{tocify}

Louise de la Valliere

Chapter

Book

first_page
play_arrow
last_page
00:00
00:00
volume_down_alt volume_up


Chapter XIII. The Combat.


De Wardes and De Guiche selected their horses, and saddled them with their own hands, with holster saddles. De Guiche, having two pairs of pistols, went to his apartments to get them; and after having loaded them, gave the choice to De Wardes, who selected the pair he had made use of twenty times before—the same, indeed, with which De Guiche had seen him kill swallows flying. “You will not be surprised,” he said, “if I take every precaution. You know the weapons well, and, consequently, I am only making the chances equal.”

“Your remark was quite useless,” replied De Guiche, “and you have done no more than you are entitled to do.”

“Now,” said De Wardes, “I beg you to have the goodness to help me to mount; for I still experience a little difficulty in doing so.”

“In that case, we had better settle the matter on foot.”

“No; once in the saddle, I shall be all right.”

“Very good, then; we will not speak of it again,” said De Guiche, as he assisted De Wardes to mount his horse.

“And now,” continued the young man, “in our eagerness to murder one another, we have neglected one circumstance.”

“What is that?”

“That it is quite dark, and we shall almost be obliged to grope about, in order to kill.”

“Oh!” said De Guiche, “you are as anxious as I am that everything should be done in proper order.”

“Yes; but I do not wish people to say that you have assassinated me, any more than, supposing I were to kill you, I should myself like to be accused of such a crime.”

“Did any one make a similar remark about your duel with the Duke of Buckingham?” said De Guiche; “it took place precisely under the same conditions as ours.”

“Very true; but there was still light enough to see by; and we were up to our middles almost, in the water; besides, there were a good number of spectators on shore, looking at us.”

De Guiche reflected for a moment; and the thought which had already presented itself to him became more confirmed—that De Wardes wished to have witnesses present, in order to bring back the conversation about Madame, and to give a new turn to the combat. He avoided saying a word in reply, therefore; and, as De Wardes once more looked at him interrogatively, he replied, by a movement of the head, that it would be best to let things remain as they were. The two adversaries consequently set off, and left the chateau by the same gate, close to which we may remember to have seen Montalais and Malicorne together. The night, as if to counteract the extreme heat of the day, had gathered the clouds together in masses which were moving slowly along from the west to the east. The vault above, without a clear spot anywhere visible, or without the faintest indication of thunder, seemed to hang heavily over the earth, and soon began, by the force of the wind, to split into streamers, like a huge sheet torn to shreds. Large and warm drops of rain began to fall heavily, and gathered the dust into globules, which rolled along the ground. At the same time, the hedges, which seemed conscious of the approaching storm, the thirsty plants, the drooping branches of the trees, exhaled a thousand aromatic odors, which revived in the mind tender recollections, thoughts of youth, endless life, happiness, and love. “How fresh the earth smells,” said De Wardes; “it is a piece of coquetry to draw us to her.”

“By the by,” replied De Guiche, “several ideas have just occurred to me; and I wish to have your opinion upon them.”

“Relative to—”

“Relative to our engagement.”

“It is quite some time, in fact, that we should begin to arrange matters.”

“Is it to be an ordinary combat, and conducted according to established custom?”

“Let me first know what your established custom is.”

“That we dismount in any particular open space that may suit us, fasten our horses to the nearest object, meet, each without our pistols in our hands, and afterwards retire for a hundred and fifty paces, in order to advance on each other.”

“Very good; that is precisely the way in which I killed poor Follivent, three weeks ago, at Saint-Denis.”

“I beg your pardon, but you forgot one circumstance.”

“What is that?”

“That in your duel with Follivent you advanced towards each other on foot, your swords between your teeth, and your pistols in your hands.”

“True.”

“While now, on the contrary, as you cannot walk, you yourself admit that we shall have to mount our horses again, and charge; and the first who wishes to fire will do so.”

“That is the best course, no doubt; but it is quite dark; we must make allowances for more missed shots than would be the case in the daytime.”

“Very well; each will fire three times; the pair of pistols already loaded, and one reload.”

“Excellent! Where shall our engagement take place?”

“Have you any preference?”

“No.”

“You see that small wood which lies before us?”

