Chapter 53: A Domiciliary Visit

  1. 52: Two Jealousies
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 54: Porthos’s Plan of Action

The princess, preceding Raoul, led him through the courtyard towards that part of the building which La Valliere inhabited; and ascending the same staircase which Raoul had himself ascended that very morning, she paused at the door of the room in which the young man had been so strangely received by Montalais. The opportunity had been well chosen to carry out the project which Madame Henrietta had conceived, for the château was empty. The King, the courtiers, and the ladies of the court had set off for St. Germain; Madame Henrietta alone, aware of Bragelonne’s return, and thinking over the advantages which might be drawn from this return, had feigned indisposition in order to remain behind. Madame was therefore confident of finding La Valliere’s room and Saint-Aignan’s apartment unoccupied. She took a pass-key from her pocket, and opened the door of her maid-of-honor’s room. Bragelonne’s gaze was immediately fixed upon the interior of the room, which he recognized at once; and the impression which the sight of it produced upon him was one of the first tortures that had awaited him. The princess looked at him, and her practised eye could at once detect what was passing in the young man’s heart.

“You asked me for proofs,” she said; “do not be astonished, then, if I give you them. But if you do not think you have courage enough to confront them, there is still time to withdraw.”

“I thank you, Madame,” said Bragelonne; “but I came here to be convinced. You promised to convince me; do so.”

“Enter, then,” said Madame, “and shut the door behind you.”

Bragelonne obeyed, and then turned towards the princess, whom he interrogated by a look.

“You know where you are, I suppose?” inquired Madame Henrietta.

“Everything leads me to believe that I am in Mademoiselle de la Valliere’s room.”

“You are.”

“But I would observe to your Highness that this room is a room, and is not a proof.”

“Wait,” said the princess, as she walked to the foot of the bed, folded up the screen into its several compartments, and stooped down towards the floor. “Look here,” she continued; “stoop down, and lift up this trap-door.”

“A trap-door!” said Raoul, astonished; for d’Artagnan’s words recurred to his mind, and he remembered that d’Artagnan had made vague use of that word. He looked in vain for some cleft or crevice which might indicate an opening, or a ring to assist in lifting up some portion of the planking.

“Ah! that is true,” said Madame Henrietta, smiling; “I forgot the secret spring,- the fourth plank of the flooring. Press on the spot where you will observe a knot in the wood. Those are the instructions. Press, Viscount! press, I say, yourself!”

Raoul, pale as death, pressed his finger on the spot which had been indicated to him; at the same moment the spring began to work, and the trap rose of its own accord.

“It is very ingenious, certainly,” said the princess; “and one can see that the architect foresaw that it would be a small hand which would have to employ that device. See how easily the trap-door opens without assistance!”

“A staircase!” cried Raoul.

“Yes; and a very pretty one too,” said Madame Henrietta. “See, Viscount, the staircase has a balustrade, intended to prevent the falling of timid persons, who might be tempted to descend; and I will risk myself on it accordingly. Come, Viscount, follow me!”

“But before following you, Madame, may I ask whither this staircase leads?”

“Ah! true; I forgot to tell you. You know, perhaps, that formerly M. de Saint-Aignan lived in the very next apartment to the King’s?”

“Yes, Madame, I am aware of that,- that was the arrangement, at least, before I left; and more than once I have had the honor of visiting him in his old rooms.”

“Well, he obtained the King’s leave to change that convenient and beautiful apartment for the two rooms to which this staircase will conduct us, and which together form a lodging for him twice as small and at ten times greater distance from the King,- a close proximity to whom is by no means disdained, in general, by the gentlemen belonging to the court.”

“Very good, Madame,” returned Raoul; “but go on, I beg, for I do not yet understand.”

“Well, then, it accidentally happened,” continued the princess, “that M. de Saint-Aignan’s apartment is situated underneath the apartments of my maids of honor, and particularly underneath the room of La Valliere.”

