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Louise de la Vallière

PART III


 

CHAPTER 59

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

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

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

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

“Well, what do you know?”

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

“The one is the consequence of the other.”

“Not always, my good Monsieur.”

“Is that remark intended for me?”

“Present company always excepted.”

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

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

“Well, and he has seen her?”

“No, indeed!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“The door was shut and locked.”

“So that⁠—”

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

“Good.”

“And in the third place?” inquired Montalais.

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

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

“Why so?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Very likely not.”

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

“That is probable.”

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

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

“Why so?”

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

“You forgot someone else.”

“Who?”

“Monsieur.”

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

“De Guiche?”

“No. 2.”

“The Vicomte de Bragelonne?”

“No. 3.”

“And the king, the king?”

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

“Well?”

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

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

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

“Well, yet⁠—”

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

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

“You will never be able to do it.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Only be very careful of any letters.”

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

“What shall we tell the king about Madame?”

“That Madame is still in love with His Majesty.”

“What shall we tell Madame about the king?”

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

“What shall we tell La Vallière about Madame?”

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

“How so?”

“Every way.”

“What do you mean?”

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

“Explain yourself.”

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

“I forget nothing.”

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

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

“Yes.”

“Where⁠—here?”

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

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

“Yes.”

“Did you not put them in a box?”

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

“Ah, very good,” said Malicorne.

“Why are you satisfied?”

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

“You have brought the box away?”

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

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

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

“And now, one last word.”

“Why last?”

“Do we need anyone to assist us?”

“No one.”

“Valets or maidservants?”

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

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

“Nothing; he is only opening his window.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 60

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Indeed! What was it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Excellent, as you see.”

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

“Better.”

“And a very great happiness, too.”

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

“You are right.”

“You are of my opinion, then?”

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

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

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

“Some people⁠—one of our friends⁠—”

“Your memory is short.”

“Ah! true; Bragelonne, you mean.”

“Exactly so.”

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

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

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

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

“All about La Vallière.”

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

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

“Nothing more so.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What was I saying?”

“That you had concealed certain things from Bragelonne.”

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

“No, upon my honor.”

“Nonsense.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In Paris?”

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

“But he will return?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Virtue and purity itself,” said Manicamp.

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

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

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

“Was it not?” replied the latter.

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

“I do accept them.”

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

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

“Do not defy me.”

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

“I have fought already.”

“But not quite enough, yet.”

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

“No; better still.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are mad, Monsieur,” said de Wardes, retreating a step.

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?”

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

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

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

“I will do my best.”

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

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

“Name it.”

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

“Not a word, I swear.”

“I will go and get my horse, then.”

“And I, mine.”

“Where shall we meet?”

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

“Shall we go together?”

“Why not?”

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

CHAPTER 61

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Relative to⁠—”

“Relative to our engagement.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is that?”

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

“True.”

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

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

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

“Excellent! Where shall our engagement take place?”

“Have you any preference?”

“No.”

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

“The wood which is called Rochin?”

“Exactly.”

“You know it?”

“Perfectly.”

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

“Very good. Do as you say.”

“Let us first settle the conditions.”

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

“I am listening.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Agreed.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You will be quite right to do so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Alas, I do.”

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

“He insisted upon it.”

“It is very singular.”

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

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

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

“Hum! hum!”

“You do doubt it, then?”

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

“Monsieur Manicamp!”

“Monsieur de Wardes!”

“It seems you intend to insult me.”

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

“Silence! we have arrived.”

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

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

“Dead!” repeated de Wardes.

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

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

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

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

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

“Would you assassinate me?”

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

“Are you a gentleman?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was just in time,” he murmured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 62

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Monsieur du Vallon!” he said.

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

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

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

“Sire, I like everything,” replied Porthos.

D’Artagnan whispered: “Everything Your Majesty sends me.”

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

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

“Well?” said the king.

“Exquisite,” said Porthos, calmly.

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

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

“Ah, ah! and how do you eat it?”

“Generally, I have a lamb dressed whole.”

Whole?

“Yes, sire.”

“In what manner, Monsieur du Vallon?”

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

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

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

“Absolutely an entire lamb, sire.”

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

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

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

“Where do you reside?” inquired the king.

“At Pierrefonds, sire.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The king seemed charmed at his guest’s politeness.

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

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

“Pray do so, M. du Vallon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh! you are in luck’s way.”

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

CHAPTER 63

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

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

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

“Sire, Your Majesty deigned to write in verse, and Mademoiselle de La Vallière wished to repay Your Majesty in the same coin; that is to say, in gold.”

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

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

“Charming, sire.”

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

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

“Did you give her mine?”

“Oh! sire, she positively devoured them.”

“They were very weak, I am afraid.”

“That is not what Mademoiselle de La Vallière said of them.”

“Do you think she was pleased with them?”

“I am sure of it, sire.”

“I must answer, then.”

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

“Good heavens! who told you that?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What others?”

“Those who brought him back, sire.”

“Who are they?”

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

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

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

“How do you know that?”

“Does Your Majesty require me to explain myself?”

“Certainly I do.”

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

“When?”

“This very evening, before Your Majesty’s supper was served.”

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

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

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

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

“This evening?”

“Yes, sire.”

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

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

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

“Nothing, sire, I assure you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sire.”

“You will mount your horse.”

“Yes, sire.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Very good, sire.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 64

Showing in What Way d’Artagnan Discharged the Mission with Which the King Had Entrusted Him
While the king was engaged in making these last-mentioned arrangements in order to ascertain the truth, d’Artagnan, without losing a second, ran to the stable, took down the lantern, saddled his horse himself, and proceeded towards the place His Majesty had indicated. According to the promise he had made, he had not accosted anyone; and, as we have observed, he had carried his scruples so far as to do without the assistance of the stable-helpers altogether. D’Artagnan was one of those who in moments of difficulty pride themselves on increasing their own value. By dint of hard galloping, he in less than five minutes reached the wood, fastened his horse to the first tree he came to, and penetrated to the broad open space on foot. He then began to inspect most carefully, on foot and with his lantern in his hand, the whole surface of the Rond-point, went forward, turned back again, measured, examined, and after half an hour’s minute inspection, he returned silently to where he had left his horse, and pursued his way in deep reflection and at a foot-pace to Fontainebleau. Louis was waiting in his cabinet; he was alone, and with a pencil was scribbling on paper certain lines which d’Artagnan at the first glance recognized as unequal and very much touched up. The conclusion he arrived at was, that they must be verses. The king raised his head and perceived d’Artagnan. “Well, Monsieur,” he said, “do you bring me any news?”

“Yes, sire.”

“What have you seen?”

“As far as probability goes, sire⁠—” D’Artagnan began to reply.

“It was certainty I requested of you.”

“I will approach it as near as I possibly can. The weather was very well adapted for investigations of the character I have just made; it has been raining this evening, and the roads were wet and muddy⁠—”

“Well, the result, M. d’Artagnan?”

“Sire, Your Majesty told me that there was a horse lying dead in the crossroad of the Bois-Rochin, and I began, therefore, by studying the roads. I say the roads, because the center of the crossroad is reached by four separate roads. The one that I myself took was the only one that presented any fresh traces. Two horses had followed it side by side; their eight feet were marked very distinctly in the clay. One of the riders was more impatient than the other, for the footprints of the one were invariably in advance of the other about half a horse’s length.”

“Are you quite sure they were traveling together?” said the king.

“Yes sire. The horses are two rather large animals of equal pace⁠—horses well used to maneuvers of all kinds, for they wheeled round the barrier of the Rond-point together.”

“Well⁠—and after?”

“The two cavaliers paused there for a minute, no doubt to arrange the conditions of the engagement; the horses grew restless and impatient. One of the riders spoke, while the other listened and seemed to have contented himself by simply answering. His horse pawed the ground, which proves that his attention was so taken up by listening that he let the bridle fall from his hand.”

“A hostile meeting did take place then?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“Continue; you are a very accurate observer.”

“One of the two cavaliers remained where he was standing, the one, in fact, who had been listening; the other crossed the open space, and at first placed himself directly opposite to his adversary. The one who had remained stationary traversed the Rond-point at a gallop, about two-thirds of its length, thinking that by this means he would gain upon his opponent; but the latter had followed the circumference of the wood.”

“You are ignorant of their names, I suppose?”

“Completely so, sire. Only he who followed the circumference of the wood was mounted on a black horse.”

“How do you know that?”

“I found a few hairs of his tail among the brambles which bordered the sides of the ditch.”

“Go on.”

“As for the other horse, there can be no trouble in describing him, since he was left dead on the field of battle.”

“What was the cause of his death?”

“A ball which had passed through his brain.”

“Was the ball that of a pistol or a gun?”

“It was a pistol-bullet, sire. Besides, the manner in which the horse was wounded explained to me the tactics of the man who had killed it. He had followed the circumference of the wood in order to take his adversary in flank. Moreover, I followed his foot-tracks on the grass.”

“The tracks of the black horse, do you mean?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Go on, Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“As Your Majesty now perceives the position of the two adversaries, I will, for a moment, leave the cavalier who had remained stationary for the one who started off at a gallop.”

“Do so.”

“The horse of the cavalier who rode at full speed was killed on the spot.”

“How do you know that?”

“The cavalier had not time even to throw himself off his horse, and so fell with it. I observed the impression of his leg, which, with a great effort, he was enabled to extricate from under the horse. The spur, pressed down by the weight of the animal, had plowed up the ground.”

“Very good; and what did he do as soon as he rose up again?”

“He walked straight up to his adversary.”

“Who still remained upon the verge of the forest?”

“Yes, sire. Then, having reached a favorable distance, he stopped firmly, for the impression of both his heels are left in the ground quite close to each other, fired, and missed his adversary.”

“How do you know he did not hit him?”

“I found a hat with a ball through it.”

“Ah, a proof, then!” exclaimed the king.

“Insufficient, sire,” replied d’Artagnan, coldly; “it is a hat without any letters indicating its ownership, without arms; a red feather, as all hats have; the lace, even, had nothing particular in it.”

“Did the man with the hat through which the bullet had passed fire a second time?”

“Oh, sire, he had already fired twice.”

“How did you ascertain that?”

“I found the waddings of the pistol.”

“And what became of the bullet which did not kill the horse?”

“It cut in two the feather of the hat belonging to him against whom it was directed, and broke a small birch at the other end of the open glade.”

“In that case, then, the man on the black horse was disarmed, whilst his adversary had still one more shot to fire?”

“Sire, while the dismounted rider was extricating himself from his horse, the other was reloading his pistol. Only, he was much agitated while he was loading it, and his hand trembled greatly.”

“How do you know that?”

“Half the charge fell to the ground, and he threw the ramrod aside, not having time to replace it in the pistol.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, this is marvellous you tell me.”

“It is only close observation, sire, and the commonest highwayman could tell as much.”

“The whole scene is before me from the manner in which you relate it.”

“I have, in fact, reconstructed it in my own mind, with merely a few alterations.”

“And now,” said the king, “let us return to the dismounted cavalier. You were saying that he walked towards his adversary while the latter was loading his pistol.”

“Yes; but at the very moment he himself was taking aim, the other fired.”

“Oh!” said the king; “and the shot?”

“The shot told terribly, sire; the dismounted cavalier fell upon his face, after having staggered forward three or four paces.”

“Where was he hit?”

“In two places; in the first place, in his right hand, and then, by the same bullet, in his chest.”

“But how could you ascertain that?” inquired the king, full of admiration.

“By a very simple means; the butt end of the pistol was covered with blood, and the trace of the bullet could be observed, with fragments of a broken ring. The wounded man, in all probability, had the ring-finger and the little finger carried off.”

“As far as the hand goes, I have nothing to say; but the chest?”

“Sire, there were two small pools of blood, at a distance of about two feet and a half from each other. At one of these pools of blood the grass was torn up by the clenched hand; at the other, the grass was simply pressed down by the weight of the body.”

“Poor de Guiche!” exclaimed the king.

“Ah! it was M. de Guiche, then?” said the musketeer, quietly. “I suspected it, but did not venture to mention it to Your Majesty.”

“And what made you suspect it?”

“I recognized the de Gramont arms upon the holsters of the dead horse.”

“And you think he is seriously wounded?”

“Very seriously, since he fell immediately, and remained a long time in the same place; however, he was able to walk, as he left the spot, supported by two friends.”

“You met him returning, then?”

“No; but I observed the footprints of three men; the one on the right and the one on the left walked freely and easily, but the one in the middle dragged his feet as he walked; besides, he left traces of blood at every step he took.”

“Now, Monsieur, since you saw the combat so distinctly that not a single detail seems to have escaped you, tell me something about de Guiche’s adversary.”

“Oh, sire, I do not know him.”

“And yet you see everything very clearly.”

“Yes, sire, I see everything; but I do not tell all I see; and, since the poor devil has escaped, Your Majesty will permit me to say that I do not intend to denounce him.”

“And yet he is guilty, since he has fought a duel, Monsieur.”

“Not guilty in my eyes, sire,” said d’Artagnan, coldly.

“Monsieur!” exclaimed the king, “are you aware of what you are saying?”

“Perfectly, sire; but, according to my notions, a man who fights a duel is a brave man; such, at least, is my own opinion; but Your Majesty may have another, it is but natural, for you are master here.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, I ordered you, however⁠—”

D’Artagnan interrupted the king by a respectful gesture. “You ordered me, sire, to gather what particulars I could, respecting a hostile meeting that had taken place; those particulars you have. If you order me to arrest M. de Guiche’s adversary, I will do so; but do not order me to denounce him to you, for in that case I will not obey.”

“Very well! Arrest him, then.”

“Give me his name, sire.”

The king stamped his foot angrily; but after a moment’s reflection, he said, “You are right⁠—ten times, twenty times, a hundred times right.”

“That is my opinion, sire: I am happy that, this time, it accords with Your Majesty’s.”

“One word more. Who assisted Guiche?”

“I do not know, sire.”

“But you speak of two men. There was a person present, then, as second.”

“There was no second, sire. Nay, more than that, when M. de Guiche fell, his adversary fled without giving him any assistance.”

“The miserable coward!” exclaimed the king.

“The consequence of your ordinances, sire. If a man has fought well, and fairly, and has already escaped one chance of death, he naturally wishes to escape a second. M. de Bouteville cannot be forgotten very easily.”

“And so, men turn cowards.”

“No, they become prudent.”

“And he has fled, then, you say?”

“Yes; and as fast as his horse could possibly carry him.”

“In what direction?”

“In the direction of the château.”

“Well, and after that?”

“Afterwards, as I have had the honor of telling Your Majesty, two men on foot arrived, who carried M. de Guiche back with them.”

“What proof have you that these men arrived after the combat?”

“A very evident proof, sire; at the moment the encounter took place, the rain had just ceased, the ground had not had time to imbibe the moisture, and was, consequently, soaked; the footsteps sank in the ground; but while M. de Guiche was lying there in a fainting condition, the ground became firm again, and the footsteps made a less sensible impression.”

Louis clapped his hands together in sign of admiration. “Monsieur d’Artagnan,” he said, “you are positively the cleverest man in my kingdom.”

“The identical thing M. de Richelieu thought, and M. de Mazarin said, sire.”

“And now, it remains for us to see if your sagacity is at fault.”

“Oh! sire, a man may be mistaken; humanum est errare,”[11] said the musketeer, philosophically.

“In that case, you are not human, Monsieur d’Artagnan, for I believe you are never mistaken.”

“Your Majesty said that we were going to see whether such was the case, or not.”

“Yes.”

“In what way, may I venture to ask?”

“I have sent for M. de Manicamp, and M. de Manicamp is coming.”

“And M. de Manicamp knows the secret?”

“De Guiche has no secrets from M. de Manicamp.”

D’Artagnan shook his head. “No one was present at the combat, I repeat; and unless M. de Manicamp was one of the two men who brought him back⁠—”

“Hush!” said the king, “he is coming; remain, and listen attentively.”

“Very good, sire.”

And, at the very same moment, Manicamp and Saint-Aignan appeared at the threshold of the door.

CHAPTER 65

The Encounter
The king signified with an imperious gesture, first to the musketeer, then to Saint-Aignan, “On your lives, not a word.” D’Artagnan withdrew, like a sentinel, to a corner of the room; Saint-Aignan, in his character of a favorite, leaned over the back of the king’s chair. Manicamp, with his right foot properly advanced, a smile upon his lips, and his white and well-formed hands gracefully disposed, advanced to make his reverence to the king, who returned the salutation by a bow. “Good evening, M. de Manicamp,” he said.

“Your Majesty did me the honor to send for me,” said Manicamp.

“Yes, in order to learn from you all the details of the unfortunate accident which has befallen the Comte de Guiche.”

“Oh! sire, it is grievous indeed.”

“You were there?”

“Not precisely, sire.”

“But you arrived on the scene of the accident, a few minutes after it took place?”

“Sire, about half an hour afterwards.”

“And where did the accident happen?”

“I believe, sire, the place is called the Rond-point du Bois-Rochin.”

“Oh! the rendezvous of the hunt.”

“The very spot, sire.”

“Good; give me all the details you are acquainted with, respecting this unhappy affair, Monsieur de Manicamp.”

“Perhaps Your Majesty has already been informed of them, and I fear to fatigue you with useless repetition.”

“No, do not be afraid of that.”

Manicamp looked round him; he saw only d’Artagnan leaning with his back against the wainscot⁠—D’Artagnan, calm, kind, and good-natured as usual⁠—and Saint-Aignan whom he had accompanied, and who still leaned over the king’s armchair with an expression of countenance equally full of good feeling. He determined, therefore, to speak out. “Your Majesty is perfectly aware,” he said, “that accidents are very frequent in hunting.”

“In hunting, do you say?”

“I mean, sire, when an animal is brought to bay.”

“Ah, ah!” said the king, “it was when the animal was brought to bay, then, that the accident happened?”

“Alas! sire, unhappily it was.”

The king paused for a moment before he said: “What animal was being hunted?”

“A wild boar, sire.”

“And what could possibly have possessed de Guiche to go to a wild boar-hunt by himself; that is but a clownish idea of sport, only fit for that class of people who, unlike the Maréchal de Gramont, have no dogs and huntsmen, to hunt as gentlemen should do.”

Manicamp shrugged his shoulders. “Youth is very rash,” he said, sententiously.

“Well, go on,” said the king.

“At all events,” continued Manicamp, not venturing to be too precipitate and hasty, and letting his words fall very slowly one by one, “at all events, sire, poor de Guiche went hunting⁠—all alone.”

“Quite alone? indeed?⁠—What a sportsman! And is not M. de Guiche aware that the wild boar always stands at bay?”

“That is the very thing that really happened, sire.”

“He had some idea, then, of the beast being there?”

“Yes, sire, some peasants had seen it among their potatoes.” [12]

“And what kind of animal was it?”

“A short, thick beast.”

“You may as well tell me, Monsieur, that de Guiche had some idea of committing suicide; for I have seen him hunt, and he is an active and vigorous hunter. Whenever he fires at an animal brought to bay and held in check by the dogs, he takes every possible precaution, and yet he fires with a carbine, and on this occasion he seems to have faced the boar with pistols only.”

Manicamp started.

“A costly pair of pistols, excellent weapons to fight a duel with a man and not a wild boar. What an absurdity!”

“There are some things, sire, which are difficult of explanation.”

“You are quite right, and the event which we are now discussing is certainly one of them. Go on.”

During the recital, Saint-Aignan, who probably would have made a sign to Manicamp to be careful what he was about, found that the king’s glance was constantly fixed upon himself, so that it was utterly impossible to communicate with Manicamp in any way. As for d’Artagnan, the statue of Silence at Athens was far more noisy and far more expressive than he. Manicamp, therefore, was obliged to continue in the same way he had begun, and so contrived to get more and more entangled in his explanation. “Sire,” he said, “this is probably how the affair happened. Guiche was waiting to receive the boar as it rushed towards him.”

“On foot or on horseback?” inquired the king.

“On horseback. He fired upon the brute and missed his aim, and then it dashed upon him.”

“And the horse was killed.”

“Ah! Your Majesty knows that, then.”

“I have been told that a horse has been found lying dead in the crossroads of the Bois-Rochin, and I presume it was de Guiche’s horse.”

“Perfectly true, sire, it was his.”

“Well, so much for the horse, and now for de Guiche?”

“De Guiche, once down, was attacked and worried by the wild boar, and wounded in the hand and in the chest.”

“It is a horrible accident, but it must be admitted it was de Guiche’s own fault. How could he possibly have gone to hunt such an animal merely armed with pistols; he must have forgotten the fable of Adonis?”

Manicamp rubbed his ear in seeming perplexity. “Very true,” he said, “it was very imprudent.”

“Can you explain it, Monsieur Manicamp?”

“Sire, what is written is written!”

“Ah! you are a fatalist.”

Manicamp looked very uncomfortable and ill at ease.

“I am angry with you, Monsieur Manicamp,” continued the king.

“With me, sire?”

“Yes. How was it that you, who are de Guiche’s intimate friend, and who know that he is subject to such acts of folly, did not stop him in time?”

Manicamp no longer knew what to do; the tone in which the king spoke was anything but that of a credulous man. On the other hand, it did not indicate any particular severity, nor did he seem to care very much about the cross-examination. There was more of raillery in it than menace. “And you say, then,” continued the king, “that it was positively de Guiche’s horse that was found dead?”

“Quite positive, sire.”

“Did that astonish you?”

“No, sire; for Your Majesty will remember that, at the last hunt, M. de Saint-Maure had a horse killed under him, and in the same way.”

“Yes, but that one was ripped open.”

“Of course, sire.”

“Had Guiche’s horse been ripped open like M. de Saint-Maure’s horse, I should not have been astonished.”

Manicamp opened his eyes very wide.

“Am I mistaken,” resumed the king, “was it not in the frontal bone that de Guiche’s horse was struck? You must admit, Monsieur de Manicamp, that that is a very singular place for a wild boar to attack.”

“You are aware, sire, that the horse is a very intelligent animal, and he doubtless endeavoured to defend himself.”

“But a horse defends himself with his heels and not with his head.”

“In that case, the terrified horse may have slipped or fallen down,” said Manicamp, “and the boar, you understand sire, the boar⁠—”

“Oh! I understand that perfectly, as far as the horse is concerned; but how about his rider?”

“Well! that, too, is simple enough; the boar left the horse and attacked the rider; and, as I have already had the honor of informing Your Majesty, shattered de Guiche’s hand at the very moment he was about to discharge his second pistol at him, and then, with a gouge of his tusk, made that terrible hole in his chest.”

“Nothing is more likely; really, Monsieur de Manicamp, you are wrong in placing so little confidence in your own eloquence, and you can tell a story most admirably.”

“Your Majesty is exceedingly kind,” said Manicamp, saluting him in the most embarrassed manner.

“From this day henceforth, I will prohibit any gentleman attached to my court going out to a similar encounter. Really, one might just as well permit duelling.”

Manicamp started, and moved as if he were about to withdraw. “Is Your Majesty satisfied?”

“Delighted; but do not withdraw yet, Monsieur de Manicamp,” said Louis, “I have something to say to you.”

Well, well! thought d’Artagnan, there is another who is not up to the mark; and he uttered a sigh which might signify, “Oh! the men of our stamp, where are they now?”

At this moment an usher lifted up the curtain before the door, and announced the king’s physician.

“Ah!” exclaimed Louis, “here comes Monsieur Valot, who has just been to see M. de Guiche. We shall now hear news of the man maltreated by the boar.”

Manicamp felt more uncomfortable than ever.

“In this way, at least,” added the king, “our conscience will be quite clear.” And he looked at d’Artagnan, who did not seem in the slightest degree discomposed.

CHAPTER 66

The Physician
M. Valot entered. The position of the different persons present was precisely the same: the king was seated, Saint-Aignan leaning over the back of his armchair, d’Artagnan with his back against the wall, and Manicamp still standing.

“Well, M. Valot,” said the king, “did you obey my directions?”

“With the greatest alacrity, sire.”

“You went to the doctor’s house in Fontainebleau?”

“Yes, sire.”

“And you found M. de Guiche there?”

“I did, sire.”

“What state was he in?⁠—speak unreservedly.”

“In a very sad state indeed, sire.”

“The wild boar did not quite devour him, however?”

“Devour whom?”

“De Guiche.”

“What wild boar?”

“The boar that wounded him.”

“M. de Guiche wounded by a boar?”

“So it is said, at least.”

“By a poacher, rather, or by a jealous husband, or an ill-used lover, who, in order to be revenged, fired upon him.”

“What is it that you say, Monsieur Valot? Were not M. de Guiche’s wounds produced by defending himself against a wild boar?”

“M. de Guiche’s wounds are the result of a pistol-bullet that broke his ring-finger and the little finger of the right hand, and afterwards buried itself in the intercostal muscles of the chest.”

“A bullet! Are you sure Monsieur de Guiche was wounded by a bullet?” exclaimed the king, pretending to look much surprised.

“Indeed, I am, sire; so sure, in fact, that here it is.” And he presented to the king a half-flattened bullet, which the king looked at, but did not touch.

“Did he have that in his chest, poor fellow?” he asked.

“Not precisely. The ball did not penetrate, but was flattened, as you see, either upon the trigger of the pistol or upon the right side of the breastbone.”

“Good heavens!” said the king, seriously, “you said nothing to me about this, Monsieur de Manicamp.”

“Sire⁠—”

“What does all this mean, then, this invention about hunting a wild boar at nightfall? Come, speak, Monsieur.”

“Sire⁠—”

“It seems, then, that you are right,” said the king, turning round towards his captain of Musketeers, “and that a duel actually took place.”

The king possessed, to a greater extent than anyone else, the faculty enjoyed by the great in power or position, of compromising and dividing those beneath him. Manicamp darted a look full of reproaches at the musketeer. D’Artagnan understood the look at once, and not wishing to remain beneath the weight of such an accusation, advanced a step forward, and said: “Sire, Your Majesty commanded me to go and explore the place where the crossroads meet in the Bois-Rochin, and to report to you, according to my own ideas, what had taken place there. I submitted my observations to you, but without denouncing anyone. It was Your Majesty yourself who was the first to name the Comte de Guiche.”

“Well, Monsieur, well,” said the king, haughtily; “you have done your duty, and I am satisfied with you. But you, Monsieur de Manicamp, have failed in yours, for you have told me a falsehood.”

“A falsehood, sire. The expression is a hard one.”

“Find a more accurate, then.”

“Sire, I will not attempt to do so. I have already been unfortunate enough to displease Your Majesty, and it will, in every respect, be far better for me to accept most humbly any reproaches you may think proper to address to me.”

“You are right, Monsieur, whoever conceals the truth from me, risks my displeasure.”

“Sometimes, sire, one is ignorant of the truth.”

“No further falsehood, Monsieur, or I double the punishment.”

Manicamp bowed and turned pale. D’Artagnan again made another step forward, determined to interfere, if the still increasing anger of the king attained certain limits.

“You see, Monsieur,” continued the king, “that it is useless to deny the thing any longer. M. de Guiche has fought a duel.”

“I do not deny it, sire, and it would have been truly generous on Your Majesty’s part not to have forced me to tell a falsehood.”

“Forced? Who forced you?”

“Sire, M. de Guiche is my friend. Your Majesty has forbidden duels under pain of death. A falsehood might save my friend’s life, and I told it.”

“Good!” murmured d’Artagnan, “an excellent fellow, upon my word.”

“Instead of telling a falsehood, Monsieur, you should have prevented him from fighting,” said the king.

“Oh! sire, Your Majesty, who is the most accomplished gentleman in France, knows quite as well as any of us other gentlemen that we have never considered M. de Bouteville dishonored for having suffered death on the Place de Grève. That which does in truth dishonor a man is to avoid meeting his enemy⁠—not to avoid meeting his executioner!”

“Well, Monsieur, that may be so,” said Louis XIV; “I am desirous of suggesting a means of your repairing all.”

“If it be a means of which a gentleman may avail himself, I shall most eagerly seize the opportunity.”

“The name of M. de Guiche’s adversary?”

“Oh, oh!” murmured d’Artagnan, “are we going to take Louis XIII as a model?”

“Sire!” said Manicamp, with an accent of reproach.

“You will not name him, then?” said the king.

“Sire, I do not know him.”

“Bravo!” murmured d’Artagnan.

“Monsieur de Manicamp, hand your sword to the captain.”

Manicamp bowed very gracefully, unbuckled his sword, smiling as he did so, and handed it for the musketeer to take. But Saint-Aignan advanced hurriedly between him and d’Artagnan. “Sire,” he said, “will Your Majesty permit me to say a word?”

“Do so,” said the king, delighted, perhaps, at the bottom of his heart, for someone to step between him and the wrath he felt had carried him too far.

“Manicamp, you are a brave man, and the king will appreciate your conduct; but to wish to serve your friends too well, is to destroy them. Manicamp, you know the name the king asks you for?”

“It is perfectly true⁠—I do know it.”

“You will give it up then?”

“If I felt I ought to have mentioned it, I should have already done so.”

“Then I will tell it, for I am not so extremely sensitive on such points of honor as you are.”

“You are at liberty to do so, but it seems to me, however⁠—”

“Oh! a truce to magnanimity; I will not permit you to go to the Bastille in that way. Do you speak; or I will.”

Manicamp was keen-witted enough, and perfectly understood that he had done quite sufficient to produce a good opinion of his conduct; it was now only a question of persevering in such a manner as to regain the good graces of the king. “Speak, Monsieur,” he said to Saint-Aignan; “I have on my own behalf done all that my conscience told me to do; and it must have been very importunate,” he added, turning towards the king, “since its mandates led me to disobey Your Majesty’s commands; but Your Majesty will forgive me, I hope, when you learn that I was anxious to preserve the honor of a lady.”

“Of a lady?” said the king, with some uneasiness.

“Yes, sire.”

“A lady was the cause of this duel?”

Manicamp bowed.

“If the position of the lady in question warrants it,” he said, “I shall not complain of your having acted with so much circumspection; on the contrary, indeed.”

“Sire, everything which concerns Your Majesty’s household, or the household of Your Majesty’s brother, is of importance in my eyes.”

“In my brother’s household,” repeated Louis XIV, with a slight hesitation. “The cause of the duel was a lady belonging to my brother’s household, do you say?”

“Or to Madame’s.”

“Ah! to Madame’s?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Well⁠—and this lady?”

“Is one of the maids of honor of Her Royal Highness Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans.”

“For whom M. de Guiche fought⁠—do you say?”

“Yes, sire, and, this time, I tell no falsehood.”

Louis seemed restless and anxious. “Gentlemen,” he said, turning towards the spectators of this scene, “will you have the goodness to retire for a moment. I wish to be alone with M. de Manicamp; I know he has some important communication to make for his own justification, and which he will not venture before witnesses.⁠ ⁠… Put up your sword, M. de Manicamp.”

Manicamp returned his sword to his belt.

“The fellow decidedly has his wits about him,” murmured the musketeer, taking Saint-Aignan by the arm, and withdrawing with him.

“He will get out of it,” said the latter in d’Artagnan’s ear.

“And with honor, too, comte.”

Manicamp cast a glance of recognition at Saint-Aignan and the captain, which luckily passed unnoticed by the king.

“Come, come,” said d’Artagnan, as he left the room, “I had an indifferent opinion of the new generation. Well, I was mistaken after all. There is some good in them, I perceive.”

Valot preceded the favorite and the captain, leaving the king and Manicamp alone in the cabinet.

CHAPTER 67

Wherein d’Artagnan Perceives That It Was He Who Was Mistaken, and Manicamp Who Was Right
The king, determined to be satisfied that no one was listening, went himself to the door, and then returned precipitately and placed himself opposite Manicamp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sire. Mademoiselle de La Vallière.”

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

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

“But at all events⁠—”

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

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

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

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

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

Manicamp bowed.

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

“Cannot Your Majesty guess?”

“I?”

