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Chapter 26

Chapter XXVI:
The Flight.

La Valliere followed the patrol as it left the courtyard. The patrol
bent its steps towards the right, by the Rue St. Honore, and mechanically
La Valliere turned to the left. Her resolution was taken - her
determination fixed; she wished to betake herself to the convent of the
Carmelites at Chaillot, the superior of which enjoyed a reputation for
severity which made the worldly-minded people of the court tremble. La
Valliere had never seen Paris, she had never gone out on foot, and so
would have been unable to find her way even had she been in a calmer
frame of mind than was then the case; and this may explain why she
ascended, instead of descending, the Rue St. Honore. Her only thought
was to get away from the Palais Royal, and this she was doing; she had
heard it said that Chaillot looked out upon the Seine, and she
accordingly directed her steps towards the Seine. She took the Rue de
Coq, and not being able to cross the Louvre, bore towards the church of
Saint Germain l'Auxerrois, proceeding along the site of the colonnade
which was subsequently built there by Perrault. In a very short time she
reached the quays. Her steps were rapid and agitated; she scarcely felt
the weakness which reminded her of having sprained her foot when very
young, and which obliged her to limp slightly. At any other hour in the
day her countenance would have awakened the suspicions of the least clear-
sighted, attracted the attention of the most indifferent. But at half-
past two in the morning, the streets of Paris are almost, if not quite,
deserted, and scarcely is any one to be seen but the hard-working artisan
on his way to earn his daily bread or the roistering idlers of the
streets, who are returning to their homes after a night of riot and
debauchery; for the former the day was beginning, and for the latter it
was just closing. La Valliere was afraid of both faces, in which her
ignorance of Parisian types did not permit her to distinguish the type of
probity from that of dishonesty. The appearance of misery alarmed her,
and all she met seemed either vile or miserable. Her dress, which was
the same she had worn during the previous evening, was elegant even in
its careless disorder; for it was the one in which she had presented
herself to the queen-mother; and, moreover, when she drew aside the
mantle which covered her face, in order to enable her to see the way she
was going, her pallor and her beautiful eyes spoke an unknown language to
the men she met, and, unconsciously, the poor fugitive seemed to invite
the brutal remarks of the one class, or to appeal to the compassion of
the other. La Valliere still walked on in the same way, breathless and
hurried, until she reached the top of the Place de Greve. She stopped
from time to time, placed her hand upon her heart, leaned against a wall
until she could breathe freely again, and then continued on her course
more rapidly than before. On reaching the Place de Greve La Valliere
suddenly came upon a group of three drunken men, reeling and staggering
along, who were just leaving a boat which they had made fast to the quay;
the boat was freighted with wines, and it was apparent that they had done
ample justice to the merchandise. They were celebrating their convivial
exploits in three different keys, when suddenly, as they reached the end
of the railing leading down to the quay, they found an obstacle in their
path, in the shape of this young girl. La Valliere stopped; while they,
on their part, at the appearance of the young girl dressed in court
costume, also halted, and seizing each other by the hand, they surrounded
La Valliere, singing, -

"Oh! all ye weary wights, who mope alone,
Come drink, and sing and laugh, round Venus' throne."

La Valliere at once understood that the men were insulting her, and
wished to prevent her passing; she tried to do so several times, but her
efforts were useless. Her limbs failed her; she felt she was on the
point of falling, and uttered a cry of terror. At the same moment the
circle which surrounded her was suddenly broken through in a most
violent manner. One of her insulters was knocked to the left, another
fell rolling over and over to the right, close to the water's edge, while
the third could hardly keep his feet. An officer of the musketeers stood
face to face with the young girl, with threatening brow and hand raised
to carry out his threat. The drunken fellows, at sight of the uniform,
made their escape with what speed their staggering limbs could lend them,
all the more eagerly for the proof of strength which the wearer of the
uniform had just afforded them.

"Is it possible," exclaimed the musketeer, "that it can be Mademoiselle
de la Valliere?"

La Valliere, bewildered by what had just happened, and confounded by
hearing her name pronounced, looked up and recognized D'Artagnan. "Oh,
M. d'Artagnan! it is indeed I;" and at the same moment she seized his
arm. "You will protect me, will you not?" she added, in a tone of
entreaty.

"Most certainly I will protect you; but, in Heaven's name, where are you
going at this hour?"

"I am going to Chaillot."

"You are going to Chaillot by way of La Rapee! why, mademoiselle, you are
turning your back upon it."

"In that case, monsieur, be kind enough to put me in the right way, and
to go with me a short distance."

"Most willingly."

"But how does it happen that I have found you here? By what merciful
intervention were you sent to my assistance? I almost seem to be
dreaming, or to be losing my senses."

"I happened to be here, mademoiselle, because I have a house in the Place
de Greve, at the sign of the Notre-Dame, the rent of which I went to
receive yesterday, and where I, in fact, passed the night. And I also
wished to be at the palace early, for the purposes of inspecting my
posts."

"Thank you," said La Valliere.

"That is what _I_ was doing," said D'Artagnan to himself; "but what is
_she_ doing, and why is she going to Chaillot at such an hour?" And he
offered her his arm, which she took, and began to walk with increased
precipitation, which ill-concealed, however, her weakness. D'Artagnan
perceived it, and proposed to La Valliere that she should take a little
rest, which she refused.

"You are ignorant, perhaps, where Chaillot is?" inquired D'Artagnan.

"Quite so."

"It is a great distance."

"That matters very little."

"It is at least a league."

"I can walk it."

