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List Of Contents | Contents of Louise de la Valliere, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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politician.  Louis XIV. was right, and it is well known that he was
tolerably well acquainted with human nature.


Chapter XXXII:
Which Treats of Gardeners, of Ladders, and Maids of Honor.

Miracles, unfortunately, could not be always happening, whilst Madame's
ill-humor still continued.  In a week's time, matters had reached such a
point, that the king could no longer look at La Valliere without a look
full of suspicion crossing his own.  Whenever a promenade was proposed,
Madame, in order to avoid the recurrence of similar scenes to that of the
thunder-storm, or the royal oak, had a variety of indispositions ready
prepared; and, thanks to them, she was unable to go out, and her maids of
honor were obliged to remain indoors also.  There was not the slightest
chance of means of paying a nocturnal visit; for in this respect the king
had, on the very first occasion, experienced a severe check, which
happened in the following manner.  As at Fontainebleau, he had taken
Saint-Aignan with him one evening when he wished to pay La Valliere a
visit; but he had found no one but Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, who
had begun to call out "Fire!" and "Thieves!" in such a manner that a
perfect legion of chamber-maids, attendants, and pages, ran to her
assistance; so that Saint-Aignan, who had remained behind in order to
save the honor of his royal master, who had fled precipitately, was
obliged to submit to a severe scolding from the queen-mother, as well as
from Madame herself.  In addition, he had, the next morning, received two
challenges from the De Mortemart family, and the king had been obliged to
interfere.  This mistake had been owing to the circumstance of Madame
having suddenly ordered a change in the apartments of her maids of honor,
and directed La Valliere and Montalais to sleep in her own cabinet.  No
gateway, therefore, was any longer open - not even communication by
letter; to write under the eyes of so ferocious an Argus as Madame, whose
temper and disposition were so uncertain, was to run the risk of exposure
to the greatest danger; and it can well be conceived into what a state of
continuous irritation, and ever increasing anger, all these petty
annoyances threw the young lion.  The king almost tormented himself to
death endeavoring to discover a means of communication; and, as he did
not think proper to call in the aid of Malicorne or D'Artagnan, the means
were not discovered at all.  Malicorne had, indeed, occasional brilliant
flashes of imagination, with which he tried to inspire the king with
confidence; but, whether from shame or suspicion, the king, who had at
first begun to nibble at the bait, soon abandoned the hook.  In this way,
for instance, one evening, while the king was crossing the garden, and
looking up at Madame's windows, Malicorne stumbled over a ladder lying
beside a border of box, and said to Manicamp, then walking with him
behind the king, "Did you not see that I just now stumbled against a
ladder, and was nearly thrown down?"

"No," said Manicamp, as usual very absent-minded, "but it appears you did
not fall."

"That doesn't matter; but it is not on that account the less dangerous to
leave ladders lying about in that manner."

"True, one might hurt one's self, especially when troubled with fits of
absence of mind."

"I don't mean that; what I did mean, was that it is dangerous to allow
ladders to lie about so near the windows of the maids of honor."  Louis
started imperceptibly.

"Why so?" inquired Manicamp.

"Speak louder," whispered Malicorne, as he touched him with his arm.

"Why so?" said Manicamp, louder.  The king listened.

"Because, for instance," said Malicorne, "a ladder nineteen feet high is
just the height of the cornice of those windows."  Manicamp, instead of
answering, was dreaming of something else.

"Ask me, can't you, what windows I mean," whispered Malicorne.

"But what windows are you referring to?" said Manicamp, aloud.

"The windows of Madame's apartments."

"Eh!"

"Oh!  I don't say that any one would ever venture to go up a ladder into
Madame's room; but in Madame's cabinet, merely separated by a partition,
sleep two exceedingly pretty girls, Mesdemoiselles de la Valliere and de
Montalais."

"By a partition?" said Manicamp.

"Look; you see how brilliantly lighted Madame's apartments are - well, do
you see those two windows?"

"Yes."

"And that window close to the others, but more dimly lighted?"

"Yes."

"Well, that is the room of the maids of honor.  Look, there is
Mademoiselle de la Valliere opening the window.  Ah! how many soft things
could an enterprising lover say to her, if he only suspected that there
was lying here a ladder nineteen feet long, which would just reach the
cornice."

"But she is not alone; you said Mademoiselle de Montalais is with her."

"Mademoiselle de Montalais counts for nothing; she is her oldest friend,
and exceedingly devoted to her - a positive well, into which can be
thrown all sorts of secrets one might wish to get rid of."

