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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Chapter XL: The White Horse and the Black.


“That is rather surprising,” said D’Artagnan; “Gourville running about the streets so gayly, when he is almost certain that M. Fouquet is in danger; when it is almost equally certain that it was Gourville who warned M. Fouquet just now by the note which was torn into a thousand pieces upon the terrace, and given to the winds by monsieur le surintendant. Gourville is rubbing his hands; that is because he has done something clever. Whence comes M. Gourville? Gourville is coming from the Rue aux Herbes. Whither does the Rue aux Herbes lead?” And D’Artagnan followed, along the tops of the houses of Nantes, dominated by the castle, the line traced by the streets, as he would have done upon a topographical plan; only, instead of the dead, flat paper, the living chart rose in relief with the cries, the movements, and the shadows of men and things. Beyond the inclosure of the city, the great verdant plains stretched out, bordering the Loire, and appeared to run towards the pink horizon, which was cut by the azure of the waters and the dark green of the marshes. Immediately outside the gates of Nantes two white roads were seen diverging like separate fingers of a gigantic hand. D’Artagnan, who had taken in all the panorama at a glance by crossing the terrace, was led by the line of the Rue aux Herbes to the mouth of one of those roads which took its rise under the gates of Nantes. One step more, and he was about to descend the stairs, take his trellised carriage, and go towards the lodgings of M. Fouquet. But chance decreed, at the moment of plunging into the staircase, that he was attracted by a moving point then gaining ground upon that road.

“What is that?” said the musketeer to himself; “a horse galloping,—a runaway horse, no doubt. What a rate he is going at!” The moving point became detached from the road, and entered into the fields. “A white horse,” continued the captain, who had just observed the color thrown luminously against the dark ground, “and he is mounted; it must be some boy whose horse is thirsty and has run away with him.”

These reflections, rapid as lightning, simultaneous with visual perception, D’Artagnan had already forgotten when he descended the first steps of the staircase. Some morsels of paper were spread over the stairs, and shone out white against the dirty stones. “Eh! eh!” said the captain to himself, “here are some of the fragments of the note torn by M. Fouquet. Poor man! he has given his secret to the wind; the wind will have no more to do with it, and brings it back to the king. Decidedly, Fouquet, you play with misfortune! the game is not a fair one,—fortune is against you. The star of Louis XIV. obscures yours; the adder is stronger and more cunning than the squirrel.” D’Artagnan picked up one of these morsels of paper as he descended. “Gourville’s pretty little hand!” cried he, whilst examining one of the fragments of the note; “I was not mistaken.” And he read the word “horse.” “Stop!” said he; and he examined another, upon which there was not a letter traced. Upon a third he read the word “white;” “white horse,” repeated he, like a child that is spelling. “Ah, mordioux!” cried the suspicious spirit, “a white horse!” And, like that grain of powder which, burning, dilates into ten thousand times its volume, D’Artagnan, enlightened by ideas and suspicions, rapidly reascended the stairs towards the terrace. The white horse was still galloping in the direction of the Loire, at the extremity of which, melting into the vapors of the water, a little sail appeared, wave-balanced like a water-butterfly. “Oh!” cried the musketeer, “only a man who wants to fly would go at that pace across plowed lands; there is but one Fouquet, a financier, to ride thus in open day upon a white horse; there is no one but the lord of Belle-Isle who would make his escape towards the sea, while there are such thick forests on land, and there is but one D’Artagnan in the world to catch M. Fouquet, who has half an hour’s start, and who will have gained his boat within an hour.” This being said, the musketeer gave orders that the carriage with the iron trellis should be taken immediately to a thicket situated just outside the city. He selected his best horse, jumped upon his back, galloped along the Rue aux Herbes, taking, not the road Fouquet had taken, but the bank itself of the Loire, certain that he should gain ten minutes upon the total distance, and, at the intersection of the two lines, come up with the fugitive, who could have no suspicion of being pursued in that direction. In the rapidity of the pursuit, and with the impatience of the avenger, animating himself as in war, D’Artagnan, so mild, so kind towards Fouquet, was surprised to find himself become ferocious—almost sanguinary. For a long time he galloped without catching sight of the white horse. His rage assumed fury, he doubted himself,—he suspected that Fouquet had buried himself in some subterranean road, or that he had changed the white horse for one of those famous black ones, as swift as the wind, which D’Artagnan, at Saint-Mande, had so frequently admired and envied for their vigor and their fleetness.

At such moments, when the wind cut his eyes so as to make the tears spring from them, when the saddle had become burning hot, when the galled and spurred horse reared with pain, and threw behind him a shower of dust and stones, D’Artagnan, raising himself in his stirrups, and seeing nothing on the waters, nothing beneath the trees, looked up into the air like a madman. He was losing his senses. In the paroxysms of eagerness he dreamt of aerial ways,—the discovery of following century; he called to his mind Daedalus and the vast wings that had saved him from the prisons of Crete. A hoarse sigh broke from his lips, as he repeated, devoured by the fear of ridicule, “I! I! duped by a Gourville! I! They will say that I am growing old,—they will say I have received a million to allow Fouquet to escape!” And he again dug his spurs into the sides of his horse: he had ridden astonishingly fast. Suddenly, at the extremity of some open pasture-ground, behind the hedges, he saw a white form which showed itself, disappeared, and at last remained distinctly visible against the rising ground. D’Artagnan’s heart leaped with joy. He wiped the streaming sweat from his brow, relaxed the tension of his knees,—by which the horse breathed more freely,—and, gathering up his reins, moderated the speed of the vigorous animal, his active accomplice on this man-hunt. He had then time to study the direction of the road, and his position with regard to Fouquet. The superintendent had completely winded his horse by crossing the soft ground. He felt the necessity of gaining a firmer footing, and turned towards the road by the shortest secant line. D’Artagnan, on his part, had nothing to do but to ride straight on, concealed by the sloping shore; so that he would cut his quarry off the road when he came up with him. Then the real race would begin,—then the struggle would be in earnest.

