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List Of Contents | Contents of Ten Years Later, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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convincing them; but, at the present moment, without utterly condemning
myself, I declare it to be superior to the non-complex coquetry of
Montalais."  And the two young girls began to laugh.

La Valliere alone preserved silence, and quietly shook her head.  Then, a
moment after, she added, "If you were to tell me, in the presence of a
man, but a fourth part of what you have just said, or even if I were
assured that you think it, I should die of shame and grief where I am
now."

"Very well; die, poor tender little darling," replied Mademoiselle de
Tonnay-Charente; "for if there are no men here, there are at least two
women, your own friends, who declare you to be attained and convicted of
being a coquette from instinct; in other words, the most dangerous kind
of coquette the world possesses."

"Oh! mesdemoiselles," replied La Valliere, blushing, and almost ready to
weep.  Her two companions again burst out laughing.

"Very well!  I will ask Bragelonne to tell me."

"Bragelonne?" said Athenais.

"Yes!  Bragelonne, who is as courageous as Caesar, and as clever and
witty as M. Fouquet.  Poor fellow! for twelve years he has known you,
loved you, and yet - one can hardly believe it - he has never even kissed
the tips of your fingers."

"Tell us the reason of this cruelty, you who are all heart," said
Athenais to La Valliere.

"Let me explain it by a single word - virtue.  You will perhaps deny the
existence of virtue?"

"Come, Louise, tell us the truth," said Aure, taking her by the hand.

"What do you wish me to tell you?" cried La Valliere.

"Whatever you like; but it will be useless for you to say anything, for I
persist in my opinion of you.  A coquette from instinct; in other words,
as I have already said, and I say it again, the most dangerous of all
coquettes."

"Oh! no, no; for pity's sake do not believe that!"

"What! twelve years of extreme severity."

"How can that be, since twelve years ago I was only five years old?  The
frivolity of the child cannot surely be placed to the young girl's
account."

"Well! you are now seventeen; three years instead of twelve.  During
those three years you have remained constantly and unchangeably cruel.
Against you are arrayed the silent shades of Blois, the meetings when you
diligently conned the stars together, the evening wanderings beneath the
plantain-trees, his impassioned twenty years speaking to your fourteen
summers, the fire of his glances addressed to yourself."

"Yes, yes; but so it is!"

"Impossible!"

"But why impossible?"

"Tell us something credible and we will believe you."

"Yet, if you were to suppose one thing."

"What is that?"

"Suppose that I thought I was in love, and that I am not."

"What! not in love!"

"Well, then! if I have acted in a different manner to what others do when
they are in love, it is because I do not love; and because my hour has
not yet come."

"Louise, Louise," said Montalais, "take care or I will remind you of the
remark you made just now.  Raoul is not here; do not overwhelm him while
he is absent; be charitable, and if, on closer inspection, you think you
do not love him, tell him so, poor fellow!" and she began to laugh.

"Louise pitied M. de Guiche just now," said Athenais; "would it be
possible to detect an explanation of her indifference for the one in this
compassion for the other?"

"Say what you please," said La Valliere, sadly; "upbraid me as you like,
since you do not understand me."

"Oh! oh!" replied Montalais, "temper, sorrow, tears; we are jesting,
Louise, and are not, I assure you, quite the monsters you suppose.  Look
at the proud Athenais, as she is called; she does not love M. de
Montespan, it is true, but she would be in despair if M. de Montespan did
not continue to love her.  Look at me; I laugh at M. Malicorne, but the
poor fellow whom I laugh at knows precisely when he will be permitted to
press his lips upon my hand.  And yet the eldest of us is not twenty
yet.  What a future before us!"

"Silly, silly girls!" murmured Louise.

"You are quite right," said Montalais; "and you alone have spoken words
of wisdom."

"Certainly."

"I do not dispute it," replied Athenais.  "And so it is clear you do not
love poor M. de Bragelonne?"

"Perhaps she does," said Montalais; "she is not yet quite certain of it.
But, in any case, listen, Athenais; if M. de Bragelonne is ever free, I
will give you a little friendly advice."

"What is that?"

"To look at him well before you decide in favor of M. de Montespan."

"Oh! in that way of considering the subject, M. de Bragelonne is not the
only one whom one could look at with pleasure; M. de Guiche, for
instance, has his value also."

"He did not distinguish himself this evening," said Montalais; "and I
know from very good authority that Madame thought him insupportable."

"M. de Saint-Aignan produced a most brilliant effect, and I am sure that
more than one person who saw him dance this evening will not soon forget
him.  Do you not think so, La Valliere?"

