Read CHAPTER VIII. - The queen’s petite levee of The Queen's Necklace , free online book, by Alexandre Dumas‚ Pere, on ReadCentral.com.

No sooner was the king gone than the queen rose, and went to the window.  The morning was lovely, and had the charming feeling of the commencement of spring, while the sun seemed almost warm.  The wind had gone round to the west, and if it remained in that quarter this terrible winter was probably at an end.

The snow was beginning to drip from the trees, under the influence of this genial morning.

“If we wish to profit by the ice,” cried the queen, “I believe we must make haste; for look, Madame de Misery, the spring seems to have begun.  I much wish to make up a party on the Swiss lake, and will go to-day, for to-morrow it may be too late.”

“Then at what hour will your majesty wish to dress?”

“Immediately; I will breakfast and then go.”

“Are there any other orders,madame?”

“See if Madlle. de Taverney has risen, and tell her I wish to speak to her.”

“She is already waiting for you in theboudoir, madame.”

“Already?” said the queen, who knew at what time she had gone to bed.

“She has been there for twenty minutes,madame.”

“Ask her to come in.”

Andree soon entered, dressed with her usual care, and smiling, though rather unquiet.

The queen’s answering smile quite reassured her.

“Go, my good Misery, and send me Leonard.”

When she was gone, “The king has been charming,” said the queen to Andree; “he has laughed, and is quite disarmed.”

“But does he know,madame?”

“You understand, Andree, that a woman does not tell falsehoods when she has done no wrong and is the Queen of France.”

“Certainly,madame.”

“Still, my dear Andree, it seems we have been wrong -

“Doubtless,madame, but how?”

“Why, in pitying Madame de la Motte; the king dislikes her, but I confess she pleased me.”

“Here is Leonard,” said Madame de Misery, returning.

The queen seated herself before her silver-gilt toilet-table, and the celebrated hair-dresser commenced his operations.

She had the most beautiful hair in the world, and was fond of looking at it; Leonard knew this, and therefore with her was always tardy in his movements, that she might have time to admire it.

Marie Antoinette was looking beautiful that morning:  she was pleased and happy.

Her hair finished, she turned again to Andree.

“You have not been scolded,” she said; “you are free:  besides, they say every one is afraid of you, because, like Minerva, you are too wise.”

“I,madame?”

“Yes, you; but,oh,mon Dieu! how happy you are to be unmarried, and, above all, to be content to be so.”

Andree blushed, and tried to smile.

“It is a vow that I have made,” said she.

“And which you will keep, beautiful vestal?”

“I hope so.”

“Apropos,” said the queen, “I remember, that although unmarried, you have a master since yesterday morning.”

“A master,madame?”

“Yes, your dear brother; what do you call him? - Philippe, is it not?”

“Yes,madame.”

“Has he arrived?”

“He came yesterday.”

“And you have not yet seen him?  I took you away to Paris, selfish that I was; it was unpardonable.”

“Oh,madame!  I pardon you willingly, and Philippe also.”

“Are you sure?”

“I answer for both of us.”

“How is he?”

“As usual, beautiful and good,madame.”

“How old is he now?”

“Thirty-two.”

“Poor Philippe! do you know that it is fourteen years since I first met him!  But I have not seen him now for nine or ten.”

“Whenever your majesty pleases to receive him he will be but too happy to assure you that this long absence has not altered the sentiment of respectful devotion which he has ever felt for his queen.”

“I will see him at once.”

“In a quarter of an hour he will be at your majesty’s feet.”

Scarcely was Andree gone, when the queen saw reflected in the glass an arch and laughing face.  “My brother D’Artois,” cried the queen; “how you frightened me!”

“Good morning, your majesty,” said the young prince; “how did your majesty pass the night?”

“Very badly, brother.”

“And the morning?”

“Very well.”

“That is the most important; I guessed that all had gone right, for I have just met the king, and he was smiling most graciously.”

The queen laughed, and he echoed it.

The queen had just cast off her dressing-gown of India muslin, and put on her morning dress, when the door opened and Andree entered, leading by the hand a handsome man with a brown complexion, noble black eyes, profoundly imbued with melancholy, and a soldier-like carriage.  He looked like one of Coypel’s or Gainsborough’s beautiful portraits.

He was dressed in a dark gray coat, embroidered in silver, a white cravat, and a dark waistcoat; and this rather somber style of dress seemed to suit the manly character of his beauty.

“Your majesty,” said Andree, “here is my brother.”

Philippe bowed gravely.

The queen, who had until now been looking at his figure reflected in her mirror, turned round and saluted him.  She was beautiful, with that royal beauty which made all around her not only partisans of the throne, but adorers of the woman.  She possessed the power of beauty; and, if we may make use of the inversion, the beauty of power.  Philippe, seeing her smile, and feeling those limpid eyes, at once soft and proud, fixed upon him, turned pale, and could hardly restrain his emotion.

“It appears, M. de Taverney,” said she, “that you pay me your first visit; I thank you for it.”

“Your majesty deigns to forget that it is I who should give thanks.”

“How many years have passed since we last met, monsieur?  Alas! the most beautiful part of our lives.”

“For me,madame, but not for your majesty, to whom all days are alike charming.”

“You were then pleased with America, M. de Taverney, as you remained there so long?”

“Madame,” answered Philippe, “M. de la Fayette, when he left the New World, had need of an officer in whom he could place confidence to take the command of the French auxiliaries.  He proposed me, therefore, to General Washington, who accepted me.”

“It seems,” said the queen, “that this new country sends us home many heroes.”

“Your majesty does not mean that for me?” asked Philippe, laughing.

