PRINCE EUGENE AND HIS TIMES
An Historical Novel
AUTHOR OF FREDERICK THE GREAT AND HIS COURT, THE MERCHANT OF BERLIN, BERLIN AND SANS-SOUCI, JOSEPH II. AND HIS COURT, ETC.
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY ADELAIDE DeV. CHAUDRON
I. The Countess of Soissons II. The Laboratory III. Prince Eugene IV. The Riot V. Barbesieur Louvois VI. The State Reception VII. Help in Time of Need VIII. The Flight IX. The Parting
I. Marianna Mancini II. The Trial III. A Skirmish IV. Louvois' Daughter V. The Court-Ball VI. The Lady of the Bedchamber VII. The Lady of the Bedchamber VIII. First Love IX. The Betrayal
I. The Disappointment II. The Foes III. The Repulse IV. The Farewell V. A Page from History VI. The Emperor Leopold I. VII. The Council of War VIII. The Plains of Kitsee IX. The Baptism of Blood X. Vienna XI. The Re-enforcements
I. The Fall of Buda II. The Friends III. The Marquis Strozzi IV. Laura V. The Regatta VI. The Negotiator VII. The Lovers reunited VIII. Antonio's Expiation IX. The Dungeon
I. A Twofold Victory II. The Dumb Music III. The Retirement of the Commander-in-Chief IV. The Fall of Belgrade V. The Marchioness VI. The Flight VII. The Forester's Hut
I. Sister Angelica II. Louis the Fourteenth III. The King and the Petitioners IV. The Window that was too large V. The Imperial Diet at Regensburg VI. The Judith of Esslingen VII. Her Return
I. The Island of Bliss II. The French in Speier III. The Treasure IV. Caspar's Vengeance V. The Duchess of Orleans VI. The Deliverance of Trier VII. The Fire-tongs VIII. Brave Hearts
I. The Advance into France II. The Ravens III. Sick and Well IV. The Duke's Dangerous Illness V. The Marquis Strozzi VI. Insanity and Revenge VII. The Ambrosia VIII. The Betrothal IX. Vengeance
PRINCE EUGENE AND HIS TIMES.
PRINCE EUGENE, THE LITTLE ABBE
THE COUNTESS OF SOISSONS.
"Is that your last word, madame?" said Louvois, in a tone so emphatic as to be almost threatening.
"My last word," replied the countess, haughtily. "My daughter is too young to marry, and were she older, I would not impose a husband upon her who was not the man of her choice. She shall bestow her hand and heart together."
"Do you mean that it is impossible for your daughter to love my son?" asked Louvois, hastily.
The countess raised her shoulders and smiled superciliously, while from her large black eyes there darted forth a glance that spoke volumes to the mind of the irritated minister.
"It would appear," said she, "that there can be no sympathy between the Mancinis and the Louvois, and that their antipathies are to be perpetuated from generation to generation."
"You would remind me of the similarity which the fate of my son as a wooer bears to that of his father?" asked Louvois. "I do not deny it; the repulse which twenty-one years ago I received from Olympia Mancini, she repeats to-day in the person of her daughter. But it may be that on some other occasion the Mancinis shall be repulsed by the Louvois."
"A threat?" said the countess, angrily.
Now it was the shoulders of the minister that were raised. "I have sowed love and reaped hate," said he, quietly.
The countess laughed. "Ah," said she, "I see that you have remodelled your speech according to the pious formulary of Madame de Maintenon, and that you seek for your troubadours among the prophets."
"Yes—the Scriptural prophets satisfy MY cravings for knowledge," replied Louvois, smiling. "Pity that everybody else is not as orthodox as I!"
"What do you mean?" asked the countess, uneasily.
"I mean that it would be better for the Countess de Soissons if she imitated the discretion of Madame de Maintenon, and eschewed association with those unholy prophets who draw their inspiration from the stars."
"Do you think so? And yet the book of the stars is inspired and contains truth, for therein it stands written that our two families will never be united by the bonds of love. What is the use of striving against destiny? Fate has willed our enmity, and we must submit with resignation," said the countess, with an affected drawl. "You see," added she, pathetically, "how beautifully I fall into your new-fashioned dialect, and how harmoniously my dulcet notes mingle with those of the court chorus."
"I remember the dulcet notes of a poem written years ago, which were wont to edify the court with a strain that would sound inharmonious there to-day. What would De Montespan and De Maintenon say to such discordant lines as these?" And Louvois began to hum the following:
"La belle Olympe n'a point de seconde, Et l'Amour a bien reuni Dedans l'infanta Mancini Par un avantage supreme Tout ce qui force a dire: J'aime! Et qui l'a fait dire a nos dieux!" [Footnote: "Les Nieces de Mazarion," par Renee, p. 177.]
"What they would say?" replied the countess; "why, they would listen approvingly to a rhapsody which time has falsified, and imagine that I wince to hear it sung. But they would be in error. I thank you for recalling to my mind the golden vision of the past, wherein a king knelt at my feet, and Louvois lived upon my smiles. She who can look back upon conquests such as these, can afford to despise the contrarieties of the present, while she plumes her victorious wings for future flight, wherein she shall attain indemnification for the trifling vexations of to-day."
"I wish you may realize your joyous anticipations," replied Louvois, with a sneer. "But if you will allow me to draw your horoscope, you will confess that I am a wiser seer than your dear friend La Voisin."
For one moment the features of the countess contracted painfully, but she mastered her emotion and was able to reply with a tranquil smile,—"Do so, your excellency, I am all attention."
"I read in the stars that snares encompass you, Countess de Soissons. You have enemies, numerous, powerful, and crafty. At their head stands the queen, who can never forgive you for having opened one of her letters, and having stolen thence a note addressed to the king, which accused her of secret machinations with Spain. Then there is poor Louise de la Valliere, who for your cruel sarcasms shed such oceans of tears—"
"She is in a convent."
"True, but the scars of your persecutions are upon her heart; and although she may be a Christian, think you that she has ceased to be a woman? Third—among the number of those who hate you is the Marquise de Montespan, to whom the brilliant assemblages at the Hotel de Soissons are a source of mortification, for she can never forget that, on more than one occasion, the king has forgotten his rendezvous with her, to linger at the side of his fascinating hostess. And we must not overlook the pious De Maintenon, who lives in constant terror lest some day or other your presence should recall to the king that golden vision of his youth, whereof Olympia Mancini was the enshrined divinity. For this reason you are more obnoxious to the ex-governess than De Montespan herself. The star of the latter favorite is already on the wane, whereas yours may rise again at the bidding of Memory. These four women have long-meditated your destruction, and many are the thorns with which they have strewed your path in life. But, to compass your ruin, there was wanting ONE strong arm that could concentrate their scattered missiles, and hurl them in ONE great bomb at your head. Countess de Soissons, that arm is mine—I, Louvois, the trusted minister of the king, the friend of De Maintenon, the mightiest subject in France—I am the man whose arm shall strike on behalf of your enemies, of whom in me behold the chief! You have thrown me your gauntlet, and I raise it. I proclaim myself your foe, and since there must be war between our races, we shall see whether for the future the Mancinis may not be made to suffer through the Louvois! This is my horoscope, and now mark well my last words: La Voisin the soothsayer was arrested last night."
All the self-control which she could gather to meet this sinister disclosure, could not smother the groan which was upheaved from Olympia's sinking heart.
Louvois affected not to hear it. He bowed low and prepared to take his leave. The countess made no effort to detain him; she was too frightened for circumspection, and she followed his retreating figure with eyes that were all aflame with hate. Nor did their fiery glow abate when, having reached the door, Louvois turned and confronted her.
He surveyed her calmly, but his eye returned hate for hate, and so for a moment they stared at each other, while there passed between the two a silent challenge, which both felt was to be fought out to the death.
After a pause Louvois spoke. His mouth dilated with a cruel smile, which, when its mocking light was seen, betokened peril to those who offended him.
"Madame," said he. "not only has La Voisin been arrested, but her private papers have been seized." So saying, he bowed again and disappeared behind the portiere.
The countess listened to his echoing footsteps until they were no longer audible, nor did she move until she heard the roll of the carriage which bore him away.
Gradually the sound of the receding vehicle melted into distance, and a deep silence ensued. This silence first roused the countess from her lethargy. A tremor convulsed her limbs; her dilated orbs which had been fixed upon the door relaxed, and wandered from the silken hangings of the walls to the gilded furniture around her; from the tables of Florentine marble to the rainbow-tinted chandeliers, whose pendants swayed to and fro in the sunshine. And now they rested dreamily upon a picture which, conspicuous for size and beauty, hung immediately opposite to the sofa whereon she was reclining. It was the full length portrait of a handsome youth. He was not tall, but he was gracefully proportioned. His shoulders were broad; and, rising from the midst of a slender throat, adorned with a fall of lace, appeared his stately head crowned with a wealth of long, brown curls. His face was of a beautiful oval, his complexion clear, his mouth wreathed with happy smiles. The brow was high and arched, and the fine gray eyes beamed with hope and energy. In one hand he held a rose, which he extended to a person not represented in the picture; the other band, half veiled by its overhanging fall of gossamer lace, rested carelessly on the table, while close by lay two rose-buds, which seemed just to have been dropped from the half- open fingers. Over an arm-chair in the background was thrown a mantle of royal ermine, which partially concealed the kingly crown that surmounted its high carved back.
