{tocify}

Louise de la Valliere

Chapter

Book

first_page
play_arrow
last_page
00:00
00:00
volume_down_alt volume_up


Chapter XLIX. Monsieur Colbert’s Rough Draft.


Vanel, who entered at this stage of the conversation, was nothing less for Aramis and Fouquet than the full stop which completes a phrase. But, for Vanel, Aramis’s presence in Fouquet’s cabinet had quite another signification; and, therefore, at his first step into the room, he paused as he looked at the delicate yet firm features of the bishop of Vannes, and his look of astonishment soon became one of scrutinizing attention. As for Fouquet, a perfect politician, that is to say, complete master of himself, he had already, by the energy of his own resolute will, contrived to remove from his face all traces of the emotion which Aramis’s revelation had occasioned. He was no longer, therefore, a man overwhelmed by misfortune and reduced to resort to expedients; he held his head proudly erect, and indicated by a gesture that Vanel could enter. He was now the first minister of the state, and in his own palace. Aramis knew the superintendent well; the delicacy of the feelings of his heart and the exalted nature of his mind no longer surprised him. He confined himself, then, for the moment—intending to resume later an active part in the conversation—to the performance of the difficult part of a man who looks on and listens, in order to learn and understand. Vanel was visibly overcome, and advanced into the middle of the cabinet, bowing to everything and everybody. “I am here,” he said.

“You are punctual, Monsieur Vanel,” returned Fouquet.

“In matters of business, monseigneur,” replied Vanel, “I look upon exactitude as a virtue.”

“No doubt, monsieur.”

“I beg your pardon,” interrupted Aramis, indicating Vanel with his finger, but addressing himself to Fouquet; “this is the gentleman, I believe, who has come about the purchase of your appointment?”

“Yes, I am,” replied Vanel, astonished at the extremely haughty tone in which Aramis had put the question; “but in what way am I to address you, who do me the honor—”

“Call me monseigneur,” replied Aramis, dryly. Vanel bowed.

“Come, gentlemen, a truce to these ceremonies; let us proceed to the matter itself.”

“Monseigneur sees,” said Vanel, “that I am waiting your pleasure.”

“On the contrary, I am waiting,” replied Fouquet.

“What for, may I be permitted to ask, monseigneur?”

“I thought that you had perhaps something to say.”

“Oh,” said Vanel to himself, “he has reflected on the matter and I am lost.” But resuming his courage, he continued, “No, monseigneur, nothing, absolutely nothing more than what I said to you yesterday, and which I am again ready to repeat to you now.”

“Come, now, tell me frankly, Monsieur Vanel, is not the affair rather a burdensome one for you?”

“Certainly, monseigneur; fourteen hundred thousand francs is an important sum.”

“So important, indeed,” said Fouquet, “that I have reflected—”

“You have been reflecting, do you say, monseigneur?” exclaimed Vanel, anxiously.

“Yes; that you might not yet be in a position to purchase.”

“Oh, monseigneur!”

“Do not make yourself uneasy on that score, Monsieur Vanel; I shall not blame you for a failure in your word, which evidently may arise from inability on your part.”

“Oh, yes, monseigneur, you would blame me, and you would be right in doing so,” said Vanel; “for a man must either be very imprudent, or a fool, to undertake engagements which he cannot keep; and I, at least, have always regarded a thing agreed on as a thing actually carried out.”

Fouquet colored, while Aramis uttered a “Hum!” of impatience.

“You would be wrong to exaggerate such notions as those, monsieur,” said the superintendent; “for a man’s mind is variable, and full of these very excusable caprices, which are, however, sometimes estimable enough; and a man may have wished for something yesterday of which he repents to-day.”

Vanel felt a cold sweat trickle down his face. “Monseigneur!” he muttered.

Aramis, who was delighted to find the superintendent carry on the debate with such clearness and precision, stood leaning his arm upon the marble top of a console table and began to play with a small gold knife, with a malachite handle. Fouquet did not hasten to reply; but after a moment’s pause, “Come, my dear Monsieur Vanel,” he said, “I will explain to you how I am situated.” Vanel began to tremble.

“Yesterday I wished to sell—”

“Monseigneur did more than wish to sell, he actually sold.”

“Well, well, that may be so; but to-day I ask you the favor to restore me my word which I pledged you.”

“I received your word as a satisfactory assurance that it would be kept.”

“I know that, and that is the reason why I now entreat you; do you understand me? I entreat you to restore it to me.”

