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And in this far off gallery of France our patriotism was suddenly aroused to Fourth of July temperature by seeing a portrait of Washington. This portrait, by Peale or Trumbull, was doubtless presented to one of the French officers who were with Washington in many of his campaigns, and the strong calm face seemed, in a way, to dominate these gay and gorgeously appareled French people, as in life he dominated every circle that he entered.
We were especially interested in a bust of Ronsard with his emblem of three fishes, which delighted Walter and Archie, who now propose a fishing trip to his Chateau of La Poissonniere. We love Ronsard for many of his verses, above all for the lines in which he reveals his feeling for the beauties of nature, which was rare in those artificial days. Do you remember what he said about having a tree planted over his grave?
"Give me no marble cold When I am dead, But o'er my lowly bed May a tree its green leaves unfold."
THE ROMANCE OF BLOIS
HoTEL DE FRANCE, Sat.u.r.day afternoon.
WALTER and Archie have elected to spend a part of this afternoon in the Daniel Dupuis Museum, over whose treasures, in the form of engraved medals, they are quite enthusiastic. We women folk, left to our own devices, wandered at will through the first floor rooms and halls of the Chateau of Blois. The great Salle des Etats, with its blue ceiling dotted over with fleur-de-lis, is said to be the most ancient of them all. Beautiful as many of the rooms are, despite their somewhat too p.r.o.nounced and vividly colored decorations, and interesting as we found the remains of the Tour de Foix upon which tradition placed the observatory dedicated by Catherine and her pet demon, Ruggieri, to Ura.n.u.s, the crowning glory of the Chateau of Blois is the great Court of Honor. We never pa.s.s through this impressive portal, surmounted by the gilded equestrian figure of Louis XII, without a feeling of joy in the s.p.a.ciousness and beauty of this wide sunny court. At a first glance we were bewildered by its varied and somewhat incongruous architecture, the wing of Louis XII, with its fine, open gallery; that of Charles d'Orleans, with its richly decorative sculpture; the Chapel of St.
Calais, and the modern and less beautiful wing of Gaston, the work of Francis Mansard, but after all, and above all, what one carries away from the court of Blois is that one perfect jewel of Renaissance skill and taste, the great staircase of Francis I. An open octagonal tower is this staircase, with great rampant bays, delicately carved galleries and exquisite sculptured decorations. Indeed, no words can fully describe the richness and dignity of this unique structure, for which Francis I has the credit, although much of its beauty is said to have been inspired by Queen Claude.
We all agreed that this staircase alone would be worth while coming to Blois to see, with its bal.u.s.trades and lovely pilasters surmounted by Jean Goujon's adorable figures representing Faith, Hope, Abundance, and other blessings of heaven and earth. The charming faces of these statues are said to have been modeled after Diane de Poitiers and other famous beauties of the time. While wandering through the court, we came suddenly upon traces of Charles of Orleans, who was taken prisoner at the battle of Agincourt, and was a captive for twenty-five years in English prisons. A gallery running at right angles to the wing of Louis XII is named after the Duke of Orleans, probably by his son Louis. This gallery, much simpler than the buildings surrounding it, is also rich in sculpture and still richer in a.s.sociations with the poet-prince, who is said to have solaced the weary hours of his imprisonment by writing verses, chansons, rondeaux, and ballades, some of which were doubtless composed in this gallery after his return from exile. The lines of that exquisite poem, "The fairest thing in mortal eyes," occurred to Lydia's mind and mine at the same moment. We were standing near the ruins of an old fountain, looking up at the gallery of Charles of Orleans and repeating the verses in concert like two school girls, when Miss Ca.s.sandra, who had been lingering by the staircase, joined us, evidently not without some anxiety lest we had suddenly taken leave of our senses. Finding that we were only reciting poetry, she expressed great satisfaction that we did not have it in the original, as she is so tired of trying to guess at what people are talking about.
