Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas
82. The Portrait of Madame
The discussion was becoming full of bitterness. De Guiche perfectly understood the whole matter for there was in Bragelonne's face a look instinctively hostile, while in that of De Wardes there was something like a determination to offend. Without inquiring into the different feelings which actuated his two friends, De Guiche resolved to ward off the blow which he felt was on the point of being dealt by one of them, and perhaps by both. "Gentlemen," he said, "we must take our leave of each other, I must pay a visit to Monsieur. You, De Wardes, will accompany me to the Louvre, and you Raoul, will remain here master of the house; and as all that is done here is under your advice, you will bestow the last glance upon my preparations for departure."
Raoul, with the air of one who neither seeks nor fears a quarrel, bowed his head in token of assent, and seated himself upon a bench in the sun. "That is well," said De Guiche, "remain where you are, Raoul, and tell them to show you the two horses I have just purchased; you will give me your opinion, for I only bought them on condition that you ratified the purchase. By the by, I have to beg your pardon for having omitted to inquire after the Comte de la Fere." While pronouncing these latter words, he closely observed De Wardes, in order to perceive what effect the name of Raoul's father would produce upon him. "I thank you," answered the young man, "the count is very well." A gleam of deep hatred passed into De Wardes' eyes. De Guiche, who appeared not to notice the foreboding expression, went up to Raoul, and grasping him by the hand, said, -- "It is agreed, then, Bragelonne, is it not, that you will rejoin us in the courtyard of the Palais-Royal?" He then signed to De Wardes to follow him who had been engaged in balancing himself first on one foot, then on the other. "We are going," said he, "come, M. Malicorne." This name made Raoul start; for it seemed that he had already heard it pronounced before, but he could not remember on what occasion. While trying to recall it half-dreamily, yet half-irritated at his conversation with De Wardes, the three young men set out on their way towards the Palais-Royal, where Monsieur was residing. Malicorne learned two things; the first, that the young men had something to say to each other, and the second, that he ought not to walk in the same line with them; and therefore he walked behind. "Are you mad?" said De Guiche to his companion, as soon as they had left the Hotel de Grammont; "you attack M. d'Artagnan, and that, too, before Raoul."
"Well," said De Wardes, "what then?"
"What do you mean by `what then?'"
"Certainly, is there any prohibition against attacking M. d'Artagnan?"
"But you know very well that M. d'Artagnan was one of those celebrated and terrible four men who were called the musketeers."
"That they may be, but I do not perceive why, on that account, I should be forbidden to hate M. d'Artagnan."
"What cause has he given you?"
"Me! personally, none."
"Why hate him, therefore?"
"Ask my dead father that question."
"Really, my dear De Wardes, you surprise me. M. d'Artagnan is not one to leave unsettled any enmity he may have to arrange, without completely clearing his account. Your father, I have heard, on his side, carried matters with a high hand. Moreover there are no enmities so bitter that they cannot be washed away by blood, by a good sword-thrust loyally given."
"Listen to me, my dear De Guiche, this inveterate dislike existed between my father and M. d'Artagnan, and when I was quite a child, he acquainted me with the reason for it, and, as forming part of my inheritance, I regard it as a particular legacy bestowed upon me."
"And does his hatred concern M. d'Artagnan alone?"
"As for that, M. d'Artagnan was so intimately associated with his three friends, that some portion of the full measure of my hatred falls to their lot, and that hatred is of such a nature, whenever the opportunity occurs, they shall have no occasion to complain of their allowance."
De Guiche had kept his eyes fixed on De Wardes, and shuddered at the bitter manner in which the young man smiled. Something like a presentiment flashed across his mind; he knew that the time had passed away for grands coups entre gentilshommes; but that the feeling of hatred treasured up in the mind, instead of being diffused abroad, was still hatred all the same; that a smile was sometimes as full of meaning as a threat; and, in a word, that to the fathers who had hated with their hearts and fought with their arms, would now succeed the sons, who would indeed hate with their hearts, but would no longer combat their enemies, save by means of intrigue or treachery. As, therefore, it certainly was not Raoul whom he could suspect either of intrigue or treachery, it was on Raoul's account that De Guiche trembled. However, while these gloomy forebodings cast a shade of anxiety over De Guiche's countenance, De Wardes had resumed the entire mastery over himself.
