of war, but pass without a word to his son.
For that act I shall hold them 'in my heart of hearts,' nor forget
their manliness while I live to honor worth and scorn servility!"
Eugene looked affectionately at his cousins, until his eyes filled
with tears of gratitude; but they were unconscious of the comfort
they had ministered to his wounded heart, for they were not aware of
his presence in the ballroom.
The king had not yet ended his long conversation with the Duke of
Orleans. The company stood still and expectant, and the Marchioness
de Montespan began to exhibit signs of impatience. She had hoped
that the ceremonial of compliments to and from the royal family
would have been over before her entrance; and now that she had been
there fully ten minutes, the king seemed as unconscious of her
presence as ever.
But--thank Heaven! the colloquy was at an end; the king has risen,
and has signified to the queen that the princesses of the blood may
rise also. He descends from his throne, and De Montespan's heart is
wild with joy. The moment of her triumph approaches; Louis is about
to lead her out for the minuet, and so proclaim her queen of the
festival. She smiles ineffably; in her eagerness, she almost, rises
from her tabouret to meet him, but--what can he intend to do? Has he
not seen her?--He turns away, and--now he extends his hand to
De Montespan was perfectly overwhelmed, and, all etiquette
forgetting, she actually rose from her seat and took a step forward,
that she might see who was the person that had been so singularly
honored by the king.
Who was it? Why, nobody but Sainte Maintenon, who, without pomp or
parade, had entered the room, and had taken her tabouret with as
much simplicity as she would have seated herself in church.
Her toilet, as well as her demeanor, presented a singular contrast
with that of her sparkling rival. Her dress was of dark velvet,
buttoned up to the throat. Her wealth of beautiful black hair was
fastened up with a barbe of gossamer lace, and the only ornament she
wore around her neck was a delicate gold chain, to which was
attached a miniature of Louis set in superb brilliants.
And upon this wearisome, insipid, old-fashioned puppet, the King of
France had bestowed his attentions. De Montespan would have given
her diadem to have been permitted to vent her humiliation in tears;
but pride restrained her, while she looked on, and saw how the king
led De Maintenon to the queen, an honor hitherto reserved for
princesses of the blood. And with what feline humility she knelt and
pressed her majesty's hands to her unholy lips! Oh! De Montespan
could have taken her life when she saw this!
And she--she for whom this gay assemblage were called together, sat
unnoticed and alone; her expected triumph, defeat--every hope she
had cherished of love reciprocated, and ambition gratified,
transformed into despair, by one little act. The king had given his
hand to her rival!
THE LADY OF THE BEDCHAMBER.
The conversation between the king, the queen, and Madame de
Maintenon, was long and interesting. When she saw the former rise
and incline his head, De Montespan's heart fluttered with
expectation; but his majesty stopped before the Duchess of Orleans,
and there he lingered so long that everybody wondered what could be
the attraction there. Presently Elizabeth-Charlotte turned to the
young girl who stood beside her, and presented her to the king. How
beautiful she was! How enchanting her smile, how charming her
She was evidently a stranger, and De Montespan set her down as an
enemy, for she had not complied with the customs of the court, by
which every lady introduced there was expected to leave a card for
the mistress of the king. An enemy, then, she must be--perchance, a
rival! But who was she?
"Yes, who is she?" thought Prince Eugene, as, transfixed with
admiration, he gazed upon her lovely face. "I must know," exclaimed
he aloud, while he pressed forward to make the inquiry.
There was no one near to whom he could address himself, for he now
for the first time remarked that he stood quite alone. He began to
be aware that his friends were shy and kept aloof; but Eugene had
come to this ball to prove that the son of the Countess de Soissons
was not to be browbeaten by king or courtier; and he went on and on
until he stood so near to Louis that he could look him full in the
The grand monarque knit his brows, and presumed that the Prince of
Savoy would understand the hint, and withdraw; but Eugene paid no
attention to the Olympic frown, or affected not to see it.
Louis, who had been chatting with the little Duke of Maine, strode
angrily forward and addressed the prince:
"I judge from your eyes, little abbe, that you have come hither to
ask some favor of us to-night?"
"Then my eyes belie my purpose, your majesty," replied Eugene,
quietly. "I have no favor to ask of any one."
"I understand," said the king, slightly raising his shoulders. "You
have come for an answer to your last petition?"
"Pardon me, sire, I have presented no petition whatever to your
"If you have not, your mother, the Countess de Soissons, has
presented one for you. She begged me, not long ago, to appoint you
prebendary of a cathedral: as she has thought proper to abscond from
my dominions, I have had no opportunity of answering her request.
When you write to her, you can tell her that it is refused. Prince
Eugene of Savoy leads too worldly a life to deserve promotion in the
church. Bullies are not apt to distinguish themselves as
"Sire, I thank your majesty; for the sentiments to which you have
just given utterance release me from further obligation to enter
upon a career for which I have neither inclination nor calling."