“But what was the motive of this trap-door and this staircase?”

“That I cannot tell you. Would you like to go down to M. de Saint-Aignan’s rooms? Perhaps we shall there find the solution of the enigma.”

Madame set the example by going down herself; and Raoul, sighing deeply, followed her. At every step Bragelonne took, he advanced farther into that mysterious apartment which had been witness to La Valliere’s sighs, and still retained the sweetest perfume of her presence. Bragelonne fancied that he perceived, as he inhaled his every breath, that the young girl must have passed through there. Then succeeded to these emanations of herself, which he regarded as invisible though certain proofs, the flowers she preferred to all others, the books of her own selection. Had Raoul preserved a single doubt on the subject, it would have vanished at the secret harmony of tastes and disposition of the mind shown in the things of common use. La Valliere, in Bragelonne’s eyes, was present there in every article of furniture, in the color of the hangings, in everything that surrounded him. Dumb, and completely overwhelmed there was nothing further for him to learn, and he followed his pitiless conductress as blindly as the culprit follows the executioner. Madame, as cruel as all women of delicate and nervous temperaments are, did not spare him the slightest detail. But it must be admitted that notwithstanding the kind of apathy into which he had fallen, none of these details, even had he been left alone, would have escaped him. The happiness of the woman who loves, when that happiness is derived from a rival, is a torture for a jealous man; but for a jealous man such as Raoul was, for that heart which for the first time was steeped in gall and bitterness, Louise’s happiness was in reality an ignominious death, a death of body and soul. He divined all,- their hands clasped in each other’s, their faces drawn close together, and reflected, side by side, in loving proximity, as they gazed upon the mirrors around them,- so sweet an occupation for lovers, who, as they thus see themselves twice over, impress the picture more enduringly in their memories. He divined the kiss unseen behind the heavy curtains falling free of their bands. He translated into feverish pains the eloquence of the couches hid in their shadow. That luxury, that studied elegance, full of intoxication; that extreme care to spare the loved object every annoyance or to occasion her a delightful surprise; that strength and power of love multiplied by the strength and power of royalty itself,- struck Raoul a mortal blow. O, if there be anything which can assuage the tortures of jealousy, it is the inferiority of the man who is preferred to yourself; while, on the very contrary, if there be a hell within hell, a torture without name in language, it is the almightiness of a god placed at the disposal of a rival, together with youth, beauty, and grace. In moments such as these, God himself seems to have taken part against the rejected lover.

One final pang was reserved for poor Raoul. Madame Henrietta lifted a silk curtain, and behind the curtain he perceived La Valliere’s portrait. Not only the portrait of La Valliere, but of La Valliere eloquent of youth, beauty, and happiness, inhaling life and enjoyment at every pore, because at eighteen years of age love itself is life.

“Louise!” murmured Bragelonne, “Louise! is it true, then? Oh, you have never loved me, for never have you looked at me in that manner!” and he felt as if his heart were crushed within his bosom.

Madame Henrietta looked at him, almost envious of his extreme grief, although she well knew there was nothing to envy in it, and that she herself was as passionately loved by De Guiche as Louise by Bragelonne. Raoul interpreted Madame Henrietta’s look.

“Oh, forgive me, forgive me, Madame! In your presence I know I ought to have greater mastery over myself. But may the Lord God of Heaven and of earth grant that you may never be struck the blow which crushes me at this moment; for you are but a woman, and would not be able to endure so terrible an affliction. Forgive me! I am but a poor gentleman, while you belong to the race of the happy, of the all-powerful, of the elect-”

“M. de Bragelonne,” replied Henrietta, “a heart such as yours merits all the consideration and respect which a queen’s heart even can bestow. I am your friend, Monsieur; and as such, indeed, I would not allow your whole life to be poisoned by perfidy and covered with ridicule. It was I, indeed, who with more courage than any of your pretended friends,- I except M. de Guiche,- was the cause of your return from London; it is I, also, who have given you these melancholy proofs,- necessary however for your cure, if you are a lover with courage in his heart, and not a weeping Amadis. Do not thank me; pity me even, and do not serve the King less faithfully than you have done.”

