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Ten Years Later

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Chapter XLIX. The Labyrinth.


Saint-Aignan, who had only been seeking for information, had met with an adventure. This was indeed a piece of good luck. Curious to learn why, and particularly what about, this man and woman were conversing at such an hour, and in such a singular position, Saint-Aignan made himself as small as he possibly could, and approached almost under the rounds of the ladder. And taking measures to make himself as comfortable as possible, he leaned his back against a tree and listened, and heard the following conversation. The woman was the first to speak.

“Really, Monsieur Manicamp,” she said, in a voice which, notwithstanding the reproaches she addressed to him, preserved a marked tone of coquetry, “really your indiscretion is of a very dangerous character. We cannot talk long in this manner without being observed.”

“That is very probable,” said the man, in the calmest and coolest of tones.

“In that case, then, what would people say? Oh! if any one were to see me, I declare I should die of very shame.”

“Oh! that would be very silly; I do not believe you would.”

“It might have been different if there had been anything between us; but to injure myself gratuitously is really very foolish of me; so, adieu, Monsieur Manicamp.”

“So far so good; I know the man, and now let me see who the woman is,” said Saint-Aignan, watching the rounds of the ladder, on which were standing two pretty little feet covered with blue satin shoes.

“Nay, nay, for pity’s sake, my dear Montalais,” cried Manicamp, “deuce take it, do not go away; I have a great many things to say to you, of the greatest importance, still.”

“Montalais,” said Saint-Aignan to himself, “one of the three. Each of the three gossips had her adventure, only I imagined the hero of this one’s adventure was Malicorne and not Manicamp.”

At her companion’s appeal, Montalais stopped in the middle of her descent, and Saint-Aignan could observe the unfortunate Manicamp climb from one branch of the chestnut-tree to another, either to improve his situation or to overcome the fatigue consequent upon his inconvenient position.

“Now, listen to me,” said he; “you quite understand, I hope, that my intentions are perfectly innocent?”

“Of course. But why did you write me a letter stimulating my gratitude towards you? Why did you ask me for an interview at such an hour and in such a place as this?”

“I stimulated your gratitude in reminding you that it was I who had been the means of your becoming attached to Madame’s household; because most anxiously desirous of obtaining the interview you have been kind enough to grant me, I employed the means which appeared to me most certain to insure it. And my reason for soliciting it, at such an hour and in such a locality, was, that the hour seemed to me to be the most prudent, and the locality the least open to observation. Moreover, I had occasion to speak to you upon certain subjects which require both prudence and solitude.”

“Monsieur Manicamp!”

“But everything I wish to say is perfectly honorable, I assure you.”

“I think, Monsieur Manicamp, it will be more becoming in me to take my leave.”

“No, no!—listen to me, or I will jump from my perch here to yours; and be careful how you set me at defiance, for a branch of this chestnut-tree causes me a good deal of annoyance, and may provoke me to extreme measures. Do not follow the example of this branch, then, but listen to me.”

“I am listening, and I agree to do so; but be as brief as possible, for if you have a branch of the chestnut-tree which annoys you, I wish you to understand that one of the rounds of the ladder is hurting the soles of my feet, and my shoes are being cut through.”

“Do me the kindness to give me your hand.”

“Why?”

“Will you have the goodness to do so?”

“There is my hand, then; but what are you going to do?”

“To draw you towards me.”

“What for? You surely do not wish me to join you in the tree?”

“No; but I wish you to sit down upon the wall; there, that will do; there is quite room enough, and I would give a great deal to be allowed to sit down beside you.”

“No, no; you are very well where you are; we should be seen.”

“Do you really think so?” said Manicamp, in an insinuating voice.

“I am sure of it.”

“Very well, I remain in my tree, then, although I cannot be worse placed.”

“Monsieur Manicamp, we are wandering away from the subject.”

“You are right, we are so.”

“You wrote me a letter?”

“I did.”

“Why did you write?”

“Fancy, at two o’clock to-day, De Guiche left.”

“What then?”

“Seeing him set off, I followed him, as I usually do.”

“Of course, I see that, since you are here now.”

“Don’t be in a hurry. You are aware, I suppose, that De Guiche is up to his very neck in disgrace?”

“Alas! yes.”

“It was the very height of imprudence on his part, then, to come to Fontainebleau to seek those who had at Paris sent him away into exile, and particularly those from whom he had been separated.”

“Monsieur Manicamp, you reason like Pythagoras.”

“Moreover, De Guiche is as obstinate as a man in love can be, and he refused to listen to any of my remonstrances. I begged, I implored him, but he would not listen to anything. Oh, the deuce!”

“What’s the matter?”

“I beg your pardon, Mademoiselle Montalais, but this confounded branch, about which I have already had the honor of speaking to you, has just torn a certain portion of my dress.”

“It is quite dark,” replied Montalais, laughing; “so, pray continue, M. Manicamp.”

“De Guiche set off on horseback as hard as he could, I following him, at a slower pace. You quite understand that to throw one’s self into the water, for instance, with a friend, at the same headlong rate as he himself would do it, would be the act either of a fool or a madman. I therefore allowed De Guiche to get in advance, and I proceeded on my way with a commendable slowness of pace, feeling quite sure that my unfortunate friend would not be received, or, if he had been, that he would ride off again at the very first cross, disagreeable answer; and that I should see him returning much faster than he went, without having, myself, gone much farther than Ris or Melun—and that even was a good distance you will admit, for it is eleven leagues to get there and as many to return.”

Montalais shrugged her shoulders.

“Laugh as much as you like; but if, instead of being comfortably seated on the top of the wall as you are, you were sitting on this branch as if you were on horseback, you would, like Augustus, aspire to descend.”

