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Ten Years Later

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Chapter LII. A Jesuit of the Eleventh Year.


In the first place, in order not to weary the reader’s patience, we will hasten to answer the first question. The traveler with the cloak held over his face was Aramis, who, after he had left Fouquet, and taken from a portmanteau, which his servant had opened, a cavalier’s complete costume, quitted the chateau, and went to the hotel of the Beau Paon, where, by letters, seven or eight days previously, he had, as the landlord had stated, directed a room and an apartment to be retained for him. Immediately after Malicorne and Manicamp had been turned out, Aramis approached the Franciscan, and asked him whether he would prefer the apartment or the room. The Franciscan inquired where they were both situated. He was told that the room was on the first, and the apartment on the second floor.

“The room, then,” he said.

Aramis did not contradict him, but, with great submissiveness, said to the landlord: “The room.” And bowing with respect he withdrew into the apartment, and the Franciscan was accordingly carried at once into the room. Now, is it not extraordinary that this respect should be shown by a prelate of the Church for a simple monk, for one, too, belonging to a mendicant order; to whom was given up, without a request for it even, a room which so many travelers were desirous of obtaining? How, too, can one explain the unexpected arrival of Aramis at the hotel—he who had entered the chateau with M. Fouquet, and could have remained at the chateau with M. Fouquet if he had liked? The Franciscan supported his removal up the staircase without uttering a complaint, although it was evident he suffered very much, and that every time the litter knocked against the wall or the railing of the staircase, he experienced a terrible shock throughout his frame. And finally, when he had arrived in the room, he said to those who carried him: “Help me to place myself in that armchair.” The bearers of the litter placed it on the ground, and lifting the sick man up as gently as possible, carried him to the chair he had indicated, which was situated at the head of the bed. “Now,” he added, with a marked benignity of gesture and tone, “desire the landlord to come.”

They obeyed, and five minutes afterwards the landlord appeared at the door.

“Be kind enough,” said the Franciscan to him, “to send these excellent fellows away; they are vassals of the Vicomte de Melun. They found me when I had fainted on the road overcome by the heat, and without thinking of whether they would be paid for their trouble, they wished to carry me to their own home. But I know at what cost to themselves is the hospitality which the poor extend to a sick monk, and I preferred this hotel, where, moreover, I was expected.”

The landlord looked at the Franciscan in amazement, but the latter, with his thumb, made the sign of the cross in a peculiar manner upon his breast. The host replied by making a similar sign on his left shoulder. “Yes, indeed,” he said, “we did expect you, but we hoped that you would arrive in a better state of health.” And as the peasants were looking at the innkeeper, usually so supercilious, and saw how respectful he had become in the presence of a poor monk, the Franciscan drew from a deep pocket three or four pieces of gold which he held out.

“My friends,” said he, “here is something to repay you for the care you have taken of me. So make yourselves perfectly easy, and do not be afraid of leaving me here. The order to which I belong, and for which I am traveling, does not require me to beg; only, as the attention you have shown me deserves to be rewarded, take these two louis and depart in peace.”

The peasants did not dare to take them; the landlord took the two louis out of the monk’s hand and placed them in that of one of the peasants, all four of whom withdrew, opening their eyes wider than ever. The door was then closed; and, while the innkeeper stood respectfully near it, the Franciscan collected himself for a moment. He then passed across his sallow face a hand which seemed dried up by fever, and rubbed his nervous and agitated fingers across his beard. His large eyes, hollowed by sickness and inquietude, seemed to peruse in the vague distance a mournful and fixed idea.

“What physicians have you at Fontainebleau?” he inquired, after a long pause.

“We have three, holy father.”

“What are their names?”

“Luiniguet first.”

“The next one?”

“A brother of the Carmelite order, named Brother Hubert.”

“The next?”

“A secular member, named Grisart.”

“Ah! Grisart?” murmured the monk, “send for M. Grisart immediately.”

The landlord moved in prompt obedience to the direction.

“Tell me what priests are there here?”

“What priests?”

“Yes; belonging to what orders?”

“There are Jesuits, Augustines, and Cordeliers; but the Jesuits are the closest at hand. Shall I send for a confessor belonging to the order of Jesuits?”

“Yes, immediately.”

It will be imagined that, at the sign of the cross which they had exchanged, the landlord and the invalid monk had recognized each other as two affiliated members of the well-known Society of Jesus. Left to himself, the Franciscan drew from his pocket a bundle of papers, some of which he read over with the most careful attention. The violence of his disorder, however, overcame his courage; his eyes rolled in their sockets, a cold sweat poured down his face, and he nearly fainted, and lay with his head thrown backwards and his arms hanging down on both sides of his chair. For more than five minutes he remained without any movement, when the landlord returned, bringing with him the physician, whom he hardly allowed time to dress himself. The noise they made in entering the room, the current of air, which the opening of the door occasioned, restored the Franciscan to his senses. He hurriedly seized hold of the papers which were lying about, and with his long and bony hand concealed them under the cushions of the chair. The landlord went out of the room, leaving patient and physician together.

“Come here, Monsieur Grisart,” said the Franciscan to the doctor; “approach closer, for there is no time to lose. Try, by touch and sound, and consider and pronounce your sentence.”

“The landlord,” replied the doctor, “told me I had the honor of attending an affiliated brother.”

“Yes,” replied the Franciscan, “it is so. Tell me the truth, then; I feel very ill, and I think I am about to die.”

The physician took the monk’s hand, and felt his pulse. “Oh, oh,” he said, “a dangerous fever.”

“What do you call a dangerous fever?” inquired the Franciscan, with an imperious look.

“To an affiliated member of the first or second year,” replied the physician, looking inquiringly at the monk, “I should say—a fever that may be cured.”

“But to me?” said the Franciscan. The physician hesitated.

