Raoul, on betaking himself to De Guiche, found him conversing with De Wardes and Manicamp. De Wardes, since the affair of the barricade, had treated Raoul as a stranger; they behaved as if they were not acquainted. As Raoul entered, De Guiche walked up to him; and Raoul, as he grasped his friend’s hand, glanced rapidly at his two companions, hoping to be able to read on their faces what was passing in their minds. De Wardes was cold and impenetrable; Manicamp seemed absorbed in the contemplation of some trimming to his dress. De Guiche led Raoul to an adjoining cabinet, and made him sit down, saying, “How well you look!”
“That is singular,” replied Raoul, “for I am far from being in good spirits.”
“It is your case, then, Raoul, as it is my own,--our love affairs do not progress.”
“So much the better, count, as far as you are concerned; the worst news would be good news.”
“In that case do not distress yourself, for, not only am I very unhappy, but, what is more, I see others about me who are happy.”
“Really, I do not understand you,” replied Raoul; “explain yourself.”
“You will soon learn. I have tried, but in vain, to overcome the feeling you saw dawn in me, increase and take entire possession of me. I have summoned all your advice and my own strength to my aid. I have well weighed the unfortunate affair in which I have embarked; I have sounded its depths; that it is an abyss, I am aware, but it matters little, for I shall pursue my own course.”
“This is madness, De Guiche! you cannot advance another step without risking your own ruin to-day, perhaps your life to-morrow.”
“Whatever may happen, I have done with reflections; listen.”
“And you hope to succeed; you believe that Madame will love you?”
“Raoul, I believe nothing; I hope, because hope exists in man, and never abandons him till death.”
“But, admitting that you obtain the happiness you covet, even then, you are more certainly lost than if you had failed in obtaining it.”
“I beseech you, Raoul, not to interrupt me any more; you could never convince me, for I tell you beforehand, I do not wish to be convinced; I have gone so far I cannot recede; I have suffered so much, death itself would be a boon. I no longer love to madness, Raoul, I am being engulfed by a whirlpool of jealousy.”
Raoul struck his hands together with an expression resembling anger. “Well?” said he.
“Well or ill matters little. This is what I claim from you, my friend, my almost brother. During the last three days Madame has been living in a perfect intoxication of gayety. On the first day, I dared not look at her; I hated her for not being as unhappy as myself. The next day I could not bear her out of my sight; and she, Raoul--at least I thought I remarked it--she looked at me, if not with pity, at least with gentleness. But between her looks and mine, a shadow intervened; another’s smile invited hers. Beside her horse another’s always gallops, which is not mine; in her ear another’s caressing voice, not mine, unceasingly vibrates. Raoul, for three days past my brain has been on fire; flame, not blood, courses through my veins. That shadow must be driven away, that smile must be quenched; that voice must be silenced.”
“You wish Monsieur’s death,” exclaimed Raoul.
“No, no, I am not jealous of the husband; I am jealous of the lover.”
“Of the lover?” said Raoul.
“Have you not observed it, you who were formerly so keen-sighted?”
“Are you jealous of the Duke of Buckingham?”
“To the very death.”
“This time the affair will be easy to arrange between us; I have taken the initiative, and have sent him a letter.”
“It was you, then, who wrote to him?”
“How do you know that?”
“I know it, because he told me so. Look at this;” and he handed De Guiche the letter he had received nearly at the same moment as his own. De Guiche read it eagerly, and said, “He is a brave man, and more than that, a gallant man.”
“Most certainly the duke is a gallant man; I need not ask if you wrote to him in a similar style.”
“He will show you my letter when you call on him on my behalf.”
“But that is almost out of the question.”
“That I shall call on him for that purpose.”
“The duke consults me as you do.”
“I suppose you will give me the preference! Listen to me, Raoul, I wish you to tell his Grace--it is a very simple matter--that to-day, to-morrow, the following day, or any other day he may choose. I will meet him at Vincennes.”
