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Ten Years Later

Part 21 out of 21

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hands. "Madame, madame," he murmured, "what opinion can you
have of me, when you make me such an offer?"

"Of you!" returned the marquise. "Tell me, rather, what you
yourself think of the step I have taken."

"You bring me this money for myself, and you bring it
because you know me to be embarrassed. Nay, do not deny it,
for I am sure of it. Can I not read your heart?"

"If you know my heart, then, can you not see that it is my
heart I offer you?"

"I have guessed rightly, then," exclaimed Fouquet. "In
truth, madame, I have never yet given you the right to
insult me in this manner."

"Insult you," she said, turning pale, "what singular
delicacy of feeling! You tell me you love me; in the name of
that affection you wish me to sacrifice my reputation and my
honor, yet, when I offer you money which is my own, you
refuse me."

"Madame, you are at liberty to preserve what you term your
reputation and your honor. Permit me to preserve mine. Leave
me to my ruin, leave me to sink beneath the weight of the
hatreds which surround me, beneath the faults I have
committed, beneath the load even, of my remorse, but, for
Heaven's sake, madame, do not overwhelm me with this last
infliction."

"A short time since, M. Fouquet, you were wanting in
judgment; now you are wanting in feeling."

Fouquet pressed his clenched hand upon his breast, heaving
with emotion, saying: "Overwhelm me, madame for I have
nothing to reply."

"I offered you my friendship, M. Fouquet."

"Yes, madame, and you limited yourself to that."

"And what I am now doing is the act of a friend."

"No doubt it is."

"And you reject this mark of my friendship?"

"I do reject it."

"Monsieur Fouquet, look at me," said the marquise, with
glistening eyes, "I now offer you my love."

"Oh, madame," exclaimed Fouquet.

"I have loved you for a long while past; women, like men,
have a false delicacy at times. For a long time past I have
loved you, but would not confess it. Well, then, you have
implored this love on your knees, and I have refused you; I
was blind, as you were a little while since; but as it was
my love that you sought, it is my love I now offer you."

"Oh! madame, you overwhelm me beneath a load of happiness."

"Will you be happy, then, if I am yours -- entirely?"

"It will be the supremest happiness for me."

"Take me, then. If, however, for your sake I sacrifice a
prejudice, do you, for mine, sacrifice a scruple."

"Do not tempt me."

"Do not refuse me."

"Think seriously of what you are proposing."

"Fouquet, but one word. Let it be `No,' and I open this
door," and she pointed to the door which led into the
streets, "and you will never see me again. Let that word be
`Yes,' and I am yours entirely."

"Elsie! Elsie! But this coffer?"

"Contains my dowry."

"It is your ruin," exclaimed Fouquet, turning over the gold
and papers; "there must be a million here."

"Yes, my jewels, for which I care no longer if you do not
love me, and for which, equally, I care no longer if you
love me as I love you."

"This is too much," exclaimed Fouquet. "I yield, I yield,
even were it only to consecrate so much devotion. I accept
the dowry."

"And take the woman with it." said the: marquise, throwing
herself into his arms.

CHAPTER 104

Le Terrain de Dieu

During the progress of these events Buckingham and De Wardes
traveled in excellent companionship, and made the journey
from Paris to Calais in undisturbed harmony together.
Buckingham had hurried his departure, so that the greater
part of his adieux were very hastily made. His visit to
Monsieur and Madame, to the young queen, and to the
queen-dowager, had been paid collectively -- a precaution on
the part of the queen-mother which saved him the distress of
any private conversation with Monsieur, and also the danger
of seeing Madame again. The carriages containing the luggage
had already been sent on beforehand, and in the evening he
set off in his traveling carriage with his attendants.

De Wardes, irritated at finding himself dragged away in so
abrupt a manner by this Englishman, had sought in his subtle
mind for some means of escaping from his fetters; but no one
having rendered him any assistance in this respect, he was
absolutely obliged, therefore, to submit to the burden of
his own evil thoughts and caustic spirit.

Such of his friends in whom he had been able to confide,
had, in their character of wits, rallied him upon the duke's
superiority. Others, less brilliant, but more sensible, had
reminded him of the king's orders prohibiting dueling.
Others, again, and they the larger number, who, in virtue of
charity, or national vanity, might have rendered him
assistance, did not care to run the risk of incurring
disgrace, and would, at the best, have informed the
ministers of a departure which might end in a massacre on a
small scale. The result was, that, after having fully
deliberated upon the matter, De Wardes packed up his
luggage, took a couple of horses, and, followed only by one
servant, made his way towards the barrier, where
Buckingham's carriage was to await him.

