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List Of Contents | Contents of Louise de la Valliere, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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in order to recover herself.  "She is one of my maids of honor," she
replied, with a bow.

"In that case," retorted Maria Theresa, in the same tone, "it is your
affair, my sister, and not ours."

"I beg your pardon," resumed Anne of Austria, "it is my affair.  And I
perfectly well understand," she pursued, addressing a look full of
intelligence at Madame, "Madame's motive for saying what she has just
said."

"Everything which emanates from you, madame," said the English princess,
"proceeds from the lips of Wisdom."

"If we send this girl back to her own family," said Maria Theresa,
gently, "we must bestow a pension upon her."

"Which I will provide for out of my income," exclaimed Madame.

"No, no," interrupted Anne of Austria, "no disturbance, I beg.  The king
dislikes that the slightest disrespectful remark should be made of any
lady.  Let everything be done quietly.  Will you have the kindness,
Madame, to send for this girl here; and you, my daughter, will have the
goodness to retire to your own room."

The dowager queen's entreaties were commands, and as Maria Theresa rose
to return to her apartments, Madame rose in order to send a page to
summon La Valliere.


Chapter XXIV:
The First Quarrel.

La Valliere entered the queen-mother's apartments without in the least
suspecting that a serious plot was being concerted against her.  She
thought it was for something connected with her duties, and never had the
queen-mother been unkind to her when such was the case.  Besides, not
being immediately under the control or direction of Anne of Austria, she
could only have an official connection with her, to which her own
gentleness of disposition, and the rank of the august princess, made her
yield on every occasion with the best possible grace.  She therefore
advanced towards the queen-mother with that soft and gentle smile which
constituted her principal charm, and as she did not approach sufficiently
close, Anne of Austria signed to her to come nearer.  Madame then entered
the room, and with a perfectly calm air took her seat beside her mother-
in-law, and continued the work which Maria Theresa had begun.  When La
Valliere, instead of the direction which she expected to receive
immediately on entering the room, perceived these preparations, she
looked with curiosity, if not with uneasiness, at the two princesses.
Anne seemed full of thought, while Madame maintained an affectation of
indifference that would have alarmed a less timid person even than Louise.

"Mademoiselle," said the queen-mother suddenly, without attempting to
moderate or disguise her Spanish accent, which she never failed to do
except when she was angry, "come closer; we were talking of you, as every
one else seems to be doing."

"Of me!" exclaimed La Valliere, turning pale.

"Do you pretend to be ignorant of it; are you not aware of the duel
between M. de Guiche and M. de Wardes?"

"Oh, madame!  I heard of it yesterday," said La Valliere, clasping her
hands together.

"And did you not foresee this quarrel?"

"Why should I, madame?"

"Because two men never fight without a motive, and because you must be
aware of the motive which awakened the animosity of the two in question."

"I am perfectly ignorant of it, madame."

"A persevering denial is a very commonplace mode of defense, and you, who
have great pretensions to be witty and clever, ought to avoid
commonplaces.  What else have you to say?"

"Oh! madame, your majesty terrifies me with your cold severity of manner;
but I do not understand how I can have incurred your displeasure, or in
what respect people concern themselves about me."

"Then I will tell you.  M. de Guiche has been obliged to undertake your
defense."

"My defense?"

"Yes.  He is a gallant knight, and beautiful adventuresses like to see
brave knights couch lances in their honor.  But, for my part, I hate
fields of battle, and above all I hate adventures, and - take my remark
as you please."

La Valliere sank at the queen's feet, who turned her back upon her.  She
stretched out her hands towards Madame, who laughed in her face.  A
feeling of pride made her rise to her feet.

"I have begged your majesty to tell me what is the crime I am accused of
- I can claim this at your hands; and I see I am condemned before I am
even permitted to justify myself."

"Eh! indeed," cried Anne of Austria, "listen to her beautiful phrases,
Madame, and to her fine sentiments; she is an inexhaustible well of
tenderness and heroic expressions.  One can easily see, young lady, that
you have cultivated your mind in the society of crowned heads."

La Valliere felt struck to the heart; she became, not whiter, but as
white as a lily, and all her strength forsook her.

"I wished to inform you," interrupted the queen, disdainfully, "that if
you continue to nourish such feelings, you will humiliate us to such a
degree that we shall be ashamed of appearing before you.  Be simple in
your manners.  By the by, I am informed that you are affianced; is it the
case?"

La Valliere pressed her hand over her heart, which was wrung with a fresh
pang.