[Ill.u.s.tration: COURT OF BLOIS WITH STAIRCASE OF FRANCIS I]
Indeed, Henry Cary's translation is so beautiful that we scarcely miss the charm of the old French. We wondered, as we lingered over the lines, which one of the several wives of the Duke of Orleans was "the fairest thing in mortal eyes,"--his first wife, Isabelle of France, or Bonne d'Armagnac, his second spouse? His third wife, Marie de Cleves, probably survived him, and so it could not have been for her that there was spread a tomb
"Of gold and sapphires blue: The gold doth show her blessedness, The sapphires mark her true; For blessedness and truth in her Were livelily portrayed, When gracious G.o.d with both his hands Her goodly substance made.
He framed her in such wondrous wise, She was, to speak without disguise, The fairest thing in mortal eyes."
It was pleasant to think of the poet-prince spending the last days of his life in this beautiful chateau with his wife, Marie de Cleves, and to know that he had the pleasure of holding in his arms his little son and heir, Louis of Orleans, afterwards the good King Louis, our old friend, and the bone of Walter's contention with Miss Ca.s.sandra.
By the way, I do not at all agree with that usually wise and just lady in her estimate of Louis XII. As M. La Tour says, he was far in advance of his age in his breadth of mind and his sense of the duty owed by a king to his people. Perhaps something of his father's poet vision entered into the more practical nature of Louis, and in nothing did he show more plainly the generosity and breadth of his character than in his forgiveness of those who had slighted and injured him,--when he said, upon ascending the throne, "The King of France does not avenge the wrongs of the Duke of Orleans," Louis placed himself many centuries in advance of the revengeful and rapacious age in which he lived.
Another poet whose name is a.s.sociated with Blois is Francois Villon. A loafer and a vagabond he was, and a thief he may have been, yet by reason of his genius and for the beauty of his song this troubadour was welcomed to the literary court of Charles d'Orleans. That Villon received substantial a.s.sistance and protection from his royal brother poet appears from his poems. Among them we find one upon the birth of the Duke's daughter Mary: _Le Dit de la Naissance Marie_, which, like his patron's verses, is part in French and part in Latin.
In this chateau, which is so filled with history and romance, our thoughts turned from the times of Charles of Orleans to a later period when Catherine sought to dazzle the eyes of Jeanne d'Albret by a series of fetes and pageants at Blois that would have been quite impossible in her simpler court of Navarre. The Huguenot Queen, as it happened, was not at all bedazzled by the splendors of the French court, but with the keen vision that belonged to her saw, through the powder, paint, tinsel, and false flattery, the depravity and corruption of the life that surrounded her. To her son she wrote that his fiancee was beautiful, witty, and graceful, with a fine figure which was much too tightly laced and a good complexion which was in danger of being ruined by the paint and powder spread over it. With regard to the marriage contract which she had come to sign, the Queen said that she was shamefully used and that her patience was taxed beyond that of Griselda. After many delays the marriage contract was finally signed, and a few days later the good Queen of Navarre was dead, whether from natural causes or from some of the products of Queen Catherine's secret cupboards the world will never know, as Ruggieri and Le Maitre were both at hand to do the will of their royal mistress with consummate skill, and to cover over their tracks with equal adroitness.
It was to a still later and less tragic period in the history of the chateau that our thoughts turned most persistently, when Gaston, Duke of Orleans and his wife, Marguerite of Lorraine, held their court here and a bevy of young girls brought charm and grace to these great bare rooms.
Gaston's eldest daughter, the Grande Mademoiselle, was often here in those days, acting in amateur theatricals with her stepsisters, one of whom, the little Princess Marguerite d'Orleans, cherished vain hopes of becoming Queen of France by marrying her own cousin, Louis XIV.
There is an amusing pa.s.sage in the diary of Mademoiselle de Montpensier, in which she describes the visit of the King at Blois. "My sister," she said, "came to the foot of the stairs to receive his Majesty," this was of course the beautiful stairway of Francis I, which bears the lovely sculptured figures of Diane de Poitiers and other beauties of the time; but alas, the little Princess Marguerite had been stung by certain flies called gnats which quite spoiled her beautiful complexion, and, adds the frank sister, "made her look quite an object."
This circ.u.mstance added greatly to Marguerite's chagrin when she learned that Louis was on his way to wed the Spanish Infanta, she herself having been flattered with the hope of marrying her cousin, having been frequently addressed as the "little queen." Louis, never insensible to his own charms, confided to Mademoiselle on his way to Blois that he had not changed his coat or dressed his love-locks; in fact had made himself "_le plus vilain possible_," in order to spare the regrets of his cousin Marguerite and her parents that he had slipped through their fingers.