“Look at my grey hair, and my forehead, full of anxious thought,” he continued: “look at the lines in my face, by which I reckon up the trials I have undergone; I am a Jesuit of the eleventh year, Monsieur Grisart.” The physician started, for, in fact, a Jesuit of the eleventh year was one of those men who had been initiated in all the secrets of the order, one of those for whom science has no more secrets, the society no further barriers to present—temporal obedience, no more trammels.

“In that case,” said Grisart, saluting him with respect, “I am in the presence of a master?”

“Yes; act, therefore, accordingly.”

“And you wish to know?”

“My real state.”

“Well,” said the physician, “it is a brain fever, which has reached its highest degree of intensity.”

“There is no hope, then?” inquired the Franciscan, in a quick tone of voice.

“I do not say that,” replied the doctor; “yet, considering the disordered state of the brain, the hurried respiration, the rapidity of the pulse, and the burning nature of the fever which is devouring you—”

“And which has thrice prostrated me since this morning,” said the monk.

“All things considered, I shall call it a terrible attack. But why did you not stop on your road?”

“I was expected here, and I was obliged to come.”

“Even at the risk of your life?”

“Yes, at the risk of dying on the way.”

“Very well. Considering all the symptoms of your case, I must tell you that your condition is almost desperate.”

The Franciscan smiled in a strange manner.

“What you have just told me is, perhaps, sufficient for what is due to an affiliated member, even of the eleventh year; but for what is due to me, Monsieur Grisart, it is too little, and I have a right to demand more. Come, then, let us be more candid still, and as frank as if you were making your own confession to Heaven. Besides, I have already sent for a confessor.”

“Oh! I have hopes, however,” murmured the doctor.

“Answer me,” said the sick man, displaying with a dignified gesture a golden ring, the stone of which had until that moment been turned inside, and which bore engraved thereon the distinguishing mark of the Society of Jesus.

Grisart uttered loud exclamation. “The general!” he cried.

“Silence,” said the Franciscan., “you can now understand that the whole truth is all important.”

“Monseigneur, monseigneur,” murmured Grisart, “send for the confessor, for in two hours, at the next seizure, you will be attacked by delirium, and will pass away in its course.”

“Very well,” said the patient, for a moment contracting his eyebrows, “I have still two hours to live then?”

“Yes; particularly if you take the potion I will send you presently.”

“And that will give me two hours of life?”

“Two hours.”

“I would take it, were it poison, for those two hours are necessary not only for myself, but for the glory of the order.”

“What a loss, what a catastrophe for us all!” murmured the physician.

“It is the loss of one man—nothing more,” replied the Franciscan, “for Heaven will enable the poor monk, who is about to leave you, to find a worthy successor. Adieu, Monsieur Grisart; already even, through the goodness of Heaven, I have met with you. A physician who had not been one of our holy order, would have left me in ignorance of my condition; and, confident that existence would be prolonged a few days further, I should not have taken the necessary precautions. You are a learned man, Monsieur Grisart, and that confers an honor upon us all; it would have been repugnant to my feelings to have found one of our order of little standing in his profession. Adieu, Monsieur Grisart; send me the cordial immediately.”

“Give me your blessing, at least, monseigneur.”

“In my mind, I do; go, go; in my mind, I do so, I tell you—animo, Maitre Grisart, viribus impossibile.” And he again fell back on the armchair, in an almost senseless state. M. Grisart hesitated, whether he should give him immediate assistance, or should run to prepare the cordial he had promised. He decided in favor of the cordial, for he darted out of the room and disappeared down the staircase. 6






Chapter LIII. The State Secret.


A few moments after the doctor’s departure, the confessor arrived. He had hardly crossed the threshold of the door when the Franciscan fixed a penetrating look upon him, and, shaking his head, murmured—“A weak mind, I see; may Heaven forgive me if I die without the help of this living piece of human infirmity.” The confessor, on his side, regarded the dying man with astonishment, almost with terror. He had never beheld eyes so burningly bright at the very moment they were about to close, nor looks so terrible at the moment they were about to be quenched in death. The Franciscan made a rapid and imperious movement of his hand. “Sit down, there, my father,” he said, “and listen to me.” The Jesuit confessor, a good priest, a recently initiated member of the order, who had merely seen the beginning of its mysteries, yielded to the superiority assumed by the penitent.

“There are several persons staying in this hotel,” continued the Franciscan.

“But,” inquired the Jesuit, “I thought I had been summoned to listen to a confession. Is your remark, then, a confession?”

“Why do you ask?”

“In order to know whether I am to keep your words secret.”

“My remarks are part of my confession; I confide them to you in your character of a confessor.”

“Very well,” said the priest, seating himself on the chair which the Franciscan had, with great difficulty, just left, to lie down on the bed.

The Franciscan continued,—“I repeat, there are several persons staying in this inn.”

“So I have heard.”

“They ought to be eight in number.”

The Jesuit made a sign that he understood him. “The first to whom I wish to speak,” said the dying man, “is a German from Vienna, whose name is Baron de Wostpur. Be kind enough to go to him, and tell him the person he expected has arrived.” The confessor, astounded, looked at his penitent; the confession seemed a singular one.

“Obey,” said the Franciscan, in a tone of command impossible to resist. The good Jesuit, completely subdued, rose and left the room. As soon as he had gone, the Franciscan again took up the papers which a crisis of the fever had already, once before, obliged him to put aside.

“The Baron de Wostpur? Good!” he said; “ambitious, a fool, and straitened in means.”

He folded up the papers, which he thrust under his pillow. Rapid footsteps were heard at the end of the corridor. The confessor returned, followed by the Baron de Wostpur, who walked along with his head raised, as if he were discussing with himself the possibility of touching the ceiling with the feather in his hat. Therefore, at the appearance of the Franciscan, at his melancholy look, and seeing the plainness of the room, he stopped, and inquired,—“Who has summoned me?”