“Be patient, my dear M. Manicamp; a few minutes will soon pass away; you were saying, I think, that you had gone beyond Ris and Melun.”

“Yes, I went through Ris and Melun, and I continued to go on, more and more surprised that I did not see him returning; and here I am at Fontainebleau; I look for and inquire after De Guiche everywhere, but no one has seen him, no one in the town has spoken to him; he arrived riding at full gallop, he entered the chateau; and there he has disappeared. I have been here at Fontainebleau since eight o’clock this evening inquiring for De Guiche in every direction, but no De Guiche can be found. I am dying with uneasiness. You understand that I have not been running my head into the lion’s den, in entering the chateau, as my imprudent friend has done; I came at once to the servants’ offices, and I succeeded in getting a letter conveyed to you; and now, for Heaven’s sake, my dear young lady, relieve me from my anxiety.”

“There will be no difficulty in that, my dear M. Manicamp; your friend De Guiche has been admirably received.”

“Bah!”

“The king made quite a fuss over him.”

“The king, who exiled him!”

“Madame smiled upon him, and Monsieur appears to like him better than ever.”

“Ah! ah!” said Manicamp, “that explains to me, then, why and how he has remained. And did he not say anything about me?”

“Not a word.”

“That is very unkind. What is he doing now?”

“In all probability he is asleep, or, if not asleep, dreaming.”

“And what have they been doing all the evening?”

“Dancing.”

“The famous ballet? How did De Guiche look?”

“Superb!”

“Dear fellow! And now, pray forgive me, Mademoiselle Montalais; but all I now have to do is pass from where I now am to your apartment.”

“What do you mean?”

“I cannot suppose that the door of the chateau will be opened for me at this hour; and as for spending the night upon this branch, I possibly might not object to do so, but I declare it is impossible for any other animal than a boa-constrictor to do it.”

“But, M. Manicamp, I cannot introduce a man over the wall in that manner.”

“Two, if you please,” said a second voice, but in so timid a tone that it seemed as if its owner felt the utter impropriety of such a request.

“Good gracious!” exclaimed Montalais, “who is that speaking to me?”

“Malicorne, Mademoiselle Montalais.”

And as Malicorne spoke, he raised himself from the ground to the lowest branches, and thence to the height of the wall.

“Monsieur Malicorne! why, you are both mad!”

“How do you do, Mademoiselle Montalais?” inquired Malicorne.

“I needed but this!” said Montalais, in despair.

“Oh! Mademoiselle Montalais,” murmured Malicorne; “do not be so severe, I beseech you.”

“In fact,” said Manicamp, “we are your friends, and you cannot possibly wish your friends to lose their lives; and to leave us to pass the night on these branches is in fact condemning us to death.”

“Oh!” said Montalais, “Monsieur Malicorne is so robust that a night passed in the open air with the beautiful stars above him will not do him any harm, and it will be a just punishment for the trick he has played me.”

“Be it so, then; let Malicorne arrange matters with you in the best way he can; I pass over,” said Manicamp. And bending down the famous branch against which he had directed such bitter complaints, he succeeded, by the assistance of his hands and feet, in seating himself side by side with Montalais, who tried to push him back, while he endeavored to maintain his position, and, moreover, he succeeded. Having taken possession of the ladder, he stepped on it, and then gallantly offered his hand to his fair antagonist. While this was going on, Malicorne had installed himself in the chestnut-tree, in the very place Manicamp had just left, determining within himself to succeed him in the one he now occupied. Manicamp and Montalais descended a few rounds of the ladder, Manicamp insisting, and Montalais laughing and objecting.

Suddenly Malicorne’s voice was heard in tones of entreaty:

“I entreat you, Mademoiselle Montalais, not to leave me here. My position is very insecure, and some accident will be certain to befall me, if I attempt unaided to reach the other side of the wall; it does not matter if Manicamp tears his clothes, for he can make use of M. de Guiche’s wardrobe; but I shall not be able to use even those belonging to M. Manicamp, for they will be torn.”

“My opinion,” said Manicamp, without taking any notice of Malicorne’s lamentations, “is that the best thing to be done is to go and look for De Guiche without delay, for, by and by, perhaps, I may not be able to get to his apartments.”

“That is my own opinion, too,” replied Montalais; “so, go at once, Monsieur Manicamp.”

“A thousand thanks. Adieu Mademoiselle Montalais,” said Manicamp, jumping to the ground; “your condescension cannot be repaid.”

“Farewell, M. Manicamp; I am now going to get rid of M. Malicorne.”

Malicorne sighed. Manicamp went away a few paces, but returning to the foot of the ladder, he said, “By the by, how do I get to M. de Guiche’s apartments?”

“Nothing easier. You go along by the hedge until you reach a place where the paths cross.”

“Yes.”

“You will see four paths.”

“Exactly.”

“One of which you will take.”

“Which of them?”

“That to the right.”

“That to the right?”

“No, to the left.”

“The deuce!”

“No, no, wait a minute—”

“You do not seem to be quite sure. Think again, I beg.”

“You take the middle path.”

“But there are four.”

“So there are. All I know is, that one of the four paths leads straight to Madame’s apartments; and that one I am well acquainted with.”

“But M. de Guiche is not in Madame’s apartments, I suppose?”

“No, indeed.”

“Well, then the path which leads to Madame’s apartments is of no use to me, and I would willingly exchange it for the one that leads to where M. de Guiche is lodging.”

“Of course, and I know that as well; but as for indicating it from where we are, it is quite impossible.”

