Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas
88. An Account of what the Chevalier de Lorraine thought of Madame
Nothing further interrupted the journey. Under a pretext that was little remarked, M. de Wardes went forward in advance of the others. He took Manicamp with him, for his equable and dreamy disposition acted as a counterpoise to his own. It is a subject of remark, that quarrelsome and restless characters invariably seek the companionship of gentle, timorous dispositions, as if the former sought, in the contrast, a repose for their own ill-humor, and the latter a protection for their weakness. Buckingham and Bragelonne admitting De Guiche into their friendship, in concert with him, sang the praises of the princess during the whole of the journey. Bragelonne had, however, insisted that their three voices should be in concert, instead of singing in solo parts, as De Guiche and his rival seemed to have acquired a dangerous habit of investigation. This style of harmony pleased the queen-mother exceedingly, but it was not perhaps so agreeable to the young princess, who was an incarnation of coquetry, and who, without any fear as far as her own voice was concerned, sought opportunities of so perilously distinguishing herself. She possessed one of those fearless and incautious dispositions that find gratification in an excess of sensitiveness of feeling, and for whom, also, danger has a certain fascination. And so her glances, her smiles, her toilette, an inexhaustible armory of weapons of offense. were showered on the three young men with overwhelming force; and, from her well-stored arsenal issued glances, kindly recognitions, and a thousand other little charming attentions which were intended to strike at long range the gentlemen who formed the escort, the townspeople, the officers of the different cities she passed through, pages, populace, and servants; it was wholesale slaughter, a general devastation. By the time Madame arrived at Paris, she had reduced to slavery about a hundred thousand lovers: and brought in her train to Paris half a dozen men who were almost mad about her, and two who were, indeed, literally out of their minds. Raoul was the only person who divined the power of this woman's attraction, and as his heart was already engaged, he arrived in the capital full of indifference and distrust. Occasionally during the journey he conversed with the queen of England respecting the power of fascination which Madame possessed, and the mother, whom so many misfortunes and deceptions had taught experience, replied: "Henrietta was sure to be illustrious in one way or another, whether born in a palace or born in obscurity; for she is a woman of great imagination, capricious and self-willed." De Wardes and Manicamp, in their self-assumed character of courtiers, had announced the princess's arrival. The procession was met at Nanterre by a brilliant escort of cavaliers and carriages. It was Monsieur himself, followed by the Chevalier de Lorraine and by his favorites, the latter being themselves followed by a portion of the king's military household, who had arrived to meet his affianced bride. At St. Germain, the princess and her mother had changed their heavy traveling carriage, somewhat impaired by the journey, for a light, richly decorated chariot drawn by six horses with white and gold harness. Seated in this open carriage, as though upon a throne, and beneath a parasol of embroidered silk, fringed with feathers, sat the young and lovely princess, on whose beaming face were reflected the softened rose-tints which suited her delicate skin to perfection. Monsieur, on reaching the carriage, was struck by her beauty; he showed his admiration in so marked a manner that the Chevalier de Lorraine shrugged his shoulders as he listened to his compliments, while Buckingham and De Guiche were almost heart-broken. After the usual courtesies had been rendered, and the ceremony completed, the procession slowly resumed the road to Paris. The presentations had been carelessly made, and Buckingham, with the rest of the English gentlemen, had been introduced to Monsieur, from whom they had received but very indifferent attention. But, during their progress, as he observed that the duke devoted himself with his accustomed earnestness to the carriage-door, he asked the Chevalier de Lorraine, his inseparable companion, "Who is that cavalier?"
"He was presented to your highness a short while ago; it is the handsome Duke of Buckingham."
"Ah, yes, I remember."
"Madame's knight," added the favorite, with an inflection of the voice which envious minds can alone give to the simplest phrases.
"What do you say?" replied the prince.
"I said `Madame's knight.'"
"Has she a recognized knight, then?"
"One would think you can judge of that for yourself; look, only, how they are laughing and flirting. All three of them."
