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Louise de la Valliere

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Chapter LV. The Change of Residence, the Trap-Door, and the Portrait.


Porthos, intrusted, to his great delight, with this mission, which made him feel young again, took half an hour less than his usual time to put on his court suit. To show that he was a man acquainted with the usages of high society, he had begun by sending his lackey to inquire if Monsieur de Saint-Aignan were at home, and heard, in answer, that M. le Comte de Saint-Aignan had had the honor of accompanying the king to Saint-Germain, as well as the whole court; but that monsieur le comte had just that moment returned. Immediately upon this reply, Porthos made as much haste as possible, and reached Saint-Aignan’s apartments just as the latter was having his boots taken off. The promenade had been delightful. The king, who was in love more than ever, and of course happier than ever, behaved in the most charming manner to every one. Nothing could possibly equal his kindness. M. de Saint-Aignan, it may be remembered, was a poet, and fancied that he had proved that he was so under too many a memorable circumstance to allow the title to be disputed by any one. An indefatigable rhymester, he had, during the whole of the journey, overwhelmed with quatrains, sextains, and madrigals, first the king, and then La Valliere. The king, on his side, was in a similarly poetical mood, and had made a distich; while La Valliere, delighting in poetry, as most women do who are in love, had composed two sonnets. The day, then, had not been a bad one for Apollo; and so, as soon as he had returned to Paris, Saint-Aignan, who knew beforehand that his verse would be sure to be extensively circulated in court circles, occupied himself, with a little more attention than he had been able to bestow during the promenade, with the composition, as well as with the idea itself. Consequently, with all the tenderness of a father about to start his children in life, he candidly interrogated himself whether the public would find these offsprings of his imagination sufficiently elegant and graceful; and in order to make his mind easy on the subject, M. de Saint-Aignan recited to himself the madrigal he had composed, and which he had repeated from memory to the king, and had promised to write out for him on his return. All the time he was committing these words to memory, the comte was engaged in undressing himself more completely. He had just taken off his coat, and was putting on his dressing-gown, when he was informed that Monsieur le Baron du Vallon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds was waiting to be received.

“Eh!” he said, “what does that bunch of names mean? I don’t know anything about him.”

“It is the same gentleman,” replied the lackey, “who had the honor of dining with you, monseigneur, at the king’s table, when his majesty was staying at Fontainebleau.”

“Introduce him, then, at once,” cried Saint-Aignan.

Porthos, in a few minutes, entered the room. M. de Saint-Aignan had an excellent recollection of persons, and, at the first glance, he recognized the gentleman from the country, who enjoyed so singular a reputation, and whom the king had received so favorably at Fontainebleau, in spite of the smiles of some of those who were present. He therefore advanced towards Porthos with all the outward signs of consideration of manner which Porthos thought but natural, considering that he himself, whenever he called upon an adversary, hoisted a standard of the most refined politeness. Saint-Aignan desired the servant to give Porthos a chair; and the latter, who saw nothing unusual in this act of politeness, sat down gravely and coughed. The ordinary courtesies having been exchanged between the two gentlemen, the comte, to whom the visit was paid, said, “May I ask, monsieur le baron, to what happy circumstance I am indebted for the favor of a visit from you?”

“The very thing I am about to have the honor of explaining to you, monsieur le comte; but, I beg your pardon—”

“What is the matter, monsieur?” inquired Saint-Aignan.

“I regret to say that I have broken your chair.”

“Not at all, monsieur,” said Saint-Aignan; “not at all.”

“It is the fact, though, monsieur le comte; I have broken it—so much so, indeed, that if I do not move, I shall fall down, which would be an exceedingly disagreeable position for me in the discharge of the very serious mission which has been intrusted to me with regard to yourself.”

Porthos rose; and but just in time, for the chair had given way several inches. Saint-Aignan looked about him for something more solid for his guest to sit upon.

“Modern articles of furniture,” said Porthos, while the comte was looking about, “are constructed in a ridiculously flimsy manner. In my early days, when I used to sit down with far more energy than is now the case, I do not remember ever to have broken a chair, except in taverns, with my arms.”

Saint-Aignan smiled at this remark. “But,” said Porthos, as he settled himself down on a couch, which creaked, but did not give way beneath his weight, “that unfortunately has nothing whatever to do with my present visit.”

“Why unfortunately? Are you the bearer of a message of ill-omen, monsieur le baron?”

“Of ill-omen—for a gentleman? Certainly not, monsieur le comte,” replied Porthos, nobly. “I have simply come to say that you have seriously insulted a friend of mine.”

“I, monsieur?” exclaimed Saint-Aignan—“I have insulted a friend of yours, do you say? May I ask his name?”

“M. Raoul de Bragelonne.”

“I have insulted M. Raoul de Bragelonne!” cried Saint-Aignan. “I really assure you, monsieur, that it is quite impossible; for M. de Bragelonne, whom I know but very slightly,—nay, whom I know hardly at all—is in England, and, as I have not seen him for a long time past, I cannot possibly have insulted him.”