“Well, let us suppose that I have succeeded in finding that fortunate path.”

“In that case, you are almost there, for you have nothing else to do but cross the labyrinth.”

“Nothing more than that? The deuce! so there is a labyrinth as well.”

“Yes, and complicated enough too; even in daylight one may sometimes be deceived,—there are turnings and windings without end: in the first place, you must turn three times to the right, then twice to the left, then turn once—stay, is it once or twice, though? at all events, when you get clear of the labyrinth, you will see an avenue of sycamores, and this avenue leads straight to the pavilion in which M. de Guiche is lodging.”

“Nothing could be more clearly indicated,” said Manicamp; “and I have not the slightest doubt in the world that if I were to follow your directions, I should lose my way immediately. I have, therefore, a slight service to ask of you.”

“What may that be?”

“That you will offer me your arm and guide me yourself, like another— like another—I used to know mythology, but other important matters have made me forget it; pray come with me, then?”

“And am I to be abandoned, then?” cried Malicorne.

“It is quite impossible, monsieur,” said Montalais to Manicamp; “if I were to be seen with you at such an hour, what would be said of me?”

“Your own conscience would acquit you,” said Manicamp, sententiously.

“Impossible, monsieur, impossible.”

“In that case, let me assist Malicorne to get down; he is a very intelligent fellow, and possesses a very keen scent; he will guide me, and if we lose ourselves, both of us will be lost, and the one will save the other. If we are together, and should be met by any one, we shall look as if we had some matter of business in hand; whilst alone I should have the appearance either of a lover or a robber. Come, Malicorne, here is the ladder.”

Malicorne had already stretched out one of his legs towards the top of the wall, when Manicamp said, in a whisper, “Hush!”

“What’s the matter?” inquired Montalais.

“I hear footsteps.”

“Good heavens!”

In fact the fancied footsteps soon became a reality; the foliage was pushed aside, and Saint-Aignan appeared, with a smile on his lips, and his hand stretched out towards them, taking every one by surprise; that is to say, Malicorne upon the tree with his head stretched out, Montalais upon the round of the ladder and clinging to it tightly, and Manicamp on the ground with his foot advanced ready to set off. “Good-evening, Manicamp,” said the comte, “I am glad to see you, my dear fellow; we missed you this evening, and a good many inquiries have been made about you. Mademoiselle de Montalais, your most obedient servant.”

Montalais blushed. “Good heavens!” she exclaimed, hiding her face in both her hands.

“Pray reassure yourself; I know how perfectly innocent you are, and I shall give a good account of you. Manicamp, do you follow me: the hedge, the cross-paths, and labyrinth, I am well acquainted with them all; I will be your Ariadne. There now, your mythological name is found at last.”

“Perfectly true, comte.”

“And take M. Malicorne away with you at the same time,” said Montalais.

“No, indeed,” said Malicorne; “M. Manicamp has conversed with you as long as he liked, and now it is my turn, if you please; I have a multitude of things to tell you about our future prospects.”

“You hear,” said the comte, laughing; “stay with him, Mademoiselle Montalais. This is, indeed, a night for secrets.” And, taking Manicamp’s arm, the comte led him rapidly away in the direction of the road Montalais knew so well, and indicated so badly. Montalais followed them with her eyes as long as she could perceive them.






Chapter L: How Malicorne Had Been Turned Out of the Hotel of the Beau Paon.


While Montalais was engaged in looking after the comte and Manicamp, Malicorne had taken advantage of the young girl’s attention being drawn away to render his position somewhat more tolerable, and when she turned round, she immediately noticed the change which had taken place; for he had seated himself, like a monkey, upon the wall, the foliage of the wild vine and honeysuckle curled around his head like a faun, while the twisted ivy branches represented tolerably enough his cloven feet. Montalais required nothing to make her resemblance to a dryad as complete as possible. “Well,” she said, ascending another round of the ladder, “are you resolved to render me unhappy? have you not persecuted me enough, tyrant that you are?”

“I a tyrant?” said Malicorne.

“Yes, you are always compromising me, Monsieur Malicorne; you are a perfect monster of wickedness.”

“I?”

“What have you to do with Fontainebleau? Is not Orleans your place of residence?”

“Do you ask me what I have to do here? I wanted to see you.”

“Ah, great need of that.”

“Not as far as concerns yourself, perhaps, but as far as I am concerned, Mademoiselle Montalais, you know very well that I have left my home, and that, for the future, I have no other place of residence than that which you may happen to have. As you, therefore, are staying at Fontainebleau at the present moment, I have come to Fontainebleau.”

Montalais shrugged her shoulders. “You wished to see me, did you not?” she said.

“Of course.”

“Very well, you have seen me,—you are satisfied; so now go away.”

“Oh, no,” said Malicorne; “I came to talk with you as well as to see you.”

“Very well, we will talk by and by, and in another place than this.”

“By and by! Heaven only knows if I shall meet you by and by in another place. We shall never find a more favorable one than this.”

“But I cannot this evening, nor at the present moment.”

“Why not?”

“Because a thousand things have happened to-night.”

“Well, then, my affair will make a thousand and one.”

“No, no; Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente is waiting for me in our room to communicate something of the very greatest importance.”

“How long has she been waiting?”

“For an hour at least.”

“In that case,” said Malicorne, tranquilly, “she can wait a few minutes longer.”

“Monsieur Malicorne,” said Montalais, “you are forgetting yourself.”

“You should rather say that it is you who are forgetting me, and that I am getting impatient at the part you make me play here indeed! For the last week I have been prowling about among the company, and you have not once deigned to notice my presence.”

“Have you been prowling about here for a week, M. Malicorne?”

