Part 02 - The Man in the Iron Mask Audiobook by Alexandre Dumas (Chs 05-11)


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Transcript:
CHAPTER V. Where, Probably, Moliere Obtained His First
Idea of the Bourgeois Gentilhomme.
D'Artagnan found Porthos in the adjoining chamber; but no longer an irritated
Porthos, or a disappointed Porthos, but Porthos radiant, blooming, fascinating, and
chattering with Moliere, who was looking
upon him with a species of idolatry, and as a man would who had not only never seen
anything greater, but not even ever anything so great.
Aramis went straight up to Porthos and offered him his white hand, which lost
itself in the gigantic clasp of his old friend,--an operation which Aramis never
hazarded without a certain uneasiness.
But the friendly pressure having been performed not too painfully for him, the
bishop of Vannes passed over to Moliere. "Well, monsieur," said he, "will you come
with me to Saint-Mande?"
"I will go anywhere you like, monseigneur," answered Moliere.
"To Saint-Mande!" cried Porthos, surprised at seeing the proud bishop of Vannes
fraternizing with a journeyman tailor.
"What, Aramis, are you going to take this gentleman to Saint-Mande?"
"Yes," said Aramis, smiling, "our work is pressing."
"And besides, my dear Porthos," continued D'Artagnan, "M. Moliere is not altogether
what he seems." "In what way?" asked Porthos.
"Why, this gentleman is one of M. Percerin's chief clerks, and is expected at
Saint-Mande to try on the dresses which M. Fouquet has ordered for the Epicureans."
"'Tis precisely so," said Moliere.
"Yes, monsieur." "Come, then, my dear M. Moliere," said
Aramis, "that is, if you have done with M. du Vallon."
"We have finished," replied Porthos.
"And you are satisfied?" asked D'Artagnan. "Completely so," replied Porthos.
Moliere took his leave of Porthos with much ceremony, and grasped the hand which the
captain of the musketeers furtively offered him.
"Pray, monsieur," concluded Porthos, mincingly, "above all, be exact."
"You will have your dress the day after to- morrow, monsieur le baron," answered
Moliere.
And he left with Aramis. Then D'Artagnan, taking Porthos's arm,
"What has this tailor done for you, my dear Porthos," he asked, "that you are so
pleased with him?"
"What has he done for me, my friend! done for me!" cried Porthos, enthusiastically.
"Yes, I ask you, what has he done for you?"
"My friend, he has done that which no tailor ever yet accomplished: he has taken
my measure without touching me!" "Ah, bah! tell me how he did it."
"First, then, they went, I don't know where, for a number of lay figures, of all
heights and sizes, hoping there would be one to suit mine, but the largest--that of
the drum-major of the Swiss guard--was two
inches too short, and a half foot too narrow in the chest."
"Indeed!"
"It is exactly as I tell you, D'Artagnan; but he is a great man, or at the very least
a great tailor, is this M. Moliere. He was not at all put at fault by the
circumstance."
"What did he do, then?" "Oh! it is a very simple matter.
I'faith, 'tis an unheard-of thing that people should have been so stupid as not to
have discovered this method from the first.
What annoyance and humiliation they would have spared me!"
"Not to mention of the costumes, my dear Porthos."
"Yes, thirty dresses."
"Well, my dear Porthos, come, tell me M. Moliere's plan."
"Moliere? You call him so, do you?
I shall make a point of recollecting his name."
"Yes; or Poquelin, if you prefer that." "No; I like Moliere best.
When I wish to recollect his name, I shall think of voliere [an aviary]; and as I have
one at Pierrefonds--" "Capital!" returned D'Artagnan.
"And M. Moliere's plan?"
"'Tis this: instead of pulling me to pieces, as all these rascals do--of making
me bend my back, and double my joints--all of them low and dishonorable practices--"
D'Artagnan made a sign of approbation with his head.
"'Monsieur,' he said to me," continued Porthos, "'a gentleman ought to measure
himself.
Do me the pleasure to draw near this glass;' and I drew near the glass.
I must own I did not exactly understand what this good M. Voliere wanted with me."
"Moliere!"
"Ah! yes, Moliere--Moliere. And as the fear of being measured still
possessed me, 'Take care,' said I to him, 'what you are going to do with me; I am
very ticklish, I warn you.'
But he, with his soft voice (for he is a courteous fellow, we must admit, my
friend), he with his soft voice, 'Monsieur,' said he, 'that your dress may
fit you well, it must be made according to your figure.
Your figure is exactly reflected in this mirror.
We shall take the measure of this reflection.'"
"In fact," said D'Artagnan, "you saw yourself in the glass; but where did they
find one in which you could see your whole figure?"
"My good friend, it is the very glass in which the king is used to look to see
himself." "Yes; but the king is a foot and a half
shorter than you are."
"Ah! well, I know not how that may be; it is, no doubt, a cunning way of flattering
the king; but the looking-glass was too large for me.
'Tis true that its height was made up of three Venetian plates of glass, placed one
above another, and its breadth of three similar parallelograms in juxtaposition."
"Oh, Porthos! what excellent words you have command of.
Where in the word did you acquire such a voluminous vocabulary?"
"At Belle-Isle.
Aramis and I had to use such words in our strategic studies and castramentative
experiments."
D'Artagnan recoiled, as though the sesquipedalian syllables had knocked the
breath out of his body. "Ah! very good.
Let us return to the looking-glass, my friend."
"Then, this good M. Voliere--" "Moliere."
"Yes--Moliere--you are right.
You will see now, my dear friend, that I shall recollect his name quite well.
This excellent M. Moliere set to work tracing out lines on the mirror, with a
piece of Spanish chalk, following in all the make of my arms and my shoulders, all
the while expounding this maxim, which I
thought admirable: 'It is advisable that a dress should not incommode its wearer.'"
"In reality," said D'Artagnan, "that is an excellent maxim, which is, unfortunately,
seldom carried out in practice."
