Monsieur de Chauvelin's Will/Chapter X
AT THE KING'S CARD-TABLE
THE King was determined to take the Countess severely to task and for this purpose made his way to that lady's apartments. He was received with the blackest of looks, which he felt portended a storm of anger ready to burst out at a moment's notice.
Louis XV. was a weak man. He dreaded scenes of recrimination, whether with his daughters, his grandsons, his daughters-in-law, or his mistress; nevertheless, as was inevitable in the case of one standing between a mistress on the one hand and a family on the other, he was continually laying himself open to these unpleasantnesses.
On this occasion he was anxious to prepare for the coming struggle by providing himself with an ally. So after casting one glance at the Countess to consult the barometer of her mood, whether fair or foul, he looked about him and demanded, "Where is Chauvelin?"
"Monsieur de Chauvelin, Sire!" exclaimed the Countess.
"Yes, Monsieur de Chauvelin."
"Now I really do think, and you must know it better than anybody, that I am not the person to ask for news of Monsieur de Chauvelin, Sire."
"And why, pray?"
"Why! because he is not one of my friends; and that being the case, it is plain you should look for him anywhere but here in my rooms."
"But I told him to wait for me here."
"Well, I suppose he has thought it judicious not to obey the King's orders, . . . and upon my word! that is better than coming here, as he did the last time, to insult me."
"Come, come, I want you to make it up and live in peace."
"With Monsieur de Chauvelin?"
"With everybody, egad!'"
Then turning to the Countess's sister, who was making a pretence of arranging a row of china ornaments on a console-table,
"Chon, my girl, come here," he called,—and when she had obeyed, "Be so good, my dear, as to tell them to send for Monsieur de Chauvelin at once."
Chon bowed and left the room to carry out the King's commands, while Madame du Barry tossed her head and turned her back upon his Majesty.
"Well, what have I done to annoy you now? " asked the King.
"Oh! I quite understand," the Countess retorted, "I quite understand that Monsieur de Chauvelin enjoys all your favour, and that you cannot do without him. He is so anxious to please you and so respectful to those who love you."
Louis felt the hurricane was upon him, and tried to break the waterspout with a well-aimed shot.
"Chauvelin is not the only one," he said, "who fails in the respect due to me and mine."
"Oh! I know all that," cried Madame du Barry; "your Parisians, your parlement, your courtiers even, to say nothing of others whom I had rather not name, fail in their duty to their King,—whenever and wherever, and as often as they please."
The Monarch looked at the reckless speaker with a feeling that was not unmingled with pity.
"Do you realise this, Countess," he said, " that I am not immortal, and that you are playing pranks to get yourself clapped in the Bastille or banished the country the moment I have closed my eyes? "
"Pooh!" was all the reply vouchsafed.
"Oh! you may laugh, but it is as I say."
"Really, Sire, and how do you make that out?"
"I will tell you in two words."
"Pray do, Sire."
"What is this affair of the Marquise de Rosen? what is this liberty—in the worst possible taste—you have taken with the poor lady? You forget she has the honour to belong to the household of the Comtesse de Provence."
"Forget, Sire? Oh! no, Sire, not I!"
"Well, then, tell me this. How did you dare to inflict this degrading punishment on her, on the Marquise de Rosen,— chastising her as if she were a little girl?"
"Yes, you," stormed the King, losing patience.
"Well, well, well! " broke out the Countess, "I never expected to be blamed for executing your Majesty's! orders."
"Certainly. Does the King deign to remember what answer he made me when I complained of the Marquise's rudeness?"
"Faith! no. I have no recollection of it."
"Well, the King told me, "What do you expect. Countess, the Marquise is a child who should be whipped.'"
"But 'zounds! that was no reason for doing it," cried the King, reddening in spite of himself, for he remembered having spoken, word for word, the sentence the Marquise had just quoted.
"So you see," resumed the Countess, "your Majesty's slightest wishes being commands for your very devoted servant, she hastened to carry out this particular one amongst the rest."
The King could not help laughing at the imperturbably serious air which the Countess wore.
"So it is I who am to blame?" he asked.
"No doubt of it, Sire."
"Then it is for me to expiate the fault?"
"Good! that being so, you will convey an invitation to the Marquise from me to supper, and put under her plate the Colonel's commission, which her husband has been petitioning for this last six months and which I should certainly not have given him so soon but for what has occurred. In this way the affront will be made good."
"Very well! So much for the Marquise's wounded feelings; and now about mine?"
"Yes, who is to make good the affront put upon me?"
