Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 12

Chapter XII:
How De Wardes Was Received at Court.

Monsieur had received De Wardes with that marked favor light and
frivolous minds bestow on every novelty that comes in their way. De
Wardes, who had been absent for a month, was like fresh fruit to him. To
treat him with marked kindness was an infidelity to old friends, and
there is always something fascinating in that; moreover, it was a sort of
reparation to De Wardes himself. Nothing, consequently, could exceed the
favorable notice Monsieur took of him. The Chevalier de Lorraine, who
feared this rival but a little, but who respected a character and
disposition only too parallel to his own in every particular, with the
addition of a bull-dog courage he did not himself possess, received De
Wardes with a greater display of regard and affection than even Monsieur
had done. De Guiche, as we have said, was there also, but kept in the
background, waiting very patiently until all these interchanges were
over. De Wardes, while talking to the others, and even to Monsieur
himself, had not for a moment lost sight of De Guiche, who, he
instinctively felt, was there on his account. As soon as he had finished
with the others, he went up to De Guiche. They exchanged the most
courteous compliments, after which De Wardes returned to Monsieur and the
other gentlemen.

In the midst of these congratulations Madame was announced. She had been
informed of De Wardes's arrival, and knowing all the details of his
voyage and duel, she was not sorry to be present at the remarks she knew
would be made, without delay, by one who, she felt assured, was her
personal enemy. Two or three of her ladies accompanied her. De Wardes
saluted Madame in the most graceful and respectful manner, and, as a
commencement of hostilities, announced, in the first place, that he could
furnish the Duke of Buckingham's friends with the latest news about him.
This was a direct answer to the coldness with which Madame had received
him. The attack was a vigorous one, and Madame felt the blow, but
without appearing to have even noticed it. He rapidly cast a glance at
Monsieur and at De Guiche, - the former colored, and the latter turned
very pale. Madame alone preserved an unmoved countenance; but, as she
knew how many unpleasant thoughts and feelings her enemy could awaken in
the two persons who were listening to him, she smilingly bent forward
towards the traveler, as if to listen to the news he had brought - but he
was speaking of other matters. Madame was brave, even to imprudence; if
she were to retreat, it would be inviting an attack; so, after the first
disagreeable impression had
passed away, she returned to the charge.

"Have you suffered much from your wounds, Monsieur de Wardes?" she
inquired, "for we have been told that you had the misfortune to get
wounded."

It was now De Wardes's turn to wince; he bit his lips, and replied, "No,
Madame, hardly at all."

"Indeed! and yet in this terribly hot weather - "

"The sea-breezes were very fresh and cool, Madame, and then I had one
consolation."

"Indeed! What was it?"

"The knowledge that my adversary's sufferings were still greater than my
own."

"Ah! you mean he was more seriously wounded than you were; I was not
aware of that," said the princess, with utter indifference.

"Oh, Madame, you are mistaken, or rather you pretend to misunderstand my
remark. I did not say that he was a greater sufferer in body than
myself; but his heart was very seriously affected."

De Guiche comprehended instinctively from what direction the struggle was
approaching; he ventured to
make a sign to Madame, as if entreating her
to retire from the contest. But she, without acknowledging De Guiche's
gesture, without pretending to have noticed it even, and still smiling,
continued:

"Is it possible," she said, "that the Duke of Buckingham's heart was
touched? I had no idea, until now, that a heart-wound could be cured."

"Alas! Madame," replied De Wardes, politely, "every woman believes that;
and it is this belief that gives them that superiority to man which
confidence begets."

"You misunderstand altogether, dearest," said the prince, impatiently;
"M. de Wardes means that the Duke of Buckingham's heart had been touched,
not by the sword, but by something sharper."

"Ah! very good, very good!" exclaimed Madame. "It is a jest of M. de
Wardes's. Very good; but I should like to know if the Duke of Buckingham
would appreciate the jest. It is, indeed, a very great pity he is not
here, M. de Wardes."

The young man's eyes seemed to flash fire. "Oh!" he said, as he clenched
his teeth, "there is nothing I should like better."

De Guiche did not move. Madame seemed to expect that he would come to
her assistance. Monsieur hesitated. The Chevalier de Lorraine advanced
and continued the conversation.

"Madame," he said, "De Wardes knows perfectly well that for a
Buckingham's heart to be touched is nothing new, and what he has said has
already taken place."