The eyes of the countess were fixed upon this picture with an expression of tender sadness, and slowly, as if yielding to an influence altogether objective, she rose from her seat and advanced toward the portrait, where she remained gazing until her sight was dimmed by tears, while the youth smiled ever, and ever held out the rose.
What golden tribute had his homage brought to her ambition! What ecstasy had it poured into her heart! How truly had she loved that princely boy, who, careless, happy, and fickle, was bestowing upon other women the roses which for her had withered years ago, leaving upon their blighted stems the sharp and cruel thorns of his inconstancy!
Since then, twenty-three years had gone by; she had become a wife and the mother of seven children, but the wound still festered; the old sorrow still sang its mournful dirge within a heart which to-day beat as wildly as ever, and felt a pang as keen as when it first grew jealous, and learned that not she, but Marie, had become the divinity whom Louis worshipped.
Marie, too, had been forsaken, and had stifled the cries of her despairing heart by marriage with another. The fate of both sisters had been the same—a short dream of gratified ambition, followed by long years of humiliation. It seemed that the prosperity and happiness of Cardinal Mazarin's nieces had been coexistent with his life, for when the eyes of their uncle closed in death, the light of their fortunes grew dim and expired.
The portrait of Louis XIV., which was calling up the spectres of so many buried joys, had been painted expressly for Olympia Mancini. It represented his first declaration of love to her, and had been sent as a souvenir of "the brightest hour of his life." He had barely reached his thirty-seventh year, and yet this winsome youth had been transformed into a demure devotee, who, despising the vanities of the world, had turned his heart toward heaven, and spent his life doing penance for the sins of his early manhood!
And this transformation was the work of a woman who had neither beauty, youth, nor birth to recommend her to the favor of a monarch- -a woman who had been the paid governess of the king's bastards, and was not even gifted with intellect enough to cover her other deficiencies!
These last thoughts brought a smile to the face of the countess. Turning suddenly away from the portrait she crossed the room with rapid steps, and placed herself directly in front of a large Venetian mirror which occupied the space between two windows. It gave back the reflection of an exquisite figure, whose outlines contributed much to the grace with which the folds of a blue satin dress fell in rich profusion around it. The white shoulders were scarcely concealed by a shawl of superb lace, and the arms, still round, were set off by costly bracelets. The raven hair, with not a trace of time's finger to discolor its glossy blackness, fell around her face in curls as delicate as the tendrils of a grape. Her brow was smooth and polished, her eyes aglow with passionate longing, and, as her lips curved into a complacent smile, they disclosed two rows of pearly teeth, compact and without a fleck.
Yes, she was not deceived. Olympia de Soissons was a handsome woman, and with so much comeliness, such ready wit, and such unrivalled powers of conversation, she might gird up her loins to do battle with her rivals. Was not Madame de Maintenon her elder by three years? And as for De Montespan, was she not wasting away into an old woman? If they had found it possible to win the heart of this sensual Louis, why not she? This heart had once been all her own, and why should not she, who combined the beauty of one mistress with the shrewdness of the other, dispossess them both, and re-enter into possession of her old domains?
She smiled again, and saw how well her smiles became her. "Yes," said she to herself, "yes, I will recall this truant merlin, and he shall return to perch upon the hand he used to love! I will be mistress of his heart and mistress of his realms. She foretold it all, and gave me the charm wherewith to work the spell."
But as she gave utterance to these last words, her lips began to quiver, and her fine features were distorted by some sudden pain. She had just called to mind the fearful intelligence of La Voisin's arrest.
"Great God! If my letters should have been found among her papers! What, oh what would be MY fate?"
She shuddered—and in place of the triumphant vision of a heart recaptured, a monarch at her feet, there arose the fearful spectacle of an execution which, four years before, she had witnessed at the bloody Place de Greve. Once more she saw the square, black with a mass of human beings, who, jeering, shouting, and cursing, moved hither and thither like the waves of a turbulent ocean; at every window that looked out upon the place, she saw gayly-dressed ladies who peered anxiously out to catch a glimpse of one gloomy object that loomed darkly up from its centre. She saw the crowd give way and part, as, keeping pace with the dull sound of a muffled drum, a sad procession entered upon the scene. At its head marched a battalion of soldiers, and behind them, seated in the felon's cart, came a pale, beautiful woman, who ever and anon pressed to her quivering lips the crucifix held out to her by a priest—that last link of sympathy between the convict and his fellow-creatures. At the criminal's side, in symbolic robes of sanguinary red, was the executioner that was to sever this slender tie, and wrench the spirit from the body to whose guardianship God had committed it on earth. Silently the hideous cortege moved on, while the crowd fell back to let it pass, until the scaffold came to view. How joyously the sun's rays seemed to play around the glittering axe that was to end a career of secret crime! How eagerly the high-born dames bend forward to catch sight of the criminal, as, leaning on the arm of the priest, she tottered to her doom! Olympia remembered only too well the moment when the drum ceased its "discordant sound," and when the silence was so oppressive that the low voice of the condemned was heard uttering her last prayer. She knelt beside the block—a circle of light was described upon the air—and the head fell upon the blood-besprinkled sand.
The Countess de Soissons sickened as she remembered that the woman whom she had seen executed was one of high position, no less a personage than the beautiful and fascinating Marquise de Brinvilliers. Neither her rank, her charms, nor the strenuous efforts of her powerful friends, had been adequate to save her from the headsman's axe. She had been convicted of poisoning, and had shared the fate of other malefactors of less repute. Her confidante La Voisin had been arrested at the time, but as nothing proved her to have been an accomplice of her former mistress she had escaped conviction.
Something new with regard to the fortune-teller must have transpired, for Louvois had considered her arrest as an ill-omen for the Countess de Soissons. Not only for Olympia, however, was the arrest of Catherine a calamity, for she was the trusty counsellor of many a noble lady who, before suspicion had sullied her name, had been the dear and intimate associate of the Marquise de Brinvilliers.
The countess had turned away from the contemplation of her mellow charms, and was on her way to her boudoir. She bolted the door within, and, crossing the room, mounted a chair that stood by the side of a tall mirror set in a thick gilt frame. She touched a spring, when the mirror glided noiselessly aside, revealing a dark recess within the wall.
Olympia slipped through the opening, which closed behind her, darted up a narrow staircase, and, hastily drawing a key from a pocket concealed within the folds of her dress, she unlocked the door of a room whose aspect was anything but appropriate to the pursuits of a lady of quality.
It was to all appearances a kitchen, for one entire side of it was occupied by a hearth full of recesses, each one of which contained a furnace fitted up with iron utensils for cooking. On the mantel, which corresponded to this immense hearth, were ranged pipkins and other vessels of different sizes, interspersed with rows of phials and flasks containing liquids of every imaginable color. On a massive oaken table, in the centre of the apartment, were placed a number of bowls and dishes, and near them lay a disorderly pile of papers, books, and pamphlets.
Olympia approached the hearth, stooped over one of the furnaces, and from a fagot lying near gathered a few small sticks. Over these sticks she poured a fluid from one of her flasks, and then rubbing them briskly together, they began to emit sparks. She placed them under the furnace, added a little more fuel, and in a few moments had a good fire.
She now sprang to her feet, and hastily pushing aside a row of pipkins, opened a small door which had been concealed behind them, above the mantel. From a recess within the wall she took a brass- bound casket, which she placed upon the table.
The casket contained some books, papers, and several diminutive phials. One of these phials she held up to the light, contemplating its contents with manifest satisfaction.
"Herein lies the spell that is to lure my faithless monarch back again. La Voisin may rot in prison, but her mantle of science has fallen upon me, and her secrets are mine. Her last, best gift shall restore me to my throne. Not only did she leave me the means of success, but she foretold the certainty of that success besides. It must be so: La Voisin never erred in her predictions, and I shall triumph!"
Pressing the phial to her lips, Olympia hid it beneath the folds of her lace tucker, murmuring the while, "I shall sip of this nectar anon; for the present, I must provide for discovery."
She took the papers that lay in the casket, and weighing them in her hand said musingly:
"How light they are, and yet how heavy was the gold with which I purchased them! 'Tis a pity they should be destroyed: what if I should forget? But no! oblivion of their treasured secrets were impossible to me; so away with you! You might turn traitors, and I had best anticipate treachery by destruction."
Then followed the books and the contents of the phials remaining in the casket. The blue flames leaped high as these last were added to the cremation, and the room became oppressive with their unwholesome vapor.