"Why do you ask me?  I did not see him, nor do I know him."

"What! you did not see M. de Saint-Aignan?  Don't you know him?"

"No."

"Come, come, do not affect a virtue more extravagantly excessive than our
vanity! - you have eyes, I suppose?"

"Excellent."

"Then you must have seen all those who danced this evening."

"Yes, nearly all."

"That is a very impertinent 'nearly all' for somebody."

"You must take it for what it is worth."

"Very well; now, among all those gentlemen whom you saw, which do you
prefer?"

"Yes," said Montalais, "is it M. de Saint-Aignan, or M. de Guiche, or
M. - "

"I prefer no one; I thought them all about the same."

"Do you mean, then, that among that brilliant assembly, the first court
in the world, no one pleased you?"

"I do not say that."

"Tell us, then, who your ideal is?"

"It is not an ideal being."

"He exists, then?"

"In very truth," exclaimed La Valliere, aroused and excited; "I cannot
understand you at all. What! you who have a heart as I have, eyes as I
have, and yet you speak of M. de Guiche, of M. de Saint-Aignan, when the
king was there."  These words, uttered in a precipitate manner, and in an
agitated, fervid tone of voice, made her two companions, between whom she
was seated, exclaim in a manner that terrified her, "_The king!_"

La Valliere buried her face in her hands.  "Yes," she murmured; "the
king! the king!  Have you ever seen any one to be compared to the king?"

"You were right just now in saying you had excellent eyes, Louise, for
you see a great distance; too far, indeed.  Alas! the king is not one
upon whom our poor eyes have a right to hinge themselves."

"That is too true," cried La Valliere; "it is not the privilege of all
eyes to gaze upon the sun; but I will look upon him, even were I to be
blinded in doing so."  At this moment, and as though caused by the words
which had just escaped La Valliere's lips, a rustling of leaves, and of
what sounded like some silken material, was heard behind the adjoining
bushes.  The young girls hastily rose, almost terrified out of their
senses.  They distinctly saw the leaves move, without being able to see
what it was that stirred them.

"It is a wolf or a wild boar," cried Montalais; "fly! fly!"  The three
girls, in the extremity of terror, fled by the first path that presented
itself, and did not stop until they had reached the verge of the wood.
There, breathless, leaning against each other, feeling their hearts throb
wildly, they endeavored to collect their senses, but could only succeed
in doing so after the lapse of some minutes.  Perceiving at last the
lights from the windows of the chateau, they decided to walk towards
them.  La Valliere was exhausted with fatigue, and Aure and Athenais were
obliged to support her.

"We have escaped well," said Montalais.

"I am greatly afraid," said La Valliere, "that it was something worse
than a wolf.  For my part, and I speak as I think, I should have
preferred to have run the risk of being devoured alive by some wild
animal than to have been listened to and overheard.  Fool, fool that I
am!  How could I have thought, how could I have said what I did?"  And
saying this her head bowed like the water tossed plume of a bulrush; she
felt her limbs fail, and her strength abandoning her, and, gliding almost
inanimate from the arms of her companions, sank down upon the turf.


Chapter XLII:
The King's Uneasiness.

Let us leave poor La Valliere, who had fainted in the arms of her two
companions, and return to the precincts of the royal oak.  The young
girls had hardly run twenty paces, when the sound which had so much
alarmed them was renewed among the branches.  A man's figure might
indistinctly be perceived, and putting the branches of the bushes aside,
he appeared upon the verge of the wood, and perceiving that the place was
empty, burst out into a peal of laughter.  It is almost superfluous to
add that the form in question was that of a young and handsome cavalier,
who immediately made a sign to another, who thereupon made his appearance.

"What, sire," said the second figure, advancing timidly, "has your
majesty put our young sentimentalists to flight?"

"It seems so," said the king, "and you can show yourself without fear."

"Take care, sire, you will be recognized."

"But I tell you they are flown."

"This is a most fortunate meeting, sire; and, if I dared offer an opinion
to your majesty, we ought to follow them."

"They are far enough away by this time."

"They would quickly allow themselves to be overtaken, especially if they
knew who were following them."

"What do you mean by that, coxcomb that you are?"

"Why, one of them seems to have taken a fancy to me, and another compared
you to the sun."

"The greater reason why we should not show ourselves, Saint-Aignan.  The
sun never shows itself in the night-time."

"Upon my word, sire, your majesty seems to have very little curiosity.
In your place, I should like to know who are the two nymphs, the two
dryads, the two hamadryads, who have so good an opinion of us."

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