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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Chapter IV. The Patterns.


During all this time the noble mob was slowly heaving away, leaving at every angle of the counter either a murmur or a menace, as the waves leave foam or scattered seaweed on the sands, when they retire with the ebbing tide. In about ten minutes Moliere reappeared, making another sign to D’Artagnan from under the hangings. The latter hurried after him, with Porthos in the rear, and after threading a labyrinth of corridors, introduced him to M. Percerin’s room. The old man, with his sleeves turned up, was gathering up in folds a piece of gold-flowered brocade, so as the better to exhibit its luster. Perceiving D’Artagnan, he put the silk aside, and came to meet him, by no means radiant with joy, and by no means courteous, but, take it altogether, in a tolerably civil manner.

“The captain of the king’s musketeers will excuse me, I am sure, for I am engaged.”

“Eh! yes, on the king’s costumes; I know that, my dear Monsieur Percerin. You are making three, they tell me.”

“Five, my dear sir, five.”

“Three or five, ‘tis all the same to me, my dear monsieur; and I know that you will make them most exquisitely.”

“Yes, I know. Once made they will be the most beautiful in the world, I do not deny it; but that they may be the most beautiful in the word, they must first be made; and to do this, captain, I am pressed for time.”

“Oh, bah! there are two days yet; ‘tis much more than you require, Monsieur Percerin,” said D’Artagnan, in the coolest possible manner.

Percerin raised his head with the air of a man little accustomed to be contradicted, even in his whims; but D’Artagnan did not pay the least attention to the airs which the illustrious tailor began to assume.

“My dear M. Percerin,” he continued, “I bring you a customer.”

“Ah! ah!” exclaimed Percerin, crossly.

“M. le Baron du Vallon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds,” continued D’Artagnan. Percerin attempted a bow, which found no favor in the eyes of the terrible Porthos, who, from his first entry into the room, had been regarding the tailor askance.

“A very good friend of mine,” concluded D’Artagnan.

“I will attend to monsieur,” said Percerin, “but later.”

“Later? but when?”

“When I have time.”

“You have already told my valet as much,” broke in Porthos, discontentedly.

“Very likely,” said Percerin; “I am nearly always pushed for time.”

“My friend,” returned Porthos, sententiously, “there is always time to be found when one chooses to seek it.”

Percerin turned crimson; an ominous sign indeed in old men blanched by age.

“Monsieur is quite at liberty to confer his custom elsewhere.”

“Come, come, Percerin,” interposed D’Artagnan, “you are not in a good temper to-day. Well, I will say one more word to you, which will bring you on your knees; monsieur is not only a friend of mine, but more, a friend of M. Fouquet’s.”

“Ah! ah!” exclaimed the tailor, “that is another thing.” Then turning to Porthos, “Monsieur le baron is attached to the superintendent?” he inquired.

“I am attached to myself,” shouted Porthos, at the very moment that the tapestry was raised to introduce a new speaker in the dialogue. Moliere was all observation, D’Artagnan laughed, Porthos swore.

“My dear Percerin,” said D’Artagnan, “you will make a dress for the baron. ‘Tis I who ask you.”

“To you I will not say nay, captain.”

“But that is not all; you will make it for him at once.”

“‘Tis impossible within eight days.”

“That, then, is as much as to refuse, because the dress is wanted for the fete at Vaux.”

“I repeat that it is impossible,” returned the obstinate old man.

“By no means, dear Monsieur Percerin, above all if I ask you,” said a mild voice at the door, a silvery voice which made D’Artagnan prick up his ears. It was the voice of Aramis.

“Monsieur d’Herblay!” cried the tailor.

“Aramis,” murmured D’Artagnan.

“Ah! our bishop!” said Porthos.

“Good morning, D’Artagnan; good morning, Porthos; good-morning, my dear friends,” said Aramis. “Come, come, M. Percerin, make the baron’s dress; and I will answer for it you will gratify M. Fouquet.” And he accompanied the words with a sign, which seemed to say, “Agree, and dismiss them.”

It appeared that Aramis had over Master Percerin an influence superior even to D’Artagnan’s, for the tailor bowed in assent, and turning round upon Porthos, said, “Go and get measured on the other side.”

Porthos colored in a formidable manner. D’Artagnan saw the storm coming, and addressing Moliere, said to him, in an undertone, “You see before you, my dear monsieur, a man who considers himself disgraced, if you measure the flesh and bones that Heaven has given him; study this type for me, Master Aristophanes, and profit by it.”

Moliere had no need of encouragement, and his gaze dwelt long and keenly on the Baron Porthos. “Monsieur,” he said, “if you will come with me, I will make them take your measure without touching you.”

“Oh!” said Porthos, “how do you make that out, my friend?”

“I say that they shall apply neither line nor rule to the seams of your dress. It is a new method we have invented for measuring people of quality, who are too sensitive to allow low-born fellows to touch them. We know some susceptible persons who will not put up with being measured, a process which, as I think, wounds the natural dignity of a man; and if perchance monsieur should be one of these—”

“Corboeuf! I believe I am too!”

