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Title: The Vicomte de Bragelonne - Or Ten Years Later being the completion of "The Three - Musketeers" And "Twenty Years After"
Author: Dumas père, Alexandre, 1802-1870
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Vicomte de Bragelonne - Or Ten Years Later being the completion of "The Three - Musketeers" And "Twenty Years After"" ***

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(This file was produced from images generously made
available by the Canadian Institute for Historical
Microreproductions (www.canadiana.org))



[Illustration: HARDLY HAD THE LADDER BEEN PROPERLY PLACED THAN THE
KING BEGAN TO ASCEND.--_Page 155._]



THE WORKS

OF

ALEXANDRE DUMAS


THE VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE

OR

TEN YEARS LATER

BEING THE COMPLETION OF

"THE THREE MUSKETEERS" AND "TWENTY YEARS AFTER"

_PART II_


       *       *       *       *       *


_Copiously Illustrated with elegant Pen and Ink and Wood Engravings,
specially drawn for this edition by eminent French and American Artists._


       *       *       *       *       *


COMPLETE IN NINE VOLUMES

VOLUME FOUR


       *       *       *       *       *


NEW YORK
PETER FENELON COLLIER, PUBLISHER.
1893


       *       *       *       *       *



  CONTENTS.


  THE VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE.

  (PART II.)


  I. Showing what neither the Naiad
  nor Dryad had anticipated                                            5

  II. The new General of the Jesuits                                   9

  III. The Storm                                                      14

  IV. The Shower of Rain                                              18

  V. Toby                                                             25

  VI. Madame's four Chances                                           29

  VII. The Lottery                                                    33

  VIII. Malaga                                                        37

  IX. A Letter from M. de Baisemeaux                                  44

  X. In which the Reader will be
  delighted to find that Porthos
  has lost nothing of his
  Strength                                                            46

  XI. The Rat and the Cheese                                          55

  XII. Planchet's Country-House                                       59

  XIII. Showing what could be seen from
  Planchet's House                                                    62

  XIV. How Porthos, Trüchen, and Planchet
  parted with each other
  on friendly terms, thanks to
  D'Artagnan                                                          65

  XV. The Presentation of Porthos at
  Court                                                               67

  XVI. Explanations                                                   69

  XVII. Madame and Guiche                                             73

  XVIII. Montalais and Malicorne                                      77

  XIX. How De Wardes was received at
  Court                                                               81

  XX. The Combat                                                      87

  XXI. The King's Supper                                              93

  XXII. After Supper                                                  96

  XXIII. Showing in what way D'Artagnan
  discharged the Mission with
  which the King had intrusted
  him                                                                 98

  XXIV. The Encounter                                                101

  XXV. The Physician                                                 104

  XXVI. Wherein D'Artagnan perceives
  that it was he who was mistaken,
  and Manicamp who was
  right                                                              106

  XXVII. Showing the advantage of having
  two Strings to one's Bow                                           109

  XXVIII. M. Malicorne the Keeper of the
  Records of the Realm of France                                     115

  XXIX. The Journey                                                  118

  XXX. Triumfeminate                                                 121

  XXXI. The First Quarrel                                            124

  XXXII. Despair                                                     129

  XXXIII. The Flight                                                 132

  XXXIV. Showing how Louis, on his side,
  had passed the time from Ten
  to half-past Twelve at Night                                       135

  XXXV. The Ambassadors                                              138

  XXXVI. Chaillot                                                    142

  XXXVII. Madame                                                     147

  XXXVIII. Mademoiselle de la Valliere's
  Pocket-Handkerchief                                                151

  XXXIX. Which treats of Gardeners, of
  Ladders, and Maids of Honor                                        153

  XL. Which treats of Carpentry Operations,
  and furnishes Details
  upon the Mode of constructing
  Staircases                                                         157

  XLI. The Promenade by Torchlight                                   161

  XLII. The Apparition                                               166

  XLIII. The Portrait                                                170

  XLIV. Hampton Court                                                174

  XLV. The Courier from Madame                                       180

  XLVI. Saint-Aignan follows Malicorne's
  Advice                                                             185

  XLVII. Two Old Friends                                             188

  XLVIII. Wherein may be seen that a
  Bargain which cannot be made
  with one Person, can be carried
  out with Another                                                   196

  XLIX. The Skin of the Bear                                         201

  L. An Interview with the Queen-Mother                              204

  LI. Two Friends                                                    209

  LII. How Jean de la Fontaine wrote
  his first Tale                                                     213

  LIII. La Fontaine in the Character of
  a Negotiator                                                       215

  LIV. Madame de Belliere's Plate and
  Diamonds                                                           219

  LV. M. de Mazarin's Receipt                                        221

  LVI. Monsieur Colbert's rough Draft                                225

  LVII. In which the Author thinks it is
  now time to return to the
  Vicomte de Bragelonne                                              231

  LVIII. Bragelonne continues his Inquiries                          234

  LIX. Two Jealousies                                                236

  LX. A Domiciliary Visit                                            239

  LXI. Porthos' Plan of Action                                       243

  LXII. The Change of Residence, the
  Trap-Door, and the Portrait                                        247

  LXIII. Rival Politics                                              253

  LXIV. Rival Affections                                             255

  LXV. King and Nobility                                             259

  LXVI. After the Storm                                              264

  LXVII. Heu! Miser!                                                 267

  LXVIII. Wounds upon Wounds                                         269

  LXIX. What Raoul had Guessed                                       272

  LXX. Three Guests astonished to find
  themselves at Supper together                                      275

  LXXI. What took place at the Louvre
  during the Supper at the
  Bastille                                                           278

  LXXII. Political Rivals                                            282

  LXXIII. In which Porthos is convinced
  without having understood
  anything                                                           286

  LXXIV. M. de Baisemeaux's "Society"                                289

  LXXV. The Prisoner                                                 293

  LXXVI. How Mouston had become fatter
  without giving Porthos notice
  thereof, and of the
  Troubles which consequently
  befell that worthy Gentleman                                       307

  LXXVII. Who Messire John Percerin
  was                                                                311

  LXXVIII. The Patterns                                              315

  LXXIX. Where, probably, Moliere formed
  his first Idea of the Bourgeois
  Gentilhomme                                                        319

  LXXX. The Beehive, the Bees, and the Honey                         323

  LXXXI. Another Supper at the Bastille                              328

  LXXXII. The General of the Order                                   331

  LXXXIII. The Tempter                                               336

  LXXXIV. Crown and Tiara                                            340

  LXXXV. The Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte                              344

  LXXXVI. The Wine of Melun                                          347

  LXXXVII. Nectar and Ambrosia                                       350

  LXXXVIII. A Gascon, and a Gascon and a
  half                                                               352

  LXXXIX. Colbert                                                    359

  XC. Jealousy                                                       362

  XCI. High Treason                                                  366

  XCII. A Night at the Bastille                                      371

  XCIII. The Shadow of M. Fouquet                                    374

  XCIV. The Morning                                                  383

  XCV. The King's Friend                                             387

  XCVI. Showing how the Countersign
  was respected at the Bastille                                      395

  XCVII. The King's Gratitude                                        400

  XCVIII. The False King                                             404

  XCIX. In which Porthos thinks he is
  pursuing a Duchy                                                   409

  C. The Last Adieux                                                 412

  CI. Monsieur de Beaufort                                           415

  CII. Preparations for Departure                                    419

  CIII. Planchet's Inventory                                         423

  CIV. The Inventory of M. de Beaufort                               426

  CV. The Silver Dish                                                429

  CVI. Captive and Jailers                                           433

  CVII. Promises                                                     438

  CVIII. Among Women                                                 444

  CIX. The Last Supper                                               449

  CX. In the Carriage of M. Colbert                                  453

  CXI. The Two Lighters                                              456

  CXII. Friendly Advice                                              460

  CXIII. How the King, Louis XIV.,
  played his little Part                                             463

  CXIV. The White Horse and the Black Horse                          468

  CXV. In which the Squirrel falls--in
  which the Adder flies                                              472

  CXVI. Belle-Isle-en-Mer                                            477

  CXVII. The Explanations of Aramis                                  482

  CXVIII. Result of the Ideas of the King,
  and the Ideas of D'Artagnan                                        487

  CXIX. The Ancestors of Porthos                                     489

  CXX. The Son of Biscarrat                                          491

  CXXI. The Grotto of Locmaria                                       494

  CXXII. The Grotto                                                  497

  CXXIII. An Homeric Song                                            501

  CXXIV. The Death of a Titan                                        504

  CXXV. The Epitaph of Porthos                                       508

  CXXVI. The Round of M. de Gesvres                                  511

  CXXVII. King Louis XIV.                                            514

  CXXVIII. The Friends of M. Fouquet                                 518

  CXXIX. Porthos' Will                                               522

  CXXX. The Old Age of Athos                                         525

  CXXXI. The Vision of Athos                                         527

  CXXXII. The Angel of Death                                         531

  CXXXIII. The Bulletin                                              533

  CXXXIV. The last Canto of the Poem                                 536


  EPILOGUE                                                           539

  THE DEATH OF D'ARTAGNAN                                            549


         *       *       *       *       *


  LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


I.--_Frontispiece._--Hardly had the ladder been properly placed
than the king began to ascend.

II.--As the rain dripped more and more through the foliage of the oak,
the king held his hat over the head of the young girl.

III.--D'Artagnan, reclining upon an immense straight-backed chair, with
his legs not stretched out, but simply placed upon a stool, formed an
angle of the most obtuse form that could possibly be seen.

IV.--De Guiche turned round also, and, at the moment the horse was quiet
again, he fired, and the ball carried off De Wardes' hat from his head.

V.--Athos broke his sword across his knee, slowly placed the two pieces
upon the floor, and saluting the king, who was almost choking from rage
and shame, he quitted the cabinet.

VI.--Raoul, presenting his pistol, threw himself on the leader,
commanding the coachman to stop.

VII.--Aramis saw that the young man was stretched upon his bed, his face
half-concealed by his arms.

VIII.--"You will look through the opening, which answers to one of the
false windows made in the dome of the king's apartment. Can you see?"

IX.--"What is this, monsieur, and what is the meaning of this jest?" "It
is no jest," replied in a deep voice the masked figure that held the
lantern.

X.--The king entered into the cell without pronouncing a single word: he
was pale and haggard.

XI.--They saw, by the red flashes of the lightning against the violet
fog which the wind stamped upon the bankward sky, they saw pass gravely
at six paces behind the governor, a man clothed in black and masked by a
visor of polished steel, soldered to a helmet of the same nature, which
altogether enveloped the whole of his head.

XII.--The Deathbed of Athos--"Here I am!"



THE

VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE.



CHAPTER I.

SHOWING WHAT NEITHER THE NAIAD NOR DRYAD HAD ANTICIPATED.


Saint-Aignan stopped at the foot of the staircase which led to the
_entresol_, where the maids of honor were lodged, and to the first
floor, where Madame's apartments were situated. Then, by means of one of
the servants who was passing, he sent to apprise Malicorne, who was
still with Monsieur. After having waited ten minutes, Malicorne arrived,
looking full of suspicion and importance. The king drew back toward the
darkest part of the vestibule. Saint-Aignan, on the contrary, advanced
to meet him, but at the first words, indicating his wish, Malicorne drew
back abruptly.

"Oh! oh!" he said, "you want me to introduce you into the rooms of the
maids of honor?"

"Yes."

"You know very well that I cannot do anything of the kind, without being
made acquainted with your object."

"Unfortunately, my dear Monsieur Malicorne, it is quite impossible for
me to give you any explanation: you must therefore confide in me as in a
friend who got you out of a great difficulty yesterday, and who now begs
you to draw him out of one to-day."

"Yet, I told you, monsieur, what my object was; that my object was not
to sleep out in the open air, and any man might express the same wish,
while you, however, admit nothing."

"Believe me, my dear Monsieur Malicorne," Saint-Aignan persisted, "that
if I were permitted to explain myself, I would do so."

"In that case, my dear monsieur, it is impossible for me to allow you to
enter Mademoiselle de Montalais's apartment."

"Why so?"

"You know why better than any one else, since you caught me on the wall
paying my addresses to Mademoiselle de Montalais; it would, therefore,
be an excess of kindness, on my part, you will admit, since I am paying
my attentions to her, to open the door of her room to you."

"But who told you it was on her account I asked you for the key?"

"For whom, then?"

"She does not lodge there alone, I suppose?"

"No, certainly; for Mademoiselle de la Valliere shares her rooms with
her; but, really, you have nothing more to do with Mademoiselle de la
Valliere than with Mademoiselle de Montalais, and there are only two men
to whom I would give this key; to M. de Bragelonne, if he begged me to
give it him, and to the king if he ordered me to do so."

"In that case, give me the key, monsieur, I order you to do so," said
the king, advancing from the obscurity, and partially opening his cloak.
"Mademoiselle de Montalais will step down to talk with you, while we go
upstairs to Mademoiselle de la Valliere, for, in fact, it is she only
whom we require."

"The king," exclaimed Malicorne, bowing down to the very ground.

"Yes, the king," said Louis, smiling, "the king, who is as pleased with
your resistance as with your capitulation. Rise, monsieur, and render
us the service we request of you."

"I obey your majesty," said Malicorne, leading the way up the staircase.

"Get Mademoiselle de Montalais to come down," said the king, "and do not
breathe a word to her of my visit."

Malicorne bowed in sign of obedience, and proceeded up the staircase.
But the king, after a hasty reflection, followed him, and that, too,
with such rapidity, that although Malicorne was already more than
half-way up the staircase, the king reached the room at the same moment
he did. He then observed by the door which remained half-opened behind
Malicorne, La Valliere, sitting in an armchair with her head thrown
back, and in the opposite corner Montalais, who, in her dressing-gown,
was standing before a looking-glass, engaged in arranging her hair, and
parleying all the while with Malicorne. The king hurriedly opened the
door, and entered the room. Montalais called out at the noise made by
the opening of the door, and, recognizing the king, made her escape. La
Valliere rose from her seat, like a dead person who had been galvanized,
and then fell back again in her armchair. The king advanced slowly
toward her.

"You wished for an audience, I believe," he said, coldly; "I am ready to
hear you. Speak."

Saint-Aignan, faithful to his character of being deaf, blind, and dumb,
had stationed himself in a corner of the door, upon a stool which he
fortuitously found there. Concealed by the tapestry which covered the
doorway, and leaning his back against the wall, he could in this way
listen without been seen; resigning himself to the post of a good
watch-dog, who patiently waits and watches without ever getting in his
master's way.

La Valliere, terror-stricken at the king's irritated aspect, again rose
a second time, and assuming a posture of humility and entreaty,
murmured, "Forgive me, sire."

"What need is there for my forgiveness?" asked Louis.

"Sire, I have been guilty of a great fault; nay, more than a great
fault, a great crime."

"You?"

"Sire, I have offended your majesty."

"Not the slightest degree in the world," replied Louis XIV.

"I implore you, sire, not to maintain toward me that terrible
seriousness of manner which reveals your majesty's just anger. I feel I
have offended you, sire; but I wish to explain to you how it was that I
have not offended you of my own accord."

"In the first place," said the king, "in what way can you possibly have
offended me? I cannot perceive how. Surely not on account of a young
girl's harmless and very innocent jest? You turned the credulity of a
young man into ridicule--it was very natural to do so; any other woman
in your place would have done the same."

"Oh! your majesty overwhelms me by your remark."

"Why so?"

"Because if I had been the author of the jest, it would not have been
innocent."

"Well! is that all you had to say to me in soliciting an audience?" said
the king, as though about to turn away.

Thereupon, La Valliere, in an abrupt and broken voice, her eyes dried up
by the fire of her tears, made a step toward the king, and said, "Did
your majesty hear everything?"

"Everything, what?"

"Everything I said beneath the royal oak."

"I did not lose a syllable."

"And when your majesty heard me, you were able to think I had abused
your credulity."

"Credulity; yes, indeed you have selected the very word."

"And your majesty did not suppose that a poor girl like myself might
possibly be compelled to submit to the will of others."

"Forgive me," returned the king; "but I shall never be able to
understand that she, who of her own free will could express herself so
unreservedly beneath the royal oak, would allow herself to be
influenced to such an extent by the direction of others."

"But the threat held out against me, sire."

"Threat! who threatened you--who dared to threaten you?"

"They who have the right to do so, sire."

"I do not recognize any one as possessing the right to threaten in my
kingdom."

"Forgive me, sire, but near your majesty, even, there are persons
sufficiently high in position to have, or to believe that they possess,
the right of injuring a young girl, without fortune, and possessing only
her reputation."

"In what way injure her?"

"In depriving her of her reputation, by disgracefully expelling her from
the court."

"Oh! Mademoiselle de la Valliere," said the king, bitterly, "I prefer
those persons who exculpate themselves without incriminating others."

"Sire!"

"Yes; and I confess that I greatly regret to perceive that an easy
justification, as your own might be, should have been complicated in my
presence by a tissue of reproaches and imputations against others."

"And which you do not believe?" exclaimed La Valliere. The king remained
silent.

"Nay, but tell me!" repeated La Valliere, vehemently.

"I regret to confess it," replied the king, bowing coldly.

The young girl uttered a deep groan, striking her hands together in
despair. "You do not believe me, then," she said to the king, who still
remained silent, while poor La Valliere's features became visibly
changed at his continued silence. "Therefore, you believe," she said,
"that I settled this ridiculous, this infamous plot, of trifling, in so
shameless a manner, with your majesty."

"Nay," said the king, "it is neither ridiculous nor infamous, it is not
even a plot; it is merely a jest, more or less amusing, and nothing
more."

"Oh!" murmured the young girl, "the king does not, and will not,
believe me, then?"

"No, indeed, I will not believe you," said the king. "Besides, in point
of fact, what can be more natural? The king, you argue, follows me,
listens to me, watches me; the king wishes perhaps to amuse himself at
my expense, I will amuse myself at his, and as the king is very
tender-hearted, I will take his heart by storm."

La Valliere hid her face in her hands, as she stifled her sobs. The king
continued most pitilessly, he revenged himself upon the poor victim
before him for all that he had himself suffered.

"Let us invent, then, this story of my loving him and preferring him to
others. The king is so simple and so conceited that he will believe me;
and then we can go and tell others how credulous the king is, and can
enjoy a laugh at his expense."

"Oh!" exclaimed La Valliere, "to think that, to believe that! it is
frightful."

"And," pursued the king, "that is not all; if this self-conceited prince
should take our jest seriously, if he should be imprudent enough to
exhibit before others anything like delight at it, well, in that case,
the king will be humiliated before the whole court; and what a
delightful story it will be, too, for him to whom I am really attached,
a part of my dowry for my husband, to have the adventure to relate of
the king who was so amusingly deceived by a young girl."

"Sire!" exclaimed La Valliere, her mind bewildered, almost wandering,
indeed, "not another word, I implore you; do you not see that you are
killing me?"

"A jest, nothing but a jest," murmured the king, who, however, began to
be somewhat affected.

La Valliere fell upon her knees, and that so violently, that their sound
could be heard upon the hard floor. "Sire," she said, "I prefer shame to
disloyalty."

"What do you mean?" inquired the king, without moving a step to raise
the young girl from her knees.

"Sire, when I shall have sacrificed my honor and my reason both to you,
you will perhaps believe in my loyalty. The tale which was related to
you in Madame's apartments, and by Madame herself, is utterly false; and
that which I said beneath the great oak--"

"Well!"

"That only is the truth."

"What!" exclaimed the king.

"Sire," exclaimed La Valliere, hurried away by the violence of her
emotions, "were I to die of shame on the very spot where my knees are
fixed, I would repeat it until my latest breath; I said that I loved
you, and it is true; I do love you."

"You!"

"I have loved you, sire, from the very day first I saw you; from the
moment when at Blois, where I was pining away my existence, your royal
looks, full of light and life, were first bent upon me. I love you
still, sire; it is a crime of high treason, I know, that a poor girl
like myself should love her sovereign and should presume to tell him so.
Punish me for my audacity, despise me for my shameless immodesty; but do
not ever say, do not ever think, that I have jested with or deceived
you. I belong to a family whose loyalty has been proved, sire; and I,
too, love my king."

Suddenly her strength, voice, and respiration ceased, and she fell
forward, like the flower Virgil alludes to, which the scythe of the
reaper touched as it passed over. The king, at these words, at this
vehement entreaty, no longer retained either ill-will or doubt in his
mind; his whole heart seemed to expand at the glowing breath of an
affection which proclaimed itself in such a noble and courageous
language. When, therefore, he heard the passionate confession of that
young girl's affection, his strength seemed to fail him, and he hid his
face in his hands. But when he felt La Valliere's hands clinging to his
own, when their warm pressure fired his blood, he bent forward, and
passing his arm round La Valliere's waist, he raised her from the ground
and pressed her against his heart. But she, her drooping head fallen
forward on her bosom, seemed to have ceased to live. The king,
terrified, called out for Saint-Aignan. Saint-Aignan, who had carried
his discretion so far as to remain without stirring in his corner,
pretending to wipe away a tear, ran forward at the king's summons. He
then assisted Louis to seat the young girl upon a couch, slapped her
hands, sprinkled some Hungary water over her face, calling out all the
while, "Come, come, it is all over; the king believes you, and forgives
you. There, there now! take care, or you will agitate his majesty too
much; his majesty is so sensitive, so tender-hearted. Now, really,
Mademoiselle de la Valliere, you must pay attention, for the king is
very pale."

The fact was, the king was visibly losing color. But La Valliere did not
move.

"Do pray recover," continued Saint-Aignan, "I beg, I implore you; it is
really time you should; think only of one thing, that if the king should
become unwell, I should be obliged to summon his physician. What a state
of things that would be! So do pray rouse yourself; make an effort, pray
do, and do it at once, too."

It was difficult to display more persuasive eloquence than Saint-Aignan
did, but something still more powerful and of a more energetic nature
than this eloquence aroused La Valliere. The king, who was kneeling
before her, covered the palms of her hands with those burning kisses
which are to the hands what a kiss upon the lips is to the face. La
Valliere's senses returned to her; she languidly opened her eyes, and,
with a dying look, murmured, "Oh! sire, has your majesty pardoned me,
then?"

The king did not reply, for he was still too much overcome. Saint-Aignan
thought it his duty again to retire, for he observed the passionate
devotion which was displayed in the king's gaze. La Valliere arose.

"And now, sire, that I have justified myself, at least I trust so in
your majesty's eyes, grant me leave to retire into a convent. I shall
bless your majesty all my life, and I shall die there thanking and
loving Heaven for having granted me one day of perfect happiness."

"No, no," replied the king, "you will live here blessing Heaven, on the
contrary, but loving Louis, who will make your existence one of perfect
felicity--Louis who loves you--Louis who swears it."

"Oh! sire, sire!"

And upon this doubt of La Valliere, the king's kisses became so warm
that Saint-Aignan thought it his duty to retire behind the tapestry.
These kisses however, which she had not had the strength at first to
resist, began to intimidate the young girl.

"Oh! sire," she exclaimed, "do not make me repent my loyalty, for it
would show me that your majesty despises me still."

"Mademoiselle de la Valliere," said the king, suddenly, drawing back
with an air full of respect, "there is nothing in the world that I love
and honor more than yourself, and nothing in my court, I call Heaven to
witness, shall be so highly regarded as you shall be henceforward. I
entreat your forgiveness for my transport; it arose from an excess of
affection, but I can prove to you that I shall love still more than ever
by respecting you as much as you can possibly desire." Then bending
before her, and taking her by the hand, he said to her, "Will you honor
me by accepting the kiss I press upon your hand?" And the king's lips
were pressed respectfully and lightly upon the young girl's trembling
hand. "Henceforth," added Louis, rising and bending his glance upon La
Valliere, "henceforth you are under my safeguard. Do not speak to any
one of the injury I have done you, forgive others that which they may
have been able to do you. For the future you shall be so far above all
those, that, far from inspiring you with fear, they shall be even
beneath your pity." And he bowed as reverently as though he were leaving
a place of worship. Then calling to Saint-Aignan, who approached with
great humility, he said, "I hope, comte, that Mademoiselle de la
Valliere will kindly confer a little of her friendship upon you, in
return for that which I have vowed to her eternally."

Saint-Aignan bent his knee before La Valliere, saying, "How happy,
indeed, would such an honor make me!"

"I shall send your companion back to you," said the king. "Farewell! or,
rather, adieu till we meet again; do not forget me in your prayers, I
entreat."

"Oh! no," said La Valliere, "be assured that you and heaven are in my
heart together."

These words of Louise elated the king, who, full of happiness, hurried
Saint-Aignan down the stairs. Madame had not anticipated this
termination, and neither the Naiad nor the Dryad had said a word about
it.



CHAPTER II.

THE NEW GENERAL OF THE JESUITS.


While La Valliere and the king were mingling together, in their first
confession of love, all the bitterness of the past, all the happiness of
the present, and all the hopes of the future, Fouquet had retired to the
apartments which had been assigned to him in the chateau, and was
conversing with Aramis precisely upon the very subjects which the king
at that moment was forgetting.

"Now tell me," began Fouquet, after having installed his guest in an
armchair, and seated himself by his side, "tell me, Monsieur d'Herblay,
what is our position with regard to the Belle-Isle affair, and whether
you have received any news about it."

"Everything is going on in that direction as we wish," replied Aramis;
"the expenses have been paid, and nothing has transpired of our
designs."

"But what about the soldiers whom the king wished to send there?"

"I have received news this morning that they had arrived there fifteen
days ago."

"And how have they been treated?"

"In the best manner possible."

"What has become of the former garrison?"

"The soldiers were landed at Sarzeau, and were sent off at once toward
Quimper."

"And the new garrison?"

"Belongs to us from this very moment."

"Are you sure of what you say, my dear Monsieur de Vannes?"

"Quite sure, and, moreover, you will see by-and-by how matters have
turned out."

"Still you are very well aware that, of all the garrison towns,
Belle-Isle is precisely the very worst."

"I know it, and have acted accordingly; no space to move about, no
communications, no cheerful society, no gambling permitted; well, it is
a great pity," added Aramis, with one of those smiles so peculiar to
him, "to see how much young people at the present day seek amusement,
and how much, consequently, they incline toward the man who procures and
pays for such amusements for them."

"But if they amuse themselves at Belle-Isle?"

"If they amuse themselves through the king's means, they will attach
themselves to the king; but if they get bored to death through the
king's means, and amuse themselves through M. Fouquet, they will attach
themselves to M. Fouquet."

"And you informed my intendant, of course, so that immediately on their
arrival--"

"By no means; they were left alone a whole week, to weary themselves at
their ease; but, at the end of the week, they cried out, saying that the
last officers amused themselves more than they did. Whereupon they were
told that the old officers had been able to make a friend of M. Fouquet,
and that M. Fouquet, knowing them to be friends of his, had from that
moment done all he possibly could to prevent their getting wearied or
bored upon his estates. Upon this they began to reflect. Immediately
afterward, however, the intendant added, that without anticipating M.
Fouquet's orders, he knew his master sufficiently well to be aware that
he took an interest in every gentleman in the king's service, and that,
although he did not know the new comers, he would do as much for them as
he had done for the others."

"Excellent! and I trust that the promises were followed up; I desire, as
you know, that no promise should ever be made in my name without being
kept."

"Without a moment's loss of time, our two privateers, and your own
horses, were placed at the disposal of the officers; the keys of the
principal mansion were handed over to them, so that they made up
hunting-parties, and walking-excursions with such ladies as are to be
found in Belle-Isle; and such others as they are enabled to enlist from
the neighborhood, who have no fear of sea-sickness."

"And there is a fair sprinkling to be met with at Sarzeau and Vannes, I
believe, your eminence?"

"Yes; all along the coast," said Aramis, quietly.

"And now, for the soldiers?"

"Everything is precisely the same, in a relative degree, you understand;
the soldiers have plenty of wine, excellent provisions, and good pay."

"Very good; so that?--"

"So that this garrison can be depended upon, and it is a better one than
the last."

"Good."

"The result is, if Fortune favors us, so that the garrisons are changed
in this manner, only every two months, that at the end of every three
years, the whole army will, in its turn, have been there; and,
therefore, instead of having one regiment in our favor, we shall have
fifty thousand men."

"Yes, yes; I knew perfectly well," said Fouquet, "that no friend could
be more incomparable and invaluable than yourself, my dear Monsieur
d'Herblay; but," he added, laughing, "all this time we are forgetting
our friend De Vallon; what has become of him? During the three days I
have spent at Saint-Mandé, I confess I have forgotten him completely."

"I do not forget him, however," returned Aramis. "Porthos is at
Saint-Mandé; all his joints are kept well greased, the greatest care is
being taken of him with regard to the food he eats, and to the wines he
drinks; I advise him to take daily airings in the small park, which you
have kept for your own use, and he makes use of it accordingly. He
begins to walk again, he exercises his muscular powers by bending down
young elm trees, or making the old oaks fly into splinters, as Milo of
Crotona used to do; and, as there are no lions in the park, it is not
unlikely we shall find him alive. Porthos is a brave fellow."

"Yes, but in the meantime he will get wearied to death."

"He never does that."

"He will be asking questions?"

"He sees no one."

"At all events, he is looking or hoping for something or another?"

"I have inspired in him a hope which we will realize some fine morning,
and he subsists on that."

"What is it?"

"That of being presented to the king."

"Oh! oh! in what character?"

"As the engineer of Belle-Isle, of course."

"Is it possible?"

"Quite true."

"Shall we not be obliged, then, to send him back to Belle-Isle?"

"Most certainly; I am even thinking of sending him back as soon as
possible. Porthos is very fond of display; he is a man whose weaknesses
D'Artagnan, Athos and myself are alone acquainted with; he never commits
himself in any way; he is dignity itself; to the officers there, he
would seem like a Paladin of the time of the Crusades. He would make the
whole staff drunk, without getting so himself, and every one will regard
him as an object of admiration and sympathy; if, therefore, it should
happen that we should have any orders requiring to be carried out,
Porthos is an incarnation of the order itself, and whatever he chose to
do, others would find themselves obliged to submit to."

"Send him back then."

"That is what I intend to do; but in a few days only, for I must not
omit to tell you one thing."

"What is it?"

"I begin to suspect D'Artagnan. He is not at Fontainebleau, as you may
have noticed, and D'Artagnan is never absent, or apparently idle,
without some object in view. And now that my own affairs are settled, I
am going to try and ascertain what the affairs are in which D'Artagnan
is engaged."

"Your own affairs are settled, you say?"

"Yes."

"You are very fortunate, in that case, then, and I should like to be
able to say the same."

"I hope you do not make yourself uneasy."

"Hum!"

"Nothing could be better than the king's reception of you."

"True."

"And Colbert lets you be quiet."

"Almost so."

"In that case," said Aramis, with that connection of ideas which marked
him, "in that, case, then, we can bestow a thought upon the young girl I
was speaking to you about yesterday."

"Whom do you mean?"

"What, have you forgotten already? I mean La Valliere."

"Ah! of course, of course."

"Do you object, then, to try and make a conquest of her?"

"In one respect only, my heart is engaged in another direction; and I
positively do not care about the girl in the least."

"Oh! oh!" said Aramis, "your heart is engaged, you say. The deuce! we
must take care of that!"

"Why?"

"Because it is terrible to have the heart occupied, when others, beside
yourself, have so much need of the head."

"You are right. So, you see, at your first summons, I left everything.
But to return to this girl. What good do you see in my troubling myself
about her?"

"This.--The king, it is said, has taken a fancy to her; at least, so it
is supposed."

"But you, who know everything, know very differently."

"I know that the king has changed with great rapidity; that the day
before yesterday, he was mad about Madame; that a few days ago, Monsieur
complained of it, even to the queen-mother; and that some conjugal
misunderstandings and maternal scoldings were the consequence."

"How do you know all that?"

"I do know it; at all events, since these misunderstandings and
scoldings the king has not addressed a word, has not paid the slightest
attention, to her royal highness."

"Well, what next?"

"Since then, he has been taken up with Mademoiselle de la Valliere. Now,
Mademoiselle de la Valliere is one of Madame's maids of honor. You
happen to know, I suppose, what is called a _chaperon_ in matters of
love. Well, then, Mademoiselle de la Valliere is Madame's _chaperon_. It
is for you, therefore, to take advantage of this state of things. You
have no occasion for me to tell you that. But, at all events, wounded
vanity will render the conquest an easier one; the girl will get hold of
the king, and Madame's secret, and you can hardly tell what a man of
intelligence can do with a secret."

"But how to get at her?"

"Nay, you, of all men, to ask me such a question?" said Aramis.

"Very true. I shall not have any time to take any notice of her."

"She is poor and unassuming, you will create a position for her, and,
whether she becomes the king's master, or his mistress, or whether she
only becomes his confidant, you will only have made a new proficient."

"Very good," said Fouquet. "What is to be done, then, with regard to
this girl?"

"Whenever you have taken a fancy to any lady, Monsieur Fouquet, what
steps have you taken?"

"I have written to her, protesting my devotion to her. I have added, how
happy I should be to render her any service in my power, and have signed
'Fouquet' at the end of the letter."

"And has any one offered any resistance?"

"One person only," replied Fouquet. "But, four days ago, she yielded, as
the others had done."

"Will you take the trouble to write?" said Aramis, holding a pen toward
him, which Fouquet took, saying:

"I will write at your dictation. My head is so taken up in another
direction that I should not be able to write a couple of lines."

"Very well," said Aramis, "write."

And he dictated as follows: "I have seen, and you will not be surprised
to learn, how beautiful I have found you. But, for want of the position
you merit at the court, your presence there is a waste of time. The
devotion of a man of honor, should ambition of any kind inspire you,
might possibly serve as a means of display for your talents and beauty.
I place my devotion at your feet; but, as an affection, however reserved
and unpresuming it may be, might possibly compromise the object of its
worship, it would ill-become a person of your merit running the risk of
being compromised, without her future being insured. If you would deign
to accept and reply to my affection, my affection shall prove its
gratitude to you in making you free and independent forever." Having
finished writing, Fouquet looked at Aramis.

"Sign it," said the latter.

"Is it absolutely necessary?"

"Your signature at the foot of that letter is worth a million; you
forget that." Fouquet signed.

"Now, by whom do you intend to send the letter?" asked Aramis.

"By an excellent servant of mine."

"Can you rely on him?"

"He is a man who has been with me all my life."

"Very well. Besides, in this case, we are not playing for very heavy
stakes."

"How so? For if what you say be true of the accommodating disposition of
this girl for the king and Madame, the king will give her all the money
she can ask for."

"The king has money, then?" asked Aramis.

"I suppose so, for he has not asked me for any more."

"Be easy; he will ask for some soon."

"Nay, more than that, I had thought he would have spoken to me about the
_fete_ at Vaux, but he never said a word about it."

"He will be sure to do so, though."

"You must think the king's disposition a very cruel one, Monsieur
d'Herblay."

"It is not he who is so."

"He is young, and therefore his disposition is a kind one."

"He is young, and either he is weak, or his passions are strong; and
Monsieur Colbert holds his weaknesses and his passions in his villainous
grasp."

"You admit that you fear him?--"

"I do not deny it."

"In that case I am lost."

"Why so?"

"My only influence with the king has been through the money I commanded,
and now I am a ruined man."

"Not so."

"What do you mean by 'not so?' Do you know my affairs better than
myself?"

"That is not unlikely."

"If he were to request this _fete_ to be given?"

"You will give it, of course."

"But where is the money to come from?"

"Have you ever been in want of any?"

"Oh, if you only knew at what a cost I procured the last supply!"

"The next shall cost you nothing."

"But who will give it me?"

"I will."

"What! give me six millions?"

"Ten, if necessary."

"Upon my word, D'Herblay," said Fouquet, "your confidence alarms me more
than the king's displeasure. Who can you possibly be, after all?"

"You know me well enough, I should think."

"Of course; but what is it you are aiming at?"

"I wish to see upon the throne of France a king devoted to Monsieur
Fouquet, and I wish Monsieur Fouquet to be devoted to me."

"Oh!" exclaimed Fouquet, pressing his hand, "as for belonging to you. I
am yours entirely: but believe me, my dear D'Herblay, you are deceiving
yourself."

"In what respect?"

"The king will never become devoted to me."

"I do not remember to have said that the king would be devoted to you."

"Why, on the contrary, you have this moment said so."

"I did not say the king: I said a king."

"Is it not all the same?"

"No, on the contrary, it is quite different."

"I do not understand you."

"You will do so shortly then. Suppose, for instance, the king in
question were to be a very different person to Louis XIV."

"Another person?"

"Yes, who is indebted for everything to you."

"Impossible!"

"His very throne even."

"You are mad, D'Herblay! There is no man living besides Louis XIV. who
can sit on the throne of France. I see none, not one."

"Unless it be Monsieur," said Fouquet, looking at Aramis uneasily, "yet
Monsieur--"

"It is not Monsieur."

"But how can it be that a prince not of the royal line, that a prince
without any right--"

"My king, or rather your king, will be everything that is necessary, be
assured of that."

"Be careful, Monsieur d'Herblay; you make my blood run cold, and my head
swim."

Aramis smiled. "There is but little occasion for that," he replied.

"Again, I repeat, you terrify me!" said Fouquet.

Aramis smiled.

"You laugh," said Fouquet.

"The day will come when you will laugh too; only at the present moment I
must laugh alone."

"But explain yourself."

"When the proper day shall have arrived, I will explain all. Fear
nothing; have faith in me, and doubt nothing."

"The fact is, I cannot but doubt, because I do not see clearly, or at
all even."

"That is because of your blindness: but a day will come when you will be
enlightened."

"Oh," said Fouquet, "how willingly would I believe!"

"You without belief! You who, through my means, have ten times crossed
the abyss yawning at your feet, and in which, had you been alone, you
would have been irretrievably swallowed up! You without belief! you who,
from procureur-general, attained the rank of intendant, from the rank of
intendant that of first minister of the crown, and who, from the rank of
first minister, will pass to that of mayor of the palace! But no," he
said, with the same unaltered smile, "no, no, you cannot see, and
consequently cannot believe that." And Aramis rose to withdraw.

"One word more," said Fouquet. "You have never yet spoken to me in this
manner, you have never yet shown yourself so confident--I should rather
say so daring."

"Because it is necessary, in order to speak confidently, to have the
lips unfettered."

"And that is now your case?"

"Yes."

"Since a very short time, then?"

"Since yesterday only."

"Oh, Monsieur d'Herblay, take care; your confidence is becoming
audacity."

"One can well be audacious when one is powerful."

"And you are powerful?"

"I have already offered you ten millions: I offer them again to you."

Fouquet rose, much agitated and disturbed.

"Come," he said, "come; you spoke of overthrowing kings and replacing
them by others. If, indeed, I am not really out of my senses, is or is
not that what you said just now?"

"You are by no means out of your senses, for it is perfectly true I did
say all that just now."

"And why did you say so?"

"Because it is easy to speak in this manner of thrones being cast down,
and kings being raised up, when one is, one's self, far above all king's
and thrones, of this world at least."

"Your power is infinite, then?" cried Fouquet.

"I have told you so already, and I repeat it," replied Aramis, with
glistening eyes and trembling lips.

Fouquet threw himself back in his chair and buried his face in his
hands. Aramis looked at him for a moment, as the angel of human
destinies might have looked upon a simple mortal being.

"Adieu," he said to him, "sleep undisturbed, and send your letter to La
Valliere. To-morrow we shall see each other again."

"Yes, to-morrow," said Fouquet, shaking his hand like a man returning to
his senses. "But where shall we see each other?"

"At the king's promenade, if you like."

"Agreed." And they separated.



CHAPTER III.

THE STORM.


The dawn of the following day was dark and gloomy, and as every one knew
that the promenade was set down in the royal programme, every one's
gaze, as his eyes were opened, was directed toward the sky. Just above
the tops of the trees a thick, suffocating vapor seemed to remain
suspended, with hardly sufficient power to rise thirty feet above the
ground under the influence of the sun's rays, which could barely be seen
through the veil of a heavy and thick mist. No dew had fallen in the
morning; the turf was dried up for want of moisture, the flowers were
withered. The birds sung less inspiritingly than usual amid the boughs,
which remained as motionless as death. The strange confused and animated
murmurs, which seemed born of, and to exist by the sun, that respiration
of nature which is unceasingly heard amid all other sounds, could not
be heard now, and never had the silence been so profound. The king had
noticed the cheerless aspect of the heavens as he approached the window
immediately after rising. But as all the necessary directions had been
given respecting the promenade, and every preparation had been made
accordingly, and as, which was far more imperious than everything else,
Louis relied upon this promenade to satisfy the cravings of his
imagination, and we will even already say, the clamorous desires of his
heart--the king unhesitatingly decided that the appearance of the
heavens had nothing whatever to do with the matter; that the promenade
was arranged, and that, whatever the state of the weather might be, the
promenade should take place. Besides there are certain terrestrial
sovereigns who seem to have accorded them privileged existences, and
there are certain times when it might almost be supposed that the
expressed wish of an earthly monarch has its influence over the Divine
will. It was Virgil who observed of Augustus: _Nocte placet tota redeunt
spectacula manè_. Louis attended mass as usual, but it was evident that
his attention was somewhat distracted from the presence of the Creator
by the remembrance of the creature. His mind was occupied during the
service in reckoning more than once the number of minutes, then of
seconds, which separated him from the blissful moment when the promenade
would begin, that is to say, the moment when Madame would set out with
her maids of honor.

Besides, as a matter of course, everybody at the chateau was ignorant of
the interview which had taken place between La Valliere and the king.
Montalais, perhaps, with her usual chattering propensity, might have
been disposed to talk about it; but Montalais on this occasion was held
in check by Malicorne, who had placed upon her lips the padlock of
mutual interest. As for Louis XIV., his happiness was so extreme that he
had forgiven Madame, or nearly so, her little piece of ill-nature of the
previous evening. In fact, he had occasion to congratulate himself
about it rather than to complain of it. Had it not been for her
ill-natured action, he would not have received the letter from La
Valliere; had it not been for the letter, he would have had no
interview; and had it not been for the interview he would have remained
undecided. His heart was filled with too much happiness for any
ill-feeling to remain in it, at that moment at least. Instead,
therefore, of knitting his brows into a frown when he perceived his
sister-in-law, Louis resolved to receive her in a more friendly and
gracious manner than usual. But on one condition only, that she would be
ready to set out early. Such was the nature of Louis's thoughts during
mass, and which made him, during the ceremony, forget matters, which, in
his character of Most Christian King and of the oldest son of the
Church, ought to have occupied his attention. He returned to the
chateau, and as the promenade was fixed for mid-day only, and it was at
present just ten o'clock, he set to work most desperately with Colbert
and Lyonne. But even while he worked, Louis went from the table to the
window, inasmuch as the window looked out upon Madame's pavilion; he
could see M. Fouquet in the courtyard, to whom the courtiers, since the
favor shown toward him on the previous evening, paid greater attention
than ever. The king, instinctively, on noticing Fouquet, turned toward
Colbert, who was smiling, and seemed full of benevolence and delight, a
state of feeling which had arisen from the very moment one of his
secretaries had entered and handed him a pocket-book, which he had put
unopened into his pocket. But, as there was always something sinister at
the bottom of any delight expressed by Colbert, Louis preferred of the
smiles of the two men that of Fouquet. He beckoned to the surintendant
to come up, and then, turning toward Lyonne and Colbert, he said:
"Finish this matter, place it on my desk, and I will read it at my
leisure." And he left the room. At the sign the king had made to him,
Fouquet had hastened up the staircase, while Aramis, who was with the
surintendant, quietly retired among the group of courtiers, and
disappeared without having been even observed by the king. The king and
Fouquet met at the top of the staircase.

"Sire," said Fouquet, remarking the gracious manner in which Louis was
about to receive him, "your majesty has overwhelmed me with kindness
during the last few days. It is not a youthful monarch, but a being of a
higher order, who reigns over France--one whom pleasure, happiness, and
love acknowledge as their master." The king colored. The compliment,
although flattering, was not the less somewhat direct. Louis conducted
Fouquet to a small room which separated his study from his sleeping
apartment.

"Do you know why I summoned you?" said the king, as he seated himself
upon the edge of the window, so as not to lose anything that might be
passing in the gardens which fronted the opposite entrance to Madame's
pavilion.

"No, sire," replied Fouquet; "but I am sure for something agreeable, if
I am to judge from your majesty's gracious smile."

"You are mistaken, then."

"I, sire?"

"For I summoned you, on the contrary, to pick a quarrel with you."

"With me, sire?"

"Yes, and that a serious one."

"Your majesty alarms me; and yet I wait most confident in your justice
and goodness."

"Do you know I am told, Monsieur Fouquet, that you are preparing a grand
_fete_ at Vaux."

Fouquet smiled, as a sick man would do at the first shiver of a fever
which has left him but returns again.

"And that you have not invited me!" continued the king.

"Sire," replied Fouquet, "I have not even thought of the _fete_ you
speak of, and it was only yesterday evening that one of my _friends_"
(Fouquet laid a stress upon the word) "was kind enough to make me think
of it."

"Yet I saw you yesterday evening, Monsieur Fouquet, and you said nothing
to me about it."

"How dared I hope that your majesty would so greatly descend from your
own exalted station as to honor my dwelling with your royal presence?"

"Excuse me, Monsieur Fouquet, you did not speak to me about your
_fete_."

"I did not allude to the _fete_ to your majesty, I repeat, in the first
place, because nothing had been decided with regard to it, and,
secondly, because I feared a refusal."

"And something made you fear a refusal, Monsieur Fouquet? You see I am
determined to push you hard."

"The profound wish I had that your majesty should accept my
invitation--"

"Well, Monsieur Fouquet, nothing is easier, I perceive, than our coming
to an understanding. Your wish is to invite me to your _fete_--my own is
to be present at it; invite me, and I will go."

"Is it possible that your majesty will deign to accept?" murmured the
surintendant.

"Why, really, monsieur," said the king, laughing, "I think I do more
than accept--I think I invite myself."

"Your majesty overwhelms me with honor and delight!" exclaimed Fouquet;
"but I shall be obliged to repeat what M. de Vieuville said to your
ancestor Henry the Fourth, '_Domine non sum dignus_.'"

"To which I reply, Monsieur Fouquet, that if you give a _fete_, I will
go whether I am invited or not."

"I thank your majesty deeply," said Fouquet, as he raised his head
beneath this favor, which he was convinced would be his ruin.

"But how could your majesty have been informed of it?"

"By public rumor, Monsieur Fouquet, which says such wonderful things of
yourself and of the marvels of your house. Would you become proud,
Monsieur Fouquet, if the king were to be jealous of you?"

"I should be the happiest man in the world, sire, since the very day on
which your majesty were to be jealous of Vaux, I should possess
something worthy of being offered to you."

"Very well, Monsieur Fouquet, prepare your _fete_, and open the doors
of your house as wide as possible."


[Illustration: AS THE RAIN DRIPPED MORE AND MORE THROUGH THE FOLIAGE
OF THE OAK, THE KING HELD HIS HAT OVER THE HEAD OF THE YOUNG
GIRL.--_Page 22._]


"It is for your majesty to fix the day."

"This day month, then."

"Has your majesty any further commands?"

"Nothing, Monsieur Fouquet, except from the present moment until then to
have you near me as much as possible."

"I have the honor to form one of your majesty's party for the
promenade."

"Very good. I am now going out indeed, for there are the ladies, I see,
who are going to start."

With this remark, the king, with all the eagerness, not only of a young
man, but of a young man in love, withdrew from the window, in order to
take his gloves and cane, which his valet held ready for him. The
neighing of the horses and the rumbling of the wheels on the gravel of
the courtyard could be distinctly heard. The king descended the stairs,
and at the moment he made his appearance upon the flight of steps every
one stopped. The king walked straight up to the young queen. The
queen-mother, who was still suffering more than ever from the illness
with which she was afflicted, did not wish to go out. Maria Theresa
accompanied Madame in her carriage, and asked the king in what direction
he wished the promenade to take place. The king, who had just seen La
Valliere, still pale from the events of the previous evening, get into a
carriage with three of her companions, told the queen that he had no
preference, and wherever she would wish to go, there would he be with
her. The queen then desired that the out-riders should proceed in the
direction of Apremont. The out-riders set off, accordingly, before the
others. The king rode on horseback, and for a few minutes accompanied
the carriage of the queen and Madame, with his hand resting upon the
door. The weather had cleared up a little, but a kind of veil of dust,
like a thick gauze, was still spread over the surface of the heavens,
and the sun made every glittering atom of dust glisten again within the
circuit of its rays. The heat was stifling; but as the king did not seem
to pay any attention to the appearance of the heavens, no one made
himself uneasy about it, and the promenade, in obedience to the orders
which had been given by the queen, took its course in the direction of
Apremont. The courtiers who followed were merry and full of spirits; it
was evident that every one tried to forget, and to make others forget,
the bitter discussions of the previous evening. Madame, particularly,
was delightful; in fact, seeing the king at the door of her carriage, as
she did not suppose he would be there for the queen's sake, she hoped
that her prince had returned to her. Hardly, however, had they proceeded
a quarter of a mile on the road, when the king, with a gracious smile,
saluted them and drew up his horse, leaving the queen's carriage to pass
on, then that of the principal ladies of honor, and then all the others
in succession, who, seeing the king stop, wished in their turn to stop
too; but the king made a sign to them to continue their progress. When
La Valliere's carriage passed, the king approached it, saluted the
ladies who were inside, and was preparing to accompany the carriage
containing the maids of honor, in the same way he had followed that in
which Madame was, when suddenly the whole file of carriages stopped. It
was probable that Madame, uneasy at the king having left her, had just
given directions for the performance of this maneuver, the direction in
which the promenade was to take place having been left to her. The king
having sent to inquire what her object was in stopping the carriages,
was informed in reply that she wished to walk. She very likely hoped
that the king, who was following the carriages of the maids of honor on
horseback, would not venture to follow the maids of honor themselves on
foot. They had arrived in the middle of the forest. The promenade, in
fact, was not ill-timed, especially for those who were dreamers or
lovers. From the little open space where the halt had taken place, three
beautiful long walks, shady and undulating, stretched out before them.
These walks were covered with moss, with leaves lying scattered idly
about; and each walk had its horizon in the distance, consisting of
about a handbreadth of sky, apparent through the interlacing of the
branches of the trees. At the end of the walks, evidently in great
tribulation and uneasiness, the startled deer were seen hurrying to and
fro, first stopping for a moment in the middle of the path, and then
raising their heads, they fled with the speed of an arrow, or bounded
into the depths of the forest, where they disappeared from view; now and
then a rabbit of philosophical mien could be noticed quietly sitting
upright, rubbing his muzzle with his fore-paws, and looking about
inquiringly, as though wondering whether all these people, who were
approaching in his direction, and who had just disturbed him in his
meditations and his meal, were not followed by their dogs, or had not
their guns under their arms. All alighted from their carriages as soon
as they observed that the queen was doing so. Maria Theresa took the arm
of one of her ladies of honor, and, with a side-glance toward the king,
who did not perceive that he was in the slightest degree the object of
the queen's attention, entered the forest by the first path before her.
Two of the out-riders preceded her majesty with long poles, which they
used for the purpose of putting the branches of the trees aside, or
removing the bushes which might impede her progress. As soon as Madame
alighted, she found the Comte de Guiche at her side, who bowed and
placed himself at her disposal. Monsieur, delighted with his bath of the
two previous days, had announced his preference for the river, and,
having given De Guiche leave of absence, remained at the chateau with
the Chevalier de Lorraine and Manicamp. He was not in the slightest
degree jealous. He had been looked for to no purpose among those
present; but as Monsieur was a man who thought a great deal of himself,
and usually added very little to the general pleasure, his absence had
rather been a subject of satisfaction than of regret. Every one had
followed the example which the queen and Madame had set, doing just as
they pleased, according as chance or fancy influenced them. The king,
we have already observed, remained near Valliere, and, throwing himself
off his horse at the moment the door of her carriage was opened, he
offered her his hand to alight. Montalais and Tonnay-Charente
immediately drew back and kept at a distance; the former from
calculated, the latter from prudent, motives. There was this difference,
however, between the two, that the one had withdrawn from a wish to
please the king, the other for a very opposite reason. During the last
half hour the weather also had undergone a change; the veil which had
been spread over the sky, as if driven by a blast of heated air, had
become massed together in the western part of the heavens; and afterward
as if driven back by a current of air from the opposite direction, was
now advancing slowly and heavily toward them. The approach of the storm
could be felt, but as the king did not perceive it, no one thought it
was right to do so. The promenade was therefore continued; some of the
company, with minds ill at ease on the subject, raised their eyes from
time to time toward the sky; others, even more timid still, walked about
without wandering too far from the carriages, where they relied upon
taking shelter in case the storm burst. The greater number of these,
however, observing that the king fearlessly entered the wood with La
Valliere, followed his majesty. The king, noticing this, took La
Valliere's hand, and led her away by a side-path, where no one this time
ventured to follow him.



CHAPTER IV.

THE SHOWER OF RAIN.


At this moment, and in the same direction, too, that the king and La
Valliere were proceeding, except that they were walking in the wood
itself instead of following the path, two men were walking together,
utterly indifferent to the appearance of the heavens. Their heads were
bent down in the manner of people occupied with matters of great
moment. They had not observed either De Guiche or Madame, or the king
or La Valliere. Suddenly something passed through the air like a stream
of fire, followed by a loud but distant rumbling noise.

"Ah!" said one of them, raising his head, "here is the storm. Let us
reach our carriages, my dear D'Herblay."

Aramis looked inquiringly at the heavens. "There is no occasion to hurry
yet," he said; and then, resuming the conversation where it had
doubtlessly been interrupted, he said, "You were observing that the
letter we wrote last evening must by this time have reached its
destination?"

"I was saying that she certainly has it."

"Whom did you send it by?"

"By my own servant, as I have already told you."

"Did he bring back an answer?"

"I have not seen him since; the young girl was probably in attendance on
Madame, or was in her own room dressing, and he may have had to wait.
Our time for leaving arrived, and we set off, of course: I cannot,
therefore, know what is going on yonder."

"Did you see the king before leaving?"

"Yes."

"How did he seem?"

"Nothing could be better, or worse; according as he be sincere or
hypocritical."

"And the _fete_?"

"Will take place in a month."

"He invited himself, you say?"

"With a pertinacity in which I detected Colbert's influence. But has not
last night removed your illusions?"

"What illusions?"

"With respect to the assistance you may be able to give me in this
circumstance."

"No; I have passed the night writing, and all my orders are given."

"Do not conceal it from yourself, D'Herblay, but the _fete_ will cost
some millions."

"I will give six, do you on your side get two or three."

"You are a wonderful man, my dear D'Herblay."

Aramis smiled.

"But," inquired Fouquet, with some remaining uneasiness, "how is it
that, while now you are squandering millions in this manner, a few days
ago you did not pay the fifty thousand francs to Baisemeaux out of your
own pocket?"

"Because a few days ago I was as poor as Job."

"And to-day?"

"To-day I am wealthier than the king himself."

"Very well," said Fouquet; "I understand men pretty well; I know you
are incapable of forfeiting your word; I do not wish to wrest your
secret from you, and so let us talk no more about it."

At this moment a dull, heavy rumbling was heard, which suddenly burst
forth in a violent clap of thunder.

"Oh, oh!" said Fouquet, "I was quite right in what I said."

"Come," said Aramis, "let us rejoin the carriages."

"We shall not have time," said Fouquet, "for here comes the rain."

In fact, as he spoke, and as if the heavens were opened, a shower of
large drops of rain was suddenly heard falling on the trees about them.

"We shall have time," said Aramis, "to reach the carriages before the
foliage becomes saturated."

"It will be better," said Fouquet, "to take shelter somewhere--in a
grotto, for instance."

"Yes, but where are we to find a grotto?" inquired Aramis.

"I know one," said Fouquet, smiling, "not ten paces from here." Then
looking round about him, he added: "Yes, we are quite right."

"You are very fortunate to have so good a memory said Aramis," smiling in
his turn; "but are you not afraid that your coachman, finding we do not
return, will suppose we have taken another road back, and that he will
not follow the carriages belonging to the court?"

"Oh, there is no fear of that," said Fouquet; "whenever I place my
coachman and my carriage in any particular spot, nothing but an express
order from the king could stir them; and more than that, too, it seems
that we are not the only ones who have come so far, for I hear footsteps
and the sound of voices."

As he spoke, Fouquet, turning round, opened with his cane a mass of
foliage which hid the path from his view. Aramis' glance as well as his
own plunged at the same moment through the opening he had made.

"A woman," said Aramis.

"And a man," said Fouquet.

"It is La Valliere and the king," they both exclaimed together.

"Oh, oh!" said Aramis, "is his majesty aware of your cavern as well? I
should not be astonished if he were, for he seems to be on very good
terms with the nymphs of Fontainebleau."

"It matters little," said Fouquet; "let us get there; if he is not aware
of it we shall see what he will do; if he should know it, as it has two
entrances, while he enters by one, we can leave by the other."

"Is it far?" asked Aramis, "for the rain is beginning to penetrate."

"We are there now," said Fouquet, as he put aside a few branches, and an
excavation of the rock could be observed, which had been entirely
concealed by heaths, ivy, and a thick covert of small shrubs.

Fouquet led the way, followed by Aramis; but as the latter entered the
grotto, he turned round, saying: "Yes, they are now entering the wood;
and, see, they are bending their steps this way."

"Very well; let us make room for them," said Fouquet, smiling and
pulling Aramis by his cloak; "but I do not think the king knows of my
grotto."

"Yes," said Aramis, "they are looking about them, but it is only for a
thicker tree."

Aramis was not mistaken, the king's looks were directed upward, and not
around him. He held La Valliere's arm within his own, and held her hand
in his. La Valliere's feet began to slip on the damp grass. Louis again
looked round him with greater attention than before, and perceiving an
enormous oak with wide-spreading branches, he hurriedly drew La
Valliere beneath its protecting shelter. The poor girl looked round her
on all sides, and seemed half afraid, half desirous, of being followed.
The king made her lean her back against the trunk of the tree, whose
vast circumference, protected by the thickness of the foliage, was as
dry as if at that moment the rain had not been falling in torrents. He
himself remained standing before her with his head uncovered. After a
few minutes, however, some drops of rain penetrated through the branches
of the tree and fell on the king's forehead, who did not pay any
attention to it.

"Oh, sire!" murmured La Valliere, pushing the king's hat toward him. But
the king simply bowed, and determinedly refused to cover his head.

"Now or never is the time to offer your place," said Fouquet in Aramis'
ear.

"Now or never is the time to listen, and not lose a syllable of what
they may have to say to each other," replied Aramis in Fouquet's ear.

In fact, they both remained perfectly silent, and the king's voice
reached them where they were.

"Believe me," said the king, "I perceive, or rather I can imagine your
uneasiness; believe how sincerely I regret to have isolated you from the
rest of the company, and to have brought you, also, to a spot where you
will be inconvenienced by the rain. You are wet already, and perhaps are
cold, too?"

"No, sire."

"And yet you tremble?"

"I am afraid, sire, that my absence may be misinterpreted; at a moment,
too, when all the others are reunited."

"I would not hesitate to propose returning to the carriages,
Mademoiselle de la Valliere, but pray look and listen, and tell me if it
be possible to attempt to make the slightest progress at the present?"

In fact the thunder was still rolling, and the rain continued to fall in
torrents.

"Besides," continued the king, "no possible interpretation can be made
which would be to your discredit. Are you not with the king of France;
in other words, with the first gentleman of the kingdom?"

"Certainly, sire," replied La Valliere, "and it is a very distinguished
honor for me; it is not, therefore, for myself that I fear the
interpretations that may be made."

"For whom, then?"

"For yourself, sire."

"For me?" said the king, smiling; "I do not understand you."

"Has your majesty already forgotten what took place yesterday evening in
her highness's apartments?"

"Oh! forget that, I beg, or allow me to remember it for no other purpose
than to thank you once more for your letter, and--"

"Sire," interrupted La Valliere, "the rain is falling, and your
majesty's head is uncovered."

"I entreat you not to think of anything but yourself."

"Oh! I," said La Valliere, smiling, "I am a country girl, accustomed to
roaming through the meadows of the Loire and the gardens of Blois,
whatever the weather may be. And, as for my clothes," she added, looking
at her simple muslin dress, "your majesty sees they do not run much
risk."

"Indeed, I have already noticed, more than once, that you owed nearly
everything to yourself and nothing to your toilet. Your freedom from
coquetry is one of your greatest charms in my eyes."

"Sire, do not make me out better than I am, and say merely, 'You cannot
be a coquette.'"

"Why so?"

"Because," said La Valliere, smiling, "I am not rich."

"You admit, then," said the king, quickly, "that you have a love for
beautiful things?"

"Sire, I only regard those things as beautiful which are within my
reach. Everything which is too highly placed for me--"

"You are indifferent to?"

"Is foreign to me, as being prohibited."

"And I," said the king, "do not find that you are at my court on the
footing you should be. The services of your family have not been
sufficiently brought under my notice. The advancement of your family has
been cruelly neglected by my uncle."

"On the contrary, sire. His royal highness, the Duke of Orleans, had
always been exceedingly kind toward M. de Saint-Remy, my father-in-law.
The services rendered were humble, and, properly speaking, our services
have been adequately recognized. It is not every one who is happy enough
to find opportunities of serving his sovereign with distinction. I have
no doubt at all, that, if ever opportunities had been met with, my
family's actions would; but that happiness has never been ours."

"In that case, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, it belongs to kings to
repair the want of opportunity, and most delightedly do I undertake to
repair, in your instance, and with the least possible delay, the wrongs
of fortune toward you."

"Nay, sire," cried La Valliere, eagerly; "leave things, I beg, as they
now are."

"Is it possible! you refuse what I ought, and what I wish to do for
you?"

"All I desired has been granted me, when the honor was conferred upon me
of forming one of Madame's household."

"But if you refuse for yourself, at least accept for your family."

"Your generous intention, sire, bewilders and makes me apprehensive,
for, in doing for my family what your kindness urges you to do, your
majesty will raise up enemies for us, and enemies for yourself too.
Leave me in my mediocrity, sire; of all the feelings and sentiments I
experience, leave me to enjoy that pleasing delicacy of
disinterestedness."

"The sentiments you express," said the king, "are indeed admirable."

"Quite true," murmured Aramis in Fouquet's ear, "and he cannot be
accustomed to them."

"But," replied Fouquet, "suppose she were to make a similar reply to my
letter."

"True!" said Aramis, "let us not anticipate, but wait the conclusion."

"And then, dear Monsieur d'Herblay," added the surintendant, hardly able
to appreciate the sentiments which La Valliere had just expressed, "it
is very often a sound calculation to seem disinterested with monarchs."

"Exactly what I was thinking this very minute," said Aramis. "Let us
listen."

The king approached nearer to La Valliere, and as the rain dripped more
and more through the foliage of the oak, he held his hat over the head
of the young girl, who raised her beautiful blue eyes toward the royal
hat which sheltered her, and shook her head, sighing deeply as she did
so.

"What melancholy thought," said the king, "can possibly reach your heart
when I place mine as a rampart before it?"

"I will tell you, sire. I had already once before broached this
question, which is so difficult for a young girl of my age to discuss,
but your majesty imposed silence on me. Your majesty belongs not to
yourself alone, you are married; and every sentiment which would
separate your majesty from the queen, in leading your majesty to take
notice of me, will be a source of the profoundest sorrow for the queen."
The king endeavored to interrupt the young girl, but she continued with
a suppliant gesture. "The Queen Maria, with an attachment which can be
so well understood, follows with her eyes every step of your majesty
which separates you from her. Happy enough in having had her fate united
to your own, she weepingly implores Heaven to preserve you to her, and
is jealous of the faintest throb of your heart bestowed elsewhere." The
king again seemed anxious to speak, but again did La Valliere venture to
prevent him.--"Would it not, therefore, be a most blameable action," she
continued, "if your majesty, a witness of this anxious and disinterested
affection, gave the queen any cause for her jealousy? Forgive me, sire,
for the expression I have used. I well know it is impossible, or rather
that it would be impossible, that the greatest queen of the whole world
could be jealous of a poor girl like myself. But, though a queen, she is
still a woman, and her heart, like that of any of her sex, cannot close
itself against the suspicions which such as are evilly disposed
insinuate. For Heaven's sake, sire, think no more of me, I am unworthy
of your regard."

"Do you know that in speaking as you have done you change my esteem for
you into admiration?"

"Sire, you assume my words to be contrary to the truth; you suppose me
to be better than I really am, and attach a greater merit to me than God
ever intended should be the case. Spare me, sire; for, did I not know
that your majesty was the most generous man in your kingdom, I should
believe you were jesting."

"You do not, I know, fear such a thing; I am quite sure of that,"
exclaimed Louis.

"I shall be obliged to believe it, if your majesty continues to hold
such language toward me."

"I am most unhappy, then," said the king, in a tone of regret which was
not assumed: "I am the unhappiest prince in the whole Christian world,
since I am powerless to induce belief in my words in one whom I love the
best in the wide world, and who almost breaks my heart by refusing to
credit my regard for her."

"Oh, sire!" said La Valliere, gently putting the king aside, who had
approached nearer to her, "I think the storm has passed away now, and
the rain has ceased." At the very moment, however, as the poor girl,
fleeing, as it were, from her own heart, which doubtlessly throbbed too
much in unison with the king's, uttered these words, the storm undertook
to contradict her. A bluish flash of lightning illumined the forest with
a wild, weird-like glare, and a peal of thunder, like a discharge of
artillery, burst over their very heads, as if the height of the oak
which sheltered them had attracted the storm. The young girl could not
repress a cry of terror. The king with one hand drew her toward his
heart, and stretched the other above her head, as though to shield her
from the lightning. A moment's silence ensued, as the group, delightful
as everything young and loving is delightful, remained motionless, while
Fouquet and Aramis contemplated it in attitudes as motionless as La
Valliere and the king. "Oh, sire, sire!" murmured La Valliere, "do you
hear?" and her head fell upon his shoulder.

"Yes," said the king. "You see the storm has not passed away."

"It is a warning, sire." The king smiled. "Sire, it is the voice of
Heaven in anger."

"Be it so," said the king. "I agree to accept that peal of thunder as a
warning, and even as a menace, if, in five minutes from the present
moment, it is renewed with equal violence; but if not, permit me to
think that the storm is a storm simply, and nothing more." And the king,
at the same moment, raised his head, as if to interrogate the heavens.
But, as if the remark had been heard and accepted, during the five
minutes which elapsed after the burst of thunder which had alarmed them
no renewed repeal was heard; and when the thunder was again heard, it
was passing away in so audible a manner, as if, during those same five
minutes, the storm, put to flight, had traversed the heavens with the
speed of the wings of the wind. "Well, Louise," said the king, in a low
tone of voice, "will you still threaten me with the anger of Heaven?
and, since you wished to regard the storm as a presentiment, will you
still believe that presentiment to be one of misfortune?"

The young girl looked up, and saw that while they had been talking the
rain had penetrated the foliage above them, and was trickling down the
king's face. "Oh, sire, sire!" she exclaimed, in accents of eager
apprehension, which greatly agitated the king. "It is for me," she
murmured, "that the king remains thus uncovered, and exposed to the
rain. What am I, then?"

"You are, you perceive," said the king, "the divinity who dissipates the
storm, and brings back fine weather." In fact, a ray of sunlight
streamed through the forest, and caused the rain-drops which rested upon
the leaves, or fell vertically among the openings in the branches of the
trees, to glisten like diamonds.

"Sire," said La Valliere, almost overcome, but making a powerful effort
over herself, "think of the anxieties your majesty will have to submit
to on my account. At this very moment they are seeking you in every
direction. The queen must be full of uneasiness; and Madame--oh,
Madame!" the young girl exclaimed, with an expression which almost
resembled terror.

This name had a certain effect upon the king. He started, and disengaged
himself from La Valliere, whom he had, till that moment, held pressed
against his heart. He then advanced toward the path, in order to look
round, and returned, somewhat thoughtfully, to La Valliere. "Madame, did
you say?" he remarked.

"Yes, Madame; she, too, is jealous," said La Valliere, with a marked
tone of voice; and her eyes, so timorous in their expression, and so
modestly fugitive in their glance, for a moment ventured to look
inquiringly in the king's eyes.

"Still," returned Louis, making an effort over himself, "it seems to me
that Madame has no reason, no right to be jealous of me."

"Alas!" murmured La Valliere.

"Are you, too," said the king, almost in a tone of reproach, "are you
among those who think the sister has a right to be jealous of the
brother?"

"It is not for me, sire, to penetrate your majesty's secrets."

"You do believe it, then?" exclaimed the king.

"I do believe Madame is jealous, sire," La Valliere replied, firmly.

"Is it possible," said the king, with some anxiety, "that you have
perceived it, then, from her conduct toward you? Have her manners in any
way been such toward you that you can attribute them to the jealousy you
speak of?"

"Not at all, sire; I am of so little importance."

"Oh! if it were really the case--" exclaimed Louis, violently.

"Sire," interrupted the young girl, "it has ceased raining; some one is
coming, I think." And, forgetful of all etiquette, she had seized the
king by the arm.

"Well," replied the king, "let them come. Who is there who would venture
to think I had done wrong in remaining alone with Mademoiselle de la
Valliere?"

"For pity's sake, sire! they will think it strange to see you wet
through in this manner, and that you should have run such risk for me."

"I have simply done my duty as a gentleman," said Louis; "and woe to him
who may fail in his, in criticising his sovereign's conduct." In fact,
at this moment, a few eager and curious faces were seen in the walk, as
if engaged in a search, and who, observing the king and La Valliere,
seemed to have found what they were seeking. They were some of the
courtiers who had been sent by the queen and Madame, and who immediately
uncovered themselves, in token of having perceived his majesty. But
Louis, notwithstanding La Valliere's confusion, did not quit his
respectful and tender attitude. Then, when all the courtiers were
assembled in the walk--when every one had been able to perceive the mark
of deference with which he had treated the young girl, by remaining
standing and bareheaded during the storm--he offered her his arm, led
her toward the group who were waiting, recognized by an inclination of
the head the respectful salutations which were paid him on all sides;
and, still holding his hat in his hand, he conducted her to her
carriage. And, as the rain still continued to fall--a last adieu of the
disappearing storm--the other ladies, whom respect had prevented getting
into their carriages before the king, remained, and altogether
unprotected by hood and cloak, exposed to the rain from which the king,
with his hat over her, was protecting, as much as he was able, the
humblest among them. The queen and Madame must, like the others, have
witnessed this exaggerated courtesy of the king. Madame was so
disconcerted at it that she touched the queen with her elbow, saying at
the same time, "Look there, look there!"

The queen closed her eyes, as if she had been suddenly seized with a
fainting attack. She lifted her hand to her face and entered her
carriage, Madame following her. The king again mounted his horse, and
without showing a preference for any particular carriage-door, he
returned to Fontainebleau, the reins hanging over his horse's neck,
absorbed in thought. As soon as the crowd had disappeared, and the sound
of the horses and carriages grew fainter in the distance, and when they
were certain, in fact, that no one could see them, Aramis and Fouquet
came out of their grotto, and both of them in silence passed slowly on
toward the walk. Aramis looked most narrowly not only at the whole
extent of the open space stretching out before and behind him, but even
into the very depths of the wood.

"Monsieur Fouquet," he said, when he had quite satisfied himself that
they were alone, "we must get back, at any cost, the letter you wrote to
La Valliere."

"That will be easy enough," said Fouquet, "if my servant has not given
it to her."

"In any case, it must be done; do you understand?"

"Yes; the king is in love with this girl, you mean?"

"Exceedingly so; and what is worse is that, on her side, the girl is
passionately attached to the king."

"As much as to say that we must change our tactics, I suppose?"

"Not a doubt of it; you have no time to lose. You must see La Valliere,
and, without thinking any more of becoming her lover, which is out of
the question, must declare yourself her dearest friend and her most
humble servant."

"I will do so," replied Fouquet, "and without the slightest feeling of
disinclination, for she seems a good-hearted girl."

"Or a clever one," said Aramis; "but in that case the greater reason."
Then he added, after a moment's pause, "If I am not mistaken, that girl
will become the strongest passion of the king. Let us return to our
carriage, and, as fast as possible, to the chateau."



CHAPTER V.

TOBY.


Two hours after the surintendant's cortege had set off by Aramis'
directions, conveying them both toward Fontainebleau with the fleetness
of the clouds, which the last breath of the tempest was hurrying across
the face of the heavens, La Valliere was closeted in her own apartment,
with a simple muslin wrapper round her, having just finished a slight
repast, which was placed upon a small marble table. Suddenly the door
was opened, and a servant entered to announce M. Fouquet, who had called
to request permission to pay his respects to her. She made him repeat
the message twice over, for the poor girl only knew M. Fouquet by name,
and could not conceive what she could possibly have to do with a
surintendant of finances. However, as he might possibly come from the
king--and, after the conversation we have recorded, it was very
likely--she glanced at her mirror, drew out still more the long ringlets
of her hair, and desired him to be admitted. La Valliere could not,
however, refrain from a certain feeling of uneasiness. A visit from the
surintendant was not an ordinary event in the life of any woman attached
to the court. Fouquet, so notorious for his generosity, his gallantry,
and his sensitive delicacy of feeling with regard to women generally,
had received more invitations than he had requested audiences. In many
houses the presence of the surintendant had been significant of fortune;
in many hearts, of love. Fouquet entered the apartment with a manner
full of respect, presenting himself with that ease and gracefulness of
manner which was the distinctive characteristic of the men of eminence
of that period, and which at the present day seems no longer to be
understood, even in the portraits of the period in which the painter
has endeavored to recall them into being. La Valliere acknowledged the
ceremonious salutation which Fouquet addressed to her by a gentle
inclination of the head and motioned him to a seat. But Fouquet, with a
bow, said, "I will not sit down until you have pardoned me."

"I?" asked La Valliere; "pardoned what?"

Fouquet fixed a most piercing look upon the young girl, and fancied he
could perceive in her face nothing but the most unaffected surprise. "I
observe," he said, "that you have as much generosity as intelligence,
and I read in your eyes the forgiveness I solicit. A pardon pronounced
by your lips is insufficient for me, and I need the forgiveness of your
heart and mind."

"Upon my honor, monsieur," said La Valliere, "I assure you most
positively I do not understand your meaning."

"Again, that is a delicacy on your part which charms me," replied
Fouquet, "and I see you do not wish me to blush before you."

"Blush! blush before me? Why should you blush?"

"Can I have deceived myself?" said Fouquet; "and can I have been happy
enough not to have offended you by my conduct toward you?"