"Instead of an ally, I have two enemies," murmured Madame; "two
determined enemies, and in league with each other." And she changed the
conversation. To change the conversation is, as every one knows, a right
possessed by princes which etiquette requires all to respect. The
remainder of the conversation was moderate enough in tone; the principal
actors had rehearsed their parts. Madame withdrew easily, and Monsieur,
who wished to question her on several matters, offered her his hand on
leaving. The chevalier was seriously afraid that an understanding might
be established between the husband and wife if he were to leave them
quietly together. He therefore made his way to Monsieur's apartments, in
order to surprise him on his return, and to destroy with a few words all
the good impressions Madame might have been able to sow in his heart. De
Guiche advanced towards De Wardes, who was surrounded by a large number
of persons, and thereby indicated his wish to converse with him; De
Wardes, at the same time, showing by his looks and by a movement of his
head that he perfectly understood him. There was nothing in these signs
to enable strangers to suppose they were otherwise than upon the most
friendly footing. De Guiche could therefore turn away from him, and wait
until he was at liberty. He had not long to wait; for De Wardes, freed
from his questioners, approached De Guiche, and after a fresh salutation,
they walked side by side together.

"You have made a good impression since your return, my dear De Wardes,"
said the comte.

"Excellent, as you see."

"And your spirits are just as lively as ever?"

"Better."

"And a very great happiness, too."

"Why not? Everything is so ridiculous in this world, everything so
absurd around us."

"You are right."

"You are of my opinion, then?"

"I should think so! And what news do you bring us from yonder?"

"I? None at all. I have come to look for news here."

"But, tell me, you surely must have seen some people at Boulogne, one of
our friends, for instance; it is no great time ago."

"Some people - one of our friends - "

"Your memory is short."

"Ah! true; Bragelonne, you mean."

"Exactly so."

"Who was on his way to fulfil a mission, with which he was intrusted to
King Charles II."

"Precisely. Well, then, did he not tell you, or did not you tell him - "

"I do not precisely know what I told him, I must confess: but I do know
what I did _not_ tell him." De Wardes was _finesse_ itself. He
perfectly well knew from De Guiche's tone and manner, which was cold and
dignified, that the conversation was about to assume a disagreeable
turn. He resolved to let it take what course it pleased, and to keep
strictly on his guard.

"May I ask you what you did not tell him?" inquired De Guiche.

"All about La Valliere."

"La Valliere... What is it? and what was that strange circumstance you
seem to have known over yonder, which Bragelonne, who was here on the
spot, was not acquainted with?"

"Do you really ask me that in a serious manner?"

"Nothing more so."

"What! you, a member of the court, living in Madame's household, a friend
of Monsieur's, a guest at their table, the favorite of our lovely
princess?"

Guiche colored violently from anger. "What princess are you alluding
to?" he said.

"I am only acquainted with one, my dear fellow. I am speaking of Madame
herself. Are you devoted to
another princess, then? Come, tell me."

De Guiche was on the point of launching out, but he saw the drift of the
remark. A quarrel was imminent between the two young men. De Wardes
wished the quarrel to be only in Madame's name, while De Guiche would not
accept it except on La Valliere's account. From this moment, it became a
series of feigned attacks, which would have continued until one of the
two had been touched home. De Guiche therefore resumed all the self-
possession he could command.

"There is not the slightest question in the world of Madame in this
matter, my dear De Wardes." said Guiche, "but simply of what you were
talking about just now."

"What was I saying?"

"That you had concealed certain things from Bragelonne."

"Certain things which you know as well as I do," replied De Wardes.

"No, upon my honor."

"Nonsense."

"If you tell me what they are, I shall know, but not otherwise, I swear."

"What! I who have just arrived from a distance of sixty leagues, and you
who have not stirred from this place, who have witnessed with your own
eyes that which rumor informed me of at Calais! Do you now tell me
seriously that you do not know what it is about? Oh! comte, this is
hardly charitable of you."

"As you like, De Wardes; but I again repeat, I know nothing."

"You are truly discreet - well! - perhaps it is very prudent of you."

"And so you will not tell me anything, will not tell me any more than you
told Bragelonne?"

"You are pretending to be deaf, I see. I am convinced that Madame could
not possibly have more command over herself than _you_ have."

"Double hypocrite," murmured Guiche to himself, "you are again returning
to the old subject."

"Very well, then," continued De Wardes, "since we find it so difficult to
understand each other about
La Valliere and Bragelonne let us speak about
your own affairs."

"Nay," said De Guiche, "I have no affairs of my own to talk about. You
have not said anything about me, I suppose, to Bragelonne, which you
cannot repeat to my face?"

"No; but understand me, Guiche, that however much I may be ignorant of
certain matters, I am quite as conversant with others. If, for instance,
we were conversing about the intimacies of the Duke of Buckingham at
Paris, as I did during my journey with the duke, I could tell you a great
many interesting circumstances. Would you like me to mention them?"

De Guiche passed his hand across his forehead, which was covered in
perspiration. "No, no," he said, "a hundred times no! I have no
curiosity for matters which do not concern me. The Duke of Buckingham is
for me nothing more than a simple acquaintance, whilst Raoul is an
intimate friend. I have not the slightest curiosity to learn what
happened to the duke, while I have, on the contrary, the greatest
interest in all that happened to Raoul."

