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Chapter 45

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
me?"

"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
a thousand times, and in a thousand different ways, confessed your love
for her; and yet, had you not said one word, your return alone would have
been a terrible indiscretion. I persist, then, in drawing this
conclusion; that if you do not place a better watch over yourself than
you have hitherto done, one day or other something will happen that will
cause an explosion. Who will save you then? Answer me. Who will save
her? for, innocent as she will be of your affection, your affection will
be an accusation against her in the hands of her enemies."

"Alas!" murmured De Guiche; and a deep sigh accompanied the exclamation.

"That is not answering me, De Guiche."

"Yes, yes."

"Well, what reply have you to make?"

"This, that when the day arrives I shall be no more a living being than I
feel myself now."

"I do not understand you."

"So many vicissitudes have worn me out. At present, I am no more a
thinking, acting being; at present, the most worthless of men is better
than I am; my remaining strength is exhausted, my latest-formed
resolutions have vanished, and I abandon myself to my fate. When a man
is out campaigning, as we have been together, and he sets off alone and
unaccompanied for a skirmish, it sometimes happens that he may meet with
a party of five or six foragers, and although alone, he defends himself;
afterwards, five or six others arrive unexpectedly, his anger is aroused
and he persists; but if six, eight, or ten others should still be met
with, he either sets spurs to his horse, if he should still happen to
retain one, or lets himself be slain to save an ignominious flight.
Such, indeed, is my own case: first, I had to struggle against myself;
afterwards, against Buckingham; now, since the king is in the field, I
will not contend against the king, nor even, I wish you to understand,
will the king retire; nor even against the nature of that woman. Still I
do not deceive myself; having devoted myself to the service of such a
love, I will lose my life in it."

"It is not the lady you ought to reproach," replied Raoul; "it is
yourself."

"Why so?"

"You know the princess's character, - somewhat giddy, easily captivated
by novelty, susceptible to flattery, whether it come from a blind person
or a child, and yet you allow your passion for her to eat your very life
away. Look at her, - love her, if you will, - for no one whose heart is
not engaged elsewhere can see her without loving her. Yet, while you
love her, respect, in the first place, her husband's rank, then herself,
and lastly, your own safety."

"Thanks, Raoul."

"What for?"

"Because, seeing how much I suffer through this woman, you endeavor to
console me, because you tell me all the good of her you think, and
perhaps even that which you do not think."

"Oh," said Raoul, "there you are wrong, comte; what I think I do not
always say, but in that case I say nothing; but when I speak, I know not
how to feign or to deceive; and whoever listens to me may believe me."

During this conversation, Madame, her head stretched forward with eager
ear and dilated glance, endeavoring to penetrate the obscurity, thirstily
drank in the faintest sound of their voices.

"Oh, I know her better than you do, then!" exclaimed Guiche. "She is not
merely giddy, but frivolous; she is not only attracted by novelty, she is
utterly oblivious, and is without faith; she is not simply susceptible to
flattery, she is a practiced and cruel coquette. A thorough coquette!
yes, yes, I am sure of it. Believe me, Bragelonne, I am suffering all
the torments of hell; brave, passionately fond of danger, I meet a danger
greater than my strength and my courage. But, believe me, Raoul, I
reserve for myself a victory which shall cost her floods of tears."

"A victory," he asked, "and of what kind?"

"Of what kind, you ask?"

"Yes."

"One day I will accost her, and will address her thus: 'I was young
madly in love, I possessed, however, sufficient respect to throw myself
at your feet, and to prostrate myself in the dust, if your looks had not
raised me to your hand. I fancied I understood your looks, I rose, and
then, without having done anything more towards you than love you yet
more devotedly, if that were possible - you, a woman without heart,
faith, or love, in very wantonness, dashed me down again from sheer
caprice. You are unworthy, princess of the royal blood though you may
be, of the love of a man of honor; I offer my life as a sacrifice for
having loved you too tenderly, and I die despairing you.'"

"Oh!" cried Raoul, terrified at the accents of profound truth which De
Guiche's words betrayed, "I was right in saying you were mad, Guiche."

"Yes, yes," exclaimed De Guiche, following out his own idea; "since there
are no wars here now, I will flee yonder to the north, seek service in
the Empire, where some Hungarian, or Croat, or Turk, will perhaps kindly
put me out of my misery." De Guiche did not finish, or rather as he
finished, a sound made him start, and at the same moment caused Raoul to
leap to his feet. As for De Guiche, buried in his own thoughts, he
remained seated, with his head tightly pressed between his hands. The
branches of the tree were pushed aside, and a woman, pale and much
agitated, appeared before the two young men. With one hand she held back
the branches, which would have struck her face, and, with the other, she
raised the hood of the mantle which covered her shoulders. By her clear
and lustrous glance, by her lofty carriage, by her haughty attitude, and,
more than all that, by the throbbing of his own heart, De Guiche
recognized Madame, and, uttering a loud cry, he removed his hands from
his temple, and covered his eyes with them. Raoul, trembling and out of
countenance, merely muttered a few words of respect.

"Monsieur de Bragelonne," said the princess, "have the goodness, I beg,
to see if my attendants are not somewhere yonder, either in the walks or
in the groves; and you, M. de Guiche, remain here: I am tired, and you
will perhaps give me your arm."

