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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Others that she will return to Chaillot


[Illustration:

THE GRAND MONARCH IN HIS STATE ROBES----9]

The principle of absolute power, firmly fixed in the young king's mind, began to pervade his court from the time that he disgraced Fouquet and ceased to dissemble his affection for Mdlle. de La Valliere. She was young, charming, and modest. Of all the king's favorites she alone loved him sincerely. "What a pity he is a king!" she would say. Louis XIV. made her a duchess; but all she cared about was to see him and please him. When Madame de Montespan began to supplant her in the king's favor, the grief of Madame de La Valliere was so great that she thought she should die of it. Then she turned to God, in penitence and despair. Twice she sought refuge in a convent at Chaillot. "I should have left the court sooner," she sent word to the king on leaving, "after having lost the honor of your good graces, if I could have prevailed upon myself never to see you again; that weakness was so strong in me that hardly now am I capable of making a sacrifice of it to God; after having given you all my youth, the rest of my life is not too much for the care of my salvation." The king still clung to her. "He sent M. Colbert to beg her earnestly to come to Versailles, and that he might speak with her. M. Colbert escorted her thither; the king conversed for an hour with her, and wept bitterly. Madame de Montespan was there to meet her with open arms and tears in her eyes." "It is all incomprehensible," adds

Madame de Sevigne; "some say that she will remain at Versailles, and at court, others that she will return to Chaillot; we shall see." Madame de La Valliere remained three years at court, "half penitent," she said humbly, detained there by the king's express wish, in consequence of the tempers and jealousies of Madame de Montespan, who felt herself judged and condemned by her rival's repentance. Attempts were made to turn Madame de La Valliere from her inclination for the Carmelites: "Madame," said Madame Scarron to her one day, "here are you one blaze of gold: have you really considered that at the Carmelites' before long, you will have to wear serge?" She, however, persisted. She was already practising in secret the austerities of the convent. "God has laid in this heart the foundation of great things," said Bossuet, who supported her in her conflict: "the world puts great hinderances in her way and God great mercies; I have hopes that God will prevail; the uprightness of her heart will carry everything."

[Illustration: Madame de la Valliere----10]

"When I am in trouble at the Carmelites'," said Madame de La Valliere, as at last she quitted the court, "I will think of what those people have made me suffer." "The world itself makes us sick of the world," said Bossuet in the sermon he preached on the day of her taking the dress; "its attractions have enough of illusion, its favors enough of inconstancy, its rebuffs enough of bitterness, there is enough of injustice and perfidy in the dealings of men, enough of unevenness and capriciousness in their intractable and contradictory humors--there is enough of it all, without doubt, to disgust us." "She was dead to me the day she entered the Carmelites," said the king, thirty-five years later, when the modest and fervent nun expired at last, in 1710, at her convent, without having ever relaxed the severities of her penance. He had married the daughter she had given him to the Prince of Conti. "Everybody has been to pay compliments to this saintly Carmelite," says Madame de Sevigne, without appearing to perceive the singularity of the alliance between words and ideas; "I was there too with Mademoiselle. The Prince of Conti detained her in the parlor. What an angel appeared to me at last! She had to my eyes all the charms we had seen heretofore. I did not find her either puffy or sallow; she is less thin, though, and more happy-looking. She has those same eyes of hers, and the same expression; austerity; bad living, and little sleep have not made them hollow or dull; that singular dress takes away nothing of the easy grace and easy bearing. As for modesty, she is no grander than when she presented to the world a princess of Conti, but that is enough for a Carmelite. In real truth, this dress and this retirement are a great dignity for her." The king never saw her again, but it was at her side that Madame de Montespan, in her turn forced to quit the court, went to seek advice and pious consolation. "This soul will be a miracle of grace," Bossuet had said.


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