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Chapter 33

Chapter XXXIII:
Which Treats of Carpentry Operations, and Furnishes Details upon the Mode
of Constructing Staircases.

The advice which had been given to Montalais was communicated by her to
La Valliere, who could not but acknowledge that it was by no means
deficient in judgment, and who, after a certain amount of resistance,
rising rather from timidity than indifference to the project, resolved to
put it into execution. This story of the two girls weeping, and filling
Madame's bedroom with the noisiest lamentations, was Malicorne's _chef-
d'oeuvre_. As nothing is so probable as improbability, so natural as
romance, this kind of Arabian Nights story succeeded perfectly with
Madame. The first thing she did was to send Montalais away, and then,
three days, or rather three nights afterwards, she had La Valliere
removed. She gave the latter one of the small rooms on the top story,
situated immediately over the apartments allotted to the gentlemen of
Monsieur's suite. One story only, that is to say, a mere flooring
separated the maids of honor from the officers and gentlemen of her
husband's household. A private staircase, which was placed under Madame
de Navailles's surveillance, was the only means of communication. For
greater safety, Madame de Navailles, who had heard of his majesty's
previous attempts, had the windows of the rooms and the openings of the
chimneys carefully barred. There was, therefore, every possible security
provided for Mademoiselle de la Valliere, whose room now bore more
resemblance to a cage than to anything else. When Mademoiselle de la
Valliere was in her own room, and she was there very frequently, for
Madame scarcely ever had any occasion for her services, since she once
knew she was safe under Madame de Navailles's inspection, Mademoiselle de
la Valliere had no better means of amusing herself than looking through
the bars of her windows. It happened, therefore, that one morning, as
she was looking out as usual, she perceived Malicorne at one of the
windows exactly opposite to her own. He held a carpenter's rule in his
hand, was surveying the buildings, and seemed to be adding up some
figures on paper. La Valliere recognized Malicorne and nodded to him;
Malicorne, in his turn, replied by a formal bow, and disappeared from the
window. She was surprised at this marked coolness, so different from his
usual unfailing good-humor, but she remembered that he had lost his
appointment on her account, and that he could hardly be very amiably
disposed towards her, since, in all probability, she would never be in a
position to make him any recompense for what he had lost. She knew how
to forgive offenses, and with still more readiness could she sympathize
with misfortune. La Valliere would have asked Montalais her opinion, if
she had been within hearing, but she was absent, it being the hour she
commonly devoted to her own correspondence. Suddenly La Valliere
observed something thrown from the window where Malicorne had been
standing, pass across the open space which separated the iron bars, and
roll upon the floor. She advanced with no little curiosity towards this
object, and picked it up; it was a wooden reel for silk, only, in this
instance, instead of silk, a piece of paper was rolled round it. La
Valliere unrolled it and read as follows:

"MADEMOISELLE, - I am exceedingly anxious to learn two things: the first
is, to know if the flooring of your apartment is wood or brick; the
second, to ascertain at what distance your bed is placed from the
window. Forgive my importunity, and will you be good enough to send me
an answer by the same way you receive this letter - that is to say, by
means of the silk winder; only, instead of throwing into my room, as I
have thrown it into yours, which will be too difficult for you to
attempt, have the goodness merely to let it fall. Believe me,
mademoiselle, your most humble, most respectful servant,
"MALICORNE.
"Write the reply, if you please, upon the letter itself."

"Ah! poor fellow," exclaimed La Valliere, "he must have gone out of his
mind;" and she directed towards her correspondent - of whom she caught
but a faint glimpse, in consequence of the darkness of the room - a look
full of compassionate consideration. Malicorne understood her, and shook
his head, as if he meant to say, "No, no, I am not out of my mind; be
quite satisfied."

She smiled, as if still in doubt.

"No, no," he signified by a gesture, "my head is right," and pointed to
his head, then, after moving his hand like a man who writes very rapidly,
he put his hands together as if entreating her to write.

La Valliere, even if he were mad, saw no impropriety in doing what
Malicorne requested her; she took a pencil and wrote "Wood," and then
walked slowly from her window to her bed, and wrote, "Six paces," and
having done this, she looked out again at Malicorne, who bowed to her,
signifying that he was about to descend. La Valliere understood that it
was to pick up the silk winder. She approached the window, and, in
accordance with Malicorne's instructions, let it fall. The winder was
still rolling along the flag-stones as Malicorne started after it,
overtook and picked it up, and beginning to peel it as a monkey would do
with a nut, he ran straight towards M. de Saint-Aignan's apartment.
Saint-Aignan had chosen, or rather solicited, that his rooms might be as
near the king as possible, as certain plants seek the sun's rays in order
to develop themselves more luxuriantly. His apartment consisted of two
rooms, in that portion of the palace occupied by Louis XIV. himself. M.
de Saint-Aignan was very proud of this proximity, which afforded easy
access to his majesty, and, more than that, the favor of occasional
unexpected meetings. At the moment we are now referring to, he was
engaged in having both his rooms magnificently carpeted, with expectation
of receiving the honor of frequent visits from the king; for his majesty,
since his passion for La Valliere, had chosen Saint-Aignan as his
confidant, and could not, in fact, do without him, either night or day.
Malicorne introduced himself to the comte, and met with no difficulties,
because he had been favorably noticed by the king; and also, because the
credit which one man may happen to enjoy is always a bait for others.
Saint-Aignan asked his visitor if he brought any news with him.

