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Louise de la Valliere

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Chapter XIX. Wherein D’Artagnan Perceives that It Was He Who Was Mistaken, and Manicamp Who Was Right.


The king, determined to be satisfied that no one was listening, went himself to the door, and then returned precipitately and placed himself opposite Manicamp.

“And now we are alone, Monsieur de Manicamp, explain yourself.”

“With the greatest frankness, sire,” replied the young man.

“And in the first place, pray understand,” added the king, “that there is nothing to which I personally attach a greater importance than the honor of any lady.”

“That is the very reason, sire, why I endeavored to study your delicacy of sentiment and feeling.”

“Yes, I understand it all now. You say that it was one of the maids of honor of my sister-in-law who was the subject of dispute, and that the person in question, De Guiche’s adversary, the man, in point of fact, whom you will not name—”

“But whom M. de Saint-Aignan will name, monsieur.”

“Yes, you say, however, that this man insulted some one belonging to the household of Madame.”

“Yes, sire. Mademoiselle de la Valliere.”

“Ah!” said the king, as if he had expected the name, and yet as if its announcement had caused him a sudden pang; “ah! it was Mademoiselle de la Valliere who was insulted.”

“I do not say precisely that she was insulted, sire.”

“But at all events—”

“I merely say that she was spoken of in terms far enough from respectful.”

“A man dares to speak in disrespectful terms of Mademoiselle de la Valliere, and yet you refuse to tell me the name of the insulter?”

“Sire, I thought it was quite understood that your majesty had abandoned the idea of making me denounce him.”

“Perfectly true, monsieur,” returned the king, controlling his anger; “besides, I shall know in good time the name of this man whom I shall feel it my duty to punish.”

Manicamp perceived that they had returned to the question again. As for the king, he saw he had allowed himself to be hurried away a little too far, and therefore continued:—“And I will punish him—not because there is any question of Mademoiselle de la Valliere, although I esteem her very highly—but because a lady was the object of the quarrel. And I intend that ladies shall be respected at my court, and that quarrels shall be put a stop to altogether.”

Manicamp bowed.

“And now, Monsieur de Manicamp,” continued the king, “what was said about Mademoiselle de la Valliere?”

“Cannot your majesty guess?”

“I?”

“Your majesty can imagine the character of the jest in which young men permit themselves to indulge.”

“They very probably said that she was in love with some one?” the king ventured to remark.

“Probably so.”

“But Mademoiselle de la Valliere has a perfect right to love any one she pleases,” said the king.

“That is the very point De Guiche maintained.”

“And on account of which he fought, do you mean?”

“Yes, sire, the sole and only cause.”

The king colored. “And you do not know anything more, then?”

“In what respect, sire?”

“In the very interesting respect which you are now referring to.”

“What does your majesty wish to know?”

“Why, the name of the man with whom La Valliere is in love, and whom De Guiche’s adversary disputed her right to love.”

“Sire, I know nothing—I have heard nothing—and have learnt nothing, even accidentally; but De Guiche is a noble-hearted fellow, and if, momentarily, he substituted himself in the place or stead of La Valliere’s protector, it was because that protector was himself of too exalted a position to undertake her defense.”

These words were more than transparent; they made the king blush, but this time with pleasure. He struck Manicamp gently on the shoulder. “Well, well, Monsieur de Manicamp, you are not only a ready, witty fellow, but a brave gentleman besides, and your friend De Guiche is a paladin quite after my own heart; you will express that to him from me.”

“Your majesty forgives me, then?”

“Completely.”

“And I am free?”

The king smiled and held out his hand to Manicamp, which he took and kissed respectfully. “And then,” added the king, “you relate stories so charmingly.”

“I, sire!”

“You told me in the most admirable manner the particulars of the accident which happened to Guiche. I can see the wild boar rushing out of the wood—I can see the horse fall down fighting with his head, and the boar rush from the horse to the rider. You do not simply relate a story well: you positively paint its incidents.”

“Sire, I think your majesty condescends to laugh at my expense,” said Manicamp.

“On the contrary,” said Louis, seriously, “I have so little intention of laughing, Monsieur de Manicamp, that I wish you to relate this adventure to every one.”

“The adventure of the hunt?”

“Yes; in the same manner you told it to me, without changing a single word—you understand?”

“Perfectly, sire.”

“And you will relate it, then?”

“Without losing a minute.”

“Very well! and now summon M. d’Artagnan; I hope you are no longer afraid of him.”

