TEN YEARS LATER
by Alexandre Dumas
THE VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE.
CHAPTER 1. The Letter.
Towards the middle of the month of May, in the year 1660, at nine o'clock in the morning, when the sun, already high in the heavens, was fast absorbing the dew from the ramparts of the castle of Blois a little cavalcade, composed of three men and two pages, re-entered the city by the bridge, without producing any other effect upon the passengers of the quay beyond a first movement of the hand to the head, as a salute, and a second movement of the tongue to express, in the purest French then spoken in France: "There is Monsieur returning from hunting." And that was all.
Whilst, however, the horses were climbing the steep acclivity which leads from the river to the castle, several shop-boys approached the last horse, from whose saddle-bow a number of birds were suspended by the beak.
On seeing this, the inquisitive youths manifested with rustic freedom their contempt for such paltry sport, and, after a dissertation among themselves upon the disadvantages of hawking, they returned to their occupations; one only of the curious party, a stout, stubby, cheerful lad, having demanded how it was that Monsieur, who, from his great revenues, had it in his power to amuse himself so much better, could be satisfied with such mean diversions.
"Do you not know," one of the standers-by replied, "that Monsieur's principal amusement is to weary himself?"
The light-hearted boy shrugged his shoulders with a gesture which said as clear as day: "In that case I would rather be plain Jack than a prince." And all resumed their labors.
In the meanwhile, Monsieur continued his route with an air at once so melancholy and so majestic, that he certainly would have attracted the attention of spectators, if spectators there had been; but the good citizens of Blois could not pardon Monsieur for having chosen their gay city for an abode in which to indulge melancholy at his ease, and as often as they caught a glimpse of the illustrious ennuye, they stole away gaping, or drew back their heads into the interior of their dwellings, to escape the soporific influence of that long pale face, of those watery eyes, and that languid address; so that the worthy prince was almost certain to find the streets deserted whenever he chanced to pass through them.
Now, on the part of the citizens of Blois this was a culpable piece of disrespect, for Monsieur was, after the king—nay, even, perhaps before the king—the greatest noble of the kingdom. In fact, God, who had granted to Louis XIV., then reigning, the honor of being son of Louis XIII., had granted to Monsieur the honor of being son of Henry IV. It was not then, or, at least it ought not to have been, a trifling source of pride for the city of Blois, that Gaston of Orleans had chosen it as his residence, and he his court in the ancient castle of its states.
But it was the destiny of this great prince to excite the attention and admiration of the public in a very modified degree wherever he might be. Monsieur had fallen into this situation by habit.
It was not, perhaps, this which gave him that air of listlessness. Monsieur had been tolerably busy in the course of his life. A man cannot allow the heads of a dozen of his best friends to be cut off without feeling a little excitement, and as, since the accession of Mazarin to power, no heads had been cut off, Monsieur's occupation was gone, and his morale suffered from it.
The life of the poor prince was, then, very dull. After his little morning hawking-party on the banks of the Beuvion, or in the woods of Chiverny, Monsieur crossed the Loire, went to breakfast at Chambord, with or without an appetite and the city of Blois heard no more of its sovereign lord and master till the next hawking-day.
So much for the ennui extra muros; of the ennui of the interior we will give the reader an idea if he will with us follow the cavalcade to the majestic porch of the castle of the states.
Monsieur rode a little steady-paced horse, equipped with a large saddle of red Flemish velvet, with stirrups in the shape of buskins; the horse was of a bay color; Monsieur's pourpoint of crimson velvet corresponded with the cloak of the same shade and the horse's equipment, and it was only by this red appearance of the whole that the prince could be known from his two companions, the one dressed in violet, the other in green. He on the left, in violet, was his equerry; he on the right, in green, was the grand veneur.
One of the pages carried two gerfalcons upon a perch, the other a hunting-horn, which he blew with a careless note at twenty paces from the castle. Every one about this listless prince did what he had to do listlessly.
At this signal, eight guards, who were lounging in the sun in the square court, ran to their halberts, and Monsieur made his solemn entry into the castle.
When he had disappeared under the shades of the porch, three or four idlers, who had followed the cavalcade to the castle, after pointing out the suspended birds to each other, dispersed with comments upon what they saw: and, when they were gone, the street, the place, and the court all remained deserted alike.
Monsieur dismounted without speaking a word, went straight to his apartments, where his valet changed his dress, and as Madame had not yet sent orders respecting breakfast, Monsieur stretched himself upon a chaise longue, and was soon as fast asleep as if it had been eleven o'clock at night.
The eight guards, who concluded their service for the day was over, laid themselves down very comfortably in the sun upon some stone benches; the grooms disappeared with their horses into the stables, and, with the exception of a few joyous birds, startling each other with their sharp chirping in the tufted shrubberies, it might have been thought that the whole castle was as soundly asleep as Monsieur was.
All at once, in the midst of this delicious silence, there resounded a clear ringing laugh, which caused several of the halberdiers in the enjoyment of their siesta to open at least one eye.
This burst of laughter proceeded from a window of the castle, visited at this moment by the sun, that embraced it in one of those large angles which the profiles of the chimneys mark out upon the walls before mid-day.
The little balcony of wrought iron which advanced in front of this window was furnished with a pot of red gilliflowers, another pot of primroses, and an early rose-tree, the foliage of which, beautifully green, was variegated with numerous red specks announcing future roses.
In the chamber lighted by this window was a square table, covered with an old large-flowered Haarlem tapestry; in the center of this table was a long-necked stone bottle, in which were irises and lilies of the valley; at each end of this table was a young girl.
The position of these two young people was singular; they might have been taken for two boarders escaped from a convent. One of them, with both elbows on the table, and a pen in her hand, was tracing characters upon a sheet of fine Dutch paper; the other, kneeling upon a chair, which allowed her to advance her head and bust over the back of it to the middle of the table, was watching her companion as she wrote, or rather hesitated to write.
Thence the thousand cries, the thousand railleries, the thousand laughs, one of which, more brilliant than the rest, had startled the birds in the gardens, and disturbed the slumbers of Monsieur's guards.
We are taking portraits now; we shall be allowed, therefore, we hope, to sketch the two last of this chapter.
The one who was leaning in the chair—that is to say, the joyous, the laughing one—was a beautiful girl of from eighteen to twenty, with brown complexion and brown hair, splendid, from eyes which sparkled beneath strongly-marked brows, and particularly from her teeth, which seemed to shine like pearls between her red coral lips. Her every movement seemed the accent of a sunny nature, she did not walk—she bounded.
The other, she who was writing, looked at her turbulent companion with an eye as limpid, as pure, and as blue as the azure of the day. Her hair, of a shaded fairness, arranged with exquisite taste, fell in silky curls over her lovely mantling cheeks; she passed across the paper a delicate hand, whose thinness announced her extreme youth. At each burst of laughter that proceeded from her friend, she raised, as if annoyed, her white shoulders in a poetical and mild manner, but they were wanting in that richfulness of mold which was likewise to be wished in her arms and hands.
"Montalais! Montalais!" said she at length, in a voice soft and caressing as a melody, "you laugh too loud—you laugh like a man! You will not only draw the attention of messieurs the guards, but you will not hear Madame's bell when Madame rings."
This admonition neither made the young girl called Montalais cease to laugh and gesticulate. She only replied: "Louise, you do not speak as you think, my dear; you know that messieurs the guards, as you call them, have only just commenced their sleep, and that a cannon would not waken them; you know that Madame's bell can be heard at the bridge of Blois, and that consequently I shall hear it when my services are required by Madame. What annoys you, my child, is that I laugh while you are writing; and what you are afraid of is that Madame de Saint-Remy, your mother, should come up here, as she does sometimes when we laugh too loud, that she should surprise us, and that she should see that enormous sheet of paper upon which, in a quarter of an hour, you have only traced the words Monsieur Raoul. Now, you are right, my dear Louise, because after these words, 'Monsieur Raoul,' others may be put so significant and so incendiary as to cause Madame de Saint-Remy to burst out into fire and flames! Hein! is not that true now?—say."
And Montalais redoubled her laughter and noisy provocations.
The fair girl at length became quite angry; she tore the sheet of paper on which, in fact, the words "Monsieur Raoul" were written in good characters, and crushing the paper in her trembling hands, she threw it out of the window.
"There! there!" said Mademoiselle de Montalais; "there is our little lamb, our gentle dove, angry! Don't be afraid, Louise—Madame de Saint-Remy will not come; and if she should, you know I have a quick ear. Besides, what can be more permissible than to write to an old friend of twelve years' standing, particularly when the letter begins with the words 'Monsieur Raoul'?"
"It is all very well—I will not write to him at all," said the young girl.
