MARIE ANTOINETTE AND HER SON
by Louise Muhlbach
A HAPPY QUEEN.
It was the 13th of August, 1785. The queen, Marie Antoinette, had at last yielded to the requests and protestations of her dear subjects. She had left her fair Versailles and loved Trianon for one day, and had gone to Paris, in order to exhibit herself and the young prince whom she had borne to the king and the country on the 25th of March, and to receive in the cathedral of Notre Dame the blessing of the clergy and the good wishes of the Parisians.
She had had an enthusiastic reception, this beautiful and much loved queen, Marie Antoinette. She had driven into Paris in an open carriage, in company with her three children, and every one who recognized her had greeted her with a cheerful huzzah, and followed her on the long road to Notre Dame, at whose door the prominent clergy awaited her, the cardinal, Prince Louis de Rohan, at their head, to introduce her to the house of the King of all kings.
Marie Antoinette was alone; only the governess of the children, the Duchess de Polignac, sat opposite her, upon the back seat of the carriage, and by her side the Norman nurse, in her charming variegated district costume, cradling in her arms Louis Charles, the young Duke of Normandy. By her side, in the front part of the carriage, sat her other two children—Therese, the princess royal, the first-born daughter, and the dauphin Louis, the presumptive heir of the much loved King Louis the Sixteenth. The good king had not accompanied his spouse on this journey to Paris, which she undertook in order to show to her dear, yet curious Parisians that she was completely recovered, and that her children, the children of France, were blossoming for the future like fair buds of hope and peace.
"Go, my dear Antoinette," the king had said to his queen, in his pleasant way and with his good natured smile—" go to Paris in order to prepare a pleasure for my good people. Show them our children, and receive from them their thanks for the happiness which you have given to me and to them. I will not go with you, for I wish that you should be the sole recipient of the enthusiasm of the people and their joyful acclamations. I will not share your triumph, but I shall experience it in double measure if you enjoy it alone. Go, therefore, my beloved Antoinette, and rejoice in this happy hour."
Marie Antoinette did go, and she did rejoice in the happiness of the hour. "While riding through Paris, hundreds recognized her, hundreds hailed her with loud acclamations. As she left the cathedral of Notre Dame, in order to ascend into the carriage again with her children and their governess, one would be tempted to think that the whole square in front of the church had been changed into a dark, tumultuous sea, which dashed its raging black waves into all the streets debouching on the square, and was filling all Paris with its roar, its swell, its thunder roll. Yes, all Paris was there, in order to look upon Marie Antoinette, who, at this hour, was not the queen, but the fair woman; the happy mother who, with the pride of the mother of the Gracchi, desired no other protection and no other companionship than that of her two sons; who, her hand resting upon the shoulder of her daughter, needed no other maid of honor to appear before the people in all the splendor and all the dignity of the Queen of France and the true mother.
Yes, all Paris was there in order to greet the queen, the woman, and the mother, and out of thousands upon thousands of throats there sounded forth the loud ringing shout, "Long live the queen! Long live Marie Antoinette! Long live the fair mother and the fair children of France!"
Marie Antoinette felt herself deeply moved by these shouts. The sight of the faces animated with joy, of the flashing eyes, and the intoxicated peals of laughter, kindled her heart, drove the blood to her cheeks, and made her countenance beam with joy, and her eyes glisten with delight. She rose from her seat, and with a gesture of inimitable grace took the youngest son from the arms of the nurse, and lifted him high in the air, in order to display this last token of her happiness and her motherly pride to the Parisians, who had not yet seen the child. The little hat, which had been placed sideways upon the high toupet of her powdered head, had dropped upon her neck; the broad lace cuffs had fallen back from the arms which lifted the child into the air, and allowed the whole arm to be seen without any covering above the elbow.
The eyes of the Parisians drank in this spectacle with perfect rapture, and their shouting arose every moment like a burst of fanaticism.
"How beautiful she is!" resounded everywhere from the mass. "What a wonderful arm! What a beautiful neck!"
A deep flush mantled the face of Marie Antoinette. These words of praise, which were a tribute to the beauty of the woman, awoke the queen from the ecstasy into which the enthusiasm of her subjects had transported her. She surrendered the child again to the arms of his nurse, and sank down quickly like a frightened dove into the cushions of the carriage, hastily drawing up at the same time the lace mantle which had fallen from her shoulders and replacing her hat upon her head.
"Tell the coachman to drive on quickly," she said to the nurse; and while the latter was communicating this order, Marie Antoinette turned to her daughter. "Now, Therese," asked she, laughing, "is it not a beautiful spectacle our people taking so much pleasure in seeing us?"
The little princess of seven years shook her proud little head with a doubting, dark look.
"Mamma," said she, "these people look very dirty and ugly. I do not like them!"
"Be still, my child, be still," whispered the queen, hastily, for she feared lest the men who pressed the carriage so closely as almost to touch its doors, might hear the unthinking words of the little girl.
Marie Antoinette had not deceived herself. A man in a blouse, who had even laid his hand upon the carriage, and whose head almost touched the princess, a man with a blazing, determined face, and small, piercing black eyes, had heard the exclamation of the princess, and threw upon her a malignant, threatening glance.
"Madame loves us not, because we are ugly and dirty," he said; "but we should, perhaps, look pretty and elegant too, if we could put on finery to ride about in splendid carriages. But we have to work, and we have to suffer, that we may be able to pay our taxes. For if we did not do this, our king and his family would not be able to strut around in this grand style. We are dirty, because we are working for the king."
"I beg you, sir," replied the queen, softly, "to forgive my daughter; she is but a child, and does not know what she is saying. She will learn from her parents, however, to love our good, hard- working people, and to be thankful for their love, sir."
"I am no 'sir,' " replied the man, gruffly; "I am the poor cobbler Simon, nothing more."
"Then I beg you, Master Simon, to accept from my daughter, as a remembrance, this likeness of her father, and to drink to our good health," said the queen, laying at the same time a louis-d'or in the hand of her daughter, and hastily whispering to her, "Give it to him."
The princess hastened to execute the command of her mother, and laid the glistening gold piece in the large, dirty hand which was extended to her. But when she wanted to draw back her delicate little hand, the large, bony fingers of the cobbler closed upon it and held it fast.
"What a little hand it is!" he said, with a deriding laugh; "I wonder what would become of these fingers if they had to work!"
"Mamma," cried the princess, anxiously, "order the man to let me go; he hurts me."
The cobbler laughed on, but dropped the hand of the princess.
"Ah," cried he, scornfully, "it hurts a princess only to touch the hand of a working man. It would be a great deal better to keep entirely away from the working people, and never to come among us."
"Drive forward quickly!" cried the queen to the coachman, with loud, commanding voice.
He urged on the horses, and the people who had hemmed in the carriage closely, and listened breathlessly to the conversation of the queen with the cobbler Simon, shrank timidly back before the prancing steeds.
The queen recovered her pleasant, merry smile, and bowed on all sides while the carriage rolled swiftly forward. The people again expressed their thanks with loud acclamations, and praised her beauty and the beauty of her children. But Marie Antoinette was no longer carried beyond herself by these words of praise, and did not rise again from her seat.
While the royal carriage was disappearing in the tumult and throng of the multitude, Simon the cobbler stood watching it with his mocking smile. He felt a hand upon his arm, and heard a voice asking the scornful question:
"Are you in love with this Austrian woman, Master Simon?"
The cobbler quickly turned round to confront the questioner. He saw, standing by his side, a little, remarkably crooked and dwarfed young man, whose unnaturally large head was set upon narrow, depressed shoulders, and whose whole appearance made such an impression upon the cobbler that the latter laughed outright.
"Not beautiful, am I?" asked the stranger, and he tried to join in the laugh of the cobbler, but the result was a mere grimace, which made his unnaturally large mouth, with its thick, colorless lips, extend from one ear to the other, displaying two fearful rows of long, greenish teeth.
"Not beautiful at all, am I? Dreadfully ugly!" exclaimed the stranger, as Simon's laughter mounted higher and higher.
"You are somewhat remarkable, at least," replied the cobbler. "If I did not hear you talk French, and see you standing up straight like one of us, I should think you were the monstrous toad in the fable that I read about a short time ago."
"I am the monstrous toad of the fable," replied the stranger, laughing. "I have merely disguised myself today as a man in order to look at this Austrian woman with her young brood, and I take the liberty of asking you once more, Have you fallen in love with her?"
"No, indeed, I have not fallen in love with her," ejaculated the cobbler. "God is my witness—"
"And why should you call God to witness?" asked the other, quickly. "Do you suppose it is so great a misfortune not to love this Austrian?"
"No, I certainly do not believe that," answered the other, thoughtfully. "I suppose that it is, perhaps, no sin before God not to love the queen, although it may he before man, and that it is not the first time that, it has been atoned for by long and dreary imprisonment. But I do love freedom, and therefore I shall take care not to tell a stranger what I think."
"You love freedom!" exclaimed the stranger. "Then give me your hand, and accept my thanks for the word, my brother."
"Your brother!" replied the cobbler, astounded. "I do not know you, and yet you call yourself, without more formal introduction, my brother."
