The Man in the Iron Mask
Alexandre Dumas, Pere
Part 2 out of 12
under a sort of patronage; but politic man as he was, and versed in state
secrets, he never succeeded in fitting M. Colbert. This is beyond
explanation; it is a matter for guessing or for intuition. Great
geniuses of every kind live on unseen, intangible ideas; they act without
themselves knowing why. The great Percerin (for, contrary to the rule of
dynasties, it was, above all, the last of the Percerins who deserved the
name of Great), the great Percerin was inspired when he cut a robe for
the queen, or a coat for the king; he could mount a mantle for Monsieur,
the clock of a stocking for Madame; but, in spite of his supreme talent,
he could never hit off anything approaching a creditable fit for M.
Colbert. "That man," he used often to say, "is beyond my art; my needle
can never dot him down." We need scarcely say that Percerin was M.
Fouquet's tailor, and that the superintendent highly esteemed him. M.
Percerin was nearly eighty years old, nevertheless still fresh, and at
the same time so dry, the courtiers used to say, that he was positively
brittle. His renown and his fortune were great enough for M. le Prince,
that king of fops, to take his arm when talking over the fashions; and
for those least eager to pay never to dare to leave their accounts in
arrear with him; for Master Percerin would for the first time make
clothes upon credit, but the second never, unless paid for the former
It is easy to see at once that a tailor of such renown, instead of
running after customers, made difficulties about obliging any fresh
ones. And so Percerin declined to fit _bourgeois_, or those who had but
recently obtained patents of nobility. A story used to circulate that
even M. de Mazarin, in exchange for Percerin supplying him with a full
suit of ceremonial vestments as cardinal, one fine day slipped letters of
nobility into his pocket.
It was to the house of this grand llama of tailors that D'Artagnan took
the despairing Porthos; who, as they were going along, said to his
friend, "Take care, my good D'Artagnan, not to compromise the dignity of
a man such as I am with the arrogance of this Percerin, who will, I
expect, be very impertinent; for I give you notice, my friend, that if he
is wanting in respect I will infallibly chastise him."
"Presented by me," replied D'Artagnan, "you have nothing to fear, even
though you were what you are not."
"Ah! 'tis because - "
"What? Have you anything against Percerin, Porthos?"
"I think that I once sent Mouston to a fellow of that name."
"The fellow refused to supply me."
"Oh, a misunderstanding, no doubt, which it will be now exceedingly easy
to set right. Mouston must have made a mistake."
"He has confused the names."
"Possibly. That rascal Mouston never can remember names."
"I will take it all upon myself."
"Stop the carriage, Porthos; here we are."
"Here! how here? We are at the Halles; and you told me the house was at
the corner of the Rue de l'Arbre Sec."
"'Tis true, but look."
"Well, I do look, and I see - "
"_Pardieu!_ that we are at the Halles!"
"You do not, I suppose, want our horses to clamber up on the roof of the
carriage in front of us?"
"Nor the carriage in front of us to mount on top of the one in front of
it. Nor that the second should be driven over the roofs of the thirty or
forty others which have arrived before us."
"No, you are right, indeed. What a number of people! And what are they
"'Tis very simple. They are waiting their turn."
"Bah! Have the comedians of the Hotel de Bourgogne shifted their
"No; their turn to obtain an entrance to M. Percerin's house."
"And we are going to wait too?"
"Oh, we shall show ourselves prompter and not so proud."
"What are we to do, then?"
"Get down, pass through the footmen and lackeys, and enter the tailor's
house, which I will answer for our doing, if you go first."
"Come along, then," said Porthos.
They accordingly alighted and made their way on foot towards the
establishment. The cause of the confusion was that M. Percerin's doors
were closed, while a servant, standing before them, was explaining to
the illustrious customers of the illustrious tailor that just then M.
Percerin could not receive anybody. It was bruited about outside still,
on the authority of what the great lackey had told some great noble whom
he favored, in confidence, that M. Percerin was engaged on five costumes
for the king, and that, owing to the urgency of the case, he was
meditating in his office on the ornaments, colors, and cut of these five
suits. Some, contented with this reason, went away again, contented to
repeat the tale to others, but others, more tenacious, insisted on having
the doors opened, and among these last three Blue Ribbons, intended to
take parts in a ballet, which would inevitably fail unless the said three
had their costumes shaped by the very hand of the great Percerin
himself. D'Artagnan, pushing on Porthos, who scattered the groups of
people right and left, succeeded in gaining the counter, behind which
the journeyman tailors were doing their best to answer queries. (We
forgot to mention that at the door they wanted to put off Porthos like
the rest, but D'Artagnan, showing himself, pronounced merely these words,
"The king's order," and was let in with his friend.) The poor fellows
had enough to do, and did their best, to reply to the demands of the
customers in the absence of their master, leaving off drawing a stitch to
knit a sentence; and when wounded pride, or disappointed expectation,
brought down upon them too cutting a rebuke, he who was attacked made a
dive and disappeared under the counter. The line of discontented lords
formed a truly remarkable picture. Our captain of musketeers, a man of
sure and rapid observation, took it all in at a glance; and having run
over the groups, his eye rested on a man in front of him. This man,
seated upon a stool, scarcely showed his head above the counter that
sheltered him. He was about forty years of age, with a melancholy
aspect, pale face, and soft luminous eyes. He was looking at D'Artagnan
and the rest, with his chin resting upon his hand, like a calm and
inquiring amateur. Only on perceiving, and doubtless recognizing, our
captain, he pulled his hat down over his eyes. It was this action,
perhaps, that attracted D'Artagnan's attention. If so, the gentleman
who had pulled down his hat produced an effect entirely different from
what he had desired. In other respects his costume was plain, and his
hair evenly cut enough for customers, who were not close observers, to
take him for a mere tailor's apprentice, perched behind the board, and
carefully stitching cloth or velvet. Nevertheless, this man held up his
head too often to be very productively employed with his fingers.
D'Artagnan was not deceived, - not he; and he saw at once that if this
man was working at anything, it certainly was not at velvet.
"Eh!" said he, addressing this man, "and so you have become a tailor's
boy, Monsieur Moliere!"
"Hush, M. d'Artagnan!" replied the man, softly, "you will make them
"Well, and what harm?"
"The fact is, there is no harm, but - "
"You were going to say there is no good in doing it either, is it not so?"
"Alas! no; for I was occupied in examining some excellent figures."
"Go on - go on, Monsieur Moliere. I quite understand the interest you
take in the plates - I will not disturb your studies."
"But on one condition; that you tell me where M. Percerin really is."
"Oh! willingly; in his own room. Only - "
"Only that one can't enter it?"
"Everybody. He brought me here so that I might be at my ease to make my
observations, and then he went away."
"Well, my dear Monsieur Moliere, but you will go and tell him I am here."
"I!" exclaimed Moliere, in the tone of a courageous dog, from which you
snatch the bone it has legitimately gained; "I disturb myself! Ah!
Monsieur d'Artagnan, how hard you are upon me!"
"If you don't go directly and tell M. Percerin that I am here, my dear
Moliere," said D'Artagnan, in a low tone, "I warn you of one thing: that
I won't exhibit to you the friend I have brought with me."
Moliere indicated Porthos by an imperceptible gesture, "This gentleman,
is it not?"
Moliere fixed upon Porthos one of those looks which penetrate the minds
and hearts of men. The subject doubtless appeared a very promising one,
for he immediately rose and led the way into the adjoining chamber.
During all this time the noble mob was slowly heaving away, leaving at
every angle of the counter either a murmur or a menace, as the waves
leave foam or scattered seaweed on the sands, when they retire with the
ebbing tide. In about ten minutes Moliere reappeared, making another
sign to D'Artagnan from under the hangings. The latter hurried after
him, with Porthos in the rear, and after threading a labyrinth of
corridors, introduced him to M. Percerin's room. The old man, with his
sleeves turned up, was gathering up in folds a piece of gold-flowered
brocade, so as the better to exhibit its luster. Perceiving D'Artagnan,
he put the silk aside, and came to meet him, by no means radiant with
joy, and by no means courteous, but, take it altogether, in a tolerably
"The captain of the king's musketeers will excuse me, I am sure, for I am
"Eh! yes, on the king's costumes; I know that, my dear Monsieur
Percerin. You are making three, they tell me."
"Five, my dear sir, five."
"Three or five, 'tis all the same to me, my dear monsieur; and I know
that you will make them most exquisitely."
"Yes, I know. Once made they will be the most beautiful in the world, I
do not deny it; but that they may be the most beautiful in the word, they
must first be made; and to do this, captain, I am pressed for time."
