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22. THE BALLET OF LA MERLAISON

On the morrow, nothing was talked of in Paris but the ball which
the aldermen of the city were to give to the king and queen, and
in which their Majesties were to dance the famous La Merlaison--
the favorite ballet of the king.

Eight days had been occupied in preparations at the Hotel de
Ville for this important evening. The city carpenters had
erected scaffolds upon which the invited ladies were to be
placed; the city grocer had ornamented the chambers with two
hundred FLAMBEAUX of white wax, a piece of luxury unheard of at
that period; and twenty violins were ordered, and the price for
them fixed at double the usual rate, upon condition, said the
report, that they should be played all night.

At ten o'clock in the morning the Sieur de la Coste, ensign in
the king's Guards, followed by two officers and several archers
of that body, came to the city registrar, named Clement, and
demanded of him all the keys of the rooms and offices of the
hotel. These keys were given up to him instantly. Each of them
had ticket attached to it, by which it might be recognized; and
from that moment the Sieur de la Coste was charged with the care
of all the doors and all the avenues.

At eleven o'clock came in his turn Duhallier, captain of the
Guards, bringing with him fifty archers, who were distributed
immediately through the Hotel de Ville, at the doors assigned
them.

At three o'clock came two companies of the Guards, one French,
the other Swiss. The company of French guards was composed of
half of M. Duhallier's men and half of M. Dessessart's men.

At six in the evening the guests began to come. As fast as they
entered, they were placed in the grand saloon, on the platforms
prepared for them.

At nine o'clock Madame la Premiere Presidente arrived. As next
to the queen, she was the most considerable personage of the
fete, she was received by the city officials, and placed in a box
opposite to that which the queen was to occupy.

At ten o'clock, the king's collation, consisting of preserves and
other delicacies, was prepared in the little room on the side of
the church of St. Jean, in front of the silver buffet of the
city, which was guarded by four archers.

At midnight great cries and loud acclamations were heard. It was
the king, who was passing through the streets which led from the
Louvre to the Hotel de Ville, and which were all illuminated with
colored lanterns.

Immediately the alderman, clothed in their cloth robes and
preceded by six sergeants, each holding a FLAMBEAU in his hand,
went to attend upon the king, whom they met on the steps, where
the provost of the merchants made him the speech of welcome--a
compliment to which his Majesty replied with an apology for
coming so late, laying the blame upon the cardinal, who had
detained him till eleven o'clock, talking of affairs of state.

His Majesty, in full dress, was accompanied by his royal
Highness, M. le Comte de Soissons, by the Grand Prior, by the Duc
de Longueville, by the Duc d'Euboeuf, by the Comte d'Harcourt, by
the Comte de la Roche-Guyon, by M. de Liancourt, by M. de
Baradas, by the Comte de Cramail, and by the Chevalier de
Souveray. Everybody noticed that the king looked dull and
preoccupied.

A private room had been prepared for the king and another for
Monsieur. In each of these closets were placed masquerade
dresses. The same had been done for the queen and Madame the
President. The nobles and ladies of their Majesties' suites were
to dress, two by two, in chambers prepared for the purpose.
Before entering his closet the king desired to be informed the
moment the cardinal arrived.

Half an hour after the entrance of the king, fresh acclamations
were heard; these announced the arrival of the queen. The
aldermen did as they had done before, and preceded by their
sergeants, advanced to receive their illustrious guest. The
queen entered the great hall; and it was remarked that, like the
king, she looked dull and even weary.

At the moment she entered, the curtain of a small gallery which
to that time had been closed, was drawn, and the pale face of the
cardinal appeared, he being dresses as a Spanish cavalier. His
eyes were fixed upon those of the queen, and a smile of terrible
joy passed over his lips; the queen did not wear her diamond
studs.

The queen remained for a short time to receive the compliments of
the city dignitaries and to reply to the salutations of the
ladies. All at once the king appeared with the cardinal at one
of the doors of the hall. The cardinal was speaking to him in a
low voice, and the king was very pale.

