Louise De La Valliere by Alexandre Dumas, Pere - HTML preview
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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 afterwards received those who had been recently presented, together with a few ladies, who paid their respects first. In one corner 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.
"Well, look, then." Porthos raised himself on tiptoe, and saw M. Fouquet in full court dress, leading Aramis towards the king.
"Aramis!" said Porthos.
"Presented to the king by M. Fouquet."
"Ah!" ejaculated Porthos.
"For having fortified Belle-Isle," continued D'Artagnan.
"You - oh, you! as I have already had the honor of telling you, are the goodnatured, kind-hearted Porthos; and so they begged you to take care of SaintMande a little."
"Ah!" repeated Porthos.
"But, 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 when he can be of service. Your majesty needs a representative at Rome, who would 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 du Vallon, 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 blandly at both of them, while Porthos bowed, visibly overcome before the royal presence. "Porthos here?" murmured Fouquet in Aramis's ear.
"Hush! deep treachery at work," hissed the latter.
"Sire," said D'Artagnan, "it is more than six years ago I ought to have presented M. du Vallon to your majesty; but certain men resemble stars, they move not one inch unless their satellites accompany them. The Pleiades 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 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, "was 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's," 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 this bishop's, name Aramis?"
"His nom de guerre," said D'Artagnan.
"My nickname," 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's 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. du Vallon, myself, and M. le Comte de la Fere, who is known to your majesty, formed that quartette which was a good deal talked about during the late king's reign, and during your majesty's minority."
"And who fortified Belle-Isle?" the king repeated, in a significant tone. Aramis advanced and bowed: "In order to serve the son as I served the father." D'Artagnan looked very narrowly at Aramis 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 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 du Vallon," said the king, "what have you to ask? I am truly pleased to have it in my power to acknowledge the services of those who were faithful to my father."
"Sire - " began Porthos, but he was unable to proceed with what he was going to say.
"Sire," exclaimed D'Artagnan, "this worthy gentleman is utterly overpowered by your majesty's presence, he who 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 them: he needs nothing, absolutely 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 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 himself possesses a royal appetite."
Aramis 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 sore perplexity.
"You see, you members of the Church are great politicians; we mere soldiers come 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 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's 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 as 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 du Vallon, at M. Fouquet's house, Saint-Mande.' The deuce, I said to myself, Porthos has not returned, then, as I fancied, to Bell-Isle, or to Pierrefonds, but is at M. Fouquet's house, at Saint-Mande; and as M. Fouquet is not at Saint- Mande, 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 had no 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 confoundedly 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."
"Very depressing, was it not? I should never be able to live in a house where burials can always be seen from the window. 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 towards 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?"
"Well? - we 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's 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 visited Belle-Isle on behalf of the king?"
"You wished to deprive us of the pleasure of offering Bell-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 smelt me out over yonder?"
"And Porthos, too?"
"I did not divine that Aramis was an engineer. I was only able to guess 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, I will go on."
"Do. 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 two hundred and fifty pounds, as Porthos does, rides post; when a gouty prelate - I beg your pardon, but you yourself told me you were so - when a prelate scours the highway - 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?"
"You know I was obliged to inform M. Fouquet of what had happened, in order that he would be able to 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 his 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."
"That is the whole mystery," said Aramis, satisfied that he had at last 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 so long planned, and we should not have had any 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 one. M. Fouquet has won my regard, and I have devoted myself to his service."
"You could not possibly do better. You will find him a very liberal 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 a 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-natured. Porthos is so straightforward in everything. Since I have become a bishop, I have looked for these primeval natures, which make me love truth and hate intrigue."
D'Artagnan 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 learnt 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 that 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 marechal of France, peer, duke, and the possessor of a duchy, with 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! a D'Artagnan cannot be divided."
"You have, I presume, ambitions, as noble hearts like yours have." "Yes, certainly I have."
"Well! I wish to be a marechal; the king will make me marechal, 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. stood no D'Artagnan," said the musketeer, very quietly.
"There are many stumbling-blocks round the king," said Aramis.
"Not for the king's feet."
"Very likely not; still - "
"One moment, Aramis; I observe that every one thinks of himself, and never of his poor prince; I will maintain myself 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 some day have no further need for you!"
"On the contrary, I think his need of me will soon 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 France!" and D'Artagnan struck his sword, which clanked sullenly on the tesselated floor.
"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," mused D'Artagnan; "there is, indeed, something strangely serious stirring."
"We must hasten the explosion," breathed the coming cardinal, "for D'Artagnan has discovered the existence of a plot."
Madame and De Guiche.
It will not be forgotten how Comte de Guiche left the queen-mother's apartments on the day when Louis XIV. presented La Valliere with the beautiful bracelets he had won in 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 tables 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 had signed and folded this singular love-letter, when he suddenly observed several ladies leaving the chateau, and afterwards several courtiers too; in fact, almost every one that formed the queen's circle. He saw La Valliere herself, then Montalais talking with Malicorne; he watched the departure of the very last of the numerous guests that had a short time before thronged the queen-mother's cabinet.
Madame herself had not yet 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 going on 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 look for De Guiche: he has to render 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, hidden 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 towards 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 now worse than useless letter.
"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 entered the princess's apartments, he found her pale and agitated. Montalais was standing at the door, evidently 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, courtesied and withdrew. De Guiche and the princess were left alone. The come 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 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 thus constituted, being as credulous and blind as poets or prophets), he fancied she knew how ardent was his desire to see her, and also the subject uppermost in his mind.
"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 sank under his gaze, which seemed to read her very heart.
"I think," he said, "that the king may possibly have had an idea of annoying some one; were it not for that, the king would hardly 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?"
"My friend; yes, Madame."
"Well, and though 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 sinister 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 desirous of wounding? You, who are well acquainted with the whole court, can perhaps assist me in ascertaining that; and assuredly, with greater certainty, since it is everywhere said that your royal highness is on very friendly 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 pocket the now crumpled note that 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 tear 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 scornful 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 you pretend to have is more insulting than the insult itself. Insult me, if you please, but at least speak." "Madame," said the comte, gently, as he drew his sword, "thrust this blade into my heart, rather than kill me by 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 upon me, comte. You see how I am suffering, and yet you have no pity for me."
Tears, the cries of this strange 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.
"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 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 has passed one almost fancies Paradise is opening. "But," she added, "there are other passions in a high-born heart. Love is poetry; but the real life of the heart is pride. Comte, I was born on 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 towards 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 a 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 ventured 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 into the matter seriously; and I now find that my ignorance has saved my life."
"So, then, you drive 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 can I possibly say?"
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 convictions to undergo a change, so as not to ruin Louise 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 really warmed with affection towards him, whose passion for her was so pure and delicate. Despite his fear of incurring her displeasure, De Guiche, by retaining his position as a man of proud independence of feeling and 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 this 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 enumerated 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 hardly 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." De 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." De Guiche fell at her feet, which he kissed, with the religious fervor of a worshipper. "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 De Guiche.
"I am a woman," she said, in a voice lower than ever, "and I love." He rose, she opened her arms, and their lips met. 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 De Guiche had consistently carried out his part with heroism.
Montalais and Malicorne.
Montalais was right. M. de Guiche, thus summoned in every direction, was very much exposed, from such a multiplication of business, to the risk of not attending to any. It so happened that, considering the awkwardness of the interruption, Madame, notwithstanding her wounded pride, and secret anger, could not, for the moment at least, reproach Montalais for having violated, in so bold a manner, the semi-royal order with which she had been dismissed on De Guiche's entrance. De Guiche, also, lost his presence of mind, or, it would be more correct to say, had already lost it, before Montalais's arrival, for, scarcely had he heard the young girl's voice, than, without taking leave of Madame, as the most ordinary politeness required, even between persons equal in rank and station, he fled from her presence, his heart tumultuously throbbing, and his brain on fire, leaving the princess with one hand raised, as though to bid him adieu. Montalais was at no loss, therefore, to perceive the agitation of the two lovers - the one who fled was agitated, and the one who remained was equally so.
"Well," murmured the young girl, as she glanced inquisitively round her, "this time, at least, I think I know as much as the most curious woman could possibly wish to know." Madame felt so embarrassed by this inquisitorial look, that, as if she heard Montalais's muttered side remark, she did not speak a word to her maid of honor, but, casting down her eyes, retired at once to her bedroom. Montalais, observing this, stood listening for a moment, and then heard Madame lock and bolt her door. By this she knew that the rest of the evening was at her own disposal; and making, behind the door which had just been closed, a gesture which indicated but little real respect for the princess, she went down the staircase in search of Malicorne, who was very busily engaged at that moment in watching a courier, who, covered with dust, had just left the Comte de Guiche's apartments. Montalais knew that Malicorne was engaged in a matter of some importance; she therefore allowed him to look and stretch out his neck as much as he pleased; and it was only when Malicorne had resumed his natural position, that she touched him on the shoulder. "Well," said Montalais, "what is the latest intelligence you have?"
