by Alexandre Dumas
I: Two Old Friends
WHILE EVERY ONE AT court was busy with his
own affairs, a man mysteriously took up his post behind the Place de Greve, in
the house which we once saw besieged by d'Artagnan on the occasion of a riot.
The principal entrance of this house was in the Place Baudoyer. The house was
tolerably large, surrounded by gardens, enclosed in the Rue St. Jean by the
shops of tool-makers, which protected it from prying looks; and was walled in
by a triple rampart of stone, noise, and verdure, like an embalmed mummy in its
The man to whom we have just alluded walked
along with a firm step, although he was no longer in his early prime. His dark
cloak and long sword outlined beneath the cloak plainly revealed a man seeking
adventures; and judging from his curling mustaches, his fine and smooth skin,
as seen under his sombrero, the gallantry of his adventures was unquestionable.
In fact, hardly had the cavalier entered the house, when the clock of St.
Gervais struck eight; and ten minutes afterwards a lady, followed by an armed
servant, approached and knocked at the same door, which an old woman
immediately opened for her. The lady raised her veil as she entered; though no
longer a beauty, she was still a woman; she was no longer young, yet she was
sprightly and of an imposing carriage. She concealed, beneath a rich toilet of
exquisite taste, an age which Ninon de l'Enclos alone could have smiled at with
impunity. Hardly had she reached the vestibule, when the cavalier, whose
features we have only roughly sketched, advanced towards her, holding out his
"Good-day, my dear Duchess," he
"How do you do, my dear Aramis?"
replied the duchess.
He led her to an elegantly furnished apartment,
on whose high windows were reflected the expiring rays of the setting sun,
which filtered through the dark crests of some adjoining firs. They sat down
side by side. Neither of them thought of asking for additional light in the
room, and they buried themselves thus in the shadow, as if they had wished to
bury themselves in forgetfulness.
"Chevalier," said the duchess,
"you have never given me a single sign of life since our interview at
Fontainebleau; and I confess that your presence there on the day of the
Franciscan's death, and your initiation in certain secrets, caused me the
liveliest astonishment I ever experienced in my whole life."
"I can explain my presence there to
you, as well as my initiation," said Aramis.
"But let us, first of all,"
replied the duchess, quickly, "talk a little of ourselves, for our
friendship is by no means of recent date."
"Yes, Madame; and if Heaven wills it,
we shall continue to be friends,- I will not say for a long time, but
"That is quite certain, Chevalier, and
my visit is a proof of it."
"Our interests, Madame the Duchess,
are no longer the same that they used to be," said Aramis, smiling without
reserve in the dim light, which could not show that his smile was less
agreeable and less bright than formerly.
"No, Chevalier, at the present day we
have other interests. Every period of life brings its own; and as we now
understand each other in conversing as perfectly as we formerly did without
saying a word, let us talk, if you like."
"I am at your orders, Duchess. Ah! I
beg your pardon; how did you obtain my address, and what was your object?"
"You ask me why? I have told you.
Curiosity, in the first place. I wished to know what you could have to do with
the Franciscan with whom I had certain business, and who died so singularly.
You know that on the occasion of our interview at Fontainebleau, in the
cemetery, at the foot of the grave so recently closed, we were both so much
overcome by our emotions that we omitted to confide anything to each
"Well, then, I had no sooner left you
than I repented, and have ever since been most anxious to ascertain the truth.
You know that Madame de Longueville and myself are almost one, I suppose?"
"I was not aware of it," said
"I remembered, then," continued
the duchess, "that neither of us said anything to the other in the
cemetery; that you did not speak of the relationship in which you stood to the
Franciscan, whose burial you had superintended, and that I did not refer to the
position in which I stood to him,- all which seemed to me very unworthy of two
such old friends as ourselves; and I have sought an opportunity of an interview
with you in order to give you proof that I am devoted to you, and that Marie
Michon, now no more, has left behind her a ghost with a good memory."
Aramis bowed over the duchess's hand, and
pressed his lips upon it. "You must have had some trouble to find me
again," he said.
"Yes," answered the duchess,
annoyed to find the subject taking a turn which Aramis wished to give it;
"but I knew that you were a friend of M. Fouquet, and so I inquired in
"A friend! Oh," exclaimed the
chevalier, "you exaggerate, Madame! A poor priest who has been favored by
so generous a protector, and whose heart is full of gratitude and devotion to
him, is all that I am to M. Fouquet."
"He made you a bishop?"
"So, my fine musketeer, that is your
"In the same way that political
intrigue is for yourself," thought Aramis. "And so," he said,
"you inquired after me at M. Fouquet's?"
"Easily enough. You had been to
Fontainebleau with him, and had undertaken a voyage to your diocese,- which is
Belle-Isle-en-Mer, I believe."
"No, Madame," said Aramis;
"my diocese is Vannes."
"I meant that. I only thought that
"Is a property belonging to M.
Fouquet,- nothing more."
"Ah! I had been told that Belle-Isle
was fortified; besides, I know that you are a military man, my friend."
"I have forgotten everything of the
kind since I entered the church," said Aramis, annoyed.
"Very well. I then learned that you
had returned from Vannes, and I sent to one of our friends, M. le Comte de la
Fere, who is discretion itself; but he answered that he was not aware of your
"So like Athos," thought the
bishop; "that which is actually good never alters."
"Well, then, you know that I cannot
venture to show myself here, and that the Queen-Mother has always some
grievance or other against me."
"Yes, indeed; and I am surprised at
"Oh, there are various reasons for it!
But, to continue, being obliged to conceal myself, I was fortunate enough to
meet with M. d'Artagnan,- one of your old friends, I believe."
"A friend of mine still,
"He gave me some information, and sent
me to M. de Baisemeaux, the governor of the Bastille."
Aramis started; and a light flashed from
his eyes in the darkness of the room which he could not conceal from his
keen-sighted friend. "M. de Baisemeaux!" he said; "why did
d'Artagnan send you to M. de Baisemeaux?"
"I cannot tell you."
"What can this possibly mean?"
said the bishop, summoning all the resources of his mind to his aid, in order
to carry on the combat in a befitting manner.
"M. de Baisemeaux is greatly indebted
to you, d'Artagnan told me."
"True, he is so."
"And the address of a creditor is as
easily ascertained as that of a debtor."
"Also very true; and so Baisemeaux
indicated to you-"
"St. Mande, where I forwarded a letter
"Which I have in my hand, and which is
most precious to me," said Aramis, "because I am indebted to it for
the pleasure of seeing you."
The duchess, satisfied at having so
successfully passed over the various difficulties of so delicate an
explanation, began to breathe freely again; which Aramis, however, could not
succeed in doing. "We had got as far as your visit to Baisemeaux, I believe?"
"Nay," said the duchess,
laughing, "further than that."
"In that case we must have been
speaking about your grudge against the Queen-Mother."
"Further still," returned the
duchess, "further still; we were talking of the connection-"
"Which existed between you and the
Franciscan," said Aramis, interrupting her eagerly; "well, I am
listening to you very attentively."
"It is easily explained,"
returned the duchess, making up her mind. "You know that I am living at
Brussels with M. de Laicques?"
"I have heard so, Madame."
"You know that my children have ruined
and stripped me of everything?"
"How terrible, dear Duchess!"
"Terrible, indeed! This obliged me to
resort to some means of obtaining a livelihood, and particularly to avoid
vegetating. I had old hatreds to turn to account, old friendships to serve; I
no longer had either credit or protectors."
"You, too, who had extended protection
towards so many persons," said Aramis, blandly.
"It is always the case, Chevalier.
Well, at that time I saw the King of Spain."
"Ah!" "Who had just
nominated a general of the Jesuits, according to the usual custom."
"Is it usual, indeed?"
"Were you not aware of it?"
"I beg your pardon; I was
"You must be aware of that,- you who
were on such good terms with the Franciscan."
"With the general of the Jesuits, you
"Exactly. Well, then, I saw the King
of Spain, who wished to do me a service, but was unable. He gave me
recommendations, however, to Flanders, both for myself and for Laicques, and
conferred a pension on me out of the funds of the order."
"Yes. The general- I mean the
Franciscan- was sent to me; and in order to give regularity to the transaction,
in accordance with the statutes of the order, I was reputed to be in a position
to render certain services. You are aware that that is the rule?"
"I was not aware of it."
Madame de Chevreuse paused to look at
Aramis, but it was quite dark. "Well, such is the rule," she resumed.
"I ought, therefore, to seem to possess a power of usefulness of some kind
or other. I proposed to travel for the order, and I was placed on the list of
affiliated travellers. You understand that it was a formality, by means of
which I received my pension, which was very convenient for me."
"Good Heavens! Duchess, what you tell
me is like a dagger-thrust to me. You obliged to receive a pension from the
"No, Chevalier; from Spain."
"Ah! except as a conscientious
scruple, Duchess, you will admit that it is pretty nearly the same thing."
"No, not at all."
"But, surely, of your magnificent
fortune there must remain-"
"Dampierre is all that remains."
"And that is handsome enough."
"Yes; but Dampierre is burdened,
mortgaged, and somewhat in ruins, like its owner."
"And can the Queen-Mother see all that
without shedding a tear?" said Aramis, with a penetrating look, which
encountered nothing but the darkness.
"Yes, she has forgotten
"You have, I believe, Duchess,
attempted to get restored to favor?"
"Yes; but, most singularly, the young
King inherits the antipathy that his dear father had for me. Ah, you too will
tell me that I am indeed a woman to be hated, and that I am no longer one who
can be loved."
"Dear Duchess, pray arrive soon at the
circumstance which brought you here; for I think we can be of service to each
"Such has been my own thought. I came
to Fontainebleau, then, with a double object in view. In the first place, I was
summoned there by the Franciscan whom you knew. By the by, how did you know
him?- for I have told you my story, and have not yet heard yours."
"I knew him in a very natural way,
Duchess. I studied theology with him at Parma; we became fast friends, but it
happened, from time to time, that business or travels or war separated us from
"You were, of course, aware that he
was the general of the Jesuits?"
"I suspected it."
"But by what extraordinary chance did
you come to the hotel where the affiliated travellers had met together?"
"Oh," said Aramis, in a calm
voice, "it was the merest chance in the world! I was going to
Fontainebleau to see M. Fouquet, for the purpose of obtaining an audience of
the King. I was passing by, unknown; I saw the poor dying monk in the road, and
recognized him. You know the rest,- he died in my arms."
"Yes, but bequeathing to you so vast a
power in Heaven and on earth that you issue sovereign orders in his name."
"He did leave me a few commissions to
"And for me?"
"I have told you,- a sum of twelve
thousand livres was to be paid to you. I thought I had given you the necessary
signature to enable you to receive it. Did you not get the money?"
"Oh, yes, yes! My dear prelate, you give
your orders, I am informed, with so much mystery and such august majesty that
it is generally believed you are the successor of the beloved dead."
Aramis colored impatiently, and the duchess
continued. "I have obtained information," she said, "from the
King of Spain himself; and he dispelled my doubts on the point. Every general
of the Jesuits is nominated by him, and must be a Spaniard, according to the
statutes of the order. You are not a Spaniard, nor have you been nominated by
the King of Spain."
Aramis did not reply to this remark, except
to say, "You see, Duchess, how greatly you were mistaken, since the King
of Spain told you that."
"Yes, my dear Aramis; but there was
something else of which I have been thinking."
"What is that?"
"You know that I do a great deal of
desultory thinking, and it occurred to me that you know the Spanish
"Every Frenchman who has been actively
engaged in the Fronde knows Spanish."
"You have lived in Flanders?"
"And have stayed at Madrid?"
"You are in a position, then, to
become a naturalized Spaniard when you like."
"Really?" said Aramis, with a
frankness which deceived the duchess.
"Undoubtedly. Two years' residence and
an acquaintance with the language are indispensable. You have had three years
and a half,- fifteen months more than is necessary."
"What are you driving at, my dear
"At this,- I am on good terms with the
King of Spain."
"And I am not on bad terms,"
thought Aramis to himself.
"Do you wish me to ask the King,"
continued the duchess, "to confer the succession to the Franciscan's
office upon you?"
"You have it already, perhaps?"
"No, upon my honor."
"Very well, then, I can render you
"Why did you not render the same
service to M. de Laicques, Duchess? He is a very talented man, and one whom you
"Yes, no doubt; but that is not to be
considered. At all events, putting Laicques aside, answer me, will you have
"No, I thank you, Duchess."
She paused. "He is nominated,"
she thought; and then resumed aloud, "If you refuse me in this manner, it
is not very encouraging for me to ask anything of you."
"Oh, ask, pray ask!"
"Ask! I cannot do so if you have not
the power to grant what I want."
"However limited my power and ability,
ask all the same."
"I need a sum of money to restore
"Ah!" replied Aramis, coldly,
"money? Well, Duchess, how much would you require?"
"Oh, a tolerably round sum!"
"So much the worse,- you know I am not
"No, you are not; but the order is.
And if you had been the general-"
"You know I am not the general."
"In that case you have a friend who
must be very wealthy,- M. Fouquet."
"M. Fouquet! He is more than half
"So it is said, but I would not
"Because I have, or rather Laicques
has, certain letters in his possession from Cardinal Mazarin, which establish
the existence of very strange accounts."
"Relative to various sums of money
borrowed and disposed of. I do not fully remember; but the point is that the
superintendent, according to these letters, which are signed by Mazarin, had
taken thirty millions from the coffers of the State. The case is a very serious
Aramis clinched his hands in anxiety and
apprehension. "Is it possible," he said, "that you have such
letters, and have not communicated them to M. Fouquet?"
"Ah!" replied the duchess,
"I keep such little matters as these in reserve. When the day of need
comes, we will take them from the closet."
"And that day has arrived?" said
"And you are going to show those
letters to M. Fouquet?"
"I prefer instead to talk about them
"You must be in sad want of money, my
poor friend, to think of such things as these,- you, too, who held M. de
Mazarin's prose effusions in such indifferent esteem."
"The fact is, I am in want of
"And then," continued Aramis, in
cold accents, "it must have been very distressing to you to be obliged to
have recourse to such a means. It is cruel."
"Oh, if I had wished to do harm
instead of good," said Madame de Chevreuse, "instead of asking the
general of the order or M. Fouquet for the five hundred thousand livres I
"Five hundred thousand livres!"
"Yes; no more. Do you think it much? I
require at least as much as that to restore Dampierre."
"I say, therefore, that instead of
asking for this amount I should have gone to see my old friend the
Queen-Mother; the letters from her husband, the Signor Mazarini, would have
served me as an introduction, and I should have begged this mere trifle of her,
saying to her, 'I wish, Madame, to have the honor of receiving your Majesty at
Dampierre. Permit me to put Dampierre in a fit state for that purpose.'"
Aramis did not say a single word in reply.
"Well," she said, "what are you thinking about?"
"I am making certain additions,"
"And M. Fouquet makes subtractions. I,
on the other hand, am trying the art of multiplication. What excellent calculators
we are! How well we could understand one another!"
"Will you allow me to reflect?"
"No; to such an overture between
persons like ourselves, 'Yes' or 'No' should be the reply, and that
"It is a snare," thought the
bishop; "it is impossible that Anne of Austria would listen to such a
woman as this."
"Well!" said the duchess.
"Well, Madame, I should be very much
astonished if M. Fouquet had five hundred thousand livres at his disposal at
the present moment."
"It is of no use speaking of it
further, then," said the duchess, "and Dampierre must get restored
how it can."
"Oh, you are not embarrassed to such
an extent as that, I suppose?"
"No; I am never embarrassed."
"And the Queen," continued the
bishop, "will certainly do for you what the superintendent is unable to
"Oh, certainly! But tell me, do you
not think it would be better that I should speak myself to M. Fouquet about
"You will do whatever you please in
that respect, Duchess. M. Fouquet either feels or does not feel himself to be
guilty. If he really be so, I know that he is proud enough not to confess it;
if he be not so, he will be exceedingly offended at your menace."
"As usual, you reason like an
angel," said the duchess, rising.
"And so you are going to denounce M.
Fouquet to the Queen," said Aramis.
"Denounce? Oh, what a disagreeable
word! I shall not denounce, my dear friend. You now know matters of policy too
well to be ignorant how easily these affairs are arranged. I shall merely side
against M. Fouquet, and nothing more; and in a war of party against party a
weapon is a weapon."
"And once on friendly terms again with
the Queen-Mother, I may be dangerous towards some persons."
"You are at perfect liberty to be so,
"A liberty of which I shall avail
myself, my dear friend."
"You are not ignorant, I suppose,
Duchess, that M. Fouquet is on the best terms with the King of Spain?"
"Oh, I suppose so!"
"If, therefore, you begin a party
warfare against M. Fouquet, he will reply in the same way; for he too is at
perfect liberty to do so, is he not?"
"And as he is on good terms with
Spain, he will make use of that friendship as a weapon."
"You mean that he will be on good
terms with the general of the order of the Jesuits, my dear Aramis."
"That may be the case, Duchess."
"And that, consequently, the pension I
have been receiving from the order will be stopped."
"I am greatly afraid it might
"Well, I must contrive to console
myself; for after Richelieu, after the Frondes, after exile, what is there left
for Madame de Chevreuse to fear?"
"The pension, you are aware, is
forty-eight thousand livres."
"Alas! I am quite aware of it."
"Moreover, in party contests, you
know, the friends of the enemy do not escape."
"Ah! you mean that poor Laicques will
have to suffer."
"I am afraid it is almost inevitable,
"Oh, he receives only twelve thousand
"Yes, but the King of Spain has some
influence left; advised by M. Fouquet, he might get M. Laicques shut up in some
"I have no great fear of that, my good
friend; because, thanks to a reconciliation with Anne of Austria, I will
undertake that France shall insist upon Laicques's liberation."
"True. In that case you will have
something else to apprehend."
"What can that be?" said the
duchess, pretending to be surprised and terrified.
"You will learn- indeed, you must know
it already- that having once been an affiliated member of the order, it is not
easy to leave it; for the secrets that any particular member may have acquired
are unwholesome, and carry with them the germs of misfortune for whoever may
The duchess considered for a moment, and
then said, "That is more serious; I will think it over."
Notwithstanding the profound obscurity in
which he sat, Aramis seemed to feel a burning glance, like a hot iron, escape
from his friend's eyes and plunge into his heart.
"Let us recapitulate," said
Aramis, determined to keep himself on his guard, and gliding his hand into his
breast, where he had a dagger concealed.
"Exactly, let us recapitulate; good
accounts make good friends."
"The suppression of your
"Forty-eight thousand livres and that
of Laicques's twelve make together sixty thousand livres; that is what you
mean, I suppose?"
"Precisely; and I was trying to find
out what would be your equivalent for that."
"Five hundred thousand livres, which I
shall get from the Queen."
"Or which you will not get."
"I know a means of procuring them,"
said the duchess, thoughtlessly.
This remark made the chevalier prick up his
ears; and from the moment when his adversary had committed this error, his mind
was so thoroughly on its guard that he seemed every moment to gain the
advantage more and more, and she, consequently, to lose it. "I will admit,
for argument's sake, that you obtain the money," he resumed; "you
will lose twice as much, having a hundred thousand livres' pension to receive
instead of sixty thousand, and that for a period of ten years."
"Not so, for I shall only be subjected
to this diminution of my income during the period of M. Fouquet's remaining in
power,- a period which I estimate at two months."
"Ah!" said Aramis.
"I am frank, you see."
"I thank you for it, Duchess; but you
would be wrong to suppose that after M. Fouquet's disgrace the order would
resume the payment of your pension."
"I know a means of making the order
come down with its money, as I know a means of forcing the Queen-Mother to
concede what I require."
"In that case, Duchess, we are all
obliged to strike our flags to you. The victory is yours, and the triumph also
is yours. Be clement, I entreat you!"
"But is it possible," resumed the
duchess, without taking notice of the irony, "that you really draw back
from a miserable sum of five hundred thousand livres when it is a question of
sparing you- I mean your friend- I beg your pardon, I ought rather to say your
protector- the disagreeable consequences which a party contest produces?"
"Duchess, I will tell you why.
Supposing the five hundred thousand livres were to be given to you, M. de
Laicques will require his share, which will be another five hundred thousand
livres, I presume; and then, after M. de Laicques's and your own portions, will
come the portions for your children, your poor pensioners, and various other
persons; and these letters, however compromising they may be, are not worth
from three to four millions. Good heavens! Duchess, the Queen of France's
diamonds were surely worth more than these bits of waste paper signed by
Mazarin; and yet their recovery did not cost a fourth part of what you ask for
"Yes, that is true; but the merchant
values his goods at his own price, and it is for the purchaser to buy or to
"Stay a moment, Duchess; would you
like me to tell you why I will not buy your letters?"
"Pray tell me."
"Because the letters which you say are
Mazarin's are false."
"I have no doubt of it; for it would,
to say the least, be very singular that after you had quarrelled with the Queen
through M. Mazarin's means, you should have kept up any intimate acquaintance
with the latter; it would savor of passion, of treachery, of- Upon my word, I
do not like to make use of the term."
"Oh pray say it!"
"That is quite true; but what is not
less so is that which the letter contains."
"I pledge you my word, Duchess, that
you will not be able to make use of it with the Queen."
"Oh, yes, indeed; I can make use of
everything with the Queen."
"Very good," thought Aramis.
"Croak on, old owl! hiss, viper that you are!"
But the duchess had said enough, and
advanced a few steps towards the door. Aramis, however, had reserved a
humiliation which she did not expect,- the imprecation of the vanquished behind
the car of the conqueror. He rang the bell. Candles immediately appeared in the
room; and the bishop found himself completely encircled by lights, which shone
upon the worn, haggard face of the duchess. Aramis fixed a long and ironical
look upon her pale and withered cheeks, upon her dim, dull eyes, and upon her
lips, which she kept carefully closed over her blackened and scanty teeth. He,
however, had thrown himself into a graceful attitude, with his haughty and
intelligent head thrown back; he smiled so as to reveal his teeth, which were
still brilliant and dazzling in the candle-light.
The old coquette understood the trick that
had been played upon her. She was standing immediately before a large mirror,
in which all her decrepitude, so carefully concealed, was only made more
manifest by the contrast. Thereupon, without even saluting Aramis, who bowed
with the ease and grace of the musketeer of early days, she hurried away with
tottering steps, which her very haste only the more impeded. Aramis sprang
across the room like a zephyr to lead her to the door. Madame de Chevreuse made
a sign to her huge lackey, who resumed his musket; and she left the house where
such tender friends had not been able to understand each other only because
they had understood each other too well.
II: Wherein May Be Seen That a Bargain Which Cannot Be Made with One Person Can
Be Carried Out with Another
ARAMIS had been perfectly correct in his
supposition. Immediately on leaving the house in the Place Baudoyer, Madame de
Chevreuse had proceeded homeward. She was doubtless afraid of being followed,
and had sought in this way to cover her steps; but as soon as she had arrived
within the door of the hotel, and assured herself that no one who could cause
her any uneasiness was on her track, she opened the door of the garden leading
into another street, and hurried towards the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, where
M. Colbert resided.
We have already said that evening, or
rather night, had closed in,- and it was a dark, thick night. Paris had once
more sunk into its calm, quiescent state, enshrouding alike within its
indulgent mantle the high-born duchess carrying out her political intrigue, and
the simple citizen's wife who having been detained late by a supper in the city
was proceeding homewards, on the arm of a lover, by the longest possible route.
Madame de Chevreuse had been too well
accustomed to nocturnal politics not to know that a minister never denies
himself, even at his own private residence, to any young and beautiful woman
who may chance to object to the dust and confusion of a public office; or to
old women, as full of experience as of years, who dislike the indiscreet echo
of official residences. A valet received the duchess under the peristyle, and
received her, it must be admitted, with some indifference of manner; he
intimated, after having looked at her face, that it was hardly at such an hour
that one so advanced in years as herself could be permitted to disturb M.
Colbert's important occupations. But Madame de Chevreuse, without disquietude,
wrote her name upon a leaf of her tablets,- a blusterous name, which had so
often sounded disagreeably in the ears of Louis XIII and of the great cardinal.
She wrote her name in the large ill-formed characters of the higher classes of
that period, folded the paper in a manner peculiarly her own, and handed it to
the valet without uttering a word, but with so haughty and imperious a gesture
that the fellow, well accustomed to judge of people from their manners and
appearance, perceived at once the quality of the person before him, bowed his
head, and ran to M. Colbert's room.
The minister could not control a sudden
exclamation as he opened the paper; and the valet, gathering from it the
interest with which his master regarded the mysterious visitor, returned as
fast as he could to beg the duchess to follow him. She ascended to the first
floor of the beautiful new house very slowly, rested herself on the
landing-place in order not to enter the apartment out of breath, and appeared before
M. Colbert, who with his own hands held open the folding-doors. The duchess
paused at the threshold for the purpose of studying well the character of the
man with whom she was about to converse. At the first glance the round, large,
heavy head, thick brows, and ill-favored features of Colbert, who wore, thrust
low down on his head, a cap like a priest's calotte, seemed to indicate that
but little difficulty was likely to be met with in her negotiations with him,
but also that she was to expect little interest in the discussion of
particulars; for there was scarcely any indication that that rude man could be
susceptible to the attractions of a refined revenge or of an exalted ambition.
But when on closer inspection the duchess perceived the small, piercingly black
eyes, the longitudinal wrinkles of his high and massive forehead, the
imperceptible twitching of the lips, on which were apparent traces of rough
good-humor, she changed her mind and said to herself, "I have found the
man I want."
"What has procured me the honor of
your visit, Madame?" he inquired.
"The need I have of you,
Monsieur," returned the duchess, "and that which you have of
"I am delighted, Madame, with the
first portion of your sentence; but so far as the second portion is concerned-"
Madame de Chevreuse sat down in the
arm-chair which M. Colbert placed before her. "M. Colbert, you are the
intendant of finances?"
"And are ambitious of becoming the
"Nay, do not deny it! That would only
unnecessarily prolong our conversation,- it is useless."
"And yet, Madame," replied the
intendant, "however well disposed and inclined to show politeness I may be
towards a lady of your position and merit, nothing will make me confess that I
have ever entertained the idea of supplanting my superior."
"I said nothing about supplanting, M.
Colbert. Could I accidentally have made use of that word? I hardly think so.
The word 'replace' is less aggressive in its signification, and more
grammatically suitable, as M. de Voiture would say. I presume, therefore, that
you are ambitious of replacing M. Fouquet."
"M. Fouquet's fortune, Madame, enables
him to withstand all attempts. The superintendent in this age plays the part of
the Colossus of Rhodes; the vessels pass beneath him, and do not overthrow
"I ought to have availed myself of
that very comparison. It is true. M. Fouquet plays the part of the Colossus of
Rhodes; but I remember to have heard it said by M. Conrart (a member of the
Academy, I believe), that when the Colossus of Rhodes fell from its lofty
position, the merchant who had cast it down- a merchant, nothing more, M.
Colbert- loaded four hundred camels with the ruins. A merchant!- that is
considerably less than an intendant of finances."
"Madame, I can assure you that I shall
never overthrow M. Fouquet."
"Very good, M. Colbert, since you
persist in showing so much sensitiveness with me, as if you were ignorant that
I am Madame de Chevreuse, and also that I am somewhat advanced in years,- in
other words, that you have to do with a woman who has had political dealings
with the Cardinal de Richelieu, and who has no time to lose,- since, I say, you
commit that imprudence, I shall go and find others who are more intelligent and
more desirous of making their fortunes."
"How, Madame, how?"
"You give me a very poor idea of the
negotiations of the present day, Monsieur. I assure you that if in my time a
woman had gone to M. de Cinq-Mars, who was not moreover a man of a very high
order of intellect, and had said to him about the cardinal what I have just now
said to you of M. Fouquet, M. de Cinq-Mars would by this time have put his
irons in the fire."
"Nay, Madame, show a little
"Well, then, you do really consent to
replace M. Fouquet?"
"Certainly, I do, if the King
dismisses M. Fouquet."
"Again a word too much; it is quite
evident that if you have not yet succeeded in driving M. Fouquet from his post,
it is because you have not been able to do so. Therefore I should be a
simpleton if in coming to you I did not bring you the very thing you
"I am distressed to be obliged to
persist, Madame," said Colbert, after a silence which enabled the duchess
to sound the depth of his dissimulation; "but I must warn you that for the
last six years denunciation after denunciation has been made against M.
Fouquet, and he has remained unshaken and unaffected by them."
"There is a time for everything, M.
Colbert; those who were the authors of such denunciations were not called
Madame de Chevreuse, and they had no proofs equal to the six letters from M. de
Mazarin which establish the offence in question."
"The crime, if you like it
"The crime- committed by M.
"Nothing less. It is rather strange,
M. Colbert; but your face, which just now was cold and indifferent, is now all
"I am delighted to see it makes an
impression upon you."
"Oh, that is a word, Madame, which
embraces so many things!"
"It embraces the post of
superintendent of finance for yourself, and a letter of exile or the Bastille
for M. Fouquet."
"Forgive me, Madame the Duchess, but
it is almost impossible that M. Fouquet can be exiled; to be imprisoned or
disgraced, that alone is much."
"Oh, I am perfectly aware of what I am
saying!" returned Madame de Chevreuse, coldly. "I do not live at such
a distance from Paris as not to know what takes place there. The King does not
like M. Fouquet, and he would willingly sacrifice the superintendent if an
opportunity were only presented."
"It must be a good one, though."
"Good enough, and one I estimate to be
worth five hundred thousand livres."
"In what way?" said Colbert.
"I mean, Monsieur, that holding this
opportunity in my own hands I will not allow it to be transferred to yours
except for a sum of five hundred thousand livres."
"I understand you perfectly, Madame.
But since you have fixed a price for the sale, let me now see the value of the
articles to be sold."
"Oh, a mere trifle,- six letters, as I
have already told you, from M. de Mazarin; and the autographs will most
assuredly not be regarded as too costly, if they establish in an irrefutable
manner that M. Fouquet has embezzled large sums of money from the treasury and
appropriated them to his own purposes."
"In an irrefutable manner, do you
say?" observed Colbert, whose eyes sparkled with delight.
"Irrefutable; would you like to read
"With all my heart! Copies, of
"Of course, the copies," said the
duchess, as she drew from her bosom a small packet of papers flattened by her
velvet bodice. "Read!" she said.
Colbert eagerly snatched the papers and
"Wonderful!" he said.
"It is clear enough, is it not?"
"Yes, Madame, yes. M. Mazarin must
have handed the money to M. Fouquet, who must have kept it for his own
purposes; but the question is, what money?"
"Exactly,- what money; if we come to
terms, I will join to these six letters a seventh, which will supply you with
the fullest particulars."
Colbert reflected. "And the originals
of these letters?"
"A useless question to ask; exactly as
if I were to ask you, M. Colbert, whether the money-bags you will give me will
be full or empty."
"Very good, Madame."
"Is it concluded?"
"No; for there is one circumstance to
which neither of us has given any attention."
"M. Fouquet can be utterly ruined,
under the circumstances you have detailed, only by means of legal
"A public scandal."
"Yes, what then?"
"Neither the legal proceedings nor the
scandal can be begun against him."
"Because he is procureur-general of
the parliament; because, too, in France, the government, the army, the courts
of law, and commerce are intimately connected by ties of good-will, which
people call esprit de corps. So, Madame, the parliament will never permit its
chief to be dragged before a public tribunal; and never, even if he be dragged
there by royal authority, never will he be condemned."
"Ah! ma foi! M. Colbert, that doesn't
"I am aware of that, Madame; but it
concerns me, and it consequently diminishes the value of what you have brought
to me. Of what use to bring me a proof of crime, without the possibility of
"Even if he be only suspected, M.
Fouquet will lose his post of superintendent."
"That would be a great
achievement!" exclaimed Colbert, whose dark, gloomy features were
momentarily lighted up by an expression of hate and vengeance.
"Ah, ah! M. Colbert," said the
duchess, "forgive me, but I did not think you were so impressionable. Very
good; in that case, since you need more than I have to give you, there is no
occasion to speak of the matter further."
"Yes, Madame, we will go on talking of
it; only, as the value of your commodities has decreased, you must lower your
"You are bargaining, then?"
"Every man who wishes to deal loyally
is obliged to do so."
"How much will you offer me?"
"Two hundred thousand livres,"
The duchess laughed in his face, and then
said suddenly, "Wait a moment, I have another arrangement to propose; will
you give me three hundred thousand livres?"
"Oh, you can either accept or refuse
my terms; besides, that is not all."
"More still? You are becoming too
impracticable to deal with, Madame."
"Less so than you think, perhaps, for
it is not money I am going to ask you for."
"What is it, then?"
"A service. You know that I have
always been most affectionately attached to the Queen, and I am desirous of
having an interview with her Majesty."
"With the Queen?"
"Yes, M. Colbert, with the Queen, who
is, I admit, no longer my friend, and who has ceased to be so for a long time
past, but who may again become so if the opportunity be only given her."
"Her Majesty has ceased to receive any
one, Madame. She is a great sufferer, and you may be aware that the paroxysms
of her disease occur with greater frequency than ever."
"That is the very reason why I wish to
have an interview with her Majesty. In Flanders we have many diseases of that
"Cancers?- a fearful, incurable
"Do not believe that, M. Colbert. The
Flemish peasant is something of a savage; he has not a wife exactly, but a
"Well, M. Colbert, while he is smoking
his pipe, the woman works; it is she who draws the water from the well,- she
who loads the mule or the ass, and even bears herself a portion of the burden.
Taking but little care of herself, she gets knocked about here and there,
sometimes is even beaten. Cancers arise from contusions."
"True, true!" said Colbert.
"The Flemish women do not die the
sooner on that account. When they are great sufferers from this disease, they
go in search of remedies; and the Beguines of Bruges are excellent doctors for
every kind of disease. They have precious waters of one sort or another,-
specifics of various kinds; and they give a bottle and a wax candle to the
sufferer. They derive a profit from the priests, and serve God by the disposal
of their two articles of merchandise. I will take the Queen some of this holy
water, which I will procure from the Beguines of Bruges; her Majesty will
recover, and will burn as many wax candles as she may think fit. You see, M.
Colbert, to prevent my seeing the Queen is almost as bad as committing the
crime of regicide."
"You are, Madame the Duchess, a woman
of great intelligence. You surprise me; still, I cannot but suppose that this
charitable consideration towards the Queen covers some small personal interest
of your own."
"Have I tried to conceal it, M.
Colbert? You spoke, I believe, of a small personal interest. Understand, then,
that it is a great interest; and I will prove it to you by resuming what I was
saying. If you procure me a personal interview with her Majesty, I will be
satisfied with the three hundred thousand livres I have demanded; if not, I
shall keep my letters, unless, indeed, you give me on the spot five hundred
thousand livres for them."
And rising from her seat with this decisive
remark, the old duchess left M. Colbert in a disagreeable perplexity. To
bargain any further was out of the question; not to purchase would involve
infinite loss. "Madame," he said, "I shall have the pleasure of
handing you over a hundred thousand crowns; but how shall I get the actual
"In the simplest manner in the world,
my dear M. Colbert,- whom will you trust?"
The financier began to laugh silently, so
that his large eyebrows went up and down like the wings of a bat upon the deep
lines of his yellow forehead. "No one," he said.
"You surely will make an exception in
your own favor, M. Colbert?"
"How is that, Madame?"
"I mean that if you would take the
trouble to accompany me to the place where the letters are, they would be
delivered into your own hands, and you would be able to verify and check
"You would bring the hundred thousand
crowns with you at the same time?- for I too do not trust any one."
Colbert colored to the tips of his ears.
Like all eminent men in the art of figures, he was of an insolent and
mathematical probity. "I will take with me, Madame," he said,
"two orders for the amount agreed upon, payable at my treasury. Will that
"Would that the orders on your
treasury were for two millions, Monsieur the Intendant! I shall have the
pleasure of showing you the way, then?"
"Allow me to order my carriage."
"I have a carriage below,
Colbert coughed like an irresolute man. He
imagined for a moment that the proposition of the duchess was a snare; that
perhaps some one was waiting at the door; and that she, whose secret had just
been sold to Colbert for a hundred thousand crowns, had already offered it to
Fouquet for the same sum. As he still hesitated a good deal, the duchess looked
at him full in the face.
"You prefer your own carriage?"
"I admit that I do."
"You suppose that I am going to lead
you into a snare or trap of some sort or other?"
"Madame the Duchess, you have the
character of being somewhat inconsiderate at times; and as I am clothed in a
sober, solemn character, a jest or practical joke might compromise me."
"Yes; the fact is, you are afraid.
Well, then, take your own carriage, as many servants as you like. Only,
consider well,- what we two may arrange between us, we are the only persons who
know it; what a third person may witness, we announce to the universe. After
all, I do not make a point of it; my carriage shall follow yours, and I shall
be satisfied to accompany you in your own carriage to the Queen."
"To the Queen!"
"Have you forgotten that already? Is
it possible that one of the clauses of the agreement, of so much importance to
me, can have escaped you already? How trifling it seems to you, indeed! If I
had known it, I should have doubled my price."
"I have reflected, Madame, and I shall
not accompany you."
"Really,- and why not?"
"Because I have the most perfect
confidence in you."
"You overpower me. But how do I
receive the hundred thousand crowns?"
"Here they are, Madame," said
Colbert, scribbling a few lines on a piece of paper, which he handed to the
duchess, adding, "You are paid."
"The trait is a fine one, M. Colbert,
and I will reward you for it," she said, beginning to laugh.
Madame de Chevreuse's laugh had a very
sinister sound. Every man who feels youth, faith, love, life itself, throbbing
in his heart, would prefer tears to such a lamentable laugh.
The duchess opened the front of her dress
and drew forth from her bosom, somewhat less white than it once had been, a
small packet of papers, tied with a flame-colored ribbon, and still laughing,
she said, "There, M. Colbert, are the originals of Cardinal Mazarin's
letters. They are now your own property," she added, refastening the body
of her dress. "Your fortune is secured; and now accompany me to the
"No, Madame; if you are again about to
run the chance of her Majesty's displeasure, and it were known at the
Palais-Royal that I had been the means of introducing you there, the Queen
would never forgive me while she lived. No; there are certain persons at the
palace who are devoted to me, who will procure you an admission without my
"Just as you please, provided I
"What do you term those religious
women at Bruges who cure disorders?"
"Good; you are a Beguine."
"As you please, but I must soon cease
to be one."
"That is your affair."
"Excuse me, but I do not wish to be
exposed to a refusal."
"That is again your own affair,
Madame. I am going to give directions to the head valet of the gentleman in
waiting on her Majesty to allow admission to a Beguine, who brings an effectual
remedy for her Majesty's sufferings. You are the bearer of my letter, you will
undertake to be provided with the remedy, and will give every explanation on
the subject. I admit a knowledge of a Beguine, but I deny all knowledge of
Madame de Chevreuse. Here, Madame, then, is your letter of introduction."
III: The Skin of the Bear
COLBERT handed the duchess the letter, and
gently drew aside the chair behind which she was standing. Madame de Chevreuse,
with a very slight bow, immediately left the room. Colbert, who had recognized
Mazarin's handwriting and had counted the letters, rang to summon his
secretary, whom he enjoined to go in immediate search of M. Vanel, a counsellor
of the parliament. The secretary replied that, according to his usual practice,
M. Vanel had just at that moment entered the house, in order to render to the
intendant an account of the principal details of the business which had been
transacted during the day in the sitting of the parliament. Colbert approached
one of the lamps, read the letters of the deceased cardinal over again, smiled
repeatedly as he recognized the great value of the papers which Madame de
Chevreuse had just delivered to him, and burying his head in his hands for a
few minutes reflected profoundly. In the mean time a tall, large-made man
entered the room; his spare, thin face, steady look, and hooked nose, as he
entered Colbert's cabinet with a modest assurance of manner, revealed a
character at once supple and decided,- supple towards the master who could throw
him the prey; firm towards the dogs who might possibly be disposed to dispute
it with him. M. Vanel carried a voluminous bundle of papers under his arm, and
placed it on the desk on which Colbert was leaning both his elbows, as he
supported his head.
"Good-day, M. Vanel," said the
latter, rousing himself from his meditation.
"Good-day, Monseigneur," said
"You should say 'Monsieur,' and not
'Monseigneur,'" replied Colbert, gently.
"We give the title of 'Monseigneur' to
ministers," returned Vanel, with extreme self-possession, "and you
are a minister."
"You are so in point of fact, and I
call you 'Monseigneur' accordingly; besides, you are my seigneur, and that is
sufficient. If you dislike my calling you 'Monseigneur' before others, allow
me, at least, to call you so in private."
Colbert raised his head to the height of
the lamps, and read, or tried to read, upon Vanel's face how much actual
sincerity entered into this protestation of devotion. But the counsellor knew
perfectly well how to sustain the weight of his look, even were it armed with
the full authority of the title he had conferred. Colbert sighed. He had read
nothing in Vanel's face; Vanel might be sincere. Colbert recollected that this
man, inferior to himself, was superior to him in having an unfaithful wife. At
the moment he was pitying this man's lot, Vanel coolly drew from his pocket a
perfumed letter, sealed with Spanish wax, and held it towards Colbert, saying,
"A letter from my wife, Monseigneur."
Colbert coughed, took, opened, and read the
letter, and then put it carefully away in his pocket; while Vanel, unconcerned,
turned over the leaves of the papers he had brought with him.
"Vanel," Colbert said suddenly to
his protege, "you are a hard-working man?"
"Would twelve hours of labor frighten
"I work fifteen hours every day."
"Impossible! A counsellor need not
work more than three hours a day in the parliament."
"Oh! I am working up some returns for
a friend of mine in the department of accounts; and as I still have time left
on my hands, I am studying Hebrew."
"Your reputation stands high in the
"I believe so, Monseigneur."
"You must not grow rusty in your post
"What must I do to avoid it?"
"Purchase a high place. Small
ambitions are the most difficult to satisfy."
"Small purses are the most difficult
to fill, Monseigneur."
"What post have you in view?"
"I see none,- not one."
"There is one, certainly; but one need
be the King himself to be able to buy it without inconvenience; and the King
will not be inclined, I suppose, to purchase the post of
At these words Vanel fixed his dull and
humble look upon Colbert, who could hardly tell whether Vanel had comprehended
him or not. "Why do you speak to me, Monseigneur," said Vanel,
"of the post of procureur-general to the parliament? I know no other post
than the one M. Fouquet fills."
"Exactly so, my dear counsellor."
"You are not over-fastidious,
Monseigneur, but before the post can be bought, it must be offered for
"I believe, M. Vanel, that it will be
for sale before long."
"For sale? What! M. Fouquet's post of
"So it is said."
"The post which renders him
inviolable, for sale! Oh, oh!" said Vanel, beginning to laugh.
"Would you be afraid, then, of the
post?" said Colbert, gravely.
"Afraid! no; but-"
"Nor desirous of obtaining it?"
"You are laughing at me,
Monseigneur," replied Vanel; "is it likely that a counsellor of the
parliament would not be desirous of becoming procureur-general?"
"Well, M. Vanel, since I tell you that
the post will be shortly for sale-"
"I cannot help repeating, Monseigneur,
that it is impossible; a man never throws away the buckler behind which he
maintains his honor, his fortune, and his life."
"There are certain men mad enough,
Vanel, to fancy themselves out of the reach of all mischances."
"Yes, Monseigneur; but such men never
commit their mad acts for the advantage of the poor Vanels of the world."
"For the very reason that those Vanels
"It is true that M. Fouquet's post
might cost a good round sum. What would you bid for it, M. Vanel?"
"Everything I am worth."
"Three or four hundred thousand livres."
"And the post is worth-"
"A million and a half, at the very
lowest. I know persons who have offered seventeen hundred thousand livres,
without being able to persuade M. Fouquet to sell. Besides, supposing it were
to happen that M. Fouquet wished to sell,- which I do not believe, in spite of
what I have been told-"
"Ah, you have heard something about
it, then! Who told you?"
"M. Gourville, M. Pellisson, and
"Very good; if, therefore, M. Fouquet
did wish to sell-"
"I could not buy it just yet, since
the superintendent will only sell for ready money, and no one has a million and
a half to throw down at once."
Colbert suddenly interrupted the counsellor
by an imperious gesture; he had begun to meditate. Observing his superior's
serious attitude, and his perseverance in continuing the conversation on this
subject, Vanel awaited the solution without venturing to precipitate it.
"Explain fully to me," said
Colbert, at length, "the privileges of the office of
"The right of impeaching every French
subject who is not a Prince of the blood; the right of quashing all proceedings
taken against any Frenchman who is neither King nor Prince. The
procureur-general is the arm of the King to strike the evil-doer,- his arm also
to extinguish the torch of justice. M. Fouquet, therefore, will be able, by
stirring up the parliament, to maintain himself even against the King; and the
King also, by humoring M. Fouquet, can get his edicts registered without
opposition. The procureur-general can be a very useful or a very dangerous
"Vanel, would you like to be
procureur-general?" said Colbert, suddenly, softening both his look and
"I!" exclaimed the latter;
"I have already had the honor to represent to you that I want about eleven
hundred thousand livres to make up the amount."
"Borrow that sum from your
"I have no friends richer than
"You are an honorable man,
"Ah, Monseigneur, if the world were to
think as you do!"
"I think so, and that is quite enough;
and if it should be needed, I will be your security."