D’Artagnan gave his horse good breathing-time. He observed that the superintendent had relaxed into a trot, which was to say, he, too, was favoring his horse. But both of them were too much pressed for time to allow them to continue long at that pace. The white horse sprang off like an arrow the moment his feet touched firm ground. D’Artagnan dropped his head, and his black horse broke into a gallop. Both followed the same route; the quadruple echoes of this new race-course were confounded. Fouquet had not yet perceived D’Artagnan. But on issuing from the slope, a single echo struck the air; it was that of the steps of D’Artagnan’s horse, which rolled along like thunder. Fouquet turned round, and saw behind him, within a hundred paces, his enemy bent over the neck of his horse. There could be no doubt—the shining baldrick, the red cassock—it was a musketeer. Fouquet slackened his hand likewise, and the white horse placed twenty feet more between his adversary and himself.

“Oh, but,” thought D’Artagnan, becoming very anxious, “that is not a common horse M. Fouquet is upon—let us see!” And he attentively examined with his infallible eye the shape and capabilities of the courser. Round full quarters—a thin long tail—large hocks—thin legs, as dry as bars of steel—hoofs hard as marble. He spurred his own, but the distance between the two remained the same. D’Artagnan listened attentively; not a breath of the horse reached him, and yet he seemed to cut the air. The black horse, on the contrary, began to puff like any blacksmith’s bellows.

“I must overtake him, if I kill my horse,” thought the musketeer; and he began to saw the mouth of the poor animal, whilst he buried the rowels of his merciless spurs into his sides. The maddened horse gained twenty toises, and came up within pistol-shot of Fouquet.

“Courage!” said the musketeer to himself, “courage! the white horse will perhaps grow weaker, and if the horse does not fall, the master must pull up at last.” But horse and rider remained upright together, gaining ground by difficult degrees. D’Artagnan uttered a wild cry, which made Fouquet turn round, and added speed to the white horse.

“A famous horse! a mad rider!” growled the captain. “Hola! mordioux! Monsieur Fouquet! stop! in the king’s name!” Fouquet made no reply.

“Do you hear me?” shouted D’Artagnan, whose horse had just stumbled.

“Pardieu!” replied Fouquet, laconically; and rode on faster.

D’Artagnan was nearly mad; the blood rushed boiling to his temples and his eyes. “In the king’s name!” cried he again, “stop, or I will bring you down with a pistol-shot!”

“Do!” replied Fouquet, without relaxing his speed.

D’Artagnan seized a pistol and cocked it, hoping that the double click of the spring would stop his enemy. “You have pistols likewise,” said he, “turn and defend yourself.”

Fouquet did turn round at the noise, and looking D’Artagnan full in the face, opened, with his right hand, the part of his dress which concealed his body, but he did not even touch his holsters. There were not more than twenty paces between the two.

“Mordioux!” said D’Artagnan, “I will not assassinate you; if you will not fire upon me, surrender! what is a prison?”

“I would rather die!” replied Fouquet; “I shall suffer less.”

D’Artagnan, drunk with despair, hurled his pistol to the ground. “I will take you alive!” said he; and by a prodigy of skill which this incomparable horseman alone was capable, he threw his horse forward to within ten paces of the white horse; already his hand was stretched out to seize his prey.

“Kill me! kill me!” cried Fouquet, “‘twould be more humane!”

“No! alive—alive!” murmured the captain.

At this moment his horse made a false step for the second time, and Fouquet’s again took the lead. It was an unheard-of spectacle, this race between two horses which now only kept alive by the will of their riders. It might be said that D’Artagnan rode, carrying his horse along between his knees. To the furious gallop had succeeded the fast trot, and that had sunk to what might be scarcely called a trot at all. But the chase appeared equally warm in the two fatigued athletoe. D’Artagnan, quite in despair, seized his second pistol, and cocked it.

“At your horse! not at you!” cried he to Fouquet. And he fired. The animal was hit in the quarters—he made a furious bound, and plunged forward. At that moment D’Artagnan’s horse fell dead.

“I am dishonored!” thought the musketeer; “I am a miserable wretch! for pity’s sake, M. Fouquet, throw me one of your pistols, that I may blow out my brains!” But Fouquet rode away.

“For mercy’s sake! for mercy’s sake!” cried D’Artagnan; “that which you will not do at this moment, I myself will do within an hour, but here, upon this road, I should die bravely; I should die esteemed; do me that service, M. Fouquet!”

M. Fouquet made no reply, but continued to trot on. D’Artagnan began to run after his enemy. Successively he threw away his hat, his coat, which embarrassed him, and then the sheath of his sword, which got between his legs as he was running. The sword in his hand itself became too heavy, and he threw it after the sheath. The white horse began to rattle in its throat; D’Artagnan gained upon him. From a trot the exhausted animal sunk to a staggering walk—the foam from his mouth was mixed with blood. D’Artagnan made a desperate effort, sprang towards Fouquet, and seized him by the leg, saying in a broken, breathless voice, “I arrest you in the king’s name! blow my brains out, if you like; we have both done our duty.”

Fouquet hurled far from him, into the river, the two pistols D’Artagnan might have seized, and dismounting from his horse—“I am your prisoner, monsieur,” said he; “will you take my arm, for I see you are ready to faint?”

