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Louise de la Valliere

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Chapter X. Madame and De Guiche.


It will not be forgotten how Comte de Guiche left the queen-mother’s apartments on the day when Louis XIV. presented La Valliere with the beautiful bracelets he had won in the lottery. The comte walked to and fro for some time outside the palace, in the greatest distress, from a thousand suspicions and anxieties with which his mind was beset. Presently he stopped and waited on the terrace opposite the grove of trees, watching for Madame’s departure. More than half an hour passed away; and as he was at that moment quite alone, the comte could hardly have had any very diverting ideas at his command. He drew his tables from his pocket, and, after hesitating over and over again, determined to write these words:—“Madame, I implore you to grant me one moment’s conversation. Do not be alarmed at this request, which contains nothing in any way opposed to the profound respect with which I subscribe myself, etc., etc.” He had signed and folded this singular love-letter, when he suddenly observed several ladies leaving the chateau, and afterwards several courtiers too; in fact, almost every one that formed the queen’s circle. He saw La Valliere herself, then Montalais talking with Malicorne; he watched the departure of the very last of the numerous guests that had a short time before thronged the queen-mother’s cabinet.

Madame herself had not yet passed; she would be obliged, however, to cross the courtyard in order to enter her own apartments; and, from the terrace where he was standing, De Guiche could see all that was going on in the courtyard. At last he saw Madame leave, attended by a couple of pages, who were carrying torches before her. She was walking very quickly; as soon as she reached the door, she said:

“Let some one go and look for De Guiche: he has to render an account of a mission he had to discharge for me; if he should be disengaged, request him to be good enough to come to my apartment.”

De Guiche remained silent, hidden in the shade; but as soon as Madame had withdrawn, he darted from the terrace down the steps and assumed a most indifferent air, so that the pages who were hurrying towards his rooms might meet him.

“Ah! it is Madame, then, who is seeking me!” he said to himself, quite overcome; and he crushed in his hand the now worse than useless letter.

“M. le comte,” said one of the pages, approaching him, “we are indeed most fortunate in meeting you.”

“Why so, messieurs?”

“A command from Madame.”

“From Madame!” said De Guiche, looking surprised.

“Yes, M. le comte, her royal highness has been asking for you; she expects to hear, she told us, the result of a commission you had to execute for her. Are you at liberty?”

“I am quite at her royal highness’s orders.”

“Will you have the goodness to follow us, then?”

When De Guiche entered the princess’s apartments, he found her pale and agitated. Montalais was standing at the door, evidently uneasy about what was passing in her mistress’s mind. De Guiche appeared.

“Ah! is that you, Monsieur de Guiche?” said Madame; “come in, I beg. Mademoiselle de Montalais, I do not require your attendance any longer.”

Montalais, more puzzled than ever, courtesied and withdrew. De Guiche and the princess were left alone. The comte had every advantage in his favor; it was Madame who had summoned him to a rendezvous. But how was it possible for the comte to make use of this advantage? Madame was so whimsical, and her disposition so changeable. She soon allowed this to be perceived, for, suddenly, opening the conversation, she said: “Well! have you nothing to say to me?”

He imagined she must have guessed his thoughts; he fancied (for those who are in love are thus constituted, being as credulous and blind as poets or prophets), he fancied she knew how ardent was his desire to see her, and also the subject uppermost in his mind.

“Yes, Madame,” he said, “and I think it very singular.”

“The affair of the bracelets,” she exclaimed, eagerly, “you mean that, I suppose?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“And you think the king is in love; do you not?”

Guiche looked at her for some time; her eyes sank under his gaze, which seemed to read her very heart.

“I think,” he said, “that the king may possibly have had an idea of annoying some one; were it not for that, the king would hardly show himself so earnest in his attentions as he is; he would not run the risk of compromising, from mere thoughtlessness of disposition, a young girl against whom no one has been hitherto able to say a word.”

“Indeed! the bold, shameless girl,” said the princess, haughtily.

“I can positively assure your royal highness,” said De Guiche, with a firmness marked by great respect, “that Mademoiselle de la Valliere is beloved by a man who merits every respect, for he is a brave and honorable gentleman.”

“Bragelonne?”

“My friend; yes, Madame.”

“Well, and though he is your friend, what does that matter to the king?”

“The king knows that Bragelonne is affianced to Mademoiselle de la Valliere; and as Raoul has served the king most valiantly, the king will not inflict an irreparable injury upon him.”

Madame began to laugh in a manner that produced a sinister impression upon De Guiche.

“I repeat, Madame, I do not believe the king is in love with Mademoiselle de la Valliere; and the proof that I do not believe it is, that I was about to ask you whose amour propre it is likely the king is desirous of wounding? You, who are well acquainted with the whole court, can perhaps assist me in ascertaining that; and assuredly, with greater certainty, since it is everywhere said that your royal highness is on very friendly terms with the king.”

Madame bit her lips, and, unable to assign any good and sufficient reasons, changed the conversation. “Prove to me,” she said, fixing on him one of those looks in which the whole soul seems to pass into the eyes, “prove to me, I say, that you intended to interrogate me at the very moment I sent for you.”

De Guiche gravely drew from his pocket the now crumpled note that he had written, and showed it to her.

“Sympathy,” she said.

“Yes,” said the comte, with an indescribable tenderness of tone, “sympathy. I have explained to you how and why I sought you; you, however, have yet to tell me, Madame, why you sent for me.”

“True,” replied the princess. She hesitated, and then suddenly exclaimed, “Those bracelets will drive me mad.”

“You expected the king would offer them to you,” replied De Guiche.

“Why not?”

