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Louise de la Valliere

PART I



CHAPTER 1

King Louis XIV Does Not Think Mademoiselle de La Vallière Either Rich Enough or Pretty Enough for a Gentleman of the Rank of the Vicomte de Bragelonne
Raoul and the Comte de la Fère reached Paris the evening of the same day on which Buckingham had held the conversation with the queen-mother. The count had scarcely arrived, when, through Raoul, he solicited an audience of the king. His Majesty had passed a portion of the morning in looking over, with Madame and the ladies of the court, various goods of Lyons manufacture, of which he had made his sister-in-law a present. A court dinner had succeeded, then cards, and afterwards, according to his usual custom, the king, leaving the card-tables at eight o’clock, passed into his cabinet in order to work with M. Colbert and M. Fouquet. Raoul entered the antechamber at the very moment the two ministers quitted it, and the king, perceiving him through the half-closed door, said, “What do you want, M. de Bragelonne?”

The young man approached: “An audience, sire,” he replied, “for the Comte de la Fère, who has just arrived from Blois, and is most anxious to have an interview with Your Majesty.”

“I have an hour to spare between cards and supper,” said the king. “Is the Comte de la Fère at hand?”

“He is below, and awaits Your Majesty’s permission.”

“Let him come up at once,” said the king, and five minutes afterwards Athos entered the presence of Louis XIV. He was received by the king with that gracious kindness of manner which Louis, with a tact beyond his years, reserved for the purpose of gaining those who were not to be conquered by ordinary favors. “Let me hope, comte,” said the king, “that you have come to ask me for something.”

“I will not conceal from Your Majesty,” replied the comte, “that I am indeed come for that purpose.”

“That is well,” said the king, joyously.

“It is not for myself, sire.”

“So much the worse; but, at least, I will do for your protégé what you refuse to permit me to do for you.”

“Your Majesty encourages me. I have come to speak on behalf of the Vicomte de Bragelonne.”

“It is the same as if you spoke on your own behalf, comte.”

“Not altogether so, sire. I am desirous of obtaining from Your Majesty that which I cannot ask for myself. The vicomte thinks of marrying.”

“He is still very young; but that does not matter. He is an eminently distinguished man; I will choose a wife for him.”

“He has already chosen one, sire, and only awaits your consent.”

“It is only a question, then, of signing the marriage-contract?” Athos bowed. “Has he chosen a wife whose fortune and position accord with your own anticipation?”

Athos hesitated for a moment. “His affirmed wife is of good birth, but has no fortune.”

“That is a misfortune we can remedy.”

“You overwhelm me with gratitude, sire; but Your Majesty will permit me to offer a remark?”

“Do so, comte.”

“Your Majesty seems to intimate an intention of giving a marriage-portion to this young lady.”

“Certainly.”

“I should regret, sire, if the step I have taken towards Your Majesty should be attended by this result.”

“No false delicacy, comte; what is the bride’s name?”

“Mademoiselle de la Baume le Blanc de La Vallière,” said Athos, coldly.

“I seem to know that name,” said the king, as if reflecting; “there was a Marquis de La Vallière.”

“Yes, sire, it is his daughter.”

“But he died, and his widow married again M. de Saint-Remy, I think, steward of the dowager Madame’s household.”

“Your Majesty is correctly informed.”

“More than that, the young lady has lately become one of the princess’s maids of honor.”

“Your Majesty is better acquainted with her history than am I.”

The king again reflected, and glancing at the comte’s anxious countenance, said: “The young lady does not seem to me to be very pretty, comte.”

“I am not quite sure,” replied Athos.

“I have seen her, but she hardly struck me as being so.”

“She seems to be a good and modest girl, but has little beauty, sire.”

“Beautiful fair hair, however.”

“I think so.”

“And her blue eyes are tolerably good.”

“Yes, sire.”

“With regard to her beauty, then, the match is but an ordinary one. Now for the money side of the question.”

“Fifteen to twenty thousand francs dowry at the very outside, sire; the lovers are disinterested enough; for myself, I care little for money.”

“For superfluity, you mean; but a needful amount is of importance. With fifteen thousand francs, without landed property, a woman cannot live at court. We will make up the deficiency; I will do it for de Bragelonne.” The king again remarked the coldness with which Athos received the remark.

“Let us pass from the question of money to that of rank,” said Louis XIV; “the daughter of the Marquis de La Vallière, that is well enough; but there is that excellent Saint-Remy, who somewhat damages the credit of the family; and you, comte, are rather particular, I believe, about your own family.”

“Sire, I no longer hold to anything but my devotion to Your Majesty.”

The king again paused. “A moment, comte. You have surprised me in no little degree from the beginning of your conversation. You came to ask me to authorize a marriage, and you seem greatly disturbed in having to make the request. Nay, pardon me, comte, but I am rarely deceived, young as I am; for while with some persons I place my friendship at the disposal of my understanding, with others I call my distrust to my aid, by which my discernment is increased. I repeat, that you do not prefer your request as though you wished it success.”

“Well, sire, that is true.”

“I do not understand you, then; refuse.”

“Nay, sire; I love de Bragelonne with my whole heart; he is smitten with Mademoiselle de La Vallière, he weaves dreams of bliss for the future; I am not one who is willing to destroy the illusions of youth. This marriage is objectionable to me, but I implore Your Majesty to consent to it forthwith, and thus make Raoul happy.”

“Tell me, comte, is she in love with him?”

“If Your Majesty requires me to speak candidly, I do not believe in Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s affection; the delight at being at court, the honor of being in the service of Madame, counteract in her head whatever affection she may happen to have in her heart; it is a marriage similar to many others which already exist at court; but de Bragelonne wishes it, and so let it be.”

“And yet you do not resemble those easy-tempered fathers who volunteer as stepping-stones for their children,” said the king.

“I am determined enough against the viciously disposed, but not so against men of upright character. Raoul is suffering; he is in great distress of mind; his disposition, naturally light and cheerful, has become gloomy and melancholy. I do not wish to deprive Your Majesty of the services he may be able to render.”

“I understand you,” said the king; “and what is more, I understand your heart, too, comte.”

“There is no occasion, therefore,” replied the comte, “to tell Your Majesty that my object is to make these children, or rather Raoul, happy.”

“And I, too, as much as yourself, comte, wish to secure M. de Bragelonne’s happiness.”

“I only await Your Majesty’s signature. Raoul will have the honor of presenting himself before Your Majesty to receive your consent.”

“You are mistaken, comte,” said the king, firmly; “I have just said that I desire to secure M. de Bragelonne’s happiness, and from the present moment, therefore, I oppose his marriage.”

“But, sire,” exclaimed Athos, “Your Majesty has promised!”

“Not so, comte, I did not promise you, for it is opposed to my own views.”

“I appreciate Your Majesty’s considerate and generous intentions on my behalf; but I take the liberty of recalling to you that I undertook to approach you as an ambassador.”

“An ambassador, comte, frequently asks, but does not always obtain what he asks.”

“But, sire, it will be such a blow for de Bragelonne.”

“My hand shall deal the blow; I will speak to the vicomte.”

“Love, sire, is overwhelming in its might.”

“Love can be resisted, comte. I myself can assure you of that.”

“When one has the soul of a king⁠—your own, for instance, sire.”

“Do not make yourself uneasy on the subject. I have certain views for de Bragelonne. I do not say that he shall not marry Mademoiselle de La Vallière, but I do not wish him to marry so young; I do not wish him to marry her until she has acquired a fortune; and he, on his side, no less deserves favor, such as I wish to confer upon him. In a word, comte, I wish them to wait.”

“Yet once more, sire.”

“Comte, you told me you came here to request a favor.”

“Assuredly, sire.”

“Grant me one, then, instead; let us speak no longer upon this matter. It is probable that, before long, war may be declared. I require men about me who are unfettered. I should hesitate to send under fire a married man, or a father of a family. I should hesitate also, on de Bragelonne’s account, to endow with a fortune, without some sound reason for it, a young girl, a perfect stranger; such an act would sow jealousy amongst my nobility.” Athos bowed, and remained silent.

“Is that all you wished to ask me?” added Louis XIV.

“Absolutely all, sire; and I take my leave of Your Majesty. Is it, however, necessary that I should inform Raoul?”

“Spare yourself the trouble and annoyance. Tell the vicomte that at my levee tomorrow morning I will speak to him. I shall expect you this evening, comte, to join my card-table.”

“I am in traveling-costume, sire.”

“A day will come, I hope, when you will leave me no more. Before long, comte, the monarchy will be established in such a manner as to enable me to offer a worthy hospitality to men of your merit.”

“Provided, sire, a monarch reigns grandly in the hearts of his subjects, the palace he inhabits matters little, since he is worshipped in a temple.” With these words Athos left the cabinet, and found de Bragelonne, who was awaiting him anxiously.

“Well, Monsieur?” said the young man.

“The king, Raoul, is well intentioned towards us both; not, perhaps, in the sense you suppose, but he is kind, and generously disposed to our house.”

“You have bad news to communicate to me, Monsieur,” said the young man, turning very pale.

“The king himself will inform you tomorrow morning that it is not bad news.”

“The king has not signed, however?”

“The king wishes himself to settle the terms of the contract, and he desires to make it so grand that he requires time for consideration. Throw the blame rather on your own impatience, than on the king’s good feelings towards you.”

Raoul, in utter consternation, on account of his knowledge of the count’s frankness as well as his diplomacy, remained plunged in dull and gloomy stupor.

“Will you not go with me to my lodgings?” said Athos.

“I beg your pardon, Monsieur; I will follow you,” he stammered out, following Athos down the staircase.

“Since I am here,” said Athos, suddenly, “cannot I see M. d’Artagnan?”

“Shall I show you his apartments?” said de Bragelonne.

“Do so.”

“They are on the opposite staircase.”

They altered their course, but on reaching the landing of the grand staircase, Raoul perceived a servant in the Comte de Guiche’s livery, who ran towards him as soon as he heard his voice.

“What is it?” said Raoul.

“This note, Monsieur. My master heard of your return and wrote to you without delay; I have been looking for you for the last half-hour.”

Raoul approached Athos as he unsealed the letter, saying, “With your permission, Monsieur.”

“Certainly.”

“Dear Raoul,” wrote the Comte de Guiche, “I have an affair in hand which requires immediate attention; I know you have returned; come to me as soon as possible.”

Hardly had he finished reading it, when a servant in the livery of the Duke of Buckingham, turning out of the gallery, recognized Raoul, and approached him respectfully, saying, “From his Grace, Monsieur.”

“Well, Raoul, as I see you are already as busy as a general of an army, I shall leave you, and will find M. d’Artagnan myself.”

“You will excuse me, I trust,” said Raoul.

“Yes, yes, I excuse you; adieu, Raoul; you will find me at my apartments until tomorrow; during the day I may set out for Blois, unless I have orders to the contrary.”

“I shall present my respects to you tomorrow, Monsieur.”

As soon as Athos had left, Raoul opened Buckingham’s letter.

“Monsieur de Bragelonne,” it ran, “You are, of all the Frenchmen I have known, the one with whom I am most pleased; I am about to put your friendship to the proof. I have received a certain message, written in very good French. As I am an Englishman, I am afraid of not comprehending it very clearly. The letter has a good name attached to it, and that is all I can tell you. Will you be good enough to come and see me? for I am told you have arrived from Blois.
“Your devoted
“Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.”

“I am going now to see your master,” said Raoul to de Guiche’s servant, as he dismissed him; “and I shall be with the Duke of Buckingham in an hour,” he added, dismissing with these words the duke’s messenger.

CHAPTER 2

Sword-Thrusts in the Water
Raoul, on betaking himself to de Guiche, found him conversing with de Wardes and Manicamp. De Wardes, since the affair of the barricade, had treated Raoul as a stranger; they behaved as if they were not acquainted. As Raoul entered, de Guiche walked up to him; and Raoul, as he grasped his friend’s hand, glanced rapidly at his two companions, hoping to be able to read on their faces what was passing in their minds. De Wardes was cold and impenetrable; Manicamp seemed absorbed in the contemplation of some trimming to his dress. De Guiche led Raoul to an adjoining cabinet, and made him sit down, saying, “How well you look!”

“That is singular,” replied Raoul, “for I am far from being in good spirits.”

“It is your case, then, Raoul, as it is my own⁠—our love affairs do not progress.”

“So much the better, count, as far as you are concerned; the worst news would be good news.”

“In that case do not distress yourself, for, not only am I very unhappy, but, what is more, I see others about me who are happy.”

“Really, I do not understand you,” replied Raoul; “explain yourself.”

“You will soon learn. I have tried, but in vain, to overcome the feeling you saw dawn in me, increase, and take entire possession of me. I have summoned all your advice and my own strength to my aid. I have well weighed the unfortunate affair in which I have embarked; I have sounded its depths; that it is an abyss, I am aware, but it matters little for I shall pursue my own course.”

“This is madness, de Guiche! you cannot advance another step without risking your own ruin today, perhaps your life tomorrow.”

“Whatever may happen, I have done with reflections; listen.”

“And you hope to succeed; you believe that Madame will love you?”

“Raoul, I believe nothing; I hope, because hope exists in man and never abandons him until death.”

“But, admitting that you obtain the happiness you covet, even then, you are more certainly lost than if you had failed in obtaining it.”

“I beseech you, Raoul, not to interrupt me any more; you could never convince me, for I tell you beforehand, I do not wish to be convinced; I have gone so far I cannot recede; I have suffered so much, death itself would be a boon. I no longer love to madness, Raoul, I am being engulfed by a whirlpool of jealousy.”

Raoul struck his hands together with an expression resembling anger. “Well?” said he.

“Well or ill matters little. This is what I claim from you, my friend, my almost brother. During the last three days Madame has been living in a perfect intoxication of gayety. On the first day, I dared not look at her; I hated her for not being as unhappy as myself. The next day I could not bear her out of my sight; and she, Raoul⁠—at least I thought I remarked it⁠—she looked at me, if not with pity, at least with gentleness. But between her looks and mine, a shadow intervened; another’s smile invited hers. Beside her horse another’s always gallops, which is not mine; in her ear another’s caressing voice, not mine, unceasingly vibrates. Raoul, for three days past my brain has been on fire; flame, not blood, courses through my veins. That shadow must be driven away, that smile must be quenched; that voice must be silenced.”

“You wish Monsieur’s death,” exclaimed Raoul.

“No, no, I am not jealous of the husband; I am jealous of the lover.”

“Of the lover?” said Raoul.

“Have you not observed it, you who were formerly so keen-sighted?”

“Are you jealous of the Duke of Buckingham?”

“To the very death.”

“Again jealous?”

“This time the affair will be easy to arrange between us; I have taken the initiative, and have sent him a letter.”

“It was you, then, who wrote to him?”

“How do you know that?”

“I know it, because he told me so. Look at this”; and he handed de Guiche the letter he had received nearly at the same moment as his own. De Guiche read it eagerly, and said, “He is a brave man, and more than that, a gallant man.”

“Most certainly the duke is a gallant man; I need not ask if you wrote to him in a similar style.”

“He will show you my letter when you call on him on my behalf.”

“But that is almost out of the question.”

“What is?”

“That I shall call on him for that purpose.”

“Why so?”

“The duke consults me as you do.”

“I suppose you will give me the preference! Listen to me, Raoul, I wish you to tell His Grace⁠—it is a very simple matter⁠—that today, tomorrow, the following day, or any other day he may choose, I will meet him at Vincennes.”

“Reflect, de Guiche.”

“I thought I told you I have reflected.”

“The duke is a stranger here; he is on a mission which renders his person inviolable.⁠ ⁠… Vincennes is close to the Bastille.”

“The consequences concern me.”

“But the motive for this meeting? What motive do you wish me to assign?”

“Be perfectly easy on that score, he will not ask any. The duke must be as sick of me as I am of him. I implore you, therefore, seek the duke, and if it is necessary to entreat him, to accept my offer, I will do so.”

“That is useless. The duke has already informed me that he wishes to speak to me. The duke is now playing cards with the king. Let us both go there. I will draw him aside in the gallery; you will remain aloof. Two words will be sufficient.”

“That is well arranged. I will take de Wardes to keep me in countenance.”

“Why not Manicamp? De Wardes can join us at any time; we can leave him here.”

“Yes, that is true.”

“He knows nothing?”

“Positively nothing. You continue still on an unfriendly footing, then?”

“Has he not told you anything?”

“Nothing.”

“I do not like the man, and, as I never liked him, the result is, that I am on no worse terms with him today than I was yesterday.”

“Let us go, then.”

The four descended the stairs. De Guiche’s carriage was waiting at the door, and took them to the Palais Royal. As they were going along, Raoul was engaged in devising his scheme of action. The sole depositary of two secrets, he did not despair of concluding some arrangement between the two parties. He knew the influence he exercised over Buckingham, and the ascendency he had acquired over de Guiche, and affairs did not look utterly hopeless. On their arrival in the gallery, dazzling with the blaze of light, where the most beautiful and illustrious women of the court moved to and fro, like stars in their own atmosphere, Raoul could not prevent himself for a moment forgetting de Guiche in order to seek out Louise, who, amidst her companions, like a dove completely fascinated, gazed long and fixedly upon the royal circle, which glittered with jewels and gold. All its members were standing, the king alone being seated. Raoul perceived Buckingham, who was standing a few paces from Monsieur, in a group of French and English, who were admiring his aristocratic carriage and the incomparable magnificence of his costume. Some of the older courtiers remembered having seen his father, but their recollections were not prejudicial to the son.

Buckingham was conversing with Fouquet, who was talking with him aloud about Belle-Isle. “I cannot speak to him at present,” said Raoul.

“Wait, then, and choose your opportunity, but finish everything speedily. I am on thorns.”

“See, our deliverer approaches,” said Raoul, perceiving d’Artagnan, who, magnificently dressed in his new uniform of captain of the Musketeers, had just made his entry in the gallery; and he advanced towards d’Artagnan.

“The Comte de la Fère has been looking for you, chevalier,” said Raoul.

“Yes,” replied d’Artagnan, “I have just left him.”

“I thought you would have passed a portion of the evening together.”

“We have arranged to meet again.”

As he answered Raoul, his absent looks were directed on all sides, as if seeking someone in the crowd or looking for something in the room. Suddenly his gaze became fixed, like that of an eagle on its prey. Raoul followed the direction of his glance, and noticed that de Guiche and d’Artagnan saluted each other, but he could not distinguish at whom the captain’s lingering and haughty glance was aimed.

“Chevalier,” said Raoul, “there is no one here but yourself who can render me a service.”

“What is it, my dear vicomte?”

“It is simply to go and interrupt the Duke of Buckingham, to whom I wish to say two words, and, as the duke is conversing with M. Fouquet, you understand that it would not do for me to throw myself into the middle of the conversation.”

“Ah, ah, is M. Fouquet there?” inquired d’Artagnan.

“Do you not see him?”

“Yes, now I do. But do you think I have a greater right than you have?”

“You are a more important personage.”

“Yes, you’re right; I am captain of the Musketeers; I have had the post promised me so long, and have enjoyed it for so brief a period, that I am always forgetting my dignity.”

“You will do me this service, will you not?”

“M. Fouquet⁠—the deuce!”

“Are you not on good terms with him?”

“It is rather he who may not be on good terms with me; however, since it must be done some day or another⁠—”

“Stay; I think he is looking at you; or is it likely that it might be⁠—”

“No, no; don’t deceive yourself, it is indeed me for whom this honor is intended.”

“The opportunity is a good one, then?”

“Do you think so?”

“Pray go.”

“Well, I will.”

De Guiche had not removed his eyes from Raoul, who made a sign to him that all was arranged. D’Artagnan walked straight up to the group, and civilly saluted M. Fouquet as well as the others.

“Good evening, M. d’Artagnan; we were speaking of Belle-Isle,” said Fouquet, with that usage of society, and that perfect knowledge of the language of looks, which require half a lifetime thoroughly to acquire, and which some persons, notwithstanding all their study, never attain.

“Of Belle-Île-en-Mer! Ah!” said d’Artagnan. “It belongs to you, I believe, M. Fouquet?”

“M. Fouquet has just told us that he had presented it to the king,” said Buckingham.

“Do you know Belle-Isle, chevalier?” inquired Fouquet.

“I have only been there once,” replied d’Artagnan, with readiness and good-humor.

“Did you remain there long?”

“Scarcely a day.”

“Did you see much of it while you were there?”

“All that could be seen in a day.”

“A great deal can be seen with observation as keen as yours,” said Fouquet; at which d’Artagnan bowed.

During this Raoul made a sign to Buckingham. “M. Fouquet,” said Buckingham, “I leave the captain with you, he is more learned than I am in bastions, scarps, and counter-scarps, and I will join one of my friends, who has just beckoned me.” Saying this, Buckingham disengaged himself from the group, and advanced towards Raoul, stopping for a moment at the table where the queen-mother, the young queen, and the king were playing together.

“Now, Raoul,” said de Guiche, “there he is; be firm and quick.”

Buckingham, having made some complimentary remark to Madame, continued his way towards Raoul, who advanced to meet him, while de Guiche remained in his place, though he followed him with his eyes. The maneuver was so arranged that the young men met in an open space which was left vacant, between the groups of players and the gallery, where they walked, stopping now and then for the purpose of saying a few words to some of the graver courtiers who were walking there. At the moment when the two lines were about to unite, they were broken by a third. It was Monsieur who advanced towards the Duke of Buckingham. Monsieur had his most engaging smile on his red and perfumed lips.

“My dear duke,” said he, with the most affectionate politeness; “is it really true what I have just been told?”

Buckingham turned round; he had not noticed Monsieur approach; but had merely heard his voice. He started in spite of his command over himself, and a slight pallor overspread his face. “Monseigneur,” he asked, “what has been told you that surprises you so much?”

“That which throws me into despair, and will, in truth, be a real cause of mourning for the whole court.”

“Your Highness is very kind, for I perceive that you allude to my departure.”

“Precisely.”

Guiche had overheard the conversation from where he was standing, and started in his turn. “His departure,” he murmured. “What does he say?”

Philip continued with the same gracious air, “I can easily conceive, Monsieur, why the king of Great Britain recalls you; we all know that King Charles II, who appreciates true gentlemen, cannot dispense with you. But it cannot be supposed we can let you go without great regret; and I beg you to receive the expression of my own.”

“Believe me, Monseigneur,” said the duke, “that if I quit the court of France⁠—”

“Because you are recalled; but, if you suppose the expression of my own wish on the subject might possibly have any influence with the king, I will gladly volunteer to entreat His Majesty Charles II to leave you with us a little while longer.”

“I am overwhelmed, Monseigneur, by so much kindness,” replied Buckingham; “but I have received positive commands. My residence in France was limited; I have prolonged it at the risk of displeasing my gracious sovereign. It is only this very day that I recollected I ought to have set off four days ago.”

“Indeed,” said Monsieur.

“Yes; but,” added Buckingham, raising his voice in such a manner that the princess could hear him⁠—“but I resemble that dweller in the East, who turned mad, and remained so for several days, owing to a delightful dream that he had had, but who one day awoke, if not completely cured, in some respects rational at least. The court of France has its intoxicating properties, which are not unlike this dream, my lord; but at last I wake and leave it. I shall be unable, therefore, to prolong my residence, as Your Highness has so kindly invited me to do.”

“When do you leave?” inquired Philip, with an expression full of interest.

“Tomorrow, Monseigneur. My carriages have been ready for three days.”

The Duc d’Orléans made a movement of the head, which seemed to signify, “Since you are determined, duke, there is nothing to be said.” Buckingham returned the gesture, concealing under a smile a contraction of his heart; and then Monsieur moved away in the same direction by which he had approached. At the same moment, however, de Guiche advanced from the opposite direction. Raoul feared that the impatient young man might possibly make the proposition himself, and hurried forth before him.

“No, no, Raoul, all is useless now,” said Guiche, holding both his hands towards the duke, and leading him behind a column. “Forgive me, duke, for what I wrote to you, I was mad; give me back my letter.”

“It is true,” said the duke, “you cannot owe me a grudge any longer now.”

“Forgive me, duke; my friendship, my lasting friendship is yours.”

“There is certainly no reason why you should bear me any ill-will from the moment I leave her never to see her again.”

Raoul heard these words, and comprehending that his presence was now useless between the young men, who had now only friendly words to exchange, withdrew a few paces; a movement which brought him closer to de Wardes, who was conversing with the Chevalier de Lorraine respecting the departure of Buckingham. “A strategic retreat,” said de Wardes.

“Why so?”

“Because the dear duke saves a sword-thrust by it.” At which reply both laughed.

Raoul, indignant, turned round frowningly, flushed with anger and his lip curling with disdain. The Chevalier de Lorraine turned on his heel, but de Wardes remained and waited.

“You will not break yourself of the habit,” said Raoul to de Wardes, “of insulting the absent; yesterday it was M. d’Artagnan, today it is the Duke of Buckingham.”

“You know very well, Monsieur,” returned de Wardes, “that I sometimes insult those who are present.”

De Wardes was close to Raoul, their shoulders met, their faces approached, as if to mutually inflame each other by the fire of their looks and of their anger. It could be seen that the one was at the height of fury, the other at the end of his patience. Suddenly a voice was heard behind them full of grace and courtesy, saying, “I believe I heard my name pronounced.”

They turned round and saw d’Artagnan, who, with a smiling eye and a cheerful face, had just placed his hand on de Wardes’s shoulder. Raoul stepped back to make room for the musketeer. De Wardes trembled from head to foot, turned pale, but did not move. D’Artagnan, still with the same smile, took the place which Raoul had abandoned to him.

“Thank you, my dear Raoul,” he said. “M. de Wardes, I wish to talk with you. Do not leave us, Raoul; everyone can hear what I have to say to M. de Wardes.” His smile immediately faded away, and his glace became cold and sharp as a sword.

“I am at your orders, Monsieur,” said de Wardes.

“For a very long time,” resumed d’Artagnan, “I have sought an opportunity of conversing with you; today is the first time I have found it. The place is badly chosen, I admit, but you will perhaps have the goodness to accompany me to my apartments, which are on the staircase at the end of this gallery.”

“I follow you, Monsieur,” said de Wardes.

“Are you alone here?” said d’Artagnan.

“No; I have M. Manicamp and M. de Guiche, two of my friends.”

“That’s well,” said d’Artagnan; “but two persons are not sufficient; you will be able to find a few others, I trust.”

“Certainly,” said the young man, who did not know what object d’Artagnan had in view. “As many as you please.”

“Are they friends?”

“Yes, Monsieur.”

“Real friends?”

“No doubt of it.”

“Very well, get a good supply, then. Do you come, too, Raoul; bring M. de Guiche and the Duke of Buckingham.”

“What a disturbance,” replied de Wardes, attempting to smile. The captain slightly signed to him with his hand, as though to recommend him to be patient, and then led the way to his apartments. [2]

CHAPTER 3

Sword-Thrusts in the Water (Concluded)
D’Artagnan’s apartment was not unoccupied; for the Comte de la Fère, seated in the recess of a window, awaited him. “Well,” said he to d’Artagnan, as he saw him enter.

“Well,” said the latter, “M. de Wardes has done me the honor to pay me a visit, in company with some of his own friends, as well as of ours.” In fact, behind the musketeer appeared de Wardes and Manicamp, followed by de Guiche and Buckingham, who looked surprised, not knowing what was expected of them. Raoul was accompanied by two or three gentlemen; and, as he entered, glanced round the room, and perceiving the count, he went and placed himself by his side. D’Artagnan received his visitors with all the courtesy he was capable of; he preserved his unmoved and unconcerned look. All the persons present were men of distinction, occupying posts of honor and credit at the court. After he had apologized to each of them for any inconvenience he might have put them to, he turned towards de Wardes, who, in spite of his customary self-command, could not prevent his face betraying some surprise mingled with not a little uneasiness.

“Now, Monsieur,” said d’Artagnan, “since we are no longer within the precincts of the king’s palace, and since we can speak out without failing in respect to propriety, I will inform you why I have taken the liberty to request you to visit me here, and why I have invited these gentlemen to be present at the same time. My friend, the Comte de la Fère, has acquainted me with the injurious reports you are spreading about myself. You have stated that you regard me as your mortal enemy, because I was, so you affirm, that of your father.”

“Perfectly true, Monsieur, I have said so,” replied de Wardes, whose pallid face became slightly tinged with color.

“You accuse me, therefore, of a crime, or a fault, or of some mean and cowardly act. Have the goodness to state your charge against me in precise terms.”

“In the presence of witnesses?”

“Most certainly in the presence of witnesses; and you see I have selected them as being experienced in affairs of honor.”

“You do not appreciate my delicacy, Monsieur. I have accused you, it is true; but I have kept the nature of the accusation a perfect secret. I entered into no details; but have rested satisfied by expressing my hatred in the presence of those on whom a duty was almost imposed to acquaint you with it. You have not taken the discreetness I have shown into consideration, although you were interested in remaining silent. I can hardly recognize your habitual prudence in that, M. d’Artagnan.”

D’Artagnan, who was quietly biting the corner of his moustache, said, “I have already had the honor to beg you to state the particulars of the grievances you say you have against me.”

“Aloud?”

“Certainly, aloud.”

“In that case, I will speak.”

“Speak, Monsieur,” said d’Artagnan, bowing; “we are all listening to you.”

“Well, Monsieur, it is not a question of a personal injury towards myself, but one towards my father.”

“That you have already stated.”

“Yes; but there are certain subjects which are only approached with hesitation.”

“If that hesitation, in your case, really does exist, I entreat you to overcome it.”

“Even if it refer to a disgraceful action?”

“Yes; in every and any case.”

Those who were present at this scene had, at first, looked at each other with a good deal of uneasiness. They were reassured, however, when they saw that d’Artagnan manifested no emotion whatever.

De Wardes still maintained the same unbroken silence. “Speak, Monsieur,” said the musketeer; “you see you are keeping us waiting.”

“Listen, then:⁠—My father loved a lady of noble birth, and this lady loved my father.” D’Artagnan and Athos exchanged looks. De Wardes continued: “M. d’Artagnan found some letters which indicated a rendezvous, substituted himself, under disguise, for the person who was expected, and took advantage of the darkness.”

“That is perfectly true,” said d’Artagnan.

A slight murmur was heard from those present. “Yes, I was guilty of that dishonorable action. You should have added, Monsieur, since you are so impartial, that, at the period when the circumstance which you have just related happened, I was not one-and-twenty years of age.”

“Such an action is not the less shameful on that account,” said de Wardes; “and it is quite sufficient for a gentleman to have attained the age of reason, to avoid committing an act of indelicacy.”

A renewed murmur was heard, but this time of astonishment, and almost of doubt.

“It was a most shameful deception, I admit,” said d’Artagnan, “and I have not waited for M. de Wardes’s reproaches to reproach myself for it, and very bitterly, too. Age has, however, made me more reasonable, and, above all, more upright; and this injury has been atoned for by a long and lasting regret. But I appeal to you, gentlemen; this affair took place in 1626, at a period, happily for yourselves, known to you by tradition only, at a period when love was not over-scrupulous, when consciences did not distill, as in the present day, poison and bitterness. We were young soldiers, always fighting, or being attacked, our swords always in our hands, or at least ready to be drawn from their sheaths. Death then always stared us in the face, war hardened us, and the cardinal pressed us sorely. I have repented of it, and more than that⁠—I still repent it, M. de Wardes.”

“I can well understand that, Monsieur, for the action itself needed repentance; but you were not the less the cause of that lady’s disgrace. She, of whom you have been speaking, covered with shame, borne down by the affront you brought upon her, fled, quitted France, and no one ever knew what became of her.”

“Stay,” said the Comte de la Fère, stretching his hand towards de Wardes, with a peculiar smile upon his face, “you are mistaken; she was seen; and there are persons even now present, who, having often heard her spoken of, will easily recognize her by the description I am about to give. She was about five-and-twenty years of age, slender in form, of a pale complexion, and fair-haired; she was married in England.”

“Married?” exclaimed de Wardes.

“So, you were not aware she was married? You see we are far better informed than yourself. Do you happen to know she was usually styled ‘Milady,’ without the addition of any name to that description?”

“Yes, I know that.”

“Good Heavens!” murmured Buckingham.

“Very well, Monsieur. That woman, who came from England, returned to England after having thrice attempted M. d’Artagnan’s life. That was but just, you will say, since M. d’Artagnan had insulted her. But that which was not just was, that, when in England, this woman, by her seductions, completely enslaved a young man in the service of Lord de Winter, by name Felton. You change color, my lord,” said Athos, turning to the Duke of Buckingham, “and your eyes kindle with anger and sorrow. Let Your Grace finish the recital, then, and tell M. de Wardes who this woman was who placed the knife in the hand of your father’s murderer.”

A cry escaped from the lips of all present. The young duke passed his handkerchief across his forehead, which was covered with perspiration. A dead silence ensued among the spectators.

“You see, M. de Wardes,” said d’Artagnan, whom this recital had impressed more and more, as his own recollection revived as Athos spoke, “you see that my crime did not cause the destruction of anyone’s soul, and that the soul in question may fairly be considered to have been altogether lost before my regret. It is, however, an act of conscience on my part. Now this matter is settled, therefore, it remains for me to ask, with the greatest humility, your forgiveness for this shameless action, as most certainly I should have asked it of your father, if he were still alive, and if I had met him after my return to France, subsequent to the death of King Charles I.”

“That is too much, M. d’Artagnan,” exclaimed many voices, with animation.

“No, gentlemen,” said the captain. “And now, M. de Wardes, I hope all is finished between us, and that you will have no further occasion to speak ill of me again. Do you consider it completely settled?”

De Wardes bowed, and muttered to himself inarticulately.

“I trust also,” said d’Artagnan, approaching the young man closely, “that you will no longer speak ill of anyone, as it seems you have the unfortunate habit of doing; for a man so puritanically conscientious as you are, who can reproach an old soldier for a youthful freak five-and-thirty years after it happened, will allow me to ask whether you, who advocate such excessive purity of conscience, will undertake on your side to do nothing contrary either to conscience or the principle of honor. And now, listen attentively to what I am going to say, M. de Wardes, in conclusion. Take care that no tale, with which your name may be associated, reaches my ear.”

“Monsieur,” said de Wardes, “it is useless threatening to no purpose.”

“I have not yet finished, M. de Wardes, and you must listen to me still further.” The circle of listeners, full of eager curiosity, drew closer. “You spoke just now of the honor of a woman, and of the honor of your father. We were glad to hear you speak in that manner; for it is pleasing to think that such a sentiment of delicacy and rectitude, and which did not exist, it seems, in our minds, lives in our children; and it is delightful, too, to see a young man, at an age when men from habit become the destroyers of the honor of women, respect and defend it.”

De Wardes bit his lip and clenched his hands, evidently much disturbed to learn how this discourse, the commencement of which was announced in so threatening a manner, would terminate.

“How did it happen, then, that you allowed yourself to say to M. de Bragelonne that he did not know who his mother was?”

Raoul’s eyes flashed, as, darting forward, he exclaimed⁠—“Chevalier, this is a personal affair of my own!” At which exclamation, a smile, full of malice, passed across de Wardes’s face.

D’Artagnan put Raoul aside, saying⁠—“Do not interrupt me, young man.” And looking at de Wardes in an authoritative manner, he continued:⁠—“I am now dealing with a matter which cannot be settled by means of the sword. I discuss it before men of honor, all of whom have more than once had their swords in their hands in affairs of honor. I selected them expressly. These gentlemen well know that every secret for which men fight ceases to be a secret. I again put my question to M. de Wardes. What was the subject of conversation when you offended this young man, in offending his father and mother at the same time?”

“It seems to me,” returned de Wardes, “that liberty of speech is allowed, when it is supported by every means which a man of courage has at his disposal.”

“Tell me what the means are by which a man of courage can sustain a slanderous expression.”

“The sword.”

“You fail, not only in logic, in your argument, but in religion and honor. You expose the lives of many others, without referring to your own, which seems to be full of hazard. Besides, fashions pass away, Monsieur, and the fashion of duelling has passed away, without referring in any way to the edicts of His Majesty which forbid it. Therefore, in order to be consistent with your own chivalrous notions, you will at once apologize to M. de Bragelonne; you will tell him how much you regret having spoken so lightly, and that the nobility and purity of his race are inscribed, not in his heart alone, but still more in every action of his life. You will do and say this, M. de Wardes, as I, an old officer, did and said just now to your boy’s moustache.”

“And if I refuse?” inquired de Wardes.

“In that case the result will be⁠—”

“That which you think you will prevent,” said de Wardes, laughing; “the result will be that your conciliatory address will end in a violation of the king’s prohibition.”

“Not so,” said the captain, “you are quite mistaken.”

“What will be the result, then?”

“The result will be that I shall go to the king, with whom I am on tolerably good terms, to whom I have been happy enough to render certain services, dating from a period when you were not born, and who, at my request, has just sent me an order in blank for M. Baisemeaux de Montlezun, governor of the Bastille; and I shall say to the king: ‘Sire, a man has in a most cowardly way insulted M. de Bragelonne by insulting his mother; I have written this man’s name upon the lettre de cachet which Your Majesty has been kind enough to give me, so that M. de Wardes is in the Bastille for three years.” And d’Artagnan, drawing the order signed by the king from his pocket, held it towards de Wardes.

Remarking that the young man was not quite convinced, and received the warning as an idle threat, he shrugged his shoulders and walked leisurely towards the table, upon which lay a writing-case and a pen, the length of which would have terrified the topographical Porthos. De Wardes then saw that nothing could well be more seriously intended than the threat in question, for the Bastille, even at that period, was already held in dread. He advanced a step towards Raoul, and, in an almost unintelligible voice, said⁠—“I offer my apologies in the terms which M. d’Artagnan just now dictated, and which I am forced to make to you.”

“One moment, Monsieur,” said the musketeer, with the greatest tranquillity, “you mistake the terms of the apology. I did not say, ‘and which I am forced to make’; I said, ‘and which my conscience induces me to make.’ This latter expression, believe me, is better than the former; and it will be far preferable, since it will be the most truthful expression of your own sentiments.”

“I subscribe to it,” said de Wardes; “but submit, gentlemen, that a thrust of the sword through the body, as was the custom formerly, was far better than tyranny like this.”

“No, Monsieur,” replied Buckingham; “for the sword-thrust, when received, was no indication that a particular person was right or wrong; it only showed that he was more or less skillful in the use of the weapon.”

“Monsieur!” exclaimed de Wardes.

“There, now,” interrupted d’Artagnan, “you are going to say something very rude, and I am rendering a service by stopping you in time.”

“Is that all, Monsieur?” inquired de Wardes.

“Absolutely everything,” replied d’Artagnan; “and these gentlemen, as well as myself, are quite satisfied with you.”

“Believe me, Monsieur, that your reconciliations are not successful.”

“In what way?”

“Because, as we are now about to separate, I would wager that M. de Bragelonne and myself are greater enemies than ever.”

“You are deceived, Monsieur, as far as I am concerned,” returned Raoul; “for I do not retain the slightest animosity in my heart against you.”

This last blow overwhelmed de Wardes. He cast his eyes around him like a man bewildered. D’Artagnan saluted most courteously the gentlemen who had been present at the explanation; and everyone, on leaving the room, shook hands with him; but not one hand was held out towards de Wardes. “Oh!” exclaimed the young man, “can I not find someone on whom to wreak my vengeance?”

“You can, Monsieur, for I am here,” whispered a voice full of menace in his ear.

De Wardes turned round, and saw the Duke of Buckingham, who, having probably remained behind with that intention, had just approached him. “You, Monsieur?” exclaimed de Wardes.

“Yes, I! I am no subject of the king of France; I am not going to remain on the territory, since I am about setting off for England. I have accumulated in my heart such a mass of despair and rage, that I, too, like yourself, need to revenge myself upon someone. I approve M. d’Artagnan’s principles profoundly, but I am not bound to apply them to you. I am an Englishman, and, in my turn, I propose to you what you proposed to others to no purpose. Since you, therefore, are so terribly incensed, take me as a remedy. In thirty-four hours’ time I shall be at Calais. Come with me; the journey will appear shorter if together, than if alone. We will fight, when we get there, upon the sands which are covered by the rising tide, and which form part of the French territory during six hours of the day, but belong to the territory of Heaven during the other six.”

“I accept willingly,” said de Wardes.

“I assure you,” said the duke, “that if you kill me, you will be rendering me an infinite service.”

“I will do my utmost to make myself agreeable to you, duke,” said de Wardes.

“It is agreed, then, that I carry you off with me?”

“I shall be at your commands. I needed some real danger and some mortal risk to run, to tranquilize me.”

“In that case, I think you have met with what you are looking for. Farewell, M. de Wardes; tomorrow morning, my valet will tell you the exact hour of our departure; we can travel together like two excellent friends. I generally travel as fast as I can. Adieu.”

Buckingham saluted de Wardes, and returned towards the king’s apartments; de Wardes, irritated beyond measure, left the Palais Royal, and hurried through the streets homeward to the house where he lodged.

CHAPTER 4

Baisemeaux de Montlezun
After the austere lesson administered to de Wardes, Athos and d’Artagnan together descended the staircase which led to the courtyard of the Palais Royal. “You perceive,” said Athos to d’Artagnan, “that Raoul cannot, sooner or later, avoid a duel with de Wardes, for de Wardes is as brave as he is vicious and wicked.”

“I know such fellows well,” replied d’Artagnan; “I had an affair with the father. I assure you that, although at that time I had good muscles and a sort of brute courage⁠—I assure you that the father did me some mischief. But you should have seen how I fought it out with him. Ah, Athos, such encounters never take place in these times! I had a hand which could never remain at rest, a hand like quicksilver⁠—you knew its quality, for you have seen me at work. My sword was no longer than a piece of steel; it was a serpent that assumed every form and every length, seeking where it might thrust its head; in other words, where it might fix its bite. I advanced half a dozen paces, then three, and then, body to body, I pressed my antagonist closely, then I darted back again ten paces. No human power could resist that ferocious ardor. Well, de Wardes the father, with the bravery of his race, with his dogged courage, occupied a good deal of my time; and my fingers, at the end of the engagement, were, I well remember, tired enough.”

“It is, then, as I said,” resumed Athos, “the son will always be looking out for Raoul, and will end by meeting him; and Raoul can easily be found when he is sought for.”

“Agreed; but Raoul calculates well; he bears no grudge against de Wardes⁠—he has said so; he will wait until he is provoked, and in that case his position is a good one. The king will not be able to get out of temper about the matter; besides we shall know how to pacify His Majesty. But why so full of these fears and anxieties? You don’t easily get alarmed.”

“I will tell you what makes me anxious; Raoul is to see the king tomorrow, when His Majesty will inform him of his wishes respecting a certain marriage. Raoul, loving as he does, will get out of temper, and once in an angry mood, if he were to meet de Wardes, the shell would explode.”

“We will prevent the explosion.”

“Not I,” said Athos, “for I must return to Blois. All this gilded elegance of the court, all these intrigues, sicken me. I am no longer a young man who can make terms with the meanness of the day. I have read in the Great Book many things too beautiful and too comprehensive to longer take any interest in the trifling phrases which these men whisper among themselves when they wish to deceive others. In one word, I am weary of Paris wherever and whenever you are not with me; and as I cannot have you with me always, I wish to return to Blois.”

“How wrong you are, Athos; how you gainsay your origin and the destiny of your noble nature. Men of your stamp are created to continue, to the very last moment, in full possession of their great faculties. Look at my sword, a Spanish blade, the one I wore at La Rochelle; it served me for thirty years without fail; one day in the winter it fell upon the marble floor on the Louvre and was broken. I had a hunting-knife made of it which will last a hundred years yet. You, Athos, with your loyalty, your frankness, your cool courage, and your sound information, are the very man kings need to warn and direct them. Remain here; Monsieur Fouquet will not last as long as my Spanish blade.”

“Is it possible,” said Athos, smiling, “that my friend, d’Artagnan, who, after having raised me to the skies, making me an object of worship, casts me down from the top of Olympus, and hurls me to the ground? I have more exalted ambition, d’Artagnan. To be a minister⁠—to be a slave⁠—never! Am I not still greater? I am nothing. I remember having heard you occasionally call me ‘the great Athos’; I defy you, therefore, if I were minister, to continue to bestow that title upon me. No, no; I do not yield myself in this manner.”

“We will not speak of it any more, then; renounce everything, even the brotherly feeling which unites us.”

“It is almost cruel what you say.”

D’Artagnan pressed Athos’s hand warmly. “No, no; renounce everything without fear. Raoul can get on without you. I am at Paris.”

“In that case I shall return to Blois. We will take leave of each other tonight; tomorrow at daybreak I shall be on my horse again.”

“You cannot return to your hotel alone; why did you not bring Grimaud with you?”

“Grimaud takes his rest now; he goes to bed early, for my poor old servant gets easily fatigued. He came from Blois with me, and I compelled him to remain within doors; for if, in retracing the forty leagues which separate us from Blois, he needed to draw breath even, he would die without a murmur. But I don’t want to lose Grimaud.”

“You shall have one of my musketeers to carry a torch for you. Holà! someone there,” called out d’Artagnan, leaning over the gilded balustrade. The heads of seven or eight musketeers appeared. “I wish some gentleman, who is so disposed, to escort the Comte de la Fère,” cried d’Artagnan.

“Thank you for your readiness, gentlemen,” said Athos; “I regret to have occasion to trouble you in this manner.”

“I would willingly escort the Comte de la Fère,” said someone, “if I had not to speak to Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“Who is that?” said d’Artagnan, looking into the darkness.

“I, Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“Heaven forgive me, if that is not Monsieur Baisemeaux’s voice.”

“It is, Monsieur.”

“What are you doing in the courtyard, my dear Baisemeaux?”

“I am waiting your orders, my dear Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

Wretch that I am, thought d’Artagnan; “true, you have been told, I suppose, that someone was to be arrested, and have come yourself, instead of sending an officer?”

