The Man in the Iron Mask



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Chapter LII. M. de Gesvres’s Round.

D’Artagnan was little used to resistance like that he had just experienced. He returned, profoundly irritated, to Nantes. Irritation, with this vigorous man, usually vented itself in impetuous attack, which few people, hitherto, were they king, were they giants, had been able to resist. Trembling with rage, he went straight to the castle, and asked an audience with the king. It might be about seven o’clock in the morning, and, since his arrival at Nantes, the king had been an early riser. But on arriving at the corridor with which we are acquainted, D’Artagnan found M. de Gesvres, who stopped him politely, telling him not to speak too loud and disturb the king. “Is the king asleep?” said D’Artagnan. “Well, I will let him sleep. But about what o’clock do you suppose he will rise?”

“Oh! in about two hours; his majesty has been up all night.”

D’Artagnan took his hat again, bowed to M. de Gesvres, and returned to his own apartments. He came back at half-past nine, and was told that the king was at breakfast. “That will just suit me,” said D’Artagnan. “I will talk to the king while he is eating.”

M. de Brienne reminded D’Artagnan that the king would not see any one at meal-time.

“But,” said D’Artagnan, looking askant at Brienne, “you do not know, perhaps, monsieur, that I have the privilege of entree anywhere—and at any hour.”

Brienne took the captain’s hand kindly, and said, “Not at Nantes, dear Monsieur d’Artagnan. The king, in this journey, has changed everything.”

D’Artagnan, a little softened, asked about what o’clock the king would have finished his breakfast.

“We don’t know.”

“Eh?—don’t know! What does that mean? You don’t know how much time the king devotes to eating? It is generally an hour; and, if we admit that the air of the Loire gives an additional appetite, we will extend it to an hour and a half; that is enough, I think. I will wait where I am.”

“Oh! dear Monsieur d’Artagnan, the order of the day is not to allow any person to remain in this corridor; I am on guard for that particular purpose.”

D’Artagnan felt his anger mounting to his brain a second time. He went out quickly, for fear of complicating the affair by a display of premature ill-humor. As soon as he was out he began to reflect. “The king,” said he, “will not receive me, that is evident. The young man is angry; he is afraid, beforehand, of the words that I may speak to him. Yes; but in the meantime Belle-Isle is besieged, and my two friends by now probably taken or killed. Poor Porthos! As to Master Aramis, he is always full of resources, and I am easy on his account. But, no, no; Porthos is not yet an invalid, nor is Aramis in his dotage. The one with his arm, the other with his imagination, will find work for his majesty’s soldiers. Who knows if these brave men may not get up for the edification of his most Christian majesty a little bastion of Saint-Gervais! I don’t despair of it. They have cannon and a garrison. And yet,” continued D’Artagnan, “I don’t know whether it would not be better to stop the combat. For myself alone I will not put up with either surly looks or insults from the king; but for my friends I must put up with everything. Shall I go to M. Colbert? Now, there is a man I must acquire the habit of terrifying. I will go to M. Colbert.” And D’Artagnan set forward bravely to find M. Colbert, but was informed that he was working with the king, at the castle of Nantes. “Good!” cried he, “the times have come again in which I measured my steps from De Treville to the cardinal, from the cardinal to the queen, from the queen to Louis XIII. Truly is it said that men, in growing old, become children again!—To the castle, then!” He returned thither. M. de Lyonne was coming out. He gave D’Artagnan both hands, but told him that the king had been busy all the preceding evening and all night, and that orders had been given that no one should be admitted. “Not even the captain who takes the order?” cried D’Artagnan. “I think that is rather too strong.”

“Not even he,” said M. de Lyonne.

“Since that is the case,” replied D’Artagnan, wounded to the heart; “since the captain of the musketeers, who has always entered the king’s chamber, is no longer allowed to enter it, his cabinet, or his salle-a-manger, either the king is dead, or his captain is in disgrace. Do me the favor, then, M. de Lyonne, who are in favor, to return and tell the king, plainly, I send him my resignation.”

“D’Artagnan, beware of what you are doing!”

“For friendship’s sake, go!” and he pushed him gently towards the cabinet.

“Well, I will go,” said Lyonne.

D’Artagnan waited, walking about the corridor in no enviable mood. Lyonne returned.

“Well, what did the king say?” exclaimed D’Artagnan.

“He simply answered, ‘’Tis well,’” replied Lyonne.

