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List Of Contents | Contents of Ten Years Later, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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Blois so much, unless you do not feel happy with us.  A court is a place
where men and women resort to talk of matters which mothers, guardians,
and especially confessors, severely denounce."

"Oh, Athenais!" said Louise, blushing.

"Athenais is frank to-night," said Montalais; "let us avail ourselves of
it."

"Yes, let us take advantage of it, for this evening I could divulge the
softest secrets of my heart."

"Ah, if M. Montespan were here!" said Montalais.

"Do you think that I care for M. de Montespan?" murmured the beautiful
young girl.

"He is handsome, I believe?"

"Yes.  And that is no small advantage in my eyes."

"There now, you see - "

"I will go further, and say, that of all the men whom one sees here, he
is the handsomest, and the most - "

"What was that?" said La Valliere, starting suddenly from the mossy bank.

"A deer hurrying by, perhaps."

"I am only afraid of men," said Athenais.

"When they do not resemble M. de Montespan."

"A truce to raillery.  M. de Montespan is attentive to me, but that does
not commit me in any way.  Is not M. de Guiche here, he who is so devoted
to Madame?"

"Poor fellow!" said La Valliere.

"Why to be pitied?  Madame is sufficiently beautiful, and of high enough
rank, I suppose."

La Valliere shook her head sorrowfully, saying, "When one loves, it is
neither beauty nor rank; - when one loves it should be the heart, or the
eyes only, of him, or of her whom one loves."

Montalais began to laugh loudly.  "Heart, eyes," she said; "oh, sugar-
plums!"

"I speak for myself;" replied La Valliere.

"Noble sentiments," said Athenais, with an air of protection, but with
indifference.

"Are they not your own?" asked Louise.

"Perfectly so; but to continue: how can one pity a man who bestows his
attentions upon such a woman as Madame?  If any disproportion exists, it
is on the count's side."

"Oh! no, no," returned La Valliere; "it is on Madame's side."

"Explain yourself."

"I will.  Madame has not even a wish to know what love is.  She diverts
herself with the feeling, as children do with fireworks, form which a
spark might set a palace on fire.  It makes a display, and that is all
she cares about.  Besides, pleasure forms the tissue of which she wishes
her life to be woven.  M. de Guiche loves this illustrious personage, but
she will never love him."

Athenais laughed disdainfully.  "Do people really ever love?" she said.
"Where are the noble sentiments you just now uttered?  Does not a woman's
virtue consist in the uncompromising refusal of every intrigue that might
compromise her?  A properly regulated woman, endowed with a natural
heart, ought to look at men, make herself loved - adored, even, by them,
and say at the very utmost but once in her life, 'I begin to think that I
ought not to have been what I am, - I should have detested this one less
than others.'"

"Therefore," exclaimed La Valliere, "that is what M. de Montespan has to
expect."

"Certainly; he, as well as every one else.  What! have I not said that I
admit he possesses a certain superiority, and would not that be enough?
My dear child, a woman is a queen during the entire period nature permits
her to enjoy sovereign power - from fifteen to thirty-five years of age.
After that, we are free to have a heart, when we only have that left - "

"Oh, oh!" murmured La Valliere.

"Excellent," cried Montalais; "a very masterly woman; Athenais, you will
make your way in the world."

"Do you not approve of what I say?"

"Completely," replied her laughing companion.

"You are not serious, Montalais?" said Louise.

"Yes, yes; I approve everything Athenais has just said; only - "

"Only _what?_"

"Well, I cannot carry it out.  I have the firmest principles; I form
resolutions beside which the laws of the Stadtholder and of the King of
Spain are child's play; but when the moment arrives to put them into
execution, nothing comes of them."

"Your courage fails?" said Athenais, scornfully.

"Miserably so."

"Great weakness of nature," returned Athenais.  "But at least you make a
choice."

"Why, no.  It pleases fate to disappoint me in everything; I dream of
emperors, and I find only - "

"Aure, Aure!" exclaimed La Valliere, "for pity's sake, do not, for the
pleasure of saying something witty, sacrifice those who love you with
such devoted affection."

"Oh, I do not trouble myself much about that; those who love me are
sufficiently happy that I do not dismiss them altogether.  So much the
worse for myself if I have a weakness for any one, but so much the worse
for others if I revenge myself upon them for it."