"The window must be opened," said Olympia. "This odor might betray me. People might suspect me of having cooked arsenic in my kitchen instead of onions."
With, these words she opened the casement, and the noxious cloud passed slowly out into the air.
"Now all is safe. Louvois can send as many bailiffs as he lists, and should they poke their inquisitive noses into my sanctum, they will find nothing for their pains but an innocent laboratory wherein the Countess de Soissons prepares her cosmetics, and makes experiments in the chemistry of the toilet."
She replaced her casket, searched the mantel carefully, and then glanced sharply around the room to assure herself that she was alone and undiscovered.
Yes! Alone, the witnesses of her guilt consumed, and their ashes etherealized throughout space.
The countess smiled, and, as she locked the door of her laboratory, her spirits revived and her thoughts once more reverted to the ambitious dreams of the morning. When she had reached her boudoir again, and the complaisant mirror had resumed its place, she drew the flask from her bosom, removed the glass stopper, inhaled for a moment its perfume, and then, raising it to her lips, drained the contents to their last drop.
"And this philter is to make me mistress of your heart, King Louis! How I long to begin my reign!"
A slight rustling was heard outside, and the guilty woman trembled anew. She concealed the phial, and listened breathlessly, while her straining eyes were fixed upon the door as though they had hoped to see through its panels of oak whether friend or foe stood without.
A slight knock was heard, and now, in spite of herself, the Countess de Soissons grew pale and shivered. What if the myrmidons of Louvois had come with a lettre de cachet! What if—No! not even HE would go so far in his enmity to the niece of the great cardinal, the relative of the reigning Duke of Savoy, and the daughter-in-law of the Princess Carignan.
So she summoned resolution enough to cross the room, draw back the bolt, and to say in a loud, imperious tone: "Come in."
The door opened, and admitted a young man. The countess no sooner recognized him than she smiled, and, with a slight elevation of her shoulders, said, "Nobody but you."
"Nobody but me," replied the youth, sadly. "I come to ask of my gracious mother an interview."
The countess inclined her head in token of assent; but, as she did so, her eyes rested on the diminutive form of her son with an expression that savored of disdain. The look was unmotherly, and seemed to say, "How can a man of such insignificant appearance be the son of the stately Countess de Soissons?"
And indeed to a careless observer the words were not inappropriate to his dwarfish proportions. His head, which, between his excessively wide shoulders, was perched upon the top of a very long neck, was too large, much too large for his body. His face was narrow, his complexion swarthy, his sallow cheeks high and sunken. A nose slightly turned up, gave an expression of boldness to his countenance, increased by the shortness of his upper lip, which exposed to view two large front teeth that were almost ferocious in their size. On either side of his high, narrow forehead, his hair, instead of being worn according to the prevailing fashion, was suffered to fall in long elf-locks about his ears. Notwithstanding all these disadvantages, his eyes were so superlatively beautiful that they almost persuaded you into the belief that he was handsome. From their lustrous depths there streamed a meteoric splendor, which, more than words, revealed the genius, the enthusiasm, and the noble soul to which Nature had assigned such unworthy corporality.
Those speaking eyes were fixed upon the countess in tender sadness, while, in a respectful attitude near the door, he awaited her permission to approach.
She languidly extended her hand, and, Eugene coming forward, bent over and imprinted upon it a heartfelt kiss.
"My dear mother then consents?" said he, humbly.
"I know of no reason why I should refuse," replied the countess, carelessly. "Neither am I able to divine wherefore you make your request in a tone of such unusual solemnity. One would suppose that the little abbe has come to invite his mother to a confession of her sins, so portentous is his demeanor."
"Would I could receive that confession," exclaimed he, earnestly; "would I could look into my mother's heart and read the secrets there!"
"Indeed! and have you come hither to catechise your mother, then?" said the countess, with a frown.
"No, dear mother, no," cried Eugene, eagerly; "I have come to ask of you whether I may walk with head erect before the world, or whether I must die because of our dishonor?"
"An extraordinary alternative to present for my decision, certainly; and I confess that I am very curious to learn how it happens that I can assist you in your dilemma. Speak, then, and I will listen."
With these words the countess threw herself indolently into an arm- chair, and motioned Eugene to a seat. But he only advanced a step or two, and gazed wistfully upon her handsome, hardened face.
"Mother," said he, in a low, husky voice, "the soothsayer La Voisin has been arrested."
"Ah! what else?" asked the countess, with perfect composure.
"Her house is guarded, every corner has been searched, and her papers have all been seized."
"And what else?" repeated the countess.
Her son looked up, and a ray of hope shot athwart his pale and anxious face. "Nothing is talked of in Paris," continued he, "but the strange revelations connected with her arrest. It is said that she not only drew the horoscope of those who were accustomed to visit her, and gave them philters, but—but—"
"But," echoed the countess as her son paused.
"But that she prepared secret poisons, one of which, called 'La poudre de succession,' was specially designed for the use of those who wished to remove an inconvenient relative."
This time the countess was silent; her brow contracted, and she shivered perceptibly.
An involuntary cry burst from the lips of her son, which recalled her to a sense of her imprudence.
"What ails you?" asked she, abruptly. "Have you seen a ghost, that you cry out in a voice so unearthly?"
"Yes, mother, I have seen a ghost—the ghost of my father! "And while the countess grew pale, and her eyes dilated with fear, her unhappy son sank upon his knees before her, and clasped his hands with agony of apprehension.
"Mother, have mercy on me, and forgive me if, in the anguish of my writhing soul, I ask you whether you are innocent of my father's death?"
"Has any one dared to accuse me?" asked she, with a scowl.
"Ay! And so publicly, that men spoke of it together as I passed them in the streets to-day. Need I say that I was ready to die of grief as I heard the epithet of murderess applied to the mother who to me has been the ideal of beauty, goodness, and excellence, which my heart has worshipped to the exclusion of all other loves! My brain was on fire as I dashed through the scornful crowd, and made my way to you, mother, here to look upon your dear face, and read in your eyes your innocence of the hideous crime. We are alone with God: in mercy tell me, are you innocent or guilty?"
As he raised his face to hers, the countess saw there such powerful love struggling with his anguish, that her heart was touched, and the angry words she had meditated died upon her lips.
"These are cruel doubts wherewith to assail your mother, Eugene," said she, after a pause. "Follow me, and in the presence of your forefathers you shall he answered."
With a lofty bend of the head, she left the room, followed by her stricken child. They crossed a spacious hall, and traversed one after another the apartments of state which were thrown open to guests on occasions of great ceremony, and led to the grand hall of reception. At the farther end of this hall, under a canopy of purple velvet, surmounted by a ducal crown, were the two thrones which, on the days of these state receptions, the Count and Countess de Soissons were privileged to occupy in presence of their guests, provided his majesty were not of the number. This right they held by virtue of their connection with the royal house of France, and their close relationship to the Duke of Savoy. At the time of the marriage of his niece with the Count de Soissons, Cardinal Mazarin had obtained from Louis XIV. an acknowledgment of her husband as a prince of the blood, and, by virtue of this acknowledgment, his right to attend without invitation all court festivities, to appear at the public and private levees of the king, and in his own palace to sit upon a throne.
On either side of the throne-room of the Hotel de Soissons were ranged the portraits of their ancestors, in armor, in ducal or episcopal robes, in doublet and hose, or in flowing wigs. Silently the mother and son walked by the stately effigies of princes and princesses, until they had reached the farthest portrait there.
With outstretched arms the countess pointed to the likeness of a handsome man, clad in a rich court-suit, which well became his aristocratic figure. As he gazed upon the pleasant smile that illumined a face expressive of exceeding goodness, the eyes of young Eugene filled with tears.
His mother surveyed him with a curl of her lip.
"Tears!" said she. "And yet you stand before the portrait of your father, whom you accuse me of having murdered!"
"No, no," cried her son, eagerly, "I did not accuse, I—I—"
"You inquired," interrupted the countess, disdainfully. "And by your inquiry you insinuate that such a crime by the hand of your mother was not only possible, but probable."
"Unhappily, I have more than once seen La Voisin in your boudoir, mother."
The countess affected not to hear. "Then a son considers himself justifiable in asking of his mother whether or not she poisoned his father; he should do so with the sword of justice in his hand, not with an eyelid that trembles with cowardly tears."
"Mother, have pity on me," sobbed Eugene, throwing himself at her feet. "Do not answer my cruel question, for I read your innocence in the noble scorn that flashes from your eye, and beams from every feature of your dear, truthful face. Pardon me, beloved mother; pardon your repentant child."
"No, I shall not pardon the poltroon who, believing that his mother has disgraced his escutcheon, weeps like a woman over wrongs which he should avenge like a man. But I forgot. The little abbe of Savoy is not accustomed to wear a sword; HIS weapon is the missal. Go, then, to your prayers, and when you pray for your father's soul, ask forgiveness of God for your heartless and ungrateful conduct to his widow."