“Thanks!” murmured D’Artagnan, who, in fact, felt the earth sliding from under his feet, and the light of day turning to blackness around him; then he rolled upon the sand, without breath or strength. Fouquet hastened to the brink of the river, dipped some water in his hat, with which he bathed the temples of the musketeer, and introduced a few drop between his lips. D’Artagnan raised himself with difficulty, and looked about him with a wandering eye. He beheld Fouquet on his knees, with his wet hat in his hand, smiling upon him with ineffable sweetness. “You are not off, then?” cried he. “Oh, monsieur! the true king of royalty, in heart, in soul, is not Louis of the Louvre, or Philippe of Sainte-Marguerite; it is you, proscribed, condemned!”

“I, who this day am ruined by a single error, M. d’Artagnan.”

“What, in the name of Heaven, is that?”

“I should have had you for a friend! But how shall we return to Nantes? We are a great way from it.”

“That is true,” said D’Artagnan, gloomily.

“The white horse will recover, perhaps; he is a good horse! Mount, Monsieur d’Artagnan; I will walk till you have rested a little.”

“Poor beast! and wounded, too?” said the musketeer.

“He will go, I tell you; I know him; but we can do better still, let us both get up, and ride slowly.”

“We can try,” said the captain. But they had scarcely charged the animal with this double load, when he began to stagger, and then with a great effort walked a few minutes, then staggered again, and sank down dead by the side of the black horse, which he had just managed to come up to.

“We will go on foot—destiny wills it so—the walk will be pleasant,” said Fouquet, passing his arm through that of D’Artagnan.

“Mordioux!” cried the latter, with a fixed eye, a contracted brow, and a swelling heart—“What a disgraceful day!”

They walked slowly the four leagues which separated them from the little wood behind which the carriage and escort were in waiting. When Fouquet perceived that sinister machine, he said to D’Artagnan, who cast down his eyes, ashamed of Louis XIV., “There is an idea that did not emanate from a brave man, Captain d’Artagnan; it is not yours. What are these gratings for?” said he.

“To prevent your throwing letters out.”

“Ingenious!”

“But you can speak, if you cannot write,” said D’Artagnan.

“Can I speak to you?”

“Why, certainly, if you wish to do so.”

Fouquet reflected for a moment, then looking the captain full in the face, “One single word,” said he; “will you remember it?”

“I will not forget it.”

“Will you speak it to whom I wish?”

“I will.”

“Saint-Mande,” articulated Fouquet, in a low voice.

“Well! and for whom?”

“For Madame de Belliere or Pelisson.”

“It shall be done.”

The carriage rolled through Nantes, and took the route to Angers.






Chapter XLI. In Which the Squirrel Falls,—the Adder Flies.


It was two o’clock in the afternoon. The king, full of impatience, went to his cabinet on the terrace, and kept opening the door of the corridor, to see what his secretaries were doing. M. Colbert, seated in the same place M. de Saint-Aignan had so long occupied in the morning, was chatting in a low voice with M. de Brienne. The king opened the door suddenly, and addressed them. “What is it you are saying?”

“We were speaking of the first sitting of the States,” said M. de Brienne, rising.

“Very well,” replied the king, and returned to his room.

Five minutes after, the summons of the bell recalled Rose, whose hour it was.

“Have you finished your copies?” asked the king.

“Not yet, sire.”

“See if M. d’Artagnan has returned.”

“Not yet, sire.”

“It is very strange,” murmured the king. “Call M. Colbert.”

Colbert entered; he had been expecting this all the morning.

“Monsieur Colbert,” said the king, very sharply; “you must ascertain what has become of M. d’Artagnan.”

Colbert in his calm voice replied, “Where does your majesty desire him to be sought for?”

“Eh! monsieur! do you not know on what I have sent him?” replied Louis, acrimoniously.

“Your majesty did not inform me.”

“Monsieur, there are things that must be guessed; and you, above all, are apt to guess them.”

“I might have been able to imagine, sire; but I do not presume to be positive.”

Colbert had not finished these words when a rougher voice than that of the king interrupted the interesting conversation thus begun between the monarch and his clerk.

“D’Artagnan!” cried the king, with evident joy.

D’Artagnan, pale and in evidently bad humor, cried to the king, as he entered, “Sire, is it your majesty who has given orders to my musketeers?”

“What orders?” said the king.

“About M. Fouquet’s house?”

“None!” replied Louis.

“Ha!” said D’Artagnan, biting his mustache; “I was not mistaken, then; it was monsieur here;” and he pointed to Colbert.

“What orders? Let me know,” said the king.

“Orders to turn the house topsy-turvy, to beat M. Fouquet’s servants, to force the drawers, to give over a peaceful house to pillage! Mordioux! these are savage orders!”

“Monsieur!” said Colbert, turning pale.

“Monsieur,” interrupted D’Artagnan, “the king alone, understand,—the king alone has a right to command my musketeers; but, as to you, I forbid you to do it, and I tell you so before his majesty; gentlemen who carry swords do not sling pens behind their ears.”

“D’Artagnan! D’Artagnan!” murmured the king.

“It is humiliating,” continued the musketeer; “my soldiers are disgraced. I do not command reitres, thank you, nor clerks of the intendant, mordioux!”

“Well! but what is all this about?” said the king with authority.

“About this, sire; monsieur—monsieur, who could not guess your majesty’s orders, and consequently could not know I was gone to arrest M. Fouquet; monsieur, who has caused the iron cage to be constructed for his patron of yesterday—has sent M. de Roncherolles to the lodgings of M. Fouquet, and, under the pretense of securing the surintendant’s papers, they have taken away the furniture. My musketeers have been posted round the house all the morning; such were my orders. Why did any one presume to order them to enter? Why, by forcing them to assist in this pillage, have they been made accomplices in it? Mordioux! we serve the king, we do; but we do not serve M. Colbert!” 5

“Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said the king, sternly, “take care; it is not in my presence that such explanations, and made in such a tone, should take place.”

“I have acted for the good of the king,” said Colbert, in a faltering voice. “It is hard to be so treated by one of your majesty’s officers, and that without redress, on account of the respect I owe the king.”