"You have said that you love freedom, and therefore I greet you as my brother," replied the stranger. "All those who love freedom are brothers, for they confess themselves children of the same gracious and good mother who makes no difference between her children, but loves them all with equal intensity and equal devotion, and it is all the same to her whether this one of her sons is prince or count, and that one workman or citizen. For our mother, Freedom, we are all alike, we are all brethren."
"That sounds very finely," said the cobbler, shaking his head. "There is only one fault that I can find with it, it is not true. For if we were all alike, and were all brothers, why should the king ride round in his gilded chariot, while I, an old cobbler, sit on my bench and have my face covered with sweat?"
"The king is no son of Freedom!" exclaimed the stranger, with an angry gesture. "The king is a son of Tyranny, and therefore he wants to make his enemies, the sons of Freedom, to be his servants, his slaves, and to bind our arms with fetters. But shall we always bear this? Shall we not rise at last out of the dust into which we have been trodden?"
"Yes, certainly, if we can, then we will," said Simon, with his gruff laugh. "But here is the hitch, sir, we cannot do it. The king has the power to hold us in his fetters; and this fine lady, Madame Freedom, of whom you say that she is our mother, lets it come to pass, notwithstanding that her sons are bound down in servitude and abasement."
"It must be for a season yet," answered the other, with loud, rasping voice; "but the day of a rising is at hand, and shows with a laughing face how those whom she will destroy are rushing swiftly upon their own doom."
"What nonsense is that you are talking?" asked the cobbler. "Those who are going to be destroyed by Madame Liberty are working out their own ruin?"
"And yet they are doing it, Master Simon; they are digging their own graves, only they do not see it, and do not know it; for the divinity which means to destroy them has smitten them with blindness. There is this queen, this Austrian woman. Do you not see with your wise eyes how like a busy spider she is weaving her own shroud?"
"Now, that is certainly an error," said Simon; "the queen does not work at all. She lets the people work for her."
"I tell you, man, she does work, she is working at her own shroud, and I think she has got a good bit of it ready. She has nice friends, too, to help her in it, and to draw up the threads for this royal spider, and so get ready what is needed for this shroud. There, for example, is that fine Duke de Coigny. Do you know who that Duke de Coigny is?"
"No, indeed, I know nothing about it; I have nothing to do with the court, and know nothing about the court rabble."
"There you are right, they are a rabble," cried the other, laughing in return. "I know it, for I am so unfortunate as not to be able to say with you that I have nothing to do with the court. I have gone into palaces, and I shall come out again, but I promise you that my exit shall make more stir than my entrance. Now, I will tell you who the Duke de Coigny is. He is one of the three chief paramours of the queen, one of the great favorites of the Austrian sultana."
"Well, now, that is jolly," cried the cobbler; "you are a comical rogue, sir. So the queen has her paramours?"
"Yes. You know that the Duke de Besenval, at the time that the Austrian came as dauphiness to France, said to her: 'These hundred thousand Parisians, madame, who have come out to meet you, are all your lovers.' Now she takes this expression of Besenval in earnest, and wants to make every Parisian a lover of hers. Only wait, only wait, it will be your turn by and by. You will be able to press the hand of this beautiful Austrian tenderly to your lips."
"Well, I will let you know in advance, then," said Simon, savagely, "that I will press it in such right good earnest, that it shall always bear the marks of it. You were speaking just now of the three chief paramours—what are the names of the other two?"
"The second is your fine Lord de Adhemar; a fool, a rattle-head, a booby; but he is handsome, and a jolly lover. Our queen likes handsome men, and everybody knows that she is one of the laughing kind, a merry fly, particularly since the carousals on the palace terrace."
"Carousals! What was that?"
"Why, you poor innocent child, that is the name they give to those nightly promenades that our handsome queen took a year ago in the moonlight on the terrace at Versailles. Oh, that was a merry time! The iron fences of the park were not closed, and the dear people had a right to enter, and could walk near the queen in the moonlight, and hear the fine music which was concealed behind the hedges. You just ask the good-looking officer of the lancers, who sat one evening on a bench between two handsome women, dressed in white, and joked and laughed with them. He can tell you how Marie Antoinette can laugh, and what fine nonsense her majesty could afford to indulge in." [Footnote: See Madame de Campane. "Memoires," vol. i.]
"I wish I knew him, and he would tell me about it," cried cobbler Simon, striking his fists together. "I always like to hear something bad about this Austrian woman, for I hate her and the whole court crowd besides. What right have they to strut and swell, and put on airs, while we have to work and suffer from morning till night? Why is their life nothing but jollity, and ours nothing but misery? I think I am of just as much consequence as the king, and my woman would look just as nice as the queen, if she would put on fine clothes and ride round in a gilded carriage. What puts them up and puts us down?"
"I tell you why. It is because we are ninnies and fools, and allow them to laugh in their sleeves at us, and make divinities out of themselves, before whom the people, or, as they call them, the rabble, are to fall upon their knees. But patience, patience! There will come a time when they will not laugh, nor compel the people to fall upon their knees and beg for favor. But no favor shall be granted to them. They shall meet their doom."
"Ha! I wish the time were here," shouted the cobbler, laughing; "and I hope I may be there when they meet their punishment."
"Well, my friend, that only depends upon yourself," said the stranger. "The time will come, and if you wish you can contribute your share, that it may approach with more rapid steps."
"What can I do? Tell me, for I am ready for every thing?"
"You can help whet the knife, that it may cut the better," said the stranger, with a horrible grimace. "Come, come, do not look at me so astonished, brother. There are already a good number of knife- sharpeners in the good city of Paris, and if you want to join their company, come this evening to me, and I will make you acquainted with some, and introduce you to our guild."
"Where do you live, sir, and what is your name?" asked the cobbler, with glowing curiosity.
"I live in the stable of the Count d'Artois, and my name is Jean Paul Marat."
"In the stable!" cried the cobbler. "My faith, I had not supposed you were a hostler or a coachman. It must be a funny sight, M. Marat, to see you mounted upon a horse."
"You think that such a big toad as I does not belong there exactly. Well, there you are right, brother Simon. My real business is not at all with the horses, but with the men in the stable. I am the horse- doctor, brother Simon, horse-doctor of the Count d'Artois; and I can assure you that I am a tolerably skilful doctor, for I have yoked together many a hostler and jockey whom the stable-keepers of the dear Artois have favored with a liberal dispensation of their lash. So, come this evening to me, not only that I may introduce you to good society, but come if you are sick. I will restore you, and it shall cost you nothing. I cure my brothers of the people without any pay, for it is not the right thing for brothers to take money one of another. So, brother Simon, I shall look for you this evening at the stable; but now I must leave you, for my sick folks are expecting me. Just one more word. If you come about seven o'clock to visit me, the old witch that keeps the door will certainly tell you that I am not at home. I will, therefore, give you the pass-word, which will allow you to go in. It is 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.' Good-by."
He nodded to the cobbler with a fearful grimace, and strode away quickly, in spite of not being able to lift his left foot over the broad square of the Hotel de Ville.
Master Simon looked after him at first with a derisive smile, and this diminutive figure, with his great head, on which a high, black felt hat just kept its position, seemed to amuse him excessively. All at once a thought struck him, and, like an arrow impelled from the bow, he dashed forward and ran after Jean Paul Marat.
"Doctor Marat, Doctor Marat!" he shouted, breathless, from a distance.
Marat stood still and looked around with a malicious glance.
"Well, what is it?" snarled he, "and who is calling my name so loud?"
"It is I, brother Marat," answered the cobbler, panting. "I have been running after you because you have forgotten something."
"What is it?" asked Marat, feeling in his pockets with his long fingers." I have my handkerchief and the piece of black bread that makes my breakfast. I have not forgotten anything."
"Yes, Jean Paul Marat, you have forgotten something," answered Master Simon. "You were going to tell me the names of the three chief paramours of the queen, and you have given only two—the Duke de Coigny and Lord Adhemar. You see I have a good memory, and retain all that you told me. So give me the name of the third one, for I will confess to you that I should like to have something to say about this matter in my club this afternoon, and it will make quite a sensation to come primed with this story about the Austrian woman."
"Well, I like that, I like that," said Marat, laughing so as to show his mouth from one ear to the other. "Now, that is a fine thing to have a club, where you can tell all these little stories about the queen and the court, and it will be a real pleasure to me to tell you any such matters as these to communicate to your club, for it is always a good thing to have any thing that takes place at Versailles and St. Cloud get talked over here at Paris among the dear good people."
"In St. Cloud?" asked the cobbler. "What is it that can happen there? That is nothing at all but a tiresome, old-forgotten pleasure palace of the king."
"It is lively enough there now, depend upon it," replied Marat, with his sardonic laugh. "King Louis the well beloved has given this palace to his wife, in order that she may establish there a larger harem than Trianon; that miserable, worthless little mouse-nest, where virtue, honor, and worth get hectored to death, is not large enough for her. Yes, yes, that fine, great palace of the French kings, the noble St. Cloud, is now the heritage and possession of this fine Austrian. And do you know what she has done? Close by the railing which separates the park from St. Cloud, and near the entrance, she has had a tablet put up, on which are written the conditions on which the public are allowed to enter the park."
