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List Of Contents | Contents of Ten Years Later, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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not return, will suppose we have taken another road back, and that he
will not follow the carriages belonging to the court?"

"Oh, there is no fear of that," said Fouquet; "whenever I place my
coachman and my carriage in any particular spot, nothing but an express
order from the king could stir them; and more than that, too, it seems
that we are not the only ones who have come so far, for I hear footsteps
and the sound of voices."

As he spoke, Fouquet turned round, and opened with his cane a mass of
foliage which hid the path from his view.  Aramis's glance as well as his
own plunged at the same moment through the aperture he had made.

"A woman," said Aramis.

"And a man," said Fouquet.

"It is La Valliere and the king," they both exclaimed together.

"Oh, oh!" said Aramis, "is his majesty aware of your cavern as well?  I
should not be astonished if he were, for he seems to be on very good
terms with the dryads of Fontainebleau."

"Never mind," said Fouquet; "let us get there.  If he is not aware of it,
we shall see what he will do if he should know it, as it has two
entrances, so that whilst he enters by one, we can leave by the other."

"Is it far?" asked Aramis, "for the rain is beginning to penetrate."

"We are there now," said Fouquet, as he pushed aside a few branches, and
an excavation in the solid rock could be observed, hitherto concealed by
heaths, ivy, and a thick covert of small shrubs.

Fouquet led the way, followed by Aramis; but as the latter entered the
grotto, he turned round, saying: "Yes, they are entering the wood; and,
see, they are bending their steps this way."

"Very well; let us make room for them," said Fouquet, smiling and pulling
Aramis by his cloak; "but I do not think the king knows of my grotto."

"Yes," said Aramis, "they are looking about them, but it is only for a
thicker tree."

Aramis was not mistaken, the king's looks were directed upward, and not
around him.  He held La Valliere's arm within his own, and held her hand
in his.  La Valliere's feet began to sleep on the damp grass.  Louis
again looked round him with greater attention than before, and perceiving
an enormous oak with wide-spreading branches, he hurriedly drew La
Valliere beneath its protecting shelter.  The poor girl looked round her
on all sides, and seemed half afraid, half desirous of being followed.
The king made her lean back against the trunk of the tree, whose vast
circumference, protected by the thickness of the foliage, was as dry as
if at that moment the rain had not been falling in torrents.  He himself
remained standing before her with his head uncovered.  After a few
minutes, however, some drops of rain penetrated through the branches of
the tree and fell on the king's forehead, who did not pay any attention
to them.

"Oh, sire!" murmured La Valliere, pushing the king's hat towards him.
But the king simply bowed, and determinedly refused to cover his head.

"Now or never is the time to offer your place," said Fouquet in Aramis's
ear.

"Now or never is the time to listen, and not lose a syllable of what they
may have to say to each other," replied Aramis in Fouquet's ear.

In fact they both remained perfectly silent, and the king's voice reached
them where they were.

"Believe me," said the king, "I perceive, or rather I can imagine your
uneasiness; believe me, I sincerely regret having isolated you from the
rest of the company, and brought you, also, to a spot where you will be
inconvenienced by the rain.  You are wet already, and perhaps cold too?"

"No, sire."

"And yet you tremble?"

"I am afraid, sire, that my absence may be misinterpreted; at a moment,
too, when all the others are reunited."

"I would not hesitate to propose returning to the carriages, Mademoiselle
de la Valliere, but pray look and listen, and tell me if it be possible
to attempt to make the slightest progress at present?"

In fact the thunder was still rolling, and the rain continued to fall in
torrents.

"Besides," continued the king, "no possible interpretation can be made
which would be to your discredit.  Are you not with the king of France;
in other words, with the first gentleman of the kingdom?"

"Certainly, sire," replied La Valliere, "and it is a very distinguished
honor for me; it is not, therefore, for myself that I fear any
interpretations that may be made."

"For whom, then?"

"For you, sire."

"For _me?_" said the king, smiling, "I do not understand you."

"Has your majesty already forgotten what took place yesterday evening in
her royal highness's apartments?"

"Oh! forget that, I beg, or allow me to remember it for no other purpose
than to thank you once more for your letter, and - "

"Sire," interrupted La Valliere, "the rain is falling, and your majesty's
head is uncovered."

"I entreat you not to think of anything but yourself."