“Oh, sire, from the very moment I am sure of your majesty’s kind disposition, I no longer fear anything!”

“Call him, then,” said the king.

Manicamp opened the door, and said, “Gentlemen, the king wishes you to return.”

D’Artagnan, Saint-Aignan, and Valot entered.

“Gentlemen,” said the king, “I summoned you for the purposes of saying that Monsieur de Manicamp’s explanation has entirely satisfied me.”

D’Artagnan glanced at Valot and Saint-Aignan, as much as to say, “Well! did I not tell you so?”

The king led Manicamp to the door, and then in a low tone of voice said: “See that M. de Guiche takes good care of himself, and particularly that he recovers as soon as possible; I am very desirous of thanking him in the name of every lady, but let him take special care that he does not begin again.”

“Were he to die a hundred times, sire, he would begin again if your majesty’s honor were in any way called in question.”

This remark was direct enough. But we have already said that the incense of flattery was very pleasing to the king, and, provided he received it, he was not very particular as to its quality.

“Very well, very well,” he said, as he dismissed Manicamp, “I will see De Guiche myself, and make him listen to reason.” And as Manicamp left the apartment, the king turned round towards the three spectators of this scene, and said, “Tell me, Monsieur d’Artagnan, how does it happen that your sight is so imperfect?—you, whose eyes are generally so very good.”

“My sight bad, sire?”

“Certainly.”

“It must be the case since your majesty says so; but in what respect, may I ask?”

“Why, with regard to what occurred in the Bois-Rochin.”

“Ah! ah!”

“Certainly. You pretended to have seen the tracks of two horses, to have detected the footprints of two men; and have described the particulars of an engagement, which you assert took place. Nothing of the sort occurred; pure illusion on your part.”

“Ah! ah!” said D’Artagnan.

“Exactly the same thing with the galloping to and fro of the horses, and the other indications of a struggle. It was the struggle of De Guiche against the wild boar, and absolutely nothing else; only the struggle was a long and a terrible one, it seems.”

“Ah! ah!” continued D’Artagnan.

“And when I think that I almost believed it for a moment—but, then, you told it with such confidence.”

“I admit, sire, that I must have been very short-sighted,” said D’Artagnan, with a readiness of humor which delighted the king.

“You do admit it, then?”

“Admit it, sire, most assuredly I do.”

“So now that you see the thing—”

“In quite a different light from that in which I saw it half an hour ago.”

“And to what, then, do you attribute this difference in your opinion?”

“Oh! a very simple thing, sire; half an hour ago I returned from Bois-Rochin, where I had nothing to light me but a stupid stable lantern—”

“While now?”

“While now I have all the wax-lights of your cabinet, and more than that, your majesty’s own eyes, which illuminate everything, like the blazing sun at noonday.”

The king began to laugh; and Saint-Aignan broke out into convulsions of merriment.

“It is precisely like M. Valot,” said D’Artagnan, resuming the conversation where the king had left off; “he has been imagining all along, that not only was M. de Guiche wounded by a bullet, but still more, that he extracted it, even, from his chest.”

“Upon my word,” said Valot, “I assure you—”

“Now, did you not believe that?” continued D’Artagnan.

“Yes,” said Valot; “not only did I believe it, but, at this very moment, I would swear it.”

“Well, my dear doctor, you have dreamt it.”

“I have dreamt it!”

“M. de Guiche’s wound—a mere dream; the bullet, a dream. So, take my advice, and prate no more about it.”

“Well said,” returned the king, “M. d’Artagnan’s advice is sound. Do not speak of your dream to any one, Monsieur Valot, and, upon the word of a gentleman, you will have no occasion to repent it. Good evening, gentlemen; a very sad affair, indeed, is a wild boar-hunt!”

“A very serious thing, indeed,” repeated D’Artagnan, in a loud voice, “is a wild boar-hunt!” and he repeated it in every room through which he passed; and left the chateau, taking Valot with him.

“And now we are alone,” said the king to Saint-Aignan, “what is the name of De Guiche’s adversary?”

Saint-Aignan looked at the king.

“Oh! do not hesitate,” said the king; “you know that I am bound beforehand to forgive.”

“De Wardes,” said Saint-Aignan.

“Very good,” said Louis XIV.; and then, retiring to his own room, added to himself, “To forgive is not to forget.”






Chapter XX. Showing the Advantage of Having Two Strings to One’s Bow.