"Remember the proverb,
"What is that?"
"'The endorser pays.'"
"Let that make no difference."
Vanel rose, quite bewildered by this offer,
which had been so suddenly and unexpectedly made to him by a man who treated
the smallest affairs in a serious spirit. "You are not trifling with me,
Monseigneur?" he said.
"Stay! we must act quickly. You say
that M. Gourville has spoken to you about M. Fouquet's post?"
"Yes, and M. Pellisson also."
"Officially or officiously?"
"These were their words: 'These
parliamentary people are ambitious and wealthy; they ought to get together two
or three millions among themselves, to present to their protector and great
luminary, M. Fouquet.'"
"And what did you reply?"
"I said that, for my own part, I would
give ten thousand livres if necessary."
"Ah, you like M. Fouquet, then!"
exclaimed Colbert, with a look full of hatred.
"No; but M. Fouquet is our chief. He
is in debt,- is on the high-road to ruin; and we ought to save the honor of the
body of which we are members."
"This explains to me why M. Fouquet
will be always safe and sound so long as he occupies his present post,"
"Thereupon," said Vanel, "M.
Gourville added: 'If we were to do anything out of charity to M. Fouquet, it
could not be otherwise than most humiliating to him; and he would be sure to
refuse it. Let the parliament subscribe among themselves to purchase in a
proper manner the post of procureur-general. In that case all would go on well;
the honor of our body would be saved, and M. Fouquet's pride spared.'"
"That is an opening."
"I considered it so,
"Well, M. Vanel, you will go at once,
and find out either M. Gourville or M. Pellisson. Do you know any other friend
of M. Fouquet?"
"I know M. de la Fontaine very
"La Fontaine, the rhymester?"
"Yes; he used to write verses to my
wife, when M. Fouquet was one of our friends."
"Go to him, then, and try to procure
an interview with the superintendent."
"Willingly- but the sum?"
"On the day and hour when you arrange
to settle the matter, M. Vanel, you shall be supplied with the money; so do not
make yourself uneasy on that account."
"Monseigneur, such munificence! You
eclipse kings even,- you surpass M. Fouquet himself."
"Stay a moment! Do not let us mistake
each other. I do not make you a present of fourteen hundred thousand livres, M.
Vanel, for I have children to provide for; but I will lend you that sum."
"Ask whatever interest, whatever
security you please, Monseigneur; I am quite ready. And when all your
requisitions are satisfied, I will still repeat that you surpass kings and M.
Fouquet in munificence. What conditions do you impose?"
"The repayment in eight years, and a
mortgage upon the appointment itself."
"Certainly. Is that all?"
"Wait a moment! I reserve to myself
the right of purchasing the post from you at one hundred and fifty thousand
livres' profit for yourself, if in your mode of filling the office you do not follow
out a line of conduct in conformity with the interests of the King and with my
"Ah! ah!" said Vanel, in a
slightly altered tone.
"Is there anything in that which can
possibly be objectionable to you, M. Vanel?" said Colbert, coldly.
"Oh, no, no!" replied Vanel,
"Very good. We will sign an agreement
to that effect whenever you like. And now go as quickly as you can to M.
Fouquet's friends, and obtain an interview with the superintendent. Do not be
too difficult in making whatever concessions may be required of you; and when
once the arrangements are all made-"
"I will press him to sign."
"Be most careful to do nothing of the
kind; do not speak of signatures with M. Fouquet, nor of deeds, nor even ask
him to pass his word. Understand this, otherwise you will lose everything. All
you have to do is to get M. Fouquet to give you his hand on the matter. Go,
IV: An Interview with the Queen-Mother
THE Queen-Mother was in her bedroom at the
Palais-Royal, with Madame de Motteville and the Senora Molina. The King, who
had been impatiently expected the whole day, had not made his appearance; and
the Queen, who had grown quite impatient, had often sent to inquire about him.
The whole atmosphere of the court seemed to indicate an approaching storm; the
courtiers and the ladies of the court avoided meeting in the antechambers and
the corridors, in order not to converse on compromising subjects.
Monsieur had joined the King early in the
morning for a hunting-party; Madame remained in her own apartments, cool and
distant to every one; and the Queen-Mother, after she had said her prayers in
Latin, talked of domestic matters with her two friends in pure Castilian.
Madame de Motteville, who understood the language perfectly, answered her in
French. When the three ladies had exhausted every form of dissimulation and
politeness to reach at last the charge that the King's conduct was causing
grief to the Queen and the Queen-Mother and all his family, and when in guarded
phrases they had fulminated every variety of imprecation against Mademoiselle
de la Valliere, the Queen-Mother terminated these recriminations by an
exclamation indicative of her own reflections and character. "Estos
hijos!" said she to Molina (which means, "These children!"-
words full of meaning on a mother's lips,- words full of terrible significance
in the mouth of a Queen who, like Anne of Austria, hid many curious and dark
secrets in her soul).
"Yes," said Molina, "these
children! for whom every mother becomes a sacrifice."
"To whom," replied the Queen,
"a mother has sacrificed everything."
Anne did not finish her phrase; for she
fancied, when she raised her eyes towards the full-length portrait of the pale
Louis XIII, that light had once more flashed from her husband's dull eyes, and
that his nostrils were inflated by wrath. The portrait became a living being;
it did not speak, it threatened.
A profound silence succeeded the Queen's
last remark. La Molina began to turn over the ribbons and lace of a large
work-table. Madame de Motteville, surprised at the look of mutual intelligence
which had been exchanged between the confidante and her mistress, cast down her
eyes like a discreet woman, and pretending to be observant of nothing that was
passing listened with the utmost attention. She heard nothing, however, but a
very significant "Hum!" on the part of the Spanish duenna, who was
the image of circumspection, and a profound sigh on the part of the Queen. She
looked up immediately. "You are suffering?" she said.
"No, Motteville, no; why do you say
"Your Majesty just groaned."
"You are right; I do suffer a
"M. Vallot is not far off; I believe
he is in Madame's apartment."
"Why is he with Madame?"
"Madame is troubled with nervous
"A very fine disorder, indeed!"
said the Queen. "M. Vallot is wrong in being there, when another physician
might cure Madame."
Madame de Motteville looked up with an air
of great surprise, as she replied, "Another doctor instead of M. Vallot!
"Occupation, Motteville, occupation!
Ah! if any one is really ill, it is my poor daughter."
"And your Majesty too."
"Less so this evening, though."
"Do not believe that too confidently,
Madame," said De Motteville.
As if to justify the caution, a sharp pain
seized the Queen, who turned deadly pale, and threw herself back in the chair,
with every symptom of a sudden fainting-fit. "My drops!" she
"Ah! ah!" replied Molina, who
went without haste to a richly gilded tortoise-shell cabinet, from which she
took a large rock-crystal smelling-bottle, and brought it, open, to the Queen,
who inhaled from it wildly several times, and murmured, "In that way the
Lord will kill me; His holy will be done!"
"Your Majesty's death is not so near
at hand," added Molina, replacing the smelling-bottle in the cabinet.
"Does your Majesty feel better
now?" inquired Madame de Motteville.
"Much better," returned the
Queen, placing her finger on her lips, to impose silence on her favorite.
"It is very strange," remarked
Madame de Motteville, after a pause.
"What is strange?" said the
"Does your Majesty remember the day
when this pain attacked you for the first time?"
"I remember only that it was a
grievously sad day for me, Motteville."
"But your Majesty had not always
regarded that day as a sad one."
"Because twenty-three years before, on
that very day, his present Majesty, your own glorious son, was born at the very
The Queen uttered a loud cry, buried her
face in her hands, and seemed utterly lost for some moments. Was it remembrance
or reflection, or was it grief? La Molina darted a look at Madame de Motteville
almost furious in its reproachfulness. The poor woman, ignorant of its meaning,
was about to make inquiries in her own defence, when suddenly Anne of Austria
arose and said: "Yes, the 5th of September; my sorrow began on the 5th of
September. The greatest joy, one day; the deepest sorrow, the next,- the
sorrow," she added in a low voice, "the bitter expiation of a too
And from that moment Anne of Austria, whose
memory and reason seemed to have become entirely suspended for a time, remained
impenetrable, with vacant look, mind almost wandering, and hands hanging
heavily down, as if life had almost departed.
"We must put her to bed," said La
"Let us leave the Queen alone,"
added the Spanish attendant.
Madame de Motteville rose. Large and
glistening tears were fast rolling down the Queen's pallid face; and Molina,
having observed this sign of weakness, fixed her vigilant black eyes upon her.
"Yes, yes," replied the Queen.
"Leave us, Motteville; go!"
The word "us" produced a
disagreeable effect upon the ears of the French favorite; for it signified that
an interchange of secrets or of revelations of the past was about to be made,
and that one person was de trop in the conversation which seemed likely to take
"Will Molina be sufficient for your
Majesty to-night?" inquired the Frenchwoman.
"Yes," replied the Queen.
Madame de Motteville bowed in submission,
and was about to withdraw, when suddenly an old female attendant, dressed as if
she had belonged to the Spanish Court of the year 1620, opened the door and
surprised the Queen in her tears, Madame de Motteville in her skilful retreat,
and Molina in her strategy. "The remedy!" she cried delightedly to
the Queen, as she unceremoniously approached the group.
"What remedy, Chica?" said Anne
"For your Majesty's sufferings,"
the former replied.
"Who brings it?" asked Madame de
Motteville, eagerly- "M. Vallot?"
"No; a lady from Flanders."
"From Flanders? Is she Spanish?"
inquired the Queen.
"I don't know."
"Who sent her?"
"She did not mention it."
"Her position in life?"
"She will answer that herself."
"She is masked."
"Go, Molina; go and see!" cried
"It is needless," suddenly
replied a voice, at once firm and gentle in its tone, which proceeded from the
other side of the tapestry hangings,- a voice which startled the attendants and
made the Queen tremble. At the same moment a woman, masked, appeared between
the curtains, and before the Queen could speak, added, "I am connected
with the order of the Beguines of Bruges, and do indeed bring with me the
remedy which is certain to effect a cure of your Majesty's complaint."
No one uttered a sound, and the Beguine did
not move a step.
"Speak!" said the Queen.
"I will when we are alone," was
Anne of Austria looked at her attendants,
who immediately withdrew. The Beguine thereupon advanced a few steps towards
the Queen, and bowed reverently before her. The Queen gazed with increasing
mistrust at this woman, who in her turn fixed a pair of brilliant eyes upon the
Queen through openings in the mask.
"The Queen of France must indeed be
very ill," said Anne of Austria, "if it is known at the Beguinage of
Bruges that she stands in need of being cured."
"Your Majesty, thank God, is not ill
"But tell me, how do you happen to
know that I am suffering?"
"Your Majesty has friends in
"And these friends have sent
"Name them to me."
"Impossible, Madame, since your
Majesty's memory has not been awakened by your heart."
Anne of Austria looked up, endeavoring to
discover through the concealment of the mask and through her mysterious
language the name of this person who expressed herself with such familiarity
and freedom; then suddenly, wearied by a curiosity at odds with her pride, she
said, "You are ignorant, perhaps, that royal personages are never spoken
to with the face masked."
"Deign to excuse me, Madame,"
replied the Beguine, humbly.
"I cannot excuse you; I will not
forgive you if you do not throw your mask aside."
"I have made a vow, Madame, to go to
the help of those who are afflicted or suffering, without ever permitting them
to behold my face. I might have been able to administer some relief to your
body and to your mind; but since your Majesty forbids me, I will take my leave.
Adieu, Madame, adieu!"
These words were uttered with a harmony of
tone and respect of manner that destroyed the Queen's anger and suspicion, but
did not remove her feeling of curiosity. "You are right," she said;
"it ill becomes those who are suffering to reject the means of relief
which Heaven sends them. Speak, then; and may you indeed be able, as you assert
you are, to administer relief to my body. Alas! I think that God is about to
make it suffer."
"Let us first speak a little of the
mind, if you please," said the Beguine,- "of the mind, which I am
sure must also suffer."
"There are cancers so insidious in
their nature that their very pulsation is invisible. Such cancers, Madame,
leave the ivory whiteness of the skin untouched, and marble not the firm, fair
flesh with their blue tints; the physician who bends over the patient's chest
hears not, though he listens, the insatiable teeth of the disease grinding its
onward progress through the muscles, as the blood flows freely on; neither iron
nor fire has ever destroyed or disarmed the rage of these mortal scourges;
their home is in the mind, which they corrupt; they grow in the heart until it
breaks. Such, Madame, are these other cancers, fatal to queens: are you free
from these evils?"
Anne slowly raised her arm, as dazzling in
its perfect whiteness and as pure in its rounded outlines as it was in the time
of her earlier days. "The evils to which you allude," she said,
"are the condition of the lives of the high in rank upon earth, to whom
Heaven has imparted mind. When those evils become too heavy to be borne, the
Lord lightens their burden by penitence and confession. Thus we lay down our
burden, and the secrets which oppress us. But forget not that the same
sovereign Lord apportions their trials to the strength of his creatures; and my
strength is not inferior to my burden. For the secrets of others I have enough
of the mercy of Heaven; for my own secrets not so much mercy as my
"I find you, Madame, as courageous as
ever against your enemies; I do not find you showing confidence in your
"Queens have no friends. If you have
nothing further to say to me, if you feel yourself inspired by Heaven as a
prophetess, leave me, I pray; for I dread the future."
"I should have supposed," said
the Beguine, resolutely, "that you would dread the past even more."
Hardly had these words escaped the
Beguine's lips, when the Queen rose proudly. "Speak!" she cried, in a
short, imperious tone of voice; "explain yourself briefly, quickly,
entirely; or else-"
"Nay, do not threaten me, your
Majesty!" said the Beguine, gently. "I have come to you full of
compassion and respect; I have come on the part of a friend."
"Prove it, then! Comfort, instead of
"Easily enough; and your Majesty will
see who is friendly to you. What misfortune has happened to your Majesty during
these twenty-three years past?"
"Serious misfortunes, indeed! Have I
not lost the King?"
"I speak not of misfortunes of that
kind. I wish to ask you if, since- the birth of the King,- any indiscretion on
a friend's part has caused your Majesty distress?"
"I do not understand you,"
replied the Queen, setting her teeth hard together in order to conceal her
"I will make myself understood, then.
Your Majesty remembers that the King was born on the 5th of September, 1638, at
quarter-past eleven o'clock."
"Yes," stammered the Queen.
"At half-past twelve," continued
the Beguine, "the Dauphin, who had been baptized by Monseigneur de Meaux
in the King's and in your own presence, was acknowledged as the heir of the
crown of France. The King then went to the chapel of the old Chateau de St.
Germain to hear the Te Deum chanted."
"Quite true, quite true,"
murmured the Queen.
"Your Majesty's confinement took place
in the presence of Monsieur, his Majesty's late uncle, of the princes, and of
the ladies attached to the court. The King's physician, Bouvard, and Honore,
the surgeon, were stationed in the antechamber; your Majesty slept from three
o'clock until seven, I believe?"
"Yes, yes; but you tell me no more
than every one else knows as well as you and myself."
"I am now, Madame, approaching that
with which very few persons are acquainted. Very few persons, did I say? Alas!
I might say two only; for formerly there were but five in all, and for many
years past the secret has been assured by the deaths of the principal
participators in it. The late King sleeps now with his ancestors; Peronne, the
midwife, soon followed him; Laporte is already forgotten."
The Queen opened her lips as though about
to reply; she felt beneath her icy hand, with which she touched her face, the
beads of perspiration upon her brow.
"It was eight o'clock," pursued
the Beguine. "The King was seated at supper, full of joy and happiness;
around him on all sides arose wild cries of delight and drinking of healths;
the people cheered beneath the balconies; the Swiss Guards, the Musketeers, and
the Royal Guard wandered through the city, borne about in triumph by the
drunken students. Those boisterous sounds of the general joy disturbed the
Dauphin, the future King of France, who was quietly lying in the arms of Madame
de Hausac, his nurse, and whose eyes, when he should open them, might have
observed two crowns at the foot of his cradle. Suddenly your Majesty uttered a
piercing cry, and Dame Peronne flew to your bedside.
"The doctors were dining in a room at
some distance from your chamber; the palace, abandoned in the general
confusion, was without either sentinels or guards. The midwife, having
questioned and examined your Majesty, gave a sudden exclamation of surprise,
and taking you in her arms, bewildered, almost out of her senses from sheer
distress of mind, despatched Laporte to inform the King that her Majesty the
Queen wished to see him in her room.
"Laporte, you are aware, Madame, was a
man of the most admirable calmness and presence of mind. He did not approach
the King as if he were the bearer of alarming intelligence and, feeling his
importance, wished to inspire the terror which he himself experienced; besides,
it was not a very terrifying intelligence which awaited the King. At any rate,
Laporte, with a smile upon his lips, approached the King's chair, saying to
him, 'Sire, the Queen is very happy, and would be still more so to see your
"On that day Louis XIII would have
given his crown away to the veriest beggar for a 'God bless you.' Animated,
light-hearted, and full of gayety, the King rose from the table, and said to
those around him, in a tone that Henry IV might have used, 'Gentlemen, I am
going to see my wife.' He came to your bedside, Madame, at the very moment when
Dame Peronne presented to him a second Prince, as beautiful and healthy as the
former, and said, 'Sire, Heaven will not allow the kingdom of France to fall
into the female line.' The King, yielding to a first impulse, clasped the child
in his arms, and cried, 'Oh, Heaven, I thank thee!'"
At this part of her recital the Beguine
paused, observing how intensely the Queen was suffering. She had thrown herself
back in her chair, and with her head bent forward and her eyes fixed, listened
without seeming to hear, and her lips moved convulsively, breathing either a
prayer to Heaven or imprecations against the woman before her.
"Ah! do not believe that if there has
been but one Dauphin in France," exclaimed the Beguine, "if the Queen
allowed the second child to vegetate far from the throne,- do not believe that
she was an unfeeling mother. Oh, no, no! There are those who know the floods of
bitter tears she shed; there are those who have known and witnessed the
passionate kisses she imprinted on that innocent creature in exchange for the
life of misery and gloom to which State policy condemned the twin brother of
"Oh, Heaven!" murmured the Queen,
"It is known," continued the
Beguine, quickly, "that when the King perceived the effect which would
result from the existence of two sons, both equal in age and pretensions, he
trembled for the welfare of France, for the tranquillity of the State. It is
known that the Cardinal de Richelieu, by the direction of Louis XIII, thought
over the subject with deep attention, and after an hour's meditation in his
Majesty's cabinet pronounced the following sentence: 'A King is born, to
succeed his Majesty. God has sent another, to succeed the first; but at present
we need only the first-born. Let us conceal the second from France, as God has
concealed him from his parents themselves. One Prince is peace and safety for
the State; two competitors are civil war and anarchy.'"
The Queen rose suddenly from her seat, pale
as death, her hands clinched together. "You know too much," she said
in a hoarse, thick voice, "since you refer to secrets of State. As for the
friends from whom you have acquired this secret, they are false and treacherous.
You are their accomplice in the crime which is now committed. Now, throw aside
your mask, or I will have you arrested by my captain of the Guards. Do not
think that this secret terrifies me! You have obtained it; you shall restore it
to me. It will freeze in your bosom; neither your secret nor your life belongs
to you from this moment."
Anne of Austria, joining gesture to the
threat, advanced two steps towards the Beguine. "Learn," said the
latter, "to know and value the fidelity, the honor, and the secrecy of the
friends you have abandoned." She then suddenly threw aside her mask.
"Madame de Chevreuse!" exclaimed
"With your Majesty, the sole living
confidante of the secret."
"Ah," murmured Anne of Austria,
"come and embrace me, Duchess! Alas! you kill your friend in thus trifling
with her terrible distress."
The Queen, leaning her head upon the
shoulder of the old duchess, burst into a flood of bitter tears. "How
young you are still!" said the latter, in a hollow voice; "you can
V: Two Friends
THE Queen looked steadily at Madame de
Chevreuse, and said: "I believe you just now made use of the word 'happy'
in speaking of me. Hitherto, Duchess, I had thought it impossible that a human
creature could anywhere be found less happy than the Queen of France."
"Your afflictions, Madame, have indeed
been terrible enough; but by the side of those illustrious misfortunes to which
we, two old friends separated by men's malice, were just now alluding, you
possess sources of pleasure, slight enough in themselves it may be, but which
are greatly envied by the world."
"What are they?" said Anne of
Austria, bitterly. "How can you use the word 'pleasure,' Duchess,- you who
just now admitted that my body and my mind both are in need of remedies?
Madame de Chevreuse collected herself for a
moment, and then murmured, "How far removed Kings are from other
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that they are so far removed
from the vulgar herd that they forget that others ever stand in need of the
bare necessaries of life. They are like the inhabitant of the African mountain
who gazing from the verdant table-land, refreshed by the rills of melted snow,
cannot comprehend that the dwellers in the plains below him are perishing from
hunger and thirst in the midst of their lands burned up by the heat of the
The Queen slightly colored, for she now
began to perceive the drift of her friend's remark. "It was very
wrong," she said, "to have neglected you."
"Oh, Madame, the King has inherited,
it is said, the hatred his father bore me. The King would dismiss me if he knew
I were in the Palais-Royal."
"I cannot say that the King is very
well disposed towards you, Duchess," replied the Queen; "but I could-
secretly, you know-" The duchess's disdainful smile produced a feeling of
uneasiness in the Queen's mind. "Duchess," she hastened to add,
"you did perfectly right to come here."
"Even were it only to give us the
happiness of contradicting the report of your death."
"Has it been said, then, that I was
"And yet my children did not go into
"Ah! you know, Duchess, the court is
very frequently moving about from place to place; we see the gentlemen of
Albert de Luynes but seldom, and many things escape our minds in the midst of
the preoccupations which constantly engage us."
"Your Majesty ought not to have
believed the report of my death."
"Why not? Alas! we are all mortal; and
you may perceive how rapidly I- your younger sister, as we used formerly to
say- am approaching the tomb."
"If your Majesty had believed me dead,
you ought to have been astonished not to have received any communication from
"Death not unfrequently takes us by
"Oh, your Majesty, those who are
burdened with secrets such as we have just now discussed have always an urgent
desire to divulge them, which they must gratify before they die. Among the
preparations for eternity is the task of putting one's papers in order."
The Queen started. "Your Majesty will be sure to learn in a particular
manner the day of my death."
"Because your Majesty will receive the
next day, under several coverings, everything connected with our mysterious
correspondence of former times."
"Did you not burn it?" cried
Anne, in alarm.
"Traitors only," replied the
duchess, "destroy a royal correspondence."
"Traitors, do you say?"
"Yes, certainly; or rather they
pretend to destroy, and keep or sell it. The faithful, on the contrary, most
carefully secrete such treasures; for it may happen that some day or other they
will wish to seek out their Queen in order to say to her: 'Madame, I am getting
old; my health is fast failing me. For me there is danger of death; for your
Majesty, the danger that this secret may be revealed. Take, therefore, this
dangerous paper, and burn it yourself.'"
"A dangerous paper? What one?"
"So far as I am concerned, I have but
one, it is true; but that is indeed most dangerous in its nature."
"Oh, Duchess, tell me, tell me!"
"A letter dated Tuesday, the 2d of
August, 1644, in which you beg me to go to Noisy-le-Sec to see that unhappy
child. In your own handwriting, Madame, there are those words, 'that unhappy
A profound silence ensued. The Queen's mind
was wandering in the past; Madame de Chevreuse was watching the progress of her
scheme. "Yes unhappy, most unhappy!" murmured Anne of Austria;
"how sad the existence he led, poor child, to finish it in so cruel a
"Is he dead?" cried the duchess,
suddenly, with a curiosity whose sincere accents the Queen instinctively
"He died of consumption, died
forgotten, died withered and blighted like the flowers a lover has given to his
mistress, which she leaves to die secreted in a drawer where she has hidden
them from the world."
"Died?" repeated the duchess,
with an air of discouragement which would have afforded the Queen the most
unfeigned delight had it not been tempered in some measure by a mixture of
doubt. "Died- at Noisy-le-Sec?"
"Yes, in the arms of his tutor,- a
poor, honest man who did not long survive him."
"That can be easily understood. It is
so difficult to bear up under the weight of such a loss and such a
secret," said Madame de Chevreuse, the irony of which reflection the Queen
pretended not to perceive. Madame de Chevreuse continued: "Well, Madame, I
inquired some years ago at Noisy-le-Sec about this unhappy child. I was told
that it was not believed he was dead; and that was my reason for not at once
condoling with your Majesty. Oh, certainly, if I had believed it, never should
the slightest allusion to so deplorable an event have reawakened your Majesty's
"You say that it is not believed that
the child died at Noisy?"
"What did they say about him,
"They said- But no doubt they were
"Nay, speak, speak!"
"They said that one evening about the
year 1645 a lady, beautiful and majestic in her bearing, which was observed
notwithstanding the mask and the mantle which concealed her figure,- a lady of
rank, of very high rank no doubt,- came in a carriage to the place where the
road branches off,- the very same spot, you know, where I awaited news of the
young Prince when your Majesty was pleased to send me there."
"That the boy's tutor, or guardian,
took the child to this lady."
"Well, what next?"
"That both the child and his tutor
left that part of the country the very next day."
"There! you see there is some truth in
what you relate, since in point of fact the poor child died from a sudden
attack of illness, which up to the age of seven years makes the lives of all
children, as doctors say, suspended as it were by a thread."
"What your Majesty says is quite true.
No one knows it better than you; no one believes it more than myself. But yet
how strange it is-"
"What can it now be?" thought the
"The person who gave me these details,
who had been sent to inquire after the child's health-"
"Did you confide such a charge to any
one else? Oh, Duchess!"
"Some one as dumb as your Majesty, as
dumb as myself; we will suppose it was myself, Madame. This 'some one,' some
months after, passing through Touraine-"
"Recognized both the tutor and the
child too! I am wrong; he thought he recognized them, both living, cheerful,
happy, and flourishing,- the one in a green old age, the other in the flower of
his youth. Judge, after that, what truth can be attributed to the rumors which
are circulated, or what faith, after that, can be placed in anything that may
happen in the world. But I am fatiguing your Majesty; it was not my intention,
however, to do so; and I will take my leave of you, after renewing to you the
assurance of my most respectful devotion."
"Stay, Duchess! Let us first talk a
little about yourself."
"Of myself, Madame? I am not worthy
that you should bend your looks upon me."
"Why not, indeed? Are you not the
oldest friend I have? Are you angry with me, Duchess?"
"I, indeed! What motive could I have?
If I had reason to be angry with your Majesty, should I have come here?"
"Duchess, age is fast creeping on us
both; we should be united against that death whose approach threatens us."
"You overpower me, Madame, with the
kindness of your language."
"No one has ever loved or served me as
you have done, Duchess."
"Your Majesty remembers it?"
"Always. Duchess, give me a proof of
"Ah, Madame, my whole being is devoted
to your Majesty."
"The proof I require is that you
should ask something of me."
"Oh, I know you well,- no one is more
disinterested, more noble, more truly royal."
"Do not praise me too highly,
Madame," said the duchess, becoming uneasy.
"I could never praise you as much as
you deserve to be praised."
"And yet, age and misfortune effect a
great change in people, Madame."
"So much the better; for the
beautiful, the haughty, the adored duchess of former days might have answered
me ungratefully, 'I do not wish for anything from you.' Blessed be misfortunes,
if they have come to you, since they will have changed you, and you will now
perhaps answer me, 'I accept.'"
The duchess's look and smile became more
gentle; she was under the charm, and no longer concealed her wishes.
"Speak, dearest!" said the Queen;
"what do you want?"
"I must first explain to you-"
"Do so unhesitatingly."
"Well, then, your Majesty can confer
on me a pleasure unspeakable, a pleasure incomparable."
"What is it?" said the Queen, a
little distant in her manner, from an uneasiness of feeling produced by this
remark. "But do not forget, my good Chevreuse, that I am quite as much
under my son's influence as I was formerly under my husband's."
"I will not be too hard, Madame."
"Call me as you used to do; it will be
a sweet echo of our happy youth."
"Well, then, my dear mistress, my
"Do you know Spanish still?"
"Ask me in Spanish, then."
"Here it is: Will your Majesty do me
the honor to pass a few days with me at Dampierre?"
"Is that all?" said the Queen,
"Nothing more than that?"
"Good Heavens! Can you possibly
imagine that in asking you that, I am not asking you the greatest conceivable
favor? If that really be the case, you do not know me. Will you accept?"
"Yes, gladly. And I shall be
happy," continued the Queen, with some suspicion, "if my presence can
in any way be useful to you."
"Useful," exclaimed the duchess,
laughing,- "oh, no, no! agreeable, delicious, delightful,- yes, a thousand
times yes! You promise me, then?"
"I swear it," said the Queen,
whereupon the Duchess seized her beautiful hand and covered it with kisses. The
Queen could not help murmuring to herself, "She is a good-hearted woman,
and very generous too."
"Will your Majesty consent to wait a
fortnight before you come?"
"Certainly; but why?"
"Because," said the duchess,
"knowing me to be in disgrace, no one would lend me the hundred thousand
crowns which I require to put Dampierre in a state of repair. But when it is
known that I require that sum for the purpose of receiving your Majesty at
Dampierre properly, all the money in Paris will be at my disposal."
"Ah!" said the Queen, gently
nodding her head with an air of intelligence, "a hundred thousand crowns!
you want a hundred thousand crowns to put Dampierre into repair?"
"Quite as much as that."
"And no one will lend them to
"I will lend them to you, if you like,
"Oh, I shouldn't dare to accept!"
"You would be wrong if you did not.
Besides, a hundred thousand crowns is really not much. I know but too well that
your discreetness has never been properly acknowledged. Push that table a
little towards me, Duchess, and I will write you an order on M. Colbert,- no,
on M. Fouquet, who is a far more courteous and obliging man."
"Will he pay it?"
"If he will not pay it, I will; but it
will be the first time he will have refused me."
The Queen wrote and handed the duchess the
order, and afterwards dismissed her with a warm and cheerful embrace.
VI: How Jean de la Fontaine Wrote His First Tale
ALL these intrigues are exhausted; the
human mind, so complicated in its exhibitions, has developed itself freely in
the three outlines which our recital has afforded. It is not unlikely that in
the future we are now preparing, politics and intrigues may still appear; but
the springs by which they work will be so carefully concealed that no one will
be able to see aught but flowers and paintings,- just as at a theatre, where a
Colossus appears upon the scene walking along moved by the small legs and
slender arms of a child concealed within the framework.
We now return to St. Mande, where the
superintendent was in the habit of receiving his select society of epicureans.
For some time past the host had been severely tried. Every one in the house was
aware of and felt the minister's distress. No more magnificent and recklessly
improvident reunions! Finance had been the pretext assigned by Fouquet; and
never was any pretext, as Gourville wittily said, more fallacious, for there
was not the slightest appearance of money.
M. Vatel was most resolutely painstaking in
keeping up the reputation of the house, and yet the gardeners who supplied the
kitchens complained of a ruinous delay. The agents for the supply of Spanish
wines frequently sent drafts which no one honored; fishermen, whom the
superintendent engaged on the coast of Normandy, calculated that if they were
paid all that was due to them, the amount would enable them to retire
comfortably for the rest of their lives; fish, which at a later period was to
be the cause of Vatel's death, did not arrive at all. However, on the ordinary
day of reception, Fouquet's friends flocked in more numerously than ever.
Gourville and the Abbe Fouquet talked over money matters,- that is to say, the
abbe borrowed a few pistoles from Gourville. Pellisson, seated with his legs
crossed, was engaged in finishing the peroration of a speech with which Fouquet
was to open the parliament; and this speech was a masterpiece, because
Pellisson wrote it for his friend,- that is to say, he inserted everything in
it which the latter would most certainly never have taken the trouble to say of
his own accord. Presently Loret and La Fontaine would enter from the garden,
engaged in a dispute upon the facility of making verses. The painters and
musicians, in their turn, also were hovering near the dining-room. As soon as
eight o'clock struck, the supper would be announced; for the superintendent
never kept any one waiting. It was already half-past seven, and the guests were
in good appetite.
As soon as all the guests were assembled,
Gourville went straight up to Pellisson, awoke him out of his reverie, and led
him into the middle of a room the doors of which he had closed.
"Well," he said, "anything
Pellisson raised his intelligent and gentle
face, and said, "I have borrowed twenty-five thousand livres of my aunt,
and I have them here in good money."
"Good!" replied Gourville;
"we want only one hundred and ninety-five thousand livres for the first
"The payment of what?" asked La
"What! absent-minded as usual? Why, it
was you who told us that the small estate at Corbeil was going to be sold by
one of M. Fouquet's creditors; and you, also, who proposed that all his friends
should subscribe. More than that, too, it was you who said that you would sell
a corner of your house at Chateau-Thierry in order to furnish your own
proportion; and now you come and ask, 'The payment of what?'" This remark
was received with a general laugh, which made La Fontaine blush. "I beg
your pardon," he said, "I had not forgotten it,- oh, no! only-"
"Only you remembered nothing about
it," replied Loret.
"That is the truth; and the fact is,
he is quite right. There is a great difference between forgetting and not
"Well, then," added Pellisson,
"you bring your mite in the shape of the price of the piece of land you have
"And have you not sold the field,
then?" inquired Gourville, in astonishment, for he knew the poet's
"My wife would not let me,"
replied the latter, at which there were fresh bursts of laughter.
"And yet you went to Chateau-Thierry
for that purpose," said some one.
"Certainly I did, and on
"I had eight different horses, and I
was almost jolted to death."
"You are an excellent fellow! And you
rested yourself when you arrived there!"
"Rested! Oh! of course I did, for I
had an immense deal of work to do."
"My wife had been flirting with the
man to whom I wished to sell the land. The fellow drew back from his bargain,
and so I challenged him."
"Very good; and you fought?"
"It seems not."
"You know nothing about it, I
"No; my wife and her relations
interfered in the matter. I was kept a quarter of an hour with my sword in my
hand; but I was not wounded."
"And the adversary?"
"Neither was the adversary, for he never
came on to the field."
"Capital!" cried his friends,
from all sides; "you must have been terribly angry."
"Exceedingly so; I had caught cold. I
returned home, and then my wife began to quarrel with me."
"In real earnest?"
"Yes, in real earnest; she threw a
loaf of bread at my head, a large loaf."
"And what did you do?"
"Oh! I upset the table over her and
her guests; and then I got upon my horse again, and here I am."
Every one had great difficulty in keeping
his countenance at the relation of this tragic comedy; and when the laughter
had somewhat ceased, one of the guests present said to him, "Is that all
you have brought us back?"
"Oh, no! I have an excellent idea in
"What is it?"
"Have you noticed that there is a good
deal of sportive, jesting poetry written in France?"
"Yes, of course," replied every
"And," pursued La Fontaine,
"only a very small portion of it is printed."
"The laws are strict, you know."
"That may be; but a rare article is a
dear article, and that is the reason why I have written a small poem extremely
"Oh, oh, dear poet!"
"Oh, the devil!"
"Yes," continued the poet, with
cold indifference; "I have introduced in it the greatest freedom of
language I could possibly employ."
Peals of laughter again broke forth, while
the poet was thus announcing the quality of his wares. "And," he
continued, "I have tried to exceed everything that Boccaccio, Aretino and
other masters of their craft have written in the same style."
"Good God!" cried Pellisson,
"it will be condemned!"
"Do you think so?" said La
Fontaine, simply. "I assure you, I did not do it on my own account so much
as on M. Fouquet's."
This wonderful conclusion raised the mirth
of all present to a climax.
"And I have sold the first edition of
this little book for eight hundred livres," exclaimed La Fontaine, rubbing
his hands together. "Serious and religious books sell at about half that
"It would have been better," said
Gourville, laughing, "to have written two religious books instead!"
"It would have been too long, and not
amusing enough," replied La Fontaine, tranquilly. "My eight hundred
livres are in this little bag; I offer them as my contribution."
As he said this, he placed his offering in
the hands of their treasurer. It was then Loret's turn, who gave a hundred and
fifty livres. The others stripped themselves in the same way; and the total sum
in the purse amounted to forty thousand livres. Never did more generous coins
rattle in the divine balances in which charity weighs good hearts and good
intentions against the counterfeit coin of devout hypocrites.
The money was still being counted over when
the superintendent noiselessly entered the room. He had heard everything. This
man, who had possessed so many millions, who had exhausted all pleasures and
all honors, this generous heart, this inexhaustible brain,- Fouquet, who had,
like two burning crucibles, devoured the material and moral substance of the
first kingdom in the world, crossed the threshold with his eyes filled with
tears, and passed his white and slender fingers through the gold and silver.
"Poor offering," he said, in a tone tender and filled with emotion,
"you will disappear in the smallest corner of my empty purse; but you have
filled to overflowing that which nothing can ever exhaust,- my heart. Thank
you, my friends,- thank you!" And as he could not embrace everyone
present,- all were weeping a little, philosophers though they were,- he
embraced La Fontaine, saying to him, "Poor fellow! so you have on my
account been beaten by your wife and damned by your confessor?"
"Oh, it is a mere nothing!"
replied the poet. "If your creditors will only wait a couple of years, I
shall have written a hundred other tales, which at two editions each will pay
off the debt."
VII: La Fontaine as a Negotiator
FOUQUET pressed La Fontaine's hand most
warmly, saying to him, "My dear poet, write a hundred other tales, not
only for the eighty pistoles which each of them will produce you, but still
more to enrich our language with a hundred other masterpieces."
"Oh! oh!" said La Fontaine, with
a little air of pride, "you must not suppose that I have brought only this
idea and the eighty pistoles to the superintendent."
"Oh! indeed!" was the general
acclamation from all parts of the room; "M. de la Fontaine is in funds
"Heaven bless the idea, if it brings
me one or two millions," said Fouquet, gayly.
"Exactly," replied La Fontaine.
"Quick, quick!" cried the assembly.
"Take care!" said Pellisson in La
Fontaine's ear. "You have had a most brilliant success up to the present
moment; do not go too far."
"Not at all, M. Pellisson; and you,
who are a man of taste, will be the first to approve of what I have done."
"Is it a matter of millions?"
"I have fifteen hundred thousand
livres here, M. Gourville," he replied, striking himself on the chest.
"The deuce take this Gascon from
Chateau-Thierry!" cried Loret.
"It is not the pocket you should touch,
but the brain," said Fouquet.
"Stay a moment, Monsieur the
Superintendent!" added La Fontaine; "you are not procureur-general,-
you are a poet."
"True, true!" cried Loret,
Conrart, and every person present connected with literature.
"You are, I repeat, a poet and a
painter, a sculptor, a friend of the arts and sciences; but acknowledge that
you are no lawyer."
"Oh, I do acknowledge it!"
replied M. Fouquet, smiling.
"If you were to be nominated at the
Academy, you would refuse, I think."
"I think I should, with all due
deference to the academicians."
"Very good; if therefore you do not
wish to belong to the Academy, why do you allow yourself to form one of the
"Oh! oh!" said Pellisson;
"we are talking politics."
"I wish to know," persisted La
Fontaine, "whether the barrister's gown does or does not become M.
"There is no question of the gown at
all," retorted Pellisson, annoyed at the laughter of the company.
"On the contrary, the gown is in
question," said Loret.
"Take the gown away from the
procureur-general," said Conrart, "and we have M. Fouquet left us
still, of whom we have no reason to complain; but as he is no procureur-general
without his gown, we agree with M. de la Fontaine, and pronounce the gown to be
nothing but a bugbear."
"Fugiunt risus leporesque," said
"The smiles and the graces," said
some one present.
"That is not the way," said
Pellisson, gravely, "that I translate lepores."
"How do you translate it?" said
"Thus: 'The hares run away as soon as
they see M. Fouquet.'"
A burst of laughter, in which the
superintendent joined, followed this sally.
"But why hares?" objected
"Because the hare will be the very one
who will not be over-pleased to see M. Fouquet retaining the elements of
strength which belong to his parliamentary position."
"Oh! oh!" murmured the poets.
"Quo non ascendam," said Conrart,
"would seem to me impossible with a procureur's gown."
"And it seems so to me without that
gown," said the obstinate Pellisson. "What is your opinion,
"I think the gown in question is a
very good thing," replied the latter; "but I equally think that a
million and a half is far better than the gown."
"And I am of Gourville's
opinion," exclaimed Fouquet, stopping the discussion by the expression of
his own opinion, which would necessarily bear down all the others.
"A million and a half!" Pellisson
grumbled out. "Now I happen to know an Indian fable-"
"Tell it to me," said La
Fontaine; "I ought to know it too."
"Tell it, tell it!" said the
"There was a tortoise which was as
usual well protected by its shell," said Pellisson. "Whenever its
enemies threatened it, it took refuge within its covering. One day some one
said to it, 'You must feel very hot in such a house as that in the summer, and
you are altogether prevented from showing off your graces; here is a snake who
will give you a million and a half for your shell."
"Good!" said the superintendent,
"Well, what next?" said La
Fontaine, much more interested in the apologue than in its moral.
"The tortoise sold his shell, and
remained naked and defenceless. A vulture happened to see him, and being hungry
broke the tortoise's back with a blow of his beak and devoured it. The moral is
that M. Fouquet should take very good care to keep his gown."
La Fontaine understood the moral seriously.
"You forget AEschylus," he said to his adversary.
"What do you mean?"
"AEschylus was bald-headed; and a
vulture- your vulture probably- who was a great lover of tortoises mistook at a
distance his head for a block of stone, and let a tortoise which was shrunk up
in his shell fall upon it."
"Yes, yes, La Fontaine is right,"
resumed Fouquet, who had become very thoughtful. "Whenever a vulture
wishes to devour a tortoise, he well knows how to break his shell; and but too
happy is that tortoise to which a snake pays a million and a half for his
envelope. If any one were to bring me a generous-hearted snake like the one in
your fable, Pellisson, I would give him my shell."
"Rara avis in terris!" cried
"And like a black swan, is he
not?" added La Fontaine; "well, then, the bird in question, black and
very rare, is already found."
"Do you mean to say that you have
found a purchaser for my post of procureur-general?" exclaimed Fouquet.
"I have, Monsieur."
"But the superintendent has never said
that he wished to sell," resumed Pellisson.
"I beg your pardon," said
Conrart; "you yourself spoke about it-"
"Yes, I am a witness to that,"
"He seems very tenacious about his
brilliant idea," said Fouquet, laughing. "Well, La Fontaine, who is
"A perfect black bird, a counsellor
belonging to the parliament, an excellent fellow."
"What is his name?"
"Vanel!" exclaimed Fouquet,-
"Vanel, the husband of-"
"Precisely,- her husband; yes,
"Poor fellow!" said Fouquet, with
an expression of great interest; "he wishes to be procureur-general?"
"He wishes to be everything that you
have been, Monsieur," said Gourville, "and to do everything that you
"It is very agreeable; tell us all
about it, La Fontaine."
"It is very simple. I see him
occasionally; and a short time ago I met him walking about on the Place de la
Bastille, at the very moment when I was about to take the small carriage to
come down here to St. Mande."
"He must have been watching his
wife," interrupted Loret.
"Oh, no!" said La Fontaine;
"he is far from being jealous. He accosted me, embraced me, and took me to
the inn called L'Image-Saint-Fiacre, and told me all about his troubles."
"He has his troubles, then?"
"Yes; his wife wants to make him
"Well, and he told you-"
"That some one had spoken to him about
a post in parliament; that M. Fouquet's name had been mentioned; that ever
since, Madame Vanel dreams of nothing else but being called Madame the
Procureuse-Generale, and that she is dying of it every night she is not
dreaming of it."
"Poor woman!" said Fouquet.
"Wait a moment! Conrart is always
telling me that I do not know how to conduct matters of business; you will see
how I manage this one."
"Well, go on!"
"'I suppose you know' said I to Vanel,
'that the value of a post such as that which M. Fouquet holds is by no means
trifling.' 'How much do you imagine it to be?' he said. 'M. Fouquet, I know,
has refused seventeen hundred thousand livres.' 'My wife,' replied Vanel, 'had
estimated it at about fourteen hundred thousand.' 'Ready money?' I asked. 'Yes;
she has sold some property of hers in Guienne, and has received the
"That's a pretty sum to touch all at
once," said the Abbe Fouquet, who had not hitherto said a word.
"Poor Madame Vanel!" murmured
Pellisson shrugged his shoulders. "A
fiend!" he said in a low voice to Fouquet.
"That may be; it would be delightful
to make use of this fiend's money to repair the injury which an angel has done
herself for me."
Pellisson looked with a surprised air at
Fouquet, whose thoughts were from that moment fixed upon a fresh object.
"Well!" inquired La Fontaine,
"what about my negotiation?"
"Admirable, my dear poet!"
"Yes," said Gourville; "but
there are some persons who are anxious to have the steed who have not money
enough to pay for the bridle."
"And Vanel would draw back from his
offer if he were to be taken at his word," continued the Abbe Fouquet.
"I do not believe it," said La
"What do you know about it?"
"Why, you have not yet heard the
denouement of my story."
"If there is a denouement, why do you
beat about the bush so much?"
"Semper ad adventum. Is that
correct?" said Fouquet, with the air of a nobleman who condescends to
barbarisms. The Latinists clapped their hands.
"My denouement," cried La
Fontaine, "is that Vanel, that determined black bird, knowing that I was
coming to St. Mande, implored me to bring him with me, and, if possible, to
present him to M. Fouquet."
