The Man in the Iron Mask
Alexandre Dumas, Pere
Part 8 out of 12
"It was useless, then, to overthrow the superintendent, Monsieur
Colbert. It was idle."
"I had the honor to tell you, madame - "
"Oh! yes, I know, all about the interest of the king - but, if you
please, we will speak of your own."
"Mine! that is to say, the affairs of his majesty."
"In short, are you, or are you not endeavoring to ruin M. Fouquet?
Answer without evasion."
"Madame, I ruin nobody."
"I am endeavoring to comprehend, then, why you purchased from me the
letters of M. Mazarin concerning M. Fouquet. Neither can I conceive why
you have laid those letters before the king."
Colbert, half stupefied, looked at the duchesse with an air of constraint.
"Madame," said he, "I can less easily conceive how you, who received the
money, can reproach me on that head - "
"That is," said the old duchesse, "because we must will that which we
wish for, unless we are not able to obtain what we wish."
"_Will!_" said Colbert, quite confounded by such coarse logic.
"You are not able, _hein!_ Speak."
"I am not able, I allow, to destroy certain influences near the king."
"That fight in favor of M. Fouquet? What are they? Stop, let me help
"Oh! very little influence; no knowledge of business, and small means.
M. Fouquet has paid his court to her."
"To defend him would be to accuse herself, would it not?"
"I think it would."
"There is still another influence, what do you say to that?"
"Is it considerable?"
"The queen-mother, perhaps?"
"Her majesty, the queen-mother, has a weakness for M. Fouquet very
prejudicial to her son."
"Never believe that," said the old duchesse, smiling.
"Oh!" said Colbert, with incredulity, "I have often experienced it."
"Very recently, madame, at Vaux. It was she who prevented the king from
having M. Fouquet arrested."
"People do not forever entertain the same opinions, my dear monsieur.
That which the queen may have wished recently, she would not wish,
"And why not?" said Colbert, astonished.
"Oh! the reason is of very little consequence."
"On the contrary, I think it is of great consequence; for, if I were
certain of not displeasing her majesty, the queen-mother, my scruples
would be all removed."
"Well! have you never heard talk of a certain secret?"
"Call it what you like. In short, the queen-mother has conceived a
bitter hatred for all those who have participated, in one fashion or
another, in the discovery of this secret, and M. Fouquet I believe is one
"Then," said Colbert, "we may be sure of the assent of the queen-mother?"
"I have just left her majesty, and she assures me so."
"So be it, then, madame."
"But there is something further; do you happen to know a man who was the
intimate friend of M. Fouquet, M. d'Herblay, a bishop, I believe?"
"Bishop of Vannes."
"Well! this M. d'Herblay, who also knew the secret, the queen-mother is
pursuing with the utmost rancor."
"So hotly pursued, that if he were dead, she would not be satisfied with
anything less than his head, to satisfy her he would never speak again."
"And is that the desire of the queen-mother?"
"An order is given for it."
"This Monsieur d'Herblay shall be sought for, madame."
"Oh! it is well known where he is."
Colbert looked at the duchesse.
"Say where, madame."
"He is at Belle-Ile-en-Mer."
"At the residence of M. Fouquet?"
"At the residence of M. Fouquet."
"He shall be taken."
It was now the duchesse's turn to smile. "Do not fancy the capture so
easy," said she; "do not promise it so lightly."
"Why not, madame?"
"Because M. d'Herblay is not one of those people who can be taken when
and where you please."
"He is a rebel, then?"
"Oh! Monsieur Colbert, we have passed all our lives in making rebels,
and yet you see plainly, that so far from being taken, we take others."
Colbert fixed upon the old duchesse one of those fierce looks of which no
words can convey the expression, accompanied by a firmness not altogether
wanting in grandeur. "The times are gone," said he, "in which subjects
gained duchies by making war against the king of France. If M. d'Herblay
conspires, he will perish on the scaffold. That will give, or will not
give, pleasure to his enemies, - a matter, by the way, of little
importance to _us_."
And this _us_, a strange word in the mouth of Colbert, made the duchesse
thoughtful for a moment. She caught herself reckoning inwardly with this
man - Colbert had regained his superiority in the conversation, and he
meant to keep it.
"You ask me, madame," he said, "to have this M. d'Herblay arrested?"
"I? - I ask you nothing of the kind!"
"I thought you did, madame. But as I have been mistaken, we will leave
him alone; the king has said nothing about him."
The duchesse bit her nails.
"Besides," continued Colbert, "what a poor capture would this bishop be!
A bishop game for a king! Oh! no, no; I will not even take the slightest
notice of him."
The hatred of the duchesse now discovered itself.
"Game for a woman!" said she. "Is not the queen a woman? If she wishes
M. d'Herblay arrested, she has her reasons. Besides, is not M. d'Herblay
the friend of him who is doomed to fall?"
"Oh! never mind that," said Colbert. "This man shall be spared, if he is
not the enemy of the king. Is that displeasing to you?"
"I say nothing."
"Yes - you wish to see him in prison, in the Bastile, for instance."
"I believe a secret better concealed behind the walls of the Bastile than
behind those of Belle-Isle."
"I will speak to the king about it; he will clear up the point."
"And whilst waiting for that enlightenment, Monsieur l'Eveque de Vannes
will have escaped. I would do so."
"Escaped! he! and whither should he escape? Europe is ours, in will, if
not in fact."
"He will always find an asylum, monsieur. It is evident you know nothing
of the man you have to do with. You do not know D'Herblay; you do not
know Aramis. He was one of those four musketeers who, under the late
king, made Cardinal de Richelieu tremble, and who, during the regency,
gave so much trouble to Monseigneur Mazarin."
"But, madame, what can he do, unless he has a kingdom to back him?"
"He has one, monsieur."
"A kingdom, he! what, Monsieur d'Herblay?"
"I repeat to you, monsieur, that if he wants a kingdom, he either has it
or will have it."
"Well, as you are so earnest that this rebel should not escape, madame, I
promise you he shall not escape."
"Belle-Isle is fortified, M. Colbert, and fortified by him."
"If Belle-Isle were also defended by him, Belle-Isle is not impregnable;
and if Monsieur l'Eveque de Vannes is shut up in Belle-Isle, well,
madame, the place shall be besieged, and he will be taken."
"You may be very certain, monsieur, that the zeal you display in the
interest of the queen-mother will please her majesty mightily, and you
will be magnificently rewarded; but what shall I tell her of your
projects respecting this man?"
"That when once taken, he shall be shut up in a fortress from which her
secret shall never escape."
"Very well, Monsieur Colbert, and we may say, that, dating from this
instant, we have formed a solid alliance, that is, you and I, and that I
am absolutely at your service."
"It is I, madame, who place myself at yours. This Chevalier d'Herblay is
a kind of Spanish spy, is he not?"
"A secret ambassador?"
"Stop - King Phillip III. of Spain is a bigot. He is, perhaps, the
confessor of Phillip III."
"You must go higher even than that."
"_Mordieu!_" cried Colbert, who forgot himself so far as to swear in the
presence of this great lady, of this old friend of the queen-mother. "He
must then be the general of the Jesuits."
"I believe you have guessed it at last," replied the duchesse.
"Ah! then, madame, this man will ruin us all if we do not ruin him; and
we must make haste, too."
"Such was my opinion, monsieur, but I did not dare to give it you."
"And it was lucky for us he has attacked the throne, and not us."
"But, mark this well, M. Colbert. M. d'Herblay is never discouraged; if
he has missed one blow, he will be sure to make another; he will begin
again. If he has allowed an opportunity to escape of making a king for
himself, sooner or later, he will make another, of whom, to a certainty,
you will not be prime minister."
Colbert knitted his brow with a menacing expression. "I feel assured
that a prison will settle this affair for us, madame, in a manner
satisfactory for both."
The duchesse smiled again.
"Oh! if you knew," said she, "how many times Aramis has got out of
"Oh!" replied Colbert, "we will take care that he shall not get out
"But you were not attending to what I said to you just now. Do you
remember that Aramis was one of the four invincibles whom Richelieu so
dreaded? And at that period the four musketeers were not in possession
of that which they have now - money and experience."
Colbert bit his lips.
"We will renounce the idea of the prison," said he, in a lower tone: "we
will find a little retreat from which the invincible cannot possibly
"That was well spoken, our ally!" replied the duchesse. "But it is
getting late; had we not better return?"
"The more willingly, madame, from my having my preparations to make for
setting out with the king."
"To Paris!" cried the duchesse to the coachman.
And the carriage returned towards the Faubourg Saint Antoine, after the
conclusion of the treaty that gave to death the last friend of Fouquet,
the last defender of Belle-Isle, the former friend of Marie Michon, the
new foe of the old duchesse.
The Two Lighters.
D'Artagnan had set off; Fouquet likewise was gone, and with a rapidity
which doubled the tender interest of his friends. The first moments of
this journey, or better say, this flight, were troubled by a ceaseless
dread of every horse and carriage to be seen behind the fugitive. It was
not natural, in fact, if Louis XIV. was determined to seize this prey,
that he should allow it to escape; the young lion was already accustomed
to the chase, and he had bloodhounds sufficiently clever to be trusted.
