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Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas, Pere

Part 8 out of 13

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De Guiche, who did not comprehend a word of Madame's dumb language, but
he remarked that she pretended not to look at him, and he attributed the
pardon which had been conferred upon him to the princess's kindness of
heart. The king seemed only pleased with every one present. Monsieur
was the only one who did not understand anything about the matter. The
ballet began; the effect was more than beautiful. When the music, by its
bursts of melody, carried away these illustrious dancers, when the
simple, untutored pantomime of that period, only the more natural on
account of the very indifferent acting of the august actors, had reached
its culminating point of triumph, the theater shook with tumultuous

De Guiche shone like a sun, but like a courtly sun, that is resigned to
fill a subordinate part. Disdainful of a success of which Madame showed
no acknowledgement, he thought of nothing but boldly regaining the marked
preference of the princess. She, however, did not bestow a single glance
upon him. By degrees all his happiness, all his brilliancy, subsided
into regret and uneasiness; so that his limbs lost their power, his arms
hung heavily by his sides, and his head drooped as though he was
stupefied. The king, who had from this moment become in reality the
principal dancer in the quadrille, cast a look upon his vanquished
rival. De Guiche soon ceased to sustain even the character of the
courtier; without applause, he danced indifferently, and very soon could
not dance at all, by which accident the triumph of the king and of Madame
was assured.

Chapter XL:
The Nymphs of the Park of Fontainebleau.

The king remained for a moment to enjoy a triumph as complete as it could
possibly be. He then turned towards Madame, for the purpose of admiring
her also a little in her turn. Young persons love with more vivacity,
perhaps with greater ardor and deeper passion, than others more advanced
in years; but all the other feelings are at the same time developed in
proportion to their youth and vigor: so that vanity being with them
almost always the equivalent of love, the latter feeling, according to
the laws of equipoise, never attains that degree of perfection which it
acquires in men and women from thirty to five and thirty years of age.
Louis thought of Madame, but only after he had studiously thought of
himself; and Madame carefully thought of herself, without bestowing a
single thought upon the king. The victim, however, of all these royal
affections and affectations, was poor De Guiche. Every one could observe
his agitation and prostration - a prostration which was, indeed, the more
remarkable since people were not accustomed to see him with his arms
hanging listlessly by his side, his head bewildered, and his eyes with
all their bright intelligence bedimmed. It rarely happened that any
uneasiness was excited on his account, whenever a question of elegance or
taste was under discussion; and De Guiche's defeat was accordingly
attributed by the greater number present to his courtier-like tact and
ability. But there were others - keen-sighted observers are always to
be met with at court - who remarked his paleness and his altered looks;
which he could neither feign nor conceal, and their conclusion was that
De Guiche was not acting the part of a flatterer. All these sufferings,
successes, and remarks were blended, confounded, and lost in the uproar
of applause. When, however, the queens expressed their satisfaction and
the spectators their enthusiasm, when the king had retired to his
dressing-room to change his costume, and whilst Monsieur, dressed as a
woman, as he delighted to be, was in his turn dancing about, De Guiche,
who had now recovered himself, approached Madame, who, seated at the back
of the theater, was waiting for the second part, and had quitted the
others for the purpose of creating a sort of solitude for herself in the
midst of the crowd, to meditate, as it were, beforehand, upon
chorographic effects; and it will be perfectly understood that, absorbed
in deep meditation, she did not see, or rather pretended not to notice,
anything that was passing around her. De Guiche, observing that she was
alone, near a thicket constructed of painted cloth, approached her. Two
of her maids of honor, dressed as hamadryads, seeing De Guiche advance,
drew back out of respect., whereupon De Guiche proceeded towards the
middle of the circle and saluted her royal highness; but, whether she did
or did not observe his salutations, the princess did not even turn her
head. A cold shiver passed through poor De Guiche; he was unprepared for
such utter indifference, for he had neither seen nor been told of
anything that had taken place, and consequently could guess nothing.
Remarking, therefore, that his obeisance obtained him no acknowledgement,
he advanced one step further, and in a voice which he tried, though
vainly, to render calm, said: "I have the honor to present my most humble
respects to your royal highness."

Upon this Madame deigned to turn her eyes languishingly towards the
comte, observing. "Ah! M. de Guiche, is that you? good day!"

The comte's patience almost forsook him, as he continued, - "Your royal
highness danced just now most charmingly."

"Do you think so?" she replied with indifference.

"Yes; the character which your royal highness assumed is in perfect
harmony with your own."

Madame again turned round, and, looking De Guiche full in the face with a
bright and steady gaze, said, - "Why so?"

"Oh! there can be no doubt of it."

"Explain yourself?"

"You represented a divinity, beautiful, disdainful, inconstant."

"You mean Pomona, comte?"

"I allude to the goddess."

Madame remained silent for a moment, with her lips compressed, and then
observed, - "But, comte, you, too, are an excellent dancer."

"Nay, Madame, I am only one of those who are never noticed, or who are
soon forgotten if they ever happen to be noticed."

With this remark, accompanied by one of those deep sighs which affect the
remotest fibers of one's being, his heart burdened with sorrow and
throbbing fast, his head on fire, and his gaze wandering, he bowed
breathlessly, and withdrew behind the thicket. The only reply Madame
condescended to make was by slightly raising her shoulders, and, as her
ladies of honor had discreetly retired while the conversation lasted, she
recalled them by a look. The ladies were Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente
and Mademoiselle de Montalais.

"Did you hear what the Comte de Guiche said?" the princess inquired.


"It really is very singular," she continued, in a compassionate tone,
"how exile has affected poor M. de Guiche's wit." And then, in a louder
voice, fearful lest her unhappy victim might lose a syllable, she said,
- "In the first place he danced badly, and afterwards his remarks were
very silly."

She then rose, humming the air to which she was presently going to
dance. De Guiche had overheard everything. The arrow pierced his heart
and wounded him mortally. Then, at the risk of interrupting the progress
of the _fete_ by his annoyance, he fled from the scene, tearing his
beautiful costume of Autumn in pieces, and scattering, as he went along,
the branches of vines, mulberry and almond trees, with all the other
artificial attributes of his assumed divinity. A quarter of an hour
afterwards he returned to the theater; but it will be readily believed
that it was only a powerful effort of reason over his great excitement
that enabled him to go back; or perhaps, for love is thus strangely
constituted, he found it impossible even to remain much longer separated
from the presence of one who had broken his heart. Madame was finishing
her figure. She saw, but did not look at De Guiche, who, irritated and
revengeful, turned his back upon her as she passed him, escorted by her
nymphs, and followed by a hundred flatterers. During this time, at the
other end of the theater, near the lake, a young woman was seated, with
her eyes fixed upon one of the windows of the theater, from which were
issuing streams of light - the window in question being that of the royal
box. As De Guiche quitted the theater for the purpose of getting into
the fresh air he so much needed, he passed close to this figure and
saluted her. When she perceived the young man, she rose, like a woman
surprised in the midst of ideas she was desirous of concealing from
herself. De Guiche stopped as he recognized her, and said hurriedly, -
"Good evening, Mademoiselle de la Valliere; I am indeed fortunate in
meeting you."

"I, also, M. de Guiche, am glad of this accidental meeting," said the
young girl, as she was about to withdraw.

"Pray do not leave me," said De Guiche, stretching out his hand towards
her, "for you would be contradicting the kind words you have just
pronounced. Remain, I implore you: the evening is most lovely. You wish
to escape from the merry tumult, and prefer your own society. Well, I
can understand it; all women who are possessed of any feeling do, and one
never finds them dull or lonely when removed from the giddy vortex of
these exciting amusements. Oh! Heaven!" he exclaimed, suddenly.

"What is the matter, monsieur le comte?" inquired La Valliere, with some
anxiety. "You seem agitated."

"I! oh, no!"

"Will you allow me, M. de Guiche, to return you the thanks I had proposed
to offer you on the very first opportunity? It is to your
recommendation, I am aware, that I owe my admission among the number of
Madame's maids of honor."

"Indeed! Ah! I remember now, and I congratulate myself. Do you love
any one?"

"I!" exclaimed La Valliere.

"Forgive me, I hardly know what I am saying; a thousand times forgive me;
Madame was right, quite right, this brutal exile has completely turned my

"And yet it seemed to me that the king received you with kindness."

"Do you think so? Received me with kindness - perhaps so - yes - "

"There cannot be a doubt he received you kindly, for, in fact, you
returned without his permission."

"Quite true, and I believe you are right. But have you not seen M. de
Bragelonne here?"

La Valliere started at the name. "Why do you ask?" she inquired.

"Have I offended you again?" said De Guiche. "In that case I am indeed
unhappy, and greatly to be pitied."

"Yes, very unhappy, and very much to be pitied, Monsieur de Guiche, for
you seem to be suffering terribly."

"Oh! mademoiselle, why have I not a devoted sister, or a true friend,
such as yourself?"

"You have friends, Monsieur de Guiche, and the Vicomte de Bragelonne, of
whom you spoke just now, is, I believe, one of the most devoted."