“Well, that is a capital and most consolatory coincidence, and you shall have the benefit of our invention.”

“But how in the world can it be done?” asked Porthos, delighted.

“Monsieur,” said Moliere, bowing, “if you will deign to follow me, you will see.”

Aramis observed this scene with all his eyes. Perhaps he fancied from D’Artagnan’s liveliness that he would leave with Porthos, so as not to lose the conclusion of a scene well begun. But, clear-sighted as he was, Aramis deceived himself. Porthos and Moliere left together: D’Artagnan remained with Percerin. Why? From curiosity, doubtless; probably to enjoy a little longer the society of his good friend Aramis. As Moliere and Porthos disappeared, D’Artagnan drew near the bishop of Vannes, a proceeding which appeared particularly to disconcert him.

“A dress for you, also, is it not, my friend?”

Aramis smiled. “No,” said he.

“You will go to Vaux, however?”

“I shall go, but without a new dress. You forget, dear D’Artagnan, that a poor bishop of Vannes is not rich enough to have new dresses for every fete.”

“Bah!” said the musketeer, laughing, “and do we write no more poems now, either?”

“Oh! D’Artagnan,” exclaimed Aramis, “I have long ago given up all such tomfoolery.”

“True,” repeated D’Artagnan, only half convinced. As for Percerin, he was once more absorbed in contemplation of the brocades.

“Don’t you perceive,” said Aramis, smiling, “that we are greatly boring this good gentleman, my dear D’Artagnan?”

“Ah! ah!” murmured the musketeer, aside; “that is, I am boring you, my friend.” Then aloud, “Well, then, let us leave; I have no further business here, and if you are as disengaged as I, Aramis—”

“No, not I—I wished—”

“Ah! you had something particular to say to M. Percerin? Why did you not tell me so at once?”

“Something particular, certainly,” repeated Aramis, “but not for you, D’Artagnan. But, at the same time, I hope you will believe that I can never have anything so particular to say that a friend like you may not hear it.”

“Oh, no, no! I am going,” said D’Artagnan, imparting to his voice an evident tone of curiosity; for Aramis’s annoyance, well dissembled as it was, had not a whit escaped him; and he knew that, in that impenetrable mind, every thing, even the most apparently trivial, was designed to some end; an unknown one, but an end that, from the knowledge he had of his friend’s character, the musketeer felt must be important.

On his part, Aramis saw that D’Artagnan was not without suspicion, and pressed him. “Stay, by all means,” he said, “this is what it is.” Then turning towards the tailor, “My dear Percerin,” said he,—“I am even very happy that you are here, D’Artagnan.”

“Oh, indeed,” exclaimed the Gascon, for the third time, even less deceived this time than before.

Percerin never moved. Aramis roused him violently, by snatching from his hands the stuff upon which he was engaged. “My dear Percerin,” said he, “I have, near hand, M. Lebrun, one of M. Fouquet’s painters.”

“Ah, very good,” thought D’Artagnan; “but why Lebrun?”

Aramis looked at D’Artagnan, who seemed to be occupied with an engraving of Mark Antony. “And you wish that I should make him a dress, similar to those of the Epicureans?” answered Percerin. And while saying this, in an absent manner, the worthy tailor endeavored to recapture his piece of brocade.

“An Epicurean’s dress?” asked D’Artagnan, in a tone of inquiry.

“I see,” said Aramis, with a most engaging smile, “it is written that our dear D’Artagnan shall know all our secrets this evening. Yes, friend, you have surely heard speak of M. Fouquet’s Epicureans, have you not?”

“Undoubtedly. Is it not a kind of poetical society, of which La Fontaine, Loret, Pelisson, and Moliere are members, and which holds its sittings at Saint-Mande?”

“Exactly so. Well, we are going to put our poets in uniform, and enroll them in a regiment for the king.”

“Oh, very well, I understand; a surprise M. Fouquet is getting up for the king. Be at ease; if that is the secret about M. Lebrun, I will not mention it.”

“Always agreeable, my friend. No, Monsieur Lebrun has nothing to do with this part of it; the secret which concerns him is far more important than the other.”

“Then, if it is so important as all that, I prefer not to know it,” said D’Artagnan, making a show of departure.

“Come in, M. Lebrun, come in,” said Aramis, opening a side-door with his right hand, and holding back D’Artagnan with his left.

“I’faith, I too, am quite in the dark,” quoth Percerin.

Aramis took an “opportunity,” as is said in theatrical matters.

“My dear M. de Percerin,” Aramis continued, “you are making five dresses for the king, are you not? One in brocade; one in hunting-cloth; one in velvet; one in satin; and one in Florentine stuffs.”

“Yes; but how—do you know all that, monseigneur?” said Percerin, astounded.

“It is all very simple, my dear monsieur; there will be a hunt, a banquet, concert, promenade and reception; these five kinds of dress are required by etiquette.”

“You know everything, monseigneur!”

“And a thing or two in addition,” muttered D’Artagnan.