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

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

“Probably so.”

“But Mademoiselle de La Vallière has a perfect right to love anyone she pleases,” said the king.

“That is the very point de Guiche maintained.”

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

“Yes, sire, the sole and only cause.”

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

“In what respect, sire?”

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

“What does Your Majesty wish to know?”

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

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

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

“Your Majesty forgives me, then?”

“Completely.”

“And I am free?”

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

“I, sire!”

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

“Sire, I think Your Majesty condescends to laugh at my expense,” said Manicamp.

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

“The adventure of the hunt?”

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

“Perfectly, sire.”

“And you will relate it, then?”

“Without losing a minute.”

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

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

“Call him, then,” said the king.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My sight bad, sire?”

“Certainly.”

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

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

“Ah! ah!”

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

“Ah! ah!” said d’Artagnan.

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

“Ah! ah!” continued d’Artagnan.

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

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

“You do admit it, then?”

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

“So now that you see the thing⁠—”

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

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

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

“While now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have dreamt it!”

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

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

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

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

Saint-Aignan looked at the king.

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

“De Wardes,” said Saint-Aignan.

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

CHAPTER 68

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

“Where to, Mademoiselle?” inquired Manicamp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montalais still ran on.

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

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

“Ah!” she said, “at last!”

“Here is M. Manicamp,” replied Montalais.

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

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

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

“M. de Guiche himself, Madame.”

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

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

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

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

“You have seen the king?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“What did you say to him?”

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

“And the king believed that?”

“Implicitly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But, Madame, I think Your Highness is mistaken with regard to the king. His Majesty was perfectly satisfied with me, I assure you.”

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

“I think Your Highness is mistaken in arriving at such an opinion; His Majesty is well known not to be contented except with very good reason.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A great friend.”

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

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

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

“I?”

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

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

“Name it!”

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

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

Manicamp remained silent.

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

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

“You begin to understand, do you not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Forgive me, then; but I fancied I understood Your Highness to remark that de Guiche and de Wardes had fought on Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s account?”

“Certainly.”

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

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

“On behalf of another?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which you will temper, Madame.”

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

“Because you detest injustice, Madame.”

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

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

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

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

“Why should I?”

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

“What do you mean by that?”

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

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

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

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

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

“The person?” said Madame, blushing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manicamp returned no other answer than a deep sigh.

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

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

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

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

Manicamp looked up.

“Is M. de Guiche in danger of death?”

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

“He may die, then?”

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

“You will tell him.”

“I?”

“Yes; are you not his friend?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Madame.”

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

“I am at Your Highness’s orders.”

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

“Madame⁠—”

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

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

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

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

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

“I go at once, Madame.”

“Stay.”

Manicamp paused.

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 69

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 70

The Journey
The next day being agreed upon for the departure, the king, at eleven o’clock precisely, descended the grand staircase with the two queens and Madame, in order to enter his carriage drawn by six horses, that were pawing the ground in impatience at the foot of the staircase. The whole court awaited the royal appearance in the Fer-à-cheval crescent, in their travelling costumes; the large number of saddled horses and carriages of ladies and gentlemen of the court, surrounded by their attendants, servants, and pages, formed a spectacle whose brilliancy could scarcely be equalled. The king entered his carriage with the two queens; Madame was in the same one with Monsieur. The maids of honor followed their example, and took their seats, two by two, in the carriages destined for them. The weather was exceedingly warm; a light breeze, which, early in the morning, all had thought would have proved sufficient to cool the air, soon became fiercely heated by the rays of the sun, although it was hidden behind the clouds, and filtered through the heated vapor which rose from the ground like a scorching wind, bearing particles of fine dust against the faces of the travelers. Madame was the first to complain of the heat. Monsieur’s only reply was to throw himself back in the carriage as though about to faint, and to inundate himself with scents and perfumes, uttering the deepest sighs all the while; whereupon Madame said to him, with her most amiable expression:⁠—“Really, Monsieur, I fancied that you would have been polite enough, on account of the terrible heat, to have left me my carriage to myself, and to have performed the journey yourself on horseback.”

“Ride on horseback!” cried the prince, with an accent of dismay which showed how little idea he had of adopting this unnatural advice; “you cannot suppose such a thing, Madame! My skin would peel off if I were to expose myself to such a burning breeze as this.”

Madame began to laugh.

“You can take my parasol,” she said.

“But the trouble of holding it!” replied Monsieur, with the greatest coolness; “besides, I have no horse.”

“What, no horse?” replied the princess, who, if she did not secure the solitude she required, at least obtained the amusement of teasing. “No horse! You are mistaken, Monsieur; for I see your favorite bay out yonder.”

“My bay horse!” exclaimed the prince, attempting to lean forward to look out of the door; but the movement he was obliged to make cost him so much trouble that he soon hastened to resume his immobility.

“Yes,” said Madame; “your horse, led by M. de Malicorne.”

“Poor beast,” replied the prince; “how warm it must be!”

And with these words he closed his eyes, like a man on the point of death. Madame, on her side, reclined indolently in the other corner of the carriage, and closed her eyes also, not, however, to sleep, but to think more at her ease. In the meantime the king, seated in the front seat of his carriage, the back of which he had yielded up to the two queens, was a prey to that feverish contrariety experienced by anxious lovers, who, without being able to quench their ardent thirst, are ceaselessly desirous of seeing the loved object, and then go away partially satisfied, without perceiving they have acquired a more insatiable thirst than ever. The king, whose carriage headed the procession, could not from the place he occupied perceive the carriages of the ladies and maids of honor, which followed in a line behind it. Besides, he was obliged to answer the eternal questions of the young queen, who, happy to have with her “her dear husband,” as she called him in utter forgetfulness of royal etiquette, invested him with all her affection, stifled him with her attentions, afraid that someone might come to take him from her, or that he himself might suddenly take a fancy to quit her society. Anne of Austria, whom nothing at that moment occupied except the occasional cruel throbbings in her bosom, looked pleased and delighted, and although she perfectly realized the king’s impatience, tantalizingly prolonged his sufferings by unexpectedly resuming the conversation at the very moment the king, absorbed in his own reflections, began to muse over his secret attachment. Everything seemed to combine⁠—not alone the little teasing attentions of the queen, but also the queen-mother’s interruptions⁠—to make the king’s position almost insupportable; for he knew not how to control the restless longings of his heart. At first, he complained of the heat⁠—a complaint merely preliminary to others, but with sufficient tact to prevent Maria Theresa guessing his real object. Understanding the king’s remark literally, she began to fan him with her ostrich plumes. But the heat passed away, and the king then complained of cramps and stiffness in his legs, and as the carriages at that moment stopped to change horses, the queen said:⁠—“Shall I get out with you? I too feel tired of sitting. We can walk on a little distance; the carriage will overtake us, and we can resume our places presently.”

The king frowned; it is a hard trial a jealous woman makes her husband submit to whose fidelity she suspects, when, although herself a prey to jealousy, she watches herself so narrowly that she avoids giving any pretext for an angry feeling. The king, therefore, in the present case, could not refuse; he accepted the offer, alighted from the carriage, gave his arm to the queen, and walked up and down with her while the horses were being changed. As he walked along, he cast an envious glance upon the courtiers, who were fortunate enough to be on horseback. The queen soon found out that the promenade she had suggested afforded the king as little pleasure as he had experienced from driving. She accordingly expressed a wish to return to her carriage, and the king conducted her to the door, but did not get in with her. He stepped back a few paces, and looked along the file of carriages for the purpose of recognizing the one in which he took so strong an interest. At the door of the sixth carriage he saw La Vallière’s fair countenance. As the king thus stood motionless, wrapped in thought, without perceiving that everything was ready, and that he alone was causing the delay, he heard a voice close beside him, addressing him in the most respectful manner. It was M. Malicorne, in a complete costume of an equerry, holding over his left arm the bridles of a couple of horses.

“Your Majesty asked for a horse, I believe,” he said.

“A horse? Have you one of my horses here?” inquired the king, trying to remember the person who addressed him, and whose face was not as yet familiar to him.

“Sire,” replied Malicorne, “at all events I have a horse here which is at Your Majesty’s service.”

And Malicorne pointed at Monsieur’s bay horse, which Madame had observed. It was a beautiful creature royally caparisoned.

“This is not one of my horses, Monsieur,” said the king.

“Sire, it is a horse out of His Royal Highness’s stables; but he does not ride when the weather is as hot as it is now.”

Louis did not reply, but approached the horse, which stood pawing the ground with its foot. Malicorne hastened to hold the stirrup for him, but the king was already in the saddle. Restored to good-humor by this lucky accident, the king hastened towards the queen’s carriage, where he was anxiously expected; and notwithstanding Maria Theresa’s thoughtful and preoccupied air, he said: “I have been fortunate enough to find this horse, and I intend to avail myself of it. I felt stifled in the carriage. Adieu, ladies.”

Then bending gracefully over the arched neck of his beautiful steed, he disappeared in a second. Anne of Austria leaned forward, in order to look after him as he rode away; he did not get very far, for when he reached the sixth carriage, he reined in his horse suddenly and took off his hat. He saluted La Vallière, who uttered a cry of surprise as she saw him, blushing at the same time with pleasure. Montalais, who occupied the other seat in the carriage, made the king a most respectful bow. And then, with all the tact of a woman, she pretended to be exceedingly interested in the landscape, and withdrew herself into the left-hand corner. The conversation between the king and La Vallière began, as all lovers’ conversations generally do, namely, by eloquent looks and by a few words utterly devoid of common sense. The king explained how warm he had felt in his carriage, so much so indeed that he could almost regard the horse he then rode as a blessing thrown in his way. “And,” he added, “my benefactor is an exceedingly intelligent man, for he seemed to guess my thoughts intuitively. I have now only one wish, that of learning the name of the gentleman who so cleverly assisted his king out of his dilemma, and extricated him from his cruel position.”

Montalais, during this colloquy, the first words of which had awakened her attention, had slightly altered her position, and contrived so as to meet the king’s look as he finished his remark. It followed very naturally that the king looked inquiringly as much at her as at La Vallière; she had every reason to suppose that it was herself who was appealed to, and consequently might be permitted to answer. She therefore said: “Sire, the horse which Your Majesty is riding belongs to Monsieur, and was being led by one of His Royal Highness’s gentlemen.”

“And what is that gentleman’s name, may I ask, Mademoiselle?”

“M. de Malicorne, sire.”

The name produced its usual effect, for the king repeated it smilingly.

“Yes, sire,” replied Aure. “Stay, it is the gentleman who is galloping on my left hand”; and she pointed out Malicorne, who, with a very sanctified expression, was galloping by the side of the carriage, knowing perfectly well that they were talking of him at that very moment, but sitting in his saddle as if he were deaf and dumb.

“Yes,” said the king, “that is the gentleman; I remember his face, and will not forget his name”; and the king looked tenderly at La Vallière.

Aure had now nothing further to do; she had let Malicorne’s name fall; the soil was good; all that was now left to be done was to let the name take root, and the event would bear fruit in due season. She consequently threw herself back in her corner, feeling perfectly justified in making as many agreeable signs of recognition as she liked to Malicorne, since the latter had had the happiness of pleasing the king. As will readily be believed, Montalais was not mistaken; and Malicorne, with his quick ear and his sly look, seemed to interpret her remark as “All goes on well,” the whole being accompanied by a pantomimic action, which he fancied conveyed something resembling a kiss.

“Alas! Mademoiselle,” said the king, after a moment’s pause, “the liberty and freedom of the country is soon about to cease; your attendance on Madame will be more strictly enforced, and we shall see each other no more.”

“Your Majesty is too much attached to Madame,” replied Louise, “not to come and see her very frequently; and whenever Your Majesty may chance to pass across the apartments⁠—”

“Ah!” said the king, in a tender voice, which was gradually lowered in its tone, “to perceive is not to see, and yet it seems that it would be quite sufficient for you.”

Louise did not answer a syllable; a sigh filled her heart almost to bursting, but she stifled it.

“You exercise a great control over yourself,” said the king to Louise, who smiled upon him with a melancholy expression. “Exert the strength you have in loving fondly,” he continued, “and I will bless Heaven for having bestowed it on you.”

La Vallière still remained silent, but raised her eyes, brimful of affection, toward the king. Louis, as if overcome by this burning glance, passed his hand across his forehead, and pressing the sides of his horse with his knees, made him bound several paces forward. La Vallière, leaning back in her carriage, with her eyes half closed, gazed fixedly upon the king, whose plumes were floating in the air; she could not but admire his graceful carriage, his delicate and nervous limbs which pressed his horse’s sides, and the regular outline of his features, which his beautiful curling hair set off to great advantage, revealing occasionally his small and well-formed ear. In fact the poor girl was in love, and she reveled in her innocent affection. In a few moments the king was again by her side.

“Do you not perceive,” he said, “how terribly your silence affects me? Oh! Mademoiselle, how pitilessly inexorable you would become if you were ever to resolve to break off all acquaintance with anyone; and then, too, I think you changeable; in fact⁠—in fact, I dread this deep affection which fills my whole being.”

“Oh! sire, you are mistaken,” said La Vallière; “if ever I love, it will be for all my life.”

“If you love, you say,” exclaimed the king; “you do not love now, then?”

She hid her face in her hands.

“You see,” said the king, “that I am right in accusing you; you must admit you are changeable, capricious, a coquette, perhaps.”

“Oh, no! sire, be perfectly satisfied as to that. No, I say again; no, no!”

“Promise me, then, that to me you will always be the same.”

“Oh! always, sire.”

“That you will never show any of that severity which would break my heart, none of that fickleness of manner which would be worse than death to me.”

“Oh! no, no.”

“Very well, then! but listen. I like promises, I like to place under the guarantee of an oath, under the protection of Heaven in fact, everything which interests my heart and my affections. Promise me, or rather swear to me, that if in the life we are about to commence, a life which will be full of sacrifice, mystery, anxiety, disappointment, and misunderstanding; swear to me that if we should in any way deceive, or misunderstand each other, or should judge each other unjustly, for that indeed would be criminal in love such as ours; swear to me, Louise⁠—”

She trembled with agitation to the very depths of her heart; it was the first time she had heard her name pronounced in that manner by her royal lover. As for the king, taking off his glove, and placing his hand within the carriage, he continued:⁠—“Swear, that never in all our quarrels will we allow one night even to pass by, if any misunderstanding should arise between us, without a visit, or at least a message, from either, in order to convey consolation and repose to the other.”

La Vallière took her lover’s burning hand between her own cool palms, and pressed it softly, until a movement of the horse, frightened by the proximity of the wheels, obliged her to abandon her happiness. She had vowed as he desired.

“Return, sire,” she said, “return to the queen. I foresee a storm yonder, which threatens my peace of mind and yours.”

Louis obeyed, saluted Mademoiselle de Montalais, and set off at a gallop to rejoin the queen. As he passed Monsieur’s carriage, he observed that he was fast asleep, although Madame, on her part, was wide awake. As the king passed her she said, “What a beautiful horse, sire! Is it not Monsieur’s bay horse?”

The young queen kindly asked, “Are you better now, sire?”

CHAPTER 71

Triumfeminate
On the king’s arrival in Paris, he sat at the council which had been summoned, and worked for a certain portion of the day. The queen remained with the queen-mother, and burst into tears as soon as she had taken leave of the king. “Ah, Madame!” she said, “the king no longer loves me! What will become of me?”

“A husband always loves his wife when she is like you,” replied Anne of Austria.

“A time may come when he will love another woman instead of me.”

“What do you call loving?”

“Always thinking of a person⁠—always seeking her society.”

“Do you happen to have remarked,” said Anne of Austria, “that the king has ever done anything of the sort?”

“No, Madame,” said the young queen, hesitatingly.

“What is there to complain of, then, Marie?”

“You will admit that the king leaves me?”

“The king, my daughter, belongs to his people.”

“And that is the very reason why he no longer belongs to me; and that is the reason, too, why I shall find myself, as so many queens before me, forsaken and forgotten, whilst glory and honors will be reserved for others. Oh, my mother! the king is so handsome! how often will others tell him that they love him, and how much, indeed, they must do so!”

“It is very seldom, indeed, that women love the man in loving the king. But if such a thing happened, which I doubt, you would do better to wish, Marie, that such women should really love your husband. In the first place, the devoted love of a mistress is a rapid element of the dissolution of a lover’s affection; and then, by dint of loving, the mistress loses all influence over her lover, whose power of wealth she does not covet, caring only for his affection. Wish, therefore, that the king should love but lightly, and that his mistress should love with all her heart.”

“Oh, my mother, what power may not a deep affection exercise over him!”

“And yet you say you are resigned?”

“Quite true, quite true; I speak absurdly. There is a feeling of anguish, however, which I can never control.”

“And that is?”

“The king may make a happy choice⁠—may find a home, with all the tender influences of home, not far from that we can offer him⁠—a home with children round him, the children of another woman. Oh, Madame! I should die if I were but to see the king’s children.”

“Marie, Marie,” replied the queen-mother with a smile, and she took the young queen’s hand in her own, “remember what I am going to say, and let it always be a consolation to you: the king cannot have a Dauphin without you.”

With this remark the queen-mother quitted her daughter-in-law, in order to meet Madame, whose arrival in the grand cabinet had just been announced by one of the pages. Madame had scarcely taken time to change her dress. Her face revealed her agitation, which betrayed a plan, the execution of which occupied, while the result disturbed, her mind.

“I came to ascertain,” she said, “if your Majesties are suffering any fatigue from our journey.”

“None at all,” said the queen-mother.

“A little,” replied Maria Theresa.

“I have suffered from annoyance more than anything else,” said Madame.

“How was that?” inquired Anne of Austria.

“The fatigue the king undergoes in riding about on horseback.”

“That does the king good.”

“And it was I who advised him,” said Maria Theresa, turning pale.

Madame said not a word in reply; but one of those smiles which were peculiarly her own flitted for a moment across her lips, without passing over the rest of her face; then, immediately changing the conversation, she continued, “We shall find Paris precisely the Paris we quitted; the same intrigues, plots, and flirtations going on.”

“Intrigues! What intrigues do you allude to?” inquired the queen-mother.

“People are talking a good deal about M. Fouquet and Madame Plessis-Bellière.”

“Who makes up the number to about ten thousand,” replied the queen-mother. “But what are the plots you speak of?”

“We have, it seems, certain misunderstandings with Holland to settle.”

“What about?”

“Monsieur has been telling me the story of the medals.”

“Oh!” exclaimed the young queen, “you mean those medals struck in Holland, on which a cloud is seen passing across the sun, which is the king’s device. You are wrong in calling that a plot⁠—it is an insult.”

“But so contemptible that the king can well despise it,” replied the queen-mother. “Well, what are the flirtations which are alluded to? Do you mean that of Madame d’Olonne?”

“No, no; nearer ourselves than that.”

Casa de usted,”[13] murmured the queen-mother, and without moving her lips, in her daughter-in-law’s ear, without being overheard by Madame, who thus continued:⁠—“You know the terrible news?”

“Oh, yes; M. de Guiche’s wound.”

“And you attribute it, I suppose, as everyone else does, to an accident which happened to him while hunting?”

“Yes, of course,” said both the queens together, their interest awakened.

Madame drew closer to them, as she said, in a low tone of voice, “It was a duel.”

“Ah!” said Anne of Austria, in a severe tone; for, in her ears, the word “duel,” which had been forbidden in France all the time she reigned over it, had a strange sound.

“A most deplorable duel, which has nearly cost Monsieur two of his best friends, and the king two of his best servants.”

“What was the cause of the duel?” inquired the young queen, animated by a secret instinct.

“Flirtation,” repeated Madame, triumphantly. “The gentlemen in question were conversing about the virtue of a particular lady belonging to the court. One of them thought that Pallas was a very second-rate person compared to her; the other pretended that the lady in question was an imitation of Venus alluring Mars; and thereupon the two gentlemen fought as fiercely as Hector and Achilles.”

“Venus alluring Mars?” said the young queen in a low tone of voice without venturing to examine into the allegory very deeply.

“Who is the lady?” inquired Anne of Austria abruptly. “You said, I believe, she was one of the ladies of honor?”

“Did I say so?” replied Madame.

“Yes; at least I thought I heard you mention it.”

“Are you not aware that such a woman is of ill-omen to a royal house?”

“Is it not Mademoiselle de La Vallière?” said the queen-mother.

“Yes, indeed, that plain-looking creature.”

“I thought she was affianced to a gentleman who certainly is not, at least so I have heard, either M. de Guiche or M. de Wardes?”

“Very possibly, Madame.”

The young queen took up a piece of tapestry, and began to broider with an affectation of tranquillity her trembling fingers contradicted.

“What were you saying about Venus and Mars?” pursued the queen-mother. “Is there a Mars also?”

“She boasts of that being the case.”

“Did you say she boasts of it?”

“That was the cause of the duel.”

“And M. de Guiche upheld the cause of Mars?”

“Yes, certainly; like the devoted servant he is.”

“The devoted servant of whom?” exclaimed the young queen, forgetting her reserve in allowing her jealous feeling to escape.

“Mars, not to be defended except at the expense of Venus,” replied Madame. “M. de Guiche maintained the perfect innocence of Mars, and no doubt affirmed that it was all a mere boast.”

“And M. de Wardes,” said Anne of Austria, quietly, “spread the report that Venus was within her rights, I suppose?”

Oh, de Wardes, thought Madame, you shall pay dearly for the wound you have given that noblest⁠—best of men! And she began to attack de Wardes with the greatest bitterness; thus discharging her own and de Guiche’s debt, with the assurance that she was working the future ruin of her enemy. She said so much, in fact, that had Manicamp been there, he would have regretted he had shown such firm regard for his friend, inasmuch as it resulted in the ruin of his unfortunate foe.

“I see nothing in the whole affair but one cause of mischief, and that is La Vallière herself,” said the queen-mother.

The young queen resumed her work with perfect indifference of manner, while Madame listened eagerly.

“I do not yet quite understand what you said just now about the danger of coquetry,” resumed Anne of Austria.

“It is quite true,” Madame hastened to say, “that if the girl had not been a coquette, Mars would not have thought at all about her.”

The repetition of this word Mars brought a passing color to the queen’s face; but she still continued her work.

“I will not permit that, in my court, gentlemen should be set against each other in this manner,” said Anne of Austria, calmly. “Such manners were useful enough, perhaps, in days when the divided nobility had no other rallying-point than mere gallantry. At that time women, whose sway was absolute and undivided, were privileged to encourage men’s valor by frequent trials of their courage. But now, thank Heaven! there is but one master in France, and to him every instinct of the mind, every pulse of the body are due. I will not allow my son to be deprived of any single one of his servants.” And she turned towards the young queen, saying, “What is to be done with this La Vallière?”

“La Vallière?” said the queen, apparently surprised, “I do not even know the name”; and she accompanied this remark by one of those cold, fixed smiles only to be observed on royal lips.

Madame was herself a princess great in every respect, great in intelligence, great by birth, by pride; the queen’s reply, however, completely astonished her, and she was obliged to pause for a moment in order to recover herself. “She is one of my maids of honor,” she replied, with a bow.

“In that case,” retorted Maria Theresa, in the same tone, “it is your affair, my sister, and not ours.”

“I beg your pardon,” resumed Anne of Austria, “it is my affair. And I perfectly well understand,” she pursued, addressing a look full of intelligence at Madame, “Madame’s motive for saying what she has just said.”

“Everything which emanates from you, Madame,” said the English princess, “proceeds from the lips of Wisdom.”

“If we send this girl back to her own family,” said Maria Theresa, gently, “we must bestow a pension upon her.”

“Which I will provide for out of my income,” exclaimed Madame.

“No, no,” interrupted Anne of Austria, “no disturbance, I beg. The king dislikes that the slightest disrespectful remark should be made of any lady. Let everything be done quietly. Will you have the kindness, Madame, to send for this girl here; and you, my daughter, will have the goodness to retire to your own room.”

The dowager queen’s entreaties were commands, and as Maria Theresa rose to return to her apartments, Madame rose in order to send a page to summon La Vallière.

CHAPTER 72

The First Quarrel
La Vallière entered the queen-mother’s apartments without in the least suspecting that a serious plot was being concerted against her. She thought it was for something connected with her duties, and never had the queen-mother been unkind to her when such was the case. Besides, not being immediately under the control or direction of Anne of Austria, she could only have an official connection with her, to which her own gentleness of disposition, and the rank of the august princess, made her yield on every occasion with the best possible grace. She therefore advanced towards the queen-mother with that soft and gentle smile which constituted her principal charm, and as she did not approach sufficiently close, Anne of Austria signed to her to come nearer. Madame then entered the room, and with a perfectly calm air took her seat beside her mother-in-law, and continued the work which Maria Theresa had begun. When La Vallière, instead of the directions which she expected to receive immediately on entering the room, perceived these preparations, she looked with curiosity, if not with uneasiness, at the two princesses. Anne seemed full of thought, while Madame maintained an affectation of indifference that would have alarmed a less timid person even than Louise.

“Mademoiselle,” said the queen-mother suddenly, without attempting to moderate or disguise her Spanish accent, which she never failed to do except when she was angry, “come closer; we were talking of you, as everyone else seems to be doing.”

“Of me!” exclaimed La Vallière, turning pale.

“Do you pretend to be ignorant of it; are you not aware of the duel between M. de Guiche and M. de Wardes?”

“Oh, Madame! I heard of it yesterday,” said La Vallière, clasping her hands together.

“And did you not foresee this quarrel?”

“Why should I, Madame?”

“Because two men never fight without a motive, and because you must be aware of the motive which awakened the animosity of the two in question.”

“I am perfectly ignorant of it, Madame.”

“A persevering denial is a very commonplace mode of defense, and you, who have great pretensions to be witty and clever, ought to avoid commonplaces. What else have you to say?”

“Oh! Madame, Your Majesty terrifies me with your cold severity of manner; but I do not understand how I can have incurred your displeasure, or in what respect people concern themselves about me.”

“Then I will tell you. M. de Guiche has been obliged to undertake your defense.”

“My defense?”

“Yes. He is a gallant knight, and beautiful adventuresses like to see brave knights couch lances in their honor. But, for my part, I hate fields of battle, and above all I hate adventures, and⁠—take my remark as you please.”

La Vallière sank at the queen’s feet, who turned her back upon her. She stretched out her hands towards Madame, who laughed in her face. A feeling of pride made her rise to her feet.

“I have begged Your Majesty to tell me what is the crime I am accused of⁠—I can claim this at your hands; and I see I am condemned before I am even permitted to justify myself.”

“Eh! indeed,” cried Anne of Austria, “listen to her beautiful phrases, Madame, and to her fine sentiments; she is an inexhaustible well of tenderness and heroic expressions. One can easily see, young lady, that you have cultivated your mind in the society of crowned heads.”

La Vallière felt struck to the heart; she became, not whiter, but as white as a lily, and all her strength forsook her.

“I wished to inform you,” interrupted the queen disdainfully, “that if you continue to nourish such feelings, you will humiliate us to such a degree that we shall be ashamed of appearing before you. Be simple in your manners. By the by, I am informed that you are affianced; is it the case?”

La Vallière pressed her hand over her heart, which was wrung with a fresh pang.

“Answer when you are spoken to!”

“Yes, Madame.”

“To a gentleman?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“His name?”

“The Vicomte de Bragelonne.”

“Are you aware that it is an exceedingly fortunate circumstance for you, Mademoiselle, that such is the case, and without fortune or position, as you are, or without any very great personal advantages, you ought to bless Heaven for having procured you such a future as seems to be in store for you?”

La Vallière did not reply. “Where is this Vicomte de Bragelonne?” pursued the queen.

“In England,” said Madame, “where the report of this young lady’s success will not fail to reach him.”

“Oh, Heaven!” murmured La Vallière in despair.

“Very well, Mademoiselle!” said Anne of Austria, “we will get this young gentleman to return, and send you away somewhere with him. If you are of a different opinion⁠—for girls have strange views and fancies at times⁠—trust to me, I will put you in a proper path again. I have done as much for girls who are not as good as you are, probably.”

La Vallière ceased to hear the queen, who pitilessly added: “I will send you somewhere, by yourself, where you will be able to indulge in a little serious reflection. Reflection calms the ardor of the blood, and swallows up the illusions of youth. I suppose you understand what I have been saying?”

“Madame!”

“Not a word!”

“I am innocent of everything Your Majesty supposes. Oh, Madame! you are a witness of my despair. I love, I respect Your Majesty so much.”

“It would be far better not to respect me at all,” said the queen, with a chilling irony of manner. “It would be far better if you were not innocent. Do you presume to suppose that I should be satisfied simply to leave you unpunished if you had committed the fault?”

“Oh, Madame! you are killing me.”

“No acting, if you please, or I will precipitate the denouement of this play; leave the room; return to your own apartment, and I trust my lesson may be of service to you.”

“Madame!” said La Vallière to the Duchess d’Orléans, whose hands she seized in her own, “do you, who are so good, intercede for me?”

“I!” replied the latter, with an insulting joy, “I⁠—good!⁠—Ah, Mademoiselle, you think nothing of the kind”; and with a rude, hasty gesture she repulsed the young girl’s grasp.

La Vallière, instead of giving way, as from her extreme pallor and her tears the two princesses possibly expected, suddenly resumed her calm and dignified air; she bowed profoundly, and left the room.

“Well!” said Anne of Austria to Madame, “do you think she will begin again?”

“I always suspect those gentle, patient characters,” replied Madame. “Nothing is more full of courage than a patient heart, nothing more self-reliant than a gentle spirit.”

“I feel I may almost venture to assure you she will think twice before she looks at the god Mars again.”

“So long as she does not obtain the protection of his buckler I do not care,” retorted Madame.

A proud, defiant look of the queen-mother was the reply to this objection, which was by no means deficient in finesse; and both of them, almost sure of their victory, went to look for Maria Theresa, who had been waiting for them with impatience.

It was about half-past six in the evening, and the king had just partaken of refreshment. He lost no time; but the repast finished, and business matters settled, he took Saint-Aignan by the arm, and desired him to lead the way to La Vallière’s apartments. The courtier uttered an exclamation.

“Well, what is that for? It is a habit you will have to adopt, and in order to adopt a habit, one must make a beginning.”

“Oh, sire!” said Saint-Aignan, “it is hardly possible: for everyone can be seen entering or leaving those apartments. If, however, some pretext or other were made use of⁠—if Your Majesty, for instance, would wait until Madame were in her own apartments⁠—”

“No pretext; no delays. I have had enough of these impediments and mysteries; I cannot perceive in what respect the king of France dishonors himself by conversing with an amiable and clever girl. Evil be to him who evil thinks.”

“Will Your Majesty forgive an excess of zeal on my part?”

“Speak freely.”

“How about the queen?”

“True, true; I always wish the most entire respect to be shown to Her Majesty. Well, then, this evening only will I pay Mademoiselle de La Vallière a visit, and after today I will make use of any pretext you like. Tomorrow we will devise all sorts of means; tonight I have no time.”

Saint-Aignan made no reply; he descended the steps, preceding the king, and crossed the different courtyards with a feeling of shame, which the distinguished honor of accompanying the king did not remove. The reason was that Saint-Aignan wished to stand well with Madame, as well as with the queens, and also, that he did not, on the other hand, want to displease Mademoiselle de La Vallière: and in order to carry out so many promising affairs, it was difficult to avoid jostling against some obstacle or other. Besides, the windows of the young queen’s rooms, those of the queen-mother’s, and of Madame herself, looked out upon the courtyard of the maids of honor. To be seen, therefore, accompanying the king, would be effectually to quarrel with three great and influential princesses⁠—whose authority was unbounded⁠—for the purpose of supporting the ephemeral credit of a mistress. The unhappy Saint-Aignan, who had not displayed a very great amount of courage in taking La Vallière’s part in the park of Fontainebleau, did not feel any braver in the broad daylight, and found a thousand defects in the poor girl which he was most eager to communicate to the king. But his trial soon finished⁠—the courtyards were crossed; not a curtain was drawn aside, nor a window opened. The king walked hastily, because of his impatience, and the long legs of Saint-Aignan, who preceded him. At the door, however, Saint-Aignan wished to retire, but the king desired him to remain; a delicate consideration, on the king’s part, which the courtier could very well have dispensed with. He had to follow Louis into La Vallière’s apartment. As soon as the king arrived the young girl dried her tears, but so precipitately that the king perceived it. He questioned her most anxiously and tenderly, and pressed her to tell him the cause of her emotion.