"Ah, ah! in good sooth, Montalais is properly punished," cried the jeering brunette, still laughing. "Come, come! let us try another sheet of paper, and finish our dispatch off-hand. Good! there is the bell ringing now. By my faith, so much the worse! Madame must wait, or else do without her first maid of honor this morning."
A bell, in fact, did ring; it announced that Madame had finished her toilette, and waited for Monsieur to give her his hand, and conduct her from the salon to the refectory.
This formality being accomplished with great ceremony, the husband and wife breakfasted, and then separated till the hour of dinner, invariably fixed at two o'clock.
The sound of this bell caused a door to be opened in the offices on the left hand of the court, from which filed two maitres d'hotel followed by eight scullions bearing a kind of hand-barrow loaded with dishes under silver covers.
One of the maitres d'hotel, the first in rank, touched one of the guards, who was snoring on his bench, slightly with his wand; he even carried his kindness so far as to place the halbert which stood against the wall in the hands of the man stupid with sleep, after which the soldier, without explanation, escorted the viande of Monsieur to the refectory, preceded by a page and the two maitres d'hotel.
Wherever the viande passed, the soldiers ported arms.
Mademoiselle de Montalais and her companion had watched from their window the details of this ceremony, to which, by the bye, they must have been pretty well accustomed. But they did not look so much from curiosity as to be assured they should not be disturbed. So guards, scullions, maitres d'hotel, and pages having passed, they resumed their places at the table; and the sun, which, through the window-frame, had for an instant fallen upon those two charming countenances, now only shed its light upon the gilliflowers, primroses, and rosetree.
"Bah!" said Mademoiselle de Montalais, taking her place again; "Madame will breakfast very well without me!"
"Oh! Montalais, you will be punished!" replied the other girl, sitting down quietly in hers.
"Punished, indeed!—that is to say, deprived of a ride! That is just the way in which I wish to be punished. To go out in the grand coach, perched upon a doorstep; to turn to the left, twist round to the right, over roads full of ruts, where we cannot exceed a league in two hours; and then to come back straight towards the wing of the castle in which is the window of Mary de Medici, so that Madame never fails to say: 'Could one believe it possible that Mary de Medici should have escaped from that window—forty-seven feet high? The mother of two princes and three princesses!' If you call that relaxation, Louise, all I ask is to be punished every day; particularly when my punishment is to remain with you and write such interesting letters as we write!"
"Montalais! Montalais! there are duties to be performed."
"You talk of them very much at your ease, dear child!—you, who are left quite free amidst this tedious court. You are the only person that reaps the advantages of them without incurring the trouble,—you, who are really more one of Madame's maids of honor than I am, because Madame makes her affection for your father-in-law glance off upon you; so that you enter this dull house as the birds fly into yonder court, inhaling the air, pecking the flowers, picking up the grain, without having the least service to perform, or the least annoyance to undergo. And you talk to me of duties to be performed! In sooth, my pretty idler, what are your own proper duties, unless to write to the handsome Raoul? And even that you don't do; so that it looks to me as if you likewise were rather negligent of your duties!"
Louise assumed a serious air, leant her chin upon her hand, and, in a tone full of candid remonstrance, "And do you reproach me with my good fortune?" said she. "Can you have the heart to do it? You have a future; you belong to the court; the king, if he should marry, will require Monsieur to be near his person; you will see splendid fetes; you will see the king, who they say is so handsome, so agreeable!"
"Ay, and still more, I shall see Raoul, who attends upon M. le Prince," added Montalais, maliciously.
"Poor Raoul!" sighed Louise.
"Now is the time to write to him, my pretty dear! Come, begin again, with that famous 'Monsieur Raoul' which figures at the top of the poor torn sheet."
She then held the pen toward her, and with a charming smile encouraged her hand, which quickly traced the words she named.
"What next?" asked the younger of the two girls.
"Why, now write what you think, Louise," replied Montalais.
"Are you quite sure I think of anything?"
"You think of somebody, and that amounts to the same thing, or rather even more."
"Do you think so, Montalais?"
"Louise, Louise, your blue eyes are as deep as the sea I saw at Boulogne last year! No, no, I mistake—the sea is perfidious: your eyes are as deep as the azure yonder—look!—over our heads!"
"Well, since you can read so well in my eyes, tell me what I am thinking about, Montalais."
"In the first place, you don't think Monsieur Raoul; you think My dear Raoul."
"Never blush for such a trifle as that! 'My dear Raoul,' we will say—'You implore me to write to you at Paris, where you are detained by your attendance on M. le Prince. As you must be very dull there, to seek for amusement in the remembrance of a provinciale——'"
Louise rose up suddenly. "No, Montalais," said she, with a smile; "I don't think a word of that. Look, this is what I think;" and she seized the pen boldly and traced, with a firm hand, the following words:—
"I should have been very unhappy if your entreaties to obtain a remembrance of me had been less warm. Everything here reminds me of our early days, which so quickly passed away, which so delightfully flew by, that no others will ever replace the charm of them in my heart."
Montalais, who watched the flying pen, and read, the wrong way upwards, as fast as her friend wrote, here interrupted by clapping her hands. "Capital!" cried she; "there is frankness—there is heart—there is style! Show these Parisians, my dear, that Blois is the city for fine language!"
"He knows very well that Blois was a Paradise to me," replied the girl.
"That is exactly what you mean to say; and you speak like an angel."
"I will finish, Montalais," and she continued as follows: "You often think of me, you say, Monsieur Raoul: I thank you; but that does not surprise me, when I recollect how often our hearts have beaten close to each other."
"Oh! oh!" said Montalais. "Beware; my lamb! You are scattering your wool, and there are wolves about."
Louise was about to reply, when the gallop of a horse resounded under the porch of the castle.
"What is that?" said Montalais, approaching the window. "A handsome cavalier, by my faith!"
"Oh!—Raoul!" exclaimed Louise, who had made the same movement as her friend, and, becoming pale as death, sunk back beside her unfinished letter.
"Now, he is a clever lover, upon my word!" cried Montalais; "he arrives just at the proper moment."
"Come in, come in, I implore you!" murmured Louise.
"Bah! he does not know me. Let me see what he has come here for."
CHAPTER 2. The Messenger.
Mademoiselle de Montalais was right; the young cavalier was goodly to look upon.
He was a young man of from twenty-four to twenty-five years of age, tall and slender, wearing gracefully the picturesque military costume of the period. His large boots contained a foot which Mademoiselle de Montalais might not have disowned if she had been transformed into a man. With one of his delicate but nervous hands he checked his horse in the middle of the court, and with the other raised his hat, whose long plumes shaded his at once serious and ingenuous countenance.
The guards, roused by the steps of the horse, awoke and were on foot in a minute. The young man waited till one of them was close to his saddle-bow: then stooping towards him, in a clear, distinct voice, which was perfectly audible at the window where the two girls were concealed, "A message for his royal highness," he said.
"Ah, ah!" cried the soldier. "Officer, a messenger!"
But this brave guard knew very well that no officer would appear, seeing that the only one who could have appeared dwelt at the other side of the castle, in an apartment looking into the gardens. So he hastened to add: "The officer, monsieur, is on his rounds, but in his absence, M. de Saint-Remy, the maitre d'hotel shall be informed."
"M. de Saint-Remy?" repeated the cavalier, slightly blushing.
"Do you know him?"
"Why, yes; but request him, if you please, that my visit be announced to his royal highness as soon as possible."
"It appears to be pressing," said the guard, as if speaking to himself, but really in the hope of obtaining an answer.
The messenger made an affirmative sign with his head.
"In that case," said the guard, "I will go and seek the maitre d'hotel myself."
The young man, in the meantime, dismounted; and whilst the others were making their remarks upon the fine horse the cavalier rode, the soldier returned.
"Your pardon, young gentleman; but your name, if you please?"
"The Vicomte de Bragelonne, on the part of his highness M. le Prince de Conde."
The soldier made a profound bow, and, as if the name of the conqueror of Rocroy and Sens had given him wings, he stepped lightly up the steps leading to the ante-chamber.
M. de Bragelonne had not had time to fasten his horse to the iron bars of the perron, when M. de Saint-Remy came running, out of breath, supporting his capacious body with one hand, whilst with the other he cut the air as a fisherman cleaves the waves with his oar.
"Ah, Monsieur le Vicomte! You at Blois!" cried he. "Well, that is a wonder. Good-day to you—good-day, Monsieur Raoul."
"I offer you a thousand respects, M. de Saint-Remy."
"How Madame de la Vall—I mean, how delighted Madame de Saint-Remy will be to see you! But come in. His royal highness is at breakfast—must he be interrupted? Is the matter serious?"
