The Man in the Iron Mask
Alexandre Dumas, Pere
Part 3 out of 12
"Well, Monsieur de Baisemeaux," said Aramis, bending an eagle glance on
the governor, "I adopt so frankly your doubts, and your mode of clearing
them up, that I will take a pen, if you will give me one."
Baisemeaux gave him a pen.
"And a sheet of white paper," added Aramis.
Baisemeaux handed him some paper.
"Now, I - I, also - I, here present - incontestably, I - am going to
write an order to which I am certain you will give credence, incredulous
as you are!"
Baisemeaux turned pale at this icy assurance of manner. It seemed to him
that the voice of the bishop's, but just now so playful and gay, had
become funereal and sad; that the wax lights changed into the tapers of a
mortuary chapel, the very glasses of wine into chalices of blood.
Aramis took a pen and wrote. Baisemeaux, in terror, read over his
"A. M. D. G.," wrote the bishop; and he drew a cross under these four
letters, which signify _ad majorem Dei gloriam_, "to the greater glory of
God;" and thus he continued: "It is our pleasure that the order brought
to M. de Baisemeaux de Montlezun, governor, for the king, of the castle
of the Bastile, be held by him good and effectual, and be immediately
carried into operation.
"General of the Order, by the grace of God."
Baisemeaux was so profoundly astonished, that his features remained
contracted, his lips parted, and his eyes fixed. He did not move an
inch, nor articulate a sound. Nothing could be heard in that large
chamber but the wing-whisper of a little moth, which was fluttering to
its death about the candles. Aramis, without even deigning to look at
the man whom he had reduced to so miserable a condition, drew from his
pocket a small case of black wax; he sealed the letter, and stamped it
with a seal suspended at his breast, beneath his doublet, and when the
operation was concluded, presented - still in silence - the missive to M.
de Baisemeaux. The latter, whose hands trembled in a manner to excite
pity, turned a dull and meaningless gaze upon the letter. A last gleam
of feeling played over his features, and he fell, as if thunder-struck,
on a chair.
"Come, come," said Aramis, after a long silence, during which the
governor of the Bastile had slowly recovered his senses, "do not lead me
to believe, dear Baisemeaux, that the presence of the general of the
order is as terrible as His, and that men die merely from having seen
Him. Take courage, rouse yourself; give me your hand - obey."
Baisemeaux, reassured, if not satisfied, obeyed, kissed Aramis's hand,
and rose. "Immediately?" he murmured.
"Oh, there is no pressing haste, my host; take your place again, and do
the honors over this beautiful dessert."
"Monseigneur, I shall never recover such a shock as this; I who have
laughed, who have jested with you! I who have dared to treat you on a
footing of equality!"
"Say nothing about it, old comrade," replied the bishop, who perceived
how strained the cord was and how dangerous it would have been to break
it; "say nothing about it. Let us each live in our own way; to you, my
protection and my friendship; to me, your obedience. Having exactly
fulfilled these two requirements, let us live happily."
Baisemeaux reflected; he perceived, at a glance, the consequence of this
withdrawal of a prisoner by means of a forged order; and, putting in the
scale the guarantee offered him by the official order of the general, did
not consider it of any value.
Aramis divined this. "My dear Baisemeaux," said he, "you are a
simpleton. Lose this habit of reflection when I give myself the trouble
to think for you."
And at another gesture he made, Baisemeaux bowed again. "How shall I set
about it?" he said.
"What is the process for releasing a prisoner?"
"I have the regulations."
"Well, then, follow the regulations, my friend."
"I go with my major to the prisoner's room, and conduct him, if he is a
personage of importance."
"But this Marchiali is not an important personage," said Aramis
"I don't know," answered the governor, as if he would have said, "It is
for you to instruct me."
"Then if you don't know it, I am right; so act towards Marchiali as you
act towards one of obscure station."
"Good; the regulations so provide. They are to the effect that the
turnkey, or one of the lower officials, shall bring the prisoner before
the governor, in the office."
"Well, 'tis very wise, that; and then?"
"Then we return to the prisoner the valuables he wore at the time of his
imprisonment, his clothes and papers, if the minister's orders have not
"What was the minister's order as to this Marchiali?"
"Nothing; for the unhappy man arrived here without jewels, without
papers, and almost without clothes."
"See how simple, then, all is. Indeed, Baisemeaux, you make a mountain
of everything. Remain here, and make them bring the prisoner to the
Baisemeaux obeyed. He summoned his lieutenant, and gave him an order,
which the latter passed on, without disturbing himself about it, to the
next whom it concerned.
Half an hour afterwards they heard a gate shut in the court; it was the
door to the dungeon, which had just rendered up its prey to the free
air. Aramis blew out all the candles which lighted the room but one,
which he left burning behind the door. This flickering glare prevented
the sight from resting steadily on any object. It multiplied tenfold the
changing forms and shadows of the place, by its wavering uncertainty.
Steps drew near.
"Go and meet your men," said Aramis to Baisemeaux.
The governor obeyed. The sergeant and turnkeys disappeared. Baisemeaux
re-entered, followed by a prisoner. Aramis had placed himself in the
shade; he saw without being seen. Baisemeaux, in an agitated tone of
voice, made the young man acquainted with the order which set him at
liberty. The prisoner listened, without making a single gesture or
saying a word."
"You will swear ('tis the regulation that requires it)," added the
governor, "never to reveal anything that you have seen or heard in the
The prisoner perceived a crucifix; he stretched out his hands and swore
with his lips. "And now, monsieur, you are free. Whither do you intend
The prisoner turned his head, as if looking behind him for some
protection, on which he ought to rely. Then was it that Aramis came out
of the shade: "I am here," he said, "to render the gentleman whatever
service he may please to ask."
The prisoner slightly reddened, and, without hesitation, passed his arm
through that of Aramis. "God have you in his holy keeping," he said, in
a voice the firmness of which made the governor tremble as much as the
form of the blessing astonished him.
Aramis, on shaking hands with Baisemeaux, said to him; "Does my order
trouble you? Do you fear their finding it here, should they come to
"I desire to keep it, monseigneur," said Baisemeaux. "If they found it
here, it would be a certain indication I should be lost, and in that case
you would be a powerful and a last auxiliary for me."
"Being your accomplice, you mean?" answered Aramis, shrugging his
shoulders. "Adieu, Baisemeaux," said he.
The horses were in waiting, making each rusty spring reverberate the
carriage again with their impatience. Baisemeaux accompanied the bishop
to the bottom of the steps. Aramis caused his companion to mount before
him, then followed, and without giving the driver any further order, "Go
on," said he. The carriage rattled over the pavement of the courtyard.
An officer with a torch went before the horses, and gave orders at every
post to let them pass. During the time taken in opening all the
barriers, Aramis barely breathed, and you might have heard his "sealed
heart knock against his ribs." The prisoner, buried in a corner of the
carriage, made no more sign of life than his companion. At length, a
jolt more sever than the others announced to them that they had cleared
the last watercourse. Behind the carriage closed the last gate, that in
the Rue St. Antoine. No more walls either on the right or the left;
heaven everywhere, liberty everywhere, and life everywhere. The horses,
kept in check by a vigorous hand, went quietly as far as the middle of
the faubourg. There they began to trot. Little by little, whether they
were warming to their work, or whether they were urged, they gained in
swiftness, and once past Bercy, the carriage seemed to fly, so great was
the ardor of the coursers. The horses galloped thus as far as Villeneuve
St. George's, where relays were waiting. Then four instead of two
whirled the carriage away in the direction of Melun, and pulled up for a
moment in the middle of the forest of Senart. No doubt the order had
been given the postilion beforehand, for Aramis had no occasion even to
make a sign.
"What is the matter?" asked the prisoner, as if waking from a long dream.
"The matter is, monseigneur," said Aramis, "that before going further, it
is necessary your royal highness and I should converse."
"I will await an opportunity, monsieur," answered the young prince.
"We could not have a better, monseigneur. We are in the middle of a
forest, and no one can hear us."
"The postilion of this relay is deaf and dumb, monseigneur."
"I am at your service, M. d'Herblay."
"Is it your pleasure to remain in the carriage?"
"Yes; we are comfortably seated, and I like this carriage, for it has
restored me to liberty."
"Wait, monseigneur; there is yet a precaution to be taken."
"We are here on the highway; cavaliers or carriages traveling like
ourselves might pass, and seeing us stopping, deem us in some
difficulty. Let us avoid offers of assistance, which would embarrass us."
"Give the postilion orders to conceal the carriage in one of the side
"'Tis exactly what I wished to do, monseigneur."
Aramis made a sign to the deaf and dumb driver of the carriage, whom he
touched on the arm. The latter dismounted, took the leaders by the
bridle, and led them over the velvet sward and the mossy grass of a
winding alley, at the bottom of which, on this moonless night, the deep
shades formed a curtain blacker than ink. This done, the man lay down on
a slope near his horses, who, on either side, kept nibbling the young oak
"I am listening," said the young prince to Aramis; "but what are you
"I am disarming myself of my pistols, of which we have no further need,
"My prince," said Aramis, turning in the carriage towards his companion,
"weak creature as I am, so unpretending in genius, so low in the scale of
intelligent beings, it has never yet happened to me to converse with a
man without penetrating his thoughts through that living mask which has
been thrown over our mind, in order to retain its expression. But to-
night, in this darkness, in the reserve which you maintain, I can read
nothing on your features, and something tells me that I shall have great
difficulty in wresting from you a sincere declaration. I beseech you,
then, not for love of me, for subjects should never weigh as anything in
the balance which princes hold, but for love of yourself, to retain every
syllable, every inflexion which, under the present most grave
circumstances, will all have a sense and value as important as any every
uttered in the world."
"I listen," replied the young prince, "decidedly, without either eagerly
seeking or fearing anything you are about to say to me." And he buried
himself still deeper in the thick cushions of the carriage, trying to
deprive his companion not only of the sight of him, but even of the very
idea of his presence.
