"Yes, but not one of the kind given in the Bois de Vincennes," replied the king. "You forget, sire," said Saint-Aignan, "that I am a gentleman, and that I have been challenged." "The challenge neither concerns nor was it intended for you." "But I am the man, sire, who has been expected at the Minimes, sire, during the last hour and more; and I shall be dishonored if I do not go." "The first honor and duty of a gentleman is obedience to his sovereign." "Sire!" "I order you to remain." "Sire!" "Obey, monsieur!" "As your majesty pleases." "Besides, I wish to have the whole of this affair explained; I wish to know how it is that I have been so insolently trifled with, as to have the sanctuary of my affections pried into. It is not you, Saint-Aignan, whose business it is to punish those who have acted in this manner, for it is not your honor they have attacked, but my own." "I implore your majesty not to overwhelm M. de Bragelonne with your wrath, for although in the whole of this affair he may have shown himself deficient in prudence, he has not been so in his feelings of loyalty." "Enough! I shall know how to decide between the just and the unjust, even in the height of my anger. But take care that not a word of this is breathed to Madame." "But what am I to do with regard to M. de Bragelonne? He will be seeking me in every direction, and - " "I shall either have spoken to him, or taken care that he has been spoken to, before the evening is over." "Let me once more entreat your majesty to be indulgent towards him." "I have been indulgent long enough, comte," said Louis XIV., frowning severely; "it is now quite time to show certain persons that I am master in my own palace." The king had hardly pronounced these words, which betokened that a fresh feeling of irritation was mingling with the recollections of old, when an usher appeared at the door of the cabinet. "What is the matter?" inquired the king, "and why do you presume to come when I have not summoned you?" "Sire," said the usher, "your majesty desired me to permit M. le Comte de la Fere to pass freely on any and every occasion, when he might wish to speak to your majesty." "Well, monsieur?" "M. le Comte de la Fere is now waiting to see your majesty." The king and Saint-Aignan at this reply exchanged a look which betrayed more uneasiness than surprise. Louis hesitated for a moment, but immediately afterwards, seeming to make up his mind, he said: "Go, Saint-Aignan, and find Louise; inform her of the plot against us; do not let her be ignorant that Madame will return to her system of persecutions against her, and that she has set those to work who would have found it far safer to remain neuter." "Sire - " "If Louise gets nervous and frightened, reassure her as much as you can; tell her that the king's affection is an impenetrable shield over her; if, which I suspect is the case, she already knows everything, or if she has already been herself subjected to an attack of some kind or other from any quarter, tell her, be sure to tell her, Saint-Aignan," added the king, trembling with passion, "tell her, I say, that this time, instead of defending her, I will avenge her, and that too so terribly that no one will in future even dare to raise his eyes towards her." "Is that all, sire?" "Yes, all. Go as quickly as you can, and remain faithful; for, you who live in the midst of this stake of infernal torments, have not, like myself, the hope of the paradise beyond it." Saint-Aignan exhausted himself in protestations of devotion, took the king's hand, kissed it, and left the room radiant with delight. Chapter LVIII: King and Noble. The king endeavored to recover his self-possession as quickly as possible, in order to meet M. de la Fere with an untroubled countenance. He clearly saw it was not mere chance that had induced the comte's visit, he had some vague impression of its importance; but he felt that to a man of Athos's tone of mind, to one of such a high order of intellect, his first reception ought not to present anything either disagreeable or otherwise than kind and courteous. As soon as the king had satisfied himself that, as far as appearances went, he was perfectly calm again, he gave directions to the ushers to introduce the comte. A few minutes afterwards Athos, in full court dress, and with his breast covered with the orders that he alone had the right to wear at the court of France, presented himself with so grave and solemn an air that the king perceived, at the first glance, that he was not deceived in his anticipations. Louis advanced a step towards the comte, and, with a smile, held out his hand to him, over which Athos bowed with the air of the deepest respect. "Monsieur le Comte de la Fere," said the king rapidly, "you are so seldom here, that it is a real piece of good fortune to see you." Athos bowed and replied, "I should wish always to enjoy the happiness of being near your majesty." The tone, however, in which this reply was