But insensibly all fears were dispersed; the surintendant, by hard
traveling, placed such a distance between himself and his persecutors,
that no one of them could reasonably be expected to overtake him. As to
his position, his friends had made it excellent for him. Was he not
traveling to join the king at Nantes, and what did the rapidity prove but
his zeal to obey? He arrived, fatigued, but reassured, at Orleans, where
he found, thanks to the care of a courier who had preceded him, a
handsome lighter of eight oars. These lighters, in the shape of
gondolas, somewhat wide and heavy, containing a small chamber, covered by
the deck, and a chamber in the poop, formed by a tent, then acted as
passage-boats from Orleans to Nantes, by the Loire, and this passage, a
long one in our days, appeared then more easy and convenient than the
high-road, with its post-hacks and its ill-hung carriages. Fouquet went
on board this lighter, which set out immediately. The rowers, knowing
they had the honor of conveying the surintendant of the finances, pulled
with all their strength, and that magic word, the _finances_, promised
them a liberal gratification, of which they wished to prove themselves
worthy. The lighter seemed to leap the mimic waves of the Loire.
Magnificent weather, a sunrise that empurpled all the landscape,
displayed the river in all its limpid serenity. The current and the
rowers carried Fouquet along as wings carry a bird, and he arrived before
Beaugency without the slightest accident having signalized the voyage.
Fouquet hoped to be the first to arrive at Nantes; there he would see the
notables and gain support among the principal members of the States; he
would make himself a necessity, a thing very easy for a man of his merit,
and would delay the catastrophe, if he did not succeed in avoiding it
entirely. "Besides," said Gourville to him, "at Nantes, you will make
out, or we will make out, the intentions of your enemies; we will have
horses always ready to convey you to Poitou, a bark in which to gain the
sea, and when once upon the open sea, Belle-Isle is your inviolable
port. You see, besides, that no one is watching you, no one is
following." He had scarcely finished when they discovered at a distance,
behind an elbow formed by the river, the masts of a huge lighter coming
down. The rowers of Fouquet's boat uttered a cry of surprise on seeing
"What is the matter?" asked Fouquet.
"The matter is, monseigneur," replied the patron of the bark, "that it is
a truly remarkable thing - that lighter comes along like a hurricane."
Gourville started, and mounted to the deck, in order to obtain a better
Fouquet did not go up with him, but said to Gourville, with restrained
mistrust: "See what it is, dear friend."
The lighter had just passed the elbow. It came on so fast, that behind
it might be plainly seen the white wake illumined with the fires of the
"How they go," repeated the skipper, "how they go! They must be well
paid! I did not think," he added, "that oars of wood could behave better
than ours, but yonder oarsmen prove the contrary."
"Well they may," said one of the rowers, "they are twelve, and we but
"Twelve rowers!" replied Gourville, "twelve! impossible."
The number of eight rowers for a lighter had never been exceeded, even
for the king. This honor had been paid to monsieur le surintendant, more
for the sake of haste than of respect.
"What does it mean?" said Gourville, endeavoring to distinguish beneath
the tent, which was already apparent, travelers which the most piercing
eye could not yet have succeeded in discovering.
"They must be in a hurry, for it is not the king," said the patron.
"By what sign do you know that it is not the king?" said Gourville.
"In the first place, because there is no white flag with fleurs-de-lis,
which the royal lighter always carries."
"And then," said Fouquet, "because it is impossible it should be the
king, Gourville, as the king was still in Paris yesterday."
Gourville replied to the surintendant by a look which said: "You were
there yourself yesterday."
"And by what sign do you make out they are in such haste?" added he, for
the sake of gaining time.
"By this, monsieur," said the patron; "these people must have set out a
long while after us, and they have already nearly overtaken us."
"Bah!" said Gourville, "who told you that they do not come from Beaugency
or from Moit even?"
"We have seen no lighter of that shape, except at Orleans. It comes from
Orleans, monsieur, and makes great haste."
Fouquet and Gourville exchanged a glance. The captain remarked their
uneasiness, and, to mislead him, Gourville immediately said:
"Some friend, who has laid a wager he would catch us; let us win the
wager, and not allow him to come up with us."
The patron opened his mouth to say that it was quite impossible, but
Fouquet said with much _hauteur_, - "If it is any one who wishes to
overtake us, let him come."
"We can try, monseigneur," said the man, timidly. "Come, you fellows,
put out your strength; row, row!"
"No," said Fouquet, "on the contrary; stop short."
"Monseigneur! what folly!" interrupted Gourville, stooping towards his
"Pull up!" repeated Fouquet. The eight oars stopped, and resisting the
water, created a retrograde motion. It stopped. The twelve rowers in
the other did not, at first, perceive this maneuver, for they continued
to urge on their boat so vigorously that it arrived quickly within musket-
shot. Fouquet was short-sighted, Gourville was annoyed by the sun, now
full in his eyes; the skipper alone, with that habit and clearness which
are acquired by a constant struggle with the elements, perceived
distinctly the travelers in the neighboring lighter.
"I can see them!" cried he; "there are two."
"I can see nothing," said Gourville.
"You will not be long before you distinguish them; in twenty strokes of
their oars they will be within ten paces of us."
But what the patron announced was not realized; the lighter imitated the
movement commanded by Fouquet, and instead of coming to join its
pretended friends, it stopped short in the middle of the river.
"I cannot comprehend this," said the captain.
"Nor I," cried Gourville.
"You who can see so plainly the people in that lighter," resumed Fouquet,
"try to describe them to us, before we are too far off."
"I thought I saw two," replied the boatman. "I can only see one now,
under the tent."
"What sort of man is he?"
"He is a dark man, broad-shouldered, bull-necked."
A little cloud at that moment passed across the azure, darkening the
sun. Gourville, who was still looking, with one hand over his eyes,
became able to see what he sought, and all at once, jumping from the
deck into the chamber where Fouquet awaited him: "Colbert!" said he, in a
voice broken by emotion.
"Colbert!" repeated Fouquet. "Too strange! but no, it is impossible!"
"I tell you I recognized him, and he, at the same time, so plainly
recognized me, that he is just gone into the chamber on the poop.
Perhaps the king has sent him on our track."
"In that case he would join us, instead of lying by. What is he doing
"He is watching us, without a doubt."
"I do not like uncertainty," said Fouquet; "let us go straight up to him."
"Oh! monseigneur, do not do that, the lighter is full of armed men."
"He wishes to arrest me, then, Gourville? Why does he not come on?"
"Monseigneur, it is not consistent with your dignity to go to meet even
"But to allow them to watch me like a malefactor!"
"Nothing yet proves that they are watching you, monseigneur; be patient!"
"What is to be done, then?"
"Do not stop; you were only going so fast to appear to obey the king's
order with zeal. Redouble the speed. He who lives will see!"
"That is better. Come!" cried Fouquet; "since they remain stock-still
yonder, let us go on."
The captain gave the signal, and Fouquet's rowers resumed their task with
all the success that could be looked for from men who had rested.
Scarcely had the lighter made a hundred fathoms, than the other, that
with the twelve rowers, resumed its rapid course. This position lasted
all day, without any increase or diminution of distance between the two
vessels. Towards evening Fouquet wished to try the intentions of his
persecutor. He ordered his rowers to pull towards the shore, as if to
effect a landing. Colbert's lighter imitated this maneuver, and steered
towards the shore in a slanting direction. By the merest chance, at the
spot where Fouquet pretended to wish to land, a stableman, from the
chateau of Langeais, was following the flowery banks leading three horses
in halters. Without doubt the people of the twelve-oared lighter fancied
that Fouquet was directing his course to these horses ready for flight,
for four or five men, armed with muskets, jumped from the lighter on to
the shore, and marched along the banks, as if to gain ground on the
horseman. Fouquet, satisfied of having forced the enemy to a
demonstration, considered his intention evident, and put his boat in
motion again. Colbert's people returned likewise to theirs, and the
course of the two vessels was resumed with fresh perseverance. Upon
seeing this, Fouquet felt himself threatened closely, and in a prophetic
voice - "Well, Gourville," said he, whisperingly, "what did I say at our
last repast, at my house? Am I going, or not, to my ruin?"
"These two boats, which follow each other with so much emulation, as if
we were disputing, M. Colbert and I, a prize for swiftness on the Loire,
do they not aptly represent our fortunes; and do you not believe,
Gourville, that one of the two will be wrecked at Nantes?"
"At least," objected Gourville, "there is still uncertainty; you are
about to appear at the States; you are about to show what sort of man you
are; your eloquence and genius for business are the buckler and sword
that will serve to defend you, if not to conquer with. The Bretons do
not know you; and when they become acquainted with you your cause is
won! Oh! let M. Colbert look to it well, for his lighter is as much
exposed as yours to being upset. Both go quickly, his faster than yours,
it is true; we shall see which will be wrecked first."
Fouquet, taking Gourville's hand - "My friend," said he, "everything
considered, remember the proverb, 'First come, first served!' Well! M.
Colbert takes care not to pass me. He is a prudent man is M. Colbert."
He was right; the two lighters held their course as far as Nantes,
watching each other. When the surintendant landed, Gourville hoped he
should be able to seek refuge at once, and have the relays prepared.
But, at the landing, the second lighter joined the first, and Colbert,
approaching Fouquet, saluted him on the quay with marks of the
profoundest respect - marks so significant, so public, that their result
was the bringing of the whole population upon La Fosse. Fouquet was
completely self-possessed; he felt that in his last moments of greatness
he had obligations towards himself. He wished to fall from such a height
that his fall should crush some of his enemies. Colbert was there - so
much the worse for Colbert. The surintendant, therefore, coming up to
him, replied, with that arrogant semi-closure of the eyes peculiar to
him - "What! is that you, M. Colbert?"