"Yes, yes, you are right, he is one of my best friends. Farewell,
Mademoiselle de la Valliere, farewell." And he fled, like one possessed,
along the banks of the lake. His dark shadow glided, lengthening as it
disappeared, among the illumined yews and glittering undulations of the
water. La Valliere looked after him, saying, - "Yes, yes, he, too, is
suffering, and I begin to understand why."

She had hardly finished when her companions, Mademoiselle de Montalais
and Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, ran forward. They were released
from their attendance, and had changed their costumes of nymphs;
delighted with the beautiful night, and the success of the evening, they
returned to look after their companion.

"What, already here!" they said to her. "We thought we should be first
at the rendezvous."

"I have been here this quarter of an hour," replied La Valliere.

"Did not the dancing amuse you?"


"But surely the enchanting spectacle?"

"No more than the dancing. As far as beauty is concerned, I much prefer
that which these dark woods present, in whose depths can be seen, now in
one direction and again in another, a light passing by, as though it were
an eye, in color like a midnight rainbow, sometimes open, at others

"La Valliere is quite a poetess," said Tonnay-Charente.

"In other words," said Montalais, "she is insupportable. Whenever there
is a question of laughing a little or of amusing ourselves, La Valliere
begins to cry; whenever we girls have reason to cry, because, perhaps, we
have mislaid our dresses, or because our vanity as been wounded, or our
costume fails to produce an effect, La Valliere laughs."

"As far as I am concerned, that is not my character," said Mademoiselle
de Tonnay-Charente. "I am a woman; and there are few like me; whoever
loves me, flatters me; whoever flatters me, pleases me; and whoever
pleases - "

"Well!" said Montalais, "you do not finish."

"It is too difficult," replied Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, laughing
loudly. "Do you, who are so clever, finish for me."

"And you, Louise?" said Montalais, "does any one please you?"

"That is a matter that concerns no one but myself," replied the young
girl, rising from the mossy bank on which she had been reclining during
the whole time the ballet lasted. "Now, mesdemoiselles, we have agreed
to amuse ourselves to-night without any one to overlook us, and without
any escort. We are three in number, we like one another, and the night
is lovely. Look yonder, do you not see the moon slowly rising, silvering
the topmost branches of the chestnuts and the oaks. Oh, beautiful walk!
sweet liberty! exquisite soft turf of the woods, the happiness which your
friendship confers upon me! let us walk arm in arm towards those large
trees. Out yonder all are at this moment seated at table and fully
occupied, or preparing to adorn themselves for a set and formal
promenade; horses are being saddled, or harnessed to the carriages - the
queen's mules or Madame's four white ponies. As for ourselves, we shall
soon reach some retired spot where no eyes can see us and no step follow
ours. Do you not remember, Montalais, the woods of Cheverny and of
Chambord, the innumerable rustling poplars of Blois, where we exchanged
our mutual hopes?"

"And confidences too?"


"Well," said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, "I also think a good deal;
but I take care - "

"To say nothing," said Montalais, "so that when Mademoiselle de Tonnay-
Charente thinks, Athenais is the only one who knows it."

"Hush!" said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, "I hear steps approaching
from this side."

"Quick, quick, then, among the high reed-grass," said Montalais; "stoop,
Athenais, you are so tall."

Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente stooped as she was told, and, almost at
the same moment, they saw two gentlemen approaching, their heads bent
down, walking arm in arm, on the fine gravel walk running parallel with
the bank. The young girls had, indeed, made themselves small - indeed

"It is Monsieur de Guiche," whispered Montalais in Mademoiselle de Tonnay-
Charente's ear.

"It is Monsieur de Bragelonne," whispered the latter to La Valliere.

The two young men approached still closer, conversing in animated tones.
"She was here just now," said the count. "If I had only seen her, I
should have declared it to be a vision, but I spoke to her."

"You are positive, then?"

"Yes; but perhaps I frightened her."

"In what way?"

"Oh! I was still half crazy at you know what; so that she could hardly
have understood what I was saying, and must have grown alarmed."

"Oh!" said Bragelonne, "do not make yourself uneasy: she is all kindness,
and will excuse you; she is clear-sighted, and will understand."

"Yes, but if she should have understood, and understood too well, she may

"You do not know Louise, count," said Raoul. "Louise possesses every
virtue, and has not a single fault." And the two young men passed on,
and, as they proceeded, their voices were soon lost in the distance.

"How is it, La Valliere," said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, "that the
Vicomte de Bragelonne spoke of you as Louise?"

"We were brought up together," replied Louise, blushing; "M. de
Bragelonne has honored me by asking my hand in marriage, but - "


"It seems the king will not consent to it."

"Eh! Why the king? and what has the king to do with it?" exclaimed Aure,
sharply. "Good gracious! has the king any right to interfere in matters
of that kind? Politics are politics, as M. de Mazarin used to say; but
love is love. If, therefore, you love M. de Bragelonne, marry him. _I_
give _my_ consent."

Athenais began to laugh.

"Oh! I am speaking seriously," replied Montalais, "and my opinion in
this case is quite as good as the king's, I suppose; is it not, Louise?"

"Come," said La Valliere, "these gentlemen have passed; let us take
advantage of our being alone to cross the open ground and so take refuge
in the woods."

"So much the better," said Athenais, "because I see the torches setting
out from the chateau and the theater, and they seem as if they were
preceding some person of distinction."

"Let us run, then," said all three. And, gracefully lifting up the long
skirts of their silk dresses, they lightly ran across the open space
between the lake and the thickest covert of the park. Montalais agile as
a deer, Athenais eager as a young wolf, bounded through the dry grass,
and, now and then, some bold Acteon might, by the aid of the faint light,
have perceived their straight and well-formed limbs somewhat displayed
beneath the heavy folds of their satin petticoats. La Valliere, more
refined and more bashful, allowed her dress to flow around her; retarded
also by the lameness of her foot, it was not long before she called out
to her companions to halt, and, left behind, she obliged them both to
wait for her. At this moment, a man, concealed in a dry ditch planted
with young willow saplings, scrambled quickly up its shelving side, and
ran off in the direction of the chateau. The three young girls, on their
side, reached the outskirts of the park, every path of which they well
knew. The ditches were bordered by high hedges full of flowers, which on
that side protected the foot-passengers from being intruded upon by the
horses and carriages. In fact, the sound of Madame's and the queen's
carriages could be heard in the distance upon the hard dry ground of the
roads, followed by the mounted cavaliers. Distant music reached them in
response, and when the soft notes died away, the nightingale, with throat
of pride, poured forth his melodious chants, and his most complicated,
learned, and sweetest compositions to those who had met beneath the thick
covert of the woods. Near the songster, in the dark background of the
large trees, could be seen the glistening eyes of an owl, attracted by
the harmony. In this way the _fete_ of the whole court was a _fete_ also
for the mysterious inhabitants of the forest; for certainly the deer in
the brake, the pheasant on the branch, the fox in its hole, were all
listening. One could realize the life led by this nocturnal and
invisible population from the restless movements that suddenly took place
among the leaves. Our sylvan nymphs uttered a slight cry, but, reassured
immediately afterwards, they laughed, and resumed their walk. In this
manner they reached the royal oak, the venerable relic of a tree which in
its prime has listened to the sighs of Henry II. for the beautiful Diana
of Poitiers, and later still to those of Henry IV. for the lovely
Gabrielle d'Estrees. Beneath this oak the gardeners had piled up the
moss and turf in such a manner that never had a seat more luxuriously
rested the wearied limbs of man or monarch. The trunk, somewhat rough to
recline against, was sufficiently large to accommodate the three young
girls, whose voices were lost among the branches, which stretched upwards
to the sky.

Chapter XLI:
What Was Said under the Royal Oak.

The softness of the air, the stillness of the foliage, tacitly imposed
upon these young girls an engagement to change immediately their giddy
conversation for one of a more serious character. She, indeed, whose
disposition was the most lively, - Montalais, for instance, - was the
first to yield to the influence; and she began by heaving a deep sigh,
and saying: - "What happiness to be here alone, and at liberty, with
every right to be frank, especially towards one another."

"Yes," said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente; "for the court, however
brilliant it may be, has always some falsehood concealed beneath the
folds of its velvet robes, or the glitter of its diamonds."

"I," replied La Valliere, "I never tell a falsehood; when I cannot speak
the truth, I remain silent."

"You will not long remain in favor," said Montalais; "it is not here as
it was at Blois, where we told the dowager Madame all our little
annoyances, and all our longings. There were certain days when Madame
remembered that she herself had been young, and, on those days, whoever
talked with her found in her a sincere friend. She related to us her
flirtations with Monsieur, and we told her of the flirtations she had had
with others, or, at least, the rumors of them that had spread abroad.
Poor woman, so simple-minded! she laughed at them, as we did. Where is
she now?"

"Ah, Montalais, - laughter-loving Montalais!" cried La Valliere; "you see
you are sighing again; the woods inspire you, and you are almost
reasonable this evening."

"You ought not, either of you," said Athenais, "to regret the court at
Blois so much, unless you do not feel happy with us. A court is a place
where men and women resort to talk of matters which mothers, guardians,
and especially confessors, severely denounce."

"Oh, Athenais!" said Louise, blushing.

"Athenais is frank to-night," said Montalais; "let us avail ourselves of

"Yes, let us take advantage of it, for this evening I could divulge the
softest secrets of my heart."