“The wood which is called Rochin?”

“Exactly.”

“You know it?”

“Perfectly.”

“You know that there is an open glade in the center?”

“Yes.”

“Well, this glade is admirably adapted for such a purpose, with a variety of roads, by-places, paths, ditches, windings, and avenues. We could not find a better spot.”

“I am perfectly satisfied, if you are so. We are at our destination, if I am not mistaken.”

“Yes. Look at the beautiful open space in the center. The faint light which the stars afford seems concentrated in this spot; the woods which surround it seem, with their barriers, to form its natural limits.”

“Very good. Do as you say.”

“Let us first settle the conditions.”

“These are mine; if you have any objection to make you will state it.”

“I am listening.”

“If the horse be killed, its rider will be obliged to fight on foot.”

“That is a matter of course, since we have no change of horses here.”

“But that does not oblige his adversary to dismount.”

“His adversary will, in fact, be free to act as he likes.”

“The adversaries, having once met in close contact, cannot quit each other under any circumstances, and may, consequently, fire muzzle to muzzle.”

“Agreed.”

“Three shots and no more will do, I suppose?”

“Quite sufficient, I think. Here are powder and balls for your pistols; measure out three charges, take three balls, I will do the same; then we will throw the rest of the powder and balls away.”

“And we will solemnly swear,” said De Wardes, “that we have neither balls nor powder about us?”

“Agreed; and I swear it,” said De Guiche, holding his hand towards heaven, a gesture which De Wardes imitated.

“And now, my dear comte,” said De Wardes, “allow me to tell you that I am in no way your dupe. You already are, or soon will be, the accepted lover of Madame. I have detected your secret, and you are afraid I shall tell others of it. You wish to kill me, to insure my silence; that is very clear; and in your place, I should do the same.” De Guiche hung down his head. “Only,” continued De Wardes, triumphantly, “was it really worth while, tell me, to throw this affair of Bragelonne’s on my shoulders? But, take care, my dear fellow; in bringing the wild boar to bay, you enrage him to madness; in running down the fox, you endow him with the ferocity of the jaguar. The consequence is, that brought to bay by you, I shall defend myself to the very last.”

“You will be quite right to do so.”

“Yes; but take care; I shall work more harm than you think. In the first place, as a beginning, you will readily suppose that I have not been absurd enough to lock up my secret, or your secret rather, in my own breast. There is a friend of mine, who resembles me in every way, a man whom you know very well, who shares my secret with me; so, pray understand, that if you kill me, my death will not have been of much service to you; whilst, on the contrary, if I kill you—and everything is possible, you know—you understand?” De Guiche shuddered. “If I kill you,” continued De Wardes, “you will have secured two mortal enemies to Madame, who will do their very utmost to ruin her.”

“Oh! monsieur,” exclaimed De Guiche, furiously, “do not reckon upon my death so easily. Of the two enemies you speak of, I trust most heartily to dispose of one immediately, and the other at the earliest opportunity.”

The only reply De Wardes made was a burst of laughter, so diabolical in its sound, that a superstitious man would have been terrified. But De Guiche was not so impressionable as that. “I think,” he said, “that everything is now settled, Monsieur de Wardes; so have the goodness to take your place first, unless you would prefer me to do so.”