"To offer you my respects, monseigneur," said the latter.
"Were you in that lighter?" - pointing to the one with twelve rowers.
"Of twelve rowers?" said Fouquet; "what luxury, M. Colbert. For a
moment I thought it was the queen-mother."
"Monseigneur!" - and Colbert blushed.
"This is a voyage that will cost those who have to pay for it dear,
Monsieur l'Intendant!" said Fouquet. "But you have, happily, arrived! –
You see, however," added he, a moment after, "that I, who had but eight
rowers, arrived before you." And he turned his back towards him, leaving
him uncertain whether the maneuvers of the second lighter had escaped the
notice of the first. At least he did not give him the satisfaction of
showing that he had been frightened. Colbert, so annoyingly attacked,
did not give way.
"I have not been quick, monseigneur," he replied, "because I followed
your example whenever you stopped."
"And why did you do that, Monsieur Colbert?" cried Fouquet, irritated by
the base audacity; "as you had a superior crew to mine, why did you not
either join me or pass me?"
"Out of respect," said the intendant, bowing to the ground.
Fouquet got into a carriage which the city had sent to him, we know not
why or how, and he repaired to _la Maison de Nantes_, escorted by a vast
crowd of people, who for several days had been agog with expectation of a
convocation of the States. Scarcely was he installed when Gourville went
out to order horses on the route to Poitiers and Vannes, and a boat at
Paimboef. He performed these various operations with so much mystery,
activity, and generosity, that never was Fouquet, then laboring under an
attack of fever, more nearly saved, except for the counteraction of that
immense disturber of human projects, - chance. A report was spread
during the night, that the king was coming in great haste on post horses,
and would arrive in ten or twelve hours at the latest. The people, while
waiting for the king, were greatly rejoiced to see the musketeers, newly
arrived, with Monsieur d'Artagnan, their captain, and quartered in the
castle, of which they occupied all the posts, in quality of guard of
honor. M. d'Artagnan, who was very polite, presented himself, about
ten o'clock, at the lodgings of the surintendant to pay his respectful
compliments; and although the minister suffered from fever, although he
was in such pain as to be bathed in sweat, he would receive M.
d'Artagnan, who was delighted with that honor, as will be seen by the
conversation they had together.
Fouquet had gone to bed, like a man who clings to life, and wishes to
economize, as much as possible, that slender tissue of existence, of
which the shocks and frictions of this world so quickly wear out the
tenuity. D'Artagnan appeared at the door of this chamber, and was
saluted by the superintendent with a very affable "Good day."
"_Bon jour!_ monseigneur," replied the musketeer; "how did you get
through the journey?"
"Tolerably well, thank you."
"And the fever?"
"But poorly. I drink, as you perceive. I am scarcely arrived, and I
have already levied a contribution of _tisane_ upon Nantes."
"You should sleep first, monseigneur."
"Eh! _corbleu!_ my dear Monsieur d'Artagnan, I should be very glad to
"Who hinders you?"
"Why, _you_ in the first place."
"I? Oh, monseigneur!"
"No doubt you do. Is it at Nantes as at Paris? Do you not come in the
"For Heaven's sake, monseigneur," replied the captain, "leave the king
alone! The day on which I shall come on the part of the king, for the
purpose you mean, take my word for it, I will not leave you long in
doubt. You will see me place my hand on my sword, according to the
_ordonnance_, and you will hear my say at once, in ceremonial voice,
'Monseigneur, in the name of the king, I arrest you!'"
"You promise me that frankness?" said the superintendent.
"Upon my honor! But we have not come to that, believe me."
"What makes you think that, M. d'Artagnan? For my part, I think quite
"I have heard speak of nothing of the kind," replied D'Artagnan.
"Eh! eh!" said Fouquet.
"Indeed, no. You are an agreeable man, in spite of your fever. The king
should not, cannot help loving you, at the bottom of his heart."
Fouquet's expression implied doubt. "But M. Colbert?" said he; "does M.
Colbert love me as much as you say?"
"I am not speaking of M. Colbert," replied D'Artagnan. "He is an
exceptional man. He does not love you; so much is very possible; but,
_mordioux!_ the squirrel can guard himself against the adder with very
"Do you know that you are speaking to me quite as a friend?" replied
Fouquet; "and that, upon my life! I have never met with a man of your
intelligence, and heart?"
"You are pleased to say so," replied D'Artagnan. "Why did you wait till
to-day to pay me such a compliment?"
"Blind that we are!" murmured Fouquet.
"Your voice is getting hoarse," said D'Artagnan; "drink, monseigneur,
drink!" And he offered him a cup of _tisane_, with the most friendly
cordiality; Fouquet took it, and thanked him by a gentle smile. "Such
things only happen to me," said the musketeer. "I have passed ten years
under your very beard, while you were rolling about tons of gold. You
were clearing an annual pension of four millions; you never observed me;
and you find out there is such a person in the world, just at the moment
you - "
"Just at the moment I am about to fall," interrupted Fouquet. "That is
true, my dear Monsieur d'Artagnan."
"I did not say so."
"But you thought so; and that is the same thing. Well! if I fall, take
my word as truth, I shall not pass a single day without saying to myself,
as I strike my brow, 'Fool! fool! - stupid mortal! You had a Monsieur
d'Artagnan under your eye and hand, and you did not employ him, you did
not enrich him!'"
"You overwhelm me," said the captain. "I esteem you greatly."
"There exists another man, then, who does not think as M. Colbert
thinks," said the surintendant.
"How this M. Colbert looms up in your imagination! He is worse than
"Oh! I have good cause," said Fouquet. "Judge for yourself." And he
related the details of the course of the lighters, and the hypocritical
persecution of Colbert. "Is not this a clear sign of my ruin?"
D'Artagnan became very serious. "That is true," he said. "Yes; it has
an unsavory odor, as M. de Treville used to say." And he fixed on M.
Fouquet his intelligent and significant look.
"Am I not clearly designated in that, captain? Is not the king bringing
me to Nantes to get me away from Paris, where I have so many creatures,
and to possess himself of Belle-Isle?"
"Where M. d'Herblay is," added D'Artagnan. Fouquet raised his head. "As
for me, monseigneur," continued D'Artagnan, "I can assure you the king
has said nothing to me against you."
"The king commanded me to set out for Nantes, it is true; and to say
nothing about it to M. de Gesvres."
"To M. de Gesvres, yes, monseigneur," continued the musketeer, whose eye
s did not cease to speak a language different from the language of his
lips. "The king, moreover, commanded me to take a brigade of musketeers,
which is apparently superfluous, as the country is quite quiet."
"A brigade!" said Fouquet, raising himself upon his elbow.
"Ninety-six horsemen, yes, monseigneur. The same number as were employed
in arresting MM. de Chalais, de Cinq-Mars, and Montmorency."
Fouquet pricked up his ears at these words, pronounced without apparent
value. "And what else?" said he.
"Oh! nothing but insignificant orders; such as guarding the castle,
guarding every lodging, allowing none of M. de Gesvres's guards to occupy
a single post."
"And as to myself," cried Fouquet, "what orders had you?"
"As to you, monseigneur? - not the smallest word."
"Monsieur d'Artagnan, my safety, my honor, perhaps my life are at stake.
You would not deceive me?"
"I? - to what end? Are you threatened? Only there really is an order
with respect to carriages and boats - "
"Yes; but it cannot concern you - a simple measure of police."
"What is it, captain? - what is it?"
"To forbid all horses or boats to leave Nantes, without a pass, signed by
"Great God! but - "
D'Artagnan began to laugh. "All that is not to be put into execution
before the arrival of the king at Nantes. So that you see plainly,
monseigneur, the order in nowise concerns you."
Fouquet became thoughtful, and D'Artagnan feigned not to observe his
preoccupation. "It is evident, by my thus confiding to you the orders
which have been given to me, that I am friendly towards you, and that I
am trying to prove to you that none of them are directed against you."
"Without doubt! - without doubt!" said Fouquet, still absent.
"Let us recapitulate," said the captain, his glance beaming with
earnestness. "A special guard about the castle, in which your lodging is
to be, is it not?"
"Do you know the castle?"
"Ah! monseigneur, a regular prison! The absence of M. de Gesvres, who
has the honor of being one of your friends. The closing of the gates of
the city, and of the river without a pass; but, only when the king shall
have arrived. Please to observe, Monsieur Fouquet, that if, instead of
speaking to man like you, who are one of the first in the kingdom, I were
speaking to a troubled, uneasy conscience - I should compromise myself
forever. What a fine opportunity for any one who wished to be free! No
police, no guards, no orders; the water free, the roads free, Monsieur
d'Artagnan obliged to lend his horses, if required. All this ought to
reassure you, Monsieur Fouquet, for the king would not have left me thus
independent, if he had any sinister designs. In truth, Monsieur Fouquet,
ask me whatever you like, I am at your service; and, in return, if you
will consent to do it, do me a service, that of giving my compliments to
Aramis and Porthos, in case you embark for Belle-Isle, as you have a
right to do without changing your dress, immediately, in your _robe de
chambre_ - just as you are." Saying these words, and with a profound
bow, the musketeer, whose looks had lost none of their intelligent
kindness, left the apartment. He had not reached the steps of the
vestibule, when Fouquet, quite beside himself, hung to the bell-rope, and
shouted, "My horses! - my lighter!" But nobody answered. The
surintendant dressed himself with everything that came to hand.
