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12. GEORGE VILLIERS, DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM

Mme. Bonacieux and the duke entered the Louvre without
difficulty. Mme. Bonacieux was known to belong to the queen; the
duke wore the uniform of the Musketeers of M. de Treville, who,
as we have said, were that evening on guard. Besides, Germain
was in the interests of the queen; and if anything should happen,
Mme. Bonacieux would be accused of having introduced her lover
into the Louvre, that was all. She took the risk upon herself.
Her reputation would be lost, it is true; but of what value in
the world was the reputation of the little wife of a mercer?

Once within the interior of the court, the duke and the young
woman followed the wall for the space of about twenty-five steps.
This space passed, Mme. Bonacieux pushed a little servants' door,
open by day but generally closed at night. The door yielded.
Both entered, and found themselves in darkness; but Mme.
Bonacieux was acquainted with all the turnings and windings of
this part of the Louvre, appropriated for the people of the
household. She closed the door after her, took the duke by the
hand, and after a few experimental steps, grasped a balustrade,
put her foot upon the bottom step, and began to ascend the
staircase. The duke counted two stories. She then turned to the
right, followed the course of a long corridor, descended a
flight, went a few steps farther, introduced a key into a lock,
opened a door, and pushed the duke into an apartment lighted only
by a lamp, saying, "Remain here, my Lord Duke; someone will
come." She then went out by the same door, which she locked, so
that the duke found himself literally a prisoner.

Nevertheless, isolated as he was, we must say that the Duke of
Buckingham did not experience an instant of fear. One of the
salient points of his character was the search for adventures and
a love of romance. Brave, rash, and enterprising, this was not
the first time he had risked his life in such attempts. He had
learned that the pretended message from Anne of Austria, upon the
faith of which he had come to Paris, was a snare; but instead of
regaining England, he had, abusing the position in which he had
been placed, declared to the queen that he would not depart
without seeing her. The queen had at first positively refused;
but at length became afraid that the duke, if exasperated, would
commit some folly. She had already decided upon seeing him and
urging his immediate departure, when, on the very evening of
coming to this decision, Mme. Bonacieux, who was charged with
going to fetch the duke and conducting him to the Louvre, was
abducted. For two days no one knew what had become of her, and
everything remained in suspense; but once free, and placed in
communication with Laporte, matters resumed their course, and she
accomplished the perilous enterprise which, but for her arrest,
would have been executed three days earlier.

Buckingham, left alone, walked toward a mirror. His Musketeer's
uniform became him marvelously.

At thirty-five, which was then his age, he passed, with just
title, for the handsomest gentleman and the most elegant cavalier
of France or England.

The favorite of two kings, immensely rich, all-powerful in a
kingdom which he disordered at his fancy and calmed again at his
caprice, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, had lived one of
those fabulous existences which survive, in the course of
centuries, to astonish posterity.

Sure of himself, convinced of his own power, certain that the
laws which rule other men could not reach him, he went straight
to the object he aimed at, even were this object were so elevated
and so dazzling that it would have been madness for any other
even to have contemplated it. It was thus he had succeeded in
approaching several times the beautiful and proud Anne of
Austria, and in making himself loved by dazzling her.

George Villiers placed himself before the glass, as we have said,
restored the undulations to his beautiful hair, which the weight
of his hat had disordered, twisted his mustache, and, his heart
swelling with joy, happy and proud at being near the moment he
had so long sighed for, he smiled upon himself with pride and
hope.

At this moment a door concealed in the tapestry opened, and a
woman appeared. Buckingham saw this apparition in the glass; he
uttered a cry. It was the queen!

Anne of Austria was then twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age;
that is to say, she was in the full splendor of her beauty.

Her carriage was that of a queen or a goddess; her eyes, which
cast the brilliancy of emeralds, were perfectly beautiful, and
yet were at the same time full of sweetness and majesty.

Her mouth was small and rosy; and although her underlip, like
that of all princes of the House of Austria, protruded slightly
beyond the other, it was eminently lovely in its smile, but as
profoundly disdainful in its contempt.

Her skin was admired for its velvety softness; her hands and arms
were of surpassing beauty, all the poets of the time singing them
as incomparable.

Lastly, her hair, which, from being light in her youth, had
become chestnut, and which she wore curled very plainly, and with
much powder, admirably set off her face, in which the most rigid
critic could only have desired a little less rouge, and the most
fastidious sculptor a little more fineness in the nose.

Buckingham remained for a moment dazzled. Never had Anna of
Austria appeared to him so beautiful, amid balls, fetes, or
carousals, as she appeared to him at this moment, dressed in a
simple robe of white satin, and accompanied by Donna Estafania--
the only one of her Spanish women who had not been driven from
her by the jealousy of the king or by the persecutions of
Richelieu.

