L. Mühlbach.

Prince Eugene and His Times online

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An Historical Novel







I. The Countess of Soissons
II. The Laboratory
III. Prince Eugene
IV. The Riot
V. Barbesieur Louvois
VI. The State Reception
VII. Help in Time of Need
VIII. The Flight
IX. The Parting


I. Marianna Mancini
II. The Trial
III. A Skirmish
IV. Louvois' Daughter
V. The Court-Ball
VI. The Lady of the Bedchamber
VII. The Lady of the Bedchamber
VIII. First Love
IX. The Betrayal


I. The Disappointment
II. The Foes
III. The Repulse
IV. The Farewell
V. A Page from History
VI. The Emperor Leopold I.
VII. The Council of War
VIII. The Plains of Kitsee
IX. The Baptism of Blood
X. Vienna
XI. The Re-enforcements


I. The Fall of Buda
II. The Friends
III. The Marquis Strozzi
IV. Laura
V. The Regatta
VI. The Negotiator
VII. The Lovers reunited
VIII. Antonio's Expiation
IX. The Dungeon


I. A Twofold Victory
II. The Dumb Music
III. The Retirement of the Commander-in-Chief
IV. The Fall of Belgrade
V. The Marchioness
VI. The Flight
VII. The Forester's Hut


I. Sister Angelica
II. Louis the Fourteenth
III. The King and the Petitioners
IV. The Window that was too large
V. The Imperial Diet at Regensburg
VI. The Judith of Esslingen
VII. Her Return


I. The Island of Bliss
II. The French in Speier
III. The Treasure
IV. Caspar's Vengeance
V. The Duchess of Orleans
VI. The Deliverance of Trier
VII. The Fire-tongs
VIII. Brave Hearts


I. The Advance into France
II. The Ravens
III. Sick and Well
IV. The Duke's Dangerous Illness
V. The Marquis Strozzi
VI. Insanity and Revenge
VII. The Ambrosia
VIII. The Betrothal
IX. Vengeance






"Is that your last word, madame?" said Louvois, in a tone so
emphatic as to be almost threatening.

"My last word," replied the countess, haughtily. "My daughter is too
young to marry, and were she older, I would not impose a husband
upon her who was not the man of her choice. She shall bestow her
hand and heart together."

"Do you mean that it is impossible for your daughter to love my
son?" asked Louvois, hastily.

The countess raised her shoulders and smiled superciliously, while
from her large black eyes there darted forth a glance that spoke
volumes to the mind of the irritated minister.

"It would appear," said she, "that there can be no sympathy between
the Mancinis and the Louvois, and that their antipathies are to be
perpetuated from generation to generation."

"You would remind me of the similarity which the fate of my son as a
wooer bears to that of his father?" asked Louvois. "I do not deny
it; the repulse which twenty-one years ago I received from Olympia
Mancini, she repeats to-day in the person of her daughter. But it
may be that on some other occasion the Mancinis shall be repulsed by
the Louvois."

"A threat?" said the countess, angrily.

Now it was the shoulders of the minister that were raised. "I have
sowed love and reaped hate," said he, quietly.

The countess laughed. "Ah," said she, "I see that you have
remodelled your speech according to the pious formulary of Madame de
Maintenon, and that you seek for your troubadours among the

"Yes - the Scriptural prophets satisfy MY cravings for knowledge,"
replied Louvois, smiling. "Pity that everybody else is not as
orthodox as I!"

"What do you mean?" asked the countess, uneasily.

"I mean that it would be better for the Countess de Soissons if she
imitated the discretion of Madame de Maintenon, and eschewed
association with those unholy prophets who draw their inspiration
from the stars."

"Do you think so? And yet the book of the stars is inspired and
contains truth, for therein it stands written that our two families
will never be united by the bonds of love. What is the use of
striving against destiny? Fate has willed our enmity, and we must
submit with resignation," said the countess, with an affected drawl.
"You see," added she, pathetically, "how beautifully I fall into
your new-fashioned dialect, and how harmoniously my dulcet notes
mingle with those of the court chorus."