“M. de Bragelonne is in Paris, monsieur le comte,” said Porthos, perfectly unmoved; “and I repeat, it is quite certain you have insulted him, since he himself told me you had. Yes, monsieur, you have seriously insulted him, mortally insulted him, I repeat.”

“It is impossible, monsieur le baron, I swear, quite impossible.”

“Besides,” added Porthos, “you cannot be ignorant of the circumstance, since M. de Bragelonne informed me that he had already apprised you of it by a note.”

“I give you my word of honor, monsieur, that I have received no note whatever.”

“This is most extraordinary,” replied Porthos.

“I will convince you,” said Saint-Aignan, “that have received nothing in any way from him.” And he rang the bell. “Basque,” he said to the servant who entered, “how many letters or notes were sent here during my absence?”

“Three, monsieur le comte—a note from M. de Fiesque, one from Madame de Laferte, and a letter from M. de las Fuentes.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes, monsieur le comte.”

“Speak the truth before this gentleman—the truth, you understand. I will take care you are not blamed.”

“There was a note, also, from—from—”

“Well, from whom?”

“From Mademoiselle—de—”

“Out with it!”

“De Laval.”

“That is quite sufficient,” interrupted Porthos. “I believe you, monsieur le comte.”

Saint-Aignan dismissed the valet, and followed him to the door, in order to close it after him; and when he had done so, looking straight before him, he happened to see in the keyhole of the adjoining apartment the paper which Bragelonne had slipped in there as he left. “What is this?” he said.

Porthos, who was sitting with his back to the room, turned round. “Aha!” he said.

“A note in the keyhole!” exclaimed Saint-Aignan.

“That is not unlikely to be the missing letter, monsieur le comte,” said Porthos.

Saint-Aignan took out the paper. “A note from M. de Bragelonne!” he exclaimed.

“You see, monsieur, I was right. Oh, when I say a thing—”

“Brought here by M. de Bragelonne himself,” the comte murmured, turning pale. “This is infamous! How could he possibly have come here?” And the comte rang again.

“Who has been here during my absence with the king?”

“No one, monsieur.”

“That is impossible! Some one must have been here.”

“No one could possibly have entered, monsieur, since the keys have never left my pocket.”

“And yet I find the letter in yonder lock; some one must have put it there; it could not have come here of its own accord.”

Basque opened his arms as if signifying the most absolute ignorance on the subject.

“Probably it was M. de Bragelonne himself who placed it there,” said Porthos.

“In that case he must have entered here.”

“How could that have been, since I have the key in my own pocket?” returned Basque, perseveringly.

Saint-Aignan crumpled the letter in his palm, after having read it. “There is something mysterious about this,” he murmured, absorbed in thought. Porthos left him to his reflections; but after a while returned to the mission he had undertaken.

“Shall we return to our little affair?” Porthos resumed, addressing Saint-Aignan after a brief pause.

“I think I can now understand it, from this note, which has arrived here in so singular a manner. Monsieur de Bragelonne says that a friend will call.”

“I am his friend. I am the person he alludes to.”

“For the purpose of giving me a challenge?”

“Precisely.”

“And he complains that I have insulted him?”

“Mortally.”

“In what way, may I ask; for his conduct is so mysterious, that, at least, it needs some explanation?”

“Monsieur,” replied Porthos, “my friend cannot but be right; and, as far as his conduct is concerned, if it be mysterious, as you say, you have only yourself to blame for it.” Porthos pronounced these words with an amount of confidence which, for a man who was unaccustomed to his ways, must have revealed an infinity of sense.

“Mystery, so be it; but what is all the mystery about?” said Saint-Aignan.

“You will think it the best, perhaps,” Porthos replied, with a low bow, “if I do not enter in to particulars.”

“Oh, I perfectly understand. We will touch very lightly upon it, then, so speak, monsieur, I am listening.”

“In the first place, monsieur,” said Porthos, “you have changed your apartments.”

“Yes, that is quite true,” said Saint-Aignan.

“You admit it,” said Porthos, with an air of satisfaction.

“Admit it! of course I admit it. Why should I not admit it, do you suppose?”

“You have admitted it. Very good,” said Porthos, lifting up one finger.

“But how can my having moved my lodgings have done M. de Bragelonne any harm? Have the goodness to tell me that, for I positively do not comprehend a word of what you are saying.”

Porthos stopped him, and then said, with great gravity, “Monsieur, this is the first of M. de Bragelonne’s complaints against you. If he makes a complaint, it is because he feels himself insulted.”

Saint-Aignan began to beat his foot impatiently on the ground. “This looks like a spurious quarrel,” he said.

“No one can possibly have a spurious quarrel with the Vicomte de Bragelonne,” returned Porthos; “but, at all events, you have nothing to add on the subject of your changing your apartments, I suppose?”

“Nothing. And what is the next point?”

“Ah, the next! You will observe, monsieur, that the one I have already mentioned is a most serious injury, to which you have given no answer, or rather, have answered very indifferently. Is it possible, monsieur, that you have changed your lodgings? M. de Bragelonne feels insulted at your having done so, and you do not attempt to excuse yourself.”