“Why not?” Then turning to the Comte d’Artois, “See, brother,” she said; “has not M. de Taverney the look of a hero?”

Philippe, seeing himself thus introduced to the young prince, bowed low.  He returned it, and said, “I am most happy to make the acquaintance of such a gentleman.  What are your intentions in returning to France, sir?”

“Monseigneur,” answered Philippe, “my sister is my first consideration; whatever she wishes, I shall do.”

“But she has a father, I believe,” said the count.

“Never mind him,” said the queen, quickly, “I prefer Andree under her brother’s protection, and he under yours, count.  You will take charge of M. de Taverney, will you not?”

The count bowed an assent.

“For, do you know,” continued she, “that a very strong link binds me to M. de Taverney?”

“What do you mean, sister?”

“That he was the first Frenchman who presented himself to my eyes when I arrived in this country; and I had taken a very sincere vow to promote the happiness of the first Frenchman I should meet.”

Philippe felt the blood rush to his face, and Andree looked at him rather sadly.

The queen observed these looks of the brother and sister, and fancied she divined the cause.  “Why,” she thought, “should not Monsieur de Taverney have partaken the epidemic passion which pervaded all France for the dauphiness in 1774?” Marie Antoinette therefore attributed these looks to some confidence of this kind which the brother had made to the sister; and in consequence, she smiled still more upon him, and redoubled her kindness towards Andree.

The queen was a true woman, and gloried in being loved.

It was an innocent coquetry, and the most generous souls have the most strongly these aspirations for the love of all who surround them.

Alas! a time is coming for thee, poor queen, when those smiles towards those who love thee, with which thou hast been reproached, thou shalt vainly bestow on those that love thee not!

The Comte d’Artois approached Philippe while the queen was talking to Andree, and said, “Do you think Washington so very great a general?”

“Certainly a great man,monseigneur.”

“And what effect did our French produce out there?”

“As much good as the English did harm.”

“Ah, you are a partisan of the new ideas, my dear M. Philippe de Taverney; but have you reflected on one thing?”

“What,monseigneur?  I assure you that out there, encamped in the fields, and in the savannahs on the borders of the great lakes, I had plenty of time for reflection.”

“On this, that in making war out there, it was neither on the Indians nor on the English, but on us.”

“Ah,monseigneur, I do not deny that that is possible.”

“Therefore I do not admire so much these victories of M. de la Fayette and Washington.  It is egotism, perhaps, but it is not egotism for myself alone.”

“Oh,monseigneur!”

“But do you know why I will still support you with all my power?”

“Whatever be the reason, I shall be truly grateful.”

“It is, because you are not one of those whose names have been blazoned forth.  You have done your duty bravely, but you have not thrust yourself forward; you are not known in Paris.”

The young prince then kissed the queen’s hand, and bowing to Andree, left the room.

Then the queen turned again to Philippe, saying, “Have you seen your father, sir?”

“No,madame.”

“Why did you not go to see him first?”

“I had sent home my valet, and my luggage, but my father sent the servant back again, with orders to present myself first to you, or the king.”

“It is a lovely morning,” said the queen; “to-morrow the ice will begin to melt.  Madame de Misery, order my sledge and send my chocolate in here.”

“Will not your majesty take something to eat?  You had no supper last night.”

“You mistake, my good Misery, we had supper.  Had we not, Andree?”

“A very good one,madame.”

“So I will only have my chocolate.  Quick, Madame de Misery; this fine weather tempts me, and the Swiss lake will be full of company.”

“Your majesty is going to skate?” asked Philippe.

“Ah, you will laugh at us, M. l’Americain; you, who have traversed lakes where there are more miles than we have feet here.”

“Madame,” replied Philippe, “here you amuse yourself with the cold, but there they die of it.”

“Ah, here is my chocolate; Andree, take a cup with me.”

Andree bowed, coloring with pleasure.

“You see, M. de Taverney, I am always the same, hating all etiquette, as in old times.  Do you remember those old days?  Are you changed since then, M. Philippe?”

“No,madame,” replied the young man, “I am not changed - at least, not in heart.”

“Well, I am glad to hear that, for it was a good one.  A cup for M. de Taverney, Madame de Misery.”

“Oh,madame!” cried Philippe, “you cannot mean it; such an honor for a poor obscure soldier like me.”

“An old friend,” said the queen; “this day seems to remind me of my youth; I seem again happy, free, proud and yet foolish.  This day recalls to me that happy time at my dear Trianon, and all our frolics there, Andree and I together.  This day brings back to my memory my roses, my strawberries, and my birds, that I was so fond of, all, even to my good gardeners, whose happy faces often announced to me a new flower or a delicious fruit; and M. de Jussieu and that original old Rousseau, who is since dead.  But come,” continued she, herself pouring the chocolate into his cup, “you are a soldier, and accustomed to fire, so burn yourself gloriously with this chocolate, for I am in a hurry.”

She laughed, but Philippe, taking it seriously, drank it off most heroically.

The queen saw him, and laughing still more, said, “You are indeed a perfect hero, M. de Taverney.”  She then rose, and her woman brought her bonnet, ermine mantle, and gloves.

Philippe took his hat under his arm, and followed her and Andree out.

“M. de Taverney, I do not mean you to leave me,” said the queen.  “Come round to my right.”

They went down the great staircase; the drums were beating, the clarions of the body-guard were playing, and this whole scene, and the enthusiasm everywhere shown towards that beautiful queen by whose side he was walking, completed the intoxication of the young man.  The change was too sudden, after so many years of exile and regret, to such great joy and honor.