“I came because I had occasion to speak to you.”

“You did not send to me?”

“I waited until you were disengaged,” said Monsieur Baisemeaux, timidly.

“I leave you, d’Artagnan,” said Athos.

“Not before I have present Monsieur Baisemeaux de Montlezun, the governor of the Bastille.”

Baisemeaux and Athos saluted each other.

“Surely you must know each other,” said d’Artagnan.

“I have an indistinct recollection of Monsieur Baisemeaux,” said Athos.

“You remember, my dear, Baisemeaux, the king’s guardsman with whom we used formerly to have such delightful meetings in the cardinal’s time?”

“Perfectly,” said Athos, taking leave of him with affability.

“Monsieur le Comte de la Fère, whose nom de guerre was Athos,” whispered d’Artagnan to Baisemeaux.

“Yes, yes, a brave man, one of the celebrated four.”

“Precisely so. But, my dear Baisemeaux, shall we talk now?”

“If you please.”

“In the first place, as for the orders⁠—there are none. The king does not intend to arrest the person in question.

“So much the worse,” said Baisemeaux with a sigh.

“What do you mean by so much the worse?” exclaimed d’Artagnan, laughing.

“No doubt of it,” returned the governor, “my prisoners are my income.”

“I beg your pardon, I did not see it in that light.”

“And so there are no orders,” repeated Baisemeaux with a sigh. “What an admirable situation yours is, captain,” he continued, after a pause; “captain-lieutenant of the Musketeers.”

“Oh, it is good enough; but I don’t see why you should envy me; you, governor of the Bastille, the first castle in France.”

“I am well aware of that,” said Baisemeaux, in a sorrowful tone of voice.

“You say that like a man confessing his sins. I would willingly exchange my profits for yours.”

“Don’t speak of profits to me, if you wish to save me the bitterest anguish of mind.”

“Why do you look first on one side and then on the other, as if you were afraid of being arrested yourself, you whose business it is to arrest others?”

“I was looking to see whether anyone could see or listen to us; it would be safer to confer more in private, if you would grant me such a favor.”

“Baisemeaux, you seem to forget we are acquaintances of five and thirty years’ standing. Don’t assume such sanctified airs; make yourself quite comfortable; I don’t eat governors of the Bastille raw.”

“Heaven be praised!”

“Come into the courtyard with me; it’s a beautiful moonlit night; we will walk up and down, arm in arm, under the trees, while you tell me your pitiful tale.” He drew the doleful governor into the courtyard, took him by the arm as he had said, and, in his rough, good-humored way, cried: “Out with it, rattle away, Baisemeaux; what have you got to say?”

“It’s a long story.”

“You prefer your own lamentations, then; my opinion is, it will be longer than ever. I’ll wager you are making fifty thousand francs out of your pigeons in the Bastille.”

“Would to heaven that were the case, M. d’Artagnan.”

“You surprise me, Baisemeaux; just look at you, acting the anchorite. I should like to show you your face in a glass, and you would see how plump and florid-looking you are, as fat and round as a cheese, with eyes like lighted coals; and if it were not for that ugly wrinkle you try to cultivate on your forehead, you would hardly look fifty years old, and you are sixty, if I am not mistaken.”

“All quite true.”

“Of course I knew it was true, as true as the fifty thousand francs profit you make”; at which remark Baisemeaux stamped on the ground.

“Well, well,” said d’Artagnan, “I will add up your accounts for you: you were captain of M. Mazarin’s Guards; and twelve thousand francs a year would in twelve years amount to one hundred and forty thousand francs.”

“Twelve thousand francs! Are you mad?” cried Baisemeaux; “the old miser gave me no more than six thousand, and the expenses of the post amounted to six thousand five hundred francs. M. Colbert, who deducted the other six thousand francs, condescended to allow me to take fifty pistoles as a gratification; so that, if it were not for my little estate at Montlezun, which brings me in twelve thousand francs a year, I could not have met my engagements.”

“Well, then, how about the fifty thousand francs from the Bastille? There, I trust, you are boarded and lodged, and get your six thousand francs salary besides.”

“Admitted!”

“Whether the year be good or bad, there are fifty prisoners, who, on the average, bring you in a thousand francs a year each.”

“I don’t deny it.”

“Well, there is at once an income of fifty thousand francs; you have held the post three years, and must have received in that time one hundred and fifty thousand francs.”

“You forget one circumstance, dear M. d’Artagnan.”

“What is that?”

“That while you received your appointment as captain from the king himself, I received mine as governor from Messieurs Tremblay and Louvière.”

“Quite right, and Tremblay was not a man to let you have the post for nothing.”

“Nor Louvière either: the result was, that I gave seventy-five thousand francs to Tremblay as his share.”

“Very agreeable that! and to Louvière?”

“The very same.”

“Money down?”

“No: that would have been impossible. The king did not wish, or rather M. Mazarin did not wish, to have the appearance of removing those two gentlemen, who had sprung from the barricades; he permitted them, therefore, to make certain extravagant conditions for their retirement.”

“What were those conditions?”

“Tremble⁠ ⁠… three years’ income for the goodwill.”

“The deuce! so that the one hundred and fifty thousand francs have passed into their hands.”

“Precisely so.”

“And beyond that?”

“A sum of one hundred and fifty thousand francs, or fifteen thousand pistoles, whichever you please, in three payments.”

“Exorbitant.”

“Yes, but that is not all.”

“What besides?”

“In default of the fulfillment by me of any one of those conditions, those gentlemen enter upon their functions again. The king has been induced to sign that.”

“It is monstrous, incredible!”

“Such is the fact, however.”

“I do indeed pity you, Baisemeaux. But why, in the name of fortune, did M. Mazarin grant you this pretended favor? It would have been far better to have refused you altogether.”

“Certainly, but he was strongly persuaded to do so by my protector.”

“Who is he?”

“One of your own friends, indeed; M. d’Herblay.”

“M. d’Herblay! Aramis!”

“Just so; he has been very kind towards me.”

“Kind! to make you enter into such a bargain!”

“Listen! I wished to leave the cardinal’s service. M. d’Herblay spoke on my behalf to Louvière and Tremblay⁠—they objected; I wished to have the appointment very much, for I knew what it could be made to produce; in my distress I confided in M. d’Herblay, and he offered to become my surety for the different payments.”

“You astound me! Aramis became your surety?”

“Like a man of honor; he procured the signature; Tremblay and Louvière resigned their appointments; I have paid every year twenty-five thousand francs to these two gentlemen; on the thirty-first of May, every year, M. d’Herblay himself comes to the Bastille, and brings me five thousand pistoles to distribute between my crocodiles.”

“You owe Aramis one hundred and fifty thousand francs, then?”

“That is the very thing which is the cause of my despair, for I only owe him one hundred thousand.”

“I don’t quite understand you.”

“He came and settled with the vampires only two years. Today, however, is the thirty-first of May, and he has not been yet, and tomorrow, at midday, the payment falls due; if, therefore, I don’t pay tomorrow, those gentlemen can, by the terms of the contract, break off the bargain; I shall be stripped of everything; I shall have worked for three years, and given two hundred and fifty thousand francs for nothing, absolutely for nothing at all, dear M. d’Artagnan.”

“This is very strange,” murmured d’Artagnan.

“You can now imagine that I may well have wrinkles on my forehead, can you not?”

“Yes, indeed!”

“And you can imagine, too, that notwithstanding I may be as round as a cheese, with a complexion like an apple, and my eyes like coals on fire, I may almost be afraid that I shall not have a cheese or an apple left me to eat, and that my eyes will be left me only to weep with.”

“It is really a very grievous affair.”

“I have come to you, M. d’Artagnan, for you are the only man who can get me out of my trouble.”

“In what way?”

“You are acquainted with the Abbé d’Herblay, and you know that he is a somewhat mysterious gentleman.”

“Yes.”

“Well, you can, perhaps, give me the address of his presbytery, for I have been to Noisy-le-Sec, and he is no longer there.”

“I should think not, indeed. He is Bishop of Vannes.”

“What! Vannes in Bretagne?”

“Yes.”

The little man began to tear his hair, saying, “How can I get to Vannes from here by midday tomorrow? I am a lost man.”

“Your despair quite distresses me.”

“Vannes, Vannes!” cried Baisemeaux.

“But listen; a bishop is not always a resident. M. d’Herblay may not possibly be so far away as you fear.”

“Pray tell me his address.”

“I really don’t know it.”

“In that case I am lost. I will go and throw myself at the king’s feet.”

“But, Baisemeaux, I can hardly believe what you tell me; besides, since the Bastille is capable of producing fifty thousand francs a year, why have you not tried to screw one hundred thousand out of it?”

“Because I am an honest man, M. d’Artagnan, and because my prisoners are fed like ambassadors.”

“Well, you’re in a fair way to get out of your difficulties; give yourself a good attack of indigestion with your excellent living, and put yourself out of the way between this and midday tomorrow.”

“How can you be hardhearted enough to laugh?”

“Nay, you really afflict me. Come, Baisemeaux, if you can pledge me your word of honor, do so, that you will not open your lips to anyone about what I am going to say to you.”

“Never, never!”

“You wish to put your hands on Aramis?”

“At any cost!”

“Well, go and see where M. Fouquet is.”

“Why, what connection can there be⁠—”

“How stupid you are! Don’t you know that Vannes is in the diocese of Belle-Isle, or Belle-Isle in the diocese of Vannes? Belle-Isle belongs to M. Fouquet, and M. Fouquet nominated M. d’Herblay to that bishopric!”

“I see, I see; you restore me to life again.”

“So much the better. Go and tell M. Fouquet very simply that you wish to speak to M. d’Herblay.”

“Of course, of course,” exclaimed Baisemeaux, delightedly.

“But,” said d’Artagnan, checking him by a severe look, “your word of honor?”

“I give you my sacred word of honor,” replied the little man, about to set off running.

“Where are you going?”

“To M. Fouquet’s house.”

“It is useless doing that; M. Fouquet is playing at cards with the king. All you can do is to pay M. Fouquet a visit early tomorrow morning.”

“I will do so. Thank you.”

“Good luck attend you,” said d’Artagnan.

“Thank you.”

“This is a strange affair,” murmured d’Artagnan, as he slowly ascended the staircase after he had left Baisemeaux. “What possible interest can Aramis have in obliging Baisemeaux in this manner? Well, I suppose we shall learn some day or another.”

CHAPTER 5

The King’s Card-Table
Fouquet was present, as d’Artagnan had said, at the king’s card-table. It seemed as if Buckingham’s departure had shed a balm on the lacerated hearts of the previous evening. Monsieur, radiant with delight, made a thousand affectionate signs to his mother. The Count de Guiche could not separate himself from Buckingham, and while playing, conversed with him upon the circumstance of his projected voyage. Buckingham, thoughtful, and kind in his manner, like a man who has adopted a resolution, listened to the count, and from time to time cast a look full of regret and hopeless affection at Madame. The princess, in the midst of her elation of spirits, divided her attention between the king, who was playing with her, Monsieur, who quietly joked her about her enormous winnings, and de Guiche, who exhibited an extravagant delight. Of Buckingham she took but little notice; for her, this fugitive, this exile, was now simply a remembrance, no longer a man. Light hearts are thus constituted; while they themselves continue untouched, they roughly break off with everyone who may possibly interfere with their little calculations of selfish comfort. Madame had received Buckingham’s smiles and attentions and sighs while he was present; but what was the good of sighing, smiling, and kneeling at a distance? Can one tell in what direction the winds in the Channel, which toss mighty vessels to and fro, carry such sighs as these? The duke could not fail to mark this change, and his heart was cruelly hurt. Of a sensitive character, proud and susceptible of deep attachment, he cursed the day on which such a passion had entered his heart. The looks he cast, from time to time at Madame, became colder by degrees at the chilling complexion of his thoughts. He could hardly yet despair, but he was strong enough to impose silence upon the tumultuous outcries of his heart. In exact proportion, however, as Madame suspected this change of feeling, she redoubled her activity to regain the ray of light she was about to lose; her timid and indecisive mind was displayed in brilliant flashes of wit and humor. At any cost she felt that she must be remarked above everything and everyone, even above the king himself. And she was so, for the queens, notwithstanding their dignity, and the king, despite the respect which etiquette required, were all eclipsed by her. The queens, stately and ceremonious, were softened and could not restrain their laughter. Madame Henriette, the queen-mother, was dazzled by the brilliancy which cast distinction upon her family, thanks to the wit of the granddaughter of Henry IV. The king, jealous, as a young man and as a monarch, of the superiority of those who surrounded him, could not resist admitting himself vanquished by a petulance so thoroughly French in its nature, whose energy more than ever increased by English humor. Like a child, he was captivated by her radiant beauty, which her wit made still more dazzling. Madame’s eyes flashed like lightning. Wit and humor escaped from her scarlet lips like persuasion from the lips of Nestor of old. The whole court, subdued by her enchanting grace, noticed for the first time that laughter could be indulged in before the greatest monarch in the world, like people who merited their appellation of the wittiest and most polished people in Europe.

Madame, from that evening, achieved and enjoyed a success capable of bewildering all not born to those altitudes termed thrones; which, in spite of their elevation, are sheltered from such giddiness. From that very moment Louis XIV acknowledged Madame as a person to be recognized. Buckingham regarded her as a coquette deserving the cruelest tortures, and de Guiche looked upon her as a divinity; the courtiers as a star whose light might some day become the focus of all favor and power. And yet Louis XIV, a few years previously, had not even condescended to offer his hand to that “ugly girl” for a ballet; and Buckingham had worshipped this coquette “on both knees.” De Guiche had once looked upon this divinity as a mere woman; and the courtiers had not dared to extol this star in her upward progress, fearful to disgust the monarch whom such a dull star had formerly displeased.

Let us see what was taking place during this memorable evening at the king’s card-table. The young queen, although Spanish by birth, and the niece of Anne of Austria, loved the king, and could not conceal her affection. Anne of Austria, a keen observer, like all women, and imperious, like every queen, was sensible of Madame’s power, and acquiesced in it immediately, a circumstance which induced the young queen to raise the siege and retire to her apartments. The king hardly paid any attention to her departure, notwithstanding the pretended symptoms of indisposition by which it was accompanied. Encouraged by the rules of etiquette, which he had begun to introduce at the court as an element of every relation of life, Louis XIV did not disturb himself; he offered his hand to Madame without looking at Monsieur his brother, and led the young princess to the door of her apartments. It was remarked, that at the threshold of the door, His Majesty, freed from every restraint, or not equal to the situation, sighed very deeply. The ladies present⁠—nothing escapes a woman’s glance⁠—Mademoiselle Montalais, for instance⁠—did not fail to say to each other, “the king sighed,” and “Madame sighed too.” This had been indeed the case. Madame had sighed very noiselessly, but with an accompaniment very far more dangerous for the king’s repose. Madame had sighed, first closing her beautiful black eyes, next opening them, and then, laden, as they were, with an indescribable mournfulness of expression, she had raised them towards the king, whose face at that moment visibly heightened in color. The consequence of these blushes, of those interchanged sighs, and of this royal agitation, was, that Montalais had committed an indiscretion which had certainly affected her companion, for Mademoiselle de La Vallière, less clear sighted, perhaps, turned pale when the king blushed; and her attendance being required upon Madame, she tremblingly followed the princess without thinking of taking the gloves, which court etiquette required her to do. True it is that the young country girl might allege as her excuse the agitation into which the king seemed to be thrown, for Mademoiselle de La Vallière, busily engaged in closing the door, had involuntarily fixed her eyes upon the king, who, as he retired backwards, had his face towards it. The king returned to the room where the card-tables were set out. He wished to speak to the different persons there, but it was easy to see that his mind was absent. He jumbled different accounts together, which was taken advantage of by some of the noblemen who had retained those habits since the time of Monsieur Mazarin⁠—who had a poor memory, but was a good calculator. In this way, Monsieur Manicamp, with a thoughtless and absent air⁠—for M. Manicamp was the honestest man in the world, appropriated twenty thousand francs, which were littering the table, and which did not seem to belong to any person in particular. In the same way, Monsieur de Wardes, whose head was doubtless a little bewildered by the occurrences of the evening, somehow forgot to leave behind him the sixty double louis which he had won for the Duke of Buckingham, and which the duke, incapable, like his father, of soiling his hands with coin of any sort, had left lying on the table before him. The king only recovered his attention in some degree at the moment that Monsieur Colbert, who had been narrowly observant for some minutes, approached, and, doubtless, with great respect, yet with much perseverance, whispered a counsel of some sort into the still tingling ears of the king. The king, at the suggestion, listened with renewed attention and immediately looking around him, said, “Is Monsieur Fouquet no longer here?”

“Yes, sire, I am here,” replied the superintendent, till then engaged with Buckingham, and approached the king, who advanced a step towards him with a smiling yet negligent air. “Forgive me,” said Louis, “if I interrupt your conversation; but I claim your attention wherever I may require your services.”

“I am always at the king’s service,” replied Fouquet.

“And your cashbox, too,” said the king, laughing with a false smile.

“My cashbox more than anything else,” said Fouquet, coldly.

“The fact is, I wish to give a fête at Fontainebleau⁠—to keep open house for fifteen days, and I shall require⁠—” and he stopped, glancing at Colbert. Fouquet waited without showing discomposure; and the king resumed, answering Colbert’s icy smile, “four million francs.”

“Four million,” repeated Fouquet, bowing profoundly. And his nails, buried in his bosom, were thrust into his flesh, but the tranquil expression of his face remained unaltered. “When will they be required, sire?”

“Take your time⁠—I mean⁠—no, no; as soon as possible.”

“A certain time will be necessary, sire.”

“Time!” exclaimed Colbert, triumphantly.

“The time, Monsieur,” said the superintendent, with the haughtiest disdain, “simply to count the money; a million can only be drawn and weighed in a day.”

“Four days, then,” said Colbert.

“My clerks,” replied Fouquet, addressing himself to the king, “will perform wonders on His Majesty’s service, and the sum shall be ready in three days.”

It was for Colbert now to turn pale. Louis looked at him astonished. Fouquet withdrew without any parade or weakness, smiling at his numerous friends, in whose countenances alone he read the sincerity of their friendship⁠—an interest partaking of compassion. Fouquet, however, should not be judged by his smile, for, in reality, he felt as if he had been stricken by death. Drops of blood beneath his coat stained the fine linen that clothed his chest. His dress concealed the blood, and his smile the rage which devoured him. His domestics perceived, by the manner in which he approached his carriage, that their master was not in the best of humors: the result of their discernment was, that his orders were executed with that exactitude of maneuver which is found on board a man-of-war, commanded during a storm by an ill-tempered captain. The carriage, therefore, did not simply roll along⁠—it flew. Fouquet had hardly time to recover himself during the drive; on his arrival he went at once to Aramis, who had not yet retired for the night. As for Porthos, he had supped very agreeably off a roast leg of mutton, two pheasants, and a perfect heap of crayfish; he then directed his body to be anointed with perfumed oils, in the manner of the wrestlers of old; and when this anointment was completed, he had himself wrapped in flannels and placed in a warm bed. Aramis, as we have already said, had not retired. Seated at his ease in a velvet dressing-gown, he wrote letter after letter in that fine and hurried handwriting, a page of which contained a quarter of a volume. The door was thrown hurriedly open, and the superintendent appeared, pale, agitated, anxious. Aramis looked up: “Good evening,” said he; and his searching look detected his host’s sadness and disordered state of mind. “Was your play as good as His Majesty’s?” asked Aramis, by way of beginning the conversation.

Fouquet threw himself upon a couch, and then pointed to the door to the servant who had followed him; when the servant had left he said, “Excellent.”

Aramis, who had followed every movement with his eyes, noticed that he stretched himself upon the cushions with a sort of feverish impatience. “You have lost as usual?” inquired Aramis, his pen still in his hand.

“Even more than usual,” replied Fouquet.

“You know how to support losses?”

“Sometimes.”

“What, Monsieur Fouquet a bad player!”

“There is play and play, Monsieur d’Herblay.”

“How much have you lost?” inquired Aramis, with a slight uneasiness.

Fouquet collected himself a moment, and then, without the slightest emotion, said, “The evening has cost me four millions,” and a bitter laugh drowned the last vibration of these words.

Aramis, who did not expect such an amount, dropped his pen. “Four millions,” he said; “you have lost four millions⁠—impossible!”

“Monsieur Colbert held my cards for me,” replied the superintendent, with a similar bitter laugh.

“Ah, now I understand; so, so, a new application for funds?”

“Yes, and from the king’s own lips. It was impossible to ruin a man with a more charming smile. What do you think of it?”

“It is clear that your destruction is the object in view.”

“That is your opinion?”

“Still. Besides, there is nothing in it which should astonish you, for we have foreseen it all along.”

“Yes; but I did not expect four millions.”

“No doubt the amount is serious, but, after all, four millions are not quite the death of a man, especially when the man in question is Monsieur Fouquet.”

“My dear d’Herblay, if you knew the contents of my coffers, you would be less easy.”

“And you promised?”

“What could I do?”

“That’s true.”

“The very day I refuse, Colbert will procure the money; whence I know not, but he will procure it: and I shall be lost.”

“There is no doubt of that. In how many days did you promise the four millions?”

“In three days. The king seemed exceedingly pressed.”

In three days?

“When I think,” resumed Fouquet, “that just now as I passed along the streets, the people cried out, ‘There is the rich Monsieur Fouquet,’ it is enough to turn my brain.”

“Stay, Monsieur, the matter is not worth so much trouble,” said Aramis, calmly, sprinkling some sand over the letter he had just written.

“Suggest a remedy, then, for this evil without a remedy.”

“There is only one remedy for you⁠—pay.”

“But it is very uncertain whether I have the money. Everything must be exhausted; Belle-Isle is paid for; the pension has been paid; and money, since the investigation of the accounts of those who farm the revenue, is scarce. Besides, admitting that I pay this time, how can I do so on another occasion? When kings have tasted money, they are like tigers who have tasted flesh, they devour everything. The day will arrive⁠—must arrive⁠—when I shall have to say, ‘Impossible, sire,’ and on that very day I am a lost man.”

Aramis raised his shoulders slightly, saying:

“A man in your position, my lord, is only lost when he wishes to be so.”

“A man, whatever his position may be, cannot hope to struggle against a king.”

“Nonsense; when I was young I wrestled successfully with the Cardinal Richelieu, who was king of France⁠—nay more⁠—cardinal.”

“Where are my armies, my troops, my treasures? I have not even Belle-Isle.”

“Bah! necessity is the mother of invention, and when you think all is lost, something will be discovered which will retrieve everything.”

“Who will discover this wonderful something?”

“Yourself.”

“I! I resign my office of inventor.”

“Then I will.”

“Be it so. But set to work without delay.”

“Oh! we have time enough!”

“You kill me, d’Herblay, with your calmness,” said the superintendent, passing his handkerchief over his face.

“Do you not remember that I one day told you not to make yourself uneasy, if you possessed courage? Have you any?”

“I believe so.”

“Then don’t make yourself uneasy.”

“It is decided then, that, at the last moment, you will come to my assistance.”

“It will only be the repayment of a debt I owe you.”

“It is the vocation of financiers to anticipate the wants of men such as yourself, d’Herblay.”

“If obligingness is the vocation of financiers, charity is the virtue of the clergy. Only, on this occasion, do you act, Monsieur. You are not yet sufficiently reduced, and at the last moment we will see what is to be done.”

“We shall see, then, in a very short time.”

“Very well. However, permit me to tell you that, personally, I regret exceedingly that you are at present so short of money, because I myself was about to ask you for some.”

“For yourself?”

“For myself, or some of my people, for mine or for ours.”

“How much do you want?”

“Be easy on that score; a roundish sum, it is true, but not too exorbitant.”

“Tell me the amount.”

“Fifty thousand francs.”

“Oh! a mere nothing. Of course one has always fifty thousand francs. Why the deuce cannot that knave Colbert be as easily satisfied as you are⁠—and I should give myself far less trouble than I do. When do you need this sum?”

“Tomorrow morning; but you wish to know its destination?”

“Nay, nay, chevalier, I need no explanation.”

“Tomorrow is the first of June.”

“Well?”

“One of our bonds becomes due.”

“I did not know we had any bonds.”

“Certainly, tomorrow we pay our last third instalment.”

“What third?”

“Of the one hundred and fifty thousand francs to Baisemeaux.”

“Baisemeaux? Who is he?”

“The governor of the Bastille.”

“Yes, I remember. On what grounds am I to pay one hundred and fifty thousand francs for that man?”

“On account of the appointment which he, or rather we, purchased from Louvière and Tremblay.”

“I have a very vague recollection of the matter.”

“That is likely enough, for you have so many affairs to attend to. However, I do not believe you have any affair in the world of greater importance than this one.”

“Tell me, then, why we purchased this appointment.”

“Why, in order to render him a service in the first place, and afterwards ourselves.”

“Ourselves? You are joking.”

“Monseigneur, the time may come when the governor of the Bastille may prove a very excellent acquaintance.”

“I have not the good fortune to understand you, d’Herblay.”

“Monseigneur, we had our own poets, our own engineer, our own architect, our own musicians, our own printer, and our own painters; we needed our own governor of the Bastille.”

“Do you think so?”

“Let us not deceive ourselves, Monseigneur; we are very much opposed to paying the Bastille a visit,” added the prelate, displaying, beneath his pale lips, teeth which were still the same beautiful teeth so much admired thirty years previously by Marie Michon.

“And you think it is not too much to pay one hundred and fifty thousand francs for that? I thought you generally put out money at better interest than that.”

“The day will come when you will admit your mistake.”

“My dear d’Herblay, the very day on which a man enters the Bastille, he is no longer protected by his past.”

“Yes, he is, if the bonds are perfectly regular; besides, that good fellow Baisemeaux has not a courtier’s heart. I am certain, my lord, that he will not remain ungrateful for that money, without taking into account, I repeat, that I retain the acknowledgements.”

“It is a strange affair! usury in a matter of benevolence.”

“Do not mix yourself up with it, Monseigneur; if there be usury, it is I who practice it, and both of us reap the advantage from it⁠—that is all.”

“Some intrigue, d’Herblay?”

“I do not deny it.”

“And Baisemeaux an accomplice in it?”

“Why not?⁠—there are worse accomplices than he. May I depend, then, upon the five thousand pistoles tomorrow?”

“Do you want them this evening?”

“It would be better, for I wish to start early; poor Baisemeaux will not be able to imagine what has become of me, and must be upon thorns.”

“You shall have the amount in an hour. Ah, d’Herblay, the interest of your one hundred and fifty thousand francs will never pay my four millions for me.”

“Why not, Monseigneur?”

“Good night, I have business to transact with my clerks before I retire.”

“A good night’s rest, Monseigneur.”

“D’Herblay, you wish things that are impossible.”

“Shall I have my fifty thousand francs this evening?”

“Yes.”

“Go to sleep, then, in perfect safety⁠—it is I who tell you to do so.”

Notwithstanding this assurance, and the tone in which it was given, Fouquet left the room shaking his head, and heaving a sigh.

CHAPTER 6

M. Baisemeaux de Montlezun’s Accounts
The clock of St. Paul was striking seven as Aramis, on horseback, dressed as a simple citizen, that is to say, in colored suit, with no distinctive mark about him, except a kind of hunting-knife by his side, passed before the Rue du Petit-Muse, and stopped opposite the Rue des Tournelles, at the gate of the Bastille. Two sentinels were on duty at the gate; they made no difficulty about admitting Aramis, who entered without dismounting, and they pointed out the way he was to go by a long passage with buildings on both sides. This passage led to the drawbridge, or, in other words, to the real entrance. The drawbridge was down, and the duty of the day was about being entered upon. The sentinel at the outer guardhouse stopped Aramis’s further progress, asking him, in a rough tone of voice, what had brought him there. Aramis explained, with his usual politeness, that a wish to speak to M. Baisemeaux de Montlezun had occasioned his visit. The first sentinel then summoned a second sentinel, stationed within an inner lodge, who showed his face at the grating, and inspected the new arrival most attentively. Aramis reiterated the expression of his wish to see the governor; whereupon the sentinel called to an officer of lower grade, who was walking about in a tolerably spacious courtyard and who, in turn, on being informed of his object, ran to seek one of the officers of the governor’s staff. The latter, after having listened to Aramis’s request, begged him to wait a moment, then went away a short distance, but returned to ask his name. “I cannot tell it you, Monsieur,” said Aramis; “I need only mention that I have matters of such importance to communicate to the governor, that I can only rely beforehand upon one thing, that M. de Baisemeaux will be delighted to see me; nay, more than that, when you have told him that it is the person whom he expected on the first of June, I am convinced he will hasten here himself.” The officer could not possibly believe that a man of the governor’s importance should put himself out for a person of so little importance as the citizen-looking visitor on horseback. “It happens most fortunately, Monsieur,” he said, “that the governor is just going out, and you can perceive his carriage with the horses already harnessed, in the courtyard yonder; there will be no occasion for him to come to meet you, as he will see you as he passes by.” Aramis bowed to signify his assent; he did not wish to inspire others with too exalted an opinion of himself, and therefore waited patiently and in silence, leaning upon the saddlebow of his horse. Ten minutes had hardly elapsed when the governor’s carriage was observed to move. The governor appeared at the door, and got into the carriage, which immediately prepared to start. The same ceremony was observed for the governor himself as with a suspected stranger; the sentinel at the lodge advanced as the carriage was about to pass under the arch, and the governor opened the carriage-door, himself setting the example of obedience to orders; so that, in this way, the sentinel could convince himself that no one quitted the Bastille improperly. The carriage rolled along under the archway, but at the moment the iron-gate was opened, the officer approached the carriage, which had again been stopped, and said something to the governor, who immediately put his head out of the doorway, and perceived Aramis on horseback at the end of the drawbridge. He immediately uttered almost a shout of delight, and got out, or rather darted out of his carriage, running towards Aramis, whose hands he seized, making a thousand apologies. He almost embraced him. “What a difficult matter to enter the Bastille!” said Aramis. “Is it the same for those who are sent here against their wills, as for those who come of their own accord?”

“A thousand pardons, my lord. How delighted I am to see Your Grace!”

“Hush! What are you thinking of, my dear M. Baisemeaux? What do you suppose would be thought of a bishop in my present costume?”

“Pray, excuse me, I had forgotten. Take this gentleman’s horse to the stables,” cried Baisemeaux.

“No, no,” said Aramis; “I have five thousand pistoles in the saddlebags.”

The governor’s countenance became so radiant, that if the prisoners had seen him they would have imagined some prince of the royal blood had arrived. “Yes, you are right, the horse shall be taken to the government house. Will you get into the carriage, my dear M. d’Herblay? and it shall take us back to my house.”

“Get into a carriage to cross a courtyard! do you believe I am so great an invalid? No, no, we will go on foot.”

Baisemeaux then offered his arm as a support, but the prelate did not accept it. They arrived in this manner at the government house, Baisemeaux rubbing his hands and glancing at the horse from time to time, while Aramis was looking at the bleak bare walls. A tolerably handsome vestibule and a staircase of white stone led to the governor’s apartments, who crossed the antechamber, the dining-room, where breakfast was being prepared, opened a small side door, and closeted himself with his guest in a large cabinet, the windows of which opened obliquely upon the courtyard and the stables. Baisemeaux installed the prelate with that all-inclusive politeness of which a good man, or a grateful man, alone possesses the secret. An armchair, a footstool, a small table beside him, on which to rest his hand, everything was prepared by the governor himself. With his own hands, too, he placed upon the table, with much solicitude, the bag containing the gold, which one of the soldiers had brought up with the most respectful devotion; and the soldier having left the room, Baisemeaux himself closed the door after him, drew aside one of the window-curtains, and looked steadfastly at Aramis to see if the prelate required anything further.

“Well, my lord,” he said, still standing up, “of all men of their word, you still continue to be the most punctual.”

“In matters of business, dear M. de Baisemeaux, exactitude is not a virtue only, it is a duty as well.”

“Yes, in matters of business, certainly; but what you have with me is not of that character; it is a service you are rendering me.”

“Come, confess, dear M. de Baisemeaux, that, notwithstanding this exactitude, you have not been without a little uneasiness.”

“About your health, I certainly have,” stammered out Baisemeaux.

“I wished to come here yesterday, but I was not able, as I was too fatigued,” continued Aramis. Baisemeaux anxiously slipped another cushion behind his guest’s back. “But,” continued Aramis, “I promised myself to come and pay you a visit today, early in the morning.”

“You are really very kind, my lord.”

“And it was a good thing for me I was punctual, I think.”

“What do you mean?”

“Yes, you were going out.” At which latter remark Baisemeaux colored and said, “It is true I was going out.”

“Then I prevent you,” said Aramis; whereupon the embarrassment of Baisemeaux became visibly greater. “I am putting you to inconvenience,” he continued, fixing a keen glace upon the poor governor; “if I had known that, I should not have come.”

“How can your lordship imagine that you could ever inconvenience me?”

“Confess you were going in search of money.”

“No,” stammered out Baisemeaux, “no! I assure you I was going to⁠—”

“Does the governor still intend to go to M. Fouquet?” suddenly called out the major from below. Baisemeaux ran to the window like a madman. “No, no,” he exclaimed in a state of desperation, “who the deuce is speaking of M. Fouquet? are you drunk below there? why am I interrupted when I am engaged on business?”

“You were going to M. Fouquet’s,” said Aramis, biting his lips, “to M. Fouquet, the abbé, or the superintendent?”

Baisemeaux almost made up his mind to tell an untruth, but he could not summon courage to do so. “To the superintendent,” he said.

“It is true, then, that you were in want of money, since you were going to a person who gives it away!”

“I assure you, my lord⁠—”

“You were afraid?”

“My dear lord, it was the uncertainty and ignorance in which I was as to where you were to be found.”

“You would have found the money you require at M. Fouquet’s, for he is a man whose hand is always open.”

“I swear that I should never have ventured to ask M. Fouquet for money. I only wished to ask him for your address.”

“To ask M. Fouquet for my address?” exclaimed Aramis, opening his eyes in real astonishment.

“Yes,” said Baisemeaux, greatly disturbed by the glance which the prelate fixed upon him⁠—“at M. Fouquet’s certainly.”

“There is no harm in that, dear M. Baisemeaux, only I would ask, why ask my address of M. Fouquet?”

“That I might write to you.”

“I understand,” said Aramis smiling, “but that is not what I meant; I do not ask you what you required my address for: I only ask why you should go to M. Fouquet for it?”

“Oh!” said Baisemeaux, “as Belle-Isle is the property of M. Fouquet, and as Belle-Isle is in the diocese of Vannes, and as you are bishop of Vannes⁠—”

“But, my dear Baisemeaux, since you knew I was bishop of Vannes, you had no occasion to ask M. Fouquet for my address.”

“Well, Monsieur,” said Baisemeaux, completely at bay, “if I have acted indiscreetly, I beg your pardon most sincerely.”

“Nonsense,” observed Aramis calmly: “how can you possibly have acted indiscreetly?” And while he composed his face, and continued to smile cheerfully on the governor, he was considering how Baisemeaux, who was not aware of his address, knew, however, that Vannes was his residence. I shall clear all this up, he said to himself; and then speaking aloud, added⁠—“Well, my dear governor shall we now arrange our little accounts?”

“I am at your orders, my lord; but tell me beforehand, my lord, whether you will do me the honor to breakfast with me as usual?”

“Very willingly, indeed.”

“That’s well,” said Baisemeaux, as he struck the bell before him three times.

“What does that mean?” inquired Aramis.

“That I have someone to breakfast with me, and that preparations are to be made accordingly.”

“And you rang thrice. Really, my dear governor, I begin to think you are acting ceremoniously with me.”

“No, indeed. Besides, the least I can do is to receive you in the best way I can.”

“But why so?”

“Because not even a prince could have done what you have done for me.”

“Nonsense! nonsense!”

“Nay, I assure you⁠—”

“Let us speak of other matters,” said Aramis. “Or rather, tell me how your affairs here are getting on.”

“Not over well.”

“The deuce!”

“M. de Mazarin was not hard enough.”

“Yes, I see; you require a government full of suspicion⁠—like that of the old cardinal, for instance.”

“Yes; matters went on better under him. The brother of his ‘gray eminence’ made his fortune here.”

“Believe me, my dear governor,” said Aramis, drawing closer to Baisemeaux, “a young king is well worth an old cardinal. Youth has its suspicions, its fits of anger, its prejudices, as old age has its hatreds, its precautions, and its fears. Have you paid your three years’ profits to Louvière and Tremblay?”

“Most certainly I have.”

“So that you have nothing more to give them than the fifty thousand francs I have brought with me?”

“Nothing.”

“Have you not saved anything, then?”

“My lord, in giving the fifty thousand francs of my own to these gentlemen, I assure you that I gave them everything I gain. I told M. d’Artagnan so yesterday evening.”

“Ah!” said Aramis, whose eyes sparkled for a moment, but became immediately afterwards as unmoved as before; “so you have been to see my old friend d’Artagnan; how was he?”

“Wonderfully well.”

“And what did you say to him, M. de Baisemeaux?”

“I told him,” continued the governor, not perceiving his own thoughtlessness; “I told him that I fed my prisoners too well.”

“How many have you?” inquired Aramis, in an indifferent tone of voice.

“Sixty.”

“Well, that is a tolerably round number.”

“In former times, my lord, there were, during certain years, as many as two hundred.”

“Still a minimum of sixty is not to be grumbled at.”

“Perhaps not; for, to anybody but myself, each prisoner would bring in two hundred and fifty pistoles; for instance, for a prince of the blood I have fifty francs a day.”

“Only you have no prince of the blood; at least, I suppose so,” said Aramis, with a slight tremor in his voice.

“No, thank heaven!⁠—I mean, no, unfortunately.”

“What do you mean by unfortunately?”

“Because my appointment would be improved by it. So fifty francs per day for a prince of the blood, thirty-six for a maréchal of France⁠—”

“But you have as many maréchals of France, I suppose, as you have princes of the blood?”

“Alas! no more. It is true lieutenant-generals and brigadiers pay twenty-six francs, and I have two of them. After that, come councilors of parliament, who bring me fifteen francs, and I have six of them.”

“I did not know,” said Aramis, “that councilors were so productive.”

“Yes; but from fifteen francs I sink at once to ten francs; namely, for an ordinary judge, and for an ecclesiastic.”

“And you have seven, you say; an excellent affair.”

“Nay, a bad one, and for this reason. How can I possibly treat these poor fellows, who are of some good, at all events, otherwise than as a councilor of parliament?”

“Yes, you are right; I do not see five francs difference between them.”

“You understand; if I have a fine fish, I pay four or five francs for it; if I get a fine fowl, it cost me a franc and a half. I fatten a good deal of poultry, but I have to buy grain, and you cannot imagine the army of rats that infest this place.”

“Why not get half a dozen cats to deal with them?”

“Cats, indeed; yes, they eat them, but I was obliged to give up the idea because of the way in which they treated my grain. I have been obliged to have some terrier dogs sent me from England to kill the rats. These dogs, unfortunately, have tremendous appetites; they eat as much as a prisoner of the fifth order, without taking into account the rabbits and fowls they kill.”

Was Aramis really listening or not? No one could have told; his downcast eyes showed the attentive man, but the restless hand betrayed the man absorbed in thought⁠—Aramis was meditating.

“I was saying,” continued Baisemeaux, “that a good-sized fowl costs me a franc and a half, and that a fine fish costs me four or five francs. Three meals are served at the Bastille, and, as the prisoners, having nothing to do, are always eating, a ten-franc man costs me seven francs and a half.”

“But did you not say that you treated those at ten francs like those at fifteen?”

“Yes, certainly.”

“Very well! Then you gain seven francs and a half upon those who pay you fifteen francs.”

“I must compensate myself somehow,” said Baisemeaux, who saw how he had been snapped up.

“You are quite right, my dear governor; but have you no prisoners below ten francs?”

“Oh, yes! we have citizens and barristers at five francs.”

“And do they eat, too?”

“Not a doubt about it; only you understand that they do not get fish or poultry, nor rich wines at every meal; but at all events thrice a week they have a good dish at their dinner.”

“Really, you are quite a philanthropist, my dear governor, and you will ruin yourself.”

“No; understand me; when the fifteen-franc has not eaten his fowl, or the ten-franc has left his dish unfinished, I send it to the five-franc prisoner; it is a feast for the poor devil, and one must be charitable, you know.”

“And what do you make out of your five-franc prisoners?”

“A franc and a half.”

“Baisemeaux, you’re an honest fellow; in honest truth I say so.”

“Thank you, my lord. But I feel most for the small tradesmen and bailiffs’ clerks, who are rated at three francs. They do not often see Rhine carp or Channel sturgeon.”

“But do not the five-franc gentlemen sometimes leave some scraps?”

“Oh! my lord, do not believe I am so stingy as that; I delight the heart of some poor little tradesman or clerk by sending him a wing of a red partridge, a slice of venison, or a slice of a truffled pasty, dishes which he never tasted except in his dreams; these are the leavings of the twenty-four-franc prisoners; and as he eats and drinks, at dessert he cries ‘Long live the King,’ and blesses the Bastille; with a couple bottles of champagne, which cost me five sous, I make him tipsy every Sunday. That class of people call down blessings upon me, and are sorry to leave the prison. Do you know that I have remarked, and it does me infinite honor, that certain prisoners, who have been set at liberty, have, almost immediately afterwards, got imprisoned again? Why should this be the case, unless it be to enjoy the pleasures of my kitchen? It is really the fact.”

Aramis smiled with an expression of incredulity.

“You smile,” said Baisemeaux.

“I do,” returned Aramis.

“I tell you that we have names which have been inscribed on our books thrice in the space of two years.”

“I must see it before I believe it,” said Aramis.

“Well, I can show it to you, although it is prohibited to communicate the registers to strangers; and if you really wish to see it with your own eyes⁠—”

“I should be delighted, I confess.”

“Very well,” said Baisemeaux, and he took out of a cupboard a large register. Aramis followed him most anxiously with his eyes, and Baisemeaux returned, placed the register upon the table, and turned over the leaves for a minute, and stayed at the letter M.

“Look here,” said he, “Martinier, January, 1659; Martinier, June, 1660; Martinier, March, 1661. Mazarinades, etc.; you understand it was only a pretext; people were not sent to the Bastille for jokes against M. Mazarin; the fellow denounced himself in order to get imprisoned here.”

“And what was his object?”

“None other than to return to my kitchen at three francs a day.”

“Three francs⁠—poor devil!”

“The poet, my lord, belongs to the lowest scale, the same style of board as the small tradesman and bailiff’s clerk; but I repeat, it is to those people that I give these little surprises.”

Aramis mechanically turned over the leaves of the register, continuing to read the names, but without appearing to take any interest in the names he read.

“In 1661, you perceive,” said Baisemeaux, “eighty entries; and in 1659, eighty also.”

“Ah!” said Aramis. “Seldon; I seem to know that name. Was it not you who spoke to me about a certain young man?”

“Yes, a poor devil of a student, who made⁠—What do you call that where two Latin verses rhyme together?”

“A distich.”

“Yes; that is it.”

“Poor fellow; for a distich.”

“Do you know that he made this distich against the Jesuits?”

“That makes no difference; the punishment seems very severe.”

“Do not pity him; last year you seemed to interest yourself in him.”

“Yes, I did so.”

“Well, as your interest is all-powerful here, my lord, I have treated him since that time as a prisoner at fifteen francs.”

“The same as this one, then,” said Aramis, who had continued turning over the leaves, and who had stopped at one of the names which followed Martinier.

“Yes, the same as that one.”

“Is that Marchiali an Italian?” said Aramis, pointing with his finger to the name which had attracted his attention.

“Hush!” said Baisemeaux.

“Why hush?” said Aramis, involuntarily clenching his white hand.

“I thought I had already spoken to you about that Marchiali.”

“No, it is the first time I ever heard his name pronounced.”

“That may be, but perhaps I have spoken to you about him without naming him.”

“Is he an old offender?” asked Aramis, attempting to smile.

“On the contrary, he is quite young.”

“Is his crime, then, very heinous?”

“Unpardonable.”

“Has he assassinated anyone?”

“Bah!”

“An incendiary, then?”

“Bah!”

“Has he slandered anyone?”

“No, no! It is he who⁠—” and Baisemeaux approached Aramis’s ear, making a sort of ear-trumpet of his hands, and whispered: “It is he who presumes to resemble the⁠—”

“Yes, yes,” said Aramis; “I now remember you already spoke about it last year to me; but the crime appeared to me so slight.”

“Slight, do you say?”

“Or rather, so involuntary.”

“My lord, it is not involuntarily that such a resemblance is detected.”

“Well, the fact is, I had forgotten it. But, my dear host,” said Aramis, closing the register, “if I am not mistaken, we are summoned.”

Baisemeaux took the register, hastily restored it to its place in the closet, which he locked, and put the key in his pocket. “Will it be agreeable to your lordship to breakfast now?” said he; “for you are right in supposing that breakfast was announced.”

“Assuredly, my dear governor,” and they passed into the dining-room.

CHAPTER 7

The Breakfast at Monsieur de Baisemeaux’s
Aramis was generally temperate; but on this occasion, while taking every care of his constitution, he did ample justice to Baisemeaux’s breakfast, which, in all respects, was most excellent. The latter on his side, was animated with the wildest gayety; the sight of the five thousand pistoles, which he glanced at from time to time, seemed to open his heart. Every now and then he looked at Aramis with an expression of the deepest gratitude; while the latter, leaning back in his chair, took a few sips of wine from his glass, with the air of a connoisseur. “Let me never hear any ill words against the fare of the Bastille,” said he, half closing his eyes; “happy are the prisoners who can get only half a bottle of such Burgundy every day.”

“All those at fifteen francs drink it,” said Baisemeaux. “It is very old Volnay.”

