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Chapter 14

Chapter XIV:
A Surprise for Raoul.

Madame's marriage was celebrated in the chapel of the Palais Royal, in
the presence of a crowd of courtiers, who had been most scrupulously
selected. However, notwithstanding the marked favor which an invitation
indicated, Raoul, faithful to his promise to Malicorne, who was so
anxious to witness the ceremony, obtained admission for him. After he
had fulfilled this engagement, Raoul approached De Guiche, who, as if in
contrast with his magnificent costume, exhibited a countenance so utterly
dejected, that the Duke of Buckingham was the only one present who could
contend with him as far as pallor and discomfiture were concerned.

"Take care, count," said Raoul, approaching his friend, and preparing to
support him at the moment the archbishop blessed the married couple. In
fact, the Prince of Conde was attentively scrutinizing these two images
of desolation, standing like caryatides on either side of the nave of the
church. The count, after that, kept a more careful watch over himself.

At the termination of the ceremony, the king and queen passed onward
towards the grand reception-room, where Madame and her suite were to be
presented to them. It was remarked that the king, who had seemed more
than surprised at his sister-in-law's appearance, was most flattering in
his compliments to her. Again, it was remarked that the queen-mother,
fixing a long and thoughtful gaze upon Buckingham, leaned towards Madame
de Motteville as though to ask her, "Do you not see how much he resembles
his father?" and finally it was remarked that Monsieur watched everybody,
and seemed quite discontented. After the reception of the princess and
ambassadors, Monsieur solicited the king's permission to present to him
as well as to Madame the persons belonging to their new household.

"Are you aware, vicomte," inquired the Prince de Conde of Raoul, "whether
the household has been selected by a person of taste, and whether there
are any faces worth looking at?"

"I have not the slightest idea, monseigneur," replied Raoul.

"You affect ignorance, surely."

"In what way, monseigneur?"

"You are a friend of De Guiche, who is one of the friends of the prince."

"That may be so, monseigneur; but the matter having no interest whatever
for me, I have never questioned De Guiche on the subject; and De Guiche,
on his part, never having been questioned, did not communicate any
particulars to me."

"But Manicamp?"

"It is true I saw Manicamp at Le Havre, and during the journey here, but
I was no more inquisitive with him than I had been towards De Guiche.
Besides, is it likely that Manicamp should know anything of such matters?
for he is a person of only secondary importance."

"My dear vicomte, do you not know better than that?" said the prince;
"why, it is these persons of secondary importance, who, on such
occasions, have all the influence; and the truth is, that nearly
everything has been done through Manicamp's presentations to De Guiche,
and through De Guiche to Monsieur."

"I assure you, monseigneur, I was ignorant of that," said Raoul, "and
what your highness does me the honor to impart is perfectly new to me."

"I will most readily believe you, although it seems incredible; besides
we shall not have long to wait. See, the flying squadron is advancing,
as good Queen Catherine used to say. Ah! ah! what pretty faces!"

A bevy of young girls at this moment entered the _salon_, conducted by
Madame de Navailles, and to Manicamp's credit be it said, if indeed he
had taken that part in their selection which the Prince de Conde assigned
him, it was a display calculated to dazzle those who, like the prince,
could appreciate every character and style of beauty. A young, fair-
complexioned girl, from twenty to one-and-twenty years of age, and whose
large blue eyes flashed, as she opened them, in the most dazzling manner,
walked at the head of the band and was the first presented.

"Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente," said Madame de Navailles to Monsieur,
who, as he saluted his wife, repeated "Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente."

"Ah! ah!" said the Prince de Conde to Raoul, "she is presentable enough."

"Yes," said Raoul, "but has she not a somewhat haughty style?"

"Bah! we know these airs very well, vicomte; three months hence she will
be tame enough. But look, there, indeed, is a pretty face."

"Yes," said Raoul, "and one I am acquainted with."

"Mademoiselle Aure de Montalais," said Madame de Navailles. The name and
Christian name were carefully repeated by Monsieur.

"Great heavens!" exclaimed Raoul, fixing his bewildered gaze upon the
entrance doorway.

"What's the matter?" inquired the prince; "was it Mademoiselle Aure de
Montalais who made you utter such a 'Great heavens'?"

"No, monseigneur, no," replied Raoul, pale and trembling.

"Well, then, if it be not Mademoiselle Aure de Montalais, it is that
pretty _blonde_ who follows her. What beautiful eyes! She is rather
thin, but has fascinations without number."