"So that he is here; I left him in
that part of the grounds called Bel-Air. Well, M. Fouquet, what is your
"Well, it is not fitting that the
husband of Madame Vanel should catch cold on my grounds. Send for him, La
Fontaine, since you know where he is."
"I will go myself."
"And I will accompany you," said
the Abbe Fouquet; "I can carry the money-bags."
"No jesting," said Fouquet,
seriously; "let the business be a serious one if it is to be one at all.
But, first of all, let us be hospitable. Make my apologies, La Fontaine, to
that gentleman, and tell him that I am distressed to have kept him waiting, but
that I was not aware he was there."
La Fontaine set off at once, fortunately
accompanied by Gourville; for absorbed in his own calculations, the poet would
have mistaken the route, and was hurrying as fast as he could towards the
village of St. Maur.
Within a quarter of an hour afterwards M.
Vanel was introduced into the superintendent's cabinet, the description and
details of which have already been given at the beginning of this history. When
Fouquet saw him enter, he called Pellisson, and whispered a few words in his
ear: "Do not lose a word of what I am going to say. Let all the silver and
gold plate, together with the jewels of every description, be packed up in the
carriage. You will take the black horses; the jeweller will accompany you; and
you will postpone the supper until Madame de Belliere's arrival."
"Will it be necessary to notify Madame
de Belliere?" said Pellisson.
"No, that will be useless; I will do
"Go my friend!"
Pellisson set off, not quite clear as to
his friend's meaning or intention, but confident, like every true friend, in
the judgment of the man he was blindly obeying. It is that which constitutes
the strength of such men; distrust is awakened only by inferior natures.
Vanel bowed low to the superintendent, and
was about to begin a speech.
"Be seated, Monsieur!" said
Fouquet, politely. "I am told that you wish to purchase a post I hold. How
much can you give me for it?"
"It is for you, Monseigneur, to fix
the price. I know that offers of purchase have already been made to you for
"Madame Vanel, I have been told,
values it at fourteen hundred thousand livres."
"That is all we have."
"Can you give me the money
"I have not the money with me,"
said Vanel, frightened almost by the unpretending simplicity, amounting to
greatness, of the man; for he had expected disputes and difficulties, and
opposition of every kind.
"When will you be able to have
"Whenever you please,
Monseigneur"; and he began to be afraid that Fouquet was trifling with
"If it were not for the trouble you
would have in returning to Paris, I would say at once; but we will arrange that
the payment and the signature shall take place at six o'clock to-morrow
"Very good," said Vanel, as cold
as ice, and feeling quite bewildered.
"Adieu, M. Vanel! Present my humblest
respects to Madame Vanel," said Fouquet, as he rose; upon which Vanel, who
felt the blood rushing up to his head, for he was quite confounded by his
success, said seriously to the superintendent, "Will you give me your
word, Monseigneur, upon this affair?"
Fouquet turned round his head, saying,
"Pardieu! and you, Monsieur?"
Vanel hesitated, trembled all over, and at
last finished by hesitatingly holding out his hand. Fouquet opened and nobly
extended his own. This loyal hand lay for a moment in Vanel's moist,
hypocritical palm; and he pressed it in his own, in order the better to
convince himself. The superintendent gently disengaged his hand, as he again
said, "Adieu." Vanel then ran hastily to the door, hurried along the
vestibules, and fled.
VIII: Madame de Belliere's Plate and Diamonds
HARDLY had Fouquet dismissed Vanel than he
began to reflect for a few moments: "A man never can do too much for the
woman he has once loved. Marguerite wishes to be the wife of a
procureur-general, and why not confer this pleasure upon her? And now that the
most scrupulous and sensitive conscience will be unable to reproach me with
anything, let my thoughts be bestowed on the woman who loves me. Madame de
Belliere ought to be there by this time"; and he turned towards the secret
After Fouquet had locked himself in, he
opened the subterranean passage, and rapidly hastened towards the means of
communicating between the house at Vincennes and his own residence. He had
neglected to apprise his friend of his approach by ringing the bell, perfectly
assured that she would never fail to be exact at the rendezvous. In fact, the
marchioness had arrived, and was waiting. The noise the superintendent made
aroused her; she ran to take from under the door the letter which he had thrust
there, and which simply said, "Come, Marchioness; we are waiting supper
for you." With her heart filled with happiness, Madame de Belliere ran to
her carriage in the Avenue de Vincennes; in a few minutes she was holding out
her hand to Gourville, who was standing at the entrance, where, in order the
better to please his master, he had stationed himself to watch her arrival. She
had not observed that Fouquet's black horses had arrived at the same time,
smoking and covered with foam, having returned to St. Mande with Pellisson and
the very jeweller to whom Madame de Belliere had sold her plate and her jewels.
Pellisson introduced the goldsmith into the cabinet, which Fouquet had not yet
left. The superintendent thanked him for having been good enough to regard as a
simple deposit in his hands the valuable property which he had had every right
to sell. He cast his eyes on the total of the account, which amounted to
thirteen hundred thousand livres. Then, going to his desk, he wrote an order
for fourteen hundred thousand livres, payable at sight, at his treasury, before
twelve o'clock the next day.
"A hundred thousand livres' profit!
cried the goldsmith. "Oh, Monseigneur, what generosity!"
"Nay, nay, not so, Monsieur,"
said Fouquet, touching him on the shoulder; "there are certain kindnesses
which can never be repaid. The profit is about that which you would have made,
but the interest of your money still remains to be arranged"; and saying
this, he unfastened from his sleeve a diamond button, which the goldsmith
himself had often valued at three thousand pistoles. "Take this," he
said to the goldsmith, "in remembrance of me; and farewell! You are an
"And you, Monseigneur," cried the
goldsmith, completely overcome, "are a grand nobleman!"
Fouquet let the worthy goldsmith pass out
of the room by a secret door, and then went to receive Madame de Belliere, who
was already surrounded by all the guests. The marchioness was always beautiful,
but now her loveliness was dazzling.
"Do you not think, gentlemen,"
said Fouquet, "that Madame is incomparably beautiful this evening? And do
you happen to know why?"
"Because Madame is the most beautiful
of women," said some one.
"No; but because she is the best. And
"Yet?" said the marchioness,
"And yet, all the jewels which Madame
is wearing this evening are nothing but false stones."
"Oh! oh!" exclaimed all the
guests; "that can very well be said of one who has the finest diamonds in
"Well?" said Fouquet to
Pellisson, in a low tone.
"Well, at last I have understood
you," returned the latter; "and you have done well."
"That is pleasant," said the
superintendent, with a smile.
"Supper is ready, Monseigneur,"
said Vatel, with majestic air and tone.
The crowd of guests hurried more rapidly
than is customary at ministerial entertainments towards the banqueting-room,
where a magnificent spectacle presented itself. Upon the buffets, upon the
side-tables, upon the supper-table itself, in the midst of flowers and light,
glittered most dazzlingly the richest and most costly gold and silver plate
that was ever seen,- relics of those ancient magnificent productions which the
Florentine artists, whom the Medici family had patronized, had sculptured,
chased, and cast for the purpose of holding flowers, at a time when gold yet
existed in France. These hidden marvels, which had been buried during the civil
wars, had timidly reappeared during the intervals of that war of good taste
called the Fronde,- when noblemen, fighting against noblemen, killed but did
not pillage one another. All that plate had Madame de Belliere's arms engraved
upon it. "Look!" cried La Fontaine, "here is a P and a B."
But the most remarkable object present was
the cover which Fouquet had assigned to the marchioness. Near her was a pyramid
of diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, antique cameos; sardonyx stones, carved by
the old Greeks of Asia Minor, with mountings of Mysian gold; curious mosaics of
ancient Alexandria, mounted in silver; and massive Egyptian bracelets lay
heaped up in a large plate of Palissy ware, supported by a tripod of gilt
bronze which had been sculptured by Benvenuto. The marchioness turned pale as
she recognized what she had never expected to see again. A profound silence
seemed to seize upon every one of the restless and excited guests. Fouquet did
not even make a sign in dismissal of the richly liveried servants who crowded
like bees round the huge buffets and other tables in the room. "Gentlemen,"
he said, "all this plate which you behold once belonged to Madame de
Belliere, who having observed one of her friends in great distress, sent all
this gold and silver, together with the heap of jewels now before her, to her
goldsmith. This noble conduct of a devoted friend can well be understood by
such friends as you. Happy, indeed, is that man who sees himself loved in such
a manner! Let us drink to the health of Madame de Belliere."
A tremendous burst of applause followed his
words, and made poor Madame de Belliere sink back dumb and breathless on her
seat. "And then," added Pellisson, whom all nobleness aroused and all
beauty charmed, "let us also drink to the health of him who inspired
Madame's noble conduct; for such a man is worthy of being worthily loved."
It was now the marchioness's turn. She
rose, pale and smiling; and as she held out her glass with a faltering hand,
and her trembling fingers touched those of Fouquet, her look, full of love,
found its reflection and response in that of her ardent and generous-hearted
Begun in this manner, the supper soon
became a fete. No one sought for wit, because no one was without it. La
Fontaine forgot his Gorgny wine, and allowed Vatel to reconcile him to the
wines of the Rhone and those from the shores of Spain. The Abbe Fouquet became
so good-natured that Gourville said to him, "Take care, Monsieur the Abbe!
If you are so tender, you will be eaten."
The hours passed away so joyously that,
contrary to his usual custom, the superintendent did not leave the table before
the end of the dessert. He smiled upon his friends, delighted as a man is whose
heart becomes intoxicated before his head; and for the first time he looked at
the clock. Suddenly a carriage rolled into the courtyard; and, strange to say,
it was heard high above the noise of the mirth which prevailed. Fouquet
listened attentively, and then turned his eyes towards the antechamber. It
seemed as if he could hear a step passing across it, and as if this step,
instead of touching the ground, pressed upon his heart. Involuntarily his foot
parted company with the foot which Madame de Belliere had rested on his for two
"M. d'Herblay, Bishop of Vannes!"
the usher announced; and Aramis's grave and thoughtful face appeared in the
door-way, between the remains of two garlands, the thread of which the flame of
a lamp had just burned.
IX: M. de Mazarin's Receipt
FOUQUET would have uttered an exclamation
of delight on seeing another friend arrive, if the cold air and constrained
appearance of Aramis had not restored all his reserve. "Are you going to
join us at our dessert?" he asked. "And yet you would be frightened,
perhaps, at the noise we madcaps are making."
"Monseigneur," replied Aramis,
respectfully, "I will begin by begging you to excuse me for having
interrupted this merry meeting; and then I will beg you to give me, after your
pleasure, a moment's audience on matters of business."
As the word "business" had
aroused the attention of some of the epicureans present, Fouquet rose, saying,
"Business first of all, M. d'Herblay; we are too happy when matters of
business arrive only at the end of a meal."
As he said this, Fouquet took the hand of
Madame de Belliere, who looked at him with a kind of uneasiness, and then led
her to an adjoining salon, after having recommended her to the most reasonable
of his guests. And then, taking Aramis by the arm, the superintendent led him
towards his cabinet.
Aramis, on reaching the cabinet, forgot
respect and etiquette; he threw himself into a chair, saying, "Guess whom
I have seen this evening?"
"My dear Chevalier, every time you
begin in that manner I am sure to hear you announce something disagreeable.
"Well, and this time you will not be
mistaken, either, my dear friend," replied Aramis.
"Do not keep me in suspense,"
added the superintendent, phlegmatically.
"Well, then, I have seen Madame de
"The old duchess, do you mean?"
"Her ghost, perhaps?"
"No, no; the old she-wolf
"Possibly, but not without
"Well! what harm can she meditate
against me? I am no miser, with women who are not prudes. Generosity is a
quality that is always prized, even by the woman who no longer dares to provoke
"Madame de Chevreuse knows very well
that you are not avaricious, since she wishes to draw some money out of you.
"Indeed! under what pretext?"
"Oh, pretexts are never wanting with
her! Let me tell you what hers is. It seems that the duchess has a good many
letters of M. de Mazarin's in her possession."
"I am not surprised at that, for the
prelate was gallant enough."
"Yes; but these letters have nothing
whatever to do with the prelate's love-affairs. They concern, it is said,
"And accordingly they are less
"Do you not suspect what I mean?"
"Not at all."
"You have never heard that there was a
charge of embezzlement?"
"Yes, a hundred, nay, a thousand
times. Since I have been engaged in public matters I have hardly heard anything
else but that,- just as in your own case when you, a bishop, are charged with
impiety, or a musketeer, with cowardice. The very thing of which they are
always accusing ministers of finance is the embezzlement of public funds."
"Very good. But let us specify; for
according to the duchess, M. de Mazarin specifies."
"Let us see what he specifies."
"Something like a sum of thirteen
million livres, the disposal of which it would be very embarrassing for you to
"Thirteen millions!" said the
superintendent, stretching himself in his arm-chair, in order to enable him the
more comfortably to look up towards the ceiling,- "thirteen millions! I am
trying to remember them out of all those I have been accused of stealing."
"Do not laugh, my dear monsieur; it is
serious. It is certain that the duchess has certain letters in her possession;
and these letters must be genuine, since she wished to sell them to me for five
hundred thousand livres."
"Oh, one can have a very tolerable
calumny for such a sum as that!" replied Fouquet. "Ah! now I know
what you mean"; and he began to laugh heartily.
"So much the better," said
Aramis, a little reassured.
"I remember the story of those
thirteen millions now. Yes, yes, I remember them quite well."
"I am delighted to hear it; tell me
"Well, then, one day Signor Mazarin,
Heaven rest his soul! made a profit of thirteen millions upon a concession of
lands in the Valtelline; he cancelled them in the registry of receipts, sent
them to me, and then made me advance them to him for war expenses."
"Very good; then there is no doubt of
their proper disbursement?"
"No; the Cardinal placed them under my
name, and gave me a receipt."
"You have the receipt?"
"Of course," said Fouquet, as he
quietly rose from his chair, and went to his large ebony bureau, inlaid with
mother-of-pearl and gold.
"What I most admire in you," said
Aramis, with an air of great satisfaction, "is your memory, in the first
place; then, your self-possession; and finally, the perfect order which
prevails with you,- you, a poet par excellence."
"Yes," said Fouquet, "I am
orderly out of a spirit of idleness, to save myself the trouble of looking
after things; and so I know that Mazarin's receipt is in the third drawer under
the letter M. I open the drawer, and place my hand upon the very paper I need.
In the night, without a light, I could find it"; and with a confident hand
he felt the bundle of papers which were piled up in the open drawer. "Nay,
more than that," he continued, "I remember the paper as if I saw it. It
is thick, somewhat crumpled, with gilt edges. Mazarin had made a blot upon the
figure of the date. Ah!" he said, "the paper knows we are talking
about it, and that we want it very much, and so it hides itself out of the
way." As the superintendent looked into the drawer, Aramis rose from his
seat. "This is very singular," said Fouquet.
"Your memory is treacherous, my dear
Monseigneur; look in another drawer."
Fouquet took out the bundle of papers, and
turned them over once more; he then became very pale.
"Don't confine your search to that
drawer," said Aramis; "look elsewhere."
"Quite useless. I have never made a
mistake. No one but myself arranges any papers of mine of this nature; no one
but myself ever opens this drawer, of which, besides, no one but myself is
aware of the secret."
"What do you conclude, then?"
said Aramis, agitated.
"That Mazarin's receipt has been
stolen from me. Madame de Chevreuse was right, Chevalier; I have appropriated
the public funds; I have robbed the State coffers of thirteen millions of
money; I am a thief, M. d'Herblay."
"Nay, nay; do not get irritated, do
not get excited!"
"And why not, Chevalier? Surely there
is every reason for it. If the legal proceedings are well arranged, and a
judgment is given in accordance with them, your friend the superintendent can
follow to Montfaucon his colleague Enguerrand de Marigny and his predecessor
"Oh," said Aramis, smiling,
"not so fast!"
"And why not? Why not so fast? What do
you suppose Madame de Chevreuse will have done with those letters,- for you
refused them, I suppose?"
"Yes; at once. I suppose that she went
and sold them to M. Colbert."
"I said I supposed so. I might have
said I was sure of it, for I had her followed; and when she left me, she
returned to her own house, went out by a back door, and proceeded straight to
the intendant's house in the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs."
"Legal proceedings will be instituted,
then scandal and dishonor will follow; and all will fall upon me like a
thunderbolt, blindly, harshly, pitilessly."
Aramis approached Fouquet, who sat
trembling in his chair, close to the open drawers; he placed his hand on his
shoulder, and in an affectionate tone of voice said, "Do not forget that
the position of M. Fouquet can in no way be compared to that of Samblancay or
"And why not, in Heaven's name?"
"Because the proceedings against those
ministers were determined, completed, and the sentence carried out; while in
your case the same thing cannot take place."
"Another blow! Why not? A peculator
is, under any circumstances, a criminal."
"Those criminals who know how to find
a safe asylum are never in danger."
"What! Make my escape,- fly?"
"No; I do not mean that. You forget
that all such proceedings originate in the parliament; that they are instituted
by the procureur-general, and that you are the procureur-general. You see that
unless you wish to condemn yourself-"
"Oh!" cried Fouquet suddenly,
dashing his fist upon the table.
"Well, what? What is the matter?"
"I am procureur-general no
Aramis at this reply became as livid as
death; he pressed his hands together convulsively, and with a wild, haggard
look, which almost annihilated Fouquet, said, laying a stress upon every
syllable, "You are procureur-general no longer, do you say?"
"Since four or five hours ago."
"Take care!" interrupted Aramis,
coldly. "I do not think you are in full possession of your senses, my
friend; collect yourself!"
"I tell you," returned Fouquet,
"that a little while ago some one came to me, brought by my friends, to
offer me fourteen hundred thousand livres for the appointment, and that I have
Aramis looked as if he had been
thunder-stricken; the intelligent and mocking expression of his countenance was
changed to an expression of gloom and terror which had more effect upon the
superintendent than all the exclamations and speeches in the world. "You
had need of money, then?" he said at last.
"Yes; to discharge a debt of
honor"; and in a few words he gave Aramis an account of Madame de la
Belliere's generosity, and of the manner in which he had thought he ought to
repay that generosity.
"Yes," said Aramis; "that
is, indeed, a fine trait. What has it cost?"
"Exactly the fourteen hundred thousand
livres,- the price of my appointment."
"Which you received in that manner,
without reflection. Oh, imprudent friend!"
"I have not yet received the amount;
but I shall to-morrow."
"It is not yet completed, then?"
"It must be carried out, though; for I
have given the goldsmith, for twelve o'clock to-morrow, an order upon my
treasury, into which the purchaser's money will be paid at six or seven
"Heaven be praised!" cried
Aramis, clapping his hands together; "nothing is yet completed, since you
have not been paid."
"But the goldsmith?"
"You shall receive the fourteen
hundred thousand livres from me at a quarter before twelve."
"Stay a moment! It is at six o'clock,
this very morning, that I am to sign."
"Oh, I tell you that you will not sign!"
"I have given my word,
"If you have given it, you will take
it back again; that is all."
"Ah! what are you saying to me?"
cried Fouquet, in a most expressive tone. "Fouquet recall his word, after
it has been once pledged!"
Aramis replied to the almost stern look of
the minister with a look full of anger. "Monsieur," he said, "I
believe I have deserved to be called a man of honor, have I not? As a soldier I
have risked my life five hundred times; as a priest I have rendered great services,
both to the State and to my friends. The value of a word, once passed, is
estimated according to the worth of the man who gives it. So long as it is in
his own keeping it is of the purest, finest gold; when his wish to keep it has
passed away, it is a two-edged sword. With that word, therefore, he defends
himself as with an honorable weapon, considering that when he disregards his
word,- that man of honor,- he endangers his life, he courts the risk rather
than that his adversary should secure advantages. And then, Monsieur, he
appeals to Heaven- and to justice."
Fouquet bent down his head, as he replied:
"I am a poor Breton, opinionated and commonplace; my mind admires and
fears yours. I do not say that I keep my word from a moral instinct; I keep it,
if you like, by force of habit. But at all events, the ordinary run of men are
simple enough to admire this custom of mine. It is my single virtue; leave me
the honor of it."
"And so you are determined to sign the
sale of the office which would defend you against all your enemies?"
"Yes, I shall sign."
"You will deliver yourself up, then,
bound hand and foot, from a false notion of honor, which the most scrupulous
casuists would disdain?"
"I shall sign," repeated Fouquet.
Aramis sighed deeply, and looked all round
him with the impatient gesture of a man who would gladly dash something to
pieces, as a relief to his feelings. "We have still one means left,"
he said; "and I trust you will not refuse to make use of that?"
"Certainly not, if it be loyal and
honorable,- as everything is, in fact, which you propose."
"I know nothing more loyal than a
renunciation of your purchaser. Is he a friend of yours?"
"'But'!- if you allow me to manage the
affair, I do not despair."
"Oh, you shall be absolute
"With whom are you in treaty? What man
"I am not aware whether you know the
"Most of its members. One of the
"No; only a counsellor-"
"Who is named Vanel."
Aramis became purple. "Vanel!" he
cried, rising abruptly from his seat, "Vanel! the husband of Marguerite
"Of your former mistress?"
"Yes, my dear fellow. She is anxious
to be Madame the Procureuse-General. I certainly owed poor Vanel that slight
concession; and I am a gainer by it, since I at the same time confer a pleasure
on his wife."
Aramis walked straight to Fouquet, and took
hold of his hand. "Do you know," he said very calmly, "the name
of Madame Vanel's new lover?"
"Ah! she has a new lover, then? I was
not aware of it; no, I have no idea what his name is."
"His name is M. Jean Baptiste Colbert;
he is intendant of the finances; he lives in the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs,
where Madame de Chevreuse has this evening carried Mazarin's letters, which she
wishes to sell."
"Gracious Heaven!" murmured
Fouquet, passing his hand across his forehead, from which the perspiration was
"You now begin to understand, do you
"That I am lost,- yes."
"Do you now think it worth while to be
so scrupulous with regard to keeping your word?"
"Yes," said Fouquet.
"These obstinate people always
contrive matters in such a way that one cannot but admire them," murmured
Fouquet held out his hand to him; and at
the very moment a richly ornamented tortoise-shell clock, supported by golden
figures, which was standing on a console table opposite to the fireplace,
struck six. The sound of a door opening in the vestibule was heard.
"M. Vanel," said Gourville, at
the door of the cabinet, "inquiries if Monseigneur can receive him."
Fouquet turned his eyes from those of
Aramis and replied, "Let M. Vanel come in."
X: M. Colbert's Rough Draught
VANEL, who entered at this stage of the
conversation, was for Aramis and Fouquet the full stop which terminates a
sentence. But, for Vanel, Aramis's presence in Fouquet's cabinet had quite
another signification. At his first step into the room he fixed upon the
delicate yet firm countenance of the Bishop of Vannes a look of astonishment
which soon became one of scrutinizing inquiry. As for Fouquet, a true
politician,- that is to say, complete master of himself,- he had already, by
the energy of his own resolute will, contrived to remove from his face all
traces of the emotion which Aramis's revelation had occasioned. He was no
longer, therefore, a man overwhelmed by misfortune and reduced to expedients;
he held his head proudly erect, and extended his hand with a gesture of welcome
to Vanel. He was prime minister; he was in his own house. Aramis knew the superintendent
well; the delicacy of the feelings of his heart and the exalted nature of his
mind could no longer surprise him. He confined himself, then, for the moment-
intending to resume later an active part in the conversation- to the difficult
role of a man who looks on and listens in order to learn and understand.
Vanel was visibly overcome, and advanced
into the middle of the cabinet, bowing to everything and everybody.
"I am come," he said.
"You are exact, M. Vanel,"
"In matters of business,
Monseigneur," replied Vanel, "I look upon exactitude as a
"No doubt, Monsieur."
"I beg your pardon," interrupted
Aramis, indicating Vanel with his finger, but addressing himself to Fouquet;
"this is the gentleman, I believe, who has come about the purchase of your
"Yes, I am," replied Vanel,
astonished at the extremely haughty tone with which Aramis had put the
question; "but in what way am I to address you, who do me the honor-"
"Call me Monseigneur," replied
"Come, gentlemen," said Fouquet,
a truce to these ceremonies! Let us proceed to business."
"Monseigneur sees," said Vanel,
"that I am waiting his pleasure."
"On the contrary, it is I who
wait," replied Fouquet.
"What for, Monseigneur?"
"I thought that perhaps you would have
something to say."
"Oh," said Vanel to himself,
"he has reflected on the matter, and I am lost!" But resuming his
courage he continued, "No, Monseigneur, nothing,- absolutely nothing more
than what I said to you yesterday, and which I am ready to repeat now."
"Come, now, tell me frankly, M. Vanel,
is not the affair rather a burdensome one for you?"
"Certainly, Monseigneur; fourteen
hundred thousand livres is an important sum."
"So important, indeed," said
Fouquet, "that I have reflected-"
"You have been reflecting, do you say,
Monseigneur?" exclaimed Vanel, anxiously.
"Yes, that you might not yet be in a
position to purchase."
"Do not make yourself uneasy on that
score, M. Vanel! I shall not blame you for a failure in your word, which
evidently will be due to inability on your part."
"Oh, yes, Monseigneur, you would blame
me, and you would be right in doing so," said Vanel: "for a man must
be either imprudent or a fool to undertake engagements which he cannot keep;
and I, at least, have always regarded a thing agreed upon as a thing
Fouquet colored, while Aramis uttered a
"Hum!" of impatience.
"You would be wrong to emphasize such
notions as those, Monsieur," said the superintendent: "for a man's
mind is variable and full of little caprices, very excusable, and sometimes
very worthy of respect; and a man may have wished for something yesterday, and
to-day have changed his mind."
Vanel felt a cold sweat trickle down his
face. "Monseigneur!" he muttered.
Aramis, who was delighted to find the
superintendent carrying on the debate with such clearness and precision, stood
leaning his arm upon the marble top of a console table, and began to play with
a small gold knife with a malachite handle. Fouquet did not hasten to reply;
but after a moment's pause, "Come, my dear M. Vanel," he said,
"I will explain to you how I am situated." Vanel began to tremble.
"Yesterday I wished to sell-"
"Monseigneur has done more than wish
to sell; Monseigneur has sold."
"Well, well, that may be so; but
to-day I ask you, as a favor, to restore me my word which I pledged you."
"I received your word as a perfect
assurance that it would be kept."
"I know that; and that is the reason
why I now entreat you,- do you understand me?- I entreat you to restore it to
Fouquet suddenly paused. The words "I
entreat you," the force of which he did not immediately perceive, seemed
almost to choke him as he uttered it. Aramis, still playing with his knife,
fixed a look upon Vanel which seemed to search the inmost recess of his heart.
Vanel simply bowed as he said, "I am
overcome, Monseigneur, at the honor you do me to consult me upon a matter of
business which is already completed; but-"
"Nay, do not say but, dear M.
"Alas! Monseigneur, you see," he
said, as he opened a large pocket-book, "I have brought the money with
me,- the whole sum, I mean. And here, Monseigneur, is the contract of sale
which I have just effected of a property belonging to my wife. The order is
authentic in every way, the necessary signatures have been attached to it, and
it is made payable at sight; it is ready money. In one word, the affair is
"My dear M. Vanel, there is not a
matter of business in this world, however important it may be, which cannot be
postponed in order to oblige-"
"Certainly," said Vanel,
"To oblige a man who by that means
might and would be made a devoted friend."
"And the more completely a friend, M.
Vanel, in proportion to the importance of the service rendered, since the value
of the service he had received would have been so considerable. Well, what do
Vanel preserved silence. In the mean time
Aramis had continued his observations. Vanel's narrow face, his deeply sunk
orbits, his arched eyebrows, had revealed to the Bishop of Vannes the type of
an avaricious and ambitious character. Aramis's method was to oppose one
passion by another. He saw Fouquet defeated, demoralized; he threw himself into
the contest with new weapons. "Excuse me, Monseigneur," he said;
"you forget to show M. Vanel that his own interests are diametrically
opposed to this renunciation of the sale."
Vanel looked at the bishop with
astonishment; he had hardly expected to find an auxiliary in him. Fouquet also
paused to listen to the bishop.
"Do you not see," continued
Aramis, "that M. Vanel, in order to purchase your appointment, has been
obliged to sell a property which belongs to his wife? Well, that is no slight
matter; for one cannot displace fourteen or fifteen hundred thousand livres, as
he has done, without considerable loss and very serious inconvenience."
"Perfectly true," said Vanel,
whose secret Aramis had with his keen-sighted gaze wrung from the bottom of his
"Such embarrassments," pursued
Aramis, "resolve themselves into expenses; and when one has a large
disbursement to make, expenses are to be considered."
"Yes, yes," said Fouquet, who
began to understand Aramis's meaning.
Vanel remained silent; he, too, had
Aramis observed his coldness of manner and
his silence. "Very good," he said to himself, "you are waiting,
I see, until you know the amount; but do not fear! I shall send you such a
flight of crowns that you cannot but capitulate on the spot."
"We must offer M. Vanel a hundred
thousand crowns at once," said Fouquet, carried away by his generosity.
The sum was a good one. A prince, even,
would have been satisfied with such a bonus. A hundred thousand crowns at that
period was the dowry of a king's daughter.
Vanel, however, did not move.
"He is a rascal!" thought the
bishop; "we must offer the five hundred thousand livres at once!" and
he made a sign to Fouquet.
"You seem to have spent more than
that, dear M. Vanel," said the superintendent. "The price of money is
enormous. You must have made a great sacrifice in selling your wife's property.
Well, what can I have been thinking of? It is an order for five hundred
thousand livres that I am about to sign for you; and even in that case I shall
feel that I am greatly indebted to you."
There was not a single gleam of delight or
desire on Vanel's face, which remained impassive; not a muscle of it changed in
the slightest degree. Aramis cast a look of despair at Fouquet, and then, going
straight up to Vanel and taking hold of him by the coat with the gesture used
by men of high rank, he said: "M. Vanel, it is neither the inconvenience,
nor the displacement of your money, nor the sale of your wife's property even,
that you are thinking of at this moment, it is something still more important.
I can well understand it, so pay particular attention to what I am going to
"Yes, Monseigneur," Vanel
replied, beginning to tremble. The fire in the eyes of the prelate scorched
"I offer you, therefore, in the
superintendent's name, not three hundred thousand livres, nor five hundred
thousand, but a million. A million,- do you understand me?" he added, as
he shook him nervously.
"A million!" repeated Vanel, as
pale as death.
"A million; in other words, at the
present rate of interest, an income of seventy thousand livres!"
"Come, Monsieur," said Fouquet,
"you can hardly refuse that. Answer! Do you accept?"
"Impossible!" murmured Vanel.
Aramis bit his lips, and something like a
white cloud passed over his face. That cloud indicated thunder. He still kept
his hold on Vanel. "You have purchased the appointment for fifteen hundred
thousand livres, I think? Well, we will give you these fifteen hundred thousand
livres; by paying M. Fouquet a visit, and shaking hands with him, you will have
become a gainer of a million and a half. You get honor and profit at the same
time, M. Vanel."
"I cannot do it," said Vanel,
"Very well," replied Aramis, who
had grasped Vanel so tightly by the coat that when he let go his hold Vanel
staggered back a few paces,- "very well; one can now see clearly enough
your object in coming here."
"Yes," said Fouquet, "one
can easily see that."
"But-" said Vanel, attempting to
stand erect before the weakness of these two men of honor.
"The fellow presumes to speak!"
said Aramis, with the tone of an emperor.
"Fellow?" repeated Vanel.
"The wretch, I meant to say,"
added the prelate, who had now resumed his usual self-possession. "Come,
Monsieur, produce your deed of sale! You should have it there, in one of your
pockets, already prepared, as an assassin holds his pistol or his dagger
concealed, under his cloak."
Vanel began to mutter something.
"Enough!" cried Fouquet.
"Where is this deed?"
Vanel tremblingly searched in his pockets;
and as he drew out his pocketbook, a paper fell out of it, while Vanel offered
the other to Fouquet. Aramis pounced upon the paper which had fallen out, the
handwriting of which he recognized.
"I beg your pardon," said Vanel;
"that is a rough draught of the deed."
"I see that very clearly,"
retorted Aramis, with a smile more cutting than a lash of a whip would have
been; "and what surprises me is that this draught is in M. Colbert's
handwriting. Look, Monseigneur, look!" And he handed the paper to Fouquet,
who recognized the truth of his remark; for, covered with erasures, with
inserted words, the margins filled with additions, this deed- an open proof of
Colbert's plot- had just revealed everything to its unhappy victim.
"Well!" murmured Fouquet.
Vanel, completely humiliated, seemed as if
he were looking for some deep hole where he could hide himself.
"Well!" said Aramis, "if
your name were not Fouquet, and if your enemy's name were not Colbert,- if you
had to deal only with this mean thief before you, I should say to you,
'Repudiate it!' Such a proof as this absolves you from your word. But these
fellows would think you were afraid; they would fear you less than they do;
therefore sign, Monseigneur!" and he held out a pen towards him.
Fouquet pressed Aramis's hand; but instead
of the deed which Vanel handed to him, he took the rough draught of it.
"No, not that paper," said
Aramis, hastily; "this is the one. The other is too precious a document
for you to part with."
"No, no!" replied Fouquet.
"I will sign upon the paper of M. Colbert; and I write, 'The writing is
approved.'" He then signed, and said, "Here it is, M. Vanel";
and the latter seized the paper, laid down his money, and was about to retreat.
"One moment!" said Aramis.
"Are you quite sure the exact amount is there? It ought to be counted
over, M. Vanel, particularly since it is money which M. Colbert presents to the
ladies. Ah, that worthy M. Colbert is not so generous as M. Fouquet!" and
Aramis, spelling every word, every letter of the order to pay, distilled his
wrath and his contempt, drop by drop, upon the miserable wretch, who had to
submit to this torture for a quarter of an hour. He was then dismissed, not in
words, but by a gesture, as one dismisses a beggar or discharges a menial.
As soon as Vanel had gone, the minister and
the prelate, their eyes fixed on each other, remained silent for a few moments.
"Well," said Aramis, the first to
break the silence, "to what can that man be compared, who, entering into a
conflict with an enemy armed from head to foot, thirsting for his life, strips
himself, throws down his arms, and sends kisses to his adversary? Good faith,
M. Fouquet, is a weapon which scoundrels very frequently make use of against
men of honor, and it answers their purpose. Men of honor ought in their turn,
also, to make use of bad faith against such scoundrels. You would soon see how
strong they would become without ceasing to be men of honor."
"It would be rascally conduct,"
"Not at all; it would be merely
coquetting or playing with the truth. And now, since you have finished with
this Vanel, since you have deprived yourself of the happiness of confounding
him by repudiating your word, and since you have given up, to be used against yourself,
the only weapon which can ruin us-"
"My dear friend," said Fouquet,
mournfully, "you are like the teacher of philosophy whom La Fontaine was
telling us about the other day: he saw a child drowning, and began to read him
a lecture divided into three heads."
Aramis smiled as he said,
"Philosophy,- yes, teacher,- yes; a drowning child,- yes; but a child that
can be saved,- you shall see. And, first of all, let us talk about
business." Fouquet looked at him with an air of astonishment. "Did
you not some time ago speak to me about an idea you had of giving a fete at
"Oh," said Fouquet, "that
was when affairs were flourishing!"
"A fete, I believe, to which the King,
without prompting, invited himself?"
"No, no, my dear prelate; a fete to
which M. Colbert advised the King to invite himself!"
"Ah! exactly; as it would be a fete of
so costly a character that you would be ruined in giving it?"
"Precisely so. In other times, as I
said just now, I had a kind of pride in showing my enemies the fruitfulness of
my resources; I felt it a point of honor to strike them with amazement, in
creating millions under circumstances where they had imagined nothing but
bankruptcies possible. But at the present day I am arranging my accounts with
the State, with the King, with myself; and I must now become a mean, stingy
man. I shall be able to prove to the world that I can act or operate with my
deniers as I used to do with my bags of pistoles; and beginning to-morrow, my
equipages shall be sold, my houses mortgaged, my expenses contracted."
"Beginning with to-morrow,"
interrupted Aramis, quietly, "you will occupy yourself, without the
slightest delay, with your fete at Vaux, which must hereafter be spoken of with
the most magnificent productions of your most prosperous days."
"You are mad, Chevalier
"I? You do not think that."
"What do you mean, then? Do you not
know that a fete at Vaux, of the very simplest possible character, would cost
four or five millions?"
"I do not speak of a fete of the very
simplest possible character, my dear superintendent."
"But since the fete is to be given to
the King," replied Fouquet, who misunderstood Aramis's idea, "it
cannot be simple."
"Just so; it ought to be on a scale of
the most unbounded magnificence."
"In that case I shall have to spend
ten or twelve millions."
"You shall spend twenty if you require
it," said Aramis, calmly.
"Where shall I get them?"
"That is my affair, Monsieur the
Superintendent; and do not be uneasy for a moment about it. The money will be
placed at once at your disposal, sooner than you will have arranged the plans
of your fete."
"Chevalier! Chevalier!" said
Fouquet, giddy with amazement, "whither are you hurrying me?"
"Across the gulf into which you were
about to fall," replied the Bishop of Vannes. "Take hold of my cloak
and throw fear aside!"
"Why did you not tell me that sooner,
Aramis? There was a day when with one million you could have saved me."
"While to-day I can give you
twenty," said the prelate. "Such is the case, however. The reason is
very simple. On the day you speak of I had not at my disposal the million which
you needed, while now I can easily procure the twenty millions we
"May Heaven hear you, and save
Aramis smiled, with the singular expression
habitual with him. "Heaven never fails to hear me," he said;
"perhaps because I pray with a loud voice."
"I abandon myself to you
unreservedly," Fouquet murmured.
"No, no; I do not understand it in
that manner. It is I who am entirely at your service. Therefore you, who have
the clearest, the most delicate, and the most ingenious mind,- you shall have
entire control over the fete, even to the very smallest details. Only-"
"Only?" said Fouquet, as a man
accustomed to appreciate the value of a parenthesis.
"Well, then, leaving the entire
invention of the details to you, I shall reserve to myself a general
superintendence over the execution."
"In what way?"
"I mean that you will make of me, on
that day, a majordomo, a sort of inspector-general, or factotum,- something
between a captain of the guard and manager or steward. I will look after the
people, and will keep the keys of the doors. You will give your orders, of
course; but will give them to no one but to me. They will pass through my lips,
to reach those for whom they are intended,- you understand?"
"No, I do not understand."
"But you agree?"
"Of course, of course, my
"That is all I care about. Thanks; and
prepare your list of invitations."
"Whom shall I invite?"
XI: In Which the Author Thinks It Is Now Time to Return to the Vicomte de
OUR readers have observed in this history
the adventures of the new and of the past generation unrolled, as it were, side
by side. To the former, the reflection of the glory of earlier years, the
experience of the bitter things of this world; to the former, also, the peace
which takes possession of the heart, and the healing of the scars which were
formerly deep and painful wounds. To the latter, the conflicts of love and
vanity, bitter disappointments and ineffable delights,- life instead of memory.
If any variety has been presented to the reader in the different episodes of
this tale, it is to be attributed to the numerous shades of color which are presented
on this double palette, where two pictures are seen side by side, mingling and
harmonizing their severe and pleasing tones. The repose of the emotions of the
one is found in the midst of the emotions of the other. After having talked
reason with older heads, one likes to share in the wildness of young people.
Therefore, if the threads of this story do not seem very intimately to connect
the chapter we are now writing with that we have just written, we do not intend
to give ourselves any more thought or trouble about it than Ruysdael took in
painting an autumn sky after having finished a spring-time scene. We wish our
readers to do as much, and to resume Raoul de Bragelonne's story at the very
place where our last sketch left him.
In a state of frenzy and dismay,- or rather
without reason, without will, without purpose,- Raoul fled heedlessly away
after the scene in La Valliere's room. The King, Montalais, Louise, that
chamber, that strange exclusion, Louise's grief, Montalais's terror, the King's
wrath,- all seemed to indicate some misfortune. But what? He had arrived from
London because he had been told of the existence of a danger, and at once this
danger showed itself. Was not that sufficient for a lover? Certainly it was;
but it was insufficient for a pure and upright heart such as his. And yet Raoul
did not seek for explanations in the quarter where all jealous or less timid
lovers would have sought them. He did not go straightway to his mistress, and
say, "Louise, is it true that you love me no longer? Is it true that you
love another?" Full of courage, full of friendship, as he was full of
love; a religious observer of his word, and believing the words of others,-
Raoul said within himself, "Guiche wrote to put me on my guard; Guiche
knows something; I will go and ask Guiche what he knows, and tell him what I
The journey was not a long one. Guiche, who
had been brought from Fontainebleau to Paris within the last two days, was
beginning to recover from his wound, and to walk about a little in his room. He
uttered a cry of joy as he saw Raoul enter his apartment with the eagerness of
friendship. Raoul uttered a cry of grief on seeing De Guiche so pale, so thin,
so melancholy. A few words, and a simple gesture which De Guiche made to put aside
Raoul's arm, were sufficient to inform the latter of the truth.
"Ah! so it is," said Raoul,
seating himself beside his friend; "one loves and dies."
"No, no, not dies," replied
Guiche, smiling, "since I am now recovering, and since, too, I can press
you in my arms."
"Ah! I understand."
"And I understand you too. You fancy I
am unhappy, Raoul?"
"No; I am the happiest of men. My body
suffers, but not my mind or my heart. If you only knew- Oh, I am, indeed, the
very happiest of men!"
"So much the better," replied
Raoul; "so much the better, provided it lasts."
"It is over. I have had enough
happiness to last me to my dying day, Raoul."
"I have no doubt you have had; but
"Listen! I love her, because- But you
are not listening to me."
"I beg your pardon."
"Your mind is preoccupied."
"Well, yes; your health, in the first
"It is not that."
"My dear friend, you would be wrong, I
think, to ask me any questions,- you!" and he laid so much weight upon the
"you" that he completely enlightened his friend upon the nature of
the evil and the difficulty of remedying it.
"You say that, Raoul, on account of
what I wrote to you."
"Certainly. We will talk over that
matter a little when you shall have finished telling me of all your own
pleasures and pains."
"My dear friend, I am entirely at your
"Thank you. I have hurried, I have
flown here,- I came here from London in half the time the government couriers
usually take. Now, tell me, my dear friend, what did you want?"
"Nothing whatever, but to make you
"Well, then, I am here."
"All is quite right, then."
"There is still something else, I
"Upon my honor!"
"You cannot possibly have crushed all
my hopes so violently, or have exposed me to being disgraced by the King for my
return, which is in disobedience of his orders,- you cannot, in short, have
planted jealousy in my heart, merely to say to me, 'It is all right, sleep
"I do not say to you, Raoul, 'Sleep
quietly!' But pray understand me; I never will, nor can I indeed, tell you
"Oh, my friend, for whom do you take
"What do you mean?"
"If you know anything, why conceal it
from me? If you do not know anything, why did you warn me?"
"True, true! I was very wrong, and I
regret having done so, Raoul. It seems nothing to write to a friend and say,
'Come'; but to have this friend face to face, to feel him tremble and
breathlessly wait to hear what one hardly dare tell him-"
"Dare! I have courage enough, if you
have not," exclaimed Raoul, in despair.
"See how unjust you are, and how soon
you forget you have to do with a poor wounded fellow,- the half of your heart!
Calm yourself, Raoul! I said to you, 'Come'; you are here. Ask nothing further
of the unhappy De Guiche."
"You summoned me in the hope that I
should see with my own eyes, did you not? Nay, do not hesitate, for I have seen
"Oh!" exclaimed De Guiche.
"Or at least I thought-"
"There now, you see you are not sure.
But if you have any doubt, my poor friend, what remains for me to do?"
"I have seen Louise agitated,
Montalais in a state of bewilderment, the King-"
"Yes. You turn your head aside. The
danger is there, the evil is there! tell me, is it not so,- it is the
"I say nothing."
"Oh, you say a thousand upon a
thousand times more than nothing! Give me facts! for pity's sake, give me
proofs! My friend, the only friend I have, speak! My heart is crushed, wounded
to death; I am dying from despair."
"If that really be so, my dear
Raoul," replied De Guiche, "you relieve me from my difficulty, and I
will tell you all, sure that I can tell you nothing but what is consoling,
compared to the despair in which I now see you."
"Go on, go on! I am listening."
"Well, then, I can only tell you what
you can learn from the first-comer."
"From the first-comer? It is talked
about?" cried Raoul.
"Before you say people talk about it,
learn what it is that people can talk about. I assure you, solemnly, that
people only talk about what may in truth be very innocent; perhaps a
"Ah! a walk with the King?"
"Yes, certainly, a walk with the King;
and I believe the King has very frequently before taken walks with ladies,
without on that account-"
"You would not have written to me,
shall I say again, if there had been nothing unusual in this promenade?"
"I know that while the storm lasted,
it would have been far better if the King had taken shelter somewhere else than
to have remained with his head uncovered before La Valliere; but-"
"The King is so courteous!"
"Oh, De Guiche, De Guiche, you are
"Do not let us talk any more,
"Nay; let us continue. This walk was
followed by others, I suppose?"