“Nothing is the matter, sire,” she said.

“And yet you were weeping?”

“Oh, no, indeed, sire.”

“Look, Saint-Aignan, and tell me if I am mistaken.”

Saint-Aignan ought to have answered, but he was too much embarrassed.

“At all events your eyes are red, Mademoiselle,” said the king.

“The dust of the road merely, sire.”

“No, no; you no longer possess the air of supreme contentment which renders you so beautiful and so attractive. You do not look at me. Why avoid my gaze?” he said, as she turned aside her head. “In Heaven’s name, what is the matter?” he inquired, beginning to lose command over himself.

“Nothing at all, sire; and I am perfectly ready to assure Your Majesty that my mind is as free from anxiety as you could possibly wish.”

“Your mind at ease, when I see you are embarrassed at the slightest thing. Has anyone annoyed you?”

“No, no, sire.”

“I insist upon knowing if such really be the case,” said the prince, his eyes sparkling.

“No one, sire, no one has in any way offended me.”

“In that case, pray resume your gentle air of gayety, or that sweet melancholy look which I so loved in you this morning; for pity’s sake, do so.”

“Yes, sire, yes.”

The king tapped the floor impatiently with his foot, saying, “Such a change is positively inexplicable.” And he looked at Saint-Aignan, who had also remarked La Vallière’s peculiar lethargy, as well as the king’s impatience.

It was futile for the king to entreat, and as useless for him to try to overcome her depression: the poor girl was completely overwhelmed⁠—the appearance of an angel would hardly have awakened her from her torpor.

The king saw in her repeated negative replies a mystery full of unkindness; he began to look round the apartment with a suspicious air. There happened to be in La Vallière’s room a miniature of Athos. The king remarked that this portrait bore a strong resemblance to Bragelonne, for it had been taken when the count was quite a young man. He looked at it with a threatening air. La Vallière, in her misery far indeed from thinking of this portrait, could not conjecture the cause of the king’s preoccupation. And yet the king’s mind was occupied with a terrible remembrance, which had more than once taken possession of his mind, but which he had always driven away. He recalled the intimacy existing between the two young people from their birth, their engagement, and that Athos himself had come to solicit La Vallière’s hand for Raoul. He therefore could not but suppose that on her return to Paris, La Vallière had found news from London awaiting her, and that this news had counterbalanced the influence he had been enabled to exert over her. He immediately felt himself stung, as it were, by feelings of the wildest jealousy; and again questioned her, with increased bitterness. La Vallière could not reply, unless she were to acknowledge everything, which would be to accuse the queen, and Madame also; and the consequence would be, that she would have to enter into an open warfare with these two great and powerful princesses. She thought within herself that as she made no attempt to conceal from the king what was passing in her own mind, the king ought to be able to read in her heart, in spite of her silence; and that, had he really loved her, he would have understood and guessed everything. What was sympathy, then, if not that divine flame which possesses the property of enlightening the heart, and of saving lovers the necessity of an expression of their thoughts and feelings? She maintained her silence, therefore, sighing, and concealing her face in her hands. These sighs and tears, which had at first distressed, then terrified Louis XIV, now irritated him. He could not bear opposition⁠—the opposition which tears and sighs exhibited, any more than opposition of any other kind. His remarks, therefore, became bitter, urgent, and openly aggressive in their nature. This was a fresh cause of distress for the poor girl. From that very circumstance, therefore, which she regarded as an injustice on her lover’s part, she drew sufficient courage to bear, not only her other troubles, but this one also.

The king next began to accuse her in direct terms. La Vallière did not even attempt to defend herself; she endured all his accusations without according any other reply than that of shaking her head; without any other remark than that which escapes the heart in deep distress⁠—a prayerful appeal to Heaven for help. But this ejaculation, instead of calming the king’s displeasure, rather increased it. He, moreover, saw himself seconded by Saint-Aignan, for Saint-Aignan, as we have observed, having seen the storm increasing, and not knowing the extent of the regard of which Louis XIV was capable, felt, by anticipation, all the collected wrath of the three princesses, and the near approach of poor La Vallière’s downfall, and he was not true knight enough to resist the fear that he himself might be dragged down in the impending ruin. Saint-Aignan did not reply to the king’s questions except by short, dry remarks, pronounced half-aloud; and by abrupt gestures, whose object was to make things worse, and bring about a misunderstanding, the result of which would be to free him from the annoyance of having to cross the courtyards in open day, in order to follow his illustrious companion to La Vallière’s apartments. In the meantime the king’s anger momentarily increased; he made two or three steps towards the door as if to leave the room, but returned. The young girl did not, however, raise her head, although the sound of his footsteps might have warned her that her lover was leaving her. He drew himself up, for a moment, before her, with his arms crossed.

“For the last time, Mademoiselle,” he said, “will you speak? Will you assign a reason for this change, this fickleness, for this caprice?”

“What can I say?” murmured La Vallière. “Do you not see, sire, that I am completely overwhelmed at this moment; that I have no power of will, or thought, or speech?”

“Is it so difficult, then, to speak the truth? You could have told me the whole truth in fewer words than those in which you have expressed yourself.”

“But the truth about what, sire?”

“About everything.”

La Vallière was just on the point of revealing the truth to the king, her arms made a sudden movement as if they were about to open, but her lips remained silent, and her hands again fell listlessly by her side. The poor girl had not yet endured sufficient unhappiness to risk the necessary revelation. “I know nothing,” she stammered out.

“Oh!” exclaimed the king, “this is no longer mere coquetry, or caprice, it is treason.”

And this time nothing could restrain him. The impulse of his heart was not sufficient to induce him to turn back, and he darted out of the room with a gesture full of despair. Saint-Aignan followed him, wishing for nothing better than to quit the place.

Louis XIV did not pause until he reached the staircase, and grasping the balustrade, said: “You see how shamefully I have been duped.”

“How, sire?” inquired the favorite.

“De Guiche fought on the Vicomte de Bragelonne’s account, and this Bragelonne⁠ ⁠… oh! Saint-Aignan, she still loves him. I vow to you, Saint-Aignan, that if, in three days from now, there were to remain but an atom of affection for her in my heart, I should die from very shame.” And the king resumed his way to his own apartments.

“I told Your Majesty how it would be,” murmured Saint-Aignan, continuing to follow the king, and timidly glancing up at the different windows.

Unfortunately their return was not, like their arrival, unobserved. A curtain was suddenly drawn aside; Madame was behind it. She had seen the king leave the apartments of the maids of honor, and as soon as she observed that His Majesty had passed, she left her own apartments with hurried steps, and ran up the staircase that led to the room the king had just left.

CHAPTER 73

Despair
As soon as the king was gone La Vallière raised herself from the ground, and stretched out her arms, as if to follow and detain him, but when, having violently closed the door, the sound of his retreating footsteps could be heard in the distance, she had hardly sufficient strength left to totter towards and fall at the foot of her crucifix. There she remained, brokenhearted, absorbed, and overwhelmed by her grief, forgetful and indifferent to everything but her profound sorrow;⁠—a grief she only vaguely realized⁠—as though by instinct. In the midst of this wild tumult of thoughts, La Vallière heard her door open again; she started, and turned round, thinking it was the king who had returned. She was deceived, however, for it was Madame who appeared at the door. What did she now care for Madame! Again she sank down, her head supported by her prie-dieu chair. It was Madame, agitated, angry, and threatening. But what was that to her? “Mademoiselle,” said the princess, standing before La Vallière, “this is very fine, I admit, to kneel and pray, and make a pretense of being religious; but however submissive you may be in your addresses to Heaven, it is desirable that you should pay some little attention to the wishes of those who reign and rule here below.”

La Vallière raised her head painfully in token of respect.

“Not long since,” continued Madame, “a certain recommendation was addressed to you, I believe.”

La Vallière’s fixed and wild gaze showed how complete her forgetfulness or ignorance was.

“The queen recommended you,” continued Madame, “to conduct yourself in such a manner that no one could be justified in spreading any reports about you.”

La Vallière darted an inquiring look towards her.

“I will not,” continued Madame, “allow my household, which is that of the first princess of the blood, to set an evil example to the court; you would be the cause of such an example. I beg you to understand, therefore, in the absence of any witness of your shame⁠—for I do not wish to humiliate you⁠—that you are from this moment at perfect liberty to leave, and that you can return to your mother at Blois.”

La Vallière could not sink lower, nor could she suffer more than she had already suffered. Her countenance did not even change, but she remained kneeling with her hands clasped, like the figure of the Magdalen.

“Did you hear me?” said Madame.

A shiver, which passed through her whole frame, was La Vallière’s only reply. And as the victim gave no other signs of life, Madame left the room. And then, her very respiration suspended, and her blood almost congealed, as it were, in her veins, La Vallière by degrees felt that the pulsation of her wrists, her neck, and temples, began to throb more and more painfully. These pulsations, as they gradually increased, soon changed into a species of brain fever, and in her temporary delirium she saw the figures of her friends contending with her enemies, floating before her vision. She heard, too, mingled together in her deafened ears, words of menace and words of fond affection; she seemed raised out of her existence as though it were upon the wings of a mighty tempest, and in the dim horizon of the path along which her delirium hurried her, she saw the stone which covered her tomb upraised, and the grim, appalling texture of eternal night revealed to her distracted gaze. But the horror of the dream which possessed her senses faded away, and she was again restored to the habitual resignation of her character. A ray of hope penetrated her heart, as a ray of sunlight streams into the dungeon of some unhappy captive. Her mind reverted to the journey from Fontainebleau, she saw the king riding beside her carriage, telling her that he loved her, asking for her love in return, requiring her to swear, and himself swearing too, that never should an evening pass by, if ever a misunderstanding were to arise between them, without a visit, a letter, a sign of some kind, being sent, to replace the troubled anxiety of the evening with the calm repose of the night. It was the king who had suggested that, who had imposed a promise on her, and who had sworn to it himself. It was impossible, therefore, she reasoned, that the king should fail in keeping the promise which he had himself exacted from her, unless, indeed, Louis was a despot who enforced love as he enforced obedience; unless, too, the king were so indifferent that the first obstacle in his way was sufficient to arrest his further progress. The king, that kind protector, who by a word, a single word, could relieve her distress of mind, the king even joined her persecutors. Oh! his anger could not possibly last. Now that he was alone, he would be suffering all that she herself was a prey to. But he was not tied hand and foot as she was; he could act, could move about, could come to her, while she could do nothing but wait. And the poor girl waited and waited, with breathless anxiety⁠—for she could not believe it possible that the king would not come.

It was now about half-past ten. He would either come to her, or write to her, or send some kind word by M. de Saint-Aignan. If he were to come, oh! how she would fly to meet him; how she would thrust aside that excess of delicacy which she now discovered was misunderstood; how eagerly she would explain: “It is not I who do not love you⁠—it is the fault of others who will not allow me to love you.” And then it must be confessed that she reflected upon it, and also the more she reflected, Louis appeared to her to be less guilty. In fact, he was ignorant of everything. What must he have thought of the obstinacy with which she remained silent? Impatient and irritable as the king was known to be, it was extraordinary that he had been able to preserve his temper so long. And yet, had it been her own case, she undoubtedly would not have acted in such a manner; she would have understood⁠—have guessed everything. Yes, but she was nothing but a poor simple-minded girl, and not a great and powerful monarch. Oh! if he would but come, if he would but come!⁠—how eagerly she would forgive him for all he had just made her suffer! how much more tenderly she would love him because she had so cruelly suffered! And so she sat, with her head bent forward in eager expectation towards the door, her lips slightly parted, as if⁠—and Heaven forgive her for the mental exclamation!⁠—they were awaiting the kiss which the king’s lips had in the morning so sweetly indicated, when he pronounced the word love! If the king did not come, at least he would write; it was a second chance; a chance less delightful certainly than the other, but which would show an affection just as strong, only more timid in its nature. Oh! how she would devour his letter, how eager she would be to answer it! and when the messenger who had brought it had left her, how she would kiss it, read it over and over again, press to her heart the lucky paper which would have brought her ease of mind, tranquillity, and perfect happiness. At all events, if the king did not come, if the king did not write, he could not do otherwise than send Saint-Aignan, or Saint-Aignan could not do otherwise than come of his own accord. Even if it were a third person, how openly she would speak to him; the royal presence would not be there to freeze her words upon her tongue, and then no suspicious feeling would remain a moment longer in the king’s heart.

Everything with La Vallière, heart and look, body and mind, was concentrated in eager expectation. She said to herself that there was an hour left in which to indulge hope; that until midnight struck, the king might come, or write or send; that at midnight only would every expectation vanish, every hope be lost. Whenever she heard any stir in the palace, the poor girl fancied she was the cause of it; whenever she heard anyone pass in the courtyard below she imagined they were messengers of the king coming to her. Eleven o’clock struck, then a quarter-past eleven; then half-past. The minutes dragged slowly on in this anxiety, and yet they seemed to pass too quickly. And now, it struck a quarter to twelve. Midnight⁠—midnight was near, the last, the final hope that remained. With the last stroke of the clock, the last ray of light seemed to fade away; and with the last ray faded her final hope. And so, the king himself had deceived her; it was he who had been the first to fail in keeping the oath which he had sworn that very day; twelve hours only between his oath and his perjured vow; it was not long, alas! to have preserved the illusion. And so, not only did the king not love her, but he despised her whom everyone ill-treated, he despised her to the extent even of abandoning her to the shame of an expulsion which was equivalent to having an ignominious sentence passed on her; and yet, it was he, the king himself, who was the first cause of this ignominy. A bitter smile, the only symptom of anger which during this long conflict had passed across the angelic face, appeared upon her lips. What, in fact, now remained on earth for her, after the king was lost to her? Nothing. But Heaven still remained, and her thoughts flew thither. She prayed that the proper course for her to follow might be suggested. It is from Heaven, she thought, that I expect everything; it is from Heaven I ought to expect everything. And she looked at her crucifix with a devotion full of tender love. There, she said, hangs before me a Master who never forgets and never abandons those who neither forget nor abandon Him; it is to Him alone that we must sacrifice ourselves. And, thereupon, could anyone have gazed into the recesses of that chamber, they would have seen the poor despairing girl adopt a final resolution, and determine upon one last plan in her mind. Then, as her knees were no longer able to support her, she gradually sank down upon the prie-dieu, and with her head pressed against the wooden cross, her eyes fixed, and her respiration short and quick, she watched for the earliest rays of approaching daylight. At two o’clock in the morning she was still in the same bewilderment of mind, or rather the same ecstasy of feeling. Her thoughts had almost ceased to hold communion with things of the world. And when she saw the pale violet tints of early dawn visible over the roofs of the palace, and vaguely revealing the outlines of the ivory crucifix which she held embraced, she rose from the ground with a newborn strength, kissed the feet of the divine martyr, descended the staircase leading from the room, and wrapped herself from head to foot in a mantle as she went along. She reached the wicket at the very moment the guard of the musketeers opened the gate to admit the first relief-guard belonging to one of the Swiss regiments. And then, gliding behind the soldiers, she reached the street before the officer in command of the patrol had even thought of asking who the young girl was who was making her escape from the palace at so early an hour.

CHAPTER 74

The Flight
La Vallière followed the patrol as it left the courtyard. The patrol bent its steps towards the right, by the Rue St. Honoré, and mechanically La Vallière turned to the left. Her resolution was taken⁠—her determination fixed; she wished to betake herself to the convent of the Carmelites at Chaillot, the superior of which enjoyed a reputation for severity which made the worldly-minded people of the court tremble. La Vallière had never seen Paris, she had never gone out on foot, and so would have been unable to find her way even had she been in a calmer frame of mind than was then the case; and this may explain why she ascended, instead of descending, the Rue St. Honoré. Her only thought was to get away from the Palais Royal, and this she was doing; she had heard it said that Chaillot looked out upon the Seine, and she accordingly directed her steps towards the Seine. She took the Rue de Coq, and not being able to cross the Louvre, bore towards the church of Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, proceeding along the site of the colonnade which was subsequently built there by Perrault. In a very short time she reached the quays. Her steps were rapid and agitated; she scarcely felt the weakness which reminded her of having sprained her foot when very young, and which obliged her to limp slightly. At any other hour in the day her countenance would have awakened the suspicions of the least clear-sighted, attracted the attention of the most indifferent. But at half-past two in the morning, the streets of Paris are almost, if not quite, deserted, and scarcely anyone is to be seen but the hardworking artisan on his way to earn his daily bread, or the roistering idlers of the streets, who are returning to their homes after a night of riot and debauchery; for the former the day was beginning, and for the latter it was just closing. La Vallière was afraid of both faces, in which her ignorance of Parisian types did not permit her to distinguish the type of probity from that of dishonesty. The appearance of misery alarmed her, and all she met seemed either vile or miserable. Her dress, which was the same she had worn during the previous evening, was elegant even in its careless disorder; for it was the one in which she had presented herself to the queen-mother; and, moreover, when she drew aside the mantle which covered her face, in order to enable her to see the way she was going, her pallor and her beautiful eyes spoke an unknown language to the men she met, and, unconsciously, the poor fugitive seemed to invite the brutal remarks of the one class, or to appeal to the compassion of the other. La Vallière still walked on in the same way, breathless and hurried, until she reached the top of the Place de Grève. She stopped from time to time, placed her hand upon her heart, leaned against a wall until she could breathe freely again, and then continued on her course more rapidly than before. On reaching the Place de Grève La Vallière suddenly came upon a group of three drunken men, reeling and staggering along, who were just leaving a boat which they had made fast to the quay; the boat was freighted with wines, and it was apparent that they had done ample justice to the merchandise. They were celebrating their convivial exploits in three different keys, when suddenly, as they reached the end of the railing leading down to the quay, they found an obstacle in their path, in the shape of this young girl. La Vallière stopped; while they, on their part, at the appearance of the young girl dressed in court costume, also halted, and seizing each other by the hand, they surrounded La Vallière, singing⁠—

“Oh! all ye weary wights, who mope alone,
Come drink, and sing and laugh, round Venus’ throne.” [14]

La Vallière at once understood that the men were insulting her, and wished to prevent her passing; she tried to do so several times, but her efforts were useless. Her limbs failed her; she felt she was on the point of falling, and uttered a cry of terror. At the same moment the circle which surrounded her was suddenly broken through in a most violent manner. One of her insulters was knocked to the left, another fell rolling over and over to the right, close to the water’s edge, while the third could hardly keep his feet. An officer of the Musketeers stood face to face with the young girl, with threatening brow and hand raised to carry out his threat. The drunken fellows, at sight of the uniform, made their escape with what speed their staggering limbs could lend them, all the more eagerly for the proof of strength which the wearer of the uniform had just afforded them.

“Is it possible,” exclaimed the musketeer, “that it can be Mademoiselle de La Vallière?”

La Vallière, bewildered by what had just happened, and confounded by hearing her name pronounced, looked up and recognized d’Artagnan. “Oh, M. d’Artagnan! it is indeed I”; and at the same moment she seized his arm. “You will protect me, will you not?” she added, in a tone of entreaty.

“Most certainly I will protect you; but, in Heaven’s name, where are you going at this hour?”

“I am going to Chaillot.”

“You are going to Chaillot by way of La Rapée! why, Mademoiselle, you are turning your back upon it.”

“In that case, Monsieur, be kind enough to put me in the right way, and to go with me a short distance.”

“Most willingly.”

“But how does it happen that I have found you here? By what merciful intervention were you sent to my assistance? I almost seem to be dreaming, or to be losing my senses.”

“I happened to be here, Mademoiselle, because I have a house in the Place de Grève, at the sign of the Notre-Dame, the rent of which I went to receive yesterday, and where I, in fact, passed the night. And I also wished to be at the palace early, for the purposes of inspecting my posts.”

“Thank you,” said La Vallière.

That is what I was doing, said d’Artagnan to himself; but what is she doing, and why is she going to Chaillot at such an hour? And he offered her his arm, which she took, and began to walk with increased precipitation, which ill-concealed, however, her weakness. D’Artagnan perceived it, and proposed to La Vallière that she should take a little rest, which she refused.

“You are ignorant, perhaps, where Chaillot is?” inquired d’Artagnan.

“Quite so.”

“It is a great distance.”

“That matters very little.”

“It is at least a league.”

“I can walk it.”

D’Artagnan did not reply; he could tell, merely by the tone of a voice, when a resolution was real or not. He rather bore along rather than accompanied La Vallière, until they perceived the elevated ground of Chaillot.

“What house are you going to, Mademoiselle?” inquired d’Artagnan.

“To the Carmelites, Monsieur.”

“To the Carmelites?” repeated d’Artagnan, in amazement.

“Yes; and since Heaven has directed you towards me to give me your support on my road, accept both my thanks and my adieux.”

“To the Carmelites! Your adieux! Are you going to become a nun?” exclaimed d’Artagnan.

“Yes, Monsieur.”

“What, you!!!” There was in this “you,” which we have marked by three notes of exclamation in order to render it as expressive as possible⁠—there was, we repeat, in this “you” a complete poem; it recalled to La Vallière her old recollections of Blois, and her new recollections of Fontainebleau; it said to her, “You, who might be happy with Raoul; you, who might be powerful with Louis; you about to become a nun!”

“Yes, Monsieur,” she said, “I am going to devote myself to the service of Heaven; and to renounce the world entirely.”

“But are you not mistaken with regard to your vocation⁠—are you not mistaken in supposing it to be the will of Heaven?”

“No, since Heaven has been pleased to throw you in my way. Had it not been for you, I should certainly have sunk from fatigue on the road, and since Heaven, I repeat, has thrown you in my way, it is because it has willed that I should carry out my intention.”

“Oh!” said d’Artagnan, doubtingly, “that is a rather subtle distinction, I think.”

“Whatever it may be,” returned the young girl, “I have acquainted you with the steps I have taken, and with my fixed resolution. And, now, I have one last favor to ask of you, even while I return you my thanks. The king is entirely ignorant of my flight from the Palais Royal, and is ignorant also of what I am about to do.”

“The king ignorant, you say!” exclaimed d’Artagnan. “Take care, Mademoiselle; you are not aware of what you are doing. No one ought to do anything with which the king is unacquainted, especially those who belong to the court.”

“I no longer belong to the court, Monsieur.”

D’Artagnan looked at the young girl with increasing astonishment.

“Do not be uneasy, Monsieur,” she continued: “I have well calculated everything; and were it not so, it would now be too late to reconsider my resolution⁠—all is decided.”

“Well, Mademoiselle, what do you wish me to do?”

“In the name of that sympathy which misfortune inspires, by your generous feeling, and by your honor as a gentleman, I entreat you to promise me one thing.”

“Name it.”

“Swear to me, Monsieur d’Artagnan, that you will not tell the king that you have seen me, and that I am at the Carmelites.”

“I will not swear that,” said d’Artagnan, shaking his head.

“Why?”

“Because I know the king, I know you, I know myself even, nay, the whole human race, too well; no, no, I will not swear that!”

“In that case,” cried La Vallière, with an energy of which one would hardly have thought her capable, “instead of the blessing which I should have implored for you until my dying day, I will invoke a curse, for you are rendering me the most miserable creature that ever lived.”

We have already observed that d’Artagnan could easily recognize the accents of truth and sincerity, and he could not resist this last appeal. He saw by her face how bitterly she suffered from a feeling of degradation, he remarked her trembling limbs, how her whole slight and delicate frame was violently agitated by some internal struggle, and clearly perceived that resistance might be fatal. “I will do as you wish, then,” he said. “Be satisfied, Mademoiselle, I will say nothing to the king.”

“Oh! thanks, thanks,” exclaimed La Vallière, “you are the most generous man breathing.”

And in her extreme delight she seized hold of d’Artagnan’s hands and pressed them between her own. D’Artagnan, who felt himself quite overcome, said: “This is touching, upon my word; she begins where others leave off.”

And La Vallière, who, in the bitterness of her distress, had sunk upon the ground, rose and walked towards the convent of the Carmelites, which could now, in the dawning light, be perceived just before them. D’Artagnan followed her at a distance. The entrance-door was half-open; she glided in like a shadow, and thanking d’Artagnan by a parting gesture, disappeared from his sight. When d’Artagnan found himself quite alone, he reflected very profoundly upon what had just taken place. “Upon my word,” he said, “this looks very much like what is called a false position. To keep such a secret as that, is to keep a burning coal in one’s breeches-pocket, and trust that it may not burn the stuff. And yet, not to keep it when I have sworn to do so is dishonorable. It generally happens that some bright idea or other occurs to me as I am going along; but I am very much mistaken if I shall not, now, have to go a long way in order to find the solution of this affair. Yes, but which way to go? Oh! towards Paris, of course; that is the best way, after all. Only one must make haste, and in order to make haste four legs are better than two, and I, unhappily, only have two. ‘A horse, a horse,’ as I heard them say at the theatre in London, ‘my kingdom for a horse!’ And now I think of it, it need not cost me so much as that, for at the Barrière de la Conférence there is a guard of Musketeers, and instead of the one horse I need, I shall find ten there.”

So, in pursuance of this resolution, which he adopted with his usual rapidity, d’Artagnan immediately turned his back upon the heights of Chaillot, reached the guardhouse, took the fastest horse he could find there, and was at the palace in less than ten minutes. It was striking five as he reached the Palais Royal. The king, he was told, had gone to bed at his usual hour, having been long engaged with M. Colbert, and, in all probability, was still sound asleep. “Come,” said d’Artagnan, “she spoke the truth; the king is ignorant of everything; if he only knew one-half of what has happened, the Palais Royal by this time would be turned upside down.”

CHAPTER 75

Showing How Louis, on His Part, Had Passed the Time from Ten to Half-Past Twelve at Night
When the king left the apartments of the maids of honor, he found Colbert awaiting him to take directions for the next day’s ceremony, as the king was then to receive the Dutch and Spanish ambassadors. Louis XIV had serious causes of dissatisfaction with the Dutch; the States had already been guilty of many mean shifts and evasions with France, and without perceiving or without caring about the chances of a rupture, they again abandoned the alliance with his Most Christian Majesty, for the purpose of entering into all kinds of plots with Spain. Louis XIV at his accession, that is to say, at the death of Cardinal Mazarin, had found this political question roughly sketched out; the solution was difficult for a young man, but as, at that time, the king represented the whole nation, anything that the head resolved upon, the body would be found ready to carry out. Any sudden impulse of anger, the reaction of young hot blood upon the brain, would be quite sufficient to change an old form of policy and create another system altogether. The part that diplomatists had to play in those days was that of arranging among themselves the different coups d’état which their sovereign masters might wish to effect. Louis was not in that calm frame of mind which was necessary to enable him to determine on a wise course of policy. Still much agitated from the quarrel he had just had with La Vallière, he walked hastily into his cabinet, dimly desirous of finding an opportunity of producing an explosion after he had controlled himself for so long a time. Colbert, as he saw the king enter, knew the position of affairs at a glance, understood the king’s intentions, and resolved therefore to maneuver a little. When Louis requested to be informed what it would be necessary to say on the morrow, Colbert began by expressing his surprise that His Majesty had not been properly informed by M. Fouquet. “M. Fouquet,” he said, “is perfectly acquainted with the whole of this Dutch affair⁠—he received the dispatches himself direct.”

The king, who was accustomed to hear M. Colbert speak in not over-scrupulous terms of M. Fouquet, allowed this remark to pass unanswered, and merely listened. Colbert noticed the effect it had produced, and hastened to back out, saying that M. Fouquet was not on all occasions as blamable as at the first glance might seem to be the case, inasmuch as at that moment he was greatly occupied. The king looked up. “What do you allude to?” he said.

“Sire, men are but men, and M. Fouquet has his defects as well as his great qualities.”

“Ah! defects, who is without them, M. Colbert?”

“Your Majesty, hardly,” said Colbert, boldly; for he knew how to convey a good deal of flattery in a light amount of blame, like the arrow which cleaves the air notwithstanding its weight, thanks to the light feathers which bear it up.

The king smiled. “What defect has M. Fouquet, then?” he said.

“Still the same, sire; it is said he is in love.”

“In love! with whom?”

“I am not quite sure, sire; I have very little to do with matters of gallantry.”

“At all events you know, since you speak of it.”

“I have heard a name mentioned.”

“Whose?”

“I cannot now remember whose, but I think it is one of Madame’s maids of honor.”

The king started. “You know more than you like to say, M. Colbert,” he murmured.

“I assure you, no, sire.”

“At all events, Madame’s maids of honor are all known, and in mentioning their names to you, you will perhaps recollect the one you allude to.”

“No, sire.”

“At least, try.”

“It would be useless, sire. Whenever the name of any lady who runs the risk of being compromised is concerned, my memory is like a coffer of bronze, the key of which I have lost.”

A dark cloud seemed to pass over the mind as well as across the face of the king; then, wishing to appear as if he were perfect master of himself and his feelings, he said, “And now for the affair concerning Holland.”

“In the first place, sire, at what hour will Your Majesty receive the ambassadors?”

“Early in the morning.”

“Eleven o’clock?”

“That is too late⁠—say nine o’clock.”

“That will be too early, sire.”

“For friends, that would be a matter of no importance; one does what one likes with one’s friends; but for one’s enemies, in that case nothing could be better than if they were to feel hurt. I should not be sorry, I confess, to have to finish altogether with these marsh-birds, who annoy me with their cries.”

“It shall be precisely as Your Majesty desires. At nine o’clock, therefore⁠—I will give the necessary orders. Is it to be a formal audience?”

“No. I wish to have an explanation with them, and not to embitter matters, as is always the case when many persons are present, but, at the same time, I wish to clear up everything with them, in order not to have to begin over again.”

“Your Majesty will inform me of the persons whom you wish to be present at the reception.”

“I will draw out a list. Let us speak of the ambassadors; what do they want?”

“Allies with Spain, they gain nothing; allies with France, they lose much.”

“How is that?”

“Allied with Spain, they see themselves bounded and protected by the possessions of their allies; they cannot touch them, however anxious they may be to do so. From Antwerp to Rotterdam is but a step, and that by the way of the Scheldt and the Meuse. If they wish to make a bite at the Spanish cake, you, sire, the son-in-law of the king of Spain, could with your cavalry sweep the earth from your dominions to Brussels in a couple of days. Their design is, therefore, only to quarrel so far with you, and only to make you suspect Spain so far, as will be sufficient to induce you not to interfere with their own affairs.”

“It would be far more simple, I should imagine,” replied the king, “to form a solid alliance with me, by means of which I should gain something, while they would gain everything.”

“Not so; for if, by chance, they were to have you, or France rather, as a boundary, Your Majesty is not an agreeable neighbor. Young, ardent, warlike, the king of France might inflict some serious mischief on Holland, especially if he were to get near her.”

“I perfectly understand, M. Colbert, and you have explained it very clearly; but be good enough to tell me the conclusion you have arrived at.”

“Your Majesty’s own decisions are never deficient in wisdom.”

“What will these ambassadors say to me?”

“They will tell Your Majesty that they are ardently desirous of forming an alliance with you, which will be a falsehood: they will tell Spain that the three powers ought to unite so as to check the prosperity of England, and that will equally be a falsehood; for at present, the natural ally of Your Majesty is England, who has ships while we have none; England, who can counteract Dutch influence in India; England, in fact, a monarchical country, to which Your Majesty is attached by ties of relationship.”

