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Chapter 49

Chapter XLIX:
The Labyrinth.

Saint-Aignan, who had only been seeking for information, had met with an
adventure. This was indeed a piece of good luck. Curious to learn why,
and particularly what about, this man and woman were conversing at such
an hour, and in such a singular position, Saint-Aignan made himself as
small as he possibly could, and approached almost under the rounds of the
ladder. And taking measures to make himself as comfortable as possible,
he leaned his back against a tree and listened, and heard the following
conversation. The woman was the first to speak.

"Really, Monsieur Manicamp," she said, in a voice which, notwithstanding
the reproaches she addressed to him, preserved a marked tone of coquetry,
"really your indiscretion is of a very dangerous character. We cannot
talk long in this manner without being observed."

"That is very probable," said the man, in the calmest and coolest of
tones.

"In that case, then, what would people say? Oh! if any one were to see
me, I declare I should die of very shame."

"Oh! that would be very silly; I do not believe you would."

"It might have been different if there had been anything between us; but
to injure myself gratuitously is really very foolish of me; so, adieu,
Monsieur Manicamp."

"So far so good; I know the man, and now let me see who the woman is,"
said Saint-Aignan, watching the rounds of the ladder, on which were
standing two pretty little feet covered with blue satin shoes.

"Nay, nay, for pity's sake, my dear Montalais," cried Manicamp, "deuce
take it, do not go away; I have a great many things to say to you, of the
greatest importance, still."

"Montalais," said Saint-Aignan to himself, "one of the three. Each of
the three gossips had her adventure, only I imagined the hero of this
one's adventure was Malicorne and not Manicamp."

At her companion's appeal, Montalais stopped in the middle of her
descent, and Saint-Aignan could observe the unfortunate Manicamp climb
from one branch of the chestnut-tree to another, either to improve his
situation or to overcome the fatigue consequent upon his inconvenient
position.

"Now, listen to me," said he; "you quite understand, I hope, that my
intentions are perfectly innocent?"

"Of course. But why did you write me a letter stimulating my gratitude
towards you? Why did you ask me for an interview at such an hour and in
such a place as this?"

"I stimulated your gratitude in reminding you that it was I who had been
the means of your becoming attached to Madame's household; because most
anxiously desirous of obtaining the interview you have been kind enough
to grant me, I employed the means which appeared to me most certain to
insure it. And my reason for soliciting it, at such an hour and in such
a locality, was, that the hour seemed to me to be the most prudent, and
the locality the least open to observation. Moreover, I had occasion to
speak to you upon certain subjects which require both prudence and
solitude."

"Monsieur Manicamp!"

"But everything I wish to say is perfectly honorable, I assure you."

"I think, Monsieur Manicamp, it will be more becoming in me to take my
leave."

"No, no! - listen to me, or I will jump from my perch here to yours; and
be careful how you set me at defiance, for a branch of this chestnut-tree
causes me a good deal of annoyance, and may provoke me to extreme
measures. Do not follow the example of this branch, then, but listen to
me."

"I am listening, and I agree to do so; but be as brief as possible, for
if you have a branch of the chestnut-tree which annoys you, I wish you to
understand that one of the rounds of the ladder is hurting the soles of
my feet, and my shoes are being cut through."

"Do me the kindness to give me your hand."

"Why?"

"Will you have the goodness to do so?"

"There is my hand, then; but what are you going to do?"

"To draw you towards me."

"What for? You surely do not wish me to join you in the tree?"

"No; but I wish you to sit down upon the wall; there, that will do; there
is quite room enough, and I would give a great deal to be allowed to sit
down beside you."

"No, no; you are very well where you are; we should be seen."

"Do you really think so?" said Manicamp, in an insinuating voice.

"I am sure of it."

"Very well, I remain in my tree, then, although I cannot be worse placed."

"Monsieur Manicamp, we are wandering away from the subject."

"You are right, we are so."

"You wrote me a letter?"

"I did."

"Why did you write?"

"Fancy, at two o'clock to-day, De Guiche left."

"What then?"

"Seeing him set off, I followed him, as I usually do."

"Of course, I see that, since you are here now."

"Don't be in a hurry. You are aware, I suppose, that De Guiche is up to
his very neck in disgrace?"

"Alas! yes."

"It was the very height of imprudence on his part, then, to come to
Fontainebleau to seek those who had at Paris sent him away into exile,
and particularly those from whom he had been separated."

"Monsieur Manicamp, you reason like Pythagoras."

"Moreover, De Guiche is as obstinate as a man in love can be, and he
refused to listen to any of my remonstrances. I begged, I implored him,
but he would not listen to anything. Oh, the deuce!"

"What's the matter?"

"I beg your pardon, Mademoiselle Montalais, but this confounded branch,
about which I have already had the honor of speaking to you, has just
torn a certain portion of my dress."

"It is quite dark," replied Montalais, laughing; "so, pray continue, M.
Manicamp."

