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Ten Years Later

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Chapter XXII. The King’s Card-Table.


Fouquet was present, as D’Artagnan had said, at the king’s card-table. It seemed as if Buckingham’s departure had shed a balm on the lacerated hearts of the previous evening. Monsieur, radiant with delight, made a thousand affectionate signs to his mother. The Count de Guiche could not separate himself from Buckingham, and while playing, conversed with him upon the circumstance of his projected voyage. Buckingham, thoughtful, and kind in his manner, like a man who has adopted a resolution, listened to the count, and from time to time cast a look full of regret and hopeless affection at Madame. The princess, in the midst of her elation of spirits, divided her attention between the king, who was playing with her, Monsieur, who quietly joked her about her enormous winnings, and De Guiche, who exhibited an extravagant delight. Of Buckingham she took but little notice; for her, this fugitive, this exile, was now simply a remembrance, no longer a man. Light hearts are thus constituted; while they themselves continue untouched, they roughly break off with every one who may possibly interfere with their little calculations of self comfort. Madame had received Buckingham’s smiles and attentions and sighs while he was present; but what was the good of sighing, smiling, and kneeling at a distance? Can one tell in what direction the winds in the Channel, which toss mighty vessels to and fro, carry such sighs as these? The duke could not fail to mark this change, and his heart was cruelly hurt. Of a sensitive character, proud and susceptible of deep attachment, he cursed the day on which such a passion had entered his heart. The looks he cast, from time to time at Madame, became colder by degrees at the chilling complexion of his thoughts. He could hardly yet despair, but he was strong enough to impose silence upon the tumultuous outcries of his heart. In exact proportion, however, as Madame suspected this change of feeling, she redoubled her activity to regain the ray of light she was about to lose; her timid and indecisive mind was displayed in brilliant flashes of wit and humor. At any cost she felt that she must be remarked above everything and every one, even above the king himself. And she was so, for the queens, notwithstanding their dignity, and the king, despite the respect which etiquette required, were all eclipsed by her. The queens, stately and ceremonious, were softened and could not restrain their laughter. Madame Henriette, the queen-mother, was dazzled by the brilliancy which cast distinction upon her family, thanks to the wit of the grand-daughter of Henry IV. The king, jealous, as a young man and as a monarch, of the superiority of those who surrounded him, could not resist admitting himself vanquished by a petulance so thoroughly French in its nature, whose energy more than ever increased by English humor. Like a child, he was captivated by her radiant beauty, which her wit made still more dazzling. Madame’s eyes flashed like lightning. Wit and humor escaped from her scarlet lips like persuasion from the lips of Nestor of old. The whole court, subdued by her enchanting grace, noticed for the first time that laughter could be indulged in before the greatest monarch in the world, like people who merited their appellation of the wittiest and most polished people in Europe.

Madame, from that evening, achieved and enjoyed a success capable of bewildering all not born to those altitudes termed thrones; which, in spite of their elevation, are sheltered from such giddiness. From that very moment Louis XIV. acknowledged Madame as a person to be recognized. Buckingham regarded her as a coquette deserving the cruelest tortures, and De Guiche looked upon her as a divinity; the courtiers as a star whose light might some day become the focus of all favor and power. And yet Louis XIV., a few years previously, had not even condescended to offer his hand to that “ugly girl” for a ballet; and Buckingham had worshipped this coquette “on both knees.” De Guiche had once looked upon this divinity as a mere woman; and the courtiers had not dared to extol this star in her upward progress, fearful to disgust the monarch whom such a dull star had formerly displeased.

Let us see what was taking place during this memorable evening at the king’s card-table. The young queen, although Spanish by birth, and the niece of Anne of Austria, loved the king, and could not conceal her affection. Anne of Austria, a keen observer, like all women, and imperious, like every queen, was sensible of Madame’s power, and acquiesced in it immediately, a circumstance which induced the young queen to raise the siege and retire to her apartments. The king hardly paid any attention to her departure, notwithstanding the pretended symptoms of indisposition by which it was accompanied. Encouraged by the rules of etiquette, which he had begun to introduce at the court as an element of every relation of life, Louis XIV. did not disturb himself; he offered his hand to Madame without looking at Monsieur his brother, and led the young princess to the door of her apartments. It was remarked, that at the threshold of the door, his majesty, freed from every restraint, or not equal to the situation, sighed very deeply. The ladies present—nothing escapes a woman’s glance—Mademoiselle Montalais, for instance—did not fail to say to each other, “the king sighed,” and “Madame sighed too.” This had been indeed the case. Madame had sighed very noiselessly, but with an accompaniment very far more dangerous for the king’s repose. Madame had sighed, first closing her beautiful black eyes, next opening them, and then, laden, as they were, with an indescribable mournfulness of expression, she had raised them towards the king, whose face at that moment visibly heightened in color. The consequence of these blushes, of those interchanged sighs, and of this royal agitation, was, that Montalais had committed an indiscretion which had certainly affected her companion, for Mademoiselle de la Valliere, less clear sighted, perhaps, turned pale when the king blushed; and her attendance being required upon Madame, she tremblingly followed the princess without thinking of taking the gloves, which court etiquette required her to do. True it is that the young country girl might allege as her excuse the agitation into which the king seemed to be thrown, for Mademoiselle de la Valliere, busily engaged in closing the door, had involuntarily fixed her eyes upon the king, who, as he retired backwards, had his face towards it. The king returned to the room where the card-tables were set out. He wished to speak to the different persons there, but it was easy to see that his mind was absent. He jumbled different accounts together, which was taken advantage of by some of the noblemen who had retained those habits since the time of Monsieur Mazarin—who had a poor memory, but was a good calculator. In this way, Monsieur Manicamp, with a thoughtless and absent air—for M. Manicamp was the honestest man in the world, appropriated twenty thousand francs, which were littering the table, and which did not seem to belong to any person in particular. In the same way, Monsieur de Wardes, whose head was doubtless a little bewildered by the occurrences of the evening, somehow forgot to leave behind him the sixty double louis which he had won for the Duke of Buckingham, and which the duke, incapable, like his father, of soiling his hands with coin of any sort, had left lying on the table before him. The king only recovered his attention in some degree at the moment that Monsieur Colbert, who had been narrowly observant for some minutes, approached, and, doubtless, with great respect, yet with much perseverance, whispered a counsel of some sort into the still tingling ears of the king. The king, at the suggestion, listened with renewed attention and immediately looking around him, said, “Is Monsieur Fouquet no longer here?”