“The respect you owe the king,” cried D’Artagnan, his eyes flashing fire, “consists, in the first place, in making his authority respected, and his person beloved. Every agent of a power without control represents that power, and when people curse the hand which strikes them, it is the royal hand that God reproaches, do you hear? Must a soldier, hardened by forty years of wounds and blood, give you this lesson, monsieur? Must mercy be on my side, and ferocity on yours? You have caused the innocent to be arrested, bound, and imprisoned!”

“Accomplices, perhaps, of M. Fouquet,” said Colbert.

“Who told you M. Fouquet had accomplices, or even that he was guilty? The king alone knows that; his justice is not blind! When he says, ‘Arrest and imprison’ such and such a man, he is obeyed. Do not talk to me, then, any more of the respect you owe the king, and be careful of your words, that they may not chance to convey the slightest menace; for the king will not allow those to be threatened who do him service by others who do him disservice; and if in case I should have, which God forbid! a master so ungrateful, I would make myself respected.”

Thus saying, D’Artagnan took his station haughtily in the king’s cabinet, his eyes flashing, his hand on his sword, his lips trembling, affecting much more anger than he really felt. Colbert, humiliated and devoured with rage, bowed to the king as if to ask his permission to leave the room. The king, thwarted alike in pride and in curiosity, knew not which part to take. D’Artagnan saw him hesitate. To remain longer would have been a mistake: it was necessary to score a triumph over Colbert, and the only method was to touch the king so near the quick, that his majesty would have no other means of extrication but choosing between the two antagonists. D’Artagnan bowed as Colbert had done; but the king, who, in preference to everything else, was anxious to have all the exact details of the arrest of the surintendant of the finances from him who had made him tremble for a moment,—the king, perceiving that the ill-humor of D’Artagnan would put off for half an hour at least the details he was burning to be acquainted with,—Louis, we say, forgot Colbert, who had nothing new to tell him, and recalled his captain of the musketeers.

“In the first place,” said he, “let me see the result of your commission, monsieur; you may rest yourself hereafter.”

D’Artagnan, who was just passing through the doorway, stopped at the voice of the king, retraced his steps, and Colbert was forced to leave the closet. His countenance assumed almost a purple hue, his black and threatening eyes shone with a dark fire beneath their thick brows; he stepped out, bowed before the king, half drew himself up in passing D’Artagnan, and went away with death in his heart. D’Artagnan, on being left alone with the king, softened immediately, and composing his countenance: “Sire,” said he, “you are a young king. It is by the dawn that people judge whether the day will be fine or dull. How, sire, will the people, whom the hand of God has placed under your law, argue of your reign, if between them and you, you allow angry and violent ministers to interpose their mischief? But let us speak of myself, sire, let us leave a discussion that may appear idle, and perhaps inconvenient to you. Let us speak of myself. I have arrested M. Fouquet.”

“You took plenty of time about it,” said the king, sharply.

D’Artagnan looked at the king. “I perceive that I have expressed myself badly. I announced to your majesty that I had arrested Monsieur Fouquet.”

“You did; and what then?”

“Well! I ought to have told your majesty that M. Fouquet had arrested me; that would have been more just. I re-establish the truth, then; I have been arrested by M. Fouquet.”

It was now the turn of Louis XIV. to be surprised. His majesty was astonished in his turn.

D’Artagnan, with his quick glance, appreciated what was passing in the heart of his master. He did not allow him time to put any questions. He related, with that poetry, that picturesqueness, which perhaps he alone possessed at that period, the escape of Fouquet, the pursuit, the furious race, and, lastly, the inimitable generosity of the surintendant, who might have fled ten times over, who might have killed the adversary in the pursuit, but who had preferred imprisonment, perhaps worse, to the humiliation of one who wished to rob him of his liberty. In proportion as the tale advanced, the king became agitated, devouring the narrator’s words, and drumming with his finger-nails upon the table.

“It results from all this, sire, in my eyes, at least, that the man who conducts himself thus is a gallant man, and cannot be an enemy to the king. That is my opinion, and I repeat it to your majesty. I know what the king will say to me, and I bow to it,—reasons of state. So be it! To my ears that sounds highly respectable. But I am a soldier, and I have received my orders, my orders are executed—very unwillingly on my part, it is true, but they are executed. I say no more.”

“Where is M. Fouquet at this moment?” asked Louis, after a short silence.

“M. Fouquet, sire,” replied D’Artagnan, “is in the iron cage that M. Colbert had prepared for him, and is galloping as fast as four strong horses can drag him, towards Angers.”

“Why did you leave him on the road?”

“Because your majesty did not tell me to go to Angers. The proof, the best proof of what I advance, is that the king desired me to be sought for but this minute. And then I had another reason.”

“What is that?”

“Whilst I was with him, poor M. Fouquet would never attempt to escape.”

“Well!” cried the king, astonished.

“Your majesty ought to understand, and does understand, certainly, that my warmest wish is to know that M. Fouquet is at liberty. I have given him one of my brigadiers, the most stupid I could find among my musketeers, in order that the prisoner might have a chance of escaping.”

“Are you mad, Monsieur d’Artagnan?” cried the king, crossing his arms on his breast. “Do people utter such enormities, even when they have the misfortune to think them?”

“Ah! sire, you cannot expect that I should be an enemy to M. Fouquet, after what he has just done for you and me. No, no; if you desire that he should remain under your lock and bolt, never give him in charge to me; however closely wired might be the cage, the bird would, in the end, take wing.”

“I am surprised,” said the king, in his sternest tone, “you did not follow the fortunes of the man M. Fouquet wished to place upon my throne. You had in him all you want—affection, gratitude. In my service, monsieur, you will only find a master.”