“But before you, Madame, before you, his sister-in-law, was there not the queen herself to whom the king should have offered them?”

“Before La Valliere,” cried the princess, wounded to the quick, “could he not have presented them to me? Was there not the whole court, indeed, to choose from?”

“I assure you, Madame,” said the comte, respectfully, “that if any one heard you speak in this manner, if any one were to see how red your eyes are, and, Heaven forgive me, to see, too, that tear trembling on your eyelids, it would be said that your royal highness was jealous.”

“Jealous!” said the princess, haughtily, “jealous of La Valliere!”

She expected to see De Guiche yield beneath her scornful gesture and her proud tone; but he simply and boldly replied, “Jealous of La Valliere; yes, Madame.”

“Am I to suppose, monsieur,” she stammered out, “that your object is to insult me?”

“It is not possible, Madame,” replied the comte, slightly agitated, but resolved to master that fiery nature.

“Leave the room!” said the princess, thoroughly exasperated, De Guiche’s coolness and silent respect having made her completely lose her temper.

De Guiche fell back a step, bowed slowly, but with great respect, drew himself up, looking as white as his lace cuffs, and, in a voice slightly trembling, said, “It was hardly worth while to have hurried here to be subjected to this unmerited disgrace.” And he turned away with hasty steps.

He had scarcely gone half a dozen paces when Madame darted like a tigress after him, seized him by the cuff, and making him turn round again, said, trembling with passion as she did so, “The respect you pretend to have is more insulting than the insult itself. Insult me, if you please, but at least speak.”

“Madame,” said the comte, gently, as he drew his sword, “thrust this blade into my heart, rather than kill me by degrees.”

At the look he fixed upon her,—a look full of love, resolution, and despair, even,—she knew how readily the comte, so outwardly calm in appearance, would pass his sword through his own breast if she added another word. She tore the blade from his hands, and, pressing his arm with a feverish impatience, which might pass for tenderness, said, “Do not be too hard upon me, comte. You see how I am suffering, and yet you have no pity for me.”

Tears, the cries of this strange attack, stifled her voice. As soon as De Guiche saw her weep, he took her in his arms and carried her to an armchair; in another moment she would have been suffocated.

“Oh, why,” he murmured, as he knelt by her side, “why do you conceal your troubles from me? Do you love any one—tell me? It would kill me, I know, but not until I should have comforted, consoled, and served you even.”

“And do you love me to that extent?” she replied, completely conquered.

“I do indeed love you to that extent, Madame.”

She placed both her hands in his. “My heart is indeed another’s,” she murmured in so low a tone that her voice could hardly be heard; but he heard it, and said, “Is it the king you love?”

She gently shook her head, and her smile was like a clear bright streak in the clouds, through which after the tempest has passed one almost fancies Paradise is opening. “But,” she added, “there are other passions in a high-born heart. Love is poetry; but the real life of the heart is pride. Comte, I was born on a throne, I am proud and jealous of my rank. Why does the king gather such unworthy objects round him?”

“Once more, I repeat,” said the comte, “you are acting unjustly towards that poor girl, who will one day be my friend’s wife.”

“Are you simple enough to believe that, comte?”

“If I did not believe it,” he said, turning very pale, “Bragelonne should be informed of it to-morrow; indeed he should, if I thought that poor La Valliere had forgotten the vows she had exchanged with Raoul. But no, it would be cowardly to betray a woman’s secret; it would be criminal to disturb a friend’s peace of mind.”

“You think, then,” said the princess, with a wild burst of laughter, “that ignorance is happiness?”

“I believe it,” he replied.

“Prove it to me, then,” she said, hurriedly.

“It is easily done, Madame. It is reported through the whole court that the king loves you, and that you return his affection.”

“Well?” she said, breathing with difficulty.

“Well; admit for a moment that Raoul, my friend, had come and said to me, ‘Yes, the king loves Madame, and has made an impression upon her heart,’ I possibly should have slain Raoul.”

“It would have been necessary,” said the princess, with the obstinacy of a woman who feels herself not easily overcome, “for M. de Bragelonne to have had proofs before he ventured to speak to you in that manner.”

“Such, however, is the case,” replied De Guiche, with a deep sigh, “that, not having been warned, I have never examined into the matter seriously; and I now find that my ignorance has saved my life.”

“So, then, you drive selfishness and coldness to that extent,” said Madame, “that you would let this unhappy young man continue to love La Valliere?”

“I would, until La Valliere’s guilt were revealed.”

“But the bracelets?”

“Well, Madame, since you yourself expected to receive them from the king, what can I possibly say?”

The argument was a telling one, and the princess was overwhelmed by it, and from that moment her defeat was assured. But as her heart and mind were instinct with noble and generous feelings, she understood De Guiche’s extreme delicacy. She saw that in his heart he really suspected that the king was in love with La Valliere, and that he did not wish to resort to the common expedient of ruining a rival in the mind of a woman, by giving the latter the assurance and certainty that this rival’s affections were transferred to another woman. She guessed that his suspicions of La Valliere were aroused, and that, in order to leave himself time for his convictions to undergo a change, so as not to ruin Louise utterly, he was determined to pursue a certain straightforward line of conduct. She could read so much real greatness of character, and such true generosity of disposition in her lover, that her heart really warmed with affection towards him, whose passion for her was so pure and delicate. Despite his fear of incurring her displeasure, De Guiche, by retaining his position as a man of proud independence of feeling and deep devotion, became almost a hero in her estimation, and reduced her to the state of a jealous and little-minded woman. She loved him for this so tenderly, that she could not refuse to give him a proof of her affection.

“See how many words we have wasted,” she said, taking his hand, “suspicions, anxieties, mistrust, sufferings—I think we have enumerated all those words.”