“Good; but how would you answer?”

“I should answer, sire, with the greatest possible moderation of tone, that the disposition of Holland does not seem friendly towards the Court of France; that the symptoms of public feeling among the Dutch are alarming as regards Your Majesty; that certain medals have been struck with insulting devices.”

“Towards me?” exclaimed the young king, excitedly.

“Oh, no! sire, no; insulting is not the word; I was mistaken, I ought to have said immeasurably flattering to the Dutch.”

“Oh! if that be so, the pride of the Dutch is a matter of indifference to me,” said the king, sighing.

“Your Majesty is right, a thousand times right. However, it is never a mistake in politics, Your Majesty knows better than myself, to exaggerate a little in order to obtain a concession in your own favor. If Your Majesty were to complain as if your susceptibility were offended, you would stand in a far higher position with them.”

“What are these medals you speak of?” inquired Louis; “for if I allude to them, I ought to know what to say.”

“Upon my word, sire, I cannot very well tell you⁠—some overweeningly conceited device⁠—that is the sense of it; the words have little to do with the thing itself.”

“Very good! I will mention the word ‘medal,’ and they can understand it if they like.”

“Oh! they will understand without any difficulty. Your Majesty can also slip in a few words about certain pamphlets which are being circulated.”

“Never! Pamphlets befoul those who write them much more than those against whom they are written. M. Colbert, I thank you. You can leave now. Do not forget the hour I have fixed, and be there yourself.”

“Sire, I await Your Majesty’s list.”

“True,” returned the king; and he began to meditate; he had not thought of the list in the least. The clock struck half-past eleven. The king’s face revealed a violent conflict between pride and love. The political conversation had dispelled a good deal of the irritation which Louis had felt, and La Vallière’s pale, worn features, in his imagination, spoke a very different language from that of the Dutch medals, or the Batavian pamphlets. He sat for ten minutes debating within himself whether he should or should not return to La Vallière; but Colbert having with some urgency respectfully requested that the list might be furnished him, the king was ashamed to be thinking of mere matters of affection where important state affairs required his attention. He therefore dictated: the queen-mother, the queen, Madame, Madame de Motteville, Madame de Châtillon, Madame de Navailles; and, for the men, M. le Prince, M. de Gramont, M. de Manicamp, M. de Saint-Aignan, and the officers on duty.

“The ministers?” asked Colbert.

“As a matter of course, and the secretaries also.”

“Sire, I will leave at once in order to get everything prepared; the orders will be at the different residences tomorrow.”

“Say rather today,” replied Louis mournfully, as the clock struck twelve. It was the very hour when poor La Vallière was almost dying from anguish and bitter suffering. The king’s attendants entered, it being the hour of his retirement to his chamber; the queen, indeed, had been waiting for more than an hour. Louis accordingly retreated to his bedroom with a sigh; but, as he sighed, he congratulated himself on his courage, and applauded himself for having been as firm in love as in affairs of state.

CHAPTER 76

The Ambassadors
D’Artagnan had, with very few exceptions, learned almost all of the particulars of what we have just been relating; for among his friends he reckoned all the useful, serviceable people in the royal household⁠—officious attendants who were proud of being recognized by the captain of the Musketeers, for the captain’s influence was very great; and then, in addition to any ambitious views they may have imagined he could promote, they were proud of being regarded as worth being spoken to by a man as brave as d’Artagnan. In this manner d’Artagnan learned every morning what he had not been able either to see or to ascertain the night before, from the simple fact of his not being ubiquitous; so that, with the information he had been able by his own means to pick up during the day, and with what he had gathered from others, he succeeded in making up a bundle of weapons, which he was in the prudent habit of using only when occasion required. In this way, d’Artagnan’s two eyes rendered him the same service as the hundred eyes of Argus. Political secrets, bedside revelations, hints or scraps of conversation dropped by the courtiers on the threshold of the royal antechamber, in this way d’Artagnan managed to ascertain, and to store away everything in the vast and impenetrable mausoleum of his memory, by the side of those royal secrets so dearly bought and faithfully preserved. He therefore knew of the king’s interview with Colbert, and of the appointment made for the ambassadors in the morning, and, consequently, that the question of the medals would be brought up for debate; and, while he was arranging and constructing the conversation upon a few chance words which had reached his ears, he returned to his post in the royal apartments, so as to be there at the very moment the king awoke. It happened that the king rose very early⁠—proving thereby that he, too, on his side, had slept but indifferently. Towards seven o’clock, he half-opened his door very gently. D’Artagnan was at his post. His Majesty was pale, and seemed wearied; he had not, moreover, quite finished dressing.

“Send for M. de Saint-Aignan,” he said.

Saint-Aignan was probably awaiting a summons, for the messenger, when he reached his apartment, found him already dressed. Saint-Aignan hastened to the king in obedience to the summons. A moment afterwards the king and Saint-Aignan passed by together⁠—the king walking first. D’Artagnan went to the window which looked out upon the courtyard; he had no need to put himself to the trouble of watching in what direction the king went, for he had no difficulty in guessing beforehand where His Majesty was going. The king, in fact, bent his steps towards the apartments of the maids of honor⁠—a circumstance which in no way astonished d’Artagnan, for he more than suspected, although La Vallière had not breathed a syllable on the subject, that the king had some kind of reparation to make. Saint-Aignan followed him as he had done the previous evening, rather less uneasy in his mind, though still slightly agitated, for he fervently trusted that at seven o’clock in the morning there might be only himself and the king awake amongst the august guests at the palace. D’Artagnan stood at the window, careless and perfectly calm in his manner. One could almost have sworn that he noticed nothing, and was utterly ignorant who were these two hunters after adventures, passing like shadows across the courtyard, wrapped up in their cloaks. And yet, all the while that d’Artagnan appeared not to be looking at them at all, he did not for one moment lose sight of them, and while he whistled that old march of the Musketeers, which he rarely recalled except under great emergencies, he conjectured and prophesied how terrible would be the storm which would be raised on the king’s return. In fact, when the king entered La Vallière’s apartment and found the room empty and the bed untouched, he began to be alarmed, and called out to Montalais, who immediately answered the summons; but her astonishment was equal to the king’s. All that she could tell His Majesty was, that she had fancied she had heard La Vallière’s weeping during a portion of the night, but, knowing that His Majesty had paid her a visit, she had not dared to inquire what was the matter.

“But,” inquired the king, “where do you suppose she is gone?”

“Sire,” replied Montalais, “Louise is of a very sentimental disposition, and as I have often seen her rise at daybreak in order to go out into the garden, she may, perhaps, be there now.”

This appeared probable, and the king immediately ran down the staircase in search of the fugitive. D’Artagnan saw him grow very pale, and talking in an excited manner with his companion, as he went towards the gardens; Saint-Aignan following him, out of breath. D’Artagnan did not stir from the window, but went on whistling, looking as if he saw nothing, yet seeing everything. “Come, come,” he murmured, when the king disappeared, “His Majesty’s passion is stronger than I thought; he is now doing, I think, what he never did for Mademoiselle de Mancini.” [15]

In a quarter of an hour the king again appeared: he had looked everywhere, was completely out of breath, and, as a matter of course, had not discovered anything. Saint-Aignan, who still followed him, was fanning himself with his hat, and in a gasping voice, asking for information about La Vallière from such of the servants as were about, in fact from everyone he met. Among others he came across Manicamp, who had arrived from Fontainebleau by easy stages; for whilst others had performed the journey in six hours, he had taken four and twenty.

“Have you seen Mademoiselle de La Vallière?” Saint-Aignan asked him.

Whereupon Manicamp, dreamy and absent as usual, answered, thinking that someone was asking him about de Guiche, “Thank you, the comte is a little better.”

And he continued on his way until he reached the antechamber where d’Artagnan was, whom he asked to explain how it was that the king looked, as he thought, so bewildered; to which d’Artagnan replied that he was quite mistaken, that the king, on the contrary, was as lively and merry as he could possibly be.

In the midst of all this, eight o’clock struck. It was usual for the king to take his breakfast at this hour, for the code of etiquette prescribed that the king should always be hungry at eight o’clock. His breakfast was laid upon a small table in his bedroom, and he ate very fast. Saint-Aignan, of whom he would not lose sight, waited on the king. He then disposed of several military audiences, during which he dispatched Saint-Aignan to see what he could find out. Then, still occupied, full of anxiety, still watching Saint-Aignan’s return, who had sent out the servants in every direction, to make inquires, and who had also gone himself, the hour of nine struck, and the king forthwith passed into his large cabinet.

As the clock was striking nine the ambassadors entered, and as it finished, the two queens and Madame made their appearance. There were three ambassadors from Holland, and two from Spain. The king glanced at them, and then bowed; and, at the same moment, Saint-Aignan entered⁠—an entrance which the king regarded as far more important, in a different sense, however, than that of ambassadors, however numerous they might be, and from whatever country they came; and so, setting everything aside, the king made a sign of interrogation to Saint-Aignan, which the latter answered by a most decisive negative. The king almost entirely lost his courage; but as the queens, the members of the nobility who were present, and the ambassadors, had their eyes fixed upon him, he overcame his emotion by a violent effort, and invited the latter to speak. Whereupon one of the Spanish deputies made a long oration, in which he boasted the advantages which the Spanish alliance would offer.

The king interrupted him, saying, “Monsieur, I trust that whatever is best for France must be exceedingly advantageous for Spain.”

This remark, and particularly the peremptory tone in which it was pronounced, made the ambassadors pale, and brought the color into the cheeks of the two queens, who, being Spanish, felt wounded in their pride of relationship and nationality by this reply.

The Dutch ambassador then began to address himself to the king, and complained of the injurious suspicions which the king exhibited against the government of his country.

The king interrupted him, saying, “It is very singular, Monsieur, that you should come with any complaint, when it is I rather who have reason to be dissatisfied; and yet, you see, I do not complain.”

“Complain, sire, and in what respect?”

The king smiled bitterly. “Will you blame me, Monsieur,” he said, “if I should happen to entertain suspicions against a government which authorizes and protects international impertinence?”

“Sire!”

“I tell you,” resumed the king, exciting himself by a recollection of his own personal annoyance, rather than from political grounds, “that Holland is a land of refuge for all who hate me, and especially for all who malign me.”

“Oh, sire!”

“You wish for proofs, perhaps? Very good; they can be had easily enough. Whence proceed all those vile and insolent pamphlets which represent me as a monarch without glory and without authority? your printing-presses groan under their number. If my secretaries were here, I would mention the titles of the works as well as the names of the printers.”

“Sire,” replied the ambassador, “a pamphlet can hardly be regarded as the work of a whole nation. Is it just, is it reasonable, that a great and powerful monarch like Your Majesty should render a whole nation responsible for the crime of a few madmen, who are, perhaps, only scribbling in a garret for a few sous to buy bread for their family?”

“That may be the case, I admit. But when the mint itself, at Amsterdam, strikes off medals which reflect disgrace upon me, is that also the crime of a few madmen?”

“Medals!” stammered out the ambassador.

“Medals,” repeated the king, looking at Colbert.

“Your Majesty,” the ambassador ventured, “should be quite sure⁠—”

The king still looked at Colbert; but Colbert appeared not to understand him, and maintained an unbroken silence, notwithstanding the king’s repeated hints. D’Artagnan then approached the king, and taking a piece of money out of his pocket, he placed it in the king’s hands, saying, “This is the medal Your Majesty alludes to.”

The king looked at it, and with a look which, ever since he had become his own master, was ever piercing as the eagle’s, observed an insulting device representing Holland arresting the progress of the sun, with this inscription: “In conspectu meo stetit sol.

“In my presence the sun stands still,” exclaimed the king, furiously. “Ah! you will hardly deny it now, I suppose.”

“And the sun,” said d’Artagnan, “is this,” as he pointed to the panels of the cabinet, where the sun was brilliantly represented in every direction, with this motto, “Nec pluribus impar.[16]

Louis’s anger, increased by the bitterness of his own personal sufferings, hardly required this additional circumstance to foment it. Everyone saw, from the kindling passion in the king’s eyes, that an explosion was imminent. A look from Colbert kept postponed the bursting of the storm. The ambassador ventured to frame excuses by saying that the vanity of nations was a matter of little consequence; that Holland was proud that, with such limited resources, she had maintained her rank as a great nation, even against powerful monarchs, and that if a little smoke had intoxicated his countrymen, the king would be kindly disposed, and would excuse this intoxication. The king seemed as if he would be glad of some suggestion; he looked at Colbert, who remained impassible; then at d’Artagnan, who simply shrugged his shoulders, a movement which was like the opening of the floodgates, whereby the king’s anger, which he had restrained for so long a period, now burst forth. As no one knew what direction his anger might take, all preserved a dead silence. The second ambassador took advantage of it to begin his excuses also. While he was speaking, and while the king, who had again gradually returned to his own personal reflections, was automatically listening to the voice, full of nervous anxiety, with the air of an absent man listening to the murmuring of a cascade, d’Artagnan, on whose left hand Saint-Aignan was standing, approached the latter, and, in a voice which was loud enough to reach the king’s ears, said: “Have you heard the news?”

“What news?” said Saint-Aignan.

“About La Vallière.”

The king started, and advanced his head.

“What has happened to La Vallière?” inquired Saint-Aignan, in a tone which can easily be imagined.

“Ah! poor girl! she is going to take the veil.”

“The veil!” exclaimed Saint-Aignan.

“The veil!” cried the king, in the midst of the ambassador’s discourse; but then, mindful of the rules of etiquette, he mastered himself, still listening, however, with rapt attention.

“What order?” inquired Saint-Aignan.

“The Carmelites of Chaillot.”

“Who the deuce told you that?”

“She did herself.”

“You have seen her, then?”

“Nay, I even went with her to the Carmelites.”

The king did not lose a syllable of this conversation; and again he could hardly control his feelings.

“But what was the cause of her flight?” inquired Saint-Aignan.

“Because the poor girl was driven away from the court yesterday,” replied d’Artagnan.

He had no sooner said this, than the king, with an authoritative gesture, said to the ambassador, “Enough, Monsieur, enough.” Then, advancing towards the captain, he exclaimed:

“Who says Mademoiselle de La Vallière is going to take the religious vows?”

“M. d’Artagnan,” answered the favorite.

“Is it true what you say?” said the king, turning towards the musketeer.

“As true as truth itself.”

The king clenched his hands, and turned pale.

“You have something further to add, M. d’Artagnan?” he said.

“I know nothing more, sire.”

“You added that Mademoiselle de La Vallière had been driven away from the court.”

“Yes, sire.”

“Is that true, also?”

“Ascertain for yourself, sire.”

“And from whom?”

“Ah!” sighed d’Artagnan, like a man who is declining to say anything further.

The king almost bounded from his seat, regardless of ambassadors, ministers, courtiers, queens, and politics. The queen-mother rose; she had heard everything, or, if she had not heard everything, she had guessed it. Madame, almost fainting from anger and fear, endeavored to rise as the queen-mother had done; but she sank down again upon her chair, which by an instinctive movement she made roll back a few paces.

“Gentlemen,” said the king, “the audience is over; I will communicate my answer, or rather my will, to Spain and to Holland”; and with a proud, imperious gesture, he dismissed the ambassadors.

“Take care, my son,” said the queen-mother, indignantly, “you are hardly master of yourself, I think.”

“Ah! Madame,” returned the young lion, with a terrible gesture, “if I am not master of myself, I will be, I promise you, of those who do me a deadly injury; come with me, M. d’Artagnan, come.” And he quitted the room in the midst of general stupefaction and dismay. The king hastily descended the staircase, and was about to cross the courtyard.

“Sire,” said d’Artagnan, “Your Majesty mistakes the way.”

“No; I am going to the stables.”

“That is useless, sire, for I have horses ready for Your Majesty.”

The king’s only answer was a look, but this look promised more than the ambition of three d’Artagnans could have dared to hope.

CHAPTER 77

Chaillot
Although they had not been summoned, Manicamp and Malicorne had followed the king and d’Artagnan. They were both exceedingly intelligent men; except that Malicorne was too precipitate, owing to ambition, while Manicamp was frequently too tardy, owing to indolence. On this occasion, however, they arrived at precisely the proper moment. Five horses were in readiness. Two were seized upon by the king and d’Artagnan, two others by Manicamp and Malicorne, while a groom belonging to the stables mounted the fifth. The cavalcade set off at a gallop. D’Artagnan had been very careful in his selection of the horses; they were the very animals for distressed lovers⁠—horses which did not simply run, but flew. Within ten minutes after their departure, the cavalcade, amidst a cloud of dust, arrived at Chaillot. The king literally threw himself off his horse; but notwithstanding the rapidity with which he accomplished this maneuver, he found d’Artagnan already holding his stirrup. With a sign of acknowledgement to the musketeer, he threw the bridle to the groom, and darted into the vestibule, violently pushed open the door, and entered the reception-room. Manicamp, Malicorne, and the groom remained outside, d’Artagnan alone following him. When he entered the reception-room, the first object which met his gaze was Louise herself, not simply on her knees, but lying at the foot of a large stone crucifix. The young girl was stretched upon the damp flagstones, scarcely visible in the gloom of the apartment, which was lighted only by means of a narrow window, protected by bars and completely shaded by creeping plants. She was alone, inanimate, cold as the stone to which she was clinging. When the king saw her in this state, he thought she was dead, and uttered a loud cry, which made d’Artagnan hurry into the room. The king had already passed one of his arms round her body, and d’Artagnan assisted him in raising the poor girl, whom the torpor of death seemed already to have taken possession of. D’Artagnan seized hold of the alarm-bell and rang with all his might. The Carmelite sisters immediately hastened at the summons, and uttered loud exclamations of alarm and indignation at the sight of the two men holding a woman in their arms. The superior also hurried to the scene of action, but far more a creature of the world than any of the female members of the court, notwithstanding her austerity of manners, she recognized the king at the first glance, by the respect which those present exhibited for him, as well as by the imperious and authoritative way in which he had thrown the whole establishment into confusion. As soon as she saw the king, she retired to her own apartments, in order to avoid compromising her dignity. But by one of the nuns she sent various cordials, Hungary water, etc., etc., and ordered that all the doors should immediately be closed, a command which was just in time, for the king’s distress was fast becoming of a most clamorous and despairing character. He had almost decided to send for his own physician, when La Vallière exhibited signs of returning animation. The first object which met her gaze, as she opened her eyes, was the king at her feet; in all probability she did not recognize him, for she uttered a deep sigh full of anguish and distress. Louis fixed his eyes devouringly upon her face; and when, in the course of a few moments, she recognized Louis, she endeavored to tear herself from his embrace.

“Oh, heavens!” she murmured, “is not the sacrifice yet made?”

“No, no!” exclaimed the king, “and it shall not be made, I swear.”

Notwithstanding her weakness and utter despair, she rose from the ground, saying, “It must be made, however; it must be; so do not stay me in my purpose.”

“I leave you to sacrifice yourself! I! never, never!” exclaimed the king.

“Well,” murmured d’Artagnan, “I may as well go now. As soon as they begin to speak, we may as well prevent there being any listeners.” And he quitted the room, leaving the lovers alone.

“Sire,” continued La Vallière, “not another word, I implore you. Do not destroy the only future I can hope for⁠—my salvation; do not destroy the glory and brightness of your own future for a mere caprice.”

“A caprice?” cried the king.

“Oh, sire! it is now, only, that I can see clearly into your heart.”

“You, Louise, what mean you?”

“An inexplicable impulse, foolish and unreasonable in its nature, may ephemerally appear to offer a sufficient excuse for your conduct; but there are duties imposed upon you which are incompatible with your regard for a poor girl such as I am. So, forget me.”

“I forget you!”

“You have already done so, once.”

“Rather would I die.”

“You cannot love one whose peace of mind you hold so lightly, and whom you so cruelly abandoned, last night, to the bitterness of death.”

“What can you mean? Explain yourself, Louise.”

“What did you ask me yesterday morning? To love you. What did you promise me in return? Never to let midnight pass without offering me an opportunity of reconciliation, if, by any chance, your anger should be roused against me.”

“Oh! forgive me, Louise, forgive me! I was mad from jealousy.”

“Jealousy is a sentiment unworthy of a king⁠—a man. You may become jealous again, and will end by killing me. Be merciful, then, and leave me now to die.”

“Another word, Mademoiselle, in that strain, and you will see me expire at your feet.”

“No, no, sire, I am better acquainted with my own demerits; and believe me, that to sacrifice yourself for one whom all despise, would be needless.”

“Give me the names of those you have cause to complain of.”

“I have no complaints, sire, to prefer against anyone; no one but myself to accuse. Farewell, sire; you are compromising yourself in speaking to me in such a manner.”

“Oh! be careful, Louise, in what you say; for you are reducing me to the darkness of despair.”

“Oh! sire, sire, leave me at least the protection of Heaven, I implore you.”

“No, no; Heaven itself shall not tear you from me.”

“Save me, then,” cried the poor girl, “from those determined and pitiless enemies who are thirsting to annihilate my life and honor too. If you have courage enough to love me, show at least that you have power enough to defend me. But no; she whom you say you love, others insult and mock, and drive shamelessly away.” And the gentle-hearted girl, forced, by her own bitter distress to accuse others, wrung her hands in an uncontrollable agony of tears.

“You have been driven away!” exclaimed the king. “This is the second time I have heard that said.”

“I have been driven away with shame and ignominy, sire. You see, then, that I have no other protector but Heaven, no consolation but prayer, and this cloister is my only refuge.”

“My palace, my whole court, shall be your park of peace. Oh! fear nothing further now, Louise; those⁠—be they men or women⁠—who yesterday drove you away, shall tomorrow tremble before you⁠—tomorrow, do I say? nay, this very day I have already shown my displeasure⁠—have already threatened. It is in my power, even now, to hurl the thunderbolt I have hitherto withheld. Louise, Louise, you shall be bitterly revenged; tears of blood shall repay you for the tears you have shed. Give me only the names of your enemies.”

“Never, never.”

“How can I show any anger, then?”

“Sire, those upon whom your anger would be prepared to fall, would force you to draw back your hand upraised to punish.”

“Oh! you do not know me,” cried the king, exasperated. “Rather than draw back, I would sacrifice my kingdom, and would abjure my family. Yes, I would strike until this arm had utterly destroyed all those who had ventured to make themselves the enemies of the gentlest and best of creatures.” And, as he said these words, Louis struck his fist violently against the oaken wainscoting with a force which alarmed La Vallière; for his anger, owing to his unbounded power, had something imposing and threatening in it, like the lightning, which may at any time prove deadly. She, who thought that her own sufferings could not be surpassed, was overwhelmed by a suffering which revealed itself by menace and by violence.

“Sire,” she said, “for the last time I implore you to leave me; already do I feel strengthened by the calm seclusion of this asylum; and the protection of Heaven has reassured me; for all the pretty human meanness of this world are forgotten beneath the Divine protection. Once more, then, sire, and for the last time, I again implore you to leave me.”

“Confess, rather,” cried Louis, “that you have never loved me; admit that my humility and my repentance are flattering to your pride, but that my distress affects you not; that the king of this wide realm is no longer regarded as a lover whose tenderness of devotion is capable of working out your happiness, but as a despot whose caprice has crushed your very heart beneath his iron heel. Do not say you are seeking Heaven, say rather you are fleeing from the king.”

Louise’s heart was wrung within her, as she listened to his passionate utterance, which made the fever of hope course once more through her every vein.

“But did you not hear me say that I have been driven away, scorned, despised?”

“I will make you the most respected, and most adored, and the most envied of my whole court.”

“Prove to me that you have not ceased to love me.”

“In what way?”

“By leaving me.”

“I will prove it to you by never leaving you again.”

“But do you imagine, sire, that I shall allow that; do you imagine that I will let you come to an open rupture with every member of your family; do you imagine that, for my sake, you could abandon mother, wife and sister?”

“Ah! you have named them, then, at last; it is they, then, who have wrought this grievous injury? By the heaven above us, then, upon them shall my anger fall.”

“That is the reason why the future terrifies me, why I refuse everything, why I do not wish you to revenge me. Tears enough have already been shed, sufficient sorrow and affliction have already been occasioned. I, at least, will never be the cause of sorrow, or affliction, or distress to whomsoever it may be, for I have mourned and suffered, and wept too much myself.”

“And do you count my sufferings, my tears, as nothing?”

“In Heaven’s name, sire, do not speak to me in that manner. I need all my courage to enable me to accomplish the sacrifice.”

“Louise, Louise, I implore you! whatever you desire, whatever you command, whether vengeance or forgiveness, your slightest wish shall be obeyed, but do not abandon me.”

“Alas! sire, we must part.”

“You do not love me, then!”

“Heaven knows I do!”

“It is false, Louise; it is false.”

“Oh! sire, if I did not love you, I should let you do what you please; I should let you revenge me, in return for the insult which has been inflicted on me; I should accept the brilliant triumph to my pride which you propose; and yet, you cannot deny that I reject even the sweet compensation which your affection affords, that affection which for me is life itself, for I wished to die when I thought that you loved me no longer.”

“Yes, yes; I now know, I now perceive it; you are the sweetest, best, and purest of women. There is no one so worthy as yourself, not alone of my respect and devotion, but also of the respect and devotion of all who surround me; and therefore no one shall be loved like yourself; no one shall ever possess the influence over me that you wield. You wish me to be calm, to forgive?⁠—be it so, you shall find me perfectly unmoved. You wish to reign by gentleness and clemency?⁠—I will be clement and gentle. Dictate for me the conduct you wish me to adopt, and I will obey blindly.”

“In Heaven’s name, no, sire; what am I, a poor girl, to dictate to so great a monarch as yourself?”

“You are my life, the very spirit and principle of my being. Is it not the spirit that rules the body?”

“You love me, then, sire?”

“On my knees, yes; with my hands upraised to you, yes; with all the strength and power of my being, yes; I love you so deeply, that I would lay down my life for you, gladly, at your merest wish.”

“Oh! sire, now I know you love me, I have nothing to wish for in the world. Give me your hand, sire; and then, farewell! I have enjoyed in this life all the happiness I was ever meant for.”

“Oh! no, no! your happiness is not a happiness of yesterday, it is of today, of tomorrow, ever enduring. The future is yours, everything which is mine is yours, too. Away with these ideas of separation, away with these gloomy, despairing thoughts. You will live for me, as I will live for you, Louise.” And he threw himself at her feet, embracing her knees with the wildest transports of joy and gratitude.

“Oh! sire, sire! all that is but a wild dream.”

“Why, a wild dream?”

“Because I cannot return to the court. Exiled, how can I see you again? Would it not be far better to bury myself in a cloister for the rest of my life, with the rich consolation that your affection gives me, with the pulses of your heart beating for me, and your latest confession of attachment still ringing in my ears?”

“Exiled, you!” exclaimed Louis XIV, “and who dares to exile, let me ask, when I recall?”

“Oh! sire, something which is greater than and superior to the kings even⁠—the world and public opinion. Reflect for a moment; you cannot love a woman who has been ignominiously driven away⁠—love one whom your mother has stained with suspicions; one whom your sister has threatened with disgrace; such a woman, indeed, would be unworthy of you.”

“Unworthy! one who belongs to me?”

“Yes, sire, precisely on that account; from the very moment she belongs to you, the character of your mistress renders her unworthy.”

“You are right, Louise; every shade of delicacy of feeling is yours. Very well, you shall not be exiled.”

“Ah! from the tone in which you speak, you have not heard Madame, that is very clear.”

“I will appeal from her to my mother.”

“Again, sire, you have not seen your mother.”

“She, too!⁠—my poor Louise! everyone’s hand, then, is against you.”

“Yes, yes, poor Louise, who was already bending beneath the fury of the storm, when you arrived and crushed her beneath the weight of your displeasure.”

“Oh! forgive me.”

“You will not, I know, be able to make either of them yield; believe me, the evil cannot be repaired, for I will not allow you to use violence, or to exercise your authority.”

“Very well, Louise, to prove to you how fondly I love you, I will do one thing, I will see Madame; I will make her revoke her sentence, I will compel her to do so.”

“Compel? Oh! no, no!”

“True; you are right. I will bend her.”

Louise shook her head.

“I will entreat her, if it be necessary,” said Louis. “Will you believe in my affection after that?”

Louise drew herself up. “Oh, never, never shall you humiliate yourself on my account; sooner, a thousand times, would I die.”

Louis reflected; his features assumed a dark expression. “I will love you as much as you have loved; I will suffer as keenly as you have suffered; this shall be my expiation in your eyes. Come, Mademoiselle, put aside these paltry considerations; let us show ourselves as great as our sufferings, as strong as our affection for each other.” And, as he said this, he took her in his arms, and encircled her waist with both his hands, saying, “My own love! my own dearest and best beloved, follow me.”

She made a final effort, in which she concentrated, no longer all of her firmness of will, for that had long since been overcome, but all her physical strength. “No!” she replied, weakly, “no! no! I should die from shame.”

“No! you shall return like a queen. No one knows of your having left⁠—except, indeed, d’Artagnan.”

“He has betrayed me, then?”

“In what way?”

“He promised faithfully⁠—”

“I promised not to say anything to the king,” said d’Artagnan, putting his head through the half-opened door, “and I kept my word; I was speaking to M. de Saint-Aignan, and it was not my fault if the king overheard me; was it, sire?”

“It is quite true,” said the king; “forgive him.”

La Vallière smiled, and held out her small white hand to the musketeer.

“Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said the king, “be good enough to see if you can find a carriage for Mademoiselle de La Vallière.”

“Sire,” said the captain, “the carriage is waiting at the gate.”

“You are a magic mould of forethought,” exclaimed the king.

“You have taken a long time to find it out,” muttered d’Artagnan, notwithstanding he was flattered by the praise bestowed upon him.

La Vallière was overcome: after a little further hesitation, she allowed herself to be led away, half fainting, by her royal lover. But, as she was on the point of leaving the room, she tore herself from the king’s grasp, and returned to the stone crucifix, which she kissed, saying, “Oh, Heaven! it was thou who drewest me hither! thou, who has rejected me; but thy grace is infinite. Whenever I shall again return, forget that I have ever separated myself from thee, for, when I return it will be⁠—never to leave thee again.”

The king could not restrain his emotion, and d’Artagnan, even, was overcome. Louis led the young girl away, lifted her into the carriage, and directed d’Artagnan to seat himself beside her, while he, mounting his horse, spurred violently towards the Palais Royal, where, immediately on his arrival, he sent to request an audience of Madame.

CHAPTER 78

Madame
From the manner in which the king had dismissed the ambassadors, even the least clear-sighted persons belonging to the court imagined war would ensue. The ambassadors themselves, but slightly acquainted with the king’s domestic disturbances, had interpreted as directed against themselves the celebrated sentence: “If I be not master of myself, I, at least, will be so of those who insult me.” Happily for the destinies of France and Holland, Colbert had followed them out of the king’s presence for the purpose of explaining matters to them; but the two queens and Madame, who were perfectly aware of every particular that had taken place in their several households, having heard the king’s remark, so full of dark meaning, retired to their own apartments in no little fear and chagrin. Madame, especially, felt that the royal anger might fall upon her, and, as she was brave and exceedingly proud, instead of seeking support and encouragement from the queen-mother, she had returned to her own apartments, if not without some uneasiness, at least without any intention of avoiding an encounter. Anne of Austria, from time to time at frequent intervals, sent messages to learn if the king had returned. The silence which the whole palace preserved upon the matter, and upon Louise’s disappearance, was indicative of a long train of misfortunes to all those who knew the haughty and irritable humor of the king. But Madame, unmoved in spite of all the flying rumors, shut herself up in her apartments, sent for Montalais, and, with a voice as calm as she could possibly command, desired her to relate all she knew about the event itself. At the moment that the eloquent Montalais was concluding, with all kinds of oratorical precautions, and was recommending, if not in actual language, at least in spirit, that she should show forbearance towards La Vallière, M. Malicorne made his appearance to beg an audience of Madame, on behalf of the king. Montalais’s worthy friend bore upon his countenance all the signs of the very liveliest emotion. It was impossible to be mistaken; the interview which the king requested would be one of the most interesting chapters in the history of the hearts of kings and of men. Madame was disturbed by her brother-in-law’s arrival; she did not expect it so soon, nor had she, indeed, expected any direct step on Louis’s part. Besides, all women who wage war successfully by indirect means, are invariably neither very skillful nor very strong when it becomes a question of accepting a pitched battle. Madame, however, was not one who ever drew back; she had the very opposite defect or qualification, in whichever light it may be considered; she took an exaggerated view of what constituted real courage; and therefore the king’s message, of which Malicorne had been the bearer, was regarded by her as the bugle-note proclaiming the commencement of hostilities. She, therefore, boldly accepted the gage of battle. Five minutes afterwards the king ascended the staircase. His color was heightened from having ridden hard. His dusty and disordered clothes formed a singular contrast with the fresh and perfectly arranged toilette of Madame, who, notwithstanding the rouge on her cheeks, turned pale as Louis entered the room. Louis lost no time in approaching the object of his visit; he sat down, and Montalais disappeared.

