Imágenes de página

But Madame de Montespan, her rude and pitiless rival of after days, had no mercy with this slight defect:

Soyez boiteuse, ayez quinze ans ;
Point de gorge,* fort peu de sens,
Des parents, Dieu le sait! faites, en fille neuve,
Dans l'antichambre vos enfans:

Sur ma foi! vous aurez le premier des amants :
Et La Vallière en est la preuve.

The Count of Bussy-Rabutin was taught at the school of the Bastille how dangerous it was to be a court poet. Small mouths were at that time all the fashion. Mademoiselle de la Vallière had a large, beautiful, voluptuous mouth. The author of "L'Histoire Amoureuse des Gaules" celebrated its beauties in discourteous rhymes:

Que Déodatus est heureux
De baiser ce bec amoureux,
Qui d'une oreille à l'autre va,

De Bussy had only spoken of it as "grande, assez vermeille," but he added that the king had said, " Eh! bon Dieu! il est vrai qu'elle n'est pas belle, mais je lui ferai assez be bien pour la faire souhaiter." Of Mademoiselle de la Vallière's beauty there can be no doubt. M. Houssaye, a literary artist, dwells at length upon her charms, as depicted by the painters and sculptors of the day; no one has, however, portrayed them with so much poetical eloquence as the poet-romancer Alexandre Dumas. The passage is in the "Vicomte de Bragelonne," but we cannot do more than refer to it here. It is a most exquisite bit of portraitpainting, in which the pen outrivals the pencil.

"Maîtresse du roi!"-such had been for now a long time past a title consecrated, not precisely as a title of honour, but as one from whence honours flowed. Few women had been able to resist the temptation of carrying a sceptre in the shape of a fan. The morning after her fall, Mademoiselle de la Vallière did not wake up at the steps of the throne, with the courtiers prostrated before her; she awoke, her face in her hands, and afraid to face the daylight. The king was fond of light and noise, of pomp and festivals, and he took a positively cruel pleasure in parading his beautiful conquest. Mademoiselle de la Vallière, on the contrary, was all modesty and retirement: all she sought for was to bury her passion in her own bosom, and to love on in silence and in solitude.


Chaque fois," says M. Houssaye, "qu'elle se laissait prendre à la passion du roi, c'était pour lui une conquête et pour elle une chute-avec les larmes, les paleurs, les violences, les désespoirs." When sœur Louise de la Miséricorde, she admits her confusion and remorse, even at this the brightest epoch of her life. Hence her shrinking even from the manifestations of the love she lived for, and her repugnance to public demonstrations of favour. There was nothing feigned in all this. "Cette petite violette qui se cachait sous l'herbe," said Madame de Sévigné; and

* Mademoiselle de Chemerault hinted at this other slight defect when, alluding to Mademoiselle de la Vallière secreting the king's letters in her bosom, she said, "Où il y avait de la place." "Pour indiquer," M. Houssaye intimates, "que Mademoiselle de la Vallière n'avait pas un sein aussi fier que le sien."

that tuft of grass was her native modesty. The same authority has attested of her, that "elle était honteuse d'être maîtresse, d'être mère, d'être duchesse." "She was frightened of the sun," adds M. Houssaye, "that courtly sun which shone upon her from afar. O happy tuft of grass! How many souls live upon it, forgotten by the grace of God." Mademoiselle de la Vallière hurried to the chapel of Fontainebleau. For the first time in her life she compared herself to Magdalen. "But I," she exclaimed, in her despair-"I shall not have the glory of washing with my tears the blood of my Saviour!" She used to speak even to Louis XIV. of her misfortune; and yet how she loved her misfortune!


The news soon spread through the court. It was at first whispered, and then openly repeated, that Mademoiselle de la Vallière was the king's mistress. Thence it reached Paris. Mademoiselle de la Vallière, terrified at the publicity her misfortune had entailed upon her, took refuge in the convent of Chaillot. Louis XIV. was giving audience to the Spanish ambassador when a page brought him a note with three words on it: "Adieu! à Dieu!" The king forgot the ambassador, and rushed out to catch the runaway. Saddling a horse, he made his way to the convent, and brought back the fair one in triumph. According to another version, Mademoiselle de la Vallière held by a colossal stone crucifix to resist the king, who wished to carry her away by main force. Horace Vernet made this scene the subject of a picture, which has been engraved by Gudin and Chaponnier. Mademoiselle de la Vallière is represented as toute noyée dans sa chevelure"-the great feature of her youth and beauty. The king, when she was still a maid of honour, presented her with a pair of diamond earrings. "Elle les cachait," says M. Houssaye, 66 sous les ondes de sa chevelure comme la mer cache les perles." The queen-mother became the mouthpiece of the whole court upon the occasion of this great scandal. "You are not master of yourself," she said to her son. "If I am not master of myself," rejoined the king, "I will be master of those who dare to dispute my will." The king, in fact, imposed Mademoiselle de la Vallière upon his mother, upon his wife, and upon the whole court. "Il avait tous les despotismes.' court was chiefly at that time at the Palais Royal. The queen-mother recommended a pious resignation to the queen. Madame had made a virtue of what she could not help, and she condescended to preside over the daily amusements. The king insisted upon Madame de la Vallière having her apartments next to those of the queen. It is even said that Maria Theresa loved the king so much, that she took Mademoiselle de la Vallière in affection also. The latter was so quiet and so unpresuming, that she indeed conquered all hostilities. She had her maid of honour, too-Mademoiselle d'Artigny-who did much to enliven the somewhat melancholy loves of the king and of Mademoiselle de la Vallière. As to Madame, she used to play with the two-the mistress and her maid of honour-as with a couple of children. Once Louis XIV. experienced a pang of jealousy. He saw Mademoiselle de la Vallière dancing and conversing with unusual familiarity with a very handsome young man. "Who is that young man ?" he inquired, in breathless anger, when the dance was over. Mademoiselle de la Vallière laughed. "He is handsome, is he not? Ah, and if you only knew how agreeable he is!" “That is no answer to my question," said the wrathful monarch, stamp



