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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Conspirators - Chapter 21. The Order Of The Honey-Bee
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The Conspirators - Chapter 21. The Order Of The Honey-Bee Post by :jamn1.1 Category :Long Stories Author :Alexandre Dumas Date :May 2012 Read :3172

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The Conspirators - Chapter 21. The Order Of The Honey-Bee

CHAPTER XXI. THE ORDER OF THE HONEY-BEE

At the appointed day and hour, that is to say, six weeks after his departure from the capital, and at four o'clock in the afternoon, D'Harmental, returning from Brittany, entered the courtyard of the Palace of Sceaux, with his post horses going at full gallop. Servants in full livery waited on the door-step, and everything announced preparations for a fete. D'Harmental entered, crossed the hall, and found himself in a large room, where about twenty people were assembled, standing in groups talking, while waiting for the mistress of the house.

There were, among others, the Comte de Laval, the Marquis de Pompadour, the poet St. Genest, the old Abbe Chaulieu, St. Aulaire, Madame de Rohan, Madame de Croissy, Madame de Charost, and Madame de Brissac.

D'Harmental went straight to the Marquis de Pompadour, the one out of all this noble and intelligent society with whom he was best acquainted. They shook hands. Then D'Harmental, drawing him aside, said:

"My dear marquis, can you tell me how it is that where I expected to find only a dull political assembly I find preparations for a fete?"

"Ma foi! I do not know, my dear chevalier," replied Pompadour, "and I am as astonished as you are. I have just returned from Normandy myself."

"Ah! you also have just arrived?"

"This instant I asked the same question of Laval, but he has just arrived from Switzerland, and knows no more than we do."

At this moment the Baron de Valef was announced.

"Ah, pardieu! now we shall know," continued Pompadour. "Valef is so intimate with the duchesse he will be able to tell us."

Valef, recognizing them, came toward them.

D'Harmental and Valef had not seen each other since the day of the duel with which this story opened, so that they met with pleasure; then, after exchanging compliments--

"My dear Valef," said D'Harmental, "can you tell me what is the meaning of this great assembly, when I expected to find only a select committee?"

"Ma foi! I do not know anything of it," said Valef, "I have just come from Madrid."

"Every one has just arrived from somewhere," said Pompadour, laughing. "Ah! here is Malezieux, I hope he has been no further than Dombes or Chatenay; and as at any rate he has certainly passed through Madame de Maine's room we shall have some news at last."

At these words Pompadour made a sign to Malezieux, but the worthy chancellor was so gallant that he must first acquit himself of his duty toward the ladies. After he had bowed to them, he came toward the group, among which were Pompadour, D'Harmental, and Valef.

"Come, my dear Malezieux," said Pompadour, "we are waiting for you most impatiently. We have just arrived from the four quarters of the globe, it appears. Valef from the south, D'Harmental from the west, Laval from the east, I from the north, you from I do not know where; so that we confess that we are very curious to know what we are going to do here at Sceaux."

"You have come to assist at a great solemnity, at the reception of a new knight of the order of the honey-bee."

"Peste!" said D'Harmental, a little piqued that they should not have left him time to go to the Rue du Temps-Perdu before coming to Sceaux; "I understand now why Madame de Maine told us to be so exact to the rendezvous; as to myself, I am very grateful to her highness."

"First of all you must know, young man," interrupted Malezieux, "that there is no Madame de Maine nor highness in the question. There is only the beautiful fairy Ludovic, the queen of the bees, whom every one must obey blindly. Our queen is all-wise and all-powerful, and when you know who is the knight we are to receive you will not regret your diligence."

"And who is it?" asked Valef, who, arriving from the greatest distance, was naturally the most anxious to know why he had been brought home.

"His excellency the Prince de Cellamare."

"Ah!" said Pompadour, "I begin to understand."----"And I," said Valef.

"And I," said D'Harmental.

"Very well," said Malezieux, smiling; "and before the end of the evening you will understand still better; meanwhile, do not try to see further. It is not the first time you have entered with your eyes bandaged, Monsieur d'Harmental?"

At these words, Malezieux advanced toward a little man, with a flat face, flowing hair, and a discontented expression. D'Harmental inquired who it was, and Pompadour replied that it was the poet Lagrange-Chancel. The young men looked at the new-comer with a curiosity mixed with disgust; then, turning away, and leaving Pompadour to advance toward the Cardinal de Polignac, who entered at this moment, they went into the embrasure of a window to talk over the occurrences of the evening.

The order of the honey-bee had been founded by Madame de Maine, apropos of the Italian motto which she had adopted at her marriage: "Little insects inflict large stings."

This order had, like others, its decorations, its officers, and its grand-master. The decoration was a medal, representing on one side a hive, and on the other the queen-bee: it was hung by a lemon-colored ribbon, and was worn by every knight whenever he came to Sceaux. The officers were Malezieux, St. Aulaire, the Abbe Chaulieu, and St. Genest. Madame de Maine was grand-master.

It was composed of thirty-nine members, and could not exceed this number. The death of Monsieur de Nevers had left a vacancy which was to be filled by the nomination of the Prince de Cellamare. The fact was, that Madame de Maine had thought it safer to cover this political meeting with a frivolous pretext, feeling sure that a fete in the gardens at Sceaux would appear less suspicious in the eyes of Dubois and Messire Voyer d'Argenson than an assembly at the Arsenal. Thus, as will be seen, nothing had been forgotten to give its old splendor to the order of the honey-bee.

At four o'clock precisely, the time fixed for the ceremony, the doors of the room opened, and they perceived, in a salon hung with crimson satin, spangled with silver bees, the beautiful fairy Ludovic seated on a throne raised on three steps. She made a gesture with her golden wand, and all her court, passing into the salon, arranged themselves in a half circle round her throne, on the steps of which the dignitaries of the order placed themselves.

After the initiation of the Prince de Cellamare as a knight of the honey-bee, a second door was opened, displaying a room brilliantly lighted, where a splendid supper was laid. The new knight of the order offered his hand to the fairy, and conducted her to the supper-room followed by the assistants.

The entertainment was worthy of the occasion, and the flow of wit which so peculiarly characterized the epoch was well sustained. As the hour began to draw late, the Duchesse de Maine rose and announced that having received an excellent telescope from the author of "The Worlds," she invited her company to study astronomy in the garden.

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