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Louise de la Valliere

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Chapter XXXVII. Hampton Court.


The revelation we have witnessed, that Montalais made to La Valliere, in a preceding chapter, very naturally makes us return to the principal hero of this tale, a poor wandering knight, roving about at the king’s caprice. If our readers will be good enough to follow us, we will, in his company, cross that strait, more stormy than the Euripus, which separates Calais from Dover; we will speed across that green and fertile country, with its numerous little streams; through Maidstone, and many other villages and towns, each prettier than the other; and, finally, arrive at London. From thence, like bloodhounds following a track, after having ascertained that Raoul had made his first stay at Whitehall, his second at St. James’s, and having learned that he had been warmly received by Monk, and introduced to the best society of Charles II.‘s court, we will follow him to one of Charles II.‘s summer residences near the lively little village of Kingston, at Hampton Court, situated on the Thames. The river is not, at that spot, the boastful highway which bears upon its broad bosom its thousands of travelers; nor are its waters black and troubled as those of Cocytus, as it boastfully asserts, “I, too, am cousin of the old ocean.” No, at Hampton Court it is a soft and murmuring stream, with moss-fringed banks, reflecting, in its broad mirror, the willows and beeches which ornament its sides, and on which may occasionally be seen a light bark indolently reclining among the tall reeds, in a little creek formed of alders and forget-me-nots. The surrounding country on all sides smiled in happiness and wealth; the brick cottages from whose chimneys the blue smoke was slowly ascending in wreaths, peeped forth from the belts of green holly which environed them; children dressed in red frocks appeared and disappeared amidst the high grass, like poppies bowed by the gentler breath of the passing breeze. The sheep, ruminating with half-closed eyes, lay lazily about under the shadow of the stunted aspens, while, far and near, the kingfishers, plumed with emerald and gold, skimmed swiftly along the surface of the water, like a magic ball heedlessly touching, as he passed, the line of his brother angler, who sat watching in his boat the fish as they rose to the surface of the sparkling stream. High above this paradise of dark shadows and soft light, rose the palace of Hampton Court, built by Wolsey—a residence the haughty cardinal had been obliged, timid courtier that he was, to offer to his master, Henry VIII., who had glowered with envy and cupidity at the magnificent new home. Hampton Court, with its brick walls, its large windows, its handsome iron gates, as well as its curious bell turrets, its retired covered walks, and interior fountains, like those of the Alhambra, was a perfect bower of roses, jasmine, and clematis. Every sense, sight and smell particularly, was gratified, and the reception-rooms formed a very charming framework for the pictures of love which Charles II. unrolled among the voluptuous paintings of Titian, of Pordenone and of Van Dyck; the same Charles whose father’s portrait—the martyr king—was hanging in his gallery, and who could show upon the wainscots of the various apartments the holes made by the balls of the puritanical followers of Cromwell, when on the 24th of August, 1648, at the time they had brought Charles I. prisoner to Hampton Court. There it was that the king, intoxicated with pleasure and adventure, held his court—he, who, a poet in feeling, thought himself justified in redeeming, by a whole day of voluptuousness, every minute which had been formerly passed in anguish and misery. It was not the soft green sward of Hampton Court—so soft that it almost resembled the richest velvet in the thickness of its texture—nor was it the beds of flowers, with their variegated hues which encircled the foot of every tree with rose-trees many feet in height, embracing most lovingly their trunks—nor even the enormous lime-trees, whose branches swept the earth like willows, offering a ready concealment for love or reflection beneath the shade of their foliage—it was none of these things for which Charles II. loved his palace of Hampton Court. Perhaps it might have been that beautiful sheet of water, which the cool breeze rippled like the wavy undulations of Cleopatra’s hair, waters bedecked with cresses and white water-lilies, whose chaste bulbs coyly unfolding themselves beneath the sun’s warm rays, reveal the golden gems which lie concealed within their milky petals—murmuring waters, on the bosom of which black swans majestically floated, and the graceful water-fowl, with their tender broods covered with silken down, darted restlessly in every direction, in pursuit of the insects among the reeds, or the fogs in their mossy retreats. Perhaps it might have been the enormous hollies, with their dark and tender green foliage; or the bridges uniting the banks of the canals in their embrace; or the fawns browsing in the endless avenues of the park; or the innumerable birds that hopped about the gardens, or flew from branch to branch, amidst the emerald foliage.

It might well have been any of these charms—for Hampton Court had them all; and possessed, too, almost forests of white roses, which climbed and trailed along the lofty trellises, showering down upon the ground their snowy leaves rich with soft perfumery. But no, what Charles II. most loved in Hampton Court were the charming figures who, when midday was past, flitted to and fro along the broad terraces of the gardens; like Louis XIV., he had their wealth of beauties painted for his gallery by one of the great artists of the period—an artist who well knew the secret of transferring to canvas the rays of light which escaped from beaming eyes heavy laden with love and love’s delights.

The day of our arrival at Hampton Court is almost as clear and bright as a summer’s day in France; the atmosphere is heavy with the delicious perfume of geraniums, sweet-peas, seringas, and heliotrope scattered in profusion around. It is past midday, and the king, having dined after his return from hunting, paid a visit to Lady Castlemaine, the lady who was reputed at the time to hold his heart in bondage; and this proof of his devotion discharged, he was readily permitted to pursue his infidelities until evening arrived. Love and amusement ruled the entire court; it was the period when ladies would seriously interrogate their ruder companions as to their opinions upon a foot more or less captivating, according to whether it wore a pink or lilac silk stocking—for it was the period when Charles II. had declared that there was no hope of safety for a woman who wore green silk stockings, because Miss Lucy Stewart wore them of that color. While the king is endeavoring in all directions to inculcate others with his preferences on this point, we will ourselves bend our steps towards an avenue of beech-trees opposite the terrace, and listen to the conversation of a young girl in a dark-colored dress, who is walking with another of about her own age dressed in blue. They crossed a beautiful lawn, from the center of which sprang a fountain, with the figure of a siren executed in bronze, and strolled on, talking as they went, towards the terrace, along which, looking out upon the park and interspersed at frequent intervals, were erected summer-houses, diverse in form and ornament; these summer-houses were nearly all occupied; the two young women passed on, the one blushing deeply, while the other seemed dreamily silent. At last, having reached the end of the terrace which looks on the river, and finding there a cool retreat, they sat down close to each other.