Black was the darkness which fell wide and dense from the summits of the
intertwining trees. The carriage, covered in by this prodigious roof,
would not have received a particle of light, not even if a ray could have
struggled through the wreaths of mist that were already rising in the
"Monseigneur," resumed Aramis, "you know the history of the government
which to-day controls France. The king issued from an infancy imprisoned
like yours, obscure as yours, and confined as yours; only, instead of
ending, like yourself, this slavery in a prison, this obscurity in
solitude, these straightened circumstances in concealment, he was fain to
bear all these miseries, humiliations, and distresses, in full daylight,
under the pitiless sun of royalty; on an elevation flooded with light,
where every stain appears a blemish, every glory a stain. The king has
suffered; it rankles in his mind; and he will avenge himself. He will be
a bad king. I say not that he will pour out his people's blood, like
Louis XI., or Charles IX.; for he has no mortal injuries to avenge; but
he will devour the means and substance of his people; for he has himself
undergone wrongs in his own interest and money. In the first place,
then, I acquit my conscience, when I consider openly the merits and the
faults of this great prince; and if I condemn him, my conscience absolves
Aramis paused. It was not to listen if the silence of the forest
remained undisturbed, but it was to gather up his thoughts from the very
bottom of his soul - to leave the thoughts he had uttered sufficient time
to eat deeply into the mind of his companion.
"All that Heaven does, Heaven does well," continued the bishop of Vannes;
"and I am so persuaded of it that I have long been thankful to have been
chosen depositary of the secret which I have aided you to discover. To a
just Providence was necessary an instrument, at once penetrating,
persevering, and convinced, to accomplish a great work. I am this
instrument. I possess penetration, perseverance, conviction; I govern a
mysterious people, who has taken for its motto, the motto of God,
'_Patiens quia oeternus_.'" The prince moved. "I divine, monseigneur,
why you are raising your head, and are surprised at the people I have
under my command. You did not know you were dealing with a king - oh!
monseigneur, king of a people very humble, much disinherited; humble
because they have no force save when creeping; disinherited, because
never, almost never in this world, do my people reap the harvest they
sow, nor eat the fruit they cultivate. They labor for an abstract idea;
they heap together all the atoms of their power, to from a single man;
and round this man, with the sweat of their labor, they create a misty
halo, which his genius shall, in turn, render a glory gilded with the
rays of all the crowns in Christendom. Such is the man you have beside
you, monseigneur. It is to tell you that he has drawn you from the abyss
for a great purpose, to raise you above the powers of the earth - above
The prince lightly touched Aramis's arm. "You speak to me," he said, "of
that religious order whose chief you are. For me, the result of your
words is, that the day you desire to hurl down the man you shall have
raised, the event will be accomplished; and that you will keep under your
hand your creation of yesterday."
"Undeceive yourself, monseigneur," replied the bishop. "I should not
take the trouble to play this terrible game with your royal highness, if
I had not a double interest in gaining it. The day you are elevated, you
are elevated forever; you will overturn the footstool, as you rise, and
will send it rolling so far, that not even the sight of it will ever
again recall to you its right to simple gratitude."
"Your movement, monseigneur, arises from an excellent disposition. I
thank you. Be well assured, I aspire to more than gratitude! I am
convinced that, when arrived at the summit, you will judge me still more
worthy to be your friend; and then, monseigneur, we two will do such
great deeds, that ages hereafter shall long speak of them."
"Tell me plainly, monsieur - tell me without disguise - what I am to-day,
and what you aim at my being to-morrow."
"You are the son of King Louis XIII., brother of Louis XIV., natural and
legitimate heir to the throne of France. In keeping you near him, as
Monsieur has been kept - Monsieur, your younger brother - the king
reserved to himself the right of being legitimate sovereign. The doctors
only could dispute his legitimacy. But the doctors always prefer the
king who is to the king who is not. Providence has willed that you
should be persecuted; this persecution to-day consecrates you king of
France. You had, then, a right to reign, seeing that it is disputed; you
had a right to be proclaimed seeing that you have been concealed; and you
possess royal blood, since no one has dared to shed yours, as that of
your servants has been shed. Now see, then, what this Providence, which
you have so often accused of having in every way thwarted you, has done
for you. It has given you the features, figure, age, and voice of your
brother; and the very causes of your persecution are about to become
those of your triumphant restoration. To-morrow, after to-morrow - from
the very first, regal phantom, living shade of Louis XIV., you will sit
upon his throne, whence the will of Heaven, confided in execution to the
arm of man, will have hurled him, without hope of return."
"I understand," said the prince, "my brother's blood will not be shed,
"You will be sole arbiter of his fate."
"The secret of which they made an evil use against me?"
"You will employ it against him. What did he do to conceal it? He
concealed you. Living image of himself, you will defeat the conspiracy
of Mazarin and Anne of Austria. You, my prince, will have the same
interest in concealing him, who will, as a prisoner, resemble you, as you
will resemble him as a king."
"I fall back on what I was saying to you. Who will guard him?"
"Who guarded _you?_"
"You know this secret - you have made use of it with regard to myself.
Who else knows it?"
"The queen-mother and Madame de Chevreuse."
"What will they do?"
"Nothing, if you choose."
"How is that?"
"How can they recognize you, if you act in such a manner that no one can
"'Tis true; but there are grave difficulties."
"State them, prince."
"My brother is married; I cannot take my brother's wife."
"I will cause Spain to consent to a divorce; it is in the interest of
your new policy; it is human morality. All that is really noble and
really useful in this world will find its account therein."
"The imprisoned king will speak."
"To whom do you think he will speak - to the walls?"
"You mean, by walls, the men in whom you put confidence."
"If need be, yes. And besides, your royal highness - "
"I was going to say, that the designs of Providence do not stop on such a
fair road. Every scheme of this caliber is completed by its results,
like a geometrical calculation. The king, in prison, will not be for you
the cause of embarrassment that you have been for the king enthroned.
His soul is naturally proud and impatient; it is, moreover, disarmed and
enfeebled, by being accustomed to honors, and by the license of supreme
power. The same Providence which has willed that the concluding step in
the geometrical calculation I have had the honor of describing to your
royal highness should be your ascension to the throne, and the
destruction of him who is hurtful to you, has also determined that the
conquered one shall soon end both his own and your sufferings.
Therefore, his soul and body have been adapted for but a brief agony.
Put into prison as a private individual, left alone with your doubts,
deprived of everything, you have exhibited the most sublime, enduring
principle of life in withstanding all this. But your brother, a captive,
forgotten, and in bonds, will not long endure the calamity; and Heaven
will resume his soul at the appointed time - that is to say, soon."
At this point in Aramis's gloomy analysis, a bird of night uttered from
the depths of the forest that prolonged and plaintive cry which makes
every creature tremble.
"I will exile the deposed king," said Philippe, shuddering; "'twill be
"The king's good pleasure will decide the point," said Aramis. "But has
the problem been well put? Have I brought out of the solution according
to the wishes or the foresight of your royal highness?"
"Yes, monsieur, yes; you have forgotten nothing - except, indeed, two
"Let us speak of it at once, with the same frankness we have already
conversed in. Let us speak of the causes which may bring about the ruin
of all the hopes we have conceived. Let us speak of the risks we are
"They would be immense, infinite, terrific, insurmountable, if, as I have
said, all things did not concur to render them of absolutely no account.
There is no danger either for you or for me, if the constancy and
intrepidity of your royal highness are equal to that perfection of
resemblance to your brother which nature has bestowed upon you. I repeat
it, there are no dangers, only obstacles; a word, indeed, which I find in
all languages, but have always ill-understood, and, were I king, would
have obliterated as useless and absurd."
"Yes, indeed, monsieur; there is a very serious obstacle, an
insurmountable danger, which you are forgetting."
"Ah!" said Aramis.
"There is conscience, which cries aloud; remorse, that never dies."
"True, true," said the bishop; "there is a weakness of heart of which you
remind me. You are right, too, for that, indeed, is an immense
obstacle. The horse afraid of the ditch, leaps into the middle of it,
and is killed! The man who trembling crosses his sword with that of
another leaves loopholes whereby his enemy has him in his power."
"Have you a brother?" said the young man to Aramis.
"I am alone in the world," said the latter, with a hard, dry voice.
"But, surely, there is some one in the world whom you love?" added
"No one! - Yes, I love you."