"I remember the dulcet notes of a poem written years ago, which were
wont to edify the court with a strain that would sound inharmonious
there to-day. What would De Montespan and De Maintenon say to such
discordant lines as these?" And Louvois began to hum the following:

"La belle Olympe n'a point de seconde,
Et l'Amour a bien reuni
Dedans l'infanta Mancini
Par un avantage supreme
Tout ce qui force a dire: J'aime!
Et qui l'a fait dire a nos dieux!"
[Footnote: "Les Nieces de Mazarion," par Renee, p. 177.]

"What they would say?" replied the countess; "why, they would listen
approvingly to a rhapsody which time has falsified, and imagine that
I wince to hear it sung. But they would be in error. I thank you for
recalling to my mind the golden vision of the past, wherein a king
knelt at my feet, and Louvois lived upon my smiles. She who can look
back upon conquests such as these, can afford to despise the
contrarieties of the present, while she plumes her victorious wings
for future flight, wherein she shall attain indemnification for the
trifling vexations of to-day."

"I wish you may realize your joyous anticipations," replied Louvois,
with a sneer. "But if you will allow me to draw your horoscope, you
will confess that I am a wiser seer than your dear friend La

For one moment the features of the countess contracted painfully,
but she mastered her emotion and was able to reply with a tranquil
smile, - "Do so, your excellency, I am all attention."

"I read in the stars that snares encompass you, Countess de
Soissons. You have enemies, numerous, powerful, and crafty. At their
head stands the queen, who can never forgive you for having opened
one of her letters, and having stolen thence a note addressed to the
king, which accused her of secret machinations with Spain. Then
there is poor Louise de la Valliere, who for your cruel sarcasms
shed such oceans of tears - "

"She is in a convent."

"True, but the scars of your persecutions are upon her heart; and
although she may be a Christian, think you that she has ceased to be
a woman? Third - among the number of those who hate you is the
Marquise de Montespan, to whom the brilliant assemblages at the
Hotel de Soissons are a source of mortification, for she can never
forget that, on more than one occasion, the king has forgotten his
rendezvous with her, to linger at the side of his fascinating
hostess. And we must not overlook the pious De Maintenon, who lives
in constant terror lest some day or other your presence should
recall to the king that golden vision of his youth, whereof Olympia
Mancini was the enshrined divinity. For this reason you are more
obnoxious to the ex-governess than De Montespan herself. The star of
the latter favorite is already on the wane, whereas yours may rise
again at the bidding of Memory. These four women have long-meditated
your destruction, and many are the thorns with which they have
strewed your path in life. But, to compass your ruin, there was
wanting ONE strong arm that could concentrate their scattered
missiles, and hurl them in ONE great bomb at your head. Countess de
Soissons, that arm is mine - I, Louvois, the trusted minister of the
king, the friend of De Maintenon, the mightiest subject in France - I
am the man whose arm shall strike on behalf of your enemies, of whom
in me behold the chief! You have thrown me your gauntlet, and I
raise it. I proclaim myself your foe, and since there must be war
between our races, we shall see whether for the future the Mancinis
may not be made to suffer through the Louvois! This is my horoscope,
and now mark well my last words: La Voisin the soothsayer was
arrested last night."

All the self-control which she could gather to meet this sinister
disclosure, could not smother the groan which was upheaved from
Olympia's sinking heart.

Louvois affected not to hear it. He bowed low and prepared to take
his leave. The countess made no effort to detain him; she was too
frightened for circumspection, and she followed his retreating
figure with eyes that were all aflame with hate. Nor did their fiery
glow abate when, having reached the door, Louvois turned and
confronted her.

He surveyed her calmly, but his eye returned hate for hate, and so
for a moment they stared at each other, while there passed between
the two a silent challenge, which both felt was to be fought out to
the death.

After a pause Louvois spoke. His mouth dilated with a cruel smile,
which, when its mocking light was seen, betokened peril to those who
offended him.

"Madame," said he. "not only has La Voisin been arrested, but her
private papers have been seized." So saying, he bowed again and
disappeared behind the portiere.



The countess listened to his echoing footsteps until they were no
longer audible, nor did she move until she heard the roll of the
carriage which bore him away.

