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List Of Contents | Contents of Ten Years Later, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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honorable protection; and I must learn what that object is which she has
in view, and who it is that protects her."  And following Malicorne's
maneuver, he made his way toward the group of the maids of honor.  The
presentations were soon over.  The king, who had done nothing but look at
and admire Madame, shortly afterwards left the reception-room,
accompanied by the two queens.  The Chevalier de Lorraine resumed his
place beside Monsieur, and, as he accompanied him, insinuated a few drops
of the venom he had collected during the last hour, while looking at some
of the faces in the court, and suspecting that some of their hearts might
be happy.  A few of the persons present followed the king as he quitted
the apartment; but such of the courtiers as assumed an independence of
character, and professed a gallantry of disposition, began to approach
the ladies of the court.  The prince paid his compliments to Mademoiselle
de Tonnay-Charente, Buckingham devoted himself to Madame Chalais and
Mademoiselle de Lafayette, whom Madame already distinguished by her
notice, and whom she held in high regard.  As for the Comte de Guiche,
who had abandoned Monsieur as soon as he could approach Madame alone, he
conversed, with great animation, with Madame de Valentinois, and with
Mademoiselle de Crequy and de Chatillon.

Amid these varied political, and amorous interests, Malicorne was anxious
to gain Montalais's attention; but the latter preferred talking with
Raoul, even if it were only to amuse herself with his innumerable
questions and his astonishment.  Raoul had gone directly to Mademoiselle
de la Valliere, and had saluted her with the profoundest respect, at
which Louise blushed, and could not say a word.  Montalais, however,
hurried to her assistance.

"Well, monsieur le vicomte, here we are, you see."

"I do, indeed, see you," said Raoul smiling, "and it is exactly because
you are here that I wish to ask for some explanation."

Malicorne approached the group with his most fascinating smile.

"Go away, Malicorne; really you are exceedingly indiscreet."  At this
remark Malicorne bit his lips and retired a few steps, without making any
reply.  His smile, however, changed its expression, and from its former
frankness, became mocking in its expression.

"You wished for an explanation, M. Raoul?" inquired Montalais.

"It is surely worth one, I think; Mademoiselle de la Valliere is a maid
of honor to Madame!"

"Why should she not be a maid of honor, as well as myself?" inquired
Montalais.

"Pray accept my compliments, young ladies," said Raoul, who fancied he
perceived they were not disposed to answer him in a direct manner.

"Your remark was not made in a very complimentary manner, vicomte."

"Mine?"

"Certainly; I appeal to Louise."

"M. de Bragelonne probably thinks the position is above my condition,"
said Louise, hesitatingly.

"Assuredly not," replied Raoul, eagerly, "you know very well that such is
not my feeling; were you called upon to occupy a queen's throne, I should
not be surprised; how much greater reason, then, such a position as
this?  The only circumstance that amazes me is, that I should have
learned it only to-day, and that by the merest accident."

"That is true," replied Montalais, with her usual giddiness; "you know
nothing about it, and there is no reason you should.  M. de Bragelonne
had written several letters to you, but your mother was the only person
who remained behind at Blois, and it was necessary to prevent these
letters from falling into her hands; I intercepted them, and returned
them to M. Raoul, so that he believed you were still at Blois while you
were here in Paris, and had no idea whatever, indeed, how high you had
risen in rank."

"Did you not inform M. Raoul, as I begged you to do?"

"Why should I? to give him opportunity of making some of his severe
remarks and moral reflections, and to undo what we have had so much
trouble in effecting?  Certainly not."

"Am I so very severe, then?" said Raoul, inquiringly.

"Besides," said Montalais, "it is sufficient to say that it suited me.  I
was about setting off for Paris - you were away; Louise was weeping her
eyes out; interpret that as you please; I begged a friend, a protector of
mine, who had obtained the appointment for me, to solicit one for Louise;
the appointment arrived.  Louise left in order to get her costume
prepared; as I had my own ready, I remained behind; I received your
letters, and returned them to you, adding a few words, promising you a
surprise.  Your surprise is before you, monsieur, and seems to be a fair
one enough; you have nothing more to ask.  Come, M. Malicorne, it is now
time to leave these young people together: they have many things to talk
about; give me your hand; I trust that you appreciate the honor conferred
upon you, M. Malicorne."