"Gourville! - Gourville!" cried he, while slipping his watch into his
pocket. And the bell sounded again, whilst Fouquet repeated, "Gourville!
Gourville at length appeared, breathless and pale.
"Let us be gone! Let us be gone!" cried Fouquet, as soon as he saw him.
"It is too late!" said the surintendant's poor friend.
"Too late! - why?"
"Listen!" And they heard the sounds of trumpets and drums in front of
"What does that mean, Gourville?"
"It means the king is come, monseigneur."
"The king, who has ridden double stages, who has killed horses, and who
is eight hours in advance of all our calculations."
"We are lost!" murmured Fouquet. "Brave D'Artagnan, all is over, thou
has spoken to me too late!"
The king, in fact, was entering the city, which soon resounded with the
cannon from the ramparts, and from a vessel which replied from the lower
parts of the river. Fouquet's brow darkened; he called his _valets de
chambre_ and dressed in ceremonial costume. From his window, behind the
curtains, he could see the eagerness of the people, and the movement of a
large troop, which had followed the prince. The king was conducted to
the castle with great pomp, and Fouquet saw him dismount under the
portcullis, and say something in the ear of D'Artagnan, who held his
stirrup. D'Artagnan, when the king had passed under the arch, directed
his steps towards the house Fouquet was in; but so slowly, and stopping
so frequently to speak to his musketeers, drawn up like a hedge, that it
might be said he was counting the seconds, or the steps, before
accomplishing his object. Fouquet opened the window to speak to him in
"Ah!" cried D'Artagnan, on perceiving him, "are you still there,
And that word _still_ completed the proof to Fouquet of how much
information and how many useful counsels were contained in the first
visit the musketeer had paid him. The surintendant sighed deeply.
"Good heavens! yes, monsieur," replied he. "The arrival of the king has
interrupted me in the projects I had formed."
"Oh, then you know that the king has arrived?"
"Yes, monsieur, I have seen him; and this time you come from him - "
"To inquire after you, monseigneur; and, if your health is not too bad,
to beg you to have the kindness to repair to the castle."
"Directly, Monsieur d'Artagnan, directly!"
"Ah, _mordioux!_" said the captain, "now the king is come, there is no
more walking for anybody - no more free will; the password governs all
now, you as much as me, me as much as you."
Fouquet heaved a last sigh, climbed with difficulty into his carriage, so
great was his weakness, and went to the castle, escorted by D'Artagnan,
whose politeness was not less terrifying this time than it had just
before been consoling and cheerful.
How the King, Louis XIV., Played His Little Part.
As Fouquet was alighting from his carriage, to enter the castle of
Nantes, a man of mean appearance went up to him with marks of the
greatest respect, and gave him a letter. D'Artagnan endeavored to
prevent this man from speaking to Fouquet, and pushed him away, but the
message had been given to the surintendant. Fouquet opened the letter
and read it, and instantly a vague terror, which D'Artagnan did not fail
to penetrate, was painted on the countenance of the first minister.
Fouquet put the paper into the portfolio which he had under his arm, and
passed on towards the king's apartments. D'Artagnan, through the small
windows made at every landing of the donjon stairs, saw, as he went up
behind Fouquet, the man who had delivered the note, looking round him on
the place and making signs to several persons, who disappeared in the
adjacent streets, after having themselves repeated the signals. Fouquet
was made to wait for a moment on the terrace of which we have spoken, - a
terrace which abutted on the little corridor, at the end of which the
cabinet of the king was located. Here D'Artagnan passed on before the
surintendant, whom, till that time, he had respectfully accompanied, and
entered the royal cabinet.
"Well?" asked Louis XIV., who, on perceiving him, threw on to the table
covered with papers a large green cloth.
"The order is executed, sire."
"Monsieur le surintendant follows me," said D'Artagnan.
"In ten minutes let him be introduced," said the king, dismissing
D'Artagnan again with a gesture. The latter retired; but had scarcely
reached the corridor at the extremity of which Fouquet was waiting for
him, when he was recalled by the king's bell.
"Did he not appear astonished?" asked the king.
"_Fouquet_," replied the king, without saying monsieur, a peculiarity
which confirmed the captain of the musketeers in his suspicions.
"No, sire," replied he.
"That's well!" And a second time Louis dismissed D'Artagnan.
Fouquet had not quitted the terrace where he had been left by his guide.
He reperused his note, conceived thus:
"Something is being contrived against you. Perhaps they will not dare to
carry it out at the castle; it will be on your return home. The house is
already surrounded by musketeers. Do not enter. A white horse is in
waiting for you behind the esplanade!"
Fouquet recognized the writing and zeal of Gourville. Not being willing
that, if any evil happened to himself, this paper should compromise a
faithful friend, the surintendant was busy tearing it into a thousand
morsels, spread about by the wind from the balustrade of the terrace.
D'Artagnan found him watching the snowflake fluttering of the last scraps
"Monsieur," said he, "the king awaits you."
Fouquet walked with a deliberate step along the little corridor, where
MM. de Brienne and Rose were at work, whilst the Duc de Saint-Aignan,
seated on a chair, likewise in the corridor, appeared to be waiting for
orders, with feverish impatience, his sword between his legs. It
appeared strange to Fouquet that MM. Brienne, Rose, and de Saint-Aignan,
in general so attentive and obsequious, should scarcely take the least
notice, as he, the surintendant, passed. But how could he expect to find
it otherwise among courtiers, he whom the king no longer called anything
but _Fouquet?_ He raised his head, determined to look every one and
everything bravely in the face, and entered the king's apartment, where a
little bell, which we already know, had already announced him to his
The king, without rising, nodded to him, and with interest: "Well! how
are you, Monsieur Fouquet?" said he.
"I am in a high fever," replied the surintendant; "but I am at the king's
"That is well; the States assemble to-morrow; have you a speech ready?"
Fouquet looked at the king with astonishment. "I have not, sire,"
replied he; "but I will improvise one. I am too well acquainted with
affairs to feel any embarrassment. I have only one question to ask; will
your majesty permit me?"
"Certainly. Ask it."
"Why did not your majesty do his first minister the honor of giving him
notice of this in Paris?"
"You were ill; I was not willing to fatigue you."
"Never did a labor - never did an explanation fatigue me, sire; and since
the moment is come for me to demand an explanation of my king - "
"Oh, Monsieur Fouquet! an explanation? An explanation, pray, of what?"
"Of your majesty's intentions with respect to myself."
The king blushed. "I have been calumniated," continued Fouquet, warmly,
"and I feel called upon to adjure the justice of the king to make
"You say all this to me very uselessly, Monsieur Fouquet; I know what I
"Your majesty can only know the things that have been told to you; and I,
on my part, have said nothing to you, whilst others have spoken many,
many times - "
"What do you wish to say?" said the king, impatient to put an end to this
"I will go straight to the facts, sire; and I accuse a certain man of
having injured me in your majesty's opinion."
"Nobody has injured you, Monsieur Fouquet."
"That reply proves to me, sire, that I am right."
"Monsieur Fouquet, I do not like people to be accused."
"Not when one is accused?"
"We have already spoken too much about this affair."
"Your majesty will not allow me to justify myself?"
"I repeat that I do not accuse you."
Fouquet, with a half-bow, made a step backward. "It is certain," thought
he, "that he has made up his mind. He alone who cannot go back can show
such obstinacy. Not to see the danger now would be to be blind indeed;
not to shun it would be stupid." He resumed aloud, "Did your majesty
send for me on business?"
"No, Monsieur Fouquet, but for some advice I wish to give you."
"I respectfully await it, sire."
"Rest yourself, Monsieur Fouquet, do not throw away your strength; the
session of the States will be short, and when my secretaries shall have
closed it, I do not wish business to be talked of in France for a
"Has the king nothing to say to me on the subject of this assembly of the
"No, Monsieur Fouquet."
"Not to me, the surintendant of the finances?"
"Rest yourself, I beg you; that is all I have to say to you."
Fouquet bit his lips and hung his head. He was evidently busy with some
uneasy thought. This uneasiness struck the king. "Are you angry at
having to rest yourself, M. Fouquet?" said he.
"Yes, sire, I am not accustomed to take rest."
"But you are ill; you must take care of yourself."
"Your majesty spoke just now of a speech to be pronounced to-morrow."
His majesty made no reply; this unexpected stroke embarrassed him.
Fouquet felt the weight of this hesitation. He thought he could read
danger in the eyes of the young prince, which fear would but
precipitate. "If I appear frightened, I am lost," thought he.
The king, on his part, was only uneasy at the alarm of Fouquet. "Has he
a suspicion of anything?" murmured he.
"If his first word is severe," again thought Fouquet; "if he becomes
angry, or feigns to be angry for the sake of a pretext, how shall I
extricate myself? Let us smooth the declivity a little. Gourville was
"Sire," said he, suddenly, "since the goodness of the king watches over
my health to the point of dispensing with my labor, may I not be allowed
to be absent from the council of to-morrow? I could pass the day in bed,
and will entreat the king to grant me his physician, that we may endeavor
to find a remedy against this fearful fever."
"So be it, Monsieur Fouquet, it shall be as you desire; you shall have a
holiday to-morrow, you shall have the physician, and shall be restored to
"Thanks!" said Fouquet, bowing. Then, opening his game: "Shall I not
have the happiness of conducting your majesty to my residence of Belle-
And he looked Louis full in the face, to judge of the effect of such a
proposal. The king blushed again.