"Ah, if M. Montespan were here!" said Montalais.

"Do you think that I care for M. de Montespan?" murmured the beautiful
young girl.

"He is handsome, I believe?"

"Yes. And that is no small advantage in my eyes."

"There now, you see - "

"I will go further, and say, that of all the men whom one sees here, he
is the handsomest, and the most - "

"What was that?" said La Valliere, starting suddenly from the mossy bank.

"A deer hurrying by, perhaps."

"I am only afraid of men," said Athenais.

"When they do not resemble M. de Montespan."

"A truce to raillery. M. de Montespan is attentive to me, but that does
not commit me in any way. Is not M. de Guiche here, he who is so devoted
to Madame?"

"Poor fellow!" said La Valliere.

"Why to be pitied? Madame is sufficiently beautiful, and of high enough
rank, I suppose."

La Valliere shook her head sorrowfully, saying, "When one loves, it is
neither beauty nor rank; - when one loves it should be the heart, or the
eyes only, of him, or of her whom one loves."

Montalais began to laugh loudly. "Heart, eyes," she said; "oh, sugar-

"I speak for myself;" replied La Valliere.

"Noble sentiments," said Athenais, with an air of protection, but with

"Are they not your own?" asked Louise.

"Perfectly so; but to continue: how can one pity a man who bestows his
attentions upon such a woman as Madame? If any disproportion exists, it
is on the count's side."

"Oh! no, no," returned La Valliere; "it is on Madame's side."

"Explain yourself."

"I will. Madame has not even a wish to know what love is. She diverts
herself with the feeling, as children do with fireworks, form which a
spark might set a palace on fire. It makes a display, and that is all
she cares about. Besides, pleasure forms the tissue of which she wishes
her life to be woven. M. de Guiche loves this illustrious personage, but
she will never love him."

Athenais laughed disdainfully. "Do people really ever love?" she said.
"Where are the noble sentiments you just now uttered? Does not a woman's
virtue consist in the uncompromising refusal of every intrigue that might
compromise her? A properly regulated woman, endowed with a natural
heart, ought to look at men, make herself loved - adored, even, by them,
and say at the very utmost but once in her life, 'I begin to think that I
ought not to have been what I am, - I should have detested this one less
than others.'"

"Therefore," exclaimed La Valliere, "that is what M. de Montespan has to

"Certainly; he, as well as every one else. What! have I not said that I
admit he possesses a certain superiority, and would not that be enough?
My dear child, a woman is a queen during the entire period nature permits
her to enjoy sovereign power - from fifteen to thirty-five years of age.
After that, we are free to have a heart, when we only have that left - "

"Oh, oh!" murmured La Valliere.

"Excellent," cried Montalais; "a very masterly woman; Athenais, you will
make your way in the world."

"Do you not approve of what I say?"

"Completely," replied her laughing companion.

"You are not serious, Montalais?" said Louise.

"Yes, yes; I approve everything Athenais has just said; only - "

"Only _what?_"

"Well, I cannot carry it out. I have the firmest principles; I form
resolutions beside which the laws of the Stadtholder and of the King of
Spain are child's play; but when the moment arrives to put them into
execution, nothing comes of them."

"Your courage fails?" said Athenais, scornfully.

"Miserably so."

"Great weakness of nature," returned Athenais. "But at least you make a

"Why, no. It pleases fate to disappoint me in everything; I dream of
emperors, and I find only - "

"Aure, Aure!" exclaimed La Valliere, "for pity's sake, do not, for the
pleasure of saying something witty, sacrifice those who love you with
such devoted affection."

"Oh, I do not trouble myself much about that; those who love me are
sufficiently happy that I do not dismiss them altogether. So much the
worse for myself if I have a weakness for any one, but so much the worse
for others if I revenge myself upon them for it."

"You are right," said Athenais, "and, perhaps, you too will reach the
goal. In other words, young ladies, that is termed being a coquette.
Men, who are very silly in most things, are particularly so in
confounding, under the term of coquetry, a woman's pride, and love of
changing her sentiments as she does her dress. I, for instance, am
proud; that is to say, impregnable. I treat my admirers harshly, but
without any pretention to retain them. Men call me a coquette, because
they are vain enough to think I care for them. Other women - Montalais,
for instance - have allowed themselves to be influenced by flattery; they
would be lost were it not for that most fortunate principle of instinct
which urges them to change suddenly, and punish the man whose devotion
they so recently accepted."

"A very learned dissertation," said Montalais, in the tone of thorough

"It is odious!" murmured Louise.

"Thanks to that sort of coquetry, for, indeed, that is genuine coquetry,"
continued Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente; "the lover who, a little while
since, was puffed up with pride, in a minute afterwards is suffering at
every pore of his vanity and self-esteem. He was, perhaps, already
beginning to assume the airs of a conqueror, but now he retreats
defeated; he was about to assume an air of protection towards us, but he
is obliged to prostrate himself once more. The result of all this is,
that, instead of having a husband who is jealous and troublesome, free
from restraint in his conduct towards us, we have a lover always
trembling in our presence, always fascinated by our attractions, always
submissive; and for this simple reason, that he finds the same woman
never twice of the same mind. Be convinced, therefore, of the advantages
of coquetry. Possessing that, one reigns a queen among women in cases
where Providence has withheld that precious faculty of holding one's
heart and mind in check."

"How clever you are," said Montalais, "and how well you understand the
duty women owe themselves!"

"I am only settling a case of individual happiness," said Athenais
modestly; "and defending myself, like all weak, loving dispositions,
against the oppressions of the stronger."

"La Valliere does not say a word."

"Does she not approve of what we are saying?"

"Nay; only I do not understand it," said Louise. "You talk like people
not called upon to live in this world of ours."

"And very pretty your world is," said Montalais.

"A world," returned Athenais, "in which men worship a woman until she has
fallen, - and insult her when she has fallen."

"Who spoke to you of falling?" said Louise.

"Yours is a new theory, then; will you tell us how you intend to resist
yielding to temptation, if you allow yourself to be hurried away by
feelings of affection?"

"Oh!" exclaimed the young girl, raising towards the dark heavens her
beautiful large eyes filled with tears, "if you did but know what a heart
is, I would explain, and convince you; a loving heart is stronger than
all your coquetry, more powerful than all your pride. A woman is never
truly loved, I believe; a man never loves with idolatry, unless he feels
sure he is loved in return. Let old men, whom we read of in comedies,
fancy themselves adored by coquettes. A young man is conscious of, and
knows them; if he has a fancy, or a strong desire, and an absorbing
passion, for a coquette, he cannot mistake her; a coquette may drive him
out of his senses, but will never make him fall in love. Love, such as I
conceive it to be, is an incessant, complete, and perfect sacrifice; but
it is not the sacrifice of one only of the two persons thus united. It
is the perfect abnegation of two who are desirous of blending their
beings into one. If ever I love, I shall implore my lover to leave me
free and pure; I will tell him, and he will understand, that my heart was
torn by my refusal, and he, in his love for me, aware of the magnitude of
my sacrifice, - he, in his turn, I say, will store his devotion for me, -
will respect me, and will not seek my ruin, to insult me when I shall
have fallen, as you said just now, whilst uttering your blasphemies
against love, such as I understand it. That is my idea of love. And now
you will tell me, perhaps, that my love will despise me; I defy him to do
so, unless he be the vilest of men, and my heart assures me that it is
not such a man I would choose. A look from me will repay him for the
sacrifices he makes, or will inspire him with the virtues which he would
never think he possessed."

"But, Louise," exclaimed Montalais, "you tell us this, and do not carry
it into practice."

"What do you mean?"

"You are adored by Raoul de Bragelonne, who worships you on both knees.
The poor fellow is made the victim of your virtue, just as he would be
nay, more than he would be, even - of my coquetry, or Athenais's pride."

"All this is simply a different shade of coquetry," said Athenais; "and
Louise, I perceive, is a coquette without knowing it."

"Oh!" said La Valliere.

"Yes, you may call it instinct, if you please, keenest sensibility,
exquisite refinement of feeling, perpetual play of restrained outbreaks
of affection, which end in smoke. It is very artful too, and very
effective. I should even, now that I reflect upon it, have preferred
this system of tactics to my own pride, for waging war on members of the
other sex, because it offers the advantage sometimes of thoroughly
convincing them; but, at the present moment, without utterly condemning
myself, I declare it to be superior to the non-complex coquetry of
Montalais." And the two young girls began to laugh.

La Valliere alone preserved silence, and quietly shook her head. Then, a
moment after, she added, "If you were to tell me, in the presence of a
man, but a fourth part of what you have just said, or even if I were
assured that you think it, I should die of shame and grief where I am

"Very well; die, poor tender little darling," replied Mademoiselle de
Tonnay-Charente; "for if there are no men here, there are at least two
women, your own friends, who declare you to be attained and convicted of
being a coquette from instinct; in other words, the most dangerous kind
of coquette the world possesses."

"Oh! mesdemoiselles," replied La Valliere, blushing, and almost ready to
weep. Her two companions again burst out laughing.

"Very well! I will ask Bragelonne to tell me."

"Bragelonne?" said Athenais.