Fouquet suddenly paused. The words “I entreat you,” the effect of which he did not immediately perceive, seemed almost to choke him as he uttered it. Aramis, still playing with his knife, fixed a look upon Vanel which seemed as if he wished to penetrate the recesses of his heart. Vanel simply bowed, as he said, “I am overcome, monseigneur, at the honor you do me to consult me upon a matter of business which is already completed; but—”

“Nay, do not say but, dear Monsieur Vanel.”

“Alas! monseigneur, you see,” he said, as he opened a large pocket-book, “I have brought the money with me,—the whole sum, I mean. And here, monseigneur, is the contract of sale which I have just effected of a property belonging to my wife. The order is authentic in every particular, the necessary signatures have been attached to it, and it is made payable at sight; it is ready money, in fact, and, in one word, the whole affair is complete.”

“My dear Monsieur Vanel, there is not a matter of business in this world, however important it may be, which cannot be postponed in order to oblige a man, who, by that means, might and would be made a devoted friend.”

“Certainly,” said Vanel, awkwardly.

“And much more justly acquired would that friend become, Monsieur Vanel, since the value of the service he had received would have been so considerable. Well, what do you say? what do you decide?”

Vanel preserved a perfect silence. In the meantime, Aramis had continued his close observation of the man. Vanel’s narrow face, his deeply sunken eyes, his arched eyebrows, had revealed to the bishop of Vannes the type of an avaricious and ambitious character. Aramis’s method was to oppose one passion by another. He saw that M. Fouquet was defeated—morally subdued—and so he came to his rescue with fresh weapons in his hands. “Excuse me, monseigneur,” he said; “you forgot to show M. Vanel that his own interests are diametrically opposed to this renunciation of the sale.”

Vanel looked at the bishop with astonishment; he had hardly expected to find an auxiliary in him. Fouquet also paused to listen to the bishop.

“Do you not see,” continued Aramis, “that M. Vanel, in order to purchase your appointment, has been obliged to sell a property belonging to his wife; well, that is no slight matter; for one cannot displace, as he has done, fourteen or fifteen hundred thousand francs without some considerable loss, and very serious inconvenience.”

“Perfectly true,” said Vanel, whose secret Aramis had, with keen-sighted gaze, wrung from the bottom of his heart.

“Inconveniences such as these are matters of great expense and calculation, and whenever a man has money matters to deal with, the expenses are generally the very first thing thought of.”

“Yes, yes,” said Fouquet, who began to understand Aramis’s meaning.

Vanel remained perfectly silent; he, too, had understood him. Aramis observed his coldness of manner and his silence. “Very good,” he said to himself, “you are waiting, I see, until you know the amount; but do not fear, I shall send you such a flight of crowns that you cannot but capitulate on the spot.”

“We must offer M. Vanel a hundred thousand crowns at once,” said Fouquet, carried away by his generous feelings.

The sum was a good one. A prince, even, would have been satisfied with such a bonus. A hundred thousand crowns at that period was the dowry of a king’s daughter. Vanel, however, did not move.

“He is a perfect rascal!” thought the bishop, “well, we must offer the five hundred thousand francs at once,” and he made a sign to Fouquet accordingly.

“You seem to have spent more than that, dear Monsieur Vanel,” said the superintendent. “The price of ready money is enormous. You must have made a great sacrifice in selling your wife’s property. Well, what can I have been thinking of? I ought to have offered to sign you an order for five hundred thousand francs; and even in that case I shall feel that I am greatly indebted to you.”

There was not a gleam of delight or desire on Vanel’s face, which remained perfectly impassible; not a muscle of it changed in the slightest degree. Aramis cast a look almost of despair at Fouquet, and then, going straight up to Vanel and taking hold of him by the coat, in a familiar manner, he said, “Monsieur Vanel, it is neither the inconvenience, nor the displacement of your money, nor the sale of your wife’s property even, that you are thinking of at this moment; it is something more important still. I can well understand it; so pay particular attention to what I am going to say.”

“Yes, monseigneur,” Vanel replied, beginning to tremble in every limb, as the prelate’s eyes seemed almost ready to devour him.

“I offer you, therefore, in the superintendent’s name, not three hundred thousand livres, nor five hundred thousand, but a million. A million—do you understand me?” he added, as he shook him nervously.

“A million!” repeated Vanel, as pale as death.

“A million; in other words, at the present rate of interest, an income of seventy thousand francs.”

“Come, monsieur,” said Fouquet, “you can hardly refuse that. Answer—do you accept?”

“Impossible,” murmured Vanel.