“Reflect, De Guiche.”
“I thought I told you I have reflected.”
“The duke is a stranger here; he is on a mission which renders his person inviolable.... Vincennes is close to the Bastile.”
“The consequences concern me.”
“But the motive for this meeting? What motive do you wish me to assign?”
“Be perfectly easy on that score, he will not ask any. The duke must be as sick of me as I am of him. I implore you, therefore, seek the duke, and if it is necessary to entreat him to accept my offer, I will do so.”
“That is useless. The duke has already informed me that he wishes to speak to me. The duke is now playing cards with the king. Let us both go there. I will draw him aside in the gallery: you will remain aloof. Two words will be sufficient.”
“That is well arranged. I will take De Wardes to keep me in countenance.”
“Why not Manicamp? De Wardes can join us at any time; we can leave him here.”
“Yes, that is true.”
“He knows nothing?”
“Positively nothing. You continue still on an unfriendly footing, then?”
“Has he not told you anything?”
“I do not like the man, and, as I never liked him, the result is, that I am on no worse terms with him to-day than I was yesterday.”
“Let us go, then.”
The four descended the stairs. De Guiche’s carriage was waiting at the door, and took them to the Palais-Royal. As they were going along, Raoul was engaged in devising his scheme of action. The sole depositary of two secrets, he did not despair of concluding some arrangement between the two parties. He knew the influence he exercised over Buckingham, and the ascendency he had acquired over De Guiche, and affairs did not look utterly hopeless. On their arrival in the gallery, dazzling with the blaze of light, where the most beautiful and illustrious women of the court moved to and fro, like stars in their own atmosphere, Raoul could not prevent himself for a moment forgetting De Guiche in order to seek out Louise, who, amidst her companions, like a dove completely fascinated, gazed long and fixedly upon the royal circle, which glittered with jewels and gold. All its members were standing, the king alone being seated. Raoul perceived Buckingham, who was standing a few places from Monsieur, in a group of French and English, who were admiring his aristocratic carriage and the incomparable magnificence of his costume. Some of the older courtiers remembered having seen his father, but their recollections were not prejudicial to the son.
Buckingham was conversing with Fouquet, who was talking with him aloud about Belle-Isle. “I cannot speak to him at present,” said Raoul.
“Wait, then, and choose your opportunity, but finish everything speedily. I am on thorns.”
“See, our deliverer approaches,” said Raoul, perceiving D’Artagnan, who, magnificently dressed in his new uniform of captain of the musketeers, had just made his entry in the gallery; and he advanced towards D’Artagnan.
“The Comte de la Fere has been looking for you, chevalier,” said Raoul.
“Yes,” replied D’Artagnan, “I have just left him.”
“I thought you would have passed a portion of the evening together.”
“We have arranged to meet again.”
As he answered Raoul, his absent looks were directed on all sides, as if seeking some one in the crowd, or looking for something in the room. Suddenly his gaze became fixed, like that of an eagle on its prey. Raoul followed the direction of his glance, and noticed that De Guiche and D’Artagnan saluted each other, but he could not distinguish at whom the captain’s inquiring and haughty glance was aimed.
“Chevalier,” said Raoul, “there is no one here but yourself who can render me a service.”
“What is it, my dear vicomte?”
“It is simply to go and interrupt the Duke of Buckingham, to whom I wish to say two words, and, as the duke is conversing with M. Fouquet, you understand that it would not do for me to throw myself into the middle of the conversation.”
“Ah, ah, is M. Fouquet there?” inquired D’Artagnan.
“Do you not see him?”
“Yes, now I do. But do you think I have a greater right than you have?”
“You are a more important personage.”
“Yes, you’re right; I am captain of the musketeers; I have had the post promised me so long, and have enjoyed it for so brief a period, that I am always forgetting my dignity.”
“You will do me this service, will you not?”
“M. Fouquet--the deuce!”
“Are you not on good terms with him?”