"Yes, and no, Monsieur de Saint-Remy. A moment's delay, however, would be disagreeable to his royal highness."
"If that is the case, we will force the consigne, Monsieur le Vicomte. Come in. Besides, Monsieur is in an excellent humor to-day. And then you bring news, do you not?"
"Great news, Monsieur de Saint-Remy."
"And good, I presume?"
"Come quickly, come quickly then!" cried the worthy man, putting his dress to rights as he went along.
Raoul followed him, hat in hand, and a little disconcerted at the noise made by his spurs in these immense salons.
As soon as he had disappeared in the interior of the palace, the window of the court was repeopled, and an animated whispering betrayed the emotion of the two girls. They soon appeared to have formed a resolution, for one of the two faces disappeared from the window. This was the brunette; the other remained behind the balcony, concealed by the flowers, watching attentively through the branches the perron by which M. de Bragelonne had entered the castle.
In the meantime the object of so much laudable curiosity continued his route, following the steps of the maitre d'hotel. The noise of quick steps, an odor of wine and viands, a clinking of crystal and plates, warned them that they were coming to the end of their course.
The pages, valets and officers, assembled in the office which led up to the refectory, welcomed the newcomer with the proverbial politeness of the country; some of them were acquainted with Raoul, and all knew that he came from Paris. It might be said that his arrival for a moment suspended the service. In fact, a page, who was pouring out wine for his royal highness, on hearing the jingling of spurs in the next chamber, turned round like a child, without perceiving that he was continuing to pour out, not into the glass, but upon the tablecloth.
Madame, who was not so preoccupied as her glorious spouse was, remarked this distraction of the page.
"Well?" exclaimed she.
"Well!" repeated Monsieur; "what is going on then?"
M. de Saint-Remy, who had just introduced his head through the doorway, took advantage of the moment.
"Why am I to be disturbed?" said Gaston, helping himself to a thick slice of one of the largest salmon that had ever ascended the Loire to be captured between Painboeuf and Saint-Nazaire.
"There is a messenger from Paris. Oh! but after monseigneur has breakfasted will do; there is plenty of time."
"From Paris!" cried the prince, letting his fork fall. "A messenger from Paris, do you say? And on whose part does this messenger come?"
"On the part of M. le Prince," said the maitre d'hotel promptly.
Every one knows that the Prince de Conde was so called.
"A messenger from M. le Prince!" said Gaston, with an inquietude that escaped none of the assistants, and consequently redoubled the general curiosity.
Monsieur, perhaps, fancied himself brought back again to the happy times when the opening of a door gave him an emotion, in which every letter might contain a state secret,—in which every message was connected with a dark and complicated intrigue. Perhaps, likewise, that great name of M. le Prince expanded itself, beneath the roofs of Blois, to the proportions of a phantom.
Monsieur pushed away his plate.
"Shall I tell the envoy to wait?" asked M. de Saint-Remy.
A glance from Madame emboldened Gaston, who replied: "No, no! let him come in at once, on the contrary. A propos, who is he?"
"A gentleman of this country, M. le Vicomte de Bragelonne."
"Ah, very well! Introduce him, Saint-Remy—introduce him."
And when he had let fall these words, with his accustomed gravity, Monsieur turned his eyes, in a certain manner, upon the people of his suite, so that all, pages, officers, and equerries, quitted the service, knives and goblets, and made towards the second chamber a retreat as rapid as it was disorderly.
This little army had dispersed in two files when Raoul de Bragelonne, preceded by M. de Saint-Remy, entered the refectory.
The short interval of solitude which this retreat had left him, permitted Monsieur the time to assume a diplomatic countenance. He did not turn round, but waited till the maitre d'hotel should bring the messenger face to face with him.
Raoul stopped even with the lower end of the table, so as to be exactly between Monsieur and Madame. From this place he made a profound bow to Monsieur and a very humble one to Madame; then, drawing himself up into military pose, he waited for Monsieur to address him.
On his part the Prince waited till the doors were hermetically closed; he would not turn round to ascertain the fact, as that would have been derogatory to his dignity, but he listened with all his ears for the noise of the lock, which would promise him at least an appearance of secrecy.
The doors being closed, Monsieur raised his eyes towards the vicomte, and said, "It appears that you come from Paris, monsieur?"
"This minute, monseigneur."
"How is the king?"
"His majesty is in perfect health, monseigneur."
"And my sister-in-law?"
"Her majesty the queen-mother still suffers from the complaint in her chest, but for the last month she has been rather better."
"Somebody told me you came on the part of M. le Prince. They must have been mistaken, surely?"
"No, monseigneur; M. le Prince has charged me to convey this letter to your royal highness, and I am to wait for an answer to it."
Raoul had been a little annoyed by this cold and cautious reception, and his voice insensibly sank to a low key.
The prince forgot that he was the cause of this apparent mystery, and his fears returned.
He received the letter from the Prince de Conde with a haggard look, unsealed it as he would have unsealed a suspicious packet, and in order to read it so that no one should remark the effects of it upon his countenance, he turned round.
Madame followed, with an anxiety almost equal to that of the prince, every maneuver of her august husband.
Raoul, impassible, and a little disengaged by the attention of his hosts, looked from his place through the open window at the gardens and the statues which peopled them.
"Well!" cried Monsieur, all at once, with a cheerful smile; "here is an agreeable surprise, and a charming letter from M. le Prince. Look, Madame!"
The table was too large to allow the arm of the prince to reach the hand of Madame; Raoul sprang forward to be their intermediary, and did it with so good a grace as to procure a flattering acknowledgment from the princess.
"You know the contents of this letter, no doubt?" said Gaston to Raoul.
"Yes, monseigneur; M. le Prince at first gave me the message verbally, but upon reflection his highness took up his pen."
"It is beautiful writing," said Madame, "but I cannot read it."
"Will you read it to Madame, M. de Bragelonne?" said the duke.
"Yes, read it, if you please, monsieur."
Raoul began to read, Monsieur giving again all his attention. The letter was conceived in these terms:
"Monseigneur—The king is about to set out for the frontiers. You are aware that the marriage of his majesty is concluded upon. The king has done me the honor to appoint me his marechal-des-logis for this journey, and as I knew with what joy his majesty would pass a day at Blois, I venture to ask your royal highness's permission to mark the house you inhabit as our quarters. If, however, the suddenness of this request should create to your royal highness any embarrassment, I entreat you to say so by the messenger I send, a gentleman of my suite, M. le Vicomte de Bragelonne. My itinerary will depend upon your royal highness's determination, and instead of passing through Blois, we shall come through Vendome and Romorantin. I venture to hope that your royal highness will be pleased with my arrangement, it being the expression of my boundless desire to make myself agreeable to you."
"Nothing can be more gracious toward us," said Madame, who had more than once consulted the looks of her husband during the reading of the letter. "The king here!" exclaimed she, in a rather louder tone than would have been necessary to preserve secrecy.
"Monsieur," said his royal highness in his turn, "you will offer my thanks to M. de Conde, and express to him my gratitude for the honor he has done me."
"On what day will his majesty arrive?" continued the prince.
"The king, monseigneur, will in all probability arrive this evening."
"But how, then, could he have known my reply if it had been in the negative?"
"I was desired, monseigneur, to return in all haste to Beaugency, to give counter-orders to the courier, who was himself to go back immediately with counter-orders to M. le Prince."
"His majesty is at Orleans, then?"
"Much nearer, monseigneur; his majesty must by this time have arrived at Meung."
"Does the court accompany him?"
"A propos, I forgot to ask you after M. le Cardinal."
"His eminence appears to enjoy good health, monseigneur."
"His nieces accompany him, no doubt?"
"No, monseigneur, his eminence has ordered the Mesdemoiselles de Mancini to set out for Brouage. They will follow the left bank of the Loire, while the court will come by the right."
"What! Mademoiselle Mary de Mancini quit the court in that manner?" asked Monsieur, his reserve beginning to diminish.
"Mademoiselle Mary de Mancini in particular," replied Raoul discreetly.
A fugitive smile, an imperceptible vestige of his ancient spirit of intrigue, shot across the pale face of the prince.
"Thanks, M. de Bragelonne," then said Monsieur. "You would, perhaps, not be willing to carry M. le Prince the commission with which I would charge you, and that is, that his messenger has been very agreeable to me; but I will tell him so myself."
Raoul bowed his thanks to Monsieur for the honor he had done him.
Monsieur made a sign to Madame, who struck a bell which was placed at her right hand; M. de Saint-Remy entered, and the room was soon filled with people.
"Messieurs," said the prince, "his majesty is about to pay me the honor of passing a day at Blois; I depend upon the king, my nephew, not having to repent of the favor he does my house."