"Mademoiselle de la Baume le Blanc de la Valliere!" said Madame de
Navailles; and, as this name resounded through his whole being, a cloud
seemed to rise from his breast to his eyes, so that he neither saw nor
heard anything more; and the prince, finding him nothing more than a mere
echo which remained silent under his railleries, moved forward to inspect
somewhat closer the beautiful girls whom his first glance had already
particularized.

"Louise here! Louise a maid of honor to Madame!" murmured Raoul, and his
eyes, which did not suffice to satisfy his reason, wandered from Louise
to Montalais. The latter had already emancipated herself from her
assumed timidity, which she only needed for the presentation and for her
reverences.

Mademoiselle de Montalais, from the corner of the room to which she had
retired, was looking with no slight confidence at the different persons
present; and, having discovered Raoul, she amused herself with the
profound astonishment which her own and her friend's presence there
caused the unhappy lover. Her waggish and malicious look, which Raoul
tried to avoid meeting, and which yet he sought inquiringly from time to
time, placed him on the rack. As for Louise, whether from natural
timidity, or some other reason for which Raoul could not account, she
kept her eyes constantly cast down; intimidated, dazzled, and with
impeded respiration, she withdrew herself as much as possible aside,
unaffected even by the nudges Montalais gave her with her elbow. The
whole scene was a perfect enigma for Raoul, the key to which he would
have given anything to obtain. But no one was there who could assist
him, not even Malicorne; who, a little uneasy at finding himself in the
presence of so many persons of good birth, and not a little discouraged
by Montalais's bantering glances, had described a circle, and by degrees
succeeded in getting a few paces from the prince, behind the group of
maids of honor, and nearly within reach of Mademoiselle Aure's voice, she
being the planet around which he, as her attendant satellite, seemed
constrained to gravitate. As he recovered his self-possession, Raoul
fancied he recognized voices on his right hand side that were familiar to
him, and he perceived De Wardes, De Guiche, and the Chevalier de Lorraine
conversing together. It is true they were talking in tones so low, that
the sound of their words could hardly be heard in the vast apartment. To
speak in that manner from any particular place without bending down, or
turning round, or looking at the person with whom one may be engaged in
conversation, is a talent that cannot be immediately acquired by
newcomers. Long study is needed for such conversations, which, without a
look, gesture, or movement of the head, seem like the conversation of a
group of statues. In fact, the king's and queen's grand assemblies,
while their majesties were speaking, and while every one present seemed
to be listening in the midst of the most profound silence, some of these
noiseless conversations took place, in which adulation was not the
prevailing feature. But Raoul was one among others exceedingly clever in
this art, so much a matter of etiquette, that from the movement of the
lips, he was often able to guess the sense of the words.

"Who is that Montalais?" inquired De Wardes, "and that La Valliere? What
country-town have we had sent here?"

"Montalais?" said the chevalier, - "oh, I know her; she is a good sort of
girl, whom we shall find amusing enough. La Valliere is a charming girl,
slightly lame."

"Ah! bah!" said De Wardes.

"Do not be absurd, De Wardes, there are some very characteristic and
ingenious Latin axioms about lame ladies."

"Gentlemen, gentlemen," said De Guiche, looking at Raoul with uneasiness,
"be a little careful, I entreat you."

But the uneasiness of the count, in appearance at least, was not needed.
Raoul had preserved the firmest and most indifferent countenance,
although he had not lost a word that passed. He seemed to keep an
account of the insolence and license of the two speakers in order to
settle matters with them at the earliest opportunity.

De Wardes seemed to guess what was passing in his mind, and continued:

"Who are these young ladies' lovers?"

"Montalais's lover?" said the chevalier.

"Yes, Montalais first."

"You, I, or De Guiche, - whoever likes, in fact."

"And the other?"

"Mademoiselle de la Valliere?"

"Yes."

"Take care, gentlemen," exclaimed De Guiche, anxious to put a stop to the
chevalier's reply; "take care, Madame is listening to us."