"That is why I found it all the more astonishing, when he expatiated upon it."
"Ah! he expatiated?" "Parbleu!"
"Let me hear his theory."
"'Seeing that,' he continued, 'one may, in awkward circumstances, or in a troublesome
position, have one's doublet on one's shoulder, and not desire to take one's
doublet off--'"
"True," said D'Artagnan. "'And so,' continued M. Voliere--"
"Moliere." "Moliere, yes.
'And so,' went on M. Moliere, 'you want to draw your sword, monsieur, and you have
your doublet on your back. What do you do?'
"'I take it off,' I answered.
"'Well, no,' he replied. "'How no?'
"'I say that the dress should be so well made, that it will in no way encumber you,
even in drawing your sword.'
"'Ah, ah!' "'Throw yourself on guard,' pursued he.
"I did it with such wondrous firmness, that two panes of glass burst out of the window.
"''Tis nothing, nothing,' said he.
'Keep your position.'
"I raised my left arm in the air, the forearm gracefully bent, the ruffle
drooping, and my wrist curved, while my right arm, half extended, securely covered
my wrist with the elbow, and my breast with the wrist."
"Yes," said D'Artagnan, "'tis the true guard--the academic guard."
"You have said the very word, dear friend.
In the meanwhile, Voliere--" "Moliere."
"Hold!
I should certainly, after all, prefer to call him--what did you say his other name
was?" "Poquelin."
"I prefer to call him Poquelin."
"And how will you remember this name better than the other?"
"You understand, he calls himself Poquelin, does he not?"
"Yes."
"If I were to call to mind Madame Coquenard."
"Good."
"And change Coc into Poc, nard into lin; and instead of Coquenard I shall have
Poquelin." "'Tis wonderful," cried D'Artagnan,
astounded.
"Go on, my friend, I am listening to you with admiration."
"This Coquelin sketched my arm on the glass."
"I beg your pardon--Poquelin."
"What did I say, then?" "You said Coquelin."
"Ah! true.
This Poquelin, then, sketched my arm on the glass; but he took his time over it; he
kept looking at me a good deal. The fact is, that I must have been looking
particularly handsome."
"'Does it weary you?' he asked. "'A little,' I replied, bending a little in
my hands, 'but I could hold out for an hour or so longer.'
"'No, no, I will not allow it; the willing fellows will make it a duty to support your
arms, as of old, men supported those of the prophet.'
"'Very good,' I answered.
"'That will not be humiliating to you?' "'My friend,' said I, 'there is, I think, a
great difference between being supported and being measured.'"
"The distinction is full of the soundest sense," interrupted D'Artagnan.
"Then," continued Porthos, "he made a sign: two lads approached; one supported my left
arm, while the other, with infinite address, supported my right."
"'Another, my man,' cried he.
A third approached. 'Support monsieur by the waist,' said he.
The garcon complied." "So that you were at rest?" asked
D'Artagnan.
"Perfectly; and Pocquenard drew me on the glass."
"Poquelin, my friend." "Poquelin--you are right.
Stay, decidedly I prefer calling him Voliere."
"Yes; and then it was over, wasn't it?" "During that time Voliere drew me as I
appeared in the mirror."
"'Twas delicate in him." "I much like the plan; it is respectful,
and keeps every one in his place." "And there it ended?"
"Without a soul having touched me, my friend."
"Except the three garcons who supported you."
"Doubtless; but I have, I think, already explained to you the difference there is
between supporting and measuring."
"'Tis true," answered D'Artagnan; who said afterwards to himself, "I'faith, I greatly
deceive myself, or I have been the means of a good windfall to that rascal Moliere, and
we shall assuredly see the scene hit off to the life in some comedy or other."
Porthos smiled. "What are you laughing at?" asked
D'Artagnan.
"Must I confess? Well, I was laughing over my good fortune."
"Oh, that is true; I don't know a happier man than you.
But what is this last piece of luck that has befallen you?'
"Well, my dear fellow, congratulate me." "I desire nothing better."
"It seems that I am the first who has had his measure taken in that manner."
"Are you so sure of it?' "Nearly so.
Certain signs of intelligence which passed between Voliere and the other garcons
showed me the fact." "Well, my friend, that does not surprise me
from Moliere," said D'Artagnan.
"Voliere, my friend." "Oh, no, no, indeed!
I am very willing to leave you to go on saying Voliere; but, as for me, I shall
continued to say Moliere.
Well, this, I was saying, does not surprise me, coming from Moliere, who is a very
ingenious fellow, and inspired you with this grand idea."
"It will be of great use to him by and by, I am sure."
"Won't it be of use to him, indeed?
I believe you, it will, and that in the highest degree;--for you see my friend
Moliere is of all known tailors the man who best clothes our barons, comtes, and
marquises--according to their measure."
On this observation, neither the application nor depth of which we shall
discuss, D'Artagnan and Porthos quitted M. de Percerin's house and rejoined their
carriages, wherein we will leave them, in
order to look after Moliere and Aramis at Saint-Mande.
>
CHAPTER VI. The Bee-Hive, the Bees, and the Honey.
The bishop of Vannes, much annoyed at having met D'Artagnan at M. Percerin's,
returned to Saint-Mande in no very good humor.
Moliere, on the other hand, quite delighted at having made such a capital rough sketch,
and at knowing where to find his original again, whenever he should desire to convert
his sketch into a picture, Moliere arrived in the merriest of moods.
All the first story of the left wing was occupied by the most celebrated Epicureans
in Paris, and those on the freest footing in the house--every one in his compartment,
like the bees in their cells, employed in
producing the honey intended for that royal cake which M. Fouquet proposed to offer his
majesty Louis XIV. during the fete at Vaux.
