Louise de la Vallière
Alexandre Dumas père
Ref: Project Gutenberg
In the months of March-July in
Eventually these serialized adventures were published in novel form, and became the three D'Artagnan Romances known today. Here is a brief summary of the first two novels:
The Three Musketeers (serialized March - July, 1844): The
year is 1625. The young D'Artagnan
Twenty Years After (serialized January - August, 1845): The
year is now 1648, twenty years since the close of the last story. Louis XIII has died, as has Cardinal
Richelieu, and while the crown of
The third novel, The Vicomte de Bragelonne (serialized October, 1847 - January, 1850), has enjoyed a strange history in its English translation. It has been split into three, four, or five volumes at various points in its history. The five-volume edition generally does not give titles to the smaller portions, but the others do. In the three-volume edition, the novels are entitled The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Louise de la Vallière, and The Man in the Iron Mask. For the purposes of this etext, I have chosen to split the novel as the four-volume edition does, with these titles: The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Ten Years Later, Louise de la Vallière, and The Man in the Iron Mask. In the first two etexts:
The Vicomte de Bragelonne (Etext 2609): It is the year 1660,
and D'Artagnan, after thirty-five years of loyal service, has become disgusted
with serving King Louis XIV while the real power resides with the Cardinal
Mazarin, and has tendered his resignation.
He embarks on his own project, that of restoring Charles II to the
Ten Years Later (Etext 2681): As 1661 approaches, Princess
Meanwhile, the struggle for power continues between Fouquet and Colbert. Although the Belle-Isle plot backfired, Colbert prompts the king to ask Fouquet for more and more money, and without his two friends to raise it for him, Fouquet is sorely pressed. The situation gets so bad that his new mistress, Madame de Bellière, must resort to selling all her jewels and her gold and silver plate. Aramis, while this is going on, has grown friendly with the governor of the Bastile, M. de Baisemeaux, a fact that Baisemeaux unwittingly reveals to D'Artagnan while inquiring of him as to Aramis's whereabouts. This further arouses the suspicions of the musketeer, who was made to look ridiculous by Aramis. He had ridden overnight at an insane pace, but arrived a few minutes after Fouquet had already presented Belle-Isle to the king. Aramis learns from the governor the location of a mysterious prisoner, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Louis XIV - in fact, the two are identical. He uses the existence of this secret to persuade a dying Franciscan monk, the general of the society of the Jesuits, to name him, Aramis, the new general of the order. On Aramis's advice, hoping to use Louise's influence with the king to counteract Colbert's influence, Fouquet also writes a love letter to La Vallière, unfortunately undated. It never reaches its destination, however, as the servant ordered to deliver it turns out to be an agent of Colbert's.
Porthos, in the meantime, has been recovering from his midnight ride
from Belle-Isle at Fouquet's residence at Saint-Mandé. Athos has retired, once again to La
Fère. D'Artagnan, little amused by the
court's activities at
And so, the story continues in this, the third etext of The Vicomte de Bragelonne. Enjoy!
all these long and noisy debates between the opposite ambitions of politics and
love, one of our characters, perhaps the one least deserving of neglect, was,
however, very much neglected, very much forgotten, and exceedingly
unhappy. In fact, D'Artagnan -
D'Artagnan, we say, for we must call him by his name, to remind our readers of
his existence - D'Artagnan, we repeat, had absolutely nothing whatever to do,
amidst these brilliant butterflies of fashion.
After following the king during two whole days at
"You wish to leave me, Monsieur d'Artagnan?" inquired the king, with an air of astonishment; for Louis XIV. could never understand why any one who had the distinguished honor of being near him could wish to leave him.
"Sire," said D'Artagnan, "I leave you simply because I am not of the slightest service to you in anything. Ah! if I could only hold the balancing-pole while you were dancing, it would be a very different affair."
"But, my dear Monsieur d'Artagnan," said the king, gravely, "people dance without balancing-poles."
"Ah! indeed," said the musketeer, continuing his imperceptible tone of irony, "I had no idea such a thing was possible."
"You have not seen me dance, then?" inquired the king.
"Yes; but I always thought dancers went from easy to difficult acrobatic feats. I was mistaken; all the more greater reason, therefore, that I should leave for a time. Sire, I repeat, you have no present occasion for my services; besides, if your majesty should have any need of me, you would know where to find me."
"Very well," said the king, and he granted him leave of absence.
We shall not look for D'Artagnan, therefore, at Fontainebleau, for to do so would be useless; but, with the permission of our readers, follow him to the Rue des Lombards, where he was located at the sign of the Pilon d'Or, in the house of our old friend Planchet. It was about eight o'clock in the evening, and the weather was exceedingly warm; there was only one window open, and that one belonging to a room on the entresol. A perfume of spices, mingled with another perfume less exotic, but more penetrating, namely, that which arose from the street, ascended to salute the nostrils of the musketeer. D'Artagnan, reclining in an immense straight-backed chair, with his legs not stretched out, but simply placed upon a stool, formed an angle of the most obtuse form that could possibly be seen. Both his arms were crossed over his head, his head reclining upon his left shoulder, like Alexander the Great. His eyes, usually so quick and intelligent in their expression, were now half-closed, and seemed fastened, as it were, upon a small corner of blue sky that was visible behind the opening of the chimneys; there was just enough blue, and no more, to fill one of the sacks of lentils, or haricots, which formed the principal furniture of the shop on the ground floor. Thus extended at his ease, and sheltered in his place of observation behind the window, D'Artagnan seemed as if he had ceased to be a soldier, as if he were no longer an officer belonging to the palace, but was, on the contrary, a quiet, easy-going citizen in a state of stagnation between his dinner and supper, or between his supper and his bed; one of those strong, ossified brains, which have no more room for a single idea, so fiercely does animal matter keep watch at the doors of intelligence, narrowly inspecting the contraband trade which might result from the introduction into the brain of a symptom of thought. We have already said night was closing in, the shops were being lighted, while the windows of the upper apartments were being closed, and the rhythmic steps of a patrol of soldiers forming the night watch could be heard retreating. D'Artagnan continued, however, to think of nothing, except the blue corner of the sky. A few paces from him, completely in the shade, lying on his stomach, upon a sack of Indian corn, was Planchet, with both his arms under his chin, and his eyes fixed on D'Artagnan, who was either thinking, dreaming, or sleeping, with his eyes open. Planchet had been watching him for a tolerably long time, and, by way of interruption, he began by exclaiming, "Hum! hum!" But D'Artagnan did not stir. Planchet then saw that it was necessary to have recourse to more effectual means still: after a prolonged reflection on the subject, the most ingenious means that suggested itself to him under the present circumstances, was to let himself roll off the sack on to the floor, murmuring, at the same time, against himself, the word "stupid." But, notwithstanding the noise produced by Planchet's fall, D'Artagnan, who had in the course of his existence heard many other, and very different falls, did not appear to pay the least attention to the present one. Besides, an enormous cart, laden with stones, passing from the Rue Saint-Médéric, absorbed, in the noise of its wheels, the noise of Planchet's tumble. And yet Planchet fancied that, in token of tacit approval, he saw him imperceptibly smile at the word "stupid." This emboldened him to say, "Are you asleep, Monsieur d'Artagnan?"
"No, Planchet, I am not even asleep," replied the musketeer.
"I am in despair," said Planchet, "to hear such a word as even."
"Well, and why not; is it not a grammatical word, Monsieur Planchet?"
"Of course, Monsieur d'Artagnan."
"Well, then, the word distresses me beyond measure."
"Tell me why you are distressed, Planchet," said D'Artagnan.
"If you say that you are not even asleep, it is as much as to say that you have not even the consolation of being able to sleep; or, better still, it is precisely the same as telling me that you are getting bored to death."
"Planchet, you know that I am never bored."
"Except to-day, and the day before yesterday."
"Monsieur d'Artagnan, it is a week since you returned here from
"Planchet," replied D'Artagnan, "I assure you I am not bored in the least in the world."
"In that case, what are you doing, lying there, as if you were dead?"
"My dear Planchet, there was, once upon a time, at the siege of La Rochelle, when I was there, when you were there, when we both were there, a certain Arab, who was celebrated for the manner in which he adjusted culverins. He was a clever fellow, although of a very odd complexion, which was the same color as your olives. Well, this Arab, whenever he had done eating or working, used to sit down to rest himself, as I am resting myself now, and smoked I cannot tell you what sort of magical leaves, in a large amber-mouthed tube; and if any officers, happening to pass, reproached him for being always asleep, he used quietly to reply: 'Better to sit down than to stand up, to lie down than to sit down, to be dead than to lie down.' He was an acutely melancholy Arab, and I remember him perfectly well, form the color of his skin, and the style of his conversation. He used to cut off the heads of Protestants with the most singular gusto!"
"Precisely; and then used to embalm them, when they were worth the trouble; and when he was thus engaged with his herbs and plants about him, he looked like a basket-maker making baskets."
"You are quite right, Planchet, he did."
"Oh! I can remember things very well, at times!"
"I have no doubt of it; but what do you think of his mode of reasoning?"
"I think it good in one sense, but very stupid in another."
"Expound your meaning, M. Planchet."
"Well, monsieur, in point of fact, then, 'better to sit down than to stand up,' is plain enough, especially when one may be fatigued," and Planchet smiled in a roguish way; "as for 'better to be lying down,' let that pass, but as for the last proposition, that it is 'better to be dead than alive,' it is, in my opinion, very absurd, my own undoubted preference being for my bed; and if you are not of my opinion, it is simply, as I have already had the honor of telling you, because you are boring yourself to death."
"Planchet, do you know M. La Fontaine?"
"The chemist at the corner of the Rue Saint-Médéric?"
"No, the writer of fables."
"Oh! Maître Corbeau!"
"Exactly; well, then, I am like his hare."
"He has got a hare also, then?"
"He has all sorts of animals."
"Well, what does his hare do, then?"
"M. La Fontaine's hare thinks."
"Planchet, I am like that hare - I am thinking."
"You are thinking, you say?" said Planchet, uneasily.
"Yes; your house is dull enough to drive people to think; you will admit that, I hope."
"And yet, monsieur, you have a look-out upon the street."
"Yes; and wonderfully interesting that is, of course."
"But it is no less true, monsieur, that, if you were living at the back of the house, you would bore yourself - I mean, you would think - more than ever."
"Upon my word, Planchet, I hardly know that."
"Still," said the grocer, "if your reflections are at all like those which led you to restore King Charles II. - " and Planchet finished by a little laugh which was not without its meaning.
"Ah! Planchet, my friend," returned D'Artagnan, "you are getting ambitious."
"Is there no other king to be restored, M. d'Artagnan - no second Monk to be packed up, like a salted hog, in a deal box?"
"No, my dear Planchet; all the kings are seated on their respective thrones; less comfortably so, perhaps, than I am upon this chair; but, at all events, there they are." And D'Artagnan sighed deeply.
"Monsieur d'Artagnan," said Planchet, "you are making me very uneasy."
"You are very good, Planchet."
"I begin to suspect something."
"What is it?"
"Monsieur d'Artagnan, you are getting thin."
"Oh!" said D'Artagnan, striking his chest which sounded like an empty cuirass, "it is impossible, Planchet."
"Ah!" said Planchet, slightly overcome; "if you were to get thin in my house - "
"I should do something rash."
"What would you do? Tell me."
"I should look out for the man who was the cause of all your anxieties."
"Ah! according to your account, I am anxious now."
"Yes, you are anxious; and you are getting thin, visibly getting
"What!" said M. d'Artagnan, starting in his chair; "what's that you say? And what has M. d'Herblay's name to do with your groceries?"
"Just as you please. Get angry if you like, or call me names, if you prefer it; but, the deuce is in it. I know what I know."
D'Artagnan had, during this second outburst of Planchet's, so placed himself as not to lose a single look of his face; that is, he sat with both his hands resting on both his knees, and his head stretched out towards the grocer. "Come, explain yourself," he said, "and tell me how you could possibly utter such a blasphemy. M. d'Herblay, your old master, my friend, an ecclesiastic, a musketeer turned bishop - do you mean to say you would raise your sword against him, Planchet?"
"I could raise my sword against my own father, when I see you in such a state as you are now."
"M. d'Herblay, a gentleman!"
"It's all the same to me whether
he's a gentleman or not. He gives you
the blue devils, that is all I know. And
the blue devils make people get thin.
"How does he give me the blue devils, as you call it? Come, explain, explain."
"You have had the nightmare during the last three nights."
"Yes, you; and in your nightmare you called out, several times, 'Aramis, deceitful Aramis!'"
"Ah! I said that, did I?" murmured D'Artagnan, uneasily.
"Yes, those very words, upon my honor."
"Well, what else? You know the saying, Planchet, 'dreams go by contraries.'"
"Not so; for every time, during the last three days, when you went out, you have not once failed to ask me, on your return, 'Have you seen M. d'Herblay?' or else 'Have you received any letters for me from M. d'Herblay?'"
"Well, it is very natural I should take an interest in my old friend," said D'Artagnan.
"Of course; but not to such an extent as to get thin on that account."
"Planchet, I'll get fatter; I give you my word of honor I will."
"Very well, monsieur, I accept it; for I know that when you give your word of honor, it is sacred."
"I will not dream of Aramis any more; and I will never ask you again if there are any letters from M. d'Herblay; but on condition that you explain one thing to me."
"Tell me what it is, monsieur?"
"I am a great observer; and just now you made use of a very singular oath, which is unusual for you."
"It is the oath I have used ever since I have been a grocer."
"Very proper, too; it is the name of a dried grape, or raisin, I believe?"
"It is my most ferocious oath; when I have once said
"Still, I never knew you use that oath before."
"Very likely not, monsieur. I had a present made me of it," said Planchet; and, as he pronounced these words, he winked his eye with a cunning expression, which thoroughly awakened D'Artagnan's attention.
"Come, come, M. Planchet."
"Why, I am not like you, monsieur," said Planchet. "I don't pass my life in thinking."
"You do wrong, then."
"I mean in boring myself to death. We have but a very short time to live - why not make the best of it?"
"You are an Epicurean philosopher, I begin to think, Planchet."
"Why not? My hand is still as steady as ever; I can write, and can weigh out my sugar and spices; my foot is firm; I can dance and walk about; my stomach has its teeth still, for I eat and digest very well; my heart is not quite hardened. Well, monsieur?"
"Well, what, Planchet?"
"Why, you see - " said the grocer, rubbing his hands together.
D'Artagnan crossed one leg over the other, and said, "Planchet, my friend, I am unnerved with extreme surprise; for you are revealing yourself to me under a perfectly new light."
Planchet, flattered in the highest degree by this remark, continued to rub his hands very hard together. "Ah, ah," he said, "because I happen to be only slow, you think me, perhaps, a positive fool."
"Very good, Planchet; very well reasoned."
"Follow my idea, monsieur, if you please. I said to myself," continued Planchet, "that, without enjoyment, there is no happiness on this earth."
"Quite true, what you say, Planchet," interrupted D'Artagnan.
"At all events, if we cannot obtain pleasure - for pleasure is not so common a thing, after all - let us, at least, get consolations of some kind or another."
"And so you console yourself?"
"Tell me how you console yourself."
"I put on a buckler for the purpose of confronting ennui. I place my time at the direction of patience; and on the very eve of feeling I am going to get bored, I amuse myself."
"And you don't find any difficulty in that?"
"And you found it out quite by yourself?"
"It is miraculous."
"What do you say?"
"I say, that your philosophy is not to be matched in the Christian or pagan world, in modern days or in antiquity!"
"You think so? - follow my example, then."
"It is a very tempting one."
"Do as I do."
"I could not wish for anything better; but all minds are not of the same stamp; and it might possibly happen that if I were required to amuse myself in the manner you do, I should bore myself horribly."
"Bah! at least try first."
"Well, tell me what you do."
"Have you observed that I leave home occasionally?"
"In any particular way?"
"That's the very thing. You have noticed it, then?"
"My dear Planchet, you must understand that when people see each other every day, and one of the two absents himself, the other misses him. Do you not feel the want of my society when I am in the country?"
"Prodigiously; that is to say, I feel like a body without a soul."
"That being understood then, proceed."
"What are the periods when I absent myself?"
"On the fifteenth and thirtieth of every month."
"And I remain away?"
"Sometimes two, sometimes three, and sometimes four days at a time."
"Have you ever given it a thought, why I was absent?"
"To look after your debts, I suppose."
"And when I returned, how did you think I looked, as far as my face was concerned?"
"You admit, you say, that I always look satisfied. And what have you attributed my satisfaction to?"
"That your business was going on very well; that your purchases of rice, prunes, raw sugar, dried apples, pears, and treacle were advantageous. You were always very picturesque in your notions and ideas, Planchet; and I was not in the slightest degree surprised to find you had selected grocery as an occupation, which is of all trades the most varied, and the very pleasantest, as far as the character is concerned; inasmuch as one handles so many natural and perfumed productions."
"Perfectly true, monsieur; but you are very greatly mistaken."
"In what way?"
"In thinking that I heave here every fortnight, to collect my money or to make purchases. Ho, ho! how could you possibly have thought such a thing? Ho, ho, ho!" And Planchet began to laugh in a manner that inspired D'Artagnan with very serious misgivings as to his sanity.
"I confess," said the musketeer, "that I do not precisely catch your meaning."
"Very true, monsieur."
"What do you mean by 'very true'?"
"It must be true, since you say it; but pray, be assured that it in no way lessens my opinion of you."
"Ah, that is lucky."
"No; you are a man of genius; and whenever the question happens to be of war, tactics, surprises, or good honest blows to be dealt with, why, kings are marionettes, compared to you. But for the consolations of the mind, the proper care of the body, the agreeable things of like, if one may say so - ah! monsieur, don't talk to me about men of genius; they are nothing short of executioners."
"Good," said D'Artagnan, really fidgety with curiosity, "upon my word you interest me in the highest degree."
"You feel already less bored than you did just now, do you not?"
"I was not bored; yet since you have been talking to me, I feel more animated."
"Very good, then; that is not a bad beginning. I will cure you, rely upon that."
"There is nothing I should like better."
"Will you let me try, then?"
"Immediately, if you like."
"Very well. Have you any horses here?"
"Yes; ten, twenty, thirty."
"Oh, there is no occasion for so many as that, two will be quite sufficient."
"They are quite at your disposal, Planchet."
"Very good; then I shall carry you off with me."
"Ah, you are asking too much."
"You will admit, however, that it is important I should know where I am going."
"Do you like the country?"
"Only moderately, Planchet."
"In that case you like town better?"
"That is as may be."
"Very well; I am going to take you to a place, half town and half country."
"To a place where I am sure you will amuse yourself."
"Is it possible?"
"Yes; and more wonderful still, to a place from which you have just returned for the purpose only, it would seem, of getting bored here."
"It is to
"And, in Heaven's name, what are you going to do at
Planchet answered D'Artagnan by a wink full of sly humor.
"You have some property there, you rascal."
"Oh, a very paltry affair; a little bit of a house - nothing more."
"I understand you."
"But it is tolerable enough, after all."
"I am going to Planchet's country-seat!" exclaimed D'Artagnan.
"Whenever you like."
"Did we not fix to-morrow?"
"Let us say to-morrow, if you like; and then, besides, to-morrow is the 14th, that is to say, the day before the one when I am afraid of getting bored; so we will look upon it as an understood thing."
"Agreed, by all means."
"You will lend me one of your horses?"
"The best I have."
"No; I prefer the gentlest of all; I never was a very good rider, as you know, and in my grocery business I have got more awkward than ever; besides - "
"Why," added Planchet, "I do not wish to fatigue myself."
"Why so?" D'Artagnan ventured to ask.
"Because I should lose half the pleasure I expect to enjoy," replied Planchet. And thereupon he rose from his sack of Indian corn, stretching himself, and making all his bones crack, one after the other, with a sort of harmony.
"Planchet! Planchet!" exclaimed D'Artagnan, "I do declare that there is no sybarite upon the face of the globe who can for a moment be compared to you. Oh, Planchet, it is very clear that we have never yet eaten a ton of salt together."
"Why so, monsieur?"
"Because, even now I can scarcely say I know you," said D'Artagnan, "and because, in point of fact, I return to the opinion which, for a moment, I had formed of you that day at Boulogne, when you strangled, or did so as nearly as possible, M. de Wardes's valet, Lubin; in plain language, Planchet, that you are a man of great resources."
Planchet began to laugh with a laugh full of self-conceit; bade the
musketeer good-night, and went down to his back shop, which he used as a
bedroom. D'Artagnan resumed his original
position upon his chair, and his brow, which had been unruffled for a moment,
became more pensive than ever. He had
already forgotten the whims and dreams of Planchet. "Yes," said he, taking up again the
thread of his thoughts, which had been broken by the whimsical conversation in
which we have just permitted our readers to participate. "Yes, yes, those three points include
everything: First, to ascertain what Baisemeaux wanted with Aramis; secondly,
to learn why Aramis does not let me hear from him; and thirdly, to ascertain
where Porthos is. The whole mystery lies
in these three points. Since,
therefore," continued D'Artagnan, "our friends tell us nothing, we
must have recourse to our own poor intelligence. I must do what I can, mordioux, or rather
D'Artagnan, faithful to his plan, went the very next morning to pay a visit to M. de Baisemeaux. It was cleaning up or tidying day at the Bastile; the cannons were furbished up, the staircases scraped and cleaned; and the jailers seemed to be carefully engaged in polishing the very keys. As for the soldiers belonging to the garrison, they were walking about in different courtyards, under the pretense that they were clean enough. The governor, Baisemeaux, received D'Artagnan with more than ordinary politeness, but he behaved towards him with so marked a reserve of manner, that all D'Artagnan's tact and cleverness could not get a syllable out of him. The more he kept himself within bounds, the more D'Artagnan's suspicion increased. The latter even fancied he remarked that the governor was acting under the influence of a recent recommendation. Baisemeaux had not been at the Palais Royal with D'Artagnan the same cold and impenetrable man which the latter now found in the Baisemeaux of the Bastile. When D'Artagnan wished to make him talk about the urgent money matters which had brought Baisemeaux in search of D'Artagnan, and had rendered him expansive, notwithstanding what had passed on that evening, Baisemeaux pretended that he had some orders to give in the prison, and left D'Artagnan so long alone waiting for him, that our musketeer, feeling sure that he should not get another syllable out of him, left the Bastile without waiting until Baisemeaux returned from his inspection. But D'Artagnan's suspicions were aroused, and when once that was the case, D'Artagnan could not sleep or remain quiet for a moment. He was among men what the cat is among quadrupeds, the emblem of anxiety and impatience, at the same moment. A restless cat can no more remain the same place than a silk thread wafted idly to and fro with every breath of air. A cat on the watch is as motionless as death stationed at is place of observation, and neither hunger nor thirst can draw it from its meditations. D'Artagnan, who was burning with impatience, suddenly threw aside the feeling, like a cloak which he felt too heavy on his shoulders, and said to himself that that which they were concealing from him was the very thing it was important he should know; and, consequently, he reasoned that Baisemeaux would not fail to put Aramis on his guard, if Aramis had given him any particular recommendation, and this was, in fact, the very thing that happened.
Baisemeaux had hardly had time to return from the donjon, than D'Artagnan placed himself in ambuscade close to the Rue de Petit-Musc, so as to see every one who might leave the gates of the Bastile. After he had spent an hour on the look-out from the "Golden Portcullis," under the pent-house of which he could keep himself a little in the shade, D'Artagnan observed a soldier leave the Bastile. This was, indeed, the surest indication he could possibly have wished for, as every jailer or warder has certain days, and even certain hours, for leaving the Bastile, since all are alike prohibited from having either wives or lodgings in the castle, and can accordingly leave without exciting any curiosity; but a soldier once in barracks is kept there for four and twenty hours when on duty, - and no one knew this better than D'Artagnan. The guardsman in question, therefore, was not likely to leave his regimentals, except on an express and urgent order. The soldier, we were saying, left the Bastile at a slow and lounging pace, like a happy mortal, in fact, who, instead of mounting sentry before a wearisome guard-house, or upon a bastion no less wearisome, has the good luck to get a little liberty, in addition to a walk - both pleasures being luckily reckoned as part of his time on duty. He bent his steps towards the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, enjoying the fresh air and the warmth of the sun, and looking at all the pretty faces he passed. D'Artagnan followed him at a distance; he had not yet arranged his ideas as what was to be done. "I must, first of all," he thought, "see the fellow's face. A man seen is a man judged." D'Artagnan increased his pace, and, which was not very difficult, by the by, soon got in advance of the soldier. Not only did he observe that his face showed a tolerable amount of intelligence and resolution, but he noticed also that his nose was a little red. "He has a weakness for brandy, I see," said D'Artagnan to himself. At the same moment that he remarked his red nose, he saw that the soldier had a white paper in his belt.
"Good, he has a letter," added D'Artagnan. The only difficulty was to get hold of the letter. But a common soldier would, of course, be only too delighted at having been selected by M. de Baisemeaux as a special messenger, and would not be likely to sell his message. As D'Artagnan was biting his nails, the soldier continued to advance more and more into the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. "He is certainly going to Saint-Mandé," he said to himself, "and I shall not be able to learn what the letter contains." It was enough to drive him wild. "If I were in uniform," said D'Artagnan to himself, "I would have this fellow seized, and his letter with him. I could easily get assistance at the very first guard-house; but the devil take me if I mention my name in an affair of this kind. If I were to treat him to something to drink, his suspicions would be roused; and besides, he might drink me drunk. Mordioux! my wits seem to have left me," said D'Artagnan; "it is all over with me. Yet, supposing I were to attack this poor devil, make him draw his sword and kill him for the sake of his letter? No harm in that, if it were a question of a letter from a queen to a nobleman, or a letter from a cardinal to a queen; but what miserable intrigues are those of Messieurs Aramis and Fouquet with M. Colbert. A man's life for that? No, no, indeed; not even ten crowns." As he philosophized in this manner, biting first his nails, and then his mustaches, he perceived a group of archers and a commissary of the police engaged in carrying away a man of very gentlemanly exterior, who was struggling with all his might against them. The archers had torn his clothes, and were dragging him roughly away. He begged they would lead him along more respectfully, asserting that he was a gentleman and a soldier. And observing our soldier walking in the street, he called out, "Help, comrade."
The soldier walked on with the same step towards the man who had called out to him, followed by the crowd. An idea suddenly occurred to D'Artagnan; it was his first one, and we shall find it was not a bad one either. During the time the gentleman was relating to the soldier that he had just been seized in a house as a thief, when the truth was he was only there as a lover; and while the soldier was pitying him, and offering him consolation and advice with that gravity which a French soldier has always ready whenever his vanity or his esprit de corps is concerned, D'Artagnan glided behind the soldier, who was closely hemmed in by the crowd, and with a rapid sweep, like a sabre slash, snatched the letter from his belt. As at this moment the gentleman with the torn clothes was pulling about the soldier, to show how the commissary of police had pulled him about, D'Artagnan effected his pillage of the letter without the slightest interference. He stationed himself about ten paces distant, behind the pillar of an adjoining house, and read on the address, "To Monsieur du Vallon, at Monsieur Fouquet's, Saint-Mandé."
"Good!" he said, and then he unsealed, without tearing the letter, drew out the paper, which was folded in four, from the inside; which contained only these words:
"DEAR MONSIEUR DU VALLON, - Will you be good enough to tell Monsieur d'Herblay that he has been to the Bastile, and has been making inquiries.
"Very good! all right!" exclaimed D'Artagnan; "it is
clear enough now. Porthos is engaged in
it." Being now satisfied of what he
wished to know: "Mordioux!" thought the musketeer, "what is to
be done with that poor devil of a soldier?
That hot-headed, cunning fellow, De Baisemeaux, will make him pay dearly
for my trick, - if he returns without the letter, what will they do to
him? Besides, I don't want the letter;
when the egg has been sucked, what is the good of the shell?" D'Artagnan perceived that the commissary and
the archers had succeeded in convincing the soldier, and went on their way with
the prisoner, the latter being still surrounded by the crowd, and continuing
his complaints. D'Artagnan advanced into
the very middle of the crowd, let the letter fall, without any one having observed
him, and then retreated rapidly. The
soldier resumed his route towards Saint-Mandé, his mind occupied with the
gentleman who had implored his protection.
Suddenly he thought of his letter, and, looking at his belt, saw that it
was no longer there. D'Artagnan derived
no little satisfaction from his sudden, terrified cry. The poor soldier in the greatest anguish of
mind looked round him on every side, and at last, about twenty paces behind
him, he perceived the lucky envelope. He
pounced on it like a falcon on its prey.
The envelope was certainly a little dirty, and rather crumpled, but at
all events the letter itself was found.
D'Artagnan observed that the broken seal attracted the soldier's
attention a good deal, but he finished apparently by consoling himself, and
returned the letter to his belt.
"Go on," said D'Artagnan, "I have plenty of time before
me, so you may precede me. It appears
that Aramis is not in
D'Artagnan had, according to his usual style, calculated that every hour
is worth sixty minutes, and every minute worth sixty seconds. Thanks to this perfectly exact calculation of
minutes and seconds, he reached the superintendent's door at the very moment
the soldier was leaving it with his belt empty.
D'Artagnan presented himself at the door, which a porter with a
profusely embroidered livery held half opened for him. D'Artagnan would very much have liked to enter
without giving his name, but this was impossible, and so he gave it. Notwithstanding this concession, which ought
to have removed every difficulty in the way, at least D'Artagnan thought so,
the concierge hesitated; however, at the second repetition of the title,
captain of the king's guards, the concierge, without quite leaving the passage
clear for him, ceased to bar it completely.
D'Artagnan understood that orders of the most positive character had
been given. He decided, therefore, to
tell a falsehood, - a circumstance, moreover, which did not seriously affect
his peace of mind, when he saw that beyond the falsehood the safety of the
state itself, or even purely and simply his own individual personal interest,
might be at stake. He moreover added to
the declarations he had already made, that the soldier sent to M. du Vallon was
his own messenger, and that the only object that letter had in view was to
announce his intended arrival. From that
moment, no one opposed D'Artagnan's entrance any further, and he entered
accordingly. A valet wished to accompany
him, but he answered that it was useless to take that trouble on his account,
inasmuch as he knew perfectly well where M. du Vallon was. There was nothing, of course, to say to a man
so thoroughly and completely informed on all points, and D'Artagnan was
permitted, therefore, to do as he liked.
The terraces, the magnificent apartments, the gardens, were all reviewed
and narrowly inspected by the musketeer.
He walked for a quarter of an hour in this more than royal residence,
which included as many wonders as articles of furniture, and as many servants
as there were columns and doors.
"Decidedly," he said to himself, "this mansion has no other
limits than the pillars of the habitable world.
Is it probable Porthos has taken it into his head to go back to
"It is here, I believe," said D'Artagnan, without hesitation, "that M. le Baron du Vallon is staying?"
"Yes, monsieur," answered the lackey.
"Have the goodness to tell him that M. le Chevalier d'Artagnan, captain of the king's musketeers, is waiting to see him."
D'Artagnan was introduced into the salon, and had not long to remain in expectation: a well-remembered step shook the floor of the adjoining room, a door opened, or rather flew open, and Porthos appeared and threw himself into his friend's arms with a sort of embarrassment which did not ill become him. "You here?" he exclaimed.
"And you?" replied D'Artagnan. "Ah, you sly fellow!"
"Yes," said Porthos, with a somewhat embarrassed smile; "yes, you see I am staying in M. Fouquet's house, at which you are not a little surprised, I suppose?"
"Not at all; why should you not be one of M. Fouquet's friends? M. Fouquet has a very large number, particularly among clever men."
Porthos had the modesty not to take the compliment to himself. "Besides," he added, "you saw me at Belle-Isle."
"A greater reason for my believing you to be one of M. Fouquet's friends."
"The fact is, I am acquainted with him," said Porthos, with a certain embarrassment of manner.
"Ah, friend Porthos," said D'Artagnan, "how treacherously you have behaved towards me."
"In what way?" exclaimed Porthos.
"What! you complete so admirable a work as the fortifications of Belle-Isle, and you did not tell me of it!" Porthos colored. "Nay, more than that," continued D'Artagnan, "you saw me out yonder, you know I am in the king's service, and yet you could not guess that the king, jealously desirous of learning the name of the man whose abilities had wrought a work of which he heard the most wonderful accounts, - you could not guess, I say, that the king sent me to learn who this man was?"
"What! the king sent you to learn - "
"Of course; but don't let us speak of that any more."
"Not speak of it!" said Porthos; "on the contrary, we will speak of it; and so the king knew that we were fortifying Belle-Isle?"
"Of course; does not the king know everything?"
"But he did not know who was fortifying it?"
"No, he only suspected, from what he had been told of the nature of the works, that it was some celebrated soldier or another."
"The devil!" said Porthos, "if I had only known that!"
"You would not have run away from Vannes as you did, perhaps?"
"No; what did you say when you couldn't find me?"
"My dear fellow, I reflected."
"Ah, indeed; you reflect, do you? Well, and what did that reflection lead to?"
"It led me to guess the whole truth."
"Come, then, tell me what did you guess after all?" said Porthos, settling himself into an armchair, and assuming the airs of a sphinx.
"I guessed, in the first place, that you were fortifying Belle-Isle."
"There was no great difficulty in that, for you saw me at work."
"Wait a minute; I also guessed something else, - that you were fortifying Belle-Isle by M. Fouquet's orders."
"But even that is not all. Whenever I feel myself in trim for guessing, I do not stop on my road; and so I guessed that M. Fouquet wished to preserve the most absolute secrecy respecting these fortifications."
"I believe that was his intention, in fact," said Porthos.
"Yes, but do you know why he wished to keep it secret?"
"In order it should not become known, perhaps," said Porthos.
"That was his principal reason. But his wish was subservient to a bit of generosity - "
"In fact," said Porthos, "I have head it said that M. Fouquet was a very generous man."
"To a bit of generosity he wished to exhibit towards the king."
"You seem surprised at that?"
"And you didn't guess?"
"Well, I know it, then."
"You are a wizard." "Not at all, I assure you."
"How do you know it, then?"
"By a very simple means. I heard M. Fouquet himself say so to the king."
"Say what to the king?"
"That he fortified Belle-Isle on his majesty's account, and that he had made him a present of Belle Isle."
"And you heard M. Fouquet say that to the king?"
"In those very words. He even added: 'Belle-Isle has been fortified by an engineer, one of my friends, a man of a great deal of merit, whom I shall ask your majesty's permission to present to you.'
"'What is his name?' said the king.
"'The Baron du Vallon,' M. Fouquet replied.
"'Very well,' returned his majesty, 'you will present him to me.'"
"The king said that?"
"Upon the word of a D'Artagnan!"
"Oh, oh!" said Porthos. "Why have I not been presented, then?"
"Have they not spoken to you about this presentation?"
"Yes, certainly; but I am always kept waiting for it."
"Be easy, it will be sure to come."
"Humph! humph!" grumbled Porthos, which D'Artagnan pretended not to hear; and, changing the conversation, he said, "You seem to be living in a very solitary place here, my dear fellow?"
"I always preferred retirement. I am of a melancholy disposition," replied Porthos, with a sigh.
"Really, that is odd," said D'Artagnan, "I never remarked that before."
"It is only since I have taken to reading, "said Porthos, with a thoughtful air.
"But the labors of the mind have not affected the health of the body, I trust?"
"Not in the slightest degree." "Your strength is as great as ever?"
"Too great, my friend, too great."
"Ah! I had heard that, for a short time after your arrival - "
"That I could hardly move a limb, I suppose?"
"How was it?" said D'Artagnan, smiling, "and why was it you could not move?"
Porthos, perceiving that he had made a mistake, wished to correct it. "Yes, I came from Belle-Isle upon very hard horses," he said, "and that fatigued me."
"I am no longer astonished, then, since I, who followed you, found seven or eight lying dead on the road."
"I am very heavy, you know," said Porthos.
"So that you were bruised all over."
"My marrow melted, and that made me very ill."
"Poor Porthos! But how did Aramis act towards you under those circumstances?"
"Very well, indeed. He had me attended to by M. Fouquet's own doctor. But just imagine, at the end of a week I could not breathe any longer."
"What do you mean?"
"The room was too small; I had absorbed every atom of air."
"I was told so, at least; and so I was removed into another apartment."
"Where you were able to breathe, I hope and trust?"
"Yes, more freely; but no exercise - nothing to do. The doctor pretended that I was not to stir; I, on the contrary, felt that I was stronger than ever; that was the cause of a very serious accident."
"Fancy, my dear fellow, that I revolted against the directions of that ass of a doctor, and I resolved to go out, whether it suited him or not: and, consequently, I told the valet who waited on me to bring me my clothes."
"You were quite naked, then?"
"Oh, no! on the contrary, I had a magnificent dressing-gown to wear. The lackey obeyed; I dressed myself in my own clothes, which had become too large for me; but a strange circumstance had happened, - my feet had become too large."
"Yes, I quite understand."
"And my boots too small."
"You mean your feet were still swollen?"
"Exactly; you have hit it."
"Pardieu! And is that the accident you were going to tell me about?"
"Oh, yes; I did not make the same reflection you have done. I said to myself: 'Since my feet have entered my boots ten times, there is no reason why they should not go in the eleventh.'"
"Allow me to tell you, my dear Porthos, that on this occasion you failed in your logic."
"In short, then, they placed me opposite to a part of the room which was partitioned; I tried to get my boot on; I pulled it with my hands, I pushed with all the strength of the muscles of my leg, making the most unheard-of efforts, when suddenly the two tags of my boot remained in my hands, and my foot struck out like a ballista."
"How learned you are in fortification, dear Porthos."
"My foot darted out like a ballista, and came against the partition, which it broke in; I really thought that, like Samson, I had demolished the temple. And the number of pictures, the quantity of china, vases of flowers, carpets, and window-panes that fell down were really wonderful."
"Without reckoning that on the other side of the partition was a small table laden with porcelain - "
"Which you knocked over?"
"Which I dashed to the other side of the room," said Porthos, laughing.
"Upon my word, it is, as you say, astonishing," replied D'Artagnan, beginning to laugh also; whereupon Porthos laughed louder than ever.
"I broke," said Porthos, in a voice half-choked from his increasing mirth, "more than three thousand francs worth of china - ha, ha, ha!"
"Good!" said D'Artagnan.
"I smashed more than four thousand francs worth of glass! - ho, ho, ho!"
"Without counting a luster, which fell on my head and was broken into a thousand pieces - ha, ha, ha!"
"Upon your head?" said D'Artagnan, holding his sides.
"But your head was broken, I suppose?"
"No, since I tell you, on the contrary, my dear fellow, that it was the luster which was broken, like glass, which, in point of fact, it was."
"Ah! the luster was glass, you say."
"Venetian glass! a perfect curiosity, quite matchless, indeed, and weighed two hundred pounds."
"And it fell upon your head!"
"Upon my head. Just imagine, a globe of crystal, gilded all over, the lower part beautifully encrusted, perfumes burning at the top, with jets from which flame issued when they were lighted."
"I quite understand, but they were not lighted at the time, I suppose?"
"Happily not, or I should have been grilled prematurely."
"And you were only knocked down flat, instead?"
"Not at all."
"How, 'not at all?'"
"Why, the luster fell on my skull. It appears that we have upon the top of our heads an exceedingly thick crust."
"Who told you that, Porthos?"
"The doctor. A sort of dome which would bear Notre-Dame."
"Yes, it seems that our skulls are made in that manner."
"Speak for yourself, my dear fellow, it is your own skull that is made in that manner, and not the skulls of other people."
"Well, that may be so," said Porthos, conceitedly, "so much, however, was that the case, in my instance, that no sooner did the luster fall upon the dome which we have at the top of our head, than there was a report like a cannon, the crystal was broken to pieces, and I fell, covered from head to foot."
"With blood, poor Porthos!"
"Not at all; with perfumes, which smelt like rich creams; it was delicious, but the odor was too strong, and I felt quite giddy from it; perhaps you have experienced it sometimes yourself, D'Artagnan?"
"Yes, in inhaling the scent of the lily of the valley; so that, my poor friend, you were knocked over by the shock and overpowered by the perfumes?"
"Yes; but what is very remarkable, for the doctor told me he had never seen anything like it - "
"You had a bump on your head I suppose?" interrupted D'Artagnan.
"I had five."
"I will tell you; the luster had, at its lower extremity, five gilt ornaments; excessively sharp."
"Well, these five ornaments penetrated my hair, which, as you see, I wear very thick."
"And they made a mark on my skin. But just notice the singularity of it, these things seem really only to happen to me! Instead of making indentations, they made bumps. The doctor could never succeed in explaining that to me satisfactorily."
"Well, then, I will explain it to you."
"You will do me a great service if you will," said Porthos, winking his eyes, which, with him, was sign of the profoundest attention.
"Since you have been employing your brain in studies of an exalted character, in important calculations, and so on, the head has gained a certain advantage, so that your head is now too full of science."
"Do you think so?"
"I am sure of it. The result is, that, instead of allowing any foreign matter to penetrate the interior of the head, your bony box or skull, which is already too full, avails itself of the openings which are made in allowing this excess to escape."
"Ah!" said Porthos, to whom this explanation appeared clearer than that of the doctor.
"The five protuberances, caused by the five ornaments of the luster, must certainly have been scientific globules, brought to the surface by the force of circumstances."
"In fact," said Porthos, "the real truth is, that I felt far worse outside my head than inside. I will even confess, that when I put my hat upon my head, clapping it on my head with that graceful energy which we gentlemen of the sword possess, if my fist was not very gently applied, I experienced the most painful sensations."
"I quite believe you, Porthos."
"Therefore, my friend," said the giant, "M. Fouquet decided, seeing how slightly built the house was, to give me another lodging, and so they brought me here."
"It is the private park, I think, is it not?"
"Where the rendezvous are made; that park, indeed, which is so celebrated in some of those mysterious stories about the superintendent?"
"I don't know; I have had no rendezvous or heard mysterious stories myself, but they have authorized me to exercise my muscles, and I take advantage of the permission by rooting up some of the trees."
"To keep my hand in, and also to take some birds' nests; I find it more convenient than climbing."
"You are as pastoral as Tyrcis, my dear Porthos."
"Yes, I like the small eggs; I like them very much better than larger ones. You have no idea how delicate an omelette is, if made of four or five hundred eggs of linnets, chaffinches, starlings, blackbirds, and thrushes."
"But five hundred eggs is perfectly monstrous!"
"A salad-bowl will hold them easily enough," said Porthos.
D'Artagnan looked at Porthos admiringly for full five minutes, as if he had seen him for the first time, while Porthos spread his chest out joyously and proudly. They remained in this state several minutes, Porthos smiling, and D'Artagnan looking at him. D'Artagnan was evidently trying to give the conversation a new turn. "Do you amuse yourself much here, Porthos?" he asked at last, very likely after he had found out what he was searching for.
"I can imagine that; but when you get thoroughly bored, by and by, what do you intend to do?"
"Oh! I shall not be here for any length of time. Aramis is waiting until the last bump on my head disappears, in order to present me to the king, who I am told cannot endure the sight of a bump."
"Aramis is still in
"Whereabouts is he, then?"
"With M. Fouquet."
"Very good. But do you happen to know one thing?"
"No, tell it me, and then I shall know."
"Well, then, I think Aramis is forgetting you."
"Do you really think so?"
"Yes; for at
"The deuce they have!"
"I assure you that your dear Aramis is forgetting you."
"Well, that is not at all unlikely, and I have myself thought so sometimes."
"Unless he is playing you a trick, the sly fellow!"
"You know that Aramis is as sly as a fox."
"Yes, but to play me a trick - "
"Listen: in the first place, he puts you under a sort of sequestration."