Other young girls in the family group were Mademoiselle de Saint-Remi, whose father, Jacques de Courtarval, Marquis of Saint-Remi, was first steward to Gaston, Duke of Orleans, and Mademoiselle Montelais, whose name occurs in one of the court rhymes of the day in company with that of another young girl, whose history is closely a.s.sociated with the chateau,
"Guiche of love the ally The maids of honor did supply, He has caged a pretty pair, Montelais and La Valliere."
This other girl, who was destined to be a companion to Mademoiselle Montelais at court, was Louise de La Valliere, the stepdaughter of Saint-Remi and the daughter of the Marquis de la Baume-Le Blanc, Sieur de la Ga.s.serie, who took the t.i.tle of La Valliere after the death of an elder brother. These high-sounding t.i.tles of the La Vallieres did not stand for much in gold or gear at this time, although there are still ruins to be seen in Bourbonnais of a very ancient castle of the La Baumes. An heroic record was theirs, however, as one of the name, Pierre le Blanc, served under Joan of Arc, and the father of Louise successfully bore the brunt of the enemies' attack at the pa.s.sage of Brai, in 1634, and secured the retreat of the Spanish.
We had seen the house at Tours where Louise was born, but it was at Amboise that the La Vallieres lived during her childhood, and here she may have seen the fourteen-year-old Louis, who came with the Queen Mother and Mazarin to this town, which was so gallantly held for him, its rightful lord, against Gaston and his bellicose daughter, by the honest soldier, Laurent de La Valliere. Whether or not little Louise de La Valliere saw the young King at Amboise during the war of the Fronde she certainly saw him when he stopped at Blois, some years later, on his way to Saint-Jean de Luz and the Spanish marriage. Louis and his court were the guests of Gaston in 1660, although they had been openly arrayed against each other at Amboise in 1651. Mademoiselle de Montpensier, in her frank and amusing chronicles, tells us that the King evidently found her father's chateau a dull place to stop in over night. The customs and costumes of the household failed to please the fastidious young monarch; the meal was served in "old-fashioned style, and the ladies were dressed like the dishes--all out of fashion."
Dumas makes Louis remark facetiously to Madame Gaston, that his teacher in geography had not told him that Blois was so far from Paris that the fashions could not reach the provincial town for several years. Only one figure in the group, which had gathered in the vast _salle_ to do honor to the monarch, appeared to him worthy of royal regard. This was a slight, girlish form, in white muslin, a costume so simple that it could never be quite out of date.
Standing this afternoon in the Salle de Reception, we pictured to ourselves the first meeting of the King and Louise de La Valliere on the night of the arrival of the court at Blois. The fast-fading light lent a semblance of reality to the scene, as the torches and candles used in those early days could not have brilliantly lighted the vast hall. We fancied the chairs placed in half circle for the accommodation of the royal guests, the King's not a half-inch higher than that of Mazarin or of the Queen, Anne of Austria. The astute Italian Prime Minister is seated, his body is bent, his face pallid, the hand of Death is already laid upon him, but his mind is as keen and alert as in youth, his eyes as penetrating. The courtiers are grouped around Mazarin, the real king; Gaston, the indolent father of the energetic and courageous Mademoiselle de Montpensier, is talking to Mazarin, and chronicles of the day tell us that the Duke was an admirable _raconteur_. The Grande Mademoiselle, now over thirty, and in the full flower of a beauty which, according to Pet.i.tot's miniature and her own rose-colored description, was not inconsiderable, is in another group at one side of the hall, with her half-sisters and the other young girls of the house. Called forth from her modest station behind the princesses of the House of Orleans by the command of her hostess, Louise de La Valliere stepped forward, confused and blushing, to make her deep courtesy before the King, while the d.u.c.h.ess presented her in due form as Mademoiselle de la Baume-Le Blanc, daughter of the Marquis de La Valliere and stepdaughter of the Marquis de Saint-Remi.
