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- Ten Years Later - 80/125 -


"How delightful."

"You had better say that all three of you were perfectly well aware that the king was behind the tree, or behind the thicket, whichever it might have been; and that you knew M. de Saint-Aignan was there too."

"Yes, Madame."

"For you cannot disguise it from yourself, Athenais, Saint-Aignan takes advantage of some very flattering remarks you made about him."

"Well, Madame, you see very clearly that one can be overheard," cried Athenais, "since M. de Saint-Aignan overheard us."

Madame bit her lips, for she had thoughtlessly committed herself. "Oh, you know Saint-Aignan's character very well," she said, "the favor the king shows him almost turns his brain, and he talks at random; not only so, he very often invents. That is not the question; the fact remains, did or did not the king overhear?"

"Oh, yes, Madame, he certainly did," said Athenais, in despair.

"In that case, do what I said: maintain boldly that all three of you knew - mind, all three of you, for if there is a doubt about any one of you, there will be a doubt about all, - persist, I say, that you knew that the king and M. de Saint-Aignan were there, and that you wished to amuse yourself at the expense of those who were listening."

"Oh, Madame, at the _king's_ expense; we shall never dare say that!"

"It is a simple jest; an innocent deception readily permitted in young girls whom men wish to take by surprise. In this manner everything explains itself. What Montalais said of Malicorne, a mere jest; what you said of M. de Saint-Aignan, a mere jest too; and what La Valliere might have said of - "

"And which she would have given anything to recall."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Perfectly."

"Very well, an additional reason. Say the whole affair was a mere joke. M. de Malicorne will have no occasion to get out of temper; M. de Saint- Aignan will be completely put out of countenance; _he_ will be laughed at instead of you; and lastly, the king will be punished for a curiosity unworthy of his rank. Let people laugh a little at the king in this affair, and I do not think he will complain of it."

"Oh, Madame, you are indeed an angel of goodness and sense!"

"It is to my own advantage."

"In what way?"

"How can you ask me why it is to my advantage to spare my maids of honor the remarks, annoyances, perhaps even calumnies, that might follow? Alas! you well know that the court has no indulgence for this sort of peccadillo. But we have now been walking for some time, shall we be long before we reach it?"

"About fifty or sixty paces further; turn to the left, Madame, if you please."

"And you are sure of Montalais?" said Madame.

"Oh, certainly."

"Will she do what you ask her?"

"Everything. She will be delighted."

"And La Valliere - " ventured the princess.

"Ah, there will be some difficulty with her, Madame; she would scorn to tell a falsehood."

"Yet, when it is in her interest to do so - "

"I am afraid that that would not make the slightest difference in her ideas."

"Yes, yes," said Madame. "I have been already told that; she is one of those overnice and affectedly particular people who place heaven in the foreground in order to conceal themselves behind it. But if she refuses to tell a falsehood, - as she will expose herself to the jests of the whole court, as she will have annoyed the king by a confession as ridiculous as it was immodest, - Mademoiselle la Baume le Blanc de la Valliere will think it but proper I should send her back again to her pigeons in the country, in order that, in Touraine yonder, or in Le Blaisois, - I know not where it may be, - she may at her ease study sentiment and pastoral life combined."

These words were uttered with a vehemence and harshness that terrified Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente; and the consequence was, that, as far as she was concerned, she promised to tell as many falsehoods as might be necessary. It was in this frame of mind that Madame and her companion reached the precincts of the royal oak.

"Here we are," said Tonnay-Charente.

"We shall soon learn if one can overhear," replied Madame.

"Hush!" whispered the young girl, holding Madame back with a hurried gesture, entirely forgetful of her companion's rank. Madame stopped.

"You see that you can hear," said Athenais.

"How?"

"Listen."

Madame held her breath; and, in fact, the following words pronounced by a gentle and melancholy voice, floated towards them:

"I tell you, vicomte, I tell you I love her madly; I tell you I love her to distraction."

Madame started at the voice; and, beneath her hood, a bright joyous smile illumined her features. It was she who now held back her companion, and with a light step leading her some twenty paces away, that is to say, out of the reach of the voice, she said, "Remain here, my dear Athenais, and let no one surprise us. I think it must be you they are conversing about."

"Me, Madame?"

"Yes, you - or rather your adventure. I will go and listen; if we were both there, we should be discovered. Or, stay! - go and fetch Montalais, and then return and wait for me with her at the entrance of the forest." And then, as Athenais hesitated, she again said "Go!" in a voice which did not admit of reply. Athenais thereupon arranged her dress so as to prevent its rustling being heard; and, by a path beyond the group of trees, she regained the flower-garden. As for Madame, she concealed herself in the thicket, leaning her back against a gigantic chestnut- tree, one of the branches of which had been cut in such a manner as to form a seat, and waited there, full of anxiety and apprehension. "Now," she said, "since one can hear from this place, let us listen to what M. de Bragelonne and that other madly-in-love fool, the Comte de Guiche, have to say about me."

Chapter XLV: In Which Madame Acquires a Proof that Listeners Hear What Is Said.

There was a moment's silence, as if the mysterious sounds of night were hushed to listen, at the same time as Madame, to the youthful passionate disclosures of De Guiche.

Raoul was about to speak. He leaned indolently against the trunk of the large oak, and replied in his sweet and musical voice, "Alas, my dear De Guiche, it is a great misfortune."

"Yes," cried the latter, "great indeed."

"You do not understand me, De Guiche. I say that it is a great misfortune for you, not merely loving, but not knowing how to conceal your love."

"What do you mean?" said De Guiche.

"Yes, you do not perceive one thing; namely, that it is no longer to the only friend you have, - in other words, - to a man who would rather die than betray you; you do not perceive, I say, that it is no longer to your only friend that you confide your passion, but to the first person that approaches you."

"Are you mad, Bragelonne," exclaimed De Guiche, "to say such a thing to me?"

"The fact stands thus, however."

"Impossible! How, in what manner can I have ever been indiscreet to such an extent?"

"I mean, that your eyes, your looks, your sighs, proclaim, in spite of yourself, that exaggerated feeling which leads and hurries a man beyond his own control. In such a case he ceases to be master of himself; he is a prey to a mad passion, that makes him confide his grief to the trees, or to the air, from the very moment he has no longer any living being in reach of his voice. Besides, remember this: it very rarely happens that there is not always some one present to hear, especially the very things which ought _not_ to be heard." De Guiche uttered a deep sigh. "Nay," continued Bragelonne, "you distress me; since your return here, you have a thousand times, and in a thousand different ways, confessed your love for her; and yet, had you not said one word, your return alone would have been a terrible indiscretion. I persist, then, in drawing this conclusion; that if you do not place a better watch over yourself than you have hitherto done, one day or other something will happen that will cause an explosion. Who will save you then? Answer me. Who will save her? for, innocent as she will be of your affection, your affection will be an accusation against her in the hands of her enemies."

"Alas!" murmured De Guiche; and a deep sigh accompanied the exclamation.

"That is not answering me, De Guiche."

"Yes, yes."


Ten Years Later - 80/125

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