To these bold words Louis vouchsafed no answer. He annihilated the
offender with a glance, and passed on. Then turning to the Duke of
Orleans, he said in a voice that was intended to be generally heard,
"I cannot imagine what that little abbe of Savoy wants here to-
night. His face brings me bad luck." [Footnote: The king's own
words.--See "Memoirs of the Duke de St. Simon," vol. x]
This was enough to damn Eugene forever at the French court. It was
the anathema maranatha of his sovereign, and cast him out from
association with all loyal subjects. Nobody in those vast halls
would have been seen in his vicinity; his best friends would not now
have ventured one look of sympathy or kindness toward a nobleman so
publicly and pointedly insulted by royalty. He was henceforth a
The Princes de Conti were sorely grieved, but they dared, no more
than their compeers, risk the displeasure of the king by upholding
their outraged kinsman. The eldest one, however, managed to whisper
a word or two in passing.
"Dear Eugene," said he, "do be reasonable, and put an end to this
abominable scene by going home. Our hearts are all with you, but we
dare not affront the king by the smallest demonstration on your
behalf; he is looking out for it, and would revenge himself
effectually. We went this morning with De la Roche Guyon to Louvois,
and obtained his sacred promise to ignore your difficulty with his
son, and allow it to be settled between yourselves. But he has
evidently not kept his word; for the affair has been misrepresented
to the king, and the insult you have received is a proof of it. Go
away for a few weeks until it blows over, and all will have been
"I have no desire to have my affairs forgotten; I trust that they
may be remembered," replied Eugene. "But hark! the music.--We are to
have the ineffable privilege of seeing the king dance. Doubtless you
have already secured a partner, and I will not detain you."
The music was heard, and his majesty went through the usual form of
requesting the queen to open the ball. She answered, as she was
expected to do, that her health was too feeble for her to enjoy
dancing, and she hoped his majesty would excuse her, and find
This was always a time of suspense and excitement at court-balls;
for the lady who was then selected by the king was, de facto, the
queen of the festival. The minuet's enticing measure was calling
upon its votaries to commence; but, until the king had made his
choice, no one could stir.
Madame de Montespan's heart began to throb anew with hope. 'This
time she was sure of being chosen, for De Maintenon did not dance;
and, after all, what signified a few words with the queen, compared
with the glory of being led out to the dance by the king?
Her eyes sparkled with animation, her mouth began to ripple with
happy smiles, and oh! triumph and joy! the king was seen coming in
But again he stopped to speak with the Duchess of Orleans. What
could he want of her? If De Montespan had been within hearing, she
need not have wondered, for Louis merely requested the pleasure of
her hand for the dance.
Elizabeth-Charlotte looked up in astonishment.
"I hope I have not fallen into disfavor," said Louis, answering the
look. "You are not about to refuse me?"
"Oh, sire," replied his sister-in-law, laughing, "I am merely
overcome with your condescension. But your majesty knows," continued
she, seriously, "that since my father's death I have never danced. I
was enjoying myself in this very hall while he was expiring at home;
and from that unhappy day I have never desired to dance again.
Moreover, I am a miserable partner, and you would be ashamed of me."
"How ashamed?" asked Louis, amused at his sister-in-law's
"I mean, sire, that strive as I will, I am always behind-hand in a
dance. I am like the snail, who, being invited to a wedding, arrived
there a year after, and found herself the first guest that had come
to the christening. As she entered the garden she fell into a ha-ha,
whereupon she said, 'More haste, worse speed.'"
Louis laughed heartily. "Then I am refused, dear sister," said he,
"and I must acquiesce in your decision. But I must have satisfaction
for the affront. You must find a substitute."
"A substitute!" exclaimed the duchess, reddening with anger, as she
fancied she saw the king's eyes wander to the tabouret whereon De
Montespan still waited and smiled. "Surely, your majesty would not
ask of me--"
"Why not?" cried Louis, enjoying her perplexity. "Why may I not ask
you to procure me a substitute of your own selection? It is not much
for you to do--is it?"
As he spoke, the eyes of the king rested unequivocally upon an
object which he perceived just behind the chair of the duchess. She
understood, and hastened to repair her blunder. "Sire," said she
"may I ask of your majesty a favor? My new lady of the bedchamber
has just arrived in Paris, where she is a perfect stranger. Will you
be so gracious as to give her this proof of your royal favor? She is
not only my favorite attendant, but the daughter of your majesty's
minister of war, and--"
"And she is, above all things, herself--the beautiful Marchioness de
Bonaletta," interrupted the king, with somewhat of his youthful
courtliness and grace. "You propose her as your substitute, do you
"Yes, sire--if your majesty is so good."