“My dear sister,” said the king, “you are aware that Mademoiselle de La Vallière fled from her own room this morning, and that she has retired to a cloister, overwhelmed by grief and despair.” As he pronounced these words, the king’s voice was singularly moved.

“Your Majesty is the first to inform me of it,” replied Madame.

“I should have thought that you might have learned it this morning, during the reception of the ambassadors,” said the king.

“From your emotion, sire, I imagined that something extraordinary had happened, but without knowing what.”

The king, with his usual frankness, went straight to the point. “Why did you send Mademoiselle de La Vallière away?”

“Because I had reason to be dissatisfied with her conduct,” she replied, dryly.

The king became crimson, and his eyes kindled with a fire which it required all Madame’s courage to support. He mastered his anger, however, and continued: “A stronger reason than that is surely requisite, for one so good and kind as you are, to turn away and dishonor, not only the young girl herself, but every member of her family as well. You know that the whole city has its eyes fixed upon the conduct of the female portion of the court. To dismiss a maid of honor is to attribute a crime to her⁠—at the very least a fault. What crime, what fault has Mademoiselle de La Vallière been guilty of?”

“Since you constitute yourself the protector of Mademoiselle de La Vallière,” replied Madame, coldly, “I will give you those explanations which I should have a perfect right to withhold from everyone.”

“Even from the king!” exclaimed Louis, as, with a sudden gesture, he covered his head with his hat.

“You have called me your sister,” said Madame, “and I am in my own apartments.”

“It matters not,” said the youthful monarch, ashamed at having been hurried away by his anger; “neither you, nor anyone else in this kingdom, can assert a right to withhold an explanation in my presence.”

“Since that is the way you regard it,” said Madame, in a hoarse, angry tone of voice, “all that remains for me to do is bow submission to Your Majesty, and to be silent.”

“Not so. Let there be no equivocation between us.”

“The protection with which you surround Mademoiselle de La Vallière does not impose any respect.”

“No equivocation, I repeat; you are perfectly aware that, as the head of the nobility in France, I am accountable to all for the honor of every family. You dismiss Mademoiselle de La Vallière, or whoever else it may be⁠—” Madame shrugged her shoulders. “Or whoever else it may be, I repeat,” continued the king; “and as, acting in that manner, you cast a dishonorable reflection upon that person, I ask you for an explanation, in order that I may confirm or annul the sentence.”

“Annul my sentence!” exclaimed Madame, haughtily. “What! when I have discharged one of my attendants, do you order me to take her back again?” The king remained silent.

“This would be a sheer abuse of power, sire; it would be indecorous and unseemly.”

“Madame!”

“As a woman, I should revolt against an abuse so insulting to me; I should no longer be able to regard myself as a princess of your blood, a daughter of a monarch; I should be the meanest of creatures, more humbled and disgraced than the servant I had sent away.”

The king rose from his seat with anger. “It cannot be a heart,” he cried, “you have beating in your bosom; if you act in such a way with me, I may have reason to act with corresponding severity.”

It sometimes happens that in a battle a chance ball may reach its mark. The observation which the king had made without any particular intention, struck Madame home, and staggered her for a moment; some day or other she might indeed have reason to dread reprisals. “At all events, sire,” she said, “explain what you require.”

“I ask, Madame, what has Mademoiselle de La Vallière done to warrant your conduct toward her?”

“She is the most cunning fomenter of intrigues I know; she was the occasion of two personal friends engaging in mortal combat; and has made people talk of her in such shameless terms that the whole court is indignant at the mere sound of her name.”

“She! she!” cried the king.

“Under her soft and hypocritical manner,” continued Madame, “she hides a disposition full of foul and dark conceit.”

“She!”

“You may possibly be deceived, sire, but I know her right well; she is capable of creating dispute and misunderstanding between the most affectionate relatives and the most intimate friends. You see that she has already sown discord betwixt us two.”

“I do assure you⁠—” said the king.

“Sire, look well into the case as it stands; we were living on the most friendly understanding, and by the artfulness of her tales and complaints, she has set Your Majesty against me.”

“I swear to you,” said the king, “that on no occasion has a bitter word ever passed her lips; I swear that, even in my wildest bursts of passion, she would not allow me to menace anyone; and I swear, too, that you do not possess a more devoted and respectful friend than she is.”

“Friend!” said Madame, with an expression of supreme disdain.

“Take care, Madame!” said the king; “you forget that you now understand me, and that from this moment everything is equalized. Mademoiselle de La Vallière will be whatever I may choose her to become; and tomorrow, if I were determined to do so, I could seat her on a throne.”

“She was not born to a throne, at least, and whatever you may do can affect the future alone, but cannot affect the past.”

“Madame, towards you I have shown every kind consideration, and every eager desire to please you; do not remind me that I am master.”

“It is the second time, sire, that you have made that remark, and I have already informed you I am ready to submit.”

“In that case, then, you will confer upon me the favor of receiving Mademoiselle de La Vallière back again.”

“For what purpose, sire, since you have a throne to bestow upon her? I am too insignificant to protect so exalted a personage.”

“Nay, a truce to this bitter and disdainful spirit. Grant me her forgiveness.”

Never!

“You drive me, then, to open warfare in my own family.”

“I, too, have a family with whom I can find refuge.”

“Do you mean that as a threat, and could you forget yourself so far? Do you believe that, if you push the affront to that extent, your family would encourage you?”

“I hope, sire, that you will not force me to take any step which would be unworthy of my rank.”

“I hoped that you would remember our recent friendship, and that you would treat me as a brother.”

Madame paused for a moment. “I do not disown you for a brother,” she said, “in refusing Your Majesty an injustice.”

“An injustice!”

“Oh, sire! if I informed others of La Vallière’s conduct; if the queen knew⁠—”

“Come, come, Henrietta, let your heart speak; remember that, for however brief a time, you once loved me; remember, too, that human hearts should be as merciful as the heart of a sovereign Master. Do not be inflexible with others; forgive La Vallière.”

“I cannot; she has offended me.”

“But for my sake.”

“Sire, it is for your sake I would do anything in the world, except that.”

“You will drive me to despair⁠—you compel me to turn to the last resource of weak people, and seek counsel of my angry and wrathful disposition.”

“I advise you to be reasonable.”

“Reasonable!⁠—I can be so no longer.”

“Nay, sire! I pray you⁠—”

“For pity’s sake, Henrietta; it is the first time I entreated anyone, and I have no hope in anyone but in you.”

“Oh, sire! you are weeping.”

“From rage, from humiliation. That I, the king, should have been obliged to descend to entreaty. I shall hate this moment during my whole life. You have made me suffer in one moment more distress and more degradation than I could have anticipated in the greatest extremity in life.” And the king rose and gave free vent to his tears, which, in fact, were tears of anger and shame.

Madame was not touched exactly⁠—for the best women, when their pride is hurt, are without pity; but she was afraid that the tears the king was shedding might possibly carry away every soft and tender feeling in his heart.

“Give what commands you please, sire,” she said; “and since you prefer my humiliation to your own⁠—although mine is public and yours has been witnessed but by myself alone⁠—speak, I will obey Your Majesty.”

“No, no, Henrietta!” exclaimed Louis, transported with gratitude, “you will have yielded to a brother’s wishes.”

“I no longer have any brother, since I obey.”

“All that I have would be too little in return.”

“How passionately you love, sire, when you do love!”

Louis did not answer. He had seized upon Madame’s hand and covered it with kisses. “And so you will receive this poor girl back again, and will forgive her; you will find how gentle and pure-hearted she is.”

“I will maintain her in my household.”

“No, you will give her your friendship, my sister.”

“I never liked her.”

“Well, for my sake, you will treat her kindly, will you not, Henrietta?”

“I will treat her as your⁠—mistress.”

The king rose suddenly to his feet. By this word, which had so infelicitously escaped her, Madame had destroyed the whole merit of her sacrifice. The king felt freed from all obligations. Exasperated beyond measure, and bitterly offended, he replied:

“I thank you, Madame; I shall never forget the service you have rendered me.” And, saluting her with an affectation of ceremony, he took his leave of her. As he passed before a glass, he saw that his eyes were red, and angrily stamped his foot on the ground. But it was too late, for Malicorne and d’Artagnan, who were standing at the door, had seen his eyes.

The king has been crying, thought Malicorne. D’Artagnan approached the king with a respectful air, and said in a low tone of voice:

“Sire, it would be better to return to your own apartments by the small staircase.”

“Why?”

“Because the dust of the road has left its traces on your face,” said d’Artagnan. By heavens! he thought, when the king has given way like a child, let those look to it who may make the lady weep for whom the king sheds tears.

CHAPTER 79

Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s Pocket-Handkerchief
Madame was not bad-hearted⁠—she was only hasty and impetuous. The king was not imprudent⁠—he was simply in love. Hardly had they entered into this compact, which terminated in La Vallière’s recall, when they both sought to make as much as they could by their bargain. The king wished to see La Vallière every moment of the day, while Madame, who was sensible of the king’s annoyance ever since he had so entreated her, would not relinquish her revenge on La Vallière without a contest. She planted every conceivable difficulty in the king’s path; he was, in fact, obliged, in order to get a glimpse of La Vallière, to be exceedingly devoted in his attentions to his sister-in-law, and this, indeed, was Madame’s plan of policy. As she had chosen someone to second her efforts, and as this person was our old friend Montalais, the king found himself completely hemmed in every time he paid Madame a visit; he was surrounded, and was never left a moment alone. Madame displayed in her conversation a charm of manner and brilliancy of wit which dazzled everybody. Montalais followed her, and soon rendered herself perfectly insupportable to the king, which was, in fact, the very thing she expected would happen. She then set Malicorne at the king, who found means of informing His Majesty that there was a young person belonging to the court who was exceedingly miserable; and on the king inquiring who this person was, Malicorne replied that it was Mademoiselle de Montalais. To this the king answered that it was perfectly just that a person should be unhappy when she rendered others so. Whereupon Malicorne explained how matters stood; for he had received his directions from Montalais. The king began to open his eyes; he remarked that, as soon as he made his appearance, Madame made hers too; that she remained in the corridors until after he had left; that she accompanied him back to his own apartments, fearing that he might speak in the antechambers to one of her maids of honor. One evening she went further still. The king was seated, surrounded by the ladies who were present, and holding in his hand, concealed by his lace ruffle, a small note which he wished to slip into La Vallière’s hand. Madame guessed both his intention and the letter too. It was difficult to prevent the king going wherever he pleased, and yet it was necessary to prevent his going near La Vallière, or speaking to her, as by so doing he could let the note fall into her lap behind her fan, or into her pocket-handkerchief. The king, who was also on the watch, suspected that a snare was being laid for him. He rose and pushed his chair, without affectation, near Mademoiselle de Châtillon, with whom he began to talk in a light tone. They were amusing themselves making rhymes; from Mademoiselle de Châtillon he went to Montalais, and then to Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente. And thus, by this skillful maneuver, he found himself seated opposite to La Vallière, whom he completely concealed. Madame pretended to be greatly occupied, altering a group of flowers that she was working in tapestry. The king showed the corner of his letter to La Vallière, and the latter held out her handkerchief with a look that signified, “Put the letter inside.” Then, as the king had placed his own handkerchief upon his chair, he was adroit enough to let it fall on the ground, so that La Vallière slipped her handkerchief on the chair. The king took it up quietly, without anyone observing what he did, placed the letter within it, and returned the handkerchief to the place he had taken it from. There was only just time for La Vallière to stretch out her hand to take hold of the handkerchief with its valuable contents.

But Madame, who had observed everything that had passed, said to Mademoiselle de Châtillon, “Châtillon, be good enough to pick up the king’s handkerchief, if you please; it has fallen on the carpet.”

The young girl obeyed with the utmost precipitation, the king having moved from his seat, and La Vallière being in no little degree nervous and confused.

“Ah! I beg Your Majesty’s pardon,” said Mademoiselle de Châtillon; “you have two handkerchiefs, I perceive.”

And the king was accordingly obliged to put into his pocket La Vallière’s handkerchief as well as his own. He certainly gained that souvenir of Louise, who lost, however, a copy of verses which had cost the king ten hours’ hard labor, and which, as far as he was concerned, was perhaps as good as a long poem. It would be impossible to describe the king’s anger and La Vallière’s despair; but shortly afterwards a circumstance occurred which was more than remarkable. When the king left, in order to retire to his own apartments, Malicorne, informed of what had passed, one can hardly tell how, was waiting in the antechamber. The antechambers of the Palais Royal are naturally very dark, and, in the evening, they were but indifferently lighted. Nothing pleased the king more than this dim light. As a general rule, love, whose mind and heart are constantly in a blaze, contemns all light, except the sunshine of the soul. And so the antechamber was dark; a page carried a torch before the king, who walked on slowly, greatly annoyed at what had recently occurred. Malicorne passed close to the king, almost stumbled against him in fact, and begged his forgiveness with the profoundest humility; but the king, who was in an exceedingly ill-temper, was very sharp in his reproof to Malicorne, who disappeared as soon and as quietly as he possibly could. Louis retired to rest, having had a misunderstanding with the queen; and the next day, as soon as he entered the cabinet, he wished to have La Vallière’s handkerchief in order to press his lips to it. He called his valet.

“Fetch me,” he said, “the coat I wore yesterday evening, but be very sure you do not touch anything it may contain.”

The order being obeyed, the king himself searched the pocket of the coat; he found only one handkerchief, and that his own; La Vallière’s had disappeared. Whilst busied with all kinds of conjectures and suspicions, a letter was brought to him from La Vallière; it ran thus:

“How good and kind of you to have sent me those beautiful verses; how full of ingenuity and perseverance your affection is; how is it possible to help loving you so dearly!”

What does this mean? thought the king; there must be some mistake. “Look well about,” said he to the valet, “for a pocket-handkerchief must be in one of my pockets; and if you do not find it, or if you have touched it⁠—” He reflected for a moment. To make a state matter of the loss of the handkerchief would be to act absurdly, and he therefore added, “There was a letter of some importance inside the handkerchief, which had somehow got among the folds of it.”

“Sire,” said the valet, “Your Majesty had only one handkerchief, and that is it.”

“True, true,” replied the king, setting his teeth hard together. “Oh, poverty, how I envy you! Happy is the man who can empty his own pockets of letters and handkerchiefs!”

He read La Vallière’s letter over again, endeavoring to imagine in what conceivable way his verses could have reached their destination. There was a postscript to the letter:

“I send you back by your messenger this reply, so unworthy of what you sent me.”

“So far so good; I shall find out something now,” he said delightedly. “Who is waiting, and who brought me this letter?”

“M. Malicorne,” replied the valet de chambre, timidly.

“Desire him to come in.”

Malicorne entered.

“You come from Mademoiselle de La Vallière?” said the king, with a sigh.

“Yes, sire.”

“And you took Mademoiselle de La Vallière something from me?”

“I, sire?”

“Yes, you.”

“Oh, no, sire.”

“Mademoiselle de La Vallière says so, distinctly.”

“Oh, sire, Mademoiselle de La Vallière is mistaken.”

The king frowned. “What jest is this?” he said; “explain yourself. Why does Mademoiselle de La Vallière call you my messenger? What did you take to that lady? Speak, Monsieur, and quickly.”

“Sire, I merely took Mademoiselle de La Vallière a pocket-handkerchief, that was all.”

“A handkerchief⁠—what handkerchief?”

“Sire, at the very moment when I had the misfortune to stumble against Your Majesty yesterday⁠—a misfortune which I shall deplore to the last day of my life, especially after the dissatisfaction which you exhibited⁠—I remained, sire, motionless with despair, Your Majesty being at too great a distance to hear my excuses, when I saw something white lying on the ground.”

“Ah!” said the king.

“I stooped down⁠—it was a pocket-handkerchief. For a moment I had an idea that when I stumbled against Your Majesty I must have been the cause of the handkerchief falling from your pocket; but as I felt it all over very respectfully, I perceived a cipher at one of the corners, and, on looking at it closely, I found that it was Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s cipher. I presumed that on her way to Madame’s apartment in the earlier part of the evening she had let her handkerchief fall, and I accordingly hastened to restore it to her as she was leaving; and that is all I gave to Mademoiselle de La Vallière, I entreat Your Majesty to believe.” Malicorne’s manner was so simple, so full of contrition, and marked with such extreme humility, that the king was greatly amused in listening to him. He was as pleased with him for what he had done as if he had rendered him the greatest service.

“This is the second fortunate meeting I have had with you, Monsieur,” he said; “you may count upon my good intentions.”

The plain and sober truth was, that Malicorne had picked the king’s pocket of the handkerchief as dexterously as any of the pickpockets of the good city of Paris could have done. Madame never knew of this little incident, but Montalais gave La Vallière some idea of the manner in which it had really happened, and La Vallière afterwards told the king, who laughed exceedingly at it and pronounced Malicorne to be a first rate politician. Louis XIV was right, and it is well known that he was tolerably well acquainted with human nature.

CHAPTER 80

Which Treats of Gardeners, of Ladders, and Maids of Honor
Miracles, unfortunately, could not be always happening, whilst Madame’s ill-humor still continued. In a week’s time, matters had reached such a point, that the king could no longer look at La Vallière without a look full of suspicion crossing his own. Whenever a promenade was proposed, Madame, in order to avoid the recurrence of similar scenes to that of the thunderstorm, or the royal oak, had a variety of indispositions ready prepared; and, thanks to them, she was unable to go out, and her maids of honor were obliged to remain indoors also. There was not the slightest chance of means of paying a nocturnal visit; for in this respect the king had, on the very first occasion, experienced a severe check, which happened in the following manner. As at Fontainebleau, he had taken Saint-Aignan with him one evening when he wished to pay La Vallière a visit; but he had found no one but Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, who had begun to call out “Fire!” and “Thieves!” in such a manner that a perfect legion of chambermaids, attendants, and pages, ran to her assistance; so that Saint-Aignan, who had remained behind in order to save the honor of his royal master, who had fled precipitately, was obliged to submit to a severe scolding from the queen-mother, as well as from Madame herself. In addition, he had, the next morning, received two challenges from the de Mortemart family, and the king had been obliged to interfere. This mistake had been owing to the circumstance of Madame having suddenly ordered a change in the apartments of her maids of honor, and directed La Vallière and Montalais to sleep in her own cabinet. No gateway, therefore, was any longer open⁠—not even communication by letter; to write under the eyes of so ferocious an Argus as Madame, whose temper and disposition were so uncertain, was to run the risk of exposure to the greatest danger; and it can well be conceived into what a state of continuous irritation, and ever increasing anger, all these petty annoyances threw the young lion. The king almost tormented himself to death endeavoring to discover a means of communication; and, as he did not think proper to call in the aid of Malicorne or d’Artagnan, the means were not discovered at all. Malicorne had, indeed, occasional brilliant flashes of imagination, with which he tried to inspire the king with confidence; but, whether from shame or suspicion, the king, who had at first begun to nibble at the bait, soon abandoned the hook. In this way, for instance, one evening, while the king was crossing the garden, and looking up at Madame’s windows, Malicorne stumbled over a ladder lying beside a border of box, and said to Manicamp, then walking with him behind the king, “Did you not see that I just now stumbled against a ladder, and was nearly thrown down?”

“No,” said Manicamp, as usual very absentminded, “but it appears you did not fall.”

“That doesn’t matter; but it is not on that account the less dangerous to leave ladders lying about in that manner.”

“True, one might hurt one’s self, especially when troubled with fits of absence of mind.”

“I don’t mean that; what I did mean, was that it is dangerous to allow ladders to lie about so near the windows of the maids of honor.” Louis started imperceptibly.

“Why so?” inquired Manicamp.

“Speak louder,” whispered Malicorne, as he touched him with his arm.

“Why so?” said Manicamp, louder. The king listened.

“Because, for instance,” said Malicorne, “a ladder nineteen feet high is just the height of the cornice of those windows.” Manicamp, instead of answering, was dreaming of something else.

“Ask me, can’t you, what windows I mean,” whispered Malicorne.

“But what windows are you referring to?” said Manicamp, aloud.

“The windows of Madame’s apartments.”

“Eh!”

“Oh! I don’t say that anyone would ever venture to go up a ladder into Madame’s room; but in Madame’s cabinet, merely separated by a partition, sleep two exceedingly pretty girls, Mesdemoiselles de La Vallière and de Montalais.”

“By a partition?” said Manicamp.

“Look; you see how brilliantly lighted Madame’s apartments are⁠—well, do you see those two windows?”

“Yes.”

“And that window close to the others, but more dimly lighted?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that is the room of the maids of honor. Look, there is Mademoiselle de La Vallière opening the window. Ah! how many soft things could an enterprising lover say to her, if he only suspected that there was lying here a ladder nineteen feet long, which would just reach the cornice.”

“But she is not alone; you said Mademoiselle de Montalais is with her.”

“Mademoiselle de Montalais counts for nothing; she is her oldest friend, and exceedingly devoted to her⁠—a positive well, into which can be thrown all sorts of secrets one might wish to get rid of.”

The king did not lose a single syllable of this conversation. Malicorne even remarked that His Majesty slackened his pace, in order to give him time to finish. So, when they arrived at the door, Louis dismissed everyone, with the exception of Malicorne⁠—a circumstance which excited no surprise, for it was known that the king was in love; and they suspected he was going to compose some verses by moonlight; and, although there was no moon that evening, the king might, nevertheless, have some verses to compose. Everyone, therefore, took his leave; and, immediately afterwards, the king turned towards Malicorne, who respectfully waited until His Majesty should address him. “What were you saying, just now, about a ladder, Monsieur Malicorne?” he asked.

“Did I say anything about ladders, sire?” said Malicorne, looking up, as if in search of words which had flown away.

“Yes, of a ladder nineteen feet long.”

“Oh, yes, sire, I remember; but I spoke to M. Manicamp, and I should not have said a word had I known Your Majesty was near enough to hear us.”

“And why would you not have said a word?”

“Because I should not have liked to get the gardener into a scrape who left it there⁠—poor fellow!”

“Don’t make yourself uneasy on that account. What is this ladder like?”

“If Your Majesty wishes to see it, nothing is easier, for there it is.”

“In that box hedge?”

“Exactly.”

“Show it to me.”

Malicorne turned back, and led the king up to the ladder, saying, “This is it, sire.”

“Pull it this way a little.”

When Malicorne had brought the ladder on to the gravel walk, the king began to step its whole length. “Hum!” he said; “you say it is nineteen feet long?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Nineteen feet⁠—that is rather long; I hardly believe it can be so long as that.”

“You cannot judge very correctly with the ladder in that position, sire. If it were upright, against a tree or a wall, for instance, you would be better able to judge, because the comparison would assist you a good deal.”

“Oh! it does not matter, M. Malicorne; but I can hardly believe that the ladder is nineteen feet high.”

“I know how accurate Your Majesty’s glance is, and yet I would wager.”

The king shook his head. “There is one unanswerable means of verifying it,” said Malicorne.

“What is that?”

“Everyone knows, sire, that the ground-floor of the palace is eighteen feet high.”

“True, that is very well known.”

“Well, sire, if I place the ladder against the wall, we shall be able to ascertain.”

“True.”

Malicorne took up the ladder, like a feather, and placed it upright against the wall. And, in order to try the experiment, he chose, or chance, perhaps, directed him to choose, the very window of the cabinet where La Vallière was. The ladder just reached the edge of the cornice, that is to say, the sill of the window; so that, by standing upon the last round but one of the ladder, a man of about the middle height, as the king was, for instance, could easily talk with those who might be in the room. Hardly had the ladder been properly placed, when the king, dropping the assumed part he had been playing in the comedy, began to ascend the rounds of the ladder, which Malicorne held at the bottom. But hardly had he completed half the distance when a patrol of Swiss guards appeared in the garden, and advanced straight towards them. The king descended with the utmost precipitation, and concealed himself among the trees. Malicorne at once perceived that he must offer himself as a sacrifice; for if he, too, were to conceal himself, the guard would search everywhere until they had found either himself or the king, perhaps both. It would be far better, therefore, that he alone should be discovered. And, consequently, Malicorne hid himself so clumsily that he was the only one arrested. As soon as he was arrested, Malicorne was taken to the guardhouse, and there he declared who he was, and was immediately recognized. In the meantime, by concealing himself first behind one clump of trees and then behind another, the king reached the side door of his apartment, very much humiliated, and still more disappointed. More than that, the noise made in arresting Malicorne had drawn La Vallière and Montalais to their window; and even Madame herself had appeared at her own, with a pair of wax candles, one in each hand, clamorously asking what was the matter.

In the meantime, Malicorne sent for d’Artagnan, who did not lose a moment in hurrying to him. But it was in vain he attempted to make him understand his reasons, and in vain also that d’Artagnan did understand them; and, further, it was equally in vain that both their sharp and intuitive minds endeavored to give another turn to the adventure; there was no other resource left for Malicorne but to let it be supposed that he had wished to enter Mademoiselle de Montalais’s apartment, as Saint-Aignan had passed for having wished to force Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente’s door. Madame was inflexible; in the first place, because, if Malicorne had, in fact, wished to enter her apartment at night through the window, and by means of the ladder, in order to see Montalais, it was a punishable offense on Malicorne’s part, and he must be punished accordingly; and, in the second place, if Malicorne, instead of acting in his own name, had acted as an intermediary between La Vallière and a person whose name it was superfluous to mention, his crime was in that case even greater, since love, which is an excuse for everything, did not exist in the case as an excuse. Madame therefore made the greatest possible disturbance about the matter, and obtained his dismissal from Monsieur’s household, without reflecting, poor blind creature, that both Malicorne and Montalais held her fast in their clutches in consequence of her visit to de Guiche, and in a variety of other ways equally delicate. Montalais, who was perfectly furious, wished to revenge herself immediately, but Malicorne pointed out to her that the king’s countenance would repay them for all the disgraces in the world, and that it was a great thing to have to suffer on His Majesty’s account.

Malicorne was perfectly right, and, therefore, although Montalais had the spirit of ten women in her, he succeeded in bringing her round to his own opinion. And we must not omit to state that the king helped them to console themselves, for, in the first place, he presented Malicorne with fifty thousand francs as a compensation for the post he had lost, and, in the next place, he gave him an appointment in his own household, delighted to have an opportunity of revenging himself in such a manner upon Madame for all she had made him and La Vallière suffer. But as Malicorne could no longer carry significant handkerchiefs for him or plant convenient ladders, the royal lover was in a terrible state. There seemed to be no hope, therefore, of ever getting near La Vallière again, so long as she should remain at the Palais Royal. All the dignities and all the money in the world could not remedy that. Fortunately, however, Malicorne was on the lookout, and this so successfully that he met Montalais, who, to do her justice, it must be admitted, was doing her best to meet Malicorne. “What do you do during the night in Madame’s apartment?” he asked the young girl.

“Why, I go to sleep, of course,” she replied.

“But it is very wrong to sleep; it can hardly be possible that, with the pain you are suffering, you can manage to do so.”

“And what am I suffering from, may I ask?”

“Are you not in despair at my absence?”

“Of course not, since you have received fifty thousand francs and an appointment in the king’s household.”

“That is a matter of no moment; you are exceedingly afflicted at not seeing me as you used to see me formerly, and more than all, you are in despair at my having lost Madame’s confidence; come now, is not that true?”

“Perfectly true.”

“Very good; your distress of mind prevents you sleeping at night, and so you sob, and sigh, and blow your nose ten times every minute as loud as possible.”

“But, my dear Malicorne, Madame cannot endure the slightest noise near her.”

“I know that perfectly well; of course she can’t endure anything; and so, I tell you, when she hears your deep distress, she will turn you out of her rooms without a moment’s delay.”

“I understand.”

“Very fortunate you do.”

“Well, and what will happen next?”

“The next thing that will happen will be, that La Vallière, finding herself alone without you, will groan and utter such loud lamentations, that she will exhibit despair enough for two.”

“In that case she will be put into another room, don’t you see?”

“Precisely so.”

“Yes, but which?”

“Which?”

“Yes, that will puzzle you to say, Mr. Inventor-General.”

“Not at all; whenever and whatever the room may be, it will always be preferable to Madame’s own room.”

“That is true.”

“Very good, so begin your lamentations tonight.”

“I certainly will not fail to do so.”

“And give La Vallière a hint also.”

“Oh! don’t fear her, she cries quite enough already to herself.”

“Very well! all she has to do is cry out loudly.”

And they separated.

CHAPTER 81

Which Treats of Carpentry Operations, and Furnishes Details Upon the Mode of Constructing Staircases
The advice which had been given to Montalais was communicated by her to La Vallière, who could not but acknowledge that it was by no means deficient in judgment, and who, after a certain amount of resistance, rising rather from timidity than indifference to the project, resolved to put it into execution. This story of the two girls weeping, and filling Madame’s bedroom with the noisiest lamentations, was Malicorne’s chef-d’oeuvre. As nothing is so probable as improbability, so natural as romance, this kind of Arabian Nights story succeeded perfectly with Madame. The first thing she did was to send Montalais away, and then, three days, or rather three nights afterwards, she had La Vallière removed. She gave the latter one of the small rooms on the top story, situated immediately over the apartments allotted to the gentlemen of Monsieur’s suite. One story only, that is to say, a mere flooring separated the maids of honor from the officers and gentlemen of her husband’s household. A private staircase, which was placed under Madame de Navailles’s surveillance, was the only means of communication. For greater safety, Madame de Navailles, who had heard of His Majesty’s previous attempts, had the windows of the rooms and the openings of the chimneys carefully barred. There was, therefore, every possible security provided for Mademoiselle de La Vallière, whose room now bore more resemblance to a cage than to anything else. When Mademoiselle de La Vallière was in her own room, and she was there very frequently, for Madame scarcely ever had any occasion for her services, since she once knew she was safe under Madame de Navailles’s inspection, Mademoiselle de La Vallière had no better means of amusing herself than looking through the bars of her windows. It happened, therefore, that one morning, as she was looking out as usual, she perceived Malicorne at one of the windows exactly opposite to her own. He held a carpenter’s rule in his hand, was surveying the buildings, and seemed to be adding up some figures on paper. La Vallière recognized Malicorne and nodded to him; Malicorne, in his turn, replied by a formal bow, and disappeared from the window. She was surprised at this marked coolness, so different from his usual unfailing good-humor, but she remembered that he had lost his appointment on her account, and that he could hardly be very amiably disposed towards her, since, in all probability, she would never be in a position to make him any recompense for what he had lost. She knew how to forgive offenses, and with still more readiness could she sympathize with misfortune. La Vallière would have asked Montalais her opinion, if she had been within hearing, but she was absent, it being the hour she commonly devoted to her own correspondence. Suddenly La Vallière observed something thrown from the window where Malicorne had been standing, pass across the open space which separated the iron bars, and roll upon the floor. She advanced with no little curiosity towards this object, and picked it up; it was a wooden reel for silk, only, in this instance, instead of silk, a piece of paper was rolled round it. La Vallière unrolled it and read as follows:

“Mademoiselle⁠—I am exceedingly anxious to learn two things: the first is, to know if the flooring of your apartment is wood or brick; the second, to ascertain at what distance your bed is placed from the window. Forgive my importunity, and will you be good enough to send me an answer by the same way you receive this letter⁠—that is to say, by means of the silk winder; only, instead of throwing into my room, as I have thrown it into yours, which will be too difficult for you to attempt, have the goodness merely to let it fall. Believe me, Mademoiselle, your most humble, most respectful servant,
“Malicorne.”

