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- Louise de la Valliere - 100/112 -
"Oh, no," said Athos, sadly, "I have as little bravado as fear in my soul. The God of whom I spoke to you is now listening to me; He knows that for the safety and honor of your crown I would even yet shed every drop of blood twenty years of civil and foreign warfare have left in my veins. I can well say, then, that I threaten the king as little as I threaten the man; but I tell you, sire, you lose two servants; for you have destroyed faith in the heart of the father, and love in the heart of the son; the one ceases to believe in the royal word, the other no longer believes in the loyalty of the man, or the purity of woman: the one is dead to every feeling of respect, the other to obedience. Adieu!"
Thus saying, Athos broke his sword across his knee, slowly placed the two pieces upon the floor, and saluting the king, who was almost choking from rage and shame, he quitted the cabinet. Louis, who sat near the table, completely overwhelmed, was several minutes before he could collect himself; but he suddenly rose and rang the bell violently. "Tell M. d'Artagnan to come here," he said to the terrified ushers.
Chapter LIX: After the Storm.
Our readers will doubtlessly have been asking themselves how it happened that Athos, of whom not a word has been said for some time past, arrived so very opportunely at court. We will, without delay, endeavor to satisfy their curiosity.
Porthos, faithful to his duty as an arranger of affairs, had, immediately after leaving the Palais Royal, set off to join Raoul at the Minimes in the Bois de Vincennes, and had related everything, even to the smallest details, which had passed between Saint-Aignan and himself. He finished by saying that the message which the king had sent to his favorite would probably not occasion more than a short delay, and that Saint-Aignan, as soon as he could leave the king, would not lose a moment in accepting the invitation Raoul had sent him.
But Raoul, less credulous than his old friend, had concluded from Porthos's recital that if Saint-Aignan was going to the king, Saint- Aignan would tell the king everything, and that the king would most assuredly forbid Saint-Aignan to obey the summons he had received to the hostile meeting. The consequence of his reflections was, that he had left Porthos to remain at the place appointed for the meeting, in the very improbable case that Saint-Aignan would come there; having endeavored to make Porthos promise that he would not remain there more than an hour or an hour and a half at the very longest. Porthos, however, formally refused to do anything of the kind, but, on the contrary, installed himself in the Minimes as if he were going to take root there, making Raoul promise that when he had been to see his father, he would return to his own apartments, in order that Porthos's servant might know where to find him in case M. de Saint-Aignan should happen to come to the rendezvous.
Bragelonne had left Vincennes, and proceeded at once straight to the apartments of Athos, who had been in Paris during the last two days, the comte having been already informed of what had taken place, by a letter from D'Artagnan. Raoul arrived at his father's; Athos, after having held out his hand to him, and embraced him most affectionately, made a sign for him to sit down.
"I know you come to me as a man would go to a friend, vicomte, whenever he is suffering; tell me, therefore, what is it that brings you now."
The young man bowed, and began his recital; more than once in the course of it his tears almost choked his utterance, and a sob, checked in his throat, compelled him to suspend his narrative for a few minutes. Athos most probably already knew how matters stood, as we have just now said D'Artagnan had already written to him; but, preserving until the conclusion that calm, unruffled composure of manner which constituted the almost superhuman side of his character, he replied, "Raoul, I do not believe there is a word of truth in these rumors; I do not believe in the existence of what you fear, although I do not deny that persons best entitled to the fullest credit have already conversed with me on the subject. In my heart and soul I think it utterly impossible that the king could be guilty of such an outrage on a gentleman. I will answer for the king, therefore, and will soon bring you back the proof of what I say."
Raoul, wavering like a drunken man between what he had seen with his own eyes and the imperturbable faith he had in a man who had never told a falsehood, bowed and simply answered, "Go, then, monsieur le comte; I will await your return." And he sat down, burying his face in his hands. Athos dressed, and then left him, in order to wait upon the king; the result of that interview is already known to our readers.