"Well, that is nothing new," said the cobbler, impatiently." They have such a board put up at all the royal gardens, and everywhere the public is ordered, in the name of the king, not to do any injury, and not to wander from the regular paths."
"Well, that is just; it is ordered in the name of the king; but in St. Cloud, it runs in the name of the queen. Yes, yes, there you may see in great letters upon the board; 'In the name of the queen.' [Footnote: "De par la reine" was the expression which was then in the mouth of all France and stirred everybody's rage.] It is not enough for us that a king sits upon our neck, and imposes his commands upon us and binds us. We have now another ruler in France, prescribing laws and writing herself sovereign. We have a new police regulation in the name of the queen, a state within the state. Oh, the spider is making a jolly mesh of it! In the Trianon she made the beginning. There the police regulations have always been in the name of the queen; and because the policy was successful there, it extends its long finger still further, issues a new proclamation against the people, appropriates to itself new domain, and proposes to gradually encompass all France with its cords."
"That is rascally, that is wrong," cried the cobbler, raising his clinched fists in the air.
"But that is not all, brother. The queen goes still further. Down to the present time we have been accustomed to see the men who stoop to be the mean servants of tyrants array themselves in the monkey- jackets of the king's livery; but in St. Cloud, the Swiss guards at the gates, the palace servants, in one word, the entire menial corps, array themselves in the queen's livery; and if you are walking in the park of St. Cloud, you are no longer in France and on French soil, but in an Austrian province, where a foreigner can establish her harem and make her laws, and yet a virtuous and noble people does not rise in opposition to it."
"It does not know anything about it, brother Marat," said Simon, eagerly. "It knows very little about the vices and follies of the queen."
"Well, tell the people, then; report to them what I have told yon, and make it your duty that it be talked over among other friends, and made generally known."
"Oh! that shall be, that shall certainly be," said Simon, cheerily," but you have not given me the name of that third lover yet."
"Oh! the third-that is Lord Besenval, the inspector general of the Swiss guard, the chief general of the army, and the commander of the Order of Louis. You see it is a great advantage for a man to be a lover of the queen, for in that way he comes to a high position. While King Louis the Fifteenth, that monster of vice, was living, Besenval was only colonel of the Swiss guard, and all he could do was once in a while to take part in the orgies at the Eoil de Boeuf. But now the queen has raised him to a very high place. All St. Cloud and Trianon form the Eoil de Boeuf, where Marie Antoinette celebrates her orgies, and General Besenval is made one of the first directors of the sports. Now you know every thing, do you not?"
"Yes, Doctor Marat, now I have a general run of every thing, and I thank you; but I hope that you will tell me more this evening, for your stories are vastly entertaining."
"Yes, indeed, I shall tell you plenty more of the same sort, for the queen takes good care that we shall always have material for such stories. Yet, unfortunately, I have no time now, for—"
"I know, I know, you have got to visit your sick people," said Simon, nodding confidentially to him. "I will not detain you any longer. Good-by, my dear Doctor Marat. We shall meet this evening."
He sprang quickly away, and soon disappeared round the next corner. Marat looked after him with a wicked, triumphant expression in his features.
"So far good, so far good," muttered he, shaking his head with choler. " In this way I have got to win over the soldiers and the people to freedom. The cobbler will make an able and practicable soldier, and with his nice little stories, he will win over a whole company. Triumph on, you proud Bourbons; go on dreaming in your gilded palaces, surrounded by your Swiss guards. Keep on believing that you have the power in your hands, and that no one can take it from you. The time will come when the people will disturb your fine dream, and when the little, despised, ugly Marat, whom no one now knows, and who creeps around in your stables like a poisonous rat, shall confront you as a power before which you shall shrink away and throw yourselves trembling into the dust. There shall go by no day in which I and my friends shall not win soldiers for our side, and the silly, simple fool, Marie Antoinette, makes it an easy thing for us. Go on committing your childish pranks, which, when the time shall threaten a little, will justify the most villanous deeds and the most shameless acts, and I will keep the run of all the turns of the times, and this fine young queen cannot desire that we should look at the world with such simple eyes as she does. Yes, fair Queen Marie Antoinette, thou hast thy Swiss guards, who fight for thee, and thou must pay them; but I have only one soldier who takes ground for me against thee, and whom I do not have to pay at all. My soldier's name is Calumny. I tell thee, fair queen, with this ally I can overcome all thy Swiss guards, and the whole horde of thy armies. For, on the earth there is no army corps that is so strong as Calumny. Hurrah! long life to thee, my sworn ally, Calumny!"
Queen Marie Antoinette had returned, after her Paris ride, to her own Versailles. She was silent the whole of the way, and the Duchess de Polignac had sought in vain to cheer her friend with light and pleasant talk, and drive away the clouds from her lofty brow. Marie Antoinette had only responded by enforced smiles and half-words, and then, settling back into the carriage, had gazed with dreamy looks into the heavens, whose cheerful blue called out no reflection upon the fair face of the queen.
As they drew into the great court of the palace at Versailles, the drum-beat of the Swiss guards, presenting arms, and the general stir which followed the approach of the queen, appeared to awaken her from her sorrowful thoughts, and she straightened herself up and cast her glances about. They fell quite accidentally upon the child which was in the arms of the nurse opposite, and which, with great wide-open eyes, was looking up to the heavens, as its mother had done before.
In the intensity of her motherly love, the queen stretched out her arms to the child and drew it to her heart, and pressed a burning kiss upon its lips.
"Ah! my child, my dear child," said she, softly, "you have to-day, for the first time, made your entry into Paris, and heard the acclamations of the people. May you, so long as you live, always be the recipient of kindly greetings, and never again hear such words as that dreadful man spoke to us to-day!"
She pressed the little Duke of Normandy closely to her heart, and quite forgot that she was all this while in the carriage; that near the open portal the hostlers and lackeys were awaiting in a respectful posture the dismounting of the queen; that the drums were all the while beating, and that the guards were standing before the gates in the fixed attitude of presenting arms.
The Duchess de Polignac ventured to suggest in softly-spoken words the necessity of dismounting, and the queen, with her little boy in her arms, sprang lightly and spiritedly, without accepting the assistance of the master of the grooms, out of the carriage, smiling cheerily, greeting the assembled chamberlains as she passed by, hurried into the palace and ran up the great marble staircase. The Duchess de Polignac made haste to follow her, while the Princess Therese and the dauphin were received by their dames of honor and led into their respective apartments. The Norman nurse, shaking her head, hurried after the queen, and the chamberlains and both the maids of honor, shaking their heads, too, followed her into the great ante-chamber. After riding out, the queen was in the habit of dismissing them there, but to-day Marie Antoinette had gone into her own suite of rooms without saying a word, and the door was already closed.
"What shall we do now?" asked both the maids of honor of the cavaliers, and received only a shrug of the shoulders for reply.
"We shall have to wait," at last said the Marchioness de Mailly. "Perhaps her majesty will have the kindness to remember us and to permit us to withdraw."
"And if she should happen to forget it," answered the Princess de Chimay, "we shall have to stand here the whole day, while the queen in Trianon is amusing herself with the fantastic pastoral plays."
"Yes, certainly, there is a country festival in Trianon to-day," said the Prince de Castines, shrugging his shoulders, "and it might easily happen that we should be forgotten, and, like the unforgetable wife of Lot, have to stand here playing the ridiculous part of pillars of salt."
"No, there comes our deliverance," whispered the Marchioness de Mailly, pointing to a carriage which just then came rolling across the broad palace-square. "It was yesterday resolved in secret council at the Count de Provence's, that Madame Adelaide should make one more attempt to bring the queen to reason, and make her understand what is becoming and what is unbecoming to a Queen of France. Now look you, in accordance with this resolve, Madame Adelaide is coming to Versailles to pay a visit to her distinguished niece."
Just then the carriage of the Princess Adelaide, daughter of Louis the Fifteenth, and aunt of Louis the Sixteenth, drove through the great gate into the guarded vestibule of the palace; two outriders rode in advance, two lackeys stood on the stand behind the carriage, and upon the step on each side, a page in richly-embroidered garments.
Before the middle portal, which could only be used by the royal family, and which had never been desecrated by the entrance of one who was "lowly-born," the carriage came to a standstill. The lackeys hastened to open the gate, and a lady, advanced in years, gross in form, with an irritable face well pitted with pock-marks, and wearing no other expression than supercilious pride and a haughty indifference, dismounted with some difficulty, leaning upon the shoulder of her page, and toiled up the steps which conducted to the great vestibule.
The runner sprang before her up the great staircase covered with its carpets, and with his long staff rapped on the door of the first antechamber that led to the apartments of the queen. "Madame Adelaide!" shouted he with a loud voice, and the lackey repeated it in the same tone, quickly opening the door of the second antechamber; and the word was taken up by the chamberlains, and repeated and carried along where the queen was sitting.
Marie Antoinette shrugged herself together a little at this announcement, which interrupted her while engaged in charming unrestrained conversation with the Duchess de Polignac, and a shadow flitted across her lofty brow.