"Do you know," replied he, endeavoring to smile, "that you have just
said, 'My residence of Belle-Isle'?"
"Well! do you not remember," continued the king in the same cheerful
tone, "that you gave me Belle-Isle?"
"That is true again, sire. Only, as you have not taken it, you will
doubtless come with me and take possession of it."
"I mean to do so."
"That was, besides, your majesty's intention as well as mine; and I
cannot express to your majesty how happy and proud I have been to see all
the king's regiments from Paris to help take possession."
The king stammered out that he did not bring the musketeers for that
"Oh, I am convinced of that," said Fouquet, warmly; "your majesty knows
very well that you have nothing to do but to come alone with a cane in
your hand, to bring to the ground all the fortifications of Belle-Isle."
"_Peste!_" cried the king; "I do not wish those fine fortifications,
which cost so much to build, to fall at all. No, let them stand against
the Dutch and English. You would not guess what I want to see at Belle-
Isle, Monsieur Fouquet; it is the pretty peasants and women of the lands
on the sea-shore, who dance so well, and are so seducing with their
scarlet petticoats! I have heard great boast of your pretty tenants,
monsieur le surintendant; well, let me have a sight of them."
"Whenever your majesty pleases."
"Have you any means of transport? It shall be to-morrow, if you like."
The surintendant felt this stroke, which was not adroit, and replied,
"No, sire; I was ignorant of your majesty's wish; above all, I was
ignorant of your haste to see Belle-Isle, and I am prepared with nothing."
"You have a boat of your own, nevertheless?"
"I have five; but they are all in port, or at Paimboeuf; and to join
them, or bring them hither, would require at least twenty-four hours.
Have I any occasion to send a courier? Must I do so?"
"Wait a little, put an end to the fever, - wait till to-morrow."
"That is true. Who knows but that by to-morrow we may not have a hundred
other ideas?" replied Fouquet, now perfectly convinced and very pale.
The king started, and stretched his hand out towards his little bell, but
Fouquet prevented his ringing.
"Sire," said he, "I have an ague - I am trembling with cold. If I remain
a moment longer, I shall most likely faint. I request your majesty's
permission to go and fling myself beneath the bedclothes."
"Indeed, you are in a shiver; it is painful to behold! Come, Monsieur
Fouquet, begone! I will send to inquire after you."
"Your majesty overwhelms me with kindness. In an hour I shall be better."
"I will call some one to reconduct you," said the king.
"As you please, sire; I would gladly take the arm of any one."
"Monsieur d'Artagnan!" cried the king, ringing his little bell.
"Oh, sire," interrupted Fouquet, laughing in such a manner as made the
prince feel cold, "would you give me the captain of your musketeers to
take me to my lodgings? An equivocal honor that, sire! A simple
footman, I beg."
"And why, M. Fouquet? M. d'Artagnan conducts me often, and extremely
"Yes, but when he conducts you, sire, it is to obey you; whilst me - "
"If I am obliged to return home supported by the leader of the
musketeers, it would be everywhere said you had had me arrested."
"Arrested!" replied the king, who became paler than Fouquet himself, -
"And why should they not say so?" continued Fouquet, still laughing; "and
I would lay a wager there would be people found wicked enough to laugh at
it." This sally disconcerted the monarch. Fouquet was skillful enough,
or fortunate enough, to make Louis XIV. recoil before the appearance of
the deed he meditated. M. d'Artagnan, when he appeared, received an
order to desire a musketeer to accompany the surintendant.
"Quite unnecessary," said the latter; "sword for sword; I prefer
Gourville, who is waiting for me below. But that will not prevent me
enjoying the society of M. d'Artagnan. I am glad he will see Belle-Isle,
he is so good a judge of fortifications."
D'Artagnan bowed, without at all comprehending what was going on.
Fouquet bowed again and left the apartment, affecting all the slowness of
a man who walks with difficulty. When once out of the castle, "I am
saved!" said he. "Oh! yes, disloyal king, you shall see Belle-Isle, but
it shall be when I am no longer there."
He disappeared, leaving D'Artagnan with the king.
"Captain," said the king, "you will follow M. Fouquet at the distance of
a hundred paces."
"He is going to his lodgings again. You will go with him."
"You will arrest him in my name, and will shut him up in a carriage."
"In a carriage. Well, sire?"
"In such a fashion that he may not, on the road, either converse with any
one or throw notes to people he may meet."
"That will be rather difficult, sire."
"Not at all."
"Pardon me, sire, I cannot stifle M. Fouquet, and if he asks for liberty
to breathe, I cannot prevent him by closing both the windows and the
blinds. He will throw out at the doors all the cries and notes possible."
"The case is provided for, Monsieur d'Artagnan; a carriage with a trellis
will obviate both the difficulties you point out."
"A carriage with an iron trellis!" cried D'Artagnan; "but a carriage with
an iron trellis is not made in half an hour, and your majesty commands me
to go immediately to M. Fouquet's lodgings."
"The carriage in question is already made."
"Ah! that is quite a different thing," said the captain; "if the carriage
is ready made, very well, then, we have only to set it in motion."
"It is ready - and the horses harnessed."
"And the coachman, with the outriders, is waiting in the lower court of
D'Artagnan bowed. "There only remains for me to ask your majesty whither
I shall conduct M. Fouquet."
"To the castle of Angers, at first."
"Very well, sire."
"Afterwards we will see."
"Monsieur d'Artagnan, one last word: you have remarked that, for making
this capture of M. Fouquet, I have not employed my guards, on which
account M. de Gesvres will be furious."
"Your majesty does not employ your guards," said the captain, a little
humiliated, "because you mistrust M. de Gesvres, that is all."
"That is to say, monsieur, that I have more confidence in you."
"I know that very well, sire! and it is of no use to make so much of it."
"It is only for the sake of arriving at this, monsieur, that if, from
this moment, it should happen that by any chance whatever M. Fouquet
should escape - such chances have been, monsieur - "
"Oh! very often, sire; but for others, not for me."
"And why not with you?"
"Because I, sire, have, for an instant, wished to save M. Fouquet."
The king started. "Because," continued the captain, "I had then a right
to do so, having guessed your majesty's plan, without you having spoken
to me of it, and that I took an interest in M. Fouquet. Now, was I not
at liberty to show my interest in this man?"
"In truth, monsieur, you do not reassure me with regard to your services."
"If I had saved him then, I should have been perfectly innocent; I will
say more, I should have done well, for M. Fouquet is not a bad man. But
he was not willing; his destiny prevailed; he let the hour of liberty
slip by. So much the worse! Now I have orders, I will obey those
orders, and M. Fouquet you may consider as a man arrested. He is at the
castle of Angers, this very M. Fouquet."
"Oh! you have not got him yet, captain."
"That concerns me; every one to his trade, sire; only, once more,
reflect! Do you seriously give me orders to arrest M. Fouquet, sire?"
"Yes, a thousand times, yes!"
"In writing, sire, then."
"Here is the order."
D'Artagnan read it, bowed to the king, and left the room. From the
height of the terrace he perceived Gourville, who went by with a joyous
air towards the lodgings of M. Fouquet.
The White Horse and the Black.
"That is rather surprising," said D'Artagnan; "Gourville running about
the streets so gayly, when he is almost certain that M. Fouquet is in
danger; when it is almost equally certain that it was Gourville who
warned M. Fouquet just now by the note which was torn into a thousand
pieces upon the terrace, and given to the winds by monsieur le
surintendant. Gourville is rubbing his hands; that is because he has
done something clever. Whence comes M. Gourville? Gourville is coming
from the Rue aux Herbes. Whither does the Rue aux Herbes lead?" And
D'Artagnan followed, along the tops of the houses of Nantes, dominated by
the castle, the line traced by the streets, as he would have done upon a
topographical plan; only, instead of the dead, flat paper, the living
chart rose in relief with the cries, the movements, and the shadows of
men and things. Beyond the inclosure of the city, the great verdant
plains stretched out, bordering the Loire, and appeared to run towards
the pink horizon, which was cut by the azure of the waters and the dark
green of the marshes. Immediately outside the gates of Nantes two white
roads were seen diverging like separate fingers of a gigantic hand.
D'Artagnan, who had taken in all the panorama at a glance by crossing the
terrace, was led by the line of the Rue aux Herbes to the mouth of one of
those roads which took its rise under the gates of Nantes. One step
more, and he was about to descend the stairs, take his trellised
carriage, and go towards the lodgings of M. Fouquet. But chance decreed,
at the moment of plunging into the staircase, that he was attracted by a
moving point then gaining ground upon that road.
"What is that?" said the musketeer to himself; "a horse galloping, - a
runaway horse, no doubt. What a rate he is going at!" The moving point
became detached from the road, and entered into the fields. "A white
horse," continued the captain, who had just observed the color thrown
luminously against the dark ground, "and he is mounted; it must be some
boy whose horse is thirsty and has run away with him."
These reflections, rapid as lightning, simultaneous with visual
perception, D'Artagnan had already forgotten when he descended the first
steps of the staircase. Some morsels of paper were spread over the
stairs, and shone out white against the dirty stones. "Eh! eh!" said
the captain to himself, "here are some of the fragments of the note torn
by M. Fouquet. Poor man! he has given his secret to the wind; the wind
will have no more to do with it, and brings it back to the king.