"He sequestrates me! Do you mean to say I am sequestrated?"
"I think so."
"I wish you would have the goodness to prove that to me."
"Nothing easier. Do you ever go out?"
"Do you ever ride on horseback?"
"Are your friends allowed to come and see you?"
"Very well, then; never to go out, never to ride on horseback, never to be allowed to see your friends, that is called being sequestrated."
"But why should Aramis sequestrate me?" inquired Porthos.
"Come," said D'Artagnan, "be frank, Porthos."
"It was Aramis who drew the plan of the fortifications at Belle-Isle, was it not?"
Porthos colored as he said, "Yes; but that was all he did."
"Exactly, and my own opinion is that it was no very great affair after all."
"That is mine, too."
"Very good; I am delighted we are of the same opinion."
"He never even came to Belle-Isle," said Porthos.
"There now, you see."
"It was I who went to Vannes, as you may have seen."
"Say rather, as I did see. Well, that is precisely the state of the case, my dear Porthos. Aramis, who only drew the plans, wishes to pass himself off as the engineer, whilst you, who, stone by stone, built the wall, the citadel, and the bastions, he wishes to reduce to the rank of a mere builder."
"By builder, you mean mason, perhaps?"
"Mason; the very word."
"Plasterer, in fact?"
"Oh, oh! my dear Aramis, you seem to think you are only five and twenty years of age still."
"Yes, and that is not all, for believes you are fifty."
"I should have amazingly liked to have seen him at work."
"A fellow who has got the gout?"
"Who has lost three of his teeth?"
"While I, look at mine." And Porthos, opening his large mouth very wide, displayed two rows of teeth not quite as white as snow, but even, hard, and sound as ivory.
"You can hardly believe, Porthos," said D'Artagnan, "what a fancy the king has for good teeth. Yours decide me; I will present you to the king myself."
"Why not? Do you think I have less credit at court than Aramis?"
"Do you think I have the slightest pretensions upon the fortifications at Belle-Isle?"
"It is your own interest alone which would induce me to do it."
"I don't doubt it in the least."
"Well, I am the intimate friend of the king; and a proof of that is, that whenever there is anything disagreeable to tell him, it is I who have to do it."
"But, dear D'Artagnan, if you present me - "
"Aramis will be angry."
"No, with me."
"Bah! whether he or I present you, since you are to be presented, what does it matter?"
"They were going to get me some clothes made."
"Your own are splendid."
"Oh! those I had ordered were far more beautiful."
"Take care: the king likes simplicity."
"In that case, I will be simple. But what will M. Fouquet say, when he learns that I have left?"
"Are you a prisoner, then, on parole?"
"No, not quite that. But I promised him I would not leave without letting him know."
"Wait a minute, we shall return to that presently. Have you anything to do here?"
"I, nothing: nothing of any importance, at least."
"Unless, indeed, you are Aramis's representative for something of importance."
"By no means."
"What I tell you - pray, understand that - is out of interest for you. I suppose, for instance, that you are commissioned to send messages and letters to him?"
"Ah! letters -yes. I send certain letters to him."
"Have you any letters, then?"
"But - "
"Nay, let me speak. Have you any letters, I say?"
"I have just received one for him."
"I suppose so."
"You do not read them, then?"
"I am not at all curious," said Porthos, as he drew out of his pocket the soldier's letter which Porthos had not read, but D'Artagnan had.
"Do you know what to do with it?" said D'Artagnan.
"Of course; do as I always do, send it to him."
"Why not? Keep it, then?"
"Did they not tell you that this letter was important?"
"Well, you must take it yourself to
"Yes." "Very good."
"And since the king is there - "
"You will profit by that."
"I shall profit by the opportunity to present you to the king."
"Ah! D'Artagnan, there is no one like you for expedients."
"Therefore, instead of forwarding to our friend any messages, which may or may not be faithfully delivered, we will ourselves be the bearers of the letter."
"I had never even thought of that, and yet it is simple enough."
"And therefore, because it is urgent, Porthos, we ought to set off at once."
"In fact," said Porthos, "the sooner we set off the less chance there is of Aramis's letter being delayed."
"Porthos, your reasoning is always accurate, and, in your case, logic seems to serve as an auxiliary to the imagination."
"Do you think so?" said Porthos.
"It is the result of your hard reading," replied D'Artagnan. "So come along, let us be off."
"But," said Porthos, "my promise to M. Fouquet?"
"Not to leave Saint-Mandé without telling him of it."
"Ah! Porthos," said D'Artagnan, "how very young you still are."
"In what way?"
"You are going to
"Probably in the king's palace?"
"Yes," repeated Porthos, with an air full of majesty.
"Well, you will accost him with these words: 'M. Fouquet, I have the honor to inform you that I have just left Saint-Mandé.'"
"And," said Porthos, with the same majestic mien,
"seeing me at
"My dear Porthos, I was just on the point of opening my lips to make the same remark, but you anticipate me in everything. Oh! Porthos, how fortunately you are gifted! Years have made not the slightest impression on you."
"Not over-much, certainly."
"Then there is nothing more to say?"
"I think not."
"All your scruples are removed?"
"In that case I shall carry you off with me."
"Exactly; and I will go and get my horse saddled."
"You have horses here, then?"
"I have five."
"You had them sent from
"No, M. Fouquet gave them to me."
"My dear Porthos, we shall not want five horses for two
persons; besides, I have already three in
"It would not be too many if I had some of my servants here; but, alas! I have not got them."
"Do you regret them, then?"
"I regret Mousqueton; I miss Mousqueton."
"What a good-hearted fellow you are, Porthos," said D'Artagnan; "but the best thing you can do is to leave your horses here, as you have left Mousqueton out yonder."
"Because, by and by, it might turn out a very good thing if M. Fouquet had never given you anything at all."
"I don't understand you," said Porthos.
"It is not necessary you should understand."
"But yet - "
"I will explain to you later, Porthos."
"I'll wager it is some piece of policy or other."
"And of the most subtle character," returned D'Artagnan.
Porthos nodded his head at this word policy; then, after a moment's reflection, he added, "I confess, D'Artagnan, that I am no politician."
"I know that well."
"Oh! no one knows what you told me yourself, you, the bravest of the brave."
"What did I tell you, Porthos?"
"That every man has his day. You told me so, and I have experienced it myself. There are certain days when one feels less pleasure than others in exposing one's self to a bullet or a sword-thrust."
"Exactly my own idea."
"And mine, too, although I can hardly believe in blows or thrusts that kill outright."
"The deuce! and yet you have killed a few in your time."
"Yes; but I have never been killed."
"Your reason is a very good one."
"Therefore, I do not believe I shall ever die from a thrust of a sword or a gun-shot."
"In that case, then, you are afraid of nothing. Ah! water, perhaps?"
"Oh! I swim like an otter."
"Of a quartan fever, then?"
"I have never had one yet, and I don't believe I ever shall; but there is one thing I will admit," and Porthos dropped his voice.
"What is that?" asked D'Artagnan, adopting the same tone of voice as Porthos.
"I must confess," repeated Porthos, "that I am horribly afraid of politics."
"Ah, bah!" exclaimed D'Artagnan.
"Upon my word, it's true," said Porthos, in a stentorian voice. "I have seen his eminence Monsieur le Cardinal de Richelieu, and his eminence Monsieur le Cardinal de Mazarin; the one was a red politician, the other a black politician; I never felt very much more satisfied with the one than with the other; the first struck off the heads of M. de Marillac, M. de Thou, M. de Cinq-Mars, M. Châlais, M. de Bouteville, and M. de Montmorency; the second got a whole crowd of Frondeurs cut in pieces, and we belonged to them."
"On the contrary, we did not belong to them," said D'Artagnan.
"Oh! indeed, yes; for if I unsheathed my sword for the cardinal, I struck it for the king."
"My good Porthos!"
"Well, I have done.
My dread of politics is such, that if there is any question of politics
in the matter, I should greatly prefer to return to
"You would be quite right, if that were the case. But with me, my dear Porthos, no politics at all, that is quite clear. You have labored hard in fortifying Belle-Isle; the king wished to know the name of the clever engineer under whose directions the works were carried out; you are modest, as all men of true genius are; perhaps Aramis wishes to put you under a bushel. But I happen to seize hold of you; I make it known who you are; I produce you; the king rewards you; and that is the only policy I have to do with."
"And the only one I will have to do with either," said Porthos, holding out his hand to D'Artagnan.
But D'Artagnan knew Porthos's grasp; he knew that, once imprisoned within the baron's five fingers, no hand ever left it without being half-crushed. He therefore held out, not his hand, but his fist, and Porthos did not even perceive the difference. The servants talked a little with each other in an undertone, and whispered a few words, which D'Artagnan understood, but which he took very good care not to let Porthos understand. "Our friend," he said to himself, "was really and truly Aramis's prisoner. Let us now see what the result will be of the liberation of the captive."
D'Artagnan and Porthos returned on foot, as D'Artagnan had set out. When D'Artagnan, as he entered the shop of
the Pilon d'Or, announced to Planchet that M. du Vallon would be one of the
privileged travelers, and as the plume in Porthos's hat made the wooden candles
suspended over the front jingle together, a melancholy presentiment seemed to
eclipse the delight Planchet had promised himself for the morrow. But the grocer had a heart of gold, ever
mindful of the good old times - a trait that carries youth into old age. So Planchet, notwithstanding a sort of
internal shiver, checked as soon as experienced, received Porthos with respect,
mingled with the tenderest cordiality.
Porthos, who was a little cold and stiff in his manners at first, on
account of the social difference existing at that period between a baron and a
grocer, soon began to soften when he perceived so much good-feeling and so many
kind attentions in Planchet. He was
particularly touched by the liberty which was permitted him to plunge his great
palms into the boxes of dried fruits and preserves, into the sacks of nuts and
almonds, and into the drawers full of sweetmeats. So that, notwithstanding Planchet's pressing
invitations to go upstairs to the entresol, he chose as his favorite seat,
during the evening which he had to spend at Planchet's house, the shop itself,
where his fingers could always fish up whatever his nose detected. The delicious figs from
"You do a very good business here, friend Planchet."
"He will very soon have none at all to do, if this sort of thing continues," grumbled the foreman, who had Planchet's word that he should be his successor. In the midst of his despair, he approached Porthos, who blocked up the whole of the passage leading from the back shop to the shop itself. He hoped that Porthos would rise and that this movement would distract his devouring ideas.
"What do you want, my man?" asked Porthos, affably.
"I should like to pass you, monsieur, if it is not troubling you too much."
"Very well," said Porthos, "it does not trouble me in the least."
At the same moment he took hold of the young fellow by the waistband, lifted him off the ground, and placed him very gently on the other side, smiling all the while with the same affable expression. As soon as Porthos had placed him on the ground, the lad's legs so shook under him that he fell back upon some sacks of corks. But noticing the giant's gentleness of manner, he ventured again, and said:
"Ah, monsieur! pray be careful."
"What about?" inquired Porthos.
"You are positively putting a fiery furnace into your body."
"How is that, my good fellow?"
"All those things are very heating to the system!"
"Raisins, nuts, and almonds."
"Yes; but if raisins, nuts, and almonds are heating - "
"There is no doubt at all of it, monsieur."
"Honey is very cooling," said Porthos, stretching out his hand toward a small barrel of honey which was open, and he plunged the scoop with which the wants of the customers were supplied into it, and swallowed a good half-pound at one gulp.
"I must trouble you for some water now, my man," said Porthos.
"In a pail, monsieur?" asked the lad, simply.
"No, in a water-bottle; that will be quite enough;" and raising the bottle to his mouth, as a trumpeter does his trumpet, he emptied the bottle at a single draught.
Planchet was agitated in every fibre of propriety and self-esteem. However, a worthy representative of the hospitality which prevailed in early days, he feigned to be talking very earnestly with D'Artagnan, and incessantly repeated: - "Ah! monsieur, what a happiness! what an honor!"
"What time shall we have supper, Planchet?" inquired Porthos, "I feel hungry."
The foreman clasped his hands together. The two others got under the counters, fearing Porthos might have a taste for human flesh.
"We shall only take a sort of snack here," said D'Artagnan; "and when we get to Planchet's country-seat, we will have supper."
"Ah, ah! so we are going to your country-house, Planchet," said Porthos; "so much the better."
"You overwhelm me, monsieur le baron."
The "monsieur le baron" had a great effect upon the men, who detected a personage of the highest quality in an appetite of that kind. This title, too, reassured them. They had never heard that an ogre was ever called "monsieur le baron".
"I will take a few biscuits to eat on the road," said Porthos, carelessly; and he emptied a whole jar of aniseed biscuits into the huge pocket of his doublet.
"My shop is saved!" exclaimed Planchet.
"Yes, as the cheese was," whispered the foreman.
"The Dutch cheese, inside which a rat had made his way, and we found only the rind left."
Planchet looked all round his shop, and observing the different articles which had escaped Porthos's teeth, he found the comparison somewhat exaggerated. The foreman, who remarked what was passing in his master's mind, said, "Take care; he is not gone yet."
"Have you any fruit here?" said Porthos, as he went upstairs to the entresol, where it had just been announced that some refreshment was prepared.
"Alas!" thought the grocer, addressing a look at D'Artagnan full of entreaty, which the latter half understood.
As soon as they had finished eating they set off. It was late when the three riders, who had
"Eh, eh!" said Porthos; "in that case, my dear Monsieur Planchet, your retirement is not far distant."
"Why, you seem to be in the way of making your fortune very soon."
"Well, we are getting on pretty well, I must admit," replied Planchet.
"Come, tell me what is the extent of your ambition, and what is the amount you intend to retire upon?"
"There is one circumstance, monsieur," said Planchet, without answering the question, "which occasions me a good deal of anxiety."
"What is it?" inquired Porthos, looking all round him as if in search of the circumstance that annoyed Planchet, and desirous of freeing him from it.
"Why, formerly," said the grocer, "you used to call me Planchet quite short, and you would have spoken to me then in a much more familiar manner than you do now."
"Certainly, certainly, I should have said so formerly," replied the good-natured Porthos, with an embarrassment full of delicacy; "but formerly - "
"Formerly I was M. d'Artagnan's lackey; is not that what you mean?"
"Well if I am not quite his lackey, I am as much as ever I was his devoted servant; and more than that, since that time - "
"Since that time, I have had the honor of being in partnership with him."
"Oh, oh!" said Porthos. "What, has D'Artagnan gone into the grocery business?"
"No, no," said D'Artagnan, whom these words had drawn out of his reverie, and who entered into the conversation with that readiness and rapidity which distinguished every operation of his mind and body. "It was not D'Artagnan who entered into the grocery business, but Planchet who entered into a political affair with me."
"Yes," said Planchet, with mingled pride and satisfaction, "we transacted a little business which brought me in a hundred thousand francs and M. d'Artagnan two hundred thousand."
"Oh, oh!" said Porthos, with admiration.
"So that, monsieur le baron," continued the grocer, "I again beg you to be kind enough to call me Planchet, as you used to do; and to speak to me as familiarly as in old times. You cannot possibly imagine the pleasure it would give me."
"If that be the case, my dear Planchet, I will do so, certainly," replied Porthos. And as he was quite close to Planchet, he raised his hand, as if to strike him on the shoulder, in token of friendly cordiality; but a fortunate movement of the horse made him miss his aim, so that his hand fell on the crupper of Planchet's horse, instead; which made the animal's legs almost give way.
D'Artagnan burst out laughing, as he said, "Take care, Planchet; for if Porthos begins to like you so much, he will caress you, and if he caresses you he will knock you as flat as a pancake. Porthos is still as strong as every, you know."
"Oh," said Planchet, "Mousqueton is not dead, and yet monsieur le baron is very fond of him."
"Certainly," said Porthos, with a sigh which made all the three horses rear; "and I was only saying, this very morning, to D'Artagnan, how much I regretted him. But tell me, Planchet?"
"Thank you, monsieur le baron, thank you."
"Good lad, good lad! How many acres of park have you got?"
"Yes; we will reckon up the meadows presently, and the woods afterwards."
"At your château."
"Oh, monsieur le baron, I have neither château, nor park, nor meadows, nor woods."
"What have you got, then?" inquired Porthos, "and why do you call it a country-seat?"
"I did not call it a country-seat, monsieur le baron," replied Planchet, somewhat humiliated, "but a country-box."
"Ah, ah! I understand. You are modest."
"No, monsieur le baron, I speak the plain truth. I have rooms for a couple of friends, that's all."
"But in that case, whereabouts do your friends walk?"
"In the first place, they can walk about the king's forest, which is very beautiful."
"Yes, I know the forest is very fine," said
Porthos; "nearly as beautiful as my forest at
Planchet opened his eyes very wide. "Have you a forest of the same kind as
the forest at
"Yes; I have two, indeed, but the one at
"Why so?" asked Planchet.
"Because I don't know where it ends; and, also, because it is full of poachers."
"How can the poachers make the forest so agreeable to you?"
"Because they hunt my game, and I hunt them - which, in these peaceful times, is for me a sufficiently pleasing picture of war on a small scale."
They had reached this turn of conversation, when Planchet,
looking up, perceived the houses at the commencement of Fontainebleau, the
lofty outlines of which stood out strongly against the misty visage of the
heavens; whilst, rising above the compact and irregularly formed mass of
buildings, the pointed roofs of the château were clearly visible, the slates of
which glistened beneath the light of the moon, like the scales of an immense
fish. "Gentlemen," said
Planchet, "I have the honor to inform you that we have arrived at
cavaliers looked up, and saw that what Planchet had announced to them was
true. Ten minutes afterwards they were
in the street called the Rue de Lyon, on the opposite side of the hostelry of
the Beau Paon. A high hedge of bushy
elders, hawthorn, and wild hops formed an impenetrable fence, behind which rose
a white house, with a high tiled roof.
Two of the windows, which were quite dark, looked upon the street. Between the two, a small door, with a porch
supported by a couple of pillars, formed the entrance to the house. The door was gained by a step raised a little
from the ground. Planchet got off his
horse, as if he intended to knock at the door; but, on second thoughts, he took
hold of his horse by the bridle, and led it about thirty paces further on, his
two companions following him. He then
advanced about another thirty paces, until he arrived at the door of a
cart-house, lighted by an iron grating; and, lifting up a wooden latch, pushed
open one of the folding-doors. He
entered first, leading his horse after him by the bridle, into a small
courtyard, where an odor met them which revealed their close vicinity to a
stable. "That smells all
right," said Porthos, loudly, getting off his horse, "and I almost
begin to think I am near my own cows at
"I have only one cow," Planchet hastened to say modestly.
"And I have thirty," said Porthos; "or rather, I don't exactly know how many I have."
When the two cavaliers had entered, Planchet fastened the door behind them. In the meantime, D'Artagnan, who had dismounted with his usual agility, inhaled the fresh perfumed air with the delight a Parisian feels at the sight of green fields and fresh foliage, plucked a piece of honeysuckle with one hand, and of sweet-briar with the other. Porthos clawed hold of some peas which were twined round poles stuck into the ground, and ate, or rather browsed upon them, shells and all: and Planchet was busily engaged trying to wake up an old and infirm peasant, who was fast asleep in a shed, lying on a bed of moss, and dressed in an old stable suit of clothes. The peasant, recognizing Planchet, called him "the master," to the grocer's great satisfaction. "Stable the horses well, old fellow, and you shall have something good for yourself," said Planchet.
"Yes, yes; fine animals they are too," said the peasant. "Oh! they shall have as much as they like."
"Gently, gently, my man," said D'Artagnan, "we are getting on a little too fast. A few oats and a good bed - nothing more."
"Some bran and water for my horse," said Porthos, "for it is very warm, I think."
"Don't be afraid, gentlemen," replied Planchet; "Daddy Celestin is an old gendarme, who fought at Ivry. He knows all about horses; so come into the house." And he led the way along a well-sheltered walk, which crossed a kitchen-garden, then a small paddock, and came out into a little garden behind the house, the principal front of which, as we have already noticed, faced the street. As they approached, they could see, through two open windows on the ground floor, which led into a sitting-room, the interior of Planchet's residence. This room, softly lighted by a lamp placed on the table, seemed, from the end of the garden, like a smiling image of repose, comfort, and happiness. In every direction where the rays of light fell, whether upon a piece of old china, or upon an article of furniture shining from excessive neatness, or upon the weapons hanging against the wall, the soft light was softly reflected; and its rays seemed to linger everywhere upon something or another, agreeable to the eye. The lamp which lighted the room, whilst the foliage of jasmine and climbing roses hung in masses from the window-frames, splendidly illuminated a damask table-cloth as white as snow. The table was laid for two persons. Amber-colored wine sparkled in a long cut-glass bottle; and a large jug of blue china, with a silver lid, was filled with foaming cider. Near the table, in a high-backed armchair, reclined, fast asleep, a woman of about thirty years of age, her face the very picture of health and freshness. Upon her knees lay a large cat, with her paws folded under her, and her eyes half-closed, purring in that significant manner which, according to feline habits, indicates perfect contentment. The two friends paused before the window in complete amazement, while Planchet, perceiving their astonishment, was in no little degree secretly delighted at it.
"Ah! Planchet, you rascal," said D'Artagnan, "I now understand your absences."
"Oh, oh! there is some white linen!" said Porthos, in his turn, in a voice of thunder. At the sound of this gigantic voice, the cat took flight, the housekeeper woke up with a start, and Planchet, assuming a gracious air, introduced his two companions into the room, where the table was already laid.
"Permit me, my dear," he said, "to present to you Monsieur le Chevalier d'Artagnan, my patron." D'Artagnan took the lady's hand in his in the most courteous manner, and with precisely the same chivalrous air as he would have taken Madame's.
"Monsieur le Baron du Vallon de Bracieux de
It was then Planchet's turn, and he unhesitatingly embraced the lady in question, not, however, until he had made a sign as if requesting D'Artagnan's and Porthos's permission, a permission as a matter of course frankly conceded. D'Artagnan complimented Planchet, and said, "You are indeed a man who knows how to make life agreeable."
"Life, monsieur," said Planchet, laughing, "is capital which a man ought to invest as sensibly as he possibly can."
"And you get very good interest for yours," said Porthos, with a burst of laughter like a peal of thunder.
Planchet turned to his housekeeper. "You have before you," he said to her, "the two gentlemen who influenced the greatest, gayest, grandest portion of my life. I have spoken to you about them both very frequently."
"And about two others as well," said the lady, with a very decided Flemish accent.
"Madame is Dutch?" inquired D'Artagnan. Porthos curled his mustache, a circumstance which was not lost upon D'Artagnan, who noticed everything.
"I am from
"And her name is Madame Getcher," said Planchet.
"You should not call her madame," said D'Artagnan.
"Why not?" asked Planchet.
"Because it would make her seem older every time you call her so."
"Well, I call her Trüchen."
"And a very pretty name too," said Porthos.
"Trüchen," said Planchet, "came to me from
"She is free and well off; she has a cow, a maid servant and old Celestin at her orders; she mends my linen, knits my winter stockings; she only sees me every fortnight, and seems to make herself in all things tolerably happy.
"And indeed, gentlemen, I am very happy and comfortable," said Trüchen, with perfect ingenuousness.
Porthos began to curl the other side of his mustache. "The deuce," thought D'Artagnan, "can Porthos have any intentions in that quarter?"
In the meantime Trüchen had set her cook to work, had laid the table for two more, and covered it with every possible delicacy that could convert a light supper into a substantial meal, a meal into a regular feast. Fresh butter, salt beef, anchovies, tunny, a shopful of Planchet's commodities, fowls, vegetables, salad, fish from the pond and the river, game from the forest - all the produce, in fact, of the province. Moreover, Planchet returned from the cellar, laden with ten bottles of wine, the glass of which could hardly be seen for the thick coating of dust which covered them. Porthos's heart began to expand as he said, "I am hungry," and he sat himself beside Madame Trüchen, whom he looked at in the most killing manner. D'Artagnan seated himself on the other side of her, while Planchet, discreetly and full of delight, took his seat opposite.
"Do not trouble yourselves," he said, "if Trüchen should leave the table now and then during supper; for she will have to look after your bedrooms."
In fact, the housekeeper made her escape quite frequently, and they could hear, on the first floor above them, the creaking of the wooden bedsteads and the rolling of the castors on the floor. While this was going on, the three men, Porthos especially, ate and drank gloriously, - it was wonderful to see them. The ten full bottles were ten empty one by the time Trüchen returned with the cheese. D'Artagnan still preserved his dignity and self-possession, but Porthos had lost a portion of his; and the mirth soon began to grow somewhat uproarious. D'Artagnan recommended a new descent into the cellar, and, as Planchet no longer walked with the steadiness of a well-trained foot-soldier, the captain of the musketeers proposed to accompany him. They set off, humming songs wild enough to frighten anybody who might be listening. Trüchen remained behind at table with Porthos. While the two wine-bibbers were looking behind the firewood for what they wanted, a sharp report was heard like the impact of a pair of lips on a lady's cheek.
"Porthos fancies himself at
"The country is very amusing," said Porthos, stretching out his legs, which passed through the wooden footboard, and made a tremendous crash, of which, however, no one in the house was capable of taking the slightest notice. By two o'clock in the morning every one was fast asleep.
The next morning found the three heroes sleeping soundly. Trüchen had closed the outside blinds to keep the first rays of the sun from the leaden-lidded eyes of her guests, like a kind, good housekeeper. It was still perfectly dark, then, beneath Porthos's curtains and under Planchet's canopy, when D'Artagnan, awakened by an indiscreet ray of light which made its way through a peek-hole in the shutters, jumped hastily out of bed, as if he wished to be the first at a forlorn hope. He took by assault Porthos's room, which was next to his own. The worthy Porthos was sleeping with a noise like distant thunder; in the dim obscurity of the room his gigantic frame was prominently displayed, and his swollen fist hung down outside the bed upon the carpet. D'Artagnan awoke Porthos, who rubbed his eyes in a tolerably good humor. In the meantime Planchet was dressing himself, and met at their bedroom doors his two guests, who were still somewhat unsteady from their previous evening's entertainment. Although it was yet very early, the whole household was already up. The cook was mercilessly slaughtering in the poultry-yard; Celestin was gathering white cherries in the garden. Porthos, brisk and lively as ever, held out his hand to Planchet's, and D'Artagnan requested permission to embrace Madame Trüchen. The latter, to show that she bore no ill-will, approached Porthos, upon whom she conferred the same favor. Porthos embraced Madame Trüchen, heaving an enormous sigh. Planchet took both his friends by the hand.
"I am going to show you over the house," he said; "when we arrived last night it was as dark as an oven, and we were unable to see anything; but in broad daylight, everything looks different, and you will be satisfied, I hope."
"If we begin by the view you have here," said D'Artagnan, "that charms me beyond everything; I have always lived in royal mansions, you know, and royal personages have tolerably sound ideas upon the selection of points of view."
"I am a great stickler for a good view myself," said Porthos. "At my Château de Pierrefonds, I have had four avenues laid out, and at the end of each is a landscape of an altogether different character from the others."
"You shall see my prospect," said Planchet; and he led his two guests to a window.
"Ah!" said D'Artagnan, "this is the Rue de Lyon."
"Yes, I have two windows on this side, a paltry, insignificant view, for there is always that bustling and noisy inn, which is a very disagreeable neighbor. I had four windows here, but I bricked up two."
"Let us go on," said D'Artagnan.
They entered a corridor leading to the bedrooms, and Planchet pushed open the outside blinds.
"Hollo! what is that out yonder?" said Porthos.
"The forest," said Planchet. "It is the horizon, - a thick line of green, which is yellow in the spring, green in the summer, red in the autumn, and white in the winter."
"All very well, but it is like a curtain, which prevents one seeing a greater distance."
"Yes," said Planchet; "still, one can see, at all events, everything that intervenes."
"Ah, the open country," said Porthos. "But what is that I see out there, - crosses and stones?"
"Ah, that is the cemetery," exclaimed D'Artagnan.
"Precisely," said Planchet; "I assure you it is very
curious. Hardly a day passes that some
one is not buried there; for
"I should not like that," said Porthos.
"There is not much amusement in it, at all events," said D'Artagnan.
"I assure you it encourages religious thoughts," replied Planchet.
"Oh, I don't deny that."
"But," continued Planchet, "we must all die one day or another, and I once met with a maxim somewhere which I have remembered, that the thought of death is a thought that will do us all good."
"I am far from saying the contrary," said Porthos.
"But," objected D'Artagnan, "the thought of green fields, flowers, rivers, blue horizons, extensive and boundless plains, is no likely to do us good."
"If I had any, I should be far from rejecting them," said Planchet; "but possessing only this little cemetery, full of flowers, so moss-grown, shady, and quiet, I am contented with it, and I think of those who live in town, in the Rue des Lombards, for instance, and who have to listen to the rumbling of a couple of thousand vehicles every day, and to the soulless tramp, tramp, tramp of a hundred and fifty thousand foot-passengers."
"But living," said Porthos; "living, remember that."
"That is exactly the reason," said Planchet, timidly, "why I feel it does me good to contemplate a few dead."
"Upon my word," said D'Artagnan, "that fellow Planchet is born a philosopher as well as a grocer."
"Monsieur," said Planchet, "I am one of those good-humored sort of men whom Heaven created for the purpose of living a certain span of days, and of considering all good they meet with during their transitory stay on earth."
D'Artagnan sat down close to the window, and as there seemed to be something substantial in Planchet's philosophy, he mused over it.
"Ah, ah!" exclaimed Planchet, "if I am not mistaken, we are going to have a representation now, for I think I heard something like chanting."
"Yes," said D'Artagnan, "I hear singing too."
"Oh, it is only a burial of a very poor description," said Planchet, disdainfully; "the officiating priest, the beadle, and only one chorister boy, nothing more. You observe, messieurs, that the defunct lady or gentleman could not have been of very high rank."
"No; no one seems to be following the coffin."
"Yes," said Porthos; "I see a man."
"You are right; a man wrapped in a cloak," said D'Artagnan.
"It's not worth looking at," said Planchet.
"I find it interesting," said D'Artagnan, leaning on the window-sill.
"Come, come, you are beginning to take a fancy to the place already," said Planchet, delightedly; "it is exactly my own case. I was so melancholy at first that I could do nothing but make the sign of the cross all day, and the chants were like so many nails being driven into my head; but now, they lull me to sleep, and no bird I have ever seen or heard can sing better than those which are to be met with in this cemetery."
"Well," said Porthos, "this is beginning to get a little dull for me, and I prefer going downstairs."
Planchet with one bound was beside his guest, whom he offered to lead into the garden.
"What!" said Porthos to D'Artagnan, as he turned round, "are you going to remain here?"
"Yes, I will join you presently."
"Well, M. D'Artagnan is right, after all," said Planchet: "are they beginning to bury yet?"
"Ah! yes, the grave-digger is waiting until the cords are fastened round the bier. But, see, a woman has just entered the cemetery at the other end."
"Yes, yes, my dear Planchet," said D'Artagnan, quickly, "leave me, leave me; I feel I am beginning already to be much comforted by my meditations, so do not interrupt me."
Planchet left, and D'Artagnan remained, devouring with his eager gaze from behind the half-closed blinds what was taking place just before him. The two bearers of the corpse had unfastened the straps by which they carried the litter, and were letting their burden glide gently into the open grave. At a few paces distant, the man with the cloak wrapped round him, the only spectator of this melancholy scene, was leaning with his back against a large cypress-tree, and kept his face and person entirely concealed from the grave-diggers and the priests; the corpse was buried in five minutes. The grave having been filled up, the priests turned away, and the grave-digger having addressed a few words to them, followed them as they moved away. The man in the mantle bowed as they passed him, and put a piece of gold into the grave-digger's hand.
"Mordioux!" murmured D'Artagnan; "it is Aramis himself."
Aramis, in fact, remained alone, on that side at least; for hardly had he turned his head when a woman's footsteps, and the rustling of her dress, were heard in the path close to him. He immediately turned round, and took off his hat with the most ceremonious respect; he led the lady under the shelter of some walnut and lime trees, which overshadowed a magnificent tomb.
"Ah! who would have thought it," said D'Artagnan; "the bishop of Vannes at a rendezvous! He is still the same Abbé Aramis as he was at Noisy-le-Sec. Yes," he added, after a pause; "but as it is in a cemetery, the rendezvous is sacred." But he almost laughed.
The conversation lasted for fully half an hour. D'Artagnan could not see the lady's face, for she kept her back turned towards him; but he saw perfectly well, by the erect attitude of both the speakers, by their gestures, by the measured and careful manner with which they glanced at each other, either by way of attack or defense, that they must be conversing about any other subject than of love. At the end of the conversation the lady rose, and bowed profoundly to Aramis.
"Oh, oh," said D'Artagnan; "this rendezvous finishes like one of a very tender nature though. The cavalier kneels at the beginning, the young lady by and by gets tamed down, and then it is she who has to supplicate. Who is this lady? I would give anything to ascertain."
This seemed impossible, however, for Aramis was the first to leave; the lady carefully concealed her head and face, and then immediately departed. D'Artagnan could hold out no longer; he ran to the window which looked out on the Rue de Lyon, and saw Aramis entering the inn. The lady was proceeding in quite an opposite direction, and seemed, in fact, to be about to rejoin an equipage, consisting of two led horses and a carriage, which he could see standing close to the borders of the forest. She was walking slowly, her head bent down, absorbed in the deepest meditation.
"Mordioux! Mordioux! I must and will learn who that woman is," said the musketeer again; and then, without further deliberation, he set off in pursuit of her. As he was going along, he tried to think how he could possibly contrive to make her raise her veil. "She is not young," he said, "and is a woman of high rank in society. I ought to know that figure and peculiar style of walk." As he ran, the sound of his spurs and of his boots upon the hard ground of the street made a strange jingling noise; a fortunate circumstance in itself, which he was far from reckoning upon. The noise disturbed the lady; she seemed to fancy she was being either followed or pursued, which was indeed the case, and turned round. D'Artagnan started as if he had received a charge of small shot in his legs, and then turning suddenly round as if he were going back the same way he had come, he murmured, "Madame de Chevreuse!" D'Artagnan would not go home until he had learnt everything. He asked Celestin to inquire of the grave-digger whose body it was they had buried that morning.
"A poor Franciscan mendicant friar," replied the latter, "who had not even a dog to love him in this world, and to accompany him to his last resting-place."
"If that were really the case," thought D'Artagnan, "we should not have found Aramis present at his funeral. The bishop of Vannes is not precisely a dog as far as devotion goes: his scent, however, is quite as keen, I admit."
There was good living in Planchet's house. Porthos broke a ladder and two cherry-trees, stripped the raspberry-bushes, and was only unable to succeed in reaching the strawberry-beds on account, as he said, of his belt. Trüchen, who had become quite sociable with the giant, said that it was not the belt so much as his corporation; and Porthos, in a state of the highest delight, embraced Trüchen, who gathered him a pailful of the strawberries, and made him eat them out of her hands. D'Artagnan, who arrived in the midst of these little innocent flirtations, scolded Porthos for his indolence, and silently pitied Planchet. Porthos breakfasted with a very good appetite, and when he had finished, he said, looking at Trüchen, "I could make myself very happy here." Trüchen smiled at his remark, and so did Planchet, but not without embarrassment.
D'Artagnan then addressed Porthos: "You must not let the delights
"My presentation to the king?"
"Certainly. I am going to take a turn in the town to get everything ready for that. Do not think of leaving the house, I beg."
"Oh, no!" exclaimed Porthos.
Planchet looked at D'Artagnan nervously.
"Will you be away long?" he inquired.
"No, my friend; and this very evening I will release you from two troublesome guests."
"Oh! Monsieur d'Artagnan! can you say - "
"No, no; you are a noble-hearted fellow, but your house is very small. Such a house, with half a dozen acres of land, would be fit for a king, and make him very happy, too. But you were not born a great lord."
"No more was M. Porthos," murmured Planchet.
"But he has become so, my good fellow; his income has been a hundred thousand francs a year for the last twenty years, and for the last fifty years Porthos has been the owner of a couple of fists and a backbone, which are not to be matched throughout the whole realm of France. Porthos is a man of the very greatest consequence compared to you, and… well, I need say no more, for I know you are an intelligent fellow."
"No, no, monsieur, explain what you mean."
"Look at your orchard, how stripped it is, how empty your larder, your bedstead broken, your cellar almost exhausted, look too… at Madame Trüchen - "
"Oh! my goodness gracious!" said Planchet.
"Madame Trüchen is an excellent person," continued D'Artagnan, "but keep her for yourself, do you understand?" and he slapped him on the shoulder.
Planchet at this moment perceived Porthos and Trüchen sitting close together in an arbor; Trüchen, with a grace of manner peculiarly Flemish, was making a pair of earrings for Porthos out of a double cherry, while Porthos was laughing as amorously as Samson in the company of Delilah. Planchet pressed D'Artagnan's hand, and ran towards the arbor. We must do Porthos the justice to say that he did not move as they approached, and, very likely, he did not think he was doing any harm. Nor indeed did Trüchen move either, which rather put Planchet out; but he, too, had been so accustomed to see fashionable folk in his shop, that he found no difficulty in putting a good countenance on what seemed disagreeable or rude. Planchet seized Porthos by the arm, and proposed to go and look at the horses, but Porthos pretended he was tired. Planchet then suggested that the Baron du Vallon should taste some noyeau of his own manufacture, which was not to be equaled anywhere; an offer the baron immediately accepted; and, in this way, Planchet managed to engage his enemy's attention during the whole of the day, by dint of sacrificing his cellar, in preference to his amour propre. Two hours afterwards D'Artagnan returned.
"Everything is arranged," he said; "I saw his majesty at the very moment he was setting off for the chase; the king expects us this evening."
"The king expects me!" cried Porthos, drawing himself up. It is a sad thing to have to confess, but a man's heart is like an ocean billow; for, from that very moment Porthos ceased to look at Madame Trüchen in that touching manner which had so softened her heart. Planchet encouraged these ambitious leanings as best as he could. He talked over, or rather gave exaggerated accounts of all the splendors of the last reign, its battles, sieges, and grand court ceremonies. He spoke of the luxurious display which the English made; the prizes the three brave companions carried off; and how D'Artagnan, who at the beginning had been the humblest of the four, finished by becoming the leader. He fired Porthos with a generous feeling of enthusiasm by reminding him of his early youth now passed away; he boasted as much as he could of the moral life this great lord had led, and how religiously he respected the ties of friendship; he was eloquent, and skillful in his choice of subjects. He tickled Porthos, frightened Trüchen, and made D'Artagnan think. At six o'clock, the musketeer ordered the horses to be brought round, and told Porthos to get ready. He thanked Planchet for his kind hospitality, whispered a few words about a post he might succeed in obtaining for him at court, which immediately raised Planchet in Trüchen's estimation, where the poor grocer - so good, so generous, so devoted - had become much lowered ever since the appearance and comparison with him of the two great gentlemen. Such, however, is a woman's nature; they are anxious to possess what they have not got, and disdain it as soon as it is acquired. After having rendered this service to his friend Planchet, D'Artagnan said in a low tone of voice to Porthos: "That is a very beautiful ring you have on your finger."
"It is worth three hundred pistoles," said Porthos.
"Madame Trüchen will remember you better if you leave her that ring," replied D'Artagnan, a suggestion which Porthos seemed to hesitate to adopt.
"You think it is not beautiful enough, perhaps," said the musketeer. "I understand your feelings; a great lord such as you would not think of accepting the hospitality of an old servant without paying him most handsomely for it: but I am sure that Planchet is too good-hearted a fellow to remember that you have an income of a hundred thousand francs a year."
"I have more than half a mind," said Porthos, flattered by the remark, "to make Madame Trüchen a present of my little farm at Bracieux; it has twelve acres."
"It is too much, my good Porthos, too much just at present… Keep it for a future occasion." He then took the ring off Porthos's finger, and approaching Trüchen, said to her: - "Madame, monsieur le baron hardly knows how to entreat you, out of your regard for him, to accept this little ring. M. du Vallon is one of the most generous and discreet men of my acquaintance. He wished to offer you a farm that he has at Bracieux, but I dissuaded him from it."
"Oh!" said Trüchen, looking eagerly at the diamond.
"Monsieur le baron!" exclaimed Planchet, quite overcome.
"My good friend," stammered out Porthos, delighted at having been so well represented by D'Artagnan. These several exclamations, uttered at the same moment, made quite a pathetic winding-up of a day which might have finished in a very ridiculous manner. But D'Artagnan was there, and, on every occasion, wheresoever D'Artagnan exercised any control, matters ended only just in the very way he wished and willed. There were general embracings; Trüchen, whom the baron's munificence had restored to her proper position, very timidly, and blushing all the while, presented her forehead to the great lord with whom she had been on such very pretty terms the evening before. Planchet himself was overcome by a feeling of genuine humility. Still, in the same generosity of disposition, Porthos would have emptied his pockets into the hands of the cook and of Celestin; but D'Artagnan stopped him.
"No," he said, "it is now my turn." And he gave one pistole to the woman and two to the man; and the benedictions which were showered down upon them would have rejoiced the heart of Harpagon himself, and have rendered even him a prodigal.
D'Artagnan made Planchet lead them to the château, and introduced Porthos into his own apartment, where he arrived safely without having been perceived by those he was afraid of meeting.
At seven o'clock the same evening, the king gave an audience to an ambassador from the United Provinces, in the grand reception-room. The audience lasted a quarter of an hour. His majesty afterwards received those who had been recently presented, together with a few ladies, who paid their respects first. In one corner of the salon, concealed behind a column, Porthos and D'Artagnan were conversing together, waiting until their turn arrived.
"Have you heard the news?" inquired the musketeer of his friend.
"Well, look, then." Porthos raised himself on tiptoe, and saw M. Fouquet in full court dress, leading Aramis towards the king.
"Aramis!" said Porthos.
"Presented to the king by M. Fouquet."
"Ah!" ejaculated Porthos.
"For having fortified Belle-Isle," continued D'Artagnan.
"You - oh, you! as I have already had the honor of telling you, are the good-natured, kind-hearted Porthos; and so they begged you to take care of Saint-Mandé a little."
"Ah!" repeated Porthos.
"But, happily, I was there," said D'Artagnan, "and presently it will be my turn."
At this moment Fouquet addressed the king.
"Sire," he said, "I have a favor to solicit of your
majesty. M. d'Herblay is not ambitious,
but he knows when he can be of service.
Your majesty needs a representative at
"That is a reason, certainly," replied the king, who always expressed any hesitation he might have in that manner, and to which remark there was nothing to say in reply.
Fouquet and Aramis looked at each other.
The king resumed: "M. d'Herblay can serve us equally well in
"Sire," objected Fouquet, with a grace of manner peculiarly his own, "your majesty overwhelms M. d'Herblay; the archbishopric may, in your majesty's extreme kindness, be conferred in addition to the hat; the one does not exclude the other."
The king admired the readiness which he displayed, and smiled, saying: "D'Artagnan himself could not have answered better." He had no sooner pronounced the name than D'Artagnan appeared.
"Did your majesty call me?" he said.
Aramis and Fouquet drew back a step, as if they were about to retire.
"Will your majesty allow me," said D'Artagnan quickly, as he
led forward Porthos, "to present to your majesty M. le Baron du Vallon,
one of the bravest gentlemen of
As soon as Aramis saw Porthos, he turned as pale as death, while Fouquet clenched his hands under his ruffles. D'Artagnan smiled blandly at both of them, while Porthos bowed, visibly overcome before the royal presence.
"Porthos here?" murmured Fouquet in Aramis's ear.
"Hush! deep treachery at work," hissed the latter.