Manicamp quitted the king’s apartment, delighted at having succeeded so well, when, just as he reached the bottom of the staircase and was passing a doorway, he felt that some one suddenly pulled him by the sleeve. He turned round and recognized Montalais, who was waiting for him in the passage, and who, in a very mysterious manner, with her body bent forward, and in a low tone of voice, said to him, “Follow me, monsieur, and without any delay, if you please.”

“Where to, mademoiselle?” inquired Manicamp.

“In the first place, a true knight would not have asked such a question, but would have followed me without requiring any explanation.”

“Well, mademoiselle, I am quite ready to conduct myself as a true knight.”

“No; it is too late, and you cannot take the credit of it. We are going to Madame’s apartment, so come at once.”

“Ah, ah!” said Manicamp. “Lead on, then.”

And he followed Montalais, who ran before him as light as Galatea.

“This time,” said Manicamp, as he followed his guide, “I do not think that stories about hunting expeditions would be acceptable. We will try, however, and if need be—well, if there should be any occasion for it, we must try something else.”

Montalais still ran on.

“How fatiguing it is,” thought Manicamp, “to have need of one’s head and legs at the same time.”

At last, however, they arrived. Madame had just finished undressing, and was in a most elegant deshabille, but it must be understood that she had changed her dress before she had any idea of being subjected to the emotions now agitating her. She was waiting with the most restless impatience; and Montalais and Manicamp found her standing near the door. At the sound of their approaching footsteps, Madame came forward to meet them.

“Ah!” she said, “at last!”

“Here is M. Manicamp,” replied Montalais.

Manicamp bowed with the greatest respect; Madame signed to Montalais to withdraw, and she immediately obeyed. Madame followed her with her eyes, in silence, until the door closed behind her, and then, turning towards Manicamp, said, “What is the matter?—and is it true, as I am told, Monsieur de Manicamp, that some one is lying wounded in the chateau?”

“Yes, Madame, unfortunately so—Monsieur de Guiche.”

“Yes, Monsieur de Guiche,” repeated the princess. “I had, in fact, heard it rumored, but not confirmed. And so, in truth, it is Monsieur de Guiche who has been thus unfortunate?”

“M. de Guiche himself, Madame.”

“Are you aware, M. de Manicamp,” said the princess, hastily, “that the king has the strongest antipathy to duels?”

“Perfectly so, Madame; but a duel with a wild beast is not answerable.”

“Oh, you will not insult me by supposing that I credit the absurd fable, with what object I cannot tell, respecting M. de Guiche having been wounded by a wild boar. No, no, monsieur; the real truth is known, and, in addition to the inconvenience of his wound, M. de Guiche runs the risk of losing his liberty if not his life.”

“Alas! Madame, I am well aware of that, but what is to be done?”

“You have seen the king?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“What did you say to him?”

“I told him how M. de Guiche went to the chase, and how a wild boar rushed forth out of the Bois-Rochin; how M. de Guiche fired at it, and how, in fact, the furious brute dashed at De Guiche, killed his horse, and grievously wounded himself.”

“And the king believed that?”

“Implicitly.”

“Oh, you surprise me, Monsieur de Manicamp; you surprise me very much.”

And Madame walked up and down the room, casting a searching look from time to time at Manicamp, who remained motionless and impassible in the same place. At last she stopped.

“And yet,” she said, “every one here seems unanimous in giving another cause for this wound.”

“What cause, Madame?” said Manicamp; “may I be permitted, without indiscretion, to ask your highness?”

“You ask such a question! You, M. de Guiche’s intimate friend, his confidant, indeed!”

“Oh, Madame! his intimate friend—yes; confidant—no. De Guiche is a man who can keep his own secrets, who has some of his own certainly, but who never breathes a syllable about them. De Guiche is discretion itself, Madame.”

“Very well, then; those secrets which M. de Guiche keeps so scrupulously, I shall have the pleasure of informing you of,” said the princess, almost spitefully; “for the king may possibly question you a second time, and if, on the second occasion, you were to repeat the same story to him, he possibly might not be very well satisfied with it.”

“But, Madame, I think your highness is mistaken with regard to the king. His majesty was perfectly satisfied with me, I assure you.”

“In that case, permit me to assure you, Monsieur de Manicamp, it only proves one thing, which is, that his majesty is very easily satisfied.”

“I think your highness is mistaken in arriving at such an opinion; his majesty is well known not to be contented except with very good reason.”

“And do you suppose that he will thank you for your officious falsehood, when he will learn to-morrow that M. de Guiche had, on behalf of his friend M. de Bragelonne, a quarrel which ended in a hostile meeting?”

