Chapter 25: Despair.

  1. 24: The First Quarrel
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 26: The Flight

As soon as the king had left her, La Valliere raised herself from the ground, and extended her arms, as if to follow and detain him; but when, having violently closed the door, the sound of his retreating footsteps could be heard in the distance, she had hardly sufficient strength left to totter toward and fall at the foot of her crucifix. There she remained, broken-hearted, absorbed, and overwhelmed by her grief, forgetful of and indifferent to everything but her profound grief itself--a grief which she could not comprehend otherwise than by instinct and acute sensation. In the midst of the wild tumult of her thoughts, La Valliere heard her door open again; she started, and turned round, thinking that it was the king who had returned. She was deceived, however, for it was madame who appeared at the door. What did she now care for madame? Again she sank down, her head supported by her priedieu chair. It was madame, agitated, irritated, and threatening. But what was that to her?

“Mademoiselle,” said the princess, standing before La Valliere, “this is very fine, I admit, to kneel, and pray, and make a pretense of being religious; but however submissive you may be in your addresses to Heaven, it is desirable that you should pay some little attention to the wishes of those who reign and rule here below.”

La Valliere raised her head painfully in token of respect.

“Not long since,” continued madame, “a certain recommendation was addressed to you, I believe?”

La Valliere’s fixed and wild gaze showed how entire her forgetfulness or her ignorance was.

“The queen recommended you,” continued madame, “to conduct yourself in such a manner that no one could be justified in spreading any reports about you.”

La Valliere darted an inquiring look toward her.

“I will not,” continued madame, “allow my household, which is that of the first princess of the blood, to set an evil example to the court; you would be the cause of such an example. I beg you to understand, therefore, in the absence of any witness of your shame, for I do not wish to humiliate you, that you are from this moment at perfect liberty to leave, and that you can return to your mother at Blois.”

La Valliere could not sink lower, nor could she suffer more than she had already suffered. Her countenance did not even change, but she remained with her hands crossed over her knees, like the figure of the Magdalen.

“Did you hear me?” said madame.

A shiver which passed through her whole frame was La Valliere’s only reply. And as the victim gave no other signs of life, madame left the room. And then, her very respiration suspended, and her blood almost congealed, as it were, in her veins, La Valliere by degrees felt that the pulsations of her wrists, her neck, and temples began to throb more and more heavily. These pulsations, as they gradually increased, soon changed into a species of brain fever, and in her temporary delirium she saw the figures of her friends, contending with her enemies, floating before her vision. She heard, too, mingled together in her deafened ears words of menace and words of fond affection; she seemed raised out of her existence, as though it were upon the wines of a mighty tempest, and in the dim horizon of the path along which her delirium hurried her, she saw the stone which covered her tomb upraised, and the dark and appalling interior of eternal night revealed to her distracted gaze. But the horror of the dream which had possessed her senses soon faded away, and she was again restored to the habitual resignation of her character. A ray of hope penetrated her heart, as a ray of sunlight streams into the dungeon of some unhappy captive. Her mind reverted to the journey from Fontainebleau; she saw the king riding beside her carriage, telling her that he loved her, asking for her love in return, requiring her to swear, and himself swearing, too, that never should an evening pass by, if ever a misunderstanding were to arise between them, without a visit, a letter, a sign of some kind being sent, to replace the troubled anxiety of the evening by the calm repose of the night. It was the king who had suggested that, who had imposed a promise upon her, who had himself sworn it also. It was impossible, therefore, she reasoned, that the king should fail in keeping the promise which he had himself exacted from her, unless, indeed, the king were a despot who enforced love as he enforced obedience; unless, too, the king were truly indifferent, that the first obstacle in his way were sufficient to arrest his further progress. The king, that kind protector, who by a word, by a single word, could relieve her distress of mind, the king even joined her persecutors. Oh! his anger could not possibly last. Now that he was alone, he would be suffering all that she herself was a prey to. But he was not tied hand and foot as she was; he could act, could move about, could come to her, while she could do nothing but wait. And the poor girl waited and waited, with breathless anxiety, for she could not believe it possible that the king would not come.