Aramis bit his lips, and something like a cloud seemed to pass over his face. The thunder behind this cloud could easily be imagined. He still kept his hold on Vanel. “You have purchased the appointment for fifteen hundred thousand francs, I think. Well, you will receive these fifteen hundred thousand francs back again; by paying M. Fouquet a visit, and shaking hands with him on the bargain, you will have become a gainer of a million and a half. You get honor and profit at the same time, Monsieur Vanel.”

“I cannot do it,” said Vanel, hoarsely.

“Very well,” replied Aramis, who had grasped Vanel so tightly by the coat that, when he let go his hold, Vanel staggered back a few paces, “very well; one can now see clearly enough your object in coming here.”

“Yes,” said Fouquet, “one can easily see that.”

“But—” said Vanel, attempting to stand erect before the weakness of these two men of honor.

“Does the fellow presume to speak?” said Aramis, with the tone of an emperor.

“Fellow!” repeated Vanel.

“The scoundrel, I meant to say,” added Aramis, who had now resumed his usual self-possession. “Come, monsieur, produce your deed of sale,—you have it about you, I suppose, in one of your pockets, already prepared, as an assassin holds his pistol or his dagger concealed under his cloak.”

Vanel began to mutter something.

“Enough!” cried Fouquet. “Where is this deed?”

Vanel tremblingly searched in his pockets, and as he drew out his pocket-book, a paper fell out of it, while Vanel offered the other to Fouquet. Aramis pounced upon the paper which had fallen out, as soon as he recognized the handwriting. “I beg your pardon,” said Vanel, “that is a rough draft of the deed.”

“I see that very clearly,” retorted Aramis, with a smile more cutting than a lash of a whip; “and what I admire most is, that this draft is in M. Colbert’s handwriting. Look, monseigneur, look.”

And he handed the draft to Fouquet, who recognized the truth of the fact; for, covered with erasures, with inserted words, the margins filled with additions, this deed—a living proof of Colbert’s plot—had just revealed everything to its unhappy victim. “Well!” murmured Fouquet.

Vanel, completely humiliated, seemed as if he were looking for some hole wherein to hide himself.

“Well!” said Aramis, “if your name were not Fouquet, and if your enemy’s name were not Colbert—if you had not this mean thief before you, I should say to you, ‘Repudiate it;’ such a proof as this absolves you from your word; but these fellows would think you were afraid; they would fear you less than they do; therefore sign the deed at once.” And he held out a pen towards him.

Fouquet pressed Aramis’s hand; but, instead of the deed which Vanel handed to him, he took the rough draft of it.

“No, not that paper,” said Aramis, hastily; “this is the one. The other is too precious a document for you to part with.”

“No, no!” replied Fouquet; “I will sign under M. Colbert’s own handwriting even; and I write, ‘The handwriting is approved of.’” He then signed, and said, “Here it is, Monsieur Vanel.” And the latter seized the paper, dashed down the money, and was about to make his escape.

“One moment,” said Aramis. “Are you quite sure the exact amount is there? It ought to be counted over, Monsieur Vanel; particularly since M. Colbert makes presents of money to ladies, I see. Ah, that worthy M. Colbert is not so generous as M. Fouquet.” And Aramis, spelling every word, every letter of the order to pay, distilled his wrath and his contempt, drop by drop, upon the miserable wretch, who had to submit to this torture for a quarter of an hour. He was then dismissed, not in words, but by a gesture, as one dismisses or discharges a beggar or a menial.

As soon as Vanel had gone, the minister and the prelate, their eyes fixed on each other, remained silent for a few moments.

“Well,” said Aramis, the first to break the silence; “to what can that man be compared, who, at the very moment he is on the point of entering into a conflict with an enemy armed from head to foot, panting for his life, presents himself for the contest utterly defenseless, throws down his arms, and smiles and kisses his hands to his adversary in the most gracious manner? Good faith, M. Fouquet, is a weapon which scoundrels frequently make use of against men of honor, and it answers their purpose. Men of honor, ought, in their turn, also, to make use of dishonest means against such scoundrels. You would soon see how strong they would become, without ceasing to be men of honor.”

“What they did would be termed the acts of a scoundrel,” replied Fouquet.

“Far from that; it would be merely coquetting or playing with the truth. At all events, since you have finished with this Vanel; since you have deprived yourself of the happiness of confounding him by repudiating your word; and since you have given up, for the purpose of being used against yourself, the only weapon which can ruin you—”

“My dear friend,” said Fouquet, mournfully, “you are like the teacher of philosophy whom La Fontaine was telling us about the other day; he saw a child drowning, and began to read him a lecture divided into three heads.”

