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 55

Chapter LV:
The Change of Residence, the Trap-Door, and the Portrait.

Porthos, intrusted, to his great delight, with this mission, which made
him feel young again, took half an hour less than his usual time to put
on his court suit. To show that he was a man acquainted with the usages
of high society, he had begun by sending his lackey to inquire if
Monsieur de Saint-Aignan were at home, and heard, in answer, that M. le
Comte de Saint-Aignan had had the honor of accompanying the king to Saint-
Germain, as well as the whole court; but that monsieur le comte had just
that moment returned. Immediately upon this reply, Porthos made as much
haste as possible, and reached Saint-Aignan's apartments just as the
latter was having his boots taken off. The promenade had been
delightful. The king, who was in love more than ever, and of course
happier than ever, behaved in the most charming manner to every one.
Nothing could possibly equal his kindness. M. de Saint-Aignan, it may be
remembered, was a poet, and fancied that he had proved that he was so
under too many a memorable circumstance to allow the title to be disputed
by any one. An indefatigable rhymester, he had, during the whole of the
journey, overwhelmed with quatrains, sextains, and madrigals, first the
king, and then La Valliere. The king, on his side, was in a similarly
poetical mood, and had made a distich; while La Valliere, delighting in
poetry, as most women do who are in love, had composed two sonnets. The
day, then, had not been a bad one for Apollo; and so, as soon as he had
returned to Paris, Saint-Aignan, who knew beforehand that his verse would
be sure to be extensively circulated in court circles, occupied himself,
with a little more attention than he had been able to bestow during the
promenade, with the composition, as well as with the idea itself.
Consequently, with all the tenderness of a father about to start his
children in life, he candidly interrogated himself whether the public
would find these offsprings of his imagination sufficiently elegant and
graceful; and in order to make his mind easy on the subject, M. de Saint-
Aignan recited to himself the madrigal he had composed, and which he had
repeated from memory to the king, and had promised to write out for him
on his return. All the time he was committing these words to memory, the
comte was engaged in undressing himself more completely. He had just
taken off his coat, and was putting on his dressing-gown, when he was
informed that Monsieur le Baron du Vallon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds was
waiting to be received.

"Eh!" he said, "what does that bunch of names mean? I don't know
anything about him."

"It is the same gentleman," replied the lackey, "who had the honor of
dining with you, monseigneur, at the king's table, when his majesty was
staying at Fontainebleau."

"Introduce him, then, at once," cried Saint-Aignan.

Porthos, in a few minutes, entered the room. M. de Saint-Aignan had an
excellent recollection of persons, and, at the first glance, he
recognized the gentleman from the country, who enjoyed so singular a
reputation, and whom the king had received so favorably at Fontainebleau,
in spite of the smiles of some of those who were present. He therefore
advanced towards Porthos with all the outward signs of consideration of
manner which Porthos thought but natural, considering that he himself,
whenever he called upon an adversary, hoisted a standard of the most
refined politeness. Saint-Aignan desired the servant to give Porthos a
chair; and the latter, who saw nothing unusual in this act of politeness,
sat down gravely and coughed. The ordinary courtesies having been
exchanged between the two gentlemen, the comte, to whom the visit was
paid, said, "May I ask, monsieur le baron, to what happy circumstance I
am indebted for the favor of a visit from you?"

"The very thing I am about to have the honor of explaining to you,
monsieur le comte; but, I beg your pardon - "

"What is the matter, monsieur?" inquired Saint-Aignan.

"I regret to say that I have broken your chair."

"Not at all, monsieur," said Saint-Aignan; "not at all."

"It is the fact, though, monsieur le comte; I have broken it - so much
so, indeed, that if I do not move, I shall fall down, which would be an
exceedingly disagreeable position for me in the discharge of the very
serious mission which has been intrusted to me with regard to yourself."

Porthos rose; and but just in time, for the chair had given way several
inches. Saint-Aignan looked about him for something more solid for his
guest to sit upon.

"Modern articles of furniture," said Porthos, while the comte was looking
about, "are constructed in a ridiculously flimsy manner. In my early
days, when I used to sit down with far more energy than is now the case,
I do not remember ever to have broken a chair, except in taverns, with my
arms."

Saint-Aignan smiled at this remark. "But," said Porthos, as he settled
himself down on a couch, which creaked, but did not give way beneath his
weight, "that unfortunately has nothing whatever to do with my present
visit."

"Why unfortunately? Are you the bearer of a message of ill-omen,
monsieur le baron?"

"Of ill-omen - for a gentleman? Certainly not, monsieur le comte,"
replied Porthos, nobly. "I have simply come to say that you have
seriously insulted a friend of mine."