Anne of Austria took two steps forward. Buckingham threw himself
at her feet, and before the queen could prevent him, kissed the
hem of her robe.

"Duke, you already know that it is not I who caused you to be
written to."

"Yes, yes, madame! Yes, your Majesty!" cried the duke. "I know
that I must have been mad, senseless, to believe that snow would
become animated or marble warm; but what then! They who love
believe easily in love. Besides, I have lost nothing by this
journey because I see you."

"Yes," replied Anne, "but you know why and how I see you;
because, insensible to all my sufferings, you persist in
remaining in a city where, by remaining, you run the risk of your
life, and make me run the risk of my honor. I see you to tell
you that everything separates us--the depths of the sea, the
enmity of kingdoms, the sanctity of vows. It is sacrilege to
struggle against so many things, my Lord. In short, I see you to
tell you that we must never see each other again."

"Speak on, madame, speak on, Queen," said Buckingham; "the
sweetness of your voice covers the harshness of your words. You
talk of sacrilege! Why, the sacrilege is the separation of two
hearts formed by God for each other."

"My Lord," cried the queen, "you forget that I have never said
that I love you."

"But you have never told me that you did not love me; and truly,
to speak such words to me would be, on the part of your Majesty,
too great an ingratitude. For tell me, where can you find a love
like mine--a love which neither time, nor absence, nor despair
can extinguish, a love which contents itself with a lost ribbon,
a stray look, or a chance word? It is now three years, madame,
since I saw you for the first time, and during those three years
I have loved you thus. Shall I tell you each ornament of your
toilet? Mark! I see you now. You were seated upon cushions in
the Spanish fashion; you wore a robe of green satin embroidered
with gold and silver, hanging sleeves knotted upon your beautiful
arms--those lovely arms--with large diamonds. You wore a close
ruff, a small cap upon your head of the same color as your robe,
and in that cap a heron's feather. Hold! Hold! I shut my eyes,
and I can see you as you then were; I open them again, and I see
what you are now--a hundred time more beautiful!"

"What folly," murmured Anne of Austria, who had not the courage
to find fault with the duke for having so well preserved her
portrait in his heart, "what folly to feed a useless passion with
such remembrances!"

"And upon what then must I live? I have nothing but memory. It
is my happiness, my treasure, my hope. Every time I see you is a
fresh diamond which I enclose in the casket of my heart. This
is the fourth which you have let fall and I have picked up; for
in three years, madame, I have only seen you four times--the
first, which I have described to you; the second, at the mansion
of Madame de Chevreuse; the third, in the gardens of Amiens."

"Duke," said the queen, blushing, "never speak of that evening."

"Oh, let us speak of it; on the contrary, let us speak of it!
That is the most happy and brilliant evening of my life! You
remember what a beautiful night it was? How soft and perfumed
was the air; how lovely the blue heavens and star-enameled sky!
Ah, then, madame, I was able for one instant to be alone with
you. Then you were about to tell me all--the isolation of your
life, the griefs of your heart. You leaned upon my arm--upon
this, madame! I felt, in bending my head toward you, your
beautiful hair touch my cheek; and every time that it touched me
I trembled from head to foot. Oh, Queen! Queen! You do not
know what felicity from heaven, what joys from paradise, are
comprised in a moment like that. Take my wealth, my fortune, my
glory, all the days I have to live, for such an instant, for a
night like that. For that night, madame, that night you loved
me, I will swear it."

"My Lord, yes; it is possible that the influence of the place,
the charm of the beautiful evening, the fascination of your
look--the thousand circumstances, in short, which sometimes unite
to destroy a woman--were grouped around me on that fatal evening;
but, my Lord, you saw the queen come to the aid of the woman who
faltered. At the first word you dared to utter, at the first
freedom to which I had to reply, I called for help."

"Yes, yes, that is true. And any other love but mine would have
sunk beneath this ordeal; but my love came out from it more
ardent and more eternal. You believed that you would fly from me
by returning to Paris; you believed that I would not dare to quit
the treasure over which my master had charged me to watch. What
to me were all the treasures in the world, or all the kings of
the earth! Eight days after, I was back again, madame. That
time you had nothing to say to me; I had risked my life and favor
to see you but for a second. I did not even touch your hand, and
you pardoned me on seeing me so submissive and so repentant."

"Yes, but calumny seized upon all those follies in which I took
no part, as you well know, my Lord. The king, excited by the
cardinal, made a terrible clamor. Madame de Vernet was driven
from me, Putange was exiled, Madame de Chevreuse fell into
disgrace, and when you wished to come back as ambassador to
France, the king himself--remember, my lord--the king himself
opposed to it."