"Oh, bah! there are two days yet; 'tis much more than you require,
Monsieur Percerin," said D'Artagnan, in the coolest possible manner.
Percerin raised his head with the air of a man little accustomed to be
contradicted, even in his whims; but D'Artagnan did not pay the least
attention to the airs which the illustrious tailor began to assume.
"My dear M. Percerin," he continued, "I bring you a customer."
"Ah! ah!" exclaimed Percerin, crossly.
"M. le Baron du Vallon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds," continued
D'Artagnan. Percerin attempted a bow, which found no favor in the eyes
of the terrible Porthos, who, from his first entry into the room, had
been regarding the tailor askance.
"A very good friend of mine," concluded D'Artagnan.
"I will attend to monsieur," said Percerin, "but later."
"Later? but when?"
"When I have time."
"You have already told my valet as much," broke in Porthos,
"Very likely," said Percerin; "I am nearly always pushed for time."
"My friend," returned Porthos, sententiously, "there is always time to be
found when one chooses to seek it."
Percerin turned crimson; an ominous sign indeed in old men blanched by
"Monsieur is quite at liberty to confer his custom elsewhere."
"Come, come, Percerin," interposed D'Artagnan, "you are not in a good
temper to-day. Well, I will say one more word to you, which will bring
you on your knees; monsieur is not only a friend of mine, but more, a
friend of M. Fouquet's."
"Ah! ah!" exclaimed the tailor, "that is another thing." Then turning to
Porthos, "Monsieur le baron is attached to the superintendent?" he
"I am attached to myself," shouted Porthos, at the very moment that the
tapestry was raised to introduce a new speaker in the dialogue. Moliere
was all observation, D'Artagnan laughed, Porthos swore.
"My dear Percerin," said D'Artagnan, "you will make a dress for the
baron. 'Tis I who ask you."
"To you I will not say nay, captain."
"But that is not all; you will make it for him at once."
"'Tis impossible within eight days."
"That, then, is as much as to refuse, because the dress is wanted for the
_fete_ at Vaux."
"I repeat that it is impossible," returned the obstinate old man.
"By no means, dear Monsieur Percerin, above all if _I_ ask you," said a
mild voice at the door, a silvery voice which made D'Artagnan prick up
his ears. It was the voice of Aramis.
"Monsieur d'Herblay!" cried the tailor.
"Aramis," murmured D'Artagnan.
"Ah! our bishop!" said Porthos.
"Good morning, D'Artagnan; good morning, Porthos; good-morning, my dear
friends," said Aramis. "Come, come, M. Percerin, make the baron's dress;
and I will answer for it you will gratify M. Fouquet." And he
accompanied the words with a sign, which seemed to say, "Agree, and
It appeared that Aramis had over Master Percerin an influence superior
even to D'Artagnan's, for the tailor bowed in assent, and turning round
upon Porthos, said, "Go and get measured on the other side."
Porthos colored in a formidable manner. D'Artagnan saw the storm coming,
and addressing Moliere, said to him, in an undertone, "You see before
you, my dear monsieur, a man who considers himself disgraced, if you
measure the flesh and bones that Heaven has given him; study this type
for me, Master Aristophanes, and profit by it."
Moliere had no need of encouragement, and his gaze dwelt long and keenly
on the Baron Porthos. "Monsieur," he said, "if you will come with me, I
will make them take your measure without touching you."
"Oh!" said Porthos, "how do you make that out, my friend?"
"I say that they shall apply neither line nor rule to the seams of your
dress. It is a new method we have invented for measuring people of
quality, who are too sensitive to allow low-born fellows to touch them.
We know some susceptible persons who will not put up with being measured,
a process which, as I think, wounds the natural dignity of a man; and if
perchance monsieur should be one of these - "
"_Corboeuf!_ I believe I am too!"
"Well, that is a capital and most consolatory coincidence, and you shall
have the benefit of our invention."
"But how in the world can it be done?" asked Porthos, delighted.
"Monsieur," said Moliere, bowing, "if you will deign to follow me, you
Aramis observed this scene with all his eyes. Perhaps he fancied from
D'Artagnan's liveliness that he would leave with Porthos, so as not to
lose the conclusion of a scene well begun. But, clear-sighted as he was,
Aramis deceived himself. Porthos and Moliere left together: D'Artagnan
remained with Percerin. Why? From curiosity, doubtless; probably to
enjoy a little longer the society of his good friend Aramis. As Moliere
and Porthos disappeared, D'Artagnan drew near the bishop of Vannes, a
proceeding which appeared particularly to disconcert him.
"A dress for you, also, is it not, my friend?"
Aramis smiled. "No," said he.
"You will go to Vaux, however?"
"I shall go, but without a new dress. You forget, dear D'Artagnan, that
a poor bishop of Vannes is not rich enough to have new dresses for every
"Bah!" said the musketeer, laughing, "and do we write no more poems now,
"Oh! D'Artagnan," exclaimed Aramis, "I have long ago given up all such
"True," repeated D'Artagnan, only half convinced. As for Percerin, he
was once more absorbed in contemplation of the brocades.
"Don't you perceive," said Aramis, smiling, "that we are greatly boring
this good gentleman, my dear D'Artagnan?"
"Ah! ah!" murmured the musketeer, aside; "that is, I am boring you, my
friend." Then aloud, "Well, then, let us leave; I have no further
business here, and if you are as disengaged as I, Aramis - "
"No, not I - I wished - "
"Ah! you had something particular to say to M. Percerin? Why did you not
tell me so at once?"
"Something particular, certainly," repeated Aramis, "but not for you,
D'Artagnan. But, at the same time, I hope you will believe that I can
never have anything so particular to say that a friend like you may not
"Oh, no, no! I am going," said D'Artagnan, imparting to his voice an
evident tone of curiosity; for Aramis's annoyance, well dissembled as it
was, had not a whit escaped him; and he knew that, in that impenetrable
mind, every thing, even the most apparently trivial, was designed to some
end; an unknown one, but an end that, from the knowledge he had of his
friend's character, the musketeer felt must be important.
On his part, Aramis saw that D'Artagnan was not without suspicion, and
pressed him. "Stay, by all means," he said, "this is what it is." Then
turning towards the tailor, "My dear Percerin," said he, - "I am even
very happy that you are here, D'Artagnan."
"Oh, indeed," exclaimed the Gascon, for the third time, even less
deceived this time than before.
Percerin never moved. Aramis roused him violently, by snatching from his
hands the stuff upon which he was engaged. "My dear Percerin," said he,
"I have, near hand, M. Lebrun, one of M. Fouquet's painters."
"Ah, very good," thought D'Artagnan; "but why Lebrun?"
Aramis looked at D'Artagnan, who seemed to be occupied with an engraving
of Mark Antony. "And you wish that I should make him a dress, similar to
those of the Epicureans?" answered Percerin. And while saying this, in
an absent manner, the worthy tailor endeavored to recapture his piece of
"An Epicurean's dress?" asked D'Artagnan, in a tone of inquiry.
"I see," said Aramis, with a most engaging smile, "it is written that our
dear D'Artagnan shall know all our secrets this evening. Yes, friend,
you have surely heard speak of M. Fouquet's Epicureans, have you not?"
"Undoubtedly. Is it not a kind of poetical society, of which La
Fontaine, Loret, Pelisson, and Moliere are members, and which holds its
sittings at Saint-Mande?"
"Exactly so. Well, we are going to put our poets in uniform, and enroll
them in a regiment for the king."
"Oh, very well, I understand; a surprise M. Fouquet is getting up for the
king. Be at ease; if that is the secret about M. Lebrun, I will not
"Always agreeable, my friend. No, Monsieur Lebrun has nothing to do with
this part of it; the secret which concerns him is far more important than
"Then, if it is so important as all that, I prefer not to know it," said
D'Artagnan, making a show of departure.
"Come in, M. Lebrun, come in," said Aramis, opening a side-door with his
right hand, and holding back D'Artagnan with his left.
"I'faith, I too, am quite in the dark," quoth Percerin.
Aramis took an "opportunity," as is said in theatrical matters.
"My dear M. de Percerin," Aramis continued, "you are making five dresses
for the king, are you not? One in brocade; one in hunting-cloth; one in
velvet; one in satin; and one in Florentine stuffs."
"Yes; but how - do you know all that, monseigneur?" said Percerin,
"It is all very simple, my dear monsieur; there will be a hunt, a
banquet, concert, promenade and reception; these five kinds of dress are
required by etiquette."
"You know everything, monseigneur!"