“What!” cried Saint-Aignan, who was getting annoyed at the perfect coolness of his visitor—“what! am I to consult M. de Bragelonne whether I am to move or not? You can hardly be serious, monsieur.”

“I am. And it is absolutely necessary, monsieur; but under any circumstances, you will admit that it is nothing in comparison with the second ground of complaint.”

“Well, what is that?”

Porthos assumed a very solemn expression as he said: “How about the trap-door, monsieur?”

Saint-Aignan turned exceedingly pale. He pushed back his chair so abruptly, that Porthos, simple as he was, perceived that the blow had told. “The trap-door,” murmured Saint-Aignan.

“Yes, monsieur, explain that if you can,” said Porthos, shaking his head.

Saint-Aignan held down his head, as he murmured: “I have been betrayed, everything is known!”

“Everything,” replied Porthos, who knew nothing.

“You see me perfectly overwhelmed,” pursued Saint-Aignan, “overwhelmed to a degree that I hardly know what I am about.”

“A guilty conscience, monsieur. Your affair is a bad one, and when the public learns all about it, it will judge—”

“Oh, monsieur!” exclaimed the count, hurriedly, “such a secret ought not to be known even by one’s confessor.”

“That we will think about,” said Porthos; “the secret will not go far, in fact.”

“Surely, monsieur,” returned Saint-Aignan, “since M. de Bragelonne has penetrated the secret, he must be aware of the danger he as well as others run the risk of incurring.”

“M. de Bragelonne runs no danger, monsieur, nor does he fear any either, as you, if it please Heaven, will find out very soon.”

“This fellow is a perfect madman,” thought Saint-Aignan. “What, in Heaven’s name, does he want?” He then said aloud: “Come, monsieur, let us hush up this affair.”

“You forget the portrait,” said Porthos, in a voice of thunder, which made the comte’s blood freeze in his veins.

As the portrait in question was La Valliere’s portrait, and no mistake could any longer exist on the subject, Saint-Aignan’s eyes were completely opened. “Ah!” he exclaimed—“ah! monsieur, I remember now that M. de Bragelonne was engaged to be married to her.”

Porthos assumed an imposing air, all the majesty of ignorance, in fact, as he said: “It matters nothing whatever to me, nor to yourself, indeed, whether or not my friend was, as you say, engaged to be married. I am even astonished that you should have made use of so indiscreet a remark. It may possibly do your cause harm, monsieur.”

“Monsieur,” replied Saint-Aignan, “you are the incarnation of intelligence, delicacy, and loyalty of feeling united. I see the whole matter now clearly enough.”

“So much the better,” said Porthos.

“And,” pursued Saint-Aignan, “you have made me comprehend it in the most ingenious and the most delicate manner possible. I beg you to accept my best thanks.” Porthos drew himself up, unable to resist the flattery of the remark. “Only, now that I know everything, permit me to explain—”

Porthos shook his head, as a man who does not wish to hear, but Saint-Aignan continued: “I am in despair, I assure you, at all that has happened; but how would you have acted in my place? Come, between ourselves, tell me what you would have done?”

Porthos drew himself up as he answered: “There is now no question at all of what I should have done, young man; you have been made acquainted with the three causes of complaint against you, I believe?”

“As for the first, my change of rooms, and I now address myself to you as a man of honor and of great intelligence, could I, when the desire of so august a personage was so urgently expressed that I should move, ought I to have disobeyed?”

Porthos was about to speak, but Saint-Aignan did not give him time to answer. “Ah! my frankness, I see, convinces you,” he said, interpreting the movement according to his own fancy. “You feel that I am right.”

Porthos did not reply, and so Saint-Aignan continued: “I pass by that unfortunate trap-door,” he said, placing his hand on Porthos’s arm, “that trap-door, the occasion and means of so much unhappiness, and which was constructed for—you know what. Well, then, in plain truth, do you suppose that it was I who, of my own accord, in such a place, too, had that trap-door made?—Oh, no!—you do not believe it; and here, again, you feel, you guess, you understand the influence of a will superior to my own. You can conceive the infatuation, the blind, irresistible passion which has been at work. But, thank Heaven! I am fortunate in speaking to a man who has so much sensitiveness of feeling; and if it were not so, indeed, what an amount of misery and scandal would fall upon her, poor girl! and upon him—whom I will not name.”