Decidedly, Fouquet, you play with misfortune! the game is not a fair one,
- fortune is against you. The star of Louis XIV. obscures yours; the
adder is stronger and more cunning than the squirrel." D'Artagnan picked
up one of these morsels of paper as he descended. "Gourville's pretty
little hand!" cried he, whilst examining one of the fragments of the
note; "I was not mistaken." And he read the word "horse." "Stop!" said
he; and he examined another, upon which there was not a letter traced.
Upon a third he read the word "white;" "white horse," repeated he, like a
child that is spelling. "Ah, _mordioux!_" cried the suspicious spirit,
"a white horse!" And, like that grain of powder which, burning, dilates
into ten thousand times its volume, D'Artagnan, enlightened by ideas and
suspicions, rapidly reascended the stairs towards the terrace. The white
horse was still galloping in the direction of the Loire, at the extremity
of which, melting into the vapors of the water, a little sail appeared,
wave-balanced like a water-butterfly. "Oh!" cried the musketeer, "only a
man who wants to fly would go at that pace across plowed lands; there is
but one Fouquet, a financier, to ride thus in open day upon a white
horse; there is no one but the lord of Belle-Isle who would make his
escape towards the sea, while there are such thick forests on land, and
there is but one D'Artagnan in the world to catch M. Fouquet, who has
half an hour's start, and who will have gained his boat within an hour."
This being said, the musketeer gave orders that the carriage with the
iron trellis should be taken immediately to a thicket situated just
outside the city. He selected his best horse, jumped upon his back,
galloped along the Rue aux Herbes, taking, not the road Fouquet had
taken, but the bank itself of the Loire, certain that he should gain ten
minutes upon the total distance, and, at the intersection of the two
lines, come up with the fugitive, who could have no suspicion of being
pursued in that direction. In the rapidity of the pursuit, and with the
impatience of the avenger, animating himself as in war, D'Artagnan, so
mild, so kind towards Fouquet, was surprised to find himself become
ferocious - almost sanguinary. For a long time he galloped without
catching sight of the white horse. His rage assumed fury, he doubted
himself, - he suspected that Fouquet had buried himself in some
subterranean road, or that he had changed the white horse for one of
those famous black ones, as swift as the wind, which D'Artagnan, at Saint-
Mande, had so frequently admired and envied for their vigor and their
At such moments, when the wind cut his eyes so as to make the tears
spring from them, when the saddle had become burning hot, when the galled
and spurred horse reared with pain, and threw behind him a shower of dust
and stones, D'Artagnan, raising himself in his stirrups, and seeing
nothing on the waters, nothing beneath the trees, looked up into the air
like a madman. He was losing his senses. In the paroxysms of eagerness
he dreamt of aerial ways, - the discovery of following century; he called
to his mind Daedalus and the vast wings that had saved him from the
prisons of Crete. A hoarse sigh broke from his lips, as he repeated,
devoured by the fear of ridicule, "I! I! duped by a Gourville! I! They
will say that I am growing old, - they will say I have received a million
to allow Fouquet to escape!" And he again dug his spurs into the sides
of his horse: he had ridden astonishingly fast. Suddenly, at the
extremity of some open pasture-ground, behind the hedges, he saw a white
form which showed itself, disappeared, and at last remained distinctly
visible against the rising ground. D'Artagnan's heart leaped with joy.
He wiped the streaming sweat from his brow, relaxed the tension of his
knees, - by which the horse breathed more freely, - and, gathering up his
reins, moderated the speed of the vigorous animal, his active accomplice
on this man-hunt. He had then time to study the direction of the road,
and his position with regard to Fouquet. The superintendent had
completely winded his horse by crossing the soft ground. He felt the
necessity of gaining a firmer footing, and turned towards the road by the
shortest secant line. D'Artagnan, on his part, had nothing to do but to
ride straight on, concealed by the sloping shore; so that he would cut
his quarry off the road when he came up with him. Then the real race
would begin, - then the struggle would be in earnest.
D'Artagnan gave his horse good breathing-time. He observed that the
superintendent had relaxed into a trot, which was to say, he, too, was
favoring his horse. But both of them were too much pressed for time to
allow them to continue long at that pace. The white horse sprang off
like an arrow the moment his feet touched firm ground. D'Artagnan
dropped his head, and his black horse broke into a gallop. Both followed
the same route; the quadruple echoes of this new race-course were
confounded. Fouquet had not yet perceived D'Artagnan. But on issuing
from the slope, a single echo struck the air; it was that of the steps
of D'Artagnan's horse, which rolled along like thunder. Fouquet turned
round, and saw behind him, within a hundred paces, his enemy bent over
the neck of his horse. There could be no doubt - the shining baldrick,
the red cassock - it was a musketeer. Fouquet slackened his hand
likewise, and the white horse placed twenty feet more between his
adversary and himself.
"Oh, but," thought D'Artagnan, becoming very anxious, "that is not a
common horse M. Fouquet is upon - let us see!" And he attentively
examined with his infallible eye the shape and capabilities of the
courser. Round full quarters - a thin long tail - large hocks - thin
legs, as dry as bars of steel - hoofs hard as marble. He spurred his
own, but the distance between the two remained the same. D'Artagnan
listened attentively; not a breath of the horse reached him, and yet he
seemed to cut the air. The black horse, on the contrary, began to puff
like any blacksmith's bellows.
"I must overtake him, if I kill my horse," thought the musketeer; and he
began to saw the mouth of the poor animal, whilst he buried the rowels of
his merciless spurs into his sides. The maddened horse gained twenty
toises, and came up within pistol-shot of Fouquet.
"Courage!" said the musketeer to himself, "courage! the white horse will
perhaps grow weaker, and if the horse does not fall, the master must pull
up at last." But horse and rider remained upright together, gaining
ground by difficult degrees. D'Artagnan uttered a wild cry, which made
Fouquet turn round, and added speed to the white horse.
"A famous horse! a mad rider!" growled the captain. "Hola! _mordioux!_
Monsieur Fouquet! stop! in the king's name!" Fouquet made no reply.
"Do you hear me?" shouted D'Artagnan, whose horse had just stumbled.
"_Pardieu!_" replied Fouquet, laconically; and rode on faster.
D'Artagnan was nearly mad; the blood rushed boiling to his temples and
his eyes. "In the king's name!" cried he again, "stop, or I will bring
you down with a pistol-shot!"
"Do!" replied Fouquet, without relaxing his speed.
D'Artagnan seized a pistol and cocked it, hoping that the double click of
the spring would stop his enemy. "You have pistols likewise," said he,
"turn and defend yourself."
Fouquet did turn round at the noise, and looking D'Artagnan full in the
face, opened, with his right hand, the part of his dress which concealed
his body, but he did not even touch his holsters. There were not more
than twenty paces between the two.
"_Mordioux!_" said D'Artagnan, "I will not assassinate you; if you will
not fire upon me, surrender! what is a prison?"
"I would rather die!" replied Fouquet; "I shall suffer less."
D'Artagnan, drunk with despair, hurled his pistol to the ground. "I will
take you alive!" said he; and by a prodigy of skill which this
incomparable horseman alone was capable, he threw his horse forward to
within ten paces of the white horse; already his hand was stretched out
to seize his prey.
"Kill me! kill me!" cried Fouquet, "'twould be more humane!"
"No! alive - alive!" murmured the captain.
At this moment his horse made a false step for the second time, and
Fouquet's again took the lead. It was an unheard-of spectacle, this race
between two horses which now only kept alive by the will of their
riders. It might be said that D'Artagnan rode, carrying his horse along
between his knees. To the furious gallop had succeeded the fast trot,
and that had sunk to what might be scarcely called a trot at all. But
the chase appeared equally warm in the two fatigued _athletoe_.
D'Artagnan, quite in despair, seized his second pistol, and cocked it.
"At your horse! not at you!" cried he to Fouquet. And he fired. The
animal was hit in the quarters - he made a furious bound, and plunged
forward. At that moment D'Artagnan's horse fell dead.
"I am dishonored!" thought the musketeer; "I am a miserable wretch! for
pity's sake, M. Fouquet, throw me one of your pistols, that I may blow
out my brains!" But Fouquet rode away.
"For mercy's sake! for mercy's sake!" cried D'Artagnan; "that which you
will not do at this moment, I myself will do within an hour, but here,
upon this road, I should die bravely; I should die esteemed; do me that
service, M. Fouquet!"
M. Fouquet made no reply, but continued to trot on. D'Artagnan began to
run after his enemy. Successively he threw away his hat, his coat, which
embarrassed him, and then the sheath of his sword, which got between his
legs as he was running. The sword in his hand itself became too heavy,
and he threw it after the sheath. The white horse began to rattle in its
throat; D'Artagnan gained upon him. From a trot the exhausted animal
sunk to a staggering walk - the foam from his mouth was mixed with
blood. D'Artagnan made a desperate effort, sprang towards Fouquet, and
seized him by the leg, saying in a broken, breathless voice, "I arrest
you in the king's name! blow my brains out, if you like; we have both
done our duty."
Fouquet hurled far from him, into the river, the two pistols D'Artagnan
might have seized, and dismounting from his horse - "I am your prisoner,
monsieur," said he; "will you take my arm, for I see you are ready to
"Thanks!" murmured D'Artagnan, who, in fact, felt the earth sliding from
under his feet, and the light of day turning to blackness around him;
then he rolled upon the sand, without breath or strength. Fouquet
hastened to the brink of the river, dipped some water in his hat, with
which he bathed the temples of the musketeer, and introduced a few drop
between his lips. D'Artagnan raised himself with difficulty, and looked
about him with a wandering eye. He beheld Fouquet on his knees, with his
wet hat in his hand, smiling upon him with ineffable sweetness. "You are
not off, then?" cried he. "Oh, monsieur! the true king of royalty, in
heart, in soul, is not Louis of the Louvre, or Philippe of Sainte-
Marguerite; it is you, proscribed, condemned!"