The duke received his adversary as he would have done an
intimate acquaintance, made room beside him on the same seat
with himself, offered him refreshments, and spread over his
knees the sable cloak that had been thrown on the front
seat. They then conversed of the court, without alluding to
Madame; of Monsieur, without speaking of domestic affairs;
of the king, without speaking of his brother's wife; of the
queen-mother, without alluding to her daughter-in-law; of
the king of England, without alluding to his sister-in-law;
of the state of the affections of either of the travelers,
without pronouncing any name that might be dangerous. In
this way the journey, which was performed by short stages,
was most agreeable, and Buckingham, almost a Frenchman from
wit and education, was delighted at having so admirably
selected his traveling companion. Elegant repasts were
served, of which they partook but lightly; trials of horses
made in the beautiful meadows that skirted the road;
coursing indulged in, for Buckingham had his greyhounds with
him; and in such ways did they pass away the pleasant time.
The duke somewhat resembled the beautiful river Seine, which
folds France a thousand times in its loving embrace, before
deciding upon joining its waters with the ocean. In quitting
France, it was her recently adopted daughter he had brought
to Paris whom he chiefly regretted; his every thought was a
remembrance of her -- his every memory a regret. Therefore,
whenever, now and then, despite his command over himself, he
was lost in thought, De Wardes left him entirely to his
musings. This delicacy might have touched Buckingham, and
changed his feelings towards De Wardes, if the latter, while
preserving silence, had shown a glance less full of malice,
and a smile less false. Instinctive dislikes, however, are
relentless; nothing appeases them; a few ashes may
sometimes, apparently, extinguish them; but beneath those
ashes the smothered embers rage more furiously. Having
exhausted every means of amusement the route offered, they
arrived, as we have said, at Calais towards the end of the
sixth day. The duke's attendants, since the previous
evening, had traveled in advance, and now chartered a boat,
for the purpose of joining the yacht, which had been tacking
about in sight, or bore broadside on, whenever it felt its
white wings wearied, within cannon-shot of the jetty.

The boat was destined for the transport of the duke's
equipages from the shore to the yacht. The horses had been
embarked, having been hoisted from the boat upon the deck in
baskets expressly made for the purpose, and wadded in such a
manner that their limbs, even in the most violent fits of
terror or impatience, were always protected by the soft
support which the sides afforded, and their coats not even
turned. Eight of these baskets, placed side by side, filled
the ship's hold. It is well known that in short voyages
horses refuse to eat, but remain trembling all the while,
with the best of food before them, such as they would have
greatly coveted on land. By degrees, the duke's entire
equipage was transported on board the yacht; he was then
informed that everything was in readiness, and that they
only waited for him, whenever he would be disposed to embark
with the French gentleman; for no one could possibly imagine
that the French gentleman would have any other accounts to
settle with his Grace than those of friendship. Buckingham
desired the captain to be told to hold himself in readiness,
but that, as the sea was beautiful, and as the day promised
a splendid sunset, he did not intend to go on board until
nightfall, and would avail himself of the evening to enjoy a
walk on the strand. He added also, that, finding himself in
such excellent company, he had not the least desire to
hasten his embarkation.

As he said this he pointed out to those who surrounded him
the magnificent spectacle which the sky presented, of
deepest azure in the horizon, the amphitheatre of fleecy
clouds ascending from the sun's disc to the zenith, assuming
the appearance of a range of snowy mountains, whose summits
were heaped one upon another. The dome of clouds was tinged
at its base with, as it were, the foam of rubies, fading
away into opal and pearly tints, in proportion as the gaze
was carried from base to summit. The sea was gilded with the
same reflection, and upon the crest of every sparkling wave
danced a point of light, like a diamond by lamplight. The
mildness of the evening, the sea breezes, so dear to
contemplative minds, setting in from the east and blowing in
delicious gusts; then, in the distance, the black outline of
the yacht with its rigging traced upon the empurpled
background of the sky -- while, dotting the horizon, might
be seen, here and there, vessels with their trimmed sails,
like the wings of a seagull about to plunge; such a
spectacle indeed well merited admiration. A crowd of curious
idlers followed the richly dressed attendants, amongst whom
they mistook the steward and the secretary for the master
and his friend. As for Buckingham, who was dressed very
simply, in a gray satin vest, and doublet of violet-colored
velvet, wearing his hat thrust over his eyes, and without
orders or embroidery, he was taken no more notice of than De
Wardes, who was in black, like an attorney.