Porthos, confused and bewildered by the eloquence and gestures of Saint-Aignan, made a thousand efforts to stem this torrent of words, of which, by the by, he did not understand a single one; he remained upright and motionless on his seat, and that was all he could do. Saint-Aignan continued, and gave a new inflection to his voice, and an increasing vehemence to his gesture: “As for the portrait, for I readily believe the portrait is the principal cause of complaint, tell me candidly if you think me to blame?—Who was it who wished to have her portrait? Was it I?—Who is in love with her? Is it I?—Who wishes to gain her affection? Again, is it I?—Who took her likeness? I, do you think? No! a thousand times no! I know M. de Bragelonne must be in a state of despair; I know these misfortunes are most cruel. But I, too, am suffering as well; and yet there is no possibility of offering any resistance. Suppose we were to fight? we would be laughed at. If he obstinately persist in his course, he is lost. You will tell me, I know, that despair is ridiculous, but then you are a sensible man. You have understood me. I perceived by your serious, thoughtful, embarrassed air, even, that the importance of the situation we are placed in has not escaped you. Return, therefore, to M. de Bragelonne; thank him—as I have indeed reason to thank him—for having chosen as an intermediary a man of your high merit. Believe me that I shall, on my side, preserve an eternal gratitude for the man who has so ingeniously, so cleverly arranged the misunderstanding between us. And since ill luck would have it that the secret should be known to four instead of three, why, this secret, which might make the most ambitious man’s fortune, I am delighted to share with you, monsieur, from the bottom of my heart I am delighted at it. From this very moment you can make use of me as you please, I place myself entirely at your mercy. What can I possibly do for you? What can I solicit, nay, require even? You have only to speak, monsieur, only to speak.”

And, according to the familiarly friendly fashion of that period, Saint-Aignan threw his arms round Porthos, and clasped him tenderly in his embrace. Porthos allowed him to do this with the most perfect indifference. “Speak,” resumed Saint-Aignan, “what do you require?”

“Monsieur,” said Porthos, “I have a horse below: be good enough to mount him; he is a very good one and will play you no tricks.”

“Mount on horseback! what for?” inquired Saint-Aignan, with no little curiosity.

“To accompany me to where M. de Bragelonne is waiting us.”

“Ah! he wishes to speak to me, I suppose? I can well believe that; he wishes to have the details, very likely; alas! it is a very delicate matter; but at the present moment I cannot, for the king is waiting for me.”

“The king must wait, then,” said Porthos.

“What do you say? the king must wait!” interrupted the finished courtier, with a smile of utter amazement, for he could not understand that the king could under any circumstances be supposed to have to wait.

“It is merely the affair of a very short hour,” returned Porthos.

“But where is M. de Bragelonne waiting for me?”

“At the Minimes, at Vincennes.”

“Ah, indeed! but are we going to laugh over the affair when we get there?”

“I don’t think it likely,” said Porthos, as his face assumed a look of utter hardness.

“But the Minimes is a rendezvous where duels take place, and what can I have to do at the Minimes?”

Porthos slowly drew his sword, and said: “That is the length of my friend’s sword.”

“Why, the man is mad!” cried Saint-Aignan.

The color mounted to Porthos’s face, as he replied: “If I had not the honor of being in your own apartment, monsieur, and of representing M. de Bragelonne’s interests, I would throw you out of the window. It will be merely a pleasure postponed, and you will lose nothing by waiting. Will you come with me to the Minimes, monsieur, of your own free will?”

“But—”

“Take care, I will carry you if you do not come quickly.”

“Basque!” cried Saint-Aignan. As soon as Basque appeared, he said, “The king wishes to see monsieur le comte.”

“That is very different,” said Porthos; “the king’s service before anything else. We will wait until this evening, monsieur.”

And saluting Saint-Aignan with his usual courtesy, Porthos left the room, delighted at having arranged another affair. Saint-Aignan looked after him as he left; and then hastily putting on his court dress again, he ran off, arranging his costume as he went along, muttering to himself, “The Minimes! the Minimes! We shall see how the king will fancy this challenge; for it is for him after all, that is certain.”






Chapter LVI. Rivals in Politics.


On his return from the promenade, which had been so prolific in poetical effusions, and in which every one had paid his or her tribute to the Muses, as the poets of the period used to say, the king found M. Fouquet waiting for an audience. M. Colbert had lain in wait for his majesty in the corridor, and followed him like a jealous and watchful shadow; M. Colbert, with his square head, his vulgar and untidy, though rich costume, somewhat resembled a Flemish gentleman after he had been over-indulging in his national drink—beer. Fouquet, at sight of his enemy, remained perfectly unmoved, and during the whole of the scene which followed scrupulously resolved to observe a line of conduct particularly difficult to the man of superior mind, who does not even wish to show his contempt, for fear of doing his adversary too much honor. Colbert made no attempt to conceal his insolent expression of the vulgar joy he felt. In his opinion, M. Fouquet’s was a game very badly played and hopelessly lost, although not yet finished. Colbert belonged to that school of politicians who think cleverness alone worthy of their admiration, and success the only thing worth caring for. Colbert, moreover, who was not simply an envious and jealous man, but who had the king’s interest really at heart, because he was thoroughly imbued with the highest sense of probity in all matters of figures and accounts, could well afford to assign as a pretext for his conduct, that in hating and doing his utmost to ruin M. Fouquet, he had nothing in view but the welfare of the state and the dignity of the crown. None of these details escaped Fouquet’s observation; through his enemy’s thick, bushy brows, and despite the restless movement of his eyelids, he could, by merely looking at his eyes, penetrate to the very bottom of Colbert’s heart, and he read to what an unbounded extent hate towards himself and triumph at his approaching fall existed there. But as, in observing everything, he wished to remain himself impenetrable, he composed his features, smiled with the charmingly sympathetic smile that was peculiarly his own, and saluted the king with the most dignified and graceful ease and elasticity of manner. “Sire,” he said, “I perceive by your majesty’s joyous air that you have been gratified with the promenade.”

