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Chapter 10

Chapter X:
Madame and De Guiche.

It will not be forgotten how Comte de Guiche left the queen-mother's
apartments on the day when Louis XIV. presented La Valliere with the
beautiful bracelets he had won in the lottery. The comte walked to and
fro for some time outside the palace, in the greatest distress, from a
thousand suspicions and anxieties with which his mind was beset.
Presently he stopped and waited on the terrace opposite the grove of
trees, watching for Madame's departure. More than half an hour passed
away; and as he was at that moment quite alone, the comte could hardly
have had any very diverting ideas at his command. He drew his tables
from his pocket, and, after hesitating over and over again, determined to
write these words: - "Madame, I implore you to grant me one moment's
conversation. Do not be alarmed at this request, which contains nothing
in any way opposed to the profound respect with which I subscribe myself,
etc., etc." He had signed and folded this singular love-letter, when he
suddenly observed several ladies leaving the chateau, and afterwards
several courtiers too; in fact, almost every one that formed the queen's
circle. He saw La Valliere herself, then Montalais talking with
Malicorne; he watched the departure of the very last of the numerous
guests that had a short time before thronged the queen-mother's cabinet.

Madame herself had not yet passed; she would be obliged, however, to
cross the courtyard in order to enter her own apartments; and, from the
terrace where he was standing, De Guiche could see all that was going on
in the courtyard. At last he saw Madame leave, attended by a couple of
pages, who were carrying torches before her. She was walking very
quickly; as soon as she reached the door, she said:

"Let some one go and look for De Guiche: he has to render an account of a
mission he had to discharge for me; if he should be disengaged, request
him to be good enough to come to my apartment."

De Guiche remained silent, hidden in the shade; but as soon as Madame had
withdrawn, he darted from the terrace down the steps and assumed a most
indifferent air, so that the pages who were hurrying towards his rooms
might meet him.

"Ah! it is Madame, then, who is seeking me!" he said to himself, quite
overcome; and he crushed in his hand the now worse than useless letter.

"M. le comte," said one of the pages, approaching him, "we are indeed
most fortunate in meeting you."

"Why so, messieurs?"

"A command from Madame."

"From Madame!" said De Guiche, looking surprised.

"Yes, M. le comte, her royal highness has been asking for you; she
expects to hear, she told us, the result of a commission you had to
execute for her. Are you at liberty?"

"I am quite at her royal highness's orders."

"Will you have the goodness to follow us, then?"

When De Guiche entered the princess's apartments, he found her pale and
agitated. Montalais was standing at the door, evidently uneasy about
what was passing in her mistress's mind. De Guiche appeared.

"Ah! is that you, Monsieur de Guiche?" said Madame; "come in, I beg.
Mademoiselle de Montalais, I do not require your attendance any longer."

Montalais, more puzzled than ever, courtesied and withdrew. De Guiche
and the princess were left alone. The come had every advantage in his
favor; it was Madame who had summoned him to a rendezvous. But how was
it possible for the comte to make use of this advantage? Madame was so
whimsical, and her disposition so changeable. She soon allowed this to
be perceived, for, suddenly, opening the conversation, she said: "Well!
have you nothing to say to me?"

He imagined she must have guessed his thoughts; he fancied (for those who
are in love are thus constituted, being as credulous and blind as poets
or prophets), he fancied she knew how ardent was his desire to see her,
and also the subject uppermost in his mind.

"Yes, Madame," he said, "and I think it very singular."

"The affair of the bracelets," she exclaimed, eagerly, "you mean that, I
suppose?"

"Yes, Madame."

"And you think the king is in love; do you not?"

Guiche looked at her for some time; her eyes sank under his gaze, which
seemed to read her very heart.

"I think," he said, "that the king may possibly have had an idea of
annoying some one; were it not for that, the king would hardly show
himself so earnest in his attentions as he is; he would not run the risk
of compromising, from mere thoughtlessness of disposition, a young girl
against whom no one has been hitherto able to say a word."

"Indeed! the bold, shameless girl," said the princess, haughtily.

"I can positively assure your royal highness," said De Guiche, with a
firmness marked by great respect, "that Mademoiselle de la Valliere is
beloved by a man who merits every respect, for he is a brave and
honorable gentleman."

"Bragelonne?"

"My friend; yes, Madame."

"Well, and though he is your friend, what does that matter to the king?"