“Alas! Madame, yes.”

“Efface them from your heart as I drive them from mine. Whether La Valliere does or does not love the king, and whether the king does or does not love La Valliere—from this moment you and I will draw a distinction in the two characters I have to perform. You open your eyes so wide that I am sure you hardly understand me.”

“You are so impetuous, Madame, that I always tremble at the fear of displeasing you.”

“And see how he trembles now, poor fellow,” she said, with the most charming playfulness of manner. “Yes, monsieur, I have two characters to perform. I am the sister of the king, the sister-in-law of the king’s wife. In this character ought I not to take an interest in these domestic intrigues? Come, tell me what you think?”

“As little as possible, Madame.”

“Agreed, monsieur; but it is a question of dignity; and then, you know, I am the wife of the king’s brother.” De Guiche sighed. “A circumstance,” she added, with an expression of great tenderness, “which will remind you that I am always to be treated with the profoundest respect.” De Guiche fell at her feet, which he kissed, with the religious fervor of a worshipper. “And I begin to think that, really and truly, I have another character to perform. I was almost forgetting it.”

“Name it, oh! name it,” said De Guiche.

“I am a woman,” she said, in a voice lower than ever, “and I love.” He rose, she opened her arms, and their lips met. A footstep was heard behind the tapestry, and Mademoiselle de Montalais appeared.

“What do you want?” said Madame.

“M. de Guiche is wanted,” replied Montalais, who was just in time to see the agitation of the actors of these four characters; for De Guiche had consistently carried out his part with heroism.






Chapter XI. Montalais and Malicorne.


Montalais was right. M. de Guiche, thus summoned in every direction, was very much exposed, from such a multiplication of business, to the risk of not attending to any. It so happened that, considering the awkwardness of the interruption, Madame, notwithstanding her wounded pride, and secret anger, could not, for the moment at least, reproach Montalais for having violated, in so bold a manner, the semi-royal order with which she had been dismissed on De Guiche’s entrance. De Guiche, also, lost his presence of mind, or, it would be more correct to say, had already lost it, before Montalais’s arrival, for, scarcely had he heard the young girl’s voice, than, without taking leave of Madame, as the most ordinary politeness required, even between persons equal in rank and station, he fled from her presence, his heart tumultuously throbbing, and his brain on fire, leaving the princess with one hand raised, as though to bid him adieu. Montalais was at no loss, therefore, to perceive the agitation of the two lovers—the one who fled was agitated, and the one who remained was equally so.

“Well,” murmured the young girl, as she glanced inquisitively round her, “this time, at least, I think I know as much as the most curious woman could possibly wish to know.” Madame felt so embarrassed by this inquisitorial look, that, as if she heard Montalais’s muttered side remark, she did not speak a word to her maid of honor, but, casting down her eyes, retired at once to her bedroom. Montalais, observing this, stood listening for a moment, and then heard Madame lock and bolt her door. By this she knew that the rest of the evening was at her own disposal; and making, behind the door which had just been closed, a gesture which indicated but little real respect for the princess, she went down the staircase in search of Malicorne, who was very busily engaged at that moment in watching a courier, who, covered with dust, had just left the Comte de Guiche’s apartments. Montalais knew that Malicorne was engaged in a matter of some importance; she therefore allowed him to look and stretch out his neck as much as he pleased; and it was only when Malicorne had resumed his natural position, that she touched him on the shoulder. “Well,” said Montalais, “what is the latest intelligence you have?”

“M. de Guiche is in love with Madame.”

“Fine news, truly! I know something more recent than that.”

“Well, what do you know?”

“That Madame is in love with M. de Guiche.”

“The one is the consequence of the other.”

“Not always, my good monsieur.”

“Is that remark intended for me?”

“Present company always excepted.”

“Thank you,” said Malicorne. “Well, and in the other direction, what is stirring?”

“The king wished, this evening, after the lottery, to see Mademoiselle de la Valliere.”

“Well, and he has seen her?”

“No, indeed!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“The door was shut and locked.”

“So that—”

“So that the king was obliged to go back again, looking very sheepish, like a thief who has forgotten his crowbar.”

“Good.”

“And in the third place?” inquired Montalais.

“The courier who has just arrived for De Guiche came from M. de Bragelonne.”

“Excellent,” said Montalais, clapping her hands together.

“Why so?”

“Because we have work to do. If we get weary now, something unlucky will be sure to happen.”

“We must divide the work, then,” said Malicorne, “in order to avoid confusion.”

“Nothing easier,” replied Montalais. “Three intrigues, carefully nursed, and carefully encouraged, will produce, one with another, and taking a low average, three love letters a day.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Malicorne, shrugging his shoulders, “you cannot mean what you say, darling; three letters a day, that may do for sentimental common people. A musketeer on duty, a young girl in a convent, may exchange letters with their lovers once a day, perhaps, from the top of a ladder, or through a hole in the wall. A letter contains all the poetry their poor little hearts have to boast of. But the cases we have in hand require to be dealt with very differently.”

“Well, finish,” said Montalais, out of patience with him. “Some one may come.”

“Finish! Why, I am only at the beginning. I have still three points as yet untouched.”

“Upon my word, he will be the death of me, with his Flemish indifference,” exclaimed Montalais.

“And you will drive me mad with your Italian vivacity. I was going to say that our lovers here will be writing volumes to each other. But what are you driving at?”

“At this. Not one of our lady correspondents will be able to keep the letters they may receive.”

“Very likely.”

“M. de Guiche will not be able to keep his either.”

“That is probable.”

“Very well, then; I will take care of all that.”

