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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Chapter XXXVII. The Two Lighters.


D’Artagnan had set off; Fouquet likewise was gone, and with a rapidity which doubled the tender interest of his friends. The first moments of this journey, or better say, this flight, were troubled by a ceaseless dread of every horse and carriage to be seen behind the fugitive. It was not natural, in fact, if Louis XIV. was determined to seize this prey, that he should allow it to escape; the young lion was already accustomed to the chase, and he had bloodhounds sufficiently clever to be trusted. But insensibly all fears were dispersed; the surintendant, by hard traveling, placed such a distance between himself and his persecutors, that no one of them could reasonably be expected to overtake him. As to his position, his friends had made it excellent for him. Was he not traveling to join the king at Nantes, and what did the rapidity prove but his zeal to obey? He arrived, fatigued, but reassured, at Orleans, where he found, thanks to the care of a courier who had preceded him, a handsome lighter of eight oars. These lighters, in the shape of gondolas, somewhat wide and heavy, containing a small chamber, covered by the deck, and a chamber in the poop, formed by a tent, then acted as passage-boats from Orleans to Nantes, by the Loire, and this passage, a long one in our days, appeared then more easy and convenient than the high-road, with its post-hacks and its ill-hung carriages. Fouquet went on board this lighter, which set out immediately. The rowers, knowing they had the honor of conveying the surintendant of the finances, pulled with all their strength, and that magic word, the finances, promised them a liberal gratification, of which they wished to prove themselves worthy. The lighter seemed to leap the mimic waves of the Loire. Magnificent weather, a sunrise that empurpled all the landscape, displayed the river in all its limpid serenity. The current and the rowers carried Fouquet along as wings carry a bird, and he arrived before Beaugency without the slightest accident having signalized the voyage. Fouquet hoped to be the first to arrive at Nantes; there he would see the notables and gain support among the principal members of the States; he would make himself a necessity, a thing very easy for a man of his merit, and would delay the catastrophe, if he did not succeed in avoiding it entirely. “Besides,” said Gourville to him, “at Nantes, you will make out, or we will make out, the intentions of your enemies; we will have horses always ready to convey you to Poitou, a bark in which to gain the sea, and when once upon the open sea, Belle-Isle is your inviolable port. You see, besides, that no one is watching you, no one is following.” He had scarcely finished when they discovered at a distance, behind an elbow formed by the river, the masts of a huge lighter coming down. The rowers of Fouquet’s boat uttered a cry of surprise on seeing this galley.

“What is the matter?” asked Fouquet.

“The matter is, monseigneur,” replied the patron of the bark, “that it is a truly remarkable thing—that lighter comes along like a hurricane.”

Gourville started, and mounted to the deck, in order to obtain a better view.

Fouquet did not go up with him, but said to Gourville, with restrained mistrust: “See what it is, dear friend.”

The lighter had just passed the elbow. It came on so fast, that behind it might be plainly seen the white wake illumined with the fires of the day.

“How they go,” repeated the skipper, “how they go! They must be well paid! I did not think,” he added, “that oars of wood could behave better than ours, but yonder oarsmen prove the contrary.”

“Well they may,” said one of the rowers, “they are twelve, and we but eight.”

“Twelve rowers!” replied Gourville, “twelve! impossible.”

The number of eight rowers for a lighter had never been exceeded, even for the king. This honor had been paid to monsieur le surintendant, more for the sake of haste than of respect.

“What does it mean?” said Gourville, endeavoring to distinguish beneath the tent, which was already apparent, travelers which the most piercing eye could not yet have succeeded in discovering.

“They must be in a hurry, for it is not the king,” said the patron.

Fouquet shuddered.

“By what sign do you know that it is not the king?” said Gourville.

“In the first place, because there is no white flag with fleurs-de-lis, which the royal lighter always carries.”

“And then,” said Fouquet, “because it is impossible it should be the king, Gourville, as the king was still in Paris yesterday.”

Gourville replied to the surintendant by a look which said: “You were there yourself yesterday.”

“And by what sign do you make out they are in such haste?” added he, for the sake of gaining time.

“By this, monsieur,” said the patron; “these people must have set out a long while after us, and they have already nearly overtaken us.”

“Bah!” said Gourville, “who told you that they do not come from Beaugency or from Moit even?”

“We have seen no lighter of that shape, except at Orleans. It comes from Orleans, monsieur, and makes great haste.”

Fouquet and Gourville exchanged a glance. The captain remarked their uneasiness, and, to mislead him, Gourville immediately said:

“Some friend, who has laid a wager he would catch us; let us win the wager, and not allow him to come up with us.”