“Yes, sire, I am here,” replied the superintendent, till then engaged with Buckingham, and approached the king, who advanced a step towards him with a smiling yet negligent air. “Forgive me,” said Louis, “if I interrupt your conversation; but I claim your attention wherever I may require your services.”

“I am always at the king’s service,” replied Fouquet.

“And your cash-box, too,” said the king, laughing with a false smile.

“My cash-box more than anything else,” said Fouquet, coldly.

“The fact is, I wish to give a fete at Fontainebleau—to keep open house for fifteen days, and I shall require—” and he stopped, glancing at Colbert. Fouquet waited without showing discomposure; and the king resumed, answering Colbert’s icy smile, “four million francs.”

“Four million,” repeated Fouquet, bowing profoundly. And his nails, buried in his bosom, were thrust into his flesh, but the tranquil expression of his face remained unaltered. “When will they be required, sire?”

“Take your time,—I mean—no, no; as soon as possible.”

“A certain time will be necessary, sire.”

“Time!” exclaimed Colbert, triumphantly.

“The time, monsieur,” said the superintendent, with the haughtiest disdain, “simply to count the money; a million can only be drawn and weighed in a day.”

“Four days, then,” said Colbert.

“My clerks,” replied Fouquet, addressing himself to the king, “will perform wonders on his majesty’s service, and the sum shall be ready in three days.”

It was for Colbert now to turn pale. Louis looked at him astonished. Fouquet withdrew without any parade or weakness, smiling at his numerous friends, in whose countenances alone he read the sincerity of their friendship—an interest partaking of compassion. Fouquet, however, should not be judged by his smile, for, in reality, he felt as if he had been stricken by death. Drops of blood beneath his coat stained the fine linen that clothed his chest. His dress concealed the blood, and his smile the rage which devoured him. His domestics perceived, by the manner in which he approached his carriage, that their master was not in the best of humors: the result of their discernment was, that his orders were executed with that exactitude of maneuver which is found on board a man-of-war, commanded during a storm by an ill-tempered captain. The carriage, therefore, did not simply roll along—it flew. Fouquet had hardly time to recover himself during the drive; on his arrival he went at once to Aramis, who had not yet retired for the night. As for Porthos, he had supped very agreeably off a roast leg of mutton, two pheasants, and a perfect heap of cray-fish; he then directed his body to be anointed with perfumed oils, in the manner of the wrestlers of old; and when this anointment was completed, he had himself wrapped in flannels and placed in a warm bed. Aramis, as we have already said, had not retired. Seated at his ease in a velvet dressing-gown, he wrote letter after letter in that fine and hurried handwriting, a page of which contained a quarter of a volume. The door was thrown hurriedly open, and the superintendent appeared, pale, agitated, anxious. Aramis looked up: “Good-evening,” said he; and his searching look detected his host’s sadness and disordered state of mind. “Was your play as good as his majesty’s?” asked Aramis, by way of beginning the conversation.

Fouquet threw himself upon a couch, and then pointed to the door to the servant who had followed him; when the servant had left he said, “Excellent.”

Aramis, who had followed every movement with his eyes, noticed that he stretched himself upon the cushions with a sort of feverish impatience. “You have lost as usual?” inquired Aramis, his pen still in his hand.

“Even more than usual,” replied Fouquet.

“You know how to support losses?”

“Sometimes.”

“What, Monsieur Fouquet a bad player!”

“There is play and play, Monsieur d’Herblay.”

“How much have you lost?” inquired Aramis, with a slight uneasiness.

Fouquet collected himself a moment, and then, without the slightest emotion, said, “The evening has cost me four millions,” and a bitter laugh drowned the last vibration of these words.

Aramis, who did not expect such an amount, dropped his pen. “Four millions,” he said; “you have lost four millions,—impossible!”

“Monsieur Colbert held my cards for me,” replied the superintendent, with a similar bitter laugh.

“Ah, now I understand; so, so, a new application for funds?”

“Yes, and from the king’s own lips. It was impossible to ruin a man with a more charming smile. What do you think of it?”

“It is clear that your destruction is the object in view.”

“That is your opinion?”

“Still. Besides, there is nothing in it which should astonish you, for we have foreseen it all along.”

“Yes; but I did not expect four millions.”

“No doubt the amount is serious, but, after all, four millions are not quite the death of a man, especially when the man in question is Monsieur Fouquet.”

“My dear D’Herblay, if you knew the contents of my coffers, you would be less easy.”

“And you promised?”

“What could I do?”

“That’s true.”

“The very day I refuse, Colbert will procure the money; whence I know not, but he will procure it: and I shall be lost.”

“There is no doubt of that. In how many days did you promise the four millions?”

“In three days. The king seemed exceedingly pressed.”

“In three days?”

“When I think,” resumed Fouquet, “that just now as I passed along the streets, the people cried out, ‘There is the rich Monsieur Fouquet,’ it is enough to turn my brain.”

“Stay, monsieur, the matter is not worth so much trouble,” said Aramis, calmly, sprinkling some sand over the letter he had just written.

“Suggest a remedy, then, for this evil without a remedy.”

