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Ten Years Later

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Chapter XLVI. Aramis’s Correspondence.


When De Guiche’s affairs, which had been suddenly set to right without his having been able to guess the cause of their improvement, assumed the unexpected aspect we have seen, Raoul, in obedience to the request of the princess, had withdrawn in order not to interrupt an explanation, the results of which he was far from guessing; and he soon after joined the ladies of honor who were walking about in the flower-gardens. During this time, the Chevalier de Lorraine, who had returned to his own room, read De Wardes’s latter with surprise, for it informed him by the hand of his valet, of the sword-thrust received at Calais, and of all the details of the adventure, and invited him to inform De Guiche and Monsieur, whatever there might be in the affair likely to be most disagreeable to both of them. De Wardes particularly endeavored to prove to the chevalier the violence of Madame’s affection for Buckingham, and he finished his letter by declaring that he thought this feeling was returned. The chevalier shrugged his shoulders at the last paragraph, and, in fact, De Wardes was out of date, as we have seen. De Wardes was still only at Buckingham’s affair. The chevalier threw the letter over his shoulder upon an adjoining table, and said in a disdainful tone, “It is really incredible; and yet poor De Wardes is not deficient in ability; but the truth is, it is not very apparent, so easy is it to grow rusty in the country. The deuce take the simpleton, who ought to have written to me about matters of importance, and yet he writes such silly stuff as that. If it had not been for that miserable letter, which has no meaning at all in it, I should have detected in the grove yonder a charming little intrigue, which would have compromised a woman, would have perhaps have been as good as a sword-thrust for a man, and have diverted Monsieur for many days to come.”

He looked at his watch. “It is now too late,” he said. “One o’clock in the morning; every one must have returned to the king’s apartments, where the night is to be finished; well, the scent is lost, and unless some extraordinary chance—” And thus saying, as if to appeal to his good star, the chevalier, greatly out of temper, approached the window, which looked out upon a somewhat solitary part of the garden. Immediately, and as if some evil genius was at his orders, he perceived returning towards the chateau, accompanied by a man, a silk mantle of a dark color, and recognized the figure which had struck his attention half an hour previously.

“Admirable!” he thought, striking his hands together, “this is my providential mysterious affair.” And he started out precipitately, along the staircase, hoping to reach the courtyard in time to recognize the woman in the mantle, and her companion. But as he arrived at the door of the little court, he nearly knocked against Madame, whose radiant face seemed full of charming revelations beneath the mantle which protected without concealing her. Unfortunately, Madame was alone. The chevalier knew that since he had seen her, not five minutes before, with a gentleman, the gentleman in question could not be far off. Consequently, he hardly took time to salute the princess as he drew up to allow her to pass; then when she had advanced a few steps, with the rapidity of a woman who fears recognition, and when the chevalier perceived that she was too much occupied with her own thoughts to trouble herself about him, he darted into the garden, looked hastily round on every side, and embraced within his glance as much of the horizon as he possibly could. He was just in time; the gentleman who had accompanied Madame was still in sight; only he was hurrying towards one of the wings of the chateau, behind which he was on the point of disappearing. There was not an instant to lose; the chevalier darted in pursuit of him, prepared to slacken his pace as he approached the unknown; but in spite of the diligence he used, the unknown had disappeared behind the flight of steps before he approached.

It was evident, however, that as the man pursued was walking quietly, in a pensive manner, with his head bent down, either beneath the weight of grief or happiness, when once the angle was passed, unless, indeed, he were to enter by some door or another, the chevalier could not fail to overtake him. And this, certainly, would have happened, if, at the very moment he turned the angle, the chevalier had not run against two persons, who were themselves wheeling in the opposite direction. The chevalier was ready to seek a quarrel with these two troublesome intruders, when, looking up, he recognized the superintendent. Fouquet was accompanied by a person whom the chevalier now saw for the first time. This stranger was the bishop of Vannes. Checked by the important character of the individual, and obliged out of politeness to make his own excuses when he expected to receive them, the chevalier stepped back a few paces; and as Monsieur Fouquet possessed, if not the friendship, at least the respect of every one; as the king himself, although he was rather his enemy than his friend, treated M. Fouquet as a man of great consideration, the chevalier did what the king himself would have done, namely, he bowed to M. Fouquet, who returned his salutation with kindly politeness, perceiving that the gentleman had run against him by mistake and without any intention of being rude. Then, almost immediately afterwards, having recognized the Chevalier de Lorraine, he made a few civil remarks, to which the chevalier was obliged to reply. Brief as the conversation was, De Lorraine saw, with the most unfeigned displeasure, the figure of his unknown becoming dimmer in the distance, and fast disappearing in the darkness. The chevalier resigned himself, and, once resigned, gave his entire attention to Fouquet:—“You arrive late, monsieur,” he said. “Your absence has occasioned great surprise, and I heard Monsieur express himself as much astonished that, having been invited by the king, you had not come.”

“It was impossible for me to do so; but I came as soon as I was free.”

“Is Paris quiet?”

“Perfectly so. Paris has received the last tax very well.”

“Ah! I understand you wished to assure yourself of this good feeling before you came to participate in our fetes.”

“I have arrived, however, somewhat late to enjoy them. I will ask you, therefore, to inform me if the king is in the chateau or not, if I am likely to be able to see him this evening, or if I shall have to wait until to-morrow.”

“We have lost sight of his majesty during the last half-hour nearly,” said the chevalier.

“Perhaps he is in Madame’s apartments?” inquired Fouquet.

