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Chapter 38

Chapter XXXVIII:
The Courier from Madame.

Charles II. was busily engaged in proving, or in endeavoring to prove, to
Miss Stewart that she was the only person for whom he cared at all, and
consequently was avowing to her an affection similar to that which his
ancestor Henry IV. had entertained for Gabrielle. Unfortunately for
Charles II., he had hit upon an unlucky day, the very day Miss Stewart
had taken it into her head to make him jealous, and therefore, instead of
being touched by his offer, as the king had hoped, she laughed heartily.

"Oh! sire, sire," she cried, laughing all the while; "if I were to be
unfortunate enough to ask you for a proof of the affection you possess,
how easy it would be to see that you are telling a falsehood."

"Nay, listen to me," said Charles, "you know my cartoons by Raphael; you
know whether I care for them or not; the whole world envies me their
possession, as you well know also; my father commissioned Van Dyck to
purchase them. Would you like me to send them to your house this very
day?"

"Oh, no!" replied the young girl; "pray keep them yourself, sire; my
house is far too small to accommodate such visitors."

"In that case you shall have Hampton Court to put the cartoons in."

"Be less generous, sire, and learn to love a little while longer, that is
all I have to ask you."

"I shall never cease to love you; is not that enough?"

"You are smiling, sire."

"Do you wish me to weep?"

"No; but I should like to see you a little more melancholy."

"Thank Heaven, I have been so long enough; fourteen years of exile,
poverty, and misery, I think I may well regard it as a debt discharged;
besides, melancholy makes people look so plain."

"Far from that - for look at the young Frenchman."

"What! the Vicomte de Bragelonne? are you smitten too? By Heaven, they
will all grow mad over him one after the other; but he, on the contrary,
has a reason for being melancholy."

"Why so?"

"Oh, indeed! you wish me to betray state secrets, do you?"

"If I wish it, you must do so, for you told me you were quite ready to do
everything I wished."

"Well, then, he is bored in his own country. Does that satisfy you?"

"Bored?"

"Yes, a proof that he is a simpleton; I allow him to fall in love with
Miss Mary Grafton, and he feels bored. Can you believe it?"

"Very good; it seems, then, that if you were to find Miss Lucy Stewart
indifferent to you, you would console yourself by falling in love with
Miss Mary Grafton."

"I don't say that; in the first place, you know that Mary Grafton does
not care for me; besides, a man can only console himself for a lost
affection by the discovery of a new one. Again, however, I repeat, the
question is not of myself, but of that young man. One might almost be
tempted to call the girl he has left behind him a Helen - a Helen before
the little ceremony she went through with Paris, of course."

"He has left some one, then?"

"That is to say, some one has left _him_."

"Poor fellow! so much the worse!"

"Why do you mean by 'so much the worse'?"

"Why not? why did he leave?"

"Do you think it was of his own wish or will that he left?"

"Was he obliged to leave, then?"

"He left Paris under orders, my dear Stewart; and prepare to be surprised
- by express orders of the king."

"Ah! I begin to see, now."

"At least say nothing at all about it."

"You know very well that I am just as discreet as anybody else. And so
the king sent him away?"

"Yes."

"And during his absence he takes his sweetheart from him?"

"Yes; and, will you believe it? the silly fellow, instead of thanking the
king, is making himself miserable."

"What! thank the king for depriving him of the woman he loves! Really,
sire, yours is a most ungallant speech."

"But, pray understand me. If she whom the king had run off with was
either a Miss Grafton or a Miss Stewart, I should not be of his opinion;
nay, I should even think him not half wretched enough; but she is a
little, thin, lame thing. Deuce take such fidelity as that! Surely, one
can hardly understand how a man can refuse a girl who is rich for one who
is poverty itself - a girl who loves him for one who deceives and betrays
him."

"Do you think that Mary seriously wishes to please the vicomte, sire?"

"I do, indeed."

"Very good! the vicomte will settle down in England, for Mary has a clear
head, and when she fixes her mind upon anything, she does so thoroughly."

"Take care, my dear Miss Stewart; if the vicomte has any idea of adopting
our country, he has not long to do so, for it was only the day before
yesterday that he again asked me for permission to leave."

"Which you refused him, I suppose?"

