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 th_usketeers of M. de Treville, who, as we have said, were that evening o_uard. Besides, Germain was in the interests of the queen; and if anythin_hould happen, Mme. Bonacieux would be accused of having introduced her love_nto the Louvre, that was all. She took the risk upon herself. Her reputatio_ould be lost, it is true; but of what value in the world was the reputatio_f the little wife of a mercer?
Once within the interior of the court, the duke and the young woman followe_he 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 a_ight. The door yielded. Both entered, and found themselves in darkness; bu_me. Bonacieux was acquainted with all the turnings and windings of this par_f the Louvre, appropriated for the people of the household. She closed th_oor 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 ascen_he 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 step_arther, introduced a key into a lock, opened a door, and pushed the duke int_n 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, s_hat the duke found himself literally a prisoner.
Nevertheless, isolated as he was, we must say that the Duke of Buckingham di_ot experience an instant of fear. One of the salient points of his characte_as the search for adventures and a love of romance. Brave, rash, an_nterprising, this was not the first time he had risked his life in suc_ttempts. He had learned that the pretended message from Anne of Austria, upo_he faith of which he had come to Paris, was a snare; but instead of regainin_ngland, he had, abusing the position in which he had been placed, declared t_he queen that he would not depart without seeing her. The queen had at firs_ositively refused; but at length became afraid that the duke, if exasperated, would commit some folly. She had already decided upon seeing him and urgin_is immediate departure, when, on the very evening of coming to this decision, Mme. Bonacieux, who was charged with going to fetch the duke and conductin_im to the Louvre, was abducted. For two days no one knew what had become o_er, and everything remained in suspense; but once free, and placed i_ommunication with Laporte, matters resumed their course, and she accomplishe_he perilous enterprise which, but for her arrest, would have been execute_hree days earlier.
Buckingham, left alone, walked toward a mirror. His Musketeer's uniform becam_im marvelously.
At thirty-five, which was then his age, he passed, with just title, for th_andsomest gentleman and the most elegant cavalier of France or England.
The favorite of two kings, immensely rich, all-powerful in a kingdom which h_isordered at his fancy and calmed again at his caprice, George Villiers, Duk_f Buckingham, had lived one of those fabulous existences which survive, i_he course of centuries, to astonish posterity.
Sure of himself, convinced of his own power, certain that the laws which rul_ther 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 bee_adness for any other even to have contemplated it. It was thus he ha_ucceeded in approaching several times the beautiful and proud Anne o_ustria, and in making himself loved by dazzling her.
George Villiers placed himself before the glass, as we have said, restored th_ndulations to his beautiful hair, which the weight of his hat had disordered, twisted his mustache, and, his heart swelling with joy, happy and proud a_eing near the moment he had so long sighed for, he smiled upon himself wit_ride 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 th_ueen!
Anne of Austria was then twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age; that is t_ay, she was in the full splendor of her beauty.
Her carriage was that of a queen or a goddess; her eyes, which cast th_rilliancy of emeralds, were perfectly beautiful, and yet were at the sam_ime full of sweetness and majesty.
Her mouth was small and rosy; and although her underlip, like that of al_rinces of the House of Austria, protruded slightly beyond the other, it wa_minently lovely in its smile, but as profoundly disdainful in its contempt.
Her skin was admired for its velvety softness; her hands and arms were o_urpassing 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 se_ff her face, in which the most rigid critic could only have desired a littl_ess rouge, and the most fastidious sculptor a little more fineness in th_ose.
Buckingham remained for a moment dazzled. Never had Anne of Austria appeare_o him so beautiful, amid balls, fetes, or carousals, as she appeared to hi_t this moment, dressed in a simple robe of white satin, and accompanied b_onna Estafania—the only one of her Spanish women who had not been driven fro_er 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 mus_ave been mad, senseless, to believe that snow would become animated or marbl_arm; but what then! They who love believe easily in love. Besides, I hav_ost nothing by this journey because I see you."
"Yes," replied Anne, "but you know why and how I see you; because, insensibl_o 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 yo_o tell you that everything separates us—the depths of the sea, the enmity o_ingdoms, the sanctity of vows. It is sacrilege to struggle against so man_hings, my Lord. In short, I see you to tell you that we must never see eac_ther again."
"Speak on, madame, speak on, Queen," said Buckingham; "the sweetness of you_oice covers the harshness of your words. You talk of sacrilege! Why, th_acrilege 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 lov_ou."
"But you have never told me that you did not love me; and truly, to speak suc_ords 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 _ost 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 love_ou 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 gree_atin embroidered with gold and silver, hanging sleeves knotted upon you_eautiful arms—those lovely arms—with large diamonds. You wore a close ruff, _mall cap upon your head of the same color as your robe, and in that cap _eron's feather. Hold! Hold! I shut my eyes, and I can see you as you the_ere; I open them again, and I see what you are now—a hundred times mor_eautiful!"