"The king knows that Bragelonne is affianced to Mademoiselle de la
Valliere; and as Raoul has served the king most valiantly, the king will
not inflict an irreparable injury upon him."

Madame began to laugh in a manner that produced a sinister impression
upon De Guiche.

"I repeat, Madame, I do not believe the king is in love with Mademoiselle
de la Valliere; and the proof that I do not believe it is, that I was
about to ask you whose _amour propre_ it is likely the king is desirous
of wounding? You, who are well acquainted with the whole court, can
perhaps assist me in ascertaining that; and assuredly, with greater
certainty, since it is everywhere said that your royal highness is on
very friendly terms with the king."

Madame bit her lips, and, unable to assign any good and sufficient
reasons, changed the conversation. "Prove to me," she said, fixing on
him one of those looks in which the whole soul seems to pass into the
eyes, "prove to me, I say, that you intended to interrogate me at the
very moment I sent for you."

De Guiche gravely drew from his pocket the now crumpled note that he had
written, and showed it to her.

"Sympathy," she said.

"Yes," said the comte, with an indescribable tenderness of tone,
"sympathy. I have explained to you how and why I sought you; you,
however, have yet to tell me, Madame, why you sent for me."

"True," replied the princess. She hesitated, and then suddenly
exclaimed, "Those bracelets will drive me mad."

"You expected the king would offer them to you," replied De Guiche.

"Why not?"

"But before you, Madame, before you, his sister-in-law, was there not the
queen herself to whom the king should have offered them?"

"Before La Valliere," cried the princess, wounded to the quick, "could he
not have presented them to me? Was there not the whole court, indeed, to
choose from?"

"I assure you, Madame," said the comte, respectfully, "that if any one
heard you speak in this manner, if any one were to see how red your eyes
are, and, Heaven forgive me, to see, too, that tear trembling on your
eyelids, it would be said that your royal highness was jealous."

"Jealous!" said the princess, haughtily, "jealous of La Valliere!"

She expected to see De Guiche yield beneath her scornful gesture and her
proud tone; but he simply and boldly replied, "Jealous of La Valliere;
yes, Madame."

"Am I to suppose, monsieur," she stammered out, "that your object is to
insult me?"

"It is not possible, Madame," replied the comte, slightly agitated, but
resolved to master that fiery nature.

"Leave the room!" said the princess, thoroughly exasperated, De Guiche's
coolness and silent respect having made her completely lose her temper.

De Guiche fell back a step, bowed slowly, but with great respect, drew
himself up, looking as white as his lace cuffs, and, in a voice slightly
trembling, said, "It was hardly worth while to have hurried here to be
subjected to this unmerited disgrace." And he turned away with hasty
steps.

He had scarcely gone half a dozen paces when Madame darted like a tigress
after him, seized him by the cuff, and making him turn round again, said,
trembling with passion as she did so, "The respect you pretend to have is
more insulting than the insult itself. Insult me, if you please, but at
least speak."

"Madame," said the comte, gently, as he drew his sword, "thrust this
blade into my heart, rather than kill me by degrees."

At the look he fixed upon her, - a look full of love, resolution, and
despair, even, - she knew how readily the comte, so outwardly calm in
appearance, would pass his sword through his own breast if she added
another word. She tore the blade from his hands, and, pressing his arm
with a feverish impatience, which might pass for tenderness, said, "Do
not be too hard upon me, comte. You see how I am suffering, and yet you
have no pity for me."

Tears, the cries of this strange attack, stifled her voice. As soon as
De Guiche saw her weep, he took her in his arms and carried her to an
armchair; in another moment she would have been suffocated.

"Oh, why," he murmured, as he knelt by her side, "why do you conceal your
troubles from me? Do you love any one - tell me? It would kill me, I
know, but not until I should have comforted, consoled, and served you
even."

"And do you love me to that extent?" she replied, completely conquered.

"I do indeed love you to that extent, Madame."

She placed both her hands in his. "My heart is indeed another's," she
murmured in so low a tone that her voice could hardly be heard; but he
heard it, and said, "Is it the king you love?"

She gently shook her head, and her smile was like a clear bright streak
in the clouds, through which after the tempest has passed one almost
fancies Paradise is opening. "But," she added, "there are other passions
in a high-born heart. Love is poetry; but the real life of the heart is
pride. Comte, I was born on a throne, I am proud and jealous of my
rank. Why does the king gather such unworthy objects round him?"