The young man sank into so profound a silence, that the mere sound of his
respiration seemed like a roaring tumult for Aramis. "Monseigneur," he
resumed, "I have not said all I had to say to your royal highness; I have
not offered you all the salutary counsels and useful resources which I
have at my disposal. It is useless to flash bright visions before the
eyes of one who seeks and loves darkness: useless, too, is it to let the
magnificence of the cannon's roar make itself heard in the ears of one
who loves repose and the quiet of the country. Monseigneur, I have your
happiness spread out before me in my thoughts; listen to my words;
precious they indeed are, in their import and their sense, for you who
look with such tender regard upon the bright heavens, the verdant
meadows, the pure air. I know a country instinct with delights of every
kind, an unknown paradise, a secluded corner of the world - where alone,
unfettered and unknown, in the thick covert of the woods, amidst flowers,
and streams of rippling water, you will forget all the misery that human
folly has so recently allotted you. Oh! listen to me, my prince. I do
not jest. I have a heart, and mind, and soul, and can read your own, -
aye, even to its depths. I will not take you unready for your task, in
order to cast you into the crucible of my own desires, of my caprice, or
my ambition. Let it be all or nothing. You are chilled and galled, sick
at heart, overcome by excess of the emotions which but one hour's liberty
has produced in you. For me, that is a certain and unmistakable sign
that you do not wish to continue at liberty. Would you prefer a more
humble life, a life more suited to your strength? Heaven is my witness,
that I wish your happiness to be the result of the trial to which I have
"Speak, speak," said the prince, with a vivacity which did not escape
"I know," resumed the prelate, "in the Bas-Poitou, a canton, of which no
one in France suspects the existence. Twenty leagues of country is
immense, is it not? Twenty leagues, monseigneur, all covered with water
and herbage, and reeds of the most luxuriant nature; the whole studded
with islands covered with woods of the densest foliage. These large
marshes, covered with reeds as with a thick mantle, sleep silently and
calmly beneath the sun's soft and genial rays. A few fishermen with
their families indolently pass their lives away there, with their great
living-rafts of poplar and alder, the flooring formed of reeds, and the
roof woven out of thick rushes. These barks, these floating-houses, are
wafted to and fro by the changing winds. Whenever they touch a bank, it
is but by chance; and so gently, too, that the sleeping fisherman is not
awakened by the shock. Should he wish to land, it is merely because he
has seen a large flight of landrails or plovers, of wild ducks, teal,
widgeon, or woodchucks, which fall an easy pray to net or gun. Silver
shad, eels, greedy pike, red and gray mullet, swim in shoals into his
nets; he has but to choose the finest and largest, and return the others
to the waters. Never yet has the food of the stranger, be he soldier or
simple citizen, never has any one, indeed, penetrated into that
district. The sun's rays there are soft and tempered: in plots of solid
earth, whose soil is swart and fertile, grows the vine, nourishing with
generous juice its purple, white, and golden grapes. Once a week, a boat
is sent to deliver the bread which has been baked at an oven - the common
property of all. There - like the seigneurs of early days - powerful in
virtue of your dogs, your fishing-lines, your guns, and your beautiful
reed-built house, would you live, rich in the produce of the chase, in
plentitude of absolute secrecy. There would years of your life roll
away, at the end of which, no longer recognizable, for you would have
been perfectly transformed, you would have succeeded in acquiring a
destiny accorded to you by Heaven. There are a thousand pistoles in this
bag, monseigneur - more, far more, than sufficient to purchase the whole
marsh of which I have spoken; more than enough to live there as many
years as you have days to live; more than enough to constitute you the
richest, the freest, and the happiest man in the country. Accept it, as
I offer it you - sincerely, cheerfully. Forthwith, without a moment's
pause, I will unharness two of my horses, which are attached to the
carriage yonder, and they, accompanied by my servant - my deaf and dumb
attendant - shall conduct you - traveling throughout the night, sleeping
during the day - to the locality I have described; and I shall, at least,
have the satisfaction of knowing that I have rendered to my prince the
major service he himself preferred. I shall have made one human being
happy; and Heaven for that will hold me in better account than if I had
made one man powerful; the former task is far more difficult. And now,
monseigneur, your answer to this proposition? Here is the money. Nay,
do not hesitate. At Poitou, you can risk nothing, except the chance of
catching the fevers prevalent there; and even of them, the so-called
wizards of the country will cure you, for the sake of your pistoles. If
you play the other game, you run the chance of being assassinated on a
throne, strangled in a prison-cell. Upon my soul, I assure you, now I
begin to compare them together, I myself should hesitate which lot I
"Monsieur," replied the young prince, "before I determine, let me alight
from this carriage, walk on the ground, and consult that still voice
within me, which Heaven bids us all to hearken to. Ten minutes is all I
ask, and then you shall have your answer."
"As you please, monseigneur," said Aramis, bending before him with
respect, so solemn and august in tone and address had sounded these
Crown and Tiara.
Aramis was the first to descend from the carriage; he held the door open
for the young man. He saw him place his foot on the mossy ground with a
trembling of the whole body, and walk round the carriage with an unsteady
and almost tottering step. It seemed as if the poor prisoner was
unaccustomed to walk on God's earth. It was the 15th of August, about
eleven o'clock at night; thick clouds, portending a tempest, overspread
the heavens, and shrouded every light and prospect underneath their heavy
folds. The extremities of the avenues were imperceptibly detached from
the copse, by a lighter shadow of opaque gray, which, upon closer
examination, became visible in the midst of the obscurity. But the
fragrance which ascended from the grass, fresher and more penetrating
than that which exhaled from the trees around him; the warm and balmy air
which enveloped him for the first time for many years past; the ineffable
enjoyment of liberty in an open country, spoke to the prince in so
seductive a language, that notwithstanding the preternatural caution, we
would almost say dissimulation of his character, of which we have tried
to give an idea, he could not restrain his emotion, and breathed a sigh
of ecstasy. Then, by degrees, he raised his aching head and inhaled the
softly scented air, as it was wafted in gentle gusts to his uplifted
face. Crossing his arms on his chest, as if to control this new
sensation of delight, he drank in delicious draughts of that mysterious
air which interpenetrates at night the loftiest forests. The sky he was
contemplating, the murmuring waters, the universal freshness - was not
all this reality? Was not Aramis a madman to suppose that he had aught
else to dream of in this world? Those exciting pictures of country life,
so free from fears and troubles, the ocean of happy days that glitters
incessantly before all young imaginations, are real allurements wherewith
to fascinate a poor, unhappy prisoner, worn out by prison cares,
emaciated by the stifling air of the Bastile. It was the picture, it
will be remembered, drawn by Aramis, when he offered the thousand
pistoles he had with him in the carriage to the prince, and the enchanted
Eden which the deserts of Bas-Poitou hid from the eyes of the world.
Such were the reflections of Aramis as he watched, with an anxiety
impossible to describe, the silent progress of the emotions of Philippe,
whom he perceived gradually becoming more and more absorbed in his
meditations. The young prince was offering up an inward prayer to
Heaven, to be divinely guided in this trying moment, upon which his life
or death depended. It was an anxious time for the bishop of Vannes, who
had never before been so perplexed. His iron will, accustomed to
overcome all obstacles, never finding itself inferior or vanquished on
any occasion, to be foiled in so vast a project from not having foreseen
the influence which a view of nature in all its luxuriance would have on
the human mind! Aramis, overwhelmed by anxiety, contemplated with
emotion the painful struggle that was taking place in Philippe's mind.
This suspense lasted the whole ten minutes which the young man had
requested. During this space of time, which appeared an eternity,
Philippe continued gazing with an imploring and sorrowful look towards
the heavens; Aramis did not remove the piercing glance he had fixed on
Philippe. Suddenly the young man bowed his head. His thought returned
to the earth, his looks perceptibly hardened, his brow contracted, his
mouth assuming an expression of undaunted courage; again his looks became
fixed, but this time they wore a worldly expression, hardened by
covetousness, pride, and strong desire. Aramis's look immediately became
as soft as it had before been gloomy. Philippe, seizing his hand in a
quick, agitated manner, exclaimed:
"Lead me to where the crown of France is to be found."
"Is this your decision, monseigneur?" asked Aramis.
Philippe did not even deign to reply. He gazed earnestly at the bishop,
as if to ask him if it were possible for a man to waver after having once
made up his mind.
"Such looks are flashes of the hidden fire that betrays men's character,"
said Aramis, bowing over Philippe's hand; "you will be great,
monseigneur, I will answer for that."
"Let us resume our conversation. I wished to discuss two points with
you; in the first place the dangers, or the obstacles we may meet with.
That point is decided. The other is the conditions you intend imposing
on me. It is your turn to speak, M. d'Herblay."
"The conditions, monseigneur?"
"Doubtless. You will not allow so mere a trifle to stop me, and you will
not do me the injustice to suppose that I think you have no interest in
this affair. Therefore, without subterfuge or hesitation, tell me the
truth - "
"I will do so, monseigneur. Once a king - "
"When will that be?"
"To-morrow evening - I mean in the night."
"When I shall have asked your highness a question."
"I sent to your highness a man in my confidence with instructions to
deliver some closely written notes, carefully drawn up, which will
thoroughly acquaint your highness with the different persons who compose
and will compose your court."
"I perused those notes."
"I know them by heart."
"And understand them? Pardon me, but I may venture to ask that question
of a poor, abandoned captive of the Bastile? In a week's time it will
not be requisite to further question a mind like yours. You will then be
in full possession of liberty and power."
"Interrogate me, then, and I will be a scholar representing his lesson to
"We will begin with your family, monseigneur."
"My mother, Anne of Austria! all her sorrows, her painful malady. Oh! I
know her - I know her."
"Your second brother?" asked Aramis, bowing.
"To these notes," replied the prince, "you have added portraits so
faithfully painted, that I am able to recognize the persons whose
characters, manners, and history you have so carefully portrayed.
Monsieur, my brother, is a fine, dark young man, with a pale face; he
does not love his wife, Henrietta, whom I, Louis XIV., loved a little,
and still flirt with, even although she made me weep on the day she
wished to dismiss Mademoiselle de la Valliere from her service in
"You will have to be careful with regard to the watchfulness of the
latter," said Aramis; "she is sincerely attached to the actual king. The
eyes of a woman who loves are not easily deceived."
"She is fair, has blue eyes, whose affectionate gaze reveals her
identity. She halts slightly in her gait; she writes a letter every day,
to which I have to send an answer by M. de Saint-Aignan."
"Do you know the latter?"
"As if I saw him, and I know the last verses he composed for me, as well
as those I composed in answer to his."
"Very good. Do you know your ministers?"
"Colbert, an ugly, dark-browed man, but intelligent enough, his hair
covering his forehead, a large, heavy, full head; the mortal enemy of M.
"As for the latter, we need not disturb ourselves about him."
"No; because necessarily you will not require me to exile him, I suppose?"
Aramis, struck with admiration at the remark, said, "You will become very
"You see," added the prince, "that I know my lesson by heart, and with
Heaven's assistance, and yours afterwards, I shall seldom go wrong."
"You have still an awkward pair of eyes to deal with, monseigneur."
"Yes, the captain of the musketeers, M. d'Artagnan, your friend."
"Yes; I can well say 'my friend.'"
"He who escorted La Valliere to Le Chaillot; he who delivered up Monk,
cooped in an iron box, to Charles II.; he who so faithfully served my
mother; he to whom the crown of France owes so much that it owes
everything. Do you intend to ask me to exile him also?"