“A quarrel on M. de Bragelonne’s account,” said Manicamp, with the most innocent expression in the world; “what does your royal highness do me the honor to tell me?”

“What is there astonishing in that? M. de Guiche is susceptible, irritable, and easily loses his temper.”

“On the contrary, Madame, I know M. de Guiche to be very patient, and never susceptible or irritable except upon very good grounds.”

“But is not friendship a just ground?” said the princess.

“Oh, certainly, Madame; and particularly for a heart like his.”

“Very good; you will not deny, I suppose, that M. de Bragelonne is M. de Guiche’s good friend?”

“A great friend.”

“Well, then, M. de Guiche has taken M. de Bragelonne’s part; and as M. de Bragelonne was absent and could not fight, he fought for him.”

Manicamp began to smile, and moved his head and shoulders very slightly, as much as to say, “Oh, if you will positively have it so—”

“But speak, at all events,” said the princess, out of patience; “speak!”

“I?”

“Of course; it is quite clear you are not of my opinion, and that you have something to say.”

“I have only one thing to say, Madame.”

“Name it!”

“That I do not understand a single word of what you have just been telling me.”

“What!—you do not understand a single word about M. de Guiche’s quarrel with M. de Wardes,” exclaimed the princess, almost out of temper.

Manicamp remained silent.

“A quarrel,” she continued, “which arose out of a conversation scandalous in its tone and purport, and more or less well founded, respecting the virtue of a certain lady.”

“Ah! of a certain lady,—this is quite another thing,” said Manicamp.

“You begin to understand, do you not?”

“Your highness will excuse me, but I dare not—”

“You dare not,” said Madame, exasperated; “very well, then, wait one moment, I will dare.”

“Madame, Madame!” exclaimed Manicamp, as if in great dismay, “be careful of what you are going to say.”

“It would seem, monsieur, that, if I happened to be a man, you would challenge me, notwithstanding his majesty’s edicts, as Monsieur de Guiche challenged M. de Wardes; and that, too, on account of the virtue of Mademoiselle de la Valliere.”

“Of Mademoiselle de la Valliere!” exclaimed Manicamp, starting backwards, as if that was the very last name he expected to hear pronounced.

“What makes you start in that manner, Monsieur de Manicamp?” said Madame, ironically; “do you mean to say you would be impertinent enough to suspect that young lady’s honor?”

“Madame, in the whole course of this affair there has not been the slightest question of Mademoiselle de la Valliere’s honor.”

“What! when two men have almost blown each other’s brains out on a woman’s behalf, do you mean to say she has had nothing to do with the affair, and that her name has not been called in question at all? I did not think you so good a courtier, Monsieur de Manicamp.”

“Pray forgive me, Madame,” said the young man, “but we are very far from understanding one another. You do me the honor to speak one language while I am speaking altogether another.”

“I beg your pardon, but I do not understand your meaning.”

“Forgive me, then; but I fancied I understood your highness to remark that De Guiche and De Wardes had fought on Mademoiselle de la Valliere’s account?”

“Certainly.”

“On account of Mademoiselle de la Valliere, I think you said?” repeated Manicamp.

“I do not say that M. de Guiche personally took an interest in Mademoiselle de la Valliere, but I say that he did so as representing or acting on behalf of another.”

“On behalf of another?”

“Come, do not always assume such a bewildered look. Does not every one here know that M. de Bragelonne is affianced to Mademoiselle de la Valliere, and that before he went on the mission with which the king intrusted him, he charged his friend M. de Guiche to watch over that interesting young lady?”

“There is nothing more for me to say, then. Your highness is well-informed.”

“Of everything. I beg you to understand that clearly.”

Manicamp began to laugh, which almost exasperated the princess, who was not, as we know, of a very patient disposition.

“Madame,” resumed the discreet Manicamp, saluting the princess, “let us bury this affair altogether in forgetfulness, for it will probably never be quite cleared up.”

“Oh, as far as that goes there is nothing more to do, and the information is complete. The king will learn that M. de Guiche has taken up the cause of this little adventuress, who gives herself all the airs of a grand lady; he will learn that Monsieur de Bragelonne, having nominated his friend M. de Guiche his guardian-in-ordinary, the latter immediately fastened, as he was required to do, upon the Marquis de Wardes, who ventured to trench upon his privileges. Moreover, you cannot pretend to deny, Monsieur Manicamp—you who know everything so well—that the king on his side casts a longing eye upon this famous treasure, and that he will bear no slight grudge against M. de Guiche for constituting himself its defender. Are you sufficiently well informed now, or do you require anything further? If so, speak, monsieur.”

