Chapter 43: An Interview with the Queen-Mother

  1. 42: The Skin of the Bear
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 44: Two Friends

The Queen-Mother was in her bedroom at the Palais-Royal, with Madame de Motteville and the Senora Molina. The King, who had been impatiently expected the whole day, had not made his appearance; and the Queen, who had grown quite impatient, had often sent to inquire about him. The whole atmosphere of the court seemed to indicate an approaching storm; the courtiers and the ladies of the court avoided meeting in the antechambers and the corridors, in order not to converse on compromising subjects.

Monsieur had joined the King early in the morning for a hunting-party; Madame remained in her own apartments, cool and distant to every one; and the Queen-Mother, after she had said her prayers in Latin, talked of domestic matters with her two friends in pure Castilian. Madame de Motteville, who understood the language perfectly, answered her in French. When the three ladies had exhausted every form of dissimulation and politeness to reach at last the charge that the King’s conduct was causing grief to the Queen and the Queen-Mother and all his family, and when in guarded phrases they had fulminated every variety of imprecation against Mademoiselle de la Valliere, the Queen-Mother terminated these recriminations by an exclamation indicative of her own reflections and character. “Estos hijos!” said she to Molina (which means, “These children!”- words full of meaning on a mother’s lips,- words full of terrible significance in the mouth of a Queen who, like Anne of Austria, hid many curious and dark secrets in her soul).

“Yes,” said Molina, “these children! for whom every mother becomes a sacrifice.”

“To whom,” replied the Queen, “a mother has sacrificed everything.”

Anne did not finish her phrase; for she fancied, when she raised her eyes towards the full-length portrait of the pale Louis XIII, that light had once more flashed from her husband’s dull eyes, and that his nostrils were inflated by wrath. The portrait became a living being; it did not speak, it threatened.

A profound silence succeeded the Queen’s last remark. La Molina began to turn over the ribbons and lace of a large work-table. Madame de Motteville, surprised at the look of mutual intelligence which had been exchanged between the confidante and her mistress, cast down her eyes like a discreet woman, and pretending to be observant of nothing that was passing listened with the utmost attention. She heard nothing, however, but a very significant “Hum!” on the part of the Spanish duenna, who was the image of circumspection, and a profound sigh on the part of the Queen. She looked up immediately. “You are suffering?” she said.

“No, Motteville, no; why do you say that?”

“Your Majesty just groaned.”

“You are right; I do suffer a little.”

“M. Vallot is not far off; I believe he is in Madame’s apartment.”

“Why is he with Madame?”

“Madame is troubled with nervous attacks.”

“A very fine disorder, indeed!” said the Queen. “M. Vallot is wrong in being there, when another physician might cure Madame.”

Madame de Motteville looked up with an air of great surprise, as she replied, “Another doctor instead of M. Vallot! Who, then?”

“Occupation, Motteville, occupation! Ah! if any one is really ill, it is my poor daughter.”

“And your Majesty too.”

“Less so this evening, though.”

“Do not believe that too confidently, Madame,” said De Motteville.

As if to justify the caution, a sharp pain seized the Queen, who turned deadly pale, and threw herself back in the chair, with every symptom of a sudden fainting-fit. “My drops!” she murmured.

“Ah! ah!” replied Molina, who went without haste to a richly gilded tortoise-shell cabinet, from which she took a large rock-crystal smelling-bottle, and brought it, open, to the Queen, who inhaled from it wildly several times, and murmured, “In that way the Lord will kill me; His holy will be done!”

“Your Majesty’s death is not so near at hand,” added Molina, replacing the smelling-bottle in the cabinet.

“Does your Majesty feel better now?” inquired Madame de Motteville.

“Much better,” returned the Queen, placing her finger on her lips, to impose silence on her favorite.

“It is very strange,” remarked Madame de Motteville, after a pause.

“What is strange?” said the Queen.

“Does your Majesty remember the day when this pain attacked you for the first time?”

“I remember only that it was a grievously sad day for me, Motteville.”

“But your Majesty had not always regarded that day as a sad one.”


“Because twenty-three years before, on that very day, his present Majesty, your own glorious son, was born at the very same hour.”

