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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Chapter XXXIV. Among Women.


D’Artagnan had not been able to hide his feelings from his friends so much as he would have wished. The stoical soldier, the impassive man-at-arms, overcome by fear and sad presentiments, had yielded, for a few moments, to human weakness. When, therefore, he had silenced his heart and calmed the agitation of his nerves, turning towards his lackey, a silent servant, always listening, in order to obey the more promptly:

“Rabaud,” said he, “mind, we must travel thirty leagues a day.”

“At your pleasure, captain,” replied Rabaud.

And from that moment, D’Artagnan, accommodating his action to the pace of the horse, like a true centaur, gave up his thoughts to nothing—that is to say, to everything. He asked himself why the king had sent for him back; why the Iron Mask had thrown the silver plate at the feet of Raoul. As to the first subject, the reply was negative; he knew right well that the king’s calling him was from necessity. He still further knew that Louis XIV. must experience an imperious desire for a private conversation with one whom the possession of such a secret placed on a level with the highest powers of the kingdom. But as to saying exactly what the king’s wish was, D’Artagnan found himself completely at a loss. The musketeer had no doubts, either, upon the reason which had urged the unfortunate Philippe to reveal his character and birth. Philippe, buried forever beneath a mask of steel, exiled to a country where the men seemed little more than slaves of the elements; Philippe, deprived even of the society of D’Artagnan, who had loaded him with honors and delicate attentions, had nothing more to see than odious specters in this world, and, despair beginning to devour him, he poured himself forth in complaints, in the belief that his revelations would raise up some avenger for him. The manner in which the musketeer had been near killing his two best friends, the destiny which had so strangely brought Athos to participate in the great state secret, the farewell of Raoul, the obscurity of the future which threatened to end in a melancholy death; all this threw D’Artagnan incessantly back on lamentable predictions and forebodings, which the rapidity of his pace did not dissipate, as it used formerly to do. D’Artagnan passed from these considerations to the remembrance of the proscribed Porthos and Aramis. He saw them both, fugitives, tracked, ruined—laborious architects of fortunes they had lost; and as the king called for his man of execution in hours of vengeance and malice, D’Artagnan trembled at the very idea of receiving some commission that would make his very soul bleed. Sometimes, ascending hills, when the winded horse breathed hard from his red nostrils, and heaved his flanks, the captain, left to more freedom of thought, reflected on the prodigious genius of Aramis, a genius of acumen and intrigue, a match to which the Fronde and the civil war had produced but twice. Soldier, priest, diplomatist; gallant, avaricious, cunning; Aramis had never taken the good things of this life except as stepping-stones to rise to giddier ends. Generous in spirit, if not lofty in heart, he never did ill but for the sake of shining even yet more brilliantly. Towards the end of his career, at the moment of reaching the goal, like the patrician Fuscus, he had made a false step upon a plank, and had fallen into the sea. But Porthos, good, harmless Porthos! To see Porthos hungry, to see Mousqueton without gold lace, imprisoned, perhaps; to see Pierrefonds, Bracieux, razed to the very stones, dishonored even to the timber,—these were so many poignant griefs for D’Artagnan, and every time that one of these griefs struck him, he bounded like a horse at the sting of a gadfly beneath the vaults of foliage where he has sought shady shelter from the burning sun. Never was the man of spirit subjected to ennui, if his body was exposed to fatigue; never did the man of healthy body fail to find life light, if he had something to engage his mind. D’Artagnan, riding fast, thinking as constantly, alighted from his horse in Pairs, fresh and tender in his muscles as the athlete preparing for the gymnasium. The king did not expect him so soon, and had just departed for the chase towards Meudon. D’Artagnan, instead of riding after the king, as he would formerly have done, took off his boots, had a bath, and waited till his majesty should return dusty and tired. He occupied the interval of five hours in taking, as people say, the air of the house, and in arming himself against all ill chances. He learned that the king, during the last fortnight, had been gloomy; that the queen-mother was ill and much depressed; that Monsieur, the king’s brother, was exhibiting a devotional turn; that Madame had the vapors; and that M. de Guiche was gone to one of his estates. He learned that M. Colbert was radiant; that M. Fouquet consulted a fresh physician every day, who still did not cure him, and that his principal complaint was one which physicians do not usually cure, unless they are political physicians. The king, D’Artagnan was told, behaved in the kindest manner to M. Fouquet, and did not allow him to be ever out of his sight; but the surintendant, touched to the heart, like one of those fine trees a worm has punctured, was declining daily, in spite of the royal smile, that sun of court trees. D’Artagnan learned that Mademoiselle de la Valliere had become indispensable to the king; that the king, during his sporting excursions, if he did not take her with him, wrote to her frequently, no longer verses, but, which was much worse, prose, and that whole pages at a time. Thus, as the political Pleiad of the day said, the first king in the world was seen descending from his horse with an ardor beyond compare, and on the crown of his hat scrawling bombastic phrases, which M. de Saint-Aignan, aide-de-camp in perpetuity, carried to La Valliere at the risk of foundering his horses. During this time, deer and pheasants were left to the free enjoyment of their nature, hunted so lazily that, it was said, the art of venery ran great risk of degenerating at the court of France. D’Artagnan then thought of the wishes of poor Raoul, of that desponding letter destined for a woman who passed her life in hoping, and as D’Artagnan loved to philosophize a little occasionally, he resolved to profit by the absence of the king to have a minute’s talk with Mademoiselle de la Valliere. This was a very easy affair; while the king was hunting, Louise was walking with some other ladies in one of the galleries of the Palais Royal, exactly where the captain of the musketeers had some guards to inspect. D’Artagnan did not doubt that, if he could but open the conversation on Raoul, Louise might give him grounds for writing a consolatory letter to the poor exile; and hope, or at least consolation for Raoul, in the state of heart in which he had left him, was the sun, was life to two men, who were very dear to our captain. He directed his course, therefore, to the spot where he knew he should find Mademoiselle de la Valliere. D’Artagnan found La Valliere the center of the circle. In her apparent solitude, the king’s favorite received, like a queen, more, perhaps, than the queen, a homage of which Madame had been so proud, when all the king’s looks were directed to her and commanded the looks of the courtiers. D’Artagnan, although no squire of dames, received, nevertheless, civilities and attentions from the ladies; he was polite, as a brave man always is, and his terrible reputation had conciliated as much friendship among the men as admiration among the women. On seeing him enter, therefore, they immediately accosted him; and, as is not unfrequently the case with fair ladies, opened the attack by questions. “Where had he been? What had become of him so long? Why had they not seen him as usual make his fine horse curvet in such beautiful style, to the delight and astonishment of the curious from the king’s balcony?”