The duke's attendants had received directions to have a boat
in readiness at the jetty head, and to watch the embarkation
of their master, without approaching him until either he or
his friend should summon them, -- "whatever may happen," he
had added, laying a stress upon these words, so that they
might not be misunderstood. Having walked a few paces upon
the strand, Buckingham said to De Wardes, "I think it is now
time to take leave of each other. The tide, you perceive, is
rising; ten minutes hence it will have soaked the sands
where we are now walking in such a manner that we shall not
be able to keep our footing."

"I await your orders, my lord, but ---- "

"But, you mean, we are still upon soil which is part of the
king's territory."

"Exactly."

"Well, do you see yonder a kind of little island surrounded
by a circle of water? The pool is increasing every minute,
and the isle is gradually disappearing. This island, indeed,
belongs to Heaven, for it is situated between two seas, and
is not shown on the king's charts. Do you observe it?"

"Yes; but we can hardly reach it now, without getting our
feet wet."

"Yes; but observe that it forms an eminence tolerably high,
and that the tide rises on every side, leaving the top free.
We shall be admirably placed upon that little theatre. What
do you think of it?"

"I shall be perfectly happy wherever I may have the honor of
crossing my sword with your lordship's."

"Very well, then, I am distressed to be the cause of your
wetting your feet, M. de Wardes, but it is most essential
you should be able to say to the king: `Sire, I did not
fight upon your majesty's territory.' Perhaps the
distinction is somewhat subtle, but, since Port-Royal, your
nation delights in subtleties of expression. Do not let us
complain of this, however, for it makes your wit very
brilliant, and of a style peculiarly your own. If you do not
object, we will hurry ourselves, for the sea, I perceive, is
rising fast, and night is setting in."

"My reason for not walking faster was, that I did not wish
to precede your Grace. Are you still on dry land, my lord?"

"Yes, at present I am. Look yonder! My servants are afraid
we shall be drowned, and have converted the boat into a
cruiser. Do you remark how curiously it dances upon the
crests of the waves? But, as it makes me feel sea-sick,
would you permit me to turn my back towards them?"

"You will observe, my lord, that in turning your back to
them, you will have the sun full in your face."

"Oh, its rays are very feeble at this hour and it will soon
disappear; do not be uneasy on that score."

"As you please, my lord; it was out of consideration for
your lordship that I made the remark."

"I am aware of that, M. de Wardes, and I fully appreciate
your kindness. Shall we take off our doublets?"

"As you please, my lord."

"Do not hesitate to tell me, M. de Wardes, if you do not
feel comfortable upon the wet sand, or if you think yourself
a little too close to the French territory. We could fight
in England, or even upon my yacht."

"We are exceedingly well placed here, my lord; only I have
the honor to remark that, as the sea is rising fast, we have
hardly time ---- "

Buckingham made a sign of assent, took off his doublet and
threw it on the ground, a proceeding which De Wardes
imitated. Both their bodies, which seemed like phantoms to
those who were looking at them from the shore, were thrown
strongly into relief by a dark red violet-colored shadow
with which the sky became overspread.

"Upon my word, your Grace," said De Wardes, "we shall hardly
have time to begin. Do you not perceive how our feet are
sinking into the sand?"

"I have sunk up to the ankles," said Buckingham, "without
reckoning that the water is even now breaking in upon us."

"It has already reached me. As soon as you please,
therefore, your Grace," said De Wardes, who drew his sword,
a movement imitated by the duke.

"M. de Wardes," said Buckingham, "one final word. I am about
to fight you because I do not like you, -- because you have
wounded me in ridiculing a certain devotional regard I have
entertained, and one which I acknowledge that, at this
moment, I still retain, and for which I would very willingly
die. You are a bad and heartless man, M. de Wardes, and I
will do my very utmost to take your life; for I feel assured
that, if you survive this engagement, you will, in the
future, work great mischief towards my friends. That is all
I have to remark, M. de Wardes," concluded Buckingham, as he
saluted him.

"And I, my lord, have only this to reply to you: I have not
disliked you hitherto, but, since you give me such a
character, I hate you, and will do all I possibly can to
kill you; "and De Wardes saluted Buckingham.