"No- I mean yes; there was the
adventure of the oak, I think. But I know nothing about the matter at
all." Raoul rose; De Guiche endeavored to imitate him, notwithstanding his
weakness. "Well, I will not add another word; I have said either too much
or not enough. Let others give you further information if they will, or if they
can; my duty was to warn you, and that I have done. Watch over your own affairs
"Question others? Alas! you are no
true friend to speak to me in that manner," said the young man, in utter
distress. "The first man I shall question may be either evilly disposed or
a fool,- if the former, he will tell me a lie to torment me; if the latter, he
will do still worse. Ah! De Guiche, De Guiche, before two hours are over, I
shall have been told ten falsehoods, and shall have as many duels on my hands.
Save me, then! Is it not best to know one's whole misfortune?"
"But I know nothing, I tell you. I was
wounded, in a fever; my senses were gone, and I have only effaced impressions
of it all. But there is no reason why we should search very far, when the very
man we want is close at hand. Is not d'Artagnan your friend?"
"Oh, true, true!"
"Go to him, then. He will throw light
on the subject and without seeking to injure your eyes."
At this moment a lackey entered the room.
"What is it?" said De Guiche.
"Some one is waiting for Monseigneur
in the Cabinet des Porcelaines."
"Very well. Will you excuse me, my
dear Raoul? I am so proud since I have been able to walk again."
"I would offer you my arm, De Guiche,
if I did not guess that the person in question is a lady."
"I believe so," said De Guiche,
smiling, as he quitted Raoul.
Raoul remained motionless, absorbed,
overwhelmed, like the miner upon whom a vault has just fallen in: he is
wounded, his life-blood is welling fast, his thoughts are confused; he
endeavors to recover himself, and to save his life and his reason. A few
minutes were all Raoul needed to dissipate the bewildering sensations which had
been occasioned by these two revelations. He had already recovered the thread
of his ideas, when suddenly through the door he fancied he recognized
Montalais's voice in the Cabinet des Porcelaines. "She!" he cried.
"Yes; it is indeed her voice! Oh! here is a woman who can tell me the
truth; but shall I question her here? She conceals herself even from me; she is
coming, no doubt, from Madame. I will see her in her own apartment. She will
explain her alarm, her flight, the strange manner in which I was driven out;
she will tell me all that,- after M. d'Artagnan, who knows everything, shall
have given me fresh strength and courage. Madame- a coquette, I fear, and yet a
coquette who is herself in love- has her moments of kindness; a coquette who is
as capricious and uncertain as life or death, but who causes De Guiche to say
that he is the happiest of men. He at least is lying on roses." And so he
hastily quitted the count's apartments; and reproaching himself as he went for
having talked of nothing but his own affairs to De Guiche, he arrived at
XII: Bragelonne Continues His Inquiries
THE captain was sitting buried in his
leathern arm-chair, his spur fixed in the floor, his sword between his legs,
and was occupied in reading a great number of letters, as he twisted his
mustache. D'Artagnan uttered a welcome full of pleasure when he perceived his
friend's son. "Raoul, my boy," he said, "by what lucky accident
does it happen that the King has recalled you?"
These words did not sound over-agreeably in
the young man's ears, who as he seated himself replied, "Upon my word, I
cannot tell you; all that I know is that I have come back."
"Hum!" said d'Artagnan, folding
up his letters and directing a look full of meaning at him. "What do you
say, my boy?- that the King has not recalled you, and that you have returned? I
do not at all understand that."
Raoul was already pale enough, and he began
to turn his hat round and round in his hand with an air of constraint.
"What the deuce is the matter, that
you look as you do, and what makes you so dumb?" said the captain.
"Do people catch that fashion in England? I have been in England, and came
back again as lively as a chaffinch. Will you not say something?"
"I have too much to say."
"Ah! ah! how is your father?"
"Forgive me, my dear friend; I was
going to ask you that."
D'Artagnan increased the sharpness of his
penetrating gaze, which no secret was capable of resisting. "You are
unhappy about something," he said.
"I am, indeed; and you know very well
what, M. d'Artagnan."
"Of course. Nay, do not pretend to be
"I am not pretending to be astonished,
"Dear captain, I know very well that
in all trials of finesse, as well as in all trials of strength, I shall be
beaten by you. You can see that at the present moment I am an idiot, a fool. I
have neither head nor arm; do not despise, but help me. In a few words, I am
the most wretched of living beings."
"Oh! oh! why that?" inquired
d'Artagnan, unbuckling his belt and softening the ruggedness of his smile.
"Because Mademoiselle de la Valliere
is deceiving me."
"She is deceiving you?" said
d'Artagnan, not a muscle of whose face had moved. "Those are big words.
Who makes use of them?"
"Ah! if every one says so, there must
be some truth in it. I begin to believe there is fire when I see the smoke. It
is ridiculous, perhaps, but so it is."
"Therefore you do believe?"
exclaimed Bragelonne, quickly.
"I never mix myself up in affairs of
that kind; you know that very well."
"What! not for a friend, for a
"Exactly. If you were a stranger, I
should tell you- I should tell you nothing at all. How is Porthos, do you
"Monsieur," cried Raoul, pressing
d'Artagnan's hand, "I entreat you, in the name of the friendship you have
vowed to my father!"
"The deuce take it, you are really
ill- from curiosity."
"No, it is not from curiosity; it is
"Good! Another grand word! If you were
really in love, my dear Raoul, you would be very different."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that if you were so deeply in
love that I could believe I was addressing myself to your heart- But it is
"I tell you I love Louise to
D'Artagnan could read to the very bottom of
the young man's heart.
"Impossible, I tell you," he
said. "You are like all young men,- you are not in love, you are out of
"Well, suppose it were only
"No sensible man ever succeeded in
making much of a brain when the head was turned. I have lost my bearings in the
same way a hundred times in my life. You would listen to me, but you would not
hear me; you would hear, but you would not understand me; you would understand,
but you would not obey me."
"Oh, try, try!"
"I say more. Even if I were
unfortunate enough to know something, and foolish enough to communicate it to
you- You are my friend, you say?"
"Very good. I should quarrel with you.
You would never forgive me for having destroyed your illusion, as people say of
"M. d'Artagnan, you know all; and yet
you plunge me in perplexity, in despair, in death."
"I never complain, as you know; but as
Heaven and my father would never forgive me for blowing out my brains, I will
go and get the first person I meet to give me the information which you
withhold; I will tell him he lies, and-"
"And you will kill him? A fine affair
that would be! So much the better. What should I care for it? Kill my boy,
kill, if it can give you any pleasure. It is exactly like a man with the
toothache, who keeps on saying, 'Oh, what torture I am suffering! I could bite
iron.' My answer always is, 'Bite, my friend, bite; the tooth will remain all
"I shall not kill any one,
Monsieur," said Raoul, gloomily.
"Yes, yes; you fellows of to-day put
on those airs. Instead of killing, you will get killed yourself, I suppose you
mean? Very fine indeed! How much I should regret you! I should say all day
long: 'Ah! what a high-flown simpleton that Bragelonne was,- doubly an ingrate!
I have passed my whole life almost in teaching him how to hold his sword
properly, and the silly fellow has got himself spitted like a lark.' Go, then,
Raoul, go and get yourself disposed of, if you like. I don't know who taught
you logic; but, God damn me,- as the English say,- whoever it was, Monsieur,
has stolen your father's money."
Raoul buried his face in his hands,
murmuring, "No, no; I have not a single friend in the world!"
"Oh, bah!" said d'Artagnan.
"I meet with nothing but raillery or
"Idle fancies, Monsieur! I do not
laugh at you, although I am a Gascon. And as for being indifferent, if I were
so I should have sent you to all the devils a quarter of an hour ago; for you
would sadden a man who was wild with joy, and would kill one who was sad. How
now, young man! Do you wish me to disgust you with the girl to whom you are
attached, and to teach you to execrate women, who are the honor and happiness
of human life?"
"Oh, tell me, Monsieur, and I will
"Do you think, my dear fellow, that I
can have crammed into my brain all that business about the carpenter and the
painter and the staircase and the portrait, and a hundred other tales to sleep
"A carpenter! what do you mean?"
"Upon my word, I don't know. Some one
told me there was a carpenter who made an opening through a floor."
"In La Valliere's room?"
"Oh, I don't know where!"
"In the King's apartment,
"Of course! If it were in the King's
apartment, I should tell you, I suppose."
"In whose room, then?"
"I have told you for the last hour
that I know nothing of the whole affair."
"But the painter, then,- the
"It seems that the King wished to have
the portrait of one of the ladies belonging to the court."
"Why, you seem to have only that name
in your mouth! Who spoke to you of La Valliere?"
"If it be not her portrait, then, why
do you suppose it would concern me?"
"I do not suppose it will concern you.
But you ask me all sorts of questions, and I answer you; you wish to know the
current scandal, and I tell you. Make the best you can of it!"
Raoul struck his forehead with his hand, in
utter despair. "It will kill me! he said.
"So you have said already."
"Yes, you're right"; and he made
a step or two as if he were going to leave.
"Where are you going?"
"To find some one who will tell me the
"Who is that?"
"Mademoiselle de la Valliere herself,
I suppose you mean?" said d'Artagnan, with a smile. "Ah, a famous
idea that! You wish to be consoled by some one, and you will be so at once. She
will tell you nothing ill of herself, of course. So be off!"
"You are mistaken, Monsieur,"
replied Raoul; "the woman I mean will tell me all the evil she possibly
"Montalais, I'll wager."
"Ah! her friend, a woman who in that
capacity will exaggerate all that is either bad or good in the matter. Do not
talk to Montalais, my good Raoul."
"You have some reason for wishing me
not to talk with Montalais?"
"Well, I admit it. And, in point of
fact, why should I play with you as a cat does with a poor mouse? You distress
me,- you do indeed. And if I wish you not to speak to Montalais just now, it is
because you will be betraying your secret, and people will take advantage of
it. Wait, if you can!"
"So much the worse. Why, you see,
Raoul, if I had an idea- but I have not got one."
"Promise that you will pity me, my
friend,- that is all I need,- and leave me to get out of the affair by
"Oh, yes, indeed, in order that you
may get deeper into the mire! A capital idea, truly! Go and sit down at that
table and take a pen in your hand."
"To write to ask Montalais to give you
"Ah!" said Raoul, snatching
eagerly at the pen which the captain held out to him.
Suddenly the door opened; and one of the
musketeers, approaching d'Artagnan, said, "Captain, Mademoiselle de
Montalais is here, and wishes to speak to you."
"To me?" murmured d'Artagnan.
"Ask her to come in. I shall soon see," he said to himself,
"whether she wishes to speak to me or not."
The cunning captain was quite right in his
suspicions; for as soon as Montalais entered, she saw Raoul and exclaimed,
"Monsieur! Monsieur!- I beg your pardon, M. d'Artagnan."
"Oh, I forgive you,
Mademoiselle," said d'Artagnan; "I know that at my age those who look
for me have great need of me."
"I was looking for M. de
Bragelonne," replied Montalais.
"How fortunate! and I was looking for
"Raoul, won't you accompany
"Go along, then," he said, as he
gently pushed Raoul out of the cabinet; and then taking hold of Montalais's
hand, he said in a low voice, "Be kind towards him; spare him, and spare
"Ah!" she said in the same tone
of voice, "it is not I who will speak to him."
"It is Madame who has sent for him."
"Very good," cried d'Artagnan;
"it is Madame, is it? In an hour's time, then, the poor fellow will be
"Or else dead," said Montalais,
in a voice full of compassion. "Adieu, M. d'Artagnan!" she said; and
she ran to join Raoul, who was waiting for her at a little distance from the
door, very much puzzled and uneasy at the dialogue, which promised no good to
XIII: Two Jealousies
LOVERS are very tender towards everything
which concerns the person with whom they are in love. Raoul no sooner found
himself alone with Montalais than he kissed her hand with rapture. "There,
there," said the young girl, sadly, "you are throwing your kisses
away; I will guarantee that they will not bring you back any interest."
"How so? Why? Will you explain to me,
my dear Aure?"
"Madame will explain everything to
you. I am going to take you to her apartments."
"Silence! and throw aside your wild
and savage looks. The windows here have eyes; the walls have ears. Have the
kindness not to look at me any longer; be good enough to speak to me aloud of
the rain, of the fine weather, and of the charms of England."
"At all events-" interrupted
"I tell you, I warn you, that
somewhere, I know not where, Madame is sure to have eyes and ears open. I am
not very desirous, you can easily believe, to be dismissed or thrown into the
Bastille. Let us talk, I tell you; or rather, do not let us talk at all."
Raoul clinched his hands, and assumed the
look and gait of a man of courage, but of a man of courage on his way to the
torture. Montalais, glancing in every direction, walking along with an easy
swinging gait, and holding up her head pertly in the air, preceded him to
Madame's apartments, where he was at once introduced. "Well," he
thought, "this day will pass away without my learning anything. De Guiche
had too much consideration for my feelings. He has no doubt an understanding
with Madame; and both of them, by a friendly plot, have agreed to postpone the
solution of the problem. Why have I not here a good enemy,- that serpent De
Wardes, for instance? That he would bite is very likely, but I should not
hesitate any more. To hesitate, to doubt,- better by far to die!"
Raoul was in Madame's presence. Henrietta,
more charming than ever, was half lying, half reclining in her arm-chair, her
little feet upon an embroidered velvet cushion; she was playing with a little
kitten with long silky fur, which was biting her fingers and hanging by the
lace of her collar.
Madame was thinking; she was thinking profoundly.
It required both Montalais's and Raoul's voice to disturb her from her reverie.
"Your Highness sent for me?"
Madame shook her head, as if she were just
awakening, and then said: "Good-morning, M. de Bragelonne. Yes, I sent for
you. So you have returned from England?"
"Yes, Madame, and I am at your royal
"Thank you. Leave us, Montalais!"
and the latter left the room.
"You have a few minutes to give me, M.
de Bragelonne, have you not?"
"All my life is at your royal
Highness's disposal," Raoul returned, with respect, guessing that there
was something serious under all these outward courtesies of Madame; nor was he
displeased, indeed, to observe the seriousness of her manner, feeling persuaded
that there was some sort of affinity between Madame's sentiments and his own.
In fact, every one at court of any perception at all well knew the capricious
fancy and absurd despotism of the princess's singular character. Madame had
been flattered beyond all bounds by the King's attentions; she had made herself
talked about; she had inspired the Queen with that mortal jealousy which is the
gnawing worm at the root of every woman's happiness. Madame, in a word, in her
attempts to cure a wounded pride, had found that her heart had become deeply
and passionately attached.
We know what Madame had done to recall
Raoul, who had been sent out of the way by Louis XIV. Raoul did not know of her
letter to Charles II, although d'Artagnan had guessed its contents. Who will
undertake to account for that seemingly inexplicable mixture of love and
vanity, that passionate tenderness of feeling, that prodigious duplicity of
conduct? No one can, indeed; not even the bad angel who kindles the love of
coquetry in the heart of woman.
"M. de Bragelonne," said the
princess, after a moment's pause, "have you returned satisfied?"
Bragelonne looked at Madame Henrietta, and
seeing how pale she was, from what she was keeping back, from what she was
burning to disclose, replied: "Satisfied? What is there for me to be
satisfied or dissatisfied about, Madame?"
"But what are those things with which
a man of your age and of your appearance is usually either satisfied or
"How eager she is?" thought
Raoul, terrified. "What is it that she is going to breathe into my
heart?" and then, frightened at what she might possibly be going to tell
him, and wishing to put off the moment so wished for but so dreadful, when he
should learn all, he replied, "I left behind me, Madame, a dear friend in
good health, and on my return I find him very ill."
"You refer to M. de Guiche,"
replied Madame Henrietta, with the most imperturbable self-possession; "I
have heard he is a very dear friend of yours."
"He is, indeed, Madame."
"Well, it is quite true he has been
wounded; but he is better now. Oh, M. de Guiche is not to be pitied!" she
said hurriedly; and then, recovering herself, added, "But has he anything
to complain of? Has he complained of anything? Is there any cause of grief or
sorrow with which we are not acquainted?"
"I allude only to his wound,
"So much the better, then; for in
other respects M. de Guiche seems to be very happy,- he is always in very high
spirits. I am sure that you, M. de Bragelonne, would far prefer to be, like
him, wounded only in the body,- for what indeed, is such a wound, after
Raoul started. "Alas!" he said to
himself, "she is returning to it." He made no reply.
"What did you say?" she inquired.
"I did not say anything, Madame."
"You did not say anything. You disapprove
of my observation, then. You are perfectly satisfied, I suppose?"
Raoul approached closer to her.
"Madame," he said, "your royal Highness wishes to say something
to me, and your instinctive kindness and generosity of disposition induce you
to be careful and considerate as to your manner of conveying it. Will your
royal Highness throw this kind forbearance aside? I am strong, and I am
"Ah!" replied Henrietta,
"what do you understand, then?"
"That which your royal Highness wishes
me to understand," said Raoul, trembling, notwithstanding his command over
himself, as he pronounced these words.
"In point of fact," murmured the
princess, "it seems cruel; but since I have begun-"
"Yes, Madame, since your Highness has
deigned to begin, will you deign to finish-"
Henrietta rose hurriedly, and walked a few
paces up and down her room. "What did M. de Guiche tell you?" she
"Nothing! Did he say nothing? Ah, how
well I recognize him in that!"
"No doubt he wished to spare me."
"And that is what friends call
friendship. But surely M. d'Artagnan, whom you have just left, must have told
"No more than De Guiche, Madame."
Henrietta made a gesture full of
impatience, as she said, "At least, you know all that the court has
"I know nothing at all, Madame."
"Not the scene in the storm?"
"Not the scene in the storm."
"Not the tete-a-tete in the
"Not the tete-a-tete in the
"Nor the flight to Chaillot?"
Raoul, whose head drooped like the flower
which has been cut down by the sickle, made an almost superhuman effort to
smile as he replied with the greatest gentleness: "I have had the honor to
tell your royal Highness that I am absolutely ignorant of everything,- that I
am a poor unremembered outcast, who has this moment arrived from England. There
have been so many stormy waves between myself and those whom I left behind me
here, that the rumor of none of the circumstances your Highness refers to has
been able to reach me."
Henrietta was affected by his extreme
pallor, his gentleness, and his great courage. The principal feeling in her
heart at that moment was an eager desire to hear the nature of the remembrance
which the poor lover retained of her who had made him suffer so much. "M.
de Bragelonne," said she, "that which your friends have refused to
do, I will do for you, whom I like and esteem. I will be your friend. You hold
your head high, as a man of honor should do; and I should regret that you
should have to bow it down under ridicule, and in a few days, it may be, under
"Ah!" exclaimed Raoul, perfectly
livid. "Has it already gone so far?"
"If you do not know," said the
princess, "I see that you guess; you were affianced, I believe, to
Mademoiselle de la Valliere?"
"By that right, then, you deserve to
be warned about her, as some day or other I shall be obliged to dismiss her
from my service-"
"Dismiss La Valliere!" cried
"Of course! Do you suppose that I
shall always be accessible to the tears and protestations of the King? No, no;
my house shall no longer be made a convenience for such practices. But you
"No, Madame, no," said
Bragelonne, making an effort over himself. "I thought I should have died
just now; that was all. Your royal Highness did me the honor to say that the
King wept and implored you-"
"Yes; but in vain," returned the
princess, who then related to Raoul the scene that took place at Chaillot, and
the King's despair on his return. She told him of his indulgence to herself,
and the terrible word with which the outraged princess, the humiliated
coquette, had dashed aside the royal anger.
Raoul bowed his head.
"What do you think of it all?"
"The King loves her," he replied.
"But you seem to think she does not
"Alas, Madame, I still think of the
time when she loved me."
Henrietta was for a moment struck with
admiration at this sublime disbelief; and then, shrugging her shoulders, she
said: "You do not believe me, I see. Oh, how deeply you love her! And you
doubt if she loves the King?"
"Until I have proof. Pardon! I have
her word, you see; and she is a noble child."
"You require a proof? Be it so! Come
XIV: A Domiciliary Visit
THE princess, preceding Raoul, led him
through the courtyard towards that part of the building which La Valliere
inhabited; and ascending the same staircase which Raoul had himself ascended
that very morning, she paused at the door of the room in which the young man
had been so strangely received by Montalais. The opportunity had been well
chosen to carry out the project which Madame Henrietta had conceived, for the
chateau was empty. The King, the courtiers, and the ladies of the court had set
off for St. Germain; Madame Henrietta alone, aware of Bragelonne's return, and
thinking over the advantages which might be drawn from this return, had feigned
indisposition in order to remain behind. Madame was therefore confident of
finding La Valliere's room and Saint-Aignan's apartment unoccupied. She took a
pass-key from her pocket, and opened the door of her maid-of-honor's room.
Bragelonne's gaze was immediately fixed upon the interior of the room, which he
recognized at once; and the impression which the sight of it produced upon him
was one of the first tortures that had awaited him. The princess looked at him,
and her practised eye could at once detect what was passing in the young man's
"You asked me for proofs," she
said; "do not be astonished, then, if I give you them. But if you do not
think you have courage enough to confront them, there is still time to
"I thank you, Madame," said
Bragelonne; "but I came here to be convinced. You promised to convince me;
"Enter, then," said Madame,
"and shut the door behind you."
Bragelonne obeyed, and then turned towards
the princess, whom he interrogated by a look.
"You know where you are, I
suppose?" inquired Madame Henrietta.
"Everything leads me to believe that I
am in Mademoiselle de la Valliere's room."
"But I would observe to your Highness
that this room is a room, and is not a proof."
"Wait," said the princess, as she
walked to the foot of the bed, folded up the screen into its several
compartments, and stooped down towards the floor. "Look here," she
continued; "stoop down, and lift up this trap-door."
"A trap-door!" said Raoul,
astonished; for d'Artagnan's words recurred to his mind, and he remembered that
d'Artagnan had made vague use of that word. He looked in vain for some cleft or
crevice which might indicate an opening, or a ring to assist in lifting up some
portion of the planking.
"Ah! that is true," said Madame
Henrietta, smiling; "I forgot the secret spring,- the fourth plank of the
flooring. Press on the spot where you will observe a knot in the wood. Those
are the instructions. Press, Viscount! press, I say, yourself!"
Raoul, pale as death, pressed his finger on
the spot which had been indicated to him; at the same moment the spring began
to work, and the trap rose of its own accord.
"It is very ingenious,
certainly," said the princess; "and one can see that the architect
foresaw that it would be a small hand which would have to employ that device.
See how easily the trap-door opens without assistance!"
"A staircase!" cried Raoul.
"Yes; and a very pretty one too,"
said Madame Henrietta. "See, Viscount, the staircase has a balustrade,
intended to prevent the falling of timid persons, who might be tempted to
descend; and I will risk myself on it accordingly. Come, Viscount, follow
"But before following you, Madame, may
I ask whither this staircase leads?"
"Ah! true; I forgot to tell you. You
know, perhaps, that formerly M. de Saint-Aignan lived in the very next
apartment to the King's?"
"Yes, Madame, I am aware of that,-
that was the arrangement, at least, before I left; and more than once I have
had the honor of visiting him in his old rooms."
"Well, he obtained the King's leave to
change that convenient and beautiful apartment for the two rooms to which this
staircase will conduct us, and which together form a lodging for him twice as
small and at ten times greater distance from the King,- a close proximity to
whom is by no means disdained, in general, by the gentlemen belonging to the
"Very good, Madame," returned
Raoul; "but go on, I beg, for I do not yet understand."
"Well, then, it accidentally
happened," continued the princess, "that M. de Saint-Aignan's
apartment is situated underneath the apartments of my maids of honor, and
particularly underneath the room of La Valliere."
"But what was the motive of this
trap-door and this staircase?"
"That I cannot tell you. Would you
like to go down to M. de Saint-Aignan's rooms? Perhaps we shall there find the
solution of the enigma."
Madame set the example by going down
herself; and Raoul, sighing deeply, followed her. At every step Bragelonne
took, he advanced farther into that mysterious apartment which had been witness
to La Valliere's sighs, and still retained the sweetest perfume of her
presence. Bragelonne fancied that he perceived, as he inhaled his every breath,
that the young girl must have passed through there. Then succeeded to these
emanations of herself, which he regarded as invisible though certain proofs,
the flowers she preferred to all others, the books of her own selection. Had
Raoul preserved a single doubt on the subject, it would have vanished at the
secret harmony of tastes and disposition of the mind shown in the things of
common use. La Valliere, in Bragelonne's eyes, was present there in every
article of furniture, in the color of the hangings, in everything that
surrounded him. Dumb, and completely overwhelmed there was nothing further for
him to learn, and he followed his pitiless conductress as blindly as the
culprit follows the executioner. Madame, as cruel as all women of delicate and
nervous temperaments are, did not spare him the slightest detail. But it must
be admitted that notwithstanding the kind of apathy into which he had fallen,
none of these details, even had he been left alone, would have escaped him. The
happiness of the woman who loves, when that happiness is derived from a rival,
is a torture for a jealous man; but for a jealous man such as Raoul was, for
that heart which for the first time was steeped in gall and bitterness,
Louise's happiness was in reality an ignominious death, a death of body and
soul. He divined all,- their hands clasped in each other's, their faces drawn
close together, and reflected, side by side, in loving proximity, as they gazed
upon the mirrors around them,- so sweet an occupation for lovers, who, as they
thus see themselves twice over, impress the picture more enduringly in their
memories. He divined the kiss unseen behind the heavy curtains falling free of
their bands. He translated into feverish pains the eloquence of the couches hid
in their shadow. That luxury, that studied elegance, full of intoxication; that
extreme care to spare the loved object every annoyance or to occasion her a
delightful surprise; that strength and power of love multiplied by the strength
and power of royalty itself,- struck Raoul a mortal blow. O, if there be
anything which can assuage the tortures of jealousy, it is the inferiority of
the man who is preferred to yourself; while, on the very contrary, if there be
a hell within hell, a torture without name in language, it is the almightiness
of a god placed at the disposal of a rival, together with youth, beauty, and
grace. In moments such as these, God himself seems to have taken part against
the rejected lover.
One final pang was reserved for poor Raoul.
Madame Henrietta lifted a silk curtain, and behind the curtain he perceived La
Valliere's portrait. Not only the portrait of La Valliere, but of La Valliere
eloquent of youth, beauty, and happiness, inhaling life and enjoyment at every
pore, because at eighteen years of age love itself is life.
"Louise!" murmured Bragelonne,
"Louise! is it true, then? Oh, you have never loved me, for never have you
looked at me in that manner!" and he felt as if his heart were crushed
within his bosom.
Madame Henrietta looked at him, almost
envious of his extreme grief, although she well knew there was nothing to envy
in it, and that she herself was as passionately loved by De Guiche as Louise by
Bragelonne. Raoul interpreted Madame Henrietta's look.
"Oh, forgive me, forgive me, Madame!
In your presence I know I ought to have greater mastery over myself. But may
the Lord God of Heaven and of earth grant that you may never be struck the blow
which crushes me at this moment; for you are but a woman, and would not be able
to endure so terrible an affliction. Forgive me! I am but a poor gentleman,
while you belong to the race of the happy, of the all-powerful, of the
"M. de Bragelonne," replied
Henrietta, "a heart such as yours merits all the consideration and respect
which a queen's heart even can bestow. I am your friend, Monsieur; and as such,
indeed, I would not allow your whole life to be poisoned by perfidy and covered
with ridicule. It was I, indeed, who with more courage than any of your
pretended friends,- I except M. de Guiche,- was the cause of your return from
London; it is I, also, who have given you these melancholy proofs,- necessary
however for your cure, if you are a lover with courage in his heart, and not a
weeping Amadis. Do not thank me; pity me even, and do not serve the King less
faithfully than you have done."
Raoul smiled bitterly. "Ah! true,
true; I was forgetting that! The King is my master."
"Your liberty, nay, your very life, is
A steady, penetrating look informed Madame
Henrietta that she was mistaken, and that her last argument was not likely to
affect the young man. "Take care, M. de Bragelonne," she said;
"for if you do not weigh well all your actions, you might throw into an
extravagance of wrath a prince whose passions, once aroused, exceed the limits
of reason, and you would thereby involve your friends and family in distress.
You must bend; you must submit, and must cure yourself."
"I thank you, Madame. I appreciate the
advice your royal Highness is good enough to give me, and I will endeavor to
follow it; but one final word, I beg."
"Should I be indiscreet in asking you
the secret of this staircase, of this trapdoor,- a secret which you have
"Oh, nothing is more simple! For the
purpose of exercising a surveillance over the young girls who are attached to
my service, I have duplicate keys of their doors. It seemed very strange to me
that M. de Saint-Aignan should change his apartments; it seemed very strange
that the King should come to see M. de Saint-Aignan every day; and finally, it
seemed very strange that so many things should be done during your absence,-
that the very habits and customs of the court seemed to be changed. I do not
wish to be trifled with by the King, nor to serve as a cloak for his
love-affairs; for after La Valliere, who weeps, he will take a fancy to
Montalais, who laughs, and then to Tonnay-Charente, who sings. To act such a
part as that would be unworthy of me. I have thrust aside the scruples which my
friendship for you suggested. I have discovered the secret. I have wounded your
feelings, I know, and I again entreat you to excuse me; but I had a duty to
fulfill. I have discharged it. You are now forewarned. The tempest will soon
burst; protect yourself."
"You naturally expect, however, that a
result of some kind must follow," replied Bragelonne, with firmness;
"for you do not suppose I shall silently accept the shame which is thrust
upon me, or the treachery which has been practised against me?"
"You will take whatever steps in the
matter you please, M. Raoul; only, do not betray the source whence you derived
the truth. That is all I have to ask; that is the only price I require for the
service I have rendered you."
"Fear nothing, Madame!" said
Bragelonne, with a bitter smile.
"I bribed the locksmith in whom the
lovers had confided. You can just as well do so as myself, can you not?"
"Yes, Madame. Your royal Highness,
however, has no other advice or caution to give me, except that of not
"I am, therefore, about to beg your
royal Highness to allow me to remain here for one moment."
"Oh, no, Madame! It matters very
little, for what I have to do can be done in your presence. I only ask one
moment to write a line to some one."
"It is dangerous, M. de Bragelonne.
"No one can possibly know that your
royal Highness has done me the honor to conduct me here. Besides, I shall sign
the letter I am going to write."
"Do as you please, then."
Raoul drew out his tablet, and wrote
rapidly on one of the leaves the following words:-
"MONSIEUR THE COUNT: Do not be
surprised to find here this paper signed by me. The friend whom I shall very
shortly send to call on you will have the honor to explain the object of my
visit to you.
RAOUL DE BRAGELONNE."
Rolling up the paper, and slipping it into
the lock of the door which communicated with the room set apart for the two
lovers, Raoul satisfied himself that the paper was so apparent that De
Saint-Aignan could not but see it as he entered; then he rejoined the princess,
who had already reached the top of the staircase. They then separated,- Raoul
pretending to thank her Highness; Henrietta pitying, or seeming to pity, with
all her heart the unhappy man she had just condemned to so fearful torture.
"Oh," she said as she saw him disappear, pale as death, his eye
injected with blood, "if I had known this, I should have concealed the
truth from that poor young man!"
XV: Porthos's Plan of Action
THE multiplicity of the personages we have
introduced into this long history compels that each shall appear only in his
own turn and according to the exigencies of the recital. The result is that our
readers have had no opportunity of again meeting our friend Porthos since his
return from Fontainebleau. The honors which he had received from the King had
not changed the tranquil, affectionate character of that worthy man; only, he
held up his head a little higher than usual, and a majesty of demeanor as it
were betrayed itself, since the honor of dining at the King's table had been
His Majesty's banqueting-room had produced
a certain effect upon Porthos. Le Seigneur de Bracieux et de Pierrefonds
delighted to remember that during that memorable dinner the numerous array of
servants and the large number of officials who were in attendance upon the
guests gave a certain tone and effect to the repast, and seemed to furnish the
room. Porthos proposed to confer upon Mouston a position of some kind or other,
in order to establish a sort of hierarchy among his domestics, and to create a
military household,- which was not unusual among the great captains of the age,
since in the preceding century this luxury had been greatly encouraged by
Messieurs de Treville, de Schomberg, de la Vieuville, without alluding to
Messieurs de Richelieu, de Conde, and de Bouillon-Turenne. And, therefore, why
should not he,- Porthos, the friend of the King and of M. Fouquet, a baron, an
engineer, etc.,- why should not he indeed enjoy all the delightful privileges
attached to large possessions and great merit? Somewhat neglected by Aramis,
who we know was greatly occupied with M. Fouquet; neglected also, on account of
his being on duty, by d'Artagnan; tired of Truchen and Planchet,- Porthos was
surprised to find himself dreaming, without precisely knowing why; but if any
one had said to him, "Do you want anything, Porthos?" he would most
certainly have replied, "Yes."
After one of those dinners, during which
Porthos attempted to recall to his mind all the details of the royal banquet,-
half joyful, thanks to the excellence of the wines; half melancholy, thanks to
his ambitious ideas,- Porthos was gradually falling off into a gentle doze,
when his servant entered to announce that M. de Bragelonne wished to speak to
him. Porthos passed into an adjoining room, where he found his young friend in
the disposition of mind of which we are already aware. Raoul advanced towards
Porthos, and shook him by the hand. Porthos, surprised at his seriousness of
aspect, offered him a seat.
"Dear M. du Vallon," said Raoul,
"I have a service to ask of you."
"Nothing could happen more
fortunately, my young friend," replied Porthos. "I have had eight
thousand livres sent me this morning from Pierrefonds; and if you want any
"No, I thank you; it is not money, my
"So much the worse, then. I have
always heard it said that that is the rarest service, but the easiest to
render. The remark struck me; I like to cite remarks that strike me."
"Your heart is as good as your mind is
sound and true."
"You are too kind, I'm sure. Will you
have your dinner immediately?"
"No; I am not hungry."
"Eh! What a dreadful country England
"Not too much so; but-"
"Well, if such excellent fish and meat
were not to be procured there, it would hardly be endurable."
"Yes. I have come-"
"I am listening. Only allow me to take
something to drink. One gets thirsty in Paris"; and Porthos ordered a
bottle of champagne to be brought. Then, having first filled Raoul's glass, he
filled his own, took a large draught, and resumed: "I needed that, in
order to listen to you with proper attention. I am now quite at your service.
What have you to ask me, dear Raoul? What do you want?"
"Give me your opinion upon quarrels in
general, my dear friend."
"My opinion? Well- but- Explain your
idea a little," replied Porthos, rubbing his forehead.
"I mean,- are you generally of
accommodating disposition whenever any misunderstanding arises between your
friends and strangers?"
"Oh! of excellent disposition, as
"Very good; but what do you do in such
"Whenever any friend of mine has a
quarrel, I always act upon one principle."
"What is that?"
"That all lost time is irreparable,
and that one never arranges an affair so well as when the dispute is still
"Ah! indeed, that is your
"Thoroughly; so, as soon as a quarrel
takes place, I bring the two parties together."
"You understand that by this means it
is impossible for an affair not to be arranged."
"I should have thought," said
Raoul, with astonishment, "that, treated in this manner, an affair would,
on the contrary-"
"Oh, not the least in the world! Just
fancy now! I have had in my life something like a hundred and eighty to a
hundred and ninety regular duels, without reckoning hasty encounters or chance
"It is a very handsome number,"
said Raoul, unable to resist a smile.
"A mere nothing; but I am so gentle.
D'Artagnan reckons his duels by hundreds. It is very true he is a little too
hard and sharp,- I have often told him so."
"And so," resumed Raoul,
"you generally arrange the affairs of honor your friends confide to
"There is not a single instance in
which I have not finished by arranging every one of them," said Porthos,
with a gentleness and confidence which surprised Raoul.
"But the way in which you settle them
is at least honorable, I suppose?"
"Oh, rely upon that! And at this stage
I will explain my other principle to you. As soon as my friend has confided his
quarrel to me, this is what I do: I go to his adversary at once, armed with a
politeness and self-possession which are absolutely requisite under such
"That is the way, then," said
Raoul, bitterly, "that you arrange the affairs so safely?"
"I believe so. I go to the adversary,
then, and say to him, 'It is impossible, Monsieur, that you are ignorant of the
extent to which you have insulted my friend.'" Raoul puckered his brows.
"It sometimes happens,- very often
indeed," pursued Porthos,- "that my friend has not been insulted at
all; he has even been the first to give offence. You can imagine, therefore,
whether my language is not well chosen"; and Porthos burst into a peal of
"Decidedly," said Raoul to
himself, while the formidable thunder of Porthos's laughter was ringing in his
ears' "I am very unfortunate. De Guiche treats me with coldness,
d'Artagnan with ridicule, Porthos is too tame; no one is ready to 'arrange'
this affair in my way. And I came to Porthos because I wished to find a sword
instead of cold reasoning. Ah, what wretched luck!"
Porthos, who had recovered himself,
continued: "By a simple expression, I leave my adversary without an
"That is as it may happen," said
"Not at all; it is quite certain. I
have not left him an excuse; and then it is that I display all my courtesy, in
order to attain the happy issue of my project. I advance, therefore, with an
air of great politeness, and taking my adversary by the hand-"
"Oh!" said Raoul, impatiently.
"'Monsieur,' I say to him, 'now that
you are convinced of having given the offence, we are sure of reparation;
between my friend and yourself the future can offer only an exchange of
gracious ceremonies. Consequently I am instructed to give you the length of my
"What!" said Raoul.
"Wait a minute!- 'the length of my
friend's sword. My horse is waiting below; my friend is in such and such a
spot, and is impatiently awaiting your agreeable society. I will take you with
me; we can call upon your second as we go along. The affair is arranged.'"
"And so," said Raoul, pale with
vexation, "You reconcile the two adversaries on the ground."
"I beg your pardon," interrupted
Porthos. "Reconcile? What for?"
"You said that the affair was
"Of course! since my friend is waiting
"Well, what then? If he is
"Well, if he is waiting, it is merely
to stretch his legs a little; the adversary, on the contrary, is stiff from
riding. They place themselves in proper order, and my friend kills his
opponent; the affair is ended."
"Ah! he kills him?" cried Raoul.
"I should think so," said
Porthos. "It is likely I should ever have as a friend a man who allows
himself to get killed? I have a hundred and one friends; at the head of the
list stand your father, Aramis, and d'Artagnan,- all of whom are living and
well, I believe."
"Oh, my dear baron!" exclaimed
Raoul, delightedly, as he embraced Porthos.
"You approve of my method, then?"
said the giant.
"I approve of it so thoroughly that I
shall have recourse to it this very day, without a moment's delay,- at once, in
fact. You are the very man I have been looking for."
"Good! Here I am, then. You want to
"It is very natural. With whom?"
"With M. de Saint-Aignan."
"I know him,- a most agreeable man,
who was exceedingly polite to me the day I had the honor of dining with the
King. I shall certainly return his politeness, even if that were not my usual
custom. So, he has given you offence?"
"A mortal offence."
"The devil! I can say 'mortal
"More than that, even, if you
"That is very convenient."
"I may look upon it as all arranged,
may I not?" said Raoul, smiling.
"As a matter of course. Where will you
be waiting for him?"
"Ah! I forgot. It is a very delicate
matter. M. de Saint-Aignan is a great friend of the King."
"So I have heard it said."
"So that if I kill him-"
"Oh, you will kill him certainly; you
must take every precaution to do so! But there is no difficulty in these
matters now; if you had lived in our early days,- oh, that was something
"My dear friend, you have not quite
understood me. I mean that M. de Saint-Aignan being a friend of the King, the
affair will be more difficult to manage, since the King might learn
"Oh, no; that is not likely. You know
my method: 'Monsieur, you have injured my friend, and-'"
"Yes, I know it."
"And then: 'Monsieur, I have horses
below.' I carry him off before he can have spoken to any one."
"Will he allow himself, think you, to
be carried off like that?"
"I should think so! I should like to
see it fail! It would be the first time, if it did. It is true, though, that
the young men of the present day- Bah! I would carry him off bodily, if it were
necessary"; and Porthos, adding gesture to speech, lifted Raoul and his
"Very good," said Raoul,
laughing. "All we have to do is to state the grounds of the quarrel to M.
"Well; but that is done, it
"No, my dear M. du Vallon, the usage
of the present day requires that the cause of the quarrel be explained."
"By your new method, yes. Well, then,
tell me what it is-"
"The fact is-"
"Deuce take it! See how troublesome
this is! In former days we never had any occasion to talk. People fought then
for the sake of fighting; and I, for one, know no better reason than
"You are quite right, my friend."
"However, tell me what the cause
"It is too long a story to tell; only,
as one must particularize to some extent-"
"Yes, yes, the devil!- with the new
"As it is necessary, I said, to be
specific, and as on the other hand the affair is full of difficulties and
requires the most absolute secrecy-"
"You will have the kindness merely to
tell M. de Saint-Aignan that he has insulted me,- in the first place, by
changing his lodgings."
"By changing his lodgings? Good!"
said Porthos, who began to count on his fingers; "next?"
"Then, in getting a trap-door made in
his new apartments."
"I understand," said Porthos;
"a trapdoor! Upon my word, this is very serious; you ought to be furious
at that. What the deuce does the fellow mean by getting trap-doors made without
first consulting you? Trap-doors! Mordioux! I haven't any, except in my
dungeons at Bracieux."
"And you will add," said Raoul,
"that my last motive for considering myself insulted is the portrait that
M. de Saint-Aignan well knows."
"Is it possible? A portrait too! A
change of residence, a trap-door, and a portrait! Why, my dear friend, with but
one of those causes of complaint there is enough, and more than enough, for all
the gentlemen in France and Spain to cut one another's throats; and that is
saying but very little."
"Well, my dear friend, you are
furnished with all you need, I suppose?"
"I shall take a second horse with me.
Select your own rendezvous; and while you are waiting there you can practise
some of the best passes, so as to get your limbs as elastic as possible."
"Thank you. I shall be waiting for you
in the wood of Vincennes, close to Minimes."
"All's right, then. Where am I to find
this M. de Saint-Aignan?"
"At the Palais-Royal."
Porthos rang a huge hand-bell. "My
court suit," he said to the servant who answered the summons, "my
horse, and a led horse to accompany me." Then turning to Raoul as soon as
the servant had quitted the room, he said, "Does your father know anything
"No; I am going to write to him."
"No, nor d'Artagnan, either. He is
very cautious, you know, and might have diverted me from my purpose."
"D'Artagnan is a sound adviser,
though," said Porthos, astonished that in his own loyal faith in
d'Artagnan any one could have thought of himself so long as there was a
d'Artagnan in the world.
"Dear M. du Vallon," replied
Raoul, "do not question me any more, I implore you. I have told you all
that I had to say; it is prompt action that I now expect, as sharp and decided
as you know how to arrange it. That, indeed, is my reason for having chosen
"You will be satisfied with me,"
"Do not forget, either, that except
ourselves no one must know anything of this meeting."
"People always find these things
out," said Porthos, "when a dead body is discovered in a wood. But I
promise you everything, my dear friend, except concealing the dead body. There
it is; and it must be seen, as a matter of course. It is a principle of mine
not to bury bodies. That has a smack of the assassin about it. Every risk must
take its risk, as they say in Normandy."
"To work, then, my dear friend!"
"Rely upon me," said the giant,
finishing the bottle, while the servant spread out upon a sofa the gorgeously
decorated dress trimmed with lace. Raoul left the room, saying to himself with
a secret delight: "Perfidious King! traitorous monarch! I cannot reach
thee. I do not wish it; for the person of a king is sacred. But your
accomplice, your panderer,- the coward who represents you,- shall pay for your
crime. I will kill him in thy name, and afterwards we will think of
XVI: The Change of Residence, the Trap-door, and the Portrait
PORTHOS, to his great delight intrusted
with this mission, which made him feel young again, took half an hour less than
his usual time to put on his court suit. To show that he was a man acquainted
with the usages of the highest society, he had begun by sending his lackey to
inquire if M. de Saint-Aignan were at home, and received, in answer, that M. le
Comte de Saint-Aignan had had the honor of accompanying the King to St.
Germain, as well as the whole court, but that Monsieur the Count had just at
that moment returned. Immediately upon this reply, Porthos made haste, and
reached De Saint-Aignan's apartments just as the latter was having his boots
The expedition had been delightful. The
King, who was in love more than ever and of course happier than ever, had
behaved in the most charming manner to every one. Nothing could possibly equal
his kindness. M. de Saint-Aignan, it may be remembered, was a poet, and fancied
that he had proved that he was so under too many memorable circumstances to
allow the title to be disputed by any one. An indefatigable rhymester, he had
during the whole of the journey overwhelmed with quatrains, sextains and
madrigals, first the King, and then La Valliere. The King was, on his side, in
a similarly poetical mood, and had made a distich; while La Valliere, like all
women who are in love, had composed two sonnets. As one may see, then, the day
had not been a bad one for Apollo; and therefore, as soon as he had returned to
Paris, De Saint-Aignan, who knew beforehand that his verses would be
extensively circulated in court circles, occupied himself, with a little more
attention than he had been able to bestow during the excursion, with the
composition as well as with the idea itself. Consequently, with all the
tenderness of a father about to start his children in life, he candidly asked
himself whether the public would find these fruits of his imagination
sufficiently elegant and graceful; and in order to make his mind easy on the
subject, M. de Saint-Aignan recited to himself the madrigal he had composed,
and which he had repeated from memory to the King, and which he had promised to
write out for him on his return,-
"Iris, vos yeux malins ne disent pas toujours
Ce que votre pensee a votre coeur
Iris, pourquoi faut-il que je passe
A plus aimer vos yeux qui m'ont joue
This madrigal, graceful as it was, failed
to satisfy De Saint-Aignan when it had passed from oral delivery to the written
form of poetry. Many had thought it charming,- its author first of all; but on
second view it was not so pleasing. So De Saint-Aignan, sitting at his table,
with one leg crossed over the other, and rubbing his brow, repeated,-
"Iris, vos yeux malins ne disent pas toujours-
"Oh! as to that, now," he
murmured, "that is irreproachable. I might even add that it is somewhat in
the manner of Ronsard or Malherbe, which makes me proud. Unhappily, it is not
so with the second line. There is good reason for the saying that the easiest
line to make is the first." And he continued:-
"Ce que votre pensee a votre coeur confie-.