The king made his way through the crowd without a mask, and the
ribbons of his doublet scarcely tied. He went straight to the
queen, and in an altered voice said, "Why, madame, have you not
thought proper to wear your diamond studs, when you know it would
give me so much gratification?"

The queen cast a glance around her, and saw the cardinal behind,
with a diabolical smile on his countenance.

"Sire," replied the queen, with a faltering voice, "because, in
the midst of such a crowd as this, I feared some accident might
happen to them."

"And you were wrong, madame. If I made you that present it was
that you might adorn yourself therewith. I tell you that you
were wrong."

The voice of the king was tremulous with anger. Everybody looked
and listened with astonishment, comprehending nothing of what
passed.

"Sire," said the queen, "I can send for them to the Louvre, where
they are, and thus your Majesty's wishes will be complied with."

"Do so, madame, do so, and that at once; for within an hour the
ballet will commence."

The queen bent in token of submission, and followed the ladies
who were to conduct her to her room. On his part the king
returned to his apartment.

There was a moment of trouble and confusion in the assembly.
Everybody had remarked that something had passed between the king
and queen; but both of them had spoken so low that everybody, out
of respect, withdrew several steps, so that nobody had heard
anything. The violins began to sound with all their might, but
nobody listened to them.

The king came out first from his room. He was in a most elegant
hunting costume; and Monsieur and the other nobles were dressed
like him. This was the costume that best became the king. So
dressed, he really appeared the first gentleman of his kingdom.

The cardinal drew near to the king, and placed in his hand a
small casket. The king opened it, and found in it two diamond
studs.

"What does this mean?" demanded he of the cardinal.

"Nothing," replied the latter; "only, if the queen has the studs,
which I very much doubt, count them, sire, and if you only find
ten, ask her Majesty who can have stolen from her the two studs
that are here."

The king looked at the cardinal as if to interrogate him; but he
had not time to address any question to him--a cry of admiration
burst from every mouth. If the king appeared to be the first
gentleman of his kingdom, the queen was without doubt the most
beautiful woman in France.

It is true that the habit of a huntress became her admirably.
She wore a beaver hat with blue feathers, a surtout of gray-pearl
velvet, fastened with diamond clasps, and a petticoat of blue
satin, embroidered with silver. On her left shoulder sparkled
the diamonds studs, on a bow of the same color as the plumes and
the petticoat.

The king trembled with joy and the cardinal with vexation;
although, distant as they were from the queen, they could not
count the studs. The queen had them. The only question was, had
she ten or twelve?

At that moment the violins sounded the signal for the ballet.
The king advanced toward Madame the President, with whom he was
to dance, and his Highness Monsieur with the queen. They took
their places, and the ballet began.

The king danced facing the queen, and every time he passed by
her, he devoured with his eyes those studs of which he could not
ascertain the number. A cold sweat covered the brow of the
cardinal.

The ballet lasted an hour, and had sixteen ENTREES. The ballet
ended amid the applause of the whole assemblage, and everyone
reconducted his lady to her place; but the king took advantage of
the privilege he had of leaving his lady, to advance eagerly
toward the queen.

"I thank you, madame," said he, "for the deference you have shown
to my wishes, but I think you want two of the studs, and I bring
them back to you."

With these words he held out to the queen the two studs the
cardinal had given him.

"How, sire?" cried the young queen, affecting surprise, "you are
giving me, then, two more: I shall have fourteen."

In fact the king counted them, and the twelve studs were all on
her Majesty's shoulder.

The king called the cardinal.

"What does this mean, Monsieur Cardinal?" asked the king in a
severe tone.

"This means, sire," replied the cardinal, "that I was desirous of
presenting her Majesty with these two studs, and that not daring
to offer them myself, I adopted this means of inducing her to
accept them."

"And I am the more grateful to your Eminence," replied Anne of
Austria, with a smile that proved she was not the dupe of this
ingenious gallantry, "from being certain that these two studs
alone have cost you as much as all the others cost his Majesty."

Then saluting the king and the cardinal, the queen resumed her
way to the chamber in which she had dressed, and where she was to
take off her costume.

