Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas
90. The Consent of Athos
Raoul quitted the Palais-Royal full of ideas that admitted no delay in execution. He mounted his horse in the courtyard, and followed the road to Blois, while the marriage festivities of Monsieur and the princess of England were being celebrated with exceeding animation by the courtiers, but to the despair of De Guiche and Buckingham. Raoul lost no time on the road, and in sixteen hours he arrived at Blois. As he traveled along, he marshaled his arguments in the most becoming manner. Fever also is an argument that cannot be answered, and Raoul had an attack. Athos was in his study, making additions to his memoirs, when Raoul entered, accompanied by Grimaud. Keen-sighted and penetrating, a mere glance at his son told him that something extraordinary had befallen him.
"You seem to come on a matter of importance," said he to Raoul, after he had embraced him, pointing to a seat.
"Yes, monsieur," replied the young man; "and I entreat you to give me the same kind attention that has never yet failed me."
"I present the case to you, monsieur, free from all preface, for that would be unworthy of you. Mademoiselle de la Valliere is in Paris as one of Madame's maids of honor. I have pondered deeply on the matter; I love Mademoiselle de la Valliere above everything; and it is not proper to leave her in a position where her reputation, her virtue even, may be assailed. It is my wish, therefore, to marry her, monsieur, and I have come to solicit your consent to my marriage."
While this communication was being made to him, Athos maintained the profoundest silence and reserve. Raoul, who had begun his address with an assumption of self-possession, finished it by allowing a manifest emotion to escape him at every word. Athos fixed upon Bragelonne a searching look, overshadowed indeed by a slight sadness.
"You have reflected well upon it?" he inquired.
"I believe you are already acquainted with my views respecting this alliance?"
"Yes, monsieur," replied Raoul, in a low tone of voice, "but you added, that if I persisted ---- "
"You do persist, then?"
Bragelonne stammered out an almost unintelligible assent.
"Your passion," continued Athos, tranquilly, "must indeed be very great, since, notwithstanding my dislike to this union, you persist in wishing it."
Raoul passed his trembling hand across his forehead to remove the perspiration that collected there. Athos looked at him, and his heart was touched by pity. He rose and said, ----
"It is no matter. My own personal feelings are not to be taken into consideration since yours are concerned; you need my assistance; I am ready to give it. Tell me what you want."
"Your kind indulgence, first of all, monsieur," said Raoul, taking hold of his hand.
"You have mistaken my feelings, Raoul, I have more than mere indulgence for you in my heart."
Raoul kissed as devotedly as a lover could have done the hand he held in his own.
"Come, come," said Athos, "I am quite ready; what do you wish me to sign?"
"Nothing whatever, monsieur. only it would be very kind if you would take the trouble to write to the king to whom I belong, and solicit his majesty's permission for me to marry Mademoiselle de la Valliere."
"Well thought, Raoul! After, or rather before myself, you have a master to consult, that master being the king; it is loyal in you to submit yourself voluntarily to this double proof; I will grant your request without delay, Raoul."
The count approached the window, and leaning out, called to Grimaud, who showed his head from an arbor covered with jasmine, which he was occupied in trimming.
"My horses, Grimaud," continued the count.
"Why this order, monsieur?" inquired Raoul.
"We shall set off in a few hours."
"Is not the king at Paris?"
"Well, ought we not to go there?"
"Yes, monsieur," said Raoul, almost alarmed by this kind condescension. "I do not ask you to put yourself to such inconvenience, and a letter merely ---- "
"You mistake my position, Raoul; it is not respectful that a simple gentleman, such as I am, should write to his sovereign. I wish to speak, I ought to speak, to the king, and I will do so. We will go together, Raoul."
"You overpower me with your kindness, monsieur."
"How do you think his majesty is affected?"
"Towards me, monsieur?"
"Excellently well disposed."
"You know that to be so?" continued the count.
"The king has himself told me so."