Raoul had thrust his hand up to the wrist into his _justaucorps_ in great
agitation. But the very malignity which he saw was excited against these
poor girls made him take a serious resolution. "Poor Louise," he
thought, "has come here only with an honorable object in view, and under
honorable protection; and I must learn what that object is which she has
in view, and who it is that protects her." And following Malicorne's
maneuver, he made his way toward the group of the maids of honor. The
presentations were soon over. The king, who had done nothing but look at
and admire Madame, shortly afterwards left the reception-room,
accompanied by the two queens. The Chevalier de Lorraine resumed his
place beside Monsieur, and, as he accompanied him, insinuated a few drops
of the venom he had collected during the last hour, while looking at some
of the faces in the court, and suspecting that some of their hearts might
be happy. A few of the persons present followed the king as he quitted
the apartment; but such of the courtiers as assumed an independence of
character, and professed a gallantry of disposition, began to approach
the ladies of the court. The prince paid his compliments to Mademoiselle
de Tonnay-Charente, Buckingham devoted himself to Madame Chalais and
Mademoiselle de Lafayette, whom Madame already distinguished by her
notice, and whom she held in high regard. As for the Comte de Guiche,
who had abandoned Monsieur as soon as he could approach Madame alone, he
conversed, with great animation, with Madame de Valentinois, and with
Mademoiselle de Crequy and de Chatillon.

Amid these varied political, and amorous interests, Malicorne was anxious
to gain Montalais's attention; but the latter preferred talking with
Raoul, even if it were only to amuse herself with his innumerable
questions and his astonishment. Raoul had gone directly to Mademoiselle
de la Valliere, and had saluted her with the profoundest respect, at
which Louise blushed, and could not say a word. Montalais, however,
hurried to her assistance.

"Well, monsieur le vicomte, here we are, you see."

"I do, indeed, see you," said Raoul smiling, "and it is exactly because
you are here that I wish to ask for some explanation."

Malicorne approached the group with his most fascinating smile.

"Go away, Malicorne; really you are exceedingly indiscreet." At this
remark Malicorne bit his lips and retired a few steps, without making any
reply. His smile, however, changed its expression, and from its former
frankness, became mocking in its expression.

"You wished for an explanation, M. Raoul?" inquired Montalais.

"It is surely worth one, I think; Mademoiselle de la Valliere is a maid
of honor to Madame!"

"Why should she not be a maid of honor, as well as myself?" inquired
Montalais.

"Pray accept my compliments, young ladies," said Raoul, who fancied he
perceived they were not disposed to answer him in a direct manner.

"Your remark was not made in a very complimentary manner, vicomte."

"Mine?"

"Certainly; I appeal to Louise."

"M. de Bragelonne probably thinks the position is above my condition,"
said Louise, hesitatingly.

"Assuredly not," replied Raoul, eagerly, "you know very well that such is
not my feeling; were you called upon to occupy a queen's throne, I should
not be surprised; how much greater reason, then, such a position as
this? The only circumstance that amazes me is, that I should have
learned it only to-day, and that by the merest accident."

"That is true," replied Montalais, with her usual giddiness; "you know
nothing about it, and there is no reason you should. M. de Bragelonne
had written several letters to you, but your mother was the only person
who remained behind at Blois, and it was necessary to prevent these
letters from falling into her hands; I intercepted them, and returned
them to M. Raoul, so that he believed you were still at Blois while you
were here in Paris, and had no idea whatever, indeed, how high you had
risen in rank."

"Did you not inform M. Raoul, as I begged you to do?"

"Why should I? to give him opportunity of making some of his severe
remarks and moral reflections, and to undo what we have had so much
trouble in effecting? Certainly not."

"Am I so very severe, then?" said Raoul, inquiringly.

"Besides," said Montalais, "it is sufficient to say that it suited me. I
was about setting off for Paris - you were away; Louise was weeping her
eyes out; interpret that as you please; I begged a friend, a protector of
mine, who had obtained the appointment for me, to solicit one for Louise;
the appointment arrived. Louise left in order to get her costume
prepared; as I had my own ready, I remained behind; I received your
letters, and returned them to you, adding a few words, promising you a
surprise. Your surprise is before you, monsieur, and seems to be a fair
one enough; you have nothing more to ask. Come, M. Malicorne, it is now
time to leave these young people together: they have many things to talk
about; give me your hand; I trust that you appreciate the honor conferred
upon you, M. Malicorne."

"Forgive me," said Raoul, arresting the giddy girl, and giving to his
voice an intonation, the gravity of which contrasted with that of
Montalais; "forgive me, but may I inquire the name of the protector you
speak of; for if protection be extended towards you, Mademoiselle de
Montalais, - for which, indeed, so many reasons exist," added Raoul,
bowing, "I do not see that the same reasons exist why Mademoiselle de la
Valliere should be similarly cared for."