“Does that poor student, Seldon, drink such good wine?”

“Oh, no!”

“I thought I heard you say he was boarded at fifteen francs.”

“He! no, indeed; a man who makes districts⁠—distichs I mean⁠—at fifteen francs! No, no! it is his neighbor who is at fifteen francs.”

“Which neighbor?”

“The other, second Bertaudière.”

“Excuse me, my dear governor; but you speak a language which requires quite an apprenticeship to understand.”

“Very true,” said the governor. “Allow me to explain: second Bertaudière is the person who occupies the second floor of the tower of the Bertaudière.”

“So that Bertaudière is the name of one of the towers of the Bastille? The fact is, I think I recollect hearing that each tower has a name of its own. Whereabouts is the one you are speaking of?”

“Look,” said Baisemeaux, going to the window. “It is that tower to the left⁠—the second one.”

“Is the prisoner at fifteen francs there?”

“Yes.”

“Since when?”

“Seven or eight years, nearly.”

“What do you mean by nearly? Do you not know the dates more precisely?”

“It was not in my time, M. d’Herblay.”

“But I should have thought that Louvière or Tremblay would have told you.”

“The secrets of the Bastille are never handed over with the keys of the governorship.”

“Indeed! Then the cause of his imprisonment is a mystery⁠—a state secret.”

“Oh, no! I do not suppose it is a state secret, but a secret⁠—like everything that happens at the Bastille.”

“But,” said Aramis, “why do you speak more freely of Seldon than of second Bertaudière?”

“Because, in my opinion, the crime of the man who writes a distich is not so great as that of the man who resembles⁠—”

“Yes, yes; I understand you. Still, do not the turnkeys talk with your prisoners?”

“Of course.”

“The prisoners, I suppose, tell them they are not guilty?”

“They are always telling them that; it is a matter of course; the same song over and over again.”

“But does not the resemblance you were speaking about just now strike the turnkeys?”

“My dear M. d’Herblay, it is only for men attached to the court, as you are, to take trouble about such matters.”

“You’re right, you’re right, my dear M. Baisemeaux. Let me give you another taste of this Volnay.”

“Not a taste merely, a full glass; fill yours too.”

“Nay, nay! You are a musketeer still, to the very tips of your fingers, while I have become a bishop. A taste for me; a glass for yourself.”

“As you please.” And Aramis and the governor nodded to each other, as they drank their wine. “But,” said Aramis, looking with fixed attention at the ruby-colored wine he had raised to the level of his eyes, as if he wished to enjoy it with all his senses at the same moment, “but what you might call a resemblance, another would not, perhaps, take any notice of.”

“Most certainly he would, though, if it were anyone who knew the person he resembles.”

“I really think, dear M. Baisemeaux, that it can be nothing more than a resemblance of your own creation.”

“Upon my honor, it is not so.”

“Stay,” continued Aramis. “I have seen many persons very like the one we are speaking of; but, out of respect, no one ever said anything about it.”

“Very likely; because there is resemblance and resemblance. This is a striking one, and, if you were to see him, you would admit it to be so.”

“If I were to see him, indeed,” said Aramis, in an indifferent tone; “but in all probability I never shall.”

“Why not?”

“Because if I were even to put my foot inside one of those horrible dungeons, I should fancy I was buried there forever.”

“No, no; the cells are very good places to live in.”

“I really do not, and cannot believe it, and that is a fact.”

“Pray do not speak ill of second Bertaudière. It is really a good room, very nicely furnished and carpeted. The young fellow has by no means been unhappy there; the best lodging the Bastille affords has been his. There is a chance for you.”

“Nay, nay,” said Aramis, coldly; “you will never make me believe there are any good rooms in the Bastille; and, as for your carpets, they exist only in your imagination. I should find nothing but spiders, rats, and perhaps toads, too.”

“Toads?” cried Baisemeaux.

“Yes, in the dungeons.”

“Ah! I don’t say there are not toads in the dungeons,” replied Baisemeaux. “But⁠—will you be convinced by your own eyes?” he continued, with a sudden impulse.

“No, certainly not.”

“Not even to satisfy yourself of the resemblance which you deny, as you do the carpets?”

“Some spectral-looking person, a mere shadow; an unhappy, dying man.”

“Nothing of the kind⁠—as brisk and vigorous a young fellow as ever lived.”

“Melancholy and ill-tempered, then?”

“Not at all; very gay and lively.”

“Nonsense; you are joking.”

“Will you follow me?” said Baisemeaux.

“What for?”

“To go the round of the Bastille.”

“Why?”

“You will then see for yourself⁠—see with your own eyes.”

“But the regulations?”

“Never mind them. Today my major has leave of absence; the lieutenant is visiting the post on the bastions; we are sole masters of the situation.”

“No, no, my dear governor; why, the very idea of the sound of the bolts makes me shudder. You will only have to forget me in second or fourth Bertaudière, and then⁠—”

“You are refusing an opportunity that may never present itself again. Do you know that, to obtain the favor I propose to you gratis, some of the princes of the blood have offered me as much as fifty thousand francs.”

“Really! he must be worth seeing, then?”

“Forbidden fruit, my lord; forbidden fruit. You who belong to the church ought to know that.”

“Well, if I had any curiosity, it would be to see the poor author of the distich.”

“Very well, we will see him, too; but if I were at all curious, it would be about the beautiful carpeted room and its lodger.”

“Furniture is very commonplace; and a face with no expression in it offers little or no interest.”

“But a boarder at fifteen francs is always interesting.”

“By the by, I forgot to ask you about that. Why fifteen francs for him, and only three francs for poor Seldon?”

“The distinction made in that instance was a truly noble act, and one which displayed the king’s goodness of heart to great advantage.”

“The king’s, you say.”

“The cardinal’s, I mean. ‘This unhappy man,’ said M. Mazarin, ‘is destined to remain in prison forever.’ ”

“Why so?”

“Why, it seems that his crime is a lasting one; and, consequently, his punishment ought to be so, too.”

“Lasting?”

“No doubt of it, unless he is fortunate enough to catch the smallpox, and even that is difficult, for we never get any impure air here.”

“Nothing can be more ingenious than your train of reasoning, my dear M. Baisemeaux. Do you, however, mean to say that this unfortunate man must suffer without interruption or termination?”

“I did not say he was to suffer, my lord; a fifteen-franc boarder does not suffer.”

“He suffers imprisonment, at all events.”

“No doubt; there is no help for that, but this suffering is sweetened for him. You must admit that this young fellow was not born to eat all the good things he does eat; for instance, such things as we have on the table now; this pasty that has not been touched, these crawfish from the River Marne, of which we have hardly taken any, and which are almost as large as lobsters; all these things will at once be taken to second Bertaudière, with a bottle of that Volnay which you think so excellent. After you have seen it you will believe it, I hope.”

“Yes, my dear governor, certainly; but all this time you are thinking only of your very happy fifteen-franc prisoner, and you forget poor Seldon, my protégé.”

“Well, out of consideration for you, it shall be a gala day for him; he shall have some biscuits and preserves with this small bottle of port.”

“You are a good-hearted fellow; I have said so already, and I repeat it, my dear Baisemeaux.”

“Well, let us set off, then,” said the governor, a little bewildered, partly from the wine he had drunk, and partly from Aramis’s praises.

“Do not forget that I only go to oblige you,” said the prelate.

“Very well; but you will thank me when you get there.”

“Let us go, then.”

“Wait until I have summoned the jailer,” said Baisemeaux, as he struck the bell twice; at which summons a man appeared. “I am going to visit the towers,” said the governor. “No guards, no drums, no noise at all.”

“If I were not to leave my cloak here,” said Aramis, pretending to be alarmed, “I should really think I was going to prison on my own account.”

The jailer preceded the governor, Aramis walking on his right hand; some of the soldiers who happened to be in the courtyard drew themselves up in a line, as stiff as posts, as the governor passed along. Baisemeaux led the way down several steps which conducted to a sort of esplanade; thence they arrived at the drawbridge, where the sentinels on duty received the governor with the proper honors. The governor turned toward Aramis, and, speaking in such a tone that the sentinels could not lose a word, he observed⁠—“I hope you have a good memory, Monsieur?”

“Why?” inquired Aramis.

“On account of your plans and your measurements, for you know that no one is allowed, not architects even, to enter where the prisoners are, with paper, pens or pencil.”

Good, said Aramis to himself, it seems I am an architect, then. It sounds like one of d’Artagnan’s jokes, who perceived in me the engineer of Belle-Isle. Then he added aloud: “Be easy on that score, Monsieur; in our profession, a mere glance and a good memory are quite sufficient.”

Baisemeaux did not change countenance, and the soldiers took Aramis for what he seemed to be. “Very well; we will first visit la Bertaudière,” said Baisemeaux, still intending the sentinels to hear him. Then, turning to the jailer, he added: “You will take the opportunity of carrying to No. 2 the few dainties I pointed out.”

“Dear M. de Baisemeaux,” said Aramis, “you are always forgetting No. 3.”

“So I am,” said the governor; and upon that, they began to ascend. The number of bolts, gratings, and locks for this single courtyard would have sufficed for the safety of an entire city. Aramis was neither an imaginative nor a sensitive man; he had been somewhat of a poet in his youth, but his heart was hard and indifferent, as the heart of every man of fifty-five years of age is, who has been frequently and passionately attached to women in his lifetime, or rather who has been passionately loved by them. But when he placed his foot upon the worn stone steps, along which so many unhappy wretches had passed, when he felt himself impregnated, as it were, with the atmosphere of those gloomy dungeons, moistened with tears, there could be but little doubt he was overcome by his feelings, for his head was bowed and his eyes became dim, as he followed Baisemeaux without a syllable.

CHAPTER 8

The Second Floor of La Bertaudière
On the second flight of stairs, whether from fatigue or emotion, the breathing of the visitor began to fail him, and he leaned against the wall. “Will you begin with this one?” said Baisemeaux; “for since we are going to both, it matters very little whether we ascend from the second to the third story, or descend from the third to the second.”

“No, no,” exclaimed Aramis, eagerly, “higher, if you please; the one above is the more urgent.” They continued their ascent. “Ask the jailer for the keys,” whispered Aramis. Baisemeaux did so, took the keys, and, himself, opened the door of the third room. The jailer was the first to enter; he placed upon the table the provisions, which the kindhearted governor called dainties, and then left the room. The prisoner had not stirred; Baisemeaux then entered, while Aramis remained at the threshold, from which place he saw a youth about eighteen years of age, who, raising his head at the unusual noise, jumped off the bed, as he perceived the governor, and clasping his hands together, began to cry out, “My mother, my mother,” in tones which betrayed such deep distress that Aramis, despite his command over himself, felt a shudder pass through his frame. “My dear boy,” said Baisemeaux, endeavoring to smile, “I have brought you a diversion and an extra⁠—the one for the mind, the other for the body; this gentleman has come to take your measure, and here are some preserves for your dessert.”

“Oh, Monsieur!” exclaimed the young man, “keep me in solitude for a year, let me have nothing but bread and water for a year, but tell me that at the end of a year I shall leave this place, tell me that at the end of a year I shall see my mother again.”

“But I have heard you say that your mother was very poor, and that you were very badly lodged when you were living with her, while here⁠—upon my word!”

“If she were poor, Monsieur, the greater reason to restore her only means of support to her. Badly lodged with her! Oh, Monsieur, everyone is always well lodged when he is free.”

“At all events, since you yourself admit you have done nothing but write that unhappy distich⁠—”

“But without any intention, I swear. Let me be punished⁠—cut off the hand which wrote it, I will work with the other⁠—but restore my mother to me.”

“My boy,” said Baisemeaux, “you know very well that it does not depend upon me; all I can do for you is to increase your rations, give you a glass of port wine now and then, slip in a biscuit for you between a couple of plates.”

“Great heaven!” exclaimed the young man, falling backward and rolling on the ground.

Aramis, unable to bear this scene any longer, withdrew as far as the landing. “Unhappy, wretched man,” he murmured.

“Yes, Monsieur, he is indeed very wretched,” said the jailer; “but it is his parents’ fault.”

“In what way?”

“No doubt. Why did they let him learn Latin? Too much knowledge, you see; it is that which does harm. Now I, for instance, can’t read or write, and therefore I am not in prison.” Aramis looked at the man, who seemed to think that being a jailer in the Bastille was not being in prison. As for Baisemeaux, noticing the little effect produced by his advice and his port wine, he left the dungeon quite upset. “You have forgotten to close the door,” said the jailer.

“So I have,” said Baisemeaux; “there are the keys, do you do it.”

“I will solicit the pardon of that poor boy,” said Aramis.

“And if you do not succeed,” said Baisemeaux, “at least beg that he may be transferred to the ten-franc list, by which both he and I shall be gainers.”

“If the other prisoner calls out for his mother in a similar manner,” said Aramis, “I prefer not to enter at all, but will take my measure from outside.”

“No fear of that, Monsieur architect, the one we are now going to see is as gentle as a lamb; before he could call after his mother he must open his lips, and he never says a word.”

“Let us go in, then,” said Aramis, gloomily.

“Are you the architect of the prisons, Monsieur?” said the jailer.

“I am.”

“It is odd, then, that you are not more accustomed to all this.”

Aramis perceived that, to avoid giving rise to any suspicions, he must summon all his strength of mind to his assistance. Baisemeaux, who carried the keys, opened the door. “Stay outside,” he said to the jailer, “and wait for us at the bottom of the steps.” The jailer obeyed and withdrew.

Baisemeaux entered first, and opened the second door himself. By the light which filtered through the iron-barred window, could be seen a handsome young man, short in stature, with closely cut hair, and a beard beginning to grow; he was sitting on a stool, his elbow resting on an armchair, and with all the upper part of his body reclining against it. His dress, thrown upon the bed, was of rich black velvet, and he inhaled the fresh air which blew in upon his breast through a shirt of the very finest cambric. As the governor entered, the young man turned his head with a look full of indifference; and on recognizing Baisemeaux, he arose and saluted him courteously. But when his eyes fell upon Aramis, who remained in the background, the latter trembled, turned pale, and his hat, which he held in his hand, fell upon the ground, as if all his muscles had become relaxed at once. Baisemeaux, habituated to the presence of his prisoner, did not seem to share any of the sensations which Aramis experienced, but, with all the zeal of a good servant, he busied himself in arranging on the table the pasty and crawfish he had brought with him. Occupied in this manner, he did not remark how disturbed his guest had become. When he had finished, however, he turned to the young prisoner and said: “You are looking very well⁠—are you so?”

“Quite well, I thank you, Monsieur,” replied the young man.

The effect of the voice was such as almost to overpower Aramis, and notwithstanding his control over himself, he advanced a few steps towards him, with his eyes wide open and his lips trembling. The movement he made was so marked that Baisemeaux, notwithstanding his preoccupation, observed it. “This gentleman is an architect who has come to examine your chimney,” said Baisemeaux; “does it smoke?”

“Never, Monsieur.”

“You were saying just now,” said the governor, rubbing his hands together, “that it was not possible for a man to be happy in prison; here, however, is one who is so. You have nothing to complain of, I hope?”

“Nothing.”

“Do you ever feel weary?” said Aramis.

“Never.”

“Ha, ha,” said Baisemeaux, in a low tone of voice; “was I right?”

“Well, my dear governor, it is impossible not to yield to evidence. Is it allowed to put any question to him?”

“As many as you like.”

“Very well; be good enough to ask him if he knows why he is here.”

“This gentleman requests me to ask you,” said Baisemeaux, “if you are aware of the cause of your imprisonment?”

“No, Monsieur,” said the young man, unaffectedly, “I am not.”

“That is hardly possible,” said Aramis, carried away by his feelings in spite of himself; “if you were really ignorant of the cause of your detention, you would be furious.”

“I was so during the early days of my imprisonment.”

“Why are you not so now?”

“Because I have reflected.”

“That is strange,” said Aramis.

“Is it not odd?” said Baisemeaux.

“May one venture to ask you, Monsieur, on what you have reflected?”

“I felt that as I had committed no crime, Heaven could not punish me.”

“What is a prison, then,” inquired Aramis, “if it be not a punishment.”

“Alas! I cannot tell,” said the young man; “all that I can tell you now is the very opposite of what I felt seven years ago.”

“To hear you converse, to witness your resignation, one might almost believe that you liked your imprisonment?”

“I endure it.”

“In the certainty of recovering your freedom some day, I suppose?”

“I have no certainty; hope, I have, and that is all; and yet I acknowledge that this hope becomes less every day.”

“Still, why should you not again be free, since you have already been so?”

“That is precisely the reason,” replied the young man, “which prevents me from expecting liberty; why should I have been imprisoned at all if it had been intended to release me afterwards?”

“How old are you?”

“I do not know.”

“What is your name?”

“I have forgotten the name by which I was called.”

“Who are your parents?”

“I never knew them.”

“But those who brought you up?”

“They did not call me their son.”

“Did you ever love anyone before coming here?”

“I loved my nurse, and my flowers.”

“Was that all?”

“I also loved my valet.”

“Do you regret your nurse and your valet?”

“I wept very much when they died.”

“Did they die since you have been here, or before you came?”

“They died the evening before I was carried off.”

“Both at the same time?”

“Yes, both at the same time.”

“In what manner were you carried off?”

“A man came for me, directed me to get into a carriage, which was closed and locked, and brought me here.”

“Would you be able to recognize that man again?”

“He was masked.”

“Is this not an extraordinary tale?” said Baisemeaux, in a low tone of voice, to Aramis, who could hardly breathe.

“It is indeed extraordinary,” he murmured.

“But what is still more extraordinary is, that he has never told me so much as he has just told you.”

“Perhaps the reason may be that you have never questioned him,” said Aramis.

“It’s possible,” replied Baisemeaux; “I have no curiosity. Have you looked at the room? it’s a fine one, is it not?”

“Very much so.”

“A carpet⁠—”

“Beautiful.”

“I’ll wager he had nothing like it before he came here.”

“I think so, too.” And then again turning towards the young man, he said, “Do you not remember to have been visited at some time or another by a strange lady or gentleman?”

“Yes, indeed; thrice by a woman, who each time came to the door in a carriage, and entered covered with a veil, which she raised when we were together and alone.”

“Do you remember that woman?”

“Yes.”

“What did she say to you?”

The young man smiled mournfully, and then replied, “She inquired, as you have just done, if I were happy, and if I were getting weary.”

“What did she do on arriving, and on leaving you?”

“She pressed me in her arms, held me in her embrace, and kissed me.”

“Do you remember her?”

“Perfectly.”

“Do you recall her features distinctly?”

“Yes.”

“You would recognize her, then, if accident brought her before you, or led you into her presence?”

“Most certainly.”

A flush of fleeting satisfaction passed across Aramis’s face. At this moment Baisemeaux heard the jailer approaching. “Shall we leave?” he said, hastily, to Aramis.

Aramis, who probably had learnt all that he cared to know, replied, “When you like.”

The young man saw them prepare to leave, and saluted them politely. Baisemeaux replied merely by a nod of the head, while Aramis, with a respect, arising perhaps from the sight of such misfortune, saluted the prisoner profoundly. They left the room, Baisemeaux closing the door behind them.

“Well,” said Baisemeaux, as they descended the staircase, “what do you think of it all?”

“I have discovered the secret, my dear governor,” he said.

“Bah! what is the secret, then?”

“A murder was committed in that house.”

“Nonsense.”

“But attend; the valet and nurse died the same day.”

“Well.”

“And by poison. What do you think?”

“That is very likely to be true.”

“What! that that young man is an assassin?”

“Who said that? What makes you think that poor young fellow could be an assassin?”

“The very thing I was saying. A crime was committed in his house,” said Aramis, “and that was quite sufficient; perhaps he saw the criminals, and it was feared that he might say something.”

“The deuce! if I only thought that⁠—”

“Well?”

“I would redouble the surveillance.”

“Oh, he does not seem to wish to escape.”

“You do not know what prisoners are.”

“Has he any books?”

“None; they are strictly prohibited, and under M. de Mazarin’s own hand.”

“Have you the writing still?”

“Yes, my lord; would you like to look at it as you return to take your cloak?”

“I should, for I like to look at autographs.”

“Well, then, this one is of the most unquestionable authenticity; there is only one erasure.”

“Ah, ah! an erasure; and in what respect?”

“With respect to a figure. At first there was written: ‘To be boarded at fifty francs.’ ”

“As princes of the blood, in fact?”

“But the cardinal must have seen his mistake, you understand; for he canceled the zero, and has added a one before the five. But, by the by⁠—”

“What?”

“You do not speak of the resemblance.”

“I do not speak of it, dear M. de Baisemeaux, for a very simple reason⁠—because it does not exist.”

“The deuce it doesn’t.”

“Or, if it does exist, it is only in your own imagination; but, supposing it were to exist elsewhere, I think it would be better for you not to speak of about it.”

“Really.”

“The king, Louis XIV⁠—you understand⁠—would be excessively angry with you, if he were to learn that you contributed in any way to spread the report that one of his subjects has the effrontery to resemble him.”

“It is true, quite true,” said Baisemeaux, thoroughly alarmed; “but I have not spoken of the circumstance to anyone but yourself, and you understand, Monseigneur, that I perfectly rely on your discretion.”

“Oh, be easy.”

“Do you still wish to see the note?”

“Certainly.”

While engaged in this manner in conversation, they had returned to the governor’s apartments; Baisemeaux took from the cupboard a private register, like the one he had already shown Aramis, but fastened by a lock, the key which opened it being one of a small bunch which Baisemeaux always carried with him. Then placing the book upon the table, he opened it at the letter M, and showed Aramis the following note in the column of observations:

“No books at any time; all linen and clothes of the finest and best quality to be procured; no exercise; always the same jailer; no communications with anyone. Musical instruments; every liberty and every indulgence which his welfare may require; to be boarded at fifteen francs. M. de Baisemeaux can claim more if the fifteen francs be not sufficient.”

“Ah,” said Baisemeaux, “now I think of it, I shall claim it.”

Aramis shut the book. “Yes,” he said, “it is indeed M. de Mazarin’s handwriting; I recognize it well. Now, my dear governor,” he continued, as if this last communication had exhausted his interest, “let us now turn over to our own little affairs.”

“Well, what time for repayment do you wish me to take? Fix it yourself.”

“There need not be any particular period fixed; give me a simple acknowledgement for one hundred and fifty thousand francs.”

“When to be made payable?”

“When I require it; but, you understand, I shall only wish it when you yourself do.”

“Oh, I am quite easy on that score,” said Baisemeaux, smiling; “but I have already given you two receipts.”

“Which I now destroy,” said Aramis; and after having shown the two receipts to Baisemeaux, he destroyed them. Overcome by so great a mark of confidence, Baisemeaux unhesitatingly wrote out an acknowledgement of a debt of one hundred and fifty thousand francs, payable at the pleasure of the prelate. Aramis, who had, by glancing over the governor’s shoulder, followed the pen as he wrote, put the acknowledgement into his pocket without seeming to have read it, which made Baisemeaux perfectly easy. “Now,” said Aramis, “you will not be angry with me if I were to carry off one of your prisoners?”

“What do you mean?”

“By obtaining his pardon, of course. Have I not already told you that I took a great interest in poor Seldon?”

“Yes, quite true, you did so.”

“Well?”

“That is your affair; do as you think proper. I see you have an open hand, and an arm that can reach a great way.”

“Adieu, adieu.” And Aramis left, carrying with him the governor’s best wishes.

CHAPTER 9

The Two Friends
At the very time M. de Baisemeaux was showing Aramis the prisoners in the Bastille, a carriage drew up at Madame de Bellière’s door, and, at that still early hour, a young woman alighted, her head muffled in a silk hood. When the servants announced Madame Vanel to Madame de Bellière, the latter was engaged, or rather was absorbed, in reading a letter, which she hurriedly concealed. She had hardly finished her morning toilette, her maid being still in the next room. At the name⁠—at the footsteps of Marguerite Vanel, Madame de Bellière ran to meet her. She fancied she could detect in her friend’s eyes a brightness which was neither that of health nor of pleasure. Marguerite embraced her, pressed her hands, and hardly allowed her time to speak. “Dearest,” she said, “have you forgotten me? Have you quite given yourself up to the pleasures of the court?”

“I have not even seen the marriage fêtes.”

“What are you doing with yourself, then?”

“I am getting ready to leave for Bellière.”

“For Bellière?”

“Yes.”

“You are becoming rustic in your tastes, then; I delight to see you so disposed. But you are pale.”

“No, I am perfectly well.”

“So much the better; I was becoming uneasy about you. You do not know what I have been told.”

“People say so many things.”

“Yes, but this is very singular.”

“How well you know how to excite curiosity, Marguerite.”

“Well, I was afraid of vexing you.”

“Never; you have yourself always admired me for my evenness of temper.”

“Well, then, it is said that⁠—no, I shall never be able to tell you.”

“Do not let us talk about it, then,” said Madame de Bellière, who detected the ill-nature that was concealed by all these prefaces, yet felt the most anxious curiosity on the subject.

“Well, then, my dear marquise, it is said, for some time past, you no longer continue to regret Monsieur de Bellière as you used to.”

“It is an ill-natured report, Marguerite. I do regret, and shall always regret, my husband; but it is now two years since he died. I am only twenty-eight years old, and my grief at his loss ought not always to control every action and thought of my life. You, Marguerite, who are the model of a wife, would not believe me if I were to say so.”

“Why not? Your heart is so soft and yielding,” she said, spitefully.

“Yours is so, too, Marguerite, and yet I did not perceive that you allowed yourself to be overcome by grief when your heart was wounded.” These words were in direct allusion to Marguerite’s rupture with the superintendent, and were also a veiled but direct reproach made against her friend’s heart.

As if she only awaited this signal to discharge her shaft, Marguerite exclaimed, “Well, Elise, it is said you are in love.” And she looked fixedly at Madame de Bellière, who blushed against her will.

“Women can never escape slander,” replied the marquise, after a moment’s pause.

“No one slanders you, Elise.”

“What!⁠—people say that I am in love, and yet they do not slander me!”

“In the first place, if it be true, it is no slander, but simply a scandal-loving report. In the next place⁠—for you did not allow me to finish what I was saying⁠—the public does not assert that you have abandoned yourself to this passion. It represents you, on the contrary, as a virtuous but loving woman, defending yourself with claws and teeth, shutting yourself up in your own house as in a fortress; in other respects, as impenetrable as that of Danaë, notwithstanding Danaë’s tower was made of brass.”

“You are witty, Marguerite,” said Madame de Bellière, angrily.

“You always flatter me, Elise. In short, however, you are reported to be incorruptible and unapproachable. You cannot decide whether the world is calumniating you or not; but what is it you are musing about while I am speaking to you?”

“I?”

“Yes; you are blushing and do not answer me.”

“I was trying,” said the marquise, raising her beautiful eyes brightened with an indication of growing temper, “I was trying to discover to what you could possibly have alluded, you who are so learned in mythological subjects, in comparing me to Danaë.”

“You were trying to guess that?” said Marguerite, laughing.

“Yes; do you not remember that at the convent, when we were solving our problems in arithmetic⁠—ah! what I have to tell you is learned also, but it is my turn⁠—do you not remember, that if one of the terms were given, we were to find the other? Therefore do you guess now?”

“I cannot conjecture what you mean.”

“And yet nothing is more simple. You pretend that I am in love, do you not?”

“So it is said.”

“Very well; it is not said, I suppose, that I am in love with an abstraction. There must surely be a name mentioned in this report.”

“Certainly, a name is mentioned.”

“Very well; it is not surprising, then, that I should try to guess this name, since you do not tell it.”

“My dear marquise, when I saw you blush, I did not think you would have to spend much time in conjectures.”

“It was the word Danaë which you used that surprised me. Danaë means a shower of gold, does it not?”

“That is to say that the Jupiter of Danaë changed himself into a shower of gold for her.”

“My lover, then, he whom you assign me⁠—”

“I beg your pardon; I am your friend, and assign you no one.”

“That may be; but those who are ill disposed towards me.”

“Do you wish to hear the name?”

“I have been waiting this half hour for it.”

“Well, then, you shall hear it. Do not be shocked; he is a man high in power.”

“Good,” said the marquise, as she clenched her hands like a patient at the approach of the knife.

“He is a very wealthy man,” continued Marguerite; “the wealthiest, it may be. In a word, it is⁠—”

The marquise closed her eyes for a moment.

“It is the Duke of Buckingham,” said Marguerite, bursting into laughter. This perfidy had been calculated with extreme ability; the name that was pronounced, instead of the name which the marquise awaited, had precisely the same effect upon her as the badly sharpened axes, that had hacked, without destroying, Messieurs de Chalais and de Thou upon the scaffold. She recovered herself, however, and said, “I was perfectly right in saying you were a witty woman, for you are making the time pass away most agreeably. This joke is a most amusing one, for I have never seen the Duke of Buckingham.”

“Never?” said Marguerite, restraining her laughter.

“I have never even left my own house since the duke has been at Paris.”

“Oh!” resumed Madame Vanel, stretching out her foot towards a paper which was lying on the carpet near the window; “it is not necessary for people to see each other, since they can write.” The marquise trembled, for this paper was the envelope of the letter she was reading as her friend had entered, and was sealed with the superintendent’s arms. As she leaned back on the sofa on which she was sitting, Madame de Bellière covered the paper with the thick folds of her large silk dress, and so concealed it.

“Come, Marguerite, tell me, is it to tell me all these foolish reports that you have come to see me so early in the day?”

“No; I came to see you in the first place, and to remind you of those habits of our earlier days, so delightful to remember, when we used to wander about together at Vincennes, and, sitting beneath an oak, or in some sylvan shade, used to talk of those we loved, and who loved us.”

“Do you propose that we should go out together now?”

“My carriage is here, and I have three hours at my disposal.”

“I am not dressed yet, Marguerite; but if you wish that we should talk together, we can, without going to the woods of Vincennes, find in my own garden here, beautiful trees, shady groves, a green sward covered with daisies and violets, the perfume of which can be perceived from where we are sitting.”

“I regret your refusal, my dear marquise, for I wanted to pour out my whole heart into yours.”

“I repeat again, Marguerite, my heart is yours just as much in this room, or beneath the lime-trees in the garden here, as it would be under the oaks in the woods yonder.”

“It is not the same thing for me. In approaching Vincennes, marquise, my ardent aspirations approach nearer to that object towards which they have for some days past been directed.” The marquise suddenly raised her head. “Are you surprised, then, that I am still thinking of Saint-Mandé?”

“Of Saint-Mandé?” exclaimed Madame de Bellière; and the looks of both women met each other like two resistless swords.

“You, so proud!” said the marquise, disdainfully.

“I, so proud!” replied Madame Vanel. “Such is my nature. I do not forgive neglect⁠—I cannot endure infidelity. When I leave anyone who weeps at my abandonment, I feel induced still to love him; but when others forsake me and laugh at their infidelity, I love distractedly.”

Madame de Bellière could not restrain an involuntary movement.

She is jealous, said Marguerite to herself. “Then,” continued the marquise, “you are quite enamored of the Duke of Buckingham⁠—I mean of M. Fouquet?” Elise felt the allusion, and her blood seemed to congeal in her heart. “And you wished to go to Vincennes⁠—to Saint-Mandé, even?”

“I hardly know what I wished: you would have advised me perhaps.”

“In what respect?”

“You have often done so.”

“Most certainly I should not have done so in the present instance, for I do not forgive as you do. I am less loving, perhaps; when my heart has been once wounded, it remains so always.”

“But M. Fouquet has not wounded you,” said Marguerite Vanel, with the most perfect simplicity.

“You perfectly understand what I mean. M. Fouquet has not wounded me; I do not know of either obligation or injury received at his hands, but you have reason to complain of him. You are my friend, and I am afraid I should not advise you as you would like.”

“Ah! you are prejudging the case.”

“The sighs you spoke of just now are more than indications.”

“You overwhelm me,” said the young woman suddenly, as if collecting her whole strength, like a wrestler preparing for a last struggle; “you take only my evil dispositions and my weaknesses into calculation, and do not speak of my pure and generous feelings. If, at this moment, I feel instinctively attracted towards the superintendent, if I even make an advance to him, which, I confess, is very probable, my motive for it is, that M. Fouquet’s fate deeply affects me, and because he is, in my opinion, one of the most unfortunate men living.”

“Ah!” said the marquise, placing her hand upon her heart, “something new, then, has occurred?”

“Do you not know it?”

“I am utterly ignorant of everything about him,” said Madame de Bellière, with the poignant anguish that suspends thought and speech, and even life itself.

“In the first place, then, the king’s favor is entirely withdrawn from M. Fouquet, and conferred on M. Colbert.”

“So it is stated.”

“It is very clear, since the discovery of the plot of Belle-Isle.”

“I was told that the discovery of the fortifications there had turned out to M. Fouquet’s honor.”

Marguerite began to laugh in so cruel a manner that Madame de Bellière could at that moment have delightedly plunged a dagger in her bosom. “Dearest,” continued Marguerite, “there is no longer any question of M. Fouquet’s honor; his safety is concerned. Before three days are passed the ruin of the superintendent will be complete.”

“Stay,” said the marquise, in her turn smiling, “that is going a little fast.”

“I said three days, because I wish to deceive myself with a hope; but probably the catastrophe will be complete within twenty-four hours.”

“Why so?”

“For the simplest of all reasons⁠—that M. Fouquet has no more money.”

“In matters of finance, my dear Marguerite, some are without money today, who tomorrow can procure millions.”

“That might be M. Fouquet’s case when he had two wealthy and clever friends who amassed money for him, and wrung it from every possible or impossible source; but those friends are dead.”

“Money does not die, Marguerite; it may be concealed, but it can be looked for, bought and found.”

“You see things on the bright side, and so much the better for you. It is really very unfortunate that you are not the Egeria of M. Fouquet; you might now show him the source whence he could obtain the millions which the king asked him for yesterday.”

“Millions!” said the marquise, in terror.

“Four⁠—an even number.”

“Infamous!” murmured Madame de Bellière, tortured by her friend’s merciless delight.

“M. Fouquet, I should think, must certainly have four millions,” she replied, courageously.

“If he has those which the king requires today,” said Marguerite, “he will not, perhaps, possess those which the king will demand in a month or so.”

“The king will exact money from him again, then?”

“No doubt; and that is my reason for saying that the ruin of poor M. Fouquet is inevitable. Pride will induce him to furnish the money, and when he has no more, he will fall.”

“It is true,” said the marquise, trembling; “the plan is a bold one; but tell me, does M. Colbert hate M. Fouquet so very much?”

“I think he does not like him. M. Colbert is powerful; he improves on close acquaintance; he has gigantic ideas, a strong will, and discretion; he will rise.”

“He will be superintendent?”

“It is probable. Such is the reason, my dear marquise, why I felt myself impressed in favor of that poor man, who once loved, and even adored me; and why, when I see him so unfortunate, I forgive his infidelity, which I have reason to believe he also regrets; and why, moreover, I should not have been disinclined to afford him some consolation, or some good advice; he would have understood the step I had taken, and would have thought kindly of me for it. It is gratifying to be loved, you know. Men value love more highly when they are no longer blinded by its influence.”

The marquise, bewildered and overcome by these cruel attacks, which had been calculated with the greatest nicety and precision, hardly knew what to answer in return; she even seemed to have lost all power of thought. Her perfidious friend’s voice had assumed the most affectionate tone; she spoke as a woman, but concealed the instincts of a wolf.

“Well,” said Madame de Bellière, who had a vague hope that Marguerite would cease to overwhelm a vanquished enemy, “why do you not go and see M. Fouquet?”

“Decidedly, marquise, you have made me reflect. No, it would be unbecoming for me to make the first advance. M. Fouquet no doubt loves me, but he is too proud. I cannot expose myself to an affront⁠ ⁠… besides, I have my husband to consider. You tell me nothing? Very well, I shall consult M. Colbert on the subject.” Marguerite rose smilingly, as though to take leave, but the marquise had not the strength to imitate her. Marguerite advanced a few paces, in order that she might continue to enjoy the humiliating grief in which her rival was plunged, and then said, suddenly⁠—“You do not accompany me to the door, then?” The marquise rose, pale and almost lifeless, without thinking of the envelope, which had occupied her attention so greatly at the commencement of the conversation, and which was revealed at the first step she took. She then opened the door of her oratory, and without even turning her head towards Marguerite Vanel, entered it, closing the door after her. Marguerite said, or rather muttered a few words, which Madame de Bellière did not even hear. As soon, however, as the marquise had disappeared, her envious enemy, not being able to resist the desire to satisfy herself that her suspicions were well founded, advanced stealthily like a panther, and seized the envelope. “Ah!” she said, gnashing her teeth, “it was indeed a letter from M. Fouquet she was reading when I arrived,” and then darted out of the room. During this interval, the marquise, having arrived behind the rampart, as it were, of her door, felt that her strength was failing her; for a moment she remained rigid, pale and motionless as a statue, and then, like a statue shaken on its base by an earthquake, tottered and fell inanimate on the carpet. The noise of the fall resounded at the same moment as the rolling of Marguerite’s carriage leaving the hotel.

CHAPTER 10

Madame de Bellière’s Plate
The blow had been the more painful on account of its being unexpected. It was some time before the marquise recovered herself; but once recovered, she began to reflect upon the events so heartlessly announced to her. She therefore returned, at the risk even of losing her life in the way, to that train of ideas which her relentless friend had forced her to pursue. Treason, then⁠—deep menaces concealed under the semblance of public interest⁠—such were Colbert’s maneuvers. A detestable delight at an approaching downfall, untiring efforts to attain this object, means of seduction no less wicked than the crime itself⁠—such were the weapons Marguerite employed. The crooked atoms of Descartes triumphed; to the man without compassion was united a woman without heart. The marquise perceived, with sorrow rather than indignation, that the king was an accomplice in the plot which betrayed the duplicity of Louis XIII in his advanced age, and the avarice of Mazarin at a period of life when he had not had the opportunity of gorging himself with French gold. The spirit of this courageous woman soon resumed its energy, no longer overwhelmed by indulgence in compassionate lamentations. The marquise was not one to weep when action was necessary, nor to waste time in bewailing a misfortune as long as means still existed of relieving it. For some minutes she buried her face in her cold fingers, and then, raising her head, rang for her attendants with a steady hand, and with a gesture betraying a fixed determination of purpose. Her resolution was taken.

“Is everything prepared for my departure?” she inquired of one of her female attendants who entered.

“Yes, Madame; but it was not expected that your ladyship would leave for Bellière for the next few days.”

“All my jewels and articles of value, then, are packed up?”

“Yes, Madame; but hitherto we have been in the habit of leaving them in Paris. Your ladyship does not generally take your jewels with you into the country.”

“But they are all in order, you say?”

“Yes, in your ladyship’s own room.”

“The gold plate?”

“In the chest.”

“And the silver plate?”

“In the great oak closet.”

The marquise remained silent for a few moments, and then said calmly, “Let my goldsmith be sent for.”

Her attendants quitted the room to execute the order. The marquise, however, had entered her own room, and was inspecting her casket of jewels with the greatest attention. Never, until now, had she bestowed such close attention upon riches in which women take so much pride; never, until now, had she looked at her jewels, except for the purpose of making a selection according to their settings or their colors. On this occasion, however, she admired the size of the rubies and the brilliancy of the diamonds; she grieved over every blemish and every defect; she thought the gold light, and the stones wretched. The goldsmith, as he entered, found her thus occupied. “M. Faucheux,” she said, “I believe you supplied me with my gold service?”

“I did, your ladyship.”

“I do not now remember the amount of the account.”

“Of the new service, Madame, or of that which M. de Bellière presented to you on your marriage? for I have furnished both.”

“First of all, the new one.”

“The covers, the goblets, and the dishes, with their covers, the eau-epergne, the ice-pails, the dishes for the preserves, and the tea and coffee urns, cost your ladyship sixty thousand francs.”

“No more?”

“Your ladyship thought the account very high.”

“Yes, yes; I remember, in fact, that it was dear; but it was the workmanship, I suppose?”

“Yes, Madame; the designs, the chasings⁠—all new patterns.”

“What proportion of the cost does the workmanship form? Do not hesitate to tell me.”

“A third of its value, Madame.”

“There is the other service, the old one, that which belonged to my husband?”

“Yes, Madame; there is less workmanship in that than in the other. Its intrinsic value does not exceed thirty thousand francs.”

“Thirty thousand,” murmured the marquise. “But, M. Faucheux, there is also the service which belonged to my mother; all that massive plate which I did not wish to part with, on account of the associations connected with it.”

“Ah! Madame, that would indeed be an excellent resource for those who, unlike your ladyship, might not be in position to keep their plate. In chasing that they worked in solid metal. But that service is no longer in fashion. Its weight is its only advantage.”

“That is all I care about. How much does it weigh?”

“Fifty thousand livres at the very least. I do not allude to the enormous vases for the buffet, which alone weigh five thousand livres, or ten thousand the pair.”

“One hundred and thirty,” murmured the marquise. “You are quite sure of your figures, M. Faucheux?”

“Positive, Madame. Besides, there is no difficulty in weighing them.”

“The amount is entered in my books.”

“Your ladyship is extremely methodical, I am aware.”

“Let us now turn to another subject,” said Madame de Bellière; and she opened one of her jewel-boxes.

“I recognize these emeralds,” said M. Faucheux; “for it was I who had the setting of them. They are the most beautiful in the whole court. No, I am mistaken; Madame de Châtillon has the most beautiful set; she had them from Messieurs de Guise; but your set, Madame, comes next.”

“What are they worth?”

“Mounted?”

“No; supposing I wished to sell them.”

“I know very well who would buy them,” exclaimed M. Faucheux.

“That is the very thing I ask. They could be sold, then?”

“All your jewels could be sold, Madame. It is well known that you possess the most beautiful jewels in Paris. You are not changeable in your tastes; when you make a purchase it is of the very best; and what you purchase you do not part with.”

“What could these emeralds be sold for, then?”

“A hundred and thirty thousand francs.”

The marquise wrote down upon her tablets the amount which the jeweler mentioned. “The ruby necklace?” she said.

“Are they balas-rubies, Madame?”

“Here they are.”

“They are beautiful⁠—magnificent. I did not know your ladyship had these stones.”

“What is their value?”

“Two hundred thousand francs. The center one is alone worth a hundred thousand.”

“I thought so,” said the marquise. “As for diamonds, I have them in numbers; rings, necklaces, sprigs, earrings, clasps. Tell me their value, M. Faucheux.”

The jeweler took his magnifying-glass and scales, weighed and inspected them, and silently made his calculations. “These stones,” he said, “must have cost your ladyship an income of forty thousand francs.”

“You value them at eight hundred thousand francs?”

“Nearly so.”

“It is about what I imagined⁠—but the settings are not included?”

“No, Madame; but if I were called upon to sell or to buy, I should be satisfied with the gold of the settings alone as my profit upon the transaction. I should make a good twenty-five thousand francs.”

“An agreeable sum.”

“Very much so, Madame.”

“Will you then accept that profit, then, on condition of converting the jewels into money?”

“But you do not intend to sell your diamonds, I suppose, Madame?” exclaimed the bewildered jeweler.

“Silence, M. Faucheux, do not disturb yourself about that; give me an answer simply. You are an honorable man, with whom my family has dealt for thirty years; you knew my father and mother, whom your own father and mother served. I address you as a friend; will you accept the gold of the settings in return for a sum of ready money to be placed in my hands?”

“Eight hundred thousand francs! it is enormous.”

“I know it.”

“Impossible to find.”

“Not so.”

“But reflect, Madame, upon the effect which will be produced by the sale of your jewels.”

“No one need know it. You can get sets of false jewels made for me, similar to the real. Do not answer a word; I insist upon it. Sell them separately, sell the stones only.”

“In that way it is easy. Monsieur is looking out for some sets of jewels as well as single stones for Madame’s toilette. There will be a competition for them. I can easily dispose of six hundred thousand francs’ worth to Monsieur. I am certain yours are the most beautiful.”

“When can you do so?”

“In less than three days’ time.”

“Very well, the remainder you will dispose of among private individuals. For the present, make me out a contract of sale, payment to be made in four days.”

“I entreat you to reflect, Madame; for if you force the sale, you will lose a hundred thousand francs.”

“If necessary, I will lose two hundred; I wish everything to be settled this evening. Do you accept?”

“I do, your ladyship. I will not conceal from you that I shall make fifty thousand francs by the transaction.”

“So much the better for you. In what way shall I have the money?”

“Either in gold, or in bills of the bank of Lyons, payable at M. Colbert’s.”

“I agree,” said the marquise, eagerly; “return home and bring the sum in question in notes, as soon as possible.”

“Yes, Madame, but for Heaven’s sake⁠—”

“Not a word, M. Faucheux. By the by, I was forgetting the silver plate. What is the value of that which I have?”

“Fifty thousand francs, Madame.”

That makes a million, said the marquise to herself. “M. Faucheux, you will take away with you both the gold and silver plate. I can assign, as a pretext, that I wish it remodeled on patterns more in accordance with my own taste. Melt it down, and return me its value in money, at once.”

“It shall be done, your ladyship.”

“You will be good enough to place the money in a chest, and direct one of your clerks to accompany the chest, and without my servants seeing him; and order him to wait for me in a carriage.”

“In Madame de Faucheux’s carriage?” said the jeweler.

“If you will allow it, and I will call for it at your house.”

“Certainly, your ladyship.”

