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Louise de la Valliere

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Chapter XXXI. Mademoiselle de la Valliere’s Pocket-Handkerchief.


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 Valliere’s recall, when they both sought to make as much as they could by their bargain. The king wished to see La Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere, 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 Valliere’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 Valliere, 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 Chatillon, with whom he began to talk in a light tone. They were amusing themselves making rhymes; from Mademoiselle de Chatillon he went to Montalais, and then to Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente. And thus, by this skillful maneuver, he found himself seated opposite to La Valliere, 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 Valliere, 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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Chatillon, “Chatillon, 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 Valliere being in no little degree nervous and confused.

“Ah! I beg your majesty’s pardon,” said Mademoiselle de Chatillon; “you have two handkerchiefs, I perceive.”

And the king was accordingly obliged to put into his pocket La Valliere’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 Valliere’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 Valliere’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 Valliere’s had disappeared. Whilst busied with all kinds of conjectures and suspicions, a letter was brought to him from La Valliere; 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 Valliere’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.”

Malicorne entered.

“You come from Mademoiselle de la Valliere?” said the king, with a sigh.

“Yes, sire.”

“And you took Mademoiselle de la Valliere something from me?”

“I, sire?”

“Yes, you.”

“Oh, no, sire.”

“Mademoiselle de la Valliere says so, distinctly.”

“Oh, sire, Mademoiselle de la Valliere is mistaken.”

The king frowned. “What jest is this?” he said; “explain yourself. Why does Mademoiselle de la Valliere call you my messenger? What did you take to that lady? Speak, monsieur, and quickly.”

“Sire, I merely took Mademoiselle de la Valliere 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 Valliere’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 Valliere, 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.”

The 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 Paris could have done. Madame never knew of this little incident, but Montalais gave La Valliere some idea of the manner in which it had really happened, and La Valliere afterwards told the king, who laughed exceedingly at it and pronounced Malicorne to be a first rate politician. Louis XIV. was right, and it is well known that he was tolerably well acquainted with human nature.






Chapter XXXII. Which Treats of Gardeners, of Ladders, and Maids of Honor.


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 Valliere 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 royal oak, had a variety of indispositions ready prepared; and, thanks to them, she was unable to go out, and her maids of honor were obliged to remain indoors also. There was not the slightest chance of means of paying a nocturnal visit; for in this respect the king had, on the very first occasion, experienced a severe check, which happened in the following manner. As at Fontainebleau, he had taken Saint-Aignan with him one evening when he wished to pay La Valliere a visit; but he had found no one but Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, who had begun to call out “Fire!” and “Thieves!” in such a manner that a perfect legion of chamber-maids, attendants, and pages, ran to her assistance; so that Saint-Aignan, who had remained behind in order to save the honor of his royal master, who had fled precipitately, was obliged to submit to a severe scolding from the queen-mother, as well as from Madame herself. In addition, he had, the next morning, received two challenges from the De Mortemart family, and the king had been obliged to interfere. This mistake had been owing to the circumstance of Madame having suddenly ordered a change in the apartments of her maids of honor, and directed La Valliere and Montalais to sleep in her own cabinet. No gateway, therefore, was any longer open—not even communication by letter; to write under the eyes of so ferocious an Argus as Madame, whose temper and disposition were so uncertain, was to run the risk of exposure to the greatest danger; and it can well be conceived into what a state of continuous irritation, and ever increasing anger, all these petty annoyances threw the young lion. The king almost tormented himself to death endeavoring to discover a means of communication; and, as he did not think proper to call in the aid of Malicorne or D’Artagnan, the means were not discovered at all. Malicorne had, indeed, occasional brilliant flashes of imagination, with which he tried to inspire the king with confidence; but, whether from shame or suspicion, the king, who had at first begun to nibble at the bait, soon abandoned the hook. In this way, for instance, one evening, while the king was crossing the garden, and looking up at Madame’s windows, Malicorne stumbled over a ladder lying beside a border of box, and said to Manicamp, then walking with him behind the king, “Did you not see that I just now stumbled against a ladder, and was nearly thrown down?”

“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.”

“Eh!”

“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 Valliere 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?”

“Yes.”

“And that window close to the others, but more dimly lighted?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that is the room of the maids of honor. Look, there is Mademoiselle de la Valliere 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?”

“Exactly.”

“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?”