“That is the very thing that is impossible,” said Malicorne.

“Why so?”

“Because you are not your own mistress; your room is as much La Valliere’s as yours; and there are certain persons who will think nothing of visiting and searching a maid of honor’s room; so that I am terribly afraid of the queen, who is as jealous as a Spaniard; of the queen-mother, who is as jealous as a couple of Spaniards; and, last of all, of Madame herself, who has jealousy enough for ten Spaniards.”

“You forgot some one else.”

“Who?”

“Monsieur.”

“I was only speaking of the women. Let us add them up, then: we will call Monsieur, No. 1.”

“De Guiche?”

“No. 2.”

“The Vicomte de Bragelonne?”

“No. 3.”

“And the king, the king?”

“No. 4. Of course the king, who not only will be more jealous, but more powerful than all the rest put together. Ah, my dear!”

“Well?”

“Into what a wasp’s nest you have thrust yourself!”

“And as yet not quite far enough, if you will follow me into it.”

“Most certainly I will follow you where you like. Yet—”

“Well, yet—”

“While we have time, I think it will be prudent to turn back.”

“But I, on the contrary, think the wisest course to take is to put ourselves at once at the head of all these intrigues.”

“You will never be able to do it.”

“With you, I could superintend ten of them. I am in my element, you must know. I was born to live at the court, as the salamander is made to live in the fire.”

“Your comparison does not reassure me in the slightest degree in the world, my dear Montalais. I have heard it said, and by learned men too, that, in the first place, there are no salamanders at all, and that, if there had been any, they would have been infallibly baked or roasted on leaving the fire.”

“Your learned men may be very wise as far as salamanders are concerned, but they would never tell you what I can tell you; namely, that Aure de Montalais is destined, before a month is over, to become the first diplomatist in the court of France.”

“Be it so, but on condition that I shall be the second.”

“Agreed; an offensive and defensive alliance, of course.”

“Only be very careful of any letters.”

“I will hand them to you as I receive them.”

“What shall we tell the king about Madame?”

“That Madame is still in love with his majesty.”

“What shall we tell Madame about the king?”

“That she would be exceedingly wrong not to humor him.”

“What shall we tell La Valliere about Madame?”

“Whatever we choose, for La Valliere is in our power.”

“How so?”

“Every way.”

“What do you mean?”

“In the first place, through the Vicomte de Bragelonne.”

“Explain yourself.”

“You do not forget, I hope, that Monsieur de Bragelonne has written many letters to Mademoiselle de la Valliere.”

“I forget nothing.”

“Well, then, it was I who received, and I who intercepted those letters.”

“And, consequently, it is you who have them still?”

“Yes.”

“Where,—here?”

“Oh, no; I have them safe at Blois, in the little room you know well enough.”

“That dear little room,—that darling little room, the ante-chamber of the palace I intend you to live in one of these days. But, I beg your pardon, you said that all those letters are in that little room?”

“Yes.”

“Did you not put them in a box?”

“Of course; in the same box where I put all the letters I received from you, and where I put mine also when your business or your amusements prevented you from coming to our rendezvous.”

“Ah, very good,” said Malicorne.

“Why are you satisfied?”

“Because I see there is a possibility of not having to run to Blois after the letters, for I have them here.”

“You have brought the box away?”

“It was very dear to me, because it belonged to you.”

“Be sure and take care of it, for it contains original documents that will be of priceless value by and by.”

“I am perfectly well aware of that indeed, and that is the very reason why I laugh as I do, and with all my heart, too.”

“And now, one last word.”

“Why last?”

“Do we need any one to assist us?”

“No one.”

“Valets or maid-servants?”

“Bad policy. You will give the letters,—you will receive them. Oh! we must have no pride in this affair, otherwise M. Malicorne and Mademoiselle Aure, not transacting their own affairs themselves, will have to make up their minds to see them done by others.”

“You are quite right; but what is going on yonder in M. de Guiche’s room?”

“Nothing; he is only opening his window.”

“Let us be gone.” And they both immediately disappeared, all the terms of the contract being agreed on.

The window just opened was, in fact, that of the Comte de Guiche. It was not alone with the hope of catching a glimpse of Madame through her curtains that he seated himself by the open window for his preoccupation of mind had at that time a different origin. He had just received, as we have already stated, the courier who had been dispatched to him by Bragelonne, the latter having written to De Guiche a letter which had made the deepest impression upon him, and which he had read over and over again. “Strange, strange!” he murmured. “How irresponsible are the means by which destiny hurries men onward to their fate!” Leaving the window in order to approach nearer to the light, he once more read the letter he had just received:—

“CALAIS.