“There is only one remedy for you,—pay.”

“But it is very uncertain whether I have the money. Everything must be exhausted; Belle-Isle is paid for; the pension has been paid; and money, since the investigation of the accounts of those who farm the revenue, is scarce. Besides, admitting that I pay this time, how can I do so on another occasion? When kings have tasted money, they are like tigers who have tasted flesh, they devour everything. The day will arrive—must arrive—when I shall have to say, ‘Impossible, sire,’ and on that very day I am a lost man.”

Aramis raised his shoulders slightly, saying:

“A man in your position, my lord, is only lost when he wishes to be so.”

“A man, whatever his position may be, cannot hope to struggle against a king.”

“Nonsense; when I was young I wrestled successfully with the Cardinal Richelieu, who was king of France,—nay more—cardinal.”

“Where are my armies, my troops, my treasures? I have not even Belle-Isle.”

“Bah! necessity is the mother of invention, and when you think all is lost, something will be discovered which will retrieve everything.”

“Who will discover this wonderful something?”

“Yourself.”

“I! I resign my office of inventor.”

“Then I will.”

“Be it so. But set to work without delay.”

“Oh! we have time enough!”

“You kill me, D’Herblay, with your calmness,” said the superintendent, passing his handkerchief over his face.

“Do you not remember that I one day told you not to make yourself uneasy, if you possessed courage? Have you any?”

“I believe so.”

“Then don’t make yourself uneasy.”

“It is decided then, that, at the last moment, you will come to my assistance.”

“It will only be the repayment of a debt I owe you.”

“It is the vocation of financiers to anticipate the wants of men such as yourself, D’Herblay.”

“If obligingness is the vocation of financiers, charity is the virtue of the clergy. Only, on this occasion, do you act, monsieur. You are not yet sufficiently reduced, and at the last moment we will see what is to be done.”

“We shall see, then, in a very short time.”

“Very well. However, permit me to tell you that, personally, I regret exceedingly that you are at present so short of money, because I myself was about to ask you for some.”

“For yourself?”

“For myself, or some of my people, for mine or for ours.”

“How much do you want?”

“Be easy on that score; a roundish sum, it is true, but not too exorbitant.”

“Tell me the amount.”

“Fifty thousand francs.”

“Oh! a mere nothing. Of course one has always fifty thousand francs. Why the deuce cannot that knave Colbert be as easily satisfied as you are—and I should give myself far less trouble than I do. When do you need this sum?”

“To-morrow morning; but you wish to know its destination?”

“Nay, nay, chevalier, I need no explanation.”

“To-morrow is the first of June.”

“Well?”

“One of our bonds becomes due.”

“I did not know we had any bonds.”

“Certainly, to-morrow we pay our last third instalment.”

“What third?”

“Of the one hundred and fifty thousand francs to Baisemeaux.”

“Baisemeaux? Who is he?”

“The governor of the Bastile.”

“Yes, I remember. On what grounds am I to pay one hundred and fifty thousand francs for that man.”

“On account of the appointment which he, or rather we, purchased from Louviere and Tremblay.”

“I have a very vague recollection of the matter.”

“That is likely enough, for you have so many affairs to attend to. However, I do not believe you have any affair in the world of greater importance than this one.”

“Tell me, then, why we purchased this appointment.”

“Why, in order to render him a service in the first place, and afterwards ourselves.”

“Ourselves? You are joking.”

“Monseigneur, the time may come when the governor of the Bastile may prove a very excellent acquaintance.”

“I have not the good fortune to understand you, D’Herblay.”

“Monseigneur, we had our own poets, our own engineer, our own architect, our own musicians, our own printer, and our own painters; we needed our own governor of the Bastile.”

“Do you think so?”

“Let us not deceive ourselves, monseigneur; we are very much opposed to paying the Bastile a visit,” added the prelate, displaying, beneath his pale lips, teeth which were still the same beautiful teeth so much admired thirty years previously by Marie Michon.

“And you think it is not too much to pay one hundred and fifty thousand francs for that? I thought you generally put out money at better interest than that.”

“The day will come when you will admit your mistake.”

“My dear D’Herblay, the very day on which a man enters the Bastile, he is no longer protected by his past.”

“Yes, he is, if the bonds are perfectly regular; besides, that good fellow Baisemeaux has not a courtier’s heart. I am certain, my lord, that he will not remain ungrateful for that money, without taking into account, I repeat, that I retain the acknowledgements.”

“It is a strange affair! usury in a matter of benevolence.”

“Do not mix yourself up with it, monseigneur; if there be usury, it is I who practice it, and both of us reap the advantage from it—that is all.”

“Some intrigue, D’Herblay?”

“I do not deny it.”

“And Baisemeaux an accomplice in it?”

“Why not?—there are worse accomplices than he. May I depend, then, upon the five thousand pistoles to-morrow?”

“Do you want them this evening?”

“It would be better, for I wish to start early; poor Baisemeaux will not be able to imagine what has be become of me, and must be upon thorns.”

“You shall have the amount in an hour. Ah, D’Herblay, the interest of your one hundred and fifty thousand francs will never pay my four millions for me.”

“Why not, monseigneur?”

“Good-night, I have business to transact with my clerks before I retire.”

“A good night’s rest, monseigneur.”

“D’Herblay, you wish things that are impossible.”

“Shall I have my fifty thousand francs this evening?”

“Yes.”

“Go to sleep, then, in perfect safety—it is I who tell you to do so.”

Notwithstanding this assurance, and the tone in which it was given, Fouquet left the room shaking his head, and heaving a sigh.






Chapter XXIII. M. Baisemeaux de Montlezun’s Accounts.