He replied that he had just come from the land of oranges. This set all the ladies laughing. Those were times in which everybody traveled, but in which, notwithstanding, a journey of a hundred leagues was a problem often solved by death.

“From the land of oranges?” cried Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente. “From Spain?”

“Eh! eh!” said the musketeer.

“From Malta?” echoed Montalais.

“Ma foi! You are coming very near, ladies.”

“Is it an island?” asked La Valliere.

“Mademoiselle,” said D’Artagnan; “I will not give you the trouble of seeking any further; I come from the country where M. de Beaufort is, at this moment, embarking for Algiers.”

“Have you seen the army?” asked several warlike fair ones.

“As plainly as I see you,” replied D’Artagnan.

“And the fleet?”

“Yes, I saw everything.”

“Have we any of us any friends there?” said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, coldly, but in a manner to attract attention to a question that was not without its calculated aim.

“Why,” replied D’Artagnan, “yes; there were M. de la Guillotiere, M. de Manchy, M. de Bragelonne—”

La Valliere became pale. “M. de Bragelonne!” cried the perfidious Athenais. “Eh, what!—is he gone to the wars?—he!”

Montalais trod on her toe, but all in vain.

“Do you know what my opinion is?” continued she, addressing D’Artagnan.

“No, mademoiselle; but I should like very much to know it.”

“My opinion is, then, that all the men who go to this war are desperate, desponding men, whom love has treated ill; and who go to try if they cannot find jet-complexioned women more kind than fair ones have been.”

Some of the ladies laughed; La Valliere was evidently confused; Montalais coughed loud enough to waken the dead.

“Mademoiselle,” interrupted D’Artagnan, “you are in error when you speak of black women at Gigelli; the women there have not jet faces; it is true they are not white—they are yellow.”

“Yellow!” exclaimed the bevy of fair beauties.

“Eh! do not disparage it. I have never seen a finer color to match with black eyes and a coral mouth.”

“So much the better for M. de Bragelonne,” said Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, with persistent malice. “He will make amends for his loss. Poor fellow!”

A profound silence followed these words; and D’Artagnan had time to observe and reflect that women—mild doves—treat each other more cruelly than tigers. But making La Valliere pale did not satisfy Athenais; she determined to make her blush likewise. Resuming the conversation without pause, “Do you know, Louise,” said she, “that there is a great sin on your conscience?”

“What sin, mademoiselle?” stammered the unfortunate girl, looking round her for support, without finding it.

“Eh!—why,” continued Athenais, “the poor young man was affianced to you; he loved you; you cast him off.”

“Well, that is a right which every honest woman has,” said Montalais, in an affected tone. “When we know we cannot constitute the happiness of a man, it is much better to cast him off.”

“Cast him off! or refuse him!—that’s all very well,” said Athenais, “but that is not the sin Mademoiselle de la Valliere has to reproach herself with. The actual sin is sending poor Bragelonne to the wars; and to wars in which death is so very likely to be met with.” Louise pressed her hand over her icy brow. “And if he dies,” continued her pitiless tormentor, “you will have killed him. That is the sin.”

Louise, half-dead, caught at the arm of the captain of the musketeers, whose face betrayed unusual emotion. “You wished to speak with me, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said she, in a voice broken by anger and pain. “What had you to say to me?”