"I should think so, indeed; my royal brother is far too anxious for his
absence; and, for myself, my _amour propre_ is enlisted on his side, for
I will never have it said that I had held out as a bait to this young man
the noblest and gentlest creature in England - "

"You are very gallant, sire," said Miss Stewart, with a pretty pout.

"I do not allude to Miss Stewart, for she is worthy of a king's devotion;
and since she has captivated me I trust that no one else will be caught
by her; I say, therefore, finally, that the attention I have shown this
young man will not have been thrown away; he will stay with us here, he
will marry here, or I am very much mistaken."

"And I hope that when he is once married and settled, instead of being
angry with your majesty, he will be grateful to you, for every one tries
his utmost to please him; even the Duke of Buckingham, whose brilliancy,
which is incredible, seems to pale before that of this young Frenchman."

"Including Miss Stewart even, who calls him the most finished gentleman
she ever saw."

"Stay, sire; you have spoken quite enough, and quite highly enough, of
Miss Grafton, to overlook what I may have said about De Bragelonne. But,
by the by, sire, your kindness for some time past astonishes me: you
think of those who are absent, you forgive those who have done you a
wrong, in fact, you are as nearly as possible, perfect. How does it
happen - "

"It is because you allow yourself to be loved," he said, beginning to
laugh.

"Oh! there must be some other reason."

"Well, I am doing all I can to oblige my brother, Louis XIV."

"Nay, I must have another reason."

"Well, then, the true motive is that Buckingham strongly recommended the
young man to me, saying: 'Sire, I begin by yielding up all claim to Miss
Grafton; I pray you follow my example.'"

"The duke is, indeed, a true gentleman."

"Oh! of course, of course; it is Buckingham's turn now, I suppose, to
turn your head. You seem determined to cross me in everything to-day."

At this moment some one rapped at the door.

"Who is it who presumes to interrupt us?" exclaimed Charles, impatiently.

"Really, sire, you are extremely vain with your 'who is it who presumes?'
and in order to punish you for it - "

She went to the door and opened it.

"It is a courier from France," said Miss Stewart.

"A courier from France!" exclaimed Charles; "from my sister, perhaps?"

"Yes, sire," said the usher, "a special messenger."

"Let him come in at once," said Charles.

"You have a letter for me," said the king to the courier as he entered,
"from the Duchess of Orleans?"

"Yes, sire," replied the courier, "and so urgent in its nature that I
have only been twenty-six hours in bringing it to your majesty, and yet I
lost three-quarters of an hour at Calais."

"Your zeal shall not be forgotten," said the king, as he opened the
letter. When he had read it he burst out laughing, and exclaimed, "Upon
my word, I am at a loss to understand anything about it." He then read
the letter a second time, Miss Stewart assuming a manner marked by the
greatest reserve, and doing her utmost to restrain her ardent curiosity.

"Francis," said the king to his valet, "see that this excellent fellow is
well taken care of and sleeps soundly, and that on waking to-morrow he
finds a purse of fifty sovereigns by his bedside."

"Sire!" said the courier, amazed.

"Begone, begone; my sister was perfectly right in desiring you to use the
utmost diligence; the affair was most pressing." And he again began to
laugh louder than ever. The courier, the valet, and Miss Stewart hardly
knew what sort of countenance to assume. "Ah!" said the king, throwing
himself back in his armchair: "When I think that you have knocked up
how many horses?"

"Two!"

"Two horses to bring this intelligence to me. That will do, you can
leave us now."

The courier retired with the valet. Charles went to the window, which he
opened, and leaning forward, called out - "Duke! Buckingham! come here,
there's a good fellow."

The duke hurried to him, in obedience to the summons; but when he reached
the door, and perceived Miss Stewart, he hesitated to enter.

"Come in, and shut the door," said the king. The duke obeyed; and,
perceiving in what an excellent humor the king was, he advanced, smiling,
towards him. "Well, my dear duke, how do you get on with your Frenchman?"

"Sire, I am in the most perfect state of utter despair about him."

"Why so?"

"Because charming Miss Grafton is willing to marry him, but he is unwilling."

"Why, he is a perfect Boeotian!" cried Miss Stewart. "Let him say either
'Yes,' or No,' and let the affair end."

"But," said Buckingham, seriously, "you know, or you ought to know,
madame, that M. de Bragelonne is in love in another direction."

"In that case," said the king, coming to Miss Stewart's help, "nothing is
easier; let him say 'No,' then."

