[Illustration: Marie Antoinette]
The heavy gilt bolts bearing the interlaced initials M.A. remind us that these, too, were the favourite rooms of Marie Antoinette, and that in all probability the cunningly entwined bolts were the handiwork of her honest spouse, who wrought at his blacksmith forge below while his wife flirted above. But in truth the petits appartements are instinct with memories of Marie Antoinette, and it is difficult to think of any save only her occupying them. The beautiful coffre presented to her with the layette of the Dauphin still stands on a table in an adjoining chamber, and the paintings on its white silk casing are scarcely faded yet, though the decorative ruching of green silk leaves has long ago fallen into decay.
A step farther is the little white and gold boudoir which still holds the mirror that gave the haughty Queen her first premonition of the catastrophe that awaited her. Viewed casually the triple mirror, lining an alcove wherein stands a couch garlanded with flowers, betrays no sinister qualities. But any visitor who approaches looking at his reflection where at the left the side panels meet the angle of the wall, will be greeted by a sight similar to that whose tragic suggestion made even the haughty Queen pause a moment in her reckless career. For in the innocent appearing mirrors the gazer is reflected without a head.
It was through this liliputian suite, this strip of homeliness so artfully introduced into a palace, that Marie Antoinette fled on that fateful August morning when the mob of infuriated women invaded the Chateau.
Knowing this, I was puzzling over the transparent fact that either of the apparent exits would have led her directly into the hands of the enemy, when the idea of a secret staircase suggested itself. A little judicious inquiry elicited the information that one did exist. “But it is not seen. It is locked. To view it, an order from the Commissary—that is necessary,” explained the old guide.
To know that a secret staircase, and one of such vivid historical importance, was at hand, and not to have seen it would have been too tantalising. The “Commissary” was an unknown quantity, and for a space it seemed as though our desire would be ungratified. Happily the knowledge of our interest awoke a kindly reciprocity in our guide, who, hurrying off, quickly returned with the venerable custodian of the key. A moment later, the unobtrusive panel that concealed the exit flew open at its touch, and the secret staircase, dark, narrow, and hoary with the dust of years, lay before us.
[Illustration: The Secret Stair]
Many must have been the romantic meetings aided by those diminutive steps, but, peering into their shadows, we saw nothing but a vision of Marie Antoinette, half clad in dishevelled wrappings of petticoat and shawl, flying distracted from the vengeance of the furies through the refuge of the low-roofed stairway.