With fiery quickness she flung her arms around the neck of her friend, and pressed a kiss upon her lips. "Farewell, Julia; Madame Adelaide is coming: that is just the same as irritation and annoyance. She may not bear the least suspicion of this upon her fine and dearly-loved face, and just because they are not there, I must tell you, my dear friend, to leave me. But hold yourself in readiness, after Madame Annoyance has left me, to ride with me to Trianon. The queen must remain here half an hour still, but she will be rewarded for it, for Marie Antoinette will afterward go with her Julia to Trianon to spend a half day of pleasure with her husband and friends."
"And to impart to her friends an eternity of blissful recollections," said the duchess, with a charming smile, pressing the hand of the queen to her lips, and taking her leave with inimitable grace, in order to pass out through the little side-door which entered the corridor through a porcelain cabinet, intending then to visit the rooms of the 'children of France.'
At the same moment in which the lofty, dignified form of the duchess disappeared through the side-door, both wings of the main entrance were flung open, and the two maids of honor of the queen advanced to the threshold, and made so deep a reverence that their immense petticoats expanded like a kettle. Then they took a step backward, made another reverence so profound that their heads, bearing coiffures a foot and a half high, fell upon their breasts.
"Madame Adelaide!" they both ejaculated as with one voice, slowly straightening themselves up and taking their places at the sides of the door.
The princess now appeared upon the threshold; behind her, her maids of honor and master of ceremonies, the grand-chamberlain, the pages, and both masters of grooms, standing in the great antechambers.
At the appearance of the maids of honor, Marie Antoinette had taken her position in the middle of the chamber, and could not repress a faint smile, as with erect head she noticed the confusion instant upon the princess's imposing entrance.
Madame Adelaide advanced some steps, for the queen did not change her position nor hasten toward her as she had perhaps expected; her irritated look increased still more, and she did not take a seat.
"I come perhaps at an inconvenient season for your majesty," said she, with a tart smile. "The queen perhaps was just upon the point of going to Trianon, whither as I hear, the king has already proceeded?"
"Has your highness heard that?" asked the queen, smiling. "I wonder what sharp ears Madame Adelaide always has to catch such a trifling rumor, while my younger ones have never caught the least hint of the important approach of the princess, and so I am equally surprised and delighted at the unexpected appearance of my gracious and loving aunt."
Every one of these words, which were spoken so cheerily and with such a pleasant smile, seemed to pierce the princess like the prick of a needle, and caused her to press her lips together in just such a way as if she wanted to check an outcry of pain or suppress some hidden rage. Marie Antoinette, while speaking of the sharp ears which madame always had, had hinted at the advanced age no less than at the curiosity of the princess, and had brought her young and unburdened ears into very advantageous contrast with them.
"Would your majesty grant me the favor of an interview?" asked Madame Adelaide, who did not possess the power of entering on a contest with her exalted niece, with sharp yet graceful words.
"I am prepared with all pleasure," answered the queen, cheerfully; "and it depends entirely upon madame whether the audience shall be private or public."
"I beg for a half hour of entire privacy," said Madame Adelaide, with choler.
"A private audience, ladies!" called the queen to her maids of honor, as motioning with her hand she dismissed them. Then she directed her great brilliant eyes to the door of the antechamber. "My lord grooms, in half an hour I should like to have my carriage ready for Trianon."
The maids of honor withdrew into the great antechamber, and closed the doors behind them.
The queen and Madame Adelaide were alone.
"Let us sit, if it pleases you," said Marie Antoinette, motioning the princess to an arm-chair, while she took her own place upon a simple ottoman. "You have something to say to me, and I am entirely ready to hear you."
"Would to God, madame, that you would not only hear my words," said Madame Adelaide, with a sigh, "but that you would take them to heart as well!"
"If they deserve it, I certainly shall," said the queen, smiling.
"They certainly do deserve it," said the princess, "for what I aim at in my words concerns the peace, the security, the honor of our family. Madame, allow me first to disburden myself of something that has been committed to me. My noble and pious sister, Madame Louise, has given me this letter for your majesty, and in her name I ask our royal niece to read the same at once and in my presence."
She drew from the great reticule, which was attached to her arm by its silken cords, a sealed letter, and handed it to the queen.
But Marie Antoinette did not raise her hand to receive it, but shook her head as if in refusal, and yet with so eager a motion that her elaborate coiffure fairly trembled.
"I beg your pardon, madame," said she, earnestly, "but I cannot receive this letter from the prioress of the Carmelite convent at St. Denis; for you well know that when Madame Louise sent me some years ago, through your highness, a letter which I read, that I never again will receive and read letters from the prioress. Have the goodness, then, to take this back to the sender."
"You know, madame, that this is an affront directed against a princess of France!" was the emphatic reply.
"I know, madame, that that letter which I then received from Madame Louise was an affront directed by the princess against the Queen of France, and I shall protect the majesty of my station from a similar affront. Unquestionably this letter is similar in tone to that one. That one contained charges which went so far as to involve open condemnation, and contained proffers of counsel which meant little less than calumny. [Footnote: Gondrecourt, "Histoire de Marie Antoinette," p. 59.] And what would this be likely to contain different, which your highness takes the trouble to bring to me?"
"Well," cried Madame Adelaide, angrily, "its purport may be similar to that of the former letter; for, unfortunately, the causes are the same, and we may not wonder if the effects are also the same."
"Ah! one can easily see that your highness knows the contents of the letter," said Marie Antoinette, smiling, "and you will therefore certainly pardon me for not reading it. It was unquestionably written in the presence of your highness, in the pious cell of the prioress. She gave over for a while her prayers for the repose of the departed king, in order to busy herself a little with worldly things, and to listen to the calumnies which Madame Adelaide, or the Count de Provence, or the Cardinal de Kohan, or some other of the enemies of my person, have sought to hurl against the Queen of France."
"Calumnies!" replied Madame Adelaide, with an angry flash in her eyes. "Would to God, madame, that it were calumnies with which we have to do, and that all these things which trouble and disturb us were only malicious calumnies, and not sober facts!"
"And will your highness not have the goodness to communicate these facts to me?" said the queen, undisturbed, but smiling, and so only increasing the anger of the princess.
"These facts are of so varied kinds that it would be a difficult thing to choose out any separate ones among them," cried she, with fiery tone. "Every day, every hour of the life of your majesty, brings new facts to light."
"Oh!" said Marie Antoinette, "I had no idea that your highness had such tender care for me."
"And I had no idea, madame, that your frivolity went so far as continually to wound the laws, the customs, and the hallowed order of things. You do it—you do it, scorning every thing established with the random wantonness of a child that plays with fire, and does not know that the waves will flare up and consume it. Madame, I have come here to warn you once more, and for the last time."
"God be thanked, for the last time!" cried the queen, with a charming glance of her eyes.
"I conjure you, queen, for your own sake, for your husband's, for your children's, change your course; take a new direction; leave the path of danger on which you are hastening to irretrievable destruction."
The countenance of the queen, before so pleasant and animated, now darkened. Her smile gave way to a deep earnestness; she raised her head proudly and put on a royal bearing.
"Madame," said she, "up to this time I have been inclined to meet your biting philippics with the quiet indifference which innocence gives, and to remain mindful of the reverence due to age, and not to forget the harsh eyes with which the aged always look upon the deeds of youth. But you compel me to take the matter more earnestly to heart, for you join to my name that of my husband and my children, and so you appeal to my heart of hearts. Now, then, tell me, madame, what you have to bring against me."
"Your boundless frivolity, your culpable short-sightedness, your foolish pleasures, your extravagance, your love of finery, your mixing with politics, your excessive jovialness, your entertainments, your—"
Marie Antoinette interrupted this series of charges with loud, merry laughter, which more enraged the princess than the most stinging words would have done.
"Yes," she continued, "you are frivolous, for you suppose the life of a queen is one clear summer's day, to be devoted to nothing but singing and laughing. You are short-sighted, for you do not see that the flowers of this summer's day in which you rejoice, only bloom above an abyss into which you, with your wanton dancing, are about to plunge. You indulge in foolish pleasures, instead of, as becomes a Queen of France, passing your life in seclusion, in devout meditation, in the exercise of beneficence, in pious deeds. You are a spendthrift, for you give the income of France to your favorites, to this Polignac family, which it has been reckoned receives alone a twentieth part of the whole income of the state; to these gracious lords and ladies of your so-called 'society,' supporting them in their frivolity, allowing them to make golden gain out of you. You are a lover of finery, not holding it beneath your dignity to spend whole hours with a poor milliner; allowing a man to dress your hair, and afterward to go into the toilet chambers of the Parisian dames, that their hair may be dressed by the same hands which have arranged the hair of a queen, and to imitate the coiffure which the Queen of France wears. And what kind of a coiffure is that which, invented by a queen, is baptized with a fantastic name, and carried through Paris, France, and all Europe?"