“I,” said the Franciscan, who turned towards the confessor, saying, “My good father, leave us for a moment together; when this gentleman leaves, you will return here.” The Jesuit left the room, and, doubtless, availed himself of this momentary exile from the presence of the dying man to ask the host for some explanation about this strange penitent, who treated his confessor no better than he would a man servant. The baron approached the bed, and wished to speak, but the hand of the Franciscan imposed silence upon him.

“Every moment is precious,” said the latter, hurriedly. “You have come here for the competition, have you not?”

“Yes, my father.”

“You hope to be elected general of the order?”

“I hope so.”

“You know on what conditions only you can possibly attain this high position, which makes one man the master of monarchs, the equal of popes?”

“Who are you,” inquired the baron, “to subject me to these interrogations?”

“I am he whom you expected.”

“The elector-general?”

“I am the elected.”

“You are—”

The Franciscan did not give him time to reply; he extended his shrunken hand, on which glittered the ring of the general of the order. The baron drew back in surprise; and then, immediately afterwards, bowing with the profoundest respect, he exclaimed,—“Is it possible that you are here, monseigneur; you, in this wretched room; you, upon this miserable bed; you, in search of and selecting the future general, that is, your own successor?”

“Do not distress yourself about that, monsieur, but fulfil immediately the principal condition, of furnishing the order with a secret of importance, of such importance that one of the greatest courts of Europe will, by your instrumentality, forever be subjected to the order. Well! do you possess the secret which you promised, in your request, addressed to the grand council?”

“Monseigneur—”

“Let us proceed, however, in due order,” said the monk. “You are the Baron de Wostpur?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“And this letter is from you?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

The general of the Jesuits drew a paper from his bundle, and presented it to the baron, who glanced at it, and made a sign in the affirmative, saying, “Yes, monseigneur, this letter is mine.”

“Can you show me the reply which the secretary of the grand council returned to you?”

“Here it is,” said the baron, holding towards the Franciscan a letter bearing simply the address, “To his excellency the Baron de Wostpur,” and containing only this phrase, “From the 15th to the 22nd May, Fontainebleau, the hotel of the Beau Paon.—A. M. D. G.” 7

“Right,” said the Franciscan, “and now speak.”

“I have a body of troops, composed of 50,000 men; all the officers are gained over. I am encamped on the Danube. In four days I can overthrow the emperor, who is, as you are aware, opposed to the progress of our order, and can replace him by whichever of the princes of his family the order may determine upon.” The Franciscan listened, unmoved.

“Is that all?” he said.

“A revolution throughout Europe is included in my plan,” said the baron.

“Very well, Monsieur de Wostpur, you will receive a reply; return to your room, and leave Fontainebleau within a quarter of an hour.” The baron withdrew backwards, as obsequiously as if he were taking leave of the emperor he was ready to betray.

“There is no secret there,” murmured the Franciscan, “it is a plot. Besides,” he added, after a moment’s reflection, “the future of Europe is no longer in the hands of the House of Austria.”

And with a pencil he held in his hand, he struck the Baron de Wostpur’s name from the list.

“Now for the cardinal,” he said; “we ought to get something more serious from the side of Spain.”

Raising his head, he perceived the confessor, who was awaiting his orders as respectfully as a school-boy.

“Ah, ah!” he said, noticing his submissive air, “you have been talking with the landlord.”

“Yes, monseigneur; and to the physician.”

“To Grisart?”

“Yes.”

“He is here, then?”

“He is waiting with the potion he promised.”

“Very well; if I require him, I will call; you now understand the great importance of my confession, do you not?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“Then go and fetch me the Spanish Cardinal Herrebia. Make haste. Only, as you now understand the matter in hand, you will remain near me, for I begin to feel faint.”

“Shall I summon the physician?”

“Not yet, not yet... the Spanish cardinal, no one else. Fly.”

Five minutes afterwards, the cardinal, pale and disturbed, entered the little room.

“I am informed, monseigneur,—” stammered the cardinal.

“To the point,” said the Franciscan, in a faint voice, showing the cardinal a letter which he had written to the grand council. “Is that your handwriting?”

“Yes, but—”

“And your summons?”

The cardinal hesitated to answer. His purple revolted against the mean garb of the poor Franciscan, who stretched out his hand and displayed the ring, which produced its effect, greater in proportion to the greatness of the person over whom the Franciscan exercised his influence.

“Quick, the secret, the secret!” said the dying man, leaning upon his confessor.

“Coram isto?” inquired the Spanish cardinal. 8

“Speak in Spanish,” said the Franciscan, showing the liveliest attention.

“You are aware, monseigneur,” said the cardinal, continuing the conversation in Castilian, “that the condition of the marriage of the Infanta with the king of France was the absolute renunciation of the rights of the said Infanta, as well as of King Louis XIV., to all claim to the crown of Spain.” The Franciscan made a sign in the affirmative.

“The consequence is,” continued the cardinal, “that the peace and alliance between the two kingdoms depend upon the observance of that clause of the contract.” A similar sign from the Franciscan. “Not only France and Spain,” continued the cardinal, “but the whole of Europe even, would be violently rent asunder by the faithlessness of either party.” Another movement of the dying man’s head.

“It further results,” continued the speaker, “that the man who might be able to foresee events, and to render certain that which is no more than a vague idea floating in the mind of man, that is to say, the idea of a future good or evil, would preserve the world from a great catastrophe; and the event, which has no fixed certainty even in the brain of him who originated it, could be turned to the advantage of our order.”