"Sire," said D'Artagnan, "it is more than six years ago I ought to have presented M. du Vallon to your majesty; but certain men resemble stars, they move not one inch unless their satellites accompany them. The Pleiades are never disunited, and that is the reason I have selected, for the purpose of presenting him to you, the very moment when you would see M. d'Herblay by his side."
Aramis almost lost countenance. He looked at D'Artagnan with a proud, haughty air, as though willing to accept the defiance the latter seemed to throw down.
"Ah! these gentlemen are good friends, then?" said the king.
"Excellent friends, sire; the one can answer for the other. Ask M. de Vannes now in what manner Belle-Isle was fortified?" Fouquet moved back a step.
"Belle-Isle," said Aramis, coldly, "was fortified by that gentleman," and he indicated Porthos with his hand, who bowed a second time. Louis could not withhold his admiration, though at the same time his suspicions were aroused.
"Yes," said D'Artagnan, "but ask monsieur le baron whose assistance he had in carrying the works out?"
"Aramis's," said Porthos, frankly; and he pointed to the bishop.
"What the deuce does all this mean?" thought the bishop, "and what sort of a termination are we to expect to this comedy?"
"What!" exclaimed the king, "is the cardinal's, I mean this bishop's, name Aramis?"
"His nom de guerre," said D'Artagnan.
"My nickname," said Aramis.
"A truce to modesty!" exclaimed D'Artagnan; "beneath the priest's robe, sire, is concealed the most brilliant officer, a gentleman of the most unparalleled intrepidity, and the wisest theologian in your kingdom."
Louis raised his head. "And an engineer, also, it appears," he said, admiring Aramis's calm, imperturbable self-possession.
"An engineer for a particular purpose, sire," said the latter.
"My companion in the musketeers, sire," said D'Artagnan, with great warmth of manner, "the man who has more than a hundred times aided your father's ministers by his advice - M. d'Herblay, in a word, who, with M. du Vallon, myself, and M. le Comte de la Fère, who is known to your majesty, formed that quartette which was a good deal talked about during the late king's reign, and during your majesty's minority."
"And who fortified Belle-Isle?" the king repeated, in a significant tone.
Aramis advanced and bowed: "In order to serve the son as I served the father."
D'Artagnan looked very narrowly at Aramis while he uttered these words, which displayed so much true respect, so much warm devotion, such entire frankness and sincerity, that even he, D'Artagnan, the eternal doubter, he, the almost infallible in judgment, was deceived by it. "A man who lies cannot speak in such a tone as that," he said.
Louis was overcome by it. "In that case," he said to Fouquet, who anxiously awaited the result of this proof, "the cardinal's hat is promised. Monsieur d'Herblay, I pledge you my honor that the first promotion shall be yours. Thank M. Fouquet for it." Colbert overheard these words; they stung him to the quick, and he left the salon abruptly. "And you, Monsieur du Vallon," said the king, "what have you to ask? I am truly pleased to have it in my power to acknowledge the services of those who were faithful to my father."
"Sire - " began Porthos, but he was unable to proceed with what he was going to say.
"Sire," exclaimed D'Artagnan, "this worthy gentleman is utterly overpowered by your majesty's presence, he who so valiantly sustained the looks and the fire of a thousand foes. But, knowing what his thoughts are, I - who am more accustomed to gaze upon the sun - can translate them: he needs nothing, absolutely nothing; his sole desire is to have the happiness of gazing upon your majesty for a quarter of an hour."
"You shall sup with me this evening," said the king, saluting Porthos with a gracious smile.
Porthos became crimson from delight and pride. The king dismissed him, and D'Artagnan pushed him into the adjoining apartment, after he had embraced him warmly.
"Sit next to me at table," said Porthos in his ear.
"Yes, my friend."
"Aramis is annoyed with me, I think."
"Aramis has never liked you so much as he does now. Fancy, it was I who was the means of his getting the cardinal's hat."
"Of course," said Porthos. "By the by, does the king like his guests to eat much at his table?"
"It is a compliment to himself if you do," said D'Artagnan, "for he himself possesses a royal appetite."
Aramis cleverly managed to effect a diversion for the purpose of finding D'Artagnan and Porthos. He came up to the latter, behind one of the columns, and, as he pressed his hand, said, "So you have escaped from my prison?"
"Do not scold him," said D'Artagnan; "it was I, dear Aramis, who set him free."
"Ah! my friend," replied Aramis, looking at Porthos, "could you not have waited with a little more patience?"
D'Artagnan came to the assistance of Porthos, who already began to breathe hard, in sore perplexity.
"You see, you members of the Church are great politicians; we mere soldiers come at once to the point. The facts are these: I went to pay Baisemeaux a visit - "
Aramis pricked up his ears at this announcement.
"Stay!" said Porthos; "you make me remember that I have a letter from Baisemeaux for you, Aramis." And Porthos held out the bishop the letter we have already seen. Aramis begged to be allowed to read it, and read it without D'Artagnan feeling in the slightest degree embarrassed by the circumstance that he was so well acquainted with the contents of it. Besides, Aramis's face was so impenetrable, that D'Artagnan could not but admire him more than ever; after he had read it, he put the letter into his pocket with the calmest possible air.
"You were saying, captain?" he observed.
"I was saying," continued the musketeer, "that I had gone to pay Baisemeaux a visit on his majesty's service."
"On his majesty's service?" said Aramis.
"Yes," said D'Artagnan, "and, naturally enough, we talked
about you and our friends. I must say
that Baisemeaux received me coldly; so I soon took my leave of him. As I was returning, a soldier accosted me,
and said (no doubt as he recognized me, notwithstanding I was in private
clothes), 'Captain, will you be good enough to read me the name written on this
envelope?' and I read, 'To Monsieur du Vallon, at M. Fouquet's house,
Saint-Mandé.' The deuce, I said to
myself, Porthos has not returned, then, as I fancied, to Bell-Isle, or to
"Very good," said Aramis, thoughtfully.
"You never told me that," said Porthos.
"I had no time, my friend."
"And you brought back Porthos with you to
"Yes, to Planchet's house."
"Does Planchet live at
"Yes, near the cemetery," said Porthos, thoughtlessly.
"What do you mean by 'near the cemetery?'" said Aramis, suspiciously.
"Come," thought the musketeer, "since there is to be a squabble, let us take advantage of it."
"Yes, the cemetery," said Porthos. "Planchet is a very excellent fellow, who makes very excellent preserves; but his house has windows which look out upon the cemetery. And a confoundedly melancholy prospect it is! So this morning - "
"This morning?" said Aramis, more and more excited.
D'Artagnan turned his back to them, and walked to the window, where he began to play a march upon one of the panes of glass.
"Yes, this morning we saw a man buried there."
"Very depressing, was it not? I should never be able to live in a house where burials can always be seen from the window. D'Artagnan, on the contrary, seems to like it very much."
"So D'Artagnan saw it as well?"
"Not simply saw it; he literally never took his eyes off the whole time."
Aramis started, and turned to look at the musketeer, but the latter was engaged in earnest conversation with Saint-Aignan. Aramis continued to question Porthos, and when he had squeezed all the juice out of this enormous lemon, he threw the peel aside. He turned towards his friend D'Artagnan, and clapping him on the shoulder, when Saint-Aignan had left him, the king's supper having been announced, said, "D'Artagnan."
"Yes, my dear fellow," he replied.
"We do not sup with his majesty, I believe?"
"Well? - we do."
"Can you give me ten minutes' conversation?"
"Twenty, if you like. His majesty will take quite that time to get properly seated at table."
"Where shall we talk, then?"
"Here, upon these seats if you like; the king has left, we can sit down, and the apartment is empty."
"Let us sit down, then."
They sat down, and Aramis took one of D'Artagnan's hands in his.
"Tell me, candidly, my dear friend, whether you have not counseled Porthos to distrust me a little?"
"I admit, I have, but not as you understand it. I saw that Porthos was bored to death, and I wished, by presenting him to the king, to do for him, and for you, what you would never do for yourselves."
"What is that?"
"Speak in your own praise."
"And you have done it most nobly; I thank you."
"And I brought the cardinal's hat a little nearer, just as it seemed to be retreating from you."
"Ah! I admit that," said Aramis, with a singular smile, "you are, indeed, not to be matched for making your friends' fortunes for them."
"You see, then, that I only acted with the view of making Porthos's fortune for him."
"I meant to have done that myself; but your arm reaches farther than ours."
It was now D'Artagnan's turn to smile.
"Come," said Aramis, "we ought to deal truthfully with each other. Do you still love me, D'Artagnan?"
"The same as I used to do," replied D'Artagnan, without compromising himself too much by this reply.
"In that case, thanks; and now, for the most perfect frankness," said Aramis; "you visited Belle-Isle on behalf of the king?"
"You wished to deprive us of the pleasure of offering Bell-Isle completely fortified to the king."
"But before I could deprive you of that pleasure, I ought to have been made acquainted with your intention of doing so."
"You came to Belle-Isle without knowing anything?"
"Of you! yes. How the devil could I imagine that Aramis had become so clever an engineer as to be able to fortify like Polybius, or Archimedes?"
"True. And yet you smelt me out over yonder?"
"And Porthos, too?"
"I did not divine that Aramis was an engineer. I was only able to guess that Porthos might have become one. There is a saying, one becomes an orator, one is born a poet; but it has never been said, one is born Porthos, and one becomes an engineer."
"Your wit is always amusing," said Aramis, coldly.
"Well, I will go on."
"Do. When you found out our secret, you made all the haste you could to communicate it to the king."
"I certainly made as much haste as I could, since I saw that you were making still more. When a man weighing two hundred and fifty pounds, as Porthos does, rides post; when a gouty prelate - I beg your pardon, but you yourself told me you were so - when a prelate scours the highway - I naturally suppose that my two friends, who did not wish to be communicative with me, had certain matters of the highest importance to conceal from me, and so I made as much haste as my leanness and the absence of gout would allow."
"Did it not occur to you, my dear friend, that you might be rendering Porthos and myself a very sad service?"
"Yes, I thought it not unlikely; but you and Porthos made me play a very ridiculous part at Belle-Isle."
"I beg your pardon," said Aramis.
"Excuse me," said D'Artagnan.
"So that," pursued Aramis, "you now know everything?"
"You know I was obliged to inform M. Fouquet of what had happened, in order that he would be able to anticipate what you might have to tell the king?"
"That is rather obscure."
"Not at all: M. Fouquet has his enemies - you will admit that, I suppose."
"And one in particular."
"A dangerous one?"
"A mortal enemy. Well, in
order to counteract that man's influence, it was necessary that M. Fouquet should
give the king a proof of his great devotion to him, and of his readiness to
make the greatest sacrifices. He
surprised his majesty by offering him Belle-Isle. If you had been the first to reach
"That is the whole mystery," said Aramis, satisfied that he had at last quite convinced the musketeer.
"Only," said the latter, "it would have been more simple to have taken me aside, and said to me, 'My dear D'Artagnan, we are fortifying Belle-Isle, and intend to offer it to the king. Tell us frankly, for whom you are acting. Are you a friend of M. Colbert, or of M. Fouquet?' Perhaps I should not have answered you, but you would have added, - 'Are you my friend?' I should have said 'Yes.'" Aramis hung down his head. "In this way," continued D'Artagnan, "you would have paralyzed my movements, and I should have gone to the king, and said, 'Sire, M. Fouquet is fortifying Belle-Isle, and exceedingly well, too; but here is a note, which the governor of Belle-Isle gave me for your majesty;' or, 'M. Fouquet is about to wait upon your majesty to explain his intentions with regard to it.' I should not have been placed in an absurd position; you would have enjoyed the surprise so long planned, and we should not have had any occasion to look askant at each other when we met."
"While, on the contrary," replied Aramis, "you have acted altogether as one friendly to M. Colbert. And you really are a friend of his, I suppose?"
"Certainly not, indeed!" exclaimed the captain. "M. Colbert is a mean fellow, and I hate him as I used to hate Mazarin, but without fearing him."
"Well, then," said Aramis, "I love M. Fouquet, and his interests are mine. You know my position. I have no property or means whatever. M. Fouquet gave me several livings, a bishopric as well; M. Fouquet has served and obliged me like the generous-hearted man he is, and I know the world sufficiently well to appreciate a kindness when I meet with one. M. Fouquet has won my regard, and I have devoted myself to his service."
"You could not possibly do better. You will find him a very liberal master."
Aramis bit his lips; and then said, "The best a man could possibly have." He then paused for a minute, D'Artagnan taking good care not to interrupt him.
"I suppose you know how Porthos got mixed up in all this?"
"No," said D'Artagnan; "I am curious, of course, but I never question a friend when he wishes to keep a secret from me."
"Well, then, I will tell you."
"It is hardly worth the trouble, if the confidence is to bind me in any way."
"Oh! do not be afraid.; there is no man whom I love better than Porthos, because he is so simple-minded and good-natured. Porthos is so straightforward in everything. Since I have become a bishop, I have looked for these primeval natures, which make me love truth and hate intrigue."
D'Artagnan stroked his mustache, but said nothing.
"I saw Porthos and again cultivated his acquaintance; his own time hanging idly on his hands, his presence recalled my earlier and better days without engaging me in any present evil. I sent for Porthos to come to Vannes. M. Fouquet, whose regard for me is very great, having learnt that Porthos and I were attached to each other by old ties of friendship, promised him increase of rank at the earliest promotion, and that is the whole secret."
"I shall not abuse your confidence," said D'Artagnan.
"I am sure of that, my dear friend; no one has a finer sense of honor than yourself."
"I flatter myself that you are right, Aramis."
"And now" - and here the prelate looked searchingly and scrutinizingly at his friend - "now let us talk of ourselves and for ourselves; will you become one of M. Fouquet's friends? Do not interrupt me until you know what that means."
"Well, I am listening."
"Will you become a maréchal of France, peer, duke, and the possessor of a duchy, with a million of francs?"
"But, my friend," replied D'Artagnan, "what must one do to get all that?"
"Belong to M. Fouquet."
"But I already belong to the king."
"Not exclusively, I suppose."
"Oh! a D'Artagnan cannot be divided."
"You have, I presume, ambitions, as noble hearts like yours have."
"Yes, certainly I have."
"Well! I wish to be a maréchal; the king will make me maréchal, duke, peer; the king will make me all that."
Aramis fixed a searching look upon D'Artagnan.
"Is not the king master?" said D'Artagnan.
"No one disputes it; but Louis XIII. was master also."
"Oh! my dear friend, between Richelieu and Louis XIII. stood no D'Artagnan," said the musketeer, very quietly.
"There are many stumbling-blocks round the king," said Aramis.
"Not for the king's feet."
"Very likely not; still - "
"One moment, Aramis; I observe that every one thinks of himself, and never of his poor prince; I will maintain myself maintaining him."
"And if you meet with ingratitude?"
"The weak alone are afraid of that."
"You are quite certain of yourself?"
"I think so."
"Still, the king may some day have no further need for you!"
"On the contrary, I think his need of me will soon be greater than
ever; and hearken, my dear fellow, if it became necessary to arrest a new
Condé, who would do it? This - this
"You are right," said Aramis, turning very pale; and then he rose and pressed D'Artagnan's hand.
"That is the last summons for supper," said the captain of the musketeers; "will you excuse me?"
Aramis threw his arm round the musketeer's neck, and said, "A friend like you is the brightest jewel in the royal crown." And they immediately separated.
"I was right," mused D'Artagnan; "there is, indeed, something strangely serious stirring."
"We must hasten the explosion," breathed the coming cardinal, "for D'Artagnan has discovered the existence of a plot."
It will not be forgotten how Comte de Guiche left the queen-mother's apartments on the day when Louis XIV. presented La Vallière with the beautiful bracelets he had won in the lottery. The comte walked to and fro for some time outside the palace, in the greatest distress, from a thousand suspicions and anxieties with which his mind was beset. Presently he stopped and waited on the terrace opposite the grove of trees, watching for Madame's departure. More than half an hour passed away; and as he was at that moment quite alone, the comte could hardly have had any very diverting ideas at his command. He drew his tables from his pocket, and, after hesitating over and over again, determined to write these words: - "Madame, I implore you to grant me one moment's conversation. Do not be alarmed at this request, which contains nothing in any way opposed to the profound respect with which I subscribe myself, etc., etc." He had signed and folded this singular love-letter, when he suddenly observed several ladies leaving the château, and afterwards several courtiers too; in fact, almost every one that formed the queen's circle. He saw La Vallière herself, then Montalais talking with Malicorne; he watched the departure of the very last of the numerous guests that had a short time before thronged the queen-mother's cabinet.
Madame herself had not yet passed; she would be obliged, however, to cross the courtyard in order to enter her own apartments; and, from the terrace where he was standing, De Guiche could see all that was going on in the courtyard. At last he saw Madame leave, attended by a couple of pages, who were carrying torches before her. She was walking very quickly; as soon as she reached the door, she said:
"Let some one go and look for De Guiche: he has to render an account of a mission he had to discharge for me; if he should be disengaged, request him to be good enough to come to my apartment."
De Guiche remained silent, hidden in the shade; but as soon as Madame had withdrawn, he darted from the terrace down the steps and assumed a most indifferent air, so that the pages who were hurrying towards his rooms might meet him.
"Ah! it is Madame, then, who is seeking me!" he said to himself, quite overcome; and he crushed in his hand the now worse than useless letter.
"M. le comte," said one of the pages, approaching him, "we are indeed most fortunate in meeting you."
"Why so, messieurs?"
"A command from Madame."
"From Madame!" said De Guiche, looking surprised.
"Yes, M. le comte, her royal highness has been asking for you; she expects to hear, she told us, the result of a commission you had to execute for her. Are you at liberty?"
"I am quite at her royal highness's orders."
"Will you have the goodness to follow us, then?"
When De Guiche entered the princess's apartments, he found her pale and agitated. Montalais was standing at the door, evidently uneasy about what was passing in her mistress's mind. De Guiche appeared.
"Ah! is that you, Monsieur de Guiche?" said Madame; "come in, I beg. Mademoiselle de Montalais, I do not require your attendance any longer."
Montalais, more puzzled than ever, courtesied and withdrew. De Guiche and the princess were left alone. The come had every advantage in his favor; it was Madame who had summoned him to a rendezvous. But how was it possible for the comte to make use of this advantage? Madame was so whimsical, and her disposition so changeable. She soon allowed this to be perceived, for, suddenly, opening the conversation, she said: "Well! have you nothing to say to me?"
He imagined she must have guessed his thoughts; he fancied (for those who are in love are thus constituted, being as credulous and blind as poets or prophets), he fancied she knew how ardent was his desire to see her, and also the subject uppermost in his mind.
"Yes, Madame," he said, "and I think it very singular."
"The affair of the bracelets," she exclaimed, eagerly, "you mean that, I suppose?"
"And you think the king is in love; do you not?"
Guiche looked at her for some time; her eyes sank under his gaze, which seemed to read her very heart.
"I think," he said, "that the king may possibly have had an idea of annoying some one; were it not for that, the king would hardly show himself so earnest in his attentions as he is; he would not run the risk of compromising, from mere thoughtlessness of disposition, a young girl against whom no one has been hitherto able to say a word."
"Indeed! the bold, shameless girl," said the princess, haughtily.
"I can positively assure your royal highness," said De Guiche, with a firmness marked by great respect, "that Mademoiselle de la Vallière is beloved by a man who merits every respect, for he is a brave and honorable gentleman."
"My friend; yes, Madame."
"Well, and though he is your friend, what does that matter to the king?"
"The king knows that Bragelonne is affianced to Mademoiselle de la Vallière; and as Raoul has served the king most valiantly, the king will not inflict an irreparable injury upon him."
Madame began to laugh in a manner that produced a sinister impression upon De Guiche.
"I repeat, Madame, I do not believe the king is in love with Mademoiselle de la Vallière; and the proof that I do not believe it is, that I was about to ask you whose amour propre it is likely the king is desirous of wounding? You, who are well acquainted with the whole court, can perhaps assist me in ascertaining that; and assuredly, with greater certainty, since it is everywhere said that your royal highness is on very friendly terms with the king."
Madame bit her lips, and, unable to assign any good and sufficient reasons, changed the conversation. "Prove to me," she said, fixing on him one of those looks in which the whole soul seems to pass into the eyes, "prove to me, I say, that you intended to interrogate me at the very moment I sent for you."
De Guiche gravely drew from his pocket the now crumpled note that he had written, and showed it to her.
"Sympathy," she said.
"Yes," said the comte, with an indescribable tenderness of tone, "sympathy. I have explained to you how and why I sought you; you, however, have yet to tell me, Madame, why you sent for me."
"True," replied the princess. She hesitated, and then suddenly exclaimed, "Those bracelets will drive me mad."
"You expected the king would offer them to you," replied De Guiche.
"But before you, Madame, before you, his sister-in-law, was there not the queen herself to whom the king should have offered them?"
"Before La Vallière," cried the princess, wounded to the quick, "could he not have presented them to me? Was there not the whole court, indeed, to choose from?"
"I assure you, Madame," said the comte, respectfully, "that if any one heard you speak in this manner, if any one were to see how red your eyes are, and, Heaven forgive me, to see, too, that tear trembling on your eyelids, it would be said that your royal highness was jealous."
"Jealous!" said the princess, haughtily, "jealous of La Vallière!"
She expected to see De Guiche yield beneath her scornful gesture and her proud tone; but he simply and boldly replied, "Jealous of La Vallière; yes, Madame."
"Am I to suppose, monsieur," she stammered out, "that your object is to insult me?"
"It is not possible, Madame," replied the comte, slightly agitated, but resolved to master that fiery nature.
"Leave the room!" said the princess, thoroughly exasperated, De Guiche's coolness and silent respect having made her completely lose her temper.
De Guiche fell back a step, bowed slowly, but with great respect, drew himself up, looking as white as his lace cuffs, and, in a voice slightly trembling, said, "It was hardly worth while to have hurried here to be subjected to this unmerited disgrace." And he turned away with hasty steps.
He had scarcely gone half a dozen paces when Madame darted like a tigress after him, seized him by the cuff, and making him turn round again, said, trembling with passion as she did so, "The respect you pretend to have is more insulting than the insult itself. Insult me, if you please, but at least speak."
"Madame," said the comte, gently, as he drew his sword, "thrust this blade into my heart, rather than kill me by degrees."
At the look he fixed upon her, - a look full of love, resolution, and despair, even, - she knew how readily the comte, so outwardly calm in appearance, would pass his sword through his own breast if she added another word. She tore the blade from his hands, and, pressing his arm with a feverish impatience, which might pass for tenderness, said, "Do not be too hard upon me, comte. You see how I am suffering, and yet you have no pity for me."
Tears, the cries of this strange attack, stifled her voice. As soon as De Guiche saw her weep, he took her in his arms and carried her to an armchair; in another moment she would have been suffocated.
"Oh, why," he murmured, as he knelt by her side, "why do you conceal your troubles from me? Do you love any one - tell me? It would kill me, I know, but not until I should have comforted, consoled, and served you even."
"And do you love me to that extent?" she replied, completely conquered.
"I do indeed love you to that extent, Madame."
She placed both her hands in his. "My heart is indeed another's," she murmured in so low a tone that her voice could hardly be heard; but he heard it, and said, "Is it the king you love?"
gently shook her head, and her smile was like a clear bright streak in the
clouds, through which after the tempest has passed one almost fancies
"Once more, I repeat," said the comte, "you are acting unjustly towards that poor girl, who will one day be my friend's wife."
"Are you simple enough to believe that, comte?"
"If I did not believe it," he said, turning very pale, "Bragelonne should be informed of it to-morrow; indeed he should, if I thought that poor La Vallière had forgotten the vows she had exchanged with Raoul. But no, it would be cowardly to betray a woman's secret; it would be criminal to disturb a friend's peace of mind."
"You think, then," said the princess, with a wild burst of laughter, "that ignorance is happiness?"
"I believe it," he replied.
"Prove it to me, then," she said, hurriedly.
"It is easily done, Madame. It is reported through the whole court that the king loves you, and that you return his affection."
"Well?" she said, breathing with difficulty.
"Well; admit for a moment that Raoul, my friend, had come and said to me, 'Yes, the king loves Madame, and has made an impression upon her heart,' I possibly should have slain Raoul."
"It would have been necessary," said the princess, with the obstinacy of a woman who feels herself not easily overcome, "for M. de Bragelonne to have had proofs before he ventured to speak to you in that manner."
"Such, however, is the case," replied De Guiche, with a deep sigh, "that, not having been warned, I have never examined into the matter seriously; and I now find that my ignorance has saved my life."
"So, then, you drive selfishness and coldness to that extent," said Madame, "that you would let this unhappy young man continue to love La Vallière?"
"I would, until La Vallière's guilt were revealed."
"But the bracelets?"
"Well, Madame, since you yourself expected to receive them from the king, what can I possibly say?"
The argument was a telling one, and the princess was overwhelmed by it, and from that moment her defeat was assured. But as her heart and mind were instinct with noble and generous feelings, she understood De Guiche's extreme delicacy. She saw that in his heart he really suspected that the king was in love with La Vallière, and that he did not wish to resort to the common expedient of ruining a rival in the mind of a woman, by giving the latter the assurance and certainty that this rival's affections were transferred to another woman. She guessed that his suspicions of La Vallière were aroused, and that, in order to leave himself time for his convictions to undergo a change, so as not to ruin Louise utterly, he was determined to pursue a certain straightforward line of conduct. She could read so much real greatness of character, and such true generosity of disposition in her lover, that her heart really warmed with affection towards him, whose passion for her was so pure and delicate. Despite his fear of incurring her displeasure, De Guiche, by retaining his position as a man of proud independence of feeling and deep devotion, became almost a hero in her estimation, and reduced her to the state of a jealous and little-minded woman. She loved him for this so tenderly, that she could not refuse to give him a proof of her affection.
"See how many words we have wasted," she said, taking his hand, "suspicions, anxieties, mistrust, sufferings - I think we have enumerated all those words."
"Alas! Madame, yes."
"Efface them from your heart as I drive them from mine. Whether La Vallière does or does not love the king, and whether the king does or does not love La Vallière - from this moment you and I will draw a distinction in the two characters I have to perform. You open your eyes so wide that I am sure you hardly understand me."
"You are so impetuous, Madame, that I always tremble at the fear of displeasing you."
"And see how he trembles now, poor fellow," she said, with the most charming playfulness of manner. "Yes, monsieur, I have two characters to perform. I am the sister of the king, the sister-in-law of the king's wife. In this character ought I not to take an interest in these domestic intrigues? Come, tell me what you think?"
"As little as possible, Madame."
"Agreed, monsieur; but it is a question of dignity; and then, you know, I am the wife of the king's brother." De Guiche sighed. "A circumstance," she added, with an expression of great tenderness, "which will remind you that I am always to be treated with the profoundest respect." De Guiche fell at her feet, which he kissed, with the religious fervor of a worshipper. "And I begin to think that, really and truly, I have another character to perform. I was almost forgetting it."
"Name it, oh! name it," said De Guiche.
"I am a woman," she said, in a voice lower than ever, "and I love." He rose, she opened her arms, and their lips met. A footstep was heard behind the tapestry, and Mademoiselle de Montalais appeared.
"What do you want?" said Madame.
"M. de Guiche is wanted," replied Montalais, who was just in time to see the agitation of the actors of these four characters; for De Guiche had consistently carried out his part with heroism.
Montalais was right. M. de Guiche, thus summoned in every direction, was very much exposed, from such a multiplication of business, to the risk of not attending to any. It so happened that, considering the awkwardness of the interruption, Madame, notwithstanding her wounded pride, and secret anger, could not, for the moment at least, reproach Montalais for having violated, in so bold a manner, the semi-royal order with which she had been dismissed on De Guiche's entrance. De Guiche, also, lost his presence of mind, or, it would be more correct to say, had already lost it, before Montalais's arrival, for, scarcely had he heard the young girl's voice, than, without taking leave of Madame, as the most ordinary politeness required, even between persons equal in rank and station, he fled from her presence, his heart tumultuously throbbing, and his brain on fire, leaving the princess with one hand raised, as though to bid him adieu. Montalais was at no loss, therefore, to perceive the agitation of the two lovers - the one who fled was agitated, and the one who remained was equally so.
"Well," murmured the young girl, as she glanced inquisitively round her, "this time, at least, I think I know as much as the most curious woman could possibly wish to know." Madame felt so embarrassed by this inquisitorial look, that, as if she heard Montalais's muttered side remark, she did not speak a word to her maid of honor, but, casting down her eyes, retired at once to her bedroom. Montalais, observing this, stood listening for a moment, and then heard Madame lock and bolt her door. By this she knew that the rest of the evening was at her own disposal; and making, behind the door which had just been closed, a gesture which indicated but little real respect for the princess, she went down the staircase in search of Malicorne, who was very busily engaged at that moment in watching a courier, who, covered with dust, had just left the Comte de Guiche's apartments. Montalais knew that Malicorne was engaged in a matter of some importance; she therefore allowed him to look and stretch out his neck as much as he pleased; and it was only when Malicorne had resumed his natural position, that she touched him on the shoulder. "Well," said Montalais, "what is the latest intelligence you have?"
"M. de Guiche is in love with Madame."
"Fine news, truly! I know something more recent than that."
"Well, what do you know?"
"That Madame is in love with M. de Guiche."
"The one is the consequence of the other."
"Not always, my good monsieur."
"Is that remark intended for me?"
"Present company always excepted."
"Thank you," said Malicorne. "Well, and in the other direction, what is stirring?"
"The king wished, this evening, after the lottery, to see Mademoiselle de la Vallière."
"Well, and he has seen her?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"The door was shut and locked."
"So that - "
"So that the king was obliged to go back again, looking very sheepish, like a thief who has forgotten his crowbar."
"And in the third place?" inquired Montalais.
"The courier who has just arrived for De Guiche came from M. de Bragelonne."
"Excellent," said Montalais, clapping her hands together.
"Because we have work to do. If we get weary now, something unlucky will be sure to happen."
"We must divide the work, then," said Malicorne, "in order to avoid confusion."
"Nothing easier," replied Montalais. "Three intrigues, carefully nursed, and carefully encouraged, will produce, one with another, and taking a low average, three love letters a day."
"Oh!" exclaimed Malicorne, shrugging his shoulders, "you cannot mean what you say, darling; three letters a day, that may do for sentimental common people. A musketeer on duty, a young girl in a convent, may exchange letters with their lovers once a day, perhaps, from the top of a ladder, or through a hole in the wall. A letter contains all the poetry their poor little hearts have to boast of. But the cases we have in hand require to be dealt with very differently."
"Well, finish," said Montalais, out of patience with him. "Some one may come."
"Finish! Why, I am only at the beginning. I have still three points as yet untouched."
"Upon my word, he will be the death of me, with his Flemish indifference," exclaimed Montalais.
"And you will drive me mad with your Italian vivacity. I was going to say that our lovers here will be writing volumes to each other. But what are you driving at?"
"At this. Not one of our lady correspondents will be able to keep the letters they may receive."
"M. de Guiche will not be able to keep his either."
"That is probable."
"Very well, then; I will take care of all that."
"That is the very thing that is impossible," said Malicorne.
"Because you are not your own mistress; your room is as much La Vallière's as yours; and there are certain persons who will think nothing of visiting and searching a maid of honor's room; so that I am terribly afraid of the queen, who is as jealous as a Spaniard; of the queen-mother, who is as jealous as a couple of Spaniards; and, last of all, of Madame herself, who has jealousy enough for ten Spaniards."
"You forgot some one else."
"I was only speaking of the women. Let us add them up, then: we will call Monsieur, No. 1."
"The Vicomte de Bragelonne?"
"And the king, the king?"
"No. 4. Of course the king, who not only will be more jealous, but more powerful than all the rest put together. Ah, my dear!"
"Into what a wasp's nest you have thrust yourself!"
"And as yet not quite far enough, if you will follow me into it."
"Most certainly I will follow you where you like. Yet - "
"Well, yet - "
"While we have time, I think it will be prudent to turn back."
"But I, on the contrary, think the wisest course to take is to put ourselves at once at the head of all these intrigues."
"You will never be able to do it."
"With you, I could superintend ten of them. I am in my element, you must know. I was born to live at the court, as the salamander is made to live in the fire."
"Your comparison does not reassure me in the slightest degree in the world, my dear Montalais. I have heard it said, and by learned men too, that, in the first place, there are no salamanders at all, and that, if there had been any, they would have been infallibly baked or roasted on leaving the fire."
"Your learned men may be very wise as far as salamanders are concerned, but they would never tell you what I can tell you; namely, that Aure de Montalais is destined, before a month is over, to become the first diplomatist in the court of France."
"Be it so, but on condition that I shall be the second."
"Agreed; an offensive and defensive alliance, of course."
"Only be very careful of any letters."
"I will hand them to you as I receive them."
"What shall we tell the king about Madame?" "That Madame is still in love with his majesty."
"What shall we tell Madame about the king?"
"That she would be exceedingly wrong not to humor him."
"What shall we tell La Vallière about Madame?"
"Whatever we choose, for La Vallière is in our power."
"What do you mean?"
"In the first place, through the Vicomte de Bragelonne."
"You do not forget, I hope, that Monsieur de Bragelonne has written many letters to Mademoiselle de la Vallière."
"I forget nothing."
"Well, then, it was I who received, and I who intercepted those letters."
"And, consequently, it is you who have them still?"
"Where, - here?"
"Oh, no; I have them safe at
"That dear little room, - that darling little room, the ante-chamber of the palace I intend you to live in one of these days. But, I beg your pardon, you said that all those letters are in that little room?"
"Did you not put them in a box?"
"Of course; in the same box where I put all the letters I received from you, and where I put mine also when your business or your amusements prevented you from coming to our rendezvous."
"Ah, very good," said Malicorne.
"Why are you satisfied?"
"Because I see there is a possibility of not having to
"You have brought the box away?"
"It was very dear to me, because it belonged to you."
"Be sure and take care of it, for it contains original documents that will be of priceless value by and by."
"I am perfectly well aware of that indeed, and that is the very reason why I laugh as I do, and with all my heart, too."
"And now, one last word."
"Do we need any one to assist us?"
"Valets or maid-servants?"
"Bad policy. You will give the letters, - you will receive them. Oh! we must have no pride in this affair, otherwise M. Malicorne and Mademoiselle Aure, not transacting their own affairs themselves, will have to make up their minds to see them done by others."
"You are quite right; but what is going on yonder in M. de Guiche's room?"
"Nothing; he is only opening his window."
"Let us be gone." And they both immediately disappeared, all the terms of the contract being agreed on.
The window just opened was, in fact, that of the Comte de Guiche. It was not alone with the hope of catching a glimpse of Madame through her curtains that he seated himself by the open window for his preoccupation of mind had at that time a different origin. He had just received, as we have already stated, the courier who had been dispatched to him by Bragelonne, the latter having written to De Guiche a letter which had made the deepest impression upon him, and which he had read over and over again. "Strange, strange!" he murmured. "How irresponsible are the means by which destiny hurries men onward to their fate!" Leaving the window in order to approach nearer to the light, he once more read the letter he had just received: -
"MY DEAR COUNT, - I found M. de Wardes at
"P. S. - If anything serious should happen - we should be prepared for everything, dispatch a courier to me with this one single word, 'come,' and I will be in Paris within six and thirty hours after the receipt of your letter."
De Guiche sighed, folded up the letter a third time, and, instead of burning it, as Raoul had recommended him to do, placed it in his pocket. He felt it needed reading over and over again.
"How much distress of mind, yet what sublime confidence, he shows!" murmured the comte; "he has poured out his whole soul in this letter. He says nothing of the Comte de la Fère, and speaks of his respect for Louise. He cautions me on my own account, and entreats me on his. Ah!" continued De Guiche, with a threatening gesture, "you interfere in my affairs, Monsieur de Wardes, do you? Very well, then; I will shortly occupy myself with yours. As for you, poor Raoul, - you who intrust your heart to my keeping, be assured I will watch over it."
With this promise, De Guiche begged Malicorne to come immediately to his apartments, if possible. Malicorne acknowledged the invitation with an activity which was the first result of his conversation with Montalais. And while De Guiche, who thought that his motive was undiscovered, cross-examined Malicorne, the latter, who appeared to be working in the dark, soon guessed his questioner's motives. The consequence was, that, after a quarter of an hour's conversation, during which De Guiche thought he had ascertained the whole truth with regard to La Vallière and the king, he had learned absolutely nothing more than his own eyes had already acquainted him with, while Malicorne learned, or guessed, that Raoul, who was absent, was fast becoming suspicious, and that De Guiche intended to watch over the treasure of the Hesperides. Malicorne accepted the office of dragon. De Guiche fancied he had done everything for his friend, and soon began to think of nothing but his personal affairs. The next evening, De Wardes's return and first appearance at the king's reception were announced. When that visit had been paid, the convalescent waited on Monsieur; De Guiche taking care, however, to be at Monsieur's apartments before the visit took place.
Monsieur had received De Wardes with that marked favor light and frivolous minds bestow on every novelty that comes in their way. De Wardes, who had been absent for a month, was like fresh fruit to him. To treat him with marked kindness was an infidelity to old friends, and there is always something fascinating in that; moreover, it was a sort of reparation to De Wardes himself. Nothing, consequently, could exceed the favorable notice Monsieur took of him. The Chevalier de Lorraine, who feared this rival but a little, but who respected a character and disposition only too parallel to his own in every particular, with the addition of a bull-dog courage he did not himself possess, received De Wardes with a greater display of regard and affection than even Monsieur had done. De Guiche, as we have said, was there also, but kept in the background, waiting very patiently until all these interchanges were over. De Wardes, while talking to the others, and even to Monsieur himself, had not for a moment lost sight of De Guiche, who, he instinctively felt, was there on his account. As soon as he had finished with the others, he went up to De Guiche. They exchanged the most courteous compliments, after which De Wardes returned to Monsieur and the other gentlemen.
In the midst of these congratulations Madame was announced. She had been informed of De Wardes's arrival, and knowing all the details of his voyage and duel, she was not sorry to be present at the remarks she knew would be made, without delay, by one who, she felt assured, was her personal enemy. Two or three of her ladies accompanied her. De Wardes saluted Madame in the most graceful and respectful manner, and, as a commencement of hostilities, announced, in the first place, that he could furnish the Duke of Buckingham's friends with the latest news about him. This was a direct answer to the coldness with which Madame had received him. The attack was a vigorous one, and Madame felt the blow, but without appearing to have even noticed it. He rapidly cast a glance at Monsieur and at De Guiche, - the former colored, and the latter turned very pale. Madame alone preserved an unmoved countenance; but, as she knew how many unpleasant thoughts and feelings her enemy could awaken in the two persons who were listening to him, she smilingly bent forward towards the traveler, as if to listen to the news he had brought - but he was speaking of other matters. Madame was brave, even to imprudence; if she were to retreat, it would be inviting an attack; so, after the first disagreeable impression had passed away, she returned to the charge.
"Have you suffered much from your wounds, Monsieur de Wardes?" she inquired, "for we have been told that you had the misfortune to get wounded."
It was now De Wardes's turn to wince; he bit his lips, and replied, "No, Madame, hardly at all."
"Indeed! and yet in this terribly hot weather - "
"The sea-breezes were very fresh and cool, Madame, and then I had one consolation."
"Indeed! What was it?"
"The knowledge that my adversary's sufferings were still greater than my own."
"Ah! you mean he was more seriously wounded than you were; I was not aware of that," said the princess, with utter indifference.
"Oh, Madame, you are mistaken, or rather you pretend to misunderstand my remark. I did not say that he was a greater sufferer in body than myself; but his heart was very seriously affected."
De Guiche comprehended instinctively from what direction the struggle was approaching; he ventured to make a sign to Madame, as if entreating her to retire from the contest. But she, without acknowledging De Guiche's gesture, without pretending to have noticed it even, and still smiling, continued:
"Is it possible," she said, "that the Duke of Buckingham's heart was touched? I had no idea, until now, that a heart-wound could be cured."
"Alas! Madame," replied De Wardes, politely, "every woman believes that; and it is this belief that gives them that superiority to man which confidence begets."
"You misunderstand altogether, dearest," said the prince, impatiently; "M. de Wardes means that the Duke of Buckingham's heart had been touched, not by the sword, but by something sharper."
"Ah! very good, very good!" exclaimed Madame. "It is a jest of M. de Wardes's. Very good; but I should like to know if the Duke of Buckingham would appreciate the jest. It is, indeed, a very great pity he is not here, M. de Wardes."
The young man's eyes seemed to flash fire. "Oh!" he said, as he clenched his teeth, "there is nothing I should like better."
De Guiche did not move. Madame seemed to expect that he would come to her assistance. Monsieur hesitated. The Chevalier de Lorraine advanced and continued the conversation.
"Madame," he said, "De Wardes knows perfectly well that for a Buckingham's heart to be touched is nothing new, and what he has said has already taken place."
"Instead of an ally, I have two enemies," murmured Madame; "two determined enemies, and in league with each other." And she changed the conversation. To change the conversation is, as every one knows, a right possessed by princes which etiquette requires all to respect. The remainder of the conversation was moderate enough in tone; the principal actors had rehearsed their parts. Madame withdrew easily, and Monsieur, who wished to question her on several matters, offered her his hand on leaving. The chevalier was seriously afraid that an understanding might be established between the husband and wife if he were to leave them quietly together. He therefore made his way to Monsieur's apartments, in order to surprise him on his return, and to destroy with a few words all the good impressions Madame might have been able to sow in his heart. De Guiche advanced towards De Wardes, who was surrounded by a large number of persons, and thereby indicated his wish to converse with him; De Wardes, at the same time, showing by his looks and by a movement of his head that he perfectly understood him. There was nothing in these signs to enable strangers to suppose they were otherwise than upon the most friendly footing. De Guiche could therefore turn away from him, and wait until he was at liberty. He had not long to wait; for De Wardes, freed from his questioners, approached De Guiche, and after a fresh salutation, they walked side by side together.
"You have made a good impression since your return, my dear De Wardes," said the comte.
"Excellent, as you see."
"And your spirits are just as lively as ever?"
"And a very great happiness, too."
"Why not? Everything is so ridiculous in this world, everything so absurd around us."
"You are right."
"You are of my opinion, then?"
"I should think so! And what news do you bring us from yonder?"
"I? None at all. I have come to look for news here."
"But, tell me, you surely must have seen some people at
"Some people - one of our friends - "
"Your memory is short."
"Ah! true; Bragelonne, you mean."
"Who was on his way to fulfil a mission, with which he was intrusted to King Charles II."
"Precisely. Well, then, did he not tell you, or did not you tell him - "
"I do not precisely know what I told him, I must confess: but I do know what I did not tell him." De Wardes was finesse itself. He perfectly well knew from De Guiche's tone and manner, which was cold and dignified, that the conversation was about to assume a disagreeable turn. He resolved to let it take what course it pleased, and to keep strictly on his guard.
"May I ask you what you did not tell him?" inquired De Guiche.
"All about La Vallière."
"La Vallière… What is it? and what was that strange circumstance you seem to have known over yonder, which Bragelonne, who was here on the spot, was not acquainted with?"
"Do you really ask me that in a serious manner?"
"Nothing more so."
"What! you, a member of the court, living in Madame's household, a friend of Monsieur's, a guest at their table, the favorite of our lovely princess?"
Guiche colored violently from anger. "What princess are you alluding to?" he said.
"I am only acquainted with one, my dear fellow. I am speaking of Madame herself. Are you devoted to another princess, then? Come, tell me."