“MY DEAR COUNT,—I found M. de Wardes at Calais; he has been seriously wounded in an affair with the Duke of Buckingham. De Wardes is, as you know, unquestionably brave, but full of malevolent and wicked feelings. He conversed with me about yourself, for whom, he says, he has a warm regard, also about Madame, whom he considers a beautiful and amiable woman. He has guessed your affection for a certain person. He also talked to me about the lady for whom I have so ardent a regard, and showed the greatest interest on my behalf in expressing a deep pity for me, accompanied, however, by dark hints which alarmed me at first, but which I at last looked upon as the result of his usual love of mystery. These are the facts: he had received news of the court; you will understand, however, that it was only through M. de Lorraine. The report goes, so says the news, that a change has taken place in the king’s affections. You know whom that concerns. Afterwards, the news continues, people are talking about one of the maids of honor, respecting whom various slanderous reports are being circulated. These vague phrases have not allowed me to sleep. I have been deploring, ever since yesterday, that my diffidence and vacillation of purpose, notwithstanding a certain obstinacy of character I may possess, have left me unable to reply to these insinuations. In a word, M. de Wardes was setting off for Paris, and I did not delay his departure with explanations; for it seemed rather hard, I confess, to cross-examine a man whose wounds are hardly yet closed. In short, he travelled by short stages, as he was anxious to leave, he said, in order to be present at a curious spectacle the court cannot fail to offer within a short time. He added a few congratulatory words accompanied by vague sympathizing expressions. I could not understand the one any more than the other. I was bewildered by my own thoughts, and tormented by a mistrust of this man,—a mistrust which, you know better than any one else, I have never been able to overcome. As soon as he left, my perceptions seemed to become clearer. It is hardly possible that a man of De Wardes’s character should not have communicated something of his own malicious nature to the statements he made to me. It is not unlikely, therefore, that in the strange hints De Wardes threw out in my presence, there may be a mysterious signification, which I might have some difficulty in applying either to myself or to some one with whom you are acquainted. Being compelled to leave as soon as possible, in obedience to the king’s commands, the idea did not occur to me of running after De Wardes in order to ask him to explain his reserve; but I have dispatched a courier to you with this letter, which will explain in detail my various doubts. I regard you as myself; you have reflected and observed; it will be for you to act. M. de Wardes will arrive very shortly; endeavor to learn what he meant, if you do not already know. M. de Wardes, moreover, pretended that the Duke of Buckingham left Paris on the very best of terms with Madame. This was an affair which would have unhesitatingly made me draw my sword, had I not felt that I was under the necessity of dispatching the king’s mission before undertaking any quarrel whatsoever. Burn this letter, which Olivain will hand you. Whatever Olivain says, you may confidently rely on. Will you have the goodness, my dear comte, to recall me to the remembrance of Mademoiselle de la Valliere, whose hands I kiss with the greatest respect.

“Your devoted

“DE BRAGELONNE.

“P. S.—If anything serious should happen—we should be prepared for everything, dispatch a courier to me with this one single word, ‘come,’ and I will be in Paris within six and thirty hours after the receipt of your letter.”

De Guiche sighed, folded up the letter a third time, and, instead of burning it, as Raoul had recommended him to do, placed it in his pocket. He felt it needed reading over and over again.

“How much distress of mind, yet what sublime confidence, he shows!” murmured the comte; “he has poured out his whole soul in this letter. He says nothing of the Comte de la Fere, and speaks of his respect for Louise. He cautions me on my own account, and entreats me on his. Ah!” continued De Guiche, with a threatening gesture, “you interfere in my affairs, Monsieur de Wardes, do you? Very well, then; I will shortly occupy myself with yours. As for you, poor Raoul,—you who intrust your heart to my keeping, be assured I will watch over it.”

With this promise, De Guiche begged Malicorne to come immediately to his apartments, if possible. Malicorne acknowledged the invitation with an activity which was the first result of his conversation with Montalais. And while De Guiche, who thought that his motive was undiscovered, cross-examined Malicorne, the latter, who appeared to be working in the dark, soon guessed his questioner’s motives. The consequence was, that, after a quarter of an hour’s conversation, during which De Guiche thought he had ascertained the whole truth with regard to La Valliere and the king, he had learned absolutely nothing more than his own eyes had already acquainted him with, while Malicorne learned, or guessed, that Raoul, who was absent, was fast becoming suspicious, and that De Guiche intended to watch over the treasure of the Hesperides. Malicorne accepted the office of dragon. De Guiche fancied he had done everything for his friend, and soon began to think of nothing but his personal affairs. The next evening, De Wardes’s return and first appearance at the king’s reception were announced. When that visit had been paid, the convalescent waited on Monsieur; De Guiche taking care, however, to be at Monsieur’s apartments before the visit took place.






Chapter XII. How De Wardes Was Received at Court.


Monsieur had received De Wardes with that marked favor light and frivolous minds bestow on every novelty that comes in their way. De Wardes, who had been absent for a month, was like fresh fruit to him. To treat him with marked kindness was an infidelity to old friends, and there is always something fascinating in that; moreover, it was a sort of reparation to De Wardes himself. Nothing, consequently, could exceed the favorable notice Monsieur took of him. The Chevalier de Lorraine, who feared this rival but a little, but who respected a character and disposition only too parallel to his own in every particular, with the addition of a bull-dog courage he did not himself possess, received De Wardes with a greater display of regard and affection than even Monsieur had done. De Guiche, as we have said, was there also, but kept in the background, waiting very patiently until all these interchanges were over. De Wardes, while talking to the others, and even to Monsieur himself, had not for a moment lost sight of De Guiche, who, he instinctively felt, was there on his account. As soon as he had finished with the others, he went up to De Guiche. They exchanged the most courteous compliments, after which De Wardes returned to Monsieur and the other gentlemen.

In the midst of these congratulations Madame was announced. She had been informed of De Wardes’s arrival, and knowing all the details of his voyage and duel, she was not sorry to be present at the remarks she knew would be made, without delay, by one who, she felt assured, was her personal enemy. Two or three of her ladies accompanied her. De Wardes saluted Madame in the most graceful and respectful manner, and, as a commencement of hostilities, announced, in the first place, that he could furnish the Duke of Buckingham’s friends with the latest news about him. This was a direct answer to the coldness with which Madame had received him. The attack was a vigorous one, and Madame felt the blow, but without appearing to have even noticed it. He rapidly cast a glance at Monsieur and at De Guiche,—the former colored, and the latter turned very pale. Madame alone preserved an unmoved countenance; but, as she knew how many unpleasant thoughts and feelings her enemy could awaken in the two persons who were listening to him, she smilingly bent forward towards the traveler, as if to listen to the news he had brought—but he was speaking of other matters. Madame was brave, even to imprudence; if she were to retreat, it would be inviting an attack; so, after the first disagreeable impression had passed away, she returned to the charge.