Ah, there is the 'thought' confiding in the
'heart'! Why should not the heart confide with as good reason in the thought?
In faith, for my part, I see nothing to hinder. Where the devil have I been, to
bring together these two hemistiches? Now, the third is good,-
Iris, pourquoi faut-il que je passe ma vie-
although the rhyme is not strong,- vie and
confie. My faith! the Abbe Boyer, who is a great poet, has, like me, made a
rhyme of vie and confie in the tragedy of 'Oropaste, or the False Tonaxare';
without reckoning that M. Corneille did not scruple to do so in his tragedy of
'Sophonisbe.' Good, then, for vie and confie! Yes; but the line is impertinent.
I remember now that the King bit his nail at that moment. In fact, it gives him
the appearance of saying to Mademoiselle de la Valliere, 'How does it happen
that I am captivated by you?' It would have been better, I think, to say,-
Que benis soient les dieux qui condamnent ma vie-
Condamnent! ah! well, yes, there is a
compliment!- the King condemned to La Valliere- no!" Then he repeated:-
"Mais benis soient les dieux qui- destinent ma vie.
Not bad, although destinent ma vie is weak;
but, good Heavens! everything can't be strong in a quatrain. A plus aimer vos
yeux,- in loving more whom, what? Obscurity. But obscurity is nothing; since La
Valliere and the King have understood me, every one will understand me. Yes;
but here is something melancholy,- the last hemistich: qui m'ont joue ces
tours. The plural necessitated by the rhyme! And then to call the modesty of La
Valliere a trick,- that is not happy! I shall be a byword to all my quill-driving
acquaintances. They will say that my poems are verses in the grand-seigneur
style; and if the King hears it said that I am a bad poet, he will take it into
his head to believe it."
While confiding these words to his heart
and engaging his heart in these thoughts, the count was undressing himself. He
had just taken off his coat, and was putting on his dressing-gown, when he was
informed that M. le Baron du Vallon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds was waiting to
"Eh!" he said, "what does
that bunch of names mean? I don't know him."
"It is the same gentleman,"
replied the lackey, "who had the honor of dining with you, Monseigneur, at
the King's table, when his Majesty was staying at Fontainebleau."
"With the King, at
Fontainebleau?" cried De Saint-Aignan. "Eh! quick, quick! introduce
The lackey hastened to obey. Porthos
entered. M. de Saint-Aignan had an excellent recollection of persons, and at
the first glance he recognized the gentleman from the country who enjoyed so
singular a reputation, and whom the King had received so favorably at
Fontainebleau, in spite of the smiles of some of those who were present. He
therefore advanced towards Porthos with all outward signs of good-will, which
Porthos thought but natural, considering that he himself, whenever he called
upon an adversary, hoisted the standard of the most refined politeness. De
Saint-Aignan desired the servant to give Porthos a chair; and the latter, who
saw nothing unusual in this act of politeness, sat down gravely, and coughed.
The ordinary courtesies having been
exchanged between the two gentlemen, the count, since to him the visit was
paid, said, "May I ask, Monsieur the Baron, to what happy circumstance I
owe the favor of your visit?"
"The very thing I am about to have the
honor of explaining to you, Monsieur the Count; but, I beg your pardon-"
"What is the matter, Monsieur?"
inquired De Saint-Aignan.
"I regret to say that I have broken
"Not at all, Monsieur," said De
Saint-Aignan; "not at all."
"It is the fact, though, Monsieur the
Count; I have broken it,- so much so, indeed, that if I remain in it I shall
fall down, which would be an exceedingly disagreeable position for me in the
discharge of the very serious mission which has been intrusted to me with
regard to yourself."
Porthos rose; and but just in time, for the
chair had given way several inches. De Saint-Aignan looked about him for
something more solid for his guest to sit upon.
"Modern articles of furniture,"
said Porthos, while the count was looking about, "are constructed in a
ridiculously light manner. In my early days, when I used to sit down with far
more energy than now, I do not remember ever to have broken a chair, except in
taverns, with my arms." De Saint-Aignan smiled at this remark.
"But," said Porthos, as he settled himself on a couch, which creaked
but did not give way beneath his weight, "that unfortunately has nothing
whatever to do with my present visit."
"Why unfortunately? Are you the bearer
of a message of ill omen, Monsieur the Baron?"
"Of ill omen,- for a gentleman?
Certainly not, Monsieur the Count," replied Porthos, nobly. "I have
simply come to say that you have seriously offended a friend of mine."
"I, Monsieur?" exclaimed De
Saint-Aignan,- "I have offended a friend of yours, do you say? May I ask
"M. Raoul de Bragelonne."
"I have offended M. Raoul de
Bragelonne!" cried De Saint-Aignan. "I really assure you, Monsieur,
that it is quite impossible; for M. de Bragelonne, whom I know but very
slightly,- nay, whom I know hardly at all,- is in England; and as I have not
seen him for a long time past, I cannot possibly have offended him."
"M. de Bragelonne is in Paris,
Monsieur the Count," said Porthos, perfectly unmoved; "and I repeat,
it is quite certain you have offended him, since he himself told me you had.
Yes, Monsieur, you have seriously offended him, mortally offended him, I
"It is impossible, Monsieur the Baron,
I swear,- quite impossible."
"Besides," added Porthos,
"you cannot be ignorant of the circumstance, since M. de Bragelonne
informed me that he had already apprised you of it by a note."
"I give you my word of honor,
Monsieur, that I have received no note whatever."
"This is most extraordinary,"
"I will convince you," said De
Saint-Aignan, "that I have received nothing in any way from him"; and
he rang the bell. "Basque," he said to the servant who entered,
"how many letters or notes were sent here during my absence?"
"Three, Monsieur the Count,- a note
from M. de Fiesque, one from Madame de Laferte, and a letter from M. de las
"Is that all?"
"Yes, Monsieur the Count."
"Speak the truth before this
gentleman,- the truth, you understand! I will take care you are not
"There was a note, also, from-
"Well, from whom?"
"From Mademoiselle de la Val-"
"That is quite sufficient,"
interrupted Porthos. "I believe you, Monsieur the Count."
De Saint-Aignan dismissed the valet and
followed him to the door in order to close it after him; and when he had done
so, looking straight before him, he happened to see in the keyhole of the
adjoining apartment the paper which Bragelonne had slipped in there as he left.
"What is this?" he said.
Porthos, who was sitting with his back to
the room, turned round. "Oh, oh!" he said.
"A note in the keyhole!"
exclaimed De Saint-Aignan.
"That is not unlikely to be the one we
want, Monsieur the Count," said Porthos.
De Saint-Aignan took out the paper. "A
note from M. de Bragelonne!" he exclaimed.
"You see, Monsieur, I was right. Oh,
when I say a thing-"
"Brought here by M. de Bragelonne
himself," the count murmured, turning pale. "This is infamous! How
could he possibly have come here?" and the count rang again.
"Who has been here during my absence
with the King?"
"No one, Monsieur."
"That is impossible. Some one must
have been here."
"No one could possibly have entered,
Monsieur; since I kept the keys in my own pocket."
"And yet I find this letter in that
lock yonder. Some one must have put it there; it could not have come
Basque opened his arms, as if signifying
the most absolute ignorance on the subject.
"Probably it was M. de Bragelonne
himself who placed it there," said Porthos.
"In that case he must have entered
"Without doubt, Monsieur."
"How could that have been, since I
have the key in my own pocket?" returned Basque, perseveringly.
De Saint-Aignan crumpled up the letter in
his hand, after having read it.
"There is something mysterious about
this," he murmured, absorbed in thought.
Porthos left him to his reflections; but
after a while returned to the mission he had undertaken. "Shall we return
to our little affair?" he said, addressing De Saint-Aignan, as soon as the
lackey had disappeared.
"I think I can now understand it, from
this note which has arrived here in so singular a manner. M. de Bragelonne says
that a friend will call."
"I am his friend, and am the one he
"For the purpose of giving me a
"And he complains that I have offended
"In what way, may I ask?- for his
conduct is so mysterious that it at least needs some explanation."
"Monsieur," replied Porthos,
"my friend cannot but be right; and so far as his conduct is concerned, if
it be mysterious, as you say, you have only yourself to blame for it."
Porthos pronounced these words with an
amount of confidence which for a man who was unaccustomed to his ways must have
indicated an infinity of sense.
"Mystery? Be it so; but what is the
mystery about?" said De Saint-Aignan.
"You will think it best,
perhaps," Porthos replied, with a low bow, "that I do not enter into
particulars, and for excellent reasons."
"Oh, I perfectly understand you! We
will touch very lightly upon it, then. So speak, Monsieur; I am listening."
"In the first place, Monsieur,"
said Porthos, "you have changed your apartments."
"Yes, that is quite true."
"You admit it, then," said
Porthos, with an air of satisfaction.
"Admit it? of course I admit it. Why
should I not admit it, do you suppose?"
"You have admitted it. Very
good," said Porthos, lifting up one finger.
"But how can my having moved my
lodgings have done M. de Bragelonne any harm? Have the goodness to tell me
that, for I positively do not comprehend a word of what you are saying."
Porthos stopped him, and then said with
great gravity: "Monsieur, this is the first of M. de Bragelonne's
complaints against you. If he makes a complaint, it is because he feels himself
De Saint-Aignan began to beat his foot
impatiently on the floor. "This looks like a bad quarrel," he said.
"No one can possibly have a bad
quarrel with the Vicomte de Bragelonne," returned Porthos; "but, at
all events, you have nothing to add on the subject of your changing your
apartments, I suppose?"
"Nothing. And what is the next
"Ah, the next! You will observe,
Monsieur, that the one I have already mentioned is a most serious injury, to
which you have given no answer, or rather have answered very indifferently. So,
Monsieur, you change your lodgings; that offends M. de Bragelonne, and you do
not attempt to excuse yourself? Very well!"
"What!" cried De Saint-Aignan,
who was irritated by the coolness of his visitor,- "what! Am I to consult
M. de Bragelonne whether I am to move or not? You can hardly be serious,
"Absolutely necessary, Monsieur; but,
under any circumstances, you will admit that it is nothing in comparison with
the second ground of complaint."
"Well, what is that?"
Porthos assumed a very serious expression
as he said, "How about the trap-door, Monsieur?"
De Saint-Aignan turned exceedingly pale. He
pushed back his chair so abruptly that Porthos, simple as he was, perceived
that the blow had told. "The trap-door?" murmured De Saint-Aignan.
"Yes, Monsieur, explain that if you
can," said Porthos, shaking his head.
De Saint-Aignan held down his head.
"Oh, I have been betrayed," he murmured; "everything is
"Everything," replied Porthos,
who knew nothing.
"You see me overwhelmed," pursued
De Saint-Aignan,- "overwhelmed to such a degree that I hardly know what I
"A guilty conscience, Monsieur! Your
affair is a bad one."
"And when the public shall learn all
about it, and will judge-"
"Oh, Monsieur!" exclaimed the
count, hurriedly, "such a secret ought not to be known, even by one's
"That we will think about," said
Porthos; "the secret will not go far, in fact."
"But, Monsieur," returned De
Saint-Aignan, "is M. de Bragelonne, in penetrating the secret, aware of
the danger to which he exposes himself and others?"
"M. de Bragelonne incurs no danger,
Monsieur, nor does he fear any either,- as you, if it please Heaven, will find
out very soon."
"This fellow is a perfect
madman," thought De Saint-Aignan. "What, in Heaven's name, does he
want?" He then said aloud: "Come, Monsieur, let us hush up this
"You forget the portrait!" said
Porthos, in a voice of thunder, which made the count's blood freeze in his
As the portrait in question was La
Valliere's portrait, and as no mistake could any longer exist on the subject,
De Saint-Aignan's eyes were completely opened. "Ah," he exclaimed,-
"ah, Monsieur, I remember now that M. de Bragelonne was engaged to be
married to her."
Porthos assumed an imposing air- all the
majesty of ignorance, in fact- as he said: "It matters nothing whatever to
me, nor to yourself indeed, whether or not my friend was, as you say, engaged
to be married. I am even astonished that you should have made use of so
indiscreet a remark. It may possibly do your cause harm, Monsieur."
"Monsieur," replied De
Saint-Aignan, "you are the incarnation of intelligence, delicacy, and
loyalty of feeling united. I see the whole matter now clearly enough."
"So much the better," said
"And," pursued De Saint-Aignan,
"you have made me comprehend it in the most ingenious and the most
delicate manner possible. Thank you, Monsieur, thank you." Porthos drew
himself up. "Only, now that I know everything, permit me to explain-"
Porthos shook his head as a man who does
not wish to hear; but De Saint-Aignan continued: "I am in despair, I
assure you, at all that has happened; but how would you have acted in my place?
Come, between ourselves, tell me what would you have done?"
Porthos raised his head. "There is no
question at all of what I should have done, young man; you have now," he
said, "been made acquainted with the three causes of complaint against
you, I believe?"
"As for the first, my change of
rooms,- and I now address myself to you, as a man of honor and of great
intelligence,- could I, when the desire of so august a personage was so
urgently expressed that I should move, ought I to have disobeyed?"
Porthos was about to speak, but De
Saint-Aignan did not give him time to answer. "Ah! my frankness, I see,
convinces you," he said, interpreting the movement in his own interest.
"You perceive that I am right?"
Porthos did not reply. De Saint-Aignan
continued: "I pass to that unfortunate trap-door," placing his hand
on Porthos's arm,- "that trap-door, the occasion and the means of so much
unhappiness, and which was constructed for- you know what. Well, then, in plain
truth, do you suppose that it was I who, of my own accord, in such a place too,
had that trap-door made? Oh, no! you do not believe it; and here, again, you
feel, you guess, you understand the influence of a will superior to my own. You
can conceive the infatuation,- I do not speak of love, that madness
irresistible! But, thank Heaven! happily the affair is with a man who has so
much sensitiveness of feeling. If it were not so, indeed, what an amount of
misery and scandal would fall upon her, poor girl! and upon him- whom I will
Porthos, confused and bewildered by the
eloquence and gestures of De Saint-Aignan, made a thousand efforts to stem this
torrent of words, of which, by the by, he did not understand a single one; he
remained upright and motionless on his seat, and that was all he could do.
De Saint-Aignan continued, and gave a new
inflection to his voice, and an increasing vehemence to his gesture: "As
for the portrait,- for I readily believe the portrait is the principal cause of
complaint,- tell me candidly if you think me to blame? Who was it that wished
to have her portrait? Was it I? Who is in love with her? Is it I? Who desires her?
Who has won her? Is it I? No, a thousand times no! I know M. de Bragelonne must
be in a state of despair; I know these misfortunes are most cruel. But I, too,
am suffering as well; and yet there is no possibility of offering any
resistance. If he struggles, he will be derided; if he resists, he is lost. You
will tell me, I know, that despair is madness; but you are reasonable,- you
have understood me. I perceive by your serious, thoughtful, embarrassed air,
even, that the importance of the situation in which we are placed has not
escaped you. Return, therefore, to M. de Bragelonne; thank him- as I have
indeed reason to thank him- for having chosen as an intermediary a man of your
merit. Believe me that I shall, on my side, preserve an eternal gratitude for
the man who has so ingeniously, so cleverly corrected the misunderstanding
between us. And since ill-luck would have it that the secret should be known to
four instead of to three, why, this secret, which might make the most ambitious
man's fortune, I am delighted to share with you, Monsieur; from the bottom of
my heart I am delighted at it. From this very moment you can make use of me as
you please; I place myself entirely at your mercy. What can I possibly do for
you? What can I solicit, nay, require even? Speak, Monsieur, speak!"
According to the familiarly friendly
fashion of that period, De Saint-Aignan threw his arms round Porthos, and
clasped him tenderly in his embrace. Porthos allowed him to do this with the
most complete indifference.
"Speak!" resumed De Saint-Aignan;
what do you require?"
"Monsieur," said Porthos, "I
have a horse below; be good enough to mount him. He is a very good one, and
will play you no tricks."
"Mount on horseback! What for?"
inquired De Saint-Aignan, with no little curiosity.
"To accompany me where M. de
Bragelonne is awaiting us."
"Ah! he wishes to speak to me, I
suppose? I can well believe that; he wishes to have the details, very likely.
Alas! it is a very delicate matter; but at the present moment I cannot, for the
King is waiting for me."
"The King will wait," said
"But where is M. de Bragelonne
"At the Minimes, at Vincennes."
"Ah, indeed! but we are going to laugh
over the affair when we get there?"
"I don't think it likely,- not I, at
least"; and the face of Porthos assumed a stern hardness of expression.
"The Minimes is a rendezvous for duels."
"Very well; what, then, have I to do
at the Minimes?"
Porthos slowly drew his sword, and said,
"That is the length of my friend's sword."
"Why, the man is mad!" cried De
The color mounted to Porthos's face, as he
replied: "If I had not the honor of being in your own apartment, Monsieur,
and of representing M. de Bragelonne's interests, I would throw you out of the
window. It will be merely a pleasure postponed, and you will lose nothing by
waiting. Will you come to the Minimes, Monsieur?"
"Will you go thither of your own free
"I will carry you if you do not come.
"Basque!" cried M. de Saint-Aignan.
As soon as Basque appeared, he said, "The King wishes to see Monsieur the
"That is very different," said
Porthos; "the King's service before everything else. We will wait there
until this evening, Monsieur." And saluting De Saint-Aignan with his usual
courtesy, Porthos left the room, delighted at having arranged another affair.
De Saint-Aignan looked after him as he
left; and then hastily putting on his coat again, he ran off, arranging his
dress as he went along, muttering to himself: "The Minimes! the Minimes!
We will see how the King will like this challenge; for it is for him, after
XVII: Rival Politics
ON HIS return from the ride which had been
so prolific in poetical effusions, and in which everyone had paid tribute to
the Muses, as the poets of the period used to say, the King found M. Fouquet
waiting for an audience. Behind the King came M. Colbert, who had met the King
in the corridor, as if on the watch for him, and followed him like a jealous
and watchful shadow,- M. Colbert, with his square head, and his vulgar and
untidy though rich costume, which gave him some resemblance to a Flemish
gentleman after drinking beer. Fouquet, at the sight of his enemy, remained
unmoved, and during the whole of the scene which followed observed that line of
conduct so difficult to a man of refinement whose heart is filled with
contempt, but who wishes to suppress every indication of it, lest he may do his
adversary too much honor. Colbert did not conceal his insolent joy. In his
opinion, M. Fouquet's was a game very badly played and hopelessly lost,
although not yet finished. Colbert belonged to that school of politicians who
think cleverness alone worthy of their admiration, and success the only thing
worth caring for. Colbert, moreover, who was not simply an envious and jealous
man, but who had the King's interest really at heart, because he was thoroughly
imbued with the highest sense of probity in all matters of figures and
accounts, could well afford to assign as a pretext for his conduct, that in
hating and doing his utmost to ruin M. Fouquet he had nothing in view but the
welfare of the State and the dignity of the crown.
None of these details escaped Fouquet's
observation. Through his enemy's thick, bushy brows, and despite the restless
movement of his eyelids, he could, by merely looking at his eyes, penetrate to
the very bottom of Colbert's heart; he saw, then, all there was in that heart,-
hatred and triumph. But as he wished, while observing everything, to remain himself
impenetrable, he composed his features, smiled with that charmingly sympathetic
smile which was peculiarly his own, and saluted the King with the most
dignified and graceful ease and elasticity of manner. "Sire," he
said, "I perceive by your Majesty's joyous air that you have had a
"Charming, indeed, Monsieur the
Superintendent, charming! You were very wrong not to come with us as I invited
you to do."
"I was working, Sire," replied
the superintendent, who did not take the trouble to turn aside his head even in
recognition of Colbert's presence.
"Ah! M. Fouquet," cried the King,
"there is nothing like the country. I should be delighted to live in the
country always, in the open air and under the trees."
"Oh! your Majesty is not yet weary of
the throne, I trust?" said Fouquet.
"No; but thrones of soft turf are very
"Your Majesty gratifies my utmost
wishes in speaking in that manner, for I have a request to submit to you."
"On whose behalf, Monsieur?"
"On behalf of the nymphs of Vaux,
"Ah! ah!" said Louis XIV.
"Your Majesty once deigned to make me
a promise," said Fouquet.
"Yes, I remember it."
"The fete at Vaux, the celebrated
fete, is it not, Sire?" said Colbert, endeavoring to show his importance
by taking part in the conversation.
Fouquet, with the profoundest contempt, did
not take the slightest notice of the remark, as if, so far as he was concerned,
Colbert had not spoken. "Your Majesty is aware," he said, "that
I destine my estate at Vaux to receive the most amiable of princes, the most
powerful of monarchs."
"I have given you my promise,
Monsieur," said Louis XIV, smiling; "and a King never departs from
"And I have come now, Sire, to inform
your Majesty that I am ready to obey your orders in every respect."
"Do you promise me many wonders,
Monsieur the Superintendent?" said Louis, looking at Colbert.
"Wonders? Oh, no, Sire! I do not
undertake that; but I hope to be able to procure your Majesty a little
pleasure, perhaps even a little forgetfulness of the cares of State."
"Nay, nay, M. Fouquet," returned
the King; "I insist upon the word 'wonders.' Oh, you are a magician! We
know your power; we know that you could find gold, even were there none in the
world. And, in fact, people say you make it."
Fouquet felt that the shot was discharged
from a double quiver, and that the King had launched an arrow from his own bow
as well as one from Colbert's. "Oh!" said he, laughingly, "the
people know perfectly well out of what mine I procure the gold; they know it
only too well, perhaps. Besides," he added proudly, "I can assure
your Majesty that the gold destined to pay the expenses of the fete at Vaux
will cost neither blood nor tears; hard labor it may, perhaps. But that can be
Louis remained silent; he wished to look at
Colbert. Colbert, too, wished to reply; but a glance as swift as an eagle's,- a
proud, loyal, king-like glance, indeed,- which Fouquet darted at the latter,
arrested the words upon his lips. The King, who had by this time recovered his
self-possession, turned towards Fouquet, saying, "I presume, therefore, I
am now to consider myself formally invited?"
"Yes, Sire, if it pleases your
"For what day?"
"Any day your Majesty may find most
"You speak like an enchanter who
improvises, M. Fouquet. I could not say so much, indeed."
"Your Majesty will do, whenever you
please, everything that a monarch can and ought to do. The King of France has
servants at his bidding who are able to do anything on his behalf, to
accomplish everything to gratify his pleasures."
Colbert tried to look at the superintendent
in order to see whether this remark was an approach to less hostile sentiments
on his part. But Fouquet had not even looked at his enemy; so far as he was
concerned, Colbert did not exist.
"Very good, then," said the King;
"will a week hence suit you?"
"Perfectly well, Sire."
"This is Tuesday; if I give you until
next Sunday week, will that be sufficient?"
"The delay which your Majesty deigns
to accord me will greatly aid the various works which my architects have in
hand for the purpose of adding to the amusement of your Majesty and your
"By the by, speaking of my
friends," resumed the King; "how do you intend to treat them?"
"The King is master everywhere, Sire;
your Majesty will draw up your own list and give your own orders. All those you
may deign to invite will be my guests,- my honored guests indeed."
"I thank you!" returned the King,
touched by the noble thought expressed in so noble a tone.
Fouquet therefore took leave of Louis XIV,
after a few words had been added with regard to the details of certain matters
of business. He felt that Colbert would remain behind with the King, that they
would both converse about him, and that neither of them would spare him in the
least degree. The satisfaction of being able to give a last and terrible blow
to his enemy seemed to him almost like a compensation for everything to which
they were about to subject him. He turned back again immediately, when he had
already reached the door, and addressing the King, "Pardon, Sire,"
said he,- "pardon!"
"Pardon for what?" said the King,
"For a serious fault which I committed
"A fault! You! Ah, M. Fouquet, I shall
be unable to do otherwise than forgive you. In what way or against whom have
you been found wanting?"
"Against all propriety, Sire. I forgot
to inform your Majesty of a circumstance of considerable importance."
"What is it?"
Colbert trembled; he expected a
denunciation. His conduct had been unmasked. A single syllable from Fouquet, a
single proof formally advanced, and before the youthful loyalty of Louis XIV
Colbert's favor would disappear at once. The latter trembled, therefore, lest
so daring a blow might not overthrow his whole scaffold. In point of fact, the
opportunity was so admirably suited to be taken advantage of, that a skilful
player like Aramis would not have let it slip. "Sire," said Fouquet,
with an easy air, "since you have had the kindness to forgive me, I am
indifferent about my confession: this morning I sold one of the official
appointments I hold."
"One of your appointments?" said
the King; "which?"
Colbert turned livid. "That which
conferred upon me, Sire, a grand gown and an air of gravity,- the appointment
The King involuntarily uttered a loud
exclamation and looked at Colbert, who with his face bedewed with perspiration
felt almost on the point of fainting. "To whom have you sold this
appointment, M. Fouquet?" inquired the King.
Colbert was obliged to lean against the
side of the fire-place.
"To a councillor belonging to the
parliament, Sire, whose name is Vanel."
"A friend of the intendant
Colbert," added Fouquet, letting every word fall from his lips with
inimitable nonchalance, and with an admirably assumed expression of
forgetfulness and ignorance which neither painter, actor, nor poet could
reproduce with brush, gesture, or pen. Then having finished, having overwhelmed
Colbert beneath the weight of this superiority, the superintendent again
saluted the King and quitted the room, partially revenged by the stupefaction
of the King and the humiliation of the favorite.
"Is it really possible," said the
King, as soon as Fouquet had disappeared, "that he has sold that
"Yes, Sire," said Colbert,
"He must be mad," the King added.
Colbert this time did not reply; he had
penetrated the King's thought. That thought promised him revenge. His hatred
was augmented by jealousy; and a threat of disgrace was now added to the plan
he had arranged for his ruin. Colbert felt assured that for the future, as
between Louis XIV and himself, his hostile ideas would meet with no obstacles,
and that at the first fault committed by Fouquet which could be laid hold of as
a pretext, the chastisement impending over him would be precipitated. Fouquet
had thrown aside his weapons of defence; Hate and Jealousy had picked them up.
Colbert was invited by the King to the fete
at Vaux; he bowed like a man confident in himself, and accepted the invitation
with the air of one who confers a favor. The King was about writing down De
Saint-Aignan's name on his list of invitations, when the usher announced the
Comte de Saint-Aignan. As soon as the royal "Mercury" entered,
Colbert discreetly withdrew.
XVIII: Rival Lovers
DE SAINT-AIGNAN had quitted Louis XIV
hardly two hours before; but in the first effervescence of his affection,
whenever Louis XIV did not see La Valliere he was obliged to talk of her. Now,
the only person with whom he could speak about her at his ease was De
Saint-Aignan, and that person had therefore become indispensable to him.
"Ah! is that you, Count?" the
King exclaimed, as soon as he perceived him,- doubly delighted, not only to see
him again, but also to get rid of Colbert, whose scowling face always put him
out of humor,- "so much the better. I am very glad to see you; you will
make one of the travelling-party, I suppose?"
"Of what travelling-party are you
speaking, Sire?" inquired De Saint-Aignan.
"The one we are making up to go to the
fete the superintendent is about to give at Vaux. Ah! De Saint-Aignan, you will
at last see a fete, a royal fete, by the side of which all our amusements at
Fontainebleau are petty, contemptible affairs."
"At Vaux?- the superintendent going to
give a fete in your Majesty's honor? Nothing more than that!"
"'Nothing more than that!' do you say?
It is very diverting to find you treating it with so much disdain. Are you, who
express such indifference on the subject, aware that as soon as it is known
that M. Fouquet is going to receive me at Vaux next Sunday week, people will be
striving their very utmost to get invited to the fete? I repeat, De
Saint-Aignan, you shall be one of the invited guests."
"Very well, Sire; unless I shall in
the mean time have undertaken a longer and less agreeable journey."
"The one across the Styx, Sire."
"Bah!" said Louis XIV, laughing.
"No, seriously, Sire," replied De
Saint-Aignan, "I am invited there; and in such a way, in truth, that I
hardly know what to say or how to act in order to refuse it."
"I do not understand you. I know that
you are in a poetical vein; but try not to sink from Apollo to Phoebus."
"Very well; if your Majesty will deign
to listen to me, I will not keep you in suspense any longer."
"Your Majesty knows the Baron du
"Yes, indeed,- a good servant to my
father, the late King, and an admirable companion at table; for I think you are
referring to him who dined with us at Fontainebleau?"
"Precisely; but you have omitted to
add to his other qualifications, Sire, that he is a most charming killer of
"What! does M. du Vallon wish to kill
"Or to get me killed,- which is the
"Bless my heart!"
"Do not laugh, Sire, for I am not
saying a word that is not the exact truth."
"And you say he wishes to get you
"That is that excellent person's
"Be easy; I will defend you, if he be
in the wrong."
"Ah! there is an 'if'."
"Of course! Answer me as candidly as
if it were some one else's affair instead of your own, my poor De Saint-Aignan:
is he right or wrong?"
"Your Majesty shall be the
"What have you done to him?"
"To him, personally, nothing at all;
but it seems I have to one of his friends."
"It is all the same. Is his friend one
of the celebrated 'four'?"
"No! It is only the son of one of the
"What have you done to the son? Come,
"Why, I have helped some one to take
his mistress from him."
"You confess it, then?
"I cannot help confessing it, for it
"In that case you are wrong."
"Ah! I am wrong?"
"Yes; and my faith, if he kills
"Well, he will do what is right."
"Ah! that is your Majesty's way of
"Do you think it a bad way?"
"It is a very expeditious way."
"'Good justice is prompt'; so my
grandfather Henry IV used to say."
"In that case your Majesty will
immediately sign my adversary's pardon, for he is now waiting for me at the
Minimes to kill me."
"His name, and a parchment!"
"There is a parchment upon your
Majesty's table; and as for his name-"
"Well, what is it?"
"The Vicomte de Bragelonne,
"The Vicomte de Bragelonne!"
exclaimed the King, changing from a fit of laughter to the most profound
stupor; and then after a moment's silence, while he wiped his forehead, which
was bedewed with perspiration, he again murmured, "Bragelonne!"
"No other than he, Sire."
"Bragelonne, who was affianced
"He was in London, however."
"Yes; but I can assure you, Sire, he
is there no longer."
"Is he in Paris?"
"He is at the Minimes, Sire, where he
is waiting for me, as I have already had the honor of telling you."
"Does he know all?"
"Yes; and many things besides. Perhaps
your Majesty would like to look at the letter I have received from him";
and De Saint Aignan drew from his pocket the note with which we are already
acquainted. "When your Majesty has read the letter, I will tell you how it
The King read it in great agitation, and
immediately said, "Well?"
"Well, Sire; your Majesty knows a
certain carved lock, closing a certain door of ebony-wood, which separates a
certain apartment from a certain blue and white sanctuary?"
"Of course! Louise's boudoir."
"Yes, Sire. Well, it was in the
keyhole of that lock that I found that note. Who placed it there? Either M. de
Bragelonne, or the devil himself; but inasmuch as the note smells of amber and
not of sulphur, I conclude that it must be, not the devil, but M. de Bragelonne."
Louis bent down his head, and seemed
absorbed in sad and melancholy reflections. Perhaps something like remorse was
at that moment passing through his heart. "Oh!" he said, "that
"Sire, I shall do my utmost that the
secret dies in the breast of the man who possesses it," said De
Saint-Aignan, in a tone of bravado, as he moved towards the door; but a gesture
of the King made him pause.
"Where are you going?" he
"Where I am waited for, Sire."
"To fight, in all probability."
"You fight!" exclaimed the King.
"One moment, if you please, Monsieur the Count!"
De Saint-Aignan shook his head, as a
rebellious child does whenever any one interferes to prevent him from throwing
himself into a well or playing with a knife.
"But yet, Sire-" he said.
"In the first place," continued
the King, "I require to be enlightened a little."
"Upon that point, if your Majesty will
be pleased to interrogate me," replied De Saint-Aignan, "I will throw
what light I can."
"Who told you that M. de Bragelonne
had penetrated into that room?"
"The letter which I found in the
keyhole told me so."
"Who told you that it was De
Bragelonne who put it there?"
"Who but himself would have dared to
undertake such a mission?"
"You are right. How was he able to get
into your rooms?"
"Ah! that is very serious, inasmuch as
all the doors were closed, and my lackey, Basque, had the keys in his
"Your lackey must have been
"Impossible, Sire; for if he had been
bribed, those who did so would not have sacrificed the poor fellow, whom it is
not unlikely they might want to turn to further use by and by, in showing so
clearly that it was he of whom they had made use."
"Quite true. And now there remains but
"Let us see, Sire, if it is the same
that has presented itself to my mind."
"That he effected an entrance by means
of the staircase."
"Alas! Sire, that seems to me more
"There is no doubt that some one sold
the secret of the trap-door."
"Either sold it or gave it."
"Why do you make that
"Because there are certain persons,
Sire, who being above the price of a treason give, and do not sell."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, Sire, your Majesty's mind is too
clear-sighted not to guess what I mean, and you will save me the embarrassment
of naming any one."
"You are right: you mean Madame!"
"Ah!" said De Saint-Aignan.
"Madame, whose suspicions were aroused
by your changing your lodgings."
"Madame, who has keys of the
apartments of her maids of honor, and is powerful enough to discover what no
one but yourself or she would be able to discover."
"And you suppose, then, that my sister
has entered into an alliance with Bragelonne?"
"Eh! eh! Sire-"
"So far as to inform him of all the
details of the affair?"
"Perhaps even further still."
"Further? What do you mean?"
"Perhaps to the point of going with
"Which way,- through your own
"You think it impossible, Sire? Well,
listen to me! Your Majesty knows that Madame is very fond of perfumes?"
"Yes, she acquired that taste from my
"Yes, it is the scent she prefers to
"Very good, Sire! my apartments smell
very strongly of vervain."
The King remained silent and thoughtful for
a few moments, and then resumed: "But why should Madame take Bragelonne's
part against me?" De Saint-Aignan could very easily have replied: "A
woman's jealousy!" In his question the King had probed his friend to the
bottom of his heart to ascertain if he had learned the secret of his flirtation
with his sister-in-law. But De Saint-Aignan was not an ordinary courtier; he
did not lightly run the risk of finding out family secrets; and he was too good
a friend of the Muses not to think very frequently of poor Ovidius Naso, whose
eyes shed so many tears in expiation of his crime for having once beheld
something, one hardly knows what, in the palace of Augustus. He therefore
passed by Madame's secret very skilfully. But since he had exhibited his
sagacity in proving Madame's presence in his rooms with Bragelonne, it was now
necessary for him to pay interest on that self-conceit, and reply clearly to
the question, "Why has Madame taken Bragelonne's part against me?"
"Why?" replied De Saint-Aignan.
"Your Majesty forgets, I presume, that the Comte de Guiche is the intimate
friend of the Vicomte de Bragelonne?"
"I do not see the connection,
however," said the King.
"Ah! I beg your pardon then, Sire; but
I thought the Comte de Guiche was a very great friend of Madame."
"Quite true," the King returned.
"There is no occasion to search any further; the blow came from that
"And is not your Majesty of the
opinion that in order to ward it off it will be necessary to deal another
"Yes; but not one of the kind given in
the Bois de Vincennes," replied the King.
"You forget, Sire," said De
Saint-Aignan, "that I am a gentleman, and that I have been
"The challenge neither concerns nor
was it intended for you."
"But it is I who have been expected at
the Minimes, Sire, during the last hour and more; and I shall be dishonored if
I do not go there."
"The first honor and duty of a
gentleman is obedience to his sovereign."
"I order you to remain."
"As your Majesty pleases."
"Besides, I wish to have the whole of
this affair explained; I wish to know how it is that I have been so insolently
trifled with as to have the sanctuary of my affection pried into. It is not
you, De Saint-Aignan, who ought to punish those who have acted in this manner;
for it is not your honor they have attacked, but my own."
"I implore your Majesty not to
overwhelm M. de Bragelonne with your wrath; for although in the whole of this
affair he may have shown himself deficient in prudence, he has not been so in
his feelings of loyalty."
"Enough! I shall know how to decide
between the just and the unjust, even in the height of my anger. But take care
that not a word of this is breathed to Madame!"
"But what am I to do with regard to M.
de Bragelonne? He will be seeking me in every direction, and-"
"I shall either have spoken to him, or
taken care that he has been spoken to before the evening is over."
"Let me once more entreat your Majesty
to be indulgent towards him."
"I have been indulgent long enough,
Count," said Louis XIV, frowning; "it is time to show certain persons
that I am master in my own palace."
The King had hardly pronounced these words,
which betokened that a fresh feeling of dissatisfaction was mingled with the
remembrance of an old one, when the usher appeared at the door of the cabinet.
"What is the matter," inquired the King, "and why do you presume
to come when I have not summoned you?"
"Sire," said the usher,
"your Majesty desired me to permit M. le Comte de la Fere to pass freely
at any time when he might wish to speak to your Majesty."
"M. le Comte de la Fere is now waiting
to see your Majesty."
The King and De Saint-Aignan at this reply
exchanged a look which betrayed more uneasiness than surprise. Louis hesitated
for a moment, but almost immediately forming a resolution, he said: "Go,
De Saint-Aignan, and find Louise; inform her of the plot against us. Do not let
her be ignorant that Madame is beginning again her persecutions, and that she
has set to work those who would have done better had they remained
"If Louise gets nervous and
frightened, reassure her; tell her that the King's love is an impenetrable
shield over her. If, as I suspect is the case, she already knows everything, or
if she has already been herself subjected to an attack, tell her, be sure to
tell her, De Saint-Aignan," added the King, trembling with passion,-
"tell her, I say, that this time, instead of defending her, I will avenge
her, and that too so terribly that no one will in future even dare to raise his
eyes towards her."
"Is that all, Sire?"
"Yes; all. Go quickly, and remain
faithful,- you who live in the midst of this hell without having, like myself,
the hope of paradise."
De Saint-Aignan almost exhausted himself in
protestations of devotion, took the King's hand, kissed it, and left the room
radiant with delight.
XIX: King and Nobility
THE King endeavored to recover his
self-possession as quickly as possible, in order to meet M. de la Fere with an
undisturbed countenance. He clearly saw that it was not mere chance which had
induced the count's visit. He had a vague impression of the serious import of
that visit; but he felt that to a man of Athos's tone of mind, to a person so
distinguished, nothing disagreeable or disordered should be presented. As soon
as the King had satisfied himself that so far as appearances were concerned he
was perfectly calm again, he gave directions to the ushers to introduce the
A few minutes afterwards Athos, in full
court dress and with his breast covered with the orders that he alone had the
right to wear at the Court of France, presented himself with so grave and
solemn an air that the King perceived at the first glance that he had not been
mistaken in his anticipations. Louis advanced a step towards the count, and
with a smile held out his hand to him, over which Athos bowed with the air of
the deepest respect.
"M. le Comte de la Fere," said
the King, rapidly, "you are so seldom here that it is a very great
happiness to see you."
Athos bowed and replied, "I should
wish always to enjoy the happiness of being near your Majesty."
That reply, made in that tone, evidently
signified, "I should wish to be one of your Majesty's advisers, to save
you from the commission of faults." The King so understood it, and
determined in this man's presence to preserve all the advantages of calmness
along with those of rank.
"I see you have something to say to
me," he said.
"Had it not been so, I should not have
presumed to present myself before your Majesty."
"Speak quickly; I am anxious to
satisfy you," returned the King, seating himself.
"I am persuaded," replied Athos,
in a slightly agitated tone of voice, "that your Majesty will give me
"Ah!" said the King, with a
certain haughtiness of manner, "you have come to lodge a complaint here,
"It would be a complaint,"
returned Athos, "only in the event of your Majesty- But if you will deign
to permit me, Sire, I will begin the conversation at the beginning."
"I am listening."
"Your Majesty will remember that at
the period of the Duke of Buckingham's departure I had the honor of an
interview with you."
"At or about that period I think I
remember you did; only, with regard to the subject of the conversation, I have
quite forgotten it."
Athos started, as he replied: "I shall
have the honor to recall it to your Majesty. It was with regard to a demand
which I addressed to you respecting a marriage which M. de Bragelonne wished to
contract with Mademoiselle de la Valliere."
"Ah!" thought the King, "we
have come to it now. I remember," he said, aloud.
"At that period," pursued Athos,
"your Majesty was so kind and generous towards M. de Bragelonne and myself
that not a single word which then fell from your lips has escaped my memory;
and when I asked your Majesty to accord me Mademoiselle de la Valliere's hand
for M. de Bragelonne, you refused."
"Quite true," said Louis, dryly.
"Alleging," Athos hastened to
say, "that the young lady had no position in society."
Louis could hardly force himself to listen
"That," added Athos, "she
had but little fortune."
The King threw himself back in his
"That her extraction was
A renewed impatience on the part of the
"And little beauty," added Athos,
This last bolt buried itself deep in the
King's heart, and made him almost bound from his seat.
"You have a good memory,
Monsieur," he said.
"I invariably have, on all occasions
when I have had the distinguished honor of an interview with your
Majesty," retorted the count, without being in the least disconcerted.
"Very good; it is admitted I said all
"And I thanked your Majesty, because
those words testified an interest in M. de Bragelonne, which did him much
"And you may possibly remember,"
said the King, very deliberately, "that you had the greatest repugnance to
"Quite true, Sire."
"And that you solicited my permission
against your own inclination?"
"And, finally, I remember also,- for I
have a memory nearly as good as your own,- I remember, I say, that you observed
at the time: 'I do not believe that Mademoiselle de la Valliere loves M. de
Bragelonne.' Is that true?"
The blow told well, but Athos did not shrink.
"Sire," he said, "I have already begged your Majesty's
forgiveness; but there are certain particulars in that conversation which will
be intelligible in the denouement."
"Well, what is the denouement,
"This: your Majesty then said that you
would defer the marriage out of regard for M. de Bragelonne's own
The King remained silent.
"M. de Bragelonne is now so
exceedingly unhappy that he cannot any longer defer asking your Majesty for a
solution of the matter."
The King turned pale; Athos looked at him
with fixed attention.
"And what," said the King, with
considerable hesitation, "does M. de Bragelonne request?"
"Precisely the very thing that I came
to ask your Majesty for at my last audience; namely, your Majesty's consent to
The King remained silent.
"The obstacles in the way are all now
quite removed for us," continued Athos. "Mademoiselle de la Valliere,
without fortune, birth, or beauty, is not the less on that account the only
good match in the world for M. de Bragelonne, since he loves this young
The King pressed his hands impatiently
"Does your Majesty hesitate?"
inquired the count, without losing a particle either of his firmness or his
"I do not hesitate,- I refuse,"
replied the King.
Athos paused a moment, as if to collect
himself. "I have had the honor," he said in a mild tone, "to
observe to your Majesty that no obstacle now interferes with M. de Bragelonne's
affections, and that his determination seems unalterable."
"There is my will,- and that is an
obstacle, I should imagine!" "That is the most serious of all,"
Athos replied quickly.
"And may we therefore be permitted to
ask your Majesty, with the greatest humility, for your reason for this
"The reason! A question to me!"
exclaimed the King.
"A demand, Sire!"
The King, leaning with both his hands upon
the table, said in a deep tone of concentrated passion: "You have lost all
recollection of what is usual at court. At court no one questions the King."
"Very true, Sire; but if men do not
question, they conjecture."
"Conjecture! What may that mean?"
"Almost always the conjecture of the
subject impugns the frankness of the King."
"And a want of confidence on the part
of the subject," pursued Athos, intrepidly.
"You are forgetting yourself,"
said the King, hurried away by his anger in spite of his control over himself.
"Sire, I am obliged to seek elsewhere
for what I thought I should find in your Majesty. Instead of obtaining a reply from
you, I am compelled to make one for myself."
The King rose. "Monsieur the
Count," he said, "I have now given you all the time I had at my
This was a dismissal.
"Sire," replied the count,
"I have not yet had time to tell your Majesty what I came with the express
object of saying, and I so rarely see your Majesty that I ought to avail myself
of the opportunity."
"Just now you spoke of conjectures;
you are now becoming offensive."
"Oh, Sire, offend your Majesty! I?
Never! All my life have I maintained that kings are above all other men, not
only in rank and power, but in nobleness of heart and dignity of mind. I never
can bring myself to believe that my sovereign- he who passed his word to me-
did so with a mental reservation."