"De Guiche set off on horseback as hard as he could, I following him, at
a slower pace. You quite understand that to throw one's self into the
water, for instance, with a friend, at the same headlong rate as he
himself would do it, would be the act either of a fool or a madman. I
therefore allowed De Guiche to get in advance, and I proceeded on my way
with a commendable slowness of pace, feeling quite sure that my
unfortunate friend would not be received, or, if he had been, that he
would ride off again at the very first cross, disagreeable answer; and
that I should see him returning much faster than he went, without having,
myself, gone much farther than Ris or Melun - and that even was a good
distance you will admit, for it is eleven leagues to get there and as
many to return."

Montalais shrugged her shoulders.

"Laugh as much as you like; but if, instead of being comfortably seated
on the top of the wall as you are, you were sitting on this branch as if
you were on horseback, you would, like Augustus, aspire to descend."

"Be patient, my dear M. Manicamp; a few minutes will soon pass away; you
were saying, I think, that you had gone beyond Ris and Melun."

"Yes, I went through Ris and Melun, and I continued to go on, more and
more surprised that I did not see him returning; and here I am at
Fontainebleau; I look for and inquire after De Guiche everywhere, but no
one has seen him, no one in the town has spoken to him; he arrived riding
at full gallop, he entered the chateau; and there he has disappeared. I
have been here at Fontainebleau since eight o'clock this evening
inquiring for De Guiche in every direction, but no De Guiche can be
found. I am dying with uneasiness. You understand that I have not been
running my head into the lion's den, in entering the chateau, as my
imprudent friend has done; I came at once to the servants' offices, and I
succeeded in getting a letter conveyed to you; and now, for Heaven's
sake, my dear young lady, relieve me from my anxiety."

"There will be no difficulty in that, my dear M. Manicamp; your friend De
Guiche has been admirably received."

"Bah!"

"The king made quite a fuss over him."

"The king, who exiled him!"

"Madame smiled upon him, and Monsieur appears to like him better than
ever."

"Ah! ah!" said Manicamp, "that explains to me, then, why and how he has
remained. And did he not say anything about me?"

"Not a word."

"That is very unkind. What is he doing now?"

"In all probability he is asleep, or, if not asleep, dreaming."

"And what have they been doing all the evening?"

"Dancing."

"The famous ballet? How did De Guiche look?"

"Superb!"

"Dear fellow! And now, pray forgive me, Mademoiselle Montalais; but all
I now have to do is pass from where I now am to your apartment."

"What do you mean?"

"I cannot suppose that the door of the chateau will be opened for me at
this hour; and as for spending the night upon this branch, I possibly
might not object to do so, but I declare it is impossible for any other
animal than a boa-constrictor to do it."

"But, M. Manicamp, I cannot introduce a man over the wall in that manner."

"Two, if you please," said a second voice, but in so timid a tone that it
seemed as if its owner felt the utter impropriety of such a request.

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Montalais, "who is that speaking to me?"

"Malicorne, Mademoiselle Montalais."

And as Malicorne spoke, he raised himself from the ground to the lowest
branches, and thence to the height of the wall.

"Monsieur Malicorne! why, you are both mad!"

"How do you do, Mademoiselle Montalais?" inquired Malicorne.

"I needed but this!" said Montalais, in despair.

"Oh! Mademoiselle Montalais," murmured Malicorne; "do not be so severe,
I beseech you."

"In fact," said Manicamp, "we are your friends, and you cannot possibly
wish your friends to lose their lives; and to leave us to pass the night
on these branches is in fact condemning us to death."

"Oh!" said Montalais, "Monsieur Malicorne is so robust that a night
passed in the open air with the beautiful stars above him will not do him
any harm, and it will be a just punishment for the trick he has played
me."

"Be it so, then; let Malicorne arrange matters with you in the best way
he can; I pass over," said Manicamp. And bending down the famous branch
against which he had directed such bitter complaints, he succeeded, by
the assistance of his hands and feet, in seating himself side by side
with Montalais, who tried to push him back, while he endeavored to
maintain his position, and, moreover, he succeeded. Having taken
possession of the ladder, he stepped on it, and then gallantly offered
his hand to his fair antagonist. While this was going on, Malicorne had
installed himself in the chestnut-tree, in the very place Manicamp had
just left, determining within himself to succeed him in the one he now
occupied. Manicamp and Montalais descended a few rounds of the ladder,
Manicamp insisting, and Montalais laughing and objecting.

Suddenly Malicorne's voice was heard in tones of entreaty:

"I entreat you, Mademoiselle Montalais, not to leave me here. My
position is very insecure, and some accident will be certain to befall
me, if I attempt unaided to reach the other side of the wall; it does not
matter if Manicamp tears his clothes, for he can make use of M. de
Guiche's wardrobe; but I shall not be able to use even those belonging to
M. Manicamp, for they will be torn."

