17 BONACIEUX AT HOME
It was the second time the cardinal had mentioned these diamond studs to the king. Louis XIII was struck with this insistence, and began to fancy that this recommendation concealed some mystery.
More than once the king had been humiliated by the cardinal, whose police, without having yet attained the perfection of the modern police, were excellent, being better informed than himself, even upon what was going on in his own household. He hoped, then, in a conversation with Anne of Austria, to obtain some information from that conversation, and afterward to come upon his Eminence with some secret which the cardinal either knew or did not know, but which, in either case, would raise him infinitely in the eyes of his minister.
He went then to the queen, and according to custom accosted her with fresh menaces against those who surrounded her. Anne of Austria lowered her head, allowed the torrent to flow on without replying, hoping that it would cease of itself; but this was not what Louis XIII meant. Louis XIII wanted a discussion from which some light or other might break, convinced as he was that the cardinal had some afterthought and was preparing for him one of those terrible surprises which his Eminence was so skillful in getting up. He arrived at this end by his persistence in accusation.
"But," cried Anne of Austria, tired of these vague attacks, "but, sire, you do not tell me all that you have in your heart. What have I done, then? Let me know what crime I have committed. It is impossible that your Majesty can make all this ado about a letter written to my brother."
The king, attacked in a manner so direct, did not know what to answer; and he thought that this was the moment for expressing the desire which he was not going to have made until the evening before the fete.
"Madame," said he, with dignity, "there will shortly be a ball at the Hotel de Ville. I wish, in order to honor our worthy aldermen, you should appear in ceremonial costume, and above all, ornamented with the diamond studs which I gave you on your birthday. That is my answer."
The answer was terrible. Anne of Austria believed that Louis XIII knew all, and that the cardinal had persuaded him to employ this long dissimulation of seven or eight days, which, likewise, was characteristic. She became excessively pale, leaned her beautiful hand upon a CONSOLE, which hand appeared then like one of wax, and looking at the king with terror in her eyes, she was unable to reply by a single syllable.
"You hear, madame," said the king, who enjoyed the embarrassment to its full extent, but without guessing the cause. "You hear, madame?"
"Yes, sire, I hear," stammered the queen.
"You will appear at this ball?"
"With those studs?"
The queen's paleness, if possible, increased; the king perceived it, and enjoyed it with that cold cruelty which was one of the worst sides of his character.
"Then that is agreed," said the king, "and that is all I had to say to you."
"But on what day will this ball take place?" asked Anne of Austria.
Louis XIII felt instinctively that he ought not to reply to this question, the queen having put it in an almost dying voice.
"Oh, very shortly, madame," said he; "but I do not precisely recollect the date of the day. I will ask the cardinal."
"It was the cardinal, then, who informed you of this fete?"
"Yes, madame," replied the astonished king; "but why do you ask that?"
"It was he who told you to invite me to appear with these studs?"
"That is to say, madame — "
"It was he, sire, it was he!"
"Well, and what does it signify whether it was he or I? Is there any crime in this request?"
"Then you will appear?"
"That is well," said the king, retiring, "that is well; I count upon it."
The queen made a curtsy, less from etiquette than because her knees were sinking under her. The king went away enchanted.
"I am lost," murmured the queen, "lost! — for the cardinal knows all, and it is he who urges on the king, who as yet knows nothing but will soon know everything. I am lost! My God, my God, my God!"
She knelt upon a cushion and prayed, with her head buried between her palpitating arms.
In fact, her position was terrible. Buckingham had returned to London; Mme. Chevreuse was at Tours. More closely watched than ever, the queen felt certain, without knowing how to tell which, that one of her women had betrayed her. Laporte could not leave the Louvre; she had not a soul in the world in whom she could confide. Thus, while contemplating the misfortune which threatened her and the abandonment in which she was left, she broke out into sobs and tears.
"Can I be of service to your Majesty?" said all at once a voice full of sweetness and pity.
The queen turned sharply round, for there could be no deception in the expression of that voice; it was a friend who spoke thus.
In fact, at one of the doors which opened into the queen's apartment appeared the pretty Mme. Bonacieux. She had been engaged in arranging the dresses and linen in a closet when the king entered; she could not get out and had heard all.
The queen uttered a piercing cry at finding herself surprised — for in her trouble she did not at first recognize the young woman who had been given to her by Laporte.
"Oh, fear nothing, madame!" said the young woman, clasping her hands and weeping herself at the queen's sorrows; "I am your Majesty's, body and soul, and however far I may be from you, however inferior may be my position, I believe I have discovered a means of extricating your Majesty from your trouble."
"You, oh, heaven, you!" cried the queen; "but look me in the face. I am betrayed on all sides. Can I trust in you?"
"Oh, madame!" cried the young woman, falling on her knees; "upon my soul, I am ready to die for your Majesty!"
This expression sprang from the very bottom of the heart, and, like the first, there was no mistaking it.
"Yes," continued Mme. Bonacieux, "yes, there are traitors here; but by the holy name of the Virgin, I swear that no one is more devoted to your Majesty than I am. Those studs which the king speaks of, you gave them to the Duke of Buckingham, did you not? Those studs were enclosed in a little rosewood box which he held under his arm? Am I deceived? Is it not so, madame?"
"Oh, my God, my God!" murmured the queen, whose teeth chattered with fright.
"Well, those studs," continued Mme. Bonacieux, "we must have them back again."
"Yes, without doubt, it is necessary," cried the queen; "but how am I to act? How can it be effected?"