“If M. Fouquet had not gone to seek you in the Bastile, sire,” replied D’Artagnan, with a deeply impressive manner, “one single man would have gone there, and I should have been that man—you know that right well, sire.”

The king was brought to a pause. Before that speech of his captain of the musketeers, so frankly spoken and so true, the king had nothing to offer. On hearing D’Artagnan, Louis remembered the D’Artagnan of former times; him who, at the Palais Royal, held himself concealed behind the curtains of his bed, when the people of Paris, led by Cardinal de Retz, came to assure themselves of the presence of the king; the D’Artagnan whom he saluted with his hand at the door of his carriage, when repairing to Notre Dame on his return to Paris; the soldier who had quitted his service at Blois; the lieutenant he had recalled to be beside his person when the death of Mazarin restored his power; the man he had always found loyal, courageous, devoted. Louis advanced towards the door and called Colbert. Colbert had not left the corridor where the secretaries were at work. He reappeared.

“Colbert, did you make a perquisition on the house of M. Fouquet?”

“Yes, sire.”

“What has it produced?”

“M. de Roncherolles, who was sent with your majesty’s musketeers, has remitted me some papers,” replied Colbert.

“I will look at them. Give me your hand.”

“My hand, sire!”

“Yes, that I may place it in that of M. d’Artagnan. In fact, M. d’Artagnan,” added he, with a smile, turning towards the soldier, who, at sight of the clerk, had resumed his haughty attitude, “you do not know this man; make his acquaintance.” And he pointed to Colbert. “He has been made but a moderately valuable servant in subaltern positions, but he will be a great man if I raise him to the foremost rank.”

“Sire!” stammered Colbert, confused with pleasure and fear.

“I always understood why,” murmured D’Artagnan in the king’s ear; “he was jealous.”

“Precisely, and his jealousy confined his wings.”

“He will henceforward be a winged-serpent,” grumbled the musketeer, with a remnant of hatred against his recent adversary.

But Colbert, approaching him, offered to his eyes a physiognomy so different from that which he had been accustomed to see him wear; he appeared so good, so mild, so easy; his eyes took the expression of an intelligence so noble, that D’Artagnan, a connoisseur in physiognomies, was moved, and almost changed in his convictions. Colbert pressed his hand.

“That which the king has just told you, monsieur, proves how well his majesty is acquainted with men. The inveterate opposition I have displayed, up to this day, against abuses and not against men, proves that I had it in view to prepare for my king a glorious reign, for my country a great blessing. I have many ideas, M. d’Artagnan. You will see them expand in the sun of public peace; and if I have not the good fortune to conquer the friendship of honest men, I am at least certain, monsieur, that I shall obtain their esteem. For their admiration, monsieur, I would give my life.”

This change, this sudden elevation, this mute approbation of the king, gave the musketeer matter for profound reflection. He bowed civilly to Colbert, who did not take his eyes off him. The king, when he saw they were reconciled, dismissed them. They left the room together. As soon as they were out of the cabinet, the new minister, stopping the captain, said:

“Is it possible, M. d’Artagnan, that with such an eye as yours, you did not, at the first glance, at the first impression, discover what sort of man I am?”

“Monsieur Colbert,” replied the musketeer, “a ray of the sun in our eyes prevents us from seeing the most vivid flame. The man in power radiates, you know; and since you are there, why should you continue to persecute him who had just fallen into disgrace, and fallen from such a height?”

“I, monsieur!” said Colbert; “oh, monsieur! I would never persecute him. I wished to administer the finances and to administer them alone, because I am ambitious, and, above all, because I have the most entire confidence in my own merit; because I know that all the gold of this country will ebb and flow beneath my eyes, and I love to look at the king’s gold; because, if I live thirty years, in thirty years not a denir of it will remain in my hands; because, with that gold, I will build granaries, castles, cities, and harbors; because I will create a marine, I will equip navies that shall waft the name of France to the most distant people; because I will create libraries and academies; because I will make France the first country in the world, and the wealthiest. These are the motives for my animosity against M. Fouquet, who prevented my acting. And then, when I shall be great and strong, when France is great and strong, in my turn, then, will I cry, ‘Mercy’!”

“Mercy, did you say? then ask his liberty of the king. The king is only crushing him on your account.”

Colbert again raised his head. “Monsieur,” said he, “you know that is not so, and that the king has his own personal animosity against M. Fouquet; it is not for me to teach you that.”

“But the king will grow tired; he will forget.”

“The king never forgets, M. d’Artagnan. Hark! the king calls. He is going to issue an order. I have not influenced him, have I? Listen.”

The king, in fact, was calling his secretaries. “Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said he.

“I am here, sire.”

“Give twenty of your musketeers to M. de Saint-Aignan, to form a guard for M. Fouquet.”

D’Artagnan and Colbert exchanged looks. “And from Angers,” continued the king, “they will conduct the prisoner to the Bastile, in Paris.”

“You were right,” said the captain to the minister.

“Saint-Aignan,” continued the king, “you will have any one shot who shall attempt to speak privately with M. Fouquet, during the journey.”

“But myself, sire,” said the duke.

“You, monsieur, you will only speak to him in the presence of the musketeers.” The duke bowed and departed to execute his commission.

D’Artagnan was about to retire likewise; but the king stopped him.

“Monsieur,” said he, “you will go immediately, and take possession of the isle and fief of Belle-Ile-en-Mer.”

“Yes, sire. Alone?”

“You will take a sufficient number of troops to prevent delay, in case the place should be contumacious.”

A murmur of courtly incredulity rose from the group of courtiers. “That shall be done,” said D’Artagnan.

“I saw the place in my infancy,” resumed the king, “and I do not wish to see it again. You have heard me? Go, monsieur, and do not return without the keys.”

