Chapter 12: How de Wardes Was Received at Court.

  1. 11: Montalais and Malicorne
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 13: The Combat

Monsieur had received De Wardes with that marked favor which all light and frivolous minds bestow on every novelty that may come in their way. De Wardes, who had been absent for a month, was like fresh fruit to him. To treat him with marked kindness was an infidelity to his old friends, and there is always something fascinating in that; moreover, it was a sort of reparation to De Wardes himself. Nothing, consequently, could exceed the favorable notice Monsieur took of him. The Chevalier de Lorraine, who feared this rival not a little, but who respected a character and disposition which were precisely parallel to his own in every particular, with the addition of a courage he did not himself possess, received De Wardes with a greater display of regard and affection than even Monsieur had done. De Guiche, as we have said, was there also, but kept a little in the background, waiting very patiently until all these embraces were over. De Wardes, while talking to the others, and even to Monsieur himself, had not for a moment lost sight of De Guiche, who, he instinctively felt, was there on his account. As soon as he had finished with the others, he went up to De Guiche. They both exchanged the most courteous compliments, after which De Wardes returned to Monsieur and the other gentlemen. In the midst of these congratulations madame was announced. She had been informed of De Wardes’ arrival, and knowing all the details of his voyage and of his duel, she was not sorry to be present at the remarks she knew would be made, without delay, by one who, she felt assured, was her personal enemy. Two or three of her ladies accompanied her. De Wardes saluted madame in the most graceful and respectful manner, and, as a commencement of hostilities, announced, in the first place, that he could furnish the Duke of Buckingham’s friends with the latest news about him. This was a direct answer to the coldness with which madame had received him. The attack was a vigorous one, and madame felt the blow, but without appearing to have even noticed it. He rapidly cast a glance at Monsieur and at De Guiche; the former had colored, and the latter had turned very pale. Madame alone preserved an unmoved countenance; but, as she knew how many unpleasant thoughts and feelings her enemy could awaken in the two persons who were listening to him, she smilingly bent forward toward the traveler, as if to listen to the news he had brought; but he was speaking of other matters. Madame was brave, even to imprudence; if she were to retreat, it would be inviting an attack; so, after the first disagreeable impression had passed away, she returned to the charge.

“Have you suffered much from your wounds, Monsieur de Wardes?” she inquired, “for we have been told that you had the misfortune to get wounded.”

It was now De Wardes’ turn to wince; he bit his lip, and replied, “No, madame, hardly at all.”

“Indeed! and yet in this terribly hot weather--”

“The sea-breezes are fresh and cool, madame, and then I had one consolation.”

“Indeed! What was it?”

“The knowledge that my adversary’s sufferings were still greater than my own.”

“Ah! you mean he was more seriously wounded than you were; I was not aware of that,” said the princess, with utter indifference.

“Oh, madame, you are mistaken, or rather you pretend to misunderstand my remark. I did not say that he was suffering more in body than myself; but his heart was seriously affected.”

De Guiche comprehended in what direction the struggle was approaching; he ventured to make a sign to madame, as if entreating her to retire from the contest. But she, without acknowledging De Guiche’s gesture, without pretending to have noticed it even, and still smiling, continued:

“Is it possible,” she said, “that the Duke of Buckingham’s heart was touched? I had no idea, until now, that a heart-wound could be cured.”

“Alas! madame,” replied De Wardes politely, “every woman believes that; and it is such a belief which gives them over us that superiority which confidence imposes.”

“You misunderstand altogether, dearest,” said the prince impatiently; “Monsieur de Wardes means that the Duke of Buckingham’s heart had been touched, not by a sword, but by something else.”

“Ah! very good, very good!” exclaimed madame. “It is a jest of Monsieur de Wardes’; very good; but I should like to know if the Duke of Buckingham would appreciate the jest. It is, indeed, a very great pity he is not here, Monsieur de Wardes.”

The young man’s eyes seemed to flash fire. “Oh!” he said, as he clinched his teeth, “there is nothing I should like better.”

De Guiche did not move. Madame seemed to expect that he would come to her assistance. Monsieur hesitated. The Chevalier de Lorraine advanced and continued the conversation.

“Madame,” he said, “De Wardes knows perfectly well that for a Buckingham’s heart to be touched is nothing new, and what he has said has already taken place.”