D’Artagnan made several steps along the gallery, holding Louise on his arm; then, when they were far enough removed from the others—“What I had to say to you, mademoiselle,” replied he, “Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente has just expressed; roughly and unkindly, it is true but still in its entirety.”

She uttered a faint cry; pierced to the heart by this new wound, she went her way, like one of those poor birds which, struck unto death, seek the shade of the thicket in which to die. She disappeared at one door, at the moment the king was entering by another. The first glance of the king was directed towards the empty seat of his mistress. Not perceiving La Valliere, a frown came over his brow; but as soon as he saw D’Artagnan, who bowed to him—“Ah! monsieur!” cried he, “you have been diligent! I am much pleased with you.” This was the superlative expression of royal satisfaction. Many men would have been ready to lay down their lives for such a speech from the king. The maids of honor and the courtiers, who had formed a respectful circle round the king on his entrance, drew back, on observing he wished to speak privately with his captain of the musketeers. The king led the way out of the gallery, after having again, with his eyes, sought everywhere for La Valliere, whose absence he could not account for. The moment they were out of the reach of curious ears, “Well! Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said he, “the prisoner?”

“Is in his prison, sire.”

“What did he say on the road?”

“Nothing, sire.”

“What did he do?”

“There was a moment at which the fisherman—who took me in his boat to Sainte-Marguerite—revolted, and did his best to kill me. The—the prisoner defended me instead of attempting to fly.”

The king became pale. “Enough!” said he; and D’Artagnan bowed. Louis walked about his cabinet with hasty steps. “Were you at Antibes,” said he, “when Monsieur de Beaufort came there?”

“No, sire; I was setting off when monsieur le duc arrived.”

“Ah!” which was followed by a fresh silence. “Whom did you see there?”

“A great many persons,” said D’Artagnan, coolly.

The king perceived he was unwilling to speak. “I have sent for you, monsieur le capitaine, to desire you to go and prepare my lodgings at Nantes.”

“At Nantes!” cried D’Artagnan.

“In Bretagne.”

“Yes, sire, it is in Bretagne. Will you majesty make so long a journey as to Nantes?”

“The States are assembled there,” replied the king. “I have two demands to make of them: I wish to be there.”

“When shall I set out?” said the captain.

“This evening—to-morrow—to-morrow evening; for you must stand in need of rest.”

“I have rested, sire.”

“That is well. Then between this and to-morrow evening, when you please.”

D’Artagnan bowed as if to take his leave; but, perceiving the king very much embarrassed, “Will you majesty,” said he, stepping two paces forward, “take the court with you?”

“Certainly I shall.”

“Then you majesty will, doubtless, want the musketeers?” And the eye of the king sank beneath the penetrating glance of the captain.

“Take a brigade of them,” replied Louis.

“Is that all? Has your majesty no other orders to give me?”

“No—ah—yes.”

“I am all attention, sire.”

“At the castle of Nantes, which I hear is very ill arranged, you will adopt the practice of placing musketeers at the door of each of the principal dignitaries I shall take with me.”

“Of the principal?”

“Yes.”

“For instance, at the door of M. de Lyonne?”

“Yes.”

“And that of M. Letellier?”

“Yes.”

“Of M. de Brienne?”

“Yes.”

“And of monsieur le surintendant?”

“Without doubt.”

“Very well, sire. By to-morrow I shall have set out.”

“Oh, yes; but one more word, Monsieur d’Artagnan. At Nantes you will meet with M. le Duc de Gesvres, captain of the guards. Be sure that your musketeers are placed before his guards arrive. Precedence always belongs to the first comer.”

“Yes, sire.”

“And if M. de Gesvres should question you?”

“Question me, sire! Is it likely that M. de Gesvres should question me?” And the musketeer, turning cavalierly on his heel, disappeared. “To Nantes!” said he to himself, as he descended from the stairs. “Why did he not dare to say, from thence to Belle-Isle?”

As he reached the great gates, one of M. Brienne’s clerks came running after him, exclaiming, “Monsieur d’Artagnan! I beg your pardon—”

“What is the matter, Monsieur Ariste?”

“The king has desired me to give you this order.”

“Upon your cash-box?” asked the musketeer.

“No, monsieur; on that of M. Fouquet.”

D’Artagnan was surprised, but he took the order, which was in the king’s own writing, and was for two hundred pistoles. “What!” thought he, after having politely thanked M. Brienne’s clerk, “M. Fouquet is to pay for the journey, then! Mordioux! that is a bit of pure Louis XI. Why was not this order on the chest of M. Colbert? He would have paid it with such joy.” And D’Artagnan, faithful to his principle of never letting an order at sight get cold, went straight to the house of M. Fouquet, to receive his two hundred pistoles.






Chapter XXXV. The Last Supper.


The superintendent had no doubt received advice of the approaching departure, for he was giving a farewell dinner to his friends. From the bottom to the top of the house, the hurry of the servants bearing dishes, and the diligence of the registres, denoted an approaching change in offices and kitchen. D’Artagnan, with his order in his hand, presented himself at the offices, when he was told it was too late to pay cash, the chest was closed. He only replied: “On the king’s service.”