"Dear, dear mother, have pity!" sobbed Eugene, still kneeling at her feet.
"Was there any pity in your heart for me when you asked that shameful question?"
"I was demented," cried he; "maddened by the sneers that were flung at me in the streets to-day."
"And, to console yourself, you joined in the popular cry. 'Vox populi vox Dei,' I suppose, is your pious motto."
"Mother!" cried Eugene, springing to his feet, "crush me, if you will, under the weight of your anger, but do not stretch me upon the rack of your scorn. I am no devotee; and, if the king, my family, and yourself, are, forcing me into a career which is repugnant to every instinct of my manhood, pity me, if you will, but do not insult me."
"Pity you!" sneered the countess. "I am a woman; but he who would venture to pity ME, would receive my glove in his face for his insolence. Go, faint heart! You are fit for nothing but a whining priest, for there is not a spark of manhood within your sluggish breast. No generous blood of the princes of Savoy mantles in your sallow check; 'tis the ichorous fluid of the churchman Mazarin that- -"
"Mother!" thundered Eugene, with a force that gave the lie to her derisive words—"mother, you shall go no further in your disdain of me, for the blood of Savoy is seething within my veins, and I may, perchance, forget that she who so affronts my father's son, is my mother!"
"You have already forgotten," replied the countess, coldly. "My answer to your infamous charge shall be made not to you, but to your ancestors."
So saying, she bent her steps toward the ducal throne, and seating herself thereon, addressed her son:
"Eugene of Savoy, Prince of Carignan, Bourbon, and Piedmont, bend your knee before the mother that bore you, and hearken to her words."
The prince obeyed, and knelt at the foot of the throne.
The countess raised her arm, and pointed to the portraits that hung: around. "You have been witnesses," said she, addressing them all, "to the outrage which has been put upon me to-day by him who inherits your name, but not your worth. If I am the guilty wretch which he has pronounced me to be, strike me to the earth for my crimes, and justify his parricidal words. But you know that I am innocent, and that, with bitter tears, I lamented the death of my murdered husband!"
"Murdered!" exclaimed Eugene. "It is, then, true that he was murdered?"
"Yes," replied the countess, "he was murdered, but not by bowl or dagger."
With these words, she rose, and, slowly descending from her throne, she returned to the spot which she had left, and gazed mournfully upon her husband's portrait. "He was a noble, brave, and gallant prince," said she, softly. "He loved me unspeakably, and wherefore should I have taken the life of him whose whole pleasure lay in ministering to my happiness? What could I gain by the death of the dearest friend I ever had? Ah, never would he have mistrusted his Olympia! Had the envious rabble of Paris defamed me while he lived to defend my honor, it is not your father, Prince Eugene, that would have joined my traducers and outraged my woman-hood, as you have done to-day!"
"Forgive me," murmured the prince.
"Yes, my beloved," continued she, addressing the picture, "they accuse me of murdering thee, because they seek my ruin as they compassed thine."
"Who, dear mother, who?" cried Eugene, passionately. "Who are the fiends that murdered my father and calumniate my mother?"
"They are Louis XIV.," exclaimed the countess, "his minister Louvois, and his two mistresses, De Montespan and De Maintenon."
"The king!" echoed Eugene, in a voice of such fury, that his mother turned her eyes from the portrait, and stared at him with amazement.
"You hate the king?" said she, hurriedly.
"Yes," said Eugene, his eyes flashing fire; "yes, I hate him."
"Do not ask me, mother; I dare not say wherefore I hate the king."
"Then I will tell you why. You hate him because you believe the scandalous reports which my enemies have spread throughout Europe as regards my relations, in years gone by, with Louis. You believe that your mother was once the king's mistress, and that, to hide her shame, she borrowed the name of the Count de Soissons."
Eugene made no reply.
"Ah, why have I no son to shelter me from these infamous suspicions! Why must I live and die under such false and disgraceful imputations?"
"Then, it is not true?" cried Eugene, joyfully. "You did not love the king, mother?"
"Yes, I did love him," said she, calmly, "and loved him as an Italian alone can love."
Eugene groaned, and covered his face with his hands.
"I do not deny the love," continued the countess, "for it was all the work of Cardinal Mazarin. He brought me from Italy, and bade me win the king's heart and become a queen; and when he did so he added a recommendation to me to be a good, dutiful niece, and never to forget who it was had helped me to a crown. I saw the youth whom the cardinal desired me to love: the handsomest, wittiest, and most accomplished cavalier in France. I obeyed but too willingly, and Louis became the idol of my life."
"Then it is true that my mother was beloved by the king?" said Eugene, sternly.
"Beloved by him, but never his mistress!" returned the countess, proudly. "Yes, he loved me as I did him, with the trust, the strength, the passion, that are characteristic of a first love. I was ambitious for him as well as for myself, and would have had him a monarch in deed as well as in name. I led him away from the frivolous regions of indolent enjoyment to the starry realms of poetry, art, and science; and, had Louis ever risen to the fame of Numa, I should have merited that of Egeria. But this conflicted with the ambition of the cardinal. He had no sooner comprehended the nature of the influence I exerted over his royal tool, than he poisoned his ear by insinuating that ambition, not love, was the spring of all my efforts to elevate him to the level of his magnificent destiny. Poor, weak Louis! He was anything that Cardinal Mazarin chose to make him; so at the word of command he ceased to love, and went to make an offering of his accommodating affections to Marie. She made him take an oath never to look at me again."
"Did he respect the oath?"
"Just so long as he loved Marie. I need not tell you that I suffered from his inconstancy. I was inexpressibly grieved; but pride upheld me, and Louis never received a word or look of reproach for his faithlessness. Meanwhile your father offered his hand, and before I accepted it he was made acquainted with the history of my heart. I concealed nothing from him, so that he was at once the confidant of my past sorrows, and their comforter."
"Thank you, dear, dear mother," said Eugene, tenderly. "In the name of all your children, let me thank you for your noble candor."
"I married the Prince de Soissons, and here, in presence of his assembled ancestors, I swear that I have kept unstained the faith I pledged him at the marriage-altar. Let the world belie me as it will, Olympia Mancini has ever been a spotless wife. So true is this, that Louis, when he had abandoned Marie, and had tired of his queen, returned to me with vows of a love which he swore had been the only genuine passion of his life; and when, as my husband's loyal wife, I repulsed the advances of his sovereign, that sovereign became my bitterest enemy. Not even after he had consoled himself with the insipid charms of that poor, flimsy creature, La Valliere, did Louis relent; his animosity, because of some witticism of mine on the subject of his hysterical mistress, has pursued me throughout life; not only me, but every member of my family. For a mere epigram I was banished from Paris, and your father stripped of a lucrative and honorable office. We managed after a time to return to court, but my enemies were more powerful than I. Through the jealousy of the Marquise de Montespan I was a second time banished; but before we left, your father fought two duels with noblemen who had circulated the calumnies which the marquise had originated concerning me. The Duke de Noailles was wounded, and the Chevalier de Grand Mercy killed. Although the challenges had been honorably sent and accepted, the Count de Soissons was summoned before the king and publicly rebuked. Oh, let me speak no longer of the contumely we endured during those bitter days! My husband died, blessing me, and cursing the selfish monarch who had ruined us both."
Eugene clinched his hand. "I shall remember the curse," cried he, "and it shall be verified if God give me strength, mother!"
"Yes, avenge us if you can, Eugene, but, until the day of reckoning come, we must be politic and wary. Be silent and discreet as I was, when, on being allowed to return to Paris, I humbled myself for my dear children's sake, and not only swore to write no more epigrams, but went in person to sue to Madame de Montespan for pardon and protection!"
"Mother, is it possible! Far better had it been for us to die obscurely in some provincial village, than purchase our admission to court at the price of such humiliation as that!"
"No, no—I had sworn to be revenged upon my persecutors, and no plan of vendetta could I carry out in a provincial village. Do you remember what I told my sons on the day of our return to the Hotel de Soissons?"
"Ay, mother, that do I. You said: 'Bow your heads in ostensible humility, but never forget that the Bourbons have robbed you of your inheritance. Never forget that if you are poor, it is because on some idle pretext of a conspiracy that never could be proved, Louis XIV. sequestered the estates of the Counts de Soissons.' These were your words, and you see that I have not forgotten them. They are the steel on which I have sharpened the hate I feel for the King of France. And now that its edge is keen, why may I not lift it against the man who belied my mother, and murdered my father? Oh mother, mother, why will you force me to become a priest?"
"What else could you become?" asked Olympia. "The king is your guardian, and he it is that from your childhood has destined you for the church."
"I hate this garb," exclaimed Eugene, touching his cassock. "My vocation is not for the priesthood, and, if I am called upon to utter compulsory vows, I feel that I shall disgrace my cloth. Dear mother, loosen the detested bonds that bind me to a listless and contemplative life! Gird me with a sword, and let me go out to battle with the world like a man!"
