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Chapter 34

Chapter XXXIV:
The Promenade by Torchlight.

Saint-Aignan, delighted with what he had just heard, and rejoiced at what
the future foreshadowed for him, bent his steps towards De Guiche's two
rooms. He who, a quarter of an hour previously, would hardly yield up
his own rooms for a million francs, was now ready to expend a million, if
it were necessary, upon the acquisition of the two happy rooms he coveted
so eagerly. But he did not meet with so many obstacles. M. de Guiche
did not yet know where he was to lodge, and, besides, was still too far
ill to trouble himself about his lodgings; and so Saint-Aignan obtained
De Guiche's two rooms without difficulty. As for M. Dangeau, he was so
immeasurably delighted, that he did not even give himself the trouble to
think whether Saint-Aignan had any particular reason for removing.
Within an hour after Saint-Aignan's new resolution, he was in possession
of the two rooms; and ten minutes later Malicorne entered, followed by
the upholsterers. During this time, the king asked for Saint-Aignan; the
valet ran to his late apartments and found M. Dangeau there; Dangeau sent
him on to De Guiche's, and Saint-Aignan was found there; but a little
delay had of course taken place, and the king had already exhibited once
or twice evident signs of impatience, when Saint-Aignan entered his royal
master's presence, quite out of breath.

"You, too, abandon me, then," said Louis XIV., in a similar tone of
lamentation to that with which Caesar, eighteen hundred years previously,
had pronounced the _Et tu quoque_.

"Sire, I am far from abandoning you, for, on the contrary, I am busily
occupied in changing my lodgings."

"What do you mean? I thought you had finished moving three days ago."

"Yes, sire. But I don't find myself comfortable where I am, so I am
going to change to the opposite side of the building."

"Was I not right when I said you were abandoning me?" exclaimed the
king. "Oh! this exceeds all endurance. But so it is: there was only one
woman for whom my heart cared at all, and all my family is leagued
together to tear her from me; and my friend, to whom I confided my
distress, and who helped me to bear up under it, has become wearied of my
complaints and is going to leave me without even asking my permission."

Saint-Aignan began to laugh. The king at once guessed there must be some
mystery in this want of respect. "What is it?" cried the king, full of
hope.

"This, sire, that the friend whom the king calumniates is going to try if
he cannot restore to his sovereign the happiness he has lost."

"Are you going to let me see La Valliere?" said Louis XIV.

"I cannot say so, positively, but I hope so."

"How - how? - tell me that, Saint-Aignan. I wish to know what your
project is, and to help you with all my power."

"Sire," replied Saint-Aignan, "I cannot, even myself, tell very well how
I must set about attaining success; but I have every reason to believe
that from to-morrow - "

"To-morrow, do you say! What happiness! But why are you changing your
rooms?"

"In order to serve your majesty to better advantage."

"How can your moving serve me?"

"Do you happen to know where the two rooms destined for De Guiche are
situated?"

"Yes."

"Well, your majesty now knows where I am going."

"Very likely; but that does not help me."

"What! is it possible that you do not understand, sire, that above De
Guiche's lodgings are two rooms, one of which is Mademoiselle
Montalais's, and the other - "

"La Valliere's, is it not so, Saint-Aignan? Oh! yes, yes. It is a
brilliant idea, Saint-Aignan, a true friend's idea, a poet's idea. By
bringing me nearer her from whom the world seems to unite to separate me
- you are far more than Pylades was for Orestes, or Patroclus for
Achilles."

"Sire," said Aignan, with a smile, "I question whether, if your majesty
were to know my projects in their full extent, you would continue to
pronounce such a pompous eulogium upon me. Ah! sire, I know how very
different are the epithets which certain Puritans of the court will not
fail to apply to me when they learn of what I intend to do for your
majesty."

"Saint-Aignan, I am dying with impatience; I am in a perfect fever; I
shall never be able to wait until to-morrow - to-morrow! why, to-morrow
is an eternity!"

"And yet, sire, I shall require you, if you please, to go out presently
and divert your impatience by a good walk."

"With you - agreed; we will talk about your projects, we will talk of
her."

"Nay, sire; I remain here."