“I will direct some of my servants to convey the plate to your house.” The marquise rung. “Let the small van be placed at M. Faucheux’s disposal,” she said. The jeweler bowed and left the house, directing that the van should follow him closely, saying aloud, that the marquise was about to have her plate melted down in order to have other plate manufactured of a more modern style. Three hours afterwards she went to M. Faucheux’s house and received from him eight hundred thousand francs in gold enclosed in a chest, which one of the clerks could hardly carry towards Madame Faucheux’s carriage⁠—for Madame Faucheux kept her carriage. As the daughter of a president of accounts, she had brought a marriage portion of thirty thousand crowns to her husband, who was syndic of the goldsmiths. These thirty thousand crowns had become very fruitful during twenty years. The jeweler, though a millionaire, was a modest man. He had purchased a substantial carriage, built in 1648, ten years after the king’s birth. This carriage, or rather house upon wheels, excited the admiration of the whole quarter in which he resided⁠—it was covered with allegorical paintings, and clouds scattered over with stars. The marquise entered this somewhat extraordinary vehicle, sitting opposite the clerk, who endeavored to put his knees out of the way, afraid even of touching the marquise’s dress. It was the clerk, too, who told the coachman, who was very proud of having a marquise to drive, to take the road to Saint-Mandé.

CHAPTER 11

The Dowry
Monsieur Faucheux’s horses were serviceable animals, with thickset knees and legs that had some difficulty in moving. Like the carriage, they belonged to the earlier part of the century. They were not as fleet as the English horses of M. Fouquet, and consequently it took two hours to get to Saint-Mandé. Their progress, it might be said, was majestic. Majesty, however, precludes hurry. The marquise stopped the carriage at the door so well known to her, although she had seen it only once, under circumstances, it will now be remembered, no less painful than those which brought her now to it again. She drew a key from her pocket, and inserted it into the lock, pushed open the door, which noiselessly yielded to her touch, and directed the clerk to carry the chest upstairs to the first floor. The weight of the chest was so great that the clerk was obliged to get the coachman to assist him with it. They placed it in a small cabinet, anteroom, or boudoir rather, adjoining the saloon where we once saw M. Fouquet at the marquise’s feet. Madame de Bellière gave the coachman a louis, smiled gracefully at the clerk, and dismissed them both. She closed the door after them, and waited in the room, alone and barricaded. There was no servant to be seen about the rooms, but everything was prepared as though some invisible genius had divined the wishes and desires of an expected guest. The fire was laid, candles in the candelabra, refreshments upon the table, books scattered about, fresh-cut flowers in the vases. One might almost have imagined it an enchanted house.

The marquise lighted the candles, inhaled the perfume of the flowers, sat down, and was soon plunged in profound thought. Her deep musings, melancholy though they were, were not untinged with a certain vague joy. Spread out before her was a treasure, a million wrung from her fortune as a gleaner plucks the blue cornflower from her crown of flowers. She conjured up the sweetest dreams. Her principal thought, and one that took precedence of all others, was to devise means of leaving this money for M. Fouquet without his possibly learning from whom the gift had come. This idea, naturally enough, was the first to present itself to her mind. But although, on reflection, it appeared difficult to carry out, she did not despair of success. She would then ring to summon M. Fouquet and make her escape, happier than if, instead of having given a million, she had herself found one. But, being there, and having seen the boudoir so coquettishly decorated that it might almost be said the least particle of dust had but the moment before been removed by the servants; having observed the drawing-room, so perfectly arranged that it might almost be said her presence there had driven away the fairies who were its occupants, she asked herself if the glance or gaze of those whom she had displaced⁠—whether spirits, fairies, elves, or human creatures⁠—had not already recognized her. To secure success, it was necessary that some steps should be seriously taken, and it was necessary also that the superintendent should comprehend the serious position in which he was placed, in order to yield compliance with the generous fancies of a woman; all the fascinations of an eloquent friendship would be required to persuade him, and, should this be insufficient, the maddening influence of a devoted passion, which, in its resolute determination to carry conviction, would not be turned aside. Was not the superintendent, indeed, known for his delicacy and dignity of feeling? Would he allow himself to accept from any woman that of which she had stripped herself? No! He would resist, and if any voice in the world could overcome his resistance, it would be the voice of the woman he loved.

Another doubt, and that a cruel one, suggested itself to Madame de Bellière with a sharp, acute pain, like a dagger thrust. Did he really love her? Would that volatile mind, that inconstant heart, be likely to be fixed for a moment, even were it to gaze upon an angel? Was it not the same with Fouquet, notwithstanding his genius and his uprightness of conduct, as with those conquerors on the field of battle who shed tears when they have gained a victory? “I must learn if it be so, and must judge of that for myself,” said the marquise. “Who can tell whether that heart, so coveted, is not common in its impulses, and full of alloy? Who can tell if that mind, when the touchstone is applied to it, will not be found of a mean and vulgar character? Come, come,” she said, “this is doubting and hesitating too much⁠—to the proof.” She looked at the timepiece. “It is now seven o’clock,” she said; “he must have arrived; it is the hour for signing his papers.” With a feverish impatience she rose and walked towards the mirror, in which she smiled with a resolute smile of devotedness; she touched the spring and drew out the handle of the bell. Then, as if exhausted beforehand by the struggle she had just undergone, she threw herself on her knees, in utter abandonment, before a large couch, in which she buried her face in her trembling hands. Ten minutes afterwards she heard the spring of the door sound. The door moved upon invisible hinges, and Fouquet appeared. He looked pale, and seemed bowed down by the weight of some bitter reflection. He did not hurry, but simply came at the summons. The preoccupation of his mind must indeed have been very great, that a man, so devoted to pleasure, for whom indeed pleasure meant everything, should obey such a summons so listlessly. The previous night, in fact, fertile in melancholy ideas, had sharpened his features, generally so noble in their indifference of expression, and had traced dark lines of anxiety around his eyes. Handsome and noble he still was, and the melancholy expression of his mouth, a rare expression with men, gave a new character to his features, by which his youth seemed to be renewed. Dressed in black, the lace in front of his chest much disarranged by his feverishly restless hand, the looks of the superintendent, full of dreamy reflection, were fixed upon the threshold of the room which he had so frequently approached in search of expected happiness. This gloomy gentleness of manner, this smiling sadness of expression, which had replaced his former excessive joy, produced an indescribable effect upon Madame de Bellière, who was regarding him at a distance.

A woman’s eye can read the face of the man she loves, its every feeling of pride, its every expression of suffering; it might almost be said that Heaven has graciously granted to women, on account of their very weakness, more than it has accorded to other creatures. They can conceal their own feelings from a man, but from them no man can conceal his. The marquise divined in a single glace the whole weight of the unhappiness of the superintendent. She divined a night passed without sleep, a day passed in deceptions. From that moment she was firm in her own strength, and she felt that she loved Fouquet beyond everything else. She arose and approached him, saying, “You wrote to me this morning to say you were beginning to forget me, and that I, whom you had not seen lately, had no doubt ceased to think of you. I have come to undeceive you, Monsieur, and the more completely so, because there is one thing I can read in your eyes.”

“What is that, Madame?” said Fouquet, astonished.

“That you have never loved me so much as at this moment; in the same manner you can read, in my present step towards you, that I have not forgotten you.”

“Oh! Madame,” said Fouquet, whose face was for a moment lighted up by a sudden gleam of joy, “you are indeed an angel, and no man can suspect you. All he can do is to humble himself before you and entreat forgiveness.”

“Your forgiveness is granted, then,” said the marquise. Fouquet was about to throw himself upon his knees. “No, no,” she said, “sit here by my side. Ah! that is an evil thought which has just crossed your mind.”

“How do you detect it, Madame?”

“By the smile that has just marred the expression of your countenance. Be candid, and tell me what your thought was⁠—no secrets between friends.”

“Tell me, then, Madame, why you have been so harsh these three or four months past?”

“Harsh?”

“Yes; did you not forbid me to visit you?”

“Alas!” said Madame de Bellière, sighing, “because your visit to me was the cause of your being visited with a great misfortune; because my house is watched; because the same eyes that have seen you already might see you again; because I think it less dangerous for you that I should come here than that you should come to my house; and, lastly, because I know you to be already unhappy enough not to wish to increase your unhappiness further.”

Fouquet started, for these words recalled all the anxieties connected with his office of superintendent⁠—he who, for the last few minutes, had indulged in all the wild aspirations of the lover. “I unhappy?” he said, endeavoring to smile: “indeed, marquise, you will almost make me believe I am so, judging from your own sadness. Are your beautiful eyes raised upon me merely in pity? I was looking for another expression from them.”

“It is not I who am sad, Monsieur; look in the mirror, there⁠—it is yourself.”

“It is true I am somewhat pale, marquise; but it is from overwork; the king yesterday required a supply of money from me.”

“Yes, four millions; I am aware of it.”

“You know it?” exclaimed Fouquet, in a tone of surprise; “how can you have learnt it? It was after the departure of the queen, and in the presence of one person only, that the king⁠—”

“You perceive that I do know it; is that not sufficient? Well, go on, Monsieur, the money the king has required you to supply⁠—”

“You understand, marquise, that I have been obliged to procure it, then to get it counted, afterwards registered⁠—altogether a long affair. Since Monsieur de Mazarin’s death, financial affairs occasion some little fatigue and embarrassment. My administration is somewhat overtaxed, and this is the reason why I have not slept during the past night.”

“So you have the amount?” inquired the marquise, with some anxiety.

“It would indeed be strange, marquise,” replied Fouquet, cheerfully, “if a superintendent of finances were not to have a paltry four millions in his coffers.”

“Yes, yes, I believe you either have, or will have them.”

“What do you mean by saying I shall have them?”

“It is not very long since you were required to furnish two millions.”

“On the contrary, it seems almost an age; but do not let us talk of money matters any longer.”

“On the contrary, we will continue to speak of them, for that is my only reason for coming to see you.”

“I am at a loss to compass your meaning,” said the superintendent, whose eyes began to express an anxious curiosity.

“Tell me, Monsieur, is the office of superintendent a permanent position?”

“You surprise me, marchioness, for you speak as if you had some motive or interest in putting the question.”

“My reason is simple enough; I am desirous of placing some money in your hands, and naturally I wish to know if you are certain of your post.”

“Really, marquise, I am at a loss what to reply; I cannot conceive your meaning.”

“Seriously, then, dear M. Fouquet, I have certain funds which somewhat embarrass me. I am tired of investing my money in lands, and am anxious to entrust it to some friend who will turn it to account.”

“Surely it does not press,” said M. Fouquet.

“On the contrary, it is very pressing.”

“Very well, we will talk of that by and by.”

“By and by will not do, for my money is there,” returned the marquise, pointing out the coffer to the superintendent, and showing him, as she opened it, the bundles of notes and heaps of gold. Fouquet, who had risen from his seat at the same moment as Madame de Bellière, remained for a moment plunged in thought; then suddenly starting back, he turned pale, and sank down in his chair, concealing his face in his hands. “Madame, Madame,” he murmured, “what opinion can you have of me, when you make me such an offer?”

“Of you!” returned the marquise. “Tell me, rather, what you yourself think of the step I have taken.”

“You bring me this money for myself, and you bring it because you know me to be embarrassed. Nay, do not deny it, for I am sure of it. Can I not read your heart?”

“If you know my heart, then, can you not see that it is my heart I offer you?”

“I have guessed rightly, then,” exclaimed Fouquet. “In truth, Madame, I have never yet given you the right to insult me in this manner.”

“Insult you,” she said, turning pale, “what singular delicacy of feeling! You tell me you love me; in the name of that affection you wish me to sacrifice my reputation and my honor, yet, when I offer you money which is my own, you refuse me.”

“Madame, you are at liberty to preserve what you term your reputation and your honor. Permit me to preserve mine. Leave me to my ruin, leave me to sink beneath the weight of the hatreds which surround me, beneath the faults I have committed, beneath the load, even, of my remorse, but, for Heaven’s sake, Madame, do not overwhelm me with this last infliction.”

“A short time since, M. Fouquet, you were wanting in judgment; now you are wanting in feeling.”

Fouquet pressed his clenched hand upon his breast, heaving with emotion, saying: “Overwhelm me, Madame, for I have nothing to reply.”

“I offered you my friendship, M. Fouquet.”

“Yes, Madame, and you limited yourself to that.”

“And what I am now doing is the act of a friend.”

“No doubt it is.”

“And you reject this mark of my friendship?”

“I do reject it.”

“Monsieur Fouquet, look at me,” said the marquise, with glistening eyes, “I now offer you my love.”

“Oh, Madame,” exclaimed Fouquet.

“I have loved you for a long while past; women, like men, have a false delicacy at times. For a long time past I have loved you, but would not confess it. Well, then, you have implored this love on your knees, and I have refused you; I was blind, as you were a little while since; but as it was my love that you sought, it is my love I now offer you.”

“Oh! Madame, you overwhelm me beneath a load of happiness.”

“Will you be happy, then, if I am yours⁠—entirely?”

“It will be the supremest happiness for me.”

“Take me, then. If, however, for your sake I sacrifice a prejudice, do you, for mine, sacrifice a scruple.”

“Do not tempt me.”

“Do not refuse me.”

“Think seriously of what you are proposing.”

“Fouquet, but one word. Let it be ‘No,’ and I open this door,” and she pointed to the door which led into the streets, “and you will never see me again. Let that word be ‘Yes,’ and I am yours entirely.”

“Elise! Elise! But this coffer?”

“Contains my dowry.”

“It is your ruin,” exclaimed Fouquet, turning over the gold and papers; “there must be a million here.”

“Yes, my jewels, for which I care no longer if you do not love me, and for which, equally, I care no longer if you love me as I love you.”

“This is too much,” exclaimed Fouquet. “I yield, I yield, even were it only to consecrate so much devotion. I accept the dowry.”

“And take the woman with it,” said the marquise, throwing herself into his arms.

CHAPTER 12

Le Terrain de Dieu
During the progress of these events Buckingham and de Wardes traveled in excellent companionship, and made the journey from Paris to Calais in undisturbed harmony together. Buckingham had hurried his departure, so that the greater part of his adieux were very hastily made. His visit to Monsieur and Madame, to the young queen, and to the queen-dowager, had been paid collectively⁠—a precaution on the part of the queen-mother which saved him the distress of any private conversation with Monsieur, and also the danger of seeing Madame again. The carriages containing the luggage had already been sent on beforehand, and in the evening he set off in his traveling carriage with his attendants.

De Wardes, irritated at finding himself dragged away in so abrupt a manner by this Englishman, had sought in his subtle mind for some means of escaping from his fetters; but no one having rendered him any assistance in this respect, he was absolutely obliged, therefore, to submit to the burden of his own evil thoughts and caustic spirit.

Such of his friends in whom he had been able to confide, had, in their character of wits, rallied him upon the duke’s superiority. Others, less brilliant, but more sensible, had reminded him of the king’s orders prohibiting dueling. Others, again, and they the larger number, who, in virtue of charity, or national vanity, might have rendered him assistance, did not care to run the risk of incurring disgrace, and would, at the best, have informed the ministers of a departure which might end in a massacre on a small scale. The result was, that, after having fully deliberated upon the matter, de Wardes packed up his luggage, took a couple of horses, and, followed only by one servant, made his way towards the barrier, where Buckingham’s carriage was to await him.

The duke received his adversary as he would have done an intimate acquaintance, made room beside him on the same seat with himself, offered him refreshments, and spread over his knees the sable cloak that had been thrown on the front seat. They then conversed of the court, without alluding to Madame; of Monsieur, without speaking of domestic affairs; of the king, without speaking of his brother’s wife; of the queen-mother, without alluding to her daughter-in-law; of the king of England, without alluding to his sister; of the state of the affections of either of the travelers, without pronouncing any name that might be dangerous. In this way the journey, which was performed by short stages, was most agreeable, and Buckingham, almost a Frenchman from wit and education, was delighted at having so admirably selected his traveling companion. Elegant repasts were served, of which they partook but lightly; trials of horses made in the beautiful meadows that skirted the road; coursing indulged in, for Buckingham had his greyhounds with him; and in such ways did they pass away the pleasant time. The duke somewhat resembled the beautiful river Seine, which folds France a thousand times in its loving embrace, before deciding upon joining its waters with the ocean. In quitting France, it was her recently adopted daughter he had brought to Paris whom he chiefly regretted; his every thought was a remembrance of her⁠—his every memory a regret. Therefore, whenever, now and then, despite his command over himself, he was lost in thought, de Wardes left him entirely to his musings. This delicacy might have touched Buckingham, and changed his feelings towards de Wardes, if the latter, while preserving silence, had shown a glance less full of malice, and a smile less false. Instinctive dislikes, however, are relentless; nothing appeases them; a few ashes may, sometimes, apparently, extinguish them; but beneath those ashes the smothered embers rage more furiously. Having exhausted every means of amusement the route offered, they arrived, as we have said, at Calais towards the end of the sixth day. The duke’s attendants, since the previous evening, had traveled in advance, and now chartered a boat, for the purpose of joining the yacht, which had been tacking about in sight, or bore broadside on, whenever it felt its white wings wearied, within cannon-shot of the jetty.

The boat was destined for the transport of the duke’s equipages from the shore to the yacht. The horses had been embarked, having been hoisted from the boat upon the deck in baskets, expressly made for the purpose, and wadded in such a manner that their limbs, even in the most violent fits of terror or impatience, were always protected by the soft support which the sides afforded, and their coats not even turned. Eight of these baskets, placed side by side, filled the ship’s hold. It is well known that, in short voyages horses refuse to eat, but remain trembling all the while, with the best of food before them, such as they would have greatly coveted on land. By degrees, the duke’s entire equipage was transported on board the yacht; he was then informed that everything was in readiness, and that they only waited for him, whenever he would be disposed to embark with the French gentleman; for no one could possibly imagine that the French gentleman would have any other accounts to settle with his Grace other than those of friendship. Buckingham desired the captain to be told to hold himself in readiness, but that, as the sea was beautiful, and as the day promised a splendid sunset, he did not intend to go on board until nightfall, and would avail himself of the evening to enjoy a walk on the strand. He added also, that, finding himself in such excellent company, he had not the least desire to hasten his embarkation.

As he said this he pointed out to those who surrounded him the magnificent spectacle which the sky presented, of deepest azure in the horizon, the amphitheatre of fleecy clouds ascending from the sun’s disc to the zenith, assuming the appearance of a range of snowy mountains, whose summits were heaped one upon another. The dome of clouds was tinged at its base with, as it were, the foam of rubies, fading away into opal and pearly tints, in proportion as the gaze was carried from base to summit. The sea was gilded with the same reflection, and upon the crest of every sparkling wave danced a point of light, like a diamond by lamplight. The mildness of the evening, the sea breezes, so dear to contemplative minds, setting in from the east and blowing in delicious gusts; then, in the distance, the black outline of the yacht with its rigging traced upon the empurpled background of the sky⁠—while, dotting the horizon, might be seen, here and there, vessels with their trimmed sails, like the wings of a seagull about to plunge; such a spectacle indeed well merited admiration. A crowd of curious idlers followed the richly dressed attendants, amongst whom they mistook the steward and the secretary for the master and his friend. As for Buckingham, who was dressed very simply, in a gray satin vest, and doublet of violet-colored velvet, wearing his hat thrust over his eyes, and without orders or embroidery, he was taken no more notice of than de Wardes, who was in black, like an attorney.

The duke’s attendants had received directions to have a boat in readiness at the jetty head, and to watch the embarkation of their master, without approaching him until either he or his friend should summon them⁠—“whatever may happen,” he had added, laying a stress upon these words, so that they might not be misunderstood. Having walked a few paces upon the strand, Buckingham said to de Wardes, “I think it is now time to take leave of each other. The tide, you perceive, is rising; ten minutes hence it will have soaked the sands where we are now walking in such a manner that we shall not be able to keep our footing.”

“I await your orders, my lord, but⁠—”

“But, you mean, we are still upon soil which is part of the king’s territory.”

“Exactly.”

“Well, do you see yonder a kind of little island surrounded by a circle of water? The pool is increasing every minute, and the isle is gradually disappearing. This island, indeed, belongs to Heaven, for it is situated between two seas, and is not shown on the king’s charts. Do you observe it?”

“Yes; but we can hardly reach it now, without getting our feet wet.”

“Yes; but observe that it forms an eminence tolerably high, and that the tide rises up on every side, leaving the top free. We shall be admirably placed upon that little theatre. What do you think of it?”

“I shall be perfectly happy wherever I may have the honor of crossing my sword with your lordship’s.”

“Very well, then, I am distressed to be the cause of your wetting your feet, M. de Wardes, but it is most essential you should be able to say to the king: ‘Sire, I did not fight upon Your Majesty’s territory.’ Perhaps the distinction is somewhat subtle, but, since Port-Royal, your nation delights in subtleties of expression. Do not let us complain of this, however, for it makes your wit very brilliant, and of a style peculiarly your own. If you do not object, we will hurry ourselves, for the sea, I perceive, is rising fast, and night is setting in.”

“My reason for not walking faster was, that I did not wish to precede Your Grace. Are you still on dry land, my lord?”

“Yes, at present I am. Look yonder! My servants are afraid we shall be drowned, and have converted the boat into a cruiser. Do you remark how curiously it dances upon the crests of the waves? But, as it makes me feel seasick, would you permit me to turn my back towards them?”

“You will observe, my lord, that in turning your back to them, you will have the sun full in your face.”

“Oh, its rays are very feeble at this hour and it will soon disappear; do not be uneasy on that score.”

“As you please, my lord; it was out of consideration for your lordship that I made the remark.”

“I am aware of that, M. de Wardes, and I fully appreciate your kindness. Shall we take off our doublets?”

“As you please, my lord.”

“Do not hesitate to tell me, M. de Wardes, if you do not feel comfortable upon the wet sand, or if you think yourself a little too close to French territory. We could fight in England, or even upon my yacht.”

“We are exceedingly well placed here, my lord; only I have the honor to remark that, as the sea is rising fast, we have hardly time⁠—”

Buckingham made a sign of assent, took off his doublet and threw it on the ground, a proceeding which de Wardes imitated. Both their bodies, which seemed like phantoms to those who were looking at them from the shore, were thrown strongly into relief by a dark red violet-colored shadow with which the sky became overspread.

“Upon my word, Your Grace,” said de Wardes, “we shall hardly have time to begin. Do you not perceive how our feet are sinking into the sand?”

“I have sunk up to the ankles,” said Buckingham, “without reckoning that the water is even now breaking in upon us.”

“It has already reached me. As soon as you please, therefore, Your Grace,” said de Wardes, who drew his sword, a movement imitated by the duke.

“M. de Wardes,” said Buckingham, “one final word. I am about to fight you because I do not like you⁠—because you have wounded me in ridiculing a certain devotional regard I have entertained, and one which I acknowledge that, at this moment, I still retain, and for which I would very willingly die. You are a bad and heartless man, M. de Wardes, and I will do my very utmost to take your life; for I feel assured that, if you survive this engagement, you will, in the future, work great mischief towards my friends. That is all I have to remark, M. de Wardes,” concluded Buckingham as he saluted him.

“And I, my lord, have only this to reply to you: I have not disliked you hitherto, but, since you give me such a character, I hate you, and will do all I possibly can to kill you”; and de Wardes saluted Buckingham.

Their swords crossed at the same moment, like two flashes of lightning on a dark night. The swords seemed to seek each other, guessed their position, and met. Both were practiced swordsmen, and the earlier passes were without any result. The night was fast closing in, and it was so dark that they attacked and defended themselves almost instinctively. Suddenly de Wardes felt his sword arrested⁠—he had just touched Buckingham’s shoulder. The duke’s sword sunk, as his arm was lowered.

“You are wounded, my lord,” said de Wardes, drawing back a step or two.

“Yes, Monsieur, but only slightly.”

“Yet you quitted your guard.”

“Only from the first effect of the cold steel, but I have recovered. Let us go on, if you please.” And disengaging his sword with a sinister clashing of the blade, the duke wounded the marquis in the breast.

“A hit?” he said.

“No,” cried de Wardes, not moving from his place.

“I beg your pardon, but observing that your shirt was stained⁠—” said Buckingham.

“Well,” said de Wardes furiously, “it is now your turn.”

And with a terrible lunge, he pierced Buckingham’s arm, the sword passing between the two bones. Buckingham feeling his right arm paralyzed, stretched out his left, seized his sword, which was about falling from his nerveless grasp, and before de Wardes could resume his guard, he thrust him through the breast. De Wardes tottered, his knees gave way beneath him, and leaving his sword still fixed in the duke’s arm, he fell into the water, which was soon crimsoned with a more genuine reflection than that which it had borrowed from the clouds. De Wardes was not dead; he felt the terrible danger that menaced him, for the sea rose fast. The duke, too, perceived the danger. With an effort and an exclamation of pain he tore out the blade which remained in his arm, and turning towards de Wardes said, “Are you dead, marquis?”

“No,” replied de Wardes, in a voice choked by the blood which rushed from his lungs to his throat, “but very near it.”

“Well, what is to be done; can you walk?” said Buckingham, supporting him on his knee.

“Impossible,” he replied. Then falling down again, said, “call to your people, or I shall be drowned.”

“Halloa! boat there! quick, quick!”

The boat flew over the waves, but the sea rose faster than the boat could approach. Buckingham saw that de Wardes was on the point of being again covered by a wave; he passed his left arm, safe and unwounded, round his body and raised him up. The wave ascended to his waist, but did not move him. The duke immediately began to carry his late antagonist towards the shore. He had hardly gone ten paces, when a second wave, rushing onwards higher, more furious and menacing than the former, struck him at the height of his chest, threw him over and buried him beneath the water. At the reflux, however, the duke and de Wardes were discovered lying on the strand. De Wardes had fainted. At this moment four of the duke’s sailors, who comprehended the danger, threw themselves into the sea, and in a moment were close beside him. Their terror was extreme when they observed how their master became covered with blood, in proportion to the water, with which it was impregnated, flowed towards his knees and feet; they wished to carry him.

“No, no,” exclaimed the duke, “take the marquis on shore first.”

“Death to the Frenchman!” cried the English sullenly.

“Wretched knaves!” exclaimed the duke, drawing himself up with a haughty gesture, which sprinkled them with blood, “obey directly! M. de Wardes on shore! M. de Wardes’s safety to be looked to first, or I will have you all hanged!”

The boat had by this time reached them; the secretary and steward leaped into the sea, and approached the marquis, who no longer showed any sign of life.

“I commit him to your care, as you value your lives,” said the duke. “Take M. de Wardes on shore.” They took him in their arms, and carried him to the dry sand, where the tide never rose so high. A few idlers and five or six fishermen had gathered on the shore, attracted by the strange spectacle of two men fighting with the water up to their knees. The fishermen, observing a group of men approaching carrying a wounded man, entered the sea until the water was up to their waists. The English transferred the wounded man to them, at the very moment the latter began to open his eyes again. The salt water and the fine sand had got into his wounds, and caused him the acutest pain. The duke’s secretary drew out a purse filled with gold from his pocket, and handed it to the one among those present who appeared of most importance, saying: “From my master, his Grace the Duke of Buckingham, in order that every possible care may be taken of the Marquis de Wardes.”

Then, followed by those who had accompanied him, he returned to the boat, which Buckingham had been enabled to reach with the greatest difficulty, but only after he had seen de Wardes out of danger. By this time it was high tide; embroidered coats, and silk sashes were lost; many hats, too, had been carried away by the waves. The flow of the tide had borne the duke’s and de Wardes’s clothes to the shore, and de Wardes was wrapped in the duke’s doublet, under the belief that it was his own, when the fishermen carried him in their arms towards the town.

CHAPTER 13

Threefold Love
As soon as Buckingham departed, Guiche imagined the coast would be perfectly clear for him without any interference. Monsieur, who no longer retained the slightest feeling of jealousy, and who, besides, permitted himself to be monopolized by the Chevalier de Lorraine, allowed as much liberty and freedom in his house as the most exacting could desire. The king, on his side, who had conceived a strong predilection for his sister-in-law’s society, invented a variety of amusements, in quick succession to each other, in order to render her residence in Paris as cheerful as possible, so that in fact, not a day passed without a ball at the Palais Royal, or a reception in Monsieur’s apartments. The king had directed that Fontainebleau should be prepared for the reception of the court, and everyone was using his utmost interest to get invited. Madame led a life of incessant occupation; neither her voice nor her pen were idle for a moment. The conversations with de Guiche were gradually assuming a tone of interest which might unmistakably be recognized as the prelude of a deep-seated attachment. When eyes look languishingly while the subject under discussion happens to be colors of materials for dresses; when a whole hour is occupied in analyzing the merits and the perfume of a sachet or a flower;⁠—there are words in this style of conversation which everyone might listen to, but there are gestures and sighs that everyone cannot perceive. After Madame had talked for some time with de Guiche, she conversed with the king, who paid her a visit regularly every day. They played, wrote verses, or selected mottoes or emblematical devices; this spring was not only the Maytide of nature, it was the youth of an entire people, of which those at court were the head. The king was handsome, young, and of unequaled gallantry. All women were passionately loved by him, even the queen his wife. This mighty monarch was, however, more timid and more reserved than any other person in the kingdom, to such a degree, indeed, that he did not confess his sentiments even to himself. This timidity of bearing restrained him within the limits of ordinary politeness, and no woman could boast of having any preference shown her beyond that shown to others. It might be foretold that the day when his real character would be displayed would be the dawn of a new sovereignty; but as yet he had not declared himself. M. de Guiche took advantage of this, and constituted himself the sovereign prince of the whole laughter-loving court. It had been reported that he was on the best of terms with Mademoiselle de Montalais; that he had been assiduously attentive to Mademoiselle de Châtillon; but now he was not even barely civil to any of the court beauties. He had eyes and ears for one person alone. In this manner, and, as it were, without design, he devoted himself to Monsieur, who had a great regard for him, and kept him as much as possible in his own apartments. Unsociable from natural disposition, he had estranged himself too much previous to the arrival of Madame, but, after her arrival, he did not estrange himself sufficiently. This conduct, which everyone had observed, had been particularly remarked by the evil genius of the house, the Chevalier de Lorraine, for whom Monsieur exhibited the warmest attachment because he was of a very cheerful disposition, even in his remarks most full of malice, and because he was never at a loss how to wile the time away. The Chevalier de Lorraine, therefore, having noticed that he was threatened with being supplanted by de Guiche, resorted to strong measures. He disappeared from the court, leaving Monsieur much embarrassed. The first day of his absence, Monsieur hardly inquired about him, for he had de Guiche with him, and, except that the time given to conversation with Madame, his days and nights were rigorously devoted to the prince. On the second day, however, Monsieur, finding no one near him, inquired where the chevalier was. He was told that no one knew.

De Guiche, after having spent the morning in selecting embroideries and fringes with Madame, went to console the prince. But after dinner, as there were some amethysts to be looked at, de Guiche returned to Madame’s cabinet. Monsieur was left quite to himself during the time devoted to dressing and decorating himself; he felt that he was the most miserable of men, and again inquired whether there was any news of the chevalier, in reply to which he was told that no one could tell where the chevalier was to be found. Monsieur, hardly knowing in what direction to inflict his weariness, went to Madame’s apartments dressed in his morning-gown. He found a large assemblage of people there, laughing and whispering in every part of the room; at one end, a group of women around one of the courtiers, talking together, amid smothered bursts of laughter; at the other end, Manicamp and Malicorne were being pillaged at cards by Montalais and Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, while two others were standing by, laughing. In another part were Madame, seated upon some cushions on the floor, and de Guiche, on his knees beside her, spreading out a handful of pearls and precious stones, while the princess, with her white and slender fingers pointed out such among them as pleased her the most. Again, in another corner of the room, a guitar player was playing some of the Spanish seguedillas, to which Madame had taken the greatest fancy ever since she had heard them sung by the young queen with a melancholy expression of voice. But the songs which the Spanish princess had sung with tears in her eyes, the young Englishwoman was humming with a smile that well displayed her beautiful teeth. The cabinet presented, in fact, the most perfect representation of unrestrained pleasure and amusement. As he entered, Monsieur was struck at beholding so many persons enjoying themselves without him. He was so jealous at the sight that he could not resist exclaiming, like a child, “What! you are amusing yourselves here, while I am sick and tired of being alone!”

The sound of his voice was like a clap of thunder coming to interrupt the warbling of birds under the leafy covert of the trees; a dead silence ensued. De Guiche was on his feet in a moment. Malicorne tried to hide himself behind Montalais. Manicamp stood bolt upright, and assumed a very ceremonious demeanor. The guitar player thrust his instrument under a table, covering it with a piece of carpet to conceal it from the prince’s observation. Madame was the only one who did not move, and smiling at her husband, said, “Is not this the hour you usually devote to your toilette?”

“An hour which others select, it seems, for amusing themselves,” replied the prince, grumblingly.

This untoward remark was the signal for a general rout; the women fled like a flock of terrified starlings; the guitar player vanished like a shadow; Malicorne, still protected by Montalais, who purposely widened out her dress, glided behind the hanging tapestry. As for Manicamp, he went to the assistance of de Guiche, who naturally remained near Madame, and both of them, with the princess herself, courageously sustained the attack. The count was too happy to bear malice against the husband; but Monsieur bore a grudge against his wife. Nothing was wanting but a quarrel; he sought it, and the hurried departure of the crowd, which had been so joyous before he arrived, and was so disturbed by his entrance, furnished him with a pretext.

“Why do they run away at the very sight of me?” he inquired, in a supercilious tone; to which remark Madame replied, that, “whenever the master of the house made his appearance, the family kept aloof out of respect.” As she said this, she made so funny and so pretty a grimace, that de Guiche and Manicamp could not control themselves; they burst into a peal of laugher; Madame followed their example, and even Monsieur himself could not resist it, and he was obliged to sit down, as, for laughing, he could scarcely keep his equilibrium. However, he very soon left off, but his anger had increased. He was still more furious because he had permitted himself to laugh, than from having seen others laugh. He looked at Manicamp steadily, not venturing to show his anger towards de Guiche; but, at a sign which displayed no little amount of annoyance, Manicamp and de Guiche left the room, so that Madame, left alone, began sadly to pick up her pearls and amethysts, no longer smiling, and speaking still less.

“I am very happy,” said the duke, “to find myself treated as a stranger here, Madame,” and he left the room in a passion. On his way out, he met Montalais, who was in attendance in the anteroom. “It is very agreeable to pay you a visit here, but outside the door.”

Montalais made a very low obeisance. “I do not quite understand what Your Royal Highness does me the honor to say.”

“I say that when you are all laughing together in Madame’s apartment, he is an unwelcome visitor who does not remain outside.”

“Your Royal Highness does not think, and does not speak so, of yourself?”

“On the contrary, it is on my own account that I do speak and think. I have no reason, certainly, to flatter myself about the receptions I meet with here at any time. How is it that, on the very day there is music and a little society in Madame’s apartments⁠—in my own apartments, indeed, for they are mine⁠—on the very day that I wish to amuse myself a little in my turn, everyone runs away? Are they afraid to see me, that they all take wing as soon as I appear? Is there anything wrong, then, going on in my absence?”

“Yet nothing has been done today, Monseigneur, which is not done every day.”

“What! do they laugh like that every day?”

“Why, yes, Monseigneur.”

“The same group of people simpering and the same singing and strumming going on every day?”

“The guitar, Monseigneur, was introduced today; but when we have no guitars, we have violins and flutes; ladies soon weary without music.”

“The deuce!⁠—and the men?”

“What men, Monseigneur?”

“M. de Guiche, M. de Manicamp, and the rest of them?”

“They all belong to Your Highness’s household.”

“Yes, yes, you are right,” said the prince, as he returned to his own apartments, full of thought. He threw himself into the largest of his armchairs, without looking at himself in the glass. “Where can the chevalier be?” said he. One of the prince’s attendants happened to be near him, overheard his remark, and replied⁠—

“No one knows, Your Highness.”

“Still the same answer. The first one who answers me again, ‘I do not know,’ I will discharge.” Everyone at this remark hurried out of his apartments, in the same manner as the others had fled from Madame’s apartments. The prince then flew into the wildest rage. He kicked over a chiffonier, which tumbled on the carpet, broken into pieces. He next went into the galleries, and with the greatest coolness threw down, one after another, an enameled vase, a porphyry ewer, and a bronze candelabrum. The noise summoned everyone to the various doors.

“What is Your Highness’s pleasure?” said the captain of the Guards, timidly.

“I am treating myself to some music,” replied the prince, gnashing his teeth.

The captain of the Guards desired His Royal Highness’s physician to be sent for. But before he came, Malicorne arrived, saying to the prince, “Monseigneur, the Chevalier de Lorraine is here.”

The duke looked at Malicorne, and smiled graciously at him, just as the chevalier entered.

CHAPTER 14

M. de Lorraine’s Jealousy
The Duc d’Orléans uttered a cry of delight on perceiving the Chevalier de Lorraine. “This is fortunate, indeed,” he said; “by what happy chance do I see you? Had you indeed disappeared, as everyone assured me?”

“Yes, Monseigneur.”

“A caprice?”

“I to venture upon caprices with Your Highness! The respect⁠—”

“Put respect out of the way, for you fail in it every day. I absolve you; but why did you leave me?”

“Because I felt that I was of no further use to you.”

“Explain yourself.”

“Your Highness has people about you who are far more amusing that I can ever be. I felt I was not strong enough to enter into contest with them, and I therefore withdrew.”

“This extreme diffidence shows a want of common sense. Who are those with whom you cannot contend? De Guiche?”

“I name no one.”

“This is absurd. Does de Guiche annoy you?”

“I do not say he does; do not force me to speak, however; you know very well that de Guiche is one of our best friends.”

“Who is it, then?”

“Excuse me, Monseigneur, let us say no more about it.” The chevalier knew perfectly well that curiosity is excited in the same way as thirst⁠—by removing that which quenches it; or in other words, by denying an explanation.

“No, no,” said the prince; “I wish to know why you went away.”

“In that case, Monseigneur, I will tell you; but do not get angry. I remarked that my presence was disagreeable.”

“To whom?”

“To Madame.”

“What do you mean?” said the duke in astonishment.

“It is simple enough; Madame is very probably jealous of the regard you are good enough to testify for me.”

“Has she shown it to you?”

“Madame never addresses a syllable to me, particularly since a certain time.”

“Since what time?”

“Since the time when, M. de Guiche having made himself more agreeable to her than I could, she receives him at every and any hour.”

The duke colored. “At any hour, chevalier; what do you mean by that?”

“You see, Your Highness, I have already displeased you; I was quite sure I should.”

“I am not displeased; but what you say is rather startling. In what respect does Madame prefer de Guiche to you?”

“I shall say no more,” said the chevalier, saluting the prince ceremoniously.

“On the contrary, I require you to speak. If you withdraw on that account, you must indeed be very jealous.”

“One cannot help being jealous, Monseigneur, when one loves. Is not Your Royal Highness jealous of Madame? Would you not, if you saw someone always near Madame, and always treated with great favor, take umbrage at it? One’s friends are as one’s lovers. Your Highness has sometimes conferred the distinguished honor upon me of calling me your friend.”

“Yes, yes: but you used a phrase which has a very equivocal significance; you are unfortunate in your phrases.”

“What phrase, Monseigneur?”

“You said, ‘treated with great favor.’ What do you mean by favor?”

“Nothing can be more simple,” said the chevalier, with an expression of great frankness; “for instance, whenever a husband remarks that his wife summons such and such a man near her; whenever this man is always to be found by her side, or in attendance at the door of her carriage; whenever the bouquet of the one is always the same color as the ribbons of the other; when music and supper parties are held in private apartments; whenever a dead silence takes place immediately the husband makes his appearance in his wife’s rooms; and when the husband suddenly finds that he has, as a companion, the most devoted and the kindest of men, who, a week before, was with him as little as possible; why, then⁠—”

“Well, finish.”

“Why, then, I say, Monseigneur, one possibly may get jealous. But all these details hardly apply; for our conversation had nothing to do with them.”

The duke was evidently very much agitated, and seemed to struggle with himself a good deal. “You have not told me,” he then remarked, “why you absented yourself. A little while ago you said it was from a fear of intruding; you added, even, that you had observed a disposition on Madame’s part to encourage de Guiche.”

“Pardon me, Monseigneur, I did not say that.”

“You did, indeed.”

“Well, if I did say so, I observed nothing but what was very inoffensive.”

“At all events, you remarked something.”

“You embarrass me, Monseigneur.”

“What does that matter? Answer me. If you speak the truth, why should you feel embarrassed?”

“I always speak the truth, Monseigneur; but I also always hesitate when it is a question of repeating what others say.”

“Ah! repeat? It appears that it is talked about, then?”

“I acknowledge that others have spoken to me on the subject.”

“Who?” said the prince.

The chevalier assumed almost an angry air, as he replied, “Monseigneur, you are subjecting me to cross-examination; you treat me as a criminal at the bar; the rumors which idly pass by a gentleman’s ears do not remain there. Your Highness wishes me to magnify rumors until it attains the importance of an event.”

“However,” said the duke, in great displeasure, “the fact remains that you withdrew on account of this report.”

“To speak the truth, others have talked to me of the attentions of M. de Guiche to Madame, nothing more; perfectly harmless, I repeat, and more than that, allowable. But do not be unjust, Monseigneur, and do not attach any undue importance to it. It does not concern you.”

“M. de Guiche’s attentions to Madame do not concern me?”

“No, Monseigneur; and what I say to you I would say to de Guiche himself, so little do I think of the attentions he pays Madame. Nay, I would say it even to Madame herself. Only you understand what I am afraid of⁠—I am afraid of being thought jealous of the favor shown, when I am only jealous as far as friendship is concerned. I know your disposition; I know that when you bestow your affections you become exclusively attached. You love Madame⁠—and who, indeed, would not love her? Follow me attentively as I proceed:⁠—Madame has noticed among your friends the handsomest and most fascinating of them all; she will begin to influence you on his behalf in such a way that you will neglect the others. Your indifference would kill me; it is already bad enough to have to support Madame’s indifference. I have, therefore, made up my mind to give way to the favorite whose happiness I envy, even while I acknowledge my sincere friendship and sincere admiration for him. Well, Monseigneur, do you see anything to object to in this reasoning? Is it not that of a man of honor? Is my conduct that of a sincere friend? Answer me, at least, after having so closely questioned me.”

The duke had seated himself, with his head buried in his hands. After a silence long enough to enable the chevalier to judge the effect of this oratorical display, the duke arose, saying, “Come, be candid.”

“As I always am.”

“Very well. You know that we already observed something respecting that mad fellow, Buckingham.”

“Do not say anything against Madame, Monseigneur, or I shall take my leave. It is impossible you can be suspicious of Madame?”

“No, no, chevalier; I do not suspect Madame; but in fact, I observe⁠—I compare⁠—”

“Buckingham was a madman, Monseigneur.”

“A madman about whom, however, you opened my eyes thoroughly.”

“No, no,” said the chevalier, quickly; “it was not I who opened your eyes, it was de Guiche. Do not confound us, I beg.” And he began to laugh in so harsh a manner that it sounded like the hiss of a serpent.

“Yes, yes; I remember. You said a few words, but de Guiche showed the most jealousy.”

“I should think so,” continued the chevalier, in the same tone. “He was fighting for home and altar.”

“What did you say?” said the duke, haughtily, thoroughly roused by this insidious jest.

“Am I not right? for does not M. de Guiche hold the chief post of honor in your household?”

“Well,” replied the duke, somewhat calmed, “had this passion of Buckingham been remarked?”

“Certainly.”

“Very well. Do people say that M. de Guiche’s is remarked as much?”

“Pardon me, Monseigneur; you are again mistaken; no one says that M. de Guiche entertains anything of the sort.”

“Very good.”

“You see, Monseigneur, that it would have been better, a hundred times better, to have left me in my retirement, than to have allowed you to conjure up, by aid of any scruples I may have had, suspicions which Madame will regard as crimes, and she would be in the right, too.”

“What would you do?”

“Act reasonably.”

“In what way?”

“I should not pay the slightest attention to the society of these new Epicurean philosophers; and, in that way, the rumors will cease.”

“Well, I will see; I will think it over.”

“Oh, you have time enough; the danger is not great; and then, besides, it is not a question of danger or of passion. It all arose from a fear I had to see your friendship for me decrease. From the very moment you restore it, with so kind an assurance of its existence, I have no longer any other idea in my head.”

The duke shook his head as if he meant to say: “If you have no more ideas, I have, though.” It being now the dinner hour, the prince sent to inform Madame of it; but she returned a message to the effect that she could not be present, but would dine in her own apartment.

“That is not my fault,” said the duke. “This morning, having taken them by surprise in the midst of a musical party, I got jealous; and so they are in the sulks with me.”

“We will dine alone,” said the chevalier, with a sigh; “I regret de Guiche is not here.”

“Oh! De Guiche will not remain long in the sulks; he is a very good-natured fellow.”

“Monseigneur,” said the chevalier, suddenly, “an excellent idea has struck me, in our conversation just now. I may have exasperated Your Highness, and caused you some dissatisfaction. It is but fitting that I should be the mediator. I will go and look for the count, and bring him back with me.”

“Ah! chevalier, you are really a very good-natured fellow.”

“You say that as if you were surprised.”

“Well, you are not so tenderhearted every day.”

“That may be; but confess that I know how to repair a wrong I may have done.”

“I confess that.”

“Will Your Highness do me the favor to wait here a few minutes?”

“Willingly; be off, and I will try on my Fontainebleau costume.”

The chevalier left the room, called his different attendants with the greatest care, as if he were giving them different orders. All went off in various directions; but he retained his valet de chambre. “Ascertain, and immediately, too, of M. de Guiche is not in Madame’s apartments. How can one learn it?”

“Very easily, Monsieur. I will ask Malicorne, who will find out from Mlle. de Montalais. I may as well tell you, however, that the inquiry will be useless; for all M. de Guiche’s attendants are gone, and he must have left with them.”

“Ascertain, nevertheless.”

Ten minutes had hardly passed, when the valet returned. He beckoned his master mysteriously towards the servants’ staircase, and showed him into a small room with a window looking out upon the garden. “What is the matter?” said the chevalier; “why so many precautions?”

