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- Ten Years Later - 60/125 -
law reclining upon the cushions of her cabinet. She rose and made a profound reverence, murmuring some words of thanks for the honor she was receiving. She then resumed her seat, overcome by a sudden weakness, which was no doubt assumed, for a delightful color animated her cheeks, and her eyes, still red from the tears she had recently shed, never had more fire in them. When the king was seated, as soon as he had remarked, with that accuracy of observation which characterized him, the disorder of the apartment, and the no less great disorder of Madame's countenance, he assumed a playful manner, saying, "My dear sister, at what hour to-day would you wish the repetition of the ballet to take place?"
Madame, shaking her charming head, slowly and languishingly said: "Ah! sire, will you graciously excuse my appearance at the repetition? I was about to send to inform you that I could not attend to-day."
"Indeed," said the king, in apparent surprise; "are you not well?"
"I will summon your medical attendants, then."
"No, for they can do nothing for my indisposition."
"You alarm me."
"Sire, I wish to ask your majesty's permission to return to England."
The king started. "Return to England," he said; "do you really say what you mean?"
"I say it reluctantly, sire," replied the grand-daughter of Henry IV., firmly, her beautiful black eyes flashing. "I regret to have to confide such matters to your majesty, but I feel myself too unhappy at your majesty's court; and I wish to return to my own family."
"Madame, madame," exclaimed the king, as he approached her.
"Listen to me, sire," continued the young woman, acquiring by degrees that ascendency over her interrogator which her beauty and her nervous nature conferred; "young as I am, I have already suffered humiliation, and have endured disdain here. Oh! do not contradict me, sire," she said, with a smile. The king colored.
"Then," she continued, "I had reasoned myself into the belief that Heaven called me into existence with that object - I, the daughter of a powerful monarch; that since my father had been deprived of life, Heaven could well smite my pride. I have suffered greatly; I have been the cause, too, of my mother suffering much; but I vowed that if Providence ever placed me in a position of independence, even were it that of a workman of the lower classes, who gains her bread by her labor, I would never suffer humiliation again. That day has now arrived; I have been restored to the fortune due to my rank and to my birth; I have even ascended again the steps of a throne, and I thought that, in allying myself with a French prince, I should find in him a relation, a friend, an equal; but I perceive I have found only a master, and I rebel. My mother shall know nothing of it; you whom I respect, and whom I - love - "
The king started; never had any voice so gratified his ear.
"You, sire, who know all, since you have come here; you will, perhaps, understand me. If you had not come, I should have gone to you. I wish for permission to go away. I leave it to your delicacy of feeling to exculpate and to protect me."
"My dear sister," murmured the king, overpowered by this bold attack, "have you reflected upon the enormous difficulty of the project you have conceived?"
"Sire, I do not reflect, I feel. Attacked, I instinctively repel the attack, nothing more."
"Come, tell me, what have they done to you?" said the king.
The princess, it will have been seen, by this peculiarly feminine maneuver, had escaped every reproach, and advanced on her side a far more serious one; from the accused she became the accuser. It is an infallible sign of guilt; but notwithstanding that, all women, even the least clever of the sex, invariably know how to derive some such means of turning the tables. The king had forgotten that he was paying her a visit in order to say to her, "What have you done to my brother?" and he was reduced to weakly asking her, "What have they done to you?"
"What have they done to me?" replied Madame. "One must be a woman to understand it, sire - they have made me shed tears;" and, with one of her fingers, whose slenderness and perfect whiteness were unequaled, she pointed to her brilliant eyes swimming with unshed drops, and again began to weep.
"I implore you, my dear sister!" said the king, advancing to take her warm and throbbing hand, which she abandoned to him.
"In the first place, sire, I was deprived of the presence of my brother's friend. The Duke of Buckingham was an agreeable, cheerful visitor; my own countryman, who knew my habits; I will say almost a companion, so accustomed had we been to pass our days together, with our other friends, upon the beautiful piece of water at St. James's."
"But Villiers was in love with you."
"A pretext! What does it matter," she said, seriously, "whether the duke was in love with me or not? Is a man in love so very dangerous for me? Ah! sire, it is not sufficient for a man to love a woman." And she smiled so tenderly, and with so much archness, that the king felt his heart swell and throb in his breast.
"At all events, if my brother were jealous?" interrupted the king.
"Very well, I admit that is a reason; and the duke was sent away accordingly."
"No, not sent away."
"Driven away, dismissed, expelled, then, if you prefer it, sire. One of the first gentlemen of Europe obliged to leave the court of the King of France, of Louis XIV., like a beggar, on account of a glance or a bouquet. It was little worthy of a most gallant court; but forgive me, sire; I forgot, that, in speaking thus, I am attacking your sovereign power."
"I assure you, my dear sister, it was not I who dismissed the Duke of Buckingham; I was charmed with him."
"It was not you?" said Madame; "ah! so much the better;" and she emphasized the "so much the better," as if she had instead said, "so much the worse."
A few minutes' silence ensued. She then resumed: "The Duke of Buckingham having left - I now know why and by whose means - I thought I should have recovered my tranquillity; but not at all, for all at once Monsieur found another pretext; all at once - "
"All at once," said the king, playfully, "some one else presents himself. It is but natural; you are beautiful, and will always meet with men who will madly love you."
"In that case," exclaimed the princess, "I will create a solitude around me, which indeed seems to be what is wished, and what is being prepared for me. But no, I prefer to return to London. There I am known and appreciated. I shall have friends, without fearing they may be regarded as my lovers. Shame! it is a disgraceful suspicion, and unworthy a gentleman. Monsieur has lost everything in my estimation, since he has shown me he can be a tyrant to a woman."
"Nay, nay, my brother's only fault is that of loving you."
"Love me! Monsieur love me! Ah! sire," and she burst out laughing. "Monsieur will never love any woman," she said; "Monsieur loves himself too much; no, unhappily for me, Monsieur's jealousy is of the worst kind - he is jealous without love."
"Confess, however," said the king, who began to be excited by this varied and animated conversation; "confess that Guiche loves you."
"Ah! sire, I know nothing about that."
"You must have perceived it. A man who loves readily betrays himself."
"M. de Guiche has not betrayed himself."
"My dear sister, you are defending M. de Guiche."
"I, indeed! Ah, sire, I only needed a suspicion from yourself to crown my wretchedness."
"No, madame, no," returned the king, hurriedly; "do not distress yourself. Nay, you are weeping. I implore you to calm yourself."
She wept, however, and large tears fell upon her hands; the king took one of her hands in his, and kissed the tears away. She looked at him so sadly and with so much tenderness that he felt his heart giving way under her gaze.
"You have no kind of feeling, then, for Guiche?" he said, more disturbed than became his character of mediator.
"None - absolutely none."
"Then I can reassure my brother in that respect?"
"Nothing will satisfy him, sire. Do not believe he is jealous. Monsieur has been badly advised by some one, and he is of nervous disposition."
"He may well be so when you are concerned," said the king.
Madame cast down her eyes, and was silent; the king did so likewise, still holding her hand all the while. Their momentary silence seemed to last an age. Madame gently withdrew her hand, and from that moment, she felt her triumph was certain, and that the field of battle was her own.
"Monsieur complains," said the king, "that you prefer the society of private individuals to his own conversation and society."
"But Monsieur passes his life in looking at his face in the glass, and in plotting all sorts of spiteful things against women with the Chevalier de Lorraine."
"Oh, you are going somewhat too far."
"I only tell you what is true. Do you observe for yourself, sire, and you will see that I am right."
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