De Guiche was on the point of launching out, but he saw the drift of the remark. A quarrel was imminent between the two young men. De Wardes wished the quarrel to be only in Madame's name, while De Guiche would not accept it except on La Vallière's account. From this moment, it became a series of feigned attacks, which would have continued until one of the two had been touched home. De Guiche therefore resumed all the self-possession he could command.
"There is not the slightest question in the world of Madame in this matter, my dear De Wardes." said Guiche, "but simply of what you were talking about just now."
"What was I saying?"
"That you had concealed certain things from Bragelonne."
"Certain things which you know as well as I do," replied De Wardes.
"No, upon my honor."
"If you tell me what they are, I shall know, but not otherwise, I swear."
"What! I who have just
arrived from a distance of sixty leagues, and you who have not stirred from
this place, who have witnessed with your own eyes that which rumor informed me
"As you like, De Wardes; but I again repeat, I know nothing."
"You are truly discreet - well! - perhaps it is very prudent of you."
"And so you will not tell me anything, will not tell me any more than you told Bragelonne?"
"You are pretending to be deaf, I see. I am convinced that Madame could not possibly have more command over herself than you have."
"Double hypocrite," murmured Guiche to himself, "you are again returning to the old subject."
"Very well, then," continued De Wardes, "since we find it so difficult to understand each other about La Vallière and Bragelonne let us speak about your own affairs."
"Nay," said De Guiche, "I have no affairs of my own to talk about. You have not said anything about me, I suppose, to Bragelonne, which you cannot repeat to my face?"
"No; but understand me, Guiche, that however much I may be ignorant
of certain matters, I am quite as conversant with others. If, for instance, we were conversing about
the intimacies of the Duke of Buckingham at
De Guiche passed his hand across his forehead, which was covered in perspiration. "No, no," he said, "a hundred times no! I have no curiosity for matters which do not concern me. The Duke of Buckingham is for me nothing more than a simple acquaintance, whilst Raoul is an intimate friend. I have not the slightest curiosity to learn what happened to the duke, while I have, on the contrary, the greatest interest in all that happened to Raoul."
"But he will return?"
"Not, however, until his mission is completed. In the meantime, you understand, evil reports cannot be permitted to circulate about him without my looking into them."
"And for a better reason still, that he will remain some time in
"You think so," said De Guiche, simply.
"Think so, indeed! do you suppose he was sent to
"Ah! De Wardes," said
De Guiche, grasping De Wardes's hand, "that is a very serious suspicion
concerning Bragelonne, which completely confirms what he wrote to me from
De Wardes resumed his former coldness of manner: his love of raillery had led him too far, and by his own imprudence, he had laid himself open to attack.
"Well, tell me, what did he write to you about?" he inquired.
"He told me that you had artfully insinuated some injurious remarks against La Vallière, and that you had seemed to laugh at his great confidence in that young girl."
"Well, it is perfectly true I did so," said De Wardes, "and I was quite ready, at the time, to hear from the Vicomte de Bragelonne that which every man expects from another whenever anything may have been said to displease him. In the same way, for instance, if I were seeking a quarrel with you, I should tell you that Madame after having shown the greatest preference for the Duke of Buckingham, is at this moment supposed to have sent the handsome duke away for your benefit."
"Oh! that would not wound me in the slightest degree, my dear De Wardes," said De Guiche, smiling, notwithstanding the shiver that ran through his whole frame. "Why, such a favor would be too great a happiness."
"I admit that, but if I absolutely wished to quarrel with you, I should try and invent a falsehood, perhaps, and speak to you about a certain arbor, where you and that illustrious princess were together - I should speak also of certain gratifications, of certain kissings of the hand; and you who are so secret on all occasions, so hasty, so punctilious - "
"Well," said De Guiche, interrupting him, with a smile upon his lips, although he almost felt as if he were going to die; "I swear I should not care for that, nor should I in any way contradict you; for you must know, my dear marquis, that for all matters which concern myself I am a block of ice; but it is a very different thing when an absent friend is concerned, a friend, who, on leaving, confided his interests to my safe-keeping; for such a friend, De Wardes, believe me, I am like fire itself."
"I understand you, Monsieur de Guiche. In spite of what you say, there cannot be any question between us, just now, either of Bragelonne or of this insignificant girl, whose name is La Vallière."
At this moment some of the younger courtiers were crossing the apartment, and having already heard the few words which had just been pronounced, were able also to hear those which were about to follow. De Wardes observed this, and continued aloud: - "Oh! if La Vallière were a coquette like Madame, whose innocent flirtations, I am sure, were, first of all, the cause of the Duke of Buckingham being sent back to England, and afterwards were the reason of your being sent into exile; for you will not deny, I suppose, that Madame's pretty ways really had a certain influence over you?"
The courtiers drew nearer to the speakers, Saint-Aignan at their head, and then Manicamp.
"But, my dear fellow, whose fault was that?" said De Guiche, laughing. "I am a vain, conceited fellow, I know, and everybody else knows it too. I took seriously that which was only intended as a jest, and got myself exiled for my pains. But I saw my error. I overcame my vanity, and I obtained my recall, by making the amende honorable, and by promising myself to overcome this defect; and the consequence is, that I am so thoroughly cured, that I now laugh at the very thing which, three or four days ago, would have almost broken my heart. But Raoul is in love, and is loved in return; he cannot laugh at the reports which disturb his happiness - reports which you seem to have undertaken to interpret, when you know, marquis, as I do, as these gentlemen do, as every one does in fact, that all such reports are pure calumny."
"Calumny!" exclaimed De Wardes, furious at seeing himself caught in the snare by De Guiche's coolness of temper.
"Certainly - calumny. Look at this letter from him, in which he tell me you have spoken ill of Mademoiselle de la Vallière; and where he asks me, if what you reported about this young girl is true or not. Do you wish me to appeal to these gentlemen, De Wardes, to decide?" And with admirable coolness, De Guiche read aloud the paragraph of the letter which referred to La Vallière. "And now," continued De Guiche, "there is no doubt in the world, as far as I am concerned, that you wished to disturb Bragelonne's peace of mind, and that your remarks were maliciously intended."
De Wardes looked round him, to see if he could find support from any one; but, at the idea that De Wardes had insulted, either directly or indirectly, the idol of the day, every one shook his head; and De Wardes saw that he was in the wrong.
"Messieurs," said De Guiche, intuitively divining the general feeling, "my discussion with Monsieur de Wardes refers to a subject so delicate in its nature, that it is most important no one should hear more than you have already heard. Close the doors, then, I beg you, and let us finish our conversation in the manner which becomes two gentlemen, one of whom has given the other the lie."
"Messieurs, messieurs!" exclaimed those who were present.
"Is it your opinion, then, that I was wrong in defending Mademoiselle de la Vallière?" said De Guiche. "In that case, I pass judgment upon myself, and am ready to withdraw the offensive words I may have used to Monsieur de Wardes."
"The deuce! certainly not!" said Saint-Aignan. "Mademoiselle de la Vallière is an angel."
"Virtue and purity itself," said Manicamp.
"You see, Monsieur de Wardes," said De Guiche, "I am not the only one who undertakes the defense of that poor girl. I entreat you, therefore, messieurs, a second time, to leave us. You see, it is impossible we could be more calm and composed than we are."
It was the very thing the courtiers wished; some went out at one door, and the rest at the other, and the two young men were left alone.
"Well played," said De Wardes, to the comte.
"Was it not?" replied the latter.
"How can it be wondered at, my dear fellow; I have got quite rusty in the country, while the command you have acquired over yourself, comte, confounds me; a man always gains something in women's society; so, pray accept my congratulations."
"I do accept them."
"And I will make Madame a present of them."
"And now, my dear Monsieur de Wardes, let us speak as loud as you please."
"Do not defy me."
"I do defy you, for you are known to be an evil-minded man; if you do that, you will be looked upon as a coward, too; and Monsieur would have you hanged, this evening, at his window-casement. Speak, my dear De Wardes, speak."
"I have fought already."
"But not quite enough, yet."
"I see, you would not be sorry to fight with me while my wounds are still open."
"No; better still."
"The deuce! you are unfortunate in the moment you have chosen; a
duel, after the one I have just fought, would hardly suit me; I have lost too
much blood at
"True," said De Guiche; "and yet, on your arrival here, your looks and your arms showed there was nothing the matter with you."
"Yes, my arms are all right, but my legs are weak; and then, I have not had a foil in my hand since that devil of a duel; and you, I am sure, have been fencing every day, in order to carry your little conspiracy against me to a successful issue."
"Upon my honor, monsieur," replied De Guiche, "it is six months since I last practiced."
"No, comte, after due reflection, I will not fight, at least, with you. I will await Bragelonne's return, since you say it is Bragelonne who finds fault with me."
"Oh no, indeed! You shall not wait until Bragelonne's return," exclaimed the comte, losing all command over himself, "for you have said that Bragelonne might, possibly, be some time before he returns; and, in the meanwhile, your wicked insinuations would have had their effect."
"Yet, I shall have my excuse. So take care."
"I will give you a week to finish your recovery."
"That is better. We will wait a week."
"Yes, yes, I understand; a week will give time to my adversary to make his escape. No, no; I will not give you one day, even."
"You are mad, monsieur," said De Wardes, retreating a step.
"And you are a coward, if you do not fight willingly. Nay, what is more, I will denounce you to the king, as having refused to fight, after having insulted La Vallière."
"Ah!" said De Wardes, "you are dangerously treacherous, though you pass for a man of honor."
"There is nothing more dangerous than the treachery, as you term it, of the man whose conduct is always loyal and upright."
"Restore me the use of my legs, then, or get yourself bled, till you are as white as I am, so as to equalize our chances."
"No, no; I have something better than that to propose."
"What is it?"
"We will fight on horseback, and will exchange three pistol-shots each. You are a first rate marksman. I have seen you bring down swallows with single balls, and at full gallop. Do not deny it, for I have seen you myself."
"I believe you are right," said De Wardes; "and as that is the case, it is not unlikely I might kill you."
"You would be rendering me a very great service, if you did."
"I will do my best."
"Is it agreed? Give me your hand upon it."
"There it is: but on one condition, however."
"That not a word shall be said about it to the king."
"Not a word, I swear."
"I will go and get my horse, then."
"And I, mine."
"Where shall we meet?"
"In the plain; I know an admirable place."
"Shall we go together?"
And both of them, on their way to the stables, passed beneath Madame's windows, which were faintly lighted; a shadow could be seen behind the lace curtains. "There is a woman," said De Wardes, smiling, "who does not suspect that we are going to fight - to die, perhaps, on her account."
De Wardes and De Guiche selected their horses, and saddled them with their own hands, with holster saddles. De Guiche, having two pairs of pistols, went to his apartments to get them; and after having loaded them, gave the choice to De Wardes, who selected the pair he had made use of twenty times before - the same, indeed, with which De Guiche had seen him kill swallows flying. "You will not be surprised," he said, "if I take every precaution. You know the weapons well, and, consequently, I am only making the chances equal."
"Your remark was quite useless," replied De Guiche, "and you have done no more than you are entitled to do."
"Now," said De Wardes, "I beg you to have the goodness to help me to mount; for I still experience a little difficulty in doing so."
"In that case, we had better settle the matter on foot."
"No; once in the saddle, I shall be all right."
"Very good, then; we will not speak of it again," said De Guiche, as he assisted De Wardes to mount his horse.
"And now," continued the young man, "in our eagerness to murder one another, we have neglected one circumstance."
"What is that?"
"That it is quite dark, and we shall almost be obliged to grope about, in order to kill."
"Oh!" said De Guiche, "you are as anxious as I am that everything should be done in proper order."
"Yes; but I do not wish people to say that you have assassinated me, any more than, supposing I were to kill you, I should myself like to be accused of such a crime."
"Did any one make a similar remark about your duel with the Duke of Buckingham?" said De Guiche; "it took place precisely under the same conditions as ours."
"Very true; but there was still light enough to see by; and we were up to our middles almost, in the water; besides, there were a good number of spectators on shore, looking at us."
De Guiche reflected for a moment; and the thought which had already presented itself to him became more confirmed - that De Wardes wished to have witnesses present, in order to bring back the conversation about Madame, and to give a new turn to the combat. He avoided saying a word in reply, therefore; and, as De Wardes once more looked at him interrogatively, he replied, by a movement of the head, that it would be best to let things remain as they were. The two adversaries consequently set off, and left the château by the same gate, close to which we may remember to have seen Montalais and Malicorne together. The night, as if to counteract the extreme heat of the day, had gathered the clouds together in masses which were moving slowly along from the west to the east. The vault above, without a clear spot anywhere visible, or without the faintest indication of thunder, seemed to hang heavily over the earth, and soon began, by the force of the wind, to split into streamers, like a huge sheet torn to shreds. Large and warm drops of rain began to fall heavily, and gathered the dust into globules, which rolled along the ground. At the same time, the hedges, which seemed conscious of the approaching storm, the thirsty plants, the drooping branches of the trees, exhaled a thousand aromatic odors, which revived in the mind tender recollections, thoughts of youth, endless life, happiness, and love. "How fresh the earth smells," said De Wardes; "it is a piece of coquetry to draw us to her."
"By the by," replied De Guiche, "several ideas have just occurred to me; and I wish to have your opinion upon them."
"Relative to - "
"Relative to our engagement."
"It is quite some time, in fact, that we should begin to arrange matters." "Is it to be an ordinary combat, and conducted according to established custom?"
"Let me first know what your established custom is."
"That we dismount in any particular open space that may suit us, fasten our horses to the nearest object, meet, each without our pistols in our hands, and afterwards retire for a hundred and fifty paces, in order to advance on each other."
"Very good; that is precisely the way in which I killed
poor Follivent, three weeks ago, at
"I beg your pardon, but you forgot one circumstance."
"What is that?"
"That in your duel with Follivent you advanced towards each other on foot, your swords between your teeth, and your pistols in your hands."
"While now, on the contrary, as you cannot walk, you yourself admit that we shall have to mount our horses again, and charge; and the first who wishes to fire will do so."
"That is the best course, no doubt; but it is quite dark; we must make allowances for more missed shots than would be the case in the daytime."
"Very well; each will fire three times; the pair of pistols already loaded, and one reload."
"Excellent! Where shall our engagement take place?"
"Have you any preference?"
"You see that small wood which lies before us?"
"The wood which is called Rochin?"
"You know it?"
"You know that there is an open glade in the center?"
"Well, this glade is admirably adapted for such a purpose, with a variety of roads, by-places, paths, ditches, windings, and avenues. We could not find a better spot."
"I am perfectly satisfied, if you are so. We are at our destination, if I am not mistaken."
"Yes. Look at the beautiful open space in the center. The faint light which the stars afford seems concentrated in this spot; the woods which surround it seem, with their barriers, to form its natural limits."
"Very good. Do as you say."
"Let us first settle the conditions."
"These are mine; if you have any objection to make you will state it."
"I am listening."
"If the horse be killed, its rider will be obliged to fight on foot."
"That is a matter of course, since we have no change of horses here."
"But that does not oblige his adversary to dismount."
"His adversary will, in fact, be free to act as he likes."
"The adversaries, having once met in close contact, cannot quit each other under any circumstances, and may, consequently, fire muzzle to muzzle."
"Three shots and no more will do, I suppose?"
"Quite sufficient, I think. Here are powder and balls for your pistols; measure out three charges, take three balls, I will do the same; then we will throw the rest of the powder and balls away."
"And we will solemnly swear," said De Wardes, "that we have neither balls nor powder about us?"
"Agreed; and I swear it," said De Guiche, holding his hand towards heaven, a gesture which De Wardes imitated.
"And now, my dear comte," said De Wardes, "allow me to tell you that I am in no way your dupe. You already are, or soon will be, the accepted lover of Madame. I have detected your secret, and you are afraid I shall tell others of it. You wish to kill me, to insure my silence; that is very clear; and in your place, I should do the same." De Guiche hung down his head. "Only," continued De Wardes, triumphantly, "was it really worth while, tell me, to throw this affair of Bragelonne's on my shoulders? But, take care, my dear fellow; in bringing the wild boar to bay, you enrage him to madness; in running down the fox, you endow him with the ferocity of the jaguar. The consequence is, that brought to bay by you, I shall defend myself to the very last."
"You will be quite right to do so."
"Yes; but take care; I shall work more harm than you think. In the first place, as a beginning, you will readily suppose that I have not been absurd enough to lock up my secret, or your secret rather, in my own breast. There is a friend of mine, who resembles me in every way, a man whom you know very well, who shares my secret with me; so, pray understand, that if you kill me, my death will not have been of much service to you; whilst, on the contrary, if I kill you - and everything is possible, you know - you understand?" De Guiche shuddered. "If I kill you," continued De Wardes, "you will have secured two mortal enemies to Madame, who will do their very utmost to ruin her."
"Oh! monsieur," exclaimed De Guiche, furiously, "do not reckon upon my death so easily. Of the two enemies you speak of, I trust most heartily to dispose of one immediately, and the other at the earliest opportunity."
The only reply De Wardes made was a burst of laughter, so diabolical in its sound, that a superstitious man would have been terrified. But De Guiche was not so impressionable as that. "I think," he said, "that everything is now settled, Monsieur de Wardes; so have the goodness to take your place first, unless you would prefer me to do so."
"By no means," said De Wardes. "I shall be delighted to save you the slightest trouble." And spurring his horse to a gallop, he crossed the wide open space, and took his stand at that point of the circumference of the cross-road immediately opposite to where De Guiche was stationed. De Guiche remained motionless. At this distance of a hundred paces, the two adversaries were absolutely invisible to each other, being completely concealed by the thick shade of elms and chestnuts. A minute elapsed amidst the profoundest silence. At the end of the minute, each of them, in the deep shade in which he was concealed, heard the double click of the trigger, as they put the pistols on full cock. De Guiche, adopting the usual tactics, put his horse to a gallop, persuaded that he should render his safety doubly sure by the movement, as well as by the speed of the animal. He directed his course in a straight line towards the point where, in his opinion, De Wardes would be stationed; and he expected to meet De Wardes about half-way; but in this he was mistaken. He continued his course, presuming that his adversary was impatiently awaiting his approach. When, however, he had gone about two-thirds of the distance, he beheld the trees suddenly illuminated and a ball flew by, cutting the plume of his hat in two. Nearly at the same moment, and as if the flash of the first shot had served to indicate the direction of the other, a second report was heard, and a second ball passed through the head of De Guiche's horse, a little below the ear. The animal fell. These two reports, proceeding from the very opposite direction in which he expected to find De Wardes, surprised him a great deal; but as he was a man of amazing self-possession, he prepared himself for his horse falling, but not so completely, however, that the toe of his boot escaped being caught under the animal as it fell. Very fortunately the horse in its dying agonies moved so as to enable him to release the leg which was less entangled than the other. De Guiche rose, felt himself all over, and found that he was not wounded. At the very moment he had felt the horse tottering under him, he placed his pistols in the holsters, afraid that the force of the fall might explode one at least, if not both of them, by which he would have been disarmed, and left utterly without defense. Once on his feet, he took the pistols out of the holsters, and advanced towards the spot where, by the light of the flash, he had seen De Wardes appear. De Wardes had, at the first shot, accounted for the maneuver, than which nothing could have been simpler. Instead of advancing to meet De Guiche, or remaining in his place to await his approach, De Wardes had, for about fifteen paces, followed the circle of the shadow which hid him from his adversary's observation, and at the very moment when the latter presented his flank in his career, he had fired from the place where he stood, carefully taking aim, and assisted instead of being inconvenienced by the horse's gallop. It has been seen that, notwithstanding the darkness, the first ball passed hardly more than an inch above De Guiche's head. De Wardes had so confidently relied upon his aim, that he thought he had seen De Guiche fall; his astonishment was extreme when he saw he still remained erect in his saddle. He hastened to fire his second shot, but his hand trembled, and he killed the horse instead. It would be a most fortunate chance for him if De Guiche were to remain held fast under the animal. Before he could have freed himself, De Wardes would have loaded his pistol and had De Guiche at his mercy. But De Guiche, on the contrary, was up, and had three shots to fire. De Guiche immediately understood the position of affairs. It would be necessary to exceed De Wardes in rapidity of execution. He advanced, therefore, so as to reach him before he should have had time to reload his pistol. De Wardes saw him approaching like a tempest. The ball was rather tight, and offered some resistance to the ramrod. To load carelessly would be simply to lose his last chance; to take the proper care in loading meant fatal loss of time, or rather, throwing away his life. He made his horse bound on one side. De Guiche turned round also, and, at the moment the horse was quiet again, fired, and the ball carried off De Wardes's hat from his head. De Wardes now knew that he had a moment's time at his own disposal; he availed himself of it in order to finish loading his pistol. De Guiche, noticing that his adversary did not fall, threw the pistol he had just discharged aside, and walked straight towards De Wardes, elevating the second pistol as he did so. He had hardly proceeded more than two or three paces, when De Wardes took aim at him as he was walking, and fired. An exclamation of anger was De Guiche's answer; the comte's arm contracted and dropped motionless by his side, and the pistol fell from his grasp. His anxiety was excessive. "I am lost," murmured De Wardes, "he is not mortally wounded." At the very moment, however, De Guiche was about to raise his pistol against De Wardes, the head, shoulders, and limbs of the comte seemed to collapse. He heaved a deep-drawn sigh, tottered, and fell at the feet of De Wardes's horse.
"That is all right," said De Wardes, and gathering up the reins, he struck his spurs into the horse's sides. The horse cleared the comte's motionless body, and bore De Wardes rapidly back to the château. When he arrived there, he remained a quarter of an hour deliberating within himself as to the proper course to be adopted. In his impatience to leave the field of battle, he had omitted to ascertain whether De Guiche were dead or not. A double hypothesis presented itself to De Wardes's agitated mind; either De Guiche was killed, or De Guiche was wounded only. If he were killed, why should he leave his body in that manner to the tender mercies of the wolves; it was a perfectly useless piece of cruelty, for if De Guiche were dead, he certainly could not breathe a syllable of what had passed; if he were not killed, why should he, De Wardes, in leaving him there uncared for, allow himself to be regarded as a savage, incapable of one generous feeling? This last consideration determined his line of conduct.
De Wardes immediately instituted inquires after Manicamp. He was told that Manicamp had been looking after De Guiche, and, not knowing where to find him, had retired to bed. De Wardes went and awoke the sleeper, without any delay, and related the whole affair to him, which Manicamp listened to in perfect silence, but with an expression of momentarily increasing energy, of which his face could hardly have been supposed capable. It was only when De Wardes had finished, that Manicamp uttered the words, "Let us go."
As they proceeded, Manicamp became more and more excited, and in proportion as De Wardes related the details of the affair to him, his countenance assumed every moment a darker expression. "And so," he said, when De Wardes had finished, "you think he is dead?"
"Alas, I do." "And you fought in that manner, without witnesses?"
"He insisted upon it."
"It is very singular."
"What do you mean by saying it is singular?"
"That it is very unlike Monsieur de Guiche's disposition."
"You do not doubt my word, I suppose?"
"You do doubt it, then?"
"A little. But I shall doubt it more than ever, I warn you, if I find the poor fellow is really dead."
"Monsieur de Wardes!"
"It seems you intend to insult me."
"Just as you please. The fact is, I never did like people who come and say, 'I have killed such and such a gentleman in a corner; it is a great pity, but I killed him in a perfectly honorable manner.' It has an ugly appearance, M. de Wardes."
"Silence! we have arrived."
In fact, the glade could now be seen, and in the open space lay the motionless body of the dead horse. To the right of the horse, upon the dark grass, with his face against the ground, the poor comte lay, bathed in his blood. He had remained in the same spot, and did not even seem to have made the slightest movement. Manicamp threw himself on his knees, lifted the comte in his arms, and found him quite cold, and steeped in blood. He let him gently fall again. Then, stretching out his hand and feeling all over the ground close to where the comte lay, he sought until he found De Guiche's pistol.
"By Heaven!" he said, rising to his feet, pale as death and with the pistol in his hand, "you are not mistaken, he is quite dead."
"Dead!" repeated De Wardes.
"Yes; and his pistol is still loaded," added Manicamp, looking into the pan.
"But I told you that I took aim as he was walking towards me, and fired at him at the very moment he was going to fire at me."
"Are you quite sure that you fought with him, Monsieur
de Wardes? I confess that I am very much
afraid it has been a foul assassination.
Nay, nay, no exclamations! You
have had your three shots, and his pistol is still loaded. You have killed his horse, and he, De Guiche,
one of the best marksmen in
"Monsieur Manicamp, you cannot think of such a thing!"
"On the contrary, I am thinking of it very strongly."
"Would you assassinate me?"
"Without the slightest remorse, at least for the present."
"Are you a gentleman?"
"I have given a great many proofs of that."
"Let me defend my life, then, at least."
"Very likely; in order, I suppose, that you may do to me what you have done to poor De Guiche."
And Manicamp slowly raised his pistol to the height of De Wardes's breast, and with arm stretched out, and a fixed, determined look on his face, took a careful aim.
De Wardes did not attempt a flight; he was completely terrified. In the midst, however, of this horrible silence, which lasted about a second, but which seemed an age to De Wardes, a faint sigh was heard.
"Oh," exclaimed De Wardes, "he still lives! Help, De Guiche, I am about to be assassinated!"
Manicamp fell back a step or two, and the two young men saw the comte raise himself slowly and painfully upon one hand. Manicamp threw the pistol away a dozen paces, and ran to his friend, uttering a cry of delight. De Wardes wiped his forehead, which was covered with a cold perspiration.
"It was just in time," he murmured.
"Where are you hurt?" inquired Manicamp of De Guiche, "and whereabouts are you wounded?"
De Guiche showed him his mutilated hand and his chest covered with blood.
"Comte," exclaimed De Wardes, "I am accused of having assassinated you; speak, I implore you, and say that I fought loyally."
"Perfectly so," said the wounded man; "Monsieur de Wardes fought quite loyally, and whoever says the contrary will make an enemy of me."
"Then, sir," said Manicamp, "assist me, in the first place, to carry this gentleman home, and I will afterwards give you every satisfaction you please; or, if you are in a hurry, we can do better still; let us stanch the blood from the comte's wounds here, with your pocket-handkerchief and mine, and then, as there are two shots left, we can have them between us."
"Thank you," said De Wardes. "Twice already, in one hour, I have seen death too close at hand to be agreeable; I don't like his look at all, and I prefer your apologies."
Manicamp burst out laughing, and Guiche, too, in spite of
his sufferings. The two young men wished
to carry him, but he declared he felt quite strong enough to walk alone. The ball had broken his ring-finger and his
little finger, and then had glanced along his side, but without penetrating
deeply into his chest. It was the pain
rather than the seriousness of the wound, therefore, which had overcome De
Guiche. Manicamp passed his arm under
one of the count's shoulders, and De Wardes did the same with the other, and in
this way they brought him back to
The king, while these matters were being arranged, was sitting at the supper-table, and the not very large number of guests for that day had taken their seats too, after the usual gesture intimating the royal permission. At this period of Louis XIV.'s reign, although etiquette was not governed by the strict regulations subsequently adopted, the French court had entirely thrown aside the traditions of good-fellowship and patriarchal affability existing in the time of Henry IV., which the suspicious mind of Louis XIII. had gradually replaced with pompous state and ceremony, which he despaired of being able fully to realize.
The king, therefore, was seated alone at a small separate table, which, like the desk of a president, overlooked the adjoining tables. Although we say a small table, we must not omit to add that this small table was the largest one there. Moreover, it was the one on which were placed the greatest number and quantity of dishes, consisting of fish, game, meat, fruit, vegetables, and preserves. The king was young and full of vigor and energy, very fond of hunting, addicted to all violent exercises of the body, possessing, besides, like all the members of the Bourbon family, a rapid digestion and an appetite speedily renewed. Louis XIV. was a formidable table-companion; he delighted in criticising his cooks; but when he honored them by praise and commendation, the honor was overwhelming. The king began by eating several kinds of soup, either mixed together or taken separately. He intermixed, or rather separated, each of the soups by a glass of old wine. He ate quickly and somewhat greedily. Porthos, who from the beginning had, out of respect, been waiting for a jog of D'Artagnan's arm, seeing the king make such rapid progress, turned to the musketeer and said in a low voice:
"It seems as if one might go on now; his majesty is very encouraging, from the example he sets. Look."
"The king eats," said D'Artagnan, "but he talks at the same time; try and manage matters in such a manner that, if he should happen to address a remark to you, he will not find you with your mouth full - which would be very disrespectful."
"The best way, in that case," said Porthos, "is to eat no supper at all; and yet I am very hungry, I admit, and everything looks and smells most invitingly, as if appealing to all my senses at once."
"Don't think of not eating for a moment," said D'Artagnan; "that would put his majesty out terribly. The king has a saying, 'that he who works well, eats well,' and he does not like people to eat indifferently at his table."
"How can I avoid having my mouth full if I eat?" said Porthos.
"All you have to do," replied the captain of the musketeers, "is simply to swallow what you have in it, whenever the king does you the honor to address a remark to you."
"Very good," said Porthos; and from that moment he began to eat with a certain well-bred enthusiasm.
The king occasionally looked at the different persons who were at table with him, and, en connoisseur, could appreciate the different dispositions of his guests.
"Monsieur du Vallon!" he said.
Porthos was enjoying a salmi de lièvre, and swallowed half of the back. His name, pronounced in such a manner, made him start, and by a vigorous effort of his gullet he absorbed the whole mouthful.
"Sire," replied Porthos, in a stifled voice, but sufficiently intelligible, nevertheless.
"Let those filets d'agneau be handed to Monsieur du Vallon," said the king; "do you like brown meats, M. du Vallon?"
"Sire, I like everything," replied Porthos.
D'Artagnan whispered: "Everything your majesty sends me."
Porthos repeated: "Everything your majesty sends me," an observation which the king apparently received with great satisfaction.
"People eat well who work well," replied the king, delighted to have en tête-à-tête a guest who could eat as Porthos did. Porthos received the dish of lamb, and put a portion of it on his plate.
"Well?" said the king.
"Exquisite," said Porthos, calmly.
"Have you as good mutton in your part of the country, Monsieur du Vallon?" continued the king.
"Sire, I believe that from my own province, as everywhere else, the
best of everything is sent to
"Ah, ah! and how do you eat it?"
"Generally, I have a lamb dressed whole."
"In what manner, Monsieur du Vallon?"
"In this, sire: my cook, who is a German, first stuffs the lamb in question with small sausages he procures from Strasburg, force-meat balls from Troyes, and larks from Pithiviers; by some means or other, which I am not acquainted with, he bones the lamb as he would do a fowl, leaving the skin on, however, which forms a brown crust all over the animal; when it is cut in beautiful slices, in the same way as an enormous sausage, a rose-colored gravy pours forth, which is as agreeable to the eye as it is exquisite to the palate." And Porthos finished by smacking his lips.
The king opened his eyes with delight, and, while cutting some of the faisan en daube, which was being handed to him, he said:
"That is a dish I should very much like to taste, Monsieur du Vallon. Is it possible! a whole lamb!"
"Absolutely an entire lamb, sire."
"Pass those pheasants to M. du Vallon; I perceive he is an amateur."
The order was immediately obeyed. Then, continuing the conversation, he said: "And you do not find the lamb too fat?"
"No, sire, the fat falls down at the same time as the gravy does, and swims on the surface; then the servant who carves removes the fat with a spoon, which I have had expressly made for that purpose."
"Where do you reside?" inquired the king.
"Oh, no, sire!
"I thought you alluded to the lamb on account of the salt marshes."
"No, sire, I have marshes which are not salt, it is true, but which are not the less valuable on that account."
The king had now arrived at the entrements, but without losing sight of Porthos, who continued to play his part in the best manner.
"You have an excellent appetite, M. du Vallon," said the king, "and you make an admirable guest at table."
"Ah! sire, if your majesty were ever to pay a visit to
D'Artagnan gave Porthos a kick under the table, which made Porthos color up.
"At your majesty's present happy age," said Porthos, in order to repair the mistake he had made, "I was in the musketeers, and nothing could ever satisfy me then. Your majesty has an excellent appetite, as I have already had the honor of mentioning, but you select what you eat with quite too much refinement to be called for one moment a great eater."
The king seemed charmed at his guest's politeness.
"Will you try some of these creams?" he said to Porthos.
"Sire, you majesty treats me with far too much kindness to prevent me speaking the whole truth."
"Pray do so, M. du Vallon."
"Will, sire, with regard to sweet dishes I only recognize pastry, and even that should be rather solid; all these frothy substances swell the stomach, and occupy a space which seems to me to be too precious to be so badly tenanted."
"Ah! gentlemen," said the king, indicating Porthos by a gesture, "here is indeed a model of gastronomy. It was in such a manner that our fathers, who so well knew what good living was, used to eat, while we," added his majesty, "do nothing but tantalize with our stomachs." And as he spoke, he took the breast of a chicken with ham, while Porthos attacked a dish of partridges and quails. The cup-bearer filled his majesty's glass. "Give M. du Vallon some of my wine," said the king. This was one of the greatest honors of the royal table. D'Artagnan pressed his friend's knee. "If you could only manage to swallow the half of that boar's head I see yonder," said he to Porthos, "I shall believe you will be a duke and peer within the next twelvemonth."
"Presently," said Porthos, phlegmatically; "I shall come to that by and by."
In fact it was not long before it came to the boar's turn, for the king seemed to take pleasure in urging on his guest; he did not pass any of the dishes to Porthos until he had tasted them himself, and he accordingly took some of the boar's head. Porthos showed that he could keep pace with his sovereign; and, instead of eating the half, as D'Artagnan had told him, he ate three-fourths of it. "It is impossible," said the king in an undertone, "that a gentleman who eats so good a supper every day, and who has such beautiful teeth, can be otherwise than the most straightforward, upright man in my kingdom."
"Do you hear?" said D'Artagnan in his friend's ear.
"Yes; I think I am rather in favor," said Porthos, balancing himself on his chair.
"Oh! you are in luck's way."
The king and Porthos continued to eat in the same manner, to the great satisfaction of the other guests, some of whom, from emulation, had attempted to follow them, but were obliged to give up half-way. The king soon began to get flushed and the reaction of the blood to his face announced that the moment of repletion had arrived. It was then that Louis XIV., instead of becoming gay and cheerful, as most good livers generally do, became dull, melancholy, and taciturn. Porthos, on the contrary, was lively and communicative. D'Artagnan's foot had more than once to remind him of this peculiarity of the king. The dessert now made its appearance. The king had ceased to think anything further of Porthos; he turned his eyes anxiously towards the entrance-door, and he was heard occasionally to inquire how it happened that Monsieur de Saint-Aignan was so long in arriving. At last, at the moment when his majesty was finishing a pot of preserved plums with a deep sigh, Saint-Aignan appeared. The king's eyes, which had become somewhat dull, immediately began to sparkle. The comte advanced towards the king's table, and Louis rose at his approach. Everybody got up at the same time, including Porthos, who was just finishing an almond-cake capable of making the jaws of a crocodile stick together. The supper was over.
The king took Saint-Aignan by the arm, and passed into the adjoining apartment. "What has detained you, comte?" said the king.
"I was bringing the answer, sire," replied the comte.
"She has taken a long time to reply to what I wrote her."
"Sire, your majesty deigned to write in verse, and Mademoiselle de la Vallière wished to repay your majesty in the same coin; that is to say, in gold."
Saint-Aignan," exclaimed the king in ecstasy. "Give them to me at once." And Louis broke the seal of a little letter,
inclosing the verses which history has preserved entire for us, and which are
more meritorious in invention than in execution. Such as they were, however, the king was
enchanted with them, and exhibited his satisfaction by unequivocal transports
of delight; but the universal silence which reigned in the rooms warned Louis,
so sensitively particular with regard to good breeding, that his delight must
give rise to various interpretations. He
turned aside and put the note in his pocket, and then advancing a few steps,
which brought him again to the threshold of the door close to his guests, he
said, "M. du Vallon, I have seen you to-day with the greatest pleasure,
and my pleasure will be equally great to see you again." Porthos bowed as the
The apartment was immediately cleared of the guests. The king took Saint-Aignan by the arm, made him read La Vallière's verses over again, and said, "What do you think of them?"
"They charm me, in fact, and if they were known - "
"Oh! the professional poets would be jealous of them; but it is not likely they will know anything about them."
"Did you give her mine?"
"Oh! sire, she positively devoured them."
"They were very weak, I am afraid."
"That is not what Mademoiselle de la Vallière said of them."
"Do you think she was pleased with them?"
"I am sure of it, sire."
"I must answer, then."
"Oh! sire, immediately after supper? Your majesty will fatigue yourself."
"You are quite right; study after eating is notoriously injurious."
"The labor of a poet especially so; and besides, there is great excitement prevailing at Mademoiselle de la Vallière's."
"What do you mean?"
"With her as with all the ladies of the court."
"On account of poor De Guiche's accident."
"Has anything serious happened to De Guiche, then?"
"Yes, sire, he has one hand nearly destroyed, a hole in his breast; in fact, he is dying."
"Good heavens! who told you that?"
"Manicamp brought him back just now to the house of a
doctor here in
"Brought back! Poor De Guiche; and how did it happen?"
"Ah! that is the very question, - how did it happen?"
"You say that in a very singular manner, Saint-Aignan. Give me the details. What does he say himself?"
"He says nothing, sire; but others do."
"Those who brought him back, sire."
"Who are they?"
"I do not know, sire; but M. de Manicamp knows. M. de Manicamp is one of his friends."
"As everybody is, indeed," said the king.
"Oh! no!" returned Saint-Aignan, "you are mistaken sire; every one is not precisely a friend of M. de Guiche."
"How do you know that?"
"Does your majesty require me to explain myself?"
"Certainly I do."
"Well, sire, I believe I have heard something said about a quarrel between two gentlemen."
"This very evening, before your majesty's supper was served."
"That can hardly be. I have issued such stringent and severe ordinances with respect to duelling, that no one, I presume, would dare to disobey them."
"In that case, Heaven preserve me from excusing any one!" exclaimed Saint-Aignan. "Your majesty commanded me to speak, and I spoke accordingly."
"Tell me, then, in what way the Comte de Guiche has been wounded?"
"Sire, it is said to have been at a boar-hunt."
"One of his hands shattered, and a hole in his breast. Who was at the hunt with M. de Guiche?"
"I do not know, sire; but M. de Manicamp knows, or ought to know."
"You are concealing something from me, Saint-Aignan."
"Nothing, sire, I assure you."
"Then, explain to me how the accident happened; was it a musket that burst?"
"Very likely, sire. But yet, on reflection, it could hardly have been that, for De Guiche's pistol was found close by him still loaded."
"His pistol? But a man does not go to a boar-hunt with a pistol, I should think."
"Sire, it is also said that De Guiche's horse was killed and that the horse is still to be found in the wide open glade in the forest."
"His horse? - Guiche go on horseback to a boar-hunt? - Saint-Aignan, I do not understand a syllable of what you have been telling me. Where did this affair happen?"
"At the Rond-point, in that part of the forest called the Bois-Rochin."
"That will do. Call M. d'Artagnan." Saint-Aignan obeyed, and the musketeer entered.
"Monsieur d'Artagnan," said the king, "you will leave this place by the little door of the private staircase."
"You will mount your horse."
"And you will proceed to the Rond-point du Bois-Rochin. Do you know the spot?"
"Yes, sire. I have fought there twice."
"What!" exclaimed the king, amazed at the reply.
"Under the edicts, sire, of Cardinal Richelieu," returned D'Artagnan, with his usual impassability.
"That is very different, monsieur. You will, therefore, go there, and will examine the locality very carefully. A man has been wounded there, and you will find a horse lying dead. You will tell me what your opinion is upon the whole affair."
"Very good, sire."
"As a matter of course, it is your own opinion I require, and not that of any one else."
"You shall have it in an hour's time, sire."
"I prohibit your speaking with any one, whoever it may be."
"Except with the person who must give me a lantern," said D'Artagnan.
"Oh! that is a matter of course," said the king, laughing at the liberty, which he tolerated in no one but his captain of the musketeers. D'Artagnan left by the little staircase.
"Now, let my physician be sent for," said Louis. Ten minutes afterwards the king's physician arrived, quite out of breath.
"You will go, monsieur," said the king to him, "and accompany M. de Saint-Aignan wherever he may take you; you will render me an account of the state of the person you may see in the house you will be taken to." The physician obeyed without a remark, as at that time people began to obey Louis XIV., and left the room preceding Saint-Aignan.
"Do you, Saint-Aignan, send Manicamp to me, before the physician can possibly have spoken to him." And Saint-Aignan left in his turn.
While the king was engaged in making these last-mentioned arrangements in order to ascertain the truth, D'Artagnan, without losing a second, ran to the stable, took down the lantern, saddled his horse himself, and proceeded towards the place his majesty had indicated. According to the promise he had made, he had not accosted any one; and, as we have observed, he had carried his scruples so far as to do without the assistance of the stable-helpers altogether. D'Artagnan was one of those who in moments of difficulty pride themselves on increasing their own value. By dint of hard galloping, he in less than five minutes reached the wood, fastened his horse to the first tree he came to, and penetrated to the broad open space on foot. He then began to inspect most carefully, on foot and with his lantern in his hand, the whole surface of the Rond-point, went forward, turned back again, measured, examined, and after half an hour's minute inspection, he returned silently to where he had left his horse, and pursued his way in deep reflection and at a foot-pace to Fontainebleau. Louis was waiting in his cabinet; he was alone, and with a pencil was scribbling on paper certain lines which D'Artagnan at the first glance recognized as unequal and very much touched up. The conclusion he arrived at was, that they must be verses. The king raised his head and perceived D'Artagnan. "Well, monsieur," he said, "do you bring me any news?"
"What have you seen?"
"As far as probability goes, sire - " D'Artagnan began to reply.
"It was certainty I requested of you."
"I will approach it as near as I possibly can. The weather was very well adapted for investigations of the character I have just made; it has been raining this evening, and the roads were wet and muddy - "
"Well, the result, M. d'Artagnan?"
"Sire, your majesty told me that there was a horse lying dead in the cross-road of the Bois-Rochin, and I began, therefore, by studying the roads. I say the roads, because the center of the cross-road is reached by four separate roads. The one that I myself took was the only one that presented any fresh traces. Two horses had followed it side by side; their eight feet were marked very distinctly in the clay. One of the riders was more impatient than the other, for the footprints of the one were invariably in advance of the other about half a horse's length."
"Are you quite sure they were traveling together?" said the king.
"Yes sire. The horses are two rather large animals of equal pace, - horses well used to maneuvers of all kinds, for they wheeled round the barrier of the Rond-point together."
"Well - and after?"
"The two cavaliers paused there for a minute, no doubt to arrange the conditions of the engagement; the horses grew restless and impatient. One of the riders spoke, while the other listened and seemed to have contented himself by simply answering. His horse pawed the ground, which proves that his attention was so taken up by listening that he let the bridle fall from his hand."
"A hostile meeting did take place then?"
"Continue; you are a very accurate observer."
"One of the two cavaliers remained where he was standing, the one, in fact, who had been listening; the other crossed the open space, and at first placed himself directly opposite to his adversary. The one who had remained stationary traversed the Rond-point at a gallop, about two-thirds of its length, thinking that by this means he would gain upon his opponent; but the latter had followed the circumference of the wood."
"You are ignorant of their names, I suppose?"
"Completely so, sire. Only he who followed the circumference of the wood was mounted on a black horse."
"How do you know that?"
"I found a few hairs of his tail among the brambles which bordered the sides of the ditch."
"As for the other horse, there can be no trouble in describing him, since he was left dead on the field of battle."
"What was the cause of his death?"
"A ball which had passed through his brain."
"Was the ball that of a pistol or a gun?"