"M. de Guiche is in love with Madame."
"Fine news, truly! I know something more recent than that."
"Well, what do you know?"
"That Madame is in love with M. de Guiche."
"The one is the consequence of the other."
"Not always, my good monsieur."
"Is that remark intended for me?"
"Present company always excepted."
"Thank you," said Malicorne. "Well, and in the other direction, what is stirring?" "The king wished, this evening, after the lottery, to see Mademoiselle de la Valliere."
"Well, and he has seen her?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"The door was shut and locked."
"So that - "
"So that the king was obliged to go back again, looking very sheepish, like a thief who has forgotten his crowbar."
"And in the third place?" inquired Montalais.
"The courier who has just arrived for De Guiche came from M. de Bragelonne." "Excellent," said Montalais, clapping her hands together.
"Because we have work to do. If we get weary now, something unlucky will be sure to happen."
"We must divide the work, then," said Malicorne, "in order to avoid confusion." "Nothing easier," replied Montalais. "Three intrigues, carefully nursed, and carefully encouraged, will produce, one with another, and taking a low average, three love letters a day."
"Oh!" exclaimed Malicorne, shrugging his shoulders, "you cannot mean what you say, darling; three letters a day, that may do for sentimental common people. A musketeer on duty, a young girl in a convent, may exchange letters with their lovers once a day, perhaps, from the top of a ladder, or through a hole in the wall. A letter contains all the poetry their poor little hearts have to boast of. But the cases we have in hand require to be dealt with very differently." "Well, finish," said Montalais, out of patience with him. "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."
"M. de Guiche will not be able to keep his either."
"That is probable."
"Very well, then; I will take care of all that."
"That is the very thing that is impossible," said Malicorne.
"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 forgot some one else."
"I was only speaking of the women. Let us add them up, then: we will call Monsieur, No. 1."
"The Vicomte de Bragelonne?"
"And the king, the king?"
"No. 4. Of course the king, who not only will be more jealous, but more powerful than all the rest put together. Ah, my dear!"
"Into what a wasp's nest you have thrust yourself!"
"And as yet not quite far enough, if you will follow me into it."
"Most certainly I will follow you where you like. Yet - "
"Well, yet - "
"While we have time, I think it will be prudent to turn back."
"But I, on the contrary, think the wisest course to take is to put ourselves at once at the head of all these intrigues."
"You will never be able to do it."
"With you, I could superintend ten of them. I am in my element, you must know. I was born to live at the court, as the salamander is made to live in the fire." "Your comparison does not reassure me in the slightest degree in the world, my dear Montalais. I have heard it said, and by learned men too, that, in the first place, there are no salamanders at all, and that, if there had been any, they would have been infallibly baked or roasted on leaving the fire."
"Your learned men may be very wise as far as salamanders are concerned, but they would never tell you what I can tell you; namely, that Aure de Montalais is destined, before a month is over, to become the first diplomatist in the court of France."
"Be it so, but on condition that I shall be the second."
"Agreed; an offensive and defensive alliance, of course."
"Only be very careful of any letters."
"I will hand them to you as I receive them."
"What shall we tell the king about Madame?"
"That Madame is still in love with his majesty."
"What shall we tell Madame about the king?"
"That she would be exceedingly wrong not to humor him."
"What shall we tell La Valliere about Madame?"
"Whatever we choose, for La Valliere is in our power."
"What do you mean?"
"In the first place, through the Vicomte de Bragelonne."
"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 intercepted those letters." "And, consequently, it is you who have them still?"
"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 ante-chamber 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?"
"Did you not put them in a box?"
"Of course; in the same box where I put all the letters I received from you, and where I put mine also when your business or your amusements prevented you from coming to our rendezvous."
"Ah, very good," said Malicorne.
"Why are you satisfied?"
"Because I see there is a possibility of not having to run to Blois after the letters, for I have them here."
"You have brought the box away?"
"It was very dear to me, because it belonged to you."
"Be sure and take care of it, for it contains original documents that will be of priceless value by and by."
"I am perfectly well aware of that indeed, and that is the very reason why I laugh as I do, and with all my heart, too."
"And now, one last word."
"Do we need any one to assist us?"
"Valets or maid-servants?"
"Bad policy. You will give the letters, - you will receive them. Oh! we must have no pride in this affair, otherwise M. Malicorne and Mademoiselle Aure, not transacting their own affairs themselves, will have to make up their minds to see them done by others."
"You are quite right; but what is going on yonder in M. de Guiche's room?" "Nothing; he is only opening his window."
"Let us be gone." And they both immediately disappeared, all the terms of the contract being agreed on.
The window just opened was, in fact, that of the Comte de Guiche. It was not alone with the hope of catching a glimpse of Madame through her curtains that he seated himself by the open window for his preoccupation of mind had at that time a different origin. He had just received, as we have already stated, the courier who had been dispatched to him by Bragelonne, the latter having written to De Guiche a letter which had made the deepest impression upon him, and which he had read over and over again. "Strange, strange!" he murmured. "How irresponsible are the means by which destiny hurries men onward to their fate!" Leaving the window in order to approach nearer to the light, he once more read the letter he had just received: -
"MY DEAR COUNT, - I found M. de Wardes at Calais; he has been seriously wounded in an affair with the Duke of Buckingham. De Wardes is, as you know, unquestionably brave, but full of malevolent and wicked feelings. He conversed with me about yourself, for whom, he says, he has a warm regard, also about Madame, whom he considers a beautiful and amiable woman. He has guessed your affection for a certain person. He also talked to me about the lady for whom I have so ardent a regard, and showed the greatest interest on my behalf in expressing a deep pity for me, accompanied, however, by dark hints which alarmed me at first, but which I at last looked upon as the result of his usual love of mystery. These are the facts: he had received news of the court; you will understand, however, that it was only through M. de Lorraine. The report goes, so says the news, that a change has taken place in the king's affections. You know whom that concerns. Afterwards, the news continues, people are talking about one of the maids of honor, respecting whom various slanderous reports are being circulated. These vague phrases have not allowed me to sleep. I have been deploring, ever since yesterday, that my diffidence and vacillation of purpose, notwithstanding a certain obstinacy of character I may possess, have left me unable to reply to these insinuations. In a word, M. de Wardes was setting off for Paris, and I did not delay his departure with explanations; for it seemed rather hard, I confess, to cross-examine a man whose wounds are hardly yet closed. In short, he travelled by short stages, as he was anxious to leave, he said, in order to be present at a curious spectacle the court cannot fail to offer within a short time. He added a few congratulatory words accompanied by vague sympathizing expressions. I could not understand the one any more than the other. I was bewildered by my own thoughts, and tormented by a mistrust of this man, - a mistrust which, you know better than any one else, I have never been able to overcome. As soon as he left, my perceptions seemed to become clearer. It is hardly possible that a man of De Wardes's character should not have communicated something of his own malicious nature to the statements he made to me. It is not unlikely, therefore, that in the strange hints De Wardes threw out in my presence, there may be a mysterious signification, which I might have some difficulty in applying either to myself or to 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 my various doubts. I regard you as myself; you have reflected and observed; it will be for you to act. M. de Wardes will arrive very shortly; endeavor to learn what he meant, if you do not already know. M. de Wardes, moreover, pretended that the Duke of Buckingham left Paris on the very best of terms with Madame. This was an affair which would have unhesitatingly made me draw my sword, had I not felt that I was under the necessity of dispatching the king's mission before undertaking any quarrel whatsoever. Burn this letter, which Olivain will hand you. Whatever Olivain says, you may confidently rely on. Will you have the goodness, my dear comte, to recall me to the remembrance of Mademoiselle de la Valliere, whose hands I kiss with the greatest respect.
"P. S. - If anything serious should happen - we should be prepared for everything, dispatch a courier to me with this one single word, 'come,' and I will be in Paris within six and thirty hours after the receipt of your letter." De Guiche sighed, folded up the letter a third time, and, instead of burning it, as Raoul had recommended him to do, placed it in his pocket. He felt it needed reading over and over again.