The clerk, a little put out by the serious air of the captain, replied, that “that was a very respectable reason, but that the customs of the house were respectable likewise; and that, in consequence, he begged the bearer to call again next day.” D’Artagnan asked if he could not see M. Fouquet. The clerk replied that M. le surintendant did not interfere with such details, and rudely closed the outer door in the captain’s face. But the latter had foreseen this stroke, and placed his boot between the door and the door-case, so that the lock did not catch, and the clerk was still nose to nose with his interlocutor. This made him change his tone, and say, with terrified politeness, “If monsieur wishes to speak to M. le surintendant, he must go to the ante-chambers; these are the offices, where monseigneur never comes.”

“Oh! very well! Where are they?” replied D’Artagnan.

“On the other side of the court,” said the clerk, delighted to be free. D’Artagnan crossed the court, and fell in with a crowd of servants.

“Monseigneur sees nobody at this hour,” he was answered by a fellow carrying a vermeil dish, in which were three pheasants and twelve quails.

“Tell him,” said the captain, laying hold of the servant by the end of his dish, “that I am M. d’Artagnan, captain of his majesty’s musketeers.”

The fellow uttered a cry of surprise, and disappeared; D’Artagnan following him slowly. He arrived just in time to meet M. Pelisson in the ante-chamber: the latter, a little pale, came hastily out of the dining-room to learn what was the matter. D’Artagnan smiled.

“There is nothing unpleasant, Monsieur Pelisson; only a little order to receive the money for.”

“Ah!” said Fouquet’s friend, breathing more freely; and he took the captain by the hand, and, dragging him behind him, led him into the dining-room, where a number of friends surrounded the surintendant, placed in the center, and buried in the cushions of a fauteuil. There were assembled all the Epicureans who so lately at Vaux had done the honors of the mansion of wit and money in aid of M. Fouquet. Joyous friends, for the most part faithful, they had not fled their protector at the approach of the storm, and, in spite of the threatening heavens, in spite of the trembling earth, they remained there, smiling, cheerful, as devoted in misfortune as they had been in prosperity. On the left of the surintendant sat Madame de Belliere; on his right was Madame Fouquet; as if braving the laws of the world, and putting all vulgar reasons of propriety to silence, the two protecting angels of this man united to offer, at the moment of the crisis, the support of their twined arms. Madame de Belliere was pale, trembling, and full of respectful attentions for madame la surintendante, who, with one hand on her husband’s, was looking anxiously towards the door by which Pelisson had gone out to bring D’Artagnan. The captain entered at first full of courtesy, and afterwards of admiration, when, with his infallible glance, he had divined as well as taken in the expression of every face. Fouquet raised himself up in his chair.

“Pardon me, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said he, “if I did not myself receive you when coming in the king’s name.” And he pronounced the last words with a sort of melancholy firmness, which filled the hearts of all his friends with terror.

“Monseigneur,” replied D’Artagnan, “I only come to you in the king’s name to demand payment of an order for two hundred pistoles.”

The clouds passed from every brow but that of Fouquet, which still remained overcast.

“Ah! then,” said he, “perhaps you also are setting out for Nantes?”

“I do not know whither I am setting out, monseigneur.”

“But,” said Madame Fouquet, recovered from her fright, “you are not going so soon, monsieur le capitaine, as not to do us the honor to take a seat with us?”

“Madame, I should esteem that a great honor done me, but I am so pressed for time, that, you see, I have been obliged to permit myself to interrupt your repast to procure payment of my note.”

“The reply to which shall be gold,” said Fouquet, making a sign to his intendant, who went out with the order D’Artagnan handed him.

“Oh!” said the latter, “I was not uneasy about the payment; the house is good.”

A painful smile passed over the pale features of Fouquet.

“Are you in pain?” asked Madame de Belliere.

“Do you feel your attack coming on?” asked Madame Fouquet.

“Neither, thank you both,” said Fouquet.

“Your attack?” said D’Artagnan, in his turn; “are you unwell, monseigneur?”

“I have a tertian fever, which seized me after the fete at Vaux.”

“Caught cold in the grottos, at night, perhaps?”

“No, no; nothing but agitation, that was all.”

“The too much heart you displayed in your reception of the king,” said La Fontaine, quietly, without suspicion that he was uttering a sacrilege.

“We cannot devote too much heart to the reception of our king,” said Fouquet, mildly, to his poet.

“Monsieur meant to say the too great ardor,” interrupted D’Artagnan, with perfect frankness and much amenity. “The fact is, monseigneur, that hospitality was never practiced as at Vaux.”

Madame Fouquet permitted her countenance to show clearly that if Fouquet had conducted himself well towards the king, the king had hardly done the like to the minister. But D’Artagnan knew the terrible secret. He alone with Fouquet knew it; those two men had not, the one the courage to complain, the other the right to accuse. The captain, to whom the two hundred pistoles were brought, was about to take his leave, when Fouquet, rising, took a glass of wine, and ordered one to be given to D’Artagnan.

