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List Of Contents | Contents of Ten Years Later, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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Charente was, like himself, dressed in rose-color.  We would not wish to
say, however, that the wily courtier had not know beforehand that the
beautiful Athenais was to wear that particular color; for he very well
knew the art of unlocking the lips of a dress-maker or a lady's maid as
to her mistress's intentions.  He cast as many killing glances at
Mademoiselle Athenais as he had bows of ribbons on his stockings and
doublet; in other words he discharged a prodigious number.  The king
having paid Madame the customary compliments, and Madame having requested
him to be seated, the circle was immediately formed.  Louis inquired of
Monsieur the particulars of the day's bathing; and stated, looking at the
ladies present while he spoke, that certain poets were engaged turning
into verse the enchanting diversion of the baths of Vulaines, and that
one of them particularly, M. Loret, seemed to have been intrusted with
the confidence of some water-nymph, as he had in his verses recounted
many circumstances that were actually true - at which remark more than
one lady present felt herself bound to blush.  The king at this moment
took the opportunity of looking round him at more leisure; Montalais was
the only one who did not blush sufficiently to prevent her looking at the
king, and she saw him fix his eyes devouringly on Mademoiselle de la
Valliere.  This undaunted maid of honor, Mademoiselle de Montalais, be it
understood, forced the king to lower his gaze, and so saved Louise de la
Valliere from a sympathetic warmth of feeling this gaze might possibly
have conveyed.  Louis was appropriated by Madame, who overwhelmed him
with inquiries, and no one in the world knew how to ask questions better
than she did.  He tried, however, to render the conversation general,
and, with the view of effecting this, he redoubled his attention and
devotion to her.  Madame coveted complimentary remarks, and, determined
to procure them at any cost, she addressed herself to the king, saying:

"Sire, your majesty, who is aware of everything which occurs in your
kingdom, ought to know beforehand the verses confided to M. Loret by this
nymph; will your majesty kindly communicate them to us?"

"Madame," replied the king, with perfect grace of manner, "I dare not -
you, personally, might be in no little degree confused at having to
listen to certain details - but Saint-Aignan tells a story well, and has
a perfect recollection of the verses.  If he does not remember them, he
will invent.  I can certify he is almost a poet himself."  Saint-Aignan,
thus brought prominently forward, was compelled to introduce himself as
advantageously as possible.  Unfortunately, however, for Madame, he
thought of his own personal affairs only; in other words, instead of
paying Madame the compliments she so much desired and relished, his mind
was fixed upon making as much display as possible of his own good
fortune.  Again glancing, therefore, for the hundredth time at the
beautiful Athenais, who carried into practice her previous evening's
theory of not even deigning to look at her adorer, he said: -

"Your majesty will perhaps pardon me for having too indifferently
remembered the verses which the nymph dictated to Loret; but if the king
has not retained any recollection of them, how could I possibly remember?"

Madame did not receive this shortcoming of the courtier very favorably.

"Ah! madame," added Saint-Aignan, "at present it is no longer a question
what the water-nymphs have to say; and one would almost be tempted to
believe that nothing of any interest now occurs in those liquid realms.
It is upon earth, madame, important events happen.  Ah!  Madame, upon the
earth, how many tales are there full of - "

"Well," said Madame, "and what is taking place upon the earth?"

"That question must be asked of the Dryads," replied the comte; "the
Dryads inhabit the forest, as your royal highness is aware."

"I am aware also, that they are naturally very talkative, Monsieur de
Saint-Aignan."

"Such is the case, Madame; but when they say such delightful things, it
would be ungracious to accuse them of being too talkative."

"Do they talk so delightfully, then?" inquired the princess,
indifferently.  "Really, Monsieur de Saint-Aignan, you excite my
curiosity; and, if I were the king, I would require you immediately to
tell us what the delightful things are these Dryads have been saying,
since you alone seem to understand their language."

"I am at his majesty's orders, Madame, in that respect," replied the
comte, quickly.

"What a fortunate fellow this Saint-Aignan is to understand the language
of the Dryads," said Monsieur.

"I understand it perfectly, monseigneur, as I do my own language."

"Tell us all about them, then," said Madame.