"So good! I shall esteem myself most happy in the acquisition of so
charming a partner. Does the Marchioness de Bonaletta consent?"
With these words, Louis offered his hand; and Laura, without
embarrassment or presumption, accepted the honor conferred upon her,
and was led out to the dance. A murmur of admiration followed her
appearance, but she seemed quite unconscious of the impression she
had made. Her lovely countenance was neither lit up by pride, nor
suffused by bashfulness. Her cheeks were slightly flushed by natural
modesty, and her sweet, unaffected bearing enhanced her incomparable
beauty of person.
Even De Montespan herself could not withhold her tribute of
admiration. At first she had darted glances of hatred toward an
imaginary rival; but, a calm survey of Laura's pure and angelic
expression of face reassured her. This girl had no mind to entrap
the king, and if Louis had not courage enough to dance with HER (De
Montespan), in presence of that canting hypocrite De Maintenon,
perhaps it was quite as well that he had provided himself with a
partner sans coquetterie, and therefore sans consequence.
Madame de Maintenon, too, had remarked Laura, as, gracefully
emerging from her concealment behind the seat of the duchess, she
had unostentatiously accepted the king's invitation to dance.
"What a union of tact with tenderness of heart is apparent in all
that his majesty does," said she to the Duke de Maine, who was
standing beside her. "This young girl is the personification of
innocence and purity, and his majesty's selection of her as his
partner proves that he not only desires to pay homage to youth and
beauty, but also to virtue and modesty."
"How beautiful she is!" murmured a young cavalier, who, with
Barbesieur Louvois, was watching the dancers.
"Why do you sigh?" replied Barbesieur. "You ought rather to be proud
of your future bride."
"My future bride!" echoed he, dolefully. "I would she were, my dear
friend. But although your father has so graciously given his
consent, I am as far from obtaining her as ever."
"It you wait for that," whispered Barbesieur in return, "you may
wait until the day of judgment. My sister is one of those
incomprehensible beings that loves opposition for opposition's sake.
If she is disdainful, it is precisely because she is quite as much
enamored of you as you are of her. She is a sort of chaste Artemis
who is ashamed of her preference for a man, and would die rather
than confess it."
"She enchants me at one moment, and drives me to despair the next,"
sighed the marquis.
"No need for despair," was the reply. "My dear marquis," continued
Barbesieur, coming close to the ear of the Italian, "what will you
give me if I promise that you shall become her husband?"
The eyes of the marquis glowed with desire, and his swarthy face was
tinged with red. "What would I give?" cried he, as he caught a
glimpse of Laura on the dance. "The half of my fortune, the half of
my life, if, with one half of either, I might call her mine!"
"Nay," said Barbesieur, with a sinister laugh, "I am neither robber
nor devil. I wish neither your fortune nor your soul in exchange for
my wares. Laura is so headstrong, that she will have to be forced
into happiness, and made to take what even now she is longing to
snatch. So if I make you both happy, you will not then object to
giving me a few of the crumbs that fall from your table?"
"I will give you any thing you desire, and my eternal gratitude to
boot, if you will help me to become possessor of that angel."
"I am passionately fond of hunting, and the Marchioness de Bonaletta
has the most tempting bit of woods that ever made a hunter's heart
ache to call it his. Now if you marry Laura, you become her
guardian, and have absolute power over her property."
"I care nothing for her property," cried the marquis, passionately.
"Her beauty, her sweetness, and her noble birth, are wealth enough
for me. In the golden book of Venice the name of the richest noble
there inscribed is the Strozzi."
"Everybody knows that, dear marquis, and therefore you will not
refuse the reward I claim from my sister's own possessions. 'Tis but
meet that she make a present to her brother on her wedding-day. So,
then, we understand each other: immediately after the ceremony of
your marriage, you make out a deed by which you relinquish to me the
usufruct of the Bonaletta estates in Savoy for life. Who gets them
after me, I care not."
"I consent; and add thereunto a yearly pension of one thousand
ducats. Does that content you?"
"Your liberality is really touching. A thousand ducats to boot! They
will fall like a refreshing shower into a purse that is always as
empty as the sieves of the Danaides. It is a bargain. YOU wed Laura
Bonaletta, and _I_ get her estates, and one thousand ducats a year."
"Here is my hand."
"And mine. In one month you shall both be on your way to Venice; you
a happy bridegroom, and she--your bride."
THE LADY OF THE BEDCHAMBER.
The dance was over, and the king reconducted Laura to her chaperone.
"My dear sister," said he, "the fascinations of the partner you
selected for me are almost enough to reconcile one to a refusal from
yourself. I am convinced that I have been the envy of every cavalier
present. I withdraw, therefore, that I may not stand in the way of
the fair Laura's admirers."