"Yes! Bragelonne, who is as courageous as Caesar, and as clever and
witty as M. Fouquet. Poor fellow! for twelve years he has known you,
loved you, and yet - one can hardly believe it - he has never even kissed
the tips of your fingers."

"Tell us the reason of this cruelty, you who are all heart," said
Athenais to La Valliere.

"Let me explain it by a single word - virtue. You will perhaps deny the
existence of virtue?"

"Come, Louise, tell us the truth," said Aure, taking her by the hand.

"What do you wish me to tell you?" cried La Valliere.

"Whatever you like; but it will be useless for you to say anything, for I
persist in my opinion of you. A coquette from instinct; in other words,
as I have already said, and I say it again, the most dangerous of all

"Oh! no, no; for pity's sake do not believe that!"

"What! twelve years of extreme severity."

"How can that be, since twelve years ago I was only five years old? The
frivolity of the child cannot surely be placed to the young girl's

"Well! you are now seventeen; three years instead of twelve. During
those three years you have remained constantly and unchangeably cruel.
Against you are arrayed the silent shades of Blois, the meetings when you
diligently conned the stars together, the evening wanderings beneath the
plantain-trees, his impassioned twenty years speaking to your fourteen
summers, the fire of his glances addressed to yourself."

"Yes, yes; but so it is!"


"But why impossible?"

"Tell us something credible and we will believe you."

"Yet, if you were to suppose one thing."

"What is that?"

"Suppose that I thought I was in love, and that I am not."

"What! not in love!"

"Well, then! if I have acted in a different manner to what others do when
they are in love, it is because I do not love; and because my hour has
not yet come."

"Louise, Louise," said Montalais, "take care or I will remind you of the
remark you made just now. Raoul is not here; do not overwhelm him while
he is absent; be charitable, and if, on closer inspection, you think you
do not love him, tell him so, poor fellow!" and she began to laugh.

"Louise pitied M. de Guiche just now," said Athenais; "would it be
possible to detect an explanation of her indifference for the one in this
compassion for the other?"

"Say what you please," said La Valliere, sadly; "upbraid me as you like,
since you do not understand me."

"Oh! oh!" replied Montalais, "temper, sorrow, tears; we are jesting,
Louise, and are not, I assure you, quite the monsters you suppose. Look
at the proud Athenais, as she is called; she does not love M. de
Montespan, it is true, but she would be in despair if M. de Montespan did
not continue to love her. Look at me; I laugh at M. Malicorne, but the
poor fellow whom I laugh at knows precisely when he will be permitted to
press his lips upon my hand. And yet the eldest of us is not twenty
yet. What a future before us!"

"Silly, silly girls!" murmured Louise.

"You are quite right," said Montalais; "and you alone have spoken words
of wisdom."


"I do not dispute it," replied Athenais. "And so it is clear you do not
love poor M. de Bragelonne?"

"Perhaps she does," said Montalais; "she is not yet quite certain of it.
But, in any case, listen, Athenais; if M. de Bragelonne is ever free, I
will give you a little friendly advice."

"What is that?"

"To look at him well before you decide in favor of M. de Montespan."

"Oh! in that way of considering the subject, M. de Bragelonne is not the
only one whom one could look at with pleasure; M. de Guiche, for
instance, has his value also."

"He did not distinguish himself this evening," said Montalais; "and I
know from very good authority that Madame thought him insupportable."

"M. de Saint-Aignan produced a most brilliant effect, and I am sure that
more than one person who saw him dance this evening will not soon forget
him. Do you not think so, La Valliere?"

"Why do you ask me? I did not see him, nor do I know him."

"What! you did not see M. de Saint-Aignan? Don't you know him?"


"Come, come, do not affect a virtue more extravagantly excessive than our
vanity! - you have eyes, I suppose?"


"Then you must have seen all those who danced this evening."

"Yes, nearly all."

"That is a very impertinent 'nearly all' for somebody."

"You must take it for what it is worth."

"Very well; now, among all those gentlemen whom you saw, which do you

"Yes," said Montalais, "is it M. de Saint-Aignan, or M. de Guiche, or
M. - "

"I prefer no one; I thought them all about the same."

"Do you mean, then, that among that brilliant assembly, the first court
in the world, no one pleased you?"

"I do not say that."

"Tell us, then, who your ideal is?"

"It is not an ideal being."

"He exists, then?"

"In very truth," exclaimed La Valliere, aroused and excited; "I cannot
understand you at all. What! you who have a heart as I have, eyes as I
have, and yet you speak of M. de Guiche, of M. de Saint-Aignan, when the
king was there." These words, uttered in a precipitate manner, and in an
agitated, fervid tone of voice, made her two companions, between whom she
was seated, exclaim in a manner that terrified her, "_The king!_"

La Valliere buried her face in her hands. "Yes," she murmured; "the
king! the king! Have you ever seen any one to be compared to the king?"

"You were right just now in saying you had excellent eyes, Louise, for
you see a great distance; too far, indeed. Alas! the king is not one
upon whom our poor eyes have a right to hinge themselves."

"That is too true," cried La Valliere; "it is not the privilege of all
eyes to gaze upon the sun; but I will look upon him, even were I to be
blinded in doing so." At this moment, and as though caused by the words
which had just escaped La Valliere's lips, a rustling of leaves, and of
what sounded like some silken material, was heard behind the adjoining
bushes. The young girls hastily rose, almost terrified out of their
senses. They distinctly saw the leaves move, without being able to see
what it was that stirred them.

"It is a wolf or a wild boar," cried Montalais; "fly! fly!" The three
girls, in the extremity of terror, fled by the first path that presented
itself, and did not stop until they had reached the verge of the wood.
There, breathless, leaning against each other, feeling their hearts throb
wildly, they endeavored to collect their senses, but could only succeed
in doing so after the lapse of some minutes. Perceiving at last the
lights from the windows of the chateau, they decided to walk towards
them. La Valliere was exhausted with fatigue, and Aure and Athenais were
obliged to support her.

"We have escaped well," said Montalais.

"I am greatly afraid," said La Valliere, "that it was something worse
than a wolf. For my part, and I speak as I think, I should have
preferred to have run the risk of being devoured alive by some wild
animal than to have been listened to and overheard. Fool, fool that I
am! How could I have thought, how could I have said what I did?" And
saying this her head bowed like the water tossed plume of a bulrush; she
felt her limbs fail, and her strength abandoning her, and, gliding almost
inanimate from the arms of her companions, sank down upon the turf.

Chapter XLII:
The King's Uneasiness.

Let us leave poor La Valliere, who had fainted in the arms of her two
companions, and return to the precincts of the royal oak. The young
girls had hardly run twenty paces, when the sound which had so much
alarmed them was renewed among the branches. A man's figure might
indistinctly be perceived, and putting the branches of the bushes aside,
he appeared upon the verge of the wood, and perceiving that the place was
empty, burst out into a peal of laughter. It is almost superfluous to
add that the form in question was that of a young and handsome cavalier,
who immediately made a sign to another, who thereupon made his appearance.

"What, sire," said the second figure, advancing timidly, "has your
majesty put our young sentimentalists to flight?"

"It seems so," said the king, "and you can show yourself without fear."

"Take care, sire, you will be recognized."

"But I tell you they are flown."

"This is a most fortunate meeting, sire; and, if I dared offer an opinion
to your majesty, we ought to follow them."

"They are far enough away by this time."

"They would quickly allow themselves to be overtaken, especially if they
knew who were following them."

"What do you mean by that, coxcomb that you are?"

"Why, one of them seems to have taken a fancy to me, and another compared
you to the sun."

"The greater reason why we should not show ourselves, Saint-Aignan. The
sun never shows itself in the night-time."

"Upon my word, sire, your majesty seems to have very little curiosity.
In your place, I should like to know who are the two nymphs, the two
dryads, the two hamadryads, who have so good an opinion of us."

"I shall know them again very well, I assure you, without running after

"By what means?"

"By their voices, of course. They belong to the court, and the one who
spoke of me had a remarkably sweet voice."

"Ah! your majesty permits yourself to be influenced by flattery."

"No one will ever say it is a means _you_ make use of."

"Forgive my stupidity, sire."

"Come; let us go and look where I told you."

"Is the passion, then, which your majesty confided to me, already

"Oh! no, indeed. How is it possible to forget such beautiful eyes as
Mademoiselle de la Valliere has?"

"Yet the other one has a beautiful voice."

"Which one?"

"The lady who has fallen in love with the sun."

"M. de Saint-Aignan!"

"Forgive me, sire."

"Well, I am not sorry you should believe me to be an admirer of sweet
voices as well as of beautiful eyes. I know you to be a terrible talker,
and to-morrow I shall have to pay for the confidence I have shown you."

"What do you mean, sire?"

"That to-morrow every one will know that I have designs upon this little
La Valliere; but he careful, Saint-Aignan, I have confided my secret to
no one but you, and if any one should speak to me about it, I shall know
who has betrayed my secret."

"You are angry, sire."

"No; but you understand I do not wish to compromise the poor girl."

"Do not be afraid, sire."

"You promise me, then?"

"I give you my word of honor."

"Excellent," thought the king, laughing to himself; "now every one will
know to-morrow that I have been running about after La Valliere to-

Then, endeavoring to see where he was, he said: "Why we have lost

"Not quite so bad as that, sire."