Gradually the sound of the receding vehicle melted into distance,
and a deep silence ensued. This silence first roused the countess
from her lethargy. A tremor convulsed her limbs; her dilated orbs
which had been fixed upon the door relaxed, and wandered from the
silken hangings of the walls to the gilded furniture around her;
from the tables of Florentine marble to the rainbow-tinted
chandeliers, whose pendants swayed to and fro in the sunshine. And
now they rested dreamily upon a picture which, conspicuous for size
and beauty, hung immediately opposite to the sofa whereon she was
reclining. It was the full length portrait of a handsome youth. He
was not tall, but he was gracefully proportioned. His shoulders were
broad; and, rising from the midst of a slender throat, adorned with
a fall of lace, appeared his stately head crowned with a wealth of
long, brown curls. His face was of a beautiful oval, his complexion
clear, his mouth wreathed with happy smiles. The brow was high and
arched, and the fine gray eyes beamed with hope and energy. In one
hand he held a rose, which he extended to a person not represented
in the picture; the other band, half veiled by its overhanging fall
of gossamer lace, rested carelessly on the table, while close by lay
two rose-buds, which seemed just to have been dropped from the half-
open fingers. Over an arm-chair in the background was thrown a
mantle of royal ermine, which partially concealed the kingly crown
that surmounted its high carved back.

The eyes of the countess were fixed upon this picture with an
expression of tender sadness, and slowly, as if yielding to an
influence altogether objective, she rose from her seat and advanced
toward the portrait, where she remained gazing until her sight was
dimmed by tears, while the youth smiled ever, and ever held out the

What golden tribute had his homage brought to her ambition! What
ecstasy had it poured into her heart! How truly had she loved that
princely boy, who, careless, happy, and fickle, was bestowing upon
other women the roses which for her had withered years ago, leaving
upon their blighted stems the sharp and cruel thorns of his

Since then, twenty-three years had gone by; she had become a wife
and the mother of seven children, but the wound still festered; the
old sorrow still sang its mournful dirge within a heart which to-day
beat as wildly as ever, and felt a pang as keen as when it first
grew jealous, and learned that not she, but Marie, had become the
divinity whom Louis worshipped.

Marie, too, had been forsaken, and had stifled the cries of her
despairing heart by marriage with another. The fate of both sisters
had been the same - a short dream of gratified ambition, followed by
long years of humiliation. It seemed that the prosperity and
happiness of Cardinal Mazarin's nieces had been coexistent with his
life, for when the eyes of their uncle closed in death, the light of
their fortunes grew dim and expired.

The portrait of Louis XIV., which was calling up the spectres of so
many buried joys, had been painted expressly for Olympia Mancini. It
represented his first declaration of love to her, and had been sent
as a souvenir of "the brightest hour of his life." He had barely
reached his thirty-seventh year, and yet this winsome youth had been
transformed into a demure devotee, who, despising the vanities of
the world, had turned his heart toward heaven, and spent his life
doing penance for the sins of his early manhood!

And this transformation was the work of a woman who had neither
beauty, youth, nor birth to recommend her to the favor of a monarch-
-a woman who had been the paid governess of the king's bastards, and
was not even gifted with intellect enough to cover her other

These last thoughts brought a smile to the face of the countess.
Turning suddenly away from the portrait she crossed the room with
rapid steps, and placed herself directly in front of a large
Venetian mirror which occupied the space between two windows. It
gave back the reflection of an exquisite figure, whose outlines
contributed much to the grace with which the folds of a blue satin
dress fell in rich profusion around it. The white shoulders were
scarcely concealed by a shawl of superb lace, and the arms, still
round, were set off by costly bracelets. The raven hair, with not a
trace of time's finger to discolor its glossy blackness, fell around
her face in curls as delicate as the tendrils of a grape. Her brow
was smooth and polished, her eyes aglow with passionate longing,
and, as her lips curved into a complacent smile, they disclosed two
rows of pearly teeth, compact and without a fleck.

Yes, she was not deceived. Olympia de Soissons was a handsome woman,
and with so much comeliness, such ready wit, and such unrivalled
powers of conversation, she might gird up her loins to do battle
with her rivals. Was not Madame de Maintenon her elder by three
years? And as for De Montespan, was she not wasting away into an old
woman? If they had found it possible to win the heart of this
sensual Louis, why not she? This heart had once been all her own,
and why should not she, who combined the beauty of one mistress with
the shrewdness of the other, dispossess them both, and re-enter into
possession of her old domains?