“Where are we going?” said the younger to her companion.

“My dear, we are going where you yourself led the way.”

“I?”

“Yes, you; to the extremity of the palace, towards that seat yonder, where the young Frenchman is seated, wasting his time in sighs and lamentations.”

Miss Mary Grafton hurriedly said, “No, no; I am not going there.”

“Why not?”

“Let us go back, Lucy.”

“Nay, on the contrary, let us go on, and have an explanation.”

“What about?”

“About how it happens that the Vicomte de Bragelonne always accompanies you in all your walks, as you invariably accompany him in his.”

“And you conclude either that he loves me, or that I love him?”

“Why not?—he is a most agreeable and charming companion.—No one hears me, I hope,” said Lucy Stewart, as she turned round with a smile, which indicated, moreover, that her uneasiness on the subject was not extreme.

“No, no,” said Mary, “the king is engaged in his summer-house with the Duke of Buckingham.”

“Oh! a propos of the duke, Mary, it seems he has shown you great attention since his return from France; how is your own heart in that direction?”

Mary Grafton shrugged her shoulders with seeming indifference.

“Well, well, I will ask Bragelonne about it,” said Stewart, laughing; “let us go and find him at once.”

“What for?”

“I wish to speak to him.”

“Not yet, one word before you do: come, come, you who know so many of the king’s secrets, tell me why M. de Bragelonne is in England?”

“Because he was sent as an envoy from one sovereign to another.”

“That may be; but, seriously, although politics do not much concern us, we know enough to be satisfied that M. de Bragelonne has no mission of serious import here.”

“Well, then, listen,” said Stewart, with assumed gravity, “for your sake I am going to betray a state secret. Shall I tell you the nature of the letter which King Louis XIV. gave M. de Bragelonne for King Charles II.? I will; these are the very words: ‘My brother, the bearer of this is a gentleman attached to my court, and the son of one whom you regard most warmly. Treat him kindly, I beg, and try and make him like England.’”

“Did it say that!”

“Word for word—or something very like it. I will not answer for the form, but the substance I am sure of.”

“Well, and what conclusion do you, or rather what conclusion does the king, draw from that?”

“That the king of France has his own reasons for removing M. de Bragelonne, and for getting him married anywhere else than in France.”

“So that, then, in consequence of this letter—”

“King Charles received M. de Bragelonne, as you are aware, in the most distinguished and friendly manner; the handsomest apartments in Whitehall were allotted to him; and as you are the most valuable and precious person in his court, inasmuch as you have rejected his heart,—nay, do not blush,—he wished you to take a fancy to this Frenchman, and he was desirous to confer upon him so costly a prize. And this is the reason why you, the heiress of three hundred thousand pounds, a future duchess, so beautiful, so good, have been thrown in Bragelonne’s way, in all the promenades and parties of pleasure to which he was invited. In fact it was a plot,—a kind of conspiracy.”

Mary Grafton smiled with that charming expression which was habitual to her, and pressing her companion’s arm, said: “Thank the king, Lucy.”

“Yes, yes, but the Duke of Buckingham is jealous, so take care.”

Hardly had she pronounced these words, when the duke appeared from one of the pavilions on the terrace, and, approaching the two girls, with a smile, said, “You are mistaken, Miss Lucy; I am not jealous; and the proof, Miss Mary, is yonder, in the person of M. de Bragelonne himself, who ought to be the cause of my jealousy, but who is dreaming in pensive solitude. Poor fellow! Allow me to leave you for a few minutes, while I avail myself of those few minutes to converse with Miss Lucy Stewart, to whom I have something to say.” And then, bowing to Lucy, he added, “Will you do me the honor to accept my hand, in order that I may lead you to the king, who is waiting for us?” With these words, Buckingham, still smiling, took Miss Stewart’s hand, and led her away. When by herself, Mary Grafton, her head gently inclined towards her shoulder, with that indolent gracefulness of action which distinguishes young English girls, remained for a moment with her eyes fixed on Raoul, but as if uncertain what to do. At last, after first blushing violently, and then turning deadly pale, thus revealing the internal combat which assailed her heart, she seemed to make up her mind to adopt a decided course, and with a tolerably firm step, advanced towards the seat on which Raoul was reclining, buried in the profoundest meditation, as we have already said. The sound of Miss Mary’s steps, though they could hardly be heard upon the green sward, awakened Raoul from his musing attitude; he turned round, perceived the young girl, and walked forward to meet the companion whom his happy destiny had thrown in his way.

“I have been sent to you, monsieur,” said Mary Grafton; “will you take care of me?”

“To whom is my gratitude due, for so great a happiness?” inquired Raoul.

“To the Duke of Buckingham,” replied Mary, affecting a gayety she did not really feel.

“To the Duke of Buckingham, do you say?—he who so passionately seeks your charming society! Am I really to believe you are serious, mademoiselle?”

“The fact is, monsieur, you perceive, that everything seems to conspire to make us pass the best, or rather the longest, part of our days together. Yesterday it was the king who desired me to beg you to seat yourself next to me at dinner; to-day, it is the Duke of Buckingham who begs me to come and place myself near you on this seat.”

“And he has gone away in order to leave us together?” asked Raoul, with some embarrassment.

“Look yonder, at the turning of that path; he is just out of sight, with Miss Stewart. Are these polite attentions usual in France, monsieur le vicomte?”