“Like a wolf; sometimes I have been burnt by the fireworks, which have singed two of my wigs; at others, I have been completely drenched in the osiers by the evening damps, or the spray from the fountains,—half-famished, fatigued to death, with the view of a wall always before me, and the prospect of having to scale it perhaps. Upon my word, this is not the sort of life for any one to lead who is neither a squirrel, a salamander, nor an otter; and since you drive your inhumanity so far as to wish to make me renounce my condition as a man, I declare it openly. A man I am, indeed, and a man I will remain, unless by superior orders.”

“Well, then, tell me, what do you wish,—what do you require,—what do you insist upon?” said Montalais, in a submissive tone.

“Do you mean to tell me that you did not know I was at Fontainebleau?”

“I?”

“Nay, be frank.”

“I suspected so.”

“Well, then, could you not have contrived during the last week to have seen me once a day, at least?”

“I have always been prevented, M. Malicorne.”

“Fiddlesticks!”

“Ask my companion, if you do not believe me.”

“I shall ask no one to explain matters, I know better than any one.”

“Compose yourself, M. Malicorne: things will change.”

“They must indeed.”

“You know that, whether I see you or not, I am thinking of you,” said Montalais, in a coaxing tone of voice.

“Oh, you are thinking of me, are you? well, and is there anything new?”

“What about?”

“About my post in Monsieur’s household.”

“Ah, my dear Malicorne, no one has ventured lately to approach his royal highness.”

“Well, but now?”

“Now it is quite a different thing; since yesterday he has left off being jealous.”

“Bah! how has his jealousy subsided?”

“It has been diverted into another channel.”

“Tell me all about it.”

“A report was spread that the king had fallen in love with some one else, and Monsieur was tranquillized immediately.”

“And who spread the report?”

Montalais lowered her voice. “Between ourselves,” she said, “I think that Madame and the king have come to a secret understanding about it.”

“Ah!” said Malicorne; “that was the only way to manage it. But what about poor M. de Guiche?”

“Oh, as for him, he is completely turned off.”

“Have they been writing to each other?”

“No, certainly not; I have not seen a pen in either of their hands for the last week.”

“On what terms are you with Madame?”

“The very best.”

“And with the king?”

“The king always smiles at me whenever I pass him.”

“Good. Now tell me whom have the two lovers selected to serve as their screen?”

“La Valliere.”

“Oh, oh, poor girl! We must prevent that!”

“Why?”

“Because, if M. Raoul Bragelonne were to suspect it, he would either kill her or kill himself.”

“Raoul, poor fellow! do you think so?”

“Women pretend to have a knowledge of the state of people’s affections,” said Malicorne, “and they do not even know how to read the thoughts of their own minds and hearts. Well, I can tell you that M. de Bragelonne loves La Valliere to such a degree that, if she deceived him, he would, I repeat, either kill himself or kill her.”

“But the king is there to defend her,” said Montalais.

“The king!” exclaimed Malicorne; “Raoul would kill the king as he would a common thief.”

“Good heavens!” said Montalais; “you are mad, M. Malicorne.”

“Not in the least. Everything I have told you is, on the contrary, perfectly serious; and, for my own part, I know one thing.”

“What is that?”

“That I shall quietly tell Raoul of the trick.”

“Hush!” said Montalais, mounting another round of the ladder, so as to approach Malicorne more closely, “do not open your lips to poor Raoul.”

“Why not?”

“Because, as yet you know nothing at all.”

“What is the matter, then?”

“Why, this evening—but no one is listening, I hope?”

“No.”

“This evening, then, beneath the royal oak, La Valliere said aloud, and innocently enough, ‘I cannot conceive that when one has once seen the king, one can ever love another man.’”

Malicorne almost jumped off the wall. “Unhappy girl! did she really say that?”

“Word for word.”

“And she thinks so?”

“La Valliere always thinks what she says.”

“That positively cries aloud for vengeance. Why, women are the veriest serpents,” said Malicorne.

“Compose yourself, my dear Malicorne, compose yourself.”

“No, no; let us take the evil in time, on the contrary. There is time enough yet to tell Raoul of it.”

“Blunderer, on the contrary, it is too late,” replied Montalais.

“How so?”

“La Valliere’s remark, which was intended for the king, reached its destination.”

“The king knows it, then? The king was told of it, I suppose?”

“The king heard it.”

“Ahime! as the cardinal used to say.”

“The king was hidden in the thicket close to the royal oak.”

“It follows, then,” said Malicorne, “that for the future, the plan which the king and Madame have arranged, will go as easily as if it were on wheels, and will pass over poor Bragelonne’s body.”

“Precisely so.”

“Well,” said Malicorne, after a moment’s reflection, “do not let us interpose our poor selves between a large oak-tree and a great king, for we should certainly be ground to pieces.”

“The very thing I was going to say to you.”

“Let us think of ourselves, then.”

“My own idea.”

“Open your beautiful eyes, then.”

“And you your large ears.”

“Approach your little mouth for a kiss.”

“Here,” said Montalais, who paid the debt immediately in ringing coin.

“Now let us consider. First, we have M. de Guiche, who is in love with Madame; then La Valliere, who is in love with the king; next, the king, who is in love both with Madame and La Valliere; lastly Monsieur, who loves no one but himself. Among all these loves, a noodle would make his fortune: a greater reason, therefore, for sensible people like ourselves to do so.”

“There you are with your dreams again.”

“Nay, rather with realities. Let me still lead you, darling. I do not think you have been very badly off hitherto?”

“No.”

“Well, the future is guaranteed by the past. Only, since all here think of themselves before anything else, let us do so too.”