The clock of St. Paul was striking seven as Aramis, on horseback, dressed as a simple citizen, that is to say, in colored suit, with no distinctive mark about him, except a kind of hunting-knife by his side, passed before the Rue du Petit-Musc, and stopped opposite the Rue des Tournelles, at the gate of the Bastile. Two sentinels were on duty at the gate; they made no difficulty about admitting Aramis, who entered without dismounting, and they pointed out the way he was to go by a long passage with buildings on both sides. This passage led to the drawbridge, or, in other words, to the real entrance. The drawbridge was down, and the duty of the day was about being entered upon. The sentinel at the outer guardhouse stopped Aramis’s further progress, asking him, in a rough tone of voice, what had brought him there. Aramis explained, with his usual politeness, that a wish to speak to M. Baisemeaux de Montlezun had occasioned his visit. The first sentinel then summoned a second sentinel, stationed within an inner lodge, who showed his face at the grating, and inspected the new arrival most attentively. Aramis reiterated the expression of his wish to see the governor; whereupon the sentinel called to an officer of lower grade, who was walking about in a tolerably spacious courtyard and who, in turn, on being informed of his object, ran to seek one of the officers of the governor’s staff. The latter, after having listened to Aramis’s request, begged him to wait a moment, then went away a short distance, but returned to ask his name. “I cannot tell it you, monsieur,” said Aramis; “I need only mention that I have matters of such importance to communicate to the governor, that I can only rely beforehand upon one thing, that M. de Baisemeaux will be delighted to see me; nay, more than that, when you have told him that it is the person whom he expected on the first of June, I am convinced he will hasten here himself.” The officer could not possibly believe that a man of the governor’s importance should put himself out for a person of so little importance as the citizen-looking visitor on horseback. “It happens most fortunately, monsieur,” he said, “that the governor is just going out, and you can perceive his carriage with the horses already harnessed, in the courtyard yonder; there will be no occasion for him to come to meet you, as he will see you as he passes by.” Aramis bowed to signify his assent; he did not wish to inspire others with too exalted an opinion of himself, and therefore waited patiently and in silence, leaning upon the saddle-bow of his horse. Ten minutes had hardly elapsed when the governor’s carriage was observed to move. The governor appeared at the door, and got into the carriage, which immediately prepared to start. The same ceremony was observed for the governor himself as with a suspected stranger; the sentinel at the lodge advanced as the carriage was about to pass under the arch, and the governor opened the carriage-door, himself setting the example of obedience to orders; so that, in this way, the sentinel could convince himself that no one quitted the Bastile improperly. The carriage rolled along under the archway, but at the moment the iron-gate was opened, the officer approached the carriage, which had again been stopped, and said something to the governor, who immediately put his head out of the door-way, and perceived Aramis on horseback at the end of the drawbridge. He immediately uttered almost a shout of delight, and got out, or rather darted out of his carriage, running towards Aramis, whose hands he seized, making a thousand apologies. He almost embraced him. “What a difficult matter to enter the Bastile!” said Aramis. “Is it the same for those who are sent here against their wills, as for those who come of their own accord?”

“A thousand pardons, my lord. How delighted I am to see your Grace!”

“Hush! What are you thinking of, my dear M. Baisemeaux? What do you suppose would be thought of a bishop in my present costume?”

“Pray, excuse me, I had forgotten. Take this gentleman’s horse to the stables,” cried Baisemeaux.

“No, no,” said Aramis; “I have five thousand pistoles in the saddle-bags.”

The governor’s countenance became so radiant, that if the prisoners had seen him they would have imagined some prince of the royal blood had arrived. “Yes, you are right, the horse shall be taken to the government house. Will you get into the carriage, my dear M. d’Herblay? and it shall take us back to my house.”

“Get into a carriage to cross a courtyard! do you believe I am so great an invalid? No, no, we will go on foot.”

Baisemeaux then offered his arm as a support, but the prelate did not accept it. They arrived in this manner at the government house, Baisemeaux rubbing his hands and glancing at the horse from time to time, while Aramis was looking at the bleak bare walls. A tolerably handsome vestibule and a staircase of white stone led to the governor’s apartments, who crossed the ante-chamber, the dining-room, where breakfast was being prepared, opened a small side door, and closeted himself with his guest in a large cabinet, the windows of which opened obliquely upon the courtyard and the stables. Baisemeaux installed the prelate with that all-inclusive politeness of which a good man, or a grateful man, alone possesses the secret. An arm-chair, a footstool, a small table beside him, on which to rest his hand, everything was prepared by the governor himself. With his own hands, too, he placed upon the table, with much solicitude, the bag containing the gold, which one of the soldiers had brought up with the most respectful devotion; and the soldier having left the room, Baisemeaux himself closed the door after him, drew aside one of the window-curtains, and looked steadfastly at Aramis to see if the prelate required anything further.

“Well, my lord,” he said, still standing up, “of all men of their word, you still continue to be the most punctual.”

“In matters of business, dear M. de Baisemeaux, exactitude is not a virtue only, it is a duty as well.”

“Yes, in matters of business, certainly; but what you have with me is not of that character; it is a service you are rendering me.”

“Come, confess, dear M. de Baisemeaux, that, notwithstanding this exactitude, you have not been without a little uneasiness.”

“About your health, I certainly have,” stammered out Baisemeaux.

“I wished to come here yesterday, but I was not able, as I was too fatigued,” continued Aramis. Baisemeaux anxiously slipped another cushion behind his guest’s back. “But,” continued Aramis, “I promised myself to come and pay you a visit to-day, early in the morning.”

“You are really very kind, my lord.”

“And it was a good thing for me I was punctual, I think.”

“What do you mean?”

“Yes, you were going out.” At which latter remark Baisemeaux colored and said, “It is true I was going out.”

“Then I prevent you,” said Aramis; whereupon the embarrassment of Baisemeaux became visibly greater. “I am putting you to inconvenience,” he continued, fixing a keen glace upon the poor governor; “if I had known that, I should not have come.”

