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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Madame de Maintenon at the Review
By Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon (1675–1755)
 
From the ‘Memoirs’

THE KING wished to show the court all the manœuvres of war; the siege of Compiègne was therefore undertaken, according to due form, with lines, trenches, batteries, mines, etc. On Saturday, the 13th of September, the assault took place. To witness it, the King, Madame de Maintenon, all the ladies of the court, and a number of gentlemen, stationed themselves upon an old rampart, from which the plain and all the disposition of the troops could be seen. I was in the half-circle very close to the King. It was the most beautiful sight that can be imagined, to see all that army, and the prodigious number of spectators on horse and foot, and that game of attack and defense so cleverly conducted.  1
  But a spectacle of another sort—that I could paint forty years hence as well as to-day, so strongly did it strike me—was that which from the summit of this rampart the King gave to all his army, and to the innumerable crowd of spectators of all kinds in the plain below. Madame de Maintenon faced the plain and the troops in her sedan chair, alone, between its three windows drawn up; her porters having retired to a distance. On the left pole in front sat Madame la Duchesse de Bourgogne; and on the same side, in a semicircle, standing, were Madame la Duchesse, Madame la Princesse de Conti, and all the ladies,—and behind them again, many men. At the right window was the King, standing, and a little in the rear a semicircle of the most distinguished men of the court. The King was nearly always uncovered; and every now and then stooped to speak to Madame de Maintenon, and explain to her what she saw, and the reason of each movement. Each time that he did so she was obliging enough to open the window four or five inches, but never halfway; for I noticed particularly, and I admit that I was more attentive to this spectacle than to that of the troops. Sometimes she opened of her own accord to ask some question of him: but generally it was he who without waiting for her, stooped down to instruct her of what was passing; and sometimes, if she did not notice him, he tapped at the glass to make her open it. He never spoke save to her, except when he gave a few brief orders, or just answered Madame la Duchesse de Bourgogne, who wanted to make him speak, and with whom Madame de Maintenon carried on a conversation by signs, without opening the front window, through which the young princess screamed to her from time to time. I watched the countenance of every one carefully: all expressed surprise, tempered with prudence, and shame that was, as it were, ashamed of itself; every one behind the chair and in the semicircle watched this scene more than what was going on in the army. The King often put his hat on the top of the chair in order to get his head in to speak; and this continual exercise tired his loins very much. Monseigneur was on horseback in the plain with the young princes. It was about five o’clock in the afternoon, and the weather was as brilliant as could be desired.  2
  Opposite the sedan chair was an opening with some steps cut through the wall, and communicating with the plain below. It had been made for the purpose of fetching orders from the King, should they be necessary. The case happened. Crenan, who commanded, sent Conillac, an officer in one of the defending regiments, to ask for some instructions from the King. Conillac had been stationed at the foot of the rampart, where what was passing above could not be seen. He mounted the steps; and as soon as his head and shoulders were at the top, caught sight of the chair, the King, and all the assembled company. He was not prepared for such a scene; and it struck him with such astonishment that he stopped short, with mouth and eyes wide open,—surprise painted upon every feature. I see him now as distinctly as I did then. The King, as well as the rest of the company, remarked the agitation of Conillac, and said to him with emotion, “Well, Conillac! come up.” Conillac remained motionless, and the King continued, “Come up. What is the matter?” Conillac, thus addressed, finished his ascent, and came towards the King with slow and trembling steps, rolling his eyes from right to left like one deranged. Then he stammered something, but in a tone so low that it could not be heard. “What do you say?” cried the King. “Speak up.” But Conillac was unable; and the King, finding he could get nothing out of him, told him to go away. He did not need to be told twice, but disappeared at once. As soon as he was gone, the King looking round said, “I don’t know what is the matter with Conillac. He has lost his wits: he did not remember what he had to say to me.” No one answered.  3
  Towards the moment of the capitulation, Madame de Maintenon apparently asked permission to go away; for the King cried, “The chairmen of Madame!” They came and took her away; in less than a quarter of an hour afterwards the King retired also, and nearly everybody else. There was much interchange of glances, nudging with elbows, and then whisperings in the ear. Everybody was full of what had taken place on the ramparts between the King and Madame de Maintenon. Even the soldiers asked what meant that sedan chair, and the King every moment stooping to put his head inside of it. It became necessary gently to silence these questions of the troops. What effect this sight had upon foreigners present, and what they said of it, may be imagined. All over Europe it was as much talked of as the camp of Compiègne itself, with all its pomp and prodigious splendor.  4
 
 
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