“By no means,” said De Wardes. “I shall be delighted to save you the slightest trouble.” And spurring his horse to a gallop, he crossed the wide open space, and took his stand at that point of the circumference of the cross-road immediately opposite to where De Guiche was stationed. De Guiche remained motionless. At this distance of a hundred paces, the two adversaries were absolutely invisible to each other, being completely concealed by the thick shade of elms and chestnuts. A minute elapsed amidst the profoundest silence. At the end of the minute, each of them, in the deep shade in which he was concealed, heard the double click of the trigger, as they put the pistols on full cock. De Guiche, adopting the usual tactics, put his horse to a gallop, persuaded that he should render his safety doubly sure by the movement, as well as by the speed of the animal. He directed his course in a straight line towards the point where, in his opinion, De Wardes would be stationed; and he expected to meet De Wardes about half-way; but in this he was mistaken. He continued his course, presuming that his adversary was impatiently awaiting his approach. When, however, he had gone about two-thirds of the distance, he beheld the trees suddenly illuminated and a ball flew by, cutting the plume of his hat in two. Nearly at the same moment, and as if the flash of the first shot had served to indicate the direction of the other, a second report was heard, and a second ball passed through the head of De Guiche’s horse, a little below the ear. The animal fell. These two reports, proceeding from the very opposite direction in which he expected to find De Wardes, surprised him a great deal; but as he was a man of amazing self-possession, he prepared himself for his horse falling, but not so completely, however, that the toe of his boot escaped being caught under the animal as it fell. Very fortunately the horse in its dying agonies moved so as to enable him to release the leg which was less entangled than the other. De Guiche rose, felt himself all over, and found that he was not wounded. At the very moment he had felt the horse tottering under him, he placed his pistols in the holsters, afraid that the force of the fall might explode one at least, if not both of them, by which he would have been disarmed, and left utterly without defense. Once on his feet, he took the pistols out of the holsters, and advanced towards the spot where, by the light of the flash, he had seen De Wardes appear. De Wardes had, at the first shot, accounted for the maneuver, than which nothing could have been simpler. Instead of advancing to meet De Guiche, or remaining in his place to await his approach, De Wardes had, for about fifteen paces, followed the circle of the shadow which hid him from his adversary’s observation, and at the very moment when the latter presented his flank in his career, he had fired from the place where he stood, carefully taking aim, and assisted instead of being inconvenienced by the horse’s gallop. It has been seen that, notwithstanding the darkness, the first ball passed hardly more than an inch above De Guiche’s head. De Wardes had so confidently relied upon his aim, that he thought he had seen De Guiche fall; his astonishment was extreme when he saw he still remained erect in his saddle. He hastened to fire his second shot, but his hand trembled, and he killed the horse instead. It would be a most fortunate chance for him if De Guiche were to remain held fast under the animal. Before he could have freed himself, De Wardes would have loaded his pistol and had De Guiche at his mercy. But De Guiche, on the contrary, was up, and had three shots to fire. De Guiche immediately understood the position of affairs. It would be necessary to exceed De Wardes in rapidity of execution. He advanced, therefore, so as to reach him before he should have had time to reload his pistol. De Wardes saw him approaching like a tempest. The ball was rather tight, and offered some resistance to the ramrod. To load carelessly would be simply to lose his last chance; to take the proper care in loading meant fatal loss of time, or rather, throwing away his life. He made his horse bound on one side. De Guiche turned round also, and, at the moment the horse was quiet again, fired, and the ball carried off De Wardes’s hat from his head. De Wardes now knew that he had a moment’s time at his own disposal; he availed himself of it in order to finish loading his pistol. De Guiche, noticing that his adversary did not fall, threw the pistol he had just discharged aside, and walked straight towards De Wardes, elevating the second pistol as he did so. He had hardly proceeded more than two or three paces, when De Wardes took aim at him as he was walking, and fired. An exclamation of anger was De Guiche’s answer; the comte’s arm contracted and dropped motionless by his side, and the pistol fell from his grasp. His anxiety was excessive. “I am lost,” murmured De Wardes, “he is not mortally wounded.” At the very moment, however, De Guiche was about to raise his pistol against De Wardes, the head, shoulders, and limbs of the comte seemed to collapse. He heaved a deep-drawn sigh, tottered, and fell at the feet of De Wardes’s horse.

“That is all right,” said De Wardes, and gathering up the reins, he struck his spurs into the horse’s sides. The horse cleared the comte’s motionless body, and bore De Wardes rapidly back to the chateau. When he arrived there, he remained a quarter of an hour deliberating within himself as to the proper course to be adopted. In his impatience to leave the field of battle, he had omitted to ascertain whether De Guiche were dead or not. A double hypothesis presented itself to De Wardes’s agitated mind; either De Guiche was killed, or De Guiche was wounded only. If he were killed, why should he leave his body in that manner to the tender mercies of the wolves; it was a perfectly useless piece of cruelty, for if De Guiche were dead, he certainly could not breathe a syllable of what had passed; if he were not killed, why should he, De Wardes, in leaving him there uncared for, allow himself to be regarded as a savage, incapable of one generous feeling? This last consideration determined his line of conduct.