“How can your lordship imagine that you could ever inconvenience me?”

“Confess you were going in search of money.”

“No,” stammered out Baisemeaux, “no! I assure you I was going to—”

“Does the governor still intend to go to M. Fouquet?” suddenly called out the major from below. Baisemeaux ran to the window like a madman. “No, no,” he exclaimed in a state of desperation, “who the deuce is speaking of M. Fouquet? are you drunk below there? why am I interrupted when I am engaged on business?”

“You were going to M. Fouquet’s,” said Aramis, biting his lips, “to M. Fouquet, the abbe, or the superintendent?”

Baisemeaux almost made up his mind to tell an untruth, but he could not summon courage to do so. “To the superintendent,” he said.

“It is true, then, that you were in want of money, since you were going to a person who gives it away!”

“I assure you, my lord—”

“You were afraid?”

“My dear lord, it was the uncertainty and ignorance in which I was as to where you were to be found.”

“You would have found the money you require at M. Fouquet’s, for he is a man whose hand is always open.”

“I swear that I should never have ventured to ask M. Fouquet for money. I only wished to ask him for your address.”

“To ask M. Fouquet for my address?” exclaimed Aramis, opening his eyes in real astonishment.

“Yes,” said Baisemeaux, greatly disturbed by the glance which the prelate fixed upon him,—“at M. Fouquet’s certainly.”

“There is no harm in that, dear M. Baisemeaux, only I would ask, why ask my address of M. Fouquet?”

“That I might write to you.”

“I understand,” said Aramis smiling, “but that is not what I meant; I do not ask you what you required my address for: I only ask why you should go to M. Fouquet for it?”

“Oh!” said Baisemeaux, “as Belle-Isle is the property of M. Fouquet, and as Belle-Isle is in the diocese of Vannes, and as you are bishop of Vannes—”

“But, my dear Baisemeaux, since you knew I was bishop of Vannes, you had no occasion to ask M. Fouquet for my address.”

“Well, monsieur,” said Baisemeaux, completely at bay, “if I have acted indiscreetly, I beg your pardon most sincerely.”

“Nonsense,” observed Aramis calmly: “how can you possibly have acted indiscreetly?” And while he composed his face, and continued to smile cheerfully on the governor, he was considering how Baisemeaux, who was not aware of his address, knew, however, that Vannes was his residence. “I shall clear all this up,” he said to himself; and then speaking aloud, added,—“Well, my dear governor shall we now arrange our little accounts?”

“I am at your orders, my lord; but tell me beforehand, my lord, whether you will do me the honor to breakfast with me as usual?”

“Very willingly, indeed.”

“That’s well,” said Baisemeaux, as he struck the bell before him three times.

“What does that mean?” inquired Aramis.

“That I have some one to breakfast with me, and that preparations are to be made accordingly.”

“And you rang thrice. Really, my dear governor, I begin to think you are acting ceremoniously with me.”

“No, indeed. Besides, the least I can do is to receive you in the best way I can.”

“But why so?”

“Because not even a prince could have done what you have done for me.”

“Nonsense! nonsense!”

“Nay, I assure you—”

“Let us speak of other matters,” said Aramis. “Or rather, tell me how your affairs here are getting on.”

“Not over well.”

“The deuce!”

“M. de Mazarin was not hard enough.”

“Yes, I see; you require a government full of suspicion—like that of the old cardinal, for instance.”

“Yes; matters went on better under him. The brother of his ‘gray eminence’ made his fortune here.”

“Believe me, my dear governor,” said Aramis, drawing closer to Baisemeaux, “a young king is well worth an old cardinal. Youth has its suspicions, its fits of anger, its prejudices, as old age has its hatreds, its precautions, and its fears. Have you paid your three years’ profits to Louvidre and Tremblay?”

“Most certainly I have.”

“So that you have nothing more to give them than the fifty thousand francs I have brought with me?”

“Nothing.”

“Have you not saved anything, then?”

“My lord, in giving the fifty thousand francs of my own to these gentlemen, I assure you that I gave them everything I gain. I told M. d’Artagnan so yesterday evening.”

“Ah!” said Aramis, whose eyes sparkled for a moment, but became immediately afterwards as unmoved as before; “so you have been to see my old friend D’Artagnan; how was he?”

“Wonderfully well.”

“And what did you say to him, M. de Baisemeaux?”

“I told him,” continued the governor, not perceiving his own thoughtlessness; “I told him that I fed my prisoners too well.”

“How many have you?” inquired Aramis, in an indifferent tone of voice.

“Sixty.”

“Well, that is a tolerably round number.”

“In former times, my lord, there were, during certain years, as many as two hundred.”

“Still a minimum of sixty is not to be grumbled at.”

“Perhaps not; for, to anybody but myself, each prisoner would bring in two hundred and fifty pistoles; for instance, for a prince of the blood I have fifty francs a day.”

“Only you have no prince of the blood; at least, I suppose so,” said Aramis, with a slight tremor in his voice.

“No, thank heaven!—I mean, no, unfortunately.”

“What do you mean by unfortunately?”

“Because my appointment would be improved by it. So fifty francs per day for a prince of the blood, thirty-six for a marechal of France—”

“But you have as many marechals of France, I suppose, as you have princes of the blood?”

“Alas! no more. It is true lieutenant-generals and brigadiers pay twenty-six francs, and I have two of them. After that, come councilors of parliament, who bring me fifteen francs, and I have six of them.”

“I did not know,” said Aramis, “that councilors were so productive.”

“Yes; but from fifteen francs I sink at once to ten francs; namely, for an ordinary judge, and for an ecclesiastic.”

“And you have seven, you say; an excellent affair.”