“Have you suffered much from your wounds, Monsieur de Wardes?” she inquired, “for we have been told that you had the misfortune to get wounded.”

It was now De Wardes’s turn to wince; he bit his lips, and replied, “No, Madame, hardly at all.”

“Indeed! and yet in this terribly hot weather—”

“The sea-breezes were very fresh and cool, Madame, and then I had one consolation.”

“Indeed! What was it?”

“The knowledge that my adversary’s sufferings were still greater than my own.”

“Ah! you mean he was more seriously wounded than you were; I was not aware of that,” said the princess, with utter indifference.

“Oh, Madame, you are mistaken, or rather you pretend to misunderstand my remark. I did not say that he was a greater sufferer in body than myself; but his heart was very seriously affected.”

De Guiche comprehended instinctively from what direction the struggle was approaching; he ventured to make a sign to Madame, as if entreating her to retire from the contest. But she, without acknowledging De Guiche’s gesture, without pretending to have noticed it even, and still smiling, continued:

“Is it possible,” she said, “that the Duke of Buckingham’s heart was touched? I had no idea, until now, that a heart-wound could be cured.”

“Alas! Madame,” replied De Wardes, politely, “every woman believes that; and it is this belief that gives them that superiority to man which confidence begets.”

“You misunderstand altogether, dearest,” said the prince, impatiently; “M. de Wardes means that the Duke of Buckingham’s heart had been touched, not by the sword, but by something sharper.”

“Ah! very good, very good!” exclaimed Madame. “It is a jest of M. de Wardes’s. Very good; but I should like to know if the Duke of Buckingham would appreciate the jest. It is, indeed, a very great pity he is not here, M. de Wardes.”

The young man’s eyes seemed to flash fire. “Oh!” he said, as he clenched his teeth, “there is nothing I should like better.”

De Guiche did not move. Madame seemed to expect that he would come to her assistance. Monsieur hesitated. The Chevalier de Lorraine advanced and continued the conversation.

“Madame,” he said, “De Wardes knows perfectly well that for a Buckingham’s heart to be touched is nothing new, and what he has said has already taken place.”

“Instead of an ally, I have two enemies,” murmured Madame; “two determined enemies, and in league with each other.” And she changed the conversation. To change the conversation is, as every one knows, a right possessed by princes which etiquette requires all to respect. The remainder of the conversation was moderate enough in tone; the principal actors had rehearsed their parts. Madame withdrew easily, and Monsieur, who wished to question her on several matters, offered her his hand on leaving. The chevalier was seriously afraid that an understanding might be established between the husband and wife if he were to leave them quietly together. He therefore made his way to Monsieur’s apartments, in order to surprise him on his return, and to destroy with a few words all the good impressions Madame might have been able to sow in his heart. De Guiche advanced towards De Wardes, who was surrounded by a large number of persons, and thereby indicated his wish to converse with him; De Wardes, at the same time, showing by his looks and by a movement of his head that he perfectly understood him. There was nothing in these signs to enable strangers to suppose they were otherwise than upon the most friendly footing. De Guiche could therefore turn away from him, and wait until he was at liberty. He had not long to wait; for De Wardes, freed from his questioners, approached De Guiche, and after a fresh salutation, they walked side by side together.

“You have made a good impression since your return, my dear De Wardes,” said the comte.

“Excellent, as you see.”

“And your spirits are just as lively as ever?”

“Better.”

“And a very great happiness, too.”

“Why not? Everything is so ridiculous in this world, everything so absurd around us.”

“You are right.”

“You are of my opinion, then?”

“I should think so! And what news do you bring us from yonder?”

“I? None at all. I have come to look for news here.”

“But, tell me, you surely must have seen some people at Boulogne, one of our friends, for instance; it is no great time ago.”

“Some people—one of our friends—”

“Your memory is short.”

“Ah! true; Bragelonne, you mean.”

“Exactly so.”

“Who was on his way to fulfil a mission, with which he was intrusted to King Charles II.”

“Precisely. Well, then, did he not tell you, or did not you tell him—”

“I do not precisely know what I told him, I must confess: but I do know what I did not tell him.” De Wardes was finesse itself. He perfectly well knew from De Guiche’s tone and manner, which was cold and dignified, that the conversation was about to assume a disagreeable turn. He resolved to let it take what course it pleased, and to keep strictly on his guard.

“May I ask you what you did not tell him?” inquired De Guiche.

“All about La Valliere.”

“La Valliere... What is it? and what was that strange circumstance you seem to have known over yonder, which Bragelonne, who was here on the spot, was not acquainted with?”

“Do you really ask me that in a serious manner?”

“Nothing more so.”

“What! you, a member of the court, living in Madame’s household, a friend of Monsieur’s, a guest at their table, the favorite of our lovely princess?”

Guiche colored violently from anger. “What princess are you alluding to?” he said.

“I am only acquainted with one, my dear fellow. I am speaking of Madame herself. Are you devoted to another princess, then? Come, tell me.”

De Guiche was on the point of launching out, but he saw the drift of the remark. A quarrel was imminent between the two young men. De Wardes wished the quarrel to be only in Madame’s name, while De Guiche would not accept it except on La Valliere’s account. From this moment, it became a series of feigned attacks, which would have continued until one of the two had been touched home. De Guiche therefore resumed all the self-possession he could command.

“There is not the slightest question in the world of Madame in this matter, my dear De Wardes.” said Guiche, “but simply of what you were talking about just now.”