"Where does that gate lead to?"

"To Rond-Point, sire."

"Where were we going when we heard the sound of women's voices?"

"Yes, sire, and the termination of a conversation in which I had the
honor of hearing my own name pronounced by the side of your majesty's."

"You return to that subject too frequently, Saint-Aignan."

"Your majesty will forgive me, but I am delighted to know that a woman
exists whose thoughts are occupied about me, without my knowledge, and
without my having done anything to deserve it. Your majesty cannot
comprehend this satisfaction, for your rank and merit attract attention,
and compel regard."

"No, no, Saint-Aignan, believe me or not, as you like," said the king,
leaning familiarly upon Saint-Aignan's arm and taking the path he thought
would lead them to the chateau; "but this candid confession, this
perfectly disinterested preference of one who will, perhaps, never
attract my attention - in one word, the mystery of this adventure excites
me, and the truth is, that if I were not so taken with La Valliere - "

"Do not let that interfere with your majesty's intentions: you have time
enough before you."

"What do you mean?"

"La Valliere is said to be very strict in her ideas."

"You excite my curiosity and I am anxious to see her again. Come, let us
walk on."

The king spoke untruly, for nothing, on the contrary, could make him less
anxious, but he had a part to play, and so he walked on hurriedly. Saint-
Aignan followed him at a short distance. Suddenly the king stopped; the
courtier followed his example.

"Saint-Aignan," he said, "do you not hear some one moaning?"

"Yes, sire, and weeping, too, it seems."

"It is in this direction," said the king. "It sounds like the tears and
sobs of a woman."

"Run," said the king; and, following a by-path, they ran across the
grass. As they approached, the cries were more distinctly heard.

"Help, help," exclaimed two voices. The king and his companion redoubled
their speed, and, as they approached nearer, the sighs they had heard
were changed into loud sobs. The cry of "Help! help!" was again
repeated; at the sound of which, the king and Saint-Aignan increased the
rapidity of their pace. Suddenly at the other side of a ditch, under the
branches of a willow, they perceived a woman on her knees, holding
another in her arms who seemed to have fainted. A few paces from them, a
third, standing in the middle of the path, was calling for assistance.
Perceiving the two gentlemen, whose rank she could not tell, her cries
for assistance were redoubled. The king, who was in advance of his
companion, leaped across the ditch, and reached the group at the very
moment when, from the end of the path which led to the chateau, a dozen
persons were approaching, who had been drawn to the spot by the same
cries that had attracted the attention of the king and M. de Saint-Aignan.

"What is the matter, young ladies?" said Louis.

"The king!" exclaimed Mademoiselle de Montalais, in her astonishment,
letting La Valliere's head fall upon the ground.

"Yes, it is the king; but that is no reason why you should abandon your
companion. Who is she?"

"It is Mademoiselle de la Valliere, sire."

"Mademoiselle de la Valliere!"

"Yes, sire, she has just fainted."

"Poor child!" said the king. "Quick, quick, fetch a surgeon." But
however great the anxiety with which the king had pronounced these words
may have seemed to others, he had not so carefully schooled himself but
that they appeared, as well as the gesture which accompanied them,
somewhat cold to Saint-Aignan, to whom the king had confided the sudden
love with which she had inspired him.

"Saint-Aignan," continued the king, "watch over Mademoiselle de la
Valliere, I beg. Send for a surgeon. I will hasten forward and inform
Madame of the accident which has befallen one of her maids of honor."
And, in fact, while M. de Saint-Aignan was busily engaged in making
preparations for carrying Mademoiselle de la Valliere to the chateau, the
king hurried forward, happy to have an opportunity of approaching Madame,
and of speaking to her under a colorable pretext. Fortunately, a
carriage was passing; the coachman was told to stop, and the persons who
were inside, having been informed of the accident, eagerly gave up their
seats to Mademoiselle de la Valliere. The current of fresh air produced
by the rapid motion of the carriage soon recalled her to her senses.
Having reached the chateau, she was able, though very weak, to alight
from the carriage, and, with the assistance of Athenais and of Montalais,
to reach the inner apartments. They made her sit down in one of the
rooms of the ground floor. After a while, as the accident had not
produced much effect upon those who had been walking, the promenade was
resumed. During this time, the king had found Madame beneath a tree
with overhanging branches, and had seated himself by her side.

"Take care, sire," said Henrietta to him, in a low tone, "you do not show
yourself as indifferent as you ought to be."

"Alas!" replied the king, in the same tone, "I much fear we have entered
into an agreement above our strength to keep." He then added aloud, "You
have heard of the accident, I suppose?"

"What accident?"

"Oh! in seeing you I forgot I hurried here expressly to tell you of it.
I am, however, painfully affected by it; one of your maids of honor,
Mademoiselle de la Valliere, has just fainted."

"Indeed! poor girl," said the princess, quietly, "what was the cause of

She then added in an undertone, "You forget, sire, that you wish others
to believe in your passion for this girl, and yet you remain here while
she is almost dying, perhaps, elsewhere."

"Ah! Madame," said the king, sighing, "how much more perfect you are in
your part than I am, and how actively you think of everything."

He then rose, saying loud enough for every one to hear him, "Permit me to
leave you, Madame; my uneasiness is very great, and I wish to be quite
certain, myself, that proper attention has been given to Mademoiselle de
la Valliere." And the king left again to return to La Valliere, while
those who had been present commented upon the king's remark: - "My
uneasiness is very great."

Chapter XLIII:
The King's Secret.

On his way Louis met the Comte de Saint-Aignan. "Well, Saint-Aignan," he
inquired, with affected interest, "how is the invalid."

"Really, sire," stammered Saint-Aignan, "to my shame, I confess I do not

"What! you do not know?" said the king, pretending to take in a serious
manner this want of attention for the object of his predilection.

"Will your majesty pardon me; but I have just met one of our three
loquacious wood-nymphs, and I confess that my attention has been taken
away from other matters."

"Ah!" said the king, eagerly, "you have found, then - "

"The one who deigned to speak of me in such advantageous terms; and,
having found mine, I was searching for yours, sire, when I had the
happiness to meet your majesty."

"Very well; but Mademoiselle de la Valliere before everything else," said
the king, faithful to the character he had assumed."

"Oh! our charming invalid!" said Saint-Aignan; "how fortunately her
fainting fit came on, since your majesty had already occupied yourself
about her."

"What is the name of your fair lady, Saint-Aignan? Is it a secret?"

"It ought to be a secret, and a very great one, even; but your majesty is
well aware that no secret can possibly exist for you."

"Well, what is her name?"

"Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente."

"Is she pretty?"

"Exceedingly, sire; and I recognized the voice which pronounced my name
in such tender accents. I accosted her, questioned her as well as I was
able to do, in the midst of the crowd; and she told me, without
suspecting anything, that a little while ago she was under the great oak,
with her two friends, when the sound of a wolf or a robber had terrified
them, and made them run away."

"But," inquired the king, anxiously, "what are the names of these two

"Sire," said Saint-Aignan, "will your majesty send me forthwith to the

"What for?"

"Because I am an egotist and a fool. My surprise was so great at such a
conquest, and at so fortunate a discovery, that I went no further in my
inquiries. Besides, I did not think that your majesty would attach any
very great importance to what you heard, knowing how much your attention
was taken up by Mademoiselle de la Valliere; and then, Mademoiselle de
Tonnay-Charente left me precipitately, to return to Mademoiselle de la

"Let us hope, then, that I shall be as fortunate as yourself. Come,

"Your majesty is ambitions, I perceive, and does not wish to allow any
conquest to escape you. Well, I assure you that I will conscientiously
set about my inquiries; and, moreover, from one or the other of those
Three Graces we shall learn the names of the rest, and by the names their

"I, too," said the king, "only require to hear her voice to know it
again. Come, let us say no more about it, but show me where poor La
Valliere is."

"Well," thought Saint-Aignan, "the king's regard is beginning to display
itself, and for that girl too. It is extraordinary; I should never have
believed it." And with this thought passing through his mind, he showed
the king the room to which La Valliere had been carried; the king
entered, followed by Saint-Aignan. In a low chamber, near a large window
looking out upon the gardens, La Valliere, reclining in a large armchair,
was inhaling deep draughts of the perfumed evening breeze. From the
loosened body of her dress, the lace fell in tumbled folds, mingling with
the tresses of her beautiful fair hair, which lay scattered upon her
shoulders. Her languishing eyes were filled with tears; she seemed as
lifeless as those beautiful visions of our dreams, that pass before the
mental eye of the sleeper, half-opening their wings without moving them,
unclosing their lips without a sound escaping them. The pearl-like
pallor of La Valliere possessed a charm it would be impossible to
describe. Mental and bodily suffering had produced upon her features a
soft and noble expression of grief; from the perfect passiveness of her
arms and bust, she more resembled one whose soul had passed away, than a
living being; she seemed not to hear either of the whisperings which
arose from the court. She seemed to be communing within herself; and her
beautiful, delicate hands trembled from time to time as though at the
contact of some invisible touch. She was so completely absorbed in her
reverie, that the king entered without her perceiving him. At a distance
he gazed upon her lovely face, upon which the moon shed its pure silvery

"Good Heavens!" he exclaimed, with a terror he could not control, "she is

"No, sire," said Montalais, in a low voice; "on the contrary, she is
better. Are you not better, Louise?"