"What do you mean by all three?"
"Do you not see that De Guiche is one of the party?"
"Yes, I see. But what does that prove?"
"That Madame has two admirers instead of one."
"Thou poison the simplest thing!"
"I poison nothing. Ah! your royal highness's mind is perverted. The honors of the kingdom of France are being paid to your wife and you are not satisfied."
The Duke of Orleans dreaded the satirical humor of the Chevalier de Lorraine whenever it reached a certain degree of bitterness, and he changed the conversation abruptly. "The princess is pretty," said he, very negligently, as if he were speaking of a stranger.
"Yes," replied the chevalier, in the same tone.
"You say `yes' like a `no.' She has very beautiful black eyes."
"Yes, but small."
"That is so, but they are brilliant. She is tall, and of a good figure."
"I fancy she stoops a little, my lord?"
"I do not deny it. She has a noble appearance."
"Yes, but her face is thin."
"I thought her teeth beautiful."
"They can easily be seen, for her mouth is large enough. Decidedly, I was wrong, my lord; you are certainly handsomer than your wife."
"But do you think me as handsome as Buckingham?"
"Certainly, and he thinks so, too; for look, my lord, he is redoubling his attentions to Madame to prevent your effacing the impression he has made."
Monsieur made a movement of impatience, but as he noticed a smile of triumph pass across the chevalier's lips, he drew up his horse to a foot-pace. "Why," said he, "should I occupy myself any longer about my cousin? Do I not already know her? Were we not brought up together? Did I not see her at the Louvre when she was quite a child?"
"A great change has taken place in her since then, prince. At the period you allude to, she was somewhat less brilliant, and scarcely so proud, either. One evening, particularly, you may remember, my lord, the king refused to dance with her, because he thought her plain and badly dressed!"
These words made the Duke of Orleans frown. It was by no means flattering for him to marry a princess of whom, when young, the king had not thought much. He would probably have retorted, but at this moment De Guiche quitted the carriage to join the prince. He had remarked the prince and the chevalier together, and full of anxious attention he seemed to try and guess the nature of the remarks which they had just exchanged. The chevalier, whether he had some treacherous object in view, or from imprudence, did not take the trouble to dissimulate. "Count," he said, "you're a man of excellent taste."
"Thank you for the compliment," replied De Guiche; "but why do you say that?"
"Well, I appeal to his highness."
"No doubt of it," said Monsieur, "and Guiche knows perfectly well that I regard him as a most finished cavalier."
"Well, since that is decided, I resume. You have been in the princess's society, count, for the last eight days, have you not?"
"Yes," replied De Guiche, coloring in spite of himself.
"Well, then, tell us frankly, what do you think of her personal appearance?"
"Of her personal appearance?" returned De Guiche, stupefied.
"`Yes; of her appearance, of her mind, of herself, in fact."
Astounded by this question, De Guiche hesitated answering.
"Come, come, De Guiche," resumed the chevalier, laughingly, "tell us your opinion frankly; the prince commands it."
"Yes, yes," said the prince, "be frank."
De Guiche stammered out a few unintelligible words.
"I am perfectly well aware," returned Monsieur, "that the subject is a delicate one, but you know you can tell me everything. What do you think of her?"
In order to avoid betraying his real thoughts, De Guiche had recourse to the only defense which a man taken by surprise really has, and accordingly told an untruth. "I do not find Madame," he said, "either good or bad looking, yet rather good than bad looking."
"What! count," exclaimed the chevalier, "you who went into such ecstasies and uttered so many exclamations at the sight of her portrait."
De Guiche colored violently. Very fortunately his horse, which was slightly restive, enabled him by a sudden plunge to conceal his agitation. "What portrait!" he murmured, joining them again. The chevalier had not taken his eyes off him.
"Yes, the portrait. Was not the miniature a good likeness?"
"I do not remember. I had forgotten the portrait; it quite escaped my recollection."
"And yet it made a very marked impression upon you," said the chevalier.
