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The sun had scarcely shed its first beams on the majestic trees of the park and the lofty turrets of the castle, when the young king, who had been awake more than two hours, possessed by the sleeplessness of love, opened his shutters himself, and cast an inquiring look into the courts of the sleeping palace. He saw that it was the hour agreed upon: the great court clock pointed to a quarter past four. He did not disturb his valet de chambre, who was sleeping soundly at some distance; he dressed himself, and the valet, in a great fright, sprang up, thinking he had been deficient in his duty; but the king sent him back again, commanding him to preserve the most absolute silence. He then descended the little staircase, went out at a lateral door, and perceived at the end of the wall a mounted horseman, holding another horse by the bridle. This horseman could not be recognized in his cloak and slouched hat. As to the horse, saddled like that of a rich citizen, it offered nothing remarkable to the most experienced eye. Louis took the bridle: the officer held the stirrup without dismounting, and asked his majesty's orders in a low voice.
"Follow me," replied the king.
The officer put his horse to the trot, behind that of his master, and they descended the hill towards the bridge. When they reached the other side of the Loire, -
"Monsieur," said the king, "you will please to ride on till you see a carriage coming; then return and inform me. I will wait here."
"Will your majesty deign to give me some description of the carriage I am charged to discover?"
"A carriage in which you will see two ladies, and probably their attendants likewise."
"Sire, I should not wish to make a mistake; is there no other sign by which I may know this carriage?"
"It will bear, in all probability, the arms of monsieur le cardinal."
"That is sufficient, sire," replied the officer, fully instructed in the object of his search. He put his horse to the trot, and rode sharply on in the direction pointed out by the king. But he had scarcely gone five hundred paces when he saw four mules, and then a carriage, loom up from behind a little hill. Behind this carriage came another. It required only one glance to assure him that these were the equipages he was in search of; he therefore turned his bridle, and rode back to the king.
"Sire," said he, "here are the carriages. The first, as you said, contains two ladies with their femmes de chambre; the second contains the footmen, provisions, and necessaries."
"That is well," replied the king in an agitated voice. "Please to go and tell those ladies that a cavalier of the court wishes to pay his respects to them alone."
The officer set off at a gallop. "Mordioux!" said he, as he rode on, "here is a new and honorable employment, I hope! I complained of being nobody. I am the king's confidant: that is enough to make a musketeer burst with pride."
He approached the carriage, and delivered his message gallantly and intelligently. There were two ladies in the carriage: one of great beauty, although rather thin; the other less favored by nature, but lively, graceful, and uniting in the delicate lines of her brow all the signs of a strong will. Her eyes, animated and piercing, in particular, spoke more eloquently than all the amorous phrases in fashion in those days of gallantry. It was to her D'Artagnan addressed himself, without fear of being mistaken, although the other was, as we have said, the more handsome of the two.
"Madame," said he, "I am the lieutenant of the musketeers, and there is on the road a horseman who awaits you, and is desirous of paying his respects to you."
At these words, the effect of which he watched closely, the lady with the black eyes uttered a cry of joy, leant out of the carriage window, and seeing the cavalier approaching, held out her arms, exclaiming:
"Ah, my dear sire!" and the tears gushed from her eyes.
The coachman stopped his team; the women rose in confusion from the back of the carriage, and the second lady made a slight curtsey, terminated by the most ironical smile that jealousy ever imparted to the lips of woman.
"Marie, dear Marie," cried the king, taking the hand of the black-eyed lady in both his. And opening the heavy door himself, he drew her out of the carriage with so much ardor, that she was in his arms before she touched the ground. The lieutenant, posted on the other side of the carriage, saw and heard all without being observed.
The king offered his arm to Mademoiselle de Mancini, and made a sign to the coachman and lackeys to proceed. It was nearly six o'clock; the road was fresh and pleasant; tall trees with their foliage still inclosed in the golden down of their buds, let the dew of morning filter from their trembling branches, like liquid diamonds; the grass was bursting at the foot of the hedges; the swallows having returned only a few days since, described their graceful curves between the heavens and the water; a breeze, laden with the perfumes of the blossoming woods, sighed along the road, and wrinkled the surface of the waters of the river; all these beauties of the day, all these perfumes of the plants, all these aspirations of the earth towards heaven, intoxicated the two lovers, walking side by side, leaning upon each other, eyes fixed upon eyes, hand clasping hand, and who, lingering as by a common desire, did not dare to speak, they had so much to say.
The officer saw that the king's horse, in wandering this way and that, annoyed Mademoiselle de Mancini. He took advantage of the pretext of securing the horse to draw near them, and dismounting, walked between the two horses he led; he did not lose a single word or gesture of the lovers. It was Mademoiselle de Mancini who at length began.
"Ah, my dear sire!" said she, "you do not abandon me, then?"