The patron opened his mouth to say that it was quite impossible, but Fouquet said with much hauteur,—“If it is any one who wishes to overtake us, let him come.”

“We can try, monseigneur,” said the man, timidly. “Come, you fellows, put out your strength; row, row!”

“No,” said Fouquet, “on the contrary; stop short.”

“Monseigneur! what folly!” interrupted Gourville, stooping towards his ear.

“Pull up!” repeated Fouquet. The eight oars stopped, and resisting the water, created a retrograde motion. It stopped. The twelve rowers in the other did not, at first, perceive this maneuver, for they continued to urge on their boat so vigorously that it arrived quickly within musket-shot. Fouquet was short-sighted, Gourville was annoyed by the sun, now full in his eyes; the skipper alone, with that habit and clearness which are acquired by a constant struggle with the elements, perceived distinctly the travelers in the neighboring lighter.

“I can see them!” cried he; “there are two.”

“I can see nothing,” said Gourville.

“You will not be long before you distinguish them; in twenty strokes of their oars they will be within ten paces of us.”

But what the patron announced was not realized; the lighter imitated the movement commanded by Fouquet, and instead of coming to join its pretended friends, it stopped short in the middle of the river.

“I cannot comprehend this,” said the captain.

“Nor I,” cried Gourville.

“You who can see so plainly the people in that lighter,” resumed Fouquet, “try to describe them to us, before we are too far off.”

“I thought I saw two,” replied the boatman. “I can only see one now, under the tent.”

“What sort of man is he?”

“He is a dark man, broad-shouldered, bull-necked.”

A little cloud at that moment passed across the azure, darkening the sun. Gourville, who was still looking, with one hand over his eyes, became able to see what he sought, and all at once, jumping from the deck into the chamber where Fouquet awaited him: “Colbert!” said he, in a voice broken by emotion.

“Colbert!” repeated Fouquet. “Too strange! but no, it is impossible!”

“I tell you I recognized him, and he, at the same time, so plainly recognized me, that he is just gone into the chamber on the poop. Perhaps the king has sent him on our track.”

“In that case he would join us, instead of lying by. What is he doing there?”

“He is watching us, without a doubt.”

“I do not like uncertainty,” said Fouquet; “let us go straight up to him.”

“Oh! monseigneur, do not do that, the lighter is full of armed men.”

“He wishes to arrest me, then, Gourville? Why does he not come on?”

“Monseigneur, it is not consistent with your dignity to go to meet even your ruin.”

“But to allow them to watch me like a malefactor!”

“Nothing yet proves that they are watching you, monseigneur; be patient!”

“What is to be done, then?”

“Do not stop; you were only going so fast to appear to obey the king’s order with zeal. Redouble the speed. He who lives will see!”

“That is better. Come!” cried Fouquet; “since they remain stock-still yonder, let us go on.”

The captain gave the signal, and Fouquet’s rowers resumed their task with all the success that could be looked for from men who had rested. Scarcely had the lighter made a hundred fathoms, than the other, that with the twelve rowers, resumed its rapid course. This position lasted all day, without any increase or diminution of distance between the two vessels. Towards evening Fouquet wished to try the intentions of his persecutor. He ordered his rowers to pull towards the shore, as if to effect a landing. Colbert’s lighter imitated this maneuver, and steered towards the shore in a slanting direction. By the merest chance, at the spot where Fouquet pretended to wish to land, a stableman, from the chateau of Langeais, was following the flowery banks leading three horses in halters. Without doubt the people of the twelve-oared lighter fancied that Fouquet was directing his course to these horses ready for flight, for four or five men, armed with muskets, jumped from the lighter on to the shore, and marched along the banks, as if to gain ground on the horseman. Fouquet, satisfied of having forced the enemy to a demonstration, considered his intention evident, and put his boat in motion again. Colbert’s people returned likewise to theirs, and the course of the two vessels was resumed with fresh perseverance. Upon seeing this, Fouquet felt himself threatened closely, and in a prophetic voice—“Well, Gourville,” said he, whisperingly, “what did I say at our last repast, at my house? Am I going, or not, to my ruin?”

“Oh! monseigneur!”

“These two boats, which follow each other with so much emulation, as if we were disputing, M. Colbert and I, a prize for swiftness on the Loire, do they not aptly represent our fortunes; and do you not believe, Gourville, that one of the two will be wrecked at Nantes?”

