“By no means.”
“No state affair?”
“No, no; it was only that it was the hour at which I had intended to rebuke the conduct of a presumptuous person. But perhaps it is better as it is. My absence will in itself convey my message, and in such a sort that I trust I may never see that person’s face more at my court. But, ah, what is this?”
The door had been flung open, and Madame de Montespan, beautiful and furious, was standing before them.
AN ECLIPSE AT VERSAILLES.
Madame de Maintenon was a woman who was always full of self-restraint and of cool resource. She had risen in an instant, with an air as if she had at last seen the welcome guest for whom she had pined in vain. With a frank smile of greeting, she advanced with outstretched hand.
“This is indeed a pleasure,” said she.
But Madame de Montespan was very angry, so angry that she was evidently making strong efforts to keep herself within control, and to avoid breaking into a furious outburst. Her face was very pale, her lips compressed, and her blue eyes had the set stare and the cold glitter of a furious woman. So for an instant they faced each other, the one frowning, the other smiling, two of the most beautiful and queenly women in France. Then De Montespan, disregarding her rival’s outstretched hand, turned towards the king, who had been looking at her with a darkening face.
“I fear that I intrude, sire.”
“Your entrance, madame, is certainly somewhat abrupt.”
“I must crave pardon if it is so. Since this lady has been the governess of my children I have been in the habit of coming into her room unannounced.”
“As far as I am concerned, you are most welcome to do so,” said her rival, with perfect composure.
“I confess that I had not even thought it necessary to ask your permission, madame,” the other answered coldly.
“Then you shall certainly do so in the future, madame,” said the king sternly. “It is my express order to you that every possible respect is to be shown in every way to this lady.”
“Oh, to this lady!” with a wave of her hand in her direction. “Your Majesty’s commands are of course our laws. But I must remember that it is this lady, for sometimes one may get confused as to which name it is that your Majesty has picked out for honour. To-day it is De Maintenon; yesterday it was Fontanges; to-morrow—Ah, well, who can say who it may be to-morrow?”
She was superb in her pride and her fearlessness as she stood, with her sparkling blue eyes and her heaving bosom, looking down upon her royal lover. Angry as he was, his gaze lost something of its sternness as it rested upon her round full throat and the delicate lines of her shapely shoulders. There was something very becoming in her passion, in the defiant pose of her dainty head, and the magnificent scorn with which she glanced at her rival.