“No, Madame, there is nothing more I wish to know.”

“Learn, however—for you ought to know it, Monsieur de Manicamp—learn that his majesty’s indignation will be followed by terrible consequences. In princes of a similar temperament to that of his majesty, the passion which jealousy causes sweeps down like a whirlwind.”

“Which you will temper, Madame.”

“I!” exclaimed the princess, with a gesture of indescribable irony; “I! and by what title, may I ask?”

“Because you detest injustice, Madame.”

“And according to your account, then, it would be an injustice to prevent the king arranging his love affairs as he pleases.”

“You will intercede, however, in M. de Guiche’s favor?”

“You are mad, monsieur,” said the princess, in a haughty tone of voice.

“On the contrary, I am in the most perfect possession of my senses; and I repeat, you will defend M. de Guiche before the king.”

“Why should I?”

“Because the cause of M. de Guiche is your own, Madame,” said Manicamp, with ardor kindling in his eyes.

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean, Madame, that, with respect to the defense which Monsieur de Guiche undertook in M. de Bragelonne’s absence, I am surprised that your highness has not detected a pretext in La Valliere’s name having been brought forward.”

“A pretext? But a pretext for what?” repeated the princess, hesitatingly, for Manicamp’s steady look had just revealed something of the truth to her.

“I trust, Madame,” said the young man, “I have said sufficient to induce your highness not to overwhelm before his majesty my poor friend, De Guiche, against whom all the malevolence of a party bitterly opposed to your own will now be directed.”

“You mean, on the contrary, I suppose, that all those who have no great affection for Mademoiselle de la Valliere, and even, perhaps, a few of those who have some regard for her, will be angry with the comte?”

“Oh, Madame! why will you push your obstinacy to such an extent, and refuse to open your ears and listen to the counsel of one whose devotion to you is unbounded? Must I expose myself to the risk of your displeasure,—am I really to be called upon to name, contrary to my own wish, the person who was the real cause of this quarrel?”

“The person?” said Madame, blushing.

“Must I,” continued Manicamp, “tell you how poor De Guiche became irritated, furious, exasperated beyond all control, at the different rumors now being circulated about this person? Must I, if you persist in this willful blindness, and if respect should continue to prevent me naming her,—must I, I repeat, recall to your recollection the various scenes which Monsieur had with the Duke of Buckingham, and the insinuations which were reported respecting the duke’s exile? Must I remind you of the anxious care the comte always took in his efforts to please, to watch, to protect that person for whom alone he lives,—for whom alone he breathes? Well! I will do so; and when I shall have made you recall all the particulars I refer to, you will perhaps understand how it happened that the comte, having lost all control over himself, and having been for some time past almost harassed to death by De Wardes, became, at the first disrespectful expression which the latter pronounced respecting the person in question, inflamed with passion, and panted only for an opportunity of avenging the affront.”

The princess concealed her face with her hands. “Monsieur, monsieur!” she exclaimed; “do you know what you are saying, and to whom you are speaking?”

“And so, Madame,” pursued Manicamp, as if he had not heard the exclamations of the princess, “nothing will astonish you any longer,—neither the comte’s ardor in seeking the quarrel, nor his wonderful address in transferring it to a quarter foreign to your own personal interests. That latter circumstance was, indeed, a marvelous instance of tact and perfect coolness, and if the person in whose behalf the comte so fought and shed his blood does, in reality, owe some gratitude to the poor wounded sufferer, it is not on account of the blood he has shed, or the agony he has suffered, but for the steps he has taken to preserve from comment or reflection an honor which is more precious to him than his own.”

“Oh!” cried Madame, as if she had been alone, “is it possible the quarrel was on my account!”

Manicamp felt he could now breathe for a moment—and gallantly had he won the right to do so. Madame, on her side, remained for some time plunged in a painful reverie. Her agitation could be seen by her quick respiration, by her drooping eyelids, by the frequency with which she pressed her hand upon her heart. But, in her, coquetry was not so much a passive quality, as, on the contrary, a fire which sought for fuel to maintain itself, finding anywhere and everywhere what it required.

“If it be as you assert,” she said, “the comte will have obliged two persons at the same time; for Monsieur de Bragelonne also owes a deep debt of gratitude to M. de Guiche—and with far greater reason, indeed, because everywhere, and on every occasion, Mademoiselle de la Valliere will be regarded as having been defended by this generous champion.”