“At least,” objected Gourville, “there is still uncertainty; you are about to appear at the States; you are about to show what sort of man you are; your eloquence and genius for business are the buckler and sword that will serve to defend you, if not to conquer with. The Bretons do not know you; and when they become acquainted with you your cause is won! Oh! let M. Colbert look to it well, for his lighter is as much exposed as yours to being upset. Both go quickly, his faster than yours, it is true; we shall see which will be wrecked first.”

Fouquet, taking Gourville’s hand—“My friend,” said he, “everything considered, remember the proverb, ‘First come, first served!’ Well! M. Colbert takes care not to pass me. He is a prudent man is M. Colbert.”

He was right; the two lighters held their course as far as Nantes, watching each other. When the surintendant landed, Gourville hoped he should be able to seek refuge at once, and have the relays prepared. But, at the landing, the second lighter joined the first, and Colbert, approaching Fouquet, saluted him on the quay with marks of the profoundest respect—marks so significant, so public, that their result was the bringing of the whole population upon La Fosse. Fouquet was completely self-possessed; he felt that in his last moments of greatness he had obligations towards himself. He wished to fall from such a height that his fall should crush some of his enemies. Colbert was there—so much the worse for Colbert. The surintendant, therefore, coming up to him, replied, with that arrogant semi-closure of the eyes peculiar to him—“What! is that you, M. Colbert?”

“To offer you my respects, monseigneur,” said the latter.

“Were you in that lighter?”—pointing to the one with twelve rowers.

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“Of twelve rowers?” said Fouquet; “what luxury, M. Colbert. For a moment I thought it was the queen-mother.”

“Monseigneur!”—and Colbert blushed.

“This is a voyage that will cost those who have to pay for it dear, Monsieur l’Intendant!” said Fouquet. “But you have, happily, arrived!—You see, however,” added he, a moment after, “that I, who had but eight rowers, arrived before you.” And he turned his back towards him, leaving him uncertain whether the maneuvers of the second lighter had escaped the notice of the first. At least he did not give him the satisfaction of showing that he had been frightened. Colbert, so annoyingly attacked, did not give way.

“I have not been quick, monseigneur,” he replied, “because I followed your example whenever you stopped.”

“And why did you do that, Monsieur Colbert?” cried Fouquet, irritated by the base audacity; “as you had a superior crew to mine, why did you not either join me or pass me?”

“Out of respect,” said the intendant, bowing to the ground.

Fouquet got into a carriage which the city had sent to him, we know not why or how, and he repaired to la Maison de Nantes, escorted by a vast crowd of people, who for several days had been agog with expectation of a convocation of the States. Scarcely was he installed when Gourville went out to order horses on the route to Poitiers and Vannes, and a boat at Paimboef. He performed these various operations with so much mystery, activity, and generosity, that never was Fouquet, then laboring under an attack of fever, more nearly saved, except for the counteraction of that immense disturber of human projects,—chance. A report was spread during the night, that the king was coming in great haste on post horses, and would arrive in ten or twelve hours at the latest. The people, while waiting for the king, were greatly rejoiced to see the musketeers, newly arrived, with Monsieur d’Artagnan, their captain, and quartered in the castle, of which they occupied all the posts, in quality of guard of honor. M. d’Artagnan, who was very polite, presented himself, about ten o’clock, at the lodgings of the surintendant to pay his respectful compliments; and although the minister suffered from fever, although he was in such pain as to be bathed in sweat, he would receive M. d’Artagnan, who was delighted with that honor, as will be seen by the conversation they had together.






Chapter XXXVIII. Friendly Advice.


Fouquet had gone to bed, like a man who clings to life, and wishes to economize, as much as possible, that slender tissue of existence, of which the shocks and frictions of this world so quickly wear out the tenuity. D’Artagnan appeared at the door of this chamber, and was saluted by the superintendent with a very affable “Good day.”

“Bon jour! monseigneur,” replied the musketeer; “how did you get through the journey?”

“Tolerably well, thank you.”

“And the fever?”

“But poorly. I drink, as you perceive. I am scarcely arrived, and I have already levied a contribution of tisane upon Nantes.”

“You should sleep first, monseigneur.”

“Eh! corbleu! my dear Monsieur d’Artagnan, I should be very glad to sleep.”

“Who hinders you?”

“Why, you in the first place.”

“I? Oh, monseigneur!”

“No doubt you do. Is it at Nantes as at Paris? Do you not come in the king’s name?”

“For Heaven’s sake, monseigneur,” replied the captain, “leave the king alone! The day on which I shall come on the part of the king, for the purpose you mean, take my word for it, I will not leave you long in doubt. You will see me place my hand on my sword, according to the ordonnance, and you will hear my say at once, in ceremonial voice, ‘Monseigneur, in the name of the king, I arrest you!’”