"On what occasion?"
"Upon the recommendation of M. d'Artagnan, I believe, and on account of an affair in the Place de Greve, when I had the honor to draw my sword in the king's service. I have reason to believe that, vanity apart, I stand well with his majesty."
"So much the better."
"But I entreat you, monsieur," pursued Raoul, "not to maintain towards me your present grave and serious manner. Do not make me bitterly regret having listened to a feeling stronger than anything else."
"That is the second time you have said so, Raoul; it was quite unnecessary, you require my formal consent, and you have it. We need talk no more on the subject, therefore. Come and see my new plantations, Raoul."
The young man knew very well, that, after the expression of his father's wish, no opportunity of discussion was left him. He bowed his head, and followed his father into the garden. Athos slowly pointed out to him the grafts, the cuttings, and the avenues he was planting. This perfect repose of manner disconcerted Raoul extremely; the affection with which his own heart was filled seemed so great that the whole world could hardly contain it. How, then, could his father's heart remain void, and closed to its influence? Bragelonne, therefore, collecting all his courage, suddenly exclaimed, ----
"It is impossible, monsieur, you can have any reason to reject Mademoiselle de la Valliere? In Heaven's name, she is so good, so gentle and pure, that your mind, so perfect in its penetration, ought to appreciate her accordingly. Does any secret repugnance, or any hereditary dislike, exist between you and her family?"
"Look, Raoul, at that beautiful lily of the valley," said Athos; "observe how the shade and the damp situation suit it, particularly the shadow which that sycamore-tree casts over it, so that the warmth, and not the blazing heat of the sun, filters through its leaves."
Raoul stopped, bit his lips, and then with the blood mantling in his face, he said, courageously, -- "One word of explanation, I beg, monsieur. You cannot forget that your son is a man."
"In that case," replied Athos, drawing himself up with sternness, "prove to me that you are a man, for you do not show yourself a son. I begged you to wait the opportunity of forming an illustrious alliance. I would have obtained a wife for you from the first ranks of the rich nobility. I wish you to be distinguished by the splendor which glory and fortune confer, for nobility of descent you have already."
"Monsieur," exclaimed Raoul, carried away by a first impulse, "I was reproached the other day for not knowing who my mother was."
Athos turned pale; then, knitting his brows like the greatest of all the heathen deities: -- "I am waiting to learn the reply you made," he demanded, in an imperious manner.
"Forgive me! oh, forgive me," murmured the young man, sinking at once from the lofty tone he had assumed.
"What was your reply, monsieur?" inquired the count, stamping his feet upon the ground.
"Monsieur, my sword was in my hand immediately, my adversary placed himself on guard, I struck his sword over the palisade, and threw him after it."
"Why did you suffer him to live?"
"The king has prohibited duelling, and, at that moment, I was an ambassador of the king."
"Very well," said Athos, "but all the greater reason I should see his majesty."
"What do you intend to ask him?"
"Authority to draw my sword against the man who has inflicted this injury upon me."
"If I did not act as I ought to have done, I beg you to forgive me."
"Did I reproach you, Raoul?"
"Still, the permission you are going to ask from the king?"
"I will implore his majesty to sign your marriage-contract, but on one condition."
"Are conditions necessary with me, monsieur? Command, and you shall be obeyed."
"On one condition, I repeat," continued Athos; "that you tell me the name of the man who spoke of your mother in that way."
"What need is there that you should know his name; the offense was directed against myself, and the permission once obtained from his majesty, to revenge it is my affair."
"Tell me his name, monsieur."
"I will not allow you to expose yourself.
"Do you take me for a Don Diego? His name, I say."
"You insist upon it?"
"I demand it."
"The Vicomte de Wardes."
"Very well," said Athos, tranquilly, "I know him. But our horses are ready, I see; and, instead of delaying our departure for a couple of hours, we will set off at once. Come, monsieur."