Manicamp perceived that there still remained some lingering doubt in the princess’s heart. “A truly admirable service, indeed,” he said, “is the one he has rendered to Mademoiselle de la Valliere! A truly admirable service to M. de Bragelonne! The duel has created a sensation which, in some respects, casts a dishonorable suspicion upon that young girl; a sensation, indeed, which will embroil her with the vicomte. The consequence is that De Wardes’s pistol-bullet has had three results instead of one; it destroys at the same time the honor of a woman, the happiness of a man, and, perhaps, it has wounded to death one of the best gentlemen in France. Oh, Madame! your logic is cold—even calculating; it always condemns—it never absolves.”

Manicamp’s concluding words scattered to the winds the last doubt which lingered, not in Madame’s heart, but in her mind. She was no longer a princess full of scruples, nor a woman with her ever-returning suspicions, but one whose heart has just felt the mortal chill of a wound. “Wounded to death!” she murmured, in a faltering voice, “oh, Monsieur de Manicamp! did you not say, wounded to death?”

Manicamp returned no other answer than a deep sigh.

“And so you said that the comte is dangerously wounded?” continued the princess.

“Yes, Madame; one of his hands is shattered, and he has a bullet lodged in his breast.”

“Gracious heavens!” resumed the princess, with a feverish excitement, “this is horrible! Monsieur de Manicamp! a hand shattered, do you say, and a bullet in his breast? And that coward! that wretch! that assassin, De Wardes, did it!”

Manicamp seemed overcome by a violent emotion. He had, in fact, displayed no little energy in the latter part of his speech. As for Madame, she entirely threw aside all regard for the formal observances of propriety society imposes; for when, with her, passion spoke in accents either of anger or sympathy, nothing could restrain her impulses. Madame approached Manicamp, who had subsided in a chair, as if his grief were a sufficiently powerful excuse for his infraction of the laws of etiquette. “Monsieur,” she said, seizing him by the hand, “be frank with me.”

Manicamp looked up.

“Is M. de Guiche in danger of death?”

“Doubly so, Madame,” he replied; “in the first place on account of the hemorrhage which has taken place, an artery having been injured in the hand; and next, in consequence of the wound in his breast, which may, the doctor is afraid, at least, have injured some vital part.”

“He may die, then?”

“Die, yes, Madame; and without even having had the consolation of knowing that you have been told of his devotion.”

“You will tell him.”

“I?”

“Yes; are you not his friend?”

“I? oh, no, Madame; I will only tell M. de Guiche—if, indeed, he is still in a condition to hear me—I will only tell him what I have seen; that is, your cruelty to him.”

“Oh, monsieur, you will not be guilty of such barbarity!”

“Indeed, Madame, I shall speak the truth, for nature is very energetic in a man of his age. The physicians are clever men, and if, by chance, the poor comte should survive his wound, I should not wish him to die of a wound of the heart, after surviving one of the body.” Manicamp rose, and with an expression of profoundest respect, seemed to be desirous of taking leave.

“At least, monsieur,” said Madame, stopping him with almost a suppliant air, “you will be kind enough to tell me in what state your wounded friend is, and who is the physician who attends him?”

“As regards the state he is in, Madame, he is seriously ill; his physician is M. Valot, his majesty’s private medical attendant. M. Valot is moreover assisted by a professional friend, to whose house M. de Guiche has been carried.”

“What! he is not in the chateau?” said Madame.

“Alas, Madame! the poor fellow was so ill, that he could not even be conveyed thither.”

“Give me the address, monsieur,” said the princess, hurriedly; “I will send to inquire after him.”

“Rue du Feurre; a brick-built house, with white outside blinds. The doctor’s name is on the door.”

“You are returning to your wounded friend, Monsieur de Manicamp?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“You will be able, then, to do me a service.”

“I am at your highness’s orders.”

“Do what you intended to do; return to M. de Guiche, send away all those whom you may find there, and have the kindness yourself to go away too.”

“Madame—”

“Let us waste no time in useless explanations. Accept the fact as I present it to you; see nothing in it beyond what is really there, and ask nothing further than what I tell you. I am going to send one of my ladies, perhaps two, because it is now getting late; I do not wish them to see you, or rather I do not wish you to see them. These are scruples you can understand—you particularly, Monsieur de Manicamp, who seem capable of divining so much.”

“Oh, Madame, perfectly; I can even do better still,—I will precede, or rather walk, in advance of your attendants; it will, at the same time, be the means of showing them the way more accurately, and of protecting them, if occasion arises, though there is no probability of their needing protection.”