“You promise me that frankness?” said the superintendent.

“Upon my honor! But we have not come to that, believe me.”

“What makes you think that, M. d’Artagnan? For my part, I think quite the contrary.”

“I have heard speak of nothing of the kind,” replied D’Artagnan.

“Eh! eh!” said Fouquet.

“Indeed, no. You are an agreeable man, in spite of your fever. The king should not, cannot help loving you, at the bottom of his heart.”

Fouquet’s expression implied doubt. “But M. Colbert?” said he; “does M. Colbert love me as much as you say?”

“I am not speaking of M. Colbert,” replied D’Artagnan. “He is an exceptional man. He does not love you; so much is very possible; but, mordioux! the squirrel can guard himself against the adder with very little trouble.”

“Do you know that you are speaking to me quite as a friend?” replied Fouquet; “and that, upon my life! I have never met with a man of your intelligence, and heart?”

“You are pleased to say so,” replied D’Artagnan. “Why did you wait till to-day to pay me such a compliment?”

“Blind that we are!” murmured Fouquet.

“Your voice is getting hoarse,” said D’Artagnan; “drink, monseigneur, drink!” And he offered him a cup of tisane, with the most friendly cordiality; Fouquet took it, and thanked him by a gentle smile. “Such things only happen to me,” said the musketeer. “I have passed ten years under your very beard, while you were rolling about tons of gold. You were clearing an annual pension of four millions; you never observed me; and you find out there is such a person in the world, just at the moment you—”

“Just at the moment I am about to fall,” interrupted Fouquet. “That is true, my dear Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“I did not say so.”

“But you thought so; and that is the same thing. Well! if I fall, take my word as truth, I shall not pass a single day without saying to myself, as I strike my brow, ‘Fool! fool!—stupid mortal! You had a Monsieur d’Artagnan under your eye and hand, and you did not employ him, you did not enrich him!’”

“You overwhelm me,” said the captain. “I esteem you greatly.”

“There exists another man, then, who does not think as M. Colbert thinks,” said the surintendant.

“How this M. Colbert looms up in your imagination! He is worse than fever!”

“Oh! I have good cause,” said Fouquet. “Judge for yourself.” And he related the details of the course of the lighters, and the hypocritical persecution of Colbert. “Is not this a clear sign of my ruin?”

D’Artagnan became very serious. “That is true,” he said. “Yes; it has an unsavory odor, as M. de Treville used to say.” And he fixed on M. Fouquet his intelligent and significant look.

“Am I not clearly designated in that, captain? Is not the king bringing me to Nantes to get me away from Paris, where I have so many creatures, and to possess himself of Belle-Isle?”

“Where M. d’Herblay is,” added D’Artagnan. Fouquet raised his head. “As for me, monseigneur,” continued D’Artagnan, “I can assure you the king has said nothing to me against you.”

“Indeed!”

“The king commanded me to set out for Nantes, it is true; and to say nothing about it to M. de Gesvres.”

“My friend.”

“To M. de Gesvres, yes, monseigneur,” continued the musketeer, whose eye s did not cease to speak a language different from the language of his lips. “The king, moreover, commanded me to take a brigade of musketeers, which is apparently superfluous, as the country is quite quiet.”

“A brigade!” said Fouquet, raising himself upon his elbow.

“Ninety-six horsemen, yes, monseigneur. The same number as were employed in arresting MM. de Chalais, de Cinq-Mars, and Montmorency.”

Fouquet pricked up his ears at these words, pronounced without apparent value. “And what else?” said he.

“Oh! nothing but insignificant orders; such as guarding the castle, guarding every lodging, allowing none of M. de Gesvres’s guards to occupy a single post.”

“And as to myself,” cried Fouquet, “what orders had you?”

“As to you, monseigneur?—not the smallest word.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, my safety, my honor, perhaps my life are at stake. You would not deceive me?”

“I?—to what end? Are you threatened? Only there really is an order with respect to carriages and boats—”

“An order?”

“Yes; but it cannot concern you—a simple measure of police.”

“What is it, captain?—what is it?”

“To forbid all horses or boats to leave Nantes, without a pass, signed by the king.”

“Great God! but—”

D’Artagnan began to laugh. “All that is not to be put into execution before the arrival of the king at Nantes. So that you see plainly, monseigneur, the order in nowise concerns you.”

Fouquet became thoughtful, and D’Artagnan feigned not to observe his preoccupation. “It is evident, by my thus confiding to you the orders which have been given to me, that I am friendly towards you, and that I am trying to prove to you that none of them are directed against you.”

“Without doubt!—without doubt!” said Fouquet, still absent.