The countess looked disdainfully at the diminutive figure of her son, and raised her shoulders with contempt. "You a soldier!"
"Yes!" exclaimed Eugene, passionately. "Yes! My soul abhors the cloister, and yearns for the battle-field. While you have fancied that I was studying theology, I have been poring over the lives of great commanders; and, instead of preparing my soul for heaven, I have trained my body for earthly strife. Look not so compassionately upon my stature, mother. This body is slender, but 'tis the coat of mail that covers an intrepid soul, and I have hardened it until it can bid defiance to wind or weather. With this arm I curb the wildest horse, nor will its sinews yield to the blow of the most practised swordsman in France. I have studied the science of warfare in books: my life has been one long preparation for its practice, and I cannot, will not relinquish my day-dreams of glory."
"There is no help for it, I tell you. All princes of the blood are wards of the king: your royal guardian has chosen your profession, and you must either submit or bear the consequences of his wrath."
"What care I for his wrath? Let him give me my freedom, and I will promise never to seek my fortune at his hands."
"At all events, wait for some favorable opportunity to rebel, Eugene. We are poor and dependent now, and your brother's scandalous marriage has forever marred our hopes of seeing him heir to the duchy of Savoy. To think of a Prince de Carignan uniting himself to the daughter of the equerry of the Prince de Conde! What a disgrace!"
"My brother consulted his heart and not his escutcheon," replied Eugene, with a smile. "He followed the example of his father, and may God bless him with a wife as beautiful and as virtuous as his mother!"
The countess, who had begun to frown at Eugene's apology for his brother, could not resist this filial flattery. She gave him her hand, which he kissed devoutly.
"You no longer believe me guilty, my son?" said she. Eugene knelt and murmured: "Pardon, dear, dear mother! My life will be all too short to expiate my unworthy doubts, and to avenge your wrongs."
"Avenge them, but do not exasperate the king. Imitate Richelieu and Mazarin, and the priest's gown will no longer be distasteful to you. They were great in the field and in the cabinet, and both possessed more than regal power, for both were the rulers of kings."
Eugene was about to reply, but Olympia raised her hand in remonstrance, and continued:
"I exact of you, for a time at least, apparent submission and perfect silence. When the hour is ripe for retaliation, you shall strike, and repay me for all that I have endured at the hands of the king. But, for the present, breathe not the name of Louis above a whisper. I have a deadlier foe than he to encounter now. Louvois, Louvois, I dread above all other men; and if you have the strength of a man in your arm, Eugene, let the force of its vengeance fall upon the head of him, whose animosity is more potent than that of all my other enemies united."
"It shall crush him and all who seek to injure you, mother. Revenge!—yes, revenge for your wrongs, for my father's death, and for MY bondage!"
"Ay, revenge, Eugene! A man may wear the garb of an ecclesiastic with the heart of a hero, and to your brave heart these Princes of Carignan commit my cause! Come, let us leave our ancestors to their grim repose. May they lend their ghostly aid to the arm that wields the carnal weapons of our righteous vengeance!"
As she turned to leave the gallery, the train of her blue satin dress became entangled in the claws of the lion which supported the throne. Eugene stooped hastily to release it, and, instead of dropping it again, he smiled affectionately upon his mother and placed himself in the attitude of a page.
The countess looked pleased at the attention, and said, "Have you learned, among your other accomplishments, to be a trainbearer?"
"Yes, mother, I have learned to be your trainbearer, but to no other mortal would I condescend to do such service."
But Olympia was not listening. She was day-dreaming again, and the substance of her dreams was as follows:
"How soon, perchance, the court of France may bear my train along, while I, victorious and exultant, crush the head of my enemies beneath my heel! I feel the glow of the philter as it courses through my veins, warming the blood that shall mantle in my cheeks, kindling the fire that shall flash from my eyes! The hour is nigh when I am to make my last supreme effort for mastery over the heart of Louis: if I fail—I have an avenger in Eugene, who—"
At this moment an outcry was heard in the streets, and as Olympia opened the door of her cabinet, she was confronted by her steward, who, unannounced, stood pale as death before his astonished mistress.
"What, in the name of Heaven, is the matter?" exclaimed she. "Whence these discordant yells without, and how comes it that you enter my private apartments without a summons?"
"I trust your highness will pardon my boldness; the case is too urgent to admit of formalities, and I come to receive your instructions as to—"
Here the voice of the steward was overpowered by the yells of the populace without, and for several moments the countess and her son stood in speechless amazement, waiting an explanation. "What can it mean?" asked she at last.
"Your highness," replied the trembling steward, "the court is filled with an infuriated mob, who rushed in before we had time to close the gates."
Eugene, with an exclamation of dismay, would have darted to the window, but the steward raised his hand imploringly.
"Do not let them see you, prince," cried he. "They have torn up the pavement, and with the stones have shattered the windows of the lower story."
"Then it is a riot," said the countess, "and the canaille of Paris have rebelled against the aristocracy."
"Unhappily, your highness, their anger is directed exclusively against the Hotel Soissons, and, if I judged by the number of our assailants, I should say that all Paris has joined in the attack. Not only the canaille are here, but, as I was hurrying to the corps de garde to ask for protection, I saw more than one well-dressed personage descend from his carriage and come thither to increase the number of our enemies."
"I understand," said the countess, setting her teeth, "the anger of the mob is directed against ME."
"Mother," whispered Eugene, "they must be the same men whom I met in the streets, and whose jeers drove me thither to add to your misery the stab of my unfilial doubts."
"Did you say that you had sent off for guards?" asked she of Latour.
"Yes. your highness. I went at once to the headquarters of the corps de garde, and the officer of the day promised immediate succor."
"It will not be sent," returned Olympia. "But hark! What tumult is this?"
"They are battering the palace-doors," said Eugene, who, in spite of the steward's entreaties, had approached the window and was looking down upon the mob. The palace de Soissons fronted the Poie Deux Ecus, from which it was separated by a tall iron railing. The enclosure was filled with a throng so dense that there was scarcely room for them to move a limb; and yet, in their regular assaults upon the palace-doors, they seemed to be obeying the commands of some unseen chief.
Eugene surveyed the scene with something of that calm but powerful interest which possesses the soul of a commander about to engage the enemy.
"The multitude increase," said he. "If they continue to press in much longer, the court will be so thronged that no more missiles can be thrown."
At that very moment the windows were assailed by a hail-storm of stones, one of which fell at Olympia's feet. She touched it with the point of her satin slipper, remarking as she did so, "This is a greeting from Louvois."
"For God's sake, your highness, be not so rash!" exclaimed Latour, as a second stone flew over the head of the prince, and shattered part of a cornice close by.
Eugene had not moved. He heeded neither steward nor stone, but stood with folded arms, looking upon the terrible concourse of his mother's accusers. His face was very pale and resolute; it expressed nothing beyond stern endurance; but the eye was threatening, and the dwarfish figure had expanded until the abbe was forgotten, and in his place stood the implacable foe of Louis XIV.
"Yes," said he, "I was right. The crowd is so dense that they now threaten one another, and, unless they force the entrance to the palace, they will be crushed by their own numbers."
"They will never force the entrance," said Latour. "The door is barred and bolted, and they may bombard it for a day before they ever make an impression upon the stout plates of iron with which it is lined."
"Ay," replied Eugene, with a smile. "Catharine de Medicis knew how to build a stronghold. She knew from experience what it is to face an insurrection, and took her precautions accordingly. We owe her a debt of gratitude for our security—Good heavens!" cried he, interrupting himself, "they have found means to send us another salvo."
A shower of stones came rattling toward the very window where he stood, one of which struck the countess on the shoulder and caused her to wince.
Once more Latour besought her to take refuge in another apartment.
"You have said that they cannot force the entrance: what do you fear?" said she.
"I fear the stones, your highness."
"Then I will prove to the rabble that I, no more than Cardinal Mazarin, am to be terrified by stones," returned Olympia, approaching the window and placing herself at the side of her son.
The multitude, as they recognized her, broke forth into a wild shout of abhorrence.
"Look! there is the woman who murdered her husband, and would have murdered her children too!" "There is the wretch who would have poisoned the king!" "There stands the accomplice of La Voisin!" "And while her tool languishes in prison, she has no right to breathe the free air of heaven!" "Away with her to the Bastile!" "To the Bastile, to the Bastile!" "No! let her be burned for her crimes!"
"Louvois! Louvois!" murmured Olympia, her brow reddening with humiliation.
Another yell from the besiegers was silenced by a loud voice, whose words of command rose clear above the tumult.
"I knew it," said Eugene, "they have a leader. There is a method in these manifestations which shows that they are not the disconnected efforts of a many-headed monster."
"Great God! And the guards are not even to be seen!" cried Latour, who stood with folded hands, murmuring snatches of prayer for help.