“And, by this means, then, they would be sure of entering without difficulty, would they not?”

“Certainly, Madame; for as I should be the first to pass, I thus remove any difficulties that might chance to be in the way.”

“Very well. Go, go, Monsieur de Manicamp, and wait at the bottom of the staircase.”

“I go at once, Madame.”

“Stay.”

Manicamp paused.

“When you hear the footsteps of two women descending the stairs, go out, and, without once turning round, take the road which leads to where the poor count is lying.”

“But if, by any mischance, two other persons were to descend, and I were to be mistaken?”

“You will hear one of the two clap her hands together softly. Go.”

Manicamp turned round, bowed once more, and left the room, his heart overflowing with joy. In fact, he knew very well that the presence of Madame herself would be the best balm to apply to his friend’s wounds. A quarter of an hour had hardly elapsed when he heard the sound of a door opened softly, and closed with like precaution. He listened to the light footfalls gliding down the staircase, and then heard the signal agreed upon. He immediately went out, and, faithful to his promise, bent his way, without once turning his head, through the streets of Fontainebleau, towards the doctor’s dwelling.






Chapter XXI. M. Malicorne the Keeper of the Records of France.


Two women, their figures completely concealed by their mantles, and whose masks effectually hid the upper portion of their faces, timidly followed Manicamp’s steps. On the first floor, behind curtains of red damask, the soft light of a lamp placed upon a low table faintly illumined the room, at the other extremity of which, on a large bedstead supported by spiral columns, around which curtains of the same color as those which deadened the rays of the lamp had been closely drawn, lay De Guiche, his head supported by pillows, his eyes looking as if the mists of death were gathering; his long black hair, scattered over the pillow, set off the young man’s hollow temples. It was easy to see that fever was the chief tenant of the chamber. De Guiche was dreaming. His wandering mind was pursuing, through gloom and mystery, one of those wild creations delirium engenders. Two or three drops of blood, still liquid, stained the floor. Manicamp hurriedly ran up the stairs, but paused at the threshold of the door, looked into the room, and seeing that everything was perfectly quiet, he advanced towards the foot of the large leathern armchair, a specimen of furniture of the reign of Henry IV., and seeing that the nurse, as a matter of course, had dropped off to sleep, he awoke her, and begged her to pass into the adjoining room.

Then, standing by the side of the bed, he remained for a moment deliberating whether it would be better to awaken Guiche, in order to acquaint him with the good news. But, as he began to hear behind the door the rustling of silk dresses and the hurried breathing of his two companions, and as he already saw that the curtain screening the doorway seemed on the point of being impatiently drawn aside, he passed round the bed and followed the nurse into the next room. As soon as he had disappeared the curtain was raised, and his two female companions entered the room he had just left. The one who entered first made a gesture to her companion, which riveted her to the spot where she stood, close to the door, and then resolutely advanced towards the bed, drew back the curtains along the iron rod, and threw them in thick folds behind the head of the bed. She gazed upon the comte’s pallid face; remarked his right hand enveloped in linen whose dazzling whiteness was emphasized by the counterpane patterned with dark leaves thrown across the couch. She shuddered as she saw a stain of blood growing larger and larger upon the bandages. The young man’s breast was uncovered, as though for the cool night air to assist his respiration. A narrow bandage fastened the dressings of the wound, around which a purplish circle of extravasated blood was gradually increasing in size. A deep sigh broke from her lips. She leaned against one of the columns of the bed, and gazed, through the apertures in her mask, upon the harrowing spectacle before her. A hoarse harsh groan passed like a death-rattle through the comte’s clenched teeth. The masked lady seized his left hand, which scorched like burning coals. But at the very moment she placed her icy hand upon it, the action of the cold was such that De Guiche opened his eyes, and by a look in which revived intelligence was dawning, seemed as though struggling back again into existence. The first thing upon which he fixed his gaze was this phantom standing erect by his bedside. At that sight, his eyes became dilated, but without any appearance of consciousness in them. The lady thereupon made a sign to her companion, who had remained at the door; and in all probability the latter had already received her lesson, for in a clear tone of voice, and without any hesitation whatever, she pronounced these words:—“Monsieur le comte, her royal highness Madame is desirous of knowing how you are able to bear your wound, and to express to you, by my lips, her great regret at seeing you suffer.”