“Write the reply, if you please, upon the letter itself.”

“Ah! poor fellow,” exclaimed La Vallière, “he must have gone out of his mind”; and she directed towards her correspondent⁠—of whom she caught but a faint glimpse, in consequence of the darkness of the room⁠—a look full of compassionate consideration. Malicorne understood her, and shook his head, as if he meant to say, “No, no, I am not out of my mind; be quite satisfied.”

She smiled, as if still in doubt.

“No, no,” he signified by a gesture, “my head is right,” and pointed to his head, then, after moving his hand like a man who writes very rapidly, he put his hands together as if entreating her to write.

La Vallière, even if he were mad, saw no impropriety in doing what Malicorne requested her; she took a pencil and wrote “Wood,” and then walked slowly from her window to her bed, and wrote, “Six paces,” and having done this, she looked out again at Malicorne, who bowed to her, signifying that he was about to descend. La Vallière understood that it was to pick up the silk winder. She approached the window, and, in accordance with Malicorne’s instructions, let it fall. The winder was still rolling along the flagstones as Malicorne started after it, overtook and picked it up, and beginning to peel it as a monkey would do with a nut, he ran straight towards M. de Saint-Aignan’s apartment. Saint-Aignan had chosen, or rather solicited, that his rooms might be as near the king as possible, as certain plants seek the sun’s rays in order to develop themselves more luxuriantly. His apartment consisted of two rooms, in that portion of the palace occupied by Louis XIV himself. M. de Saint-Aignan was very proud of this proximity, which afforded easy access to His Majesty, and, more than that, the favor of occasional unexpected meetings. At the moment we are now referring to, he was engaged in having both his rooms magnificently carpeted, with expectation of receiving the honor of frequent visits from the king; for His Majesty, since his passion for La Vallière, had chosen Saint-Aignan as his confidant, and could not, in fact, do without him, either night or day. Malicorne introduced himself to the comte, and met with no difficulties, because he had been favorably noticed by the king; and also, because the credit which one man may happen to enjoy is always a bait for others. Saint-Aignan asked his visitor if he brought any news with him.

“Yes; great news,” replied the latter.

“Ah! ah!” said Saint-Aignan, “what is it?”

“Mademoiselle de La Vallière has changed her quarters.”

“What do you mean?” said Saint-Aignan, opening his eyes very wide. “She was living in the same apartments as Madame.”

“Precisely so; but Madame got tired of her proximity, and has installed her in a room which is situated exactly above your future apartment.”

“What! up there,” exclaimed Saint-Aignan, with surprise, and pointing at the floor above him with his finger.

“No,” said Malicorne, “yonder,” indicating the building opposite.

“What do you mean, then, by saying that her room is above my apartment?”

“Because I am sure that your apartment ought, providentially, to be under Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s room.”

Saint-Aignan, at this remark, gave poor Malicorne a look, similar to one of those La Vallière had already given a quarter of an hour before, that is to say, he thought he had lost his senses.

“Monsieur,” said Malicorne to him, “I wish to answer what you are thinking about.”

“What do you mean by ‘what I am thinking about’?”

“My reason is, that you have not clearly understood what I want to convey.”

“I admit it.”

“Well, then, you are aware that underneath the apartments set for Madame’s maids of honor, the gentlemen in attendance on the king and on Monsieur are lodged.”

“Yes, I know that, since Manicamp, de Wardes, and others are living there.”

“Precisely. Well, Monsieur, admire the singularity of the circumstance; the two rooms destined for M. de Guiche are exactly the very two rooms situated underneath those which Mademoiselle de Montalais and Mademoiselle de La Vallière occupy.”

“Well; what then?”

“ ‘What then,’ do you say? Why, these two rooms are empty, since M. de Guiche is now lying wounded at Fontainebleau.”

“I assure you, my dear fellow, I cannot grasp your meaning.”

“Well! if I had the happiness to call myself Saint-Aignan, I should guess immediately.”

“And what would you do then?”

“I should at once change the rooms I am occupying here, for those which M. de Guiche is not using yonder.”

“Can you suppose such a thing?” said Saint-Aignan, disdainfully. “What! abandon the chief post of honor, the proximity to the king, a privilege conceded only to princes of the blood, to dukes, and peers! Permit me to tell you, my dear Monsieur de Malicorne, that you must be out of your senses.”

“Monsieur,” replied the young man, seriously, “you commit two mistakes. My name is Malicorne, simply; and I am in perfect possession of all my senses.” Then, drawing a paper from his pocket, he said, “Listen to what I am going to say; and afterwards, I will show you this paper.”

“I am listening,” said Saint-Aignan.

“You know that Madame looks after La Vallière as carefully as Argus did after the nymph Io.”

“I do.”

“You know that the king has sought for an opportunity, but uselessly, of speaking to the prisoner, and that neither you nor myself have yet succeeded in procuring him this piece of good fortune.”

“You certainly ought to know something about the subject, my poor Malicorne,” said Saint-Aignan, smiling.

“Very good; what do you suppose would happen to the man whose imagination devised some means of bringing the lovers together?”

“Oh! the king would set no bounds to his gratitude.”

“Let me ask you, then, M. de Saint-Aignan, whether you would not be curious to taste a little of this royal gratitude?”

“Certainly,” replied Saint-Aignan, “any favor of my master, as a recognition of the proper discharge of my duty, would assuredly be most precious.”

“In that case, look at this paper, Monsieur le Comte.”

“What is it⁠—a plan?”

“Yes; a plan of M. de Guiche’s two rooms, which, in all probability, will soon be your two rooms.”

“Oh! no, whatever may happen.”

“Why so?”

“Because my rooms are the envy of too many gentlemen, to whom I certainly shall not give them up; M. de Roquelaure, for instance, M. de la Ferté, and M. de Dangeau, would all be anxious to get them.”

“In that case I shall leave you, Monsieur le Comte, and I shall go and offer to one of those gentlemen the plan I have just shown you, together with the advantages annexed to it.”

“But why do you not keep them for yourself?” inquired Saint-Aignan, suspiciously.

“Because the king would never do me the honor of paying me a visit openly, whilst he would readily go and see any one of those gentlemen.”

“What! the king would go and see any one of those gentlemen?”

“Go! most certainly he would ten times instead of once. Is it possible you can ask me if the king would go to an apartment which would bring him nearer to Mademoiselle de La Vallière?”

“Yes, indeed, delightfully near her, with a floor between them.”

Malicorne unfolded the piece of paper which had been wrapped round the bobbin. “Monsieur le Comte,” he said, “have the goodness to observe that the flooring of Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s room is merely a wooden flooring.”

“Well?”

“Well! all you would have to do would be to get hold of a journeyman carpenter, lock him up in your apartments, without letting him know where you have taken him to, and let him make a hole in your ceiling, and consequently in the flooring of Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s room.”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed Saint-Aignan, as if dazzled.

“What is the matter?” said Malicorne.

“Nothing, except that you have hit upon a singular, bold idea, Monsieur.”

“It will seem a very trifling one to the king, I assure you.”

“Lovers never think of the risk they run.”

“What danger do you apprehend, Monsieur le Comte?”

“Why, effecting such an opening as that will make a terrible noise: it could be heard all over the palace.”

“Oh! Monsieur le Comte, I am quite sure that the carpenter I shall select will not make the slightest noise in the world. He will saw an opening three feet square, with a saw covered with tow, and no one, not even those adjoining, will know that he is at work.”

“My dear Monsieur Malicorne, you astound, you positively bewilder me.”

“To continue,” replied Malicorne, quietly, “in the room, the ceiling of which you will have cut through, you will put up a staircase, which will either allow Mademoiselle de La Vallière to descend into your room, or the king to ascend into Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s room.”

“But the staircase will be seen.”

“No; for in your room it will be hidden by a partition, over which you will throw a tapestry similar to that which covers the rest of the apartment; and in Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s room it will not be seen, for the trapdoor, which will be a part of the flooring itself, will be made to open under the bed.”

“Of course,” said Saint-Aignan, whose eyes began to sparkle with delight.

“And now, Monsieur le Comte, there is no occasion to make you admit that the king will frequently come to the room where such a staircase is constructed. I think that M. Dangeau, particularly, will be struck by my idea, and I shall now go and explain to him.”

“But, my dear Monsieur Malicorne, you forget that you spoke to me about it the first, and that I have consequently the right of priority.”

“Do you wish for the preference?”

“Do I wish it? Of course I do.”

“The fact is, Monsieur de Saint-Aignan, I am presenting you with a Jacob’s ladder, which is better than the promise of an additional step in the peerage⁠—perhaps, even with a good estate to accompany your dukedom.”

“At least,” replied Saint-Aignan, “it will give me an opportunity of showing the king that he is not mistaken in occasionally calling me his friend; an opportunity, dear M. Malicorne, for which I am indebted to you.”

“And which you will not forget to remember?” inquired Malicorne, smiling.

“Nothing will delight me more, Monsieur.”

“But I am not the king’s friend; I am simply his attendant.”

“Yes; and if you imagine that that staircase is as good as a dukedom for myself, I think there will certainly be letters of nobility at the top of it for you.”

Malicorne bowed.

“All I have to do now,” said Saint-Aignan, “is to move as soon as possible.”

“I do not think the king will object to it. Ask his permission, however.”

“I will go and see him this very moment.”

“And I will run and get the carpenter I was speaking of.”

“When will he be here?”

“This very evening.”

“Do not forget your precautions.”

“He shall be brought with his eyes bandaged.”

“And I will send you one of my carriages.”

“Without arms.”

“And one of my servants without livery. But stay, what will La Vallière say if she sees what is going on?”

“Oh! I can assure you she will be very much interested in the operation, and I am equally sure that if the king has not courage enough to ascend to her room, she will have sufficient curiosity to come down to him.”

“We will live in hope,” said Saint-Aignan; “and now I am off to His Majesty. At what time will the carpenter be here?”

“At eight o’clock.”

“How long do you suppose he will take to make this opening?”

“About a couple of hours; only afterwards he must have sufficient time to construct what may be called the hyphen between the two rooms. One night and a portion of the following day will do; we must not reckon upon less than two days, including putting up the staircase.”

“Two days, that is a very long time.”

“Nay; when one undertakes to open up communications with paradise itself, we must at least take care that the approaches are respectable.”

“Quite right; so farewell for a short time, dear M. Malicorne. I shall begin to remove the day after tomorrow, in the evening.”

CHAPTER 82

The Promenade by Torchlight
Saint-Aignan, delighted with what he had just heard, and rejoiced at what the future foreshadowed for him, bent his steps towards de Guiche’s two rooms. He who, a quarter of an hour previously, would hardly yield up his own rooms for a million francs, was now ready to expend a million, if it were necessary, upon the acquisition of the two happy rooms he coveted so eagerly. But he did not meet with so many obstacles. M. de Guiche did not yet know where he was to lodge, and, besides, was still too far ill to trouble himself about his lodgings; and so Saint-Aignan obtained de Guiche’s two rooms without difficulty. As for M. Dangeau, he was so immeasurably delighted, that he did not even give himself the trouble to think whether Saint-Aignan had any particular reason for removing. Within an hour after Saint-Aignan’s new resolution, he was in possession of the two rooms; and ten minutes later Malicorne entered, followed by the upholsterers. During this time, the king asked for Saint-Aignan; the valet ran to his late apartments and found M. Dangeau there; Dangeau sent him on to de Guiche’s, and Saint-Aignan was found there; but a little delay had of course taken place, and the king had already exhibited once or twice evident signs of impatience, when Saint-Aignan entered his royal master’s presence, quite out of breath.

“You, too, abandon me, then,” said Louis XIV, in a similar tone of lamentation to that with which Caesar, eighteen hundred years previously, had pronounced the Et tu quoque.

“Sire, I am far from abandoning you, for, on the contrary, I am busily occupied in changing my lodgings.”

“What do you mean? I thought you had finished moving three days ago.”

“Yes, sire. But I don’t find myself comfortable where I am, so I am going to change to the opposite side of the building.”

“Was I not right when I said you were abandoning me?” exclaimed the king. “Oh! this exceeds all endurance. But so it is: there was only one woman for whom my heart cared at all, and all my family is leagued together to tear her from me; and my friend, to whom I confided my distress, and who helped me to bear up under it, has become wearied of my complaints and is going to leave me without even asking my permission.”

Saint-Aignan began to laugh. The king at once guessed there must be some mystery in this want of respect. “What is it?” cried the king, full of hope.

“This, sire, that the friend whom the king calumniates is going to try if he cannot restore to his sovereign the happiness he has lost.”

“Are you going to let me see La Vallière?” said Louis XIV.

“I cannot say so, positively, but I hope so.”

“How⁠—how?⁠—tell me that, Saint-Aignan. I wish to know what your project is, and to help you with all my power.”

“Sire,” replied Saint-Aignan, “I cannot, even myself, tell very well how I must set about attaining success; but I have every reason to believe that from tomorrow⁠—”

“Tomorrow, do you say! What happiness! But why are you changing your rooms?”

“In order to serve Your Majesty to better advantage.”

“How can your moving serve me?”

“Do you happen to know where the two rooms destined for de Guiche are situated?”

“Yes.”

“Well, Your Majesty now knows where I am going.”

“Very likely; but that does not help me.”

“What! is it possible that you do not understand, sire, that above de Guiche’s lodgings are two rooms, one of which is Mademoiselle Montalais’s, and the other⁠—”

“La Vallière’s, is it not so, Saint-Aignan? Oh! yes, yes. It is a brilliant idea, Saint-Aignan, a true friend’s idea, a poet’s idea. By bringing me nearer her from whom the world seems to unite to separate me⁠—you are far more than Pylades was for Orestes, or Patroclus for Achilles.”

“Sire,” said Aignan, with a smile, “I question whether, if Your Majesty were to know my projects in their full extent, you would continue to pronounce such a pompous eulogium upon me. Ah! sire, I know how very different are the epithets which certain Puritans of the court will not fail to apply to me when they learn of what I intend to do for Your Majesty.”

“Saint-Aignan, I am dying with impatience; I am in a perfect fever; I shall never be able to wait until tomorrow⁠—tomorrow! why, tomorrow is an eternity!”

“And yet, sire, I shall require you, if you please, to go out presently and divert your impatience by a good walk.”

“With you⁠—agreed; we will talk about your projects, we will talk of her.”

“Nay, sire; I remain here.”

“Whom shall I go out with, then?”

“With the queen and all the ladies of the court.”

“Nothing shall induce me to do that, Saint-Aignan.”

“And yet, sire, you must.”

Must?⁠—no, no⁠—a thousand times no! I will never again expose myself to the horrible torture of being close to her, of seeing her, of touching her dress as I pass by her, and yet not be able to say a word to her. No, I renounce a torture which you suppose will bring me happiness, but which consumes and eats away my very life; to see her in the presence of strangers, and not to tell her that I love her, when my whole being reveals my affection and betrays me to everyone; no! I have sworn never to do it again, and I will keep my oath.”

“Yet, sire, pray listen to me for a moment.”

“I will listen to nothing, Saint-Aignan.”

“In that case, I will continue; it is most urgent, sire⁠—pray understand me, it is of the greatest importance⁠—that Madame and her maids of honor should be absent for two hours from the palace.”

“I cannot understand your meaning at all, Saint-Aignan.”

“It is hard for me to give my sovereign directions what to do; but under the circumstances I do give you directions, sire; and either a hunting or a promenade party must be got up.”

“But if I were to do what you wish, it would be a caprice, a mere whim. In displaying such an impatient humor I show my whole court that I have no control over my own feelings. Do not people already say that I am dreaming of the conquest of the world, but that I ought previously to begin by achieving a conquest over myself?”

“Those who say so, sire, are as insolent as they would like to be thought facetious; but whomever they may be, if Your Majesty prefers to listen to them, I have nothing further to say. In such a case, that which we have fixed to take place tomorrow must be postponed indefinitely.”

“Nay, Saint-Aignan, I will go out this evening⁠—I will go by torchlight to Saint-Germain: I will breakfast there tomorrow, and will return to Paris by three o’clock. Will that do?”

“Admirably.”

“In that case I will set out this evening at eight o’clock.”

“Your Majesty has fixed upon the exact minute.”

“And you positively will tell me nothing more?”

“It is because I have nothing more to tell you. Industry counts for something in this world, sire; but still, chance plays so important a part in it that I have been accustomed to leave her the sidewalk, confident that she will manage so as to always take the street.”

“Well, I abandon myself entirely to you.”

“And you are quite right.”

Comforted in this manner, the king went immediately to Madame, to whom he announced the intended expedition. Madame fancied at the first moment that she saw in this unexpectedly arranged party a plot of the king’s to converse with La Vallière, either on the road under cover of the darkness, or in some other way, but she took especial care not to show any of her fancies to her brother-in-law, and accepted the invitation with a smile upon her lips. She gave directions aloud that her maids of honor should accompany her, secretly intending in the evening to take the most effectual steps to interfere with His Majesty’s attachment. Then, when she was alone, and at the very moment the poor lover, who had issued orders for the departure, was reveling in the idea that Mademoiselle de La Vallière would form one of the party⁠—luxuriating in the sad happiness persecuted lovers enjoy of realizing through the sense of sight alone all the transports of possession⁠—Madame, who was surrounded by her maids of honor, was saying:⁠—“Two ladies will be enough for me this evening, Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente and Mademoiselle de Montalais.”

La Vallière had anticipated her own omission, and was prepared for it: but persecution had rendered her courageous, and she did not give Madame the pleasure of seeing on her face the impression of the shock her heart received. On the contrary, smiling with that ineffable gentleness which gave an angelic expression to her features⁠—“In that case, Madame, I shall be at liberty this evening, I suppose?” she said.

“Of course.”

“I shall be able to employ it, then, in progressing with that piece of tapestry which Your Highness has been good enough to notice, and which I have already had the honor of offering to you.”

And having made a respectful obeisance she withdrew to her own apartment; Mesdemoiselles de Tonnay-Charente and de Montalais did the same. The rumor of the intended promenade soon spread all over the palace; ten minutes afterwards Malicorne learned Madame’s resolution, and slipped under Montalais’s door a note, in the following terms:

“L. V. must positively pass the night with Madame.”

Montalais, in pursuance of the compact she had entered into, began by burning the letter, and then sat down to reflect. Montalais was a girl full of expedients, and so she very soon arranged her plan. Towards five o’clock, which was the hour for her to repair to Madame’s apartment, she was running across the courtyard, and had reached within a dozen paces of a group of officers, when she uttered a cry, fell gracefully on one knee, rose again, with difficulty, and walked on limpingly. The gentlemen ran forward to her assistance; Montalais had sprained her foot. Faithful to the discharge of her duty, she insisted, however, notwithstanding her accident, upon going to Madame’s apartments.

“What is the matter, and why do you limp so?” she inquired; “I mistook you for La Vallière.”

Montalais related how it had happened, that in hurrying on, in order to arrive as quickly as possible, she had sprained her foot. Madame seemed to pity her, and wished to have a surgeon sent for immediately, but she, assuring her that there was nothing really serious in the accident, said: “My only regret, Madame, is, that it will preclude my attendance on you, and I should have begged Mademoiselle de La Vallière to take my place with Your Royal Highness, but⁠—” seeing that Madame frowned, she added⁠—“I have not done so.”

“Why did you not do so?” inquired Madame.

“Because poor La Vallière seemed so happy to have her liberty for a whole evening and night too, that I did not feel courageous enough to ask her to take my place.”

“What, is she so delighted as that?” inquired Madame, struck by these words.

“She is wild with delight; she, who is always so melancholy, was singing like a bird. Besides, Your Highness knows how much she detests going out, and also that her character has a spice of wildness in it.”

So! thought Madame, this extreme delight hardly seems natural to me.

“She has already made all her preparations for dining in her own room tête-à-tête with one of her favorite books. And then, as Your Highness has six other young ladies who would be delighted to accompany you, I did not make my proposal to La Vallière.” Madame did not say a word in reply.

“Have I acted properly?” continued Montalais, with a slight fluttering of the heart, seeing the little success that seemed to attend the ruse de guerre which she had relied upon with so much confidence that she had not thought it even necessary to try and find another. “Does Madame approve of what I have done?” she continued.

Madame was reflecting that the king could very easily leave Saint-Germain during the night, and that, as it was only four leagues and a half from Paris to Saint-Germain, he might readily be in Paris in an hour’s time. “Tell me,” she said, “whether La Vallière, when she heard of your accident, offered at least to bear you company?”

“Oh! she does not yet know of my accident; but even did she know of it, I most certainly should not ask her to do anything that might interfere with her own plans. I think she wishes this evening to realize quietly by herself that amusement of the late king, when he said to M. de Cinq-Mars, ‘Let us amuse ourselves by doing nothing, and making ourselves miserable.’ ”

Madame felt convinced that some mysterious love adventure lurked behind this strong desire for solitude. The secret might be Louis’s return during the night; it could not be doubted any longer La Vallière had been informed of his intended return, and that was the reason for her delight at having to remain behind at the Palais Royal. It was a plan settled and arranged beforehand.

I will not be their dupe though, said Madame, and she took a decisive step. “Mademoiselle de Montalais,” she said, “will you have the goodness to inform your friend, Mademoiselle de La Vallière, that I am exceedingly sorry to disarrange her projects of solitude, but that instead of becoming ennuyé by remaining behind alone as she wished, she will be good enough to accompany us to Saint-Germain and get ennuyé there.”

“Ah! poor La Vallière,” said Montalais, compassionately, but with her heart throbbing with delight; “oh, Madame, could there not be some means⁠—”

“Enough,” said Madame; “I desire it! I prefer Mademoiselle la Baume le Blanc’s society to that of anyone else. Go, and send her to me, and take care of your foot.”

Montalais did not wait for the order to be repeated; she returned to her room, almost forgetting to feign lameness, wrote an answer to Malicorne, and slipped it under the carpet. The answer simply said: “She shall.” A Spartan could not have written more laconically.

By this means, thought Madame, I will look narrowly after all on the road; she shall sleep near me during the night, and His Majesty must be very clever if he can exchange a single word with Mademoiselle de La Vallière.

La Vallière received the order to set off with the same indifferent gentleness with which she had received the order to play Cinderella. But, inwardly, her delight was extreme, and she looked upon this change in the princess’s resolution as a consolation which Providence had sent her. With less penetration than Madame possessed, she attributed all to chance. While everyone, with the exception of those in disgrace, of those who were ill, and those who were suffering from sprains, were being driven towards Saint-Germain, Malicorne smuggled his workman into the palace in one of M. de Saint-Aignan’s carriages, and led him into the room corresponding to La Vallière’s. The man set to work with a will, tempted by the splendid reward which had been promised him. As the very best tools and implements had been selected from the reserve stock belonging to the engineers attached to the king’s household⁠—and among others, a saw with teeth so sharp and well tempered that it was able, under water even, to cut through oaken joists as hard as iron⁠—the work in question advanced very rapidly, and a square portion of the ceiling, taken from between two of the joists, fell into the arms of the delighted Saint-Aignan, Malicorne, the workman, and a confidential valet, the latter being one brought into the world to see and hear everything, but to repeat nothing. In accordance with a new plan indicated by Malicorne, the opening was effected in an angle of the room⁠—and for this reason. As there was no dressing-closet adjoining La Vallière’s room, she had solicited, and had that very morning obtained, a large screen intended to serve as a partition. The screen that had been allotted her was perfectly sufficient to conceal the opening, which would, besides, be hidden by all the artifices skilled cabinetmakers would have at their command. The opening having been made, the workman glided between the joists, and found himself in La Vallière’s room. When there, he cut a square opening in the flooring, and out of the boards he manufactured a trap so accurately fitting into the opening that the most practised eye could hardly detect the necessary interstices made by its lines of juncture with the floor. Malicorne had provided for everything: a ring and a couple of hinges which had been bought for the purpose, were affixed to the trapdoor; and a small circular staircase, packed in sections, had been bought ready made by the industrious Malicorne, who had paid two thousand francs for it. It was higher than was required, but the carpenter reduced the number of steps, and it was found to suit exactly. This staircase, destined to receive so illustrious a burden, was merely fastened to the wall by a couple of iron clamps, and its base was fixed into the floor of the comte’s room by two iron pegs screwed down tightly, so that the king, and all his cabinet councilors too, might pass up and down the staircase without any fear. Every blow of the hammer fell upon a thick pad or cushion, and the saw was not used until the handle had been wrapped in wool, and the blade steeped in oil. The noisiest part of the work, moreover, had taken place during the night and early in the morning, that is to say, when La Vallière and Madame were both absent. When, about two o’clock in the afternoon, the court returned to the Palais Royal, La Vallière went up into her own room. Everything was in its proper place⁠—not the smallest particle of sawdust, not the smallest chip, was left to bear witness to the violation of her domicile. Saint-Aignan, however, wishing to do his utmost in forwarding the work, had torn his fingers and his shirt too, and had expended no ordinary amount of perspiration in the king’s service. The palms of his hands were covered with blisters, occasioned by his having held the ladder for Malicorne. He had, moreover, brought up, one by one, the seven pieces of the staircase, each consisting of two steps. In fact, we can safely assert that, if the king had seen him so ardently at work, His Majesty would have sworn an eternal gratitude towards his faithful attendant. As Malicorne anticipated, the workman had completely finished the job in twenty-four hours; he received twenty-four louis, and left, overwhelmed with delight, for he had gained in one day as much as six months’ hard work would have procured him. No one had the slightest suspicion of what had taken place in the room under Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s apartment. But in the evening of the second day, at the very moment La Vallière had just left Madame’s circle and returned to her own room, she heard a slight creaking sound in one corner. Astonished, she looked to see whence it proceeded, and the noise began again. “Who is there?” she said, in a tone of alarm.

“It is I, Louise,” replied the well-known voice of the king.

“You! you!” cried the young girl, who for a moment fancied herself under the influence of a dream. “But where? You, sire?”

“Here,” replied the king, opening one of the folds of the screen, and appearing like a ghost at the end of the room.

La Vallière uttered a loud cry, and fell trembling into an armchair, as the king advanced respectfully towards her.

CHAPTER 83

The Apparition
La Vallière very soon recovered from her surprise, for, owing to his respectful bearing, the king inspired her with more confidence by his presence than his sudden appearance had deprived her of. But, as he noticed that which made La Vallière most uneasy was the means by which he had effected an entrance into her room, he explained to her the system of the staircase concealed by the screen, and strongly disavowed the notion of his being a supernatural appearance.

“Oh, sire!” said La Vallière, shaking her fair head with a most engaging smile, “present or absent, you do not appear to my mind more at one time than at another.”

“Which means, Louise⁠—”

“Oh, what you know so well, sire; that there is not one moment in which the poor girl whose secret you surprised at Fontainebleau, and whom you came to snatch from the foot of the cross itself, does not think of you.”

“Louise, you overwhelm me with joy and happiness.”

La Vallière smiled mournfully, and continued: “But, sire, have you reflected that your ingenious invention could not be of the slightest service to us?”

“Why so? Tell me⁠—I am waiting most anxiously.”

“Because this room may be subject to being searched at any moment of the day. Madame herself may, at any time, come here accidentally; my companions run in at any moment they please. To fasten the door on the inside, is to denounce myself as plainly as if I had written above, ‘No admittance⁠—the king is within!’ Even now, sire, at this very moment, there is nothing to prevent the door opening, and Your Majesty being seen here.”

“In that case,” said the king, laughingly, “I should indeed be taken for a phantom, for no one can tell in what way I came here. Besides, it is only spirits that can pass through brick walls, or floors and ceilings.”

“Oh, sire, reflect for a moment how terrible the scandal would be! Nothing equal to it could ever have been previously said about the maids of honor, poor creatures! whom evil report, however, hardly ever spares.”

“And your conclusion from all this, my dear Louise⁠—come, explain yourself.”

“Alas! it is a hard thing to say⁠—but Your Majesty must suppress staircase plots, surprises and all; for the evil consequences which would result from your being found here would be far greater than our happiness in seeing each other.”

“Well, Louise,” replied the king, tenderly, “instead of removing this staircase by which I have ascended, there is a far more simple means, of which you have not thought.”

“A means⁠—another means!”

“Yes, another. Oh, you do not love me as I love you, Louise, since my invention is quicker than yours.”

She looked at the king, who held out his hand to her, which she took and gently pressed between her own.

“You were saying,” continued the king, “that I shall be detected coming here, where anyone who pleases can enter.”

“Stay, sire; at this very moment, even while you are speaking about it, I tremble with dread of your being discovered.”

“But you would not be found out, Louise, if you were to descend the staircase which leads to the room underneath.”

“Oh, sire! what do you say?” cried Louise, in alarm.

“You do not quite understand me, Louise, since you get offended at my very first word; first of all, do you know to whom the apartments underneath belong?”

“To M. de Guiche, sire, I believe.”

“Not at all; they are M. de Saint-Aignan’s.”

“Are you sure?” cried La Vallière; and this exclamation which escaped from the young girl’s joyous heart made the king’s heart throb with delight.

“Yes, to Saint-Aignan, our friend,” he said.

“But, sire,” returned La Vallière, “I cannot visit M. de Saint-Aignan’s rooms any more than I could M. de Guiche’s. It is impossible⁠—impossible.”

“And yet, Louise, I should have thought that, under the safe-conduct of the king, you would venture anything.”

“Under the safe-conduct of the king,” she said, with a look full of tenderness.

“You have faith in my word, I hope, Louise?”

“Yes, sire, when you are not present; but when you are present⁠—when you speak to me⁠—when I look upon you, I have faith in nothing.”

“What can possibly be done to reassure you?”

“It is scarcely respectful, I know, to doubt the king, but⁠—for me⁠—you are not the king.”

“Thank Heaven!⁠—I, at least, hope so most devoutly; you see how anxiously I am trying to find or invent a means of removing all difficulty. Stay; would the presence of a third person reassure you?”

“The presence of M. de Saint-Aignan would, certainly.”

“Really, Louise, you wound me by your suspicions.”

Louise did not answer, she merely looked steadfastly at him with that clear, piercing gaze which penetrates the very heart, and said softly to herself, “Alas! alas! it is not you of whom I am afraid⁠—it is not you upon whom my doubts would fall.”

“Well,” said the king, sighing, “I agree; and M. de Saint-Aignan, who enjoys the inestimable privilege of reassuring you, shall always be present at our interviews, I promise you.”

“You promise that, sire?”

“Upon my honor as a gentleman; and you, on your side⁠—”

“Oh, wait, sire, that is not all yet; for such conversations ought, at least, to have a reasonable motive of some kind for M. de Saint-Aignan.”

“Dear Louise, every shade of delicacy of feeling is yours, and my only study is to equal you on that point. It shall be just as you wish: therefore our conversations shall have a reasonable motive, and I have already hit upon one; so that from tomorrow, if you like⁠—”

“Tomorrow?”

“Do you meant that that is not soon enough?” exclaimed the king, caressing La Vallière’s hand between his own.

At this moment the sound of steps was heard in the corridor.

“Sire! sire!” cried La Vallière, “someone is coming; do you hear? Oh, fly! fly! I implore you.”