"Why! what affront have you suffered, I should like to know."
"Oh, delicious! pretend you are astonished, do!"
"I am not pretending, dear; I am really and genuinely at a loss."
"You. have just come from Madame la Dauphine, have you not?"
"Yes, I have."
"Then you must know the trick she has played me."
"Upon my word I don't; tell me."
"Well, yesterday my jeweller came to Versailles on two errands,—to bring the Daupnine a diamond necklace and me a diamond spray."
"So, after taking her necklace, she asked to see my spray."
"And as my spray was ornamented with fleurs-de-lis, she told the man:
"You have made a mistake, my good Monsieur Boehmer, this diamond spray is not for the Countess. It is for me, and the proof is before your eyes,—the fleurs-de-lis of France there, which since the Queen's death I alone have the right to wear."
"And then the jeweller was frightened and dared not refuse to do what the Dauphine demanded. So he left the diamond spray with her, and came hurrying to me to tell me my property had been stopped en route."
"Well, and what would you have me do?"
"Why, I would have you make them give me back my spray, of course."
"Make them give you back your spray?"
"Make the Dauphine, that is to say? You must be mad, my dear."
"Mad? I mad? "
"Yes; I would rather give you another instead."
"Good! may I count on what you say?"
"Upon my honour, you may."
"Yes! and I shall get it, I suppose, in a year's time, or six months hence at earliest,—a pleasant prospect truly! "
"The delay will serve as a warning to you."
"A warning,—how a warning? "
"A warning to be less ambitious in future."
"Certainly. You remember what Monsieur de Chauvelin said the other day?"
"Chauvelin indeed, he talked nothing but foolishness."
"But tell me, who authorised you to bear the arms of France?"
"Who authorised me; why! you did."
"Yes, you! The spaniel you gave me the other day bore them on his collar; why should not I wear them on my head. But there, I know the meaning of it all; I have been told."
"What else have you been told? come."
"Your plans, to be sure."
"Well, tell me my plans. Countess. Upon my word, I should be glad to hear them."
"Can you deny there is a project on foot for your marrying the Princesse de Lamballe, and that Monsieur de Chauvelin and all the Dauphin and Dauphine's clique are urging you to make this alliance? "
"Madame," answered the King in a severe voice, "I will not deny there is some truth in what you say, and I will go so far as to add I might do worse. You know this better that I do myself. Countess, you who have had me sounded as to another marriage."
This speech stopped the Countess's mouth, and she went and sat down at the further end of the room in a rage, and broke two of the china ornaments.
"Ah, yes! Chauvelin was quite right," muttered the King, "the crown is ill placed in the hands of cupids."
Then ensued a moment of sultry silence, during which Mademoiselle du Barry returned to the room, to say:
"Sire, Monsieur de Chauvelin cannot be found anywhere. They think he is shut up in his own rooms; but though I went myself and rang and asked for him at his door, he refused to take any notice."
"Alas! alas!" ejaculated the King, "can he have met with an accident? is he ill? Quick, quick, tell them to break in the door."
"Oh! no, Sire, he is not ill," the Countess declared sourly, "for on leaving the Prince de Soubise and my brother Jean just now in the Œil-de-Bœuf, he announced he was going to be at work all day on urgent business, but that he would make a point of being present this evening at Your Majesty's card tables."
The King took advantage of the Countess's return to a more yielding attitude to patch up a truce.
"Perhaps he is writing his confession," he laughed, " for the edification of his Monk at Grosbois."
Then turning to the Countes.
"By-the-bye, Madame," he said, "do you know, Bordeu's medicine works miracles? I mean to take no other. A fig for Bonnard and Lamartinière and all their systems! My new doctor is going to make me young again, he is upon my word!
"Bah! sire," put in Chon, "what ails your Majesty to be always talking about growing old? 'Od's life! Your Majesty is the same age as everybody else, I suppose."
"Come now! " cried the King gleefully, "now you talk like that scamp D'Aumont. I regretted to him the other day I had no teeth left, and he answered, showing me as fine a set of grinders as ever a market-porter had, "Why, good Lord, Sire, who has any teeth nowadays?"
"I have," broke in the Countess, "and what's more, I tell you I will bite you,—bite you till the blood comes,—if you go on sacrificing me like this to everybody."
So saying, she came and sat close to the King, showing him a row of pearls that plainly belied her threatening words. Thereupon the Monarch, braving all risks, put his own to the Conutess's rosy lips. The latter nodded to Chon, who picked up the fragments of the two broken ornaments.