ing his foot. "He is my brother, sire." "What!" exclaimed Louis XIV., "you have a brother, and you have never asked me for anything for him!" "Sire, I am not the king's mistress." replied the lover of Louis -a nice distinction, but one she was fond of nursing.



A year had nearly elapsed when the rumour went through the court that Mademoiselle de la Vallière had given birth to a child. Oh, que nenni!" said the queen. "She was at the ball yesterday, and I saw her on my way to mass, sleeping in a bed strewn with flowers that are fatal to a woman in labour." You may think so," replied the Countess of Soissons (Olympe Mancini). "She laid in last night, and the king himself received the child." The king came in at that moment. "Sire," said the queen, "do you carry the love of your subjects so far as to receive them on their entrance into the world "The king pretended not to understand, but was relieved from his embarrassment by Mademoiselle de la Vallière coming in herself. She was as beautiful as ever, and dressed most becomingly. It was thus that she contradicted rumours that were founded on truth. "Louis XIV.," says M. Houssaye, ne fut pas si brave pour passer le Rhin."


Mademoiselle de la Vallière was beloved by Le Nôtre, the landscape gardener of Versailles, which is more than was the case with Madame de Montespan. She used to cherish the roses that he gave her; Madame de Montespan would tear them to pieces. She suggested the labyrinth afterwards so fatal to her, and used to walk out in the morning dew. Madame de Montespan never went out save in a chair surrounded by courtiers. "Sire," said the old man, in after times, "those were the good old times! People got up early; they were not frightened at a fog; they loved one another even when out of sight." He was a great character was Le Nôtre, perfectly familiar with the king and all the court. He used to embrace the Grand Monarque "à franche accolade" on his return from the field of battle. "Victory is elsewhere, but the laurels," he would add, "grow here." And then he would piously crown his master with them.

Nothing could exceed the splendour of the entertainments given by Louis XIV. at Versailles. The so-called "plaisirs de l'île enchantée" lasted for seven days. The king had Corneille, Lulli, Quinault, Molière, and Vigarini to assist him. But mythology, poetry, chivalry, and champagne have an end. Man was born to work even a courtier. Molière's "Tartufe" could not rouse the flagging spirit on the sixth day, and on the seventh Mademoiselle de la Vallière ventured to insinuate to her lover, "If I have not made a mistake, it is just seven centuries since we have met."

The breaking out of war opened a serious page in this Decamerontie history. Before starting, the king sent an edict to parliament, by which he created Mademoiselle de la Vallière Duchesse de Vaujour, and recognised her daughter Marie Anne as Mademoiselle de Blois. But Mademoiselle, now Madame, de la Vallière preserved her own name, and instead of presuming upon her title and the lands that accompanied it, she wrote to her brother: "Je me cacherai un peu plus." She was never insensible to the great fact that she was living without the laws of the world and the laws of the Church.

The king in the mean time had gone to the wars with an artist for historiographer, Van der Meulen. Thanks to the Dutch artist, we can

now study Louis XIV. in his campaigns, in his hunts at Fontainebleau, and in his walks at Versailles, far better than in the pages of Voltaire. Paroccel was familiar, Le Brun epic-witness the "Batailles d'Alexandre" -but Van der Meulen was true to life. Louis soon grew weary of winning battles without any ladies to witness his prowess. So he wrote for the queen, knowing full well that Mademoiselle de la Vallière would come with her. But Mademoiselle de la Vallière was so impatient, that she rushed post haste in advance. Whereupon it is said she earned her first rebuke. "Quoi! madame, avant la reine!" the monarch is said to have uttered. It must have been like planting a dagger in the bosom of so meek, so loving, and so sensitive a being.