"That is not unlikely."
"Is she witty, at all events?" inquired the duke.
"I believe so, my lord."
"Is M. de Buckingham witty, too?" said the chevalier.
"I do not know."
"My own opinion is, that he must be," replied the chevalier, "for he makes Madame laugh, and she seems to take no little pleasure in his society, which never happens to a clever woman when in the company of a simpleton."
"Of course, then, he must be clever," said De Guiche, simply.
At this moment Raoul opportunely arrived, seeing how De Guiche was pressed by his dangerous questioner, to whom he addressed a remark, and in that way changed the conversation. The entree was brilliant and joyous.
The king, in honor of his brother, had directed that the festivities should be on a scale of the greatest possible magnificence. Madame and her mother alighted at the Louvre, where, during their exile, they had so gloomily submitted to obscurity, misery, and privations of every description. That palace, which had been so inhospitable a residence for the unhappy daughter of Henry IV., the naked walls, the uneven floorings, the ceilings matted with cobwebs, the vast dilapidated chimney-places, the cold hearths on which the charity extended to them by parliament hardly permitted a fire to glow, was completely altered in appearance. The richest hangings and the thickest carpets, glistening flagstones and pictures, with their richly gilded frames; in every direction could be seen candelabra, mirrors, and furniture and fittings of the most sumptuous character; in every direction, also, were guards of the proudest military bearing, with floating plumes, crowds of attendants and courtiers in the ante-chambers and upon the staircases. In the courtyards, where the grass had formerly been allowed to luxuriate, as if the ungrateful Mazarin had thought it a good idea to let the Parisians perceive that solitude and disorder were, with misery and despair, the fit accompaniments of fallen monarchy, the immense courtyards, formerly silent and desolate, were now thronged with courtiers whose horses were pacing and prancing to and fro. The carriages were filled with young and beautiful women, who awaited the opportunity of saluting, as she passed, the daughter of that daughter of France who, during her widowhood and exile, had sometimes gone without wood for her fire, and bread for her table, whom the meanest attendants at the chateau had treated with indifference and contempt. And so, Madame Henrietta once more returned to the Louvre, with her heart more swollen with bitter recollections than her daughter's, whose disposition was fickle and forgetful, with triumph and delight. She knew but too well this brilliant reception was paid to the happy mother of a king restored to his throne, a throne second to none in Europe, while the worse than indifferent reception she had before met with was paid to her, the daughter of Henry IV., as a punishment for having been unfortunate. After the princesses had been installed in their apartments and had rested, the gentlemen who had formed their escort, having, in like manner, recovered from their fatigue, they resumed their accustomed habits and occupations. Raoul began by setting off to see his father, who had left for Blois. He then tried to see M. d'Artagnan, who, however, being engaged in the organization of a military household for the king, could not be found anywhere. Bragelonne next sought out De Guiche, but the count was occupied in a long conference with his tailors and with Manicamp, which consumed his whole time. With the Duke of Buckingham he fared still worse, for the duke was purchasing horses after horses, diamonds upon diamonds. He monopolized every embroiderer, jeweler, and tailor that Paris could boast of. Between De Guiche and himself a vigorous contest ensued, invariably a courteous one, in which, in order to insure success, the duke was ready to spend a million; while the Marechal de Grammont had only allowed his son sixty thousand francs. So Buckingham laughed and spent his money. Guiche groaned in despair, and would have shown it more violently, had it not been for the advice De Bragelonne gave him.
"A million!" repeated De Guiche daily; "I must submit. Why will not the marechal advance me a portion of my patrimony?"
"Because you would throw it away," said Raoul.
"What can that matter to him? If I am to die of it, I shall die of it, and then I shall need nothing further."
"But what need is there to die?" said Raoul.
"I do not wish to be conquered in elegance by an Englishman."
"My dear count," said Manicamp, "elegance is not a costly commodity, it is only a very difficult accomplishment."