The king made but one bound from the chair where he was sitting to his hiding-place behind the screen. He had barely time; for as he drew one of the folds before him, the handle of the door was turned, and Montalais appeared at the threshold. As a matter of course she entered quite naturally, and without any ceremony, for she knew perfectly well that to knock at the door beforehand would be showing a suspicion towards La Vallière which would be displeasing to her. She accordingly entered, and after a rapid glance round the room, in the brief course of which she observed two chairs very close to each other, she was so long in shutting the door, which seemed to be difficult to close, one can hardly tell how or why, that the king had ample time to raise the trapdoor, and to descend again to Saint-Aignan’s room.

“Louise,” she said to her, “I want to talk to you, and seriously, too.”

“Good heavens! my dear Aure, what is the matter now?”

“The matter is, that Madame suspects everything.”

“Explain yourself.”

“Is there any occasion for us to enter into explanations, and do you not understand what I mean? Come, you must have noticed the fluctuations in Madame’s humor during several days past; you must have noticed how she first kept you close beside her, then dismissed you, and then sent for you again.”

“Yes, I have noticed it, of course.”

“Well, it seems Madame has now succeeded in obtaining sufficient information, for she has now gone straight to the point, as there is nothing further left in France to withstand the torrent which sweeps away all obstacles before it; you know what I mean by the torrent?”

La Vallière hid her face in her hands.

“I mean,” continued Montalais, pitilessly, “that torrent which burst through the gates of the Carmelites of Chaillot, and overthrew all the prejudices of the court, as well at Fontainebleau as at Paris.”

“Alas! alas!” murmured La Vallière, her face still covered by her hands, and her tears streaming through her fingers.

“Oh, don’t distress yourself in that manner, for you have only heard half of your troubles.”

“In Heaven’s name,” exclaimed the young girl, in great anxiety, “what is the matter?”

“Well, then, this is how the matter stands: Madame, who can no longer rely upon any further assistance in France; for she has, one after the other, made use of the two queens, of Monsieur, and the whole court, too, now bethinks herself of a certain person who has certain pretended rights over you.”

La Vallière became as white as a marble statue.

“This person,” continued Madame, “is not in Paris at this moment; but, if I am not mistaken, is, just now, in England.”

“Yes, yes,” breathed La Vallière, almost overwhelmed with terror.

“And is to be found, I think, at the court of Charles II; am I right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, this evening a letter has been dispatched by Madame to Saint James’s, with directions for the courier to go straight to Hampton Court, which I believe is one of the royal residences, situated about a dozen miles from London.”

“Yes, well?”

“Well; as Madame writes regularly to London once a fortnight, and as the ordinary courier left for London not more than three days ago, I have been thinking that some serious circumstance alone could have induced her to write again so soon, for you know she is a very indolent correspondent.”

“Yes.”

“This letter has been written, therefore, something tells me so, at least, on your account.”

“On my account?” repeated the unhappy girl, mechanically.

“And I, who saw the letter lying on Madame’s desk before she sealed it, fancied I could read⁠—”

“What did you fancy you could read?”

“I might possibly have been mistaken, though⁠—”

“Tell me⁠—what was it?”

“The name of Bragelonne.”

La Vallière rose hurriedly from her chair, a prey to the most painful agitation. “Montalais,” she said, her voice broken by sobs, “all my smiling dreams of youth and innocence have fled already. I have nothing now to conceal, either from you or anyone else. My life is exposed to everyone’s inspection, and can be opened like a book, in which all the world can read, from the king himself to the first passerby. Aure, dearest Aure, what can I do⁠—what will become of me?”

Montalais approached close to her, and said, “Consult your own heart, of course.”

“Well; I do not love M. de Bragelonne; when I say I do not love him, understand that I love him as the most affectionate sister could love the best of brothers, but that is not what he requires, nor what I promised him.”

“In fact, you love the king,” said Montalais, “and that is a sufficiently good excuse.”

“Yes, I do love the king,” hoarsely murmured the young girl, “and I have paid dearly enough for pronouncing those words. And now, Montalais, tell me⁠—what can you do either for me, or against me, in my present position?”

“You must speak more clearly still.”

“What am I to say, then?”

“And so you have nothing very particular to tell me?”

“No!” said Louise, in astonishment.

“Very good; and so all you have to ask me is my advice respecting M. Raoul?”

“Nothing else.”

“It is a very delicate subject,” replied Montalais.

“No, it is nothing of the kind. Ought I to marry him in order to keep the promise I made, or ought I continue to listen to the king?”

“You have really placed me in a very difficult position,” said Montalais, smiling; “you ask me if you ought to marry Raoul, whose friend I am, and whom I shall mortally offend in giving my opinion against him; and then, you ask me if you should cease to listen to the king, whose subject I am, and whom I should offend if I were to advise you in a particular way. Ah, Louise, you seem to hold a difficult position at a very cheap rate.”

“You have not understood me, Aure,” said La Vallière, wounded by the slightly mocking tone of her companion; “if I were to marry M. de Bragelonne, I should be far from bestowing on him the happiness he deserves; but, for the same reason, if I listen to the king he would become the possessor of one indifferent in very many aspects, I admit, but one on whom his affection confers an appearance of value. What I ask you, then, is to tell me some means of disengaging myself honorably either from the one or from the other; or rather, I ask you, from which side you think I can free myself most honorably.”

“My dear Louise,” replied Montalais, after a pause, “I am not one of the seven wise men of Greece, and I have no perfectly invariable rules of conduct to govern me; but, on the other hand, I have a little experience, and I can assure you that no woman ever asks for advice of the nature which you have just asked me, without being in a terrible state of embarrassment. Besides, you have made a solemn promise, which every principle of honor requires you to fulfil; if, therefore, you are embarrassed, in consequence of having undertaken such an engagement, it is not a stranger’s advice (everyone is a stranger to a heart full of love), it is not my advice, I repeat, that can extricate you from your embarrassment. I shall not give it you, therefore; and for a greater reason still⁠—because, were I in your place, I should feel much more embarrassed after the advice than before it. All I can do is, to repeat what I have already told you; shall I assist you?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Very well; that is all. Tell me in what way you wish me to help you; tell me for and against whom⁠—in this way we shall not make any blunders.”

“But first of all,” said La Vallière, pressing her companion’s hand, “for whom or against whom do you decide?”

“For you, if you are really and truly my friend.”

“Are you not Madame’s confidant?”

“A greater reason for being of service to you; if I were not to know what is going on in that direction I should not be of any service at all, and consequently you would not obtain any advantage from my acquaintance. Friendships live and thrive upon a system of reciprocal benefits.”

“The result is, then, that you will remain at the same time Madame’s friend also?”

“Evidently. Do you complain of that?”

“I hardly know,” sighed La Vallière, thoughtfully, for this cynical frankness appeared to her an offense both to the woman and the friend.

“All well and good, then,” said Montalais, “for if you did, you would be very foolish.”

“You wish to serve me, then?”

“Devotedly⁠—if you will serve me in return.”

“One would almost say that you do not know my heart,” said La Vallière, looking at Montalais with her eyes wide open.

“Why, the fact is, that since we have belonged to the court, my dear Louise, we are very much changed.”

“In what way?”

“It is very simple. Were you the second queen of France yonder, at Blois?”

La Vallière hung down her head, and began to weep. Montalais looked at her in an indefinable manner, and murmured “Poor girl!” and then, adding, “Poor king!” she kissed Louise on the forehead, and returned to her apartment, where Malicorne was waiting for her.

CHAPTER 84

The Portrait
In that malady which is termed love the paroxysms succeed each other at intervals, ever accelerating from the moment the disease declares itself. By and by, the paroxysms are less frequent, in proportion as the cure approaches. This being laid down as a general axiom, and as the leading article of a particular chapter, we will now proceed with our recital. The next day, the day fixed by the king for the first conversation in Saint-Aignan’s room, La Vallière, on opening one of the folds of the screen, found upon the floor a letter in the king’s handwriting. The letter had been passed, through a slit in the floor, from the lower apartment to her own. No indiscreet hand or curious gaze could have brought or did bring this simple paper. This, too, was one of Malicorne’s ideas. Having seen how very serviceable Saint-Aignan would become to the king on account of his apartment, he did not wish that the courtier should become still more indispensable as a messenger, and so he had, on his own private account, reserved this last post for himself. La Vallière most eagerly read the letter, which fixed two o’clock that same afternoon for the rendezvous, and which indicated the way of raising the trapdoor which was constructed out of the flooring. “Make yourself look as beautiful as you can,” added the postscript of the letter, words which astonished the young girl, but at the same time reassured her.

The hours passed away very slowly, but the time fixed, however, arrived at last. As punctual as the priestess Hero, Louise lifted up the trapdoor at the last stroke of the hour of two, and found the king on the steps, waiting for her with the greatest respect, in order to give her his hand to descend. The delicacy and deference shown in this attention affected her very powerfully. At the foot of the staircase the two lovers found the comte, who, with a smile and a low reverence distinguished by the best taste, expressed his thanks to La Vallière for the honor she conferred upon him. Then turning towards the king, he said:

“Sire, our man is here.” La Vallière looked at the king with some uneasiness.

“Mademoiselle,” said the king, “if I have begged you to do me the honor of coming down here, it was from an interested motive. I have procured a most admirable portrait painter, who is celebrated for the fidelity of his likenesses, and I wish you to be kind enough to authorize him to paint yours. Besides, if you positively wish it, the portrait shall remain in your own possession.” La Vallière blushed. “You see,” said the king to her, “we shall not be three as you wished, but four instead. And, so long as we are not alone, there can be as many present as you please.” La Vallière gently pressed her royal lover’s hand.

“Shall we pass into the next room, sire?” said Saint-Aignan, opening the door to let his guests precede him. The king walked behind La Vallière, and fixed his eyes lingeringly and passionately upon that neck as white as snow, upon which her long fair ringlets fell in heavy masses. La Vallière was dressed in a thick silk robe of pearl gray color, with a tinge of rose, with jet ornaments, which displayed to greater effect the dazzling purity of her skin, holding in her slender and transparent hands a bouquet of heartsease, Bengal roses, and clematis, surrounded with leaves of the tenderest green, above which uprose, like a tiny goblet spilling magic influence a Haarlem tulip of gray and violet tints of a pure and beautiful species, which had cost the gardener five years’ toil of combinations and the king five thousand francs. Louis had placed this bouquet in La Vallière’s hand as he saluted her. In the room, the door of which Saint-Aignan had just opened, a young man was standing, dressed in a purple velvet jacket, with beautiful black eyes and long brown hair. It was the painter; his canvas was quite ready, and his palette prepared for use.

He bowed to La Vallière with the grave curiosity of an artist who is studying his model, saluted the king discreetly, as if he did not recognize him, and as he would, consequently, have saluted any other gentleman. Then, leading Mademoiselle de La Vallière to the seat he had arranged for her, he begged her to sit down.

The young girl assumed an attitude graceful and unrestrained, her hands occupied and her limbs reclining on cushions; and in order that her gaze might not assume a vague or affected expression, the painter begged her to choose some kind of occupation, so as to engage her attention; whereupon Louis XIV, smiling, sat down on the cushions at La Vallière’s feet; so that she, in the reclining posture she had assumed, leaning back in the armchair, holding her flowers in her hand, and he, with his eyes raised towards her and fixed devouringly on her face⁠—they, both together, formed so charming a group, that the artist contemplated painting it with professional delight, while on his side, Saint-Aignan regarded them with feelings of envy. The painter sketched rapidly; and very soon, beneath the earliest touches of the brush, there started into life, out of the gray background, the gentle, poetry-breathing face, with its soft calm eyes and delicately tinted cheeks, enframed in the masses of hair which fell about her neck. The lovers, however, spoke but little, and looked at each other a great deal; sometimes their eyes became so languishing in their gaze, that the painter was obliged to interrupt his work in order to avoid representing an Erycina instead a of La Vallière. It was on such occasions that Saint-Aignan came to the rescue, and recited verses, or repeated one of those little tales such as Patru related, and Tallemant des Reaux wrote so cleverly. Or, it might be that La Vallière was fatigued, and the sitting was, therefore, suspended for awhile; and, immediately, a tray of precious porcelain laden with the most beautiful fruits which could be obtained, and rich wines distilling their bright colors in silver goblets, beautifully chased, served as accessories to the picture of which the painter could but retrace the most ephemeral resemblance.

Louis was intoxicated with love, La Vallière with happiness, Saint-Aignan with ambition, and the painter was storing up recollections for his old age. Two hours passed away in this manner, and four o’clock having struck, La Vallière rose, and made a sign to the king. Louis also rose, approached the picture, and addressed a few flattering remarks to the painter. Saint-Aignan also praised the picture, which, as he pretended, was already beginning to assume an accurate resemblance. La Vallière in her turn, blushingly thanked the painter and passed into the next room, where the king followed her, after having previously summoned Saint-Aignan.

“Will you not come tomorrow?” he said to La Vallière.

“Oh! sire, pray think that someone will be sure to come to my room, and will not find me there.”

“Well?”

“What will become of me in that case?”

“You are very apprehensive, Louise.”

“But at all events, suppose Madame were to send for me?”

“Oh!” replied the king, “will the day never come when you yourself will tell me to brave everything so that I may not have to leave you again?”

“On that day, sire, I shall be quite out of my mind, and you must not believe me.”

“Tomorrow, Louise.”

La Vallière sighed, but, without the courage to oppose her royal lover’s wish, she repeated, “Tomorrow, then, since you desire it, sire,” and with these words she ran lightly up the stairs, and disappeared from her lover’s gaze.

“Well, sire?” inquired Saint-Aignan, when she had left.

“Well, Saint-Aignan, yesterday I thought myself the happiest of men.”

“And does Your Majesty, then, regard yourself today,” said the comte, smiling, “as the unhappiest of men?”

“No; but my love for her is an unquenchable thirst; in vain do I drink, in vain do I swallow the drops of water which your industry procures for me; the more I drink, the more unquenchable it becomes.”

“Sire, that is in some degree your own fault, and Your Majesty alone has made the position such as it is.”

“You are right.”

“In that case, therefore, the means to be happy, is to fancy yourself satisfied, and to wait.”

“Wait! you know that word, then?”

“There, there, sire⁠—do not despair: I have already been at work on your behalf⁠—I have still other resources in store.” The king shook his head in a despairing manner.

“What, sire! have you not been satisfied hitherto?”

“Oh! yes, indeed, yes, my dear Saint-Aignan; but invent, for Heaven’s sake, invent some further project yet.”

“Sire, I undertake to do my best, and that is all that anyone can do.”

The king wished to see the portrait again, as he was unable to see the original. He pointed out several alterations to the painter and left the room, and then Saint-Aignan dismissed the artist. The easel, paints, and painter himself, had scarcely gone, when Malicorne showed his head in the doorway. He was received by Saint-Aignan with open arms, but still with a little sadness, for the cloud which had passed across the royal sun, veiled, in its turn, the faithful satellite, and Malicorne at a glance perceived the melancholy that brooded on Saint-Aignan’s face.

“Oh, Monsieur le Comte,” he said, “how sad you seem!”

“And good reason too, my dear Monsieur Malicorne. Will you believe that the king is still dissatisfied?”

“With his staircase, do you mean?”

“Oh, no; on the contrary, he is delighted with the staircase.”

“The decorations of the apartments, I suppose, don’t please him.”

“Oh! he has not even thought of that. No, indeed, it seems that what has dissatisfied the king⁠—”

“I will tell you, Monsieur le Comte⁠—he is dissatisfied at finding himself the fourth person at a rendezvous of this kind. How is it possible you could not have guessed that?”

“Why, how is it likely I could have done so, dear M. Malicorne, when I followed the king’s instructions to the very letter?”

“Did His Majesty really insist on your being present?”

“Positively.”

“And also required that the painter, whom I met downstairs just now, should be here, too?”

“He insisted upon it.”

“In that case, I can easily understand why His Majesty is dissatisfied.”

“What! dissatisfied that I have so punctually and so literally obeyed his orders? I don’t understand you.”

Malicorne began to scratch his ear, as he asked, “What time did the king fix for the rendezvous in your apartments?”

“Two o’clock.”

“And you were waiting for the king?”

“Ever since half-past one; it would have been a fine thing, indeed, to have been unpunctual with His Majesty.”

Malicorne, notwithstanding his respect for Saint-Aignan, could not help smiling. “And the painter,” he said, “did the king wish him to be here at two o’clock, also?”

“No; but I had him waiting here from midday. Far better, you know, for a painter to be kept waiting a couple of hours than the king a single minute.”

Malicorne began to laugh aloud. “Come, dear Monsieur Malicorne,” said Saint-Aignan, “laugh less at me, and speak a little more freely, I beg.”

“Well, then, Monsieur le Comte, if you wish the king to be a little more satisfied the next time he comes⁠—”

“ ‘Ventre saint-gris!’ as his grandfather used to say; of course I wish it.”

“Well, all you have to do is, when the king comes tomorrow, to be obliged to go away on a most pressing matter of business, which cannot possibly be postponed, and stay away for twenty minutes.”

“What! leave the king alone for twenty minutes?” cried Saint-Aignan, in alarm.

“Very well, do as you like; don’t pay any attention to what I say,” said Malicorne, moving towards the door.

“Nay, nay, dear Monsieur Malicorne; on the contrary, go on⁠—I begin to understand you. But the painter⁠—”

“Oh! the painter must be half an hour late.”

“Half an hour⁠—do you really think so?”

“Yes, I do, decidedly.”

“Very well, then, I will do as you tell me.”

“And my opinion is, that you will be doing perfectly right. Will you allow me to call upon you for the latest news tomorrow?”

“Of course.”

“I have the honor to be your most respectful servant, M. de Saint-Aignan,” said Malicorne, bowing profoundly and retiring from the room backwards.

“There is no doubt that fellow has more invention than I have,” said Saint-Aignan, as if compelled by his conviction to admit it.

CHAPTER 85

Hampton Court
The revelation we have witnessed, that Montalais made to La Vallière, in a preceding chapter, very naturally makes us return to the principal hero of this tale, a poor wandering knight, roving about at the king’s caprice. If our readers will be good enough to follow us, we will, in his company, cross that strait, more stormy than the Euripus, which separates Calais from Dover; we will speed across that green and fertile country, with its numerous little streams; through Maidstone, and many other villages and towns, each prettier than the other; and, finally, arrive at London. From thence, like bloodhounds following a track, after having ascertained that Raoul had made his first stay at Whitehall, his second at St. James’s, and having learned that he had been warmly received by Monck, and introduced to the best society of Charles II’s court, we will follow him to one of Charles II’s summer residences near the lively little village of Kingston, at Hampton Court, situated on the Thames. The river is not, at that spot, the boastful highway which bears upon its broad bosom its thousands of travelers; nor are its waters black and troubled as those of Cocytus, as it boastfully asserts, “I, too, am cousin of the old ocean.” No, at Hampton Court it is a soft and murmuring stream, with moss-fringed banks, reflecting, in its broad mirror, the willows and beeches which ornament its sides, and on which may occasionally be seen a light bark indolently reclining among the tall reeds, in a little creek formed of alders and forget-me-nots. The surrounding country on all sides smiled in happiness and wealth; the brick cottages from whose chimneys the blue smoke was slowly ascending in wreaths, peeped forth from the belts of green holly which environed them; children dressed in red frocks appeared and disappeared amidst the high grass, like poppies bowed by the gentler breath of the passing breeze. The sheep, ruminating with half-closed eyes, lay lazily about under the shadow of the stunted aspens, while, far and near, the kingfishers, plumed with emerald and gold, skimmed swiftly along the surface of the water, like a magic ball heedlessly touching, as he passed, the line of his brother angler, who sat watching in his boat the fish as they rose to the surface of the sparkling stream. High above this paradise of dark shadows and soft light, rose the palace of Hampton Court, built by Wolsey⁠—a residence the haughty cardinal had been obliged, timid courtier that he was, to offer to his master, Henry VIII, who had glowered with envy and cupidity at the magnificent new home. Hampton Court, with its brick walls, its large windows, its handsome iron gates, as well as its curious bell turrets, its retired covered walks, and interior fountains, like those of the Alhambra, was a perfect bower of roses, jasmine, and clematis. Every sense, sight and smell particularly, was gratified, and the reception-rooms formed a very charming framework for the pictures of love which Charles II unrolled among the voluptuous paintings of Titian, of Pordenone and of Van Dyck; the same Charles whose father’s portrait⁠—the martyr king⁠—was hanging in his gallery, and who could show upon the wainscots of the various apartments the holes made by the balls of the puritanical followers of Cromwell, on the 24th of August, 1648, at the time they had brought Charles I prisoner to Hampton Court. There it was that the king, intoxicated with pleasure and adventure, held his court⁠—he, who, a poet in feeling, thought himself justified in redeeming, by a whole day of voluptuousness, every minute which had been formerly passed in anguish and misery. It was not the soft green sward of Hampton Court⁠—so soft that it almost resembled the richest velvet in the thickness of its texture⁠—nor was it the beds of flowers, with their variegated hues which encircled the foot of every tree with rose-trees many feet in height, embracing most lovingly their trunks⁠—nor even the enormous lime-trees, whose branches swept the earth like willows, offering a ready concealment for love or reflection beneath the shade of their foliage⁠—it was none of these things for which Charles II loved his palace of Hampton Court. Perhaps it might have been that beautiful sheet of water, which the cool breeze rippled like the wavy undulations of Cleopatra’s hair, waters bedecked with cresses and white water-lilies, whose chaste bulbs which, coyly unfolding themselves beneath the sun’s warm rays, reveal the golden gems which lie concealed within their milky petals⁠—murmuring waters, on the bosom of which black swans majestically floated, and the graceful waterfowl, with their tender broods covered with silken down, darted restlessly in every direction, in pursuit of the insects among the reeds, or the fogs in their mossy retreats. Perhaps it might have been the enormous hollies, with their dark and tender green foliage; or the bridges uniting the banks of the canals in their embrace; or the fawns browsing in the endless avenues of the park; or the innumerable birds that hopped about the gardens, or flew from branch to branch, amidst the emerald foliage.

It might well have been any of these charms⁠—for Hampton Court had them all; and possessed, too, almost forests of white roses, which climbed and trailed along the lofty trellises, showering down upon the ground their snowy leaves rich with soft perfumery. But no, what Charles II most loved in Hampton Court were the charming figures who, when midday was past, flitted to and fro along the broad terraces of the gardens; like Louis XIV, he had their wealth of beauties painted for his gallery by one of the great artists of the period⁠—an artist who well knew the secret of transferring to canvas the rays of light which escaped from beaming eyes heavy laden with love and love’s delights.

The day of our arrival at Hampton Court is almost as clear and bright as a summer’s day in France; the atmosphere is heavy with the delicious perfume of geraniums, sweet-peas, seringas, and heliotrope scattered in profusion around. It is past midday, and the king, having dined after his return from hunting, paid a visit to Lady Castlemaine, the lady who was reputed at the time to hold his heart in bondage; and this proof of his devotion discharged, he was readily permitted to pursue his infidelities until evening arrived. Love and amusement ruled the entire court; it was the period when ladies would seriously interrogate their ruder companions as to their opinions upon a foot more or less captivating, according to whether it wore a pink or lilac silk stocking⁠—for it was the period when Charles II had declared that there was no hope of safety for a woman who wore green silk stockings, because Miss Lucy Stewart wore them of that color. While the king is endeavoring in all directions to inculcate others with his preferences on this point, we will ourselves bend our steps towards an avenue of beech-trees opposite the terrace, and listen to the conversation of a young girl in a dark-colored dress, who is walking with another of about her own age dressed in blue. They crossed a beautiful lawn, from the center of which sprang a fountain, with the figure of a siren executed in bronze, and strolled on, talking as they went, towards the terrace, along which, looking out upon the park and interspersed at frequent intervals, were erected summerhouses, diverse in form and ornament; these summerhouses were nearly all occupied; the two young women passed on, the one blushing deeply, while the other seemed dreamily silent. At last, having reached the end of the terrace which looks on the river, and finding there a cool retreat, they sat down close to each other.

“Where are we going?” said the younger to her companion.

“My dear, we are going where you yourself led the way.”

“I?”

“Yes, you; to the extremity of the palace, towards that seat yonder, where the young Frenchman is seated, wasting his time in sighs and lamentations.”

Miss Mary Grafton hurriedly said, “No, no; I am not going there.”

“Why not?”

“Let us go back, Lucy.”

“Nay, on the contrary, let us go on, and have an explanation.”

“What about?”

“About how it happens that the Vicomte de Bragelonne always accompanies you in all your walks, as you invariably accompany him in his.”

“And you conclude either that he loves me, or that I love him?”

“Why not?⁠—he is a most agreeable and charming companion.⁠—No one hears me, I hope,” said Lucy Stewart, as she turned round with a smile, which indicated, moreover, that her uneasiness on the subject was not extreme.

“No, no,” said Mary, “the king is engaged in his summerhouse with the Duke of Buckingham.”

“Oh! apropos of the duke, Mary, it seems he has shown you great attention since his return from France; how is your own heart in that direction?”

Mary Grafton shrugged her shoulders with seeming indifference.

“Well, well, I will ask Bragelonne about it,” said Stewart, laughing; “let us go and find him at once.”

“What for?”

“I wish to speak to him.”

“Not yet, one word before you do: come, come, you who know so many of the king’s secrets, tell me why M. de Bragelonne is in England?”

“Because he was sent as an envoy from one sovereign to another.”

“That may be; but, seriously, although politics do not much concern us, we know enough to be satisfied that M. de Bragelonne has no mission of serious import here.”

“Well, then, listen,” said Stewart, with assumed gravity, “for your sake I am going to betray a state secret. Shall I tell you the nature of the letter which King Louis XIV gave M. de Bragelonne for King Charles II? I will; these are the very words: ‘My brother, the bearer of this is a gentleman attached to my court, and the son of one whom you regard most warmly. Treat him kindly, I beg, and try and make him like England.’ ”

“Did it say that!”

“Word for word⁠—or something very like it. I will not answer for the form, but the substance I am sure of.”

“Well, and what conclusion do you, or rather what conclusion does the king, draw from that?”

“That the king of France has his own reasons for removing M. de Bragelonne, and for getting him married anywhere else than in France.”

“So that, then, in consequence of this letter⁠—”

“King Charles received M. de Bragelonne, as you are aware, in the most distinguished and friendly manner; the handsomest apartments in Whitehall were allotted to him; and as you are the most valuable and precious person in his court, inasmuch as you have rejected his heart⁠—nay, do not blush⁠—he wished you to take a fancy to this Frenchman, and he was desirous to confer upon him so costly a prize. And this is the reason why you, the heiress of three hundred thousand pounds, a future duchess, so beautiful, so good, have been thrown in Bragelonne’s way, in all the promenades and parties of pleasure to which he was invited. In fact it was a plot⁠—a kind of conspiracy.”

Mary Grafton smiled with that charming expression which was habitual to her, and pressing her companion’s arm, said: “Thank the king, Lucy.”

“Yes, yes, but the Duke of Buckingham is jealous, so take care.”

Hardly had she pronounced these words, when the duke appeared from one of the pavilions on the terrace, and, approaching the two girls, with a smile, said, “You are mistaken, Miss Lucy; I am not jealous; and the proof, Miss Mary, is yonder, in the person of M. de Bragelonne himself, who ought to be the cause of my jealousy, but who is dreaming in pensive solitude. Poor fellow! Allow me to leave you for a few minutes, while I avail myself of those few minutes to converse with Miss Lucy Stewart, to whom I have something to say.” And then, bowing to Lucy, he added, “Will you do me the honor to accept my hand, in order that I may lead you to the king, who is waiting for us?” With these words, Buckingham, still smiling, took Miss Stewart’s hand, and led her away. When by herself, Mary Grafton, her head gently inclined towards her shoulder, with that indolent gracefulness of action which distinguishes young English girls, remained for a moment with her eyes fixed on Raoul, but as if uncertain what to do. At last, after first blushing violently, and then turning deadly pale, thus revealing the internal combat which assailed her heart, she seemed to make up her mind to adopt a decided course, and with a tolerably firm step, advanced towards the seat on which Raoul was reclining, buried in the profoundest meditation, as we have already said. The sound of Miss Mary’s steps, though they could hardly be heard upon the green sward, awakened Raoul from his musing attitude; he turned round, perceived the young girl, and walked forward to meet the companion whom his happy destiny had thrown in his way.

“I have been sent to you, Monsieur,” said Mary Grafton; “will you take care of me?”

“To whom is my gratitude due, for so great a happiness?” inquired Raoul.

“To the Duke of Buckingham,” replied Mary, affecting a gayety she did not really feel.

“To the Duke of Buckingham, do you say?⁠—he who so passionately seeks your charming society! Am I really to believe you are serious, Mademoiselle?”

“The fact is, Monsieur, you perceive, that everything seems to conspire to make us pass the best, or rather the longest, part of our days together. Yesterday it was the king who desired me to beg you to seat yourself next to me at dinner; today, it is the Duke of Buckingham who begs me to come and place myself near you on this seat.”

“And he has gone away in order to leave us together?” asked Raoul, with some embarrassment.

“Look yonder, at the turning of that path; he is just out of sight, with Miss Stewart. Are these polite attentions usual in France, Monsieur le Vicomte?”

“I cannot very precisely say what people do in France, Mademoiselle, for I can hardly be called a Frenchman. I have resided in many countries, and almost always as a soldier; and then, I have spent a long period of my life in the country. I am almost a savage.”

“You do not like your residence in England, I fear.”

“I scarcely know,” said Raoul, inattentively, and sighing deeply at the same time.

“What! you do not know?”

“Forgive me,” said Raoul, shaking his head, and collecting his thoughts, “I did not hear you.”

“Oh!” said the young girl, sighing in her turn, “how wrong the duke was to send me here!”

“Wrong!” said Raoul, “perhaps so; for I am but a rude, uncouth companion, and my society annoys you. The duke did, indeed, very wrong to send you.”

“It is precisely,” replied Mary Grafton, in a clear, calm voice, “because your society does not annoy me, that the duke was wrong to send me to you.”

It was now Raoul’s turn to blush. “But,” he resumed, “how happens it that the Duke of Buckingham should send you to me; and why did you come? the duke loves you, and you love him.”

“No,” replied Mary, seriously, “the duke does not love me, because he is in love with the Duchesse d’Orléans; and, as for myself, I have no affection for the duke.”

Raoul looked at the young lady with astonishment.

“Are you a friend of the Duke of Buckingham?” she inquired.

“The duke has honored me by calling me so ever since we met in France.”

“You are simple acquaintances, then?”

“No; for the duke is the most intimate friend of one whom I regard as a brother.”

“The Duc de Guiche?”

“Yes.”

“He who is in love with Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans?”

“Oh! What is that you are saying?”

“And who loves him in return,” continued the young girl, quietly.

Raoul bent down his head, and Mary Grafton, sighing deeply, continued, “They are very happy. But, leave me, Monsieur de Bragelonne, for the Duke of Buckingham has given you a very troublesome commission in offering me as a companion for your promenade. Your heart is elsewhere, and it is with the greatest difficulty you can be charitable enough to lend me your attention. Confess truly; it would be unfair on your part, vicomte, not to admit it.”

“Madame, I do confess it.”

She looked at him steadily. He was so noble and so handsome in his bearing, his eyes revealed so much gentleness, candor, and resolution, that the idea could not possibly enter her mind that he was either rudely discourteous, or a mere simpleton. She only perceived, clearly enough, that he loved another woman, and not herself, with the whole strength of his heart. “Ah! I now understand you,” she said; “you have left your heart behind you in France.” Raoul bowed. “The duke is aware of your affection?”

“No one knows it,” replied Raoul.

“Why, therefore, do you tell me? Nay, answer me.”

“I cannot.”