“Look, Monsieur,” said the valet, “look yonder, under the walnut-tree.”

“Ah?” said the chevalier. “I see Manicamp there. What is he waiting for?”

“You will see in a moment, Monsieur, if you wait patiently. There, do you see now?”

“I see one, two, four musicians with their instruments, and behind them, urging them on, de Guiche himself. What is he doing there, though?”

“He is waiting until the little door of the staircase, belonging to the ladies of honor, is opened; by that staircase he will ascend to Madame’s apartments, where some new pieces of music are going to be performed during dinner.”

“This is admirable news you tell me.”

“Is it not, Monsieur?”

“Was it M. de Malicorne who told you this?”

“Yes, Monsieur.”

“He likes you, then?”

“No, Monsieur, it is Monsieur that he likes.”

“Why?”

“Because he wishes to belong to his household.”

“And most certainly he shall. How much did he give you for that?”

“The secret which I now dispose of to you, Monsieur.”

“And which I buy for a hundred pistoles. Take them.”

“Thank you, Monsieur. Look, look, the little door opens; a woman admits the musicians.”

“It is Montalais.”

“Hush, Monseigneur; do not call out her name; whoever says Montalais says Malicorne. If you quarrel with the one, you will be on bad terms with the other.”

“Very well; I have seen nothing.”

“And I,” said the valet, pocketing the purse, “have received nothing.”

The chevalier, being now certain that Guiche had entered, returned to the prince, whom he found splendidly dressed and radiant with joy, as with good looks. “I am told,” he exclaimed, “that the king has taken the sun as his device; really, Monseigneur, it is you whom this device would best suit.”

“Where is de Guiche?”

“He cannot be found. He has fled⁠—has evaporated entirely. Your scolding of this morning terrified him. He could not be found in his apartments.”

“Bah! the hair-brained fellow is capable of setting off post-haste to his own estates. Poor man! we will recall him. Come, let us dine now.”

“Monseigneur, today is a very festival of ideas; I have another.”

“What is it?”

“Madame is angry with you, and she has reason to be so. You owe her revenge; go and dine with her.”

“Oh! that would be acting like a weak and whimsical husband.”

“It is the duty of a good husband to do so. The princess is no doubt wearied enough; she will be weeping in her plate, and here eyes will get quite red. A husband who is the cause of his wife’s eyes getting red is an odious creature. Come, Monseigneur, come.”

“I cannot; for I have directed dinner to be served here.”

“Yet see, Monseigneur, how dull we shall be; I shall be low-spirited because I know that Madame will be alone; you, hard and savage as you wish to appear, will be sighing all the while. Take me with you to Madame’s dinner, and that will be a delightful surprise. I am sure we shall be very merry; you were in the wrong this morning.”

“Well, perhaps I was.”

“There is no perhaps at all, for it is a fact you were so.”

“Chevalier, chevalier, your advice is not good.”

“Nay, my advice is good; all the advantages are on your own side. Your violet-colored suit, embroidered with gold, becomes you admirably. Madame will be as much vanquished by the man as by the action. Come, Monseigneur.”

“You decide me; let us go.”

The duke left his room, accompanied by the chevalier and went towards Madame’s apartments. The chevalier hastily whispered to the valet, “Be sure there are some people before that little door, so that no one can escape in that direction. Run, run!” And he followed the duke towards the antechambers of Madame’s suite of apartments, and when the ushers were about to announce them, the chevalier said, laughing, “His Highness wishes to surprise Madame.”

CHAPTER 15

Monsieur Is Jealous of Guiche
Monsieur entered the room abruptly, as persons do who mean well and think they confer pleasure, or as those who hope to surprise some secret, the terrible reward of jealous people. Madame, almost out of her senses with joy at the first bars of music, was dancing in the most unrestrained manner, leaving the dinner, which had been already begun, unfinished. Her partner was M. de Guiche, who, with his arms raised, and his eyes half closed, was kneeling on one knee, like the Spanish dancers, with looks full of passion, and gestures of the most caressing character. The princess was dancing round him with a responsive smile, and the same air of alluring seductiveness. Montalais stood by admiringly; La Vallière, seated in a corner of the room, looked on thoughtfully. It is impossible to describe the effect which the presence of the prince produced upon this gleeful company, and it would be equally impossible to describe the effect which the sight of their happiness produced upon Philip. The Comte de Guiche had no power to move; Madame remained in the middle of one of the figures and of an attitude, unable to utter a word. The Chevalier de Lorraine, leaning his back against the doorway, smiled like a man in the very height of the frankest admiration. The pallor of the prince, and the convulsive twitching of his hands and limbs, were the first symptoms that struck those present. A dead silence succeeded the merry music of the dance. The Chevalier de Lorraine took advantage of this interval to salute Madame and de Guiche most respectfully, affecting to join them together in his reverences as though they were the master and mistress of the house. Monsieur then approached them, saying, in a hoarse tone of voice, “I am delighted; I came here expecting to find you ill and low-spirited, and I find you abandoning yourself to new amusements; really, it is most fortunate. My house is the pleasantest in the kingdom.” Then turning towards de Guiche, “Comte,” he said, “I did not know you were so good a dancer.” And, again addressing his wife, he said, “Show a little more consideration for me, Madame; whenever you intend to amuse yourselves here, invite me. I am a prince, unfortunately, very much neglected.”

Guiche had now recovered his self-possession, and with the spirited boldness which was natural to him, and sat so well upon him, he said, “Your Highness knows very well that my very life is at your service, and whenever there is a question of its being needed, I am ready; but today, as it is only a question of dancing to music, I dance.”

“And you are perfectly right,” said the prince, coldly. “But, Madame,” he continued, “you do not remark that your ladies deprive me of my friends; M. de Guiche does not belong to you, Madame, but to me. If you wish to dine without me you have your ladies. When I dine alone I have my gentlemen; do not strip me of everything.”

Madame felt the reproach and the lesson, and the color rushed to her face. “Monsieur,” she replied, “I was not aware, when I came to the court of France, that princesses of my rank were to be regarded as the women in Turkey are. I was not aware that we were not allowed to be seen; but, since such is your desire, I will conform myself to it; pray do not hesitate, if you should wish it, to have my windows barred, even.”

This repartee, which made Montalais and de Guiche smile, rekindled the prince’s anger, no inconsiderable portion of which had already evaporated in words.

“Very well,” he said, in a concentrated tone of voice, “this is the way in which I am respected in my own house.”

“Monseigneur, Monseigneur,” murmured the chevalier in the duke’s ear, in such a manner that everyone could observe he was endeavoring to calm him.

“Come,” replied the prince, as his only answer to the remark, hurrying him away, and turning round with so hasty a movement that he almost ran against Madame. The chevalier followed him to his own apartment, where the prince had no sooner seated himself than he gave free vent to his fury. The chevalier raised his eyes towards the ceiling, joined his hands together, and said not a word.

“Give me your opinion,” exclaimed the prince.

“Upon what?”

“Upon what is taking place here.”

“Oh, Monseigneur, it is a very serious matter.”

“It is abominable! I cannot live in this manner.”

“How miserable all this is,” said the chevalier. “We hoped to enjoy tranquillity after that madman Buckingham had left.”

“And this is worse.”

“I do not say that, Monseigneur.”

“Yes, but I say it; for Buckingham would never have ventured upon a fourth part of what we have just now seen.”

“What do you mean?”

“To conceal oneself for the purposes of dancing, and to feign indisposition in order to dine tête-à-tête.”

“No, no, Monseigneur.”

“Yes, yes,” exclaimed the prince, exciting himself like a self-willed child; “but I will not endure it any longer, I must learn what is really going on.”

“Oh, Monseigneur, an exposure⁠—”

“By Heaven, Monsieur, shall I put myself out of the way, when people show so little consideration for me? Wait for me here, chevalier, wait for me here.” The prince disappeared in the neighboring apartment and inquired of the gentleman in attendance if the queen-mother had returned from chapel.

Anne of Austria felt that her happiness was now complete; peace restored to her family, a nation delighted with the presence of a young monarch who had shown an aptitude for affairs of great importance; the revenues of the state increased; external peace assured; everything seemed to promise a tranquil future. Her thoughts recurred, now and then, to the poor young nobleman whom she had received as a mother, and had driven away as a hardhearted stepmother, and she sighed as she thought of him.

Suddenly the Duc d’Orléans entered her room. “Dear mother,” he exclaimed hurriedly, closing the door, “things cannot go on as they are now.”

Anne of Austria raised her beautiful eyes towards him, and with an unmoved suavity of manner, said, “What do you allude to?”

“I wish to speak of Madame.”

“Your wife?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“I suppose that silly fellow Buckingham has been writing a farewell letter to her.”

“Oh! yes, Madame; of course, it is a question of Buckingham.”

“Of whom else could it be, then? for that poor fellow was, wrongly enough, the object of your jealousy, and I thought⁠—”

“My wife, Madame, has already replaced the Duke of Buckingham.”

“Philip, what are you saying? You are speaking very heedlessly.”

“No, no. Madame has so managed matters, that I am still jealous.”

“Of whom, in Heaven’s name?”

“Is it possible you have not remarked it? Have you not noticed that M. de Guiche is always in her apartments⁠—always with her?”

The queen clapped her hands together, and began to laugh. “Philip,” she said, “your jealousy is not merely a defect, it is a disease.”

“Whether a defect or a disease, Madame, I am the sufferer from it.”

“And do you imagine that a complaint which exists only in your own imagination can be cured? You wish it to be said you are right in being jealous, when there is no ground whatever for your jealousy.”

“Of course, you will begin to say for this gentleman what you already said on the behalf of the other.”

“Because, Philip,” said the queen dryly, “what you did for the other, you are going to do for this one.”

The prince bowed, slightly annoyed. “If I give you facts,” he said, “will you believe me?”

“If it regarded anything else but jealousy, I would believe you without your bringing facts forward; but as jealousy is the case, I promise nothing.”

“It is just the same as if Your Majesty were to desire me to hold my tongue, and sent me away unheard.”

“Far from it; you are my son, I owe you a mother’s indulgence.”

“Oh, say what you think; you owe me as much indulgence as a madman deserves.”

“Do not exaggerate, Philip, and take care how you represent your wife to me as a woman of depraved mind⁠—”

“But facts, mother, facts!”

“Well, I am listening.”

“This morning at ten o’clock they were playing music in Madame’s apartments.”

“No harm in that, surely.”

“M. de Guiche was talking with her alone⁠—Ah! I forgot to tell you, that, during the last ten days, he has never left her side.”

“If they were doing any harm they would hide themselves.”

“Very good,” exclaimed the duke, “I expected you to say that. Pray remember with precision the words you have just uttered. This morning I took them by surprise, and showed my dissatisfaction in a very marked manner.”

“Rely upon it, that is quite sufficient; it was, perhaps, even a little too much. These young women easily take offense. To reproach them for an error they have not committed is, sometimes, almost equivalent to telling them they might be guilty of even worse.”

“Very good, very good; but wait a minute. Do not forget what you have just this moment said, that this morning’s lesson ought to have been sufficient, and that if they had been doing what was wrong, they would have hidden themselves.”

“Yes, I said so.”

“Well, just now, repenting of my hastiness of the morning, and imagining that Guiche was sulking in his own apartments, I went to pay Madame a visit. Can you guess what, or whom, I found there? Another set of musicians; more dancing, and Guiche himself⁠—he was concealed there.”

Anne of Austria frowned. “It was imprudent,” she said. “What did Madame say?”

“Nothing.”

“And Guiche?”

“As much⁠—oh, no! he muttered some impertinent remark or another.”

“Well, what is your opinion, Philip?”

“That I have been made a fool of; that Buckingham was only a pretext, and that Guiche is the one who is really to blame in the matter.”

Anne shrugged her shoulders. “Well,” she said, “what else?”

“I wish de Guiche to be dismissed from my household, as Buckingham was, and I shall ask the king, unless⁠—”

“Unless what?”

“Unless you, my dear mother, who are so clever and so kind, will execute the commission yourself.”

“I will not do it, Philip.”

“What, Madame?”

“Listen, Philip; I am not disposed to pay people ill compliments every day; I have some influence over young people, but I cannot take advantage of it without running the chances of losing it altogether. Besides, there is nothing to prove that M. de Guiche is guilty.”

“He has displeased me.”

“That is your own affair.”

“Very well, I know what I shall do,” said the prince, impetuously.

Anne looked at him with some uneasiness. “What do you intend to do?” she said.

“I will have him drowned in my fishpond the very next time I find him in my apartments again.” Having launched this terrible threat, the prince expected his mother would be frightened out of her senses; but the queen was unmoved.

“Do so,” she said.

Philip was as weak as a woman, and began to cry out, “Everyone betrays me⁠—no one cares for me; my mother, even, joins my enemies.”

“Your mother, Philip, sees further in the matter than you do, and does not care about advising you, since you will not listen to her.”

“I will go to the king.”

“I was about to propose that to you. I am now expecting His Majesty; it is the hour he usually pays me a visit; explain the matter to him yourself.”

She had hardly finished when Philip heard the door of the anteroom open with some noise. He began to feel nervous. At the sound of the king’s footsteps, which could be heard upon the carpet, the duke hurriedly made his escape. Anne of Austria could not resist laughing, and was laughing still when the king entered. He came very affectionately to inquire after the even now uncertain health of the queen-mother, and to announce to her that the preparations for the journey to Fontainebleau were complete. Seeing her laugh, his uneasiness on her account diminished, and he addressed her in a vivacious tone himself. Anne of Austria took him by the hand, and, in a voice full of playfulness, said, “Do you know, sire that I am proud of being a Spanish woman?”

“Why, Madame?”

“Because Spanish women are worth more than English women at least.”

“Explain yourself.”

“Since your marriage you have not, I believe, had a single reproach to make against the queen.”

“Certainly not.”

“And you, too, have been married some time. Your brother, on the contrary, has been married but a fortnight.”

“Well?”

“He is now finding fault with Madame a second time.”

“What, Buckingham still?”

“No, another.”

“Who?”

“Guiche.”

“Really? Madame is a coquette, then?”

“I fear so.”

“My poor brother,” said the king, laughing.

“You don’t object to coquettes, it seems?”

“In Madame, certainly I do; but Madame is not a coquette at heart.”

“That may be, but your brother is excessively angry about it.”

“What does he want?”

“He wants to drown Guiche.”

“That is a violent measure to resort to.”

“Do not laugh; he is extremely irritated. Think of what can be done.”

“To save Guiche⁠—certainly.”

“Of, if your brother heard you, he would conspire against you as your uncle did against your father.”

“No; Philip has too much affection for me for that, and I, on my side, have too great a regard for him; we shall live together on very good terms. But what is the substance of his request?”

“That you will prevent Madame from being a coquette and Guiche from being amiable.”

“Is that all? My brother has an exalted idea of sovereign power. To reform a man, not to speak about reforming a woman!”

“How will you set about it?”

“With a word to Guiche, who is a clever fellow, I will undertake to convince him.”

“But Madame?”

“That is more difficult; a word will not be enough. I will compose a homily and read it to her.”

“There is no time to be lost.”

“Oh, I will use the utmost diligence. There is a repetition of the ballet this afternoon.”

“You will read her a lecture while you are dancing?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“You promise to convert her?”

“I will root out the heresy altogether, either by convincing her, or by extreme measures.”

“That is all right, then. Do not mix me up in the affair; Madame would never forgive me all her life, and as a mother-in-law, I ought to desire to live on good terms with my newfound daughter.”

“The king, Madame, will take all upon himself. But let me reflect.”

“What about?”

“It would be better, perhaps, if I were to go and see Madame in her own apartment.”

“Would that not seem a somewhat serious step to take?”

“Yes; but seriousness is not unbecoming in preachers, and the music of the ballet would drown half my arguments. Besides, the object is to prevent any violent measures on my brother’s part, so that a little precipitation may be advisable. Is Madame in her own apartment?”

“I believe so.”

“What is my statement of grievances to consist of?”

“In a few words, of the following: music uninterruptedly; Guiche’s assiduity; suspicions of treasonable plots and practices.”

“And the proofs?”

“There are none.”

“Very well; I will go at once to see Madame.” The king turned to look in the mirrors at his costume, which was very rich, and his face, which was radiant as the morning. “I suppose my brother is kept a little at a distance,” said the king.

“Fire and water cannot be more opposite.”

“That will do. Permit me, Madame, to kiss your hands, the most beautiful hands in France.”

“May you be successful, sire, as the family peacemaker.”

“I do not employ an ambassador,” said Louis, “which is as much as to say that I shall succeed.” He laughed as he left the room, and carelessly adjusted his ruffles as he went along.

CHAPTER 16

The Mediator
When the king made his appearance in Madame’s apartments, the courtiers, whom the news of a conjugal misunderstanding had dispersed through the various apartments, began to entertain the most serious apprehensions. A storm was brewing in that direction, the elements of which the Chevalier de Lorraine, in the midst of the different groups, was analyzing with delight, contributing to the weaker, and acting, according to his own wicked designs, in such a manner with regard to the stronger, as to produce the most disastrous consequences possible. As Anne of Austria had herself said, the presence of the king gave a solemn and serious character to the event. Indeed, in the year 1662, the dissatisfaction of Monsieur with Madame, and the king’s intervention in the private affairs of Monsieur, was a matter of no inconsiderable moment. [3]

The boldest, even, who had been the associates of the Comte de Guiche, had, from the first moment, held aloof from him, with a sort of nervous apprehension; and the comte himself, infected by the general panic, retired to his own room. The king entered Madame’s private apartments, acknowledging and returning the salutations, as he was always in the habit of doing. The ladies of honor were ranged in a line on his passage along the gallery. Although His Majesty was very much preoccupied, he gave the glance of a master at the two rows of young and beautiful girls, who modestly cast down their eyes, blushing as they felt the king’s gaze fall upon them. One only of the number, whose long hair fell in silken masses upon the most beautiful skin imaginable, was pale, and could hardly sustain herself, notwithstanding the knocks which her companion gave her with her elbow. It was La Vallière whom Montalais supported in that manner by whispering some of that courage to her with which she herself was so abundantly provided. The king could not resist turning round to look at them again. Their faces, which had already been raised, were again lowered, but the only fair head among them remained motionless, as if all the strength and intelligence she had left had abandoned her. When he entered Madame’s room, Louis found his sister-in-law reclining upon the cushions of her cabinet. She rose and made a profound reverence, murmuring some words of thanks for the honor she was receiving. She then resumed her seat, overcome by a sudden weakness, which was no doubt assumed, for a delightful color animated her cheeks, and her eyes, still red from the tears she had recently shed, never had more fire in them. When the king was seated, as soon as he had remarked, with that accuracy of observation which characterized him, the disorder of the apartment, and the no less great disorder of Madame’s countenance, he assumed a playful manner, saying, “My dear sister, at what hour today would you wish the repetition of the ballet to take place?”

Madame, shaking her charming head, slowly and languishingly said: “Ah! sire, will you graciously excuse my appearance at the repetition? I was about to send to inform you that I could not attend today.”

“Indeed,” said the king, in apparent surprise; “are you not well?”

“No, sire.”

“I will summon your medical attendants, then.”

“No, for they can do nothing for my indisposition.”

“You alarm me.”

“Sire, I wish to ask Your Majesty’s permission to return to England.”

The king started. “Return to England,” he said; “do you really say what you mean?”

“I say it reluctantly, sire,” replied the granddaughter of Henry IV, firmly, her beautiful black eyes flashing. “I regret to have to confide such matters to Your Majesty, but I feel myself too unhappy at Your Majesty’s court; and I wish to return to my own family.”

“Madame, Madame,” exclaimed the king, as he approached her.

“Listen to me, sire,” continued the young woman, acquiring by degrees that ascendency over her interrogator which her beauty and her nervous nature conferred; “young as I am, I have already suffered humiliation, and have endured disdain here. Oh! do not contradict me, sire,” she said, with a smile. The king colored.

“Then,” she continued, “I had reasoned myself into the belief that Heaven called me into existence with that object⁠—I, the daughter of a powerful monarch; that since my father had been deprived of life, Heaven could well smite my pride. I have suffered greatly; I have been the cause, too, of my mother suffering much; but I vowed that if Providence ever placed me in a position of independence, even were it that of a workman of the lower classes, who gains her bread by her labor, I would never suffer humiliation again. That day has now arrived; I have been restored to the fortune due to my rank and to my birth; I have even ascended again the steps of a throne, and I thought that, in allying myself with a French prince, I should find in him a relation, a friend, an equal; but I perceive I have found only a master, and I rebel. My mother shall know nothing of it; you whom I respect, and whom I⁠—love⁠—”

The king started; never had any voice so gratified his ear.

“You, sire, who know all, since you have come here; you will, perhaps, understand me. If you had not come, I should have gone to you. I wish for permission to go away. I leave it to your delicacy of feeling to exculpate and to protect me.”

“My dear sister,” murmured the king, overpowered by this bold attack, “have you reflected upon the enormous difficulty of the project you have conceived?”

“Sire, I do not reflect, I feel. Attacked, I instinctively repel the attack, nothing more.”

“Come, tell me, what have they done to you?” said the king.

The princess, it will have been seen, by this peculiarly feminine maneuver, had escaped every reproach, and advanced on her side a far more serious one; from the accused she became the accuser. It is an infallible sign of guilt; but notwithstanding that, all women, even the least clever of the sex, invariably know how to derive some such means of turning the tables. The king had forgotten that he was paying her a visit in order to say to her, “What have you done to my brother?” and he was reduced to weakly asking her, “What have they done to you?”

“What have they done to me?” replied Madame. “One must be a woman to understand it, sire⁠—they have made me shed tears”; and, with one of her fingers, whose slenderness and perfect whiteness were unequaled, she pointed to her brilliant eyes swimming with unshed drops, and again began to weep.

“I implore you, my dear sister!” said the king, advancing to take her warm and throbbing hand, which she abandoned to him.

“In the first place, sire, I was deprived of the presence of my brother’s friend. The Duke of Buckingham was an agreeable, cheerful visitor; my own countryman, who knew my habits; I will say almost a companion, so accustomed had we been to pass our days together, with our other friends, upon the beautiful piece of water at St. James’s.”

“But Villiers was in love with you.”

“A pretext! What does it matter,” she said, seriously, “whether the duke was in love with me or not? Is a man in love so very dangerous for me? Ah! sire, it is not sufficient for a man to love a woman.” And she smiled so tenderly, and with so much archness, that the king felt his heart swell and throb in his breast.

“At all events, if my brother were jealous?” interrupted the king.

“Very well, I admit that is a reason; and the duke was sent away accordingly.”

“No, not sent away.”

“Driven away, dismissed, expelled, then, if you prefer it, sire. One of the first gentlemen of Europe obliged to leave the court of the King of France, of Louis XIV, like a beggar, on account of a glance or a bouquet. It was little worthy of a most gallant court; but forgive me, sire; I forgot, that, in speaking thus, I am attacking your sovereign power.”

“I assure you, my dear sister, it was not I who dismissed the Duke of Buckingham; I was charmed with him.”

“It was not you?” said Madame; “ah! so much the better”; and she emphasized the “so much the better,” as if she had instead said, “so much the worse.”

A few minutes’ silence ensued. She then resumed: “The Duke of Buckingham having left⁠—I now know why and by whose means⁠—I thought I should have recovered my tranquillity; but not at all, for all at once Monsieur found another pretext; all at once⁠—”

“All at once,” said the king, playfully, “someone else presents himself. It is but natural; you are beautiful, and will always meet with men who will madly love you.”

“In that case,” exclaimed the princess, “I will create a solitude around me, which indeed seems to be what is wished, and what is being prepared for me. But no, I prefer to return to London. There I am known and appreciated. I shall have friends, without fearing they may be regarded as my lovers. Shame! it is a disgraceful suspicion, and unworthy a gentleman. Monsieur has lost everything in my estimation, since he has shown me he can be a tyrant to a woman.”

“Nay, nay, my brother’s only fault is that of loving you.”

“Love me! Monsieur love me! Ah! sire,” and she burst out laughing. “Monsieur will never love any woman,” she said; “Monsieur loves himself too much; no, unhappily for me, Monsieur’s jealousy is of the worst kind⁠—he is jealous without love.”

“Confess, however,” said the king, who began to be excited by this varied and animated conversation; “confess that Guiche loves you.”

“Ah! sire, I know nothing about that.”

“You must have perceived it. A man who loves readily betrays himself.”

“M. de Guiche has not betrayed himself.”

“My dear sister, you are defending M. de Guiche.”

“I, indeed! Ah, sire, I only needed a suspicion from yourself to crown my wretchedness.”

“No, Madame, no,” returned the king, hurriedly; “do not distress yourself. Nay, you are weeping. I implore you to calm yourself.”

She wept, however, and large tears fell upon her hands; the king took one of her hands in his, and kissed the tears away. She looked at him so sadly and with so much tenderness that he felt his heart giving way under her gaze.

“You have no kind of feeling, then, for Guiche?” he said, more disturbed than became his character of mediator.

“None⁠—absolutely none.”

“Then I can reassure my brother in that respect?”

“Nothing will satisfy him, sire. Do not believe he is jealous. Monsieur has been badly advised by someone, and he is of nervous disposition.”

“He may well be so when you are concerned,” said the king.

Madame cast down her eyes, and was silent; the king did so likewise, still holding her hand all the while. Their momentary silence seemed to last an age. Madame gently withdrew her hand, and from that moment, she felt her triumph was certain, and that the field of battle was her own.

“Monsieur complains,” said the king, “that you prefer the society of private individuals to his own conversation and society.”

“But Monsieur passes his life in looking at his face in the glass, and in plotting all sorts of spiteful things against women with the Chevalier de Lorraine.”

“Oh, you are going somewhat too far.”

“I only tell you what is true. Do you observe for yourself, sire, and you will see that I am right.”

“I will observe; but, in the meantime, what satisfaction can I give my brother?”

“My departure.”

“You repeat that word,” exclaimed the king, imprudently, as if, during the last ten minutes, such a change had been produced that Madame would have had all her ideas on the subject thoroughly changed.

“Sire, I cannot be happy here any longer,” she said. “M. de Guiche annoys Monsieur. Will he be sent away, too?”

“If it be necessary, why not?” replied the king, smiling.

“Well; and after M. de Guiche⁠—whom, by the by, I shall regret⁠—I warn you, sire.”

“Ah, you will regret him?”

“Certainly; he is amiable, he has a great friendship for me, and he amuses me.”

“If Monsieur were only to hear you,” said the king, slightly annoyed, “do you know I would not undertake to make it up again between you; nay, I would not even attempt it.”

“Sire, can you, even now, prevent Monsieur from being jealous of the first person who may approach? I know very well that M. de Guiche is not the first.”

“Again I warn you that as a good brother I shall take a dislike to de Guiche.”

“Ah, sire, do not, I entreat you, adopt either the sympathies or the dislikes of Monsieur. Remain king; better for yourself and for everyone else.”

“You jest charmingly, Madame; and I can well understand how the people you attack must adore you.”

“And is that the reason why you, sire, whom I had regarded as my defender, are about to join these who persecute me?” said Madame.

“I your persecutor! Heaven forbid!”

“Then,” she continued, languishingly, “grant me a favor.”

“Whatever you wish.”

“Let me return to England.”

“Never, never!” exclaimed Louis XIV.

“I am a prisoner, then?”

“In France⁠—if France is a prison⁠—yes.”

“What must I do, then?”

“I will tell you. Instead of devoting yourself to friendships which are somewhat unstable, instead of alarming us by your retirement, remain always in our society, do not leave us, let us live as a united family. M. de Guiche is certainly very amiable; but if, at least, we do not possess his wit⁠—”

“Ah, sire, you know very well you are pretending to be modest.”

“No, I swear to you. One may be a king, and yet feel that he possesses fewer chances of pleasing than many other gentlemen.”

“I am sure, sire, that you do not believe a single word you are saying.”

The king looked at Madame tenderly, and said, “Will you promise me one thing?”

“What is it?”

“That you will no longer waste upon strangers, in your own apartments, the time which you owe us. Shall we make an offensive and defensive alliance against the common enemy?”

“An alliance with you, sire?”

“Why not? Are you not a sovereign power?”

“But are you, sire, a reliable ally?”

“You shall see, Madame.”

“And when shall this alliance commence?”

“This very day.”

“I will draw up the treaty, and you shall sign it.”

“Blindly.”

“Then, sire, I promise you wonders; you are the star of the court, and when you make your appearance, everything will be resplendent.”

“Oh, Madame, Madame,” said Louis XIV, “you know well that there is no brilliancy that does not proceed from yourself, and that if I assume the sun as my device, it is only an emblem.”

“Sire, you flatter your ally, and you wish to deceive her,” said Madame, threatening the king with her finger menacingly raised.

“What! you believe I am deceiving you, when I assure you of my affection?”

“Yes.”

“What makes you so suspicious?”

“One thing.”

“What is it? I shall indeed be unhappy if I do not overcome it.”

“That one thing in question, sire, is not in your power, not even in the power of Heaven.”

“Tell me what it is.”

“The past.”

“I do not understand, Madame,” said the king, precisely because he had understood her but too well.

The princess took his hand in hers. “Sire,” she said, “I have had the misfortune to displease you for so long a period, that I have almost the right to ask myself today why you were able to accept me as a sister-in-law.”

“Displease me! You have displeased me?”

“Nay, do not deny it, for I remember it well.”

“Our alliance shall date from today,” exclaimed the king, with a warmth that was not assumed. “You will not think any more of the past, will you? I myself am resolved that I will not. I shall always remember the present; I have it before my eyes; look.” And he led the princess before a mirror, in which she saw herself reflected, blushing and beautiful enough to overcome a saint.

“It is all the same,” she murmured; “it will not be a very worthy alliance.”

“Must I swear?” inquired the king, intoxicated by the voluptuous turn the whole conversation had taken.

“Oh, I will not refuse to witness a resounding oath,” said Madame; “it has always the semblance of security.”

The king knelt upon a footstool and took Madame’s hand. She, with a smile that no painter could ever succeed in depicting, and which a poet might only imagine, gave him both her hands, in which he hid his burning face. Neither of them could utter a syllable. The king felt Madame withdraw her hands, caressing his face while she did so. He rose immediately and left the apartment. The courtiers remarked his heightened color, and concluded that the scene had been a stormy one. The Chevalier de Lorraine, however, hastened to say, “Nay, be comforted, gentlemen, His Majesty is always pale when he is angry.”

CHAPTER 17

The Advisers
The king left Madame in a state of agitation it would have been difficult even for himself to have explained. It is impossible, in fact, to depict the secret play of those strange sympathies which, suddenly and apparently without any cause, are excited, after many years passed in the greatest calmness and indifference, by two hearts destined to love each other. Why had Louis formerly disdained, almost hated, Madame? Why did he now find the same woman so beautiful, so captivating? And why, not only were his thoughts occupied about her, but still more, why were they so continuously occupied about her? Why, in fact, had Madame, whose eyes and mind were sought for in another direction, shown during the last week towards the king a semblance of favor which encouraged the belief of still greater regard. It must not be supposed that Louis proposed to himself any plan of seduction; the tie which united Madame to his brother was, or at least seemed to him, an insuperable barrier; he was even too far removed from that barrier to perceive its existence. But on the downward path of those passions in which the heart rejoices, towards which youth impels us, no one can decide where to stop, not even the man who has in advance calculated all the chances of his own success or another’s submission. As far as Madame was concerned, her regard for the king may easily be explained: she was young, a coquette, and ardently fond of admiration. Hers was one of those buoyant, impetuous natures, which upon a theatre would leap over the greatest obstacles to obtain an acknowledgement of applause from the spectators. It was not surprising, then, that, after having been adored by Buckingham, by de Guiche, who was superior to Buckingham, even if it were only from that negative merit, so much appreciated by women, that is to say, novelty⁠—it was not surprising, we say, that the princess should raise her ambition to being admired by the king, who not only was the first person in the kingdom, but was one of the handsomest and cleverest men in Europe. As for the sudden passion with which Louis was inspired for his sister-in-law, physiology would perhaps supply an explanation by some hackneyed commonplace reasons, and nature by means of her mysterious affinity of characters. Madame had the most beautiful black eyes in the world; Louis, eyes as beautiful, but blue. Madame was laughter-loving and unreserved in her manners; Louis, melancholy and diffident. Summoned to meet each other for the first time upon the grounds of interest and common curiosity, these two opposite natures were mutually influenced by the mingling of their reciprocal contradictions of character. Louis, when he returned to his own rooms, acknowledged to himself that Madame was the most attractive woman of his court. Madame, left alone, delightedly thought that she had made a great impression on the king. This feeling with her must remain passive, whilst the king could not but act with all the natural vehemence of the heated fancies of a young man, and of a young man who has but to express a wish to see his wish fulfilled.

The first thing the king did was to announce to Monsieur that everything was quietly arranged; that Madame had the greatest respect, the sincerest affection for him; but that she was of a proud, impetuous character, and that her susceptibilities were so acute as to require very careful management.

Monsieur replied in the reticent tone of voice he generally adopted with his brother, that he could not very well understand the susceptibilities of a woman whose conduct might, in his opinion, expose her to censorious remarks, and that if anyone had a right to feel wounded, it was he, Monsieur himself. To this the king replied in a quick tone of voice, which showed the interest he took in his sister-in-law, “Thank Heaven, Madame is above censure.”

“The censure of others, certainly, I admit,” said Monsieur; “but not above mine, I presume.”

“Well,” said the king, “all I have to say, Philip, is that Madame’s conduct does not deserve your censure. She certainly is heedless and singular, but professes the best feelings. The English character is not always well understood in France, and the liberty of English manners sometimes surprises those who do not know the extent to which this liberty is enriched by innocence.”

“Ah!” said Monsieur, more and more piqued, “from the very moment that Your Majesty absolves my wife, whom I accuse, my wife is not guilty, and I have nothing more to say.”

“Philip,” replied the king hastily, for he felt the voice of conscience murmuring softly in his heart that Monsieur was not altogether wrong, “what I have done, and what I have said, has been only for your happiness. I was told that you complained of a want of confidence and attention on Madame’s part, and I did not wish your uneasiness to be prolonged. It is part of my duty to watch over your household, as over that of the humblest of my subjects. I have satisfied myself, therefore, with the sincerest pleasure, that your apprehensions have no foundation.”

“And,” continued Monsieur, in an interrogative tone of voice, and fixing his eyes upon his brother, “what Your Majesty has discovered for Madame⁠—and I bow myself to your superior judgment⁠—have you verified for those who have been the cause of the scandal of which I complain?”

“You are right, Philip,” said the king; “I will reserve that point for future consideration.”

These words comprised an order as well as a consolation; the prince felt it to be so, and withdrew.

As for Louis, he went to seek his mother, for he felt that he had need of a more complete absolution than that he had just received from his brother. Anne of Austria did not entertain for M. de Guiche the same reasons for indulgence she had had for Buckingham. She perceived, at the very first words he pronounced, that Louis was not disposed to be severe.

To appear in a contradictory humor was one of the stratagems of the good queen, in order to succeed in ascertaining the truth. But Louis was no longer in his apprenticeship; already for more than a year past he had been king, and during that year he had learned how to dissemble. Listening to Anne of Austria, in order to permit her to disclose her own thoughts, testifying his approval only by look and gesture, he became convinced, from certain piercing glances, and from certain skillful insinuations, that the queen, so clear-sighted in matters of gallantry, had, if not guessed, at least suspected, his weakness for Madame. Of all his auxiliaries, Anne of Austria would be the most important to secure; of all his enemies, Anne of Austria would prove most dangerous. Louis, therefore, changed his maneuvers. He complained of Madame, absolved Monsieur, listened to what his mother had to say of de Guiche, as he had previously listened to what she had to say of Buckingham, and then, when he saw that she thought she had gained a complete victory over him, he left her.

The whole of the court, that is to say, all the favorites and more intimate associates, and they were numerous, since there were already five masters, were assembled in the evening for the repetition of the ballet. This interval had been occupied by poor de Guiche in receiving visits; among the number was one which he hoped and feared nearly to an equal extent. It was that of the Chevalier de Lorraine. About three o’clock in the afternoon the chevalier entered de Guiche’s rooms. His looks were of the most reassuring character. “Monsieur,” said he to de Guiche, “was in an excellent humor, and no none could say that the slightest cloud had passed across the conjugal sky. Besides, Monsieur was not one to bear ill-feeling.”

For a long time past, during his residence at the court, the Chevalier de Lorraine had decided, that of Louis XIII’s two sons, Monsieur was the one who had inherited the father’s character⁠—an uncertain, irresolute character; impulsively good, indifferently disposed at bottom; but certainly a cipher for his friends. He especially cheered de Guiche, by pointing out to him that Madame would, before long, succeed in governing her husband, and that, consequently, that man would govern Monsieur who should succeed in influencing Madame.

To this, de Guiche full of mistrust and presence of mind, replied, “Yes, chevalier; but I believe Madame to be a very dangerous person.”

“In what respect?”

“She has perceived that Monsieur is not very passionately inclined towards women.”

“Quite true,” said the Chevalier de Lorraine, laughing.

“In that case, Madame will choose the first one who approaches, in order to make him the object of her preference, and to bring back her husband by jealousy.”

“Deep! deep!” exclaimed the chevalier.

“But true,” replied de Guiche.

Neither the one nor the other expressed his real thought. De Guiche, at the very moment he thus attacked Madame’s character, mentally asked her forgiveness from the bottom of his heart. The chevalier, while admiring de Guiche’s penetration, was leading him, blindfolded, to the brink of the precipice. De Guiche then questioned him more directly upon the effect produced by the scene of the morning, and upon the still more serious effect produced by the scene at dinner.

“But I have already told you they are all laughing at it,” replied the Chevalier de Lorraine, “and Monsieur himself at the head of them.”

“Yet,” hazarded de Guiche, “I have heard that the king paid Madame a visit.”

“Yes, precisely so. Madame was the only one who did not laugh, and the king went to her in order to make her laugh, too.”

“So that⁠—”

“So that nothing is altered in the arrangements of the day,” said the chevalier.

“And is there a repetition of the ballet this evening?”

“Certainly.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite,” returned the chevalier.

At this moment of the conversation between the two young men, Raoul entered, looking full of anxiety. As soon as the chevalier, who had a secret dislike for him, as for every other noble character, perceived him enter, he rose from his seat.

“What do you advise me to do, then?” inquired de Guiche of the chevalier.

“I advise you to go to sleep in perfect tranquillity, my dear count.”

“And my advice, de Guiche,” said Raoul, “is the very opposite.”

“What is that?”

“To mount your horse and set off at once for one of your estates; on your arrival, follow the chevalier’s advice, if you like; and, what is more, you can sleep there as long and as tranquilly as you please.”

“What! set off!” exclaimed the chevalier, feigning surprise; “why should de Guiche set off?”

“Because, and you cannot be ignorant of it⁠—you particularly so⁠—because everyone is talking about the scene which has passed between Monsieur and de Guiche.”

De Guiche turned pale.

“Not at all,” replied the chevalier, “not at all; and you have been wrongly informed, M. de Bragelonne.”

“I have been perfectly well-informed, on the contrary, Monsieur,” replied Raoul, “and the advice I give de Guiche is that of a friend.”

During this discussion, de Guiche, somewhat shaken, looked alternately first at one and then at the other of his advisers. He inwardly felt that a game, important in all its consequences for the rest of his life, was being played at that moment.

“Is it not the fact,” said the chevalier, putting the question to the count himself, “is it not the fact, de Guiche, that the scene was not so tempestuous as the Vicomte de Bragelonne seems to think, and who, moreover, was not himself there?”

“Whether tempestuous or not,” persisted Raoul, “it is not precisely of the scene itself that I am speaking, but of the consequences that may ensue. I know that Monsieur has threatened, I know that Madame has been in tears.”

“Madame in tears!” exclaimed de Guiche, imprudently clasping his hands.

“Ah!” said the chevalier, laughing, “this is indeed a circumstance I was not acquainted with. You are decidedly better informed than I am, Monsieur de Bragelonne.”

“And it is because I am better informed than yourself, chevalier, that I insist upon de Guiche leaving.”

“No, no; I regret to differ from you, vicomte; but his departure is unnecessary. Why, indeed, should he leave? tell us why.”

“The king!”

“The king!” exclaimed de Guiche.

“Yes; I tell you the king has taken up the affair.”

“Bah!” said the chevalier, “the king likes de Guiche, and particularly his father; reflect, that, if the count were to leave, it would be an admission that he had done something which merited rebuke.”

“Why so?”

“No doubt of it; when one runs away, it is either from guilt or fear.”

“Sometimes, because a man is offended; often because he is wrongfully accused,” said Bragelonne. “We will assign as a reason for his departure, that he feels hurt and injured⁠—nothing will be easier; we will say that we both did our utmost to keep him, and you, at least, will not be speaking otherwise than the truth. Come, de Guiche, you are innocent, and, being so, the scene of today must have wounded you. So set off.”

“No, de Guiche, remain where you are,” said the chevalier; “precisely as M. de Bragelonne has put it, because you are innocent. Once more, forgive me, vicomte; but my opinion is the very opposite to your own.”

“And you are at perfect liberty to maintain it, Monsieur; but be assured that the exile which de Guiche will voluntarily impose upon himself will be of short duration. He can terminate it whenever he pleases, and returning from his voluntary exile, he will meet with smiles from all lips; while, on the contrary, the anger of the king may now draw down a storm upon his head, the end of which no one can foresee.”

The chevalier smiled, and muttered to himself, “That is the very thing I wish.” And at the same time he shrugged his shoulders, a movement which did not escape the count, who dreaded, if he quitted the court, to seem to yield to a feeling of fear.

“No, no; I have decided, Bragelonne; I stay.”

“I prophesy, then,” said Raoul, sadly, “that misfortune will befall you, de Guiche.”

“I, too, am a prophet, but not a prophet of evil; on the contrary, count, I say to you, ‘remain.’ ”

“Are you sure,” inquired de Guiche, “that the repetition of the ballet still takes place?”

“Quite sure.”

“Well, you see, Raoul,” continued de Guiche, endeavoring to smile, “you see, the court is not so very sorrowful, or so readily disposed for internal dissensions, when dancing is carried on with such assiduity. Come, acknowledge that,” said the count to Raoul, who shook his head, saying, “I have nothing to add.”

“But,” inquired the chevalier, curious to learn whence Raoul had obtained his information, the exactitude of which he was inwardly forced to admit, “since you say you are well-informed, vicomte, how can you be better informed than myself, who am one of the prince’s most intimate companions?”

“To such a declaration I submit. You certainly ought to be perfectly well-informed, I admit; and, as a man of honor is incapable of saying anything but what he knows to be true, or of speaking otherwise than what he thinks, I will say no more, but confess myself defeated, and leave you in possession of the field of battle.”

Whereupon Raoul, who now seemed only to care to be left quiet, threw himself upon a couch, whilst the count summoned his servants to aid him in dressing. The chevalier, finding that time was passing away, wished to leave; but he feared, too, that Raoul, left alone with de Guiche, might yet influence him to change his mind. He therefore made use of his last resource.

“Madame,” he said, “will be brilliant; she appears today in her costume of Pomona.”

“Yes, that is so,” exclaimed the count.

“And she has just given directions in consequence,” continued the chevalier. “You know, Monsieur de Bragelonne, that the king is to appear as Spring.”

“It will be admirable,” said de Guiche; “and that is a better reason for me to remain than any you have yet given, because I am to appear as Autumn, and shall have to dance with Madame. I cannot absent myself without the king’s orders, since my departure would interrupt the ballet.”

“I,” said the chevalier, “am to be only a simple égypan; true, it is, I am a bad dancer, and my legs are not well made. Gentlemen, adieu. Do not forget the basket of fruit, which you are to offer to Pomona, count.”

“Rest assured,” said de Guiche, delightedly, “I shall forget nothing.”

“I am now quite certain that he will remain,” murmured the Chevalier de Lorraine to himself.

Raoul, when the chevalier had left, did not even attempt to dissuade his friend, for he felt that it would be trouble thrown away; he merely observed to the comte, in his melancholy and melodious voice, “You are embarking in a most dangerous enterprise. I know you well; you go to extremes in everything, and the lady you love does so, too. Admitting for an instant that she should at last love you⁠—”

“Oh, never!” exclaimed de Guiche.

“Why do you say never?”

“Because it would be a great misfortune for both of us.”

“In that case, instead of regarding you simply imprudent, I cannot but consider you absolutely mad.”

“Why?”

“Are you perfectly sure⁠—mind, answer me frankly⁠—that you do not wish her whom you love to make any sacrifice for you?”

“Yes, yes; quite sure.”

“Love her, then, at a distance.”

“What! at a distance?”

“Certainly; what matters being present or absent, since you expect nothing from her? Love her portrait, a memento.”

“Raoul!”

“Love is a shadow, an illusion, a chimera; be devoted to the affection itself, in giving a name to your ideality.”

“Ah!”

“You turn away; your servants approach. I will say no more. In good or bad fortune, de Guiche, depend on me.”

“Indeed I shall do so.”

“Very well; that is all I had to say to you. Spare no pains in your person, de Guiche, and look your very best. Adieu.”

“You will not be present, then, at the ballet, vicomte?”

“No; I shall have a visit to pay in town. Farewell, de Guiche.”