“Yes, sire.”

“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.”

“True.”

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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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?”

“Perfectly 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.”

“I understand.”

“Very fortunate you do.”

“Well, and what will happen next?”

“The next thing that will happen will be, that La Valliere, 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?”

“Precisely so.”

“Yes, but which?”

“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 Valliere 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.






Chapter XXXIII. Which Treats of Carpentry Operations, and Furnishes Details upon the Mode of Constructing Staircases.


The advice which had been given to Montalais was communicated by her to La Valliere, 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’oeuvre. 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 Valliere 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 Valliere, whose room now bore more resemblance to a cage than to anything else. When Mademoiselle de la Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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,

“MALICORNE.

“Write the reply, if you please, upon the letter itself.”

“Ah! poor fellow,” exclaimed La Valliere, “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 Valliere, 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 Valliere 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 Valliere, 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 Valliere 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 Valliere’s room.”

Saint-Aignan, at this remark, gave poor Malicorne a look, similar to one of those La Valliere 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 Valliere occupy.”

“Well; what then?”

“‘What then,’ do you say? Why, these two rooms are empty, since M. de Guiche is now lying wounded at Fontainebleau.”

“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 Valliere as carefully as Argus did after the nymph Io.”

“I do.”

“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.”

“Why so?”

“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 Ferte, 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 Valliere?”

“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 Valliere’s room is merely a wooden flooring.”

“Well?”

“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 Valliere’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 Valliere to descend into your room, or the king to ascend into Mademoiselle de la Valliere’s room.”

“But the staircase will be seen.”

“No; for in your room it will be hidden by a partition, over which you will throw a tapestry similar to that which covers the rest of the apartment; and in Mademoiselle de la Valliere’s room it will not be seen, for the trapdoor, which will be a part of the flooring itself, will be made to open under the bed.”

“Of course,” said Saint-Aignan, whose eyes began to sparkle with delight.

“And now, monsieur le comte, there is no occasion to make you admit that the king will frequently come to the room where such a staircase is constructed. I think that M. Dangeau, particularly, will be struck by my idea, and I shall now go and explain to him.”

“But, my dear Monsieur Malicorne, you forget that you spoke to me about it the first, and that I have consequently the right of priority.”

“Do you wish for the preference?”

“Do I wish it? Of course I do.”

“The fact is, Monsieur de Saint-Aignan, I am presenting you with a Jacob’s ladder, which is better than the promise of an additional step in the peerage—perhaps, even with a good estate to accompany your dukedom.”

“At least,” replied Saint-Aignan, “it will give me an opportunity of showing the king that he is not mistaken in occasionally calling me his friend; an opportunity, dear M. Malicorne, for which I am indebted to you.”

“And which you will not forget to remember?” inquired Malicorne, smiling.

“Nothing will delight me more, monsieur.”

“But I am not the king’s friend; I am simply his attendant.”

“Yes; and if you imagine that that staircase is as good as a dukedom for myself, I think there will certainly be letters of nobility at the top of it for you.”

Malicorne bowed.

“All I have to do now,” said Saint-Aignan, “is to move as soon as possible.”

“I do not think the king will object to it. Ask his permission, however.”

“I will go and see him this very moment.”

“And I will run and get the carpenter I was speaking of.”

“When will he be here?”

“This very evening.”

“Do not forget your precautions.”

“He shall be brought with his eyes bandaged.”

“And I will send you one of my carriages.”

“Without arms.”

“And one of my servants without livery. But stay, what will La Valliere say if she sees what is going on?”

“Oh! I can assure you she will be very much interested in the operation, and I am equally sure that if the king has not courage enough to ascend to her room, she will have sufficient curiosity to come down to him.”

“We will live in hope,” said Saint-Aignan; “and now I am off to his majesty. At what time will the carpenter be here?”

“At eight o’clock.”

“How long do you suppose he will take to make this opening?”

“About a couple of hours; only afterwards he must have sufficient time to construct what may be called the hyphen between the two rooms. One night and a portion of the following day will do; we must not reckon upon less than two days, including putting up the staircase.”

“Two days, that is a very long time.”

“Nay; when one undertakes to open up communications with paradise itself, we must at least take care that the approaches are respectable.”

“Quite right; so farewell for a short time, dear M. Malicorne. I shall begin to remove the day after to-morrow, in the evening.”