The attention which we have been obliged to give, during the
commencement of the chapter, to the illustrious personages we
have introduced into it, has diverted us for an instant from him
to whom Anne of Austria owed the extraordinary triumph she had
obtained over the cardinal; and who, confounded, unknown, lost in
the crowd gathered at one of the doors, looked on at this scene,
comprehensible only to four persons--the king, the queen, his
Eminence, and himself.

The queen had just regained her chamber, and d'Artagnan was about
to retire, when he felt his shoulder lightly touched. He turned
and saw a young woman, who made him a sign to follow her. The
face of this young woman was covered with a black velvet mask;
but notwithstanding this precaution, which was in fact taken
rather against others than against him, he at once recognized his
usual guide, the light and intelligent Mme. Bonacieux.

On the evening before, they had scarcely seen each other for a
moment at the apartment of the Swiss guard, Germain, whither
d'Artagnan had sent for her. The haste which the young woman was
in to convey to the queen the excellent news of the happy return
of her messenger prevented the two lovers from exchanging more
than a few words. D'Artagnan therefore followed Mme. Bonacieux
moved by a double sentiment--love and curiosity. All the way,
and in proportion as the corridors became more deserted,
d'Artagnan wished to stop the young woman, seize her and gaze
upon her, were it only for a minute; but quick as a bird she
glided between his hands, and when he wished to speak to her, her
finger placed upon her mouth, with a little imperative gesture
full of grace, reminded him that he was under the command of a
power which he must blindly obey, and which forbade him even to
make the slightest complaint. At length, after winding about for
a minute or two, Mme. Bonacieux opened the door of a closet,
which was entirely dark, and led d'Artagnan into it. There she
made a fresh sign of silence, and opened a second door concealed
by tapestry. The opening of this door disclosed a brilliant
light, and she disappeared.

D'Artagnan remained for a moment motionless, asking himself where
he could be; but soon a ray of light which penetrated through the
chamber, together with the warm and perfumed air which reached
him from the same aperture, the conversation of two of three
ladies in language at once respectful and refined, and the word
"Majesty" several times repeated, indicated clearly that he was
in a closet attached to the queen's apartment. The young man
waited in comparative darkness and listened.

The queen appeared cheerful and happy, which seemed to astonish
the persons who surrounded her and who were accustomed to see her
almost always sad and full of care. The queen attributed this
joyous feeling to the beauty of the fete, to the pleasure she had
experienced in the ballet; and as it is not permissible to
contradict a queen, whether she smile or weep, everybody
expatiated on the gallantry of the aldermen of the city of Paris.

Although d'Artagnan did not at all know the queen, he soon
distinguished her voice from the others, at first by a slightly
foreign accent, and next by that tone of domination naturally
impressed upon all royal words. He heard her approach and
withdraw from the partially open door; and twice or three times
he even saw the shadow of a person intercept the light.

At length a hand and an arm, surpassingly beautiful in their form
and whiteness, glided through the tapestry. D'Artagnan at once
comprehended that this was his recompense. He cast himself on
his knees, seized the hand, and touched it respectfully with his
lips. Then the hand was withdrawn, leaving in his an object
which he perceived to be a ring. The door immediately closed,
and d'Artagnan found himself again in complete obscurity.

D'Artagnan placed the ring on his finger, and again waited; it
was evident that all was not yet over. After the reward of his
devotion, that of his love was to come. Besides, although the
ballet was danced, the evening had scarcely begun. Supper was to
be served at three, and the clock of St. Jean had struck three
quarters past two.

The sound of voices diminished by degrees in the adjoining
chamber. The company was then heard departing; then the door of
the closet in which d'Artagnan was, was opened, and Mme.
Bonacieux entered.

"You at last?" cried d'Artagnan.

"Silence!" said the young woman, placing her hand upon his lips;
"silence, and go the same way you came!"

"But where and when shall I see you again?" cried d'Artagnan.

"A note which you will find at home will tell you. Begone,
begone!"

At these words she opened the door of the corridor, and pushed
d'Artagnan out of the room. D'Artagnan obeyed like a child,
without the least resistance or objection, which proved that he
was really in love.





The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literatures
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