if what you reported about this young girl is true or not. Do you wish me to appeal to these gentlemen, De Wardes, to decide?" And with admirable coolness, De Guiche read aloud the paragraph of the letter which referred to La Valliere. "And now," continued De Guiche, "there is no doubt in the world, as far as I am concerned, that you wished to disturb Bragelonne's peace of mind, and that your remarks were maliciously intended." De Wardes looked round him, to see if he could find support from any one; but, at the idea that De Wardes had insulted, either directly or indirectly, the idol of the day, every one shook his head; and De Wardes saw that he was in the wrong. "Messieurs," said De Guiche, intuitively divining the general feeling, "my discussion with Monsieur de Wardes refers to a subject so delicate in its nature, that it is most important no one should hear more than you have already heard. Close the doors, then, I beg you, and let us finish our conversation in the manner which becomes two gentlemen, one of whom has given the other the lie." "Messieurs, messieurs!" exclaimed those who were present. "Is it your opinion, then, that I was wrong in defending Mademoiselle de la Valliere?" said De Guiche. "In that case, I pass judgment upon myself, and am ready to withdraw the offensive words I may have used to Monsieur de Wardes." "The deuce! certainly not!" said Saint-Aignan. "Mademoiselle de la Valliere is an angel." "Virtue and purity itself," said Manicamp. "You see, Monsieur de Wardes," said De Guiche, "I am not the only one who undertakes the defense of that poor girl. I entreat you, therefore, messieurs, a second time, to leave us. You see, it is impossible we could be more calm and composed than we are." It was the very thing the courtiers wished; some went out at one door, and the rest at the other, and the two young men were left alone. "Well played," said De Wardes, to the comte. "Was it not?" replied the latter. "How can it be wondered at, my dear fellow; I have got quite rusty in the country, while the command you have acquired over yourself, comte, confounds me; a man always gains something in women's society; so, pray accept my congratulations." "I do accept them." "And I will make Madame a present of them." "And now, my dear Monsieur de Wardes, let us speak as loud as you please." "Do not defy me." "I do defy you, for you are known to be an evil-minded man; if you do that, you will be looked upon as a coward, too; and Monsieur would have you hanged, this evening, at his window-casement. Speak, my dear De Wardes, speak." "I have fought already." "But not quite enough, yet." "I see, you would not be sorry to fight with me while my wounds are still open." "No; better still." "The deuce! you are unfortunate in the moment you have chosen; a duel, after the one I have just fought, would hardly suit me; I have lost too much blood at Boulogne; at the slightest effort my wounds would open again, and you would really have too good a bargain." "True," said De Guiche; "and yet, on your arrival here, your looks and your arms showed there was nothing the matter with you." "Yes, my arms are all right, but my legs are weak; and then, I have not had a foil in my hand since that devil of a duel; and you, I am sure, have been fencing every day, in order to carry your little conspiracy against me to a successful issue." "Upon my honor, monsieur," replied De Guiche, "it is six months since I last practiced." "No, comte, after due reflection, I will not fight, at least, with you. I will await Bragelonne's return, since you say it is Bragelonne who finds fault with me." "Oh no, indeed! You shall not wait until Bragelonne's return," exclaimed the comte, losing all command over himself, "for you have said that Bragelonne might, possibly, be some time before he returns; and, in the meanwhile, your wicked insinuations would have had their effect." "Yet, I shall have my excuse. So take care." "I will give you a week to finish your recovery." "That is better. We will wait a week." "Yes, yes, I understand; a week will give time to my adversary to make his escape. No, no; I will not give you one day, even." "You are mad, monsieur," said De Wardes, retreating a step. "And you are a coward, if you do not fight willingly. Nay, what is more, I will denounce you to the king, as having refused to fight, after having insulted La Valliere." "Ah!" said De Wardes, "you are dangerously treacherous, though you pass for a man of honor." "There is nothing more dangerous than the treachery, as you term it, of the man whose conduct is always loyal and upright." "Restore me the use of my legs, then, or get yourself bled, till you are as white as I am, so as to equalize our chances." "No, no; I have something better than that to propose." "What is it?" "We will fight on horseback, and will exchange three pistol-shots each. You are a first rate marksman. I have seen you bring down swallows with single balls, and at full