"It was a pistol-bullet, sire. Besides, the manner in which the horse was wounded explained to me the tactics of the man who had killed it. He had followed the circumference of the wood in order to take his adversary in flank. Moreover, I followed his foot-tracks on the grass."
"The tracks of the black horse, do you mean?"
"Go on, Monsieur d'Artagnan."
"As your majesty now perceives the position of the two adversaries, I will, for a moment, leave the cavalier who had remained stationary for the one who started off at a gallop."
"The horse of the cavalier who rode at full speed was killed on the spot."
"How do you know that?"
"The cavalier had not time even to throw himself off his horse, and so fell with it. I observed the impression of his leg, which, with a great effort, he was enabled to extricate from under the horse. The spur, pressed down by the weight of the animal, had plowed up the ground."
"Very good; and what did he do as soon as he rose up again?"
"He walked straight up to his adversary."
"Who still remained upon the verge of the forest?"
"Yes, sire. Then, having reached a favorable distance, he stopped firmly, for the impression of both his heels are left in the ground quite close to each other, fired, and missed his adversary."
"How do you know he did not hit him?"
"I found a hat with a ball through it."
"Ah, a proof, then!" exclaimed the king.
"Insufficient, sire," replied D'Artagnan, coldly; "it is a hat without any letters indicating its ownership, without arms; a red feather, as all hats have; the lace, even, had nothing particular in it."
"Did the man with the hat through which the bullet had passed fire a second time?"
"Oh, sire, he had already fired twice."
"How did you ascertain that?"
"I found the waddings of the pistol."
"And what became of the bullet which did not kill the horse?"
"It cut in two the feather of the hat belonging to him against whom it was directed, and broke a small birch at the other end of the open glade."
"In that case, then, the man on the black horse was disarmed, whilst his adversary had still one more shot to fire?"
"Sire, while the dismounted rider was extricating himself from his horse, the other was reloading his pistol. Only, he was much agitated while he was loading it, and his hand trembled greatly."
"How do you know that?"
"Half the charge fell to the ground, and he threw the ramrod aside, not having time to replace it in the pistol."
"Monsieur d'Artagnan, this is marvellous you tell me."
"It is only close observation, sire, and the commonest highwayman could tell as much."
"The whole scene is before me from the manner in which you relate it."
"I have, in fact, reconstructed it in my own mind, with merely a few alterations."
"And now," said the king, "let us return to the dismounted cavalier. You were saying that he walked towards his adversary while the latter was loading his pistol."
"Yes; but at the very moment he himself was taking aim, the other fired."
"Oh!" said the king; "and the shot?"
"The shot told terribly, sire; the dismounted cavalier fell upon his face, after having staggered forward three or four paces."
"Where was he hit?"
"In two places; in the first place, in his right hand, and then, by the same bullet, in his chest."
"But how could you ascertain that?" inquired the king, full of admiration.
"By a very simple means; the butt end of the pistol was covered with blood, and the trace of the bullet could be observed, with fragments of a broken ring. The wounded man, in all probability, had the ring-finger and the little finger carried off."
"As far as the hand goes, I have nothing to say; but the chest?"
"Sire, there were two small pools of blood, at a distance of about two feet and a half from each other. At one of these pools of blood the grass was torn up by the clenched hand; at the other, the grass was simply pressed down by the weight of the body."
"Poor De Guiche!" exclaimed the king.
"Ah! it was M. de Guiche, then?" said the musketeer, quietly. "I suspected it, but did not venture to mention it to your majesty."
"And what made you suspect it?"
"I recognized the De Gramont arms upon the holsters of the dead horse."
"And you think he is seriously wounded?"
"Very seriously, since he fell immediately, and remained a long time in the same place; however, he was able to walk, as he left the spot, supported by two friends."
"You met him returning, then?"
"No; but I observed the footprints of three men; the one on the right and the one on the left walked freely and easily, but the one in the middle dragged his feet as he walked; besides, he left traces of blood at every step he took."
"Now, monsieur, since you saw the combat so distinctly that not a single detail seems to have escaped you, tell me something about De Guiche's adversary."
"Oh, sire, I do not know him."
"And yet you see everything very clearly."
"Yes, sire, I see everything; but I do not tell all I see; and, since the poor devil has escaped, your majesty will permit me to say that I do not intend to denounce him."
"And yet he is guilty, since he has fought a duel, monsieur."
"Not guilty in my eyes, sire," said D'Artagnan, coldly.
"Monsieur!" exclaimed the king, "are you aware of what you are saying?"
"Perfectly, sire; but, according to my notions, a man who fights a duel is a brave man; such, at least, is my own opinion; but your majesty may have another, it is but natural, for you are master here."
"Monsieur d'Artagnan, I ordered you, however - "
D'Artagnan interrupted the king by a respectful gesture. "You ordered me, sire, to gather what particulars I could, respecting a hostile meeting that had taken place; those particulars you have. If you order me to arrest M. de Guiche's adversary, I will do so; but do not order me to denounce him to you, for in that case I will not obey."
"Very well! Arrest him, then."
"Give me his name, sire."
The king stamped his foot angrily; but after a moment's reflection, he said, "You are right - ten times, twenty times, a hundred times right."
"That is my opinion, sire: I am happy that, this time, it accords with your majesty's."
"One word more. Who assisted Guiche?"
"I do not know, sire."
"But you speak of two men. There was a person present, then, as second."
"There was no second, sire. Nay, more than that, when M. de Guiche fell, his adversary fled without giving him any assistance."
"The miserable coward!" exclaimed the king.
"The consequence of your ordinances, sire. If a man has fought well, and fairly, and has already escaped one chance of death, he naturally wishes to escape a second. M. de Bouteville cannot be forgotten very easily."
"And so, men turn cowards."
"No, they become prudent."
"And he has fled, then, you say?"
"Yes; and as fast as his horse could possibly carry him."
"In what direction?"
"In the direction of the château."
"Well, and after that?"
"Afterwards, as I have had the honor of telling your majesty, two men on foot arrived, who carried M. de Guiche back with them."
"What proof have you that these men arrived after the combat?"
"A very evident proof, sire; at the moment the encounter took place, the rain had just ceased, the ground had not had time to imbibe the moisture, and was, consequently, soaked; the footsteps sank in the ground; but while M. de Guiche was lying there in a fainting condition, the ground became firm again, and the footsteps made a less sensible impression."
Louis clapped his hands together in sign of admiration. "Monsieur d'Artagnan," he said, "you are positively the cleverest man in my kingdom."
"The identical thing M. de Richelieu thought, and M. de Mazarin said, sire."
"And now, it remains for us to see if your sagacity is at fault."
"Oh! sire, a man may be mistaken; humanum est errare," said the musketeer, philosophically. 
"In that case, you are not human, Monsieur d'Artagnan, for I believe you are never mistaken."
"Your majesty said that we were going to see whether such was the case, or not."
"In what way, may I venture to ask?"
"I have sent for M. de Manicamp, and M. de Manicamp is coming."
"And M. de Manicamp knows the secret?" "De Guiche has no secrets from M. de Manicamp."
D'Artagnan shook his head. "No one was present at the combat, I repeat; and unless M. de Manicamp was one of the two men who brought him back - "
"Hush!" said the king, "he is coming; remain, and listen attentively."
"Very good, sire."
And, at the very same moment, Manicamp and Saint-Aignan appeared at the threshold of the door.
The king signified with an imperious gesture, first to the musketeer, then to Saint-Aignan, "On your lives, not a word." D'Artagnan withdrew, like a sentinel, to a corner of the room; Saint-Aignan, in his character of a favorite, leaned over the back of the king's chair. Manicamp, with his right foot properly advanced, a smile upon his lips, and his white and well-formed hands gracefully disposed, advanced to make his reverence to the king, who returned the salutation by a bow. "Good evening, M. de Manicamp," he said.
"Your majesty did me the honor to send for me," said Manicamp.
"Yes, in order to learn from you all the details of the unfortunate accident which has befallen the Comte de Guiche."
"Oh! sire, it is grievous indeed."
"You were there?"
"Not precisely, sire."
"But you arrived on the scene of the accident, a few minutes after it took place?"
"Sire, about half an hour afterwards."
"And where did the accident happen?"
"I believe, sire, the place is called the Rond-point du Bois-Rochin."
"Oh! the rendezvous of the hunt."
"The very spot, sire."
"Good; give me all the details you are acquainted with, respecting this unhappy affair, Monsieur de Manicamp."
"Perhaps your majesty has already been informed of them, and I fear to fatigue you with useless repetition."
"No, do not be afraid of that."
Manicamp looked round him; he saw only D'Artagnan leaning with his back against the wainscot - D'Artagnan, calm, kind, and good-natured as usual - and Saint-Aignan whom he had accompanied, and who still leaned over the king's armchair with an expression of countenance equally full of good feeling. He determined, therefore, to speak out. "Your majesty is perfectly aware," he said, "that accidents are very frequent in hunting."
"In hunting, do you say?"
"I mean, sire, when an animal is brought to bay."
"Ah, ah!" said the king, "it was when the animal was brought to bay, then, that the accident happened?"
"Alas! sire, unhappily it was."
The king paused for a moment before he said: "What animal was being hunted?"
"A wild boar, sire."
"And what could possibly have possessed De Guiche to go to a wild boar-hunt by himself; that is but a clownish idea of sport, only fit for that class of people who, unlike the Maréchal de Gramont, have no dogs and huntsmen, to hunt as gentlemen should do."
Manicamp shrugged his shoulders. "Youth is very rash," he said, sententiously.
"Well, go on," said the king.
"At all events," continued Manicamp, not venturing to be too precipitate and hasty, and letting his words fall very slowly one by one, "at all events, sire, poor De Guiche went hunting - all alone."
"Quite alone? indeed? - What a sportsman! And is not M. de Guiche aware that the wild boar always stands at bay?"
"That is the very thing that really happened, sire."
"He had some idea, then, of the beast being there?"
"Yes, sire, some peasants had seen it among their potatoes." 
"And what kind of animal was it?"
"A short, thick beast."
"You may as well tell me, monsieur, that De Guiche had some idea of committing suicide; for I have seen him hunt, and he is an active and vigorous hunter. Whenever he fires at an animal brought to bay and held in check by the dogs, he takes every possible precaution, and yet he fires with a carbine, and on this occasion he seems to have faced the boar with pistols only."
"A costly pair of pistols, excellent weapons to fight a duel with a man and not a wild boar. What an absurdity!"
"There are some things, sire, which are difficult of explanation."
"You are quite right, and the event which we are now discussing is certainly one of them. Go on."
the recital, Saint-Aignan, who probably would have made a sign to Manicamp to
be careful what he was about, found that the king's glance was constantly fixed
upon himself, so that it was utterly impossible to communicate with Manicamp in
any way. As for D'Artagnan, the statue
of Silence at
"On foot or on horseback?" inquired the king.
"On horseback. He fired upon the brute and missed his aim, and then it dashed upon him."
"And the horse was killed."
"Ah! your majesty knows that, then."
"I have been told that a horse has been found lying dead in the cross-roads of the Bois-Rochin, and I presume it was De Guiche's horse."
"Perfectly true, sire, it was his."
"Well, so much for the horse, and now for De Guiche?"
"De Guiche, once down, was attacked and worried by the wild boar, and wounded in the hand and in the chest."
"It is a horrible accident, but it must be admitted it was De Guiche's own fault. How could he possibly have gone to hunt such an animal merely armed with pistols; he must have forgotten the fable of Adonis?"
Manicamp rubbed his ear in seeming perplexity. "Very true," he said, "it was very imprudent."
"Can you explain it, Monsieur Manicamp?"
"Sire, what is written is written!"
"Ah! you are a fatalist."
Manicamp looked very uncomfortable and ill at ease.
"I am angry with you, Monsieur Manicamp," continued the king.
"With me, sire?"
"Yes. How was it that you, who are De Guiche's intimate friend, and who know that he is subject to such acts of folly, did not stop him in time?"
Manicamp no longer knew what to do; the tone in which the king spoke was anything but that of a credulous man. On the other hand, it did not indicate any particular severity, nor did he seem to care very much about the cross-examination. There was more of raillery in it than menace. "And you say, then," continued the king, "that it was positively De Guiche's horse that was found dead?"
"Quite positive, sire."
"Did that astonish you?"
"No, sire; for your majesty will remember that, at the last hunt, M. de Saint-Maure had a horse killed under him, and in the same way."
"Yes, but that one was ripped open."
"Of course, sire."
"Had Guiche's horse been ripped open like M. de Saint-Maure's horse, I should not have been astonished."
Manicamp opened his eyes very wide.
"Am I mistaken," resumed the king, "was it not in the frontal bone that De Guiche's horse was struck? You must admit, Monsieur de Manicamp, that that is a very singular place for a wild boar to attack."
"You are aware, sire, that the horse is a very intelligent animal, and he doubtless endeavoured to defend himself."
"But a horse defends himself with his heels and not with his head."
"In that case, the terrified horse may have slipped or fallen down," said Manicamp, "and the boar, you understand sire, the boar - "
"Oh! I understand that perfectly, as far as the horse is concerned; but how about his rider?"
"Well! that, too, is simple enough; the boar left the horse and attacked the rider; and, as I have already had the honor of informing your majesty, shattered De Guiche's hand at the very moment he was about to discharge his second pistol at him, and then, with a gouge of his tusk, made that terrible hole in his chest."
"Nothing is more likely; really, Monsieur de Manicamp, you are wrong in placing so little confidence in your own eloquence, and you can tell a story most admirably."
"Your majesty is exceedingly kind," said Manicamp, saluting him in the most embarrassed manner.
"From this day henceforth, I will prohibit any gentleman attached to my court going out to a similar encounter. Really, one might just as well permit duelling."
Manicamp started, and moved as if he were about to withdraw. "Is your majesty satisfied?"
"Delighted; but do not withdraw yet, Monsieur de Manicamp," said Louis, "I have something to say to you."
"Well, well!" thought D'Artagnan, "there is another who is not up to the mark;" and he uttered a sigh which might signify, "Oh! the men of our stamp, where are they now?"
At this moment an usher lifted up the curtain before the door, and announced the king's physician.
"Ah!" exclaimed Louis, "here comes Monsieur Valot, who has just been to see M. de Guiche. We shall now hear news of the man maltreated by the boar."
Manicamp felt more uncomfortable than ever.
"In this way, at least," added the king, "our conscience will be quite clear." And he looked at D'Artagnan, who did not seem in the slightest degree discomposed.
M. Valot entered. The position of the different persons present was precisely the same: the king was seated, Saint-Aignan leaning over the back of his armchair, D'Artagnan with his back against the wall, and Manicamp still standing.
"Well, M. Valot," said the king, "did you obey my directions?"
"With the greatest alacrity, sire."
"You went to the doctor's house in
"And you found M. de Guiche there?"
"I did, sire."
"What state was he in? - speak unreservedly."
"In a very sad state indeed, sire."
"The wild boar did not quite devour him, however?"
"What wild boar?"
"The boar that wounded him."
"M. de Guiche wounded by a boar?"
"So it is said, at least."
"By a poacher, rather, or by a jealous husband, or an ill-used lover, who, in order to be revenged, fired upon him."
"What is it that you say, Monsieur Valot? Were not M. de Guiche's wounds produced by defending himself against a wild boar?"
"M. de Guiche's wounds are the result of a pistol-bullet that broke his ring-finger and the little finger of the right hand, and afterwards buried itself in the intercostal muscles of the chest."
"A bullet! Are you sure Monsieur de Guiche was wounded by a bullet?" exclaimed the king, pretending to look much surprised.
"Indeed, I am, sire; so sure, in fact, that here it is." And he presented to the king a half-flattened bullet, which the king looked at, but did not touch.
"Did he have that in his chest, poor fellow?" he asked.
"Not precisely. The ball did not penetrate, but was flattened, as you see, either upon the trigger of the pistol or upon the right side of the breast-bone."
"Good heavens!" said the king, seriously, "you said nothing to me about this, Monsieur de Manicamp."
"Sire - "
"What does all this mean, then, this invention about hunting a wild boar at nightfall? Come, speak, monsieur."
"Sire - "
"It seems, then, that you are right," said the king, turning round towards his captain of musketeers, "and that a duel actually took place."
The king possessed, to a greater extent than any one else, the faculty enjoyed by the great in power or position, of compromising and dividing those beneath him. Manicamp darted a look full of reproaches at the musketeer. D'Artagnan understood the look at once, and not wishing to remain beneath the weight of such an accusation, advanced a step forward, and said: "Sire, your majesty commanded me to go and explore the place where the cross-roads meet in the Bois-Rochin, and to report to you, according to my own ideas, what had taken place there. I submitted my observations to you, but without denouncing any one. It was your majesty yourself who was the first to name the Comte de Guiche."
"Well, monsieur, well," said the king, haughtily; "you have done your duty, and I am satisfied with you. But you, Monsieur de Manicamp, have failed in yours, for you have told me a falsehood."
"A falsehood, sire. The expression is a hard one."
"Find a more accurate, then."
"Sire, I will not attempt to do so. I have already been unfortunate enough to displease your majesty, and it will, in every respect, be far better for me to accept most humbly any reproaches you may think proper to address to me."
"You are right, monsieur, whoever conceals the truth from me, risks my displeasure."
"Sometimes, sire, one is ignorant of the truth."
"No further falsehood, monsieur, or I double the punishment."
Manicamp bowed and turned pale. D'Artagnan again made another step forward, determined to interfere, if the still increasing anger of the king attained certain limits.
"You see, monsieur," continued the king, "that it is useless to deny the thing any longer. M. de Guiche has fought a duel."
"I do not deny it, sire, and it would have been truly generous on your majesty's part not to have forced me to tell a falsehood."
"Forced? Who forced you?"
"Sire, M. de Guiche is my friend. Your majesty has forbidden duels under pain of death. A falsehood might save my friend's life, and I told it."
"Good!" murmured D'Artagnan, "an excellent fellow, upon my word."
"Instead of telling a falsehood, monsieur, you should have prevented him from fighting," said the king.
"Oh! sire, your majesty, who is the most accomplished gentleman in
"Well, monsieur, that may be so," said Louis XIV.; "I am desirous of suggesting a means of your repairing all."
"If it be a means of which a gentleman may avail himself, I shall most eagerly seize the opportunity."
"The name of M. de Guiche's adversary?"
"Oh, oh!" murmured D'Artagnan, "are we going to take Louis XIII. as a model?"
"Sire!" said Manicamp, with an accent of reproach.
"You will not name him, then?" said the king.
"Sire, I do not know him."
"Bravo!" murmured D'Artagnan.
"Monsieur de Manicamp, hand your sword to the captain."
Manicamp bowed very gracefully, unbuckled his sword, smiling as he did so, and handed it for the musketeer to take. But Saint-Aignan advanced hurriedly between him and D'Artagnan. "Sire," he said, "will your majesty permit me to say a word?"
"Do so," said the king, delighted, perhaps, at the bottom of his heart, for some one to step between him and the wrath he felt he had carried him too far.
"Manicamp, you are a brave man, and the king will appreciate your conduct; but to wish to serve your friends too well, is to destroy them. Manicamp, you know the name the king asks you for?"
"It is perfectly true - I do know it."
"You will give it up then?"
"If I felt I ought to have mentioned it, I should have already done so."
"Then I will tell it, for I am not so extremely sensitive on such points of honor as you are."
"You are at liberty to do so, but it seems to me, however - "
"Oh! a truce to magnanimity; I will not permit you to go to the Bastile in that way. Do you speak; or I will."
Manicamp was keen-witted enough, and perfectly understood that he had done quite sufficient to produce a good opinion of his conduct; it was now only a question of persevering in such a manner as to regain the good graces of the king. "Speak, monsieur," he said to Saint-Aignan; "I have on my own behalf done all that my conscience told me to do; and it must have been very importunate," he added, turning towards the king, "since its mandates led me to disobey your majesty's commands; but your majesty will forgive me, I hope, when you learn that I was anxious to preserve the honor of a lady."
"Of a lady?" said the king, with some uneasiness.
"A lady was the cause of this duel?"
"If the position of the lady in question warrants it," he said, "I shall not complain of your having acted with so much circumspection; on the contrary, indeed."
"Sire, everything which concerns your majesty's household, or the household of your majesty's brother, is of importance in my eyes."
"In my brother's household," repeated Louis XIV., with a slight hesitation. "The cause of the duel was a lady belonging to my brother's household, do you say?"
"Or to Madame's."
"Ah! to Madame's?"
"Well - and this lady?"
"Is one of the maids of honor of her royal highness Madame la Duchesse d'Orléans."
"For whom M. de Guiche fought - do you say?"
"Yes, sire, and, this time, I tell no falsehood."
Louis seemed restless and anxious. "Gentlemen," he said, turning towards the spectators of this scene, "will you have the goodness to retire for a moment. I wish to be alone with M. de Manicamp; I know he has some important communication to make for his own justification, and which he will not venture before witnesses…. Put up your sword, M. de Manicamp."
Manicamp returned his sword to his belt.
"The fellow decidedly has his wits about him," murmured the musketeer, taking Saint-Aignan by the arm, and withdrawing with him.
"He will get out of it," said the latter in D'Artagnan's ear.
"And with honor, too, comte."
Manicamp cast a glance of recognition at Saint-Aignan and the captain, which luckily passed unnoticed by the king.
"Come, come," said D'Artagnan, as he left the room, "I had an indifferent opinion of the new generation. Well, I was mistaken after all. There is some good in them, I perceive."
Valot preceded the favorite and the captain, leaving the king and Manicamp alone in the cabinet.
The king, determined to be satisfied that no one was listening, went himself to the door, and then returned precipitately and placed himself opposite Manicamp.
"And now we are alone, Monsieur de Manicamp, explain yourself."
"With the greatest frankness, sire," replied the young man.
"And in the first place, pray understand," added the king, "that there is nothing to which I personally attach a greater importance than the honor of any lady."
"That is the very reason, sire, why I endeavored to study your delicacy of sentiment and feeling."
"Yes, I understand it all now. You say that it was one of the maids of honor of my sister-in-law who was the subject of dispute, and that the person in question, De Guiche's adversary, the man, in point of fact, whom you will not name - "
"But whom M. de Saint-Aignan will name, monsieur."
"Yes, you say, however, that this man insulted some one belonging to the household of Madame."
"Yes, sire. Mademoiselle de la Vallière."
"Ah!" said the king, as if he had expected the name, and yet as if its announcement had caused him a sudden pang; "ah! it was Mademoiselle de la Vallière who was insulted."
"I do not say precisely that she was insulted, sire."
"But at all events - "
"I merely say that she was spoken of in terms far enough from respectful."
"A man dares to speak in disrespectful terms of Mademoiselle de la Vallière, and yet you refuse to tell me the name of the insulter?"
"Sire, I thought it was quite understood that your majesty had abandoned the idea of making me denounce him."
"Perfectly true, monsieur," returned the king, controlling his anger; "besides, I shall know in good time the name of this man whom I shall feel it my duty to punish."
Manicamp perceived that they had returned to the question again. As for the king, he saw he had allowed himself to be hurried away a little too far, and therefore continued: - "And I will punish him - not because there is any question of Mademoiselle de la Vallière, although I esteem her very highly - but because a lady was the object of the quarrel. And I intend that ladies shall be respected at my court, and that quarrels shall be put a stop to altogether."
"And now, Monsieur de Manicamp," continued the king, "what was said about Mademoiselle de la Vallière?"
"Cannot your majesty guess?"
"Your majesty can imagine the character of the jest in which young men permit themselves to indulge."
"They very probably said that she was in love with some one?" the king ventured to remark.
"But Mademoiselle de la Vallière has a perfect right to love any one she pleases," said the king.
"That is the very point De Guiche maintained."
"And on account of which he fought, do you mean?"
"Yes, sire, the sole and only cause."
The king colored. "And you do not know anything more, then?"
"In what respect, sire?"
"In the very interesting respect which you are now referring to."
"What does your majesty wish to know?"
"Why, the name of the man with whom La Vallière is in love, and whom De Guiche's adversary disputed her right to love."
"Sire, I know nothing - I have heard nothing - and have learnt nothing, even accidentally; but De Guiche is a noble-hearted fellow, and if, momentarily, he substituted himself in the place or stead of La Vallière's protector, it was because that protector was himself of too exalted a position to undertake her defense."
These words were more than transparent; they made the king blush, but this time with pleasure. He struck Manicamp gently on the shoulder. "Well, well, Monsieur de Manicamp, you are not only a ready, witty fellow, but a brave gentleman besides, and your friend De Guiche is a paladin quite after my own heart; you will express that to him from me."
"Your majesty forgives me, then?"
"And I am free?"
The king smiled and held out his hand to Manicamp, which he took and kissed respectfully. "And then," added the king, "you relate stories so charmingly."
"You told me in the most admirable manner the particulars of the accident which happened to Guiche. I can see the wild boar rushing out of the wood - I can see the horse fall down fighting with his head, and the boar rush from the horse to the rider. You do not simply relate a story well: you positively paint its incidents."
"Sire, I think your majesty condescends to laugh at my expense," said Manicamp.
"On the contrary," said Louis, seriously, "I have so little intention of laughing, Monsieur de Manicamp, that I wish you to relate this adventure to every one."
"The adventure of the hunt?"
"Yes; in the same manner you told it to me, without changing a single word - you understand?"
"And you will relate it, then?"
"Without losing a minute."
"Very well! and now summon M. d'Artagnan; I hope you are no longer afraid of him."
"Oh, sire, from the very moment I am sure of your majesty's kind disposition, I no longer fear anything!"
"Call him, then," said the king.
Manicamp opened the door, and said, "Gentlemen, the king wishes you to return."
D'Artagnan, Saint-Aignan, and Valot entered.
"Gentlemen," said the king, "I summoned you for the purposes of saying that Monsieur de Manicamp's explanation has entirely satisfied me."
D'Artagnan glanced at Valot and Saint-Aignan, as much as to say, "Well! did I not tell you so?"
The king led Manicamp to the door, and then in a low tone of voice said: "See that M. de Guiche takes good care of himself, and particularly that he recovers as soon as possible; I am very desirous of thanking him in the name of every lady, but let him take special care that he does not begin again."
"Were he to die a hundred times, sire, he would begin again if your majesty's honor were in any way called in question."
This remark was direct enough. But we have already said that the incense of flattery was very pleasing to the king, and, provided he received it, he was not very particular as to its quality.
"Very well, very well," he said, as he dismissed Manicamp, "I will see De Guiche myself, and make him listen to reason." And as Manicamp left the apartment, the king turned round towards the three spectators of this scene, and said, "Tell me, Monsieur d'Artagnan, how does it happen that your sight is so imperfect? - you, whose eyes are generally so very good."
"My sight bad, sire?"
"It must be the case since your majesty says so; but in what respect, may I ask?"
"Why, with regard to what occurred in the Bois-Rochin."
"Certainly. You pretended to have seen the tracks of two horses, to have detected the footprints of two men; and have described the particulars of an engagement, which you assert took place. Nothing of the sort occurred; pure illusion on your part."
"Ah! ah!" said D'Artagnan.
"Exactly the same thing with the galloping to and fro of the horses, and the other indications of a struggle. It was the struggle of De Guiche against the wild boar, and absolutely nothing else; only the struggle was a long and a terrible one, it seems."
"Ah! ah!" continued D'Artagnan.
"And when I think that I almost believed it for a moment - but, then, you told it with such confidence."
"I admit, sire, that I must have been very short-sighted," said D'Artagnan, with a readiness of humor which delighted the king.
"You do admit it, then?"
"Admit it, sire, most assuredly I do."
"So now that you see the thing - "
"In quite a different light from that in which I saw it half an hour ago."
"And to what, then, do you attribute this difference in your opinion?"
"Oh! a very simple thing, sire; half an hour ago I returned from Bois-Rochin, where I had nothing to light me but a stupid stable lantern - "
"While now I have all the wax-lights of your cabinet, and more than that, your majesty's own eyes, which illuminate everything, like the blazing sun at noonday."
The king began to laugh; and Saint-Aignan broke out into convulsions of merriment.
"It is precisely like M. Valot," said D'Artagnan, resuming the conversation where the king had left off; "he has been imagining all along, that not only was M. de Guiche wounded by a bullet, but still more, that he extracted it, even, from his chest."
"Upon my word," said Valot, "I assure you - "
"Now, did you not believe that?" continued D'Artagnan.
"Yes," said Valot; "not only did I believe it, but, at this very moment, I would swear it."
"Well, my dear doctor, you have dreamt it."
"I have dreamt it!"
"M. de Guiche's wound - a mere dream; the bullet, a dream. So, take my advice, and prate no more about it."
"Well said," returned the king, "M. d'Artagnan's advice is sound. Do not speak of your dream to any one, Monsieur Valot, and, upon the word of a gentleman, you will have no occasion to repent it. Good evening, gentlemen; a very sad affair, indeed, is a wild boar-hunt!"
"A very serious thing, indeed," repeated D'Artagnan, in a loud voice, "is a wild boar-hunt!" and he repeated it in every room through which he passed; and left the château, taking Valot with him.
"And now we are alone," said the king to Saint-Aignan, "what is the name of De Guiche's adversary?"
Saint-Aignan looked at the king.
"Oh! do not hesitate," said the king; "you know that I am bound beforehand to forgive."
"De Wardes," said Saint-Aignan.
"Very good," said Louis XIV.; and then, retiring to his own room, added to himself, "To forgive is not to forget."
Manicamp quitted the king's apartment, delighted at having succeeded so well, when, just as he reached the bottom of the staircase and was passing a doorway, he felt that some one suddenly pulled him by the sleeve. He turned round and recognized Montalais, who was waiting for him in the passage, and who, in a very mysterious manner, with her body bent forward, and in a low tone of voice, said to him, "Follow me, monsieur, and without any delay, if you please."
"Where to, mademoiselle?" inquired Manicamp.
"In the first place, a true knight would not have asked such a question, but would have followed me without requiring any explanation."
"Well, mademoiselle, I am quite ready to conduct myself as a true knight."
"No; it is too late, and you cannot take the credit of it. We are going to Madame's apartment, so come at once."
"Ah, ah!" said Manicamp. "Lead on, then."
And he followed Montalais, who ran before him as light as Galatea.
"This time," said Manicamp, as he followed his guide, "I do not think that stories about hunting expeditions would be acceptable. We will try, however, and if need be - well, if there should be any occasion for it, we must try something else."
Montalais still ran on.
"How fatiguing it is," thought Manicamp, "to have need of one's head and legs at the same time."
At last, however, they arrived. Madame had just finished undressing, and was in a most elegant déshabille, but it must be understood that she had changed her dress before she had any idea of being subjected to the emotions now agitating her. She was waiting with the most restless impatience; and Montalais and Manicamp found her standing near the door. At the sound of their approaching footsteps, Madame came forward to meet them.
"Ah!" she said, "at last!"
"Here is M. Manicamp," replied Montalais.
Manicamp bowed with the greatest respect; Madame signed to Montalais to withdraw, and she immediately obeyed. Madame followed her with her eyes, in silence, until the door closed behind her, and then, turning towards Manicamp, said, "What is the matter? - and is it true, as I am told, Monsieur de Manicamp, that some one is lying wounded in the château?"
"Yes, Madame, unfortunately so - Monsieur de Guiche."
"Yes, Monsieur de Guiche," repeated the princess. "I had, in fact, heard it rumored, but not confirmed. And so, in truth, it is Monsieur de Guiche who has been thus unfortunate?"
"M. de Guiche himself, Madame."
"Are you aware, M. de Manicamp," said the princes, hastily, "that the king has the strongest antipathy to duels?"
"Perfectly so, Madame; but a duel with a wild beast is not answerable."
"Oh, you will not insult me by supposing that I credit the absurd fable, with what object I cannot tell, respecting M. de Guiche having been wounded by a wild boar. No, no, monsieur; the real truth is known, and, in addition to the inconvenience of his wound, M. de Guiche runs the risk of losing his liberty if not his life."
"Alas! Madame, I am well aware of that, but what is to be done?"
"You have seen the king?"
"What did you say to him?"
"I told him how M. de Guiche went to the chase, and how a wild boar rushed forth out of the Bois-Rochin; how M. de Guiche fired at it, and how, in fact, the furious brute dashed at De Guiche, killed his horse, and grievously wounded himself."
"And the king believed that?"
"Oh, you surprise me, Monsieur de Manicamp; you surprise me very much."
And Madame walked up and down the room, casting a searching look from time to time at Manicamp, who remained motionless and impassible in the same place. At last she stopped.
"And yet," she said, "every one here seems unanimous in giving another cause for this wound."
"What cause, Madame?" said Manicamp; "may I be permitted, without indiscretion, to ask your highness?"
"You ask such a question! You, M. de Guiche's intimate friend, his confidant, indeed!"
"Oh, Madame! his intimate friend - yes; confidant - no. De Guiche is a man who can keep his own secrets, who has some of his own certainly, but who never breathes a syllable about them. De Guiche is discretion itself, Madame."
"Very well, then; those secrets which M. de Guiche keeps so scrupulously, I shall have the pleasure of informing you of," said the princess, almost spitefully; "for the king may possibly question you a second time, and if, on the second occasion, you were to repeat the same story to him, he possibly might not be very well satisfied with it."
"But, Madame, I think your highness is mistaken with regard to the king. His majesty was perfectly satisfied with me, I assure you."
"In that case, permit me to assure you, Monsieur de Manicamp, it only proves one thing, which is, that his majesty is very easily satisfied."
"I think your highness is mistaken in arriving at such an opinion; his majesty is well known not to be contented except with very good reason."
"And do you suppose that he will thank you for your officious falsehood, when he will learn to-morrow that M. de Guiche had, on behalf of his friend M. de Bragelonne, a quarrel which ended in a hostile meeting?"
"A quarrel on M. de Bragelonne's account," said Manicamp, with the most innocent expression in the world; "what does your royal highness do me the honor to tell me?"
"What is there astonishing in that? M. de Guiche is susceptible, irritable, and easily loses his temper."
"On the contrary, Madame, I know M. de Guiche to be very patient, and never susceptible or irritable except upon very good grounds."
"But is not friendship a just ground?" said the princess.
"Oh, certainly, Madame; and particularly for a heart like his."
"Very good; you will not deny, I suppose, that M. de Bragelonne is M. de Guiche's good friend?"
"A great friend."
"Well, then, M. de Guiche has taken M. de Bragelonne's part; and as M. de Bragelonne was absent and could not fight, he fought for him."
Manicamp began to smile, and moved his head and shoulders very slightly, as much as to say, "Oh, if you will positively have it so - "
"But speak, at all events," said the princess, out of patience; "speak!"
"Of course; it is quite clear you are not of my opinion, and that you have something to say."
"I have only one thing to say, Madame."
"That I do not understand a single word of what you have just been telling me."
"What! - you do not understand a single word about M. de Guiche's quarrel with M. de Wardes," exclaimed the princess, almost out of temper.
Manicamp remained silent.
"A quarrel," she continued, "which arose out of a conversation scandalous in its tone and purport, and more or less well founded, respecting the virtue of a certain lady."
"Ah! of a certain lady, - this is quite another thing," said Manicamp.
"You begin to understand, do you not?"
"Your highness will excuse me, but I dare not - "
"You dare not," said Madame, exasperated; "very well, then, wait one moment, I will dare."
"Madame, Madame!" exclaimed Manicamp, as if in great dismay, "be careful of what you are going to say."
"It would seem, monsieur, that, if I happened to be a man, you would challenge me, notwithstanding his majesty's edicts, as Monsieur de Guiche challenged M. de Wardes; and that, too, on account of the virtue of Mademoiselle de la Vallière."
"Of Mademoiselle de la Vallière!" exclaimed Manicamp, starting backwards, as if that was the very last name he expected to hear pronounced.
"What makes you start in that manner, Monsieur de Manicamp?" said Madame, ironically; "do you mean to say you would be impertinent enough to suspect that young lady's honor?"
"Madame, in the whole course of this affair there has not been the slightest question of Mademoiselle de la Vallière's honor."
"What! when two men have almost blown each other's brains out on a woman's behalf, do you mean to say she has had nothing to do with the affair, and that her name has not been called in question at all? I did not think you so good a courtier, Monsieur de Manicamp."
"Pray forgive me, Madame," said the young man, "but we are very far from understanding one another. You do me the honor to speak one language while I am speaking altogether another."
"I beg your pardon, but I do not understand your meaning."
"Forgive me, then; but I fancied I understood your highness to remark that De Guiche and De Wardes had fought on Mademoiselle de la Vallière's account?"
"On account of Mademoiselle de la Vallière, I think you said?" repeated Manicamp.
"I do not say that M. de Guiche personally took an interest in Mademoiselle de la Vallière, but I say that he did so as representing or acting on behalf of another."
"On behalf of another?"
"Come, do not always assume such a bewildered look. Does not every one here know that M. de Bragelonne is affianced to Mademoiselle de la Vallière, and that before he went on the mission with which the king intrusted him, he charged his friend M. de Guiche to watch over that interesting young lady?"
"There is nothing more for me to say, then. Your highness is well-informed."
"Of everything. I beg you to understand that clearly."
Manicamp began to laugh, which almost exasperated the princess, who was not, as we know, of a very patient disposition.
"Madame," resumed the discreet Manicamp, saluting the princess, "let us bury this affair altogether in forgetfulness, for it will probably never be quite cleared up."
"Oh, as far as that goes there is nothing more to do, and the information is complete. The king will learn that M. de Guiche has taken up the cause of this little adventuress, who gives herself all the airs of a grand lady; he will learn that Monsieur de Bragelonne, having nominated his friend M. de Guiche his guardian-in-ordinary, the latter immediately fastened, as he was required to do, upon the Marquis de Wardes, who ventured to trench upon his privileges. Moreover, you cannot pretend to deny, Monsieur Manicamp - you who know everything so well - that the king on his side casts a longing eye upon this famous treasure, and that he will bear no slight grudge against M. de Guiche for constituting himself its defender. Are you sufficiently well informed now, or do you require anything further? If so, speak, monsieur."
"No, Madame, there is nothing more I wish to know."
"Learn, however - for you ought to know it, Monsieur de Manicamp - learn that his majesty's indignation will be followed by terrible consequences. In princes of a similar temperament to that of his majesty, the passion which jealousy causes sweeps down like a whirlwind."
"Which you will temper, Madame."
"I!" exclaimed the princess, with a gesture of indescribable irony; "I! and by what title, may I ask?"
"Because you detest injustice, Madame."
"And according to your account, then, it would be an injustice to prevent the king arranging his love affairs as he pleases."
"You will intercede, however, in M. de Guiche's favor?"
"You are mad, monsieur," said the princess, in a haughty tone of voice.
"On the contrary, I am in the most perfect possession of my senses; and I repeat, you will defend M. de Guiche before the king."
"Why should I?"
"Because the cause of M. de Guiche is your own, Madame," said Manicamp, with ardor kindling in his eyes.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean, Madame, that, with respect to the defense which Monsieur de Guiche undertook in M. de Bragelonne's absence, I am surprised that your highness has not detected a pretext in La Vallière's name having been brought forward."
"A pretext? But a pretext for what?" repeated the princess, hesitatingly, for Manicamp's steady look had just revealed something of the truth to her.
"I trust, Madame," said the young man, "I have said sufficient to induce your highness not to overwhelm before his majesty my poor friend, De Guiche, against whom all the malevolence of a party bitterly opposed to your own will now be directed."
"You mean, on the contrary, I suppose, that all those who have no great affection for Mademoiselle de la Vallière, and even, perhaps, a few of those who have some regard for her, will be angry with the comte?"
"Oh, Madame! why will you push your obstinacy to such an extent, and refuse to open your ears and listen to the counsel of one whose devotion to you is unbounded? Must I expose myself to the risk of your displeasure, - am I really to be called upon to name, contrary to my own wish, the person who was the real cause of this quarrel?"
"The person?" said Madame, blushing.
"Must I," continued Manicamp, "tell you how poor De Guiche became irritated, furious, exasperated beyond all control, at the different rumors now being circulated about this person? Must I, if you persist in this willful blindness, and if respect should continue to prevent me naming her, - must I, I repeat, recall to your recollection the various scenes which Monsieur had with the Duke of Buckingham, and the insinuations which were reported respecting the duke's exile? Must I remind you of the anxious care the comte always took in his efforts to please, to watch, to protect that person for whom alone he lives, - for whom alone he breathes? Well! I will do so; and when I shall have made you recall all the particulars I refer to, you will perhaps understand how it happened that the comte, having lost all control over himself, and having been for some time past almost harassed to death by De Wardes, became, at the first disrespectful expression which the latter pronounced respecting the person in question, inflamed with passion, and panted only for an opportunity of avenging the affront."
The princess concealed her face with her hands. "Monsieur, monsieur!" she exclaimed; "do you know what you are saying, and to whom you are speaking?"
"And so, Madame," pursued Manicamp, as if he had not heard the exclamations of the princess, "nothing will astonish you any longer, - neither the comte's ardor in seeking the quarrel, nor his wonderful address in transferring it to an quarter foreign to your own personal interests. That latter circumstance was, indeed, a marvelous instance of tact and perfect coolness, and if the person in whose behalf the comte so fought and shed his blood does, in reality, owe some gratitude to the poor wounded sufferer, it is not on account of the blood he has shed, or the agony he has suffered, but for the steps he has taken to preserve from comment or reflection an honor which is more precious to him than his own."
"Oh!" cried Madame, as if she had been alone, "is it possible the quarrel was on my account!"
Manicamp felt he could now breathe for a moment - and gallantly had he won the right to do so. Madame, on her side, remained for some time plunged in a painful reverie. Her agitation could be seen by her quick respiration, by her drooping eyelids, by the frequency with which she pressed her hand upon her heart. But, in her, coquetry was not so much a passive quality, as, on the contrary, a fire which sought for fuel to maintain itself, finding anywhere and everywhere what it required.
"If it be as you assert," she said, "the comte will have obliged two persons at the same time; for Monsieur de Bragelonne also owes a deep debt of gratitude to M. de Guiche - and with far greater reason, indeed, because everywhere, and on every occasion, Mademoiselle de la Vallière will be regarded as having been defended by this generous champion."
Manicamp perceived that there still remained some lingering doubt in the princess's heart. "A truly admirable service, indeed," he said, "is the one he has rendered to Mademoiselle de la Vallière! A truly admirable service to M. de Bragelonne! The duel has created a sensation which, in some respects, casts a dishonorable suspicion upon that young girl; a sensation, indeed, which will embroil her with the vicomte. The consequence is that De Wardes's pistol-bullet has had three results instead of one; it destroys at the same time the honor of a woman, the happiness of a man, and, perhaps, it has wounded to death one of the best gentlemen in France. Oh, Madame! your logic is cold - even calculating; it always condemns - it never absolves."
Manicamp's concluding words scattered to the winds the last doubt which lingered, not in Madame's heart, but in her mind. She was no longer a princess full of scruples, nor a woman with her ever-returning suspicions, but one whose heart has just felt the mortal chill of a wound. "Wounded to death!" she murmured, in a faltering voice, "oh, Monsieur de Manicamp! did you not say, wounded to death?"
Manicamp returned no other answer than a deep sigh.
"And so you said that the comte is dangerously wounded?" continued the princess.
"Yes, Madame; one of his hands is shattered, and he has a bullet lodged in his breast."
"Gracious heavens!" resumed the princess, with a feverish excitement, "this is horrible! Monsieur de Manicamp! a hand shattered, do you say, and a bullet in his breast? And that coward! that wretch! that assassin, De Wardes, did it!"