"I, who this day am ruined by a single error, M. d'Artagnan."
"What, in the name of Heaven, is that?"
"I should have had you for a friend! But how shall we return to Nantes?
We are a great way from it."
"That is true," said D'Artagnan, gloomily.
"The white horse will recover, perhaps; he is a good horse! Mount,
Monsieur d'Artagnan; I will walk till you have rested a little."
"Poor beast! and wounded, too?" said the musketeer.
"He will go, I tell you; I know him; but we can do better still, let us
both get up, and ride slowly."
"We can try," said the captain. But they had scarcely charged the animal
with this double load, when he began to stagger, and then with a great
effort walked a few minutes, then staggered again, and sank down dead by
the side of the black horse, which he had just managed to come up to.
"We will go on foot - destiny wills it so - the walk will be pleasant,"
said Fouquet, passing his arm through that of D'Artagnan.
"_Mordioux!_" cried the latter, with a fixed eye, a contracted brow, and
a swelling heart - "What a disgraceful day!"
They walked slowly the four leagues which separated them from the little
wood behind which the carriage and escort were in waiting. When Fouquet
perceived that sinister machine, he said to D'Artagnan, who cast down his
eyes, ashamed of Louis XIV., "There is an idea that did not emanate from
a brave man, Captain d'Artagnan; it is not yours. What are these
gratings for?" said he.
"To prevent your throwing letters out."
"But you can speak, if you cannot write," said D'Artagnan.
"Can I speak to you?"
"Why, certainly, if you wish to do so."
Fouquet reflected for a moment, then looking the captain full in the
face, "One single word," said he; "will you remember it?"
"I will not forget it."
"Will you speak it to whom I wish?"
"Saint-Mande," articulated Fouquet, in a low voice.
"Well! and for whom?"
"For Madame de Belliere or Pelisson."
"It shall be done."
The carriage rolled through Nantes, and took the route to Angers.
In Which the Squirrel Falls, - the Adder Flies.
It was two o'clock in the afternoon. The king, full of impatience, went
to his cabinet on the terrace, and kept opening the door of the corridor,
to see what his secretaries were doing. M. Colbert, seated in the same
place M. de Saint-Aignan had so long occupied in the morning, was
chatting in a low voice with M. de Brienne. The king opened the door
suddenly, and addressed them. "What is it you are saying?"
"We were speaking of the first sitting of the States," said M. de
"Very well," replied the king, and returned to his room.
Five minutes after, the summons of the bell recalled Rose, whose hour it
"Have you finished your copies?" asked the king.
"Not yet, sire."
"See if M. d'Artagnan has returned."
"Not yet, sire."
"It is very strange," murmured the king. "Call M. Colbert."
Colbert entered; he had been expecting this all the morning.
"Monsieur Colbert," said the king, very sharply; "you must ascertain what
has become of M. d'Artagnan."
Colbert in his calm voice replied, "Where does your majesty desire him to
be sought for?"
"Eh! monsieur! do you not know on what I have sent him?" replied Louis,
"Your majesty did not inform me."
"Monsieur, there are things that must be guessed; and you, above all, are
apt to guess them."
"I might have been able to imagine, sire; but I do not presume to be
Colbert had not finished these words when a rougher voice than that of
the king interrupted the interesting conversation thus begun between the
monarch and his clerk.
"D'Artagnan!" cried the king, with evident joy.
D'Artagnan, pale and in evidently bad humor, cried to the king, as he
entered, "Sire, is it your majesty who has given orders to my musketeers?"
"What orders?" said the king.
"About M. Fouquet's house?"
"None!" replied Louis.
"Ha!" said D'Artagnan, biting his mustache; "I was not mistaken, then; it
was monsieur here;" and he pointed to Colbert.
"What orders? Let me know," said the king.
"Orders to turn the house topsy-turvy, to beat M. Fouquet's servants, to
force the drawers, to give over a peaceful house to pillage! _Mordioux!_
these are savage orders!"
"Monsieur!" said Colbert, turning pale.
"Monsieur," interrupted D'Artagnan, "the king alone, understand, - the
king alone has a right to command my musketeers; but, as to you, I forbid
you to do it, and I tell you so before his majesty; gentlemen who carry
swords do not sling pens behind their ears."
"D'Artagnan! D'Artagnan!" murmured the king.
"It is humiliating," continued the musketeer; "my soldiers are
disgraced. I do not command _reitres_, thank you, nor clerks of the
"Well! but what is all this about?" said the king with authority.
"About this, sire; monsieur - monsieur, who could not guess your
majesty's orders, and consequently could not know I was gone to arrest
M. Fouquet; monsieur, who has caused the iron cage to be constructed for
his patron of yesterday - has sent M. de Roncherolles to the lodgings of
M. Fouquet, and, under the pretense of securing the surintendant's
papers, they have taken away the furniture. My musketeers have been
posted round the house all the morning; such were my orders. Why did any
one presume to order them to enter? Why, by forcing them to assist in
this pillage, have they been made accomplices in it? _Mordioux!_ we
serve the king, we do; but we do not serve M. Colbert!" (5)
"Monsieur d'Artagnan," said the king, sternly, "take care; it is not in
my presence that such explanations, and made in such a tone, should take
"I have acted for the good of the king," said Colbert, in a faltering
voice. "It is hard to be so treated by one of your majesty's officers,
and that without redress, on account of the respect I owe the king."
"The respect you owe the king," cried D'Artagnan, his eyes flashing fire,
"consists, in the first place, in making his authority respected, and his
person beloved. Every agent of a power without control represents that
power, and when people curse the hand which strikes them, it is the royal
hand that God reproaches, do you hear? Must a soldier, hardened by forty
years of wounds and blood, give you this lesson, monsieur? Must mercy be
on my side, and ferocity on yours? You have caused the innocent to be
arrested, bound, and imprisoned!"
"Accomplices, perhaps, of M. Fouquet," said Colbert.
"Who told you M. Fouquet had accomplices, or even that he was guilty?
The king alone knows that; his justice is not blind! When he says,
'Arrest and imprison' such and such a man, he is obeyed. Do not talk to
me, then, any more of the respect you owe the king, and be careful of
your words, that they may not chance to convey the slightest menace; for
the king will not allow those to be threatened who do him service by
others who do him disservice; and if in case I should have, which God
forbid! a master so ungrateful, I would make myself respected."
Thus saying, D'Artagnan took his station haughtily in the king's cabinet,
his eyes flashing, his hand on his sword, his lips trembling, affecting
much more anger than he really felt. Colbert, humiliated and devoured
with rage, bowed to the king as if to ask his permission to leave the
room. The king, thwarted alike in pride and in curiosity, knew not which
part to take. D'Artagnan saw him hesitate. To remain longer would have
been a mistake: it was necessary to score a triumph over Colbert, and the
only method was to touch the king so near the quick, that his majesty
would have no other means of extrication but choosing between the two
antagonists. D'Artagnan bowed as Colbert had done; but the king, who, in
preference to everything else, was anxious to have all the exact details
of the arrest of the surintendant of the finances from him who had made
him tremble for a moment, - the king, perceiving that the ill-humor of
D'Artagnan would put off for half an hour at least the details he was
burning to be acquainted with, - Louis, we say, forgot Colbert, who had
nothing new to tell him, and recalled his captain of the musketeers.
"In the first place," said he, "let me see the result of your commission,
monsieur; you may rest yourself hereafter."
D'Artagnan, who was just passing through the doorway, stopped at the
voice of the king, retraced his steps, and Colbert was forced to leave
the closet. His countenance assumed almost a purple hue, his black and
threatening eyes shone with a dark fire beneath their thick brows; he
stepped out, bowed before the king, half drew himself up in passing
D'Artagnan, and went away with death in his heart. D'Artagnan, on being
left alone with the king, softened immediately, and composing his
countenance: "Sire," said he, "you are a young king. It is by the dawn
that people judge whether the day will be fine or dull. How, sire, will
the people, whom the hand of God has placed under your law, argue of your
reign, if between them and you, you allow angry and violent ministers to
interpose their mischief? But let us speak of myself, sire, let us leave
a discussion that may appear idle, and perhaps inconvenient to you. Let
us speak of myself. I have arrested M. Fouquet."
"You took plenty of time about it," said the king, sharply.
D'Artagnan looked at the king. "I perceive that I have expressed myself
badly. I announced to your majesty that I had arrested Monsieur Fouquet."
"You did; and what then?"
"Well! I ought to have told your majesty that M. Fouquet had arrested
me; that would have been more just. I re-establish the truth, then; I
have been arrested by M. Fouquet."
It was now the turn of Louis XIV. to be surprised. His majesty was
astonished in his turn.
D'Artagnan, with his quick glance, appreciated what was passing in the
heart of his master. He did not allow him time to put any questions. He
related, with that poetry, that picturesqueness, which perhaps he alone
possessed at that period, the escape of Fouquet, the pursuit, the furious
race, and, lastly, the inimitable generosity of the surintendant, who
might have fled ten times over, who might have killed the adversary in
the pursuit, but who had preferred imprisonment, perhaps worse, to the
humiliation of one who wished to rob him of his liberty. In proportion
as the tale advanced, the king became agitated, devouring the narrator's
words, and drumming with his finger-nails upon the table.
