Her father’s consent gained, Louise still tarried at Versailles. Perhaps the King’s daughter shrank from voluntarily beginning a life of imprisoned drudgery. We know that at this period she passed many hours reading contemporary history, knowing that, once within the convent walls, the study of none but sacred literature would be permitted.
Then came an April morning when Louise, who had kept her intention secret from all save her father, left the Palace never to return. France, in a state of joyous excitement, was eagerly anticipating the arrival of Marie Antoinette, who was setting forth on the first stage of that triumphal journey which had so tragic an ending. Already the gay clamour of wedding-bells filled the air; and Louise may have feared that, did she linger at Versailles, the enticing vanities of the world might change the current of her thoughts.
Chief among the impalpable throng that people the state galleries is Marie Antoinette, and her spirit shows us many faces. It is charming, haughty, considerate, headstrong, frivolous, thoughtful, degraded, dignified, in quick succession. We see her arrive at the Palace amid the tumultuous adoration of the crowd, and leave amidst its execrations. Sometimes she is richly apparelled, as befits a queen; anon she sports the motley trappings of a mountebank. The courtyard that saw the departure of Madame Louise witnesses Marie Antoinette, returning at daybreak in company with her brother-in-law from some festivity unbecoming a queen, refused admittance by the King’s express command.
[Illustration: Louis Quatorze]
Many of the attendant spirits who haunt Marie Antoinette’s ghostly footsteps as they haunted her earthly ones are malefic. Most are women, and all are young and fair. There is Madame Roland, who, taken as a young girl to the Palace to peep at the Royalties, became imbued by that jealous hatred which only the Queen’s death could appease.
“If I stay here much longer,” she told that kindly mother who sought to give her a treat by showing her Court life, “I shall detest these people so much that I shall be unable to hide my hatred.”
It is easy to fancy the girl’s evil face scowling at the unconscious Queen, before she leaves to pen those inflammatory pamphlets which are to prove the Sovereign’s undoing and her own. For by some whim of fate Madame Roland was executed on the very scaffold to which her envenomed writings had driven Marie Antoinette.
A spectre that impresses as wearing rags under a gorgeous robe, lurks among the foliage of the quiet bosquet beyond the orangerie. It is the infamous Madame de la Motte, chief of adventuresses, and it was in that secluded grove that her tool, Cardinal de Rohan, had his pretended interview with the Queen. Poor, perfidious Contesse! what an existence of alternate beggarly poverty and beggarly riches was hers before that last scene of all when she lay broken and bruised almost beyond human semblance in that dingy London courtyard beneath the window from which, in a mad attempt to escape arrest, she had thrown herself.