Aramis smiled as he said, “Philosophy—yes; teacher—yes; a drowning child—yes; but a child can be saved—you shall see. But first of all let us talk about business. Did you not some time ago,” he continued, as Fouquet looked at him with a bewildered air, “speak to me about an idea you had of giving a fete at Vaux?”

“Oh!” said Fouquet, “that was when affairs were flourishing.”

“A fete, I believe, to which the king invited himself of his own accord?”

“No, no, my dear prelate; a fete to which M. Colbert advised the king to invite himself.”

“Ah—exactly; as it would be a fete of so costly a character that you would be ruined in giving it.”

“Precisely so. In happier days, as I said just now, I had a kind of pride in showing my enemies how inexhaustible my resources were; I felt it a point of honor to strike them with amazement, by creating millions under circumstances where they imagined nothing but bankruptcies and failures would follow. But, at present, I am arranging my accounts with the state, with the king, with myself; and I must now become a mean, stingy man; I shall be able to prove to the world that I can act or operate with my deniers as I used to do with my bags of pistoles, and from to-morrow my equipages shall be sold, my mansions mortgaged, my expenses curtailed.”

“From to-morrow,” interrupted Aramis, quietly, “you will occupy yourself, without the slightest delay, with your fete at Vaux, which must hereafter be spoken of as one of the most magnificent productions of your most prosperous days.”

“Are you mad, Chevalier d’Herblay?”

“I! do you think so?”

“What do you mean, then? Do you not know that a fete at Vaux, one of the very simplest possible character, would cost four or five millions?”

“I do not speak of a fete of the very simplest possible character, my dear superintendent.”

“But, since the fete is to be given to the king,” replied Fouquet, who misunderstood Aramis’s idea, “it cannot be simple.”

“Just so: it ought to be on a scale of the most unbounded magnificence.”

“In that case, I shall have to spend ten or twelve millions.”

“You shall spend twenty, if you require it,” said Aramis, in a perfectly calm voice.

“Where shall I get them?” exclaimed Fouquet.

“That is my affair, monsieur le surintendant; and do not be uneasy for a moment about it. The money shall be placed at once at your disposal, the moment you have arranged the plans of your fete.”

“Chevalier! chevalier!” said Fouquet, giddy with amazement, “whither are you hurrying me?”

“Across the gulf into which you were about to fall,” replied the bishop of Vannes. “Take hold of my cloak, and throw fear aside.”

“Why did you not tell me that sooner, Aramis? There was a day when, with one million only, you could have saved me; whilst to-day—”

“Whilst to-day I can give you twenty,” said the prelate. “Such is the case, however—the reason is very simple. On the day you speak of, I had not the million which you had need of at my disposal, whilst now I can easily procure the twenty millions we require.”

“May Heaven hear you, and save me!”

Aramis resumed his usual smile, the expression of which was so singular. “Heaven never fails to hear me,” he said.

“I abandon myself to you unreservedly,” Fouquet murmured.

“No, no; I do not understand it in that manner. I am unreservedly devoted to you. Therefore, as you have the clearest, the most delicate, and the most ingenious mind of the two, you shall have entire control over the fete, even to the very smallest details. Only—”

“Only?” said Fouquet, as a man accustomed to understand and appreciate the value of a parenthesis.

“Well, then, leaving the entire invention of the details to you, I shall reserve to myself a general superintendence over the execution.”

“In what way?”

“I mean, that you will make of me, on that day, a major-domo, a sort of inspector-general, or factotum—something between a captain of the guard and manager or steward. I will look after the people, and will keep the keys of the doors. You will give your orders, of course: but will give them to no one but me. They will pass through my lips, to reach those for whom they are intended—you understand?”

“No, I am very far from understanding.”

“But you agree?”

“Of course, of course, my friend.”

“That is all I care about, then. Thanks; and now go and prepare your list of invitations.”

“Whom shall I invite?”

“Everybody you know.”






Chapter L: In Which the Author Thinks It Is High Time to Return to the Vicomte de Bragelonne.


Our readers will have observed in this story, the adventures of the new and of the past generation being detailed, as it were, side by side. He will have noticed in the former, the reflection of the glory of earlier years, the experience of the bitter things of this world; in the former, also, that peace which takes possession of the heart, and that healing of the scars which were formerly deep and painful wounds. In the latter, the conflicts of love and vanity; bitter disappointments, ineffable delights; life instead of memory. If, therefore, any variety has been presented to the reader in the different episodes of this tale, it is to be attributed to the numerous shades of color which are presented on this double tablet, where two pictures are seen side by side, mingling and harmonizing their severe and pleasing tones. The repose of the emotions of one is found in harmonious contrast with the fiery sentiments of the other. After having talked reason with older heads, one loves to talk nonsense with youth. Therefore, if the threads of the story do not seem very intimately to connect the chapter we are now writing with the one we have just written, we do not intend to give ourselves any more thought or trouble about it than Ruysdael took in painting an autumn sky, after having finished a spring-time scene. We accordingly resume Raoul de Bragelonne’s story at the very place where our last sketch left him.