Manicamp seemed overcome by a violent emotion. He had, in fact, displayed no little energy in the latter part of his speech. As for Madame, she entirely threw aside all regard for the formal observances of propriety society imposes; for when, with her, passion spoke in accents either of anger or sympathy, nothing could restrain her impulses. Madame approached Manicamp, who had subsided in a chair, as if his grief were a sufficiently powerful excuse for his infraction of the laws of etiquette. "Monsieur," she said, seizing him by the hand, "be frank with me."
Manicamp looked up.
"Is M. de Guiche in danger of death?"
"Doubly so, Madame," he replied; "in the first place on account of the hemorrhage which has taken place, an artery having been injured in the hand; and next, in consequence of the wound in his breast, which may, the doctor is afraid, at least, have injured some vital part."
"He may die, then?"
"Die, yes, Madame; and without even having had the consolation of knowing that you have been told of his devotion."
"You will tell him."
"Yes; are you not his friend?"
"I? oh, no, Madame; I will only tell M. de Guiche - if, indeed, he is still in a condition to hear me - I will only tell him what I have seen; that is, your cruelty to him."
"Oh, monsieur, you will not be guilty of such barbarity!"
"Indeed, Madame, I shall speak the truth, for nature is very energetic in a man of his age. The physicians are clever men, and if, by chance, the poor comte should survive his wound, I should not wish him to die of a wound of the heart, after surviving one of the body." Manicamp rose, and with an expression of profoundest respect, seemed to be desirous of taking leave.
"At least, monsieur," said Madame, stopping him with almost a suppliant air, "you will be kind enough to tell me in what state your wounded friend is, and who is the physician who attends him?"
"As regards the state he is in, Madame, he is seriously ill; his physician is M. Valot, his majesty's private medical attendant. M. Valot is moreover assisted by a professional friend, to whose house M. de Guiche has been carried."
"What! he is not in the château?" said Madame.
"Alas, Madame! the poor fellow was so ill, that he could not even be conveyed thither."
"Give me the address, monsieur," said the princess, hurriedly; "I will send to inquire after him."
"Rue du Feurre; a brick-built house, with white outside blinds. The doctor's name is on the door."
"You are returning to your wounded friend, Monsieur de Manicamp?"
"You will be able, then, to do me a service."
"I am at your highness's orders."
"Do what you intended to do; return to M. de Guiche, send away all those whom you may find there, and have the kindness yourself to go away too."
"Madame - "
"Let us waste no time in useless explanations. Accept the fact as I present it to you; see nothing in it beyond what is really there, and ask nothing further than what I tell you. I am going to send one of my ladies, perhaps two, because it is now getting late; I do not wish them to see you, or rather I do not wish you to see them. These are scruples you can understand - you particularly, Monsieur de Manicamp, who seem capable of divining so much."
"Oh, Madame, perfectly; I can even do better still, - I will precede, or rather walk, in advance of your attendants; it will, at the same time, be the means of showing them the way more accurately, and of protecting them, if occasion arises, though there is no probability of their needing protection."
"And, by this means, then, they would be sure of entering without difficulty, would they not?"
"Certainly, Madame; for as I should be the first to pass, I thus remove any difficulties that might chance to be in the way."
"Very well. Go, go, Monsieur de Manicamp, and wait at the bottom of the staircase."
"I go at once, Madame."
"When you hear the footsteps of two women descending the stairs, go out, and, without once turning round, take the road which leads to where the poor count is lying."
"But if, by any mischance, two other persons were to descend, and I were to be mistaken?"
"You will hear one of the two clap her hands together softly. Go."
Manicamp turned round, bowed once more, and left the room, his heart
overflowing with joy. In fact, he knew
very well that the presence of Madame herself would be the best balm to apply
to his friend's wounds. A quarter of an
hour had hardly elapsed when he heard the sound of a door opened softly, and
closed with like precaution. He listened
to the light footfalls gliding down the staircase, and then hard the signal
agreed upon. He immediately went out,
and, faithful to his promise, bent his way, without once turning his head,
through the streets of
Two women, their figures completely concealed by their mantles, and whose masks effectually hid the upper portion of their faces, timidly followed Manicamp's steps. On the first floor, behind curtains of red damask, the soft light of a lamp placed upon a low table faintly illumined the room, at the other extremity of which, on a large bedstead supported by spiral columns, around which curtains of the same color as those which deadened the rays of the lamp had been closely drawn, lay De Guiche, his head supported by pillows, his eyes looking as if the mists of death were gathering; his long black hair, scattered over the pillow, set off the young man's hollow temples. It was easy to see that fever was the chief tenant of the chamber. De Guiche was dreaming. His wandering mind was pursuing, through gloom and mystery, one of those wild creations delirium engenders. Two or three drops of blood, still liquid, stained the floor. Manicamp hurriedly ran up the stairs, but paused at the threshold of the door, looked into the room, and seeing that everything was perfectly quiet, he advanced towards the foot of the large leathern armchair, a specimen of furniture of the reign of Henry IV., and seeing that the nurse, as a matter of course, had dropped off to sleep, he awoke her, and begged her to pass into the adjoining room.
Then, standing by the side of the bed, he remained for a moment deliberating whether it would be better to awaken Guiche, in order to acquaint him with the good news. But, as he began to hear behind the door the rustling of silk dresses and the hurried breathing of his two companions, and as he already saw that the curtain screening the doorway seemed on the point of being impatiently drawn aside, he passed round the bed and followed the nurse into the next room. As soon as he had disappeared the curtain was raised, and his two female companions entered the room he had just left. The one who entered first made a gesture to her companion, which riveted her to the spot where she stood, close to the door, and then resolutely advanced towards the bed, drew back the curtains along the iron rod, and threw them in thick folds behind the head of the bed. She gazed upon the comte's pallid face; remarked his right hand enveloped in linen whose dazzling whiteness was emphasized by the counterpane patterned with dark leaves thrown across the couch. She shuddered as she saw a stain of blood growing larger and larger upon the bandages. The young man's breast was uncovered, as though for the cool night air to assist his respiration. A narrow bandage fastened the dressings of the wound, around which a purplish circle of extravasated blood was gradually increasing in size. A deep sigh broke from her lips. She leaned against one of the columns of the bed, and gazed, through the apertures in her mask, upon the harrowing spectacle before her. A hoarse harsh groan passed like a death-rattle through the comte's clenched teeth. The masked lady seized his left hand, which scorched like burning coals. But at the very moment she placed her icy hand upon it, the action of the cold was such that De Guiche opened his eyes, and by a look in which revived intelligence was dawning, seemed as though struggling back again into existence. The first thing upon which he fixed his gaze was this phantom standing erect by his bedside. At that sight, his eyes became dilated, but without any appearance of consciousness in them. The lady thereupon made a sign to her companion, who had remained at the door; and in all probability the latter had already received her lesson, for in a clear tone of voice, and without any hesitation whatever, she pronounced these words: - "Monsieur le comte, her royal highness Madame is desirous of knowing how you are able to bear your wound, and to express to you, by my lips, her great regret at seeing you suffer."
As she pronounced the word Madame, Guiche started; he had not as yet remarked the person to whom the voice belonged, and he naturally turned towards the direction whence it preceded. But, as he felt the cold hand still resting on his own, he again turned towards the motionless figure beside him. "Was it you who spoke, madame?" he asked, in a weak voice, "or is there another person in beside you in the room?"
"Yes," replied the figure, in an almost unintelligible voice, as she bent down her head.
"Well," said the wounded man, with a great effort, "I thank you. Tell Madame that I no longer regret to die, since she has remembered me."
At the words "to die," pronounced by one whose life seemed to hang on a thread, the masked lady could not restrain her tears, which flowed under the mask, and appeared upon her cheeks just where the mask left her face bare. If De Guiche had been in fuller possession of his senses, he would have seen her tears roll like glistening pearls, and fall upon his bed. The lady, forgetting that she wore her mask, raised her hand as though to wipe her eyes, and meeting the rough velvet, she tore away her mask in anger, and threw it on the floor. At the unexpected apparition before him, which seemed to issue from a cloud, De Guiche uttered a cry and stretched his arms towards her; but every word perished on his lips, and his strength seemed utterly abandoning him. His right hand, which had followed his first impulse, without calculating the amount of strength he had left, fell back again upon the bed, and immediately afterwards the white linen was stained with a larger spot than before. In the meantime, the young man's eyes became dim, and closed, as if he were already struggling with the messenger of death; and then, after a few involuntary movements, his head fell back motionless on his pillow; his face grew livid. The lady was frightened; but on this occasion, contrary to what is usually the case, fear attracted. She leaned over the young man, gazed earnestly, fixedly at his pale, cold face, which she almost touched, then imprinted a rapid kiss upon De Guiche's left hand, who, trembling as if an electric shock had passed through him, awoke a second time, opened his large eyes, incapable of recognition, and again fell into a state of complete insensibility. "Come," she said to her companion, "we must not remain here any longer; I shall be committing some folly or other."
"Madame, Madame, your highness is forgetting your mask!" said her vigilant companion.
"Pick it up," replied her mistress, as she tottered almost senseless towards the staircase, and as the outer door had been left only half-closed, the two women, light as birds, passed through it, and with hurried steps returned to the palace. One of the ascended towards Madame's apartments, where she disappeared; the other entered the rooms belonging to the maids of honor, namely, on the entresol, and having reached her own room, she sat down before a table, and without giving herself time even to breathe, wrote the following letter:
"This evening Madame has been to see M. de Guiche. Everything is going well on this side. See that your news is equally exemplary, and do not forget to burn this paper."
She folded the letter, and leaving her room with every possible precaution, crossed a corridor which led to the apartments appropriated to the gentlemen attached to Monsieur's service. She stopped before a door, under which, having previously knocked twice in a short, quick manner, she thrust the paper, and fled. Then, returning to her own room, she removed every trace of her having gone out, and also of having written the letter. Amid the investigations she was so diligently pursuing she perceived on the table the mask which belonged to Madame, and which, according to her mistress's directions, she had brought back but had forgotten to restore to her. "Oh, oh!" she said, "I must not forget to do to-morrow what I have forgotten to-day."
And she took hold of the velvet mask by that part which covered the cheeks, and feeling that her thumb was wet, looked at it. It was not only wet, but reddened. The mask had fallen upon one of the spots of blood which, we have already said, stained the floor, and from that black velvet outside which had accidentally come into contact with it, the blood had passed through to the inside, and stained the white cambric lining. "Oh, oh!" said Montalais, for doubtless our readers have already recognized her by these various maneuvers, "I shall not give back this mask; it is far too precious now."
And rising from her seat, she ran towards a box made of maple wood, which inclosed different articles of toilette and perfumery. "No, not here," she said, "such a treasure must not be abandoned to the slightest chance of detection."
Then, after a moment's silence, and with a smile that was peculiarly her own, she added: - "Beautiful mask, stained with the blood of that brave knight, you shall go and join that collection of wonders, La Vallière's and Raoul's letters, that loving collection, indeed, which will some day or other form part of the history of France, of European royalty. You shall be placed under M. Malicorne's care," said the laughing girl, as she began to undress herself, "under the protection of that worthy M. Malicorne," she said, blowing out the taper, "who thinks he was born only to become the chief usher of Monsieur's apartments, and whom I will make keeper of the records and historiographer of the house of Bourbon, and of the first houses in the kingdom. Let him grumble now, that discontented Malicorne," she added, as she drew the curtains and fell asleep.
The next day being agreed upon for the departure, the king, at eleven o'clock precisely, descended the grand staircase with the two queens and Madame, in order to enter his carriage drawn by six horses, that were pawing the ground in impatience at the foot of the staircase. The whole court awaited the royal appearance in the Fer-à-cheval crescent, in their travelling costumes; the large number of saddled horses and carriages of ladies and gentlemen of the court, surrounded by their attendants, servants, and pages, formed a spectacle whose brilliancy could scarcely be equalled. The king entered his carriage with the two queens; Madame was in the same one with Monsieur. The maids of honor followed their example, and took their seats, two by two, in the carriages destined for them. The weather was exceedingly warm; a light breeze, which, early in the morning, all had thought would have proved sufficient to cool the air, soon became fiercely heated by the rays of the sun, although it was hidden behind the clouds, and filtered through the heated vapor which rose from the ground like a scorching wind, bearing particles of fine dust against the faces of the travelers. Madame was the first to complain of the heat. Monsieur's only reply was to throw himself back in the carriage as though about to faint, and to inundate himself with scents and perfumes, uttering the deepest sighs all the while; whereupon Madame said to him, with her most amiable expression: - "Really, Monsieur, I fancied that you would have been polite enough, on account of the terrible heart, to have left me my carriage to myself, and to have performed the journey yourself on horseback."
"Ride on horseback!" cried the prince, with an accent of dismay which showed how little idea he had of adopting this unnatural advice; "you cannot suppose such a thing, Madame! My skin would peel off if I were to expose myself to such a burning breeze as this."
Madame began to laugh.
"You can take my parasol," she said.
"But the trouble of holding it!" replied Monsieur, with the greatest coolness; "besides, I have no horse."
"What, no horse?" replied the princess, who, if she did not secure the solitude she required, at least obtained the amusement of teasing. "No horse! You are mistaken, Monsieur; for I see your favorite bay out yonder."
"My bay horse!" exclaimed the prince, attempting to lean forward to look out of the door; but the movement he was obliged to make cost him so much trouble that he soon hastened to resume his immobility.
"Yes," said Madame; "your horse, led by M. de Malicorne."
"Poor beast," replied the prince; "how warm it must be!"
And with these words he closed his eyes, like a man on the point of death. Madame, on her side, reclined indolently in the other corner of the carriage, and closed her eyes also, not, however, to sleep, but to think more at her ease. In the meantime the king, seated in the front seat of his carriage, the back of which he had yielded up to the two queens, was a prey to that feverish contrariety experienced by anxious lovers, who, without being able to quench their ardent thirst, are ceaselessly desirous of seeing the loved object, and then go away partially satisfied, without perceiving they have acquired a more insatiable thirst than ever. The king, whose carriage headed the procession, could not from the place he occupied perceive the carriages of the ladies and maids of honor, which followed in a line behind it. Besides, he was obliged to answer the eternal questions of the young queen, who, happy to have with her "her dear husband," as she called him in utter forgetfulness of royal etiquette, invested him with all her affection, stifled him with her attentions, afraid that some one might come to take him from her, or that he himself might suddenly take a fancy to quit her society. Anne of Austria, whom nothing at that moment occupied except the occasional cruel throbbings in her bosom, looked pleased and delighted, and although she perfectly realized the king's impatience, tantalizingly prolonged his sufferings by unexpectedly resuming the conversation at the very moment the king, absorbed in his own reflections, began to muse over his secret attachment. Everything seemed to combine - not alone the little teasing attentions of the queen, but also the queen-mother's interruptions - to make the king's position almost insupportable; for he knew not how to control the restless longings of his heart. At first, he complained of the heat - a complaint merely preliminary to others, but with sufficient tact to prevent Maria Theresa guessing his real object. Understanding the king's remark literally, she began to fan him with her ostrich plumes. But the heat passed away, and the king then complained of cramps and stiffness in his legs, and as the carriages at that moment stopped to change horses, the queen said: - "Shall I get out with you? I too feel tired of sitting. We can walk on a little distance; the carriage will overtake us, and we can resume our places presently."
The king frowned; it is a hard trial a jealous woman makes her husband submit to whose fidelity she suspects, when, although herself a prey to jealousy, she watches herself so narrowly that she avoids giving any pretext for an angry feeling. The king, therefore, in the present case, could not refuse; he accepted the offer, alighted from the carriage, gave his arm to the queen, and walked up and down with her while the horses were being changed. As he walked along, he cast an envious glance upon the courtiers, who were fortunate enough to be on horseback. The queen soon found out that the promenade she had suggested afforded the king as little pleasure as he had experienced from driving. She accordingly expressed a wish to return to her carriage, and the king conducted her to the door, but did not get in with her. He stepped back a few paces, and looked along the file of carriages for the purpose of recognizing the one in which he took so strong an interest. At the door of the sixth carriage he saw La Vallière's fair countenance. As the king thus stood motionless, wrapt in thought, without perceiving that everything was ready, and that he alone was causing the delay, he heard a voice close beside him, addressing him in the most respectful manner. It was M. Malicorne, in a complete costume of an equerry, holding over his left arm the bridles of a couple of horses.
"Your majesty asked for a horse, I believe," he said.
"A horse? Have you one of my horses here?" inquired the king, trying to remember the person who addressed him, and whose face was not as yet familiar to him.
"Sire," replied Malicorne, "at all events I have a horse here which is at your majesty's service."
And Malicorne pointed at Monsieur's bay horse, which Madame had observed. It was a beautiful creature royally caparisoned.
"This is not one of my horses, monsieur," said the king.
"Sire, it is a horse out of his royal highness's stables; but he does not ride when the weather is as hot as it is now."
Louis did not reply, but approached the horse, which stood pawing the ground with its foot. Malicorne hastened to hold the stirrup for him, but the king was already in the saddle. Restored to good-humor by this lucky accident, the king hastened towards the queen's carriage, where he was anxiously expected; and notwithstanding Maria Theresa's thoughtful and preoccupied air, he said: "I have been fortunate enough to find this horse, and I intend to avail myself of it. I felt stifled in the carriage. Adieu, ladies."
Then bending gracefully over the arched neck of his beautiful steed, he disappeared in a second. Anne of Austria leaned forward, in order to look after him as he rode away; he did not get very far, for when he reached the sixth carriage, he reined in his horse suddenly and took off his hat. He saluted La Vallière, who uttered a cry of surprise as she saw him, blushing at the same time with pleasure. Montalais, who occupied the other seat in the carriage, made the king a most respectful bow. And then, with all the tact of a woman, she pretended to be exceedingly interested in the landscape, and withdrew herself into the left-hand corner. The conversation between the king and La Vallière began, as all lovers' conversations generally do, namely, by eloquent looks and by a few words utterly devoid of common sense. The king explained how warm he had felt in his carriage, so much so indeed that he could almost regard the horse he then rode as a blessing thrown in his way. "And," he added, "my benefactor is an exceedingly intelligent man, for he seemed to guess my thoughts intuitively. I have now only one wish, that of learning the name of the gentleman who so cleverly assisted his king out of his dilemma, and extricated him from his cruel position."
Montalais, during this colloquy, the first words of which had awakened her attention, had slightly altered her position, and contrived so as to meet the king's look as he finished his remark. It followed very naturally that the king looked inquiringly as much at her as at La Vallière; she had every reason to suppose that it was herself who was appealed to, and consequently might be permitted to answer. She therefore said: "Sire, the horse which your majesty is riding belongs to Monsieur, and was being led by one of his royal highness's gentlemen."
"And what is that gentleman's name, may I ask, mademoiselle?"
"M. de Malicorne, sire."
The name produced its usual effect, for the king repeated it smilingly.
"Yes, sire," replied Aure. "Stay, it is the gentleman who is galloping on my left hand;" and she pointed out Malicorne, who, with a very sanctified expression, was galloping by the side of the carriage, knowing perfectly well that they were talking of him at that very moment, but sitting in his saddle as if he were deaf and dumb.
"Yes," said the king, "that is the gentleman; I remember his face, and will not forget his name;" and the king looked tenderly at La Vallière.
Aure had now nothing further to do; she had let Malicorne's name fall; the soil was good; all that was now left to be done was to let the name take root, and the event would bear fruit in due season. She consequently threw herself back in her corner, feeling perfectly justified in making as many agreeable signs of recognition as she liked to Malicorne, since the latter had had the happiness of pleasing the king. As will readily be believed, Montalais was not mistaken; and Malicorne, with his quick ear and his sly look, seemed to interpret her remark as "All goes on well," the whole being accompanied by a pantomimic action, which he fancied conveyed something resembling a kiss.
"Alas! mademoiselle," said the king, after a moment's pause, "the liberty and freedom of the country is soon about to cease; your attendance on Madame will be more strictly enforced, and we shall see each other no more."
"Your majesty is too much attached to Madame," replied Louise, "not to come and see her very frequently; and whenever your majesty may chance to pass across the apartments - "
"Ah!" said the king, in a tender voice, which was gradually lowered in its tone, "to perceive is not to see, and yet it seems that it would be quite sufficient for you."
Louise did not answer a syllable; a sigh filled her heart almost to bursting, but she stifled it.
"You exercise a great control over yourself," said the king to Louise, who smiled upon him with a melancholy expression. "Exert the strength you have in loving fondly," he continued, "and I will bless Heaven for having bestowed it on you."
La Vallière still remained silent, but raised her eyes, brimful of affection, toward the king. Louis, as if overcome by this burning glance, passed his hand across his forehead, and pressing the sides of his horse with his knees, made him bound several paces forward. La Vallière, leaning back in her carriage, with her eyes half closed, gazed fixedly upon the king, whose plumes were floating in the air; she could not but admire his graceful carriage, his delicate and nervous limbs which pressed his horse's sides, and the regular outline of his features, which his beautiful curling hair set off to great advantage, revealing occasionally his small and well-formed ear. In fact the poor girl was in love, and she reveled in her innocent affection. In a few moments the king was again by her side.
"Do you not perceive," he said, "how terribly your silence affects me? Oh! mademoiselle, how pitilessly inexorable you would become if you were ever to resolve to break off all acquaintance with any one; and then, too, I think you changeable; in fact - in fact, I dread this deep affection which fills my whole being."
"Oh! sire, you are mistaken," said La Vallière; "if ever I love, it will be for all my life."
"If you love, you say," exclaimed the king; "you do not love now, then?"
She hid her face in her hands.
"You see," said the king, "that I am right in accusing you; you must admit you are changeable, capricious, a coquette, perhaps."
"Oh, no! sire, be perfectly satisfied as to that. No, I say again; no, no!"
"Promise me, then, that to me you will always be the same."
"Oh! always, sire."
"That you will never show any of that severity which would break my heart, none of that fickleness of manner which would be worse than death to me."
"Oh! no, no."
"Very well, then! but listen. I like promises, I like to place under the guarantee of an oath, under the protection of Heaven, in fact, everything which interests my heart and my affections. Promise me, or rather swear to me, that if in the life we are about to commence, a life which will be full of sacrifice, mystery, anxiety, disappointment, and misunderstanding; swear to me that if we should in any way deceive, or misunderstand each other, or should judge each other unjustly, for that indeed would be criminal in love such as ours; swear to me, Louise - "
She trembled with agitation to the very depths of her heart; it was the first time she had heard her name pronounced in that manner by her royal lover. As for the king, taking off his glove, and placing his hand within the carriage, he continued: - "Swear, that never in all our quarrels will we allow one night even to pass by, if any misunderstanding should arise between us, without a visit, or at least a message, from either, in order to convey consolation and repose to the other."
La Vallière took her lover's burning hand between her own cool palms, and pressed it softly, until a movement of the horse, frightened by the proximity of the wheels, obliged her to abandon her happiness. She had vowed as he desired.
"Return, sire," she said, "return to the queen. I foresee a storm yonder, which threatens my peace of mind and yours."
Louis obeyed, saluted Mademoiselle de Montalais, and set off at a gallop to rejoin the queen. As he passed Monsieur's carriage, he observed that he was fast asleep, although Madame, on her part, was wide awake. As the king passed her she said, "What a beautiful horse, sire! Is it not Monsieur's bay horse?"
The young queen kindly asked, "Are you better now, sire?" 
king's arrival in
"A husband always loves his wife when she is like you," replied Anne of Austria.
"A time may come when he will love another woman instead of me."
"What do you call loving?"
"Always thinking of a person - always seeking her society."
"Do you happen to have remarked," said Anne of Austria, "that the king has ever done anything of the sort?"
"No, madame," said the young queen, hesitatingly.
"What is there to complain of, then, Marie?"
"You will admit that the king leaves me?"
"The king, my daughter, belongs to his people."
"And that is the very reason why he no longer belongs to me; and that is the reason, too, why I shall find myself, as so many queens before me, forsaken and forgotten, whilst glory and honors will be reserved for others. Oh, my mother! the king is so handsome! how often will others tell him that they love him, and how much, indeed, they must do so!"
"It is very seldom, indeed, that women love the man in loving the king. But if such a thing happened, which I doubt, you would do better to wish, Marie, that such women should really love your husband. In the first place, the devoted love of a mistress is a rapid element of the dissolution of a lover's affection; and then, by dint of loving, the mistress loses all influence over her lover, whose power of wealth she does not covet, caring only for his affection. Wish, therefore, that the king should love but lightly, and that his mistress should love with all her heart."
"Oh, my mother, what power may not a deep affection exercise over him!"
"And yet you say you are resigned?"
"Quite true, quite true; I speak absurdly. There is a feeling of anguish, however, which I can never control."
"And that is?"
"The king may make a happy choice - may find a home, with all the tender influences of home, not far from that we can offer him, - a home with children round him, the children of another woman. Oh, madame! I should die if I were but to see the king's children."
"Marie, Marie," replied the queen-mother with a smile, and she took the young queen's hand in her own, "remember what I am going to say, and let it always be a consolation to you: the king cannot have a Dauphin without you."
With this remark the queen-mother quitted her daughter-in-law, in order to meet Madame, whose arrival in the grand cabinet had just been announced by one of the pages. Madame had scarcely taken time to change her dress. Her face revealed her agitation, which betrayed a plan, the execution of which occupied, while the result disturbed, her mind.
"I came to ascertain," she said, "if your majesties are suffering any fatigue from our journey."
"None at all," said the queen-mother.
"A little," replied Maria Theresa.
"I have suffered from annoyance more than anything else," said Madame.
"How was that?" inquired Anne of Austria.
"The fatigue the king undergoes in riding about on horseback."
"That does the king good."
"And it was I who advised him," said Maria Theresa, turning pale.
Madame said not a word in reply; but one of those smiles which were peculiarly her own flitted for a moment across her lips, without passing over the rest of her face; then, immediately changing the conversation, she continued, "We shall find Paris precisely the Paris we quitted; the same intrigues, plots, and flirtations going on."
"Intrigues! What intrigues do you allude to?" inquired the queen-mother.
"People are talking a good deal about M. Fouquet and Madame Plessis-Bellière."
"Who makes up the number to about ten thousand," replied the queen-mother. "But what are the plots you speak of?"
"We have, it seems, certain misunderstandings with
"Monsieur has been telling me the story of the medals."
"Oh!" exclaimed the
young queen, "you mean those medals struck in
"But so contemptible that the king can well despise it," replied the queen-mother. "Well, what are the flirtations which are alluded to? Do you mean that of Madame d'Olonne?"
"No, no; nearer ourselves than that."
"Casa de usted," murmured the queen-mother, and without moving her lips, in her daughter-in-law's ear, without being overheard by Madame, who thus continued: - "You know the terrible news?" 
"Oh, yes; M. de Guiche's wound."
"And you attribute it, I suppose, as every one else does, to an accident which happened to him while hunting?"
"Yes, of course," said both the queens together, their interest awakened.
Madame drew closer to them, as she said, in a low tone of voice, "It was a duel."
"Ah!" said Anne of Austria, in a severe tone; for, in her ears, the word "duel," which had been forbidden in France all the time she reigned over it, had a strange sound.
"A most deplorable duel, which has nearly cost Monsieur two of his best friends, and the king two of his best servants."
"What was the cause of the duel?" inquired the young queen, animated by a secret instinct.
"Flirtation," repeated Madame, triumphantly. "The gentlemen in question were conversing about the virtue of a particular lady belonging to the court. One of them thought that Pallas was a very second-rate person compared to her; the other pretended that the lady in question was an imitation of Venus alluring Mars; and thereupon the two gentlemen fought as fiercely as Hector and Achilles."
"Venus alluring Mars?" said the young queen in a low tone of voice without venturing to examine into the allegory very deeply.
"Who is the lady?" inquired Anne of Austria abruptly. "You said, I believe, she was one of the ladies of honor?"
"Did I say so?" replied Madame.
"Yes; at least I thought I heard you mention it."
"Are you not aware that such a woman is of ill-omen to a royal house?"
"Is it not Mademoiselle de la Vallière?" said the queen-mother.
"Yes, indeed, that plain-looking creature."
"I thought she was affianced to a gentleman who certainly is not, at least so I have heard, either M. de Guiche or M. de Wardes?"
"Very possibly, madame."
The young queen took up a piece of tapestry, and began to broider with an affectation of tranquillity her trembling fingers contradicted.
"What were you saying about Venus and Mars?" pursued the queen-mother. "Is there a Mars also?"
"She boasts of that being the case."
"Did you say she boasts of it?"
"That was the cause of the duel."
"And M. de Guiche upheld the cause of Mars?"
"Yes, certainly; like the devoted servant he is."
"The devoted servant of whom?" exclaimed the young queen, forgetting her reserve in allowing her jealous feeling to escape.
"Mars, not to be defended except at the expense of Venus," replied Madame. "M. de Guiche maintained the perfect innocence of Mars, and no doubt affirmed that it was all a mere boast."
"And M. de Wardes," said Anne of Austria, quietly, "spread the report that Venus was within her rights, I suppose?"
"Oh, De Wardes," thought Madame, "you shall pay dearly for the wound you have given that noblest - best of men!" And she began to attack De Wardes with the greatest bitterness; thus discharging her own and De Guiche's debt, with the assurance that she was working the future ruin of her enemy. She said so much, in fact, that had Manicamp been there, he would have regretted he had shown such firm regard for his friend, inasmuch as it resulted in the ruin of his unfortunate foe.
"I see nothing in the whole affair but one cause of mischief, and that is La Vallière herself," said the queen-mother.
The young queen resumed her work with perfect indifference of manner, while Madame listened eagerly.
"I do not yet quite understand what you said just now about the danger of coquetry," resumed Anne of Austria.
"It is quite true," Madame hastened to say, "that if the girl had not been a coquette, Mars would not have thought at all about her."
The repetition of this word Mars brought a passing color to the queen's face; but she still continued her work.
"I will not permit that, in my court, gentlemen should be set
against each other in this manner," said Anne of Austria, calmly. "Such manners were useful enough,
perhaps, in days when the divided nobility had no other rallying-point than
mere gallantry. At that time women,
whose sway was absolute and undivided, were privileged to encourage men's valor
by frequent trials of their courage. But
now, thank Heaven, there is but one master in
"La Vallière?" said the queen, apparently surprised, "I do not even know the name;" and she accompanied this remark by one of those cold, fixed smiles only to be observed on royal lips.
Madame was herself a princess great in every respect, great in intelligence, great by birth, by pride; the queen's reply, however, completely astonished her, and she was obliged to pause for a moment in order to recover herself. "She is one of my maids of honor," she replied, with a bow.
"In that case," retorted Maria Theresa, in the same tone, "it is your affair, my sister, and not ours."
"I beg your pardon," resumed Anne of Austria, "it is my affair. And I perfectly well understand," she pursued, addressing a look full of intelligence at Madame, "Madame's motive for saying what she has just said."
"Everything which emanates from you, madame," said the English princess, "proceeds from the lips of Wisdom."
"If we send this girl back to her own family," said Maria Theresa, gently, "we must bestow a pension upon her."
"Which I will provide for out of my income," exclaimed Madame.
"No, no," interrupted Anne of Austria, "no disturbance, I beg. The king dislikes that the slightest disrespectful remark should be made of any lady. Let everything be done quietly. Will you have the kindness, Madame, to send for this girl here; and you, my daughter, will have the goodness to retire to your own room."
The dowager queen's entreaties were commands, and as Maria Theresa rose to return to her apartments, Madame rose in order to send a page to summon La Vallière.
La Vallière entered the queen-mother's apartments without in the least suspecting that a serious plot was being concerted against her. She thought it was for something connected with her duties, and never had the queen-mother been unkind to her when such was the case. Besides, not being immediately under the control or direction of Anne of Austria, she could only have an official connection with her, to which her own gentleness of disposition, and the rank of the august princess, made her yield on every occasion with the best possible grace. She therefore advanced towards the queen-mother with that soft and gentle smile which constituted her principal charm, and as she did not approach sufficiently close, Anne of Austria signed to her to come nearer. Madame then entered the room, and with a perfectly calm air took her seat beside her mother-in-law, and continued the work which Maria Theresa had begun. When La Vallière, instead of the direction which she expected to receive immediately on entering the room, perceived these preparations, she looked with curiosity, if not with uneasiness, at the two princesses. Anne seemed full of thought, while Madame maintained an affectation of indifference that would have alarmed a less timid person even than Louise.
"Mademoiselle," said the queen-mother suddenly, without attempting to moderate or disguise her Spanish accent, which she never failed to do except when she was angry, "come closer; we were talking of you, as every one else seems to be doing."
"Of me!" exclaimed La Vallière, turning pale.
"Do you pretend to be ignorant of it; are you not aware of the duel between M. de Guiche and M. de Wardes?"
"Oh, madame! I heard of it yesterday," said La Vallière, clasping her hands together.
"And did you not foresee this quarrel?"
"Why should I, madame?"
"Because two men never fight without a motive, and because you must be aware of the motive which awakened the animosity of the two in question."
"I am perfectly ignorant of it, madame."
"A persevering denial is a very commonplace mode of defense, and you, who have great pretensions to be witty and clever, ought to avoid commonplaces. What else have you to say?"
"Oh! madame, your majesty terrifies me with your cold severity of manner; but I do not understand how I can have incurred your displeasure, or in what respect people concern themselves about me."
"Then I will tell you. M. de Guiche has been obliged to undertake your defense."
"Yes. He is a gallant knight, and beautiful adventuresses like to see brave knights couch lances in their honor. But, for my part, I hate fields of battle, and above all I hate adventures, and - take my remark as you please."
La Vallière sank at the queen's feet, who turned her back upon her. She stretched out her hands towards Madame, who laughed in her face. A feeling of pride made her rise to her feet.
"I have begged your majesty to tell me what is the crime I am accused of - I can claim this at your hands; and I see I am condemned before I am even permitted to justify myself."
"Eh! indeed," cried Anne of Austria, "listen to her beautiful phrases, Madame, and to her fine sentiments; she is an inexhaustible well of tenderness and heroic expressions. One can easily see, young lady, that you have cultivated your mind in the society of crowned heads."
La Vallière felt struck to the heart; she became, not whiter, but as white as a lily, and all her strength forsook her.
"I wished to inform you," interrupted the queen, disdainfully, "that if you continue to nourish such feelings, you will humiliate us to such a degree that we shall be ashamed of appearing before you. Be simple in your manners. By the by, I am informed that you are affianced; is it the case?"
La Vallière pressed her hand over her heart, which was wrung with a fresh pang.
"Answer when you are spoken to!"
"To a gentleman?"
"The Vicomte de Bragelonne."
"Are you aware that it is an exceedingly fortunate circumstance for you, mademoiselle, that such is the case, and without fortune or position, as you are, or without any very great personal advantages, you ought to bless Heaven for having procured you such a future as seems to be in store for you?"
La Vallière did not reply. "Where is the Vicomte de Bragelonne?" pursued the queen.
"Oh, Heaven!" murmured La Vallière in despair.
"Very well, mademoiselle!" said Anne of Austria, "we will get this young gentleman to return, and send you away somewhere with him. If you are of a different opinion - for girls have strange views and fancies at times - trust to me, I will put you in a proper path again. I have done as much for girls who are not as good as you are, probably."
La Vallière ceased to hear the queen, who pitilessly added: "I will send you somewhere, by yourself, where you will be able to indulge in a little serious reflection. Reflection calms the ardor of the blood, and swallows up the illusions of youth. I suppose you understand what I have been saying?"
"Not a word?"
"I am innocent of everything your majesty supposes. Oh, madame! you are a witness of my despair. I love, I respect your majesty so much."
"It would be far better not to respect me at all," said the queen, with a chilling irony of manner. "It would be far better if you were not innocent. Do you presume to suppose that I should be satisfied simply to leave you unpunished if you had committed the fault?"
"Oh, madame! you are killing me."
"No acting, if you please, or I will precipitate the dénouement of this play; leave the room; return to your own apartment, and I trust my lesson may be of service to you."
"Madame!" said La Vallière to the Duchess d'Orléans, whose hands she seized in her own, "do you, who are so good, intercede for me?"
"I!" replied the latter, with an insulting joy, "I - good! - Ah, mademoiselle, you think nothing of the kind;" and with a rude, hasty gesture she repulsed the young girl's grasp.
La Vallière, instead of giving way, as from her extreme pallor and her tears the two princesses possibly expected, suddenly resumed her calm and dignified air; she bowed profoundly, and left the room.
"Well!" said Anne of Austria to Madame, "do you think she will begin again?"
"I always suspect those gentle, patient characters," replied Madame. "Nothing is more full of courage than a patient heart, nothing more self-reliant than a gentle spirit."
"I feel I may almost venture to assure you she will think twice before she looks at the god Mars again."
"So long as she does not obtain the protection of his buckler I do not care," retorted Madame.
A proud, defiant look of the queen-mother was the reply to this objection, which was by no means deficient in finesse; and both of them, almost sure of their victory, went to look for Maria Theresa, who had been waiting for them with impatience.
It was about half-past six in the evening, and the king had just partaken of refreshment. He lost no time; but the repast finished, and business matters settled, he took Saint-Aignan by the arm, and desired him to lead the way to La Vallière's apartments. The courtier uttered an exclamation.
"Well, what is that for? It is a habit you will have to adopt, and in order to adopt a habit, one must make a beginning."
"Oh, sire!" said Saint-Aignan, "it is hardly possible: for every one can be seen entering or leaving those apartments. If, however, some pretext or other were made use of - if your majesty, for instance, would wait until Madame were in her own apartments - "
"No pretext; no delays. I
have had enough of these impediments and mysteries; I cannot perceive in what
respect the king of
"Will your majesty forgive an excess of zeal on my part?"
"How about the queen?"
"True, true; I always wish the most entire respect to be shown to her majesty. Well, then, this evening only will I pay Mademoiselle de la Vallière a visit, and after to-day I will make use of any pretext you like. To-morrow we will devise all sorts of means; to-night I have no time."
Saint-Aignan made no reply; he descended the steps, preceding the king, and crossed the different courtyards with a feeling of shame, which the distinguished honor of accompanying the king did not remove. The reason was that Saint-Aignan wished to stand well with Madame, as well as with the queens, and also, that he did not, on the other hand, want to displease Mademoiselle de la Vallière: and in order to carry out so many promising affairs, it was difficult to avoid jostling against some obstacle or other. Besides, the windows of the young queen's rooms, those of the queen-mother's, and of Madame herself, looked out upon the courtyard of the maids of honor. To be seen, therefore, accompanying the king, would be effectually to quarrel with three great and influential princesses - whose authority was unbounded - for the purpose of supporting the ephemeral credit of a mistress. The unhappy Saint-Aignan, who had not displayed a very great amount of courage in taking La Vallière's part in the park of Fontainebleau, did not feel any braver in the broad day-light, and found a thousand defects in the poor girl which he was most eager to communicate to the king. But his trial soon finished, - the courtyards were crossed; not a curtain was drawn aside, nor a window opened. The king walked hastily, because of his impatience, and the long legs of Saint-Aignan, who preceded him. At the door, however, Saint-Aignan wished to retire, but the king desired him to remain; a delicate consideration, on the king's part, which the courtier could very well have dispensed with. He had to follow Louis into La Vallière's apartment. As soon as the king arrived the young girl dried her tears, but so precipitately that the king perceived it. He questioned her most anxiously and tenderly, and pressed her to tell him the cause of her emotion.
"Nothing is the matter, sire," she said.
"And yet you were weeping?"
"Oh, no, indeed, sire."
"Look, Saint-Aignan, and tell me if I am mistaken."
Saint-Aignan ought to have answered, but he was too much embarrassed.
"At all events your eyes are red, mademoiselle," said the king.
"The dust of the road merely, sire."
"No, no; you no longer possess the air of supreme contentment which renders you so beautiful and so attractive. You do not look at me. Why avoid my gaze?" he said, as she turned aside her head. "In Heaven's name, what is the matter?" he inquired, beginning to lose command over himself.
"Nothing at all, sire; and I am perfectly ready to assure your majesty that my mind is as free form anxiety as you could possibly wish."
"Your mind at ease, when I see you are embarrassed at the slightest thing. Has any one annoyed you?"
"No, no, sire."
"I insist upon knowing if such really be the case," said the prince, his eyes sparkling.
"No one, sire, no one has in any way offended me."
"In that case, pray resume your gentle air of gayety, or that sweet melancholy look which I so loved in you this morning; for pity's sake, do so."
"Yes, sire, yes."
The king tapped the floor impatiently with his foot, saying, "Such a change is positively inexplicable." And he looked at Saint-Aignan, who had also remarked La Vallière's peculiar lethargy, as well as the king's impatience.
It was futile for the king to entreat, and as useless for him to try to overcome her depression: the poor girl was completely overwhelmed, - the appearance of an angel would hardly have awakened her from her torpor.
king saw in her repeated negative replies a mystery full of unkindness; he
began to look round the apartment with a suspicious air. There happened to be in La Vallière's room a
miniature of Athos. The king remarked
that this portrait bore a strong resemblance to Bragelonne, for it had been
taken when the count was quite a young man.
He looked at it with a threatening air.
La Vallière, in her misery far indeed from thinking of this portrait,
could not conjecture the cause of the king's preoccupation. And yet the king's mind was occupied with a
terrible remembrance, which had more than once taken possession of his mind,
but which he had always driven away. He
recalled the intimacy existing between the two young people from their birth,
their engagement, and that Athos himself had come to solicit La Vallière's hand
for Raoul. He therefore could not but
suppose that on her return to
The king next began to accuse her in direct terms. La Vallière did not even attempt to defend herself; she endured all his accusations without according any other reply than that of shaking her head; without any other remark than that which escapes the heart in deep distress - a prayerful appeal to Heaven for help. But this ejaculation, instead of calming the king's displeasure, rather increased it. He, moreover, saw himself seconded by Saint-Aignan, for Saint-Aignan, as we have observed, having seen the storm increasing, and not knowing the extent of the regard of which Louis XIV. was capable, felt, by anticipation, all the collected wrath of the three princesses, and the near approach of poor La Vallière's downfall, and he was not true knight enough to resist the fear that he himself might be dragged down in the impending ruin. Saint-Aignan did not reply to the king's questions except by short, dry remarks, pronounced half-aloud; and by abrupt gestures, whose object was to make things worse, and bring about a misunderstanding, the result of which would be to free him from the annoyance of having to cross the courtyards in open day, in order to follow his illustrious companion to La Vallière's apartments. In the meantime the king's anger momentarily increased; he made two or three steps towards the door as if to leave the room, but returned. The young girl did not, however, raise her head, although the sound of his footsteps might have warned her that her lover was leaving her. He drew himself up, for a moment, before her, with his arms crossed.
"For the last time, mademoiselle," he said, "will you speak? Will you assign a reason for this change, this fickleness, for this caprice?"
"What can I say?" murmured La Vallière. "Do you not see, sire, that I am completely overwhelmed at this moment; that I have no power of will, or thought, or speech?"
"Is it so difficult, then, to speak the truth? You could have told me the whole truth in fewer words than those in which you have expressed yourself."
"But the truth about what, sire?"
La Vallière was just on the point of revealing the truth to the king, her arms made a sudden movement as if they were about to open, but her lips remained silent, and her hands again fell listlessly by her side. The poor girl had not yet endured sufficient unhappiness to risk the necessary revelation. "I know nothing," she stammered out.
"Oh!" exclaimed the king, "this is no longer mere coquetry, or caprice, it is treason."
And this time nothing could restrain him. The impulse of his heart was not sufficient to induce him to turn back, and he darted out of the room with a gesture full of despair. Saint-Aignan followed him, wishing for nothing better than to quit the place.
Louis XIV. did not pause until he reached the staircase, and grasping the balustrade, said: "You see how shamefully I have been duped."