"Never, sire. D'Artagnan is a man to whom, at a certain given time, I
will undertake to reveal everything; but be on your guard with him, for
if he discovers our plot before it is revealed to him, you or I will
certainly be killed or taken. He is a bold and enterprising man."
"I will think it over. Now tell me about M. Fouquet; what do you wish to
be done with regard to him?"
"One moment more, I entreat you, monseigneur; and forgive me, if I seem
to fail in respect to questioning you further."
"It is your duty to do so, nay, more than that, your right."
"Before we pass to M. Fouquet, I should very much regret forgetting
another friend of mine."
"M. du Vallon, the Hercules of France, you mean; oh! as far as he is
concerned, his interests are more than safe."
"No; it is not he whom I intended to refer to."
"The Comte de la Fere, then?"
"And his son, the son of all four of us."
"That poor boy who is dying of love for La Valliere, whom my brother so
disloyally bereft him of? Be easy on that score. I shall know how to
rehabilitate his happiness. Tell me only one thing, Monsieur d'Herblay;
do men, when they love, forget the treachery that has been shown them?
Can a man ever forgive the woman who has betrayed him? Is that a French
custom, or is it one of the laws of the human heart?"
"A man who loves deeply, as deeply as Raoul loves Mademoiselle de la
Valliere, finishes by forgetting the fault or crime of the woman he
loves; but I do not yet know whether Raoul will be able to forget."
"I will see after that. Have you anything further to say about your
"No; that is all."
"Well, then, now for M. Fouquet. What do you wish me to do for him?"
"To keep him on as surintendant, in the capacity in which he has hitherto
acted, I entreat you."
"Be it so; but he is the first minister at present."
"Not quite so."
"A king, ignorant and embarrassed as I shall be, will, as a matter of
course, require a first minister of state."
"Your majesty will require a friend."
"I have only one, and that is yourself."
"You will have many others by and by, but none so devoted, none so
zealous for your glory."
"You shall be my first minister of state."
"Not immediately, monseigneur, for that would give rise to too much
suspicion and astonishment."
"M. de Richelieu, the first minister of my grandmother, Marie de Medici,
was simply bishop of Lucon, as you are bishop of Vannes."
"I perceive that your royal highness has studied my notes to great
advantage; your amazing perspicacity overpowers me with delight."
"I am perfectly aware that M. de Richelieu, by means of the queen's
protection, soon became cardinal."
"It would be better," said Aramis, bowing, "that I should not be
appointed first minister until your royal highness has procured my
nomination as cardinal."
"You shall be nominated before two months are past, Monsieur d'Herblay.
But that is a matter of very trifling moment; you would not offend me if
you were to ask more than that, and you would cause me serious regret if
you were to limit yourself to that."
"In that case, I have something still further to hope for, monseigneur."
"M. Fouquet will not keep long at the head of affairs, he will soon get
old. He is fond of pleasure, consistently, I mean, with all his labors,
thanks to the youthfulness he still retains; but this protracted youth
will disappear at the approach of the first serious annoyance, or at the
first illness he may experience. We will spare him the annoyance,
because he is an agreeable and noble-hearted man; but we cannot save him
from ill-health. So it is determined. When you shall have paid all M.
Fouquet's debts, and restored the finances to a sound condition, M.
Fouquet will be able to remain the sovereign ruler in his little court of
poets and painters, - we shall have made him rich. When that has been
done, and I have become your royal highness's prime minister, I shall be
able to think of my own interests and yours."
The young man looked at his interrogator.
"M. de Richelieu, of whom we were speaking just now, was very much to
blame in the fixed idea he had of governing France alone, unaided. He
allowed two kings, King Louis XIII. and himself, to be seated on the self-
same throne, whilst he might have installed them more conveniently upon
two separate and distinct thrones."
"Upon two thrones?" said the young man, thoughtfully.
"In fact," pursued Aramis, quietly, "a cardinal, prime minister of
France, assisted by the favor and by the countenance of his Most
Christian Majesty the King of France, a cardinal to whom the king his
master lends the treasures of the state, his army, his counsel, such a
man would be acting with twofold injustice in applying these mighty
resources to France alone. Besides," added Aramis, "you will not be a
king such as your father was, delicate in health, slow in judgment, whom
all things wearied; you will be a king governing by your brain and by
your sword; you will have in the government of the state no more than you
will be able to manage unaided; I should only interfere with you.
Besides, our friendship ought never to be, I do not say impaired, but in
any degree affected, by a secret thought. I shall have given you the
throne of France, you will confer on me the throne of St. Peter.
Whenever your loyal, firm, and mailed hand should joined in ties of
intimate association the hand of a pope such as I shall be, neither
Charles V., who owned two-thirds of the habitable globe, nor Charlemagne,
who possessed it entirely, will be able to reach to half your stature. I
have no alliances, I have no predilections; I will not throw you into
persecutions of heretics, nor will I cast you into the troubled waters of
family dissension; I will simply say to you: The whole universe is our
own; for me the minds of men, for you their bodies. And as I shall be
the first to die, you will have my inheritance. What do you say of my
"I say that you render me happy and proud, for no other reason than that
of having comprehended you thoroughly. Monsieur d'Herblay, you shall be
cardinal, and when cardinal, my prime minister; and then you will point
out to me the necessary steps to be taken to secure your election as
pope, and I will take them. You can ask what guarantees from me you
"It is useless. Never shall I act except in such a manner that you will
be the gainer; I shall never ascend the ladder of fortune, fame, or
position, until I have first seen you placed upon the round of the ladder
immediately above me; I shall always hold myself sufficiently aloof from
you to escape incurring your jealousy, sufficiently near to sustain your
personal advantage and to watch over your friendship. All the contracts
in the world are easily violated because the interests included in them
incline more to one side than to another. With us, however, this will
never be the case; I have no need of any guarantees."
"And so - my dear brother - will disappear?"
"Simply. We will remove him from his bed by means of a plank which
yields to the pressure of the finger. Having retired to rest a crowned
sovereign, he will awake a captive. Alone you will rule from that
moment, and you will have no interest dearer and better than that of
keeping me near you."
"I believe it. There is my hand on it, Monsieur d'Herblay."
"Allow me to kneel before you, sire, most respectfully. We will embrace
each other on the day we shall have upon our temples, you the crown, I
"Still embrace me this very day also, and be, for and towards me, more
than great, more than skillful, more than sublime in genius; be kind and
indulgent - be my father!"
Aramis was almost overcome as he listened to his voice; he fancied he
detected in his own heart an emotion hitherto unknown; but this
impression was speedily removed. "His father!" he thought; "yes, his
And they resumed their places in the carriage, which sped rapidly along
the road leading to Vaux-le-Vicomte.
The Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte.
The chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte, situated about a league from Melun, had
been built by Fouquet in 1655, at a time when there was a scarcity of
money in France; Mazarin had taken all that there was, and Fouquet
expended the remainder. However, as certain men have fertile, false, and
useful vices, Fouquet, in scattering broadcast millions of money in the
construction of this palace, had found a means of gathering, as the
result of his generous profusion, three illustrious men together: Levau,
the architect of the building; Lenotre, the designer of the gardens; and
Lebrun, the decorator of the apartments. If the Chateau de Vaux
possessed a single fault with which it could be reproached, it was its
grand, pretentious character. It is even at the present day proverbial
to calculate the number of acres of roofing, the restoration of which
would, in our age, be the ruin of fortunes cramped and narrowed as the
epoch itself. Vaux-le-Vicomte, when its magnificent gates, supported by
caryatides, have been passed through, has the principal front of the main
building opening upon a vast, so-called, court of honor, inclosed by deep
ditches, bordered by a magnificent stone balustrade. Nothing could be
more noble in appearance than the central forecourt raised upon the
flight of steps, like a king upon his throne, having around it four
pavilions at the angles, the immense Ionic columns of which rose
majestically to the whole height of the building. The friezes ornamented
with arabesques, and the pediments which crowned the pilasters, conferred
richness and grace on every part of the building, while the domes which
surmounted the whole added proportion and majesty. This mansion, built
by a subject, bore a far greater resemblance to those royal residences
which Wolsey fancied he was called upon to construct, in order to present
them to his master form the fear of rendering him jealous. But if
magnificence and splendor were displayed in any one particular part of
this palace more than another, - if anything could be preferred to the
wonderful arrangement of the interior, to the sumptuousness of the
gilding, and to the profusion of the paintings and statues, it would be
the park and gardens of Vaux. The _jets d'eau_, which were regarded as
wonderful in 1653, are still so, even at the present time; the cascades
awakened the admiration of kings and princes; and as for the famous
grotto, the theme of so many poetical effusions, the residence of that
illustrious nymph of Vaux, whom Pelisson made converse with La Fontaine,
we must be spared the description of all its beauties. We will do as
Despreaux did, - we will enter the park, the trees of which are of eight
years' growth only - that is to say, in their present position - and
whose summits even yet, as they proudly tower aloft, blushingly unfold
their leaves to the earliest rays of the rising sun. Lenotre had
hastened the pleasure of the Maecenas of his period; all the nursery-
grounds had furnished trees whose growth had been accelerated by careful
culture and the richest plant-food. Every tree in the neighborhood which
presented a fair appearance of beauty or stature had been taken up by its
roots and transplanted to the park. Fouquet could well afford to
purchase trees to ornament his park, since he had bought up three
villages and their appurtenances (to use a legal word) to increase its
extent. M. de Scudery said of this palace, that, for the purpose of
keeping the grounds and gardens well watered, M. Fouquet had divided a
river into a thousand fountains, and gathered the waters of a thousand
fountains into torrents. This same Monsieur de Scudery said a great many
other things in his "Clelie," about this palace of Valterre, the charms
of which he describes most minutely. We should be far wiser to send our
curious readers to Vaux to judge for themselves, than to refer them to
"Clelie;" and yet there are as many leagues from Paris to Vaux, as there
are volumes of the "Clelie."