"But," said Marie Antoinette, with comical pathos, "these coiffures have, some of them, horrid names. We have, for example, the 'hog's bristles coiffure,' the 'flea-bite coiffure,' the 'dying dog,' the 'flame of love,' 'modesty's cap,' a—"
"A queen's levee," interrupted the princess; "a love's nest of Marie Antoinette. Yes, we have come to that pass that the fashions are named after the queen, and all acquire a certain frivolous character, so that all the men and all the honorable women of Paris are in despair because the thoughts of their daughters, infected with the millinery tastes of the queen and the court, shun all noble thoughts, and only busy themselves with mere affairs of taste. I have shown you, and you will not be able to deny it, madame, that this decline in manners, which has been engendered by this love of finery, proceeds from you, and from you alone; that not only your love of finery is to blame, but also your coquetry, your joviality, and these unheard-of indescribable orgies to which the Queen of France surrenders herself, and to which she even allures her own husband, the King of France, the oldest son of the Church."
"What does your highness mean?" asked the queen.
"Of what entertainments are you speaking?"
"I am speaking of the entertainments which are celebrated in Trianon, to the perversion of all usage and all good manners. Of those orgies in which the queen transforms herself into a shepherdess, and permits the ladies of her court, who ought to appear before her with bended knee and with downcast eyes, to clothe themselves like her, and to put on the same bearing as the queen's! I speak of those orgies where the king, enchanted by the charms of his wife, and allured by her coquetry, so far forgets his royal rank as even to take part himself in this stupid frivolity, and to bear a share in this trivial masquerading. And this queen, whose loud laughter fills the groves of Trianon, and who sometimes finds her pleasure in imitating the lowing of cows or the bleating of goats— this queen will afterward put on the bearing of a statesman, and will, with those hands which have just got through arranging an 'allegorical head-dress,' dip into the machinery of state, interrupting the arrangements of her entertainments to busy herself with politics, to set aside old, cherished ministers, to bring her friends and favorites into their places, and to make the king the mere executor of her will."
"Madame," said the queen, as glowing with anger and with eyes of flame she rose from her seat—"madame, this is going too far, this oversteps the bounds that every one, even the princesses of the royal house, owe to their sovereign. I have allowed you to subject to your biting criticism my outer life, my pleasures, and my dress, but I do not allow you to take in hand my inner life—my relations to my husband and my personal honor. You presume to speak of my favorites. I demand of you to name them, and if you can show that there is one man to whom I show any other favor than a gracious queen may show to a servant, a subject whom she can honor and trust, I desire that you would give his name to the king, and that a close investigation be made into the case. I have friends; yes, thank Heaven! I have friends who prize me highly, and who are every hour prepared to give their life for their queen. I have true and faithful servants; but no one will appear and give evidence that Marie Antoinette has ever had an illicit lover. My only lover has been the king, my husband, and I hope before God that he will always remain so, so long as I live. But this is exactly what the noble princesses my aunts, what the Count de Provence, and the whole party of the old court, never will forgive me for. I have had the good fortune to win the love of my husband. The king, despite all calumnies and all intrigues, lowered his glance to the poor young woman who stood solitary near him, and whom he had been taught to prize lightly and to despise, and then he found that she was not so simple, stupid, and ugly, as she had been painted. He began to take some notice of her, and then, God be thanked, he overlooked the fact that she was of Austrian blood, and that the policy of his predecessor had urged her upon him; his heart warmed to her in love, and Marie Antoinette received this love as a gracious gift of God, as the happiness of her life. Yes, madame, I may say it with pride and joy, the king loves me, he trusts me, and therefore his wife stands nearer to him than even his exalted aunts, and I am the one whom he most trusts and whom he selects to be his chief adviser. But this is just the offence which will never be forgiven me: it has fallen to my lot to take from my enemies and opponents their influence over my husband. The time has gone by when Madame Adelaide could gain an attentive ear when she came to the king, and in her passionate rage charged me with unheard of crimes, which had no basis excepting that in some little matters I had loosened the ancient chains of etiquette; the time is past when Madame Louise could presume to drive me with her flashing anger from her pious cell and make me kneel in the dust; and when it was permitted to the Count de la Morch to accuse the queen before the king of having risen in time to behold the rising of the sun at Versailles, in company with her whole court. The king loves me, and Madame Adelaide is no longer the political counsellor of the king; the ministers will no longer be appointed according to her dictate, and the great questions of the cabinet are decided without appealing to her! I know that this is a new offence which you lay to my charge, and that by your calumniations and suspicions you make me suffer the penalty for it. I know that the Count de Provence stoops to direct epigrams and pamphlets against his sister-in-law, his sovereign, and through the agency of his creatures to scatter them through Paris. I know that in his saloons all the enemies of the queen are welcome, and that charges against me are made without rebuke, and that there the weapons are forged with which I am assailed. But take care lest some day these weapons be turned against you! It is you who are imperilling the kingdom, and undermining the throne, for you do not hesitate setting before the people an example that nothing is sacred to you; that the dignity of the throne no longer has an existence, but that it may be denied with vile insinuations, and the most poisonous arrows directed against those who wear the crown of St. Louis on their head. But all you, the aunts, the brothers of the king, and the whole swarm of their intimates and dependents, you are all undermining the monarchy, for you forget that the foreigner, the Austrian, as you call her—that she is Queen of France, your sovereign, your lord, and that you are nothing better than her subjects. You are criminals, you are high traitors!"
"Madame," cried the Princess Adelaide, "Madame, what language is this that—"
"It is the language of a woman in reply to a calumniator, the language of a queen to a rebellious subject. Madame, have the goodness not to answer me again. You have come into the palace of your sovereign to accuse her, and she has answered you as becomes her station. Now we have nothing more to say to each other. You requested a half-hour's private audience with me, and the time has gone. Farewell, madame; my carriage stands ready, and I go to Trianon. I shall, however, say nothing to the king respecting the new attack which you have made upon me, and I promise you that I shall forget it and forgive it."
She nodded lightly, turned herself around, and, with lofty carriage and proud self-possession, left the apartment.
Princess Adelaide looked after her with an expression of the deepest hate, and entirely forgetful of her lofty station, even raised her hand threateningly in the direction of the door through which the noble figure of the queen had just vanished. "I shall not forget nor forgive," muttered she. "I shall have my revenge on this impudent person who dares to threaten me and even to defy me, and who calls herself my sovereign. This Austrian, a sovereign of the princess royal of France! We will show her where are the limits of her power, and where are the limits of France! She shall go back to Austria; we want her not, this Austrian who dares to defy us."
Proud and erect though the bearing was with which the queen left Madame Adelaide, she had hardly entered her own room and closed the door which separated her from her enemy, when she sank groaning upon a seat, and a flood of tears streamed from her eyes.
"Oh, Campan, Campan! what have I been compelled to hear?" cried she, bitterly. "With what expressions have they ventured to address the Queen of France!" Madame de Campan, the first lady-in-waiting on the queen, who had just then entered the porcelain room, hastened to her mistress, and, sinking upon her knees, pressed the fallen hand of the queen to her lips. "Your majesty is weeping!" she whispered with her mild, sympathetic voice. " Your majesty has given the princess the satisfaction of knowing that she has succeeded in drawing tears from the Queen of France, and reddening her beautiful eyes."
"No, I will not give her this pleasure," said the queen, quickly raising herself up and drying her eyes. "I will be merry, and why do I weep? She sought to make me sick; she sought to wound me, but I have given back the sickness, and the wounds which I have inflicted upon her will not so soon heal."
"Has your majesty inflicted anything upon the princess?" cried Madame de Campan, in agitation.
"Yes," answered Marie Antoinette, with triumphant joy. "I have scourged her, I have wounded her, for I have distinctly intimated to her that I am Queen of France, and she my subject. I have told her, that when she dares direct her calumnies against the queen, she is guilty of high-treason."
"Oh!" exclaimed Madame de Campan, "the proud princess will never pardon that. Your majesty has now become her irreconcilable enemy, and she will leave no stone unturned to revenge herself upon you."
"She may attempt to revenge herself upon me," cried the queen, whose countenance began to brighten up once more. "I fear neither her nor her whole set. All their arrows will fall powerless at my feet, for the love of my husband and my pure conscience form the protection which secures me. And what can these people accomplish against me? They can slander me, that is all. But their calumnies will, in the end, prove that it is lies they tell, and no one will give them confidence more."
"Ah! your majesty does not know the wickedness of the world," sighed Campan, sadly. "Your majesty believes that the good are not cowardly, and that the bad are not reckless. Your majesty does not know that the bad have it in their power to corrupt public opinion; and that then the good have not the courage to meet this corrupting influence. But public opinion is a monster that brings the charge, passes judgment, pronounces the sentence, and inflicts the punishment in one person. Who thinks lightly of it, arrays against himself an enemy stronger than a whole army, and less open to entreaty than death."
"Ah!" cried the queen, raising her head proudly, "I do not fear this enemy. She shall not dare to attack me. She shall crouch and shrink before my gaze as the lion does when confronted by the eye of a virgin. I am pure and blameless. I pledged my troth to my husband before he loved me, and how shall I now break it, when he does love me, and is the father of my dear children? And now, enough of these disagreeable things that want to cast their vileness upon us! And the sun is shining so splendidly, and they are waiting for me in Trianon! Come, Campan, come; the queen will take the form of a happy wife."