"Vive le Roi!" cried all the officers of the household with frantic enthusiasm, and M. de Saint-Remy louder than the rest.
Gaston hung down his head with evident chagrin. He had all his life been obliged to hear, or rather to undergo this cry of "Vive le Roi!" which passed over him. For a long time, being unaccustomed to hear it, his ear had had rest, and now a younger, more vivacious, and more brilliant royalty rose up before him, like a new and more painful provocation.
Madame perfectly understood the sufferings of that timid, gloomy heart; she rose from the table, Monsieur imitated her mechanically, and all the domestics, with a buzzing like that of several bee-hives, surrounded Raoul for the purpose of questioning him.
Madame saw this movement, and called M. de Saint Remy. "This is not the time for gossiping, but working," said she, with the tone of an angry housekeeper.
M. de Saint-Remy hastened to break the circle formed by the officers round Raoul, so that the latter was able to gain the ante-chamber.
"Care will be taken of that gentleman, I hope," added Madame, addressing M. de Saint-Remy.
The worthy man immediately hastened after Raoul. "Madame desires refreshments to be offered to you," said he; "and there is, besides, a lodging for you in the castle."
"Thanks, M. de Saint-Remy," replied Raoul; "but you know how anxious I must be to pay my duty to M. le Comte, my father."
"That is true, that is true, Monsieur Raoul; present him, at the same time, my humble respects, if you please."
Raoul thus once more got rid of the old gentleman, and pursued his way. As he was passing under the porch, leading his horse by the bridle, a soft voice called him from the depths of an obscure path.
"Monsieur Raoul!" said the voice.
The young man turned round, surprised, and saw a dark complexioned girl, who, with a finger on her lip, held out her other hand to him. This young lady was an utter stranger.
CHAPTER 3. The Interview.
Raoul made one step towards the girl who thus called him.
"But my horse, madame?" said he.
"Oh! you are terribly embarrassed! Go yonder way—there is a shed in the outer court: fasten your horse, and return quickly!"
"I obey, madame."
Raoul was not four minutes in performing what he had been directed to do; he returned to the little door, where, in the gloom, he found his mysterious conductress waiting for him, on the first steps of a winding staircase.
"Are you brave enough to follow me, monsieur knight errant?" asked the girl, laughing at the momentary hesitation Raoul had manifested.
The latter replied by springing up the dark staircase after her. They thus climbed up three stories, he behind her, touching with his hands, when he felt for the banister, a silk dress which rubbed against each side of the staircase. At every false step made by Raoul, his conductress cried, "Hush!" and held out to him a soft and perfumed hand.
"One would mount thus to the belfry of the castle without being conscious of fatigue," said Raoul.
"All of which means, monsieur, that you are very much perplexed, very tired, and very uneasy. But be of good cheer, monsieur; here we are, at our destination."
The girl threw open a door, which immediately, without any transition, filled with a flood of light the landing of the staircase, at the top of which Raoul appeared, holding fast by the balustrade.
The girl continued to walk on—he followed her; she entered a chamber—he did the same.
As soon as he was fairly in the net he heard a loud cry, and, turning round, saw at two paces from him, with her hands clasped and her eyes closed, that beautiful fair girl with blue eyes and white shoulders, who, recognizing him, called him Raoul.
He saw her, and divined at once so much love and so much joy in the expression of her countenance, that he sank on his knees in the middle of the chamber, murmuring, on his part, the name of Louise.
"Ah! Montalais—Montalais!" she sighed, "it is very wicked to deceive me so."
"Who, I? I have deceived you?"
"Yes; you told me you would go down to inquire the news, and you have brought up monsieur!"
"Well, I was obliged to do so—how else could he have received the letter you wrote him?" And she pointed with her finger to the letter which was still upon the table.
Raoul made a step to take it; Louise, more rapid, although she had sprung forward with a sufficiently remarkable physical hesitation, reached out her hand to stop him. Raoul came in contact with that trembling hand, took it within his own, and carried it so respectfully to his lips, that he might be said to have deposited a sigh upon it rather than a kiss.
In the meantime Mademoiselle de Montalais had taken the letter, folded it carefully, as women do, in three folds, and slipped it into her bosom.
"Don't be afraid, Louise," said she; "monsieur will no more venture to take it hence than the defunct king Louis XIII. ventured to take billets from the corsage of Mademoiselle de Hautefort."
Raoul blushed at seeing the smile of the two girls; and he did not remark that the hand of Louise remained in his.
"There," said Montalais, "you have pardoned me, Louise, for having brought monsieur to you; and you, monsieur, bear me no malice for having followed me to see mademoiselle. Now, then, peace being made, let us chat like old friends. Present me, Louise, to M. de Bragelonne."
"Monsieur le Vicomte," said Louise, with her quiet grace and ingenuous smile, "I have the honour to present to you Mademoiselle Aure de Montalais, maid of honor to her royal highness Madame, and moreover my friend—my excellent friend."
Raoul bowed ceremoniously.
"And me, Louise," said he—"will you not present me also to mademoiselle?"
"Oh, she knows you—she knows all!"
This unguarded expression made Montalais laugh and Raoul sigh with happiness, for he interpreted it thus: "She knows all our love."
"The ceremonies being over, Monsieur le Vicomte," said Montalais, "take a chair, and tell us quickly the news you bring flying thus."
"Mademoiselle, it is no longer a secret; the king, on his way to Poitiers, will stop at Blois, to visit his royal highness."
"The king here!" exclaimed Montalais, clapping her hands. "What! are we going to see the court? Only think, Louise—the real court from Paris! Oh, good heavens! But when will this happen, monsieur?"
"Perhaps this evening, mademoiselle; at latest, tomorrow."
Montalais lifted her shoulders in sign of vexation.
"No time to get ready! No time to prepare a single dress! We are as far behind the fashions as the Poles. We shall look like portraits of the time of Henry IV. Ah, monsieur! this is sad news you bring us!"
"But, mesdemoiselles, you will be still beautiful!"
"That's no news! Yes, we shall be always beautiful because nature has made us passable; but we shall be ridiculous, because the fashion will have forgotten us. Alas! ridiculous! I shall be thought ridiculous—I!
"And by whom?" said Louise, innocently.
"By whom? You are a strange girl, my dear. Is that a question to put to me? I mean everybody; I mean the courtiers, the nobles; I mean the king."
"Pardon me, my good friend, but as here every one is accustomed to see us as we are——"
"Granted; but that is about to change, and we shall be ridiculous, even for Blois; for close to us will be seen the fashions from Paris, and they will perceive that we are in the fashion of Blois! It is enough to make one despair!"
"Console yourself, mademoiselle."
"Well, so let it be! After all, so much the worse for those who do not find me to their taste!" said Montalais philosophically.
"They would be very difficult to please," replied Raoul, faithful to his regular system of gallantry.
"Thank you, Monsieur le Vicomte. We were saying, then, that the king is coming to Blois?"
"With all the court."
"Mesdemoiselles de Mancini, will they be with them?"
"No, certainly not."
"But as the king, it is said, cannot do without Mademoiselle Mary?"
"Mademoiselle, the king must do without her. M. le Cardinal will have it so. He has exiled his nieces to Brouage."
"Hush!" said Louise, pressing a finger on her friend's rosy lips.
"Bah! nobody can hear me. I say that old Mazarino Mazarini is a hypocrite, who burns impatiently to make his niece Queen of France."
"That cannot be, mademoiselle, since M. le Cardinal, on the contrary, has brought about the marriage of his majesty with the Infanta Maria Theresa."
Montalais looked Raoul full in the face, and said, "And do you Parisians believe in these tales? Well! we are a little more knowing than you, at Blois."
"Mademoiselle, if the king goes beyond Poitiers and sets out for Spain, if the articles of the marriage contract are agreed upon by Don Luis de Haro and his eminence, you must plainly perceive that it is not child's play."
"All very fine! but the king is king, I suppose?"
"No doubt, mademoiselle; but the cardinal is the cardinal."
"The king is not a man, then! And he does not love Mary Mancini?"
"He adores her."
"Well, he will marry her then. We shall have war with Spain. M. Mazarin will spend a few of the millions he has put away; our gentlemen will perform prodigies of valor in their encounters with the proud Castilians, and many of them will return crowned with laurels, to be recrowned by us with myrtles. Now, that is my view of politics."
"Montalais, you are wild!" said Louise, "and every exaggeration attracts you as light does a moth."
"Louise, you are so extremely reasonable, that you will never know how to love."
"Oh!" said Louise, in a tone of tender reproach, "don't you see, Montalais? The queen-mother desires to marry her son to the Infanta; would you wish him to disobey his mother? Is it for a royal heart like his to set such a bad example? When parents forbid love, love must be banished."