“Monsieur,” said he, “to the health of the king, whatever may happen.”

“And to your health, monseigneur, whatever may happen,” said D’Artagnan.

He bowed, with these words of evil omen, to all the company, who rose as soon as they heard the sound of his spurs and boots at the bottom of the stairs.

“I, for a moment, thought it was I and not my money he wanted,” said Fouquet, endeavoring to laugh.

“You!” cried his friends; “and what for, in the name of Heaven!”

“Oh! do not deceive yourselves, my dear brothers in Epicurus,” said the superintendent; “I do not wish to make a comparison between the most humble sinner on the earth, and the God we adore, but remember, he gave one day to his friends a repast which is called the Last Supper, and which was nothing but a farewell dinner, like that which we are making at this moment.”

A painful cry of denial arose from all parts of the table. “Shut the doors,” said Fouquet, and the servants disappeared. “My friends,” continued Fouquet, lowering his voice, “what was I formerly? What am I now? Consult among yourselves and reply. A man like me sinks when he does not continue to rise. What shall we say, then, when he really sinks? I have no more money, no more credit; I have no longer anything but powerful enemies, and powerless friends.”

“Quick!” cried Pelisson. “Since you explain yourself with such frankness, it is our duty to be frank, likewise. Yes, you are ruined—yes, you are hastening to your ruin—stop. And, in the first place, what money have we left?”

“Seven hundred thousand livres,” said the intendant.

“Bread,” murmured Madame Fouquet.

“Relays,” said Pelisson, “relays, and fly!”

“Whither?”

“To Switzerland—to Savoy—but fly!”

“If monseigneur flies,” said Madame Belliere, “it will be said that he was guilty—was afraid.”

“More than that, it will be said that I have carried away twenty millions with me.”

“We will draw up memoirs to justify you,” said La Fontaine. “Fly!”

“I will remain,” said Fouquet. “And, besides, does not everything serve me?”

“You have Belle-Isle,” cried the Abbe Fouquet.

“And I am naturally going there, when going to Nantes,” replied the superintendent. “Patience, then, patience!”

“Before arriving at Nantes, what a distance!” said Madame Fouquet.

“Yes, I know that well,” replied Fouquet. “But what is to be done there? The king summons me to the States. I know well it is for the purpose of ruining me; but to refuse to go would be to evince uneasiness.”

“Well, I have discovered the means of reconciling everything,” cried Pelisson. “You are going to set out for Nantes.”

Fouquet looked at him with an air of surprise.

“But with friends; but in your own carriage as far as Orleans; in your own barge as far as Nantes; always ready to defend yourself, if you are attacked; to escape, if you are threatened. In fact, you will carry your money against all chances; and, whilst flying, you will only have obeyed the king; then, reaching the sea, when you like, you will embark for Belle-Isle, and from Belle-Isle you will shoot out wherever it may please you, like the eagle that leaps into space when it has been driven from its eyrie.”

A general assent followed Pelisson’s words. “Yes, do so,” said Madame Fouquet to her husband.

“Do so,” said Madame de Belliere.

“Do it! do it!” cried all his friends.

“I will do so,” replied Fouquet.

“This very evening?”

“In an hour?”

“Instantly.”

“With seven hundred thousand livres you can lay the foundation of another fortune,” said the Abbe Fouquet.

“What is there to prevent our arming corsairs at Belle-Isle?”

“And, if necessary, we will go and discover a new world,” added La Fontaine, intoxicated with fresh projects and enthusiasm.

A knock at the door interrupted this concert of joy and hope. “A courier from the king,” said the master of the ceremonies.

A profound silence immediately ensued, as if the message brought by this courier was nothing but a reply to all the projects given birth to a moment before. Every one waited to see what the master would do. His brow was streaming with perspiration, and he was really suffering from his fever at that instant. He passed into his cabinet, to receive the king’s message. There prevailed, as we have said, such a silence in the chambers, and throughout the attendance, that from the dining-room could be heard the voice of Fouquet, saying, “That is well, monsieur.” This voice was, however, broken by fatigue, and trembled with emotion. An instant after, Fouquet called Gourville, who crossed the gallery amidst the universal expectation. At length, he himself re-appeared among his guests; but it was no longer the same pale, spiritless countenance they had beheld when he left them; from pale he had become livid; and from spiritless, annihilated. A breathing, living specter, he advanced with his arms stretched out, his mouth parched, like a shade that comes to salute the friends of former days. On seeing him thus, every one cried out, and every one rushed towards Fouquet. The latter, looking at Pelisson, leaned upon his wife, and pressed the icy hand of the Marquise de Belliere.

“Well,” said he, in a voice which had nothing human in it.

“What has happened, my God!” said some one to him.