De Wardes immediately instituted inquires after Manicamp. He was told that Manicamp had been looking after De Guiche, and, not knowing where to find him, had retired to bed. De Wardes went and awoke the sleeper, without any delay, and related the whole affair to him, which Manicamp listened to in perfect silence, but with an expression of momentarily increasing energy, of which his face could hardly have been supposed capable. It was only when De Wardes had finished, that Manicamp uttered the words, “Let us go.”

As they proceeded, Manicamp became more and more excited, and in proportion as De Wardes related the details of the affair to him, his countenance assumed every moment a darker expression. “And so,” he said, when De Wardes had finished, “you think he is dead?”

“Alas, I do.”

“And you fought in that manner, without witnesses?”

“He insisted upon it.”

“It is very singular.”

“What do you mean by saying it is singular?”

“That it is very unlike Monsieur de Guiche’s disposition.”

“You do not doubt my word, I suppose?”

“Hum! hum!”

“You do doubt it, then?”

“A little. But I shall doubt it more than ever, I warn you, if I find the poor fellow is really dead.”

“Monsieur Manicamp!”

“Monsieur de Wardes!”

“It seems you intend to insult me.”

“Just as you please. The fact is, I never did like people who come and say, ‘I have killed such and such a gentleman in a corner; it is a great pity, but I killed him in a perfectly honorable manner.’ It has an ugly appearance, M. de Wardes.”

“Silence! we have arrived.”

In fact, the glade could now be seen, and in the open space lay the motionless body of the dead horse. To the right of the horse, upon the dark grass, with his face against the ground, the poor comte lay, bathed in his blood. He had remained in the same spot, and did not even seem to have made the slightest movement. Manicamp threw himself on his knees, lifted the comte in his arms, and found him quite cold, and steeped in blood. He let him gently fall again. Then, stretching out his hand and feeling all over the ground close to where the comte lay, he sought until he found De Guiche’s pistol.

“By Heaven!” he said, rising to his feet, pale as death and with the pistol in his hand, “you are not mistaken, he is quite dead.”

“Dead!” repeated De Wardes.

“Yes; and his pistol is still loaded,” added Manicamp, looking into the pan.

“But I told you that I took aim as he was walking towards me, and fired at him at the very moment he was going to fire at me.”

“Are you quite sure that you fought with him, Monsieur de Wardes? I confess that I am very much afraid it has been a foul assassination. Nay, nay, no exclamations! You have had your three shots, and his pistol is still loaded. You have killed his horse, and he, De Guiche, one of the best marksmen in France, has not touched even either your horse or yourself. Well, Monsieur de Wardes, you have been very unlucky in bringing me here; all the blood in my body seems to have mounted to my head; and I verily believe that since so good an opportunity presents itself, I shall blow your brains out on the spot. So, Monsieur de Wardes, recommend yourself to Heaven.”

“Monsieur Manicamp, you cannot think of such a thing!”

“On the contrary, I am thinking of it very strongly.”

“Would you assassinate me?”

“Without the slightest remorse, at least for the present.”

“Are you a gentleman?”

“I have given a great many proofs of that.”

“Let me defend my life, then, at least.”

“Very likely; in order, I suppose, that you may do to me what you have done to poor De Guiche.”

And Manicamp slowly raised his pistol to the height of De Wardes’s breast, and with arm stretched out, and a fixed, determined look on his face, took a careful aim.

De Wardes did not attempt a flight; he was completely terrified. In the midst, however, of this horrible silence, which lasted about a second, but which seemed an age to De Wardes, a faint sigh was heard.

“Oh,” exclaimed De Wardes, “he still lives! Help, De Guiche, I am about to be assassinated!”

Manicamp fell back a step or two, and the two young men saw the comte raise himself slowly and painfully upon one hand. Manicamp threw the pistol away a dozen paces, and ran to his friend, uttering a cry of delight. De Wardes wiped his forehead, which was covered with a cold perspiration.

“It was just in time,” he murmured.

“Where are you hurt?” inquired Manicamp of De Guiche, “and whereabouts are you wounded?”

De Guiche showed him his mutilated hand and his chest covered with blood.

“Comte,” exclaimed De Wardes, “I am accused of having assassinated you; speak, I implore you, and say that I fought loyally.”