"And a thing or two in addition," muttered D'Artagnan.
"But," cried the tailor, in triumph, "what you do not know, monseigneur –
prince of the church though you are - what nobody will know - what only
the king, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, and myself do know, is the color
of the materials and nature of the ornaments, and the cut, the
_ensemble_, the finish of it all!"
"Well," said Aramis, "that is precisely what I have come to ask you, dear
"Ah, bah!" exclaimed the tailor, terrified, though Aramis had pronounced
these words in his softest and most honeyed tones. The request appeared,
on reflection, so exaggerated, so ridiculous, so monstrous to M. Percerin
that first he laughed to himself, then aloud, and finished with a shout.
D'Artagnan followed his example, not because he found the matter so "very
funny," but in order not to allow Aramis to cool.
"At the outset, I appear to be hazarding an absurd question, do I not?"
said Aramis. "But D'Artagnan, who is incarnate wisdom itself, will tell
you that I could not do otherwise than ask you this."
"Let us see," said the attentive musketeer; perceiving with his wonderful
instinct that they had only been skirmishing till now, and that the hour
of battle was approaching.
"Let us see," said Percerin, incredulously.
"Why, now," continued Aramis, "does M. Fouquet give the king a _fete?_ -
Is it not to please him?"
"Assuredly," said Percerin. D'Artagnan nodded assent.
"By delicate attentions? by some happy device? by a succession of
surprises, like that of which we were talking? - the enrolment of our
"Well, then; this is the surprise we intend. M. Lebrun here is a man who
draws most excellently."
"Yes," said Percerin; "I have seen his pictures, and observed that his
dresses were highly elaborated. That is why I at once agreed to make him
a costume - whether to agree with those of the Epicureans, or an original
"My dear monsieur, we accept your offer, and shall presently avail
ourselves of it; but just now, M. Lebrun is not in want of the dresses
you will make for himself, but of those you are making for the king."
Percerin made a bound backwards, which D'Artagnan - calmest and most
appreciative of men, did not consider overdone, so many strange and
startling aspects wore the proposal which Aramis had just hazarded. "The
king's dresses! Give the king's dresses to any mortal whatever! Oh! for
once, monseigneur, your grace is mad!" cried the poor tailor in extremity.
"Help me now, D'Artagnan," said Aramis, more and more calm and smiling.
"Help me now to persuade monsieur, for _you_ understand; do you not?"
"Eh! eh! - not exactly, I declare."
"What! you do not understand that M. Fouquet wishes to afford the king
the surprise of finding his portrait on his arrival at Vaux; and that the
portrait, which be a striking resemblance, ought to be dressed exactly as
the king will be on the day it is shown?"
"Oh! yes, yes," said the musketeer, nearly convinced, so plausible was
this reasoning. "Yes, my dear Aramis, you are right; it is a happy
idea. I will wager it is one of your own, Aramis."
"Well, I don't know," replied the bishop; "either mine or M. Fouquet's."
Then scanning Percerin, after noticing D'Artagnan's hesitation, "Well,
Monsieur Percerin," he asked, "what do you say to this?"
"I say, that - "
"That you are, doubtless, free to refuse. I know well - and I by no
means count upon compelling you, my dear monsieur. I will say more, I
even understand all the delicacy you feel in taking up with M. Fouquet's
idea; you dread appearing to flatter the king. A noble spirit, M.
Percerin, a noble spirit!" The tailor stammered. "It would, indeed, be
a very pretty compliment to pay the young prince," continued Aramis; "but
as the surintendant told me, 'if Percerin refuse, tell him that it will
not at all lower him in my opinion, and I shall always esteem him, only
"'Only?'" repeated Percerin, rather troubled.
"'Only,'" continued Aramis, "'I shall be compelled to say to the king,' –
you understand, my dear Monsieur Percerin, that these are M. Fouquet's
words, - 'I shall be constrained to say to the king, "Sire, I had
intended to present your majesty with your portrait, but owing to a
feeling of delicacy, slightly exaggerated perhaps, although creditable,
M. Percerin opposed the project."'"
"Opposed!" cried the tailor, terrified at the responsibility which would
weigh upon him; "I to oppose the desire, the will of M. Fouquet when he
is seeking to please the king! Oh, what a hateful word you have uttered,
monseigneur. Oppose! Oh, 'tis not I who said it, Heaven have mercy on
me. I call the captain of the musketeers to witness it! Is it not true,
Monsieur d'Artagnan, that I have opposed nothing?"
D'Artagnan made a sign indicating that he wished to remain neutral. He
felt that there was an intrigue at the bottom of it, whether comedy or
tragedy; he was at his wit's end at not being able to fathom it, but in
the meanwhile wished to keep clear.
But already Percerin, goaded by the idea that the king was to be told he
stood in the way of a pleasant surprise, had offered Lebrun a chair, and
proceeded to bring from a wardrobe four magnificent dresses, the fifth
being still in the workmen's hands; and these masterpieces he
successively fitted upon four lay figures, which, imported into France in
the time of Concini, had been given to Percerin II. by Marshal d'Onore,
after the discomfiture of the Italian tailors ruined in their
competition. The painter set to work to draw and then to paint the
dresses. But Aramis, who was closely watching all the phases of his
toil, suddenly stopped him.
"I think you have not quite got it, my dear Lebrun," he said; "your
colors will deceive you, and on canvas we shall lack that exact
resemblance which is absolutely requisite. Time is necessary for
attentively observing the finer shades."
"Quite true," said Percerin, "but time is wanting, and on that head, you
will agree with me, monseigneur, I can do nothing."
"Then the affair will fail," said Aramis, quietly, "and that because of a
want of precision in the colors."
Nevertheless Lebrun went on copying the materials and ornaments with the
closest fidelity - a process which Aramis watched with ill-concealed
"What in the world, now, is the meaning of this imbroglio?" the musketeer
kept saying to himself.
"That will never do," said Aramis: "M. Lebrun, close your box, and roll
up your canvas."
"But, monsieur," cried the vexed painter, "the light is abominable here."
"An idea, M. Lebrun, an idea! If we had a pattern of the materials, for
example, and with time, and a better light - "
"Oh, then," cried Lebrun, "I would answer for the effect."
"Good!" said D'Artagnan, "this ought to be the knotty point of the whole
thing; they want a pattern of each of the materials. _Mordioux!_ Will
this Percerin give in now?"
Percerin, beaten from his last retreat, and duped, moreover, by the
feigned good-nature of Aramis, cut out five patterns and handed them to
the bishop of Vannes.
"I like this better. That is your opinion, is it not?" said Aramis to
"My dear Aramis," said D'Artagnan, "my opinion is that you are always the
"And, consequently, always your friend," said the bishop in a charming
"Yes, yes," said D'Artagnan, aloud; then, in a low voice, "If I am your
dupe, double Jesuit that you are, I will not be your accomplice; and to
prevent it, 'tis time I left this place. - Adieu, Aramis," he added
aloud, "adieu; I am going to rejoin Porthos."
"Then wait for me," said Aramis, pocketing the patterns, "for I have
done, and shall be glad to say a parting word to our dear old friend."
Lebrun packed up his paints and brushes, Percerin put back the dresses
into the closet, Aramis put his hand on his pocket to assure himself the
patterns were secure, - and they all left the study.
Where, Probably, Moliere Obtained His First Idea of the Bourgeois
D'Artagnan found Porthos in the adjoining chamber; but no longer an
irritated Porthos, or a disappointed Porthos, but Porthos radiant,
blooming, fascinating, and chattering with Moliere, who was looking upon
him with a species of idolatry, and as a man would who had not only never
seen anything greater, but not even ever anything so great. Aramis went
straight up to Porthos and offered him his white hand, which lost itself
in the gigantic clasp of his old friend, - an operation which Aramis
never hazarded without a certain uneasiness. But the friendly pressure
having been performed not too painfully for him, the bishop of Vannes
passed over to Moliere.
"Well, monsieur," said he, "will you come with me to Saint-Mande?"
"I will go anywhere you like, monseigneur," answered Moliere.
"To Saint-Mande!" cried Porthos, surprised at seeing the proud bishop of
Vannes fraternizing with a journeyman tailor. "What, Aramis, are you
going to take this gentleman to Saint-Mande?"
"Yes," said Aramis, smiling, "our work is pressing."
"And besides, my dear Porthos," continued D'Artagnan, "M. Moliere is not
altogether what he seems."
"In what way?" asked Porthos.
"Why, this gentleman is one of M. Percerin's chief clerks, and is
expected at Saint-Mande to try on the dresses which M. Fouquet has
ordered for the Epicureans."
