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Chapter 48

Chapter XLVIII:
Fontainebleau at Two o'Clock in the Morning.

As we have seen, Saint-Aignan had quitted the king's apartment at the
very moment the superintendent entered it. Saint-Aignan was charged with
a mission that required dispatch, and he was going to do his utmost to
turn his time to the best advantage. He whom we have introduced as the
king's friend was indeed an uncommon personage; he was one of those
valuable courtiers whose vigilance and acuteness of perception threw all
other favorites into the shade, and counterbalanced, by his close
attention, the servility of Dangeau, who was not the favorite, but the
toady of the king. M. de Saint-Aignan began to think what was to be done
in the present position of affairs. He reflected that his first
information ought to come from De Guiche. He therefore set out in search
of him, but De Guiche, whom we saw disappear behind one of the wings, and
who seemed to have returned to his own apartments, had not entered the
chateau. Saint-Aignan therefore went in quest of him, and after having
turned, and twisted, and searched in every direction, he perceived
something like a human form leaning against a tree. This figure was as
motionless as a statue, and seemed deeply engaged in looking at a window,
although its curtains were closely drawn. As this window happened to be
Madame's, Saint-Aignan concluded that the form in question must be that
of De Guiche. He advanced cautiously, and found he was not mistaken. De
Guiche had, after his conversation with Madame, carried away such a
weight of happiness, that all of his strength of mind was hardly
sufficient to enable him to support it. On his side, Saint-Aignan knew
that De Guiche had had something to do with La Valliere's introduction to
Madame's household, for a courtier knows everything and forgets nothing;
but he had never learned under what title or conditions De Guiche had
conferred his protection upon La Valliere. But, as in asking a great
many questions it is singular if a man does not learn something, Saint-
Aignan reckoned upon learning much or little, as the case might be, if he
questioned De Guiche with that extreme tact, and, at the same time, with
that persistence in attaining an object, of which he was capable. Saint-
Aignan's plan was as follows: If the information obtained was
satisfactory, he would inform the king, with alacrity, that he had
lighted upon a pearl, and claim the privilege of setting the pearl in
question in the royal crown. If the information were unsatisfactory, -
which, after all, might be possible, - he would examine how far the king
cared about La Valliere, and make use of his information in such a manner
as to get rid of the girl altogether, and thereby obtain all the merit of
her banishment with all the ladies of the court who might have the least
pretensions to the king's heart, beginning with Madame and finishing with
the queen. In case the king should show himself obstinate in his fancy,
then he would not produce the damaging information he had obtained, but
would let La Valliere know that this damaging information was carefully
preserved in a secret drawer of her confidant's memory. In this manner,
he would be able to air his generosity before the poor girl's eyes, and
so keep her in constant suspense between gratitude and apprehension, to
such an extent as to make her a friend at court, interested, as an
accomplice, in trying to make his fortune, while she was making her own.
As far as concerned the day when the bombshell of the past should burst,
if ever there were any occasion, Saint-Aignan promised himself that he
would by that time have taken all possible precautions, and would pretend
an entire ignorance of the matter to the king; while, with regard to La
Valliere, he would still have an opportunity of being considered the
personification of generosity. It was with such ideas as these, which
the fire of covetousness had caused to dawn in half an hour, that Saint-
Aignan, the son of earth, as La Fontaine would have said, determined to
get De Guiche into conversation: in other words, to trouble him in his
happiness - a happiness of which Saint-Aignan was quite ignorant. It was
long past one o'clock in the morning when Saint-Aignan perceived De
Guiche, standing, motionless, leaning against the trunk of a tree, with
his eyes fastened upon the lighted window, - the sleepiest hour of night-
time, which painters crown with myrtles and budding poppies, the hour
when eyes are heavy, hearts throb, and heads feel dull and languid - an
hour which casts upon the day which has passed away a look of regret,
while addressing a loving greeting to the dawning light. For De Guiche
it was the dawn of unutterable happiness; he would have bestowed a
treasure upon a beggar, had one stood before him, to secure him
uninterrupted indulgence in his dreams. It was precisely at this hour
that Saint-Aignan, badly advised, - selfishness always counsels badly, -
came and struck him on the shoulder, at the very moment he was murmuring
a word, or rather a name.

"Ah!" he cried loudly, "I was looking for you."

"For me?" said De Guiche, starting.

"Yes; and I find you seemingly moon-struck. Is it likely, my dear comte,
you have been attacked by a poetical malady, and are making verses?"