Marie Antoinette hastened before her lady-in-waiting, hurried into her toilet-chamber in advance of her lady-in-waiting, who followed, sighing and shaking her head, and endeavored with her own hands to loosen the stiff corset of her robe, and to free herself from the immense crinoline which imprisoned her noble form.
"Off with these garments of state and royal robes," said Marie Antoinette, gliding out of the stiff apparel, and standing in a light, white undergarment, with bare shoulders and arms. "Give me a white percale dress and a gauze mantle with it."
"Will your majesty appear again in this simple costume?" asked Madame de Campan, sighing.
"Certainly, I will," cried she; "I am going to Trianon, to my much- loved country-house. You must know, Campan, that the king has promised to spend every afternoon of a whole week with me at Trianon, and that there we are going to enjoy life, nature, and solitude. So, for a whole week, the king will only be king in the forenoon, and in the afternoon a respectable miller in the village Trianon. Now, is not that a merry thought, Campan? And do you not see that I cannot go to Trianon in any other than a light white dress?"
"Yes, your majesty, I understand; but I was only thinking that the trades-people of Lyons had just presented a paper to your majesty, in which they complain of the decadence of the silk manufacture, explaining it on the ground that your majesty has a preference for white clothing, and stating that all the ladies feel obliged to follow the example of their queen, and lay their silk robes aside."
"And do you know, too," asked Marie Antoinette, "that Madame Adelaide has herself supported this ridiculous paper of the Lyonnese merchants, giving out that I wear white percale because I want to do my brother, the Emperor Joseph, a service, and so ordered these white goods from the Netherlands? Ah, let us leave these follies of the wicked and the stupid. They shall not prevent my wearing white clothes and being happy in Trianon. Give me a white dress quickly, Campan."
"Pardon, your majesty, but I must; first summon the ladies of the robing-room," answered Madame de Campan, turning to the door of the sleeping-room.
"Oh, why all this parade?" sighed the queen. "Can I never be free from the fetters of all this ceremony? Could you not yourself, Campan, put a simple dress upon me?"
"Your majesty, I am only a poor, powerless being, and I fear enmities. The ladies would never forgive me if I should encroach upon their rights and separate them from the adored person of the queen. It is their right, it is their duty to draw the robe upon the person of your majesty, and to secure your shoes. I beg, therefore, your gracious permission to allow the ladies to come in."
"Well, do it then," sighed the queen. " Let me bear the fetters here in Versailles until the last moment. I shall have my compensation in Trianon. Be assured I shall have my compensation there."
A quarter of an hour later the queen was arrayed in her changed attire, and came out from the toilet-chamber. The stiff crinoline had disappeared; the whalebone corset, with the long projecting point, was cast aside; and the high coiffure, which Leonard had so elaborately made up in the morning, was no more to be seen. A white robe, decorated at the bottom with a simple volante, fell in broad artistic folds over her noble figure, whose full proportions had been concealed by the rigid state dress. A simple waist encircled her bust, and was held together by a blue sash, which hung in long ends at her left side. Broad cuffs, held together with simple, narrow lace, fell down as far as the wrist, but through the thin material could be seen the fair form of her beautiful arms; and the white triangle of gauze which she had thrown over her naked neck, did not entirely veil the graceful lines of her full shoulders and her noble bust. Her hair, deprived of its unnatural disfigurement, and almost entirely freed from powder, arched itself above her fine forehead in a light toupet, and fell upon her shoulders in rich brown locks, on which only a mere breath of powder had been blown. On her arm the queen carried a great, round, straw hat, secured by blue ribbons, and over her fair, white hands she had drawn gloves of black netting.
Thus, with beaming countenance, with blushing cheeks, and with smiles curling around her full red lips; thus, all innocence, merriment, and cheerfulness, Marie Antoinette entered the sitting- room, where the Duchess de Polignac was waiting for her, in an attire precisely like that of the queen.
The latter flew to the duchess with the quickness of a young girl, with the tenderness of a sister, and drew her arm within that of her friend.
"Come, Julia," said she, "let us leave the world and enter paradise."
"Ah, I am afraid of paradise," cried the duchess, with a merry smile. "I have a horror of the serpent."
"You shall find no serpents there, my Julia," said the queen, drawing the arm of the duchess to herself. "Lean upon me, my friend, and be persuaded that I will defend you against every serpent, and every low, creeping thing."
"Oh, I fear the serpent more for my adored queen than for myself. What is there in me to harm? But your majesty is exposed on every side to attack."
"Oh, why, Julia," sighed the queen-" why do you ad-dress me with the stiff, formal title of majesty when we are alone together? Why do you not forget for a little etiquette when there is nobody by to hear us?"
"Your majesty," laughed the duchess, "we are in Versailles, and the walls have ears."
"It is true," cried the queen, with quickly restored merriment, " we are here in Versailles; that is your exculpation. Come, let us hasten to leave this proud, royal palace, and get away to the society of beautiful Nature, where there are no walls to hear us, but only God and Nature. Come, Julia."
She drew the duchess quickly out through the side door, which led to the little corridor, and thence to the adjacent staircase, and over the small court to one of the minor gates of the palace, leading to the park. The coupe of the queen was standing before this door, and the master of the stole and the lackeys were awaiting the approach of the queen.
Marie Antoinette sprang like a gazelle into the carriage, and then extended her hand to the duchess to assist her to ascend. "Forward, forward!" cried the queen to the coachman, " and drive with all haste, as if the horses had wings, for I long to fly. Forward! oh, forward!"
Fly, ye steeds, fly! Bear the Queen of France away from the stiff, proud Versailles; from the palaces of kings, where every thing breathes of exaltation, greatness, and unapproachableness; bear her to little, simple, pretty Trianon, to the dream of paradise, where all is innocence, simplicity, and peace; where the queen may be a woman, and a happy one, too, and where Marie Antoinette has the right to banish etiquette, and live in accordance with her inclinations, wishes, and humors.
Yes, truly, the fiery steeds have transformed themselves into birds; they cut the air, they scarcely touch the ground, and hardly can the driver restrain them when they reach the fence which separates the garden of Trianon from Versailles.
Light as a gazelle, happy as a young girl that knows nothing of the cares and burdens of life, Marie Antoinette sprang out of the carriage before the chamberlain had time to open the gate with its double wings, to let the queen pass in as a queen ought. Laughing, she glided through the little side gate, which sufficed for the more unpretending visitor of Trianon, and took the arm of her friend the Duchess de Polignac, in order to turn with her into one of the side alleys. But, before doing so, she turned to the chamberlain, who, standing in a respectful attitude, was awaiting the commands of his mistress.
"Weber," said she to him, in the pleasant Austrian dialect, the language of her early home" Weber, there is no need for you to follow us. The day is yours. You are free, as I am too. Meanwhile, if yon meet his majesty, tell him that I have gone to the small palace, and that, if it pleases his majesty, he may await me in my little village at the mill.
"And now, come, my Julia," said she, turning to the duchess, and drawing her forward with gentle violence, " now let us be merry and happy. I am no longer a queen, God be thanked! I am neither more nor less than anybody else. That is the reason I was so well pleased to come through the small door just now. Through a narrow gate alone we can enter paradise, and I am entering paradise now. Oh, do you not see, my friend, that the trees, the flowers, the bushes, every thing here is free from the dust of earth; that even the heaven has another color, and looks down upon me brilliant and blue, like the eye of God?"
"It is just," answered the Duchess de Polignac, "because you are seeing every thing with other eyes, your majesty."
"Your majesty!" cried Marie Antoinette. "You love me no longer; your heart is estranged from me, since you address me with this cold title. In Versailles, you had a valid plea; but here, Julia, what can you offer in justification? The flowers are not listeners, the bushes have not ears, like the walls of Versailles, to spy out our privacy."
"I say nothing for my exculpation," answered the duchess, throwing her arm with a playful movement around the neck of the queen, and imprinting a kiss upon the lofty brow of Marie Antoinette. "I only ask your pardon, and promise that I will be obedient and not disturb my friend's dream of paradise all day long by an ill-timed word. Now will you forgive me, Marie?"
"With all my soul, Julia," answered the queen, nodding to her in a friendly way. "And now, Julia, as we have a happy vacation day before us, we will enjoy it like two young girls who are celebrating the birthday of their grandmother after escaping from a boarding school. Let us see which of us is the swiftest of foot. We will make a wager on it. See, there gleams our little house out from the shrubbery; let us see which of us gets there first."
"Without stopping once in the run?" asked the duchess, amazed.
"I make no conditions; I only say, let us see who gets there first. If you win, Julia, I will give you the privilege of nominating a man to have the first place in my Swiss guards, and you may select the protege in whose behalf you were pleading yesterday. Come, let us run. One!—"
"No, Marie," interrupted the duchess. "Supposing that you are the first, what shall I give you?"
"A kiss—a hearty kiss—Julia. Now, forward! One, two, three!"