"What folly," murmured Anne of Austria, who had not the courage to find faul_ith the duke for having so well preserved her portrait in his heart, "wha_olly to feed a useless passion with such remembrances!"
"And upon what then must I live? I have nothing but memory. It is m_appiness, my treasure, my hope. Every time I see you is a fresh diamond whic_ enclose in the casket of my heart. This is the fourth which you have le_all and I have picked up; for in three years, madame, I have only seen yo_our times—the first, which I have described to you; the second, at th_ansion 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 mos_appy and brilliant evening of my life! You remember what a beautiful night i_as? 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 wit_ou. Then you were about to tell me all—the isolation of your life, the grief_f your heart. You leaned upon my arm—upon this, madame! I felt, in bending m_ead toward you, your beautiful hair touch my cheek; and every time that i_ouched me I trembled from head to foot. Oh, Queen! Queen! You do not kno_hat felicity from heaven, what joys from paradise, are comprised in a momen_ike 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 nigh_ou loved me, I will swear it."
"My Lord, yes; it is possible that the influence of the place, the charm o_he beautiful evening, the fascination of your look—the thousan_ircumstances, in short, which sometimes unite to destroy a woman—were groupe_round me on that fatal evening; but, my Lord, you saw the queen come to th_id of the woman who faltered. At the first word you dared to utter, at th_irst 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 beneat_his ordeal; but my love came out from it more ardent and more eternal. Yo_elieved that you would fly from me by returning to Paris; you believed that _ould not dare to quit the treasure over which my master had charged me t_atch. What to me were all the treasures in the world, or all the kings of th_arth! Eight days after, I was back again, madame. That time you had nothin_o say to me; I had risked my life and favor to see you but for a second. _id not even touch your hand, and you pardoned me on seeing me so submissiv_nd so repentant."
"Yes, but calumny seized upon all those follies in which I took no part, a_ou well know, my Lord. The king, excited by the cardinal, made a terribl_lamor. Madame de Vernet was driven from me, Putange was exiled, Madame d_hevreuse fell into disgrace, and when you wished to come back as ambassado_o 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 no_llowed 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 o_a Rochelle which I am projecting? The pleasure of seeing you. I have no hop_f penetrating, sword in hand, to Paris, I know that well. But this war ma_ring round a peace; this peace will require a negotiator; that negotiato_ill 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, i_s true, will have to pay for my happiness with their lives; but what is tha_o 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 servan_ore ardent?"
"My Lord, my Lord, you invoke in your defense things which accuse you mor_trongly. 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 thi_therwise. If you loved me, oh, if you loved me, that would be too grea_appiness, and I should run mad. Ah, Madame de Chevreuse was less cruel tha_ou. Holland loved her, and she responded to his love."
"Madame de Chevreuse was not queen," murmured Anne of Austria, overcome, i_pite of herself, by the expression of so profound a passion.
"You would love me, then, if you were not queen! Madame, say that you woul_ove me then! I can believe that it is the dignity of your rank alone whic_akes 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, m_eautiful sovereign, a hundred times, thanks!"
"Oh, my Lord! You have ill understood, wrongly interpreted; I did not mean t_ay—"
"Silence, silence!" cried the duke. "If I am happy in an error, do not hav_he cruelty to lift me from it. You have told me yourself, madame, that I hav_een drawn into a snare; I, perhaps, may leave my life in it—for, although i_ay be strange, I have for some time had a presentiment that I should shortl_ie." 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 ho_uch 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 fo_e to name it to you, and, believe me, I take no heed of such dreams. But th_ords you have just spoken, the hope you have almost given me, will hav_ichly paid all—were it my life."
"Oh, but I," said Anne, "I also, duke, have had presentiments; I also have ha_reams. 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. Wh_an possibly have told you I had had that dream? I have imparted it to no on_ut 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 lov_e? Should we have the same presentiments if our existences did not touch a_he 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. I_he name of heaven, Duke, leave me, go! I do not know whether I love you o_ove 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 _ould imagine that your love for me was the cause of your death, I could no_onsole 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, com_ack as minister, come back surrounded with guards who will defend you, wit_ervants who will watch over you, and then I shall no longer fear for you_ays, and I shall be happy in seeing you."
"Oh, is this true what you say?"
"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, an_hat 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?"
"This very instant?"
"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 almos_mmediately, holding a rosewood casket in her hand, with her cipher encruste_ith gold.
"Here, 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 wit_he other upon Estafania, for she felt that her strength was about to fai_er.
Buckingham pressed his lips passionately to that beautiful hand, and the_ising, said, "Within six months, if I am not dead, I shall have seen yo_gain, madame—even if I have to overturn the world." And faithful to th_romise he had made, he rushed out of the apartment.
In the corridor he met Mme. Bonacieux, who waited for him, and who, with th_ame precautions and the same good luck, conducted him out of the Louvre.