"How much distress of mind, yet what sublime confidence, he shows!" murmured the comte; "he has poured out his whole soul in this letter. He says nothing of the Comte de la Fere, and speaks of his respect for Louise. He cautions me on my own account, and entreats me on his. Ah!" continued De Guiche, with a threatening gesture, "you interfere in my affairs, Monsieur de Wardes, do you? Very well, then; I will shortly occupy myself with yours. As for you, poor Raoul, - you who 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 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 personal affairs. The next evening, De Wardes's return and first appearance at the king's reception were announced. When that visit had been paid, the convalescent waited on Monsieur; De Guiche taking care, however, to be at Monsieur's apartments before the visit took place.
How De Wardes Was Received at Court.
Monsieur had received De Wardes with that marked favor light and frivolous minds bestow on every novelty that comes in their way. De Wardes, who had been absent for a month, was like fresh fruit to him. To treat him with marked kindness was an infidelity to old friends, and there is always something fascinating in that; moreover, it was a sort of reparation to De Wardes himself. Nothing, consequently, could exceed the favorable notice Monsieur took of him. The Chevalier de Lorraine, who feared this rival but a little, but who respected a character and disposition only too parallel to his own in every particular, with the addition of a bull-dog courage he did not himself possess, received De Wardes with a greater display of regard and affection than even Monsieur had done. De Guiche, as we have said, was there also, but kept in the background, waiting very patiently until all these interchanges were over. De Wardes, while talking to the others, and even to Monsieur himself, had not for a moment lost sight of De Guiche, who, he instinctively felt, was there on his account. As soon as he had finished with the others, he went up to De Guiche. They exchanged the most courteous compliments, after which De Wardes returned to Monsieur and the other gentlemen.
In the midst of these congratulations Madame was announced. She had been informed of De Wardes's arrival, and knowing all the details of his voyage and duel, she was not sorry to be present at the remarks she knew would be made, without delay, by one who, she felt assured, was her personal enemy. Two or three of her ladies accompanied her. De Wardes saluted Madame in the most graceful and respectful manner, and, as a commencement of hostilities, announced, in the first place, that he could furnish the Duke of Buckingham's friends with the latest news about him. This was a direct answer to the coldness with which Madame had received him. The attack was a vigorous one, and Madame felt the blow, but without appearing to have even noticed it. He rapidly cast a glance at Monsieur and at De Guiche, - the former colored, and the latter turned very pale. Madame alone preserved an unmoved countenance; but, as she knew how many unpleasant thoughts and feelings her enemy could awaken in the two persons who were listening to him, she smilingly bent forward towards the traveler, as if to listen to the news he had brought - but he was speaking of other matters. Madame was brave, even to imprudence; if she were to retreat, it would be inviting an attack; so, after the first disagreeable impression had passed away, she returned to the charge.
"Have you suffered much from your wounds, Monsieur de Wardes?" she inquired, "for we have been told that you had the misfortune to get wounded." It was now De Wardes's turn to wince; he bit his lips, and replied, "No, Madame, hardly at all."
"Indeed! and yet in this terribly hot weather - "
"The sea-breezes were very fresh and cool, Madame, and then I had one consolation."
"Indeed! What was it?"
"The knowledge that my adversary's sufferings were still greater than my own." "Ah! you mean he was more seriously wounded than you were; I was not aware of that," said the princess, with utter indifference.
"Oh, Madame, you are mistaken, or rather you pretend to misunderstand my remark. I did not say that he was a greater sufferer in body than myself; but his heart was very seriously affected."
De Guiche comprehended instinctively from what direction the struggle was approaching; he ventured to make a sign to Madame, as if entreating her to retire from the contest. But she, without acknowledging De Guiche's gesture, without pretending to have noticed it even, and still smiling, continued:
"Is it possible," she said, "that the Duke of Buckingham's heart was touched? I had no idea, until now, that a heart-wound could be cured."
"Alas! Madame," replied De Wardes, politely, "every woman believes that; and it is this belief that gives them that superiority to man which confidence begets." "You misunderstand altogether, dearest," said the prince, impatiently; "M. de Wardes means that the Duke of Buckingham's heart had been touched, not by the sword, but by something sharper."
"Ah! very good, very good!" exclaimed Madame. "It is a jest of M. de Wardes's. Very good; but I should like to know if the Duke of Buckingham would appreciate the jest. It is, indeed, a very great pity he is not here, M. de Wardes." The young man's eyes seemed to flash fire. "Oh!" he said, as he clenched his teeth, "there is nothing I should like better."
De Guiche did not move. Madame seemed to expect that he would come to her assistance. Monsieur hesitated. The Chevalier de Lorraine advanced and continued the conversation.
"Madame," he said, "De Wardes knows perfectly well that for a Buckingham's heart to be touched is nothing new, and what he has said has already taken place."
"Instead of an ally, I have two enemies," murmured Madame; "two determined enemies, and in league with each other." And she changed the conversation. To change the conversation is, as every one knows, a right possessed by princes which etiquette requires all to respect. The remainder of the conversation was moderate enough in tone; the principal actors had rehearsed their parts. Madame withdrew easily, and Monsieur, who wished to question her on several matters, offered her his hand on leaving. The chevalier was seriously afraid that an understanding might be established between the husband and wife if he were to leave them quietly together. He therefore made his way to Monsieur's apartments, in order to surprise him on his return, and to destroy with a few words all the good impressions Madame might have been able to sow in his heart. De Guiche advanced towards De Wardes, who was surrounded by a large number of persons, and thereby indicated his wish to converse with him; De Wardes, at the same time, showing by his looks and by a movement of his head that he perfectly understood him. There was nothing in these signs to enable strangers to suppose they were otherwise than upon the most friendly footing. De Guiche could therefore turn away from him, and wait until he was at liberty. He had not long to wait; for De Wardes, freed from his questioners, approached De Guiche, and after a fresh salutation, they walked side by side together. "You have made a good impression since your return, my dear De Wardes," said the comte.
"Excellent, as you see."
"And your spirits are just as lively as ever?"
"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."
"Who was on his way to fulfil 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 to assume a disagreeable turn. He resolved to let it take what course it pleased, and to keep strictly on his guard.
"May I ask you what you did not tell him?" inquired De Guiche.
"All about La Valliere."
"La Valliere... What is it? and what was that strange circumstance you seem to have known over yonder, which Bragelonne, who was here on the spot, was not acquainted with?"
"Do you really ask me that in a serious manner?"
"Nothing more so."
"What! you, a member of the court, living in Madame's household, a friend of Monsieur's, a guest at their table, the favorite of our lovely princess?" Guiche colored violently from anger. "What princess are you alluding to?" he said.
"I am only acquainted with one, my dear fellow. I am speaking of Madame herself. Are you devoted to another princess, then? Come, tell me." De Guiche was on the point of launching out, but he saw the drift of the remark. A quarrel was imminent between the two young men. De Wardes wished the quarrel to be only in Madame's name, while De Guiche would not accept it except on La 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."
"If you tell me what they are, I shall know, but not otherwise, I swear." "What! I who have just arrived from a distance of sixty leagues, and you who have not stirred from this place, who have witnessed with your own eyes that which rumor informed me of at Calais! Do you now tell me seriously that you do not know what it is about? Oh! comte, this is hardly charitable of you." "As you like, De Wardes; but I again repeat, I know nothing."
"You are truly discreet - well! - perhaps it is very prudent of you."
"And so you will not tell me anything, will not tell me any more than you told Bragelonne?"
"You are pretending to be deaf, I see. I am convinced that Madame could not possibly have more command over herself than you have."
"Double hypocrite," murmured Guiche to himself, "you are again returning to the old subject."
"Very well, then," continued De Wardes, "since we find it so difficult to understand each other about La Valliere and Bragelonne let us speak about your own affairs."
"Nay," said De Guiche, "I have no affairs of my own to talk about. You have not said anything about me, I suppose, to Bragelonne, which you cannot repeat to my face?"
"No; but understand me, Guiche, that however much I may be ignorant of certain matters, I am quite as conversant with others. If, for instance, we were conversing about the intimacies of the Duke of Buckingham at Paris, as I did during my journey with the duke, I could tell you a great many interesting circumstances. Would you like me to mention them?"
De Guiche passed his hand across his forehead, which was covered in perspiration. "No, no," he said, "a hundred times no! I have no curiosity for matters which do not concern me. The Duke of Buckingham is for me nothing more than a simple acquaintance, whilst Raoul is an intimate friend. I have not the slightest curiosity to learn what happened to the duke, while I have, on the contrary, the greatest interest in all that happened to Raoul."
"Yes, in Paris, or Boulogne. You understand I am on the spot; if anything should happen, I am here to meet it; whilst Raoul is absent, and has only myself to represent him; so, Raoul's affairs before my own."
"But he will return?"
"Not, however, until his mission is completed. In the meantime, you understand, evil reports cannot be permitted to circulate about him without my looking into them."
