Monsieur de Chauvelin's Will/Chapter VI
MADAME DU BARRY'S MIRROR
THE Marquis was bound to obey the King and, much against his will, betook himself to the Favourite's apartments. He found that lady in a state of wild delight, dancing round the room like a child. The moment the Marquis de Chauvelin was announced, she ran to him, and without giving him time to utter a single word.
"Oh! my dear IIarquis, my dear Marquis," she cried, "I am so glad to see you. To-day I am the happiest woman in all the world! I have just had the most charming present anyone could receive! To begin with, Rotiers has sent me my mirror; that no doubt is what you have come to see, but we must wait for the King. There,—good fortunes, like misfortunes, never come single you know,—the famous coach has arrived too, the coach, you remember, that Monsieur d'Aiguillon is giving me."
"Ah! yes," said the Marquis, "the vis-a-vis everyone is talking about; he certainly owed you that much, Madame."
"Oh! I know they are talking about it; why, good Lord! I even know what they are saying."
"Really, you know everything!"
"Yes, pretty nearly; but, let me tell you, I don't care! Look, here are some lines I found this morning actually in the carriage pockets. I might have the poor coachbuilder put in prison; but there, that would be only worthy of Madame de Pompadour. I am too pleased to want to punish anybody. Besides, the verses are not at all bad, and if they always spoke as well of me, upon my word! I should not complain,"—and so saying, she handed the paper to Monsieur de Chauvelin.
The latter took it and read:
"Pourquoi ce brillant vis-à-vis?
Est cele char d'une déese,
Ou de quelque jeune princesse?
S'écriait un badaud surpris.
Non. . . . de lafoule curieuse
Lui répond un caustique, . . . non,
C'est le char de la blanchissense
De cet infâme d'Aiguillon!"
And the hair-brained beauty burst into a peal of laughter, and presently observed:
"That infamous fellow d'Aiguillon, you hear that, gives his laundry-maid. My life! but the author is right, it is not saying too much; but for me, really and truly, the poor Duke, spite of the flour he was smothered with at the battle of . . . I can never remember the names of battles,—but for me the poor Duke would have still been black as night. Pooh! what care I? As my predecessor. Monsieur de Mazarin, used to say, 'they sing, and they sail pay'; I tell you my vis-à-vis is worth—any single one of its panels—more than all the epigrams written at me for the last four years. Now I am going to show it you. Come with me, Marquis, do."
Then the Countess, forgetting she was no longer Jeanne Vaubernier and equally heedless of the Marquis's age, sprang singing down the steps of a back staircase leading to a small courtyard in which were situated her stables.
"Look," she asked the Marquis, panting and out of breath, "is it handsome enough for a laundry-maid to ride in,think you?"
The Marquis stood amazed. Nothing at once more splendid and more elegant had ever met his eyes. The four main panels bore the arms of the Du Barrys and their motto, the famous war-cry, Boute en avant. On each of the side panels was depicted a basket of roses, on which perched two doves billing and cooing,—the whole in that ' vernis Martin,' of which the secret is now lost. The coach had cost fifty six thousand livres.
"Has the King seen this superb present, Madame?" asked the Marquis de Chauvelin.
"Not yet; but I am certain of one thing,—that he will be delighted."
"H'm, h'm! . . ."
"What do you mean by ' h'm, h'm!'"
"I have my doubts.—I even wager he will not allow you to accept it."
"Because you could never use it."
"Pooh! really! " she said scornfully.
"Ah! you are surprised at such trifles."
"Perhaps I am."
"You shall see something much more surprising, not to mention the gold mirror, — and this," she added, drawing a paper from her pocket, " but no! you shall not see this."
"As you please, Madame," returned the Marquis with a bow.
"Still, you are, after that old ape of a Richelieu, the King's oldest friend. You know him thoroughly, and he listens to what you say. You might help us if you would, and then . . . Let us go upstairs again to my room. Marquis."
"I am at your orders, Madame."