"How, sire?" inquired the favorite.
"De Guiche fought on the Vicomte de Bragelonne's account, and this Bragelonne… oh! Saint-Aignan, she still loves him. I vow to you, Saint-Aignan, that if, in three days from now, there were to remain but an atom of affection for her in my heart, I should die from very shame." And the king resumed his way to his own apartments.
"I told your majesty how it would be," murmured Saint-Aignan, continuing to follow the king, and timidly glancing up at the different windows.
Unfortunately their return was not, like their arrival, unobserved. A curtain was suddenly drawn aside; Madame was behind it. She had seen the king leave the apartments of the maids of honor, and as soon as she observed that his majesty had passed, she left her own apartments with hurried steps, and ran up the staircase that led to the room the king had just left.
As soon as the king was gone La Vallière raised herself from the ground, and stretched out her arms, as if to follow and detain him, but when, having violently closed the door, the sound of his retreating footsteps could be heard in the distance, she had hardly sufficient strength left to totter towards and fall at the foot of her crucifix. There she remained, broken-hearted, absorbed, and overwhelmed by her grief, forgetful and indifferent to everything but her profound sorrow; - a grief she only vaguely realized - as though by instinct. In the midst of this wild tumult of thoughts, La Vallière heard her door open again; she started, and turned round, thinking it was the king who had returned. She was deceived, however, for it was Madame who appeared at the door. What did she now care for Madame! Again she sank down, her head supported by her prie-Dieu chair. It was Madame, agitated, angry, and threatening. But what was that to her? "Mademoiselle," said the princess, standing before La Vallière, "this is very fine, I admit, to kneel and pray, and make a pretense of being religious; but however submissive you may be in your address to Heaven, it is desirable that you should pay some little attention to the wishes of those who reign and rule here below."
La Vallière raised her head painfully in token of respect.
"Not long since," continued Madame, "a certain recommendation was addressed to you, I believe."
La Vallière's fixed and wild gaze showed how complete her forgetfulness or ignorance was.
"The queen recommended you," continued Madame, "to conduct yourself in such a manner that no one could be justified in spreading any reports about you."
La Vallière darted an inquiring look towards her.
"I will not," continued Madame, "allow my household,
which is that of the first princess of the blood, to set an evil example to the
court; you would be the cause of such an example. I beg you to understand, therefore, in the
absence of any witness of your shame - for I do not wish to humiliate you -
that you are from this moment at perfect liberty to leave, and that you can
return to your mother at
La Vallière could not sink lower, nor could she suffer more than she had already suffered. Her countenance did not even change, but she remained kneeling with her hands clasped, like the figure of the Magdalen.
"Did you hear me?" said Madame.
A shiver, which passed through her whole frame, was La Vallière's only reply. And as the victim gave no other signs of life, Madame left the room. And then, her very respiration suspended, and her blood almost congealed, as it were, in her veins, La Vallière by degrees felt that the pulsation of her wrists, her neck, and temples, began to throb more and more painfully. These pulsations, as they gradually increased, soon changed into a species of brain fever, and in her temporary delirium she saw the figures of her friends contending with her enemies, floating before her vision. She heard, too, mingled together in her deafened ears, words of menace and words of fond affection; she seemed raised out of her existence as though it were upon the wings of a mighty tempest, and in the dim horizon of the path along which her delirium hurried her, she saw the stone which covered her tomb upraised, and the grim, appalling texture of eternal night revealed to her distracted gaze. But the horror of the dream which possessed her senses faded away, and she was again restored to the habitual resignation of her character. A ray of hope penetrated her heart, as a ray of sunlight streams into the dungeon of some unhappy captive. Her mind reverted to the journey from Fontainebleau, she saw the king riding beside her carriage, telling her that he loved her, asking for her love in return, requiring her to swear, and himself to swear too, that never should an evening pass by, if ever a misunderstanding were to arise between them, without a visit, a letter, a sign of some kind, being sent, to replace the troubled anxiety of the evening with the calm repose of the night. It was the king who had suggested that, who had imposed a promise on her, and who had sworn to it himself. It was impossible, therefore, she reasoned, that the king should fail in keeping the promise which he had himself exacted from her, unless, indeed, Louis was a despot who enforced love as he enforced obedience; unless, too, the king were so indifferent that the first obstacle in his way was sufficient to arrest his further progress. The king, that kind protector, who by a word, a single word, could relieve her distress of mind, the king even joined her persecutors. Oh! his anger could not possibly last. Now that he was alone, he would be suffering all that she herself was a prey to. But he was not tied hand and foot as she was; he could act, could move about, could come to her, while she could do nothing but wait. And the poor girl waited and waited, with breathless anxiety - for she could not believe it possible that the king would not come.
It was now about half-past ten. He would either come to her, or write to her, or send some kind word by M. de Saint-Aignan. If he were to come, oh! how she would fly to meet him; how she would thrust aside that excess of delicacy which she now discovered was misunderstood; how eagerly she would explain: "It is not I who do not love you - it is the fault of others who will not allow me to love you." And then it must be confessed that she reflected upon it, and also the more she reflected, Louis appeared to her to be less guilty. In fact, he was ignorant of everything. What must he have thought of the obstinacy with which she remained silent? Impatient and irritable as the king was known to be, it was extraordinary that he had been able to preserve his temper so long. And yet, had it been her own case, she undoubtedly would not have acted in such a manner; she would have understood - have guessed everything. Yes, but she was nothing but a poor simple-minded girl, and not a great and powerful monarch. Oh! if he would but come, if he would but come! - how eagerly she would forgive him for all he had just made her suffer! how much more tenderly she would love him because she had so cruelly suffered! And so she sat, with her head bent forward in eager expectation towards the door, her lips slightly parted, as if - and Heaven forgive her for the mental exclamation! - they were awaiting the kiss which the king's lips had in the morning so sweetly indicated, when he pronounced the word love! If the king did not come, at least he would write; it was a second chance; a chance less delightful certainly than the other, but which would show an affection just as strong, only more timid in its nature. Oh! how she would devour his letter, how eager she would be to answer it! and when the messenger who had brought it had left her, how she would kiss it, read it over and over again, press to her heart the lucky paper which would have brought her ease of mind, tranquillity, and perfect happiness. At all events, if the king did not come, if the king did not write, he could not do otherwise than send Saint-Aignan, or Saint-Aignan could not do otherwise than come of his own accord. Even if it were a third person, how openly she would speak to him; the royal presence would not be there to freeze her words upon her tongue, and then no suspicious feeling would remain a moment longer in the king's heart.
Everything with La Vallière, heart and look, body and mind, was concentrated in eager expectation. She said to herself that there was an hour left in which to indulge hope; that until midnight struck, the king might come, or write or send; that at midnight only would every expectation vanish, every hope be lost. Whenever she heard any stir in the palace, the poor girl fancied she was the cause of it; whenever she heard any one pass in the courtyard below she imagined they were messengers of the king coming to her. Eleven o'clock struck, then a quarter-past eleven; then half-past. The minutes dragged slowly on in this anxiety, and yet they seemed to pass too quickly. And now, it struck a quarter to twelve. Midnight - midnight was near, the last, the final hope that remained. With the last stroke of the clock, the last ray of light seemed to fade away; and with the last ray faded her final hope. And so, the king himself had deceived her; it was he who had been the first to fail in keeping the oath which he had sworn that very day; twelve hours only between his oath and his perjured vow; it as not long, alas! to have preserved the illusion. And so, not only did the king not love her, but he despised her whom every one ill-treated, he despised her to the extent even of abandoning her to the shame of an expulsion which was equivalent to having an ignominious sentence passed on her; and yet, it was he, the king himself, who was the first cause of this ignominy. A bitter smile, the only symptom of anger which during this long conflict had passed across the angelic face, appeared upon her lips. What, in fact, now remained on earth for her, after the king was lost to her? Nothing. But Heaven still remained, and her thoughts flew thither. She prayed that the proper course for her to follow might be suggested. "It is from Heaven," she thought, "that I expect everything; it is from Heaven I ought to expect everything." And she looked at her crucifix with a devotion full of tender love. "There," she said, "hangs before me a Master who never forgets and never abandons those who neither forget nor abandon Him; it is to Him alone that we must sacrifice ourselves." And, thereupon, could any one have gazed into the recesses of that chamber, they would have seen the poor despairing girl adopt a final resolution, and determine upon one last plan in her mind. Then, as her knees were no longer able to support her, she gradually sank down upon the prie-Dieu, and with her head pressed against the wooden cross, her eyes fixed, and her respiration short and quick, she watched for the earliest rays of approaching daylight. At two o'clock in the morning she was still in the same bewilderment of mind, or rather the same ecstasy of feeling. Her thoughts had almost ceased to hold communion with things of the world. And when she saw the pale violet tints of early dawn visible over the roofs of the palace, and vaguely revealing the outlines of the ivory crucifix which she held embraced, she rose from the ground with a new-born strength, kissed the feet of the divine martyr, descended the staircase leading from the room, and wrapped herself from head to foot in a mantle as she went along. She reached the wicket at the very moment the guard of the musketeers opened the gate to admit the first relief-guard belonging to one of the Swiss regiments. And then, gliding behind the soldiers, she reached the street before the officer in command of the patrol had even thought of asking who the young girl was who was making her escape from the palace at so early an hour.
Vallière followed the patrol as it left the courtyard. The patrol bent its steps towards the right,
by the Rue St. Honoré, and mechanically La Vallière turned to the left. Her resolution was taken - her determination
fixed; she wished to betake herself to the convent of the Carmelites at Chaillot,
the superior of which enjoyed a reputation for severity which made the
worldly-minded people of the court tremble.
La Vallière had never seen
"Oh! all ye weary wights, who mope alone,
Come drink, and sing and laugh, round Venus' throne."
La Vallière at once understood that the men were insulting her, and wished to prevent her passing; she tried to do so several times, but her efforts were useless. Her limbs failed her; she felt she was on the point of falling, and uttered a cry of terror. At the same moment the circle which surrounded her was suddenly broken through in a most violent manner. One of her insulters was knocked to the left, another fell rolling over and over to the right, close to the water's edge, while the third could hardly keep his feet. An officer of the musketeers stood face to face with the young girl, with threatening brow and hand raised to carry out his threat. The drunken fellows, at sight of the uniform, made their escape with what speed their staggering limbs could lend them, all the more eagerly for the proof of strength which the wearer of the uniform had just afforded them.
"Is it possible," exclaimed the musketeer, "that it can be Mademoiselle de la Vallière?"
La Vallière, bewildered by what had just happened, and confounded by hearing her name pronounced, looked up and recognized D'Artagnan. "Oh, M. d'Artagnan! it is indeed I;" and at the same moment she seized his arm. "You will protect me, will you not?" she added, in a tone of entreaty.
"Most certainly I will protect you; but, in Heaven's name, where are you going at this hour?"
"I am going to Chaillot."
"You are going to Chaillot by way of La Rapée! why, mademoiselle, you are turning your back upon it."
"In that case, monsieur, be kind enough to put me in the right way, and to go with me a short distance."
"But how does it happen that I have found you here? By what merciful intervention were you sent to my assistance? I almost seem to be dreaming, or to be losing my senses."
"I happened to be here, mademoiselle, because I have a house in the Place de Grève, at the sign of the Notre-Dame, the rent of which I went to receive yesterday, and where I, in fact, passed the night. And I also wished to be at the palace early, for the purposes of inspecting my posts."
"Thank you," said La Vallière.
"That is what I was doing," said D'Artagnan to himself; "but what is she doing, and why is she going to Chaillot at such an hour?" And he offered her his arm, which she took, and began to walk with increased precipitation, which ill-concealed, however, her weakness. D'Artagnan perceived it, and proposed to La Vallière that she should take a little rest, which she refused.
"You are ignorant, perhaps, where Chaillot is?" inquired D'Artagnan.
"It is a great distance."
"That matters very little."
"It is at least a league."
"I can walk it."
D'Artagnan did not reply; he could tell, merely by the tone of a voice, when a resolution was real or not. He rather bore along rather than accompanied La Vallière, until they perceived the elevated ground of Chaillot.
"What house are you going to, mademoiselle?" inquired D'Artagnan.
"To the Carmelites, monsieur."
"To the Carmelites?" repeated D'Artagnan, in amazement.
"Yes; and since Heaven has directed you towards me to give me your support on my road, accept both my thanks and my adieux."
"To the Carmelites! Your adieux! Are you going to become a nun?" exclaimed D'Artagnan.
"What, you!!!" There was in this "you," which we have marked by three notes of exclamation in order to render it as expressive as possible, - there was, we repeat, in this "you" a complete poem; it recalled to La Vallière her old recollections of Blois, and her new recollections of Fontainebleau; it said to her, "You, who might be happy with Raoul; you, who might be powerful with Louis; you about to become a nun!"
"Yes, monsieur," she said, "I am going to devote myself to the service of Heaven; and to renounce the world entirely."
"But are you not mistaken with regard to your vocation, - are you not mistaken in supposing it to be the will of Heaven?"
"No, since Heaven has been pleased to throw you in my way. Had it not been for you, I should certainly have sunk from fatigue on the road, and since Heaven, I repeat, has thrown you in my way, it is because it has willed that I should carry out my intention."
"Oh!" said D'Artagnan, doubtingly, "that is a rather subtle distinction, I think."
"Whatever it may be," returned the young girl, "I have acquainted you with the steps I have taken, and with my fixed resolution. And, now, I have one last favor to ask of you, even while I return you my thanks. The king is entirely ignorant of my flight from the Palais Royal, and is ignorant also of what I am about to do."
"The king ignorant, you say!" exclaimed D'Artagnan. "Take care, mademoiselle; you are not aware of what you are doing. No one ought to do anything with which the king is unacquainted, especially those who belong to the court."
"I no longer belong to the court, monsieur."
D'Artagnan looked at the young girl with increasing astonishment.
"Do not be uneasy, monsieur," she continued: "I have well calculated everything; and were it not so, it would now be too late to reconsider my resolution, - all is decided."
"Well, mademoiselle, what do you wish me to do?"
"In the name of that sympathy which misfortune inspires, by your generous feeling, and by your honor as a gentleman, I entreat you to promise me one thing."
"Swear to me, Monsieur d'Artagnan, that you will not tell the king that you have seen me, and that I am at the Carmelites."
"I will not swear that," said D'Artagnan, shaking his head.
"Because I know the king, I know you, I know myself even, nay, the whole human race, too well; no, no, I will not swear that!"
"In that case," cried La Vallière, with an energy of which one would hardly have thought her capable, "instead of the blessing which I should have implored for you until my dying day, I will invoke a curse, for you are rendering me the most miserable creature that ever lived."
We have already observed that D'Artagnan could easily recognize the accents of truth and sincerity, and he could not resist this last appeal. He saw by her face how bitterly she suffered from a feeling of degradation, he remarked her trembling limbs, how her whole slight and delicate frame was violently agitated by some internal struggle, and clearly perceived that resistance might be fatal. "I will do as you wish, then," he said. "Be satisfied, mademoiselle, I will say nothing to the king."
"Oh! thanks, thanks," exclaimed La Vallière, "you are the most generous man breathing."
And in her extreme delight she seized hold of D'Artagnan's hands and pressed them between her own. D'Artagnan, who felt himself quite overcome, said: "This is touching, upon my word; she begins where others leave off."
Vallière, who, in the bitterness of her distress, had sunk upon the ground,
rose and walked towards the convent of the Carmelites, which could now, in the
dawning light, be perceived just before them.
D'Artagnan followed her at a distance.
The entrance-door was half-open; she glided in like a shadow, and
thanking D'Artagnan by a parting gesture, disappeared from his sight. When D'Artagnan found himself quite alone, he
reflected very profoundly upon what had just taken place. "Upon my word," he said, "this
looks very much like what is called a false position. To keep such a secret as that, is to keep a
burning coal in one's breeches-pocket, and trust that it may not burn the
stuff. And yet, not to keep it when I
have sworn to do so is dishonorable. It
generally happens that some bright idea or other occurs to me as I am going
along; but I am very much mistaken if I shall not, now, have to go a long way
in order to find the solution of this affair.
Yes, but which way to go? Oh!
So, in pursuance of this resolution, which he adopted with his usual rapidity, D'Artagnan immediately turned his back upon the heights of Chaillot, reached the guard-house, took the fastest horse he could find there, and was at the palace in less than ten minutes. It was striking five as he reached the Palais Royal. The king, he was told, had gone to bed at his usual hour, having been long engaged with M. Colbert, and, in all probability, was still sound asleep. "Come," said D'Artagnan, "she spoke the truth; the king is ignorant of everything; if he only knew one-half of what has happened, the Palais Royal by this time would be turned upside down." 
When the king left the apartments of the maids of honor, he found Colbert awaiting him to take directions for the next day's ceremony, as the king was then to receive the Dutch and Spanish ambassadors. Louis XIV. had serious causes of dissatisfaction with the Dutch; the States had already been guilty of many mean shifts and evasions with France, and without perceiving or without caring about the chances of a rupture, they again abandoned the alliance with his Most Christian Majesty, for the purpose of entering into all kinds of plots with Spain. Louis XIV. at his accession, that is to say, at the death of Cardinal Mazarin, had found this political question roughly sketched out; the solution was difficult for a young man, but as, at that time, the king represented the whole nation, anything that the head resolved upon, the body would be found ready to carry out. Any sudden impulse of anger, the reaction of young hot blood upon the brain, would be quite sufficient to change an old form of policy and create another system altogether. The part that diplomatists had to play in those days was that of arranging among themselves the different coups-d'état which their sovereign masters might wish to effect. Louis was not in that calm frame of mind which was necessary to enable him to determine on a wise course of policy. Still much agitated from the quarrel he had just had with La Vallière, he walked hastily into his cabinet, dimly desirous of finding an opportunity of producing an explosion after he had controlled himself for so long a time. Colbert, as he saw the king enter, knew the position of affairs at a glance, understood the king's intentions, and resolved therefore to maneuver a little. When Louis requested to be informed what it would be necessary to say on the morrow, Colbert began by expressing his surprise that his majesty had not been properly informed by M. Fouquet. "M. Fouquet," he said, "is perfectly acquainted with the whole of this Dutch affair - he received the dispatches himself direct."
The king, who was accustomed to hear M. Colbert speak in not over-scrupulous terms of M. Fouquet, allowed this remark to pass unanswered, and merely listened. Colbert noticed the effect it had produced, and hastened to back out, saying that M. Fouquet was not on all occasions as blamable as at the first glance might seem to be the case, inasmuch as at that moment he was greatly occupied. The king looked up. "What do you allude to?" he said.
"Sire, men are but men, and M. Fouquet has his defects as well as his great qualities."
"Ah! defects, who is without them, M. Colbert?"
"Your majesty, hardly," said Colbert, boldly; for he knew how to convey a good deal of flattery in a light amount of blame, like the arrow which cleaves the air notwithstanding its weight, thanks to the light feathers which bear it up.
The king smiled. "What defect has M. Fouquet, then?" he said.
"Still the same, sire; it is said he is in love."
"In love! with whom?"
"I am not quite sure, sire; I have very little to do with matters of gallantry."
"At all events you know, since you speak of it."
"I have heard a name mentioned."
"I cannot now remember whose, but I think it is one of Madame's maids of honor."
The king started. "You know more than you like to say, M. Colbert," he murmured.
"I assure you, no, sire."
"At all events, Madame's maids of honor are all known, and in mentioning their names to you, you will perhaps recollect the one you allude to."
"At least, try."
"It would be useless, sire. Whenever the name of any lady who runs the risk of being compromised is concerned, my memory is like a coffer of bronze, the key of which I have lost."
cloud seemed to pass over the mind as well as across the face of the king;
then, wishing to appear as if he were perfect master of himself and his
feelings, he said, "And now for the affair concerning
"In the first place, sire, at what hour will your majesty receive the ambassadors?"
"Early in the morning."
"That is too late - say nine o'clock."
"That will be too early, sire."
"For friends, that would be a matter of no importance; one does what one likes with one's friends; but for one's enemies, in that case nothing could be better than if they were to feel hurt. I should not be sorry, I confess, to have to finish altogether with these marsh-birds, who annoy me with their cries."
"It shall be precisely as your majesty desires. At nine o'clock, therefore - I will give the necessary orders. Is it to be a formal audience?"
"No. I wish to have an explanation with them, and not to embitter matters, as is always the case when many persons are present, but, at the same time, I wish to clear up everything with them, in order not to have to begin over again."
"Your majesty will inform me of the persons whom you wish to be present at the reception."
"I will draw out a list. Let us speak of the ambassadors; what do they want?"
"How is that?"
"It would be far more simple, I should imagine," replied the king, "to form a solid alliance with me, by means of which I should gain something, while they would gain everything."
"Not so; for if, by chance, they were to have you, or France
rather, as a boundary, your majesty is not an agreeable neighbor. Young, ardent, warlike, the king of
"I perfectly understand, M. Colbert, and you have explained it very clearly; but be good enough to tell me the conclusion you have arrived at."
"Your majesty's own decisions are never deficient in wisdom."
"What will these ambassadors say to me?"
"They will tell your majesty that they are ardently desirous of forming an alliance with you, which will be a falsehood: they will tell Spain that the three powers ought to unite so as to check the prosperity of England, and that will equally be a falsehood; for at present, the natural ally of your majesty is England, who has ships while we have none; England, who can counteract Dutch influence in India; England, in fact, a monarchical country, to which your majesty is attached by ties of relationship."
"Good; but how would you answer?"
"I should answer, sire, with the greatest possible moderation of
tone, that the disposition of
"Towards me?" exclaimed the young king, excitedly.
"Oh, no! sire, no; insulting is not the word; I was mistaken, I ought to have said immeasurably flattering to the Dutch."
"Oh! if that be so, the pride of the Dutch is a matter of indifference to me," said the king, sighing.
"Your majesty is right, a thousand times right. However, it is never a mistake in politics, your majesty knows better than myself, to exaggerate a little in order to obtain a concession in your own favor. If your majesty were to complain as if your susceptibility were offended, you would stand in a far higher position with them."
"What are these medals you speak of?" inquired Louis; "for if I allude to them, I ought to know what to say."
"Upon my word, sire, I cannot very well tell you - some overweeningly conceited device - that is the sense of it; the words have little to do with the thing itself."
"Very good! I will mention the word 'medal,' and they can understand it if they like."
"Oh! they will understand without any difficulty. Your majesty can also slip in a few words about certain pamphlets which are being circulated."
"Never! Pamphlets befoul those who write them much more than those against whom they are written. M. Colbert, I thank you. You can leave now. Do not forget the hour I have fixed, and be there yourself."
"Sire, I await your majesty's list."
"True," returned the king; and he began to meditate; he had not thought of the list in the least. The clock struck half-past eleven. The king's face revealed a violent conflict between pride and love. The political conversation had dispelled a good deal of the irritation which Louis had felt, and La Vallière's pale, worn features, in his imagination, spoke a very different language from that of the Dutch medals, or the Batavian pamphlets. He sat for ten minutes debating within himself whether he should or should not return to La Vallière; but Colbert having with some urgency respectfully requested that the list might be furnished him, the king was ashamed to be thinking of mere matters of affection where important state affairs required his attention. He therefore dictated: the queen-mother, the queen, Madame, Madame de Motteville, Madame de Châtillon, Madame de Navailles; and, for the men, M. le Prince, M. de Gramont, M. de Manicamp, M. de Saint-Aignan, and the officers on duty.
"The ministers?" asked Colbert.
"As a matter of course, and the secretaries also."
"Sire, I will leave at once in order to get everything prepared; the orders will be at the different residences to-morrow."
"Say rather to-day," replied Louis mournfully, as the clock struck twelve. It was the very hour when poor La Vallière was almost dying from anguish and bitter suffering. The king's attendants entered, it being the hour of his retirement to his chamber; the queen, indeed, had been waiting for more than an hour. Louis accordingly retreated to his bedroom with a sigh; but, as he sighed, he congratulated himself on his courage, and applauded himself for having been as firm in love as in affairs of state.
D'Artagnan had, with very few exceptions, learned almost all of the particulars of what we have just been relating; for among his friends he reckoned all the useful, serviceable people in the royal household, - officious attendants who were proud of being recognized by the captain of the musketeers, for the captain's influence was very great; and then, in addition to any ambitious vies they may have imagined he could promote, they were proud of being regarded as worth being spoken to by a man as brave as D'Artagnan. In this manner D'Artagnan learned every morning what he had not been able either to see or to ascertain the night before, from the simple fact of his not being ubiquitous; so that, with the information he had been able by his own means to pick up during the day, and with what he had gathered from others, he succeeded in making up a bundle of weapons, which he was in the prudent habit of using only when occasion required. In this way, D'Artagnan's two eyes rendered him the same service as the hundred eyes of Argus. Political secrets, bedside revelations, hints or scraps of conversation dropped by the courtiers on the threshold of the royal ante-chamber, in this way D'Artagnan managed to ascertain, and to store away everything in the vast and impenetrable mausoleum of his memory, by the side of those royal secrets so dearly bought and faithfully preserved. He therefore knew of the king's interview with Colbert, and of the appointment made for the ambassadors in the morning, and, consequently, that the question of the medals would be brought up for debate; and, while he was arranging and constructing the conversation upon a few chance words which had reached his ears, he returned to his post in the royal apartments, so as to be there at the very moment the king awoke. It happened that the king rose very early, - proving thereby that he, too, on his side, had slept but indifferently. Towards seven o'clock, he half-opened his door very gently. D'Artagnan was at his post. His majesty was pale, and seemed wearied; he had not, moreover, quite finished dressing.
"Send for M. de Saint-Aignan," he said.
Saint-Aignan was probably awaiting a summons, for the messenger, when he reached his apartment, found him already dressed. Saint-Aignan hastened to the king in obedience to the summons. A moment afterwards the king and Saint-Aignan passed by together - the king walking first. D'Artagnan went to the window which looked out upon the courtyard; he had no need to put himself to the trouble of watching in what direction the king went, for he had no difficulty in guessing beforehand where his majesty was going. The king, in fact, bent his steps towards the apartments of the maids of honor, - a circumstance which in no way astonished D'Artagnan, for he more than suspected, although La Vallière had not breathed a syllable on the subject, that the king had some kind of reparation to make. Saint-Aignan followed him as he had done the previous evening, rather less uneasy in his mind, though still slightly agitated, for he fervently trusted that at seven o'clock in the morning there might be only himself and the king awake amongst the august guests at the palace. D'Artagnan stood at the window, careless and perfectly calm in his manner. One could almost have sworn that he noticed nothing, and was utterly ignorant who were these two hunters after adventures, passing like shadows across the courtyard, wrapped up in their cloaks. And yet, all the while that D'Artagnan appeared not to be looking at them at all, he did not for one moment lose sight of them, and while he whistled that old march of the musketeers, which he rarely recalled except under great emergencies, he conjectured and prophesied how terrible would be the storm which would be raised on the king's return. In fact, when the king entered La Vallière's apartment and found the room empty and the bed untouched, he began to be alarmed, and called out to Montalais, who immediately answered the summons; but her astonishment was equal to the king's. All that she could tell his majesty was, that she had fancied she had heard La Vallière's weeping during a portion of the night, but, knowing that his majesty had paid her a visit, she had not dared to inquire what was the matter.
"But," inquired the king, "where do you suppose she is gone?"
"Sire," replied Montalais, "Louise is of a very sentimental disposition, and as I have often seen her rise at daybreak in order to go out into the garden, she may, perhaps, be there now."
This appeared probable, and the king immediately ran down the staircase in search of the fugitive. D'Artagnan saw him grow very pale, and talking in an excited manner with his companion, as he went towards the gardens; Saint-Aignan following him, out of breath. D'Artagnan did not stir from the window, but went on whistling, looking as if he saw nothing, yet seeing everything. "Come, come," he murmured, when the king disappeared, "his majesty's passion is stronger than I thought; he is now doing, I think, what he never did for Mademoiselle de Mancini." 
quarter of an hour the king again appeared: he had looked everywhere, was
completely out of breath, and, as a matter of course, had not discovered
anything. Saint-Aignan, who still
followed him, was fanning himself with his hat, and in a gasping voice, asking
for information about La Vallière from such of the servants as were about, in
fact from every one he met. Among others
he came across Manicamp, who had arrived from
"Have you seen Mademoiselle de la Vallière?" Saint-Aignan asked him.
Whereupon Manicamp, dreamy and absent as usual, answered, thinking that some one was asking him about De Guiche, "Thank you, the comte is a little better."
And he continued on his way until he reached the ante-chamber where D'Artagnan was, whom he asked to explain how it was that the king looked, as he thought, so bewildered; to which D'Artagnan replied that he was quite mistaken, that the king, on the contrary, was as lively and merry as he could possibly be.
In the midst of all this, eight o'clock struck. It was usual for the king to take his breakfast at this hour, for the code of etiquette prescribed that the king should always be hungry at eight o'clock. His breakfast was laid upon a small table in his bedroom, and he ate very fast. Saint-Aignan, of whom he would not lose sight, waited on the king. He then disposed of several military audiences, during which he dispatched Saint-Aignan to see what he could find out. Then, still occupied, full of anxiety, still watching Saint-Aignan's return, who had sent out the servants in every direction, to make inquires, and who had also gone himself, the hour of nine struck, and the king forthwith passed into his large cabinet.
As the clock was striking nine the
ambassadors entered, and as it finished, the two queens and Madame made their
appearance. There were three ambassadors
king interrupted him, saying, "Monsieur, I trust that whatever is best for
This remark, and particularly the peremptory tone in which it was pronounced, made the ambassadors pale, and brought the color into the cheeks of the two queens, who, being Spanish, felt wounded in their pride of relationship and nationality by this reply.
The Dutch ambassador then began to address himself to the king, and complained of the injurious suspicions which the king exhibited against the government of his country.
The king interrupted him, saying, "It is very singular, monsieur, that you should come with any complaint, when it is I rather who have reason to be dissatisfied; and yet, you see, I do not complain."
"Complain, sire, and in what respect?"
The king smiled bitterly. "Will you blame me, monsieur," he said, "if I should happen to entertain suspicions against a government which authorizes and protects international impertinence?"
"I tell you," resumed the king, exciting himself by a
recollection of his own personal annoyance, rather than from political grounds,
"You wish for proofs, perhaps? Very good; they can be had easily enough. Whence proceed all those vile and insolent pamphlets which represent me as a monarch without glory and without authority? your printing-presses groan under their number. If my secretaries were here, I would mention the titles of the works as well as the names of the printers."
"Sire," replied the ambassador, "a pamphlet can hardly be regarded as the work of a whole nation. Is it just, is it reasonable, that a great and powerful monarch like your majesty should render a whole nation responsible for the crime of a few madmen, who are, perhaps, only scribbling in a garret for a few sous to buy bread for their family?"
"That may be the case, I admit.
But when the mint itself, at
"Medals!" stammered out the ambassador.
"Medals," repeated the king, looking at Colbert.
"Your majesty," the ambassador ventured, "should be quite sure - "
The king still looked at Colbert; but Colbert appeared not to understand him, and maintained an unbroken silence, notwithstanding the king's repeated hints. D'Artagnan then approached the king, and taking a piece of money out of his pocket, he placed it in the king's hands, saying, "This is the medal your majesty alludes to."
The king looked at it, and with a look which, ever since he had become his own master, was ever piercing as the eagle's, observed an insulting device representing Holland arresting the progress of the sun, with this inscription: "In conspectu meo stetit sol."
"In my presence the sun stands still," exclaimed the king, furiously. "Ah! you will hardly deny it now, I suppose."
"And the sun," said D'Artagnan, "is this," as he pointed to the panels of the cabinet, where the sun was brilliantly represented in every direction, with this motto, "Nec pluribus impar." 
Louis's anger, increased by the bitterness of his own personal sufferings, hardly required this additional circumstance to foment it. Every one saw, from the kindling passion in the king's eyes, that an explosion was imminent. A look from Colbert kept postponed the bursting of the storm. The ambassador ventured to frame excuses by saying that the vanity of nations was a matter of little consequence; that Holland was proud that, with such limited resources, she had maintained her rank as a great nation, even against powerful monarchs, and that if a little smoke had intoxicated his countrymen, the king would be kindly disposed, and would even excuse this intoxication. The king seemed as if he would be glad of some suggestion; he looked at Colbert, who remained impassible; then at D'Artagnan, who simply shrugged his shoulders, a movement which was like the opening of the flood-gates, whereby the king's anger, which he had restrained for so long a period, now burst forth. As no one knew what direction his anger might take, all preserved a dead silence. The second ambassador took advantage of it to begin his excuses also. While he was speaking, and while the king, who had again gradually returned to his own personal reflections, was automatically listening to the voice, full of nervous anxiety, with the air of an absent man listening to the murmuring of a cascade, D'Artagnan, on whose left hand Saint-Aignan was standing, approached the latter, and, in a voice which was loud enough to reach the king's ears, said: "Have you heard the news?"
"What news?" said Saint-Aignan.
"About La Vallière."
The king started, and advanced his head.
"What has happened to La Vallière?" inquired Saint-Aignan, in a tone which can easily be imagined.
"Ah! poor girl! she is going to take the veil."
"The veil!" exclaimed Saint-Aignan.
"The veil!" cried the king, in the midst of the ambassador's discourse; but then, mindful of the rules of etiquette, he mastered himself, still listening, however, with rapt attention.
"What order?" inquired Saint-Aignan.
"The Carmelites of Chaillot."
"Who the deuce told you that?"
"She did herself."
"You have seen her, then?"
"Nay, I even went with her to the Carmelites."
The king did not lose a syllable of this conversation; and again he could hardly control his feelings.
"But what was the cause of her flight?" inquired Saint-Aignan.
"Because the poor girl was driven away from the court yesterday," replied D'Artagnan.
He had no sooner said this, than the king, with an authoritative gesture, said to the ambassador, "Enough, monsieur, enough." Then, advancing towards the captain, he exclaimed:
"Who says Mademoiselle de la Vallière is going to take the religious vows?"
"M. d'Artagnan," answered the favorite.
"Is it true what you say?" said the king, turning towards the musketeer.
"As true as truth itself."
The king clenched his hands, and turned pale.
"You have something further to add, M. d'Artagnan?" he said.
"I know nothing more, sire."
"You added that Mademoiselle de la Vallière had been driven away from the court."
"Is that true, also?"
"Ascertain for yourself, sire."
"And from whom?"
"Ah!" sighed D'Artagnan, like a man who is declining to say anything further.
The king almost bounded from his seat, regardless of ambassadors, ministers, courtiers, queens, and politics. The queen-mother rose; she had heard everything, or, if she had not heard everything, she had guessed it. Madame, almost fainting from anger and fear, endeavored to rise as the queen-mother had done; but she sank down again upon her chair, which by an instinctive movement she made roll back a few paces.
"Gentlemen," said the king, "the audience is over; I will
communicate my answer, or rather my will, to
"Take care, my son," said the queen-mother, indignantly, "you are hardly master of yourself, I think."
"Ah! madame," returned the young lion, with a terrible gesture, "if I am not mater of myself, I will be, I promise you, of those who do me a deadly injury; come with me, M. d'Artagnan, come." And he quitted the room in the midst of general stupefaction and dismay. The king hastily descended the staircase, and was about to cross the courtyard.
"Sire," said D'Artagnan, "your majesty mistakes the way."
"No; I am going to the stables."
"That is useless, sire, for I have horses ready for your majesty."
The king's only answer was a look, but this look promised more than the ambition of three D'Artagnans could have dared to hope.
Although they had not been summoned, Manicamp and Malicorne had followed the king and D'Artagnan. They were both exceedingly intelligent men; except that Malicorne was too precipitate, owing to ambition, while Manicamp was frequently too tardy, owing to indolence. On this occasion, however, they arrived at precisely the proper moment. Five horses were in readiness. Two were seized upon by the king and D'Artagnan, two others by Manicamp and Malicorne, while a groom belonging to the stables mounted the fifth. The cavalcade set off at a gallop. D'Artagnan had been very careful in his selection of the horses; they were the very animals for distressed lovers - horses which did not simply run, but flew. Within ten minutes after their departure, the cavalcade, amidst a cloud of dust, arrived at Chaillot. The king literally threw himself off his horse; but notwithstanding the rapidity with which he accomplished this maneuver, he found D'Artagnan already holding his stirrup. With a sign of acknowledgement to the musketeer, he threw the bridle to the groom, and darted into the vestibule, violently pushed open the door, and entered the reception-room. Manicamp, Malicorne, and the groom remained outside, D'Artagnan alone following him. When he entered the reception-room, the first object which met his gaze was Louise herself, not simply on her knees, but lying at the foot of a large stone crucifix. The young girl was stretched upon the damp flag-stones, scarcely visible in the gloom of the apartment, which was lighted only by means of a narrow window, protected by bars and completely shaded by creeping plants. When the king saw her in this state, he thought she was dead, and uttered a loud cry, which made D'Artagnan hurry into the room. The king had already passed one of his arms round her body, and D'Artagnan assisted him in raising the poor girl, whom the torpor of death seemed already to have taken possession of. D'Artagnan seized hold of the alarm-bell and rang with all his might. The Carmelite sisters immediately hastened at the summons, and uttered loud exclamations of alarm and indignation at the sight of the two men holding a woman in their arms. The superior also hurried to the scene of action, but far more a creature of the world than any of the female members of the court, notwithstanding her austerity of manners, she recognized the king at the first glance, by the respect which those present exhibited for him, as well as by the imperious and authoritative way in which he had thrown the whole establishment into confusion. As soon as she saw the king, she retired to her own apartments, in order to avoid compromising her dignity. But by one of the nuns she sent various cordials, Hungary water, etc., etc., and ordered that all the doors should immediately be closed, a command which was just in time, for the king's distress was fast becoming of a most clamorous and despairing character. He had almost decided to send for his own physician, when La Vallière exhibited signs of returning animation. The first object which met her gaze, as she opened her eyes, was the king at her feet; in all probability she did not recognize him, for she uttered a deep sigh full of anguish and distress. Louis fixed his eyes devouringly upon her face; and when, in the course of a few moments, she recognized Louis, she endeavored to tear herself from his embrace.
"Oh, heavens!" she murmured, "is not the sacrifice yet made?"
"No, no!" exclaimed the king, "and it shall not be made, I swear."
Notwithstanding her weakness and utter despair, she rose from the ground, saying, "It must be made, however; it must be; so do not stay me in my purpose."
"I leave you to sacrifice yourself! I! never, never!" exclaimed the king.
"Well," murmured D'Artagnan, "I may as well go now. As soon as they begin to speak, we may as well prevent there being any listeners." And he quitted the room, leaving the lovers alone.
"Sire," continued La Vallière, "not another word, I implore you. Do not destroy the only future I can hope for - my salvation; do not destroy the glory and brightness of your own future for a mere caprice."
"A caprice?" cried the king.
"Oh, sire! it is now, only, that I can see clearly into your heart."
"You, Louise, what mean you?"
"An inexplicable impulse, foolish and unreasonable in its nature, may ephemerally appear to offer a sufficient excuse for your conduct; but there are duties imposed upon you which are incompatible with your regard for a poor girl such as I am. So, forget me."
"I forget you!"
"You have already done so, once."
"Rather would I die."
"You cannot love one whose peace of mind you hold so lightly, and whom you so cruelly abandoned, last night, to the bitterness of death."
"What can you mean? Explain yourself, Louise."
"What did you ask me yesterday morning? To love you. What did you promise me in return? Never to let midnight pass without offering me an opportunity of reconciliation, if, by any chance, your anger should be roused against me."
"Oh! forgive me, Louise, forgive me! I was mad from jealousy."
"Jealousy is a sentiment unworthy of a king - a man. You may become jealous again, and will end by killing me. Be merciful, then, and leave me now to die."
"Another word, mademoiselle, in that strain, and you will see me expire at your feet."
"No, no, sire, I am better acquainted with my own demerits; and believe me, that to sacrifice yourself for one whom all despise, would be needless."
"Give me the names of those you have cause to complain of."
"I have no complaints, sire, to prefer against any one; no one but myself to accuse. Farewell, sire; you are compromising yourself in speaking to me in such a manner."
"Oh! be careful, Louise, in what you say; for you are reducing me to the darkness of despair."
"Oh! sire, sire, leave me at least the protection of Heaven, I implore you."
"No, no; Heaven itself shall not tear you from me."
"Save me, then," cried the poor girl, "from those determined and pitiless enemies who are thirsting to annihilate my life and honor too. If you have courage enough to love me, show at least that you have power enough to defend me. But no; she whom you say you love, others insult and mock, and drive shamelessly away." And the gentle-hearted girl, forced, by her own bitter distress to accuse others, wrung her hands in an uncontrollable agony of tears.
"You have been driven away!" exclaimed the king. "This is the second time I have heard that said."
"I have been driven away with shame and ignominy, sire. You see, then, that I have no other protector but Heaven, no consolation but prayer, and this cloister is my only refuge."
"My palace, my whole court, shall be your park of peace. Oh! fear nothing further now, Louise; those - be they men or women - who yesterday drove you away, shall to-morrow tremble before you - to-morrow, do I say? nay, this very day I have already shown my displeasure - have already threatened. It is in my power, even now, to hurl the thunderbolt I have hitherto withheld. Louise, Louise, you shall be bitterly revenged; tears of blood shall repay you for the tears you have shed. Give me only the names of your enemies."
"How can I show any anger, then?"
"Sire, those upon whom your anger would be prepared to fall, would force you to draw back your hand upraised to punish."
"Oh! you do not know me," cried the king, exasperated. "Rather than draw back, I would sacrifice my kingdom, and would abjure my family. Yes, I would strike until this arm had utterly destroyed all those who had ventured to make themselves the enemies of the gentlest and best of creatures." And, as he said these words, Louis struck his fist violently against the oaken wainscoting with a force which alarmed La Vallière; for his anger, owing to his unbounded power, had something imposing and threatening in it, like the lightning, which may at any time prove deadly. She, who thought that her own sufferings could not be surpassed, was overwhelmed by a suffering which revealed itself by menace and by violence.
"Sire," she said, "for the last time I implore you to leave me; already do I feel strengthened by the calm seclusion of this asylum; and the protection of Heaven has reassured me; for all the pretty human meanness of this world are forgotten beneath the Divine protection. Once more, then, sire, and for the last time, I again implore you to leave me."
"Confess, rather," cried Louis, "that you have never loved me; admit that my humility and my repentance are flattering to your pride, but that my distress affects you not; that the king of this wide realm is no longer regarded as a lover whose tenderness of devotion is capable of working out your happiness, but as a despot whose caprice has crushed your very heart beneath his iron heel. Do not say you are seeking Heaven, say rather you are fleeing from the king."
Louise's heart was wrung within her, as she listened to his passionate utterance, which made the fever of hope course once more through her every vein.
"But did you not hear me say that I have been driven away, scorned, despised?"
"I will make you the most respected, and most adored, and the most envied of my whole court."
"Prove to me that you have not ceased to love me."
"In what way?"
"By leaving me."
"I will prove it to you by never leaving you again."
"But do you imagine, sire, that I shall allow that; do you imagine that I will let you come to an open rupture with every member of your family; do you imagine that, for my sake, you could abandon mother, wife and sister?"
"Ah! you have named them, then, at last; it is they, then, who have wrought this grievous injury? By the heaven above us, then, upon them shall my anger fall."
"That is the reason why the future terrifies me, why I refuse everything, why I do not wish you to revenge me. Tears enough have already been shed, sufficient sorrow and affliction have already been occasioned. I, at least, will never be the cause of sorrow, or affliction, or distress to whomsoever it may be, for I have mourned and suffered, and wept too much myself."