"And for a better reason still, that he will remain some time in London," said De Wardes, chuckling.
"You think so," said De Guiche, simply.
"Think so, indeed! do you suppose he was sent to London for no other purpose than to go there and return again immediately? No, no; he was sent to London to remain there."
"Ah! De Wardes," said De Guiche, grasping De Wardes's hand, "that is a very serious suspicion concerning Bragelonne, which completely confirms what he wrote to me from Boulogne."
De Wardes resumed his former coldness of manner: his love of raillery had led him too far, and by his own imprudence, he had laid himself open to attack. "Well, tell me, what did he write to you about?" he inquired.
"He told me that you had artfully insinuated some injurious remarks against La 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 that ran through his whole frame. "Why, such a favor would be too great a happiness."
"I admit that, but if I absolutely wished to quarrel with you, I should try and invent a falsehood, perhaps, and speak to you about a certain arbor, where you and that illustrious princess were together - I should speak also of certain gratifications, of certain kissings of the hand; and you who are so secret on all occasions, so hasty, so punctilious - "
"Well," said De Guiche, interrupting him, with a smile upon his lips, although he almost felt as if he were going to die; "I swear I should not care for that, nor should I in any way contradict you; for you must know, my dear marquis, that for all matters which concern myself I am a block of ice; but it is a very different thing when an absent friend is concerned, a friend, who, on leaving, confided his interests to my 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 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 which were about to follow. De Wardes observed this, and continued aloud: - "Oh! if La Valliere were a coquette like Madame, whose innocent flirtations, I am sure, were, first of all, the cause of the Duke of Buckingham being sent back to England, and afterwards were the reason of your being sent into exile; for you will not deny, I suppose, that Madame's pretty ways really had a certain influence over you?"
The courtiers drew nearer to the speakers, Saint-Aignan at their head, and then Manicamp.
"But, my dear fellow, whose fault was that?" said De Guiche, laughing. "I am a vain, conceited fellow, I know, and everybody else knows it too. I took seriously that which was only intended as a jest, and got myself exiled for my pains. But I saw my error. I overcame my vanity, and I obtained my recall, by making the amende honorable, and by promising myself to overcome this defect; and the consequence is, that I am so thoroughly cured, that I now laugh at the very thing which, three or four days ago, would have almost broken my heart. But Raoul is in love, and is loved in return; he cannot laugh at the reports which disturb his happiness - reports which you seem to have undertaken to interpret, when you know, marquis, as I do, as these gentlemen do, as every one does in fact, that all such reports are pure calumny."
"Calumny!" exclaimed De Wardes, furious at seeing himself caught in the snare by De Guiche's coolness of temper.
"Certainly - calumny. Look at this letter from him, in which he tell me you have spoken ill of Mademoiselle de la Valliere; and where he asks me, if what you reported about this young girl is true or not. Do you wish me to appeal to these gentlemen, De Wardes, to decide?" And with admirable coolness, De Guiche read aloud the paragraph of the letter which referred to La 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 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 De Guiche, "I am not the only one who undertakes the defense of that poor girl. I entreat you, therefore, messieurs, a second time, to leave us. You see, it is impossible we could be more calm and composed than we are."
It was the very thing the courtiers wished; some went out at one door, and the rest at the other, and the two young men were left alone.
"Well played," said De Wardes, to the comte.
"Was it not?" replied the latter.
"How can it be wondered at, my dear fellow; I have got quite rusty in the country, while the command you have acquired over yourself, comte, confounds me; a man always gains something in women's society; so, pray accept my congratulations."
"I do accept them."
"And I will make Madame a present of them."
"And now, my dear Monsieur de Wardes, let us speak as loud as you please." "Do not defy me."
"I do defy you, for you are known to be an evil-minded man; if you do that, you will be looked upon as a coward, too; and Monsieur would have you hanged, this evening, at his window-casement. Speak, my dear De Wardes, speak." "I have fought already."
"But not quite enough, yet."
"I see, you would not be sorry to fight with me while my wounds are still open." "No; better still."
"The deuce! you are unfortunate in the moment you have chosen; a duel, after the one I have just fought, would hardly suit me; I have lost too much blood at Boulogne; at the slightest effort my wounds would open again, and you would really have too good a bargain."
"True," said De Guiche; "and yet, on your arrival here, your looks and your arms showed there was nothing the matter with you."
"Yes, my arms are all right, but my legs are weak; and then, I have not had a foil in my hand since that devil of a duel; and you, I am sure, have been fencing every day, in order to carry your little conspiracy against me to a successful issue."
"Upon my honor, monsieur," replied De Guiche, "it is six months since I last practiced."
"No, comte, after due reflection, I will not fight, at least, with you. I will await Bragelonne's return, since you say it is Bragelonne who finds fault with me." "Oh no, indeed! You shall not wait until Bragelonne's return," exclaimed the comte, losing all command over himself, "for you have said that Bragelonne might, possibly, be some time before he returns; and, in the meanwhile, your wicked insinuations would have had their effect."
"Yet, I shall have my excuse. So take care."
"I will give you a week to finish your recovery."
"That is better. We will wait a week."
"Yes, yes, I understand; a week will give time to my adversary to make his escape. No, no; I will not give you one day, even."
"You are mad, monsieur," said De Wardes, retreating a step.
"And you are a coward, if you do not fight willingly. Nay, what is more, I will denounce you to the king, as having refused to fight, after having insulted La 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."
"That not a word shall be said about it to the king."
"Not a word, I swear."
"I will go and get my horse, then."
"And I, mine."
"Where shall we meet?"
"In the plain; I know an admirable place."
"Shall we go together?"
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."
De Wardes and De Guiche selected their horses, and saddled them with their own hands, with holster saddles. De Guiche, having two pairs of pistols, went to his apartments to get them; and after having loaded them, gave the choice to De Wardes, who selected the pair he had made use of twenty times before - the same, indeed, with which De Guiche had seen him kill swallows flying. "You will not be surprised," he said, "if I take every precaution. You know the weapons well, and, consequently, I am only making the chances equal."
"Your remark was quite useless," replied De Guiche, "and you have done no more than you are entitled to do."
"Now," said De Wardes, "I beg you to have the goodness to help me to mount; for I still experience a little difficulty in doing so."
"In that case, we had better settle the matter on foot."
"No; once in the saddle, I shall be all right."
"Very good, then; we will not speak of it again," said De Guiche, as he assisted De Wardes to mount his horse.
"And now," continued the young man, "in our eagerness to murder one another, we have neglected one circumstance."
"What is that?"
"That it is quite dark, and we shall almost be obliged to grope about, in order to kill."
"Oh!" said De Guiche, "you are as anxious as I am that everything should be done in proper order."
"Yes; but I do not wish people to say that you have assassinated me, any more than, supposing I were to kill you, I should myself like to be accused of such a crime."
"Did 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 split into streamers, like a huge sheet torn to shreds. Large and warm drops of rain began to fall heavily, and gathered the dust into globules, which rolled along the ground. At the same time, the hedges, which seemed conscious of the approaching storm, the thirsty plants, the drooping branches of the trees, exhaled a thousand aromatic odors, which revived in the mind tender recollections, thoughts of youth, endless life, happiness, and love. "How fresh the earth smells," said De Wardes; "it is a piece of coquetry to draw us to her."
"By the by," replied De Guiche, "several ideas have just occurred to me; and I wish to have your opinion upon them."
"Relative to - "
"Relative to our engagement."
"It is quite some time, in fact, that we should begin to arrange matters." "Is it to be an ordinary combat, and conducted according to established custom?" "Let me first know what your established custom is."
"That we dismount in any particular open space that may suit us, fasten our horses to the nearest object, meet, each without our pistols in our hands, and afterwards retire for a hundred and fifty paces, in order to advance on each other."
"Very good; that is precisely the way in which I killed poor Follivent, three weeks ago, at Saint-Denis."
"I beg your pardon, but you forgot one circumstance."
"What is that?"
"That in your duel with Follivent you advanced towards each other on foot, your swords between your teeth, and your pistols in your hands."
"While now, on the contrary, as you cannot walk, you yourself admit that we shall have to mount our horses again, and charge; and the first who wishes to fire will do so."
"That is the best course, no doubt; but it is quite dark; we must make allowances for more missed shots than would be the case in the daytime."
"Very well; each will fire three times; the pair of pistols already loaded, and one reload."
"Excellent! Where shall our engagement take place?"
"Have you any preference?"
"You see that small wood which lies before us?"
"The wood which is called Rochin?"
"You know it?"
"You know that there is an open glade in the center?"
"Well, this glade is admirably adapted for such a purpose, with a variety of roads, by-places, paths, ditches, windings, and avenues. We could not find a better spot."