"'Tis precisely so," said Moliere.
"Come, then, my dear M. Moliere," said Aramis, "that is, if you have
done with M. du Vallon."
"We have finished," replied Porthos.
"And you are satisfied?" asked D'Artagnan.
"Completely so," replied Porthos.
Moliere took his leave of Porthos with much ceremony, and grasped the
hand which the captain of the musketeers furtively offered him.
"Pray, monsieur," concluded Porthos, mincingly, "above all, be exact."
"You will have your dress the day after to-morrow, monsieur le baron,"
answered Moliere. And he left with Aramis.
Then D'Artagnan, taking Porthos's arm, "What has this tailor done for
you, my dear Porthos," he asked, "that you are so pleased with him?"
"What has he done for me, my friend! done for me!" cried Porthos,
"Yes, I ask you, what has he done for you?"
"My friend, he has done that which no tailor ever yet accomplished: he
has taken my measure without touching me!"
"Ah, bah! tell me how he did it."
"First, then, they went, I don't know where, for a number of lay figures,
of all heights and sizes, hoping there would be one to suit mine, but the
largest - that of the drum-major of the Swiss guard - was two inches too
short, and a half foot too narrow in the chest."
"It is exactly as I tell you, D'Artagnan; but he is a great man, or at
the very least a great tailor, is this M. Moliere. He was not at all put
at fault by the circumstance."
"What did he do, then?"
"Oh! it is a very simple matter. I'faith, 'tis an unheard-of thing that
people should have been so stupid as not to have discovered this method
from the first. What annoyance and humiliation they would have spared
"Not to mention of the costumes, my dear Porthos."
"Yes, thirty dresses."
"Well, my dear Porthos, come, tell me M. Moliere's plan."
"Moliere? You call him so, do you? I shall make a point of recollecting
"Yes; or Poquelin, if you prefer that."
"No; I like Moliere best. When I wish to recollect his name, I shall
think of _voliere_ [an aviary]; and as I have one at Pierrefonds - "
"Capital!" returned D'Artagnan. "And M. Moliere's plan?"
"'Tis this: instead of pulling me to pieces, as all these rascals do - of
making me bend my back, and double my joints - all of them low and
dishonorable practices - " D'Artagnan made a sign of approbation with
his head. "'Monsieur,' he said to me," continued Porthos, "'a gentleman
ought to measure himself. Do me the pleasure to draw near this glass;'
and I drew near the glass. I must own I did not exactly understand what
this good M. Voliere wanted with me."
"Ah! yes, Moliere - Moliere. And as the fear of being measured still
possessed me, 'Take care,' said I to him, 'what you are going to do with
me; I am very ticklish, I warn you.' But he, with his soft voice (for he
is a courteous fellow, we must admit, my friend), he with his soft voice,
'Monsieur,' said he, 'that your dress may fit you well, it must be made
according to your figure. Your figure is exactly reflected in this
mirror. We shall take the measure of this reflection.'"
"In fact," said D'Artagnan, "you saw yourself in the glass; but where did
they find one in which you could see your whole figure?"
"My good friend, it is the very glass in which the king is used to look
to see himself."
"Yes; but the king is a foot and a half shorter than you are."
"Ah! well, I know not how that may be; it is, no doubt, a cunning way of
flattering the king; but the looking-glass was too large for me. 'Tis
true that its height was made up of three Venetian plates of glass,
placed one above another, and its breadth of three similar parallelograms
"Oh, Porthos! what excellent words you have command of. Where in the
word did you acquire such a voluminous vocabulary?"
"At Belle-Isle. Aramis and I had to use such words in our strategic
studies and castramentative experiments."
D'Artagnan recoiled, as though the sesquipedalian syllables had knocked
the breath out of his body.
"Ah! very good. Let us return to the looking-glass, my friend."
"Then, this good M. Voliere - "
"Yes - Moliere - you are right. You will see now, my dear friend, that I
shall recollect his name quite well. This excellent M. Moliere set to
work tracing out lines on the mirror, with a piece of Spanish chalk,
following in all the make of my arms and my shoulders, all the while
expounding this maxim, which I thought admirable: 'It is advisable that a
dress should not incommode its wearer.'"
"In reality," said D'Artagnan, "that is an excellent maxim, which is,
unfortunately, seldom carried out in practice."
"That is why I found it all the more astonishing, when he expatiated upon
"Ah! he expatiated?"
"Let me hear his theory."
"'Seeing that,' he continued, 'one may, in awkward circumstances, or in a
troublesome position, have one's doublet on one's shoulder, and not
desire to take one's doublet off - '"
"True," said D'Artagnan.
"'And so,' continued M. Voliere - "
"Moliere, yes. 'And so,' went on M. Moliere, 'you want to draw your
sword, monsieur, and you have your doublet on your back. What do you do?'
"'I take it off,' I answered.
"'Well, no,' he replied.
"'I say that the dress should be so well made, that it will in no way
encumber you, even in drawing your sword.'
"'Throw yourself on guard,' pursued he.
"I did it with such wondrous firmness, that two panes of glass burst out
of the window.
"''Tis nothing, nothing,' said he. 'Keep your position.'
"I raised my left arm in the air, the forearm gracefully bent, the ruffle
drooping, and my wrist curved, while my right arm, half extended,
securely covered my wrist with the elbow, and my breast with the wrist."
"Yes," said D'Artagnan, "'tis the true guard - the academic guard."
"You have said the very word, dear friend. In the meanwhile, Voliere - "
"Hold! I should certainly, after all, prefer to call him - what did you
say his other name was?"
"I prefer to call him Poquelin."
"And how will you remember this name better than the other?"
"You understand, he calls himself Poquelin, does he not?"
"If I were to call to mind Madame Coquenard."
"And change _Coc_ into _Poc_, _nard_ into _lin_; and instead of Coquenard
I shall have Poquelin."
"'Tis wonderful," cried D'Artagnan, astounded. "Go on, my friend, I am
listening to you with admiration."
"This Coquelin sketched my arm on the glass."
"I beg your pardon - Poquelin."
"What did I say, then?"
"You said Coquelin."
"Ah! true. This Poquelin, then, sketched my arm on the glass; but he
took his time over it; he kept looking at me a good deal. The fact is,
that I must have been looking particularly handsome."
"'Does it weary you?' he asked.
"'A little,' I replied, bending a little in my hands, 'but I could hold
out for an hour or so longer.'
"'No, no, I will not allow it; the willing fellows will make it a duty to
support your arms, as of old, men supported those of the prophet.'
"'Very good,' I answered.
"'That will not be humiliating to you?'
"'My friend,' said I, 'there is, I think, a great difference between
being supported and being measured.'"
"The distinction is full of the soundest sense," interrupted D'Artagnan.
"Then," continued Porthos, "he made a sign: two lads approached; one
supported my left arm, while the other, with infinite address, supported
"'Another, my man,' cried he. A third approached. 'Support monsieur by
the waist,' said he. The _garcon_ complied."
"So that you were at rest?" asked D'Artagnan.
"Perfectly; and Pocquenard drew me on the glass."
"Poquelin, my friend."
"Poquelin - you are right. Stay, decidedly I prefer calling him Voliere."
"Yes; and then it was over, wasn't it?"
"During that time Voliere drew me as I appeared in the mirror."
"'Twas delicate in him."
"I much like the plan; it is respectful, and keeps every one in his
"And there it ended?"
"Without a soul having touched me, my friend."
"Except the three _garcons_ who supported you."
"Doubtless; but I have, I think, already explained to you the difference
there is between supporting and measuring."
"'Tis true," answered D'Artagnan; who said afterwards to himself,
"I'faith, I greatly deceive myself, or I have been the means of a good
windfall to that rascal Moliere, and we shall assuredly see the scene hit
off to the life in some comedy or other." Porthos smiled.
"What are you laughing at?" asked D'Artagnan.
"Must I confess? Well, I was laughing over my good fortune."
"Oh, that is true; I don't know a happier man than you. But what is this
last piece of luck that has befallen you?'
"Well, my dear fellow, congratulate me."
"I desire nothing better."
"It seems that I am the first who has had his measure taken in that
"Are you so sure of it?'
"Nearly so. Certain signs of intelligence which passed between Voliere
and the other _garcons_ showed me the fact."
"Well, my friend, that does not surprise me from Moliere," said
"Voliere, my friend."
"Oh, no, no, indeed! I am very willing to leave you to go on saying
Voliere; but, as for me, I shall continued to say Moliere. Well, this, I
was saying, does not surprise me, coming from Moliere, who is a very
ingenious fellow, and inspired you with this grand idea."