This magnificent palace had been got ready for the reception of the
greatest reigning sovereign of the time. M. Fouquet's friends had
transported thither, some their actors and their dresses, others their
troops of sculptors and artists; not forgetting others with their ready-
mended pens, - floods of impromptus were contemplated. The cascades,
somewhat rebellious nymphs though they were, poured forth their waters
brighter and clearer than crystal: they scattered over the bronze triton
and nereids their waves of foam, which glistened like fire in the rays of
the sun. An army of servants were hurrying to and fro in squadrons in
the courtyard and corridors; while Fouquet, who had only that morning
arrived, walked all through the palace with a calm, observant glance, in
order to give his last orders, after his intendants had inspected
It was, as we have said, the 15th of August. The sun poured down its
burning rays upon the heathen deities of marble and bronze: it raised the
temperature of the water in the conch shells, and ripened, on the walls,
those magnificent peaches, of which the king, fifty years later, spoke so
regretfully, when, at Marly, on an occasion of a scarcity of the finer
sorts of peaches being complained of, in the beautiful gardens there -
gardens which had cost France double the amount that had been expended on
Vaux - the _great king_ observed to some one: "You are far too young to
have eaten any of M. Fouquet's peaches."
Oh, fame! Oh, blazon of renown! Oh, glory of this earth! That very man
whose judgment was so sound and accurate where merit was concerned - he
who had swept into his coffers the inheritance of Nicholas Fouquet, who
had robbed him of Lenotre and Lebrun, and had sent him to rot for the
remainder of his life in one of the state prisons - merely remembered the
peaches of that vanquished, crushed, forgotten enemy! It was to little
purpose that Fouquet had squandered thirty millions of francs in the
fountains of his gardens, in the crucibles of his sculptors, in the
writing-desks of his literary friends, in the portfolios of his painters;
vainly had he fancied that thereby he might be remembered. A peach - a
blushing, rich-flavored fruit, nestling in the trellis work on the garden-
wall, hidden beneath its long, green leaves, - this little vegetable
production, that a dormouse would nibble up without a thought, was
sufficient to recall to the memory of this great monarch the mournful
shade of the last surintendant of France.
With a perfect reliance that Aramis had made arrangements fairly to
distribute the vast number of guests throughout the palace, and that he
had not omitted to attend to any of the internal regulations for their
comfort, Fouquet devoted his entire attention to the _ensemble_ alone.
In one direction Gourville showed him the preparations which had been
made for the fireworks; in another, Moliere led him over the theater; at
last, after he had visited the chapel, the _salons_, and the galleries,
and was again going downstairs, exhausted with fatigue, Fouquet saw
Aramis on the staircase. The prelate beckoned to him. The surintendant
joined his friend, and, with him, paused before a large picture scarcely
finished. Applying himself, heart and soul, to his work, the painter
Lebrun, covered with perspiration, stained with paint, pale from fatigue
and the inspiration of genius, was putting the last finishing touches
with his rapid brush. It was the portrait of the king, whom they were
expecting, dressed in the court suit which Percerin had condescended to
show beforehand to the bishop of Vannes. Fouquet placed himself before
this portrait, which seemed to live, as one might say, in the cool
freshness of its flesh, and in its warmth of color. He gazed upon it
long and fixedly, estimated the prodigious labor that had been bestowed
upon it, and, not being able to find any recompense sufficiently great
for this Herculean effort, he passed his arm round the painter's neck and
embraced him. The surintendant, by this action, had utterly ruined a
suit of clothes worth a thousand pistoles, but he had satisfied, more
than satisfied, Lebrun. It was a happy moment for the artist; it was an
unhappy moment for M. Percerin, who was walking behind Fouquet, and was
engaged in admiring, in Lebrun's painting, the suit that he had made for
his majesty, a perfect _objet d'art_, as he called it, which was not to
be matched except in the wardrobe of the surintendant. His distress and
his exclamations were interrupted by a signal which had been given from
the summit of the mansion. In the direction of Melun, in the still
empty, open plain, the sentinels of Vaux had just perceived the advancing
procession of the king and the queens. His majesty was entering Melun
with his long train of carriages and cavaliers.
"In an hour - " said Aramis to Fouquet.
"In an hour!" replied the latter, sighing.
"And the people who ask one another what is the good of these royal
_fetes!_" continued the bishop of Vannes, laughing, with his false smile.
"Alas! I, too, who am not the people, ask myself the same thing."
"I will answer you in four and twenty hours, monseigneur. Assume a
cheerful countenance, for it should be a day of true rejoicing."
"Well, believe me or not, as you like, D'Herblay," said the surintendant,
with a swelling heart, pointing at the _cortege_ of Louis, visible in the
horizon, "he certainly loves me but very little, and I do not care much
more for him; but I cannot tell you how it is, that since he is
approaching my house - "
"Well, since I know he is on his way here, as my guest, he is more sacred
than ever for me; he is my acknowledged sovereign, and as such is very
dear to me."
"Dear? yes," said Aramis, playing upon the word, as the Abbe Terray did,
at a later period, with Louis XV.
"Do not laugh, D'Herblay; I feel that, if he really seemed to wish it, I
could love that young man."
"You should not say that to me," returned Aramis, "but rather to M.
"To M. Colbert!" exclaimed Fouquet. "Why so?"
"Because he would allow you a pension out of the king's privy purse, as
soon as he becomes surintendant," said Aramis, preparing to leave as soon
as he had dealt this last blow.
"Where are you going?" returned Fouquet, with a gloomy look.
"To my own apartment, in order to change my costume, monseigneur."
"Whereabouts are you lodging, D'Herblay?"
"In the blue room on the second story."
"The room immediately over the king's room?"
"You will be subject to very great restraint there. What an idea to
condemn yourself to a room where you cannot stir or move about!"
"During the night, monseigneur, I sleep or read in my bed."
"And your servants?"
"I have but one attendant with me. I find my reader quite sufficient.
Adieu, monseigneur; do not overfatigue yourself; keep yourself fresh for
the arrival of the king."
"We shall see you by and by, I suppose, and shall see your friend Du
"He is lodging next to me, and is at this moment dressing."
And Fouquet, bowing, with a smile, passed on like a commander-in-chief
who pays the different outposts a visit after the enemy has been signaled
in sight. (2)
The Wine of Melun.
The king had, in point of fact, entered Melun with the intention of
merely passing through the city. The youthful monarch was most eagerly
anxious for amusements; only twice during the journey had he been able to
catch a glimpse of La Valliere, and, suspecting that his only opportunity
of speaking to her would be after nightfall, in the gardens, and after
the ceremonial of reception had been gone through, he had been very
desirous to arrive at Vaux as early as possible. But he reckoned without
his captain of the musketeers, and without M. Colbert. Like Calypso, who
could not be consoled at the departure of Ulysses, our Gascon could not
console himself for not having guessed why Aramis had asked Percerin to
show him the king's new costumes. "There is not a doubt," he said to
himself, "that my friend the bishop of Vannes had some motive in that;"
and then he began to rack his brains most uselessly. D'Artagnan, so
intimately acquainted with all the court intrigues, who knew the position
of Fouquet better than even Fouquet himself did, had conceived the
strangest fancies and suspicions at the announcement of the _fete_, which
would have ruined a wealthy man, and which became impossible, utter
madness even, for a man so poor as he was. And then, the presence of
Aramis, who had returned from Belle-Isle, and been nominated by Monsieur
Fouquet inspector-general of all the arrangements; his perseverance in
mixing himself up with all the surintendant's affairs; his visits to
Baisemeaux; all this suspicious singularity of conduct had excessively
troubled and tormented D'Artagnan during the last two weeks.
"With men of Aramis's stamp," he said, "one is never the stronger except
sword in hand. So long as Aramis continued a soldier, there was hope of
getting the better of him; but since he has covered his cuirass with a
stole, we are lost. But what can Aramis's object possibly be?" And
D'Artagnan plunged again into deep thought. "What does it matter to me,
after all," he continued, "if his only object is to overthrow M.
Colbert? And what else can he be after?" And D'Artagnan rubbed his
forehead - that fertile land, whence the plowshare of his nails had
turned up so many and such admirable ideas in his time. He, at first,
thought of talking the matter over with Colbert, but his friendship for
Aramis, the oath of earlier days, bound him too strictly. He revolted at
the bare idea of such a thing, and, besides, he hated the financier too
cordially. Then, again, he wished to unburden his mind to the king; but
yet the king would not be able to understand the suspicions which had not
even a shadow of reality at their base. He resolved to address himself
to Aramis, direct, the first time he met him. "I will get him," said the
musketeer, "between a couple of candles, suddenly, and when he least
expects it, I will place my hand upon his heart, and he will tell me -
What will he tell me? Yes, he will tell me something, for _mordioux!_
there is something in it, I know."
Somewhat calmer, D'Artagnan made every preparation for the journey, and
took the greatest care that the military household of the king, as yet
very inconsiderable in numbers, should be well officered and well
disciplined in its meager and limited proportions. The result was that,
through the captain's arrangements, the king, on arriving at Melun, saw
himself at the head of both the musketeers and Swiss guards, as well as a
picket of the French guards. It might almost have been called a small
army. M. Colbert looked at the troops with great delight: he even wished
they had been a third more in number.
"But why?" said the king.
"In order to show greater honor to M. Fouquet," replied Colbert.
"In order to ruin him the sooner," thought D'Artagnan.
When this little army appeared before Melun, the chief magistrates came
out to meet the king, and to present him with the keys of the city, and
invited him to enter the Hotel de Ville, in order to partake of the wine
of honor. The king, who expected to pass through the city and to proceed
to Vaux without delay, became quite red in the face from vexation.
"Who was fool enough to occasion this delay?" muttered the king, between
his teeth, as the chief magistrate was in the middle of a long address.
"Not I, certainly," replied D'Artagnan, "but I believe it was M. Colbert."
Colbert, having heard his name pronounced, said, "What was M. d'Artagnan
good enough to say?"