"I am perfectly satisfied, if you are so. We are at our destination, if I am not mistaken."
"Yes. Look at the beautiful open space in the center. The faint light which the stars afford seems concentrated in this spot; the woods which surround it seem, with their barriers, to form its natural limits."
"Very good. Do as you say."
"Let us first settle the conditions."
"These are mine; if you have any objection to make you will state it." "I am listening."
"If the horse be killed, its rider will be obliged to fight on foot."
"That is a matter of course, since we have no change of horses here." "But that does not oblige his adversary to dismount."
"His adversary will, in fact, be free to act as he likes."
"The adversaries, having once met in close contact, cannot quit each other under any circumstances, and may, consequently, fire muzzle to muzzle." "Agreed."
"Three shots and no more will do, I suppose?"
"Quite sufficient, I think. Here are powder and balls for your pistols; measure out three charges, take three balls, I will do the same; then we will throw the rest of the powder and balls away."
"And we will solemnly swear," said De Wardes, "that we have neither balls nor powder about us?"
"Agreed; and I swear it," said De Guiche, holding his hand towards heaven, a gesture which De Wardes imitated.
"And now, my dear comte," said De Wardes, "allow me to tell you that I am in no way your dupe. You already are, or soon will be, the accepted lover of Madame. I have detected your secret, and you are afraid I shall tell others of it. You wish to kill me, to insure my silence; that is very clear; and in your place, I should do the same." De Guiche hung down his head. "Only," continued De Wardes, triumphantly, "was it really worth while, tell me, to throw this affair of Bragelonne's on my shoulders? But, take care, my dear fellow; in bringing the wild boar to bay, you enrage him to madness; in running down the fox, you endow him with the ferocity of the jaguar. The consequence is, that brought to bay by you, I shall defend myself to the very last."
"You will be quite right to do so."
"Yes; but take care; I shall work more harm than you think. In the first place, as a beginning, you will readily suppose that I have not been absurd enough to lock up my secret, or your secret rather, in my own breast. There is a friend of mine, who resembles me in every way, a man whom you know very well, who shares my secret with me; so, pray understand, that if you kill me, my death will not have been of much service to you; whilst, on the contrary, if I kill you - and everything is possible, you know - you understand?" De Guiche shuddered. "If I kill you," continued De Wardes, "you will have secured two mortal enemies to Madame, who will do their very utmost to ruin her."
"Oh! monsieur," exclaimed De Guiche, furiously, "do not reckon upon my death so easily. Of the two enemies you speak of, I trust most heartily to dispose of one immediately, and the other at the earliest opportunity."
The only reply De Wardes made was a burst of laughter, so diabolical in its sound, that a superstitious man would have been terrified. But De Guiche was not so impressionable as that. "I think," he said, "that everything is now settled, Monsieur de Wardes; so have the goodness to take your place first, unless you would prefer me to do so."
"By no means," said De Wardes. "I shall be delighted to save you the slightest trouble."
And spurring his horse to a gallop, he crossed the wide open space, and took his stand at that point of the circumference of the cross-road immediately opposite to where De Guiche was stationed. De Guiche remained motionless. At this distance of a hundred paces, the two adversaries were absolutely invisible to each other, being completely concealed by the thick shade of elms and chestnuts. A minute elapsed amidst the profoundest silence. At the end of the minute, each of them, in the deep shade in which he was concealed, heard the double click of the trigger, as they put the pistols on full cock. De Guiche, adopting the usual tactics, put his horse to a gallop, persuaded that he should render his safety doubly sure by the movement, as well as by the speed of the animal. He directed his course in a straight line towards the point where, in his opinion, De Wardes would be stationed; and he expected to meet De Wardes about 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 beheld the trees suddenly illuminated and a ball flew by, cutting the plume of his hat in two. Nearly at the same moment, and as if the flash of the first shot had served to indicate the direction of the other, a second report was heard, and a second ball passed through the head of De Guiche's horse, a little below the ear. The animal fell. These two reports, proceeding from the very opposite direction in which he expected to find De Wardes, surprised him a great deal; but as he was a man of amazing self-possession, he prepared himself for his horse falling, but not so completely, however, that the toe of his boot escaped being caught under the animal as it fell. Very fortunately the horse in its dying agonies moved so as to enable him to release the leg which was less entangled than the other. De Guiche rose, felt himself all over, and found that he was not wounded. At the very moment he had felt the horse tottering under him, he placed his pistols in the holsters, afraid that the force of the fall might explode one at least, if not both of them, by which he would have been disarmed, and left utterly without defense. Once on his feet, he took the pistols out of the holsters, and advanced towards the spot where, by the light of the flash, he had seen De Wardes appear. De Wardes had, at the first shot, accounted for the maneuver, than which nothing could have been simpler. Instead of advancing to meet De Guiche, or remaining in his place to await his approach, De Wardes had, for about fifteen paces, followed the circle of the shadow which hid him from his adversary's observation, and at the very moment when the latter presented his flank in his career, he had fired from the place where he stood, carefully taking aim, and assisted instead of being inconvenienced by the horse's gallop. It has been seen that, notwithstanding the darkness, the first ball passed hardly more than an inch above De Guiche's head. De Wardes had so confidently relied upon his aim, that he thought he had seen De Guiche fall; his astonishment was extreme when he saw he still remained erect in his saddle. He hastened to fire his second shot, but his hand trembled, and he killed the horse instead. It would be a most fortunate chance for him if De Guiche were to remain held fast under the animal. Before he could have freed himself, De Wardes would have loaded his pistol and had De Guiche at his mercy. But De Guiche, on the contrary, was up, and had three shots to fire. De Guiche immediately understood the position of affairs. It would be necessary to exceed De Wardes in rapidity of execution. He advanced, therefore, so as to reach him before he should have had time to reload his pistol. De Wardes saw him approaching like a tempest. The ball was rather tight, and offered some resistance to the ramrod. To load carelessly would be simply to lose his last chance; to take the proper care in loading meant fatal loss of time, or rather, throwing away his life. He made his horse bound on one side. De Guiche turned round also, and, at the moment the horse was quiet again, fired, and the ball carried off De Wardes's hat from his head. De Wardes now knew that he had a moment's time at his own disposal; he availed himself of it in order to finish loading his pistol. De Guiche, noticing that his adversary did not fall, threw the pistol he had just discharged aside, and walked straight towards De Wardes, elevating the second pistol as he did so. He had hardly proceeded more than two or three paces, when De Wardes took aim at him as he was walking, and fired. An exclamation of anger was De Guiche's answer; the comte's arm contracted and dropped motionless by his side, and the pistol fell from his grasp. His anxiety was excessive.
"I am lost," murmured De Wardes, "he is not mortally wounded."
At the very moment, however, De Guiche was about to raise his pistol against De Wardes, the head, shoulders, and limbs of the comte seemed to collapse. He heaved a deep-drawn sigh, tottered, and fell at the feet of De Wardes's horse. "That is all right," said De Wardes, and gathering up the reins, he struck his spurs into the horse's sides. The horse cleared the comte's motionless body, and bore De Wardes rapidly back to the 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's agitated mind; either De Guiche was killed, or De Guiche was wounded only. If he were killed, why should he leave his body in that manner to the tender mercies of the wolves; it was a perfectly useless piece of cruelty, for if De Guiche were dead, he certainly could not breathe a syllable of what had passed; if he were not killed, why should he, De Wardes, in leaving him there uncared for, allow himself to be regarded as a savage, incapable of one generous feeling? This last consideration determined his line of conduct.
De Wardes immediately instituted inquires after Manicamp. He was told that Manicamp had been looking after De Guiche, and, not knowing where to find him, had retired to bed. De Wardes went and awoke the sleeper, without any delay, and related the whole affair to him, which Manicamp listened to in perfect silence, but with an expression of momentarily increasing energy, of which his face could hardly have been supposed capable. It was only when De Wardes had finished, that Manicamp uttered the words, "Let us go."
As they proceeded, Manicamp became more and more excited, and in proportion as De Wardes related the details of the affair to him, his countenance assumed every moment a darker expression. "And so," he said, when De Wardes had finished, "you think he is dead?"
"Alas, I do."
"And you fought in that manner, without witnesses?"
"He insisted upon it."
"It is very singular."
"What do you mean by saying it is singular?"
"That it is very unlike Monsieur de Guiche's disposition."
"You do not doubt my word, I suppose?"
"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 de Wardes!"
"It seems you intend to insult me."
"Just as you please. The fact is, I never did like people who come and say, 'I have killed such and such a gentleman in a corner; it is a great pity, but I killed him in a perfectly honorable manner.' It has an ugly appearance, M. de Wardes." "Silence! we have arrived."