D'Artagnan did not reply; he could tell, merely by the tone of a voice,
when a resolution was real or not. He rather bore along rather than
accompanied La Valliere, until they perceived the elevated ground of
Chaillot.

"What house are you going to, mademoiselle?" inquired D'Artagnan.

"To the Carmelites, monsieur."

"To the Carmelites?" repeated D'Artagnan, in amazement.

"Yes; and since Heaven has directed you towards me to give me your
support on my road, accept both my thanks and my adieux."

"To the Carmelites! Your adieux! Are you going to become a nun?"
exclaimed D'Artagnan.

"Yes, monsieur."

"What, you!!!" There was in this "you," which we have marked by three
notes of exclamation in order to render it as expressive as possible, -
there was, we repeat, in this "you" a complete poem; it recalled to La
Valliere her old recollections of Blois, and her new recollections of
Fontainebleau; it said to her, "_You_, who might be happy with Raoul;
_you_, who might be powerful with Louis; _you_ about to become a nun!"

"Yes, monsieur," she said, "I am going to devote myself to the service of
Heaven; and to renounce the world entirely."

"But are you not mistaken with regard to your vocation, - are you not
mistaken in supposing it to be the will of Heaven?"

"No, since Heaven has been pleased to throw you in my way. Had it not
been for you, I should certainly have sunk from fatigue on the road, and
since Heaven, I repeat, has thrown you in my way, it is because it has
willed that I should carry out my intention."

"Oh!" said D'Artagnan, doubtingly, "that is a rather subtle distinction,
I think."

"Whatever it may be," returned the young girl, "I have acquainted you
with the steps I have taken, and with my fixed resolution. And, now, I
have one last favor to ask of you, even while I return you my thanks.
The king is entirely ignorant of my flight from the Palais Royal, and is
ignorant also of what I am about to do."

"The king ignorant, you say!" exclaimed D'Artagnan. "Take care,
mademoiselle; you are not aware of what you are doing. No one ought to
do anything with which the king is unacquainted, especially those who
belong to the court."

"I no longer belong to the court, monsieur."

D'Artagnan looked at the young girl with increasing astonishment.

"Do not be uneasy, monsieur," she continued: "I have well calculated
everything; and were it not so, it would now be too late to reconsider my
resolution, - all is decided."

"Well, mademoiselle, what do you wish me to do?"

"In the name of that sympathy which misfortune inspires, by your generous
feeling, and by your honor as a gentleman, I entreat you to promise me
one thing."

"Name it."

"Swear to me, Monsieur d'Artagnan, that you will not tell the king that
you have seen me, and that I am at the Carmelites."

"I will not swear that," said D'Artagnan, shaking his head.

"Why?"

"Because I know the king, I know you, I know myself even, nay, the whole
human race, too well; no, no, I will not swear that!"

"In that case," cried La Valliere, with an energy of which one would
hardly have thought her capable, "instead of the blessing which I should
have implored for you until my dying day, I will invoke a curse, for you
are rendering me the most miserable creature that ever lived."

We have already observed that D'Artagnan could easily recognize the
accents of truth and sincerity, and he could not resist this last
appeal. He saw by her face how bitterly she suffered from a feeling of
degradation, he remarked her trembling limbs, how her whole slight and
delicate frame was violently agitated by some internal struggle, and
clearly perceived that resistance might be fatal. "I will do as you
wish, then," he said. "Be satisfied, mademoiselle, I will say nothing to
the king."

"Oh! thanks, thanks," exclaimed La Valliere, "you are the most generous
man breathing."

And in her extreme delight she seized hold of D'Artagnan's hands and
pressed them between her own. D'Artagnan, who felt himself quite
overcome, said: "This is touching, upon my word; she begins where others
leave off."

And La Valliere, who, in the bitterness of her distress, had sunk upon
the ground, rose and walked towards the convent of the Carmelites, which
could now, in the dawning light, be perceived just before them.
D'Artagnan followed her at a distance. The entrance-door was half-open;
she glided in like a shadow, and thanking D'Artagnan by a parting
gesture, disappeared from his sight. When D'Artagnan found himself quite
alone, he reflected very profoundly upon what had just taken place.
"Upon my word," he said, "this looks very much like what is called a
false position. To keep such a secret as that, is to keep a burning coal
in one's breeches-pocket, and trust that it may not burn the stuff. And
yet, not to keep it when I have sworn to do so is dishonorable. It
generally happens that some bright idea or other occurs to me as I am
going along; but I am very much mistaken if I shall not, now, have to go
a long way in order to find the solution of this affair. Yes, but which
way to go? Oh! towards Paris, of course; that is the best way, after
all. Only one must make haste, and in order to make haste four legs are
better than two, and I, unhappily, only have two. 'A horse, a horse,' as
I heard them say at the theatre in London, 'my kingdom for a horse!' And
now I think of it, it need not cost me so much as that, for at the
Barriere de la Conference there is a guard of musketeers, and instead of
the one horse I need, I shall find ten there."

So, in pursuance of this resolution, which he adopted with his usual
rapidity, D'Artagnan immediately turned his back upon the heights of
Chaillot, reached the guard-house, took the fastest horse he could find
there, and was at the palace in less than ten minutes. It was striking
five as he reached the Palais Royal. The king, he was told, had gone to
bed at his usual hour, having been long engaged with M. Colbert, and, in
all probability, was still sound asleep. "Come," said D'Artagnan, "she
spoke the truth; the king is ignorant of everything; if he only knew one-
half of what has happened, the Palais Royal by this time would be turned
upside down."

Alexandre Dumas pere