"Oh!  I," said La Valliere, smiling, "I am a country girl, accustomed to
roaming through the meadows of the Loire and the gardens of Blois,
whatever the weather may be.  And, as for my clothes," she added, looking
at her simple muslin dress, "your majesty sees there is but little room
for injury."

"Indeed, I have already noticed, more than once, that you owed nearly
everything to yourself and nothing to your toilette.  Your freedom from
coquetry is one of your greatest charms in my eyes."

"Sire, do not make me out better than I am, and say merely, 'You cannot
possibly be a coquette.'"

"Why so?"

"Because," said La Valliere, smiling, "I am not rich."

"You admit, then," said the king, quickly, "that you have a love for
beautiful things?"

"Sire, I only regard those things as beautiful which are within my
reach.  Everything which is too highly placed for me - "

"You are indifferent to?"

"Is foreign to me, as being prohibited."

"And I," said the king, "do not find that you are at my court on the
footing you should be.  The services of your family have not been
sufficiently brought under my notice.  The advancement of your family was
cruelly neglected by my uncle."

"On the contrary, sire.  His royal highness, the Duke of Orleans, was
always exceedingly kind towards M. de Saint-Remy, my step-father.  The
services rendered were humble, and, properly speaking, our services have
been adequately recognized.  It is not every one who is happy enough to
find opportunities of serving his sovereign with distinction.  I have no
doubt at all, that, if ever opportunities had been met with, my family's
actions would have been as lofty as their loyalty was firm: but that
happiness was never ours."

"In that case, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, it belongs to kings to repair
the want of opportunity, and most delightedly do I undertake to repair,
in your instance, and with the least possible delay, the wrongs of
fortune towards you."

"Nay, sire," cried La Valliere, eagerly; "leave things, I beg, as they
are now."

"Is it possible! you refuse what I ought, and what I wish to do for you?"

"All I desired has been granted me, when the honor was conferred upon me
of forming one of Madame's household."

"But if you refuse for yourself, at least accept for your family."

"Your generous intentions, sire, bewilder me and make me apprehensive,
for, in doing for my family what your kindness urges you to do, your
majesty will raise up enemies for us, and enemies for yourself, too.
Leave me in the ranks of middle life, sire; of all the feelings and
sentiments I experience, leave me to enjoy the pleasing instinct of
disinterestedness."

"The sentiments you express," said the king, "are indeed admirable."

"Quite true," murmured Aramis in Fouquet's ear, "and he cannot be
accustomed to them."

"But," replied Fouquet, "suppose she were to make a similar reply to my
letter."

"True!" said Aramis, "let us not anticipate, but wait the conclusion."

"And then, dear Monsieur d'Herblay," added the superintendent, hardly
able to appreciate the sentiments which La Valliere had just expressed,
"it is very often sound calculation to seem disinterested with monarchs."

"Exactly what I was thinking this very minute," said Aramis.  "Let us
listen."

The king approached nearer to La Valliere, and as the rain dripped more
and more through the foliage of the oak, he held his hat over the head of
the young girl, who raised her beautiful blue eyes towards the royal hat
which sheltered her, and shook her head, sighing deeply as she did so.

"What melancholy thought," said the king, "can possibly reach your heart
when I place mine as a rampart before it?"

"I will tell you, sire.  I had already once before broached this question,
which is so difficult for a young girl of my age to discuss, but your
majesty imposed silence on me.  Your majesty belongs not to yourself
alone: you are married; and every sentiment which would separate your
majesty from the queen, in leading you to take notice of me, will be a
source of profoundest sorrow for the queen."  The king endeavored to
interrupt the young girl, but she continued with a suppliant gesture.
"The Queen Maria, with an attachment which can be well understood,
follows with her eyes every step of your majesty which separates you from
her.  Happy enough in having had her fate united to your own, she
weepingly implores Heaven to preserve you to her, and is jealous of the
faintest throb of your heart bestowed elsewhere."  The king again seemed
anxious to speak, but again did La Valliere venture to prevent him. -
"Would it not, therefore, be a most blamable action," she continued, "if
your majesty, a witness of this anxious and disinterested affection, gave
the queen any cause for jealousy?  Forgive me, sire, for the expressions
I have used.  I well know it is impossible, or rather that it would be
impossible, that the greatest queen of the whole world could be jealous
of a poor girl like myself.  But though a queen, she is still a woman,
and her heart, like that of the rest of her sex, cannot close itself
against the suspicions which such as are evilly disposed, insinuate.  For
Heaven's sake, sire, think no more of me; I am unworthy of your regard."

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