"It results from all this, sire, in my eyes, at least, that the man who
conducts himself thus is a gallant man, and cannot be an enemy to the
king. That is my opinion, and I repeat it to your majesty. I know what
the king will say to me, and I bow to it, - reasons of state. So be it!
To my ears that sounds highly respectable. But I am a soldier, and I
have received my orders, my orders are executed - very unwillingly on my
part, it is true, but they are executed. I say no more."
"Where is M. Fouquet at this moment?" asked Louis, after a short silence.
"M. Fouquet, sire," replied D'Artagnan, "is in the iron cage that M.
Colbert had prepared for him, and is galloping as fast as four strong
horses can drag him, towards Angers."
"Why did you leave him on the road?"
"Because your majesty did not tell me to go to Angers. The proof, the
best proof of what I advance, is that the king desired me to be sought
for but this minute. And then I had another reason."
"What is that?"
"Whilst I was with him, poor M. Fouquet would never attempt to escape."
"Well!" cried the king, astonished.
"Your majesty ought to understand, and does understand, certainly, that
my warmest wish is to know that M. Fouquet is at liberty. I have given
him one of my brigadiers, the most stupid I could find among my
musketeers, in order that the prisoner might have a chance of escaping."
"Are you mad, Monsieur d'Artagnan?" cried the king, crossing his arms on
his breast. "Do people utter such enormities, even when they have the
misfortune to think them?"
"Ah! sire, you cannot expect that I should be an enemy to M. Fouquet,
after what he has just done for you and me. No, no; if you desire that
he should remain under your lock and bolt, never give him in charge to
me; however closely wired might be the cage, the bird would, in the end,
"I am surprised," said the king, in his sternest tone, "you did not
follow the fortunes of the man M. Fouquet wished to place upon my
throne. You had in him all you want - affection, gratitude. In my
service, monsieur, you will only find a master."
"If M. Fouquet had not gone to seek you in the Bastile, sire," replied
D'Artagnan, with a deeply impressive manner, "one single man would have
gone there, and I should have been that man - you know that right well,
The king was brought to a pause. Before that speech of his captain of
the musketeers, so frankly spoken and so true, the king had nothing to
offer. On hearing D'Artagnan, Louis remembered the D'Artagnan of former
times; him who, at the Palais Royal, held himself concealed behind the
curtains of his bed, when the people of Paris, led by Cardinal de Retz,
came to assure themselves of the presence of the king; the D'Artagnan
whom he saluted with his hand at the door of his carriage, when repairing
to Notre Dame on his return to Paris; the soldier who had quitted his
service at Blois; the lieutenant he had recalled to be beside his person
when the death of Mazarin restored his power; the man he had always found
loyal, courageous, devoted. Louis advanced towards the door and called
Colbert. Colbert had not left the corridor where the secretaries were at
work. He reappeared.
"Colbert, did you make a perquisition on the house of M. Fouquet?"
"What has it produced?"
"M. de Roncherolles, who was sent with your majesty's musketeers, has
remitted me some papers," replied Colbert.
"I will look at them. Give me your hand."
"My hand, sire!"
"Yes, that I may place it in that of M. d'Artagnan. In fact, M.
d'Artagnan," added he, with a smile, turning towards the soldier, who, at
sight of the clerk, had resumed his haughty attitude, "you do not know
this man; make his acquaintance." And he pointed to Colbert. "He has
been made but a moderately valuable servant in subaltern positions, but
he will be a great man if I raise him to the foremost rank."
"Sire!" stammered Colbert, confused with pleasure and fear.
"I always understood why," murmured D'Artagnan in the king's ear; "he was
"Precisely, and his jealousy confined his wings."
"He will henceforward be a winged-serpent," grumbled the musketeer, with
a remnant of hatred against his recent adversary.
But Colbert, approaching him, offered to his eyes a physiognomy so
different from that which he had been accustomed to see him wear; he
appeared so good, so mild, so easy; his eyes took the expression of an
intelligence so noble, that D'Artagnan, a connoisseur in physiognomies,
was moved, and almost changed in his convictions. Colbert pressed his
"That which the king has just told you, monsieur, proves how well his
majesty is acquainted with men. The inveterate opposition I have
displayed, up to this day, against abuses and not against men, proves
that I had it in view to prepare for my king a glorious reign, for my
country a great blessing. I have many ideas, M. d'Artagnan. You will
see them expand in the sun of public peace; and if I have not the good
fortune to conquer the friendship of honest men, I am at least certain,
monsieur, that I shall obtain their esteem. For their admiration,
monsieur, I would give my life."
This change, this sudden elevation, this mute approbation of the king,
gave the musketeer matter for profound reflection. He bowed civilly to
Colbert, who did not take his eyes off him. The king, when he saw they
were reconciled, dismissed them. They left the room together. As soon
as they were out of the cabinet, the new minister, stopping the captain,
"Is it possible, M. d'Artagnan, that with such an eye as yours, you did
not, at the first glance, at the first impression, discover what sort of
man I am?"
"Monsieur Colbert," replied the musketeer, "a ray of the sun in our eyes
prevents us from seeing the most vivid flame. The man in power radiates,
you know; and since you are there, why should you continue to persecute
him who had just fallen into disgrace, and fallen from such a height?"
"I, monsieur!" said Colbert; "oh, monsieur! I would never persecute
him. I wished to administer the finances and to administer them alone,
because I am ambitious, and, above all, because I have the most entire
confidence in my own merit; because I know that all the gold of this
country will ebb and flow beneath my eyes, and I love to look at the
king's gold; because, if I live thirty years, in thirty years not a
_denir_ of it will remain in my hands; because, with that gold, I will
build granaries, castles, cities, and harbors; because I will create a
marine, I will equip navies that shall waft the name of France to the
most distant people; because I will create libraries and academies;
because I will make France the first country in the world, and the
wealthiest. These are the motives for my animosity against M. Fouquet,
who prevented my acting. And then, when I shall be great and strong,
when France is great and strong, in my turn, then, will I cry, 'Mercy'!"
"Mercy, did you say? then ask his liberty of the king. The king is only
crushing him on _your_ account."
Colbert again raised his head. "Monsieur," said he, "you know that is
not so, and that the king has his own personal animosity against M.
Fouquet; it is not for me to teach you that."
"But the king will grow tired; he will forget."
"The king never forgets, M. d'Artagnan. Hark! the king calls. He is
going to issue an order. I have not influenced him, have I? Listen."
The king, in fact, was calling his secretaries. "Monsieur d'Artagnan,"
"I am here, sire."
"Give twenty of your musketeers to M. de Saint-Aignan, to form a guard
for M. Fouquet."
D'Artagnan and Colbert exchanged looks. "And from Angers," continued the
king, "they will conduct the prisoner to the Bastile, in Paris."
"You were right," said the captain to the minister.
"Saint-Aignan," continued the king, "you will have any one shot who shall
attempt to speak privately with M. Fouquet, during the journey."
"But myself, sire," said the duke.
"You, monsieur, you will only speak to him in the presence of the
musketeers." The duke bowed and departed to execute his commission.
D'Artagnan was about to retire likewise; but the king stopped him.
"Monsieur," said he, "you will go immediately, and take possession of the
isle and fief of Belle-Ile-en-Mer."
"Yes, sire. Alone?"
"You will take a sufficient number of troops to prevent delay, in case
the place should be contumacious."
A murmur of courtly incredulity rose from the group of courtiers. "That
shall be done," said D'Artagnan.
"I saw the place in my infancy," resumed the king, "and I do not wish to
see it again. You have heard me? Go, monsieur, and do not return
without the keys."
Colbert went up to D'Artagnan. "A commission which, if you carry it out
well," said he, "will be worth a marechal's baton to you."
"Why do you employ the words, 'if you carry it out well'?"
"Because it is difficult."
"Ah! in what respect?"
"You have friends in Belle-Isle, Monsieur d'Artagnan; and it is not an
easy thing for men like you to march over the bodies of their friends to
D'Artagnan hung his head in deepest thought, whilst Colbert returned to
the king. A quarter of an hour after, the captain received the written
order from the king, to blow up the fortress of Belle-Isle, in case of
resistance, with power of life and death over all the inhabitants or
refugees, and an injunction not to allow one to escape.
"Colbert was right," thought D'Artagnan; "for me the baton of a marechal
of France will cost the lives of my two friends. Only they seem to
forget that my friends are not more stupid than the birds, and that they
will not wait for the hand of the fowler to extend over their wings. I
will show them that hand so plainly, that they will have quite time
enough to see it. Poor Porthos! Poor Aramis! No; my fortune should
shall not cost your wings a feather."
Having thus determined, D'Artagnan assembled the royal army, embarked it
at Paimboeuf, and set sail, without the loss of an unnecessary minute.
At the extremity of the mole, against which the furious sea beats at the
evening tide, two men, holding each other by the arm, were conversing in
an animated and expansive tone, without the possibility of any other
human being hearing their words, borne away, as they were, one by one, by
the gusts of wind, with the white foam swept from the crests of the
waves. The sun had just gone down in the vast sheet of the crimsoned
ocean, like a gigantic crucible. From time to time, one of these men,
turning towards the east, cast an anxious, inquiring look over the sea.
The other, interrogating the features of his companion, seemed to seek
for information in his looks. Then, both silent, busied with dismal
thoughts, they resumed their walk. Every one has already perceived that
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