Pelisson, his head leaning on his hand, was engaged in drawing out the plan of the
prologue to the "Facheux," a comedy in three acts, which was to be put on the
stage by Poquelin de Moliere, as D'Artagnan
called him, or Coquelin de Voliere, as Porthos styled him.
Loret, with all the charming innocence of a gazetteer,--the gazetteers of all ages have
always been so artless!--Loret was composing an account of the fetes at Vaux,
before those fetes had taken place.
La Fontaine sauntered about from one to the other, a peripatetic, absent-minded,
boring, unbearable dreamer, who kept buzzing and humming at everybody's elbow a
thousand poetic abstractions.
He so often disturbed Pelisson, that the latter, raising his head, crossly said, "At
least, La Fontaine, supply me with a rhyme, since you have the run of the gardens at
Parnassus."
"What rhyme do you want?" asked the Fabler as Madame de Sevigne used to call him.
"I want a rhyme to lumiere." "Orniere," answered La Fontaine.
"Ah, but, my good friend, one cannot talk of wheel-ruts when celebrating the delights
of Vaux," said Loret. "Besides, it doesn't rhyme," answered
Pelisson.
"What! doesn't rhyme!" cried La Fontaine, in surprise.
"Yes; you have an abominable habit, my friend,--a habit which will ever prevent
your becoming a poet of the first order.
You rhyme in a slovenly manner." "Oh, oh, you think so, do you, Pelisson?"
"Yes, I do, indeed. Remember that a rhyme is never good so long
as one can find a better."
"Then I will never write anything again save in prose," said La Fontaine, who had
taken up Pelisson's reproach in earnest. "Ah! I often suspected I was nothing but a
rascally poet!
Yes, 'tis the very truth." "Do not say so; your remark is too
sweeping, and there is much that is good in your 'Fables.'"
"And to begin," continued La Fontaine, following up his idea, "I will go and burn
a hundred verses I have just made." "Where are your verses?"
"In my head."
"Well, if they are in your head you cannot burn them."
"True," said La Fontaine; "but if I do not burn them--"
"Well, what will happen if you do not burn them?"
"They will remain in my mind, and I shall never forget them!"
"The deuce!" cried Loret; "what a dangerous thing!
One would go mad with it!" "The deuce! the deuce!" repeated La
Fontaine; "what can I do?"
"I have discovered the way," said Moliere, who had entered just at this point of the
conversation. "What way?"
"Write them first and burn them afterwards."
"How simple! Well, I should never have discovered that.
What a mind that devil of a Moliere has!" said La Fontaine.
Then, striking his forehead, "Oh, thou wilt never be aught but an ass, Jean La
Fontaine!" he added.
"What are you saying there, my friend?" broke in Moliere, approaching the poet,
whose aside he had heard.
"I say I shall never be aught but an ass," answered La Fontaine, with a heavy sigh and
swimming eyes.
"Yes, my friend," he added, with increasing grief, "it seems that I rhyme in a slovenly
manner." "Oh, 'tis wrong to say so."
"Nay, I am a poor creature!"
"Who said so?" "Parbleu!
'twas Pelisson; did you not, Pelisson?" Pelisson, again absorbed in his work, took
good care not to answer.
"But if Pelisson said you were so," cried Moliere, "Pelisson has seriously offended
you." "Do you think so?"
"Ah! I advise you, as you are a gentleman, not to leave an insult like that
unpunished." "What!" exclaimed La Fontaine.
"Did you ever fight?"
"Once only, with a lieutenant in the light horse."
"What wrong had he done you?" "It seems he ran away with my wife."
"Ah, ah!" said Moliere, becoming slightly pale; but as, at La Fontaine's declaration,
the others had turned round, Moliere kept upon his lips the rallying smile which had
so nearly died away, and continuing to make La Fontaine speak--
"And what was the result of the duel?"
"The result was, that on the ground my opponent disarmed me, and then made an
apology, promising never again to set foot in my house."
"And you considered yourself satisfied?" said Moliere.
"Not at all! on the contrary, I picked up my sword.
'I beg your pardon, monsieur,' I said, 'I have not fought you because you were my
wife's friend, but because I was told I ought to fight.
So, as I have never known any peace save since you made her acquaintance, do me the
pleasure to continue your visits as heretofore, or morbleu! let us set to
again.'
And so," continued La Fontaine, "he was compelled to resume his friendship with
madame, and I continue to be the happiest of husbands."
All burst out laughing.
Moliere alone passed his hand across his eyes.
Why? Perhaps to wipe away a tear, perhaps to
smother a sigh.
Alas! we know that Moliere was a moralist, but he was not a philosopher.
"'Tis all one," he said, returning to the topic of the conversation, "Pelisson has
insulted you."
"Ah, truly! I had already forgotten it."
"And I am going to challenge him on your behalf."
"Well, you can do so, if you think it indispensable."
"I do think it indispensable, and I am going to--"
"Stay," exclaimed La Fontaine, "I want your advice."
"Upon what? this insult?" "No; tell me really now whether lumiere
does not rhyme with orniere."
"I should make them rhyme." "Ah! I knew you would."
"And I have made a hundred thousand such rhymes in my time."
"A hundred thousand!" cried La Fontaine.
"Four times as many as 'La Pucelle,' which M. Chaplain is meditating.
Is it also on this subject, too, that you have composed a hundred thousand verses?"
"Listen to me, you eternally absent-minded creature," said Moliere.
"It is certain," continued La Fontaine, "that legume, for instance, rhymes with
posthume."
"In the plural, above all." "Yes, above all in the plural, seeing that
then it rhymes not with three letters, but with four; as orniere does with lumiere."
"But give me ornieres and lumieres in the plural, my dear Pelisson," said La
Fontaine, clapping his hand on the shoulder of his friend, whose insult he had quite
forgotten, "and they will rhyme."
"Hem!" coughed Pelisson. "Moliere says so, and Moliere is a judge of
such things; he declares he has himself made a hundred thousand verses."