“What was I saying?”

“That you had concealed certain things from Bragelonne.”

“Certain things which you know as well as I do,” replied De Wardes.

“No, upon my honor.”

“Nonsense.”

“If you tell me what they are, I shall know, but not otherwise, I swear.”

“What! I who have just arrived from a distance of sixty leagues, and you who have not stirred from this place, who have witnessed with your own eyes that which rumor informed me of at Calais! Do you now tell me seriously that you do not know what it is about? Oh! comte, this is hardly charitable of you.”

“As you like, De Wardes; but I again repeat, I know nothing.”

“You are truly discreet—well!—perhaps it is very prudent of you.”

“And so you will not tell me anything, will not tell me any more than you told Bragelonne?”

“You are pretending to be deaf, I see. I am convinced that Madame could not possibly have more command over herself than you have.”

“Double hypocrite,” murmured Guiche to himself, “you are again returning to the old subject.”

“Very well, then,” continued De Wardes, “since we find it so difficult to understand each other about La Valliere and Bragelonne let us speak about your own affairs.”

“Nay,” said De Guiche, “I have no affairs of my own to talk about. You have not said anything about me, I suppose, to Bragelonne, which you cannot repeat to my face?”

“No; but understand me, Guiche, that however much I may be ignorant of certain matters, I am quite as conversant with others. If, for instance, we were conversing about the intimacies of the Duke of Buckingham at Paris, as I did during my journey with the duke, I could tell you a great many interesting circumstances. Would you like me to mention them?”

De Guiche passed his hand across his forehead, which was covered in perspiration. “No, no,” he said, “a hundred times no! I have no curiosity for matters which do not concern me. The Duke of Buckingham is for me nothing more than a simple acquaintance, whilst Raoul is an intimate friend. I have not the slightest curiosity to learn what happened to the duke, while I have, on the contrary, the greatest interest in all that happened to Raoul.”

“In Paris?”

“Yes, in Paris, or Boulogne. You understand I am on the spot; if anything should happen, I am here to meet it; whilst Raoul is absent, and has only myself to represent him; so, Raoul’s affairs before my own.”

“But he will return?”

“Not, however, until his mission is completed. In the meantime, you understand, evil reports cannot be permitted to circulate about him without my looking into them.”

“And for a better reason still, that he will remain some time in London,” said De Wardes, chuckling.

“You think so,” said De Guiche, simply.

“Think so, indeed! do you suppose he was sent to London for no other purpose than to go there and return again immediately? No, no; he was sent to London to remain there.”

“Ah! De Wardes,” said De Guiche, grasping De Wardes’s hand, “that is a very serious suspicion concerning Bragelonne, which completely confirms what he wrote to me from Boulogne.”

De Wardes resumed his former coldness of manner: his love of raillery had led him too far, and by his own imprudence, he had laid himself open to attack.

“Well, tell me, what did he write to you about?” he inquired.

“He told me that you had artfully insinuated some injurious remarks against La Valliere, and that you had seemed to laugh at his great confidence in that young girl.”

“Well, it is perfectly true I did so,” said De Wardes, “and I was quite ready, at the time, to hear from the Vicomte de Bragelonne that which every man expects from another whenever anything may have been said to displease him. In the same way, for instance, if I were seeking a quarrel with you, I should tell you that Madame after having shown the greatest preference for the Duke of Buckingham, is at this moment supposed to have sent the handsome duke away for your benefit.”

“Oh! that would not wound me in the slightest degree, my dear De Wardes,” said De Guiche, smiling, notwithstanding the shiver that ran through his whole frame. “Why, such a favor would be too great a happiness.”

“I admit that, but if I absolutely wished to quarrel with you, I should try and invent a falsehood, perhaps, and speak to you about a certain arbor, where you and that illustrious princess were together—I should speak also of certain gratifications, of certain kissings of the hand; and you who are so secret on all occasions, so hasty, so punctilious—”

“Well,” said De Guiche, interrupting him, with a smile upon his lips, although he almost felt as if he were going to die; “I swear I should not care for that, nor should I in any way contradict you; for you must know, my dear marquis, that for all matters which concern myself I am a block of ice; but it is a very different thing when an absent friend is concerned, a friend, who, on leaving, confided his interests to my safe-keeping; for such a friend, De Wardes, believe me, I am like fire itself.”

“I understand you, Monsieur de Guiche. In spite of what you say, there cannot be any question between us, just now, either of Bragelonne or of this insignificant girl, whose name is La Valliere.”

At this moment some of the younger courtiers were crossing the apartment, and having already heard the few words which had just been pronounced, were able also to hear those which were about to follow. De Wardes observed this, and continued aloud:—“Oh! if La Valliere were a coquette like Madame, whose innocent flirtations, I am sure, were, first of all, the cause of the Duke of Buckingham being sent back to England, and afterwards were the reason of your being sent into exile; for you will not deny, I suppose, that Madame’s pretty ways really had a certain influence over you?”

The courtiers drew nearer to the speakers, Saint-Aignan at their head, and then Manicamp.

“But, my dear fellow, whose fault was that?” said De Guiche, laughing. “I am a vain, conceited fellow, I know, and everybody else knows it too. I took seriously that which was only intended as a jest, and got myself exiled for my pains. But I saw my error. I overcame my vanity, and I obtained my recall, by making the amende honorable, and by promising myself to overcome this defect; and the consequence is, that I am so thoroughly cured, that I now laugh at the very thing which, three or four days ago, would have almost broken my heart. But Raoul is in love, and is loved in return; he cannot laugh at the reports which disturb his happiness—reports which you seem to have undertaken to interpret, when you know, marquis, as I do, as these gentlemen do, as every one does in fact, that all such reports are pure calumny.”

