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List Of Contents | Contents of The Vicomte de Bragelonne, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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little."

Louis, at this last sentence, smiled sadly.  The court was young, it was
true, but the avarice of the cardinal had taken good care that it should
not be brilliant.

"You have nevertheless no intention," replied Monsieur, "to cloister them
or make them _borgeoises?_"

"Not at all," replied the cardinal, forcing his Italian pronunciation in
such a manner that, from soft and velvety as it was, it became sharp and
vibrating; "not at all: I have a full and fixed intention to marry them,
and that as well as I shall be able."

"Parties will not be wanting, monsieur le cardinal," replied Monsieur,
with a _bonhomie_ worthy of one tradesman congratulating another.

"I hope not, monseigneur, and with reason, as God has been pleased to
give them grace, intelligence, and beauty."

During this conversation, Louis XIV., conducted by Madame, accomplished,
as we have described, the circle of presentations.

"Mademoiselle Auricule," said the princess, presenting to his majesty a
fat, fair girl of two-and-twenty, who at a village _fete_ might have been
taken for a peasant in Sunday finery, - "the daughter of my music-
mistress."

The king smiled.  Madame had never been able to extract four correct
notes from either viol or harpsichord.

"Mademoiselle Aure de Montalais," continued Madame; "a young lady of
rank, and my good attendant."

This time it was not the king that smiled; it was the young lady
presented, because, for the first time in her life, she heard, given to
her by Madame, who generally showed no tendency to spoil her, such an
honorable qualification.

Our old acquaintance Montalais, therefore, made his majesty a profound
courtesy, the more respectful from the necessity she was under of
concealing certain contractions of her laughing lips, which the king
might not have attributed to their real cause.

It was just at this moment that the king caught the word which startled
him.

"And the name of the third?" asked Monsieur.

"Mary, monseigneur," replied the cardinal.

There was doubtless some magical influence in that word, for, as we have
said, the king started in hearing it, and drew Madame towards the middle
of the circle, as if he wished to put some confidential question to her,
but, in reality, for the sake of getting nearer to the cardinal.

"Madame, my aunt," said he, laughing, and in a suppressed voice, "my
geography-master did not teach me that Blois was at such an immense
distance from Paris."

"What do you mean, nephew?" asked Madame.

"Why, because it would appear that it requires several years, as regards
fashion, to travel the distance! - Look at those young ladies!"

"Well; I know them all."

"Some of them are pretty."

"Don't say that too loud, monsieur my nephew; you will drive them wild."

"Stop a bit, stop a bit, dear aunt!" said the king, smiling; "for the
second part of my sentence will serve as a corrective to the first.
Well, my dear aunt, some of them appear old and others ugly, thanks to
their ten-year-old fashions."

"But, sire, Blois is only five days' journey from Paris."

"Yes, that is it," said the king: "two years behind for each day."

"Indeed! do you really think so?  Well, that is strange!  It never struck
me."

"Now, look, aunt," said Louis XIV., drawing still nearer to Mazarin,
under the pretext of gaining a better point of view, "look at that simple
white dress by the side of those antiquated specimens of finery, and
those pretentious coiffures.  She is probably one of my mother's maids
of honor, though I don't know her."

"Ah! ah! my dear nephew!" replied Madame, laughing; "permit me to tell
you that your divinatory science is at fault for once.  The young lady
you honor with your praise is not a Parisian, but a Blaisoise."

"Oh, aunt!" replied the king with a look of doubt.

"Come here, Louise," said Madame.

And the fair girl, already known to you under that name, approached them,
timid, blushing, and almost bent beneath the royal glance.

"Mademoiselle Louise Francoise de la Beaume le Blanc, the daughter of the
Marquise de la Valliere," said Madame, ceremoniously.

The young girl bowed with so much grace, mingled with the profound
timidity inspired by the presence of the king, that the latter lost,
while looking at her, a few words of the conversation of Monsieur and
the cardinal.

"Daughter-in-law," continued Madame, "of M. de Saint-Remy, my _maitre
d'hotel_, who presided over the confection of that excellent _daube
truffee_ which your majesty seemed so much to appreciate."

No grace, no youth, no beauty, could stand out against such a
presentation.  The king smiled.  Whether the words of Madame were a
pleasantry, or uttered in all innocency, they proved the pitiless
immolation of everything that Louis had found charming or poetic in the
young girl.  Mademoiselle de la Valliere, for Madame and, by rebound, for
the king, was, for a moment, no more than the daughter of a man of a
superior talent over _dindes truffees_.