"What do you mean? What mental
"I will explain my meaning," said
Athos, coldly. "If in refusing Mademoiselle de la Valliere to M. de
Bragelonne your Majesty had some other object in view than the happiness and
fortune of the viscount-"
"You perceive, Monsieur, that you are
"If in requiring the viscount to delay
his marriage your Majesty's only object was to remove the gentleman to whom
Mademoiselle de la Valliere was engaged-"
"I have heard it said so in every
direction, Sire. Your Majesty's love for Mademoiselle de la Valliere is spoken
of on all sides."
The King tore his gloves, which he had been
biting for some time. "Woe to those," he cried, "who interfere
in my affairs! I have chosen my course; I will crush all obstacles."
"What obstacles?" said Athos.
The King stopped short, like a runaway
horse whose bit being turned in his mouth bruises his palate. "I love
Mademoiselle de la Valliere," he said suddenly, with nobleness and with
"But," interrupted Athos,
"that does not preclude your Majesty from allowing M. de Bragelonne to
marry Mademoiselle de la Valliere. The sacrifice is worthy of so great a
monarch; it is fully merited by M. de Bragelonne, who has already rendered
great service to your Majesty, and who may well be regarded as a brave and
worthy man. Your Majesty, therefore, in renouncing the affection you entertain,
offers a proof at once of generosity, gratitude, and good policy."
"Mademoiselle de la Valliere does not
love M. de Bragelonne," said the King, hoarsely.
"Does your Majesty know that to be the
case?" remarked Athos, with a searching look.
"I do know it."
"Within a short time, then; for
doubtless had your Majesty known it when I first preferred my request, you
would have taken the trouble to inform me."
"Within a short time."
Athos remained silent for a moment, and
then resumed: "In that case I do not understand why your Majesty should
have sent M. de Bragelonne to London. That exile, and with good reason, is a
matter of astonishment to all who love the honor of the King."
"Who presumes to speak of my honor, M.
de la Fere?"
"The King's honor, Sire, is made up of
the honor of his whole nobility. Whenever the King offends one of his
gentlemen,- that is, whenever he deprives him of the smallest particle of his
honor,- it is from him, from the King himself, that that portion of honor is
"M. de la Fere!" said the King,
"Sire, you sent M. de Bragelonne to
London either before you were Mademoiselle de la Valliere's lover or since you
have become so."
The King, irritated beyond measure,
especially because he felt that he was mastered, endeavored to dismiss Athos by
"Sire," replied the count,
"I will tell you all; I will not leave your presence until I have been
satisfied either by your Majesty or by myself,- satisfied if you prove to me
that you are right, satisfied if I prove to you that you are wrong. Oh, you
will listen to me, Sire! I am old now, and I am attached to everything that is
really great and true in your kingdom. I am a gentleman who shed my blood for
your father and for yourself, without ever having asked a single favor either
from yourself or from your father. I have never inflicted the slightest wrong
or injury on any one in this world, and have put kings under obligations to me.
You will listen to me. I have come to ask you for an account of the honor of
one of your servants whom you have deceived by a falsehood or betrayed through
weakness. I know that these words irritate your Majesty; but on the other hand,
the facts are killing us. I know you are inquiring what penalty you will
inflict for my frankness; but I know what punishment I will implore God to
inflict upon you when I set before him your perjury and my son's unhappiness."
The King during these remarks was walking
hurriedly to and fro, his hand thrust into the breast of his coat, his head
haughtily raised, his eyes blazing with wrath. "Monsieur," he cried
suddenly, "if I acted towards you as the King, you would be already
punished; but I am only a man, and I have the right to love in this world every
one who loves me,- a happiness which is so rarely found."
"You cannot pretend to such a right as
a man any more than as a king, Sire; or if you intended to exercise that right
in a loyal manner, you should have told M. de Bragelonne so, and not have
"I think I am condescending to dispute
with you, Monsieur!" interrupted Louis XIV, with that majesty of air and
manner which he alone was able to give to his look and his voice.
"I was hoping that you would reply to
me," said the count.
"You shall know my reply, Monsieur,
"You already know my thoughts on the
subject," was the Comte de la Fere's answer.
"You have forgotten you are speaking
to the King, Monsieur. It is a crime."
"You have forgotten you are destroying
the lives of two men, Sire. It is a mortal sin."
"Go!- at once!"
"Not until I have said to you: Son of
Louis XIII, you begin your reign badly, for you begin it by abduction and
disloyalty! My race- myself, too- are now freed from all that affection and
respect towards you to which I bound my son by oath in the vaults of St. Denis,
in the presence of the relics of your noble forefathers. You are now become our
enemy, Sire; and henceforth we have nothing to do save with Heaven, our sole
master. Be warned!"
"Do you threaten?"
"Oh, no!" said Athos, sadly;
"I have as little bravado as fear in my soul. The God of whom I spoke to
you is now listening to me. He knows that for the safety and honor of your
crown I would even yet shed every drop of blood which twenty years of civil and
foreign warfare have left in my veins. I can well say, then, that I threaten
the King as little as I threaten the man; but I tell you, Sire, you lose two
servants,- for you have destroyed faith in the heart of the father, and love in
the heart of the son: the one ceases to believe in the royal word, the other no
longer believes in the loyalty of man or the purity of woman; the one is dead
to every feeling of respect, the other to obedience. Adieu!"
Thus saying, Athos broke his sword across
his knee, slowly placed the two pieces upon the floor, and saluting the King,
who was almost choking from rage and shame, quitted the cabinet.
Louis, who sat near the table, completely
overwhelmed, spent several minutes in recovering himself, then suddenly rose
and rang the bell violently. "Tell M. d'Artagnan to come here," he
said to the terrified ushers.
XX: After the Storm
OUR readers will doubtless have been asking
themselves how it happened that Athos, of whom not a word has been said for
some time past, arrived so very opportunely at court. Our claim, as narrator,
being that we unfold events in exact logical sequence, we hold ourselves ready
to answer that question.
Porthos, faithful to his duty as an
arranger of affairs, had immediately after leaving the Palais-Royal set off to
join Raoul at the Minimes in the Bois de Vincennes, and had related everything,
even to the smallest details, which had passed between De Saint-Aignan and
himself. He finished by saying that the message which the King had sent to his
favorite would not probably occasion more than a short delay, and that De
Saint-Aignan, as soon as he could leave the King, would not lose a moment in
accepting the invitation which Raoul had sent him.
But Raoul, less credulous than his old
friend, had concluded, from Porthos's recital, that if De Saint-Aignan was
going to the King, De Saint-Aignan would tell the King everything, and that the
King would therefore forbid De Saint-Aignan to obey the summons he had received
to the hostile meeting. The consequence of his reflections was that he had left
Porthos to remain at the place appointed for the meeting, in the very
improbable case that De Saint-Aignan would come there; and had urged Porthos
not to remain there more than an hour or an hour and a half. Porthos, however,
formally refused to assent to that, but on the contrary installed himself in
the Minimes as if he were going to take root there, making Raoul promise that
when he had been to see his father, he would return to his own apartments, in
order that Porthos's servant might know where to find him in case M. de
Saint-Aignan should happen to come to the rendezvous.
Bragelonne had left Vincennes, and had
proceeded at once straight to the apartments of Athos, who had been in Paris
during the last two days, and had been already informed of what had taken place
by a letter from d'Artagnan. Raoul arrived at his father's.
Athos, after having held out his hand to
him, and embraced him most affectionately, made a sign for him to sit down.
"I know you come to me as a man would go to a friend, Viscount, whenever
he is suffering; tell me, therefore, what it is that brings you now."
The young man bowed, and began his recital;
more than once in the course of it his tears choked his utterance; and a sob
checked in his throat compelled him to pause in his narration. However, he
finished at last. Athos most probably already knew how matters stood, as we
have just now said that d'Artagnan had already written to him; but preserving
until the conclusion that calm, unruffled composure of manner which constituted
the almost superhuman side of his character, he replied: "Raoul, I do not
believe there is a word of truth in the rumors; I do not believe in the
existence of what you fear, although I do not deny that persons most entitled
to the fullest credit have already conversed with me on the subject. In my
heart and soul I think it impossible that the King could be guilty of such an
outrage upon a gentleman. I will answer for the King, therefore, and will soon
bring you back the proof of what I say."
Raoul, wavering like a drunken man between
what he had seen with his own eyes and the imperturbable faith he had in a man
who had never told a falsehood, bowed, and simply answered, "Go, then,
Monsieur the Count; I will await your return"; and he sat down, burying
his face in his hands.
Athos dressed, and then left him in order
to wait upon the King; what occurred in the interview with the King is already
known to our readers.
When he returned to his lodgings, Raoul,
pale and dejected, had not quitted his attitude of despair. At the sound,
however, of the opening doors and of his father's footsteps, as he approached
him, the young man raised his head. Athos's face was very pale, his head
uncovered, and his manner full of seriousness; he gave his cloak and hat to the
lackey, dismissed him with a gesture, and sat down near Raoul.
"Well, Monsieur," inquired the
young man, "are you quite convinced now?"
"I am, Raoul; the King loves
Mademoiselle de la Valliere."
"He confesses it, then?" cried
"Yes," replied Athos.
"I have not seen her."
"No; but the King spoke to you about
her. What did he say?"
"He says that she loves him."
"Oh, you see,- you see,
Monsieur!" said the young man, with a gesture of despair.
"Raoul," resumed the count,
"I told the King, believe me, all that you yourself could possibly have
said; and I believe I did so in becoming language, though sufficiently
"And what did you say to him,
"I told him, Raoul, that everything
was now at an end between him and ourselves; that you would never serve him
again. I told him that I, too, should remain aloof. Nothing further remains for
me, then, but to be satisfied of one thing."
"What is that, Monsieur?"
"Whether you have determined to adopt
"Any steps? Regarding what?"
"With reference to your disappointed
"And with reference to revenge; for I
fear that you think of avenging your wrongs."
"Oh, Monsieur, with regard to my
affection, I shall perhaps, some day or other, succeed in tearing it from my
heart; I trust I shall do so, aided by Heaven's merciful help and your wise
exhortations. So far as vengeance is concerned, it occurred to me only when
under the influence of an evil thought, for I could not revenge myself upon the
one who is actually guilty; I have therefore already renounced every idea of
"And so you no longer think of seeking
a quarrel with M. de Saint-Aignan?"
"No, Monsieur. I sent him a challenge.
If he accepts it, I will maintain it; if he does not take it up, I will leave
it where it is."
"And La Valliere?"
"You cannot, I know, have seriously
thought that I should dream of revenging myself upon a woman?" replied
Raoul, with a smile so sad that a tear started even to the eyes of his father,
who had so many times in the course of his life been bowed beneath his own
sorrows and those of others.
Athos held out his hand to Raoul, which the
latter seized most eagerly.
"And so, Monsieur the Count, you are
quite satisfied that the misfortune is without a remedy?" inquired the
Athos shook his head. "Poor boy!"
"You think that I still hope,"
said Raoul, "and you pity me. Oh, it is indeed a horrible suffering for me
to despise, as I ought to do, her whom I have loved so devotedly. If I but had
some real cause of complaint against her, I should be happy, and should be able
to forgive her."
Athos looked at his son with a sorrowful
air. The few words which Raoul had just pronounced seemed to have issued out of
his own heart. At this moment the servant announced M. d'Artagnan. This name
sounded very differently to the ears of Athos and of Raoul.
The musketeer entered the room with a vague
smile upon his lips. Raoul paused. Athos walked towards his friend with an
expression of face which did not escape Bragelonne. D'Artagnan answered Athos's
look by a simple movement of the eyelid; and then, advancing toward Raoul, whom
he took by the hand, he said, addressing both father and son, "Well, you
are trying to console the boy, it seems."
"And you, kind and good as usual, are
come to help me in my difficult task."
As he said this, Athos pressed d'Artagnan's
hand between both his own. Raoul fancied he observed in this pressure something
beyond the sense his mere words conveyed.
"Yes," replied the musketeer,
smoothing his mustache with the hand that Athos had left free,- "yes, I
have come also."
"You are most welcome, Chevalier; not
for the consolation you bring with you, but on your own account. I am already
consoled," said Raoul; and he attempted to smile, but the effect was far
more sad than any tears d'Artagnan had ever seen shed.
"That is all well and good,
then," said d'Artagnan.
"Only," continued Raoul,
"you have arrived just as the count was about to give me the details of
his interview with the King. You will allow the count to continue?" added
the young man, as with his eyes fixed on the musketeer he seemed to search the
depths of his heart.
"His interview with the King?"
said d'Artagnan, in a tone so natural and unassumed that there was no reason to
doubt his astonishment. "You have seen the King then, Athos?"
Athos smiled as he said, "Yes, I have
"Ah, indeed! you were ignorant, then,
that the count had seen his Majesty?" inquired Raoul, half reassured.
"My faith, yes! entirely."
"In that case I am less uneasy,"
"Uneasy- and about what?"
"Forgive me, Monsieur," said
Raoul; "but knowing so well the regard and affection you have for me, I
was afraid you might possibly have expressed somewhat plainly to his Majesty my
own sufferings and your indignation, and that the King had consequently-"
"And that the King had consequently-"
repeated d'Artagnan; "well, go on, finish what you were going to
"I have now to ask you to forgive me,
M. d'Artagnan," said Raoul. "For a moment, and I cannot help
confessing it, I trembled lest you had come here, not as M. d'Artagnan, but as
captain of the Musketeers."
"You are mad, my poor boy," cried
d'Artagnan, with a burst of laughter in which an exact observer might perhaps
have desired a little more frankness.
"So much the better," said Raoul.
"Yes, mad; and do you know what I would
advise you to do?"
"Tell me, Monsieur; for the advice is
sure to be good, as it comes from you."
"Very well, then. I advise you, after
your long journey from England, after your visit to M. de Guiche, after your
visit to Madame, after your visit to Porthos, after your journey to Vincennes,-
I advise you, I say, to take a few hours' rest; go and lie down, sleep for a
dozen hours, and when you wake up, go and ride one of my horses until you have
tired him to death." And drawing Raoul towards him, d'Artagnan embraced
him as if he were his own child. Athos did the like; only, it was very apparent
that the father's kiss was more tender and his embrace closer than those of the
The young man again looked at his
companions, endeavoring with the utmost strength of his intelligence to read
what was in their minds; but his look was powerless upon the smiling
countenance of the musketeer or upon the calm and composed features of the
Comte de la Fere.
"Where are you going, Raoul?"
inquired the latter, seeing that Bragelonne was preparing to go out.
"To my own apartments," replied
Raoul, in his soft and sad voice.
"We shall be sure to find you there,
then, if we should have anything to say to you?"
"Yes, Monsieur; but do you suppose it
likely you will have something to say to me?"
"How can I tell?" said Athos.
"Yes, new consolations," said
d'Artagnan, pushing him gently towards the door.
Raoul, observing the perfect composure
which marked every gesture of his two friends, quitted the count's room,
carrying away with him nothing but the individual feeling of his own particular
distress. "Thank Heaven!" he said; "since that is the case, I
need only think of myself." And wrapping himself in his cloak, in order to
conceal from the passers-by in the streets his gloomy face, he started out to
return to his own rooms, as he had promised Porthos.
The two friends watched the young man as he
walked away with a feeling akin to pity; only, each expressed it in a very
"Poor Raoul!" said Athos, sighing
"Poor Raoul!" said d'Artagnan,
shrugging his shoulders.
XXI: Heu! Miser!
"POOR RAOUL!" Athos had said;
"Poor Raoul!" d'Artagnan had said: to be pitied by both these men,
Raoul must indeed have been most unhappy. And when he found himself alone, face
to face as it were with his own troubles, leaving behind him the intrepid
friend and the indulgent father; when he recalled the avowal of the King's
affection, which had robbed him of Louise de la Valliere, whom he loved so
deeply,- he felt his heart almost breaking; as indeed we all have at least once
in our lives, at the first illusion destroyed, at the first love betrayed.
"Oh," he murmured, "all is over then! Nothing is now left me in
this world,- nothing to look for, nothing to hope for! Guiche has told me so;
my father has told me so, and M. d'Artagnan likewise. Everything is a mere idle
dream in this life. That future which I have been hopelessly pursuing for the
last ten years, a dream! that union of our hearts, a dream! that life formed of
love and happiness, a dream! Poor fool, to publish my dreams in the face of my
friends and my enemies,- that my friends may be saddened by my troubles and my
enemies may laugh at my sorrows! So my unhappiness will soon become a notorious
disgrace, a public scandal; so to-morrow I shall be ignominiously pointed
Despite the composure which he had promised
his father and d'Artagnan to observe, Raoul could not resist uttering a few
words of dark menace. "And yet," he continued, "if my name were
De Wardes, and if I had the pliant character and strength of will of M.
d'Artagnan, I should laugh, with my lips at least; I should convince other
women that this perfidious girl, honored by my love, leaves me only one
regret,- that of having been deceived by her counterfeit of honesty. Some men
might perhaps make favor with the King at my expense: I should put myself on
the track of those jesters; I should chastise a few of them,- the men would
fear me, and by the time I had laid three at my feet I should be adored by the
women. Yes, yes; that indeed would be the proper course to adopt, and the Comte
de la Fere himself would not object to it. Has not he also been tried, in his
earlier days, in the same manner as I have just been tried myself? Did he not
replace love by intoxication? He has often told me so. Why should not I replace
love by pleasure? He must have suffered as much as I suffer,- even more so,
perhaps. The history of one man is the history of all men,- a lengthened trial,
of greater or less duration, more or less bitter or sorrowful. The voice of
human nature is nothing but one prolonged cry. But what are the sufferings of
others compared to those from which I am now suffering? Does the open wound in
another's breast soften the pain of the gaping wound in our own? Or does the
blood which is welling from another man's side stanch that which is pouring
from our own? Does the general anguish of our fellow-creatures lessen our own
private and particular anguish? No, no; each suffers on his own account, each
struggles with his own grief, each sheds his own tears. And besides, what has
my life been up to the present moment? A cold, barren, sterile arena, in which
I have always fought for others, never for myself,- sometimes for a king,
sometimes for a woman. The King has betrayed me; the woman disdained me.
Miserable, unhappy wretch that I am! Women! Can I not make all expiate the
crime of one of their sex? What does that require? To have a heart no longer,
or to forget that I ever had one; to be strong, even against weakness itself;
to lean always, even when one feels that the support is giving way. What is
needed to attain that result? To be young, handsome, strong, valiant, rich. I
am, or shall be, all that. But, honor? What is honor, after all? A theory which
every man understands in his own way. My father tells me: 'Honor is the
consideration of what is due to others, and particularly of what one owes to
one's self.' But De Guiche and Manicamp, and De Saint-Aignan particularly would
say to me, 'Honor consists in serving the passions and pleasures of one's
King.' Honor such as that, indeed, is easy and productive enough. With honor
like that I can keep my post at the court, become a gentleman of the chamber,
and have the command of a regiment. With honor such as that, I can be both duke
"The stain which that woman has just
stamped upon me, the grief with which she has just broken my heart,- mine,
Raoul's, her friend from childhood,- in no way affect M. de Bragelonne, an
excellent officer, a courageous leader, who will cover himself with glory at
the first encounter, and who will become a hundred times greater than
Mademoiselle de la Valliere is to-day, the mistress of the King; for the King
will not marry her,- and the more publicly he proclaims her as his mistress,
the more will he enlarge the band of shame which he places as a crown upon her
brow; and when others shall despise her as I despise her, I shall have become
famous. Alas! we had walked together side by side, she and I, during the earliest,
the brightest, and best portion of our existence, hand in hand along the
charming path of life, covered with the flowers of youth, and now we come to a
cross road, where she separates herself from me, whence we shall follow
different roads, which will lead us always farther apart. And to attain the end
of this path, oh Heaven! I am alone, I am in despair, I am crushed. Oh, unhappy
man that I am!"
Such were the sinister reflections in which
Raoul was indulging when his foot mechanically paused at the door of his own
dwelling. He had reached it without noticing the streets through which he had
passed, without knowing how he had come; he pushed open the door, continued to
advance, and ascended the staircase. The staircase, as in most of the houses at
that period, was very dark, and the landings were obscure. Raoul lived on the
first floor; he paused in order to ring. Olivain appeared, and took Raoul's
sword and cloak from his hands. Raoul himself opened the door which from the
antechamber led into a small salon, richly furnished enough for the salon of a
young man, and completely filled with flowers by Olivain, who knowing his
master's tastes had shown himself studiously attentive in gratifying them
without caring whether his master perceived his attention or not. There was a
portrait of La Valliere in the salon, which had been drawn by herself and given
by her to Raoul. This portrait, fastened above a large easy-chair covered with
dark-colored damask, was the first point towards which Raoul bent his steps, the
first object on which he fixed his eyes. It was, moreover, Raoul's usual habit
to do so; every time he entered his room, this portrait, before anything else,
attracted his attention. This time, as usual, he walked straight up to the
portrait, placed his knees upon the armchair, and paused to look at it sadly.
His arms were crossed upon his breast, his head slightly thrown back, his eyes
filled with tears, his lips curved in a bitter smile. He looked at the portrait
of her whom he so tenderly loved; and then all that he had said passed before
his mind again, and all that he had suffered assailed his heart. After a long
silence he murmured for the third time, "Miserable, unhappy wretch that I
He had hardly pronounced these words, when
he heard the sound of a sigh and a groan behind him. He turned sharply round,
and perceived in the angle of the salon, standing up, a bending veiled female
figure, which the opening door had concealed as he entered, and which, since he
had not turned around, he had not perceived. He advanced towards this figure,
whose presence in his room had not been announced to him; and as he bowed, and
inquired at the same moment who she was, she suddenly raised her head, and
removed the veil from her face, revealing her pale and sorrow-stricken
Raoul staggered back, as if he had seen a
ghost. "Louise!" he cried, in a tone of such despair as one could
hardly believe the human voice could express without breaking all the fibres of
XXII: Wounds Upon Wounds
MADEMOISELLE DE LA VALLIERE (for it was
indeed she) advanced a few steps toward him. "Yes- Louise," she
But this interval, short as it had been,
was quite sufficient for Raoul to recover himself. "You,
Mademoiselle?" he said; and then added, in an indefinable tone, "You
"Yes, Raoul," the young girl
replied; "I have been waiting for you."
"I beg your pardon. When I came into
the room I was not aware-"
"I know- but I entreated Olivain not
to tell you-"
Louise hesitated; and as Raoul did not
attempt to interrupt her, a moment's silence ensued, during which the sound of
their throbbing hearts might have been heard, no longer in unison with each
other, but the one beating as violently as the other. It was for Louise to
speak, and she made an effort to do so. "I wished to speak to you,"
she said. "It was absolutely necessary that I should see you- myself-
alone. I have not hesitated to adopt a step which must remain secret; for no
one, except yourself, could understand my motive, M. de Bragelonne."
"In fact, Mademoiselle," Raoul
stammered out, almost breathless from emotion, "so far as I am concerned,
and despite the good opinion you have of me, I confess-"
"Will you do me the great kindness to
sit down and listen to me?" said Louise, interrupting him with her soft,
Bragelonne looked at her for a moment;
then, mournfully shaking his head, he sat, or rather fell down, on a chair.
"Speak!" he said.
Louise cast a glance all round her. This
look was a timid entreaty, and implored secrecy far more effectually than her
expressed words had done a few minutes before.
Raoul rose, and went to the door, which he
opened. "Olivain," he said, "I am not within for anyone";
and then turning towards Louise, he added, "Is not that what you
Nothing could have produced a greater
effect upon Louise than these few words which seemed to signify, "You see
that I still understand you." She passed a handkerchief across her eyes,
in order to remove a rebellious tear; and then, having collected herself for a
moment, she said: "Raoul, do not turn your kind, frank look away from me!
You are not one of those men who despise a woman for having given her heart to
another, even though that love might render him unhappy or might wound his
Raoul did not reply.
"Alas!" continued La Valliere,
"it is only too true. My cause is a bad one, and I know not in what way to
begin. It will be better for me, I think, to relate to you very simply
everything that has befallen me. As I shall speak the truth, I shall always
find my path clear before me in the obscurity, hesitation, and obstacles which
I have to brave in order to solace my heart, which is full to overflowing, and
wishes to pour itself out at your feet."
Raoul continued to preserve the same
unbroken silence. La Valliere looked at him with an air that seemed to say,
"Encourage me; for pity's sake, but a single word!" But Raoul did not
open his lips; and the young girl was obliged to continue.
"Just now," she said, "M. de
Saint-Aignan came to me by the King's directions." She cast down her eyes
as she said this; while Raoul, on his side, turned his away, in order to avoid
looking at her. "M. de Saint-Aignan came to me from the King," she
repeated, "and told me that you knew all"; and she attempted to look
Raoul in the face, after inflicting this further wound upon him in addition to
the many others he had already received; but it was impossible to meet Raoul's
"He told me you were incensed with
me,- justly so, I admit."
This time Raoul looked at the young girl,
and a smile full of disdain passed across his lips.
"Oh," she continued, "I
entreat you, do not say that you have had any other feeling against me than
that of anger merely! Raoul, wait until I have told you all,- wait until I have
said to you all that I had to say, all that I came to say!"
Raoul, by the strength of his own iron
will, forced his features to assume a calmer expression; and the disdainful
smile upon his lip passed away.
"In the first place," said La
Valliere,- "in the first place, with my hands raised in entreaty towards
you, with my forehead bowed to the ground before you, I entreat you, as the
most generous, as the noblest of men, to pardon, to forgive me. If I have left
you in ignorance of what was passing in my own bosom, never, at least, would I
have consented to deceive you. Oh, I entreat you, Raoul,- I implore you on my
knees,- answer me one word, even though you wrong me in doing so! Better an
injurious word from your lips than a suspicion in your heart!"
"I admire your subtlety of expression,
Mademoiselle," said Raoul, making an effort to remain calm. "To leave
another in ignorance that you are deceiving him is loyal; but to deceive him-
it seems that that would be very wrong, and that you would not do it."
"Monsieur, for a long time I thought
that I loved you better than anything else; and so long as I believed in my
love for you, I told you that I loved you. At Blois I loved you. The King
visited Blois; I believed I loved you still. I could have sworn it on the altar;
but a day came when I was undeceived."
"Well, on that day, Mademoiselle,
knowing that I still continued to love you, true loyalty of conduct ought to
have obliged you to tell me you had ceased to love me."
"But on that day, Raoul,- on that day,
when I read in the depths of my own heart, when I confessed to myself that you
no longer filled my mind entirely, when I saw another future before me than
that of being your friend, your life-long companion, your wife,- on that day,
Raoul, you were not, alas! any more beside me."
"But you knew where I was,
Mademoiselle; you could have written to me."
"Raoul, I did not dare to do so.
Raoul, I have been weak and cowardly. I knew you so thoroughly- I knew how
devotedly you loved me- that I trembled at the bare idea of the sorrow I was
going to cause you; and that is so true, Raoul, that at this very moment I am
now speaking to you, bending thus before you, my heart crushed in my bosom, my
voice full of sighs, my eyes full of tears,- it is so perfectly true, that I have
no other defence than my frankness, I have no other sorrow greater than that
which I read in your eyes."
Raoul attempted to smile.
"No," said the young girl, with a
profound conviction, "no, no; you will not do me so foul a wrong as to
disguise your feelings before me now! You loved me, you were sure of your
affection for me, you did not deceive yourself, you did not lie to your own
heart; while I- I-" And pale as death, her arms thrown despairingly above
her head, she fell on her knees.
"While you," said Raoul,-
"you told me you loved me, and yet you loved another."
"Alas, yes!" cried the poor
girl,- "alas, yes! I do love another; and that other- oh, for Heaven's
sake, let me say it, Raoul, for it is my only excuse- that other I love better
than my own life, better than my own soul even. Forgive my fault or punish my
treason, Raoul. I came here in no way to defend myself, but merely to say to
you, 'You know what it is to love!' Well, I love! I love to that degree that I
would give my life, my very soul, to the man I love. If he should ever cease to
love me, I shall die of grief and despair, unless God helps me, unless the Lord
shows pity upon me. Raoul, I came here to submit myself to your will, whatever
it might be,- to die, if it were your wish I should die. Kill me, then, Raoul,
if in your heart you believe I deserve death!"
"Take care, Mademoiselle!" said
Raoul; "the woman who invites death is one who has nothing but her heart's
blood to offer to her deceived and betrayed lover."
"You are right," she said.
Raoul uttered a deep sigh as he exclaimed,
"And you love without being able to forget!"
"I love without a wish to forget,
without a wish ever to love any one else," replied La Valliere.
"Very well," said Raoul.
"You have said to me, in fact, all you had to say, all I could possibly
wish to know. And now, Mademoiselle, it is I who ask your forgiveness; for it
is I who have almost been an obstacle in your life. I, too, have been wrong;
for in deceiving myself I helped to deceive you."
"Oh," said La Valliere, "I
do not ask you so much as that, Raoul!"
"I only am to blame,
Mademoiselle," continued Raoul. "Better informed than yourself of the
difficulties of this life, I should have enlightened you. I ought not to have
relied upon uncertainty; I ought to have extracted an answer from your heart,
while I hardly even sought an acknowledgement from your lips. Once more,
Mademoiselle, it is I who ask your forgiveness."
"Impossible, impossible!" she
cried; "you are mocking me."
"Yes, it is impossible to be good and
excellent and perfect to that extent."
"Take care!" said Raoul, with a
bitter smile; "for presently you may say perhaps that I did not love
"Oh, you love me like an affectionate
brother; let me hope that, Raoul."
"As a brother? Undeceive yourself,
Louise! I loved you as a lover, as a husband, with the deepest, the truest, the
"As a brother? Oh, Louise! I loved you
so much I would have given all my blood for you, drop by drop; all my flesh,
shred by shred; all my eternity, hour by hour."
"Raoul! Raoul! for pity's sake!"
"I loved you so much, Louise, that my
heart is dead, my faith extinguished, my eyes have lost their light. I loved
you so much that I see nothing more either on earth or in Heaven."
"Raoul, dear Raoul! spare me, I
implore you!" cried La Valliere. "Oh, if I had known-"
"It is too late, Louise. You love, you
are happy; I read your happiness through your tears,- behind the tears which
the loyalty of your nature makes you shed; I feel the sighs which your love
breathes forth. Louise, Louise, you have made me the most abjectly wretched man
living; leave me, I entreat you! Adieu! adieu!"
"Forgive me, I entreat you!"
"Have I not done more? Have I not told
you that I love you still?" She buried her face in her hands. "And to
tell you that,- do you understand me, Louise?- to tell you that at such a
moment as this, to tell you that as I have told you, is to pronounce my own
sentence of death. Adieu!"
La Valliere wished to hold out her hands to
"We ought not to see each other again
in this world," he said; and as she was on the point of calling out in
bitter agony at this remark, he placed his hand on her mouth to stifle the
exclamation. She pressed her lips upon it and fell fainting.
"Olivain," said Raoul, "take
this young lady and bear her to the carriage which is waiting for her at the
As Olivain lifted her up, Raoul made a
movement towards La Valliere, as if to give her a first and last kiss, but
stopping abruptly, he said, "No, she is not mine; I am not the King of
France, to steal!" And he returned to his room; while the lackey carried
La Valliere, still fainting, to the carriage.
XXIII: What Raoul Had Guessed
AFTER Raoul's departure, and the two
exclamations which had followed him, Athos and d'Artagnan found themselves
alone, face to face. Athos immediately resumed the earnest manner which had
possessed him when d'Artagnan arrived.
"Well," Athos said, "what
have you come to announce to me, my friend?"
"I?" inquired d'Artagnan.
"Yes; I do not see you in this way
without some reason for it," said Athos, smiling.
"The deuce!" said d'Artagnan.
"I will place you at your ease. The
King is furious, is he not?"
"Well, I must say he is not altogether
"And you have come-"
"By his direction; yes."
"To arrest me, then?"
"My dear friend, you have hit the very
"Oh, I expected it! Come!"
"Oh! oh! The devil!" said
d'Artagnan; "what a hurry you are in!"
"I am afraid of delaying you,"
said Athos, smiling.
"I have plenty of time. Are you not
curious, besides, to know how things went on between the King and me?"
"If you will be good enough to tell
me, I will listen with the greatest pleasure," said Athos, pointing out to
d'Artagnan a large chair, in which the latter stretched himself in an easy
"Well, I will do so willingly
enough," continued d'Artagnan, "for the conversation is rather
interesting. In the first place, the King sent for me."
"As soon as I had left?"
"You were just going down the last
steps of the staircase, as the musketeers told me. I arrived. My dear Athos,
the King was not red in the face merely, he was positively purple. I was not
aware, of course, of what had passed; only I saw a sword broken in two lying on
the floor. 'Captain d'Artagnan,' cried the King, as soon as he saw me. 'Sire,'
I replied. 'I abandon M. de la Fere; he is an insolent man.' 'An insolent man!'
I exclaimed, in such a tone that the King stopped suddenly short. 'Captain
d'Artagnan,' resumed the King, with his teeth clinched, 'you will listen to me
and obey me.' 'That is my duty, Sire.' 'I have wished to spare that gentleman,
of whom I retain some kind recollections, the affront of having him arrested in
my presence.' 'Ah! ah!' I said quietly. 'But you will take a carriage.' At this
I made a slight movement. 'If you object to arrest him yourself,' continued the
King, 'send me my captain of the Guards.' 'Sire,' I replied, 'there is no
necessity for the captain of the Guards, since I am on duty.' 'I should not
like to annoy you,' said the King, kindly, 'for you have always served me well,
M. d'Artagnan.' 'You do not annoy me, Sire,' I replied; 'I am on duty, that is
all.' 'But,' said the King, in astonishment, 'I believe the count is your
friend?' 'If he were my father, Sire, it would not make me less on duty than I
am.' The King looked at me; he saw how unmoved my face was, and seemed
satisfied. 'You will arrest M. le Comte de la Fere, then?' he inquired. 'Most
certainly, Sire, if you give me the order to do so.' 'Very well; I order you to
do so.' I bowed and replied, 'Where is the count, Sire?' 'You will look for
him.' 'And I am to arrest him wherever he may be?' 'Yes; but at his own house
if possible. If he has started for his own estate, leave Paris at once, and
arrest him on his way thither.' I bowed; but as I did not move, he said,
'Well?' 'I am waiting, Sire.' 'What are you waiting for?' 'For the signed
order.' The King seemed annoyed; for in point of fact it was the exercise of a fresh
act of authority,- a repetition of the arbitrary act, if indeed it is to be
considered as such. He took his pen slowly, and in no very good temper; then he
wrote, 'Order for M. le Chevalier d'Artagnan, captain of my Musketeers, to
arrest M. le Comte de la Fere, wherever he is to be found.' He then turned
towards me; but I was looking on without moving a muscle of my face. In all
probability he thought he perceived something like bravado in my tranquil
manner, for he signed hurriedly; and then handing me the order, he said, 'Go!'
I obeyed; and here I am."
Athos pressed his friend's hand.
"Well, let us set off," he said.
"Oh! surely," said d'Artagnan,
"you must have some trifling matters to arrange before you leave your
apartments in this manner?"
"I? Not at all."
"Why, you know, d'Artagnan, I have
always been a very simple traveller on this earth, ready to go to the end of
the world by order of my sovereign, ready to quit it at the summons of my
Maker. What does a man who is thus prepared require in such a case?- a
portmanteau or a shroud. I am ready at this moment, as I have always been, dear
friend, and can accompany you at once."
"I have brought him up in the same
principles I laid down for my own guidance; and you observed that as soon as he
perceived you he guessed, that very moment, the motive of your visit. We have
thrown him off his guard for a moment; but do not be uneasy,- he is
sufficiently prepared for my disgrace not to be too much alarmed at it. So, let
"Very well, let us go," said
"As I broke my sword in the King's
presence, and threw the pieces at his feet, I presume that will dispense with
the necessity of delivering it over to you."
"You are quite right; and besides
that, what the devil do you suppose I could do with your sword?"
"Am I to walk behind or before
you?" inquired Athos, laughing.
"You will walk arm-in-arm with
me," replied d'Artagnan, as he took the count's arm to descend the
staircase; and in this manner they arrived at the landing. Grimaud, whom they
had met in the anteroom, looked at them, as they went out together in this
manner, with some little uneasiness; his experience of affairs was quite
sufficient to give him good reason to suspect that there was something wrong.
"Ah! is that you, Grimaud?" said
Athos, kindly. "We are going-"
"To take a turn in my carriage,"
interrupted d'Artagnan, with a friendly nod of the head.
Grimaud thanked d'Artagnan by a grimace,
which was evidently intended for a smile, and accompanied the two friends to
the door. Athos entered first into the carriage; d'Artagnan followed him,
without saying a word to the coachman. The departure had taken place so quietly
that it excited no disturbance or attention even in the neighborhood. When the
carriage had reached the quays, "You are taking me to the Bastille, I
perceive," said Athos.
"I?" said d'Artagnan. "I
take you wherever you may choose to go; nowhere else, I can assure you."
"What do you mean?" said the
"Pardieu!" said d'Artagnan,
"you quite understand that I undertook the mission with no other object in
view than that of carrying it out exactly as you liked. You did not think that
I would have you thrown into prison like that, brutally, without reflection. If
I had not anticipated that, I should have let the captain of the Guards
"And so-" said Athos.
"And so, I repeat, we will go wherever
you may choose."
"My dear friend," said Athos,
embracing d'Artagnan, "how like you that is!"
"Well, it seems simple enough to me.
The coachman will take you to the barrier of the Cours-la-Reine; you will find
a horse there which I have ordered to be kept ready for you; with that horse
you will be able to do three posts without stopping; and I, on my side, will
take care not to return to the King, to tell him that you have gone away, until
it will be impossible to overtake you. In the mean time you will have reached
Havre, and from Havre you will go to England, where you will find the charming
residence which my friend M. Monk gave me,- to say nothing of the hospitality
which King Charles will not fail to show you. Well, what do you think of this
"Take me to the Bastille," said
"You are an obstinate-headed fellow,
dear Athos," returned d'Artagnan; "reflect for a few moments."
"That you are no longer twenty years
of age. Believe me,- I speak according to my own knowledge and experience,- a
prison is certain death for men of our time of life. No, no; I will never allow
you to languish in prison. Why, the very thought of it turns my head."
"Dear d'Artagnan," Athos replied,
"happily God made me as strong in body as in mind; and rely upon it, I
shall be strong up to my last breath."
"But this is not force; it is
"No, d'Artagnan, it is the highest
order of reasoning. Do not suppose that I should in the slightest degree in the
world discuss the question with you, whether you would not be ruined in
endeavoring to save me. I should have done precisely as you have arranged, if
flight had seemed proper to me; I should therefore have accepted from you what
without any doubt you would have accepted from me. No! I know you too well even
to breathe a word upon the subject."
"Ah, if you would only let me do
it," said d'Artagnan, "how I would send the King running after
"He is the King, dear friend."
"Oh, that is all the same to me; and
King though he be, I would plainly tell him, 'Sire! imprison, exile, kill every
one in France and Europe; order me to arrest, and even poniard whom you like,-
even were it Monsieur, your own brother; but do not touch one of the four
musketeers, or, if so, mordioux!'"
"My dear friend," replied Athos,
quietly, "I should like to persuade you of one thing; namely, that I wish
to be arrested,- that I desire above all things that my arrest should take
place." D'Artagnan made a movement of his shoulders. "What does that
mean? It is so. If you were to let me escape, it would be only to return of my
own accord, and constitute myself a prisoner. I wish to prove to this young
man, who is dazzled by the power and splendor of his crown, that he can be
regarded as the first among men only by proving himself to be the most generous
and the wisest among them. He may punish, imprison, or torture me,- it matters
not. He abuses his opportunities, and I wish him to learn the bitterness of
remorse, while Heaven teaches him what a chastisement is."
"Well," replied d'Artagnan,
"I know only too well that when you have once said 'No,' you mean 'No.' I
do not insist any longer. You wish to go to the Bastille?"
"I do wish to go there."
"Let us go, then! To the
Bastille!" cried d'Artagnan to the coachman; and throwing himself back in
the carriage, he gnawed the ends of his mustache with a fury which to Athos,
who knew him well, signified a resolution either already taken or in course of
formation. A profound silence ensued in the carriage, which continued to roll
on, but neither faster nor slower than before.
Athos took the musketeer by the hand.
"You are not angry with me, d'Artagnan?" he said.
"I? Oh, no! certainly not, of course
not! What you do from heroism, I should have done from obstinacy."
"But you are quite of opinion, are you
not, that Heaven will avenge me, d'Artagnan?"
"And I know some persons on earth who
will lend a helping hand," said the captain.
XXIV: Three Guests Astonished to Find Themselves at Supper Together
THE carriage arrived at the outer gate of
the Bastille. A soldier on guard stopped it; but d'Artagnan had only to utter a
single word to procure admittance, and the carriage passed on. While they were
proceeding along the covered way which led to the courtyard of the governor's
residence, d'Artagnan, whose lynx eye saw everything, even through the walls,
suddenly cried out, "What is that out yonder?"
"Well," said Athos, quietly,
"what is it?"
"Look yonder, Athos!"
"In the courtyard?"
"Yes, yes; make haste!"
"Well, a carriage; very likely
conveying a prisoner like myself."
"That would be too droll."
"I do not understand you."
"Make haste and look again, and look
at the man who is just getting out of that carriage."
At that very moment a second sentinel
stopped d'Artagnan; and while the formalities were gone through, Athos could
see at a hundred paces from him the man whom his friend had pointed out to him.
He was, in fact, getting out of the carriage at the door of the governor's
house. "Well," inquired d'Artagnan, "do you see him?"
"Yes; he is a man in a gray
"What do you say of him?"
"I cannot very well tell. He is, as I
have just now told you, a man in a gray suit, who is getting out of a carriage;
that is all."
"Athos, I will wager anything it is
"Aramis arrested? Impossible!"
"I do not say he is arrested, since we
see him alone in his carriage."
"Well, then, what is he doing
"Oh, he knows Baisemeaux, the
governor!" replied the musketeer, slyly. "My faith! we have arrived
just in time."
"In order to see what we can
"I regret this meeting exceedingly.
When Aramis sees me, he will be very much annoyed,- in the first place at
seeing me, and in the next at being seen."
"Very well reasoned."
"Unfortunately, there is no remedy for
it. Whenever any one meets another in the Bastille, even if he wished to draw
back to avoid him, it would be impossible."
"Athos, I have an idea: the question
is, to spare Aramis the annoyance you were speaking of, is it not?"
"What is to be done?"
"I will tell you; or, in order to
better explain myself, let me relate the affair in my own manner. I will not
recommend you to tell a falsehood, for that would be impossible for you to
"Well, what is it?"
"Well, I will lie for both of us; it
is so easy to do that, with the nature and habits of a Gascon."
Athos smiled. The carriage stopped where
the one we have just now pointed out had stopped; namely, at the door of the
"It is understood, then?" said
d'Artagnan, in a low voice to his friend.
Athos consented by a gesture.
They ascended the staircase. There will be
no occasion for surprise at the facility with which they had entered the
Bastille, if it be remembered that before passing the first gate- in fact, the
most difficult of all- d'Artagnan had announced that he had brought a prisoner
of State. At the third gate, on the contrary,- that is to say, when he had once
fairly entered the prison,- he merely said to the sentinel, "To M.
Baisemeaux"; and they both passed on. In a few minutes they were in the
governor's dining-room; and the first face which attracted d'Artagnan's
observation was that of Aramis, who was seated side by side with Baisemeaux,
and awaited the announcement of a good meal, whose odor impregnated the whole
apartment. If d'Artagnan pretended surprise, Aramis did not pretend at all; he
started when he saw his two friends, and his emotion was very apparent. Athos
and d'Artagnan, however, made their salutations; and Baisemeaux, amazed,
completely stupefied by the presence of those three guests, began to perform a
few evolutions around them.
"Ah, there!" said Aramis,
"by what chance-"
"We were just going to ask you,"
"Are we going to give ourselves up as
prisoners?" cried Aramis, with an affectation of hilarity.
"Ah! ah!" said d'Artagnan;
"it is true the walls smell deucedly like a prison. M. de Baisemeaux, you
know you invited me to sup with you the other day."
"I?" cried Baisemeaux.
"Ah! one would say you had fallen from
the clouds. You do not recall it?"
Baisemeaux turned pale and then red; looked
at Aramis, who looked at him; and finally stammered, "Certainly- I am
delighted- but- upon my honor- I have not the slightest- Ah! I have such a
"Well, I am wrong, I see," said
d'Artagnan, as if he were offended.
"Wrong to remember, it seems."
Baisemeaux hurried towards him. "Do
not stand on ceremony, my dear captain," he said. "I have the poorest
head in the kingdom. Take me from my pigeons and their pigeon-house, and I am
no better than the rawest recruit."
"At all events, you remember it now,"
said d'Artagnan, boldly.
"Yes, yes," replied the governor,
hesitating; "I think I remember."
"It was when you came to the palace to
see me; you told me some story or other about your accounts with M. de Louviere
and M. de Tremblay."
"Oh, yes! perfectly."
"And about M. d'Herblay's kindness to
"Ah!" exclaimed Aramis, looking
the unhappy governor full in the face; "and yet you just now said you had
no memory, M. de Baisemeaux."