“It is rather he who may not be on good terms with me; however, since it must be done some day or another----”
“Stay; I think he is looking at you; or is it likely that it might be----”
“No, no, don’t deceive yourself, it is indeed me for whom this honor is intended.”
“The opportunity is a good one, then?”
“Do you think so?”
“Well, I will.”
De Guiche had not removed his eyes from Raoul, who made a sign to him that all was arranged. D’Artagnan walked straight up to the group, and civilly saluted M. Fouquet as well as the others.
“Good evening, M. d’Artagnan; we were speaking of Belle-Isle,” said Fouquet, with that usage of society, and that perfect knowledge of the language of looks, which require half a lifetime thoroughly to acquire, and which some persons, notwithstanding all their study, never attain.
“Of Belle-Isle-en-Mer! Ah!” said D’Artagnan. “It belongs to you, I believe, M. Fouquet?”
“M. Fouquet has just told me that he had presented it to the king,” said Buckingham.
“Do you know Belle-Isle, chevalier?” inquired Fouquet.
“I have only been there once,” replied D’Artagnan, with readiness and good-humor.
“Did you remain there long?”
“Scarcely a day.”
“Did you see much of it while you were there?”
“All that could be seen in a day.”
“A great deal can be seen with observation as keen as yours,” said Fouquet; at which D’Artagnan bowed.
During this Raoul made a sign to Buckingham. “M. Fouquet,” said Buckingham, “I leave the captain with you, he is more learned than I am in bastions, scarps, and counter-scarps, and I will join one of my friends, who has just beckoned me.” Saying this, Buckingham disengaged himself from the group, and advanced towards Raoul, stopping for a moment at the table where the queen-mother, the young queen, and the king were playing together.
“Now, Raoul,” said De Guiche, “there he is; be firm and quick.”
Buckingham, having made some complimentary remark to Madame, continued his way towards Raoul, who advanced to meet him, while De Guiche remained in his place, though he followed him with his eyes. The maneuver was so arranged that the young men met in an open space which was left vacant, between the group of players and the gallery, where they walked, stopping now and then for the purpose of saying a few words to some of the graver courtiers who were walking there. At the moment when the two lines were about to unite, they were broken by a third. It was Monsieur who advanced toward the Duke of Buckingham. Monsieur had his most engaging smile on his red and perfumed lips.
“My dear duke,” said he, with the most affectionate politeness; “is it really true what I have just been told?”
Buckingham turned round, he had not noticed Monsieur approach; but had merely heard his voice. He started in spite of his command over himself, and a slight pallor overspread his face. “Monseigneur,” he asked, “what has been told you that surprises you so much?”
“That which throws me into despair, and will, in truth, be a real cause of mourning for the whole court.”
“Your highness is very kind, for I perceive that you allude to my departure.”
Guiche had overheard the conversation from where he was standing, and started in his turn. “His departure,” he murmured. “What does he say?”
Philip continued with the same gracious air, “I can easily conceive, monsieur, why the king of Great Britain recalls you; we all know that King Charles II.; who appreciates true gentlemen, cannot dispense with you. But it cannot be supposed we can let you go without great regret; and I beg you to receive the expression of my own.”
“Believe me, monseigneur,” said the duke, “that if I quit the court of France----”
“Because you are recalled; but, if you suppose the expression of my own wish on the subject might possibly have any influence with the king, I will gladly volunteer to entreat his majesty Charles II. to leave you with us a little while longer.”
“I am overwhelmed, monseigneur, by so much kindness,” replied Buckingham, “but I have received positive commands. My residence in France was limited; I have prolonged it at the risk of displeasing my gracious sovereign. It is only this very day that I recollected I ought to have set off four days ago.”
“Indeed,” said Monsieur.