“Perfectly so,” said the wounded man; “Monsieur de Wardes fought quite loyally, and whoever says the contrary will make an enemy of me.”

“Then, sir,” said Manicamp, “assist me, in the first place, to carry this gentleman home, and I will afterwards give you every satisfaction you please; or, if you are in a hurry, we can do better still; let us stanch the blood from the comte’s wounds here, with your pocket-handkerchief and mine, and then, as there are two shots left, we can have them between us.”

“Thank you,” said De Wardes. “Twice already, in one hour, I have seen death too close at hand to be agreeable; I don’t like his look at all, and I prefer your apologies.”

Manicamp burst out laughing, and Guiche, too, in spite of his sufferings. The two young men wished to carry him, but he declared he felt quite strong enough to walk alone. The ball had broken his ring-finger and his little finger, and then had glanced along his side, but without penetrating deeply into his chest. It was the pain rather than the seriousness of the wound, therefore, which had overcome De Guiche. Manicamp passed his arm under one of the count’s shoulders, and De Wardes did the same with the other, and in this way they brought him back to Fontainebleau, to the house of the same doctor who had been present at the death of the Franciscan, Aramis’s predecessor.






Chapter XIV. The King’s Supper.


The king, while these matters were being arranged, was sitting at the supper-table, and the not very large number of guests for that day had taken their seats too, after the usual gesture intimating the royal permission. At this period of Louis XIV.‘s reign, although etiquette was not governed by the strict regulations subsequently adopted, the French court had entirely thrown aside the traditions of good-fellowship and patriarchal affability existing in the time of Henry IV., which the suspicious mind of Louis XIII. had gradually replaced with pompous state and ceremony, which he despaired of being able fully to realize.

The king, therefore, was seated alone at a small separate table, which, like the desk of a president, overlooked the adjoining tables. Although we say a small table, we must not omit to add that this small table was the largest one there. Moreover, it was the one on which were placed the greatest number and quantity of dishes, consisting of fish, game, meat, fruit, vegetables, and preserves. The king was young and full of vigor and energy, very fond of hunting, addicted to all violent exercises of the body, possessing, besides, like all the members of the Bourbon family, a rapid digestion and an appetite speedily renewed. Louis XIV. was a formidable table-companion; he delighted in criticising his cooks; but when he honored them by praise and commendation, the honor was overwhelming. The king began by eating several kinds of soup, either mixed together or taken separately. He intermixed, or rather separated, each of the soups by a glass of old wine. He ate quickly and somewhat greedily. Porthos, who from the beginning had, out of respect, been waiting for a jog of D’Artagnan’s arm, seeing the king make such rapid progress, turned to the musketeer and said in a low voice:

“It seems as if one might go on now; his majesty is very encouraging, from the example he sets. Look.”

“The king eats,” said D’Artagnan, “but he talks at the same time; try and manage matters in such a manner that, if he should happen to address a remark to you, he will not find you with your mouth full—which would be very disrespectful.”

“The best way, in that case,” said Porthos, “is to eat no supper at all; and yet I am very hungry, I admit, and everything looks and smells most invitingly, as if appealing to all my senses at once.”

“Don’t think of not eating for a moment,” said D’Artagnan; “that would put his majesty out terribly. The king has a saying, ‘that he who works well, eats well,’ and he does not like people to eat indifferently at his table.”

“How can I avoid having my mouth full if I eat?” said Porthos.

“All you have to do,” replied the captain of the musketeers, “is simply to swallow what you have in it, whenever the king does you the honor to address a remark to you.”

“Very good,” said Porthos; and from that moment he began to eat with a certain well-bred enthusiasm.

The king occasionally looked at the different persons who were at table with him, and, en connoisseur, could appreciate the different dispositions of his guests.

“Monsieur du Vallon!” he said.

Porthos was enjoying a salmi de lievre, and swallowed half of the back. His name, pronounced in such a manner, made him start, and by a vigorous effort of his gullet he absorbed the whole mouthful.

“Sire,” replied Porthos, in a stifled voice, but sufficiently intelligible, nevertheless.

“Let those filets d’agneau be handed to Monsieur du Vallon,” said the king; “do you like brown meats, M. du Vallon?”