"Really, monsieur," said La Valliere, shrugging her shoulders, "you
speak in enigmas, and I suppose I am too ignorant to understand you."

"Be it so," said Fouquet, "I will not insist. Tell me only, I entreat
you, that I may rely upon your full and complete forgiveness."

"I have but one reply to make to you, monsieur," said La Valliere,
somewhat impatiently, "and I hope that will satisfy you. If I knew the
wrong you have done me, I would forgive you, and I would do so with
still greater reason since I am ignorant of the wrong you allude to."

Fouquet bit his lips, as Aramis would have done. "In that case," he
said, "I may hope that, notwithstanding what has happened, our good
understanding will remain undisturbed, and that you will kindly confer
the favor upon me of believing in my respectful friendship."

La Valliere fancied that she now began to understand, and said to
herself, "I should not have believed M. Fouquet so eager to seek the
source of a favor so very recent," and then added aloud, "Your
friendship, monsieur! you offer me your friendship! The honor, on the
contrary, is mine, and I feel overpowered by it."

"I am aware," replied Fouquet, "that the friendship of the master may
appear more brilliant and desirable than that of the servant, but I
assure you the latter will be quite as devoted, quite as faithful, and
altogether disinterested."

La Valliere bowed, for, in fact, the voice of the surintendant seemed to
convey both conviction and real devotion in its tone, and she held out
her hand to him, saying, "I believe you."

Fouquet eagerly look hold of the young girl's hand. "You see no
difficulty, therefore," he added, "in restoring me that unhappy letter?"

"What letter?" inquired La Valliere.

Fouquet interrogated her with his most searching gaze, as he had already
done before, but the same innocent expression, the same candid look, met
his. "I am obliged to confess," he said, after this denial, "that your
system is the most delicate in the world, and I should not feel I was a
man of honor and uprightness if I were to suspect anything from a woman
so generous as yourself."

"Really, Monsieur Fouquet," replied La Valliere, "it is with profound
regret I am obliged to repeat that I absolutely understand nothing of
what you refer to."

"In fact, then, upon your honor, mademoiselle, you have not received any
letter from me?"

"Upon my honor, none," replied La Valliere, firmly.

"Very well, that is quite sufficient; permit me, then, to renew the
assurance of my utmost esteem and respect," said Fouquet. Then, bowing,
he left the room to seek Aramis, who was waiting for him in his own
apartment, and leaving La Valliere to ask herself whether the
surintendant had not lost his senses.

"Well!" inquired Aramis, who was impatiently waiting Fouquet's return,
"are you satisfied with the favorite?"

"Enchanted," replied Fouquet; "she is a woman full of intelligence and
fine feeling."

"She did not get angry, then?"

"Far from that, she did not even seem to understand."

"To understand what?"

"To understand that I had written to her."

"She must, however, have understood you sufficiently to give the letter
back to you, for I presume she returned it."

"Not at all."

"At least, you satisfied yourself that she had burned it."

"My dear Monsieur d'Herblay, I have been playing at cross purposes for
more than an hour, and, however amusing it may be, I begin to have had
enough of this game. So understand me thoroughly: the girl pretended not
to understand what I was saying to her: she denied having received any
letter; therefore, having positively denied its receipt, she was unable
either to return or burn it."

"Oh! oh!" said Aramis, with uneasiness, "what is that you say?"

"I say that she swore most positively she had not received any letter."

"That is too much. And you not insist?"

"On the contrary, I did insist, almost impertinently so, even."

"And she persisted in her denial?"

"Unhesitatingly."

"And she did not contradict herself once?"

"Not once."

"But, in that case, then, you have left our letter in her hands?"

"How could I do otherwise?"

"Oh! it was a great mistake."

"What the deuce would you have done in my place?"

"One could not force her, certainly, but it is very embarrassing; such a
letter ought not remain in existence against us."

"Oh! the young girl's disposition is generosity itself; I looked at her
eyes, and I can read eyes well."

"You think she can be relied upon?"

"From my heart I do."

"Well, I think we are mistaken."

"In what way?"

"I think that, in point of fact, as she herself told you, she did not
receive the letter."

"What! do you suppose--?"

"I suppose that, from some motive, of which we know nothing, your man
did not deliver the letter to her."

Fouquet rang the bell. A servant appeared. "Send Toby here," he said. A
moment afterward a man made his appearance, with an anxious restless
look, shrewd expression of the mouth, with short arms, and his back
somewhat bent. Aramis fixed a penetrating look upon him.

"Will you allow me to interrogate him myself?" inquired Aramis.

"Do so," said Fouquet.

Aramis was about to say something to the lackey, when he paused.

"No," he said; "he would see that we attach too much importance to his
answer, question him yourself; I will pretend to write." Aramis
accordingly placed himself at a table, his back turned toward the old
attendant, whose every gesture and look he watched in a looking-glass
opposite to him.

"Come here, Toby," said Fouquet to the valet, who approached with a
tolerably firm step. "How did you execute my commission?" inquired
Fouquet.

"In the usual way, monseigneur," replied the man.

"But how, tell me?"

"I succeeded in penetrating as far as Mademoiselle de la Valliere's
apartment; but she was at mass, and so I placed the note on her
toilet-table. Is not that what you told me to do?"

"Precisely; and is that all?"

"Absolutely all, monseigneur."

"No one was there?"

"No one."

"Did you conceal yourself as I told you?"

"Yes."

"And she returned?"

"Ten minutes afterward."

"And no one could have taken the letter?"

"No one; for no one entered the room."

"From the outside, but from the interior?"

"From the place where I was secreted I could see to the very end of the
room."

"Now, listen to me," said Fouquet, looking fixedly at the lackey; "if
this letter did not reach its proper destination, confess it; for, if a
mistake has been made, your head shall be the forfeit."

Toby started, but immediately recovered himself. "Monseigneur," he said,
"I placed the letter on the very place I told you; and I ask only half
an hour to prove to you that the letter is in Mademoiselle de la
Valliere's hands, or to bring you back the letter itself."

Aramis looked at the valet scrutinizingly. Fouquet was ready in placing
confidence in people, and for twenty years this man had served him
faithfully. "Go," he said; "but bring me the proof you speak of." The
lackey quitted the room.

"Well, what do you think of it?" inquired Fouquet of Aramis.

"I think that you must, by some means or another, assure yourself of the
truth, either that the letter has or has not reached La Valliere; that,
in the first case, La Valliere must return it to you, or satisfy you by
burning it in your presence; that, in the second, you must have the
letter back again, even were it to cost you a million. Come, is not that
your opinion?"

"Yes; but still, my dear bishop, I believe you are exaggerating the
position of affairs."

"Blind, how blind you are!" murmured Aramis.

"La Valliere," returned Fouquet, "whom we assume to be a politician of
the greatest ability, is simply nothing more than a coquette, who hopes
that I shall pay my court to her, because I have already done so, and
who, now that she has received a confirmation of the king's regard,
hopes to keep me in leading strings with the letter. It is natural
enough!"

Aramis shook his head.

"Is not that your opinion?" said Fouquet.

"She is not a coquette," he replied.

"Allow me to tell you--"

"Oh! I am well enough acquainted with women who are coquettes," said
Aramis.

"My dear friend!"

"It is a long time ago since I finished my studies, you mean. But women
do not change."

"True; but men change, and you at the present day are far more
suspicious than you formerly were." And then, beginning to laugh, he
added, "Come, if La Valliere is willing to love me only to the extent of
a third and the king two-thirds, do you think the condition acceptable?"

Aramis rose impatiently. "La Valliere," he said, "has never loved, and
will never love any one but the king."

"At all events," said Fouquet, "what would you do?"

"Ask me rather what I would have done?"

"Well, what would you have done?"

"In the first place, I should not have allowed that man to go."

"Toby!"

"Yes; Toby is a traitor. Nay, I am sure of it, and I would not have let
him go until he had told me the truth."

"There is still time. I will recall him, and do you question him in your
turn."

"Agreed."

"But I assure you it is quite useless. He has been with me for the last
twenty years, and has never made the slightest mistake, and yet," added
Fouquet, laughing, "it has been easy enough."

"Still, call him back. This morning I fancy I saw that face in earnest
conversation with one of M. Colbert's men."

"Where was that?"

"Opposite the stables."

"Bah! all my people are at daggers drawn with that fellow."

"I saw him, I tell you, and his face, which I ought not to have
recognized when he entered just now, struck me in a disagreeable
manner."

"Why did you not say something, then, while he was here?"

"Because it is only at this very minute that my memory is clear upon the
subject."

"Really," said Fouquet, "you alarm me." And he again rang the bell.

"Provided that it is not already too late," said Aramis.

Fouquet once more rang impatiently. The valet usually in attendance
appeared. "Toby!" said Fouquet, "send Toby." The valet again shut the
door.

"You leave me at perfect liberty, I suppose?"

"Entirely so."

"I may employ all means, then, to ascertain the truth."

"All."

"Intimidation, even?"

"I constitute you public prosecutor in my place."

They waited ten minutes longer, but uselessly, and Fouquet, thoroughly
out of patience, again rang loudly. "Toby!" he exclaimed.

"Monseigneur," said the valet, "they are looking for him."

"He cannot be far distant, I have not given him any commission to
execute."

"I will go and see, monseigneur," replied the valet, as he closed the
door. Aramis, during this interval, walked impatiently but silently up
and down the cabinet. Again they waited another ten minutes. Fouquet
rang in a manner to awaken the very dead. The valet again presented
himself, trembling in a way to induce a belief that he was the bearer of
bad news.

"Monseigneur is mistaken," he said, before even Fouquet could
interrogate him; "you must have given Toby some commission, for he has
been to the stables and taken your lordship's swiftest horse, and
saddled it himself."

"Well?"

"And he has gone off."

"Gone!" exclaimed Fouquet. "Let him be pursued, let him be captured."

"Nay, nay," said Aramis, taking him by the hand, "be calm, the evil is
done now."

"The evil is done, you say?"

"No doubt; I was sure of it. And now, let us give no cause for
suspicion; we must calculate the result of the blow, and ward it off, if
possible."

"After all," said Fouquet, "the evil is not great."

"You think so," said Aramis.

"Of course. Surely a man is allowed to write a love-letter to a woman."

"A man, certainly; a subject, no; especially, too, when the woman in
question is one with whom the king is in love."

"But the king was not in love with La Valliere a week ago! he was not in
love with her yesterday, and the letter is dated yesterday; I could not
guess the king was in love, when the king's affection was not even yet
in existence."

"As you please," replied Aramis; "but unfortunately the letter is not
dated, and it is that circumstance particularly which annoys me. If it
had only been dated yesterday, I should not have the slightest shadow of
uneasiness on your account." Fouquet shrugged his shoulders.

"Am I not my own master," he said, "and is the king, then, king of my
brain and of my flesh?"

"You are right," replied Aramis; "do not let us give more importance to
matters than is necessary; and besides ... Well, if we are menaced, we
have means of defense."

"Oh! menaced!" said Fouquet; "you do not place this gnat bite, as it
were, among the number of menaces which may compromise my fortunes and
my life, do you?"

"Do not forget, Monsieur Fouquet, that the bite of an insect can kill a
giant, if the insect be venomous."

"But has this sovereign power you were speaking of already vanished?"

"I am all-powerful, it is true, but I am not immortal."

"Come, then, the most pressing matter is to find Toby again, I suppose.
Is not that your opinion?"

"Oh! as for that, you will not find him again," said Aramis, "and if he
were of any great value to you, you must give him up for lost."

"At all events he is somewhere or another in the world," said Fouquet.

"You're right, let me act," replied Aramis.



CHAPTER VI.

MADAME'S FOUR CHANCES.


Anne of Austria had begged the young queen to pay her a visit. For some
time past suffering most acutely, and losing both her youth and beauty
with that rapidity which signalizes the decline of women for whom life
has been a long contest, Anne of Austria had, in addition to her
physical sufferings, to experience the bitterness of being no longer
held in any esteem, except as a living remembrance of the past, amid the
youthful beauties, wits, and influences of her court. Her physician's
opinions, her mirror also, grieved her far less than the inexorable
warnings which the society of the courtiers afforded, who, like the rats
in a ship, abandon the hold in which the water is on the point of
penetrating, owing to the ravages of decay. Anne of Austria did not feel
satisfied with the time her eldest son devoted to her. The king, a good
son, more from affectation than from affection, had at first been in the
habit of passing an hour in the morning and one in the evening with his
mother; but, since he had himself undertaken the conduct of state
affairs, the duration of the morning and evening's visit had been
reduced to half; and then, by degrees, the morning visit had been
suppressed altogether. They met at mass; the evening visit was replaced
by a meeting, either at the king's assembly, or at Madame's, which the
queen attended obligingly enough, out of regard to her two sons. The
result was that Madame had acquired an immense influence over the court,
which made her apartments the true royal place of meeting. This, Anne of
Austria had perceived; feeling herself to be suffering, and condemned by
her sufferings to frequent retirement, she was distressed at the idea
that the greater part of her future days and evenings would pass away
solitary, useless, and in despondency. She recalled with terror the
isolation in which Cardinal Richelieu had formerly left her, those
dreaded and insupportable evenings during which, however, she had her
youth and beauty, which are always accompanied by hope, to console her.
She next formed the project of transporting the court to her own
apartments, and of attracting Madame, with her brilliant escort, to her
gloomy and already sorrowful abode, where the widow of a king of France,
and the mother of a king of France, was reduced to console, in her
anticipated widowhood, the always weeping wife of a king of France.

Anne began to reflect. She had intrigued a good deal in her life. In the
good times past, when her youthful mind nursed projects which were
invariably successful, she then had by her side to stimulate her
ambition and her love, a friend of her own sex, more eager, more
ambitious, than herself--a friend who had loved her, a rare circumstance
at court, and whom some petty considerations had removed from her
forever. But for many years past--except Madame de Motteville, and
except La Molena, her Spanish nurse, a confidante in her character of
countrywoman and woman too--who could boast of having given good advice
to the queen? Who, too, among all the youthful heads there, could recall
the past for her--that past in which alone she lived? Anne of Austria
remembered Madame de Chevreuse, in the first place exiled rather by her
wish than the king's, and then dying in exile, the wife of a gentleman
of obscure birth and position. She asked herself what Madame de
Chevreuse would formerly have advised her in a similar circumstance, in
their mutual difficulties arising from their intrigues; and, after
serious reflection, it seemed as if the clever, subtle mind of her
friend, full of experience and sound judgment, answered her in her
ironical tone of voice: "All these insignificant young people are poor
and greedy of gain. They require gold and incomes to keep alive their
means of amusement; it is by interest you must gain them over." And Anne
of Austria adopted this plan. Her purse was well filled, and she had at
her disposal a considerable sum of money, which had been amassed by
Mazarin for her, and lodged in a place of safety. She possessed the most
magnificent jewels in France, and especially pearls of a size so large,
that they made the king sigh every time he saw them, because the pearls
of his crown were like millet-seed compared to them. Anne of Austria had
neither beauty nor charms any longer at her disposal. She gave out,
therefore, that her wealth was great, and as an inducement for others to
visit her apartments, she let it be known that there were good gold
crowns to be won at play, or that handsome presents were likely to be
made on days when all went well with her: or windfalls, in the shape of
annuities which she had wrung from the king by entreaty, and which she
determined to do to maintain her credit. And, in the first place, she
tried these means upon Madame, because, to gain her consent was of more
importance than anything else. Madame, notwithstanding the bold
confidence with which her wit and beauty inspired her, blindly ran head
foremost into the net which had been stretched out to catch her.
Enriched by degrees by these presents and transfers of property, she
took a fancy to these inheritances by anticipation. Anne of Austria
adopted the same means toward Monsieur, and even toward the king
himself. She instituted lotteries in her apartments. The day on which
the present chapter opens, invitations had been issued for a late supper
in the queen-mother's apartments, as she intended that two beautiful
diamond bracelets of exquisite workmanship should be put into lottery.
The medallions were antique cameos of the greatest value; the diamonds,
in point of intrinsic value, did not represent a very considerable
amount, but the originality and rarity of the workmanship were such,
that every one at court not only wished to possess the bracelets, but
even to see the queen herself wear them; for, on the days she wore
them, it was considered as a favor to be admitted to admire them in
kissing her hands. The courtiers had, even with regard to this subject,
adopted various expressions of gallantry to establish the aphorism, that
the bracelets would have been priceless in value if they had not been
unfortunate enough to be placed in contact with arms as beautiful as the
queen's. This compliment had been honored by a translation into all the
languages of Europe, and numerous were the verses in Latin and French
which had been circulated on the subject. The day that Anne of Austria
had selected for the lottery was a decisive moment; the king had not
been near his mother for a couple of days; Madame, after the great scene
of the Dryads and Naiads, was sulking by herself. The king's fit of
sulkiness was over, but his mind was absorbingly occupied by a
circumstance which raised him above the stormy disputes and the giddy
pleasures of the court.

Anne of Austria effected a diversion by the announcement of the famous
lottery to take place in her apartments on the following evening. With
this object in view, she saw the young queen, whom, as we have already
seen, she had invited to pay her a visit in the morning. "I have good
news to tell you," she said to her, "the king has been saying the most
tender things about you. He is young, you know, and easily drawn away;
but so long as you keep near me, he will not venture to keep away from
you, to whom, besides, he is most warmly and affectionately attached. I
intend to have a lottery this evening, and shall expect to see you."

"I have heard," said the young queen, with a sort of timid reproach,
"that your majesty intends to put in lottery those beautiful bracelets
whose rarity is so great that we ought not to allow them to pass out of
the custody of the crown, even were there no other reason than that they
had once belonged to you."

"My daughter," said Anne of Austria, who read the young queen's
thoughts, and wished to console her for not having received the
bracelets as a present, "it is positively necessary that I should induce
Madame to pass her time always in my apartments."

"Madame!" said the young-queen, blushing.

"Of course; would you not prefer to have a rival near you, whom you
could watch and rule over, than to know that the king is with her,
always as ready to flirt with, as to be flirted with by her. The lottery
I have proposed is my means of attraction for that purpose: do you blame
me?"

"Oh, no!" returned Maria-Theresa, clapping her hands with a childlike
expression of delight.

"And you no longer regret, then, that I did not give you these
bracelets, as I had at first intended to do?"

"Oh, no, no!"

"Very well; make yourself look as beautiful as possible, that our supper
may be very brilliant; the gayer you seem, the more charming you appear,
and you will eclipse all the ladies present as much by your brilliancy
as by your rank."

Maria-Theresa left full of delight. An hour afterward, Anne of Austria
received a visit from Madame, whom she covered with caresses, saying,
"Excellent news! the king is charmed with my lottery."

"But I," replied Madame, "am not quite so charmed; to see such beautiful
bracelets on any one's arms but yours or mine, is what I cannot
reconcile myself to do."

"Well, well," said Anne of Austria, concealing by a smile a violent pang
which she had just experienced, "do not alarm yourself, young lady, and
do not look at things in the worst light immediately."

"Ah, madame, fortune is blind, and I am told there are two hundred
tickets."

"Quite as many as that; but you cannot surely forget that there can only
be one winner."

"No doubt. But who will that be? can you tell?" said Madame, in despair.

"You remind me that I had a dream last night; my dreams are always
good--I sleep so little."

"What was your dream?--But are you suffering?"

"No," said the queen, stifling with wonderful command the torture of a
renewed attack of shooting pains in her bosom; "I dreamed that the king
won the bracelets."

"The king?"

"You are going to ask me, I think, what the king could possibly do with
the bracelets?"

"Yes."

"And you would not add, perhaps, that it would be very fortunate if the
king were really to win, for he would be obliged to give the bracelets
to some one else."

"To restore them to you, for instance."

"In which case I should immediately give them away; for you do not
think, I suppose," said the queen, laughing, "that I have put these
bracelets up to a lottery from necessity. My object was to give them
without arousing any one's jealousy; but if fortune will not get me out
of my difficulty--well, I will teach fortune a lesson--and I know very
well to whom I intend to offer the bracelets." These words were
accompanied by so expressive a smile, that Madame could not resist
paying her by a grateful kiss.

"But," added Anne of Austria, "do you not know as well as I do, that if
the king were to win the bracelets he would not restore them to me?"

"You mean he would give them to the queen?"

"No; and for the very same reason that he would not give them back again
to me; since, if I had wished to make the queen a present of them, I had
no need of him for that purpose."

Madame cast a side-glance upon the bracelets, which, in their casket,
were dazzlingly exposed to view upon a table close beside her.

"How beautiful they are," she said, sighing. "But stay," Madame
continued, "we are quite forgetting that your majesty's dream is nothing
but a dream."

"I should be very much surprised," returned Anne of Austria, "if my
dream were to deceive me; that has happened to me very seldom."

"We may look upon you as a prophetess, then."

"I have already said, that I dream but very rarely; but the coincidence
of my dream about this matter, with my own ideas, is extraordinary! it
agrees so wonderfully with my own views and arrangements."

"What arrangements do you allude to?"

"That you will win the bracelets, for instance."

"In that case, it will not be the king."

"Oh!" said Anne of Austria, "there is not such a very great distance
between his majesty's heart and your own; for, are not you his sister,
for whom he has a great regard? There is not, I repeat, so very wide a
distance, that my dream can be pronounced false on that account. Come,
let us reckon up the chances in its favor."

"I will count them."

"In the first place, we will begin with the dream. If the king wins, he
is sure to give you the bracelets."

"I admit that is one."

"If you win them, they are yours."

"Naturally! that may be admitted also."

"Lastly;--if Monsieur were to win them!"

"Oh!" said Madame, laughing heartily, "he would give them to the
Chevalier de Lorraine."

Anne of Austria laughed as heartily as her daughter-in-law; so much so,
indeed, that her sufferings again returned, and made her turn suddenly
pale in the very midst of her enjoyment.

"What is the matter?" inquired Madame, almost terrified.

"Nothing, nothing; a pain in my side. I have been laughing too much. We
were at the fourth chance, I think."

"I cannot see a fourth."

"I beg your pardon; I am not excluded from the chance of winning, and if
I be the winner, you are sure of me."

"Oh! thank you, thank you!" exclaimed Madame.

"I hope you look upon yourself as one whose chances are good, and that
my dream now begins to assume the solid form of reality."

"Yes, indeed; you give me both hope and confidence," said Madame, "and
the bracelets won in this manner, will be a hundred times more precious
to me."

"Well! then, good-by, until this evening." And the two princesses
separated. Anne of Austria, after her daughter-in-law had left her, said
to herself, as she examined the bracelets, "They are, indeed, precious;
since, by their means, this evening, I shall have won over a heart to my
side, and, at the same time, shall have guessed a secret."

Then, turning toward the deserted recess in her room, she said,
addressing vacancy--"Is it not thus that you would have acted, my poor
Chevreuse? Yes, yes; I know it is."

And, like a perfume of days gone by, her youth, her imagination, and her
happiness, seemed to return to her with the echo of this invocation.



CHAPTER VII.

THE LOTTERY.


At eight o'clock in the evening, every one had assembled in the
queen-mother's apartments. Anne of Austria, in full dress, beautiful
still, from former loveliness, and from all the resources which coquetry
can command at the hands of clever assistants, concealed, or rather
pretended to conceal, from the crowd of young courtiers who surrounded
her, and who still admired her, thanks to the combination of
circumstances which we have indicated in the preceding chapter, the
ravages, which were already visible, of the acute suffering to which she
finally yielded a few years later. Madame, almost as great a coquette as
Anne of Austria, and the queen, simple and natural as usual, were seated
beside her, each contending for her good graces. The ladies of honor,
united in a body, in order to resist with greater effect, and
consequently with more success, the witty and lively conversations which
the young men held about them, were enabled like a battalion formed in
square, to offer each other the means of attack and defense which were
thus at their command. Montalais, learned in that species of warfare
which consists of a skirmishing character, protected the whole line by
the sort of rolling-fire which she directed against the enemy.
Saint-Aignan, in utter despair at the rigor, which became insulting
almost, from the very fact of her persisting in it, which Mademoiselle
de Tonnay-Charente displayed, tried to turn his back upon her; but,
overcome by the irresistible brilliancy of her large eyes, he, every
moment, returned to consecrate his defeat by new submissions, to which
Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente did not fail to reply by fresh acts of
impertinence. Saint Aignan did not know which way to turn. La Valliere
had about her, not exactly a court, but sprinklings of courtiers.
Saint-Aignan, hoping by this maneuver to attract Athenaïs's attention
toward him, had approached the young girl, and saluted her with a
respect which induced some to believe that he wished to balance Athenaïs
by Louise. But these were persons who had neither been witnesses of the
scene during the shower, nor had heard it spoken of. But, as the
majority was already informed, and well informed, too, on the matter,
the acknowledged favor with which she was regarded, had attracted to her
side some of the most astute, as well as the least sensible, members of
the court. The former, because they said with Montainge, "What can we
tell?" and the latter, who said with Rabelais, "It is likely." The
greatest number had followed in the wake of the latter, just as in
hunting five or six of the best hounds alone follow the scent of the
animal hunted, while the remainder of the pack follow only the scent of
the hounds. The two queens and Madame examined with particular attention
the toilets of their ladies and maids of honor; and they condescended
to forget they were queens in recollecting that they were women. In
other words, they pitilessly tore in pieces every person there who wore
a petticoat. The looks of both princesses simultaneously fell upon La
Valliere, who, as we have just said, was completely surrounded at that
moment. Madame knew not what pity was, and said to the queen-mother, as
she turned toward her, "If fortune were just, she would favor that poor
La Valliere."

"That is not possible," said the queen-mother, smiling.

"Why not?"

"There are only two hundred tickets, so that it was not possible to
inscribe every one's name on the list."

"And hers is not there, then?"

"No!"

"What a pity! she might have won them, and then sold them."

"Sold them!" exclaimed the queen.

"Yes; it would have been a dowry for her, and she would not have been
obliged to marry without her trousseau, as will probably be the case."

"Really," answered the queen-mother, "poor little thing, has she no
dresses, then?"

And she pronounced these words like a woman who has never been able to
understand the inconveniences of a slenderly filled purse.

"Stay, look at her. Heaven forgive me, if she is not wearing the very
same petticoat this evening that she had on this morning during the
promenade, and which she managed to keep clean, thanks to the care the
king took of her, in sheltering her from the rain."

At the very moment Madame uttered these words the king entered the room.
The two queens would not perhaps have observed his arrival, so
completely were they occupied in their ill-natured remarks, had not
Madame noticed that, all at once, La Valliere, who was standing up
facing the gallery, exhibited certain signs of confusion, and then said
a few words to the courtiers who surrounded her, who immediately
dispersed. This movement induced Madame to look toward the door, and at
that moment the captain of the guards announced the king. At this
moment, La Valliere, who had hitherto kept her eyes fixed upon the
gallery, suddenly cast them down as the king entered. His majesty was
dressed magnificently and in the most perfect taste; he was conversing
with Monsieur and the Duc de Roquelaure, Monsieur on his right and the
Duc de Roquelaure on his left. The king advanced, in the first place,
toward the queens, to whom he bowed with an air full of graceful
respect. He took his mother's hand and kissed it, addressed a few
compliments to Madame upon the beauty of her toilet, and then began to
make the round of the assembly. La Valliere was saluted in the same
manner as the others, but with neither more nor less attention. His
majesty then returned to his mother and his wife. When the courtiers
noticed that the king had only addressed some ordinary remark to the
young girl who had been so particularly noticed in the morning, they
immediately drew their own conclusion to account for this coldness of
manner; this conclusion being, that although the king may have taken a
sudden fancy to her, that fancy had already disappeared. One thing,
however, must be remarked, that close beside La Valliere, among the
number of the courtiers, M. Fouquet was to be seen; and his respectfully
attentive manner served to sustain the young girl in the midst of the
varied emotions which visibly agitated her.

M. Fouquet was just on the point, moreover, of speaking in a more
friendly manner with Mademoiselle de la Valliere, when M. de Colbert
approached, and after having bowed to Fouquet with a formality which the
rules of the most respectful politeness could require, he seemed to take
up a post beside La Valliere, for the purpose of entering into
conversation with her. Fouquet immediately quitted his place. These
proceedings were eagerly devoured by the eyes of Montalais and
Malicorne, who mutually exchanged their several observations on the
subject. De Guiche, standing within the embrasure of one of the
windows, saw no one but Madame. But as Madame, on her side, frequently
glanced at La Valliere, De Guiche's eyes following Madame's, were from
time to time cast upon the young girl. La Valliere instinctively felt
herself sinking beneath the weight of all the different looks, inspired,
some by interest, others by envy. She had nothing to compensate her for
her sufferings, not a kind word from her companions, nor a look of
affection from the king. No one could possibly express the misery the
poor girl was suffering. The queen-mother next directed the small table
to be brought forward, on which the lottery-tickets were placed, two
hundred in number, and begged Madame de Motteville to read the list of
the names. It was a matter of course that this list had been drawn out
in strict accordance with the laws of etiquette; the king's name was
first on the list, next the queen-mother, then the queen, Monsieur,
Madame, and so on. All hearts throbbed anxiously as the list was read
out; more than three hundred persons had been invited, and each of them
was anxious to learn whether his or her name was likely to be found
among the number of privileged names. The king listened with as much
attention as the others, and when the last name had been pronounced, he
noticed that La Valliere had been omitted from the list. Every one, of
course, could remark this omission. The king flushed as if he had been
much annoyed; but La Valliere, gentle and resigned, as usual, exhibited
nothing of the sort. While the list was being read, the king had not
taken his eyes off the young girl, who seemed to expand, as it were,
beneath the happy influence she felt was shed around her, and who was
delighted and too pure in spirit for any other thought than that of love
to find an entrance either in her mind or her heart. Acknowledging this
touching self-denial by the fixedness of his attention, the king showed
La Valliere how much he appreciated its delicacy. When the list was
finished, the different faces of those who had been omitted or forgotten
fully expressed their disappointment. Malicorne also was forgotten
among the number of men; and the grimace he made plainly said to
Montalais, who was also forgotten, "Cannot we contrive to arrange
matters with fortune in such a manner that she shall not forget us?" to
which a smile full of intelligence from Mademoiselle Aure, replied,
"Certainly we can."

The tickets were distributed to each person according to the number
held. The king received his first, next the queen-mother, then Monsieur,
then the queen and Madame, and so on. After this, Anne of Austria opened
a small Spanish leather bag, containing two hundred numbers engraved
upon small balls of mother-of-pearl, and presented the open sack to the
youngest of her maids of honor, for the purpose of taking one of the
balls out of it. The eager expectation, amid all these tediously slow
preparations, was rather that of avidity than of curiosity. Saint-Aignan
bent toward Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente to whisper to her, "Since we
have each a number, let us unite our two chances. The bracelet shall be
yours if I win, and if you are successful, deign to give me but one look
of your beautiful eyes."

"No," said Athenaïs, "if you win the bracelet, keep it; every one for
himself."

"You are without any pity," said Saint-Aignan, "and I will punish you
by a quatrain:--

  "'Beautiful Iris, to my vow
  You are too opposed--'"

"Silence," said Athenaïs, "you will prevent me hearing the winning
number."

"Number one," said the young girl who had drawn the mother-of-pearl from
the Spanish leather bag.

"The king!" exclaimed the queen-mother.

"The king has won!" repeated the queen, delightedly.

"Oh! the king! your dream!" said Madame, joyously, in the ear of Anne of
Austria.

The king was the only one who did not exhibit any satisfaction. He
merely thanked Fortune for what she had done for him, in addressing a
slight salutation to the young girl who had been chosen as her proxy.
Then, receiving from the hands of Anne of Austria, amid the eager desire
of the whole assembly, the casket inclosing the bracelets, he said, "Are
these bracelets really beautiful, then?"

"Look at them," said Anne of Austria, "and judge for yourself."

The king looked at them, and said, "Yes, indeed, an admirable medallion.
What perfect finish!"

"What perfect finish!" repeated Madame.

Queen Maria-Theresa easily saw, and that, too, at the very first glance,
that the king would not offer the bracelets to her; but, as he did not
seem either the least degree in the world disposed to offer them to
Madame, she felt almost satisfied, or nearly so. The king sat down. The
most intimate among the courtiers approached, one by one, for the
purpose of admiring more closely the beautiful piece of workmanship,
which soon, with the king's permission, was handed about from person to
person. Immediately, every one, connoisseurs or not, uttered various
exclamations of surprise, and overwhelmed the king with congratulations.
There was, in fact, something for everybody to admire--the brilliants
for some, and the cutting for others. The ladies present visibly
displayed their impatience to see such a treasure monopolized by the
gentlemen.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen," said the king, whom nothing escaped, "one would
almost think that you wore bracelets as the Sabines used to do; hand
them for a little while for the inspection of the ladies, who seem to me
to have, and with far greater right, some excuse for understanding such
matters better than you."

These words appeared to Madame the commencement of a decision she
expected. She gathered, besides, this happy belief from the glances of
the queen-mother. The courtier who held them at the moment the king made
this remark, amid the general agitation, hastened to place the bracelets
in the hands of the queen, Maria-Theresa, who, knowing too well, poor
woman, that they were not designed for her, hardly looked at them, and
almost immediately passed them on to Madame. The latter, and--even more
minutely than herself--Monsieur, gave the bracelets a long look of
anxious and almost covetous desire. She then handed the jewels to those
ladies who were near her, pronouncing this single word, but with an
accent which was worth a long phrase, "Magnificent!"

The ladies who had received the bracelets from Madame's hands looked at
them as long as they chose to examine them, and then made them circulate
by passing them on toward the right. During this time the king was
tranquilly conversing with De Guiche and Fouquet, rather letting them
talk than himself listening. Accustomed to the set form of ordinary
phrases, his ear, like that of all men who exercise an incontestable
superiority over others, merely selected from the conversations held in
various directions the indispensable word which requires reply. His
attention, however, was now elsewhere, for it wandered as his eyes did.

Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente was the last of the ladies inscribed for
tickets; and, as if she had ranked according to her name upon the list,
she only had Montalais and La Valliere after her. When the bracelets
reached these two latter, no one appeared to take any further notice of
them. The humble hands which for a moment touched these jewels, deprived
them of all their importance--a circumstance which did not, however,
prevent Montalais from starting with joy, envy, and covetous desire, at
the sight of the beautiful stones still more than at their magnificent
workmanship. It is evident that if she were compelled to decide between
the pecuniary value and the artistic beauty, Montalais would
unhesitatingly have preferred diamonds to cameos, and her
disinclination, therefore, to pass them to her companion, La Valliere,
was very great. La Valliere fixed a look almost of indifference upon the
jewels.

"Oh, how beautiful, how magnificent these bracelets are!" exclaimed
Montalais; "and yet you do not go into ecstasies about them, Louise!
You are no true woman, I am sure."

"Yes, I am indeed," replied the young girl, with an accent of the most
charming melancholy; "but why desire that which cannot be ours?"

The king, his head bent forward, listened to what the young girl was
saying. Hardly had the vibration of her voice reached his ear than he
rose radiant with delight, and passing across the whole assembly, from
the place where he stood, to La Valliere, "You are mistaken,
mademoiselle," he said; "you are a woman, and every woman has a right to
wear jewels, which are a woman's property."

"Oh, sire!" said La Valliere, "your majesty will not absolutely believe
my modesty?"

"I believe you possess every virtue, mademoiselle; frankness as well as
every other; I entreat you, therefore, to say frankly what you think of
these bracelets?"

"That they are beautiful, sire, and cannot be offered to any other than
a queen."

"I am delighted that such is your opinion, mademoiselle; the bracelets
are yours, and the king begs your acceptance of them."

And as, with a movement almost resembling terror, La Valliere eagerly
held out the casket to the king, the king gently pushed back La
Valliere's trembling hand. A silence of astonishment, more profound than
that of death, reigned in the assembly. And yet, from the side where the
queens were, no one had heard what he had said, nor understood what he
had done. A charitable friend, however, took upon herself to spread the
news; it was Tonnay-Charente, to whom Madame had made a sign to
approach.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Tonnay-Charente, "how happy that La Valliere
is! the king has just given her the bracelets."

Madame bit her lips to such a degree that the blood appeared upon the
surface of the skin. The young queen looked first at La Valliere and
then at Madame, and began to laugh. Anne of Austria rested her chin upon
her beautiful white hand, and remained for a long time absorbed by a
suspicion which disturbed her mind, and by a terrible pang which stung
her heart. De Guiche, observing Madame turn pale, and guessing the cause
of her change of color, abruptly quitted the assembly and disappeared.
Malicorne was then able to approach Montalais very quietly, and under
cover of the general din of conversation said to her:

"Aure, you have our fortune and our future close beside you."

"Yes," was her reply, as she tenderly embraced La Valliere, whom,
inwardly, she was tempted to strangle.



CHAPTER VIII.

MALAGA.


During the continuance of the long and violent debates between the
opposite ambitions of the court and those of the heart, one of our
characters, the least deserving of neglect, perhaps, was, however, very
much neglected, very much forgotten, and exceedingly unhappy. In fact,
D'Artagnan--D'Artagnan, we say, for we must call him by his name, to
remind our readers of his existence--D'Artagnan, we repeat, had
absolutely nothing whatever to do, amid this brilliant, light-hearted
world of fashion. After having followed the king during two whole days
at Fontainebleau, and having critically observed all the pastoral
fancies and heroi-comic transformations of his sovereign, the musketeer
felt that he needed something more than this to satisfy the cravings of
his existence. At every moment assailed by people asking him, "How do
you think this costume suits me, Monsieur d'Artagnan?" he would reply to
them in quiet, sarcastic tones, "Why, I think you are quite as well
dressed as the best-dressed monkey to be found in the fair at Saint
Laurent." It was just such a compliment as D'Artagnan would choose to
pay, where he did not feel disposed to pay any other; and, whether
agreeable or not, the inquirer was obliged to be satisfied with it.
Whenever any one asked him, "How do you intend to dress yourself this
evening?" he replied, "I shall undress myself," at which all the ladies
laughed. But after a couple of days passed in this manner, the
musketeer, perceiving that nothing serious was likely to arise which
would concern him, and that the king had completely, or, at least,
appeared to have completely, forgotten Paris, Saint-Mandé, and
Belle-Isle; that M. Colbert's mind was occupied with illuminations and
fireworks; that for the next month, at least, the ladies had plenty of
glances to bestow, and also to receive in exchange--D'Artagnan asked the
king for leave of absence for a matter of private business. At the
moment D'Artagnan made his request, his majesty was on the point of
going to bed, quite exhausted from dancing.

"You wish to leave me, Monsieur d'Artagnan?" inquired the king, with an
air of astonishment; for Louis XIV. could never understand that any one,
who had the distinguished honor of being near him, could wish to leave
him.

"Sire," said D'Artagnan, "I leave you simply because I am not of the
slightest service to you in anything. Ah! if I could only hold the
balancing pole while you were dancing, it would be a very different
affair."

"But, my dear Monsieur d'Artagnan," said the king, gravely, "people
dance without a balancing-pole."

"Ah! indeed," said the musketeer, continuing his imperceptible tone of
irony, "I had no idea at all of that."

"You have not seen me dance, then?" inquired the king.

"Yes; but I always thought it would make you firmer. I was mistaken--a
greater reason, therefore, that I should leave for a time. Sire, I
repeat, you have no present occasion for my services; besides, if your
majesty should have any need of me, you would know where to find me."

"Very well," said the king; and he granted him his leave of absence.

We shall not look for D'Artagnan, therefore, at Fontainebleau, for this
would be quite useless; but, with the permission of our readers, we
shall follow him to the Rue des Lombards, where he was located at the
sign of the "Pilon d'Or," in the house of our old friend Planchet. It
was about eight o'clock in the evening, and the weather was exceedingly
warm; there was only one window open, and that one belonging to a room
on the entresol. A perfume of spices, mingled with another perfume less
exotic, but more penetrating, namely, that which arose from the street,
ascended to salute the nostrils of the musketeer. D'Artagnan, reclining
upon an immense straight-backed chair, with his legs not stretched out,
but simply placed upon a stool, formed an angle of the most obtuse form
that could possibly be seen. Both his arms were crossed over his head,
his head reclining upon his left shoulder, like Alexander the Great. His
eyes, usually so quick and intelligent in their expression, were now
half-closed, and seemed fastened, as it were, upon a small corner of
blue sky, which was visible behind the opening of the chimneys: there
was just enough blue, and no more, to put a piece into one of the sacks
of lentils, or haricots, which formed the principal furniture of the
shop on the ground-floor. Thus extended at his ease, and thus sheltered
in his place of observation behind the window, D'Artagnan seemed as if
he had ceased to be a soldier, as if he were no longer an officer
belonging to the palace, but was, on the contrary, a quiet, easy-going
citizen in a state of stagnation between his dinner and supper, or
between his supper and his bed; one of those strong, ossified brains,
which have no more room for a single idea, so fiercely does animal
matter keep watch at the doors of intelligence, narrowly inspecting the
contraband trade which might result from the introduction into the brain
of a symptom of thought. We have already said night was closing in, the
shops were being lighted, while the windows of the upper apartments were
being closed, and the irregular steps of a patrol of soldiers forming
the night-watch could be heard in the distance. D'Artagnan continued,
however, to think of nothing, and to look at nothing, except the blue
corner of the sky. A few paces from him, completely in the shade, lying
on his stomach, upon a sack of Indian corn, was Planchet, with both his
arms under his chin, and his eyes fixed on D'Artagnan, who was either
thinking, dreaming, or sleeping, with his eyes open. Planchet had been
watching him for a tolerably long time, and, by way of interruption, he
began by exclaiming, "Hum! hum!" But D'Artagnan did not stir. Planchet
then saw that it was necessary to have recourse to a more effectual
means still. After a prolonged reflection on the subject, the most
ingenious means which suggested itself to him under present
circumstances was to let himself roll off the sack on to the floor,
murmuring at the same time, against himself, the word "stupid." But
notwithstanding the noise produced by Planchet's fall, D'Artagnan, who
had in the course of his existence heard many other, and very different
noises, did not appear to pay the least attention to the present one.
Besides, an enormous cart, laden with stones passing from La Rue
Saint-Mederie, absorbed, in the noise of its wheels, the noise of
Planchet's fall. And yet Planchet fancied that, in token of tacit
approval, he saw him imperceptibly smile at the word "stupid." This
emboldened him to say, "Are you asleep, Monsieur d'Artagnan?"

"No, Planchet, I am not _even_ asleep," replied the musketeer.

"I am in despair," said Planchet, "to hear such a word as _even_."

"Well, and why not? Is it not a good French word, Monsieur Planchet?"

"Of course, Monsieur d'Artagnan."

"Well?"

"Well, then, the word distresses me beyond measure."

"Tell me why you are distressed, Planchet," said D'Artagnan.

"If you say that you are not _even_ asleep, it is as much as to say that
you have not even the consolation of being able to sleep; or, better
still, it is precisely the same as telling me that you are getting bored
to death."

"Planchet, you know I am never bored."

"Except to-day and the day before yesterday."

"Bah!"

"Monsieur d'Artagnan, it is a week since you returned here from
Fontainebleau; in other words, you have no longer your orders to issue,
or your men to review and maneuver. You need the sound of guns, drums,
and all that din and confusion; I, who have myself carried a musket, can
easily believe that."

"Planchet," replied D'Artagnan, "I assure you I am not bored the least
in the world."

"In that case, what are you doing, lying there as if you were dead?"

"My dear Planchet, there was, once upon a time, at the siege of
Rochelle, when I was there, when you were there, when we both were
there, a certain Arab, who was celebrated for the manner in which he
adjusted culverins. He was a clever fellow, although very singular with
regard to his complexion, which was the same color as your olives. Well,
this Arab, whenever he had done eating or working, used to sit down to
rest himself, as I am resting myself now, and smoked I cannot tell you
what sort of magical leaves, in a large amber-mouthed tube; and if any
officer, happening to pass, reproached him for being always asleep, he
used quietly to reply: 'Better to sit down than to stand up, to lie down
than to sit down, to be dead than to lie down.' He was a very melancholy
Arab, and I remember him perfectly well, from his color and his style of
conversation. He used to cut off the heads of the Protestants with
extreme satisfaction."

"Precisely; and then used to embalm them, when they were worth the
trouble."

"Yes; and when he was engaged in his embalming occupations, with his
herbs and other plants about him, he looked like a basket-maker making
baskets."

"You are quite right, Planchet; he did so."

"Oh, I can remember things very well at times!"

"I have no doubt of it; but what do you think of his mode of
reasoning?"

"I think it very good in one sense, and stupid in another."

"Propound your meaning, M. Planchet."

"Well, monsieur, in point of fact, then, 'better to sit down than to
stand up' is plain enough, especially when one may be fatigued under
certain circumstances:" and Planchet smiled in a roguish way. "As for
'better to be lying down than sitting down,' let that pass; but as for
the last proposition, that it is 'better to be dead than alive,' it is,
in my opinion, very absurd, my own undoubted preference being for my
bed; and if you are not of my opinion, it is simply, as I have already
had the honor of telling you, because you are boring yourself to death."

"Planchet, do you know M. la Fontaine?"

"The chemist at the corner of the Rue Saint-Mederie?"

"No; the writer of fables?"

"Oh! Maitre Corbeau!"

"Exactly so; well, then, I am like his hare."

"He has got a hare also, then?"

"He has all sorts of animals."

"Well, what does his hare do, then?"

"His hare thinks."

"Ah, ah!"

"Planchet, I am like M. la Fontaine's hare--I am thinking."

"You're thinking, you say?" said Planchet, uneasily.

"Yes; your house is dull enough to drive people to think. You will admit
that, I hope."

"And yet, monsieur, you have a look out upon the street."

"Yes; and wonderfully interesting that is, of course."

"But it is no less true, monsieur, that, if you were living at the back
of the house, you would bore yourself--I mean, you would think--more
than ever."

"Upon my word, Planchet, I hardly know that."

"Still," said the grocer, "if your reflections were at all like those
which led you to restore King Charles II.;" and Planchet finished by a
little laugh which was not without its meaning.

"Ah, Planchet, my friend," returned D'Artagnan, "you are getting
ambitious."

"Is there no other king to be restored, M. d'Artagnan--no other Monk to
be put into a box?"

"No, my dear Planchet; all the kings are seated on their various
thrones--less comfortably so, perhaps, than I am upon this chair; but,
at all events, there they are." And D'Artagnan sighed very deeply.

"Monsieur d'Artagnan," said Planchet, "you are making me very uneasy."

"You're very good, Planchet."

"I begin to suspect something."

"What is it?"

"Monsieur d'Artagnan, you are getting thin."

"Oh!" said D'Artagnan, striking his chest, which sounded like an empty
cuirass; "it is impossible, Planchet."

"Ah!" said Planchet, slightly overcome, "if you were to get thin in my
house--"

"Well?"

"I should do something rash."

"What would you do? Tell me."

"I should look out for the man who was the cause of all your anxieties."

"Ah! according to your account, I am anxious now."

"Yes, you are anxious, and you are getting thin, visibly getting thin.
Malaga! if you go on getting thin in this way, I will take my sword in
my hand, and go straight to M. d'Herblay, and have it out with him."

"What!" said M. d'Artagnan, starting in his chair--"what's that you say?
And what has M. d'Herblay's name to do with your groceries?"

"Just as you please. Get angry if you like, or call me names, if you
prefer it: but the deuce is in it--I know what I know."

D'Artagnan had, during this second outburst of Planchet, so placed
himself as not to lose a single look of his face--that is, he sat with
both his hands resting on his knees, and his head stretched out toward
the grocer. "Come, explain yourself," he said, "and tell me how you
could possibly utter such a blasphemy. M. d'Herblay, your old master,
my friend, an ecclesiastic, a musketeer turned bishop--do you mean to
say you would raise your sword against him, Planchet?"

"I could raise my sword against my own father, when I see you in such a
state as you are now."

"M. d'Herblay, a gentleman!"

"It's all the same to me whether he's a gentleman or not. He gives you
the blue devils, that is all I know. And the blue devils make people get
thin. Malaga! I have no notion of M. d'Artagnan leaving my house thinner
than he entered it."

"How does he give me the blue devils, as you call it? Come, explain,
explain."

"You have had the nightmare during the last three nights."

"I?"

"Yes, you; and in your nightmare you called out, several times, 'Aramis,
sly Aramis!'"

"Ah! I said that, did I?" murmured D'Artagnan, uneasily.

"Yes, those very words, upon my honor."

"Well, what else? You know the saying, Planchet, 'dreams go by
contraries.'"

"Not so; for, every time during the last three days, when you went out,
you have not once failed to ask me, on your return, 'Have you seen M.
d'Herblay?' or else, 'Have you received any letters for me from M.
d'Herblay?'"

"Well, it is very natural I should take an interest in my old friend,"
said D'Artagnan.

"Of course; but not to such an extent as to get thin from it."

"Planchet, I'll get fatter: I give you my word of honor I will."

"Very well, monsieur, I accept it; for I know that when you give your
word of honor it is sacred."

"I will not dream of Aramis any longer; and I will never ask you, again,
if there are any letters from M. d'Herblay; but on condition that you
explain one thing to me."

"Tell me what it is, monsieur."

"I am a great observer; and just now, you made use of a very singular
oath, which is unusual for you."

"You mean Malaga! I suppose?"

"Precisely."

"It is the oath I have used ever since I have been a grocer."

"Very proper, too; it is the name of a dried grape, or raisin, I
believe?"

"It is my most ferocious oath: when I have once said Malaga! I am a man
no longer."

"Still, I never knew you use that oath before."

"Very likely not, monsieur. I had a present made me of it," said
Planchet; and as he pronounced these words, he winked his eye with a
cunning expression, which thoroughly awakened D'Artagnan's attention.

"Come, come, M. Planchet."

"Why, I am not like you, monsieur," said Planchet. "I don't pass my life
in thinking."

"You are wrong, then."

"I mean, in boring myself to death. We have but a very short time to
live--why not make the best of it?"

"You are an Epicurean philosopher, I begin to think, Planchet."

"Why not? My hand is still as steady as ever; I can write, and can weigh
out my sugar and spices; my foot is firm; I can dance and walk about; my
stomach has its teeth still, for I eat and digest well; my heart is not
quite hardened. Well, monsieur?"

"Well, what, Planchet?"

"Why, you see--" said the grocer, rubbing his hands together.

D'Artagnan crossed one leg over the other, and said, "Planchet, my
friend, I am astounded by surprise: for you are revealing yourself to me
under a perfectly new light."

Planchet, flattered in the highest degree by this remark, continued to
rub his hands very hard together. "Ah! ah!" he said, "because I happen
to be only stupid, you think me, perhaps, a positive fool."

"Very good, Planchet; very well reasoned."

"Follow my idea, monsieur, if you please. I said to myself," continued
Planchet, "that, without enjoyment, there is no happiness on this
earth."

"Quite true, what you say, Planchet," interrupted D'Artagnan.

"At all events, if we cannot obtain pleasure--for pleasure is not so
common a thing after all--let us, at least, get consolations of some
kind or other."

"And so you console yourself?"

"Exactly so."

"Tell me how you console yourself."

"I put on a buckler for the purpose of confronting ennui. I place my
time at the direction of patience; and on the very eve of feeling I am
going to get bored, I amuse myself."

"And you don't find any difficulty in that?"

"None."

"And you found it out quite by yourself?"

"Quite so."

"It is miraculous."

"What do you say?"

"I say, that your philosophy is not to be matched in the whole world."

"You think so?--follow my example, then."

"It is a very tempting one."

"Do as I do."

"I could not wish for anything better; but all minds are not of the same
stamp; and it might possibly happen that if I were required to amuse
myself in the manner you do, I should bore myself horribly."

"Bah! at least try it first."

"Well, tell me what you do."

"Have you observed that I leave home occasionally?"

"Yes."

"In any particular way?"

"Periodically."

"That's the very thing. You have noticed it, then?"

"My dear Planchet, you must understand that when people see each other
every day, and one of the two absents himself, the other misses him. Do
not you feel the want of my society when I am in the country?"

"Prodigiously; that is to say, I feel like a body without a soul."

"That being understood, then, let us go on."

"What are the periods when I absent myself?"

"On the fifteenth and thirtieth of every month."

"And I remain away?"

"Sometimes two, sometimes three, and sometimes four days at a time."

"Have you ever given it a thought, what I have been absent for?"

"To look after your debts, I suppose."

"And when I returned, how did you think I looked, as far as my face was
concerned?"

"Exceedingly satisfied."

"You admit, you say, that I always look very satisfied. And what have
you attributed my satisfaction to?"

"That your business was going on very well: that your purchases of rice,
prunes, raw sugar, dried apples and pears, and treacle, were
advantageous. You were always very picturesque in your notions and
ideas, Planchet; and I was not in the slightest degree surprised to find
you had selected grocery as an occupation, which is of all trades the
most varied, and the very pleasantest, as far as character is concerned;
inasmuch as one handles so many natural and perfumed productions."

"Perfectly true, monsieur; but you are very greatly mistaken."

"In what way?"

"In thinking that I leave here every fortnight to collect my money, or
to make purchases. Oh, oh! how could you possibly have thought such a
thing? Oh, oh, oh!" And Planchet began to laugh in a manner that
inspired D'Artagnan with very serious misgivings as to his sanity.

"I confess," said the musketeer, "that I do not precisely catch your
meaning."

"Very true, monsieur."

"What do you mean by 'very true?'"

"It must be true, since you say it; but pray, be assured that it in no
way lessens my opinion of you."

"Ah! that is very fortunate."

"No; you are a man of genius; and whenever the question happens to be of
war, tactics, surprises, or good honest blows to be dealt, why, kings
are all nonsense, compared to you. But for the consolations of the mind,
the proper care of the body, the agreeable things of life, if one may
say so--ah! monsieur, don't talk to me about men of genius; they are
nothing short of executioners."

"Good," said D'Artagnan, quite fidgety with curiosity; "upon my word you
interest me in the highest degree."

"You feel already less bored than you did just now, do you not?"

"I was not bored; yet since you have been talking to me I feel more
amused."

"Very good, then; that is not a bad beginning. I will cure you, rely
upon that."

"There is nothing I should like better."

"Will you let me try then?"

"Immediately, if you like."

"Very well. Have you any horses here?"

"Yes; ten, twenty, thirty."

"Oh, there is no occasion for so many as that; two will be quite
sufficient."

"They are quite at your disposal, Planchet."

"Very good; then I shall carry you off with me."

"When?"

"To-morrow."

"Where?"

"Ah, you are asking me too much."

"You will admit, however, that it is important I should know where I am
going."

"Do you like the country?"

"Only moderately, Planchet."

"In that case, you like town better."

"That is as it may be."

"Very well; I am going to take you to a place half town, half country."

"Good."

"To a place where I am sure you will amuse yourself."

"Is it possible?"

"Yes; and more wonderful still, to a place from which you have just
returned, for the purpose only, it would seem, of getting bored here."

"It is to Fontainebleau you are going, then?"

"Exactly; to Fontainebleau."

"And, in Heaven's name, what are you going to do at Fontainebleau?"

Planchet answered D'Artagnan by a wink full of sly humor.

"You have some property there, you rascal."

"Oh, a very paltry affair; a little bit of a house--nothing more."

"I understand you."

"But it is tolerable enough, after all."

"I am going to Planchet's country seat!" exclaimed D'Artagnan.

"Whenever you like."

"Did we not fix to-morrow?"

"Let us say to-morrow, if you like; and then, besides, to-morrow is the
14th, that is to say, the day before the one when I am afraid of getting
bored; so we will look upon it as an understood thing."

"Agreed, by all means."

"You will lend me one of your horses?"

"The best I have."

"No; I prefer the gentlest of all; I never was a very good rider, as you
know, and in my grocery business I have got more awkward than ever:
besides--"

"Besides what?"

"Why," added Planchet, "I do not wish to fatigue myself."

"Why so?" D'Artagnan ventured to ask.

"Because I should lose half the pleasure I expect to enjoy," replied
Planchet. And thereupon he rose from his sack of Indian corn, stretching
himself, and making all his bones crack, one after the other, with a
sort of harmony.

"Planchet, Planchet," exclaimed D'Artagnan, "I do declare that there is
no Sybarite upon the whole face of the globe who can for a moment be
compared to you. Oh, Planchet, it is very clear that we have never yet
eaten a ton of salt together."

"Why so, monsieur?"

"Because, even now I can scarcely say I know you," said D'Artagnan, "and
because, in point of fact, I return to the opinion which, for a moment,
I had formed of you on that day at Boulogne, when you strangled, or did
so as nearly as possible, M. de Wardes' valet, Lubin; in plain
language, Planchet, that you are a man of great resources."

Planchet began to laugh with a laugh full of self-conceit; bade the
musketeer good-night, and went downstairs to his back shop, which he
used as a bedroom. D'Artagnan resumed his original position upon his
chair, and his brow, which had been unruffled for a moment, became more
pensive than ever. He had already forgotten the whims and dreams of
Planchet. "Yes," said he, taking up again the thread of his thoughts,
which had been broken by the agreeable conversation in which we have
just permitted our readers to participate. "Yes, yes, those three points
include everything: First, to ascertain what Baisemeaux wanted with
Aramis; secondly, to learn why Aramis does not let me hear from him; and
thirdly, to ascertain where Porthos is. The whole mystery lies in these
three points. Since, therefore," continued D'Artagnan, "our friends tell
us nothing, we must have recourse to our own poor intelligence. I must
do what I can, mordioux, or rather Malaga, as Planchet would say."



CHAPTER IX.

A LETTER FROM M. DE BAISEMEAUX.


D'Artagnan, faithful to his plan, went the next morning to pay a visit
to M. de Baisemeaux. It was the cleaning up or tidying day at the
Bastille: the cannons were furbished up, the staircases scraped and
cleaned; and the jailers seemed to be carefully engaged in polishing
even the keys themselves. As for the soldiers belonging to the garrison,
they were walking about in the different courtyards, under the pretense
that they were clean enough. The governor, Baisemeaux, received
D'Artagnan with more than ordinary politeness, but he behaved toward him
with so marked a reserve of manner, that all D'Artagnan's tact and
cleverness could not get a syllable out of him. The more he kept himself
within bounds, the more D'Artagnan's suspicion increased. The latter
even fancied he remarked that the governor was acting under the
influence of a recent recommendation. Baisemeaux had not been at the
Palais Royal with D'Artagnan the same cold and impenetrable man which
the latter now found in the Baisemeaux of the Bastille. When D'Artagnan
wished to make him talk about the urgent money matters which had brought
Baisemeaux in search of D'Artagnan, and had rendered him expansive,
notwithstanding what had passed on that evening, Baisemeaux pretended
that he had some orders to give in the prison, and left D'Artagnan so
long alone, waiting for him, that our musketeer, feeling sure that he
should not get another syllable out of him, left the Bastille without
waiting until Baisemeaux returned from his inspection. But D'Artagnan's
suspicions were aroused, and when once that was the case, D'Artagnan
could not sleep or remain quiet for a moment. He was among men what the
cat is among quadrupeds, the emblem of restlessness and impatience at
the same moment. A restless cat no more remains in the same place than a
silk thread does which is wafted idly to and fro with every breath of
air. A cat on the watch is as motionless as death stationed at its place
of observation, and neither hunger nor thirst can possibly draw it away
from its meditation. D'Artagnan who was burning with impatience,
suddenly threw aside the feeling, like a cloak which he felt too heavy
on his shoulders, and said to himself that that which they were
concealing from him was the very thing it was important he should know;
and, consequently, he reasoned that Baisemeaux would not fail to put
Aramis on his guard, if Aramis had given him any particular
recommendation, and which, was, in fact, the very thing that did happen.

Baisemeaux had hardly had time to return from the donjon, than
D'Artagnan placed himself in ambuscade close to the Rue du Petit-Muse,
so as to see every one who might leave the gates of the Bastille. After
he had spent an hour on the look-out from the "Golden Portcullis,"
under the pent-house of which he could keep himself a little in the
shade, D'Artagnan observed a soldier leave the Bastille. This was,
indeed, the surest indication he could possibly have wished for, as
every jailer or warder has certain days, and even certain hours, for
leaving the Bastille, since all are alike prohibited from having either
wives or lodgings in the castle, and can accordingly leave without
exciting any curiosity; but a soldier once in barracks is kept there for
four-and-twenty hours when on duty--and no one knew this better than
D'Artagnan. The soldier in question, therefore, was not likely to leave
in his regimentals, except on an express and urgent order. The soldier,
we were saying, left the Bastille at a slow and lounging pace, like a
happy mortal, in fact, who, instead of keeping sentry before a wearisome
guard-house, or upon a bastion no less wearisome, has the good luck to
get a little liberty in addition to a walk--the two pleasures being
reckoned as part of his time on duty. He bent his steps toward the
Faubourg Saint-Antoine, enjoying the fresh air and the warmth of the
sun, and looking at all the pretty faces he passed. D'Artagnan followed
him at a distance: he had not yet arranged his ideas as to what was to
be done. "I must, first of all," he thought, "see the fellow's face. A
man seen is a man judged of." D'Artagnan increased his pace, and, which
was not very difficult, by-the-by, soon got in advance of the soldier.
Not only did he observe that his face showed a tolerable amount of
intelligence and resolution, but he noticed also that his nose was a
little red. "He has a weakness for brandy, I see," said D'Artagnan to
himself. At the same moment that he remarked his red nose, he saw that
the soldier had a white paper in his belt.

"Good, he has a letter," added D'Artagnan. The only difficulty was to
get hold of the letter. But a soldier would, of course, be too delighted
at having been selected by M. de Baisemeaux for a special messenger, and
would not be likely to sell his message. As D'Artagnan was biting his
nails, the soldier continued to advance more and more into the Faubourg
Saint-Antoine. "He is certainly going to Saint-Mandé," he said to
himself, "and I shall not be able to learn what the letter contains." It
was enough to drive him wild. "If I were in uniform," said D'Artagnan to
himself, "I would have this fellow seized and his letter with him. I
could easily get assistance at the very first guard-house; but the devil
take me if I mention my name in an affair of this kind. If I were to
treat him to something to drink, his suspicions would be roused; and,
besides, he would make me drunk. Mordioux! my wits seem to have left
me," said D'Artagnan; "it is all over with me. Yet, supposing I were to
attack this poor devil, make him draw his sword, and kill him for the
sake of his letter. No harm in that, if it were a question of a letter
from a queen to a nobleman, or a letter from a cardinal to a queen; but
what miserable intrigues are those of Messieurs Aramis and Fouquet with
M. Colbert. A man's life for that! No, no, indeed; not even ten crowns."
As he philosophized in this manner, biting, first his nails, and then
his mustaches, he perceived a group of archery and a commissary of
police engaged in forcibly carrying away a man of very gentlemanly
exterior, who was struggling with all his might against them. The
archers had torn his clothes, and were dragging him roughly away. He
begged they would lead him along more respectfully, asserting that he
was a gentleman and a soldier. And observing our soldier walking in the
street, he called out, "Help, comrade."

The soldier walked on with the same step toward the man who had called
out to him, followed by the crowd. An idea suddenly occurred to
D'Artagnan; it was his first one, and we shall find it was not a bad one
either. During the time the gentleman was relating to the soldier that
he had just been seized in a house as a thief, when the truth was he was
only there as a lover; and while the soldier was pitying him, and
offering him consolation and advice with that gravity which a French
soldier has always ready whenever his vanity or his _esprit de corps_ is
concerned, D'Artagnan glided behind the soldier, who was closely hemmed
in by the crowd, and with a rapid gesture drew the paper out of his
belt. As at this moment the gentleman with the torn clothes was pulling
about the soldier to show how the commissary of police had pulled him
about, D'Artagnan effected his capture of the letter without the
slightest inconvenience. He stationed himself about ten paces distant,
behind the pillar of an adjoining house, and read on the address, "To
Monsieur de Valon, at Monsieur Fouquet's, Saint-Mandé."

"Good!" he said, and then he unsealed without tearing the letter, drew
out the paper, which was folded in four, from the inside, and which
contained only these words:

     "DEAR MONSIEUR DE VALON--Will you be good enough to tell
     Monsieur d'Herblay that _he_ has been to the Bastille, and has been
     making inquiries. Your devoted DE BAISEMEAUX."

"Very good! all right!" exclaimed D'Artagnan; "it is clear enough now.
Porthos is engaged in it." Being now satisfied of what he wished to
know: "Mordioux!" thought the musketeer, "what is to be done with that
poor devil of a soldier? That hot-headed, cunning fellow, De Baisemeaux,
will make him pay dearly for my trick--if he returns without the letter,
what will they do to him? Besides, I don't want the letter; when the egg
has been sucked, what is the good of the shell?" D'Artagnan perceived
that the commissary and the archers had succeeded in convincing the
soldier, and went on their way with the prisoner, the latter being still
surrounded by the crowd and continuing his complaints. D'Artagnan
advanced into the very middle of the crowd, let the letter fall, without
any one having observed him, and then retreated rapidly. The soldier
resumed his route toward Saint-Mandé, his mind occupied with the
gentleman who had implored his protection. Suddenly he thought of his
letter, and, looking at his belt, saw that it was no longer there.
D'Artagnan derived no little satisfaction from his sudden terrified
cry. The poor soldier in the greatest anguish of mind looked round him
on every side, and at last, about twenty paces behind him, he perceived
the blessed envelope. He pounced on it like a falcon on its prey. The
envelope was certainly a little dusty, and rather crumpled, but at all
events the letter itself was found again. D'Artagnan observed that the
broken seal attracted the soldier's attention a good deal, but he
finished apparently by consoling himself, and returned the letter to his
belt. "Go on," said D'Artagnan, "I have plenty of time before me, so you
may precede me. It appears that Aramis is not at Paris, since Baisemeaux
writes to Porthos. Dear Porthos, how delighted I shall be to see him
again, and to have some conversation with him!" said the Gascon. And,
regulating his pace according to that of the soldier, he promised
himself to arrive a quarter of an hour after him at M. Fouquet's.



CHAPTER X.

IN WHICH THE READER WILL BE DELIGHTED TO FIND THAT PORTHOS HAS LOST
NOTHING OF HIS STRENGTH.


D'Artagnan had, according to his usual style, calculated that every hour
is worth sixty minutes, and every minute worth sixty seconds. Thanks to
this perfectly exact calculation of minutes and seconds, he reached the
surintendant's door at the very moment the soldier was leaving it with
his belt empty. D'Artagnan presented himself at the door, which a porter
with a profusely embroidered livery held half-opened for him. D'Artagnan
would very much have liked to enter without giving his name, but this
was impossible, and so he gave it. Notwithstanding this concession,
which ought to have removed every difficulty in the way, at least
D'Artagnan thought so, the concierge hesitated; however, at the second
repetition of the title, captain of the king's guards, the concierge,
without quite leaving the passage clear for him, ceased to bar it
completely. D'Artagnan understood that orders of the most positive
character had been given. He decided, therefore, to tell a falsehood--a
circumstance, moreover, which did not very seriously affect his peace of
mind, when he saw that, beyond the falsehood, the safety of the state
itself, or even purely and simply his own individual personal interest,
might be at stake. He moreover added, to the declarations which he had
already made, that the soldier sent to M. de Valon was his own
messenger, and that the only object that letter had in view was to
announce his intended arrival. From that moment, no one opposed
D'Artagnan's entrance any further, and he entered accordingly. A valet
wished to accompany him, but he answered that it was useless to take
that trouble on his account, inasmuch as he knew perfectly well where M.
de Valon was. There was nothing, of course, to say to a man so
thoroughly and completely informed on all points, and D'Artagnan was
permitted therefore to do as he liked. The terraces, the magnificent
apartments, the gardens, were all reviewed and narrowly inspected by the
musketeer. He walked for a quarter of an hour in this more than royal
residence, which included as many wonders as articles of furniture, and
as many servants as there were columns and doors. "Decidedly," he said
to himself, "this mansion has no other limits than the limits of the
earth. Is it probable Porthos has taken it into his head to go back to
Pierrefonds without even leaving M. Fouquet's house?" He finally reached
a remote part of the chateau inclosed by a stone wall, which was covered
with a profusion of thick plants, luxuriant in blossoms as large and
solid as fruit. At equal distances on the top of this wall were placed
various statues in timid or mysterious attitudes. These were vestals
hidden beneath the long Greek peplum, with its thick, heavy folds: agile
watchers, covered with their marble veils and guarding the palace with
their furtive glances. A statue of Hermes, with his finger on his lips;
one of Iris, with extended wings; another of Night, sprinkled all over
with poppies, dominated in the gardens and the outbuilding's, which
could be seen through the trees. All these statues threw in white relief
their profiles upon the dark ground of the tall cypresses, which darted
their black summits toward the sky. Around these cypresses were entwined
climbing roses, whose flowering rings were fastened to every fork of
every branch, and spread over the lower branches and upon the various
statues showers of flowers of the richest fragrance. These enchantments
seemed to the musketeer the result of the greatest efforts of the human
mind. He felt in a dreamy, almost poetical, frame of mind. The idea that
Porthos was living in so perfect an Eden gave him a higher idea of
Porthos, showing how true it is, that even the very highest orders of
minds are not quite exempt from the influence of surrounding
circumstances. D'Artagnan found the door, and at the door a kind of
spring which he detected; having touched it, the door flew open.
D'Artagnan entered, closed the door behind him, and advanced into a
pavilion built in a circular form, in which no other sound could be
heard but cascades and the songs of birds. At the door of the pavilion
he met a lackey.

"It is here, I believe," said D'Artagnan, without hesitation, "that M.
le Baron de Vallon is staying?"

"Yes, monsieur," answered the lackey.

"Have the goodness to tell him that M. le Chevalier d'Artagnan, captain
of the king's musketeers, is waiting to see him."

D'Artagnan was introduced into the salon, and had not long to remain in
expectation; a well-remembered step shook the floor of the adjoining
room; a door opened, or rather flew open, and Porthos appeared, and
threw himself into his friend's arms with a sort of embarrassment which
did not ill become him. "You here?" he exclaimed.

"And you?" replied D'Artagnan. "Ah, you sly fellow!"

"Yes," said Porthos, with a somewhat embarrassed smile; "yes, you see I
am staying in M. Fouquet's house, at which you are not a little
surprised, I suppose?"

"Not at all; why should you not be one of M. Fouquet's friends? M.
Fouquet has a very large number, particularly among clever men."

Porthos had the modesty not to take the compliment to himself.
"Besides," he added, "you saw me at Belle-Isle."

"A greater reason for my believing you to be one of M. Fouquet's
friends."

"The fact is, I am acquainted with him," said Porthos, with a certain
embarrassment of manner.

"Ah, friend Porthos," said D'Artagnan, "how treacherously you have
behaved toward me."

"In what way?" exclaimed Porthos.

"What! you complete so admirable a work as the fortifications of
Belle-Isle, and you did not tell me of it!" Porthos colored. "Nay, more
than that," continued D'Artagnan, "you saw me out yonder, you know I am
in the king's service, and yet you could not guess that the king,
jealously desirous of learning the name of the man whose abilities have
wrought a work of which he has heard the most wonderful accounts--you
could not guess, I say, that the king sent me to learn who this man
was?"

"What! the king sent you to learn--"

"Of course; but don't let us speak of that any more."

"Not speak of it!" said Porthos; "on the contrary, we will speak of it;
and so the king knew that we were fortifying Belle-Isle?"

"Of course; does not the king know everything?"

"But he did not know who was fortifying it."

"No, he only suspected, from what he had been told of the nature of the
works, that it was some celebrated soldier or another."

"The devil!" said Porthos, "if I had only known that!"

"You would not have run away from Vannes as you did, perhaps?"

"No; what did you say when you couldn't find me?"

"My dear fellow, I reflected."

"Ah, indeed; you reflect, do you? Well, and what has that reflection led
to?"

"It led me to guess the whole truth."

"Come, then, tell me, what did you guess after all?" said Porthos,
settling himself into an armchair and assuming the airs of a sphinx.

"I guessed, in the first place, that you were fortifying Belle-Isle."

"There was no great difficulty in that, for you saw me at work."

"Wait a minute; I also guessed something else--that you were fortifying
Belle-Isle by M. Fouquet's orders."

"That's true."

"But not all. Whenever I feel myself in train for guessing, I do not
stop on my road; and so I guessed that M. Fouquet wished to preserve the
most absolute secrecy respecting these fortifications."

"I believe that was his intention, in fact," said Porthos.

"Yes; but do you know why he wished to keep it secret?"

"Because it should not be known, perhaps," said Porthos.

"That was his principal reason. But his wish was subservient to an
affair of generosity--"

"In fact," said Porthos, "I have heard it said that M. Fouquet was a
very generous man."

"To an affair of generosity which he wished to exhibit toward the king."

"Oh, oh!"

"You seem surprised at it?"

"Yes."

"And you did not know that?"

"No."

"Well, I know it, then."

"You're a wizard."

"Not in the slightest degree."

"How do you know it, then?"

"By a very simple means. I heard M. Fouquet himself say so to the king."

"Say what to the king?"

"That he had fortified Belle-Isle on his majesty's account, and that he
made him a present of Belle-Isle."

"And you heard M. Fouquet say that to the king?"

"In those very words. He even added:

"'Belle-Isle has been fortified by an engineer, one of my friends, a man
of a great deal of merit, whom I shall ask your majesty's permission to
present to you.'

"'What is his name?' said the king.

"'The Baron de Vallon,' M. Fouquet replied.

"'Very well,' returned his majesty, 'you will present him to me.'"

"The king said that?"

"Upon the word of a D'Artagnan!"

"Oh, oh!" said Porthos. "Why have I not been presented, then?"

"Have they not spoken to you about this presentation?"

"Yes, certainly; but I am always kept waiting for it."

"Be easy, it will be sure to come."

"Humph! humph!" grumbled Porthos, which D'Artagnan pretended not to
hear; and, changing the conversation, he said, "You seem to be living in
a very solitary place here, my dear fellow?"

"I always preferred retirement. I am of a melancholy disposition,"
replied Porthos, with a sigh.

"Really, that is odd," said D'Artagnan; "I never remarked that before."

"It is only since I have taken to reading," said Porthos, with a
thoughtful air.

"But the labors of the mind have not affected the health of the body, I
trust?"

"Not in the slightest degree."

"Your strength is as great as ever?"

"Too great, my friend, too great."

"Ah! I had heard that, for a short time after your arrival--"

"That I could hardly move a limb, I suppose?"

"How was it?" said D'Artagnan, smiling; "and why was it you could not
move?"

Porthos, perceiving that he had made a mistake, wished to correct it.
"Yes, I came from Belle-Isle here upon very hard horses," he said, "and
that fatigued me."