“That it was well!” said the captain, with an explosion. “That is to say, that he accepts it? Good! Now, then, I am free! I am only a plain citizen, M. de Lyonne. I have the pleasure of bidding you good-bye! Farewell, castle, corridor, ante-chamber! a bourgeois, about to breathe at liberty, takes his farewell of you.”

And without waiting longer, the captain sprang from the terrace down the staircase, where he had picked up the fragments of Gourville’s letter. Five minutes after, he was at the hostelry, where, according to the custom of all great officers who have lodgings at the castle, he had taken what was called his city-chamber. But when he arrived there, instead of throwing off his sword and cloak, he took his pistols, put his money into a large leather purse, sent for his horses from the castle-stables, and gave orders that would ensure their reaching Vannes during the night. Everything went on according to his wishes. At eight o’clock in the evening, he was putting his foot in the stirrup, when M. de Gesvres appeared, at the head of twelve guards, in front of the hostelry. D’Artagnan saw all from the corner of his eye; he could not fail seeing thirteen men and thirteen horses. But he feigned not to observe anything, and was about to put his horse in motion. Gesvres rode up to him. “Monsieur d’Artagnan!” said he, aloud.

“Ah, Monsieur de Gesvres! good evening!”

“One would say you were getting on horseback.”

“More than that,—I am mounted,—as you see.”

“It is fortunate I have met with you.”

“Were you looking for me, then?”

“Mon Dieu! yes.”

“On the part of the king, I will wager?”


“As I, three days ago, went in search of M. Fouquet?”


“Nonsense! It is of no use being over-delicate with me; that is all labor lost. Tell me at once you are come to arrest me.”

“To arrest you?—Good heavens! no.”

“Why do you come to accost me with twelve horsemen at your heels, then?”

“I am making my round.”

“That isn’t bad! And so you pick me up in your round, eh?”

“I don’t pick you up; I meet with you, and I beg you to come with me.”


“To the king.”

“Good!” said D’Artagnan, with a bantering air; “the king is disengaged.”

“For Heaven’s sake, captain,” said M. de Gesvres, in a low voice to the musketeer, “do not compromise yourself! these men hear you.”

D’Artagnan laughed aloud, and replied:

“March! People who are arrested are placed between the six first guards and the six last.”

“But as I am not arresting you,” said M. de Gesvres, “you will march behind, with me, if you please.”

“Well,” said D’Artagnan, “that is very polite, duke, and you are right in being so; for if ever I had had to make my rounds near your chambre-de-ville, I should have been courteous to you, I assure you, on the word of a gentleman! Now, one favor more; what does the king want with me?”

“Oh, the king is furious!”

“Very well! the king, who has thought it worth while to be angry, may take the trouble to grow calm again; that is all. I shan’t die of that, I will swear.”

“No, but—”

“But—I shall be sent to keep company with unfortunate M. Fouquet. Mordioux! That is a gallant man, a worthy man! We shall live very sociably together, I will be sworn.”

“Here we are at our place of destination,” said the duke. “Captain, for Heaven’s sake be calm with the king!”

“Ah! ah! you are playing the brave man with me, duke!” said D’Artagnan, throwing one of his defiant glances over Gesvres. “I have been told that you are ambitious of uniting your guards with my musketeers. This strikes me as a splendid opportunity.”

“I will take exceeding good care not to avail myself of it, captain.”

“And why not, pray?”

“Oh, for many reasons—in the first place, for this: if I were to succeed you in the musketeers after having arrested you—”

“Ah! then you admit you have arrested me?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Say met me, then. So, you were saying if you were to succeed me after having arrested me?”

“Your musketeers, at the first exercise with ball cartridges, would fire my way, by mistake.”

“Oh, as to that I won’t say; for the fellows do love me a little.”

