Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas
87. From Havre to Paris
The next day the fetes took place, accompanied by all the pomp and animation that the resources of the town and the cheerful disposition of men's minds could supply. During the last few hours spent in Havre, every preparation for the departure had been made. After Madame had taken leave of the English fleet, and, once again, had saluted the country in saluting its flags, she entered her carriage, surrounded by a brilliant escort. De Guiche had hoped that the Duke of Buckingham would accompany the admiral to England; but Buckingham succeeded in demonstrating to the queen that there would be great impropriety in allowing Madame to proceed to Paris almost unprotected. As soon as it had been settled that Buckingham was to accompany Madame, the young duke selected a corps of gentlemen and officers to form part of his own suite, so that it was almost an army that now set out towards Paris, scattering gold, and exciting the liveliest demonstrations as they passed through the different towns and villages on the route. The weather was very fine. France is a beautiful country, especially along the route by which the procession passed. Spring cast its flowers and its perfumed foliage on their path. Normandy, with its vast variety of vegetation, its blue skies and silver rivers, displayed itself in all the loveliness of a paradise to the new sister of the king. Fetes and brilliant displays received them everywhere along the line of march. De Guiche and Buckingham forgot everything; De Guiche in his anxiety to prevent any fresh attempts on the part of the duke, and Buckingham, in his desire to awaken in the heart of the princess a softer remembrance of the country to which the recollection of many happy days belonged. But, alas! the poor duke could perceive that the image of that country so cherished by himself became, from day to day, more and more effaced in Madame's mind, in exact proportion as her affection for France became more deeply engraved on her heart. In fact, it was not difficult to perceive that his most devoted attention awakened no acknowledgment, and that the grace with which he rode one of his most fiery horses was thrown away, for it was only casually and by the merest accident that the princess's eyes were turned towards him. In vain did he try, in order to fix upon himself one of those looks, which were thrown carelessly around, or bestowed elsewhere, to produce in the animal he rode its greatest display of strength, speed, temper and address; in vain did he, by exciting his horse almost to madness, spur him, at the risk of dashing himself in pieces against the trees, or of rolling in the ditches, over the gates and barriers which they passed, or down the steep declivities of the hills. Madame, whose attention had been aroused by the noise, turned her head for a moment to observe the cause of it, and then, slightly smiling, again entered into conversation with her faithful guardians, Raoul and De Guiche, who were quietly riding at her carriage doors. Buckingham felt himself a prey to all the tortures of jealousy; an unknown, unheard of anguish glided through his veins, and laid siege to his heart; and then, as if to show that he knew the folly of his conduct, and that he wished to correct, by the humblest submission, his flights of absurdity, he mastered his horse, and compelled him, reeking with sweat and flecked with foam, to champ his bit close beside the carriage, amidst the crowd of courtiers. Occasionally he obtained a word from Madame as a recompense, and yet her speech seemed almost a reproach.
"That is well, my lord," she said, "now you are reasonable."
Or from Raoul, "Your Grace is killing your horse."
Buckingham listened patiently to Raoul's remarks, for he instinctively felt, without having had any proof that such was the case, that Raoul checked the display of De Guiche's feelings, and that, had it not been for Raoul, some mad act or proceeding, either of the count, or of Buckingham himself, would have brought about an open rupture, or a disturbance -- perhaps even exile itself. From the moment of that excited conversation the two young men had held in front of the tents at Havre, when Raoul made the duke perceive the impropriety of his conduct, Buckingham felt himself attracted towards Raoul almost in spite of himself. He often entered into conversation with him, and it was nearly always to talk to him either of his father or of D'Artagnan, their mutual friend, in whose praise Buckingham was nearly as enthusiastic as Raoul. Raoul endeavored, as much as possible, to make the conversation turn upon this subject in De Wardes's presence, who had, during the whole journey, been exceedingly annoyed at the superior position taken by Bragelonne, and especially by his influence over De Guiche. De Wardes had that keen and merciless penetration most evil natures possess; he had immediately remarked De Guiche's melancholy, and divined the nature of his regard for the princess. Instead, however, of treating the subject with the same reserve which Raoul practiced; instead of regarding with that respect, which was their due, the obligations and duties of society, De Wardes resolutely attacked in the count the ever-sounding chord of juvenile audacity and pride. It happened one evening, during a halt at Nantes, that while De Guiche and De Wardes were leaning against a barrier, engaged in conversation, Buckingham and Raoul were also talking together as they walked up and down. Manicamp was engaged in devoted attendance on the princess, who already treated him without reserve, on account of his versatile fancy, his frank courtesy of manner, and conciliatory disposition.