“Nay, a bad one, and for this reason. How can I possibly treat these poor fellows, who are of some good, at all events, otherwise than as a councilor of parliament?”

“Yes, you are right; I do not see five francs difference between them.”

“You understand; if I have a fine fish, I pay four or five francs for it; if I get a fine fowl, it cost me a franc and a half. I fatten a good deal of poultry, but I have to buy grain, and you cannot imagine the army of rats that infest this place.”

“Why not get half a dozen cats to deal with them?”

“Cats, indeed; yes, they eat them, but I was obliged to give up the idea because of the way in which they treated my grain. I have been obliged to have some terrier dogs sent me from England to kill the rats. These dogs, unfortunately, have tremendous appetites; they eat as much as a prisoner of the fifth order, without taking into account the rabbits and fowls they kill.”

Was Aramis really listening or not? No one could have told; his downcast eyes showed the attentive man, but the restless hand betrayed the man absorbed in thought—Aramis was meditating.

“I was saying,” continued Baisemeaux, “that a good-sized fowl costs me a franc and a half, and that a fine fish costs me four or five francs. Three meals are served at the Bastile, and, as the prisoners, having nothing to do, are always eating, a ten-franc man costs me seven francs and a half.”

“But did you not say that you treated those at ten francs like those at fifteen?”

“Yes, certainly.”

“Very well! Then you gain seven francs and a half upon those who pay you fifteen francs.”

“I must compensate myself somehow,” said Baisemeaux, who saw how he had been snapped up.

“You are quite right, my dear governor; but have you no prisoners below ten francs?”

“Oh, yes! we have citizens and barristers at five francs.”

“And do they eat, too?”

“Not a doubt about it; only you understand that they do not get fish or poultry, nor rich wines at every meal; but at all events thrice a week they have a good dish at their dinner.”

“Really, you are quite a philanthropist, my dear governor, and you will ruin yourself.”

“No; understand me; when the fifteen-franc has not eaten his fowl, or the ten-franc has left his dish unfinished, I send it to the five-franc prisoner; it is a feast for the poor devil, and one must be charitable, you know.”

“And what do you make out of your five-franc prisoners?”

“A franc and a half.”

“Baisemeaux, you’re an honest fellow; in honest truth I say so.”

“Thank you, my lord. But I feel most for the small tradesmen and bailiffs’ clerks, who are rated at three francs. They do not often see Rhine carp or Channel sturgeon.”

“But do not the five-franc gentlemen sometimes leave some scraps?”

“Oh! my lord, do not believe I am so stingy as that; I delight the heart of some poor little tradesman or clerk by sending him a wing of a red partridge, a slice of venison, or a slice of a truffled pasty, dishes which he never tasted except in his dreams; these are the leavings of the twenty-four-franc prisoners; and as he eats and drinks, at dessert he cries ‘Long live the King,’ and blesses the Bastile; with a couple bottles of champagne, which cost me five sous, I make him tipsy every Sunday. That class of people call down blessings upon me, and are sorry to leave the prison. Do you know that I have remarked, and it does me infinite honor, that certain prisoners, who have been set at liberty, have, almost immediately afterwards, got imprisoned again? Why should this be the case, unless it be to enjoy the pleasures of my kitchen? It is really the fact.”

Aramis smiled with an expression of incredulity.

“You smile,” said Baisemeaux.

“I do,” returned Aramis.

“I tell you that we have names which have been inscribed on our books thrice in the space of two years.”

“I must see it before I believe it,” said Aramis.

“Well, I can show it to you, although it is prohibited to communicate the registers to strangers; and if you really wish to see it with your own eyes—”

“I should be delighted, I confess.”

“Very well,” said Baisemeaux, and he took out of a cupboard a large register. Aramis followed him most anxiously with his eyes, and Baisemeaux returned, placed the register upon the table, and turned over the leaves for a minute, and stayed at the letter M.

“Look here,” said he, “Martinier, January, 1659; Martinier, June, 1660; Martinier, March, 1661. Mazarinades, etc.; you understand it was only a pretext; people were not sent to the Bastile for jokes against M. Mazarin; the fellow denounced himself in order to get imprisoned here.”

“And what was his object?”

“None other than to return to my kitchen at three francs a day.”

“Three francs—poor devil!”

“The poet, my lord, belongs to the lowest scale, the same style of board as the small tradesman and bailiff’s clerk; but I repeat, it is to those people that I give these little surprises.”

Aramis mechanically turned over the leaves of the register, continuing to read the names, but without appearing to take any interest in the names he read.

“In 1661, you perceive,” said Baisemeaux, “eighty entries; and in 1659, eighty also.”

“Ah!” said Aramis. “Seldon; I seem to know that name. Was it not you who spoke to me about a certain young man?”

“Yes, a poor devil of a student, who made—What do you call that where two Latin verses rhyme together?”

“A distich.”

“Yes; that is it.”

“Poor fellow; for a distich.”

“Do you know that he made this distich against the Jesuits?”

“That makes no difference; the punishment seems very severe. Do not pity him; last year you seemed to interest yourself in him.”

“Yes, I did so.”

“Well, as your interest is all-powerful here, my lord, I have treated him since that time as a prisoner at fifteen francs.”

“The same as this one, then,” said Aramis, who had continued turning over the leaves, and who had stopped at one of the names which followed Martinier.

“Yes, the same as that one.”

“Is that Marchiali an Italian?” said Aramis, pointing with his finger to the name which had attracted his attention.

“Hush!” said Baisemeaux.

“Why hush?” said Aramis, involuntarily clenching his white hand.

“I thought I had already spoken to you about that Marchiali.”

“No, it is the first time I ever heard his name pronounced.”

“That may be, but perhaps I have spoken to you about him without naming him.”

“Is he an old offender?” asked Aramis, attempting to smile.

“On the contrary, he is quite young.”