Gesvres made D’Artagnan pass in first, and took him straight to the cabinet where Louis was waiting for his captain of the musketeers, and placed himself behind his colleague in the ante-chamber. The king could be heard distinctly, speaking aloud to Colbert in the same cabinet where Colbert might have heard, a few days before, the king speaking aloud with M. d’Artagnan. The guards remained as a mounted picket before the principal gate; and the report was quickly spread throughout the city that monsieur le capitaine of the musketeers had been arrested by order of the king. Then these men were seen to be in motion, and as in the good old times of Louis XIII. and M. de Treville, groups were formed, and staircases were filled; vague murmurs, issuing from the court below, came rolling to the upper stories, like the distant moaning of the waves. M. de Gesvres became uneasy. He looked at his guards, who, after being interrogated by the musketeers who had just got among their ranks, began to shun them with a manifestation of innocence. D’Artagnan was certainly less disturbed by all this than M. de Gesvres, the captain of the guards. As soon as he entered, he seated himself on the ledge of a window whence with his eagle glance he saw all that was going on without the least emotion. No step of the progressive fermentation which had shown itself at the report of his arrest escaped him. He foresaw the very moment the explosion would take place; and we know that his previsions were in general correct.

“It would be very whimsical,” thought he, “if, this evening, my praetorians should make me king of France. How I should laugh!”

But, at the height, all was stopped. Guards, musketeers, officers, soldiers, murmurs, uneasiness, dispersed, vanished, died away; there was an end of menace and sedition. One word had calmed the waves. The king had desired Brienne to say, “Hush, messieurs! you disturb the king.”

D’Artagnan sighed. “All is over!” said he; “the musketeers of the present day are not those of his majesty Louis XIII. All is over!”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, you are wanted in the ante-chamber of the king,” proclaimed an usher.

Chapter LIII. King Louis XIV.

The king was seated in his cabinet, with his back turned towards the door of entrance. In front of him was a mirror, in which, while turning over his papers, he could see at a glance those who came in. He did not take any notice of the entrance of D’Artagnan, but spread above his letters and plans the large silk cloth he used to conceal his secrets from the importunate. D’Artagnan understood this by-play, and kept in the background; so that at the end of a minute the king, who heard nothing, and saw nothing save from the corner of his eye, was obliged to cry, “Is not M. d’Artagnan there?”

“I am here, sire,” replied the musketeer, advancing.

“Well, monsieur,” said the king, fixing his pellucid eyes on D’Artagnan, “what have you to say to me?”

“I, sire!” replied the latter, who watched the first blow of his adversary to make a good retort; “I have nothing to say to your majesty, unless it be that you have caused me to be arrested, and here I am.”

The king was going to reply that he had not had D’Artagnan arrested, but any such sentence appeared too much like an excuse, and he was silent. D’Artagnan likewise preserved an obstinate silence.

“Monsieur,” at length resumed the king, “what did I charge you to go and do at Belle-Isle? Tell me, if you please.”

The king while uttering these words looked intently at his captain. Here D’Artagnan was fortunate; the king seemed to place the game in his hands.

“I believe,” replied he, “that your majesty does me the honor to ask what I went to Belle-Isle to accomplish?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“Well! sire, I know nothing about it; it is not of me that question should be asked, but of that infinite number of officers of all kinds, to whom have been given innumerable orders of all kinds, whilst to me, head of the expedition, nothing precise was said or stated in any form whatever.”

The king was hurt: he showed it by his reply. “Monsieur,” said he, “orders have only been given to such as were judged faithful.”

“And, therefore, I have been astonished, sire,” retorted the musketeer, “that a captain like myself, who ranks with a marechal of France, should have found himself under the orders of five or six lieutenants or majors, good to make spies of, possibly, but not at all fit to conduct a warlike expedition. It was upon this subject I came to demand an explanation of your majesty, when I found the door closed against me, which, the final insult offered to a brave man, has led me to quit your majesty’s service.”

“Monsieur,” replied the king, “you still believe that you are living in an age when kings were, as you complain of having been, under the orders and at the discretion of their inferiors. You seem to forget that a king owes an account of his actions to none but God.”

“I forget nothing, sire,” said the musketeer, wounded by this lesson. “Besides, I do not see in what an honest man, when he asks of his king how he has ill-served him, offends him.”

“You have ill-served me, monsieur, by siding with my enemies against me.”

“Who are your enemies, sire?”

“The men I sent you to fight.”

“Two men the enemies of the whole of your majesty’s army! That is incredible.”

“You have no power to judge of my will.”

“But I have to judge of my own friendships, sire.”

“He who serves his friends does not serve his master.”

“I so well understand this, sire, that I have respectfully offered your majesty my resignation.”

“And I have accepted it, monsieur,” said the king. “Before being separated from you I was willing to prove to you that I know how to keep my word.”

“Your majesty has kept more than your word, for your majesty has had me arrested,” said D’Artagnan, with his cold, bantering air; “you did not promise me that, sire.”