“Instead of an ally, I have two enemies,” murmured madame; “two determined enemies, and in league with each other.” And she changed the conversation. To change the conversation is, as every one knows, a right possessed by princes which etiquette requires all to respect. The remainder of the conversation was moderate enough in its tone; the principal actors had finished their parts. Madame withdrew early, and Monsieur, who wished to question her on several matters, offered her his hand on leaving. The chevalier was seriously afraid that a good understanding might be established between the husband and wife if he were to leave them quietly together. He therefore made his way to Monsieur’s apartments, in order to surprise him on his return, and to destroy with a few words all the good impressions that madame might have been able to sow in his heart. De Guiche advanced toward De Wardes, who was surrounded by a large number of persons, and thereby indicated his wish to converse with him; De Wardes, at the same time, showing by his looks and by a movement of his head that he perfectly understood him. There was nothing in these signs to enable strangers to suppose they were otherwise than upon the most friendly footing. De Guiche could therefore turn away from him, and wait until he was at liberty. He had not long to wait; for De Wardes, freed from his questioners, approached De Guiche, and both of them, after a fresh salutation, began to walk side by side together.

“You have made a good impression since your return, my dear De Wardes,” said the comte.

“Excellent, as you see.”

“And your spirits are just as lively as ever?”

“More than ever.”

“And a very great happiness, too.”

“Why not? Everything is so ridiculous in this world, everything so absurd around us.”

“You are right.”

“You are of my opinion, then?”

“I should think so. And what news do you bring us from yonder?”

“I? none at all. I have come to look for news here.”

“But, tell me, you surely must have seen some people at Boulogne, one of our friends, for instance; it is no great time ago.”

“Some people--one of our friends--”

“Your memory is short.”

“Ah! true; Bragelonne, you mean.”

“Exactly so.”

“Who was on his way to fulfill a mission, with which he was intrusted to King Charles II.”

“Precisely. Well, then, did he not tell you, or did not you tell him--”

“I do not precisely know what I told him, I must confess; but I do know what I did not tell him.” De Wardes was finesse itself. He perfectly well knew from De Guiche’s tone and manner, which was cold and dignified, that the conversation was about assuming a disagreeable turn. He resolved to let it take what course it pleased, and to keep strictly on his guard.

“May I ask what it was you did not tell him?” inquired De Guiche.

“That about La Valliere.”

“La Valliere--What is it; and what was that strange circumstance you seem to have known out yonder, which Bragelonne, who was here on the spot, was not acquainted with?”

“Do you really ask me that in a serious manner?”

“Nothing can be more so.”

“What! you, a member of the court, living in madame’s household, a friend of Monsieur’s, a guest at their table, the favorite of our lovely princess?”

De Guiche colored violently from anger. “What princess are you alluding to?” he said.

“I am only acquainted with one, my dear fellow. I am speaking of madame herself. Are you devoted to another princess, then? Come, tell me.”

De Guiche was on the point of launching out, but he saw the drift of the remark. A quarrel was imminent between the two young men. De Wardes wished the quarrel to be only in madame’s name, while De Guiche would not accept it except on La Valliere’s account. From this moment, it became a series of feigned attacks, which would have continued until one of the two had been touched home. De Guiche, therefore, resumed all the self-possession he could command.

“There is not the slightest question in the world of madame in this matter, my dear De Wardes,” said De Guiche, “but simply of what you were talking about just now.”

“What was I saying?”

“That you had concealed certain things from Bragelonne. “

“Certain things which you know as well as I do,” replied De Wardes.

“No, upon my honor.”

“Nonsense. “

“If you tell me what it is, I shall know, but not otherwise, I swear.”

“What! I, who have just arrived from a distance of sixty leagues, and you who have not stirred from this place, who have witnessed with your own eyes that which rumor informed me at Calais! Do you now tell me seriously that you do not know what it is about? Oh! comte, this is hardly charitable of you.”

“As you like it, De Wardes; but I again repeat, I know nothing. “

“You are very discreet; well, perhaps it is very prudent of you.”

“And so you will not tell me anything, will not tell me any more than you told Bragelonne?”

“You are pretending to be deaf, I see. I am convinced that madame could not possibly have more command over herself than you have over yourself.”

“Double hypocrite,” murmured De Guiche to himself, “you are again returning to the old subject.”

“Very well, then,” continued De Wardes, “since we find it so difficult to understand each other about La Valliere and Bragelonne, let us speak about your own affairs.”

“Nay,” said De Guiche, “I have no affairs of my own to talk about. You have not said anything about me, I suppose, to Bragelonne which you cannot repeat to myself?”

“No; but understand me, De Guiche, that however much I may be ignorant of certain matters, I am quite as conversant with others. If, for instance, we were conversing about certain intimacies of the Duke of Buckingham at Paris, as I did during my journey with the duke, I could tell you a great many interesting circumstances. Would you like me to mention them?”

De Guiche passed his hand across his forehead, which was covered with perspiration. “No, no,” he said, “a hundred times no! I have no curiosity for matters which do not concern me. The Duke of Buckingham is for me nothing more than a simple acquaintance, while Raoul is an intimate friend. I have not the slightest curiosity to learn what happened to the duke, while I have, on the contrary, the greatest interest to learn what happened to Raoul.”