Colbert went up to D’Artagnan. “A commission which, if you carry it out well,” said he, “will be worth a marechal’s baton to you.”

“Why do you employ the words, ‘if you carry it out well’?”

“Because it is difficult.”

“Ah! in what respect?”

“You have friends in Belle-Isle, Monsieur d’Artagnan; and it is not an easy thing for men like you to march over the bodies of their friends to obtain success.”

D’Artagnan hung his head in deepest thought, whilst Colbert returned to the king. A quarter of an hour after, the captain received the written order from the king, to blow up the fortress of Belle-Isle, in case of resistance, with power of life and death over all the inhabitants or refugees, and an injunction not to allow one to escape.

“Colbert was right,” thought D’Artagnan; “for me the baton of a marechal of France will cost the lives of my two friends. Only they seem to forget that my friends are not more stupid than the birds, and that they will not wait for the hand of the fowler to extend over their wings. I will show them that hand so plainly, that they will have quite time enough to see it. Poor Porthos! Poor Aramis! No; my fortune should shall not cost your wings a feather.”

Having thus determined, D’Artagnan assembled the royal army, embarked it at Paimboeuf, and set sail, without the loss of an unnecessary minute.






Chapter XLII. Belle-Ile-en-Mer.


At the extremity of the mole, against which the furious sea beats at the evening tide, two men, holding each other by the arm, were conversing in an animated and expansive tone, without the possibility of any other human being hearing their words, borne away, as they were, one by one, by the gusts of wind, with the white foam swept from the crests of the waves. The sun had just gone down in the vast sheet of the crimsoned ocean, like a gigantic crucible. From time to time, one of these men, turning towards the east, cast an anxious, inquiring look over the sea. The other, interrogating the features of his companion, seemed to seek for information in his looks. Then, both silent, busied with dismal thoughts, they resumed their walk. Every one has already perceived that these two men were our proscribed heroes, Porthos and Aramis, who had taken refuge in Belle-Isle, since the ruin of their hopes, since the discomfiture of the colossal schemes of M. d’Herblay.

“If is of no use your saying anything to the contrary, my dear Aramis,” repeated Porthos, inhaling vigorously the salt breeze with which he charged his massive chest, “It is of no use, Aramis. The disappearance of all the fishing-boats that went out two days ago is not an ordinary circumstance. There has been no storm at sea; the weather has been constantly calm, not even the lightest gale; and even if we had had a tempest, all our boats would not have foundered. I repeat, it is strange. This complete disappearance astonishes me, I tell you.”

“True,” murmured Aramis. “You are right, friend Porthos; it is true, there is something strange in it.”

“And further,” added Porthos, whose ideas the assent of the bishop of Vannes seemed to enlarge; “and, further, do you not observe that if the boats have perished, not a single plank has washed ashore?”

“I have remarked it as well as yourself.”

“And do you not think it strange that the two only boats we had left in the whole island, and which I sent in search of the others—”

Aramis here interrupted his companion by a cry, and by so sudden a movement, that Porthos stopped as if he were stupefied. “What do you say, Porthos? What!—You have sent the two boats—”

“In search of the others! Yes, to be sure I have,” replied Porthos, calmly.

“Unhappy man! What have you done? Then we are indeed lost,” cried the bishop.

“Lost!—what did you say?” exclaimed the terrified Porthos. “How lost, Aramis? How are we lost?”

Aramis bit his lips. “Nothing! nothing! Your pardon, I meant to say—”

“What?”

“That if we were inclined—if we took a fancy to make an excursion by sea, we could not.”

“Very good! and why should that vex you? A precious pleasure, ma foi! For my part, I don’t regret it at all. What I regret is certainly not the more or less amusement we can find at Belle-Isle: what I regret, Aramis, is Pierrefonds; Bracieux; le Vallon; beautiful France! Here, we are not in France, my dear friend; we are—I know not where. Oh! I tell you, in full sincerity of soul, and your affection will excuse my frankness, but I declare to you I am not happy at Belle-Isle. No; in good truth, I am not happy!”

Aramis breathed a long, but stifled sigh. “Dear friend,” replied he: “that is why it is so sad a thing you have sent the two boats we had left in search of the boats which disappeared two days ago. If you had not sent them away, we would have departed.”

“‘Departed!’ And the orders, Aramis?”

“What orders?”

“Parbleu! Why, the orders you have been constantly, in and out of season, repeating to me—that we were to hold Belle-Isle against the usurper. You know very well!”

“That is true!” murmured Aramis again.

“You see, then, plainly, my friend, that we could not depart; and that the sending away of the boats in search of the others cannot prove prejudicial to us in the very least.”

Aramis was silent; and his vague glances, luminous as that of an albatross, hovered for a long time over the sea, interrogating space, seeking to pierce the very horizon.

“With all that, Aramis,” continued Porthos, who adhered to his idea, and that the more closely from the bishop having apparently endorsed it,—“with all that, you give me no explanation about what can have happened to these unfortunate boats. I am assailed by cries and complaints whichever way I go. The children cry to see the desolation of the women, as if I could restore the absent husbands and fathers. What do you suppose, my friend, and how ought I to answer them?”

“Think all you like, my good Porthos, and say nothing.”

This reply did not satisfy Porthos at all. He turned away grumbling something in ill-humor. Aramis stopped the valiant musketeer. “Do you remember,” said he, in a melancholy tone, kneading the two hands of the giant between his own with affectionate cordiality, “do you remember, my friend, that in the glorious days of youth—do you remember, Porthos, when we were all strong and valiant—we, and the other two—if we had then had an inclination to return to France, do you think this sheet of salt water would have stopped us?”

“Oh!” said Porthos; “but six leagues.”

“If you had seen me get astride of a plank, would you have remained on land, Porthos?”