The king did not lose a single syllable of this conversation.  Malicorne
even remarked that his majesty slackened his pace, in order to give him
time to finish.  So, when they arrived at the door, Louis dismissed every
one, with the exception of Malicorne - a circumstance which excited no
surprise, for it was known that the king was in love; and they suspected
he was going to compose some verses by moonlight; and, although there was
no moon that evening, the king might, nevertheless, have some verses to
compose.  Every one, therefore, took his leave; and, immediately
afterwards, the king turned towards Malicorne, who respectfully waited
until his majesty should address him.  "What were you saying, just now,
about a ladder, Monsieur Malicorne?" he asked.

"Did I say anything about ladders, sire?" said Malicorne, looking up, as
if in search of words which had flown away.

"Yes, of a ladder nineteen feet long."

"Oh, yes, sire, I remember; but I spoke to M. Manicamp, and I should not
have said a word had I known your majesty was near enough to hear us."

"And why would you not have said a word?"

"Because I should not have liked to get the gardener into a scrape who
left it there - poor fellow!"

"Don't make yourself uneasy on that account.  What is this ladder like?"

"If your majesty wishes to see it, nothing is easier, for there it is."

"In that box hedge?"

"Exactly."

"Show it to me."

Malicorne turned back, and led the king up to the ladder, saying, "This
is it, sire."

"Pull it this way a little."

When Malicorne had brought the ladder on to the gravel walk, the king
began to step its whole length.  "Hum!" he said; "you say it is nineteen
feet long?"

"Yes, sire."

"Nineteen feet - that is rather long; I hardly believe it can be so long
as that."

"You cannot judge very correctly with the ladder in that position, sire.
If it were upright, against a tree or a wall, for instance, you would be
better able to judge, because the comparison would assist you a good
deal."

"Oh! it does not matter, M. Malicorne; but I can hardly believe that the
ladder is nineteen feet high."

"I know how accurate your majesty's glance is, and yet I would wager."

The king shook his head.  "There is one unanswerable means of verifying
it," said Malicorne.

"What is that?"

"Every one knows, sire, that the ground-floor of the palace is eighteen
feet high."

"True, that is very well known."

"Well, sire, if I place the ladder against the wall, we shall be able to
ascertain."

"True."

Malicorne took up the ladder, like a feather, and placed it upright
against the wall.  And, in order to try the experiment, he chose, or
chance, perhaps, directed him to choose, the very window of the cabinet
where La Valliere was.  The ladder just reached the edge of the cornice,
that is to say, the sill of the window; so that, by standing upon the
last round but one of the ladder, a man of about the middle height, as
the king was, for instance, could easily talk with those who might be in
the room.  Hardly had the ladder been properly placed, when the king,
dropping the assumed part he had been playing in the comedy, began to
ascend the rounds of the ladder, which Malicorne held at the bottom.  But
hardly had he completed half the distance when a patrol of Swiss guards
appeared in the garden, and advanced straight towards them.  The king
descended with the utmost precipitation, and concealed himself among the
trees.  Malicorne at once perceived that he must offer himself as a
sacrifice; for if he, too, were to conceal himself, the guard would
search everywhere until they had found either himself or the king,
perhaps both.  It would be far better, therefore, that he alone should be
discovered.  And, consequently, Malicorne hid himself so clumsily that he
was the only one arrested.  As soon as he was arrested, Malicorne was
taken to the guard-house, and there he declared who he was, and was
immediately recognized.  In the meantime, by concealing himself first
behind one clump of trees and then behind another, the king reached the
side door of his apartment, very much humiliated, and still more
disappointed.  More than that, the noise made in arresting Malicorne had
drawn La Valliere and Montalais to their window; and even Madame herself
had appeared at her own, with a pair of wax candles, one in each hand,
clamorously asking what was the matter.

In the meantime, Malicorne sent for D'Artagnan, who did not lose a moment
in hurrying to him.  But it was in vain he attempted to make him
understand his reasons, and in vain also that D'Artagnan did understand
them; and, further, it was equally in vain that both their sharp and
intuitive minds endeavored to give another turn to the adventure; there
was no other resource left for Malicorne but to let it be supposed that
he had wished to enter Mademoiselle de Montalais's apartment, as Saint-
Aignan had passed for having wished to force Mademoiselle de Tonnay-
Charente's door.  Madame was inflexible; in the first place, because, if

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