“At Paris?”

“Yes, at Paris, or at Boulogne. You understand, I am on the spot; if anything should happen, I am here to meet it; while Raoul is absent, and has only myself to represent him; so Raoul’s affairs before my own.”

“But Raoul will return?”

“Not, however, until his mission is completed. In the meantime, you understand, evil reports cannot be permitted to circulate about him without my looking into them. “

“And for a greater reason still, that he will remain some time in London,” said De Wardes, chuckling.

“You think so,” said De Guiche simply.

“Think so, indeed! do you suppose that he was sent to London for no other purpose than to go there and return again immediately? No, no; he was sent to London to remain there.”

“Ah! De Wardes,” said De Guiche, seizing De Wardes’ hand violently, “that is a very serious suspicion concerning Bragelonne, which completely confirms what he wrote to me from Boulogne.”

De Wardes resumed his former coldness of manner; his love of raillery had led him too far, and by his own imprudence he had laid himself open to attack.

“Well, tell me, what did he write to you about?” he inquired.

“He told me that you had artfully insinuated some injurious remarks against La Valliere, and that you had seemed to laugh at his great confidence in that young girl.”

“Well, it is perfectly true I did so,” said De Wardes, “and I was quite ready at the time to hear from the Vicomte de Bragelonne that which every man expects from another whenever anything may have been said to displease him. In the same way, for instance, if I were seeking a quarrel with you, I should tell you that madame, after having shown the greatest preference for the Duke of Buckingham, is at this moment supposed to have sent the handsome duke away for your benefit.”

“Oh! that would not wound me in the slightest degree, my dear De Wardes,” said De Guiche, smiling, notwithstanding the shiver which ran through his whole frame. “Why, such a favor as that would be too great a happiness. “

“I admit that, but if I absolutely wished to quarrel with you, I should try and invent a falsehood, perhaps, and should speak to you about a certain arbor, where you and that illustrious princess were together--I should speak also of certain genuflections, of certain kissings of the hand; and you, who are so secret on all occasions, so hasty, and punctilious--”

“Well,” said De Guiche, interrupting him, with a smile upon his lips, although he almost felt as if he were going to die; “I swear I should not care for that, nor should I in any way contradict you; for you must know, my dear marquis, that for all matters which concern myself, I am a block of ice; but it is a very different thing when an absent friend is concerned, a friend who, on leaving, confided his interests to my safe keeping; for such a friend, De Wardes, believe me, I am like fire itself.”

“I understand you, Monsieur de Guiche; in spite of what you say, there cannot be any question between us just now, either of Bragelonne or of this young insignificant girl whose name is La Valliere.”

At this moment some of the younger courtiers were crossing the apartment, and having already heard the few words which had just been pronounced, were able also to hear those which were about to follow. De Wardes observed this, and continued, aloud: “Oh! if La Valliere were a coquette like madame, whose very innocent flirtations, I am sure, were, first of all, the cause of the Duke of Buckingham being sent back to England, and afterward were the reason of your being sent into exile; for you will not deny, I suppose, that madame’s seductive manners did have a certain influence over you?”

The courtiers drew nearer to the speakers, St. Aignan at their head, and then Manicamp.

“But, my dear fellow, whose fault was that?” said De Guiche, laughing. “I am a vain, conceited fellow, I know, and everybody else knows it, too. I took seriously that which was only intended as a jest, and I got myself exiled for my pains. But I saw my error. I overcame my vanity, and I obtained my recall by making the amende honorable, and by promising myself to overcome this defect; and the consequence is, that I am so thoroughly cured that I now laugh at the very thing which, three or four days ago, would have almost broken my heart. But Raoul is in love, and is loved in return; he cannot laugh at the reports which disturb his happiness--reports which you seem to have undertaken to interpret, when you know, marquis, as I do, as those gentlemen do, as every one does, in fact, that these reports are pure calumny.”

“Calumny!” exclaimed De Wardes, furious at seeing himself caught in the snare by De Guiche’s coolness of temper.

“Certainly, a calumny. Look at this letter from him, in which he tells me you have spoken ill of Mademoiselle de la Valliere; and where he asks me, if what you reported about this young girl be true or not. Do you wish me to appeal to these gentlemen, De Wardes, to decide?” And with admirable coolness, De Guiche read aloud the paragraph of the letter which referred to La Valliere. “And now,” continued De Guiche, “there is no doubt in the world, as far as I am concerned, that you wish to disturb Bragelonne’s peace of mind, and that your remarks were maliciously intended.”

De Wardes looked round him, to see if he could find support from any one; but at the idea that De Wardes had insulted, either directly or indirectly, the idol of the day, every one shook his head, and De Wardes saw that there was no one present who would have refused to say he was in the wrong.