"My opinion," said Manicamp, without taking any notice of Malicorne's
lamentations, "is that the best thing to be done is to go and look for De
Guiche without delay, for, by and by, perhaps, I may not be able to get
to his apartments."

"That is my own opinion, too," replied Montalais; "so, go at once,
Monsieur Manicamp."

"A thousand thanks. Adieu Mademoiselle Montalais," said Manicamp,
jumping to the ground; "your condescension cannot be repaid."

"Farewell, M. Manicamp; I am now going to get rid of M. Malicorne."

Malicorne sighed. Manicamp went away a few paces, but returning to the
foot of the ladder, he said, "By the by, how do I get to M. de Guiche's
apartments?"

"Nothing easier. You go along by the hedge until you reach a place where
the paths cross."

"Yes."

"You will see four paths."

"Exactly."

"One of which you will take."

"Which of them?"

"That to the right."

"That to the right?"

"No, to the left."

"The deuce!"

"No, no, wait a minute - "

"You do not seem to be quite sure. Think again, I beg."

"You take the middle path."

"But there are _four_."

"So there are. All I know is, that one of the four paths leads straight
to Madame's apartments; and that one I am well acquainted with."

"But M. de Guiche is not in Madame's apartments, I suppose?"

"No, indeed."

"Well, then the path which leads to Madame's apartments is of no use to
me, and I would willingly exchange it for the one that leads to where M.
de Guiche is lodging."

"Of course, and I know that as well; but as for indicating it from where
we are, it is quite impossible."

"Well, let us suppose that I have succeeded in finding that fortunate
path."

"In that case, you are almost there, for you have nothing else to do but
cross the labyrinth."

"_Nothing_ more than that? The deuce! so there is a labyrinth as well."

"Yes, and complicated enough too; even in daylight one may sometimes be
deceived, - there are turnings and windings without end: in the first
place, you must turn three times to the right, then twice to the left,
then turn once - stay, is it once or twice, though? at all events, when
you get clear of the labyrinth, you will see an avenue of sycamores, and
this avenue leads straight to the pavilion in which M. de Guiche is
lodging."

"Nothing could be more clearly indicated," said Manicamp; "and I have not
the slightest doubt in the world that if I were to follow your
directions, I should lose my way immediately. I have, therefore, a
slight service to ask of you."

"What may that be?"

"That you will offer me your arm and guide me yourself, like another
like another - I used to know mythology, but other important matters have
made me forget it; pray come with me, then?"

"And am I to be abandoned, then?" cried Malicorne.

"It is quite impossible, monsieur," said Montalais to Manicamp; "if I
were to be seen with you at such an hour, what would be said of me?"

"Your own conscience would acquit you," said Manicamp, sententiously.

"Impossible, monsieur, impossible."

"In that case, let me assist Malicorne to get down; he is a very
intelligent fellow, and possesses a very keen scent; he will guide me,
and if we lose ourselves, both of us will be lost, and the one will save
the other. If we are together, and should be met by any one, we shall
look as if we had some matter of business in hand; whilst alone I should
have the appearance either of a lover or a robber. Come, Malicorne, here
is the ladder."

Malicorne had already stretched out one of his legs towards the top of
the wall, when Manicamp said, in a whisper, "Hush!"

"What's the matter?" inquired Montalais.

"I hear footsteps."

"Good heavens!"

In fact the fancied footsteps soon became a reality; the foliage was
pushed aside, and Saint-Aignan appeared, with a smile on his lips, and
his hand stretched out towards them, taking every one by surprise; that
is to say, Malicorne upon the tree with his head stretched out, Montalais
upon the round of the ladder and clinging to it tightly, and Manicamp on
the ground with his foot advanced ready to set off. "Good-evening,
Manicamp," said the comte, "I am glad to see you, my dear fellow; we
missed you this evening, and a good many inquiries have been made about
you. Mademoiselle de Montalais, your most obedient servant."

Montalais blushed. "Good heavens!" she exclaimed, hiding her face in
both her hands.

"Pray reassure yourself; I know how perfectly innocent you are, and I
shall give a good account of you. Manicamp, do you follow me: the hedge,
the cross-paths, and labyrinth, I am well acquainted with them all; I
will be your Ariadne. There now, your mythological name is found at
last."

"Perfectly true, comte."

"And take M. Malicorne away with you at the same time," said Montalais.

"No, indeed," said Malicorne; "M. Manicamp has conversed with you as long
as he liked, and now it is my turn, if you please; I have a multitude of
things to tell you about our future prospects."

"You hear," said the comte, laughing; "stay with him, Mademoiselle
Montalais. This is, indeed, a night for secrets." And, taking
Manicamp's arm, the comte led him rapidly away in the direction of the
road Montalais knew so well, and indicated so badly. Montalais followed
them with her eyes as long as she could perceive them.

Alexandre Dumas pere