But princes are thus constituted.  The gods, too, were just like this in
Olympus.  Diana and Venus, no doubt, abused the beautiful Alcmena and
poor Io, when they condescended for distraction's sake, to speak, amidst
nectar and ambrosia, of mortal beauties, at the table of Jupiter.

Fortunately, Louise was so bent in her reverential salute, that she did
not catch either Madame's words or the king's smile.  In fact, if the
poor child, who had so much good taste as alone to have chosen to dress
herself in white amidst all her companions - if that dove's heart, so
easily accessible to painful emotions, had been touched by the cruel
words of Madame, or the egotistical cold smile of the king, it would
have annihilated her.

And Montalais herself, the girl of ingenious ideas, would not have
attempted to recall her to life; for ridicule kills beauty even.

But fortunately, as we have said, Louise, whose ears were buzzing, and
her eyes veiled by timidity, - Louise saw nothing and heard nothing; and
the king, who had still his attention directed to the conversation of the
cardinal and his uncle, hastened to return to them.

He came up just at the moment Mazarin terminated by saying: "Mary, as
well as her sisters, has just set off for Brouage.  I make them follow
the opposite bank of the Loire to that along which we have traveled; and
if I calculate their progress correctly, according to the orders I have
given, they will to-morrow be opposite Blois."

These words were pronounced with that tact - that measure, that
distinctness of tone, of intention, and reach - which made _del Signor
Giulio Mazarini_ the first comedian in the world.

It resulted that they went straight to the heart of Louis XIV., and the
cardinal, on turning round at the simple noise of the approaching
footsteps of his majesty, saw the immediate effect of them upon the
countenance of his pupil, an effect betrayed to the keen eyes of his
eminence by a slight increase of color.  But what was the ventilation of
such a secret to him whose craft had for twenty years deceived all the
diplomatists of Europe?

From the moment the young king heard these last words, he appeared as if
he had received a poisoned arrow in his heart.  He could not remain quiet
in a place, but cast around an uncertain, dead, and aimless look over the
assembly.  He with his eyes interrogated his mother more than twenty
times: but she, given up to the pleasure of conversing with her sister-in-
law, and likewise constrained by the glance of Mazarin, did not appear to
comprehend any of the supplications conveyed by the looks of her son.

From this moment, music, lights, flowers, beauties, all became odious and
insipid to Louis XIV.  After he had a hundred times bitten his lips,
stretched his legs and his arms like a well-brought-up child, who,
without daring to gape, exhausts all the modes of evincing his weariness
- after having uselessly again implored his mother and the minister, he
turned a despairing look towards the door, that is to say, towards
liberty.

At this door, in the embrasure of which he was leaning, he saw, standing
out strongly, a figure with a brown and lofty countenance, an aquiline
nose, a stern but brilliant eye, gray and long hair, a black mustache,
the true type of military beauty, whose gorget, more sparkling than a
mirror, broke all the reflected lights which concentrated upon it, and
sent them back as lightning.  This officer wore his gray hat with its
long red plumes upon his head, a proof that he was called there by his
duty, and not by his pleasure.  If he had been brought thither by his
pleasure - if he had been a courtier instead of a soldier, as pleasure
must always be paid for at the same price - he would have held his hat in
his hand.

That which proved still better that this officer was upon duty, and was
accomplishing a task to which he was accustomed, was, that he watched,
with folded arms, remarkable indifference, and supreme apathy, the joys
and _ennuis_ of this _fete_.  Above all, he appeared, like a philosopher,
and all old soldiers are philosophers, - he appeared above all to
comprehend the _ennuis_ infinitely better than the joys; but in the one
he took his part, knowing very well how to do without the other.

Now, he was leaning, as we have said, against the carved door-frame when
the melancholy, weary eyes of the king, by chance, met his.

It was not the first time, as it appeared, that the eyes of the officer
had met those eyes, and he was perfectly acquainted with the expression
of them; for, as soon as he had cast his own look upon the countenance of
Louis XIV., and had read by it what was passing in his heart - that is to
say, all the _ennui_ that oppressed him - all the timid desire to go out
which agitated him, - he perceived he must render the king a service
without his commanding it, - almost in spite of himself.  Boldly,
therefore, as if he had given the word of command to cavalry in battle,
"On the king's service!" cried he, in a clear, sonorous voice.

At these words, which produced the effect of a peal of thunder,

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