And Louise sighed: Raoul cast down his eyes, with an expression of constraint. Montalais, on her part, laughed aloud.
"Well, I have no parents!" said she.
"You are acquainted, without doubt, with the state of health of M. le Comte de la Fere?" said Louise, after breathing that sigh which had revealed so many griefs in its eloquent utterance.
"No, mademoiselle," replied Raoul, "I have not yet paid my respects to my father; I was going to his house when Mademoiselle de Montalais so kindly stopped me. I hope the comte is well. You have heard nothing to the contrary, have you?"
"No, M. Raoul—nothing, thank God!"
Here, for several instants, ensued a silence, during which two spirits, which followed the same idea, communicated perfectly, without even the assistance of a single glance.
"Oh, heavens!" exclaimed Montalais in a fright; "there is somebody coming up."
"Who can it be?" said Louise, rising in great agitation.
"Mesdemoiselles, I inconvenience you very much. I have, without doubt, been very indiscreet," stammered Raoul, very ill at ease.
"It is a heavy step," said Louise.
"Ah! if it is only M. Malicorne," added Montalais, "do not disturb yourselves."
Louise and Raoul looked at each other to inquire who M. Malicorne could be.
"There is no occasion to mind him," continued Montalais; "he is not jealous."
"But, mademoiselle—" said Raoul.
"Yes, I understand. Well, he is as discreet as I am."
"Good heavens!" cried Louise, who had applied her ear to the door, which had been left ajar, "it is my mother's step!"
"Madame de Saint-Remy! Where shall I hide myself?" exclaimed Raoul, catching at the dress of Montalais, who looked quite bewildered.
"Yes," said she; "yes, I know the clicking of those pattens! It is our excellent mother. M. le Vicomte, what a pity it is the window looks upon a stone pavement, and that fifty paces below it."
Raoul glanced at the balcony in despair. Louise seized his arm and held it tight.
"Oh, how silly I am!" said Montalais, "have I not the robe-of-ceremony closet? It looks as if it were made on purpose."
It was quite time to act; Madame de Saint-Remy was coming up at a quicker pace than usual. She gained the landing at the moment when Montalais, as in all scenes of surprises, shut the closet by leaning with her back against the door.
"Ah!" cried Madame de Saint-Remy, "you are here, are you, Louise?"
"Yes, madame," replied she, more pale than if she had committed a great crime.
"Pray be seated, madame," said Montalais, offering her a chair, which she placed so that the back was towards the closet.
"Thank you, Mademoiselle Aure—thank you. Come my child, be quick."
"Where do you wish me to go, madame?"
"Why, home, to be sure; have you not to prepare your toilette?"
"What did you say?" cried Montalais, hastening to affect surprise, so fearful was she that Louise would in some way commit herself.
"You don't know the news, then?" said Madame de Saint-Remy.
"What news, madame, is it possible for two girls to learn up in this dove-cote?"
"What! have you seen nobody?"
"Madame, you talk in enigmas, and you torment us at a slow fire!" cried Montalais, who, terrified at seeing Louise become paler and paler, did not know to what saint to put up her vows.
At length she caught an eloquent look of her companion's, one of those looks which would convey intelligence to a brick wall. Louise directed her attention to a hat—Raoul's unlucky hat, which was set out in all its feathery splendor upon the table.
Montalais sprang towards it, and, seizing it with her left hand, passed it behind her into the right, concealing it as she was speaking.
"Well," said Madame de Saint-Remy, "a courier has arrived, announcing the approach of the king. There, mesdemoiselles; there is something to make you put on your best looks."
"Quick, quick!" cried Montalais. "Follow Madame your mother, Louise; and leave me to get ready my dress of ceremony."
Louise arose; her mother took her by the hand, and led her out on to the landing.
"Come along," said she; then adding in a low voice, "When I forbid you to come to the apartment of Montalais, why do you do so?"
"Madame, she is my friend. Besides, I had but just come."
"Did you see nobody concealed while you were there?"
"I saw a man's hat, I tell you—the hat of that fellow, that good-for-nothing!"
"Madame!" repeated Louise.
"Of that do-nothing De Malicorne! A maid of honor to have such company—fie! fie!" and their voices were lost in the depths of the narrow staircase.
Montalais had not missed a word of this conversation, which echo conveyed to her as if through a tunnel. She shrugged her shoulders on seeing Raoul, who had listened likewise, issue from the closet.
"Poor Montalais!" said she, "the victim of friendship! Poor Malicorne, the victim of love!"
She stopped on viewing the tragic-comic face of Raoul, who was vexed at having, in one day, surprised so many secrets.
"Oh, mademoiselle!" said he; "how can we repay your kindness?"
"Oh, we will balance accounts some day," said she. "For the present, begone, M. de Bragelonne, for Madame de Saint-Remy is not over indulgent; and any indiscretion on her part might bring hither a domiciliary visit, which would be disagreeable to all parties."
"But Louise—how shall I know——"
"Begone! begone! King Louis XI. knew very well what he was about when he invented the post."
"Alas!" sighed Raoul.
"And am I not here—I, who am worth all the posts in the kingdom? Quick, I say, to horse! so that if Madame de Saint-Remy should return for the purpose of preaching me a lesson on morality, she may not find you here."
"She would tell my father, would she not?" murmured Raoul.
"And you would be scolded. Ah, vicomte, it is very plain you come from court; you are as timid as the king. Peste! at Blois we contrive better than that to do without papa's consent. Ask Malicorne else!"
And at these words the girl pushed Raoul out of the room by the shoulders. He glided swiftly down to the porch, regained his horse, mounted, and set off as if he had had Monsieur's guards at his heels.
CHAPTER 4. Father and Son.
Raoul followed the well-known road, so dear to his memory, which led from Blois to the residence of the Comte de la Fere.
The reader will dispense with a second description of that habitation: he, perhaps, has been with us there before, and knows it. Only, since our last journey thither, the walls had taken a grayer tint, and the brickwork assumed a more harmonious copper tone; the trees had grown, and many that then only stretched their slender branches along the tops of the hedges, now bushy, strong, and luxuriant, cast around, beneath boughs swollen with sap, great shadows of blossoms of fruit for the benefit of the traveler.
Raoul perceived, from a distance, the two little turrets, the dove-cote in the elms, and the flights of pigeons, which wheeled incessantly around that brick cone, seemingly without power to quit it, like the sweet memories which hover round a spirit at peace.
As he approached, he heard the noise of the pulleys which grated under the weight of the massy pails; he also fancied he heard the melancholy moaning of the water which falls back again into the wells—a sad, funereal, solemn sound, which strikes the ear of the child and the poet—both dreamers—which the English call splash; Arabian poets, gasgachau; and which we Frenchmen, who would be poets, can only translate by a paraphrase—the noise of water falling into water.
It was more than a year since Raoul had been to visit his father. He had passed the whole time in the household of M. le Prince. In fact, after all the commotions of the Fronde, of the early period of which we formerly attempted to give a sketch, Louis de Conde had made a public, solemn, and frank reconciliation with the court. During all the time that the rupture between the king and the prince had lasted, the prince, who had long entertained a great regard for Bragelonne, had in vain offered him advantages of the most dazzling kind for a young man. The Comte de la Fere, still faithful to his principles of loyalty and royalty, one day developed before his son in the vaults of Saint Denis,—the Comte de la Fere, in the name of his son, had always declined them. Moreover, instead of following M. de Conde in his rebellion, the vicomte had followed M. de Turenne, fighting for the king. Then when M. de Turenne, in his turn, had appeared to abandon the royal cause, he had quitted M. de Turenne, as he had quitted M. de Conde. It resulted from this invariable line of conduct that, as Conde and Turenne had never been conquerors of each other but under the standard of the king, Raoul, however young, had ten victories inscribed on his list of services, and not one defeat from which his bravery or conscience had to suffer.
Raoul, therefore, had, in compliance with the wish of his father, served obstinately and passively the fortunes of Louis XIV., in spite of the tergiversations which were endemic, and, it might be said, inevitable, at that period.
M. de Conde, on being restored to favor, had at once availed himself of all the privileges of the amnesty to ask for many things back again which had been granted him before, and among others, Raoul. M. de la Fere, with his invariable good sense, had immediately sent him again to the prince.
A year, then, had passed away since the separation of the father and son; a few letters had softened, but not removed, the pains of absence. We have seen that Raoul had left at Blois another love in addition to filial love. But let us do him this justice—if it had not been for chance and Mademoiselle de Montalais, two great temptations, Raoul, after delivering his message, would have galloped off towards his father's house, turning his head round, perhaps, but without stopping for a single instant, even if Louise had held out her arms to him.