“Most gratified, indeed, monsieur le surintendant, most gratified. You were very wrong not to come with us, as I invited you to do.”

“I was working, sire,” replied the superintendent, who did not even seem to take the trouble to turn aside his head in merest respect of Colbert’s presence.

“Ah! M. Fouquet,” cried the king, “there is nothing like the country. I should be delighted to live in the country always, in the open air and under the trees.”

“I should hope that your majesty is not yet weary of the throne,” said Fouquet.

“No; but thrones of soft turf are very pleasant.”

“Your majesty gratifies my utmost wishes in speaking in that manner, for I have a request to submit to you.”

“On whose behalf, monsieur?”

“Oh behalf of the nymphs of Vaux, sire.”

“Ah! ah!” said Louis XIV.

“Your majesty, too, once deigned to make me a promise,” said Fouquet.

“Yes, I remember it.”

“The fete at Vaux, the celebrated fete, I think, it was, sire,” said Colbert, endeavoring to show his importance by taking part in the conversation.

Fouquet, with the profoundest contempt, did not take the slightest notice of the remark, as if, as far as he was concerned, Colbert had not even thought or said a word.

“Your majesty is aware,” he said, “that I destine my estate at Vaux to receive the most amiable of princes, the most powerful of monarchs.”

“I have given you my promise, monsieur,” said Louis XIV., smiling; “and a king never departs from his word.”

“And I have come now, sire, to inform your majesty that I am ready to obey your orders in every respect.”

“Do you promise me many wonders, monsieur le surintendant?” said Louis, looking at Colbert.

“Wonders? Oh! no, sire. I do not undertake that. I hope to be able to procure your majesty a little pleasure, perhaps even a little forgetfulness of the cares of state.”

“Nay, nay, M. Fouquet,” returned the king; “I insist upon the word ‘wonders.’ You are a magician, I believe; we all know the power you wield; we also know that you can find gold even when there is none to be found elsewhere; so much so, indeed, that people say you coin it.”

Fouquet felt that the shot was discharged from a double quiver, and that the king had launched an arrow from his own bow as well as one from Colbert’s. “Oh!” said he, laughingly, “the people know perfectly well out of what mine I procure the gold; and they know it only too well, perhaps; besides,” he added, “I can assure your majesty that the gold destined to pay the expenses of the fete at Vaux will cost neither blood nor tears; hard labor it may, perhaps, but that can be paid for.”

Louis paused quite confused. He wished to look at Colbert; Colbert, too, wished to reply to him; a glance as swift as an eagle’s, a king-like glance, indeed, which Fouquet darted at the latter, arrested the words upon his lips. The king, who had by this time recovered his self-possession, turned towards Fouquet, saying, “I presume, therefore, I am now to consider myself formally invited?”

“Yes, sire, if your majesty will condescend so far as to accept my invitation.”

“What day have you fixed?”

“Any day your majesty may find most convenient.”

“You speak like an enchanter who has but to conjure up in actuality the wildest fancies, Monsieur Fouquet. I could not say so much, indeed, myself.”

“Your majesty will do, whenever you please, everything that a monarch can and ought to do. The king of France has servants at his bidding who are able to do anything on his behalf, to accomplish everything to gratify his pleasures.”

Colbert tried to look at the superintendent, in order to see whether this remark was an approach to less hostile sentiments on his part; but Fouquet had not even looked at his enemy, and Colbert hardly seemed to exist as far as he was concerned. “Very good, then,” said the king. “Will a week hence suit you?”

“Perfectly well, sire.”

“This is Tuesday; if I give you until next Sunday week, will that be sufficient?”

“The delay which your majesty deigns to accord me will greatly aid the various works which my architects have in hand for the purpose of adding to the amusement of your majesty and your friends.”

“By the by, speaking of my friends,” resumed the king; “how do you intend to treat them?”

“The king is master everywhere, sire; your majesty will draw up your own list and give your own orders. All those you may deign to invite will be my guests, my honored guests, indeed.”

“I thank you!” returned the king, touched by the noble thought expressed in so noble a tone.

Fouquet, therefore, took leave of Louis XIV., after a few words had been added with regard to the details of certain matters of business. He felt that Colbert would remain behind with the king, that they would both converse about him, and that neither of them would spare him in the least degree. The satisfaction of being able to give a last and terrible blow to his enemy seemed to him almost like a compensation for everything they were about to subject him to. He turned back again immediately, as soon, indeed, as he had reached the door, and addressing the king, said, “I was forgetting that I had to crave your majesty’s forgiveness.”

“In what respect?” said the king, graciously.

“For having committed a serious fault without perceiving it.”

“A fault! You! Ah! Monsieur Fouquet, I shall be unable to do otherwise than forgive you. In what way or against whom have you been found wanting?”

“Against every sense of propriety, sire. I forgot to inform your majesty of a circumstance that has lately occurred of some little importance.”

“What is it?”