"It will be of great use to him by and by, I am sure."
"Won't it be of use to him, indeed? I believe you, it will, and that in
the highest degree; - for you see my friend Moliere is of all known
tailors the man who best clothes our barons, comtes, and marquises -
according to their measure."
On this observation, neither the application nor depth of which we shall
discuss, D'Artagnan and Porthos quitted M. de Percerin's house and
rejoined their carriages, wherein we will leave them, in order to look
after Moliere and Aramis at Saint-Mande.
The Bee-Hive, the Bees, and the Honey.
The bishop of Vannes, much annoyed at having met D'Artagnan at M.
Percerin's, returned to Saint-Mande in no very good humor. Moliere, on
the other hand, quite delighted at having made such a capital rough
sketch, and at knowing where to find his original again, whenever he
should desire to convert his sketch into a picture, Moliere arrived in
the merriest of moods. All the first story of the left wing was occupied
by the most celebrated Epicureans in Paris, and those on the freest
footing in the house - every one in his compartment, like the bees in
their cells, employed in producing the honey intended for that royal cake
which M. Fouquet proposed to offer his majesty Louis XIV. during the
_fete_ at Vaux. Pelisson, his head leaning on his hand, was engaged in
drawing out the plan of the prologue to the "Facheux," a comedy in three
acts, which was to be put on the stage by Poquelin de Moliere, as
D'Artagnan called him, or Coquelin de Voliere, as Porthos styled him.
Loret, with all the charming innocence of a gazetteer, - the gazetteers
of all ages have always been so artless! - Loret was composing an account
of the _fetes_ at Vaux, before those _fetes_ had taken place. La
Fontaine sauntered about from one to the other, a peripatetic, absent-
minded, boring, unbearable dreamer, who kept buzzing and humming at
everybody's elbow a thousand poetic abstractions. He so often disturbed
Pelisson, that the latter, raising his head, crossly said, "At least, La
Fontaine, supply me with a rhyme, since you have the run of the gardens
"What rhyme do you want?" asked the _Fabler_ as Madame de Sevigne used to
"I want a rhyme to _lumiere_."
"_Orniere_," answered La Fontaine.
"Ah, but, my good friend, one cannot talk of _wheel-ruts_ when
celebrating the delights of Vaux," said Loret.
"Besides, it doesn't rhyme," answered Pelisson.
"What! doesn't rhyme!" cried La Fontaine, in surprise.
"Yes; you have an abominable habit, my friend, - a habit which will ever
prevent your becoming a poet of the first order. You rhyme in a slovenly
"Oh, oh, you think so, do you, Pelisson?"
"Yes, I do, indeed. Remember that a rhyme is never good so long as one
can find a better."
"Then I will never write anything again save in prose," said La Fontaine,
who had taken up Pelisson's reproach in earnest. "Ah! I often suspected
I was nothing but a rascally poet! Yes, 'tis the very truth."
"Do not say so; your remark is too sweeping, and there is much that is
good in your 'Fables.'"
"And to begin," continued La Fontaine, following up his idea, "I will go
and burn a hundred verses I have just made."
"Where are your verses?"
"In my head."
"Well, if they are in your head you cannot burn them."
"True," said La Fontaine; "but if I do not burn them - "
"Well, what will happen if you do not burn them?"
"They will remain in my mind, and I shall never forget them!"
"The deuce!" cried Loret; "what a dangerous thing! One would go mad with it!"
"The deuce! the deuce!" repeated La Fontaine; "what can I do?"
"I have discovered the way," said Moliere, who had entered just at this
point of the conversation.
"Write them first and burn them afterwards."
"How simple! Well, I should never have discovered that. What a mind
that devil of a Moliere has!" said La Fontaine. Then, striking his
forehead, "Oh, thou wilt never be aught but an ass, Jean La Fontaine!" he
"_What_ are you saying there, my friend?" broke in Moliere, approaching
the poet, whose aside he had heard.
"I say I shall never be aught but an ass," answered La Fontaine, with a
heavy sigh and swimming eyes. "Yes, my friend," he added, with
increasing grief, "it seems that I rhyme in a slovenly manner."
"Oh, 'tis wrong to say so."
"Nay, I am a poor creature!"
"Who said so?"
"_Parbleu!_ 'twas Pelisson; did you not, Pelisson?"
Pelisson, again absorbed in his work, took good care not to answer.
"But if Pelisson said you were so," cried Moliere, "Pelisson has
seriously offended you."
"Do you think so?"
"Ah! I advise you, as you are a gentleman, not to leave an insult like
"_What!_" exclaimed La Fontaine.
"Did you ever fight?"
"Once only, with a lieutenant in the light horse."
"What wrong had he done you?"
"It seems he ran away with my wife."
"Ah, ah!" said Moliere, becoming slightly pale; but as, at La Fontaine's
declaration, the others had turned round, Moliere kept upon his lips the
rallying smile which had so nearly died away, and continuing to make La
Fontaine speak -
"And what was the result of the duel?"
"The result was, that on the ground my opponent disarmed me, and then
made an apology, promising never again to set foot in my house."
"And you considered yourself satisfied?" said Moliere.
"Not at all! on the contrary, I picked up my sword. 'I beg your pardon,
monsieur,' I said, 'I have not fought you because you were my wife's
friend, but because I was told I ought to fight. So, as I have never
known any peace save since you made her acquaintance, do me the pleasure
to continue your visits as heretofore, or _morbleu!_ let us set to
again.' And so," continued La Fontaine, "he was compelled to resume his
friendship with madame, and I continue to be the happiest of husbands."
All burst out laughing. Moliere alone passed his hand across his eyes.
Why? Perhaps to wipe away a tear, perhaps to smother a sigh. Alas! we
know that Moliere was a moralist, but he was not a philosopher. "'Tis
all one," he said, returning to the topic of the conversation, "Pelisson
has insulted you."
"Ah, truly! I had already forgotten it."
"And I am going to challenge him on your behalf."
"Well, you can do so, if you think it indispensable."
"I do think it indispensable, and I am going to - "
"Stay," exclaimed La Fontaine, "I want your advice."
"Upon what? this insult?"
"No; tell me really now whether _lumiere_ does not rhyme with _orniere_."
"I should make them rhyme."
"Ah! I knew you would."
"And I have made a hundred thousand such rhymes in my time."
"A hundred thousand!" cried La Fontaine. "Four times as many as 'La
Pucelle,' which M. Chaplain is meditating. Is it also on this subject,
too, that you have composed a hundred thousand verses?"
"Listen to me, you eternally absent-minded creature," said Moliere.
"It is certain," continued La Fontaine, "that _legume_, for instance,
rhymes with _posthume_."
"In the plural, above all."
"Yes, above all in the plural, seeing that then it rhymes not with three
letters, but with four; as _orniere_ does with _lumiere_."
"But give me _ornieres_ and _lumieres_ in the plural, my dear Pelisson,"
said La Fontaine, clapping his hand on the shoulder of his friend, whose
insult he had quite forgotten, "and they will rhyme."
"Hem!" coughed Pelisson.
"Moliere says so, and Moliere is a judge of such things; he declares he
has himself made a hundred thousand verses."
"Come," said Moliere, laughing, "he is off now."
"It is like _rivage_, which rhymes admirably with _herbage_. I would
take my oath of it."
"But - " said Moliere.
"I tell you all this," continued La Fontaine, "because you are preparing
a _divertissement_ for Vaux, are you not?"
"Yes, the 'Facheux.'"
"Ah, yes, the 'Facheux;' yes, I recollect. Well, I was thinking a
prologue would admirably suit your _divertissement_."
"Doubtless it would suit capitally."
"Ah! you are of my opinion?"
"So much so, that I have asked you to write this very prologue."
"You asked _me_ to write it?"
"Yes, you, and on your refusal begged you to ask Pelisson, who is engaged
upon it at this moment."
"Ah! that is what Pelisson is doing, then? I'faith, my dear Moliere, you
are indeed often right."
"When you call me absent-minded. It is a monstrous defect; I will cure
myself of it, and do your prologue for you."
"But inasmuch as Pelisson is about it! - "
"Ah, true, miserable rascal that I am! Loret was indeed right in saying
I was a poor creature."
"It was not Loret who said so, my friend."
"Well, then, whoever said so, 'tis the same to me! And so your
_divertissement_ is called the 'Facheux?' Well, can you make _heureux_
rhyme with _facheux?_"
"If obliged, yes."
"And even with _capriceux_."