The king felt embarrassed, for his confidant was, in all probability,
about to embark in a difficult matter.  He felt that it would be so, from
the general attention excited by Saint-Aignan's preamble, and aroused too
by Madame's peculiar manner.  The most reserved of those who were present
seemed ready to devour every syllable the comte was about to pronounce.
They coughed, drew closer together, looked curiously at some of the maids
of honor, who, in order to support with greater propriety, or with more
steadiness, the fixity of the inquisitorial looks bent upon them,
adjusted their fans accordingly, and assumed the bearing of a duelist
about to be exposed to his adversary's fire.  At this epoch, the fashion
of ingeniously constructed conversations, and hazardously dangerous
recitals, so prevailed, that, where, in modern times, a whole company
assembled in a drawing-room would begin to suspect some scandal, or
disclosure, or tragic event, and would hurry away in dismay, Madame's
guests quietly settled themselves in their places, in order not to lose a
word or gesture of the comedy composed by Monsieur de Saint-Aignan for
their benefit, and the termination of which, whatever the style and the
plot might be, must, as a matter of course, be marked by the most perfect
propriety.  The comte as known as a man of extreme refinement, and an
admirable narrator.  He courageously began, then, amidst a profound
silence, which would have been formidable to any one but himself: -
"Madame, by the king's permission, I address myself, in the first place,
to your royal highness, since you admit yourself to be the person present
possessing the greatest curiosity.  I have the honor, therefore, to
inform your royal highness that the Dryad more particularly inhabits the
hollows of oaks; and, as Dryads are mythological creatures of great
beauty, they inhabit the most beautiful trees, in other words, the
largest to be found."

At this exordium, which recalled, under a transparent veil, the
celebrated story of the royal oak, which had played so important a part
in the last evening, so many hearts began to beat, both from joy and
uneasiness, that, if Saint-Aignan had not had a good and sonorous voice,
their throbbings might have been heard above the sound of his voice.

"There must surely be Dryads at Fontainebleau, then," said Madame, in a
perfectly calm voice; "for I have never, in all my life, seen finer oaks
than in the royal park."  And as she spoke, she directed towards De
Guiche a look of which he had no reason to complain, as he had of the one
that preceded it; which, as we have already mentioned, had reserved a
certain amount of indefiniteness most painful for so loving a heart as
his.

"Precisely, Madame, it is of Fontainebleau I was about to speak to your
royal highness," said Saint-Aignan; "for the Dryad whose story is
engaging our attention, lives in the park belonging to the chateau of his
majesty."

The affair was fairly embarked on; the action was begun, and it was no
longer possible for auditory or narrator to draw back.

"It will be worth listening to," said Madame; "for the story not only
appears to me to have all the interest of a national incident, but still
more, seems to be a circumstance of very recent occurrence."

"I ought to begin at the beginning," said the comte.  "In the first
place, then, there lived at Fontainebleau, in a cottage of modest and
unassuming appearance, two shepherds.  The one was the shepherd Tyrcis,
the owner of extensive domains transmitted to him from his parents, by
right of inheritance.  Tyrcis was young and handsome, and, from his many
qualifications, he might be pronounced to be the first and foremost among
the shepherds in the whole country; one might even boldly say he was the
king of shepherds."  A subdued murmur of approbation encouraged the
narrator, who continued: - "His strength equals his courage; no one
displays greater address in hunting wild beasts, nor greater wisdom in
matters where judgment is required.  Whenever he mounts and exercises his
horse in the beautiful plains of his inheritance, or whenever he joins
with the shepherds who owe him allegiance, in different games of skill
and strength, one might say that it is the god Mars hurling his lance on
the plains of Thrace, or, even better, that it was Apollo himself, the
god of day, radiant upon earth, bearing his flaming darts in his hand."
Every one understood that this allegorical portrait of the king was not
the worst exordium the narrator could have chosen; and consequently it
did not fail to produce its effect, either upon those who, from duty or
inclination, applauded it to the very echo, or on the king himself, to
whom flattery was very agreeable when delicately conveyed, and whom,
indeed, it did not always displease, even when it was a little too
broad.  Saint-Aignan then continued: - "It is not in games of glory only,
ladies, that the shepherd Tyrcis had acquired that reputation by which he
was regarded as the king of the shepherds."

"Of the shepherds of Fontainebleau," said the king, smilingly, to Madame.

"Oh!" exclaimed Madame, "Fontainebleau is selected arbitrarily by the
poet; but I should say, of the shepherds of the whole world."  The king
forgot his part of a passive auditor, and bowed.

"It is," paused Saint-Aignan, amidst a flattering murmur of applause, "it

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