"Come," said Moliere, laughing, "he is off now."
"It is like rivage, which rhymes admirably with herbage.
I would take my oath of it."
"But--" said Moliere. "I tell you all this," continued La
Fontaine, "because you are preparing a divertissement for Vaux, are you not?"
"Yes, the 'Facheux.'"
"Ah, yes, the 'Facheux;' yes, I recollect. Well, I was thinking a prologue would
admirably suit your divertissement." "Doubtless it would suit capitally."
"Ah! you are of my opinion?"
"So much so, that I have asked you to write this very prologue."
"You asked me to write it?"
"Yes, you, and on your refusal begged you to ask Pelisson, who is engaged upon it at
this moment." "Ah! that is what Pelisson is doing, then?
I'faith, my dear Moliere, you are indeed often right."
"When?" "When you call me absent-minded.
It is a monstrous defect; I will cure myself of it, and do your prologue for
you." "But inasmuch as Pelisson is about it!--"
"Ah, true, miserable rascal that I am!
Loret was indeed right in saying I was a poor creature."
"It was not Loret who said so, my friend." "Well, then, whoever said so, 'tis the same
to me!
And so your divertissement is called the 'Facheux?'
Well, can you make heureux rhyme with facheux?"
"If obliged, yes."
"And even with capriceux." "Oh, no, no."
"It would be hazardous, and yet why so?" "There is too great a difference in the
cadences."
"I was fancying," said La Fontaine, leaving Moliere for Loret--"I was fancying--"
"What were you fancying?" said Loret, in the middle of a sentence.
"Make haste."
"You are writing the prologue to the 'Facheux,' are you not?"
"No! mordieu! it is Pelisson."
"Ah, Pelisson," cried La Fontaine, going over to him, "I was fancying," he
continued, "that the nymph of Vaux--" "Ah, beautiful!" cried Loret.
"The nymph of Vaux! thank you, La Fontaine; you have just given me the two concluding
verses of my paper."
"Well, if you can rhyme so well, La Fontaine," said Pelisson, "tell me now in
what way you would begin my prologue?"
"I should say, for instance, 'Oh! nymph, who--' After 'who' I should place a verb in
the second person singular of the present indicative; and should go on thus: 'this
grot profound.'"
"But the verb, the verb?" asked Pelisson. "To admire the greatest king of all kings
round," continued La Fontaine. "But the verb, the verb," obstinately
insisted Pelisson.
"This second person singular of the present indicative?"
"Well, then; quittest:
"Oh, nymph, who quittest now this grot profound, To admire the greatest king of
all kings round." "You would not put 'who quittest,' would
you?"
"Why not?" "'Quittest,' after 'you who'?"
"Ah! my dear fellow," exclaimed La Fontaine, "you are a shocking pedant!"
"Without counting," said Moliere, "that the second verse, 'king of all kings round,' is
very weak, my dear La Fontaine." "Then you see clearly I am nothing but a
poor creature,--a shuffler, as you said."
"I never said so." "Then, as Loret said."
"And it was not Loret either; it was Pelisson."
"Well, Pelisson was right a hundred times over.
But what annoys me more than anything, my dear Moliere, is, that I fear we shall not
have our Epicurean dresses."
"You expected yours, then, for the fete?" "Yes, for the fete, and then for after the
fete. My housekeeper told me that my own is
rather faded."
"Diable! your housekeeper is right; rather more than faded."
"Ah, you see," resumed La Fontaine, "the fact is, I left it on the floor in my room,
and my cat--"
"Well, your cat--" "She made her nest upon it, which has
rather changed its color." Moliere burst out laughing; Pelisson and
Loret followed his example.
At this juncture, the bishop of Vannes appeared, with a roll of plans and
parchments under his arm.
As if the angel of death had chilled all gay and sprightly fancies--as if that wan
form had scared away the Graces to whom Xenocrates sacrificed--silence immediately
reigned through the study, and every one resumed his self-possession and his pen.
Aramis distributed the notes of invitation, and thanked them in the name of M. Fouquet.
"The superintendent," he said, "being kept to his room by business, could not come and
see them, but begged them to send him some of the fruits of their day's work, to
enable him to forget the fatigue of his labor in the night."
At these words, all settled down to work.
La Fontaine placed himself at a table, and set his rapid pen an endless dance across
the smooth white vellum; Pelisson made a fair copy of his prologue; Moliere
contributed fifty fresh verses, with which
his visit to Percerin had inspired him; Loret, an article on the marvelous fetes he
predicted; and Aramis, laden with his booty like the king of the bees, that great black
drone, decked with purple and gold, re- entered his apartment, silent and busy.
But before departing, "Remember, gentlemen," said he, "we leave to-morrow
evening."
"In that case, I must give notice at home," said Moliere.
"Yes; poor Moliere!" said Loret, smiling; "he loves his home."
"'He loves,' yes," replied Moliere, with his sad, sweet smile.
"'He loves,' that does not mean, they love him."
"As for me," said La Fontaine, "they love me at Chateau Thierry, I am very sure."
Aramis here re-entered after a brief disappearance.
"Will any one go with me?" he asked.
"I am going by Paris, after having passed a quarter of an hour with M. Fouquet.
I offer my carriage." "Good," said Moliere, "I accept it.
I am in a hurry."
"I shall dine here," said Loret. "M. de Gourville has promised me some craw-
fish." "He has promised me some whitings.
Find a rhyme for that, La Fontaine."
Aramis went out laughing, as only he could laugh, and Moliere followed him.
They were at the bottom of the stairs, when La Fontaine opened the door, and shouted
out:
"He has promised us some whitings, In return for these our writings."
The shouts of laughter reached the ears of Fouquet at the moment Aramis opened the
door of the study.
As to Moliere, he had undertaken to order the horses, while Aramis went to exchange a
parting word with the superintendent. "Oh, how they are laughing there!" said
Fouquet, with a sigh.
