Chapter 44: Two Friends

  1. 43: The Queen-Mother
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 45: Jean de la Fontaine’s First Tale

The Queen looked steadily at Madame de Chevreuse, and said: “I believe you just now made use of the word ‘happy’ in speaking of me. Hitherto, Duchess, I had thought it impossible that a human creature could anywhere be found less happy than the Queen of France.”

“Your afflictions, Madame, have indeed been terrible enough; but by the side of those illustrious misfortunes to which we, two old friends separated by men’s malice, were just now alluding, you possess sources of pleasure, slight enough in themselves it may be, but which are greatly envied by the world.”

“What are they?” said Anne of Austria, bitterly. “How can you use the word ‘pleasure,’ Duchess,- you who just now admitted that my body and my mind both are in need of remedies?

Madame de Chevreuse collected herself for a moment, and then murmured, “How far removed Kings are from other people!”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that they are so far removed from the vulgar herd that they forget that others ever stand in need of the bare necessaries of life. They are like the inhabitant of the African mountain who gazing from the verdant table-land, refreshed by the rills of melted snow, cannot comprehend that the dwellers in the plains below him are perishing from hunger and thirst in the midst of their lands burned up by the heat of the sun.”

The Queen slightly colored, for she now began to perceive the drift of her friend’s remark. “It was very wrong,” she said, “to have neglected you.”

“Oh, Madame, the King has inherited, it is said, the hatred his father bore me. The King would dismiss me if he knew I were in the Palais-Royal.”

“I cannot say that the King is very well disposed towards you, Duchess,” replied the Queen; “but I could- secretly, you know-” The duchess’s disdainful smile produced a feeling of uneasiness in the Queen’s mind. “Duchess,” she hastened to add, “you did perfectly right to come here.”

“Thanks, Madame.”

“Even were it only to give us the happiness of contradicting the report of your death.”

“Has it been said, then, that I was dead?”


“And yet my children did not go into mourning.”

“Ah! you know, Duchess, the court is very frequently moving about from place to place; we see the gentlemen of Albert de Luynes but seldom, and many things escape our minds in the midst of the preoccupations which constantly engage us.”

“Your Majesty ought not to have believed the report of my death.”

“Why not? Alas! we are all mortal; and you may perceive how rapidly I- your younger sister, as we used formerly to say- am approaching the tomb.”

“If your Majesty had believed me dead, you ought to have been astonished not to have received any communication from me.”

“Death not unfrequently takes us by surprise, Duchess.”

“Oh, your Majesty, those who are burdened with secrets such as we have just now discussed have always an urgent desire to divulge them, which they must gratify before they die. Among the preparations for eternity is the task of putting one’s papers in order.” The Queen started. “Your Majesty will be sure to learn in a particular manner the day of my death.”

“Why so?”

“Because your Majesty will receive the next day, under several coverings, everything connected with our mysterious correspondence of former times.”

“Did you not burn it?” cried Anne, in alarm.

“Traitors only,” replied the duchess, “destroy a royal correspondence.”

“Traitors, do you say?”

“Yes, certainly; or rather they pretend to destroy, and keep or sell it. The faithful, on the contrary, most carefully secrete such treasures; for it may happen that some day or other they will wish to seek out their Queen in order to say to her: ‘Madame, I am getting old; my health is fast failing me. For me there is danger of death; for your Majesty, the danger that this secret may be revealed. Take, therefore, this dangerous paper, and burn it yourself.’”

“A dangerous paper? What one?”

“So far as I am concerned, I have but one, it is true; but that is indeed most dangerous in its nature.”

“Oh, Duchess, tell me, tell me!”

“A letter dated Tuesday, the 2d of August, 1644, in which you beg me to go to Noisy-le-Sec to see that unhappy child. In your own handwriting, Madame, there are those words, ‘that unhappy child!’”

A profound silence ensued. The Queen’s mind was wandering in the past; Madame de Chevreuse was watching the progress of her scheme. “Yes unhappy, most unhappy!” murmured Anne of Austria; “how sad the existence he led, poor child, to finish it in so cruel a manner!”

“Is he dead?” cried the duchess, suddenly, with a curiosity whose sincere accents the Queen instinctively detected.

“He died of consumption, died forgotten, died withered and blighted like the flowers a lover has given to his mistress, which she leaves to die secreted in a drawer where she has hidden them from the world.”

“Died?” repeated the duchess, with an air of discouragement which would have afforded the Queen the most unfeigned delight had it not been tempered in some measure by a mixture of doubt. “Died- at Noisy-le-Sec?”

“Yes, in the arms of his tutor,- a poor, honest man who did not long survive him.”

“That can be easily understood. It is so difficult to bear up under the weight of such a loss and such a secret,” said Madame de Chevreuse, the irony of which reflection the Queen pretended not to perceive. Madame de Chevreuse continued: “Well, Madame, I inquired some years ago at Noisy-le-Sec about this unhappy child. I was told that it was not believed he was dead; and that was my reason for not at once condoling with your Majesty. Oh, certainly, if I had believed it, never should the slightest allusion to so deplorable an event have reawakened your Majesty’s legitimate distress.”

“You say that it is not believed that the child died at Noisy?”

“No, Madame.”

“What did they say about him, then?”

“They said- But no doubt they were mistaken.”

“Nay, speak, speak!”