As Madame de Motteville described her at seventeen, we see the slight girlish form of La Valliere making her reverence before royalty, owing her charm, as the court lady relates, more to a certain grace, modesty and tenderness in bearing and expression than to the dazzling whiteness and rosiness of her skin, the exquisite blueness of her eyes and the brilliancy of her blonde hair of the shade which the French call _cheveux argentes_.
[Ill.u.s.tration: LOUISE DE LA VALLIeRE]
Although Madame de la Motte's description of Louise de La Valliere is charming and sympathetic, we long for the graceful and vivifying pen of Madame de Sevigne to picture for us the young girl as she appeared at her home in Blois, before the equally baneful breath of court favor or court scandal had brushed the bloom from her innocent loveliness.
Dear Madame de Sevigne, with her graceful fancy, her _joie de vivre_, and her inimitable skill in presenting a situation and making her characters live before us, should have been immortal as well as universal. We wish for a letter from her in every chateau of the Loire, most of all here at Blois, of which she has written so little. When Madame de Sevigne saw Louise de La Valliere some months later at court, she likened her to a modest violet, hiding beneath its leaves; but not so completely as to evade the eyes of royalty. And if Louise was lovely in her gown of virginal white, the King was a no less pleasing object to gaze upon. At all times courteous and graceful, at twenty-three Louis is described as handsome, well-formed, with deep blue eyes, and a profusion of curling hair which fell over his shoulders. Although somewhat under the middle height, he bore himself with an air of majesty and dignity, inherited from his royal mother, and would have been "every inch a King," said Saint-Simon, "even if he had been born under the roof of a beggar." It was this grace and personal charm, which Louis possessed in no small degree, that appealed to the girl's imagination, rather than the grandeur of his station. If Louise had not seen him again the image of this young prince from fairyland might in time have faded from her mind, especially as an incipient love affair with a neighbor's son already existed. Some notes and occasional shy glances had been exchanged between Mademoiselle de La Valliere and young Bragelongne, who lived next door to the Saint-Remis at Blois, and had she not been suddenly carried off to court this nebulous romance might have materialized into a happy marriage, and a career more honorable, if less brilliant and exciting, than that which lay before her.
It was this early affair with a neighbor's son which gave Dumas some historic foundation for his captivating and pathetic story of the Vicomte de Bragelonne. Whether or not the young lover wore his heart upon his sleeve to the end of his days, it is quite evident that M. de Bragelongne was speedily forgotten by Louise amid the pleasures and distractions of the gayest court in Europe. As maid of honor to the English princess, Henriette, Louise was plunged into all the festivities of Fontainebleau, Versailles, and the Palais Royal, of which the King was always the soul and centre.
You will think that my pen has run away with me in following the fortunes of Louise de La Valliere from Blois to Paris and from Paris to Versailles; but Lydia and I have been reading a book about Blois which M. La Tour had sent to us from Paris. This book, which dwells particularly upon the story of Louise de La Valliere and her a.s.sociation with the Chateau of Blois, has brought the life of that time before us so vividly that we feel as if we had some part and lot in the pathetic tale. The festivities and intrigues of Fontainebleau and Versailles may seem a far cry from the old Chateau of Blois, and yet the court life of that older time, dramatic and picturesque as it was, was curiously limited. The characters were always the same, the pageant alone shifted from palace to chateau, and from one chateau of the Loire to another.
Now the court is at Amboise, again at Chenonceaux, and again at the stately palace of Chambord. The King is always surrounded by the same courtiers and the same favorites, whether he is riding through the forest of Fontainebleau or hunting at Chambord, in which princely domain Louis boasted that he had shot fourteen of his Uncle Gaston's cherished pheasants in one afternoon. The distances are short, and even in the days of slow-going coaches the court could breakfast at Chambord and sup at Blois.