Fouquet opened his right hand, which was clenched, but glistening with perspiration, and displayed a paper, upon which Pelisson cast a terrified glance. He read the following lines, written by the king’s hand:

“‘DEAR AND WELL-BELOVED MONSIEUR FOUQUET,—Give us, upon that which you have left of ours, the sum of seven hundred thousand livres, of which we stand in need to prepare for our departure.

“‘And, as we know your health is not good, we pray God to restore you, and to have you in His holy keeping. “‘LOUIS.

“‘The present letter is to serve as a receipt.’”

A murmur of terror circulated through the apartment.

“Well,” cried Pelisson, in his turn, “you have received that letter?”

“Received it, yes!”

“What will you do, then?”

“Nothing, since I have received it.”

“But—”

“If I have received it, Pelisson, I have paid it,” said the surintendant, with a simplicity that went to the heart of all present.

“You have paid it!” cried Madame Fouquet. “Then we are ruined!”

“Come, no useless words,” interrupted Pelisson. “Next to money, life. Monseigneur, to horse! to horse!”

“What, leave us!” at once cried both the women, wild with grief.

“Eh! monseigneur, in saving yourself, you save us all. To horse!”

“But he cannot hold himself on. Look at him.”

“Oh! if he takes time to reflect—” said the intrepid Pelisson.

“He is right,” murmured Fouquet.

“Monseigneur! Monseigneur!” cried Gourville, rushing up the stairs, four steps at once. “Monseigneur!”

“Well! what?”

“I escorted, as you desired, the king’s courier with the money.”

“Yes.”

“Well! when I arrived at the Palais Royal, I saw—”

“Take breath, my poor friend, take breath; you are suffocating.”

“What did you see?” cried the impatient friends.

“I saw the musketeers mounting on horseback,” said Gourville.

“There, then!” cried every voice at once; “there, then! is there an instant to be lost?”

Madame Fouquet rushed downstairs, calling for her horses; Madame de Belliere flew after her, catching her in her arms, and saying: “Madame, in the name of his safety, do not betray anything, do not manifest alarm.”

Pelisson ran to have the horses put to the carriages. And, in the meantime, Gourville gathered in his hat all that the weeping friends were able to throw into it of gold and silver—the last offering, the pious alms made to misery by poverty. The surintendant, dragged along by some, carried by others, was shut up in his carriage. Gourville took the reins, and mounted the box. Pelisson supported Madame Fouquet, who had fainted. Madame de Belliere had more strength, and was well paid for it; she received Fouquet’s last kiss. Pelisson easily explained this precipitate departure by saying that an order from the king had summoned the minister to Nantes.






Chapter XXXVI. In M. Colbert’s Carriage.


As Gourville had seen, the king’s musketeers were mounting and following their captain. The latter, who did not like to be confined in his proceedings, left his brigade under the orders of a lieutenant, and set off on post horses, recommending his men to use all diligence. However rapidly they might travel, they could not arrive before him. He had time, in passing along the Rue des Petits-Champs, to see something which afforded him plenty of food for thought and conjecture. He saw M. Colbert coming out from his house to get into his carriage, which was stationed before the door. In this carriage D’Artagnan perceived the hoods of two women, and being rather curious, he wished to know the names of the ladies hid beneath these hoods. To get a glimpse at them, for they kept themselves closely covered up, he urged his horse so near the carriage, that he drove him against the step with such force as to shake everything containing and contained. The terrified women uttered, the one a faint cry, by which D’Artagnan recognized a young woman, the other an imprecation, in which he recognized the vigor and aplomb that half a century bestows. The hoods were thrown back: one of the women was Madame Vanel, the other the Duchesse de Chevreuse. D’Artagnan’s eyes were quicker than those of the ladies; he had seen and known them, whilst they did not recognize him; and as they laughed at their fright, pressing each other’s hands,—

“Humph!” said D’Artagnan, “the old duchesse is no more inaccessible to friendship than formerly. She paying her court to the mistress of M. Colbert! Poor M. Fouquet! that presages you nothing good!”

He rode on. M. Colbert got into his carriage and the distinguished trio commenced a sufficiently slow pilgrimage toward the wood of Vincennes. Madame de Chevreuse set down Madame Vanel at her husband’s house, and, left alone with M. Colbert, chatted upon affairs whilst continuing her ride. She had an inexhaustible fund of conversation, that dear duchesse, and as she always talked for the ill of others, though ever with a view to her own good, her conversation amused her interlocutor, and did not fail to leave a favorable impression.

She taught Colbert, who, poor man! was ignorant of the fact, how great a minister he was, and how Fouquet would soon become a cipher. She promised to rally around him, when he should become surintendant, all the old nobility of the kingdom, and questioned him as to the preponderance it would be proper to allow La Valliere. She praised him, she blamed him, she bewildered him. She showed him the secret of so many secrets that, for a moment, Colbert thought he was doing business with the devil. She proved to him that she held in her hand the Colbert of to-day, as she had held the Fouquet of yesterday; and as he asked her very simply the reason of her hatred for the surintendant: “Why do you yourself hate him?” said she.