Baisemeaux interrupted the musketeer in the
midst of his revelations. "Yes, yes, you're quite right; it seems to me
that I am still there. I beg a thousand pardons. But now, once for all, my dear
M. d'Artagnan, be sure that at this present time, as at any other, whether
invited or not, you are master here,- you and M. d'Herblay, your friend,"
he said, turning towards Aramis; "and this gentleman too," he added,
bowing to Athos.
"Well, I thought it would be sure to
turn out so," replied d'Artagnan. "This is the occasion of my coming:
Having nothing to do this evening at the Palais-Royal, I wished to judge for
myself what your ordinary style of living was like; and as I was coming along I
met Monsieur the Count." Athos bowed. "The count, who had just left
his Majesty, handed me an order which required immediate attention. We were
close by here; I wished to call in, even if it were for no other object than
that of shaking hands with you and of presenting the count to you, of whom you
spoke so highly in the King's presence that very evening when-"
"Certainly, certainly- M. le Comte de
la Fere, is it not?"
"Monsieur the Count is welcome."
"And he will sup with you two, I
suppose; while I, unfortunate dog that I am, must run off on a matter of duty.
Oh, what happy beings you are, compared to myself!" D'Artagnan added,
sighing as loud as Porthos might have done.
"And so you are going away?" said
Aramis and Baisemeaux together, with the same expression of delighted surprise,
the tone of which was immediately noticed by d'Artagnan.
"I leave you in my place," he
said, "a noble and excellent guest"; and he touched Athos gently on
the shoulder, who, astonished also, could not help exhibiting his surprise a
little,- which was noticed by Aramis only, for M. de Baisemeaux was not quite
equal to the three friends in point of intelligence.
"What! are you going to leave
us?" resumed the governor.
"I shall be away only about an hour or
an hour and a half. I will return in time for dessert."
"Oh, we will wait for you!" said
"No, no; that would be really
"You will be sure to return,
though?" said Athos, with an expression of doubt.
"Most certainly," he said,
pressing his friend's hand confidentially; and he added in a low voice,
"Wait for me, Athos; be cheerful and lively as possible, and above all,
don't allude to business affairs, for Heaven's sake!" and a renewed
pressure of the hand impressed upon the count the necessity of being discreet
Baisemeaux led d'Artagnan to the gate.
Aramis, with many friendly protestations of delight, sat down by Athos,
determined to make him speak; but Athos possessed all the virtues in their
highest excellence. If necessity had required it, he would have been the finest
orator in the world; but when there was need of silence he would die rather than
utter a syllable.
Ten minutes after d'Artagnan's departure,
the three gentlemen sat down to table, which was covered with the most
substantial display of gastronomic luxury. Large joints, exquisite dishes,
preserves, the greatest variety of wines, appeared successively upon the table,
which was served at the King's expense, and of which expense M. Colbert would
have no difficulty in saving two thirds, without any one in the Bastille being
the worse for it.
Baisemeaux was the only one who ate and
drank resolutely. Aramis allowed nothing to pass by him, but merely touched
everything he took; Athos, after the soup and three hors d'oeuvres, ate nothing
more. The style of conversation was such as it necessarily would be between
three men so opposite in temper and ideas.
Aramis was incessantly asking himself by
what extraordinary chance Athos was at Baisemeaux's when d'Artagnan was no
longer there, and why d'Artagnan did not remain when Athos was there. Athos
sounded all the depths of the mind of Aramis, who lived in the midst of
subterfuge, evasion, and intrigue; he studied his man well and thoroughly, and
felt convinced that he was engaged upon some important project. And then he too
began to think of his own personal affair, and to lose himself in conjectures
as to d'Artagnan's reason for having left the Bastille so abruptly, and for
leaving behind him a prisoner so badly introduced and so badly looked after by
the prison authorities.
But we shall not pause to examine into the
thoughts and feelings of these personages; we will leave them to themselves,
surrounded by the remains of poultry, game, and fish, mutilated by the generous
knife of Baisemeaux. We are going to follow d'Artagnan instead, who, getting
into the carriage which had brought him, cried out to the coachman, "To
the King! and burn the pavement!"
XXV: What Took Place at the Louvre During the Supper at the Bastille
M. DE SAINT-AIGNAN had executed the
commission with which the King had intrusted him for La Valliere, as we have
already seen in one of the preceding chapters; but whatever his eloquence might
have been, he did not succeed in persuading the young girl that she had in the
King a protector powerful enough for her under any combination of
circumstances, and that she had no need of any one else in the world when the
King was on her side. In point of fact, at the very first word which the
favorite mentioned of the discovery of the famous secret, Louise, in a passion
of tears, abandoned herself in utter despair to a sorrow which would have been
far from flattering for the King, if he had been a witness of it from a corner
of the room. De Saint-Aignan, in his character of ambassador, felt greatly
offended at it, as his master himself would have been, and returned to announce
to the King what he had seen and heard. It is there that we now find him, in a
state of great agitation, in the presence of the King, still more agitated than
"But," said the King to the
courtier, when the latter had finished his report, "what did she decide to
do? Shall I, at least, see her presently before supper? Will she come to me, or
shall I be obliged to go to her room?"
"I believe, Sire, that if your Majesty
wishes to see her, you will not only have to take the first step in advance,
but will have to go the whole way."
"Nothing for me! Does that Bragelonne
still possess her heart?" muttered the King between his teeth.
"Oh, Sire, that is not possible; for
it is you alone whom Mademoiselle de la Valliere loves, and that, too, with all
her heart. But you know that De Bragelonne belongs to that proud race who play
the part of Roman heroes."
The King smiled feebly; he knew how true
the illustration was, for Athos had just left him.
"As for Mademoiselle de la
Valliere," De Saint-Aignan continued, "she was brought up under the
care of the Dowager Madame; that is to say, in austere retirement. This engaged
young couple coldly exchanged their little vows in the presence of the moon and
the stars; and now, when they find they have to break those vows, it plays the
very deuce with them."
De Saint-Aignan thought he should have made
the King laugh; but on the contrary, from a mere smile Louis passed to the
greatest seriousness of manner. He already began to experience that remorse
which the count had promised d'Artagnan he would inflict upon him. He reflected
that, in fact, these young persons had loved and sworn fidelity to each other;
that one of the two had kept his word, and that the other was too conscientious
not to feel her perjury most bitterly; and with remorse, jealousy sharply
pricked the King's heart. He did not say another word; and instead of going to
pay a visit to his mother or the Queen or Madame, in order to amuse himself a
little and make the ladies laugh, as he himself used to say, he threw himself
into the huge arm-chair in which his august father, Louis XIII, had passed so
many weary days and years in company with Baradas and Cinq-Mars.
De Saint-Aignan perceived that the King was
not to be amused at that moment; he tried a last resource, and pronounced
Louise's name, which made the King look up immediately. "What does your
Majesty intend to do this evening? Shall Mademoiselle de la Valliere be
informed of your intention to see her?"
"It seems she is already aware of
that," replied the King. "No, no, Saint-Aignan," he continued,
after a moment's pause; "we will both of us pass our time in dreaming.
When Mademoiselle de la Valliere shall have sufficiently regretted what she now
regrets, she will deign, perhaps, to give us some news of herself."
"Ah, Sire, is it possible you can so
misunderstand that devoted heart?"
The King rose, flushed with vexation; he
was a prey to jealousy in its turn. De Saint-Aignan was just beginning to feel
that his position was becoming awkward, when the curtain before the door was
raised. The King turned hastily round. His first idea was that a letter from
Louise had arrived; but instead of a letter of love, he saw only his captain of
Musketeers standing upright and silent in the doorway. "M.
d'Artagnan!" he said. "Ah! well, Monsieur?"
D'Artagnan looked at De Saint-Aignan;
Louis's eyes took the same direction as those of his captain. These looks would
have been clear to any one, and they were especially so to De Saint-Aignan. The
courtier bowed and quitted the room, leaving the King and d'Artagnan alone.
"Is it done?" inquired the King.
"Yes, Sire," replied the captain
of the Musketeers, in a grave voice, "it is done!"
The King was unable to say another word.
Pride, however, obliged him not to pause there. Whenever a sovereign has
adopted a decisive course, even though it be unjust, he is compelled to prove
to all witnesses, and particularly to himself, that he was quite right in so
adopting it. A good means for effecting that- an almost infallible means,
indeed- is to try to prove his victim to be in the wrong. Louis, brought up by
Mazarin and Anne of Austria, knew better than any one else his vocation as a
monarch; he therefore endeavored to prove it on the present occasion. After a
few moments' pause, which he had employed in making silently to himself the
same reflections which we have just expressed aloud, he said in an indifferent
tone, "What did the count say?"
"Nothing at all, Sire."
"Surely he did not allow himself to be
arrested without saying something?"
"He said he expected to be arrested,
The King raised his head haughtily. "I
presume," he said, "that M. le Comte de la Fere has not continued to
play his obstinate and rebellious part?"
"In the first place, Sire, what do you
term rebellious?" quietly asked the musketeer. "Is that man a rebel,
in the eyes of the King, who not only allows himself to be shut up in the
Bastille, but who even opposes those who do not wish to take him there?"
"Who do not wish to take him
there!" exclaimed the King. "What do you say, Captain? Are you
"I believe not, Sire."
"You speak of persons who did not wish
to arrest M. de la Fere?"
"And who are they?"
"Those whom your Majesty intrusted
with that duty, apparently."
"But it is you whom I intrusted with
it," exclaimed the King.
"Yes, Sire; it is I."
"And you say that, despite my orders,
you had the intention of not arresting the man who had insulted me!"
"Yes, Sire, that was really my
intention. I even proposed to the count to mount a horse that I had had
prepared for him at the Barriere de la Conference."
"And what was your object in getting
this horse ready?"
"Why, Sire, in order that M. le Comte
de la Fere might be able to reach Havre, and from that place make his escape to
"You betrayed me then, Monsieur?"
cried the King, kindling with a wild pride.
There was nothing to say in answer to
statements made in such a tone; the King was astounded at such an obstinate and
open resistance on the part of d'Artagnan. "At least you had a reason, M.
d'Artagnan, for acting as you did?" said the King, proudly.
"I have always a reason, Sire."
"Your reason cannot be your friendship
for the count, at all events,- the only one that can be of any avail, the only
one that could possibly excuse you,- for I placed you entirely at your ease in
"Did I not give you the choice to
arrest or not to arrest M. le Comte de la Fere?"
"Yes, Sire; but-"
"But what?" exclaimed the King,
"But you warned me, Sire, that if I
did not arrest him, your captain of the Guards should do so."
"Was I not considerate enough towards
you when I did not compel you to obey me?"
"To me, Sire, you were, but not to my
friend; for my friend would be arrested all the same, whether by myself or by
the captain of the Guards."
"And this is your devotion, Monsieur,-
a devotion which argues and reasons! You are no soldier, Monsieur!"
"I wait for your Majesty to tell me
what I am."
"Well, then,- you are a
"And since there is no longer any
Fronde, Sire, in that case-"
"But if what you say is true-"
"What I say is always true,
"What have you come to say to me,
"I have come to say to your Majesty:
Sire, M. de la Fere is in the Bastille."
"That is not your fault, it would
"That is true, Sire. But, at all
events, he is there; and since he is there, it is important that your Majesty
should know it."
"Ah, M. d'Artagnan, so you set your
King at defiance!"
"M. d'Artagnan, I warn you that you
are abusing my patience."
"On the contrary, Sire."
"What do you mean by 'on the
"I have come to get myself arrested
"To get yourself arrested,- you!"
"Of course. My friend will be lonely
down there; and I have come to propose to your Majesty to permit me to bear him
company. If your Majesty will but give the word, I will arrest myself; I shall
not need the captain of the Guards for that, I assure you."
The King darted towards the table and
seized a pen to write the order for d'Artagnan's imprisonment. "Pay
attention, Monsieur, that this is forever!" cried the King, in a tone of
"I can quite believe that,"
returned the musketeer; "for when you have once done such an act as that,
you will never be able to look me in the face again."
The King dashed down his pen violently.
"Leave the room, Monsieur!" he said.
"Oh, not so, Sire, if it please your
"How, not so?"
"Sire, I came to speak temperately to
your Majesty. Your Majesty got into a passion with me: that is a misfortune;
but I shall not the less on that account say what I had to say to you."
"Your resignation, Monsieur,- your
resignation!" cried the King.
"Sire, you know whether I care about
my resignation or not, since at Blois, on the day when you refused King Charles
the million which my friend the Comte de la Fere gave him, I tendered my
resignation to your Majesty."
"Very well, then, do it at once!"
"No, Sire; for there is no question of
my resignation at the present moment. Your Majesty took up your pen just now to
send me to the Bastille,- why should you change your intention?"
"D'Artagnan! Gascon that you are! who
is the King, allow me to ask,- you or myself?"
"You, Sire, unfortunately."
"What do you mean by
"Yes, Sire; for if it were I-"
"If it were you, you would approve of
M. d'Artagnan's rebellious conduct, I suppose?"
"Really?" said the King,
shrugging his shoulders.
"And I should tell my captain of the
Musketeers," continued d'Artagnan,- "I should tell him, looking at
him all the while with human eyes and not with eyes like coals of fire, 'M.
d'Artagnan, I have forgotten that I am King; I have descended from my throne to
insult a gentleman.'"
"Monsieur!" cried the King,
"do you think you can excuse your friend by exceeding him in
"Oh, Sire! I shall go much further
than he did," said d'Artagnan; "and it will be your own fault. I
shall tell you what he, a man full of delicacy, did not tell you; I shall say:
'Sire, you sacrificed his son, and he defended his son; you sacrificed him; he
addressed you in the name of honor, of religion, of virtue,- you repulsed,
pursued, imprisoned him.' I shall be harder than he was, for I shall say to
you: 'Sire, choose! Do you wish to have friends or lackeys, soldiers or slaves,
great men or puppets? Do you wish men to serve you or to crouch before you? Do
you wish men to love you or to fear you? If you prefer baseness, intrigue,
cowardice,- oh! say it, Sire! We will leave you,- we who are the only surviving
illustrations, nay, I will say more, the only models of the valor of former
times; we who have done our duty, and have exceeded, perhaps, in courage and in
merit the men already great for posterity. Choose, Sire, and without delay!
Whatever remains to you of the grand nobility, guard it with a jealous eye; of
courtiers you will always have enough. Delay not- and send me to the Bastille
with my friend; for if you have not known how to listen to the Comte de la
Fere, that is to say, to the most sweet and noble voice of honor; if you do not
know how to listen to d'Artagnan, that is to say, to the most candid and rough
voice of sincerity,- you are a bad king, and to-morrow will be a poor king.
Now, bad kings are hated; poor kings are driven away.' That is what I had to
say to you, Sire; you are wrong to have driven me to it."
The King threw himself back in his chair,
cold and livid. Had a thunderbolt fallen at his feet, he could not have been
more astonished; he appeared as if his respiration had ceased, and as if he
were at the point of death. That rough voice of sincerity, as d'Artagnan had
called it, had pierced through his heart like a sword-blade.
D'Artagnan had said all that he had to say.
Comprehending the King's anger, he drew his sword, and approaching Louis XIV
respectfully, placed it on the table. But the King, with a furious gesture,
thrust aside the sword, which fell on the ground and rolled to d'Artagnan's
feet. Notwithstanding his mastery over himself, d'Artagnan too, in his turn,
became pale and trembled with indignation. "A king," he said,
"may disgrace a soldier,- he may exile him, and may even condemn him to
death; but were he a hundred times a king, he has no right to insult him by
casting dishonor on his sword! Sire, a king of France has never repulsed with
contempt the sword of a man such as I am! Stained with disgrace as this sword
now is, it has henceforth no other sheath than either your heart or my own. I
choose my own, Sire; give thanks for it to God, and my patience." Then
snatching up his sword, he cried, "My blood be upon your head!" and
with a rapid gesture he placed the hilt upon the floor and directed the point
of the blade towards his breast. The King, however, with a movement still more
rapid than that of d'Artagnan, threw his right arm round the musketeer's neck,
and with his left hand seized hold of the blade by the middle, and returned it
silently to the scabbard. D'Artagnan, upright, pale, and still trembling,
suffered the King to do all, without aiding him, to the very end. Then Louis,
overcome, returned to the table, took a pen, wrote a few lines, signed them,
and offered the paper to d'Artagnan.
"What is this paper, Sire?"
inquired the captain.
"An order for M. d'Artagnan to set the
Comte de la Fere at liberty immediately."
D'Artagnan seized the King's hand and
kissed it; he then folded the order, placed it in his belt, and quitted the
room. Neither the King nor the captain spoke a word.
"Oh, human heart, director of kings!
murmured Louis, when alone; "when shall I learn to read in your recesses,
as in the leaves of a book? No, I am not a bad king, nor am I a poor king; but
I am still a child."
XXVI: Political Rivals
D'ARTAGNAN had promised M. de Baisemeaux to
return in time for dessert, and he kept his word. They had just reached the
finer and more delicate class of wines and liqueurs with which the governor's
cellar had the reputation of being most admirably stocked, when the spurs of
the captain resounded in the corridor, and he himself appeared at the
Athos and Aramis had played a close game;
neither had been able to gain the slightest advantage over the other. They had
supped, talked a good deal about the Bastille, of the last journey to
Fontainebleau, of the intended fete that M. Fouquet was about to give at Vaux;
they had generalized on every possible subject, and no one, excepting
Baisemeaux, had alluded to private matters.
D'Artagnan arrived in the very midst of the
conversation, still pale and disturbed by his interview with the King.
Baisemeaux hastened to give him a chair; d'Artagnan accepted a glass of wine,
and set it down empty. Athos and Aramis both remarked his emotion; as for
Baisemeaux, he saw nothing more than the captain of the King's Musketeers, to
whom he endeavored to show every attention. To be near the King entitled any
one to all privileges, in the eyes of M. de Baisemeaux.
But although Aramis had remarked that
emotion, he had not been able to guess the cause of it. Athos alone believed
that he had detected it. To him, d'Artagnan's return, and particularly the
manner in which he, usually so impassive, seemed overcome, signified, "I
have just asked the King something which he has refused me." Thoroughly
convinced that his conjecture was correct, Athos smiled, rose from the table,
and made a sign to d'Artagnan, as if to remind him that they had something else
to do than to sup together. D'Artagnan immediately understood him, and replied
by another sign. Aramis and Baisemeaux watched this silent dialogue, and looked
inquiringly at each other. Athos felt that he was called upon to give an
explanation of what was passing.
"The truth is, my friends," said
the Comte de la Fere, with a smile, "that you, Aramis, have been supping
with a State criminal, and you, M. de Baisemeaux, with your prisoner."
Baisemeaux uttered an exclamation of
surprise and almost of delight. That worthy man took pride in his fortress.
Profit aside, the more prisoners he had, the happier he was; and the higher the
prisoners were in rank, the prouder he felt.
Aramis assumed an expression which he
thought the situation required, and said: "Well, dear Athos, forgive me;
but I almost suspected what has happened. Some prank of Raoul or La Valliere,
is it not?"
"Alas!" said Baisemeaux.
"And," continued Aramis,
"you, a high and powerful nobleman as you are, forgetful that there are
now only courtiers,- you have been to the King, and told him what you thought
of his conduct?"
"Yes, you have guessed right."
"So that," said Baisemeaux,
trembling at having supped so familiarly with a man who had fallen into
disgrace with the King,- "so that, Monsieur the Count-"
"So that, my dear governor," said
Athos, "my friend d'Artagnan will communicate to you the contents of the
paper which I perceive just peeping out of his belt, and which assuredly can be
nothing else than the order for my incarceration."
Baisemeaux held out his hand with his
accustomed eagerness. D'Artagnan drew two papers from his belt, and presented
one of them to the governor, who unfolded it, and then read, in a low tone of
voice, looking at Athos over the paper, as he did so, and pausing from time to
time: "'Order to detain in my chateau of the Bastille M. le Comte de la
Fere.' Oh, Monsieur! this is indeed a very melancholy honor for me."
"You will have a patient prisoner,
Monsieur," said Athos, in his calm, soft voice.
"A prisoner, too, who will not remain
a month with you, my dear governor," said Aramis; while Baisemeaux, still
holding the order in his hand, transcribed it upon the prison registry.
"Not a day, or rather not even a
night," said d'Artagnan, displaying the second order of the King;
"for now, dear M. de Baisemeaux, you will have the goodness to transcribe
also this order for setting the count immediately at liberty."
"Ah!" said Aramis, "it is a
labor that you have spared me, d'Artagnan"; and he pressed the musketeer's
hand in a significant manner, and that of Athos at the same time.
"What!" said the latter, in
astonishment, "the King sets me at liberty!"
"Read, my dear friend!" returned
Athos took the order and read it. "It
is quite true," he said.
"Are you sorry for it?" asked
"Oh, no, on the contrary! I wish the
King no harm; and the greatest evil or misfortune that any one can wish kings
is that they should commit an act of injustice. But you have had a difficult
and painful task, I know. Tell me, have you not, d'Artagnan?"
"I? Not at all," said the
musketeer, laughing; "the King does everything I wish him to do."
Aramis looked fixedly at d'Artagnan, and
saw that he was not speaking the truth. But Baisemeaux had eyes for nothing but
d'Artagnan, so great was his admiration for a man who could make the King do
all he wished.
"And does the King exile Athos?"
"No, not precisely. The King did not
explain himself upon that subject," replied d'Artagnan; "but I think
the count could not do better, unless indeed he wishes particularly to thank
"No, indeed," replied Athos,
"Well, then, I think," resumed
d'Artagnan, "that the count cannot do better than to retire to his own
chateau. However, my dear Athos, you have only to speak, to tell me what you
want. If any particular place of residence is more agreeable to you than
another, I can obtain it for you."
"No, thank you," said Athos;
"nothing can be more agreeable to me, my dear friend, than to return to
the solitude beneath my noble trees on the banks of the Loire. If Heaven be the
overruling physician of the evils of the mind, Nature is a sovereign remedy.
And so, Monsieur," continued Athos, turning again towards Baisemeaux,
"I am now free, I suppose?"
"Yes, Monsieur the Count, I think so,-
at least, I hope so," said the governor, turning over and over the two
papers in question; "unless, however, M. d'Artagnan has a third order to
"No, my dear M. Baisemeaux, no,"
said the musketeer; "the second is quite enough. We can stop there."
"Ah! Monsieur the Count," said
Baisemeaux, addressing Athos, "you do not know what you are losing. I
should have placed you at thirty livres, like the generals- what am I saying?-
I mean at fifty livres, like the princes; and you would have supped every
evening as you have supped to-night."
"Allow me, Monsieur," said Athos,
"to prefer my mediocrity"; and then, turning to d'Artagnan, he said,
"Let us go, my friend."
"Let us go," said d'Artagnan.
"Shall I have the happiness of having
you as my companion?"
"To the city gate only," replied
d'Artagnan; "after which I will tell you what I told the King: 'I am on
"And you, dear Aramis," said
Athos, smiling; "will you accompany me? La Fere is on the road to
"Thank you, my dear friend," said
Aramis; "but I have an appointment in Paris this evening, and I cannot
leave without very serious interests suffering by my absence."
"In that case," said Athos,
"I must say adieu, and take my leave of you. My dear M. de Baisemeaux, I
have to thank you exceedingly for your good will, and particularly for the
specimen you have given me of the Bastille fare"; and having embraced
Aramis, and shaken hands with M. de Baisemeaux, and having received their
wishes for an agreeable journey from them both, Athos set off with d'Artagnan.
While the denouement of the scene of the
Palais-Royal was taking place at the Bastille, let us relate what was going on
at the lodgings of Athos and of Bragelonne. Grimaud, as we have seen, had
accompanied his master to Paris; and, as we have said, he was present when
Athos went out. He had seen d'Artagnan gnaw the corners of his mustache; he had
seen his master get into the carriage; he had narrowly examined both their
countenances, and he had known them both for a sufficiently long period to read
and understand, through the mask of their impassiveness, that serious events
were taking place. As soon as Athos had gone, he began to reflect; then he
remembered the strange manner in which Athos had taken leave of him, the
embarrassment- imperceptible to any one but himself- of his master,- that man
of clear ideas and straightforward will. He knew that Athos had taken nothing
with him but the clothes he had on him at the time; and yet he thought he saw
that Athos had not left for an hour merely, or even for a day: a long absence
was signified by the manner in which he pronounced the word "Adieu."
All these circumstances recurred to his mind, with all his feelings of deep
affection for Athos, with that horror of emptiness and solitude which
invariably besets the minds of those who love; and all these, combined,
rendered poor Grimaud very melancholy and particularly very apprehensive. Without
being able to account to himself for what he did after his master's departure,
he wandered about the apartment, seeking as it were for some traces of him,
like a faithful dog, who is not exactly uneasy about his absent master, but at
least is restless. Only, as to the instinct of the animal Grimaud joined the
reason of a man, he had at the same time restlessness and anxiety. Not having
found any indication which could serve as a guide, and having neither seen nor
discovered anything which could satisfy his doubts, Grimaud began to imagine
what could have happened. Now, the imagination is the resource, or rather the
punishment, of good and affectionate hearts. In fact, never does a good heart
represent its absent friend to itself as being happy or cheerful. Never does
the pigeon who travels inspire anything but terror to the pigeon who remains at
Grimaud soon passed from anxiety to terror;
he carefully went over, in his own mind, everything that had taken place,-
d'Artagnan's letter to Athos, the letter which had seemed to distress Athos so
much; then Raoul's coming to Athos, upon which Athos had asked for his orders
and his court dress; then his interview with the King, at the end of which
Athos had returned home so gloomy; then the explanation between the father and
the son, at the termination of which Athos had embraced Raoul with such sadness
of expression, while Raoul himself went away sorrowfully; and finally,
d'Artagnan's arrival, biting his mustache, and his leaving again in the
carriage, accompanied by the Comte de la Fere. All this composed a drama in
five acts, very plain, especially so to an analyst as skilful as Grimaud.
In the first place Grimaud resorted to
grand measures: he searched in his master's coat for M. d'Artagnan's letter; he
found the letter still there, and this is what it contained:
"MY DEAR FRIEND: Raoul has been to ask
me for some particulars about the conduct of Mademoiselle de la Valliere during
our young friend's residence in London. I am a poor captain of Musketeers, whose
ears are battered every day by the scandal of the barracks and the bedchamber.
If I had told Raoul all I believe I know, the poor fellow would have died from
it; but I am in the King's service, and cannot speak of the King's affairs. If
your heart tells you to do it, set off at once; the matter concerns you more
than myself, and almost as much as Raoul."
Grimaud tore, not a handful, but a
finger-and-thumbful of hair out of his head; he would have torn out more if his
hair had been more abundant.
"Yes," he said, "that is the
key of the whole enigma. The young girl has been playing her pranks. What
people say about her and the King is true, then. Our young master has been
deceived; he ought to know it. Monsieur the Count has been to see the King, and
has given him a piece of his mind; and then the King sent M. d'Artagnan to
arrange the affair. Ah, my God!" continued Grimaud, "Monsieur the
Count, I now remember, returned without his sword."
This discovery made the perspiration break
out all over poor Grimaud's face. He did not waste any more time in useless
conjecture, but clapped his hat on his head and started for Raoul's lodgings.
Raoul, after Louise had left him, had
mastered his grief, if not his affection; and compelled to look forward on that
perilous road on which madness and rebellion were hurrying him, he had seen,
from the very first glance, his father exposed to the royal obstinacy, since
Athos had immediately exposed himself to that obstinacy. In this moment, when
sympathy gave him insight, the unhappy young man recalled the mysterious signs
which Athos had made, and the unexpected visit of d'Artagnan. The probable
result of the conflict between a sovereign and a subject revealed itself to his
terrified vision. As d'Artagnan was on duty, that is, fixed to his post, he
certainly had not come to pay Athos a visit merely for the pleasure of seeing
him. He must have come to say something to him. This something, in a crisis so
serious, was either a misfortune or a danger. Raoul shuddered at his selfishness
in having forgotten his father for his love,- in having occupied himself with
dreams or the fascinations of despair at a time when it was perhaps necessary
to repel an imminent attack directed against Athos. The idea nearly drove him
wild; he buckled on his sword and ran towards his father's lodgings. On his way
thither he encountered Grimaud, who having set off from the opposite direction
was running with equal eagerness in search of the truth. The two men embraced
each other warmly; they were both at the same point of the parabola described
by their imagination.
"Grimaud!" exclaimed Raoul.
"M. Raoul!" cried Grimaud.
"Is the count well?"
"Have you seen him?"
"No; where is he?"
"I am trying to find out."
"And M. d'Artagnan?"
"Went out with him."
"Ten minutes after you had left."
"In what way did they go out?"
"In a carriage."
"Where did they go?"
"I have no idea at all."
"Did my father take any money with
"Or his sword?"
"I have an idea that M. d'Artagnan
"Arrest Monsieur the Count, do you not
"I could have sworn it."
"What road did they take?"
"The way leading towards the
"To the Bastille, then?"
"Ah, my God! yes."
"Quick, quick! let us run."
"Yes, let us run."
"But whither?" said Raoul,
"We will go to M. d'Artagnan's first;
we may perhaps learn something there."
"No; if he has kept it from me at my
father's, he will do the same everywhere. Let us go to- Oh, good Heavens! why,
I must be mad to-day, Grimaud."
"I have forgotten M. du Vallon-"
"Who is waiting for and expecting me
still! Alas! I have told you correctly, I am mad!"
"Where is he, then?"
"At the Minimes of Vincennes."
"Thank goodness, that is in the
direction of the Bastille. I will run and saddle the horses, and we will go at
once," said Grimaud.
"Do, my friend, do!"
XXVII: In Which Porthos Is Convinced Without Having Understood Anything
THE worthy Porthos, faithful to all the
laws of ancient chivalry, had determined to wait for M. de Saint-Aignan until
sunset; and as De Saint-Aignan did not come, as Raoul had forgotten to
communicate with his second, and as he found that waiting so long was very
wearisome, Porthos had desired one of the gate-keepers to fetch him a few
bottles of good wine and a good joint of meat,- so that he at least might have
the diversion of enjoying from time to time a glass of wine and a mouthful of
something to eat. He had just finished when Raoul arrived escorted by Grimaud,
both of them riding at full speed. When Porthos saw the two cavaliers riding at
such a pace along the road, he did not for a moment doubt but that they were
the men he was expecting; and he rose from the grass upon which he had been
indolently reclining, and began to stretch his legs and arms, saying, "See
what it is to have good habits! The fellow has come, after all. If I had gone
away, he would have found no one here, and would have taken an advantage from
that." He then threw himself into a martial attitude, and drew himself up
to the full height of his gigantic stature. But instead of De Saint-Aignan, he
saw only Raoul, who with the most despairing gestures accosted him by crying
out, "Pray forgive me, my dear friend! I am most wretched."
"Raoul!" cried Porthos,
"You have been angry with me?"
said Raoul, embracing Porthos.
"I? What for?"
"For having forgotten you. But, you
see, I have lost my head."
"If you only knew, my friend!"
"You have killed him?"
"Alas! we are far from De
"What is the matter, then?"
"The matter is that M. le Comte de la
Fere has been arrested."
Porthos gave a start that would have thrown
down a wall. "Arrested!" he cried out; "by whom?"
"It is impossible," said Porthos.
"It is nevertheless true,"
Porthos turned towards Grimaud, as if he
needed a second confirmation of the intelligence. Grimaud nodded his head.
"And where have they taken him?"
"Probably to the Bastille."
"What makes you think that?"
"As we came along we questioned some
persons who saw the carriage pass, and others who saw it enter the
"Oh, oh!" muttered Porthos; and
he moved forward two steps.
"What do you intend to do?"
"I? Nothing; only, I will not have
Athos remain at the Bastille."
"Do you know," said Raoul,
advancing nearer to Porthos, "that the arrest was made by order of the
Porthos looked at the young man as if to say,
"What does that matter to me?" This dumb language seemed so eloquent
of meaning to Raoul that he did not ask another question. He mounted his horse
again; and Porthos, assisted by Grimaud, did the same.
"Let us arrange our plan of
action," said Raoul.
"Yes," returned Porthos;
"that is the best thing we can do."
Raoul sighed deeply, and then paused
"What is the matter?" asked
Porthos; "are you faint?"
"No; powerless. Can we three pretend
to go and take the Bastille?"
"Well, if d'Artagnan were only
here," replied Porthos, "I don't know about that."
Raoul was struck with admiration at the
sight of that confidence, heroic in its simplicity. These were the celebrated
men who by three or four attacked armies and assaulted castles, who had
terrified death itself, and who survived the wrecks of an age, and were still
stronger than the most robust among the young. "Monsieur," said he to
Porthos, "you have just given me an idea; we absolutely must see M.
"He ought by this time to have
returned home, after having taken my father to the Bastille. Let us go to his
"First inquire at the Bastille,"
said Grimaud, who was in the habit of speaking little, but to the purpose.
Accordingly they hastened towards the
fortress, when one of those chances which Heaven bestows on men of strong will
caused Grimaud suddenly to perceive the carriage which was entering by the
great gate of the drawbridge. This was at the moment when d'Artagnan was, as we
have seen, returning from his visit to the King. In vain Raoul urged on his
horse to overtake the carriage and see whom it contained. The horses had
already gained the other side of the great gate, which again closed, while one
of the sentries struck the nose of Raoul's horse with his musket. Raoul turned
about, only too happy to find that he had ascertained something respecting the
carriage which had contained his father.
"We have him," said Grimaud.
"If we wait a little, it is certain
that he will leave; don't you think so, my friend?"
"Unless, indeed, d'Artagnan also be a
prisoner," replied Porthos, "in which case everything is lost."
Raoul returned no answer, for any
hypothesis was admissible. He instructed Grimaud to lead the horses to the
little Rue Jean-Beausire, so as to give rise to less suspicion, and himself
with his piercing gaze watched for the exit either of d'Artagnan or the
carriage. It was a fortunate plan; for twenty minutes had not elapsed before
the gate reopened and the carriage reappeared. A dazzling of the eyes prevented
Raoul from distinguishing what figures occupied the interior. Grimaud averred
that he had seen two persons, and that one of them was his master. Porthos kept
looking at Raoul and Grimaud by turns, in the hope of understanding their idea.
"It is clear," said Grimaud,
"that if the count is in the carriage, either he is set at liberty or they
are taking him to another prison."
"We shall soon see that by the road he
takes," answered Porthos.
"If he is set at liberty," said
Grimaud, "they will conduct him home."
"True," rejoined Porthos.
"The carriage does not take that
way," cried Raoul; and indeed the horses were just disappearing down the
Faubourg St. Antoine.
"Let us hasten," said Porthos;
"we will attack the carriage on the road, and tell Athos to flee."
"Rebellion," murmured Raoul.
Porthos darted a second glance at Raoul,
quite worthy of the first. Raoul replied only by spurring the flanks of his
steed. In a few moments the three cavaliers had overtaken the carriage, and
followed it so closely that their horses' breath moistened the back of it.
D'Artagnan, whose senses were ever on the alert, heard the trot of the horses
at the moment when Raoul was telling Porthos to pass the chariot so as to see
who was the person accompanying Athos. Porthos complied, but could not see
anything, for the blinds were lowered. Rage and impatience were gaining mastery
over Raoul. He had just noticed the mystery preserved by Athos's companion, and
determined on proceeding to extremities. On his part d'Artagnan had clearly
recognized Porthos, and Raoul also, from under the blinds, and had communicated
to the count the result of his observation. They were desirous only of seeing
whether Raoul and Porthos would push the affair to the uttermost. And this they
speedily did. Raoul, presenting his pistol, threw himself on the leader,
commanding the coachman to stop. Porthos seized the coachman and dragged him
from his seat. Grimaud already had hold of the carriage door. Raoul threw open
his arms, exclaiming, "Monsieur the Count! Monsieur the Count!"
"Ah! is it you, Raoul?" said
Athos, intoxicated with joy.
"Not bad, indeed!" added
d'Artagnan, with a burst of laughter; and they both embraced the young man and
Porthos, who had captured them.
"My brave Porthos, best of
friends!" cried Athos, "it is still the same with you.
"He is still only twenty," said
d'Artagnan. "Bravo, Porthos!"
"Confound it!" answered Porthos,
slightly confused, "we thought that you were arrested."
"While," rejoined Athos, "I
was, in fact, only taking a drive in M. d'Artagnan's carriage."
"But we followed you from the
Bastille," returned Raoul, with a tone of suspicion and reproach.
"Where we had been to take supper with
our good friend M. Baisemeaux. You recollect Baisemeaux, Porthos?"
"Very well, indeed."
"And there we saw Aramis."
"In the Bastille?"
"Ah!" said Porthos, again
"He gave us a thousand messages for
"And where is Monsieur the Count
going?" asked Grimaud, already recompensed by a smile from his master.
"We are going home to Blois."
"How is that,- at once?"
"Yes; right forward."
"Without any luggage?"
"Oh! Raoul would have been instructed
to forward me mine, or to bring it with him on his return, if he returns."
"If nothing detains him longer in
Paris," said d'Artagnan, with a glance firm and cutting as steel, and as
painful (for it reopened the poor young fellow's wounds), "he will do well
to follow you, Athos."
"There is nothing to keep me any
longer in Paris," said Raoul.
"Then we will go immediately,"
"And M. d'Artagnan?"
"Oh! as for me, I was only
accompanying Athos as far as the barrier, and I return with Porthos."
"Very good," said the latter.
"Come, my son," added the count,
gently passing his arm round Raoul's neck to draw him into the carriage, and
again embracing him. "Grimaud," continued the count, "you will
return quietly to Paris with your horse and M. du Vallon's, for Raoul and I
will mount here and give up the carriage to these two gentlemen to return to
Paris in; and then, as soon as you arrive, you will take my clothes and
letters, and forward the whole to me at home."
"But," observed Raoul, who was
anxious to make the count converse, "when you return to Paris, there will
not be a single thing there for you,- which will be very inconvenient."
"I think it will be a very long time,
Raoul, ere I return to Paris. The last sojourn we have made there has not been
of a nature to encourage me to repeat it."
Raoul hung his head, and said not a word
more. Athos descended from the carriage, and mounted the horse which had
brought Porthos, and which seemed no little pleased at the exchange. Then they
embraced, clasped one another's hands, and interchanged a thousand pledges of
eternal friendship. Porthos promised to spend a month with Athos at the first
opportunity. D'Artagnan engaged to take advantage of his first leave of
absence; and then, having embraced Raoul for the last time, "To you, my
boy," said he, "I will write." Coming from d'Artagnan, who he
knew wrote but very seldom, these words expressed everything. Raoul was moved
even to tears. He tore himself away from the musketeer, and departed.
D'Artagnan rejoined Porthos in the
carriage. "Well," said he, "my dear friend, what a day we have
"Indeed, yes," answered Porthos.
"You must be quite worn out?"
"Not quite; however, I shall retire
early to rest, so as to be ready tomorrow."
"Why, to complete what I have
"You make me shudder, my friend; you
seem to me quite angry. What the devil have you begun which is not
"Listen! Raoul has not fought; it is
necessary that I should fight."
"With whom?- with the King?"
"How!" exclaimed Porthos,
astounded, "with the King?"
"Yes, I say, you great baby! with the
"I assure you it is with M. de
"Look now, this is what I mean: you
draw your sword against the King in fighting with this gentleman."
"Ah!" said Porthos, staring;
"are you sure of it?"
"Indeed, I am."
"How shall we arrange it, then?"
"We must try and make a good supper,
Porthos. The captain of the Musketeers keeps a tolerable table. There you will
see the handsome De Saint-Aignan, and will drink his health."
"I!" cried Porthos, horrified.
"What!" said d'Artagnan,
"you refuse to drink the King's health?"
"But, body alive! I am not talking to
you about the King at all; I am speaking of M. de Saint-Aignan."
"But since I repeat that it is the
"Ah, well, well!" said Porthos,
"You understand, don't you?"
"No," said Porthos; "but no
"Yes, it is all the same,"
replied d'Artagnan; "let us go to supper, Porthos."
XXVIII: M. de Baisemeaux's "Society"
THE reader has not forgotten that, on
quitting the Bastille, d'Artagnan and the Comte de la Fere had left Aramis in
close confabulation with Baisemeaux. When once these two guests had departed,
Baisemeaux did not in the least perceive that the conversation suffered by
their absence. He thought that wine after supper, and that of the Bastille in
particular, was excellent; and that it was a stimulant quite sufficient to make
an honest man talk. But he little knew his Greatness, who was never more
impenetrable than at dessert. His Greatness, however, perfectly understood M.
de Baisemeaux, when he reckoned on making the governor discourse by the means
which the latter regarded as efficacious. The conversation, therefore, without
flagging in appearance, flagged in reality; for Baisemeaux not only had it
nearly all to himself, but further, kept speaking only of that singular event,-
the incarceration of Athos, followed by so prompt an order to set him again at
liberty. Nor, moreover, had Baisemeaux failed to observe that the order of
arrest and that of liberation were both in the King's hand. But the King would
not take the trouble to write such orders except under pressing circumstances.
All this was very interesting, and, above all, very puzzling to Baisemeaux; but
as, on the other hand, all this was very clear to Aramis, the latter did not
attach to the occurrence the same importance as did the worthy governor.
Besides, Aramis rarely put himself out of the way for anything, and he had not
yet told M. de Baisemeaux for what reason he had now done so; and so, at the
very climax of Baisemeaux's dissertation, Aramis suddenly interrupted him.
"Tell me, my dear M. Baisemeaux,"
said he, "have you never had any other diversions at the Bastille than
those at which I have assisted during the two or three visits I have had the
honor to pay you?"
This address was so unexpected that the
governor, like a vane which suddenly receives an impulsion opposed to that of
the wind, was quite dumfounded at it. "Diversions!" said he;
"but I take them continually, Monseigneur."
"Oh, to be sure! And these
"Are of every kind."
"Visits, no doubt?"
"No, not visits. Visits are not
frequent at the Bastille."
"What! are visits rare, then?"
"Even on the part of your
"What do you mean by my 'society,'-
"Oh, no! Your prisoners, indeed! I
know well it is you who visit them, and not they you. By your society I mean,
my dear M. Baisemeaux, the society of which you are a member."
Baisemeaux looked fixedly at Aramis, and
then, as if the idea which had flashed across his mind were impossible,
"Oh!" he said, "I have very little society at present. If I must
own it to you, my dear M. d'Herblay, the fact is, to stay at the Bastille
appears for the most part distressing and distasteful to persons of the gay
world. As for the ladies, it is never without a dread, which costs me infinite
trouble to allay, that they come to my quarters. And, indeed, how should they
avoid trembling a little, poor things, when they see those gloomy dungeons, and
reflect that they are inhabited by prisoners
who-" In proportion as the eyes of Baisemeaux concentrated their
gaze on the face of Aramis, the worthy governor's tongue faltered more and
more, until finally it stopped altogether.
"No, you don't understand me, my dear
M. Baisemeaux,- you don't understand me. I do not at all mean to speak of
society in general, but of a particular society,- of the society, in a word, to
which you are affiliated."
Baisemeaux nearly dropped the glass of
muscat which he was in the act of raising to his lips. "Affiliated?"
cried he, "affiliated?"
"Yes, affiliated, undoubtedly,"
repeated Aramis, with the greatest self-possession. "Are you not a member
of a secret society, my dear M. Baisemeaux?"
"Secret or mysterious."
"Oh, M. d'Herblay!"
"See! you don't deny it."
"But, believe me-"
"I believe what I know."
"I swear to you."
"Listen to me, my dear M. Baisemeaux!
I say 'yes,' you say 'no.' One of us two necessarily says what is true; and the
other, it inevitably follows, what is false."
"Well, and then?"
"Well, we shall come to an
"Let us see," said Baisemeaux;
"let us see."
"Now drink your glass of muscat, dear
M. Baisemeaux," said Aramis. "What the devil! you look quite
"No, no, not the least in the world;
Baisemeaux drank, but he swallowed the
"Well," resumed Aramis, "if,
I say, you are not a member of a society, secret or mysterious, whichever you
like to call it,- the epithet is of no consequence,- if, I say, you are not a
member of a society similar to that I wish to designate, well, then, you will
not understand a word of what I am going to say, that is all."
"Oh! be sure beforehand that I shall
not understand anything."
"Try now; let us see."
"That is what I am going to do. If, on
the contrary, you are one of the members of this society, you will immediately
answer me 'yes' or 'no.'"
"Begin your questions, then,"
continued Baisemeaux, trembling.
"You will agree, dear M. de
Baisemeaux," continued Aramis, with the same impassiveness, "that it
is evident a man cannot be a member of a society, it is evident that he cannot
enjoy the advantages it offers to the affiliated, without being himself bound
to certain little services."
"In short," stammered Baisemeaux,
"that would be intelligible if-"
"Well," resumed Aramis,
"there is in the society of which I speak, and of which, as it seems, you
are not a member-"
"Allow me," said Baisemeaux;
"I should not like to say absolutely."
"There is an engagement entered into
by all the governors and captains of fortresses affiliated to the order."
Baisemeaux grew pale. "Now the engagement," continued Aramis, firmly,
"is of this nature."
Baisemeaux rose, manifesting unspeakable
emotion. "Go on, dear M. d'Herblay; go on!" said he.