"Answer when you are spoken to!"

"Yes, madame."

"To a gentleman?"

"Yes, madame."

"His name?"

"The Vicomte de Bragelonne."

"Are you aware that it is an exceedingly fortunate circumstance for you,
mademoiselle, that such is the case, and without fortune or position, as
you are, or without any very great personal advantages, you ought to
bless Heaven for having procured you such a future as seems to be in
store for you?"

La Valliere did not reply.  "Where is the Vicomte de Bragelonne?" pursued
the queen.

"In England," said Madame, "where the report of this young lady's success
will not fail to reach him."

"Oh, Heaven!" murmured La Valliere in despair.

"Very well, mademoiselle!" said Anne of Austria, "we will get this young
gentleman to return, and send you away somewhere with him.  If you are of
a different opinion - for girls have strange views and fancies at times -
trust to me, I will put you in a proper path again.  I have done as much
for girls who are not as good as you are, probably."

La Valliere ceased to hear the queen, who pitilessly added: "I will send
you somewhere, by yourself, where you will be able to indulge in a little
serious reflection.  Reflection calms the ardor of the blood, and
swallows up the illusions of youth.  I suppose you understand what I have
been saying?"

"Madame!"

"Not a word?"

"I am innocent of everything your majesty supposes.  Oh, madame! you are
a witness of my despair.  I love, I respect your majesty so much."

"It would be far better not to respect me at all," said the queen, with a
chilling irony of manner.  "It would be far better if you were not
innocent.  Do you presume to suppose that I should be satisfied simply to
leave you unpunished if you had committed the fault?"

"Oh, madame! you are killing me."

"No acting, if you please, or I will precipitate the _denouement_ of this
_play_; leave the room; return to your own apartment, and I trust my
lesson may be of service to you."

"Madame!" said La Valliere to the Duchess d'Orleans, whose hands she
seized in her own, "do you, who are so good, intercede for me?"

"I!" replied the latter, with an insulting joy, "I - good! - Ah,
mademoiselle, you think nothing of the kind;" and with a rude, hasty
gesture she repulsed the young girl's grasp.

La Valliere, instead of giving way, as from her extreme pallor and her
tears the two princesses possibly expected, suddenly resumed her calm and
dignified air; she bowed profoundly, and left the room.

"Well!" said Anne of Austria to Madame, "do you think she will begin
again?"

"I always suspect those gentle, patient characters," replied Madame.
"Nothing is more full of courage than a patient heart, nothing more self-
reliant than a gentle spirit."

"I feel I may almost venture to assure you she will think twice before
she looks at the god Mars again."

"So long as she does not obtain the protection of his buckler I do not
care," retorted Madame.

A proud, defiant look of the queen-mother was the reply to this
objection, which was by no means deficient in finesse; and both of them,
almost sure of their victory, went to look for Maria Theresa, who had
been waiting for them with impatience.

It was about half-past six in the evening, and the king had just partaken
of refreshment.  He lost no time; but the repast finished, and business
matters settled, he took Saint-Aignan by the arm, and desired him to lead
the way to La Valliere's apartments.  The courtier uttered an exclamation.

"Well, what is that for?  It is a habit you will have to adopt, and in
order to adopt a habit, one must make a beginning."

"Oh, sire!" said Saint-Aignan, "it is hardly possible: for every one can
be seen entering or leaving those apartments.  If, however, some pretext
or other were made use of - if your majesty, for instance, would wait
until Madame were in her own apartments - "

"No pretext; no delays.  I have had enough of these impediments and
mysteries; I cannot perceive in what respect the king of France dishonors
himself by conversing with an amiable and clever girl.  Evil be to him
who evil thinks."

"Will your majesty forgive an excess of zeal on my part?"

"Speak freely."

"How about the queen?"

"True, true; I always wish the most entire respect to be shown to her
majesty.  Well, then, this evening only will I pay Mademoiselle de la
Valliere a visit, and after to-day I will make use of any pretext you
like.  To-morrow we will devise all sorts of means; to-night I have no
time."

Saint-Aignan made no reply; he descended the steps, preceding the king,
and crossed the different courtyards with a feeling of shame, which the
distinguished honor of accompanying the king did not remove.  The reason
was that Saint-Aignan wished to stand well with Madame, as well as with
the queens, and also, that he did not, on the other hand, want to
displease Mademoiselle de la Valliere: and in order to carry out so many
promising affairs, it was difficult to avoid jostling against some

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