“Perfectly right.”

“But of ourselves only.”

“Be it so.”

“An offensive and defensive alliance.”

“I am ready to swear it.”

“Put out your hand, then, and say, ‘All for Malicorne.’”

“All for Malicorne.”

“And I, ‘All for Montalais,’” replied Malicorne, stretching out his hand in his turn.

“And now, what is to be done?”

“Keep your eyes and ears constantly open; collect every means of attack which may be serviceable against others; never let anything lie about which can be used against ourselves.”

“Agreed.”

“Decided.”

“Sworn to. And now the agreement entered into, good-bye.”

“What do you mean by ‘good-bye?’”

“Of course you can now return to your inn.”

“To my inn?”

“Yes; are you not lodging at the sign of the Beau Paon?”

“Montalais, Montalais, you now betray that you were aware of my being at Fontainebleau.”

“Well; and what does that prove, except that I occupy myself about you more than you deserve?”

“Hum!”

“Go back, then, to the Beau Paon.”

“That is now quite out of the question.”

“Have you not a room there?”

“I had, but have it no longer.”

“Who has taken it from you, then?”

“I will tell you. Some little time ago I was returning there, after I had been running about after you; and having reached my hotel quite out of breath, I perceived a litter, upon which four peasants were carrying a sick monk.”

“A monk?”

“Yes, an old gray-bearded Franciscan. As I was looking at the monk, they entered the hotel; and as they were carrying him up the staircase, I followed, and as I reached the top of the staircase I observed that they took him into my room.”

“Into your room?”

“Yes, into my own apartment. Supposing it to be a mistake, I summoned the landlord, who said that the room which had been let to me for the past eight days was let to the Franciscan for the ninth.”

“Oh, oh!”

“That was exactly what I said; nay, I did even more, for I was inclined to get out of temper. I went up-stairs again. I spoke to the Franciscan himself, and wished to prove to him the impropriety of the step; when this monk, dying though he seemed to be, raised himself upon his arm, fixed a pair of blazing eyes upon me, and, in a voice which was admirably suited for commanding a charge of cavalry, said, ‘Turn this fellow out of doors;’ which was done, immediately by the landlord and the four porters, who made me descend the staircase somewhat faster than was agreeable. This is how it happens, dearest, that I have no lodging.”

“Who can this Franciscan be?” said Montalais. “Is he a general?”

“That is exactly the very title that one of the bearers of the litter gave him as he spoke to him in a low tone.”

“So that—” said Montalais.

“So that I have no room, no hotel, no lodging; and I am as determined as my friend Manicamp was just now, not to pass the night in the open air.”

“What is to be done, then?” said Montalais.

“Nothing easier,” said a third voice; whereupon Montalais and Malicorne uttered a simultaneous cry, and Saint-Aignan appeared. “Dear Monsieur Malicorne,” said Saint-Aignan, “a very lucky accident has brought me back to extricate you from your embarrassment. Come, I can offer you a room in my own apartments, which, I can assure you, no Franciscan will deprive you of. As for you, my dear lady, rest easy. I already knew Mademoiselle de la Valliere’s secret, and that of Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente; your own you have just been kind enough to confide to me; for which I thank you. I can keep three quite as well as one.” Malicorne and Montalais looked at each other, like children detected in a theft; but as Malicorne saw a great advantage in the proposition which had been made to him, he gave Montalais a sign of assent, which she returned. Malicorne then descended the ladder, round by round, reflecting at every step on the means of obtaining piecemeal from M. de Saint-Aignan all he might possibly know about the famous secret. Montalais had already darted away like a deer, and neither cross-road nor labyrinth was able to lead her wrong. As for Saint-Aignan, he carried off Malicorne with him to his apartments, showing him a thousand attentions, enchanted to have so close at hand the very two men who, even supposing De Guiche were to remain silent, could give him the best information about the maids of honor.






Chapter LI. What Actually Occurred at the Inn Called the Beau Paon.