And, speaking these words in merry accents, Marie Antoinette sprang forward along the narrow walk. The round straw hat which covered her head was tossed up on both sides; the blue ribbons fluttered in the wind; the white dress puffed up; and the grand chamberlain of the queen and Madame Adelaide would have been horrified if they could have seen the queen flying along like a girl escaped from the boarding-school.
But she, she never thought of there being any thing improper in the run; she looked forward to the goal with laughing glances, as the white house emerged more and more from the verdure by which it was surrounded, and then sideways at her friend, who had not been able to gain a single step upon her.
"Forward, forward!" shouted the queen; "I will and I must win, for the prize is a kiss from my Julia." And with renewed speed the queen dashed along. The lane opened and terminated in a square in front of the palace. The queen stopped in her course, and turned round to see her friend, who had been left far behind her.
As soon as the duchess saw it she tried to quicken her steps, and began to run again, but Marie Antoinette motioned with her hand, and went rapidly back to meet her.
"You shall not make any more effort, Julia," said she. "I have won, and you cannot bring my victory into question."
"And I do not wish to," answered the duchess, with a merry look of defiance on her gentle features. "I really did not wish to win, for it would have seemed as if I had to win what I want on the turn of a merry game. You have done wrong, Marie Antoinette. You want me to forget here in Trianon that you are the Queen of France. But you yourself do not forget it. Only the queen can propose such a prize as you have set, and only the queen can ask so insignificant a boon on the other side. You have made it impossible for me to win, for you know well that I am not selfish."
"I know it, and that is just the reason why I love you so dearly, Julia. I have done wrong," she went on to say with her gentle, sweet voice. "I see it, and I beg your forgiveness. Give me now as a proof that you do forgive me, give me the prize which I have won—a kiss, Julia, a kiss."
"Not here," answered the duchess. "O, no, not here, Marie. Do not you see that the doors of the saloons are open, and that your company are all assembled. They would all envy me; they would all be jealous if they were to see the preference which you show for me."
"Let them be jealous, let them envy you," cried the queen; "the whole world shall know that Julia de Polignac is my best-loved friend, that next to husband and children, I love no one so well as her."
With gentle violence the queen threw both her arms around the neck of the duchess, and kissed her passionately.
"Did you notice," said the Baron de Besenval to Lord Adhemar, with whom he was playing a game of backgammon in the saloon, "did you notice the tableau that the queen is presenting, taking for her theme a group representing Friendship?"
"I wish it were in my power to reproduce this wonderful group in marble," answered Lord Adhemar, laughing. "It would be a companion piece to Orestes and Pylades."
"But which," asked the Duchess de Guemene, looking up from her embroidery, "which would be the companion of Orestes, pursued of Furies, surrounded by serpents?"
"That is the queen," answered the Count de Vaudreuil, who was sitting at the piano and practising a new piece of music. "The queen is the womanly Orestes: the Furies are the three royal aunts; and the serpents—pardon me, ladies—are, with the exception of yourselves, most all the ladies of Paris."
"You are malicious, count," cried Madame de Morsan, "and were we by any chance not here, you would reckon us among the serpents."
"If I should do so," said Count Vaudreuil, laughing, "I should only wish to take the apple from you, in order to be driven out of paradise with you. But still! the queen is coming."
Yes, just then the queen entered the apartment. Her cheeks were glowing red by reason of her run, her bosom heaved violently with her hurried, agitated breathing. Her hat had fallen upon one side, and the dark blond hair was thrown about in wild confusion.
It was not the queen who entered the saloon, it was only Marie Antoinette, the simple, young woman, greeting her friends with brilliant glances and lively nods. It had been made a rule with her, that when she entered, no one should rise, nor leave the embroidery, or piano-playing, or any other occupation.
The women remained at their work, Lords Besenval and Adhemar went on playing their game of backgammon, and only the Count de Vaudreuil rose from his place at the approach of the queen.
"What have you been playing, count?" asked Marie Antoinette. "I beg your pardon, if I leave your question unanswered," replied the count, with a gentle inclination of the head. "Your majesty has such a fine ear, that you must doubtless recognize the composer in the music. It is an entirely new composition, and I have taken the license of arranging it for four hands. If your majesty would perhaps be inclined-"
"Come," interrupted the queen, "let us try it at once."
Quickly, and with feverish impatience, she drew her black netted gloves from her delicate white hands, and at once took her place next to the count, on the seat already prepared for her.
"Will not the music be too difficult for me to play?" asked she, timidly.
"Nothing is too difficult for the Queen of France."
"But there is a great deal that is too difficult for the dilettante, Marie Antoinette," sighed the queen. "Meanwhile, we will begin and try it."
And with great facility and lightness of touch, the queen began to play the base of the piece which had been arranged by the Count de Vaudreuil for four hands. But the longer she played, the more the laughter and the unrestrained gayety disappeared from the features of the queen. Her noble countenance assumed an expression of deep earnestness, her eye kindled with feeling, and the cheeks which before had become purple-red with the exercise of playing, now paled with deep inward emotion.
All at once, in the very midst of the grand and impassioned strains, Marie Antoinette stopped, and, under the strength of her feeling, rose from her seat.
"Only Gluck can have written this!" cried she. "This is the music, the divine music of my exalted master, my great teacher, Chevalier Gluck."
"You are right; your majesty is a great musician," cried Lord Vaudreuil, in amazement, "the ideal pupil of the genial maestro. Yes, this music is Gluck's. It is the overture to his new opera of 'Alcestes,' which he sent me from Venice to submit to your majesty. These tones shall speak for the master, and entreat for him the protection of the queen."
"You have not addressed the queen, but my own heart," said Marie Antoinette, with gentle, deeply moved voice. "It was a greeting from my home, a greeting from my teacher, who is at the same time the greatest composer of Europe. Oh, I am proud of calling myself his pupil. But Gluck needs no protection; it is much more we who need the protection which he affords us in giving us the works of his genius. I thank you, count," continued Marie Antoinette, turning to Vaudreuil with a pleasant smile.
"This is a great pleasure which you have prepared for me. But knowing, as I now do, that this is Gluck's music, I do not dare to play another note; for, to injure a note of his writing, seems to me like treason against the crown. I will practise this piece, and then some day we will play it to the whole court. And now, my honored guests, if it pleases you, we go to meet the king. Gentlemen, let each one choose his lady, for we do not want to go in state procession, but by different paths."
All the gentlemen present rushed toward the queen, each desirous to have the honor of waiting upon her. Marie Antoinette thanked them all with a pleasant smile, and took the arm of the eldest gentleman there, the Baron de Besenval.
"Come, baron," said she, "I know a new path, which none of these gentry have learned, and I am sure that we shall be the first to reach the place where the king is."
Resting on the arm of the baron, she left the saloon, and passed out of the door opposite, upon the little terrace leading to the well- shaded park.
"We will go through the English garden. I have had them open a path through the thicket, which will lead us directly to our goal; while the others will all have to go through the Italian garden, and so make a circuit. But look, my lord, somebody is coming there—who is it?"
And the queen pointed to the tall, slim figure of a man who was just then striding along the terrace.
"Madame," answered the baron, "it is the Duke de Fronac."
"Alas!" murmured Marie Antoinette, "he is coming to lay new burdens upon us, and to put us in the way of meeting more disagreeable things."
"Would it be your wish that I should dismiss him? Do you give me power to tell him that you extend no audience to him here?"
"Oh! do not do so," sighed Marie Antoinette. "He, too, is one of my enemies, and we must proceed much more tenderly with our dear enemies than with our friends."
Just then the Duke de Fronac ascended the last terrace, and approached the queen with repeated bows, which she reciprocated with an earnest look and a gentle inclination of the head.
"Well, duke, is it I with whom the chief manager of the royal theatres wishes to speak?"
"Madame," answered the duke, "I am come to beg an audience of your majesty."
"You have it; and it is, as you see, a very imposing audience, for we stand in the throne room of God, and the canopy of Heaven arches over us. Now say, duke, what brings you to me?"
"Your majesty, I am come to file an accusation!"
"And of course against me?" asked the queen, with a haughty smile. The duke pretended not to hear the question, and went on: "I am come to bring a charge and to claim my rights. His majesty has had the grace to appoint me manager-in-chief of all the royal theatres, and to give me their supreme control."
"Well, what has that to do with me?" asked the queen in her coldest way. " You have then your duties assigned you, to he rightfully fulfilled, and to keep your theatres in order, as if they were troops under your care."
"But, your majesty, there is a theatre which seeks to free itself from my direction. And by virtue of my office and my trust I must stringently urge you that this new theatre royal be delivered into my charge."
"I do not understand you," said the queen, coolly. "Of what new theatre are you speaking, and where is it?"
"Your majesty, it is here in Trianon. Here operettas, comedies, and vaudevilles are played. The stage is furnished as all stages are; it is a permanent stage, and I can therefore ask that it be given over into my charge, for, I repeat it again, the king has appointed me director of all the collective theatres royal."
"But, duke," answered the queen with a somewhat more pliant tone, "you forget one thing, and that is, that the theatre in Trianon does not belong to the theatres of his majesty. It is my stage, and Trianon is my realm. Have you not read on the placards, which are at the entrance of Trianon, that it is the queen who gives laws here? Do you not know that the king has given me this bit of ground that I may enjoy my freedom here, and have a place where the Queen of France may have a will of her own?"