So the first part of the journey was given by Raoul to regretting the past which he had been forced to quit so quickly, that is to say, his lady-love; and the other part to the friend he was about to join, so much too slowly for his wishes.
Raoul found the garden-gate open, and rode straight in, without regarding the long arms, raised in anger, of an old man dressed in a jacket of violet-colored wool, and a large cap of faded velvet.
The old man, who was weeding with his hands a bed of dwarf roses and marguerites, was indignant at seeing a horse thus traversing his sanded and nicely-raked walks. He even ventured a vigorous "Humph!" which made the cavalier turn round. Then there was a change of scene; for no sooner had he caught sight of Raoul's face, than the old man sprang up and set off in the direction of the house, amidst interrupted growlings, which appeared to be paroxysms of wild delight.
When arrived at the stables, Raoul gave his horse to a little lackey, and sprang up the perron with an ardor that would have delighted the heart of his father.
He crossed the ante-chamber, the dining-room, and the salon, without meeting with any one; at length, on reaching the door of M. de la Fere's apartment, he rapped impatiently, and entered almost without waiting for the word "Enter!" which was vouchsafed him by a voice at once sweet and serious. The comte was seated at a table covered with papers and books; he was still the noble, handsome gentleman of former days, but time had given to this nobleness and beauty a more solemn and distinct character. A brow white and void of wrinkles, beneath his long hair, now more white than black; an eye piercing and mild, under the lids of a young man; his mustache, fine but slightly grizzled, waved over lips of a pure and delicate model, as if they had never been curled by mortal passions; a form straight and supple; an irreproachable but thin hand—this was what remained of the illustrious gentleman whom so many illustrious mouths had praised under the name of Athos. He was engaged in correcting the pages of a manuscript book, entirely filled by his own hand.
Raoul seized his father by the shoulders, by the neck, as he could, and embraced him so tenderly and so rapidly, that the comte had neither strength nor time to disengage himself, or to overcome his paternal emotions.
"What! you here, Raoul,—you! Is it possible?" said he.
"Oh, monsieur, monsieur, what joy to see you once again!"
"But you don't answer me, vicomte. Have you leave of absence, or has some misfortune happened at Paris?"
"Thank God, monsieur," replied Raoul, calming himself by degrees, "nothing has happened but what is fortunate. The king is going to be married, as I had the honor of informing you in my last letter, and, on his way to Spain, he will pass through Blois."
"To pay a visit to Monsieur?"
"Yes, monsieur le comte. So, fearing to find him unprepared, or wishing to be particularly polite to him, monsieur le prince sent me forward to have the lodgings ready."
"You have seen Monsieur?" asked the vicomte, eagerly.
"I have had that honor."
"At the castle?"
"Yes, monsieur," replied Raoul, casting down his eyes, because, no doubt, he had felt there was something more than curiosity in the comte's inquiries.
"Ah, indeed, vicomte? Accept my compliments thereupon."
"But you have seen some one else at Blois?"
"Monsieur, I saw her royal highness, Madame."
"That's very well: but it is not Madame that I mean."
Raoul colored deeply, but made no reply.
"You do not appear to understand me, monsieur le vicomte," persisted M. de la Fere, without accenting his words more strongly, but with a rather severer look.
"I understand you quite plainly, monsieur," replied Raoul, "and if I hesitate a little in my reply, you are well assured I am not seeking for a falsehood."
"No, you cannot tell a lie, and that makes me so astonished you should be so long in saying yes or no."
"I cannot answer you without understanding you very well, and if I have understood you, you will take my first words in ill part. You will be displeased, no doubt, monsieur le comte, because I have seen——"
"Mademoiselle de la Valliere—have you not?"
"It was of her you meant to speak, I know very well, monsieur," said Raoul, with inexpressible sweetness.
"And I asked you if you have seen her."
"Monsieur, I was ignorant, when I entered the castle, that Mademoiselle de la Valliere was there; it was only on my return, after I had performed my mission, that chance brought us together. I have had the honor of paying my respects to her."
"But what do you call the chance that led you into the presence of Mademoiselle de la Valliere?"
"Mademoiselle de Montalais, monsieur."
"And who is Mademoiselle de Montalais?"
"A young lady I did not know before, whom I had never seen. She is maid of honor to Madame."
"Monsieur le vicomte, I will push my interrogatory no further, and reproach myself with having carried it so far. I had desired you to avoid Mademoiselle de la Valliere, and not to see her without my permission. Oh, I am quite sure you have told me the truth, and that you took no measures to approach her. Chance has done me this injury; I do not accuse you of it. I will be content then, with what I formerly said to you concerning this young lady. I do not reproach her with anything—God is my witness! only it is not my intention or wish that you should frequent her place of residence. I beg you once more, my dear Raoul, to understand that."
It was plain the limpid eyes of Raoul were troubled at this speech.
"Now, my friend," said the comte, with his soft smile, and in his customary tone, "let us talk of other matters. You are returning, perhaps, to your duty?"
"No, monsieur, I have no duty for to-day, except the pleasure of remaining with you. The prince kindly appointed me no other: which was so much in accord with my wish."
"Is the king well?"
"And monsieur le prince also?"
"As usual, monsieur."
The comte forgot to inquire after Mazarin; that was an old habit.
"Well, Raoul, since you are entirely mine, I will give up my whole day to you. Embrace me—again, again! You are at home, vicomte! Ah, there is our old Grimaud! Come in, Grimaud: monsieur le vicomte is desirous of embracing you likewise."
The good old man did not require to be twice told; he rushed in with open arms, Raoul meeting him halfway.
"Now, if you please, we will go into the garden, Raoul. I will show you the new lodging I have had prepared for you during your leave of absence, and whilst examining the last winter's plantations and two saddle-horses I have just acquired, you will give me all the news of our friends in Paris."
The comte closed his manuscript, took the young man's arm, and went out into the garden with him.
Grimaud looked at Raoul with a melancholy air as the young man passed out; observing that his head nearly touched the traverse of the doorway, stroking his white royale, he slowly murmured:
"How he has grown!"
CHAPTER 5. In which Something will be said of Cropoli—of Cropoli and of a Great Unknown Painter.
Whilst the Comte de la Fere with Raoul visits the new buildings he has had erected, and the new horses he has bought, with the reader's permission we will lead him back to the city of Blois, and make him a witness of the unaccustomed activity which pervades that city.
It was in the hotels that the surprise of the news brought by Raoul was most sensibly felt.
In fact, the king and the court at Blois, that is to say, a hundred horsemen, ten carriages, two hundred horses, as many lackeys as masters—where was this crowd to be housed? Where were to be lodged all the gentry of the neighborhood, who would gather in two or three hours after the news had enlarged the circle of its report, like the increasing circumference produced by a stone thrown into a placid lake?
Blois, as peaceful in the morning, as we have seen, as the calmest lake in the world, at the announcement of the royal arrival, was suddenly filled with the tumult and buzzing of a swarm of bees.
All the servants of the castle, under the inspection of the officers, were sent into the city in quest of provisions, and ten horsemen were dispatched to the preserves of Chambord to seek for game, to the fisheries of Beuvion for fish, and to the gardens of Chaverny for fruits and flowers.
Precious tapestries, and lusters with great gilt chains, were drawn from the cupboards; an army of the poor were engaged in sweeping the courts and washing the stone fronts, whilst their wives went in droves to the meadows beyond the Loire, to gather green boughs and field-flowers. The whole city, not to be behind in this luxury of cleanliness, assumed its best toilette with the help of brushes, brooms, and water.
The kennels of the upper town, swollen by these continued lotions, became rivers at the bottom of the city, and the pavement, generally very muddy, it must be allowed, took a clean face, and absolutely shone in the friendly rays of the sun.
Next the music was to be provided; drawers were emptied; the shop-keepers did a glorious trade in wax, ribbons, and sword-knots; housekeepers laid in stores of bread, meat, and spices. Already numbers of the citizens whose houses were furnished as if for a siege, having nothing more to do, donned their festive clothes and directed their course towards the city gate, in order to be the first to signal or see the cortege. They knew very well that the king would not arrive before night, perhaps not before the next morning. Yet what is expectation but a kind of folly, and what is that folly but an excess of hope?
In the lower city, at scarcely a hundred paces from the Castle of the States, between the mall and the castle, in a sufficiently handsome street, then called Rue Vieille, and which must, in fact, have been very old, stood a venerable edifice, with pointed gables, of squat but large dimensions, ornamented with three windows looking into the street on the first floor, with two in the second and with a little oeil de boeuf in the third.
On the sides of this triangle had recently been constructed a parallelogram of considerable size, which encroached upon the street remorselessly, according to the familiar uses of the building of that period. The street was narrowed by a quarter by it, but then the house was enlarged by a half; and was not that a sufficient compensation?