“Not in Madame’s apartments, I should think, for I just now met Madame as she was entering by the small staircase; and unless the gentleman whom you a moment ago encountered was the king himself—” and the chevalier paused, hoping that, in this manner, he might learn who it was he had been hurrying after. But Fouquet, whether he had or had not recognized De Guiche, simply replied, “No, monsieur, it was not the king.”

The chevalier, disappointed in his expectation, saluted them; but as he did so, casting a parting glance around him, and perceiving M. Colbert in the center of a group, he said to the superintendent: “Stay, monsieur; there is some one under the trees yonder, who will be able to inform you better than myself.”

“Who?” asked Fouquet, whose near-sightedness prevented him from seeing through the darkness.

“M. Colbert,” returned the chevalier.

“Indeed! That person, then, who is speaking yonder to those men with torches in their hands, is M. Colbert?”

“M. Colbert himself. He is giving orders personally to the workmen who are arranging the lamps for the illuminations.”

“Thank you,” said Fouquet, with an inclination of the head, which indicated that he had obtained all the information he wished. The chevalier, on his side, having, on the contrary, learned nothing at all, withdrew with a profound salutation.

He had scarcely left when Fouquet, knitting his brows, fell into a deep reverie. Aramis looked at him for a moment with a mingled feeling of compassion and silence.

“What!” he said to him, “the fellow’s name alone seemed to affect you. Is it possible that, full of triumph and delight as you were just now, the sight merely of that man is capable of dispiriting you? Tell me, have you faith in your good star?”

“No,” replied Fouquet, dejectedly.

“Why not?”

“Because I am too full of happiness at this present moment,” he replied, in a trembling voice. “You, my dear D’Herblay, who are so learned, will remember the history of a certain tyrant of Samos. What can I throw into the sea to avert approaching evil? Yes! I repeat it once more, I am too full of happiness! so happy that I wish for nothing beyond what I have... I have risen so high... You know my motto: ‘Quo non ascendam?’ I have risen so high that nothing is left me but to descend from my elevation. I cannot believe in the progress of a success already more than human.”

Aramis smiled as he fixed his kind and penetrating glance upon him. “If I were aware of the cause of your happiness,” he said, “I should probably fear for your grace; but you regard me in the light of a true friend; I mean, you turn to me in misfortune, nothing more. Even that is an immense and precious boon, I know; but the truth is, I have a just right to beg you to confide in me, from time to time, any fortunate circumstances that befall you, in which I should rejoice, you know, more than if they had befallen myself.”

“My dear prelate,” said Fouquet, laughing, “my secrets are of too profane a character to confide them to a bishop, however great a worldling he may be.”

“Bah! in confession.”

“Oh! I should blush too much if you were my confessor.” And Fouquet began to sigh. Aramis again looked at him without further betrayal of his thoughts than a placid smile.

“Well,” he said, “discretion is a great virtue.”

“Silence,” said Fouquet; “yonder venomous reptile has recognized us, and is crawling this way.”

“Colbert?”

“Yes; leave me, D’Herblay; I do not wish that fellow to see you with me, or he will take an aversion to you.”

Aramis pressed his hand, saying, “What need have I of his friendship, while you are here?”

“Yes, but I may not always be here,” replied Fouquet, dejectedly.

“On that day, then, if that day should ever dawn,” said Aramis, tranquilly, “we will think over a means of dispensing with the friendship, or of braving the dislike of M. Colbert. But tell me, my dear Fouquet, instead of conversing with this reptile, as you did him the honor of styling him, a conversation the need for which I do not perceive, why do you not pay a visit, if not to the king, at least to Madame?”

“To Madame,” said the superintendent, his mind occupied by his souvenirs. “Yes, certainly, to Madame.”

“You remember,” continued Aramis, “that we have been told that Madame stands high in favor during the last two or three days. It enters into your policy, and forms part of our plans, that you should assiduously devote yourself to his majesty’s friends. It is a means of counteracting the growing influence of M. Colbert. Present yourself, therefore, as soon as possible to Madame, and, for our sakes, treat this ally with consideration.”

“But,” said Fouquet, “are you quite sure that it is upon her that the king has his eyes fixed at the present moment?”

“If the needle has turned, it must be since the morning. You know I have my police.”

“Very well! I will go there at once, and, at all events, I shall have a means of introduction in the shape of a magnificent pair of antique cameos set with diamonds.”

“I have seen them, and nothing could be more costly and regal.”

At this moment they were interrupted by a servant followed by a courier. “For you, monseigneur,” said the courier aloud, presenting a letter to Fouquet.

“For your grace,” said the lackey in a low tone, handing Aramis a letter. And as the lackey carried a torch in his hand, he placed himself between the superintendent and the bishop of Vannes, so that both of them could read at the same time. As Fouquet looked at the fine and delicate writing on the envelope, he started with delight. Those who love, or who are beloved, will understand his anxiety in the first place, and his happiness in the next. He hastily tore open the letter, which, however, contained only these words: “It is but an hour since I quitted you, it is an age since I told you how much I love you.” And that was all. Madame de Belliere had, in fact, left Fouquet about an hour previously, after having passed two days with him; and apprehensive lest his remembrance of her might be effaced for too long a period from the heart she regretted, she dispatched a courier to him as the bearer of this important communication. Fouquet kissed the letter, and rewarded the bearer with a handful of gold. As for Aramis, he, on his side, was engaged in reading, but with more coolness and reflection, the following letter:

“The king has this evening been struck with a strange fancy; a woman loves him. He learned it accidentally, as he was listening to the conversation of this young girl with her companions; and his majesty has entirely abandoned himself to his new caprice. The girl’s name is Mademoiselle de la Valliere, and she is sufficiently pretty to warrant this caprice becoming a strong attachment. Beware of Mademoiselle de la Valliere.”