"Do you not laugh, monseigneur?" "I laugh no longer now, M. d'Herblay.
The fete is approaching; money is departing."
"Have I not told you that was my business?"
"Yes, you promised me millions." "You shall have them the day after the
king's entree into Vaux."
Fouquet looked closely at Aramis, and passed the back of his icy hand across his
moistened brow.
Aramis perceived that the superintendent either doubted him, or felt he was
powerless to obtain the money.
How could Fouquet suppose that a poor bishop, ex-abbe, ex-musketeer, could find
any? "Why doubt me?" said Aramis.
Fouquet smiled and shook his head.
"Man of little faith!" added the bishop. "My dear M. d'Herblay," answered Fouquet,
"if I fall--" "Well; if you 'fall'?"
"I shall, at least, fall from such a height, that I shall shatter myself in
falling."
Then giving himself a shake, as though to escape from himself, "Whence came you,"
said he, "my friend?" "From Paris--from Percerin."
"And what have you been doing at Percerin's, for I suppose you attach no
great importance to our poets' dresses?" "No; I went to prepare a surprise."
"Surprise?"
"Yes; which you are going to give to the king."
"And will it cost much?" "Oh! a hundred pistoles you will give
Lebrun."
"A painting?--Ah! all the better! And what is this painting to represent?"
"I will tell you; then at the same time, whatever you may say or think of it, I went
to see the dresses for our poets."
"Bah! and they will be rich and elegant?" "Splendid!
There will be few great monseigneurs with so good.
People will see the difference there is between the courtiers of wealth and those
of friendship." "Ever generous and grateful, dear prelate."
"In your school."
Fouquet grasped his hand. "And where are you going?" he said.
"I am off to Paris, when you shall have given a certain letter."
"For whom?"
"M. de Lyonne." "And what do you want with Lyonne?"
"I wish to make him sign a lettre de cachet."
"'Lettre de cachet!'
Do you desire to put somebody in the Bastile?"
"On the contrary--to let somebody out." "And who?"
"A poor devil--a youth, a lad who has been Bastiled these ten years, for two Latin
verses he made against the Jesuits."
"'Two Latin verses!' and, for 'two Latin verses,' the miserable being has been in
prison for ten years!" "Yes!"
"And has committed no other crime?"
"Beyond this, he is as innocent as you or I."
"On your word?" "On my honor!"
"And his name is--"
"Seldon." "Yes.--But it is too bad.
You knew this, and you never told me!" "'Twas only yesterday his mother applied to
me, monseigneur."
"And the woman is poor!" "In the deepest misery."
"Heaven," said Fouquet, "sometimes bears with such injustice on earth, that I hardly
wonder there are wretches who doubt of its existence.
Stay, M. d'Herblay."
And Fouquet, taking a pen, wrote a few rapid lines to his colleague Lyonne.
Aramis took the letter and made ready to go.
"Wait," said Fouquet.
He opened his drawer, and took out ten government notes which were there, each for
a thousand francs.
"Stay," he said; "set the son at liberty, and give this to the mother; but, above
all, do not tell her--" "What, monseigneur?"
"That she is ten thousand livres richer than I.
She would say I am but a poor superintendent!
Go! and I pray that God will bless those who are mindful of his poor!"
"So also do I pray," replied Aramis, kissing Fouquet's hand.
And he went out quickly, carrying off the letter for Lyonne and the notes for
Seldon's mother, and taking up Moliere, who was beginning to lose patience.
>
CHAPTER VII. Another Supper at the Bastile.
Seven o'clock sounded from the great clock of the Bastile, that famous clock, which,
like all the accessories of the state prison, the very use of which is a torture,
recalled to the prisoners' minds the
destination of every hour of their punishment.
The time-piece of the Bastile, adorned with figures, like most of the clocks of the
period, represented St. Peter in bonds.
It was the supper hour of the unfortunate captives.
The doors, grating on their enormous hinges, opened for the passage of the
baskets and trays of provisions, the abundance and the delicacy of which, as M.
de Baisemeaux has himself taught us, was
regulated by the condition in life of the prisoner.
We understand on this head the theories of M. de Baisemeaux, sovereign dispenser of
gastronomic delicacies, head cook of the royal fortress, whose trays, full-laden,
were ascending the steep staircases,
carrying some consolation to the prisoners in the shape of honestly filled bottles of
good vintages. This same hour was that of M. le
gouverneur's supper also.
He had a guest to-day, and the spit turned more heavily than usual.
Roast partridges, flanked with quails and flanking a larded leveret; boiled fowls;
hams, fried and sprinkled with white wine, cardons of Guipuzcoa and la bisque
ecrevisses: these, together with soups and
hors d'oeuvres, constituted the governor's bill of fare.
Baisemeaux, seated at table, was rubbing his hands and looking at the bishop of
Vannes, who, booted like a cavalier, dressed in gray and sword at side, kept
talking of his hunger and testifying the liveliest impatience.
M. de Baisemeaux de Montlezun was not accustomed to the unbending movements of
his greatness my lord of Vannes, and this evening Aramis, becoming sprightly,
volunteered confidence on confidence.
The prelate had again a little touch of the musketeer about him.
The bishop just trenched on the borders only of license in his style of
conversation.
As for M. de Baisemeaux, with the facility of vulgar people, he gave himself up
entirely upon this point of his guest's freedom.
"Monsieur," said he, "for indeed to-night I dare not call you monseigneur."
"By no means," said Aramis; "call me monsieur; I am booted."
"Do you know, monsieur, of whom you remind me this evening?"
"No! faith," said Aramis, taking up his glass; "but I hope I remind you of a
capital guest."
"You remind me of two, monsieur. Francois, shut the window; the wind may
annoy his greatness." "And let him go," added Aramis.
"The supper is completely served, and we shall eat it very well without waiters.
I like exceedingly to be tete-a-tete when I am with a friend."