conveyed, evidently signified, "I should wish to be one of your majesty's advisers, to save you the commission of faults." The king felt it so, and determined in this man's presence to preserve all the advantages which could be derived from his command over himself, as well as from his rank and position. "I see you have something to say to me," he said. "Had it not been so, I should not have presumed to present myself before your majesty." "Speak quickly, I am anxious to satisfy you," returned the king, seating himself. "I am persuaded," replied Athos, in a somewhat agitated tone of voice, "that your majesty will give me every satisfaction." "Ah!" said the king, with a certain haughtiness of manner, "you have come to lodge a complaint here, then?" "It would be a complaint," returned Athos, "only in the event of your majesty - but if you will deign to permit me, sire, I will begin the conversation from the very commencement." "Do so, I am listening." "Your majesty will remember that at the period of the Duke of Buckingham's departure, I had the honor of an interview with you." "At or about that period, I think I remember you did; only, with regard to the subject of the conversation, I have quite forgotten it." Athos started, as he replied. "I shall have the honor to remind your majesty of it. It was with regard to a formal demand I had addressed to you respecting a marriage which M. de Bragelonne wished to contract with Mademoiselle de la Valliere." "Ah!" thought the king, "we have come to it now. - I remember," he said, aloud. "At that period," pursued Athos, "your majesty was so kind and generous towards M. de Bragelonne and myself, that not a single word which then fell from your lips has escaped my memory; and, when I asked your majesty to accord me Mademoiselle de la Valliere's hand for M. de Bragelonne, you refused." "Quite true," said Louis, dryly. "Alleging," Athos hastened to say, "that the young lady had no position in society." Louis could hardly force himself to listen with an appearance of royal propriety. "That," added Athos, "she had but little fortune." The king threw himself back in his armchair. "That her extraction was indifferent." A renewed impatience on the part of the king. "And little beauty," added Athos, pitilessly. This last bolt buried itself deep in the king's heart, and made him almost bound from his seat. "You have a good memory, monsieur," he said. "I invariably have, on occasions when I have had the distinguished honor of an interview with your majesty," retorted the comte, without being in the least disconcerted. "Very good: it is admitted that I said all that." "And I thanked your majesty for your remarks at the time, because they testified an interest in M. de Bragelonne which did him much honor." "And you may possibly remember," said the king, very deliberately, "that you had the greatest repugnance for this marriage." "Quite true, sire." "And that you solicited my permission, much against your own inclination?" "Yes, sire." "And finally, I remember, for I have a memory nearly as good as your own; I remember, I say, that you observed at the time: 'I do not believe that Mademoiselle de la Valliere loves M. de Bragelonne.' Is that true?" The blow told well, but Athos did not draw back. "Sire," he said, "I have already begged your majesty's forgiveness; but there are certain particulars in that conversation which are only intelligible from the _denouement_." "Well, what is the _denouement_, monsieur?" "This: that your majesty then said, 'that you would defer the marriage out of regard for M. de Bragelonne's own interests.'" The king remained silent. "M. de Bragelonne is now so exceedingly unhappy that he cannot any longer defer asking your majesty for a solution of the matter." The king turned pale; Athos looked at him with fixed attention. "And what," said the king, with considerable hesitation, "does M. de Bragelonne request?" "Precisely the very thing that I came to ask your majesty for at my last audience, namely, your majesty's consent to his marriage." The king remained perfectly silent. "The questions which referred to the different obstacles in the way are all now quite removed for us," continued Athos. "Mademoiselle de la Valliere, without fortune, birth, or beauty, is not the less on that account the only good match in the world for M. de Bragelonne, since he loves this young girl." The king pressed his hands impatiently together. "Does your majesty hesitate?" inquired the comte, without losing a particle of either his firmness of his politeness. "I do not hesitate - I refuse," replied the king. Athos paused a moment, as if to collect himself: "I have had the honor," he said, in a mild tone, "to observe to your majesty that no obstacle now interferes with M. de Bragelonne's affections, and that his determination seems unalterable." "There is my will - and that is an obstacle, I should imagine!"
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