In fact, the glade could now be seen, and in the open space lay the motionless body of the dead horse. To the right of the horse, upon the dark grass, with his face against the ground, the poor comte lay, bathed in his blood. He had remained in the same spot, and did not even seem to have made the slightest movement. Manicamp threw himself on his knees, lifted the comte in his arms, and found him quite cold, and steeped in blood. He let him gently fall again. Then, stretching out his hand and feeling all over the ground close to where the comte lay, he sought until he found De Guiche's pistol.
"By Heaven!" he said, rising to his feet, pale as death and with the pistol in his hand, "you are not mistaken, he is quite dead."
"Dead!" repeated De Wardes.
"Yes; and his pistol is still loaded," added Manicamp, looking into the pan. "But I told you that I took aim as he was walking towards me, and fired at him at the very moment he was going to fire at me."
"Are you quite sure that you fought with him, Monsieur de Wardes? I confess that I am very much afraid it has been a foul assassination. Nay, nay, no exclamations! You have had your three shots, and his pistol is still loaded. You have killed his horse, and he, De Guiche, one of the best marksmen in France, has not touched even either your horse or yourself. Well, Monsieur de Wardes, you have been very unlucky in bringing me here; all the blood in my body seems to have mounted to my head; and I verily believe that since so good an opportunity presents itself, I shall blow your brains out on the spot. So, Monsieur de Wardes, recommend yourself to Heaven."
"Monsieur Manicamp, you cannot think of such a thing!"
"On the contrary, I am thinking of it very strongly."
"Would you assassinate me?"
"Without the slightest remorse, at least for the present."
"Are you a gentleman?"
"I have given a great many proofs of that."
"Let me defend my life, then, at least."
"Very likely; in order, I suppose, that you may do to me what you have done to poor De Guiche."
And Manicamp slowly raised his pistol to the height of De Wardes's breast, and with arm stretched out, and a fixed, determined look on his face, took a careful aim.
De Wardes did not attempt a flight; he was completely terrified. In the midst, however, of this horrible silence, which lasted about a second, but which seemed an age to De Wardes, a faint sigh was heard.
"Oh," exclaimed De Wardes, "he still lives! Help, De Guiche, I am about to be assassinated!"
Manicamp fell back a step or two, and the two young men saw the comte raise himself slowly and painfully upon one hand. Manicamp threw the pistol away a dozen paces, and ran to his friend, uttering a cry of delight. De Wardes wiped his forehead, which was covered with a cold perspiration.
"It was just in time," he murmured.
"Where are you hurt?" inquired Manicamp of De Guiche, "and whereabouts are you wounded?"
De Guiche showed him his mutilated hand and his chest covered with blood. "Comte," exclaimed De Wardes, "I am accused of having assassinated you; speak, I implore you, and say that I fought loyally."
"Perfectly so," said the wounded man; "Monsieur de Wardes fought quite loyally, and whoever says the contrary will make an enemy of me."
"Then, sir," said Manicamp, "assist me, in the first place, to carry this gentleman home, and I will afterwards give you every satisfaction you please; or, if you are in a hurry, we can do better still; let us stanch the blood from the comte's wounds here, with your pocket-handkerchief and mine, and then, as there are two shots left, we can have them between us."
"Thank you," said De Wardes. "Twice already, in one hour, I have seen death too close at hand to be agreeable; I don't like his look at all, and I prefer your apologies."
Manicamp burst out laughing, and Guiche, too, in spite of his sufferings. The two young men wished to carry him, but he declared he felt quite strong enough to walk alone. The ball had broken his ring- finger and his little finger, and then had glanced along his side, but without penetrating deeply into his chest. It was the pain rather than the seriousness of the wound, therefore, which had overcome De Guiche. Manicamp passed his arm under one of the count's shoulders, and De Wardes did the same with the other, and in this way they brought him back to Fontainebleau, to the house of the same doctor who had been present at the death of the Franciscan, Aramis's predecessor.
The King's Supper.
The king, while these matters were being arranged, was sitting at the suppertable, and the not very large number of guests for that day had taken their seats too, after the usual gesture intimating the royal permission. At this period of Louis XIV.'s reign, although etiquette was not governed by the strict regulations subsequently adopted, the French court had entirely thrown aside the traditions of good-fellowship and patriarchal affability existing in the time of Henry IV., which the suspicious mind of Louis XIII. had gradually replaced with pompous state and ceremony, which he despaired of being able fully to realize. The king, therefore, was seated alone at a small separate table, which, like the desk of a president, overlooked the adjoining tables. Although we say a small table, we must not omit to add that this small table was the largest one there. Moreover, it was the one on which were placed the greatest number and quantity of dishes, consisting of fish, game, meat, fruit, vegetables, and preserves. The king was young and full of vigor and energy, very fond of hunting, addicted to all violent exercises of the body, possessing, besides, like all the members of the Bourbon family, a rapid digestion and an appetite speedily renewed. Louis XIV. was a formidable table-companion; he delighted in criticising his cooks; but when he honored them by praise and commendation, the honor was overwhelming. The king began by eating several kinds of soup, either mixed together or taken separately. He intermixed, or rather separated, each of the soups by a glass of old wine. He ate quickly and somewhat greedily. Porthos, who from the beginning had, out of respect, been waiting for a jog of D'Artagnan's arm, seeing the king make such rapid progress, turned to the musketeer and said in a low voice:
"It seems as if one might go on now; his majesty is very encouraging, from the example he sets. Look."
"The king eats," said D'Artagnan, "but he talks at the same time; try and manage matters in such a manner that, if he should happen to address a remark to you, he will not find you with your mouth full - which would be very disrespectful." "The best way, in that case," said Porthos, "is to eat no supper at all; and yet I am very hungry, I admit, and everything looks and smells most invitingly, as if appealing to all my senses at once."
"Don't think of not eating for a moment," said D'Artagnan; "that would put his majesty out terribly. The king has a saying, 'that he who works well, eats well,' and he does not like people to eat indifferently at his table."
"How can I avoid having my mouth full if I eat?" said Porthos.
"All you have to do," replied the captain of the musketeers, "is simply to swallow what you have in it, whenever the king does you the honor to address a remark to you."
"Very good," said Porthos; and from that moment he began to eat with a certain well-bred enthusiasm.
The king occasionally looked at the different persons who were at table with him, and, en connoisseur, could appreciate the different dispositions of his guests. "Monsieur du Vallon!" he said.
Porthos was enjoying a salmi de lievre, and swallowed half of the back. His name, pronounced in such a manner, made him start, and by a vigorous effort of his gullet he absorbed the whole mouthful.
"Sire," replied Porthos, in a stifled voice, but sufficiently intelligible, nevertheless. "Let those filets d'agneau be handed to Monsieur du Vallon," said the king; "do you like brown meats, M. du Vallon?"
"Sire, I like everything," replied Porthos.
D'Artagnan whispered: "Everything your majesty sends me."
Porthos repeated: "Everything your majesty sends me," an observation which the king apparently received with great satisfaction.
"People eat well who work well," replied the king, delighted to have en tete-a-tete a guest who could eat as Porthos did. Porthos received the dish of lamb, and put a portion of it on his plate.
"Well?" said the king.
"Exquisite," said Porthos, calmly.
"Have you as good mutton in your part of the country, Monsieur du Vallon?" continued the king.
"Sire, I believe that from my own province, as everywhere else, the best of everything is sent to Paris for your majesty's use; but, on the other hand, I do not eat lamb in the same way your majesty does."
"Ah, ah! and how do you eat it?"
"Generally, I have a lamb dressed whole."
"In what manner, Monsieur du Vallon?"
"In this, sire: my cook, who is a German, first stuffs the lamb in question with small sausages he procures from Strasburg, force-meat balls from Troyes, and larks from Pithiviers; by some means or other, which I am not acquainted with, he bones the lamb as he would do a fowl, leaving the skin on, however, which forms a brown crust all over the animal; when it is cut in beautiful slices, in the same way as an enormous sausage, a rose-colored gravy pours forth, which is as agreeable to the eye as it is exquisite to the palate." And Porthos finished by smacking his lips.
The king opened his eyes with delight, and, while cutting some of the faisan en daube, which was being handed to him, he said:
"That is a dish I should very much like to taste, Monsieur du Vallon. Is it possible! a whole lamb!"
"Absolutely an entire lamb, sire."
"Pass those pheasants to M. du Vallon; I perceive he is an amateur." The order was immediately obeyed. Then, continuing the conversation, he said: "And you do not find the lamb too fat?"