And gracefully saluting his partner, the royal flirt betook himself
at last to poor De Montespan, who had tact enough to smother her
chagrin, and give him a cordial reception. It was better to be
noticed late than never.
"Your highness," whispered Laura, bending over the back of the
duchess's chair, "pray command me not to dance any more. Do you see
that swarthy, sinister face over there, close to Barbesieur? It is
the Marquis de Strozzi staring at me already. He is about to come
hither, and if you do not assist me I shall have to dance with him."
"Never fear, darling," whispered the duchess in return. "They shall
not rob me of you so soon. Take your place, and, being on duty, no
one can claim you, were it the wild hunter himself."
Laura hastened to resume her station, and, in doing so, glanced
toward the window, where stood the pale young man whom she had
noticed before. Their eyes met again, and again she blushed. Laura
bent her head, and, feigning to arrange a displaced ringlet on the
head of her mistress, she said, in low, earnest tones: "Pardon me,
gracious mistress; but will you tell me who is that young cavalier
in the recess of the window opposite?"
"Certainly, my dear," replied the duchess in the same tone of voice.
"He is one whom all the courtiers avoid to-night--miserable
timeservers as they are--for he has fallen into disgrace with your
father and the king. He is Prince Eugene of Savoy."
"Prince Eugene!" echoed Laura. "He who laid the weight of his whip
over Barbesieur's shoulders this morning!"
"Yes, the same, and he has been publicly rebuked for it to-night.
Your father has received full satisfaction, Laura; for, not only has
his majesty offered a pointed slight to the man who disgraced
Barbesieur, but he has paid him a signal compliment by opening the
ball with his sister."
"If I had imagined that any thought of Barbesieur mingled with the
compliment paid me by the king, I would have refused to dance with
The duchess looked up astounded. "Why, Laura, such an insult to his
majesty would almost amount to treason. For Heaven's sake, never
utter such sentiments at court, child!"
"What care I for the court?" cried Laura, her eyes filling with
tears. "I am overwhelmed with the shame of having been made use of
as a tool wherewith to humiliate the noble Prince de Carignan! But I
shall repair the wrong I have done him, and that in presence of the
"Thoughtless, impulsive child, what would you do?" said Elizabeth-
Charlotte, anxiously. "I really believe you are ready to go up and
give him a kiss, by way of proving that you are not a party to his
"Perhaps I am!" exclaimed Laura, passionately. "The prince was right
to punish Barbesieur for his cowardly attack upon a noble lady; and
my brother-in-law, De la Roche Guyon, was one of those who justify
him. I, too, applaud his spirit; for, in avenging his mother, ho
avenged mine. This morning, when no king was by to uphold the
calumniator, all these nobles were the friends of the prince, and
not one of them would lift the gauntlet which, with his brave hand,
he flung to the world. And to-night they desert him!--They are not
worthy to touch the hem of his garment!--But I will take his hand--
the noble hand that had disgraced his mother's traducer beyond the
power of royalty to undo!"
"You will do no such thing, you dear little madcap!" returned the
duchess, glancing admiringly at the beaming countenance of the
beautiful enthusiast. "You have a brave heart, dear child; but you
must not allow it to run away with your judgment. You must keep your
place at my side, nor let magnanimity get the better of discretion.
The latter is a cardinal virtue in woman. But--see how the Marquis
de Strozzi devours us with his eyes; he is waiting until I cease
speaking to come forward and claim your hand. Be comforted--he shall
not have it. Here he comes--let the chamberlain have a chance to
So saying, she turned away from Laura, and began to fan herself
vigorously, while the marquis and the chamberlain advanced.
"Your royal highness," said the latter, reverentially, "may I
present the Marquis de Strozzi?"
"I am acquainted with him," interrupted the duchess. "He needs no
introduction. How do you like Paris, marquis? Why are you not
dancing this evening?"
"Your royal highness has anticipated my wishes," was the reply. "I
am anxious to dance, and crave your permission to offer my hand to
the Marchioness de Bonaletta."
"I regret to disoblige you," answered the duchess, "but you see that
she is on duty, and etiquette forbids her to leave her post, except
for two dances. His majesty has had the first, and for the second
she is engaged."
"Then I shall follow her example, and decline to dance," returned De
Strozzi, with his burning glances rivetted upon Laura's face.
She drew back haughtily. "The Marquis de Strozzi will oblige me by
following the example of some other person. I have no desire to be
remarked by him in any way."
The marquis's brow grew dark, and his eyes glowed like coals of
fire. But he made an attempt to smile as he replied, "However I
might be inclined to obey your commands, I have it not in my power
to comply with a request so unreasonable."
The duchess saw how the crimson blood was mantling in the cheeks of
her "dear little madcap," and she thought it prudent to put an end
to the skirmish by rising from her seat.
"I will take a turn through the ballroom," said she. "Come,