"I am no longer astonished, then, since I, who followed you, found seven
or eight lying dead on the road."

"I am very heavy, you know," said Porthos.

"So that you were bruised all over."

"My fat melted, and that made me very ill."

"Poor Porthos! But how did Aramis act toward you under those
circumstances?"

"Very well indeed. He had me attended to by M. Fouquet's own doctor. But
just imagine, at the end of a week I could not breathe any longer."

"What do you mean?"

"The room was too small, I absorbed too much air."

"Indeed?"

"I was told so, at least; and so I was removed into another apartment."

"Where you were able to breathe that time, I hope."

"Yes, more freely; but no exercise--nothing to do. The doctor pretended
that I was not to stir; I, on the contrary, felt that I was stronger
than ever; that was the cause of a very serious accident."

"What accident?"

"Fancy, my dear fellow, that I revolted against the directions of that
ass of a doctor, and I resolved to go out, whether it suited him or not;
and, consequently, I told the valet who waited on me to bring me my
clothes."

"You were quite naked, then?"

"Oh, no! on the contrary, I had a magnificent dressing-gown to wear; the
lackey obeyed; I dressed myself in my own clothes, which had become too
large for me; but a strange circumstance had happened--my feet had
become too large."

"Yes, I quite understand."

"And my boots had become too small."

"You mean your feet were still swollen."

"Exactly; you have hit it."

"Pardieu! And is that the accident you were going to tell me about?"

"Oh yes! I did not make the same reflection you have done. I said to
myself: 'Since my feet have entered my boots ten times, there is no
reason why they should not go in an eleventh.'"

"Allow me to tell you, my dear Porthos, that, on this occasion, you
failed in your logic."

"In short, then, they placed me opposite to a part of the room which
was partitioned; I tried to get my boot on; I pulled it with my hands, I
pushed with all the strength of the muscles of my leg, making the most
unheard-of efforts, when suddenly, the two tags of my boot remained in
my hands, and my foot struck out like a catapult."

"Catapult! how learned you are in fortifications, dear Porthos."

"My foot darted out like a catapult, and came against the partition,
which it broke in; I really thought that, like Samson, I had demolished
the temple. And the number of pictures, the quantity of china, vases of
flowers, carpets, and window-poles, which fell down was really
wonderful."

"Indeed!"

"Without reckoning that, on the other side of the partition, was a small
table laden with porcelain--"

"Which you knocked over?"

"Which I dashed to the other side of the room," said Porthos, laughing.

"Upon my word, it is, as you say, astonishing," replied D'Artagnan,
beginning to laugh also; whereupon Porthos laughed louder than ever.

"I broke," said Porthos, in a voice half-choked from his increasing
mirth, "more than three thousand francs worth of china--oh! oh! oh!"

"Good!" said D'Artagnan.

"I smashed more than four thousand francs worth of glass--oh! oh! oh!"

"Excellent."

"Without counting a luster, which fell on my head and was broken into a
thousand pieces--oh! oh! oh!"

"Upon your head?" said D'Artagnan, holding his sides.

"On the top."

"But your head was broken, I suppose?"

"No, since I tell you, on the contrary, my dear fellow, that it was the
luster which was broken like glass, as it was, indeed."

"Ah! the luster was glass, you say."

"Venetian glass! a perfect curiosity, quite matchless, indeed, and
weighed two hundred pounds."

"And which fell upon your head!"

"Upon my head. Just imagine, a globe of crystal, gilded all over, the
lower part beautifully incrusted, perfumes burning at the top, and jets
from which flame issued when they were lighted."

"I quite understand; but they were not lighted at the time, I suppose?"

"Happily not, or I should have been set on fire."

"And you were only knocked down flat, instead?"

"Not at all."

"How, not at all?"

"Why the luster fell on my skull. It appears that we have upon the top
of our heads an exceedingly thick crust."

"Who told you that, Porthos?"

"The doctor. A sort of dome which would bear Notre-Dame, at Paris."

"Bah!"

"Yes, it seems that our skulls are made in that manner."

"Speak for yourself, my dear fellow, it is your own skull that is made
in that manner, and not the skulls of other people."

"Well, that may be so," said Porthos, conceitedly, "so much, however,
was that the case, in my instance, that no soon did the luster fall upon
the dome which we have at the top of our head, than there was a report
like a cannon, the crystal was broken to pieces, and I fell, covered
from head to foot."

"With blood, poor Porthos!"

"Not at all; with perfumes, which smelled like rich creams; it was
delicious, but the odor was too strong, and I felt quite giddy from it;
perhaps you have experienced it sometimes yourself, D'Artagnan?"

"Yes, in inhaling the scent of the lily of the valley; so that, my poor
friend, you were knocked over by the shock and overpowered by the odor?"

"Yes; but what is very remarkable, for the doctor told me he had never
seen anything like it--"

"You had a bump on your head, I suppose?" interrupted D'Artagnan.

"I had five."

"Why five?"

"I will tell you; the luster had, at its lower extremity, five gilt
ornaments, excessively sharp."

"Oh!"

"Well, these five ornaments penetrated my hair, which, as you see, I
wear very thick."

"Fortunately so."

"And they made a mark on my skin. But just notice the singularity of it,
these things seem really only to happen to me! Instead of making
indentations, they made bumps. The doctor could never succeed in
explaining that to me satisfactorily."

"Well, then, I will explain it to you."

"You will do me a great service if you will," said Porthos, winking his
eyes, which, with him, was a sign of profoundest attention.

"Since you have been employing your brain in studies of an exalted
character, in important calculations, and so on, the head has gained a
certain advantage, so that your head is now too full of science."

"Do you think so?"

"I am sure of it. The result is, that, instead of allowing any foreign
matter to penetrate the interior of the head, your bony box or skull,
which is already too full, avails itself of the openings which are made
in it, allowing this excess to escape."

"Ah!" said Porthos, to whom this explanation appeared clearer than that
of the doctor.

"The five protuberances, caused by the five ornaments of the luster,
must certainly have been scientific masses, brought to the surface by
the force of circumstances."

"In fact," said Porthos, "the real truth is, that I felt far worse
outside my head than inside. I will even confess, that when I put my hat
upon my head, clapping it on my head with that graceful energy which we
gentlemen of the sword possess, if my fist was not very gently applied,
I experienced the most painful sensations."

"I quite believe you, Porthos."

"Therefore, my friend," said the giant, "M. Fouquet decided, seeing how
slightly-built the house was, to give me another lodging, and so they
brought me here."

"It is the private park, I think, is it not?"

"Yes."

"Where the rendezvous are made: that park, indeed, which is so
celebrated in some of those mysterious stories about the surintendant."

"I don't know; I have had no rendezvous or heard mysterious stories
myself, but they have authorized me to exercise my muscles, and I take
advantage of the permission by rooting up some of the trees."

"What for?"

"To keep my hand in, and also to take some bird's-nests; I find that
more convenient than climbing up the trees."

"You are as pastoral as Tircis, my dear Porthos."

"Yes, I like the small eggs; I like them very much better than larger
ones. You have no idea how delicate an omelette is, if made of four or
five hundred eggs of linnets, chaffinches, starlings, blackbirds and
thrushes."

"But five hundred eggs is perfectly monstrous!"

"A salad-bowl will hold them easily enough," said Porthos.

D'Artagnan looked at Porthos admiringly for full five minutes, as if he
had seen him for the first time, while Porthos spread himself out
joyously and proudly. They remained in this state several minutes,
Porthos smiling, and D'Artagnan looking at him. D'Artagnan was evidently
trying to give the conversation a new turn. "Do you amuse yourself much
here, Porthos?" he asked, at last, very likely after he had found out
what he was searching for.

"Not always."

"I can imagine that; but when you get thoroughly bored, by-and-by, what
do you intend to do?"

"Oh! I shall not be here for any length of time. Aramis is waiting until
the last bump on my head disappears, in order to present me to the king,
who I am told cannot endure the sight of a bump."

"Aramis is still in Paris, then?"

"No."

"Whereabouts is he, then?"

"At Fontainebleau."

"Alone?"

"With M. Fouquet."

"Very good. But do you happen to know one thing?"

"No, tell it me, and then I shall know."

"Well, then, I think that Aramis is forgetting you."

"Do you really think so?"

"Yes; for at Fontainebleau yonder, you must know, they are laughing,
dancing, banqueting and drawing the corks of M. de Mazarin's wine in
fine style. Are you aware that they have a ballet every evening there?"

"The deuce they have!"

"I assure you that your dear Aramis is forgetting you."

"Well, that is not at all unlikely, and I have myself thought so
sometimes."

"Unless he is playing you a trick, the sly fellow!"

"Oh!"

"You know that Aramis is as sly as a fox."

"Yes, but to play me a trick--"

"Listen; in the first place, he puts you under a sort of sequestration."

"He sequestrates me! Do you mean to say I am sequestrated?"

"I think so."

"I wish you would have the goodness to prove that to me."

"Nothing easier. Do you ever go out?"

"Never."

"Do you ever ride on horseback?"

"Never."

"Are your friends allowed to come and see you?"

"Never."

"Very well, then; never to go out, never to ride on horseback, never to
be allowed to see your friends, that is called being sequestrated."

"But why should Aramis sequestrate me?" inquired Porthos.

"Come," said D'Artagnan, "be frank, Porthos."

"As gold."

"It was Aramis who drew the plan of the fortifications at Belle-Isle,
was it not?"

Porthos colored as he said, "Yes; but that was all that he did."

"Exactly, and my own opinion is that it was no very great affair after
all."

"That is mine, too."

"Very good; I am delighted we are of the same opinion."

"He never even came to Belle-Isle," said Porthos.

"There now, you see."

"It was I who went to Vannes, as you may have seen."

"Say, rather, as I did see. Well, that is precisely the state of the
case, my dear Porthos. Aramis, who only drew the plans, wishes to pass
himself off as the engineer, while you, who, stone by stone, built the
wall, the citadel, and the bastions, he wishes to reduce to the rank of
a mere builder."

"By builder, you mean mason, perhaps?"

"Mason; the very word."

"Plasterer, in fact?"

"Precisely."

"A laborer?"

"Exactly."

"Oh! oh! my dear Aramis, you seem to think you are only five-and-twenty
years of age still."

"Yes, and that is not all, for he believes you are fifty."

"I should have amazingly liked to have seen him at work."

"Yes, indeed."

"A fellow who has got the gout!"

"Yes."

"Who has lost three of his teeth!"

"Four."

"While I, look at mine." And Porthos, opening his large mouth very wide,
displayed two rows of teeth rather less white than snow, but as even,
hard, and sound as ivory.

"You can hardly believe, Porthos," said D'Artagnan, "what a fancy the
king has for good teeth. Yours decide me; I will present you to the king
myself."

"You?"

"Why not? Do you think I have less credit at court than Aramis?"

"Oh no!"

"Do you think that I have the slightest pretensions upon the
fortifications at Belle-Isle?"

"Certainly not."

"It is your own interest alone which would induce me to do it."

"I don't doubt it in the least."

"Well! I am the intimate friend of the king; and a proof of that is,
that whenever there is anything disagreeable to tell him, it is I who
have to do it."

"But, dear D'Artagnan, if you present me--"

"Well!"

"Aramis will be angry."

"With me?"

"No, with me."

"Bah! whether he or I present you, since you are to be presented, what
does it matter?"

"They were going to get me some clothes made."

"Your own are splendid."

"Oh! those I had ordered were far more beautiful."

"Take care; the king likes simplicity."

"In that case, I will be simple. But what will M. Fouquet say, when he
learns that I have left?"

"Are you a prisoner, then, on parole?"

"No, not quite that. But I promised him I would not leave without
letting him know."

"Wait a minute, we shall return to that presently. Have you anything to
do here?"

"I, nothing; nothing of any importance, at least."

"Unless, indeed, you are Aramis' representative for something of
importance."

"By no means."

"What I tell you, pray understand that, is out of interest for you. I
suppose, for instance, that you are commissioned to send messages and
letters to him?"

"Ah! letters, yes. I send certain letters to him."

"Where?"

"To Fontainebleau."

"Have you any letters, then?"

"But--"

"Nay, let me speak. Have you any letters, I say?"

"I have just received one for him."

"Interesting?"

"I suppose so."

"You do not read them, then?"

"I am not at all curious," said Porthos, as he drew out of his pocket
the soldier's letter which Porthos had not read, but which D'Artagnan
had.

"Do you know what to do with it?" said D'Artagnan.

"Of course; do as I always do, send it to him."

"Not so."

"Why not? Keep it, then?"

"Did they not tell you that this letter was important?"

"Very important."

"Well, you must take it yourself to Fontainebleau."

"To Aramis?"

"Yes."

"Very good."

"And since the king is there--"

"You will profit by that."

"I shall profit by the opportunity to present you to the king."

"Ah! D'Artagnan, there is no one like you to find expedients."

"Therefore, instead of forwarding to our friend any messages, which may
or may not be faithfully delivered, we will ourselves be the bearers of
the letter."

"I had never even thought of that, and yet it is simple enough."

"And therefore, because it is urgent, Porthos, we ought to set off at
once."

"In fact," said Porthos, "the sooner we set off the less chance there is
of Aramis' letter meeting with any delay."

"Porthos, your reasoning is always very accurate, and, in your case,
logic seems to serve as an auxiliary to the imagination."

"Do you think so?" said Porthos.

"It is the result of your hard reading," replied D'Artagnan. "So come
along, let us be off."

"But," said Porthos, "my promise to M. Fouquet?"

"Which?"

"Not to leave St. Mandé without telling him of it."

"Ah! Porthos," said D'Artagnan, "how very young you are."

"In what way?"

"You are going to Fontainebleau, are you not, where you will find M.
Fouquet?"

"Yes."

"Probably in the king's palace."

"Yes," repeated Porthos, with an air full of majesty.

"Well, you will accost him with these words: 'M. Fouquet, I have the
honor to inform you that I have just left St. Mandé.'"

"And," said Porthos, with the same majestic mien, "seeing me at
Fontainebleau at the king's, M. Fouquet will not be able to tell me I am
not speaking the truth."

"My dear Porthos, I was just on the point of opening my lips to make the
same remark, but you anticipate me in everything. Oh! Porthos, how
fortunately you are gifted; age has not made any impression on you."

"Not overmuch, certainly."

"Then there is nothing more to say?"

"I think not."

"All your scruples are removed?"

"Quite so."

"In that case I shall carry you off with me."

"Exactly; and I shall go and get my horses saddled."

"You have horses here, then?"

"I have five."

"You had them sent from Pierrefonds, I suppose?"

"No, M. Fouquet gave them to me."

"My dear Porthos, we shall not want five horses for two persons;
besides, I have already three in Paris, which will make eight, and that
will be too many."

"It would not be too many if I had some of my servants here; but, alas!
I have not got them."

"Do you regret them, then?"

"I regret Mousqueton; I need Mousqueton."

"What a good-hearted fellow you are, Porthos," said D'Artagnan; "but
the best thing you can do is to leave your horses here, as you have
left Mousqueton out yonder."

"Why so?"

"Because, by-and-by, it might turn out a very good thing if M. Fouquet
had never given you anything at all."

"I don't understand you," said Porthos.

"It is not necessary you should understand."

"But yet--"

"I will explain to you later, Porthos."

"I'll wager it is some piece of policy or other."

"And of the most subtle character," returned D'Artagnan.

Porthos bent his head at this word policy; then, after a moment's
reflection, he added: "I confess, D'Artagnan, that I am no politician."

"I know that well."

"Oh! no one knows what you told me yourself, you the bravest of the
brave."

"What did I tell you, Porthos?"

"That every man has his day. You told me so, and I have experienced it
myself. There are certain days when one feels less pleasure than others
in exposing one's self to a bullet or a sword-thrust."

"Exactly my own idea."

"And mine, too, although I can hardly believe in blows or thrusts which
kill outright."

"The deuce! and yet you have killed a few in your time."

"Yes; but I have never been killed."

"Your reason is a very good one."

"Therefore I do not believe I shall ever die from a thrust of a sword or
a gunshot."

"In that case, then, you are afraid of nothing. Ah! water, perhaps?"

"Oh, I swim like an otter."

"Of a quartan fever, then?"

"I never had one yet, and I don't believe I ever shall; but there is one
thing I will admit;" and Porthos dropped his voice.

"What is that?" asked D'Artagnan, adopting the same tone of voice as
Porthos.

"I must confess," repeated Porthos, "that I am horribly afraid of
political matters."

"Ah! bah!" exclaimed D'Artagnan.

"Upon my word, it's true," said Porthos, in a stentorian voice. "I have
seen his eminence Monsieur le Cardinal de Richelieu, and his eminence
Monsieur le Cardinal de Mazarin; the one was a red politician, the other
a black politician; I have never felt very much more satisfaction with
the one than with the other; the first struck off the heads of M. de
Marillac, M. de Thou, M. de Cinq-Mars, M. Chalais, M. de Boutteville,
and M. de Montmorency; the second got a whole crowd of Frondeurs cut in
pieces, and we belonged to them."

"On the contrary, we did not belong to them," said D'Artagnan.

"Oh! indeed, yes; for, if I unsheathed my sword for the cardinal, I
struck for the king."

"Dear Porthos!"

"Well, I have done. My dread of politics is such, that if there is any
question of politics in the matter, I should far sooner prefer to return
to Pierrefonds."

"You would be quite right if that were the case. But with me, dear
Porthos, no politics at all, that is quite clear. You have labored hard
in fortifying Belle-Isle; the king wished to know the name of the clever
engineer under whose directions the works were carried on; you are
modest, as all men of true genius are; perhaps Aramis wishes to put you
under a bushel. But I happen to seize hold of you; I make it known who
you are; I produce you; the king rewards you; and that is the only
policy I have to do with."

"And the only one I will have to do with either," said Porthos, holding
out his hand to D'Artagnan.

But D'Artagnan knew Porthos' grasp; he knew that once imprisoned within
the baron's five fingers, no hand ever left it without being
half-crushed. He therefore held out, not his hand, but his fist, and
Porthos did not even perceive the difference. The servants talked a
little with each other in an undertone, and whispered a few words, which
D'Artagnan understood, but which he took very good care not to let
Porthos understand. "Our friend," said he to himself, "was really and
truly Aramis' prisoner. Let us now see what the result will be of the
liberation of the captive."



CHAPTER XI.

THE RAT AND THE CHEESE.


D'Artagnan and Porthos returned on foot, as D'Artagnan had arrived. When
D'Artagnan, as he entered the shop of the Pilon d'Or, had announced to
Planchet that M. de Valon would be one of the privileged travelers, and
when the plume in Porthos' hat had made the wooden candles suspended
over the front jingle together, something almost like a melancholy
presentiment troubled the delight which Planchet had promised himself
for the next day. But the grocer's heart was of sterling metal, a
precious relic of the good old time, which always remains what it has
always been for those who are getting old the time of their youth, and
for those who are young the old age of their ancestors. Planchet,
notwithstanding the sort of internal shiver, which he checked
immediately he experienced it, received Porthos, therefore, with a
respect mingled with the most tender cordiality. Porthos, who was a
little cold and stiff in his manners at first, on account of the social
difference which existed at that period between a baron and a grocer,
soon began to get a little softened when he perceived so much
good-feeling and so many kind attentions in Planchet. He was
particularly touched by the liberty which was permitted him to plunge
his large hands into the boxes of dried fruits and preserves, into the
sacks of nuts and almonds, and into the drawers full of sweetmeats. So
that, notwithstanding Planchet's pressing invitations to go upstairs to
the _entresol_, he chose as his favorite seat, during the evening which
he had to spend at Planchet's house, the shop itself, where his fingers
could always find whatever his nose had first detected for him. The
delicious figs from Provence, filberts from the forest, Tours plums,
were subjects of his interrupted attention for five consecutive hours.
His teeth, like millstones, cracked heaps of nuts, the shells of which
were scattered all over the floor, where they were trampled by every one
who went in and out of the shop; Porthos pulled from the stalk with his
lips, at one mouthful, bunches of the rich Muscatel raisins with their
beautiful bloom and a half-pound of which passed at one gulp from his
mouth to his stomach. In one of the corners of the shop, Planchet's
assistants, crouching down in a fright, looked at each other without
venturing to open their lips. They did not know who Porthos was, for
they had never seen him before. The race of those Titans, who had worn
the cuirasses of Hugues Capet, Philip Augustus and Francis the First,
had already begun to disappear. They could not help thinking he might
possibly be the ogre of the fairytale, who was going to turn the whole
contents of Planchet's shop into his insatiable stomach, and that, too,
without in the slightest degree displacing the barrels and chests that
were in it. Cracking, munching, chewing, nibbling, sucking, and
swallowing, Porthos occasionally said to the grocer:

"You do a very good business here, friend Planchet."

"He will very soon have none at all to do, if this continues," grumbled
the foreman, who had Planchet's word that he should be his successor.
And, in his despair, he approached Porthos, who blocked up the whole of
the passage leading from the back shop to the shop itself. He hoped that
Porthos would rise, and that this movement would distract his devouring
ideas.

"What do you want, my man?" asked Porthos, very affably.

"I should like to pass you, monsieur, if it is not troubling you too
much."

"Very well," said Porthos, "it does not trouble me in the least."

At the same moment he took hold of the young fellow by the waistband,
lifted him off the ground, and placed him very gently on the other side,
smiling all the while with the same affable expression. As soon as
Porthos had placed him on the ground, the lad's legs so shook under him
that he fell back upon some sacks of corks. But noticing the giant's
gentleness of manner, he ventured again, and said:

"Ah, monsieur! pray be careful."

"What about?" inquired Porthos.

"You are positively putting fire into your body."

"How is that, my good fellow?" said Porthos.

"All those things are very heating to the system."

"Which?"

"Raisins, nuts and almonds."

"Yes; but if raisins, nuts and almonds are heating--"

"There is no doubt at all of it, monsieur."

"Honey is very cooling," said Porthos, stretching out his hand toward a
small barrel of honey which was opened, and he plunged the scoop with
which the wants of the customers were supplied into it, and swallowed a
good half-pound at one gulp.

"I must trouble you for some water now, my man," said Porthos.

"In a pail, monsieur?" asked the lad, simply.

"No, in a water-bottle; that will be quite enough;" and raising the
bottle to his mouth, as a trumpeter does his trumpet, he emptied the
bottle at a single draught.

Planchet was moved in all the sentiments which correspond to the fibers
of propriety and self-love. However, a worthy representative of the
hospitality which prevailed in early days, he feigned to be talking very
earnestly with D'Artagnan, and incessantly repeated:--"Ah! monsieur,
what a happiness! what an honor!"

"What time shall we have supper, Planchet?" inquired Porthos; "I feel
hungry."

The foreman clasped his hands together. The two others got under the
counters, fearing that Porthos might have a taste for human flesh.

"We shall only take a sort of snack here," said D'Artagnan; "and when we
get to Planchet's country-seat, we shall have supper."

"Ah! ah! so we are going to your country-house, Planchet," said Porthos;
"so much the better."

"You overwhelm me, Monsieur le Baron."

The "Monsieur le Baron" had a great effect upon the men, who detected a
personage of the highest quality in an appetite of that kind. This
title, too, reassured them. They had never heard that an ogre was ever
called "Monsieur le Baron."

"I will take a few biscuits to eat on the road," said Porthos,
carelessly; and he emptied a whole jar of aniseed biscuits into the huge
pocket of his doublet.

"My shop is saved!" exclaimed Planchet.

"Yes, as the cheese was," said the foreman.

"What cheese?"

"That Dutch cheese, inside which a rat had made his way, and we only
found the rind left."

Planchet looked all round his shop, and observing the different articles
which had escaped Porthos' teeth, he found the comparison somewhat
exaggerated. The foreman, who remarked what was passing in his master's
mind, said, "Take care; he is not gone yet."

"Have you any fruit here?" said Porthos, as he went upstairs to the
_entresol_, where it had just been announced that some refreshment was
prepared.

"Alas!" thought the grocer, addressing a look at D'Artagnan full of
entreaty, which the latter half understood.

As soon as they had finished eating they set off. It was late when the
three riders, who had left Paris about six in the evening, arrived at
Fontainebleau. The journey had passed very agreeably. Porthos took a
fancy to Planchet's society, because the latter was very respectful in
his manners and seemed delighted to talk to him about his meadows, his
woods, and his rabbit-warrens. Porthos had all the taste and pride of a
landed proprietor.

When D'Artagnan saw his two companions in earnest conversation, he took
the opposite side of the road, and letting his bridle drop upon his
horse's neck, separated himself from the whole world, as he had done
from Porthos and from Planchet. The moon shone softly through the
foliage of the forest. The odors of the open country rose deliciously
perfumed to the horses' nostrils, and they snorted and pranced about
delightedly. Porthos and Planchet began to talk about hay-crops.
Planchet admitted to Porthos that in the more advanced years of his
life, he had certainly neglected agricultural pursuits for commerce, but
that his childhood had been passed in Picardy, in the beautiful meadows
where the grass grew as high as the knees, and where he had played under
the green apple-trees covered with red-cheeked fruit; he went on to say,
that he had solemnly promised himself that as soon as he should have
made his fortune, he would return to nature, and end his days as he had
begun them, as near as he possibly could to the earth itself, where all
men must go at last.

"Eh! eh!" said Porthos; "in that case, my dear Monsieur Planchet, your
retreat is not far distant."

"How so?"

"Why, you seem to be in the way of making your fortune very soon."

"Well, we are getting on pretty well, I must admit," replied Planchet.

"Come, tell me, what is the extent of your ambition, and what is the
amount you intend to retire upon?"

"There is one circumstance, monsieur," said Planchet, without answering
the question, "which occasions me a good deal of anxiety."

"What is it?" inquired Porthos, looking all round him as if in search of
the circumstance that annoyed Planchet, and desirous of freeing him from
it.

"Why, formerly," said the grocer, "you used to call me Planchet, quite
short, and you would have spoken to me then in a much more familiar
manner than you do now."

"Certainly, certainly. I should have said so formerly," replied the
good-natured Porthos, with an embarrassment full of delicacy; "but
formerly--"

"Formerly I was M. d'Artagnan's lackey; is not that what you mean?"

"Yes."

"Well, if I am not quite his lackey, I am as much as ever I was his
devoted servant; and more than that, since that time--"

"Well, Planchet?"

"Since that time, I have had the honor of being in partnership with
him."

"Oh, oh!" said Porthos. "What, has D'Artagnan gone into the grocery
business?"

"No, no," said D'Artagnan, whom these words had drawn out of his
reverie, and who entered into the conversation with that readiness and
rapidity which distinguished every operation of his mind and body. "It
was not D'Artagnan who entered into the grocery business, but Planchet,
who entered into a political affair with me."

"Yes," said Planchet, with mingled pride and satisfaction, "we
transacted a little matter of business which brought me in a hundred
thousand francs, and M. d'Artagnan two hundred thousand."

"Oh, oh!" said Porthos, with admiration.

"So that, Monsieur le Baron," continued the grocer, "I again beg you to
be kind enough to call me Planchet, as you used to do; and to speak to
me as familiarly as in old times. You cannot possibly imagine the
pleasure that it would give me."

"If that be the case, my dear Planchet, I will do so, certainly,"
replied Porthos. And as he was quite close to Planchet, he raised his
hand, as if to strike him on the shoulder, in token of friendly
cordiality; but a fortunate movement of the horse made him miss his aim,
so that his hand fell on the crupper of Planchet's horse, instead; which
made the animal's legs almost give way.

D'Artagnan burst out laughing, as he said, "Take care, Planchet; for if
Porthos begins to like you too much, he will caress you; and if he
caresses you, he will knock you as flat as a pancake. Porthos is still
as strong as ever, you know."

"Oh," said Planchet, "Mousqueton is not dead, and yet Monsieur le Baron
is very fond of him."

"Certainly," said Porthos, with a sigh which made all the three horses
rear; "and I was only saying, this very morning, to D'Artagnan, how much
I regretted him. But tell me, Planchet?"

"Thank you, Monsieur le Baron, thank you."

"Good lad, good lad! How many acres of park have you got?"

"Of park?"

"Yes; we will reckon up the meadows presently, and the woods afterward."

"Whereabouts, monsieur?"

"At your chateau."

"Oh, Monsieur le Baron; I have neither chateau, nor park, nor meadows,
nor woods."

"What have you got, then?" inquired Porthos, "and why do you call it a
country-seat?"

"I did not call it a country-seat, Monsieur le Baron," replied Planchet,
somewhat humiliated, "but a country-box."

"Ah, ah! I understand. You are modest."

"No, Monsieur le Baron; I speak the plain truth. I have rooms for a
couple of friends, that is all."

"But, in that case, whereabouts do your friends walk?"

"In the first place, they can walk about the king's forest, which is
very beautiful."

"Yes, I know the forest is very fine," said Porthos; "nearly as
beautiful as my forest at Berry."

Planchet opened his eyes very wide. "Have you a forest of the same kind
as the forest at Fontainebleau, Monsieur le Baron?" he stammered out.

"Yes; I have two, indeed, but the one at Berry is my favorite."

"Why so?" asked Planchet.

"Because I don't know where it ends; and, also, because it is full of
poachers."

"How can the poachers make the forest so agreeable to you?"

"Because they hunt my game, and I hunt them--which in these peaceful
times is for me a picture of war on a small scale."

They had reached this turn of the conversation, when Planchet, looking
up, perceived the houses at the commencement of Fontainebleau, the
outline of which stood out strongly upon the dark face of the heavens;
while, rising above the compact and irregularly formed mass of
buildings, the pointed roofs of the chateau were clearly visible, the
slates of which glistened beneath the light of the moon, like the scales
of an immense fish. "Gentlemen," said Planchet, "I have the honor to
inform you that we have arrived at Fontainebleau."



CHAPTER XII.

PLANCHET'S COUNTRY-HOUSE.


The cavaliers looked up, and saw that what Planchet had announced to
them was true. Ten minutes afterward they were in the street called the
Rue de Lyon, on the opposite side of the inn of the sign of the "Beau
Paon." A high hedge of bushy alders, hawthorn, and wild hops, formed an
impenetrable fence, behind which rose a white house, with a large tiled
roof. Two of the windows, which were quite dark, looked upon the street.
Between the two, a small door, with a porch supported by a couple of
pillars, formed the entrance to the house. The door was gained by a step
raised a little from the ground. Planchet got off his horse, as if he
intended to knock at the door; but, on second thoughts, he took hold of
his horse by the bridle, and led it about thirty paces further on, his
two companions following him. He then advanced about another thirty
paces, until he arrived at the door of a cart-house, lighted by an iron
grating; and, lifting up a wooden latch, pushed open one of the
folding-doors. He entered first, leading his horse after him by the
bridle, into a small courtyard, where an odor met them which revealed
their close vicinity to a stable. "That smells all right," said Porthos
loudly, getting off his horse, "and I almost begin to think I am near my
own cows at Pierrefonds."

"I have only one cow," Planchet hastened to say, modestly.

"And I have thirty," said Porthos; "or, rather, I don't exactly know how
many I have."

When the two cavaliers had entered, Planchet fastened the door behind
them. In the meantime, D'Artagnan, who had dismounted with his usual
agility, inhaled the fresh perfumed air with the delight a Parisian
feels at the sight of green fields and fresh foliage, plucked a piece of
honeysuckle with one hand, and of sweet-briar with the other. Porthos
had laid hold of some peas which were twined round poles stuck into the
ground, and ate, or rather browsed upon them, shells and all; and
Planchet was busily engaged trying to wake up an old and infirm peasant,
who was fast asleep in a shed, lying on a bed of moss, and dressed in an
old stable suit of clothes. The peasant, recognizing Planchet, called
him "the master" to the grocer's great satisfaction. "Stable the horses
well, old fellow, and you shall have something good for yourself," said
Planchet.

"Yes, yes; fine animals they are, too," said the peasant. "Oh! they
shall have as much as they like."

"Gently, gently, my man," said D'Artagnan. "We are getting on a little
too fast. A few oats, and a good bed--nothing more."

"Some bran and water for my horse," said Porthos, "for it is very warm,
I think."

"Don't be afraid, gentlemen," replied Planchet; "Daddy Celestin is an
old gendarme, who fought at Ivry. He knows all about stables; so come
into the house." And he led the way along a well-sheltered walk, which
crossed a kitchen-garden, then a small paddock, and came out into a
little garden behind the house, the principal front of which, as we have
already noticed, was facing the street. As they approached, they could
see, through two open windows on the ground-floor, which led into a
sitting-room, the interior of Planchet's residence. This room, softly
lighted by a lamp placed on the table, seemed, from the end of the
garden, like a smiling image of repose, comfort and happiness. In every
direction where the rays of light fell, whether upon a piece of old
china, or upon an article of furniture, shining from excessive neatness,
or upon the weapons hanging against the wall, the soft light was as
softly reflected; and its rays seemed to linger everywhere upon
something or another agreeable to the eye. The lamp which lighted the
room, while the foliage of jasmine and climbing roses hung in masses
from the window-frames, splendidly illuminated a damask table-cloth as
white as snow. The table was laid for two persons. An amber-colored wine
sparkled in the long cut-glass bottle; and a large jug of blue china,
with a silver lid, was filled with foaming cider. Near the table, in a
high-backed armchair, reclined, fast asleep, a woman of about thirty
years of age, her face the very picture of health and freshness. Upon
her knees lay a large cat, with her paws folded under her, and her eyes
half-closed, purring in that significant manner which, according to
feline habits, indicates perfect contentment. The two friends paused
before the window in complete amazement, while Planchet, perceiving
their astonishment, was, in no little degree, secretly delighted at it.

"Ah, Planchet, you rascal!" said D'Artagnan, "I now understand your
absences."

"Oh, oh! there is some white linen!" said Porthos, in his turn, in a
voice of thunder. At the sound of this voice, the cat took flight, the
housekeeper woke up suddenly, and Planchet, assuming a gracious air,
introduced his two companions into the room, where the table was already
laid.

"Permit me, my dear," he said, "to present to you, Monsieur le Chevalier
d'Artagnan, my patron." D'Artagnan took the lady's hand in his in the
most courteous manner, and with precisely the same chivalrous air as he
would have taken Madame's.

"Monsieur le Baron de Valon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds," added Planchet.
Porthos bowed with a reverence which Anne of Austria would have approved
of.

It was then Planchet's turn, and he unhesitatingly embraced the lady in
question--not, however, until he had made a sign as if requesting
D'Artagnan's and Porthos' permission, a permission which was, of course,
frankly conceded. D'Artagnan complimented Planchet, and said, "You are
indeed a man who knows how to make life agreeable."

"Life, monsieur," said Planchet, laughing, "is a capital which a man
ought to invest as sensibly as he possibly can."

"And you get very good interest for yours," said Porthos, with a burst
of laughter like a peal of thunder.

Planchet turned to his housekeeper. "You have before you," he said to
her, "the two men who have influenced no small portion of my life. I
have spoken to you about them both very frequently."

"And two others as well," said the lady, with a very decided Flemish
accent.

"Madame is Dutch?" inquired D'Artagnan. Porthos curled his mustache, a
circumstance which was not lost upon D'Artagnan, who remarked
everything.

"I am from Antwerp," said the lady.

"And her name is Madame Gechter," said Planchet.

"You should not call her madame," said D'Artagnan.

"Why not?" asked Planchet.

"Because it would make her seem older every time you call her so."

"Well, I call her Trüchen."

"And a very pretty name too," said Porthos.

"Trüchen," said Planchet, "came to me from Flanders with her virtue and
two thousand florins. She ran away from a brute of a husband, who was in
the habit of beating her. Being myself a Picard born, I was always very
fond of the Artesian women, and it is only a step from Artois to
Flanders. She came crying bitterly to her godfather, my predecessor in
the Rue des Lombards; she placed her two thousand florins in my
establishment, which I have turned to very good account, and which
bring her in ten thousand."

"Bravo, Planchet!"

"She is free and well off; she has a cow, a maid-servant, and old
Celestin at her orders. She mends my linen, knits my winter stockings.
She only sees me every fortnight, and seems anxious to make herself
happy."

"And I am very happy indeed," said Trüchen, with perfect ingenuousness.

Porthos began to curl the other side of his mustache. "The deuce!"
thought D'Artagnan, "can Porthos have any intentions in that quarter?"

In the meantime, Trüchen had set her cook to work, had laid the table
for two more, and covered it with every possible delicacy, which
converts a light supper into a substantial meal, and a meal into a
regular feast. Fresh butter, salt beef, anchovies, tunny, a shopful of
Planchet's commodities, fowls, vegetables, salad, fish from the pond and
the river, game from the forest--all the produce, in fact, of the
province. Moreover, Planchet returned from the cellar, laden with ten
bottles of wine, the glass of which could hardly be seen for the thick
coating of dust which covered them. Porthos' heart seemed to expand as
he said, "I am hungry;" and he sat himself beside Madame Trüchen, whom
he looked at in the most killing manner. D'Artagnan seated himself on
the other side of her, while Planchet, discreetly and full of delight,
took his seat opposite.

"Do not trouble yourselves," he said, "if Trüchen should leave the table
now and then during supper; for she will have to look after your
bedrooms."

In fact, the housekeeper made her escape very frequently, and they could
hear, on the first floor above them, the creaking of the wooden
bedsteads and the rolling of the castors on the floor. While this was
going on, the three men, Porthos especially, ate and drank
gloriously--it was wonderful to see them. The ten full bottles were ten
empty ones by the time Trüchen returned with the cheese. D'Artagnan
still preserved his dignity and self-possession, but Porthos had lost a
portion of his; the mirth soon began to be somewhat uproarious.
D'Artagnan recommended a new descent into the cellar, and, as Planchet
did not walk with the steadiness of a well-trained foot-soldier, the
captain of the musketeers proposed to accompany him. They set off,
humming song's wild enough to frighten anybody who might be listening.
Trüchen remained behind at table with Porthos. While the two wine
bibbers were looking behind the firewood for what they wanted, a sharp,
sonorous sound was heard like the impression of a pair of lips on a
cheek.

"Porthos fancies himself at La Rochelle," thought D'Artagnan, as they
returned freighted with bottles. Planchet was singing so loudly that he
was incapable of noticing anything. D'Artagnan, whom nothing ever
escaped, remarked how much redder Trüchen's left cheek was than her
right. Porthos was sitting on Trüchen's left, and was curling with both
his hands both sides of his mustache at once, and Trüchen was looking at
him with a most bewitching smile. The sparkling wine of Anjou very soon
produced a remarkable effect upon the three companions. D'Artagnan had
hardly strength enough left to take a candlestick to light Planchet up
his own staircase. Planchet was pulling Porthos along, who was following
Trüchen, who was herself jovial enough. It was D'Artagnan who found out
the rooms and the beds. Porthos threw himself into the one destined for
him, after his friend had undressed him. D'Artagnan got into his own
bed, saying to himself, "Mordioux! I had made up my mind never to touch
that light-colored wine, which brings my early camp days back again.
Fie! fie! if my musketeers were only to see their captain in such a
state." And drawing the curtains of his bed, he added, "Fortunately
enough, though, they will not see me."

"The country is very amusing," said Porthos, stretching out his legs,
which passed through the wooden footboard, and made a tremendous noise,
of which, however, no one in the house was capable of taking the
slightest notice. By two o'clock in the morning every one was fast
asleep.



CHAPTER XIII.

SHOWING WHAT COULD BE SEEN FROM PLANCHET'S HOUSE.


The next morning found the three heroes sleeping soundly. Trüchen had
closed the outside blinds to keep the first rays of the sun from the
heavy eyes of her guests, like a kind good woman. It was still perfectly
dark then beneath Porthos' curtains and under Planchet's canopy, when
D'Artagnan, awakened by an indiscreet ray of light which made its way
through the windows, jumped hastily out of bed, as if he wished to be
the first at the assault. He took by assault Porthos' room, which was
next to his own. The worthy Porthos was sleeping with a noise like
distant thunder; in the dim obscurity of the room his gigantic frame was
prominently displayed, and his swollen fist hung down outside the bed
upon the carpet. D'Artagnan awoke Porthos, who rubbed his eyes in a
tolerably good humor. In the meantime Planchet was dressing himself, and
met at their bedroom doors his two guests, who were still somewhat
unsteady from their previous evening's entertainment. Although it was
yet very early, the whole household was already up. The cook was
mercilessly slaughtering poultry in the poultry-yard, and Celestin was
gathering cherries in the garden. Porthos, brisk and lively as ever,
held out his hand to Planchet, and D'Artagnan requested permission to
embrace Madame Trüchen. The latter, to show that she bore no ill-will,
approached Porthos, upon whom she conferred the same favor. Porthos
embraced Madame Trüchen, heaving an enormous sigh. Planchet took both
his friends by the hand.

"I am going to show you over the house," he said; "when we arrived last
evening it was as dark as an oven, and we were unable to see anything;
but in broad daylight everything looks different, and you will be
satisfied, I hope."

"If we begin by the view you have," said D'Artagnan, "that charms me
beyond everything; I have always lived in royal mansions, you know, and
royal personages have some every good ideas upon the selection of points
of view."

"I am a great stickler for a good view myself," said Porthos. "At my
Chateau de Pierrefonds, I have had four avenues laid out, and at the end
of each is a landscape of a different character altogether to the
others."

"You shall see my prospect," said Planchet; and he led his two guests to
a window.

"Ah!" said D'Artagnan, "this is the Rue de Lyon."

"Yes, I have two windows on this side, a paltry insignificant view, for
there is always that bustling and noisy inn, which is a very
disagreeable neighbor. I had four windows here, but I have only kept
two."

"Let us go on," said D'Artagnan.

They entered a corridor leading to the bedrooms, and Planchet pushed
open the outside blinds.

"Hollo! what is that out yonder?" said Porthos.

"The forest," said Planchet. "It is the horizon--a thick line of green,
which is yellow in the spring, green in the summer, red in the autumn,
and white in the winter."

"All very well, but it is like a curtain, which prevents one seeing a
greater distance."

"Yes," said Planchet; "still one can see, at all events, everything
between."

"Ah! the open country," said Porthos. "But what is that I see out
there--crosses and stones?"

"Ah! that is the cemetery," exclaimed D'Artagnan.

"Precisely," said Planchet; "I assure you it is very curious. Hardly a
day passes that some one is not buried there; for Fontainebleau is by no
means an inconsiderable place. Sometimes we see young girls clothed in
white carrying banners; at others, some of the town-council, or rich
citizens, with choristers and all the parish authorities; and then, too,
we see some of the officers of the king's household."

"I should not like that," said Porthos.

"There is not much amusement in it, at all events," said D'Artagnan.

"I assure you it encourages religious thoughts," replied Planchet.

"Oh, I don't deny that."

"But," continued Planchet, "we must all die one day or another, and I
once met with a maxim somewhere which I have remembered, that the
thought of death is a thought that will do us all good."

"I am far from saying the contrary," said Porthos.

"But," objected D'Artagnan, "the thought of green fields, flowers,
rivers, blue horizons, extensive and boundless plains, is no less likely
to do us good."

"If I had any, I should be far from rejecting them," said Planchet; "but
possessing only this little cemetery, full of flowers, so moss-grown,
shady and quiet, I am contented with it, and I think of those who live
in town, in the Rue des Lombards, for instance, and who have to listen
to the rumbling of a couple of thousand vehicles every day, and to the
trampling of a hundred and fifty thousand foot-passengers."

"But living," said Porthos; "living, remember that."

"That is exactly the reason," said Planchet timidly, "why I feel it does
me good to see a few dead."

"Upon my word," said D'Artagnan, "that fellow Planchet was born to be a
poet as well as a grocer."

"Monsieur," said Planchet, "I am one of those good-humored sort of men
whom Heaven created for the purpose of living a certain space of time,
and of considering all things good which they meet with during their
stay on earth."

D'Artagnan sat down close to the window, and as there seemed to be
something substantial in Planchet's philosophy, he mused over it.

"Ah, ah!" exclaimed Porthos, "if I am not mistaken, we are going to have
a representation now, for I think I heard something like chanting."

"Yes," said D'Artagnan, "I hear singing too."

"Oh, it is only a burial of a very poor description," said Planchet,
disdainfully; "the officiating priest, the beadle, and only one
chorister boy, nothing more. You observe, messieurs, that the defunct
lady or gentleman could not have been of very high rank."

"No; no one seems to be following the coffin."

"Yes," said Porthos; "I see a man."

"You are right; a man wrapped up in a cloak," said D'Artagnan.

"It's not worth looking at," said Planchet.

"I find it interesting," said D'Artagnan, leaning on the window.

"Come, come, you are beginning to take a fancy to the place already,"
said Planchet, delightedly; "it is exactly my own case. I was so
melancholy at first that I could do nothing but make the sign of the
cross all day, and the chants were like nails being driven into my head;
but now, the chants lull me to sleep, and no bird I have ever seen or
heard can sing better than those which are to be met with in this
cemetery."

"Well," said Porthos, "this is beginning to get a little dull for me,
and I prefer going downstairs."

Planchet with one bound was beside his guest, to whom he offered his
hand to lead him into the garden.

"What!" said Porthos to D'Artagnan, as he turned round, "are you going
to remain here?"

"Yes, I shall join you presently."

"Well, M. d'Artagnan is right, after all," said Planchet; "are they
beginning to bury yet?"

"Not yet."

"Ah! yes, the grave-digger is waiting until the cords are fastened round
the bier. But see, a woman has just entered the cemetery at the other
end."

"Yes, yes, my dear Planchet," said D'Artagnan, quickly, "leave me, leave
me; I feel I am beginning already to be much comforted by my
meditations, so do not interrupt me."

Planchet left, and D'Artagnan remained, devouring with his eager gaze
from behind the half-closed blinds what was taking place just before
him. The two bearers of the corpse had unfastened the straps by which
they had carried the litter, and were letting their burden glide gently
into the open grave. At a few paces distant, the man with the cloak
wrapped round him, the only spectator of this melancholy scene, was
leaning with his back against a large cypress-tree, and kept his face
and person entirely concealed from the grave-digger and the priest; the
corpse was buried in five minutes. The grave having been filled up, the
priest turned away, and the grave-digger having addressed a few words to
them, followed them as they moved away. The man in the mantle bowed as
they passed him, and put a piece of money into the grave-digger's hand.

"Mordioux!" murmured D'Artagnan; "why that man is Aramis himself."

Aramis, in fact, remained alone, on that side at least; for hardly did
he turn his head than a woman's footsteps, and the rustling of her
dress, were heard in the path close to him. He immediately turned round,
and took off his hat with the most ceremonious respect; he led the lady
under the shelter of some walnut and lime-trees, which overshadowed a
magnificent tomb.

"Ah! who would have thought it," said D'Artagnan; "the bishop of Vannes
at a rendezvous! He is still the same Abbe Aramis as he was at
Noisy-le-Sec. Yes," he added, after a pause; "but as it is in a
cemetery, the rendezvous is sacred." And he began to laugh.

The conversation lasted for fully half an hour. D'Artagnan could not see
the lady's face, for she kept her back turned toward him; but he saw
perfectly well, by the erect attitude of both the speakers, by their
gestures, by the measured and careful manner with which they glanced at
each other, either by way of attack or defense, that they must be
conversing about any other subject than that of love. At the end of the
conversation the lady rose, and bowed most profoundly to Aramis.

"Oh, oh!" said D'Artagnan; "this rendezvous finishes like one of a very
tender nature though. The cavalier kneels at the beginning, the young
lady by-and-by gets tamed down, and then it is she who has to
supplicate.--Who is this girl? I would give anything to ascertain."

This seemed impossible, however, for Aramis was the first to leave; the
lady carefully concealed her head and face, and then immediately
separated. D'Artagnan could hold out no longer; he ran to the window
which looked out on the Rue de Lyon, and saw Aramis just entering the
inn. The lady was proceeding in quite an opposite direction, and seemed,
in fact, to be about to rejoin an equipage, consisting of two led horses
and a carriage, which he could see standing close to the borders of the
forest. She was walking slowly, her head bent down, absorbed in the
deepest meditation.

"Mordioux! mordioux! I must and will learn who that woman is," said the
musketeer again; and then, without further deliberation, he set off in
pursuit of her. As he was going along, he tried to think how he could
possibly contrive to make her raise her veil. "She is not young," he
said, "and is a woman of high rank in society. I ought to know that
figure and peculiar style of walk." As he ran, the sound of his spurs
and of his boots upon the hard ground of the street made a strange
jingling noise; a fortunate circumstance in itself, which he was far
from reckoning upon. The noise disturbed the lady; she seemed to fancy
she was being either followed or pursued, which was indeed the case, and
turned round. D'Artagnan started as if he had received a charge of small
shot in his legs, and then turning suddenly round, as if he were going
back the same way he had come, he murmured, "Madame de Chevreuse!"
D'Artagnan would not go home until he had learned everything. He asked
Celestin to inquire of the grave-digger whose body it was they had
buried that morning.


[Illustration: D'ARTAGNAN, RECLINING UPON AN IMMENSE STRAIGHT-BACKED
CHAIR, WITH HIS LEGS NOT STRETCHED OUT, BUT SIMPLY PLACED UPON A STOOL,
FORMED AN ANGLE OF THE MOST OBTUSE FORM THAT COULD POSSIBLY BE
SEEN.--_Page 88._]


"A poor Franciscan mendicant friar," replied the latter, "who had not
even a dog to love him in this world and to accompany him to his last
resting-place."

"If that were really the case," thought D'Artagnan, "we should not have
found Aramis present at his funeral. The bishop of Vannes is not
precisely a dog as far as devotion goes; his scent, however, is quite as
keen, I admit."



CHAPTER XIV.

HOW PORTHOS, TRÜCHEN, AND PLANCHET PARTED WITH EACH OTHER ON FRIENDLY
TERMS, THANKS TO D'ARTAGNAN.


There was good living in Planchet's house. Porthos broke a ladder and
two cherry-trees, stripped the raspberry-bushes, and was only unable to
succeed in reaching the strawberry-beds on account, as he said, of his
belt. Trüchen, who had got quite sociable with the giant, said that it
was not the belt so much as his corporation; and Porthos, in a state of
the highest delight, embraced Trüchen, who gathered him a handful of the
strawberries, and made him eat them out of her hand. D'Artagnan, who
arrived in the midst of these little innocent flirtations, scolded
Porthos for his indolence, and silently pitied Planchet. Porthos
breakfasted with a very good appetite, and when he had finished, he
said, looking at Trüchen, "I could make myself very happy here." Trüchen
smiled at his remark, and so did Planchet, but the latter not without
some embarrassment.

D'Artagnan then addressed Porthos--"You must not let the delights of
Capua make you forget the real object of our journey to Fontainebleau."

"My presentation to the king?"

"Certainly. I am going to take a turn in the town to get everything
ready for that. Do not think of leaving the house. I beg."

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Porthos.

Planchet looked at D'Artagnan nervously. "Will you be away long?" he
inquired.

"No, my friend: and this very evening I will release you from two
troublesome guests."

"Oh! Monsieur d'Artagnan! can you say--"

"No, no; you are an excellent-hearted fellow, but your house is very
small. Such a house, with only a couple of acres of land, would be fit
for a king, and make him very happy, too. But you were not born a great
lord."

"No more was M. Porthos," murmured Planchet.

"But he has become so, my good fellow; his income has been a hundred
thousand francs a year for the last twenty years, and for the last fifty
years has been the owner of a couple of fists and a backbone, which are
not to be matched throughout the whole realm of France. Porthos is a man
of the very greatest consequence compared to you, and ... well, I need
say no more, for I know you are an intelligent fellow."

"No, no, monsieur, explain what you mean."

"Look at your orchard, how stripped it is, how empty your larder, your
bedstead broken, your cellar almost exhausted, look too ... at Madame
Trüchen--"

"Oh! my good gracious!" said Planchet.

"Madame Trüchen is an excellent person," continued D'Artagnan, "but keep
her for yourself, do you understand?" and he slapped him on the
shoulder.

Planchet at this moment perceived Porthos and Trüchen sitting close
together in an arbor: Trüchen, with a grace and manner peculiarly
Flemish, was making a pair of earrings for Porthos out of a double
cherry, while Porthos was laughing as amorously as Samson did with
Delilah. Planchet pressed D'Artagnan's hand, and ran toward the arbor.
We must do Porthos the justice to say that he did not move as they
approached, and very likely, he did not think he was doing any harm. Nor
indeed did Trüchen move either, which rather put Planchet out; but he,
too, had been so accustomed to see fashionable people in his shop, that
he found no difficulty in putting a good countenance on what was
disagreeable to him. Planchet seized Porthos by the arm, and proposed to
go and look at the horses, but Porthos pretended he was tired. Planchet
then suggested that the Baron de Valon should taste some noveau of his
own manufacture, which was not to be equaled anywhere; an offer which
the baron immediately accepted; and, in this way, Planchet managed to
engage his enemy's attention during the whole of the day, by dint of
sacrificing his cellar, in preference to his _amour propre_. Two hours
afterward D'Artagnan returned.

"Everything is arranged," he said: "I saw his majesty at the very moment
he was setting off for the chase: the king expects us this evening."

"The king expects me!" cried Porthos, drawing himself up. It is a sad
thing to have to confess, but a man's heart is like a restless billow;
for, from that very moment, Porthos ceased to look at Madame Trüchen in
that touching manner which had so softened her heart. Planchet
encouraged these ambitious leanings in the best way he could. He talked
over, or rather gave exaggerated accounts of all the splendors of the
last reign, its battles, sieges and grand court ceremonies. He spoke of
the luxurious display which the English made; the prizes which the three
brave companions had won, and how D'Artagnan, who at the beginning had
been the humblest of the three, had finished by becoming the head. He
fired Porthos with a generous feeling of enthusiasm, by reminding him of
his early youth now passed away; he boasted as much as he could of the
moral life this great lord had led, and how religiously he respected the
ties of friendship; he was eloquent and skillful in his choice of
subjects. He delighted Porthos, frightened Trüchen, and made D'Artagnan
think. At six o'clock, the musketeer ordered the horses to be brought
round, and told Porthos to get ready. He thanked Planchet for his kind
hospitality, whispered a few words about a post he might succeed in
obtaining for him at court, which immediately raised Planchet in
Trüchen's estimation, where the poor grocer--so good, so generous, so
devoted--had become much lowered ever since the appearance and
comparison with him of the two great gentlemen. Such, however, is
woman's nature; they are anxious to possess what they have not got, and
disdain it as soon as it is acquired. After having rendered this service
to his friend Planchet, D'Artagnan said in a low tone of voice to
Porthos: "That is a very beautiful ring you have on your finger."

"Its worth three hundred pistoles," said Porthos.

"Madame Trüchen will remember you better if you leave her that ring,"
replied D'Artagnan, a suggestion which Porthos seemed to hesitate to
adopt.

"You think it is not beautiful enough perhaps," said the musketeer. "I
understand your feelings; a great lord as you are would not think of
accepting the hospitality of an old servant without paying him most
handsomely for it; but I am sure that Planchet is too good-hearted a
fellow to remember that you have an income of a hundred thousand francs
a year."

"I have more than half a mind," said Porthos, flattered by the remark,
"to make Madame Trüchen a present of my little farm at Bracieux: it has
twelve acres."

"It is too much, my good Porthos, too much just at present.... Keep it
for a future occasion." He then took the ring off Porthos' finger, and
approaching Trüchen, said to her: "Madame, Monsieur le Baron hardly
knows how to entreat you, out of your regard for him, to accept this
little ring. M. de Valon is one of the most generous and discreet men of
my acquaintance. He wished to offer you a farm that he has at Bracieux,
but I dissuaded him from it."

"Oh!" said Trüchen, looking eagerly at the diamond.

"Monsieur le Baron!" exclaimed Planchet, quite overcome.

"My good friend," stammered out Porthos, delighted at having been so
well represented by D'Artagnan. These several exclamations, uttered at
the same moment, made quite a pathetic winding-up of a day which might
have finished in a very ridiculous manner. But D'Artagnan was there,
and, on every occasion, wherever D'Artagnan had exercised any control,
matters had ended only just in the way he wished and desired. There were
general embracings; Trüchen, whom the baron's munificence had restored
to her proper position, very timidly, and blushing all the while,
presented her forehead to the great lord with whom she had been on such
very excellent terms the evening before. Planchet himself was overcome
by a feeling of the deepest humility. Still, in the same generosity of
disposition, Porthos would have emptied his pockets into the hands of
the cook and of Celestin; but D'Artagnan stopped him.

"No," he said, "it is now my turn." And he gave one pistole to the woman
and two to the man; and the benedictions which were showered down upon
them would have rejoiced the heart of Harpagon himself, and have
rendered, even him, prodigal of his money.

D'Artagnan made Planchet lead them to the chateau, and introduced
Porthos into his own apartment, where he arrived safely without having
been perceived by those he was afraid of meeting.



CHAPTER XV.

THE PRESENTATION OF PORTHOS AT COURT.


At seven o'clock the same evening, the king gave an audience to an
ambassador from the United Provinces, in the grand reception-room. The
audience lasted a quarter of an hour. His majesty afterward received
those who had been recently presented, together with a few ladies, who
paid their respects the first. In one quarter of the salon, concealed
behind a column, Porthos and D'Artagnan were conversing together,
waiting until their turn arrived.

"Have you heard the news?" inquired the musketeer of his friend.

"No!"

"Well, look, then." Porthos raised himself on tiptoe, and saw M. Fouquet
in full court dress, leading Aramis toward the king.

"Aramis," said Porthos.

"Presented to the king by M. Fouquet."

"Ah!" ejaculated Porthos.

"For having fortified Belle-Isle," continued D'Artagnan.

"And I?"

"You--ah, you! as I have already had the honor of telling you, are the
good-natured, kind-hearted Porthos; and so they begged you to take care
of Saint-Mandé a little."

"Ah!" repeated Porthos.

"But, very happily, I was there," said D'Artagnan, "and presently it
will be my turn."

At this moment Fouquet addressed the king. "Sire," he said, "I have a
favor to solicit of your majesty. M. d'Herblay is not ambitious, but he
knows he can be of some service. Your majesty needs a representative at
Rome, who should be able to exercise a powerful influence there; may I
request a cardinal's hat for M. d'Herblay?" The king started. "I do not
often solicit anything of your majesty," said Fouquet.

"That is a reason, certainly," replied the king, who always expressed
any hesitation he might have in that manner, and to which remark there
was nothing to say in reply.

Fouquet and Aramis looked at each other. The king resumed: "M. d'Herblay
can serve us equally well in France; an archbishopric, for instance."

"Sire," objected Fouquet, with a grace of manner peculiarly his own,
"your majesty overwhelms M. d'Herblay; the archbishopric may, in your
majesty's extreme kindness, be conferred in addition to the hat; the one
does not exclude the other."

The king admired the readiness which he displayed, and smiled, saying:
"D'Artagnan himself could not have answered better." He had no sooner
pronounced the name, than D'Artagnan appeared.

"Did your majesty call me?" he said.

Aramis and Fouquet drew back a step, as if they were about to retire.

"Will your majesty allow me," said D'Artagnan quickly, as he led forward
Porthos, "to present to your majesty M. le Baron de Valon, one of the
bravest gentlemen of France."

As soon as Aramis saw Porthos, he turned as pale as death, while Fouquet
clenched his hands under his ruffles. D'Artagnan smiled at both of them,
while Porthos bowed, visibly overcome before the royal presence.

"Porthos here?" murmured Fouquet in Aramis' ear.

"Hush! there is some treachery at work," said the latter.

"Sire," said D'Artagnan, "it is more than six years ago that I ought to
have presented M. de Valon to your majesty; but certain men resemble
stars, they move not unless their friends accompany them. The Pleiads
are never disunited, and that is the reason I have selected, for the
purpose of presenting him to you, the very moment when you would see M.
d'Herblay by his side."

Aramis almost lost countenance. He looked at D'Artagnan with a proud,
haughty air, as though willing to accept the defiance which the latter
seemed to throw down.

"Ah! these gentlemen are good friends, then," said the king.

"Excellent friends, sire, the one can answer for the other. Ask M. de
Vannes now in what manner Belle-Isle was fortified?" Fouquet moved back
a step.

"Belle-Isle," said Aramis coldly, "has been fortified by that
gentleman," and he indicated Porthos with his hand, who bowed a second
time. Louis could not withhold his admiration, though at the same time
his suspicions were aroused.

"Yes," said D'Artagnan, "but ask Monsieur le Baron whose assistance he
had in carrying the works out?"

"Aramis'," said Porthos, frankly, and he pointed to the bishop.

"What the deuce does all this mean," thought the bishop, "and what sort
of a termination are we to expect to this comedy?"

"What!" exclaimed the king, "is the cardinal's, I mean the bishop's,
name Aramis?"

"A _nom de guerre_," said D'Artagnan.

"A name of friendship," said Aramis.

"A truce to modesty," exclaimed D'Artagnan; "beneath the priest's robe,
sire, is concealed the most brilliant officer, a gentleman of the most
unparalleled intrepidity, and the wisest theologian in your kingdom."

Louis raised his head. "And an engineer, also, it appears," he said,
admiring Aramis' calm imperturbable self-possession.

"An engineer for a particular purpose, sire," said the latter.

"My companion in the musketeers, sire," said D'Artagnan, with great
warmth of manner, "the man who has more than a hundred times aided your
father's ministers by his advice--M. d'Herblay, in a word, who with M.
de Valon, myself, and M. le Comte de la Fere, who is known to your
majesty, formed that quadrille which was a good deal talked about during
the late king's reign, and during your majesty's minority."

"And who has fortified Belle-Isle?" the king repeated in a significant
tone.

Aramis advanced and said: "In order to serve the son as I have served
the father."

D'Artagnan looked at Aramis most narrowly while he uttered these words,
which displayed so much true respect, so much warm devotion, such entire
frankness and sincerity, that even he, D'Artagnan, the eternal doubter,
he, the almost infallible in his judgment, was deceived by it. "A man
who lies cannot speak in such a tone as that," he said.

Louis was overcome by it. "In that case," he said to Fouquet, who
anxiously awaited the result of this proof, "the cardinal's hat is
promised. Monsieur d'Herblay, I pledge you my honor that the first
promotion shall be yours. Thank M. Fouquet for it." Colbert overheard
these words; they stung him to the quick and he left the salon abruptly.
"And you, Monsieur de Valon," said the king, "what have you to ask? I
am pleased to have it in my power to acknowledge the services of those
who were faithful to my father."

"Sire--" begun Porthos, but he was unable to proceed with what he was
going to say.

"Sire," exclaimed D'Artagnan, "this worthy gentleman is overpowered by
your majesty's presence, he who has so valiantly sustained the looks and
the fire of a thousand foes. But, knowing what his thoughts are, I--who
am more accustomed to gaze upon the sun--can translate his thoughts; he
needs nothing, his sole desire is to have the happiness of gazing upon
your majesty for a quarter of an hour."

"You shall sup with me this evening," said the king, saluting Porthos,
with a gracious smile.

Porthos became crimson from delight and from pride. The king dismissed
him, and D'Artagnan pushed him into the adjoining apartment, after he
had embraced him warmly.

"Sit next to me at table," said Porthos in his ear.

"Yes, my friend."

"Aramis is annoyed with me, I think."

"Aramis has never liked you so much as he does now. Fancy, it was I who
was the means of his getting the cardinal's hat."

"Of course," said Porthos. "By-the-by, does the king like his guests to
eat much at his table?"

"It is a compliment to himself if you do," said D'Artagnan, "for he
possesses a royal appetite."



CHAPTER XVI.

EXPLANATIONS.


Aramis had cleverly managed to effect a diversion for the
purpose of finding D'Artagnan and Porthos. He came up to the latter,
behind one of the columns, and, as he pressed his hand, said, "So you
have escaped from my prison?"

"Do not scold him," said D'Artagnan; "it was I, dear Aramis, who set him
free."

"Ah! my friend," replied Aramis, looking at Porthos, "could you not have
waited with a little more patience?"

D'Artagnan came to the assistance of Porthos, who already began to
breathe hard, in perplexity.

"You see, you members of the Church are great politicians; we, mere
soldiers, go at once to the point. The facts are these: I went to pay
Baisemeaux a visit--"

Aramis pricked up his ears at this announcement.

"Stay!" said Porthos; "you make me remember that I have a letter from
Baisemeaux for you, Aramis." And Porthos held out to the bishop the
letter we have already seen. Aramis begged to be allowed to read it, and
read it without D'Artagnan feeling in the slightest degree embarrassed
by the circumstance that he was so well acquainted with the contents of
it. Besides, Aramis' face was so impenetrable, that D'Artagnan could not
but admire him more than ever; after he had read it, he put the letter
into his pocket with the calmest possible air.

"You were saying, captain?" he observed.

"I was saying," continued the musketeer, "that I had gone to pay
Baisemeaux a visit on his majesty's service."

"On his majesty's service?" said Aramis.

"Yes," said D'Artagnan, "and, naturally enough, we talked about you and
our friends. I must say that Baisemeaux received me coldly; so I soon
took my leave of him. As I was returning, a soldier accosted me, and
said (no doubt he recognized me, notwithstanding I was in private
clothes), 'Captain, will you be good enough to read me the name written
on this envelope?' and I read, 'To Monsieur de Valon, at M. Fouquet's,
Saint-Mandé.' The deuce, said I to myself, Porthos has not returned,
then, as I fancied, to Belle-Isle or Pierrefonds, but is at M. Fouquet's
house, at Saint-Mandé: and as M. Fouquet is not at Saint-Mandé, Porthos
must be quite alone, or, at all events, with Aramis; I will go and see
Porthos, and I accordingly went to see Porthos."

"Very good," said Aramis, thoughtfully.

"You never told me that," said Porthos.

"I did not have the time, my friend."

"And you brought back Porthos with you to Fontainebleau?"

"Yes, to Planchet's house."

"Does Planchet live at Fontainebleau?" inquired Aramis.

"Yes, near the cemetery," said Porthos, thoughtlessly.

"What do you mean by 'near the cemetery?'" said Aramis, suspiciously.

"Come," thought the musketeer, "since there is to be a squabble, let us
take advantage of it."

"Yes; the cemetery," said Porthos. "Planchet is a very excellent fellow,
who makes very excellent preserves; but his house has windows which look
out upon the cemetery. And a very melancholy prospect it is! So this
morning--"

"This morning?" said Aramis, more and more excited.

D'Artagnan turned his back to them, and walked to the window, where he
began to play a march upon one of the panes of glass.

"Yes; this morning, we saw a man buried there."

"Ah! ah!"

"Very depressing, was it not? I should never be able to live in a house
where burials can always be seen from it. D'Artagnan, on the contrary,
seems to like it very much."

"So D'Artagnan saw it as well?"

"Not simply saw it, he literally never took his eyes off the whole
time."

Aramis started, and turned to look at the musketeer, but the latter was
engaged in earnest conversation with Saint-Aignan. Aramis continued to
question Porthos, and when he had squeezed all the juice out of this
enormous lemon he threw the peel aside. He turned toward his friend
D'Artagnan, and clapping him on the shoulder, when Saint-Aignan had
left him, the king's supper having been announced, said, "D'Artagnan."

"Yes, my dear fellow," he replied.

"We do not sup with his majesty, I believe?"

"Yes, indeed, I do."

"Can you give me ten minutes' conversation?"

"Twenty, if you like. His majesty will take quite that time to get
properly seated at table."

"Where shall we talk, then?"

"Here, upon these seats, if you like; the king has left, we can sit
down, and the apartment is empty."

"Let us sit down, then."

They sat down, and Aramis took one of D'Artagnan's hands in his.

"Tell me candidly, my dear friend, whether you have not counseled
Porthos to distrust me a little?"

"I admit I have, but not as you understand it. I saw that Porthos was
bored to death, and I wished, by presenting him to the king, to do for
him, and for you, what you would never do for yourselves."

"What is that?"

"Speak in your own praise."

"And you have done it most nobly, I thank you."

"And I brought the cardinal's hat a little nearer, just as it seemed to
be retreating from you."

"Ah! I admit that," said Aramis, with a singular smile, "you are,
indeed, not to be matched for making your friends' fortunes for them."

"You see, then, that I only acted with the view of making Porthos'
fortune for him."

"I meant to have done that myself; but your arm reaches farther than
ours."

It was now D'Artagnan's turn to smile.

"Come," said Aramis, "we ought to deal truthfully with each other; do
you still love me, D'Artagnan?"

"The same as I used to do," replied D'Artagnan, without compromising
himself too much by this reply.

"In that case, thanks; and now for the most perfect frankness," said
Aramis: "you came to Belle-Isle for the king."

"Pardieu!"

"You wished to deprive us of the pleasure of offering Belle-Isle
completely fortified to the king."

"But before I could deprive you of that pleasure, I ought to have been
made acquainted with your intention of doing so."

"You came to Belle-Isle without knowing anything?"

"Of you? yes. How the devil could I imagine that Aramis had become so
clever an engineer, as to be able to fortify like Polybius or
Archimedes?"

"True. And yet you divined me yonder?"

"Oh! yes.

"And Porthos, too?"

"I did not divine that Aramis was an engineer. I was only able to divine
that Porthos might have become one. There is a saying, one becomes an
orator, one is born a poet; but it has never been said, one is born
Porthos, and one becomes an engineer."

"Your wit is always amusing," said Aramis coldly. "Well, then, I will
go on?"

"Do so."

"When you found out our secret, you made all the haste you could to
communicate it to the king."

"I certainly made as much haste as I could, since I saw that you were
making still more. When a man weighing 258 pounds, as Porthos does,
rides post; when a gouty prelate--I beg your pardon, but you told me you
were so--when a prelate scours along the road; I naturally suppose that
my two friends, who did not wish to be communicative with me, had
certain matters of the highest importance to conceal from me, and so I
made as much haste as my leanness and the absence of gout would allow."

"Did it not occur to you, my dear friend, that you might be rendering
Porthos and myself a very sad service?"

"Yes; I thought it not unlikely; but you and Porthos made me play a very
ridiculous part at Belle-Isle."

"I beg your pardon," said Aramis.

"Excuse me," said D'Artagnan.

"So that," pursued Aramis, "you now know everything?"

"No, indeed."

"You know I was obliged to inform M. Fouquet of what had happened, in
order that he might anticipate what you might have to tell the king?"

"That is rather obscure."

"Not at all; M. Fouquet has his enemies--you will admit that, I
suppose."

"Certainly."

"And one in particular."

"A dangerous one?"

"A mortal enemy. Well! in order to counteract that man's influence, it
was necessary that M. Fouquet should give the king a proof of a great
devotion to him, and of his readiness to make the greatest sacrifices.
He surprised his majesty by offering him Belle-Isle. If you had been the
first to reach Paris, the surprise would have been destroyed, it would
have looked as if we had yielded to fear."

"I understand."

"That is the whole mystery," said Aramis, satisfied that he had quite
convinced the musketeer.

"Only," said the latter, "it would have been more simple to have taken
me aside and said to me, 'My dear D'Artagnan, we are fortifying
Belle-Isle, and intend to offer it to the king. Tell us frankly, for
whom you are acting. Are you a friend of M. Colbert, or of M. Fouquet?'
Perhaps I should not have answered you, but you would have added--'Are
you my friend?' I should have said, 'Yes.'" Aramis hung down his head.
"In this way," continued D'Artagnan, "you would have paralyzed my
movements, and I should have gone to the king, and said, 'Sire, M.
Fouquet is fortifying Belle-Isle, and exceedingly well, too; but here is
a note, which the governor of Belle-Isle gave me for your majesty;' or
'M. Fouquet is about to wait upon your majesty to explain his intentions
with regard to it.' I should not have been placed in an absurd position;
you would have enjoyed the surprise you wished for, and we should not
have had airy occasion to look askant at each other when we met."

"While, on the contrary," replied Aramis, "you have acted altogether as
one friendly to M. Colbert. And you really are a friend of his, I
suppose?"

"Certainly not, indeed!" exclaimed the captain. "M. Colbert is a mean
fellow, and I hate him as I used to hate Mazarin, but without fearing
him."

"Well, then," said Aramis, "I love M. Fouquet, and his interests are
mine. You know my position--. I have no property or means whatever--. M.
Fouquet gave me several livings, a bishopric as well; M. Fouquet has
served and obliged me like the generous-hearted man he is, and I know
the world sufficiently well to appreciate a kindness when I meet with
it. M. Fouquet has won my regard, and I have devoted myself to his
service."

"You couldn't do better; you will find him a very good master."

Aramis bit his lips, and then said, "The best a man could possibly
have." He then paused for a minute, D'Artagnan taking good care not to
interrupt him.

"I suppose you know how Porthos got mixed up in all this?"

"No," said D'Artagnan: "I am curious, of course, but I never question a
friend when he wishes to keep his real secret from me."

"Well, then, I will tell you."

"It is hardly worth the trouble, if the confidence is to bind me in any
way."

"Oh, do not be afraid: there is no man whom I love better than Porthos,
because he is so simple-minded and good. Porthos is so straightforward
in everything. Since I have become a bishop, I have looked for those
simple natures, which make me love truth and hate intrigue."

D'Artagnan simply stroked his mustache, but said nothing.

"I saw Porthos, and again cultivated his acquaintance; his own time
hanging idly on his hands, his presence recalled my earlier and better
days without engaging me in any present evil. I sent for Porthos to come
to Vannes. M. Fouquet, whose regard for me is very great, having learned
that Porthos and I were attached to each other by old ties of
friendship, promised him increase of rank at the earliest promotion: and
that is the whole secret."

"I shall not abuse your confidence," said D'Artagnan.

"I am sure of that, my dear friend; no one has a finer sense of honor
than yourself."

"I flatter myself you are right, Aramis."

"And now," and here the prelate looked searchingly and scrutinizingly at
his friend--"now let us talk of ourselves and for ourselves. Will you
become one of M. Fouquet's friends? Do not interrupt me until you know
what that means."

"Well, I am listening."

"Will you become a maréchal of France, peer, duke, and the possessor of
a duchy, with a revenue of a million of francs?"

"But, my friend," replied D'Artagnan, "what must one do to get all
that?"

"Belong to M. Fouquet."

"But I already belong to the king."

"Not exclusively, I suppose?"

"Oh! D'Artagnan cannot be divided."

"You have, I presume, ambitions, as noble hearts like yours have?"

"Yes, certainly I have."

"Well?"

"Well, I wish to be a maréchal; the king will make me maréchal, duke,
peer--the king will make me all that."

Aramis fixed a searching look upon D'Artagnan.

"Is not the king master?" said D'Artagnan.

"No one disputes it; but Louis XIII. was master also."

"Oh, my dear friend, between Richelieu and Louis XIII. there was no
D'Artagnan," said the musketeer, very quietly.

