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List Of Contents | Contents of Ten Years Later, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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from their attendance, and had changed their costumes of nymphs;
delighted with the beautiful night, and the success of the evening, they
returned to look after their companion.

"What, already here!" they said to her.  "We thought we should be first
at the rendezvous."

"I have been here this quarter of an hour," replied La Valliere.

"Did not the dancing amuse you?"

"No."

"But surely the enchanting spectacle?"

"No more than the dancing.  As far as beauty is concerned, I much prefer
that which these dark woods present, in whose depths can be seen, now in
one direction and again in another, a light passing by, as though it were
an eye, in color like a midnight rainbow, sometimes open, at others
closed."

"La Valliere is quite a poetess," said Tonnay-Charente.

"In other words," said Montalais, "she is insupportable.  Whenever there
is a question of laughing a little or of amusing ourselves, La Valliere
begins to cry; whenever we girls have reason to cry, because, perhaps, we
have mislaid our dresses, or because our vanity as been wounded, or our
costume fails to produce an effect, La Valliere laughs."

"As far as I am concerned, that is not my character," said Mademoiselle
de Tonnay-Charente.  "I am a woman; and there are few like me; whoever
loves me, flatters me; whoever flatters me, pleases me; and whoever
pleases - "

"Well!" said Montalais, "you do not finish."

"It is too difficult," replied Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, laughing
loudly.  "Do you, who are so clever, finish for me."

"And you, Louise?" said Montalais, "does any one please you?"

"That is a matter that concerns no one but myself," replied the young
girl, rising from the mossy bank on which she had been reclining during
the whole time the ballet lasted.  "Now, mesdemoiselles, we have agreed
to amuse ourselves to-night without any one to overlook us, and without
any escort.  We are three in number, we like one another, and the night
is lovely.  Look yonder, do you not see the moon slowly rising, silvering
the topmost branches of the chestnuts and the oaks.  Oh, beautiful walk!
sweet liberty! exquisite soft turf of the woods, the happiness which your
friendship confers upon me! let us walk arm in arm towards those large
trees.  Out yonder all are at this moment seated at table and fully
occupied, or preparing to adorn themselves for a set and formal
promenade; horses are being saddled, or harnessed to the carriages - the
queen's mules or Madame's four white ponies.  As for ourselves, we shall
soon reach some retired spot where no eyes can see us and no step follow
ours.  Do you not remember, Montalais, the woods of Cheverny and of
Chambord, the innumerable rustling poplars of Blois, where we exchanged
our mutual hopes?"

"And confidences too?"

"Yes."

"Well," said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, "I also think a good deal;
but I take care - "

"To say nothing," said Montalais, "so that when Mademoiselle de Tonnay-
Charente thinks, Athenais is the only one who knows it."

"Hush!" said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, "I hear steps approaching
from this side."

"Quick, quick, then, among the high reed-grass," said Montalais; "stoop,
Athenais, you are so tall."

Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente stooped as she was told, and, almost at
the same moment, they saw two gentlemen approaching, their heads bent
down, walking arm in arm, on the fine gravel walk running parallel with
the bank.  The young girls had, indeed, made themselves small - indeed
invisible.

"It is Monsieur de Guiche," whispered Montalais in Mademoiselle de Tonnay-
Charente's ear.

"It is Monsieur de Bragelonne," whispered the latter to La Valliere.

The two young men approached still closer, conversing in animated tones.
"She was here just now," said the count.  "If I had only seen her, I
should have declared it to be a vision, but I spoke to her."

"You are positive, then?"

"Yes; but perhaps I frightened her."

"In what way?"

"Oh!  I was still half crazy at you know what; so that she could hardly
have understood what I was saying, and must have grown alarmed."

"Oh!" said Bragelonne, "do not make yourself uneasy: she is all kindness,
and will excuse you; she is clear-sighted, and will understand."

"Yes, but if she should have understood, and understood too well, she may
talk."

"You do not know Louise, count," said Raoul.  "Louise possesses every
virtue, and has not a single fault."  And the two young men passed on,
and, as they proceeded, their voices were soon lost in the distance.

"How is it, La Valliere," said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, "that the
Vicomte de Bragelonne spoke of you as Louise?"

"We were brought up together," replied Louise, blushing; "M. de
Bragelonne has honored me by asking my hand in marriage, but - "

"Well?"

"It seems the king will not consent to it."