“Madame, in politics,” replied he, “the differences of system oft bring about dissentions between men. M. Fouquet always appeared to me to practice a system opposed to the true interests of the king.”

She interrupted him.—“I will say no more to you about M. Fouquet. The journey the king is about to take to Nantes will give a good account of him. M. Fouquet, for me, is a man gone by—and for you also.”

Colbert made no reply. “On his return from Nantes,” continued the duchesse, “the king, who is only anxious for a pretext, will find that the States have not behaved well—that they have made too few sacrifices. The States will say that the imposts are too heavy, and that the surintendant has ruined them. The king will lay all the blame on M. Fouquet, and then—”

“And then?” said Colbert.

“Oh! he will be disgraced. Is not that your opinion?”

Colbert darted a glance at the duchesse, which plainly said: “If M. Fouquet be only disgraced, you will not be the cause of it.”

“Your place, M. Colbert,” the duchesse hastened to say, “must be a high place. Do you perceive any one between the king and yourself, after the fall of M. Fouquet?”

“I do not understand,” said he.

“You will understand. To what does your ambition aspire?”

“I have none.”

“It was useless, then, to overthrow the superintendent, Monsieur Colbert. It was idle.”

“I had the honor to tell you, madame—”

“Oh! yes, I know, all about the interest of the king—but, if you please, we will speak of your own.”

“Mine! that is to say, the affairs of his majesty.”

“In short, are you, or are you not endeavoring to ruin M. Fouquet? Answer without evasion.”

“Madame, I ruin nobody.”

“I am endeavoring to comprehend, then, why you purchased from me the letters of M. Mazarin concerning M. Fouquet. Neither can I conceive why you have laid those letters before the king.”

Colbert, half stupefied, looked at the duchesse with an air of constraint.

“Madame,” said he, “I can less easily conceive how you, who received the money, can reproach me on that head—”

“That is,” said the old duchesse, “because we must will that which we wish for, unless we are not able to obtain what we wish.”

“Will!” said Colbert, quite confounded by such coarse logic.

“You are not able, hein! Speak.”

“I am not able, I allow, to destroy certain influences near the king.”

“That fight in favor of M. Fouquet? What are they? Stop, let me help you.”

“Do, madame.”

“La Valliere?”

“Oh! very little influence; no knowledge of business, and small means. M. Fouquet has paid his court to her.”

“To defend him would be to accuse herself, would it not?”

“I think it would.”

“There is still another influence, what do you say to that?”

“Is it considerable?”

“The queen-mother, perhaps?”

“Her majesty, the queen-mother, has a weakness for M. Fouquet very prejudicial to her son.”

“Never believe that,” said the old duchesse, smiling.

“Oh!” said Colbert, with incredulity, “I have often experienced it.”

“Formerly?”

“Very recently, madame, at Vaux. It was she who prevented the king from having M. Fouquet arrested.”

“People do not forever entertain the same opinions, my dear monsieur. That which the queen may have wished recently, she would not wish, perhaps, to-day.”

“And why not?” said Colbert, astonished.

“Oh! the reason is of very little consequence.”

“On the contrary, I think it is of great consequence; for, if I were certain of not displeasing her majesty, the queen-mother, my scruples would be all removed.”

“Well! have you never heard talk of a certain secret?”

“A secret?”

“Call it what you like. In short, the queen-mother has conceived a bitter hatred for all those who have participated, in one fashion or another, in the discovery of this secret, and M. Fouquet I believe is one of these.”

“Then,” said Colbert, “we may be sure of the assent of the queen-mother?”

“I have just left her majesty, and she assures me so.”

“So be it, then, madame.”

“But there is something further; do you happen to know a man who was the intimate friend of M. Fouquet, M. d’Herblay, a bishop, I believe?”

“Bishop of Vannes.”

“Well! this M. d’Herblay, who also knew the secret, the queen-mother is pursuing with the utmost rancor.”

“Indeed!”

“So hotly pursued, that if he were dead, she would not be satisfied with anything less than his head, to satisfy her he would never speak again.”

“And is that the desire of the queen-mother?”

“An order is given for it.”

“This Monsieur d’Herblay shall be sought for, madame.”

“Oh! it is well known where he is.”

Colbert looked at the duchesse.

“Say where, madame.”

“He is at Belle-Ile-en-Mer.”

“At the residence of M. Fouquet?”

“At the residence of M. Fouquet.”

“He shall be taken.”

It was now the duchesse’s turn to smile. “Do not fancy the capture so easy,” said she; “do not promise it so lightly.”

“Why not, madame?”

“Because M. d’Herblay is not one of those people who can be taken when and where you please.”

“He is a rebel, then?”

“Oh! Monsieur Colbert, we have passed all our lives in making rebels, and yet you see plainly, that so far from being taken, we take others.”

Colbert fixed upon the old duchesse one of those fierce looks of which no words can convey the expression, accompanied by a firmness not altogether wanting in grandeur. “The times are gone,” said he, “in which subjects gained duchies by making war against the king of France. If M. d’Herblay conspires, he will perish on the scaffold. That will give, or will not give, pleasure to his enemies,—a matter, by the way, of little importance to us.”