“Yes, but,” added Buckingham, raising his voice in such a manner that the princess could hear him,--“but I resemble that dweller in the East, who turned mad, and remained so for several days, owing to a delightful dream that he had had, but who one day awoke, if not completely cured, in some respects rational at least. The court of France has its intoxicating properties, which are not unlike this dream, my lord; but at last I wake and leave it. I shall be unable, therefore, to prolong my residence, as your highness has so kindly invited me to do.”
“When do you leave?” inquired Philip, with an expression full of interest.
“To-morrow, monseigneur. My carriages have been ready for three days.”
The Duc d’Orleans made a movement of the head, which seemed to signify, “Since you are determined, duke, there is nothing to be said.” Buckingham returned the gesture, concealing under a smile a contraction of his heart; and then Monsieur moved away in the same direction by which he had approached. At the same moment, however, De Guiche advanced from the opposite direction. Raoul feared that the impatient young man might possibly make the proposition himself, and hurried forward before him.
“No, no, Raoul, all is useless now,” said Guiche, holding both his hands toward the duke, and leading him behind a column. “Forgive me, duke, for what I wrote to you, I was mad; give me back my letter.”
“It is true,” said the duke, “you cannot owe me a grudge any longer now.”
“Forgive me, duke; my friendship, my lasting friendship is yours.”
“There is certainly no reason why you should bear me any ill-will from the moment I leave her never to see her again.”
Raoul heard these words, and comprehending that his presence was now useless between the two young men, who had now only friendly words to exchange, withdrew a few paces; a movement which brought him closer to De Wardes, who was conversing with the Chevalier de Lorraine respecting the departure of Buckingham. “A strategic retreat,” said De Wardes.
“Because the dear duke saves a sword-thrust by it.” At which reply both laughed.
Raoul, indignant, turned round frowningly, flushed with anger and his lip curling with disdain. The Chevalier de Lorraine turned on his heel, but De Wardes remained and waited.
“You will not break yourself of the habit,” said Raoul to De Wardes, “of insulting the absent; yesterday it was M. d’Artagnan, to-day it is the Duke of Buckingham.”
“You know very well, monsieur,” returned De Wardes, “that I sometimes insult those who are present.”
De Wardes was close to Raoul, their shoulders met, their faces approached, as if to mutually inflame each other by the fire of their looks and of their anger. It could be seen that the one was at the height of fury, the other at the end of his patience. Suddenly a voice was heard behind them full of grace and courtesy saying, “I believe I heard my name pronounced.”
They turned round and saw D’Artagnan, who, with a smiling eye and a cheerful face, had just placed his hand on De Wardes’s shoulder. Raoul stepped back to make room for the musketeer. De Wardes trembled from head to foot, turned pale, but did not move. D’Artagnan, still with the same smile, took the place which Raoul abandoned to him.
“Thank you, my dear Raoul,” he said. “M. de Wardes, I wish to talk with you. Do not leave us Raoul; every one can hear what I have to say to M. de Wardes.” His smile immediately faded away, and his glance became cold and sharp as a sword.
“I am at your orders, monsieur,” said De Wardes.
“For a very long time,” resumed D’Artagnan, “I have sought an opportunity of conversing with you; to-day is the first time I have found it. The place is badly chosen, I admit, but you will perhaps have the goodness to accompany me to my apartments, which are on the staircase at the end of this gallery.”
“I follow you, monsieur,” said De Wardes.
“Are you alone here?” said D’Artagnan.
“No; I have M. Manicamp and M. de Guiche, two of my friends.”
“That’s well,” said D’Artagnan; “but two persons are not sufficient; you will be able to find a few others, I trust.”
“Certainly,” said the young man, who did not know what object D’Artagnan had in view. “As many as you please.”
“Are they friends?”
“No doubt of it.”
“Very well, get a good supply, then. Do you come, too, Raoul; bring M. de Guiche and the Duke of Buckingham.”
“What a disturbance,” replied De Wardes, attempting to smile. The captain slightly signed to him with his hand, as though to recommend him to be patient, and then led the way to his apartments.