"Oh, no, no."
"It would be hazardous, and yet why so?"
"There is too great a difference in the cadences."
"I was fancying," said La Fontaine, leaving Moliere for Loret - "I was
fancying - "
"What were you fancying?" said Loret, in the middle of a sentence. "Make
"You are writing the prologue to the 'Facheux,' are you not?"
"No! _mordieu!_ it is Pelisson."
"Ah, Pelisson," cried La Fontaine, going over to him, "I was fancying,"
he continued, "that the nymph of Vaux - "
"Ah, beautiful!" cried Loret. "The nymph of Vaux! thank you, La
Fontaine; you have just given me the two concluding verses of my paper."
"Well, if you can rhyme so well, La Fontaine," said Pelisson, "tell me
now in what way you would begin my prologue?"
"I should say, for instance, 'Oh! nymph, who - ' After 'who' I should
place a verb in the second person singular of the present indicative; and
should go on thus: 'this grot profound.'"
"But the verb, the verb?" asked Pelisson.
"To admire the greatest king of all kings round," continued La Fontaine.
"But the verb, the verb," obstinately insisted Pelisson. "This second
person singular of the present indicative?"
"Well, then; quittest:
"Oh, nymph, who quittest now this grot profound,
To admire the greatest king of all kings round."
"You would not put 'who quittest,' would you?"
"'Quittest,' after 'you who'?"
"Ah! my dear fellow," exclaimed La Fontaine, "you are a shocking pedant!"
"Without counting," said Moliere, "that the second verse, 'king of all
kings round,' is very weak, my dear La Fontaine."
"Then you see clearly I am nothing but a poor creature, - a shuffler, as
"I never said so."
"Then, as Loret said."
"And it was not Loret either; it was Pelisson."
"Well, Pelisson was right a hundred times over. But what annoys me more
than anything, my dear Moliere, is, that I fear we shall not have our
"You expected yours, then, for the _fete?_"
"Yes, for the _fete_, and then for after the _fete_. My housekeeper told
me that my own is rather faded."
"_Diable!_ your housekeeper is right; rather more than faded."
"Ah, you see," resumed La Fontaine, "the fact is, I left it on the floor
in my room, and my cat - "
"Well, your cat - "
"She made her nest upon it, which has rather changed its color."
Moliere burst out laughing; Pelisson and Loret followed his example. At
this juncture, the bishop of Vannes appeared, with a roll of plans and
parchments under his arm. As if the angel of death had chilled all gay
and sprightly fancies - as if that wan form had scared away the Graces to
whom Xenocrates sacrificed - silence immediately reigned through the
study, and every one resumed his self-possession and his pen. Aramis
distributed the notes of invitation, and thanked them in the name of M.
Fouquet. "The superintendent," he said, "being kept to his room by
business, could not come and see them, but begged them to send him some
of the fruits of their day's work, to enable him to forget the fatigue of
his labor in the night."
At these words, all settled down to work. La Fontaine placed himself at
a table, and set his rapid pen an endless dance across the smooth white
vellum; Pelisson made a fair copy of his prologue; Moliere contributed
fifty fresh verses, with which his visit to Percerin had inspired him;
Loret, an article on the marvelous _fetes_ he predicted; and Aramis,
laden with his booty like the king of the bees, that great black drone,
decked with purple and gold, re-entered his apartment, silent and busy.
But before departing, "Remember, gentlemen," said he, "we leave to-morrow
"In that case, I must give notice at home," said Moliere.
"Yes; poor Moliere!" said Loret, smiling; "he loves his home."
"'_He_ loves,' yes," replied Moliere, with his sad, sweet smile. "'He
loves,' that does not mean, they love _him_."
"As for me," said La Fontaine, "they love me at Chateau Thierry, I am
Aramis here re-entered after a brief disappearance.
"Will any one go with me?" he asked. "I am going by Paris, after having
passed a quarter of an hour with M. Fouquet. I offer my carriage."
"Good," said Moliere, "I accept it. I am in a hurry."
"I shall dine here," said Loret. "M. de Gourville has promised me some
"He has promised me some whitings. Find a rhyme for that, La Fontaine."
Aramis went out laughing, as only he could laugh, and Moliere followed
him. They were at the bottom of the stairs, when La Fontaine opened the
door, and shouted out:
"He has promised us some whitings,
In return for these our writings."
The shouts of laughter reached the ears of Fouquet at the moment Aramis
opened the door of the study. As to Moliere, he had undertaken to order
the horses, while Aramis went to exchange a parting word with the
superintendent. "Oh, how they are laughing there!" said Fouquet, with a
"Do you not laugh, monseigneur?"
"I laugh no longer now, M. d'Herblay. The _fete_ is approaching; money
"Have I not told you that was my business?"
"Yes, you promised me millions."
"You shall have them the day after the king's _entree_ into Vaux."
Fouquet looked closely at Aramis, and passed the back of his icy hand
across his moistened brow. Aramis perceived that the superintendent
either doubted him, or felt he was powerless to obtain the money. How
could Fouquet suppose that a poor bishop, ex-abbe, ex-musketeer, could
"Why doubt me?" said Aramis. Fouquet smiled and shook his head.
"Man of little faith!" added the bishop.
"My dear M. d'Herblay," answered Fouquet, "if I fall - "
"Well; if you 'fall'?"
"I shall, at least, fall from such a height, that I shall shatter myself
in falling." Then giving himself a shake, as though to escape from
himself, "Whence came you," said he, "my friend?"
"From Paris - from Percerin."
"And what have you been doing at Percerin's, for I suppose you attach no
great importance to our poets' dresses?"
"No; I went to prepare a surprise."
"Yes; which you are going to give to the king."
"And will it cost much?"
"Oh! a hundred pistoles you will give Lebrun."
"A painting? - Ah! all the better! And what is this painting to
"I will tell you; then at the same time, whatever you may say or think of
it, I went to see the dresses for our poets."
"Bah! and they will be rich and elegant?"
"Splendid! There will be few great monseigneurs with so good. People
will see the difference there is between the courtiers of wealth and
those of friendship."
"Ever generous and grateful, dear prelate."
"In your school."
Fouquet grasped his hand. "And where are you going?" he said.
"I am off to Paris, when you shall have given a certain letter."
"M. de Lyonne."
"And what do you want with Lyonne?"
"I wish to make him sign a _lettre de cachet_."
"'_Lettre de cachet!_' Do you desire to put somebody in the Bastile?"
"On the contrary - to let somebody out."
"A poor devil - a youth, a lad who has been Bastiled these ten years, for
two Latin verses he made against the Jesuits."
"'Two Latin verses!' and, for 'two Latin verses,' the miserable being has
been in prison for ten years!"
"And has committed no other crime?"
"Beyond this, he is as innocent as you or I."
"On your word?"
"On my honor!"
"And his name is - "
"Yes. - But it is too bad. You knew this, and you never told me!"
"'Twas only yesterday his mother applied to me, monseigneur."
"And the woman is poor!"
"In the deepest misery."
"Heaven," said Fouquet, "sometimes bears with such injustice on earth,
that I hardly wonder there are wretches who doubt of its existence.
Stay, M. d'Herblay." And Fouquet, taking a pen, wrote a few rapid lines
to his colleague Lyonne. Aramis took the letter and made ready to go.
"Wait," said Fouquet. He opened his drawer, and took out ten government
notes which were there, each for a thousand francs. "Stay," he said;
"set the son at liberty, and give this to the mother; but, above all, do
not tell her - "
"That she is ten thousand livres richer than I. She would say I am but a
poor superintendent! Go! and I pray that God will bless those who are
mindful of his poor!"
"So also do I pray," replied Aramis, kissing Fouquet's hand.
And he went out quickly, carrying off the letter for Lyonne and the notes
for Seldon's mother, and taking up Moliere, who was beginning to lose
Another Supper at the Bastile.
Seven o'clock sounded from the great clock of the Bastile, that famous
clock, which, like all the accessories of the state prison, the very use
of which is a torture, recalled to the prisoners' minds the destination
of every hour of their punishment. The time-piece of the Bastile,
adorned with figures, like most of the clocks of the period, represented
St. Peter in bonds. It was the supper hour of the unfortunate captives.
