Montalais was right. M. de Guiche, thus summoned in every direction, was
very much exposed, from such a multiplication of business, to the risk of
not attending to any. It so happened that, considering the awkwardness
of the interruption, Madame, notwithstanding her wounded pride, and
secret anger, could not, for the moment at least, reproach Montalais for
having violated, in so bold a manner, the semi-royal order with which she
had been dismissed on De Guiche's entrance. De Guiche, also, lost his
presence of mind, or, it would be more correct to say, had already lost
it, before Montalais's arrival, for, scarcely had he heard the young
girl's voice, than, without taking leave of Madame, as the most ordinary
politeness required, even between persons equal in rank and station, he
fled from her presence, his heart tumultuously throbbing, and his brain
on fire, leaving the princess with one hand raised, as though to bid him
adieu. Montalais was at no loss, therefore, to perceive the agitation of
the two lovers - the one who fled was agitated, and the one who remained
was equally so.
"Well," murmured the young girl, as she glanced inquisitively round her,
"this time, at least, I think I know as much as the most curious woman
could possibly wish to know." Madame felt so embarrassed by this
inquisitorial look, that, as if she heard Montalais's muttered side
remark, she did not speak a word to her maid of honor, but, casting down
her eyes, retired at once to her bedroom. Montalais, observing this,
stood listening for a moment, and then heard Madame lock and bolt her
door. By this she knew that the rest of the evening was at her own
disposal; and making, behind the door which had just been closed, a
gesture which indicated but little real respect for the princess, she
went down the staircase in search of Malicorne, who was very busily
engaged at that moment in watching a courier, who, covered with dust, had
just left the Comte de Guiche's apartments. Montalais knew that
Malicorne was engaged in a matter of some importance; she therefore
allowed him to look and stretch out his neck as much as he pleased; and
it was only when Malicorne had resumed his natural position, that she
touched him on the shoulder. "Well," said Montalais, "what is the latest
intelligence you have?"
"M. de Guiche is in love with Madame."
"Fine news, truly! I know something more recent than that."
"Well, what do you know?"
"That Madame is in love with M. de Guiche."
"The one is the consequence of the other."
"Not always, my good monsieur."
"Is that remark intended for me?"
"Present company always excepted."
"Thank you," said Malicorne. "Well, and in the other direction, what is
"The king wished, this evening, after the lottery, to see Mademoiselle de
"Well, and he has seen her?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"The door was shut and locked."
"So that - "
"So that the king was obliged to go back again, looking very sheepish,
like a thief who has forgotten his crowbar."
"And in the third place?" inquired Montalais.
"The courier who has just arrived for De Guiche came from M. de
"Excellent," said Montalais, clapping her hands together.
"Because we have work to do. If we get weary now, something unlucky will
be sure to happen."
"We must divide the work, then," said Malicorne, "in order to avoid
"Nothing easier," replied Montalais. "Three intrigues, carefully nursed,
and carefully encouraged, will produce, one with another, and taking a
low average, three love letters a day."
"Oh!" exclaimed Malicorne, shrugging his shoulders, "you cannot mean what
you say, darling; three letters a day, that may do for sentimental common
people. A musketeer on duty, a young girl in a convent, may exchange
letters with their lovers once a day, perhaps, from the top of a ladder,
or through a hole in the wall. A letter contains all the poetry their
poor little hearts have to boast of. But the cases we have in hand
require to be dealt with very differently."
"Well, finish," said Montalais, out of patience with him. "Some one may
"Finish! Why, I am only at the beginning. I have still three points as
"Upon my word, he will be the death of me, with his Flemish
indifference," exclaimed Montalais.
"And you will drive me mad with your Italian vivacity. I was going to
say that our lovers here will be writing volumes to each other. But what
are you driving at?"
"At this. Not one of our lady correspondents will be able to keep the
letters they may receive."
"M. de Guiche will not be able to keep his either."
"That is probable."
"Very well, then; I will take care of all that."
"That is the very thing that is impossible," said Malicorne.
"Because you are not your own mistress; your room is as much La
Valliere's as yours; and there are certain persons who will think nothing
of visiting and searching a maid of honor's room; so that I am terribly
afraid of the queen, who is as jealous as a Spaniard; of the queen-
mother, who is as jealous as a couple of Spaniards; and, last of all, of
Madame herself, who has jealousy enough for ten Spaniards."
"You forgot some one else."