Baisemeaux bowed respectfully.
"I like exceedingly," continued Aramis, "to help myself."
"Retire, Francois," cried Baisemeaux.
"I was saying that your greatness puts me in mind of two persons; one very
illustrious, the late cardinal, the great Cardinal de la Rochelle, who wore boots
like you."
"Indeed," said Aramis; "and the other?"
"The other was a certain musketeer, very handsome, very brave, very adventurous,
very fortunate, who, from being abbe, turned musketeer, and from musketeer turned
abbe."
Aramis condescended to smile. "From abbe," continued Baisemeaux,
encouraged by Aramis's smile--"from abbe, bishop--and from bishop--"
"Ah! stay there, I beg," exclaimed Aramis.
"I have just said, monsieur, that you gave me the idea of a cardinal."
"Enough, dear M. Baisemeaux.
As you said, I have on the boots of a cavalier, but I do not intend, for all
that, to embroil myself with the church this evening."
"But you have wicked intentions, nevertheless, monseigneur."
"Oh, yes, wicked, I own, as everything mundane is."
"You traverse the town and the streets in disguise?"
"In disguise, as you say." "And you still make use of your sword?"
"Yes, I should think so; but only when I am compelled.
Do me the pleasure to summon Francois." "Have you no wine there?"
"'Tis not for wine, but because it is hot here, and the window is shut."
"I shut the windows at supper-time so as not to hear the sounds or the arrival of
couriers."
"Ah, yes. You hear them when the window is open?"
"But too well, and that disturbs me. You understand?"
"Nevertheless I am suffocated.
Francois." Francois entered.
"Open the windows, I pray you, Master Francois," said Aramis.
"You will allow him, dear M. Baisemeaux?"
"You are at home here," answered the governor.
The window was opened.
"Do you not think," said M. de Baisemeaux, "that you will find yourself very lonely,
now M. de la Fere has returned to his household gods at Blois?
He is a very old friend, is he not?"
"You know it as I do, Baisemeaux, seeing that you were in the musketeers with us."
"Bah! with my friends I reckon neither bottles of wine nor years."
"And you are right.
But I do more than love M. de la Fere, dear Baisemeaux; I venerate him."
"Well, for my part, though 'tis singular," said the governor, "I prefer M. d'Artagnan
to him.
There is a man for you, who drinks long and well!
That kind of people allow you at least to penetrate their thoughts."
"Baisemeaux, make me tipsy to-night; let us have a merry time of it as of old, and if I
have a trouble at the bottom of my heart, I promise you, you shall see it as you would
a diamond at the bottom of your glass."
"Bravo!" said Baisemeaux, and he poured out a great glass of wine and drank it off at a
draught, trembling with joy at the idea of being, by hook or by crook, in the secret
of some high archiepiscopal misdemeanor.
While he was drinking he did not see with what attention Aramis was noting the sounds
in the great court.
A courier came in about eight o'clock as Francois brought in the fifth bottle, and,
although the courier made a great noise, Baisemeaux heard nothing.
"The devil take him," said Aramis.
"What! who?" asked Baisemeaux. "I hope 'tis neither the wine you drank nor
he who is the cause of your drinking it." "No; it is a horse, who is making noise
enough in the court for a whole squadron."
"Pooh! some courier or other," replied the governor, redoubling his attention to the
passing bottle.
"Yes; and may the devil take him, and so quickly that we shall never hear him speak
more. Hurrah! hurrah!"
"You forget me, Baisemeaux! my glass is empty," said Aramis, lifting his dazzling
Venetian goblet. "Upon my honor, you delight me.
Francois, wine!"
Francois entered. "Wine, fellow! and better."
"Yes, monsieur, yes; but a courier has just arrived."
"Let him go to the devil, I say."
"Yes, monsieur, but--" "Let him leave his news at the office; we
will see to it to-morrow.
To-morrow, there will be time to-morrow; there will be daylight," said Baisemeaux,
chanting the words. "Ah, monsieur," grumbled the soldier
Francois, in spite of himself, "monsieur."
"Take care," said Aramis, "take care!" "Of what? dear M. d'Herblay," said
Baisemeaux, half intoxicated.
"The letter which the courier brings to the governor of a fortress is sometimes an
order." "Nearly always."
"Do not orders issue from the ministers?"
"Yes, undoubtedly; but--" "And what to these ministers do but
countersign the signature of the king?" "Perhaps you are right.
Nevertheless, 'tis very tiresome when you are sitting before a good table, tete-a-
tete with a friend--Ah! I beg your pardon, monsieur; I forgot it is I who engage you
at supper, and that I speak to a future cardinal."
"Let us pass over that, dear Baisemeaux, and return to our soldier, to Francois."
"Well, and what has Francois done?"
"He has demurred!" "He was wrong, then?"
"However, he has demurred, you see; 'tis because there is something extraordinary in
this matter.
It is very possible that it was not Francois who was wrong in demurring, but
you, who are in the wrong in not listening to him."
"Wrong?
I to be wrong before Francois? that seems rather hard."
"Pardon me, merely an irregularity. But I thought it my duty to make an
observation which I deem important."
"Oh! perhaps you are right," stammered Baisemeaux.
"The king's order is sacred; but as to orders that arrive when one is at supper, I
repeat that the devil--"
"If you had said as much to the great cardinal--hem! my dear Baisemeaux, and if
his order had any importance." "I do it that I may not disturb a bishop.
Mordioux! am I not, then, excusable?"
"Do not forget, Baisemeaux, that I have worn the soldier's coat, and I am
accustomed to obedience everywhere." "You wish, then--"
"I wish that you would do your duty, my friend; yes, at least before this soldier."
"'Tis mathematically true," exclaimed Baisemeaux.
Francois still waited: "Let them send this order of the king's up to me," he repeated,
recovering himself. And he added in a low tone, "Do you know
what it is?
