Monsieur de Chauvelin's Will/Chapter VII
MONK, PERCEPTOR AND INTENDANT
THE next day after the King had given Monsieur de Chauvelin leave to retire to his estates, the Marquise his wife was walking in the Park of Grosbois with her children and their tutor.
A good and noble woman, who dwelling beneath the shade of those great oaks, had known nothing of the corruption gnawing at the heart of France for the past fifty years, Madame de Chauvelin had still her God who smiled on her and to whom she prayed, her children who loved her and whom she adored, her dependents who revered her and whom she succoured.
Always interested in what interested her husband, she followed him in thought through the stormy scenes of court life, as the sailor's wife pursues with her love the poor mariner tossing far away amid misty seas and tempestuous waters.
The Marquis loved his wife tenderly. Courtier and first favourite, he had never risked, in that game which Kings always win against courtiers, his last stake, to wit the happiness of his domestic life, the bright flame of home to which he looked longingly from afar.
It was to him what the lighthouse is to the shipwrecked mariner. At its beams he hoped to warm and refresh himself when the storm and stress were well over. It was a virtue to Monsieur de Chauvelin's credit never to have forced the Marquise to come and reside at Versailles. The pious lady would have obeyed, if he had ordered her, but it would have been a sore sacrifice. But as a matter of fact the Marquis had never said a word on the subject except once. Then at the first look of dismay in his wife's eyes, he had given up the idea. The reason was not, as ill-natured people would have it, that Monsieur de Chauvelin dreaded his wife's curtain-lectures; there is not a debauchee at Court grovelling before the King and the King's mistress but can find spirit enough to domineer over his wife and take his children to task.
No, Monsieur de Chauvelin had simply left the Marquise to enjoy her pious thoughts in peace.
"I am gaining acres enough of ground in hell," he used to say; " let our good Marquise gain some few inches of blue in the skies."
He never now came to Grosbois except once a year, on St. Andrew's day, when his wife held high holiday. The proceedings were always the same; Monsieur de Chauvelin embraced his children at two, dined in company, got into his coach at six and was back at Versailles in time for the King's "coucher." For four years he had never varied this routine. During four years he had kissed the Marquise's hand four times. Every New Year's Day his boys came to see him at Versailles with their tutor.
Monsieur de Chauvelin entrusted his wife with the duty of bringing up his children. The Abbé V . . ., young and erudite, (he had not yet taken orders, but was generally given the title of Abbe by courtesy), zealously seconded the Marquise's efforts, and gave all his time and all his heart to these children whom their father had forsaken.
Life ran smoothly at Grosbois. The Marquise divided her day between the management of her fortune, confided to the care of an old intendant by name Bonbonne, the practice of a rigorous piety, under the surveillance of a judicious director, the Père Delar, a Camaldulensian monk, and the education of her two sons who already promised to bear worthily a name made illustrious by many conspicuous services to the State.
Now and again a letter penned by the Marquis in an hour of idleness or discouragement would arrive to console the family and revive in the Alarquise's bosom a tenderness she often reproached herself with not devoting entirely to God. Madame de Chauvelin still loved her husband fondly, and when she had been at her prayers all the day. Father Delar her director would call her attention to the fact that she had spoken to God of nothing else whatever but her beloved consort.
The Marquise had come at last not to entertain a hope for any more of her husband's society in this world. She aspired, good pious lady, to deserve well enough of God to find Monsieur de Chauvelin once more in the abode of eternal joys.
The Monk blamed Monsieur Bonbonne, and Monsieur Bonbonne the Abbé V. . . ., whenever the children, looking sad or doing penance, seemed to be regretting their father, whom however they knew so little of.
"We cannot but admit," the Monk would say to his penitent, " that the life he leads there will damn Monsieur de Chauvelin's soul."
"We must allow," the old Intendant would complain, " that this extravagance will ruin the house."
"Confess," the Preceptor would declare, " that these children will never win fame, having had no one to stir their emulation,"
Then the Marquise would smile with angelic patience at all three, promising the Monk that Monsieur de Chauvelin would reform in time, telling the Intendant that the economies effected at Grosbois would relieve the deficit of the budget so severely strained at Paris, assuring the Tutor that the lads were of good blood, and that good blood will out.
And all the while the great secular oaks were growing at Grosbois and the young saplings sprouting, both drawing life and sap from the fecund bosom of God.
A day of gloom came, when the flowers in the park, the fruits in the garden, faded and withered, the waters of the fountain ran dry, and the stones of the château crumbled, and all grew sad and bitter. It was a time of disaster and disorder. The Intendant Bonbonne presented accounts that terrified the Marquise, predicting ruin for her children, if Monsieur de Chauvelin did not quickly set himself to the task of ordering his affairs better.
"Madame," he began after breakfast, " allow me to say twenty words to you."
"By all means, my good Bonbonne," returned the Marquise.
"Pray do not forget, Madame," broke in Père Delar, " that I expect you in the Chapel."
"May I have the honour to remind the Marquise," protested the Abbé V . . ., " that we had fixed to-day for an examination in the mathematics and in grammar; without this my two young friends will not work as they should."
The fact is, the two lads were beginning to rebel against Latin and learning, under pretence that their father cared not a straw whether they were scholars or no.
The Marquise began by taking Père Delar's, arm.
"Father," she said, "I am going to begin with you, My confession will not take long, thank God; yesterday I let my thoughts wander during mass."
"What made them wander, my daughter?"