The Queen uttered a loud cry, buried her face in her hands, and seemed utterly lost for some moments. Was it remembrance or reflection, or was it grief? La Molina darted a look at Madame de Motteville almost furious in its reproachfulness. The poor woman, ignorant of its meaning, was about to make inquiries in her own defence, when suddenly Anne of Austria arose and said: “Yes, the 5th of September; my sorrow began on the 5th of September. The greatest joy, one day; the deepest sorrow, the next,- the sorrow,” she added in a low voice, “the bitter expiation of a too excessive joy.”

And from that moment Anne of Austria, whose memory and reason seemed to have become entirely suspended for a time, remained impenetrable, with vacant look, mind almost wandering, and hands hanging heavily down, as if life had almost departed.

“We must put her to bed,” said La Molina.

“Presently, Molina.”

“Let us leave the Queen alone,” added the Spanish attendant.

Madame de Motteville rose. Large and glistening tears were fast rolling down the Queen’s pallid face; and Molina, having observed this sign of weakness, fixed her vigilant black eyes upon her.

“Yes, yes,” replied the Queen. “Leave us, Motteville; go!”

The word “us” produced a disagreeable effect upon the ears of the French favorite; for it signified that an interchange of secrets or of revelations of the past was about to be made, and that one person was de trop in the conversation which seemed likely to take place.

“Will Molina be sufficient for your Majesty to-night?” inquired the Frenchwoman.

“Yes,” replied the Queen.

Madame de Motteville bowed in submission, and was about to withdraw, when suddenly an old female attendant, dressed as if she had belonged to the Spanish Court of the year 1620, opened the door and surprised the Queen in her tears, Madame de Motteville in her skilful retreat, and Molina in her strategy. “The remedy!” she cried delightedly to the Queen, as she unceremoniously approached the group.

“What remedy, Chica?” said Anne of Austria.

“For your Majesty’s sufferings,” the former replied.

“Who brings it?” asked Madame de Motteville, eagerly- “M. Vallot?”

“No; a lady from Flanders.”

“From Flanders? Is she Spanish?” inquired the Queen.

“I don’t know.”

“Who sent her?”

“M. Colbert.”

“Her name?”

“She did not mention it.”

“Her position in life?”

“She will answer that herself.”

“Her face?”

“She is masked.”

“Go, Molina; go and see!” cried the Queen.

“It is needless,” suddenly replied a voice, at once firm and gentle in its tone, which proceeded from the other side of the tapestry hangings,- a voice which startled the attendants and made the Queen tremble. At the same moment a woman, masked, appeared between the curtains, and before the Queen could speak, added, “I am connected with the order of the Béguines of Bruges, and do indeed bring with me the remedy which is certain to effect a cure of your Majesty’s complaint.”

No one uttered a sound, and the Béguine did not move a step.

“Speak!” said the Queen.

“I will when we are alone,” was the answer.

Anne of Austria looked at her attendants, who immediately withdrew. The Béguine thereupon advanced a few steps towards the Queen, and bowed reverently before her. The Queen gazed with increasing mistrust at this woman, who in her turn fixed a pair of brilliant eyes upon the Queen through openings in the mask.

“The Queen of France must indeed be very ill,” said Anne of Austria, “if it is known at the Béguinage of Bruges that she stands in need of being cured.”

“Your Majesty, thank God, is not ill beyond remedy.”

“But tell me, how do you happen to know that I am suffering?”

“Your Majesty has friends in Flanders.”

“And these friends have sent you?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“Name them to me.”

“Impossible, Madame, since your Majesty’s memory has not been awakened by your heart.”

Anne of Austria looked up, endeavoring to discover through the concealment of the mask and through her mysterious language the name of this person who expressed herself with such familiarity and freedom; then suddenly, wearied by a curiosity at odds with her pride, she said, “You are ignorant, perhaps, that royal personages are never spoken to with the face masked.”

“Deign to excuse me, Madame,” replied the Béguine, humbly.

“I cannot excuse you; I will not forgive you if you do not throw your mask aside.”

“I have made a vow, Madame, to go to the help of those who are afflicted or suffering, without ever permitting them to behold my face. I might have been able to administer some relief to your body and to your mind; but since your Majesty forbids me, I will take my leave. Adieu, Madame, adieu!”