“Pronto, pronto!” murmured the Franciscan, in Spanish, who suddenly became paler, and leaned upon the priest. The cardinal approached the ear of the dying man, and said, “Well, monseigneur, I know that the king of France has determined that, at the very first pretext, a death for instance, either that of the king of Spain, or that of a brother of the Infanta, France will, arms in hand, claim the inheritance, and I have in my possession, already prepared, the plan of policy agreed upon by Louis XIV. for this occasion.”

“And this plan?” said the Franciscan.

“Here it is,” returned the cardinal.

“In whose handwriting is it?”

“My own.”

“Have you anything further to say to me?”

“I think I have said a good deal, my lord,” replied the cardinal.

“Yes, you have rendered the order a great service. But how did you procure the details, by the aid of which you have constructed your plan?”

“I have the under-servants of the king of France in my pay, and I obtain from them all the waste papers, which have been saved from being burnt.”

“Very ingenious,” murmured the Franciscan, endeavoring to smile; “you will leave this hotel, cardinal, in a quarter of an hour, and a reply shall be sent you.” The cardinal withdrew.

“Call Grisart, and desire the Venetian Marini to come,” said the sick man.

While the confessor obeyed, the Franciscan, instead of striking out the cardinal’s name, as he had done the baron’s, made a cross at the side of it. Then, exhausted by the effort, he fell back on his bed, murmuring the name of Dr. Grisart. When he returned to his senses, he had drunk about half of the potion, of which the remainder was left in the glass, and he found himself supported by the physician, while the Venetian and the confessor were standing close to the door. The Venetian submitted to the same formalities as his two predecessors, hesitated as they had done at the sight of the two strangers, but his confidence restored by the order of the general, he revealed that the pope, terrified at the power of the order, was weaving a plot for the general expulsion of the Jesuits, and was tampering with the different courts of Europe in order to obtain their assistance. He described the pontiff’s auxiliaries, his means of action, and indicated the particular locality in the Archipelago where, by a sudden surprise, two cardinals, adepts of the eleventh year, and, consequently, high in authority, were to be transported, together with thirty-two of the principal affiliated members of Rome. The Franciscan thanked the Signor Marini. It was by no means a slight service he had rendered the society by denouncing this pontifical project. The Venetian thereupon received directions to set off in a quarter of an hour, and left as radiant as if he already possessed the ring, the sign of the supreme authority of the society. As, however, he was departing, the Franciscan murmured to himself: “All these men are either spies, or a sort of police, not one of them a general; they have all discovered a plot, but not one of them a secret. It is not by means of ruin, or war, or force, that the Society of Jesus is to be governed, but by that mysterious influence moral superiority alone confers. No, the man is not yet found, and to complete the misfortune, Heaven strikes me down, and I am dying. Oh! must the society indeed fall with me for want of a column to support it? Must death, which is waiting for me, swallow up with me the future of the order; that future which ten years more of my own life would have rendered eternal? for that future, with the reign of the new king, is opening radiant and full of splendor.” These words, which had been half-reflected, half-pronounced aloud, were listened to by the Jesuit confessor with a terror similar to that with which one listens to the wanderings of a person attacked by fever, whilst Grisart, with a mind of higher order, devoured them as the revelations of an unknown world, in which his looks were plunged without ability to comprehend. Suddenly the Franciscan recovered himself.

“Let us finish this,” he said; “death is approaching. Oh! just now I was dying resignedly, for I hoped... while now I sink in despair, unless those who remain... Grisart, Grisart, give me to live a single hour longer.”

Grisart approached the dying monk, and made him swallow a few drops, not of the potion which was still left in the glass, but of the contents of a small bottle he had upon his person.

“Call the Scotchman!” exclaimed the Franciscan; “call the Bremen merchant. Call, call quickly. I am dying. I am suffocated.”

The confessor darted forward to seek assistance, as if there had been any human strength which could hold back the hand of death, which was weighing down the sick man; but, at the threshold of the door, he found Aramis, who, with his finger on his lips, like the statue of Harpocrates, the god of silence, by a look motioned him back to the end of the apartment. The physician and the confessor, after having consulted each other by looks, made a movement as if to push Aramis aside, who, however, with two signs of the cross, each made in a different manner, transfixed them both in their places.

“A chief!” they both murmured.

Aramis slowly advanced into the room where the dying man was struggling against the first attack of the agony which had seized him. As for the Franciscan, whether owing to the effect of the elixir, or whether the appearance of Aramis had restored his strength, he made a movement, and his eyes glaring, his mouth half open, and his hair damp with sweat, sat up upon the bed. Aramis felt that the air of the room was stifling; the windows were closed; the fire was burning upon the hearth; a pair of candles of yellow wax were guttering down in the copper candlesticks, and still further increased, by their thick smoke, the temperature of the room. Aramis opened the window, and fixing upon the dying man a look full of intelligence and respect, said to him: “Monseigneur, pray forgive my coming in this manner, before you summoned me, but your state alarms me, and I thought you might possibly die before you had seen me, for I am but the sixth upon your list.”

The dying man started and looked at the list.

“You are, therefore, he who was formerly called Aramis, and since, the Chevalier d’Herblay? You are the bishop of Vannes?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“I know you, I have seen you.”

“At the last jubilee, we were with the Holy Father together.”

“Yes, yes, I remember; and you place yourself on the list of candidates?”

“Monseigneur, I have heard it said that the order required to become possessed of a great state secret, and knowing that from modesty you had in anticipation resigned your functions in favor of the person who should be the depositary of such a secret, I wrote to say that I was ready to compete, possessing alone a secret I believe to be important.”

“Speak,” said the Franciscan; “I am ready to listen to you, and to judge the importance of the secret.”

“A secret of the value of that which I have the honor to confide to you cannot be communicated by word of mouth. Any idea which, when once expressed, has thereby lost its safeguard, and has become vulgarized by any manifestation or communication of it whatever, no longer is the property of him who gave it birth. My words may be overheard by some listener, or perhaps by an enemy; one ought not, therefore, to speak at random, for, in such a case, the secret would cease to be one.”