"Yes, and France is about to pay for her king's refusal with a
war. I am not allowed to see you, madame, but you shall every
day hear of me. What object, think you, have this expedition to
Re and this league with the Protestants of La Rochelle which I am
projecting? The pleasure of seeing you. I have no hope of
penetrating, sword in hand, to Paris, I know that well. But this
war may bring round a peace; this peace will require a
negotiator; that negotiator will be me. They will not dare to
refuse me then; and I will return to Paris, and will see you
again, and will be happy for an instant. Thousands of men, it is
true, will have to pay for my happiness with their lives; but
what is that to me, provided I see you again! All this is
perhaps folly--perhaps insanity; but tell me what woman has a
lover more truly in love; what queen a servant more ardent?"

"My Lord, my Lord, you invoke in your defense things which accuse
you more strongly. All these proofs of love which you would give
me are almost crimes."

"Because you do not love me, madame! If you loved me, you would
view all this otherwise. If you loved me, oh, if you loved me,
that would be too great happiness, and I should run mad. Ah,
Madame de Chevreuse was less cruel than you. Holland loved her,
and she responded to his love."

"Madame de Chevreuse was not queen," murmured Anne of Austria,
overcome, in spite of herself, by the expression of so profound a
passion.

"You would love me, then, if you were not queen! Madame, say
that you would love me then! I can believe that it is the
dignity of your rank alone which makes you cruel to me; I can
believe that you had been Madame de Chevreuse, poor Buckingham
might have hoped. Thanks for those sweet words! Oh, my
beautiful sovereign, a hundred times, thanks!"

"Oh, my Lord! You have ill understood, wrongly interpreted; I
did not mean to say--"

"Silence, silence!" cried the duke. "If I am happy in an error,
do not have the cruelty to lift me from it. You have told me
yourself, madame, that I have been drawn into a snare; I,
perhaps, may leave my life in it--for, although it may be
strange, I have for some time had a presentiment that I should
shortly die." And the duke smiled, with a smile at once sad and
charming.

"Oh, my God!" cried Anne of Austria, with an accent of terror
which proved how much greater an interest she took in the duke
than she ventured to tell.

"I do not tell you this, madame, to terrify you; no, it is even
ridiculous for me to name it to you, and, believe me, I take no
heed of such dreams. But the words you have just spoken, the
hope you have almost given me, will have richly paid all--were it
my life."

"Oh, but I," said Anne, "I also, duke, have had presentiments; I
also have had dreams. I dreamed that I saw you lying bleeding,
wounded."

"In the left side, was it not, and with a knife?" interrupted
Buckingham.

"Yes, it was so, my Lord, it was so--in the left side, and with a
knife. Who can possibly have told you I had had that dream? I
have imparted it to no one but my God, and that in my prayers."

"I ask for no more. You love me, madame; it is enough."

"I love you, I?"

"Yes, yes. Would God send the same dreams to you as to me if you
did not love me? Should we have the same presentiments if our
existences did not touch at the heart? You love me, my beautiful
queen, and you will weep for me?"

"Oh, my God, my God!" cried Anne of Austria, "this is more than I
can bear. In the name of heaven, Duke, leave me, go! I do not
know whether I love you or love you not; but what I know is that
I will not be perjured. Take pity on me, then, and go! Oh, if
you are struck in France, if you die in France, if I could imagine
that your love for me was the cause of your death, I could not
console myself; I should run mad. Depart then, depart, I implore
you!"

"Oh, how beautiful you are thus! Oh, how I love you!" said
Buckingham.

"Go, go, I implore you, and return hereafter! Come back as
ambassador, come back as minister, come back surrounded with
guards who will defend you, with servants who will watch over
you, and then I shall no longer fear for your days, and I shall
be happy in seeing you."

"Oh, is this true what you say?"

"Yes."

"Oh, then, some pledge of your indulgence, some object which came
from you, and may remind me that I have not been dreaming;
something you have worn, and that I may wear in my turn--a ring,
a necklace, a chain."

"Will you depart--will you depart, if I give you that you
demand?"

"Yes."

"This very instant?"

"Yes."

"You will leave France, you will return to England?"

"I will, I swear to you."

"Wait, then, wait."

Anne of Austria re-entered her apartment, and came out again
almost immediately, holding a rosewood casket in her hand, with
her cipher encrusted with gold.

"Her, my Lord, here," said she, "keep this in memory of me."

Buckingham took the casket, and fell a second time on his knees.

"You have promised me to go," said the queen.

"And I keep my word. Your hand, madame, your hand, and I
depart!"

Anne of Austria stretched forth her hand, closing her eyes, and
leaning with the other upon Estafania, for she felt that her
strength was about to fail her.

Buckingham pressed his lips passionately to that beautiful hand,
and then rising, said, "Within six months, if I am not dead, I
shall have seen you again, madame--even if I have to overturn the
world." And faithful to the promise he had made, he rushed out
of the apartment.

In the corridor he met Mme. Bonacieux, who waited for him, and
who, with the same precautions and the same good luck, conducted
him out of the Louvre.





The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literatures
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