"Your majesty," answered the duke with an expression of the profoundest deference, "I beg your pardon. I did not suppose that there was a place in France where the king is not the lord paramount, and where his commands are not imperative."
"You see, then, that you are mistaken. Here in Trianon I am king, and my commands are binding."
"That does not prevent, your majesty, the commands of the king having equal force," replied the duke, with vehemence. "And even if the Queen of France disowns these laws, yet others do not dare take the risk of following the example of the queen. For they remain, wherever they are, the subjects of the king. So even here in Trianon I am still the obedient subject of his majesty, and his commands and my duties are bound to be respected by me."
"My lord duke," cried the queen with fresh impatience, "you are free never to come to Trianon. I give you my full permission to that end, and thus you will be relieved from the possibility of ever coming into collision with your ever-delicate conscience and the commands of the king."
"But, your majesty, there is a theatre in Trianon!"
"Not this indefinite phrase, duke; there is a theatre in Trianon, but I the queen, the princess of the royal family, and the guests I invite, support a theatre in Trianon. Let me say this once for all: you cannot have the direction where we are the actors. Besides, I have had occasion several times to give you my views respecting Trianon. I have no court here. I live here as a private person. I am here but a land owner, and the pleasures and enjoyments which I provide here for myself and my friends shall never be supervised by any one but myself alone." [Footnote: The very words of the queen.— See Goncourt, "Histoire de Marie Antoinette"]
"Your majesty," said the duke, with a cold smile, "it is no single person that supervises you; it is public opinion, and I think that this will speak on my side."
The duke bowed, and, without waiting for a sign from the queen to withdraw, he turned around and began to descend the terrace.
"He is a shameless man!" muttered the queen, with pale cheeks and flashing eyes, as she followed him with her looks.
"He is ambitious," whispered Besenval; "he implores your majesty in this way, and risks his life and his office, in the hope of being received into the court society."
"No, no," answered Marie Antoinette, eagerly; "there is nothing in me that attracts him. The king's aunts have set him against me, and this is a new way which their tender care has conjured up to irritate me, and make me sick.
Yet let us leave this, baron. Let us forget this folly, and only remember that we are in Trianon. See, we are now entering my dear English garden. Oh, look around you, baron, and then tell me is it not beautiful here, and have I not reason to be proud of what I have called here into being?"
While thus speaking, the queen advanced with eager, flying steps to the exquisite beds of flowers which beautifully variegated the surface of the English garden.
It was in very truth the creation of the queen, this English garden, and it formed a striking contrast to the solemn, stately hedges, the straight alleys, the regular flower beds, the carefully walled pools and brooks, which were habitual in the gardens of Versailles and Trianon. In the English garden every thing was cosy and natural. The waters foamed here, and there they gathered themselves together and stood still; here and there were plants which grew just where the wind had scattered the seed. Hundreds of the finest trees—willows, American oaks, acacias, firs—threw their shade abroad, and wrought a rich diversity in the colors of the foliage. The soil here rose into gentle hillocks, and there sank in depressions and natural gorges. All things seemed without order or system, and where art had done its work, there seemed to be the mere hand of free, unfettered Nature.
The farther the queen advanced with her companion into the garden, the more glowing became her countenance, and the more her eyes beamed with their accustomed fire.
"Is it not beautiful here?" asked she, of the baron, who was walking silently by her side.
"It is beautiful wherever your majesty is," answered he, with an almost too tender tone. But the queen did not notice it. Her heart was filled with an artless joy; she listened with suspended breath to the trilling song of the birds, warbling their glad hymns of praise out from the thickets of verdure. How could she have any thought of the idle suggestions of the voice of the baron, who had been chosen as her companion because of his forty-five years, and of his hair being tinged with gray?
"It seems to me, baron," she said, with a charming laugh, while looking at a bird which, its song just ended, soared from the bushes to the heavens—" it seems to me as if Nature wanted to send me a greeting, and deputed this bird to bring it to me. Ah," she went on to say, with quickly clouded brow, "it is really needful that I should at times hear the friendly notes and the sweet melodies of such a genuine welcome. I have suffered a great deal today, baron, and the welcome of this bird of Trianon was the balm of many a wound that I have received since yesterday."
"Your majesty was in Paris?" asked Besenval, hesitatingly, and with a searching glance of his cunning, dark eyes, directed to the sad countenance of Marie Antoinette.
"I was in Paris," answered she, with a flush of joy; "and the good Parisians welcomed the wife of the king and the mother of the children of France with a storm of enthusiasm."
"No, madame," replied the baron, reddening, "they welcomed with a storm of enthusiasm the most beautiful lady of France, the adored queen, the mother of all poor and suffering ones."
"And yet there was a dissonant note which mingled with all these jubilee tones," said the queen, thoughtfully. "While all were shouting, there came one voice which sounded to my ear like the song of the bird of misfortune. Believe me, Besenval, every thing is not as it ought to be. There is something in the air which fills me with anxiety and fear. I cannot drive it away; I feel that the sword of Damocles is hanging over my head, and that my hands are too weak to remove it."
"A woe to the traitors who have dared to raise the sword of Damocles over the head of the queen!" cried the baron, furiously.
"Woe to them, but woe to me too!" replied the queen, with gentle sadness. "I have this morning had a stormy interview with Madame Adelaide. It appears that my enemies have concocted a new way of attacking me, and Madame Adelaide was the herald to announce the beginning of the tournament."
"Did she venture to bring any accusations against your majesty?" asked Besenval. The queen replying in the affirmative with a nod, he went on. "But what can they say? Whence do they draw the poisoned arrows to wound the noblest and truest of hearts?"
"They draw them from their jealousy, from their hatred against the house of Austria, from the rage with which they look upon the manner in which the king has bestowed his love. 'What can they say?' They make out of little things monstrous crimes. They let a pebble grow into a great rock, with which they strive to smite me down. Oh, my friend, I have suffered a great deal to-day, and, in order to tell you this, I chose you as my companion. I dare not complain before the king," Marie Antoinette went on, while two tears rolled slowly down her cheeks, "for I will not be the means of opening a breach in the family, and the king would cause them to feel his wrath who have drawn tears from the eyes of his wife. But you are my friend, Besenval, and I confide in your friendship and in your honor. Now, tell me, you who know the world, and who are my senior in experience of life, tell me whether I do wrong to live as I do. Are the king's aunts right in charging it upon me as a crime, that I take part in the simple joys of life, that I take delight in my youth and am happy? Is the Count de Provence right in charging me, as with a crime, that I am the chief counsellor of the king, and that I venture to give him my views regarding political matters? Am I really condemned to stand at an unapproachable distance from the people and the court, like a beautiful statue? Is it denied to me to have feeling, to love and to hate, like everybody else? Is the Queen of France nothing but the sacrificial lamb which the dumb idol etiquette carries in its leaden arms, and crushes by slowly pressing it to itself? Tell me, Besenval; speak to me like an honorable and upright man, and remember that God is above us and hears our words!"
"May God be my witness," said Besenval, solemnly. "Nothing lies nearer my heart than that your majesty hear me. For my life, my happiness, and my misery, all lie wrapped up in the heart of your majesty. No, I answer—no; the aunts of the king, the old princesses, look with the basilisk eye of envy from a false point. They have lived at the court of their father; they have seen Vice put on the trappings of Virtue; they have seen Shamelessness array itself in the garments of Innocence, and they no longer retain their faith in Virtue or Innocence. The purity of the queen appears to them to be a studied coquetry, her unconstrained cheerfulness to be culpable frivolity. No, the Count de Provence is not right in bringing the charge against the king that it is wrong in him to love his wife with the intensity and self surrender with which a citizen loves the wife whom he has himself selected. He is not right in alleging it as an accusation against you, that you are the counsellor of the king, and that you seek to control political action. Your whole offence lies in the fact that your political views are different from his, and that, through the influence which you have gained over the heart of the king, his aunts are driven into the background. Your majesty is an Austrian, a friend of the Duke de Choiseul. That is your whole offence. Now you would not be less blameworthy in the eyes of these enemies were you to live in exact conformity with the etiquette books of the Queen of France, covered with the dust of a hundred years. Your majesty would therefore do yourself and the whole court an injury were you to allow your youth, your beauty, and your innocence, to be subjected to these old laws. It were folly to condemn yourself to ennui and solitude. Does not the Queen of France enjoy a right which the meanest of her subjects possesses, of collecting her own chosen friends around her and taking her pleasure with them. We live, I know, in an age of reckless acts; but may there not be some recklessness in dealing with the follies of etiquette? They bring it as a charge against your majesty that you adjure the great court circles, and the stiff set with which the royal family of France used to martyr itself. They say that by giving up ceremony you are undermining the respect which the people ought to cherish toward royalty. But would it not be laughable to think that the obedience of the people depends upon the number of the hours which a royal family may spend in the society of tedious and wearisome courtiers? No, my queen, do not listen to the hiss of the hostile serpents which surround you. Go, courageously, your own way—the way of innocence, guilelessness, and love."