There was not a word about Madame. Aramis slowly folded the letter and put it in his pocket. Fouquet was still delightedly inhaling the perfume of his epistle.

“Monseigneur,” said Aramis, touching Fouquet’s arm.

“Yes, what is it?” he asked.

“An idea has just occurred to me. Are you acquainted with a young girl of the name of La Valliere?

“Not at all.”

“Reflect a little.”

“Ah! yes, I believe so; one of Madame’s maids of honor.”

“That must be the one.”

“Well, what then?”

“Well, monseigneur, it is to that young girl that you must pay your visit this evening.”

“Bah! why so?”

“Nay, more than that, it is to her you must present your cameos.”

“Nonsense.”

“You know, monseigneur, that my advice is not to be regarded lightly.”

“But this is unforeseen—”

“That is my affair. Pay your court in due form, and without loss of time, to Mademoiselle de la Valliere. I will be your guarantee with Madame de Belliere that your devotion is altogether politic.”

“What do you mean, my dear D’Herblay, and whose name have you just pronounced?”

“A name which ought to convince you that, as I am so well informed about yourself, I may possibly be just as well informed about others. Pay your court, therefore, to La Valliere.”

“I will pay my court to whomsoever you like,” replied Fouquet, his heart filled with happiness.

“Come, come, descend again to the earth, traveler in the seventh heaven,” said Aramis; “M. Colbert is approaching. He has been recruiting while we were reading; see, how he is surrounded, praised, congratulated; he is decidedly becoming powerful.” In fact, Colbert was advancing, escorted by all the courtiers who remained in the gardens, every one of whom complimented him upon the arrangements of the fete: all of which so puffed him up that he could hardly contain himself.

“If La Fontaine were here,” said Fouquet, smiling, “what an admirable opportunity for him to recite his fable of ‘The Frog that wanted to make itself as big as the Ox.’”

Colbert arrived in the center of the circle blazing with light; Fouquet awaited his approach, unmoved and with a slightly mocking smile. Colbert smiled too; he had been observing his enemy during the last quarter of an hour, and had been approaching him gradually. Colbert’s smile was a presage of hostility.

“Oh, oh!” said Aramis, in a low tone of voice to the superintendent; “the scoundrel is going to ask you again for more millions to pay for his fireworks and his colored lamps.” Colbert was the first to salute them, and with an air which he endeavored to render respectful. Fouquet hardly moved his head.

“Well, monseigneur, what do your eyes say? Have we shown our good taste?”

“Perfect taste,” replied Fouquet, without permitting the slightest tone of raillery to be remarked in his words.

“Oh!” said Colbert, maliciously, “you are treating us with indulgence. We are poor, we servants of the king, and Fontainebleau is no way to be compared as a residence with Vaux.”

“Quite true,” replied Fouquet coolly.

“But what can we do, monseigneur?” continued Colbert, “we have done our best on slender resources.”

Fouquet made a gesture of assent.

“But,” pursued Colbert, “it would be only a proper display of your magnificence, monseigneur, if you were to offer to his majesty a fete in your wonderful gardens—in those gardens which have cost you sixty millions of francs.”

“Seventy-two,” said Fouquet.

“An additional reason,” returned Colbert; “it would, indeed, be truly magnificent.”

“But do you suppose, monsieur, that his majesty would deign to accept my invitation?”

“I have no doubt whatever of it,” cried Colbert, hastily; “I will guarantee that he does.”

“You are exceedingly kind,” said Fouquet. “I may depend on it, then?”

“Yes, monseigneur; yes, certainly.”

“Then I will consider the matter,” yawned Fouquet.

“Accept, accept,” whispered Aramis, eagerly.

“You will consider?” repeated Colbert.

“Yes,” replied Fouquet; “in order to know what day I shall submit my invitation to the king.”

“This very evening, monseigneur, this very evening.”

“Agreed,” said the superintendent. “Gentlemen, I should wish to issue my invitations; but you know that wherever the king goes, the king is in his own palace; it is by his majesty, therefore, that you must be invited.” A murmur of delight immediately arose. Fouquet bowed and left.

“Proud and dauntless man,” thought Colbert, “you accept, and yet you know it will cost you ten millions.”

“You have ruined me,” whispered Fouquet, in a low tone, to Aramis.

“I have saved you,” replied the latter, whilst Fouquet ascended the flight of steps and inquired whether the king was still visible.






Chapter XLVII. The Orderly Clerk.


The king, anxious to be again quite alone, in order to reflect well upon what was passing in his heart, had withdrawn to his own apartments, where M. de Saint-Aignan had, after his conversation with Madame, gone to meet him. This conversation has already been related. The favorite, vain of his twofold importance, and feeling that he had become, during the last two hours, the confidant of the king, began to treat the affairs of the court in a somewhat indifferent manner: and, from the position in which he had placed himself, or rather, where chance had placed him, he saw nothing but love and garlands of flowers around him. The king’s love for Madame, that of Madame for the king, that of Guiche for Madame, that of La Valliere for the king, that of Malicorne for Montalais, that of Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente for himself, was not all this, truly, more than enough to turn the head of any courtier? Besides, Saint-Aignan was the model of courtiers, past, present, and to come; and, moreover, showed himself such an excellent narrator, and so discerningly appreciative that the king listened to him with an appearance of great interest, particularly when he described the excited manner with which Madame had sought for him to converse about the affair of Mademoiselle de la Valliere. While the king no longer experienced for Madame any remains of the passion he had once felt for her, there was, in this same eagerness of Madame to procure information about him, great gratification for his vanity, from which he could not free himself. He experienced this pleasure then, but nothing more, and his heart was not, for a single moment, alarmed at what Madame might, or might not, think of his adventure. When, however, Saint-Aignan had finished, the king, while preparing to retire to rest, asked, “Now, Saint-Aignan, you know what Mademoiselle de la Valliere is, do you not?”