“How do you propose, then, to convey your secret?” inquired the dying monk.

With one hand Aramis signed to the physician and the confessor to withdraw, and with the other he handed to the Franciscan a paper enclosed in a double envelope.

“Is not writing more dangerous still than language?”

“No, my lord,” said Aramis, “for you will find within this envelope characters which you and I alone can understand.” The Franciscan looked at Aramis with an astonishment which momentarily increased.

“It is a cipher,” continued the latter, “which you used in 1655, and which your secretary, Juan Jujan, who is dead, could alone decipher, if he were restored to life.”

“You knew this cipher, then?”

“It was I who taught it him,” said Aramis, bowing with a gracefulness full of respect, and advancing towards the door as if to leave the room: but a gesture of the Franciscan accompanied by a cry for him to remain, restrained him.

“Ecce homo!” he exclaimed; then reading the paper a second time, he called out, “Approach, approach quickly!”

Aramis returned to the side of the Franciscan, with the same calm countenance and the same respectful manner, unchanged. The Franciscan, extending his arm, burnt by the flame of the candle the paper which Aramis had handed him. Then, taking hold of Aramis’s hand, he drew him towards him, and inquired: “In what manner and by whose means could you possibly become acquainted with such a secret?”

“Through Madame de Chevreuse, the intimate friend and confidante of the queen.”

“And Madame de Chevreuse—”

“Is dead.”

“Did any others know it?”

“A man and a woman only, and they of the lower classes.”

“Who are they?”

“Persons who had brought him up.”

“What has become of them?”

“Dead also. This secret burns like vitriol.”

“But you survive?”

“No one is aware that I know it.”

“And for what length of time have you possessed this secret?”

“For the last fifteen years.”

“And you have kept it?”

“I wished to live.”

“And you give it to the order without ambition, without acknowledgement?”

“I give it to the order with ambition and with a hope of return,” said Aramis; “for if you live, my lord, you will make of me, now you know me, what I can and ought to be.”

“And as I am dying,” exclaimed the Franciscan, “I constitute you my successor... Thus.” And drawing off the ring, he passed it on Aramis’s finger. Then, turning towards the two spectators of this scene, he said: “Be ye witnesses of this, and testify, if need be, that, sick in body, but sound in mind, I have freely and voluntarily bestowed this ring, the token of supreme authority, upon Monseigneur d’Herblay, bishop of Vannes, whom I nominate my successor, and before whom I, an humble sinner, about to appear before Heaven, prostrate myself, as an example for all to follow.” And the Franciscan bowed lowly and submissively, whilst the physician and the Jesuit fell on their knees. Aramis, even while he became paler than the dying man himself, bent his looks successively upon all the actors of this scene. Profoundly gratified ambition flowed with life-blood towards his heart.

“We must lose no time,” said the Franciscan; “what I had still to do on earth was urgent. I shall never succeed in carrying it out.”

“I will do it,” said Aramis.

“It is well,” said the Franciscan, and then turning towards the Jesuit and the doctor, he added, “Leave us alone,” a direction they instantly obeyed.

“With this sign,” he said, “you are the man needed to shake the world from one end to the other; with this sign you will overthrow; with this sign you will edify; in hoc signo vinces!” 9

“Close the door,” continued the Franciscan after a pause. Aramis shut and bolted the door, and returned to the side of the Franciscan.

“The pope is conspiring against the order,” said the monk; “the pope must die.”

“He shall die,” said Aramis, quietly.

“Seven hundred thousand livres are owing to a Bremen merchant of the name of Bonstett, who came here to get the guarantee of my signature.”

“He shall be paid,” said Aramis.

“Six knights of Malta, whose names are written here, have discovered, by the indiscretion of one of the affiliated of the eleventh year, the three mysteries; it must be ascertained what else these men have done with the secret, to get it back again and bury it.”

“It shall be done.”

“Three dangerous affiliated members must be sent away into Tibet, there to perish; they stand condemned. Here are their names.”

“I will see that the sentence be carried out.”

“Lastly, there is a lady at Anvers, grand-niece of Ravaillac; she holds certain papers in her hands that compromise the order. There has been payable to the family during the last fifty-one years a pension of fifty thousand livres. The pension is a heavy one, and the order is not wealthy. Redeem the papers, for a sum of money paid down, or, in case of refusal, stop the pension—but run no risk.”

“I will quickly decide what is best to be done,” said Aramis.

“A vessel chartered from Lima entered the port of Lisbon last week; ostensibly it is laden with chocolate, in reality with gold. Every ingot is concealed by a coating of chocolate. The vessel belongs to the order; it is worth seventeen millions of livres; you will see that it is claimed; here are the bills of landing.”

“To what port shall I direct it to be taken?”

“To Bayonne.”

“Before three weeks are over it shall be there, wind and weather permitting. Is that all?” The Franciscan made a sign in the affirmative, for he could no longer speak; the blood rushed to his throat and his head, and gushed from his mouth, his nostrils, and his eyes. The dying man had barely time to press Aramis’s hand, when he fell in convulsions from his bed upon the floor. Aramis placed his hand upon the Franciscan’s heart, but it had ceased to beat. As he stooped down, Aramis observed that a fragment of the paper he had given the Franciscan had escaped being burnt. He picked it up, and burnt it to the last atom. Then, summoning the confessor and the physician, he said to the former: “Your penitent is in heaven; he needs nothing more than prayers and the burial bestowed upon the pious dead. Go and prepare what is necessary for a simple interment, such as a poor monk only would require. Go.”

The Jesuit left the room. Then, turning towards the physician, and observing his pale and anxious face, he said, in a low tone of voice: “Monsieur Grisart, empty and clean this glass; there is too much left in it of what the grand council desired you to put in.”