"Once more, I repeat," said the comte, "you are acting unjustly towards
that poor girl, who will one day be my friend's wife."

"Are you simple enough to believe that, comte?"

"If I did not believe it," he said, turning very pale, "Bragelonne should
be informed of it to-morrow; indeed he should, if I thought that poor La
Valliere had forgotten the vows she had exchanged with Raoul. But no, it
would be cowardly to betray a woman's secret; it would be criminal to
disturb a friend's peace of mind."

"You think, then," said the princess, with a wild burst of laughter,
"that ignorance is happiness?"

"I believe it," he replied.

"Prove it to me, then," she said, hurriedly.

"It is easily done, Madame. It is reported through the whole court that
the king loves you, and that you return his affection."

"Well?" she said, breathing with difficulty.

"Well; admit for a moment that Raoul, my friend, had come and said to me,
'Yes, the king loves Madame, and has made an impression upon her heart,'
I possibly should have slain Raoul."

"It would have been necessary," said the princess, with the obstinacy of
a woman who feels herself not easily overcome, "for M. de Bragelonne to
have had proofs before he ventured to speak to you in that manner."

"Such, however, is the case," replied De Guiche, with a deep sigh, "that,
not having been warned, I have never examined into the matter seriously;
and I now find that my ignorance has saved my life."

"So, then, you drive selfishness and coldness to that extent," said
Madame, "that you would let this unhappy young man continue to love La
Valliere?"

"I would, until La Valliere's guilt were revealed."

"But the bracelets?"

"Well, Madame, since you yourself expected to receive them from the king,
what can I possibly say?"

The argument was a telling one, and the princess was overwhelmed by it,
and from that moment her defeat was assured. But as her heart and mind
were instinct with noble and generous feelings, she understood De
Guiche's extreme delicacy. She saw that in his heart he really suspected
that the king was in love with La Valliere, and that he did not wish to
resort to the common expedient of ruining a rival in the mind of a woman,
by giving the latter the assurance and certainty that this rival's
affections were transferred to another woman. She guessed that his
suspicions of La Valliere were aroused, and that, in order to leave
himself time for his convictions to undergo a change, so as not to ruin
Louise utterly, he was determined to pursue a certain straightforward
line of conduct. She could read so much real greatness of character, and
such true generosity of disposition in her lover, that her heart really
warmed with affection towards him, whose passion for her was so pure and
delicate. Despite his fear of incurring her displeasure, De Guiche, by
retaining his position as a man of proud independence of feeling and deep
devotion, became almost a hero in her estimation, and reduced her to the
state of a jealous and little-minded woman. She loved him for this so
tenderly, that she could not refuse to give him a proof of her affection.

"See how many words we have wasted," she said, taking his hand,
"suspicions, anxieties, mistrust, sufferings - I think we have enumerated
all those words."

"Alas! Madame, yes."

"Efface them from your heart as I drive them from mine. Whether La
Valliere does or does not love the king, and whether the king does or
does not love La Valliere - from this moment you and I will draw a
distinction in the two characters I have to perform. You open your eyes
so wide that I am sure you hardly understand me."

"You are so impetuous, Madame, that I always tremble at the fear of
displeasing you."

"And see how he trembles now, poor fellow," she said, with the most
charming playfulness of manner. "Yes, monsieur, I have two characters to
perform. I am the sister of the king, the sister-in-law of the king's
wife. In this character ought I not to take an interest in these
domestic intrigues? Come, tell me what you think?"

"As little as possible, Madame."

"Agreed, monsieur; but it is a question of dignity; and then, you know, I
am the wife of the king's brother." De Guiche sighed. "A circumstance,"
she added, with an expression of great tenderness, "which will remind you
that I am always to be treated with the profoundest respect." De Guiche
fell at her feet, which he kissed, with the religious fervor of a
worshipper. "And I begin to think that, really and truly, I have another
character to perform. I was almost forgetting it."

"Name it, oh! name it," said De Guiche.

"I am a woman," she said, in a voice lower than ever, "and I love." He
rose, she opened her arms, and their lips met. A footstep was heard
behind the tapestry, and Mademoiselle de Montalais appeared.

"What do you want?" said Madame.

"M. de Guiche is wanted," replied Montalais, who was just in time to see
the agitation of the actors of these four characters; for De Guiche had
consistently carried out his part with heroism.

Alexandre Dumas pere