"I am expecting a letter from Monsieur de Chauvelin, and it has not come."
"I absolve you, daughter, if that is all your fault."
"Yes, that is all," declared the Marquise with the smile of a seraph,—and the Monk withdrew.
"Your turn, Monsieur l'Abbé. The examination would be long and tiresome. If the children are discontented, 'tis because they do not know their lessons. If this is so, and you show me it is so, I shall be forced to scold and punish them. Spare them and spare me; let us put off the trial till a time when it may prove satisfactory for all of us."
The Abbé agreed that the Marquise was right, and disappeared as the Monk had done, whose form could already be seen vanishing beneath the shadows of the long-drawn avenues.
"Your turn now, Bonbonne," said the Marquise; "there is only you left. Shall I find your ruffled brow as easy to smooth and your sad sighs to stifle?"
"I fear not."
"Well, let us see."
"'Tis easy said, but my figures are really terrifying,"
"Well, terrify me; you have never yet succeeded in frightening my privy purse,"
"This month your purse will be frightened, Madame; it will be worse than frightened, it will die of the blow."
"Come, come; have you reckoned up my private savings too?" expostulated the Marquise in a tone that was meant to be bantering,
"Have I reckoned up your savings, Madame? Of course I have; where was the difficulty?"
"But I never told a soul, Bonbonne,"
"'Twere better if you had. But I need not to be told to know."
"To know what?"
"The grand total of your economies."
"I defy you to tell me!" cried the Marquise, turning red.
"If you say so, I need not hesitate; you have twenty-five thousand five hundred crowns as near as may be."
"Oh! Bonbonne," ejaculated the Marquise, as much chagrined as if the Intendant had indiscreetly discovered some painful secret,
"Madame la Marquise does not suspect me, I trust, of having searched her strong-box."
"But then . . . how . . .?"
"How much have you a year for household expenses? Ten thousand crowns. Is not that the sum?"
"And how much do you spend? Eight thousand crowns, I think."
"And is it not ten years that you have been hoarding, seeing it is ten years ago since Monsieur de Chauvelin took up his abode at Court?"
"Very well, madame, when the interest is added to the principal you have twenty-five thousand crowns; you must have them,"
"So much for my guessing!—now, having this money, you will give it to Monsieur de Chauvelin; he has only to ask for it. Then, if you give it him, there will be nothing left for your children, supposing the Marquis should die suddenly.
"Let us look the thing in the face! Your property is pledged to other uses; Monsieur de Chauvelin's estate owes seven hundred thousand livres."
"He has a fortune of sixteen hundred thousand."
"Granted, but the overplus of the seven hundred thousand will not suffice merely to satisfy the creditors."
"You alarm me!"
"I want to."
"What is to be done?"
"Urge Monsieur de Chauvelin, who spends too much, to make over at once for the benefit of his children, the nine hundred thousand livres remaining; get him to assign them to you as jointure, or arrange for their return to you by making a will ..."
"Making a will? how dreadful!"
"There you are with your silly scruples! does a man die because he writes a will?"
"But to speak of making a will to Monsieur de Chauvelin!"
"That's it; you are afraid to interrupt Monsieur le Marquis in his pleasures, to trouble his digestion, to vex his serenity, with that horrid word 'the future,' which always sounds like a death-knell in happy ears. Well, if you are deterred by this fear, you will ruin your children,—all to spare the Marquis's susceptibilities."
"My figures speak for me; read them."
"'Tis too dreadful."
"It would be more dreadful to wait for the disaster I prophesy. Play the judicious counsellor; get into your travelling coach and away to see the Marquis."
"No, to Versailles."
"And meet the society my husband frequents? Never, never!. . .",
" Write to him then."
"Will he so much as read my letter? Alas! when I write to congratulate him or wish him luck, he never reads what I say; is he likely to when I write about tiresome business matters?"
"Then a friend must undertake the task,—myself for instance."
"You think he will not listen to me? but I can assure you, Madame, he will."
"You will make him ill, Bonbonne."
"His doctor will cure the illness."
"You will put him in a passion, and then agitation will kill him."
"Not so; I am far too anxious for him to live. If I did kill him, it would be after getting him to sign a will," and the worthy man broke into a loud laugh that was very painful to the Marquise.
"Bonbonne," she moaned, "when you speak so, it is I you are like to kill."
The Intendant took her hand respectfully. "Forgive me," he said, "I forget myself, Madame la Marquise; tell them to put the horses in the coach, I am going to Versailles."
"Thank God for it! You will take my account books with you, and . . . look, look!"
"What is it?"
"Can my orders have been attended to already?"
"In what way?"
"You spoke of my coach, and lo! there it is, in the Grand Avenue."
"Can it be?"
"Sir, the Chauvelin liveries!"
"It is the Marquis's dark greys."
"Madame, Madame!" the Abbé V . . . was heard calling, echoed by another "Madame, Madame!" from Père Delar.
"Madame, Madame!" shouted a score of voices, in the gardens, pleasances and park.
"Mother, mother!" shrilled the children.
"The Marquis, here, at Grosbois, today? It cannot be true," faltered the Marquise.
"Good day to you, Madame," called the Marquis from the carriage window. It had just come to a halt and he was getting out with looks and gestures of alacrity.
"Himself! it is himself, sound in body and cheerful in mind; God be thanked for this!"
"God be thanked! God be thanked! " repeated the same twenty voices, all eager to welcome the master, husband and father.