"You are right," said Athenais, "and, perhaps, you too will reach the
goal.  In other words, young ladies, that is termed being a coquette.
Men, who are very silly in most things, are particularly so in
confounding, under the term of coquetry, a woman's pride, and love of
changing her sentiments as she does her dress.  I, for instance, am
proud; that is to say, impregnable.  I treat my admirers harshly, but
without any pretention to retain them.  Men call me a coquette, because
they are vain enough to think I care for them.  Other women - Montalais,
for instance - have allowed themselves to be influenced by flattery; they
would be lost were it not for that most fortunate principle of instinct
which urges them to change suddenly, and punish the man whose devotion
they so recently accepted."

"A very learned dissertation," said Montalais, in the tone of thorough
enjoyment.

"It is odious!" murmured Louise.

"Thanks to that sort of coquetry, for, indeed, that is genuine coquetry,"
continued Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente; "the lover who, a little while
since, was puffed up with pride, in a minute afterwards is suffering at
every pore of his vanity and self-esteem.  He was, perhaps, already
beginning to assume the airs of a conqueror, but now he retreats
defeated; he was about to assume an air of protection towards us, but he
is obliged to prostrate himself once more.  The result of all this is,
that, instead of having a husband who is jealous and troublesome, free
from restraint in his conduct towards us, we have a lover always
trembling in our presence, always fascinated by our attractions, always
submissive; and for this simple reason, that he finds the same woman
never twice of the same mind.  Be convinced, therefore, of the advantages
of coquetry.  Possessing that, one reigns a queen among women in cases
where Providence has withheld that precious faculty of holding one's
heart and mind in check."

"How clever you are," said Montalais, "and how well you understand the
duty women owe themselves!"

"I am only settling a case of individual happiness," said Athenais
modestly; "and defending myself, like all weak, loving dispositions,
against the oppressions of the stronger."

"La Valliere does not say a word."

"Does she not approve of what we are saying?"

"Nay; only I do not understand it," said Louise.  "You talk like people
not called upon to live in this world of ours."

"And very pretty your world is," said Montalais.

"A world," returned Athenais, "in which men worship a woman until she has
fallen, - and insult her when she has fallen."

"Who spoke to you of falling?" said Louise.

"Yours is a new theory, then; will you tell us how you intend to resist
yielding to temptation, if you allow yourself to be hurried away by
feelings of affection?"

"Oh!" exclaimed the young girl, raising towards the dark heavens her
beautiful large eyes filled with tears, "if you did but know what a heart
is, I would explain, and convince you; a loving heart is stronger than
all your coquetry, more powerful than all your pride.  A woman is never
truly loved, I believe; a man never loves with idolatry, unless he feels
sure he is loved in return.  Let old men, whom we read of in comedies,
fancy themselves adored by coquettes.  A young man is conscious of, and
knows them; if he has a fancy, or a strong desire, and an absorbing
passion, for a coquette, he cannot mistake her; a coquette may drive him
out of his senses, but will never make him fall in love.  Love, such as I
conceive it to be, is an incessant, complete, and perfect sacrifice; but
it is not the sacrifice of one only of the two persons thus united.  It
is the perfect abnegation of two who are desirous of blending their
beings into one.  If ever I love, I shall implore my lover to leave me
free and pure; I will tell him, and he will understand, that my heart was
torn by my refusal, and he, in his love for me, aware of the magnitude of
my sacrifice, - he, in his turn, I say, will store his devotion for me, -
will respect me, and will not seek my ruin, to insult me when I shall
have fallen, as you said just now, whilst uttering your blasphemies
against love, such as I understand it.  That is my idea of love.  And now
you will tell me, perhaps, that my love will despise me; I defy him to do
so, unless he be the vilest of men, and my heart assures me that it is
not such a man I would choose.  A look from me will repay him for the
sacrifices he makes, or will inspire him with the virtues which he would
never think he possessed."

"But, Louise," exclaimed Montalais, "you tell us this, and do not carry
it into practice."

"What do you mean?"

"You are adored by Raoul de Bragelonne, who worships you on both knees.
The poor fellow is made the victim of your virtue, just as he would be 
nay, more than he would be, even - of my coquetry, or Athenais's pride."

"All this is simply a different shade of coquetry," said Athenais; "and
Louise, I perceive, is a coquette without knowing it."

"Oh!" said La Valliere.

"Yes, you may call it instinct, if you please, keenest sensibility,
exquisite refinement of feeling, perpetual play of restrained outbreaks
of affection, which end in smoke.  It is very artful too, and very
effective.  I should even, now that I reflect upon it, have preferred
this system of tactics to my own pride, for waging war on members of the
other sex, because it offers the advantage sometimes of thoroughly

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