Raoul smiled bitterly. “Ah! true, true; I was forgetting that! The King is my master.”

“Your liberty, nay, your very life, is at stake.”

A steady, penetrating look informed Madame Henrietta that she was mistaken, and that her last argument was not likely to affect the young man. “Take care, M. de Bragelonne,” she said; “for if you do not weigh well all your actions, you might throw into an extravagance of wrath a prince whose passions, once aroused, exceed the limits of reason, and you would thereby involve your friends and family in distress. You must bend; you must submit, and must cure yourself.”

“I thank you, Madame. I appreciate the advice your royal Highness is good enough to give me, and I will endeavor to follow it; but one final word, I beg.”

“Name it.”

“Should I be indiscreet in asking you the secret of this staircase, of this trapdoor,- a secret which you have discovered?”

“Oh, nothing is more simple! For the purpose of exercising a surveillance over the young girls who are attached to my service, I have duplicate keys of their doors. It seemed very strange to me that M. de Saint-Aignan should change his apartments; it seemed very strange that the King should come to see M. de Saint-Aignan every day; and finally, it seemed very strange that so many things should be done during your absence,- that the very habits and customs of the court seemed to be changed. I do not wish to be trifled with by the King, nor to serve as a cloak for his love-affairs; for after La Valliere, who weeps, he will take a fancy to Montalais, who laughs, and then to Tonnay-Charente, who sings. To act such a part as that would be unworthy of me. I have thrust aside the scruples which my friendship for you suggested. I have discovered the secret. I have wounded your feelings, I know, and I again entreat you to excuse me; but I had a duty to fulfill. I have discharged it. You are now forewarned. The tempest will soon burst; protect yourself.”

“You naturally expect, however, that a result of some kind must follow,” replied Bragelonne, with firmness; “for you do not suppose I shall silently accept the shame which is thrust upon me, or the treachery which has been practised against me?”

“You will take whatever steps in the matter you please, M. Raoul; only, do not betray the source whence you derived the truth. That is all I have to ask; that is the only price I require for the service I have rendered you.”

“Fear nothing, Madame!” said Bragelonne, with a bitter smile.

“I bribed the locksmith in whom the lovers had confided. You can just as well do so as myself, can you not?”

“Yes, Madame. Your royal Highness, however, has no other advice or caution to give me, except that of not betraying you?”

“None other.”

“I am, therefore, about to beg your royal Highness to allow me to remain here for one moment.”

“Without me?”

“Oh, no, Madame! It matters very little, for what I have to do can be done in your presence. I only ask one moment to write a line to some one.”

“It is dangerous, M. de Bragelonne. Take care!”

“No one can possibly know that your royal Highness has done me the honor to conduct me here. Besides, I shall sign the letter I am going to write.”

“Do as you please, then.”

Raoul drew out his tablet, and wrote rapidly on one of the leaves the following words:-

Monsieur The Count: Do not be surprised to find here this paper signed by me. The friend whom I shall very shortly send to call on you will have the honor to explain the object of my visit to you.

Vicomte Raoul De Bragelonne.

Rolling up the paper, and slipping it into the lock of the door which communicated with the room set apart for the two lovers, Raoul satisfied himself that the paper was so apparent that De Saint-Aignan could not but see it as he entered; then he rejoined the princess, who had already reached the top of the staircase. They then separated,- Raoul pretending to thank her Highness; Henrietta pitying, or seeming to pity, with all her heart the unhappy man she had just condemned to so fearful torture. “Oh,” she said as she saw him disappear, pale as death, his eye injected with blood, “if I had known this, I should have concealed the truth from that poor young man!”

  1. 52: Two Jealousies
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 54: Porthos’s Plan of Action