"Confess," said De Wardes, "that you are really ill and that your pedagogue of a friend has not succeeded in curing you."
"I do not understand you," said the count.
"And yet it is easy enough; you are dying of love."
"You are mad, De Wardes."
"Madness it would be, I admit, if Madame were really indifferent to your martyrdom; but she takes so much notice of it, observes it to such an extent, that she compromises herself, and I tremble lest, on our arrival at Paris, M. de Bragelonne may not denounce both of you."
"For shame, De Wardes, again attacking De Bragelonne."
"Come, come, a truce to child's play," replied the count's evil genius, in an undertone; "you know as well as I do what I mean. Besides, you must have observed how the princess's glance softens as she looks at you; -- you can tell, by the very inflection of her voice, what pleasure she takes in listening to you, and can feel how thoroughly she appreciates the verses you recite to her. You cannot deny, too, that every morning she tells you how indifferently she slept the previous night."
"True, De Wardes, quite true; but what good is there in your telling me all that?"
"Is it not important to know the exact position of affairs?"
"No, no; not when I am a witness of things that are enough to drive one mad."
"Stay, stay," said De Wardes; "look, she calls you, -- do you understand? Profit by the occasion, while your pedagogue is absent."
De Guiche could not resist; an invincible attraction drew him towards the princess. De Wardes smiled as he saw him withdraw.
"You are mistaken, monsieur," said Raoul, suddenly stepping across the barrier against which the previous moment the two friends had been leaning. "The pedagogue is here, and has overheard you."
De Wardes, at the sound of Raoul's voice, which he recognized without having occasion to look at him, half drew his sword.
"Put up your sword," said Raoul, "you know perfectly well that, until our journey is at an end, every demonstration of that nature is useless. Why do you distill into the heart of the man you term your friend all the bitterness that infects your own? As regards myself, you wish to arouse a feeling of deep dislike against a man of honor -- my father's friend and my own: and as for the count you wish him to love one who is destined for your master. Really, monsieur, I should regard you as a coward, and a traitor too, if I did not, with greater justice, regard you as a madman."
"Monsieur," exclaimed De Wardes, exasperated, "I was deceived, I find, in terming you a pedagogue. The tone you assume, and the style which is peculiarly your own, is that of a Jesuit, and not of a gentleman. Discontinue, I beg, whenever I am present, this style I complain of, and the tone also. I hate M. d'Artagnan because he was guilty of a cowardly act towards my father."
"You lie, monsieur," said Raoul, coolly.
"You give me the lie, monsieur?" exclaimed De Wardes.
"Why not, if what you assert is untrue?"
"You give me the lie and will not draw your sword?"
"I have resolved, monsieur, not to kill you until Madame shall have been delivered safely into her husband's hands."
"Kill me! Believe me, monsieur, your schoolmaster's rod does not kill so easily."
"No," replied Raoul, sternly, "but M. d'Artagnan's sword kills; and, not only do I possess his sword, but he has himself taught me how to use it: and with that sword, when a befitting time arrives, I will avenge his name ---a name you have dishonored."
"Take care, monsieur," exclaimed De Wardes; "if you do not immediately give me satisfaction, I will avail myself of every means to revenge myself."
"Indeed, monsieur," said Buckingham, suddenly, appearing upon the scene of action, "that is a threat which savors of assassination, and therefore, ill becomes a gentleman."
"What did you say, my lord?" said De Wardes, turning round towards him.
"I said, monsieur, that the words you spoken are displeasing to my English ears."
"Very well, monsieur, if what you say is true," exclaimed De Wardes, thoroughly incensed, "I at least find in you one who will not escape me. Understand my words as you like."
"I take them in the manner they cannot but be understood," replied Buckingham, with that haughty tone which characterized him. and which, even in ordinary conversation, gave a tone of defiance to everything he said; "M. de Bragelonne is my friend, you insult M. de Bragelonne, and you shall give me satisfaction for that insult."