The king would not condescend to perceive the pleasantry, and continued, seriously, “You see, monsieur, to what grave steps your disobedience forces me.”

“My disobedience!” cried D’Artagnan, red with anger.

“It is the mildest term that I can find,” pursued the king. “My idea was to take and punish rebels; was I bound to inquire whether these rebels were your friends or not?”

“But I was,” replied D’Artagnan. “It was a cruelty on your majesty’s part to send me to capture my friends and lead them to your gibbets.”

“It was a trial I had to make, monsieur, of pretended servants, who eat my bread and should defend my person. The trial has succeeded ill, Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“For one bad servant your majesty loses,” said the musketeer, with bitterness, “there are ten who, on that same day, go through a like ordeal. Listen to me, sire; I am not accustomed to that service. Mine is a rebel sword when I am required to do ill. It was ill to send me in pursuit of two men whose lives M. Fouquet, your majesty’s preserver, implored you to save. Still further, these men were my friends. They did not attack your majesty, they succumbed to your blind anger. Besides, why were they not allowed to escape? What crime had they committed? I admit you may contest with me the right of judging their conduct. But why suspect me before the action? Why surround me with spies? Why disgrace me before the army? Why me, in whom till now you showed the most entire confidence—who for thirty years have been attached to your person, and have given you a thousand proofs of my devotion—for it must be said, now that I am accused—why reduce me to see three thousand of the king’s soldiers march in battle against two men?”

“One would say you have forgotten what these men have done to me!” said the king, in a hollow voice, “and that it was no merit of theirs I was not lost.”

“Sire, one would imagine you forget that I was there.”

“Enough, Monsieur d’Artagnan, enough of these dominating interests which arise to keep the sun itself from my interests. I am founding a state in which there shall be but one master, as I promised you; the moment is at hand for me to keep my promise. You wish to be, according to your tastes or private friendships, free to destroy my plans and save my enemies? I will thwart you or will drop you—seek a more compliant master. I know full well that another king would not conduct himself as I do, and would allow himself to be dominated by you, at the risk of sending you some day to keep company with M. Fouquet and the rest; but I have an excellent memory, and for me, services are sacred titles to gratitude, to impunity. You shall only have this lesson, Monsieur d’Artagnan, as the punishment of your want of discipline, and I will not imitate my predecessors in anger, not having imitated them in favor. And, then, other reasons make me act mildly towards you; in the first place, because you are a man of sense, a man of excellent sense, a man of heart, and that you will be a capital servant to him who shall have mastered you; secondly, because you will cease to have any motives for insubordination. Your friends are now destroyed or ruined by me. These supports on which your capricious mind instinctively relied I have caused to disappear. At this moment, my soldiers have taken or killed the rebels of Belle-Isle.”

D’Artagnan became pale. “Taken or killed!” cried he. “Oh! sire, if you thought what you tell, if you were sure you were telling me the truth, I should forget all that is just, all that is magnanimous in your words, to call you a barbarous king, and an unnatural man. But I pardon you these words,” said he, smiling with pride; “I pardon them to a young prince who does not know, who cannot comprehend what such men as M. d’Herblay, M. du Vallon, and myself are. Taken or killed! Ah! Ah! sire! tell me, if the news is true, how much has it cost you in men and money. We will then reckon if the game has been worth the stakes.”

As he spoke thus, the king went up to him in great anger, and said, “Monsieur d’Artagnan, your replies are those of a rebel! Tell me, if you please, who is king of France? Do you know any other?”

“Sire,” replied the captain of the musketeers, coldly, “I very well remember that one morning at Vaux you addressed that question to many people who did not answer to it, whilst I, on my part, did answer to it. If I recognized my king on that day, when the thing was not easy, I think it would be useless to ask the question of me now, when your majesty and I are alone.”

At these words Louis cast down his eyes. It appeared to him that the shade of the unfortunate Philippe passed between D’Artagnan and himself, to evoke the remembrance of that terrible adventure. Almost at the same moment an officer entered and placed a dispatch in the hands of the king, who, in his turn, changed color, while reading it.

“Monsieur,” said he, “what I learn here you would know later; it is better I should tell you, and that you should learn it from the mouth of your king. A battle has taken place at Belle-Isle.”

“Is it possible?” said D’Artagnan, with a calm air, though his heart was beating fast enough to choke him. “Well, sire?”