“Sire, I like everything,” replied Porthos.

D’Artagnan whispered: “Everything your majesty sends me.”

Porthos repeated: “Everything your majesty sends me,” an observation which the king apparently received with great satisfaction.

“People eat well who work well,” replied the king, delighted to have en tete-a-tete a guest who could eat as Porthos did. Porthos received the dish of lamb, and put a portion of it on his plate.

“Well?” said the king.

“Exquisite,” said Porthos, calmly.

“Have you as good mutton in your part of the country, Monsieur du Vallon?” continued the king.

“Sire, I believe that from my own province, as everywhere else, the best of everything is sent to Paris for your majesty’s use; but, on the other hand, I do not eat lamb in the same way your majesty does.”

“Ah, ah! and how do you eat it?”

“Generally, I have a lamb dressed whole.”

“Whole?”

“Yes, sire.”

“In what manner, Monsieur du Vallon?”

“In this, sire: my cook, who is a German, first stuffs the lamb in question with small sausages he procures from Strasburg, force-meat balls from Troyes, and larks from Pithiviers; by some means or other, which I am not acquainted with, he bones the lamb as he would do a fowl, leaving the skin on, however, which forms a brown crust all over the animal; when it is cut in beautiful slices, in the same way as an enormous sausage, a rose-colored gravy pours forth, which is as agreeable to the eye as it is exquisite to the palate.” And Porthos finished by smacking his lips.

The king opened his eyes with delight, and, while cutting some of the faisan en daube, which was being handed to him, he said:

“That is a dish I should very much like to taste, Monsieur du Vallon. Is it possible! a whole lamb!”

“Absolutely an entire lamb, sire.”

“Pass those pheasants to M. du Vallon; I perceive he is an amateur.”

The order was immediately obeyed. Then, continuing the conversation, he said: “And you do not find the lamb too fat?”

“No, sire, the fat falls down at the same time as the gravy does, and swims on the surface; then the servant who carves removes the fat with a spoon, which I have had expressly made for that purpose.”

“Where do you reside?” inquired the king.

“At Pierrefonds, sire.”

“At Pierrefonds; where is that, M. du Vallon—near Belle-Isle?”

“Oh, no, sire! Pierrefonds is in the Soissonnais.”

“I thought you alluded to the lamb on account of the salt marshes.”

“No, sire, I have marshes which are not salt, it is true, but which are not the less valuable on that account.”

The king had now arrived at the entrements, but without losing sight of Porthos, who continued to play his part in the best manner.

“You have an excellent appetite, M. du Vallon,” said the king, “and you make an admirable guest at table.”

“Ah! sire, if your majesty were ever to pay a visit to Pierrefonds, we would both of us eat our lamb together; for your appetite is not an indifferent one by any means.”

D’Artagnan gave Porthos a kick under the table, which made Porthos color up.

“At your majesty’s present happy age,” said Porthos, in order to repair the mistake he had made, “I was in the musketeers, and nothing could ever satisfy me then. Your majesty has an excellent appetite, as I have already had the honor of mentioning, but you select what you eat with quite too much refinement to be called for one moment a great eater.”

The king seemed charmed at his guest’s politeness.

“Will you try some of these creams?” he said to Porthos.

“Sire, you majesty treats me with far too much kindness to prevent me speaking the whole truth.”

“Pray do so, M. du Vallon.”

“Will, sire, with regard to sweet dishes I only recognize pastry, and even that should be rather solid; all these frothy substances swell the stomach, and occupy a space which seems to me to be too precious to be so badly tenanted.”

“Ah! gentlemen,” said the king, indicating Porthos by a gesture, “here is indeed a model of gastronomy. It was in such a manner that our fathers, who so well knew what good living was, used to eat, while we,” added his majesty, “do nothing but tantalize with our stomachs.” And as he spoke, he took the breast of a chicken with ham, while Porthos attacked a dish of partridges and quails. The cup-bearer filled his majesty’s glass. “Give M. du Vallon some of my wine,” said the king. This was one of the greatest honors of the royal table. D’Artagnan pressed his friend’s knee. “If you could only manage to swallow the half of that boar’s head I see yonder,” said he to Porthos, “I shall believe you will be a duke and peer within the next twelvemonth.”