“I cannot very precisely say what people do in France, mademoiselle, for I can hardly be called a Frenchman. I have resided in many countries, and almost always as a soldier; and then, I have spent a long period of my life in the country. I am almost a savage.”

“You do not like your residence in England, I fear.”

“I scarcely know,” said Raoul, inattentively, and sighing deeply at the same time.

“What! you do not know?”

“Forgive me,” said Raoul, shaking his head, and collecting his thoughts, “I did not hear you.”

“Oh!” said the young girl, sighing in her turn, “how wrong the duke was to send me here!”

“Wrong!” said Raoul, “perhaps so; for I am but a rude, uncouth companion, and my society annoys you. The duke did, indeed, very wrong to send you.”

“It is precisely,” replied Mary Grafton, in a clear, calm voice, “because your society does not annoy me, that the duke was wrong to send me to you.”

It was now Raoul’s turn to blush. “But,” he resumed, “how happens it that the Duke of Buckingham should send you to me; and why did you come? the duke loves you, and you love him.”

“No,” replied Mary, seriously, “the duke does not love me, because he is in love with the Duchesse d’Orleans; and, as for myself, I have no affection for the duke.”

Raoul looked at the young lady with astonishment.

“Are you a friend of the Duke of Buckingham?” she inquired.

“The duke has honored me by calling me so ever since we met in France.”

“You are simple acquaintances, then?”

“No; for the duke is the most intimate friend of one whom I regard as a brother.”

“The Duc de Guiche?”

“Yes.”

“He who is in love with Madame la Duchesse d’Orleans?”

“Oh! What is that you are saying?”

“And who loves him in return,” continued the young girl, quietly.

Raoul bent down his head, and Mary Grafton, sighing deeply, continued, “They are very happy. But, leave me, Monsieur de Bragelonne, for the Duke of Buckingham has given you a very troublesome commission in offering me as a companion for your promenade. Your heart is elsewhere, and it is with the greatest difficulty you can be charitable enough to lend me your attention. Confess truly; it would be unfair on your part, vicomte, not to admit it.”

“Madame, I do confess it.”

She looked at him steadily. He was so noble and so handsome in his bearing, his eyes revealed so much gentleness, candor, and resolution, that the idea could not possibly enter her mind that he was either rudely discourteous, or a mere simpleton. She only perceived, clearly enough, that he loved another woman, and not herself, with the whole strength of his heart. “Ah! I now understand you,” she said; “you have left your heart behind you in France.” Raoul bowed. “The duke is aware of your affection?”

“No one knows it,” replied Raoul.

“Why, therefore, do you tell me? Nay, answer me.”

“I cannot.”

“It is for me, then, to anticipate an explanation; you do not wish to tell me anything, because you are now convinced that I do not love the duke; because you see that I possibly might have loved you; because you are a gentleman of noble and delicate sentiments; and because, instead of accepting, even were it for the mere amusement of the passing hour, a hand which is almost pressed upon you; and because, instead of meeting my smiles with a smiling lip, you, who are young, have preferred to tell me, whom men have called beautiful, ‘My heart is over the sea—it is in France.’ For this, I thank you, Monsieur de Bragelonne; you are, indeed, a noble-hearted, noble-minded man, and I regard you all the more for it, as a friend only. And now let us cease speaking of myself, and talk of your own affairs. Forget that I have ever spoken to you of myself, tell me why you are sad, and why you have become more than usually so during these past four days?”

Raoul was deeply and sensibly moved by these sweet and melancholy tones; and as he could not, at the moment, find a word to say, the young girl again came to his assistance.

“Pity me,” she said. “My mother was born in France, and I can truly affirm that I, too, am French in blood, as well as in feeling; but the leaden atmosphere and characteristic gloom of England seem to weigh upon me. Sometimes my dreams are golden-hued and full of wonderful enjoyments, when suddenly a mist rises and overspreads my fancy, blotting them out forever. Such, indeed, is the case at the present moment. Forgive me; I have now said enough on that subject; give me your hand, and relate your griefs to me as a friend.”

“You say you are French in heart and soul?”

“Yes, not only, I repeat it, that my mother was French, but, further, as my father, a friend of King Charles I., was exiled in France, I, during the trial of that prince, as well as during the Protector’s life, was brought up in Paris; at the Restoration of King Charles II., my poor father returned to England, where he died almost immediately afterwards; and then the king created me a duchess, and has dowered me according to my rank.

“Have you any relations in France?” Raoul inquired, with the deepest interest.

“I have a sister there, my senior by seven or eight years, who was married in France, and was early left a widow; her name is Madame de Belliere. Do you know her?” she added, observing Raoul start suddenly.

“I have heard her name.”

“She, too, loves with her whole heart; and her last letters inform me she is happy, and her affection is, I conclude, returned. I told you, Monsieur de Bragelonne, that although I possess half of her nature, I do not share her happiness. But let us now speak of yourself; whom do you love in France?”

“A young girl, as soft and pure as a lily.”

“But if she loves you, why are you sad?”

“I have been told that she ceases to love me.”

“You do not believe it, I trust?”

“He who wrote me so does not sign his letter.”

“An anonymous denunciation! some treachery, be assured,” said Miss Grafton.

“Stay,” said Raoul, showing the young girl a letter which he had read over a thousand times; she took it from his hand and read as follows:

“VICOMTE,—You are perfectly right to amuse yourself yonder with the lovely faces of Charles II.‘s court, for at Louis XIV.‘s court, the castle in which your affections are enshrined is being besieged. Stay in London altogether, poor vicomte, or return without delay to Paris.”

“There is no signature,” said Miss Mary.

“None.”

“Believe it not, then.”

“Very good; but here is a second letter, from my friend De Guiche, which says, ‘I am lying here wounded and ill. Return, Raoul, oh, return!’”

“What do you intend doing?” inquired the young girl, with a feeling of oppression at her heart.