In a state of frenzy and dismay, or rather without power or will of his own,—hardly knowing what he was doing,—he fled swiftly, after the scene in La Valliere’s chamber, that strange exclusion, Louise’s grief, Montalais’s terror, the king’s wrath—all seemed to indicate some misfortune. But what? He had arrived from London because he had been told of the existence of a danger; and almost on his arrival this appearance of danger was manifest. Was not this sufficient for a lover? Certainly it was, but it was insufficient for a pure and upright heart such as his. And yet Raoul did not seek for explanations in the very quarter where more jealous or less timid lovers would have done. He did not go straightaway to his mistress, and say, “Louise, is it true that you love me no longer? Is it true that you love another?” Full of courage, full of friendship as he was full of love; a religious observer of his word, and believing blindly the word of others, Raoul said within himself, “Guiche wrote to put me on my guard, Guiche knows something; I will go and ask Guiche what he knows, and tell him what I have seen.” The journey was not a long one. Guiche, who had been brought from Fontainebleau to Paris within the last two days, was beginning to recover from his wounds, and to walk about a little in his room. He uttered a cry of joy as he saw Raoul, with the eagerness of friendship, enter the apartment. Raoul was unable to refrain from a cry of grief, when he saw De Guiche, so pale, so thin, so melancholy. A very few words, and a simple gesture which De Guiche made to put aside Raoul’s arm, were sufficient to inform the latter of the truth.

“Ah! so it is,” said Raoul, seating himself beside his friend; “one loves and dies.”

“No, no, not dies,” replied Guiche, smiling, “since I am now recovering, and since, too, I can press you in my arms.”

“Ah! I understand.”

“And I understand you, too. You fancy I am unhappy, Raoul?”

“Alas!”

“No; I am the happiest of men. My body suffers, but not my mind or my heart. If you only knew—Oh! I am, indeed, the very happiest of men.”

“So much the better,” said Raoul; “so much the better, provided it lasts.”

“It is over. I have had enough happiness to last me to my dying day, Raoul.”

“I have no doubt you have had; but she—”

“Listen; I love her, because—but you are not listening to me.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Your mind is preoccupied.”

“Yes, your health, in the first place—”

“It is not that, I know.”

“My dear friend, you would be wrong. I think, to ask me any questions—you of all persons in the world;” and he laid so much weight upon the “you,” that he completely enlightened his friend upon the nature of the evil, and the difficulty of remedying it.

“You say that, Raoul, on account of what I wrote to you.”

“Certainly. We will talk over that matter a little, when you have finished telling me of all your own pleasures and your pains.”

“My dear friend, I am entirely at your service.”

“Thank you; I have hurried, I have flown here; I came in half the time the government couriers usually take. Now, tell me, my dear friend, what did you want?”

“Nothing whatever, but to make you come.”

“Well, then, I am here.”

“All is quite right, then.”

“There must have been something else, I suppose?”

“No, indeed.”

“De Guiche!”

“Upon my honor!”

“You cannot possibly have crushed all my hopes so violently, or have exposed me to being disgraced by the king for my return, which is in disobedience of his orders—you cannot, I say, have planted jealousy in my heart, merely to say to me, ‘It is all right, be perfectly easy.’”

“I do not say to you, Raoul, ‘Be perfectly easy;’ but pray understand me; I never will, nor can I, indeed, tell you anything else.”

“What sort of person do you take me for?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you know anything, why conceal it from me? If you do not know anything, why did you write so warningly?”

“True, true, I was very wrong, and I regret having done so, Raoul. It seems nothing to write to a friend and say ‘Come;’ but to have this friend face to face, to feel him tremble, and breathlessly and anxiously wait to hear what one hardly dare tell him, is very difficult.”

“Dare! I have courage enough, if you have not,” exclaimed Raoul, in despair.

“See how unjust you are, and how soon you forget you have to do with a poor wounded fellow such as your unhappy friend is. So, calm yourself, Raoul. I said to you, ‘Come’—you are here, so ask me nothing further.”

“Your object in telling me to come was your hope that I should see with my own eyes, was it not? Nay, do not hesitate, for I have seen all.”

“Oh!” exclaimed De Guiche.

“Or at least I thought—”

“There, now, you see you are not sure. But if you have any doubt, my poor friend, what remains for me to do?”