"You are very cross and disagreeable to-day. What is the matter with you? "
"I am sad, Madame."
"Ah! so much the worse. 'Tis a stupid thing to be! "—and Madame du Barry remounted, but with a more sedate step, the private staircase she had just come down tripping airily and singing like a bird.
She re-entered her closet. Monsieur de Chauvelin still following her. Then she shut the door, and turning eagerly to the Marquis,
"Now come," she asked, " are you my friend, Chauvelin? "
"You cannot doubt the respect and devotion I feel towards you, Madame."
"You would help me against anybody and everybody."
"Yes, except against the King."
"At any rate, if you do not approve what you are going to hear, you will remain neutral."
"Yes, I promise to, if you will have it so."
"On your word? "
"On my word of honour! "
"Then read this,"—and the Countess gave him a document, the most extraordinary at once in its daring and its absurdity, that ever startled a sober gentleman. The Marquis did not at first grasp the whole significance of the thing.
It was an appeal addressed to the Pope for the annulling of her marriage with the Comte du Barry, under pretext that, having been his brother's mistress, and the canons of the Church forbidding any marriage in such a case, the marriage in question was ipso facto null and void. It stated further that no sooner was the nuptial benediction pronounced than she had been warned of the sacrilege she was on the point of committing, and which she had never suspected till that moment; consequently she had been terrified and the marriage had not been consummated.
Twice over the Marquis read this strange petition; then returning it to the Countess, he asked her what she proposed to do.
"Why, send it, I should imagine," she replied with her usual insolent frankness.
"To whom? "
"To the Pope; is it not addressed to him? "
"You cannot guess."
"Heavens! how heavy-headed you are to-day."
"Very likely; but as a matter of fact I cannot guess."
"So you really suppose I protected Mademoiselle de Maintenon without any ulterior object? So you have forgotten the Grand Dauphin and Mademoiselle Choin, Louis XIV. and Madame de Maintenon? They are all day long urging the King to imitate his illustrious grandfather; so they can make no objections. I am as good as the Widow Scarron, I suppose; and I am not sixty, into the bargain."
"Oh! Madame, Madame, what is this I have just heard! " cried Monsieur de Chauvelin, turning pale and falling back a step.
At this moment the door opened, and Zamore announced:
"The King!" cried Madame du Barry, seizing Monsieur de Chauvelin's hand; "the King! Not a word. We will resume the subject another time."
The King entered; his eyes travelled straight to Madame du Barry, yet it was the Marquis he first accosted.
"Ah! Chauvelin, Chauvelin! " exclaimed the King, struck by the alteration in the Marquis's features, "are you really and truly going to die. 'Pon my life, you look like a ghost, my friend."
"Die! Monsieur de Chauvelin die!" cried the light-hearted young Countess with a laugh; "no, I forbid that possitively. So you forget, Sire, the horoscope they drew him, five years ago, at the Fair of the Loges de Saint-Germain? "
"What horoscope?" asked the King.
"Must I repeat it?"
"You do not believe in horoscopes, Sire, I hope."
"No; besides, if I did, I should ask you to tell me all the same."
"Well, it was predicted that Monsieur de Chauvelin would die two months before your Majesty."
"And who is the fool who predicted that?" the King asked with a tinge of anxiety in his voice.
"Why a very skilful sorcerer, the same man who predicted that I . . ."
"'Tis all foolishness together all this," broke in the King with an unmistakable gesture of annoyance. "Come, let us look at the mirror."
"In that case, Sire, we must pass into the next room."
"Let us do so."
"Show us the way. Sire; you know it, for it leads to the bedchamber of your very humble servant."
It was quite true; the King was perfectly well acquainted with the way, and took the lead. The mirror stood on the dressing-table, hidden under a heavy drapery, which was removed by the King's order, leaving open to admiration a veritable masterpiece worthy of Benvenuto Cellini. The frame was of massive gold and was surmounted by two Cupids in full relief holding up a Royal crown, just under which came naturally the head of the person looking in the glass.