“Let us recapitulate,” said the captain, his glance beaming with earnestness. “A special guard about the castle, in which your lodging is to be, is it not?”

“Do you know the castle?”

“Ah! monseigneur, a regular prison! The absence of M. de Gesvres, who has the honor of being one of your friends. The closing of the gates of the city, and of the river without a pass; but, only when the king shall have arrived. Please to observe, Monsieur Fouquet, that if, instead of speaking to man like you, who are one of the first in the kingdom, I were speaking to a troubled, uneasy conscience—I should compromise myself forever. What a fine opportunity for any one who wished to be free! No police, no guards, no orders; the water free, the roads free, Monsieur d’Artagnan obliged to lend his horses, if required. All this ought to reassure you, Monsieur Fouquet, for the king would not have left me thus independent, if he had any sinister designs. In truth, Monsieur Fouquet, ask me whatever you like, I am at your service; and, in return, if you will consent to do it, do me a service, that of giving my compliments to Aramis and Porthos, in case you embark for Belle-Isle, as you have a right to do without changing your dress, immediately, in your robe de chambre—just as you are.” Saying these words, and with a profound bow, the musketeer, whose looks had lost none of their intelligent kindness, left the apartment. He had not reached the steps of the vestibule, when Fouquet, quite beside himself, hung to the bell-rope, and shouted, “My horses!—my lighter!” But nobody answered. The surintendant dressed himself with everything that came to hand.

“Gourville!—Gourville!” cried he, while slipping his watch into his pocket. And the bell sounded again, whilst Fouquet repeated, “Gourville!—Gourville!”

Gourville at length appeared, breathless and pale.

“Let us be gone! Let us be gone!” cried Fouquet, as soon as he saw him.

“It is too late!” said the surintendant’s poor friend.

“Too late!—why?”

“Listen!” And they heard the sounds of trumpets and drums in front of the castle.

“What does that mean, Gourville?”

“It means the king is come, monseigneur.”

“The king!”

“The king, who has ridden double stages, who has killed horses, and who is eight hours in advance of all our calculations.”

“We are lost!” murmured Fouquet. “Brave D’Artagnan, all is over, thou has spoken to me too late!”

The king, in fact, was entering the city, which soon resounded with the cannon from the ramparts, and from a vessel which replied from the lower parts of the river. Fouquet’s brow darkened; he called his valets de chambre and dressed in ceremonial costume. From his window, behind the curtains, he could see the eagerness of the people, and the movement of a large troop, which had followed the prince. The king was conducted to the castle with great pomp, and Fouquet saw him dismount under the portcullis, and say something in the ear of D’Artagnan, who held his stirrup. D’Artagnan, when the king had passed under the arch, directed his steps towards the house Fouquet was in; but so slowly, and stopping so frequently to speak to his musketeers, drawn up like a hedge, that it might be said he was counting the seconds, or the steps, before accomplishing his object. Fouquet opened the window to speak to him in the court.

“Ah!” cried D’Artagnan, on perceiving him, “are you still there, monseigneur?”

And that word still completed the proof to Fouquet of how much information and how many useful counsels were contained in the first visit the musketeer had paid him. The surintendant sighed deeply. “Good heavens! yes, monsieur,” replied he. “The arrival of the king has interrupted me in the projects I had formed.”

“Oh, then you know that the king has arrived?”

“Yes, monsieur, I have seen him; and this time you come from him—”

“To inquire after you, monseigneur; and, if your health is not too bad, to beg you to have the kindness to repair to the castle.”

“Directly, Monsieur d’Artagnan, directly!”

“Ah, mordioux!” said the captain, “now the king is come, there is no more walking for anybody—no more free will; the password governs all now, you as much as me, me as much as you.”

Fouquet heaved a last sigh, climbed with difficulty into his carriage, so great was his weakness, and went to the castle, escorted by D’Artagnan, whose politeness was not less terrifying this time than it had just before been consoling and cheerful.






Chapter XXXIX. How the King, Louis XIV., Played His Little Part.


As Fouquet was alighting from his carriage, to enter the castle of Nantes, a man of mean appearance went up to him with marks of the greatest respect, and gave him a letter. D’Artagnan endeavored to prevent this man from speaking to Fouquet, and pushed him away, but the message had been given to the surintendant. Fouquet opened the letter and read it, and instantly a vague terror, which D’Artagnan did not fail to penetrate, was painted on the countenance of the first minister. Fouquet put the paper into the portfolio which he had under his arm, and passed on towards the king’s apartments. D’Artagnan, through the small windows made at every landing of the donjon stairs, saw, as he went up behind Fouquet, the man who had delivered the note, looking round him on the place and making signs to several persons, who disappeared in the adjacent streets, after having themselves repeated the signals. Fouquet was made to wait for a moment on the terrace of which we have spoken,—a terrace which abutted on the little corridor, at the end of which the cabinet of the king was located. Here D’Artagnan passed on before the surintendant, whom, till that time, he had respectfully accompanied, and entered the royal cabinet.