"There are many stumbling-blocks round the king," said Aramis.

"Not for the king."

"Very likely not; still--"

"One moment, Aramis; I observe that every one thinks of himself, and
never of this poor young prince; I will maintain myself in maintaining
him."

"And if you meet with ingratitude?"

"The weak alone are afraid of that."

"You are quite certain of yourself?"

"I think so."

"Still, the king may have no further need of you!"

"On the contrary, I think his need of me will be greater than ever; and
hearken, my dear fellow, if it became necessary to arrest a new Conde,
who would do it? This--this alone in all France!" and D'Artagnan struck
his sword.

"You are right," said Aramis, turning very pale; and then he rose and
pressed D'Artagnan's hand.

"That is the last summons for supper," said the captain of the
musketeers; "will you excuse me?"

Aramis threw his arm round the musketeer's neck, and said, "A friend
like you is the brightest jewel in the royal crown." And they
immediately separated.

"I was right," thought D'Artagnan, "there is something on foot."

"We must make haste with the explosion," said Aramis, "for D'Artagnan
has discovered the plot."



CHAPTER XVII.

MADAME AND GUICHE.


It will not be forgotten that the Comte de Guiche had left the
queen-mother's apartment on the day when Louis XIV. presented La
Valliere with the beautiful bracelets he had won at the lottery. The
comte walked to and fro for some time outside the palace in the greatest
distress, from a thousand suspicions and anxieties with which his mind
was beset. Presently he stopped and waited on the terrace opposite the
grove of trees, watching for Madame's departure. More than half an hour
passed away; and as he was at that moment quite alone, the comte could
hardly have had any very diverting ideas at his command. He drew his
tablets from his pocket, and, after hesitating over and over again,
determined to write these words--"Madame, I implore you to grant me one
moment's conversation. Do not be alarmed at this request, which contains
nothing in any way opposed to the profound respect with which I
subscribe myself, etc., etc." He then signed and folded this singular
supplication, when he suddenly observed several ladies leaving the
chateau, and afterward several men also, in fact almost every person who
had formed the queen's circle. He saw La Valliere herself, then
Montalais talking with Malicorne; he saw the departure of the very last
of the numerous guests who had a short time before thronged the
queen-mother's cabinet.

Madame herself had not passed; she would be obliged, however, to cross
the courtyard in order to enter her own apartments; and from the terrace
where he was standing, De Guiche could see all that was passing in the
courtyard. At last, he saw Madame leave, attended by a couple of pages,
who were carrying torches before her. She was walking very quickly; as
soon as she reached the door she said:

"Let some one go and see after De Guiche, he has to render me an account
of a mission he had to discharge for me; if he should be disengaged,
request him to be good enough to come to my apartment."

De Guiche remained silent and concealed in the shade; but, as soon as
Madame had withdrawn, he darted from the terrace down the steps, and
assumed a most indifferent air, so that the pages who were hurrying
toward his rooms might meet him.

"Ah! it is Madame then who is seeking me!" he said to himself, quite
overcome; and he crushed in his hand the letter which had now become
useless.

"M. le Comte," said one of the pages, approaching him, "we are indeed
most fortunate in meeting you."

"Why so, messieurs?"

"A command from Madame."

"From Madame!" said De Guiche, looking surprised.

"Yes, M. le Comte, her royal highness has been asking for you: she
expects to hear, she told us, the result of a commission you had to
execute for her. Are you at liberty?"

"I am quite at her royal highness's orders."

"Will you have the goodness to follow us, then?"

When De Guiche ascended to the princess's apartments, he found her pale
and agitated. Montalais was standing at the door, apparently in some
degree uneasy about what was passing in her mistress's mind. De Guiche
appeared.

"Ah! is that you, Monsieur de Guiche?" said Madame; "come in, I beg.
Mademoiselle de Montalais, I do not require your attendance any longer."

Montalais, more puzzled than ever, curtseyed and withdrew, and De Guiche
and the princess were left alone. The comte had every advantage in his
favor; it was Madame who had summoned him to a rendezvous. But how was
it possible for the comte to make use of this advantage? Madame was so
whimsical, and her disposition was so changeable. She soon allowed this
to be perceived, for, suddenly opening the conversation, she said,
"Well! have you nothing to say to me?"

He imagined she must have guessed his thoughts; he fancied (for those
who are in love are so constituted, they are as credulous and blind as
poets or prophets), he fancied she knew how ardent was his desire to see
her, and also the subject of it.

"Yes, madame," he said, "and I think it very singular."

"The affair of the bracelets," she exclaimed eagerly; "you mean that, I
suppose?"

"Yes, madame."

"And you think the king is in love, do you not?"

Guiche looked at her for some time; her eyes sunk under his gaze, which
seemed to read her very heart.

"I think," he said, "that the king may possibly have had the idea of
annoying some one here; were it not for that, the king would not show
himself so earnest in his attentions as he is; he would not run the risk
of compromising, from mere thoughtlessness of disposition, a young girl
against whom no one has been hitherto able to say a word."

"Indeed! the bold, shameless girl!" said the princess, haughtily.

"I can positively assure your royal highness," said De Guiche, with a
firmness marked by great respect, "that Mademoiselle de la Valliere is
beloved by a man who merits every respect, for he is a brave and
honorable gentleman."

"Bragelonne, perhaps?"

"My friend; yes, madame."

"Well, and although he is your friend, what does that matter to the
king?"

"The king knows that Bragelonne is affianced to Mademoiselle de la
Valliere; and as Raoul has served the king most valiantly, the king will
not inflict an irreparable injury upon him."

Madame began to laugh in a manner that produced a mournful impression
upon De Guiche.

"I repeat, madame, I do not believe the king is in love with
Mademoiselle de la Valliere; and the proof that I do not believe it is,
that I was about to ask you whose _amour propre_ it is likely the king
is, in this circumstance, desirous of wounding? You who are well
acquainted with the whole court, can perhaps assist me in ascertaining
that; and assuredly, with greater reason too, since it is everywhere
said that your royal highness is on very intimate terms with the king."

Madame bit her lips, and, unable to assign any good and sufficient
reasons, changed the conversation. "Prove to me," she said, fixing on
him one of those looks in which the whole soul seems to pass into the
eyes, "prove to me, I say, that you intended to interrogate me at the
very moment I sent for you."

De Guiche gravely drew from his tablets what he had written, and showed
it to her.

"Sympathy," she said.

"Yes," said the comte, with an indescribable tenderness of tone,
"sympathy. I have explained to you how and why I sought you; you,
however, have yet to tell me, madame, why you sent for me."

"True," replied the princess. She hesitated, and then suddenly
exclaimed, "Those bracelets will drive me mad!"

"You expected the king would offer them to you," replied De Guiche.

"Why not?"

"But before you, madame, before you, his sister-in-law, was there not
the queen herself, to whom the king should have offered them?"

"Before La Valliere," cried the princess, wounded to the quick, "could
he not have presented them to me? Was there not the whole court, indeed,
to choose from?"

"I assure you, madame," said the comte, respectfully, "that if any one
heard you speak in this manner, if any one were to see how red your eyes
are, and, Heaven forgive me, to see, too, that earth trembling on your
eyelids, it would be said that your royal highness was jealous."

"Jealous!" said the princess, haughtily; "jealous of La Valliere!"

She expected to see De Guiche yield beneath her haughty gesture and her
proud tone; but he simply and boldly replied, "Jealous of La Valliere;
yes, madame."

"Am I to suppose, monsieur," she stammered out, "that your object is to
insult me?"

"It is not possible, madame," replied the comte, slightly agitated, but
resolved to master that fiery nature.

"Leave the room," said the princess, thoroughly exasperated; De Guiche's
coolness and silent respect having made her completely lose her temper.

De Guiche fell back a step, bowed slowly, but with great respect, drew
himself up, looking as white as his lace cuffs, and in a voice slightly
trembling, said, "It was hardly worth while to have hurried here to be
subjected to this unmerited disgrace." And he turned away with hasty
steps.

He had scarcely gone half a dozen paces when Madame darted like a
tigress after him, seized him by the cuff, and, making him turn round
again, said, trembling with passion as she did so, "The respect that you
pretend to have is more insulting than insult itself. Insult me, if you
please, but at least speak."

"And do you, madame," said the comte, gently, as he drew his sword,
"thrust this sword into my heart, rather than kill me by slow degrees."

At the look he fixed upon her--a look full of love, resolution, and
despair even--she knew how readily the comte, so outwardly calm in
appearance, would pass his sword through his own breast if she added
another word. She tore the blade from his hands, and pressing his arm
with a feverish impatience, which might pass for tenderness, said--

"Do not be too hard with me, comte. You see how I am suffering, and you
have no pity for me."

Tears, which were the last crisis of the attack, stifled her voice. As
soon as De Guiche saw her weep, he took her in his arms and carried her
to an armchair; in another moment she would have been suffocated from
suppressed passion.

"Oh, why," he murmured, as he knelt by her side, "why do you conceal
your troubles from me? Do you love any one--tell me? It would kill me, I
know, but not until after I should have comforted, consoled, and served
you even."

"And do you love me to that extent?" she replied, completely conquered.

"I do indeed love you to that extent, madame."

She placed both her hands in his. "My heart is indeed another's," she
murmured in so low a tone that her voice could hardly be heard; but he
heard it, and said, "Is it the king you love?"

She gently shook her head, and her smile was like a clear bright streak
in the clouds, through which, after the tempest had passed away, one
almost fancies Paradise is opening. "But," she added, "there are other
passions stirring in a high-born heart. Love is poetry; but the life of
the heart is pride. Comte, I was born upon a throne, I am proud and
jealous of my rank. Why does the king gather such unworthy objects round
him?"

"Once more, I repeat," said the comte, "you are acting unjustly toward
that poor girl, who will one day be my friend's wife."

"Are you simple enough to believe that, comte?"

"If I did not believe it," he said, turning very pale, "Bragelonne
should be informed of it to-morrow; indeed he should, if I thought that
poor La Valliere had forgotten the vows she had exchanged with Raoul.
But no, it would be cowardly to betray any woman's secret; it would be
criminal to disturb a friend's peace of mind."

"You think, then," said the princess, with a wild burst of laughter,
"that ignorance is happiness?"

"I believe it," he replied.

"Prove it to me, then," she said hurriedly.

"It is easily done, madame. It is reported through the whole court that
the king loves you, and that you return his affection."

"Well?" she said, breathing with difficulty.

"Well; admit for a moment that Raoul, my friend, had come and said to
me, 'Yes, the king loves Madame, and has made an impression upon her
heart,' I possibly should have slain Raoul."

"It would have been necessary," said the princess, with the obstinacy of
a woman who feels herself not easily overcome, "for M. de Bragelonne to
have had proofs, before he could venture to speak to you in that
manner."

"Such, however, is the case," replied De Guiche, with a deep sigh, "that
not having been warned, I have never examined the matter seriously; and
I now find that my ignorance has saved my life."

"So, then, you would drive your selfishness and coldness to that
extent," said Madame, "that you would let this unhappy young man
continue to love La Valliere?"

"I would, until La Valliere's guilt were revealed."

"But the bracelets?"

"Well, madame, since you yourself expected to receive them from the
king, what could I possibly have said?"

The argument was a telling one, and the princess was overwhelmed by it,
and from that moment her defeat was assured. But as her heart and mind
were instinct with noble and generous feelings, she understood De
Guiche's extreme delicacy. She saw that in his heart he really suspected
that the king was in love with La Valliere, and that he did not wish to
resort to the common expedient of ruining a rival in the mind of a woman
by giving the latter the assurance and certainty that this rival's
affections were transferred to another woman. She guessed that his
suspicions of La Valliere were aroused, and that in order to leave
himself time for his conviction to undergo a change, so as not to ruin
her utterly, he was determined to pursue a certain straightforward line
of conduct. She could read so much real greatness of character, and such
true generosity of disposition in her lover, that her heart seemed to
warm with affection toward him, whose passion for her was so pure and
delicate in its nature. Despite his fear of incurring her displeasure,
De Guiche, by retaining his position as a man of proud independence of
feeling and of deep devotion, became almost a hero in her estimation,
and reduced her to the state of a jealous and little-minded woman. She
loved him for it so tenderly, that she could not refuse to give him a
proof of her affection.

"See, how many words we have wasted," she said, taking his hand:
"suspicions, anxieties, mistrust, sufferings--I think we have mentioned
all those words."

"Alas! madame, yes."

"Efface them from your heart as I drive them from mine. Whether La
Valliere does or does not love the king, and whether the king does or
does not love La Valliere--from this moment you and I will draw a
distinction in the two characters I have to perform. You open your eyes
so wide that I am sure you do not understand me."

"You are so impetuous, madame, that I always tremble at the fear of
displeasing you."

"And see how he trembles now, poor fellow," she said, with the most
charming playfulness of manner. "Yes, monsieur, I have two characters
to perform. I am the sister of the king, the sister-in-law of the king's
wife. In this character ought I not to take an interest in these
domestic intrigues? Come, tell me what you think?"

"As little as possible, madame."

"Agreed, monsieur; but it is a question of dignity; and then, you know,
I am the wife of the king's brother." Guiche sighed. "A circumstance,"
she added, with an expression of great tenderness, "which will remind
you that I am always to be treated with the profoundest respect." Guiche
fell at her feet, which he kissed, with the religious fervor of a
worshiper. "And I begin to think that, really and truly, I have another
character to perform. I was almost forgetting it."

"Name it, oh! name it," said Guiche.

"I am a woman," she said, in a voice lower than ever, "and I love
another." He rose; she opened her arms, and their lips were pressed
together. A footstep was heard behind the tapestry, and Mademoiselle de
Montalais appeared.

"What do you want?" said Madame.

"M. de Guiche is wanted," replied Montalais, who was just in time to see
the agitation of the actors of these four characters; for Guiche had
constantly carried out his part with the greatest heroism.



CHAPTER XVIII.

MONTALAIS AND MALICORNE.


Montalais was right. M. de Guiche, summoned in every direction, was very
much exposed, even from the multiplication of matters, to the risk of
not answering in any one direction. It so happened that, considering the
awkwardness of the interruption, Madame, notwithstanding her wounded
pride, and her 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 Guiche's
entrance. Guiche, also, lost his presence of mind, or, it would be
better to say, that he 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 about 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.

"So, so," 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 had 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 are always excepted."

"Thank you," said Malicorne. "Well, and in the other direction, what is
there fresh?"

"The king wished, this evening, after the lottery, to see Mademoiselle
de la Valliere."

"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 implements."

"Good."

"And in the third direction," 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 unfortunate
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. "Some one 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 which is impossible," said Malicorne.

"Why so?"

"Because you are not your own mistress: your room is as much La
Valliere'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 forget some one else?"

"Who?"--"Monsieur."

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

"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 still
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 enough left, I think it will be more prudent to turn
back."

"But I, on the contrary, think the most prudent 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 carry on 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 very 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 perfectly baked or
roasted on leaving the fire."

"Your learned men may be very wise as far as salamanders are concerned,
but your learned men 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 diplomatic genius 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 Valliere about Madame?"

"Whatever we choose, for La Valliere is in our power."

"How so?"

"In two ways."

"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 Valliere?"

"I forget nothing."

"Well, then, it was I who received, and I who kept, 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 so 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 which
will be of very great 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 the last?"

"Do we need any one to assist us?"

"No one at all."

"Valets or maid-servants?"

"Bad--detestable. 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 compact having been agreed upon.

The window, which had just been opened, was, in fact, that of the Comte
de Guiche. But 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
powerful are the means by which destiny hurries men on toward their
fate!" Leaving the window in order to approach nearer to the light, he
again read over 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; and 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 person 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 is, so says the news, that a change has taken
     place in the king's affections. You know whom that concerns.
     Afterward, 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 should, notwithstanding a certain obstinacy
     of character I may possess, have left me unable to reply to these
     insinuations. In a word, therefore, 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 traveled by short
     stages, as he was anxious to leave, he said, in order to be present
     at a curious spectacle which the court cannot fail to offer within
     a very short time. He added a few congratulatory words, accompanied
     by certain sympathizing expressions. I could not understand the one
     any more than the other; I was bewildered by my own thoughts, and
     then 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 perception seemed to become clearer. It is
     hardly possible that a man of De Wardes' 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 mysterious hints which De Wardes threw out in my presence,
     there may not be a mysterious signification, which I might have
     some difficulty in applying either to myself or to some one 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 all my various doubts. I
     regard you as myself. It is you who have thought, and 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 it. 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. Burn this letter, which Olivain will hand
     you. Whatever Olivain says you may confidently rely upon. Will you
     have the goodness, my dear comte, to recall me to the remembrance
     of Mademoiselle de la Valliere, whose hand 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 shall be in Paris within six-and-thirty hours after I
     shall have received your letter."

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

"How much distress of mind, and yet how great a confidence, he shows!"
murmured the comte. "He has poured out his whole soul in that letter. He
says nothing of the Comte de la Fere, and speaks of his respect for
Louise. He cautions me on my account, and entreats me on his own. Ah!"
continued De Guiche, with a threatening gesture, "you interfere in my
affairs, Monsieur de Wardes, do you? Very well, then; I shall now occupy
myself with yours. And for you, poor Raoul--you who intrust 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 it were 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 Valliere 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
own personal affairs. The next evening, De Wardes' return and his 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 XIX.

HOW DE WARDES WAS RECEIVED AT COURT.


Monsieur had received De Wardes with that marked favor which all light
and frivolous minds bestow on every novelty that may come 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 his 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 not a little, but who respected a
character and disposition which were precisely parallel to his own in
every particular, with the addition of a 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 a little in the background, waiting very patiently
until all these embraces 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 both
exchanged the most courteous compliments, after which De Wardes returned
to Monsieur and to the other gentlemen. In the midst of these
congratulations Madame was announced. She had been informed of De
Wardes' arrival, and knowing all the details of his voyage and of his
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 had colored, and the latter had
turned very pale. Madame alone had 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 toward 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' 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 are 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 more suffering in body than myself;
but his heart was seriously affected."

De Guiche comprehended in 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 such a belief which gives them over us that superiority which
confidence imposes."

"You misunderstand altogether, dearest," said the prince, impatiently;
"M. de Wardes means that the Duke of Buckingham's heart had been
touched, not by a sword, but by something else."

"Ah! very good, very good!" exclaimed Madame. "It is a jest of M. de
Wardes'; 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 every one knows, a right
possessed by princes which etiquette requires all to respect. The
remainder of the conversation was moderate enough in its tone; the
principal actors had finished their parts. Madame withdrew early, and
Monsieur, who wished to question her on several matters, offered her his
hand on leaving. The chevalier was seriously afraid that a good
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 that Madame might have
been able to sow in his heart. De Guiche advanced toward 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 both of them, after a fresh salutation, began to walk
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?"

"More than ever."

"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 fulfill a mission, with which he was intrusted,
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 assuming a disagreeable turn.
He resolved to let it take what course it pleased, and to keep strictly
on his guard.

"May I ask what it was you did not tell him?" inquired De Guiche.

"That about La Valliere."

"La Valliere.... What is it? and what was that strange circumstance you
seem to have known out yonder, which Bragelonne, who was here on the
spot, was not acquainted with?"

"Do you really ask me that in a serious manner?"

"Nothing can be 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."

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 Valliere'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 it is, 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 eye 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 very 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 over
yourself."

"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 Valliere and Bragelonne, let us speak
about your own affairs."

"Nay," said 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 myself."

"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 certain 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?"

Guiche passed his hand across his forehead, which was covered with
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, while 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 learning what happened to Raoul."

"At Paris?"

"Yes, at Paris, or at Boulogne. You understand, I am on the spot: if
anything should happen, I am here to meet it; while Raoul is absent, and
has only myself to represent him; so, Raoul's affairs before my own."

"But Raoul 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 greater reason still, that he will remain some time in
London," said De Wardes, chuckling.

"You think so," said Guiche, simply.

"Think so, indeed! do you suppose that 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 Guiche, seizing De Wardes' hand violently, "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 Valliere, 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 which ran
through his whole frame. "Why, such a favor as that 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 should 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, and
punctilious--"

"Well," said 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 safe
keeping: 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 young insignificant girl, whose name is La Valliere."

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 words which were about to
follow. De Wardes observed this, and continued aloud:--"Oh! if La
Valliere were a coquette like Madame, whose very innocent flirtations, I
am sure, were, first of all, the cause of the Duke of Buckingham being
sent to England, and afterward were the reason of your being sent into
exile: for you will not deny, I suppose, that Madame's seductive manners
did have a certain influence over you?"

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

"But, my dear fellow, whose fault was that?" said 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 I 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 those gentlemen do, as every one does in
fact, that these reports are pure calumny."

"Calumny!" exclaimed De Wardes, furious at seeing himself caught in the
snare by De Guiche's coolness of temper.

"Certainly, a calumny. Look at this letter from him, in which he tells
me you have spoken ill of Mademoiselle de la Valliere; and where he asks
me, if what you reported about this young girl be true or not. Do you
wish me to appeal to these gentlemen, De Wardes, to decide?" And with
admirable coolness, Guiche read aloud the paragraph of the letter which
referred to La Valliere. "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 any
one; but, at the idea that De Wardes had insulted, either directly or
indirectly, the idol of the day, every one shook his head; and De Wardes
saw that there was no one present who would have refused to say 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 Valliere?" 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
Valliere is an angel."

"Virtue and purity itself," said Manicamp.

"You see, Monsieur de Wardes," said 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 with me."

"True," said 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
shall await Bragelonne's return, since you say that it is Bragelonne who
has fault to find 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. So let us 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 Valliere."

"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 shall go and get my horse, then."

"And I, mine."

"Where shall we meet?"

"In the open 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 XX.

THE COMBAT.


De Wardes and De Guiche selected their horses, and then 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; so 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 kill each
other, 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 each other."

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

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

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

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

De Guiche reflected for a moment; and the thought which had already
presented itself to him became more confirmed--that De Wardes wished to
have witnesses present, in order to bring back the conversation about
Madame, and to give a new turn to the combat. He avoided saying a word
in reply, therefore: and, as De Wardes once more looked at him
interrogatively, he replied, by a movement of the head, that it would be
best to let things remain as they were. The two adversaries consequently
set off, and left the chateau by the same gate, close to which we may
remember to have seen Montalais and Malicorne together. The night, as if
to counteract the extreme heat of the day, had gathered the clouds
together in masses which were moving slowly along from the west to the
east. The vault above, without a clear spot anywhere visible, or without
the faintest indication of thunder, seemed to hang heavily over the
earth, and soon began, by the force of the wind, to be split up into
fragments, like a huge sheet torn into 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 of hers 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 time, in fact, that we should begin to arrange matters."

"It is 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 plain that may suit us, then fasten
our horses to the nearest object, meet each without our pistols in our
hands, afterward 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 Follinent
three weeks ago, at Saint-Denis."

"I beg your pardon, but you forget one circumstance."

"What is that?"

"That in your duel with Follinent you advanced toward each other on
foot, your swords between your teeth, and your pistols in your hands."

"True."

"While now, on the contrary, as I 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
allowance 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, then?"

"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 have arrived, 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, then, 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 the 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 toward
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 upon 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 give him
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 in doing 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; while, 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 by it. 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 putting his horse into a gallop, he crossed the
wide open space, and took his stand at the point of the circumference of
the cross roads which was immediately opposite to where De Guiche was
stationed. De Guiche remained motionless. At the 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 amid 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, set his horse into a gallop,
persuaded that he should render his safety doubly sure, both by the
movement, as well as by the speed of the animal. He directed his course
in a straight line toward the point where, in his opinion, De Wardes
would be stationed; and he expected to meet De Wardes about half way;
but in this he was mistaken. He continued his course, presuming that his
adversary was impatiently awaiting his approach. When, however, he had
gone about two-thirds of the distance, he saw the place 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 to that 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 toward the
spot where, by the light of the flash, he had seen De Wardes appear. De
Guiche had at the first shot, accounted for the maneuver, than which
nothing could have been simpler. Instead of advancing to meet 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 his aim, and assisted instead of being
inconvenienced by the horse's gallop. It has been seen that,
notwithstanding the darkness, the first ball had 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 that 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. He 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 it carelessly would be to expose himself to lose his last chance;
to take the proper care in loading it would be to lose his time, or
rather it would be 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, he fired, and the ball carried off De Wardes' 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 toward 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. De Wardes observed the comte stoop
down, pick up the pistol with his left hand, and again advance toward
him. His anxiety was excessive. "I am lost," murmured De Wardes, "he is
not mortally wounded." At the very moment, however, that De Guiche was
about to raise his pistol against De Wardes, the head, shoulders and
limbs of the comte seemed all to give way. He heaved a deep-drawn sigh,
tottered, and fell at the feet of De Wardes' horse.

"That is all right," said De Wardes; and, gathering up the reins, he
struck his spurs into his horse's sides. The horse cleared the comte's
motionless body, and bore De Wardes rapidly back to the chateau. When he
arrived there, he remained a quarter of an hour deliberating within
himself as to the proper course to be adopted. In his impatience to
leave the field of battle, he had omitted to ascertain whether De Guiche
were dead or not. A double hypothesis presented itself to De Wardes'
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 woke 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 darkening 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 so 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 could like those 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 a very ugly appearance, M. de Wardes."

"Silence! we have arrived."

In fact, the open 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 toward me, and fired
at him at the very moment he was going to fire at me."

"Are you quite sure that you have fought with him, Monsieur de Wardes? I
confess that I am very much afraid that 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 out your brains on the spot.
So, Monsieur de Wardes, recommend your soul 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'
breast, and, with arms 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 may say the contrary will make me his enemy."

"Then, sir," said Manicamp, "assist me, in the first place, to carry
this poor fellow back, and I will afterward 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 himself 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 comte'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' predecessor.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE KING'S SUPPER.


The king, while these matters were being arranged, had sat down to the
supper-table, and the not very large number of guests invited for that
day had taken their seats, after the usual gesture intimating the royal
permission to be seated. At this period of Louis XIV.'s reign, although
etiquette was not governed by the strict regulations which subsequently
were adopted, the French court had entirely thrown aside the traditions
of good-fellowship and patriarchal affability which existed in the time
of Henry IV., and which the suspicious mind of Louis XIII. had gradually
replaced by the pompous state, forms, and ceremonies 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 to criticise 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 he
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 tone:

"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 manner that, if he should happen to address a
remark to you, he should 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
well-bred enthusiasm of manner.

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 de Valon!" he said.

Porthos was enjoying a _salmi de lièvre,_ and swallowed half of the
back. His name pronounced in such a manner had 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 de Valon," said the
king. "Do you like brown meats, M. de Valon?"

"Sire, I like everything," replied Porthos.

D'Artagnan whispered, "Everything your majesty sends me."

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

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

"Well?" said the king.

"Exquisite," said Porthos, calmly.

"Have you as good mutton in your part of the country, Monsieur de
Valon?" 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 quite whole."

"Quite whole?"

"Yes, sire."

"In what manner, then?"

"In this, sire: My cook, who is a German, first stuffs the lamb in
question with small sausages which he procures from Strasburg,
force-meat balls which he procures from Troyes, and larks which he
procures 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 de Valon. Is
it possible! a whole lamb!"

"Completely so, sire."

"Pass those pheasants to M. de Valon; 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. de Valon--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 _entremets_, but without losing sight of
Porthos, who continued to play his part in the best manner.

"You have an excellent appetite, M. de Valon," 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
too much refinement to be called 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. de Valon."

"Well, 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 perfect 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, "can do nothing but trifle with our food." And
as he spoke he took the breast of a chicken, with ham, while Porthos
attacked a dish of partridges and land-rails. The cup-bearer filled his
majesty's glass. "Give M. de Valon 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 it
by-and-by."

In fact it was not long before it came to the boar's turn, for the king
seemed to take a 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 had been obliged to give up on the way.
The king soon began to get flushed, and the reaction of the blood to his
face announced that the moment of repletion had arrived. It was then
that Louis XIV., instead of becoming gay and cheerful, as most good
livers generally do, became dull, melancholy and taciturn. Porthos, on
the contrary, was lively and communicative. D'Artagnan's foot had more
than once to remind him of this peculiarity of the king. The dessert now
made its appearance. The king had ceased to think anything further of
Porthos: he turned his eyes anxiously toward 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 toward the king's
table, and Louis arose at his approach. Everybody arose 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 XXII.

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

"Verses! Saint-Aignan," exclaimed the king in ecstasy. "Give them to me
at once." And Louis broke the seal of a little letter, inclosing the
verses which history has preserved entire for us, and which are more
meritorious in 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. de Valon, I have seen you
to-day with the greatest pleasure, and my pleasure will be equally
great to see you again." Porthos bowed as the Colossus of Rhodes would
have done, and retired from the room with his face toward 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. de
Valon. Gentlemen," addressing himself to the other guests, "I return to
Paris to-morrow on account of the departure of the Spanish and Dutch
ambassadors. Until to-morrow, then."

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

"Charming, sire."

"They charm me, in fact, and if they were known--"

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

"Did you give her mine?"

"Oh! sire, she positively devoured them."

"They were very weak, I am afraid."

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

"Do you think she was pleased with them?"

"I am sure of it, sire."

"I must answer them, then."

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

"You're right; study after eating is very injurious."

"The labor of a poet, especially so: and besides, there is great
excitement prevailing at Mademoiselle de la Valliere's."

"What do you mean?"

"With her as with all the ladies of the court."

"Why?"

"On account of poor De Guiche's accident."

"Has anything serious happened to De Guiche, then?"

"Yes, sire, he has one hand nearly destroyed, a hole in his breast: in
fact he is dying."


[Illustration: DE GUICHE TURNED ROUND ALSO, AND, AT THE MOMENT THE
HORSE WAS QUIET AGAIN, HE FIRED, AND THE BALL CARRIED OFF DE WARDES' HAT
FROM HIS HEAD.--_Page 91._]


"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 here."

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

"Ah! that is the very question, how did it happen?"

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

"He says nothing, sire: but others do."

"What others?"

"Those who brought him back, sire."

"Who are they?"

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

"As everybody is, indeed," said the king.

"Oh! no!" returned Saint-Aignan, "you are mistaken, sire; every one is
not precisely friends with 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 dueling, that no one, I presume, would dare to disobey
them."

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

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

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

"This evening?"

"Yes, sire."

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

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

"You are concealing something from me, Saint-Aignan."

"Nothing, sire, I assure you."

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

"Very likely, sire. But yet, on reflection, it could hardly have been
that, for 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 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
the 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 impassibility.

"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."

"It is a matter of course that it is your own opinion I require, and not
that of any one else."

"You shall have it in an hour's time, sire."

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

"Except with the person who must give me a lantern," said D'Artagnan.

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

"Now, let my physician be sent for," said Louis. Ten minutes afterward
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 XXIII.

SHOWING IN WHAT WAY D'ARTAGNAN DISCHARGED THE MISSION WITH WHICH THE
KING HAD INTRUSTED 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 toward the place which his majesty had indicated. According to
the promise he had made, he had neither seen nor met any one; and, as we
have observed, he had carried his scruples so far as to do without the
assistance of the helpers in the stables 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 being very
unequal and very much scratched about. 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
cross-road of the Bois-Rochin, and I began, therefore, by studying the
roads. I say the roads, because the center of the cross-road 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 foot-prints of the one
were invariably in advance of the other about half a horse's length."

"Are you quite sure they came 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 most 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 temple."

"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, while 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, it is marvelous what you tell me."

"It is only close observation, sire, and the commonest highwayman would
do 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 had walked toward 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, very quietly. "I
suspected it, but did not venture to mention it to your majesty."

"And what made you suspect it?"

"I recognized the De Grammont 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 foot-prints 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 notion, a man who fights a duel
is a brave man; such, at least, is my own opinion; but your majesty may
have another; that is very natural--you are the 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 Botteville 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 chateau."

"Well; and after--?"

"Afterward, 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 had, consequently, become damp; the footsteps sunk 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 very thing that M. de Richelieu thought, and M. de Mazarin said,
sire."

"And, now, it remains for us to see if your sagacity is in fault."

"Oh! sire, a man may be mistaken; _errare humanum est_," said the
musketeer, philosophically.

"In that case, you are not human, Monsieur d'Artagnan, for I believe you
never are 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?"

"Guiche has no secrets for 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 there, and listen
attentively."

"Very good, sire."

And, at the same moment, Manicamp and Saint-Aignan appeared at the
thresh-hold of the door.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE ENCOUNTER.


The king with his hand made, first to the musketeer, and then to
Saint-Aignan, an imperious and significant gesture, as much as to say,
"On your lives, not a word." D'Artagnan withdrew, like a soldier, into a
corner of the room; Saint-Aignan, in his character of 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 very grievous indeed."

"You were there?"

"Not precisely so, sire."

"But you arrived on the scene where the accident occurred a few minutes
after it took place?"

"I did so, sire, about half an hour afterward."

"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."

"Very good; tell me what 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 by useless repetitions."

"No, do not be afraid of that."

Manicamp looked all around him; he only saw 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 so."

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, and only fit for
that class of people who, unlike the Maréchal de Grammont, 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--quite 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."

"And what kind of animal was it?"

"A short, thick beast."

"You may as well tell me, monsieur, that 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 with a wild boar. What absurdity."

"There are some things, sire, which are difficult of explanation."

"You are quite right, and the event which we are now discussing is one
of those things. Go on."

During the recital, Saint-Aignan, who had probably 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 toward 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
cross-roads 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, now for De Guiche?"

"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 hardly knew what to do; the tone in which the king spoke was
not exactly that of a credulous man. On the other hand, the tone 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 of
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,
that would not have astonished me, indeed."

Manicamp opened his eyes very wide. "Am I mistaken," resumed the king,
"was it not in the temple that De Guiche's horse was struck? You must
admit, Monsieur de Manicamp, that that is a very singular wound."

"You are aware, sire, that the horse is a very intelligent animal, and
he endeavored to defend himself."

"But a horse defends himself with his hind feet, and not with his head."

"In that case the terrified horse might 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 blow of his tusk,
made that terrible hole in his chest."

"Nothing can possibly be 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 to a similar encounter. Really, one might just as well
permit dueling."

Manicamp started, and moved as if he were about to withdraw. "Is your
majesty satisfied?" he inquired.

"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 our
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 wounded man."

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 XXV.

THE PHYSICIAN.


M. Valot entered. The position of the different persons present was
precisely the same: the king was seated, Saint-Aignan still 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, "have you obeyed 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?"

"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 that you say, Monsieur Valot? Are not M. de Guiche's wounds
produced by defending himself against a wild boar?"

"M. de Guiche's wounds are produced by a pistol-bullet which broke his
ring-finger and the little finger of the right hand, and afterward
buried itself in the intercostal muscles of the chest."

"A bullet! Are you sure Monsieur de Guiche has been 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
breast-bone."

"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
toward his captain of musketeers, "and that a duel actually took place."

The king possessed, to a greater extent than any one 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 cross-roads 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 any one. 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 another instead, 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 generous in your majesty
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 any of us other gentlemen that we have never
considered M. de Botteville dishonored for having suffered death on the
Place de Greve. That which does in truth dishonor a man is to avoid
meeting his enemy, and not to avoid meeting his executioner."

"Well, monsieur, that may be so," said Louis XIV.; "I am very 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 do so."

"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, it appears, 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
some one to step between him and the wrath which 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 toward 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'Orleans."

"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 toward
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
very important communications to make for his own justification, and
which he will not venture to do before witnesses.... Put up your sword,
Monsieur 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 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, and 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 XXVI.

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 to 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, 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 has insulted some one belonging to
the household of Madame."

"Yes, sire, Mademoiselle de la Valliere."

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

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

"But at all events--"

"I merely say that she was spoken of in terms far from respectful."

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

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

"Perfectly true, monsieur," returned the king, controlling his anger:
"besides, I shall always know in sufficient time the name of the 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 he therefore continued: "And I will punish him--not because
there is any question of Mademoiselle de La Valliere, although I esteem
her very highly--but because a lady was the object of the quarrel. And I
intend that ladies shall be respected at my court, and that quarrels
shall be put a stop to altogether."

Manicamp bowed.

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

"Cannot your majesty guess?"

"I?"

"Your majesty can imagine the character of the jests in which young men
permit themselves to indulge."

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

"Probably so."

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

"That is the very point De Guiche maintained."

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

"Yes, sire, the very sole cause."

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

"In what respect, sire?"

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

"What does your majesty wish to know?"

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

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

These words were more than transparent; they made the king blush, but
this time with pleasure. He struck Manicamp gently on the shoulder.

"Well, well, Monsieur de Manicamp, you are not only a ready, witty
fellow, but a brave gentleman besides, and your friend De Guiche is a
paladin quite after my own heart; you will express that to him from me."

"Your majesty forgives me, then?"

"Completely."

"And I am free?"

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

"I, sire!"

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

"Sire, I think your majesty deigns to laugh at my expense."

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

"The adventure of the hunt?"

"Yes; in the same manner you told it to me, without changing a single
word--you understand."

"Perfectly, sire."

"And you will relate it, then?"

"Without losing a minute."

"Very well! and now summon M. d'Artagnan: I hope you are no longer
afraid of him."

"Oh! sire, from the very moment I am sure of your majesty's kind
dispositions, 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 purpose 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 toward 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 pretend to have seen the tracks of two horses, to have
detected the foot-prints 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
speak with such confidence."

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

"You do admit, then?"

"Admit it, sire, most assuredly I do."

"So that now you see the thing--"

"In quite a different light to what 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 the
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 noon-day."

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 dreamed it."

"I have dreamed it!"

"M. de Guiche's wound--a mere dream; the bullet a dream. So take my
advice, and say no more about it."

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

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

"And now we are alone," said the king to Saint-Aignan, "what is the name
of De Guiche's adversary?" Saint-Aignan looked at the king.

"Oh! do not hesitate," said the king: "you know that I must forgive."

"De Wardes," said Saint-Aignan.

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



CHAPTER XXVII.

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
about passing before a doorway, he felt that some one suddenly pulled
him by the sleeve. He turned round and recognized Montalais, who was
waiting for him in the passage, and who, in a very mysterious manner,
with her body bent forward, and in a low tone of voice said to him,
"Follow me, monsieur, and without any delay, if you please."

"Where to, mademoiselle?" inquired Manicamp.

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

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

"No, it is too late, and you cannot take the credit of it. We are going
to Madame's apartments, 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--why, 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 _déshabille_, but it must be understood that she
had changed her dress before she had any idea of being subjected to the
emotions which agitated 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 toward
Manicamp, said, "What is the matter?--and is it true, as I am told,
Monsieur de Manicamp, that some one is lying wounded in the chateau?"

"Yes, madame, unfortunately so--Monsieur de Guiche."

"Yes! Monsieur de Guiche," repeated the princess. "I had, in fact, heard
it rumored, but not confirmed. And so, in perfect truth, it is Monsieur
de Guiche who has been so 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 amenable to
his majesty."

"Oh, you will not insult me by supposing that I should credit the absurd
fable which has been reported, 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."

"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 had been to the chase, and how a wild boar
had 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?"

"Perfectly."

"Oh, you surprise me, Monsieur de Manicamp; you surprise me very much."
And Madame walked up and down the room, casting a searching look from
time to time at Manicamp, who remained motionless and impassible in the
same place. At last she stopped. "And yet," she said, "every one here
seems united in giving another cause for his 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! the intimate friend--yes; the 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 has been perfectly satisfied with me, I assure you."

"In that case, permit me to assure you, Monsieur de Manicamp, that 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
reasons."

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, certainly, madame; and particularly for a heart like his."

"Very good: you will not deny, I suppose, that M. de Bragelonne is M. de
Guiche's friend?"

"A very 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--that 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, and I will dare."

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

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

"Of Mademoiselle de la Valliere!" exclaimed Manicamp, starting backward,
as if hers was the very last name he expected to hear pronounced.

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

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

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

"Pray forgive me, madame," said the young man, "but we are very far from
understanding each other. You do me the honor to speak one kind of
language, while I am speaking altogether another."

"I beg your pardon, but I do not understand your meaning."

"Forgive me then: but I fancied I understood your highness to remark
that De Guiche and De Wardes had fought on Mademoiselle de la Valliere's
account."

"Certainly."

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

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

"On behalf of another?"

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

"There is nothing more for me to say, then. Your highness is well
informed."

"Of everything; so 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 and enduring disposition.

"Madame," resumed the discreet Manicamp, saluting the princess, "let us
bury this affair altogether in forgetfulness, for it will 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 of the garden
of the Hesperides, the latter immediately fastened, as he was required
to do, upon the Marquis de Wardes, who ventured to touch the golden
apple. 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 the defender of it. 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 detect 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 all the ardor with which his eyes were kindled.

"What do you mean by that?"

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

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

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

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

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

"The person?" said Madame blushing.

"Must I," continued Manicamp, "tell you how poor De Guiche became
irritated, furious, exasperated beyond all control, at the different
rumors which are circulating 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 revenging the affront."

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

"Therefore, 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 for 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 languishing looks, 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, and which found what it required.

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

Manicamp perceived that there still remained some lingering doubt in the
princess's heart. "A truly admirable service indeed," he said, "is the
one he has rendered to Mademoiselle de la Valliere! A truly admirable
service to M. de Bragelonne! The duel has created a sensation which, in
some respects, casts a dishonorable suspicion upon that young girl; a
sensation, indeed, which will embroil her with the vicomte. The
consequence is, that De Wardes' 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 and
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 head. She was no longer a
princess full of scruples, nor a woman with her ever-returning
suspicions, but one whose heart had 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, who 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 which society imposes: for when, with her, passion spoke in
accents either of anger or sympathy, nothing could any longer restrain
her impulses. Madame approached Manicamp, who had sunk down upon a seat,
as if his grief were a sufficiently powerful excuse for his infraction
of one 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 of it, 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 for 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 having escaped that of the body." And
Manicamp, rose, and, with an expression of profound respect, seemed to
be desirous of taking leave.

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

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

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

"Alas, madame! the poor fellow was so ill that he could not even be
conveyed hither."

"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 which you can understand--you particularly, Monsieur de
Manicamp, who seem to be capable of divining everything."

"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
a means of showing them the way more accurately, and of protecting them
if it happened any occasion might occur, though there is no probability
of their needing protection."

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

"Certainly, madame: for, as I should be the first to pass, I should
remove any difficulties which 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 comte 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 very softly. So
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
being opened softly and closed with the same 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 round his head, through the
streets of Fontainebleau toward the doctor's dwelling.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

M. MALICORNE THE KEEPER OF THE RECORDS OF THE REALM OF FRANCE.


Two women, whose figures were 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 seemed gathering there; his long black hair, scattered over the
pillow, set off the young man's hollowed and pale temples to great
advantage. It could be easily perceived that fever was the principal
occupant of that chamber. Guiche was dreaming. His wandering mind was
pursuing, through gloom and mystery, one of those wild creations which
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 toward 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 the silk dresses and the hurried breathing of his two companions,
and as he already saw that the curtain which hung before 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 the first made a
gesture to her companion which riveted her to the spot where she stood,
close to the door, and then resolutely advanced toward 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
increased by the counterpane covered with dark leaves which was thrown
across a portion of the sick couch. She shuddered as she saw a spot of
blood becoming larger and larger upon the linen bandages. The young
man's white chest was quite uncovered, as if the cool night air would
assist his respiration. A small bandage fastened the dressings of the
wound, around which a bluish 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 holes in her mask,
upon the harrowing spectacle before her. A hoarse harsh sigh passed like
a death rattle through the comte's clenched teeth. The masked lady
seized his left hand, which felt as scorching as 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 if 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
toward the direction whence it proceeded. But, as he felt the cold hand
still resting on his own, he again turned toward the motionless figure
beside him. "Was it you who spoke, madame?" he asked, in a weak voice,
"or is there another person 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 dying, since she has remembered me."

At this word "dying," 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 which appeared upon her cheeks just where the mask left
her face bare. If 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, Guiche uttered a cry and
stretched out his arms toward 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
afterward 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 angel of death: and then, after a few
involuntary movements, his head fell back motionless on his pillow;
from pale he had become livid. The lady was frightened; but on this
occasion, contrary to what is usually the case, fear became attractive.
She leaned over the young man, gazed earnestly, fixedly at his pale and
cold face, which she almost touched, then imprinted a rapid kiss upon De
Quiche'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
toward the staircase, and as the street-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 toward
Madame's apartments, where she disappeared; the other entered the room
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 on well on this side. See that yours is the same, and do not
     forget to burn this paper."

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

And she took hold of the velvet mask by that part of it which covered
the cheeks, and feeling that her thumb was wet, she 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 the 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 her back
her mask, it is far too precious now."

And rising from her seat, she ran toward a box made of maple wood, which
inclosed different articles of toilet 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 which was peculiarly
her own, she added:--"Beautiful mask, stained with the blood of that
brave knight, you shall go and join that collection of wonders, La
Valliere's and Raoul's letters, that loving collection, indeed, which
will some day or other form part of the history of France and of
royalty. You shall be taken 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 fast asleep.



CHAPTER XXIX.

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 which were
pawing the ground in impatience at the foot of the staircase. The whole
court awaited the royal appearance in the _Fer-a-cheval_ crescent, in
their traveling 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 equaled. The king entered his carriage with the two
queens; Madame was in the same with Monsieur. The maids of honor
followed the 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 been just
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 hasty travelers.
Madame was the first to complain of the heat. Monsieur's only reply was
to throw himself back in the carriage, as if he were 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 strange project: "you
cannot suppose such a thing, madame; my skin would peel off if I were to
expose myself to such a burning air 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."

"How, no horse?" replied the princess, who, if she did not obtain 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 will soon 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 the carriage, the back of which he had yielded up to the two
queens, was a prey to that restless 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 that they have acquired a more
burning 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 some one might
come to take him from her, or that he himself might suddenly take a
fancy to leave her society. Anne of Austria, whom nothing at that
moment occupied except the occasional sharp throbbings in her bosom,
looked pleased and delighted, and although she perfectly conceived 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 tantalizing
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 which was merely preliminary to
other complaints, 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 again 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 performing the
journey on horseback. The queen soon found out that the promenade she
had suggested afforded the king as little pleasure as he had experienced
from riding in the carriage. 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 among 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
Valliere'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, who
endeavored to remember the person who addressed him, and whose face was
not as yet very familiar to him.

"Sire," replied Malicorne, "at all events I have a horse which is at
your majesty's service."

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

"This is not one of my horses, monsieur," said the king.

"Sire, it is a horse out of his royal highness's stable; but his royal
highness does not ride when the weather is as hot as it is now."

The king did not reply, but hastily approached the horse, which stood
pawing the ground with his 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 toward 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 most 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 go very far, for
when he reached the sixth carriage, he reined in his horse suddenly and
took off his hat. He saluted La Valliere, 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 Valliere
began, as all lovers' conversations generally do, namely, by eloquent
looks and by a few words utterly void 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 had 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
Valliere; she had every reason to suppose that it was she 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 that gentleman who is galloping
on my left hand;" and she pointed out Malicorne, who, with a very
sanctified expression, was galloping on the left side of the carriage,
knowing perfectly well that they were talking of him at that very
moment, but sitting in his saddle as if 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 Valliere.

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 its fruit in due time. 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 it will very 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 upon 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 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 Valliere still remained silent, but raised her eyes, brimful of
affection, toward the king. Louis, as if he had been 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 Valliere, 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 side, 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 immovable you would become if you were
ever to resolve to break off all acquaintance with any one; 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 Valliere; "if ever I love, it will
be for my whole 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 that you are changeable, capricious, a coquette, perhaps."

"Oh, no! sire, be perfectly satisfied on that. No, I say again; no, no!"

"Promise me, then, that for 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 be deceiving, or should
misunderstand each other, or should be judging 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 ungloved
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 Valliere took her lover's burning hand between her own icy 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
sworn as he wished her.

"Return, sire," she said, "return to the queen: I foresee a storm rising
yonder which threatens my peace of mind."

Louis obeyed, saluted Mademoiselle de Montalais, and set off at a gallop
to rejoin the queen's carriage. 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 merely remarked, "Are
you better now, sire?"



CHAPTER XXX.

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 have been
before me, forsaken and forgotten, while 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 that women love the man in loving the king. But
should that happen, which I doubt, you should rather 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 or 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 abandoned?"

"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 around him, the children of another woman than myself. 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.

"But a slight one," replied Maria-Theresa.

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

"What annoyance?" 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 to do it," 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 like the Paris we left it;
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-Belliere."

"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 which were
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_," murmured the queen-mother, and without moving her
lips, in her daughter-in-law's ear, and also 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 every one 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 during the time she had
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.

"Flirtations," 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 Valliere?" said the queen-mother.

"Yes, indeed, that plain-looking creature."

"I thought she was affianced to a gentleman who certainly is not--at
least, I suppose so--either M. de Guiche or M. de Wardes?"

"Very possibly, madame."

The young queen took up a piece of tapestry, and began to unpick with an
affectation of tranquillity which 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 her.

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

"And M. de Wardes," said Anne of Austria, quietly, "spread the report
that Venus was right, I suppose?"

"Oh, De Wardes," thought Madam, "you shall pay most dearly for the wound
you have given that noblest--the 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 that he had shown such strong 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 Valliere herself," said the queen-mother.

The young queen resumed her work with a 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 on 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 a time 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 thought of the mind, and every
pulse of the body, are due. I will not allow my son to be deprived of
any one of his servants." And she turned toward the young queen, saying,
"What is to be done with this La Valliere?"

"La Valliere?" said the queen, apparently surprised, "I do not even know
the name;" and she accompanied this remark by one of those cold, fixed
smiles which are only observed on royal lips.

Madame was herself a princess great in every respect--great in
intelligence, great by birth and 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 again 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 quite 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 old queen's entreaties were commands, and as Maria-Theresa rose to
return to her own apartments, Madame rose in order to send a page to
summon La Valliere.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE FIRST QUARREL.


La Valliere 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 toward 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 Valliere, 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 which 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
every one else seems to be doing."

"Of me!" exclaimed La Valliere, 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 Valliere, 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 common-place mode of defense, and you,
who have great pretensions to be witty and clever, ought to avoid
common-places. 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 can occupy 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 their lances in their honor. But, for my part, I
hate fields of battle, and more than all, do I hate adventures,
and--take my remark as you please."

La Valliere sank at the queen's feet, who turned her back upon her. She
stretched out her hands toward 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 majesty's hands; and I observe that 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 of heroic expressions. One can easily see, young lady,
that we have cultivated our mind in the society of crowned heads."

La Valliere felt struck to the heart; she became, not paler, 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 other women
to such a degree that we shall be ashamed of appearing before you.
Become simple in your manners. By-the-by, I am informed that you are
affianced; is it the case?"

La Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere, 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 so good as you are, perhaps."

La Valliere ceased to hear the queen, who pitilessly added, "I will send
you somewhere by yourself, where you will be able to procure a little
serious reflection. Reflection calms the ardor of the blood, and
swallows up all the illusions of youth. I suppose you have understood
what I have been saying?"

"Madame, madame!"

"Not a word!"

"I am innocent of everything your majesty can suppose. 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 undertake the _dénouement_ of the
comedy; leave the room; return to your own apartment, and I trust my
lesson may be of service to you."

"Madame!" said La Valliere to the Duchesse d'Orleans, 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 hand.

La Valliere, instead of giving way, as from her extreme pallor and from
her tears the two princesses might possibly have 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 and patient characters," replied Madame.
"Nothing is more full of courage than a patient heart, nothing is 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 engaged, while awaiting their arrival, in endeavoring to
disguise her impatience.

It was about half-past six in the evening, and the king had just
partaken of some refreshment. He lost no time: but no sooner was the
repast finished, and business matters settled, than he took Saint-Aignan
by the arm, and desired him to lead him to La Valliere's apartments. The
courtier uttered a loud exclamation.

"Well, what is that for? It is a habit you will have to adopt, and in
order to adopt a habit, you must begin by something or another at
first."

"Oh, sire!" said Saint-Aignan, "it is hardly possible, for every one 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 pretexts; no delays. I have had enough of these impediments and
these mysteries; I cannot perceive in what respect the king of France
dishonors himself in 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."

"And 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
Valliere a visit, and after to-day I will make use of any pretext you
like. To-morrow we will devise all sorts of means; to-night I have not
the time."

Saint-Aignan did not 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 the
two queens; and also, that he did not, on the other hand, wish to
displease Mademoiselle de la Valliere; 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--with three women 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 Valliere's part in the park of Fontainebleau, did not feel
himself 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 then also because of 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: this was a delicate consideration on
the king's part, which the courtier could very well have dispensed with.
He had to follow Louis into La Valliere's apartment. As soon as the king
arrived, the young girl dried her tears, but did it 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.

"I have nothing the matter with me, 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 greatly 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 that 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 all 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 any one wounded or annoyed you?"

"No, no, sire."

"I insist upon knowing if such really be the case," said the young
prince, his eyes sparkling.

"No one, sire, no one has in any way offended me."

"In that case, do 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 struck the ground impatiently with his foot, saying, "Such a
change is positively inexplicable." And he looked at Saint-Aignan, who
had also remarked La Valliere's heavy languor of manner, as well as the
king's impatience.

It was utterly useless for the king to entreat, and as useless for him
to try his utmost to overcome her positiveness, which was but too
apparent, and did not in reality exist; the poor girl was completely
overwhelmed--the aspect of death itself could not have awakened her from
her torpor. The king saw in her repeated negative replies a mystery full
of unkindness; he began to look all round the apartment with a
suspicious air. There happened to be in La Valliere's room a miniature
of Athos. The king remarked this portrait, which bore a considerable
resemblance to Bragelonne, for it had been taken when the comte was
quite a young man. He looked at it with a threatening air. La Valliere,
in her depressed state of mind, and very far indeed from thinking of
this portrait, could not conjecture 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 which had existed between the two young
people from their birth; the engagement which had followed; and that
Athos had himself come to solicit La Valliere's hand for Raoul. He
therefore could not but suppose that, on her return to Paris, La
Valliere had found news from London awaiting her, and that this news had
counterbalanced the influence which he had been enabled to exert over
her. He immediately felt himself stung, as it were, by feelings of the
wildest jealousy; and he again questioned her, with increased
bitterness. La Valliere 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 upon 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, if he really loved her, he would have
understood and guessed everything. What was sympathy, then, if it were
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, satisfying
herself with sighing, weeping, and concealing her face in her hands.
These sighs and tears, which had at first distressed, and then
terrified, Louis XIV., now irritated him. He could not bear any
opposition--not 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 even
this one also.

The king next began to accuse her in direct terms. La Valliere did not
even attempt to defend herself; she endured all his accusations without
according any other reply than that of shaking her head; without making
any other remark than that which escapes every heart in deep distress,
by 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 Valliere's downfall; and he was not true knight enough to
resist the fear that he himself might possibly 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 broad open day, in order
to follow his illustrious companion to La Valliere's apartments. In the
meantime the king's anger momentarily increased; he made two or three
steps toward the door, as if to leave the room, but then 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, for this fickleness, for this caprice?"

"What can I say?" murmured La Valliere. "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 would have told me
the truth in fewer words than those in which you have just now expressed
yourself."

"But the truth about what, sire?"

"About everything."

La Valliere was just on the point of revealing the whole truth to the
king; her arms made a sudden movement as if they were about to open, but
her lips remained silent, and her arms 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 impulses of his heart were
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 leave 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.

"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 day's hence, 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 assured 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 different to what their
departure had been. A curtain was stealthily 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, which
led to the room the king had just left.



CHAPTER XXXII.

DESPAIR.


As soon as the king had left her, La Valliere raised herself from the
ground, and extended 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 toward and fall at the foot of her crucifix. There she
remained, brokenhearted, absorbed and overwhelmed by her grief,
forgetful of and indifferent to everything but her profound grief
itself--a grief which she could not comprehend otherwise than by
instinct and acute sensation. In the midst of the wild tumult of her
thoughts, La Valliere heard her door open again; she started, and turned
round, thinking that 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, irritated and threatening.
But what was that to her?

"Mademoiselle," said the princess, standing before La Valliere, "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 Valliere raised her head painfully in token of respect.

"Not long since," continued Madame, "a certain recommendation was
addressed to you, I believe."

La Valliere's fixed and wild gaze showed how entire her forgetfulness or
her 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 Valliere darted an inquiring look toward 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 Valliere could not sink lower, nor could she suffer more than she had
already suffered. Her countenance did not even change, but she remained
with her hands crossed over her knees like the figure of the Magdalen.

"Did you hear me?" said Madame.

A shiver, which passed through her whole frame, was La Valliere's only
reply; and as the victim gave no other sign of life, Madame left the
room. And then, her very respiration suspended, and her blood almost
congealed, as it were, in her veins, La Valliere by degrees felt that
the pulsations of her wrists, her neck, and temples began to throb more
and more heavily. 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 first 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
dark and appalling interior of eternal night revealed to her distracted
gaze. But the horror of the dream which had possessed her senses soon
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 by the calm repose of the night. It
was the king who had suggested that, who had imposed a promise upon her,
who had himself sworn it also. It was impossible, therefore, she
reasoned, that the king should fail in keeping the promise which he had
himself exacted from her, unless, indeed, the king were a despot who
enforced love as he enforced obedience; unless, too, the king were truly
indifferent, that the first obstacle in his way were sufficient to
arrest his further progress. The king, that kind protector, who by a
word, by 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 as 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 everything, have
guessed everything. Yes, but she was nothing but a poor simple-minded
girl, and not a great and powerful monarch. Oh! if he did 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 suffered! And so she sat, with her head bent forward in eager
expectation toward the door, her lips slightly parted, as if--and Heaven
forgive her for the thought, she mentally exclaimed--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, but only more timorous 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, read over and over
again, press upon her heart the happy paper which would have brought her
ease of mind, tranquillity, and perfect happiness. At all events, if
the king did not come; if, however, 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 Valliere, 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 had struck, the
king might come, or write, or send; that at midnight only would every
expectation be useless, every hope lost. Whenever there was any noise in
the palace, the poor girl fancied she was the cause of it; whenever she
heard any one 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 far too quickly. And now, it
struck a quarter to twelve. Midnight, midnight was near, the last, the
final hope which remained, came in its turn. With the last stroke of the
clock, the last ray of light seemed to fade away; and with the last ray,
so 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, certainly, to have preserved the illusion. And so,
not only did the king not love her, but still more, he despised her whom
every one overwhelmed; 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 upon 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 victim's 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 do 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 do not abandon and
who do not forget Him; it is to Him alone that we must sacrifice
ourselves." And, thereupon, could any one 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.
Thereupon, and 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 in the same ecstasy of feeling. Her thoughts had almost ceased
to hold any communion with the things of this world. And when she saw
the violet tints of early dawn visible upon the roofs of the palace, and
vaguely revealing the outlines of the ivory cross which she held
embraced, she rose from the ground with a new-born 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 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 XXXIII.

THE FLIGHT.


La Valliere followed the patrol as it left the courtyard. The patrol
bent its steps toward the right, by the Rue St. Honore, and mechanically
La Valliere went 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
Valliere 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. Honore. 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 toward the Seine. She took the Rue du
Coq, and not being able to cross the Louvre, bore toward 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 persons, or have attracted the attention of the most
indifferent passers-by. But at half-past two in the morning, the streets
of Paris are almost, if not quite, deserted, and scarcely any one is to
be seen but the hard-working artisan on his way to earn his daily bread,
or the dangerous idlers of the streets, who are returning to their homes
after a night of riot and debauchery: for the former the day was
beginning, for the latter it was just closing. La Valliere was afraid of
those 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 whom she met seemed wretched
and miserable. Her toilet, 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, ignorantly, the
poor fugitive seemed to invite the brutal remarks of the one class, or
to appeal to the compassion of the other. La Valliere still walked on in
the same way, breathless and hurried, until she reached the top of the
Place de Greve. 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 her course more rapidly than before. On reaching the
Place de Greve, La Valliere 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 complete justice to the merchandise.
They were singing 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 Valliere stopped; while they, on their side, at the appearance
of the young girl dressed in court costume, also halted, and, seizing
each other by the hand, they surrounded La Valliere, singing:

  "Oh! you who sadly are wandering alone,
  Come, come, and laugh with us."

La Valliere at once understood that the men were addressing her, and
wished to prevent her passing; she tried to do so several times, but all
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 his
hand raised to carry out his threat. The drunken fellows, at the sight
of the uniform, made their escape with all dispatch, and the greater 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 Valliere?"

La Valliere, 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
hold of 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're going to Chaillot by the way of La Rapée! Why, mademoiselle, you
are turning your back to 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
direction were you so near at hand to come 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 Greve, 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 purpose of inspecting my
posts."

"Thank you," said La Valliere.

"That is what _I_ was doing," said D'Artagnan to himself; "but what was
_she_ doing, and why was 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 concealed, however, a great weakness. D'Artagnan
perceived it, and proposed to La Valliere 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 than accompanied
La Valliere, 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 toward 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 Valliere 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 altogether."

"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--it is decided."

"Well, mademoiselle, what do you wish me to do?"

"In the name of that sympathy which misfortune inspires, by your
generous feelings, and by your honor as a gentleman, I entreat you to
swear to 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 Valliere, 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 Valliere, "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 Valliere, who, in the extremity of her distress, had sunk down
upon the ground, rose and walked toward 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 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! toward 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, have only two. 'A horse, a horse,' as
I heard them say at the theater 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
Barriere de la Conference 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 had adopted with his usual
rapidity, D'Artagnan immediately turned his back upon the heights of
Chaillot, reached the guard-house, 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, went to bed
at his usual hour, after having been engaged with M. Colbert, and, in
all probability, was still fast asleep. "Come," said D'Artagnan, "she
spoke the truth, and 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 XXXIV.

SHOWING HOW LOUIS, ON HIS SIDE, HAD PASSED THE TIME FROM TEN TO
HALF-PAST TWELVE AT NIGHT.


When the king left the apartment of the maids of honor, he found Colbert
awaiting him to receive his directions with regard to 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 and hot blood to the brain, would be quite
sufficient to change an old form of policy and to create another and new
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 state of mind which could make him capable of
determining upon a wise course of policy. Still much agitated from the
quarrel he had just had with La Valliere, he walked hastily into his
cabinet, exceedingly 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
receives the dispatches himself direct."

The king, who was accustomed to hear M. Colbert speak in not
overscrupulous terms of M. Fouquet, allowed this remark to pass by
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 is not," 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
brass, 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 of 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 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 of them. 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 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 go 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 think," 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 when you 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 toward the king
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."

"Toward 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 for 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 be unjust
in order to obtain a concession in your own favor. If your majesty were
to complain as if your susceptibility were offended, you will stand in a
far higher position with them."

"What are those 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 nothing 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 a 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 me
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 did not think of
the list in the slightest degree. 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 Valliere's pale, worn features, in his
imagination, spoke a very different language to 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 Valliere;
but Colbert having with some urgency respectfully requested that the
list might be furnished him, the king blushed at thinking of mere
matters of affection when matters of business required his attention. He
therefore dictated: the queen-mother, the queen, Madame, Madame de
Motteville, Madame de Chatillon, Madame de Noailles; and, for the men,
M. le Prince, M. de Grammont, M. de Manicamp, M. de Saint-Aignan, and
the officers on duty.

"The ministers," said 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 to-morrow."

"Say rather to-day," replied Louis mournfully, as the clock struck
twelve. It was the very hour when poor La Valliere was almost dying from
anguish and bitter suffering. The king's attendants entered, it being
the hour of his retiring to rest; the queen, indeed, had been waiting
for more than an hour. Louis accordingly retired 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 XXXV.

THE AMBASSADORS.


D'Artagnan had, with very few exceptions, learned almost all 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 untied
as occasion might require. 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 put away everything in the vast
and impenetrable tomb 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 he knew that the question
of the medals would be brought under 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 would awake. It happened that
the king woke very early--proving thereby that he, too, on his side, had
slept but indifferently. Toward 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 very probably awaited 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 afterward the king and
Saint-Aignan passed by together, but the king walking first. D'Artagnan
went to the window which looked out upon the courtyards; 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 toward the apartments of
the maids of honor--a circumstance which in no way astonished
D'Artagnan, for he more than suspected, although La Valliere 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 among 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,
who were passing across the courtyards, 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 Vallieire'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 Valliere weep during a portion of the night, but,
knowing that his majesty had returned, she had not dared to inquire what
was the matter.

"But," inquired the king, "where do you suppose she is gone to?"

"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 appear very pale, and
talking in an excited manner with his companion, as he went toward 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 and 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."

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 Valliere from such of the servants as were about,
in fact, from every one he met. Among others he came across Manicamp,
who had arrived from Fontainebleau by easy stages; for while others had
performed the journey in six hours, he had taken four-and-twenty.

"Have you seen Mademoiselle de la Valliere?" Saint-Aignan asked him.

Whereupon Manicamp, dreamy and absent as usual, answered, thinking that
some one 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, and whom he asked to explain how it was 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, held his napkin in
his hand. He then disposed of several military audiences, during which
he dispatched Saint-Aignan to see what he could find out. Then, still
occupied, still full of anxiety, still watching Saint-Aignan's return,
who had sent out his servants in every direction, to make inquiries, 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 the ambassadors, however numerous they
were, and from whatever country they came: and so, setting everything
else 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
advantageous 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 by this reply
in their pride of relationship and nationality.

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 public insulters?"

"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 insulting 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 starving or dying of
hunger?"

"That may be the case, I admit. But when the mint 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,
"That is the medal your majesty alludes to."

The king looked at it, and with a glance which, ever since he had become
his own master, had been always soaring in its gaze, 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._"

Louis' anger, increased by the bitterness of his own personal
sufferings, hardly required this additional circumstance to foment it.
Every one saw, from the kindling passion in the king's eyes, that an
explosion was most imminent. A look from Colbert kept back the storm
from bursting forth. 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 country men, the king would be
kindly disposed, and would excuse this intoxication. The king seemed as
if he would be glad of some one's advice; 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 flood-gates,
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, listened
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 Valliere?"

The king started, and involuntarily advanced a step nearer to them.

"What has happened to La Valliere?" inquired Saint-Aignan, in a tone
which can very 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 toward the captain, he exclaimed, "Who says that La Valliere
is going to take the religious vows?"

"M. d'Artagnan," answered the favorite.

"Is it true what you say?" said the king, turning toward 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 Valliere had been driven away from
the court."

"Yes, sire."

"Is that true also?"

"Ascertain it for yourself, sire."

"And from whom?"

"Oh!" said D'Artagnan, like a man declining to say anything further.

The king almost bounded from his seat, regardless of ambassadors,
ministers, courtiers, 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, "take care; 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
outrage. Come with me, M. d'Artagnan, come." And he quitted the room in
the midst of a 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 XXXVI.

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 generally too precipitate, owing to his
ambition, while Manicamp was frequently too tardy, owing to his
idleness. On this occasion, however, they arrived at precisely the
proper moment. Five horses were waiting 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 whole
cavalcade set off at a gallop. D'Artagnan had been very careful in his
selection of the horses; they were the very horses for distressed
lovers--horses which did not simply run, but flew. Within ten minutes
after their departure, the cavalcade, amid 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
acknowledgment to the musketeer, he threw the bridle to the groom, then
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 flag-stones,
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 be immediately
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 Valliere 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 the king, 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 save their having any listeners." And he
quitted the room, leaving the two lovers alone.

"Sire," continued La Valliere, "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 clearly see into your heart."

"You, Louise, what mean you?"

"An inexplicable impulse, foolish and unreasonable in its nature, may
momentarily 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."

"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 whenever your anger might be aroused
against me."

"Oh! forgive me, Louise, forgive me! I was almost mad from jealousy."

"Jealousy is an unworthy thought, sire. 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 any one--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
very depths of despair."

"Oh! sire, sire, leave me to 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 destroy my very 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 yours. Oh! fear nothing further
now, Louise: those, be they men or women, who yesterday drove you away,
shall to-morrow tremble before you--to-morrow, do I say? Nay, this very
day have I already shown my displeasure--have already threatened. It is
in my power, even now, to hurl the thunderbolt which I have hitherto
withheld. Louise, Louise, you shall be cruelly 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 my anger, then?"

"Sire, those upon whom your anger would have 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 curse my family. Yes, I
would strike until this arm had utterly annihilated 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 Valliere:
for his anger, owing to his unbounded power, had something imposing and
threatening in it, and like the tempest, might be mortal in its effects.
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 petty human
meannesses 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 that he is a despot whose caprice has
utterly destroyed in your heart the very last fiber of human feeling. Do
not say you are seeking Heaven, say rather that you are fleeing the
king."

Louise's heart was wrung within her, as she listened to his passionate
utterance, which made the fever of passion course through every vein in
her body. "But did you not hear me say that I, have been driven away,
scorned, despised?"

"I will make you the most respected, the 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 distress, and 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 sweet 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 holiest, the best,
the purest of women. There is no one so worthy as yourself, not alone of
my own respect and devotion, but also of the respect and devotion of all
who surround me: and therefore shall no one 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 to 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
happily lay down my life for you, at your merest wish."

"Oh! sire, now that I know you love me, I have nothing to wish for in
the whole world. Give me your hand, sire; and then farewell! I have
enjoyed in this life all the happiness which I was destined to meet
with."

"Oh! no, no! your happiness is not a happiness of yesterday, it is of
to-day, of to-morrow, 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 latest 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 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 suspicion; 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, also! poor Louise! every one'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 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 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 me faithfully--"

"I promised not to say anything to the king," said D'Artagnan, putting
in 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 Valliere 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 Valliere."

"Sire," replied the captain, "the carriage is waiting at the gate."

"You are the most perfect model of thoughtfulness," 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 Valliere 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 hast 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 bore 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 toward the Palais-Royal, where, immediately
on his arrival, he sent to request an audience of Madame.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

MADAME.


From the manner in which the king had dismissed the ambassadors, even
the least clear-sighted persons belonging to the court had 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
circumstance that had taken place in their several households, having
heard the 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 the
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 remained perfectly
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 a forbearance
toward La Valliere, M. Malicorne made his appearance to beg an audience
of Madame, on behalf of his majesty. 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 trumpet proclaiming the commencement of hostilities. She,
therefore, boldly accepted the gage of battle. Five minutes afterward
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 toilet of Madame, who,
notwithstanding her rouge, turned pale as the king entered her 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
Valliere 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
have you sent Mademoiselle de la Valliere 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 Valliere been guilty of?"

"Since you constitute yourself the protector of Mademoiselle de la
Valliere," replied Madame, coldly, "I will give you those explanations
which I should have a perfect right to withhold from every one."

"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 any one 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 to bow submissively to
your majesty, and to be silent."

"No; let there be no equivocation between us."

"The protection with which you surround Mademoiselle de la Valliere does
not impose any respect."

"No equivocation, I repeat. You are perfectly aware that, as head of the
nobility of France, I am accountable to all for the honor of every
family: you dismiss Mademoiselle de la Valliere, or whoever else it may
be--" Madame shrugged her shoulders.

"Or whoever else it may be, I repeat," continued the king; "and as, in
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 cease to be an excess of power merely, 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 humble
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 similar 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 Valliere 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 deceit."

"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 between us two."

"I do assure you--" said the king.

"Sire, look well into the case as it stood: 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 wild bursts of passion,
she would never allow me to menace any one; 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 Valliere will be whatever I may choose her to become; and to-morrow,
if I were to determine to do so, I could seat her on a throne."

"She will not have been born to a throne, at least; and whatever you may
do can affect the future alone, but cannot affect the past."

"Madame, toward you I have shown every kind consideration, and every
eager desire to please you; do not remind me that I am master here."

"That 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, will you confer upon me the favor of receiving
Mademoiselle de la Valliere 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 my own family, where 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 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 Valliere's conduct; if the queen
knew--"

"Come, come, Henriette, let your heart speak. Remember that you have
loved me; remember, too, that human hearts should be as merciful as the
heart of our sovereign master. Do not be inflexible with others; forgive
La Valliere."

"I cannot; she has offended me."

"But for my sake."

"Sire, 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, Henriette; it is the first time, I have entreated any
one, and I have, no hope in any one 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 of feeling 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 of 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, Henriette!" exclaimed Louis, transported with gratitude, "you
will have yielded to a brother's wishes."

"I no longer have any brother, since I obey."

"Will you accept my kingdom in grateful acknowledgment?"

"How passionately you love, sire, when you do love!"

He 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 have never liked her."

"Well, for my sake you will treat her kindly, will you not, Henriette?"

"I will treat her as your mistress."

The king rose suddenly to his feet. By this word, which had so
unfortunately escaped her lips, Madame had destroyed the whole merits of
her sacrifice. The king felt freed from all obligation. 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 Heaven!" he thought, "when the king has been giving way
like a child, let those look to it who may make her weep for whom the
king has shed tears."



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

MADEMOISELLE DE LA VALLIERE'S POCKET-HANDKERCHIEF.


Madame was not bad-hearted, she was only hasty and impetuous. The king
was not imprudent, he was only in love. Hardly had they both entered
into this sort of compact, which terminated in La Valliere's recall,
when they both sought to make as much as they could by their bargain.
The king wished to see La Valliere every moment in the day; while
Madame, who was sensible of the king's annoyance ever since he had so
entreated her, would not abandon La Valliere 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 Valliere, 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 some one 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 eclipsed everything. 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 the 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 Valliere's hand. Madame guessed
both his intention and the letter too. It was very difficult to prevent
the king going wherever he pleased, and yet it was necessary to prevent
his going near La Valliere, to speak to her, as by so doing he could let
the note fall into her lap behind her fan, and 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 Chatillon, with whom he began to talk
in a light tone. They were amusing themselves in making rhymes; from
Mademoiselle de Chatillon he went to Montalais, and then to Mademoiselle
de Tonnay-Charente. And thus, by this skillful maneuver, he found
himself seated opposite to La Valliere, whom he completely concealed.
Madame pretended to be greatly occupied: she was altering a group of
flowers that she was working in tapestry. The king showed the corner of
his letter to La Valliere, and the latter held out her handkerchief with
a look which 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 Valliere slipped her handkerchief on
the chair. The king took it up quietly, without any one 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 Valliere
to sketch 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 Chatillon, "Chatillon, 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 Valliere being in no little degree nervous
and confused.

"Ah! I beg your majesty's pardon," said Mademoiselle de Chatillon; "you
have two handkerchiefs, I perceive."

And the king was accordingly obliged to put into his pocket La
Valliere's handkerchief as well as his own. He certainty 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 Valliere's despair; but shortly afterward 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, dislikes light anywhere
else than in the mind and heart. 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 Valliere'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 Valliere's
had disappeared. While busied with all kinds of conjectures and
suspicions, a letter was brought to him from La Valliere; it ran in
these terms:

     "How kind and good 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," he said 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 too 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," replied 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 Valliere'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 Valliere?" said the king, with a sigh.