“Messieurs,” said De Guiche, intuitively divining the general feeling, “my discussion with Monsieur de Wardes refers to a subject so delicate in its nature that it is most important no one should hear more than you have already heard. Close the doors, then, I beg you, and let us finish our conversation in the manner which becomes two gentlemen, one of whom has given the other the lie.”

“Messieurs, messieurs!” exclaimed those who were present.

“It is your opinion, then, that I was wrong in defending Mademoiselle de la Valliere?” said De Guiche. “In that case, I pass judgment upon myself, and am ready to withdraw the offensive words I may have used to Monsieur de Wardes. “

“The deuce! certainly not!” said St. Aignan. “Mademoiselle de la Valliere is an angel.”

“Virtue and purity itself,” said Manicamp.

“You see, Monsieur de Wardes,” said De Guiche, “I am not the only one who undertakes the defense of that poor girl. I entreat you, therefore, messieurs, a second time, to leave us. You see, it is impossible we could be more calm and composed than we are.”

It was the very thing the courtiers wished; some went out at one door, and the rest at the other, and the two young men were left alone.

“Well played,” said De Wardes, to the comte.

“Was it not?” replied the latter.

“How can it be wondered at, my dear fellow; I have got quite rusty in the country, while the command you have acquired over yourself, comte, confounds me; a man always gains something in women’s society; so, pray accept my congratulations.”

“I do accept them.”

“And I will make madame a present of them.”

“And now, my dear Monsieur de Wardes, let us speak as loud as you please.”

“Do not defy me.”

“I do defy you, for you are known to be an evil-minded man; if you do that, you will be looked upon as a coward, too; and Monsieur would have you hanged this evening at his window-casement. Speak, my dear De Wardes, speak.”

“I have fought already.”

“But not quite enough yet.”

“I see, you would not be sorry to fight with me while my wounds are still open.”

“No; better still.”

“The deuce! you are unfortunate in the moment you have chosen; a duel, after the one I have just fought, would hardly suit me; I have lost too much blood at Boulogne; at the slightest effort my wounds would open again, and you would really have too good a bargain with me.”

“True,” said De Guiche; “and yet, on your arrival here, your looks and your arms showed there was nothing the matter with you.”

“Yes, my arms are all right, but my legs are weak; and then, I have not had a foil in my hand since that devil of a duel; and you, I am sure, have been fencing every day, in order to carry your little conspiracy against me to a successful issue.”

“Upon my honor, monsieur,” replied De Guiche, “it is six months since I last practiced.”

“No, comte, after due reflection, I will not fight, at least, with you. I shall await Bragelonne’s return, since you say that it is Bragelonne who has fault to find with me.”

“Oh, no, indeed! You shall not wait until Bragelonne’s return,” exclaimed the comte, losing all command over himself, “for you have said that Bragelonne might possibly be some time before he returns; and, in the meanwhile, your wicked insinuations would have had their effect.”

“Yet I shall have my excuse. So take care.”

“I will give you a week to finish your recovery.”

“That is better. So let us wait a week.”

“Yes, yes, I understand; a week will give time to my adversary to make his escape. No, no; I will not give you one day, even.”

“You are mad, monsieur,” said De Wardes, retreating a step.

“And you are a coward, if you do not fight willingly. Nay, what is more, I will denounce you to the king, as having refused to fight, after having insulted La Valliere.”

“Ah!” said De Wardes, “you are dangerously treacherous, though you pass for a man of honor.”

“There is nothing more dangerous than the treachery, as you term it, of the man whose conduct is always loyal and upright.”

“Restore me the use of my legs, then, or get yourself bled, till you are as white as I am, so as to equalize our chances. “

“No, no; I have something better than that to propose.”

“What is it?”

“We will fight on horseback, and will exchange three pistol-shots each. You are a first-rate marksman. I have seen you bring down swallows with single balls, and at full gallop. Do not deny it, for I have seen you myself.”

“I believe you are right,” said De Wardes; “and as that is the case, it is not unlikely I might kill you.”

“You would be rendering me a very great service if you did. “

“I will do my best.”

“Is it agreed? Give me your hand upon it.”

“There it is; but on one condition, however.”

“Name it.”

“That not a word shall be said about it to the king.”

“Not a word, I swear.”

“I shall go and get my horse, then.”

“And I mine.”

“Where shall we meet?”

“In the open plain; I know an admirable place.”

“Shall we go together?”

“Why not?”

And both of them, on their way to the stables, passed beneath madame’s windows, which were faintly lighted; a shadow could be seen behind the lace curtains. “There is a woman,” said De Wardes, smiling, “who does not suspect that we are going to fight--to die, perhaps, on her account.”

  1. 11: Montalais and Malicorne
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 13: The Combat