"I was only speaking of the women. Let us add them up, then: we will
call Monsieur, No. 1."
"The Vicomte de Bragelonne?"
"And the king, the king?"
"No. 4. Of course the king, who not only will be more jealous, but more
powerful than all the rest put together. Ah, my dear!"
"Into what a wasp's nest you have thrust yourself!"
"And as yet not quite far enough, if you will follow me into it."
"Most certainly I will follow you where you like. Yet - "
"Well, yet - "
"While we have time, I think it will be prudent to turn back."
"But I, on the contrary, think the wisest course to take is to put
ourselves at once at the head of all these intrigues."
"You will never be able to do it."
"With you, I could superintend ten of them. I am in my element, you must
know. I was born to live at the court, as the salamander is made to live
in the fire."
"Your comparison does not reassure me in the slightest degree in the
world, my dear Montalais. I have heard it said, and by learned men too,
that, in the first place, there are no salamanders at all, and that, if
there had been any, they would have been infallibly baked or roasted on
leaving the fire."
"Your learned men may be very wise as far as salamanders are concerned,
but they would never tell you what I can tell you; namely, that Aure de
Montalais is destined, before a month is over, to become the first
diplomatist in the court of France."
"Be it so, but on condition that I shall be the second."
"Agreed; an offensive and defensive alliance, of course."
"Only be very careful of any letters."
"I will hand them to you as I receive them."
"What shall we tell the king about Madame?"
"That Madame is still in love with his majesty."
"What shall we tell Madame about the king?"
"That she would be exceedingly wrong not to humor him."
"What shall we tell La Valliere about Madame?"
"Whatever we choose, for La Valliere is in our power."
"What do you mean?"
"In the first place, through the Vicomte de Bragelonne."
"You do not forget, I hope, that Monsieur de Bragelonne has written many
letters to Mademoiselle de la Valliere."
"I forget nothing."
"Well, then, it was I who received, and I who intercepted those letters."
"And, consequently, it is you who have them still?"
"Where, - here?"
"Oh, no; I have them safe at Blois, in the little room you know well enough."
"That dear little room, - that darling little room, the ante-chamber of
the palace I intend you to live in one of these days. But, I beg your
pardon, you said that all those letters are in that little room?"
"Did you not put them in a box?"
"Of course; in the same box where I put all the letters I received from
you, and where I put mine also when your business or your amusements
prevented you from coming to our rendezvous."
"Ah, very good," said Malicorne.
"Why are you satisfied?"
"Because I see there is a possibility of not having to run to Blois after
the letters, for I have them here."
"You have brought the box away?"
"It was very dear to me, because it belonged to you."
"Be sure and take care of it, for it contains original documents that
will be of priceless value by and by."
"I am perfectly well aware of that indeed, and that is the very reason
why I laugh as I do, and with all my heart, too."
"And now, one last word."
"Do we need any one to assist us?"
"Valets or maid-servants?"
"Bad policy. You will give the letters, - you will receive them. Oh! we
must have no pride in this affair, otherwise M. Malicorne and
Mademoiselle Aure, not transacting their own affairs themselves, will
have to make up their minds to see them done by others."
"You are quite right; but what is going on yonder in M. de Guiche's room?"
"Nothing; he is only opening his window."
"Let us be gone." And they both immediately disappeared, all the terms
of the contract being agreed on.
The window just opened was, in fact, that of the Comte de Guiche. It was
not alone with the hope of catching a glimpse of Madame through her
curtains that he seated himself by the open window for his preoccupation
of mind had at that time a different origin. He had just received, as we
have already stated, the courier who had been dispatched to him by
Bragelonne, the latter having written to De Guiche a letter which had
made the deepest impression upon him, and which he had read over and over
again. "Strange, strange!" he murmured. "How irresponsible are the
means by which destiny hurries men onward to their fate!" Leaving the
window in order to approach nearer to the light, he once more read the
letter he had just received: -
"MY DEAR COUNT, - I found M. de Wardes at Calais; he has been seriously
wounded in an affair with the Duke of Buckingham. De Wardes is, as you
know, unquestionably brave, but full of malevolent and wicked feelings.
He conversed with me about yourself, for whom, he says, he has a warm
regard, also about Madame, whom he considers a beautiful and amiable
woman. He has guessed your affection for a certain person. He also
talked to me about the lady for whom I have so ardent a regard, and
showed the greatest interest on my behalf in expressing a deep pity for
me, accompanied, however, by dark hints which alarmed me at first, but
which I at last looked upon as the result of his usual love of mystery.