"I, monsieur?" exclaimed Saint-Aignan - "I have insulted a friend of
yours, do you say? May I ask his name?"

"M. Raoul de Bragelonne."

"I have insulted M. Raoul de Bragelonne!" cried Saint-Aignan. "I really
assure you, monsieur, that it is quite impossible; for M. de Bragelonne,
whom I know but very slightly, - nay, whom I know hardly at all - is in
England, and, as I have not seen him for a long time past, I cannot
possibly have insulted him."

"M. de Bragelonne is in Paris, monsieur le comte," said Porthos,
perfectly unmoved; "and I repeat, it is quite certain you have insulted
him, since he himself told me you had. Yes, monsieur, you have seriously
insulted him, mortally insulted him, I repeat."

"It is impossible, monsieur le baron, I swear, quite impossible."

"Besides," added Porthos, "you cannot be ignorant of the circumstance,
since M. de Bragelonne informed me that he had already apprised you of it
by a note."

"I give you my word of honor, monsieur, that I have received no note
whatever."

"This is most extraordinary," replied Porthos.

"I will convince you," said Saint-Aignan, "that have received nothing in
any way from him." And he rang the bell. "Basque," he said to the
servant who entered, "how many letters have or notes were sent here
during my absence?"

"Three, monsieur le comte - a note from M. de Fiesque, one from Madame de
Laferte, and a letter from M. de las Fuentes."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, monsieur le comte."

"Speak the truth before this gentleman - the truth, you understand. I
will take care you are not blamed."

"There was a note, also, from - from - "

"Well, from whom?"

"From Mademoiselle - de - "

"Out with it!"

"De Laval."

"That is quite sufficient," interrupted Porthos. "I believe you,
monsieur le comte."

Saint-Aignan dismissed the valet, and followed him to the door, in order
to close it after him; and when he had done so, looking straight before
him, he happened to see in the keyhole of the adjoining apartment the
paper which Bragelonne had slipped in there as he left. "What is this?"
he said.

Porthos, who was sitting with his back to the room, turned round. "Aha!"
he said.

"A note in the keyhole!" exclaimed Saint-Aignan.

"That is not unlikely to be the missing letter, monsieur le comte," said
Porthos.

Saint-Aignan took out the paper. "A note from M. de Bragelonne!" he
exclaimed.

"You see, monsieur, I was right. Oh, when I say a thing - "

"Brought here by M. de Bragelonne himself," the comte murmured, turning
pale. "This is infamous! How could he possibly have come here?" And
the comte rang again.

"Who has been here during my absence with the king?"

"No one, monsieur."

"That is impossible! Some one must have been here."

"No one could possibly have entered, monsieur, since the keys have never
left my pocket."

"And yet I find the letter in yonder lock; some one must have put it
there; it could not have come here of its own accord."

Basque opened his arms as if signifying the most absolute ignorance on
the subject.

"Probably it was M. de Bragelonne himself who placed it there," said
Porthos.

"In that case he must have entered here."

"How could that have been, since I have the key in my own pocket?"
returned Basque, perseveringly.

Saint-Aignan crumpled the letter in his palm, after having read it.
"There is something mysterious about this," he murmured, absorbed in
thought. Porthos left him to his reflections; but after a while returned
to the mission he had undertaken.

"Shall we return to our little affair?" Porthos resumed, addressing Saint-
Aignan after a brief pause.

"I think I can now understand it, from this note, which has arrived here
in so singular a manner. Monsieur de Bragelonne says that a friend will
call."

"I am his friend. I am the person he alludes to."

"For the purpose of giving me a challenge?"

"Precisely."

"And he complains that I have insulted him?"

"Mortally."

"In what way, may I ask; for his conduct is so mysterious, that, at
least, it needs some explanation?"

"Monsieur," replied Porthos, "my friend cannot but be right; and, as far
as his conduct is concerned, if it be mysterious, as you say, you have
only yourself to blame for it." Porthos pronounced these words with an
amount of confidence which, for a man who was unaccustomed to his ways,
must have revealed an infinity of sense.

"Mystery, so be it; but what is all the mystery about?" said Saint-Aignan.

"You will think it the best, perhaps," Porthos replied, with a low bow,
"if I do not enter in to particulars."

"Oh, I perfectly understand. We will touch very lightly upon it, then,
so speak, monsieur, I am listening."

"In the first place, monsieur," said Porthos, "you have changed your
apartments."

"Yes, that is quite true," said Saint-Aignan.

"You admit it," said Porthos, with an air of satisfaction.

"Admit it! of course I admit it. Why should I not admit it, do you
suppose?"

"You have admitted it. Very good," said Porthos, lifting up one finger.

"But how can my having moved my lodgings have done M. de Bragelonne any
harm? Have the goodness to tell me that, for I positively do not
comprehend a word of what you are saying."