"Very true; and I have proved to him he was wrong not to say 'Yes.'"

"You told him candidly, I suppose, that La Valliere was deceiving him?"

"Yes, without the slightest reserve; and, as soon as I had done so, he
gave a start, as if he were going to clear the Channel at a bound."

"At all events," said Miss Stewart, "he has done something; and a very
good thing too, upon my word."

"But," said Buckingham, "I stopped him; I have left him and Miss Mary in
conversation together, and I sincerely trust that now he will not leave,
as he seemed to have an idea of doing."

"An idea of leaving England?" cried the king.

"I, at one moment, hardly thought that any human power could have
prevented him; but Miss Mary's eyes are now bent fully on him, and he
will remain."

"Well, that is the very thing which deceives you, Buckingham," said the
king, with a peal of laughter; "the poor fellow is predestined."

"Predestined to what?"

"If it were to be simply deceived, that is nothing; but, to look at him,
it is a great deal."

"At a distance, and with Miss Grafton's aid, the blow will be warded off."

"Far from it, far from it; neither distance nor Miss Grafton's help will
be of the slightest avail. Bragelonne will set off for Paris within an
hour's time."

Buckingham started, and Miss Stewart opened her eyes very wide in
astonishment.

"But, sire," said the duke, "your majesty knows that it is impossible."

"That is to say, my dear Buckingham, that it is impossible until it
happens."

"Do not forget, sire, that the young man is a perfect lion, and that his
wrath is terrible."

"I don't deny it, my dear duke."

"And that if he sees that his misfortune is certain, so much the worse
for the author of it."

"I don't deny it; but what the deuce am I to do?"

"Were it the king himself," cried Buckingham, "I would not answer for
him."

"Oh, the king has his musketeers to take care of him," said Charles,
quietly; "I know that perfectly well, for I was kept dancing attendance
in his ante-chamber at Blois. He has M. d'Artagnan, and what better
guardian could the king have than M. d'Artagnan? I should make myself
perfectly easy with twenty storms of passion, such as Bragelonne might
display, if I had four guardians like D'Artagnan."

"But I entreat your majesty, who is so good and kind, to reflect a
little."

"Stay," said Charles II., presenting the letter to the duke, "read, and
answer yourself what you would do in my place."

Buckingham slowly took hold of Madame's letter, and trembling with
emotion, read the following words:

"For your own sake, for mine, for the honor and safety of every one, send
M. de Bragelonne back to France immediately. Your devoted sister,
HENRIETTA."

"Well, Villiers, what do you say?"

"Really, sire, I have nothing to say," replied the duke, stupefied.

"Nay, would you, of all persons," said the king, artfully, "advise me not
to listen to my sister when she writes so urgently?"

"Oh, no, no, sire; and yet - "

"You have not read the postscript, Villiers; it is under the fold of the
letter, and escaped me at first; read it." And as the duke turned down a
fold of the letter, he read:

"A thousand kind remembrances to those who love me."

The duke's head sank gradually on his breast; the paper trembled in his
fingers, as if it had been changed to lead. The king paused for a
moment, and, seeing that Buckingham did not speak, "He must follow his
destiny, as we ours," continued the king; "every man has his own share of
grief in this world; I have had my own, - I have had that of others who
belong to me, - and have thus had a double weight of woe to endure! - But
the deuce take all my cares now! Go, and bring our friend here,
Villiers."

The duke opened the trellised door of the summer-house, and pointing at
Raoul and Mary, who were walking together side by side, said, "What a
cruel blow, sire, for poor Miss Grafton!"

"Nonsense; call him," said Charles II., knitting his black brows
together; "every one seems to be sentimental here. There, look at Miss
Stewart, who is wiping her eyes, - now deuce take the French fellow!"

The duke called to Raoul, and taking Miss Grafton by the hand, he led her
towards the king.

"Monsieur de Bragelonne," said Charles II., "did you not ask me the day
before yesterday for permission to return to Paris?"

"Yes, sire," replied Raoul, greatly puzzled by this address.

"And I refused you, I think?"

"Yes, sire."

"For which you were angry with me?"

"No, sire; your majesty had no doubt excellent reasons for withholding
it; for you are so wise and so good that everything you do is well done."

"I alleged, I believe, as a reason, that the king of France had not
recalled you?"