“Not only what she is, but what she will be.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that she is everything that woman can wish to be—that is to say, beloved by your majesty; I mean, that she will be everything your majesty may wish her to be.”

“That is not what I am asking. I do not wish to know what she is to-day, or what she will be to-morrow; as you have remarked, that is my affair. But tell me what others say of her.”

“They say she is well conducted.”

“Oh!” said the king, smiling, “that is mere report.”

“But rare enough, at court, sire, to believe when it is spread.”

“Perhaps you are right. Is she well born?”

“Excellently; the daughter of the Marquis de la Valliere, and step-daughter of that good M. de Saint-Remy.”

“Ah, yes! my aunt’s major-domo; I remember; and I remember now that I saw her as I passed through Blois. She was presented to the queens. I have even to reproach myself that I did not on that occasion pay her the attention she deserved.”

“Oh, sire! I trust that your majesty will now repair time lost.”

“And the report—you tell me—is, that Mademoiselle de la Valliere never had a lover.”

“In any case, I do not think your majesty would be much alarmed at the rivalry.”

“Yet, stay,” said the king, in a very serious tone of voice.

“Your majesty?”

“I remember.”

“Ah!”

“If she has no lover, she has, at least, a betrothed.”

“A betrothed!”

“What! Count, do you not know that?”

“No.”

“You, the man who knows all the news?”

“Your majesty will excuse me. You know this betrothed, then?”

“Assuredly! his father came to ask me to sign the marriage contract: it is—” The king was about to pronounce the Vicomte de Bragelonne’s name, when he stopped, and knitted his brows.

“It is—” repeated Saint-Aignan, inquiringly.

“I don’t remember now,” replied Louis XIV., endeavoring to conceal an annoyance he had some trouble to disguise.

“Can I put your majesty in the way?” inquired the Comte de Saint-Aignan.

“No; for I no longer remember to whom I intended to refer; indeed, I only remember very indistinctly, that one of the maids of honor was to marry—the name, however, has escaped me.”

“Was it Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente he was going to marry?” inquired Saint-Aignan.

“Very likely,” said the king.

“In that case, the intended was M. de Montespan; but Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente did not speak of it, it seemed to me, in such a manner as would frighten suitors away.”

“At all events,” said the king, “I know nothing, or almost nothing, about Mademoiselle de la Valliere. Saint-Aignan, I rely upon you to procure me every information about her.”

“Yes, sire, and when shall I have the honor of seeing your majesty again, to give you the latest news?”

“Whenever you have procured it.”

“I shall obtain it speedily, then, if the information can be as quickly obtained as my wish to see your majesty again.”

“Well said, count! By the by, has Madame displayed any ill-feeling against this poor girl?”

“None, sire.”

“Madame did not get angry, then?”

“I do not know; I only know that she laughed continually.”

“That’s well; but I think I hear voices in the ante-rooms—no doubt a courier has just arrived. Inquire, Saint-Aignan.” The count ran to the door and exchanged a few words with the usher; he returned to the king, saying, “Sire, it is M. Fouquet who has this moment arrived, by your majesty’s orders, he says. He presented himself, but, because of the lateness of the hour, he does not press for an audience this evening, and is satisfied to have his presence here formally announced.”

“M. Fouquet! I wrote to him at three o’clock, inviting him to be at Fontainebleau the following day, and he arrives at Fontainebleau at two o’clock in the morning! This is, indeed, zeal!” exclaimed the king, delighted to see himself so promptly obeyed. “On the contrary, M. Fouquet shall have his audience. I summoned him, and will receive him. Let him be introduced. As for you, count, pursue your inquiries, and be here to-morrow.”

The king placed his finger on his lips; and Saint-Aignan, his heart brimful of happiness, hastily withdrew, telling the usher to introduce M. Fouquet, who, thereupon, entered the king’s apartment. Louis rose to receive him.

“Good evening, M. Fouquet,” he said, smiling graciously; “I congratulate you on your punctuality; and yet my message must have reached you late?”

“At nine in the evening, sire.”

“You have been working very hard lately, M. Fouquet, for I have been informed that you have not left your rooms at Saint-Mande during the last three or four days.”

“It is perfectly true, your majesty, that I have kept myself shut up for the past three days,” replied Fouquet.

“Do you know, M. Fouquet, that I had a great many things to say to you?” continued the king, with a most gracious air.

“Your majesty overwhelms me, and since you are so graciously disposed towards me, will you permit me to remind you of the promise made to grant an audience?”

“Ah, yes! some church dignitary, who thinks he has to thank me for something, is it not?”

“Precisely so, sire. The hour is, perhaps, badly chosen; but the time of the companion whom I have brought with me is valuable, and as Fontainebleau is on the way to his diocese—”

“Who is it, then?”

“The bishop of Vannes, whose appointment your majesty, at my recommendation, deigned, three months since, to sign.”

“That is very possible,” said the king, who had signed without reading; “and he is here?”