These are the facts: he had received news of the court; you will
understand, however, that it was only through M. de Lorraine. The report
goes, so says the news, that a change has taken place in the king's
affections. You know whom that concerns. Afterwards, the news
continues, people are talking about one of the maids of honor, respecting
whom various slanderous reports are being circulated. These vague
phrases have not allowed me to sleep. I have been deploring, ever since
yesterday, that my diffidence and vacillation of purpose,
notwithstanding a certain obstinacy of character I may possess, have left
me unable to reply to these insinuations. In a word, M. de Wardes was
setting off for Paris, and I did not delay his departure with
explanations; for it seemed rather hard, I confess, to cross-examine a
man whose wounds are hardly yet closed. In short, he travelled by short
stages, as he was anxious to leave, he said, in order to be present at a
curious spectacle the court cannot fail to offer within a short time. He
added a few congratulatory words accompanied by vague sympathizing
expressions. I could not understand the one any more than the other. I
was bewildered by my own thoughts, and tormented by a mistrust of this
man, - a mistrust which, you know better than any one else, I have never
been able to overcome. As soon as he left, my perceptions seemed to
become clearer. It is hardly possible that a man of De Wardes's
character should not have communicated something of his own malicious
nature to the statements he made to me. It is not unlikely, therefore,
that in the strange hints De Wardes threw out in my presence, there may
be a mysterious signification, which I might have some difficulty in
applying either to myself or to some one with whom you are acquainted.
Being compelled to leave as soon as possible, in obedience to the king's
commands, the idea did not occur to me of running after De Wardes in
order to ask him to explain his reserve; but I have dispatched a courier
to you with this letter, which will explain in detail my various doubts.
I regard you as myself; you have reflected and observed; it will be for
you to act. M. de Wardes will arrive very shortly; endeavor to learn
what he meant, if you do not already know. M. de Wardes, moreover,
pretended that the Duke of Buckingham left Paris on the very best of
terms with Madame. This was an affair which would have unhesitatingly
made me draw my sword, had I not felt that I was under the necessity of
dispatching the king's mission before undertaking any quarrel
whatsoever. Burn this letter, which Olivain will hand you. Whatever
Olivain says, you may confidently rely on. Will you have the goodness,
my dear comte, to recall me to the remembrance of Mademoiselle de la
Valliere, whose hands I kiss with the greatest respect.
"P. S. - If anything serious should happen - we should be prepared for
everything, dispatch a courier to me with this one single word, 'come,'
and I will be in Paris within six and thirty hours after the receipt of
De Guiche sighed, folded up the letter a third time, and, instead of
burning it, as Raoul had recommended him to do, placed it in his pocket.
He felt it needed reading over and over again.
"How much distress of mind, yet what sublime confidence, he shows!"
murmured the comte; "he has poured out his whole soul in this letter. He
says nothing of the Comte de la Fere, and speaks of his respect for
Louise. He cautions me on my own account, and entreats me on his. Ah!"
continued De Guiche, with a threatening gesture, "you interfere in my
affairs, Monsieur de Wardes, do you? Very well, then; I will shortly
occupy myself with yours. As for you, poor Raoul, - you who intrust your
heart to my keeping, be assured I will watch over it."
With this promise, De Guiche begged Malicorne to come immediately to his
apartments, if possible. Malicorne acknowledged the invitation with an
activity which was the first result of his conversation with Montalais.
And while De Guiche, who thought that his motive was undiscovered, cross-
examined Malicorne, the latter, who appeared to be working in the dark,
soon guessed his questioner's motives. The consequence was, that, after
a quarter of an hour's conversation, during which De Guiche thought he
had ascertained the whole truth with regard to La Valliere and the king,
he had learned absolutely nothing more than his own eyes had already
acquainted him with, while Malicorne learned, or guessed, that Raoul, who
was absent, was fast becoming suspicious, and that De Guiche intended to
watch over the treasure of the Hesperides. Malicorne accepted the office
of dragon. De Guiche fancied he had done everything for his friend, and
soon began to think of nothing but his personal affairs. The next
evening, De Wardes's return and first appearance at the king's reception
were announced. When that visit had been paid, the convalescent waited
on Monsieur; De Guiche taking care, however, to be at Monsieur's
apartments before the visit took place.
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