Had a thunderbolt fallen at the feet of the unhappy young man, he would
have been less terrified than by her cold and severe tone. However, as
he himself had just said, he was brave; and as in the depths of his own
heart he had just decisively made up his mind, De Guiche arose, and,
observing Bragelonne's hesitation, he turned towards him a glance full of
resignation and grateful acknowledgement. Instead of immediately
answering Madame, he even advanced a step towards the vicomte, and
holding out the arm which the princess had just desired him to give her,
he pressed his friend's hand in his own, with a sigh, in which he seemed
to give to friendship all the life that was left in the depths of his
heart. Madame, who in her pride had never known what it was to wait, now
waited until this mute colloquy was at an end. Her royal hand remained
suspended in the air, and, when Raoul had left, it sank without anger,
but not without emotion, in that of De Guiche. They were alone in the
depths of the dark and silent forest, and nothing could be heard but
Raoul's hastily retreating footsteps along the obscure paths. Over their
heads was extended the thick and fragrant vault of branches, through the
occasional openings of which the stars could be seen glittering in their
beauty. Madame softly drew De Guiche about a hundred paces away from
that indiscreet tree which had heard, and had allowed so many things to
be heard, during the evening, and, leading him to a neighboring glade, so
that they could see a certain distance around them, she said in a
trembling voice, "I have brought you here, because yonder where you were,
everything can be overheard."

"Everything can be overheard, did you say, Madame?" replied the young
man, mechanically.

"Yes."

"Which means - " murmured De Guiche.

"Which means that I have heard every syllable you have said."

"Oh, Heaven! this only was wanting to destroy me," stammered De Guiche;
and he bent down his head, like an exhausted swimmer beneath the wave
which engulfs him.

"And so," she said, "you judge me as you have said?" De Guiche grew
pale, turned his head aside, and was silent. He felt almost on the point
of fainting.

"I do not complain," continued the princess, in a tone of voice full of
gentleness; "I prefer a frankness that wounds me, to flattery, which
would deceive me. And so, according to your opinion, M. de Guiche, I am
a coquette, an a worthless creature."

"Worthless," cried the young man; "you worthless! Oh, no; most certainly
I did not say, I could not have said, that that which was the most
precious object in life for me could be worthless. No, no; I did not say
that."

"A woman who sees a man perish, consumed by the fire she has kindled, and
who does not allay that fire, is, in my opinion, a worthless woman."

"What can it matter to you what I said?" returned the comte. "What am I
compared to you, and why should you even trouble yourself to know whether
I exist or not?"

"Monsieur de Guiche, both you and I are human beings, and, knowing you as
I do, I do not wish you to risk your life; with you I will change my
conduct and character. I will be, not frank, for I am always so, but
truthful. I implore you, therefore, to love me no more, and to forget
utterly that I have ever addressed a word or a glance towards you."

De Guiche turned around, bending a look full of passionate devotion upon
her. "You," he said; "_you_ excuse yourself; _you_ implore me?"

"Certainly; since I have done evil, I ought to repair the evil I have
done. And so, comte, this is what we will agree to. You will forgive my
frivolity and my coquetry. Nay, do not interrupt me. I will forgive you
for having said I was frivolous and a coquette, or something worse,
perhaps; and you will renounce your idea of dying, and will preserve for
your family, for the king, and for our sex, a cavalier whom every one
esteems, and whom many hold dear." Madame pronounced this last word in
such an accent of frankness, and even of tenderness, that poor De
Guiche's heart felt almost bursting.

"Oh! Madame, Madame!" he stammered out.

"Nay, listen further," she continued. "When you shall have renounced all
thought of me forever, from necessity in the first place, and, next,
because you will yield to my entreaty, then you will judge me more
favorably, and I am convinced you will replace this love - forgive the
frivolity of the expression - by a sincere friendship, which you will be
ready to offer me, and which, I promise you, shall be cordially accepted."

De Guiche, his forehead bedewed with perspiration, a feeling of death in
his heart, and a trembling agitation through his whole frame, bit his
lip, stamped his foot on the ground, and, in a word, devoured the
bitterness of his grief. "Madame," he said, "what you offer is
impossible, and I cannot accept such conditions."

"What!" said Madame, "do you refuse my friendship, then?"

"No, no! I do not need your friendship, Madame. I prefer to die from
love, than to live for friendship."

"Comte!"

"Oh! Madame," cried De Guiche, "the present is a moment for me, in which
no other consideration and no other respect exist, than the consideration
and respect of a man of honor towards the woman he worships. Drive me
away, curse me, denounce me, you will be perfectly right. I have uttered
complaints against you, but their bitterness has been owing to my passion
for you; I have said I wish to die, and die I will. If I lived, you
would forget me; but dead, you would never forget me, I am sure."

Henrietta, who was standing buried in thought, and nearly as agitated as
De Guiche himself, turned aside her head as but a minute before he had
turned aside his. Then, after a moment's pause, she said, "And you love
me, then, very much?"

"Madly; madly enough to die from it, whether you drive me from you, or
whether you listen to me still."

"It is a hopeless case," she said, in a playful manner; "a case which
must be treated with soothing application. Give me your hand. It is as
cold as ice." De Guiche knelt down, and pressed to his lips, not one,
but both of Madame's hands.

"Love me, then," said the princess, "since it cannot be otherwise." And
almost imperceptibly she pressed his fingers, raising him thus, partly in
the manner of a queen, and partly as a fond and affectionate woman would
have done. De Guiche trembled from head to foot, and Madame, who felt
how passion coursed through every fiber of his being, knew that he indeed
loved truly. "Give me your arm, comte," she said, "and let us return."

"Ah! Madame," said the comte, trembling and bewildered; "you have
discovered a third way of killing me."

"But, happily, it is the slowest way, is it not?" she replied, as she led
him towards the grove of trees they had so lately quitted.

Alexandre Dumas pere