The young man forced a smile upon his lips, while a thousand conflicting
sensations were muttering defiance of Saint-Aignan in the deep recesses
of his heart. "Perhaps," he said. "But by what happy chance - "

"Ah! your remark shows that you did not hear what I said."

"How so?"

"Why, I began by telling you I was looking for you."

"You were looking for me?"

"Yes: and I find you now in the very act."

"Of doing what, I should like to know?"

"Of singing the praises of Phyllis."

"Well, I do not deny it," said De Guiche, laughing. "Yes, my dear comte,
I was celebrating Phyllis's praises."

"And you have acquired the right to do so."

"I?"

"You; no doubt of it. You; the intrepid protector of every beautiful and clever
woman."

"In the name of goodness, what story have you got hold of now?"

"Acknowledged truths, I am well aware. But stay a moment; I am in love."

"You?"

"Yes."

"So much the better, my dear comte; tell me all about it." And De
Guiche, afraid that Saint-Aignan might perhaps presently observe the
window, where the light was still burning, took the comte's arm and
endeavored to lead him away.

"Oh!" said the latter, resisting, "do not take me towards those dark
woods, it is too damp there. Let us stay in the moonlight." And while
he yielded to the pressure of De Guiche's arm, he remained in the flower-
garden adjoining the chateau.

"Well," said De Guiche, resigning himself, "lead me where you like, and
ask me what you please."

"It is impossible to be more agreeable than you are." And then, after a
moment's silence, Saint-Aignan continued, "I wish you to tell me
something about a certain person in who you have interested yourself."

"And with whom you are in love?"

"I will neither admit nor deny it. You understand that a man does not
very readily place his heart where there is no hope of return, and that
it is most essential he should take measures of security in advance."

"You are right," said De Guiche with a sigh; "a man's heart is a very
precious gift."

"Mine particularly is very tender, and in that light I present it to you."

"Oh! you are well known, comte. Well?"

"It is simply a question of Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente."

"Why, my dear Saint-Aignan, you are losing your senses, I should think."

"Why so?"

"I have never shown or taken any interest in Mademoiselle de Tonnay-
Charente."

"Bah!"

"Never."

"Did you not obtain admission for Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente into
Madame's household?"

"Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente - and you ought to know it better than
any one else, my dear comte - is of a sufficiently good family to make
her presence here desirable, and her admittance very easy."

"You are jesting."

"No; and upon my honor I do not know what you mean."

"And you had nothing, then, to do with her admission?"

"No."

"You do not know her?"

"I saw her for the first time the day she was presented to Madame.
Therefore, as I have never taken any interest in her, as I do not know
her, I am not able to give you the information you require." And De
Guiche made a movement as though he were about to leave his questioner.

"Nay, nay, one moment, my dear comte," said Saint-Aignan; "you shall not
escape me in this manner."

"Why, really, it seems to me that it is now time to return to our
apartments."

"And yet you were not going in when I - did not meet, but found you."

"Therefore, my dear comte," said De Guiche, "as long as you have anything
to say to me, I place myself entirely at your service."

"And you are quite right in doing so. What matters half an hour more or
less? Will you swear that you have no injurious communications to make
to me about her, and that any injurious communications you might possibly
have to make are not the cause of your silence?"

"Oh! I believe the poor child to be as pure as crystal."

"You overwhelm me with joy. And yet I do not wish to have towards you
the appearance of a man so badly informed as I seem. It is quite certain
that you supplied the princess's household with the ladies of honor.
Nay, a song has even been written about it."

"Oh! songs are written about everything."

"Do you know it?"

"No: sing it to me and I shall make its acquaintance."

"I cannot tell you how it begins; I only remember how it ends."

"Very well, at all events, that is something."

"When Maids of Honor happen to run short,
Lo! - Guiche will furnish the entire Court."

"The idea is weak, and the rhyme poor," said De Guiche.

"What can you expect, my dear fellow? it is not Racine's or Moliere's,
but La Feuillade's; and a great lord cannot rhyme like a beggarly poet."

"It is very unfortunate, though, that you only remember the termination."

"Stay, stay, I have just recollected the beginning of the second couplet."

"Why, there's the birdcage, with a pretty pair,
The charming Montalais, and..."

"And La Valliere," exclaimed Guiche, impatiently, and completely ignorant
besides of Saint-Aignan's object.

"Yes, yes, you have it. You have hit upon the word, 'La Valliere.'"

"A grand discovery indeed."