"Nor will they be seen," added Olympia, in a low voice.
Eugene was glancing now at his mother, now at her persecutors. As his eye wandered from one to another of the uplifted and angry faces below, he saw two men somewhat elevated above the rest, who with their outstretched arms were giving the signal for a fresh onslaught. No demonstration, however, followed the command, for the people had gravitated into one solid body, of which no portion was capable of independent action.
"Now," thought the prince, "now would be the opportunity for retaliation. If I had but the means!—Latour." continued he, aloud, "do the iron gates of entrance open within or without?"
"Without, your highness."
"So that if we could get access to the street, we might cage up these base-born villains, might we not?"
"Yes, your highness; but he who shuts the gates must undo the chains by which they are fastened back."
"Who has the keys?"
"I, your highness. I have them now upon my person."
"There are outlets by which you could gain access to the gates without facing the people?"
"Certainly, your highness," began Latour; but his words were drowned in another outburst of howlings from the maddened mob, and another discharge of stones whizzed through the air, crushing the mullions of the windows to splinters, and dashing their fragments of shivering glass into the very faces of the unfortunate besieged.
"If the guards would but come!" said Latour, reiterating for the twentieth time his doleful refrain.
"Since it appears that they have no intention of coming," replied the prince, "we must e'en take this matter of defence in our own hands. Hasten, Latour, to the street—undo the fastenings, and quick as thought lock the gates!"
"But, your highness, do you suppose that I shall be suffered by that infuriated crowd to lock or unlock the gates at pleasure?"
"Never fear; their faces are all turned toward the palace. You will have accomplished the thing before they know that you have undertaken it. Take two other men with you, who, as soon as you release the chains, must fling the gates together, while you relock them. Now be dexterous, and you will have performed no unimportant feat of strategy."
"I will do my best, your highness."
"Before you go, summon the household to my presence. How many men are there at home to-day?"
"Twelve, your highness."
"Enough to settle with two thousand such wretches."
Latour darted away on his double mission, and the prince turned to his mother, who, undaunted and defiant, still stood before the window contemplating her assailants, giving back look for look of scorn and abhorrence.
"May I beg of my dear mother permission to absent myself for a while?" said Eugene.
The countess looked round with inquiring eyes. "Whither would you go, my son?" asked she.
"I wish to give some orders to the domestics, to arm them, and assign to each man his post."
"Where will you find weapons, my son?"
"I have among my effects a small collection of fire-arms. They are all in good order, and all loaded. I have nothing to do but distribute them, and place my men."
The countess smiled. "In good sooth, I begin to believe that you are fitter for a soldier than for a churchman. But you are not in earnest when you speak of using firearms?"
"Why not? We are attacked, and, obeying the laws of necessity, we defend ourselves. Unfortunately, we are forced to remain on the defensive; I only wish I had an opportunity to attack."
"But what means that new outbreak of fury?" asked the countess, returning to the window.
"It means," cried Eugene, joyfully, "that Latour has been successful, and the gates are locked. The ruffians have discovered the snare, and they howl accordingly. Now to my garrison; I must station it with judgment, for it is not numerous."
"I will accompany you, my son," said the countess. "I would not miss the sight of the first exploit of my future cardinal, him who promises to unite in his own person the wisdom of Mazarin with the prowess of Richelieu!"
The servants were assembled in the hall, whither they had taken refuge from the stones and splintering glass, that were flying in the palace windows. They were not a very valiant-looking body of troops, but their commander made no comment upon their dismayed faces. He merely counted them and spoke to his valet.
"Darmont, conduct these men to the armory, and provide each one with a musket. Let them handle the guns carefully, for they are heavily loaded. Bring me my pistols also. And now, away! and return quickly."
Silently, and, to all appearances, not much edified by these recommendations, the domestics followed Darmont, while Eugene returned to his station at the window.
"Not only have they a leader," said he, "but I believe that they were instigated to make this attack, mother."
"No doubt of it," replied Olympia; "and since Louvois has dared so much, we may infer that he has the sanction of the king for his brutality."
"Look!" cried Eugene, catching her arm, "there is the leader!—that tall man in the brown suit, with bright buttons, who stands upon the stone seat, near the gates."
"I see him," returned the countess. "He is speaking with two men who are directly in front of him. This person looks familiar to me: I have surely seen that tall figure and those wide shoulders before. If his hat were not drawn so far over his brows, and we could but see his face, our doubts as to the source of this outrage would speedily be solved."
"He has been giving instructions, for the two men are addressing the crowd. I fear we must look out for another bombardment."
And so it seemed; for the mob, having recovered from their momentary fright, were evidently preparing for action. Hundreds of brawny arms, each one of which grasped a stone, were raised into the air: while as many stooping forms were seen, crouching close to the ground, that they might leave room for the slingers to hurl their missiles without impediment.
"That is a good manoeuvre," said Eugene. "Their leader understands strategic warfare. They are ready, and await the word of command. It comes! Stand back, mother!"
A crash was heard, but not a stone had been aimed at the windows. "Ah, I understand," cried Eugene. "They are trying to force the door, and so obtain their release. Thank Heaven! Here comes the garrison, a handful of braves who, I hope, are destined to change the fortunes of the day.—Now," continued he, advancing to meet them, "listen to me. There are twelve of you, and the hall has seven openings. Leave the central window free, and station yourselves two at each one of the other six. Throw open the casements, cock your guns, and be ready for the word of command. Darmont, give me my pistols."
With one of these in either hand, Eugene stationed himself at the window in the centre, while his mother stood by his side.
"They are about to favor us with another volley," said the prince. "Neither they nor their leader have as yet remarked the changed aspect of the palace-windows."
"The hat of the leader is purposely drawn down, and, while he succeeds in concealing his features, he loses sight of the danger which threatens from above. So much the better for us; but I do long to have a sight of his face," returned the countess.
"You shall have your wish," replied Eugene, with a smile. "I will knock off his hat, and your curiosity shall be gratified."
"How will you manage to do that?"
"You shall see," said he, raising the pistol that he held in his right hand.
He fired, and when the smoke had cleared away, the face of the leader was exposed to view. The ball had struck the hat, which had fallen, and now a pair of dark, sinister eyes were glaring at the spot whence the insult had been sent.
"Have a care," said the prince, leaning forward and addressing the crowd. "If you send another missile against these walls, I will have twelve of your lives!"
The men, who were just about to fling their stones, paused and stared at one another in dumb perplexity.
Their leader, pale with rage, gave the word of command.
Eugene heard it, and called out in clear, defiant tones: "If the leader of this riot attempt a repetition of his order, I will break his right arm."
"Another volley, men!" shouted the chief.
A second report from the window was heard, which was answered by a yell from below. Eugene's ball had pierced the elbow of the leader, and the dismayed crowd had made a hasty movement toward the gates.
"Do you not see that there is no egress for you except through the palace? Look at the murderess there, instigating her whelp to new crimes! She exults over your weakness, and laughs at your panic. On! on! Batter down the doors!"
"On!" echoed the mob; and their stones were flung with such frenzy against the palace-doors, that its very walls trembled.
"Fire!" called out the sonorous voice of Eugene, and in another moment might be seen the sinking forms of twelve of the rioters, while, among the others, some were pale with fright, and a few cried out that they would he revenged.
"Revenge is for those whom you have insulted and attacked," replied the prince, deliberately. "You have made a cowardly assault upon a noble lady, and not one of you shall leave this place alive!—Make ready! Take aim!" continued he to his men.
The click of the locks was distinctly heard, and in the crowd each man fancied that one of those carbines was aimed at his own head. The mob was losing heart; not even their leader was to be seen or heard. He had taken refuge in a sheltered corner of the court, where his wounds were being bound up by his lieutenants. Inconspicuous as he was, however, the sharp eyes of Olympia had followed him to his retreat. Not for one moment did she lose sight of him; she was determined to solve the enigma of his identity. As the last bellicose words of Prince Eugene rang through the ears of his dismayed followers, the wounded ringleader flung back his head with such sudden haste, that its masses of dark, tangled hair were entirely thrown aside, and the face that was revealed by their removal, caused the countess to start and utter an exclamation of surprise. As Eugene was about to give the command to fire, his mother caught his arm, and whispered in his ear:
"My son, I now think that I can tell you the name of yonder caitiff there, and, if I have guessed rightly, it were better for us to cease hostile demonstrations, and capitulate."
"Capitulate!" cried the prince, indignantly. "Capitulate with the rabble! Who can be this man that has so suddenly cowered the heart of my noble mother?"
"I think that he is the son of Louvois," whispered she.
"Ah, the presuming Barbesieur, who would have given his name to a Princess de Carignan?"
"Yes—the same. His beard is dyed, and he wears false locks, but, spite of his disguise, I feel sure that it is Barbesieur. And I warn you, Eugene! harm not a hair on his head, for he is the favorite son of the mightiest man in France—mighty and vindictive. Kill as many of the rabble as you will; but give positive orders to your men not to touch Barbesieur Louvois."