I will tell you something about as interesting as this.
'Beware of fire near the powder magazine;' or, 'Look close after such and such a one,
who is clever at escaping,' Ah! if you only knew, monseigneur, how many times I have
been suddenly awakened from the very
sweetest, deepest slumber, by messengers arriving at full gallop to tell me, or
rather, bring me a slip of paper containing these words: 'Monsieur de Baisemeaux, what
news?'
'Tis clear enough that those who waste their time writing such orders have never
slept in the Bastile.
They would know better; they have never considered the thickness of my walls, the
vigilance of my officers, the number of rounds we go.
But, indeed, what can you expect, monseigneur?
It is their business to write and torment me when I am at rest, and to trouble me
when I am happy," added Baisemeaux, bowing to Aramis.
"Then let them do their business."
"And do you do yours," added the bishop, smiling.
Francois re-entered; Baisemeaux took from his hands the minister's order.
He slowly undid it, and as slowly read it.
Aramis pretended to be drinking, so as to be able to watch his host through the
glass. Then, Baisemeaux, having read it: "What was
I just saying?" he exclaimed.
"What is it?" asked the bishop. "An order of release!
There, now; excellent news indeed to disturb us!"
"Excellent news for him whom it concerns, you will at least agree, my dear governor!"
"And at eight o'clock in the evening!" "It is charitable!"
"Oh! charity is all very well, but it is for that fellow who says he is so weary and
tired, but not for me who am amusing myself," said Baisemeaux, exasperated.
"Will you lose by him, then?
And is the prisoner who is to be set at liberty a good payer?"
"Oh, yes, indeed! a miserable, five-franc rat!"
"Let me see it," asked M. d'Herblay.
"It is no indiscretion?" "By no means; read it."
"There is 'Urgent,' on the paper; you have seen that, I suppose?"
"Oh, admirable!
'Urgent!'--a man who has been there ten years!
It is urgent to set him free to-day, this very evening, at eight o'clock!--urgent!"
And Baisemeaux, shrugging his shoulders with an air of supreme disdain, flung the
order on the table and began eating again.
"They are fond of these tricks!" he said, with his mouth full; "they seize a man,
some fine day, keep him under lock and key for ten years, and write to you, 'Watch
this fellow well,' or 'Keep him very strictly.'
And then, as soon as you are accustomed to look upon the prisoner as a dangerous man,
all of a sudden, without rhyme or reason they write--'Set him at liberty,' and
actually add to their missive--'urgent.'
You will own, my lord, 'tis enough to make a man at dinner shrug his shoulders!"
"What do you expect? It is for them to write," said Aramis, "for
you to execute the order."
"Good! good! execute it! Oh, patience!
You must not imagine that I am a slave." "Gracious Heaven! my very good M.
Baisemeaux, who ever said so?
Your independence is well known." "Thank Heaven!"
"But your goodness of heart is also known." "Ah! don't speak of it!"
"And your obedience to your superiors.
Once a soldier, you see, Baisemeaux, always a soldier."
"And I shall directly obey; and to-morrow morning, at daybreak, the prisoner referred
to shall be set free."
"To-morrow?" "At dawn."
"Why not this evening, seeing that the lettre de cachet bears, both on the
direction and inside, 'urgent'?"
"Because this evening we are at supper, and our affairs are urgent, too!"
"Dear Baisemeaux, booted though I be, I feel myself a priest, and charity has
higher claims upon me than hunger and thirst.
This unfortunate man has suffered long enough, since you have just told me that he
has been your prisoner these ten years. Abridge his suffering.
His good time has come; give him the benefit quickly.
God will repay you in Paradise with years of felicity."
"You wish it?"
"I entreat you." "What! in the very middle of our repast?"
"I implore you; such an action is worth ten Benedicites."
"It shall be as you desire, only our supper will get cold."
"Oh! never heed that."
Baisemeaux leaned back to ring for Francois, and by a very natural motion
turned round towards the door.
The order had remained on the table; Aramis seized the opportunity when Baisemeaux was
not looking to change the paper for another, folded in the same manner, which
he drew swiftly from his pocket.
"Francois," said the governor, "let the major come up here with the turnkeys of the
Bertaudiere." Francois bowed and quitted the room,
leaving the two companions alone.
>
CHAPTER VIII.
The General of the Order.
There was now a brief silence, during which
Aramis never removed his eyes from
Baisemeaux for a moment.
The latter seemed only half decided to
disturb himself thus in the middle of
supper, and it was clear he was trying to
invent some pretext, whether good or bad,
for delay, at any rate till after dessert.
And it appeared also that he had hit upon
an excuse at last.
"Eh! but it is impossible!" he cried.
"How impossible?" said Aramis.
"Give me a glimpse of this impossibility."
"'Tis impossible to set a prisoner at
liberty at such an hour.
Where can he go to, a man so unacquainted
with Paris?"
"He will find a place wherever he can."
"You see, now, one might as well set a
blind man free!"
"I have a carriage, and will take him
wherever he wishes."
"You have an answer for everything.
Francois, tell monsieur le major to go and
open the cell of M. Seldon, No. 3,
Bertaudiere."
"Seldon!" exclaimed Aramis, very naturally.
"You said Seldon, I think?"
"I said Seldon, of course.
'Tis the name of the man they set free."
"Oh! you mean to say Marchiali?" said
Aramis.
"Marchiali? oh! yes, indeed.
No, no, Seldon."
"I think you are making a mistake, Monsieur
Baisemeaux."
"I have read the order."
"And I also."
"And I saw 'Seldon' in letters as large as
that," and Baisemeaux held up his finger.
"And I read 'Marchiali' in characters as
large as this," said Aramis, also holding
up two fingers.
"To the proof; let us throw a light on the
matter," said Baisemeaux, confident he was
right.
"There is the paper, you have only to read
it."
"I read 'Marchiali,'" returned Aramis,
spreading out the paper.