“They said that one evening about the year 1645 a lady, beautiful and majestic in her bearing, which was observed notwithstanding the mask and the mantle which concealed her figure,- a lady of rank, of very high rank no doubt,- came in a carriage to the place where the road branches off,- the very same spot, you know, where I awaited news of the young Prince when your Majesty was pleased to send me there.”

“Well, well?”

“That the boy’s tutor, or guardian, took the child to this lady.”

“Well, what next?”

“That both the child and his tutor left that part of the country the very next day.”

“There! you see there is some truth in what you relate, since in point of fact the poor child died from a sudden attack of illness, which up to the age of seven years makes the lives of all children, as doctors say, suspended as it were by a thread.”

“What your Majesty says is quite true. No one knows it better than you; no one believes it more than myself. But yet how strange it is-”

“What can it now be?” thought the Queen.

“The person who gave me these details, who had been sent to inquire after the child’s health-”

“Did you confide such a charge to any one else? Oh, Duchess!”

“Some one as dumb as your Majesty, as dumb as myself; we will suppose it was myself, Madame. This ‘some one,’ some months after, passing through Touraine-”


“Recognized both the tutor and the child too! I am wrong; he thought he recognized them, both living, cheerful, happy, and flourishing,- the one in a green old age, the other in the flower of his youth. Judge, after that, what truth can be attributed to the rumors which are circulated, or what faith, after that, can be placed in anything that may happen in the world. But I am fatiguing your Majesty; it was not my intention, however, to do so; and I will take my leave of you, after renewing to you the assurance of my most respectful devotion.”

“Stay, Duchess! Let us first talk a little about yourself.”

“Of myself, Madame? I am not worthy that you should bend your looks upon me.”

“Why not, indeed? Are you not the oldest friend I have? Are you angry with me, Duchess?”

“I, indeed! What motive could I have? If I had reason to be angry with your Majesty, should I have come here?”

“Duchess, age is fast creeping on us both; we should be united against that death whose approach threatens us.”

“You overpower me, Madame, with the kindness of your language.”

“No one has ever loved or served me as you have done, Duchess.”

“Your Majesty remembers it?”

“Always. Duchess, give me a proof of your friendship.”

“Ah, Madame, my whole being is devoted to your Majesty.”

“The proof I require is that you should ask something of me.”


“Oh, I know you well,- no one is more disinterested, more noble, more truly royal.”

“Do not praise me too highly, Madame,” said the duchess, becoming uneasy.

“I could never praise you as much as you deserve to be praised.”

“And yet, age and misfortune effect a great change in people, Madame.”

“So much the better; for the beautiful, the haughty, the adored duchess of former days might have answered me ungratefully, ‘I do not wish for anything from you.’ Blessed be misfortunes, if they have come to you, since they will have changed you, and you will now perhaps answer me, ‘I accept.’”

The duchess’s look and smile became more gentle; she was under the charm, and no longer concealed her wishes.

“Speak, dearest!” said the Queen; “what do you want?”

“I must first explain to you-”

“Do so unhesitatingly.”

“Well, then, your Majesty can confer on me a pleasure unspeakable, a pleasure incomparable.”

“What is it?” said the Queen, a little distant in her manner, from an uneasiness of feeling produced by this remark. “But do not forget, my good Chevreuse, that I am quite as much under my son’s influence as I was formerly under my husband’s.”

“I will not be too hard, Madame.”

“Call me as you used to do; it will be a sweet echo of our happy youth.”

“Well, then, my dear mistress, my darling Anne-”

“Do you know Spanish still?”


“Ask me in Spanish, then.”

“Here it is: Will your Majesty do me the honor to pass a few days with me at Dampierre?”

“Is that all?” said the Queen, stupefied.


“Nothing more than that?”

“Good Heavens! Can you possibly imagine that in asking you that, I am not asking you the greatest conceivable favor? If that really be the case, you do not know me. Will you accept?”

“Yes, gladly. And I shall be happy,” continued the Queen, with some suspicion, “if my presence can in any way be useful to you.”

“Useful,” exclaimed the duchess, laughing,- “oh, no, no! agreeable, delicious, delightful,- yes, a thousand times yes! You promise me, then?”

“I swear it,” said the Queen, whereupon the Duchess seized her beautiful hand and covered it with kisses. The Queen could not help murmuring to herself, “She is a good-hearted woman, and very generous too.”

“Will your Majesty consent to wait a fortnight before you come?”

“Certainly; but why?”

“Because,” said the duchess, “knowing me to be in disgrace, no one would lend me the hundred thousand crowns which I require to put Dampierre in a state of repair. But when it is known that I require that sum for the purpose of receiving your Majesty at Dampierre properly, all the money in Paris will be at my disposal.”

“Ah!” said the Queen, gently nodding her head with an air of intelligence, “a hundred thousand crowns! you want a hundred thousand crowns to put Dampierre into repair?”

“Quite as much as that.”

“And no one will lend them to you?”

“No one.”

“I will lend them to you, if you like, Duchess.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t dare to accept!”

“You would be wrong if you did not. Besides, a hundred thousand crowns is really not much. I know but too well that your discreetness has never been properly acknowledged. Push that table a little towards me, Duchess, and I will write you an order on M. Colbert,- no, on M. Fouquet, who is a far more courteous and obliging man.”

“Will he pay it?”

“If he will not pay it, I will; but it will be the first time he will have refused me.”

The Queen wrote and handed the duchess the order, and afterwards dismissed her with a warm and cheerful embrace.

  1. 43: The Queen-Mother
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 45: Jean de la Fontaine’s First Tale