"Yes, sire."

"And you took Mademoiselle de la Valliere something from me?"

"I, sire."

"Yes, you."

"Oh, no, sire."

"Mademoiselle de la Valliere says so distinctly."

"Oh, sire, Mademoiselle de la Valliere is mistaken."

The king frowned. "What jest is this?" he said; "explain yourself; why
does Mademoiselle de la Valliere call you my messenger? What did you
take to that lady? Speak, monsieur, and quickly."

"Sire, I merely took Mademoiselle de la Valliere 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 it was Mademoiselle de la Valliere'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 Valliere, 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 friendly feeling."

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 Valliere some idea of the manner in
which it had really happened, and La Valliere afterward 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 acquainted with human nature.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

WHICH TREATS OF GARDENERS, OF LADDERS, AND MAIDS OF HONOR.


Miracles, unfortunately, could not always last forever, while Madame's
ill-humor still continued to last. In a week's time, matters had reached
such a point that the king could no longer look at La Valliere 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 or 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 Valliere 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 Montemart 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 Valliere and Montalais
to sleep in her own cabinet. Nothing, therefore, was now possible, not
even any communication by letter; to write under the eyes of so
ferocious an Argus as Madame, whose kindness of disposition was so
uncertain, was to run the risk of exposure to the greatest dangers; and
it can well be conceived into what a state of continuous irritation, and
of ever increasing anger, all these petty annoyance threw the young
lion. The king almost tormented himself to death in 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, some 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 window, Malicorne stumbled over a ladder lying
beside a border of box, and said to Manicamp, who was walking with him
behind the king, and who had not either stumbled over or seen anything,
"Did you not see that I just now stumbled against a ladder, and was
nearly thrown down?"

"No," said Manicamp, as usual very absent, "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 any one 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 Valliere 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, look, there is
Mademoiselle de la Valliere 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
had even remarked that his majesty had slackened his pace, in order to
give him time to finish. So, when he arrived at the door, he dismissed
every one, 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. Every one, therefore, took his leave; and,
immediately afterward, the king turned toward 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 his 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 could have heard us."

"And why would you not have said a word?"

"Because I should not have liked to have got the gardener scolded who
had 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?"

"Every one 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 Valliere 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 hold a communication with those
who might be in the room. Hardly had the ladder been properly placed,
than 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
toward 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 guard-house; when 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 apartments, very much
humiliated, and still more disappointed. More than that, the noise made
in arresting Malicorne had drawn La Valliere and Montalais to their
window; and even Madame herself had appeared at her own, with a pair of
wax candles, 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
inventive 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 the 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 Valliere and a person whose name need not be mentioned, his crime was
in that case even greater, since love, which is an excuse for
everything, did not exist in the present case as an excuse for him.
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 Valliere suffer. But as he
no longer had Malicorne to steal his pocket-handkerchiefs and to measure
ladders for him, the poor lover was in a terrible state. There seemed to
be no hope, therefore, of ever getting near La Valliere 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 look-out, and this he did so successfully that he
met Montalais, who, to do her justice, it must be admitted, did 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, she will not lose a minute, when she sees your deep
distress, in turning you out of her room 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 Valliere, finding
herself alone without you, will groan and utter such loud lamentations,
that she will exhibit despair enough for two persons."

"In that case she will be put into another room."

"Precisely so."

"Yes, but which?"

"Which?"

"Yes, that will puzzle you to say, Mr. Inventor-General."

"Not at all; wherever 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 a little to-night."

"I certainly will not fail to do so."

"And give La Valliere a hint also."

"Oh! don't fear her, she cries quite enough already to herself."

"Very well! all she has to do is to cry out loud."

And they separated.



CHAPTER XL.

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 Valliere, who could not but acknowledge that it was by no means
deficient in judgment, and who, after a certain amount of resistance,
arising rather from her timidity than from her 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, afterward,
she had La Valliere removed. She gave to the latter one of the small
rooms on the top story, situated immediately over the apartments
allotted to the gentlemen of Monsieur's suit. 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' 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 Valliere, whose room
bore more resemblance to a cage than to anything else.

When Mademoiselle de la Valliere 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'
inspection, Mademoiselle de la Valliere had no other means of amusing
herself than that of 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 Valliere
recognized Malicorne, and bowed to him; Malicorne, in his turn, replied
by a profound bow, and disappeared from the window. She was surprised at
this marked coolness, so unusual with his unfailing good humor, but she
remembered that he had lost his appointment on her account, and that he
could hardly be very amiably disposed toward 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
greater reason could she sympathize with misfortune. La Valliere would
have asked Montalais her opinion, if she had been there; but she was
absent, it being the hour she usually devoted to her own correspondence.
Suddenly, La Valliere observed something thrown from the window where
Malicorne had been standing, pass across the open space which separated
the two windows from each other, enter her room through the iron bars,
and roll upon the floor. She advanced with no little curiosity toward
this object, and picked it up; it was a winder for silk, only, in this
instance, instead of silk, a small piece of paper was rolled round it.
La Valliere unrolled it and read the following:

     "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 know 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 it 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 and most
     respectful servant,

  "MALICORNE.

     "Write the reply, if you please, upon the letter itself."

"Ah! poor fellow," exclaimed La Valliere, "he must have gone out of his
mind;" and she directed toward her correspondent--of whom she caught
but a faint glimpse, in consequence of the darkness of his 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 perfectly 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 Valliere, even if he were mad, saw no impropriety in doing what
Malicorne requested her; she took a pencil and wrote, "wood;" and then
counted ten paces from her window to her bed, and wrote, "ten feet;" and
having done this, she looked out again at Malicorne, who bowed to her,
signifying that he was about to descend. La Valliere 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 flag-stones as Malicorne started after it,
overtook and picked it up, began to peel it as a monkey would do with a
nut, and ran straight toward M. de Saint-Aignan's apartments.
Saint-Aignan had selected, 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 the
expectation of receiving the honor of frequent visits from the king; for
his majesty, since his passion for La Valliere, 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 Valliere 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," and indicated 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 most naturally to be under
Mademoiselle de la Valliere's room."

Saint-Aignan, at this remark, gave poor Malicorne a look, similar to one
of those La Valliere had already given him 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 apart 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 Valliere 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 monsieur, I cannot guess 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, afterward, I will show you this paper."

"I am listening," said Saint-Aignan.

"You know that Madame looks after La Valliere 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 on that subject, my poor
Malicorne."

"Very good; what do you suppose would happen to the man whose
imagination devised some means of bringing the two lovers together?"

"Oh! the king would have 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 to me."

"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 own rooms are the envy of too many gentlemen, to whom I
shall not certainly give them up; M. de Roquelaure, for instance, M. de
la Ferte, 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, while 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 would he, 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 Valliere?"

"Yes, indeed, admirably near her, with a whole 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 Valliere'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 Valliere's room."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Saint-Aignan, as if dazzled.

"What is the matter?" said Malicorne.

"Nothing, except that you have hit upon a singularly 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
will be heard over the whole 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 six feet square, with a saw covered with tow, and no one, not
even those immediately 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 have cut through, you will put up a staircase, which will
either allow Mademoiselle de la Valliere to descend into your room, or
the king to ascend into Mademoiselle de la Valliere'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 Valliere's room it will not be
seen, for the trap-door, 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 it 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 that
which is as good as the promise of an additional step in the peerage,
and perhaps even 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 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."

"With one of my servants without livery. But stay--what will La Valliere
say if she sees what is going on?"

"Oh! I can assure you she will be very much interested in the operation,
and 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 afterward he must have sufficient time to
effect what may be called the junction 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 very long."

"Nay; when one undertakes to open a door into paradise itself, we must
at least take care it is properly done."

"Quite right; so farewell for a short time, dear M. Malicorne. I shall
begin to remove the day after to-morrow, in the evening."



CHAPTER XLI.

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 toward De Guiche's
two rooms. He who, a quarter of an hour previously, would not have
yielded up his own rooms for a million of 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 whereabouts he was to lodge,
and, besides, was still far too suffering 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 Cæsar, eighteen hundred
years previously, had used the _tu quoque_.

"Sire, I am very 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, and 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 Valliere?" 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 to-morrow--"

"To-morrow, do you say! What happiness! But why are you changing your
rooms?"

"In order to serve your majesty to greater 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 you do not understand, sire, that above De
Guiche's lodgings are two rooms, one of which is Mademoiselle de
Montalais's, and the other--"

"La Valliere's, is it not so, Saint-Aignan? Oh! yes, yes. It is a
brilliant idea. Saint-Aignan, at true friend's idea, a poet's idea; in
bringing me nearer her from whom the whole 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
confer such pompous qualifications 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 what I intend to do for your
majesty."

"Saint-Aignan, I am dying from impatience; I am in a perfect fever; I
shall never be able to wait until to-morrow--To-morrow! why to-morrow 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 queens and all the ladies of the court."

"Nothing shall induce me to do that Saint-Aignan."

"And yet, sire, you must do it."

"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 to be able to say a word to her. No,
I renounce a torture which you suppose to be 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 every one; 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 in
this circumstance I do give you directions, sire; and either a hunting
or 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 insolent and factious persons; but whoever
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
to-morrow must be postponed indefinitely."

"Nay, Saint-Aignan, I will go out this evening--I will go by torchlight
to sleep at St. Germain; I will breakfast there to-morrow, 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 goes for
something in this world, sire; but yet chance plays so important a part
in it that I have been accustomed to leave her the narrowest part,
confident that she will manage so as to always take the widest."

"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 Valliere, either on the road under cover of the
darkness, or in some other way, but she took especial care to show
nothing 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 his orders for the departure, was reveling in the
idea that Mademoiselle de la Valliere would form one of the party--at
the very moment, perhaps, when he was luxuriating in the sad happiness
which persecuted lovers enjoy of realizing by the sense of sight alone
all the delights of an interdicted possession--at that very moment, we
say, Madame, who was surrounded by her maids of honor, said: "Two ladies
will be enough for me this evening, Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente and
Mademoiselle de Montalais."

La Valliere had anticipated the omission of herself 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 had 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 was soon spread all over the
palace; ten minutes afterward Malicorne learned Madame's resolution, and
slipped under Montalais' door a note, in the following terms:

"La Valliere must positively pass the night with Madame."

Montalais, in pursuance of the compact she had entered into, began by
burning the paper, and then sat down to reflect. Montalais was a girl
full of expedients, and so had very soon arranged her plan. Toward 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 a
group of officers, when she uttered a cry, fell gracefully on one knee,
rose again, 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 apartment.

"What is the matter, and why do you limp so?" she inquired: "I mistook
you for La Valliere."

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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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."

"Oh, oh!" thought Madame, "this extreme delight hardly seems natural to
me."

"She has already made all her preparations for dining in her own room
tete-à-tete 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 Valliere." 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 attended 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 very easily be in Paris
in an hour's time. "Tell me," she said, "whether La Valliere, 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 should not most certainty ask her to do anything which 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 was hidden
beneath this strong desire for solitude. This mystery might possibly be
Louis's return during the night; it could not be doubted any longer--La
Valliere had been informed of his intended return, and that was the
reason of 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 Valliere, that I am
exceedingly sorry to disarrange her projects of solitude, but that
instead of becoming _ennuyée_ by remaining behind alone as she wished,
she will be good enough to accompany us to Saint-Germain and get
_ennuyée_ there."

"Ah! poor La Valliere," 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 any one 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, wrote an answer to Malicorne, and slipped it under the carpet. The
answer simply said: "She is going." 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
Valliere."

La Valliere received the order to set off with the same indifferent
gentleness with which she had received the order to remain. 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
proceeding toward 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 Valliere's room. The man set to work, 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 could, under water
even, 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 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 Valliere's room, she had
solicited, and had that very morning obtained, a large screen intended
to serve as a partition. The screen which had been conceded was
perfectly sufficient to conceal the opening, which would, besides, be
hidden by all the artifices which cabinetmakers have at their command.
The opening having been made, the workman glided between the joists, and
found himself in La Valliere'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 practiced eye could
hardly detect the necessary interstices made by joining the flooring.
Malicorne had provided for everything: a ring and a couple of hinges,
which had been bought for the purpose, were affixed to the trap-door;
and a small circular staircase 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 weight, 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
Valliere and Madame were both absent.

When, about two o'clock in the afternoon, the court returned to the
Palais Royal, La Valliere went up into her room. Everything was in its
place, and not the smallest particle of sawdust, not the smallest chip,
was left to bear witness to the violation of her domicile. Saint-Aignan,
however, who had wished to do his utmost in getting the work done, had
torn his fingers and his shirt too, and had expended no ordinary
quantity of perspiration in the king's service. The palms of his hands,
especially, were covered with blisters, occasioned by his having held
the ladder for Malicorne. He had moreover brought, one by one, the five
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 toward his faithful
attendant. As Malicorne had 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 Valliere's apartment. But in the evening of the
second day, at the very moment La Valliere had just left Madame's
circle and had returned to her own room, she heard a slight creaking
sound at the end of it. Astonished, she looked to see whence it
proceeded, and the noise began again. "Who is there?" she said, in a
tone of alarm.

"I," 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 Valliere uttered a loud cry, and fell trembling into an armchair, as
the king advanced respectfully toward her.



CHAPTER XLII.

THE APPARITION.


La Valliere 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 that which made La Valliere 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 Valliere, 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 Valliere 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 here.' 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 phantoms who 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 the
happiness of 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 any one 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 know."

"Not at all; they are M. de Saint-Aignan's."

"Are you sure?" cried La Valliere; 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 Valliere, "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 safeguard of the
king you could venture anything."

"Under the safeguard 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 you are not
the king for me."

"Thank Heaven!--I, at least, hope so most fervently; 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 conversations, 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
wish 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 to-morrow, if you like--"

"To-morrow?"

"Do you mean that that is not soon enough?" exclaimed the king,
caressing La Valliere's hand between his own.

At this moment the sound of steps was heard in the corridor.

"Sire, sire!" cried La Valliere, "some one 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 toward
La Valliere which would be displeasing to her. She accordingly entered,
and after a rapid glance round the room, whereby 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 trap-door, 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 that 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 Valliere hid her face in her hands.

"I mean," continued Montalais, pitilessly, "that torrent which has burst
through the gates of the Carmelites of Chaillot, and overthrown all the
prejudices of the court, as well at Fontainebleau as at Paris."

"Alas! alas!" murmured La Valliere, 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 Valliere became white as a marble statue.

"This person," continued Montalais, "is not in Paris at this moment;
but, if I am not mistaken, is in England."

"Yes, yes," breathed La Valliere, 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 on 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 could alone 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 Valliere rose hurriedly from her chair, a prey to the most painful
agitation.

"Montalais," she said, her voice broken by sobs, "all the smiling dreams
of youth and innocence have fled already. I have nothing now to conceal,
either from you or from any one 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 passer-by. 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 have
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 to pronounce 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 to 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 also 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 Valliere, 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 indifferently good in very many respects 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
those 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 would require you to fulfill;--if, therefore,
you are embarrassed, in consequence of having undertaken such an
engagement, it is not a stranger's advice (every one is a stranger to a
heart full of love), it is not my advice, I repeat, which will 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 Valliere, 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 confidante?"

"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 able to 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
benefit."

"The result is, then, that you will remain at the same time Madame's
friend also?"

"Evidently. Do you complain of that?"

"No," said La Valliere, thoughtfully, for that cynical frankness
appeared to her an offense addressed both to the woman as well as to the
friend.

"All well and good, then," said Montalais, "for, in that case, you would
be very foolish."

"You will serve me, then?"

"Devotedly so, if you will serve me in return."

"One would almost say that you do not know my heart," said La Valliere,
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 Valliere 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 XLIII.

THE PORTRAIT.


In that malady which is termed love the paroxysms succeed each other at
intervals, always more rapid from the moment the disease declares
itself. By-and-by, the paroxysms are less frequent, in proportion as the
curet approaches. This being laid down as a general axiom, and as the
heading 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 Valliere, 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 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
Valliere most eagerly read the letter, which fixed two o'clock that same
afternoon for the rendezvous, and which indicated the way of raising the
trap-door which was constructed out of the flooring. "Make yourself look
as beautiful as possible," 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 trap-door
at the last stroke of the hour of two, and found the king upon the top
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 Valliere for
the honor she conferred upon him. Then, turning toward the king, he
said:

"Sire, our man is here." La Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere,
and fixed his eyes lingeringly and passionately upon her neck as white
as snow, upon which her long fair ringlets fell in heavy masses. La
Valliere 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 shedding perfumes, 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 Valliere'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 loose velvet coat, 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 Valliere with that 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 Valliere to the seat which
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 Valliere'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
toward her and fixed devouringly on her face--they, both together,
formed so charming a group, that the artist contemplated 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 good 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 of a La Valliere.
It was on such occasions that Saint-Aignan came to the rescue, and
recited verses, or repeated one of those little tales as Patru related
them, and which Tallemant des Reaux wrote so cleverly. Or, it might be,
that La Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere 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 Valliere, 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 to-morrow?" he said to La Valliere.

"Oh! sire, pray think that some one 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, then, sire, I shall be quite out of my mind, and you ought
not to believe me."

"To-morrow, Louise."

La Valliere sighed, but, without the courage to oppose her royal lover's
wish, she repeated, "To-morrow, then, since you desire it, sire;" and
with these words she ran up the stairs lightly, 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 to-day," 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 is my thirst."

"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 happiness 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 find, for Heaven's sake,
find some further means yet."

"Sire, I undertake to do my best, and that is all I 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 at
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 look which was visible upon
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 not satisfied?"

"Not satisfied 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 upon your being present?"

"Positively so."

"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 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 apartment?"

"Two o'clock."

"And you were waiting for the king?"

"Ever since half-past one; for it would have been a fine thing indeed
to have been unpunctual with his majesty."

Malicorne, notwithstanding his respect for Saint-Aignan, could not
resist shrugging his shoulders. "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 mid-day. 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 to himself. "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 to-morrow, 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 toward 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 come and inquire to-morrow a little?"

"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 backward.

"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 XLIV.

HAMPTON COURT.


The revelation of which we have been witnesses, that Montalais made to
La Valliere, 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 reader will be good enough to follow us,
we will, in his company, cross that strait more stormy than the
Euripus--that 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 Monk, and introduced into the best
society of Charles II.'s court, we will follow him to one of Charles
II.'s summer residences, near the town of Kingston, at Hampton Court,
situated on the Thames. This 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 the sea." No; at Hampton Court it is a soft and
murmuring stream, with moss-grown 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 county on all sides seemed smiling 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
amid the high grass, like poppies bowed by the gentle breath of the
passing breeze. The sheep, ruminating with closed eyes, lay lazily about
under the shadow of the stunted aspens; while, far and near, the
kingfisher, clad in 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 arose the palace
of Hampton Court, which had been built by Wolsey--a residence which the
haughty cardinal had been obliged, timid courtier that he was, to offer
to his master, Henry VIII., who had frowned with envy and feelings of
cupidity at the aspect of the new palace. 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, of sight and smell particularly, was gratified,
and formed a most charming framework for the picture of love which
Charles II. unrolled among the voluptuous paintings of Titian, of
Pordenone, and of Vandyck: 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 August, 1648, at the time
they had brought Charles I. prisoner to Hampton Court. There it was that
the king, intoxicated with pleasure and amusement, 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 greensward 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, with hardy bulbs, which, half unfolding themselves beneath
the sun's warm rays, reveal the golden-colored germs which lie concealed
in their milk-white covering; murmuring waters, on the bosom of which
the black swans majestically floated, and the restless waterfowl, with
their tender broods covered with silken down, darted restlessly in every
direction, in pursuit of the insects among the flags, or the frogs in
their mossy retreats. Perhaps it might have been the enormous hollies,
with their dark and tender green foliage; or the bridges which united
the banks of the canals in their embrace; or the fawns browsing in the
endless avenues of the park; or the numberless birds which hopped about
the gardens, or flew from branch to branch, amid the dense foliage of
the trees.

It might well have been any of these charms, for Hampton Court possessed
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 odorous perfumes. But no; what
Charles II. most loved in Hampton Court was the charming figures who,
when mid-day was passed, flitted to and fro along the broad terraces of
the gardens. Like Louis XIV., he had had their wealth of beauties
painted for his cabinet by one of the great artists of the period--an
artist who well knew the secret of transferring to canvas a ray of light
which had escaped from their beaming eyes 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 laden with the delicious
perfume of the geraniums, sweet-peas, seringas, and heliotrope, which
are scattered in profusion around. It is past mid-day, 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, with this proof of his devotion discharged, he was readily
permitted to pursue his infidelities until evening arrived. Love and
amusement ruled the whole court. It was the period when ladies would
seriously interrogate their ruder companions as to their opinion upon a
foot more or less captivating, according to whether it wore a pink or
green 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 toward 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 lilac and dark blue. They
crossed a beautiful lawn, in the middle of which arose a fountain, with
the figure of a syren executed in bronze, and strolled on, talking as
they went, toward the terrace, along which, looking out upon the park,
and interspersed at frequent intervals, were erected summer-houses,
various in form and ornaments. These summer-houses 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, Stewart?" said the younger to her companion.

"My dear Grafton, we are going where you yourself led the way."

"I?"

"Yes, you; to the extremity of the palace, toward that seat yonder,
where the young Frenchman is seated, wasting his time and sighs and
lamentations."

Miss Mary Grafton hurriedly said, "No, no; I am not going there."

"Why not?"

"Let us go back, Stewart."

"Nay, on the contrary, let us go on and have an explanation."

"About what?"

"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 summer-house 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 that," 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, Stewart, 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
any 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--somewhere 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, and one so beautiful and 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 than 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 toward 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 toward 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 be hardly 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 accept
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; to-day, it is the Duke of Buckingham who
begs me to come and place myself near to 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
Comte?"

"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 was, 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 should you
have 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'Orleans; and, as for myself, I have no
affection for the duke."

Raoul looked at the young girl 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'Orleans."

"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 in 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 confess it."

"Madame, I do confess it."

She looked at him steadily. He was so noble and so handsome in his
bearing, his eye 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 far away in France.'
For this I thank you, Monsieur de Bragelonne; you are, indeed, a
noble-hearted, noble-minded man, and I regard you yet 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 four past days?"

Raoul was deeply and sensibly moved by her sweet and melancholy tone;
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
heavy atmosphere and characteristic gloom of England seem to weigh like
a burden upon me. Sometimes my dreams are golden-hued and full of
wondrous enjoyment, but suddenly a mist arises and overspreads my
dreams, and blots 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 to a friend."

"You say you are French in heart and soul."

"Yes, not only I repeat it, that my mother was French, but, further
still, 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
afterward; 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
Belliere. Do you know her?" she added, observing Raoul start suddenly.

"I have heard her name mentioned."

"She, too, loves with her whole heart; and her last letter informs me
that 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 as pure as a lily."

"But if she loves you, why are you sad?"

"I have been told that she has ceased 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 from 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 here."

And Buckingham at that moment was seen at the end of the walk,
approaching toward 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 me 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 woman who is unworthy of him," said Buckingham, with that
calm, collected manner peculiar to an Englishman.

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 at 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 toward the
summer-house 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 toward the king, Buckingham and Miss Grafton exchanged
a look full of intelligence with each other.



CHAPTER XLV.

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 he was swearing for 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, upon a day
when 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 profess, 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 got Vandyck 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 laughing, sire."

"Do you wish me to weep, then?"

"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 is 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 become mad about 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 it, since 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
her introduction to Paris, of course."

"He has left some one, then?"

"That is to say, some one has left him."

"Poor follow! so much the worse!"

"What 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 quite as discreet as any man could be. And
so the king sent him away?"

"Yes."

"And during his absence he takes his mistress away 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 miserable 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 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 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,
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 every one tries
his utmost to please him; even the Duke of Buckingham, whose brilliancy,
which is hardly credible, seems to pale before that of this young
Frenchman."

"And 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 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 to-day."

At this moment some one scratched 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 Orleans?"

"Yes, sire," replied the courier, "and so urgent is its nature that I
have only been twenty-six hours 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 to-morrow
morning 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
smilingly toward 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 Valliere 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?" inquired 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 the
contrary 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 every
     one, 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've 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 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 summer-house, 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; "every one 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 toward 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."

"Were you not angry with me for it?"

"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 toward the door, against which Miss Grafton
was leaning, pale and sorrow-stricken; her other arm was passed through
the arm of the duke.

"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 diamond 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 there 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 I 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 were my heart broken in the attempt."

Mary Grafton gazed upon him with an expression of the most indefinable
pity, and Raoul returned her look with a sad, 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? Do you
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 sang in dying accents the
line from "Romeo and Juliet": "I must begone and live, or stay and die."

As she finished the last word, Raoul had disappeared. Miss Grafton
returned to her own apartment, paler than death itself. 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 XLVI.

SAINT-AIGNAN FOLLOWS MALICORNE'S ADVICE.


The king most assiduously followed the progress which was made in La
Valliere'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 following 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 of
disposition. 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 and meditation they enjoyed
together.

The minutes fled 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
Valliere 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
Valliere'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 Valliere, 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 own 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 had been 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 insensibly so; 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 painting
implements, during Saint-Aignan's continued absence, Saint-Aignan on his
return noticed upon La Valliere'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 Valliere 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
Valliere 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 will be but very indifferently devoted 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 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 sighs, and looked at La Valliere with such a languishing
expression, that Malicorne said to Montalais during the evening:
"To-morrow." And he went off to the painter's house in the street of the
Jardins Saint-Paul to beg him to postpone the next sitting for a couple
of days. Saint-Aignan was not within, when La Valliere, who was now
quite familiar with the lower story, lifted up the trap-door 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 Valliere, 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 soft and pure, there 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 birds in their gilded prison.
The king, completely overcome, turned round his head and buried his
burning lips in La Valliere'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 Valliere 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 a
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 Valliere'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
reality of life, she arose in a state of utter bewilderment, though
beautiful in her disorder, saying: "Some one is waiting, for
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, "Concealed happiness ...
concealed power ... my pride should be 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 Valliere, who had
passed half-way 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 to-day, sire! Adieu, adieu!" she said, as she stooped down
once more to embrace her lover, and then 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 Valliere uttered a terrible shriek, and threw herself back.

"I am here, dear Louise," said Raoul, running toward her. "I knew but
too well that you had not ceased to love; me."

La Valliere, with a gesture, partly of extreme terror, and partly as if
invoking a curse, 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 toward the side of the room where the screen was, she exclaimed:
"Imprudent girl, she has not even closed the trap-door."

And she advanced toward the corner of the room to close the screen, and
also, behind the screen, the trap-door. 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, that 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
Valliere, hurried toward the door, too late, however, for Raoul was
already at a distance, and the king saw only a kind of shadow turning
the angle of the corridor.



CHAPTER XLVII.

TWO OLD FRIENDS.


While every one at court was busily engaged upon his own affairs, a man
mysteriously took up his post behind the Place de Greve, in the house
which we once saw besieged by D'Artagnan on the occasion of an _émeute_.
The principal entrance of this house was in the Place Baudoyer: it was
tolerably large, surrounded by gardens, inclosed in the street
Saint-Jean by the shops of tool-makers, which protected it from prying
looks, and was walled in by a triple rampart of stone, noise, and
verdure, like an embalmed mummy in its triple coffin. The man we have
just alluded to walked along with a firm step, although he was no longer
in his early prime. His dark cloak and long sword plainly revealed one
who seemed in search of adventures; and, judging from his curling
mustaches, his fine and smooth skin, which could be seen beneath his
sombrero, it would not have been difficult to pronounce that the
gallantry of his adventures was unquestionable. In fact, hardly had the
cavalier entered the house, when the clock struck eight; and ten minutes
afterward a lady, followed by a servant armed to the teeth, approached
and knocked at the same door, which an old woman immediately opened for
her. The lady raised her veil as she entered; though no longer beautiful
or young, she was still active, and of an imposing carriage. She
concealed, beneath a rich toilet and the most exquisite taste, an age
which Ninon de l'Enclos alone could have smiled at with impunity. Hardly
had she reached the vestibule, than the cavalier, whose features we have
only roughly sketched, advanced toward her, holding out his hand.

"Good day, my dear duchesse," he said.

"How do you do, my dear Aramis," replied the duchesse.

He led her to a most elegantly furnished apartment, on whose high
windows were reflected the expiring rays of the setting sun, which
filtered through the dark crests of some adjoining firs. They sat down
side by side. Neither of them thought of asking for additional light in
the room, and they buried themselves as it were in the shadow, as if
they wished to bury themselves in forgetfulness.

"Chevalier," said the duchesse, "you have never given me a single sign
of life since our interview at Fontainebleau, and I confess that your
presence there on the day of the Franciscan's death, and your initiation
in certain secrets, caused me the liveliest astonishment I ever
experienced in my whole life."

"I can explain my presence there to you, as well as my initiation," said
Aramis.

"But let us first of all," said the duchesse, "talk a little of
ourselves, for our friendship is by no means of recent date."

"Yes, madame; and if Heaven wills it, we shall continue to be friends, I
will not say for a long time, but forever."

"That is quite certain, chevalier, and my visit is proof of it."

"Our interests, duchesse, are no longer the same as they used to be,"
said Aramis, smiling without apprehension in the gloom in which the room
was cast, for it could not reveal that his smile was less agreeable and
less bright than formerly.

"No, chevalier, at the present day we have other interests. Every period
of life brings its own; and as we now understand each other in
conversing, as perfectly as we formerly did without saying a word, let
us talk, if you like."

"I am at your orders, duchesse. Ah! I beg your pardon, how did you
obtain my address, and what was your object?"

"You ask me why? I have told you. Curiosity in the first place. I wished
to know what you could have to do with the Franciscan, with whom I had
certain business transactions, and who died so singularly. You know that
on the occasion of our interview at Fontainebleau, in the cemetery, at
the foot of the grave so recently closed, we were both so much overcome
by our emotions that we omitted to confide to each other what we may
have had to say."

"Yes, madame."

"Well, then, I had no sooner left you than I repented, and have ever
since been most anxious to ascertain the truth. You know that Madame de
Longueville and myself are almost one, I suppose?"

"I am not aware," said Aramis, discreetly.

"I remembered, therefore," continued, the duchesse, "that neither of us
said anything to the other in the cemetery; that you did not speak of
the relationship in which you stood to the Franciscan, whose burial you
had superintended, and that I did not refer to the position in which I
stood to him; all which seemed very unworthy of two such old friends as
ourselves, and I have sought an opportunity of an interview with you in
order to give you some information that I have recently acquired, and to
assure you that Marie Michon, now no more, has left behind her one who
has preserved her recollection of events."

Aramis bowed over the duchesse's hand, and pressed his lips upon it.
"You must have had some trouble to find me again," he said.

"Yes," she answered, annoyed to find the subject taking a turn which
Aramis wished to give it: "but I knew you were a friend of M. Fouquet's,
and so I inquired in that direction."

"A friend! oh!" exclaimed the chevalier, "I can hardly pretend to be
that. A poor priest who has been favored by so generous a protector, and
whose heart is full of gratitude and devotion to him, is all that I
pretend to be to M. Fouquet."

"He made you a bishop?"

"Yes, duchesse."

"A very good retiring pension for so handsome a musketeer."

"Yes; in the same way that political intrigue is for yourself," thought
Aramis. "And so," he added, "you inquired after me at M. Fouquet's."

"Easily enough. You had been to Fontainebleau with him, and had
undertaken a voyage to your diocese, which is Belle-Isle-en-Mer, I
believe."

"No, madame," said Aramis. "My diocese is Vannes."

"I mean that. I only thought that Belle-Isle-en-Mer--"

"Is a property belonging to M. Fouquet, nothing more."

"Ah: I had been told that Belle-Isle was fortified; besides, I know how
great the military knowledge is you possess."

"I have forgotten everything of the kind since I entered the Church,"
said Aramis, annoyed.

"Suffice it to know that I learned you had returned from Vannes, and I
sent to one of our friends, M. le Comte de la Fere, who is discretion
itself, in order to ascertain it, but he answered that he was not aware
of your address."

"So like Athos," thought the bishop; "that which is actually good never
alters."

"Well, then, you know that I cannot venture to show myself here, and
that the queen-mother has always some grievance or other against me."

"Yes, indeed, and I am surprised at it."

"Oh! there are various reasons for it. But, to continue, being obliged
to conceal myself, I was fortunate enough to meet with M. d'Artagnan,
who was formerly one of your old friends, I believe?"

"A friend of mine still, duchesse."

"He gave me some information, and sent me to M. Baisemeaux, the governor
of the Bastille."

Aramis was somewhat agitated at this remark, and a light flashed from
his eyes in the darkness of the room, which he could not conceal from
his keen-sighted friend. "M. de Baisemeaux!" he said; "why did
D'Artagnan send you to M. de Baisemeaux?"

"I cannot tell you."

"What can this possibly mean?" said the bishop, summoning all the
resources of his mind to his aid, in order to carry on the combat in a
befitting manner.

"M. de Baisemeaux is greatly indebted to you, D'Artagnan told me."

"True, he is so."

"And the address of a creditor is as easily ascertained as that of a
debtor."

"Very true; and so Baisemeaux indicated to you--"

"Saint-Mandé, where I forwarded a letter to you."

"Which I have in my hand, and which is most precious to me," said
Aramis, "because I am indebted to it for the pleasure of seeing you
here." The duchesse, satisfied at having successfully alluded to the
various difficulties of so delicate an explanation, began to breathe
freely again, which Aramis, however, could not succeed in doing. "We had
got as far as your visit to M. Baisemeaux, I believe?"

"Nay," she said, laughing, "farther than that."

"In that case we must have been speaking about the grudge you have
against the queen-mother."

"Further still," she returned--"further still; we were talking of the
connection--"

"Which existed between you and the Franciscan," said Aramis,
interrupting her eagerly; "well, I am listening to you very
attentively."

"It is easily explained," returned the duchesse. "You know that I am
living at Brussels with M. de Laicques?"

"I have heard so."

"You know that my children have ruined and stripped me of everything."

"How terrible, dear duchesse."

"Terrible indeed; this obliged me to resort to some means of obtaining a
livelihood, and, particularly to avoid vegetating the remainder of my
existence away, I had old hatreds to turn to account, old friendships to
serve; I no longer had either credit or protectors."

"You, too, who had extended protection toward so many persons," said
Aramis, softly.

"It is always the case, chevalier. Well, at the present time I am in the
habit of seeing the king of Spain very frequently."

"Ah!"

"Who has just nominated a general of the Jesuits, according to the usual
custom."

"Is it usual, indeed?"

"Were you not aware of it?"

"I beg your pardon; I was inattentive."

"You must be aware of that--you who were on such good terms with the
Franciscan."

"With the general of the Jesuits, you mean?"

"Exactly. Well, then, I have seen the king of Spain, who wished to do me
a service, but was unable. He gave me recommendations, however, to
Flanders, both for myself and for Laicques too; and conferred a pension
on me out of the funds belonging to the order."

"Of Jesuits?"

"Yes. The general--I mean the Franciscan--was sent to me; and, for the
purpose of conforming with the requisitions of the statutes of the
order, and of entitling me to the pension, I was reputed to be in a
position to render certain services. You are aware that that is the
rule?"

"No, I did not know it," said Aramis.

Madame de Chevreuse paused to look at Aramis, but it was perfectly dark.
"Well, such is the rule, however," she resumed. "I ought, therefore, to
seem to possess a power of usefulness of some kind or other. I proposed
to travel for the order, and I was placed on the list of affiliated
travelers. You understand it was a formality, by means of which I
received my pension, which was very convenient for me."

"Good heavens! duchesse, what you tell me is like a dagger-thrust into
me. _You_ obliged to receive a pension from the Jesuits?"

"No, chevalier; from Spain."

"Except as a conscientious scruple, duchesse, you will admit that it is
pretty nearly the same thing."

"No, not at all."

"But, surely, of your magnificent fortune there must remain--"

"Dampierre is all that remains."

"And that is handsome enough."

"Yes; but Dampierre is burdened, mortgaged, and almost fallen to ruin,
like its owner."

"And can the queen-mother know and see all that, without shedding a
tear?" said Aramis, with a penetrating look, which encountered nothing
but the darkness.

"Yes, she has forgotten everything."

"You have, I believe, attempted to get restored to favor?"

"Yes; but, most singularly, the young king inherits the antipathy that
his dear father had for me. You will, too, tell me that I am indeed a
woman to be hated, and that I am no longer one who can be loved."

"Dear duchesse, pray arrive soon at the circumstance which brought you
here; for I think we can be of service to each other."

"Such has been my own thought. I came to Fontainebleau with a double
object in view. In the first place, I was summoned there by the
Franciscan whom you knew. By-the-by, how did you know him?--for I have
told you my story, and have not yet heard yours."

"I knew him in a very natural way, duchesse. I studied theology with him
at Parma. We became fast friends; and it happened, from time to time,
that business, or travels, or war, separated us from each other."

"You were, of course, aware that he was the general of the Jesuits?"

"I suspected it."

"But by what extraordinary chance did it happen that you were at the
hotel where the affiliated travelers had met together?"

"Oh!" said Aramis, in a calm voice, "it was the merest chance in the
world. I was going to Fontainebleau to see M. Fouquet, for the purpose
of obtaining an audience of the king. I was passing by, unknown; I saw
the poor dying monk in the road, and recognized him immediately. You
know the rest--he died in my arms."

"Yes; but bequeathing to you so vast a power, that you issue your
sovereign orders and directions like a monarch."

"He certainly did leave me a few commissions to settle."

"And for me?"

"I have told you--a sum of twelve thousand livres was to be paid to you.
I thought I had given you the necessary signature to enable you to
receive it. Did you not get the money?"

"Oh! yes, yes. You give your orders, I am informed, with so much
mystery, and such a majestic presence, that it is generally believed you
are the successor of the defunct chief."

Aramis colored impatiently, and the duchesse continued: "I have obtained
my information," she said, "from the king of Spain himself; and he
cleared up some of my doubts on the point. Every general of the Jesuits
is nominated by him, and must be a Spaniard, according to the statutes
of the order. You are not a Spaniard, nor have you been nominated by
the king of Spain."

Aramis did not reply to this remark, except to say, "You see, duchesse,
how greatly you were mistaken, since the king of Spain told you that."

"Yes, my dear Aramis; but there was something else which I have been
thinking of."

"What is that?"

"You know, I believe, something about most things; and it occurred to me
that you know the Spanish language."

"Every Frenchman who has been actively engaged in the Fronde knows
Spanish."

"You have lived in Flanders?"

"Three years."

"And have stayed at Madrid?"

"Fifteen months."

"You are in a position, then, to become a naturalized Spaniard, when you
like."

"Really?" said Aramis, with a frankness which deceived the duchesse.

"Undoubtedly. Two years' residence and an acquaintance with the language
are indispensable. You have upward of four years--more than double the
time necessary."

"What are you driving at, duchesse?"

"At this--I am on good terms with the king of Spain."

"And I am not on bad terms," thought Aramis to himself.

"Shall I ask the king," continued the duchesse, "to confer the
succession to the Franciscan's post upon you?"

"Oh, duchesse!"

"You have it already, perhaps?" she said.

"No, upon my honor."

"Very well, then, I can render you that service."

"Why did you not render the same service to M. de Laicques, duchesse? He
is a very talented man, and one you love, besides."

"Yes, no doubt; but, at all events, putting Laicques aside, will you
have it?"

"No, I thank you, duchesse."

She paused. "He is nominated," she thought; and then resumed aloud, "If
you refuse me in this manner, it is not very encouraging for me,
supposing I should have something to ask of you."

"Oh! ask, pray ask."

"Ask! I cannot do so, if you have not the power to grant what I want."

"However limited my power and ability, ask all the same."

"I need a sum of money to restore Dampierre."

"Ah!" replied Aramis, coldly--"money? Well, duchesse, how much would you
require?"

"Oh! a tolerably round sum."

"So much the worse--you know I am not rich."

"No, no; but the order is--and if you had been the general--"

"You know I am not the general, I think."

"In that case, you have a friend who must be very wealthy--M. Fouquet."

"Fouquet! He is more than half ruined, madame."

"So it is said, but I would not believe it."

"Why, duchesse?"

"Because I have, or rather Laicques has, certain letters in his
possession, from Cardinal Mazarin, which establish the existence of very
strange accounts."

"What accounts?"

"Relative to various sums of money borrowed and disposed of. I cannot
very distinctly remember what they are; but they establish the fact that
the surintendant, according to these letters, which are signed by
Mazarin, had taken thirty millions of francs from the coffers of the
state. The case is a very serious one."

Aramis clenched his hands in anxiety and apprehension. "Is it possible,"
he said, "that you have such letters as you speak of, and have not
communicated them to M. Fouquet?"

"Ah!" replied the duchesse, "I keep such little matters as these in
reserve. The day may come when they may be of service; and they can then
be withdrawn from the safe custody in which they now are."

"And that day has arrived?" said Aramis.

"Yes."

"And you are going to show those letters to M. Fouquet?"

"I prefer to talk about them with you, instead."

"You must be in sad want of money, my poor friend, to think of such
things as these--you, too, who held M. de Mazarin's prose effusions in
such indifferent esteem."

"The fact is, I am in want of money."

"And then," continued Aramis, in cold accents, "it must have been very
distressing to you to be obliged to have recourse to such a means. It is
cruel."

"Oh! if I had wished to do harm instead of good," said Madame de
Chevreuse, "instead of asking the general of the order, or M. Fouquet,
for the five hundred thousand francs I require--"

"Five hundred thousand francs!"

"Yes; no more. Do you think it much? I require at least as much as that
to restore Dampierre."

"Yes, madame."

"I say, therefore, that instead of asking for this amount, I should have
gone to see my old friend the queen-mother; the letters from her
husband, the Signor Mazarin, would have served me as an introduction,
and I should have begged this mere trifle of her, saying to her, 'I
wish, madame, to have the honor of receiving you at Dampierre. Permit me
to put Dampierre in a fit state for that purpose.'"

Aramis did not reply a single word. "Well," she said, "what are you
thinking about?"

"I am making certain additions," said Aramis.

"And M. Fouquet subtractions. I, on the other hand, am trying the art of
multiplication. What excellent calculators we are! How well we could
understand one another!"

"Will you allow me to reflect?" said Aramis.

"No, for with such an opening between people like ourselves, 'yes,' or
'no,' is the only answer, and that an immediate one."

"It is a snare," thought the bishop; "it is impossible that Anne of
Austria could listen to such a woman as this."

"Well!" said the duchesse.

"Well, madame, I should be very much astonished if M. Fouquet had five
hundred thousand francs at his disposal at the present moment."

"It is no use speaking of it, then," said the duchesse, "and Dampierre
must get restored how it can."

"Oh! you are not embarrassed to such an extent as that, I suppose."

"No; I am never embarrassed."

"And the queen," continued the bishop, "will certainly do for you what
the surintendant is unable to do."

"Oh! certainly. But tell me, do you not think it would be better that I
should speak, myself, to M. Fouquet about these letters?"

"Nay, duchesse, you will do precisely whatever you please in that
respect. M. Fouquet either feels, or does not feel himself to be guilty;
if he really be so, I know he is proud enough not to confess it; if he
be not so, he will be exceedingly offended at your menace."

"As usual, you reason like an angel," said the duchesse, as she rose
from her seat.

"And so, you are now going to denounce M. Fouquet to the queen," said
Aramis.

"'Denounce!' Oh! what a disagreeable word. I shall not 'denounce,' my
dear friend; you now know matters of policy too well to be ignorant how
easily these affairs are arranged, I shall merely side against M.
Fouquet, and nothing more; and, in a war of party against party, a
weapon of attack is always a weapon."

"No doubt."

"And once on friendly terms again with the queen-mother, I may be
dangerous toward some persons."

"You are at perfect liberty to be so, duchesse."

"A liberty of which I shall avail myself."

"You are not ignorant, I suppose, duchesse, that M. Fouquet is on the
best terms with the king of Spain."

"I suppose so."

"If, therefore, you begin a party warfare against M. Fouquet, he will
reply in the same way; for he, too, is at perfect liberty to do so, is
he not?"

"Oh! certainly."

"And as he is on good terms with Spain, he will make use of that
friendship as a weapon of attack."

"You mean, that he will be on good terms with the general of the order
of the Jesuits, my dear Aramis."

"That may be the case, duchesse."

"And that, consequently, the pension I have been receiving from the
order will be stopped."

"I am greatly afraid it might be."

"Well; I must contrive to console myself in the best way I can; for
after Richelieu, after the Frondes, after exile, what is there left for
Madame de Chevreuse to be afraid of?"

"The pension, you are aware, is forty-eight thousand francs."

"Alas! I am quite aware of it."

"Moreover, in party contests, you know, the friends of the enemy do not
escape."

"Ah! you mean that poor Laicques will have to suffer."

"I am afraid it is almost inevitable, duchesse."

"Oh! he only receives twelve thousand francs pension."

"Yes, but the king of Spain has some influence left; advised by M.
Fouquet he might get M. Laicques shut up in prison for a little while."

"I am not very nervous on that point, my dear friend; because, thanks to
a reconciliation with Anne of Austria, I will undertake that France
should insist upon M. Laicques' liberation."

"True. In that case, you will have something else to apprehend."

"What can that be?" said the duchesse, pretending to be surprised and
terrified.

"You will learn; indeed, you must know it already, that having once been
an affiliated member of the order, it is not easy to leave it; for the
secrets that any particular member may have acquired are unwholesome,
and carry with them the germs of misfortune for whoever may reveal
them."

The duchesse paused and reflected for a moment, and then said, "That is
more serious, I will think over it."

And, notwithstanding the profound obscurity, Aramis seemed to feel a
burning glance, like a hot iron, escape from his friend's eyes, and
plunge into his heart.

"Let us recapitulate," said Aramis, determined to keep himself on his
guard, and gliding his hand into his breast, where he had a dagger
concealed.

"Exactly, let us recapitulate; good accounts make good friends."

"The suppression of your pension--"

"Forty-eight thousand francs, and that of Laicques twelve, make,
together, sixty thousand francs; that is what you mean, I suppose?"

"Precisely; and I was trying to find out what would be your equivalent
for that."

"Five hundred thousand francs, which I shall get from the queen."

"Or which you will not get."

"I know a means of procuring them," said the duchesse, thoughtlessly.

This remark made the chevalier prick up his ears; and from the moment
his adversary had committed this error, his mind was so thoroughly on
its guard that he seemed every moment to gain the advantage more and
more; and she, consequently, to lose it. "I will admit, for argument's
sake, that you obtain the money," he resumed; "you will lose the double
of it, having a hundred thousand francs' pension to receive instead of
sixty thousand, and that for a period of ten years."

"Not so, for I shall only be subjected to this reduction of my income
during the period of M. Fouquet's remaining in power, a period which I
estimate at two months."

"Ah!" said Aramis.

"I am frank, you see."

"I thank you for it, duchesse; but you would be wrong to suppose that
after M. Fouquet's disgrace the order would resume the payment of your
pension."

"I know a means of making the order pay, as I know a means of forcing
the queen-mother to concede what I require."

"In that case, duchesse, we are all obliged to strike our flags to you.
The victory is yours, and the triumph also is yours. Be clement, I
entreat you."

"But is it possible," resumed the duchesse, without taking notice of the
irony, "that you really draw back from a miserable sum of five hundred
thousand francs when it is a question of sparing you--I mean your
friend--I beg your pardon, I ought rather to say your protector--the
disagreeable consequences which a party contest produces?"

"Duchesse, I will tell you why; supposing the five hundred thousand
francs were to be given you, M. Laicques will require his share, which
will be another five hundred thousand francs, I presume? and then, after
M. de Laicques, and your own portions have been arranged, the portions
which your children, your poor pensioners, and various other persons
will require, will start up as fresh claims; and these letters, however
compromising they may be in their nature, are not worth from three to
four millions. Can you have forgotten the queen of France's
diamonds?--they were surely worth more than these bits of waste-paper
signed by Mazarin, and yet their recovery did not cost a fourth part of
what you ask for yourself."

"Yes, that is true; but the merchant values his goods at his own price,
and it is for the purchaser to buy or refuse."

"Stay a moment, duchesse; would you like me to tell you why I will not
buy your letters?"

"Pray tell me."

"Because the letters you say are Mazarin's are false."

"What an absurdity!"

"I have no doubt of it, for it would, to say the least, be very
singular, that after you had quarreled with the queen through M.
Mazarin's means, you should have kept up any intimate acquaintance with
the latter; it would look as if you had been acting as a spy; and upon
my word, I do not like to make use of the word."

"Oh! pray say it."

"Your great complaisance would seem very suspicious, at all events."

"That is quite true; but what is not less so is that which the letter
contains."

"I pledge you my word, duchesse, that you will not be able to make use
of it with the queen."

"Oh! yes, indeed: I can make use of everything with the queen."

"Very good," thought Aramis. "Croak on, old owl--hiss, viper that you
are!"

But the duchesse had said enough, and advanced a few steps toward the
door. Aramis, however, had reserved an exposure which she did not
expect--the imprecation of the slave behind the car of the conqueror. He
rang the bell, candles immediately appeared in the adjoining room, and
the bishop found himself completely encircled by lights, which shone
upon the worn, haggard face of the duchesse, revealing every feature but
too clearly. Aramis fixed a long and ironical look upon her pale, thin,
withered cheeks--upon her dim, dull eyes--and upon her lips, which she
kept carefully closed over her blackened and scanty teeth. He, however,
had thrown himself into a graceful attitude, with his haughty and
intelligent head thrown back; he smiled so as to reveal his teeth, which
were still brilliant and dazzling. The old coquette understood the trick
that had been played her. She was standing immediately before a large
mirror, in which her decrepitude, so carefully concealed, was only made
more manifest. And, thereupon, without even saluting Aramis, who bowed
with the ease and grace of the musketeer of early days, she hurried away
with trembling steps, which her very precipitation only the more
impeded. Aramis sprang across the room like a zephyr to lead her to the
door. Madame de Chevreuse made a sign to her servant, who resumed his
musket, and she left the house where such tender friends had not been
able to understand each other, only because they had understood each
other too well.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

WHEREIN MAY BE SEEN THAT A BARGAIN WHICH CANNOT BE MADE WITH ONE PERSON
CAN BE CARRIED OUT WITH ANOTHER.


Aramis had been perfectly correct in his supposition; for hardly had she
left the house in the Place Baudoyer, than Madame de Chevreuse proceeded
homeward. She was, doubtless, afraid of being followed, and by this
means thought she might succeed in throwing those who might be following
her off their guard; but scarcely had she arrived within the door of the
hotel, and hardly had assured herself that no one who could cause her
any uneasiness was on her track, when she opened the door of the garden,
leading into another street, and hurried toward the Rue Croix des Petits
Champs, where M. Colbert resided.

We have already said that evening, or rather night, had closed in; it
was a dark, thick night, besides; Paris had once more sunk into its
calm, quiescent state, enshrouding alike within its indulgent mantle the
high-born duchesse carrying out her political intrigue, and the simple
citizen's wife, who, having been detained late by a supper in the city,
was making her way slowly homeward, hanging on the arm of a lover, by
the shortest possible route. Madame de Chevreuse had been too well
accustomed to nocturnal political intrigues to be ignorant that a
minister never denies himself, even at his own private residence, to any
young and beautiful woman who may chance to object to the dust and
confusion of a public office, or to old women, as full of experience as
of years, who dislike the indiscreet echo of official residences. A
valet received the duchesse under the peristyle, and received her, it
must be admitted, with some indifference of manner; he intimated, after
having looked at her face, that it was hardly at such an hour that one
so advanced in years as herself could be permitted to disturb Monsieur
Colbert's important occupations.

But Madame de Chevreuse, without feeling or appearing to be annoyed,
wrote her name upon a leaf of her tablets--a name which had but too
frequently sounded so disagreeably in the ears of Louis XIII. and of the
great cardinal. She wrote her name in the large, ill-formed characters
of the higher classes of that period, folded the paper in a manner
peculiarly her own, handed it to the valet without uttering a word, but
with so haughty and imperious a gesture, that the fellow, well
accustomed to judge of people from their manners and appearance,
perceived at once the quality of the person before him, bowed his head,
and ran to M. Colbert's room. The minister could not control a sudden
exclamation as he opened the paper; and the valet, gathering from it the
interest with which his master regarded the mysterious visitor, returned
as fast as he could to beg the duchesse to follow him. She ascended to
the first floor of the beautiful new house very slowly, rested herself
on the landing-place, in order not to enter the apartment out of breath,
and appeared before M. Colbert, who, with his own hands, held both the
folding doors open. The duchesse paused at the threshold, for the
purpose of well-studying the character of the man with whom she was
about to converse. At the first glance, the round, large, heavy head,
thick brows, and ill-favored features of Colbert, who wore, thrust low
down on his head, a cap like a priest's _calotte_, seemed to indicate
that but little difficulty was likely to be met with in her negotiations
with him, but also that she was to expect as little interest in the
discussion of particulars; for there was scarcely any indication that
the rough and uncouth nature of the man was susceptible to the impulses
of a refined revenge, or of an exalted ambition. But when, on closer
inspection, the duchesse perceived the small piercingly black eyes, the
longitudinal wrinkles of his high and massive forehead, the
imperceptible twitching of the lips, on which were apparent traces of
rough good humor, Madame de Chevreuse altered her opinion of him, and
felt she could say to herself: "I have found the man I want."

"What is the subject, madame, which procures me the honor of a visit
from you?" he inquired.

"The need I have of you, monsieur," returned the duchesse, "as well as
that which you have of me."

"I am delighted, madame, with the first portion of your sentence; but,
as far as the second portion is concerned--"

Madame de Chevreuse sat down in the armchair which M. Colbert advanced
toward her. "Monsieur Colbert, you are the intendant of finances, and
are ambitious of becoming the surintendant?"

"Madame!"

"Nay, do not deny it; that would only unnecessarily prolong our
conversation, and that is useless."

"And yet, madame, however well disposed and inclined to show politeness
I may be toward a lady of your position and merit, nothing will make me
confess that I have ever entertained the idea of supplanting my
superior."

"I said nothing about supplanting, Monsieur Colbert. Could I
accidentally have made use of that word? I hardly think that likely. The
word 'replace' is less aggressive in its signification, and more
grammatically suitable, as M. de Voiture would say. I presume,
therefore, that you are ambitious of replacing M. Fouquet."

"M. Fouquet's fortune, madame, enables him to withstand all attempts.
The surintendant in this age plays the part of the Colossus of Rhodes;
the vessels pass beneath him and do not overthrow him."

"I ought to have availed myself precisely of that very comparison. It is
true. M. Fouquet plays the part of the Colossus of Rhodes; but I
remember to have heard it said by M. Conrart, a member of the Academy, I
believe, that when the Colossus of Rhodes fell from its lofty position,
the merchant who had cast it down--a merchant, nothing more, M.
Colbert--loaded four hundred camels with the ruins. A merchant! and that
is considerably less than an intendant of finances."

"Madame, I can assure you that I shall never overthrow Monsieur
Fouquet."

"Very good, Monsieur Colbert, since you persist in showing so much
sensitiveness with me, as if you were ignorant that I am Madame de
Chevreuse, and also that I am somewhat advanced in years; in other
words, that you have to do with a woman who has had political dealings
with the Cardinal de Richelieu, and who has no time to lose; as, I
repeat, you do not hesitate to commit such an imprudence, I shall go and
find others who are more intelligent and more desirous of making their
fortunes."

"How, madame, how?"

"You give me a very poor idea of negotiators of the present day. I
assure you that if, in my earlier days, a woman had gone to M. de
Cinq-Mars, who was not, moreover, a man of very high order of intellect,
and had said to him about the cardinal what I have just now said to you
of M. Fouquet, M. de Cinq-Mars would by this time have already set
actively to work."

"Nay, madame, show a little indulgence, I entreat you."

"Well, then, you do really consent to replace M. Fouquet?"

"Certainly, I do, if the king dismisses M. Fouquet."

"Again a word too much; it is quite evident that if you have not yet
succeeded in driving M. Fouquet from his post, it is because you have
not been able to do so. Therefore, I should be the greatest simpleton
possible if, in coming to you, I did not bring you the very thing you
require."

"I am distressed to be obliged to persist, madame," said Colbert, after
a silence which enabled the duchesse to sound the depth of his
dissimulation, "but I must warn you that for the last six years
denunciation after denunciation has been made against M. Fouquet, and he
has remained unshaken and unaffected by them."

"There is a time for everything, Monsieur Colbert; those who were the
authors of those denunciations were not called Madame de Chevreuse, and
they had no proofs equal to the six letters from M. de Mazarin which
establish the offense in question."

"The offense!"

"The crime, if you like it better."

"The crime! committed by M. Fouquet!"

"Nothing less. It is rather strange, M. Colbert, but your face, which
just now was cold and indifferent, is now positively the very reverse."

"A crime!"

"I am delighted to see it makes an impression upon you."

"It is because that word, madame, embraces so many things."

"It embraces the post of surintendant of finance for yourself, and a
letter of exile, or the Bastille, for M. Fouquet."

"Forgive me, Madame la Duchesse, but it is almost impossible that M.
Fouquet can be exiled; to be imprisoned or disgraced, that is already a
great deal."

"Oh, I am perfectly aware of what I am saying," returned Madame de
Chevreuse, coldly. "I do not live at such a distance from Paris as not
to know what takes place there. The king does not like M. Fouquet, and
he would willingly sacrifice M. Fouquet if an opportunity were only
given him."

"It must be a good one, though."

"Good enough, and one I estimate to be worth five hundred thousand
francs."

"In what way?" said Colbert.

"I mean, monsieur, that holding this opportunity in my own hands, I will
not allow it to be transferred to yours except for a sum of five hundred
thousand francs."

"I understand you perfectly, madame. But since you have fixed a price
for the sale, let me now see the value of the articles to be sold."

"Oh, a mere trifle; six letters, as I have already told you, from M. de
Mazarin; and the autographs will most assuredly not be regarded as too
highly priced, if they establish, in an irrefutable manner, that M.
Fouquet has embezzled large sums of money from the treasury and
appropriated them to his own purposes."

"In an irrefutable manner, do you say?" observed Colbert, whose eyes
sparkled with delight.

"Perfectly so; would you like to read the letters?"

"With all my heart! Copies, of course?"

"Of course, the copies," said the duchesse, as she drew from her bosom a
small packet of papers, flattened by her velvet bodice. "Read," she
said.

Colbert eagerly snatched the papers and devoured them.

"Excellent!" he said.

"It is clear enough, is it not?"

"Yes, madame, yes; M. Mazarin must have handed the money to M. Fouquet,
who must have kept it for his own purposes; but the question is, what
money?"

"Exactly--what money; if we come to terms, I will join to these six
letters a seventh, which will supply you with the fullest particulars."

Colbert reflected. "And the originals of these letters?"

"A useless question to ask; exactly as if I were to ask you, Monsieur
Colbert, whether the money-bags you will give me will be full or empty."

"Very good, madame."

"Is it concluded?"

"No; for there is one circumstance to which neither of us has given any
attention."

"Name it?"

"M. Fouquet can be utterly ruined, under the circumstances you have
detailed, only by means of legal proceedings."

"Well?"

"A public scandal, for instance; and yet neither the legal proceedings
nor the scandal can be commenced against him."

"Why not?"

"Because he is procureur-general of the parliament; because, too, in
France, all public administrations, the army, justice itself, and
commerce, are intimately connected by ties of good fellowship, which
people call _esprit de corps_. In such a case, madame, the parliament
will never permit its chief to be dragged before a public tribunal; and
never, even if he be dragged there by royal authority, never, I say,
will he be condemned."

"Well, Monsieur Colbert, I do not see what I have to do with that."

"I am aware of that, madame; but I have to do with it, and it
consequently diminishes the value of what you have brought to show me.
What good can a proof of crime be to me, without the possibility of
obtaining a condemnation?"

"Even if he be only suspected, M. Fouquet will lose his post of
surintendant."

"Is that all!" exclaimed Colbert, whose dark, gloomy features were
momentarily lighted up by an expression of hate and vengeance.

"Ah, ah! Monsieur Colbert," said the duchesse, "forgive me, but I did
not think you were so impressionable. Very good; in that case, since you
need more than I have to give you, there is no occasion to speak of the
matter at all."

"Yes, madame, we will go on talking of it; only as the value of your
commodities has decreased, you must lower your pretensions."

"You are bargaining, then?"

"Every man who wishes to deal loyally is obliged to do so."

"How much will you offer me?"

"Two hundred thousand francs," said Colbert.

The duchesse laughed in his face, and then said suddenly, "Wait a
moment, I have another arrangement to propose: will you give me three
hundred thousand francs?"

"No, no."

"Oh, you can either accept or refuse my terms; besides, that is not
all."

"More still! you are becoming too impracticable to deal with, madame."

"Less so than you think, perhaps, for it is not money I am going to ask
you for."

"What is it, then?"

"A service; you know that I have always been most affectionately
attached to the queen, and I am desirous of having an interview with her
majesty."

"With the queen?"

"Yes, Monsieur Colbert, with the queen, who is, I admit, no longer my
friend, and who has ceased to be so for a long time past, but who may
again become so if the opportunity be only given her."

"Her majesty has ceased to receive any one, madame. She is a great
sufferer, and you may be aware that the paroxysms of her disease occur
with greater frequency than ever."

"That is the very reason why I wish to have an interview with her
majesty; for in Flanders there is a great variety of these kind of
complaints."

"What, cancers--a fearful, incurable disorder?"

"Do not believe that, Monsieur Colbert. The Flemish peasant is somewhat
a man of nature, and his companion for life is not alone a wife, but a
female laborer also; for while he is smoking his pipe, the woman works:
it is she who draws the water from the well; she who loads the mule or
the ass, and even bears herself a portion of the burden. Taking but
little care of herself, she gets knocked about, first in one direction,
and then in another, and very often is beaten by her husband, and
cancers frequently arise from contusions."

"True, true," said Colbert.

"The Flemish women do not die the sooner on that account. When they are
great sufferers from this disease they go in search of remedies, and the
Béguines of Bruges are excellent doctors for every kind of disease. They
have precious waters of one sort or another; specifics of various kinds;
and they give a bottle of it and a wax candle to the sufferer, whereby
the priests are gainers, and Heaven is served by the disposal of both
their wares. I will take the queen some of this holy water, which I will
procure from the Béguines of Bruges; her majesty will recover, and will
burn as many wax candles as she may think fit. You see, Monsieur
Colbert, to prevent my seeing the queen is almost as bad as committing
the crime of regicide."

"You are, undoubtedly, Madame la Duchesse, a woman of exceedingly great
abilities, and I am more than astounded at their display; still I cannot
but suppose that this charitable consideration toward the queen in some
measure covers a slight personal interest for yourself."

"I have not given myself the trouble to conceal it, that I am aware of,
Monsieur Colbert. You said, I believe, that I had a slight personal
interest? On the contrary, it is a very great interest, and I will prove
it to you, by resuming what I was saying. If you procure me a personal
interview with her majesty, I will be satisfied with the three hundred
thousand francs I have claimed: if not, I shall keep my letters, unless,
indeed, you give me, on the spot, five hundred thousand francs for
them."

And, rising from her seat with this decisive remark, the old duchesse
plunged M. Colbert into a disagreeable perplexity. To bargain any
further was out of the question; and not to bargain was to pay a great
deal too dearly for them. "Madame," he said, "I shall have the pleasure
of handing you over a hundred thousand crowns; but how shall I get the
actual letters themselves?"

"In the simplest manner in the world, my dear Monsieur Colbert--whom
will you trust?"

The financier began to laugh silently, so that his large eyebrows went
up and down like the wings of a bat, upon the deep lines of his yellow
forehead. "No one," he said.

"You surely will make an exception in your own favor, Monsieur Colbert?"

"In what way, madame?"

"I mean that if you would take the trouble to accompany me to the place
where the letters are, they would be delivered into your own hands, and
you would be able to verify and check them."

"Quite true."

"You would bring the hundred thousand crowns with you at the same time,
for I, too, do not trust any one?"

Colbert colored to the tips of his ears. Like all eminent men in the art
of figures, he was of an insolent and mathematical probity. "I will take
with me, madame," he said, "two orders for the amount agreed upon,
payable at my treasury. Will that satisfy you?"

"Would that the orders on your treasury were for two millions, Monsieur
l'Intendant! I shall have the pleasure of showing you the way, then?"

"Allow me to order my carriage."

"I have a carriage below, monsieur."

Colbert coughed like an irresolute man. He imagined, for a moment, that
the proposition of the duchesse was a snare; that perhaps some one was
waiting at the door; and that she, whose secret had just been sold to
Colbert for a hundred thousand crowns, had already offered it to Fouquet
for the same sum. As he still hesitated a good deal, the duchesse looked
at him full in the face.

"You prefer your own carriage?" she said.

"I admit that I do."

"You suppose that I am going to lead you into a snare or trap of some
sort or other?"

"Madame la Duchesse, you have the character of being somewhat
inconsiderate at times, and, as I am clothed in a sober, solemn
character, a jest or practical joke might compromise me."

"Yes; the fact is, you are afraid. Well, then, take your own carriage,
as many servants as you like, only think well of what I am going to say.
What we two may arrange between us, we are the only persons who know it;
if a third had witnessed, we might as well have told the whole world of
it. After all, I do not make a point of it; my carriage shall follow
yours, and I shall be satisfied to accompany you in your own carriage to
the queen."

"To the queen!"

"Have you forgotten that already? Is it possible that one of the clauses
of the agreement of so much importance to me, can have escaped you
already? How trifling it seems to you, indeed; if I had known it I
should have asked double what I have done."

"I have reflected, madame, and I shall not accompany you."

"Really--and why not?"

"Because I have the most perfect confidence in you."

"You overpower me. But provided I receive the hundred thousand crowns?"

"Here they are, madame," said Colbert, scribbling a few lines on a piece
of paper, which he handed to the duchesse, adding, "You are paid."

"The trait is a fine one, Monsieur Colbert, and I will reward you for
it," she said, beginning to laugh.

Madame de Chevreuse's laugh was a very sinister sound; every man who
feels youth, faith, love, life itself, throbbing in his heart, would
prefer tears to such a lamentable laugh. The duchesse opened the front
of her dress and drew forth from her bosom, somewhat less white than it
once had been, a small packet of papers, tied with a flame-colored
ribbon, and, still laughing, she said, "There, Monsieur Colbert, are the
originals of Cardinal Mazarin's letters; they are now your own
property," she added, re-fastening the body of her dress; "your fortune
is secured, and now accompany me to the queen."

"No, madame; if you are again about to run the chance of her majesty's
displeasure, and it were known at the Palais Royal that I had been the
means of introducing you there, the queen would never forgive me while
she lived. No; there are certain persons at the palace who are devoted
to me, who will procure you an admission without my being compromised."

"Just as you please, provided I enter."

"What do you term those religious women at Bruges who cure disorders?"

"Béguines."

"Good; you are one."

"As you please, but I must soon cease to be one."

"That is your affair."

"Excuse me, but I do not wish to be exposed to a refusal."

"That is again your own affair, madame. I am going to give directions to
the head valet of the gentlemen in waiting on her majesty to allow
admission to a Beguine, who brings an effectual remedy for her majesty's
sufferings. You are the bearer of my letter, you will undertake to be
provided with the remedy, and will give every explanation on the
subject. I admit a knowledge of a Beguine, but I deny all knowledge of
Madame de Chevreuse. Here, madame, then, is your letter of
introduction."



CHAPTER XLIX.

THE SKIN OF THE BEAR.


Colbert handed the duchesse the letter, and gently drew aside the chair
behind which she was standing; Madame de Chevreuse, with a very slight
bow, immediately left the room. Colbert, who had recognized Mazarin's
handwriting and had counted the letters, rang to summon his secretary,
whom he enjoined to go in immediate search of M. Vanel, a counselor of
the parliament. The secretary replied that, according to his usual
practice, M. Vanel had just that moment entered the house, in order to
render to the intendant an account of the principal details of the
business which had been transacted during the day in the sitting of the
parliament. Colbert approached one of the lamps, read the letters of the
deceased cardinal over again, smiled repeatedly as he recognized the
great value of the papers Madame de Chevreuse had just delivered to him,
and burying his head in his hands for a few minutes, reflected
profoundly. In the meantime, a tall, large-made man entered the room;
his spare, thin face, steady look, and hooked nose, as he entered
Colbert's cabinet, with a modest assurance of manner, revealed a
character at once supple and decided--supple toward the master who could
throw him the prey, firm toward the dogs who might possibly be disposed
to dispute it with him. M. Vanel carried a voluminous bundle of papers
under his arm, and placed it on the desk on which Colbert was leaning
both his elbows, as he supported his head.

"Good-day, M. Vanel," said the latter, rousing himself from his
meditation.

"Good-day, monseigneur," said Vanel, naturally.

"You should say monsieur, and not monseigneur," replied Colbert, gently.

"We give the title of monseigneur to ministers," returned Vanel, with
extreme self-possession, "and you are a minister."

"Not yet."

"You are so in point of fact, and I call you monseigneur accordingly;
besides, you are my seigneur for me, and that is sufficient; if you
dislike my calling you monseigneur before others, allow me, at least, to
call you so in private."

Colbert raised his head as if to read, or to try to read, upon Vanel's
face how much actual sincerity entered into this protestation of
devotion. But the counselor knew perfectly well how to sustain the
weight of his look, even were it armed with the full authority of the
title he had conferred. Colbert sighed; he could not read anything in
Vanel's face, and Vanel might possibly be honest in his profession, but
Colbert recollected that this man, inferior to himself in every other
respect, was actually his superior through the fact of his having a wife
unfaithful to him. At the moment he was pitying this man's lot, Vanel
coldly drew from his pocket a perfumed letter, sealed with Spanish wax,
and held it toward Colbert saying, "A letter from my wife, monseigneur."

Colbert coughed, took, opened, and read the letter, and then put it
carefully away in his pocket, while Vanel turned over the leaves of the
papers he had brought with him with an unmoved and unconcerned air.
"Vanel," he said suddenly to his protégé, "you are a hard-working man,
I know; would twelve hours' daily labor frighten you?"

"I work fifteen hours every day."

"Impossible. A counselor need not work more than three hours a day in
the parliament."

"Oh! I am working up some returns for a friend of mine in the department
of accounts, and, as I still have time left on my hands, I am studying
Hebrew."

"Your reputation stands high in the parliament, Vanel."

"I believe so, monseigneur."

"You must not grow rusty in your post of counselor."

"What must I do to avoid it?"

"Purchase a high place. Mean and low ambitions are very difficult to
satisfy."

"Small purses are the most difficult to fill, monseigneur."

"What post have you in view?" said Colbert.

"I see none--not one."

"There is one, certainly, but one need be almost the king himself to be
able to buy it without inconvenience! and the king will not be inclined,
I suppose, to purchase the post of procureur-general."

At these words, Vanel fixed his at once humble and dull look upon
Colbert, who could hardly tell whether Vanel had comprehended him or
not. "Why do you speak to me, monseigneur," said Vanel, "of the post of
procureur-general to the parliament; I know no other post than the one
M. Fouquet fills."

"Exactly so, my dear counselor."

"You are not over fastidious, monseigneur; but before the post can be
bought, it must be offered for sale."

"I believe, Monsieur Vanel, that it will be for sale before long."

"For sale! What, M. Fouquet's post of procureur-general?"

"So it is said."

"The post which renders him so perfectly inviolable, for sale! Oh! oh!"
said Vanel, beginning to laugh.

"Would you be afraid, then, of the post?" said Colbert, gravely.

"Afraid! no, but--"

"Nor desirous of obtaining it?"

"You are laughing at me, monseigneur," replied Vanel; "is it likely that
a counselor of the parliament would not be desirous of becoming
procureur-general?"

"Well, Monsieur Vanel, since I tell you that the post, as report goes,
will be shortly for sale--"

"I cannot help repeating, monseigneur, that it is impossible; a man
never throws away the buckler, behind which he maintains his honor, his
fortune, his very life."

"There are certain men mad enough, Vanel, to fancy themselves out of the
reach of all mischances."

"Yes, monseigneur; but such men never commit their mad acts for the
advantage of the poor Vanels of the world."

"Why not?"

"For the very reason that those Vanels are poor."

"It is true that M. Fouquet's post might cost a good round sum. What
would you bid for it, Monsieur Vanel?"

"Everything I am worth."

"Which means?"

"Three or four hundred thousand francs."

"And the post is worth--"

"A million and a half at the very lowest. I know persons who have
offered one million seven hundred thousand francs, without being able to
persuade M. Fouquet to sell. Besides, supposing it were to happen that
M. Fouquet wished to sell, which I do not believe, in spite of what I
have been told--"

"Ah! you have heard something about it, then; who told you?"

"M. de Gourville, M. Pellisson, and others."

"Very good; if, therefore, M. Fouquet did wish to sell--"

"I could not buy it just yet, since the surintendant will only sell for
ready money, and no one has a million and a half to throw down at once."

Colbert suddenly interrupted the counselor by an imperious gesture; he
had begun to meditate. Observing his superior's serious attitude, and
his perseverance in continuing the conversation on this subject, Vanel
awaited the solution without venturing to precipitate it. "Explain fully
to me the privileges which this post confers."

"The right of impeaching every French subject who is not a prince of the
blood; the right of quashing all proceedings taken against any Frenchman
who is neither king nor prince. The procureur-general is the king's
right hand to punish the guilty; he is the means whereby also he can
evade the administration of justice. M. Fouquet, therefore, will be
able, by stirring up the parliaments, to maintain himself even against
the king; and the king could as easily, by humoring M. Fouquet, get his
edicts registered in spite of every opposition and objection. The
procureur-generalship can be made a very useful or very dangerous
instrument."

"Vanel, would you like to be procureur-general?" said Colbert, suddenly,
softening both his look and his voice.

"I!" exclaimed the latter; "I have already had the honor to represent to
you that I want about eleven hundred thousand francs to make up the
amount."

"Borrow that sum from your friends."

"I have no friends richer than myself."

"You are an honest and honorable man, Vanel."

"Ah! monseigneur, if the world were to think as you do!"

"I think so, and that is quite enough; and if it should be needed, I
will be your security."

"Do you forget the proverb, monseigneur?"

"What is that?"

"That he who becomes responsible for another has to pay for his
responsibility."

"Let that make no difference."

Vanel rose, quite bewildered by this offer, which had been so suddenly
and unexpectedly made to him. "You are not trifling with me,
monseigneur?" he said.

"Stay; you say that M. Gourville has spoken to you about M. Fouquet's
post?"