“I saw Louise much agitated—Montalais in a state of bewilderment—the king—”

“The king?”

“Yes. You turn your head aside. The danger is there, the evil is there; tell me, is it not so, is it not the king?”

“I say nothing.”

“Oh! you say a thousand times more than nothing. Give me facts, for pity’s sake, give me proofs. My friend, the only friend I have, speak—tell me all. My heart is crushed, wounded to death; I am dying from despair.”

“If that really be so, as I see it is, indeed, dear Raoul,” replied De Guiche, “you relieve me from my difficulty, and I will tell you all, perfectly sure that I can tell you nothing but what is consoling, compared to the despair from which I see you suffering.”

“Go on,—go on; I am listening.”

“Well, then, I can only tell you what you might learn from every one you meet.”

“From every one, do you say? It is talked about, then!”

“Before you say people talk about it, learn what it is that people have to talk about. I assure you solemnly, that people only talk about what may, in truth, be very innocent; perhaps a walk—”

“Ah! a walk with the king?”

“Yes, certainly, a walk with the king; and I believe the king has already very frequently before taken walks with ladies, without on that account—”

“You would not have written to me, shall I say again, if there had been nothing unusual in this promenade.”

“I know that while the storm lasted, it would have been far better if the king had taken shelter somewhere else, than to have remained with his head uncovered before La Valliere; but the king is so very courteous and polite.”

“Oh! De Guiche, De Guiche, you are killing me!”

“Do not let us talk any more, then.”

“Nay, let us continue. This walk was followed by others, I suppose?”

“No—I mean yes: there was the adventure of the oak, I think. But I know nothing about the matter at all.” Raoul rose; De Guiche endeavored to imitate him, notwithstanding his weakness. “Well, I will not add another word: I have said either too much or not enough. Let others give you further information if they will, or if they can; my duty was to warn you, and that I have done. Watch over your own affairs now, yourself.”

“Question others! Alas! you are no true friend to speak to me in that manner,” said the young man, in utter distress. “The first man I meet may be either evilly disposed or a fool,—if the former, he will tell me a lie to make me suffer more than I do now; if the latter, he will do worse still. Ah! De Guiche, De Guiche, before two hours are over, I shall have been told ten falsehoods, and shall have as many duels on my hands. Save me, then; is it not best to know the worst always?”

“But I know nothing, I tell you; I was wounded, attacked by fever: out of my senses; and I have only a very faint recollection of it all. But there is no reason why we should search very far, when the very man we want is close at hand. Is not D’Artagnan your friend?”

“Oh! true, true!”

“Got to him, then. He will be able to throw sufficient light upon the subject.” At this moment a lackey entered the room. “What is it?” said De Guiche.

“Some one is waiting for monseigneur in the Cabinet des Porcelaines.”

“Very well. Will you excuse me, my dear Raoul? I am so proud since I have been able to walk again.”

“I would offer you my arm, De Guiche, if I did not guess that the person in question is a lady.”

“I believe so,” said De Guiche, smiling as he quitted Raoul.

Raoul remained motionless, absorbed in grief, overwhelmed, like the miner upon whom a vault has just fallen in, who, wounded, his life-blood welling fast, his thoughts confused, endeavors to recover himself, to save his life and to retain his reason. A few minutes were all Raoul needed to dissipate the bewildering sensations occasioned by these two revelations. He had already recovered the thread of his ideas, when, suddenly, through the door, he fancied he recognized Montalais’s voice in the Cabinet des Porcelaines. “She!” he cried. “Yes, it is indeed her voice! She will be able to tell me the whole truth; but shall I question her here? She conceals herself even from me; she is coming, no doubt, from Madame. I will see her in her own apartment. She will explain her alarm, her flight, the strange manner in which I was driven out; she will tell me all that—after M. d’Artagnan, who knows everything, shall have given me a fresh strength and courage. Madame, a coquette I fear, and yet a coquette who is herself in love, has her moments of kindness; a coquette who is as capricious and uncertain as life or death, but who tells De Guiche that he is the happiest of men. He at least is lying on roses.” And so he hastily quitted the comte’s apartments, reproaching himself as he went for having talked of nothing but his own affairs to De Guiche, and soon reached D’Artagnan’s quarters.






Chapter LI. Bragelonne Continues His Inquiries.


The captain, sitting buried in his leathern armchair, his spurs fixed in the floor, his sword between his legs, was reading a number of letters, as he twisted his mustache. D’Artagnan uttered a welcome full of pleasure when he perceived his friend’s son. “Raoul, my boy,” he said, “by what lucky accident does it happen that the king has recalled you?”