"Yes, but difficult things cost a good deal of money, and I have only got sixty thousand francs."
"A very embarrassing state of things, truly," said De Wardes; "even if you spent as much as Buckingham there is only nine hundred and forty thousand francs difference."
"Where am I to find them?"
"Get into debt."
"I am in debt already."
"A greater reason for getting further."
Advice like this resulted in De Guiche becoming excited to such an extent that he committed extravagances where Buckingham only incurred expenses. The rumor of this extravagant profuseness delighted the hearts of all the shopkeepers in Paris, from the hotel of the Duke of Buckingham to that of the Comte de Grammont nothing but miracles was attempted. While all this was going on, Madame was resting herself, and Bragelonne was engaged in writing to Mademoiselle de la Valliere. He had already dispatched four letters, and not an answer to any one of them had been received, when, on the very morning fixed for the marriage ceremony, which was to take place in the chapel at the Palais-Royal, Raoul, who was dressing, heard his valet announce M. de Malicorne. "What can this Malicorne want with me?" thought Raoul; and then said to his valet, "Let him wait."
"It is a gentleman from Blois," said the valet.
"Admit him at once," said Raoul, eagerly.
Malicorne entered as brilliant as a star, and wearing a superb sword at his side. After having saluted Raoul most gracefully, he said: "M. de Bragelonne, I am the bearer of a thousand compliments from a lady to you."
Raoul colored. "From a lady," said he, "from a lady of Blois?"
"Yes, monsieur; from Mademoiselle de Montalais."
"Thank you, monsieur; I recollect you now," said Raoul. "And what does Mademoiselle de Montalais require of me?"
Malicorne drew four letters from his pocket, which he offered to Raoul.
"My own letters, is it possible?" he said, turning pale; "my letters, and the seals unbroken?"
"Monsieur, your letters did not find at Blois the person to whom they were addressed, and so they are now returned to you."
"Mademoiselle de la Valliere has left Blois, then?" exclaimed Raoul.
"Eight days ago."
"Where is she, then?"
"How was it known that these letters were from me?"
"Mademoiselle de Montalais recognized your handwriting and your seal," said Malicorne.
Raoul colored and smiled. "Mademoiselle de Montalais is exceedingly amiable," he said; "she is always kind and charming."
"Surely she could give me some precise information about Mademoiselle de la Valliere. I never could find her in this immense city."
Malicorne drew another packet from his pocket.
"You may possibly find in this letter what you are anxious to learn."
Raoul hurriedly broke the seal. The writing was that of Mademoiselle Aure, and inclosed were these words: -- "Paris, Palais-Royal. The day of the nuptial blessing."
"What does this mean?" inquired Raoul of Malicorne; "you probably know."
"I do, monsieur."
"For pity's sake, tell me, then."
"Because Mademoiselle Aure has forbidden me to do so."
Raoul looked at his strange visitor, and remained silent; -- "At least, tell me whether it is fortunate or unfortunate."
"That you will see."
"You are very severe in your reservations."
"Will you grant me a favor, monsieur?" said Malicorne.
"In exchange for that you refuse me?"
"What is it?"
"I have the greatest desire to see the ceremony, and I have no ticket to admit me, in spite of all the steps I have taken to secure one. Could you get me admitted "
"Do me this kindness, then, I entreat."
"Most willingly, monsieur; come with me."
"I am exceedingly indebted to you, monsieur," said Malicorne.
"I thought you were a friend of M. de Manicamp."
"I am, monsieur; but this morning I was with him as he was dressing, and I let a bottle of blacking fall over his new dress, and he flew at me sword in hand, so that I was obliged to make my escape. That is the reason I could not ask him for a ticket. He wanted to kill me."
"I can well believe it," laughed Raoul. "I know Manicamp is capable of killing a man who has been unfortunate enough to commit the crime you have to reproach yourself with, but I will repair the mischief as far as you are concerned. I will but fasten my cloak, and shall then be ready to serve you, not only as a guide, but as your introducer, too."