"I was good enough to remark that it was you who stopped the king's
progress, so that he might taste the _vin de Brie_. Was I right?"
"Quite so, monsieur."
"In that case, then, it was you whom the king called some name or other."
"I hardly know; but wait a moment - idiot, I think it was - no, no, it
was fool or dolt. Yes; his majesty said that the man who had thought of
the _vin de Melun_ was something of the sort."
D'Artagnan, after this broadside, quietly caressed his mustache; M.
Colbert's large head seemed to become larger and larger than ever.
D'Artagnan, seeing how ugly anger made him, did not stop half-way. The
orator still went on with his speech, while the king's color was visibly
"_Mordioux!_" said the musketeer, coolly, "the king is going to have an
attack of determination of blood to the head. Where the deuce did you
get hold of that idea, Monsieur Colbert? You have no luck."
"Monsieur," said the financier, drawing himself up, "my zeal for the
king's service inspired me with the idea."
"Monsieur, Melun is a city, an excellent city, which pays well, and which
it would be imprudent to displease."
"There, now! I, who do not pretend to be a financier, saw only one idea
in your idea."
"What was that, monsieur?"
"That of causing a little annoyance to M. Fouquet, who is making himself
quite giddy on his donjons yonder, in waiting for us."
This was a home-stroke, hard enough in all conscience. Colbert was
completely thrown out of the saddle by it, and retired, thoroughly
discomfited. Fortunately, the speech was now at an end; the king drank
the wine which was presented to him, and then every one resumed the
progress through the city. The king bit his lips in anger, for the
evening was closing in, and all hope of a walk with La Valliere was at an
end. In order that the whole of the king's household should enter Vaux,
four hours at least were necessary, owing to the different arrangements.
The king, therefore, who was boiling with impatience, hurried forward as
much as possible, in order to reach it before nightfall. But, at the
moment he was setting off again, other and fresh difficulties arose.
"Is not the king going to sleep at Melun?" said Colbert, in a low tone of
voice, to D'Artagnan.
M. Colbert must have been badly inspired that day, to address himself in
that manner to the chief of the musketeers; for the latter guessed that
the king's intention was very far from that of remaining where he was.
D'Artagnan would not allow him to enter Vaux except he were well and
strongly accompanied; and desired that his majesty would not enter except
with all the escort. On the other hand, he felt that these delays would
irritate that impatient monarch beyond measure. In what way could he
possibly reconcile these difficulties? D'Artagnan took up Colbert's
remark, and determined to repeated it to the king.
"Sire," he said, "M. Colbert has been asking me if your majesty does not
intend to sleep at Melun."
"Sleep at Melun! What for?" exclaimed Louis XIV. "Sleep at Melun! Who,
in Heaven's name, can have thought of such a thing, when M. Fouquet is
expecting us this evening?"
"It was simply," replied Colbert, quickly, "the fear of causing your
majesty the least delay; for, according to established etiquette, you
cannot enter any place, with the exception of your own royal residences,
until the soldiers' quarters have been marked out by the quartermaster,
and the garrison properly distributed."
D'Artagnan listened with the greatest attention, biting his mustache to
conceal his vexation; and the queens were not less interested. They were
fatigued, and would have preferred to go to rest without proceeding any
farther; more especially, in order to prevent the king walking about in
the evening with M. de Saint-Aignan and the ladies of the court, for, if
etiquette required the princesses to remain within their own rooms, the
ladies of honor, as soon as they had performed the services required of
them, had no restrictions placed upon them, but were at liberty to walk
about as they pleased. It will easily be conjectured that all these
rival interests, gathering together in vapors, necessarily produced
clouds, and that the clouds were likely to be followed by a tempest. The
king had no mustache to gnaw, and therefore kept biting the handle of his
whip instead, with ill-concealed impatience. How could he get out of
it? D'Artagnan looked as agreeable as possible, and Colbert as sulky as
he could. Who was there he could get in a passion with?
"We will consult the queen," said Louis XIV., bowing to the royal
ladies. And this kindness of consideration softened Maria Theresa's
heart, who, being of a kind and generous disposition, when left to her
own free-will, replied:
"I shall be delighted to do whatever your majesty wishes."
"How long will it take us to get to Vaux?" inquired Anne of Austria, in
slow and measured accents, placing her hand upon her bosom, where the
seat of her pain lay.
"An hour for your majesty's carriages," said D'Artagnan; "the roads are
The king looked at him. "And a quarter of an hour for the king," he
hastened to add.
"We should arrive by daylight?" said Louis XIV.
"But the billeting of the king's military escort," objected Colbert,
softly, "will make his majesty lose all the advantage of his speed,
however quick he may be."
"Double ass that you are!" thought D'Artagnan; "if I had any interest or
motive in demolishing your credit with the king, I could do it in ten
minutes. If I were in the king's place," he added aloud, "I should, in
going to M. Fouquet, leave my escort behind me; I should go to him as a
friend; I should enter accompanied only by my captain of the guards; I
should consider that I was acting more nobly, and should be invested with
a still more sacred character by doing so."
Delight sparkled in the king's eyes. "That is indeed a very sensible
suggestion. We will go to see a friend as friends; the gentlemen who are
with the carriages can go slowly: but we who are mounted will ride on."
And he rode off, accompanied by all those who were mounted. Colbert hid
his ugly head behind his horse's neck.
"I shall be quits," said D'Artagnan, as he galloped along, "by getting a
little talk with Aramis this evening. And then, M. Fouquet is a man of
honor. _Mordioux!_ I have said so, and it must be so."
And this was the way how, towards seven o'clock in the evening, without
announcing his arrival by the din of trumpets, and without even his
advanced guard, without out-riders or musketeers, the king presented
himself before the gate of Vaux, where Fouquet, who had been informed of
his royal guest's approach, had been waiting for the last half-hour, with
his head uncovered, surrounded by his household and his friends.
Nectar and Ambrosia.
M. Fouquet held the stirrup of the king, who, having dismounted, bowed
most graciously, and more graciously still held out his hand to him,
which Fouquet, in spite of a slight resistance on the king's part,
carried respectfully to his lips. The king wished to wait in the first
courtyard for the arrival of the carriages, nor had he long to wait, for
the roads had been put into excellent order by the superintendent, and a
stone would hardly have been found of the size of an egg the whole way
from Melun to Vaux; so that the carriages, rolling along as though on a
carpet, brought the ladies to Vaux, without jolting or fatigue, by eight
o'clock. They were received by Madame Fouquet, and at the moment they
made their appearance, a light as bright as day burst forth from every
quarter, trees, vases, and marble statues. This species of enchantment
lasted until their majesties had retired into the palace. All these
wonders and magical effects which the chronicler has heaped up, or rather
embalmed, in his recital, at the risk of rivaling the brain-born scenes
of romancers; these splendors whereby night seemed vanquished and nature
corrected, together with every delight and luxury combined for the
satisfaction of all the senses, as well as the imagination, Fouquet did
in real truth offer to his sovereign in that enchanting retreat of which
no monarch could at that time boast of possessing an equal. We do not
intend to describe the grand banquet, at which the royal guests were
present, nor the concerts, nor the fairy-like and more than magic
transformations and metamorphoses; it will be enough for our purpose to
depict the countenance the king assumed, which, from being gay, soon wore
a very gloomy, constrained, and irritated expression. He remembered his
own residence, royal though it was, and the mean and indifferent style of
luxury that prevailed there, which comprised but little more than what
was merely useful for the royal wants, without being his own personal
property. The large vases of the Louvre, the older furniture and plate
of Henry II., of Francis I., and of Louis XI., were but historic
monuments of earlier days; nothing but specimens of art, the relics of
his predecessors; while with Fouquet, the value of the article was as
much in the workmanship as in the article itself. Fouquet ate from a
gold service, which artists in his own employ had modeled and cast for
him alone. Fouquet drank wines of which the king of France did not even
know the name, and drank them out of goblets each more valuable than the
entire royal cellar.
What, too, was to be said of the apartments, the hangings, the pictures,
the servants and officers, of every description, of his household? What
of the mode of service in which etiquette was replaced by order; stiff
formality by personal, unrestrained comfort; the happiness and
contentment of the guest became the supreme law of all who obeyed the
host? The perfect swarm of busily engaged persons moving about
noiselessly; the multitude of guests, - who were, however, even less
numerous than the servants who waited on them, - the myriad of
exquisitely prepared dishes, of gold and silver vases; the floods of
dazzling light, the masses of unknown flowers of which the hot-houses had
been despoiled, redundant with luxuriance of unequaled scent and beauty;
the perfect harmony of the surroundings, which, indeed, was no more than
the prelude of the promised _fete_, charmed all who were there; and they
testified their admiration over and over again, not by voice or gesture,
but by deep silence and rapt attention, those two languages of the
courtier which acknowledge the hand of no master powerful enough to
As for the king, his eyes filled with tears; he dared not look at the
queen. Anne of Austria, whose pride was superior to that of any creature
breathing, overwhelmed her host by the contempt with which she treated
everything handed to her. The young queen, kind-hearted by nature and
curious by disposition, praised Fouquet, ate with an exceedingly good
appetite, and asked the names of the strange fruits as they were placed
upon the table. Fouquet replied that he was not aware of their names.
The fruits came from his own stores; he had often cultivated them
himself, having an intimate acquaintance with the cultivation of exotic
fruits and plants. The king felt and appreciated the delicacy of the
replies, but was only the more humiliated; he thought the queen a little
too familiar in her manners, and that Anne of Austria resembled Juno a
little too much, in being too proud and haughty; his chief anxiety,
however, was himself, that he might remain cold and distant in his
behavior, bordering lightly the limits of supreme disdain or simple
But Fouquet had foreseen all this; he was, in fact, one of those men who
foresee everything. The king had expressly declared that, so long as he
remained under Fouquet's roof, he did not wish his own different repasts
to be served in accordance with the usual etiquette, and that he would,
consequently, dine with the rest of society; but by the thoughtful
attention of the surintendant, the king's dinner was served up
separately, if one may so express it, in the middle of the general table;
the dinner, wonderful in every respect, from the dishes of which was
composed, comprised everything the king liked and generally preferred to
anything else. Louis had no excuse - he, indeed, who had the keenest
appetite in his kingdom - for saying that he was not hungry. Nay, M.