But Louise did not answer. "Louise," continued Montalais, "the king has
deigned to express his uneasiness on your account."

"The king!" exclaimed Louise, starting up abruptly, as if a stream of
fire had started through her frame to her heart; "the king uneasy about

"Yes," said Montalais.

"The king is here, then?" said La Valliere, not venturing to look round

"That voice! that voice!" whispered Louis, eagerly, to Saint-Aignan.

"Yes, it is so," replied Saint-Aignan; "your majesty is right; it is she
who declared her love for the sun."

"Hush!" said the king. And then approaching La Valliere, he said, "You
are not well, Mademoiselle de la Valliere? Just now, indeed, in the
park, I saw that you had fainted. How were you attacked?"

"Sire," stammered out the poor child, pale and trembling, "I really do
not know."

"You have been walking too far," said the king; "and fatigue, perhaps - "

"No, sire," said Montalais, eagerly, answering for her friend, "it could
not be from fatigue, for we passed most of the evening seated beneath the
royal oak."

"Under the royal oak?" returned the king, starting. "I was not deceived;
it is as I thought." And he directed a look of intelligence at the comte.

"Yes," said Saint-Aignan, "under the royal oak, with Mademoiselle de

"How do you know that?" inquired Montalais.

"In a very simple way. Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente told me so."

"In that case, she probably told you the cause of Mademoiselle de la
Valliere's fainting?"

"Why, yes; she told me something about a wolf or a robber. I forget
precisely which." La Valliere listened, her eyes fixed, her bosom
heaving, as if, gifted with an acuteness of perception, she foresaw a
portion of the truth. Louis imagined this attitude and agitation to be
the consequence of a terror only partially reassured. "Nay, fear
nothing," he said, with a rising emotion which he could not conceal; "the
wolf which terrified you so much was simply a wolf with two legs."

"It was a man, then!" said Louise; "it was a man who was listening?"

"Suppose it was so, mademoiselle, what great harm was there in his having
listened? Is it likely that, even in your own opinion, you would have
said anything which could not have been listened to?"

La Valliere wrung her hands, and hid her face in them, as if to hide her
blushes. "In Heaven's name," she said, "who was concealed there? Who
was listening?"

The king advanced towards her, to take hold of one of her hands. "It was
I," he said, bowing with marked respect. "Is it likely I could have
frightened you?" La Valliere uttered a loud cry; for the second time her
strength forsook her; and moaning in utter despair, she again fell
lifeless in her chair. The king had just time to hold out his arm; so
that she was partially supported by him. Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente
and Montalais, who stood a few paces from the king and La Valliere,
motionless and almost petrified at the recollection of their conversation
with La Valliere, did not even think of offering their assistance,
feeling restrained by the presence of the king, who, with one knee on the
ground, held La Valliere round the waist with his arm.

"You heard, sire!" murmured Athenais. But the king did not reply; he
remained with his eyes fixed upon La Valliere's half-closed eyes, and
held her quiescent hand in his own.

"Of course," replied Saint-Aignan, who, on his side, hoping that
Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, too, would faint, advancing towards her,
holding his arms extended, - "of course; we did not even lose a single
word." But the haughty Athenais was not a woman to faint easily; she
darted a terrible look at Saint-Aignan, and fled. Montalais, with more
courage, advanced hurriedly towards Louise, and received her from the
king's hands, who was already fast losing his presence of mind, as he
felt his face covered by the perfumed tresses of the seemingly dying
girl. "Excellent," whispered Saint-Aignan. "This is indeed an
adventure; and it will be my own fault if I am not the first to relate

The king approached him, and, with a trembling voice and a passionate
gesture, said, "Not a syllable, comte."

The poor king forgot that, only an hour before, he had given him a
similar recommendation, but with the very opposite intention; namely,
that the comte should be indiscreet. It followed, as a matter of course,
that he latter recommendation was quite as unnecessary as the former.
Half an hour afterwards, everybody in Fontainebleau knew that
Mademoiselle de la Valliere had had a conversation under the royal oak
with Montalais and Tonnay-Charente, and that in this conversation she had
confessed her affection for the king. It was known, also, that the king,
after having manifested the uneasiness with which Mademoiselle de la
Valliere's health had inspired him, had turned pale, and trembled very
much as he received the beautiful girl fainting into his arms; so that it
was quite agreed among the courtiers, that the greatest event of the
period had just been revealed; that his majesty loved Mademoiselle de la
Valliere, and that, consequently, Monsieur could now sleep in perfect
tranquillity. It was this, even, that the queen-mother, as surprised as
the others by the sudden change, hastened to tell the young queen and
Philip d'Orleans. Only she set to work in a different manner, by
attacking them in the following way: - To her daughter-in-law she said,
"See, now, Therese, how very wrong you were to accuse the king; now it is
said he is devoted to some other person; why should there be any greater
truth in the report of to-day than in that of yesterday, or in that of
yesterday than in that of to-day?" To Monsieur, in relating to him the
adventure of the royal oak, she said, "Are you not very absurd in your
jealousies, my dear Philip? It is asserted that the king is madly in
love with that little La Valliere. Say nothing of it to your wife; for
the queen will know all about it very soon." This latter confidential
communication had an immediate result. Monsieur, who had regained his
composure, went triumphantly to look after his wife, and it was not yet
midnight and the _fete_ was to continue until two in the morning, he
offered her his hand for a promenade. At the end of a few paces,
however, the first thing he did was to disobey his mother's injunctions.

"Do not tell any one, the queen least of all," he said mysteriously,
"what people say about the king."

"What do they say about him?" inquired Madame.

"That my brother has suddenly fallen in love."

"With whom?"

"With Mademoiselle de la Valliere."

As it was dark, Madame could smile at her ease.

"Ah!" she said, "and how long is it since this has been the case?"

"For some days, it seems. But that was nothing but nonsense; it is only
this evening that he has revealed his passion."

"The king shows his good taste," said Madame; "in my opinion she is a
very charming girl."

"I verily believe you are jesting."

"I! in what way?"

"In any case this passion will make some one very happy, even if it be
only La Valliere herself."

"Really," continued the princess, "you speak as if you had read into the
inmost recesses of La Valliere's heart. Who has told you that she agrees
to return the king's affection?"

"And who has told you that she will not return it?"

"She loves the Vicomte de Bragelonne."

"You think so?"

"She is even affianced to him."

"She was so."

"What do you mean?"

"When they went to ask the king's permission to arrange the marriage, he
refused his permission."


"Yes, although the request was preferred by the Comte de la Fere himself,
for whom the king has the greatest regard, on account of the part he took
in your royal brother's restoration, and in other events, also, which
happened a long time ago."

"Well! the poor lovers must wait until the king is pleased to change his
opinion; they are young, and there is time enough."

"But, dear me," said Philip, laughing, "I perceive you do not know the
best part of the affair."


"That by which the king was most deeply touched."

"The king, do you say, has been deeply touched?"

"To the very quick of his heart."

"But how? - in what manner? - tell me directly."

"By an adventure, the romance of which cannot be equalled."

"You know how I love to hear of such adventures, and yet you keep me
waiting," said the princess, impatiently.

"Well, then - " and Monsieur paused.

"I am listening."

"Under the royal oak - you know where the royal oak is?"

"What can that matter? Under the royal oak, you were saying?"

"Well! Mademoiselle de la Valliere, fancying herself to be alone with her
two friends, revealed to them her affection for the king."

"Ah!" said Madame, beginning to be uneasy, "her affection for the king?"


"When was this?"

"About an hour ago."

Madame started, and then said, "And no one knew of this affection?"

"No one."

"Not even his majesty?"

"Not even his majesty. The artful little puss kept her secret strictly
to herself, when suddenly it proved stronger than herself, and so escaped

"And from whom did you get this absurd tale?"

"Why, as everybody else did, from La Valliere herself, who confessed her
love to Montalais and Tonnay-Charente, who were her companions."

Madame stopped suddenly, and by a hasty movement let go her husband's

"Did you say it was an hour ago she made this confession?" Madame

"About that time."

"Is the king aware of it?"

"Why, that is the very thing which constitutes the perfect romance of the
affair, for the king was behind the royal oak with Saint-Aignan, and
heard the whole of the interesting conversation without losing a single
word of it."

Madame felt struck to the heart, saying incautiously, "But I have seen
the king since, and he never told me a word about it."

"Of course," said Monsieur; "he took care not to speak of it to you
himself, since he recommended every one not to say a word about it."

"What do you mean?" said Madame, growing angry.

"I mean that they wished to keep you in ignorance of the affair

"But why should they wish to conceal it from me?"

"From the fear that your friendship for the young queen might induce you
to say something about it to her, nothing more."

Madame hung down her head; her feelings were grievously wounded. She
could not enjoy a moment's repose until she had met the king. As a king
is, most naturally, the very last person in his kingdom who knows what is
said about him, in the same way that a lover is the only one who is kept
in ignorance of what is said about his mistress, therefore, when the king
perceived Madame, who was looking for him, he approached her in some
perturbation, but still gracious and attentive in his manner. Madame
waited for him to speak about La Valliere first; but as he did not speak
of her, she said, "And the poor girl?"