Colbert trembled; he fancied that he was about to frame a denunciation against him. His conduct had been unmasked. A single syllable from Fouquet, a single proof formally advanced, and before the youthful loyalty of feeling which guided Louis XIV., Colbert’s favor would disappear at once; the latter trembled, therefore, lest so daring a blow might overthrow his whole scaffold; in point of fact, the opportunity was so admirably suited to be taken advantage of, that a skillful, practiced player like Aramis would not have let it slip. “Sire,” said Fouquet, with an easy, unconcerned air, “since you have had the kindness to forgive me, I am perfectly indifferent about my confession; this morning I sold one of the official appointments I hold.”

“One of your appointments,” said the king, “which?”

Colbert turned perfectly livid. “That which conferred upon me, sire, a grand gown, and a stern air of gravity; the appointment of procureur-general.”

The king involuntarily uttered a loud exclamation and looked at Colbert, who, with his face bedewed with perspiration, felt almost on the point of fainting. “To whom have you sold this department, Monsieur Fouquet?” inquired the king.

Colbert was obliged to lean against a column of the fireplace. “To a councilor belonging to the parliament, sire, whose name is Vanel.”

“Vanel?”

“Yes, sire, a particular friend of the intendant Colbert,” added Fouquet; letting every word fall from his lips with the most inimitable nonchalance, and with an admirably assumed expression of forgetfulness and ignorance. And having finished, and having overwhelmed Colbert beneath the weight of this superiority, the superintendent again saluted the king and quitted the room, partially revenged by the stupefaction of the king and the humiliation of the favorite.

“Is it really possible,” said the king, as soon as Fouquet had disappeared, “that he has sold that office?”

“Yes, sire,” said Colbert, meaningly.

“He must be mad,” the king added.

Colbert this time did not reply; he had penetrated the king’s thought, a thought which amply revenged him for the humiliation he had just been made to suffer; his hatred was augmented by a feeling of bitter jealousy of Fouquet; and a threat of disgrace was now added to the plan he had arranged for his ruin. Colbert felt perfectly assured that for the future, between Louis XIV. and himself, their hostile feelings and ideas would meet with no obstacles, and that at the first fault committed by Fouquet, which could be laid hold of as a pretext, the chastisement so long impending would be precipitated. Fouquet had thrown aside his weapons of defense, and hate and jealousy had picked them up. Colbert was invited by the king to the fete at Vaux; he bowed like a man confident in himself, and accepted the invitation with the air of one who almost confers a favor. The king was about writing down Saint-Aignan’s name on his list of royal commands, when the usher announced the Comte de Saint-Aignan. As soon as the royal “Mercury” entered, Colbert discreetly withdrew.






Chapter LVII. Rivals in Love.


Saint-Aignan had quitted Louis XIV. hardly a couple of hours before; but in the first effervescence of his affection, whenever Louis XIV. was out of sight of La Valliere, he was obliged to talk about her. Besides, the only person with whom he could speak about her at his ease was Saint-Aignan, and thus Saint-Aignan had become an indispensable.

“Ah, is that you, comte?” he exclaimed, as soon as he perceived him, doubly delighted, not only to see him again, but also to get rid of Colbert, whose scowling face always put him out of humor. “So much the better, I am very glad to see you. You will make one of the best traveling party, I suppose?”

“Of what traveling part are you speaking, sire?” inquired Saint-Aignan.

“The one we are making up to go to the fete the superintendent is about to give at Vaux. Ah! Saint-Aignan, you will, at last, see a fete, a royal fete, by the side of which all our amusements at Fontainebleau are petty, contemptible affairs.”

“At Vaux! the superintendent going to give a fete in your majesty’s honor? Nothing more than that!”

“‘Nothing more than that,’ do you say? It is very diverting to find you treating it with so much disdain. Are you who express such an indifference on the subject, aware, that as soon as it is known that M. Fouquet is going to receive me at Vaux next Sunday week, people will be striving their very utmost to get invited to the fete? I repeat, Saint-Aignan, you shall be one of the invited guests.”

“Very well, sire; unless I shall, in the meantime, have undertaken a longer and a less agreeable journey.”

“What journey do you allude to?”

“The one across the Styx, sire.”

“Bah!” said Louis XIV., laughing.

“No, seriously, sire,” replied Saint-Aignan, “I am invited; and in such a way, in truth, that I hardly know what to say, or how to act, in order to refuse the invitation.”

“I do not understand you. I know that you are in a poetical vein; but try not to sink from Apollo to Phoebus.”

“Very well; if your majesty will deign to listen to me, I will not keep your mind on the rack a moment longer.”

“Speak.”

“Your majesty knows the Baron du Vallon?”

“Yes, indeed; a good servant to my father, the late king, and an admirable companion at table; for, I think, you are referring to the gentleman who dined with us at Fontainebleau?”

“Precisely so; but you have omitted to add to his other qualifications, sire, that he is a most charming polisher-off of other people.”

“What! Does M. du Vallon wish to polish you off?”

“Or to get me killed, which is much the same thing.”

“The deuce!”