"At all events," he observed, "I have no personal ill-will towards M. de Bragelonne; I do not know him even."
"In any case," said De Guiche, with a certain amount of severity in his tone of voice, "do not forget one circumstance, that Raoul is my most intimate friend;" a remark at which De Wardes bowed.
The conversation terminated there, although De Guiche tried his utmost to draw out his secret from him; but, doubtless, De Wardes had determined to say nothing further, and he remained impenetrable. De Guiche therefore promised himself a more satisfactory result with Raoul. In the meantime they had reached the Palais-Royal, which was surrounded by a crowd of lookers-on. The household belonging to Monsieur awaited his command to mount their horses, in order to form part of the escort of the ambassadors, to whom had been intrusted the care of bringing the young princess to Paris. The brilliant display of horses, arms, and rich liveries, afforded some compensation in those times, thanks to the kindly feelings of the people, and to the traditions of deep devotion to their sovereigns, for the enormous expenses charged upon the taxes. Mazarin had said: "Let them sing, provided they pay;" while Louis XIV.'s remark was, "Let them look." Sight had replaced the voice; the people could still look, but they were no longer allowed to sing. De Guiche left De Wardes and Malicorne at the bottom of the grand staircase, while he himself, who shared the favor and good graces of Monsieur with the Chevalier de Lorraine, who always smiled at him most affectionately, though he could not endure him, went straight to the prince's apartments, whom he found engaged in admiring himself in the glass, and rouging his face. In a corner of the cabinet, the Chevalier de Lorraine was extended full length upon some cushions, having just had his long hair curled, with which he was playing in the same manner a woman would have done. The prince turned round as the count entered, and perceiving who it was, said:
"Ah! is that you, Guiche, come here and tell me the truth."
"You know, my lord, it is one of my defects to speak the truth."
"You will hardly believe, De Guiche, how that wicked chevalier has annoyed me."
The chevalier shrugged his shoulders.
"Why, he pretends," continued the prince, "that Mademoiselle Henrietta is better looking as a woman than I am as a man."
"Do not forget, my lord," said De Guiche, frowning slightly, "you require me to speak the truth?"
"Certainly," said the prince, tremblingly.
"Well, and I shall tell it you."
"Do not be in a hurry, Guiche," exclaimed the prince, "you have plenty of time; look at me attentively, and try to recollect Madame. Besides, her portrait is here. Look at it." And he held out to him a miniature of the finest possible execution. De Guiche took it, and looked at it for a long time attentively.
"Upon my honor, my lord, this is indeed a most lovely face."
"But look at me, count, look at me," said the prince endeavoring to direct upon himself the attention of the count, who was completely absorbed in contemplation of the portrait.
"It is wonderful," murmured Guiche.
"Really one would almost imagine you had never seen the young lady before."
"It is true, my lord, I have seen her, but it was five years ago; there is a great difference between a child twelve years old and a girl of seventeen."
"Well, what is your opinion?"
"My opinion is that the portrait must be flattering, my lord."
"Of that," said the prince triumphantly, "there can be no doubt, but let us suppose that it is not, what would your opinion be?"
"My lord, that your highness is exceedingly happy to have so charming a bride."
"Very well, that is your opinion of her, but of me?"
"My opinion, my lord, is that you are too handsome for a man."
The Chevalier de Lorraine burst out laughing. The prince understood how severe towards himself this opinion of the Comte de Guiche was, and he looked somewhat displeased, saying, "My friends are not over indulgent." De Guiche looked at the portrait again, and, after lengthened contemplation, returned it with apparent unwillingness, saying, "Most decidedly, my lord, I should rather prefer to look ten times at your highness, than to look at Madame once again." It seemed as if the chevalier had detected some mystery in these words, which were incomprehensible to the prince, for he exclaimed: "Very well, get married yourself." Monsieur continued painting himself, and when he had finished, looked at the portrait again once more, turned to admire himself in the glass, and smiled, and no doubt was satisfied with the comparison. "You are very kind to have come," he said to Guiche, "I feared you would leave without bidding me adieu."
"Your highness knows me too well to believe me capable of so great a disrespect."
"Besides, I suppose you have something to ask from me before leaving Paris?"
"Your highness has indeed guessed correctly, for I have a request to make."
"Very good, what is it?"