Porthos stopped him, and then said, with great gravity, "Monsieur, this
is the first of M. de Bragelonne's complaints against you. If he makes a
complaint, it is because he feels himself insulted."

Saint-Aignan began to beat his foot impatiently on the ground. "This
looks like a spurious quarrel," he said.

"No one can possibly have a spurious quarrel with the Vicomte de
Bragelonne," returned Porthos; "but, at all events, you have nothing to
add on the subject of your changing your apartments, I suppose?"

"Nothing. And what is the next point?"

"Ah, the next! You will observe, monsieur, that the one I have already
mentioned is a most serious injury, to which you have given no answer, or
rather, have answered very indifferently. Is it possible, monsieur, that
you have changed your lodgings? M. de Bragelonne feels insulted at your
having done so, and you do not attempt to excuse yourself."

"What!" cried Saint-Aignan, who was getting annoyed at the perfect
coolness of his visitor - "what! am I to consult M. de Bragelonne whether
I am to move or not? You can hardly be serious, monsieur."

"I am. And it is absolutely necessary, monsieur; but under any
circumstances, you will admit that it is nothing in comparison with the
second ground of complaint."

"Well, what is that?"

Porthos assumed a very solemn expression as he said: "How about the trap-
door, monsieur?"

Saint-Aignan turned exceedingly pale. He pushed back his chair so
abruptly, that Porthos, simple as he was, perceived that the blow had
told. "The trap-door," murmured Saint-Aignan.

"Yes, monsieur, explain that if you can," said Porthos, shaking his head.

Saint-Aignan held down his head, as he murmured: "I have been betrayed,
everything is known!"

"Everything," replied Porthos, who knew nothing.

"You see me perfectly overwhelmed," pursued Saint-Aignan, "overwhelmed
to a degree that I hardly know what I am about."

"A guilty conscience, monsieur. Your affair is a bad one, and when the
public learns all about it, it will judge - "

"Oh, monsieur!" exclaimed the count, hurriedly, "such a secret ought not
to be known even by one's confessor."

"That we will think about," said Porthos; "the secret will not go far, in
fact."

"Surely, monsieur," returned Saint-Aignan, "since M. de Bragelonne has
penetrated the secret, he must be aware of the danger he as well as
others run the risk of incurring."

"M. de Bragelonne runs no danger, monsieur, nor does he fear any either,
as you, if it please Heaven, will find out very soon."

"This fellow is a perfect madman," thought Saint-Aignan. "What, in
Heaven's name, does he want?" He then said aloud: "Come, monsieur, let
us hush up this affair."

"You forget the portrait," said Porthos, in a voice of thunder, which
made the comte's blood freeze in his veins.

As the portrait in question was La Valliere's portrait, and no mistake
could any longer exist on the subject, Saint-Aignan's eyes were
completely opened. "Ah!" he exclaimed - "ah! monsieur, I remember now
that M. de Bragelonne was engaged to be married to her."

Porthos assumed an imposing air, all the majesty of ignorance, in fact,
as he said: "It matters nothing whatever to me, nor to yourself, indeed,
whether or not my friend was, as you say, engaged to be married. I am
even astonished that you should have made use of so indiscreet a remark.
It may possibly do your cause harm, monsieur."

"Monsieur," replied Saint-Aignan, "you are the incarnation of
intelligence, delicacy, and loyalty of feeling united. I see the whole
matter now clearly enough."

"So much the better," said Porthos.

"And," pursued Saint-Aignan, "you have made me comprehend it in the most
ingenious and the most delicate manner possible. I beg you to accept my
best thanks." Porthos drew himself up, unable to resist the flattery of
the remark. "Only, now that I know everything, permit me to explain - "

Porthos shook his head, as a an who does not wish to hear, but Saint-
Aignan continued: "I am in despair, I assure you, at all that has
happened; but how would you have acted in my place? Come, between
ourselves, tell me what you would have done?"

Porthos drew himself up as he answered: "There is now no question of all
of what I should have done, young man; you have been made acquainted with
the three causes of complaint against you, I believe?"

"As for the first, my change of rooms, and I now address myself to you as
a man of honor and of great intelligence, could I, when the desire of so
august a personage was so urgently expressed that I should move, ought I
to have disobeyed?"

Porthos was about to speak, but Saint-Aignan did not give him time to
answer. "Ah! my frankness, I see, convinces you," he said, interpreting
the movement according to his own fancy. "You feel that I am right."