Their swords crossed at the same moment, like two flashes of
lightning on a dark night. The swords seemed to seek each
other, guessed their position, and met. Both were practiced
swordsmen, and the earlier passes were without any result.
The night was fast closing in, and it was so dark that they
attacked and defended themselves almost instinctively.
Suddenly De Wardes felt his sword arrested, -- he had just
touched Buckingham's shoulder. The duke's sword sunk as his
arm was lowered.

"You are wounded, my lord," said De Wardes, drawing back a
step or two.

"Yes, monsieur, but only slightly."

"Yet you quitted your guard."

"Only from the first effect of the cold steel, but I have
recovered. Let us go on, if you please." And disengaging his
sword with a sinister clashing of the blade, the duke
wounded the marquis in the breast.

"A hit?" he said.

"No," cried De Wardes, not moving from his place.

"I beg your pardon, but observing that your shirt was
stained ---- " said Buckingham.

"Well," said De Wardes furiously, "it is now your turn."

And with a terrible lunge, he pierced Buckingham's arm, the
sword passing between the two bones. Buckingham, feeling his
right arm paralyzed, stretched out his left, seized his
sword, which was about falling from his nerveless grasp, and
before De Wardes could resume his guard, he thrust him
through the breast. De Wardes tottered, his knees gave way
beneath him, and leaving his sword still fixed in the duke's
arm, he fell into the water, which was soon crimsoned with a
more genuine reflection than that which it had borrowed from
the clouds. De Wardes was not dead; he felt the terrible
danger that menaced him, for the sea rose fast. The duke,
too, perceived the danger. With an effort and an exclamation
of pain he tore out the blade which remained in his arm, and
turning towards De Wardes said, "Are you dead, marquis?"

"No," replied De Wardes, in a voice choked by the blood
which rushed from his lungs to his throat, "but very near
it."

"Well, what is to be done; can you walk?" said Buckingham,
supporting him on his knee.

"Impossible," he replied. Then falling down again, said,
"Call to your people, or I shall be drowned."

"Halloa! boat there! quick, quick!"

The boat flew over the waves, but the sea rose faster than
the boat could approach. Buckingham saw that De Wardes was
on the point of being again covered by a wave; he passed his
left arm, safe and unwounded, round his body and raised him
up. The wave ascended to his waist but did not move him. The
duke immediately began to carry his late antagonist towards
the shore. He had hardly gone ten paces, when a second wave,
rushing onwards higher, more furious and menacing than the
former, struck him at the height of his chest, threw him
over and buried him beneath the water. At the reflux,
however, the duke and De Wardes were discovered lying on the
strand. De Wardes had fainted. At this moment four of the
duke's sailors, who comprehended the danger, threw
themselves into the sea, and in a moment were close beside
him. Their terror was extreme when they observed how their
master became covered with blood, in proportion as the water
with which it was impregnated, flowed towards his knees and
feet; they wished to carry him.

"No, no," exclaimed the duke, "take the marquis on shore
first."

"Death to the Frenchman!" cried the English sullenly.

"Wretched knaves!" exclaimed the duke, drawing himself up
with a haughty gesture, which sprinkled them with blood,
"obey directly! M. de Wardes on shore! M. de Wardes's safety
to be looked to first, or I will have you all hanged!"

The boat had by this time reached them; the secretary and
steward leaped into the sea, and approached the marquis, who
no longer showed any sign of life.

"I commit him to your care, as you value your lives," said
the duke. "Take M. de Wardes on shore." They took him in
their arms, and carried him to the dry sand, where the tide
never rose so high. A few idlers and five or six fishermen
had gathered on the shore, attracted by the strange
spectacle of two men fighting with the water up to their
knees. The fishermen, observing a group of men approaching
carrying a wounded man, entered the sea until the water was
up to their waists. The English transferred the wounded man
to them, at the very moment the latter began to open his
eyes again. The salt water and the fine sand had got into
his wounds, and caused him the acutest pain. The duke's
secretary drew out a purse filled with gold from his pocket,
and handed it to the one among those present who appeared of
most importance, saying: "From my master, his Grace the Duke
of Buckingham, in order that every possible care may be
taken of the Marquis de Wardes."

Then, followed by those who had accompanied him, he returned
to the boat, which Buckingham had been enabled to reach with
the greatest difficulty, but only after he had seen De
Wardes out of danger. By this time it was high tide;
embroidered coats and silk sashes were lost; many hats, too,
had been carried away by the waves. The flow of the tide had
borne the duke's and De Wardes's clothes to the shore, and
De Wardes was wrapped in the duke's doublet, under the
belief that it was his own, when the fishermen carried him
in their arms towards the town.

END OF VOL. I.

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