“Yes, sire; Vannes is an important diocese; the flock belonging to this pastor needed his religious consolation; they are savages, whom it is necessary to polish, at the same time that he instructs them, and M. d’Herblay is unequalled in such kind of missions.”

“M. d’Herblay!” said the king, musingly, as if his name, heard long since, was not, however, unknown to him.

“Oh!” said Fouquet, promptly, “your majesty is not acquainted with the obscure name of one of your most faithful and valuable servants?”

“No, I confess I am not. And so he wishes to set off again?”

“He has this very day received letters which will, perhaps, compel him to leave, so that, before setting off for that unknown region called Bretagne, he is desirous of paying his respects to your majesty.”

“Is he waiting?”

“He is here, sire.”

“Let him enter.”

Fouquet made a sign to the usher in attendance, who was waiting behind the tapestry. The door opened, and Aramis entered. The king allowed him to finish the compliments which he addressed to him, and fixed a long look upon a countenance which no one could forget, after having once beheld it.

“Vannes!” he said: “you are bishop of Vannes, I believe?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Vannes is in Bretagne, I think?” Aramis bowed.

“Near the coast?” Aramis again bowed.

“A few leagues from Bell-Isle, is it not?”

“Yes, sire,” replied Aramis; “six leagues, I believe.”

“Six leagues; a mere step, then,” said Louis XIV.

“Not for us poor Bretons, sire,” replied Aramis: “six leagues, on the contrary, is a great distance, if it be six leagues on land; and an immense distance, if it be leagues on the sea. Besides, I have the honor to mention to your majesty that there are six leagues of sea from the river to Belle-Isle.”

“It is said that M. Fouquet has a very beautiful house there?” inquired the king.

“Yes, it is said so,” replied Aramis, looking quietly at Fouquet.

“What do you mean by ‘it is said so?’” exclaimed the king.

“He has, sire.”

“Really, M. Fouquet, I must confess that one circumstance surprises me.”

“What may that be, sire?”

“That you should have at the head of the diocese a man like M. d’Herblay, and yet should not have shown him Belle-Isle.”

“Oh, sire,” replied the bishop, without giving Fouquet time to answer, “we poor Breton prelates seldom leave our residences.”

“M. de Vannes,” said the king, “I will punish M. Fouquet for his indifference.”

“In what way, sire?”

“I will change your bishopric.”

Fouquet bit his lips, but Aramis only smiled.

“What income does Vannes bring you in?” continued the king.

“Sixty thousand livres, sire,” said Aramis.

“So trifling an amount as that; but you possess other property, Monsieur de Vannes?”

“I have nothing else, sire; only M. Fouquet pays me one thousand two hundred livres a year for his pew in the church.”

“Well, M. d’Herblay, I promise you something better than that.”

“Sire—”

“I will not forget you.”

Aramis bowed, and the king also bowed to him in a respectful manner, as he was accustomed to do towards women and members of the Church. Aramis gathered that his audience was at an end; he took his leave of the king in the simple, unpretending language of a country pastor, and disappeared.

“He is, indeed, a remarkable face,” said the king, following him with his eyes as long as he could see him, and even to a certain degree when he was no longer to be seen.

“Sire,” replied Fouquet, “if that bishop had been educated early in life, no prelate in the kingdom would deserve the highest distinctions better than he.”

“His learning is not extensive, then?”

“He changed the sword for the crucifix, and that rather late in life. But it matters little, if your majesty will permit me to speak of M. de Vannes again on another occasion—”

“I beg you to do so. But before speaking of him, let us speak of yourself, M. Fouquet.”

“Of me, sire?”

“Yes, I have to pay you a thousand compliments.”

“I cannot express to your majesty the delight with which you overwhelm me.”

“I understand you, M. Fouquet. I confess, however, to have had certain prejudices against you.”

“In that case, I was indeed unhappy, sire.”

“But they exist no longer. Did you not perceive—”

“I did, indeed, sire; but I awaited with resignation the day when the truth would prevail; and it seems that that day has now arrived.”

“Ah! you knew, then, you were in disgrace with me?”

“Alas! sire, I perceived it.”

“And do you know the reason?”

“Perfectly well; your majesty thought that I had been wastefully lavish in expenditure.”

“Not so; far from that.”

“Or, rather an indifferent administrator. In a word, you thought that, as the people had no money, there would be none for your majesty either.”

“Yes, I thought so; but I was deceived.”

Fouquet bowed.

“And no disturbances, no complaints?”

“And money enough,” said Fouquet.

“The fact is that you have been profuse with it during the last month.”

“I have more, not only for all your majesty’s requirements, but for all your caprices.”

“I thank you, Monsieur Fouquet,” replied the king, seriously. “I will not put you to the proof. For the next two months I do not intend to ask you for anything.”

“I will avail myself of the interval to amass five or six millions, which will be serviceable as money in hand in case of war.”

“Five or six millions!”

“For the expenses of your majesty’s household only, be it understood.”

“You think war probable, M. Fouquet?”

“I think that if Heaven has bestowed on the eagle a beak and claws, it is to enable him to show his royal character.”

The king blushed with pleasure.

“We have spent a great deal of money these few days past, Monsieur Fouquet; will you not scold me for it?”

“Sire, your majesty has still twenty years of youth to enjoy, and a thousand million francs to lavish in those twenty years.”

“That is a great deal of money, M. Fouquet,” said the king.

“I will economize, sire. Besides, your majesty as two valuable servants in M. Colbert and myself. The one will encourage you to be prodigal with your treasures—and this shall be myself, if my services should continue to be agreeable to your majesty; and the other will economize money for you, and this will be M. Colbert’s province.”