"Yes, sire, that was the reason you assigned."

"Well, M. de Bragelonne, I have reflected over the matter since; if the
king did not, in fact, fix your return, he begged me to render your
sojourn in England as agreeable as possible; since, however, you ask my
permission to return, it is because your longer residence in England is
no longer agreeable to you."

"I do not say that, sire."

"No, but your request, at least," said the king, "signified that another
place of residence would be more agreeable to you than this."

At this moment Raoul turned towards the door, against which Miss Grafton
was leaning, pale and sorrow-stricken; her other hand was passed through
the duke's arm.

"You do not reply," pursued Charles; "the proverb is plain enough, that
'silence gives consent.' Very good, Monsieur de Bragelonne; I am now in
a position to satisfy you; whenever you please, therefore, you can leave
for Paris, for which you have my authority."

"Sire!" exclaimed Raoul, while Mary stifled an exclamation of grief which
rose to her lips, unconsciously pressing Buckingham's arm.

"You can be at Dover this evening," continued the king, "the tide serves
at two o'clock in the morning."

Raoul, astounded, stammered out a few broken sentences, which equally
answered the purpose both of thanks and of excuse.

"I therefore bid you adieu, Monsieur de Bragelonne, and wish you every
sort of prosperity," said the king, rising; "you will confer a pleasure
on me by keeping this diamond in remembrance of me; I had intended it as
a marriage gift."

Miss Grafton felt her limbs almost giving way; and, as Raoul received the
ring from the king's hand, he, too, felt his strength and courage failing
him. He addressed a few respectful words to the king, a passing
compliment to Miss Stewart, and looked for Buckingham to bid him adieu.
The king profited by this moment to disappear. Raoul found the duke
engaged in endeavoring to encourage Miss Grafton.

"Tell him to remain, I implore you!" said Buckingham to Mary.

"No, I will tell him to go," replied Miss Grafton, with returning
animation; "I am not one of those women who have more pride than heart;
if she whom he loves is in France, let him return thither and bless me
for having advised him to go and seek his happiness there. If, on the
contrary, she shall have ceased to love him, let him come back here
again; I shall still love him, and his unhappiness will not have lessened
him in my regard. In the arms of my house you will find that which
Heaven has engraven on my heart - _Habenti parum, egenti cuncta_. 'To
the rich is accorded little, to the poor everything.'"

"I do not believe, Bragelonne, that you will find yonder the equivalent
of what you leave behind you here."

"I think, or at least hope," said Raoul, with a gloomy air, "that she
whom I love is worthy of my affection; but if it be true she is unworthy
of me, as you have endeavored to make me believe, I will tear her image
from my heart, duke, even if my heart breaks in the attempt."

Mary Grafton gazed upon him with an expression of the most indefinable
pity, and Raoul returned her look with a sweet, sorrowful smile, saying,
"Mademoiselle, the diamond which the king has given me was destined for
you, - give me leave to offer it for your acceptance: if I marry in
France, you will send it me back; if I do not marry, keep it." And he
bowed and left her.

"What does he mean?" thought Buckingham, while Raoul pressed Mary's icy
hand with marks of the most reverential respect.

Mary understood the look that Buckingham fixed upon her.

"If it were a wedding-ring, I would not accept it," she said.

"And yet you were willing to ask him to return to you."

"Oh! duke," cried the young girl in heart-broken accents, "a woman such
as I am is never accepted as a consolation by a man like him."

"You do not think he will return, then?"

"Never," said Miss Grafton, in a choking voice.

"And I grieve to tell you, Mary, that he will find yonder his happiness
destroyed, his mistress lost to him. His honor even has not escaped.
What will be left him, then, Mary, equal to your affection? Answer,
Mary, you who know yourself so well."

Miss Grafton placed her white hand on Buckingham's arm, and, while Raoul
was hurrying away with headlong speed, she repeated in dying accents the
line from Romeo and Juliet:

"_I must be gone and live, or stay and die_."

As she finished the last word, Raoul disappeared. Miss Grafton returned
to her own apartments, paler than death. Buckingham availed himself of
the arrival of the courier, who had brought the letter to the king, to
write to Madame and to the Comte de Guiche. The king had not been
mistaken, for at two in the morning the tide was at full flood, and Raoul
had embarked for France.

Alexandre Dumas pere