“My intention, as soon as I received this letter, was immediately to take my leave of the king.”

“When did you receive it?”

“The day before yesterday.”

“It is dated Fontainebleau.”

“A singular circumstance, do you not think, for the court is now at Paris? At all events, I would have set off; but when I mentioned my intention to the king, he began to laugh, and said to me, ‘How comes it, monsieur l’amassadeur, that you think of leaving? Has your sovereign recalled you?’ I colored, naturally enough, for I was confused by the question; for the fact is, the king himself sent me here, and I have received no order to return.”

Mary frowned in deep thought, and said, “Do you remain, then?”

“I must, mademoiselle.”

“Do you ever receive any letters from her to whom you are so devoted?”

“Never.”

“Never, do you say? Does she not love you, then?”

“At least, she has not written to me since my departure, although she used occasionally to write to me before. I trust she may have been prevented.”

“Hush! the duke is coming.”

And Buckingham at that moment was seen at the end of the walk, approaching towards them, alone and smiling; he advanced slowly, and held out his hands to them both. “Have you arrived at an understanding?” he said.

“About what?”

“About whatever might render you happy, dear Mary, and make Raoul less miserable.”

“I do not understand you, my lord,” said Raoul.

“That is my view of the subject, Miss Mary; do you wish me to mention it before M. de Bragelonne?” he added, with a smile.

“If you mean,” replied the young girl, haughtily, “that I was not indisposed to love M. de Bragelonne, that is useless, for I have told him so myself.”

Buckingham reflected for a moment, and, without seeming in any way discountenanced, as she expected, he said: “My reason for leaving you with M. de Bragelonne was, that I thoroughly knew your refined delicacy of feeling, no less than the perfect loyalty of your mind and heart, and I hoped that M. de Bragelonne’s cure might be effected by the hands of a physician such as you are.”

“But, my lord, before you spoke of M. de Bragelonne’s heart, you spoke to me of your own. Do you mean to effect the cure of two hearts at the same time?”

“Perfectly true, madame; but you will do me the justice to admit that I have long discontinued a useless pursuit, acknowledging that my own wound is incurable.”

“My lord,” said Mary, collecting herself for a moment before she spoke, “M. de Bragelonne is happy, for he loves and is beloved. He has no need of such a physician as I can be.”

“M. de Bragelonne,” said Buckingham, “is on the very eve of experiencing a serious misfortune, and he has greater need than ever of sympathy and affection.”

“Explain yourself, my lord,” inquired Raoul, anxiously.

“No; gradually I will explain myself; but, if you desire it, I can tell Miss Grafton what you may not listen to yourself.”

“My lord, you are putting me to the torture; you know something you wish to conceal from me?”

“I know that Miss Mary Grafton is the most charming object that a heart ill at ease could possibly meet with in its way through life.”

“I have already told you that the Vicomte de Bragelonne loves elsewhere,” said the young girl.

“He is wrong, then.”

“Do you assume to know, my lord, that I am wrong?”

“Yes.”

“Whom is it that he loves, then?” exclaimed the young girl.

“He loves a lady who is unworthy of him,” said Buckingham, with that calm, collected manner peculiar to Englishmen.

Miss Grafton uttered a cry, which, together with the remark that Buckingham had that moment made, spread over De Bragelonne’s features a deadly paleness, arising from the sudden surprise, and also from a vague fear of impending misfortune. “My lord,” he exclaimed, “you have just pronounced words which compel me, without a moment’s delay, to seek their explanation in Paris.”

“You will remain here,” said Buckingham, “because you have no right to leave; and no one has the right to quit the service of the king for that of any woman, even were she as worthy of being loved as Mary Grafton is.”

“You will tell me all, then?”

“I will, on condition that you will remain.”

“I will remain, if you will promise to speak openly and without reserve.”

Thus far had their conversation proceeded, and Buckingham, in all probability, was on the point of revealing, not indeed all that had taken place, but at least all he was aware of, when one of the king’s attendants appeared at the end of the terrace, and advanced towards the summer-house where the king was sitting with Lucy Stewart. A courier followed him, covered with dust from head to foot, and who seemed as if he had but a few moments before dismounted from his horse.

“The courier from France! Madame’s courier!” exclaimed Raoul, recognizing the princess’s livery; and while the attendant and the courier advanced towards the king, Buckingham and Miss Grafton exchanged a look full of intelligence with each other.






Chapter XXXVIII. The Courier from Madame.


Charles II. was busily engaged in proving, or in endeavoring to prove, to Miss Stewart that she was the only person for whom he cared at all, and consequently was avowing to her an affection similar to that which his ancestor Henry IV. had entertained for Gabrielle. Unfortunately for Charles II., he had hit upon an unlucky day, the very day Miss Stewart had taken it into her head to make him jealous, and therefore, instead of being touched by his offer, as the king had hoped, she laughed heartily.

“Oh! sire, sire,” she cried, laughing all the while; “if I were to be unfortunate enough to ask you for a proof of the affection you possess, how easy it would be to see that you are telling a falsehood.”

“Nay, listen to me,” said Charles, “you know my cartoons by Raphael; you know whether I care for them or not; the whole world envies me their possession, as you well know also; my father commissioned Van Dyck to purchase them. Would you like me to send them to your house this very day?”

“Oh, no!” replied the young girl; “pray keep them yourself, sire; my house is far too small to accommodate such visitors.”

“In that case you shall have Hampton Court to put the cartoons in.”

“Be less generous, sire, and learn to love a little while longer, that is all I have to ask you.”

“I shall never cease to love you; is not that enough?”

“You are smiling, sire.”

“Do you wish me to weep?”

“No; but I should like to see you a little more melancholy.”

“Thank Heaven, I have been so long enough; fourteen years of exile, poverty, and misery, I think I may well regard it as a debt discharged; besides, melancholy makes people look so plain.”

“Far from that—for look at the young Frenchman.”