“No, pardieu! No, Aramis. But, nowadays, what sort of a plank should we want, my friend! I, in particular.” And the Seigneur de Bracieux cast a profound glance over his colossal rotundity with a loud laugh. “And do you mean seriously to say you are not tired of Belle-Isle a little, and that you would not prefer the comforts of your dwelling—of your episcopal palace, at Vannes? Come, confess.”

“No,” replied Aramis, without daring to look at Porthos.

“Let us stay where we are, then,” said his friend, with a sigh, which, in spite of the efforts he made to restrain it, escaped his echoing breast. “Let us remain!—let us remain! And yet,” added he, “and yet, if we seriously wished, but that decidedly—if we had a fixed idea, one firmly taken, to return to France, and there were not boats—”

“Have you remarked another thing, my friend—that is, since the disappearance of our barks, during the last two days’ absence of fishermen, not a single small boat has landed on the shores of the isle?”

“Yes, certainly! you are right. I, too, have remarked it, and the observation was the more naturally made, for, before the last two fatal days, barks and shallops were as plentiful as shrimps.”

“I must inquire,” said Aramis, suddenly, and with great agitation. “And then, if we had a raft constructed—”

“But there are some canoes, my friend; shall I board one?”

“A canoe!—a canoe! Can you think of such a thing, Porthos? A canoe to be upset in. No, no,” said the bishop of Vannes; “it is not our trade to ride upon the waves. We will wait, we will wait.”

And Aramis continued walking about with increased agitation. Porthos, who grew tired of following all the feverish movements of his friend—Porthos, who in his faith and calmness understood nothing of the sort of exasperation which was betrayed by his companion’s continual convulsive starts—Porthos stopped him. “Let us sit down upon this rock,” said he. “Place yourself there, close to me, Aramis, and I conjure you, for the last time, to explain to me in a manner I can comprehend—explain to me what we are doing here.”

“Porthos,” said Aramis, much embarrassed.

“I know that the false king wished to dethrone the true king. That is a fact, that I understand. Well—”

“Yes?” said Aramis.

“I know that the false king formed the project of selling Belle-Isle to the English. I understand that, too.”

“Yes?”

“I know that we engineers and captains came and threw ourselves into Belle-Isle to take direction of the works, and the command of ten companies levied and paid by M. Fouquet, or rather the ten companies of his son-in-law. All that is plain.”

Aramis rose in a state of great impatience. He might be said to be a lion importuned by a gnat. Porthos held him by the arm. “But what I cannot understand, what, in spite of all the efforts of my mind, and all my reflections, I cannot comprehend, and never shall comprehend, is, that instead of sending us troops, instead of sending us reinforcements of men, munitions, provisions, they leave us without boats, they leave Belle-Isle without arrivals, without help; it is that instead of establishing with us a correspondence, whether by signals, or written or verbal communications, all relations with the shore are intercepted. Tell me, Aramis, answer me, or rather, before answering me, will you allow me to tell you what I have thought? Will you hear what my idea is, the plan I have conceived?”

The bishop raised his head. “Well! Aramis,” continued Porthos, “I have dreamed, I have imagined that an event has taken place in France. I dreamt of M. Fouquet all the night, of lifeless fish, of broken eggs, of chambers badly furnished, meanly kept. Villainous dreams, my dear D’Herblay; very unlucky, such dreams!”

“Porthos, what is that yonder?” interrupted Aramis, rising suddenly, and pointing out to his friend a black spot upon the empurpled line of the water.

“A bark!” said Porthos; “yes, it is a bark! Ah! we shall have some news at last.”

“There are two!” cried the bishop, on discovering another mast; “two! three! four!”

“Five!” said Porthos, in his turn. “Six! seven! Ah! mon Dieu! mon Dieu! it is a fleet!”

“Our boats returning, probably,” said Aramis, very uneasily, in spite of the assurance he affected.

“They are very large for fishing-boats,” observed Porthos, “and do you not remark, my friend, that they come from the Loire?”

“They come from the Loire—yes—”

“And look! everybody here sees them as well as ourselves; look, women and children are beginning to crowd the jetty.”

An old fisherman passed. “Are those our barks, yonder?” asked Aramis.

The old man looked steadily into the eye of the horizon.

“No, monseigneur,” replied he, “they are lighter boars, boats in the king’s service.”

“Boats in the royal service?” replied Aramis, starting. “How do you know that?” said he.

“By the flag.”

“But,” said Porthos, “the boat is scarcely visible; how the devil, my friend, can you distinguish the flag?”

“I see there is one,” replied the old man; “our boats, trade lighters, do not carry any. That sort of craft is generally used for transport of troops.”

“Ah!” groaned Aramis.

“Vivat!” cried Porthos, “they are sending us reinforcements, don’t you think they are, Aramis?”

“Probably.”

“Unless it is the English coming.”

“By the Loire? That would have an evil look, Porthos; for they must have come through Paris!”

“You are right; they are reinforcements, decidedly, or provisions.”

Aramis leaned his head upon his hands, and made no reply. Then, all at once,—“Porthos,” said he, “have the alarm sounded.”

“The alarm! do you imagine such a thing?”

“Yes, and let the cannoniers mount their batteries, the artillerymen be at their pieces, and be particularly watchful of the coast batteries.”

Porthos opened his eyes to their widest extent. He looked attentively at his friend, to convince himself he was in his proper senses.

“I will do it, my dear Porthos,” continued Aramis, in his blandest tone; “I will go and have these orders executed myself, if you do not go, my friend.”

“Well! I will—instantly!” said Porthos, who went to execute the orders, casting all the while looks behind him, to see if the bishop of Vannes were not deceived; and if, on recovering more rational ideas, he would not recall him. The alarm was sounded, trumpets brayed, drums rolled; the great bronze bell swung in horror from its lofty belfry. The dikes and moles were quickly filled with the curious and soldiers; matches sparkled in the hands of the artillerymen, placed behind the large cannon bedded in their stone carriages. When every man was at his post, when all the preparations for defense were made: “Permit me, Aramis, to try to comprehend,” whispered Porthos, timidly, in Aramis’s ear.