“Do not laugh, sire, for I am not saying one word beyond the exact truth.”

“And you say he wishes to get you killed.”

“Such is that excellent person’s present idea.”

“Be easy; I will defend you, if he be in the wrong.”

“Ah! There is an ‘if’!”

“Of course; answer me as candidly as if it were some one else’s affair instead of your own, my poor Saint-Aignan; is he right or wrong?”

“Your majesty shall be the judge.”

“What have you done to him?”

“To him, personally, nothing at all; but, it seems, to one of his friends, I have.”

“It is all the same. Is his friend one of the celebrated ‘four’?”

“No. It is the son of one of the celebrated ‘four,’ though.”

“What have you done to the son? Come, tell me.”

“Why, it seems that I have helped some one to take his mistress from him.”

“You confess it, then?”

“I cannot help confessing it, for it is true.”

“In that case, you are wrong; and if he were to kill you, he would be doing perfectly right.”

“Ah! that is your majesty’s way of reasoning, then!”

“Do you think it a bad way?”

“It is a very expeditious way, at all events.”

“‘Good justice is prompt;’ so my grandfather Henry IV. used to say.”

“In that case, your majesty will, perhaps, be good enough to sign my adversary’s pardon, for he is now waiting for me at the Minimes, for the purpose of putting me out of my misery.”

“His name, and a parchment!”

“There is a parchment upon your majesty’s table; and for his name—”

“Well, what is it?”

“The Vicomte de Bragelonne, sire.”

“‘The Vicomte de Bragelonne!’” exclaimed the king; changing from a fit of laughter to the most profound stupor, and then, after a moment’s silence, while he wiped his forehead, which was bedewed with perspiration, he again murmured, “Bragelonne!”

“No other, sire.”

“Bragelonne, who was affianced to—”

“Yes, sire.”

“But—he has been in London.”

“Yes; but I can assure you, sire, he is there no longer.”

“Is he in Paris, then?”

“He is at Minimes, sire, where he is waiting for me, as I have already had the honor of telling you.”

“Does he know all?”

“Yes; and many things besides. Perhaps your majesty would like to look at the letter I have received from him;” and Saint-Aignan drew from his pocket the note we are already acquainted with. “When your majesty has read the letter, I will tell you how it reached me.”

The king read it in a great agitation, and immediately said, “Well?”

“Well, sire; your majesty knows a certain carved lock, closing a certain door of carved ebony, which separates a certain apartment from a certain blue and white sanctuary?”

“Of course; Louise’s boudoir.”

“Yes, sire. Well, it was in the keyhole of that lock that I found yonder note.”

“Who placed it there?”

“Either M. de Bragelonne, or the devil himself; but, inasmuch as the note smells of musk and not of sulphur, I conclude that it must be, not the devil, but M. de Bragelonne.”

Louis bent his head, and seemed absorbed in sad and bitter thought. Perhaps something like remorse was at that moment passing through his heart. “The secret is discovered,” he said.

“Sire, I shall do my utmost that the secret dies in the breast of the man who possesses it!” said Saint-Aignan, in a tone of bravado, as he moved towards the door; but a gesture of the king made him pause.

“Where are you going?” he inquired.

“Where they await me, sire.”

“What for?”

“To fight, in all probability.”

“You fight!” exclaimed the king. “One moment, if you please, monsieur le comte!”

Saint-Aignan shook his head, as a rebellious child does, whenever any one interferes to prevent him throwing himself into a well, or playing with a knife. “But, sire,” he said.

“In the first place,” continued the king. “I want to be enlightened a little further.”

“Upon all points, if your majesty will be pleased to interrogate me,” replied Saint-Aignan, “I will throw what light I can.”

“Who told you that M. de Bragelonne had penetrated into that room?”

“The letter which I found in the keyhole told me.”

“Who told you that it was De Bragelonne who put it there?”

“Who but himself would have dared to undertake such a mission?”

“You are right. How was he able to get into your rooms?”

“Ah! that is very serious, inasmuch as all the doors were closed, and my lackey, Basque, had the keys in his pocket.”

“Your lackey must have been bribed.”

“Impossible, sire; for if he had been bribed, those who did so would not have sacrificed the poor fellow, whom, it is not unlikely, they might want to turn to further use by and by, in showing so clearly that it was he whom they had made use of.”

“Quite true. And now I can only form one conjecture.”

“Tell me what it is, sire, and we shall see if it is the same that has presented itself to my mind.”

“That he effected an entrance by means of the staircase.”

“Alas, sire, that seems to me more than probable.”

“There is no doubt that some one must have sold the secret of the trap-door.”

“Either sold it or given it.”

“Why do you make that distinction?”

“Because there are certain persons, sire, who, being above the price of treason, give, and do not sell.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, sire! Your majesty’s mind is too clear-sighted not to guess what I mean, and you will save me the embarrassment of naming the person I allude to.”

“You are right: you mean Madame; I suppose her suspicions were aroused by your changing your lodgings.”

“Madame has keys of the apartments of her maids of honor, and she is powerful enough to discover what no one but yourself could do, or she would not be able to discover anything.”