De Wardes cast a look upon De Bragelonne, who, faithful to the character he had assumed, remained calm and unmoved, even after the duke's defiance.
"It would seem that I did not insult M. de Bragelonne, since M. de Bragelonne, who carries a sword by his side, does not consider himself insulted."
"At all events you insult some one."
"Yes, I insulted M. d'Artagnan," resumed De Wardes, who had observed that this was the only means of stinging Raoul, so as to awaken his anger.
"That then," said Buckingham, "is another matter."
"Precisely so," said De Wardes, "it is the province of M. d'Artagnan's friends to defend him."
"I am entirely of your opinion," replied the duke, who had regained all his indifference of manner; "if M. de Bragelonne were offended, I could not reasonably be expected to espouse his quarrel, since he is himself here; but when you say that it is a quarrel of M. d'Artagnan ---- "
"You will of course leave me to deal with the matter," said De Wardes.
"Nay, on the contrary, for I draw my sword," said Buckingham, unsheathing it as he spoke; "for if M. d'Artagnan injured your father, he rendered, or at least did all that he could to render, a great service to mine."
De Wardes was thunderstruck.
"M. d'Artagnan," continued Buckingham, "is the bravest gentleman I know. I shall be delighted, as I owe him many personal obligations, to settle them with you, by crossing my sword with yours." At the same moment Buckingham drew his sword gracefully from its scabbard, saluted Raoul, and put himself on guard.
De Wardes advanced a step to meet him.
"Stay, gentlemen," said Raoul, advancing towards them, and placing his own drawn sword between the combatants, "the affair is hardly worth the trouble of blood being shed almost in the presence of the princess. M. de Wardes speaks ill of M. d'Artagnan, with whom he is not even acquainted."
"What, monsieur," said De Wardes, setting his teeth hard together, and resting the point of his sword on the toe of his boot, "do you assert that I do not know M. d'Artagnan?"
"Certainly not; you do not know him," replied Raoul, coldly, "and you are even not aware where he is to he found."
"Not know where he is?"
"Such must be the case, since you fix your quarrel with him upon strangers, instead of seeking M. d'Artagnan where he is to be found." De Wardes turned pale. "Well, monsieur," continued Raoul, "I will tell you where M. d'Artagnan is: he is now in Paris; when on duty he is to be met with at the Louvre, -- when not on duty, in the Rue des Lombards. M. d'Artagnan can be easily discovered at either of those two places. Having, therefore, as you assert, so many causes of complaint against him, show your courage in seeking him out, and afford him an opportunity of giving you that satisfaction you seem to ask of every one but of himself." De Wardes passed his hand across his forehead, which was covered with perspiration. "For shame, M. de Wardes! so quarrelsome a disposition is hardly becoming after the publication of the edicts against duels. Pray think of that; the king will be incensed at our disobedience, particularly at such a time, -- and his majesty will be in the right."
"Excuses," murmured De Wardes; "mere pretexts."
"Really, M. De Wardes," resumed Raoul, "such remarks are the idlest bluster. You know very well that the Duke of Buckingham is a man of undoubted courage, who has already fought ten duels, and will probably fight eleven. His name alone is significant enough. As far as I am concerned, you are well aware that I can fight also. I fought at Sens, at Bleneau, at the Dunes in front of the artillery, a hundred paces in front of the line, while you -- I say this parenthetically -- were a hundred paces behind it. True it is, that on that occasion there was far too great a concourse of persons present for your courage to be observed, and on that account, perhaps, you did not reveal it; while here, it would be a display, and would excite remark -- you wish that others should talk about you, in what manner you do not care. Do not depend upon me, M. de Wardes, to assist you in your designs, for I shall certainly not afford you that pleasure."
"Sensibly observed," said Buckingham, putting up his sword, "and I ask your forgiveness, M. de Bragelonne, for having allowed myself to yield to a first impulse."
De Wardes, however, on the contrary, perfectly furious, bounded forward and raised his sword, threateningly, against Raoul, who had scarcely time to put himself in a posture of defense.
"Take care, monsieur," said Bragelonne, tranquilly, "or you will put out one of my eyes."
"You will not fight, then?" said De Wardes.