"Yes; great news," replied the latter.

"Ah! ah!" said Saint-Aignan, "what is it?"

"Mademoiselle de la Valliere has changed her quarters."

"What do you mean?" said Saint-Aignan, opening his eyes very wide. "She
was living in the same apartments as Madame."

"Precisely so; but Madame got tired of her proximity, and has installed
her in a room which is situated exactly above your future apartment."

"What! up there," exclaimed Saint-Aignan, with surprise, and pointing at
the floor above him with his finger.

"No," said Malicorne, "yonder," indicating the building opposite.

"What do you mean, then, by saying that her room is above my apartment?"

"Because I am sure that your apartment _ought_, providentially, to be
under Mademoiselle de la Valliere's room."

Saint-Aignan, at this remark, gave poor Malicorne a look, similar to one
of those La Valliere had already given a quarter of an hour before, that
is to say, he thought he had lost his senses.

"Monsieur," said Malicorne to him, "I wish to answer what you are
thinking about."

"What do you mean by 'what I am thinking about'?"

"My reason is, that you have not clearly understood what I want to
convey."

"I admit it."

"Well, then, you are aware that underneath the apartments set for
Madame's maids of honor, the gentlemen in attendance on the king and on
Monsieur are lodged."

"Yes, I know that, since Manicamp, De Wardes, and others are living
there."

"Precisely. Well, monsieur, admire the singularity of the circumstance;
the two rooms destined for M. de Guiche are exactly the very two rooms
situated underneath those which Mademoiselle de Montalais and
Mademoiselle de la Valliere occupy."

"Well; what then?"

"'What then,' do you say? Why, these two rooms are empty, since M. de
Guiche is now lying wounded at Fontainebleau."

"I assure you, my dear fellow, I cannot grasp your meaning."

"Well! if I had the happiness to call myself Saint-Aignan, I should guess
immediately."

"And what would you do then?"

"I should at once change the rooms I am occupying here, for those which
M. de Guiche is not using yonder."

"Can you suppose such a thing?" said Saint-Aignan, disdainfully. "What!
abandon the chief post of honor, the proximity to the king, a privilege
conceded only to princes of the blood, to dukes, and peers! Permit me to
tell you, my dear Monsieur de Malicorne, that you must be out of your
senses."

"Monsieur," replied the young man, seriously, "you commit two mistakes.
My name is Malicorne, simply; and I am in perfect possession of all my
senses." Then, drawing a paper from his pocket, he said, "Listen to what
I am going to say; and afterwards, I will show you this paper."

"I am listening," said Saint-Aignan.

"You know that Madame looks after La Valliere as carefully as Argus did
after the nymph Io."

"I do."

"You know that the king has sought for an opportunity, but uselessly, of
speaking to the prisoner, and that neither you nor myself have yet
succeeded in procuring him this piece of good fortune."

"You certainly ought to know something about the subject, my poor
Malicorne," said Saint-Aignan, smiling.

"Very good; what do you suppose would happen to the man whose imagination
devised some means of bringing the lovers together?"

"Oh! the king would set no bounds to his gratitude."

"Let me ask you, then, M. de Saint-Aignan, whether you would not be
curious to taste a little of this royal gratitude?"

"Certainly," replied Saint-Aignan, "any favor of my master, as a
recognition of the proper discharge of my duty, would assuredly be most
precious."

"In that case, look at this paper, monsieur le comte."

"What is it - a plan?"

"Yes; a plan of M. de Guiche's two rooms, which, in all probability, will
soon be your two rooms."

"Oh! no, whatever may happen."

"Why so?"

"Because my rooms are the envy of too many gentlemen, to whom I certainly
shall not give them up; M. de Roquelaure, for instance, M. de la Ferte,
and M. de Dangeau, would all be anxious to get them."

"In that case I shall leave you, monsieur le comte, and I shall go and
offer to one of those gentlemen the plan I have just shown you, together
with the advantages annexed to it."