Grisart, amazed, overcome, completely astounded, almost fell backwards in his extreme terror. Aramis shrugged his shoulders in sign of pity, took the glass, and poured out the contents among the ashes of the hearth. He then left the room, carrying the papers of the dead man with him.






Chapter LIV. A Mission.


The next day, or rather the same day (for the events we have just described were concluded only at three o’clock in the morning), before breakfast was served, and as the king was preparing to go to mass with the two queens; as Monsieur, with the Chevalier de Lorraine, and a few other intimate companions, was mounting his horse to set off for the river, to take one of those celebrated baths with which the ladies of the court were so infatuated, as, in fact, no one remained in the chateau, with the exception of Madame who, under the pretext of indisposition, would not leave her room; Montalais was seen, or rather not was not seen, to glide stealthily out of the room appropriated to the maids of honor, leading La Valliere after her, who tried to conceal herself as much as possible, and both of them, hurrying secretly through the gardens, succeeded, looking round them at every step they took, in reaching the thicket. The weather was cloudy, a warm breeze bowed the flowers and the shrubs, the burning dust, swept along in clouds by the wind, was whirled in eddies towards the trees. Montalais, who, during their progress, had discharged the functions of a clever scout, advanced a few steps further, and turning round again, to be quite sure that no one was either listening or approaching, said to her companion, “Thank goodness, we are quite alone! Since yesterday every one spies on us here, and a circle seems to be drawn round us, as if we were plague-stricken.” La Valliere bent down her head and sighed. “It is positively unheard of,” continued Montalais; “from M. Malicorne to M. de Saint-Aignan, every one wishes to get hold of our secret. Come, Louise, let us take counsel, you and I, together, in order that I may know what to do.”

La Valliere lifted towards her companion her beautiful eyes, pure and deep as the azure of a spring sky, “And I,” she said, “will ask you why we have been summoned to Madame’s own room? Why have we slept close to her apartment, instead of sleeping as usual in our own? Why did you return so late, and whence are these measures of strict supervision which have been adopted since this morning, with respect to us both?”

“My dear Louise, you answer my question by another, or rather, by ten others, which is not answering me at all. I will tell you all you want to know later, and as it is of secondary importance, you can wait. What I ask you—for everything will depend upon that—is, whether there is or is not any secret?”

“I do not know if there is any secret,” said La Valliere; “but I do know, for my part at least, that there has been great imprudence committed. Since the foolish remark I made, and my still more silly fainting yesterday, every one here is making remarks about us.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Montalais, laughing, “speak for yourself and for Tonnay-Charente; for both of you made your declarations of love to the skies, which unfortunately were intercepted.”

La Valliere hung down her head. “Really you overwhelm me,” she said.

“I?”

“Yes, you torture me with your jests.”

“Listen to me, Louise. These are no jests, for nothing is more serious; on the contrary, I did not drag you out of the chateau; I did not miss attending mass; I did not pretend to have a cold, as Madame did, which she has no more than I have; and, lastly, I did not display ten times more diplomacy than M. Colbert inherited from M. de Mazarin, and makes use of with respect to M. Fouquet, in order to find means of confiding my perplexities to you, for the sole end and purpose that, when at last we were alone, with no one to listen to us, you should deal hypocritically with me. No, no; believe me, that when I ask you a question, it is not from curiosity alone, but really because the position is a critical one. What you said yesterday is now known,—it is a text on which every one is discoursing. Every one embellishes it to the utmost, and according to his own fancy; you had the honor last night, and you have it still to-day, of occupying the whole court, my dear Louise; and the number of tender and witty remarks which have been ascribed to you, would make Mademoiselle de Scudery and her brother burst from very spite, if they were faithfully reported.”

“But, dearest Montalais,” said the poor girl, “you know better than any one exactly what I said, since you were present when I said it.”

“Yes, I know. But that is not the question. I have not forgotten a single syllable you uttered, but did you think what you were saying?”

Louise became confused. “What,” she exclaimed, “more questions still! Oh, heavens! when I would give the world to forget what I did say, how does it happen that every one does all he possibly can to remind me of it? Oh, this is indeed terrible!”

“What is?”

“To have a friend who ought to spare me, who might advise me and help me to save myself, and yet who is undoing me—is killing me.”

“There, there, that will do,” said Montalais; “after having said too little, you now say too much. No one thinks of killing you, nor even of robbing you, even of your secret; I wish to have it voluntarily, and in no other way; for the question does not concern your own affairs only, but ours also; and Tonnay-Charente would tell you as I do, if she were here. For, the fact is, that last evening she wished to have some private conversation in our room, and I was going there after the Manicamp and Malicorne colloquies terminated, when I learned, on my return, rather late, it is true, that Madame had sequestered her maids of honor, and that we were to sleep in her apartments, instead of our own. Moreover, Madame has shut up her maids of honor in order that they should not have the time to concert any measures together, and this morning she was closeted with Tonnay-Charente with the same object. Tell me, then, to what extent Athenais and I can rely upon you, as we will tell you in what way you can rely upon us?”

“I do not clearly understand the question you have put,” said Louise, much agitated.

“Hum! and yet, on the contrary, you seem to understand me very well. However, I will put my questions in a more precise manner, in order that you may not be able, in the slightest degree, to evade them. Listen to me: Do you love M. de Bragelonne? That is plain enough, is it not?”

At this question, which fell like the first bombshell of a besieging army into a doomed town, Louise started. “You ask me,” she exclaimed, “if I love Raoul, the friend of my childhood,—my brother almost?”

“No, no, no! Again you evade me, or rather, you wish to escape me. I do not ask if you love Raoul, your childhood’s friend,—your brother; but I ask if you love the Vicomte de Bragelonne, your affianced husband?”