“M. Colbert?” returned the king, astonished.

“Certainly, sire; M. Colbert is an excellent accountant.”

At this commendation, bestowed by the traduced on the traducer, the king felt himself penetrated with confidence and admiration. There was not, moreover, either in Fouquet’s voice or look, anything which injuriously affected a single syllable of the remark he had made; he did not pass one eulogium, as it were, in order to acquire the right of making two reproaches. The king comprehended him, and yielding to so much generosity and address, he said, “You praise M. Colbert, then?”

“Yes, sire, I praise him; for, besides being a man of merit, I believe him to be devoted to your majesty’s interests.”

“Is that because he has often interfered with your own views?” said the king, smiling.

“Exactly, sire.”

“Explain yourself.”

“It is simple enough. I am the man who is needed to make the money come in; he is the man who is needed to prevent it leaving.”

“Nay, nay, monsieur le surintendant, you will presently say something which will correct this good opinion.”

“Do you mean as far as administrative abilities are concerned, sire?”

“Yes.”

“Not in the slightest.”

“Really?”

“Upon my honor, sire, I do not know throughout France a better clerk than M. Colbert.”

This word “clerk” did not possess, in 1661, the somewhat subservient signification attached to it in the present day; but, as spoken by Fouquet, whom the king had addressed as the superintendent, it seemed to acquire an insignificant and petty character, that at this juncture served admirably to restore Fouquet to his place, and Colbert to his own.

“And yet,” said Louis XIV., “it was Colbert, however, that, notwithstanding his economy, had the arrangement of my fetes here at Fontainebleau; and I assure you, Monsieur Fouquet, that in no way has he checked the expenditure of money.” Fouquet bowed, but did not reply.

“Is it not your opinion too?” said the king.

“I think, sire,” he replied, “that M. Colbert has done what he had to do in an exceedingly orderly manner, and that he deserves, in this respect, all the praise your majesty may bestow upon him.”

The word “orderly” was a proper accompaniment for the word “clerk.” The king possessed that extreme sensitiveness of organization, that delicacy of perception, which pierced through and detected the regular order of feelings and sensations, before the actual sensations themselves, and he therefore comprehended that the clerk had, in Fouquet’s opinion, been too full of method and order in his arrangements; in other words, that the magnificent fetes of Fontainebleau might have been rendered more magnificent still. The king consequently felt that there was something in the amusements he had provided with which some person or another might be able to find fault; he experienced a little of the annoyance felt by a person coming from the provinces to Paris, dressed out in the very best clothes which his wardrobe can furnish, only to find that the fashionably dressed man there looks at him either too much or not enough. This part of the conversation, which Fouquet had carried on with so much moderation, yet with extreme tact, inspired the king with the highest esteem for the character of the man and the capacity of the minister. Fouquet took his leave at a quarter to three in the morning, and the king went to bed a little uneasy and confused at the indirect lesson he had received; and a good hour was employed by him in going over again in memory the embroideries, the tapestries, the bills of fare of the various banquets, the architecture of the triumphal arches, the arrangements for the illuminations and fireworks, all the offspring of the “Clerk Colbert’s” invention. The result was, the king passed in review before him everything that had taken place during the last eight days, and decided that faults could be found in his fetes. But Fouquet, by his politeness, his thoughtful consideration, and his generosity, had injured Colbert more deeply than the latter, by his artifice, his ill-will, and his persevering hatred, had ever yet succeeded in hurting Fouquet.






Chapter XLVIII. Fontainebleau at Two o’Clock in the Morning.