In the first place, let us supply our readers with a few details about the inn called Beau Paon. It owed its name to its sign, which represented a peacock spreading its tail. But, in imitation of certain painters who bestowed the face of a handsome young man on the serpent which tempted Eve, the limner of the sign had conferred upon the peacock the features of a woman. This famous inn, an architectural epigram against that half of the human race which renders existence delightful, was situated at Fontainebleau, in the first turning on the left-hand side, which divides the road from Paris, the large artery that constitutes in itself alone the entire town of Fontainebleau. The side street in question was then known as the Rue de Lyon, doubtless because, geographically, it led in the direction of the second capital of the kingdom. The street itself was composed of two houses occupied by persons of the class of tradespeople, the houses being separated by two large gardens bordered with hedges running round them. Apparently, however, there were three houses in the street. Let us explain, notwithstanding appearances, how there were in fact only two. The inn of the Beau Paon had its principal front towards the main street; but upon the Rue de Lyon there were two ranges of buildings divided by courtyards, which comprised sets of apartments for the reception of all classes of travelers, whether on foot or on horseback, or even with their own carriages; and in which could be supplied, not only board and lodging, but also accommodation for exercise, or opportunities of solitude for even the wealthiest courtiers, whenever, after having received some check at the court, they wished to shut themselves up to their own society, either to devour an affront, or to brood on revenge. From the windows of this part of the building travelers could perceive, in the first place, the street with the grass growing between the stones, which were being gradually loosened by it; next the beautiful hedges of elder and thorn, which embraced, as though within two green and flowery arms, the house of which we have spoken; and then, in the spaces between those houses, forming the groundwork of the picture, and appearing an almost impassable barrier, a line of thick trees, the advanced sentinels of the vast forest which extends in front of Fontainebleau. It was therefore easy, provided one secured an apartment at the angle of the building, to obtain, by the main street from Paris, a view of, as well as to hear, the passers-by and the fetes; and, by the Rue de Lyon, to look upon and to enjoy the calm of the country. And this without reckoning that, in cases of urgent necessity, at the very moment people might be knocking at the principal door in the Rue de Paris, one could make one’s escape by the little door in the Rue de Lyon, and, creeping along the gardens of the private houses, attain the outskirts of the forest. Malicorne, who, it will be remembered, was the first to speak about this inn, by way of deploring his being turned out of it, being then absorbed in his own affairs, had not told Montalais all that could be said about this curious inn; and we will try to repair the omission. With the exception of the few words he had said about the Franciscan friar, Malicorne had not given any particulars about the travelers who were staying in the inn. The manner in which they had arrived, the manner in which they had lived, the difficulty which existed for every one but certain privileged travelers, of entering the hotel without a password, or living there without certain preparatory precautions, must have struck Malicorne; and, we will venture to say, really did so. But Malicorne, as we have already said, had personal matters of his own to occupy his attention which prevented him from paying much attention to others. In fact, all the apartments of the hotel were engaged and retained by certain strangers, who never stirred out, who were incommunicative in their address, with countenances full of thoughtful preoccupation, and not one of whom was known to Malicorne. Every one of these travelers had reached the hotel after his own arrival there; each man had entered after having given a kind of password, which had at first attracted Malicorne’s attention; but having inquired, in an indiscreet manner, about it, he had been informed that the host had given as a reason for this extreme vigilance, that, as the town was so full of wealthy noblemen, it must also be as full of clever and zealous pickpockets. The reputation of an honest inn like that of the Beau Paon was concerned in not allowing its visitors to be robbed. It occasionally happened that Malicorne asked himself, as he thought matters carefully over in his mind, and reflected upon his own position in the inn, how it was that they had allowed him to become an inmate of the hotel, when he had observed, since his residence there, admission refused to so many. He asked himself, too, how it was that Manicamp, who, in his opinion, must be a man to be looked upon with veneration by everybody, having wished to bait his horse at the Beau Paon, on arriving there, both horse and rider had been incontinently turned away with a nescio vos of the most positive character. All this for Malicorne, whose mind being fully occupied by his own love affair and personal ambition, was a problem he had not applied himself to solve. Had he wished to do so, we should hardly venture, notwithstanding the intelligence we have accorded as his due, to say he would have succeeded. A few words will prove to the reader that no one but Oedipus in person could have solved the enigma in question. During the week, seven travelers had taken up their abode in the inn, all of them having arrived there the day after the fortunate day on which Malicorne had fixed his choice on the Beau Paon. These seven persons, accompanied by a suitable retinue, were the following:—

First of all, a brigadier in the German army, his secretary, physician, three servants, and seven horses. The brigadier’s name was the Comte de Wostpur.—A Spanish cardinal, with two nephews, two secretaries, an officer of his household, and twelve horses. The cardinal’s name was Monseigneur Herrebia.—A rich merchant of Bremen, with his man-servant and two horses. This merchant’s name was Meinheer Bonstett.—A Venetian senator with his wife and daughter, both extremely beautiful. The senator’s name was Signor Marini.—A Scottish laird, with seven highlanders of his clan, all on foot. The laird’s name was MacCumnor.— An Austrian from Vienna without title or coat of arms, who had arrived in a carriage; a good deal of the priest, and something of the soldier. He was called the Councilor.—And, finally, a Flemish lady, with a man-servant, a lady’s maid, and a female companion, a large retinue of servants, great display, and immense horses. She was called the Flemish lady.

All these travelers had arrived on the same day, and yet their arrival had occasioned no confusion in the inn, no stoppage in the street; their apartments had been fixed upon beforehand, by their couriers or secretaries, who had arrived the previous evening or that very morning. Malicorne, who had arrived the previous day, riding an ill-conditioned horse, with a slender valise, had announced himself at the hotel of the Beau Paon as the friend of a nobleman desirous of witnessing the fetes, and who would himself arrive almost immediately. The landlord, on hearing these words, had smiled as if he were perfectly well acquainted either with Malicorne or his friend the nobleman, and had said to him, “Since you are the first arrival, monsieur, choose what apartment you please.” And this was said with that obsequiousness of manners, so full of meaning with landlords, which means, “Make yourself perfectly easy, monsieur: we know with whom we have to do, and you will be treated accordingly.” These words, and their accompanying gesture, Malicorne had thought very friendly, but rather obscure. However, as he did not wish to be very extravagant in his expenses, and as he thought that if he were to ask for a small apartment he would doubtless have been refused, on account of his want of consequence, he hastened to close at once with the innkeeper’s remark, and deceive him with a cunning equal to his own. So, smiling as a man would do for whom whatever might be done was but simply his due, he said, “My dear host, I shall take the best and the gayest room in the house.”

“With a stable?”

“Yes, with a stable.”

“And when will you take it?”

“Immediately if it be possible.”

“Quite so.”

“But,” said Malicorne, “I shall leave the large room unoccupied for the present.”

“Very good!” said the landlord, with an air of intelligence.

“Certain reasons, which you will understand by and by, oblige me to take, at my own cost, this small room only.”

“Yes, yes,” said the host.

“When my friend arrives, he will occupy the large apartment: and as a matter of course, as this larger apartment will be his own affair, he will settle for it himself.”

“Certainly,” said the landlord, “certainly; let it be understood in that manner.”

“It is agreed, then, that such shall be the terms?”