As she pronounced the word Madame, Guiche started; he had not as yet remarked the person to whom the voice belonged, and he naturally turned towards the direction whence it preceded. But, as he felt the cold hand still resting on his own, he again turned towards the motionless figure beside him. “Was it you who spoke, madame?” he asked, in a weak voice, “or is there another person in beside you in the room?”

“Yes,” replied the figure, in an almost unintelligible voice, as she bent down her head.

“Well,” said the wounded man, with a great effort, “I thank you. Tell Madame that I no longer regret to die, since she has remembered me.”

At the words “to die,” pronounced by one whose life seemed to hang on a thread, the masked lady could not restrain her tears, which flowed under the mask, and appeared upon her cheeks just where the mask left her face bare. If De Guiche had been in fuller possession of his senses, he would have seen her tears roll like glistening pearls, and fall upon his bed. The lady, forgetting that she wore her mask, raised her hand as though to wipe her eyes, and meeting the rough velvet, she tore away her mask in anger, and threw it on the floor. At the unexpected apparition before him, which seemed to issue from a cloud, De Guiche uttered a cry and stretched his arms towards her; but every word perished on his lips, and his strength seemed utterly abandoning him. His right hand, which had followed his first impulse, without calculating the amount of strength he had left, fell back again upon the bed, and immediately afterwards the white linen was stained with a larger spot than before. In the meantime, the young man’s eyes became dim, and closed, as if he were already struggling with the messenger of death; and then, after a few involuntary movements, his head fell back motionless on his pillow; his face grew livid. The lady was frightened; but on this occasion, contrary to what is usually the case, fear attracted. She leaned over the young man, gazed earnestly, fixedly at his pale, cold face, which she almost touched, then imprinted a rapid kiss upon De Guiche’s left hand, who, trembling as if an electric shock had passed through him, awoke a second time, opened his large eyes, incapable of recognition, and again fell into a state of complete insensibility. “Come,” she said to her companion, “we must not remain here any longer; I shall be committing some folly or other.”

“Madame, Madame, your highness is forgetting your mask!” said her vigilant companion.

“Pick it up,” replied her mistress, as she tottered almost senseless towards the staircase, and as the outer door had been left only half-closed, the two women, light as birds, passed through it, and with hurried steps returned to the palace. One of them ascended towards Madame’s apartments, where she disappeared; the other entered the rooms belonging to the maids of honor, namely, on the entresol, and having reached her own room, she sat down before a table, and without giving herself time even to breathe, wrote the following letter:

“This evening Madame has been to see M. de Guiche. Everything is going well on this side. See that your news is equally exemplary, and do not forget to burn this paper.”

She folded the letter, and leaving her room with every possible precaution, crossed a corridor which led to the apartments appropriated to the gentlemen attached to Monsieur’s service. She stopped before a door, under which, having previously knocked twice in a short, quick manner, she thrust the paper, and fled. Then, returning to her own room, she removed every trace of her having gone out, and also of having written the letter. Amid the investigations she was so diligently pursuing she perceived on the table the mask which belonged to Madame, and which, according to her mistress’s directions, she had brought back but had forgotten to restore to her. “Oh, oh!” she said, “I must not forget to do to-morrow what I have forgotten to-day.”

And she took hold of the velvet mask by that part which covered the cheeks, and feeling that her thumb was wet, looked at it. It was not only wet, but reddened. The mask had fallen upon one of the spots of blood which, we have already said, stained the floor, and from that black velvet outside which had accidentally come into contact with it, the blood had passed through to the inside, and stained the white cambric lining. “Oh, oh!” said Montalais, for doubtless our readers have already recognized her by these various maneuvers, “I shall not give back this mask; it is far too precious now.”

And rising from her seat, she ran towards a box made of maple wood, which inclosed different articles of toilette and perfumery. “No, not here,” she said, “such a treasure must not be abandoned to the slightest chance of detection.”

Then, after a moment’s silence, and with a smile that was peculiarly her own, she added:—“Beautiful mask, stained with the blood of that brave knight, you shall go and join that collection of wonders, La Valliere’s and Raoul’s letters, that loving collection, indeed, which will some day or other form part of the history of France, of European royalty. You shall be placed under M. Malicorne’s care,” said the laughing girl, as she began to undress herself, “under the protection of that worthy M. Malicorne,” she said, blowing out the taper, “who thinks he was born only to become the chief usher of Monsieur’s apartments, and whom I will make keeper of the records and historiographer of the house of Bourbon, and of the first houses in the kingdom. Let him grumble now, that discontented Malicorne,” she added, as she drew the curtains and fell asleep.