Tradition said that this house with the pointed gables was inhabited, in the time of Henry III., by a councilor of state whom Queen Catherine came, some say to visit, and others to strangle. However that may be, the good lady must have stepped with a circumspect foot over the threshold of this building.
After the councilor had died—whether by strangulation or naturally is of no consequence—the house had been sold, then abandoned, and lastly isolated from the other houses of the street. Towards the middle of the reign of Louis XIII. only, an Italian, named Cropoli, escaped from the kitchens of the Marquis d'Ancre, came and took possession of this house. There he established a little hostelry, in which was fabricated a macaroni so delicious that people came from miles round to fetch it or eat it.
So famous had the house become for it, that when Mary de Medici was a prisoner, as we know, in the castle of Blois, she once sent for some.
It was precisely on the day she had escaped by the famous window. The dish of macaroni was left upon the table, only just tasted by the royal mouth.
This double favor, of a strangulation and a macaroni, conferred upon the triangular house, gave poor Cropoli a fancy to grace his hostelry with a pompous title. But his quality of an Italian was no recommendation in these times, and his small, well-concealed fortune forbade attracting too much attention.
When he found himself about to die, which happened in 1643, just after the death of Louis XIII., he called to him his son, a young cook of great promise, and with tears in his eyes, he recommended him to preserve carefully the secret of the macaroni, to Frenchify his name, and at length, when the political horizon should be cleared from the clouds which obscured it—this was practiced then as in our day, to order of the nearest smith a handsome sign, upon which a famous painter, whom he named, should design two queens' portraits, with these words as a legend: "To The Medici."
The worthy Cropoli, after these recommendations, had only sufficient time to point out to his young successor a chimney, under the slab of which he had hidden a thousand ten-franc pieces, and then expired.
Cropoli the younger, like a man of good heart, supported the loss with resignation, and the gain without insolence. He began by accustoming the public to sound the final i of his name so little, that by the aid of general complaisance, he was soon called nothing but M. Cropole, which is quite a French name. He then married, having had in his eye a little French girl, from whose parents he extorted a reasonable dowry by showing them what there was beneath the slab of the chimney.
These two points accomplished, he went in search of the painter who was to paint the sign; and he was soon found. He was an old Italian, a rival of the Raphaels and the Caracci, but an unfortunate rival. He said he was of the Venetian school, doubtless from his fondness for color. His works, of which he had never sold one, attracted the eye at a distance of a hundred paces; but they so formidably displeased the citizens, that he had finished by painting no more.
He boasted of having painted a bath-room for Madame la Marechale d'Ancre, and mourned over this chamber having been burnt at the time of the marechal's disaster.
Cropoli, in his character of a compatriot, was indulgent towards Pittrino, which was the name of the artist. Perhaps he had seen the famous pictures of the bath-room. Be this as it may, he held in such esteem, we may say in such friendship, the famous Pittrino, that he took him in his own house.
Pittrino, grateful, and fed with macaroni, set about propagating the reputation of this national dish, and from the time of its founder, he had rendered, with his indefatigable tongue, signal services to the house of Cropoli.
As he grew old he attached himself to the son as he had done to the father, and by degrees became a kind of overlooker of a house in which his remarkable integrity, his acknowledged sobriety, and a thousand other virtues useless to enumerate, gave him an eternal place by the fireside, with a right of inspection over the domestics. Besides this, it was he who tasted the macaroni, to maintain the pure flavor of the ancient tradition; and it must be allowed that he never permitted a grain of pepper too much, or an atom of parmesan too little. His joy was at its height on that day when called upon to share the secret of Cropoli the younger, and to paint the famous sign.
He was seen at once rummaging with ardor in an old box, in which he found some brushes, a little gnawed by the rats, but still passable; some colors in bladders almost dried up; some linseed-oil in a bottle, and a palette which had formerly belonged to Bronzino, that dieu de la pittoure, as the ultramontane artist, in his ever young enthusiasm, always called him.
Pittrino was puffed up with all the joy of a rehabilitation.
He did as Raphael had done—he changed his style, and painted, in the fashion of the Albanian, two goddesses rather than two queens. These illustrious ladies appeared so lovely on the sign,—they presented to the astonished eyes such an assemblage of lilies and roses, the enchanting result of the change of style in Pittrino—they assumed the poses of sirens so Anacreontically—that the principal echevin, when admitted to view this capital piece in the salle of Cropole, at once declared that these ladies were too handsome, of too animated a beauty, to figure as a sign in the eyes of passers-by.
To Pittrino he added, "His royal highness, Monsieur, who often comes into our city, will not be much pleased to see his illustrious mother so slightly clothed, and he will send you to the oubliettes of the state; for, remember, the heart of that glorious prince is not always tender. You must efface either the two sirens or the legend, without which I forbid the exhibition of the sign. I say this for your sake, Master Cropole, as well as for yours, Signor Pittrino."
What answer could be made to this? It was necessary to thank the echevin for his kindness, which Cropole did. But Pittrino remained downcast and said he felt assured of what was about to happen.
The visitor was scarcely gone when Cropole, crossing his arms, said: "Well, master, what is to be done?"
"We must efface the legend," said Pittrino, in a melancholy tone. "I have some excellent ivory-black; it will be done in a moment, and we will replace the Medici by the nymphs or the sirens, whichever you prefer."
"No," said Cropole, "the will of my father must be carried out. My father considered——"
"He considered the figures of the most importance," said Pittrino.
"He thought most of the legend," said Cropole.
"The proof of the importance in which he held the figures," said Pittrino, "is that he desired they should be likenesses, and they are so."
"Yes; but if they had not been so, who would have recognized them without the legend? At the present day even, when the memory of the Blaisois begins to be faint with regard to these two celebrated persons, who would recognize Catherine and Mary without the words 'To the Medici'?"
"But the figures?" said Pittrino, in despair; for he felt that young Cropole was right. "I should not like to lose the fruit of my labor."
"And I should not wish you to be thrown into prison and myself into the oubliettes."
"Let us efface 'Medici,'" said Pittrino, supplicatingly.
"No," replied Cropole, firmly. "I have got an idea, a sublime idea—your picture shall appear, and my legend likewise. Does not 'Medici' mean doctor, or physician, in Italian?"
"Yes, in the plural."
"Well, then, you shall order another sign-frame of the smith; you shall paint six physicians, and write underneath 'Aux Medici' which makes a very pretty play upon words."
"Six physicians! impossible! And the composition?" cried Pittrino.
"That is your business—but so it shall be—I insist upon it—it must be so—my macaroni is burning."
This reasoning was peremptory—Pittrino obeyed. He composed the sign of six physicians, with the legend; the echevin applauded and authorized it.
The sign produced an extravagant success in the city, which proves that poetry has always been in the wrong, before citizens, as Pittrino said.
Cropole, to make amends to his painter-in-ordinary, hung up the nymphs of the preceding sign in his bedroom, which made Madame Cropole blush every time she looked at it, when she was undressing at night.
This is the way in which the pointed-gable house got a sign; and this is how the hostelry of the Medici, making a fortune, was found to be enlarged by a quarter, as we have described. And this is how there was at Blois a hostelry of that name, and had for painter-in-ordinary Master Pittrino.
CHAPTER 6. The Unknown.
Thus founded and recommended by its sign, the hostelry of Master Cropole held its way steadily on towards a solid prosperity.
It was not an immense fortune that Cropole had in perspective; but he might hope to double the thousand louis d'or left by his father, to make another thousand louis by the sale of his house and stock, and at length to live happily like a retired citizen.
Cropole was anxious for gain, and was half-crazy with joy at the news of the arrival of Louis XIV.
Himself, his wife, Pittrino, and two cooks, immediately laid hands upon all the inhabitants of the dove-cote, the poultry-yard, and the rabbit-hutches; so that as many lamentations and cries resounded in the yards of the hostelry of the Medici as were formerly heard in Rama.
Cropole had, at the time, but one single traveler in his house.
This was a man of scarcely thirty years of age, handsome, tall, austere, or rather melancholy, in all his gestures and looks.
He was dressed in black velvet with jet trimmings; a white collar, as plain as that of the severest Puritan, set off the whiteness of his youthful neck; a small dark-colored mustache scarcely covered his curled, disdainful lip.
He spoke to people looking them full in the face without affectation, it is true, but without scruple; so that the brilliancy of his black eyes became so insupportable, that more than one look had sunk beneath his like the weaker sword in a single combat.