The reception was to take place in the king’s apartments. In the first place, there were the queens, then Madame, and a few ladies of the court, who had been carefully selected. A great number of courtiers, also selected, occupied the time, before the dancing commenced, in conversing, as people knew how to converse in those times. None of the ladies who had received invitations appeared in the costumes of the fête, as the Chevalier de Lorraine had predicted, but many conversations took place about the rich and ingenious toilettes designed by different painters for the ballet of “The Demigods,” for thus were termed the kings and queens of which Fontainebleau was about to become the Pantheon. Monsieur arrived, holding in his hand a drawing representing his character; he looked somewhat anxious; he bowed courteously to the young queen and his mother, but saluted Madame almost cavalierly. His notice of her and his coldness of manner were observed by all. M. de Guiche indemnified the princess by a look of passionate devotion, and it must be admitted that Madame, as she raised her eyes, returned it to him with interest. It is unquestionable that de Guiche had never looked so handsome, for Madame’s glance had its customary effect of lighting up the features of the son of the Marshal de Gramont. The king’s sister-in-law felt a storm mustering above her head; she felt, too, that during the whole of the day, so fruitful in future events, she had acted unjustly, if not treasonably, towards one who loved her with such a depth of devotion. In her eyes the moment seemed to have arrived for an acknowledgement to the poor victim of the injustice of the morning. Her heart spoke, and murmured the name of de Guiche; the count was sincerely pitied and accordingly gained the victory over all others. Neither Monsieur, nor the king, nor the Duke of Buckingham, was any longer thought of; de Guiche at that moment reigned without a rival. But although Monsieur also looked very handsome, still he could not be compared to the count. It is well known⁠—indeed all women say so⁠—that a wide difference invariably exists between the good looks of a lover and those of a husband. Besides, in the present case, after Monsieur had left, and after the courteous and affectionate recognition of the young queen and of the queen-mother, and the careless and indifferent notice of Madame, which all the courtiers had remarked; all these motives gave the lover the advantage over the husband. Monsieur was too great a personage to notice these details. Nothing is so certain as a well settled idea of superiority to prove the inferiority of the man who has that opinion of himself. The king arrived. Everyone looked for what might possibly happen in the glance, which began to bestir the world, like the brow of Jupiter Tonans. Louis had none of his brother’s gloominess, but was perfectly radiant. Having examined the greater part of the drawings which were displayed for his inspection on every side, he gave his opinion or made his remarks upon them, and in this manner rendered some happy and others wretched by a single word. Suddenly his glance, which was smilingly directed towards Madame, detected the slight correspondence established between the princess and the count. He bit his lips, but when he opened them again to utter a few commonplace remarks, he said, advancing towards the queens:⁠—

“I have just been informed that everything is now prepared at Fontainebleau, in accordance with my directions.” A murmur of satisfaction arose from the different groups, and the king perceived on every face the greatest anxiety to receive an invitation for the fêtes. “I shall leave tomorrow,” he added. Whereupon the profoundest silence immediately ensued. “And I invite,” said the king, finishing, “all those who are now present to get ready to accompany me.”

Smiling faces were now everywhere visible, with the exception of Monsieur, who seemed to retain his ill-humor. The different noblemen and ladies of the court thereupon defiled before the king, one after the other, in order to thank His Majesty for the great honor which had been conferred upon them by the invitation. When it came to de Guiche’s turn, the king said, “Ah! M. de Guiche, I did not see you.”

The comte bowed, and Madame turned pale. De Guiche was about to open his lips to express his thanks, when the king said, “Comte, this is the season for farming purposes in the country; I am sure your tenants in Normandy will be glad to see you.”

The king, after this pitiless attack, turned his back on the poor comte, whose turn it was now to become pale; he advanced a few steps towards the king, forgetting that the king is never spoken to except in reply to questions addressed.

“I have perhaps misunderstood Your Majesty,” he stammered out.

The king turned his head slightly, and with a cold and stern glance, which plunged like a sword relentlessly into the hearts of those under disgrace, repeated, “I said retire to your estates,” allowing every syllable to fall slowly one by one.

A cold perspiration bedewed the comte’s face, his hands convulsively opened, and his hat, which he held between his trembling fingers, fell to the ground. Louis sought his mother’s glance, as though to show her that he was master; he sought his brother’s triumphant look, as if to ask him if he were satisfied with the vengeance taken; and lastly, his eyes fell upon Madame; but the princess was laughing and smiling with Madame de Noailles. She heard nothing, or rather had pretended not to hear at all. The Chevalier de Lorraine looked on also, with one of those looks of fixed hostility that seemed to give to a man’s glance the power of a lever when it raises an obstacle, wrests it away, and casts it to a distance. M. de Guiche was left alone in the king’s cabinet, the whole of the company having departed. Shadows seemed to dance before his eyes. He suddenly broke through the settled despair that overwhelmed him, and flew to hide himself in his own room, where Raoul awaited him, immovable in his own sad presentiments.

“Well?” he murmured, seeing his friend enter, bareheaded, with a wild gaze and tottering gait.

“Yes, yes, it is true,” said de Guiche, unable to utter more, and falling exhausted upon the couch.

“And she?” inquired Raoul.

“She,” exclaimed his unhappy friend, as he raised his hand clenched in anger, towards Heaven. “She!⁠—”

“What did she say and do?”

“She said that her dress suited her admirably, and then she laughed.”

A fit of hysteric laughter seemed to shatter his nerves, for he fell backwards, completely overcome.

CHAPTER 18

Fontainebleau
For four days, every kind of enchantment brought together in the magnificent gardens of Fontainebleau had converted this spot into a place of the most perfect enjoyment. M. Colbert seemed gifted with ubiquity. In the morning there were the accounts of the previous night’s expenses to settle; during the day, programmes, essays, enrolments, payments. M. Colbert had amassed four millions of francs, and dispersed them with sleepless economy. He was horrified at the expenses which mythology involved; not a wood nymph, nor a dryad, that cost less than a hundred francs a day! The dress alone amounted to three hundred francs. The expense of powder and sulphur for fireworks amounted, every night, to a hundred thousand francs. In addition to these, the illuminations on the borders of the sheet of water cost thirty thousand francs every evening. The fêtes had been magnificent; and Colbert could not restrain his delight. From time to time, he noticed Madame and the king setting forth on hunting expeditions, or preparing for the reception of different fantastic personages, solemn ceremonials, which had been extemporized a fortnight before, and in which Madame’s sparkling wit and the king’s magnificence were equally well displayed.

For Madame, the heroine of the fête, replied to the addresses of the deputations from unknown races⁠—Garamanths, Scythians, Hyperboreans, Caucasians, and Patagonians, who seemed to issue from the ground for the purpose of approaching her with their congratulations; and upon every representative of these races the king bestowed a diamond, or some other article of value. Then the deputies, in verses more or less amusing, compared the king to the sun, Madame to Phoebe, the sun’s sister, and the queen and Monsieur were no more spoken of than if the king had married Henrietta of England, and not Maria Theresa of Austria. The happy pair, hand in hand, imperceptibly pressing each other’s fingers, drank in deep draughts the sweet beverage of adulation, by which the attractions of youth, beauty, power and love are enhanced. Everyone at Fontainebleau was amazed at the extent of the influence which Madame had so rapidly acquired over the king, and whispered among themselves that Madame was, in point of fact, the true queen; and in effect, the king himself proclaimed its truth by his every thought, word, and look. He formed his wishes, he drew his inspirations from Madame’s eyes, and his delight was unbounded when Madame deigned to smile upon him. And was Madame, on her side, intoxicated with the power she wielded, as she beheld everyone at her feet? This was a question she herself could hardly answer; but what she did know was, that she could frame no wish, and that she felt herself to be perfectly happy. The result of all these changes, the source of which emanated from the royal will, was that Monsieur, instead of being the second person in the kingdom, had, in reality, become the third. And it was now far worse than in the time when de Guiche’s guitars were heard in Madame’s apartments; for, then, at least, Monsieur had the satisfaction of frightening those who annoyed him. Since the departure, however, of the enemy, who had been driven away by means of his alliance with the king, Monsieur had to submit to a burden, heavier, but in a very different sense, to his former one. Every evening Madame returned home quite exhausted. Horse-riding, bathing in the Seine, spectacles, dinners under the leafy covert of the trees, balls on the banks of the grand canal, concerts, etc., etc.; all this would have been sufficient to have killed, not a slight and delicate woman, but the strongest porter in the château. It is perfectly true that, with regard to dancing, concerts, and promenades, and such matters, a woman is far stronger than the most robust of porters. But, however great a woman’s strength may be, there is a limit to it, and she cannot hold out long under such a system. As for Monsieur, he had not even the satisfaction of witnessing Madame’s abdication of her royalty in the evening, for she lived in the royal pavilion with the young queen and the queen-mother. As a matter of course, the Chevalier de Lorraine did not quit Monsieur, and did not fail to distil drops of gall into every wound the latter received. The result was, that Monsieur⁠—who had at first been in the highest spirits, and completely restored since Guiche’s departure⁠—subsided into his melancholy state three days after the court was installed at Fontainebleau.

It happened, however, that, one day, about two o’clock in the afternoon, Monsieur, who had risen late, and had bestowed upon his toilet more than his usual attention⁠—it happened, we repeat, that Monsieur, who had not heard of any plans having been arranged for the day, formed the project of collecting his own court, and of carrying Madame off with him to Moret, where he possessed a charming country house. He accordingly went to the queen’s pavilion, and was astonished, on entering, to find none of the royal servants in attendance. Quite alone, therefore, he entered the rooms, a door on the left opening to Madame’s apartment, the one on the right to the young queen’s. In his wife’s apartment, Monsieur was informed, by a sempstress who was working there, that everyone had left at eleven o’clock, for the purpose of bathing in the Seine, that a grand fête was to be made of the expedition, that all the carriages had been placed at the park gates, and that they had all set out more than an hour ago.

“Very good,” said Monsieur, “the idea is a good one; the heat is very oppressive, and I have no objection to bathe, too.”

He summoned his servants, but no one came. He summoned those in attendance on Madame, but everybody had gone out. He went to the stables, where he was informed by a groom that there were no carriages of any description. He desired that a couple of horses should be saddled, one for himself and the other for his valet. The groom told him that all the horses had been sent away. Monsieur, pale with anger, again descended towards the queen’s apartments, and penetrated as far as Anne of Austria’s oratory, where he perceived, through the half-opened tapestry-hangings, his young and beautiful sister on her knees before the queen-mother, who appeared weeping bitterly. He had not been either seen or heard. He cautiously approached the opening, and listened, the sight of so much grief having aroused his curiosity. Not only was the young queen weeping, but she was complaining also. “Yes,” she said, “the king neglects me, the king devotes himself to pleasures and amusements only, in which I have no share.”

“Patience, patience, my daughter,” said Anne of Austria, in Spanish; and then, also in Spanish, added some words of advice, which Monsieur did not understand. The queen replied by accusations, mingled with sighs and sobs, among which Monsieur often distinguished the word baños, which Maria Theresa accentuated with spiteful anger.

The baths, said Monsieur to himself; it seems it is the baths that have put her out. And he endeavored to put together the disconnected phrases which he had been able to understand. It was easy to guess that the queen was complaining bitterly, and that, if Anne of Austria did not console her, she at least endeavored to do so. Monsieur was afraid to be detected listening at the door and he therefore made up his mind to cough; the two queens turned round at the sound and Monsieur entered. At sight of the prince, the young queen rose precipitately, and dried her tears. Monsieur, however, knew the people he had to deal with too well, and was naturally too polite to remain silent, and he accordingly saluted them. The queen-mother smiled pleasantly at him, saying, “What do you want, Philip?”

“I?⁠—nothing,” stammered Monsieur. “I was looking for⁠—”

“Whom?”

“I was looking for Madame.”

“Madame is at the baths.”

“And the king?” said Monsieur, in a tone which made the queen tremble.

“The king also, the whole court as well,” replied Anne of Austria.

“Except you, Madame,” said Monsieur.

“Oh! I,” said the young queen, “I seem to terrify all those who amuse themselves.”

“And so do I⁠—judging from appearances,” rejoined Monsieur.

Anne of Austria made a sigh to her daughter-in-law, who withdrew, weeping.

Monsieur’s brows contracted, as he remarked aloud, “What a cheerless house. What do you think of it, mother?”

“Why, no; everybody here is pleasure-hunting.”

“Yes, indeed, that is the very thing that makes those dull who do not care for pleasure.”

“In what a tone you say that, Philip.”

“Upon my word, Madame, I speak as I think.”

“Explain yourself; what is the matter?”

“Ask my sister-in-law, rather, who, just now, was detailing all her grievances to you.”

“Her grievances, what⁠—”

“Yes, I was listening; accidentally, I confess, but still I listened⁠—so that I heard only too well my sister complain of those famous baths of Madame⁠—”

“Ah! folly!”

“No, no, no; people are not always foolish when they weep. The queen said baños, which means baths.”

“I repeat, Philip,” said Anne of Austria, “that your sister is childishly jealous.”

“In that case, Madame,” replied the prince, “I, too, must with great humility accuse myself of possessing the same defect.”

“You also, Philip?”

“Certainly.”

“Are you really jealous of these baths?”

“And why not, Madame, when the king goes to the baths with my wife, and does not take the queen? Why not, when Madame goes to the baths with the king, and does not do me the honor to even invite me? And you enjoin my sister-in-law to be satisfied, and require me to be satisfied, too.”

“You are raving, my dear Philip,” said Anne of Austria; “you have driven the Duke of Buckingham away; you have been the cause of M. de Guiche’s exile; do you now wish to send the king away from Fontainebleau?”

“I do not pretend to anything of the kind, Madame,” said Monsieur, bitterly; “but, at least, I can withdraw, and I shall do so.”

“Jealous of the king⁠—jealous of your brother?”

“Yes, Madame, I am jealous of the king⁠—of my own brother, and remarkably jealous, too.”

“Really, Monsieur,” exclaimed Anne of Austria, affecting to be indignant, “I begin to believe you are mad, and a sworn enemy to my repose. I therefore abandon the place to you, for I have no means of defending myself against such monomanias.”

She arose and left Monsieur a prey to the most extravagant transport of passion. He remained for a moment completely bewildered; then, recovering himself, again went to the stables, found the groom, once more asked him for a carriage or a horse, and upon his reply that there was neither the one or the other, Monsieur snatched a long whip from the hand of a stable-boy, and began to pursue the poor devil of a groom all round the servants’ courtyard, whipping him the while, in spite of his cries and excuses; then, quite out of breath, covered with perspiration, and trembling in every limb, he returned to his own apartments, broke in pieces some beautiful specimens of porcelain, and then got into bed, booted and spurred as he was, crying out for someone to come to him.

CHAPTER 19

The Bath
At Vulaines, beneath the impenetrable shade of flowering osiers and willows, which, as they bent down their green heads, dipped the extremities of their branches in the blue waters, a long and flat-bottomed boat, with ladders covered with long blue curtains, served as a refuge for the bathing Dianas, who, as they left the water, were watched by twenty plumed Acteons, who, eagerly, and full of admiration, galloped up and down the flowery banks of the river. But Diana herself, even the chaste Diana, clothed in her long chlamys, was less beautiful⁠—less impenetrable, than Madame, as young and beautiful as that goddess herself. For, notwithstanding the fine tunic of the huntress, her round and delicate knee can be seen; and notwithstanding the sonorous quiver, her brown shoulders can be detected; whereas, in Madame’s case, a long white veil enveloped her, wrapping her round and round a hundred times, as she resigned herself into the hands of her female attendants, and thus was rendered inaccessible to the most indiscreet, as well as to the most penetrating gaze. When she ascended the ladder, the poets were present⁠—and all were poets when Madame was the subject of discussion⁠—the twenty poets who were galloping about, stopped, and with one voice, exclaimed that pearls, and not drops of water, were falling from her person, to be lost again in the happy river. The king, the center of these effusions, and of this respectful homage, imposed silence upon those expatiators, for whom it seemed impossible to exhaust their raptures, and he rode away, for fear of offending, even through the silken curtains, the modesty of the woman and the dignity of the princess. A great blank thereupon ensued in the scene, and perfect silence in the boat. From the movements on board⁠—from the flutterings and agitations of the curtains⁠—the goings to and fro of the female attendants engaged in their duties, could be guessed.

The king smilingly listened to the conversation of the courtiers around him, but it could easily be perceived that he gave but little, if any, attention to their remarks. In fact, hardly had the sound of the rings drawn along the curtain-rods announced that Madame was dressed, and that the goddess was about to make her reappearance, than the king, returning to his former post immediately, and running quite close to the riverbank, gave the signal for all those to approach whose duty or pleasure summoned them to Madame’s side. The pages hurried forward, conducting the led horses; the carriages, which had remained sheltered under the trees, advanced towards the tent, followed by a crowd of servants, bearers, and female attendants, who, while their masters had been bathing, had mutually exchanged their own observations, critical remarks, and the discussion of matters personal⁠—the fugitive journal of that period, of which no one now remembers anything, not even by the waves, the witnesses of what went on that day⁠—themselves now sublimed into immensity, as the actors have vanished into eternity.

A crowd of people swarming upon the banks of the river, without reckoning the groups of peasants drawn together by their anxiety to see the king and the princess, was, for many minutes, the most disorderly, but the most agreeable, mob imaginable. The king dismounted from his horse, a movement which was imitated by all the courtiers, and offered his hat to Madame, whose rich riding-habit displayed her fine figure, which was set off to great advantage by that garment, made of fine woolen cloth embroidered with silver. Her hair, still damp and blacker than jet, hung in heavy masses upon her white and delicate neck. Joy and health sparkled in her beautiful eyes; composed, yet full of energy, she inhaled the air in deep draughts, under a lace parasol, which was borne by one of her pages. Nothing could be more charming, more graceful, more poetical, than these two figures buried under the rose-colored shade of the parasol, the king, whose white teeth were displayed in continual smiles, and Madame, whose black eyes sparkled like carbuncles in the glittering reflection of the changing hues of the silk. When Madame approached her horse, a magnificent animal of Andalusian breed, of spotless white, somewhat heavy, perhaps, but with a spirited and splendid head, in which the mixture, happily combined, of Arabian and Spanish blood could be readily traced, and whose long tail swept the ground; and as the princess affected difficulty in mounting, the king took her in his arms in such a manner that Madame’s arm was clasped like a circlet of alabaster around the king’s neck. Louis, as he withdrew, involuntarily touched with his lips the arm, which was not withheld, and the princess having thanked her royal equerry, everyone sprang to his saddle at the same moment. The king and Madame drew aside to allow the carriages, the outriders, and runners, to pass by. A fair proportion of the cavaliers, released from the restraint etiquette had imposed upon them, gave the rein to their horses, and darted after the carriages which bore the maids of honor, as blooming as so many virgin huntresses around Diana, and the human whirlwind, laughing, chattering, and noisy, passed onward.

The king and Madame, however, kept their horses in hand at a foot-pace. Behind His Majesty and his sister-in-law, certain of the courtiers⁠—those, at least, who were seriously disposed or were anxious to be within reach, or under the eyes, of the king⁠—followed at a respectful distance, restraining their impatient horses, regulating their pace by that of the king and Madame, and abandoned themselves to all the delight and gratification which is to be found in the conversation of clever people, who can, with perfect courtesy, make a thousand atrocious, but laughable remarks about their neighbors. In their stifled laughter, and in the little reticences of their sardonic humor, Monsieur, the poor absentee, was not spared. But they pitied, and bewailed greatly, the fate of de Guiche, and it must be confessed that their compassion, as far as he was concerned, was not misplaced. The king and Madame having breathed the horses, and repeated a hundred times over such remarks as the courtiers, who supplied them with talk, suggested to them, set off at a hand gallop, and the leafy coverts of the forest resounded to the footfalls of the mounted party. To the conversations beneath the shade of the trees⁠—to remarks made in the shape of confidential communications, and observations, mysteriously exchanged, succeeded the noisiest bursts of laughter;⁠—from the very outriders to royalty itself, merriment seemed to spread. Everyone began to laugh and to cry out. The magpies and the jays fluttered away uttering their guttural cries, beneath the waving avenues of oaks; the cuckoo stayed his monotonous cry in the recesses of the forest; the chaffinch and tomtit flew away in clouds; while the terrified deer bounded riverwards from the midst of the thickets. This crowd, spreading joy, confusion, and light wherever it passed, was heralded, it may be said, to the château by its own clamor. As the king and Madame entered the village, they were received by the acclamations of the crowd. Madame hastened to look for Monsieur, for she instinctively understood that he had been far too long kept from sharing in this joy. The king went to rejoin the queens; he knew he owed them⁠—one especially⁠—a compensation for his long absence. But Madame was not admitted to Monsieur’s apartments, and she was informed that Monsieur was asleep. The king, instead of being met by Maria Theresa smiling, as was usual with her, found Anne of Austria in the gallery watching for his return, who advanced to meet him, and taking him by the hand, led him to her own apartment. No one ever knew what was the nature of the conversation which took place between them, or rather what it was that the queen-mother said to Louis XIV; but the general tenor of the interview might certainly be guessed from the annoyed expression of the king’s face as he left her.

But we, whose mission it is to interpret all things, as it is also to communicate our interpretations to our readers⁠—we should fail in our duty, if we were to leave them in ignorance of the result of this interview. It will be found sufficiently detailed, at least we hope so, in the following chapter.

CHAPTER 20

The Butterfly-Chase
The king, on retiring to his apartments to give some directions and to arrange his ideas, found on his toilette-glass a small note, the handwriting of which seemed disguised. He opened it and read⁠—“Come quickly, I have a thousand things to say to you.” The king and Madame had not been separated a sufficiently long time for these thousand things to be the result of the three thousand which they had been saying to each other during the route which separated Vulaines from Fontainebleau. The confused and hurried character of the note gave the king a great deal to reflect upon. He occupied himself but slightly with his toilette, and set off to pay his visit to Madame. The princess, who did not wish to have the appearance of expecting him, had gone into the gardens with the ladies of her suite. When the king was informed that Madame had left her apartments and had gone for a walk in the gardens, he collected all the gentlemen he could find, and invited them to follow him. He found Madame engaged in chasing butterflies, on a large lawn bordered with heliotrope and flowering broom. She was looking on as the most adventurous and youngest of her ladies ran to and fro, and with her back turned to a high hedge, very impatiently awaited the arrival of the king, with whom she had appointed the rendezvous. The sound of many feet upon the gravel walk made her turn round. Louis XIV was hatless, he had struck down with his cane a peacock butterfly, which Monsieur de Saint-Aignan had picked up from the ground quite stunned.

“You see, Madame,” said the king, as he approached her, “that I, too, am hunting on your behalf!” and then, turning towards those who had accompanied him, said, “Gentlemen, see if each of you cannot obtain as much for these ladies,” a remark which was a signal for all to retire. And thereupon a curious spectacle might have been observed; old and corpulent courtiers were seen running after butterflies, losing their hats as they ran, and with their raised canes cutting down the myrtles and the furze, as they would have done the Spaniards.

The king offered Madame his arm, and they both selected, as the center of observation, a bench with a roof of boards and moss, a kind of hut roughly designed by the modest genius of one of the gardeners who had inaugurated the picturesque and fanciful amid the formal style of the gardening of that period. This sheltered retreat, covered with nasturtiums and climbing roses, screened the bench, so that the spectators, insulated in the middle of the lawn, saw and were seen on every side, but could not be heard, without perceiving those who might approach for the purpose of listening. Seated thus, the king made a sign of encouragement to those who were running about; and then, as if he were engaged with Madame in a dissertation upon the butterfly, which he had thrust through with a gold pin and fastened on his hat, said to her, “How admirably we are placed here for conversation.”

“Yes, sire, for I wished to be heard by you alone, and yet to be seen by everyone.”

“And I also,” said Louis.

“My note surprised you?”

“Terrified me rather. But what I have to tell you is more important.”

“It cannot be, sire. Do you know that Monsieur refuses to see me?”

“Why so?”

“Can you not guess why?”

“Ah, Madame! in that case we have both the same thing to say to each other.”

“What has happened to you, then?”

“You wish me to begin?”

“Yes, for I have told you all.”

“Well, then, as soon as I returned, I found my mother waiting for me, and she led me away to her own apartments.”

“The queen-mother?” said Madame, with some anxiety, “the matter is serious then.”

“Indeed it is, for she told me⁠ ⁠… but, in the first place, allow me to preface what I have to say with one remark. Has Monsieur ever spoken to you about me?”

“Often.”

“Has he ever spoken to you about his jealousy?”

“More frequently still.”

“Of his jealousy of me?”

“No, but of the Duke of Buckingham and de Guiche.”

“Well, Madame, Monsieur’s present idea is a jealousy of myself.”

“Really,” replied the princess, smiling archly.

“And it really seems to me,” continued the king, “that we have never given any ground⁠—”

“Never! at least I have not. But who told you that Monsieur was jealous?”

“My mother represented to me that Monsieur entered her apartments like a madman, that he uttered a thousand complaints against you, and⁠—forgive me for saying it⁠—against your coquetry. It appears that Monsieur indulges in injustice, too.”

“You are very kind, sire.”

“My mother reassured him; but he pretended that people reassure him too often, and that he had had quite enough of it.”

“Would it not be better for him not to make himself uneasy in any way?”

“The very thing I said.”

“Confess, sire, that the world is very wicked. Is it possible that a brother and sister cannot converse together, or take pleasure in each other’s company, without giving rise to remarks and suspicions? For indeed, sire, we are doing no harm, and have no intention of doing any.” And she looked at the king with that proud yet provoking glance that kindles desire in the coldest and wisest of men.

“No!” sighed the king, “that is true.”

“You know very well, sire, that if it were to continue, I should be obliged to make a disturbance. Do you decide upon our conduct, and say whether it has, or has not, been perfectly correct.”

“Oh, certainly⁠—perfectly correct.”

“Often alone together⁠—for we delight in the same things⁠—we might possibly be led away into error, but have we been? I regard you as a brother, and nothing more.”

The king frowned. She continued:

“Your hand, which often meets my own, does not excite in me that agitation and emotion which is the case with those who love each other, for instance⁠—”

“Enough,” said the king, “enough, I entreat you. You have no pity⁠—you are killing me.”

“What is the matter?”

“In fact, then, you distinctly say you experience nothing when near me.”

“Oh, sire! I don’t say that⁠—my affection⁠—”

“Enough, Henrietta, I again entreat you. If you believe me to be marble, as you are, undeceive yourself.”

“I do not understand you, sire.”

“Very well,” said the king, casting down his eyes. “And so our meetings, the pressure of each other’s hand, the looks we have exchanged⁠—Yes, yes; you are right, and I understand your meaning,” and he buried his face in his hands.

“Take care, sire,” said Madame, hurriedly, “Monsieur de Saint-Aignan is looking at you.”

“Of course,” said Louis, angrily; “never even the shadow of liberty! never any sincerity in my intercourse with anyone! I imagine I have found a friend, who is nothing but a spy; a dearer friend, who is only a⁠—sister!”

Madame was silent, and cast down her eyes.

“My husband is jealous,” she murmured, in a tone of which nothing could equal its sweetness and charm.

“You are right,” exclaimed the king, suddenly.

“You see,” she said, looking at him in a manner that set his heart on fire, “you are free, you are not suspected, the peace of your house is not disturbed.”

“Alas,” said the king, “as yet you know nothing, for the queen is jealous.”

“Maria Theresa!”

“Stark mad with jealousy! Monsieur’s jealousy arises from hers; she was weeping and complaining to my mother, and was reproaching us for those bathing parties, which have made me so happy.”

“And me too,” answered Madame, by a look.

“When, suddenly,” continued the king, “Monsieur, who was listening, heard the word ‘baños,’ which the queen pronounced with some degree of bitterness, that awakened his attention; he entered the room, looking quite wild, broke into the conversation, and began to quarrel with my mother so bitterly that she was obliged to leave him; so that, while you have a jealous husband to deal with, I shall have perpetually present before me a specter of jealousy with swollen eyes, a cadaverous face, and sinister looks.”

“Poor king,” murmured Madame, as she lightly touched the king’s hand. He retained her hand in his, and in order to press it without exciting suspicion in the spectators, who were not so much taken up with the butterflies that they could not occupy themselves about other matters, and who perceived clearly enough that there was some mystery in the king’s and Madame’s conversation, Louis placed the dying butterfly before his sister-in-law, and bent over it as if to count the thousand eyes of its wings, or the particles of golden dust which covered it. Neither of them spoke; however, their hair mingled, their breaths united, and their hands feverishly throbbed in each other’s grasp. Five minutes passed in this manner.

CHAPTER 21

What Was Caught After the Butterflies
The two young people remained for a moment with their heads bent down, bowed, as it were, beneath the double thought of the love which was springing up in their hearts, and which gives birth to so many happy fancies in the imaginations of twenty years of age. Henrietta gave a side glance, from time to time, at the king. Hers was one of those finely-organized natures capable of looking inwardly at itself, as well as at others at the same moment. She perceived Love lying at the bottom of Louis’s heart, as a skillful diver sees a pearl at the bottom of the sea. She knew Louis was hesitating, if not in doubt, and that his indolent or timid heart required aid and encouragement. “And so?” she said, interrogatively, breaking the silence.

“What do you mean?” inquired Louis, after a moment’s pause.

“I mean, that I shall be obliged to return to the resolution I had formed.”

“To what resolution?”

“To that which I have already submitted to Your Majesty.”

“When?”

“On the very day we had a certain explanation about Monsieur’s jealousies.”

“What did you say to me then?” inquired Louis, with some anxiety.

“Do you not remember, sire?”

“Alas! if it be another cause of unhappiness, I shall recollect it soon enough.”

“A cause of unhappiness for myself alone, sire,” replied Madame Henrietta; “but as it is necessary, I must submit to it.”

“At least, tell me what it is,” said the king.

“Absence.”

“Still that unkind resolve?”

“Believe me, sire, I have not found it without a violent struggle with myself; it is absolutely necessary I should return to England.”

“Never, never will I permit you to leave France,” exclaimed the king.

“And yet, sire,” said Madame, affecting a gentle yet sorrowful determination, “nothing is more urgently necessary; nay, more than that, I am persuaded it is your mother’s desire I should do so.”

“Desire!” exclaimed the king; “that is a very strange expression to use to me.”

“Still,” replied Madame Henrietta, smilingly, “are you not happy in submitting to the wishes of so good a mother?”

“Enough, I implore you; you rend my very soul.”

“I?”

“Yes; for you speak of your departure with tranquillity.”

“I was not born for happiness, sire,” replied the princess, dejectedly; “and I acquired, in very early life, the habit of seeing my dearest wishes disappointed.”

“Do you speak truly?” said the king. “Would your departure gainsay any one of your cherished thoughts?”

“If I were to say ‘yes,’ would you begin to take your misfortune patiently?”

“How cruel you are!”

“Take care, sire; someone is coming.”

The king looked all round him, and said, “No, there is no one,” and then continued: “Come, Henrietta, instead of trying to contend against Monsieur’s jealousy by a departure which would kill me⁠—”

Henrietta slightly shrugged her shoulders like a woman unconvinced. “Yes,” repeated Louis, “which would kill me, I say. Instead of fixing your mind on this departure, does not your imagination⁠—or rather does not your heart⁠—suggest some expedient?”

“What is it you wish my heart to suggest?”

“Tell me, how can one prove to another that it is wrong to be jealous?”

“In the first place, sire, by giving no motive for jealousy; in other words, in loving no one but the person in question.”

“Oh! I expected more than that.”

“What did you expect?”

“That you would simply tell me that jealous people are pacified by concealing the affection which is entertained for the object of jealousy.”

“Dissimulation is difficult, sire.”

“Yet it is only be means of conquering difficulties that any happiness is attained. As far as I am concerned, I swear I will give the lie to those who are jealous of me by pretending to treat you like any other woman.”

“A bad, as well as unsafe, means,” said the young princess, shaking her pretty head.

“You seem to think everything bad, dear Henrietta,” said Louis, discontentedly. “You negative everything I propose. Suggest, at least, something else in its stead. Come, try and think. I trust implicitly to a woman’s invention. Do you invent in your turn?”

“Well, sire, I have hit upon something. Will you listen to it?”

“Can you ask me? You speak of a matter of life or death to me, and then ask if I will listen.”

“Well, I judge of it by my own case. If my husband intended to put me on the wrong scent with regard to another woman, one thing would reassure me more than anything else.”

“What would that be?”

“In the first place to see that he never took any notice of the woman in question.”

“Exactly. That is precisely what I said just now.”

“Very well; but in order to be perfectly reassured on the subject, I should like to see him occupy himself with someone else.”

“Ah! I understand you,” replied Louis, smiling. “But confess, dear Henrietta, if the means is at least ingenious, it is hardly charitable.”

“Why so?”

“In curing the dread of a wound in a jealous person’s mind, you inflict one upon the heart. His fear ceases, it is true; but the evil still exists; and that seems to me to be far worse.”

“Agreed; but he does not detect, he does not suspect the real enemy; he does no prejudice to love itself; he concentrates all his strength on the side where his strength will do no injury to anything or anyone. In a word, sire, my plan, which I confess I am surprised to find you dispute, is mischievous to jealous people, it is true; but to lovers it is full of advantage. Besides, let me ask, sire, who, except yourself, has ever thought of pitying jealous people? Are they not a melancholy crew of grumblers always equally unhappy, whether with or without a cause? You may remove that cause, but you never can remove their sufferings. It is a disease which lies in the imagination, and, like all imaginary disorders, it is incurable. By the by, I remember an aphorism upon this subject, of poor Dr. Dawley, a clever and amusing man, who, had it not been for my brother, who could not do without him, I should have with me now. He used to say, ‘Whenever you are likely to suffer from two affections, choose that which will give you the least trouble, and I will allow you to retain it; for it is positive,’ he said, ‘that that very ailment is of the greatest service to me, in order to enable me to get rid of the other.’ ”

“Well and judiciously remarked, Henrietta,” replied the king, smiling.

“Oh! we have some clever people in London, sire.”

“And those clever people produce adorable pupils. I will grant this Daley, Darley, Dawley, or whatever you call him, a pension for his aphorism; but I entreat you, Henrietta, to begin by choosing the least of your evils. You do not answer⁠—you smile. I guess that the least of your bugbears is your stay in France. I will allow you to retain this information; and, in order to begin with the cure of the other, I will this very day begin to look out for a subject which shall divert the attention of the jealous members of either sex who persecute us both.”

“Hush! this time someone is really coming,” said Madame; and she stooped to gather a flower from the thick grass at her feet. Someone, in fact, was approaching; for, suddenly, a bevy of young girls ran down from the top of the hillock, following the cavaliers⁠—the cause of this interruption being a magnificent hawk-moth, with wings like rose-leaves. The prey in question had fallen into the net of Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, who displayed it with some pride to her less successful rivals. The queen of the chase had seated herself some twenty paces from the bank on which Louis and Madame Henrietta were reclining; and leaned her back against a magnificent oak-tree entwined with ivy, and stuck the butterfly on the long cane she carried in her hand. Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente was very beautiful, and the gentlemen, accordingly, deserted her companions, and under the pretext of complimenting her upon her success, pressed in a circle around her. The king and princess looked gloomily at this scene, as spectators of maturer age look on at the games of little children. “They seem to be amusing themselves there,” said the king.

“Greatly, sire; I have always found that people are amused wherever youth and beauty are to be found.”

“What do you think of Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, Henrietta?” inquired the king.

“I think she has rather too much flax-yellow and lily-whiteness in her complexion,” replied Madame, fixing in a moment upon the only fault it was possible to find in the almost perfect beauty of the future Madame de Montespan.

“Rather too fair, yes; but beautiful, I think, in spite of that.”

“Is that your opinion, sire?”

“Yes, really.”

“Very well; and it is mine, too.”

“And she seems to be much sought after.”

“On, that is a matter of course. Lovers flutter from one to another. If we had hunted for lovers instead of butterflies, you can see, from those who surround her, what successful sport we should have had.”

“Tell me, Henrietta, what would be said if the king were to make himself one of those lovers, and let his glance fall in that direction? Would someone else be jealous, in such a case?”

“Oh! sire, Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente is a very efficacious remedy,” said Madame, with a sigh. “She would cure a jealous man, certainly; but she might possibly make a woman jealous, too.”

“Henrietta,” exclaimed Louis, “you fill my heart with joy. Yes, yes; Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente is far too beautiful to serve as a cloak.”

“A king’s cloak,” said Madame Henrietta, smiling, “ought to be beautiful.”

“Do you advise me to do it, then?” inquired Louis.

“I! what should I say, sire, except that to give such an advice would be to supply arms against myself? It would be folly or pride to advise you to take, for the heroine of an assumed affection, a woman more beautiful than the one for whom you pretend to feel real regard.”

The king tried to take Madame’s hand in his own; his eyes sought hers; and then he murmured a few words so full of tenderness, but pronounced in so low a tone, that the historian, who ought to hear everything, could not hear them. Then, speaking aloud, he said, “Do you yourself choose for me the one who is to cure our jealous friend. To her, then, all my devotion, all my attention, all the time that I can spare from my occupations, shall be devoted. For her shall be the flower that I may pluck for you, the fond thoughts with which you have inspired me. Towards her I will direct the glance I dare not bestow upon you, and which ought to be able to rouse you from your indifference. But, be careful in your selection, lest, in offering her the rose which I may have plucked, I find myself conquered by you; and my looks, my hand, my lips, turn immediately towards you, even were the whole world to guess my secret.”

While these words escaped from the king’s lips, in a stream of wild affection, Madame blushed, breathless, happy, proud, almost intoxicated with delight. She could find nothing to say in reply; her pride and her thirst for homage were satisfied. “I shall fail,” she said, raising her beautiful black eyes, “but not as you beg me, for all this incense which you wish to burn on the altar of another divinity. Ah! sire, I too shall be jealous of it, and want restored to me; and would not that a particle of it should be lost in the way. Therefore, sire, with your royal permission, I will choose one who shall appear to me the least likely to distract your attention, and who will leave my image intact and unshadowed in your heart.”

“Happily for me,” said the king, “your heart is not hard and unfeeling. If it were so, I should be alarmed at the threat you hold out. Precautions were taken on this point, and around you, as around myself, it would be difficult to meet with a disagreeable-looking face.”

Whilst the king was speaking, Madame had risen from her seat, looked around the greensward, and after a careful and silent examination, she called the king to her side, and said, “See yonder, sire, upon the declivity of that little hill, near that group of Guelder roses, that beautiful girl walking alone, her head down, her arms hanging by her side, with her eyes fixed upon the flowers, which she crushes beneath her feet, like one who is lost in thought.”

“Mademoiselle de Vallière, do you mean?” remarked the king.

“Yes.”

“Oh!”

“Will she not suit you, sire?”

“Why, look how thin the poor child is. She has hardly any flesh upon her bones.”

“Nay: am I stout then?”

“She is so melancholy.”

“The greater contrast to myself, who am accused of being too lively.”

“She is lame.”

“Do you really think so?”

“No doubt of it. Look; she has allowed everyone to pass by her, through fear of her defect being remarked.”

“Well, she will not run so fast as Daphne, and will not be as able to escape Apollo.”

“Henrietta,” said the king, out of temper; “of all your maids of honor, you have really selected for me the one most full of defects.”

“Still she is one of my maids of honor.”

“Of course; but what do you mean?”

“I mean that, in order to visit this new divinity, you will not be able to do so without paying a visit to my apartments, and that, as propriety will forbid your conversing with her in private, you will be compelled to see her in my circle, to speak, as it were, at me, while speaking to her. I mean, in fact, that those who may be jealous, will be wrong if they suppose you come to my apartments for my sake, since you will go there for Mademoiselle de La Vallière.”

“Who happens to be lame.”

“Hardly that.”

“Who never opens her lips.”

“But who, when she does open them, displays a beautiful set of teeth.”

“Who may serve as a model for an osteologist.”

“Your favor will change her appearance.”

“Henrietta!”

“At all events you allowed me to choose.”

“Alas! yes.”

“Well, my choice is made: I impose her upon you, and you must submit.”

“Oh! I would accept one of the furies, if you were to insist upon it.”

“La Vallière is as gentle as a lamb: do not fear she will ever contradict you when you tell her you love her,” said Madame, laughing.

“You are not afraid, are you, that I shall say too much to her?”

“It would be for my sake.”

“The treaty is agreed to, then?”

“Not only so, but signed. You will continue to show me the friendship of a brother, the attention of a brother, the gallantry of a monarch, will you not?”

“I will preserve for you intact a heart that has already become accustomed to beat only at your command.”

“Very well, do you not see that we have guaranteed the future by this means?”

“I hope so.”

“Will your mother cease to regard me as an enemy?”

“Yes.”

“Will Maria Theresa leave off speaking in Spanish before Monsieur, who has a horror of conversation held in foreign languages, because he always thinks he is being ill spoken of? and lastly,” continued the princess, “will people persist in attributing a wrongful affection to the king when the truth is, we can offer nothing to each other, except absolute sympathy, free from mental reservation?”

“Yes, yes,” said the king, hesitatingly. “But other things may still be said of us.”

“What can be said, sire? shall we never be left in tranquillity?”

“People will say I am deficient in taste; but what is my self-respect in comparison with your tranquillity?”

“In comparison with my honor, sire, and that of our family, you mean. Besides, I beg you to attend, do not be so hastily prejudiced against La Vallière. She is slightly lame, it is true, but she is not deficient in good sense. Moreover, all that the king touches is converted into gold.”

“Well, Madame, rest assured of one thing, namely, that I am still grateful to you: you might even yet make me pay dearer for your stay in France.”

“Sire, someone approaches.”

“Well!”

“One last word.”

“Say it.”

“You are prudent and judicious, sire; but in the present instance you will be obliged to summon to your aid all your prudence, and all your judgment.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Louis, laughing, “from this very day I shall begin to act my part, and you shall see whether I am not quite fit to represent the character of a tender swain. After luncheon, there will be a promenade in the forest, and then there is supper and the ballet at ten o’clock.”

“I know it.”

“The ardor of my passion shall blaze more brilliantly than the fireworks, shall shine more steadily than our friend Colbert’s lamps; it shall shine so dazzlingly that the queens and Monsieur will be almost blinded by it.”

“Take care, sire, take care.”

“In Heaven’s name, what have I done, then?”

“I shall begin to recall the compliments I paid you just now. You prudent! you wise! did I say? Why, you begin by the most reckless inconsistencies! Can a passion be kindled in this manner, like a torch, in a moment? Can a monarch, such as you are, without any preparation, fall at the feet of a girl like La Vallière?”

“Ah! Henrietta, now I understand you. We have not yet begun the campaign, and you are plundering me already.”

“No, I am only recalling you to commonsense ideas. Let your passion be kindled gradually, instead of allowing it to burst forth so suddenly. Jove’s thunders and lightnings are heard and seen before the palace is set on fire. Everything has its commencements. If you are so easily excited, no one will believe you are really captivated, and everyone will think you out of your senses⁠—if even, indeed, the truth itself not be guessed. The public is not so fatuous as they seem.”

The king was obliged to admit that Madame was an angel for sense, and the very reverse for cleverness. He bowed, and said: “Agreed, Madame, I will think over my plan of attack: great military men⁠—my cousin de Condé for instance⁠—grow pale in meditation upon their strategical plans, before they move one of the pawns, which people call armies; I therefore wish to draw up a complete plan of campaign; for you know that the tender passion is subdivided in a variety of ways. Well, then, I shall stop at the village of Little Attentions, at the hamlet of Love-Letters, before I follow the road of Visible Affection; the way is clear enough, you know, and poor Madame de Scudéry would never forgive me for passing though a halting-place without stopping.”

“Oh! now we have returned to our proper senses, shall we say adieu, sire?”

“Alas! it must be so, for see, we are interrupted.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Henrietta, “they are bringing Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente and her sphinx butterfly in grand procession this way.”

“It is perfectly well understood, then, that this evening, during the promenade, I am to make my escape into the forest, and find La Vallière without you.”

“I will take care to send her away.”

“Very well! I will speak to her when she is with her companions, and I will then discharge my first arrow at her.”

“Be skillful,” said Madame, laughing, “and do not miss the heart.”

Then the princess took leave of the king, and went forward to meet the merry troop, which was advancing with much ceremony, and a great many pretended flourishes of trumpets, imitated with their mouths.

CHAPTER 22

The Ballet of the Seasons
At the conclusion of the banquet, which was served at five o’clock, the king entered his cabinet, where his tailors were awaiting him for the purpose of trying on the celebrated costume representing Spring, which was the result of so much imagination, and had cost so many efforts of thought to the designers and ornament-workers of the court. As for the ballet itself, every person knew the part he had to take in it, and how to perform it. The king had resolved to make it a surprise. Hardly, therefore, had he finished his conference, and entered his own apartment, than he desired his two masters of the ceremonies, Villeroy and Saint-Aignan, to be sent for. Both replied that they only awaited his orders, and that everything was ready to begin, but that it was necessary to be sure of fine weather and a favorable night before these orders could be carried out. The king opened his window; the pale-gold hues of the evening were visible on the horizon through the vistas of the wood, and the moon, white as snow, was already mounting the heavens. Not a ripple on the surface of the green waters; the swans themselves, even, reposing with folded wings like ships at anchor, seemed inspirations of the warmth of the air, the freshness of the water, and the silence of the beautiful evening. The king, having observed all these things, and contemplated the magnificent picture before him, gave the order which de Villeroy and de Saint-Aignan awaited; but with a view of insuring the execution of this order in a royal manner, one last question was necessary, and Louis XIV put it to the two gentlemen in the following manner:⁠—“Have you any money?”

“Sire,” replied Saint-Aignan, “we have arranged everything with M. Colbert.”

“Ah! very well!”

“Yes, sire, and M. Colbert said he would wait upon Your Majesty, as soon as Your Majesty should manifest an intention of carrying out the fêtes, of which he has furnished the programme.”

“Let him come in, then,” said the king; and as if Colbert had been listening at the door for the purpose of keeping himself au courant with the conversation, he entered as soon as the king had pronounced his name to the two courtiers.

“Ah! M. Colbert,” said the king. “Gentlemen, to your posts,” whereupon Saint-Aignan and Villeroy took their leave. The king seated himself in an easy-chair near the window, saying: “The ballet will take place this evening, M. Colbert.”

“In that case, sire, I will pay all accounts tomorrow.”

