Through the Royal salons flits a presence whereat the shades of the Royal Princesses look askance: that of the frolicsome, good-natured, irresponsible Du Barry. A soulless ephemera she, with no ambitions or aspirations, save that, having quitted the grub stage, she desires to be as brilliant a butterfly as possible. Close in attendance on her moves an ebon shadow—Zamora, the ingrate foundling who, reared by the Duchesse, swore that he would make his benefactress ascend the scaffold, and kept his oath. For our last sight of the prodigal, warm-hearted Du Barry, plaything of the aged King, is on the guillotine, where in agonies of terror she fruitlessly appeals to her executioner’s clemency.
But of all the bygone dames who haunt the grand Chateau, the only one I detest is probably the most irreproachable of all—Madame de Maintenon. There is something so repulsively sanctimonious in her aspect, something so crafty in the method wherewith, under the cloak of religion, she wormed her way into high places, ousting—always in the name of propriety—those who had helped her. Her stepping-stone to Royal favour was handsome, impetuous Madame de Montespan, who, taking compassion on her widowed poverty, appointed Madame Scarron, as she then was, governess of her children, only to find her protegee usurp her place both in the honours of the King and in the affections of their children.
The natural heart rebels against the “unco guid,” and Madame de Maintenon, with her smooth expression, double chin, sober garments and ever-present symbols of piety, revolts me. I know it is wrong. I know that historians laud her for the wholesome influence she exercised upon the mind of a king who had grown timorous with years; that the dying Queen declared that she owed the King’s kindness to her during the last twenty years of her life entirely to Madame de Maintenon. But we know also that six months after the Queen’s death an unwonted light showed at midnight in the Chapel Royal, where Madame de Maintenon—the child of a prison cell—was becoming the legal though unacknowledged wife of Louis XIV. The impassioned, uncalculating de Montespan had given the handsome Monarch her all without stipulation. Truly the career of Madame de Maintenon was a triumph of virtue over vice; and yet of all that heedless, wanton throng, my soul detests only her.
[Illustration: Where the Queen Played]
Stereotyped sights are rarely the most engrossing. At the Palace of Versailles the petits appartements de la Reine, those tiny rooms whose grey old-world furniture might have been in use yesterday, to me hold more actuality than all the regal salons in whose vast emptiness footsteps reverberate like echoes from the past.
In the pretty sitting-room the coverings to-day are a reproduction of the same pale blue satin that draped the furniture in the days when queens preferred the snug seclusion of those dainty rooms overlooking the dank inner courtyard to the frigid grandeur of their State chambers. Therein it was that Marie Leczinska was wont to instruct her young daughters in the virtues as she had known them in her girlhood’s thread-bare home, not as her residence at the profligate French Court had taught her to understand them.