"And do you count my sufferings, my tears, as nothing?"
"In Heaven's name, sire, do not speak to me in that manner. I need all my courage to enable me to accomplish the sacrifice."
"Louise, Louise, I implore you! whatever you desire, whatever you command, whether vengeance or forgiveness, your slightest wish shall be obeyed, but do not abandon me."
"Alas! sire, we must part."
"You do not love me, then!"
"Heaven knows I do!"
"It is false, Louise; it is false."
"Oh! sire, if I did not love you, I should let you do what you please; I should let you revenge me, in return for the insult which has been inflicted on me; I should accept the brilliant triumph to my pride which you propose; and yet, you cannot deny that I reject even the sweet compensation which your affection affords, that affection which for me is life itself, for I wished to die when I thought that you loved me no longer."
"Yes, yes; I now know, I now perceive it; you are the sweetest, best, and purest of women. There is no one so worthy as yourself, not alone of my respect and devotion, but also of the respect and devotion of all who surround me; and therefore no one shall be loved like yourself; no one shall ever possess the influence over me that you wield. You wish me to be calm, to forgive? - be it so, you shall find me perfectly unmoved. You wish to reign by gentleness and clemency? - I will be clement and gentle. Dictate for me the conduct you wish me to adopt, and I will obey blindly."
"In Heaven's name, no, sire; what am I, a poor girl, to dictate to so great a monarch as yourself?"
"You are my life, the very spirit and principle of my being. Is it not the spirit that rules the body?"
"You love me, then, sire?"
"On my knees, yes; with my hands upraised to you, yes; with all the strength and power of my being, yes; I love you so deeply, that I would lay down my life for you, gladly, at your merest wish."
"Oh! sire, now I know you love me, I have nothing to wish for in the world. Give me your hand, sire; and then, farewell! I have enjoyed in this life all the happiness I was ever meant for."
"Oh! no, no! your happiness is not a happiness of yesterday, it is of to-day, of to-morrow, ever enduring. The future is yours, everything which is mine is yours, too. Away with these ideas of separation, away with these gloomy, despairing thoughts. You will live for me, as I will live for you, Louise." And he threw himself at her feet, embracing her knees with the wildest transports of joy and gratitude.
"Oh! sire, sire! all that is but a wild dream."
"Why, a wild dream?"
"Because I cannot return to the court. Exiled, how can I see you again? Would it not be far better to bury myself in a cloister for the rest of my life, with the rich consolation that your affection gives me, with the pulses of your heart beating for me, and your latest confession of attachment still ringing in my ears?"
"Exiled, you!" exclaimed Louis XIV., "and who dares to exile, let me ask, when I recall?"
"Oh! sire, something which is greater than and superior to the kings even - the world and public opinion. Reflect for a moment; you cannot love a woman who has been ignominiously driven away - love one whom your mother has stained with suspicions; one whom your sister has threatened with disgrace; such a woman, indeed, would be unworthy of you."
"Unworthy! one who belongs to me?"
"Yes, sire, precisely on that account; from the very moment she belongs to you, the character of your mistress renders her unworthy."
"You are right, Louise; every shade of delicacy of feeling is yours. Very well, you shall not be exiled."
"Ah! from the tone in which you speak, you have not heard Madame, that is very clear."
"I will appeal from her to my mother."
"Again, sire, you have not seen your mother."
"She, too! - my poor Louise! every one's hand, then, is against you."
"Yes, yes, poor Louise, who was already bending beneath the fury of the storm, when you arrived and crushed her beneath the weight of your displeasure."
"Oh! forgive me."
"You will not, I know, be able to make either of them yield; believe me, the evil cannot be repaired, for I will not allow you to use violence, or to exercise your authority."
"Very well, Louise, to prove to you how fondly I love you, I will do one thing, I will see Madame; I will make her revoke her sentence, I will compel her to do so."
"Compel? Oh! no, no!"
"True; you are right. I will bend her."
Louise shook her head.
"I will entreat her, if it be necessary," said Louis. "Will you believe in my affection after that?"
Louise drew herself up. "Oh, never, never shall you humiliate yourself on my account; sooner, a thousand times, would I die."
Louis reflected; his features assumed a dark expression. "I will love you as much as you have loved; I will suffer as keenly as you have suffered; this shall be my expiation in your eyes. Come, mademoiselle, put aside these paltry considerations; let us show ourselves as great as our sufferings, as strong as our affection for each other." And, as he said this, he took her in his arms, and encircled her waist with both his hands, saying, "My own love! my own dearest and best beloved, follow me."
She made a final effort, in which she concentrated, no longer all of her firmness of will, for that had long since been overcome, but all her physical strength. "No!" she replied, weakly, "no! no! I should die from shame."
"No! you shall return like a queen. No one knows of your having left - except, indeed, D'Artagnan."
"He has betrayed me, then?"
"In what way?"
"He promised faithfully - "
"I promised not to say anything to the king," said D'Artagnan, putting his head through the half-opened door, "and I kept my word; I was speaking to M. de Saint-Aignan, and it was not my fault if the king overheard me; was it, sire?"
"It is quite true," said the king; "forgive him."
La Vallière smiled, and held out her small white hand to the musketeer.
"Monsieur d'Artagnan," said the king, "be good enough to see if you can find a carriage for Mademoiselle de la Vallière."
"Sire," said the captain, "the carriage is waiting at the gate."
"You are a magic mould of forethought," exclaimed the king.
"You have taken a long time to find it out," muttered D'Artagnan, notwithstanding he was flattered by the praise bestowed upon him.
La Vallière was overcome: after a little further hesitation, she allowed herself to be led away, half fainting, by her royal lover. But, as she was on the point of leaving the room, she tore herself from the king's grasp, and returned to the stone crucifix, which she kissed, saying, "Oh, Heaven! it was thou who drewest me hither! thou, who has rejected me; but thy grace is infinite. Whenever I shall again return, forget that I have ever separated myself from thee, for, when I return it will be - never to leave thee again."
The king could not restrain his emotion, and D'Artagnan, even, was overcome. Louis led the young girl away, lifted her into the carriage, and directed D'Artagnan to seat himself beside her, while he, mounting his horse, spurred violently towards the Palais Royal, where, immediately on his arrival, he sent to request an audience of Madame.
From the manner in which the king had dismissed the ambassadors, even the least clear-sighted persons belonging to the court imagined war would ensue. The ambassadors themselves, but slightly acquainted with the king's domestic disturbances, had interpreted as directed against themselves the celebrated sentence: “If I be not master of myself, I, at least, will be so of those who insult me.” Happily for the destinies of France and Holland, Colbert had followed them out of the king's presence for the purpose of explaining matters to them; but the two queens and Madame, who were perfectly aware of every particular that had taken place in their several households, having heard the king's remark, so full of dark meaning, retired to their own apartments in no little fear and chagrin. Madame, especially, felt that the royal anger might fall upon her, and, as she was brave and exceedingly proud, instead of seeking support and encouragement from the queen-mother, she had returned to her own apartments, if not without some uneasiness, at least without any intention of avoiding an encounter. Anne of Austria, from time to time at frequent intervals, sent messages to learn if the king had returned. The silence which the whole palace preserved upon the matter, and upon Louise's disappearance, was indicative of a long train of misfortunes to all those who knew the haughty and irritable humor of the king. But Madame, unmoved in spite of all the flying rumors, shut herself up in her apartments, sent for Montalais, and, with a voice as calm as she could possibly command, desired her to relate all she knew about the event itself. At the moment that the eloquent Montalais was concluding, with all kinds of oratorical precautions, and was recommending, if not in actual language, at least in spirit, that she should show forbearance towards La Vallière, M. Malicorne made his appearance to beg an audience of Madame, on behalf of the king. Montalais's worthy friend bore upon his countenance all the signs of the very liveliest emotion. It was impossible to be mistaken; the interview which the king requested would be one of the most interesting chapters in the history of the hearts of kings and of men. Madame was disturbed by her brother-in-law's arrival; she did not expect it so soon, nor had she, indeed, expected any direct step on Louis's part. Besides, all women who wage war successfully by indirect means, are invariably neither very skillful nor very strong when it becomes a question of accepting a pitched battle. Madame, however, was not one who ever drew back; she had the very opposite defect or qualification, in whichever light it may be considered; she took an exaggerated view of what constituted real courage; and therefore the king's message, of which Malicorne had been the bearer, was regarded by her as the bugle-note proclaiming the commencement of hostilities. She, therefore, boldly accepted the gage of battle. Five minutes afterwards the king ascended the staircase. His color was heightened from having ridden hard. His dusty and disordered clothes formed a singular contrast with the fresh and perfectly arranged toilette of Madame, who, notwithstanding the rouge on her cheeks, turned pale as Louis entered the room. Louis lost no time in approaching the object of his visit; he sat down, and Montalais disappeared.
"My dear sister," said the king, "you are aware that Mademoiselle de la Vallière fled from her own room this morning, and that she has retired to a cloister, overwhelmed by grief and despair." As he pronounced these words, the king's voice was singularly moved.
"Your majesty is the first to inform me of it," replied Madame.
"I should have thought that you might have learned it this morning, during the reception of the ambassadors," said the king.
"From your emotion, sire, I imagined that something extraordinary had happened, but without knowing what."
The king, with his usual frankness, went straight to the point. "Why did you send Mademoiselle de la Vallière away?"
"Because I had reason to be dissatisfied with her conduct," she replied, dryly.
The king became crimson, and his eyes kindled with a fire which it required all Madame's courage to support. He mastered his anger, however, and continued: "A stronger reason than that is surely requisite, for one so good and kind as you are, to turn away and dishonor, not only the young girl herself, but every member of her family as well. You know that the whole city has its eyes fixed upon the conduct of the female portion of the court. To dismiss a maid of honor is to attribute a crime to her - at the very least a fault. What crime, what fault has Mademoiselle de la Vallière been guilty of?"
"Since you constitute yourself the protector of Mademoiselle de la Vallière," replied Madame, coldly, "I will give you those explanations which I should have a perfect right to withhold from every one."
"Even from the king!" exclaimed Louis, as, with a sudden gesture, he covered his head with his hat.
"You have called me your sister," said Madame, "and I am in my own apartments."
"It matters not," said the youthful monarch, ashamed at having been hurried away by his anger; "neither you, nor any one else in this kingdom, can assert a right to withhold an explanation in my presence."
"Since that is the way you regard it," said Madame, in a hoarse, angry tone of voice, "all that remains for me to do is bow submission to your majesty, and to be silent."
"Not so. Let there be no equivocation between us."
"The protection with which you surround Mademoiselle de la Vallière does not impose any respect."
"No equivocation, I repeat; you are perfectly aware that, as the
head of the nobility in
"Annul my sentence!" exclaimed Madame, haughtily. "What! when I have discharged one of my attendants, do you order me to take her back again?" The king remained silent.
"This would be a sheer abuse of power, sire; it would be indecorous and unseemly."
"As a woman, I should revolt against an abuse so insulting to me; I should no longer be able to regard myself as a princess of your blood, a daughter of a monarch; I should be the meanest of creatures, more humbled and disgraced than the servant I had sent away."
The king rose from his seat with anger. "It cannot be a heart," he cried, "you have beating in your bosom; if you act in such a way with me, I may have reason to act with corresponding severity."
It sometimes happens that in a battle a chance ball may reach its mark. The observation which the king had made without any particular intention, struck Madame home, and staggered her for a moment; some day or other she might indeed have reason to dread reprisals. "At all events, sire," she said, "explain what you require."
"I ask, madame, what has Mademoiselle de la Vallière done to warrant your conduct toward her?"
"She is the most cunning fomenter of intrigues I know; she was the occasion of two personal friends engaging in mortal combat; and has made people talk of her in such shameless terms that the whole court is indignant at the mere sound of her name."
"She! she!" cried the king.
"Under her soft and hypocritical manner," continued Madame, "she hides a disposition full of foul and dark conceit."
"You may possibly be deceived, sire, but I know her right well; she is capable of creating dispute and misunderstanding between the most affectionate relatives and the most intimate friends. You see that she has already sown discord betwixt us two."
"I do assure you - " said the king.
"Sire, look well into the case as it stands; we were living on the most friendly understanding, and by the artfulness of her tales and complaints, she has set your majesty against me."
"I swear to you," said the king, "that on no occasion has a bitter word ever passed her lips; I swear that, even in my wildest bursts of passion, she would not allow me to menace any one; and I swear, too, that you do not possess a more devoted and respectful friend than she is."
"Friend!" said Madame, with an expression of supreme disdain.
"Take care, Madame!" said the king; "you forget that you now understand me, and that from this moment everything is equalized. Mademoiselle de la Vallière will be whatever I may choose her to become; and to-morrow, if I were determined to do so, I could seat her on a throne."
"She was not born to a throne, at least, and whatever you may do can affect the future alone, but cannot affect the past."
"Madame, towards you I have shown every kind consideration, and every eager desire to please you; do not remind me that I am master."
"It is the second time, sire, that you have made that remark, and I have already informed you I am ready to submit."
"In that case, then, you will confer upon me the favor of receiving Mademoiselle de la Vallière back again."
"For what purpose, sire, since you have a throne to bestow upon her? I am too insignificant to protect so exalted a personage."
"Nay, a truce to this bitter and disdainful spirit. Grant me her forgiveness."
"You drive me, then, to open warfare in my own family."
"I, too, have a family with whom I can find refuge."
"Do you mean that as a threat, and could you forget yourself so far? Do you believe that, if you push the affront to that extent, your family would encourage you?"
"I hope, sire, that you will not force me to take any step which would be unworthy of my rank."
"I hoped that you would remember our recent friendship, and that you would treat me as a brother."
Madame paused for a moment. "I do not disown you for a brother," she said, "in refusing you majesty an injustice."
"Oh, sire! if I informed others of La Vallière's conduct; if the queen knew - "
"Come, come, Henrietta, let your heart speak; remember that, for however brief a time, you once loved me; remember, too, that human hearts should be as merciful as the heart of a sovereign Master. Do not be inflexible with others; forgive La Vallière."
"I cannot; she has offended me."
"But for my sake."
"Sire, it is for your sake I would do anything in the world, except that."
"You will drive me to despair - you compel me to turn to the last resource of weak people, and seek counsel of my angry and wrathful disposition."
"I advise you to be reasonable."
"Reasonable! - I can be so no longer."
"Nay, sire! I pray you - "
"For pity's sake, Henrietta; it is the first time I entreated any one, and I have no hope in any one but in you."
"Oh, sire! you are weeping."
"From rage, from humiliation. That I, the king, should have been obliged to descend to entreaty. I shall hate this moment during my whole life. You have made me suffer in one moment more distress and more degradation than I could have anticipated in the greatest extremity in life." And the king rose and gave free vent to his tears, which, in fact, were tears of anger and shame.
Madame was not touched exactly - for the best women, when their pride is hurt, are without pity; but she was afraid that the tears the king was shedding might possibly carry away every soft and tender feeling in his heart.
"Give what commands you please, sire," she said; "and since you prefer my humiliation to your own - although mine is public and yours has been witnessed but by myself alone - speak, I will obey your majesty."
"No, no, Henrietta!" exclaimed Louis, transported with gratitude, "you will have yielded to a brother's wishes."
"I no longer have any brother, since I obey."
"All that I have would be too little in return."
"How passionately you love, sire, when you do love!"
Louis did not answer. He had seized upon Madame's hand and covered it with kisses. "And so you will receive this poor girl back again, and will forgive her; you will find how gentle and pure-hearted she is."
"I will maintain her in my household."
"No, you will give her your friendship, my sister."
"I never liked her."
"Well, for my sake, you will treat her kindly, will you not, Henrietta?"
"I will treat her as your - mistress."
The king rose suddenly to his feet. By this word, which had so infelicitously escaped her, Madame had destroyed the whole merit of her sacrifice. The king felt freed from all obligations. Exasperated beyond measure, and bitterly offended, he replied:
"I thank you, Madame; I shall never forget the service you have rendered me." And, saluting her with an affectation of ceremony, he took his leave of her. As he passed before a glass, he saw that his eyes were red, and angrily stamped his foot on the ground. But it was too late, for Malicorne and D'Artagnan, who were standing at the door, had seen his eyes.
"The king has been crying," thought Malicorne. D'Artagnan approached the king with a respectful air, and said in a low tone of voice:
"Sire, it would be better to return to your own apartments by the small staircase."
"Because the dust of the road has left its traces on your face," said D'Artagnan. "By heavens!" he thought, "when the king has given way like a child, let those look to it who may make the lady weep for whom the king sheds tears."
Madame was not bad-hearted - she was only hasty and impetuous. The king was not imprudent - he was simply in love. Hardly had they entered into this compact, which terminated in La Vallière's recall, when they both sought to make as much as they could by their bargain. The king wished to see La Vallière every moment of the day, while Madame, who was sensible of the king's annoyance ever since he had so entreated her, would not relinquish her revenge on La Vallière without a contest. She planted every conceivable difficulty in the king's path; he was, in fact, obliged, in order to get a glimpse of La Vallière, to be exceedingly devoted in his attentions to his sister-in-law, and this, indeed, was Madame's plan of policy. As she had chosen some one to second her efforts, and as this person was our old friend Montalais, the king found himself completely hemmed in every time he paid Madame a visit; he was surrounded, and was never left a moment alone. Madame displayed in her conversation a charm of manner and brilliancy of wit which dazzled everybody. Montalais followed her, and soon rendered herself perfectly insupportable to the king, which was, in fact, the very thing she expected would happen. She then set Malicorne at the king, who found means of informing his majesty that there was a young person belonging to the court who was exceedingly miserable; and on the king inquiring who this person was, Malicorne replied that it was Mademoiselle de Montalais. To this the king answered that it was perfectly just that a person should be unhappy when she rendered others so. Whereupon Malicorne explained how matters stood; for he had received his directions from Montalais. The king began to open his eyes; he remarked that, as soon as he made his appearance, Madame made hers too; that she remained in the corridors until after he had left; that she accompanied him back to his own apartments, fearing that he might speak in the ante-chambers to one of her maids of honor. One evening she went further still. The king was seated, surrounded by the ladies who were present, and holding in his hand, concealed by his lace ruffle, a small note which he wished to slip into La Vallière's hand. Madame guessed both his intention and the letter too. It was difficult to prevent the king going wherever he pleased, and yet it was necessary to prevent his going near La Vallière, or speaking to her, as by so doing he could let the note fall into her lap behind her fan, or into her pocket-handkerchief. The king, who was also on the watch, suspected that a snare was being laid for him. He rose and pushed his chair, without affectation, near Mademoiselle de Châtillon, with whom he began to talk in a light tone. They were amusing themselves making rhymes; from Mademoiselle de Châtillon he went to Montalais, and then to Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente. And thus, by this skillful maneuver, he found himself seated opposite to La Vallière, whom he completely concealed. Madame pretended to be greatly occupied, altering a group of flowers that she was working in tapestry. The king showed the corner of his letter to La Vallière, and the latter held out her handkerchief with a look that signified, "Put the letter inside." Then, as the king had placed his own handkerchief upon his chair, he was adroit enough to let it fall on the ground, so that La Vallière slipped her handkerchief on the chair. The king took it up quietly, without any one observing what he did, placed the letter within it, and returned the handkerchief to the place he had taken it from. There was only just time for La Vallière to stretch out her hand to take hold of the handkerchief with its valuable contents.
But Madame, who had observed everything that had passed, said to Mademoiselle de Châtillon, "Châtillon, be good enough to pick up the king's handkerchief, if you please; it has fallen on the carpet."
The young girl obeyed with the utmost precipitation, the king having moved from his seat, and La Vallière being in no little degree nervous and confused.
"Ah! I beg your majesty's pardon," said Mademoiselle de Châtillon; "you have two handkerchiefs, I perceive."
And the king was accordingly obliged to put into his pocket La Vallière's handkerchief as well as his own. He certainly gained that souvenir of Louise, who lost, however, a copy of verses which had cost the king ten hours' hard labor, and which, as far as he was concerned, was perhaps as good as a long poem. It would be impossible to describe the king's anger and La Vallière's despair; but shortly afterwards a circumstance occurred which was more than remarkable. When the king left, in order to retire to his own apartments, Malicorne, informed of what had passed, one can hardly tell how, was waiting in the ante-chamber. The ante-chambers of the Palais Royal are naturally very dark, and, in the evening, they were but indifferently lighted. Nothing pleased the king more than this dim light. As a general rule, love, whose mind and heart are constantly in a blaze, contemns all light, except the sunshine of the soul. And so the ante-chamber was dark; a page carried a torch before the king, who walked on slowly, greatly annoyed at what had recently occurred. Malicorne passed close to the king, almost stumbled against him in fact, and begged his forgiveness with the profoundest humility; but the king, who was in an exceedingly ill-temper, was very sharp in his reproof to Malicorne, who disappeared as soon and as quietly as he possibly could. Louis retired to rest, having had a misunderstanding with the queen; and the next day, as soon as he entered the cabinet, he wished to have La Vallière's handkerchief in order to press his lips to it. He called his valet.
"Fetch me," he said, "the coat I wore yesterday evening, but be very sure you do not touch anything it may contain."
The order being obeyed, the king himself searched the pocket of the coat; he found only one handkerchief, and that his own; La Vallière's had disappeared. Whilst busied with all kinds of conjectures and suspicions, a letter was brought to him from La Vallière; it ran thus:
"How good and kind of you to have sent me those beautiful verses; how full of ingenuity and perseverance your affection is; how is it possible to help loving you so dearly!"
"What does this mean?" thought the king; "there must be some mistake. Look well about," said he to the valet, "for a pocket-handkerchief must be in one of my pockets; and if you do not find it, or if you have touched it - " He reflected for a moment. To make a state matter of the loss of the handkerchief would be to act absurdly, and he therefore added, "There was a letter of some importance inside the handkerchief, which had somehow got among the folds of it."
"Sire," said the valet, "your majesty had only one handkerchief, and that is it."
"True, true," replied the king, setting his teeth hard together. "Oh, poverty, how I envy you! Happy is the man who can empty his own pockets of letters and handkerchiefs!"
He read La Vallière's letter over again, endeavoring to imagine in what conceivable way his verses could have reached their destination. There was a postscript to the letter:
"I send you back by your messenger this reply, so unworthy of what you sent me."
"So far so good; I shall find out something now," he said delightedly. "Who is waiting, and who brought me this letter?"
"M. Malicorne," replied the valet de chambre, timidly.
"Desire him to come in."
"You come from Mademoiselle de la Vallière?" said the king, with a sigh.
"And you took Mademoiselle de la Vallière something from me?"
"Oh, no, sire."
"Mademoiselle de la Vallière says so, distinctly."
"Oh, sire, Mademoiselle de la Vallière is mistaken."
The king frowned. "What jest is this?" he said; "explain yourself. Why does Mademoiselle de la Vallière call you my messenger? What did you take to that lady? Speak, monsieur, and quickly."
"Sire, I merely took Mademoiselle de la Vallière a pocket-handkerchief, that was all."
"A handkerchief, - what handkerchief?"
"Sire, at the very moment when I had the misfortune to stumble against your majesty yesterday - a misfortune which I shall deplore to the last day of my life, especially after the dissatisfaction which you exhibited - I remained, sire, motionless with despair, your majesty being at too great a distance to hear my excuses, when I saw something white lying on the ground."
"Ah!" said the king.
"I stooped down, - it was a pocket-handkerchief. For a moment I had an idea that when I stumbled against your majesty I must have been the cause of the handkerchief falling from your pocket; but as I felt it all over very respectfully, I perceived a cipher at one of the corners, and, on looking at it closely, I found that it was Mademoiselle de la Vallière's cipher. I presumed that on her way to Madame's apartment in the earlier part of the evening she had let her handkerchief fall, and I accordingly hastened to restore it to her as she was leaving; and that is all I gave to Mademoiselle de la Vallière, I entreat your majesty to believe." Malicorne's manner was so simple, so full of contrition, and marked with such extreme humility, that the king was greatly amused in listening to him. He was as pleased with him for what he had done as if he had rendered him the greatest service.
"This is the second fortunate meeting I have had with you, monsieur," he said; "you may count upon my good intentions."
plain and sober truth was, that Malicorne had picked the king's pocket of the
handkerchief as dexterously as any of the pickpockets of the good city of
Miracles, unfortunately, could not be always happening,
whilst Madame's ill-humor still continued.
In a week's time, matters had reached such a point, that the king could
no longer look at La Vallière without a look full of suspicion crossing his
own. Whenever a promenade was proposed,
Madame, in order to avoid the recurrence of similar scenes to that of the
thunder-storm, or the
"No," said Manicamp, as usual very absent-minded, "but it appears you did not fall."
"That doesn't matter; but it is not on that account the less dangerous to leave ladders lying about in that manner."
"True, one might hurt one's self, especially when troubled with fits of absence of mind."
"I don't mean that; what I did mean, was that it is dangerous to allow ladders to lie about so near the windows of the maids of honor." Louis started imperceptibly.
"Why so?" inquired Manicamp.
"Speak louder," whispered Malicorne, as he touched him with his arm.
"Why so?" said Manicamp, louder. The king listened.
"Because, for instance," said Malicorne, "a ladder nineteen feet high is just the height of the cornice of those windows." Manicamp, instead of answering, was dreaming of something else.
"Ask me, can't you, what windows I mean," whispered Malicorne.
"But what windows are you referring to?" said Manicamp, aloud.
"The windows of Madame's apartments."
"Oh! I don't say that any one would ever venture to go up a ladder into Madame's room; but in Madame's cabinet, merely separated by a partition, sleep two exceedingly pretty girls, Mesdemoiselles de la Vallière and de Montalais."
"By a partition?" said Manicamp.
"Look; you see how brilliantly lighted Madame's apartments are - well, do you see those two windows?"
"And that window close to the others, but more dimly lighted?"
"Well, that is the room of the maids of honor. Look, there is Mademoiselle de la Vallière opening the window. Ah! how many soft things could an enterprising lover say to her, if he only suspected that there was lying here a ladder nineteen feet long, which would just reach the cornice."
"But she is not alone; you said Mademoiselle de Montalais is with her."
"Mademoiselle de Montalais counts for nothing; she is her oldest friend, and exceedingly devoted to her - a positive well, into which can be thrown all sorts of secrets one might wish to get rid of."
The king did not lose a single syllable of this conversation. Malicorne even remarked that his majesty slackened his pace, in order to give him time to finish. So, when they arrived at the door, Louis dismissed every one, with the exception of Malicorne - a circumstance which excited no surprise, for it was known that the king was in love; and they suspected he was going to compose some verses by moonlight; and, although there was no moon that evening, the king might, nevertheless, have some verses to compose. Every one, therefore, took his leave; and, immediately afterwards, the king turned towards Malicorne, who respectfully waited until his majesty should address him. "What were you saying, just now, about a ladder, Monsieur Malicorne?" he asked.
"Did I say anything about ladders, sire?" said Malicorne, looking up, as if in search of words which had flown away.
"Yes, of a ladder nineteen feet long."
"Oh, yes, sire, I remember; but I spoke to M. Manicamp, and I should not have said a word had I known your majesty was near enough to hear us."
"And why would you not have said a word?"
"Because I should not have liked to get the gardener into a scrape who left it there - poor fellow!"
"Don't make yourself uneasy on that account. What is this ladder like?"
"If your majesty wishes to see it, nothing is easier, for there it is."
"In that box hedge?"
"Show it to me."
Malicorne turned back, and led the king up to the ladder, saying, "This is it, sire."
"Pull it this way a little."
When Malicorne had brought the ladder on to the gravel walk, the king began to step its whole length. "Hum!" he said; "you say it is nineteen feet long?"
"Nineteen feet - that is rather long; I hardly believe it can be so long as that."
"You cannot judge very correctly with the ladder in that position, sire. If it were upright, against a tree or a wall, for instance, you would be better able to judge, because the comparison would assist you a good deal."
"Oh! it does not matter, M. Malicorne; but I can hardly believe that the ladder is nineteen feet high."
"I know how accurate your majesty's glance is, and yet I would wager."
The king shook his head. "There is one unanswerable means of verifying it," said Malicorne.
"What is that?"
"Every one knows, sire, that the ground-floor of the palace is eighteen feet high."
"True, that is very well known."
"Well, sire, if I place the ladder against the wall, we shall be able to ascertain."
Malicorne took up the ladder, like a feather, and placed it upright against the wall. And, in order to try the experiment, he chose, or chance, perhaps, directed him to choose, the very window of the cabinet where La Vallière was. The ladder just reached the edge of the cornice, that is to say, the sill of the window; so that, by standing upon the last round but one of the ladder, a man of about the middle height, as the king was, for instance, could easily talk with those who might be in the room. Hardly had the ladder been properly placed, when the king, dropping the assumed part he had been playing in the comedy, began to ascend the rounds of the ladder, which Malicorne held at the bottom. But hardly had he completed half the distance when a patrol of Swiss guards appeared in the garden, and advanced straight towards them. The king descended with the utmost precipitation, and concealed himself among the trees. Malicorne at once perceived that he must offer himself as a sacrifice; for if he, too, were to conceal himself, the guard would search everywhere until they had found either himself or the king, perhaps both. It would be far better, therefore, that he alone should be discovered. And, consequently, Malicorne hid himself so clumsily that he was the only one arrested. As soon as he was arrested, Malicorne was taken to the guard-house, and there he declared who he was, and was immediately recognized. In the meantime, by concealing himself first behind one clump of trees and then behind another, the king reached the side door of his apartment, very much humiliated, and still more disappointed. More than that, the noise made in arresting Malicorne had drawn La Vallière and Montalais to their window; and even Madame herself had appeared at her own, with a pair of wax candles, one in each hand, clamorously asking what was the matter.
In the meantime, Malicorne sent for D'Artagnan, who did not lose a moment in hurrying to him. But it was in vain he attempted to make him understand his reasons, and in vain also that D'Artagnan did understand them; and, further, it was equally in vain that both their sharp and intuitive minds endeavored to give another turn to the adventure; there was no other resource left for Malicorne but to let it be supposed that he had wished to enter Mademoiselle de Montalais's apartment, as Saint-Aignan had passed for having wished to force Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente's door. Madame was inflexible; in the first place, because, if Malicorne had, in fact, wished to enter her apartment at night through the window, and by means of the ladder, in order to see Montalais, it was a punishable offense on Malicorne's part, and he must be punished accordingly; and, in the second place, if Malicorne, instead of acting in his own name, had acted as an intermediary between La Vallière and a person whose name it was superfluous to mention, his crime was in that case even greater, since love, which is an excuse for everything, did not exist in the case as an excuse. Madame therefore made the greatest possible disturbance about the matter, and obtained his dismissal from Monsieur's household, without reflecting, poor blind creature, that both Malicorne and Montalais held her fast in their clutches in consequence of her visit to De Guiche, and in a variety of other ways equally delicate. Montalais, who was perfectly furious, wished to revenge herself immediately, but Malicorne pointed out to her that the king's countenance would repay them for all the disgraces in the world, and that it was a great thing to have to suffer on his majesty's account.
Malicorne was perfectly right, and, therefore, although Montalais had the spirit of ten women in her, he succeeded in bringing her round to his own opinion. And we must not omit to state that the king helped them to console themselves, for, in the first place, he presented Malicorne with fifty thousand francs as a compensation for the post he had lost, and, in the next place, he gave him an appointment in his own household, delighted to have an opportunity of revenging himself in such a manner upon Madame for all she had made him and La Vallière suffer. But as Malicorne could no longer carry significant handkerchiefs for him or plant convenient ladders, the royal lover was in a terrible state. There seemed to be no hope, therefore, of ever getting near La Vallière again, so long as she should remain at the Palais Royal. All the dignities and all the money in the world could not remedy that. Fortunately, however, Malicorne was on the lookout, and this so successfully that he met Montalais, who, to do her justice, it must be admitted, was doing her best to meet Malicorne. "What do you do during the night in Madame's apartment?" he asked the young girl.
"Why, I go to sleep, of course," she replied.
"But it is very wrong to sleep; it can hardly be possible that, with the pain you are suffering, you can manage to do so."
"And what am I suffering from, may I ask?"
"Are you not in despair at my absence?"
"Of course not, since you have received fifty thousand francs and an appointment in the king's household."
"That is a matter of no moment; you are exceedingly afflicted at not seeing me as you used to see me formerly, and more than all, you are in despair at my having lost Madame's confidence; come now, is not that true?"
"Very good; your distress of mind prevents you sleeping at night, and so you sob, and sigh, and blow your nose ten times every minute as loud as possible."
"But, my dear Malicorne, Madame cannot endure the slightest noise near her."
"I know that perfectly well; of course she can't endure anything; and so, I tell you, when she hears your deep distress, she will turn you out of her rooms without a moment's delay."
"Very fortunate you do."
"Well, and what will happen next?"
"The next thing that will happen will be, that La Vallière, finding herself alone without you, will groan and utter such loud lamentations, that she will exhibit despair enough for two."
"In that case she will be put into another room, don't you see?"
"Yes, but which?"
"Yes, that will puzzle you to say, Mr. Inventor-General."
"Not at all; whenever and whatever the room may be, it will always be preferable to Madame's own room."
"That is true."
"Very good, so begin your lamentations to-night."
"I certainly will not fail to do so."
"And give La Vallière a hint also."
"Oh! don't fear her, she cries quite enough already to herself."
"Very well! all she has to do is cry out loudly."
And they separated.
The advice which had been given to Montalais was communicated by her to La Vallière, who could not but acknowledge that it was by no means deficient in judgment, and who, after a certain amount of resistance, rising rather from timidity than indifference to the project, resolved to put it into execution. This story of the two girls weeping, and filling Madame's bedroom with the noisiest lamentations, was Malicorne's chef-d'œuvre. As nothing is so probable as improbability, so natural as romance, this kind of Arabian Nights story succeeded perfectly with Madame. The first thing she did was to send Montalais away, and then, three days, or rather three nights afterwards, she had La Vallière removed. She gave the latter one of the small rooms on the top story, situated immediately over the apartments allotted to the gentlemen of Monsieur's suite. One story only, that is to say, a mere flooring separated the maids of honor from the officers and gentlemen of her husband's household. A private staircase, which was placed under Madame de Navailles's surveillance, was the only means of communication. For greater safety, Madame de Navailles, who had heard of his majesty's previous attempts, had the windows of the rooms and the openings of the chimneys carefully barred. There was, therefore, every possible security provided for Mademoiselle de la Vallière, whose room now bore more resemblance to a cage than to anything else. When Mademoiselle de la Vallière was in her own room, and she was there very frequently, for Madame scarcely ever had any occasion for her services, since she once knew she was safe under Madame de Navailles's inspection, Mademoiselle de la Vallière had no better means of amusing herself than looking through the bars of her windows. It happened, therefore, that one morning, as she was looking out as usual, she perceived Malicorne at one of the windows exactly opposite to her own. He held a carpenter's rule in his hand, was surveying the buildings, and seemed to be adding up some figures on paper. La Vallière recognized Malicorne and nodded to him; Malicorne, in his turn, replied by a formal bow, and disappeared from the window. She was surprised at this marked coolness, so different from his usual unfailing good-humor, but she remembered that he had lost his appointment on her account, and that he could hardly be very amiably disposed towards her, since, in all probability, she would never be in a position to make him any recompense for what he had lost. She knew how to forgive offenses, and with still more readiness could she sympathize with misfortune. La Vallière would have asked Montalais her opinion, if she had been within hearing, but she was absent, it being the hour she commonly devoted to her own correspondence. Suddenly La Vallière observed something thrown from the window where Malicorne had been standing, pass across the open space which separated the iron bars, and roll upon the floor. She advanced with no little curiosity towards this object, and picked it up; it was a wooden reel for silk, only, in this instance, instead of silk, a piece of paper was rolled round it. La Vallière unrolled it and read as follows:
"MADEMOISELLE, - I am exceedingly anxious to learn two things: the first is, to know if the flooring of your apartment is wood or brick; the second, to ascertain at what distance your bed is placed from the window. Forgive my importunity, and will you be good enough to send me an answer by the same way you receive this letter - that is to say, by means of the silk winder; only, instead of throwing into my room, as I have thrown it into yours, which will be too difficult for you to attempt, have the goodness merely to let it fall. Believe me, mademoiselle, your most humble, most respectful servant,
"Write the reply, if you please, upon the letter itself."
"Ah! poor fellow," exclaimed La Vallière, "he must have gone out of his mind;" and she directed towards her correspondent - of whom she caught but a faint glimpse, in consequence of the darkness of the room - a look full of compassionate consideration. Malicorne understood her, and shook his head, as if he meant to say, "No, no, I am not out of my mind; be quite satisfied."
She smiled, as if still in doubt.
"No, no," he signified by a gesture, "my head is right," and pointed to his head, then, after moving his hand like a man who writes very rapidly, he put his hands together as if entreating her to write.
La Vallière, even if he were mad, saw no impropriety in doing what Malicorne requested her; she took a pencil and wrote "Wood," and then walked slowly from her window to her bed, and wrote, "Six paces," and having done this, she looked out again at Malicorne, who bowed to her, signifying that he was about to descend. La Vallière understood that it was to pick up the silk winder. She approached the window, and, in accordance with Malicorne's instructions, let it fall. The winder was still rolling along the flag-stones as Malicorne started after it, overtook and picked it up, and beginning to peel it as a monkey would do with a nut, he ran straight towards M. de Saint-Aignan's apartment. Saint-Aignan had chosen, or rather solicited, that his rooms might be as near the king as possible, as certain plants seek the sun's rays in order to develop themselves more luxuriantly. His apartment consisted of two rooms, in that portion of the palace occupied by Louis XIV. himself. M. de Saint-Aignan was very proud of this proximity, which afforded easy access to his majesty, and, more than that, the favor of occasional unexpected meetings. At the moment we are now referring to, he was engaged in having both his rooms magnificently carpeted, with expectation of receiving the honor of frequent visits from the king; for his majesty, since his passion for La Vallière, had chosen Saint-Aignan as his confidant, and could not, in fact, do without him, either night or day. Malicorne introduced himself to the comte, and met with no difficulties, because he had been favorably noticed by the king; and also, because the credit which one man may happen to enjoy is always a bait for others. Saint-Aignan asked his visitor if he brought any news with him.
"Yes; great news," replied the latter.
"Ah! ah!" said Saint-Aignan, "what is it?"
"Mademoiselle de la Vallière has changed her quarters."
"What do you mean?" said Saint-Aignan, opening his eyes very wide. "She was living in the same apartments as Madame."
"Precisely so; but Madame got tired of her proximity, and has installed her in a room which is situated exactly above your future apartment."
"What! up there," exclaimed Saint-Aignan, with surprise, and pointing at the floor above him with his finger.
"No," said Malicorne, "yonder," indicating the building opposite.
"What do you mean, then, by saying that her room is above my apartment?"
"Because I am sure that your apartment ought, providentially, to be under Mademoiselle de la Vallière's room."
Saint-Aignan, at this remark, gave poor Malicorne a look, similar to one of those La Vallière had already given a quarter of an hour before, that is to say, he thought he had lost his senses.
"Monsieur," said Malicorne to him, "I wish to answer what you are thinking about."
"What do you mean by 'what I am thinking about'?"
"My reason is, that you have not clearly understood what I want to convey."
"I admit it."
"Well, then, you are aware that underneath the apartments set for Madame's maids of honor, the gentlemen in attendance on the king and on Monsieur are lodged."
"Yes, I know that, since Manicamp, De Wardes, and others are living there."
"Precisely. Well, monsieur, admire the singularity of the circumstance; the two rooms destined for M. de Guiche are exactly the very two rooms situated underneath those which Mademoiselle de Montalais and Mademoiselle de la Vallière occupy."
"Well; what then?"
"'What then,' do you say?
Why, these two rooms are empty, since M. de Guiche is now lying wounded
"I assure you, my dear fellow, I cannot grasp your meaning."
"Well! if I had the happiness to call myself Saint-Aignan, I should guess immediately."
"And what would you do then?"
"I should at once change the rooms I am occupying here, for those which M. de Guiche is not using yonder."
"Can you suppose such a thing?" said Saint-Aignan, disdainfully. "What! abandon the chief post of honor, the proximity to the king, a privilege conceded only to princes of the blood, to dukes, and peers! Permit me to tell you, my dear Monsieur de Malicorne, that you must be out of your senses."
"Monsieur," replied the young man, seriously, "you commit two mistakes. My name is Malicorne, simply; and I am in perfect possession of all my senses." Then, drawing a paper from his pocket, he said, "Listen to what I am going to say; and afterwards, I will show you this paper."
"I am listening," said Saint-Aignan.
"You know that Madame looks after La Vallière as carefully as Argus did after the nymph Io."
"You know that the king has sought for an opportunity, but uselessly, of speaking to the prisoner, and that neither you nor myself have yet succeeded in procuring him this piece of good fortune."
"You certainly ought to know something about the subject, my poor Malicorne," said Saint-Aignan, smiling.
"Very good; what do you suppose would happen to the man whose imagination devised some means of bringing the lovers together?"
"Oh! the king would set no bounds to his gratitude."
"Let me ask you, then, M. de Saint-Aignan, whether you would not be curious to taste a little of this royal gratitude?"
"Certainly," replied Saint-Aignan, "any favor of my master, as a recognition of the proper discharge of my duty, would assuredly be most precious."
"In that case, look at this paper, monsieur le comte."
"What is it - a plan?"
"Yes; a plan of M. de Guiche's two rooms, which, in all probability, will soon be your two rooms."
"Oh! no, whatever may happen."
"Because my rooms are the envy of too many gentlemen, to whom I certainly shall not give them up; M. de Roquelaure, for instance, M. de la Ferté, and M. de Dangeau, would all be anxious to get them."
"In that case I shall leave you, monsieur le comte, and I shall go and offer to one of those gentlemen the plan I have just shown you, together with the advantages annexed to it."
"But why do you not keep them for yourself?" inquired Saint-Aignan, suspiciously.
"Because the king would never do me the honor of paying me a visit openly, whilst he would readily go and see any one of those gentlemen."
"What! the king would go and see any one of those gentlemen?"
"Go! most certainly he would ten times instead of once. Is it possible you can ask me if the king would go to an apartment which would bring him nearer to Mademoiselle de la Vallière?"
"Yes, indeed, delightfully near her, with a floor between them."
Malicorne unfolded the piece of paper which had been wrapped round the bobbin. "Monsieur le comte," he said, "have the goodness to observe that the flooring of Mademoiselle de la Vallière's room is merely a wooden flooring."
"Well! all you would have to do would be to get hold of a journeyman carpenter, lock him up in your apartments, without letting him know where you have taken him to, and let him make a hole in your ceiling, and consequently in the flooring of Mademoiselle de la Vallière's room."
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Saint-Aignan, as if dazzled.
"What is the matter?" said Malicorne.
"Nothing, except that you have hit upon a singular, bold idea, monsieur."
"It will seem a very trifling one to the king, I assure you."
"Lovers never think of the risk they run."
"What danger do you apprehend, monsieur le comte?"
"Why, effecting such an opening as that will make a terrible noise: it could be heard all over the palace."
"Oh! monsieur le comte, I am quite sure that the carpenter I shall select will not make the slightest noise in the world. He will saw an opening three feet square, with a saw covered with tow, and no one, not even those adjoining, will know that he is at work."
"My dear Monsieur Malicorne, you astound, you positively bewilder me."
"To continue," replied Malicorne, quietly, "in the room, the ceiling of which you will have cut through, you will put up a staircase, which will either allow Mademoiselle de la Vallière to descend into your room, or the king to ascend into Mademoiselle de la Vallière's room."
"But the staircase will be seen."