"Eh!  Why the king? and what has the king to do with it?" exclaimed Aure,
sharply.  "Good gracious! has the king any right to interfere in matters
of that kind?  Politics are politics, as M. de Mazarin used to say; but
love is love.  If, therefore, you love M. de Bragelonne, marry him.  _I_
give _my_ consent."

Athenais began to laugh.

"Oh!  I am speaking seriously," replied Montalais, "and my opinion in
this case is quite as good as the king's, I suppose; is it not, Louise?"

"Come," said La Valliere, "these gentlemen have passed; let us take
advantage of our being alone to cross the open ground and so take refuge
in the woods."

"So much the better," said Athenais, "because I see the torches setting
out from the chateau and the theater, and they seem as if they were
preceding some person of distinction."

"Let us run, then," said all three.  And, gracefully lifting up the long
skirts of their silk dresses, they lightly ran across the open space
between the lake and the thickest covert of the park.  Montalais agile as
a deer, Athenais eager as a young wolf, bounded through the dry grass,
and, now and then, some bold Acteon might, by the aid of the faint light,
have perceived their straight and well-formed limbs somewhat displayed
beneath the heavy folds of their satin petticoats.  La Valliere, more
refined and more bashful, allowed her dress to flow around her; retarded
also by the lameness of her foot, it was not long before she called out
to her companions to halt, and, left behind, she obliged them both to
wait for her.  At this moment, a man, concealed in a dry ditch planted
with young willow saplings, scrambled quickly up its shelving side, and
ran off in the direction of the chateau.  The three young girls, on their
side, reached the outskirts of the park, every path of which they well
knew.  The ditches were bordered by high hedges full of flowers, which on
that side protected the foot-passengers from being intruded upon by the
horses and carriages.  In fact, the sound of Madame's and the queen's
carriages could be heard in the distance upon the hard dry ground of the
roads, followed by the mounted cavaliers.  Distant music reached them in
response, and when the soft notes died away, the nightingale, with throat
of pride, poured forth his melodious chants, and his most complicated,
learned, and sweetest compositions to those who had met beneath the thick
covert of the woods.  Near the songster, in the dark background of the
large trees, could be seen the glistening eyes of an owl, attracted by
the harmony.  In this way the _fete_ of the whole court was a _fete_ also
for the mysterious inhabitants of the forest; for certainly the deer in
the brake, the pheasant on the branch, the fox in its hole, were all
listening.  One could realize the life led by this nocturnal and
invisible population from the restless movements that suddenly took place
among the leaves.  Our sylvan nymphs uttered a slight cry, but, reassured
immediately afterwards, they laughed, and resumed their walk.  In this
manner they reached the royal oak, the venerable relic of a tree which in
its prime has listened to the sighs of Henry II. for the beautiful Diana
of Poitiers, and later still to those of Henry IV. for the lovely
Gabrielle d'Estrees.  Beneath this oak the gardeners had piled up the
moss and turf in such a manner that never had a seat more luxuriously
rested the wearied limbs of man or monarch.  The trunk, somewhat rough to
recline against, was sufficiently large to accommodate the three young
girls, whose voices were lost among the branches, which stretched upwards
to the sky.


Chapter XLI:
What Was Said under the Royal Oak.

The softness of the air, the stillness of the foliage, tacitly imposed
upon these young girls an engagement to change immediately their giddy
conversation for one of a more serious character.  She, indeed, whose
disposition was the most lively, - Montalais, for instance, - was the
first to yield to the influence; and she began by heaving a deep sigh,
and saying: - "What happiness to be here alone, and at liberty, with
every right to be frank, especially towards one another."

"Yes," said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente; "for the court, however
brilliant it may be, has always some falsehood concealed beneath the
folds of its velvet robes, or the glitter of its diamonds."

"I," replied La Valliere, "I never tell a falsehood; when I cannot speak
the truth, I remain silent."

"You will not long remain in favor," said Montalais; "it is not here as
it was at Blois, where we told the dowager Madame all our little
annoyances, and all our longings.  There were certain days when Madame
remembered that she herself had been young, and, on those days, whoever
talked with her found in her a sincere friend.  She related to us her
flirtations with Monsieur, and we told her of the flirtations she had had
with others, or, at least, the rumors of them that had spread abroad.
Poor woman, so simple-minded! she laughed at them, as we did.  Where is
she now?"

"Ah, Montalais, - laughter-loving Montalais!" cried La Valliere; "you see
you are sighing again; the woods inspire you, and you are almost
reasonable this evening."

"You ought not, either of you," said Athenais, "to regret the court at

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