"Yes, and M. Pellisson also."

"Officially so, or only by their own suggestion?"

"These were their very words: 'These parliamentary people are as proud
as they are wealthy; they ought to club together two or three millions
among themselves, to present to their protector and great luminary, M.
Fouquet.'"

"And what did you reply?"

"I said that, for my own part, I would give ten thousand francs if
necessary."

"Ah! you like M. Fouquet, then!" exclaimed Colbert, with a look full of
hatred.

"No; but M. Fouquet is our chief. He is in debt--is on the high road to
ruin; and we ought to save the honor of the body of which we are
members."

"Exactly; and that explains why M. Fouquet will be always safe and
sound, so long as he occupies his present post," replied Colbert.

"Thereupon," said Vanel, "M. Gourville added, 'If we were to do anything
out of charity to M. Fouquet, it could not be otherwise than most
humiliating to him: and he would be sure to refuse it. Let the
parliament subscribe among themselves to purchase, in a proper manner,
the post of procureur-general; in that case all would go on well; the
honor of our body would be saved, and M. Fouquet's pride spared.'"

"That is an opening."

"I considered it so, monseigneur."

"Well, Monsieur Vanel, you will go at once, and find out either M.
Gourville or M. Pellisson. Do you know any other friend of M. Fouquet?"

"I know M. de la Fontaine very well."

"La Fontaine, the rhymester?"

"Yes, he used to write verses to my wife, when M. Fouquet was one of our
friends."

"Go to him, then, and try and procure an interview with the
surintendant."

"Willingly--but the sum itself?"

"On the day and hour you arrange to settle the matter, Monsieur Vanel,
you shall be supplied with the money; so do not make yourself uneasy on
that account."

"Monseigneur, such munificence! You eclipse kings even--you surpass M.
Fouquet himself."

"Stay a moment--do not let us mistake each other. I do not make you a
present of fourteen hundred thousand francs, Monsieur Vanel; for I have
children to provide for--but I will lend you that sum."

"Ask whatever interest, whatever security you please, monseigneur; I am
quite ready. And when all your requisitions are satisfied, I will still
repeat, that you surpass kings and M. Fouquet in munificence. What
conditions do you impose?"

"The repayment in eight years, and a mortgage upon the appointment
itself."

"Certainly. Is that all?"

"Wait a moment. I reserve to myself the right of purchasing the post
from you at one hundred and fifty thousand francs profit for yourself,
if, in your mode of filling the office, you do not follow out a line of
conduct in conformity with the interests of the king and with my
projects."

"Ah! ah!" said Vanel, in a slightly altered tone.

"Is there anything in that which can possibly be objectionable to you,
Monsieur Vanel?" said Colbert, coldly.

"Oh! no, no!" replied Vanel, quickly.

"Very good. We will sign an agreement to that effect whenever you like.
And now, go as quickly as you can to M. Fouquet's friends, obtain an
interview with the surintendant; do not be too difficult in making
whatever concessions may be required of you; and when once the
arrangements are all made--"

"I will press him to sign."

"Be most careful to do nothing of the kind; do not speak of signatures
with M. Fouquet, nor of deeds, nor even ask him to pass his word.
Understand this, otherwise you will lose everything. All you have to do
is to get M. Fouquet to give you his hand on the matter. Go, go."



CHAPTER L.

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE QUEEN-MOTHER.


The queen-mother was in her bedroom at the Palais Royal, with Madame de
Motteville and the Senora Molina. The king, who had been impatiently
expected the whole day, had not made his appearance; and the queen, who
had grown quite impatient, had often sent to inquire about him. The
whole atmosphere of the court seemed to indicate an approaching storm;
the courtiers and the ladies of the court avoided meeting in the
antechambers and the corridors, in order not to converse on compromising
subjects. Monsieur had joined the king early in the morning for a
hunting-party; Madame remained in her own apartments, cool and distant
to every one: and the queen-mother, after she had said her prayers in
Latin, talked of domestic matters with her two friends, in pure
Castilian. Madame de Motteville, who understood the language perfectly,
answered her in French. When the three ladies had exhausted every form
of dissimulation and politeness, as a circuitous mode of expressing
that the king's conduct was making the queen and the queen-mother pine
away from sheer grief and vexation, and when, in the most guarded and
polished phrases, they had fulminated every variety of imprecation
against Mademoiselle de la Valliere, the queen-mother terminated her
attack by an exclamation indicative of her own reflections and
character.

"Estos hijos!" said she to Molina--which means, "These children!" words
full of meaning in a mother's lips--words full of terrible significance
in the mouth of a queen who, like Anne of Austria, hid many curious and
dark secrets in her soul.

"Yes," said Molina, "these children! for whom every mother becomes a
sacrifice."

"Yes," replied the queen; "a mother has sacrificed everything,
certainly." She did not finish her phrase; for she fancied, when she
raised her eyes toward the full-length portrait of the pale Louis XIII.,
that light had once more flashed from her husband's dull eyes, and that
his nostrils were inflated by wrath. The portrait seemed animated by a
living expression--speak it did not, but it seemed to menace. A profound
silence succeeded the queen's last remark. La Molina began to turn over
the ribbons and lace of a large work-table. Madame de Motteville,
surprised at the look of mutual intelligence which had been exchanged
between the confidante and her mistress, cast down her eyes, like a
discreet woman, and, pretending to be observant of nothing that was
passing, listened with the utmost attention instead. She heard nothing,
however, but a very significant "hum" on the part of the Spanish duenna,
who was the perfect representation of extreme caution--and a profound
sigh on that of the queen. She looked up immediately.

"You are suffering?" she said.

"No, Motteville, no; why do you say that?"

"Your majesty almost groaned just now."

"You are right; I did sigh, in truth."

"Monsieur Vallot is not far off; I believe he is in Madame's apartment."

"Why is he with Madame?"

"Madame is troubled with nervous attacks."

"A very fine disorder, indeed! There is little good in M. Vallot being
there, when another physician instead would cure Madame."

Madame de Motteville looked up with an air of great surprise, as she
replied, "Another doctor instead of M. Vallot?--whom do you mean?"

"Occupation, Motteville, occupation. If any one is really ill it is my
poor daughter."

"And your majesty, too."

"Less so this evening, though."

"Do not believe that too confidently, madame," said De Motteville. And,
as if to justify her caution, a sharp acute pain seized the queen, who
turned deadly pale, and threw herself back in the chair, with every
symptom of a sudden fainting fit. Molina ran to a richly-gilded
tortoise-shell cabinet, from which she took a large rock-crystal
smelling-bottle, and immediately held it to the queen's nostrils, who
inhaled it wildly for a few minutes, and murmured:

"It will hasten my death--but Heaven's will be done."

"Your majesty's death is not so near at hand," added Molina, replacing
the smelling-bottle in the cabinet.

"Does your majesty feel better now?" inquired Madame de Motteville.

"Much better," returned the queen, placing her finger on her lips, to
impose silence on her favorite.

"It is very strange," remarked Madame de Motteville, after a pause.

"What is strange?" said the queen.

"Does your majesty remember the day when this pain attacked you for the
first time?"

"I remember only that it was a grievously sad day for me, Motteville."

"But your majesty had not always regarded that day a sad one."

"Why?"

"Because three and twenty years before, on that very day, his present
majesty, your own glorious son, was born at the very same hour."

The queen uttered a loud cry, buried her face in her hands, and seemed
utterly lost for some minutes; but whether from recollections which
arose in her mind, or from reflection, or even from sheer pain, it was
of course uncertain. La Molina darted almost a furious look at Madame de
Motteville, which was so full of bitter reproach, that the poor woman,
perfectly ignorant of its meaning, was, in her own exculpation, on the
point of asking an explanation of its meaning; when, suddenly Anne of
Austria arose and said, "Yes, the 5th of September; my sorrow began on
the 5th of September. The greatest joy, one day; the deepest sorrow the
next:--the sorrow," she added, "the bitter expiation of a too excessive
joy."

And, from that moment, Anne of Austria, whose memory and reason seemed
to have become entirely suspended for a time, remained impenetrable,
with vacant look, mind almost wandering, and hands hanging heavily down,
as if life had almost departed.

"We must put her to bed," said La Molina.

"Presently, Molina."

"Let us leave the queen alone," added the Spanish attendant.

Madame de Motteville rose; large and glistening tears were fast rolling
down the queen's pallid face; and Molina, having observed this sign of
weakness, fixed her black vigilant eyes upon her.

"Yes, yes," replied the queen. "Leave us, Motteville; go."

The word "us," produced a disagreeable effect upon the ears of the
French favorite; for it signified that an interchange of secrets, or of
revelations of the past, was about to be made, and that one person was
_de trop_ in the conversation which seemed likely to take place.

"Will Molina, alone, be sufficient for your majesty to-night?" inquired
the Frenchwoman.

"Yes," replied the queen. Madame de Motteville bowed in submission, and
was about to withdraw, when, suddenly, an old female attendant, dressed
as if she had belonged to the Spanish court of the year 1620, opened
the door and surprised the queen in her tears. "The remedy!" she cried,
delightedly, to the queen, as she unceremoniously approached the group.

"What remedy?" said Anne of Austria.

"For your majesty's sufferings," the former replied.

"Who brings it?" asked Madame de Motteville, eagerly; "Monsieur Vallot?"

"No; a lady from Flanders."

"From Flanders. Is she Spanish?" inquired the queen.

"I don't know."

"Who sent her?"

"M. Colbert."

"Her name?"

"She did not mention it."

"Her position in life?"

"She will answer that herself."

"Her face?"

"She is masked."

"Go, Molina; go and see!" cried the queen.

"It is needless," suddenly replied a voice, at once firm and gentle in
its tone, which proceeded from the other side of the tapestry hangings;
a voice which made the attendants start and the queen tremble
excessively. At the same moment a masked female appeared through the
hangings, and, before the queen could speak a syllable, she added, "I am
connected with the order of the Béguines of Bruges, and do, indeed,
bring with me the remedy which is certain to effect a cure of your
majesty's complaint." No one uttered a sound, and the Beguine did not
move a step.

"Speak," said the queen.

"I will, when we are alone," was the answer.

Anne of Austria looked at her attendants, who immediately withdrew. The
Beguine, thereupon, advanced a few steps toward the queen, and bowed
reverently before her. The queen gazed with increasing mistrust at this
woman, who, in her turn, fixed a pair of brilliant eyes upon her,
through her mask.

"The queen of France must, indeed, be very ill," said Anne of Austria,
"if it is known at the Beguinage of Bruges that she stands in need of
being cured."

"Your majesty is not irremediably ill."

"But, tell me, how do you happen to know I am suffering?"

"Your majesty has friends in Flanders."

"Since these friends, then, have sent you, mention their names."

"Impossible, madame, since your majesty's memory has not been awakened
by your heart."

Anne of Austria looked up, endeavoring to discover through the
concealment of the mask, and through her mysterious language, the name
of her companion, who expressed herself with such familiarity and
freedom; then, suddenly, wearied by a curiosity which wounded every
feeling of pride in her nature, she said, "You are ignorant, perhaps,
that royal personages are never spoken to with the face masked."

"Deign to excuse me, madame," replied the Beguine, humbly.

"I cannot excuse you. I may possibly forgive you, if you throw your mask
aside."

"I have made a vow, madame, to attend and aid all afflicted or suffering
persons, without ever permitting them to behold my face. I might have
been able to administer some relief to your body and to your mind, too;
but, since your majesty forbids me, I will take my leave. Adieu, madame,
adieu."

These words were uttered with a harmony of tone and respect of manner
that deprived the queen of all her anger and suspicion, but did not
remove her feeling of curiosity. "You are right," she said; "it ill
becomes those who are suffering to reject the means of relief which
Heaven sends them. Speak, then; and may you, indeed, be able, as you
assert you can, to administer relief to my body--"

"Let us first speak a little of the mind, if you please," said the
Beguine; "of the mind, which, I am sure, must also suffer."

"My mind?"

"There are cancers so insidious in their nature that their very
pulsation is invisible. Such cancers, madame, leave the ivory whiteness
of the skin untouched, and marble not the firm, fair flesh, with their
blue tints; the physician who bends over the patient's chest hears not,
though he listens, the insatiable teeth of the disease grinding its
onward progress through the muscles, as the blood flows freely on; the
knife has never been able to destroy, and rarely even, temporarily, to
disarm the rage of these mortal scourges; their home is in the mind,
which they corrupt; they fill the whole heart until it breaks. Such,
madame, are the cancers fatal to queens; are you, too, free from their
scourge?"

Anne slowly raised her arm, dazzling in its perfect whiteness, and pure
in its rounded outlines, as it was in the time of her earlier days.

"The evils to which you allude," she said, "are the condition of the
lives of the high in rank upon earth, to whom Heaven has imparted mind.
When those evils become too heavy to be borne, Heaven lightens their
burden by penitence and confession. There we lay down our burden, and
the secrets which oppress us. But, forget not, that the same gracious
Heaven, in its mercy, apportions to their trials the strength of the
feeble creatures of its hand; and my strength has enabled me to bear my
burden. For the secrets of others, the silence of Heaven is more than
sufficient; for my own secrets, that of my confessor is just enough."

"You are as courageous, madame, I see, as ever, against your enemies.
You do not acknowledge your confidence in your friends."

"Queens have no friends; if you have nothing further to say to me--if
you feel yourself inspired by Heaven as a prophetess--leave me, I pray,
for I dread the future."

"I should have supposed," said the Beguine, resolutely, "that you would
rather have dreaded the past."

Hardly had these words escaped her lips, than the queen rose up proudly.
"Speak," she cried, in a short, imperious tone of voice, "explain
yourself briefly, quickly, entirely; or, if not--"

"Nay, do not threaten me, your majesty," said the Beguine, gently; "I
came to you full of compassion and respect. I came here on the part of a
friend."

"Prove that to me! Comfort instead of irritating me."

"Easily enough: and your majesty will see who is friendly to you. What
misfortune has happened to your majesty during these three and twenty
years past--"

"Serious misfortunes, indeed; have I not lost the king?"

"I speak not of misfortunes of that kind. I wish to ask you, if since
the birth of the king, any indiscretion on a friend's part has caused
your majesty the slightest serious anxiety or distress?"

"I do not understand you," replied the queen, setting her teeth hard
together in order to conceal her emotion.

"I will make myself understood, then. Your majesty remembers that the
king was born on the 5th of September, 1633, at a quarter-past eleven
o'clock."

"Yes," stammered out the queen.

"At half-past twelve," continued the Beguine, "the dauphin, who had been
baptized by Monseigneur de Meaux in the king's and in your own presence,
was acknowledged as the heir of the crown of France. The king then went
to the chapel of the old Chateau de Saint-Germain to hear the _Te Deum_
chanted."

"Quite true, quite true," murmured the queen.

"Your majesty's confinement took place in the presence of Monsieur, his
majesty's late uncle, of the princes, and of the ladies attached to the
court. The king's physician, Bovard, and Honore, the surgeon, were
stationed in the antechamber; your majesty slept from three o'clock
until seven, I believe!"

"Yes, yes: but you tell me no more than every one else knows as well as
you and myself."

"I am now, madame, approaching that which very few persons are
acquainted with. Very few persons, did I say, alas! I might almost say
two only, for formerly there were but five in all, and for many years
past the secret has been well preserved by the deaths of the principal
participators in it. The late king sleeps now with his ancestors;
Peronne, the midwife, soon followed him; Laporte is already forgotten."

The queen opened her lips as though about to reply; she felt, beneath
her icy hand, with which she kept her face half concealed, the beads of
perspiration upon her brow.

"It was eight o'clock," pursued the Beguine; "the king was seated at
supper, full of joy and happiness; around him on all sides arose wild
cries of delight and drinking of healths; the people cheered beneath the
balconies; the Swiss guards, the musketeers, and the royal guards
wandered through the city, borne about in triumph by the drunken
students. Those boisterous sounds of the general joy disturbed the
dauphin, the future king of France, who was quietly lying in the arms of
Madame de Hausac, his nurse, and whose eyes, as he opened them and
stared about, might have observed two crowns at the foot of his cradle.
Suddenly your majesty uttered a piercing cry, and Dame Peronne
immediately flew to your bedside. The doctors were dining in a room at
some distance from your chamber; the palace, deserted from the frequency
of the irruptions made into it, was without either sentinels or guards.
The midwife, having questioned and examined your majesty, gave a sudden
exclamation, as if in wild astonishment, and taking you in her arms,
bewildered almost out of her senses from sheer distress of mind,
dispatched Laporte to inform the king that her majesty the queen-mother
wished to see him in her room. Laporte, you are aware, madame, was a man
of the most admirable calmness and presence of mind. He did not approach
the king as if he were the bearer of alarming intelligence and wished to
inspire the terror which he himself experienced; besides, it was not a
very terrifying intelligence which awaited the king. Therefore, Laporte
appeared with a smile upon his lips, and approached the king's chair,
saying to him, 'Sire, the queen is very happy, and would be still more
so to see your majesty.' On that day, Louis XIII. would have given his
crown away to the veriest beggar for a 'God bless you.' Animated,
light-hearted, and full of gayety, the king rose from the table, and
said to those around him, in a tone that Henry IV. might have adopted,
'Gentlemen, I am going to see my wife.' He came to your bedside, madame,
at the very moment Dame Peronne presented to him a second prince, as
beautiful and healthy as the former, and said, 'Sire, Heaven will not
allow the kingdom of France to fall into the female line.' The king,
yielding to a first impulse, clasped the child in his arms, and cried,
'Oh! Heaven, I thank Thee!'"

At this part of her recital, the Beguine paused, observing how intensely
the queen was suffering; she had thrown herself back in her chair, and
with her head bent forward, and her eyes fixed, listened without seeming
to hear, and her lips moving convulsively, either breathing a prayer to
Heaven or in imprecations against the woman standing before her.

"Ah! do not believe that, because there could be but one dauphin in
France," exclaimed the Beguine, "or that if the queen allowed that child
to vegetate, banished from his royal parents' presence, she was on that
account an unfeeling mother. Oh! no, no; there are those alive who know
the floods of bitter tears she shed; there are those who have known and
witnessed the passionate kisses she imprinted on that innocent creature
in exchange for a life of misery and gloom to which state policy
condemned the twin brother of Louis XIV."

"Oh! Heaven!" murmured the queen, feebly.

"It is admitted," continued the Beguine, quickly, "that when the king
perceived the effect which would result from the existence of two sons,
both equal in age and pretensions, he trembled for the welfare of
France, for the tranquillity of the state; and it is equally well known
that the Cardinal de Richelieu, by the direction of Louis XIII., thought
over the subject with deep attention, and after an hour's meditation in
his majesty's cabinet, he pronounced the following sentence: 'One prince
is peace and safety for the state; two competitors are civil war and
anarchy.'"

The queen rose suddenly from her seat, pale as death, and her hands
clenched together. "You know too much," she said in a hoarse, thick
voice, "since you refer to secrets of state. As for the friends from
whom you have acquired this secret, they are false and treacherous. You
are their accomplice in the crime which is being now committed. Now,
throw aside your mask, or I will have you arrested by my captain of the
guards. Do not think that this secret terrifies me! You have obtained
it, you shall restore it to me. Never shall it leave your bosom, for
neither your secret nor your own life belong to you from this moment."

Anne of Austria, joining gesture to the threat, advanced a couple of
steps toward the Beguine. "Learn," said the latter, "to know and value
the fidelity, the honor, and secrecy of the friends you have abandoned."
And then suddenly threw aside her mask.

"Madame de Chevreuse!" exclaimed the queen.

"With your majesty the sole living confidante of this secret."

"Ah!" murmured Anne of Austria; "come and embrace me, duchesse. Alas!
you kill your friend in thus trifling with her terrible distress."

And the queen, leaning her head upon the shoulder of the old duchesse,
burst into a flood of bitter tears. "How young you are still!" said the
latter, in a hollow voice; "you can weep!"



CHAPTER LI.

TWO FRIENDS.


The queen looked steadily at Madame de Chevreuse, and said, "I believe
you just now made use of the word 'happy' in speaking of me. Hitherto,
duchesse, I had thought it impossible that a human creature could
anywhere be found less happy than the queen of France."

"Your afflictions, madame, have indeed been terrible enough. But by the
side of those great and grand misfortunes to which we, two old friends
separated by men's malice, were just now alluding, you possess sources
of pleasure, slight enough in themselves it may be, but which are
greatly envied by the world."

"What are they?" said Anne of Austria, bitterly. "What can induce you to
pronounce the word 'pleasure,' duchesse--you who, just now, admitted
that my body and my mind both stood in need of remedies?"

Madame de Chevreuse collected herself for a moment and then murmured,
"How far removed kings are from other people!"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that they are so far removed from the vulgar herd that they
forget that others ever stand in need of the bare necessaries of life.
They are like the inhabitant of the African mountain, who gazing from
the verdant table land, refreshed by the rills of melted snow, cannot
comprehend that the dwellers in the plains below him are perishing from
hunger and thirst in the midst of their lands, burned up by the heat of
the sun."

The queen slightly colored, for she now began to perceive the drift of
her friend's remark. "It was very wrong," she said, "to have neglected
you."

"Oh! madame, the king I know has inherited the hatred his father bore
me. The king would dismiss me if he knew I were in the Palais Royal."

"I cannot say that the king is very well disposed toward you, duchesse,"
replied the queen; "but I could--secretly, you know--"

The duchesse's disdainful smile produced a feeling of uneasiness in the
queen's mind. "Duchesse," she hastened to add, "you did perfectly right
to come here, even were it only to give us the happiness of
contradicting the report of your death."

"Has it been said, then, that I was dead?"

"Everywhere."

"And yet my children did not go into mourning."

"Ah! you know, duchesse, the court is very frequently moving about from
place to place; we see M. Albert de Luynes but seldom, and many things
escape our minds in the midst of the preoccupations which constantly
beset us."

"Your majesty ought not to have believed the report of my death."

"Why not? Alas! we are all mortal; and you may perceive how rapidly I,
your younger sister, as we used formerly to say, am approaching the
tomb."

"If your majesty had believed me dead, you ought, in that case, to have
been astonished not to have received any news of me."

"Death not unfrequently takes us by surprise, duchesse."

"Oh! your majesty, those who are burdened with secrets such as we have
just now discussed, must, as a necessity of their nature, satisfy their
craving desire to divulge them, and they feel they must gratify that
desire before they die. Among the various preparations for their final
journey, the task of placing their papers in order is not omitted."

The queen started.

"Your majesty will be sure to learn, in a particular manner, the day of
my death."

"In what way?"

"Because your majesty will receive the next day, under several
coverings, everything connected with our mysterious correspondence of
former times."

"Did you not burn them?" cried Anne, in alarm.

"Traitors only," replied the duchesse, "destroy a royal correspondence."

"Traitors, do you say?"

"Yes, certainly, or rather they pretend to destroy, instead of which
they keep or sell it. Faithful friends, on the contrary, most carefully
secrete such treasures, for it may happen that some day or other they
would wish to seek out their queen in order to say to her: Madame, I am
getting old; my health is fast failing me; in the presence of the danger
of death, for there is the danger for your majesty that this secret may
be revealed, take, therefore, this paper, so fraught with danger for
yourself, and trust not to another to burn it for you."

"What paper do you refer to?"

"As far as I am concerned, I have but one, it is true, but that is
indeed most dangerous in its nature."

"Oh! duchesse, tell me what it is."

"A letter, dated Tuesday, the 2d of August, 1644, in which you beg me to
go to Noisy-le-Sec, to see that unhappy child. In your own handwriting,
madame, there are those words, 'that unhappy child!'"

A profound silence ensued; the queen's mind was wandering in the past;
Madame de Chevreuse was watching the progress of her scheme. "Yes,
unhappy, most unhappy!" murmured Anne of Austria; "how sad the existence
he led, poor child, to finish it in so cruel a manner."

"Is he dead!" cried the duchesse, suddenly, with a curiosity whose
sincere accents the queen instinctively detected.

"He died of consumption, died forgotten, died withered and blighted like
the flowers a lover has given to his mistress, which she leaves to die
secreted in a drawer where she had hid them from the gaze of others."

"Died!" repeated the duchesse with an air of discouragement, which would
have afforded the queen the most unfeigned delight, had it not been
tempered in some measure by a mixture of doubt.

"Died--at Noisy-le-Sec?"

"Yes, in the arms of his tutor, a poor, honest man, who did not long
survive him."

"That can easily be understood; it is so difficult to bear up under the
weight of such a loss and such a secret," said Madame de Chevreuse, the
irony of which reflection the queen pretended not to perceive. Madame de
Chevreuse continued: "Well, madame, I inquired some years ago at
Noisy-le-Sec about this unhappy child. I was told that it was not
believed he was dead, and that was my reason for not having at first
been grieved with your majesty; for, most certainly, if I could have
thought it were true, never should I have made the slightest allusion to
so deplorable an event, and thus have reawakened your majesty's
legitimate distress."

"You say that it is not believed that the child died at Noisy?"

"No, madame."

"What did they say about him, then?"

"They said--but, no doubt, they were mistaken--"

"Nay, speak, speak!"

"They said, that, one evening, about the year 1645, a lady, beautiful
and majestic in her bearing, which was observed notwithstanding the mask
and the mantle which concealed her figure--a lady of rank, of very high
rank no doubt--came in a carriage to the place where the road branches
off; the very same spot, you know, where I awaited news of the young
prince when your majesty was graciously pleased to send me there."

"Well, well?"

"That the boy's tutor, or guardian, took the child to this lady."

"Well, what next?"

"That both the child and his tutor left that part of the country the
very next day."

"There, you see there is some truth in what you relate, since, in point
of fact, the poor child died from a sudden attack of illness, which
makes the lives of all children, as doctors say, suspended as it were by
a thread."

"What your majesty says is quite true; no one knows it better than
you--no one believes it more than myself. But yet how strange it is--"

"What can it now be?" thought the queen.

"The person who gave me these details, who had been sent to inquire
after the child's health--"

"Did you confide such a charge to any one else? Oh, duchesse!"

"Some one as dumb as your majesty, as dumb as myself; we will suppose it
was myself, madame; this 'some one,' some months after, passing through
Touraine--"

"Touraine!"

"Recognized both the tutor and the child, too! I am wrong: he thought he
recognized them, both living, cheerful, happy, and flourishing, the one
in a green old age, the other in the flower of his youth. Judge after
that what truth can be attributed to the rumors which are circulated, or
what faith, after that, placed in anything that may happen in the world?
But I am fatiguing your majesty; it was not my intention, however, to do
so, and I will take my leave of you, after renewing to you the assurance
of my most respectful devotion."

"Stay, duchesse; let us first talk a little about yourself."

"Of myself, madame; I am not worthy that you should bend your looks upon
me."

"Why not, indeed? Are you not the oldest friend I have? Are you angry
with me, duchesse?"

"I, indeed! what motive could I have? If I had reason to be angry with
your majesty, should I have come here?"

"Duchesse, age is fast creeping on us both; we should be united against
that death whose approach cannot be far off."

"You overpower me, madame, with the kindness of your language."

"No one has ever loved or served me as you have done, duchesse."

"Your majesty is too kind in remembering it."

"Not so. Give me a proof of your friendship, duchesse."

"My whole being is devoted to you, madame."

"The proof I require is, that you should ask something of me."

"Ask--"

"Oh, I know you well--no one is more disinterested, more noble, and
truly royal."

"Do not praise me too highly, madame," said the duchesse, somewhat
anxiously.

"I could never praise you as much as you deserve to be praised."

"And yet, age and misfortune effect a terrible change in people,
madame."

"So much the better; for the beautiful, the haughty, the adored duchesse
of former days might have answered me ungratefully, 'I do not wish for
anything from you.' Heaven be praised! The misfortunes you speak of have
indeed worked a change in you, for you will now, perhaps, answer me, 'I
accept.'"

The duchesse's look and smile soon changed at this conclusion, and she
no longer attempted to act a false part.

"Speak, dearest, what do you want?"

"I must first explain to you--"

"Do so unhesitatingly."

"Well, then, your majesty can confer the greatest, the most ineffable
pleasure upon me."

"What is it?" said the queen, a little distant in her manner, from an
uneasiness of feeling produced by this remark. "But do not forget, my
good Chevreuse, that I am quite as much under my son's influence as I
was formerly under my husband's."

"I will not be too hard, madame."

"Call me as you used to do; it will be a sweet echo of our happy youth."

"Well, then, my dear mistress, my darling Anne--"

"Do you know Spanish still?"

"Yes."

"Ask me in Spanish, then."

"Will your majesty do me the honor to pass a few days with me at
Dampierre?"

"Is that all?" said the queen, stupefied. "Nothing more than that?"

"Good heavens! Can you possibly imagine that in asking you that, I am
not asking you the greatest conceivable favor. If that really be the
case, you do not know me. Will you accept?"

"Yes, gladly. And I shall be happy," continued the queen, with some
suspicion, "if my presence can in any way be useful to you."

"Useful!" exclaimed the duchesse, laughing; "oh, no, no,
agreeable--delightful, if you like; and you promise me, then?"

"I swear it," said the queen, whereupon the duchesse seized her
beautiful hand, and covered it with kisses. The queen could not help
murmuring to herself, "She is a good-hearted woman, and very generous
too."

"Will your majesty consent to wait a fortnight before you come?"

"Certainly; but why?"

"Because," said the duchesse, "knowing me to be in disgrace, no one
would lend me the hundred thousand francs which I require to put
Dampierre into a state of repair. But when it is known that I require
that sum for the purpose of receiving your majesty at Dampierre
properly, all the money in Paris will be at my disposal."

"Ah!" said the queen, gently nodding her head, in sign of intelligence,
"a hundred thousand francs! you want a hundred thousand francs to put
Dampierre into repair?"

"Quite as much as that."

"And no one will lend you them?"

"No one."

"I will lend them to you, if you like, duchesse."

"Oh, I hardly dare accept such a sum."

"You would be wrong if you did not. Besides, a hundred thousand francs
is really not much. I know but too well that you never set a right value
upon your silence and your secrecy. Push that table a little toward me,
duchesse, and I will write you an order on M. Colbert; no, on M.
Fouquet, who is a far more courteous and obliging man."

"Will he pay it, though?"

"If he will not pay it, I will; but it will be the first time he will
have refused me."

The queen wrote and handed the duchesse the order, and afterward
dismissed her with a warm and cheerful embrace.



CHAPTER LII.

HOW JEAN DE LA FONTAINE WROTE HIS FIRST TALE.


All these intrigues are exhausted; the human mind, so variously
complicated, has been enabled to develop itself at its ease in the three
outlines with which our recital has supplied it. It is not unlikely
that, in the future we are now preparing, a question of politics and
intrigues may still arise, but the springs by which they work will be so
carefully concealed that no one will be able to see aught but flowers
and paintings, just as at a theater, where a Colossus appears upon the
scene walking along moved by the small legs and slender arms of a child
concealed within the framework.

We now return to Saint-Mandé, where the surintendant was in the habit of
receiving his select society of epicureans. For some time past the host
had met with some terrible trials. Every one in the house was aware of
and felt the minister's distress. No more magnificent or recklessly
improvident reunions. Money had been the pretext assigned by Fouquet,
and never _was_ any pretext, as Gourville said, more fallacious, for
there was not the slightest appearance of money.

M. Vatel was most resolutely painstaking in keeping up the reputation of
the house, and yet the gardeners who supplied the kitchens complained of
a ruinous delay. The agents for the supply of Spanish wines frequently
sent drafts which no one honored; fishermen, whom the surintendant
engaged on the coast of Normandy, calculated that if they were paid all
that was due to them, the amount would enable them to retire comfortably
for the rest of their lives; fish, which, at a later period, was the
cause of Vatel's death, did not arrive at all. However, on the ordinary
day of reception, Fouquet's friends flocked in more numerously than
ever. Gourville and the Abbe Fouquet talked over money matters--that is
to say, the abbe borrowed a few pistoles from Gourville; Pellisson,
seated with his legs crossed, was engaged in finishing the peroration of
a speech with which Fouquet was to open the parliament; and this speech
was a master-piece, because Pellisson wrote it for his friend--that is
to say, he inserted everything in it which the latter would most
certainly never have taken the trouble to say of his own accord.
Presently Loret and La Fontaine would enter from the garden, engaged in
a dispute upon the facility of making verses. The painters and musicians
in their turn, also, were hovering near the dining-room. As soon as
eight o'clock struck, the supper would be announced, for the
surintendant never kept any one waiting. It was already half-past seven,
and the appetites of the guests were beginning to be declared in a very
emphatic manner. As soon as all the guests were assembled Gourville
went straight up to Pellisson, awoke him out of his reverie, and led him
into the middle of a room, and closed the doors. "Well," he said,
"anything new?"

Pellisson raised his intelligent and gentle face, and said: "I have
borrowed five-and-twenty thousand francs of my aunt, and I have them
here in good sterling money."

"Good," replied Gourville, "we only want one hundred and ninety-five
thousand livres for the first payment."

"The payment of what?" asked La Fontaine.

"What! absent as usual! Why it was you who told us that the small estate
at Corbeil was going to be sold by one of M. Fouquet's creditors; and
you, also, who proposed that all his friends should subscribe; more than
that, too, it was you who said that you would sell a corner of your
house at Chateau-Thierry, in order to furnish your own proportion, and
you now come and ask--'_The payment of what?_'"

This remark was received with a general laugh, which made La Fontaine
blush. "I beg your pardon," he said, "I had not forgotten it; oh, no!
only--"

"Only you remembered nothing about it," replied Loret.

"That is the truth; and the fact is, he is quite right; there is a great
difference between forgetting and not remembering."

"Well, then," added Pellisson, "you bring your mite in the shape of the
price of the piece of land you have sold?"

"Sold? no!"

"Have you not sold the field, then?" inquired Gourville in astonishment,
for he knew the poet's disinterestedness.

"My wife would not let me," replied the latter, at which there were
fresh bursts of laughter.

"And yet you went to Chateau-Thierry for that purpose," said some one.

"Certainly I did, and on horseback."

"Poor fellow!"

"I had eight different horses, and I was almost jolted to death."

"You are an excellent fellow! And you rested yourself when you arrived
there!"

"Rested! Oh! of course I did, for I had an immense deal of work to do."

"How so?"

"My wife had been flirting with the man to whom I wished to sell the
land. The fellow drew back from his bargain, and so I challenged him."

"Very good; and you fought?"

"It seems not."

"You know nothing about it, I suppose?"

"No, my wife and her relations interfered in the matter. I was kept a
quarter of an hour with my sword in my hand; but I was not wounded."

"And your adversary?"

"Oh! he just as much, for he never came on to the field."

"Capital!" cried his friends from all sides: "you must have been
terribly angry."

"Exceedingly so; I had caught cold; I returned home, and then my wife
began to quarrel with me."

"In real earnest?"

"Yes, in real earnest; she threw a loaf of bread at my head, a large
loaf."

"And what did you do?"

"Oh! I upset the table over her and her guests; and then I got upon my
horse again, and here I am."

Every one had great difficulty in keeping his countenance at the
exposure of his heroi-comedy, and when the laughter had somewhat ceased,
one of the guests present said to him:

"Is that all you have brought us back?"

"Oh, no! I have an excellent idea in my head."

"What is it?"

"Have you noticed that there is a good deal of sportive, jesting poetry
written in France?"

"Yes, of course," replied every one.

"And," pursued La Fontaine, "only a very small portion of it is
printed."

"The laws are strict, you know."

"That may be, but a rare article is a dear article, and that is the
reason why I have written a small poem, excessively free in its style,
very broad, and extremely cynical in its tone."

"The deuce you have!"

"Yes," continued the poet, with cold indifference; "and I have
introduced in it the greatest freedom of language I could possibly
employ."

Peals of laughter again broke forth, while the poet was thus announcing
the quality of his wares.

"And," he continued, "I have tried to exceed everything that Boccaccio,
Aretin, and other masters of their craft, have written in the same
style."

"Its fate is clear," said Pellisson; "it will be scouted and forbidden."

"Do you think so?" said La Fontaine simply; "I assure you, I did not do
it on my own account so much as on M. Fouquet's."

This wonderful conclusion again raised the mirth of all present.

"And I have sold the first edition of this little book for eight hundred
livres," exclaimed La Fontaine, rubbing his hands together. "Serious and
religious books sell at about half that rate."

"It would have been better," said Gourville, "to have written two
religious books instead."

"It would have been too long and not amusing enough," replied La
Fontaine, tranquilly; "my eight hundred livres are in this little bag,
and I beg to offer them as my contribution."

As he said this, he placed his offering in the hands of their treasurer;
it was then Loret's turn, who gave a hundred and fifty livres; the
others stripped themselves in the same way; and the total sum in the
purse amounted to forty thousand livres. The money was still being
counted over when the surintendant noiselessly entered the room; he had
heard everything; and then this man, who had possessed so many millions,
who had exhausted all the pleasures and honors that this world had to
bestow, this generous heart, this inexhaustible brain, which had, like
two burning crucibles, devoured the material and moral substance of the
first kingdom in the world, was seen to cross the threshold with his
eyes filled with tears, and pass his fingers through the gold and
silver which the bag contained.

"Poor offering," he said, in a softened and affected tone of voice; "you
will disappear in the smallest corner of my empty purse, but you have
filled to overflowing that which no one can ever exhaust, my heart.
Thank you, my friends--thank you." And as he could not embrace every one
present, who were all weeping a little, philosophers as they were, he
embraced La Fontaine, saying to him, "Poor fellow! so you have, on my
account, been beaten by your wife and censured by your confessor."

"Oh! it is a mere nothing," replied the poet; "if your creditors will
only wait a couple of years, I shall have written a hundred other tales,
which, at two editions each, will pay off the debt."



CHAPTER LIII.

LA FONTAINE IN THE CHARACTER OF A NEGOTIATOR.


Fouquet pressed La Fontaine's hand most warmly, saying to him, "My dear
poet, write a hundred other tales, not only for the eighty pistoles
which each of them will produce you, but, still more, to enrich our
language with a hundred other master-pieces of composition."

"Oh! oh!" said La Fontaine, with a little air of pride, "you must not
suppose that I have only brought this idea and the eighty pistoles to
the surintendant."

"Oh! indeed," was the general acclamation from all parts of the room,
"M. de la Fontaine is in funds to-day."

"Heaven bless the idea, if it only brings us one or two millions," said
Fouquet, gayly.

"Exactly," replied La Fontaine.

"Quick, quick!" cried the assembly.

"Take care," said Pellisson in La Fontaine's ear; "you have had a most
brilliant success up to the present moment, so do not go too far."

"Not at all, Monsieur Pellisson; and you, who are a man of decided
taste, will be the first to approve of what I have done."

"We are talking of millions, remember," said Gourville.

"I have fifteen hundred thousand francs here, Monsieur Gourville," he
replied, striking himself on the chest.

"The deuce take this Gascon from Chateau-Thierry!" cried Loret.

"It is not the pocket you should touch, but the brain," said Fouquet.

"Stay a moment, Monsieur le Surintendant," added La Fontaine; "you are
not procureur-general--you are a poet."

"True, true!" cried Loret, Conrart, and every person present connected
with literature.

"You are, I repeat, a poet and a painter, a sculptor, a friend of the
arts and sciences; but acknowledge that you are no lawyer."

"Oh! I do acknowledge it," replied M. Fouquet, smiling.

"If you were to be nominated at the Academy, you would refuse, I think."

"I think I should, with all due deference to the academicians."

"Very good; if therefore you do not wish to belong to the Academy, why
do you allow yourself to form one of the parliament?"

"Oh! oh!" said Pellisson, "we are talking politics."

"I wish to know whether the barrister's gown does or does not become M.
Fouquet."

"There is no question of the gown at all," retorted Pellisson, annoyed
at the laughter of those who were present.

"On the contrary, it is the gown," said Loret.

"Take the gown away from the procureur-general," said Conrart, "and we
have M. Fouquet left us still, of whom we have no reason to complain;
but, as he is no procureur-general without his gown, we agree with M. de
la Fontaine, and pronounce the gown to be nothing but a bugbear."

"_Fugiunt risus leporesque_," said Loret.

"The smiles and the graces," said some one present.

"That is not the way," said Pellisson, gravely, "that I translate
_lepores_."

"How do you translate it?" said La Fontaine.

"Thus: the hares run away as soon as they see M. Fouquet." A burst of
laughter, in which the surintendant joined, followed this sally.

"But why hares?" objected Conrart, vexed.

"Because the hare will be the very one who will not be over-pleased to
see M. Fouquet surrounded by all the attributes which his parliamentary
strength and power confer on him."

"Oh! oh!" murmured the poets.

"_Quo non ascendant_," said Conrart, "seems impossible to me, when one
is fortunate enough to wear the gown of the procureur-general."

"On the contrary, it seems so to me without that gown," said the
obstinate Pellisson; "what is your opinion, Gourville?"

"I think the gown in question is a very good thing," replied the latter;
"but I equally think a million and a half is far better than the gown."

"And I am of Gourville's opinion," exclaimed Fouquet, stopping the
discussion by the expression of his own opinion, which would necessarily
bear down all the others.

"A million and a half," Pellisson grumbled out; "now I happen to know an
Indian fable--"

"Tell it me," said La Fontaine; "I ought to know it, too."

"Tell it, tell it," said the others.

"There was a tortoise, which was as usual well protected by its shell,"
said Pellisson; "whenever its enemies threatened it, it took refuge
within its covering. One day some one said to it, 'You must feel very
hot in such a house as that in the summer, and you are altogether
prevented showing off your graces; here is a snake here who will give
you a million and a half for your shell.'"

"Good!" said the surintendant, laughing.

"Well, what next?" said La Fontaine, much more interested in the
apologue than its moral.

"The tortoise sold his shell and remained naked and defenseless. A
vulture happened to see him, and being hungry, broke the tortoise's back
with a blow of his beak and devoured it. The moral is, that M. Fouquet
should take very good care to keep his gown."

La Fontaine understood the moral seriously. "You forget Eschylus," he
said to his adversary.

"What do you mean?"

"Eschylus was bald-headed, and a vulture--your vulture, probably--who
was a great amateur in tortoises, mistook at a distance his head for a
block of stone, and let a tortoise, which was shrunk up in his shell,
fall upon it."

"Yes, yes, La Fontaine is right," resumed Fouquet, who had become very
thoughtful; "whenever a vulture wishes to devour a tortoise, he well
knows how to break his shell; and but too happy is that tortoise which a
snake pays a million and a half for his envelope. If any one were to
bring me a generous-hearted snake like the one in your fable, Pellisson,
I would give him my shell."

"_Rara avis in terris!_" cried Conrart.

"And like a black swan, is he not!" added La Fontaine; "well, then, the
bird in question, black and very rare, is already found."

"Do you mean to say that you have found a purchaser for my post of
procureur-general?" exclaimed Fouquet.

"I have, monsieur."

"But the surintendant never said that he wished to sell," resumed
Pellisson.

"I beg your pardon," said Conrart, "you yourself spoke about it, even--"

"Yes, I am a witness to that," said Gourville.

"He seems very tenacious about his brilliant idea," said Fouquet,
laughing. "Well, La Fontaine, who is the purchaser?"

"A perfect black bird, for he is a counselor belonging to the
parliament, an excellent fellow."

"What is his name?"

"Vanel."

"Vanel!" exclaimed Fouquet, "Vanel, the husband of--"

"Precisely, her husband; yes monsieur."

"Poor fellow!" said Fouquet, with an expression of great interest.

"He wishes to be everything that you have been, monsieur," said
Gourville, "and to do everything that you have done."

"It is very agreeable; tell us all about it, La Fontaine."

"It is very simple. I see him occasionally, and a short time ago I met
him walking about on the Place de la Bastille, at the very moment when I
was about to take the small carriage to come down here to Saint-Mandé."

"He must have been watching his wife," interrupted Loret.

"Oh, no!" said La Fontaine, "he is far from being jealous. He accosted
me, embraced me, and took me to the inn called 'L'Image Saint-Fiacre,'
and told me all about his troubles."

"He has his troubles, then?"

"Yes; his wife wants to make him ambitious."

"Well, and he told you--"

"That some one had spoken to him about a post in parliament: that M.
Fouquet's name had been mentioned; that ever since Madame Vanel dreams
of nothing else but being called Madame la Procureuse-Generale, and that
it makes her ill and keeps her awake every night she does not dream of
it."

"The deuce!"

"Poor woman!" said Fouquet.

"Wait a moment. Conrart is always telling me that I do not know how to
conduct matters of business; you will see how I manage this one."

"Well, go on."

"'I suppose you know,' said I to Vanel, 'that the value of a post such
as that which M. Fouquet holds is by no means trifling.'

"'How much do you imagine it to be?' he said.

"'M. Fouquet, I know, has refused seventeen hundred thousand francs.'

"'My wife,' replied Vanel, 'had estimated it at about fourteen hundred
thousand.'

"'Ready money?' I asked.

"'Yes; she has sold some property of hers in Guienne, and has received
the purchase money.'"

"That's a pretty sum to touch all at once," said the Abbe Fouquet, who
had not hitherto said a word.

"Poor Madame Vanel!" murmured Fouquet.

Pellisson shrugged his shoulders, as he whispered in Fouquet's ear,
"That woman is a perfect fiend."

"That may be; and it will be delightful to make use of this fiend's
money to repair the injury which an angel has done herself for me."

Pellisson looked with a surprised air at Fouquet, whose thoughts were
from that moment fixed upon a fresh object in view.

"Well!" inquired La Fontaine, "what about my negotiation?"

"Admirable, my dear poet."

"Yes," said Gourville; "but there are some people who are anxious to
have the steed who have not money enough to pay for the bridle."

"And Vanel would draw back from his offer if he were to be taken at his
word," continued the Abbe Fouquet.

"I do not believe it," said La Fontaine.

"What do you know about it?"

"Why, you have not yet heard the _dénouement_ of my story."

"If there is a _dénouement_, why do you beat about the bush so much?"

"_Semper ad eventum._ Is that correct?" said Fouquet, with the air of a
nobleman who condescends to barbarisms. To which the Latinists present
answered with loud applause.

"My _dénouement_," cried La Fontaine, "is, that Vanel, that determined
blackbird, knowing that I was coming to Saint-Mandé, implored me to
bring him with me, and, if possible, to present him to M. Fouquet."

"So that--"

"So that he is here; I left him in that part of the grounds called
Bel-Air. Well, M. Fouquet, what is your reply?"

"Well, it is not respectful toward Madame Vanel that her husband should
run the risk of catching cold outside my house; send for him, La
Fontaine, since you know where he is."

"I will go there myself."

"And I will accompany you," said the Abbe Fouquet; "I can carry the
money bags."

"No jesting," said Fouquet, seriously; "let the business be a serious
one if it is to be one at all. But, first of all, let us show we are
hospitable. Make my apologies, La Fontaine, to M. Vanel, and tell him
how distressed I am to have kept him waiting, but that I was not aware
he was there."

La Fontaine set off at once, fortunately accompanied by Gourville, for,
absorbed in his own calculations, the poet would have mistaken the
route, and was hurrying as fast as he could toward the village of
Saint-Mandé. Within a quarter of an hour afterward, M. Vanel was
introduced into the surintendant's cabinet, the description and details
of which have already been given at the beginning of this story. When
Fouquet saw him enter, he called to Pellisson and whispered a few words
in his ear. "Do not lose a word of what I am going to say: let all the
silver and gold plate, together with the jewels of every description, be
packed up in the carriage. You will take the black horses: the jeweler
will accompany you; and you will postpone the supper until Madame de
Belliere's arrival."

"Will it be necessary to inform Madame de Belliere of it?" said
Pellisson.

"No, that will be useless; I will do that. So away with you, my dear
friend."

Pellisson set off, not quite clear as to his friend's meaning or
intention, but confident, like every true friend, in the judgment of the
man he was blindly obeying. It is that which constitutes the strength of
such men; distrust only arises in the minds of inferior natures.

Vanel bowed lowly to the surintendant, and was about to begin a speech.

"Do not trouble yourself, monsieur," said Fouquet, politely; "I am told
that you wish to purchase a post I hold. How much can you give me for
it?"

"It is for you, monseigneur, to fix the amount you require. I know that
offers of purchase have already been made to you for it."

"Madame Vanel, I have been told, values it at fourteen hundred thousand
livres."

"That is all we have."

"Can you give me the money immediately?"

"I have not the money with me," said Vanel, frightened almost by the
unpretending simplicity, amounting to greatness, of the man, for he had
expected disputes, and difficulties, and opposition of every kind.

"When will you be able to have it?"

"Whenever you please, monseigneur;" for he began to be afraid that
Fouquet was trifling with him.

"If it were not for the trouble you would have in returning to Paris, I
would say at once; but we will arrange that the payment and the
signature shall take place at six o'clock to-morrow morning."

"Very good," said Vanel, as cold as ice, and feeling quite bewildered.

"Adieu, Monsieur Vanel, present my humblest respects to Madame Vanel,"
said Fouquet, as he rose; upon which Vanel, who felt the blood rushing
up to his head, for he was quite confounded by his success, said
seriously to the surintendant, "Will you give me your word, monseigneur,
upon this affair?"

Fouquet turned round his head, saying:

"Pardieu! and you, monsieur?"

Vanel hesitated, trembled all over, and at last finished by hesitatingly
holding out his hand. Fouquet opened and nobly extended his own; this
loyal hand lay for a moment in Vanel's moist hypocritical palm, and he
pressed it in his own, in order the better to convince himself of its
truth. The surintendant gently disengaged his hand, as he again said:

"Adieu!"

And then Vanel ran hastily to the door, hurried along the vestibules,
and fled away as quickly as he could.



CHAPTER LIV.

MADAME DE BELLIERE'S PLATE AND DIAMONDS.


Hardly had Fouquet dismissed Vanel, than he began to reflect for a few
moments: "A man never can do too much for the woman he has once loved.
Marguerite wishes to be the wife of a procureur-general--and why not
confer this pleasure upon her? And now that the most scrupulous and
sensitive conscience will be unable to reproach me with anything, let my
thoughts be bestowed on her who has shown so much devotion for me.
Madame de Belliere ought to be there by this time," he said, as he
turned toward the secret door.

After he had locked himself in, he opened the subterranean passage, and
rapidly hastened toward the means of communicating between the house at
Vincennes and his own residence. He had neglected to apprise his friend
of his approach by ringing the bell, perfectly assured that she would
never fail to be exact at the rendezvous; as, indeed, was the case, for
she was already waiting. The noise the surintendant made aroused her;
she ran to take from under the door the letter that he had thrust there,
and which simply said, "Come, marquise; we are waiting supper for you."
With her heart filled with happiness Madame de Belliere ran to her
carriage in the Avenue de Vincennes, and in a few minutes she was
holding out her hand to Gourville, who was standing at the entrance,
where, in order the better to please his master, he had stationed
himself to watch her arrival. She had not observed that Fouquet's black
horses had arrived at the same time, smoking and covered with foam,
having returned to Saint-Mandé with Pellisson and the very jeweler to
whom Madame de Belliere had sold her plate and her jewels. Pellisson
introduced the goldsmith into the cabinet, which Fouquet had not yet
left. The surintendant thanked him for having been good enough to regard
as a simple deposit in his hands the valuable property which he had had
every right to sell; and he cast his eyes on the total of the account,
which amounted to thirteen hundred thousand francs. Then, going for a
few moments to his desk, he wrote an order for fourteen hundred thousand
francs, payable at sight, at his treasury, before twelve o'clock the
next day.

"A hundred thousand francs profit!" cried the goldsmith. "Oh,
monseigneur, what generosity!"

"Nay, nay, not so, monsieur," said Fouquet, touching him on the
shoulder; "there are certain kindnesses which can never be repaid. The
profit is about that which you would have made; but the interest of your
money still remains to be arranged." And, saying this, he unfastened
from his sleeve a diamond button, which the goldsmith himself had often
valued at three thousand pistoles. "Take this," he said to the
goldsmith, "in remembrance of me. And farewell; you are an honest man."

"And you, monseigneur," cried the goldsmith, completely overcome, "are
the noblest man that ever lived."

Fouquet let the worthy goldsmith pass out of the room by a secret door,
and then went to receive Madame de Belliere, who was already surrounded
by all the guests. The marquise was always beautiful, but now her
loveliness was more dazzling than ever. "Do you not think, gentlemen,"
said Fouquet, "that madame is more than usually beautiful this evening?
And do you happen to know why?"

"Because madame is really the most beautiful of all women," said some
one present.

"No; but because she is the best. And yet--"

"Yet?" said the marquise, smiling.

"And yet, all the jewels which madame is wearing this evening are
nothing but false stones." At this remark the marquise blushed most
painfully.

"Oh, oh!" exclaimed all the guests, "that can very well be said of one
who has the finest diamonds in Paris."

"Well?" said Fouquet to Pellisson, in a low tone.

"Well, at last I have understood you," returned the latter; "and you
have done excellently well."

"Supper is ready, monseigneur," said Vatel, with majestic air and tone.

The crowd of guests hurried, less slowly than is usually the case with
ministerial entertainments, toward the banqueting room, where a
magnificent spectacle presented itself. Upon the buffets, upon the
side-tables, upon the supper-table itself, in the midst of flowers and
light, glittered most dazzlingly the richest and most costly gold and
silver plate that could possibly be seen--relics of those ancient
magnificent productions which the Florentine artists, whom the Medici
family had patronized, had sculptured, chased, and cast for the purpose
of holding flowers, at a time when gold yet existed in France. These
hidden marvels, which had been buried during the civil wars, had timidly
reappeared during the intervals of that war of good taste called La
Fronde; at a time when noblemen fighting against noblemen, killed, but
did not pillage each other. All the plate present had Madame de
Belliere's arms engraved upon it. "Look," cried La Fontaine, "here is a
P and a B."

But the most remarkable object present was the cover which Fouquet had
assigned to the marquise. Near her was a pyramid of diamonds, sapphires,
emeralds, antique cameos, sardonyx stones, carved by the old Greeks of
Asia Minor, with mountings of Mysian gold; curious mosaics of ancient
Alexandria, mounted in silver; massive Egyptian bracelets lay heaped up
in a large plate of Palissy ware, supported by a tripod of gilt bronze
which had been sculptured by Benvenuto. The marquise turned pale, as she
recognized what she had never expected to see again. A profound silence
seemed to seize upon every one of the restless and excited guests.
Fouquet did not even make a sign in dismissal of the richly liveried
servants who crowded like bees round the huge buffets and other tables
in the room. "Gentlemen," he said, "all this plate which you behold once
belonged to Madame de Belliere, who having observed one of her friends
in great distress, sent all this gold and silver, together with the
heap of jewels now before her, to her goldsmith. This noble conduct of a
devoted friend can well be understood by such friends as you. Happy
indeed is that man who sees himself loved in such a manner. Let us drink
to the health of Madame de Belliere."

A tremendous burst of applause followed his words, and made poor Madame
de Belliere sink back dumb and breathless on her seat. "And then," added
Pellisson, who was always affected by a noble action, as he was
invariably impressed by beauty, "let us also drink to the health of him
who inspired madame's noble conduct; for such a man is worthy of being
worthily loved."

It was now the marquise's turn. She rose, pale and smiling; and as she
held out her glass with a faltering hand, and her trembling fingers
touched those of Fouquet, her look, full of love, found its reflection
and response in that of her ardent and generous-hearted lover. Begun in
this manner, the supper soon became a fete; no one tried to be witty,
for no one failed in being so. La Fontaine forgot his Gorgny wine and
allowed Vatel to reconcile him to the wines of the Rhone and those from
the shores of Spain. The Abbe Fouquet became so kind and good-natured
that Gourville said to him, "Take care, Monsieur l'Abbe; if you are so
tender, you will be eaten."

The hours passed away so joyously, that, contrary to his usual custom,
the surintendant did not leave the table before the end of the dessert.
He smiled upon his friends, delighted as a man is, whose heart becomes
intoxicated before his head--and, for the first time, he had just looked
at the clock. Suddenly, a carriage rolled into the courtyard, and,
strange to say, it was heard high above the noise of the mirth which
prevailed. Fouquet listened attentively, and then turned his eyes toward
the antechamber. It seemed as if he could hear a step passing across it,
and that this step, instead of pressing the ground, weighed heavily upon
his heart. "M. d'Herblay, bishop of Vannes," the usher announced. And
Aramis' grave and thoughtful face appeared upon the threshold of the
door, between the remains of two garlands, of which the flame of a lamp
had just burned the thread that had united them.



CHAPTER LV.

M. DE MAZARIN'S RECEIPT.


Fouquet would have uttered an exclamation of delight on seeing another
friend arrive if the cold air and averted aspect of Aramis had not
restored all his reserve. "Are you going to join us at our dessert?" he
asked. "And yet you would be frightened, perhaps, at the noise which our
wild friends here are making?"

"Monseigneur," replied Aramis, respectfully, "I will begin by begging
you to excuse me for having interrupted this merry meeting; and then I
will beg you to give me, as soon as pleasure shall have finished, a
moment's audience on matters of business."

As the word "business" had aroused the attention of some of the
epicureans present, Fouquet rose, saying: "Business first of all,
Monsieur d'Herblay; we are too happy when matters of business arrive
only at the end of a meal."

As he said this, he took the hand of Madame de Belliere, who looked at
him with a kind of uneasiness, and then led her to an adjoining salon,
after having recommended her to the most reasonable of his guests. And
then, taking Aramis by the arm, he led him toward his cabinet. As soon
as Aramis was there, throwing aside the respectful air he had assumed,
he threw himself into a chair, saying: "Guess whom I have seen this
evening?"

"My dear chevalier, every time you begin in that manner I am sure to
hear you announce something disagreeable."

"Well, and this time you will not be mistaken, either, my dear friend,"
replied Aramis.

"Do not keep me in suspense," added Fouquet, phlegmatically.

"Well, then, I have seen Madame de Chevreuse."

"The old duchesse, do you mean?"

"Yes."

"Her ghost, perhaps?"

"No, no; the old she-wolf herself."

"Without teeth?"

"Possibly, but not without claws."

"Well! what harm can she meditate against me? I am no miser, with women
who are not prudes. That is a quality that is always prized, even by the
woman who no longer dares to provoke love."

"Madame de Chevreuse knows very well that you are not avaricious, since
she wishes to draw some money out of you."

"Indeed! under what pretext?"

"Oh; pretexts are never wanting with her. Let me tell you what hers is:
it seems that the duchesse has a good many letters of M. de Mazarin's in
her possession."

"I am not surprised at that, for the prelate was gallant enough."

"Yes, but these letters have nothing whatever to do with the prelate's
love affairs. They concern, it is said, financial matters rather."

"And accordingly they are less interesting."

"Do you not suspect what I mean?"

"Not at all."

"Have you ever heard speak of a prosecution being instituted for an
embezzlement, or appropriation, rather, of public funds?"

"Yes, a hundred, nay, a thousand times, ever since I have been engaged
in public matters, I have hardly heard anything else but that. It is
precisely your own case, when, as a bishop, people reproach you for your
impiety; or, as a musketeer, for your cowardice; the very thing of which
they are always accusing ministers of finance is the embezzlement of
public funds."

"Very good; but take a particular instance, for the duchesse asserts
that M. de Mazarin alludes to certain particular instances."

"What are they?"

"Something like a sum of thirteen millions of francs, of which it would
be very difficult for you to define the precise nature of the
employment."

"Thirteen millions!" said the surintendant, stretching himself in his
armchair, in order to enable him the more comfortably to look up
toward the ceiling. "Thirteen millions--I am trying to remember them out
of all those I have been accused of having stolen."

"Do not laugh, my dear monsieur, for it is very serious. It is positive
that the duchesse has certain letters in her possession, and that these
letters must be as she represents them, since she wished to sell them to
me for five hundred thousand francs."

"Oh! one can have a very tolerable calumny got up for such a sum as
that," replied Fouquet. "Ah! now I know what you mean," and he began to
laugh heartily.

"So much the better," said Aramis, a little reassured.

"I remember the story of those thirteen millions now. Yes, yes, I
remember them quite well."

"I am delighted to hear it; tell me about them."

"Well, then, one day Signor Mazarin, Heaven rest his soul! made a profit
of thirteen millions upon a concession of lands in the Valtelline; he
canceled them in the registry of receipts, sent them to me, and then
made me advance them to him for war expenses."

"Very good, then, there is no doubt of their proper destination."

"No; the cardinal made me invest them in my own name, and gave me a
receipt."

"You have the receipt?"

"Of course," said Fouquet, as he quietly rose from his chair and went to
his large ebony bureau, inlaid with mother of pearl and gold.

"What I most admire in you," said Aramis, with an air of great
satisfaction, "is your memory in the first place, then your
self-possession; and, finally, the perfect order which prevails in your
administration; you of all men, too, who are by nature a poet."

"Yes," said Fouquet, "I am orderly out of a spirit of idleness, to save
myself the trouble of looking after things, and so I know that Mazarin's
receipt is in the third drawer under the letter M; I open the drawer,
and place my hand upon the very paper I need. In the night, without a
light, I could find it."

And with a confident hand he felt the bundle of papers which were piled
up in the open drawer. "Nay, more than that," he continued, "I remember
the paper as if I saw it; it is thick, somewhat crumpled, with gilt
edges; Mazarin had made a blot upon the figure of the date. Ah!" he
said, "the paper knows we are talking about it, and that we want it very
much, and so it hides itself out of the way."

And as the surintendant looked into the drawer, Aramis rose from his
seat.

"This is very singular," said Fouquet.

"Your memory is treacherous, my dear monseigneur; look in another
drawer."

Fouquet took out the bundle of papers, and turned them over once more;
he then became very pale.

"Don't confine your search to that drawer," said Aramis; "look
elsewhere."

"Quite useless; I have never made a mistake; no one but myself arranges
any papers of mine of this nature; no one but myself ever opens this
drawer, of which, besides, no one, with my own exception, is aware of
the secret."

"What do you conclude, then?" said Aramis, agitated.

"That Mazarin's receipt has been stolen from me; Madame de Chevreuse was
right, chevalier; I have appropriated the public funds; I have robbed
the state coffers of thirteen millions of money; I am a thief, Monsieur
d'Herblay."

"Nay, nay; do not get irritated--do not get excited."

"And why not, chevalier? surely there is even reason for it. If the
legal proceedings are well arranged, and a judgment is given in
accordance with them, your friend the surintendant can follow to
Montfaucon his colleague Enguerrand de Marigny, and his predecessor,
Semblancay."

"Oh!" said Aramis, smiling, "not so fast as that."

"And why not? why not so fast? What do you suppose Madame de Chevreuse
will have done with those letters, for you refused them, I suppose?"

"Yes; at once. I suppose that she went and sold them to M. Colbert."

"Well?"

"I said I supposed so; I might have said I was sure of it, for I had her
followed, and, when she left me, she returned to her own house, went out
by a back door, and proceeded straight to the intendant's house in the
street Croix des Petits-Champs."

"Legal proceedings will be instituted, then, scandal and dishonor will
follow, and all will fall upon me like a thunderbolt, blindly,
harshly, pitilessly."

Aramis approached Fouquet, who sat trembling in his chair, close to the
open drawers; he placed his hand on his shoulder, and, in an
affectionate tone of voice, said:

"Do not forget that the position of M. Fouquet can in no way be compared
to that of Semblancay or of Marigny."

"And why not, in Heaven's name?"

"Because the proceedings against those ministers were determined,
completed, and the sentence carried out, while in your case the same
thing cannot take place."

"Another blow, why not? A peculator is, under any circumstances, a
criminal."

"Those criminals who know how to find a safe asylum are never in
danger."

"What! make my escape! Fly!"

"No; I do not mean that; you forget that all such proceedings originate
in the parliament, that they are instituted by the procureur-general,
and that you are the procureur-general. You see that unless you wish to
condemn yourself--"

"Oh!" cried Fouquet, suddenly, dashing his fist upon the table.

"Well! what? what is the matter?"

"I am procureur-general no longer."

Aramis at this reply became as livid as death; he pressed his hands
together convulsively, and with a wild, haggard look, which almost
annihilated Fouquet, he said, laying a stress upon every distinct
syllable, "You are procureur-general no longer, do you say?"

"No."

"Since when?"

"Since the last four or five hours."

"Take care," interrupted Aramis, coldly; "I do not think you are in the
full possession of your senses, my friend; collect yourself."

"I tell you," returned Fouquet, "that a little while ago, some one came
to me, brought by my friends, to offer me fourteen hundred thousand
francs for the appointment, and that I sold the appointment."

Aramis looked as if he had been thunder-stricken; the intelligent and
mocking expression of his countenance assumed an aspect of such profound
gloom and terror that it had more effect upon the surintendant that all
the exclamations and speeches in the world. "You had need of money
then?" he said, at last.

"Yes; to discharge a debt of honor." And, in a few words, he gave Aramis
an account of Madame de la Belliere's generosity, and the manner in
which he had thought it but right to discharge that act of generosity.

"Yes," said Aramis; "that is, indeed, a fine trait. What has it cost?"

"Exactly the fourteen hundred thousand francs--the price of my
appointment."

"Which you received in that manner, without reflection. Oh! imprudent
man."

"I have not yet received the amount, but I shall to-morrow."

"It is not yet completed, then?"

"It must be carried out, though: for I have given the goldsmith, for
twelve o'clock to-morrow, an order upon my treasury, into which the
purchaser's money will be paid at six or seven o'clock."

"Heaven be praised!" cried Aramis, clapping his hands together, "nothing
is yet completed, since you have not been paid."

"But the goldsmith?"

"You shall receive the fourteen hundred thousand francs from me at a
quarter before twelve."

"Stay a moment; it is at six o'clock, this very morning, that I am to
sign."

"Oh! I will answer that you do not sign."

"I have given my word, chevalier."

"If you have given it, you will take it back again, that is all."

"Can I believe what I hear," cried Fouquet, in a most expressive tone.
"Fouquet recall his word, after it has been once pledged!"

Aramis replied to the almost stern look of the minister, by a look full
of anger. "Monsieur," he said, "I believe I have deserved to be called a
man of honor? As a soldier, I have risked my life five hundred times; as
a priest I have rendered still greater services, both to the state and
to my friends. The value of a word, once passed, is estimated according
to the worth of the man who gives it. So long as it is in his own
keeping, it is of the purest, finest gold; when his wish to keep it has
passed away, it is a two-edged sword. With that word, therefore, he
defends himself as with an honorable weapon, considering that, when he
disregards his word, he endangers his life, and incurs an amount of risk
far greater than that which his adversary is likely to derive of profit.
In such a case, monsieur, he appeals to Heaven and to justice."

Fouquet bent down his head as he replied, "I am a poor self-determined
man, a true Breton born; my mind admires and fears yours. I do not say
that I keep my word from a proper feeling only; I keep it, if you like,
from custom, practice, what you will; but, at all events, the ordinary
run of men are simple enough to admire this custom of mine, it is my
sole good quality, leave me such honor as it confers."

"And so you are determined to sign the sale of the very appointment
which can alone defend you against all your enemies?"

"Yes, I shall sign."

"You will deliver yourself up, then, bound hand and foot, from a false
notion of honor, which the most scrupulous casuists would disdain?"

"I shall sign," repeated Fouquet.

Aramis sighed deeply, and looked all round him with the impatient
gesture of a man who would gladly dash something to pieces, as a relief
to his feelings. "We have still one means left," he said; "and, I trust,
you will not refuse to make use of that."

"Certainly not, if it be loyal and honorable; as everything is, in fact,
which you propose."

"I know nothing more loyal than the renunciation of your purchaser. Is
he a friend of yours?"

"Certainly; but--"

"'But!'--if you allow me to manage the affair, I do not despair."

"Oh! you shall be absolutely master to do what you please."

"Whom are you in treaty with? What man is it?"

"I am not aware whether you know the parliament."

"Most of its members. One of the presidents, perhaps?"

"No; only a councilor of the name of Vanel."

Aramis became perfectly purple.

"Vanel," he cried, rising abruptly from his seat; "Vanel! the husband of
Marguerite Vanel?"

"Exactly."

"Of your former mistress?"

"Yes, my dear fellow; she is anxious to be the wife of the
procureur-general. I certainly owed poor Vanel that slight concession,
and I am a gainer by it; since I, at the same time, can confer a
pleasure on his wife."

Aramis walked up straight to Fouquet and took hold of his hand. "Do you
know," he said, very calmly, "the name of Madame Vanel's new lover?"

"Ah! she has a new lover, then: I was not aware of it; no, I have no
idea what his name is."

"His name is M. Jean Baptiste Colbert; he is surintendant of the
finances; he lives in the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, where Madame de
Chevreuse has been this evening to take him Mazarin's letters, which she
wishes to sell."

"Gracious Heaven!" murmured Fouquet, passing his hand across his
forehead, from which the perspiration was starting.

"You now begin to understand, do you not?"

"That I am utterly lost!--yes."

"Do you now think it worth while to be so scrupulous with regard to
keeping your word?"

"Yes," said Fouquet.

"These obstinate people always contrive matters in such a way, that one
cannot but admire them all the while," murmured Aramis.

Fouquet held out his hand to him, and, at the very moment, a richly
ornamented tortoise-shell clock, supported by golden figures, which was
standing on a console table opposite to the fireplace, struck six. The
sound of a door being opened in the vestibule was heard, and Gourville
came to the door of the cabinet to inquire if Fouquet would receive M.
Vanel. Fouquet turned his eyes from the eyes of Aramis, and then desired
that M. Vanel should be shown to him.



CHAPTER LVI.

MONSIEUR COLBERT'S ROUGH DRAFT.


Vanel, who entered at this stage of the conversation, was nothing less
for Aramis and Fouquet than the full stop which completes a phrase. But,
for Vanel, Aramis' presence in Fouquet's cabinet had quite another
signification; and, therefore, at his first step into the room he paused
as he looked at the delicate yet firm features of the bishop of Vannes,
and his look of astonishment soon became one of scrutinizing attention.
As for Fouquet, a perfect politician, that is to say, complete master of
himself, he had already, by the energy of his own resolute will,
contrived to remove from his face all traces of the emotion which
Aramis' revelation had occasioned. He was no longer, therefore, a man
overwhelmed by misfortune and reduced to resort to expedients; he held
his head proudly erect, and indicated by a gesture that Vanel could
enter. He was now the first minister of the state, and in his own
palace. Aramis knew the surintendant well; the delicacy of the feelings
of his heart and the exalted nature of his mind could not any longer
surprise him. He confined himself, then, for the moment--intending to
resume later an active part in the conversation--to the performance of
the difficult part of a man who looks on and listens, in order to learn
and understand. Vanel was visibly overcome, and advanced into the middle
of the cabinet, bowing to everything and everybody. "I am come," he
said.

"You are exact, Monsieur Vanel," returned Fouquet.

"In matters of business, monseigneur," replied Vanel, "I look upon
exactitude as a virtue."

"No doubt, monsieur."

"I beg your pardon," interrupted Aramis, indicating Vanel with his
finger, but addressing himself to Fouquet; "this is the gentleman, I
believe, who has come about the purchase of your appointment?"

"Yes, I am!" replied Vanel, astonished at the extremely haughty tone
with which Aramis had put the question; "but in what way am I to address
you, who do me the honor--"

"Call me monseigneur," replied Aramis, dryly. Vanel bowed.

"Come, gentlemen, a truce to these ceremonies; let us proceed to the
matter itself."

"Monseigneur sees," said Vanel, "that I am waiting your pleasure."

"On the contrary, I am waiting," replied Fouquet.

"What for, may I be permitted to ask, monseigneur?"

"I thought that you had perhaps something to say."

"Oh," said Vanel to himself, "he has reflected on the matter, and I am
lost." But resuming his courage, he continued, "No, monseigneur,
nothing, absolutely nothing more than what I said to you yesterday, and
which I am again ready to repeat to you now."

"Come, now, tell me frankly, Monsieur Vanel, is not the affair rather a
burdensome one for you?"

"Certainly, monseigneur; fourteen hundred thousand francs is an
important sum."

"So important, indeed," said Fouquet, "that I have reflected--"

"You have been reflecting, do you say, monseigneur?" exclaimed Vanel,
anxiously.

"Yes; that you might not yet be in a position to purchase."

"Oh, monseigneur!"

"Do not make yourself uneasy on that score, Monsieur Vanel; I shall not
blame you for a failure in your word, which evidently may arise from
inability on your part."

"Oh, yes, monseigneur, you would blame me, and you would be right in
doing so," said Vanel; "for a man must either be very imprudent, or a
perfect fool, to undertake engagements which he cannot keep; and I, at
least, have always regarded a thing agreed upon as a thing actually
carried out."

Fouquet colored, while Aramis uttered a "Hum!" of impatience.

"You would be wrong to exaggerate such notions as those, monsieur," said
the surintendant; "for a man's mind is variable and full of these very
excusable caprices, which are, however, sometimes estimable enough; and
a man may have wished for something yesterday of which he repents
to-day."

Vanel felt a cold sweat trickle down his face. "Monseigneur!" he
muttered.

Aramis, who was delighted to find the surintendant carry on the debate
with such clearness and precision, stood leaning his arm upon the marble
top of a console, and began to play with a small gold knife, with a
malachite handle. Fouquet did not hurry himself to reply; but after a
moment's pause, "Come, my dear Monsieur Vanel," he said, "I will explain
to you how I am situated." Vanel began to tremble.

"Yesterday I wished to sell--"

"Monseigneur did more than wish to sell, for you actually sold."

"Well, well, that may be so; but to-day I ask you the favor to restore
me my word which I pledged you."

"I received your word as a perfect assurance that it would be kept."

"I know that, and that is the reason why I now entreat you; do you
understand me? I entreat you to restore it to me."

Fouquet suddenly paused. The words "I entreat you," the effect of which
he did not immediately perceive, seemed almost to choke him as he
uttered it. Aramis, still playing with his knife, fixed a look upon
Vanel which seemed as if he wished to penetrate to the innermost
recesses of his heart. Vanel simply bowed as he said, "I am overcome,
monseigneur, at the honor you do me to consult me upon a matter of
business which is already completed; but--"

"Nay, do not say _but_, dear Monsieur Vanel."

"Alas! monseigneur, you see," he said, as he opened a large pocket-book,
"I have brought the money with me--the whole sum, I mean. And here,
monseigneur, is the contract of sale which I have just effected of a
property belonging to my wife. The order is authentic in every way, the
necessary signatures have been attached to it, and it is made payable at
sight; it is ready money, in fact, and, in one word, the whole affair is
complete."

"My dear Monsieur Vanel, there is not a matter of business in this
world, however important it may be, which cannot be postponed in order
to oblige a man who, by that means, might and would be made a devoted
friend."

