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Chapter 44

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
Guiche."

"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
do."

"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
pretend."

"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?"

"Perfectly."

"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
please."

"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
ideas."

"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.

"How?"

"Listen."

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
about."

"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."

Alexandre Dumas pere