“Is his crime, then, very heinous?”

“Unpardonable.”

“Has he assassinated any one?”

“Bah!”

“An incendiary, then?”

“Bah!”

“Has he slandered any one?”

“No, no! It is he who—” and Baisemeaux approached Aramis’s ear, making a sort of ear-trumpet of his hands, and whispered: “It is he who presumes to resemble the—”

“Yes, yes,” said Aramis; “I now remember you already spoke about it last year to me; but the crime appeared to me so slight.”

“Slight, do you say?”

“Or rather, so involuntary.”

“My lord, it is not involuntarily that such a resemblance is detected.”

“Well, the fact is, I had forgotten it. But, my dear host,” said Aramis, closing the register, “if I am not mistaken, we are summoned.”

Baisemeaux took the register, hastily restored it to its place in the closet, which he locked, and put the key in his pocket. “Will it be agreeable to your lordship to breakfast now?” said he; “for you are right in supposing that breakfast was announced.”

“Assuredly, my dear governor,” and they passed into the dining-room.






Chapter XXIV. The Breakfast at Monsieur de Baisemeaux’s.


Aramis was generally temperate; but on this occasion, while taking every care of his constitution, he did ample justice to Baisemeaux’s breakfast, which, in all respects, was most excellent. The latter on his side, was animated with the wildest gayety; the sight of the five thousand pistoles, which he glanced at from time to time, seemed to open his heart. Every now and then he looked at Aramis with an expression of the deepest gratitude; while the latter, leaning back in his chair, took a few sips of wine from his glass, with the air of a connoisseur. “Let me never hear any ill words against the fare of the Bastile,” said he, half closing his eyes; “happy are the prisoners who can get only half a bottle of such Burgundy every day.”

“All those at fifteen francs drink it,” said Baisemeaux. “It is very old Volnay.”

“Does that poor student, Seldon, drink such good wine?”

“Oh, no!”

“I thought I heard you say he was boarded at fifteen francs.”

“He! no, indeed; a man who makes districts—distichs I mean—at fifteen francs! No, no! it is his neighbor who is at fifteen francs.”

“Which neighbor?”

“The other, second Bertaudiere.”

“Excuse me, my dear governor; but you speak a language which requires quite an apprenticeship to understand.”

“Very true,” said the governor. “Allow me to explain: second Bertaudiere is the person who occupies the second floor of the tower of the Bertaudiere.”

“So that Bertaudiere is the name of one of the towers of the Bastile? The fact is, I think I recollect hearing that each tower has a name of its own. Whereabouts is the one you are speaking of?”

“Look,” said Baisemeaux, going to the window. “It is that tower to the left—the second one.”

“Is the prisoner at fifteen francs there?”

“Yes.”

“Since when?”

“Seven or eight years, nearly.”

“What do you mean by nearly? Do you not know the dates more precisely?”

“It was not in my time, M. d’Herblay.”

“But I should have thought that Louviere or Tremblay would have told you.”

“The secrets of the Bastile are never handed over with the keys of the governorship.”

“Indeed! Then the cause of his imprisonment is a mystery—a state secret.”

“Oh, no! I do not suppose it is a state secret, but a secret—like everything that happens at the Bastile.”

“But,” said Aramis, “why do you speak more freely of Seldon than of second Bertaudiere?”

“Because, in my opinion, the crime of the man who writes a distich is not so great as that of the man who resembles—”

“Yes, yes; I understand you. Still, do not the turnkeys talk with your prisoners?”

“Of course.”

“The prisoners, I suppose, tell them they are not guilty?”

“They are always telling them that; it is a matter of course; the same song over and over again.”

“But does not the resemblance you were speaking about just now strike the turnkeys?”

“My dear M. d’Herblay, it is only for men attached to the court, as you are, to take trouble about such matters.”

“You’re right, you’re right, my dear M. Baisemeaux. Let me give you another taste of this Volnay.”

“Not a taste merely, a full glass; fill yours too.”

“Nay, nay! You are a musketeer still, to the very tips of your fingers, while I have become a bishop. A taste for me; a glass for yourself.”

“As you please.” And Aramis and the governor nodded to each other, as they drank their wine. “But,” said Aramis, looking with fixed attention at the ruby-colored wine he had raised to the level of his eyes, as if he wished to enjoy it with all his senses at the same moment, “but what you might call a resemblance, another would not, perhaps, take any notice of.”

“Most certainly he would, though, if it were any one who knew the person he resembles.”

“I really think, dear M. Baisemeaux, that it can be nothing more than a resemblance of your own creation.”

“Upon my honor, it is not so.”

“Stay,” continued Aramis. “I have seen many persons very like the one we are speaking of; but, out of respect, no one ever said anything about it.”

“Very likely; because there is resemblance and resemblance. This is a striking one, and, if you were to see him, you would admit it to be so.”

“If I were to see him, indeed,” said Aramis, in an indifferent tone; “but in all probability I never shall.”

“Why not?”

“Because if I were even to put my foot inside one of those horrible dungeons, I should fancy I was buried there forever.”

“No, no; the cells are very good places to live in.”

“I really do not, and cannot believe it, and that is a fact.”

“Pray do not speak ill of second Bertaudiere. It is really a good room, very nicely furnished and carpeted. The young fellow has by no means been unhappy there; the best lodging the Bastile affords has been his. There is a chance for you.”

“Nay, nay,” said Aramis, coldly; “you will never make me believe there are any good rooms in the Bastile; and, as for your carpets, they exist only in your imagination. I should find nothing but spiders, rats, and perhaps toads, too.”

“Toads?” cried Baisemeaux.

“Yes, in the dungeons.”

“Ah! I don’t say there are not toads in the dungeons,” replied Baisemeaux. “But—will you be convinced by your own eyes?” he continued, with a sudden impulse.