"But why do you not keep them for yourself?" inquired Saint-Aignan,
suspiciously.

"Because the king would never do me the honor of paying me a visit
openly, whilst he would readily go and see any one of those gentlemen."

"What! the king would go and see any one of those gentlemen?"

"Go! most certainly he would ten times instead of once. Is it possible
you can ask me if the king would go to an apartment which would bring him
nearer to Mademoiselle de la Valliere?"

"Yes, indeed, delightfully near her, with a floor between them."

Malicorne unfolded the piece of paper which had been wrapped round the
bobbin. "Monsieur le comte," he said, "have the goodness to observe that
the flooring of Mademoiselle de la Valliere's room is merely a wooden
flooring."

"Well?"

"Well! all you would have to do would be to get hold of a journeyman
carpenter, lock him up in your apartments, without letting him know where
you have taken him to, and let him make a hole in your ceiling, and
consequently in the flooring of Mademoiselle de la Valliere's room."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Saint-Aignan, as if dazzled.

"What is the matter?" said Malicorne.

"Nothing, except that you have hit upon a singular, bold idea, monsieur."

"It will seem a very trifling one to the king, I assure you."

"Lovers never think of the risk they run."

"What danger do you apprehend, monsieur le comte?"

"Why, effecting such an opening as that will make a terrible noise: it
could be heard all over the palace."

"Oh! monsieur le comte, I am quite sure that the carpenter I shall select
will not make the slightest noise in the world. He will saw an opening
three feet square, with a saw covered with tow, and no one, not even
those adjoining, will know that he is at work."

"My dear Monsieur Malicorne, you astound, you positively bewilder me."

"To continue," replied Malicorne, quietly, "in the room, the ceiling of
which you will have cut through, you will put up a staircase, which will
either allow Mademoiselle de la Valliere to descend into your room, or
the king to ascend into Mademoiselle de la Valliere's room."

"But the staircase will be seen."

"No; for in your room it will be hidden by a partition, over which you
will throw a tapestry similar to that which covers the rest of the
apartment; and in Mademoiselle de la Valliere's room it will not be seen,
for the trapdoor, which will be a part of the flooring itself, will be
made to open under the bed."

"Of course," said Saint-Aignan, whose eyes began to sparkle with delight.

"And now, monsieur le comte, there is no occasion to make you admit that
the king will frequently come to the room where such a staircase is
constructed. I think that M. Dangeau, particularly, will be struck by my
idea, and I shall now go and explain to him."

"But, my dear Monsieur Malicorne, you forget that you spoke to me about
it the first, and that I have consequently the right of priority."

"Do you wish for the preference?"

"Do I wish it? Of course I do."

"The fact is, Monsieur de Saint-Aignan, I am presenting you with a
Jacob's ladder, which is better than the promise of an additional step in
the peerage - perhaps, even with a good estate to accompany your dukedom."

"At least," replied Saint-Aignan, "it will give me an opportunity of
showing the king that he is not mistaken in occasionally calling me his
friend; an opportunity, dear M. Malicorne, for which I am indebted to
you."

"And which you will not forget to remember?" inquired Malicorne, smiling.

"Nothing will delight me more, monsieur."

"But I am not the king's friend; I am simply his attendant."

"Yes; and if you imagine that that staircase is as good as a dukedom for
myself, I think there will certainly be letters of nobility at the top of
it for you."

Malicorne bowed.

"All I have to do now," said Saint-Aignan, "is to move as soon as
possible."

"I do not think the king will object to it. Ask his permission, however."

"I will go and see him this very moment."

"And I will run and get the carpenter I was speaking of."

"When will he be here?"

"This very evening."

"Do not forget your precautions."

"He shall be brought with his eyes bandaged."

"And I will send you one of my carriages."

"Without arms."

"And one of my servants without livery. But stay, what will La Valliere
say if she sees what is going on?"

"Oh! I can assure you she will be very much interested in the operation,
and I am equally sure that if the king has not courage enough to ascend
to her room, she will have sufficient curiosity to come down to him."

"We will live in hope," said Saint-Aignan; "and now I am off to his
majesty. At what time will the carpenter be here?"

"At eight o'clock."

"How long do you suppose he will take to make this opening?"

"About a couple of hours; only afterwards he must have sufficient time to
construct what may be called the hyphen between the two rooms. One night
and a portion of the following day will do; we must not reckon upon less
than two days, including putting up the staircase."

"Two days, that is a very long time."

"Nay; when one undertakes to open up communications with paradise itself,
we must at least take care that the approaches are respectable."

"Quite right; so farewell for a short time, dear M. Malicorne. I shall
begin to remove the day after to-morrow, in the evening."

Alexandre Dumas pere