"Forgive me," said Raoul, arresting the giddy girl, and giving to his
voice an intonation, the gravity of which contrasted with that of
Montalais; "forgive me, but may I inquire the name of the protector you
speak of; for if protection be extended towards you, Mademoiselle de
Montalais, - for which, indeed, so many reasons exist," added Raoul,
bowing, "I do not see that the same reasons exist why Mademoiselle de la
Valliere should be similarly cared for."

"But, M. Raoul," said Louise, innocently, "there is no difference in the
matter, and I do not see why I should not tell it you myself; it was M.
Malicorne who obtained it for me."

Raoul remained for a moment almost stupefied, asking himself if they were
trifling with him; he then turned round to interrogate Malicorne, but he
had been hurried away by Montalais, and was already at some distance from
them.  Mademoiselle de la Valliere attempted to follow her friend, but
Raoul, with gentle authority, detained her.

"Louise, one word, I beg."

"But, M. Raoul, " said Louise, blushing, "we are alone.  Every one has
left.  They will become anxious, and will be looking for us."

"Fear nothing," said the young man, smiling, "we are neither of us of
sufficient importance for our absence to be remarked."

"But I have my duty to perform, M. Raoul."

"Do not be alarmed, I am acquainted with these usages of the court; you
will not be on duty until to-morrow; a few minutes are at your disposal,
which will enable you to give me the information I am about to have the
honor to ask you for."

"How serious you are, M. Raoul!" said Louise.

"Because the circumstances are serious.  Are you listening?"

"I am listening; I would only repeat, monsieur, that we are quite alone."

"You are right," said Raoul, and, offering her his hand, he led the young
girl into the gallery adjoining the reception-room, the windows of which
looked out upon the courtyard.  Every one hurried towards the middle
window, which had a balcony outside, from which all the details of the
slow and formal preparations for departure could be seen.  Raoul opened
one of the side windows, and then, being alone with Louise, said to her:
"You know, Louise, that from my childhood I have regarded you as my
sister, as one who has been the confidante of all my troubles, to whom I
have entrusted all my hopes."

"Yes, M. Raoul," she answered softly; "yes, M. Raoul, I know that."

"You used, on your side, to show the same friendship towards me, and had
the same confidence in me; why have you not, on this occasion, been my
friend, - why have you shown suspicion of me?"

Mademoiselle de la Valliere did not answer.  "I fondly thought you loved
me," said Raoul, whose voice became more and more agitated; "I fondly
thought you consented to all the plans we had, together, laid down for
our own happiness, at the time when we wandered up and down the walks of
Cour-Cheverny, under the avenue of poplar trees leading to Blois.  You do
not answer me, Louise.  Is it possible," he inquired, breathing with
difficulty, "that you no longer love me?"

"I did not say so," replied Louise, softly.

"Oh! tell me the truth, I implore you.  All my hopes in life are centered
in you.  I chose you for your gentle and simple tastes.  Do not suffer
yourself to be dazzled, Louise, now that you are in the midst of a court
where all that is pure too soon becomes corrupt - where all that is young
too soon grows old.  Louise, close your ears, so as not to hear what may
be said; shut your eyes, so as not to see the examples before you; shut
your lips, that you may not inhale the corrupting influences about you.
Without falsehood or subterfuge, Louise, am I to believe what
Mademoiselle de Montalais stated?  Louise, did you come to Paris because
I was no longer at Blois?"

La Valliere blushed and concealed her face in her hands.

"Yes, it was so, then!" exclaimed Raoul, delightedly; "that was, then,
your reason for coming here.  I love you as I never yet loved you.
Thanks, Louise, for this devotion; but measures must be taken to place
you beyond all insult, to shield you from every lure.  Louise, a maid of
honor, in the court of a young princess in these days of free manners and
inconstant affections - a maid of honor is placed as an object of attack
without having any means of defence afforded her; this state of things
cannot continue; you must be married in order to be respected."

"Married?"

"Yes, here is my hand, Louise; will you place yours within it?"

"But your father?"

"My father leaves me perfectly free."

"Yet - "

"I understand your scruples, Louise; I will consult my father."

"Reflect, M. Raoul; wait."

"Wait! it is impossible.  Reflect, Louise, when _you_ are concerned! it
would be insulting, - give me your hand, dear Louise; I am my own
master.  My father will consent, I know; give me your hand, do not
keep me waiting thus.  One word in answer, one word only; if not, I shall
begin to think that, in order to change you forever, nothing more was
needed than a single step in the palace, a single breath of favor, a
smile from the queen, a look from the king."

Raoul had no sooner pronounced this latter word, than La Valliere became
as pale as death, no doubt from fear at seeing the young man excite

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