These words did not sound agreeably in the young man’s ears, who, as he seated himself, replied, “Upon my word I cannot tell you; all that I know is—I have come back.”

“Hum!” said D’Artagnan, folding up his letters and directing a look full of meaning at him; “what do you say, my boy? that the king has not recalled you, and you have returned? I do not understand that at all.”

Raoul was already pale enough; and he now began to turn his hat round and round in his hand.

“What the deuce is the matter that you look as you do, and what makes you so dumb?” said the captain. “Do people nowadays assume that sort of airs in England? I have been in England, and came here again as lively as a chaffinch. Will you not say something?”

“I have too much to say.”

“Ah! how is your father?”

“Forgive me, my dear friend, I was going to ask you that.”

D’Artagnan increased the sharpness of his penetrating gaze, which no secret was capable of resisting. “You are unhappy about something,” he said.

“I am, indeed; and you know the reason very well, Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“I?”

“Of course. Nay, do not pretend to be astonished.”

“I am not pretending to be astonished, my friend.”

“Dear captain, I know very well that in all trials of finesse, as well as in all trials of strength, I shall be beaten by you. You can see that at the present moment I am an idiot, an absolute noodle. I have neither head nor arm; do not despise, but help me. In two words, I am the most wretched of living beings.”

“Oh, oh! why that?” inquired D’Artagnan, unbuckling his belt and thawing the asperity of his smile.

“Because Mademoiselle de la Valliere is deceiving me.”

“She is deceiving you,” said D’Artagnan, not a muscle of whose face had moved; “those are big words. Who makes use of them?”

“Every one.”

“Ah! if every one says so, there must be some truth in it. I begin to believe there is fire when I see smoke. It is ridiculous, perhaps, but it is so.”

“Therefore you do believe me?” exclaimed Bragelonne, quickly.

“I never mix myself up in affairs of that kind; you know that very well.”

“What! not for a friend, for a son!”

“Exactly. If you were a stranger, I should tell you—I will tell you nothing at all. How is Porthos, do you know?”

“Monsieur,” cried Raoul, pressing D’Artagnan’s hand, “I entreat you in the name of the friendship you vowed my father!”

“The deuce take it, you are really ill—from curiosity.”

“No, it is not from curiosity, it is from love.”

“Good. Another big word. If you were really in love, my dear Raoul, you would be very different.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that if you were really so deeply in love that I could believe I was addressing myself to your heart—but it is impossible.”

“I tell you I love Louise to distraction.”

D’Artagnan could read to the very bottom of the young man’s heart.

“Impossible, I tell you,” he said. “You are like all young men; you are not in love, you are out of your senses.”

“Well! suppose it were only that?”

“No sensible man ever succeeded in making much of a brain when the head was turned. I have completely lost my senses in the same way a hundred times in my life. You would listen to me, but you would not hear me! you would hear, but you would not understand me; you would understand, but you would not obey me.”

“Oh! try, try.”

“I go far. Even if I were unfortunate enough to know something, and foolish enough to communicate it to you—You are my friend, you say?”

“Indeed, yes.”

“Very good. I should quarrel with you. You would never forgive me for having destroyed your illusion, as people say in love affairs.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, you know all; and yet you plunge me in perplexity and despair, in death itself.”

“There, there now.”

“I never complain, as you know; but as Heaven and my father would never forgive me for blowing out my brains, I will go and get the first person I meet to give me the information which you withhold; I will tell him he lies, and—”

“And you would kill him. And a fine affair that would be. So much the better. What should I care? Kill any one you please, my boy, if it gives you any pleasure. It is exactly like a man with a toothache, who keeps on saying, ‘Oh! what torture I am suffering. I could bite a piece of iron in half.’ My answer always is, ‘Bite, my friend, bite; the tooth will remain all the same.’”

“I shall not kill any one, monsieur,” said Raoul, gloomily.

“Yes, yes! you now assume a different tone: instead of killing, you will get killed yourself, I suppose you mean? Very fine, indeed! How much I should regret you! Of course I should go about all day, saying, ‘Ah! what a fine stupid fellow that Bragelonne was! as great a stupid as I ever met with. I have passed my whole life almost in teaching him how to hold and use his sword properly, and the silly fellow has got himself spitted like a lark.’ Go, then, Raoul, go and get yourself disposed of, if you like. I hardly know who can have taught you logic, but deuce take me if your father has not been regularly robbed of his money.”

Raoul buried his face in his hands, murmuring: “No, no; I have not a single friend in the world.”

“Oh! bah!” said D’Artagnan.