"Certainly," said Vanel, awkwardly.

"And much more justly acquired would that friend become, Monsieur Vanel,
since the value of the service he had received would have been so
considerable. Well, what do you say?--what do you decide?"

Vanel preserved a perfect silence. In the meantime, Aramis had continued
his close observation of the man. Vanel's narrow face, his deeply-sunk
orbits, his arched eyebrows, had revealed to the bishop of Vannes
the type of an avaricious and ambitious character. Aramis' method
was to oppose one passion by another. He saw that Fouquet was
defeated--morally subdued--and so he came to his rescue with fresh
weapons in his hands. "Excuse me, monseigneur," he said, "you forget to
show M. Vanel that his own interests are diametrically opposed to this
renunciation of the sale."

Vanel looked at the bishop with astonishment; he had hardly expected to
find an auxiliary in him. Fouquet also paused to listen to the bishop.

"Do you not see," continued Aramis, "that Mr. Vanel, in order to
purchase your appointment, has been obliged to sell a property which
belongs to his wife; well, that is no slight matter; for one cannot
displace, as he has done, fourteen or fifteen hundred thousand francs
without some considerable loss, and very serious inconvenience."

"Perfectly true," said Vanel, whose secret Aramis had, with his
keen-sighted gaze, wrung from the bottom of his heart.

"Inconveniences such as these are matters of great expense and
calculation, and whenever a man has money matters to deal with, the
expenses are generally the very first thing thought of."

"Yes, yes," said Fouquet, who began to understand Aramis' meaning.

Vanel remained perfectly silent; he, too, had understood him. Aramis
observed his coldness of manner and his silence.

"Very good," he said to himself, "you are waiting, I see, until you know
the amount; but do not fear, I shall send you such a flight of crowns
that you cannot but capitulate on the spot."

"We must offer M. Vanel a hundred thousand crowns at once," said
Fouquet, carried away by his generous feelings.

The sum was a good one. A prince, even, would have been satisfied with
such a bonus. A hundred thousand crowns at that period was the dowry of
a king's daughter. Vanel, however, did not move.

"He is a perfect rascal!" thought the bishop; "well, we must offer the
five hundred thousand francs at once!" and he made a sign to Fouquet
accordingly.

"You seem to have spent more than that, dear Monsieur Vanel," said the
surintendant. "The price of money is enormous. You must have made a
great sacrifice in selling your wife's property. Well, what can I have
been thinking of? I ought to have offered to sign you an order for five
hundred thousand francs; and even in that case I shall feel that I am
greatly indebted to you."

There was not a gleam of delight or desire on Vanel's face, which
remained perfectly impassible, not a muscle of it changed in the
slightest degree. Aramis cast a look almost of despair at Fouquet, and
then, going straight up to Vanel and taking hold of him by the coat in a
familiar manner, he said:

"Monsieur Vanel, it is neither the inconvenience nor the displacement of
your money, nor the sale of your wife's property even, that you are
thinking of at this moment; it is something more important still. I can
well understand it; so pay particular attention to what I am going to
say."

"Yes, monseigneur," Vanel replied, beginning to tremble in every limb,
as the prelate's eyes seemed almost ready to devour him.

"I offer you, therefore, in the surintendant's name, not three hundred
thousand livres, nor five hundred thousand, but a million. A million--do
you understand me?" he added, as he shook him nervously.

"A million!" repeated Vanel, as pale as death.

"A million; in other words, at the present rate of interest, an income
of seventy thousand francs!"

"Come, monsieur," said Fouquet, "you can hardly refuse that. Answer--do
you accept?"

"Impossible," murmured Vanel.

Aramis bit his lips, and something like a white cloud seemed to pass
over his face. The thunder behind this cloud could easily be imagined.
He still kept his hold on Vanel. "You have purchased the appointment for
fifteen hundred thousand francs, I think? Well; you will receive these
fifteen hundred thousand francs back again; by paying M. Fouquet a
visit, and shaking hands with him on the bargain, you will have become a
gainer of a million and a half. You get honor and profit at the same
time, Monsieur Vanel."

"I cannot do it," said Vanel, hoarsely.

"Very well," replied Aramis, who had grasped Vanel so tightly by the
coat, that when he let go his hold, Vanel staggered back a few paces;
"very well; one can now see clearly enough your object in coming here."

"Yes," said Fouquet, "one can easily see that."

"But--" said Vanel, attempting to stand erect before the weakness of
these two men of honor.

"Does the fellow presume to speak!" said Aramis, with the tone of an
emperor.

"Fellow!" repeated Vanel.

"The wretch. I meant to say," added Aramis, who had now resumed his
usual self-possession. "Come, monsieur, produce your deed of sale--you
have it about you, I suppose, in one of your pockets, already prepared,
as an assassin holds his pistol or his dagger concealed under his
cloak?"

Vanel began to mutter something.

"Enough!" cried Fouquet. "Where is this deed?"

Vanel tremblingly searched in his pockets, and as he drew out his
pocket-book, a paper fell out of it, while Vanel offered the other to
Fouquet. Aramis pounced upon the paper which had fallen out, as soon as
he recognized the handwriting.

"I beg your pardon," said Vanel, "that is a rough draft of the deed."

"I see that very clearly," retorted Aramis, with a smile far more
cutting than a lash of a whip would have been; "and what I admire most
is, that this draft is in M. Colbert's handwriting. Look, monseigneur,
look."

And he handed the draft to Fouquet, who recognized the truth of the
fact; for, covered with erasures, with inserted words, the margins
filled with additions, this deed--a living proof of Colbert's plot--had
just revealed everything to its unhappy victim.

"Well!" murmured Fouquet.

Vanel, completely humiliated, seemed as if he were looking for some deep
hole where he could hide himself.

"Well!" said Aramis, "if your name were not Fouquet, and if your enemy's
name were not Colbert--if you had not this mean thief before you, I
should say to you, 'Repudiate it;' such a proof as this absolves you
from your word; but these fellows would think you were afraid; they
would fear you less than they do; therefore sign the deed at once." And
he held out a pen toward him.

Fouquet pressed Aramis' hand; but, instead of the deed which Vanel
handed to him, he took the rough draft of it.

"No, not that paper," said Aramis, hastily; "this is the one. The other
is too precious a document for you to part with."

"No, no!" replied Fouquet; "I will sign under M. Colbert's own
handwriting even; and I write, 'The handwriting is approved of.'" He
then signed, and said, "Here it is, Monsieur Vanel." And the latter
seized the paper, laid down his money, and was about to make his escape.

"One moment," said Aramis. "Are you quite sure the exact amount is
there? It ought to be counted over, Monsieur Vanel! particularly since
M. Colbert makes presents of money to ladies, I see. Ah, that worthy M.
Colbert is not so generous as M. Fouquet." And Aramis, spelling every
word, every letter of the order to pay, distilled his wrath and his
contempt, drop by drop, upon the miserable wretch, who had to submit to
this torture for a quarter of an hour; he was then dismissed, not in
words, but by a gesture, as one dismisses or discharges a beggar or a
menial.

As soon as Vanel had gone, the minister and the prelate, their eyes
fixed on each other, remained silent for a few moments.

"Well," said Aramis, the first to break the silence; "to what can that
man be compared, who, at the very moment he is on the point of entering
into a conflict with an enemy armed from head to foot, thirsting for his
life, presents himself for the contest quite defenseless, throws down
his arms, and smiles and kisses his hands to his adversary in the most
gracious manner? Good faith, M. Fouquet, is a weapon which scoundrels
very frequently make use of against men of honor, and it answers their
purpose. Men of honor ought in their turn, also, to make use of
dishonest means against such scoundrels. You would soon see how strong
they would become, without ceasing to be men of honor."

"What they did would be termed the acts of a scoundrel," replied
Fouquet.

"Far from that; it would be merely coquetting or playing with the truth.
At all events, since you have finished with this Vanel; since you have
deprived yourself of the happiness of confounding him by repudiating
your word; and since you have given up, for the purpose of being used
against yourself, the only weapon which can ruin you--"

"My dear friend," said Fouquet, mournfully, "you are like the teacher of
philosophy whom La Fontaine was telling us about the other day: he saw a
child drowning, and began to read him a lecture divided into three
heads."

Aramis smiled as he said, "Philosophy--yes; teacher--yes; a drowning
child--yes; but a child that can be saved--you shall see. But, first of
all, let us talk about business. Did you not some time ago," he
continued, as Fouquet looked at him with a bewildered air, "speak to me
about an idea you had of giving a fete at Vaux?"

"Oh," said Fouquet, "that was when affairs were flourishing."

"A fete, I believe, to which the king invited himself of his own
accord?"

"No, no, my dear prelate; a fete to which M. Colbert advised the king to
invite himself."

"Ah--exactly; as it would be a fete of so costly a character that you
would be ruined in giving it."

"Precisely so. In other times, as I said just now, I had a kind of pride
in showing my enemies how inexhaustible my resources were; I felt it a
point of honor to strike them with amazement, in creating millions under
circumstances where they had imagined nothing but bankruptcies and
failures would follow. But at the present day I am arranging my accounts
with the state, with the king, with myself; and I must now become a
mean, stingy man; I shall be able to prove to the world that I can act
or operate with my deniers as I used to do with my bags of pistoles; and
from to-morrow my equipages shall be sold, my mansions mortgaged, my
expenses contracted."

"From to-morrow," interrupted Aramis, quietly, "you will occupy
yourself, without the slightest delay, with your fete at Vaux, which
must hereafter be spoken of as one of the most magnificent productions
of your most prosperous days."

"You are mad, Chevalier d'Herblay."

"I!--you do not think that."

"What do you mean then! Do you not know that a fete at Vaux, of the very
simplest possible character, would cost four or five millions?"

"I do not speak of a fete of the very simplest possible character, my
dear surintendant."

"But, since the fete is to be given to the king," replied Fouquet, who
misunderstood Aramis' idea, "it cannot be simple."

"Just so; it ought to be on a scale of the most unbounded magnificence."

"In that case, I shall have to spend ten or twelve millions."

"You shall spend twenty, if you require it," said Aramis, in a perfectly
calm voice.

"Where shall I get them?" exclaimed Fouquet.

"That is my affair, Monsieur le Surintendant; and do not be uneasy for a
moment about it. The money will be placed at once at your disposal, as
soon as you shall have arranged the plans of your fete."

"Chevalier! chevalier!" said Fouquet, giddy with amazement, "whither are
you hurrying me?"

"Across the gulf into which you were about to fall," replied the bishop
of Vannes. "Take hold of my cloak, and throw fear aside."

"Why did you not tell me that sooner, Aramis? There was a day when, with
one million only, you could have saved me; while to-day--"

"While to-day, I can give you twenty," said the prelate. "Such is the
case, however--the reason is very simple. On the day you speak of, I had
not the million which you had need of at my disposal; while now I can
easily procure the twenty millions we require."

"May Heaven hear you, and save me!"

Aramis resumed his usual smile, the expression of which was so singular.
"Heaven never fails to hear me," he said.

"I abandon myself to you unreservedly," Fouquet murmured.

"No, no; I do not understand it in that manner. I am unreservedly
devoted to you. Therefore, as you have the clearest, the most delicate,
and the most ingenious mind of the two, you shall have entire control
over the fete, even to the very smallest details. Only--"

"Only?" said Fouquet, as a man accustomed to understand and appreciate
the value of a parenthesis.

"Well, then, leaving the entire invention of the details to you, I shall
reserve to myself a general superintendence over the execution."

"In what way?"

"I mean, that you will make of me, on that day, a major-domo, a sort of
inspector-general, or factotum--something between a captain of the guard
and manager or steward. I will look after the people, and will keep the
keys of the doors. You will give your orders, of course; but will give
them to no one but to me. They will pass through my lips, to reach those
for whom they are intended--you understand?"

"No, I am very far from understanding."

"But you agree?"

"Of course, of course, my friend."

"That is all I care about, then. Thanks; and now go and prepare your
list of invitations."

"Whom shall I invite?"

"Every one."



CHAPTER LVII.

IN WHICH THE AUTHOR THINKS IT IS NOW TIME TO RETURN TO THE VICOMTE DE
BRAGELONNE.


Our readers will have observed in this story, the adventures of the new
and of the past generation being detailed, as it were, side by side. To
the former, the reflection of the glory of earlier years, the experience
of the bitter things of this world; to the former, also, that peace
which takes possession of the heart, and that healing of the scars which
were formerly deep and painful wounds. To the latter, the conflicts of
love and vanity; bitter disappointments and ineffable delights; life
instead of memory. If, therefore, any variety has been presented to the
reader in the different episodes of this tale, it is to be attributed to
the numerous shades of color which are presented on this double palette,
where two pictures are seen side by side, mingling and harmonizing their
severe and pleasing tones. The repose of the emotions of the one is
found in the bosom of the emotions of the other. After having talked
reason with older heads, one loves to talk nonsense with youth.
Therefore, if the threads of this story do not seem very intimately to
connect the chapter we are now writing with that we have just written,
we do not intend to give ourselves any more thought or trouble about it
than Ruysdael took in painting an autumn sky, after having finished a
spring-time scene. We wish our readers to do as much, and to resume
Raoul de Bragelonne's story at the very place where our last sketch left
him.

In a state of frenzy and dismay, or rather without power or will of his
own--without knowing what to do--he fled heedlessly away after the scene
in La Valliere's room. The king, Montalais, Louise, that chamber, that
strange exclusion, Louise's grief, Montalais's terror, the king's
wrath--all seemed to indicate some misfortune. But what? He had arrived
from London because he had been told of the existence of a danger; and
almost on his arrival this appearance of danger was manifest. Was not
this sufficient for a lover? Certainly it was; but it was insufficient
for a pure and upright heart such as his. And yet Raoul did not seek for
explanations in the very quarter where all jealous or less timid lovers
would have done. He did not go straightway to his mistress, and say,
"Louise, is it true that you love me no longer? Is it true that you love
another?" Full of courage, full of friendship as he was full of love; a
religious observer of his word, and believing blindly the words of
others, Raoul said within himself, "Guiche wrote to put me on my guard;
Guiche knows something; I will go and ask Guiche what he knows, and tell
him what I have seen." The journey was not a long one. Guiche, who had
been brought, from Fontainebleau to Paris within the last two days, was
beginning to recover from his wound, and to walk about a little in his
room. He uttered a cry of joy as he saw Raoul, earnest in his
friendship, enter his apartment. Raoul, too, had not been able to
refrain from exclaiming aloud, when he saw De Guiche so pale, so thin,
so melancholy. A very few words, and a simple gesture which De Guiche
made to put aside Raoul's arm, were sufficient to inform the latter of
the truth.

"Ah! so it is," said Raoul, seating himself beside his friend: "one
loves and dies."

"No, no, not dies," replied Guiche, smiling, "since I am now recovering,
and since, too, I can press you in my arms."

"Ah! I understand."

"And I understand you, too. You fancy I am unhappy, Raoul?"

"Alas!"

"No; I am the happiest of men. My body suffers, but not my mind or my
heart. If you only knew--Oh! I am, indeed, the very happiest of men."

"So much the better," replied Raoul; "so much the better, provided it
lasts."

"It is over. I have had enough happiness to last me to my dying day,
Raoul."

"I have no doubt you have had; but she--"

"Listen; I love her, because--but you are not listening to me."

"I beg your pardon."

"Your mind is preoccupied."

"Yes; your health, in the first place--"

"It is not that, I know."

"My dear friend, you would be wrong, I think, to ask me any
questions--_you_, of all persons in the world;" and he laid so much
weight upon the "you," that he completely enlightened his friend upon
the nature of the evil, and the difficulty of remedying it.

"You say that, Raoul, on account of what I wrote to you."

"Certainly. We will talk over that matter a little when you shall have
finished telling me of all your own pleasures and pains."

"My dear friend. I am entirely at your service now."

"Thank you; I have hurried, I have flown here; I came here in half the
time the government couriers usually take. Now, tell me, my dear friend,
what did you want."

"Nothing whatever, but to make you come."

"Well, then, I am here."

"All is quite right, then."

"There must have been something else, I suppose?"

"No, indeed."

"De Guiche!"

"Upon my honor!"

"You cannot possibly have crushed all my hopes so violently, or have
exposed me to being disgraced by the king for my return, which is in
disobedience of his orders--you cannot, I say, have planted jealousy in
my heart, merely to say to me, 'It is all right, be perfectly easy!'"

"I do not say to you, Raoul, 'Be perfectly easy;' but pray understand
me; I never will, nor can I, indeed, tell you anything else."

"What sort of a person do you take me for?"

"What do you mean?"

"If you know anything, why conceal it from me? If you do not know
anything, why did you write so warningly?"

"True, true, I was very wrong, and I regret having done so, Raoul. It
seems nothing to write to a friend and say 'Come;' but to have this
friend face to face, to feel him tremble, and breathlessly and anxiously
wait to hear what one hardly dare tell him, is very different."

"Dare! I have courage enough, if you have not," exclaimed Raoul, in
despair.

"See how unjust you are, and how soon you forget you have to do with a
poor wounded fellow such as your unhappy friend is. So, calm yourself,
Raoul. I said to you, 'Come'--you are here, so ask me nothing further."

"Your object in telling me to come was your hope that I should see with
my own eyes, was it not? Nay, do not hesitate, for I have seen all."

"Oh!" exclaimed De Guiche.

"Or at least I thought--"

"There now, you see you are not sure. But if you have any doubt, my poor
friend, what remains for me to do?"

"I saw Louise much agitated--Montalais in a state of bewilderment--the
king--"

"The king?"

"Yes. You turn your head aside. The danger is there, the evil is there;
tell me, is it not so, is it not the king?"

"I say nothing."

"Oh! you say a thousand upon a thousand times more than nothing. Give me
facts, for pity's sake, give me proofs. My friend, the only friend I
have, speak--tell me all. My heart is crushed, wounded to death; I am
dying from despair."

"If that really be so, as I see it is, indeed, dear Raoul," replied De
Guiche, "you relieve me from my difficulty, and I will tell you all,
perfectly sure that I can tell you nothing but what is consoling,
compared to the despair from which I now see you suffering."

"Go on--go on; I am listening."

"Well, then, I can only tell you what you can learn from every person
you meet."

"From every one, do you say? It is talked about, then?"

"Before you say people talk about it, learn what it is that people can
talk about. I assure you solemnly that people only talk about what may,
in truth, be very innocent; perhaps a walk--"

"Ah! a walk with the king?"

"Yes, certainly, a walk with the king; and I believe the king has
already very frequently before taken walks with ladies, without, on that
account--"

"You would not have written to me, shall I say again, if there had been
nothing unusual in this promenade."

"I know that while the storm lasted, it would have been far better if
the king had taken shelter somewhere else, than to have remained with
his head uncovered before La Valliere; but the king is so very courteous
and polite."

"Oh! De Guiche, De Guiche, you are killing me!"

"Do not let us talk any more, then."

"Nay; let us continue. This walk was followed by others, I suppose?"

"No--I mean yes; there was the adventure of the oak, I think. But I know
nothing about the matter at all." Raoul rose; De Guiche endeavored to
imitate him, notwithstanding his weakness. "Well, I will not add another
word; I have said either too much or not enough. Let others give you
further information if they will, or if they can; my duty was to warn
you, and that I have done. Watch over your own affairs now yourself."

"Question others! Alas; you are no true friend to speak to me in that
manner," said the young man, in utter distress. "The first man I may
meet may be evilly disposed or a fool; if the former, he will tell me a
lie to make me suffer more than I now do; if the latter, he will do far
worse still. Ah! De Guiche, De Guiche, before two hours are over, I
shall have been told ten falsehoods, and shall have as many duels on my
hands. Save me, then; is it not best to know the whole misfortune?"

"But I know nothing, I tell you; I was wounded, attacked by fever; my
senses were gone, and I have only a very faint recollection of it all.
But there is no reason why we should search very far, when the very man
we want is close at hand. Is not D'Artagnan your friend?"

"Oh! true, true."

"Go to him, then. He will be able to throw some light on the subject."
At this moment a lackey entered the room. "What is it?" said De Guiche.

"Some one is waiting for monseigneur in the Cabinet des Porcelaines."

"Very well. Will you excuse me, my dear Raoul? I am so proud since I
have been able to walk again."

"I would offer you my arm, De Guiche, if I did not guess that the person
in question is a lady."

"I believe so," said De Guiche, smiling, as he quitted Raoul.

Raoul remained motionless, absorbed in his grief, overwhelmed, like the
miner upon whom a vault has just fallen in, wounded, his life-blood
welling fast, his thoughts confused, endeavors to recover himself, and
to save his life and to preserve his reason. A few minutes were all
Raoul needed to dissipate the bewildering sensations which had been
occasioned by these two revelations. He had already recovered the thread
of his ideas, when, suddenly, through the door, he fancied he recognized
Montalais's voice in the Cabinet des Porcelaines. "She!" he cried. "Yes;
it is indeed her voice! She will be able to tell me the whole truth; but
shall I question her here? She conceals herself even from me; she is
coming no doubt from Madame. I will see her in her own apartment. She
will explain her alarm, her flight, the strange manner in which I was
driven out; she will tell me all that--after M. d'Artagnan, who knows
everything, shall have given me fresh strength and courage. Madame, a
coquette, I fear, and yet a coquette who is herself in love, has her
moments of kindness; a coquette who is as capricious and uncertain as
life or death, but who tells De Guiche that he is the happiest of men.
He at least is lying on roses." And so he hastily quitted the comte's
apartments, and reproaching himself as he went for having talked of
nothing but his own affairs to De Guiche, he arrived at D'Artagnan's
quarters.



CHAPTER LVIII.

BRAGELONNE CONTINUES HIS INQUIRIES.


The captain was sitting buried in his leathern armchair, his spur fixed
in the floor, his sword between his legs, and was occupied in reading a
great number of letters, as he twisted his mustache. D'Artagnan uttered
a welcome full of pleasure when he perceived his friend's son. "Raoul,
my boy," he said, "by what lucky accident does it happen that the king
has recalled you?"

These words did not sound over agreeably in the young man's ears, who,
as he seated himself, replied, "Upon my word, I cannot tell you; all
that I know is that I have come back."

"Hum!" said D'Artagnan, folding up his letters and directing a look full
of meaning at him; "what do you say, my boy? that the king has not
recalled you, and that you have returned? I do not understand that at
all."

Raoul was already pale enough, and he began to turn his hat round and
round in his hand.

"What the deuce is the matter that you look as you do, and what makes
you so dumb?" said the captain. "Do people assume that sort of airs in
England? I have been in England, and came back again as lively as a
chaffinch. Will you not say something?"

"I have too much to say."

"Ah! ah! how is your father?"

"Forgive me, my dear friend, I was going to ask you that?"

D'Artagnan increased the sharpness of his penetrating gaze, which no
secret was capable of resisting. "You are unhappy about something," he
said.

"I am, indeed; and you know very well what, Monsieur d'Artagnan."

"I?"

"Of course. Nay, do not pretend to be astonished."

"I am not pretending to be astonished, my friend."

"Dear captain, I know very well that in all trials of _finesse_, as well
as in all trials of strength, I shall be beaten by you. You can see
that at the present moment I am an idiot, a perfect fool. I have neither
head nor arm; do not despise, but help me. In two words, I am the most
wretched of living beings."

"Oh! oh! why that?" inquired D'Artagnan, unbuckling his belt and
softening the ruggedness of his smile.

"Because Mademoiselle de la Valliere is deceiving me."

"She is deceiving you," said D'Artagnan, not a muscle of whose face had
moved; "those are big words. Who makes use of them?"

"Every one."

"Ah! if every one says so, there must be some truth in it. I begin to
believe there is fire when I see the smoke. It is ridiculous, perhaps,
but so it is."

"Therefore you do believe?" exclaimed Bragelonne, quickly.

"I never mix myself up in affairs of that kind; you know that very
well."

"What! not for a friend, for a son!"

"Exactly. If you were a stranger, I should tell you--I should tell _you_
nothing at all. How is Porthos, do you know?"

"Monsieur," cried Raoul, pressing D'Artagnan's hand, "I entreat you in
the name of the friendship you have vowed to my father!"

"The deuce take it, you are really ill--from curiosity."

"No; it is not from curiosity, it is from love."

"Good. Another grand word. If you were really in love, my dear Raoul,
you would be very different."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that if you were so deeply in love that I could believe I was
addressing myself to your heart--but it is impossible."

"I tell you I love Louise to distraction."

D'Artagnan could read to the very bottom of the young man's heart.

"Impossible, I tell you," he said. "You are like all young men; you are
not in love, you are out of your senses."

"Well! suppose it were only that?"

"No sensible man ever succeeded in making much of a brain when the head
was turned. I have completely lost my senses in the same way a hundred
times in my life. You would listen to me, but you would not hear me; you
would hear, but you would not understand me; you would understand, but
you would not obey me."

"Oh! try, try."

"I go far. Even if I were unfortunate enough to know something, and
foolish enough to communicate it to you---- You are my friend, you say?"

"Indeed, yes."

"Very good. I should quarrel with you. You would never forgive me for
having destroyed your illusion, as people say of love affairs."

"Monsieur d'Artagnan, you know all; and yet you plunge me in perplexity
and despair, in death itself."

"There, there, now."

"I never complain, as you know; but as Heaven and my father would never
forgive me for blowing out my brains, I will go and get the first person
I meet to give me the information which you withhold; I will tell him he
lies, and--"

"And you would kill him. And a fine affair that would be. So much the
better. What should I care for it. Kill any one you please, my boy, if
it can give you any pleasure. It is exactly like the man with the
toothache who keeps on saying, 'Oh! what torture I am suffering. I could
bite a piece of iron in half.' My answer always is, 'Bite, my friend,
bite; the tooth will remain all the same.'"

"I shall not kill any one, monsieur," said Raoul, gloomily.

"Yes, yes! you now assume a different tone; instead of killing, you will
get killed yourself, I suppose you mean? Very fine, indeed! How much I
should regret you! Of course I should go about all day, saying, 'Ah!
what a fine stupid fellow that Bragelonne was! as great a stupid as I
ever met with. I have passed my whole life almost in teaching him how to
hold and use his sword properly, and the silly fellow has got himself
spitted like a lark.' Go, then, Raoul, go and get yourself disposed of,
if you like. I hardly know who can have taught you logic, but deuce take
me if your father has not been regularly robbed of his money by whoever
did so."

Raoul buried his face in his hands, murmuring, "No, no; I have not a
single friend in the world."

"Oh! bah!" said D'Artagnan.

"I meet with nothing but raillery or indifference."

"Idle fancies, monsieur. I do not laugh at you, although I am a Gascon.
And, as for being indifferent, if I were so, I should have sent you
about your business a quarter of an hour ago, for you would make a man
who was out of his senses with delight as dull as possible, and would be
the death of one who was only out of spirits. How now, young man! do you
wish me to disgust you with the girl you are attached to, and to teach
you to execrate the whole sex who constitute the honor and happiness of
human life?"

"Oh! tell me, monsieur, and I will bless you."

"Do you think, my dear fellow, that I can have crammed into my brain all
about the carpenter, and the painter, and the staircase, and a hundred
other similar tales of the same kind?"

"A carpenter! what do you mean?"

"Upon my word, I don't know; some one told me there was a carpenter who
made an opening through a certain flooring."

"In La Valliere's room?"

"Oh! I don't know where."

"In the king's apartment, perhaps?"

"Of course, if it were in the king's apartment, I should tell you, I
suppose."

"In whose room, then?"

"I have told you for the last hour that I know nothing of the whole
affair."

"But the painter, then? the portrait--"

"It seems that the king wished to have the portrait of one of the ladies
belonging to the court."

"La Valliere's?"

"Why, you seem to have only that name in your mouth. Who spoke to you of
La Valliere?"

"If it be not her portrait, then, why do you suppose it would concern
me?"

"I do not suppose it will concern you. But you ask me all sorts of
questions, and I answer you. You positively will learn all the scandal
of the affair, and I tell you--make the best you can of it."

Raoul struck his forehead with his hand in utter despair. "It will kill
me!" he said.

"So you have said already."

"Yes, you're right," and he made a step or two as if he were going to
leave.

"Where are you going?"

"To look for some one who will tell me the truth."

"Who is that?"

"A woman."

"Mademoiselle de la Valliere herself, I suppose you mean?" said
D'Artagnan, with a smile. "Ah! a famous idea that! You wish to be
consoled by some one, and you will be so at once. She will tell you
nothing ill of herself, of course. So be off."

"You are mistaken, monsieur," replied Raoul; "the woman I mean will tell
me all the evil she possibly can."

"You allude to Montalais, I suppose--her friend; a woman who, on that
account, will exaggerate all that is either bad or good in the matter.
Do not talk to Montalais, my good fellow."

"You have some reason for wishing me not to talk with Montalais?"

"Well, I admit it. And, in point of fact, why should I play with you as
a cat does with a poor mouse? You distress me, you do indeed. And if I
wish you not to speak to Montalais just now, it is because you will be
betraying your secret, and people will take advantage of it. Wait, if
you can."

"I cannot."

"So much the worse. Why, you see, Raoul, if I had an idea--but I have
not got one."

"Promise that you will pity me, my friend, that is all I need, and leave
me to get out of the affair by myself."

"Oh! yes, indeed, in order that you may get deeper into the mire! A
capital idea, truly! go and sit down at that table and take a pen in
your hand."

"What for?"

"To write to ask Montalais to give you an interview."

"Ah!" said Raoul, snatching eagerly at the pen which the captain held
out to him.

Suddenly the door opened, and one of the musketeers, approaching
D'Artagnan, said, "Captain, Mademoiselle de Montalais is here, and
wishes to speak to you."

"To me?" murmured D'Artagnan. "Ask her to come in; I shall soon see," he
said to himself, "whether she wishes to speak to me or not."

The cunning captain was quite right in his suspicions; for as soon as
Montalais entered, she exclaimed, "Oh, monsieur! monsieur! I beg your
pardon, Monsieur d'Artagnan."

"Oh! I forgive you, mademoiselle," said D'Artagnan; "I know that, at my
age, those who are looking for me generally need me for something or
another."

"I was looking for M. de Bragelonne," replied Montalais.

"How very fortunate that is; he was looking for you, too. Raoul, will
you accompany Mademoiselle de Montalais?"

"Oh! certainly."

"Go along, then," he said, as he gently pushed Raoul out of the cabinet;
and then, taking hold of Montalais's hand, he said in a low voice, "Be
kind toward him; spare him, and spare her, too, if you can."

"Ah!" she said, in the same tone of voice, "it is not I who am going to
speak to him."

"Who, then?"

"It is Madame who has sent for him."

"Very good," cried D'Artagnan, "it is Madame, is it? In an hour's time,
then, the poor fellow will be cured."

"Or else dead," said Montalais, in a voice full of compassion. "Adieu,
Monsieur d'Artagnan," she said; and she ran to join Raoul, who was
waiting for her at a little distance from the door, very much puzzled
and uneasy at the dialogue, which promised no good augury for him.



CHAPTER LIX.

TWO JEALOUSIES.


Lovers are very tender toward everything which concerns the person they
are in love with. Raoul no sooner found himself alone with Montalais
than he kissed her hand with rapture. "There, there," said the young
girl sadly, "you are throwing your kisses away; I will guarantee that
they will not bring you back any interest."

"How so?--Why?--Will you explain to me, my dear Aure?"

"Madame will explain everything to you. I am going to take you to her
apartments."

"What!"

"Silence! and throw aside your wild and savage looks. The windows here
have eyes, the walls have ears. Have the kindness not to look at me any
longer; be good enough to speak to me aloud of the rain, of the fine
weather, and of the charms of England."

"At all events--" interrupted Raoul.

"I tell you, I warn you, that wherever it may be, I know not now, Madame
is sure to have eyes and ears open. I am not very desirous, you can
easily believe, to be dismissed or thrown into the Bastille. Let us
talk, I tell you, or rather, do not let us talk at all."

Raoul clenched his hands, and tried to assume the look and gait of a man
of courage, it is true, but of a man of courage on his way to the
torture. Montalais, glancing in every direction, walking along with an
easy swinging gait, and holding up her head pertly in the air, preceded
him to Madame's apartments, where he was at once introduced. "Well," he
thought, "this day will pass away without my learning anything. Guiche
showed too much consideration for my feelings; he had no doubt come to
an understanding with Madame, and both of them, by a friendly plot,
agreed to postpone the solution of the problem. Why have I not a
determined inveterate enemy--that serpent, De Wardes, for instance; that
he would bite is very likely: but I should not hesitate any more. To
hesitate, to doubt--better by far to die."

The next moment Raoul was in Madame's presence. Henrietta, more charming
than ever, was half lying, half reclining in her armchair, her little
feet upon an embroidered velvet cushion; she was playing with a little
kitten with long silky fur, which was biting her fingers and hanging by
the lace of her collar.

Madame seemed plunged in deep thought, so deep, indeed, that it required
both Montalais and Raoul's voice to disturb her from her reverie.

"Your highness sent for me?" repeated Raoul.

Madame shook her head, as if she were just awakening, and then said,
"Good-morning, Monsieur de Bragelonne; yes, I sent for you; so you have
returned from England?"

"Yes, madame, and am at your royal highness's commands."

"Thank you; leave us, Montalais;" and the latter immediately left the
room.

"You have a few minutes to give me, Monsieur de Bragelonne, have you
not?"

"My very life is at your royal highness's disposal," Raoul returned,
with respect, guessing that there was something serious in all these
outward courtesies of Madame; nor was he displeased, indeed, to observe
the seriousness of her manner, feeling persuaded that there was some
sort of affinity between Madame's sentiments and his own. In fact, every
one at court of any perception at all knew perfectly well the capricious
fancy and absurd despotism of the princess's singular character. Madame
had been flattered beyond all bounds by the king's attentions; she had
made herself talked about; she had inspired the queen with that mortal
jealousy which is the gnawing worm at the root of every woman's
happiness; Madame in a word, in her attempts to cure a wounded pride,
had found that her heart had become deeply and passionately attached. We
know what Madame had done to recall Raoul, who had been sent out of the
way by Louis XIV. Raoul did not know of her letter to Charles II.,
although D'Artagnan had guessed its contents. Who will undertake to
account for that seemingly inexplicable mixture of love and vanity, that
passionate tenderness of feeling, that prodigious duplicity of conduct?
No one can, indeed; not even the bad angel who kindles the love of
coquetry in the heart of woman. "Monsieur de Bragelonne," said the
princess, after a moment's pause, "have you returned satisfied?"

Bragelonne looked at Madame Henrietta, and seeing how pale she was, not
alone from what she was keeping back, but also from what she was burning
to say, said: "Satisfied! what is there for me to be satisfied or
dissatisfied about, madame?"

"But what are those things with which a man of your age and of your
appearance is usually either satisfied or dissatisfied?"

"How eager she is," thought Raoul, almost terrified; "what is it that
she is going to breathe into my heart?" and then, frightened at what she
might possibly be going to tell him, and wishing to put off the
opportunity of having everything explained which he had hitherto so
ardently wished for, yet had dreaded so much, he replied, "I left behind
me, madame, a dear friend in good health, and on my return I find him
very ill."

"You refer to M. de Guiche," replied Madame Henrietta, with the most
imperturbable self-possession; "I have heard he is a very dear friend of
yours."

"He is indeed, madame."

"Well, it is quite true he has been wounded; but he is better now. Oh!
M. de Guiche is not to be pitied," she said hurriedly; and then,
recovering herself, added, "But has he anything to complain of? Has he
complained of anything? Is there any cause of grief or sorrow that we
are not acquainted with?"

"I allude only to his wound, madame."

"So much the better, then, for, in other respects, M. de Guiche seems to
be very happy; he is always in very high spirits. I am sure that you,
Monsieur de Bragelonne, would far prefer to be, like him, wounded only
in the body ... for what, indeed, is such a wound, after all!"

Raoul started. "Alas!" he said to himself, "she is returning to it."

"What did you say?" she inquired.

"I did not say anything, madame."

"You did not say anything; you disapprove of my observation, then? you
are perfectly satisfied, I suppose?"

Raoul approached closer to her. "Madame," he said, "your royal highness
wishes to say something to me, and your instinctive kindness and
generosity of disposition induce you to be careful and considerate as to
your manner of conveying it. Will your royal highness throw this kind
forbearance aside? I am able to bear everything; and I am listening."

"Ah!" replied Henrietta, "what do you understand, then?"

"That which your royal highness wishes me to understand," said Raoul,
trembling, notwithstanding his command over himself, as he pronounced
these words.

"In point of fact," murmured the princess ... "it seems cruel, but since
I have begun--"

"Yes, madame, since your highness has deigned to begin, will you deign
to finish--"

Henrietta rose hurriedly, and walked a few paces up and down the room.
"What did M. de Guiche tell you?" she said, suddenly.

"Nothing, madame."

"Nothing! Did he say nothing? Ah! how well I recognize him in that."

"No doubt he wished to spare me."

"And that is what friends call friendship. But surely. Monsieur
d'Artagnan, whom you have just left, must have told you."

"No more than Guiche, madame."

Henrietta made a gesture full of impatience, as she said, "At least, you
know all that the court has known!"

"I know nothing at all, madame."

"Not the scene in the storm?"

"No, madame."

"Not the tete-à-tete in the forest?"

"No, madame."

"Nor the flight to Chaillot?"

Raoul, whose head drooped like flower which has been cut down by the
sickle, made an almost superhuman effort to smile, as he replied with
the greatest gentleness: "I have had the honor to tell your royal
highness that I am absolutely ignorant of everything, that I am a poor
unremembered outcast, who has this moment arrived from England. There
have been so many stormy waves between myself and those whom I left
behind me here, that the rumor of none of the circumstances your
highness refers to, has been able to reach me."

Henrietta was affected by his extreme pallor, his gentleness, and his
great courage. The principal feeling in her heart at that moment was an
eager desire to hear the nature of the remembrance which the poor lover
retained of her who had made him suffer so much. "Monsieur de
Bragelonne," she said, "that which your friends have refused to do, I
will do for you, whom I like and esteem very much. I will be your friend
on this occasion. You hold your head high, as a man of honor should do;
and I should regret that you should have to bow it down under ridicule,
and in a few days, it may be, under contempt."

"Ah!" exclaimed Raoul, perfectly livid. "It is as bad as that, then?"

"If you do not know," said the princess, "I see that you guess; you were
affianced, I believe, to Mademoiselle de la Valliere?"

"Yes, madame."

"By that right, then, you deserve to be warned about her, as some day or
another I shall be obliged to dismiss Mademoiselle de la Valliere from
my service--"

"Dismiss La Valliere!" cried Bragelonne.

"Of course. Do you suppose that I shall always be accessible to the
tears and protestations of the king. No, no; my house shall no longer be
made a convenience for such practices; but you tremble, you cannot
stand--"

"No, madame, no," said Bragelonne, making an effort over himself; "I
thought I should have died just now, that was all. Your royal highness
did me the honor to say that the king wept and implored you--"

"Yes, but in vain," returned the princess; who then related to Raoul the
scene that took place at Chaillot, and the king's despair on his return;
she told him of his indulgence to herself, and the terrible word with
which the outraged princess, the humiliated coquette, had dashed aside
the royal anger.

Raoul stood with his head bent down.

"What do you think of it all?" she said.

"The king loves her," he replied.

"But you seem to think she does not love him!"

"Alas, madame, I am thinking of the time when she loved me."

Henrietta was for a moment struck with admiration at this sublime
disbelief; and then, shrugging her shoulders, she said, "You do not
believe me, I see. How deeply you must love her, and you doubt if she
loves the king?"

"I do, until I have a proof of it. Forgive me, madame, but she has given
me her word; and her mind and heart are too upright to tell a
falsehood."

"You require a proof! Be it so. Come with me, then."



CHAPTER LX.

A DOMICILIARY VISIT.


The princess, preceding Raoul, led him through the courtyard toward that
part of the building which La Valliere inhabited, and, ascending the
same staircase which Raoul had himself ascended that very morning, she
paused at the door of the room in which the young man had been so
strangely received by Montalais. The opportunity had been well chosen to
carry out the project which Madame Henrietta had conceived, for the
chateau was empty. The king, the courtiers, and the ladies of the court
had set off for St. Germain; Madame Henrietta was the only one who knew
of Bragelonne's return, and, thinking over the advantages which might be
drawn from this return, had feigned indisposition in order to remain
behind. Madame was therefore confident of finding La Valliere's room and
Saint-Aignan's apartment perfectly empty. She took a pass-key from her
pocket and opened the door of her maid of honor's apartment.
Bragelonne's gaze was immediately fixed upon the interior of the room,
which he recognized at once; and the impression which the sight of it
produced upon him was one of the first tortures which awaited him. The
princess looked at him, and her practiced eye could at once detect what
was passing in the young man's heart.

"You asked me for proofs," she said, "do not be astonished, then, if I
give you them. But if you do not think you have courage enough to
confront them, there is still time to withdraw."

"I thank you, madame," said Bragelonne; "but I came here to be
convinced. You promised to convince me--do so."

"Enter, then," said Madame, "and shut the door behind you."

Bragelonne obeyed, and then turned toward the princess, whom he
interrogated by a look.

"You know where you are, I suppose?" inquired Madame Henrietta.

"Everything leads me to believe I am in Mademoiselle de la Valliere's
room."

"You are."

"But I would observe to your highness that this room is a room, and is
not a proof."

"Wait," said the princess, as she walked to the foot of the bed, folded
up the screen into its several compartments, and stooped down toward the
floor. "Look here," she continued; "stoop down, and lift up this
trap-door yourself."

"A trap-door!" said Raoul, astonished; for D'Artagnan's words began to
return to his memory, and he had an indistinct recollection that
D'Artagnan had made use of the same word. He looked, but uselessly so,
for some cleft or crevice which might indicate an opening, or a ring to
assist in lifting up some portion of the planking.

"Ah, I forgot," said Madame Henrietta, "I forgot the secret spring; the
fourth plank of the flooring--press on the spot where you will observe a
knot in the wood. Those are the instructions; press, vicomte! press, I
say, yourself!"

Raoul, pale as death, pressed his finger on the spot which had been
indicated to him: at the same moment the spring began to work, and the
trap rose of its own accord.

"It is ingenious enough, certainly," said the princess; "and one can see
that the architect foresaw that a very little hand only would have to
make use of this spring, for see how easily the trap-door opened without
assistance."

"A staircase!" cried Raoul.

"Yes; and a very pretty one, too," said Madame Henrietta. "See, vicomte,
the staircase has a balustrade, intended to prevent the falling of timid
persons, who might be tempted to descend the staircase; and I will risk
myself on it accordingly. Come, vicomte, follow me!"

"But before following you, madame, may I ask where this staircase leads
to?"

"Ah, true; I forgot to tell you. You know, perhaps, that formerly M. de
Saint-Aignan lived in the very next apartment to the king?"

"Yes, madame, I am aware of that; that was the arrangement, at least,
before I left; and more than once I have had the honor of visiting him
in his old rooms."

"Well; he obtained the king's leave to change his former convenient and
beautiful apartment for the two rooms to which this staircase will
conduct us, and which together form a lodging for him, twice as small,
and at ten times greater distance from the king--a close proximity to
whom is by no means disdained, in general, by the gentlemen belonging to
the court."

"Very good, madame," returned Raoul; "but go on, I beg, for I do not
understand yet."

"Well, then, it accidentally happened," continued the princess, "that M.
de Saint-Aignan's apartment is situated underneath the apartments of my
maids of honor, and particularly underneath the room of La Valliere."

"But what was the motive of this trap-door and this staircase?"

"That I cannot tell you. Would you like us to go down to Monsieur de
Saint-Aignan's rooms? Perhaps we shall be able to find the solution of
the enigma there."

And Madame set the example by going down herself, while Raoul, sighing
deeply, followed her. At every step Bragelonne took, he advanced further
into that mysterious apartment which had been witness to La Valliere's
sighs, and still retained the sweetest perfume of her presence.
Bragelonne fancied that he perceived, as he inhaled his every breath,
that the young girl must have passed through there. Then succeeded to
these emanations of herself, which he regarded as invisible through
certain proofs, the flowers she preferred to all others--the books of
her own selection. Had Raoul preserved a single doubt on the subject, it
would have vanished at the secret harmony of tastes, and connection of
the mind with the use of the ordinary objects of life. La Valliere, in
Bragelonne's eyes, was present there in every article of furniture, in
the color of the hangings, in everything that surrounded him. Dumb, and
completely overwhelmed, there was nothing further for him now to learn,
and he followed his pitiless conductress as blindly as the culprit
follows the executioner; while Madame, as cruel as all women of delicate
and nervous temperaments are, did not spare him the slightest detail.
But it must be admitted, that, notwithstanding the kind of apathy into
which he had fallen, none of these details, even had he been left alone,
would have escaped him. The happiness of the woman who loves, when that
happiness is derived from a rival, is a living torture for a jealous
man; but for a jealous man such as Raoul was, for one whose heart had
for the first time been steeped in gall and bitterness, Louise's
happiness was in reality an ignominious death, a death of body and soul.

He guessed all; he fancied he could see them, with their hands clasped
in each other's, their faces drawn close together, and reflected, side
by side, in loving proximity, as they gazed upon the mirrors around
them--so sweet an occupation for lovers, who, as they thus see
themselves twice over, impress the picture more enduringly in their
memories. He could guess, too, the stolen kiss snatched as they
separated from each other's loved society. The luxury, the studied
elegance, eloquent of the perfection of indolence, of ease; the extreme
care shown, either to spare the loved object every annoyance, or to
occasion her a delightful surprise; that strength and power of love
multiplied by the strength and power of royalty itself, seemed like a
death-blow to Raoul. If there be anything which can in any way assuage
or mitigate the tortures of jealousy, it is the inferiority of the man
who is preferred to yourself; while, on the very contrary, if there be
an anguish more bitter than another, a misery for which language has no
descriptive words, it is the superiority of the man preferred to
yourself, superior, perhaps, in youth, beauty, grace. It is in such
moments as these that Heaven almost seems to have taken part against the
disdained and rejected lover.

One final pang was reserved for poor Raoul. Madame Henrietta lifted up a
silk curtain, and behind the canvas he perceived La Valliere's portrait.
Not only the portrait of La Valliere, but of La Valliere eloquent of
youth, beauty, and happiness, inhaling life and enjoyment at every pore,
because at eighteen years of age love itself is life.

"Louise!" murmured Bragelonne--"Louise! is it true, then? Oh, you have
never loved me, for never have you looked at me in that manner." And he
felt as if his heart were crushed within his bosom.

Madame Henrietta looked at him, almost envious of his extreme grief,
although she well knew there was nothing to envy in it, and that she
herself was as passionately loved by De Guiche as Louise by Bragelonne.
Raoul interpreted Madame Henrietta's look.

"Oh, forgive me, forgive me, madame; in your presence I know I ought to
have greater mastery over myself. But Heaven grant that you may never be
struck by a similar misery to that which crushes me at this moment, for
you are but a woman, and would not be able to endure so terrible an
affliction. Forgive me, I again entreat you, madame; I am but a man
without rank or position, while you belong to a race whose happiness
knows no bounds, whose power acknowledges no limit."

"Monsieur de Bragelonne," replied Henrietta, "a heart such as yours
merits all the consideration and respect which a queen's heart even can
bestow. Regard me as your friend, monsieur; and as such, indeed, I would
not allow your whole life to be poisoned by perfidy and covered with
ridicule. It was I, indeed, who, with more courage than any of your
pretended friends--I except M. de Guiche--was the cause of your return
from London; it is I, also, who have given you these melancholy proofs,
necessary, however, for your cure, if you are a lover with courage in
his heart, and not a weeping Amadis. Do not thank me; pity me even, and
do not serve the king less faithfully than you have done."

Raoul smiled bitterly. "Ah; true, true; I was forgetting that! the king
is my master."

"Your liberty, nay, your very life is in danger."

A steady, penetrating look informed Madame Henrietta that she was
mistaken, and that her last argument was not a likely one to affect the
young man. "Take care, Monsieur de Bragelonne," she said, "for if you do
not weigh well all your actions, you might throw into an extravagance of
wrath, a prince, whose passions, once aroused, exceed the utmost limits
of reason, and you would thereby involve your friends and family in the
deepest distress; you must bend, you must submit, and must cure
yourself."

"I thank you, madame; I appreciate the advice your royal highness is
good enough to give me, and I will endeavor to follow it; but one final
word, I beg."

"Name it."

"Should I be indiscreet in asking you the secret of this staircase, of
this trap-door; a secret which, it seems, you have discovered."

"Nothing is more simple. For the purpose of exercising a surveillance
over the young girls who are attached to my service, I have duplicate
keys of their doors. It seemed very strange to me that M. de
Saint-Aignan should change his apartments. It seemed very strange, that
the king should come to see M. de Saint-Aignan every day, and, finally,
it seemed very strange, that so many things should be done during your
absence, that the very habits and customs of the court seemed to be
changed. I do not wish to be trifled with by the king, nor to serve as a
cloak for his love affairs; for, after La Valliere, who weeps
incessantly, he will take a fancy to Montalais, who is always laughing;
and then to Tonnay-Charente, who does nothing but sing all day; to act
such a part as that would be unworthy of me. I have thrust aside the
scruples which my friendship for you suggested. I have discovered the
secret. I have wounded your feelings, I know; and I again entreat you to
excuse me; but I had a duty to fulfill. I have discharged it. You are
now forewarned; the tempest will soon burst; protect yourself
accordingly."

"You naturally expect, however, that a result of some kind must follow,"
replied Bragelonne, with firmness; "for you do not suppose I shall
silently accept the shame which is thrust upon me, or the treachery
which has been practiced against me."

"You will take whatever steps in the matter you please, Monsieur Raoul,
only do not betray the source whence you derived the truth. That is all
I have to ask, that is the only price I require for the service I have
rendered you."

"Fear nothing, madame," said Bragelonne, with a bitter smile.

"I bribed the locksmith, in whom the lovers had confided. You can just
as well have done so as myself, can you not?"

"Yes, madame. Your royal highness, however, has no other advice or
caution to give me, except that of not betraying you."

"None other."

"I am about, therefore, to beg your royal highness to allow me to remain
here for one moment."

"Without me?"

"Oh! no, madame. It matters very little; for what I have to do can be
done in your presence. I only ask one moment to write a line to some
one."

"It is dangerous, Monsieur de Bragelonne. Take care."

"No one can possibly know that your royal highness has done me the honor
to conduct me here. Besides, I shall sign the letter I am going to
write."

"Do as you please, then."

Raoul drew out his tablet, and wrote rapidly on one of the leaves the
following words:

     "MONSIEUR LE COMTE--Do not be surprised to find here this
     paper signed by me; the friend whom I shall very shortly send to
     call on you will have the honor to explain the object of my visit
     to you.

     "VICOMTE RAOUL DE BRAGELONNE."

He rolled up the paper, slipped it into the lock of the door which
communicated with the room set apart for the two lovers, and satisfied
himself that the paper was so apparent that Saint-Aignan could not but
see it as he entered; he rejoined the princess, who had already reached
the top of the staircase. They then separated. Raoul pretending to thank
her highness; Henrietta pitying, or seeming to pity, with all her heart,
the poor, wretched young man she had just condemned to such fearful
torture. "Oh!" she said, as she saw him disappear, pale as death, and
his eyes injected with blood, "if I had known this, I should have
concealed the truth from that poor gentleman."



CHAPTER LXI.

PORTHOS' PLAN OF ACTION.


The numerous individuals we have introduced into this long story is the
cause of each of them being obliged to appear only in his own turn, and
according to the exigencies of the recital. The result is, that our
readers have had no opportunity of again meeting our friend Porthos
since his return from Fontainebleau. The honors which he had received
from the king had not changed the easy, affectionate character of that
excellent-hearted man; he may, perhaps, have held up his head a little
higher than usual, and a majesty of demeanor, as it were, may have
betrayed itself since the honor of dining at the king's table had been
accorded him. His majesty's banqueting-room had produced a certain
effect upon Porthos. Le Seigneur de Bracieux et de Pierrefonds delighted
to remember that, during that memorable dinner, the numerous array of
servants, and the large number of officials, who were in attendance upon
the guests, gave a certain tone and effect to the repast, and seemed to
furnish the room. Porthos undertook to confer upon Mouston a position of
some kind or other, in order to establish a sort of hierarchy among his
other domestics, and to create a military household, which was not
unusual among the great captains of the age, since, in the preceding
century, this luxury had been greatly encouraged by Messieurs de
Treville, de Schomberg, de la Vieuville, without alluding to M. de
Richelieu, M. de Conde, and De Bouillon-Turenne! And, therefore, why
should not he, Porthos, the friend of the king, and of M. Fouquet, a
baron, an engineer, etc., why should not he, indeed, enjoy all the
delightful privileges which large possessions and unusual merit
invariably confer? Slightly neglected by Aramis, who, we know, was
greatly occupied with M. Fouquet; neglected, also, on account of his
being on duty, by D'Artagnan; tired of Trüchen and Planchet, Porthos was
surprised to find himself dreaming, without precisely knowing why; but
if any one had said to him, "Do you want anything, Porthos?" he would,
most certainly, have replied, "Yes." After one of those dinners, during
which Porthos attempted to recall to his recollection all the details of
the royal banquet, half joyful, thanks to the excellence of the wines;
half melancholy, thanks to his ambitious ideas, Porthos was gradually
falling off into a gentle doze, when his servant entered to announce
that M. de Bragelonne wished to speak to him. Porthos passed into an
adjoining room, where he found his young friend in the disposition of
mind we are already aware of. Raoul advanced toward Porthos, and shook
him by the hand; Porthos, surprised at his seriousness of aspect,
offered him a seat. "Dear M. de Valon," said Raoul, "I have a service to
ask of you."

"Nothing could happen more fortunately, my young friend," replied
Porthos; "I have had eight thousand livres sent me this morning from
Pierrefonds; and if you want any money--"

"No, I thank you; it is not money."

"So much the worse, then. I have always heard it said that that is the
rarest service, but the easiest to render. The remark struck me; I like
to cite remarks that strike me."

"Your heart is as good as your mind is sound and true."

"You are too kind, I'm sure. You will dine here, of course?"

"No; I am not hungry."

"Eh! not dine! What a dreadful country England is."

"Not too much so, indeed--but--"

"Well. If such excellent fish and meat were not to be procured there, it
would hardly be endurable."

"Yes; I came to--"

"I am listening. Only just allow me to take something to drink. One gets
thirsty in Paris:" and he ordered a bottle of champagne to be brought;
and, having first filled Raoul's glass, he filled his own, drank it down
at a gulp, and then resumed; "I needed that, in order to listen to you
with proper attention. I am now quite at your service. What have you to
ask me, dear Raoul? What do you want?"

"Give me your opinion upon quarrels in general, my dear friend."

"My opinion! Well--but---- Explain your idea a little," replied Porthos,
rubbing his forehead.

"I mean--you are generally good-humored, or good-tempered, whenever any
misunderstanding may arise between a friend of yours and a stranger, for
instance?"

"Oh! in the best of tempers."

"Very good; but what do you do in such a case?"

"Whenever any friend of mine has a quarrel, I always act upon one
principle."

"What is that?"

"That all lost time is irreparable, and that one never arranges an
affair so well as when everything has been done to embroil the dispute
as much as possible."

"Ah! indeed, that is the principle on which you proceed."

"Thoroughly; so as soon as a quarrel takes place, I bring the two
parties together."

"Exactly."

"You understand that by this means it is impossible for an affair not to
be arranged."

"I should have thought that, treated in this manner, an affair would, on
the contrary--"

"Oh! not the least in the world. Just fancy now, I have had in my life
something like a hundred and eighty to a hundred and ninety regular
duels, without reckoning hasty encounters or chance meetings."

"It is a very handsome number," said Raoul, unable to resist a smile.

"A mere nothing; but I am so gentle. D'Artagnan reckons his duels by
hundreds. It is very true he is a little too hard and sharp--I have
often told him so."

"And so," resumed Raoul, "you generally arrange the affairs of honor
your friends confide to you."

"There is not a single instance in which I have not finished by
arranging every one of them," said Porthos, with a gentleness and
confidence which surprised Raoul.

"But the way in which you settle them is at least honorable, I suppose?"

"Oh! rely upon that; and at this stage, I will explain my other
principle to you. As soon as my friend has confided his quarrel to me,
this is what I do: I go to his adversary at once, armed with a
politeness and self-possession which are absolutely requisite under such
circumstances."

"That is the way, then," said Raoul, bitterly, "that you arrange the
affairs so safely."

"I believe you. I go to the adversary, then, and say to him: 'It is
impossible, monsieur, that you are ignorant of the extent to which you
have insulted my friend.'" Raoul frowned at this remark.

"It sometimes happens--very often, indeed," pursued Porthos--"that my
friend has not been insulted at all; he has even been the first to give
offense; you can imagine, therefore, whether my language is not well
chosen." And Porthos burst into a peal of laughter.

"Decidedly," said Raoul to himself, while the formidable thunder of
Porthos' laughter was ringing in his ears, "I am very unfortunate. De
Guiche treats me with coldness, D'Artagnan with ridicule, Porthos is too
tame; no one will settle this affair in my way. And I came to Porthos
because I wished to find a sword instead of cold reasoning at my
service. How my ill-luck follows me."

Porthos, who had recovered himself, continued: "By a simple expression,
I leave my adversary without an excuse."

"That is as it may happen," said Raoul, distractedly.

"Not at all, it is quite certain. I have not left him an excuse; and
then it is that I display all my courtesy, in order to attain the happy
issue of my project. I advance, therefore, with an air of great
politeness, and, taking my adversary by the hand, I say to him: 'Now
that you are convinced of having given the offense, we are sure of
reparation; between my friend and yourself, the future can only offer an
exchange of mutual courtesies of conduct, and, consequently, my mission
is to give you the length of my friend's sword.'"

"What!" said Raoul.

"Wait a minute. 'The length of my friend's sword. My horse is waiting
below; my friend is in such and such a spot, and is impatiently awaiting
your agreeable society; I will take you with me; we can call upon your
second as we go along;' and the affair is arranged."

"And so," said Raoul, pale with vexation, "you reconcile the two
adversaries on the ground."

"I beg your pardon," interrupted Porthos. "Reconcile! What for?"

"You said that the affair was arranged."

"Of course! since my friend is waiting for him."

"Well! what then? If he is waiting--"

"Well! if he is waiting, it is merely to stretch his legs a little. The
adversary, on the contrary, is stiff from riding; they place themselves
in proper order, and my friend kills his opponent, and the affair is
ended."

"Ah! he kills him, then?" cried Raoul.

"I should think so," said Porthos. "Is it likely I should ever have as a
friend a man who allows himself to get killed? I have a hundred and one
friends: at the head of the list stand your father, Aramis, and
D'Artagnan, all of whom are living and well, I believe."

"Oh! my dear baron," exclaimed Raoul, delightedly, as he embraced
Porthos.

"You approve of my method, then?" said the giant.

"I approve of it so thoroughly, that I shall have recourse to it this
very day, without a moment's delay--at once, in fact. You are the very
man I have been looking for."

"Good; here I am, then; you want to fight, I suppose?"

"Absolutely so."

"It is very natural. With whom?"

"With M. de Saint-Aignan."

"I know him--a most agreeable man, who was exceedingly polite to me the
day I had the honor of dining with the king. I shall certainly
acknowledge his politeness in return, even if it had not happened to be
my usual custom. So, he has given you offense?"

"A mortal offense."

"The deuce! I can say so, I suppose?"

"More than that, even, if you like."

"That is a very great convenience."

"I may look upon it as one of your arranged affairs, may I not?" said
Raoul, smiling.

"As a matter of course. Where will you be waiting for him?"

"Ah! I forgot; it is a very delicate matter. M. de Saint-Aignan is a
very great friend of the king's."

"So I have heard it said."

"So that if I kill him--"

"Oh! you will kill him, certainly; you must take every precaution to do
so. But there is no difficulty in these matters now; if you had lived in
our early days, oh! that was something like!"

"My dear friend, you have not quite understood me. I mean, that, M. de
Saint-Aignan being a friend of the king, the affair will be more
difficult to manage, since the king might learn beforehand--"

"Oh! no; that is not likely. You know my method: 'Monsieur, you have
injured my friend, and--'"

"Yes, I know it."

"And then: 'Monsieur, I have horses below,' I carry him off before he
can have spoken to any one."

"Will he allow himself to be carried off like that?"

"I should think so! I should like to see it fail. It would be the first
time, if it did. It is true, though, that the young men of the present
day--Bah! I would carry him off bodily, if that were all," and Porthos,
adding gesture to speech, lifted Raoul and the chair he was sitting on
off the ground, and carried them round the room.

"Very good," said Raoul, laughing. "All we have to do is to state the
grounds of the quarrel to M. de Saint-Aignan."

"Well, but that is done, it seems."

"No, my dear M. de Valon, the usage of the present day requires that the
cause of the quarrel should be explained."

"Very good. Tell me what it is, then."

"The fact is--"

"Deuce take it! see how troublesome this is. In former days, we never
had any occasion to say anything about the matter. People fought then
for the sake of fighting; and I, for one, know no better reason than
that."

"You are quite right, M. de Valon."

"However, tell me what the cause is."

"It is too long a story to tell; only as one must particularize to some
extent, and as, on the other hand, the affair is full of difficulties,
and requires the most absolute secrecy, you will have the kindness
merely to tell M. de Saint-Aignan that he has, in the first place,
insulted me by changing his lodgings."

"By changing his lodgings? Good," said Porthos, who began to count on
his fingers--"next?"

"Then in getting a trap-door made in his new apartments."

"I understand," said Porthos; "a trap-door; upon my word this is very
serious; you ought to be furious at that. What the deuce does the fellow
mean by getting trap-doors made without first consulting you?
Trap-doors! mordioux! I haven't got any, except in my dungeons at
Bracieux."

"And you will add," said Raoul, "that my last motive for considering
myself insulted is, the portrait that M. de Saint-Aignan well knows."

"Is it possible? A portrait, too! A change of residence, a trap-door,
and a portrait! Why, my dear friend, with but one of those causes of
complaint there is enough, and more than enough, for all the gentlemen
in France and Spain to cut each other's throats, and that is saying but
very little."

"Well, my dear friend, you are furnished with all you need, I suppose?"

"I shall take a second horse with me. Select your own rendezvous, and
while you are waiting there you can practice some of the best passes, so
as to get your limbs as elastic as possible."

"Thank you. I shall be waiting for you in the wood of Vincennes, close
to Minimes."

"All's right, then. Where am I to find this M. de Saint-Aignan?"

"At the Palais Royal."

Porthos rang a huge handbell. "My court suit," he said to the servant
who answered the summons, "my horse, and a led horse to accompany me."
Then, turning to Raoul as soon as the servant had quitted the room, he
said, "Does your father know anything about this?"

"No; I am going to write to him."

"And D'Artagnan?"

"No, nor D'Artagnan, either. He is very cautious, you know, and might
have diverted me from my purpose."

"D'Artagnan is a sound adviser, though," said Porthos, astonished that,
in his own loyal faith in D'Artagnan, anyone could have thought of
himself, so long as there was a D'Artagnan in the world.

"Dear M. de Valon," replied Raoul, "do not question me any more, I
implore you. I have told you all that I had to say; it is prompt action
that I now expect, as sharp and decided as you know how to arrange it.
That, indeed, is my reason for having chosen you."

"You will be satisfied with me," replied Porthos.

"Do not forget, either, that except ourselves, no one must know anything
of this meeting."

"People always find these things out," said Porthos, "when a dead body
is discovered in a wood. But I promise you everything, my dear friend,
except concealing the dead body. There it is, and it must be seen, as a
matter of course. It is a principle of mine not to bury bodies. That has
a smack of the assassin about it. Every risk must run its own risk."

"To work, then, my dear friend."

"Rely upon me," said the giant, finishing the bottle, while the servant
spread out upon a sofa the gorgeously-decorated dress trimmed with lace.
Raoul left the room, saying to himself, with a secret delight,
"Perfidious king! traitorous monarch! I cannot reach thee. I do not wish
it; for kings are sacred objects. But your friend, your accomplice, your
panderer--the coward who represents you--shall pay for your crime. I
will kill him in thy name, and afterward we will think of Louise."



CHAPTER LXII.

THE CHANGE OF RESIDENCE, THE TRAP-DOOR, AND THE PORTRAIT.


Porthos, intrusted, to his great delight, with this mission, which made
him feel young again, took half an hour less than his usual time to put
on his court suit. To show that he was a man acquainted with the usages
of the highest society, he had begun by sending his lackey to inquire if
Monsieur de Saint-Aignan were at home, and received, in answer, that M.
le Comte de Saint-Aignan had had the honor of accompanying the king to
Saint-Germain, as well as the whole court; but that Monsieur le Comte
had just that moment returned. Immediately upon this reply, Porthos made
as much haste as possible, and reached Saint-Aignan's apartments just as
the latter was having his boots taken off. The promenade had been
delightful. The king, who was in love more than ever, and of course
happier than ever, behaved in the most charming manner to every one.
Nothing could possibly equal his kindness. M. de Saint-Aignan, it may be
remembered, was a poet, and fancied that he had proved that he was so,
under too many a memorable circumstance, to allow the title to be
disputed by any one. An indefatigable rhymester, he had, during the
whole of the journey, overwhelmed with quatrains, sextains, and
madrigals, first the king, and then La Valliere. The king was, on his
side, in a similarly poetical mood, and had made a distich; while La
Valliere, like all women who are in love, had composed two sonnets. As
one may see, then, the day had not been a bad one for Apollo; and,
therefore, as soon as he had returned to Paris, Saint-Aignan, who knew
beforehand that his verses would be sure to be extensively circulated in
court circles, occupied himself, with a little more attention than he
had been able to bestow during the promenade, with the composition, as
well as with the idea itself. Consequently, with all the tenderness of a
father about to start his children in life, he candidly interrogated
himself whether the public would find these offspring of his imagination
sufficiently elegant and graceful; and so, in order to make his mind
easy on the subject, M. de Saint-Aignan recited to himself the madrigal
he had composed, and which he had repeated from memory to the king, and
which he had promised to write out for him on his return. All the time
he was committing these words to memory, the comte was engaged in
undressing himself more completely. He had just taken off his coat, and
was putting on his dressing-gown, when he was informed that Monsieur le
Baron de Valon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds was waiting to be received.

"Eh!" he said, "what does that bunch of names mean? I don't know
anything about him."

"It is the same gentleman," replied the lackey, "who had the honor of
dining with you, monseigneur, at the king's table, when his majesty was
staying at Fontainebleau."

"Introduce him, then, at once," cried Saint-Aignan.

Porthos in a few minutes entered the room. M. de Saint-Aignan had an
excellent recollection of persons, and at the first glance he recognized
the gentleman from the country, who enjoyed so singular a reputation,
and whom the king had received so favorably at Fontainebleau, in spite
of the smiles of some of those who were present. He therefore advanced
toward Porthos with all the outward signs of a consideration of manner
which Porthos thought but natural, considering that he himself, whenever
he called upon an adversary, hoisted the standard of the most refined
politeness. Saint-Aignan desired the servant to give Porthos a chair;
and the latter, who saw nothing unusual in this act of politeness, sat
down gravely, and coughed. The ordinary courtesies having been exchanged
between the two gentlemen, the comte, to whom the visit was paid, said,
"May I ask, Monsieur le Baron, to what happy circumstance I am indebted
for the favor of a visit from you?"

"The very thing I am about to have the honor of explaining to you,
Monsieur le Comte; but, I beg your pardon--"

"What is the matter, monsieur?" inquired Saint-Aignan.

"I regret to say that I have broken your chair."

"Not at all, monsieur," said Saint-Aignan: "not at all."

"It is the fact, though, Monsieur le Comte; I have broken it--so much
so, indeed, that, if I do not move, I shall fall down, which would be an
exceedingly disagreeable position for me in the discharge of the very
serious mission which has been intrusted to me with regard to yourself."

Porthos rose, and but just in time, for the chair had given way several
inches. Saint-Aignan looked about him for something more solid for his
guest to sit upon. "Modern articles of furniture," said Porthos, while
the comte was looking about, "are constructed in a ridiculously light
manner. In my early days, when I used to sit down with far more energy
than is now the case, I do not remember ever to have broken a chair,
except in taverns, with my arms."

Saint-Aignan smiled at this remark. "But," said Porthos, as he settled
himself down on a couch, which creaked, but did not give way beneath his
weight, "that, unfortunately, has nothing whatever to do with my present
visit."

"Why unfortunately? Are you the bearer of a message of ill omen,
Monsieur le Baron?"

"Of ill omen--for a gentleman? Certainly not, Monsieur le Comte,"
replied Porthos, nobly. "I have simply come to say that you have
seriously insulted a friend of mine."

"I, monsieur?" exclaimed Saint-Aignan--"I have insulted a friend of
yours, do you say? May I ask his name?"

"M. Raoul de Bragelonne."

"I have insulted M. Raoul de Bragelonne!" cried Saint-Aignan. "I really
assure you, monsieur, that it is quite impossible; for M. de Bragelonne,
whom I know but very slightly--nay, whom I know hardly at all--is in
England; and, as I have not seen him for a long time past, I cannot
possibly have insulted him."

"M. de Bragelonne is in Paris, Monsieur le Comte," said Porthos,
perfectly unmoved; "and I repeat, it is quite certain you have insulted
him, since he himself told me you had. Yes, monsieur, you have seriously
insulted him, mortally insulted him, I repeat."

"It is impossible. Monsieur le Baron, I swear, quite impossible."

"Besides," added Porthos, "you cannot be ignorant of the circumstance
since M. de Bragelonne informed me that he had already apprised you of
it by a note."

"I give you my word of honor, monsieur, that I have received no note
whatever."

"This is most extraordinary," replied Porthos.

"I will convince you," said Saint-Aignan, "that I have received nothing
in any way from him." And he rang the bell. "Basque," he said to the
servant who entered, "how many letters or notes were sent here during my
absence?"

"Three, Monsieur le Comte--a note from M. de Fiesque, one from Madame de
Laferte, and a letter from M. de las Fuentes."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, Monsieur le Comte."

"Speak the truth before this gentleman--the truth, you understand. I
will take care you are not blamed."

"There was a note, also, from--from--"

"Well, from whom?"

"From Mademoiselle de Laval--"

"That is quite sufficient," interrupted Porthos. "I believe you,
Monsieur le Comte."

Saint-Aignan dismissed the valet, and followed him to the door, in order
to close it after him; and when he had done so, looking straight before
him, he happened to see in the keyhole of the adjoining apartment the
paper which Bragelonne had slipped in there as he left. "What is this?"
he said.

Porthos, who was sitting with his back to the room, turned round, "Oh,
oh!" he said.

"A note in the keyhole!" exclaimed Saint-Aignan.

"That is not unlikely to be the one we want, Monsieur le Comte," said
Porthos.

Saint-Aignan took out the paper. "A note from M. de Bragelonne!" he
exclaimed.

"You see, monsieur, I was right. Oh, when I say a thing--"

"Brought here by M. de Bragelonne himself," the comte murmured, turning
pale. "This is infamous! How could he possibly have come here?"

And the comte rang again.

"Who has been here during my absence with the king?"

"No one, monsieur."

"That is impossible. Some one must have been here."

"No one could possibly have entered, monsieur; since I kept the keys in
my own pocket."

"And yet I find this letter in that lock yonder; some one must have put
it there; it could not have come alone."

Basque opened his arms as if signifying the most absolute ignorance on
the subject.

"Probably it was M. de Bragelonne himself who placed it there," said
Porthos.

"In that case he must have entered here."

"How could that have been, since I have the key in my own pocket?"
returned Basque, perseveringly.

Saint-Aignan crumpled up the letter in his hand, after having read it.

"There is something mysterious about this," he murmured, absorbed in
thought.

Porthos left him to his reflections; but after a while returned to the
mission he had undertaken.

"Shall we return to our little affair?" he said, addressing
Saint-Aignan, as soon as the lackey had disappeared.

"I think I can now understand it, from this note, which has arrived here
in so singular a manner. Monsieur de Bragelonne says that a friend will
call."

"I am his friend, and am the one he alludes to."

"For the purpose of giving me a challenge?"

"Precisely."

"And he complains that I have insulted him?"

"Mortally so."

"In what way, may I ask; for his conduct is so mysterious, that it, at
least, needs some explanation?"

"Monsieur," replied Porthos, "my friend cannot but be right; and, as far
as his conduct is concerned, if it be mysterious, as you say, you have
only yourself to blame for it." Porthos pronounced these words with an
amount of confidence which, for a man who was unaccustomed to his ways,
must have revealed an infinity of sense.

"Mystery, be it so; but what is the mystery about?" said Saint-Aignan.

"You will think it best, perhaps," Porthos replied, with a low bow,
"that I do not enter into particulars."

"Oh, I perfectly understand. We will touch very lightly upon it, then;
so speak, monsieur, I am listening."

"In the first place, monsieur," said Porthos, "you have changed your
apartments."

"Yes, that is quite true," said Saint-Aignan.

"You admit it," said Porthos, with an air of satisfaction.

"Admit it! of course I admit it. Why should I not admit it, do you
suppose?"

"You have admitted it. Very good," said Porthos, lifting up one finger.

"But how can my having moved my lodgings have done M. de Bragelonne any
harm? Have the goodness to tell me that, for I positively do not
comprehend a word of what you are saying."

Porthos stopped him, and then said with great gravity, "Monsieur, this
is the first of M. de Bragelonne's complaints against you. If he makes a
complaint, it is because he feels himself insulted."

Saint-Aignan began to beat his foot impatiently on the ground. "This
looks like a bad quarrel," he said.

"No one can possibly have a bad quarrel with the Vicomte de Bragelonne,"
returned Porthos; "but, at all events, you have nothing to add on the
subject of your changing your apartments, I suppose?"

"Nothing. And what is the next point?"

"Ah, the next! You will observe, monsieur, that the one I have already
mentioned is a most serious injury, to which you have given no answer,
or rather, have answered very indifferently. Is it possible, monsieur,
that you have changed your lodgings? M. de Bragelonne feels insulted at
your having done so, and you do not attempt to excuse yourself."

"What!" cried Saint-Aignan, who was getting annoyed at the perfect
coolness of his visitor--"what! am I to consult M. de Bragelonne whether
I am to move or not? You can hardly be serious, monsieur."

"Absolutely necessary, monsieur; but, under any circumstances, you will
admit that it is nothing in comparison with the second ground of
complaint."

"Well, what is that?"

Porthos assumed a very serious expression as he said: "How about the
trap-door, monsieur?"