"Whom shall I go out with, then?"

"With the queen and all the ladies of the court."

"Nothing shall induce me to do that, Saint-Aignan."

"And yet, sire, you must."

"_Must?_ - no, no - a thousand times no! I will never again expose
myself to the horrible torture of being close to her, of seeing her, of
touching her dress as I pass by her, and yet not be able to say a word to
her. No, I renounce a torture which you suppose will bring me happiness,
but which consumes and eats away my very life; to see her in the presence
of strangers, and not to tell her that I love her, when my whole being
reveals my affection and betrays me to every one; no! I have sworn never
to do it again, and I will keep my oath."

"Yet, sire, pray listen to me for a moment."

"I will listen to nothing, Saint-Aignan."

"In that case, I will continue; it is most urgent, sire - pray understand
me, it is of the greatest importance - that Madame and her maids of honor
should be absent for two hours from the palace."

"I cannot understand your meaning at all, Saint-Aignan."

"It is hard for me to give my sovereign directions what to do; but under
the circumstances I do give you directions, sire; and either a hunting or
a promenade party must be got up."

"But if I were to do what you wish, it would be a caprice, a mere whim.
In displaying such an impatient humor I show my whole court that I have
no control over my own feelings. Do not people already say that I am
dreaming of the conquest of the world, but that I ought previously to
begin by achieving a conquest over myself?"

"Those who say so, sire, are as insolent as they would like to be thought
facetious; but whomever they may be, if your majesty prefers to listen to
them, I have nothing further to say. In such a case, that which we have
fixed to take place to-morrow must be postponed indefinitely."

"Nay, Saint-Aignan, I will go out this evening - I will go by torchlight
to Saint-Germain: I will breakfast there to-morrow, and will return to
Paris by three o'clock. Will that do?"

"Admirably."

"In that case I will set out this evening at eight o'clock."

"Your majesty has fixed upon the exact minute."

"And you positively will tell me nothing more?"

"It is because I have nothing more to tell you. Industry counts for
something in this world, sire; but still, chance plays so important a
part in it that I have been accustomed to leave her the sidewalk,
confident that she will manage so as to always take the street."

"Well, I abandon myself entirely to you."

"And you are quite right."

Comforted in this manner, the king went immediately to Madame, to whom he
announced the intended expedition. Madame fancied at the first moment
that she saw in this unexpectedly arranged party a plot of the king's to
converse with La Valliere, either on the road under cover of the
darkness, or in some other way, but she took especial care not to show
any of her fancies to her brother-in-law, and accepted the invitation
with a smile upon her lips. She gave directions aloud that her maids of
honor should accompany her, secretly intending in the evening to take the
most effectual steps to interfere with his majesty's attachment. Then,
when she was alone, and at the very moment the poor lover, who had issued
orders for the departure, was reveling in the idea that Mademoiselle de
la Valliere would form one of the party, - luxuriating in the sad
happiness persecuted lovers enjoy of realizing through the sense of sight
alone all the transports of possession, - Madame, who was surrounded by
her maids of honor, was saying: - "Two ladies will be enough for me this
evening, Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente and Mademoiselle de Montalais."

La Valliere had anticipated her own omission, and was prepared for it:
but persecution had rendered her courageous, and she did not give Madame
the pleasure of seeing on her face the impression of the shock her heart
received. On the contrary, smiling with that ineffable gentleness which
gave an angelic expression to her features - "In that case, Madame, I
shall be at liberty this evening, I suppose?" she said.

"Of course."

"I shall be able to employ it, then, in progressing with that piece of
tapestry which your highness has been good enough to notice, and which I
have already had the honor of offering to you."

And having made a respectful obeisance she withdrew to her own apartment;
Mesdemoiselles de Tonnay-Charente and de Montalais did the same. The
rumor of the intended promenade soon spread all over the palace; ten
minutes afterwards Malicorne learned Madame's resolution, and slipped
under Montalais's door a note, in the following terms:

"L. V. must positively pass the night the night with Madame."