“Well, monsieur—and I have lost a hundred and ten men.”

A beam of joy and pride shone in the eyes of D’Artagnan. “And the rebels?” said he.

“The rebels have fled,” said the king.

D’Artagnan could not restrain a cry of triumph. “Only,” added the king, “I have a fleet which closely blockades Belle-Isle, and I am certain not a bark can escape.”

“So that,” said the musketeer, brought back to his dismal idea, “if these two gentlemen are taken—”

“They will be hanged,” said the king, quietly.

“And do they know it?” replied D’Artagnan, repressing his trembling.

“They know it, because you must have told them yourself; and all the country knows it.”

“Then, sire, they will never be taken alive, I will answer for that.”

“Ah!” said the king, negligently, and taking up his letter again. “Very well, they will be dead, then, Monsieur d’Artagnan, and that will come to the same thing, since I should only take them to have them hanged.”

D’Artagnan wiped the sweat which flowed from his brow.

“I have told you,” pursued Louis XIV., “that I would one day be an affectionate, generous, and constant master. You are now the only man of former times worthy of my anger or my friendship. I will not spare you either sentiment, according to your conduct. Could you serve a king, Monsieur d’Artagnan, who should have a hundred kings, his equals, in the kingdom? Could I, tell me, do with such weak instruments the great things I meditate? Did you ever see an artist effect great works with an unworthy tool? Far from us, monsieur, the old leaven of feudal abuse! The Fronde, which threatened to ruin monarchy, has emancipated it. I am master at home, Captain d’Artagnan, and I shall have servants who, lacking, perhaps, your genius, will carry devotion and obedience to the verge of heroism. Of what consequence, I ask you, of what consequence is it that God has given no sense to arms and legs? It is to the head he has given genius, and the head, you know, the rest obey. I am the head.”

D’Artagnan started. Louis XIV. continued as if he had seen nothing, although this emotion had not by any means escaped him. “Now, let us conclude between us two the bargain I promised to make with you one day when you found me in a very strange predicament at Blois. Do me justice, monsieur, when you admit I do not make any one pay for the tears of shame that I then shed. Look around you; lofty heads have bowed. Bow yours, or choose such exile as will suit you. Perhaps, when reflecting upon it, you will find your king has a generous heart, who reckons sufficiently upon your loyalty to allow you to leave him dissatisfied, when you possess a great state secret. You are a brave man; I know you to be so. Why have you judged me prematurely? Judge me from this day forward, D’Artagnan, and be as severe as you please.”

D’Artagnan remained bewildered, mute, undecided for the first time in his life. At last he had found an adversary worthy of him. This was no longer trick, it was calculation; no longer violence, but strength; no longer passion, but will; no longer boasting, but council. This young man who had brought down a Fouquet, and could do without a D’Artagnan, deranged the somewhat headstrong calculations of the musketeer.

“Come, let us see what stops you?” said the king, kindly. “You have given in your resignation; shall I refuse to accept it? I admit that it may be hard for such an old captain to recover lost good-humor.”

“Oh!” replied D’Artagnan, in a melancholy tone, “that is not my most serious care. I hesitate to take back my resignation because I am old in comparison with you, and have habits difficult to abandon. Henceforward, you must have courtiers who know how to amuse you—madmen who will get themselves killed to carry out what you call your great works. Great they will be, I feel—but, if by chance I should not think them so? I have seen war, sire, I have seen peace; I have served Richelieu and Mazarin; I have been scorched with your father, at the fire of Rochelle; riddled with sword-thrusts like a sieve, having grown a new skin ten times, as serpents do. After affronts and injustices, I have a command which was formerly something, because it gave the bearer the right of speaking as he liked to his king. But your captain of the musketeers will henceforward be an officer guarding the outer doors. Truly, sire, if that is to be my employment from this time, seize the opportunity of our being on good terms, to take it from me. Do not imagine that I bear malice; no, you have tamed me, as you say; but it must be confessed that in taming me you have lowered me; by bowing me you have convicted me of weakness. If you knew how well it suits me to carry my head high, and what a pitiful mien I shall have while scenting the dust of your carpets! Oh! sire, I regret sincerely, and you will regret as I do, the old days when the king of France saw in every vestibule those insolent gentlemen, lean, always swearing—cross-grained mastiffs, who could bite mortally in the hour of danger or of battle. These men were the best of courtiers to the hand which fed them—they would lick it; but for the hand that struck them, oh! the bite that followed! A little gold on the lace of their cloaks, a slender stomach in their hauts-de-chausses, a little sparkling of gray in their dry hair, and you will behold the handsome dukes and peers, the haughty marechaux of France. But why should I tell you all this? The king is master; he wills that I should make verses, he wills that I should polish the mosaics of his ante-chambers with satin shoes. Mordioux! that is difficult, but I have got over greater difficulties. I will do it. Why should I do it? Because I love money?—I have enough. Because I am ambitious?—my career is almost at an end. Because I love the court? No. I will remain here because I have been accustomed for thirty years to go and take the orderly word of the king, and to have said to me ‘Good evening, D’Artagnan,’ with a smile I did not beg for. That smile I will beg for! Are you content, sire?” And D’Artagnan bowed his silver head, upon which the smiling king placed his white hand with pride.