The doors, grating on their enormous hinges, opened for the passage of
the baskets and trays of provisions, the abundance and the delicacy of
which, as M. de Baisemeaux has himself taught us, was regulated by the
condition in life of the prisoner. We understand on this head the
theories of M. de Baisemeaux, sovereign dispenser of gastronomic
delicacies, head cook of the royal fortress, whose trays, full-laden,
were ascending the steep staircases, carrying some consolation to the
prisoners in the shape of honestly filled bottles of good vintages. This
same hour was that of M. le gouverneur's supper also. He had a guest to-
day, and the spit turned more heavily than usual. Roast partridges,
flanked with quails and flanking a larded leveret; boiled fowls; hams,
fried and sprinkled with white wine, _cardons_ of Guipuzcoa and _la
bisque ecrevisses_: these, together with soups and _hors d'oeuvres_,
constituted the governor's bill of fare. Baisemeaux, seated at table,
was rubbing his hands and looking at the bishop of Vannes, who, booted
like a cavalier, dressed in gray and sword at side, kept talking of his
hunger and testifying the liveliest impatience. M. de Baisemeaux de
Montlezun was not accustomed to the unbending movements of his greatness
my lord of Vannes, and this evening Aramis, becoming sprightly,
volunteered confidence on confidence. The prelate had again a little
touch of the musketeer about him. The bishop just trenched on the
borders only of license in his style of conversation. As for M. de
Baisemeaux, with the facility of vulgar people, he gave himself up
entirely upon this point of his guest's freedom. "Monsieur," said he,
"for indeed to-night I dare not call you monseigneur."
"By no means," said Aramis; "call me monsieur; I am booted."
"Do you know, monsieur, of whom you remind me this evening?"
"No! faith," said Aramis, taking up his glass; "but I hope I remind you
of a capital guest."
"You remind me of two, monsieur. Francois, shut the window; the wind may
annoy his greatness."
"And let him go," added Aramis. "The supper is completely served, and we
shall eat it very well without waiters. I like exceedingly to be _tete-a-
tete_ when I am with a friend." Baisemeaux bowed respectfully.
"I like exceedingly," continued Aramis, "to help myself."
"Retire, Francois," cried Baisemeaux. "I was saying that your greatness
puts me in mind of two persons; one very illustrious, the late cardinal,
the great Cardinal de la Rochelle, who wore boots like you."
"Indeed," said Aramis; "and the other?"
"The other was a certain musketeer, very handsome, very brave, very
adventurous, very fortunate, who, from being abbe, turned musketeer, and
from musketeer turned abbe." Aramis condescended to smile. "From abbe,"
continued Baisemeaux, encouraged by Aramis's smile - "from abbe, bishop
- and from bishop - "
"Ah! stay there, I beg," exclaimed Aramis.
"I have just said, monsieur, that you gave me the idea of a cardinal."
"Enough, dear M. Baisemeaux. As you said, I have on the boots of a
cavalier, but I do not intend, for all that, to embroil myself with the
church this evening."
"But you have wicked intentions, nevertheless, monseigneur."
"Oh, yes, wicked, I own, as everything mundane is."
"You traverse the town and the streets in disguise?"
"In disguise, as you say."
"And you still make use of your sword?"
"Yes, I should think so; but only when I am compelled. Do me the
pleasure to summon Francois."
"Have you no wine there?"
"'Tis not for wine, but because it is hot here, and the window is shut."
"I shut the windows at supper-time so as not to hear the sounds or the
arrival of couriers."
"Ah, yes. You hear them when the window is open?"
"But too well, and that disturbs me. You understand?"
"Nevertheless I am suffocated. Francois." Francois entered. "Open the
windows, I pray you, Master Francois," said Aramis. "You will allow him,
dear M. Baisemeaux?"
"You are at home here," answered the governor. The window was opened.
"Do you not think," said M. de Baisemeaux, "that you will find yourself
very lonely, now M. de la Fere has returned to his household gods at
Blois? He is a very old friend, is he not?"
"You know it as I do, Baisemeaux, seeing that you were in the musketeers
"Bah! with my friends I reckon neither bottles of wine nor years."
"And you are right. But I do more than love M. de la Fere, dear
Baisemeaux; I venerate him."
"Well, for my part, though 'tis singular," said the governor, "I prefer
M. d'Artagnan to him. There is a man for you, who drinks long and well!
That kind of people allow you at least to penetrate their thoughts."
"Baisemeaux, make me tipsy to-night; let us have a merry time of it as of
old, and if I have a trouble at the bottom of my heart, I promise you,
you shall see it as you would a diamond at the bottom of your glass."
"Bravo!" said Baisemeaux, and he poured out a great glass of wine and
drank it off at a draught, trembling with joy at the idea of being, by
hook or by crook, in the secret of some high archiepiscopal misdemeanor.
While he was drinking he did not see with what attention Aramis was
noting the sounds in the great court. A courier came in about eight
o'clock as Francois brought in the fifth bottle, and, although the
courier made a great noise, Baisemeaux heard nothing.
"The devil take him," said Aramis.
"What! who?" asked Baisemeaux. "I hope 'tis neither the wine you drank
nor he who is the cause of your drinking it."
"No; it is a horse, who is making noise enough in the court for a whole
"Pooh! some courier or other," replied the governor, redoubling his
attention to the passing bottle. "Yes; and may the devil take him, and
so quickly that we shall never hear him speak more. Hurrah! hurrah!"
"You forget me, Baisemeaux! my glass is empty," said Aramis, lifting his
dazzling Venetian goblet.
"Upon my honor, you delight me. Francois, wine!" Francois entered.
"Wine, fellow! and better."
"Yes, monsieur, yes; but a courier has just arrived."
"Let him go to the devil, I say."
"Yes, monsieur, but - "
"Let him leave his news at the office; we will see to it to-morrow. To-
morrow, there will be time to-morrow; there will be daylight," said
Baisemeaux, chanting the words.
"Ah, monsieur," grumbled the soldier Francois, in spite of himself,
"Take care," said Aramis, "take care!"
"Of what? dear M. d'Herblay," said Baisemeaux, half intoxicated.
"The letter which the courier brings to the governor of a fortress is
sometimes an order."
"Do not orders issue from the ministers?"
"Yes, undoubtedly; but - "
"And what to these ministers do but countersign the signature of the
"Perhaps you are right. Nevertheless, 'tis very tiresome when you are
sitting before a good table, _tete-a-tete_ with a friend - Ah! I beg your
pardon, monsieur; I forgot it is I who engage you at supper, and that I
speak to a future cardinal."
"Let us pass over that, dear Baisemeaux, and return to our soldier, to
"Well, and what has Francois done?"
"He has demurred!"
"He was wrong, then?"
"However, he _has_ demurred, you see; 'tis because there is something
extraordinary in this matter. It is very possible that it was not
Francois who was wrong in demurring, but you, who are in the wrong in
not listening to him."
"Wrong? I to be wrong before Francois? that seems rather hard."
"Pardon me, merely an irregularity. But I thought it my duty to make an
observation which I deem important."
"Oh! perhaps you are right," stammered Baisemeaux. "The king's order is
sacred; but as to orders that arrive when one is at supper, I repeat that
the devil - "
"If you had said as much to the great cardinal - hem! my dear Baisemeaux,
and if his order had any importance."
"I do it that I may not disturb a bishop. _Mordioux!_ am I not, then,
"Do not forget, Baisemeaux, that I have worn the soldier's coat, and I am
accustomed to obedience everywhere."
"You wish, then - "
"I wish that you would do your duty, my friend; yes, at least before this
"'Tis mathematically true," exclaimed Baisemeaux. Francois still waited:
"Let them send this order of the king's up to me," he repeated,
recovering himself. And he added in a low tone, "Do you know what it
is? I will tell you something about as interesting as this. 'Beware of
fire near the powder magazine;' or, 'Look close after such and such a
one, who is clever at escaping,' Ah! if you only knew, monseigneur, how
many times I have been suddenly awakened from the very sweetest, deepest
slumber, by messengers arriving at full gallop to tell me, or rather,
bring me a slip of paper containing these words: 'Monsieur de Baisemeaux,
what news?' 'Tis clear enough that those who waste their time writing
such orders have never slept in the Bastile. They would know better;
they have never considered the thickness of my walls, the vigilance of my
officers, the number of rounds we go. But, indeed, what can you expect,
monseigneur? It is their business to write and torment me when I am at
rest, and to trouble me when I am happy," added Baisemeaux, bowing to
Aramis. "Then let them do their business."
"And do you do yours," added the bishop, smiling.
Francois re-entered; Baisemeaux took from his hands the minister's
order. He slowly undid it, and as slowly read it. Aramis pretended to
be drinking, so as to be able to watch his host through the glass. Then,
Baisemeaux, having read it: "What was I just saying?" he exclaimed.
"What is it?" asked the bishop.
"An order of release! There, now; excellent news indeed to disturb us!"