“Good heavens! dear Montalais,” said Louise, “how severe your tone is!”

“You deserve no indulgence,—I am neither more nor less severe than usual. I put a question to you, so answer it.”

“You certainly do not,” said Louise, in a choking voice, “speak to me like a friend; but I will answer you as a true friend.”

“Well, do so.”

“Very well; my heart is full of scruples and silly feelings of pride, with respect to everything that a woman ought to keep secret, and in this respect no one has ever read into the bottom of my soul.”

“That I know very well. If I had read it, I should not interrogate you as I have done; I should simply say,—‘My good Louise, you have the happiness of an acquaintance with M. de Bragelonne, who is an excellent young man, and an advantageous match for a girl without fortune. M. de la Fere will leave something like fifteen thousand livres a year to his son. At a future day, then, you, as this son’s wife, will have fifteen thousand livres a year; which is not bad. Turn, then, neither to the right hand nor to the left, but go frankly to M. de Bragelonne; that is to say, to the altar to which he will lead you. Afterwards, why— afterwards, according to his disposition, you will be emancipated or enslaved; in other words, you will have a right to commit any piece of folly people commit who have either too much liberty or too little.’ That is, my dear Louise, what I should have told you at first, if I had been able to read your heart.”

“And I should have thanked you,” stammered out Louise, “although the advice does not appear to me to be altogether sound.”

“Wait, wait. But immediately after having given you that advice, I should have added,—‘Louise, it is very dangerous to pass whole days with your head drooping, your hands unoccupied, your eyes restless and full of thought; it is dangerous to prefer the least frequented paths, and no longer be amused with such diversions as gladden young girls’ hearts; it is dangerous, Louise, to scrawl with the point of your foot, as you do, upon the gravel, certain letters it is useless for you to efface, but which appear again under your heel, particularly when those letters rather resemble the letter L than the letter B; and, lastly, it is dangerous to allow the mind to dwell on a thousand wild fancies, the fruits of solitude and heartache; these fancies, while they sink into a young girl’s mind, make her cheeks sink in also, so that it is not unusual, on such occasions, to find the most delightful persons in the world become the most disagreeable, and the wittiest to become the dullest.’”

“I thank you, dearest Aure,” replied La Valliere, gently; “it is like you to speak to me in this manner, and I thank you for it.”

“It was only for the benefit of wild dreamers, such as I have just described, that I spoke; do not take any of my words, then, to yourself, except such as you think you deserve. Stay, I hardly know what story recurs to my memory of some silly or melancholy girl, who was gradually pining away because she fancied that the prince, or the king, or the emperor, whoever it was—and it does not matter much which—had fallen in love with her; while on the contrary, the prince, or the king, or the emperor, whichever you please, was plainly in love with some one else, and—a singular circumstance, one, indeed, which she could not perceive, although every one around and about her perceived it clearly enough— made use of her as a screen for his own love affair. You laugh as I do, at this poor silly girl, do you not, Louise?”

“I?—oh! of course,” stammered Louise, pale as death.

“And you are right, too, for the thing is amusing enough. The story, whether true or false, amused me, and so I remembered it and told it to you. Just imagine then, my good Louise, the mischief that such a melancholy would create in anybody’s brain,—a melancholy, I mean, of that kind. For my own part, I resolved to tell you the story; for if such a thing were to happen to either of us, it would be most essential to be assured of its truth; to-day it is a snare, to-morrow it would become a jest and mockery, the next day it would mean death itself.” La Valliere started again, and became, if possible, still paler.

“Whenever a king takes notice of us,” continued Montalais, “he lets us see it easily enough, and, if we happen to be the object he covets, he knows very well how to gain his object. You see, then, Louise, that, in such circumstances, between young girls exposed to such a danger as the one in question, the most perfect confidence should exist, in order that those hearts which are not disposed towards melancholy may watch over those likely to become so.”

“Silence, silence!” said La Valliere; “some one approaches.”

“Some one is approaching fast, in fact,” said Montalais; “but who can it possibly be? Everybody is away, either at mass with the king, or bathing with Monsieur.”

At the end of the walk the young girls perceived almost immediately, beneath the arching trees, the graceful carriage and noble stature of a young man, who, with his sword under his arm and a cloak thrown across his shoulders, booted and spurred besides, saluted them from the distance with a gentle smile. “Raoul!” exclaimed Montalais.

“M. de Bragelonne!” murmured Louise.

“A very proper judge to decide upon our difference of opinion,” said Montalais.

“Oh! Montalais, Montalais, for pity’s sake,” exclaimed La Valliere, “after having been so cruel, show me a little mercy.” These words, uttered with all the fervor of a prayer, effaced all trace of irony, if not from Montalais’s heart, at least from her face.

“Why, you are as handsome as Amadis, Monsieur de Bragelonne,” she cried to Raoul, “and armed and booted like him.”

“A thousand compliments, young ladies,” replied Raoul, bowing.

“But why, I ask, are you booted in this manner?” repeated Montalais, whilst La Valliere, although she looked at Raoul with a surprise equal to that of her companion, nevertheless uttered not a word.

“Why?” inquired Raoul.

“Yes!” ventured Louise.

“Because I am about to set off,” said Bragelonne, looking at Louise.

The young girl seemed as though smitten by some superstitious feeling of terror, and tottered. “You are going away, Raoul!” she cried; “and where are you going?”

“Dearest Louise,” he replied, with that quiet, composed manner which was natural to him, “I am going to England.”

“What are you going to do in England?”

“The king has sent me there.”

“The king!” exclaimed Louise and Aure together, involuntarily exchanging glances, the conversation which had just been interrupted recurring to them both. Raoul intercepted the glance, but could not understand its meaning, and, naturally enough, attributed it to the interest both the young girls took in him.