“Why so?”

“I promised the tradespeople to pay their bills the day following that on which the ballet should take place.”

“Very well, M. Colbert, pay them, since you have promised to do so.”

“Certainly, sire; but I must have money to do that.”

“What! have not the four millions, which M. Fouquet promised, been sent? I forgot to ask you about it.”

“Sire, they were sent at the hour promised.”

“Well?”

“Well, sire, the colored lamps, the fireworks, the musicians, and the cooks, have swallowed up four millions in eight days.”

“Entirely?”

“To the last penny. Every time Your Majesty directed the banks of the grand canal to be illuminated, as much oil was consumed as there was water in the basins.”

“Well, well, M. Colbert; the fact is, then, you have no more money?”

“I have no more, sire, but M. Fouquet has,” Colbert replied, his face darkening with a sinister expression of pleasure.

“What do you mean?” inquired Louis.

“We have already made M. Fouquet advance six millions. He has given them with too much grace not to have others still to give, if they are required, which is the case at the present moment. It is necessary, therefore, that he should comply.”

The king frowned. “M. Colbert,” said he, accentuating the financier’s name, “that is not the way I understood the matter; I do not wish to make use, against any of my servants, of a means of pressure which may oppress him and fetter his services. In eight days M. Fouquet has furnished six millions; that is a good round sum.”

Colbert turned pale. “And yet,” he said, “Your Majesty did not use this language some time ago, when the news about Belle-Isle arrived, for instance.”

“You are right, M. Colbert.”

“Nothing, however, has changed since then; on the contrary, indeed.”

“In my thoughts, Monsieur, everything is changed.”

“Does Your Majesty then no longer believe the disloyal attempt?”

“My affairs concern myself alone, Monsieur; and I have already told you I transact them without interference.”

“Then, I perceive,” said Colbert, trembling with anger and fear, “that I have had the misfortune to fall into disgrace with Your Majesty.”

“Not at all; you are, on the contrary, most agreeable to me.”

“Yet, sire,” said the minister, with a certain affected bluntness, so successful when it was a question of flattering Louis’s self-esteem, “what use is there in being agreeable to Your Majesty, if one can no longer be of any use?”

“I reserve your services for a better occasion; and believe me, they will only be the better appreciated.”

“Your Majesty’s plan, then, in this affair, is⁠—”

“You want money, M. Colbert?”

“Seven hundred thousand francs, sire.”

“You will take them from my private treasure.” Colbert bowed. “And,” added Louis, “as it seems a difficult matter for you, notwithstanding your economy, to defray, with so limited a sum, the expenses which I intend to incur, I will at once sign an order for three millions.”

The king took a pen and signed an order immediately, then handed it to Colbert. “Be satisfied, M. Colbert, the plan I have adopted is one worthy of a king,” said Louis XIV, who pronounced these words with all the majesty he knew how to assume in such circumstances; and dismissed Colbert for the purpose of giving an audience to his tailors.

The order issued by the king was known throughout the whole of Fontainebleau; it was already known, too, that the king was trying on his costume, and that the ballet would be danced in the evening. The news circulated with the rapidity of lightning; during its progress it kindled every variety of coquetry, desire, and wild ambition. At the same moment, as if by enchantment, everyone who knew how to hold a needle, everyone who could distinguish a coat from a pair of trousers, was summoned to the assistance of those who had received invitations. The king had completed his toilette by nine o’clock; he appeared in an open carriage decorated with branches of trees and flowers. The queens had taken their seats upon a magnificent dias or platform, erected upon the borders of the lake, in a theater of wonderful elegance of construction. In the space of five hours the carpenters had put together all the different parts connected with the building; the upholsterers had laid down the carpets, erected the seats; and, as if at the wave of an enchanter’s wand, a thousand arms, aiding, instead of interfering with each other, had constructed the building, amidst the sound of music; whilst, at the same time, other workmen illuminated the theater and the shores of the lake with an incalculable number of lamps. As the heavens, set with stars, were perfectly unclouded, as not even a breath of air could be heard in the woods, and as if Nature itself had yielded complacently to the king’s fancies, the back of the theater had been left open; so that, behind the foreground of the scenes, could be seen as a background the beautiful sky, glittering with stars; the sheet of water, illuminated by the lights which were reflected in it; and the bluish outline of the grand masses of woods, with their rounded tops. When the king made his appearance, the theater was full, and presented to the view one vast group, dazzling with gold and precious stones; in which, however, at the first glance, no single face could be distinguished. By degrees, as the sight became accustomed to so much brilliancy, the rarest beauties appeared to the view, as in the evening sky the stars appear one by one to him who closes his eyes and then opens them again.

The theater represented a grove of trees; a few fauns lifting up their cloven feet were jumping about; a dryad made her appearance on the scene, and was immediately pursued by them; others gathered round her for her defense, and they quarrelled as they danced. Suddenly, for the purpose of restoring peace and order, Spring, accompanied by his whole court, made his appearance. The Elements, subaltern powers of mythology, together with their attributes, hastened to follow their gracious sovereign. The Seasons, allies of Spring, followed him closely, to form a quadrille, which, after many words of more or less flattering import, was the commencement of the dance. The music, hautboys, flutes, and viols, was delightfully descriptive of rural delights. The king had already made his appearance, amid thunders of applause. He was dressed in a tunic of flowers, which set off his graceful and well-formed figure to advantage. His legs, the best-shaped at court, were displayed to great advantage in flesh-colored silken hose, of silk so fine and so transparent that it seemed almost like flesh itself. The most beautiful pale-lilac satin shoes, with bows of flowers and leaves, imprisoned his small feet. The bust of the figure was in harmonious keeping with the base; Louis’s waving hair floated on his shoulders, the freshness of his complexion was enhanced by the brilliancy of his beautiful blue eyes, which softly kindled all hearts; a mouth with tempting lips, which deigned to open in smiles. Such was the prince of that period: justly that evening styled “The King of all the Loves.” There was something in his carriage which resembled the buoyant movements of an immortal, and he did not dance so much as seem to soar along. His entrance produced, therefore, the most brilliant effect. Suddenly the Comte de Saint-Aignan was observed endeavoring to approach either the king or Madame.

The princess⁠—who was robed in a long dress, diaphanous and light as the finest network tissue from the hands of skillful Mechlin workers, one knee occasionally revealed beneath the folds of the tunic, and her little feet encased in silken slippers decked with pearls⁠—advanced radiant with beauty, accompanied by her cortège of Bacchantes, and had already reached the spot assigned to her in the dance. The applause continued so long that the comte had ample leisure to join the king.

“What is the matter, Saint-Aignan?” said Spring.

“Nothing whatever,” replied the courtier, as pale as death; “but Your Majesty has not thought of Fruits.”

“Yes; it is suppressed.”

“Far from it, sire; Your Majesty having given no directions about it, the musicians have retained it.”

“How excessively annoying,” said the king. “This figure cannot be performed, since M. de Guiche is absent. It must be suppressed.”

“Ah, sire, a quarter of an hour’s music without any dancing will produce an effect so chilling as to ruin the success of the ballet.”

“But, come, since⁠—”

“Oh, sire, that is not the greatest misfortune; for, after all, the orchestra could still just as well cut it out, if it were necessary; but⁠—”

“But what?”

“Why, M. de Guiche is here.”

“Here?” replied the king, frowning, “here? Are you sure?”

“Yes, sire; and ready dressed for the ballet.”

The king felt himself color deeply, and said, “You are probably mistaken.”

“So little is that the case, sire, that if Your Majesty will look to the right, you will see that the comte is in waiting.”

Louis turned hastily towards the side, and in fact, on his right, brilliant in his character of Autumn, de Guiche awaited until the king should look at him, in order that he might address him. To give an idea of the stupefaction of the king, and that of Monsieur, who was moving about restlessly in his box⁠—to describe also the agitated movement of the heads in the theater, and the strange emotion of Madame, at the sight of her partner⁠—is a task we must leave to abler hands. The king stood almost gaping with astonishment as he looked at the comte, who, bowing lowly, approached Louis with the profoundest respect.

“Sire,” he said, “Your Majesty’s most devoted servant approaches to perform a service on this occasion with similar zeal that he has already shown on the field of battle. Your Majesty, in omitting the dance of the Fruits, would be losing the most beautiful scene in the ballet. I did not wish to be the substance of so dark a shadow to Your Majesty’s elegance, skill, and graceful invention; and I have left my tenants in order to place my services at Your Majesty’s commands.”

Every word fell distinctly, in perfect harmony and eloquence, upon Louis XIV’s ears. Their flattery pleased, as much as de Guiche’s courage had astonished him, and he simply replied: “I did not tell you to return, comte.”

“Certainly not, sire; but Your Majesty did not tell me to remain.”

The king perceived that time was passing away, that if this strange scene were prolonged it would complicate everything, and that a single cloud upon the picture would eventually spoil the whole. Besides, the king’s heart was filled with two or three new ideas; he had just derived fresh inspiration from the eloquent glances of Madame. Her look had said to him: “Since they are jealous of you, divide their suspicions, for the man who distrusts two rivals does not object to either in particular.” So that Madame, by this clever diversion, decided him. The king smiled upon de Guiche, who did not comprehend a word of Madame’s dumb language, but he remarked that she pretended not to look at him, and he attributed the pardon which had been conferred upon him to the princess’s kindness of heart. The king seemed only pleased with everyone present. Monsieur was the only one who did not understand anything about the matter. The ballet began; the effect was more than beautiful. When the music, by its bursts of melody, carried away these illustrious dancers, when the simple, untutored pantomime of that period, only the more natural on account of the very indifferent acting of the august actors, had reached its culminating point of triumph, the theater shook with tumultuous applause.

De Guiche shone like a sun, but like a courtly sun, that is resigned to fill a subordinate part. Disdainful of a success of which Madame showed no acknowledgement, he thought of nothing but boldly regaining the marked preference of the princess. She, however, did not bestow a single glance upon him. By degrees all his happiness, all his brilliancy, subsided into regret and uneasiness; so that his limbs lost their power, his arms hung heavily by his sides, and his head drooped as though he was stupefied. The king, who had from this moment become in reality the principal dancer in the quadrille, cast a look upon his vanquished rival. De Guiche soon ceased to sustain even the character of the courtier; without applause, he danced indifferently, and very soon could not dance at all, by which accident the triumph of the king and of Madame was assured.

CHAPTER 23

The Nymphs of the Park of Fontainebleau
The king remained for a moment to enjoy a triumph as complete as it could possibly be. He then turned towards Madame, for the purpose of admiring her also a little in her turn. Young persons love with more vivacity, perhaps with greater ardor and deeper passion, than others more advanced in years; but all the other feelings are at the same time developed in proportion to their youth and vigor: so that vanity being with them almost always the equivalent of love, the latter feeling, according to the laws of equipoise, never attains that degree of perfection which it acquires in men and women from thirty to five and thirty years of age. Louis thought of Madame, but only after he had studiously thought of himself; and Madame carefully thought of herself, without bestowing a single thought upon the king. The victim, however, of all these royal affections and affectations, was poor de Guiche. Everyone could observe his agitation and prostration⁠—a prostration which was, indeed, the more remarkable since people were not accustomed to see him with his arms hanging listlessly by his side, his head bewildered, and his eyes with all their bright intelligence bedimmed. It rarely happened that any uneasiness was excited on his account, whenever a question of elegance or taste was under discussion; and de Guiche’s defeat was accordingly attributed by the greater number present to his courtier-like tact and ability. But there were others⁠—keen-sighted observers are always to be met with at court⁠—who remarked his paleness and his altered looks; which he could neither feign nor conceal, and their conclusion was that de Guiche was not acting the part of a flatterer. All these sufferings, successes, and remarks were blended, confounded, and lost in the uproar of applause. When, however, the queens had expressed their satisfaction and the spectators their enthusiasm, when the king had retired to his dressing-room to change his costume, and whilst Monsieur, dressed as a woman, as he delighted to be, was in his turn dancing about, de Guiche, who had now recovered himself, approached Madame, who, seated at the back of the theater, was waiting for the second part, and had quitted the others for the purpose of creating a sort of solitude for herself in the midst of the crowd, to meditate, as it were, beforehand, upon chorographic effects; and it will be perfectly understood that, absorbed in deep meditation, she did not see, or rather pretended not to notice, anything that was passing around her. De Guiche, observing that she was alone, near a thicket constructed of painted cloth, approached her. Two of her maids of honor, dressed as hamadryads, seeing de Guiche advance, drew back out of respect., whereupon de Guiche proceeded towards the middle of the circle and saluted Her Royal Highness; but, whether she did or did not observe his salutations, the princess did not even turn her head. A cold shiver passed through poor de Guiche; he was unprepared for such utter indifference, for he had neither seen nor been told of anything that had taken place, and consequently could guess nothing. Remarking, therefore, that his obeisance obtained him no acknowledgement, he advanced one step further, and in a voice which he tried, though vainly, to render calm, said: “I have the honor to present my most humble respects to Your Royal Highness.”

Upon this Madame deigned to turn her eyes languishingly towards the comte, observing. “Ah! M. de Guiche, is that you? good day!”

The comte’s patience almost forsook him, as he continued⁠—“Your Royal Highness danced just now most charmingly.”

“Do you think so?” she replied with indifference.

“Yes; the character which Your Royal Highness assumed is in perfect harmony with your own.”

Madame again turned round, and, looking de Guiche full in the face with a bright and steady gaze, said⁠—“Why so?”

“Oh! there can be no doubt of it.”

“Explain yourself?”

“You represented a divinity, beautiful, disdainful, inconstant.”

“You mean Pomona, comte?”

“I allude to the goddess.”

Madame remained silent for a moment, with her lips compressed, and then observed⁠—“But, comte, you, too, are an excellent dancer.”

“Nay, Madame, I am only one of those who are never noticed, or who are soon forgotten if they ever happen to be noticed.”

With this remark, accompanied by one of those deep sighs which affect the remotest fibers of one’s being, his heart burdened with sorrow and throbbing fast, his head on fire, and his gaze wandering, he bowed breathlessly, and withdrew behind the thicket. The only reply Madame condescended to make was by slightly raising her shoulders, and, as her ladies of honor had discreetly retired while the conversation lasted, she recalled them by a look. The ladies were Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente and Mademoiselle de Montalais.

“Did you hear what the Comte de Guiche said?” the princess inquired.

“No.”

“It really is very singular,” she continued, in a compassionate tone, “how exile has affected poor M. de Guiche’s wit.” And then, in a louder voice, fearful lest her unhappy victim might lose a syllable, she said⁠—“In the first place he danced badly, and afterwards his remarks were very silly.”

She then rose, humming the air to which she was presently going to dance. De Guiche had overheard everything. The arrow pierced his heart and wounded him mortally. Then, at the risk of interrupting the progress of the fête by his annoyance, he fled from the scene, tearing his beautiful costume of Autumn in pieces, and scattering, as he went along, the branches of vines, mulberry and almond trees, with all the other artificial attributes of his assumed divinity. A quarter of an hour afterwards he returned to the theater; but it will be readily believed that it was only a powerful effort of reason over his great excitement that enabled him to go back; or perhaps, for love is thus strangely constituted, he found it impossible even to remain much longer separated from the presence of one who had broken his heart. Madame was finishing her figure. She saw, but did not look at de Guiche, who, irritated and revengeful, turned his back upon her as she passed him, escorted by her nymphs, and followed by a hundred flatterers. During this time, at the other end of the theater, near the lake, a young woman was seated, with her eyes fixed upon one of the windows of the theater, from which were issuing streams of light⁠—the window in question being that of the royal box. As de Guiche quitted the theater for the purpose of getting into the fresh air he so much needed, he passed close to this figure and saluted her. When she perceived the young man, she rose, like a woman surprised in the midst of ideas she was desirous of concealing from herself. De Guiche stopped as he recognized her, and said hurriedly⁠—“Good evening, Mademoiselle de La Vallière; I am indeed fortunate in meeting you.”

“I, also, M. de Guiche, am glad of this accidental meeting,” said the young girl, as she was about to withdraw.

“Pray do not leave me,” said de Guiche, stretching out his hand towards her, “for you would be contradicting the kind words you have just pronounced. Remain, I implore you: the evening is most lovely. You wish to escape from the merry tumult, and prefer your own society. Well, I can understand it; all women who are possessed of any feeling do, and one never finds them dull or lonely when removed from the giddy vortex of these exciting amusements. Oh! Heaven!” he exclaimed, suddenly.

“What is the matter, Monsieur le Comte?” inquired La Vallière, with some anxiety. “You seem agitated.”

“I! oh, no!”

“Will you allow me, M. de Guiche, to return you the thanks I had proposed to offer you on the very first opportunity? It is to your recommendation, I am aware, that I owe my admission among the number of Madame’s maids of honor.”

“Indeed! Ah! I remember now, and I congratulate myself. Do you love anyone?”

“I!” exclaimed La Vallière.

“Forgive me, I hardly know what I am saying; a thousand times forgive me; Madame was right, quite right, this brutal exile has completely turned my brain.”

“And yet it seemed to me that the king received you with kindness.”

“Do you think so? Received me with kindness⁠—perhaps so⁠—yes⁠—”

“There cannot be a doubt he received you kindly, for, in fact, you returned without his permission.”

“Quite true, and I believe you are right. But have you not seen M. de Bragelonne here?”

La Vallière started at the name. “Why do you ask?” she inquired.

“Have I offended you again?” said de Guiche. “In that case I am indeed unhappy, and greatly to be pitied.”

“Yes, very unhappy, and very much to be pitied, Monsieur de Guiche, for you seem to be suffering terribly.”

“Oh! Mademoiselle, why have I not a devoted sister, or a true friend, such as yourself?”

“You have friends, Monsieur de Guiche, and the Vicomte de Bragelonne, of whom you spoke just now, is, I believe, one of the most devoted.”

“Yes, yes, you are right, he is one of my best friends. Farewell, Mademoiselle de La Vallière, farewell.” And he fled, like one possessed, along the banks of the lake. His dark shadow glided, lengthening as it disappeared, among the illumined yews and glittering undulations of the water. La Vallière looked after him, saying⁠—“Yes, yes, he, too, is suffering, and I begin to understand why.”

She had hardly finished when her companions, Mademoiselle de Montalais and Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, ran forward. They were released from their attendance, and had changed their costumes of nymphs; delighted with the beautiful night, and the success of the evening, they returned to look after their companion.

“What, already here!” they said to her. “We thought we should be first at the rendezvous.”

“I have been here this quarter of an hour,” replied La Vallière.

“Did not the dancing amuse you?”

“No.”

“But surely the enchanting spectacle?”

“No more than the dancing. As far as beauty is concerned, I much prefer that which these dark woods present, in whose depths can be seen, now in one direction and again in another, a light passing by, as though it were an eye, in color like a midnight rainbow, sometimes open, at others closed.”

“La Vallière is quite a poetess,” said Tonnay-Charente.

“In other words,” said Montalais, “she is insupportable. Whenever there is a question of laughing a little or of amusing ourselves, La Vallière begins to cry; whenever we girls have reason to cry, because, perhaps, we have mislaid our dresses, or because our vanity as been wounded, or our costume fails to produce an effect, La Vallière laughs.”

“As far as I am concerned, that is not my character,” said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente. “I am a woman; and there are few like me; whoever loves me, flatters me; whoever flatters me, pleases me; and whoever pleases⁠—”

“Well!” said Montalais, “you do not finish.”

“It is too difficult,” replied Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, laughing loudly. “Do you, who are so clever, finish for me.”

“And you, Louise?” said Montalais, “does anyone please you?”

“That is a matter that concerns no one but myself,” replied the young girl, rising from the mossy bank on which she had been reclining during the whole time the ballet lasted. “Now, mesdemoiselles, we have agreed to amuse ourselves tonight without anyone to overlook us, and without any escort. We are three in number, we like one another, and the night is lovely. Look yonder, do you not see the moon slowly rising, silvering the topmost branches of the chestnuts and the oaks. Oh, beautiful walk! sweet liberty! exquisite soft turf of the woods, the happiness which your friendship confers upon me! let us walk arm in arm towards those large trees. Out yonder all are at this moment seated at table and fully occupied, or preparing to adorn themselves for a set and formal promenade; horses are being saddled, or harnessed to the carriages⁠—the queen’s mules or Madame’s four white ponies. As for ourselves, we shall soon reach some retired spot where no eyes can see us and no step follow ours. Do you not remember, Montalais, the woods of Cheverny and of Chambord, the innumerable rustling poplars of Blois, where we exchanged our mutual hopes?”

“And confidences too?”

“Yes.”

“Well,” said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, “I also think a good deal; but I take care⁠—”

“To say nothing,” said Montalais, “so that when Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente thinks, Athenaïs is the only one who knows it.”

“Hush!” said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, “I hear steps approaching from this side.”

“Quick, quick, then, among the high reed-grass,” said Montalais; “stoop, Athenaïs, you are so tall.”

Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente stooped as she was told, and, almost at the same moment, they saw two gentlemen approaching, their heads bent down, walking arm in arm, on the fine gravel walk running parallel with the bank. The young girls had, indeed, made themselves small⁠—indeed invisible.

“It is Monsieur de Guiche,” whispered Montalais in Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente’s ear.

“It is Monsieur de Bragelonne,” whispered the latter to La Vallière.

The two young men approached still closer, conversing in animated tones. “She was here just now,” said the count. “If I had only seen her, I should have declared it to be a vision, but I spoke to her.”

“You are positive, then?”

“Yes; but perhaps I frightened her.”

“In what way?”

“Oh! I was still half crazy at you know what; so that she could hardly have understood what I was saying, and must have grown alarmed.”

“Oh!” said Bragelonne, “do not make yourself uneasy: she is all kindness, and will excuse you; she is clear-sighted, and will understand.”

“Yes, but if she should have understood, and understood too well, she may talk.”

“You do not know Louise, count,” said Raoul. “Louise possesses every virtue, and has not a single fault.” And the two young men passed on, and, as they proceeded, their voices were soon lost in the distance.

“How is it, La Vallière,” said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, “that the Vicomte de Bragelonne spoke of you as Louise?”

“We were brought up together,” replied Louise, blushing; “M. de Bragelonne has honored me by asking my hand in marriage, but⁠—”

“Well?”

“It seems the king will not consent to it.”

“Eh! Why the king? and what has the king to do with it?” exclaimed Aure, sharply. “Good gracious! has the king any right to interfere in matters of that kind? Politics are politics, as M. de Mazarin used to say; but love is love. If, therefore, you love M. de Bragelonne, marry him. I give my consent.”

Athenaïs began to laugh.

“Oh! I am speaking seriously,” replied Montalais, “and my opinion in this case is quite as good as the king’s, I suppose; is it not, Louise?”

“Come,” said La Vallière, “these gentlemen have passed; let us take advantage of our being alone to cross the open ground and so take refuge in the woods.”

“So much the better,” said Athenaïs, “because I see the torches setting out from the château and the theater, and they seem as if they were preceding some person of distinction.”

“Let us run, then,” said all three. And, gracefully lifting up the long skirts of their silk dresses, they lightly ran across the open space between the lake and the thickest covert of the park. Montalais agile as a deer, Athenaïs eager as a young wolf, bounded through the dry grass, and, now and then, some bold Acteon might, by the aid of the faint light, have perceived their straight and well-formed limbs somewhat displayed beneath the heavy folds of their satin petticoats. La Vallière, more refined and more bashful, allowed her dress to flow around her; retarded also by the lameness of her foot, it was not long before she called out to her companions to halt, and, left behind, she obliged them both to wait for her. At this moment, a man, concealed in a dry ditch planted with young willow saplings, scrambled quickly up its shelving side, and ran off in the direction of the château. The three young girls, on their side, reached the outskirts of the park, every path of which they well knew. The ditches were bordered by high hedges full of flowers, which on that side protected the foot-passengers from being intruded upon by the horses and carriages. In fact, the sound of Madame’s and the queen’s carriages could be heard in the distance upon the hard dry ground of the roads, followed by the mounted cavaliers. Distant music reached them in response, and when the soft notes died away, the nightingale, with throat of pride, poured forth his melodious chants, and his most complicated, learned, and sweetest compositions to those who had met beneath the thick covert of the woods. Near the songster, in the dark background of the large trees, could be seen the glistening eyes of an owl, attracted by the harmony. In this way the fête of the whole court was a fête also for the mysterious inhabitants of the forest; for certainly the deer in the brake, the pheasant on the branch, the fox in its hole, were all listening. One could realize the life led by this nocturnal and invisible population from the restless movements that suddenly took place among the leaves. Our sylvan nymphs uttered a slight cry, but, reassured immediately afterwards, they laughed, and resumed their walk. In this manner they reached the royal oak, the venerable relic of a tree which in its prime has listened to the sighs of Henry II for the beautiful Diana of Poitiers, and later still to those of Henry IV for the lovely Gabrielle d’Estrées. Beneath this oak the gardeners had piled up the moss and turf in such a manner that never had a seat more luxuriously rested the wearied limbs of man or monarch. The trunk, somewhat rough to recline against, was sufficiently large to accommodate the three young girls, whose voices were lost among the branches, which stretched upwards to the sky.

CHAPTER 24

What Was Said Under the Royal Oak
The softness of the air, the stillness of the foliage, tacitly imposed upon these young girls an engagement to change immediately their giddy conversation for one of a more serious character. She, indeed, whose disposition was the most lively⁠—Montalais, for instance⁠—was the first to yield to the influence; and she began by heaving a deep sigh, and saying:⁠—“What happiness to be here alone, and at liberty, with every right to be frank, especially towards one another.”

“Yes,” said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente; “for the court, however brilliant it may be, has always some falsehood concealed beneath the folds of its velvet robes, or the glitter of its diamonds.”

“I,” replied La Vallière, “I never tell a falsehood; when I cannot speak the truth, I remain silent.”

“You will not long remain in favor,” said Montalais; “it is not here as it was at Blois, where we told the dowager Madame all our little annoyances, and all our longings. There were certain days when Madame remembered that she herself had been young, and, on those days, whoever talked with her found in her a sincere friend. She related to us her flirtations with Monsieur, and we told her of the flirtations she had had with others, or, at least, the rumors of them that had spread abroad. Poor woman, so simple-minded! she laughed at them, as we did. Where is she now?”

“Ah, Montalais⁠—laughter-loving Montalais!” cried La Vallière; “you see you are sighing again; the woods inspire you, and you are almost reasonable this evening.”

“You ought not, either of you,” said Athenaïs, “to regret the court at Blois so much, unless you do not feel happy with us. A court is a place where men and women resort to talk of matters which mothers, guardians, and especially confessors, severely denounce.”

“Oh, Athenaïs!” said Louise, blushing.

“Athenaïs is frank tonight,” said Montalais; “let us avail ourselves of it.”

“Yes, let us take advantage of it, for this evening I could divulge the softest secrets of my heart.”

“Ah, if M. Montespan were here!” said Montalais.

“Do you think that I care for M. de Montespan?” murmured the beautiful young girl.

“He is handsome, I believe?”

“Yes. And that is no small advantage in my eyes.”

“There now, you see⁠—”

“I will go further, and say, that of all the men whom one sees here, he is the handsomest, and the most⁠—”

“What was that?” said La Vallière, starting suddenly from the mossy bank.

“A deer hurrying by, perhaps.”

“I am only afraid of men,” said Athenaïs.

“When they do not resemble M. de Montespan.”

“A truce to raillery. M. de Montespan is attentive to me, but that does not commit me in any way. Is not M. de Guiche here, he who is so devoted to Madame?”

“Poor fellow!” said La Vallière.

“Why to be pitied? Madame is sufficiently beautiful, and of high enough rank, I suppose.”

La Vallière shook her head sorrowfully, saying, “When one loves, it is neither beauty nor rank;⁠—when one loves it should be the heart, or the eyes only, of him, or of her whom one loves.”

Montalais began to laugh loudly. “Heart, eyes,” she said; “oh, sugarplums!”

“I speak for myself,” replied La Vallière.

“Noble sentiments,” said Athenaïs, with an air of protection, but with indifference.

“Are they not your own?” asked Louise.

“Perfectly so; but to continue: how can one pity a man who bestows his attentions upon such a woman as Madame? If any disproportion exists, it is on the count’s side.”

“Oh! no, no,” returned La Vallière; “it is on Madame’s side.”

“Explain yourself.”

“I will. Madame has not even a wish to know what love is. She diverts herself with the feeling, as children do with fireworks, from which a spark might set a palace on fire. It makes a display, and that is all she cares about. Besides, pleasure forms the tissue of which she wishes her life to be woven. M. de Guiche loves this illustrious personage, but she will never love him.”

Athenaïs laughed disdainfully. “Do people really ever love?” she said. “Where are the noble sentiments you just now uttered? Does not a woman’s virtue consist in the uncompromising refusal of every intrigue that might compromise her? A properly regulated woman, endowed with a natural heart, ought to look at men, make herself loved⁠—adored, even, by them, and say at the very utmost but once in her life, ‘I begin to think that I ought not to have been what I am⁠—I should have detested this one less than others.’ ”

“Therefore,” exclaimed La Vallière, “that is what M. de Montespan has to expect.”

“Certainly; he, as well as everyone else. What! have I not said that I admit he possesses a certain superiority, and would not that be enough? My dear child, a woman is a queen during the entire period nature permits her to enjoy sovereign power⁠—from fifteen to thirty-five years of age. After that, we are free to have a heart, when we only have that left⁠—”

“Oh, oh!” murmured La Vallière.

“Excellent,” cried Montalais; “a very masterly woman; Athenaïs, you will make your way in the world.”

“Do you not approve of what I say?”

“Completely,” replied her laughing companion.

“You are not serious, Montalais?” said Louise.

“Yes, yes; I approve everything Athenaïs has just said; only⁠—”

“Only what?”

“Well, I cannot carry it out. I have the firmest principles; I form resolutions beside which the laws of the Stadtholder and of the King of Spain are child’s play; but when the moment arrives to put them into execution, nothing comes of them.”

“Your courage fails?” said Athenaïs, scornfully.

“Miserably so.”

“Great weakness of nature,” returned Athenaïs. “But at least you make a choice.”

“Why, no. It pleases fate to disappoint me in everything; I dream of emperors, and I find only⁠—”

“Aure, Aure!” exclaimed La Vallière, “for pity’s sake, do not, for the pleasure of saying something witty, sacrifice those who love you with such devoted affection.”

“Oh, I do not trouble myself much about that; those who love me are sufficiently happy that I do not dismiss them altogether. So much the worse for myself if I have a weakness for anyone, but so much the worse for others if I revenge myself upon them for it.”

“You are right,” said Athenaïs, “and, perhaps, you too will reach the goal. In other words, young ladies, that is termed being a coquette. Men, who are very silly in most things, are particularly so in confounding, under the term of coquetry, a woman’s pride, and love of changing her sentiments as she does her dress. I, for instance, am proud; that is to say, impregnable. I treat my admirers harshly, but without any pretention to retain them. Men call me a coquette, because they are vain enough to think I care for them. Other women⁠—Montalais, for instance⁠—have allowed themselves to be influenced by flattery; they would be lost were it not for that most fortunate principle of instinct which urges them to change suddenly, and punish the man whose devotion they so recently accepted.”

“A very learned dissertation,” said Montalais, in the tone of thorough enjoyment.

“It is odious!” murmured Louise.

“Thanks to that sort of coquetry, for, indeed, that is genuine coquetry,” continued Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente; “the lover who, a little while since, was puffed up with pride, in a minute afterwards is suffering at every pore of his vanity and self-esteem. He was, perhaps, already beginning to assume the airs of a conqueror, but now he retreats defeated; he was about to assume an air of protection towards us, but he is obliged to prostrate himself once more. The result of all this is, that, instead of having a husband who is jealous and troublesome, free from restraint in his conduct towards us, we have a lover always trembling in our presence, always fascinated by our attractions, always submissive; and for this simple reason, that he finds the same woman never twice of the same mind. Be convinced, therefore, of the advantages of coquetry. Possessing that, one reigns a queen among women in cases where Providence has withheld that precious faculty of holding one’s heart and mind in check.”

“How clever you are,” said Montalais, “and how well you understand the duty women owe themselves!”

“I am only settling a case of individual happiness,” said Athenaïs modestly; “and defending myself, like all weak, loving dispositions, against the oppressions of the stronger.”

“La Vallière does not say a word.”

“Does she not approve of what we are saying?”

“Nay; only I do not understand it,” said Louise. “You talk like people not called upon to live in this world of ours.”

“And very pretty your world is,” said Montalais.

“A world,” returned Athenaïs, “in which men worship a woman until she has fallen⁠—and insult her when she has fallen.”

“Who spoke to you of falling?” said Louise.

“Yours is a new theory, then; will you tell us how you intend to resist yielding to temptation, if you allow yourself to be hurried away by feelings of affection?”

“Oh!” exclaimed the young girl, raising towards the dark heavens her beautiful large eyes filled with tears, “if you did but know what a heart is, I would explain, and convince you; a loving heart is stronger than all your coquetry, more powerful than all your pride. A woman is never truly loved, I believe; a man never loves with idolatry, unless he feels sure he is loved in return. Let old men, whom we read of in comedies, fancy themselves adored by coquettes. A young man is conscious of, and knows them; if he has a fancy, or a strong desire, or an absorbing passion, for a coquette, he cannot mistake her; a coquette may drive him out of his senses, but will never make him fall in love. Love, such as I conceive it to be, is an incessant, complete, and perfect sacrifice; but it is not the sacrifice of one only of the two persons thus united. It is the perfect abnegation of two who are desirous of blending their beings into one. If ever I love, I shall implore my lover to leave me free and pure; I will tell him, and he will understand, that my heart was torn by my refusal, and he, in his love for me, aware of the magnitude of my sacrifice⁠—he, in his turn, I say, will store his devotion for me⁠—will respect me, and will not seek my ruin, to insult me when I shall have fallen, as you said just now, whilst uttering your blasphemies against love, such as I understand it. That is my idea of love. And now you will tell me, perhaps, that my lover will despise me; I defy him to do so, unless he be the vilest of men, and my heart assures me that it is not such a man I would choose. A look from me will repay him for the sacrifices he makes, or will inspire him with the virtues which he would never think he possessed.”

“But, Louise,” exclaimed Montalais, “you tell us this, and do not carry it into practice.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are adored by Raoul de Bragelonne, who worships you on both knees. The poor fellow is made the victim of your virtue, just as he would be⁠—nay, more than he would be, even⁠—of my coquetry, or Athenaïs’s pride.”

“All this is simply a different shade of coquetry,” said Athenaïs; “and Louise, I perceive, is a coquette without knowing it.”

“Oh!” said La Vallière.

“Yes, you may call it instinct, if you please, keenest sensibility, exquisite refinement of feeling, perpetual display of restrained outbreaks of affection, which end in smoke. It is very artful too, and very effective. I should even, now that I reflect upon it, have preferred this system of tactics to my own pride, for waging war on members of the other sex, because it offers the advantage sometimes of thoroughly convincing them; but, at the present moment, without utterly condemning myself, I declare it to be superior to the non-complex coquetry of Montalais.” And the two young girls began to laugh.

La Vallière alone preserved silence, and quietly shook her head. Then, a moment after, she added, “If you were to tell me, in the presence of a man, but a fourth part of what you have just said, or even if I were assured that you think it, I should die of shame and grief where I am now.”

“Very well; die, poor tender little darling,” replied Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente; “for if there are no men here, there are at least two women, your own friends, who declare you to be attainted and convicted of being a coquette from instinct; in other words, the most dangerous kind of coquette the world possesses.”

“Oh! mesdemoiselles,” replied La Vallière, blushing, and almost ready to weep. Her two companions again burst out laughing.

“Very well! I will ask Bragelonne to tell me.”

“Bragelonne?” said Athenaïs.

“Yes! Bragelonne, who is as courageous as Caesar, and as clever and witty as M. Fouquet. Poor fellow! for twelve years he has known you, loved you, and yet⁠—one can hardly believe it⁠—he has never even kissed the tips of your fingers.”

“Tell us the reason of this cruelty, you who are all heart,” said Athenaïs to La Vallière.

“Let me explain it by a single word⁠—virtue. You will perhaps deny the existence of virtue?”

“Come, Louise, tell us the truth,” said Aure, taking her by the hand.

“What do you wish me to tell you?” cried La Vallière.

“Whatever you like; but it will be useless for you to say anything, for I persist in my opinion of you. A coquette from instinct; in other words, as I have already said, and I say it again, the most dangerous of all coquettes.”

“Oh! no, no; for pity’s sake do not believe that!”

“What! twelve years of extreme severity.”

“How can that be, since twelve years ago I was only five years old? The frivolity of the child cannot surely be placed to the young girl’s account.”

“Well! you are now seventeen; three years instead of twelve. During those three years you have remained constantly and unchangeably cruel. Against you are arrayed the silent shades of Blois, the meetings when you diligently conned the stars together, the evening wanderings beneath the plantain trees, his impassioned twenty years speaking to your fourteen summers, the fire of his glances addressed to yourself.”

“Yes, yes; but so it is!”

“Impossible!”

“But why impossible?”

“Tell us something credible and we will believe you.”

“Yet, if you were to suppose one thing.”

“What is that?”

“Suppose that I thought I was in love, and that I am not.”

“What! not in love!”

“Well, then! if I have acted in a different manner to what others do when they are in love, it is because I do not love; and because my hour has not yet come.”

“Louise, Louise,” said Montalais, “take care or I will remind you of the remark you made just now. Raoul is not here; do not overwhelm him while he is absent; be charitable, and if, on closer inspection, you think you do not love him, tell him so, poor fellow!” and she began to laugh.

“Louise pitied M. de Guiche just now,” said Athenaïs; “would it be possible to detect an explanation of her indifference for the one in this compassion for the other?”

“Say what you please,” said La Vallière, sadly; “upbraid me as you like, since you do not understand me.”

“Oh! oh!” replied Montalais, “temper, sorrow, tears; we are jesting, Louise, and are not, I assure you, quite the monsters you suppose. Look at the proud Athenaïs, as she is called; she does not love M. de Montespan, it is true, but she would be in despair if M. de Montespan did not continue to love her. Look at me; I laugh at M. Malicorne, but the poor fellow whom I laugh at knows precisely when he will be permitted to press his lips upon my hand. And yet the eldest of us is not twenty yet. What a future before us!”

“Silly, silly girls!” murmured Louise.

“You are quite right,” said Montalais; “and you alone have spoken words of wisdom.”

“Certainly.”

“I do not dispute it,” replied Athenaïs. “And so it is clear you do not love poor M. de Bragelonne?”

“Perhaps she does,” said Montalais; “she is not yet quite certain of it. But, in any case, listen, Athenaïs; if M. de Bragelonne is ever free, I will give you a little friendly advice.”

“What is that?”

“To look at him well before you decide in favor of M. de Montespan.”

“Oh! in that way of considering the subject, M. de Bragelonne is not the only one whom one could look at with pleasure; M. de Guiche, for instance, has his value also.”

“He did not distinguish himself this evening,” said Montalais; “and I know from very good authority that Madame thought him insupportable.”

“M. de Saint-Aignan produced a most brilliant effect, and I am sure that more than one person who saw him dance this evening will not soon forget him. Do you not think so, La Vallière?”

“Why do you ask me? I did not see him, nor do I know him.”

“What! you did not see M. de Saint-Aignan? Don’t you know him?”

“No.”

“Come, come, do not affect a virtue more extravagantly excessive than our vanity!⁠—you have eyes, I suppose?”

“Excellent.”

“Then you must have seen all those who danced this evening.”

“Yes, nearly all.”

“That is a very impertinent ‘nearly all’ for somebody.”

“You must take it for what it is worth.”

“Very well; now, among all those gentlemen whom you saw, which do you prefer?”

“Yes,” said Montalais, “is it M. de Saint-Aignan, or M. de Guiche, or M.⁠—”

“I prefer no one; I thought them all about the same.”

“Do you mean, then, that among that brilliant assembly, the first court in the world, no one pleased you?”

“I do not say that.”

“Tell us, then, who your ideal is?”

“It is not an ideal being.”

“He exists, then?”

“In very truth,” exclaimed La Vallière, aroused and excited; “I cannot understand you at all. What! you who have a heart as I have, eyes as I have, and yet you speak of M. de Guiche, of M. de Saint-Aignan, when the king was there.” These words, uttered in a precipitate manner, and in an agitated, fervid tone of voice, made her two companions, between whom she was seated, exclaim in a manner that terrified her, “The king!

La Vallière buried her face in her hands. “Yes,” she murmured; “the king! the king! Have you ever seen anyone to be compared to the king?”

“You were right just now in saying you had excellent eyes, Louise, for you see a great distance; too far, indeed. Alas! the king is not one upon whom our poor eyes have a right to hinge themselves.”

“That is too true,” cried La Vallière; “it is not the privilege of all eyes to gaze upon the sun; but I will look upon him, even were I to be blinded in doing so.” At this moment, and as though caused by the words which had just escaped La Vallière’s lips, a rustling of leaves, and of what sounded like some silken material, was heard behind the adjoining bushes. The young girls hastily rose, almost terrified out of their senses. They distinctly saw the leaves move, without being able to see what it was that stirred them.

“It is a wolf or a wild boar,” cried Montalais; “fly! fly!” The three girls, in the extremity of terror, fled by the first path that presented itself, and did not stop until they had reached the verge of the wood. There, breathless, leaning against each other, feeling their hearts throb wildly, they endeavored to collect their senses, but could only succeed in doing so after the lapse of some minutes. Perceiving at last the lights from the windows of the château, they decided to walk towards them. La Vallière was exhausted with fatigue, and Aure and Athenaïs were obliged to support her.

“We have escaped well,” said Montalais.

“I am greatly afraid,” said La Vallière, “that it was something worse than a wolf. For my part, and I speak as I think, I should have preferred to have run the risk of being devoured alive by some wild animal than to have been listened to and overheard. Fool, fool that I am! How could I have thought, how could I have said what I did?” And saying this her head bowed like the water-tossed plume of a bulrush; she felt her limbs fail, and her strength abandoning her, and, gliding almost inanimate from the arms of her companions, sank down upon the turf.

CHAPTER 25

The King’s Uneasiness
Let us leave poor La Vallière, who had fainted in the arms of her two companions, and return to the precincts of the royal oak. The young girls had hardly run twenty paces, when the sound which had so much alarmed them was renewed among the branches. A man’s figure might indistinctly be perceived, and putting the branches of the bushes aside, he appeared upon the verge of the wood, and perceiving that the place was empty, burst out into a peal of laughter. It is almost superfluous to add that the form in question was that of a young and handsome cavalier, who immediately made a sign to another, who thereupon made his appearance.

“What, sire,” said the second figure, advancing timidly, “has Your Majesty put our young sentimentalists to flight?”

“It seems so,” said the king, “and you can show yourself without fear.”

“Take care, sire, you will be recognized.”

“But I tell you they are flown.”

“This is a most fortunate meeting, sire; and, if I dared offer an opinion to Your Majesty, we ought to follow them.”

“They are far enough away by this time.”

“They would quickly allow themselves to be overtaken, especially if they knew who were following them.”

“What do you mean by that, coxcomb that you are?”

“Why, one of them seems to have taken a fancy to me, and another compared you to the sun.”

“The greater reason why we should not show ourselves, Saint-Aignan. The sun never shows itself in the nighttime.”

“Upon my word, sire, Your Majesty seems to have very little curiosity. In your place, I should like to know who are the two nymphs, the two dryads, the two hamadryads, who have so good an opinion of us.”

“I shall know them again very well, I assure you, without running after them.”

“By what means?”

“By their voices, of course. They belong to the court, and the one who spoke of me had a remarkably sweet voice.”

“Ah! Your Majesty permits yourself to be influenced by flattery.”

“No one will ever say it is a means you make use of.”

“Forgive my stupidity, sire.”

“Come; let us go and look where I told you.”

“Is the passion, then, which Your Majesty confided to me, already forgotten?”

“Oh! no, indeed. How is it possible to forget such beautiful eyes as Mademoiselle de La Vallière has?”

“Yet the other one has a beautiful voice.”

“Which one?”

“The lady who has fallen in love with the sun.”

“M. de Saint-Aignan!”

“Forgive me, sire.”

“Well, I am not sorry you should believe me to be an admirer of sweet voices as well as of beautiful eyes. I know you to be a terrible talker, and tomorrow I shall have to pay for the confidence I have shown you.”

“What do you mean, sire?”

“That tomorrow everyone will know that I have designs upon this little La Vallière; but be careful, Saint-Aignan, I have confided my secret to no one but you, and if anyone should speak to me about it, I shall know who has betrayed my secret.”

“You are angry, sire.”

“No; but you understand I do not wish to compromise the poor girl.”

“Do not be afraid, sire.”

“You promise me, then?”

“I give you my word of honor.”

Excellent, thought the king, laughing to himself; now everyone will know tomorrow that I have been running about after La Vallière tonight.

Then, endeavoring to see where he was, he said: “Why, we have lost ourselves.”

“Not quite so bad as that, sire.”

“Where does that gate lead to?”

“To Rond-Point, sire.”

“Where were we going when we heard the sound of women’s voices?”

“Yes, sire, and the termination of a conversation in which I had the honor of hearing my own name pronounced by the side of Your Majesty’s.”

“You return to that subject too frequently, Saint-Aignan.”

“Your Majesty will forgive me, but I am delighted to know that a woman exists whose thoughts are occupied about me, without my knowledge, and without my having done anything to deserve it. Your Majesty cannot comprehend this satisfaction, for your rank and merit attract attention, and compel regard.”

“No, no, Saint-Aignan, believe me or not, as you like,” said the king, leaning familiarly upon Saint-Aignan’s arm and taking the path he thought would lead them to the château; “but this candid confession, this perfectly disinterested preference of one who will, perhaps, never attract my attention⁠—in one word, the mystery of this adventure excites me, and the truth is, that if I were not so taken with La Vallière⁠—”

“Do not let that interfere with Your Majesty’s intentions: you have time enough before you.”