“Thanks, my old servant, my faithful friend,” said he. “As, reckoning from this day, I have no longer any enemies in France, it remains with me to send you to a foreign field to gather your marshal’s baton. Depend upon me for finding you an opportunity. In the meanwhile, eat of my very best bread, and sleep in absolute tranquillity.”

“That is all kind and well!” said D’Artagnan, much agitated. “But those poor men at Belle-Isle? One of them, in particular—so good! so brave! so true!”

“Do you ask their pardon of me?”

“Upon my knees, sire!”

“Well! then, go and take it to them, if it be still in time. But do you answer for them?”

“With my life, sire.”

“Go, then. To-morrow I set out for Paris. Return by that time, for I do not wish you to leave me in the future.”

“Be assured of that, sire,” said D’Artagnan, kissing the royal hand.

And with a heart swelling with joy, he rushed out of the castle on his way to Belle-Isle.

Chapter LIV. M. Fouquet’s Friends.

The king had returned to Paris, and with him D’Artagnan, who, in twenty-four hours, having made with greatest care all possible inquiries at Belle-Isle, succeeded in learning nothing of the secret so well kept by the heavy rock of Locmaria, which had fallen on the heroic Porthos. The captain of the musketeers only knew what those two valiant men—these two friends, whose defense he had so nobly taken up, whose lives he had so earnestly endeavored to save—aided by three faithful Bretons, had accomplished against a whole army. He had seen, spread on the neighboring heath, the human remains which had stained with clouted blood the scattered stones among the flowering broom. He learned also that a bark had been seen far out at sea, and that, like a bird of prey, a royal vessel had pursued, overtaken, and devoured the poor little bird that was flying with such palpitating wings. But there D’Artagnan’s certainties ended. The field of supposition was thrown open. Now, what could he conjecture? The vessel had not returned. It is true that a brisk wind had prevailed for three days; but the corvette was known to be a good sailer and solid in its timbers; it had no need to fear a gale of wind, and it ought, according to the calculation of D’Artagnan, to have either returned to Brest, or come back to the mouth of the Loire. Such was the news, ambiguous, it is true, but in some degree reassuring to him personally, which D’Artagnan brought to Louis XIV., when the king, followed by all the court, returned to Paris.

Louis, satisfied with his success—Louis, more mild and affable as he felt himself more powerful—had not ceased for an instant to ride beside the carriage door of Mademoiselle de la Valliere. Everybody was anxious to amuse the two queens, so as to make them forget this abandonment by son and husband. Everything breathed the future, the past was nothing to anybody. Only that past was like a painful bleeding wound to the hearts of certain tender and devoted spirits. Scarcely was the king reinstalled in Paris, when he received a touching proof of this. Louis XIV. had just risen and taken his first repast when his captain of the musketeers presented himself before him. D’Artagnan was pale and looked unhappy. The king, at the first glance, perceived the change in a countenance generally so unconcerned. “What is the matter, D’Artagnan?” said he.

“Sire, a great misfortune has happened to me.”

“Good heavens! what is that?”

“Sire, I have lost one of my friends, M. du Vallon, in the affair of Belle-Isle.”

And, while speaking these words, D’Artagnan fixed his falcon eye upon Louis XIV., to catch the first feeling that would show itself.

“I knew it,” replied the king, quietly.

“You knew it, and did not tell me!” cried the musketeer.