The Chevalier de Lorraine immediately displayed the greatest attention, for he regarded every favor conferred upon another as a robbery committed against himself. And, as Guiche hesitated, the prince said: "If it be money, nothing could be more fortunate, for I am in funds; the superintendent of the finances has sent me 500,000 pistoles."
"I thank your highness; but it is not an affair of money."
"What is it, then? Tell me."
"The appointment of a maid of honor."
"Oh! oh! Guiche, what a protector you have become of young ladies," said the prince, "you never speak of any one else now!"
The Chevalier de Lorraine smiled, for he knew very well that nothing displeased the prince more than to show any interest in ladies. "My lord," said the comte, "it is not I who am directly interested in the lady of whom I have just spoken; I am acting on behalf of one of my friends."
"Ah! that is different; what is the name of the young lady in whom your friend is interested?"
"Mlle. de la Baume le Blanc de la Valliere; she is already maid of honor to the dowager princess."
"Why, she is lame," said the Chevalier de Lorraine, stretching himself on his cushions.
"Lame," repeated the prince, "and Madame to have her constantly before her eyes? Most certainly not; it may be dangerous for her when in an interesting condition."
The Chevalier de Lorraine burst out laughing.
"Chevalier," said Guiche, "your conduct is ungenerous; while I am soliciting a favor, you do me all the mischief you can."
"Forgive me, comte," said the Chevalier de Lorraine, somewhat uneasy at the tone in which Guiche had made his remark, "but I had no intention of doing so, and I begin to believe that I have mistaken one young lady for another."
"There is no doubt of it, monsieur; and I do not hesitate to declare that such is the case."
"Do you attach much importance to it, Guiche?" inquired the prince.
"I do, my lord."
"Well, you shall have it, but ask me for no more appointments, for there are none to give away."
"Ah!" exclaimed the chevalier, "midday already, that is the hour fixed for the departure."
"You dismiss me, monsieur?" inquired Guiche.
"Really, count, you treat me very ill to-day," replied the chevalier.
"For heaven's sake, count, for heaven's sake, chevalier," said Monsieur, "do you not see how you are distressing me?"
"Your highness's signature?" said Guiche.
"Take a blank appointment from that drawer, and give it to me." Guiche handed the prince the document indicated, and at the same time presented him with a pen already dipped in ink; whereupon the prince signed. "Here," he said, returning him the appointment, "but I give it on one condition."
"That you make friends with the chevalier."
"Willingly," said Guiche. And he held out his hand to the chevalier with an indifference amounting to contempt.
"Adieu, count," said the chevalier, without seeming in any way to have noticed the count's slight; "adieu, and bring us back a princess who will not talk with her own portrait too much."
"Yes, set off and lose no time. By the by, who accompany you?"
"Bragelonne and De Wardes."
"Both excellent and fearless companions."
"Too fearless," said the chevalier; "endeavor to bring them both back, count."
"A bad heart, bad!" murmured De Guiche; "he scents mischief everywhere, and sooner than anything else." And taking leave of the prince, he quitted the apartment. As soon as he reached the vestibule, he waved in the air the paper which the prince had signed. Malicorne hurried forward, and received it, trembling with delight. When, however, he held it in his hand Guiche observed that he still awaited something further.
"Patience, monsieur," he said; "the Chevalier de Lorraine was there, and I feared an utter failure if I asked too much at once. Wait until I return. Adieu."
"Adieu, monsieur le comte; a thousand thanks," said Malicorne.
"Send Manicamp to me. By the way, monsieur, is it true that Mlle. de la Valliere is lame?" As he said this a horse drew up behind him, and on turning round he noticed that Bragelonne, who had just at that moment entered the courtyard, turned suddenly pale. The poor lover had heard the remark, which, however, was not the case with Malicorne, for he was already beyond the reach of the count's voice.
"Why is Louise's name spoken of here?" said Raoul to himself; "oh! let not De Wardes, who stands smiling yonder, even say a word about her in my presence."
"Now, gentlemen," exclaimed the Comte de Guiche, "prepare to start."
At this moment the prince, who had completed his toilette, appeared at the window, and was immediately saluted by the acclamations of all who composed the escort, and ten minutes afterwards, banners, scarfs, and feathers were fluttering and waving in the air, as the cavalcade galloped away.