“His majesty,” he said, “has been good enough to remember that the Comte de la Fere is high in favor with King Charles II. This morning, as he was on his way to attend mass, the king, seeing me as he passed, signed to me to approach, which I accordingly did. ‘Monsieur de Bragelonne,’ he said to me, ‘you will call upon M. Fouquet, who has received from me letters for the king of Great Britain; you will be the bearer of them.’ I bowed. ‘Ah!’ his majesty added, ‘before you leave, you will be good enough to take any commissions which Madame may have for the king her brother.’”

“Gracious heaven!” murmured Louise, much agitated, and yet full of thought at the same time.

“So quickly! You are desired to set off in such haste!” said Montalais, almost paralyzed by this unforeseen event.

“Properly to obey those whom we respect,” said Raoul, “it is necessary to obey quickly. Within ten minutes after I had received the order, I was ready. Madame, already informed, is writing the letter which she is good enough to do me the honor of intrusting to me. In the meantime, learning from Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente that it was likely you would be in this direction, I came here, and am happy to find you both.”

“And both of us very sad, as you see,” said Montalais, going to Louise’s assistance, whose countenance was visibly altered.

“Suffering?” responded Raoul, pressing Louise’s hand with a tender curiosity. “Your hand is like ice.”

“It is nothing.”

“This coldness does not reach your heart, Louise, does it?” inquired the young man, with a tender smile. Louise raised her head hastily, as if the question had been inspired by some suspicion, and had aroused a feeling of remorse.

“Oh! you know,” she said, with an effort, “that my heart will never be cold towards a friend like yourself, Monsieur de Bragelonne.”

“Thank you, Louise. I know both your heart and your mind; it is not by the touch of the hand that one can judge of an affection like yours. You know, Louise, how devotedly I love you, with what perfect and unreserved confidence I reserve my life for you; will you not forgive me, then, for speaking to you with something like the frankness of a child?”

“Speak, Monsieur Raoul,” said Louise, trembling painfully, “I am listening.”

“I cannot part from you, carrying away with me a thought that tortures me; absurd I know it to be, and yet one which rends my very heart.”

“Are you going away, then, for any length of time?” inquired La Valliere, with faltering utterance, while Montalais turned her head aside.

“No; probably I shall not be absent more than a fortnight.” La Valliere pressed her hand upon her heart, which felt as though it were breaking.

“It is strange,” pursued Raoul, looking at the young girl with a melancholy expression; “I have often left you when setting off on adventures fraught with danger. Then I started joyously enough—my heart free, my mind intoxicated by thoughts of happiness in store for me, hopes of which the future was full; and yet I was about to face the Spanish cannon, or the halberds of the Walloons. To-day, without the existence of any danger or uneasiness, and by the sunniest path in the world, I am going in search of a glorious recompense, which this mark of the king’s favor seems to indicate, for I am, perhaps, going to win you, Louise. What other favor, more precious than yourself, could the king confer upon me? Yet, Louise, in very truth I know not how or why, but this happiness and this future seem to vanish before my very eyes like mist—like an idle dream; and I feel here, here at the very bottom of my heart, a deep-seated grief, a dejection I cannot overcome— something heavy, passionless, death-like,—resembling a corpse. Oh! Louise, too well do I know why; it is because I have never loved you so truly as now. God help me!”

At this last exclamation, which issued as it were from a broken heart, Louise burst into tears, and threw herself into Montalais’s arms. The latter, although she was not easily moved, felt the tears rush to her eyes. Raoul noted only the tears Louise shed; his look, however, did not penetrate—nay, sought not to penetrate—beyond those tears. He bent his knee before her, and tenderly kissed her hand; and it was evident that in that kiss he poured out his whole heart.

“Rise, rise,” said Montalais to him, ready to cry, “for Athenais is coming.”

Raoul rose, brushed his knee with the back of his hand, smiled again upon Louise, whose eyes were fixed on the ground, and, having pressed Montalais’s hand gratefully, he turned round to salute Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, the sound of whose silken robe was already heard upon the gravel walk. “Has Madame finished her letter?” he inquired, when the young girl came within reach of his voice.

“Yes, the letter is finished, sealed, and her royal highness is ready to receive you.”

Raoul, at this remark, hardly gave himself time to salute Athenais, cast one look at Louise, bowed to Montalais, and withdrew in the direction of the chateau. As he withdrew he again turned round, but at last, at the end of the grand walk, it was useless to do so again, as he could no longer see them. The three young girls, on their side, had, with widely different feelings, watched him disappear.

“At last,” said Athenais, the first to interrupt the silence, “at last we are alone, free to talk of yesterday’s great affair, and to come to an understanding upon the conduct it is advisable for us to pursue. Besides, if you will listen to me,” she continued, looking round on all sides, “I will explain to you, as briefly as possible, in the first place, our own duty, such as I imagine it to be, and, if you do not understand a hint, what is Madame’s desire on the subject.” And Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente pronounced these words in such a tone as to leave no doubt, in her companion’s minds, upon the official character with which she was invested.

“Madame’s desire!” exclaimed Montalais and La Valliere together.

“Her ultimatum,” replied Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, diplomatically.

“But,” murmured La Valliere, “does Madame know, then—”

“Madame knows more about the matter than we said, even,” said Athenais, in a formal, precise manner. “Therefore let us come to a proper understanding.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Montalais, “and I am listening in breathless attention.”

“Gracious heavens!” murmured Louise, trembling, “shall I ever survive this cruel evening?”

“Oh! do not frighten yourself in that manner,” said Athenais; “we have found a remedy.” So, seating herself between her two companions, and taking each of them by the hand, which she held in her own, she began. The first words were hardly spoke, when they heard a horse galloping away over the stones of the public high-road, outside the gates of the chateau.