Chapter 78 - In Which We At Length See The True Heroine Of This History Appear
Behind Madame de Saint-Remy stood Mademoiselle de la Valliere. She heard the explosion of maternal anger, and as she divined the cause of it, she entered the chamber trembling, and perceived the unlucky Malicorne, whose woeful countenance might have softened or set laughing whoever observed it coolly. He had promptly intrenched himself behind a large chair, as if to avoid the first attacks of Madame de Saint-Remy; he had no hopes of prevailing with words, for she spoke louder than he, and without stopping; but he reckoned upon the eloquence of his gestures. The old lady would neither listen to nor see anything; Malicorne had long been one of her antipathies. But her anger was too great not to overflow from Malicorne on his accomplice. Montalais had her turn.
"And you, mademoiselle; you may be certain I shall inform madame of what is going on in the apartment of one of her ladies of honor!"
"Oh, dear mother!" cried Mademoiselle de la Valliere, "for mercy's sake, spare - - "
"Hold your tongue, mademoiselle, and do not uselessly trouble yourself to intercede for unworthy people; that a young maid of honor like you should be subjected to a bad example is, certes, a misfortune great enough; but that you should sanction it by your indulgence is what I will not allow."
"But in truth," said Montalais, rebelling again, "I do not know under what pretense you treat me thus. I am doing no harm, I suppose?"
"And that great good-for-nothing, mademoiselle," resumed Madame de Saint-Remy, pointing to Malicorne, "is he here to do any good, I ask you?"
"He is neither here for good nor harm, madame; he comes to see me, that is all."
"It is all very well! all very well!" said the old lady. "Her royal highness shall be informed of it, and she will judge."
"At all events, I do not see why," replied Montalais, "it should be forbidden M. Malicorne to have intentions towards me, if his intentions are honorable."
"Honorable intentions with such a face!" cried Madame de Saint-Remy.
"I thank you in the name of my face, madame," said Malicorne.
"Come, my daughter, come," continued Madame de Saint-Remy; "we will go and inform madame that at the very moment she is weeping for her husband, at the moment when we are all weeping for a master in this old castle of Blois, the abode of grief, there are people who amuse themselves with flirtations!"
"Oh!" cried both the accused, with one voice.
"A maid of honor! a maid of honor!" cried the old lady, lifting her hands towards heaven.
"Well! it is there you are mistaken, madame," said Montalais, highly exasperated; "I am no longer a maid of honor, of madame's at least."
"Have you given in your resignation, mademoiselle? That is well! I cannot but applaud such a determination, and I do applaud it."
"I do not give in my resignation, madame; I take another service, - that is all."
"In the bourgeoisie or in the robe?" asked Madame de Saint-Remy, disdainfully.
"Please to learn, madame, that I am not a girl to serve either bourgeoises or robines, and that instead of the miserable court at which you vegetate, I am going to reside in a court almost royal."
"Ha, ha! a royal court," said Madame de Saint-Remy, forcing a laugh; "a royal court! What think you of that, my daughter?"
And she turned round towards Mademoiselle de la Valliere, whom she would by main force have dragged away from Montalais, and who, instead of obeying the impulse of Madame de Saint-Remy, looked first at her mother and then at Montalais with her beautiful conciliatory eyes.
"I did not say a royal court, madame," replied Montalais; "because Madame Henrietta of England, who is about to become the wife of S. A. R. Monsieur, is not a queen. I said almost royal, and I spoke correctly, since she will be sister-in-law to the king."
A thunderbolt falling upon the castle of Blois would not have astonished Madame de Saint-Remy more than the last sentence of Montalais.
"What do you say? of Son Altesse Royale Madame Henrietta?" stammered out the old lady.
"I say I am going to belong to her household, as maid of honor, that is what I say."
"As maid of honor!" cried, at the same time, Madame de Saint-Remy with despair, and Mademoiselle de la Valliere with delight.
"Yes, madame, as maid of honor."
The old lady's head sank down as if the blow had been too severe for her. But, almost immediately recovering herself, she launched a last projectile at her adversary.
"Oh! oh!" said she, "I have heard of many of these sorts of promises beforehand, which often lead people to flatter themselves with wild hopes, and at the last moment, when the time comes to keep the promises, and have the hopes realized, they are surprised to see the great credit upon which they reckoned vanish like smoke."