"Excellent news for him whom it concerns, you will at least agree, my
"And at eight o'clock in the evening!"
"It is charitable!"
"Oh! charity is all very well, but it is for that fellow who says he is
so weary and tired, but not for me who am amusing myself," said
"Will you lose by him, then? And is the prisoner who is to be set at
liberty a good payer?"
"Oh, yes, indeed! a miserable, five-franc rat!"
"Let me see it," asked M. d'Herblay. "It is no indiscretion?"
"By no means; read it."
"There is 'Urgent,' on the paper; you have seen that, I suppose?"
"Oh, admirable! 'Urgent!' - a man who has been there ten years! It is
_urgent_ to set him free to-day, this very evening, at eight o'clock! -
_urgent!_" And Baisemeaux, shrugging his shoulders with an air of
supreme disdain, flung the order on the table and began eating again.
"They are fond of these tricks!" he said, with his mouth full; "they
seize a man, some fine day, keep him under lock and key for ten years,
and write to you, 'Watch this fellow well,' or 'Keep him very strictly.'
And then, as soon as you are accustomed to look upon the prisoner as a
dangerous man, all of a sudden, without rhyme or reason they write - 'Set
him at liberty,' and actually add to their missive - 'urgent.' You will
own, my lord, 'tis enough to make a man at dinner shrug his shoulders!"
"What do you expect? It is for them to write," said Aramis, "for you to
execute the order."
"Good! good! execute it! Oh, patience! You must not imagine that I am a
"Gracious Heaven! my very good M. Baisemeaux, who ever said so? Your
independence is well known."
"But your goodness of heart is also known."
"Ah! don't speak of it!"
"And your obedience to your superiors. Once a soldier, you see,
Baisemeaux, always a soldier."
"And I shall directly obey; and to-morrow morning, at daybreak, the
prisoner referred to shall be set free."
"Why not this evening, seeing that the _lettre de cachet_ bears, both on
the direction and inside, '_urgent_'?"
"Because this evening we are at supper, and our affairs are urgent, too!"
"Dear Baisemeaux, booted though I be, I feel myself a priest, and charity
has higher claims upon me than hunger and thirst. This unfortunate man
has suffered long enough, since you have just told me that he has been
your prisoner these ten years. Abridge his suffering. His good time has
come; give him the benefit quickly. God will repay you in Paradise with
years of felicity."
"You wish it?"
"I entreat you."
"What! in the very middle of our repast?"
"I implore you; such an action is worth ten Benedicites."
"It shall be as you desire, only our supper will get cold."
"Oh! never heed that."
Baisemeaux leaned back to ring for Francois, and by a very natural motion
turned round towards the door. The order had remained on the table;
Aramis seized the opportunity when Baisemeaux was not looking to change
the paper for another, folded in the same manner, which he drew swiftly
from his pocket. "Francois," said the governor, "let the major come up
here with the turnkeys of the Bertaudiere." Francois bowed and quitted
the room, leaving the two companions alone.
The General of the Order.
There was now a brief silence, during which Aramis never removed his eyes
from Baisemeaux for a moment. The latter seemed only half decided to
disturb himself thus in the middle of supper, and it was clear he was
trying to invent some pretext, whether good or bad, for delay, at any
rate till after dessert. And it appeared also that he had hit upon an
excuse at last.
"Eh! but it is impossible!" he cried.
"How impossible?" said Aramis. "Give me a glimpse of this impossibility."
"'Tis impossible to set a prisoner at liberty at such an hour. Where can
he go to, a man so unacquainted with Paris?"
"He will find a place wherever he can."
"You see, now, one might as well set a blind man free!"
"I have a carriage, and will take him wherever he wishes."
"You have an answer for everything. Francois, tell monsieur le major to
go and open the cell of M. Seldon, No. 3, Bertaudiere."
"Seldon!" exclaimed Aramis, very naturally. "You said Seldon, I think?"
"I said Seldon, of course. 'Tis the name of the man they set free."
"Oh! you mean to say Marchiali?" said Aramis.
"Marchiali? oh! yes, indeed. No, no, Seldon."
"I think you are making a mistake, Monsieur Baisemeaux."
"I have read the order."
"And I also."
"And I saw 'Seldon' in letters as large as that," and Baisemeaux held up
"And I read 'Marchiali' in characters as large as this," said Aramis,
also holding up two fingers.
"To the proof; let us throw a light on the matter," said Baisemeaux,
confident he was right. "There is the paper, you have only to read it."
"I read 'Marchiali,'" returned Aramis, spreading out the paper. "Look."
Baisemeaux looked, and his arms dropped suddenly. "Yes, yes," he said,
quite overwhelmed; "yes, Marchiali. 'Tis plainly written Marchiali!
"Ah! - "
"How? the man of whom we have talked so much? The man whom they are
every day telling me to take such care of?"
"There is 'Marchiali,'" repeated the inflexible Aramis.
"I must own it, monseigneur. But I understand nothing about it."
"You believe your eyes, at any rate."
"To tell me very plainly there is 'Marchiali.'"
"And in a good handwriting, too."
"'Tis a wonder! I still see this order and the name of Seldon,
Irishman. I see it. Ah! I even recollect that under this name there
was a blot of ink."
"No, there is no ink; no, there is no blot."
"Oh! but there was, though; I know it, because I rubbed my finger - this
very one - in the powder that was over the blot."
"In a word, be it how it may, dear M. Baisemeaux," said Aramis, "and
whatever you may have seen, the order is signed to release Marchiali,
blot or no blot."
"The order is signed to release Marchiali," replied Baisemeaux,
mechanically, endeavoring to regain his courage.
"And you are going to release this prisoner. If your heart dictates you
to deliver Seldon also, I declare to you I will not oppose it the least
in the world." Aramis accompanied this remark with a smile, the irony of
which effectually dispelled Baisemeaux's confusion of mind, and restored
"Monseigneur," he said, "this Marchiali is the very same prisoner whom
the other day a priest confessor of _our order_ came to visit in so
imperious and so secret a manner."
"I don't know that, monsieur," replied the bishop.
"'Tis no such long time ago, dear Monsieur d'Herblay."
"It is true. But _with us_, monsieur, it is good that the man of to-day
should no longer know what the man of yesterday did."
"In any case," said Baisemeaux, "the visit of the Jesuit confessor must
have given happiness to this man."
Aramis made no reply, but recommenced eating and drinking. As for
Baisemeaux, no longer touching anything that was on the table, he again
took up the order and examined it every way. This investigation, under
ordinary circumstances, would have made the ears of the impatient Aramis
burn with anger; but the bishop of Vannes did not become incensed for so
little, above all, when he had murmured to himself that to do so was
dangerous. "Are you going to release Marchiali?" he said. "What mellow,
fragrant and delicious sherry this is, my dear governor."
"Monseigneur," replied Baisemeaux, "I shall release the prisoner
Marchiali when I have summoned the courier who brought the order, and
above all, when, by interrogating him, I have satisfied myself."
"The order is sealed, and the courier is ignorant of the contents. What
do you want to satisfy yourself about?"
"Be it so, monseigneur; but I shall send to the ministry, and M. de
Lyonne will either confirm or withdraw the order."
"What is the good of all that?" asked Aramis, coldly.
"Yes; what is your object, I ask?"
"The object of never deceiving oneself, monseigneur; nor being wanting in
the respect which a subaltern owes to his superior officers, nor
infringing the duties of a service one has accepted of one's own free
"Very good; you have just spoken so eloquently, that I cannot but admire
you. It is true that a subaltern owes respect to his superiors; he is
guilty when he deceives himself, and he should be punished if he
infringed either the duties or laws of his office."
Baisemeaux looked at the bishop with astonishment.
"It follows," pursued Aramis, "that you are going to ask advice, to put
your conscience at ease in the matter?"
"And if a superior officer gives you orders, you will obey?"
"Never doubt it, monseigneur."
"You know the king's signature well, M. de Baisemeaux?"
"Is it not on this order of release?"
"It is true, but it may - "
"Be forged, you mean?"
"That is evident, monseigneur."
"You are right. And that of M. de Lyonne?"
"I see it plain enough on the order; but for the same reason that the
king's signature may have been forged, so also, and with even greater
probability, may M. de Lyonne's."
"Your logic has the stride of a giant, M. de Baisemeaux," said Aramis;
"and your reasoning is irresistible. But on what special grounds do you
base your idea that these signatures are false?"
"On this: the absence of counter-signatures. Nothing checks his
majesty's signature; and M. de Lyonne is not there to tell me he has
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