She smiled again, and saw how well her smiles became her. "Yes,"
said she to herself, "yes, I will recall this truant merlin, and he
shall return to perch upon the hand he used to love! I will be
mistress of his heart and mistress of his realms. She foretold it
all, and gave me the charm wherewith to work the spell."

But as she gave utterance to these last words, her lips began to
quiver, and her fine features were distorted by some sudden pain.
She had just called to mind the fearful intelligence of La Voisin's

"Great God! If my letters should have been found among her papers!
What, oh what would be MY fate?"

She shuddered - and in place of the triumphant vision of a heart
recaptured, a monarch at her feet, there arose the fearful spectacle
of an execution which, four years before, she had witnessed at the
bloody Place de Greve. Once more she saw the square, black with a
mass of human beings, who, jeering, shouting, and cursing, moved
hither and thither like the waves of a turbulent ocean; at every
window that looked out upon the place, she saw gayly-dressed ladies
who peered anxiously out to catch a glimpse of one gloomy object
that loomed darkly up from its centre. She saw the crowd give way
and part, as, keeping pace with the dull sound of a muffled drum, a
sad procession entered upon the scene. At its head marched a
battalion of soldiers, and behind them, seated in the felon's cart,
came a pale, beautiful woman, who ever and anon pressed to her
quivering lips the crucifix held out to her by a priest - that last
link of sympathy between the convict and his fellow-creatures. At
the criminal's side, in symbolic robes of sanguinary red, was the
executioner that was to sever this slender tie, and wrench the
spirit from the body to whose guardianship God had committed it on
earth. Silently the hideous cortege moved on, while the crowd fell
back to let it pass, until the scaffold came to view. How joyously
the sun's rays seemed to play around the glittering axe that was to
end a career of secret crime! How eagerly the high-born dames bend
forward to catch sight of the criminal, as, leaning on the arm of
the priest, she tottered to her doom! Olympia remembered only too
well the moment when the drum ceased its "discordant sound," and
when the silence was so oppressive that the low voice of the
condemned was heard uttering her last prayer. She knelt beside the
block - a circle of light was described upon the air - and the head
fell upon the blood-besprinkled sand.

The Countess de Soissons sickened as she remembered that the woman
whom she had seen executed was one of high position, no less a
personage than the beautiful and fascinating Marquise de
Brinvilliers. Neither her rank, her charms, nor the strenuous
efforts of her powerful friends, had been adequate to save her from
the headsman's axe. She had been convicted of poisoning, and had
shared the fate of other malefactors of less repute. Her confidante
La Voisin had been arrested at the time, but as nothing proved her
to have been an accomplice of her former mistress she had escaped

Something new with regard to the fortune-teller must have
transpired, for Louvois had considered her arrest as an ill-omen for
the Countess de Soissons. Not only for Olympia, however, was the
arrest of Catherine a calamity, for she was the trusty counsellor of
many a noble lady who, before suspicion had sullied her name, had
been the dear and intimate associate of the Marquise de

The countess had turned away from the contemplation of her mellow
charms, and was on her way to her boudoir. She bolted the door
within, and, crossing the room, mounted a chair that stood by the
side of a tall mirror set in a thick gilt frame. She touched a
spring, when the mirror glided noiselessly aside, revealing a dark
recess within the wall.

Olympia slipped through the opening, which closed behind her, darted
up a narrow staircase, and, hastily drawing a key from a pocket
concealed within the folds of her dress, she unlocked the door of a
room whose aspect was anything but appropriate to the pursuits of a
lady of quality.

It was to all appearances a kitchen, for one entire side of it was
occupied by a hearth full of recesses, each one of which contained a
furnace fitted up with iron utensils for cooking. On the mantel,
which corresponded to this immense hearth, were ranged pipkins and
other vessels of different sizes, interspersed with rows of phials
and flasks containing liquids of every imaginable color. On a
massive oaken table, in the centre of the apartment, were placed a
number of bowls and dishes, and near them lay a disorderly pile of
papers, books, and pamphlets.