"Good!" murmured the girl, "all that falls in the trenches is the soldier's."
Then after casting a parting look at the King and Countess. "Undoubtedly," she said to herself, "Bordeu is a great man; I do think he is,"—and she slipped out of the room, leaving her sister fairly on the road to a reconciliation.
The same evening at six o'clock play began at the King's tables. Monsieur Chauvelin had kept his promise and was one of the first to arrive. The Countess also was there in the fullest of full dress, because she knew the Dauphine was to be present. Marquis and Countess met and greeted one another with the utmost amiability.
"Gracious God! Monsieur de Chauvelin," exclaimed the Countess with one of those double-edged smiles courtiers know so well how to assume," how red you are in the face! One might think you were going to have a fit of apoplexy. Marquis, Marquis, consult Bordeu; Bordeu is your only hope."
Then looking at the King with a smile to drive a Pope into mortal sin, she added, "Ask the King if it is not so."
Monsieur de Chauvelin bowed and answered, "I will not fail to follow your advice, Madame."
"You will only be doing what a loyal subject should," she returned " "you are bound to be very careful of your health, my dear Marquis, as you are to be only two month's before . . . . "
"I only wish it were the other way and I had to precede you," put in the King; "you would be sure of a hundred years of life then, Chauvelin. Well, I can only repeat the Countess's good counsel,—go to Bordeu, old friend, go to Bordeu."
"Sire, whatsoever the hour destined for my death,—and God alone knows the hour of every man's death,—I have promised the King to die at his feet."
"Nonsense, Chauvelin; there are some promises people make and don't keep; ask these ladies if it is not so. But if you are so melancholy as all this, dear friend, we shall all be dying of the dismals only to look at you. Come, Chauvelin, are we to play to-night? "
"As your Majesty pleases."
"Do you care to win a game of ombre from me?"
"I am at the King's orders,"—and thereupon the Court took their places for play. Monsieur de Chauvelin and the King sat down facing each other at a special table.
"Now, Chauvelin, look out," cried the King heartily, " and be careful how you play; you may be ill, but I have never felt better. 1 am in the highest of high spirits. Hold tight to your money, whatever you do; I have a mirror to pay for to Rottiers, and a diamond spray to Boehmer."
Madame du Barry compressed her lips significantly at the words. Instead of answering, however, the Marquis rose painfully from his chair, muttering, "It is very hot. Sire."
"True," replied the King, instead of being annoyed, as Louis XIV. would have been, at this breach of the laws of etiquette; he got over the difficulty by adroitly applying the remark to himself; "yes, Chauvelin, it is very hot, and I am glad of it, for often in April the evenings are chilly."
The Marquis forced a smile, and gathered up his cards with a painful effort.
"Come, you are ombre, Chauvelin."
"Yes, Sire," stammered the Marquis, bowing over the table.
"Have you a good hand, come now? Ah! ventre saint gris! as my ancestor Henry IV. used to say, how dull and disagreeable you are to-night!"
Then, after glancing over his own cards,
"Ah, ha! my friend, I think you are done for this time."
The Marquis made a violent effort to speak, and turned so red in the face that the King stopped short panic stricken.
"Why, what is the matter, Chauvelin?" he asked; "speak, man, speak!"
But Monsieur de Chauvelin only put out his hands blindly, dropped his cards, heaved a sigh, and fell face downwards on the floor.
"Great God!" cried the King.
"A stroke! an apoplectic stroke!" whispered the courtiers who had hurried to the spot.
They lifted the Marquis from the ground, but he never moved a limb.
"Take that away, take it away, I tell you," the terrified King ordered.
Trembling and twitching with fear, he left the table and seized Madame du Barry's arm, who drew him away into her private apartments. He had not once turned his head to look back at the friend from whom only the day before he had found it impossible to be parted."
The King gone, no one gave another thought to the Marquis, lying there life-less. His body remained awhile reclining in an armchair, into which they had lifted him to see if life were extinct or no, and then let it fall back an inert mass.
The corpse had a weird effect, thus left all alone in the great deserted room, amidst the flashing lustres and the perfumed flowers.
Before long a man appeared on the threshold of the empty salon, looked all about him, saw the Marquis lying back in the chair, walked up to him, laid a hand over his heart, and in a hard, dry, clear voice, pronounced exactly as the great Palace clock struck seven:
"He is gone. A fine death, by God! a very fine death!"
Such was Monsieur de Chauvelin's only funeral oration, and it was no other than Lamartinière who spoke it.