Fouquet did even better still; he certainly, in obedience to the king's
expressed desire, seated himself at the table, but as soon as the soups
were served, he arose and personally waited on the king, while Madame
Fouquet stood behind the queen-mother's armchair. The disdain of Juno
and the sulky fits of temper of Jupiter could not resist this excess of
kindly feeling and polite attention. The queen ate a biscuit dipped in a
glass of San-Lucar wine; and the king ate of everything, saying to M.
Fouquet: "It is impossible, monsieur le surintendant, to dine better
anywhere." Whereupon the whole court began, on all sides, to devour the
dishes spread before them with such enthusiasm that it looked as though a
cloud of Egyptian locusts was settling down on green and growing crops.
As soon, however, as his hunger was appeased, the king became morose and
overgloomed again; the more so in proportion to the satisfaction he
fancied he had previously manifested, and particularly on account of the
deferential manner which his courtiers had shown towards Fouquet.
D'Artagnan, who ate a good deal and drank but little, without allowing it
to be noticed, did not lose a single opportunity, but made a great number
of observations which he turned to good profit.
When the supper was finished, the king expressed a wish not to lose the
promenade. The park was illuminated; the moon, too, as if she had placed
herself at the orders of the lord of Vaux, silvered the trees and lake
with her own bright and quasi-phosphorescent light. The air was
strangely soft and balmy; the daintily shell-gravelled walks through the
thickly set avenues yielded luxuriously to the feet. The _fete_ was
complete in every respect, for the king, having met La Valliere in one of
the winding paths of the wood, was able to press her hand and say, "I
love you," without any one overhearing him except M. d'Artagnan, who
followed, and M. Fouquet, who preceded him.
The dreamy night of magical enchantments stole smoothly on. The king
having requested to be shown to his room, there was immediately a
movement in every direction. The queens passed to their own apartments,
accompanied by them music of theorbos and lutes; the king found his
musketeers awaiting him on the grand flight of steps, for M. Fouquet had
brought them on from Melun and had invited them to supper. D'Artagnan's
suspicions at once disappeared. He was weary, he had supped well, and
wished, for once in his life, thoroughly to enjoy a _fete_ given by a man
who was in every sense of the word a king. "M. Fouquet," he said, "is
the man for me."
The king was conducted with the greatest ceremony to the chamber of
Morpheus, of which we owe some cursory description to our readers. It
was the handsomest and largest in the palace. Lebrun had painted on the
vaulted ceiling the happy as well as the unhappy dreams which Morpheus
inflicts on kings as well as on other men. Everything that sleep gives
birth to that is lovely, its fairy scenes, its flowers and nectar, the
wild voluptuousness or profound repose of the senses, had the painter
elaborated on his frescoes. It was a composition as soft and pleasing in
one part as dark and gloomy and terrible in another. The poisoned
chalice, the glittering dagger suspended over the head of the sleeper;
wizards and phantoms with terrific masks, those half-dim shadows more
alarming than the approach of fire or the somber face of midnight, these,
and such as these, he had made the companions of his more pleasing
pictures. No sooner had the king entered his room than a cold shiver
seemed to pass through him, and on Fouquet asking him the cause of it,
the king replied, as pale as death:
"I am sleepy, that is all."
"Does your majesty wish for your attendants at once?"
"No; I have to talk with a few persons first," said the king. "Will you
have the goodness to tell M. Colbert I wish to see him."
Fouquet bowed and left the room.
A Gascon, and a Gascon and a Half.
D'Artagnan had determined to lose no time, and in fact he never was in
the habit of doing so. After having inquired for Aramis, he had looked
for him in every direction until he had succeeded in finding him.
Besides, no sooner had the king entered Vaux, than Aramis had retired to
his own room, meditating, doubtless, some new piece of gallant attention
for his majesty's amusement. D'Artagnan desired the servants to announce
him, and found on the second story (in a beautiful room called the Blue
Chamber, on account of the color of its hangings) the bishop of Vannes
in company with Porthos and several of the modern Epicureans. Aramis
came forward to embrace his friend, and offered him the best seat. As it
was after awhile generally remarked among those present that the
musketeer was reserved, and wished for an opportunity for conversing
secretly with Aramis, the Epicureans took their leave. Porthos, however,
did not stir; for true it is that, having dined exceedingly well, he was
fast asleep in his armchair; and the freedom of conversation therefore
was not interrupted by a third person. Porthos had a deep, harmonious
snore, and people might talk in the midst of its loud bass without fear
of disturbing him. D'Artagnan felt that he was called upon to open the
"Well, and so we have come to Vaux," he said.
"Why, yes, D'Artagnan. And how do you like the place?"
"Very much, and I like M. Fouquet, also."
"Is he not a charming host?"
"No one could be more so."
"I am told that the king began by showing great distance of manner
towards M. Fouquet, but that his majesty grew much more cordial
"You did not notice it, then, since you say you have been told so?"
"No; I was engaged with the gentlemen who have just left the room about
the theatrical performances and the tournaments which are to take place
"Ah, indeed! you are the comptroller-general of the _fetes_ here, then?"
"You know I am a friend of all kinds of amusement where the exercise of
the imagination is called into activity; I have always been a poet in one
way or another."
"Yes, I remember the verses you used to write, they were charming."
"I have forgotten them, but I am delighted to read the verses of others,
when those others are known by the names of Moliere, Pelisson, La
"Do you know what idea occurred to me this evening, Aramis?"
"No; tell me what it was, for I should never be able to guess it, you
have so many."
"Well, the idea occurred to me, that the true king of France is not Louis
"_What!_" said Aramis, involuntarily, looking the musketeer full in the
"No, it is Monsieur Fouquet."
Aramis breathed again, and smiled. "Ah! you are like all the rest,
jealous," he said. "I would wager that it was M. Colbert who turned that
pretty phrase." D'Artagnan, in order to throw Aramis off his guard,
related Colbert's misadventures with regard to the _vin de Melun_.
"He comes of a mean race, does Colbert," said Aramis.
"When I think, too," added the bishop, "that that fellow will be your
minister within four months, and that you will serve him as blindly as
you did Richelieu or Mazarin - "
"And as you serve M. Fouquet," said D'Artagnan.
"With this difference, though, that M. Fouquet is not M. Colbert."
"True, true," said D'Artagnan, as he pretended to become sad and full of
reflection; and then, a moment after, he added, "Why do you tell me that
M. Colbert will be minister in four months?"
"Because M. Fouquet will have ceased to be so," replied Aramis.
"He will be ruined, you mean?" said D'Artagnan.
"Why does he give these _fetes_, then?" said the musketeer, in a tone so
full of thoughtful consideration, and so well assumed, that the bishop
was for the moment deceived by it. "Why did you not dissuade him from
The latter part of the phrase was just a little too much, and Aramis's
former suspicions were again aroused. "It is done with the object of
humoring the king."
"By ruining himself?"
"Yes, by ruining himself for the king."
"A most eccentric, one might say, sinister calculation, that."
"Necessity, necessity, my friend."
"I don't see that, dear Aramis."
"Do you not? Have you not remarked M. Colbert's daily increasing
antagonism, and that he is doing his utmost to drive the king to get rid
of the superintendent?"
"One must be blind not to see it."
"And that a cabal is already armed against M. Fouquet?"
"That is well known."
"What likelihood is there that the king would join a party formed against
a man who will have spent everything he had to please him?"
"True, true," said D'Artagnan, slowly, hardly convinced, yet curious to
broach another phase of the conversation. "There are follies, and
follies," he resumed, "and I do not like those you are committing."
"What do you allude to?"
"As for the banquet, the ball, the concert, the theatricals, the
tournaments, the cascades, the fireworks, the illuminations, and the
presents - these are well and good, I grant; but why were not these
expenses sufficient? Why was it necessary to have new liveries and
costumes for your whole household?"
"You are quite right. I told M. Fouquet that myself; he replied, that if
he were rich enough he would offer the king a newly erected chateau, from
the vanes at the houses to the very sub-cellars; completely new inside
and out; and that, as soon as the king had left, he would burn the whole
building and its contents, in order that it might not be made use of by
any one else."
"How completely Spanish!"
"I told him so, and he then added this: 'Whoever advises me to spare
expense, I shall look upon as my enemy.'"
"It is positive madness; and that portrait, too!"
"What portrait?" said Aramis.
"That of the king, and the surprise as well."
"The surprise you seem to have in view, and on account of which you took
some specimens away, when I met you at Percerin's." D'Artagnan paused.
The shaft was discharged, and all he had to do was to wait and watch its
"That is merely an act of graceful attention," replied Aramis.
D'Artagnan went up to his friend, took hold of both his hands, and
looking him full in the eyes, said, "Aramis, do you still care for me a
"What a question to ask!"
"Very good. One favor, then. Why did you take some patterns of the
king's costumes at Percerin's?"
"Come with me and ask poor Lebrun, who has been working upon them for the
last two days and nights."
"Aramis, that may be truth for everybody else, but for me - "
"Upon my word, D'Artagnan, you astonish me."
"Be a little considerate. Tell me the exact truth; you would not like
anything disagreeable to happen to me, would you?"
"My dear friend, you are becoming quite incomprehensible. What suspicion
can you have possibly got hold of?"
"Do you believe in my instinctive feelings? Formerly you used to have
faith in them. Well, then, an instinct tells me that you have some
concealed project on foot."
"I - a project?"
"I am convinced of it."
"I am not only sure of it, but I would even swear it."
"Indeed, D'Artagnan, you cause me the greatest pain. Is it likely, if I
have any project in hand that I ought to keep secret from you, I should
tell you about it? If I had one that I could and ought to have revealed,
should I not have long ago divulged it?"