"No, sire, the fat falls down at the same time as the gravy does, and swims on the surface; then the servant who carves removes the fat with a spoon, which I have had expressly made for that purpose."
"Where do you reside?" inquired the king.
"At Pierrefonds, sire."
"At Pierrefonds; where is that, M. du Vallon - near Belle-Isle?"
"Oh, no, sire! Pierrefonds is in the Soissonnais."
"I thought you alluded to the lamb on account of the salt marshes." "No, sire, I have marshes which are not salt, it is true, but which are not the less valuable on that account."
The king had now arrived at the entrements, but without losing sight of Porthos, who continued to play his part in the best manner.
"You have an excellent appetite, M. du Vallon," said the king, "and you make an admirable guest at table."
"Ah! sire, if your majesty were ever to pay a visit to Pierrefonds, we would both of us eat our lamb together; for your appetite is not an indifferent one by any means."
D'Artagnan gave Porthos a kick under the table, which made Porthos color up. "At your majesty's present happy age," said Porthos, in order to repair the mistake he had made, "I was in the musketeers, and nothing could ever satisfy me then. Your majesty has an excellent appetite, as I have already had the honor of mentioning, but you select what you eat with quite too much refinement to be called for one moment a great eater."
The king seemed charmed at his guest's politeness.
"Will you try some of these creams?" he said to Porthos.
"Sire, you majesty treats me with far too much kindness to prevent me speaking the whole truth."
"Pray do so, M. du Vallon."
"Will, sire, with regard to sweet dishes I only recognize pastry, and even that should be rather solid; all these frothy substances swell the stomach, and occupy a space which seems to me to be too precious to be so badly tenanted." "Ah! gentlemen," said the king, indicating Porthos by a gesture, "here is indeed a model of gastronomy. It was in such a manner that our fathers, who so well knew what good living was, used to eat, while we," added his majesty, "do nothing but tantalize with our stomachs." And as he spoke, he took the breast of a chicken with ham, while Porthos attacked a dish of partridges and quails. The cup-bearer filled his majesty's glass. "Give M. du Vallon some of my wine," said the king. This was one of the greatest honors of the royal table. D'Artagnan pressed his friend's knee. "If you could only manage to swallow the half of that boar's head I see yonder," said he to Porthos, "I shall believe you will be a duke and peer within the next twelvemonth."
"Presently," said Porthos, phlegmatically; "I shall come to that by and by." In fact it was not long before it came to the boar's turn, for the king seemed to take pleasure in urging on his guest; he did not pass any of the dishes to Porthos until he had tasted them himself, and he accordingly took some of the boar's head. Porthos showed that he could keep pace with his sovereign; and, instead of eating the half, as D'Artagnan had told him, he ate three-fourths of it. "It is impossible," said the king in an undertone, "that a gentleman who eats so good a supper every day, and who has such beautiful teeth, can be otherwise than the most straightforward, upright man in my kingdom."
"Do you hear?" said D'Artagnan in his friend's ear.
"Yes; I think I am rather in favor," said Porthos, balancing himself on his chair. "Oh! you are in luck's way."
The king and Porthos continued to eat in the same manner, to the great satisfaction of the other guests, some of whom, from emulation, had attempted to follow them, but were obliged to give up half-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 towards the entrance-door, and he was heard occasionally to inquire how it happened that Monsieur de Saint- Aignan was so long in arriving. At last, at the moment when his majesty was finishing a pot of preserved plums with a deep sigh, Saint-Aignan appeared. The king's eyes, which had become somewhat dull, immediately began to sparkle. The comte advanced towards the king's table, and Louis rose at his approach. Everybody got up at the same time, including Porthos, who was just finishing an almond-cake capable of making the jaws of a crocodile stick together. The supper was over.
The king took Saint-Aignan by the arm, and passed into the adjoining apartment. "What has detained you, comte?" said the king.
"I was bringing the answer, sire," replied the comte.
"She has taken a long time to reply to what I wrote her."
"Sire, your majesty deigned to write in verse, and Mademoiselle de la 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 invention 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 must give rise to various interpretations. He turned aside and put the note in his pocket, and then advancing a few steps, which brought him again to the threshold of the door close to his guests, he said, "M. du Vallon, I have seen you 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 towards the king. "M. d'Artagnan," continued the king, "you will await my orders in the gallery; I am obliged to you for having made me acquainted with M. du Vallon. Gentlemen," addressing himself to the other guests, "I return to Paris to-morrow on account of the departure of the Spanish and Dutch ambassadors. Until tomorrow then."
The apartment was immediately cleared of the guests. The king took SaintAignan by the arm, made him read La Valliere's verses over again, and said, "What do you think of them?"
"They charm me, in fact, and if they were known - "
"Oh! the professional poets would be jealous of them; but it is not likely they will know anything about them."
"Did you give her mine?"
"Oh! sire, she positively devoured them."
"They were very weak, I am afraid."
"That is not what Mademoiselle de la Valliere said of them."
"Do you think she was pleased with them?"
"I am sure of it, sire."
"I must answer, then."
"Oh! sire, immediately after supper? Your majesty will fatigue yourself." "You are quite right; study after eating is notoriously injurious."
"The labor of a poet especially so; and besides, there is great excitement prevailing at Mademoiselle de la Valliere's."
"What do you mean?"
"With her as with all the ladies of the court."
"On account of poor De Guiche's accident."
"Has anything serious happened to De Guiche, then?"
"Yes, sire, he has one hand nearly destroyed, a hole in his breast; in fact, he is dying."
"Good heavens! who told you that?"
"Manicamp brought him back just now to the house of a doctor here in Fontainebleau, and the rumor soon reached us all."
"Brought back! Poor De Guiche; and how did it happen?"
"Ah! that is the very question, - how did it happen?"
"You say that in a very singular manner, Saint-Aignan. Give me the details. What does he say himself?"
"He says nothing, sire; but others do."
"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 a friend of M. de Guiche."
"How do you know that?"
"Does your majesty require me to explain myself?"
"Certainly I do."
"Well, sire, I believe I have heard something said about a quarrel between two gentlemen."
"This very evening, before your majesty's supper was served."
"That can hardly be. I have issued such stringent and severe ordinances with respect to duelling, that no one, I presume, would dare to disobey them." "In that case, Heaven preserve me from excusing any one!" exclaimed SaintAignan. "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."
"One of his hands shattered, and a hole in his breast. Who was at the hunt with M. de Guiche?"
"I do not know, sire; but M. de Manicamp knows, or ought to know." "You are concealing something from me, Saint-Aignan."
"Nothing, sire, I assure you."
"Then, explain to me how the accident happened; was it a musket that burst?" "Very likely, sire. But yet, on reflection, it could hardly have been that, for De Guiche's pistol was found close by him still loaded."
"His pistol? But a man does not go to a boar-hunt with a pistol, I should think." "Sire, it is also said that De Guiche's horse was killed and that the horse is still to be found in the wide open glade in the forest."
"His horse? - Guiche go on horseback to a boar-hunt? - Saint-Aignan, I do not understand a syllable of what you have been telling me. Where did this affair happen?"
"At the Rond-point, in that part of the forest called the Bois-Rochin." "That will do. Call M. d'Artagnan." Saint-Aignan obeyed, and the musketeer entered.
"Monsieur d'Artagnan," said the king, "you will leave this place by the little door of the private staircase."
"You will mount your horse."
"And you will proceed to the Rond-point du Bois-Rochin. Do you know the spot?" "Yes, sire. I have fought there twice."
"What!" exclaimed the king, amazed at the reply.
"Under the edicts, sire, of Cardinal Richelieu," returned D'Artagnan, with his usual impassability.
"That is very different, monsieur. You will, therefore, go there, and will examine the locality very carefully. A man has been wounded there, and you will find a horse lying dead. You will tell me what your opinion is upon the whole affair." "Very good, sire."
"As a matter of course, it is your own opinion I require, and not that of 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 the musketeers. D'Artagnan left by the little staircase.
"Now, let my physician be sent for," said Louis. Ten minutes afterwards the king's physician arrived, quite out of breath.
"You will go, monsieur," said the king to him, "and accompany M. de SaintAignan 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.
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 towards the place his majesty had indicated. According to the promise he had made, he had not accosted any one; and, as we have observed, he had carried his scruples so far as to do without the assistance of the stable-helpers altogether. D'Artagnan was one of those who in moments of difficulty pride themselves on increasing their own value. By dint of hard galloping, he in less than five minutes reached the wood, fastened his horse to the first tree he came to, and penetrated to the broad open space on foot. He then began to inspect most carefully, on foot and with his lantern in his hand, the whole surface of the Rond-point, went forward, turned back again, measured, examined, and after half an hour's minute inspection, he returned silently to where he had left his horse, and pursued his way in deep reflection and at a foot- pace to Fontainebleau. Louis was waiting in his cabinet; he was alone, and with a pencil was scribbling on paper certain lines which D'Artagnan at the first glance recognized as unequal and very much touched up. The conclusion he arrived at was, that they must be verses. The king raised his head and perceived D'Artagnan. "Well, monsieur," he said, "do you bring me any news?"