As we have seen, Saint-Aignan had quitted the king’s apartment at the very moment the superintendent entered it. Saint-Aignan was charged with a mission that required dispatch, and he was going to do his utmost to turn his time to the best advantage. He whom we have introduced as the king’s friend was indeed an uncommon personage; he was one of those valuable courtiers whose vigilance and acuteness of perception threw all other favorites into the shade, and counterbalanced, by his close attention, the servility of Dangeau, who was not the favorite, but the toady of the king. M. de Saint-Aignan began to think what was to be done in the present position of affairs. He reflected that his first information ought to come from De Guiche. He therefore set out in search of him, but De Guiche, whom we saw disappear behind one of the wings, and who seemed to have returned to his own apartments, had not entered the chateau. Saint-Aignan therefore went in quest of him, and after having turned, and twisted, and searched in every direction, he perceived something like a human form leaning against a tree. This figure was as motionless as a statue, and seemed deeply engaged in looking at a window, although its curtains were closely drawn. As this window happened to be Madame’s, Saint-Aignan concluded that the form in question must be that of De Guiche. He advanced cautiously, and found he was not mistaken. De Guiche had, after his conversation with Madame, carried away such a weight of happiness, that all of his strength of mind was hardly sufficient to enable him to support it. On his side, Saint-Aignan knew that De Guiche had had something to do with La Valliere’s introduction to Madame’s household, for a courtier knows everything and forgets nothing; but he had never learned under what title or conditions De Guiche had conferred his protection upon La Valliere. But, as in asking a great many questions it is singular if a man does not learn something, Saint-Aignan reckoned upon learning much or little, as the case might be, if he questioned De Guiche with that extreme tact, and, at the same time, with that persistence in attaining an object, of which he was capable. Saint-Aignan’s plan was as follows: If the information obtained was satisfactory, he would inform the king, with alacrity, that he had lighted upon a pearl, and claim the privilege of setting the pearl in question in the royal crown. If the information were unsatisfactory,—which, after all, might be possible,—he would examine how far the king cared about La Valliere, and make use of his information in such a manner as to get rid of the girl altogether, and thereby obtain all the merit of her banishment with all the ladies of the court who might have the least pretensions to the king’s heart, beginning with Madame and finishing with the queen. In case the king should show himself obstinate in his fancy, then he would not produce the damaging information he had obtained, but would let La Valliere know that this damaging information was carefully preserved in a secret drawer of her confidant’s memory. In this manner, he would be able to air his generosity before the poor girl’s eyes, and so keep her in constant suspense between gratitude and apprehension, to such an extent as to make her a friend at court, interested, as an accomplice, in trying to make his fortune, while she was making her own. As far as concerned the day when the bombshell of the past should burst, if ever there were any occasion, Saint-Aignan promised himself that he would by that time have taken all possible precautions, and would pretend an entire ignorance of the matter to the king; while, with regard to La Valliere, he would still have an opportunity of being considered the personification of generosity. It was with such ideas as these, which the fire of covetousness had caused to dawn in half an hour, that Saint-Aignan, the son of earth, as La Fontaine would have said, determined to get De Guiche into conversation: in other words, to trouble him in his happiness—a happiness of which Saint-Aignan was quite ignorant. It was long past one o’clock in the morning when Saint-Aignan perceived De Guiche, standing, motionless, leaning against the trunk of a tree, with his eyes fastened upon the lighted window,—the sleepiest hour of night-time, which painters crown with myrtles and budding poppies, the hour when eyes are heavy, hearts throb, and heads feel dull and languid—an hour which casts upon the day which has passed away a look of regret, while addressing a loving greeting to the dawning light. For De Guiche it was the dawn of unutterable happiness; he would have bestowed a treasure upon a beggar, had one stood before him, to secure him uninterrupted indulgence in his dreams. It was precisely at this hour that Saint-Aignan, badly advised,—selfishness always counsels badly,—came and struck him on the shoulder, at the very moment he was murmuring a word, or rather a name.

“Ah!” he cried loudly, “I was looking for you.”

“For me?” said De Guiche, starting.

“Yes; and I find you seemingly moon-struck. Is it likely, my dear comte, you have been attacked by a poetical malady, and are making verses?”

The young man forced a smile upon his lips, while a thousand conflicting sensations were muttering defiance of Saint-Aignan in the deep recesses of his heart. “Perhaps,” he said. “But by what happy chance—”

“Ah! your remark shows that you did not hear what I said.”

“How so?”

“Why, I began by telling you I was looking for you.”

“You were looking for me?”

“Yes: and I find you now in the very act.”

“Of doing what, I should like to know?”

“Of singing the praises of Phyllis.”

“Well, I do not deny it,” said De Guiche, laughing. “Yes, my dear comte, I was celebrating Phyllis’s praises.”

“And you have acquired the right to do so.”

“I?”

“You; no doubt of it. You; the intrepid protector of every beautiful and clever woman.”

“In the name of goodness, what story have you got hold of now?”

“Acknowledged truths, I am well aware. But stay a moment; I am in love.”

“You?”

“Yes.”

“So much the better, my dear comte; tell me all about it.” And De Guiche, afraid that Saint-Aignan might perhaps presently observe the window, where the light was still burning, took the comte’s arm and endeavored to lead him away.

“Oh!” said the latter, resisting, “do not take me towards those dark woods, it is too damp there. Let us stay in the moonlight.” And while he yielded to the pressure of De Guiche’s arm, he remained in the flower-garden adjoining the chateau.

“Well,” said De Guiche, resigning himself, “lead me where you like, and ask me what you please.”

“It is impossible to be more agreeable than you are.” And then, after a moment’s silence, Saint-Aignan continued, “I wish you to tell me something about a certain person in who you have interested yourself.”

“And with whom you are in love?”

“I will neither admit nor deny it. You understand that a man does not very readily place his heart where there is no hope of return, and that it is most essential he should take measures of security in advance.”

“You are right,” said De Guiche with a sigh; “a man’s heart is a very precious gift.”

“Mine particularly is very tender, and in that light I present it to you.”

“Oh! you are well known, comte. Well?”

“It is simply a question of Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente.”

“Why, my dear Saint-Aignan, you are losing your senses, I should think.”

“Why so?”

“I have never shown or taken any interest in Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente.”

“Bah!”

“Never.”

“Did you not obtain admission for Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente into Madame’s household?”

“Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente—and you ought to know it better than any one else, my dear comte—is of a sufficiently good family to make her presence here desirable, and her admittance very easy.”

“You are jesting.”

“No; and upon my honor I do not know what you mean.”

“And you had nothing, then, to do with her admission?”

“No.”

“You do not know her?”

“I saw her for the first time the day she was presented to Madame. Therefore, as I have never taken any interest in her, as I do not know her, I am not able to give you the information you require.” And De Guiche made a movement as though he were about to leave his questioner.

“Nay, nay, one moment, my dear comte,” said Saint-Aignan; “you shall not escape me in this manner.”

“Why, really, it seems to me that it is now time to return to our apartments.”

“And yet you were not going in when I—did not meet, but found you.”

“Therefore, my dear comte,” said De Guiche, “as long as you have anything to say to me, I place myself entirely at your service.”

“And you are quite right in doing so. What matters half an hour more or less? Will you swear that you have no injurious communications to make to me about her, and that any injurious communications you might possibly have to make are not the cause of your silence?”

“Oh! I believe the poor child to be as pure as crystal.”

