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Chapter 60

Chapter LX:
Heu! Miser!

"Poor Raoul!" had said Athos. "Poor Raoul!" had said D'Artagnan: and, in
point of fact, to be pitied by both these men, Raoul must indeed have
been most unhappy. And therefore, when he found himself alone, face to
face, as it were, with his own troubles, leaving behind him the intrepid
friend and the indulgent father; when he recalled the avowal of the
king's affection, which had robbed him of Louise de la Valliere, whom he
loved so deeply, he felt his heart almost breaking, as indeed we all have
at least once in our lives, at the first illusion destroyed, the first
affection betrayed. "Oh!" he murmured, "all is over, then. Nothing is
now left me in this world. Nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope
for. Guiche has told me so, my father has told me so, M. d'Artagnan has
told me so. All life is but an idle dream. The future which I have been
hopelessly pursuing for the last ten years is a dream! the union of
hearts, a dream! a life of love and happiness, a dream! Poor fool that I
am," he continued, after a pause, "to dream away my existence aloud,
publicly, and in the face of others, friends and enemies - and for what
purpose, too? in order that my friends may be saddened by my troubles,
and my enemies may laugh at my sorrows. And so my unhappiness will soon
become a notorious disgrace, a public scandal; and who knows but that to-
morrow I may even be a public laughing-stock?"

And, despite the composure which he had promised his father and
D'Artagnan to observe, Raoul could not resist uttering a few words of
darkest menace. "And yet," he continued, "if my name were De Wardes, and
if I had the pliancy of character and strength of will of M. d'Artagnan,
I should laugh, with my lips at least; I should convince other women that
this perfidious girl, honored by the affection I have wasted on her,
leaves me only one regret, that of having been abused and deceived by her
seemingly modest and irreproachable conduct; a few might perhaps fawn on
the king by jesting at my expense; I should put myself on the track of
some of those buffoons; I should chastise a few of them, perhaps; the men
would fear me, and by the time I had laid three dying or dead at my feet,
I should be adored by the women. Yes, yes, that, indeed, would be the
proper course to adopt, and the Comte de la Fere himself would not object
to it. Has not he also been tried, in his earlier days, in the same
manner as I have just been tried myself? Did he not replace affection by
intoxication? He has often told me so. Why should I not replace love by
pleasure? He must have suffered as much as I suffer, even more - if that
is possible. The history of one man is the history of all, a dragging
trial, more or less prolonged, more or less bitter - sorrowful. The note
of human nature is nothing but one sustained cry. But what are the
sufferings of others compared to those from which I am now suffering?
Does the open wound in another's breast soften the anguish of the gaping
ulcer in our own? Does the blood which is welling from another man's
side stanch that which is pouring from our own? Does the general grief
of our fellow-creatures lessen our own private and particular woe? No,
no, each suffers on his own account, each struggles with his own grief,
each sheds his own tears. And besides," he went on, "what has my life
been up to the present moment? A cold, barren, sterile arena, in which I
have always fought for others, never for myself. Sometimes for a king,
sometimes for a woman. The king has betrayed, the woman disdained me.
Miserable, unlucky wretch that I am! Women! Can I not make all expiate
the crime of one of their sex? What does that need? To have a heart no
longer, or to forget that I ever had one; to be strong, even against
weakness itself; to lean always, even when one feels that the support is
giving way. What is needed to attain, or succeed in all that? To be
young, handsome, strong, valiant, rich. I am, or shall be, all that.
But honor?" he still continued, "and what is honor after all? A theory
which every man understands in his own way. My father tells me: 'Honor
is the consideration of what is due to others, and particularly what is
due to oneself.' But Guiche, and Manicamp, and Saint-Aignan
particularly, would say to me: 'What's honor? Honor consists in studying
and yielding to the passions and pleasures of one's king.' Honor such as
that indeed, is easy and productive enough. With honor like that, I can
keep my post at the court, become a gentleman of the chamber, and accept
the command of a regiment, which may at any time be presented to me.
With honor such as that, I can be duke and peer.

"The stain which that woman has stamped upon me, the grief that has
broken my heart, the heart of the friend and playmate of her childhood,
in no way affects M. de Bragelonne, an excellent officer, a courageous
leader, who will cover himself with glory at the first encounter, and who
will become a hundred times greater than Mademoiselle de la Valliere is
to-day, the mistress of the king - for the king will not marry her - and
the more publicly he will proclaim her as his mistress, the more opaque
will grow the shadow of shame he casts upon her face, in the guise of a
crown; and in proportion as others despise, as I despise her, I shall be
gleaning honors in the field. Alas! we had walked together side by side,
she and I, during the earliest, the brightest, the most angelic portion
of our existence, hand in hand along the charming path of life, covered
with the blossoms of youth; and then, alas! we reach a cross-road, where
she separates herself from me, in which we have to follow a different
route, whereby we become more and more widely separated from each other.
And to attain the end of this path, oh, Heaven! I am now alone, in utter
despair, and crushed to the very earth."

Such were the sinister reflections in which Raoul indulged, when his foot
mechanically paused at the door of his own dwelling. He had reached it
without remarking the streets through which he passed, without knowing
how he had come; he pushed open the door, continued to advance, and
ascended the staircase. The staircase, as in most of the houses at that
period, was very dark, and the landings most obscure. Raoul lived on the
first floor; he paused in order to ring. Olivain appeared, took his
sword and cloak from his hands; Raoul himself opened the door which, from
the ante-chamber, led into a small _salon_, richly furnished enough for
the _salon_ of a young man, and completely filled with flowers by
Olivain, who, knowing his master's tastes, had shown himself studiously
attentive in gratifying them, without caring whether his master perceived
his attention or not. There was a portrait of La Valliere in the
_salon_, which had been drawn by herself and given by her to Raoul. This
portrait, fastened above a large easy chair covered with dark colored
damask, was the first point towards which Raoul bent his steps - the
first object on which he fixed his eyes. It was, moreover, Raoul's usual
habit to do so; every time he entered his room, this portrait, before
anything else, attracted his attention. This time, as usual, he walked
straight up to the portrait, placed his knees upon the arm chair, and
paused to look at it sadly. His arms were crossed upon his breast, his
head slightly thrown back, his eyes filled with tears, his mouth worked
into a bitter smile. He looked at the portrait of the one he had so
tenderly loved; and then all that he had said passed before his mind
again, all that he had suffered seemed again to assail his heart; and,
after a long silence, he murmured for the third time, "Miserable, unhappy
wretch that I am!"

He had hardly pronounced these words, when he heard the sound of a sigh
and a groan behind him. He turned sharply round and perceived, in the
angle of the _salon_, standing up, a bending veiled female figure, which
he had been the means of concealing behind the door as he opened it, and
which he had not perceived as he entered. He advanced towards the
figure, whose presence in his room had not been announced to him; and as
he bowed, and inquired at the same moment who she was, she suddenly
raised her head, and removed the veil from her face, revealing her pale
and sorrow-stricken features. Raoul staggered back as if he had seen a
ghost.

"Louise!" he cried, in a tone of such absolute despair, one could hardly
have thought the human voice was capable of so desponding a cry, without
the snapping of the human heart.

Alexandre Dumas pere