“What do you mean?”

“La Vallière is said to be very strict in her ideas.”

“You excite my curiosity and I am anxious to see her again. Come, let us walk on.”

The king spoke untruly, for nothing, on the contrary, could make him less anxious, but he had a part to play, and so he walked on hurriedly. Saint-Aignan followed him at a short distance. Suddenly the king stopped; the courtier followed his example.

“Saint-Aignan,” he said, “do you not hear someone moaning?”

“Yes, sire, and weeping, too, it seems.”

“It is in this direction,” said the king. “It sounds like the tears and sobs of a woman.”

“Run,” said the king; and, following a bypath, they ran across the grass. As they approached, the cries were more distinctly heard.

“Help, help,” exclaimed two voices. The king and his companion redoubled their speed, and, as they approached nearer, the sighs they had heard were changed into loud sobs. The cry of “Help! help!” was again repeated; at the sound of which, the king and Saint-Aignan increased the rapidity of their pace. Suddenly at the other side of a ditch, under the branches of a willow, they perceived a woman on her knees, holding another in her arms who seemed to have fainted. A few paces from them, a third, standing in the middle of the path, was calling for assistance. Perceiving the two gentlemen, whose rank she could not tell, her cries for assistance were redoubled. The king, who was in advance of his companion, leaped across the ditch, and reached the group at the very moment when, from the end of the path which led to the château, a dozen persons were approaching, who had been drawn to the spot by the same cries that had attracted the attention of the king and M. de Saint-Aignan.

“What is the matter, young ladies?” said Louis.

“The king!” exclaimed Mademoiselle de Montalais, in her astonishment, letting La Vallière’s head fall upon the ground.

“Yes, it is the king; but that is no reason why you should abandon your companion. Who is she?”

“It is Mademoiselle de La Vallière, sire.”

“Mademoiselle de La Vallière!”

“Yes, sire, she has just fainted.”

“Poor child!” said the king. “Quick, quick, fetch a surgeon.” But however great the anxiety with which the king had pronounced these words may have seemed to others, he had not so carefully schooled himself but that they appeared, as well as the gesture which accompanied them, somewhat cold to Saint-Aignan, to whom the king had confided the sudden love with which she had inspired him.

“Saint-Aignan,” continued the king, “watch over Mademoiselle de La Vallière, I beg. Send for a surgeon. I will hasten forward and inform Madame of the accident which has befallen one of her maids of honor.” And, in fact, while M. de Saint-Aignan was busily engaged in making preparations for carrying Mademoiselle de La Vallière to the château, the king hurried forward, happy to have an opportunity of approaching Madame, and of speaking to her under a colorable pretext. Fortunately, a carriage was passing; the coachman was told to stop, and the persons who were inside, having been informed of the accident, eagerly gave up their seats to Mademoiselle de La Vallière. The current of fresh air produced by the rapid motion of the carriage soon recalled her to her senses. Having reached the château, she was able, though very weak, to alight from the carriage, and, with the assistance of Athenaïs and of Montalais, to reach the inner apartments. They made her sit down in one of the rooms of the ground floor. After a while, as the accident had not produced much effect upon those who had been walking, the promenade was resumed. During this time, the king had found Madame beneath a tree with overhanging branches, and had seated himself by her side.

“Take care, sire,” said Henrietta to him, in a low tone, “you do not show yourself as indifferent as you ought to be.”

“Alas!” replied the king, in the same tone, “I much fear we have entered into an agreement above our strength to keep.” He then added aloud, “You have heard of the accident, I suppose?”

“What accident?”

“Oh! in seeing you I forgot I hurried here expressly to tell you of it. I am, however, painfully affected by it; one of your maids of honor, Mademoiselle de La Vallière, has just fainted.”

“Indeed! poor girl,” said the princess, quietly, “what was the cause of it?”

She then added in an undertone, “You forget, sire, that you wish others to believe in your passion for this girl, and yet you remain here while she is almost dying, perhaps, elsewhere.”

“Ah! Madame,” said the king, sighing, “how much more perfect you are in your part than I am, and how actively you think of everything.”

He then rose, saying loud enough for everyone to hear him, “Permit me to leave you, Madame; my uneasiness is very great, and I wish to be quite certain, myself, that proper attention has been given to Mademoiselle de La Vallière.” And the king left again to return to La Vallière, while those who had been present commented upon the king’s remark:⁠—“My uneasiness is very great.”

CHAPTER 26

The King’s Secret
On his way Louis met the Comte de Saint-Aignan. “Well, Saint-Aignan,” he inquired, with affected interest, “how is the invalid.”

“Really, sire,” stammered Saint-Aignan, “to my shame, I confess I do not know.”

“What! you do not know?” said the king, pretending to take in a serious manner this want of attention for the object of his predilection.

“Will Your Majesty pardon me; but I have just met one of our three loquacious wood-nymphs, and I confess that my attention has been taken away from other matters.”

“Ah!” said the king, eagerly, “you have found, then⁠—”

“The one who deigned to speak of me in such advantageous terms; and, having found mine, I was searching for yours, sire, when I had the happiness to meet Your Majesty.”

“Very well; but Mademoiselle de La Vallière before everything else,” said the king, faithful to the character he had assumed.

“Oh! our charming invalid!” said Saint-Aignan; “how fortunately her fainting fit came on, since Your Majesty had already occupied yourself about her.”

“What is the name of your fair lady, Saint-Aignan? Is it a secret?”

“It ought to be a secret, and a very great one, even; but Your Majesty is well aware that no secret can possibly exist for you.”

“Well, what is her name?”

“Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente.”

“Is she pretty?”

“Exceedingly, sire; and I recognized the voice which pronounced my name in such tender accents. I accosted her, questioned her as well as I was able to do, in the midst of the crowd; and she told me, without suspecting anything, that a little while ago she was under the great oak, with her two friends, when the sound of a wolf or a robber had terrified them, and made them run away.”

“But,” inquired the king, anxiously, “what are the names of these two friends?”

“Sire,” said Saint-Aignan, “will Your Majesty send me forthwith to the Bastille?”

“What for?”

“Because I am an egotist and a fool. My surprise was so great at such a conquest, and at so fortunate a discovery, that I went no further in my inquiries. Besides, I did not think that Your Majesty would attach any very great importance to what you heard, knowing how much your attention was taken up by Mademoiselle de La Vallière; and then, Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente left me precipitately, to return to Mademoiselle de La Vallière.”

“Let us hope, then, that I shall be as fortunate as yourself. Come, Saint-Aignan.”

“Your Majesty is ambitious, I perceive, and does not wish to allow any conquest to escape you. Well, I assure you that I will conscientiously set about my inquiries; and, moreover, from one or the other of those Three Graces we shall learn the names of the rest, and by the names their secrets.”

“I, too,” said the king, “only require to hear her voice to know it again. Come, let us say no more about it, but show me where poor La Vallière is.”

Well, thought Saint-Aignan, the king’s regard is beginning to display itself, and for that girl too. It is extraordinary; I should never have believed it. And with this thought passing through his mind, he showed the king the room to which La Vallière had been carried; the king entered, followed by Saint-Aignan. In a low chamber, near a large window looking out upon the gardens, La Vallière, reclining in a large armchair, was inhaling deep draughts of the perfumed evening breeze. From the loosened body of her dress, the lace fell in tumbled folds, mingling with the tresses of her beautiful fair hair, which lay scattered upon her shoulders. Her languishing eyes were filled with tears; she seemed as lifeless as those beautiful visions of our dreams, that pass before the mental eye of the sleeper, half-opening their wings without moving them, unclosing their lips without a sound escaping them. The pearl-like pallor of La Vallière possessed a charm it would be impossible to describe. Mental and bodily suffering had produced upon her features a soft and noble expression of grief; from the perfect passiveness of her arms and bust, she more resembled one whose soul had passed away, than a living being; she seemed not to hear either the whisperings of her companions, or the distant murmurs which arose from the court. She seemed to be communing within herself; and her beautiful, delicate hands trembled from time to time as though at the contact of some invisible touch. She was so completely absorbed in her reverie, that the king entered without her perceiving him. At a distance he gazed upon her lovely face, upon which the moon shed its pure silvery light.

“Good Heavens!” he exclaimed, with a terror he could not control, “she is dead.”

“No, sire,” said Montalais, in a low voice; “on the contrary, she is better. Are you not better, Louise?”

But Louise did not answer. “Louise,” continued Montalais, “the king has deigned to express his uneasiness on your account.”

“The king!” exclaimed Louise, starting up abruptly, as if a stream of fire had started through her frame to her heart; “the king uneasy about me?”

“Yes,” said Montalais.

“The king is here, then?” said La Vallière, not venturing to look round her.

“That voice! that voice!” whispered Louis, eagerly, to Saint-Aignan.

“Yes, it is so,” replied Saint-Aignan; “Your Majesty is right; it is she who declared her love for the sun.”

“Hush!” said the king. And then approaching La Vallière, he said, “You are not well, Mademoiselle de La Vallière? Just now, indeed, in the park, I saw that you had fainted. How were you attacked?”

“Sire,” stammered out the poor child, pale and trembling, “I really do not know.”

“You have been walking too far,” said the king; “and fatigue, perhaps⁠—”

“No, sire,” said Montalais, eagerly, answering for her friend, “it could not be from fatigue, for we passed most of the evening seated beneath the royal oak.”

“Under the royal oak?” returned the king, starting. I was not deceived; it is as I thought. And he directed a look of intelligence at the comte.

“Yes,” said Saint-Aignan, “under the royal oak, with Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente.”

“How do you know that?” inquired Montalais.

“In a very simple way. Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente told me so.”

“In that case, she probably told you the cause of Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s fainting?”

“Why, yes; she told me something about a wolf or a robber. I forget precisely which.” La Vallière listened, her eyes fixed, her bosom heaving, as if, gifted with an acuteness of perception, she foresaw a portion of the truth. Louis imagined this attitude and agitation to be the consequence of a terror only partially reassured. “Nay, fear nothing,” he said, with a rising emotion which he could not conceal; “the wolf which terrified you so much was simply a wolf with two legs.”

“It was a man, then!” said Louise; “it was a man who was listening?”

“Suppose it was so, Mademoiselle, what great harm was there in his having listened? Is it likely that, even in your own opinion, you would have said anything which could not have been listened to?”

La Vallière wrung her hands, and hid her face in them, as if to hide her blushes. “In Heaven’s name,” she said, “who was concealed there? Who was listening?”

The king advanced towards her, to take hold of one of her hands. “It was I,” he said, bowing with marked respect. “Is it likely I could have frightened you?” La Vallière uttered a loud cry; for the second time her strength forsook her; and moaning in utter despair, she again fell lifeless in her chair. The king had just time to hold out his arm; so that she was partially supported by him. Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente and Montalais, who stood a few paces from the king and La Vallière, motionless and almost petrified at the recollection of their conversation with La Vallière, did not even think of offering their assistance, feeling restrained by the presence of the king, who, with one knee on the ground, held La Vallière round the waist with his arm.

“You heard, sire!” murmured Athenaïs. But the king did not reply; he remained with his eyes fixed upon La Vallière’s half-closed eyes, and held her quiescent hand in his own.

“Of course,” replied Saint-Aignan, who, on his side, hoping that Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, too, would faint, advancing towards her, holding his arms extended⁠—“of course; we did not even lose a single word.” But the haughty Athenaïs was not a woman to faint easily; she darted a terrible look at Saint-Aignan, and fled. Montalais, with more courage, advanced hurriedly towards Louise, and received her from the king’s hands, who was already fast losing his presence of mind, as he felt his face covered by the perfumed tresses of the seemingly dying girl. “Excellent,” whispered Saint-Aignan. “This is indeed an adventure; and it will be my own fault if I am not the first to relate it.”

The king approached him, and, with a trembling voice and a passionate gesture, said, “Not a syllable, comte.”

The poor king forgot that, only an hour before, he had given him a similar recommendation, but with the very opposite intention; namely, that the comte should be indiscreet. It followed, as a matter of course, that he latter recommendation was quite as unnecessary as the former. Half an hour afterwards, everybody in Fontainebleau knew that Mademoiselle de La Vallière had had a conversation under the royal oak with Montalais and Tonnay-Charente, and that in this conversation she had confessed her affection for the king. It was known, also, that the king, after having manifested the uneasiness with which Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s health had inspired him, had turned pale, and trembled very much as he received the beautiful girl fainting into his arms; so that it was quite agreed among the courtiers, that the greatest event of the period had just been revealed; that His Majesty loved Mademoiselle de La Vallière, and that, consequently, Monsieur could now sleep in perfect tranquillity. It was this, even, that the queen-mother, as surprised as the others by the sudden change, hastened to tell the young queen and Philip d’Orléans. Only she set to work in a different manner, by attacking them in the following way:⁠—To her daughter-in-law she said, “See, now, Thérèse, how very wrong you were to accuse the king; now it is said he is devoted to some other person; why should there be any greater truth in the report of today than in that of yesterday, or in that of yesterday than in that of today?” To Monsieur, in relating to him the adventure of the royal oak, she said, “Are you not very absurd in your jealousies, my dear Philip? It is asserted that the king is madly in love with that little La Vallière. Say nothing of it to your wife; for the queen will know all about it very soon.” This latter confidential communication had an immediate result. Monsieur, who had regained his composure, went triumphantly to look after his wife, and as it was not yet midnight and the fête was to continue until two in the morning, he offered her his hand for a promenade. At the end of a few paces, however, the first thing he did was to disobey his mother’s injunctions.

“Do not tell anyone, the queen least of all,” he said mysteriously, “what people say about the king.”

“What do they say about him?” inquired Madame.

“That my brother has suddenly fallen in love.”

“With whom?”

“With Mademoiselle de La Vallière.”

As it was dark, Madame could smile at her ease.

“Ah!” she said, “and how long is it since this has been the case?”

“For some days, it seems. But that was nothing but nonsense; it is only this evening that he has revealed his passion.”

“The king shows his good taste,” said Madame; “in my opinion she is a very charming girl.”

“I verily believe you are jesting.”

“I! in what way?”

“In any case this passion will make someone very happy, even if it be only La Vallière herself.”

“Really,” continued the princess, “you speak as if you had read into the inmost recesses of La Vallière’s heart. Who has told you that she agrees to return the king’s affection?”

“And who has told you that she will not return it?”

“She loves the Vicomte de Bragelonne.”

“You think so?”

“She is even affianced to him.”

“She was so.”

“What do you mean?”

“When they went to ask the king’s permission to arrange the marriage, he refused his permission.”

“Refused?”

“Yes, although the request was preferred by the Comte de la Fère himself, for whom the king has the greatest regard, on account of the part he took in your royal brother’s restoration, and in other events, also, which happened a long time ago.”

“Well! the poor lovers must wait until the king is pleased to change his opinion; they are young, and there is time enough.”

“But, dear me,” said Philip, laughing, “I perceive you do not know the best part of the affair.”

“No!”

“That by which the king was most deeply touched.”

“The king, do you say, has been deeply touched?”

“To the very quick of his heart.”

“But how?⁠—in what manner?⁠—tell me directly.”

“By an adventure, the romance of which cannot be equalled.”

“You know how I love to hear of such adventures, and yet you keep me waiting,” said the princess, impatiently.

“Well, then⁠—” and Monsieur paused.

“I am listening.”

“Under the royal oak⁠—you know where the royal oak is?”

“What can that matter? Under the royal oak, you were saying?”

“Well! Mademoiselle de La Vallière, fancying herself to be alone with her two friends, revealed to them her affection for the king.”

“Ah!” said Madame, beginning to be uneasy, “her affection for the king?”

“Yes.”

“When was this?”

“About an hour ago.”

Madame started, and then said, “And no one knew of this affection?”

“No one.”

“Not even His Majesty?”

“Not even His Majesty. The artful little puss kept her secret strictly to herself, when suddenly it proved stronger than herself, and so escaped her.”

“And from whom did you get this absurd tale?”

“Why, as everybody else did, from La Vallière herself, who confessed her love to Montalais and Tonnay-Charente, who were her companions.”

Madame stopped suddenly, and by a hasty movement let go her husband’s hand.

“Did you say it was an hour ago she made this confession?” Madame inquired.

“About that time.”

“Is the king aware of it?”

“Why, that is the very thing which constitutes the perfect romance of the affair, for the king was behind the royal oak with Saint-Aignan, and heard the whole of the interesting conversation without losing a single word of it.”

Madame felt struck to the heart, saying incautiously, “But I have seen the king since, and he never told me a word about it.”

“Of course,” said Monsieur; “he took care not to speak of it to you himself, since he recommended everyone not to say a word about it.”

“What do you mean?” said Madame, growing angry.

“I mean that they wished to keep you in ignorance of the affair altogether.”

“But why should they wish to conceal it from me?”

“From the fear that your friendship for the young queen might induce you to say something about it to her, nothing more.”

Madame hung down her head; her feelings were grievously wounded. She could not enjoy a moment’s repose until she had met the king. As a king is, most naturally, the very last person in his kingdom who knows what is said about him, in the same way that a lover is the only one who is kept in ignorance of what is said about his mistress, therefore, when the king perceived Madame, who was looking for him, he approached her in some perturbation, but still gracious and attentive in his manner. Madame waited for him to speak about La Vallière first; but as he did not speak of her, she said, “And the poor girl?”

“What poor girl?” said the king.

“La Vallière. Did you not tell me, sire, that she had fainted?”

“She is still very ill,” said the king, affecting the greatest indifference.

“But surely that will prejudicially affect the rumor you were going to spread, sire?”

“What rumor?”

“That your attention was taken up by her.”

“Oh!” said the king, carelessly, “I trust it will be reported all the same.”

Madame still waited; she wished to know if the king would speak to her of the adventure of the royal oak. But the king did not say a word about it. Madame, on her side, did not open her lips about it; so that the king took leave of her without having reposed the slightest confidence in her. Hardly had she watched the king move away, than she set out in search of Saint-Aignan. Saint-Aignan was never very difficult to find; he was like the smaller vessels that always follow in the wake of, and as tenders to, the larger ships. Saint-Aignan was the very man whom Madame needed in her then state of mind. And as for him, he only looked for worthier ears than others he had found to have an opportunity of recounting the event in all its details. And so he did not spare Madame a single word of the whole affair. When he had finished, Madame said to him, “Confess, now, that is his all a charming invention.”

“Invention, no; a true story, yes.”

“Confess, whether invention or true story, that it was told to you as you have told it to me, but that you were not there.”

“Upon my honor, Madame, I was there.”

“And you think that these confessions may have made an impression on the king?”

“Certainly, as those of Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente did upon me,” replied Saint-Aignan; “do not forget, Madame, that Mademoiselle de La Vallière compared the king to the sun; that was flattering enough.”

“The king does not permit himself to be influenced by such flatteries.”

“Madame, the king is just as much Adonis as Apollo; and I saw plain enough just now when La Vallière fell into his arms.”

“La Vallière fell into the king’s arms!”

“Oh! it was the most graceful picture possible; just imagine, La Vallière had fallen back fainting, and⁠—”

“Well! what did you see?⁠—tell me⁠—speak!”

“I saw what ten other people saw at the same time as myself; I saw that when La Vallière fell into his arms, the king almost fainted himself.”

Madame smothered a subdued cry, the only indication of her smothered anger.

“Thank you,” she said, laughing in a convulsive manner, “you relate stories delightfully, M. de Saint-Aignan.” And she hurried away, alone, and almost suffocated by painful emotion, towards the château.

CHAPTER 27

Courses de Nuit
Monsieur quitted the princess in the best possible humor, and feeling greatly fatigued, retired to his apartments, leaving everyone to finish the night as he chose. When in his room, Monsieur began to dress for the night with careful attention, which displayed itself from time to time in paroxysms of satisfaction. While his attendants were engaged in curling his hair, he sang the principal airs of the ballet which the violins had played and to which the king had danced. He then summoned his tailors, inspected his costumes for the next day, and, in token of his extreme satisfaction, distributed various presents among them. As, however, the Chevalier de Lorraine, who had seen the prince return to the château, entered the room, Monsieur overwhelmed him with kindness. The former, after having saluted the prince, remained silent for a moment, like a sharpshooter who deliberates before deciding in what direction he will renew his fire; then, seeming to make up his mind he said, “Have you remarked a very singular coincidence, Monseigneur?”

“No; what is it?”

“The bad reception which His Majesty, in appearance, gave the Comte de Guiche.”

“In appearance?”

“Yes, certainly; since, in reality, he has restored him to favor.”

“I did not notice it,” said the prince.

“What, did you not remark, that, instead of ordering him to go away again into exile, as was natural, he encouraged him in his opposition by permitting him to resume his place in the ballet?”

“And you think the king was wrong, chevalier?” said the prince.

“Are you not of my opinion, prince?”

“Not altogether so, my dear chevalier; and I think the king was quite right not to have made a disturbance against a poor fellow whose want of judgment is more to be complained of than his intention.”

“Really,” said the chevalier, “as far as I am concerned, I confess that this magnanimity astonishes me to the highest degree.”

“Why so?” inquired Philip.

“Because I should have thought the king had been more jealous,” replied the chevalier, spitefully. During the last few minutes Monsieur had felt there was something of an irritating nature concealed under his favorite’s remarks; this last word, however, ignited the powder.

“Jealous!” exclaimed the prince. “Jealous! what do you mean? Jealous of what, if you please⁠—or jealous of whom?”

The chevalier perceived that he had allowed an excessively mischievous remark to escape him, as he was in the habit of doing. He endeavored, therefore, apparently to recall it while it was still possible to do so. “Jealous of his authority,” he said, with an assumed frankness; “of what else would you have the king jealous?”

“Ah!” said the prince, “that’s very proper.”

“Did Your Royal Highness,” continued the chevalier, “solicit dear de Guiche’s pardon?”

“No, indeed,” said Monsieur. “De Guiche is an excellent fellow, and full of courage; but as I do not approve of his conduct with Madame, I wish him neither harm nor good.”

The chevalier had assumed a bitterness with regard to de Guiche, as he had attempted to do with regard to the king; but he thought he perceived that the time for indulgence, and even for the utmost indifference, had arrived, and that, in order to throw some light on the question, it might be necessary for him to put the lamp, as the saying is, beneath the husband’s very nose.

Very well, very well, said the chevalier to himself, I must wait for de Wardes; he will do more in one day than I in a month; for I verily believe he is even more envious than I am. Then, again, it is not de Wardes I require so much as that some event or another should happen; and in the whole of this affair I see none. That de Guiche returned after he had been sent away is certainly serious enough, but all its seriousness disappears when I learn that de Guiche has returned at the very moment Madame troubles herself no longer about him. Madame, in fact, is occupied with the king, that is clear; but she will not be so much longer if, as is asserted, the king has ceased to trouble his head about her. The moral of the whole matter is, to remain perfectly neutral, and await the arrival of some new caprice and let that decide the whole affair. And the chevalier thereupon settled himself resignedly in the armchair in which Monsieur permitted him to seat himself in his presence, and, having no more spiteful or malicious remarks to make, the consequence was that de Lorraine’s wit seemed to have deserted him. Most fortunately Monsieur was in high good-humor, and he had enough for two, until the time arrived for dismissing his servants and gentlemen of the chamber, and he passed into his sleeping-apartment. As he withdrew, he desired the chevalier to present his compliments to Madame, and say that, as the night was cool, Monsieur, who was afraid of the toothache, would not venture out again into the park during the remainder of the evening. The chevalier entered the princess’s apartments at the very moment she came in herself. He acquitted himself faithfully of the commission entrusted to him, and, in the first place, remarked all the indifference and annoyance with which Madame received her husband’s communication⁠—a circumstance which appeared to him fraught with something fresh. If Madame had been about to leave her apartments with that strangeness of manner, he would have followed her; but she was returning to them; there was nothing to be done, therefore he turned upon his heel like an unemployed heron, appearing to question earth, air, and water about it; shook his head, and walked away mechanically in the direction of the gardens. He had hardly gone a hundred paces when he met two young men, walking arm in arm, with their heads bent down, and idly kicking the small stones out of their path as they walked on, plunged in thought. It was de Guiche and de Bragelonne, the sight of whom, as it always did, produced upon the chevalier, instinctively, a feeling of repugnance. He did not, however, the less, on that account, salute them with a very low bow, which they returned with interest. Then, observing that the park was nearly deserted, that the illuminations began to burn out, and that the morning breeze was setting in, he turned to the left, and entered the château again, by one of the smaller courtyards. The others turned aside to the right, and continued on their way towards the large park. As the chevalier was ascending the side staircase, which led to the private entrance, he saw a woman, followed by another, make her appearance under the arcade which led from the small to the large courtyard. The two women walked so fast that the rustling of their dresses could be distinguished through the silence of the night. The style of their mantles, their graceful figures, a mysterious yet haughty carriage which distinguished them both, especially the one who walked first, struck the chevalier.

I certainly know those two, he said to himself, pausing upon the top step of the small staircase. Then, as with the instinct of a bloodhound he was about to follow them, one of the servants who had been running after him arrested his attention.

“Monsieur,” he said, “the courier has arrived.”

“Very well,” said the chevalier, “there is time enough; tomorrow will do.”

“There are some urgent letters which you would be glad to see, perhaps.”

“Where from?” inquired the chevalier.

“One from England, and the other from Calais; the latter arrived by express, and seems of great importance.”

“From Calais! Who the deuce can have to write to me from Calais?”

“I think I recognize the handwriting of Monsieur le Comte de Wardes.”

“Oh!” cried the chevalier, forgetting his intention of acting the spy, “in that case I will come up at once.” This he did, while the two unknown beings disappeared at the end of the court opposite to the one by which they had just entered. We shall now follow them, and leave the chevalier undisturbed to his correspondence. When they had arrived at the grove of trees, the foremost of the two halted, somewhat out of breath, and, cautiously raising her hood, said, “Are we still far from the tree?”

“Yes, Madame, more than five hundred paces; but pray rest awhile, you will not be able to walk much longer at this rate.”

“You are right,” said the princes, for it was she; and she leaned against a tree. “And now,” she resumed, after having recovered her breath, “tell me the whole truth, and conceal nothing from me.”

“Oh, Madame,” cried the young girl, “you are already angry with me.”

“No, my dear Athenaïs, reassure yourself, I am in no way angry with you. After all, these things do not concern me personally. You are anxious about what you may have said under the oak; you are afraid of having offended the king, and I wish to tranquillize you by ascertaining myself if it were possible you could have been overheard.”

“Oh, yes, Madame, the king was close to us.”

“Still, you were not speaking so loud that some of your remarks may not have been lost.”

“We thought we were quite alone, Madame.”

“There were three of you, you say?”

“Yes; La Vallière, Montalais, and myself.”

“And you, individually, spoke in a light manner of the king?”

“I am afraid so. Should such be the case, will Your Highness have the kindness to make my peace with His Majesty?”

“If there should be any occasion for it, I promise you I will do so. However, as I have already told you, it will be better not to anticipate evil. The night is now very dark, and the darkness is still greater under the trees. It is not likely you were recognized by the king. To inform him of it, by being the first to speak, is to denounce yourself.”

“Oh, Madame, Madame! if Mademoiselle de La Vallière were recognized, I must have been recognized also. Besides, M. de Saint-Aignan left no doubt on the subject.”

“Did you, then, say anything very disrespectful of the king?”

“Not at all; it was one of the others who made some very flattering speeches about the king; and my remarks must have been much in contrast with hers.”

“Montalais is such a giddy girl,” said Madame.

“It was not Montalais. Montalais said nothing; it was La Vallière.”

Madame started as if she had not known it perfectly well already. “No, no,” she said, “the king cannot have heard. Besides, we will now try the experiment for which we came out. Show me the oak. Do you know where it is?” she continued.

“Alas! Madame, yes.”

“And you can find it again?”

“With my eyes shut.”

“Very well; sit down on the bank where you were, where La Vallière was, and speak in the same tone and to the same effect as you did before; I will conceal myself in the thicket, and if I can hear you, I will tell you so.”

“Yes, Madame.”

“If, therefore, you really spoke loud enough for the king to have heard you, in that case⁠—”

Athenaïs seemed to await the conclusion of the sentence with some anxiety.

“In that case,” said Madame, in a suffocated voice, arising doubtless from her hurried progress, “in that case, I forbid you⁠—” And Madame again increased her pace. Suddenly, however, she stopped. “An idea occurs to me,” she said.

“A good idea, no doubt, Madame,” replied Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente.

“Montalais must be as much embarrassed as La Vallière and yourself.”

“Less so, for she is less compromised, having said less.”

“That does not matter; she will help you, I dare say, by deviating a little from the exact truth.”

“Especially if she knows that Your Highness is kind enough to interest yourself about me.”

“Very well, I think I have discovered what it is best for you all to pretend.”

“How delightful.”

“You had better say that all three of you were perfectly well aware that the king was behind the tree, or behind the thicket, whichever it might have been; and that you knew M. de Saint-Aignan was there too.”

“Yes, Madame.”

“For you cannot disguise it from yourself, Athenaïs, Saint-Aignan takes advantage of some very flattering remarks you made about him.”

“Well, Madame, you see very clearly that one can be overheard,” cried Athenaïs, “since M. de Saint-Aignan overheard us.”

Madame bit her lips, for she had thoughtlessly committed herself. “Oh, you know Saint-Aignan’s character very well,” she said, “the favor the king shows him almost turns his brain, and he talks at random; not only so, he very often invents. That is not the question; the fact remains, did or did not the king overhear?”

“Oh, yes, Madame, he certainly did,” said Athenaïs, in despair.

“In that case, do what I said: maintain boldly that all three of you knew⁠—mind, all three of you, for if there is a doubt about any one of you, there will be a doubt about all⁠—persist, I say, that you knew that the king and M. de Saint-Aignan were there, and that you wished to amuse yourself at the expense of those who were listening.”

“Oh, Madame, at the king’s expense; we shall never dare say that!”

“It is a simple jest; an innocent deception readily permitted in young girls whom men wish to take by surprise. In this manner everything explains itself. What Montalais said of Malicorne, a mere jest; what you said of M. de Saint-Aignan, a mere jest too; and what La Vallière might have said of⁠—”

“And which she would have given anything to recall.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“Perfectly.”

“Very well, an additional reason. Say the whole affair was a mere joke. M. de Malicorne will have no occasion to get out of temper; M. de Saint-Aignan will be completely put out of countenance; he will be laughed at instead of you; and lastly, the king will be punished for a curiosity unworthy of his rank. Let people laugh a little at the king in this affair, and I do not think he will complain of it.”

“Oh, Madame, you are indeed an angel of goodness and sense!”

“It is to my own advantage.”

“In what way?”

“How can you ask me why it is to my advantage to spare my maids of honor the remarks, annoyances, perhaps even calumnies, that might follow? Alas! you well know that the court has no indulgence for this sort of peccadilloes. But we have now been walking for some time, shall we be long before we reach it?”

“About fifty or sixty paces further; turn to the left, Madame, if you please.”

“And you are sure of Montalais?” said Madame.

“Oh, certainly.”

“Will she do what you ask her?”

“Everything. She will be delighted.”

“And La Vallière⁠—” ventured the princess.

“Ah, there will be some difficulty with her, Madame; she would scorn to tell a falsehood.”

“Yet, when it is in her interest to do so⁠—”

“I am afraid that that would not make the slightest difference in her ideas.”

“Yes, yes,” said Madame. “I have been already told that; she is one of those overnice and affectedly particular people who place heaven in the foreground in order to conceal themselves behind it. But if she refuses to tell a falsehood⁠—as she will expose herself to the jests of the whole court, as she will have annoyed the king by a confession as ridiculous as it was immodest⁠—Mademoiselle la Baume le Blanc de La Vallière will think it but proper I should send her back again to her pigeons in the country, in order that, in Touraine yonder, or in Le Blaisois⁠—I know not where it may be⁠—she may at her ease study sentiment and pastoral life combined.”

These words were uttered with a vehemence and harshness that terrified Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente; and the consequence was, that, as far as she was concerned, she promised to tell as many falsehoods as might be necessary. It was in this frame of mind that Madame and her companion reached the precincts of the royal oak.

“Here we are,” said Tonnay-Charente.

“We shall soon learn if one can overhear,” replied Madame.

“Hush!” whispered the young girl, holding Madame back with a hurried gesture, entirely forgetful of her companion’s rank. Madame stopped.

“You see that you can hear,” said Athenaïs.

“How?”

“Listen.”

Madame held her breath; and, in fact, the following words pronounced by a gentle and melancholy voice, floated towards them:

“I tell you, vicomte, I tell you I love her madly; I tell you I love her to distraction.”

Madame started at the voice; and, beneath her hood, a bright joyous smile illumined her features. It was she who now held back her companion, and with a light step leading her some twenty paces away, that is to say, out of the reach of the voice, she said, “Remain here, my dear Athenaïs, and let no one surprise us. I think it must be you they are conversing about.”

“Me, Madame?”

“Yes, you⁠—or rather your adventure. I will go and listen; if we were both there, we should be discovered. Or, stay!⁠—go and fetch Montalais, and then return and wait for me with her at the entrance of the forest.” And then, as Athenaïs hesitated, she again said “Go!” in a voice which did not admit of reply. Athenaïs thereupon arranged her dress so as to prevent its rustling being heard; and, by a path beyond the group of trees, she regained the flower-garden. As for Madame, she concealed herself in the thicket, leaning her back against a gigantic chestnut-tree, one of the branches of which had been cut in such a manner as to form a seat, and waited there, full of anxiety and apprehension. “Now,” she said, “since one can hear from this place, let us listen to what M. de Bragelonne and that other madly-in-love fool, the Comte de Guiche, have to say about me.”

CHAPTER 28

In Which Madame Acquires a Proof That Listeners Hear What Is Said
There was a moment’s silence, as if the mysterious sounds of night were hushed to listen, at the same time as Madame, to the youthful passionate disclosures of de Guiche.

Raoul was about to speak. He leaned indolently against the trunk of the large oak, and replied in his sweet and musical voice, “Alas, my dear de Guiche, it is a great misfortune.”

“Yes,” cried the latter, “great indeed.”

“You do not understand me, de Guiche. I say that it is a great misfortune for you, not merely loving, but not knowing how to conceal your love.”

“What do you mean?” said de Guiche.

“Yes, you do not perceive one thing; namely, that it is no longer to the only friend you have⁠—in other words⁠—to a man who would rather die than betray you; you do not perceive, I say, that it is no longer to your only friend that you confide your passion, but to the first person that approaches you.”

“Are you mad, Bragelonne,” exclaimed de Guiche, “to say such a thing to me?”

“The fact stands thus, however.”

“Impossible! How, in what manner can I have ever been indiscreet to such an extent?”

“I mean, that your eyes, your looks, your sighs, proclaim, in spite of yourself, that exaggerated feeling which leads and hurries a man beyond his own control. In such a case he ceases to be master of himself; he is a prey to a mad passion, that makes him confide his grief to the trees, or to the air, from the very moment he has no longer any living being within reach of his voice. Besides, remember this: it very rarely happens that there is not always someone present to hear, especially the very things which ought not to be heard.” De Guiche uttered a deep sigh. “Nay,” continued Bragelonne, “you distress me; since your return here, you have a thousand times, and in a thousand different ways, confessed your love for her; and yet, had you not said one word your return alone would have been a terrible indiscretion. I persist, then, in drawing this conclusion; that if you do not place a better watch over yourself than you have hitherto done, one day or other something will happen that will cause an explosion. Who will save you then? Answer me. Who will save her? for, innocent as she will be of your affection, your affection will be an accusation against her in the hands of her enemies.”

“Alas!” murmured de Guiche; and a deep sigh accompanied the exclamation.

“That is not answering me, de Guiche.”

“Yes, yes.”

“Well, what reply have you to make?”

“This, that when the day arrives I shall be no more a living being than I feel myself now.”

“I do not understand you.”

“So many vicissitudes have worn me out. At present, I am no more a thinking, acting being; at present, the most worthless of men is better than I am; my remaining strength is exhausted, my latest-formed resolutions have vanished, and I abandon myself to my fate. When a man is out campaigning, as we have been together, and he sets off alone and unaccompanied for a skirmish, it sometimes happens that he may meet with a party of five or six foragers, and although alone, he defends himself; afterwards, five or six others arrive unexpectedly, his anger is aroused and he persists; but if six, eight, or ten others should still be met with, he either sets spurs to his horse, if he should still happen to retain one, or lets himself be slain to save an ignominious flight. Such, indeed, is my own case: first, I had to struggle against myself; afterwards, against Buckingham; now, since the king is in the field, I will not contend against the king, nor even, I wish you to understand, will the king retire; nor even against the nature of that woman. Still I do not deceive myself; having devoted myself to the service of such a love, I will lose my life in it.”

“It is not the lady you ought to reproach,” replied Raoul; “it is yourself.”

“Why so?”

“You know the princess’s character⁠—somewhat giddy, easily captivated by novelty, susceptible to flattery, whether it come from a blind person or a child, and yet you allow your passion for her to eat your very life away. Look at her⁠—love her, if you will⁠—for no one whose heart is not engaged elsewhere can see her without loving her. Yet, while you love her, respect, in the first place, her husband’s rank, then herself, and lastly, your own safety.”

“Thanks, Raoul.”

“What for?”

“Because, seeing how much I suffer through this woman, you endeavor to console me, because you tell me all the good of her you think, and perhaps even that which you do not think.”

“Oh,” said Raoul, “there you are wrong, comte; what I think I do not always say, but in that case I say nothing; but when I speak, I know not how to feign or to deceive; and whoever listens to me may believe me.”

During this conversation, Madame, her head stretched forward with eager ear and dilated glance, endeavoring to penetrate the obscurity, thirstily drank in the faintest sound of their voices.

“Oh, I know her better than you do, then!” exclaimed Guiche. “She is not merely giddy, but frivolous; she is not only attracted by novelty, she is utterly oblivious, and is without faith; she is not simply susceptible to flattery, she is a practiced and cruel coquette. A thorough coquette! yes, yes, I am sure of it. Believe me, Bragelonne, I am suffering all the torments of hell; brave, passionately fond of danger, I meet a danger greater than my strength and my courage. But, believe me, Raoul, I reserve for myself a victory which shall cost her floods of tears.”

“A victory,” he asked, “and of what kind?”

“Of what kind, you ask?”

“Yes.”

“One day I will accost her, and will address her thus: ‘I was young⁠—madly in love, I possessed, however, sufficient respect to throw myself at your feet, and to prostrate myself in the dust, if your looks had not raised me to your hand. I fancied I understood your looks, I rose, and then, without having done anything more towards you than love you yet more devotedly, if that were possible⁠—you, a woman without heart, faith, or love, in very wantonness, dashed me down again from sheer caprice. You are unworthy, princess of the royal blood though you may be, of the love of a man of honor; I offer my life as a sacrifice for having loved you too tenderly, and I die despairing you.’ ”

“Oh!” cried Raoul, terrified at the accents of profound truth which de Guiche’s words betrayed, “I was right in saying you were mad, Guiche.”

“Yes, yes,” exclaimed de Guiche, following out his own idea; “since there are no wars here now, I will flee yonder to the north, seek service in the Empire, where some Hungarian, or Croat, or Turk, will perhaps kindly put me out of my misery.” De Guiche did not finish, or rather as he finished, a sound made him start, and at the same moment caused Raoul to leap to his feet. As for de Guiche, buried in his own thoughts, he remained seated, with his head tightly pressed between his hands. The branches of the tree were pushed aside, and a woman, pale and much agitated, appeared before the two young men. With one hand she held back the branches, which would have struck her face, and, with the other, she raised the hood of the mantle which covered her shoulders. By her clear and lustrous glance, by her lofty carriage, by her haughty attitude, and, more than all that, by the throbbing of his own heart, de Guiche recognized Madame, and, uttering a loud cry, he removed his hands from his temple, and covered his eyes with them. Raoul, trembling and out of countenance, merely muttered a few words of respect.

“Monsieur de Bragelonne,” said the princess, “have the goodness, I beg, to see if my attendants are not somewhere yonder, either in the walks or in the groves; and you, M. de Guiche, remain here: I am tired, and you will perhaps give me your arm.”

Had a thunderbolt fallen at the feet of the unhappy young man, he would have been less terrified than by her cold and severe tone. However, as he himself had just said, he was brave; and as in the depths of his own heart he had just decisively made up his mind, de Guiche arose, and, observing Bragelonne’s hesitation, he turned towards him a glance full of resignation and grateful acknowledgement. Instead of immediately answering Madame, he even advanced a step towards the vicomte, and holding out the arm which the princess had just desired him to give her, he pressed his friend’s hand in his own, with a sigh, in which he seemed to give to friendship all the life that was left in the depths of his heart. Madame, who in her pride had never known what it was to wait, now waited until this mute colloquy was at an end. Her royal hand remained suspended in the air, and, when Raoul had left, it sank without anger, but not without emotion, in that of de Guiche. They were alone in the depths of the dark and silent forest, and nothing could be heard but Raoul’s hastily retreating footsteps along the obscure paths. Over their heads was extended the thick and fragrant vault of branches, through the occasional openings of which the stars could be seen glittering in their beauty. Madame softly drew de Guiche about a hundred paces away from that indiscreet tree which had heard, and had allowed so many things to be heard, during the evening, and, leading him to a neighboring glade, so that they could see a certain distance around them, she said in a trembling voice, “I have brought you here, because yonder where you were, everything can be overheard.”

“Everything can be overheard, did you say, Madame?” replied the young man, mechanically.

“Yes.”

“Which means⁠—” murmured de Guiche.

“Which means that I have heard every syllable you have said.”

“Oh, Heaven! this only was wanting to destroy me,” stammered de Guiche; and he bent down his head, like an exhausted swimmer beneath the wave which engulfs him.

“And so,” she said, “you judge me as you have said?” De Guiche grew pale, turned his head aside, and was silent. He felt almost on the point of fainting.

“I do not complain,” continued the princess, in a tone of voice full of gentleness; “I prefer a frankness that wounds me, to flattery, which would deceive me. And so, according to your opinion, M. de Guiche, I am a coquette, and a worthless creature.”

“Worthless,” cried the young man; “you worthless! Oh, no; most certainly I did not say, I could not have said, that that which was the most precious object in life for me could be worthless. No, no; I did not say that.”

“A woman who sees a man perish, consumed by the fire she has kindled, and who does not allay that fire, is, in my opinion, a worthless woman.”

“What can it matter to you what I said?” returned the comte. “What am I compared to you, and why should you even trouble yourself to know whether I exist or not?”

“Monsieur de Guiche, both you and I are human beings, and, knowing you as I do, I do not wish you to risk your life; with you I will change my conduct and character. I will be, not frank, for I am always so, but truthful. I implore you, therefore, to love me no more, and to forget utterly that I have ever addressed a word or a glance towards you.”

De Guiche turned around, bending a look full of passionate devotion upon her. “You,” he said; “you excuse yourself; you implore me?”

“Certainly; since I have done evil, I ought to repair the evil I have done. And so, comte, this is what we will agree to. You will forgive my frivolity and my coquetry. Nay, do not interrupt me. I will forgive you for having said I was frivolous and a coquette, or something worse, perhaps; and you will renounce your idea of dying, and will preserve for your family, for the king, and for our sex, a cavalier whom everyone esteems, and whom many hold dear.” Madame pronounced this last word in such an accent of frankness, and even of tenderness, that poor de Guiche’s heart felt almost bursting.

“Oh! Madame, Madame!” he stammered out.

“Nay, listen further,” she continued. “When you shall have renounced all thought of me forever, from necessity in the first place, and, next, because you will yield to my entreaty, then you will judge me more favorably, and I am convinced you will replace this love⁠—forgive the frivolity of the expression⁠—by a sincere friendship, which you will be ready to offer me, and which, I promise you, shall be cordially accepted.”

De Guiche, his forehead bedewed with perspiration, a feeling of death in his heart, and a trembling agitation through his whole frame, bit his lip, stamped his foot on the ground, and, in a word, devoured the bitterness of his grief. “Madame,” he said, “what you offer is impossible, and I cannot accept such conditions.”

“What!” said Madame, “do you refuse my friendship, then?”

“No, no! I do not need your friendship, Madame. I prefer to die from love, than to live for friendship.”

“Comte!”

“Oh! Madame,” cried de Guiche, “the present is a moment for me, in which no other consideration and no other respect exist, than the consideration and respect of a man of honor towards the woman he worships. Drive me away, curse me, denounce me, you will be perfectly right. I have uttered complaints against you, but their bitterness has been owing to my passion for you; I have said I wish to die, and die I will. If I lived, you would forget me; but dead, you would never forget me, I am sure.”

Henrietta, who was standing buried in thought, and nearly as agitated as de Guiche himself, turned aside her head as but a minute before he had turned aside his. Then, after a moment’s pause, she said, “And you love me, then, very much?”

“Madly; madly enough to die from it, whether you drive me from you, or whether you listen to me still.”

“It is a hopeless case,” she said, in a playful manner; “a case which must be treated with soothing application. Give me your hand. It is as cold as ice.” De Guiche knelt down, and pressed to his lips, not one, but both of Madame’s hands.

“Love me, then,” said the princess, “since it cannot be otherwise.” And almost imperceptibly she pressed his fingers, raising him thus, partly in the manner of a queen, and partly as a fond and affectionate woman would have done. De Guiche trembled from head to foot, and Madame, who felt how passion coursed through every fiber of his being, knew that he indeed loved truly. “Give me your arm, comte,” she said, “and let us return.”

“Ah! Madame,” said the comte, trembling and bewildered; “you have discovered a third way of killing me.”

“But, happily, it is the slowest way, is it not?” she replied, as she led him towards the grove of trees they had so lately quitted.

Part II