And this us, a strange word in the mouth of Colbert, made the duchesse thoughtful for a moment. She caught herself reckoning inwardly with this man—Colbert had regained his superiority in the conversation, and he meant to keep it.

“You ask me, madame,” he said, “to have this M. d’Herblay arrested?”

“I?—I ask you nothing of the kind!”

“I thought you did, madame. But as I have been mistaken, we will leave him alone; the king has said nothing about him.”

The duchesse bit her nails.

“Besides,” continued Colbert, “what a poor capture would this bishop be! A bishop game for a king! Oh! no, no; I will not even take the slightest notice of him.”

The hatred of the duchesse now discovered itself.

“Game for a woman!” said she. “Is not the queen a woman? If she wishes M. d’Herblay arrested, she has her reasons. Besides, is not M. d’Herblay the friend of him who is doomed to fall?”

“Oh! never mind that,” said Colbert. “This man shall be spared, if he is not the enemy of the king. Is that displeasing to you?”

“I say nothing.”

“Yes—you wish to see him in prison, in the Bastile, for instance.”

“I believe a secret better concealed behind the walls of the Bastile than behind those of Belle-Isle.”

“I will speak to the king about it; he will clear up the point.”

“And whilst waiting for that enlightenment, Monsieur l’Eveque de Vannes will have escaped. I would do so.”

“Escaped! he! and whither should he escape? Europe is ours, in will, if not in fact.”

“He will always find an asylum, monsieur. It is evident you know nothing of the man you have to do with. You do not know D’Herblay; you do not know Aramis. He was one of those four musketeers who, under the late king, made Cardinal de Richelieu tremble, and who, during the regency, gave so much trouble to Monseigneur Mazarin.”

“But, madame, what can he do, unless he has a kingdom to back him?”

“He has one, monsieur.”

“A kingdom, he! what, Monsieur d’Herblay?”

“I repeat to you, monsieur, that if he wants a kingdom, he either has it or will have it.”

“Well, as you are so earnest that this rebel should not escape, madame, I promise you he shall not escape.”

“Belle-Isle is fortified, M. Colbert, and fortified by him.”

“If Belle-Isle were also defended by him, Belle-Isle is not impregnable; and if Monsieur l’Eveque de Vannes is shut up in Belle-Isle, well, madame, the place shall be besieged, and he will be taken.”

“You may be very certain, monsieur, that the zeal you display in the interest of the queen-mother will please her majesty mightily, and you will be magnificently rewarded; but what shall I tell her of your projects respecting this man?”

“That when once taken, he shall be shut up in a fortress from which her secret shall never escape.”

“Very well, Monsieur Colbert, and we may say, that, dating from this instant, we have formed a solid alliance, that is, you and I, and that I am absolutely at your service.”

“It is I, madame, who place myself at yours. This Chevalier d’Herblay is a kind of Spanish spy, is he not?”

“Much more.”

“A secret ambassador?”

“Higher still.”

“Stop—King Phillip III. of Spain is a bigot. He is, perhaps, the confessor of Phillip III.”

“You must go higher even than that.”

“Mordieu!” cried Colbert, who forgot himself so far as to swear in the presence of this great lady, of this old friend of the queen-mother. “He must then be the general of the Jesuits.”

“I believe you have guessed it at last,” replied the duchesse.

“Ah! then, madame, this man will ruin us all if we do not ruin him; and we must make haste, too.”

“Such was my opinion, monsieur, but I did not dare to give it you.”

“And it was lucky for us he has attacked the throne, and not us.”

“But, mark this well, M. Colbert. M. d’Herblay is never discouraged; if he has missed one blow, he will be sure to make another; he will begin again. If he has allowed an opportunity to escape of making a king for himself, sooner or later, he will make another, of whom, to a certainty, you will not be prime minister.”

Colbert knitted his brow with a menacing expression. “I feel assured that a prison will settle this affair for us, madame, in a manner satisfactory for both.”

The duchesse smiled again.

“Oh! if you knew,” said she, “how many times Aramis has got out of prison!”

“Oh!” replied Colbert, “we will take care that he shall not get out this time.”

“But you were not attending to what I said to you just now. Do you remember that Aramis was one of the four invincibles whom Richelieu so dreaded? And at that period the four musketeers were not in possession of that which they have now—money and experience.”

Colbert bit his lips.

“We will renounce the idea of the prison,” said he, in a lower tone: “we will find a little retreat from which the invincible cannot possibly escape.”

“That was well spoken, our ally!” replied the duchesse. “But it is getting late; had we not better return?”

“The more willingly, madame, from my having my preparations to make for setting out with the king.”

“To Paris!” cried the duchesse to the coachman.

And the carriage returned towards the Faubourg Saint Antoine, after the conclusion of the treaty that gave to death the last friend of Fouquet, the last defender of Belle-Isle, the former friend of Marie Michon, the new foe of the old duchesse.