When he returned to his lodgings, Raoul, pale and dejected, had not quitted his attitude of despair. At the sound, however, of the opening doors, and of his father's footsteps as he approached him, the young man raised his head. Athos's face was very pale, his head uncovered, and his manner full of seriousness; he gave his cloak and hat to the lackey, dismissed him with a gesture, and sat down near Raoul.
"Well, monsieur," inquired the young man, "are you convinced yet?"
"I am, Raoul; the king loves Mademoiselle de la Valliere."
"He confesses it, then?" cried Raoul.
"Yes," replied Athos.
"I have not seen her."
"No; but the king spoke to you about her. What did he say?"
"He says that she loves him."
"Oh, you see - you see, monsieur!" said the young man, with a gesture of despair.
"Raoul," resumed the comte, "I told the king, believe me, all that you yourself could possibly have urged, and I believe I did so in becoming language, though sufficiently firm."
"And what did you say to him, monsieur?"
"I told him, Raoul, that everything was now at an end between him and ourselves; that you would never serve him again. I told him that I, too, should remain aloof. Nothing further remains for me, then, but to be satisfied of one thing."
"What is that, monsieur?"
"Whether you have determined to adopt any steps."
"Any steps? Regarding what?"
"With reference to your disappointed affection, and - your ideas of vengeance."
"Oh, monsieur, with regard to my affection, I shall, perhaps, some day or other, succeed in tearing it from my heart; I trust I shall do so, aided by Heaven's merciful help, and your own wise exhortations. As far as vengeance is concerned, it occurred to me only when under the influence of an evil thought, for I could not revenge myself upon the one who is actually guilty; I have, therefore, already renounced every idea of revenge."
"And you no longer think of seeking a quarrel with M. de Saint-Aignan?"
"No, monsieur; I sent him a challenge: if M. de Saint-Aignan accepts it, I will maintain it; if he does not take it up, I will leave things as they are."
"And La Valliere?"
"You cannot, I know, have seriously thought that I should dream of revenging myself upon a woman!" replied Raoul, with a smile so sad that a tear started even to the eyes of his father, who had so many times in the course of his life bowed beneath his own sorrows and those of others.
He held out his hand to Raoul, which the latter seized most eagerly.
"And so, monsieur le comte, you are quite satisfied that the misfortune is one beyond all remedy?" inquired the young man.
"Poor boy!" he murmured.
"You think that I still live in hope," said Raoul, "and you pity me. Oh, it is indeed horrible suffering for me to despise, as I am bound to do, the one I have loved so devotedly. If I had but some real cause of complaint against her, I should be happy, I should be able to forgive her."
Athos looked at his son with a profoundly sorrowful air, for the words Raoul had just pronounced seemed to have issued out of his own heart. At this moment the servant announced M. d'Artagnan. This name sounded very differently to the ears of Athos and Raoul. The musketeer entered the room with a vague smile on his lips. Raoul paused. Athos walked towards his friend with an expression of face that did not escape Bragelonne. D'Artagnan answered Athos's look by an imperceptible movement of the eyelid; and then, advancing towards Raoul, whom he took by the hand, he said, addressing both father and son, "Well, you are trying to console this poor boy, it seems."
"And you, kind and good as usual, have come to help me in my difficult task."
As he said this, Athos pressed D'Artagnan's hand between both his own. Raoul fancied he observed in this pressure something beyond the sense his mere words conveyed.
"Yes," replied the musketeer, smoothing his mustache with the hand that Athos had left free, "yes, I have come too."
"You are most welcome, chevalier; not for the consolation you bring with you, but on your own account. I am already consoled," said Raoul; and he attempted to smile, but the effort was more sad than any tears D'Artagnan had ever seen shed.
"That is all well and good, then," said D'Artagnan.
"Only," continued Raoul, "you have arrived just as the comte was about to give me the details of his interview with the king. You will allow the comte to continue?" added the young man, as, with his eyes fixed on the musketeer, he seemed to read the very depths of his heart.
"His interview with the king?" said D'Artagnan, in a tone so natural and unassumed that there was no means of suspecting that his astonishment was
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