gallop. Do not deny it, for I have seen you myself." "I believe you are right," said De Wardes; "and as that is the case, it is not unlikely I might kill you." "You would be rendering me a very great service, if you did." "I will do my best." "Is it agreed? Give me your hand upon it." "There it is: but on one condition, however." "Name it." "That not a word shall be said about it to the king." "Not a word, I swear." "I will go and get my horse, then." "And I, mine." "Where shall we meet?" "In the plain; I know an admirable place." "Shall we go together?" "Why not?" And both of them, on their way to the stables, passed beneath Madame's windows, which were faintly lighted; a shadow could be seen behind the lace curtains. "There is a woman," said De Wardes, smiling, "who does not suspect that we are going to fight - to die, perhaps, on her account." Chapter XIII: The Combat. De Wardes and De Guiche selected their horses, and saddled them with their own hands, with holster saddles. De Guiche, having two pairs of pistols, went to his apartments to get them; and after having loaded them, gave the choice to De Wardes, who selected the pair he had made use of twenty times before - the same, indeed, with which De Guiche had seen him kill swallows flying. "You will not be surprised," he said, "if I take every precaution. You know the weapons well, and, consequently, I am only making the chances equal." "Your remark was quite useless," replied De Guiche, "and you have done no more than you are entitled to do." "Now," said De Wardes, "I beg you to have the goodness to help me to mount; for I still experience a little difficulty in doing so." "In that case, we had better settle the matter on foot." "No; once in the saddle, I shall be all right." "Very good, then; we will not speak of it again," said De Guiche, as he assisted De Wardes to mount his horse. "And now," continued the young man, "in our eagerness to murder one another, we have neglected one circumstance." "What is that?" "That it is quite dark, and we shall almost be obliged to grope about, in order to kill." "Oh!" said De Guiche, "you are as anxious as I am that everything should be done in proper order." "Yes; but I do not wish people to say that you have assassinated me, any more than, supposing I were to kill you, I should myself like to be accused of such a crime." "Did any one make a similar remark about your duel with the Duke of Buckingham?" said De Guiche; "it took place precisely under the same conditions as ours." "Very true; but there was still light enough to see by; and we were up to our middles almost, in the water; besides, there were a good number of spectators on shore, looking at us." De Guiche reflected for a moment; and the thought which had already presented itself to him became more confirmed - that De Wardes wished to have witnesses present, in order to bring back the conversation about Madame, and to give a new turn to the combat. He avoided saying a word in reply, therefore; and, as De Wardes once more looked at him interrogatively, he replied, by a movement of the head, that it would be best to let things remain as they were. The two adversaries consequently set off, and left the chateau by the same gate, close to which we may remember to have seen Montalais and Malicorne together. The night, as if to counteract the extreme heat of the day, had gathered the clouds together in masses which were moving slowly along from the west to the east. The vault above, without a clear spot anywhere visible, or without the faintest indication of thunder, seemed to hang heavily over the earth, and soon began, by the force of the wind, to split into streamers, like a huge sheet torn to shreds. Large and warm drops of rain began to fall heavily, and gathered the dust into globules, which rolled along the ground. At the same time, the hedges, which seemed conscious of the approaching storm, the thirsty plants, the drooping branches of the trees, exhaled a thousand aromatic odors, which revived in the mind tender recollections, thoughts of youth, endless life, happiness, and love. "How fresh the earth smells," said De Wardes; "it is a piece of coquetry to draw us to her." "By the by," replied De Guiche, "several ideas have just occurred to me; and I wish to have your opinion upon them." "Relative to - " "Relative to our engagement." "It is quite some time, in fact, that we should begin to arrange matters." "Is it to be an ordinary combat, and conducted according to established custom?" "Let me first know what your established custom is." "That we dismount in any particular open space that may suit us, fasten our horses to the nearest object, meet, each without our pistols in our hands, and afterwards retire for a hundred and fifty paces, in order to advance on each other." "Very good; that is precisely the way in which I killed poor Follivent, three weeks ago, at Saint-Denis."
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