Saint-Aignan turned exceedingly pale. He pushed back his chair so
abruptly, that Porthos, simple as he was, perceived that the blow had
told. "The trap-door," murmured Saint-Aignan.

"Yes, monsieur, explain that if you can," said Porthos, shaking his
head.

Saint-Aignan held down his head as he murmured: "I have been betrayed,
everything is known!"

"Everything," replied Porthos, who knew nothing.

"You see me perfectly overwhelmed," pursued Saint-Aignan, "overwhelmed
to a degree that I hardly know what I am about."

"A guilty conscience, monsieur. Your affair is a bad one, and when the
public shall learn all about it, and will judge--"

"Oh, monsieur!" exclaimed the comte, hurriedly, "such a secret ought not
to be known, even by one's confessor."

"That we will think about," said Porthos; "the secret will not go far,
in fact."

"Surely, monsieur," returned Saint-Aignan, "since M. de Bragelonne has
penetrated the secret, he must be aware of the danger he as well as
others run the risk of incurring."

"M. de Bragelonne runs no danger, monsieur, nor does he fear any either,
as you, if it please Heaven, will find out very soon."

"This fellow is a perfect madman," thought Saint-Aignan. "What in
Heaven's name does he want?" He then said aloud: "Come, monsieur, let us
hush up this affair."

"You forget the portrait," said Porthos, in a voice of thunder, which
made the comte's blood freeze in his veins.

As the portrait in question was La Valliere's portrait, and as no
mistake could any longer exist on the subject, Saint-Aignan's eyes were
completely opened. "Ah;" he exclaimed--"ah! monsieur, I remember now
that M. de Bragelonne was engaged to be married to her."

Porthos assumed an imposing air, all the majesty of ignorance, in fact,
as he said: "It matters nothing whatever to me, nor to yourself, indeed,
whether or not my friend was, as you say, engaged to be married. I am
even astonished that you should have made use of so indiscreet a remark.
It may possibly do your cause harm, monsieur."

"Monsieur," replied Saint-Aignan, "you are the incarnation of
intelligence, delicacy, and loyalty of feeling united. I see the whole
matter now clearly enough."

"So much the better," said Porthos.

"And," pursued Saint-Aignan, "you have made me comprehend it in the most
ingenious and the most delicate manner possible. I beg you to accept my
best thanks."

Porthos drew himself up, unable to resist the flattery of the remark.

"Only, now that I know everything, permit me to explain--"

Porthos shook his head as a man who does not wish to hear, but
Saint-Aignan continued: "I am in despair, I assure you, at all that has
happened; but how would you have acted in my place? Come, between
ourselves, tell me what would you have done?"

Porthos drew himself up as he answered: "There is no question at all of
what I should have done, young man; you have now been made acquainted
with the three causes of complaint against you, I believe?"

"As for the first, my change of rooms, and I now address myself to you,
as a man of honor and of great intelligence, could I, when the desire
of so august a personage was so urgently expressed that I should move,
ought I to have disobeyed?"

Porthos was about to speak, but Saint-Aignan did not give him time to
answer. "Ah! my frankness, I see, convinces you," he said, interpreting
the movement according to his own fancy. "You feel that I am right."

Porthos did not reply, and so Saint-Aignan continued: "I pass by that
unfortunate trap-door," he said, placing his hand on Porthos' arm, "that
trap-door, the occasion and the means of so much unhappiness, and which
was constructed for--you know what. Well then, in plain truth, do you
suppose that it was I who, of my own accord, in such a place, too, had
that trap-door made?--Oh, no! you do not believe it; and here, again,
you feel, you guess, you understand the influence of a will superior to
my own. You can conceive the infatuation, the blind irresistible
passion, which has been at work. But, thank Heaven! I am fortunate
enough in speaking to a man who has so much sensitiveness of feeling; if
it were not so, indeed, what an amount of misery and scandal would fall
upon her, poor girl! and upon him--whom I will not name."

Porthos, confused and bewildered by the eloquence and gestures of
Saint-Aignan, made a thousand efforts to stem this torrent of words, of
which, by-the-by, he did not understand a single one; he remained
upright and motionless on his seat, and that was all he could do.
Saint-Aignan continued, and gave a new inflection to his voice, and an
increasing vehemence to his gesture: "As for the portrait, for I readily
believe the portrait is the principal cause of complaint, tell me
candidly if you think me to blame?--Who was it who wished to have her
portrait? Was it I?--Who is in love with her? Is it I?--Who wishes to
gain her affection? Again, is it I?--Who took her likeness? I, do you
think? No! a thousand times no! I know M. de Bragelonne must be in a
state of despair; I know these misfortunes are most cruel. But I, too,
am suffering as well; and yet there is no possibility of offering any
resistance. Suppose we were to struggle? we would be laughed at. If he
obstinately persists in his course, he is lost. You will tell me, I
know, that despair is ridiculous, but then you are a sensible man. You
have understood me. I perceive by your serious, thoughtful, embarrassed
air, even, that the importance of the situation we are placed in has not
escaped you. Return, therefore, to M. de Bragelonne; thank him--as I
have indeed reason to thank him--for having chosen as an intermediary a
man of your high merit. Believe me that I shall, on my side, preserve an
eternal gratitude for the man who has so ingeniously, so cleverly
arranged the misunderstanding between us. And since ill-luck would have
it that the secret should be known to four instead of to three, why,
this secret, which might make the most ambitious man's fortune, I am
delighted to share with you, monsieur; from the bottom of my heart I am
delighted at it. From this very moment you can make use of me as you
please; I place myself entirely at your mercy. What can I possibly do
for you? What can I solicit, nay, require even? You have only to speak,
monsieur, only to speak."

And, according to the familiarly friendly fashion of that period,
Saint-Aignan threw his arms round Porthos and clasped him tenderly in
his embrace. Porthos allowed him to do this with the most perfect
indifference. "Speak," resumed Saint-Aignan, "what do you require?"

"Monsieur," said Porthos. "I have a horse below, be good enough to mount
him; he is a very good one, and will play you no tricks."

"Mount on horseback! what for?" inquired Saint-Aignan, with no little
curiosity.

"To accompany me where M. de Bragelonne is awaiting us."

"Ah! he wishes to speak to me, I suppose? I can well believe that; he
wishes to have the details, very likely; alas! it is a very delicate
matter; but at the present moment I cannot, for the king is waiting for
me."

"The king must wait, then," said Porthos.

"What do you say? the king must wait!" interrupted the finished
courtier, with a smile of utter amazement, for he could not understand
that the king could under any circumstances be supposed to have to wait.

"It is merely the affair of a very short hour," returned Porthos.

"But where is M. de Bragelonne waiting for me?"

"At the Minimes, at Vincennes."

"Ah, indeed! but are we going to laugh over the affair when we get
there?"

"I don't think it likely," said Porthos, as his face assumed a stern
hardness of expression.

"But the Minimes is a rendezvous where duels take place, and what can I
have to do at the Minimes?"

Porthos slowly drew his sword, and said: "That is the length of my
friend's sword."

"Why, the man is mad!" cried Saint-Aignan.

The color mounted to Porthos' face, as he replied: "If I had not the
honor of being in your own apartment, monsieur, and of representing M.
de Bragelonne's interests, I would throw you out of the window. It will
be merely a pleasure postponed, and you will lose nothing by waiting.
Will you come with me to the Minimes, monsieur, of your own free will?"

"But--"

"Take care, I will carry you if you do not come quietly."

"Basque!" cried Saint-Aignan. As soon as Basque appeared, he said, "The
king wishes to see Monsieur le Comte."

"That is very different," said Porthos; "the king's service before
everything else. We will wait until this evening, monsieur."

And saluting Saint-Aignan with his usual courtesy, Porthos left the
room, delighted at having arranged another affair. Saint-Aignan looked
after him as he left; and then hastily putting on his coat again, he ran
off, arranging his dress as he went along, muttering to himself, "The
Minimes! the Minimes! We will see how the king will like this challenge;
for it is for him after all, that is certain."



CHAPTER LXIII.

RIVAL POLITICS.


On his return from the promenade, which had been so prolific in poetical
effusions, and in which every one had paid his or her tribute to the
Muses, as the poets of the period used to say, the king found M. Fouquet
waiting for an audience. M. Colbert had laid in wait for his majesty in
the corridor, and followed him like a jealous and watchful shadow; M.
Colbert, with his square head, his vulgar and untidy, though rich,
costume, somewhat resembled a Flemish gentleman after he had been
overindulging in his national drink--beer. Fouquet, at the sight of his
enemy, remained perfectly unmoved, and during the whole of the scene
which followed scrupulously resolved to observe that line of conduct
which is so difficult to be carried out by a man of superior mind, who
does not even wish to show his contempt, from the fear of doing his
adversary too much honor. Colbert made no attempt to conceal the
insulting expression of the joy he felt. In his opinion, M. Fouquet's
was a game very badly played and hopelessly lost, although not yet
finished. Colbert belonged to that school of politicians who think
cleverness alone worthy of their admiration, and success the only thing
worth caring for. Colbert, moreover, who was not simply an envious and
jealous man, but who had the king's interest really at heart, because he
was thoroughly imbued with the highest sense of probity in all matters
of figures and accounts, could well afford to assign as a pretext for
his conduct, that in hating and doing his utmost to ruin M. Fouquet, he
had nothing in view but the welfare of the state and the dignity of the
crown. None of these details escaped Fouquet's observation; through his
enemy's thick, bushy brows, and despite the restless movement of his
eyelids, he could, by merely looking at his eyes, penetrate to the very
bottom of Colbert's heart, and he read to what an unbounded extent hate
toward himself and triumph at his approaching fall existed there. But,
as in observing everything, he wished to remain himself impenetrable, he
composed his features, smiled with that charmingly sympathetic smile
which was peculiarly his own, and saluted the king with the most
dignified and graceful ease and elasticity of manner. "Sire," he said,
"I perceive by your majesty's joyous air that you have been gratified
with the promenade."

"Most gratified, indeed, Monsieur le Surintendant, most gratified. You
were very wrong not to come with us, as I invited you to do."

"I was working, sire," replied the surintendant, who did not even seem
to take the trouble to turn aside his head even in the merest
recognition of Colbert's presence.

"Ah! M. Fouquet," cried the king, "there is nothing like the country. I
should be very delighted to live in the country always, in the open air
and under the trees."

"I should hope that your majesty is not yet weary of the throne," said
Fouquet.

"No: but thrones of soft turf are very delightful."

"Your majesty gratifies my utmost wishes in speaking in that manner, for
I have a request to submit to you."

"On whose behalf, monsieur?"

"On behalf of the nymphs of Vaux, sire."

"Ah! ah!" said Louis XIV.

"Your majesty, too, once deigned to make me a promise," said Fouquet.

"Yes, I remember it."

"The fete at Vaux, the celebrated fete, I think, it was, sire," said
Colbert, endeavoring to show his importance by taking part in the
conversation.

Fouquet, with the profoundest contempt, did not take the slightest
notice of the remark, as if, as far as he was concerned, Colbert had not
even thought or said a word.

"Your majesty is aware," he said, "that I destine my estate at Vaux to
receive the most amiable of princes, the most powerful of monarchs."

"I have given you my promise, monsieur," said Louis XIV., smiling; "and
a king never departs from his word."

"And I have come now, sire, to inform your majesty that I am ready to
obey your orders in every respect."

"Do you promise me many wonders, Monsieur le Surintendant?" said Louis,
looking at Colbert.

"Wonders? Oh! no, sire. I do not undertake that; I hope to be able to
procure your majesty a little pleasure, perhaps even a little
forgetfulness of the cares of state."

"Nay, nay, M. Fouquet," returned the king; "I insist upon the word
'wonders.' You are a magician, I believe; we all know the power you
wield; we also know that you can find gold even when there is none to be
found elsewhere; so much so, indeed, that the people say you coin it."

Fouquet felt that the shot was discharged from a double quiver, and that
the king had launched an arrow from his own bow as well as one from
Colbert's. "Oh!" said he, laughingly, "the people know perfectly well
out of what mine I procure the gold; and they know it only too well,
perhaps; besides," he added, "I can assure your majesty that the gold
destined to pay the expenses of the fete at Vaux will cost neither blood
nor tears; hard labor it may, perhaps, but that can be paid for."

Louis paused, quite confused. He wished to look at Colbert; Colbert,
too, wished to reply to him; a glance as swift as an eagle's, a proud,
loyal, king-like glance, indeed, which Fouquet darted at the latter,
arrested the words upon his lips. The king, who had by this time
recovered his self-possession, turned toward Fouquet, saying, "I
presume, therefore, I am now to consider myself formally invited?"

"Yes, sire, if your majesty will condescend so far as to accept my
invitation."

"What day have you fixed?"

"Any day your majesty may find most convenient."

"You speak like an enchanter who has but to conjure up the wildest
fancies, Monsieur Fouquet. I could not say so much, indeed."

"Your majesty will do, whenever you please, everything that a monarch
can and ought to do. The king of France has servants at his bidding who
are able to do anything on his behalf, to accomplish everything to
gratify his pleasures."

Colbert tried to look at the surintendant, in order to see whether this
remark was an approach to less hostile sentiments on his part; but
Fouquet had not even looked at his enemy, and Colbert hardly seemed to
exist as far as he was concerned. "Very good, then," said the king.
"Will a week hence suit you?"

"Perfectly well, sire."

"This is Tuesday; if I give you until next Sunday week, will that be
sufficient?"

"The delay which your majesty deigns to accord me will greatly aid the
various works which my architects have in hand for the purpose of adding
to the amusement of your majesty and your friends."

"By-the-by, speaking of my friends," resumed the king; "how do you
intend to treat them?"

"The king is master everywhere, sire; your majesty will draw up your own
list and give your own orders. All those you may deign to invite will be
my guests, my honored guests indeed."

"I thank you!" returned the king, touched by the noble thought expressed
in so noble a tone.

Fouquet, therefore, took leave of Louis XIV., after a few words had been
added with regard to the details of certain matters of business. He felt
that Colbert would remain behind with the king, that they would both
converse about him, and that neither of them would spare him in the
least degree. The satisfaction of being able to give a last and terrible
blow to his enemy seemed to him almost like a compensation for
everything they were about to subject him to. He turned back again
immediately, as soon indeed as he had reached the door, and addressing
the king, said, "I was forgetting that I had to crave your majesty's
forgiveness."

"In what respect?" said the king, graciously.

"For having committed a serious fault without perceiving it."

"A fault! You! Ah! Monsieur Fouquet, I shall be unable to do otherwise
than forgive you. In what way or against whom have you been found
wanting?"

"Against every sense of propriety, sire. I forgot to inform your majesty
of a circumstance that has lately occurred of some little importance."

"What is it?"

Colbert trembled; he fancied that he was about to frame a denunciation
against him. His conduct had been unmasked. A single syllable from
Fouquet, a single proof formally advanced, and before the youthful
loyalty of feeling which guided Louis XIV., Colbert's favor would
disappear at once; the latter trembled, therefore, lest so daring a blow
might not overthrow his whole scaffold; in point of fact, the
opportunity was so admirably suited to be taken advantage of, that a
skillful, practiced player like Aramis would not have let it slip.
"Sire," said Fouquet, with an easy, unconcerned air, "since you have had
the kindness to forgive me, I am perfectly indifferent about my
confession; this morning I sold one of the official appointments I
hold."

"One of your appointments," said the king, "which?"

Colbert turned perfectly livid. "That which conferred upon me, sire, a
grand gown and a stern air of gravity; the appointment of
procureur-general."

The king involuntarily uttered a loud exclamation and looked at Colbert,
who, with his face bedewed with perspiration, felt almost on the point
of fainting. "To whom have you sold this appointment, Monsieur Fouquet?"
inquired the king.

Colbert was obliged to lean against the side of the fireplace. "To a
councilor belonging to the parliament, sire, whose name is Vanel."

"Vanel?"

"Yes, sire, a friend of the intendant Colbert," added Fouquet; letting
every word fall from his lips with the most inimitable nonchalance, and
with an admirably assumed expression of forgetfulness and ignorance. And
having finished, and having overwhelmed Colbert beneath the weight of
this superiority, the surintendant again saluted the king and quitted
the room, partially revenged by the stupefaction of the king and the
humiliation of the favorite.

"Is it really possible," said the king, as soon as Fouquet had
disappeared, "that he has sold that office?"

"Yes, sire," said Colbert, meaningly.

"He must be mad," the king added.

Colbert this time did not reply; he had penetrated the king's thought, a
thought which amply revenged him for the humiliation he had just been
made to suffer; his hatred was augmented by a feeling of bitter jealousy
of Fouquet; and a threat of disgrace was now added to the plan he had
arranged for his ruin. Colbert felt perfectly assured that for the
future, between Louis XIV. and himself, their hostile feelings and ideas
would meet with no obstacles, and that at the first fault committed by
Fouquet, which could be laid hold of as a pretext, the chastisement
impending over him would be precipitated. Fouquet had thrown aside his
weapons of defense, and hate and jealousy had picked them up. Colbert
was invited by the king to the fete at Vaux; he bowed like a man
confident in himself, and accepted the invitation with the air of one
who almost confers a favor. The king was about writing down
Saint-Aignan's name on his list of royal commands, when the usher
announced the Comte de Saint-Aignan; as soon as the royal "Mercury"
entered, Colbert discreetly withdrew.



CHAPTER LXIV.

RIVAL AFFECTIONS.


Saint-Aignan had quitted Louis XIV. hardly a couple of hours before; but
in the first effervescence of his affection, whenever Louis XIV. did
not see La Valliere he was obliged to talk of her. Besides, the only
person with whom he could speak about her at his ease was Saint-Aignan,
and Saint-Aignan had, therefore, become indispensable to him.

"Ah! is that you, comte?" he exclaimed, as soon as he perceived him,
doubly delighted, not only to see him again, but also to get rid of
Colbert, whose scowling face always put him out of humor. "So much the
better. I am very glad to see you; you will make one of the traveling
party, I suppose?"

"Of what traveling party are you speaking, sire?" inquired Saint-Aignan.

"The one we are making up to go to the fete the surintendant is about to
give at Vaux. Ah! Saint-Aignan, you will, at last, see a fete, a royal
fete, by the side of which all our amusements at Fontainebleau are
petty, contemptible affairs."

"At Vaux! the surintendant going to give a fete in your majesty's honor?
Nothing more than that!"

"'Nothing more that that,' do you say! It is very diverting to find you
treating it with so much disdain. Are you, who express such an
indifference on the subject, aware, that as soon as it is known that M.
Fouquet is going to receive me at Vaux next Sunday week, people will be
striving their very utmost to get invited to the fete. I repeat,
Saint-Aignan, you shall be one of the invited guests."

"Very well, sire; unless I shall, in the meantime, have undertaken a
longer and less agreeable journey."

"What journey do you allude to?"

"The one across the Styx, sire."

"Bah!" said Louis XIV., laughing.

"No, seriously, sire," replied Saint-Aignan, "I am invited there; and in
such a way, in truth, that I hardly know what to say, or how to act, in
order to refuse it."

"I do not understand you. I know that you are in a poetical vein; but
try not to sink from Apollo to Phoebus."

"Very well; if your majesty will deign to listen to me, I will not put
your mind on the rack any longer."

"Speak."

"Your majesty knows the Baron de Valon?"

"Yes, indeed; a good servant to my father, the late king, and an
admirable companion at table; for, I think, you are referring to the one
who dined with us at Fontainebleau?"

"Precisely so; but you have omitted to add to his other qualifications,
sire, that he is a most charming killer of other people."

"What! does M. de Valon wish to kill you?"

"Or to get me killed, which is the same thing."

"The deuce!"

"Do not laugh, sire, for I am not saying a word that is not the exact
truth."

"And you say he wishes to get you killed."

"That is that excellent person's present idea."

"Be easy; I will defend you, if he be in the wrong."

"Ah! There is an 'if!'"

"Of course: answer me as candidly as if it were some one else's affair
instead of your own, my poor Saint-Aignan; is he right or wrong?"

"Your majesty shall be the judge."

"What have you done to him?"

"To him, personally, nothing at all; but, it seems, I have to one of his
friends."

"It is all the same. Is his friend one of the celebrated 'four?'"

"No! It is the son of one of the celebrated 'four,' instead."

"What have you done to the son? Come, tell me."

"Why, it seems I have helped some one to take his mistress from him."

"You confess it, then?"

"I cannot help confessing it, for it is true."

"In that case, you are wrong; and if he were to kill you, he would be
acting perfectly right."

"Ah! that is your majesty's way of reasoning, then!"

"Do you think it a bad way?"


[Illustration: ATHOS BROKE HIS SWORD ACROSS HIS KNEE, SLOWLY PLACED
THE TWO PIECES UPON THE FLOOR, AND SALUTING THE KING, WHO WAS ALMOST
CHOKING FROM RAGE AND SHAME, HE QUITTED THE CABINET.--_Page 263._]


"It is a very expeditious way, at all events."

"'Good justice is prompt;' so my grandfather, Henry IV., used to say."

"In that case, your majesty will, perhaps, be good enough to sign my
adversary's pardon, for he is now waiting for me at the Minimes, for the
purpose of putting me out of my misery."

"His name, and a parchment!"

"There is a parchment upon your majesty's table; and as for his name--"

"Well, what is it?"

"The Vicomte de Bragelonne, sire."

"The Vicomte de Bragelonne!" exclaimed the king, changing from a fit of
laughter, to the most profound stupor; and then, after a moment's
silence, while he wiped his forehead, which was bedewed with
perspiration, he again murmured, "Bragelonne!"

"No other than he, sire."

"Bragelonne, who was affianced to--"

"Yes, sire."

"He was in London, however."

"Yes; but I can assure you, sire, he is there no longer."

"Is he in Paris, then?"

"He is at the Minimes, sire, where he is waiting for me, as I have
already had the honor of telling you."

"Does he know all?"

"Yes; and many things besides. Perhaps your majesty would like to look
at the letter I have received from him;" and Saint-Aignan drew from his
pocket the note which we are already acquainted with. "When your majesty
has read the letter, I will tell you how it reached me."

The king read it in great agitation, and immediately said, "Well?"

"Well, sire; your majesty knows a certain carved lock, closing a certain
door of ebony wood, which separates a certain apartment from a certain
blue and white sanctuary?"

"Of course; Louise's boudoir."

"Yes, sire. Well, it was in the keyhole of that lock that I found that
note."

"Who placed it there?"

"Either M. de Bragelonne, or the devil himself; but, inasmuch as the
note smells of amber and not of sulphur, I conclude that it must be,
not the devil, but M. de Bragelonne."

Louis bent down his head, and seemed absorbed in sad and melancholy
reflections. Perhaps something like remorse was at that moment passing
through his heart. "The secret is discovered," he said.

"Sire, I shall do my utmost, that the secret dies in the breast of the
man who possesses it," said Saint-Aignan, in a tone of bravado, as he
moved toward the door; but a gesture of the king made him pause.

"Where are you going?" he inquired.

"Where I am waited for, sire."

"What for?"

"To fight, in all probability."

"You fight!" exclaimed the king. "One moment, if you please, Monsieur le
Comte!"

Saint-Aignan shook his head, as a rebellious child does, whenever any
one interferes to prevent him throwing himself into a well, or playing
with a knife. "But yet, sire," he said.

"In the first place," continued the king, "I require to be enlightened a
little."

"Upon that point, if your majesty will be pleased to interrogate me,"
replied Saint-Aignan, "I will throw what light I can."

"Who told you that M. de Bragelonne had penetrated into that room?"

"The letter which I found in the keyhole told me so."

"Who told you that it was De Bragelonne who put it there?"

"Who but himself would have dared to undertake such a mission?"

"You are right. How was he able to get into your rooms?"

"Ah! that is very serious, inasmuch as all the doors were closed, and my
lackey, Basque, had the keys in his pocket."

"Your lackey must have been bribed."

"Impossible, sire; for if he had been bribed, those who did so would not
have sacrificed the poor fellow, whom, it is not unlikely, they might
want to turn to further use by and by, in showing so clearly that it
was he whom they had made use of."

"Quite true. And now I can only form one conjecture."

"Tell me what it is, sire, and we shall see if it is the same that has
presented itself to my mind."

"That he effected an entrance by means of the staircase."

"Alas, sire, that seems to me more than probable."

"There is no doubt that some one must have sold this secret of the
trap-door."

"Either sold it or given it."

"Why do you make that distinction?"

"Because there are certain persons, sire, who, being above the price of
a treason, give, and do not sell."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, sire! Your majesty's mind is too clear-sighted not to guess what I
mean, and you will save me the embarrassment of naming the person I
allude to."

"You are right: you mean Madame! I suppose her suspicions were aroused
by your changing your lodgings."

"Madame has keys of the apartments of her maids of honor, and she is
powerful enough to discover what no one but yourself could do, or she
would not be able to discover anything."

"And you suppose, then, that my sister must have entered into an
alliance with Bragelonne, and has informed him of all the details of the
affair?"

"Perhaps even better still, for she perhaps accompanied him there."

"Which way? through your own apartments?"

"You think it impossible, sire? Well, listen to me. Your majesty knows
that Madame is very fond of perfumes?"

"Yes, she acquired that taste from my mother."

"Vervain particularly."

"Yes, it is the scent she prefers to all others."

"Very good, sire! my apartments happen to smell very strongly of
vervain."

The king remained silent and thoughtful for a few moments, and then
resumed: "But why should Madame take Bragelonne's part against me?"

Saint-Aignan could very easily have replied: "A woman's jealousy!" The
king probed his friend to the bottom of his heart to ascertain if he had
learned the secret of his flirtation with his sister-in-law. But
Saint-Aignan was not an ordinary courtier; he did not lightly run the
risk of finding out family secrets; and he was too good a friend of the
Muses not to think very frequently of poor Ovidius Naso, whose eyes shed
so many tears in expiation of his crime for having once beheld
something, one hardly knows what, in the palace of Augustus. He
therefore passed by Madame's secret very skillfully. But as he had shown
no ordinary sagacity in indicating Madame's presence in his rooms in
company with Bragelonne, it was necessary, of course, for him to repay
with interest the king's _amour propre_, and reply plainly to the
question which had been put to him of: "Why has Madame taken
Bragelonne's part against me?"

"Why?" replied Saint-Aignan. "Your majesty forgets, I presume, that the
Comte de Guiche is the intimate friend of the Vicomte de Bragelonne?"

"I do not see the connection, however," said the king.

"Ah! I beg your pardon, then, sire; but I thought the Comte de Guiche
was a very great friend of Madame's."

"Quite true," the king returned; "there is no occasion to search any
further; the blow came from that direction."

"And is not your majesty of opinion that, in order to ward it off, it
will be necessary to deal another blow?"

"Yes, but not one of the kind given in the Bois de Vincennes," replied
the king.

"You forget, sire," said Saint-Aignan, "that I am a gentleman, and that
I have been challenged."

"The challenge neither concerns nor was it intended for you."

"But it is I who have been expected at the Minimes, sire, during the
last hour and more; and I shall be dishonored if I do not go there."

"The first honor and duty of a gentleman is obedience to his sovereign."

"Sire!"

"I order you to remain."

"Sire!"

"Obey, monsieur."

"As your majesty pleases."

"Besides, I wish to have the whole of this affair explained; I wish to
know how it is that I have been so insolently trifled with as to have
the sanctuary of my affection pried into. It is not you, Saint-Aignan,
who ought to punish those who have acted in this manner, for it is not
your honor they have attacked, but my own."

"I implore your majesty not to overwhelm M. de Bragelonne with your
wrath, for although in the whole of this affair he may have shown
himself deficient in prudence, he has not been so in his feelings of
loyalty."

"Enough! I shall know how to decide between the just and the unjust,
even in the height of my anger. But take care that not a word of this is
breathed to Madame."

"But what am I to do with regard to M. de Bragelonne? He will be seeking
me in every direction, and--"

"I shall either have spoken to him, or taken care that he has been
spoken to, before the evening is over."

"Let me once more entreat your majesty to be indulgent toward him."

"I have been indulgent long enough, comte," said Louis XIV., frowning
severely; "it is now quite time to show certain persons that I am master
in my own palace."

The king had hardly pronounced these words, which betokened that a fresh
feeling of dissatisfaction was mingled with the remembrance of an old
one, when the usher appeared at the door of the cabinet. "What is the
matter?" inquired the king, "and why do you presume to come when I have
not summoned you?"

"Sire," said the usher, "your majesty desired me to permit M. le Comte
de la Fere to pass freely on any and every occasion, when he might wish
to speak to your majesty."

"Well, monsieur?"

"M. le Comte de la Fere is now waiting to see your majesty."

The king and Saint-Aignan at this reply exchanged a look which betrayed
more uneasiness than surprise. Louis hesitated for a moment, but
immediately afterward, seeming to make up his mind, he said:

"Go, Saint-Aignan, and find Louise; inform her of the plot against us;
do not let her be ignorant that Madame will return to her system of
persecutions against her, and that she has set those to work for whom it
would have been far better to have remained neuter."

"Sire--"

"If Louise gets nervous and frightened, reassure her as much as you can;
tell her that the king's affection is an impenetrable shield over her;
if, which I suspect is the case, she already knows everything, or if she
has already been herself subjected to an attack of some kind or other
from any quarter, tell her, be sure to tell her, Saint-Aignan," added
the king, trembling with passion, "tell her, I say, that this time,
instead of defending her, I will avenge her, and that too so terribly
that no one will in future even dare to raise his eyes toward her."

"Is that all, sire?"

"Yes, all. Go as quickly as you can, and remain faithful; for you who
live in the midst of this state of infernal torments have not, like
myself, the hope of the paradise beyond it."

Saint-Aignan exhausted himself almost in protestations of devotion, took
the king's hand, kissed it, and left the room radiant with delight.



CHAPTER LXV.

KING AND NOBILITY.


The king endeavored to recover his self-possession as quickly as
possible, in order to meet M. de la Fere with an undisturbed
countenance. He clearly saw it was not mere chance that had induced the
comte's visit, he had some vague impression of its importance; but he
felt that to a man of Athos' tone of mind, to one of his high order of
intellect, his first reception ought not to present anything either
disagreeable or otherwise than kind and courteous. As soon as the king
had satisfied himself that, as far as appearances were concerned, he was
perfectly calm again, he gave directions to the ushers to introduce the
comte. A few minutes afterward Athos, in full court dress, and with his
breast covered with the orders that he alone had the right to wear at
the court of France, presented himself with so grave and solemn an air,
that the king perceived, at the first glance, that he was not deceived
in his anticipations. Louis advanced a step toward the comte, and, with
a smile, held out his hand to him, over which Athos bowed with the air
of the deepest respect.

"Monsieur le Comte de la Fere," said the king, rapidly, "you are so
seldom here, that it is a real piece of good fortune to see you."

Athos bowed and replied, "I should wish always to enjoy the happiness of
being near your majesty."

The tone, however, in which this reply was conveyed, evidently
signified, "I should wish to be one of your majesty's advisers, to save
you the commission of faults." The king felt it so, and determined in
this man's presence to preserve all the advantages which could be
derived from his command over himself, as well as from his rank and
position.

"I see you have something to say to me," he said.

"Had it not been so, I should not have presumed to present myself before
your majesty."

"Speak quickly; I am anxious to satisfy you," returned the king, seating
himself.

"I am persuaded," replied Athos, in a slightly agitated tone of voice,
"that your majesty will give me every satisfaction."

"Ah!" said the king, with a certain haughtiness of manner, "you have
come to lodge a complaint here, then."

"It would be a complaint," returned Athos, "only in the event of your
majesty--, but if you will deign to permit me, sire, I will repeat the
conversation from the very commencement."

"Do so; I am listening."

"Your majesty will remember that at the period of the Duke of
Buckingham's departure, I had the honor of an interview with you."

"At or about that period, I think I remember you did; only with regard
to the subject of the conversation, I have quite forgotten it."

Athos started, as he replied, "I shall have the honor to remind your
majesty of it. It was with regard to a formal demand I had addressed to
you respecting a marriage which M. de Bragelonne wished to contract with
Mademoiselle de la Valliere."

"Ah!" thought the king, "we have come to it now. I remember," he said,
aloud.

"At that period," pursued Athos, "your majesty was so kind and generous
toward M. de Bragelonne and myself, that not a single word which then
fell from your lips has escaped my memory; and, when I asked your
majesty to accord me Mademoiselle de la Valliere's hand for M. de
Bragelonne, you refused."

"Quite true," said Louis, dryly.

"Alleging," Athos hastened to say, "that the young lady had no position
in society." Louis could hardly force himself to listen patiently.

"That," added Athos, "she had but little fortune." The king threw
himself back in his armchair.

"That her extraction was indifferent." A renewed impatience on the part
of the king.

"And little beauty," added Athos, pitilessly. This last bolt buried
itself deep in the king's heart, and made him almost bound from his
seat.

"You have a good memory, monsieur," he said.

"I invariably have, on all occasions when I have had the distinguished
honor of an interview with your majesty," retorted the comte, without
being in the least disconcerted.

"Very good; it is admitted I said all that."

"And I thanked your majesty for your remarks at the time, because they
testified an interest in M. de Bragelonne, which did him much honor."

"And you may possibly remember," said the king, very deliberately, "that
you had the greatest repugnance for this marriage."

"Quite true, sire."

"And that you solicited my permission, much against your own
inclination?"

"Yes, sire."

"And, finally, I remember, for I have a memory nearly as good as your
own; I remember, I say, that you observed at the time: 'I do not believe
that Mademoiselle de la Valliere loves M. de Bragelonne.' Is that true?"

The blow told well, but Athos did not draw back. "Sire," he said, "I
have already begged your majesty's forgiveness; but there are certain
particulars in that conversation which are only intelligible from the
_dénouement_."

"Well, what is the _dénouement_, monsieur?"

"This: your majesty then said, that you would defer the marriage out of
regard for M. de Bragelonne's own interests."

The king remained silent. "M. de Bragelonne is now so exceedingly
unhappy that he cannot any longer defer asking your majesty for a
solution of the matter."

The king turned pale; Athos looked at him with fixed attention.

"And what," said the king, with considerable hesitation, "does M. de
Bragelonne request?"

"Precisely the very thing that I came to ask your majesty for at my last
audience, namely, your majesty's consent to his marriage."

The king remained perfectly silent.

"The questions which referred to the different obstacles in the way are
all now quite removed for us," continued Athos. "Mademoiselle de la
Valliere, without fortune, birth, or beauty, is not the less on that
account the only good match in the world for M. de Bragelonne, since he
loves this young girl."

The king pressed his hands impatiently together. "Does your majesty
hesitate?" inquired the comte, without losing a particle either of his
firmness or his politeness.

"I do not hesitate--I refuse," replied the king.

Athos paused a moment, as if to collect himself: "I have had the honor,"
he said, in a mild tone, "to observe to your majesty that no obstacle
now interferes with M. de Bragelonne's affections, and that his
determination seems unalterable."

"There is my will--and that is an obstacle, I should imagine!"

"That is the most serious of all," Athos replied quickly.

"Ah!"

"And may we, therefore, be permitted to ask your majesty, with the
greatest humility, for your reason for this refusal?"

"The reason!--A question to me!" exclaimed the king.

"A demand, sire!"

The king, leaning with both his hands upon the table, said, in a deep
tone of concentrated passion: "You have lost all recollection of what is
usual at court. At court, please to remember, no one ventures to put a
question to the king."

"Very true, sire; but if men do not question, they conjecture."

"Conjecture! What may that mean, monsieur?"

"Very frequently, sire, conjecture with regard to a particular subject
implies a want of frankness on the part of the king--"

"Monsieur!"

"And a want of confidence on the part of the subject," pursued Athos,
intrepidly.

"You are forgetting yourself," said the king, hurried away by his anger
in spite of his control over himself.

"Sire, I am obliged to seek elsewhere for what I thought I should find
in your majesty. Instead of obtaining a reply from you, I am compelled
to make one for myself."

The king rose. "Monsieur le Comte," he said, "I have now given you all
the time I had at my disposal." This was a dismissal.

"Sire," replied the comte, "I have not yet had time to tell your majesty
what I came with the express object of saying, and I so rarely see your
majesty that I ought to avail myself of the opportunity."

"Just now you spoke of conjectures; you are now becoming offensive,
monsieur."

"Oh, sire! offend your majesty! I? Never! All my life through have I
maintained that kings are above all other men, not only from their rank
and power, but from their nobleness of heart and their true dignity of
mind. I never can bring myself to believe that my sovereign, he who
passed his word to me, did so with a mental reservation."

"What do you mean? What mental reservation do you allude to?"

"I will explain my meaning," said Athos, coldly. "If, in refusing
Mademoiselle de la Valliere to Monsieur de Bragelonne, your majesty had
some other object in view than the happiness and fortune of the
vicomte--"

"You perceive, monsieur, that you are offending me."

"If in requiring the vicomte to delay his marriage your majesty's only
object was to remove the gentleman to whom Mademoiselle de la Valliere
was engaged--"

"Monsieur! monsieur!"

"I have heard it said so in every direction, sire. Your majesty's
affection for Mademoiselle de la Valliere is spoken of on all sides."

The king tore his gloves, which he had been biting for some time. "Woe
to those," he cried, "who interfere in my affairs. I have made up my
mind to take a particular course, and I will break through every
obstacle in my way."

"What obstacle?" said Athos.

The king stopped short, like a horse which, having taken the bit between
his teeth and run away, finds it had slipped back again, and that his
career was checked. "I love Mademoiselle de la Valliere," he said,
suddenly, with mingled nobleness of feeling and passion.

"But," interrupted Athos, "that does not preclude your majesty from
allowing M. de Bragelonne to marry Mademoiselle de la Valliere. The
sacrifice is worthy of so great a monarch; it is fully merited by M. de
Bragelonne, who has already rendered great service to your majesty, and
who may well be regarded as a brave and worthy man. Your majesty,
therefore, in renouncing the affection you entertain, offers a proof at
once of generosity, latitude, and good policy."

"Mademoiselle de la Valliere does not love M. de Bragelonne," said the
king, hoarsely.

"Does your majesty know that to be the case?" remarked Athos, with a
searching look.

"I do know it."

"Since a very short time, then; for, doubtlessly, had your majesty known
it when I first preferred my request, you would have taken the trouble
to inform me of it."

"Since a very short time, truly, monsieur."

Athos remained silent for a moment, and then resumed: "In that case, I
do not understand why your majesty should have sent M. de Bragelonne to
London. That exile, and most properly so too, is a matter of
astonishment to every one who regards your majesty's honor with sincere
affection."

"Who presumes to speak of my honor, Monsieur de la Fere?"

"The king's honor, sire, is made up of the honor of his whole nobility.
Whenever the king offends one of his gentlemen, that is, whenever he
deprives him of the smallest particle of his honor, it is from him, from
the king himself, that that portion of honor is stolen."

"Monsieur de la Fere!" said the king, haughtily.

"Sire, you sent M. de Bragelonne to London either before you were
Mademoiselle de la Valliere's lover, or since you have become so."

The king, irritated beyond measure, especially because he felt that he
was mastered, endeavored to dismiss Athos by a gesture.

"Sire," replied the comte, "I will tell you all; I will not leave your
presence until I have been satisfied either by your majesty or by
myself: satisfied, if you prove to me that you are right--satisfied, if
I prove to you that you are wrong. Nay, sire, you cannot but listen to
me. I am old now, and I am attached to everything that is really great
and really powerful in your kingdom. I am a gentleman who shed my blood
for your father and for yourself, without ever having asked a single
favor either from yourself or from your father. I have never inflicted
the slightest wrong or injury on any one in this world, and kings even
are still my debtors. You cannot but listen to me, I repeat. I have come
to ask you for an account of the honor of one of your servants whom you
have deceived by a falsehood, or betrayed by a want of heart or
judgment. I know that these words irritate your majesty, but the facts
themselves are killing us. I know you are endeavoring to find some means
whereby to chastise me for my frankness; but I know also the
chastisement I will implore God to inflict upon you when I relate to Him
your perjury and my son's unhappiness."

The king during these remarks was walking hurriedly to and fro, his hand
thrust into the breast of his coat, his head haughtily raised, his eyes
blazing with wrath. "Monsieur," he cried suddenly, "if I acted toward
you as the king, you would be already punished; but I am only a man, and
I have the right to love in this world every one who loves me--a
happiness which is so rarely found."

"You cannot pretend to such a right as a man any more than as a king,
sire; or if you intended to exercise that right in a loyal manner, you
should have told M. de Bragelonne so, and not have exiled him."

"I think I am condescending in discussing with you, monsieur!"
interrupted Louis XIV., with that majesty of air and manner which he
alone seemed able to give to his look and his voice.

"I was hoping that you would reply to me," said the comte.

"You shall know my reply, monsieur."

"You already know my thoughts on the subject," was the Comte de la
Fere's answer.

"You have forgotten you are speaking to the king, monsieur. It is a
crime."

"You have forgotten you are destroying the lives of two men, sire. It is
a mortal sin."

"Leave the room."

"Not until I have said this: 'Son of Louis XIII., you begin your reign
badly, for you begin it by abduction and disloyalty! My race--myself
too--are now freed from all that affection and respect toward you, which
I made my son swear to observe in the vaults of Saint-Denis, in the
presence of the relics of your noble forefathers. You are now become our
enemy, sire, and henceforth we have nothing to do save with Heaven
alone, our sole master. Be warned.'"

"Do you threaten?"

"Oh, no," said Athos, sadly, "I have as little bravado as fear in my
soul. The God of whom I spoke to you is now listening to me; He knows
that for the safety and honor of your crown I would even yet shed every
drop of blood which twenty years of civil and foreign warfare have left
in my veins. I can well say, then, that I threaten the king as little as
I threaten the man; but I tell you, sire, you lose two servants; for you
have destroyed faith in the heart of the father, and love in the heart
of the son; the one ceases to believe in the royal word, the other no
longer believes in the loyalty of man, or the purity of woman; the one
is dead to every feeling of respect, the other to obedience. Adieu!"

Thus saying, Athos broke his sword across his knee, slowly placed the
two pieces upon the floor, and saluting the king, who was almost choking
from rage and shame, he quitted the cabinet. Louis, who sat near the
table, completely overwhelmed, was several minutes before he could
collect himself; but he suddenly rose and rang the bell violently. "Tell
M. d'Artagnan to come here," he said to the terrified ushers.



CHAPTER LXVI.

AFTER THE STORM.


Our readers will doubtlessly have been asking themselves how it happened
that Athos, of whom not a word has been said for some time past, arrived
so very opportunely at court. We will, without delay, endeavor to
satisfy their curiosity.

Porthos, faithful to his duty as an arranger of affairs, had,
immediately after leaving the Palais Royal, set off to join Raoul at the
Minimes in the Bois de Vincennes, and had related everything, even to
the smallest details, which had passed between Saint-Aignan and himself.
He finished by saying that the message which the king had sent to his
favorite would not probably occasion more than a short delay, and that
Saint-Aignan, as soon as he could leave the king, would not lose a
moment in accepting the invitation which Raoul had sent him. But Raoul,
less credulous than his old friend, had concluded, from Porthos'
recital, that if Saint-Aignan was going to the king, Saint-Aignan would
tell the king everything; and that the king would, therefore, forbid
Saint-Aignan to obey the summons he had received to the hostile meeting.
The consequence of his reflections was, that he had left Porthos to
remain at the place appointed for the meeting, in the very improbable
case that Saint-Aignan would come there; and had endeavored to make
Porthos promise that he would not remain there more than an hour or an
hour and a half at the very longest. Porthos, however, formally refused
to do anything of the kind, but, on the contrary, installed himself in
the Minimes as if he were going to take root there, making Raoul promise
that when he had been to see his father, he would return to his own
apartments, in order that Porthos' servant might know where to find him,
in case M. de Saint-Aignan should happen to come to the rendezvous.

Bragelonne had left Vincennes, and had proceeded at once straight to the
apartments of Athos, who had been in Paris during the last two days, the
comte having been already informed of what, had taken place by a letter
from D'Artagnan. Raoul arrived at his father's; Athos, after having held
out his hand to him, and embraced him most affectionately, made a sign
for him to sit down.

"I know you come to me as a man would go to a friend, vicomte, whenever
he is suffering; tell me, therefore, what it is that brings you now."

The young man bowed, and began his recital; more than once in the course
of it his tears almost choked his utterance, and a sob, checked in his
throat, compelled him to suspend his narrative for a few minutes.
However, he finished at last. Athos most probably already knew how
matters stood, as we have just now said D'Artagnan had already written
to him; but, preserving until the conclusion that calm, unruffled
composure of manner which constituted the almost superhuman side of his
character, he replied, "Raoul, I do not believe there is a word of truth
in the rumors; I do not believe in the existence of what you fear,
although I do not deny that persons most entitled to the fullest credit
have already conversed with me on the subject. In my heart and soul I
think it utterly impossible that the king could be guilty of such an
outrage upon a gentleman. I will answer for the king, therefore, and
will soon bring you back the proof of what I say."

Raoul, wavering like a drunken man between what he had seen with his own
eyes, and the imperturbable faith he had in a man who had never told a
falsehood, bowed, and simply answered, "Go, then, Monsieur le Comte; I
will await your return." And he sat down, burying his face in his hands.
Athos dressed, and then left him, in order to wait upon the king; the
result of that interview is already known to our readers.

When he returned to his lodgings, Raoul, pale and dejected, had not
quitted his attitude of despair. At the sound, however, of the opening
doors, and of his father's footsteps as he approached him, the young man
raised his head. Athos' face was very pale, his head uncovered, and his
manner full of seriousness; he gave his cloak and hat to the lackey,
dismissed him with a gesture, and sat down near Raoul.

"Well, monsieur," inquired the young man, "are you quite convinced now?"

"I am, Raoul; the king loves Mademoiselle de la Valliere."

"He confesses it, then?" cried Raoul.

"Yes," replied Athos.

"And she?"

"I have not seen her."

"No; but the king spoke to you about her. What did he say?"

"He says that she loves him."

"Oh, you see--you see, monsieur!" said the young man, with a gesture of
despair.

"Raoul," resumed the comte, "I told the king, believe me, all that you
yourself could possibly have said; and I believe I did so in becoming
language, though sufficiently firm."

"And what did you say to him, monsieur?"

"I told him, Raoul, that everything was now at an end between him and
ourselves; that you would never serve him again. I told him that I, too,
should remain aloof. Nothing further remains for me, then, than to be
satisfied of one thing."

"What is that, monsieur?"

"Whether you have determined to adopt any steps."

"Any steps? Regarding what?"

"With reference to your disappointed affection, and--to your ideas of
vengeance."

"Oh, monsieur, with regard to my affection, I shall, perhaps, some day
or other, succeed in tearing it from my heart; I trust I shall do so,
aided by Heaven's merciful help, and your wise exhortations. As far as
vengeance is concerned, it occurred to me only when under the influence
of an evil thought, for I could not revenge myself upon the one who is
actually guilty; I have, therefore, already renounced every idea of
revenge."

"And so you no longer think of seeking a quarrel with M. de
Saint-Aignan?"

"No, monsieur; I sent him a challenge; if M. de Saint-Aignan accepts
it, I will maintain it; if he does not take it up, I will leave it where
it is."

"And La Valliere?"

"You cannot, I know, have seriously thought that I should dream of
revenging myself upon a woman?" replied Raoul, with a smile so sad that
a tear started even to the eyes of his father, who had so many times in
the course of his life been bowed beneath his own sorrows and those of
others.

He held out his hand to Raoul, which the latter seized most eagerly.

"And so, Monsieur le Comte, you are quite satisfied that the misfortune
is without a remedy?" inquired the young man.

"Poor boy!" he murmured.

"You think that I still live in hope," said Raoul, "and you pity me. Oh,
it is indeed a horrible suffering for me to despise, as I ought to do,
the one I have loved so devotedly. If I only had but some real cause of
complaint against her, I should be happy, and should be able to forgive
her."

Athos looked at his son with a sorrowful air, for the latter words which
Raoul had just pronounced, seemed to have issued out of his own heart.
At this moment the servant announced M. d'Artagnan. This name sounded
very differently to the ears of Athos and of Raoul. The musketeer
entered the room with a vague smile upon his lips. Raoul paused. Athos
walked toward his friend with an expression of face which did not escape
Bragelonne. D'Artagnan answered Athos' look by an imperceptible movement
of the eyelid; and then, advancing toward Raoul, whom he took by the
hand, he said, addressing both father and son, "Well, you are trying to
console this poor boy, it seems."

"And you, kind and good as usual, are come to help me in my difficult
task."

As he said this, Athos pressed D'Artagnan's hand between both his own;
Raoul fancied he observed in this pressure something beyond the sense
his mere words conveyed.

"Yes," replied the musketeer, smoothing his mustache with the hand that
Athos had left free, "yes, I have come also."

"You are most welcome, chevalier; not for the consolation you bring with
you, but on your own account. I am already consoled," said Raoul; and he
attempted to smile, but the effect was far more sad than any tears
D'Artagnan had ever seen shed.

"That is all well and good, then," said D'Artagnan.

"Only," continued Raoul, "you have arrived just as the comte was about
to give me the details of his interview with the king. You will allow
the comte to continue?" added the young man, as, with his eyes fixed on
the musketeer, he seemed to read into the very depths of his heart.

"His interview with the king?" said D'Artagnan, in a tone so natural and
unassumed that there was no means of suspecting that his astonishment
was feigned. "You have seen the king, then, Athos!"

Athos smiled as he said, "Yes, I have seen him."

"Ah, indeed; you were not aware, then, that the comte had seen his
majesty?" inquired Raoul, half reassured.

"Yes, indeed, quite so."

"In that case I am less uneasy," said Raoul.

"Uneasy--and about what?" inquired Athos.

"Forgive me, monsieur," said Raoul, "but knowing so well the regard and
affection you have for me, I was afraid you might possibly have
expressed somewhat plainly to his majesty my own sufferings and your
indignation, and that the king had consequently--"

"And that the king had consequently?" repeated D'Artagnan; "well, go on,
finish what you were going to say."

"I have now to ask you to forgive me, Monsieur d'Artagnan," said Raoul.
"For a moment, and I cannot help confessing it, I trembled lest you had
come here, not as M. d'Artagnan, but as captain of the musketeers."

"You are mad, my poor boy," cried D'Artagnan, with a burst of laughter,
in which an exact observer might perhaps have wished to have heard a
little more frankness.

"So much the better," said Raoul.

"Yes, mad; and do you know what I would advise you to do?"

"Tell me, monsieur, for the advice is sure to be good as it comes from
you."

"Very good, then; I advise you, after your long journey from England,
after your visit to M. de Guiche, after your visit to Madame, after your
visit to Porthos, after your journey to Vincennes, I advise you, I say,
to take a few hours' rest; go and lie down, sleep for a dozen hours, and
when you wake up, go and ride one of my horses until you have tired him
to death."

And drawing Raoul toward him, he embraced him as he would have done his
own child. Athos did the like; only it was very visible that the kiss
was more affectionate, and the pressure of his lips still warmer with
the father than with the friend. The young man again looked at both his
companions, endeavoring to penetrate their real meaning, or their real
feelings, with the utmost strength of his intelligence; but his look was
powerless upon the smiling countenance of the musketeer, or upon the
calm and composed features of the Comte de la Fere. "Where are you
going, Raoul?" inquired the latter, seeing that Bragelonne was preparing
to go out.

"To my own apartments," replied the latter, in his soft and sad voice.

"We shall be sure to find you there, then, if we should have anything to
say to you?"

"Yes, monsieur; but do you suppose it likely you will have something to
say to me?"

"How can I tell?" said Athos.

"Yes, something fresh to console you with," said D'Artagnan, pushing him
toward the door.

Raoul, observing the perfect composure which marked every gesture of his
two friends, quitted the comte's room, carrying away with him nothing
but the individual feeling of his own particular distress.

"Thank Heaven," he said, "since that is the case, I need only think of
myself."

And wrapping himself in his cloak, in order to conceal from the
passers-by in the streets his gloomy and sorrowful face, he quitted
them, for the purpose of returning to his own rooms, as he had promised
Porthos. The two friends watched the young man as he walked away with a
feeling akin to pity; only each expressed it in a very different way.

"Poor Raoul!" said Athos, sighing deeply.

"Poor Raoul!" said D'Artagnan, shrugging his shoulders.



CHAPTER LXVII.

HEU! MISER!


"Poor Raoul!" had said Athos. "Poor Raoul!" had said D'Artagnan; and, in
point of fact, to be pitied by both these men, Raoul must indeed have
been most unhappy. And therefore, when he found himself alone, face to
face, as it were, with his own troubles, leaving behind him the intrepid
friend and the indulgent father; when he recalled the avowal of the
king's affection, which had robbed him of Louise de la Valliere, whom he
loved so deeply, he felt his heart almost breaking, as indeed we all
have at least once in our lives, at the first illusion destroyed, at our
first affection betrayed. "Oh!" he murmured, "all is over then. Nothing
is now left me in this world. Nothing to look for, nothing to hope for.
Guiche has told me so, my father has told me so, and M. d'Artagnan
likewise. Everything is a mere idle dream in this life. That future
which I have been hopelessly pursuing for the last ten years, a dream!
that union of our hearts, a dream! that life formed of love and
happiness, a dream! Poor fool that I am," he continued, after a pause,
"to dream away my existence aloud, publicly, and in the face of others,
my friends and my enemies--and for what purpose, too? in order that my
friends may be saddened by my troubles, and that my enemies may laugh
at my sorrows. And so my unhappiness will soon become a notorious
disgrace, a public scandal; and who knows but that to-morrow I may not
even be ignominiously pointed at."

And, despite the composure which he had promised his father and
D'Artagnan to observe, Raoul could not resist uttering a few words of
dark menace. "And yet," he continued, "if my name were De Wardes, and if
I had the pliant character and strength of will of M. d'Artagnan, I
should laugh, with my lips at least; I should convince other women that
this perfidious girl, honored by the affection I have wasted on her,
leaves me only one regret, that of having been abused and deceived by
her resemblance of a modest and irreproachable conduct; a few men might
perhaps fawn upon the king by laughing at my expense; I should put
myself on the track of some of those jesters; I should chastise a few of
them, perhaps; the men would fear me, and by the time I had laid three
dying or dead at my feet, I should be adored by the women. Yes, yes,
that indeed would be the proper course to adopt, and the Comte de la
Fere himself would not object to it. Has not he also been tried, in his
earlier days, in the same manner as I have just been tried myself? Did
he not replace affection by intoxication? He has often told me so. Why
should not I replace love by pleasure? He must have suffered as much as
I suffer, even more so, perhaps. The history of one man is the history
of all men, a lengthened trial, more or less so at least, more or less
bitter or sorrowful. The voice of human nature is nothing but one
prolonged cry. But what are the sufferings of others compared to those
from which I am now suffering? Does the open wound in another's breast
soften the pain of the gaping wound in our own? Or does the blood which
is welling from another man's side stanch that which is pouring from our
own? Does the general anguish of our fellow-creatures lessen our own
private and particular anguish? No, no, each suffers on his own account,
each struggles with his own grief, each sheds his own tears.

"And besides," he went on, "what has my life been up to the present
moment? A cold, barren, sterile arena, in which I have always fought for
others, never for myself. Sometimes for a king, sometimes for a woman.
The king has betrayed me, the woman disdained me. Miserable, unhappy
wretch that I am! Women! Can I not make all expiate the crime of one of
their sex? What does that need? To have a heart no longer, or to forget
that I ever had one; to be strong, even against weakness itself; to lean
always, even when one feels that the support is giving way. What is
needed to attain, or succeed in all that? To be young, handsome, strong,
valiant, rich. I am, or shall be, all that. But honor?" he still
continued, "and what is honor after all? A theory which every man
understands in his own way. My father tells me: 'Honor is the respect of
that which is due to others, and particularly of what is due to one's
self.' But Guiche and Manicamp, and Saint-Aignan particularly, would say
to me: 'What's honor? Honor consists in studying and yielding to the
passions and pleasures of one's king.' Honor such as that indeed, is
easy and productive enough. With honor like that I can keep my post at
the court, become a gentleman of the chamber, and accept the command of
a regiment, which may have been presented to me. With honor such as
that, I can be both duke and peer.

"The stain which that woman has just stamped upon me, the grief with
which she has just broken my heart, the heart of the friend and playmate
of her childhood, in no way affect M. de Bragelonne, an excellent
officer, a courageous leader, who will cover himself with glory at the
first encounter, and who will become a hundred times greater than
Mademoiselle de la Valliere is to-day, the mistress of the king, for the
king will not marry her--and the more publicly he will proclaim her as
his mistress, the thicker will become the bandage of shame which he
casts in her face, in the guise of a crown; and in proportion as others
will despise her, as I despise her, I shall be gaining honors in the
field. Alas! we had walked together side by side, she and I, during the
earliest, the brightest, and best portion of our existence, hand in hand
along the charming path of life, covered with the flowers of youth; and
then, alas! we reach a cross road, where she separates herself from me,
in which we have to follow a different route, whereby we become more and
more widely separated from each other. And to attain the end of this
path, oh, Heaven! I am now alone in utter despair, and crushed to the
very earth!"

Such were the sinister reflections in which Raoul indulged, when his
foot mechanically paused at the door of his own dwelling. He had reached
it without remarking the streets through which he had passed, without
knowing how he had come; he pushed open the door, continued to advance,
and ascended the staircase. The staircase, as in most of the houses at
that period, was very dark, and the landings very obscure. Raoul lived
on the first floor; he paused in order to ring. Olivain appeared, took
his sword and cloak from his hands; Raoul himself opened the door which,
from the antechamber, led into a small salon, richly enough furnished
for the salon of a young man, and completely filled with flowers by
Olivain, who, knowing his master's tastes, had shown himself studiously
attentive in gratifying them, without caring whether his master
perceived his attention or not. There was a portrait of La Valliere in
the salon, which had been drawn by herself and given by her to Raoul.
This portrait, fastened above a large easy-chair covered with
dark-colored damask, was the first point toward which Raoul bent his
steps--the first object on which he fixed his eyes. It was, moreover,
Raoul's usual habit to do so; every time he entered his room, this
portrait, before anything else, attracted his attention. This time, as
usual, he walked straight up to the portrait, placed his knees upon the
armchair, and paused to look at it sadly. His arms were crossed upon his
breast, his head slightly thrown back, his eyes filled with tears, his
mouth worked into a bitter smile. He looked at the portrait of one whom
he so tenderly loved; and then all that he had said passed before his
mind again, and all that he had suffered seemed again to assail his
heart; and, after a long silence, he murmured for the third time,
"Miserable, unhappy wretch that I am!"

He had hardly pronounced these words, when he heard the sound of a sigh
and a groan behind him. He turned sharply round, and perceived, in the
angle of the salon, standing up, a bending veiled female figure, which
he had been the means of concealing behind the door as he opened it, and
which he had not perceived as he entered. He advanced toward this
figure, whose presence in his room had not been announced to him; and as
he bowed, and inquired at the same moment who she was, she suddenly
raised her head, and removed the veil from her face, revealing her pale
and sorrow-stricken features. Raoul staggered back, as if he had seen a
ghost.

"Louise!" he cried, in a tone of such utter despair, that one could
hardly have thought that the human voice were capable of so desponding a
cry, without some fibers of the human heart snapping.



CHAPTER LXVIII.

WOUNDS UPON WOUNDS.


Mademoiselle de La Valliere--for it was indeed she--advanced a few steps
toward him. "Yes--Louise," she murmured.

But this interval, short as it had been, was quite sufficient for Raoul
to recover himself. "You, mademoiselle?" he said; and then added, in an
indefinable tone, "You here!"

"Yes, Raoul," the young girl replied, "I have been waiting for you."

"I beg your pardon. When I came into the room I was not aware--"

"I know--but I entreated Olivain not to tell you--" She hesitated; and
as Raoul did not attempt to interrupt her, a moment's silence ensued,
during which the sound of their throbbing hearts might have been heard,
not in unison with each other, but the one beating as violently as the
other. It was for Louise to speak, and she made an effort to do so.

"I wished to speak to you," she said. "It was absolutely necessary that
I should see you--myself--alone. I have not hesitated adopting a step
which must remain secret; for no one, except yourself, could understand
my motive, Monsieur de Bragelonne."

"In fact, mademoiselle," Raoul stammered out, almost breathless from
emotion, "as far as I am concerned, and despite the good opinion you
have of me, I confess--"

"Will you do me the great kindness to sit down and listen to me?" said
Louise, interrupting him with her soft, sweet voice.

Bragelonne looked at her for a moment; then, mournfully shaking his
head, he sat, or rather fell down, on a chair. "Speak," he said.

She cast a glance all round her. This look was a timid entreaty, and
implored secrecy far more effectually than her expressed words had done
a few minutes before. Raoul rose, and went to the door, which he opened.
"Olivain," he said, "I am not within for any one." And then, turning
toward Louise, he added, "Is not that what you wished?"

Nothing could have produced a greater effect upon Louise than these few
words, which seemed to signify, "You see that I still understand you."
She passed a handkerchief across her eyes, in order to remove a
rebellious tear which she could not restrain; and then, having collected
herself for a moment, she said. "Raoul, do not turn your kind, frank
look away from me. You are not one of those men who despise a woman for
having given her heart to another, even though her affection might
render him unhappy, or might wound his pride." Raoul did not reply.

"Alas!" continued La Valliere, "it is only too true, my cause is a bad
one, and I cannot tell in what way to begin. It will be better for me,
I think, to relate to you, very simply, everything that has befallen me.
As I shall speak but the pure and simple truth, I shall always find my
path clear before me in the obscurity, hesitation, and obstacles which I
have to brave in order to solace my heart, which is full to overflowing,
and wishes to pour itself out at your feet."

Raoul continued to preserve the same unbroken silence. La Valliere
looked at him with an air that seemed to say, "Encourage me; for pity's
sake, but a single word!" But Raoul did not open his lips; and the young
girl was obliged to continue:

"Just now," she said, "M. de Saint-Aignan came to me by the king's
directions." She cast down her eyes as she said this; while Raoul, on
his side, turned his away, in order to avoid looking at her. "M. de
Saint-Aignan came to me from the king," she repeated, "and told me that
you knew all;" and she attempted to look Raoul in the face, after
inflicting this further wound upon him, in addition to the many others
he had already received; but it was impossible to meet Raoul's eyes.

"He told me you were incensed with me--and justly so, I admit."

This time Raoul looked at the young girl, and a smile full of disdain
passed across his lips.

"Oh!" she continued, "I entreat you, do not say that you have had any
other feeling against me than that of anger merely. Raoul, wait until I
have told you all--wait until I have said to you all that I had to
say--all that I came to say."

Raoul, by the strength of his own iron will, forced his features to
assume a calmer expression, and the disdainful smile upon his lip passed
away.

"In the first place," said La Valliere, "in the first place, with my
hands raised in entreaty toward you, with my forehead bowed to the
ground before you, I entreat you, as the most generous, as the noblest
of men, to pardon, to forgive me. If I have left you in ignorance of
what was passing in my own bosom, never, at least, would I have
consented to deceive you. Oh! I entreat you, Raoul--I implore you on my
knees--answer me one word, even though you wronged me in doing so.
Better, far better, an injurious word from your lips, than a suspicion
from your heart."

"I admire your subtlety of expression, mademoiselle," said Raoul, making
an effort to remain calm. "To leave another in ignorance that you are
deceiving him is loyal; but to deceive him--it seems that that would be
very wrong, and that you would not do it."

"Monsieur, for a long time I thought that I loved you better than
anything else; and so long as I believed in my affection for you, I told
you that I loved you. I could have sworn it on the altar; but a day came
when I was undeceived."

"Well, on that day, mademoiselle, knowing that I still continued to love
you, true loyalty of conduct ought to have obliged you to tell me you
had ceased to love me."

"But on that day, Raoul--on that day, when I read in the depths of my
own heart, when I confessed to myself that you no longer filled my mind
entirely, when I saw another future before me than that of being your
friend, your life-long companion, your wife--on that day, Raoul, you
were not, alas! anymore beside me."

"But you knew where I was, mademoiselle; you could have written to me."

"Raoul, I did not dare to do so. Raoul, I have been weak and cowardly. I
knew you so thoroughly--I knew how devotedly you loved me, that I
trembled at the bare idea of the grief I was going to cause you; and
that is so true, Raoul, that at this very moment I am now speaking to
you, bending thus before you, my heart crushed in my bosom, my voice
full of sighs, my eyes full of tears, it is so perfectly true, that I
have no other defense than my frankness, I have no other sorrow greater
than that which I read in your eyes."

Raoul attempted to smile.

"No!" said the young girl, with a profound conviction, "no, no; you will
not do me so foul a wrong as to disguise your feelings before me now!
You loved me; you were sure of your affection for me, you did not
deceive yourself; you did not lie to your own heart--while I--I--" And
pale as death, her arms thrown despairingly above her head, she fell
upon her knees.

"While you," said Raoul, "you told me you loved me, and yet you loved
another."

"Alas, yes!" cried the poor girl; "alas, yes! I do love another; and
that other--oh! for Heaven's sake let me say it, Raoul, for it is my
only excuse--that other I love better than my own life, better than my
own soul even. Forgive my fault, or punish my treason, Raoul. I came
here in no way to defend myself, but merely to say to you: 'You know
what it is to love!'--in that case I love! I love to that degree that I
would give my life, my very soul, to the man I love. If he should ever
cease to love me, I shall die of grief and despair, unless Heaven come
to my assistance; unless Heaven does show pity upon me. Raoul, I came
here to submit myself to your will, whatever it might be--to die, if it
were your wish I should die. Kill me then, Raoul! if in your heart you
believe I deserve death."

"Take care, mademoiselle!" said Raoul; "the woman who invites death is
one who has nothing but her heart's blood to offer to her deceived and
betrayed lover."

"You are right," she said.

Raoul uttered a deep sigh, as he exclaimed, "And you love without being
able to forget!"

"I love without a wish to forget; without a wish ever to love any one
else," replied La Valliere.

"Very well," said Raoul. "You have said to me, in fact, all you had to
say; all I could possibly wish to know. And now, mademoiselle, it is I
who ask your forgiveness, for it is I who have almost been an obstacle
in your life; I, too, who have been wrong, for, in deceiving myself, I
helped to deceive you."

"Oh!" said La Valliere, "I do not ask you so much as that, Raoul."

"I only am to blame, mademoiselle," continued Raoul; "better informed
than yourself of the difficulties of this life, I should have
enlightened you. I ought not to have relied upon uncertainty; I ought
to have extracted an answer from your heart, while I hardly even sought
an acknowledgment from your lips. Once more, mademoiselle, it is I who
ask your forgiveness."

"Impossible, impossible!" she cried, "you are mocking me."

"How, impossible!"

"Yes, it is impossible to be good, and excellent, and perfect to such a
degree as that."

"Take care!" said Raoul, with a bitter smile, "for presently you may say
perhaps that I did not love you."

"Oh! you love me like an affectionate brother; let me hope that, Raoul."

"As a brother! undeceive yourself, Louise. I loved you as a lover--as a
husband, with the deepest, the truest, the fondest affection."

"Raoul, Raoul!"

"As a brother! Oh, Louise! I loved you so deeply, that I would have shed
my blood for you, drop by drop; I would, oh! how willingly, have
suffered myself to be torn in pieces for your sake, have sacrificed my
very future for you. I loved you so deeply, Louise, that my heart feels
crushed and dead within me--that my faith in human nature is gone--that
my eyes seem to have lost their light; I loved you so deeply, that I now
no longer see, think of, care for, anything, either in this world or in
the next."

"Raoul--dear Raoul! spare me, I implore you!" cried La Valliere. "Oh! if
I had but known."

"It is too late, Louise; you love, you are happy in your affection; I
read your happiness through your tears--behind the tears which the
loyalty of your nature makes you shed; I feel the sighs which your
affection breathes forth. Louise, Louise, you have made me the most
abjectly wretched man living; leave me, I entreat you. Adieu! Adieu!"

"Forgive me! oh, forgive me, Raoul, for what I have done."

"Have I not done more? Have I not told you that I loved you still?" She
buried her face in her hands.

"And to tell you that--do you hear me, Louise?--to tell you that, at
such a moment as this, to tell you that, as I have told you, is to
pronounce my own sentence of death. Adieu!" La Valliere wished to hold
out her hands to him.

"We ought not to see each other again in this world," he said; and as
she was on the point of calling out in bitter agony at this remark, he
placed his hand on her mouth to stifle the exclamation. She pressed her
lips upon it and fell fainting to the ground. "Olivain," said Raoul,
"take this young lady and bear her to the carriage which is waiting for
her at the door." As Olivain lifted her up, Raoul made a movement as if
to dart toward La Valliere, in order to give her a first and last kiss,
but, stopping abruptly, he said, "No! she is not mine. I am not a thief,
like the king of France." And he returned to his room, while the lackey
carried La Valliere, still fainting, to the carriage.



CHAPTER LXIX.

WHAT RAOUL HAD GUESSED.


As soon as Raoul had quitted Athos and D'Artagnan, and as soon as the
two exclamations which had followed his departure had escaped their
lips, they found themselves face to face alone. Athos immediately
resumed the earnest air that he had assumed at D'Artagnan's arrival.

"Well," he said, "what have you come to announce to me, my friend?"

"I?" inquired D'Artagnan.

"Yes; I do not see you in this way without some reason for it," said
Athos, smiling.

"The deuce!" said D'Artagnan.

"I will place you at your ease. The king is furious, I suppose?"

"Well, I must say he is not altogether pleased."

"And you have come to arrest me, then?"

"My dear friend, you have hit the very mark."

"Oh, I expected it! I am quite ready to go with you."

"Deuce take it!" said D'Artagnan, "what a hurry you are in."

"I am afraid of delaying you," said Athos, smiling.

"I have plenty of time. Are you not curious, besides, to know how things
went on between the king and me?"

"If you will be good enough to tell me, I will listen with the greatest
pleasure," said Athos, pointing out to D'Artagnan a large chair, into
which the latter threw himself, assuming the easiest possible attitude.

"Well, I will do so willing enough," continued D'Artagnan, "for the
conversation is rather curious, I must say. In the first place, the king
sent for me."

"As soon as I had left?"

"You were just going down the last steps of the staircase, as the
musketeers told me. I arrived. My dear Athos, he was not red in the face
merely, he was positively purple. I was not aware, of course, of what
had passed; only, on the ground, lying on the floor, I saw a sword
broken in two.

"'Captain d'Artagnan,' cried the king, as soon as he saw me.

"'Sire,' I replied.

"'M. de la Fere has just left me; he is an insolent man.'

"'An insolent man!' I exclaimed, in such a tone that the king stopped
suddenly short.

"'Captain d'Artagnan,' resumed the king, with his teeth clenched, 'you
will be good enough to listen to and hear me.'

"'That is my duty, sire.'

"'I have, out of consideration for M. de la Fere, wished to spare him,
of whom I still retain some kind recollections, the discredit of being
arrested in my palace. You will therefore take a carriage.' At this I
made a slight movement.

"'If you object to arrest him yourself,' continued the king, 'send me my
captain of the guards here.'

"'Sire,' I replied, 'there is no necessity for the captain of the
guards, since I am on duty.'

"'I should not like to annoy you,' said the king, kindly, 'for you have
always served me well, Monsieur d'Artagnan.'

"'You do not "annoy" me, sire,' I replied; 'I am on duty, that is all.'

"'But,' said the king, in astonishment, 'I believe the comte is your
friend?'

"'If he were my father, sire, it would not make me less on duty than I
am.'

"The king looked at me; he saw how unmoved my face was, and seemed
satisfied. 'You will arrest M. le Comte de la Fere, then?' he inquired.

"'Most certainly, sire, if you give me the order to do so.'

"'Very well; I order you to do so.'

"I bowed and replied, 'Where is the comte, sire?'

"'You will look for him.'

"'And I am to arrest him, wherever he may be?'

"'Yes; but try that he may be at his own house. If he should have
started for his own estate, leave Paris at once, and arrest him on his
way thither.'

"I bowed; but as I did not move, he said, 'Well, what are you waiting
for?'

"'For the order to arrest the comte, signed by yourself.'

"The king seemed annoyed; for, in point of fact, it was the exercise of
a fresh act of authority; a repetition of the arbitrary act, if, indeed,
it is to be considered as such. He took hold of his pen slowly, and
evidently in no very good temper; and then he wrote, 'Order for M. le
Chevalier d'Artagnan, captain of my musketeers, to arrest M. le Comte de
la Fere, wherever he is to be found.' He then turned toward me; but I
was looking on without moving a muscle of my face. In all probability he
thought he perceived something like bravado in my tranquil manner, for
he signed hurriedly; and then, handing me the order, he said, 'Go,
monsieur!' I obeyed--and here I am."

Athos pressed his friend's hand. "Well, let us set off," he said.

"Oh! surely," said D'Artagnan, "you must have some trifling matters to
arrange before you leave your apartments in this manner."

"I?--not at all."

"Why not?"

"Why, you know, D'Artagnan, that I have always been a very simple
traveler on this earth, ready to go to the end of the world by the order
of my sovereign; ready to quit it at the summons of my Maker. What does
a man who is thus prepared require in such a case?--a portmanteau or a
shroud. I am ready at this moment, as I have always been, my dear
friend, and can accompany you at once."

"But Bragelonne--"

"I have brought him up in the same principles I laid down for my own
guidance; and you observed that as soon as he perceived you he guessed,
that very moment, the motive of your visit. We have thrown him off his
guard for a moment; but do not be uneasy, he is sufficiently prepared
for my disgrace to be too much alarmed at it. So let us go."

"Very well, 'let us go.'" said D'Artagnan, quietly.

"As I broke my sword in the king's presence, and threw the pieces at his
feet, I presume that will dispense with the necessity of delivering it
over to you."

"You are quite right; and besides that, what the deuce do you suppose I
could do with your sword?"

"Am I to walk behind, or before you?" inquired Athos, laughing.

"You will walk arm-in-arm with me," replied D'Artagnan, as he took the
comte's aim to descend the staircase; and in this manner they arrived at
the landing. Grimaud, whom they had met in the anteroom, looked at them,
as they went out together in this manner, with some little uneasiness;
his experience of affairs was quite sufficient to give him good reason
to suspect that there was something wrong.

"Ah! is that you, Grimaud?" said Athos, kindly. "We are going--"

"To take a turn in my carriage," interrupted D'Artagnan, with a friendly
nod of the head.

Grimaud thanked D'Artagnan by a grimace, which was evidently intended
for a smile, and accompanied both the friends to the door. Athos entered
first into the carriage; D'Artagnan followed him, without saying a word
to the coa