"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 footprints of the one were invariably in advance of the other about half a horse's length." "Are you quite sure they were traveling together?" said the king.
"Yes sire. The horses are two rather large animals of equal pace, - horses well used to maneuvers of all kinds, for they wheeled round the barrier of the Rondpoint 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?"
"Continue; you are a very accurate observer."
"One of the two cavaliers remained where he was standing, the one, in fact, who had been listening; the other crossed the open space, and at first placed himself directly opposite to his adversary. The one who had remained stationary traversed the Rond-point at a gallop, about two- thirds of its length, thinking that by this means he would gain upon his opponent; but the latter had followed the circumference of the wood."
"You are ignorant of their names, I suppose?"
"Completely so, sire. Only he who followed the circumference of the wood was mounted on a black horse."
"How do you know that?"
"I found a few hairs of his tail among the brambles which bordered the sides of the ditch."
"As for the other horse, there can be no trouble in describing him, since he was left dead on the field of battle."
"What was the cause of his death?"
"A ball which had passed through his brain."
"Was the ball that of a pistol or a gun?"
"It was a pistol-bullet, sire. Besides, the manner in which the horse was wounded explained to me the tactics of the man who had killed it. He had followed the circumference of the wood in order to take his adversary in flank. Moreover, I followed his foot-tracks on the grass."
"The tracks of the black horse, do you mean?"
"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."
"The horse of the cavalier who rode at full speed was killed on the spot." "How do you know that?"
"The cavalier had not time even to throw himself off his horse, and so fell with it. I observed the impression of his leg, which, with a great effort, he was enabled to extricate from under the horse. The spur, pressed down by the weight of the animal, had plowed up the ground."
"Very good; and what did he do as soon as he rose up again?"
"He walked straight up to his adversary."
"Who still remained upon the verge of the forest?"
"Yes, sire. Then, having reached a favorable distance, he stopped firmly, for the impression of both his heels are left in the ground quite close to each other, fired, and missed his adversary."
"How do you know he did not hit him?"
"I found a hat with a ball through it."
"Ah, a proof, then!" exclaimed the king.
"Insufficient, sire," replied D'Artagnan, coldly; "it is a hat without any letters indicating its ownership, without arms; a red feather, as all hats have; the lace, even, had nothing particular in it."
"Did the man with the hat through which the bullet had passed fire a second time?"
"Oh, sire, he had already fired twice."
"How did you ascertain that?"
"I found the waddings of the pistol."
"And what became of the bullet which did not kill the horse?"
"It cut in two the feather of the hat belonging to him against whom it was directed, and broke a small birch at the other end of the open glade."
"In that case, then, the man on the black horse was disarmed, whilst his adversary had still one more shot to fire?"
"Sire, while the dismounted rider was extricating himself from his horse, the other was reloading his pistol. Only, he was much agitated while he was loading it, and his hand trembled greatly."
"How do you know that?"
"Half the charge fell to the ground, and he threw the ramrod aside, not having time to replace it in the pistol."
"Monsieur d'Artagnan, this is marvellous you tell me."
"It is only close observation, sire, and the commonest highwayman could tell as much."
"The whole scene is before me from the manner in which you relate it." "I have, in fact, reconstructed it in my own mind, with merely a few alterations." "And now," said the king, "let us return to the dismounted cavalier. You were saying that he walked towards his adversary while the latter was loading his pistol."
"Yes; but at the very moment he himself was taking aim, the other fired." "Oh!" said the king; "and the shot?"
"The shot told terribly, sire; the dismounted cavalier fell upon his face, after having staggered forward three or four paces."
"Where was he hit?"
"In two places; in the first place, in his right hand, and then, by the same bullet, in his chest."
"But how could you ascertain that?" inquired the king, full of admiration. "By a very simple means; the butt end of the pistol was covered with blood, and the trace of the bullet could be observed, with fragments of a broken ring. The wounded man, in all probability, had the ring-finger and the little finger carried off."
"As far as the hand goes, I have nothing to say; but the chest?"
"Sire, there were two small pools of blood, at a distance of about two feet and a half from each other. At one of these pools of blood the grass was torn up by the clenched hand; at the other, the grass was simply pressed down by the weight of the body."
"Poor De Guiche!" exclaimed the king.
"Ah! it was M. de Guiche, then?" said the musketeer, quietly. "I suspected it, but did not venture to mention it to your majesty."
"And what made you suspect it?"
"I recognized the De Gramont arms upon the holsters of the dead horse." "And you think he is seriously wounded?"
"Very seriously, since he fell immediately, and remained a long time in the same place; however, he was able to walk, as he left the spot, supported by two friends."
"You met him returning, then?"
"No; but I observed the footprints of three men; the one on the right and the one on the left walked freely and easily, but the one in the middle dragged his feet as he walked; besides, he left traces of blood at every step he took." "Now, monsieur, since you saw the combat so distinctly that not a single detail seems to have escaped you, tell me something about De Guiche's adversary." "Oh, sire, I do not know him."
"And yet you see everything very clearly."
"Yes, sire, I see everything; but I do not tell all I see; and, since the poor devil has escaped, your majesty will permit me to say that I do not intend to denounce him."
"And yet he is guilty, since he has fought a duel, monsieur."
"Not guilty in my eyes, sire," said D'Artagnan, coldly.
"Monsieur!" exclaimed the king, "are you aware of what you are saying?" "Perfectly, sire; but, according to my notions, a man who fights a duel is a brave man; such, at least, is my own opinion; but your majesty may have another, it is but natural, for you are master here."
"Monsieur d'Artagnan, I ordered you, however - "
D'Artagnan interrupted the king by a respectful gesture. "You ordered me, sire, to gather what particulars I could, respecting a hostile meeting that had taken place; those particulars you have. If you order me to arrest M. de Guiche's adversary, I will do so; but do not order me to denounce him to you, for in that case I will not obey."
"Very well! Arrest him, then."
"Give me his name, sire."
The king stamped his foot angrily; but after a moment's reflection, he said, "You are right - ten times, twenty times, a hundred times right."
"That is my opinion, sire: I am happy that, this time, it accords with your majesty's."
"One word more. Who assisted Guiche?"
"I do not know, sire."
"But you speak of two men. There was a person present, then, as second." "There was no second, sire. Nay, more than that, when M. de Guiche fell, his adversary fled without giving him any assistance."
"The miserable coward!" exclaimed the king.
"The consequence of your ordinances, sire. If a man has fought well, and fairly, and has already escaped one chance of death, he naturally wishes to escape a second. M. de Bouteville cannot be forgotten very easily."
"And so, men turn cowards."
"No, they become prudent."
"And he has fled, then, you say?"
"Yes; and as fast as his horse could possibly carry him."
"In what direction?"
"In the direction of the chateau."
"Well, and after that?"
"Afterwards, as I have had the honor of telling your majesty, two men on foot arrived, who carried M. de Guiche back with them."
"What proof have you that these men arrived after the combat?"
"A very evident proof, sire; at the moment the encounter took place, the rain had just ceased, the ground had not had time to imbibe the moisture, and was, consequently, soaked; the footsteps sank in the ground; but while M. de Guiche was lying there in a fainting condition, the ground became firm again, and the footsteps made a less sensible impression."
Louis clapped his hands together in sign of admiration. "Monsieur d'Artagnan," he said, "you are positively the cleverest man in my kingdom."
"The identical thing M. de Richelieu thought, and M. de Mazarin said, sire." "And now, it remains for us to see if your sagacity is at fault."
"Oh! sire, a man may be mistaken; humanum est errare," said the musketeer, philosophically. (1)
"In that case, you are not human, Monsieur d'Artagnan, for I believe you are never mistaken."
"Your majesty said that we were going to see whether such was the case, or not."
"In what way, may I venture to ask?"
"I have sent for M. de Manicamp, and M. de Manicamp is coming." "And M. de Manicamp knows the secret?"
"De Guiche has no secrets from M. de Manicamp."
D'Artagnan shook his head. "No one was present at the combat, I repeat; and unless M. de Manicamp was one of the two men who brought him back - " "Hush!" said the king, "he is coming; remain, and listen attentively." "Very good, sire."
And, at the very same moment, Manicamp and Saint-Aignan appeared at the threshold of the door.