"I ought to command them to fire on no other man, for he is responsible for the acts of every rioter here."
"That would be to cast your entire family into the very jaws of destruction. These men who call me murderess, could not be made to believe that I have the tenderness of a mother for my children; but you, Eugene, who know how dearly I love you all, you can understand that no revenge would be sweet that was purchased at the expense of my children's welfare. Spare, then, I implore you, the man who holds your destinies in his unfriendly hand."
"So be it," sighed Eugene, and he went from man to man, saying in a low voice, "Direct your fire toward the left." He then took his station at the central window, and, raising his arm, called out a second time: "Make ready! Take aim!"
The multitude heard, and their exceeding consternation found utterance in one prolonged shriek of horror.
"Do not fire!" screamed a hundred voices. "Do not fire! We are defenceless!"
The order was countermanded, and the self-possessed defender of the beleaguered palace advanced his head and contemplated the ignoble faces of his enemies.
"You acknowledge yourself baffled, then? You are willing to retreat?"
"Ay!" was the ready response of every rioter there.
"You swear to desist now and forever from your infamous attack upon this palace? You swear never more to make use of vituperative epithets toward the family of the deceased Count de Soissons?"
"We swear, we swear! Open the gates! Let us out! Let us out!" was now the universal cry.
"Not so fast. Before you have my permission to retire, I must have unequivocal, outspoken evidence of your repentance and conversion. You have presumed to asperse the good name of the Countess de Soissons. Take back your injurious words, and cheer her now, right lustily. Cry out three times, 'Long live the noble Countess de Soissons!' and, if your acclamations are to my mind, I will open the gates."
The reply to these conditions was a greeting so enthusiastic and so unanimous, that you would have sworn the mob had assembled before the hotel to tender to its inmates a popular ovation.
"Miserable canaille!" muttered their chief; "they are base enough to hurl their stones at ME, if that beardless manikin up there should require it of them, as a peace-offering to his immaculate mother!"
"I told your excellency that you could not trust them," replied the companion on whose arm he was leaning. "It is a dangerous thing to be identified with any action of theirs."
"You were right, Francois. Give me your arm, and let us try to reach the gates, so as to be the first to escape from this accursed man- trap."
"You have cheered the countess but once," cried Eugene to the multitude. "Do you wish me to renew our strife?"
"Long live the noble Countess de Soissons!" was the prompt reply. And, without waiting for a third suggestion, they shouted again and again, "Long live the Countess de Soissons!"
Olympia's flashing eyes rested proudly on her son. "I thank you, Eugene: you have avenged me effectually. All Paris will be filled with lampoons on the ridiculous repulse of the valiant Barbesieur and his followers."
Eugene made no reply. His eyes were fixed upon the personage whom they supposed to be the son of Louvois, and the prince knew perfectly well wherefore he seemed in such nervous haste to reach the gates.
"He hopes to escape without recognition," muttered Eugene, "but I must have a word with him before we part."
"Open the gates!" clamored the populace anew; then suddenly there was a cry of alarm which was echoed from man to man, from group to group, until it shaped itself into these words: "The guards! The guards!"
Thundering down the street came a troop of horsemen who halted directly in front of the palace-gates.
"Louvois' spies have been reporting the failure of his son's warlike expedition," remarked Olympia, "and the guards whom WE had vainly called to our help, have come in hot haste to protect our assailants."
By this time the officer in command was at the gates making vain efforts to open them.
"What does this signify?" asked he. "And what is this multitude about in the court of the Hotel de Soissons?"
"Look at the palace-windows and the palace-doors, and you will read your answer there," replied Eugene. "I closed the gates against a furious and misguided mob; but we have come to terms, and I am about to liberate them. I crave your indulgence for these poor fellows: they have been deceived, and knew not what they did, and I hope that you will make good the forgiveness I have extended to their fault, by allowing them to go hence without molestation."
"If so," replied the officer, "I shall be happy to confirm you highness's clemency by carrying out your order for their release."
"Is it possible," asked the countess of her son, "that you are in earnest? You intend to suffer those wretches to go away unharmed! Because I asked your forbearance for one man, shall this vile horde be snatched from the hands of justice!"
"Do you suppose that justice has any intention of overtaking them?" asked Eugene, with a significant smile. "Believe me, dear mother, I do but anticipate the object for which the guards were sent, and spare myself and you the humiliation of publishing to the world that neither law nor justice takes cognizance of the wrongs of the Countess de Soissons. These men have come hither to succor our enemies, not us."
"Ah, my son, I begin to appreciate you. You have inherited the sagacity of your great uncle," returned Olympia.
"Open the gates! open the gates!" cried the rioters.
"Will your highness be pleased to send some one to release your prisoners?" asked the captain of the guardsmen.
"I shall be there myself, in a moment," was the reply.
"You!" exclaimed the countess. "Would you expose yourself to the vengeance of the populace, Eugene?"
"They will not molest me. Barbesieur Louvois has reached the gates, and I must greet him ere he goes.—Come, Latour and Darmont, and show me the way by the private staircase. The rest of you keep your posts and be watchful, for the struggle may be renewed, and it is just possible that I may have to order you to fire.—And now shall I conduct my mother to her boudoir?"
"No, my son, I remain here to observe what passes below, nor will I retire until I shall have seen the ending of this curious spectacle."
Eugene bowed and withdrew. "Go before, Latour," said he. "I am unacquainted with the private inlets and outlets of the palace."
Latour obeyed, saying to himself: "They may well make a priest of this virtuous youth, who knows nothing of the secret windings of his own hotel. His father and his brother were wiser than he; and many a night have they gone in and out on visits of gallantry, when they were young enough to be as squeamish as he, or old enough to have reformed their ways."
"Give me the keys," said Eugene, as they emerged from the side- entrance. "I will unlock the gates, and when I cry 'Halt!' do you seize upon a man whom I shall point out to you as he attempts to force the passage in advance of his confederates."
"Let us alone for holding him fast, your highness."
Eugene went a few steps farther; then, turning round, he said: "Yes- -grasp him well, hut be careful not to take him by the right arm, for I believe that it is wounded."
As he spoke these merciful words, Eugene blushed, for he saw a derisive smile on Latour's face.
"I was in error," thought the steward. "Such a soft heart ought to have been lodged in the body of a woman."
They had now reached the palace-front, where, in return for the obsequious salutation of the captain of the guard, Eugene slightly inclined his head.
"You came late to the rescue," said the prince. "Had you answered the requisition of my steward, you would have spared me the painful necessity of wounding a dozen of those poor devils."
"Was there bloodshed?" returned the officer.
"Of course there was. You can hardly imagine that I quieted these turbulent rioters with a lullaby. Yes, there has been bloodshed, and I have had satisfaction for the affront offered to my house to-day. I hope you hold me justified in my method of procedure."
"Perfectly justified, your highness."
"Then the matter rests here, and peace is proclaimed. From my amnesty, however, I except one man, him who is responsible for all the evil that has been done by his followers."
"Your highness has only to point him out, and I will have him arrested forthwith."
"You give me your word of honor that he shall not escape punishment?"
"My word of honor, your highness."
"Latour and Darmont, station yourselves one on either side of me, while I unlock the gates."
They took their positions, and Eugene slowly drew out his ponderous keys. They were heard to click in the locks, and at the welcome sound, there was a shout of joy from the imprisoned rioters. They pressed eagerly forward—the gates parted—and the crowd began to pour out into the streets. Eugene soon perceived the tall form of the ringleader, although he had borrowed the hat of his companion, and wore it slouched far down over his face.
As he approached the entrance, Eugene gave the signal agreed upon, and he was seized by Latour and Darmont. But they had forgotten the precaution given them as regarded his wounded arm, for as they touched him he had been unable to suppress a cry of pain.
"Hold him, Latour," said the prince, "and you, Darmont, close the gates so that only one man may pass at a time. Some of those guards might be of service to us. Have I your permission to employ them, captain?"
Eight men were ordered to dismount and to station themselves at the gates, which, spite of the tremendous pressure from within, they managed to secure, so that each man as he passed could be scanned by him, who, notwithstanding his delicate build and diminutive stature, was unquestionably the hero of the day.
"Now that the court is empty, you can see what devastation has been committed," said he to the captain of the guard.
"Yes, indeed," replied the latter, raising himself in his stirrups to overlook the railing, "they have uprooted the whole pavement."
"And have seriously damaged the windows," added Eugene. "For all this destruction we have to thank yonder churl," continued he, pointing to a man of almost gigantic stature, who was struggling to free himself from the hands of Latour and Darmont. "Not content with the laurels he has won as the ringleader of a mob, he has aspired to achieve renown by defaming women. He has incited the populace to asperse the good name of my honored mother, and by Heaven, he shall suffer for every opprobrious word that has fallen from the tongue of every base-born villain that followed him hither!"