Through the influence of a distant relative Louise de La Valliere was given a place at court in the service of the English princess, the beautiful, captivating and capricious Henriette, daughter of Charles I and wife of the King's young brother, Philippe d'Orleans. Chroniclers of the time all agree in attributing to her rare charm of manner, a lively wit and a keen intellect. A patron of the great writers of the day, she encouraged Corneille and the older poets and emboldened the younger by her appreciation. Henriette wept over the _Andromaque_ when Racine read it to her, until the happy youth's head was well-nigh turned by what he considered the most fortunate beginning of its destiny. This combination of beauty, charm, and intellect, found more frequently, perhaps, in France than in any other country, rendered Madame the most irresistible of women, and as Saint-Beuve says, the most touching of princesses. The King, who at sixteen had refused to dance with the thin and not especially attractive child of eleven, because, as he explained to his mamma, he did not care for little girls, took himself to task later for not realizing before she became his brother's fiancee that Henriette was the most beautiful woman in the world.
At the time that Louise de La Valliere entered her household Madame Henriette was enjoying her hour of triumph. The King, who had been slow in discovering her charms, was at her feet. The death of Mazarin, the miserly, had given Louis a freedom in his own kingdom that he had never before known. Entertainment followed entertainment, all given in honor of the English bride, his own Spanish bride having been relegated to the background of this gay court, from which she was never destined to emerge. "It seemed," wrote Madame de Lafayette, "as if the King had no interest in these _fetes_ except through the gratifications they gave to Madame." It was in the summer time, and the royalties were at Fontainebleau, which delightful palace of pleasure, with its extensive grounds, made a charming background for the succession of _fetes_ and dances that Louis planned for his sister-in-law. There were expeditions on land by day, water parties on the lake by the light of the moon, and promenades in the woods by night. Madame delighted to bathe in the Seine; accordingly parties were arranged for her pleasure, the ladies driving to the river and returning on horseback, in elaborate costumes with wonderful plumes in their hats, to an _al fresco_ breakfast in the park.
A theatre was erected in the grounds and Lulli was installed as superintendent of the royal music. Among other entertainments a Ballet des Saisons was given, in which the King, in a gorgeous costume representing Spring, danced with his usual grace and skill, while Madame, in a gown of shining tissue, delicate as a b.u.t.terfly's wing, led her troupe of Bacchantes, Louise de La Valliere among them.
It was after one of these entertainments, which were sometimes followed by rambles in the park lasting until two or three o'clock in the morning, that the scene under the Royal Oak took place which Dumas has so ingeniously woven into his romance of La Valliere. You remember that the three maids of honor of Madame,--Montelais, Athenais, and Louise,--were grouped together under the famous oak in the forest of Fontainebleau, which had witnessed the sighs for love or glory of the great Henry and many another monarch. The conversation of the three girls on life and love sounds trite and commonplace as we read the story, and yet in the light of the events that followed in quick succession the sentimental plat.i.tudes of the innocent child, La Valliere, and the worldly aphorisms of the ambitious Athenais, afterwards Madame de Montespan, gain both dignity and pathos. That Louise, the timid and gentle, should express herself so warmly upon her admiration for the King reveals the fact that the handsome young sovereign had already made an impression upon her sensitive heart. For her it seemed that there had been no one worthy of notice at the dance except the King, the living embodiment of the springtime he personified.
When she exclaimed with fervor, "Have you ever seen any one to be compared with the King?" even the bold Athenais was surprised at the frankness of the little Blesoise. A still greater surprise was in store for the Three Graces under the Royal Oak when a rustling was heard in the undergrowth of the adjoining quincunx, and with cries of "A wolf! or a wild boar!" they all scampered away as fast as their feet could carry them to the safe and sure shelter of Madame's apartments, to learn later to their dismay that the rustling in the bushes had been caused, not by a wolf or a wild boar, but by the King himself, who was sauntering through the park with M. de Saint-Aignan.
Whether or not Louise ever thus openly expressed her admiration for the King, one may readily believe that even a slight impression made upon the girl's imagination would be inevitably deepened and strengthened in these days when the court life at Fontainebleau is described as a delirium of ambition, pleasure and love. The merry-making and feasting continued, the _fetes_ still being given in Madame's honor, and "the modest violet" might have remained hidden beneath its leaves had not Madame Henriette's schemes involved Louise. It appears that the Queen Mother, having in common with others observed the King's growing admiration for his beautiful sister-in-law, expostulated with him, entreating him, in the name of dignity and decorum, to discontinue his attentions to her. The King, angry and disconcerted that his actions should be criticised, formed with the aid of the quick-witted Madame, who cared little for Louis but greatly enjoyed her position as queen of the hour, a plot which involved several of the maids of honor. So infamous was this plot of Madame's that one wonders that a woman, to whom kindness of heart has been attributed, could have countenanced a scheme so cruel. "In order to hide their own game," said Saint-Beuve, "the King was to pay make-believe attention to several of Madame's maids of honor." The three selected were Mademoiselle de Pons, Mademoiselle de Chimerault, and Mademoiselle de La Valliere. It soon appeared that the latter was the one whom the King preferred to seem to be in love with.