“Presently,” said Porthos, phlegmatically; “I shall come to that by and by.”

In fact it was not long before it came to the boar’s turn, for the king seemed to take pleasure in urging on his guest; he did not pass any of the dishes to Porthos until he had tasted them himself, and he accordingly took some of the boar’s head. Porthos showed that he could keep pace with his sovereign; and, instead of eating the half, as D’Artagnan had told him, he ate three-fourths of it. “It is impossible,” said the king in an undertone, “that a gentleman who eats so good a supper every day, and who has such beautiful teeth, can be otherwise than the most straightforward, upright man in my kingdom.”

“Do you hear?” said D’Artagnan in his friend’s ear.

“Yes; I think I am rather in favor,” said Porthos, balancing himself on his chair.

“Oh! you are in luck’s way.”

The king and Porthos continued to eat in the same manner, to the great satisfaction of the other guests, some of whom, from emulation, had attempted to follow them, but were obliged to give up half-way. The king soon began to get flushed and the reaction of the blood to his face announced that the moment of repletion had arrived. It was then that Louis XIV., instead of becoming gay and cheerful, as most good livers generally do, became dull, melancholy, and taciturn. Porthos, on the contrary, was lively and communicative. D’Artagnan’s foot had more than once to remind him of this peculiarity of the king. The dessert now made its appearance. The king had ceased to think anything further of Porthos; he turned his eyes anxiously towards the entrance-door, and he was heard occasionally to inquire how it happened that Monsieur de Saint-Aignan was so long in arriving. At last, at the moment when his majesty was finishing a pot of preserved plums with a deep sigh, Saint-Aignan appeared. The king’s eyes, which had become somewhat dull, immediately began to sparkle. The comte advanced towards the king’s table, and Louis rose at his approach. Everybody got up at the same time, including Porthos, who was just finishing an almond-cake capable of making the jaws of a crocodile stick together. The supper was over.






Chapter XV. After Supper.


The king took Saint-Aignan by the arm, and passed into the adjoining apartment. “What has detained you, comte?” said the king.

“I was bringing the answer, sire,” replied the comte.

“She has taken a long time to reply to what I wrote her.”

“Sire, your majesty deigned to write in verse, and Mademoiselle de la Valliere wished to repay your majesty in the same coin; that is to say, in gold.”

“Verses! Saint-Aignan,” exclaimed the king in ecstasy. “Give them to me at once.” And Louis broke the seal of a little letter, inclosing the verses which history has preserved entire for us, and which are more meritorious in invention than in execution. Such as they were, however, the king was enchanted with them, and exhibited his satisfaction by unequivocal transports of delight; but the universal silence which reigned in the rooms warned Louis, so sensitively particular with regard to good breeding, that his delight must give rise to various interpretations. He turned aside and put the note in his pocket, and then advancing a few steps, which brought him again to the threshold of the door close to his guests, he said, “M. du Vallon, I have seen you to-day with the greatest pleasure, and my pleasure will be equally great to see you again.” Porthos bowed as the Colossus of Rhodes would have done, and retired from the room with his face towards the king. “M. d’Artagnan,” continued the king, “you will await my orders in the gallery; I am obliged to you for having made me acquainted with M. du Vallon. Gentlemen,” addressing himself to the other guests, “I return to Paris to-morrow on account of the departure of the Spanish and Dutch ambassadors. Until to-morrow then.”

The apartment was immediately cleared of the guests. The king took Saint-Aignan by the arm, made him read La Valliere’s verses over again, and said, “What do you think of them?”

“Charming, sire.”

“They charm me, in fact, and if they were known—”

“Oh! the professional poets would be jealous of them; but it is not likely they will know anything about them.”

“Did you give her mine?”

“Oh! sire, she positively devoured them.”

“They were very weak, I am afraid.”

“That is not what Mademoiselle de la Valliere said of them.”

“Do you think she was pleased with them?”

“I am sure of it, sire.”

“I must answer, then.”

“Oh! sire, immediately after supper? Your majesty will fatigue yourself.”

“You are quite right; study after eating is notoriously injurious.”

“The labor of a poet especially so; and besides, there is great excitement prevailing at Mademoiselle de la Valliere’s.”

“What do you mean?”