"Oh! madame, the credit of my protector is incontestable and his promises are as good as deeds."
"And would it be indiscreet to ask you the name of this powerful protector?"
"Oh! mon Dieu! no! it is that gentleman there," said Montalais, pointing to Malicorne, who, during this scene, had preserved the most imperturbable coolness, and the most comic dignity.
"Monsieur!" cried Madame de Saint-Remy, with an explosion of hilarity, "monsieur is your protector! Is the man whose credit is so powerful, and whose promises are as good as deeds, Monsieur Malicorne?"
As to Montalais, as her sole reply, she drew the brevet from her pocket, and showed it to the old lady.
"Here is the brevet," said she.
At once all was over. As soon as she had cast a rapid glance over this fortunate brevet, the good lady clasped her hands, an unspeakable expression of envy and despair contracted her countenance, and she was obliged to sit down to avoid fainting. Montalais was not malicious enough to rejoice extravagantly at her victory, or to overwhelm the conquered enemy, particularly when that enemy was the mother of her friend; she used then, but did not abuse, her triumph. Malicorne was less generous; he assumed noble poses in his fauteuil, and stretched himself out with a familiarity which, two hours earlier, would have drawn upon him threats of a caning.
"Maid of honor to the young madame!" repeated Madame de Saint-Remy, still but half convinced.
"Yes, madame, and through the protection of M. Malicorne, moreover."
"It is incredible!" repeated the old lady: "is it not incredible, Louise?" But Louise did not reply; she was sitting, thoughtful, almost sad; passing one hand over her beautiful brow she sighed heavily.
"Well, but, monsieur," said Madame de Saint-Remy, all at once, "how did you manage to obtain this post?"
"I asked for it, madame."
"One of my friends."
"And have you friends sufficiently powerful at court to give you such proofs of their credit?"
"It appears so."
"And may one ask the name of these friends?"
"I did not say I had many friends, madame, I said I had one friend."
And that friend is called?"
"Peste! madame, you go too far! When one has a friend as powerful as mine, we do not publish his name in that fashion, in open day, in order that he may be stolen from us."
"You are right, monsieur, to be silent as to that name; for I think it would be pretty difficult for you to tell it."
"At all events," said Montalais, "if the friend does not exist, the brevet does, and that cuts short the question."
"Then, I conceive," said Madame de Saint-Remy, with the gracious smile of the cat who is going to scratch, "when I found monsieur here just now - - "
"He brought you the brevet."
"Exactly, madame, you have guessed rightly."
"Well, then, nothing can be more moral or proper."
"I think so, madame."
"And I have been wrong, as it appears, in reproaching you, mademoiselle."
"Very wrong, madame; but I am so accustomed to your reproaches, that I pardon you these."
"In that case, let us begone, Louise; we have nothing to do but to retire. Well!"
"Madame!" said La Valliere, starting, "did you speak?"
"You do not appear to be listening, my child."
"No, madame, I was thinking."
"A thousand things."
"You bear me no ill-will, at least, Louise?" cried Montalais, pressing her hand.
"And why should I, my dear Aure?" replied the girl in a voice soft as a flute.
"Dame!" resumed Madame de Saint-Remy; "if she did bear you a little ill-will, poor girl, she could not be much blamed."
"And why should she bear me ill-will, good gracious?"
"It appears to me that she is of as good a family, and as pretty as you."
"Mother! mother!" cried Louise.
"Prettier a hundred times, madame - not of a better family; but that does not tell me why Louise should bear me ill-will"
"Do you think it will be very amusing for her to be buried alive at Blois, when you are going to shine at Paris?"
"But, madame, it is not I who prevent Louise following me thither; on the contrary, I should certainly be most happy if she came there."
"But it appears that M. Malicorne, who is all-powerful at court - - "
"Ah! so much the worse, madame," said Malicorne, "every one for himself in this poor world."
"Malicorne! Malicorne!" said Montalais. Then stooping towards the young man: -
"Occupy Madame de Saint-Remy, either in disputing with her, or making it up with her; I must speak to Louise." And, at the same time, a soft pressure of the hand recompensed Malicorne for his future obedience. Malicorne went grumbling towards Madame de Saint-Remy, whilst Montalais said to her friend, throwing one arm around her neck: -
"What is the matter? Tell me. Is it true that you would not love me if I were to shine, as your mother says?"