"In Paris?"

"Yes, in Paris, or Boulogne. You understand I am on the spot; if
anything should happen, I am here to meet it; whilst Raoul is absent, and
has only myself to represent him; so, Raoul's affairs before my own."

"But he will return?"

"Not, however, until his mission is completed. In the meantime, you
understand, evil reports cannot be permitted to circulate about him
without my looking into them."

"And for a better reason still, that he will remain some time in London,"
said De Wardes, chuckling.

"You think so," said De Guiche, simply.

"Think so, indeed! do you suppose he was sent to London for no other
purpose than to go there and return again immediately? No, no; he was
sent to London to remain there."

"Ah! De Wardes," said De Guiche, grasping De Wardes's hand, "that is a
very serious suspicion concerning Bragelonne, which completely confirms
what he wrote to me from Boulogne."

De Wardes resumed his former coldness of manner: his love of raillery had
led him too far, and by his own imprudence, he had laid himself open to
attack.

"Well, tell me, what did he write to you about?" he inquired.

"He told me that you had artfully insinuated some injurious remarks
against La Valliere, and that you had seemed to laugh at his great
confidence in that young girl."

"Well, it is perfectly true I did so," said De Wardes, "and I was quite
ready, at the time, to hear from the Vicomte de Bragelonne that which
every man expects from another whenever anything may have been said to
displease him. In the same way, for instance, if I were seeking a
quarrel with you, I should tell you that Madame after having shown the
greatest preference for the Duke of Buckingham, is at this moment
supposed to have sent the handsome duke away for your benefit."

"Oh! that would not wound me in the slightest degree, my dear De Wardes,"
said De Guiche, smiling, notwithstanding the shiver that ran through his
whole frame. "Why, such a favor would be too great a happiness."

"I admit that, but if I absolutely wished to quarrel with you, I should
try and invent a falsehood, perhaps, and speak to you about a certain
arbor, where you and that illustrious princess were together - I should
speak also of certain gratifications, of certain kissings of the hand;
and you who are so secret on all occasions, so hasty, so punctilious - "

"Well," said De Guiche, interrupting him, with a smile upon his lips,
although he almost felt as if he were going to die; "I swear I should not
care for that, nor should I in any way contradict you; for you must know,
my dear marquis, that for all matters which concern myself I am a block
of ice; but it is a very different thing when an absent friend is
concerned, a friend, who, on leaving, confided his interests to my safe-
keeping; for such a friend, De Wardes, believe me, I am like fire itself."

"I understand you, Monsieur de Guiche. In spite of what you say, there
cannot be any question between us, just now, either of Bragelonne or of
this insignificant girl, whose name is La Valliere."

At this moment some of the younger courtiers were crossing the apartment,
and having already heard the few words which had just been pronounced,
were able also to hear those which were about to follow. De Wardes
observed this, and continued aloud: - "Oh! if La Valliere were a coquette
like Madame, whose innocent flirtations, I am sure, were, first of all,
the cause of the Duke of Buckingham being sent back to England, and
afterwards were the reason of your being sent into exile; for you will
not deny, I suppose, that Madame's pretty ways really had a certain
influence over you?"

The courtiers drew nearer to the speakers, Saint-Aignan at their head,
and then Manicamp.

"But, my dear fellow, whose fault was that?" said De Guiche, laughing.
"I am a vain, conceited fellow, I know, and everybody else knows it too.
I took seriously that which was only intended as a jest, and got myself
exiled for my pains. But I saw my error. I overcame my vanity, and I
obtained my recall, by making the _amende honorable_, and by promising
myself to overcome this defect; and the consequence is, that I am so
thoroughly cured, that I now laugh at the very thing which, three or four
days ago, would have almost broken my heart. But Raoul is in love, and
is loved in return; he cannot laugh at the reports which disturb his
happiness - reports which you seem to have undertaken to interpret, when
you know, marquis, as I do, as these gentlemen do, as every one does in
fact, that all such reports are pure calumny."

"Calumny!" exclaimed De Wardes, furious at seeing himself caught in the
snare by De Guiche's coolness of temper.

"Certainly - calumny. Look at this letter from him, in which he tell me
you have spoken ill of Mademoiselle de la Valliere; and where he asks me,
if what you reported about this young girl is true or not. Do you wish
me to appeal to these gentlemen, De Wardes, to decide?" And with
admirable coolness, De Guiche read aloud the paragraph of the letter
which referred to La Valliere. "And now," continued De Guiche, "there is
no doubt in the world, as far as I am concerned, that you wished to
disturb Bragelonne's peace of mind, and that your remarks were
maliciously intended."