“What! the Vicomte de Bragelonne? are you smitten too? By Heaven, they will all grow mad over him one after the other; but he, on the contrary, has a reason for being melancholy.”

“Why so?”

“Oh, indeed! you wish me to betray state secrets, do you?”

“If I wish it, you must do so, for you told me you were quite ready to do everything I wished.”

“Well, then, he is bored in his own country. Does that satisfy you?”

“Bored?”

“Yes, a proof that he is a simpleton; I allow him to fall in love with Miss Mary Grafton, and he feels bored. Can you believe it?”

“Very good; it seems, then, that if you were to find Miss Lucy Stewart indifferent to you, you would console yourself by falling in love with Miss Mary Grafton.”

“I don’t say that; in the first place, you know that Mary Grafton does not care for me; besides, a man can only console himself for a lost affection by the discovery of a new one. Again, however, I repeat, the question is not of myself, but of that young man. One might almost be tempted to call the girl he has left behind him a Helen—a Helen before the little ceremony she went through with Paris, of course.”

“He has left some one, then?”

“That is to say, some one has left him.”

“Poor fellow! so much the worse!”

“Why do you mean by ‘so much the worse’?”

“Why not? why did he leave?”

“Do you think it was of his own wish or will that he left?”

“Was he obliged to leave, then?”

“He left Paris under orders, my dear Stewart; and prepare to be surprised—by express orders of the king.”

“Ah! I begin to see, now.”

“At least say nothing at all about it.”

“You know very well that I am just as discreet as anybody else. And so the king sent him away?”

“Yes.”

“And during his absence he takes his sweetheart from him?”

“Yes; and, will you believe it? the silly fellow, instead of thanking the king, is making himself miserable.”

“What! thank the king for depriving him of the woman he loves! Really, sire, yours is a most ungallant speech.”

“But, pray understand me. If she whom the king had run off with was either a Miss Grafton or a Miss Stewart, I should not be of his opinion; nay, I should even think him not half wretched enough; but she is a little, thin, lame thing. Deuce take such fidelity as that! Surely, one can hardly understand how a man can refuse a girl who is rich for one who is poverty itself—a girl who loves him for one who deceives and betrays him.”

“Do you think that Mary seriously wishes to please the vicomte, sire?”

“I do, indeed.”

“Very good! the vicomte will settle down in England, for Mary has a clear head, and when she fixes her mind upon anything, she does so thoroughly.”

“Take care, my dear Miss Stewart; if the vicomte has any idea of adopting our country, he has not long to do so, for it was only the day before yesterday that he again asked me for permission to leave.”

“Which you refused him, I suppose?”

“I should think so, indeed; my royal brother is far too anxious for his absence; and, for myself, my amour propre is enlisted on his side, for I will never have it said that I had held out as a bait to this young man the noblest and gentlest creature in England—”

“You are very gallant, sire,” said Miss Stewart, with a pretty pout.

“I do not allude to Miss Stewart, for she is worthy of a king’s devotion; and since she has captivated me I trust that no one else will be caught by her; I say, therefore, finally, that the attention I have shown this young man will not have been thrown away; he will stay with us here, he will marry here, or I am very much mistaken.”

“And I hope that when he is once married and settled, instead of being angry with your majesty, he will be grateful to you, for every one tries his utmost to please him; even the Duke of Buckingham, whose brilliancy, which is incredible, seems to pale before that of this young Frenchman.”

“Including Miss Stewart even, who calls him the most finished gentleman she ever saw.”

“Stay, sire; you have spoken quite enough, and quite highly enough, of Miss Grafton, to overlook what I may have said about De Bragelonne. But, by the by, sire, your kindness for some time past astonishes me: you think of those who are absent, you forgive those who have done you a wrong, in fact, you are as nearly as possible, perfect. How does it happen—”

“It is because you allow yourself to be loved,” he said, beginning to laugh.

“Oh! there must be some other reason.”

“Well, I am doing all I can to oblige my brother, Louis XIV.”

“Nay, I must have another reason.”

“Well, then, the true motive is that Buckingham strongly recommended the young man to me, saying: ‘Sire, I begin by yielding up all claim to Miss Grafton; I pray you follow my example.’”

“The duke is, indeed, a true gentleman.”

“Oh! of course, of course; it is Buckingham’s turn now, I suppose, to turn your head. You seem determined to cross me in everything to-day.”

At this moment some one rapped at the door.

“Who is it who presumes to interrupt us?” exclaimed Charles, impatiently.

“Really, sire, you are extremely vain with your ‘who is it who presumes?’ and in order to punish you for it—”

She went to the door and opened it.

“It is a courier from France,” said Miss Stewart.

“A courier from France!” exclaimed Charles; “from my sister, perhaps?”

“Yes, sire,” said the usher, “a special messenger.”

“Let him come in at once,” said Charles.

“You have a letter for me,” said the king to the courier as he entered, “from the Duchess of Orleans?”

“Yes, sire,” replied the courier, “and so urgent in its nature that I have only been twenty-six hours in bringing it to your majesty, and yet I lost three-quarters of an hour at Calais.”

“Your zeal shall not be forgotten,” said the king, as he opened the letter. When he had read it he burst out laughing, and exclaimed, “Upon my word, I am at a loss to understand anything about it.” He then read the letter a second time, Miss Stewart assuming a manner marked by the greatest reserve, and doing her utmost to restrain her ardent curiosity.

“Francis,” said the king to his valet, “see that this excellent fellow is well taken care of and sleeps soundly, and that on waking to-morrow he finds a purse of fifty sovereigns by his bedside.”

“Sire!” said the courier, amazed.

“Begone, begone; my sister was perfectly right in desiring you to use the utmost diligence; the affair was most pressing.” And he again began to laugh louder than ever. The courier, the valet, and Miss Stewart hardly knew what sort of countenance to assume. “Ah!” said the king, throwing himself back in his armchair: “When I think that you have knocked up—how many horses?”