The plot soon thickened quite beyond Madame's antic.i.p.ations, the make-believe attentions became real, the other maids of honor were quite neglected, Madame herself was forgotten, and while trying to dazzle the eyes of the public Louis himself was bewildered, and soon found himself seriously in love with La Valliere, at least as seriously in love as it was in his nature to be. And Louise was then and ever after deeply, hopelessly in love with the King.
Is it strange that this innocent girl, little more than a child in years and experience, with many to flatter and criticise, but none to counsel or protect, should have fallen into the trap that was laid for her unwary feet? From her quiet village home she was suddenly, as Madame's dame d'honneur, introduced to a new world, in which the King, young, handsome, and possessed of all the graces and accomplishments of his age, was the central figure. Before she had time to become accustomed to the life around her, the greatest temptation that could be offered to a Frenchwoman of that day was presented to her. This monarch, the Roi Soleil to his adoring satellites, was at her feet, telling her that he loved her, and her only, little Louise de La Valliere, whom the haughty court dames had looked down upon as insignificant, lacking in grace and even beauty. It was only a few short days since water parties, ballets, and _fetes_ had been given in Madame's honor; the gayety continued, but Henriette was no longer the inspiration of these festivities, which were planned for other _beaux yeux_, whose she does not know. Louise was so modest and retiring, so anxious to spare the Queen sorrow and pain, that it was some time before it transpired that the little Blesoise, whom Madame would not have condescended to look upon as a possible rival, was the reigning favorite.
In the midst of the scheming, love making, jealousy, and carousing, the King's second child--the little Princess Anne Elizabeth--opened her eyes to the light of the world, only to close them again before the rejoicings at her birth were well over, even before the foreign amba.s.sadors who came to welcome her had reached Paris. The Queen was deeply grieved at the loss of her child, Louis wept copiously over the family affliction, but being in greater need of distraction than before we find him a few weeks later dancing gayly in a Ballet des Arts in company with Mademoiselle de Mortmart, _la belle Athenais_, Mademoiselle de Sevigne, whom her fond mother called the "prettiest girl in France,"
and Mademoiselle de La Valliere, who, despite her slight lameness, danced to perfection, her slim figure, of the lissome slenderness that belongs to early youth, showing to great advantage in the figures of the cotillon.
You know the sad story far better than I do. The few short years of enchantment when Louise lived in the delirium of love's young dream, yet was never really happy, never enjoying her honors as d.u.c.h.esse de La Valliere, the royal favorite, because her conscience was ever awake and her tender heart filled with remorse for the sorrow she had caused the Queen. The brief years of enchantment were soon over, to be followed by disillusionment, when it was revealed to Louise that the fickle heart of Louis had succ.u.mbed to other charms; the final flight from court and the long years of repentance at the Carmelites.
Twice before Louise had taken refuge in a convent. The first time she sought to fly from her pa.s.sion and herself, to be brought back to court by the adoring King, the second flight was when Louis had begun to transfer his attentions to Madame de Montespan, and finally, at thirty, Louise de La Valliere retired to Chaillot to expiate whatever sins she had committed by thirty-six long years of prayer and penitence. Having entered the Carmelites in the bright bloom of her beauty, her lovely blonde hair severed from her graceful head, La Valliere was known ever after as Sister Louise de la Misericorde, and as if anything more were needed to complete the tragedy, the King whom she had loved so deeply, to whom she had sacrificed her life, although at the time much engrossed with Madame de Montespan, was incapable of forgiving Louise for quitting the court, and never made the slightest effort to see her again. "He has forgotten her," wrote the vivacious and outspoken Madame, mother of the Regent, "as much as if he had never known her."