"Not at this moment, but this I promise to do; immediately on our arrival at Paris I will conduct you to M. d'Artagnan, to whom you shall detail all the causes of complaint you have against him. M. d'Artagnan will solicit the king's permission to measure swords with you. The king will yield his consent, and when you shall have received the sword-thrust in due course, you will consider, in a calmer frame of mind, the precepts of the Gospel, which enjoin forgetfulness of injuries."
"Ah!" exclaimed De Wardes, furious at this imperturbable coolness, "one can clearly see you are half a bastard, M. de Bragelonne."
Raoul became as pale as death; his eyes flashed lightning, causing De Wardes involuntarily to fall back. Buckingham, also, who had perceived their expression, threw himself between the two adversaries, whom he had expected to see precipitate themselves on each other. De Wardes had reserved this injury for the last; he clasped his sword firmly in his hand, and awaited the encounter. "You are right, monsieur," said Raoul, mastering his emotion, "I am only acquainted with my father's name, but I know too well that the Comte de la Fere is too upright and honorable a man to allow me to fear for a single moment that there is, as you insinuate, any stain upon my birth. My ignorance, therefore, of my mother's name is a misfortune for me, and not a reproach. You are deficient in loyalty of conduct; you are wanting in courtesy, in reproaching me with misfortune. It matters little, however, the insult has been given, and I consider myself insulted accordingly. It is quite understood, then, that after you shall have received satisfaction from M. d'Artagnan, you will settle your quarrel with me."
"I admire your prudence, monsieur," replied De Wardes with a bitter smile; "a little while ago you promised me a sword-thrust from M. d'Artagnan, and now, after I shall have received his, you offer me one from yourself."
"Do not disturb yourself," replied Raoul, with concentrated anger, "in all affairs of that nature, M. d'Artagnan is exceedingly skillful, and I will beg him as a favor to treat you as he did your father; in other words, to spare your life at least, so as to leave me the pleasure, after your recovery, of killing you outright; for you have the heart of a viper, M. de Wardes, and in very truth, too many precautions cannot be taken against you."
"I shall take my precautions against you," said De Wardes, "be assured of it."
"Allow me, monsieur," said Buckingham, "to translate your remark by a piece of advice I am about to give M. de Bragelonne; M. de Bragelonne, wear a cuirass."
De Wardes clenched his hands. "Ah!" said he, "you two gentlemen intend to wait until you have taken that precaution before you measure your swords against mine."
"Very well, monsieur," said Raoul, "since you positively will have it so, let us settle the affair now." And drawing his sword he advanced towards De Wardes.
"What are you going to do?" said Buckingham.
"Be easy," said Raoul, "it will not be very long."
De Wardes placed himself on his guard; their swords crossed. De Wardes flew upon Raoul with such impetuosity, that at the first clashing of the steel blades Buckingham clearly saw that Raoul was only trifling with his adversary. Buckingham stepped aside, and watched the combat. Raoul was as calm as if he were handling a foil, instead of a sword; having retreated a step, he parried three or four fierce thrusts which De Wardes made at him, caught the sword of the latter within his own, and sent it flying twenty paces the other side of the barrier. Then as De Wardes stood disarmed and astounded at his defeat Raoul sheathed his sword, seized him by the collar and the waist-band, and hurled his adversary to the other end of the barrier, trembling, and mad with rage.
"We shall meet again," murmured De Wardes, rising from the ground and picking up his sword.
"I have done nothing for the last hour," said Raoul, "but say the same thing." Then, turning towards the duke, he said, "I entreat you to be silent about this affair; I am ashamed to have gone so far, but my anger carried me away, and I ask your forgiveness for it; -- forget it, too."
"Dear viscount," said the duke, pressing within his own the vigorous and valiant hand of his companion, "allow me, on the contrary, to remember it, and to look after your safety; that man is dangerous, -- he will kill you."
"My father," replied Raoul, "lived for twenty years under the menace of a much more formidable enemy, and he still lives."
"Your father had good friends, viscount."
"Yes," sighed Raoul, "such friends indeed, that none are now left like them."
"Do not say that, I beg, at the very moment I offer you my friendship;" and Buckingham opened his arms to embrace Raoul, who delightedly received the proffered alliance. "In my family," added Buckingham, "you are aware, M. de Bragelonne, wee die to save our friends."
"I know it well, duke," replied Raoul.