Aramis then spoke, or rather recited, the
following sentence, in the same tone as if he had been reading it from a book:
"The aforesaid captain or governor of a fortress shall allow to enter,
when need shall arise, and on demand of the prisoner, a confessor affiliated to
the order." He stopped. Baisemeaux was quite distressing to look at, being
so wretchedly pale and trembling. "Is not that the text of the
agreement?" quietly asked Aramis.
"Monseigneur!" began Baisemeaux.
"Ah, well, you begin to understand, I
"Monseigneur," cried Baisemeaux,
"do not trifle so with my unhappy mind! I find myself nothing in your
hands, if you have the malignant desire to draw from me the little secrets of
"Oh, by no means! Pray undeceive
yourself, dear M. Baisemeaux; it is not the little secrets of your
administration that I aim at, but those of your conscience."
"Well, then, my conscience be it, my
dear M. d'Herblay! But have some consideration for the situation I am in, which
is no ordinary one."
"It is no ordinary one, my dear
Monsieur," continued the inflexible Aramis, "if you are a member of
this society; but it is quite a natural one if, free from all engagements, you
are answerable only to the King."
"Well, Monsieur, well! I obey only the
King. Good God! whom else would you have a French gentleman obey?"
Aramis did not yield an inch; but with that
silvery voice of his continued: "It is very pleasant for a French
gentleman, for a prelate of France, to hear a man of your mark express himself so
loyally, dear De Baisemeaux, and having heard you, to believe no more than you
"Have you doubted, Monsieur?"
"I? Oh, no!"
"And so you doubt no longer?"
"I have no longer any doubt that such
a man as you, Monsieur," said Aramis, gravely, "does not faithfully
serve the masters whom he voluntarily chose for himself."
"Masters!" cried Baisemeaux.
"Yes, masters, I said."
"M. d'Herblay, you are still jesting,
are you not?"
"Oh, yes! I understand that it is a
more difficult position to have several masters than one; but the embarrassment
is owing to you, my dear Baisemeaux, and I am not the cause of it."
"Certainly not," returned the
unfortunate governor, more embarrassed than ever; "but what are you doing?
You are leaving the table?"
"Are you going?"
"Yes, I am going."
"But you are behaving very strangely
towards me, Monseigneur."
"I am behaving strangely,- in what
"Have you sworn, then, to put me to
"No, I should be sorry to do so."
"Because I have no longer anything to
do here; and, indeed, I have duties to fulfil elsewhere."
"Duties so late as this?"
"Yes; understand me now, my dear M. de
Baisemeaux. They told me at the place whence I came, 'The aforesaid governor or
captain will allow to enter, as need shall arise, on the prisoner's demand, a
confessor affiliated with the order.' I came; you do not know what I mean, and
so I shall return to tell them that they are mistaken, and that they must send
"What! you are-" cried
Baisemeaux, looking at Aramis almost in terror.
"The confessor affiliated to the
order," said Aramis, without changing his voice.
But, gentle as the words were, they had the
same effect on the unhappy governor as a clap of thunder. Baisemeaux became
livid, and it seemed to him as if Aramis's beaming eyes were two forks of
flame, piercing to the very bottom of his soul. "The confessor!"
murmured he; "you, Monseigneur, the confessor of the order!"
"Yes, I; but we have nothing to
unravel together, seeing that you are not one of the affiliated."
"And I understand that, not being so,
you refuse to comply with its commands."
"Monseigneur, I beseech you,
condescend to hear me."
"Monseigneur, I do not say that I have
nothing to do with the society."
"I say not that I refuse to
"Nevertheless, M. de Baisemeaux, what
has passed wears very much the air of resistance."
"Oh, no, Monseigneur, no! I only
wished to be certain."
"To be certain of what?" said
Aramis, in a tone of supreme contempt.
"Of nothing at all, Monseigneur."
Baisemeaux lowered his voice, and bending before the prelate said, "I am
at all times and in all places at the disposal of my masters, but-"
"Very good. I like you better thus,
Monsieur," said Aramis, as he resumed his seat, and put out his glass to
Baisemeaux, whose hand trembled so that he could not fill it. "You were
saying 'but'-" continued Aramis.
"But," replied the unhappy man,
"having no notice, I was far from expecting."
"Does not the Gospel say, 'Watch, for
the moment is known only of God'? Do not the rules of the order say, 'Watch;
for that which I will, you ought always to will also'? And on what pretext is
it that you did not expect the confessor, M. de Baisemeaux?"
"Because, Monseigneur, there is at
present in the Bastille no prisoner ill."
Aramis shrugged his shoulder. "What do
you know about that?" said he.
"But nevertheless, it appears to
"M. de Baisemeaux," said Aramis,
turning round in his chair, "here is your servant, who wishes to speak
with you"; and at this moment Baisemeaux's servant appeared at the
threshold of the door.
"What is it?" asked Baisemeaux,
"Monsieur," said the man,
"they are bringing you the doctor's return."
Aramis looked at Baisemeaux with a calm and
"Well," said Baisemeaux,
"let the messenger enter."
The messenger entered, saluted, and handed
in the report. Baisemeaux ran his eye over it, and raising his head said, in
surprise, "No. 2 Bertaudiere is ill."
"How was it, then," said Aramis,
carelessly, "that you told me everybody was well in your hotel, M. de
Baisemeaux?" and he emptied his glass without removing his eyes from
The governor then made a sign to the
messenger, and when he had quitted the room said, still trembling, "I
think that there is in the article, 'on the prisoner's demand.'"
"Yes, it is so"; answered Aramis.
"But see what it is they want with you now, dear M. de Baisemeaux."
At that moment a sergeant put his head in
at the door. "What do you want now?" cried Baisemeaux. "Can you
not leave me in peace for ten minutes?"
"Monsieur," said the sergeant,
"the sick man, No. 2 Bertaudiere, has commissioned the turnkey to request
you to send him a confessor."
Baisemeaux very nearly sank on the floor;
but Aramis disdained to reassure him, just as he had disdained to terrify him.
"What must I answer?" inquired Baisemeaux.
"Just what you please," replied
Aramis, compressing his lips; "that is your business. I am not governor of
"Tell the prisoner," cried
Baisemeaux, quickly,- "tell the prisoner that his request is
granted." The sergeant left the room. "Oh, Monseigneur,
Monseigneur," murmured Baisemeaux, "how could I have suspected?- how
could I have foreseen this?"
"Who told you to suspect, and who
asked you to foresee?" contemptuously answered Aramis. "The order
suspects, the order knows, the order foresees,- is not that enough?"
"What do you command?" added
"I?- nothing at all. I am nothing but
a poor priest, a simple confessor. Have I your orders to go and see the
"Oh, Monseigneur, I do not order; I
pray you to go."
"'Tis well; then conduct me to
XXIX: The Prisoner
SINCE Aramis's singular transformation into
a confessor of the order, Baisemeaux was no longer the same man. Up to that
period the place which Aramis had held in the worthy governor's estimation was
that of a prelate whom he respected and a friend to whom he owed a debt of
gratitude; but after that revelation which had upset all his ideas, he felt
himself an inferior, and that Aramis was his master. He himself lighted a
lantern, summoned a turnkey, and said, returning to Aramis, "I am at your
Aramis merely nodded his head, as much as
to say, "Very good"; and signed to him with his hand to lead the way.
Baisemeaux advanced, and Aramis followed him.
It was a beautiful starry night; the steps
of the three men resounded on the flags of the terraces, and the clinking of
the keys hanging from the jailer's girdle made itself heard up to the stories
of the towers, as if to remind the prisoners that liberty was out of their
reach. It might have been said that the alteration effected in Baisemeaux had
extended itself even to the prisoners. The turnkey, the same who on Aramis's
first arrival had shown himself so inquisitive and curious, had now become not
only silent, but even impassible. He held his head down, and seemed afraid to
keep his ears open. In this wise they reached the basement of the Bertaudiere,
the first two stories of which were mounted silently and somewhat slowly; for
Baisemeaux, though far from disobeying, was far from exhibiting any eagerness
to obey. Finally, they arrived at the door. The jailer had the key ready, and
opened the door. Baisemeaux showed a disposition to enter the prisoner's
chamber; but Aramis, stopping him on the threshold, said, "The rules do
not allow the governor to hear the prisoner's confession."
Baisemeaux bowed, and made way for Aramis,
who took the lantern and entered, and then signed to them to close the door
behind him. For an instant he remained standing, listening to learn whether
Baisemeaux and the turnkey had retired; but as soon as he was assured by the
dying sound of their footsteps that they had left the tower, he put the lantern
on the table and gazed around. On a bed of green serge, similar in all respects
to the other beds in the Bastille, save that it was newer, under ample curtains
half drawn, reposed a young man to whom we have once before introduced Aramis.
According to custom, the prisoner was without a light. At the hour of curfew he
was bound to extinguish his lamp; it may be seen how much he was favored in
being allowed to keep it burning until that hour. Near the bed a large leathern
arm-chair, with twisted legs, held his clothes. A little table- without pens,
books, paper, or ink- stood deserted near the window; while several plates,
still unemptied, showed that the prisoner had scarcely touched his recent
repast. Aramis saw that the young man was stretched upon his bed, his face half
concealed by his arms. The arrival of a visitor did not cause any change of
position; either he was waiting in expectation or he was asleep. Aramis lighted
the candle from the lantern, pushed back the arm-chair, and approached the bed
with an appearance of mingled interest and respect.
The young man raised his head. "What
is it?" said he.
"Have you not desired a
confessor?" replied Aramis.
"Because you are ill?"
The young man gave Aramis a piercing
glance, and answered, "I thank you." After a moment's silence,
"I have seen you before," he continued.
Doubtless the scrutiny which the prisoner
had just made of the cold, crafty, and imperious character stamped upon the
features of the bishop of Vannes was little reassuring to one in his situation,
for he added, "I am better."
"And then?" said Aramis.
"Why, then, being better, I have no
longer the same need of a confessor, I think."
"Not even of the haircloth, of which
the note you found in your bread informed you?"
The young man started; but before he had
either assented or denied, Aramis continued, "Not even of the ecclesiastic
from whom you were to hear an important revelation?"
"If it be so," said the young
man, sinking again on his pillow, "it is different; I listen."
Aramis then looked at him more closely, and
was struck with the easy majesty of his mien,- one which can never be acquired
unless Heaven has implanted it in the blood or in the heart.
"Sit down, Monsieur!" said the
Aramis bowed and obeyed.
"How does the Bastille agree with
you?" asked the bishop.
"You do not suffer?"
"You have nothing to regret?"
"Not even your liberty?"
"What do you call liberty,
Monsieur?" asked the prisoner, with the tone of a man who is preparing for
"I call liberty the flowers, the air,
light, the stars, the happiness of going whithersoever the nervous limbs of
twenty years of age may wish to carry you."
The young man smiled,- whether in
resignation or contempt, it would have been difficult to tell.
"Look!" said he; "I have in that Japanese vase two roses
gathered yesterday evening in the bud from the governor's garden. This morning
they have blown and spread their vermilion chalices beneath my gaze; with every
opening petal they unfold the treasures of their perfume, filling my chamber
with fragrance. Look now on these two roses; even among roses these are
beautiful, and the rose is the most beautiful of flowers. Why, then, do you bid
me desire other flowers when I possess the loveliest of all?"
Aramis gazed at the young man in surprise.
"If flowers constitute liberty,"
sadly resumed the captive, "I am free, for I possess them."
"But the air!" cried Aramis,-
"air so necessary to life!"
"Well, Monsieur," returned the
prisoner, "draw near to the window; it is open. Between Heaven and earth
the wind whirls its storms of hail and lightning, wafts its warm mists, or
breathes in gentle breezes. It caresses my face. When mounted on the back of
this arm-chair, with my arm around the bars of the window to sustain myself, I
fancy I am swimming in the wide expanse."
The countenance of Aramis darkened as the
young man spoke.
"Light!" continued the prisoner,-
"I have what is better than light! I have the sun,- a friend who comes to
visit me every day without the permission of the governor or the jailer's
company. He comes in at the window, and traces in my room a quadrilateral which
starts from the window and reaches to the hangings of my bed. This luminous
figure increases from ten o'clock till midday, and decreases from one till
three slowly, as if, having hastened to come, it sorrowed at leaving me. When
its last ray disappears, I have enjoyed its presence for four hours. Is not
that sufficient? I have been told that there are unhappy beings who dig in
quarries, and laborers who toil in mines, who never behold the sun at
Aramis wiped the drops from his brow.
"As to the stars which are so
delightful to view," continued the young man, "they all resemble one
another save in size and brilliancy. I am a favored mortal; for if you had not
lighted that candle, you would have been able to see the beautiful star which I
was gazing at from my couch before your arrival, and whose rays were playing
over my eyes."
Aramis lowered his head; he felt himself
overwhelmed by the bitter flow of that sinister philosophy which is the
religion of the captive.
"So much, then, for the flowers, the
air, the daylight, and the stars," tranquilly continued the young man;
"there remains freedom of movement. Do I not walk all day in the
governor's garden if it is fine; here, if it rains; in the fresh air, if it is
warm; in the warm, thanks to my fireplace, if it be cold? Ah, Monsieur, do you
fancy," continued the prisoner, not without bitterness, "that men
have not done everything for me that a man can hope for or desire?"
"Men!" said Aramis, raising his
head; "be it so! But it seems to me you forget Heaven."
"Indeed, I have forgotten Heaven,"
murmured the prisoner, without emotion; "but why do you mention it? Of
what use is it to talk to a prisoner of Heaven?"
Aramis looked steadily at this singular
youth, who possessed the resignation of a martyr with the smile of an atheist.
"Is not God in everything?" he murmured in a reproachful tone.
"Say, rather, at the end of
everything," answered the prisoner, firmly.
"Be it so," said Aramis;
"but let us return to our starting-point."
"I desire nothing better,"
returned the young man.
"I am your confessor."
"Well, then, you ought, as a penitent,
to tell me the truth."
"All that I wish is to tell it to
"Every prisoner has committed some
crime for which he has been imprisoned. What crime, then, have you
"You asked me the same question the
first time you saw me," returned the prisoner.
"And then, as now, you evaded giving
me an answer."
"And what reason have you for thinking
that I shall now reply to you?"
"Because this time I am your
"Then, if you wish me to tell what
crime I have committed, explain to me in what a crime consists; for as my
conscience does not accuse me, I aver that I am not a criminal."
"We are often criminals in the sight
of the great of the earth, not alone for having ourselves committed crimes, but
because we know that crimes have been committed."
The prisoner manifested the deepest
attention. "Yes, I understand you," he said, after a pause;
"yes, you are right, Monsieur. It is very possible that in that light I am
a criminal in the eyes of the great."
"Ah! then you know something,"
said Aramis, who thought he had pierced not merely through a defect in the
harness, but through the joints of it.
"No, I am not aware of anything,"
replied the young man; "but sometimes I think, and I say to myself in
"What do you say to yourself?"
"That if I were to think any further,
I should either go mad or I should divine a great deal."
"And then- and then-" said
"Then I leave off."
"You leave off?"
"Yes; my head becomes confused, and my
ideas melancholy. I feel ennui overtaking me; I wish-"
"I don't know; but I do not like to
give myself up to longing for things which I do not possess, when I am so happy
with what I have."
"You are afraid of death?" said
Aramis, with a slight uneasiness.
"Yes," said the young man,
Aramis felt the chill of that smile, and
shuddered. "Oh, as you fear death, you know more than you admit!" he
"And you," returned the prisoner,
"who bade me to ask to see you,- you, who when I did ask for you came here
promising a world of confidence,- how is it that, nevertheless, it is you who
are silent, and 't is I who speak? Since, then, we both wear masks, either let
us both retain them or put them aside together."
Aramis felt the force and justice of the
remark, saying to himself, "This is no ordinary man." "Are you
ambitious?" said he suddenly to the prisoner, aloud, without preparing him
for the alteration.
"What do you mean by ambition?"
replied the youth.
"It is," replied Aramis, "a
feeling which prompts a man to desire more than he has."
"I said that I was contented,
Monsieur; but perhaps I deceive myself. I am ignorant of the nature of
ambition; but it is not impossible I may have some. Come, open my mind; I ask
"An ambitious man," said Aramis,
"is one who covets what is beyond his station."
"I covet nothing beyond my
station," said the young man, with an assurance of manner which yet again
made the bishop of Vannes tremble.
Aramis was silent. But to look at the
kindling eye, the knitted brow, and the reflective attitude of the captive, it
was evident that he expected something more than silence. That silence Aramis
now broke. "You lied the first time I saw you," said he.
"Lied!" cried the young man,
starting up on his couch, with such a tone in his voice and such lightning in
his eyes that Aramis recoiled in spite of himself.
"I should say," returned Aramis,
bowing, "you concealed from me what you knew of your infancy."
"A man's secrets are his own,
Monsieur," retorted the prisoner, "and not at the mercy of the first
"True," said Aramis, bowing still
lower than before, "'t is true; pardon me, but to-day do I still occupy
the place of a chance-comer? I beseech you to reply, Monseigneur."
This title slightly disturbed the prisoner;
but nevertheless he did not appear astonished that it was given to him. "I
do not know you, Monsieur," said he.
"Oh, if I but dared, I would take your
hand and would kiss it!"
The young man seemed as if he were going to
give Aramis his hand; but the light which beamed in his eyes faded away, and he
coldly and distrustfully withdrew his hand. "Kiss the hand of a
prisoner!" he said, shaking his head; "to what purpose?"
"Why did you tell me," said
Aramis, "that you were happy here? Why, that you aspired to nothing? Why,
in a word, by thus speaking, do you prevent me from being frank in my
The same light shone a third time in the
young man's eyes, but died as before, without leading to anything.
"You distrust me," said Aramis.
"And why say you so, Monsieur?"
"Oh, for a very simple reason! If you
know what you ought to know, you ought to mistrust everybody."
"Then be not astonished that I am
mistrustful, since you suspect me of knowing what I know not."
Aramis was struck with admiration at this
energetic resistance. "Oh, Monseigneur, you drive me to despair!"
said he, striking the arm-chair with his fist.
"And on my part I do not comprehend
"Well, then, try to understand
me." The prisoner looked fixedly at Aramis. "Sometimes it seems to
me," said the latter, "that I have before me the man whom I seek, and
"And then your man disappears,- is it
not so?" said the prisoner, smiling. "So much the better."
Aramis rose. "Certainly," said
he; "I have nothing further to say to a man who mistrusts me as you
"And I, Monsieur," said the
prisoner, in the same tone, "have nothing to say to a man who will not
understand that a prisoner ought to be mistrustful of everybody."
"Even of old friends?" said
Aramis. "Oh, Monseigneur, you are too cautious!"
"Of my old friends?- you one of my old
"Do you no longer remember," said
Aramis, "that you once saw in the village where your early years were
"Do you know the name of the
village?" asked the prisoner.
answered Aramis, firmly.
"Go on!" said the young man,
without expression of assent or denial on his countenance.
"Stay, Monseigneur!" said Aramis;
"if you are positively resolved to carry on this game, let us break off. I
am here to tell you many things, 't is true; but you must allow me to see that,
on your side, you have a desire to know them. Before revealing the important
matters I conceal, be assured that I am in need of some encouragement, if not
candor; a little sympathy, if not confidence. But you keep yourself intrenched
in a pretended ignorance which paralyzes me. Oh, not for the reason you think;
for ignorant as you may be, or indifferent as you feign to be, you are none the
less what you are, Monseigneur, and there is nothing- nothing, mark me!- which
can cause you not to be so."
"I promise you," replied the
prisoner, "to hear you without impatience. Only it appears to me that I
have a right to repeat the question I have already asked, 'who are you?'"
"Do you remember, fifteen or eighteen
years ago, seeing at Noisy-le-Sec a cavalier, accompanied by a lady plainly
dressed in black silk, with flame-colored ribbons in her hair?"
"Yes," said the young man;
"I once asked the name of this cavalier, and was told that he called
himself the Abbe d'Herblay. I was astonished that the abbe had so warlike an
air, and was told that there was nothing singular in that, seeing that he was
one of Louis XIII's musketeers."
"Well," said Aramis, "that
musketeer of other times, that abbe afterwards, then bishop of Vannes, is
to-day your confessor."
"I know it; I recognized you."
"Then, Monseigneur, if you know that,
I must add a fact of which you are ignorant,- that if the King were to know
this evening of the presence here of this musketeer, this abbe, this bishop,
this confessor, he who has risked everything to visit you would to-morrow see
glitter the executioner's axe at the bottom of a dungeon more gloomy and more
obscure than yours."
While hearing these words, delivered with
emphasis, the young man had raised himself on his couch and gazed more and more
eagerly at Aramis. The result of this scrutiny was that he appeared to derive
some confidence from it. "Yes," he murmured, "I remember
perfectly. The woman of whom you speak came once with you, and twice afterwards
with the woman-" He hesitated.
"With another woman who came to see
you every month,- is it not so, Monseigneur?"
"Do you know who this lady was?"
The light seemed ready to flash from the
prisoner's eyes. "I am aware that she was a lady of the court," he
"You remember that lady well, do you
"Oh, my recollection can hardly be
very confused on this head!" said the young prisoner. "I saw that lady
once with a gentleman about forty-five years old. I saw her once with you, and
with the lady dressed in black with flame-colored ribbons. I have seen her
twice since with the same person. These four persons, with my tutor and old
Perronnette, my jailer and the governor of the prison, are the only persons
with whom I have ever spoken, and, indeed, almost the only persons I have ever
"Then, you were in prison?"
"If I am a prisoner here, there I was
comparatively free, although in a very narrow sense. A house which I never
quitted, a garden surrounded with walls I could not clear,- these constituted
my residence; but you know it, as you have been there. In a word, being
accustomed to live within these bounds, I never cared to leave them. And so you
will understand, Monsieur, that not having seen anything of the world, I can
desire nothing; and therefore, if you relate anything, you will be obliged to
explain everything to me."
"And I will do so," said Aramis,
bowing; "for it is my duty, Monseigneur."
"Well, then, begin by telling me who
was my tutor."
"A worthy and above all an honorable
gentleman, Monseigneur; fit guide both for body and soul. Had you ever any
reason to complain of him?"
"Oh, no; quite the contrary. But this
gentleman of yours often used to tell me that my father and mother were dead.
Did he deceive me, or did he speak the truth?"
"He was compelled to comply with the
orders given him."
"Then he lied?"
"In one respect. Your father is
"And my mother?"
"She is dead for you."
"But then she lives for others, does
"And I- and I, then [the young man
looked sharply at Aramis], am compelled to live in the obscurity of a
"Alas! I fear so."
"And that because my presence in the
world would lead to the revelation of a great secret?"
"Certainly, a very great secret."
"My enemy must indeed be powerful, to
be able to shut up in the Bastille a child such as I then was."
"More powerful than my mother,
"And why do you ask that?"
"Because my mother would have taken my
Aramis hesitated. "Yes, Monseigneur;
more powerful than your mother."
"Seeing, then, that my nurse and
preceptor were carried off, and that I also was separated from them,- either
they were, or I am, very dangerous to my enemy?"
"Yes; a peril from which he freed
himself by causing the nurse and preceptor to disappear," answered Aramis,
"Disappear!" cried the prisoner;
"but how did they disappear?"
"In the surest possible way,"
answered Aramis: "they are dead."
The young man turned visibly pale, and
passed his hand tremblingly over his face. "From poison?" he asked.
The prisoner reflected a moment. "My
enemy must indeed have been very cruel, or hard beset by necessity, to
assassinate those two innocent persons, my sole support; for that worthy
gentleman and that poor woman had never harmed a living being."
"In your family, Monseigneur,
necessity is stern. And so it is necessity which compels me, to my great
regret, to tell you that this gentleman and the unhappy lady were
"Oh, you tell me nothing I am not
aware of!" said the prisoner, knitting his brows.
"I suspected it."
"I will tell you."
At this moment the young man, supporting
himself on his elbows, drew close to Aramis's face, with such an expression of
dignity, of self-command, and of defiance even, that the bishop felt the
electricity of enthusiasm strike in devouring flashes from that seared heart of
his into his brain of adamant.
"Speak, Monseigneur! I have already
told you that by conversing with you I endanger my life. Little value as it
has, I implore you to accept it as the ransom of your own."
"Well," resumed the young man,
"this is why I suspected that they had killed my nurse and my
"Whom you used to call your
"Yes; whom I called my father, but
whose son I well knew I was not."
"Who caused you to suppose so?"
"Just as you, Monsieur, are too
respectful for a friend, he was also too respectful for a father."
"I, however," said Aramis,
"have no intention to disguise myself."
The young man nodded assent, and continued:
"Undoubtedly, I was not destined to perpetual seclusion," said the
prisoner; "and that which makes me believe so now, above all, is the care
that was taken to render me as accomplished a cavalier as possible. The
gentleman attached to my person taught me everything he knew himself-
mathematics, a little geometry, astronomy, fencing, and riding. Every morning I
went through military exercises, and practised on horseback. Well, one morning
during summer, it being very hot, I went to sleep in the hall. Nothing up to
that period, except the respect paid me by my tutor, had enlightened me, or
even roused my suspicions. I lived as children, as birds, as plants, as the air
and the sun do. I had just turned my fifteenth year-"
"This, then, was eight years
"Yes, nearly; but I have ceased to
"Excuse me; but what did your tutor
tell you, to encourage you to work?"
"He used to say that a man was bound
to make for himself in the world that fortune which Heaven had refused him at
his birth. He added, that, being a poor obscure orphan, I had no one but myself
to look to; and that nobody either did or ever would take any interest in me. I
was, then, in the hall I have spoken of, asleep from fatigue in fencing. My
tutor was in his room on the first floor, just over me. Suddenly I heard him
exclaim; and then he called, 'Perronnette! Perronnette!' It was my nurse whom
"Yes; I know it," said Aramis.
"Very likely she was in the garden;
for my tutor came hastily downstairs. I rose, anxious at seeing him anxious. He
opened the garden door, still crying out, 'Perronnette! Perronnette!' The
windows of the hall looked into the court. The shutters were closed; but
through a chink in them I saw my tutor draw near a large well, which was almost
directly under the windows of his study. He stooped over the brim, looked into
the well, again cried out, and made wild and affrighted gestures. Where I was,
I could not only see, but hear; and see and hear I did."
"Go on, I pray you!" said Aramis.
"Dame Perronnette came running up,
hearing the governor's cries. He went to meet her, took her by the arm, and
drew her quickly towards the edge; after which, as they both bent over it
together, 'Look, look!' cried he; 'what a misfortune!' 'Calm yourself, calm
yourself,' said Perronnette; 'what is the matter?' 'The letter!' he exclaimed;
'do you see that letter?' to the bottom of the well. 'What letter?' she cried.
'The letter you see down there,- the last letter from the Queen.' At this word
I trembled. My tutor- he who passed for my father, he who was continually
recommending to me modesty and humility- in correspondence with the Queen! 'The
Queen's last letter!' cried Perronnette, without showing other astonishment
than at seeing this letter at the bottom of the well; 'but how came it there?'
'A chance, Dame Perronnette,- a singular chance. I was entering my room; and on
opening the door, the window too being open, a puff of air came suddenly and
carried off this paper,- this letter from the Queen; I darted after it, and
gained the window just in time to see it flutter a moment in the breeze and
disappear down the well.' 'Well,' said Dame Perronnette; 'and if the letter has
fallen into the well, 't is all the same as if it were burned; and as the Queen
burns all her letters every time she comes-' 'Every time she comes!' So this
lady who came every month was the Queen," said the prisoner.
"Yes," nodded Aramis.
"'Doubtless, doubtless,' continued the
old gentleman; 'but this letter contained instructions,- how can I follow
them?' 'Write immediately to her; give her a plain account of the accident, and
the Queen will no doubt write you another letter in place of this.' 'Oh! the
Queen would never believe the story,' said the good gentleman, shaking his
head; 'she will imagine that I want to keep this letter instead of giving it up
like the rest, so as to have a hold over her. She is so distrustful, and M. de
Mazarin so- This devil of an Italian is capable of having us poisoned at the
first breath of suspicion.'"
Aramis almost imperceptibly smiled.
"'You know, Dame Perronnette, they are
both so suspicious in all that concerns Philippe.' 'Philippe' was the name they
gave me," said the prisoner. 'Well, 't is no use hesitating,' said Dame
Perronnette; 'somebody must go down the well.' 'Of course; so that the person
who goes down may read the paper as he is coming up.' 'But let us choose some
villager who cannot read, and then you will be at ease.' 'Granted; but will not
any one who descends guess that a paper must be important for which we risk a
man's life? However, you have given me an idea, Dame Perronnette; somebody
shall go down the well, but that somebody shall be myself.' But at this notion
Dame Perronnette lamented and cried in such a manner, and so implored the old
nobleman, with tears in her eyes, that he promised her to obtain a ladder long
enough to reach down, while she went in search of some stout-hearted youth,
whom she was to persuade that a jewel had fallen into the well, and that this
jewel was wrapped in a paper. 'And as paper,' remarked my preceptor, 'naturally
unfolds in water, the young man would not be surprised at finding nothing, after
all, but the letter wide open.' 'But perhaps the writing will be already
effaced by that time,' said Dame Perronnette. 'No consequence, provided we
secure the letter. On returning it to the Queen, she will see at once that we
have not betrayed her; and consequently, as we shall not rouse the distrust of
Mazarin, we shall have nothing to fear from him.' Having come to this
resolution, they parted. I pushed back the shutter, and seeing that my tutor
was about to re-enter, threw myself on my couch, in a confusion of brain caused
by all I had just heard. My tutor opened the door a few moments after, and
thinking I was asleep, gently closed it again. As soon as ever it was shut, I
rose, and listening heard the sound of retiring footsteps. Then I returned to
the shutter, and saw my tutor and Dame Perronnette go out together. I was alone
in the house. They had hardly closed the gate before I sprang from the window
and ran to the well. Then, just as my tutor had leaned over, so leaned I.
Something white and luminous glistened in the green and quivering ripples of
the water. The brilliant disk fascinated and allured me; my eyes became fixed,
and I could hardly breathe. The well seemed to draw me in with its large mouth
and icy breath; and I thought I read, at the bottom of the water, characters of
fire traced upon the letter the Queen had touched. Then, scarcely knowing what
I was about, and urged on by one of those instinctive impulses which drive men
upon their destruction, I made fast one end of the rope to the bottom of the
well-curb; I left the bucket hanging about three feet under water,- at the same
time taking infinite pains not to disturb that coveted letter, which was
beginning to change its white tint for a greenish hue,- proof enough that it
was sinking,- and then, with a piece of wet canvas protecting my hands, slid
down into the abyss. When I saw myself hanging over the dark pool, when I saw
the sky lessening above my head, a cold shudder came over me, I was seized with
giddiness, and the hair rose on my head; but my strong will mastered all. I
gained the water, and at once plunged into it, holding on by one hand, while I
immersed the other and seized the precious paper, which, alas! came in two in
my grasp. I concealed the fragments in my coat, and helping myself with my feet
against the side of the pit, and clinging on with my hands, agile and vigorous
as I was, and above all pressed for time, I regained the brink, drenching it as
I touched it with the water that streamed from all the lower part of my body.
Once out of the well with my prize I rushed into the sunlight, and took refuge
in a kind of shrubbery at the bottom of the garden. As I entered my
hiding-place, the bell which resounded when the gate was opened, rang. It was
my tutor returning. I had but just time. I calculated that it would take ten
minutes before he would gain my place of concealment, even if, guessing where I
was, he came straight to it; and twenty if he were obliged to look for me. But
this was time enough to allow me to read the cherished letter, whose fragments
I hastened to unite again. The writing was already fading, but I managed to
decipher it all."
"And what read you there,
Monseigneur?" asked Aramis, deeply interested.
"Quite enough, Monsieur, to see that
my tutor was a man of noble rank, and that Perronnette, without being a lady of
quality, was far better than a servant; and also to perceive that I must myself
be high-born, since the Queen, Anne of Austria, and Mazarin, the prime
minister, commended me so earnestly to their care."
Here the young man paused, quite overcome.
"And what happened?" asked
"It happened, Monsieur," answered
he, "that the workmen they had summoned found nothing in the well, after
the closest search; that my tutor perceived that the brink was watery; that I
was not so well dried by the sun as to escape Dame Perronnette's observing that
my garments were moist; and, lastly, that I was seized with a violent fever,
owing to the chill and the excitement of my discovery, an attack of delirium supervening,
during which I related the whole adventure; so that, guided by my avowal, my
tutor found under the bolster the two pieces of the Queen's letter."
"Ah!" said Aramis, "now I
"Beyond this, all is conjecture.
Doubtless the unfortunate lady and gentleman, not daring to keep the occurrence
secret, wrote all to the Queen, and sent back to her the torn letter."
"After which," said Aramis,
"you were arrested and removed to the Bastille?"
"As you see."
"Then your two attendants
"Let us not take up our time with the
dead, but see what can be done with the living. You told me you were
"I repeat it."
"Without any desire for freedom?"
"As I told you."
"Without ambition, sorrow, or
The young man made no answer.
"Well," asked Aramis, "why
are you silent?"
"I think that I have spoken
enough," answered the prisoner, "and that now it is your turn. I am
Aramis gathered himself up, and a shade of
deep solemnity spread itself over his countenance. It was evident that he had
reached the crisis in the part he had come to the prison to play. "One
question," said Aramis.
"What is it? Speak!"
"In the house you inhabited there were
neither looking-glasses nor mirrors, were there?"
"What are those two words, and what is
their meaning?" asked the young man; "I do not even know them."
"They designate two pieces of
furniture which reflect objects; so that, for instance, you may see in them
your own lineaments, as you see mine now, with the naked eye."
"No; there was neither a glass nor a
mirror in the house," answered the young man.
Aramis looked round him. "Nor is there
here, either," he said; "they have taken the same precaution."
"To what end?"
"You will know directly. Now, you have
told me that you were instructed in mathematics, astronomy, fencing, and
riding; but you have not said a word about history."
"My tutor sometimes related to me the
principal deeds of the King Saint Louis, King Francis I, and King Henry
"Is that all?"
"That is about all."
"This also was done by design; just as
you were deprived of mirrors, which reflect the present, so you were left in
ignorance of history, which reflects the past. Since your imprisonment books
have been forbidden you; so that you are unacquainted with a number of facts by
means of which you would be able to reconstruct the shattered edifice of your
recollections and your interests."
"It is true," said the young man.
"Listen, then: I will in a few words
tell you what has passed in France during the last twenty-three or twenty-four
years,- that is, from the probable date of your birth; in a word, from the time
that interests you."
"Say on!" and the young man
resumed his serious and attentive attitude.
"Do you know who was the son of Henry
"At least I know who his successor
"By means of a coin dated 1610, which
bears the effigy of Henry IV; and another of 1612, bearing that of Louis XIII.
So I presumed that, there being only two years between the two dates, Louis was
"Then," said Aramis, "you
know that the last reigning monarch was Louis XIII?"
"I do," answered the youth,
"Well, he was a prince full of noble
ideas and great projects, always, alas! deferred by the troubles of the times
and the struggle that his minister Richelieu had to maintain against the great
nobles of France. The King himself was of a feeble character, and died young
"I know it."
"He had been long anxious about having
an heir,- a care which weighs heavily on princes, who desire to leave behind
them more than one pledge that they will be remembered and their work will be
"Did King Louis XIII die without
children?" asked the prisoner, smiling.
"No; but he was long without one, and
for a long while thought he should be the last of his race. This idea had
reduced him to the depths of despair, when suddenly his wife, Anne of
The prisoner trembled.
"Did you know," said Aramis,
"that Louis XIII's wife was called Anne of Austria?"
"Continue!" said the young man,
without replying to the question.
"When suddenly," resumed Aramis,
"the Queen announced an interesting event. There was great joy at the
intelligence, and all prayed for her happy delivery. On the 5th of September,
1638, she gave birth to a son." Here Aramis looked at his companion, and
thought he observed him turning pale. "You are about to hear," said
Aramis, "an account which few could now give; for it refers to a secret
which is thought to be buried with the dead or entombed in the abyss of the
"And you will tell me this
secret?" broke in the youth.
"Oh!" said Aramis, with
unmistakable emphasis, "I do not know that I ought to risk this secret by
intrusting it to one who has no desire to quit the Bastille."
"I listen, Monsieur."
"The Queen, then, gave birth to a son.
But while the court was rejoicing over the event, when the King had shown the
new-born child to the nobility and people, and was sitting gayly down to table
to celebrate the event, the Queen, who was alone in her room, was again taken
ill, and gave birth to a second son."
"Oh!" said the prisoner,
betraying a better acquaintance with affairs than he had admitted, "I
thought that Monsieur was only born in-"
Aramis raised his finger. "Let me continue,"
The prisoner sighed impatiently, and
"Yes," said Aramis, "the
Queen had a second son, whom Dame Perronnette, the midwife, received in her
"Dame Perronnette!" murmured the
"They ran at once to the
banqueting-room, and whispered to the King what had happened; he rose and
quitted the table. But this time it was no longer happiness that his face
expressed, but something akin to terror. The birth of twins changed into bitterness
the joy to which that of an only son had given rise, seeing that in France (a
fact of which you are assuredly ignorant) it is the oldest of the king's sons
who succeeds his father-"
"I know it."
"And that the doctors and jurists
assert that there is ground for doubting whether he who first makes his
appearance is the elder by the law of Heaven and of Nature."
The prisoner uttered a smothered cry, and
became whiter than the coverlet under which he hid himself.
"Now you understand," pursued
Aramis, "that the King, who with so much pleasure saw himself repeated in
one, was in despair about two; fearing that the second might dispute the claim
of the first to seniority, which had been recognized only two hours before, and
so this second son, relying on party interests and caprices, might one day sow
discord and engender civil war in the kingdom,- by these means destroying the
very dynasty he should have strengthened."
"Oh, I understand, I understand!"
murmured the young man.
"Well," continued Aramis,
"this is what is related; this is why one of the Queen's two sons,
shamefully parted from his brother, shamefully sequestered, is buried in the
profoundest obscurity; this is why that second son has disappeared, and so
completely that not a soul in France, save his mother, is aware of his existence."
"Yes; his mother, who has cast him
off!" cried the prisoner, in a tone of despair.
"Except also," Aramis went on,
"the lady in the black dress; and, finally, excepting-"
"Excepting yourself, is it not,- you,
who come and relate all this,- you, who come to rouse in my soul curiosity,
hatred, ambition, and perhaps even the thirst of vengeance;- except you,
Monsieur, who, if you are the man whom I expect, to whom the note I have
received applies, whom, in short, Heaven ought to send me, must possess about
"What?" asked Aramis.
"A portrait of the King, Louis XIV,
who at this moment reigns upon the throne of France."
"Here is the portrait," replied
the bishop, handing the prisoner a miniature in enamel, on which Louis was
depicted life-like, with a handsome, lofty mien. The prisoner eagerly seized
the portrait, and gazed at it with devouring eyes. "And now,
Monseigneur," said Aramis, "here is a mirror."
Aramis left the prisoner time to recover
"So high, so high!" murmured the
young man, eagerly comparing the likeness of Louis with his own countenance
reflected in the glass.
"What do you think of it?" at
length said Aramis.
"I think that I am lost," replied
the captive; "the King will never set me free."
"And I- I demand," added the bishop,
fixing his piercing eyes significantly upon the prisoner,- "I demand which
of the two is the King,- the one whom this miniature portrays, or the one whom
the glass reflects?"
"The King, Monsieur," sadly
replied the young man, "is he who is on the throne, who is not in prison,
and who, on the other hand, can cause others to be entombed there. Royalty is
power; and you see well how powerless I am."
"Monseigneur," answered Aramis,
with a respect he had not yet manifested, "the King, mark me, will, if you
desire it, be he who quitting his dungeon shall maintain himself upon the
throne on which his friends will place him."
"Tempt me not, Monsieur!" broke
in the prisoner, bitterly.
"Be not weak, Monseigneur,"
persisted Aramis, "I have brought all the proofs of your birth: consult
them; satisfy yourself that you are a king's son; and then let us act."
"No, no; it is impossible."
"Unless, indeed," resumed the
bishop, ironically, "it be the destiny of your race that the brothers
excluded from the throne shall be always princes without valor and without
honor, as was your uncle M. Gaston d'Orleans, who ten times conspired against
his brother Louis XIII."
"What!" cried the Prince,
astonished; "my uncle Gaston 'conspired against his brother,'- conspired
to dethrone him?"
"Exactly, Monseigneur; for no other
"What are you telling me,
"I tell you the truth."
"And he had friends,- devoted
"As much so as I am to you."
"And, after all, what did he do?-
"He failed, I admit, but always
through his own fault; and for the sake of purchasing, not his life (for the
life of the King's brother is sacred and inviolable), but his liberty, he
sacrificed the lives of all his friends, one after another; and so at this day
he is the very shame of history, and the detestation of a hundred noble
families in this kingdom."
"I understand, Monsieur; either by
weakness or treachery, my uncle slew his friends."
"By weakness; which in princes is
"And cannot a man fail, then, from
incapacity and ignorance? Do you really believe it possible that a poor captive
such as I, brought up not only at a distance from the court, but even from the
world,- do you believe it possible that such a one could assist those of his
friends who should attempt to serve him?" And as Aramis was about to
reply, the young man suddenly cried out, with a violence which betrayed the
temper of his blood: "We are speaking of friends; but how can I have any
friends,- I, whom no one knows, and who have neither liberty, money, nor
influence to gain any?"
"I fancy I had the honor to offer
myself to your royal Highness."
"Oh, do not style me so, Monsieur; 't
is either irony or cruelty! Do not lead me to think of aught else than these
prison walls which confine me; let me again love, or at least submit to, my
slavery and my obscurity."
"Monseigneur, Monseigneur! if you
again utter these desperate words, if after having received proof of your high
birth you still remain poor-spirited and of feeble purpose, I will comply with
your desire,- I will depart, and renounce forever the service of a master to
whom so eagerly I came to devote my assistance and my life!"
"Monsieur," cried the Prince,
"would it not have been better for you to have reflected, before telling
me all that you have done, that you would break my heart forever?"
"And so I desired to do,
"Is a prison the fitting place to talk
to me about power, grandeur, and even royalty? You wish to make me believe in
splendor, and we are lying hidden in night; you boast of glory, and we are
smothering our words in the curtains of this miserable bed; you give me
glimpses of absolute power, and I hear the step of the jailer in the corridor,-
that step which, after all, makes you tremble more than it does me. To render
me somewhat less incredulous, free me from the Bastille; give air to my lungs,
spurs to my feet, a sword to my arm, and we shall begin to understand each
"It is precisely my intention to give
you all this, Monseigneur, and more; only, do you desire it?"
"A word more," said the Prince.
"I know there are guards in every gallery, bolts to every door, cannon and
soldiery at every barrier. How will you overcome the sentries, spike the guns?
How will you break through the bolts and bars?"
"Monseigneur, how did you get the note
which announced my arrival to you?"
"You can bribe a jailer for such a
thing as a note."
"If we can corrupt one turnkey, we can
"Well, I admit that it may be possible
to release a poor captive from the Bastille; possible so to conceal him that
the King's people shall not again ensnare him; possible, in some unknown
retreat, to sustain the unhappy wretch in some suitable manner."
"Monseigneur!" said Aramis,
"I admit that whoever would do thus
much for me would seem more than mortal in my eyes; but as you tell me I am a
prince, brother of a king, how can you restore me the rank and power of which
my mother and my brother have deprived me? And as I must pass a life of war and
hatred, how will you make me conqueror in those combats, and invulnerable to my
enemies? Ah, Monsieur, reflect upon this! Place me, to-morrow, in some dark
cavern in a mountain's base; yield me the delight of hearing in freedom the
sounds of river and plain, of beholding in freedom the sun of the blue Heavens,
or the stormy sky,- and it is enough. Promise me no more than this,- for,
indeed, more you cannot give; and it would be a crime to deceive me, since you
call yourself my friend."
Aramis waited in silence. "Monseigneur,"
he resumed after a moment's reflection, "I admire the firm, sound sense
which dictates your words; I am happy to have discovered my monarch's
"Again, again! oh, for mercy's
sake," cried the Prince, pressing his icy hands upon his clammy brow,
"do not play with me! I have no need to be a king to be the happiest of
"But I, Monseigneur, wish you to be a
king for the good of humanity."
"Ah!" said the Prince, with fresh
distrust inspired by the word,- "ah! with what, then, has humanity to reproach
"I forgot to say, Monseigneur, that if
you condescend to allow me to guide you, and if you consent to become the most
powerful monarch on earth, you will have promoted the interests of all the
friends whom I devote to the success of your cause; and these friends are
"Still less numerous than powerful,
"It is impossible. I will explain, I
swear before Heaven, on that day when I see you sitting on the throne of
"But my brother?"
"You shall decree his fate. Do you
"Him who leaves me to perish in a
dungeon? No; I do not pity him."
"So much the better."
"He might have himself come to this
prison, have taken me by the hand, and have said, 'My brother, Heaven created
us to love, not to contend with each other. I come to you. A barbarous
prejudice has condemned you to pass your days in obscurity, far from all men
and deprived of every joy. I will make you sit down beside me; I will buckle
round your waist our father's sword. Will you take advantage of this
reconciliation to put down or to restrain me? Will you employ that sword to
spill my blood?' 'Oh never!' I would have replied to him; 'I look on you as my
preserver, and will respect you as my master. You give me far more than Heaven