“Well?” asked Louis XIV., who, on perceiving him, threw on to the table covered with papers a large green cloth.

“The order is executed, sire.”

“And Fouquet?”

“Monsieur le surintendant follows me,” said D’Artagnan.

“In ten minutes let him be introduced,” said the king, dismissing D’Artagnan again with a gesture. The latter retired; but had scarcely reached the corridor at the extremity of which Fouquet was waiting for him, when he was recalled by the king’s bell.

“Did he not appear astonished?” asked the king.

“Who, sire?”

“Fouquet,” replied the king, without saying monsieur, a peculiarity which confirmed the captain of the musketeers in his suspicions.

“No, sire,” replied he.

“That’s well!” And a second time Louis dismissed D’Artagnan.

Fouquet had not quitted the terrace where he had been left by his guide. He reperused his note, conceived thus:

“Something is being contrived against you. Perhaps they will not dare to carry it out at the castle; it will be on your return home. The house is already surrounded by musketeers. Do not enter. A white horse is in waiting for you behind the esplanade!”

Fouquet recognized the writing and zeal of Gourville. Not being willing that, if any evil happened to himself, this paper should compromise a faithful friend, the surintendant was busy tearing it into a thousand morsels, spread about by the wind from the balustrade of the terrace. D’Artagnan found him watching the snowflake fluttering of the last scraps in space.

“Monsieur,” said he, “the king awaits you.”

Fouquet walked with a deliberate step along the little corridor, where MM. de Brienne and Rose were at work, whilst the Duc de Saint-Aignan, seated on a chair, likewise in the corridor, appeared to be waiting for orders, with feverish impatience, his sword between his legs. It appeared strange to Fouquet that MM. Brienne, Rose, and de Saint-Aignan, in general so attentive and obsequious, should scarcely take the least notice, as he, the surintendant, passed. But how could he expect to find it otherwise among courtiers, he whom the king no longer called anything but Fouquet? He raised his head, determined to look every one and everything bravely in the face, and entered the king’s apartment, where a little bell, which we already know, had already announced him to his majesty.

The king, without rising, nodded to him, and with interest: “Well! how are you, Monsieur Fouquet?” said he.

“I am in a high fever,” replied the surintendant; “but I am at the king’s service.”

“That is well; the States assemble to-morrow; have you a speech ready?”

Fouquet looked at the king with astonishment. “I have not, sire,” replied he; “but I will improvise one. I am too well acquainted with affairs to feel any embarrassment. I have only one question to ask; will your majesty permit me?”

“Certainly. Ask it.”

“Why did not your majesty do his first minister the honor of giving him notice of this in Paris?”

“You were ill; I was not willing to fatigue you.”

“Never did a labor—never did an explanation fatigue me, sire; and since the moment is come for me to demand an explanation of my king—”

“Oh, Monsieur Fouquet! an explanation? An explanation, pray, of what?”

“Of your majesty’s intentions with respect to myself.”

The king blushed. “I have been calumniated,” continued Fouquet, warmly, “and I feel called upon to adjure the justice of the king to make inquiries.”

“You say all this to me very uselessly, Monsieur Fouquet; I know what I know.”

“Your majesty can only know the things that have been told to you; and I, on my part, have said nothing to you, whilst others have spoken many, many times—”

“What do you wish to say?” said the king, impatient to put an end to this embarrassing conversation.

“I will go straight to the facts, sire; and I accuse a certain man of having injured me in your majesty’s opinion.”

“Nobody has injured you, Monsieur Fouquet.”

“That reply proves to me, sire, that I am right.”

“Monsieur Fouquet, I do not like people to be accused.”

“Not when one is accused?”

“We have already spoken too much about this affair.”

“Your majesty will not allow me to justify myself?”

“I repeat that I do not accuse you.”

Fouquet, with a half-bow, made a step backward. “It is certain,” thought he, “that he has made up his mind. He alone who cannot go back can show such obstinacy. Not to see the danger now would be to be blind indeed; not to shun it would be stupid.” He resumed aloud, “Did your majesty send for me on business?”

“No, Monsieur Fouquet, but for some advice I wish to give you.”

“I respectfully await it, sire.”