“And you suppose, then, that my sister must have entered into an alliance with Bragelonne, and has informed him of all the details of the affair.”

“Possibly even better still, for she perhaps accompanied him there.”

“Which way? through your own apartments?”

“You think it impossible, sire? Well, listen to me. Your majesty knows that Madame is very fond of perfumes?”

“Yes, she acquired that taste from my mother.”

“Vervain, particularly.”

“Yes, it is the scent she prefers to all others.”

“Very good, sire! my apartments happen to smell very strongly of vervain.”

The king remained silent and thoughtful for a few moments, and then resumed: “But why should Madame take Bragelonne’s part against me?”

Saint-Aignan could very easily have replied: “A woman’s jealousy!” The king probed his friend to the bottom of his heart to ascertain if he had learned the secret of his flirtation with his sister-in-law. But Saint-Aignan was not an ordinary courtier; he did not lightly run the risk of finding out family secrets; and he was too a friend of the Muses not to think very frequently of poor Ovidius Naso, whose eyes shed so many tears in expiation of his crime for having once beheld something, one hardly knows what, in the palace of Augustus. He therefore passed by Madame’s secret very skillfully. But as he had shown no ordinary sagacity in indicating Madame’s presence in his rooms in company with Bragelonne, it was necessary, of course, for him to repay with interest the king’s amour propre, and reply plainly to the question which had been put to him of: “Why has Madame taken Bragelonne’s part against me?”

“Why?” replied Saint-Aignan. “Your majesty forgets, I presume, that the Comte de Guiche is the intimate friend of the Vicomte de Bragelonne.”

“I do not see the connection, however,” said the king.

“Ah! I beg your pardon, then, sire; but I thought the Comte de Guiche was a very great friend of Madame’s.”

“Quite true,” the king returned; “there is no occasion to search any further, the blow came from that direction.”

“And is not your majesty of opinion that, in order to ward it off, it will be necessary to deal another blow?”

“Yes, but not one of the kind given in the Bois de Vincennes,” replied the king.

“You forget, sire,” said Saint-Aignan, “that I am a gentleman, and that I have been challenged.”

“The challenge neither concerns nor was it intended for you.”

“But I am the man, sire, who has been expected at the Minimes, sire, during the last hour and more; and I shall be dishonored if I do not go.”

“The first honor and duty of a gentleman is obedience to his sovereign.”

“Sire!”

“I order you to remain.”

“Sire!”

“Obey, monsieur!”

“As your majesty pleases.”

“Besides, I wish to have the whole of this affair explained; I wish to know how it is that I have been so insolently trifled with, as to have the sanctuary of my affections pried into. It is not you, Saint-Aignan, whose business it is to punish those who have acted in this manner, for it is not your honor they have attacked, but my own.”

“I implore your majesty not to overwhelm M. de Bragelonne with your wrath, for although in the whole of this affair he may have shown himself deficient in prudence, he has not been so in his feelings of loyalty.”

“Enough! I shall know how to decide between the just and the unjust, even in the height of my anger. But take care that not a word of this is breathed to Madame.”

“But what am I to do with regard to M. de Bragelonne? He will be seeking me in every direction, and—”

“I shall either have spoken to him, or taken care that he has been spoken to, before the evening is over.”

“Let me once more entreat your majesty to be indulgent towards him.”

“I have been indulgent long enough, comte,” said Louis XIV., frowning severely; “it is now quite time to show certain persons that I am master in my own palace.”

The king had hardly pronounced these words, which betokened that a fresh feeling of irritation was mingling with the recollections of old, when an usher appeared at the door of the cabinet. “What is the matter?” inquired the king, “and why do you presume to come when I have not summoned you?”

“Sire,” said the usher, “your majesty desired me to permit M. le Comte de la Fere to pass freely on any and every occasion, when he might wish to speak to your majesty.”

“Well, monsieur?”

“M. le Comte de la Fere is now waiting to see your majesty.”

The king and Saint-Aignan at this reply exchanged a look which betrayed more uneasiness than surprise. Louis hesitated for a moment, but immediately afterwards, seeming to make up his mind, he said:

“Go, Saint-Aignan, and find Louise; inform her of the plot against us; do not let her be ignorant that Madame will return to her system of persecutions against her, and that she has set those to work who would have found it far safer to remain neuter.”

“Sire—”

“If Louise gets nervous and frightened, reassure her as much as you can; tell her that the king’s affection is an impenetrable shield over her; if, which I suspect is the case, she already knows everything, or if she has already been herself subjected to an attack of some kind or other from any quarter, tell her, be sure to tell her, Saint-Aignan,” added the king, trembling with passion, “tell her, I say, that this time, instead of defending her, I will avenge her, and that too so terribly that no one will in future even dare to raise his eyes towards her.”

“Is that all, sire?”

“Yes, all. Go as quickly as you can, and remain faithful; for, you who live in the midst of this stake of infernal torments, have not, like myself, the hope of the paradise beyond it.”

Saint-Aignan exhausted himself in protestations of devotion, took the king’s hand, kissed it, and left the room radiant with delight.