“My dear friend, you will comprehend but too soon,” murmured M. d’Herblay, in reply to this question of his lieutenant.

“The fleet which is coming yonder, with sails unfurled, straight towards the port of Belle-Isle, is a royal fleet, is it not?”

“But as there are two kings in France, Porthos, to which of these two kings does this fleet belong?”

“Oh! you open my eyes,” replied the giant, stunned by the insinuation.

And Porthos, whose eyes this reply of his friend’s had at last opened, or rather thickened the bandage which covered his sight, went with his best speed to the batteries to overlook his people, and exhort every one to do his duty. In the meantime, Aramis, with his eye fixed on the horizon, saw the ships continually drawing nearer. The people and the soldiers, perched on the summits of the rocks, could distinguish the masts, then the lower sails, and at last the hulls of the lighters, bearing at the masthead the royal flag of France. It was night when one of these vessels, which had created such a sensation among the inhabitants of Belle-Isle, dropped anchor within cannon shot of the place. It was soon seen, notwithstanding the darkness, that some sort of agitation reigned on board the vessel, from the side of which a skiff was lowered, of which the three rowers, bending to their oars, took the direction of the port, and in a few instants struck land at the foot of the fort. The commander jumped ashore. He had a letter in his hand, which he waved in the air, and seemed to wish to communicate with somebody. This man was soon recognized by several soldiers as one of the pilots of the island. He was the captain of one of the two barks retained by Aramis, but which Porthos, in his anxiety with regard to the fate of the fishermen who had disappeared, had sent in search of the missing boats. He asked to be conducted to M. d’Herblay. Two soldiers, at a signal from a sergeant, marched him between them, and escorted him. Aramis was upon the quay. The envoy presented himself before the bishop of Vannes. The darkness was almost absolute, notwithstanding the flambeaux borne at a small distance by the soldiers who were following Aramis in his rounds.

“Well, Jonathan, from whom do you come?”

“Monseigneur, from those who captured me.”

“Who captured you?”

“You know, monseigneur, we set out in search of our comrades?”

“Yes; and afterwards?”

“Well! monseigneur, within a short league we were captured by a chasse maree belonging to the king.”

“Ah!” said Aramis.

“Of which king?” cried Porthos.

Jonathan started.

“Speak!” continued the bishop.

“We were captured, monseigneur, and joined to those who had been taken yesterday morning.”

“What was the cause of the mania for capturing you all?” said Porthos.

“Monsieur, to prevent us from telling you,” replied Jonathan.

Porthos was again at a loss to comprehend. “And they have released you to-day?” asked he.

“That I might tell you they have captured us, monsieur.”

“Trouble upon trouble,” thought honest Porthos.

During this time Aramis was reflecting.

“Humph!” said he, “then I suppose it is a royal fleet blockading the coasts?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“Who commands it?”

“The captain of the king’s musketeers.”

“D’Artagnan?”

“D’Artagnan!” exclaimed Porthos.

“I believe that is the name.”

“And did he give you this letter?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“Bring the torches nearer.”

“It is his writing,” said Porthos.

Aramis eagerly read the following lines:

“Order of the king to take Belle-Isle; or to put the garrison to the sword, if they resist; order to make prisoners of all the men of the garrison; signed, D’ARTAGNAN, who, the day before yesterday, arrested M. Fouquet, for the purpose of his being sent to the Bastile.”

Aramis turned pale, and crushed the paper in his hands.

“What is it?” asked Porthos.

“Nothing, my friend, nothing.”

“Tell me, Jonathan?”

“Monseigneur?”

“Did you speak to M. d’Artagnan?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“What did he say to you?”

“That for ampler information, he would speak with monseigneur.”

“Where?”

“On board his own vessel.”

“On board his vessel!” and Porthos repeated, “On board his vessel!”

“M. le mousquetaire,” continued Jonathan, “told me to take you both on board my canoe, and bring you to him.”

“Let us go at once,” exclaimed Porthos. “Dear D’Artagnan!”

But Aramis stopped him. “Are you mad?” cried he. “Who knows that it is not a snare?”

“Of the other king’s?” said Porthos, mysteriously.

“A snare, in fact! That’s what it is, my friend.”

“Very possibly; what is to be done, then? If D’Artagnan sends for us—”

“Who assures you that D’Artagnan sends for us?”

“Well, but—but his writing—”

“Writing is easily counterfeited. This looks counterfeited—unsteady—”

“You are always right; but, in the meantime, we know nothing.”

Aramis was silent.

“It is true,” said the good Porthos, “we do not want to know anything.”

“What shall I do?” asked Jonathan.

“You will return on board this captain’s vessel.”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“And will tell him that we beg he will himself come into the island.”

“Ah! I comprehend!” said Porthos.

“Yes, monseigneur,” replied Jonathan; “but if the captain should refuse to come to Belle-Isle?”

“If he refuses, as we have cannon, we will make use of them.”

“What! against D’Artagnan?”

“If it is D’Artagnan, Porthos, he will come. Go, Jonathan, go!”

“Ma foi! I no longer comprehend anything,” murmured Porthos.

“I will make you comprehend it all, my dear friend; the time for it has come; sit down upon this gun-carriage, open your ears, and listen well to me.”

“Oh! pardieu! I will listen, no fear of that.”

“May I depart, monseigneur?” cried Jonathan.

“Yes, begone, and bring back an answer. Allow the canoe to pass, you men there!” And the canoe pushed off to regain the fleet.

Aramis took Porthos by the hand, and commenced his explanations.