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The Flowers Personified - Two Shepherdesses


Section 8

 
VIII.
THE FLOWER DE LUCE, QUEEN OF FRANCE.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
[6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

 

           At the sight of the queen, hope revived in the hearts of Bleuette and Coquelicot.

           Like them, the queen was young and beautiful. Her tall, elastic form, -- her pallid countenance, -- and the extreme mildness of her eyes, impressed all who beheld her, as with some secret, powerful charm. One no sooner saw her, than he felt himself attracted towards her.

           The two shepherdesses threw themselves at her feet, kissed the edge of her long white robe, and wept.

           The queen gently raised them, and inquired into the cause of their grief.

           “The village squire would force me to marry him”

           “I am compelled to become the wife of the judge,” – together replied Coquelicot and Bleuette.

           The queen, with a smile, turned her eyes from the two young girls, to the two old men. This short survey was enough.

           “Follow me,” said she to the suppliants; “we will look into the matter. It shall never be said that the Queen of France sees tears shed by her subjects, without attempting to dry them.”

           The royal train immediately resumed its march, and the peasants followed, making the air resound with their acclamations. They sung many other choruses suited to the occasion – such as you may easily find in any of the comic operas.

           Flower de Luce had in the neighborhood a country residence, to which she came every summer, that she might forget there the cares of greatness and a throne. Thither she conducted the two shepherdesses. Before retiring to her own apartments, she summoned before her the squire and the judge. Instead of giving them the harsh reception which they deserved, she administered a gentle rebuke, friendly rather than severe. She showed them the danger of ill-matched unions, -- she made them feel how wrong it is to employ force in matters of love, -- and having finished her remarks, gave them permission, since they were so bent on marriage, to espouse, each of them, one of her ladies of honor, whom she endowed handsomely. The younger of these ladies had passed her fiftieth year.

          This over, she directed that she should be left alone with the two shepherdesses.

          When these three again found themselves together, the queen removed her diadem, as well as a shield of golden flower de luces, which was attached to her robe – but an air of majesty still sat upon her brow, and the two shepherdesses continued to regard her – as we are apt to do the great ones of earth – trembling and with downcast eyes.

           Flower de Luce seemed to feel a momentary pleasure in witnessing this embarrassment. She was, however, the first to speak.

           “How is this, dear sisters; -- do you not recognize me?”

           At these words, Bleuette and Coquelicot raised their eyes. A secret foreboding – a sudden flash of thought, crossed their minds at the same instant.

           “The Lily!” they both exclaimed.

           “The same,” replied the queen. “I at once discovered, under the costume of the shepherdesses, my old companions, Bleuette and Coquelicot. The flowers owe each other mutual aid on earth; and I am glad that I came in season to save you from the bold schemes of this old squire and this miserable judge.”

           The three flowers then proceeded to speak of all which had happened to them since they had left the garden of the fairy. Bleuette and Coquelicot dwelt long on the happiness of being beloved by such shepherds as Blaise and Lucas.

            “Beloved,” murmured the Lily, --  “oh yes, it must be delightful.”

           Bleuette and Coquelicot did not understand this reflection. They thought of nothing but complimenting the Lily on the brilliant position and high rank which she held in the world.

           “Be in no haste to congratulate me,” replied the Lily: “listen first to my story.”

           “Many years ago I lived on the border of a lonely lake, in a small castle which was hidden among the trees. Every morning I rose with the dawn, and hailed the rising sun. At evening, I watched his decline, and his departure seemed to take away my life. As if they had been the only source of my strength, each ray, as it disappeared, left me more inclined to the earth. But the sparkling stars again restored my powers. I loved, at evening, to sit upon my terrace, and feel the pearl-drops of dew, as they stood upon my brow, and quivered in my hair. Sometimes, when the heat was oppressive, I used to lean over the water, and inhale the freshness of the wave, which gave me back my image.

           “My only companion was an Ermine, which had found a refuge in this remote solitude. Each evening and morning she came to wash, in the lake, her delicate, white fur. The Ermine, at our first interview, assured me that she felt drawn towards me by some secret sympathy. We seemed influenced by the same love of solitude – the same dread of vulgar contact – the same modest reserve.