It was now about half-past ten. He would either come to her, or write to her, or send some kind word by M. de St. Aignan. If he were to come, oh! how she would fly to meet him! how she would thrust aside that excess of delicacy which she now discovered was misunderstood! how eagerly she would explain: “It is not I who do not love you, it is the fault of others who will not allow me to love you!” And then it must be confessed that she reflected upon it, and also the more she reflected, Louis appeared to her to be less guilty. In fact, he was ignorant of everything. What must he have thought of the obstinacy with which she remained silent? Impatient and irritable as the king was known to be, it was extraordinary that he had been able to preserve his temper so long. And yet, had it been her own case, she undoubtedly would not have acted in such a manner, she would have understood everything, have guessed everything. Yes, but she was nothing but a poor, simple-minded girl, and not a great and powerful monarch. Oh! if he did but come, if he would but come! how eagerly she would forgive him for all he had just made her suffer! how much more tenderly she would love him because she had so suffered! And so she sat, with her head bent forward in eager expectation toward the door, her lips slightly parted, as if--and Heaven forgive her for the thought she mentally exclaimed--they were awaiting the kiss which the king’s lips had in the morning so sweetly indicated when he pronounced the word love! If the king did not come, at least he would write; it was a second chance--a chance less delightful, certainly, than the other, but which would show an affection just as strong, but only more timorous in its nature. Oh! how she would devour his letter, how eager she would be to answer it; and when the messenger who had brought it had left her, how she would kiss, read over and over again, press upon her heart the happy paper which would have brought her ease of mind, tranquillity, and perfect happiness! At all events, if the king did not come; if, however, the king did not write, he could not do otherwise than send St. Aignan, or St. Aignan could not do otherwise than come of his own accord. Even if it were a third person, how openly she would speak to him; the royal presence would not be there to freeze her words upon her tongue, and then no suspicious feeling would remain a moment longer in the king’s heart.

Everything with La Valliere, heart and look, body and mind, was concentrated in eager expectation. She said to herself that there was an hour left in which to indulge hope; that until midnight had struck, the king might come, or write, or send; that at midnight only would every expectation be useless, every hope lost. Whenever there was any noise in the palace the poor girl fancied she was the cause of it; whenever she heard any one pass in the courtyard below she imagined they were messengers of the king coming to her. Eleven o’clock struck; then a quarter-past eleven; then half-past. The minutes dragged slowly on in this anxiety, and yet they seemed to pass far too quickly. And now it struck a quarter to twelve. Midnight, midnight was near, the last, the final hope which remained came in its turn. With the last stroke of the clock the last ray of light seemed to fade away; and with the last ray, so faded her final hope. And so, the king himself had deceived her; it was he who had been the first to fail in keeping the oath which he had sworn that very day; twelve hours only between his oath and his perjured vow; it was not long, certainly, to have preserved the illusion. And so, not only did the king not love her, but still more he despised her whom every one overwhelmed; he despised her to the extent even of abandoning her to the shame of an expulsion which was equivalent to having an ignominious sentence passed upon her; and yet it was he, the king himself, who was the first cause of this ignominy. A bitter smile, the only symptom of anger which during this long conflict had passed across the victim’s angelic face, appeared upon her lips. What, in fact, now remained on earth for her, after the king was lost to her? Nothing. But Heaven still remained, and her thoughts flew thither. She prayed that the proper course for her to follow might be suggested. “It is from Heaven,” she thought, “that I do expect everything; it is from Heaven I ought to expect everything.” And she looked at her crucifix with a devotion full of tender love.

“There,” she said, “hangs before me a Master who never forgets and never abandons those who do not abandon and who do not forget Him; it is to Him alone that we must sacrifice ourselves.”

And, thereupon, could any one have gazed into the recesses of that chamber, they would have seen the poor despairing girl adopt a final resolution, and determine upon one last plan in her mind. Thereupon, and as her knees were no longer able to support her, she gradually sank down upon the priedieu, and with her head pressed against the wooden cross, her eyes fixed, and her respiration short and quick, she watched for the earliest rays of approaching daylight. At two o’clock in the morning she was still in the same bewilderment of mind, or rather, in the same ecstasy of feeling. Her thoughts had almost ceased to hold any communion with the things of this world. And when she saw the violet tints of early dawn visible upon the roofs of the palace, and vaguely revealing the outlines of the ivory cross which she held embraced, she rose from the ground with a new-born strength, kissed the feet of the divine martyr, descended the staircase leading from the room, and wrapped herself from head to foot in a mantle as she went alone. She reached the wicket at the very moment the guard of musketeers opened the gate to admit the first relief-guard belonging to one of the Swiss regiments. And then, gliding behind the soldiers, she reached the street before the officer in command of the patrol had even thought of asking who the young girl was who was making her escape from the palace at so early an hour.

  1. 24: The First Quarrel
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 26: The Flight