"Oh, no!" said the young girl, with difficulty restraining her tears; "on the contrary, I rejoice at your good fortune."
"Rejoice! why, one would say you are ready to cry!"
"Do people never weep except from envy?"
"Oh! yes, I understand; I am going to Paris, and that word Paris recalls to your mind a certain cavalier - - "
"A certain cavalier who formerly lived near Blois, and who now resides at Paris."
"In truth, I know not what ails me, but I feel stifled."
"Weep, then, weep, as you cannot give me a smile!"
Louise raised her sweet face, which the tears, rolling down one after the other, illumined like diamonds.
"Come, confess," said Montalais.
"What shall I confess?"
"What makes you weep; people don't weep without cause. I am your friend; whatever you would wish me to do, I will do. Malicorne is more powerful than you would think. Do you wish to go to Paris?"
"Alas!" sighed Louise.
"Do you wish to come to Paris?"
"To remain here alone, in this old castle, I who have enjoyed the delightful habit of listening to your songs, of pressing your hand, of running about the park with you. Oh! how I shall be ennuyee! how quickly I shall die!"
"Do you wish to come to Paris?"
Louise breathed another sigh.
"You do not answer me."
"What would you that I should reply?"
"Yes or no; that is not very difficult I think."
"Oh! you are very fortunate, Montalais!"
"That is to say you would like to be in my place."
Louise was silent.
"Little obstinate thing!" said Montalais; "did ever any one keep her secrets from her friend thus? But confess that you would like to come to Paris, confess that you are dying with the wish to see Raoul again?"
"I cannot confess that."
"Then you are wrong."
"In what way?"
"Because - - do you see this brevet?"
"To be sure I do."
"Well, I would have got you a similar one."
"By whose means?"
"Aure, are you telling the truth? Is that possible?"
"Malicorne is there; and what he has done for me, he surely can do for you."
Malicorne had heard his name pronounced twice; he was delighted at having an opportunity of coming to a conclusion with Madame de Saint-Remy, and he turned round: -
"What is the question, mademoiselle?"
"Come hither, Malicorne," said Montalais, with an imperious gesture. Malicorne obeyed.
"A brevet like this," said Montalais.
"A brevet like this; that is plain enough.
"But - - "
"I want one - I must have one!"
"Oh! oh! you must have one!"
"It is impossible, is it not, M. Malicorne?" said Louise, with her sweet, soft voice.
"If it is for you, mademoiselle - - "
"For me. Yes, Monsieur Malicorne, it would be for me."
"And if Mademoiselle de Montalais asks it at the same time - - "
"Mademoiselle de Montalais does not ask it, she requires it."
"Well! we will endeavor to obey you, mademoiselle."
"And you will have her named?"
"We will try."
"No evasive answers. Louise de la Valliere shall be maid of honor to Madame Henrietta within a week."
"How you talk!"
"Within a week, or else - - "
"Well! or else?"
"You may take back your brevet, Monsieur Malicorne; I will not leave my friend."
"That is right. Keep your brevet, Mademoiselle de la Valliere shall be a maid of honor."
"Is that true?"
"I may then hope to go to Paris?"
"Depend upon it."
"Oh! Monsieur Malicorne, what joy!" cried Louise, clapping her hands, and bounding with pleasure.
"Little dissembler!" said Montalais, "try again to make me believe you are not in love with Raoul."
Louise blushed like a rose in June, but instead of replying, she ran and embraced her mother. "Madame," said she, "do you know that M. Malicorne is going to have me appointed maid of honor?"
"M. Malicorne is a prince in disguise," replied the old lady, "he is all-powerful, seemingly."
"Should you also like to be maid of honor?" asked Malicorne of Madame de Saint-Remy. "Whilst I am about it, I might as well get everybody appointed."
And upon that he went away, leaving the poor lady quite disconcerted.
"Humph!" murmured Malicorne as he descended the stairs, - "Humph! there goes another note of a thousand livres! but I must get through as well as I can; my friend Manicamp does nothing for nothing."