De Wardes looked round him, to see if he could find support from any one;
but, at the idea that De Wardes had insulted, either directly or
indirectly, the idol of the day, every one shook his head; and De Wardes
saw that he was in the wrong.

"Messieurs," said De Guiche, intuitively divining the general feeling,
"my discussion with Monsieur de Wardes refers to a subject so delicate in
its nature, that it is most important no one should hear more than you
have already heard. Close the doors, then, I beg you, and let us finish
our conversation in the manner which becomes two gentlemen, one of whom
has given the other the lie."

"Messieurs, messieurs!" exclaimed those who were present.

"Is it your opinion, then, that I was wrong in defending Mademoiselle de
la Valliere?" said De Guiche. "In that case, I pass judgment upon
myself, and am ready to withdraw the offensive words I may have used to
Monsieur de Wardes."

"The deuce! certainly not!" said Saint-Aignan. "Mademoiselle de la
Valliere is an angel."

"Virtue and purity itself," said Manicamp.

"You see, Monsieur de Wardes," said De Guiche, "I am not the only one who
undertakes the defense of
that poor girl. I entreat you, therefore,
messieurs, a second time, to leave us. You see, it is impossible we
could be more calm and composed than we are."

It was the very thing the courtiers wished; some went out at one door,
and the rest at the other, and the two young men were left alone.

"Well played," said De Wardes, to the comte.

"Was it not?" replied the latter.

"How can it be wondered at, my dear fellow; I have got quite rusty in the
country, while the command you have acquired over yourself, comte,
confounds me; a man always gains something in women's society; so, pray
accept my congratulations."

"I do accept them."

"And I will make Madame a present of them."

"And now, my dear Monsieur de Wardes, let us speak as loud as you please."

"Do not defy me."

"I do defy you, for you are known to be an evil-minded man; if you do
that, you will be looked upon as a coward, too; and Monsieur would have
you hanged, this evening, at his window-casement. Speak, my dear De
Wardes, speak."

"I have fought already."

"But not quite enough, yet."

"I see, you would not be sorry to fight with me while my wounds are still
open."

"No; better still."

"The deuce! you are unfortunate in the moment you have chosen; a duel,
after the one I have just fought, would hardly suit me; I have lost too
much blood at Boulogne; at the slightest effort my wounds would open
again, and you would really have too good a bargain."

"True," said De Guiche; "and yet, on your arrival here, your looks and
your arms showed there was nothing the matter with you."

"Yes, my arms are all right, but my legs are weak; and then, I have not
had a foil in my hand since that devil of a duel; and you, I am sure,
have been fencing every day, in order to carry your little conspiracy
against me to a successful issue."

"Upon my honor, monsieur," replied De Guiche, "it is six months since I
last practiced."

"No, comte, after due reflection, I will not fight, at least, with you.
I will await Bragelonne's return, since you say it is Bragelonne who
finds fault with me."

"Oh no, indeed! You shall not wait until Bragelonne's return," exclaimed
the comte, losing all command over himself, "for you have said that
Bragelonne might, possibly, be some time before he returns; and, in the
meanwhile, your wicked insinuations would have had their effect."

"Yet, I shall have my excuse. So take care."

"I will give you a week to finish your recovery."

"That is better. We will wait a week."

"Yes, yes, I understand; a week will give time to my adversary to make
his escape. No, no; I will not give you one day, even."

"You are mad, monsieur," said De Wardes, retreating a step.

"And you are a coward, if you do not fight willingly. Nay, what is more,
I will denounce you to the king, as having refused to fight, after having
insulted La Valliere."

"Ah!" said De Wardes, "you are dangerously treacherous, though you pass
for a man of honor."

"There is nothing more dangerous than the treachery, as you term it, of
the man whose conduct is always loyal and upright."

"Restore me the use of my legs, then, or get yourself bled, till you are
as white as I am, so as to equalize our chances."

"No, no; I have something better than that to propose."

"What is it?"

"We will fight on horseback, and will exchange three pistol-shots each.
You are a first rate marksman. I have seen you bring down swallows with
single balls, and at full gallop. Do not deny it, for I have seen you
myself."

"I believe you are right," said De Wardes; "and as that is the case, it
is not unlikely I might kill you."

"You would be rendering me a very great service, if you did."

"I will do my best."

"Is it agreed? Give me your hand upon it."

"There it is: but on one condition, however."

"Name it."

"That not a word shall be said about it to the king."

"Not a word, I swear."

"I will go and get my horse, then."

"And I, mine."

"Where shall we meet?"

"In the plain; I know an admirable place."

"Shall we go together?"

"Why not?"

And both of them, on their way to the stables, passed beneath Madame's
windows, which were faintly lighted; a shadow could be seen behind the
lace curtains. "There is a woman," said De Wardes, smiling, "who does
not suspect that we are going to fight - to die, perhaps, on her account."

Alexandre Dumas pere