“Rest yourself, Monsieur Fouquet, do not throw away your strength; the session of the States will be short, and when my secretaries shall have closed it, I do not wish business to be talked of in France for a fortnight.”

“Has the king nothing to say to me on the subject of this assembly of the States?”

“No, Monsieur Fouquet.”

“Not to me, the surintendant of the finances?”

“Rest yourself, I beg you; that is all I have to say to you.”

Fouquet bit his lips and hung his head. He was evidently busy with some uneasy thought. This uneasiness struck the king. “Are you angry at having to rest yourself, M. Fouquet?” said he.

“Yes, sire, I am not accustomed to take rest.”

“But you are ill; you must take care of yourself.”

“Your majesty spoke just now of a speech to be pronounced to-morrow.”

His majesty made no reply; this unexpected stroke embarrassed him. Fouquet felt the weight of this hesitation. He thought he could read danger in the eyes of the young prince, which fear would but precipitate. “If I appear frightened, I am lost,” thought he.

The king, on his part, was only uneasy at the alarm of Fouquet. “Has he a suspicion of anything?” murmured he.

“If his first word is severe,” again thought Fouquet; “if he becomes angry, or feigns to be angry for the sake of a pretext, how shall I extricate myself? Let us smooth the declivity a little. Gourville was right.”

“Sire,” said he, suddenly, “since the goodness of the king watches over my health to the point of dispensing with my labor, may I not be allowed to be absent from the council of to-morrow? I could pass the day in bed, and will entreat the king to grant me his physician, that we may endeavor to find a remedy against this fearful fever.”

“So be it, Monsieur Fouquet, it shall be as you desire; you shall have a holiday to-morrow, you shall have the physician, and shall be restored to health.”

“Thanks!” said Fouquet, bowing. Then, opening his game: “Shall I not have the happiness of conducting your majesty to my residence of Belle-Isle?”

And he looked Louis full in the face, to judge of the effect of such a proposal. The king blushed again.

“Do you know,” replied he, endeavoring to smile, “that you have just said, ‘My residence of Belle-Isle’?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Well! do you not remember,” continued the king in the same cheerful tone, “that you gave me Belle-Isle?”

“That is true again, sire. Only, as you have not taken it, you will doubtless come with me and take possession of it.”

“I mean to do so.”

“That was, besides, your majesty’s intention as well as mine; and I cannot express to your majesty how happy and proud I have been to see all the king’s regiments from Paris to help take possession.”

The king stammered out that he did not bring the musketeers for that alone.

“Oh, I am convinced of that,” said Fouquet, warmly; “your majesty knows very well that you have nothing to do but to come alone with a cane in your hand, to bring to the ground all the fortifications of Belle-Isle.”

“Peste!” cried the king; “I do not wish those fine fortifications, which cost so much to build, to fall at all. No, let them stand against the Dutch and English. You would not guess what I want to see at Belle-Isle, Monsieur Fouquet; it is the pretty peasants and women of the lands on the sea-shore, who dance so well, and are so seducing with their scarlet petticoats! I have heard great boast of your pretty tenants, monsieur le surintendant; well, let me have a sight of them.”

“Whenever your majesty pleases.”

“Have you any means of transport? It shall be to-morrow, if you like.”

The surintendant felt this stroke, which was not adroit, and replied, “No, sire; I was ignorant of your majesty’s wish; above all, I was ignorant of your haste to see Belle-Isle, and I am prepared with nothing.”

“You have a boat of your own, nevertheless?”

“I have five; but they are all in port, or at Paimboeuf; and to join them, or bring them hither, would require at least twenty-four hours. Have I any occasion to send a courier? Must I do so?”

“Wait a little, put an end to the fever,—wait till to-morrow.”

“That is true. Who knows but that by to-morrow we may not have a hundred other ideas?” replied Fouquet, now perfectly convinced and very pale.

The king started, and stretched his hand out towards his little bell, but Fouquet prevented his ringing.

“Sire,” said he, “I have an ague—I am trembling with cold. If I remain a moment longer, I shall most likely faint. I request your majesty’s permission to go and fling myself beneath the bedclothes.”

“Indeed, you are in a shiver; it is painful to behold! Come, Monsieur Fouquet, begone! I will send to inquire after you.”

“Your majesty overwhelms me with kindness. In an hour I shall be better.”

“I will call some one to reconduct you,” said the king.

“As you please, sire; I would gladly take the arm of any one.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan!” cried the king, ringing his little bell.

“Oh, sire,” interrupted Fouquet, laughing in such a manner as made the prince feel cold, “would you give me the captain of your musketeers to take me to my lodgings? An equivocal honor that, sire! A simple footman, I beg.”