           “Without knowing exactly why, I also loved the Ermine.

           “Thus might I have continued to live happy, -- thanks to the sun, the stars, the dew, the cool air and water of the lake, -- and I should add, thanks to my wise friend, the Ermine. But one day a traveler, who had lost his way, knocked at the door of my castle. I could not refuse him its hospitality while the storm raged without.

           “The stranger was in a hunting-dress. He was young, and his aspect was frank and noble. He told me that in the heat of the chase, he had got separated from his companions, and being prevented by the storm from retracing his steps, he had ventured to knock at the door of my castle, little expecting added he, to find so fair a hostess.

           “This speech made me blush.

           “Having prepared his repast, and whatever else his situation required, I was about to retire.

           “’Your pardon,’ said the stranger, in a voice gentle but thrilling – ‘if you flee from me, I shall believe that, deceived by some sweet though cruel illusion, I have but dreamed that a fairy appeared to me. If thou art a woman, stay!’

           “In spite of myself, I did stay.

           “We were just sitting down to table, when a loud clatter of horses, with horns and trumpets, was heard at the castle-gate. It was the retinue of my guest. They had discovered his track, and had come to find him This unknown stranger, dear sisters, was the king of France.

           “On taking his leave of me, he bent his knee, seized and kissed my hand, and in a low voice, said, -- ‘Noblest and fairest of the fair, I must now leave thee, -- but I shall return.’

           “Full well he kept his promise.

           “ I told my friend the Ermine, of the king’s attentions, and of the offer which he had made me of his hand.

           “’Remember,’ said she, ‘that true greatness and genuine purity can live only in solitude. Take pattern from the lily, my child. We acknowledge its beauty, chiefly because that to its beauty, it joins an air of guileless innocence, which charms the heart.’

           “This allusion troubled me. Alas! Thought I, she does not know how much haughtier the Lily became, on the day when she requested that she might no longer be a flower. I promised, nevertheless, that I would obey the Ermine’s advice.

          “But the king, in urging his suit, showed a pertinacity so refined, and a passion so ardent, that I at last consented to be his. I was no longer a flower – I was a woman. My weakness was the weakness of my sex.

           “The king told me how much good I could do when on the throne, and how delightful it would be thus to make myself beloved. I was bound too, he added, to bless him and his race. I consented to be crowned.

           “Henceforth, adieu to the sun, the stars, the pearly dew-drops, and the lake. Now etiquette controls and besets me, and I sigh amid crowds of courtiers. My old friend, the Ermine, to whom I gave free admission to the palace, comes there no more, through fear of being sullied. A few nights since, I had a frightful dream. I beheld the lilies all draggled in the dirt, and a beautiful young queen, whom they were leading to the scaffold!

           “How much I regret the time when, yet a simple flower, I was the cherished symbol of innocence! Then was I strown in the path of virgins and chaste brides. Angel messengers from heaven would stop a while to repose among my petals, and on the morrow, taking me along in their arms, would present me to men, as a fresh pledge of the good tidings which they came to announce. Then I lived on air, on light and sunshine. My nights were passed in looking at the stars, and in the intoxicating delights of those confused murmurs which one hears in the shade: -- whilst now” –

           The queen burst into tears.

           Bleuette and Coquelicot endeavored to console her. They told her that she should not magnify her troubles, -- that every situation had more or less of discomfort, and that her misfortunes had arisen from selecting a position too elevated. They then adduced their own example. If, instead of being a queen, you had, like us, been only a simple villager, would you ever have deplored your lot? Ever since you were a Lily, sister, you have been a little too much given to pride. This vice has done you great harm. You must trust it no longer, but practise patience.

           After these just remarks, Coquelicot and Bleuette asked the queen’s permission to depart, that they might go and relieve the anxiety of Blaise and Lucas. The permission was granted, -- and with it, the queen gave two large diamonds for themselves, and for Blaise and Lucas, two bunches of trinkets.

Section 8 of 10:  [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]