“I meet with nothing but raillery or indifference.”

“Idle fancies, monsieur. I do not laugh at you, although I am a Gascon. And, as for being indifferent, if I were so, I should have sent you about your business a quarter of an hour ago, for you would make a man who was out of his senses with delight as dull as possible, and would be the death of one who was out of spirits. How now, young man! do you wish me to disgust you with the girl you are attached to, and to teach you to execrate the whole sex who constitute the honor and happiness of human life?”

“Oh! tell me, monsieur, and I will bless you.”

“Do you think, my dear fellow, that I can have crammed into my brain all about the carpenter, and the painter, and the staircase, and a hundred other similar tales of the same kind?”

“A carpenter! what do you mean?”

“Upon my word I don’t know; some one told me there was a carpenter who made an opening through a certain flooring.”

“In La Valliere’s room!”

“Oh! I don’t know where.”

“In the king’s apartment, perhaps?”

“Of course, if it were in the king’s apartment, I should tell you, I suppose.”

“In whose room, then?”

“I have told you for the last hour that I know nothing of the whole affair.”

“But the painter, then? the portrait—”

“It seems that the king wished to have the portrait of one of the ladies belonging to the court.”

“La Valliere?”

“Why, you seem to have only that name in your mouth. Who spoke to you of La Valliere?”

“If it be not her portrait, then, why do you suppose it would concern me?”

“I do not suppose it will concern you. But you ask me all sorts of questions, and I answer you. You positively will learn all the scandal of the affair, and I tell you—make the best you can of it.”

Raoul struck his forehead with his hand in utter despair. “It will kill me!” he said.

“So you have said already.”

“Yes, you are right,” and he made a step or two, as if he were going to leave.

“Where are you going?”

“To look for some one who will tell me the truth.”

“Who is that?”

“A woman.”

“Mademoiselle de la Valliere herself, I suppose you mean?” said D’Artagnan, with a smile. “Ah! a famous idea that! You wish to be consoled by some one, and you will be so at once. She will tell you nothing ill of herself, of course. So be off.”

“You are mistaken, monsieur,” replied Raoul; “the woman I mean will tell me all the evil she possibly can.”

“You allude to Montalais, I suppose—her friend; a woman who, on that account, will exaggerate all that is either bad or good in the matter. Do not talk to Montalais, my good fellow.”

“You have some reasons for wishing me not to talk with Montalais?”

“Well, I admit it. And, in point of fact, why should I play with you as a cat does with a poor mouse? You distress me, you do, indeed. And if I wish you not to speak to Montalais just now, it is because you will be betraying your secret, and people will take advantage of it. Wait, if you can.”

“I cannot.”

“So much the worse. Why, you see, Raoul, if I had an idea,—but I have not got one.”

“Promise me that you will pity me, my friend, that is all I need, and leave me to get out of the affair by myself.”

“Oh! yes, indeed, in order that you may get deeper into the mire! A capital idea, truly! go and sit down at that table and take a pen in your hand.”

“What for?”

“To write and ask Montalais to give you an interview.”

“Ah!” said Raoul, snatching eagerly at the pen which the captain held out to him.

Suddenly the door opened, and one of the musketeers, approaching D’Artagnan, said, “Captain, Mademoiselle de Montalais is here, and wishes to speak to you.”

“To me?” murmured D’Artagnan. “Ask her to come in; I shall soon see,” he said to himself, “whether she wishes to speak to me or not.”

The cunning captain was quite right in his suspicions; for as soon as Montalais entered she exclaimed, “Oh, monsieur! monsieur! I beg your pardon, Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“Oh! I forgive you, mademoiselle,” said D’Artagnan; “I know that, at my age, those who are looking for me generally need me for something or another.”

“I was looking for M. de Bragelonne,” replied Montalais.

“How very fortunate that is; he was looking for you, too. Raoul, will you accompany Mademoiselle de Montalais?”

“Oh! certainly.”

“Go along, then,” he said, as he gently pushed Raoul out of the cabinet; and then, taking hold of Montalais’s hand, he said, in a low voice, “Be kind towards him; spare him, and spare her, too, if you can.”

“Ah!” she said, in the same tone of voice, “it is not I who am going to speak to him.”

“Who, then?”

“It is Madame who has sent for him.”

“Very good,” cried D’Artagnan, “it is Madame, is it? In an hour’s time, then, the poor fellow will be cured.”

“Or else dead,” said Montalais, in a voice full of compassion. “Adieu, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” she said; and she ran to join Raoul, who was waiting for her at a little distance from the door, very much puzzled and thoroughly uneasy at the dialogue, which promised no good augury for him.