Montalais, in pursuance of the compact she had entered into, began by
burning the letter, and then sat down to reflect. Montalais was a girl
full of expedients, and so she very soon arranged her plan. Towards five
o'clock, which was the hour for her to repair to Madame's apartment, she
was running across the courtyard, and had reached within a dozen paces of
a group of officers, when she uttered a cry, fell gracefully on one knee,
rose again, with difficulty, and walked on limpingly. The gentlemen ran
forward to her assistance; Montalais had sprained her foot. Faithful to
the discharge of her duty, she insisted, however, notwithstanding her
accident, upon going to Madame's apartments.

"What is the matter, and why do you limp so?" she inquired; "I mistook
you for La Valliere."

Montalais related how it had happened, that in hurrying on, in order to
arrive as quickly as possible, she had sprained her foot. Madame seemed
to pity her, and wished to have a surgeon sent for immediately, but she,
assuring her that there was nothing really serious in the accident, said:
"My only regret, Madame, is, that it will preclude my attendance on you,
and I should have begged Mademoiselle de la Valliere to take my place
with your royal highness, but - " seeing that Madame frowned, she added
"I have not done so."

"Why did you not do so?" inquired Madame.

"Because poor La Valliere seemed so happy to have her liberty for a whole
evening and night too, that I did not feel courageous enough to ask her
to take my place."

"What, is she so delighted as that?" inquired madame, struck by these
words.

"She is wild with delight; she, who is always so melancholy, was singing
like a bird. Besides, you highness knows how much she detests going out,
and also that her character has a spice of wildness in it."

"So!" thought Madame, "this extreme delight hardly seems natural to me."

"She has already made all her preparations for dining in her own room
_tete-a-tete_ with one of her favorite books. And then, as your highness
has six other young ladies who would be delighted to accompany you, I did
not make my proposal to La Valliere." Madame did not say a word in reply.

"Have I acted properly?" continued Montalais, with a slight fluttering of
the heart, seeing the little success that seemed to attend the _ruse de
guerre_ which she had relied upon with so much confidence that she had
not thought it even necessary to try and find another. "Does Madame
approve of what I have done?" she continued.

Madame was reflecting that the king could very easily leave Saint-Germain
during the night, and that, as it was only four leagues and a half from
Paris to Saint-Germain, he might readily be in Paris in an hour's time.
"Tell me," she said, "whether La Valliere, when she heard of your
accident, offered at least to bear you company?"

"Oh! she does not yet know of my accident; but even did she know of it, I
most certainly should not ask her to do anything that might interfere
with her own plans. I think she wishes this evening to realize quietly
by herself that amusement of the late king, when he said to M. de Cinq-
Mars, 'Let us amuse ourselves by doing nothing, and making ourselves
miserable.'"

Madame felt convinced that some mysterious love adventure lurked behind
this strong desire for solitude. The secret _might_ be Louis's return
during the night; it could not be doubted any longer La Valliere had been
informed of his intended return, and that was the reason for her delight
at having to remain behind at the Palais Royal. It was a plan settled
and arranged beforehand.

"I will not be their dupe though," said Madame, and she took a decisive
step. "Mademoiselle de Montalais," she said, "will you have the goodness
to inform your friend, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, that I am exceedingly
sorry to disarrange her projects of solitude, but that instead of
becoming _ennuyee_ by remaining behind alone as she wished, she will be
good enough to accompany us to Saint-Germain and get _ennuyee_ there."

"Ah! poor La Valliere," said Montalais, compassionately, but with her
heart throbbing with delight; "oh, Madame, could there not be some
means - "

"Enough," said Madame; "I desire it. I prefer Mademoiselle la Baume le
Blanc's society to that of any one else. Go, and send her to me, and
take care of your foot."

Montalais did not wait for the order to be repeated; she returned to her
room, almost forgetting to feign lameness, wrote an answer to Malicorne,
and slipped it under the carpet. The answer simply said: "She shall." A
Spartan could not have written more laconically.

"By this means," thought Madame, "I will look narrowly after all on the
road; she shall sleep near me during the night, and his majesty must be
very clever if he can exchange a single word with Mademoiselle de la
Valliere."