“Calumny!” exclaimed De Wardes, furious at seeing himself caught in the snare by De Guiche’s coolness of temper.

“Certainly—calumny. Look at this letter from him, in which he tells me you have spoken ill of Mademoiselle de la Valliere; and where he asks me, if what you reported about this young girl is true or not. Do you wish me to appeal to these gentlemen, De Wardes, to decide?” And with admirable coolness, De Guiche read aloud the paragraph of the letter which referred to La Valliere. “And now,” continued De Guiche, “there is no doubt in the world, as far as I am concerned, that you wished to disturb Bragelonne’s peace of mind, and that your remarks were maliciously intended.”

De Wardes looked round him, to see if he could find support from any one; but, at the idea that De Wardes had insulted, either directly or indirectly, the idol of the day, every one shook his head; and De Wardes saw that he was in the wrong.

“Messieurs,” said De Guiche, intuitively divining the general feeling, “my discussion with Monsieur de Wardes refers to a subject so delicate in its nature, that it is most important no one should hear more than you have already heard. Close the doors, then, I beg you, and let us finish our conversation in the manner which becomes two gentlemen, one of whom has given the other the lie.”

“Messieurs, messieurs!” exclaimed those who were present.

“Is it your opinion, then, that I was wrong in defending Mademoiselle de la Valliere?” said De Guiche. “In that case, I pass judgment upon myself, and am ready to withdraw the offensive words I may have used to Monsieur de Wardes.”

“The deuce! certainly not!” said Saint-Aignan. “Mademoiselle de la Valliere is an angel.”

“Virtue and purity itself,” said Manicamp.

“You see, Monsieur de Wardes,” said De Guiche, “I am not the only one who undertakes the defense of that poor girl. I entreat you, therefore, messieurs, a second time, to leave us. You see, it is impossible we could be more calm and composed than we are.”

It was the very thing the courtiers wished; some went out at one door, and the rest at the other, and the two young men were left alone.

“Well played,” said De Wardes, to the comte.

“Was it not?” replied the latter.

“How can it be wondered at, my dear fellow; I have got quite rusty in the country, while the command you have acquired over yourself, comte, confounds me; a man always gains something in women’s society; so, pray accept my congratulations.”

“I do accept them.”

“And I will make Madame a present of them.”

“And now, my dear Monsieur de Wardes, let us speak as loud as you please.”

“Do not defy me.”

“I do defy you, for you are known to be an evil-minded man; if you do that, you will be looked upon as a coward, too; and Monsieur would have you hanged, this evening, at his window-casement. Speak, my dear De Wardes, speak.”

“I have fought already.”

“But not quite enough, yet.”

“I see, you would not be sorry to fight with me while my wounds are still open.”

“No; better still.”

“The deuce! you are unfortunate in the moment you have chosen; a duel, after the one I have just fought, would hardly suit me; I have lost too much blood at Boulogne; at the slightest effort my wounds would open again, and you would really have too good a bargain.”

“True,” said De Guiche; “and yet, on your arrival here, your looks and your arms showed there was nothing the matter with you.”

“Yes, my arms are all right, but my legs are weak; and then, I have not had a foil in my hand since that devil of a duel; and you, I am sure, have been fencing every day, in order to carry your little conspiracy against me to a successful issue.”

“Upon my honor, monsieur,” replied De Guiche, “it is six months since I last practiced.”

“No, comte, after due reflection, I will not fight, at least, with you. I will await Bragelonne’s return, since you say it is Bragelonne who finds fault with me.”

“Oh no, indeed! You shall not wait until Bragelonne’s return,” exclaimed the comte, losing all command over himself, “for you have said that Bragelonne might, possibly, be some time before he returns; and, in the meanwhile, your wicked insinuations would have had their effect.”

“Yet, I shall have my excuse. So take care.”

“I will give you a week to finish your recovery.”

“That is better. We will wait a week.”

“Yes, yes, I understand; a week will give time to my adversary to make his escape. No, no; I will not give you one day, even.”

“You are mad, monsieur,” said De Wardes, retreating a step.

“And you are a coward, if you do not fight willingly. Nay, what is more, I will denounce you to the king, as having refused to fight, after having insulted La Valliere.”

“Ah!” said De Wardes, “you are dangerously treacherous, though you pass for a man of honor.”

“There is nothing more dangerous than the treachery, as you term it, of the man whose conduct is always loyal and upright.”

“Restore me the use of my legs, then, or get yourself bled, till you are as white as I am, so as to equalize our chances.”

“No, no; I have something better than that to propose.”

“What is it?”

“We will fight on horseback, and will exchange three pistol-shots each. You are a first rate marksman. I have seen you bring down swallows with single balls, and at full gallop. Do not deny it, for I have seen you myself.”

“I believe you are right,” said De Wardes; “and as that is the case, it is not unlikely I might kill you.”

“You would be rendering me a very great service, if you did.”

“I will do my best.”

“Is it agreed? Give me your hand upon it.”

“There it is: but on one condition, however.”

“Name it.”

“That not a word shall be said about it to the king.”

“Not a word, I swear.”

“I will go and get my horse, then.”

“And I, mine.”

“Where shall we meet?”

“In the plain; I know an admirable place.”

“Shall we go together?”

“Why not?”

And both of them, on their way to the stables, passed beneath Madame’s windows, which were faintly lighted; a shadow could be seen behind the lace curtains. “There is a woman,” said De Wardes, smiling, “who does not suspect that we are going to fight—to die, perhaps, on her account.”