"No, Aramis, no. There are certain projects which are never revealed
until the favorable opportunity arrives."
"In that case, my dear fellow," returned the bishop, laughing, "the only
thing now is, that the 'opportunity' has not yet arrived."
D'Artagnan shook his head with a sorrowful expression. "Oh, friendship,
friendship!" he said, "what an idle word you are! Here is a man who, if
I were but to ask it, would suffer himself to be cut in pieces for my
"You are right," said Aramis, nobly.
"And this man, who would shed every drop of blood in his veins for me,
will not open up before me the least corner in his heart. Friendship, I
repeat, is nothing but an unsubstantial shadow - a lure, like everything
else in this bright, dazzling world."
"It is not thus you should speak of _our_ friendship," replied the
bishop, in a firm, assured voice; "for ours is not of the same nature as
those of which you have been speaking."
"Look at us, Aramis; three out of the old 'four.' You are deceiving me;
I suspect you; and Porthos is fast asleep. An admirable trio of friends,
don't you think so? What an affecting relic of the former dear old
"I can only tell you one thing, D'Artagnan, and I swear it on the Bible:
I love you just as I used to do. If I ever suspect you, it is on account
of others, and not on account of either of us. In everything I may do,
and should happen to succeed in, you will find your fourth. Will you
promise me the same favor?"
"If I am not mistaken, Aramis, your words - at the moment you pronounce
them - are full of generous feeling."
"Such a thing is very possible."
"You are conspiring against M. Colbert. If that be all, _mordioux_, tell
me so at once. I have the instrument in my own hand, and will pull out
the tooth easily enough."
Aramis could not conceal a smile of disdain that flitted over his haughty
features. "And supposing that I were conspiring against Colbert, what
harm would there be in _that?_"
"No, no; that would be too trifling a matter for you to take in hand, and
it was not on that account you asked Percerin for those patterns of the
king's costumes. Oh! Aramis, we are not enemies, remember - we are
brothers. Tell me what you wish to undertake, and, upon the word of a
D'Artagnan, if I cannot help you, I will swear to remain neuter."
"I am undertaking nothing," said Aramis.
"Aramis, a voice within me speaks and seems to trickle forth a rill of
light within my darkness: it is a voice that has never yet deceived me.
It is the king you are conspiring against."
"The king?" exclaimed the bishop, pretending to be annoyed.
"Your face will not convince me; the king, I repeat."
"Will you help me?" said Aramis, smiling ironically.
"Aramis, I will do more than help you - I will do more than remain neuter
- I will save you."
"You are mad, D'Artagnan."
"I am the wiser of the two, in this matter."
"You to suspect me of wishing to assassinate the king!"
"Who spoke of such a thing?" smiled the musketeer.
"Well, let us understand one another. I do not see what any one can do
to a legitimate king as ours is, if he does not assassinate him."
D'Artagnan did not say a word. "Besides, you have your guards and your
musketeers here," said the bishop.
"You are not in M. Fouquet's house, but in your own."
"True; but in spite of that, Aramis, grant me, for pity's sake, one
single word of a true friend."
"A true friend's word is ever truth itself. If I think of touching, even
with my finger, the son of Anne of Austria, the true king of this realm
of France - if I have not the firm intention of prostrating myself before
his throne - if in every idea I may entertain to-morrow, here at Vaux,
will not be the most glorious day my king ever enjoyed - may Heaven's
lightning blast me where I stand!" Aramis had pronounced these words
with his face turned towards the alcove of his own bedroom, where
D'Artagnan, seated with his back towards the alcove, could not suspect
that any one was lying concealed. The earnestness of his words, the
studied slowness with which he pronounced them, the solemnity of his
oath, gave the musketeer the most complete satisfaction. He took hold of
both Aramis's hands, and shook them cordially. Aramis had endured
reproaches without turning pale, and had blushed as he listened to words
of praise. D'Artagnan, deceived, did him honor; but D'Artagnan, trustful
and reliant, made him feel ashamed. "Are you going away?" he said, as he
embraced him, in order to conceal the flush on his face.
"Yes. Duty summons me. I have to get the watch-word. It seems I am to
be lodged in the king's ante-room. Where does Porthos sleep?"
"Take him away with you, if you like, for he rumbles through his sleepy
nose like a park of artillery."
"Ah! he does not stay with you, then?" said D'Artagnan.
"Not the least in the world. He has a chamber to himself, but I don't
"Very good!" said the musketeer; from whom this separation of the two
associates removed his last suspicion, and he touched Porthos lightly on
the shoulder; the latter replied by a loud yawn. "Come," said D'Artagnan.
"What, D'Artagnan, my dear fellow, is that you? What a lucky chance!
Oh, yes - true; I have forgotten; I am at the _fete_ at Vaux."
"Yes; and your beautiful dress, too."
"Yes, it was very attentive on the part of Monsieur Coquelin de Voliere,
was it not?"
"Hush!" said Aramis. "You are walking so heavily you will make the
flooring give way."
"True," said the musketeer; "this room is above the dome, I think."
"And I did not choose it for a fencing-room, I assure you," added the
bishop. "The ceiling of the king's room has all the lightness and calm
of wholesome sleep. Do not forget, therefore, that my flooring is merely
the covering of his ceiling. Good night, my friends, and in ten minutes
I shall be asleep myself." And Aramis accompanied them to the door,
laughing quietly all the while. As soon as they were outside, he bolted
the door, hurriedly; closed up the chinks of the windows, and then called
out, "Monseigneur! - monseigneur!" Philippe made his appearance from the
alcove, as he pushed aside a sliding panel placed behind the bed.
"M. d'Artagnan entertains a great many suspicions, it seems," he said.
"Ah! - you recognized M. d'Artagnan, then?"
"Before you called him by his name, even."
"He is your captain of musketeers."
"He is very devoted to _me_," replied Philippe, laying a stress upon the
"As faithful as a dog; but he bites sometimes. If D'Artagnan does not
recognize you before _the other_ has disappeared, rely upon D'Artagnan to
the end of the world; for in that case, if he has seen nothing, he will
keep his fidelity. If he sees, when it is too late, he is a Gascon, and
will never admit that he has been deceived."
"I thought so. What are we to do, now?"
"Sit in this folding-chair. I am going to push aside a portion of the
flooring; you will look through the opening, which answers to one of the
false windows made in the dome of the king's apartment. Can you see?"
"Yes," said Philippe, starting as at the sight of an enemy; "I see the
"What is he doing?"
"He seems to wish some man to sit down close to him."
"No, no; wait a moment - "
"Look at the notes and the portraits, my prince."
"The man whom the king wishes to sit down in his presence is M. Colbert."
"Colbert sit down in the king's presence!" exclaimed Aramis. "It is
Aramis looked through the opening in the flooring. "Yes," he said.
"Colbert himself. Oh, monseigneur! what can we be going to hear - and
what can result from this intimacy?"
"Nothing good for M. Fouquet, at all events."
The prince did not deceive himself.
We have seen that Louis XIV. had sent for Colbert, and Colbert had
arrived. The conversation began between them by the king according to
him one of the highest favors that he had ever done; it was true the king
was alone with his subject. "Colbert," said he, "sit down."
The intendant, overcome with delight, for he feared he was about to be
dismissed, refused this unprecedented honor.
"Does he accept?" said Aramis.
"No, he remains standing."
"Let us listen, then." And the future king and the future pope listened
eagerly to the simple mortals they held under their feet, ready to crush
them when they liked.
"Colbert," said the king, "you have annoyed me exceedingly to-day."
"I know it, sire."
"Very good; I like that answer. Yes, you knew it, and there was courage
in the doing of it."
"I ran the risk of displeasing your majesty, but I risked, also, the
concealment of your best interests."
"What! you were afraid of something on _my_ account?"
"I was, sire, even if it were nothing more than an indigestion," said
Colbert; "for people do not give their sovereigns such banquets as the
one of to-day, unless it be to stifle them beneath the burden of good
living." Colbert awaited the effect this coarse jest would produce upon
the king; and Louis XIV., who was the vainest and the most fastidiously
delicate man in his kingdom, forgave Colbert the joke.
"The truth is," he said, "that M. Fouquet has given me too good a meal.
Tell me, Colbert, where does he get all the money required for this
enormous expenditure, - can you tell?"
"Yes, I do know, sire."
"Will you be able to prove it with tolerable certainty?"
"Easily; and to the utmost farthing."
"I know you are very exact."
"Exactitude is the principal qualification required in an intendant of
"But all are not so."
"I thank you majesty for so flattering a compliment from your own lips."
"M. Fouquet, therefore, is rich - very rich, and I suppose every man
knows he is so."
"Every one, sire; the living as well as the dead."
"What does that mean, Monsieur Colbert?"
"The living are witnesses of M. Fouquet's wealth, - they admire and
applaud the result produced; but the dead, wiser and better informed than
we are, know how that wealth was obtained - and they rise up in
"So that M. Fouquet owes his wealth to some cause or other."
"The occupation of an intendant very often favors those who practice it."
"You have something to say to me more confidentially, I perceive; do not
be afraid, we are quite alone."
"I am never afraid of anything under the shelter of my own conscience,
and under the protection of your majesty," said Colbert, bowing.
"If the dead, therefore, were to speak - "
"They do speak sometimes, sire, - read."
"Ah!" murmured Aramis, in the prince's ear, who, close beside him,
listened without losing a syllable, "since you are placed here,
monseigneur, in order to learn your vocation of a king, listen to a piece
of infamy - of a nature truly royal. You are about to be a witness of
one of those scenes which the foul fiend alone conceives and executes.
Listen attentively, - you will find your advantage in it."
The prince redoubled his attention, and saw Louis XIV. take from
Colbert's hands a letter the latter held out to him.
"The late cardinal's handwriting," said the king.
"Your majesty has an excellent memory," replied Colbert, bowing; "it is
an immense advantage for a king who is destined for hard work to
recognize handwritings at the first glance."
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