"Magnificent, magnificent! " cried the King. " Really Rotiers has surpassed himself. I will tell him how fine I think it is. It is I who make you this present, Countess, you understand."
"You give it me complete."
"Of course I do."
"Glass and frame? "
"Yes, glass and frame."
"Including this?" persisted the Countess with a cajoling smile that horrified the Marquis, especially after what he had just read, and pointing to the Royal crown.
"That gewgaw?" said the King. "Oh! you can play with it as much as ever you please. Countess; only I warn you, it is heavy. Now shame on you, Chauvelin! you won't unbend, even when you have the Countess to look at, and the Countess's mirror; why, man 'tis a double favour she bestows on you, for you see her twice over."
This graceful compliment from the King was rewarded by a kiss from the fair Countess's lips; but the Marquis made no sign.
"What do you think of the mirror, Marquis? Give us the benefit of your opinion, come."
"Why should I, Sire?" asked the Marquis.
"Why? because you are a man of taste, egad!"
"I wish I had never seen it."
"So! now why do you say that?"
"Because I could at any rate have denied its existence then."
"Sire, the Royal crown is ill placed in the hands of Cupid," replied the Marquis, bowing low. Madame du Barry grew purple with anger, while the King, at a loss what to say, pretended not to see the point.
"Nay, but on the contrary those Cupids are charming," returned Louis XV.; "they hold the crown with an unparalleled grace. Look at their little arms; you would think they were carrying a wreath of flowers."
"That is just what they should carry; Cupids are only good for such work."
"Cupids are good for any task, Monsieur de Chauvelin," said the Countess; " you knew it well enough once, but at your age one forgets these things."
"No doubt; and it belongs to young men like me to remember them," put in the King with a smile. "But, once for all, is not the mirror to your taste?"
"It is not the mirror I dislike, Sire?"
"Well, what is it then? Surely not the charming face reflected therein? Deuce and all, you are hard to please. Marquis!"
"On the contrary no one pays more sincere homage to the Countess's beauty."
"But," asked Madame du Barry, losing patience, " if it is not the mirror, nor yet the face it reflects, what is it, pray? "
"It is the place it occupies."
"But surely it could not be better than on that dressing-table, which is likewise a present from His Majesty?"
"Yes, it would be better elsewhere."
"But where, pray? You really annoy me with your difficulties. I have never known you like this before."
"It would be better in Madame la Dauphine's chamber."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"I mean that the crown with the fleurde-lis of France cannot be worn but by her who has been, or is, or will be Queen of France."
Madame du Barry's eyes flashed fire. The King's face loomed black and terrible as he rose from his seat and said:
"You are right, Marquis de Chauvelin; your brain is sick. Go and seek repose at Grosbois, since you find yourself so ill at ease in our society. Go, Marquis, go."
Monsieur de Chauvelin bowed to the ground for sole answer, stepped backwards out of the room, as he might have done on leaving the state apartments of the Palace, and strictly observing the rules of etiquette which forbid a courtier to salute any other person in the King's presence, disappeared without so much as casting a glance at the Countess, who bit her lips in fury.
The King strove to calm her anger, saying soothingly:
"Poor Chauvelin! the Marquis must have had a bad dream like me. Really all these clever, sceptical fellows knock under the instant the dark angel touches them with the tip of his wings. Chauvelin is ten years younger than I, but I think I am still more than a match for him."
"Oh! yes. Sire, you are a match for all the world. You are cleverer than your Ministers, and younger than your children."
The King beamed at this flattering compliment, and did his best to prove how well he deserved it,— in spite of Lamartinière's warnings.
- "'Why this gorgeous vis-à-vis? Is it the car of a goddess or of some young princess?' cried a surprised spectator. 'Not it!' a critic from the gaping crowd replied; 'No! it is the car that infamous fellow d'Aiguillon gives his laundry-maid!'"