“Two!”

“Two horses to bring this intelligence to me. That will do, you can leave us now.”

The courier retired with the valet. Charles went to the window, which he opened, and leaning forward, called out—“Duke! Buckingham! come here, there’s a good fellow.”

The duke hurried to him, in obedience to the summons; but when he reached the door, and perceived Miss Stewart, he hesitated to enter.

“Come in, and shut the door,” said the king. The duke obeyed; and, perceiving in what an excellent humor the king was, he advanced, smiling, towards him. “Well, my dear duke, how do you get on with your Frenchman?”

“Sire, I am in the most perfect state of utter despair about him.”

“Why so?”

“Because charming Miss Grafton is willing to marry him, but he is unwilling.”

“Why, he is a perfect Boeotian!” cried Miss Stewart. “Let him say either ‘Yes,’ or No,’ and let the affair end.”

“But,” said Buckingham, seriously, “you know, or you ought to know, madame, that M. de Bragelonne is in love in another direction.”

“In that case,” said the king, coming to Miss Stewart’s help, “nothing is easier; let him say ‘No,’ then.”

“Very true; and I have proved to him he was wrong not to say ‘Yes.’”

“You told him candidly, I suppose, that La Valliere was deceiving him?”

“Yes, without the slightest reserve; and, as soon as I had done so, he gave a start, as if he were going to clear the Channel at a bound.”

“At all events,” said Miss Stewart, “he has done something; and a very good thing too, upon my word.”

“But,” said Buckingham, “I stopped him; I have left him and Miss Mary in conversation together, and I sincerely trust that now he will not leave, as he seemed to have an idea of doing.”

“An idea of leaving England?” cried the king.

“I, at one moment, hardly thought that any human power could have prevented him; but Miss Mary’s eyes are now bent fully on him, and he will remain.”

“Well, that is the very thing which deceives you, Buckingham,” said the king, with a peal of laughter; “the poor fellow is predestined.”

“Predestined to what?”

“If it were to be simply deceived, that is nothing; but, to look at him, it is a great deal.”

“At a distance, and with Miss Grafton’s aid, the blow will be warded off.”

“Far from it, far from it; neither distance nor Miss Grafton’s help will be of the slightest avail. Bragelonne will set off for Paris within an hour’s time.”

Buckingham started, and Miss Stewart opened her eyes very wide in astonishment.

“But, sire,” said the duke, “your majesty knows that it is impossible.”

“That is to say, my dear Buckingham, that it is impossible until it happens.”

“Do not forget, sire, that the young man is a perfect lion, and that his wrath is terrible.”

“I don’t deny it, my dear duke.”

“And that if he sees that his misfortune is certain, so much the worse for the author of it.”

“I don’t deny it; but what the deuce am I to do?”

“Were it the king himself,” cried Buckingham, “I would not answer for him.”

“Oh, the king has his musketeers to take care of him,” said Charles, quietly; “I know that perfectly well, for I was kept dancing attendance in his ante-chamber at Blois. He has M. d’Artagnan, and what better guardian could the king have than M. d’Artagnan? I should make myself perfectly easy with twenty storms of passion, such as Bragelonne might display, if I had four guardians like D’Artagnan.”

“But I entreat your majesty, who is so good and kind, to reflect a little.”

“Stay,” said Charles II., presenting the letter to the duke, “read, and answer yourself what you would do in my place.”

Buckingham slowly took hold of Madame’s letter, and trembling with emotion, read the following words:

“For your own sake, for mine, for the honor and safety of every one, send M. de Bragelonne back to France immediately. Your devoted sister, HENRIETTA.”

“Well, Villiers, what do you say?”

“Really, sire, I have nothing to say,” replied the duke, stupefied.

“Nay, would you, of all persons,” said the king, artfully, “advise me not to listen to my sister when she writes so urgently?”

“Oh, no, no, sire; and yet—”

“You have not read the postscript, Villiers; it is under the fold of the letter, and escaped me at first; read it.” And as the duke turned down a fold of the letter, he read:

“A thousand kind remembrances to those who love me.”

The duke’s head sank gradually on his breast; the paper trembled in his fingers, as if it had been changed to lead. The king paused for a moment, and, seeing that Buckingham did not speak, “He must follow his destiny, as we ours,” continued the king; “every man has his own share of grief in this world; I have had my own,—I have had that of others who belong to me,—and have thus had a double weight of woe to endure!—But the deuce take all my cares now! Go, and bring our friend here, Villiers.”

The duke opened the trellised door of the summer-house, and pointing at Raoul and Mary, who were walking together side by side, said, “What a cruel blow, sire, for poor Miss Grafton!”

“Nonsense; call him,” said Charles II., knitting his black brows together; “every one seems to be sentimental here. There, look at Miss Stewart, who is wiping her eyes,—now deuce take the French fellow!”

The duke called to Raoul, and taking Miss Grafton by the hand, he led her towards the king.

“Monsieur de Bragelonne,” said Charles II., “did you not ask me the day before yesterday for permission to return to Paris?”

“Yes, sire,” replied Raoul, greatly puzzled by this address.

“And I refused you, I think?”

“Yes, sire.”

“For which you were angry with me?”

“No, sire; your majesty had no doubt excellent reasons for withholding it; for you are so wise and so good that everything you do is well done.”

“I alleged, I believe, as a reason, that the king of France had not recalled you?”

“Yes, sire, that was the reason you assigned.”

“Well, M. de Bragelonne, I have reflected over the matter since; if the king did not, in fact, fix your return, he begged me to render your sojourn in England as agreeable as possible; since, however, you ask my permission to return, it is because your longer residence in England is no longer agreeable to you.”

“I do not say that, sire.”

“No, but your request, at least,” said the king, “signified that another place of residence would be more agreeable to you than this.”