Porthos did not reply, and so Saint-Aignan continued: "I pass by that
unfortunate trap-door," he said, placing his hand on Porthos's arm, "that
trap-door, the occasion and means of so much unhappiness, and which was
constructed for - you know what. Well, then, in plain truth, do you
suppose that it was I who, of my own accord, in such a place, too, had
that trap-door made? - Oh, no! - you do not believe it; and here, again,
you feel, you guess, you understand the influence of a will superior to
my own. You can conceive the infatuation, the blind, irresistible
passion which has been at work. But, thank Heaven! I am fortunate in
speaking to a man who has so much sensitiveness of feeling; and if it
were not so, indeed, what an amount of misery and scandal would fall upon
her, poor girl! and upon him - whom I will not name."

Porthos, confused and bewildered by the eloquence and gestures of Saint-
Aignan, made a thousand efforts to stem this torrent of words, of which,
by the by, he did not understand a single one; he remained upright and
motionless on his seat, and that was all he could do. Saint-Aignan
continued, and gave a new inflection to his voice, and an increasing
vehemence to his gesture: "As for the portrait, for I readily believe the
portrait is the principal cause of complaint, tell me candidly if you
think me to blame? - Who was it who wished to have her portrait? Was it
I? - Who is in love with her? Is it I? - Who wishes to gain her
affection? Again, is it I? - Who took her likeness? I, do you think?
No! a thousand times no! I know M. de Bragelonne must be in a state of
despair; I know these misfortunes are most cruel. But I, too, am
suffering as well; and yet there is no possibility of offering any
resistance. Suppose we were to fight? we would be laughed at. If he
obstinately persist in his course, he is lost. You will tell me, I know,
that despair is ridiculous, but then you are a sensible man. You have
understood me. I perceived by your serious, thoughtful, embarrassed air,
even, that the importance of the situation we are placed in has not
escaped you. Return, therefore, to M. de Bragelonne; thank him - as I
have indeed reason to thank him - for having chosen as an intermediary a
man of your high merit. Believe me that I shall, on my side, preserve an
eternal gratitude for the man who has so ingeniously, so cleverly
arranged the misunderstanding between us. And since ill luck would have
it that the secret should be known to four instead of three, why, this
secret, which might make the most ambitious man's fortune, I am delighted
to share with you, monsieur, from the bottom of my heart I am delighted
at it. From this very moment you can make use of me as you please, I
place myself entirely at your mercy. What can I possibly do for you?
What can I solicit, nay, require even? You have only to speak, monsieur,
only to speak."

And, according to the familiarly friendly fashion of that period, Saint-
Aignan threw his arms round Porthos, and clasped him tenderly in his
embrace. Porthos allowed him to do this with the most perfect
indifference. "Speak," resumed Saint-Aignan, "what do you require?"

"Monsieur," said Porthos, "I have a horse below: be good enough to mount
him; he is a very good one and will play you no tricks."

"Mount on horseback! what for?" inquired Saint-Aignan, with no little
curiosity.

"To accompany me to where M. de Bragelonne is waiting us."

"Ah! he wishes to speak to me, I suppose? I can well believe that; he
wishes to have the details, very likely; alas! it is a very delicate
matter; but at the present moment I cannot, for the king is waiting for
me."

"The king must wait, then" said Porthos.

"What do you say? the king must wait!" interrupted the finished courtier,
with a smile of utter amazement, for he could not understand that the
king could under any circumstances be supposed to have to wait.

"It is merely the affair of a very short hour," returned Porthos.

"But where is M. de Bragelonne waiting for me?"

"At the Minimes, at Vincennes."

"Ah, indeed! but are we going to laugh over the affair when we get there?"

"I don't think it likely," said Porthos, as his face assumed a look of
utter hardness.

"But the Minimes is a rendezvous where duels take place, and what can I
have to do at the Minimes?"

Porthos slowly drew his sword, and said: "That is the length of my
friend's sword."

"Why, the man is mad!" cried Saint-Aignan.

The color mounted to Porthos's face, as he replied: "If I had not the
honor of being in your own apartment, monsieur, and of representing M. de
Bragelonne's interests, I would throw you out of the window. It will be
merely a pleasure postponed, and you will lose nothing by waiting. Will
you come with me to the Minimes, monsieur, of your own free will?"

"But - "

"Take care, I will carry you if you do not come quickly."

"Basque!" cried Saint-Aignan. As soon as Basque appeared, he said, "The
king wishes to see monsieur le comte."

"That is very different," said Porthos; "the king's service before
anything else. We will wait until this evening, monsieur."

And saluting Saint-Aignan with his usual courtesy, Porthos left the room,
delighted at having arranged another affair. Saint-Aignan looked after
him as he left; and then hastily putting on his court dress again, he ran
off, arranging his costume as he went along, muttering to himself, "The
Minimes! the Minimes! We shall see how the king will fancy this
challenge; for it is for him after all, that is certain."

Alexandre Dumas pere