“No, certainly not.”

“Not even to satisfy yourself of the resemblance which you deny, as you do the carpets?”

“Some spectral-looking person, a mere shadow; an unhappy, dying man.”

“Nothing of the kind—as brisk and vigorous a young fellow as ever lived.”

“Melancholy and ill-tempered, then?”

“Not at all; very gay and lively.”

“Nonsense; you are joking.”

“Will you follow me?” said Baisemeaux.

“What for?”

“To go the round of the Bastile.”

“Why?”

“You will then see for yourself—see with your own eyes.”

“But the regulations?”

“Never mind them. To-day my major has leave of absence; the lieutenant is visiting the post on the bastions; we are sole masters of the situation.”

“No, no, my dear governor; why, the very idea of the sound of the bolts makes me shudder. You will only have to forget me in second or fourth Bertaudiere, and then—”

“You are refusing an opportunity that may never present itself again. Do you know that, to obtain the favor I propose to you gratis, some of the princes of the blood have offered me as much as fifty thousand francs.”

“Really! he must be worth seeing, then?”

“Forbidden fruit, my lord; forbidden fruit. You who belong to the church ought to know that.”

“Well, if had any curiosity, it would be to see the poor author of the distich.”

“Very well, we will see him, too; but if I were at all curious, it would be about the beautiful carpeted room and its lodger.”

“Furniture is very commonplace; and a face with no expression in it offers little or no interest.”

“But a boarder at fifteen francs is always interesting.”

“By the by, I forgot to ask you about that. Why fifteen francs for him, and only three francs for poor Seldon?”

“The distinction made in that instance was a truly noble act, and one which displayed the king’s goodness of heart to great advantage.”

“The king’s, you say.”

“The cardinal’s, I mean. ‘This unhappy man,’ said M. Mazarin, ‘is destined to remain in prison forever.’”

“Why so?”

“Why, it seems that his crime is a lasting one; and, consequently, his punishment ought to be so, too.”

“Lasting?”

“No doubt of it, unless he is fortunate enough to catch the small-pox, and even that is difficult, for we never get any impure air here.”

“Nothing can be more ingenious than your train of reasoning, my dear M. Baisemeaux. Do you, however, mean to say that this unfortunate man must suffer without interruption or termination?”

“I did not say he was to suffer, my lord; a fifteen-franc boarder does not suffer.”

“He suffers imprisonment, at all events.”

“No doubt; there is no help for that, but this suffering is sweetened for him. You must admit that this young fellow was not born to eat all the good things he does eat; for instance, such things as we have on the table now; this pasty that has not been touched, these crawfish from the River Marne, of which we have hardly taken any, and which are almost as large as lobsters; all these things will at once be taken to second Bertaudiere, with a bottle of that Volnay which you think so excellent. After you have seen it you will believe it, I hope.”

“Yes, my dear governor, certainly; but all this time you are thinking only of your very happy fifteen-franc prisoner, and you forget poor Seldon, my protege.”

“Well, out of consideration for you, it shall be a gala day for him; he shall have some biscuits and preserves with this small bottle of port.”

“You are a good-hearted fellow; I have said so already, and I repeat it, my dear Baisemeaux.”

“Well, let us set off, then,” said the governor, a little bewildered, partly from the wine he had drunk, and partly from Aramis’s praises.

“Do not forget that I only go to oblige you,” said the prelate.

“Very well; but you will thank me when you get there.”

“Let us go, then.”

“Wait until I have summoned the jailer,” said Baisemeaux, as he struck the bell twice; at which summons a man appeared. “I am going to visit the towers,” said the governor. “No guards, no drums, no noise at all.”

“If I were not to leave my cloak here,” said Aramis, pretending to be alarmed, “I should really think I was going to prison on my own account.”

The jailer preceded the governor, Aramis walking on his right hand; some of the soldiers who happened to be in the courtyard drew themselves up in a line, as stiff as posts, as the governor passed along. Baisemeaux led the way down several steps which conducted to a sort of esplanade; thence they arrived at the drawbridge, where the sentinels on duty received the governor with the proper honors. The governor turned toward Aramis, and, speaking in such a tone that the sentinels could not lose a word, he observed,—“I hope you have a good memory, monsieur?”

“Why?” inquired Aramis.

“On account of your plans and your measurements, for you know that no one is allowed, not architects even, to enter where the prisoners are, with paper, pens or pencil.”

“Good,” said Aramis to himself, “it seems I am an architect, then. It sounds like one of D’Artagnan’s jokes, who perceived in me the engineer of Belle-Isle.” Then he added aloud: “Be easy on that score, monsieur; in our profession, a mere glance and a good memory are quite sufficient.”

Baisemeaux did not change countenance, and the soldiers took Aramis for what he seemed to be. “Very well; we will first visit la Bertaudiere,” said Baisemeaux, still intending the sentinels to hear him. Then, turning to the jailer, he added: “You will take the opportunity of carrying to No. 2 the few dainties I pointed out.”

“Dear M. de Baisemeaux,” said Aramis, “you are always forgetting No. 3.”

“So I am,” said the governor; and upon that, they began to ascend. The number of bolts, gratings, and locks for this single courtyard would have sufficed for the safety of an entire city. Aramis was neither an imaginative nor a sensitive man; he had been somewhat of a poet in his youth, but his heart was hard and indifferent, as the heart of every man of fifty-five years of age is, who has been frequently and passionately attached to women in his lifetime, or rather who has been passionately loved by them. But when he placed his foot upon the worn stone steps, along which so many unhappy wretches had passed, when he felt himself impregnated, as it were, with the atmosphere of those gloomy dungeons, moistened with tears, there could be but little doubt he was overcome by his feelings, for his head was bowed and his eyes became dim, as he followed Baisemeaux without a syllable.