These words were uttered with a harmony of tone and respect of manner that destroyed the Queen’s anger and suspicion, but did not remove her feeling of curiosity. “You are right,” she said; “it ill becomes those who are suffering to reject the means of relief which Heaven sends them. Speak, then; and may you indeed be able, as you assert you are, to administer relief to my body. Alas! I think that God is about to make it suffer.”

“Let us first speak a little of the mind, if you please,” said the Béguine,- “of the mind, which I am sure must also suffer.”

“My mind?”

“There are cancers so insidious in their nature that their very pulsation is invisible. Such cancers, Madame, leave the ivory whiteness of the skin untouched, and marble not the firm, fair flesh with their blue tints; the physician who bends over the patient’s chest hears not, though he listens, the insatiable teeth of the disease grinding its onward progress through the muscles, as the blood flows freely on; neither iron nor fire has ever destroyed or disarmed the rage of these mortal scourges; their home is in the mind, which they corrupt; they grow in the heart until it breaks. Such, Madame, are these other cancers, fatal to queens: are you free from these evils?”

Anne slowly raised her arm, as dazzling in its perfect whiteness and as pure in its rounded outlines as it was in the time of her earlier days. “The evils to which you allude,” she said, “are the condition of the lives of the high in rank upon earth, to whom Heaven has imparted mind. When those evils become too heavy to be borne, the Lord lightens their burden by penitence and confession. Thus we lay down our burden, and the secrets which oppress us. But forget not that the same sovereign Lord apportions their trials to the strength of his creatures; and my strength is not inferior to my burden. For the secrets of others I have enough of the mercy of Heaven; for my own secrets not so much mercy as my confessor.”

“I find you, Madame, as courageous as ever against your enemies; I do not find you showing confidence in your friends.”

“Queens have no friends. If you have nothing further to say to me, if you feel yourself inspired by Heaven as a prophetess, leave me, I pray; for I dread the future.”

“I should have supposed,” said the Béguine, resolutely, “that you would dread the past even more.”

Hardly had these words escaped the Béguine’s lips, when the Queen rose proudly. “Speak!” she cried, in a short, imperious tone of voice; “explain yourself briefly, quickly, entirely; or else-”

“Nay, do not threaten me, your Majesty!” said the Béguine, gently. “I have come to you full of compassion and respect; I have come on the part of a friend.”

“Prove it, then! Comfort, instead of irritating me.”

“Easily enough; and your Majesty will see who is friendly to you. What misfortune has happened to your Majesty during these twenty-three years past?”

“Serious misfortunes, indeed! Have I not lost the King?”

“I speak not of misfortunes of that kind. I wish to ask you if, since- the birth of the King,- any indiscretion on a friend’s part has caused your Majesty distress?”

“I do not understand you,” replied the Queen, setting her teeth hard together in order to conceal her emotion.

“I will make myself understood, then. Your Majesty remembers that the King was born on the 5th of September, 1638, at quarter-past eleven o’clock.”

“Yes,” stammered the Queen.

“At half-past twelve,” continued the Béguine, “the Dauphin, who had been baptized by Monseigneur de Meaux in the King’s and in your own presence, was acknowledged as the heir of the crown of France. The King then went to the chapel of the old Château de St. Germain to hear the ‘Te Deum’ chanted.”

“Quite true, quite true,” murmured the Queen.

“Your Majesty’s confinement took place in the presence of Monsieur, his Majesty’s late uncle, of the princes, and of the ladies attached to the court. The King’s physician, Bouvard, and Honoré, the surgeon, were stationed in the antechamber; your Majesty slept from three o’clock until seven, I believe?”

“Yes, yes; but you tell me no more than every one else knows as well as you and myself.”

“I am now, Madame, approaching that with which very few persons are acquainted. Very few persons, did I say? Alas! I might say two only; for formerly there were but five in all, and for many years past the secret has been assured by the deaths of the principal participators in it. The late King sleeps now with his ancestors; Péronne, the midwife, soon followed him; Laporte is already forgotten.”

The Queen opened her lips as though about to reply; she felt beneath her icy hand, with which she touched her face, the beads of perspiration upon her brow.