“It is for me, then, to anticipate an explanation; you do not wish to tell me anything, because you are now convinced that I do not love the duke; because you see that I possibly might have loved you; because you are a gentleman of noble and delicate sentiments; and because, instead of accepting, even were it for the mere amusement of the passing hour, a hand which is almost pressed upon you; and because, instead of meeting my smiles with a smiling lip, you, who are young, have preferred to tell me, whom men have called beautiful, ‘My heart is over the sea⁠—it is in France.’ For this, I thank you, Monsieur de Bragelonne; you are, indeed, a noble-hearted, noble-minded man, and I regard you all the more for it, as a friend only. And now let us cease speaking of myself, and talk of your own affairs. Forget that I have ever spoken to you of myself, tell me why you are sad, and why you have become more than usually so during these past four days?”

Raoul was deeply and sensibly moved by these sweet and melancholy tones; and as he could not, at the moment, find a word to say, the young girl again came to his assistance.

“Pity me,” she said. “My mother was born in France, and I can truly affirm that I, too, am French in blood, as well as in feeling; but the leaden atmosphere and characteristic gloom of England seem to weigh upon me. Sometimes my dreams are golden-hued and full of wonderful enjoyments, when suddenly a mist rises and overspreads my fancy, blotting them out forever. Such, indeed, is the case at the present moment. Forgive me; I have now said enough on that subject; give me your hand, and relate your griefs to me as a friend.”

“You say you are French in heart and soul?”

“Yes, not only, I repeat it, that my mother was French, but, further, as my father, a friend of King Charles I, was exiled in France, I, during the trial of that prince, as well as during the Protector’s life, was brought up in Paris; at the Restoration of King Charles II, my poor father returned to England, where he died almost immediately afterwards; and then the king created me a duchess, and has dowered me according to my rank.

“Have you any relations in France?” Raoul inquired, with the deepest interest.

“I have a sister there, my senior by seven or eight years, who was married in France, and was early left a widow; her name is Madame de Bellière. Do you know her?” she added, observing Raoul start suddenly.

“I have heard her name.”

“She, too, loves with her whole heart; and her last letters inform me she is happy, and her affection is, I conclude, returned. I told you, Monsieur de Bragelonne, that although I possess half of her nature, I do not share her happiness. But let us now speak of yourself; whom do you love in France?”

“A young girl, as soft and pure as a lily.”

“But if she loves you, why are you sad?”

“I have been told that she ceases to love me.”

“You do not believe it, I trust?”

“He who wrote me so does not sign his letter.”

“An anonymous denunciation! some treachery, be assured,” said Miss Grafton.

“Stay,” said Raoul, showing the young girl a letter which he had read over a thousand times; she took it from his hand and read as follows:

“Vicomte⁠—You are perfectly right to amuse yourself yonder with the lovely faces of Charles II’s court, for at Louis XIV’s court, the castle in which your affections are enshrined is being besieged. Stay in London altogether, poor vicomte, or return without delay to Paris.”

“There is no signature,” said Miss Mary.

“None.”

“Believe it not, then.”

“Very good; but here is a second letter, from my friend de Guiche, which says, ‘I am lying here wounded and ill. Return, Raoul, oh, return!’ ”

“What do you intend doing?” inquired the young girl, with a feeling of oppression at her heart.

“My intention, as soon as I received this letter, was immediately to take my leave of the king.”

“When did you receive it?”

“The day before yesterday.”

“It is dated Fontainebleau.”

“A singular circumstance, do you not think, for the court is now at Paris? At all events, I would have set off; but when I mentioned my intention to the king, he began to laugh, and said to me, ‘How comes it, Monsieur l’Ambassadeur, that you think of leaving? Has your sovereign recalled you?’ I colored, naturally enough, for I was confused by the question; for the fact is, the king himself sent me here, and I have received no order to return.”

Mary frowned in deep thought, and said, “Do you remain, then?”

“I must, Mademoiselle.”

“Do you ever receive any letters from her to whom you are so devoted?”

“Never.”

“Never, do you say? Does she not love you, then?”

“At least, she has not written to me since my departure, although she used occasionally to write to me before. I trust she may have been prevented.”

“Hush! the duke is coming.”

And Buckingham at that moment was seen at the end of the walk, approaching towards them, alone and smiling; he advanced slowly, and held out his hands to them both. “Have you arrived at an understanding?” he said.

“About what?”

“About whatever might render you happy, dear Mary, and make Raoul less miserable.”

“I do not understand you, my lord,” said Raoul.

“That is my view of the subject, Miss Mary; do you wish me to mention it before M. de Bragelonne?” he added, with a smile.

“If you mean,” replied the young girl, haughtily, “that I was not indisposed to love M. de Bragelonne, that is useless, for I have told him so myself.”

Buckingham reflected for a moment, and, without seeming in any way discountenanced, as she expected, he said: “My reason for leaving you with M. de Bragelonne was, that I thoroughly knew your refined delicacy of feeling, no less than the perfect loyalty of your mind and heart, and I hoped that M. de Bragelonne’s cure might be effected by the hands of a physician such as you are.”

“But, my lord, before you spoke of M. de Bragelonne’s heart, you spoke to me of your own. Do you mean to effect the cure of two hearts at the same time?”

“Perfectly true, Madame; but you will do me the justice to admit that I have long discontinued a useless pursuit, acknowledging that my own wound is incurable.”

“My lord,” said Mary, collecting herself for a moment before she spoke, “M. de Bragelonne is happy, for he loves and is beloved. He has no need of such a physician as I can be.”

“M. de Bragelonne,” said Buckingham, “is on the very eve of experiencing a serious misfortune, and he has greater need than ever of sympathy and affection.”

“Explain yourself, my lord,” inquired Raoul, anxiously.

“No; gradually I will explain myself; but, if you desire it, I can tell Miss Grafton what you may not listen to yourself.”

“My lord, you are putting me to the torture; you know something you wish to conceal from me?”

“I know that Miss Mary Grafton is the most charming object that a heart ill at ease could possibly meet with in its way through life.”

“I have already told you that the Vicomte de Bragelonne loves elsewhere,” said the young girl.

“He is wrong, then.”

“Do you assume to know, my lord, that I am wrong?”

“Yes.”

“Whom is it that he loves, then?” exclaimed the young girl.

“He loves a lady who is unworthy of him,” said Buckingham, with that calm, collected manner peculiar to Englishmen.

Miss Grafton uttered a cry, which, together with the remark that Buckingham had that moment made, spread over de Bragelonne’s features a deadly paleness, arising from the sudden surprise, and also from a vague fear of impending misfortune. “My lord,” he exclaimed, “you have just pronounced words which compel me, without a moment’s delay, to seek their explanation in Paris.”

“You will remain here,” said Buckingham, “because you have no right to leave; and no one has the right to quit the service of the king for that of any woman, even were she as worthy of being loved as Mary Grafton is.”

“You will tell me all, then?”

“I will, on condition that you will remain.”

“I will remain, if you will promise to speak openly and without reserve.”

Thus far had their conversation proceeded, and Buckingham, in all probability, was on the point of revealing, not indeed all that had taken place, but at least all he was aware of, when one of the king’s attendants appeared at the end of the terrace, and advanced towards the summerhouse where the king was sitting with Lucy Stewart. A courier followed him, covered with dust from head to foot, and who seemed as if he had but a few moments before dismounted from his horse.

“The courier from France! Madame’s courier!” exclaimed Raoul, recognizing the princess’s livery; and while the attendant and the courier advanced towards the king, Buckingham and Miss Grafton exchanged a look full of intelligence with each other.

CHAPTER 86

The Courier from Madame
Charles II was busily engaged in proving, or in endeavoring to prove, to Miss Stewart that she was the only person for whom he cared at all, and consequently was avowing to her an affection similar to that which his ancestor Henry IV had entertained for Gabrielle. Unfortunately for Charles II, he had hit upon an unlucky day, the very day Miss Stewart had taken it into her head to make him jealous, and therefore, instead of being touched by his offer, as the king had hoped, she laughed heartily.

“Oh! sire, sire,” she cried, laughing all the while; “if I were to be unfortunate enough to ask you for a proof of the affection you possess, how easy it would be to see that you are telling a falsehood.”

“Nay, listen to me,” said Charles, “you know my cartoons by Raphael; you know whether I care for them or not; the whole world envies me their possession, as you well know also; my father commissioned Van Dyck to purchase them. Would you like me to send them to your house this very day?”

“Oh, no!” replied the young girl; “pray keep them yourself, sire; my house is far too small to accommodate such visitors.”

“In that case you shall have Hampton Court to put the cartoons in.”

“Be less generous, sire, and learn to love a little while longer, that is all I have to ask you.”

“I shall never cease to love you; is not that enough?”

“You are smiling, sire.”

“Do you wish me to weep?”

“No; but I should like to see you a little more melancholy.”

“Thank Heaven, I have been so long enough; fourteen years of exile, poverty, and misery, I think I may well regard it as a debt discharged; besides, melancholy makes people look so plain.”

“Far from that⁠—for look at the young Frenchman.”

“What! the Vicomte de Bragelonne? are you smitten too? By Heaven, they will all grow mad over him one after the other; but he, on the contrary, has a reason for being melancholy.”

“Why so?”

“Oh, indeed! you wish me to betray state secrets, do you?”

“If I wish it, you must do so, for you told me you were quite ready to do everything I wished.”

“Well, then, he is bored in his own country. Does that satisfy you?”

“Bored?”

“Yes, a proof that he is a simpleton; I allow him to fall in love with Miss Mary Grafton, and he feels bored. Can you believe it?”

“Very good; it seems, then, that if you were to find Miss Lucy Stewart indifferent to you, you would console yourself by falling in love with Miss Mary Grafton.”

“I don’t say that; in the first place, you know that Mary Grafton does not care for me; besides, a man can only console himself for a lost affection by the discovery of a new one. Again, however, I repeat, the question is not of myself, but of that young man. One might almost be tempted to call the girl he has left behind him a Helen⁠—a Helen before the little ceremony she went through with Paris, of course.”

“He has left someone, then?”

“That is to say, someone has left him.”

“Poor fellow! so much the worse!”

“Why do you mean by ‘so much the worse’?”

“Why not? why did he leave?”

“Do you think it was of his own wish or will that he left?”

“Was he obliged to leave, then?”

“He left Paris under orders, my dear Stewart; and prepare to be surprised⁠—by express orders of the king.”

“Ah! I begin to see, now.”

“At least say nothing at all about it.”

“You know very well that I am just as discreet as anybody else. And so the king sent him away?”

“Yes.”

“And during his absence he takes his sweetheart from him?”

“Yes; and, will you believe it? the silly fellow, instead of thanking the king, is making himself miserable.”

“What! thank the king for depriving him of the woman he loves! Really, sire, yours is a most ungallant speech.”

“But, pray understand me. If she whom the king had run off with was either a Miss Grafton or a Miss Stewart, I should be of his opinion; nay, I should even think him not half wretched enough; but she is a little, thin, lame thing. Deuce take such fidelity as that! Surely, one can hardly understand how a man can refuse a girl who is rich for one who is poverty itself⁠—a girl who loves him for one who deceives and betrays him.”

“Do you think that Mary seriously wishes to please the vicomte, sire?”

“I do, indeed.”

“Very good! the vicomte will settle down in England, for Mary has a clear head, and when she fixes her mind upon anything, she does so thoroughly.”

“Take care, my dear Miss Stewart; if the vicomte has any idea of adopting our country, he has not long to do so, for it was only the day before yesterday that he again asked me for permission to leave.”

“Which you refused him, I suppose?”

“I should think so, indeed; my royal brother is far too anxious for his absence; and, for myself, my amour propre is enlisted on his side, for I will never have it said that I had held out as a bait to this young man the noblest and gentlest creature in England⁠—”

“You are very gallant, sire,” said Miss Stewart, with a pretty pout.

“I do not allude to Miss Stewart, for she is worthy of a king’s devotion; and since she has captivated me I trust that no one else will be caught by her; I say, therefore, finally, that the attention I have shown this young man will not have been thrown away; he will stay with us here, he will marry here, or I am very much mistaken.”

“And I hope that when he is once married and settled, instead of being angry with Your Majesty, he will be grateful to you, for everyone tries his utmost to please him; even the Duke of Buckingham, whose brilliancy, which is incredible, seems to pale before that of this young Frenchman.”

“Including Miss Stewart even, who calls him the most finished gentleman she ever saw.”

“Stay, sire; you have spoken quite enough, and quite highly enough, of Miss Grafton, to overlook what I may have said about de Bragelonne. But, by the by, sire, your kindness for some time past astonishes me: you think of those who are absent, you forgive those who have done you a wrong, in fact, you are as nearly as possible, perfect. How does it happen⁠—”

“It is because you allow yourself to be loved,” he said, beginning to laugh.

“Oh! there must be some other reason.”

“Well, I am doing all I can to oblige my brother, Louis XIV.”

“Nay, I must have another reason.”

“Well, then, the true motive is that Buckingham strongly recommended the young man to me, saying: ‘Sire, I begin by yielding up all claim to Miss Grafton; I pray you follow my example.’ ”

“The duke is, indeed, a true gentleman.”

“Oh! of course, of course; it is Buckingham’s turn now, I suppose, to turn your head. You seem determined to cross me in everything today.”

At this moment someone rapped at the door.

“Who is it who presumes to interrupt us?” exclaimed Charles, impatiently.

“Really, sire, you are extremely vain with your ‘who is it who presumes?’ and in order to punish you for it⁠—”

She went to the door and opened it.

“It is a courier from France,” said Miss Stewart.

“A courier from France!” exclaimed Charles; “from my sister, perhaps?”

“Yes, sire,” said the usher, “a special messenger.”

“Let him come in at once,” said Charles.

“You have a letter for me,” said the king to the courier as he entered, “from the Duchess of Orléans?”

“Yes, sire,” replied the courier, “and so urgent in its nature that I have only been twenty-six hours in bringing it to Your Majesty, and yet I lost three-quarters of an hour at Calais.”

“Your zeal shall not be forgotten,” said the king, as he opened the letter. When he had read it he burst out laughing, and exclaimed, “Upon my word, I am at a loss to understand anything about it.” He then read the letter a second time, Miss Stewart assuming a manner marked by the greatest reserve, and doing her utmost to restrain her ardent curiosity.

“Francis,” said the king to his valet, “see that this excellent fellow is well taken care of and sleeps soundly, and that on waking tomorrow he finds a purse of fifty sovereigns by his bedside.”

“Sire!” said the courier, amazed.

“Begone, begone; my sister was perfectly right in desiring you to use the utmost diligence; the affair was most pressing.” And he again began to laugh louder than ever. The courier, the valet, and Miss Stewart hardly knew what sort of countenance to assume. “Ah!” said the king, throwing himself back in his armchair: “When I think that you have knocked up⁠—how many horses?”

“Two!”

“Two horses to bring this intelligence to me. That will do, you can leave us now.”

The courier retired with the valet. Charles went to the window, which he opened, and leaning forward, called out⁠—“Duke! Buckingham! come here, there’s a good fellow.”

The duke hurried to him, in obedience to the summons; but when he reached the door, and perceived Miss Stewart, he hesitated to enter.

“Come in, and shut the door,” said the king. The duke obeyed; and, perceiving in what an excellent humor the king was, he advanced, smiling, towards him. “Well, my dear duke, how do you get on with your Frenchman?”

“Sire, I am in the most perfect state of utter despair about him.”

“Why so?”

“Because charming Miss Grafton is willing to marry him, but he is unwilling.”

“Why, he is a perfect Boeotian!” cried Miss Stewart. “Let him say either ‘Yes,’ or No,’ and let the affair end.”

“But,” said Buckingham, seriously, “you know, or you ought to know, Madame, that M. de Bragelonne is in love in another direction.”

“In that case,” said the king, coming to Miss Stewart’s help, “nothing is easier; let him say ‘No,’ then.”

“Very true; and I have proved to him he was wrong not to say ‘Yes.’ ”

“You told him candidly, I suppose, that La Vallière was deceiving him?”

“Yes, without the slightest reserve; and, as soon as I had done so, he gave a start, as if he were going to clear the Channel at a bound.”

“At all events,” said Miss Stewart, “he has done something; and a very good thing too, upon my word.”

“But,” said Buckingham, “I stopped him; I have left him and Miss Mary in conversation together, and I sincerely trust that now he will not leave, as he seemed to have an idea of doing.”

“An idea of leaving England?” cried the king.

“I, at one moment, hardly thought that any human power could have prevented him; but Miss Mary’s eyes are now bent fully on him, and he will remain.”

“Well, that is the very thing which deceives you, Buckingham,” said the king, with a peal of laughter; “the poor fellow is predestined.”

“Predestined to what?”

“If it were to be simply deceived, that is nothing; but, to look at him, it is a great deal.”

“At a distance, and with Miss Grafton’s aid, the blow will be warded off.”

“Far from it, far from it; neither distance nor Miss Grafton’s help will be of the slightest avail. Bragelonne will set off for Paris within an hour’s time.”

Buckingham started, and Miss Stewart opened her eyes very wide in astonishment.

“But, sire,” said the duke, “Your Majesty knows that it is impossible.”

“That is to say, my dear Buckingham, that it is impossible until it happens.”

“Do not forget, sire, that the young man is a perfect lion, and that his wrath is terrible.”

“I don’t deny it, my dear duke.”

“And that if he sees that his misfortune is certain, so much the worse for the author of it.”

“I don’t deny it; but what the deuce am I to do?”

“Were it the king himself,” cried Buckingham, “I would not answer for him.”

“Oh, the king has his Musketeers to take care of him,” said Charles, quietly; “I know that perfectly well, for I was kept dancing attendance in his antechamber at Blois. He has M. d’Artagnan, and what better guardian could the king have than M. d’Artagnan? I should make myself perfectly easy with twenty storms of passion, such as Bragelonne might display, if I had four guardians like d’Artagnan.”

“But I entreat Your Majesty, who is so good and kind, to reflect a little.”

“Stay,” said Charles II, presenting the letter to the duke, “read, and answer yourself what you would do in my place.”

Buckingham slowly took hold of Madame’s letter, and trembling with emotion, read the following words:

“For your own sake, for mine, for the honor and safety of everyone, send M. de Bragelonne back to France immediately. Your devoted sister, Henrietta.”

“Well, Villiers, what do you say?”

“Really, sire, I have nothing to say,” replied the duke, stupefied.

“Nay, would you, of all persons,” said the king, artfully, “advise me not to listen to my sister when she writes so urgently?”

“Oh, no, no, sire; and yet⁠—”

“You have not read the postscript, Villiers; it is under the fold of the letter, and escaped me at first; read it.” And as the duke turned down a fold of the letter, he read:

“A thousand kind remembrances to those who love me.”

The duke’s head sank gradually on his breast; the paper trembled in his fingers, as if it had been changed to lead. The king paused for a moment, and, seeing that Buckingham did not speak, “He must follow his destiny, as we ours,” continued the king; “every man has his own share of grief in this world; I have had my own⁠—I have had that of others who belong to me⁠—and have thus had a double weight of woe to endure!⁠—But the deuce take all my cares now! Go, and bring our friend here, Villiers.”

The duke opened the trellised door of the summerhouse, and pointing at Raoul and Mary, who were walking together side by side, said, “What a cruel blow, sire, for poor Miss Grafton!”

“Nonsense; call him,” said Charles II, knitting his black brows together; “everyone seems to be sentimental here. There, look at Miss Stewart, who is wiping her eyes⁠—now deuce take the French fellow!”

The duke called to Raoul, and taking Miss Grafton by the hand, he led her towards the king.

“Monsieur de Bragelonne,” said Charles II, “did you not ask me the day before yesterday for permission to return to Paris?”

“Yes, sire,” replied Raoul, greatly puzzled by this address.

“And I refused you, I think?”

“Yes, sire.”

“For which you were angry with me?”

“No, sire; Your Majesty had no doubt excellent reasons for withholding it; for you are so wise and so good that everything you do is well done.”

“I alleged, I believe, as a reason, that the king of France had not recalled you?”

“Yes, sire, that was the reason you assigned.”

“Well, M. de Bragelonne, I have reflected over the matter since; if the king did not, in fact, fix your return, he begged me to render your sojourn in England as agreeable as possible; since, however, you ask my permission to return, it is because your longer residence in England is no longer agreeable to you.”

“I do not say that, sire.”

“No, but your request, at least,” said the king, “signified that another place of residence would be more agreeable to you than this.”

At this moment Raoul turned towards the door, against which Miss Grafton was leaning, pale and sorrow-stricken; her other hand was passed through the duke’s arm.

“You do not reply,” pursued Charles; “the proverb is plain enough, that ‘silence gives consent.’ Very good, Monsieur de Bragelonne; I am now in a position to satisfy you; whenever you please, therefore, you can leave for Paris, for which you have my authority.”

“Sire!” exclaimed Raoul, while Mary stifled an exclamation of grief which rose to her lips, unconsciously pressing Buckingham’s arm.

“You can be at Dover this evening,” continued the king, “the tide serves at two o’clock in the morning.”

Raoul, astounded, stammered out a few broken sentences, which equally answered the purpose both of thanks and of excuse.

“I therefore bid you adieu, Monsieur de Bragelonne, and wish you every sort of prosperity,” said the king, rising; “you will confer a pleasure on me by keeping this diamond in remembrance of me; I had intended it as a marriage gift.”

Miss Grafton felt her limbs almost giving way; and, as Raoul received the ring from the king’s hand, he, too, felt his strength and courage failing him. He addressed a few respectful words to the king, a passing compliment to Miss Stewart, and looked for Buckingham to bid him adieu. The king profited by this moment to disappear. Raoul found the duke engaged in endeavoring to encourage Miss Grafton.

“Tell him to remain, I implore you!” said Buckingham to Mary.

“No, I will tell him to go,” replied Miss Grafton, with returning animation; “I am not one of those women who have more pride than heart; if she whom he loves is in France, let him return thither and bless me for having advised him to go and seek his happiness there. If, on the contrary, she shall have ceased to love him, let him come back here again; I shall still love him, and his unhappiness will not have lessened him in my regard. In the arms of my house you will find that which Heaven has engraven on my heart⁠—Habenti parum, egenti cuncta. ‘To the rich is accorded little, to the poor everything.’ ”

“I do not believe, Bragelonne, that you will find yonder the equivalent of what you leave behind you here.”

“I think, or at least hope,” said Raoul, with a gloomy air, “that she whom I love is worthy of my affection; but if it be true she is unworthy of me, as you have endeavored to make me believe, I will tear her image from my heart, duke, even if my heart breaks in the attempt.”

Mary Grafton gazed upon him with an expression of the most indefinable pity, and Raoul returned her look with a sweet, sorrowful smile, saying, “Mademoiselle, the diamond which the king has given me was destined for you⁠—give me leave to offer it for your acceptance: if I marry in France, you will send it me back; if I do not marry, keep it.” And he bowed and left her.

What does he mean? thought Buckingham, while Raoul pressed Mary’s icy hand with marks of the most reverential respect.

Mary understood the look that Buckingham fixed upon her.

“If it were a wedding-ring, I would not accept it,” she said.

“And yet you were willing to ask him to return to you.”

“Oh! duke,” cried the young girl in heartbroken accents, “a woman such as I am is never accepted as a consolation by a man like him.”

“You do not think he will return, then?”

“Never,” said Miss Grafton, in a choking voice.

“And I grieve to tell you, Mary, that he will find yonder his happiness destroyed, his mistress lost to him. His honor even has not escaped. What will be left him, then, Mary, equal to your affection? Answer, Mary, you who know yourself so well.”

Miss Grafton placed her white hand on Buckingham’s arm, and, while Raoul was hurrying away with headlong speed, she repeated in dying accents the line from Romeo and Juliet:

I must be gone and live, or stay and die.

As she finished the last word, Raoul disappeared. Miss Grafton returned to her own apartments, paler than death. Buckingham availed himself of the arrival of the courier, who had brought the letter to the king, to write to Madame and to the Comte de Guiche. The king had not been mistaken, for at two in the morning the tide was at full flood, and Raoul had embarked for France.

CHAPTER 87

Saint-Aignan Follows Malicorne’s Advice
The king most assiduously followed the progress which was made in La Vallière’s portrait; and did so with a care and attention arising as much from a desire that it should resemble her as from the wish that the painter should prolong the period of its completion as much as possible. It was amusing to observe him follow the artist’s brush, awaiting the completion of a particular plan, or the result of a combination of colors, and suggesting various modifications to the painter, which the latter consented to adopt with the most respectful docility. And again, when the artist, following Malicorne’s advice, was a little late in arriving, and when Saint-Aignan had been obliged to be absent for some time, it was interesting to observe, though no one witnessed them, those moments of silence full of deep expression, which united in one sigh two souls most disposed to understand each other, and who by no means objected to the quiet meditation they enjoyed together. The minutes flew rapidly by, as if on wings, and as the king drew closer to Louise and bent his burning gaze upon her, a noise was suddenly heard in the anteroom. It was the artist, who had just arrived; Saint-Aignan, too, had returned, full of apologies; and the king began to talk and La Vallière to answer him very hurriedly, their eyes revealing to Saint-Aignan that they had enjoyed a century of happiness during his absence. In a word, Malicorne, philosopher that he was, though he knew it not, had learned how to inspire the king with an appetite in the midst of plenty, and with desire in the assurance of possession. La Vallière’s fears of interruption had never been realized, and no one imagined she was absent from her apartment two or three hours every day; she pretended that her health was very uncertain; those who went to her room always knocked before entering, and Malicorne, the man of so many ingenious inventions, had constructed an acoustic piece of mechanism, by means of which La Vallière, when in Saint-Aignan’s apartment, was always forewarned of any visits which were paid to the room she usually inhabited. In this manner, therefore, without leaving her room, and having no confidante, she was able to return to her apartment, thus removing by her appearance, a little tardy perhaps, the suspicions of the most determined skeptics. Malicorne having asked Saint-Aignan the next morning what news he had to report, the latter was obliged to confess that the quarter of an hour’s liberty had made the king in most excellent humor. “We must double the dose,” replied Malicorne, “but by insensible degrees; wait until they seem to wish it.”

They were so desirous for it, however, that on the evening of the fourth day, at the moment when the painter was packing up his implements, during Saint-Aignan’s continued absence, Saint-Aignan on his return noticed upon La Vallière’s face a shade of disappointment and vexation, which she could not conceal. The king was less reserved, and exhibited his annoyance by a very significant shrug of the shoulders, at which La Vallière could not help blushing. Very good! thought Saint-Aignan to himself; M. Malicorne will be delighted this evening; as he, in fact, was, when it was reported to him.

“It is very evident,” he remarked to the comte, “that Mademoiselle de La Vallière hoped that you would be at least ten minutes later.”

“And the king that I should be half an hour later, dear Monsieur Malicorne.”

“You would show but very indifferent devotion to the king,” replied the latter, “if you were to refuse His Majesty that half-hour’s satisfaction.”

“But the painter,” objected Saint-Aignan.

I will take care of him,” said Malicorne, “only I must study faces and circumstances a little better before I act; those are my magical inventions and contrivances; and while sorcerers are enabled by means of their astrolabe to take the altitude of the sun, moon, and stars, I am satisfied merely by looking into people’s faces, in order to see if their eyes are encircled with dark lines, and if the mouth describes a convex or concave arc.”

And the cunning Malicorne had every opportunity of watching narrowly and closely, for the very same evening the king accompanied the queen to Madame’s apartments, and made himself so remarked by his serious face and his deep sigh, and looked at La Vallière with such a languishing expression, that Malicorne said to Montalais during the evening: “Tomorrow.” And he went off to the painter’s house in the street of the Jardins Saint-Paul to request him to postpone the next sitting for a couple of days. Saint-Aignan was not within, when La Vallière, who was now quite familiar with the lower story, lifted up the trapdoor and descended. The king, as usual was waiting for her on the staircase, and held a bouquet in his hand; as soon as he saw her, he clasped her tenderly in his arms. La Vallière, much moved at the action, looked around the room, but as she saw the king was alone, she did not complain of it. They sat down, the king reclining near the cushions on which Louise was seated, with his head supported by her knees, placed there as in an asylum whence no one could banish him; he gazed ardently upon her, and as if the moment had arrived when nothing could interpose between their two hearts; she, too, gazed with similar passion upon him, and from her eyes, so softly pure, emanated a flame, whose rays first kindled and then inflamed the heart of the king, who, trembling with happiness as Louise’s hand rested on his head, grew giddy from excess of joy, and momentarily awaited either the painter’s or Saint-Aignan’s return to break the sweet illusion. But the door remained closed, and neither Saint-Aignan nor the painter appeared, nor did the hangings even move. A deep mysterious silence reigned in the room⁠—a silence which seemed to influence even the songbirds in their gilded prisons. The king, completely overcome, turned round his head and buried his burning lips in La Vallière’s hands, who, herself faint, with excess of emotion, pressed her trembling hands against her lover’s lips. Louis threw himself upon his knees, and as La Vallière did not move her head, the king’s forehead being within reach of her lips, she furtively passed her lips across the perfumed locks which caressed her cheeks. The king seized her in his arms, and, unable to resist the temptation, they exchanged their first kiss⁠—that burning kiss, which changes love into delirium. Suddenly, a noise upon the upper floor was heard, which had, in fact, continued, though it had remained unnoticed, for some time; it had at last aroused La Vallière’s attention, though but slowly so. As the noise, however, continued, as it forced itself upon the attention, and recalled the poor girl from her dreams of happiness to the sad realities of life, she rose in a state of utter bewilderment, though beautiful in her disorder, saying:

“Someone is waiting for me above. Louis, Louis, do you not hear?”

“Well! and am I not waiting for you, also?” said the king, with infinite tenderness of tone. “Let others henceforth wait for you.”

But she gently shook her head, as she replied: “Happiness hidden⁠ ⁠… power concealed⁠ ⁠… my pride should be as silent as my heart.”

The noise was again resumed.

“I hear Montalais’s voice,” she said, and she hurried up the staircase; the king followed her, unable to let her leave his sight, and covering her hand with his kisses. “Yes, yes,” repeated La Vallière, who had passed halfway through the opening. “Yes, it is Montalais who is calling me; something important must have happened.”

“Go then, dearest love,” said the king, “but return quickly.”

“No, no, not today, sire! Adieu! adieu!” she said, as she stooped down once more to embrace her lover⁠—and escaped. Montalais was, in fact, waiting for her, very pale and agitated.

“Quick, quick! he is coming,” she said.

“Who⁠—who is coming?”

“Raoul,” murmured Montalais.

“It is I⁠—I,” said a joyous voice, upon the last steps of the grand staircase.

La Vallière uttered a terrible shriek and threw herself back.

“I am here, dear Louise,” said Raoul, running towards her. “I knew but too well that you had not ceased to love me.”

La Vallière with a gesture, partly of extreme terror, and partly as if invoking a blessing, attempted to speak, but could not articulate one word. “No, no!” she said, as she fell into Montalais’s arms, murmuring, “Do not touch me, do not come near me.”

Montalais made a sign to Raoul, who stood almost petrified at the door, and did not even attempt to advance another step into the room. Then, looking towards the side of the room where the screen was, she exclaimed: “Imprudent girl, she has not even closed the trapdoor.”

And she advanced towards the corner of the room to close the screen, and also, behind the screen, the trapdoor. But suddenly the king, who had heard Louise’s exclamation, darted through the opening, and hurried forward to her assistance. He threw himself on his knees before her, as he overwhelmed Montalais with questions, who hardly knew where she was. At the moment, however, when the king threw himself on his knees, a cry of utter despair rang through the corridor, accompanied by the sound of retreating footsteps. The king wished to see who had uttered the cry and whose were the footsteps he had heard; and it was in vain that Montalais sought to retain him, for Louis, quitting his hold of La Vallière, hurried towards the door, too late, however, for Raoul was already at a distance, and the king only beheld a shadow that quickly vanished in the silent corridor.