“To what good? Your grief, my friend, was so well worthy of respect. It was my duty to treat it gently. To have informed you of this misfortune, which I knew would pain you so greatly, D’Artagnan, would have been, in your eyes, to have triumphed over you. Yes, I knew that M. du Vallon had buried himself beneath the rocks of Locmaria; I knew that M. d’Herblay had taken one of my vessels with its crew, and had compelled it to convey him to Bayonne. But I was willing you should learn these matters in a direct manner, in order that you might be convinced my friends are with me respected and sacred; that always in me the man will sacrifice himself to subjects, whilst the king is so often found to sacrifice men to majesty and power.”

“But, sire, how could you know?”

“How do you yourself know, D’Artagnan?”

“By this letter, sire, which M. d’Herblay, free and out of danger, writes me from Bayonne.”

“Look here,” said the king, drawing from a casket placed upon the table closet to the seat upon which D’Artagnan was leaning, “here is a letter copied exactly from that of M. d’Herblay. Here is the very letter, which Colbert placed in my hands a week before you received yours. I am well served, you may perceive.”

“Yes, sire,” murmured the musketeer, “you were the only man whose star was equal to the task of dominating the fortune and strength of my two friends. You have used your power, sire, you will not abuse it, will you?”

“D’Artagnan,” said the king, with a smile beaming with kindness, “I could have M. d’Herblay carried off from the territories of the king of Spain, and brought here, alive, to inflict justice upon him. But, D’Artagnan, be assured I will not yield to this first and natural impulse. He is free—let him continue free.”

“Oh, sire! you will not always remain so clement, so noble, so generous as you have shown yourself with respect to me and M. d’Herblay; you will have about you counselors who will cure you of that weakness.”

“No, D’Artagnan, you are mistaken when you accuse my council of urging me to pursue rigorous measures. The advice to spare M. d’Herblay comes from Colbert himself.”

“Oh, sire!” said D’Artagnan, extremely surprised.

“As for you,” continued the king, with a kindness very uncommon to him, “I have several pieces of good news to announce to you; but you shall know them, my dear captain, the moment I have made my accounts all straight. I have said that I wish to make, and would make, your fortune; that promise will soon become reality.”

“A thousand times thanks, sire! I can wait. But I implore you, whilst I go and practice patience, that your majesty will deign to notice those poor people who have for so long a time besieged your ante-chamber, and come humbly to lay a petition at your feet.”

“Who are they?”

“Enemies of your majesty.” The king raised his head.

“Friends of M. Fouquet,” added D’Artagnan.

“Their names?”

“M. Gourville, M. Pelisson, and a poet, M. Jean de la Fontaine.”

The king took a moment to reflect. “What do they want?”

“I do not know.”

“How do they appear?”

“In great affliction.”

“What do they say?”


“What do they do?”

“They weep.”

“Let them come in,” said the king, with a serious brow.

D’Artagnan turned rapidly on his heel, raised the tapestry which closed the entrance to the royal chamber, and directing his voice to the adjoining room, cried, “Enter.”

The three men D’Artagnan had named immediately appeared at the door of the cabinet in which were the king and his captain. A profound silence prevailed in their passage. The courtiers, at the approach of the friends of the unfortunate superintendent of finances, drew back, as if fearful of being affected by contagion with disgrace and misfortune. D’Artagnan, with a quick step, came forward to take by the hand the unhappy men who stood trembling at the door of the cabinet; he led them in front of the king’s fauteuil, who, having placed himself in the embrasure of a window, awaited the moment of presentation, and was preparing himself to give the supplicants a rigorously diplomatic reception.

The first of the friends of Fouquet’s to advance was Pelisson. He did not weep, but his tears were only restrained that the king might better hear his voice and prayer. Gourville bit his lips to check his tears, out of respect for the king. La Fontaine buried his face in his handkerchief, and the only signs of life he gave were the convulsive motions of his shoulders, raised by his sobs.

The king preserved his dignity. His countenance was impassible. He even maintained the frown which appeared when D’Artagnan announced his enemies. He made a gesture which signified, “Speak;” and he remained standing, with his eyes fixed searchingly on these desponding men. Pelisson bowed to the ground, and La Fontaine knelt as people do in churches. This dismal silence, disturbed only by sighs and groans, began to excite in the king, not compassion, but impatience.