At this time, in which men, all created equal by God, were divided, thanks to prejudices, into two distinct castes, the gentleman and the commoner, as they are really divided into two races, the black and the white,—at this time, we say, he whose portrait we have just sketched could not fail of being taken for a gentleman, and of the best class. To ascertain this, there was no necessity to consult anything but his hands, long, slender, and white, of which every muscle, every vein, became apparent through the skin at the least movement, and eloquently spoke of good descent.
This gentleman, then, had arrived alone at Cropole's house. He had taken, without hesitation, without reflection even, the principal apartment which the hotelier had pointed out to him with a rapacious aim, very praiseworthy, some will say, very reprehensible will say others, if they admit that Cropole was a physiognomist and judged people at first sight.
This apartment was that which composed the whole front of the ancient triangular house, a large salon, lighted by two windows on the first stage, a small chamber by the side of it, and another above it.
Now, from the time he had arrived, this gentleman had scarcely touched any repast that had been served up to him in his chamber. He had spoken but two words to the host, to warn him that a traveler of the name of Parry would arrive, and to desire that, when he did, he should be shown up to him immediately.
He afterwards preserved so profound a silence, that Cropole was almost offended, so much did he prefer people who were good company.
This gentleman had risen early the morning of the day on which this history begins, and had placed himself at the window of his salon, seated upon the ledge, and leaning upon the rail of the balcony, gazing sadly but persistently on both sides of the street, watching, no doubt, for the arrival of the traveler he had mentioned to the host.
In this way he had seen the little cortege of Monsieur return from hunting, then had again partaken of the profound tranquillity of the street, absorbed in his own expectations.
All at once the movement of the crowd going to the meadows, couriers setting out, washers of pavement, purveyors of the royal household, gabbling, scampering shopboys, chariots in motion, hair-dressers on the run, and pages toiling along, this tumult and bustle had surprised him, but without losing any of that impassible and supreme majesty which gives to the eagle and the lion that serene and contemptuous glance amidst the hurrahs and shouts of hunters or the curious.
Soon the cries of the victims slaughtered in the poultry-yard, the hasty steps of Madame Cropole up that little wooden staircase, so narrow and so echoing, the bounding pace of Pittrino, who only that morning was smoking at the door with all the phlegm of a Dutchman; all this communicated something like surprise and agitation to the traveler.
As he was rising to make inquiries, the door of his chamber opened. The unknown concluded they were about to introduce the impatiently expected traveler, and made three precipitate steps to meet him.
But, instead of the person he expected, it was Master Cropole who appeared, and behind him, in the half-dark staircase, the pleasant face of Madame Cropole, rendered trivial by curiosity. She only gave one furtive glance at the handsome gentleman, and disappeared.
Cropole advanced, cap in hand, rather bent than bowing.
A gesture of the unknown interrogated him, without a word being pronounced.
"Monsieur," said Cropole, "I come to ask how—what ought I to say: your lordship, monsieur le comte, or monsieur le marquis?"
"Say monsieur, and speak quickly," replied the unknown, with that haughty accent which admits of neither discussion nor reply.
"I came, then, to inquire how monsieur had passed the night, and if monsieur intended to keep this apartment?"
"Monsieur, something has happened upon which we could not reckon."
"His majesty Louis XIV. will enter our city to-day and will remain here one day, perhaps two."
Great astonishment was painted on the countenance of the unknown.
"The King of France coming to Blois?"
"He is on the road, monsieur."
"Then there is the stronger reason for my remaining," said the unknown.
"Very well; but will monsieur keep all the apartments?"
"I do not understand you. Why should I require less to-day than yesterday?"
"Because, monsieur, your lordship will permit me to say, yesterday I did not think proper, when you chose your lodging, to fix any price that might have made your lordship believe that I prejudged your resources; whilst to-day——"
The unknown colored; the idea at once struck him that he was supposed to be poor, and was being insulted.
"Whilst to-day," replied he, coldly, "you do prejudge."
"Monsieur, I am a well-meaning man, thank God! and simple hotelier as I am, there is in me the blood of a gentleman. My father was a servant and officer of the late Marechal d'Ancre. God rest his soul!"
"I do not contest that point with you; I only wish to know, and that quickly, to what your questions tend?"
"You are too reasonable, monsieur, not to comprehend that our city is small, that the court is about to invade it, that the houses will be overflowing with inhabitants, and that lodgings will consequently obtain considerable prices."
Again the unknown colored. "Name your terms," said he.
"I name them with scruple, monsieur, because I seek an honest gain, and that I wish to carry on my business without being uncivil or extravagant in my demands. Now the room you occupy is considerable, and you are alone."
"That is my business."
"Oh! certainly. I do not mean to turn monsieur out."
The blood rushed to the temples of the unknown; he darted at poor Cropole, the descendant of one of the officers of the Marechal d'Ancre, a glance that would have crushed him down to beneath that famous chimney-slab, if Cropole had not been nailed to the spot by the question of his own proper interests.
"Do you desire me to go?" said he. "Explain yourself—but quickly."
"Monsieur, monsieur, you do not understand me. It is very critical—I know—that which I am doing. I express myself badly, or perhaps, as monsieur is a foreigner, which I perceive by his accent——"
In fact, the unknown spoke with that impetuosity which is the principal character of English accentuation, even among men who speak the French language with the neatest purity.
"As monsieur is a foreigner, I say, it is perhaps he who does not catch my exact meaning. I wish for monsieur to give up one or two of the apartments he occupies, which would diminish his expenses and ease my conscience. Indeed, it is hard to increase unreasonably the price of the chambers, when one has had the honor to let them at a reasonable price."
"How much does the hire amount to since yesterday?"
"Monsieur, to one louis, with refreshments and the charge for the horse."
"Very well, and that of to-day?"
"Ah! there is the difficulty. This is the day of the king's arrival; if the court comes to sleep here, the charge of the day is reckoned. From that it results that three chambers, at two louis each, makes six louis. Two louis, monsieur, are not much; but six louis make a great deal."
The unknown, from red, as we have seen him, became very pale.
He drew from his pocket, with heroic bravery, a purse embroidered with a coat-of-arms, which he carefully concealed in the hollow of his hand. This purse was of a thinness, a flabbiness, a hollowness, which did not escape the eye of Cropole.
The unknown emptied the purse into his hand. It contained three double louis, which amounted to the six louis demanded by the host.
But it was seven that Cropole had required.
He looked, therefore, at the unknown, as much as to say, "And then?"
"There remains one louis, does there not, master hotelier?"
"Yes, monsieur, but——"
The unknown plunged his hand into the pocket of his haut-de-chausses, and emptied it. It contained a small pocket-book, a gold key, and some silver. With this change he made up a louis.
"Thank you, monsieur," said Cropole. "It now only remains for me to ask whether monsieur intends to occupy his apartments to-morrow, in which case I will reserve them for him; whereas, if monsieur does not mean to do so, I will promise them to some of the king's people who are coming."
"That is but right," said the unknown, after a long silence, "but as I have no more money, as you have seen, and as I yet must retain the apartments, you must either sell this diamond in the city, or hold it in pledge."
Cropole looked at the diamond so long, that the unknown said, hastily:
"I prefer your selling it, monsieur; for it is worth three hundred pistoles. A Jew—are there any Jews in Blois?—would give you two hundred or a hundred and fifty for it—take whatever may be offered for it, if it be no more than the price of your lodging. Begone!"
"Oh! monsieur," replied Cropole, ashamed of the sudden inferiority which the unknown reflected upon him by this noble and disinterested confidence, as well as by the unalterable patience opposed to so many suspicions and evasions. "Oh, monsieur, I hope people are not so dishonest at Blois as you seem to think, and that the diamond, being worth what you say——"
The unknown here again darted at Cropole one of his withering glances.
"I really do not understand diamonds, monsieur, I assure you," cried he.
"But the jewelers do: ask them," said the unknown. "Now I believe our accounts are settled, are they not, monsieur l'hote?"
"Yes, monsieur, and to my profound regret; for I fear I have offended monsieur."
"Not at all!" replied the unknown, with ineffable majesty.
"Or have appeared to be extortionate with a noble traveler. Consider, monsieur, the peculiarity of the case."
"Say no more about it, I desire; and leave me to myself."
Cropole bowed profoundly, and left the room with a stupefied air, which announced that he had a good heart, and felt genuine remorse.
The unknown himself shut the door after him, and when left alone, looked mournfully at the bottom of the purse, from which he had taken a small silken bag containing the diamond, his last resource.
He dwelt likewise upon the emptiness of his pockets, turned over the papers in his pocket-book, and convinced himself of the state of absolute destitution in which he was about to be plunged.
He raised his eyes towards heaven, with a sublime emotion of despairing calmness, brushed off with his hand some drops of sweat which trickled over his noble brow, and then cast down upon the earth a look which just before had been impressed with almost divine majesty.