“It was eight o’clock,” pursued the Béguine. “The King was seated at supper, full of joy and happiness; around him on all sides arose wild cries of delight and drinking of healths; the people cheered beneath the balconies; the Swiss Guards, the Musketeers, and the Royal Guard wandered through the city, borne about in triumph by the drunken students. Those boisterous sounds of the general joy disturbed the Dauphin, the future King of France, who was quietly lying in the arms of Madame de Hausac, his nurse, and whose eyes, when he should open them, might have observed two crowns at the foot of his cradle. Suddenly your Majesty uttered a piercing cry, and Dame Péronne flew to your bedside.

“The doctors were dining in a room at some distance from your chamber; the palace, abandoned in the general confusion, was without either sentinels or guards. The midwife, having questioned and examined your Majesty, gave a sudden exclamation of surprise, and taking you in her arms, bewildered, almost out of her senses from sheer distress of mind, despatched Laporte to inform the King that her Majesty the Queen wished to see him in her room.

“Laporte, you are aware, Madame, was a man of the most admirable calmness and presence of mind. He did not approach the King as if he were the bearer of alarming intelligence and, feeling his importance, wished to inspire the terror which he himself experienced; besides, it was not a very terrifying intelligence which awaited the King. At any rate, Laporte, with a smile upon his lips, approached the King’s chair, saying to him, ‘Sire, the Queen is very happy, and would be still more so to see your Majesty.’

“On that day Louis XIII would have given his crown away to the veriest beggar for a ‘God bless you.’ Animated, light-hearted, and full of gayety, the King rose from the table, and said to those around him, in a tone that Henry IV might have used, ‘Gentlemen, I am going to see my wife.’ He came to your bedside, Madame, at the very moment when Dame Péronne presented to him a second Prince, as beautiful and healthy as the former, and said, ‘Sire, Heaven will not allow the kingdom of France to fall into the female line.’ The King, yielding to a first impulse, clasped the child in his arms, and cried, ‘Oh, Heaven, I thank thee!’”

At this part of her recital the Béguine paused, observing how intensely the Queen was suffering. She had thrown herself back in her chair, and with her head bent forward and her eyes fixed, listened without seeming to hear, and her lips moved convulsively, breathing either a prayer to Heaven or imprecations against the woman before her.

“Ah! do not believe that if there has been but one Dauphin in France,” exclaimed the Béguine, “if the Queen allowed the second child to vegetate far from the throne,- do not believe that she was an unfeeling mother. Oh, no, no! There are those who know the floods of bitter tears she shed; there are those who have known and witnessed the passionate kisses she imprinted on that innocent creature in exchange for the life of misery and gloom to which State policy condemned the twin brother of Louis XIV.”

“Oh, Heaven!” murmured the Queen, feebly.

“It is known,” continued the Béguine, quickly, “that when the King perceived the effect which would result from the existence of two sons, both equal in age and pretensions, he trembled for the welfare of France, for the tranquillity of the State. It is known that the Cardinal de Richelieu, by the direction of Louis XIII, thought over the subject with deep attention, and after an hour’s meditation in his Majesty’s cabinet pronounced the following sentence: ‘A King is born, to succeed his Majesty. God has sent another, to succeed the first; but at present we need only the first-born. Let us conceal the second from France, as God has concealed him from his parents themselves. One Prince is peace and safety for the State; two competitors are civil war and anarchy.’”

The Queen rose suddenly from her seat, pale as death, her hands clinched together. “You know too much,” she said in a hoarse, thick voice, “since you refer to secrets of State. As for the friends from whom you have acquired this secret, they are false and treacherous. You are their accomplice in the crime which is now committed. Now, throw aside your mask, or I will have you arrested by my captain of the Guards. Do not think that this secret terrifies me! You have obtained it; you shall restore it to me. It will freeze in your bosom; neither your secret nor your life belongs to you from this moment.”

Anne of Austria, joining gesture to the threat, advanced two steps towards the Béguine. “Learn,” said the latter, “to know and value the fidelity, the honor, and the secrecy of the friends you have abandoned.” She then suddenly threw aside her mask.

“Madame de Chevreuse!” exclaimed the Queen.

“With your Majesty, the sole living confidante of the secret.”

“Ah,” murmured Anne of Austria, “come and embrace me, Duchess! Alas! you kill your friend in thus trifling with her terrible distress.”

The Queen, leaning her head upon the shoulder of the old duchess, burst into a flood of bitter tears. “How young you are still!” said the latter, in a hollow voice; “you can weep!”

  1. 42: The Skin of the Bear
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 44: Two Friends