"What poor girl?" said the king.

"La Valliere. Did you not tell me, sire, that she had fainted?"

"She is still very ill," said the king, affecting the greatest

"But surely that will prejudicially affect the rumor you were going to
spread, sire?"

"What rumor?"

"That your attention was taken up by her."

"Oh!" said the king, carelessly, "I trust it will be reported all the

Madame still waited; she wished to know if the king would speak to her of
the adventure of the royal oak. But the king did not say a word about
it. Madame, on her side, did not open her lips about it; so that the
king took leave of her without having reposed the slightest confidence in
her. Hardly had she watched the king move away, than she set out in
search of Saint-Aignan. Saint-Aignan was never very difficult to find;
he was like the smaller vessels that always follow in the wake of, and as
tenders to, the larger ships. Saint-Aignan was the very man whom Madame
needed in her then state of mind. And as for him, he only looked for
worthier ears than others he had found to have an opportunity of
recounting the event in all its details. And so he did not spare Madame
a single word of the whole affair. When he had finished, Madame said to
him, "Confess, now, that is his all a charming invention."

"Invention, no; a true story, yes."

"Confess, whether invention or true story, that it was told to you as you
have told it to me, but that you were not there."

"Upon my honor, Madame, I was there."

"And you think that these confessions may have made an impression on the

"Certainly, as those of Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente did upon me,"
replied Saint-Aignan; "do not forget, Madame, that Mademoiselle de la
Valliere compared the king to the sun; that was flattering enough."

"The king does not permit himself to be influenced by such flatteries."

"Madame, the king is just as much Adonis as Apollo; and I saw plain
enough just now when La Valliere fell into his arms."

"La Valliere fell into the king's arms!"

"Oh! it was the most graceful picture possible; just imagine, La Valliere
had fallen back fainting, and - "

"Well! what did you see? - tell me - speak!"

"I saw what ten other people saw at the same time as myself; I saw that
when La Valliere fell into his arms, the king almost fainted himself."

Madame smothered a subdued cry, the only indication of her smothered

"Thank you," she said, laughing in a convulsive manner, "you relate
stories delightfully, M. de Saint-Aignan." And she hurried away, alone,
and almost suffocated by painful emotion, towards the chateau.

Chapter XLIV:
Courses de Nuit.

Monsieur quitted the princess in the best possible humor, and feeling
greatly fatigued, retired to his apartments, leaving every one to finish
the night as he chose. When in his room, Monsieur began to dress for the
night with careful attention, which displayed itself from time to time in
paroxysms of satisfaction. While his attendants were engaged in curling
his hair, he sang the principal airs of the ballet which the violins had
played, and to which the king had danced. He then summoned his tailors,
inspected his costumes for the next day, and, in token of his extreme
satisfaction, distributed various presents among them. As, however, the
Chevalier de Lorraine, who had seen the prince return to the chateau,
entered the room, Monsieur overwhelmed him with kindness. The former,
after having saluted the prince, remained silent for a moment, like a
sharpshooter who deliberates before deciding in what direction he will
renew his fire; then, seeming to make up his mind, he said, "Have you
remarked a very singular coincidence, monseigneur?"

"No; what is it?"

"The bad reception which his majesty, in appearance, gave the Comte de

"In appearance?"

"Yes, certainly; since, in reality, he has restored him to favor."

"I did not notice it," said the prince.

"What, did you not remark, that, instead of ordering him to go away again
into exile, as was natural, he encouraged him in his opposition by
permitting him to resume his place in the ballet?"

"And you think the king was wrong, chevalier?" said the prince.

"Are you not of my opinion, prince?"

"Not altogether so, my dear chevalier; and I think the king was quite
right not to have made a disturbance against a poor fellow whose want of
judgment is more to be complained of than his intention."

"Really," said the chevalier, "as far as I am concerned, I confess that
this magnanimity astonishes me to the highest degree."

"Why so?" inquired Philip.

"Because I should have thought the king had been more jealous," replied
the chevalier, spitefully. During the last few minutes Monsieur had felt
there was something of an irritating nature concealed under his
favorite's remarks; this last word, however, ignited the powder.

"Jealous!" exclaimed the prince. "Jealous! what do you mean? Jealous of
what, if you please - or jealous of whom?"

The chevalier perceived that he had allowed an excessively mischievous
remark to escape him, as he was in the habit of doing. He endeavored,
therefore, apparently to recall it while it was still possible to do so.
"Jealous of his authority," he said, with an assumed frankness; "of what
else would you have the king jealous?"

"Ah!" said the prince, "that's very proper."

"Did your royal highness," continued the chevalier, "solicit dear De
Guiche's pardon?"

"No, indeed," said Monsieur. "De Guiche is an excellent fellow, and full
of courage; but as I do not approve of his conduct with Madame, I wish
him neither harm nor good."

The chevalier had assumed a bitterness with regard to De Guiche, as he
had attempted to do with regard to the king; but he thought he perceived
that the time for indulgence, and even for the utmost indifference, had
arrived, and that, in order to throw some light on the question, it might
be necessary for him to put the lamp, as the saying is, beneath the
husband's very nose.

"Very well, very well," said the chevalier to himself, "I must wait for
De Wardes; he will do more in one day than I in a month; for I verily
believe he is even more envious than I. Then, again, it is not De Wardes
I require so much as that some event or another should happen; and in the
whole of this affair I see none. That De Guiche returned after he had
been sent away is certainly serious enough, but all its seriousness
disappears when I learn that De Guiche has returned at the very moment
Madame troubles herself no longer about him. Madame, in fact, is
occupied with the king, that is clear; but she will not be so much longer
if, as it is asserted, the king has ceased to trouble his head about
her. The moral of the whole matter is, to remain perfectly neutral, and
await the arrival of some new caprice and let that decide the whole
affair." And the chevalier thereupon settled himself resignedly in the
armchair in which Monsieur permitted him to seat himself in his presence,
and, having no more spiteful or malicious remarks to make, the
consequence was that De Lorraine's wit seemed to have deserted him. Most
fortunately Monsieur was in high good-humor, and he had enough for two,
until the time arrived for dismissing his servants and gentlemen of the
chamber, and he passed into his sleeping-apartment. As he withdrew, he
desired the chevalier to present his compliments to Madame, and say that,
as the night was cool, Monsieur, who was afraid of the toothache, would
not venture out again into the park during the remainder of the evening.
The chevalier entered the princess's apartments at the very moment she
came in herself. He acquitted himself faithfully of the commission
intrusted to him, and, in the first place, remarked all the indifference
and annoyance with which Madame received her husband's communication - a
circumstance which appeared to him fraught with something fresh. If
Madame had been about to leave her apartments with that strangeness of
manner, he would have followed her; but she was returning to them; there
was nothing to be done, therefore he turned upon his heel like an
unemployed heron, appearing to question earth, air, and water about it;
shook his head, and walked away mechanically in the direction of the
gardens. He had hardly gone a hundred paces when he met two young men,
walking arm in arm, with their heads bent down, and idly kicking the
small stones out of their path as they walked on, plunged in thought. It
was De Guiche and De Bragelonne, the sight of whom, as it always did,
produced upon the chevalier, instinctively, a feeling of repugnance. He
did not, however, the less, on that account, salute them with a very low
bow, which they returned with interest. Then, observing that the park
was nearly deserted, that the illuminations began to burn out, and that
the morning breeze was setting in, he turned to the left, and entered the
chateau again, by one of the smaller courtyards. The others turned aside
to the right, and continued on their way towards the large park. As the
chevalier was ascending the side staircase, which led to the private
entrance, he saw a woman, followed by another, make her appearance under
the arcade which led from the small to the large courtyard. The two
women walked so fast that the rustling of their dresses could be
distinguished through the silence of the night. The style of their
mantles, their graceful figures, a mysterious yet haughty carriage
which distinguished them both, especially the one who walked first,
struck the chevalier.

"I certainly know those two," he said to himself, pausing upon the top
step of the small staircase. Then, as with the instinct of a bloodhound
he was about to follow them, one of the servants who had been running
after him arrested his attention.

"Monsieur," he said, "the courier has arrived."

"Very well," said the chevalier, "there is time enough; to-morrow will

"There are some urgent letters which you would be glad to see, perhaps."

"Where from?" inquired the chevalier.

"One from England, and the other from Calais; the latter arrived by
express, and seems of great importance."

"From Calais! Who the deuce can have to write to me from Calais?"

"I think I recognize the handwriting of Monsieur le Comte de Wardes."

"Oh!" cried the chevalier, forgetting his intention of acting the spy,
"in that case I will come up at once." This he did, while the two
unknown beings disappeared at the end of the court opposite to the one by
which they had just entered. We shall now follow them, and leave the
chevalier undisturbed to his correspondence. When they had arrived at
the grove of trees, the foremost of the two halted, somewhat out of
breath, and, cautiously raising her hood, said, "Are we still far from
the tree?"

"Yes, Madame, more than five hundred paces; but pray rest awhile, you
will not be able to walk much longer at this rate."

"You are right," said the princes, for it was she; and she leaned against
a tree. "And now," she resumed, after having recovered her breath, "tell
me the whole truth, and conceal nothing from me."