“Word for word.”

“It is extraordinary,” said Malicorne to himself. “You quite understand, then?”

“Yes.”

“There is nothing more to be said. Since you understand,—for you do clearly understand, do you not?”

“Perfectly.”

“Very well; and now show me to my room.”

The landlord, cap in hand, preceded Malicorne, who installed himself in his room, and became more and more surprised to observe that the landlord, at every ascent or descent, looked and winked at him in a manner which indicated the best possible intelligence between them.

“There is some mistake here,” said Malicorne to himself; “but until it is cleared up, I shall take advantage of it, which is the best thing I can possibly do.” And he darted out of his room, like a hunting-dog following a scent, in search of all the news and curiosities of the court, getting himself burnt in one place and drowned in another, as he had told Mademoiselle de Montalais. The day after he had been installed in his room, he had noticed the seven travelers arrive successively, who speedily filled the whole hotel. When he saw this perfect multitude of people, of carriages, and retinue, Malicorne rubbed his hands delightedly, thinking that, one day later, he should not have found a bed to lie upon after his return from his exploring expeditions. When all the travelers were lodged, the landlord entered Malicorne’s room, and with his accustomed courteousness, said to him, “You are aware, my dear monsieur, that the large room in the third detached building is still reserved for you?”

“Of course I am aware of it.”

“I am really making you a present of it.”

“Thank you.”

“So that when your friend comes—”

“Well!”

“He will be satisfied with me, I hope: or, if he be not, he will be very difficult to please.”

“Excuse me, but will you allow me to say a few words about my friend?”

“Of course, for you have a perfect right to do so.”

“He intended to come, as you know.”

“And he does so still.”

“He may possibly have changed his opinion.”

“No.”

“You are quite sure, then?”

“Quite sure.”

“But in case you should have some doubt.”

“Well!”

“I can only say that I do not positively assure you that he will come.”

“Yet he told you—”

“He certainly did tell me; but you know that man proposes and God disposes,—verba volant, scripta manent.”

“Which is as much to say—”

“That what is spoken flies away, and what is written remains; and, as he did not write to me, but contented himself by saying to me, ‘I will authorize you, yet without specifically instructing you,’ you must feel that it places me in a very embarrassing position.”

“What do you authorize me to do, then?”

“Why, to let your rooms if you find a good tenant for them.”

“I?”

“Yes, you.”

“Never will I do such a thing, monsieur. If he has not written to you, he has written to me.”

“Ah! what does he say? Let us see if his letter agrees with his words.”

“These are almost his very words. ‘To the landlord of the Beau Paon Hotel,—You will have been informed of the meeting arranged to take place in your inn between some people of importance; I shall be one of those who will meet with the others at Fontainebleau. Keep for me, then, a small room for a friend who will arrive either before or after me—’ and you are the friend, I suppose,” said the landlord, interrupting his reading of the letter. Malicorne bowed modestly. The landlord continued:

“‘And a large apartment for myself. The large apartment is my own affair, but I wish the price of the smaller room to be moderate, as it is destined for a fellow who is deucedly poor.’ It is still you he is speaking of, is he not?” said the host.

“Oh, certainly,” said Malicorne.

“Then we are agreed; your friend will settle for his apartment, and you for your own.”

“May I be broken alive on the wheel,” said Malicorne to himself, “if I understand anything at all about it,” and then he said aloud, “Well, then, are you satisfied with the name?”

“With what name?”

“With the name at the end of the letter. Does it give you the guarantee you require?”

“I was going to ask you the name.”

“What! was the letter not signed?”

“No,” said the landlord, opening his eyes very wide, full of mystery and curiosity.

“In that case,” said Malicorne, imitating his gesture and his mysterious look, “if he has not given you his name, you understand, he must have his reasons for it.”

“Oh, of course.”

“And, therefore, I, his friend, his confidant, must not betray him.”

“You are perfectly right, monsieur,” said the landlord, “and I do not insist upon it.”

“I appreciate your delicacy. As for myself, as my friend told you, my room is a separate affair, so let us come to terms about it. Short accounts make long friends. How much is it?”

“There is no hurry.”

“Never mind, let us reckon it all up all the same. Room, my own board, a place in the stable for my horse, and his feed. How much per day?”

“Four livres, monsieur.”

“Which will make twelve livres for the three days I have been here?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“Here are your twelve livres, then.”

“But why settle now?”

“Because,” said Malicorne, lowering his voice, and resorting to his former air of mystery, because he saw that the mysterious had succeeded, “because if I had to set off suddenly, to decamp at any moment, my account would be settled.”

“You are right, monsieur.”

“I may consider myself at home, then?”

“Perfectly.”

“So far so well. Adieu!” And the landlord withdrew. Malicorne, left alone, reasoned with himself in the following manner: “No one but De Guiche or Manicamp could have written to this fellow; De Guiche, because he wishes to secure a lodging for himself beyond the precincts of the court, in the event of his success or failure, as the case might be; Manicamp, because De Guiche must have intrusted him with his commission. And De Guiche or Manicamp will have argued in this manner. The large apartment would serve for the reception, in a befitting manner, of a lady thickly veiled, reserving to the lady in question a double means of exit, either in a street somewhat deserted, or closely adjoining the forest. The smaller room might either shelter Manicamp for a time, who is De Guiche’s confidant, and would be the vigilant keeper of the door, or De Guiche himself, acting, for greater safety, the part of a master and confidant at the same time. Yet,” he continued, “how about this meeting which is to take place, and which has actually taken place, in this hotel? No doubt they are persons who are going to be presented to the king. And the ‘poor devil,’ for whom the smaller room is destined, is a trick, in order to better conceal De Guiche or Manicamp. If this be the case, as very likely it is, there is only half the mischief done, for there is simply the length of a purse string between Manicamp and Malicorne.” After he had thus reasoned the matter out, Malicorne slept soundly, leaving the seven travelers to occupy, and in every sense of the word to walk up and down, their several lodgings in the hotel. Whenever there was nothing at court to put him out, when he had wearied himself with his excursions and investigations, tired of writing letters which he could never find an opportunity of delivering to the people they were intended for, he returned home to his comfortable little room, and leaning upon the balcony, which was filled with nasturtiums and white pinks, for whom Fontainebleau seemed to possess no attractions with all its illuminations, amusements, and fetes.

