Within the gates there is a sense of leisure: even the officials have ceased to anticipate visitors. In the Cour Royale two little girls have cajoled an old guide into playing a game of ball. A custodian dozes by the great log fire in the bedroom of Louis XIV., where the warm firelight playing on the rich trappings lends such an air of occupation to the chamber, that—forgetting how time has turned to grey the once white ostrich plumes adorning the canopy of the bed, and that the priceless lace coverlet would probably fall to pieces at a touch—one almost expects the door to open for the entrance of Louis le Grand himself.
To this room he came when he built the Palace wherein to hide from that grim summons with which the tower of the Royal sepulture of St. Denis, visible from his former residence, seemed to threaten him. And here it was that Death, after long seeking, found him. We can see the little great-grandson who was to succeed, lifted on to the bed of the dying monarch.
[Illustration: The Bedchamber of Louis XIV]
“What is your name, my child?” asks the King.
“Louis XV;” replies the infant, taking brevet-rank. And nearly sixty years later we see the child, his wasted life at an end, dying of virulent smallpox under the same roof, deserted by all save his devoted daughters.
To me the Palace of Versailles is peopled by the ghosts of many women. A few of them are dowdy and good, but by far the greater number are graceful and wicked. How infinitely easier it is to make a good bad reputation than to achieve even a bad good one! “Tell us stories about naughty children,” we used to beseech our nurses. And as our years increase we still yawn over the doings of the righteous, while our interest in the ways of transgressors only strengthens.
We all know by heart the romantic lives of the shrinking La Valliere, of Madame de Montespan the impassioned, of sleek Madame de Maintenon—the trio of beauties honoured by the admiration of Louis le Grand; and of the bevy of favourites of Louis XV, the three fair and short-lived sisters de Mailly-Nesle, the frail Pompadour who mingled scheming with debauchery, and the fascinating but irresponsible Du Barry. Even the most minute details of Marie Antoinette’s tragic career are fresh in our memories, but which of us can remember the part in the history of France played by Marie Leczinska? Yet, apart from her claim to notability as having been the last queen who ended her days on the French throne, her story is full of romantic interest.
Thrusting aside the flimsy veil of Time, we find Marie Leczinska the penniless daughter of an exiled Polish king who is living in retirement in a dilapidated commandatory at a little town in Alsace. It is easy to picture the shabby room wherein the unforeseeing Marie sits content between her mother and grandmother, all three diligently broidering altar cloths. Upon the peaceful scene the father enters, overcome by emotion, trembling. His face announces great news, before he can school his voice to speak.