"No, Marie," replied the king; "you see I do not."
"I had so often been told, though, that as soon as we should be separated you would no longer think of me."
"Dear Marie, is it then to-day only that you have discovered we are surrounded by people interested in deceiving us?"
"But then, sire, this journey, this alliance with Spain? They are going to marry you off!"
Louis hung his head. At the same time the officer could see the eyes of Marie de Mancini shine in the sun with the brilliancy of a dagger starting from its sheath. "And you have done nothing in favor of our love?" asked the girl, after a silence of a moment.
"Ah! mademoiselle, how could you believe that? I threw myself at the feet of my mother; I begged her, I implored her; I told her all my hopes of happiness were in you; I even threatened - "
"Well?" asked Marie, eagerly.
"Well, the queen-mother wrote to the court of Rome, and received as answer, that a marriage between us would have no validity, and would be dissolved by the holy father. At length, finding there was no hope for us, I requested to have my marriage with the infanta at least delayed."
"And yet that does not prevent your being on the road to meet her?"
"How can I help it? To my prayers, to my supplications, to my tears, I received no answer but reasons of state."
"Well, what is to be done, mademoiselle, when so many wills are leagued against me?"
It was now Marie's turn to hang her head. "Then I must bid you adieu forever," said she. "You know that I am being exiled; you know that I am going to be buried alive; you know still more that they want to marry me off, too."
Louis became very pale, and placed his hand upon his heart.
"If I had thought that my life only had been at stake, I have been so persecuted that I might have yielded; but I thought yours was concerned, my dear sire, and I stood out for the sake of preserving your happiness."
"Oh, yes! my happiness, my treasure!" murmured the king, more gallantly than passionately, perhaps.
"The cardinal might have yielded," said Marie, "if you had addressed yourself to him, if you had pressed him. For the cardinal to call the king of France his nephew! do you not perceive, sire? He would have made war even for that honor; the cardinal, assured of governing alone, under the double pretext of having brought up the king and given his niece to him in marriage - the cardinal would have fought all antagonists, overcome all obstacles. Oh, sire! I can answer for that. I am a woman, and I see clearly into everything where love is concerned."
These words produced a strange effect upon the king. Instead of heightening his passion, they cooled it. He stopped, and said hastily, -
"What is to be said, mademoiselle? Everything has failed."
"Except your will, I trust, my dear sire?"
"Alas!" said the king, coloring, "have I a will?"
"Oh!" said Mademoiselle de Mancini mournfully, wounded by that expression.
"The king has no will but that which policy dictates, but that which reasons of state impose upon him."
"Oh! it is because you have no love," cried Mary; "if you loved, sire, you would have a will."
On pronouncing these words, Mary raised her eyes to her lover, whom she saw more pale and more cast down than an exile who is about to quit his native land forever. "Accuse me," murmured the king, "but do not say I do not love you."
A long silence followed these words, which the young king had pronounced with a perfectly true and profound feeling. "I am unable to think that to-morrow, and after to-morrow, I shall see you no more; I cannot think that I am going to end my sad days at a distance from Paris; that the lips of an old man, of an unknown, should touch that hand which you hold within yours; no, in truth, I cannot think of all that, my dear sire, without having my poor heart burst with despair."
And Marie de Mancini did shed floods of tears. On his part, the king, much affected, carried his handkerchief to his mouth, and stifled a sob.
"See," said she, "the carriages have stopped, my sister waits for me, the time is come; what you are about to decide upon will be decided for life. Oh, sire! you are willing, then, that I should lose you? You are willing, then, Louis, that she to whom you have said 'I love you,' should belong to another than to her king, to her master, to her lover? Oh! courage, Louis! courage! One word, a single word! Say 'I will!' and all my life is enchained to yours, and all my heart is yours forever."
The king made no reply. Mary then looked at him as Dido looked at Aeneas in the Elysian fields, fierce and disdainful.
"Farewell, then," said she; "farewell life! love! heaven!"
And she took a step away. The king detained her, seizing her hand, which he pressed to his lips, and despair prevailing over the resolution he appeared to have inwardly formed, he let fall upon that beautiful hand a burning tear of regret, which made Mary start, so really had that tear burnt her. She saw the humid eyes of the king, his pale brow, his convulsed lips, and cried, with an accent that cannot be described, -
"Oh, sire! you are a king, you weep, and yet I depart!"
As his sole reply, the king hid his face in his handkerchief. The officer uttered something so like a roar that it frightened the horses. Mademoiselle de Mancini, quite indignant, quitted the king's arm, hastily entered the carriage, crying to the coachman, "Go on, go on, and quick!"
The coachman obeyed, flogging his mules, and the heavy carriage rocked upon its creaking axle, whilst the king of France, alone, cast down, annihilated, did not dare to look either behind or before him.
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