At this moment Raoul turned towards the door, against which Miss Grafton was leaning, pale and sorrow-stricken; her other hand was passed through the duke’s arm.

“You do not reply,” pursued Charles; “the proverb is plain enough, that ‘silence gives consent.’ Very good, Monsieur de Bragelonne; I am now in a position to satisfy you; whenever you please, therefore, you can leave for Paris, for which you have my authority.”

“Sire!” exclaimed Raoul, while Mary stifled an exclamation of grief which rose to her lips, unconsciously pressing Buckingham’s arm.

“You can be at Dover this evening,” continued the king, “the tide serves at two o’clock in the morning.”

Raoul, astounded, stammered out a few broken sentences, which equally answered the purpose both of thanks and of excuse.

“I therefore bid you adieu, Monsieur de Bragelonne, and wish you every sort of prosperity,” said the king, rising; “you will confer a pleasure on me by keeping this diamond in remembrance of me; I had intended it as a marriage gift.”

Miss Grafton felt her limbs almost giving way; and, as Raoul received the ring from the king’s hand, he, too, felt his strength and courage failing him. He addressed a few respectful words to the king, a passing compliment to Miss Stewart, and looked for Buckingham to bid him adieu. The king profited by this moment to disappear. Raoul found the duke engaged in endeavoring to encourage Miss Grafton.

“Tell him to remain, I implore you!” said Buckingham to Mary.

“No, I will tell him to go,” replied Miss Grafton, with returning animation; “I am not one of those women who have more pride than heart; if she whom he loves is in France, let him return thither and bless me for having advised him to go and seek his happiness there. If, on the contrary, she shall have ceased to love him, let him come back here again; I shall still love him, and his unhappiness will not have lessened him in my regard. In the arms of my house you will find that which Heaven has engraven on my heart—Habenti parum, egenti cuncta. ‘To the rich is accorded little, to the poor everything.’”

“I do not believe, Bragelonne, that you will find yonder the equivalent of what you leave behind you here.”

“I think, or at least hope,” said Raoul, with a gloomy air, “that she whom I love is worthy of my affection; but if it be true she is unworthy of me, as you have endeavored to make me believe, I will tear her image from my heart, duke, even if my heart breaks in the attempt.”

Mary Grafton gazed upon him with an expression of the most indefinable pity, and Raoul returned her look with a sweet, sorrowful smile, saying, “Mademoiselle, the diamond which the king has given me was destined for you,—give me leave to offer it for your acceptance: if I marry in France, you will send it me back; if I do not marry, keep it.” And he bowed and left her.

“What does he mean?” thought Buckingham, while Raoul pressed Mary’s icy hand with marks of the most reverential respect.

Mary understood the look that Buckingham fixed upon her.

“If it were a wedding-ring, I would not accept it,” she said.

“And yet you were willing to ask him to return to you.”

“Oh! duke,” cried the young girl in heart-broken accents, “a woman such as I am is never accepted as a consolation by a man like him.”

“You do not think he will return, then?”

“Never,” said Miss Grafton, in a choking voice.

“And I grieve to tell you, Mary, that he will find yonder his happiness destroyed, his mistress lost to him. His honor even has not escaped. What will be left him, then, Mary, equal to your affection? Answer, Mary, you who know yourself so well.”

Miss Grafton placed her white hand on Buckingham’s arm, and, while Raoul was hurrying away with headlong speed, she repeated in dying accents the line from Romeo and Juliet:

“I must be gone and live, or stay and die.”

As she finished the last word, Raoul disappeared. Miss Grafton returned to her own apartments, paler than death. Buckingham availed himself of the arrival of the courier, who had brought the letter to the king, to write to Madame and to the Comte de Guiche. The king had not been mistaken, for at two in the morning the tide was at full flood, and Raoul had embarked for France.






Chapter XXXIX. Saint-Aignan Follows Malicorne’s Advice.


The king most assiduously followed the progress which was made in La Valliere’s portrait; and did so with a care and attention arising as much from a desire that it should resemble her as from the wish that the painter should prolong the period of its completion as much as possible. It was amusing to observe him follow the artist’s brush, awaiting the completion of a particular plan, or the result of a combination of colors, and suggesting various modifications to the painter, which the latter consented to adopt with the most respectful docility. And again, when the artist, following Malicorne’s advice, was a little late in arriving, and when Saint-Aignan had been obliged to be absent for some time, it was interesting to observe, though no one witnessed them, those moments of silence full of deep expression, which united in one sigh two souls most disposed to understand each other, and who by no means objected to the quiet meditation they enjoyed together. The minutes flew rapidly by, as if on wings, and as the king drew closer to Louise and bent his burning gaze upon her, a noise was suddenly heard in the ante-room. It was the artist, who had just arrived; Saint-Aignan, too, had returned, full of apologies; and the king began to talk and La Valliere to answer him very hurriedly, their eyes revealing to Saint-Aignan that they had enjoyed a century of happiness during his absence. In a word, Malicorne, philosopher that he was, though he knew it not, had learned how to inspire the king with an appetite in the midst of plenty, and with desire in the assurance of possession. La Valliere’s fears of interruption had never been realized, and no one imagined she was absent from her apartment two or three hours every day; she pretended that her health was very uncertain; those who went to her room always knocked before entering, and Malicorne, the man of so many ingenious inventions, had constructed an acoustic piece of mechanism, by means of which La Valliere, when in Saint-Aignan’s apartment, was always forewarned of any visits which were paid to the room she usually inhabited. In this manner, therefore, without leaving her room, and having no confidante, she was able to return to her apartment, thus removing by her appearance, a little tardy perhaps, the suspicions of the most determined skeptics. Malicorne having asked Saint-Aignan the next morning what news he had to report, the latter was obliged to confess that the quarter of an hour’s liberty had made the king in most excellent humor. “We must double the dose,” replied Malicorne, “but by insensible degrees; wait until they seem to wish it.”