"Look."
Baisemeaux looked, and his arms dropped
suddenly.
"Yes, yes," he said, quite overwhelmed;
"yes, Marchiali.
'Tis plainly written Marchiali!
Quite true!"
"Ah!--"
"How? the man of whom we have talked so
much?
The man whom they are every day telling me
to take such care of?"
"There is 'Marchiali,'" repeated the
inflexible Aramis.
"I must own it, monseigneur.
But I understand nothing about it."
"You believe your eyes, at any rate."
"To tell me very plainly there is
'Marchiali.'"
"And in a good handwriting, too."
"'Tis a wonder!
I still see this order and the name of
Seldon, Irishman.
I see it.
Ah! I even recollect that under this name
there was a blot of ink."
"No, there is no ink; no, there is no
blot."
"Oh! but there was, though; I know it,
because I rubbed my finger--this very one--
in the powder that was over the blot."
"In a word, be it how it may, dear M.
Baisemeaux," said Aramis, "and whatever you
may have seen, the order is signed to
release Marchiali, blot or no blot."
"The order is signed to release Marchiali,"
replied Baisemeaux, mechanically,
endeavoring to regain his courage.
"And you are going to release this
prisoner.
If your heart dictates you to deliver
Seldon also, I declare to you I will not
oppose it the least in the world."
Aramis accompanied this remark with a
smile, the irony of which effectually
dispelled Baisemeaux's confusion of mind,
and restored his courage.
"Monseigneur," he said, "this Marchiali is
the very same prisoner whom the other day a
priest confessor of our order came to visit
in so imperious and so secret a manner."
"I don't know that, monsieur," replied the
bishop.
"'Tis no such long time ago, dear Monsieur
d'Herblay."
"It is true.
But with us, monsieur, it is good that the
man of to-day should no longer know what
the man of yesterday did."
"In any case," said Baisemeaux, "the visit
of the Jesuit confessor must have given
happiness to this man."
Aramis made no reply, but recommenced
eating and drinking.
As for Baisemeaux, no longer touching
anything that was on the table, he again
took up the order and examined it every
way.
This investigation, under ordinary
circumstances, would have made the ears of
the impatient Aramis burn with anger; but
the bishop of Vannes did not become
incensed for so little, above all, when he
had murmured to himself that to do so was
dangerous.
"Are you going to release Marchiali?" he
said.
"What mellow, fragrant and delicious sherry
this is, my dear governor."
"Monseigneur," replied Baisemeaux, "I shall
release the prisoner Marchiali when I have
summoned the courier who brought the order,
and above all, when, by interrogating him,
I have satisfied myself."
"The order is sealed, and the courier is
ignorant of the contents.
What do you want to satisfy yourself
about?"
"Be it so, monseigneur; but I shall send to
the ministry, and M. de Lyonne will either
confirm or withdraw the order."
"What is the good of all that?" asked
Aramis, coldly.
"What good?"
"Yes; what is your object, I ask?"
"The object of never deceiving oneself,
monseigneur; nor being wanting in the
respect which a subaltern owes to his
superior officers, nor infringing the
duties of a service one has accepted of
one's own free will."
"Very good; you have just spoken so
eloquently, that I cannot but admire you.
It is true that a subaltern owes respect to
his superiors; he is guilty when he
deceives himself, and he should be punished
if he infringed either the duties or laws
of his office."
Baisemeaux looked at the bishop with
astonishment.
"It follows," pursued Aramis, "that you are
going to ask advice, to put your conscience
at ease in the matter?"
"Yes, monseigneur."
"And if a superior officer gives you
orders, you will obey?"
"Never doubt it, monseigneur."
"You know the king's signature well, M. de
Baisemeaux?"
"Yes, monseigneur."
"Is it not on this order of release?"
"It is true, but it may--"
"Be forged, you mean?"
"That is evident, monseigneur."
"You are right.
And that of M. de Lyonne?"
"I see it plain enough on the order; but
for the same reason that the king's
signature may have been forged, so also,
and with even greater probability, may M.
de Lyonne's."
"Your logic has the stride of a giant, M.
de Baisemeaux," said Aramis; "and your
reasoning is irresistible.
But on what special grounds do you base
your idea that these signatures are false?"
"On this: the absence of counter-
signatures.
Nothing checks his majesty's signature; and
M. de Lyonne is not there to tell me he has
signed."
"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
shoulder.
"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."
(Signed) D'HERBLAY
"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 carelessly.
"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 otherwise
dictated."
"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 governor's house."
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 Bastile."
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 going?"
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 search?"
"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?"
"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."
"What?"
"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 avenues."
"'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 shoots.
"I am listening," said the young prince to
Aramis; "but what are you doing there?"
"I am disarming myself of my pistols, of
which we have no further need,
monseigneur."
>
CHAPTER IX. The Tempter.
"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 avenue.
"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 me."
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 himself."
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."
"Oh, monsieur!" "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, then."
"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 recognize
you?" "'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--" "Besides?"
"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 more
human." "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 things."
"The first?" "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 running."
"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 Philippe.
"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 exposed you." "Speak, speak," said the prince, with a
vivacity which did not escape Aramis.
"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 should accept."
"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 strange words.
>
CHAPTER X. 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.
"It is." "Irrevocably so?"
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." "Explain yourself."
"When I shall have asked your highness a question."
"Do so."
"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." "Attentively?"
"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 his
master." "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 disgrace."
"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. Fouquet."
"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 great,
monseigneur."
"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
friend?" "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."
"Speak! speak!" "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 plan, monseigneur?"
"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 please."
"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 the tiara."
"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 Holy Father."
And they resumed their places in the carriage, which sped rapidly along the road
leading to Vaux-le-Vicomte.
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CHAPTER XI. 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 everything.
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, what?"
"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. Colbert."
"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?" "Precisely."
"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 Vallon also?"
"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.
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