"Oh, Madame," cried the young girl, "you are already angry with me."

"No, my dear Athenais, reassure yourself, I am in no way angry with you.
After all, these things do not concern me personally. You are anxious
about what you may have said under the oak; you are afraid of having
offended the king, and I wish to tranquillize you by ascertaining myself
if it were possible you could have been overheard."

"Oh, yes, Madame, the king was close to us."

"Still, you were not speaking so loud that some of your remarks may not
have been lost."

"We thought we were quite alone, Madame."

"There were three of you, you say?"

"Yes; La Valliere, Montalais, and myself."

"And _you_, individually, spoke in a light manner of the king?"

"I am afraid so. Should such be the case, will your highness have the
kindness to make my peace with his majesty?"

"If there should be any occasion for it, I promise you I will do so.
However, as I have already told you, it will be better not to anticipate
evil. The night is now very dark, and the darkness is still greater
under the trees. It is not likely you were recognized by the king. To
inform him of it, by being the first to speak, is to denounce yourself."

"Oh, Madame, Madame! if Mademoiselle de la Valliere were recognized, I
must have been recognized also. Besides, M. de Saint-Aignan left no
doubt on the subject."

"Did you, then, say anything very disrespectful of the king?"

"Not at all; it was one of the others who made some very flattering
speeches about the king; and my remarks must have been much in contrast
with hers."

"Montalais is such a giddy girl," said Madame.

"It was not Montalais. Montalais said nothing; it was La Valliere."

Madame started as if she had not known it perfectly well already. "No,
no," she said, "the king cannot have heard. Besides, we will now try the
experiment for which we came out. Show me the oak. Do you know where it
is?" she continued.

"Alas! Madame, yes."

"And you can find it again?"

"With my eyes shut."

"Very well; sit down on the bank where you were, where La Valliere was,
and speak in the same tone and to the same effect as you did before; I
will conceal myself in the thicket, and if I can hear you, I will tell
you so."

"Yes, Madame."

"If, therefore, you really spoke loud enough for the king to have heard
you, in that case - "

Athenais seemed to await the conclusion of the sentence with some anxiety.

"In that case," said Madame, in a suffocated voice, arising doubtless
from her hurried progress, "in that case, I forbid you - " And Madame
again increased her pace. Suddenly, however, she stopped. "An idea
occurs to me," she said.

"A good idea, no doubt, Madame," replied Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente.

"Montalais must be as much embarrassed as La Valliere and yourself."

"Less so, for she is less compromised, having said less."

"That does not matter; she will help you, I dare say, by deviating a
little from the exact truth."

"Especially if she knows that your highness is kind enough to interest
yourself about me."

"Very well, I think I have discovered what it is best for you all to

"How delightful."

"You had better say that all three of you were perfectly well aware that
the king was behind the tree, or behind the thicket, whichever it might
have been; and that you knew M. de Saint-Aignan was there too."

"Yes, Madame."

"For you cannot disguise it from yourself, Athenais, Saint-Aignan takes
advantage of some very flattering remarks you made about him."

"Well, Madame, you see very clearly that one can be overheard," cried
Athenais, "since M. de Saint-Aignan overheard us."

Madame bit her lips, for she had thoughtlessly committed herself. "Oh,
you know Saint-Aignan's character very well," she said, "the favor the
king shows him almost turns his brain, and he talks at random; not only
so, he very often invents. That is not the question; the fact remains,
did or did not the king overhear?"

"Oh, yes, Madame, he certainly did," said Athenais, in despair.

"In that case, do what I said: maintain boldly that all three of you
knew - mind, all three of you, for if there is a doubt about any one of
you, there will be a doubt about all, - persist, I say, that you knew
that the king and M. de Saint-Aignan were there, and that you wished to
amuse yourself at the expense of those who were listening."

"Oh, Madame, at the _king's_ expense; we shall never dare say that!"

"It is a simple jest; an innocent deception readily permitted in young
girls whom men wish to take by surprise. In this manner everything
explains itself. What Montalais said of Malicorne, a mere jest; what you
said of M. de Saint-Aignan, a mere jest too; and what La Valliere might
have said of - "

"And which she would have given anything to recall."

"Are you sure of that?"


"Very well, an additional reason. Say the whole affair was a mere joke.
M. de Malicorne will have no occasion to get out of temper; M. de Saint-
Aignan will be completely put out of countenance; _he_ will be laughed at
instead of you; and lastly, the king will be punished for a curiosity
unworthy of his rank. Let people laugh a little at the king in this
affair, and I do not think he will complain of it."

"Oh, Madame, you are indeed an angel of goodness and sense!"

"It is to my own advantage."

"In what way?"

"How can you ask me why it is to my advantage to spare my maids of honor
the remarks, annoyances, perhaps even calumnies, that might follow?
Alas! you well know that the court has no indulgence for this sort of
peccadillo. But we have now been walking for some time, shall we be long
before we reach it?"

"About fifty or sixty paces further; turn to the left, Madame, if you

"And you are sure of Montalais?" said Madame.

"Oh, certainly."

"Will she do what you ask her?"

"Everything. She will be delighted."

"And La Valliere - " ventured the princess.

"Ah, there will be some difficulty with her, Madame; she would scorn to
tell a falsehood."

"Yet, when it is in her interest to do so - "

"I am afraid that that would not make the slightest difference in her

"Yes, yes," said Madame. "I have been already told that; she is one of
those overnice and affectedly particular people who place heaven in the
foreground in order to conceal themselves behind it. But if she refuses
to tell a falsehood, - as she will expose herself to the jests of the
whole court, as she will have annoyed the king by a confession as
ridiculous as it was immodest, - Mademoiselle la Baume le Blanc de la
Valliere will think it but proper I should send her back again to her
pigeons in the country, in order that, in Touraine yonder, or in Le
Blaisois, - I know not where it may be, - she may at her ease study
sentiment and pastoral life combined."

These words were uttered with a vehemence and harshness that terrified
Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente; and the consequence was, that, as far as
she was concerned, she promised to tell as many falsehoods as might be
necessary. It was in this frame of mind that Madame and her companion
reached the precincts of the royal oak.

"Here we are," said Tonnay-Charente.

"We shall soon learn if one can overhear," replied Madame.

"Hush!" whispered the young girl, holding Madame back with a hurried
gesture, entirely forgetful of her companion's rank. Madame stopped.

"You see that you can hear," said Athenais.



Madame held her breath; and, in fact, the following words pronounced by a
gentle and melancholy voice, floated towards them:

"I tell you, vicomte, I tell you I love her madly; I tell you I love her
to distraction."

Madame started at the voice; and, beneath her hood, a bright joyous smile
illumined her features. It was she who now held back her companion, and
with a light step leading her some twenty paces away, that is to say, out
of the reach of the voice, she said, "Remain here, my dear Athenais, and
let no one surprise us. I think it must be you they are conversing

"Me, Madame?"

"Yes, you - or rather your adventure. I will go and listen; if we were
both there, we should be discovered. Or, stay! - go and fetch Montalais,
and then return and wait for me with her at the entrance of the forest."
And then, as Athenais hesitated, she again said "Go!" in a voice which
did not admit of reply. Athenais thereupon arranged her dress so as to
prevent its rustling being heard; and, by a path beyond the group of
trees, she regained the flower-garden. As for Madame, she concealed
herself in the thicket, leaning her back against a gigantic chestnut-
tree, one of the branches of which had been cut in such a manner as to
form a seat, and waited there, full of anxiety and apprehension. "Now,"
she said, "since one can hear from this place, let us listen to what M.
de Bragelonne and that other madly-in-love fool, the Comte de Guiche,
have to say about me."

Chapter XLV:
In Which Madame Acquires a Proof that Listeners Hear What Is Said.

There was a moment's silence, as if the mysterious sounds of night were
hushed to listen, at the same time as Madame, to the youthful passionate
disclosures of De Guiche.

Raoul was about to speak. He leaned indolently against the trunk of the
large oak, and replied in his sweet and musical voice, "Alas, my dear De
Guiche, it is a great misfortune."

"Yes," cried the latter, "great indeed."

"You do not understand me, De Guiche. I say that it is a great
misfortune for you, not merely loving, but not knowing how to conceal
your love."

"What do you mean?" said De Guiche.

"Yes, you do not perceive one thing; namely, that it is no longer to the
only friend you have, - in other words, - to a man who would rather die
than betray you; you do not perceive, I say, that it is no longer to your
only friend that you confide your passion, but to the first person that
approaches you."

"Are you mad, Bragelonne," exclaimed De Guiche, "to say such a thing to

"The fact stands thus, however."

"Impossible! How, in what manner can I have ever been indiscreet to such
an extent?"

"I mean, that your eyes, your looks, your sighs, proclaim, in spite of
yourself, that exaggerated feeling which leads and hurries a man beyond
his own control. In such a case he ceases to be master of himself; he is
a prey to a mad passion, that makes him confide his grief to the trees,
or to the air, from the very moment he has no longer any living being in
reach of his voice. Besides, remember this: it very rarely happens that
there is not always some one present to hear, especially the very things
which ought _not_ to be heard." De Guiche uttered a deep sigh. "Nay,"
continued Bragelonne, "you distress me; since your return here, you have

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