The last festival given to the "blonde amoureuse" was on the conclusion of the war, the 18th of July, 1668. It was spoken of for half a century. The Duke of Créqui and Molière superintended the comedy; Marshal de Bellefonds provided the entertainment; Colbert was the architect of the palaces of a day, and the superintendent of the fireworks and illuminations of the night. The king supped with Mademoiselle de la Vallière and a crowd of beauties, the queen, with Madame and Mademoiselle, in a tent apart. There were other tents presided over by the Countess of Soissons and other ladies. The ambassadors had a grotto, Molière his table close by. After the supper the ambassadors went to take lessons " de Français et de Françaises" in the grotto of the comedians. The Dauphin supped alone in the château.

That day had no morning for Mademoiselle de la Vallière, for instead of her the king met Madame de Montespan in the labyrinth. "What, so early out?" exclaimed the monarch, surprised. "Is not the sun risen ?" replied the marchioness, bowing; and the two continued their walk till interrupted by Mademoiselle d'Artigny. Where was Mademoiselle de la Vallière, she who had so often confronted the morning dews to meet her lord in that very labyrinth? The king now suddenly took it into his head that Mademoiselle de la Vallière should have her household. "It is the first step to exile," she wrote to him. "It is the assurance of your liberty," he replied; and he assigned the Hôtel de Biron as her future home. Madame de Montespan was all the more seductive with her burst of laughter, as contrasted with the pale but fair Mademoiselle de la Vallière, weeping for a lover who never came. One day they brought his portrait. "That is all," she said, "that remains to me of him-a portrait! And even when it was painted he was not thinking of me, for I do not recognise his look." She had her children to soothe her affliction, Mademoiselle de Blois and the Duke of Vermandois; but already her anguish sought chiefly for consolation in prayer. She wrote in her distress to the king: "I love your portrait better than yourself, for my heart tells me that there is no longer anything between us save a reminiscence." The jealousy of the king was aroused. He ordered his carriage and hastened to the Hôtel de Biron. She received him at the head of the staircase. Louis XIV. was in a rage. "Where is your bracelet, madame ?" was the first thing he said. "I have given it to your daughter," was the mild reply. "I understand," said the king, "you have forsaken me!" And then, turning to the portrait, he would have destroyed it with his stick had not the duchess withheld his arm. when he turned round at the action, and saw her eyes filled with tears,


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]


his heart misgave him, and he took her once more to his bosom. Explanations ensued. The king charged her with being about to wed the Duke of Longueville. It was the court scandal. Sire," said the duchess, throwing herself into the king's arms, "I repeat it once more: before the king there was Heaven; after the king there shall only be Heaven." Louis was convinced, and no sooner his jealousy assuaged, than he took out his watch. "Already!" he said, pretending to be surprised." May I not order supper?" whispered Mademoiselle de la Vallière." It is too late to-day," replied the king, picking up his walkingstick. “To-morrow, then ?" said the duchess, with sorrowful resignation. But it was not for that day, nor for the morrow. To use the words of M. Houssaye, "il avait trop lu le roman élégiaque de la Vallière." And the blasé monarch now felt nothing but ennui in the company of a mistress who only knew how to love. He had tasted of the dangerous seductions of a woman who, if she did not love, knew how to make herself beloved. It is, however, so far true, that the Duke of Longueville did love Madame de la Vallière, and offered to marry her. He was afterwards killed at the passage of the Rhine, and he is said to have sought death in grief at being refused. Racine wrote "Bérénice" at the time when the duke was pining for Madame de la Vallière. Voltaire identifies Berenice with Henriette d'Angleterre, and Jules Janin has repeated the identification after him; but M. Houssaye will have it, and with great apparent reason, that Titus was Louis XIV., Antiochus the Duke of Longueville, and Berenice Madame de la Vallière.

The night of Shrove Tuesday, 1671, there was a masked ball at court. That night Louis XIV. sought for Madame de la Vallière among the masks, but in vain. The next day he learnt that she had taken refuge in the convent of the "Dames de Sainte-Marie." This time the king did not mount his horse to bring her back; he sent Lauzun, who forgot the king to speak about himself; so he had next to send the minister Colbert: a minister's duties were in those times various. Colbert succeeded in bringing her back; the king wept with joy, and Madame de Montespan threw herself into her arms! "Cruel friend!" she exclaimed, "do you think that we can live without you!" Madame de Sévigné has described this strange scene. Madame de la Vallière remained at Versailles, but her position was sadly changed. She was as a kind of maid of honour, if not maid-of-all-work, to Madame de Montespan. The latter, less loving, but bolder and cleverer, laughed at her publicly. The king had to pass through her room to go to Madame de Montespan. The latter had a little spaniel called Malice; she used to teach the king to throw it at the duchess, saying, "There, madame, there is company enough for you." Poor la Vallière submitted to these outrages, and the more she forbore, the more her rival abused her forbearance. All the memoirs of the time attest to her servitude. There is a picture extant, painted at the time of the regency, which represents Madame de Vallière adjusting roses to the skirts of Madame de Montespan's dress. The king is standing by, looking on. In fact, Madame de Montespan took a pleasure in insulting her once rival. The king laughed at and ill treated her, and she submitted to both for the sake of the only man she loved.

"But this heart lit up," says M. Houssaye, "upon the heart of

« AnteriorContinuar »