"Your highness shall yourself dictate his punishment," replied the officer, courteously.
"Then order your men to capture the twelve last rioters that leave the enclosure, and let their leader, who is a thousand times more guilty than they, oversee the restoration of the pavement, and himself remove yonder Druid's temple, that lies before the central window there."
"Never!" exclaimed the giant, redoubling his efforts to escape, and writhing so vigorously that Latour and Darmont had to strain every sinew to retain their hold of his huge body.
Eugene eyed his prisoner with withering scorn. "You hear him, captain! He says 'Never!' as though it were for him to decide whether or not my judgment is a righteous one. And yet I think it most moderate amends to make for such immeasurable wrong."
"Indeed, your highness, it is most disproportionate to the enormity of the offence. It is only too merciful!—Here! Eight men to carry out the orders of the noble Prince of Savoy!" shouted he, peremptorily.
The crowd, meanwhile, by this time convinced that submission was their only alternative, were passing slowly and silently through the gates. They were so completely subdued, that not one ventured a remonstrance. They were intent each man upon his own retreat, and nobody was troubled about the fate of the chief.
"There are just twelve men within the enclosure," said the officer. "Instead of capturing them singly, close the gates, and secure them all at once."
"But first let us admit my distinguished prisoner.—Thrust him in, Latour, and conduct him to his task. He must expiate his offence against the Countess de Soissons, by removing that heap of stones, which were cast by his command against my palace-doors. If he prove intractable, bring him to his senses by administering a blow or two with a stout cudgel."
The chief, who for a few moments had been hoping by affected submission to withdraw the attention of Eugene from himself to his followers, gave a howl of rage, and looked around for his companion. The latter, instead of passing out with the crowd, had remained voluntarily in the enclosure with the twelve who were to suffer for all.
They whispered together, after which the subordinate, approaching the captain of the guard, said: "Captain, I come to offer myself in the place of my poor brother, who, having been wounded in the arm, is helpless, and incapable of removing the smallest of those stones."
"What says your highness?" asked the officer of the prince.
"I grant the petition, for it is reasonable. Let him confine himself, then, to the superintendence of the work."
"Captain, I crave permission to conduct my brother to a surgeon, where his wound may be dressed. It is impossible that any man can be so brutal as to require him to stay here with a bullet in his arm," said the subordinate.
"The bullet was no impediment while outrage was to be committed on the properly of the Countess de Soissons," thundered Eugene, "and I exact that he remain."
"Your highness's commands shall be obeyed," replied the officer.
"Captain," said the ringleader, dragging himself forward, while in his tremendous strength he forced his captors along with him, "captain, I must have a word in private with you. I have something of importance to communicate, and you must come nearer that I may whisper in your ear."
So imperious was the sound of his voice that the captain involuntarily obeyed, and bent down his ear to listen. Although the latter was on horseback and the former on fact, his tall figure was almost on a level with the officer's head.
He spoke a few low words, the captain started, and, quickly raising his head, he surveyed the gigantic chief from head to foot. He then conferred with him a few moments, after which he addressed himself in a very embarrassed manner to Eugene.
"Your highness, this poor man complains so piteously of the agony he endures, that it would be cruel to detain him any longer. If you have no objection, I will send him to the surgeon, accompanied by four of my men, who, when his wound shall have been dressed, can reconduct him hither."
"He will not return," replied Eugene, with a shrug. "He will find means to escape the vigilance of the police. So be it. Let his wounds be dressed, and let him depart whither he lists. But I have a few words of adieu to speak ere he goes." So saying, he approached his tall adversary, and so commanding was his presence, so fiery his eye, and so proud his demeanor, that Eugene of Savoy looked mightier than the wide-shouldered giant before him.
"I wish merely to say to this fellow that he is a knave," said the prince. "Yes, captain, a knave, although you start to hear me call him thus. I neither know his name, nor wish to know it; hut I shall recognize him among a thousand, and, if ever I meet him again, I will give him a knave's portion—a sound horsewhipping. And now away with him! His presence is intolerable!"
"I go," replied the other, pale and trembling with rage. "But beware, little priestling, how you cross MY path! If ever you dare intrude yourself upon my sight, I will crush your diminutive carcass as an elephant does a crawling worm!" He went, followed by him who had claimed him as a brother, and accompanied by four guardsmen, who rode at some distance behind their prisoners.
"And now, captain," said Eugene, "since your sympathizing heart has made it impossible for you to allow justice its way, you will, I presume, see fit to appoint another man to supervise the repairing of my court-yard."
"I myself will attend to it, your highness," said the officer, bowing to his saddle-bow. "Not only that; I will send workmen to replace the broken panes and restore the window-frames, so that by to-morrow no trace of the damage done shall remain."
Eugene laughed. "You are certainly most accommodating! As much so as if the city guard had participated in the riot! Adieu, sir! And may this be our last meeting of the sort!"
Accompanied by his two domestics, he re-entered the palace. His twelve men were at their posts, and the countess was still standing at the window whence she had witnessed the scene below. Eugene dismissed his household, gave orders to have his weapons carefully replaced in his armory, and then, with a deep inclination to his mother, he asked if he might now conduct her to her boudoir.
She gave a smiling assent, took his proffered arm, and returned to her cabinet. Once there, she turned toward her son, and, contemplating him for the first time in her life with pride and admiration, she thanked him warmly for what he had done.
"My dear son," said she, "I must congratulate you upon your strength of character. Believe me, you looked mightier far than Louvois' overgrown Titan. If he surpassed you in stature, your great soul towered far above his lofty person. I could not hear what you were saying to those two men, Eugene, but I read in the glance of your fearless eye that your words were such as would have rejoiced my heart to overhear. In that moment my soul went far out into the future, and there I saw you great, glorious, renowned. You know, Eugene, that I have sometimes strange revelations of things hidden from ordinary mortals: I have visions that are prophetic, and I tell you that you are destined to earn imperishable fame. Go, my son, and fulfil your destiny!"
Eugene, his features illumined by enthusiasm and radiant with hope, covered his mother's hand with kisses, and again besought her forgiveness for his unfilial behavior in the gallery. "Dear mother," said he, tearfully. "are you indeed reconciled to your unworthy child?"
"Yes, Eugene, yes. When you compelled that unwilling multitude to do me homage, I forgave you from my heart. I have always loved you as my child, but from this day forward I honor you as my deliverer. Come to my arms and take the mother's kiss that shall consecrate you to glory."
Eugene, intoxicated with happiness, threw himself upon her bosom, and was clasped to her heart. "With this kiss I greet the hero whose exploits shall shed new lustre upon his princely house. God bless thee, my son! Sweeter lips may meet thine in the glow of a love more passionate, but never will they kiss thee with a tenderness more true than does thy proud mother this day!"
"And never will I love woman more tenderly than I do my precious mother. You were my ideal of womanly perfection as a child, and your adored image will be my soul's divinity to the latest hour of my life! Never again will I doubt you; were the whole world to scorn you, I at least will believe in you, and honor you with a faith as implicit as that which leads man to martyrdom for his Redeemer's sake."
"Believe in me, and trust me," returned the countess, again impressing a kiss on her son's forehead. "And when you are great and powerful, think of this hour, my child. 'Tis one of the brightest of my life; one of the few wherein I have unveiled my heart to mortal man. Think of it, then, Eugene, when you wear the hat of a cardinal, and—"
"What, mother! You would devote me to the priesthood, after all that has passed between us to-day!"
"'Tis your only path to renown; 'tis the only ladder by which ambition can climb to power. With Louis' favor, you may become a cardinal and a statesman; without it you will never become a field- marshal. We must take fate as we find it, Eugene; not whine because we may not fashion it to our own liking."
"Then be it so: I submit. But I tell you, for the last time, that under my priestly gown there will be heard the wild and unseemly throbbings of a heart that not only pants for glory, but yearns for love."
"Cardinals may hope for both," returned Olympia, with a strange, unpleasant smile. "Ask the widowed Queen Anne, whether Richelieu knew how to love. And ask her whether Mazarin was not as fond as he was sagacious. But enough of day-dreams: we must return to the affairs of real life. There has been a demonstration of serious import against me to-day. I must oppose it by another. Louvois and his minions must learn that I am not to be intimidated by their menaces, nor to be browbeaten by their contumely."
Near her hand, on a porphyry table, lay a golden bell—a marvel of Benvenuto Cellini's workmanship. The countess took it up and rang.
The steward answered the summons, and begged to know what her highness was pleased to command.
"Let the palace-doors be thrown open, that the people may know how little I fear their dislike. Send all the lackeys out, and let them announce to the court that to-day I hold a special levee, and that my rooms will be opened to visitors at nine this evening. Let the equerry be informed that in half an hour I shall take a drive in my open caleche, with six horses and two outriders, all in livery of state."