“And why, M. Fouquet? M. d’Artagnan conducts me often, and extremely well!”

“Yes, but when he conducts you, sire, it is to obey you; whilst me—”

“Go on!”

“If I am obliged to return home supported by the leader of the musketeers, it would be everywhere said you had had me arrested.”

“Arrested!” replied the king, who became paler than Fouquet himself,—“arrested! oh!”

“And why should they not say so?” continued Fouquet, still laughing; “and I would lay a wager there would be people found wicked enough to laugh at it.” This sally disconcerted the monarch. Fouquet was skillful enough, or fortunate enough, to make Louis XIV. recoil before the appearance of the deed he meditated. M. d’Artagnan, when he appeared, received an order to desire a musketeer to accompany the surintendant.

“Quite unnecessary,” said the latter; “sword for sword; I prefer Gourville, who is waiting for me below. But that will not prevent me enjoying the society of M. d’Artagnan. I am glad he will see Belle-Isle, he is so good a judge of fortifications.”

D’Artagnan bowed, without at all comprehending what was going on. Fouquet bowed again and left the apartment, affecting all the slowness of a man who walks with difficulty. When once out of the castle, “I am saved!” said he. “Oh! yes, disloyal king, you shall see Belle-Isle, but it shall be when I am no longer there.”

He disappeared, leaving D’Artagnan with the king.

“Captain,” said the king, “you will follow M. Fouquet at the distance of a hundred paces.”

“Yes, sire.”

“He is going to his lodgings again. You will go with him.”

“Yes, sire.”

“You will arrest him in my name, and will shut him up in a carriage.”

“In a carriage. Well, sire?”

“In such a fashion that he may not, on the road, either converse with any one or throw notes to people he may meet.”

“That will be rather difficult, sire.”

“Not at all.”

“Pardon me, sire, I cannot stifle M. Fouquet, and if he asks for liberty to breathe, I cannot prevent him by closing both the windows and the blinds. He will throw out at the doors all the cries and notes possible.”

“The case is provided for, Monsieur d’Artagnan; a carriage with a trellis will obviate both the difficulties you point out.”

“A carriage with an iron trellis!” cried D’Artagnan; “but a carriage with an iron trellis is not made in half an hour, and your majesty commands me to go immediately to M. Fouquet’s lodgings.”

“The carriage in question is already made.”

“Ah! that is quite a different thing,” said the captain; “if the carriage is ready made, very well, then, we have only to set it in motion.”

“It is ready—and the horses harnessed.”

“Ah!”

“And the coachman, with the outriders, is waiting in the lower court of the castle.”

D’Artagnan bowed. “There only remains for me to ask your majesty whither I shall conduct M. Fouquet.”

“To the castle of Angers, at first.”

“Very well, sire.”

“Afterwards we will see.”

“Yes, sire.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, one last word: you have remarked that, for making this capture of M. Fouquet, I have not employed my guards, on which account M. de Gesvres will be furious.”

“Your majesty does not employ your guards,” said the captain, a little humiliated, “because you mistrust M. de Gesvres, that is all.”

“That is to say, monsieur, that I have more confidence in you.”

“I know that very well, sire! and it is of no use to make so much of it.”

“It is only for the sake of arriving at this, monsieur, that if, from this moment, it should happen that by any chance whatever M. Fouquet should escape—such chances have been, monsieur—”

“Oh! very often, sire; but for others, not for me.”

“And why not with you?”

“Because I, sire, have, for an instant, wished to save M. Fouquet.”

The king started. “Because,” continued the captain, “I had then a right to do so, having guessed your majesty’s plan, without you having spoken to me of it, and that I took an interest in M. Fouquet. Now, was I not at liberty to show my interest in this man?”

“In truth, monsieur, you do not reassure me with regard to your services.”

“If I had saved him then, I should have been perfectly innocent; I will say more, I should have done well, for M. Fouquet is not a bad man. But he was not willing; his destiny prevailed; he let the hour of liberty slip by. So much the worse! Now I have orders, I will obey those orders, and M. Fouquet you may consider as a man arrested. He is at the castle of Angers, this very M. Fouquet.”

“Oh! you have not got him yet, captain.”

“That concerns me; every one to his trade, sire; only, once more, reflect! Do you seriously give me orders to arrest M. Fouquet, sire?”

“Yes, a thousand times, yes!”

“In writing, sire, then.”

“Here is the order.”

D’Artagnan read it, bowed to the king, and left the room. From the height of the terrace he perceived Gourville, who went by with a joyous air towards the lodgings of M. Fouquet.