They were so desirous for it, however, that on the evening of the fourth day, at the moment when the painter was packing up his implements, during Saint-Aignan’s continued absence, Saint-Aignan on his return noticed upon La Valliere’s face a shade of disappointment and vexation, which she could not conceal. The king was less reserved, and exhibited his annoyance by a very significant shrug of the shoulders, at which La Valliere could not help blushing. “Very good!” thought Saint-Aignan to himself; “M. Malicorne will be delighted this evening;” as he, in fact, was, when it was reported to him.

“It is very evident,” he remarked to the comte, “that Mademoiselle de la Valliere hoped that you would be at least ten minutes later.”

“And the king that I should be half an hour later, dear Monsieur Malicorne.”

“You would show but very indifferent devotion to the king,” replied the latter, “if you were to refuse his majesty that half-hour’s satisfaction.”

“But the painter,” objected Saint-Aignan.

“I will take care of him,” said Malicorne, “only I must study faces and circumstances a little better before I act; those are my magical inventions and contrivances; and while sorcerers are enabled by means of their astrolabe to take the altitude of the sun, moon, and stars, I am satisfied merely by looking into people’s faces, in order to see if their eyes are encircled with dark lines, and if the mouth describes a convex or concave arc.”

And the cunning Malicorne had every opportunity of watching narrowly and closely, for the very same evening the king accompanied the queen to Madame’s apartments, and made himself so remarked by his serious face and his deep sigh, and looked at La Valliere with such a languishing expression, that Malicorne said to Montalais during the evening: “To-morrow.” And he went off to the painter’s house in the street of the Jardins Saint-Paul to request him to postpone the next sitting for a couple of days. Saint-Aignan was not within, when La Valliere, who was now quite familiar with the lower story, lifted up the trap-door and descended. The king, as usual was waiting for her on the staircase, and held a bouquet in his hand; as soon as he saw her, he clasped her tenderly in his arms. La Valliere, much moved at the action, looked around the room, but as she saw the king was alone, she did not complain of it. They sat down, the king reclining near the cushions on which Louise was seated, with his head supported by her knees, placed there as in an asylum whence no one could banish him; he gazed ardently upon her, and as if the moment had arrived when nothing could interpose between their two hearts; she, too, gazed with similar passion upon him, and from her eyes, so softly pure, emanated a flame, whose rays first kindled and then inflamed the heart of the king, who, trembling with happiness as Louise’s hand rested on his head, grew giddy from excess of joy, and momentarily awaited either the painter’s or Saint-Aignan’s return to break the sweet illusion. But the door remained closed, and neither Saint-Aignan nor the painter appeared, nor did the hangings even move. A deep mysterious silence reigned in the room—a silence which seemed to influence even the song-birds in their gilded prisons. The king, completely overcome, turned round his head and buried his burning lips in La Valliere’s hands, who, herself faint, with excess of emotion, pressed her trembling hands against her lover’s lips. Louis threw himself upon his knees, and as La Valliere did not move her head, the king’s forehead being within reach of her lips, she furtively passed her lips across the perfumed locks which caressed her cheeks. The king seized her in his arms, and, unable to resist the temptation, they exchanged their first kiss, that burning kiss, which changes love into delirium. Suddenly, a noise upon the upper floor was heard, which had, in fact, continued, though it had remained unnoticed, for some time; it had at last aroused La Valliere’s attention, though but slowly so. As the noise, however, continued, as it forced itself upon the attention, and recalled the poor girl from her dreams of happiness to the sad realities of life, she rose in a state of utter bewilderment, though beautiful in her disorder, saying:

“Some one is waiting for me above. Louis, Louis, do you not hear?”

“Well! and am I not waiting for you, also?” said the king, with infinite tenderness of tone. “Let others henceforth wait for you.”

But she gently shook her head, as she replied: “Happiness hidden... power concealed... my pride should be as silent as my heart.”

The noise was again resumed.

“I hear Montalais’s voice,” she said, and she hurried up the staircase; the king followed her, unable to let her leave his sight, and covering her hand with his kisses. “Yes, yes,” repeated La Valliere, who had passed half-way through the opening. “Yes, it is Montalais who is calling me; something important must have happened.”

“Go then, dearest love,” said the king, “but return quickly.”

“No, no, not to-day, sire! Adieu! adieu!” she said, as she stooped down once more to embrace her lover—and escaped. Montalais was, in fact, waiting for her, very pale and agitated.

“Quick, quick! he is coming,” she said.

“Who—who is coming?”

“Raoul,” murmured Montalais.

“It is I—I,” said a joyous voice, upon the last steps of the grand staircase.

La Valliere uttered a terrible shriek and threw herself back.

“I am here, dear Louise,” said Raoul, running towards her. “I knew but too well that you had not ceased to love me.”

La Valliere with a gesture, partly of extreme terror, and partly as if invoking a blessing, attempted to speak, but could not articulate one word. “No, no!” she said, as she fell into Montalais’s arms, murmuring, “Do not touch me, do not come near me.”

Montalais made a sign to Raoul, who stood almost petrified at the door, and did not even attempt to advance another step into the room. Then, looking towards the side of the room where the screen was, she exclaimed: “Imprudent girl, she has not even closed the trap-door.”

And she advanced towards the corner of the room to close the screen, and also, behind the screen, the trap-door. But suddenly the king, who had heard Louise’s exclamation, darted through the opening, and hurried forward to her assistance. He threw himself on his knees before her, as he overwhelmed Montalais with questions, who hardly knew where she was. At the moment, however, when the king threw himself on his knees, a cry of utter despair rang through the corridor, accompanied by the sound of retreating footsteps. The king wished to see who had uttered the cry and whose were the footsteps he had heard; and it was in vain that Montalais sought to retain him, for Louis, quitting his hold of La Valliere, hurried towards the door, too late, however, for Raoul was already at a distance, and the king only beheld a shadow that quickly vanished in the silent corridor.