“With her as with all the ladies of the court.”

“Why?”

“On account of poor De Guiche’s accident.”

“Has anything serious happened to De Guiche, then?”

“Yes, sire, he has one hand nearly destroyed, a hole in his breast; in fact, he is dying.”

“Good heavens! who told you that?”

“Manicamp brought him back just now to the house of a doctor here in Fontainebleau, and the rumor soon reached us all.”

“Brought back! Poor De Guiche; and how did it happen?”

“Ah! that is the very question,—how did it happen?”

“You say that in a very singular manner, Saint-Aignan. Give me the details. What does he say himself?”

“He says nothing, sire; but others do.”

“What others?”

“Those who brought him back, sire.”

“Who are they?”

“I do not know, sire; but M. de Manicamp knows. M. de Manicamp is one of his friends.”

“As everybody is, indeed,” said the king.

“Oh! no!” returned Saint-Aignan, “you are mistaken sire; every one is not precisely a friend of M. de Guiche.”

“How do you know that?”

“Does your majesty require me to explain myself?”

“Certainly I do.”

“Well, sire, I believe I have heard something said about a quarrel between two gentlemen.”

“When?”

“This very evening, before your majesty’s supper was served.”

“That can hardly be. I have issued such stringent and severe ordinances with respect to duelling, that no one, I presume, would dare to disobey them.”

“In that case, Heaven preserve me from excusing any one!” exclaimed Saint-Aignan. “Your majesty commanded me to speak, and I spoke accordingly.”

“Tell me, then, in what way the Comte de Guiche has been wounded?”

“Sire, it is said to have been at a boar-hunt.”

“This evening?”

“Yes, sire.”

“One of his hands shattered, and a hole in his breast. Who was at the hunt with M. de Guiche?”

“I do not know, sire; but M. de Manicamp knows, or ought to know.”

“You are concealing something from me, Saint-Aignan.”

“Nothing, sire, I assure you.”

“Then, explain to me how the accident happened; was it a musket that burst?”

“Very likely, sire. But yet, on reflection, it could hardly have been that, for De Guiche’s pistol was found close by him still loaded.”

“His pistol? But a man does not go to a boar-hunt with a pistol, I should think.”

“Sire, it is also said that De Guiche’s horse was killed and that the horse is still to be found in the wide open glade in the forest.”

“His horse?—Guiche go on horseback to a boar-hunt?—Saint-Aignan, I do not understand a syllable of what you have been telling me. Where did this affair happen?”

“At the Rond-point, in that part of the forest called the Bois-Rochin.”

“That will do. Call M. d’Artagnan.” Saint-Aignan obeyed, and the musketeer entered.

“Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said the king, “you will leave this place by the little door of the private staircase.”

“Yes, sire.”

“You will mount your horse.”

“Yes, sire.”

“And you will proceed to the Rond-point du Bois-Rochin. Do you know the spot?”

“Yes, sire. I have fought there twice.”

“What!” exclaimed the king, amazed at the reply.

“Under the edicts, sire, of Cardinal Richelieu,” returned D’Artagnan, with his usual impassability.

“That is very different, monsieur. You will, therefore, go there, and will examine the locality very carefully. A man has been wounded there, and you will find a horse lying dead. You will tell me what your opinion is upon the whole affair.”

“Very good, sire.”

“As a matter of course, it is your own opinion I require, and not that of any one else.”

“You shall have it in an hour’s time, sire.”

“I prohibit your speaking with any one, whoever it may be.”

“Except with the person who must give me a lantern,” said D’Artagnan.

“Oh! that is a matter of course,” said the king, laughing at the liberty, which he tolerated in no one but his captain of the musketeers. D’Artagnan left by the little staircase.

“Now, let my physician be sent for,” said Louis. Ten minutes afterwards the king’s physician arrived, quite out of breath.

“You will go, monsieur,” said the king to him, “and accompany M. de Saint-Aignan wherever he may take you; you will render me an account of the state of the person you may see in the house you will be taken to.” The physician obeyed without a remark, as at that time people began to obey Louis XIV., and left the room preceding Saint-Aignan.

“Do you, Saint-Aignan, send Manicamp to me, before the physician can possibly have spoken to him.” And Saint-Aignan left in his turn.