Things went on in this manner until the seventh day, a day of which we have given such full details, with its night also, in the preceding chapters. On that night Malicorne was enjoying the fresh air, seated at his window, toward one o’clock in the morning, when Manicamp appeared on horseback, with a thoughtful and listless air.

“Good!” said Malicorne to himself, recognizing him at the first glance; “there’s my friend, who is come to take possession of his apartment, that is to say, of my room.” And he called to Manicamp, who looked up and immediately recognized Malicorne.

“Ah! by Jove!” said the former, his countenance clearing up, “glad to see you, Malicorne. I have been wandering about Fontainebleau, looking for three things I cannot find: De Guiche, a room, and a stable.”

“Of M. de Guiche I cannot give you either good or bad news, for I have not seen him; but as far as concerns your room and a stable, that’s another matter, for they have been retained here for you.”

“Retained—and by whom?”

“By yourself, I presume.”

“By me?”

“Do you mean to say you did not take lodgings here?”

“By no means,” said Manicamp.

At this moment the landlord appeared on the threshold of the door.

“I want a room,” said Manicamp.

“Did you engage one, monsieur?”

“No.”

“Then I have no rooms to let.”

“In that case, I have engaged a room,” said Manicamp.

“A room simply, or lodgings?”

“Anything you please.”

“By letter?” inquired the landlord.

Malicorne nodded affirmatively to Manicamp.

“Of course by letter,” said Manicamp. “Did you not receive a letter from me?”

“What was the date of the letter?” inquired the host, in whom Manicamp’s hesitation had aroused some suspicion.

Manicamp rubbed his ear, and looked up at Malicorne’s window; but Malicorne had left his window and was coming down the stairs to his friend’s assistance. At the very same moment, a traveler, wrapped in a large Spanish cloak, appeared at the porch, near enough to hear the conversation.

“I ask you what was the date of the letter you wrote to me to retain apartments here?” repeated the landlord, pressing the question.

“Last Wednesday was the date,” said the mysterious stranger, in a soft and polished tone of voice, touching the landlord on the shoulder.

Manicamp drew back, and it was now Malicorne’s turn, who appeared on the threshold, to scratch his ear. The landlord saluted the new arrival as a man who recognizes his true guest.

“Monsieur,” he said to him, with civility, “your apartment is ready for you, and the stables too, only—” He looked round him and inquired, “Your horses?”

“My horses may or may not arrive. That, however, matters but little to you, provided you are paid for what has been engaged.” The landlord bowed lower still.

“You have,” continued the unknown traveler, “kept for me in addition, the small room I asked for?”

“Oh!” said Malicorne, endeavoring to hide himself.

“Your friend has occupied it during the last week,” said the landlord, pointing to Malicorne, who was trying to make himself as small as possible. The traveler, drawing his cloak round him so as to cover the lower part of his face, cast a rapid glance at Malicorne, and said, “This gentleman is no friend of mine.”

The landlord started violently.

“I am not acquainted with this gentleman,” continued the traveler.

“What!” exclaimed the host, turning to Malicorne, “are you not this gentleman’s friend, then?”

“What does it matter whether I am or not, provided you are paid?” said Malicorne, parodying the stranger’s remark in a very majestic manner.

“It matters so far as this,” said the landlord, who began to perceive that one person had been taken for another, “that I beg you, monsieur, to leave the rooms, which had been engaged beforehand, and by some one else instead of you.”

“Still,” said Malicorne, “this gentleman cannot require at the same time a room on the first floor and an apartment on the second. If this gentleman will take the room, I will take the apartment: if he prefers the apartment, I will be satisfied with the room.”

“I am exceedingly distressed, monsieur,” said the traveler in his soft voice, “but I need both the room and the apartment.”

“At least, tell me for whom?” inquired Malicorne.

“The apartment I require for myself.”

“Very well; but the room?”

“Look,” said the traveler, pointing towards a sort of procession which was approaching.

Malicorne looked in the direction indicated, and observed borne upon a litter, the arrival of the Franciscan, whose installation in his apartment he had, with a few details of his own, related to Montalais, and whom he had so uselessly endeavored to convert to humbler views. The result of the arrival of the stranger, and of the sick Franciscan, was Malicorne’s expulsion, without any consideration for his feelings, from the inn, by the landlord and the peasants who had carried the Franciscan. The details have already been given of what followed this expulsion; of Manicamp’s conversation with Montalais; how Manicamp, with greater cleverness than Malicorne had shown, had succeeded in obtaining news of De Guiche, of the subsequent conversation of Montalais with Malicorne, and, finally, of the billets with which the Comte de Saint-Aignan had furnished Manicamp and Malicorne. It remains for us to inform our readers who was the traveler in the cloak—the principal tenant of the double apartment, of which Malicorne had only occupied a portion—and the Franciscan, quite as mysterious a personage, whose arrival, together with that of the stranger, unfortunately upset the two friends’ plans.