"But, M. Raoul," said Louise, innocently, "there is no difference in the
matter, and I do not see why I should not tell it you myself; it was M.
Malicorne who obtained it for me."

Raoul remained for a moment almost stupefied, asking himself if they were
trifling with him; he then turned round to interrogate Malicorne, but he
had been hurried away by Montalais, and was already at some distance from
them. Mademoiselle de la Valliere attempted to follow her friend, but
Raoul, with gentle authority, detained her.

"Louise, one word, I beg."

"But, M. Raoul, " said Louise, blushing, "we are alone. Every one has
left. They will become anxious, and will be looking for us."

"Fear nothing," said the young man, smiling, "we are neither of us of
sufficient importance for our absence to be remarked."

"But I have my duty to perform, M. Raoul."

"Do not be alarmed, I am acquainted with these usages of the court; you
will not be on duty until to-morrow; a few minutes are at your disposal,
which will enable you to give me the information I am about to have the
honor to ask you for."

"How serious you are, M. Raoul!" said Louise.

"Because the circumstances are serious. Are you listening?"

"I am listening; I would only repeat, monsieur, that we are quite alone."

"You are right," said Raoul, and, offering her his hand, he led the young
girl into the gallery adjoining the reception-room, the windows of which
looked out upon the courtyard. Every one hurried towards the middle
window, which had a balcony outside, from which all the details of the
slow and formal preparations for departure could be seen. Raoul opened
one of the side windows, and then, being alone with Louise, said to her:
"You know, Louise, that from my childhood I have regarded you as my
sister, as one who has been the confidante of all my troubles, to whom I
have entrusted all my hopes."

"Yes, M. Raoul," she answered softly; "yes, M. Raoul, I know that."

"You used, on your side, to show the same friendship towards me, and had
the same confidence in me; why have you not, on this occasion, been my
friend, - why have you shown suspicion of me?"

Mademoiselle de la Valliere did not answer. "I fondly thought you loved
me," said Raoul, whose voice became more and more agitated; "I fondly
thought you consented to all the plans we had, together, laid down for
our own happiness, at the time when we wandered up and down the walks of
Cour-Cheverny, under the avenue of poplar trees leading to Blois. You do
not answer me, Louise. Is it possible," he inquired, breathing with
difficulty, "that you no longer love me?"

"I did not say so," replied Louise, softly.

"Oh! tell me the truth, I implore you. All my hopes in life are centered
in you. I chose you for your gentle and simple tastes. Do not suffer
yourself to be dazzled, Louise, now that you are in the midst of a court
where all that is pure too soon becomes corrupt - where all that is young
too soon grows old. Louise, close your ears, so as not to hear what may
be said; shut your eyes, so as not to see the examples before you; shut
your lips, that you may not inhale the corrupting influences about you.
Without falsehood or subterfuge, Louise, am I to believe what
Mademoiselle de Montalais stated? Louise, did you come to Paris because
I was no longer at Blois?"

La Valliere blushed and concealed her face in her hands.

"Yes, it was so, then!" exclaimed Raoul, delightedly; "that was, then,
your reason for coming here. I love you as I never yet loved you.
Thanks, Louise, for this devotion; but measures must be taken to place
you beyond all insult, to shield you from every lure. Louise, a maid of
honor, in the court of a young princess in these days of free manners and
inconstant affections - a maid of honor is placed as an object of attack
without having any means of defence afforded her; this state of things
cannot continue; you must be married in order to be respected."

"Married?"

"Yes, here is my hand, Louise; will you place yours within it?"

"But your father?"

"My father leaves me perfectly free."

"Yet - "

"I understand your scruples, Louise; I will consult my father."

"Reflect, M. Raoul; wait."

"Wait! it is impossible. Reflect, Louise, when _you_ are concerned! it
would be insulting, - give me your hand, dear Louise; I am my own
master. My father will consent, I know; give me your hand, do not
keep me waiting thus. One word in answer, one word only; if not, I shall
begin to think that, in order to change you forever, nothing more was
needed than a single step in the palace, a single breath of favor, a
smile from the queen, a look from the king."

Raoul had no sooner pronounced this latter word, than La Valliere became
as pale as death, no doubt from fear at seeing the young man excite
himself. With a movement as rapid as thought, she placed both her hands
in those of Raoul, and then fled, without adding a syllable; disappearing
without casting a look behind her. Raoul felt his whole frame tremble at
the contact of her hand; he received the compact as a solemn bargain
wrung by affection from her child-like timidity.

Alexandre Dumas pere