“You overwhelm me with joy. And yet I do not wish to have towards you the appearance of a man so badly informed as I seem. It is quite certain that you supplied the princess’s household with the ladies of honor. Nay, a song has even been written about it.”

“Oh! songs are written about everything.”

“Do you know it?”

“No: sing it to me and I shall make its acquaintance.”

“I cannot tell you how it begins; I only remember how it ends.”

“Very well, at all events, that is something.”

“When Maids of Honor happen to run short, Lo!—Guiche will furnish the entire Court.”

“The idea is weak, and the rhyme poor,” said De Guiche.

“What can you expect, my dear fellow? it is not Racine’s or Moliere’s, but La Feuillade’s; and a great lord cannot rhyme like a beggarly poet.”

“It is very unfortunate, though, that you only remember the termination.”

“Stay, stay, I have just recollected the beginning of the second couplet.”

“Why, there’s the birdcage, with a pretty pair, The charming Montalais, and...”

“And La Valliere,” exclaimed Guiche, impatiently, and completely ignorant besides of Saint-Aignan’s object.

“Yes, yes, you have it. You have hit upon the word, ‘La Valliere.’”

“A grand discovery indeed.”

“Montalais and La Valliere, these, then, are the two young girls in whom you interest yourself,” said Saint-Aignan, laughing.

“And so Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente’s name is not to be met with in the song?”

“No, indeed.”

“And are you satisfied, then?”

“Perfectly; but I find Montalais there,” said Saint-Aignan, still laughing.

“Oh! you will find her everywhere. She is a singularly active young lady.”

“You know her?”

“Indirectly. She was the protegee of a man named Malicorne, who is a protegee of Manicamp’s; Manicamp asked me to get the situation of maid of honor for Montalais in Madame’s household, and a situation for Malicorne as an officer in Monsieur’s household. Well, I asked for the appointments, for you know very well that I have a weakness for that droll fellow Manicamp.”

“And you obtained what you sought?”

“For Montalais, yes; for Malicorne, yes and no; for as yet he is only on trial. Do you wish to know anything else?”

“The last word of the couplet still remains, La Valliere,” said Saint-Aignan, resuming the smile that so tormented Guiche.

“Well,” said the latter, “it is true that I obtained admission for her in Madame’s household.”

“Ah!” said Saint-Aignan.

“But,” continued Guiche, assuming a great coldness of manner, “you will oblige me, comte, not to jest about that name. Mademoiselle la Baume le Blanc de la Valliere is a young lady perfectly well-conducted.”

“Perfectly well-conducted do you say?”

“Yes.”

“Then you have not heard the last rumor?” exclaimed Saint-Aignan.

“No, and you will do me a service, my dear comte, in keeping this report to yourself and to those who circulate it.”

“Ah! bah! you take the matter up very seriously.”

“Yes; Mademoiselle de Valliere is beloved by one of my best friends.”

Saint-Aignan started. “Aha!” he said.

“Yes, comte,” continued Guiche; “and consequently, you, the most distinguished man in France for polished courtesy of manner, will understand that I cannot allow my friend to be placed in a ridiculous position.”

Saint-Aignan began to bite his nails, partially from vexation, and partially from disappointed curiosity. Guiche made him a very profound bow.

“You send me away,” said Saint-Aignan, who was dying to know the name of the friend.

“I do not send you away, my dear fellow. I am going to finish my lines to Phyllis.”

“And those lines—”

“Are a quatrain. You understand, I trust, that a quatrain is a serious affair?”

“Of course.”

“And as, of these four lines, of which it is composed, I have yet three and a half to make, I need my undivided attention.”

“I quite understand. Adieu! comte. By the by—”

“What?”

“Are you quick at making verses?”

“Wonderfully so.”

“Will you have quite finished the three lines and a half to-morrow morning?”

“I hope so.”

“Adieu, then, until to-morrow.”

“Adieu, adieu!”

Saint-Aignan was obliged to accept the notice to quit; he accordingly did so, and disappeared behind the hedge. Their conversation had led Guiche and Saint-Aignan a good distance from the chateau.

Every mathematician, every poet, and every dreamer has his own subjects of interest. Saint-Aignan, on leaving Guiche, found himself at the extremity of the grove,—at the very spot where the outbuildings of the servants begin, and where, behind the thickets of acacias and chestnut-trees interlacing their branches, which were hidden by masses of clematis and young vines, the wall which separated the woods from the courtyard was erected. Saint-Aignan, alone, took the path which led towards these buildings; De Guiche going off in the opposite direction. The one proceeded to the flower-garden, while the other bent his steps towards the walls. Saint-Aignan walked on between rows of mountain-ash, lilac, and hawthorn, which formed an almost impenetrable roof above his head; his feet were buried in the soft gravel and thick moss. He was deliberating a means of taking his revenge, which seemed difficult for him to carry out, and was vexed with himself for not having learned more about La Valliere, notwithstanding the ingenious measures he had resorted to in order to acquire more information about her, when suddenly the murmur of a human voice attracted his attention. He heard whispers, the complaining tones of a woman’s voice mingled with entreaties, smothered laughter, sighs, and half-stilted exclamations of surprise; but above them all, the woman’s voice prevailed. Saint-Aignan stopped to look about him; he perceived from the greatest surprise that the voices proceeded, not from the ground, but from the branches of the trees. As he glided along under the covered walk, he raised his head, and observed at the top of the wall a woman perched upon a ladder, in eager conversation with a man seated on a branch of a chestnut-tree, whose head alone could be seen, the rest of his body being concealed in the thick covert of the chestnut.