“Monsieur Pelisson,” said he, in a sharp, dry tone. “Monsieur Gourville, and you, Monsieur—” and he did not name La Fontaine, “I cannot, without sensible displeasure, see you come to plead for one of the greatest criminals it is the duty of justice to punish. A king does not allow himself to soften save at the tears of the innocent, the remorse of the guilty. I have no faith either in the remorse of M. Fouquet or the tears of his friends, because the one is tainted to the very heart, and the others ought to dread offending me in my own palace. For these reasons, I beg you, Monsieur Pelisson, Monsieur Gourville, and you, Monsieur—, to say nothing that will not plainly proclaim the respect you have for my will.”

“Sire,” replied Pelisson, trembling at these words, “we are come to say nothing to your majesty that is not the most profound expression of the most sincere respect and love that are due to a king from all his subjects. Your majesty’s justice is redoubtable; every one must yield to the sentences it pronounces. We respectfully bow before it. Far from us the idea of coming to defend him who has had the misfortune to offend your majesty. He who has incurred your displeasure may be a friend of ours, but he is an enemy to the state. We abandon him, but with tears, to the severity of the king.”

“Besides,” interrupted the king, calmed by that supplicating voice, and those persuasive words, “my parliament will decide. I do not strike without first having weighed the crime; my justice does not wield the sword without employing first a pair of scales.”

“Therefore we have every confidence in that impartiality of the king, and hope to make our feeble voices heard, with the consent of your majesty, when the hour for defending an accused friend strikes.”

“In that case, messieurs, what do you ask of me?” said the king, with his most imposing air.

“Sire,” continued Pelisson, “the accused has a wife and family. The little property he had was scarcely sufficient to pay his debts, and Madame Fouquet, since her husband’s captivity, is abandoned by everybody. The hand of your majesty strikes like the hand of God. When the Lord sends the curse of leprosy or pestilence into a family, every one flies and shuns the abode of the leprous or plague-stricken. Sometimes, but very rarely, a generous physician alone ventures to approach the ill-reputed threshold, passes it with courage, and risks his life to combat death. He is the last resource of the dying, the chosen instrument of heavenly mercy. Sire, we supplicate you, with clasped hands and bended knees, as a divinity is supplicated! Madame Fouquet has no longer any friends, no longer any means of support; she weeps in her deserted home, abandoned by all those who besieged its doors in the hour of prosperity; she has neither credit nor hope left. At least, the unhappy wretch upon whom your anger falls receives from you, however culpable he may be, his daily bread though moistened by his tears. As much afflicted, more destitute than her husband, Madame Fouquet—the lady who had the honor to receive your majesty at her table—Madame Fouquet, the wife of the ancient superintendent of your majesty’s finances, Madame Fouquet has no longer bread.”

Here the mortal silence which had chained the breath of Pelisson’s two friends was broken by an outburst of sobs; and D’Artagnan, whose chest heaved at hearing this humble prayer, turned round towards the angle of the cabinet to bite his mustache and conceal a groan.

The king had preserved his eye dry and his countenance severe; but the blood had mounted to his cheeks, and the firmness of his look was visibly diminished.

“What do you wish?” said he, in an agitated voice.

“We come humbly to ask your majesty,” replied Pelisson, upon whom emotion was fast gaining, “to permit us, without incurring the displeasure of your majesty, to lend to Madame Fouquet two thousand pistoles collected among the old friends of her husband, in order that the widow may not stand in need of the necessaries of life.”

At the word widow, pronounced by Pelisson whilst Fouquet was still alive, the king turned very pale;—his pride disappeared; pity rose from his heart to his lips; he cast a softened look upon the men who knelt sobbing at his feet.

“God forbid,” said he, “that I should confound the innocent with the guilty. They know me but ill who doubt my mercy towards the weak. I strike none but the arrogant. Do, messieurs, do all that your hearts counsel you to assuage the grief of Madame Fouquet. Go, messieurs—go!”

The three now rose in silence with dry eyes. The tears had been scorched away by contact with their burning cheeks and eyelids. They had not the strength to address their thanks to the king, who himself cut short their solemn reverences by entrenching himself suddenly behind the fauteuil.

D’Artagnan remained alone with the king.

“Well,” said he, approaching the young prince, who interrogated him with his look. “Well, my master! If you had not the device which belongs to your sun, I would recommend you one which M. Conrart might translate into eclectic Latin, ‘Calm with the lowly; stormy with the strong.’”

The king smiled, and passed into the next apartment, after having said to D’Artagnan, “I give you the leave of absence you must want to put the affairs of your friend, the late M. du Vallon, in order.”