In her repentance, which was evidently deep and sincere, La Valliere likened herself to three great sinners, the Canaanitish woman, the woman of Samaria, and the Magdalen, and asked only that her sins be forgiven. Bossuet, who received her confession, compared her to a dove taking its flight heavenward, while Madame de Sevigne, who visited her at the Carmelites about the time of the marriage of La Valliere's daughter to the Prince de Conti, wrote to Madame de Grignan: "But what an angel she appeared to me! To my eyes she possessed all the charms of early days, the same eyes and the same expression: the austere life, meagre fare and little sleep _ni les lui ont ni creuses ni battus_. The severe costume has despoiled her of no grace or dignity; indeed, this dress and this retreat add greatly to her dignity."
Just as we were leaving the chateau a pleasant diversion came in the form of a call from M. La Tour, who had motored over from his father's country seat to dine with us to-night. I was glad to see him, as I wished to thank him for a book which we found at the hotel, when we reached here yesterday, which has added so much to our interest in the chateau. I tell M. La Tour that if we dream to-night of court pageants at Blois, midnight strolls in the forest, and girlish confidences under the Royal Oak, at Fontainebleau, it will be quite his fault for making the story so real to us. Then, as if to deepen the impression already made, he proceeded to draw us a picture of the _cortege_ attending Louis XIV on his arrival at Blois,--the great state carriages of wood and leather, with their Genoa velvet cushions and wide wheels, surrounded by outriders advancing in perfect order, at a foot's pace, the musketeers in their brilliant uniform, the horns of varying sorts exciting the dogs and horses,--movement, noise, color, a mirage of light announced the King's approach to the chateau, of which nothing can now convey any adequate idea unless it be the picturesque splendor and false majesty of a theatrical spectacle.
As M. La Tour described this brilliant scene, another arose before me unbidden, this last in the dim religious light of the convent, where a woman still young, in the full maturity of her beauty, is taking the veil, which is held for the former royal favorite by the neglected Queen of Louis, Maria Teresa. Although some chroniclers tell us that the King's eyes were red with weeping all the day before, he probably went hunting that day after pheasants, or whatever game was in season, amid the flatteries and acclamations of his courtiers. So short was the memory of a King! So long and deep was the repentance of a woman more sinned against than sinning!
The floral offerings, this evening, were handsomer than usual, having come from M. La Tour's paternal gardens. Miss Ca.s.sandra and I have bouquets of sweet peas of exquisite shades of mauve, purple and white, quite suitable for chaperones, while for Lydia was reserved a choice posy of the blue forget-me-nots, that the French adore, surrounded by mignonette. Lydia is wearing a soft grey voile gown to-night, cut low enough to reveal the roundness and whiteness of her throat, and the blue flowers against her grey corsage made a perfect finish to the simple, dainty costume, beside which they are exactly the color of her eyes.
Upon this fact M. La Tour is probably expatiating this minute, as they are talking together in the embrasure of a window in this odd little room which answers the purpose of salon and writing room, in which I scribble off these lines to you. We are all enjoying the young Frenchman's visit, with one exception perhaps, Archie, who is smoking on the terrace alone. I can see his face from where I am sitting, and it wears a rather careworn expression,--much as he used to look when he was interne at the P----Hospital and had a particularly bad case under his care. Walter, who is writing at a table near me, is laughing over my description, and says that this is a bad case for Archie and M. La Tour, whatever it may be for Lydia, who Quaker-like is so self-contained and serene of countenance that she does not betray her feelings by so much as the lifting of an eyelash. She treats both of her admirers with charming impartiality.
"How is Archie ever going to find out whether Lydia cares for him, Zelphine?" This from Walter's writing table, in a stage whisper. "Even you, inveterate matchmaker that you are, have met your Waterloo for once. Angela, with all her roguish ways, wasn't a patch to this demure Lydia. You certainly are having experiences, Zelphine, and are keeping your hand in for Christine and Lisa when they come along. I feel sorry for poor old Archie; but we all have to have our troubles in this line sooner or later."
"Then why have you added to Archie's troubles by urging M. La Tour to go with us to-morrow?"