"Montalais and La Valliere, these, then, are the two young girls in whom
you interest yourself," said Saint-Aignan, laughing.

"And so Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente's name is not to be met with in
the song?"

"No, indeed."

"And are you satisfied, then?"

"Perfectly; but I find Montalais there," said Saint-Aignan, still
laughing.

"Oh! you will find her everywhere. She is a singularly active young
lady."

"You know her?"

"Indirectly. She was the _protegee_ of a man named Malicorne, who is a
_protegee_ of Manicamp's; Manicamp asked me to get the situation of maid
of honor for Montalais in Madame's household, and a situation for
Malicorne as an officer in Monsieur's household. Well, I asked for the
appointments, for you know very well that I have a weakness for that
droll fellow Manicamp."

"And you obtained what you sought?"

"For Montalais, yes; for Malicorne, yes and no; for as yet he is only on
trial. Do you wish to know anything else?"

"The last word of the couplet still remains, La Valliere," said Saint-
Aignan, resuming the smile that so tormented Guiche.

"Well," said the latter, "it is true that I obtained admission for her
in Madame's household."

"Ah!" said Saint-Aignan.

"But," continued Guiche, assuming a great coldness of manner, "you will
oblige me, comte, not to jest about that name. Mademoiselle la Baume le
Blanc de la Valliere is a young lady perfectly well-conducted."

"Perfectly well-conducted do you say?"

"Yes."

"Then you have not heard the last rumor?" exclaimed Saint-Aignan.

"No, and you will do me a service, my dear comte, in keeping this report
to yourself and to those who circulate it."

"Ah! bah! you take the matter up very seriously."

"Yes; Mademoiselle de Valliere is beloved by one of my best friends."

Saint-Aignan started. "Aha!" he said.

"Yes, comte," continued Guiche; "and consequently, you, the most
distinguished man in France for polished courtesy of manner, will
understand that I cannot allow my friend to be placed in a ridiculous
position."

Saint-Aignan began to bite his nails, partially from vexation, and
partially from disappointed curiosity. Guiche made him a very profound
bow.

"You send me away," said Saint-Aignan, who was dying to know the name of
the friend.

"I do not send you away, my dear fellow. I am going to finish my lines
to Phyllis."

"And those lines - "

"Are a _quatrain_. You understand, I trust, that a _quatrain_ is a
serious affair?"

"Of course."

"And as, of these four lines, of which it is composed, I have yet three
and a half to make, I need my undivided attention."

"I quite understand. Adieu! comte. By the by - "

"What?"

"Are you quick at making verses?"

"Wonderfully so."

"Will you have quite finished the three lines and a half to-morrow
morning?"

"I _hope_ so."

"Adieu, then, until to-morrow."

"Adieu, adieu!"

Saint-Aignan was obliged to accept the notice to quit; he accordingly did
so, and disappeared behind the hedge. Their conversation had led Guiche
and Saint-Aignan a good distance from the chateau.

Every mathematician, every poet, and every dreamer has his own subjects
of interest. Saint-Aignan, on leaving Guiche, found himself at the
extremity of the grove, - at the very spot where the outbuildings of the
servants begin, and where, behind the thickets of acacias and chestnut-
trees interlacing their branches, which were hidden by masses of clematis
and young vines, the wall which separated the woods from the courtyard
was erected. Saint-Aignan, alone, took the path which led towards these
buildings; De Guiche going off in the opposite direction. The one
proceeded to the flower-garden, while the other bent his steps towards
the walls. Saint-Aignan walked on between rows of mountain-ash, lilac,
and hawthorn, which formed an almost impenetrable roof above his head;
his feet were buried in the soft gravel and thick moss. He was
deliberating a means of taking his revenge, which seemed difficult for
him to carry out, and was vexed with himself for not having learned more
about La Valliere, notwithstanding the ingenious measures he had resorted
to in order to acquire more information about her, when suddenly the
murmur of a human voice attracted his attention. He heard whispers, the
complaining tones of a woman's voice mingled with entreaties, smothered
laughter, sighs, and half-stilted exclamations of surprise; but above
them all, the woman's voice prevailed. Saint-Aignan stopped to look
about him; he perceived from the greatest surprise that the voices
proceeded, not from the ground, but from the branches of the trees. As
he glided along under the covered walk, he raised his head, and observed
at the top of the wall a woman perched upon a ladder, in eager
conversation with a man seated on a branch of a chestnut-tree, whose head
alone could be seen, the rest of his body being concealed in the thick
covert of the chestnut.

Alexandre Dumas pere