La Valliere received the order to set off with the same indifferent
gentleness with which she had received the order to play Cinderella.
But, inwardly, her delight was extreme, and she looked upon this change
in the princess's resolution as a consolation which Providence had sent
her. With less penetration than Madame possessed, she attributed all to
chance. While every one, with the exception of those in disgrace, of
those who were ill, and those who were suffering from sprains, were being
driven towards Saint-Germain, Malicorne smuggled his workman into the
palace in one of M. de Saint-Aignan's carriages, and led him into the
room corresponding to La Valliere's. The man set to work with a will,
tempted by the splendid reward which had been promised him. As the very
best tools and implements had been selected from the reserve stock
belonging to the engineers attached to the king's household - and among
others, a saw with teeth so sharp and well tempered that it was able,
under water even, to cut through oaken joists as hard as iron - the work
in question advanced very rapidly, and a square portion of the ceiling,
taken from between two of the joists, fell into the arms of the delighted
Saint-Aignan, Malicorne, the workman, and a confidential valet, the
latter being one brought into the world to see and hear everything, but
to repeat nothing. In accordance with a new plan indicated by Malicorne,
the opening was effected in an angle of the room - and for this reason.
As there was no dressing-closet adjoining La Valliere's room, she had
solicited, and had that very morning obtained, a large screen intended to
serve as a partition. The screen that had been allotted her was
perfectly sufficient to conceal the opening, which would, besides, be
hidden by all the artifices skilled cabinet-makers would have at their
command. The opening having been made, the workman glided between the
joists, and found himself in La Valliere's room. When there, he cut a
square opening in the flooring, and out of the boards he manufactured a
trap so accurately fitting into the opening that the most practised eye
could hardly detect the necessary interstices made by its lines of
juncture with the floor. Malicorne had provided for everything: a ring
and a couple of hinges which had been bought for the purpose, were
affixed to the trap-door; and a small circular stair-case, packed in
sections, had been bought ready made by the industrious Malicorne, who
had paid two thousand francs for it. It was higher than what was
required, but the carpenter reduced the number of steps, and it was found
to suit exactly. This staircase, destined to receive so illustrious a
burden, was merely fastened to the wall by a couple of iron clamps, and
its base was fixed into the floor of the comte's room by two iron pegs
screwed down tightly, so that the king, and all his cabinet councilors
too, might pass up and down the staircase without any fear. Every blow
of the hammer fell upon a thick pad or cushion, and the saw was not used
until the handle had been wrapped in wool, and the blade steeped in oil.
The noisiest part of the work, moreover, had taken place during the night
and early in the morning, that is to say, when La Valliere and Madame
were both absent. When, about two o'clock in the afternoon, the court
returned to the Palais Royal, La Valliere went up into her own room.
Everything was in its proper place - not the smallest particle of
sawdust, not the smallest chip, was left to bear witness to the violation
of her domicile. Saint-Aignan, however, wishing to do his utmost in
forwarding the work, had torn his fingers and his shirt too, and had
expended no ordinary amount of perspiration in the king's service. The
palms of his hands were covered with blisters, occasioned by his having
held the ladder for Malicorne. He had, moreover, brought up, one by one,
the seven pieces of the staircase, each consisting of two steps. In
fact, we can safely assert that, if the king had seen him so ardently at
work, his majesty would have sworn an eternal gratitude towards his
faithful attendant. As Malicorne anticipated, the workman had completely
finished the job in twenty-four hours; he received twenty-four louis, and
left, overwhelmed with delight, for he had gained in one day as much as
six months' hard work would have procured him. No one had the slightest
suspicion of what had taken place in the room under Mademoiselle de la
Valliere's apartment. But in the evening of the second day, at the very
moment La Valliere had just left Madame's circle and returned to her own
room, she heard a slight creaking sound in one corner. Astonished, she
looked to see whence it proceeded, and the noise began again. "Who is
there?" she said, in a tone of alarm.

"It is I, Louise," replied the well-known voice of the king.

"You! you!" cried the young girl, who for a moment fancied herself under
the influence of a dream. "But where? You, sire?"

"Here," replied the king, opening one of the folds of the screen, and
appearing like a ghost at the end of the room.

La Valliere uttered a loud cry, and fell trembling into an armchair, as
the king advanced respectfully towards her.

Alexandre Dumas pere