Olympia approached the hearth, stooped over one of the furnaces, and
from a fagot lying near gathered a few small sticks. Over these
sticks she poured a fluid from one of her flasks, and then rubbing
them briskly together, they began to emit sparks. She placed them
under the furnace, added a little more fuel, and in a few moments
had a good fire.

She now sprang to her feet, and hastily pushing aside a row of
pipkins, opened a small door which had been concealed behind them,
above the mantel. From a recess within the wall she took a brass-
bound casket, which she placed upon the table.

The casket contained some books, papers, and several diminutive
phials. One of these phials she held up to the light, contemplating
its contents with manifest satisfaction.

"Herein lies the spell that is to lure my faithless monarch back
again. La Voisin may rot in prison, but her mantle of science has
fallen upon me, and her secrets are mine. Her last, best gift shall
restore me to my throne. Not only did she leave me the means of
success, but she foretold the certainty of that success besides. It
must be so: La Voisin never erred in her predictions, and I shall

Pressing the phial to her lips, Olympia hid it beneath the folds of
her lace tucker, murmuring the while, "I shall sip of this nectar
anon; for the present, I must provide for discovery."

She took the papers that lay in the casket, and weighing them in her
hand said musingly:

"How light they are, and yet how heavy was the gold with which I
purchased them! 'Tis a pity they should be destroyed: what if I
should forget? But no! oblivion of their treasured secrets were
impossible to me; so away with you! You might turn traitors, and I
had best anticipate treachery by destruction."

Then followed the books and the contents of the phials remaining in
the casket. The blue flames leaped high as these last were added to
the cremation, and the room became oppressive with their unwholesome

"The window must be opened," said Olympia. "This odor might betray
me. People might suspect me of having cooked arsenic in my kitchen
instead of onions."

With, these words she opened the casement, and the noxious cloud
passed slowly out into the air.

"Now all is safe. Louvois can send as many bailiffs as he lists, and
should they poke their inquisitive noses into my sanctum, they will
find nothing for their pains but an innocent laboratory wherein the
Countess de Soissons prepares her cosmetics, and makes experiments
in the chemistry of the toilet."

She replaced her casket, searched the mantel carefully, and then
glanced sharply around the room to assure herself that she was alone
and undiscovered.

Yes! Alone, the witnesses of her guilt consumed, and their ashes
etherealized throughout space.

The countess smiled, and, as she locked the door of her laboratory,
her spirits revived and her thoughts once more reverted to the
ambitious dreams of the morning. When she had reached her boudoir
again, and the complaisant mirror had resumed its place, she drew
the flask from her bosom, removed the glass stopper, inhaled for a
moment its perfume, and then, raising it to her lips, drained the
contents to their last drop.

"And this philter is to make me mistress of your heart, King Louis!
How I long to begin my reign!"

A slight rustling was heard outside, and the guilty woman trembled
anew. She concealed the phial, and listened breathlessly, while her
straining eyes were fixed upon the door as though they had hoped to
see through its panels of oak whether friend or foe stood without.

A slight knock was heard, and now, in spite of herself, the Countess
de Soissons grew pale and shivered. What if the myrmidons of Louvois
had come with a lettre de cachet! What if - No! not even HE would go
so far in his enmity to the niece of the great cardinal, the
relative of the reigning Duke of Savoy, and the daughter-in-law of
the Princess Carignan.

So she summoned resolution enough to cross the room, draw back the
bolt, and to say in a loud, imperious tone: "Come in."

The door opened, and admitted a young man. The countess no sooner
recognized him than she smiled, and, with a slight elevation of her
shoulders, said, "Nobody but you."

"Nobody but me," replied the youth, sadly. "I come to ask of my
gracious mother an interview."



The countess inclined her head in token of assent; but, as she did
so, her eyes rested on the diminutive form of her son with an
expression that savored of disdain. The look was unmotherly, and
seemed to say, "How can a man of such insignificant appearance be
the son of the stately Countess de Soissons?"

And indeed to a careless observer the words were not inappropriate
to his dwarfish proportions. His head, which, between his

Online LibraryL. MühlbachPrince Eugene and His Times → online text (page 1 of 45)