“But,” cried the tailor, in triumph, “what you do not know, monseigneur—prince of the church though you are—what nobody will know—what only the king, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, and myself do know, is the color of the materials and nature of the ornaments, and the cut, the ensemble, the finish of it all!”

“Well,” said Aramis, “that is precisely what I have come to ask you, dear Percerin.”

“Ah, bah!” exclaimed the tailor, terrified, though Aramis had pronounced these words in his softest and most honeyed tones. The request appeared, on reflection, so exaggerated, so ridiculous, so monstrous to M. Percerin that first he laughed to himself, then aloud, and finished with a shout. D’Artagnan followed his example, not because he found the matter so “very funny,” but in order not to allow Aramis to cool.

“At the outset, I appear to be hazarding an absurd question, do I not?” said Aramis. “But D’Artagnan, who is incarnate wisdom itself, will tell you that I could not do otherwise than ask you this.”

“Let us see,” said the attentive musketeer; perceiving with his wonderful instinct that they had only been skirmishing till now, and that the hour of battle was approaching.

“Let us see,” said Percerin, incredulously.

“Why, now,” continued Aramis, “does M. Fouquet give the king a fete?—Is it not to please him?”

“Assuredly,” said Percerin. D’Artagnan nodded assent.

“By delicate attentions? by some happy device? by a succession of surprises, like that of which we were talking?—the enrolment of our Epicureans.”

“Admirable.”

“Well, then; this is the surprise we intend. M. Lebrun here is a man who draws most excellently.”

“Yes,” said Percerin; “I have seen his pictures, and observed that his dresses were highly elaborated. That is why I at once agreed to make him a costume—whether to agree with those of the Epicureans, or an original one.”

“My dear monsieur, we accept your offer, and shall presently avail ourselves of it; but just now, M. Lebrun is not in want of the dresses you will make for himself, but of those you are making for the king.”

Percerin made a bound backwards, which D’Artagnan—calmest and most appreciative of men, did not consider overdone, so many strange and startling aspects wore the proposal which Aramis had just hazarded. “The king’s dresses! Give the king’s dresses to any mortal whatever! Oh! for once, monseigneur, your grace is mad!” cried the poor tailor in extremity.

“Help me now, D’Artagnan,” said Aramis, more and more calm and smiling. “Help me now to persuade monsieur, for you understand; do you not?”

“Eh! eh!—not exactly, I declare.”

“What! you do not understand that M. Fouquet wishes to afford the king the surprise of finding his portrait on his arrival at Vaux; and that the portrait, which be a striking resemblance, ought to be dressed exactly as the king will be on the day it is shown?”

“Oh! yes, yes,” said the musketeer, nearly convinced, so plausible was this reasoning. “Yes, my dear Aramis, you are right; it is a happy idea. I will wager it is one of your own, Aramis.”

“Well, I don’t know,” replied the bishop; “either mine or M. Fouquet’s.” Then scanning Percerin, after noticing D’Artagnan’s hesitation, “Well, Monsieur Percerin,” he asked, “what do you say to this?”

“I say, that—”

“That you are, doubtless, free to refuse. I know well—and I by no means count upon compelling you, my dear monsieur. I will say more, I even understand all the delicacy you feel in taking up with M. Fouquet’s idea; you dread appearing to flatter the king. A noble spirit, M. Percerin, a noble spirit!” The tailor stammered. “It would, indeed, be a very pretty compliment to pay the young prince,” continued Aramis; “but as the surintendant told me, ‘if Percerin refuse, tell him that it will not at all lower him in my opinion, and I shall always esteem him, only—‘”

“‘Only?’” repeated Percerin, rather troubled.

“‘Only,’” continued Aramis, “‘I shall be compelled to say to the king,’—you understand, my dear Monsieur Percerin, that these are M. Fouquet’s words,—‘I shall be constrained to say to the king, “Sire, I had intended to present your majesty with your portrait, but owing to a feeling of delicacy, slightly exaggerated perhaps, although creditable, M. Percerin opposed the project.”’”

“Opposed!” cried the tailor, terrified at the responsibility which would weigh upon him; “I to oppose the desire, the will of M. Fouquet when he is seeking to please the king! Oh, what a hateful word you have uttered, monseigneur. Oppose! Oh, ‘tis not I who said it, Heaven have mercy on me. I call the captain of the musketeers to witness it! Is it not true, Monsieur d’Artagnan, that I have opposed nothing?”

D’Artagnan made a sign indicating that he wished to remain neutral. He felt that there was an intrigue at the bottom of it, whether comedy or tragedy; he was at his wit’s end at not being able to fathom it, but in the meanwhile wished to keep clear.

But already Percerin, goaded by the idea that the king was to be told he stood in the way of a pleasant surprise, had offered Lebrun a chair, and proceeded to bring from a wardrobe four magnificent dresses, the fifth being still in the workmen’s hands; and these masterpieces he successively fitted upon four lay figures, which, imported into France in the time of Concini, had been given to Percerin II. by Marshal d’Onore, after the discomfiture of the Italian tailors ruined in their competition. The painter set to work to draw and then to paint the dresses. But Aramis, who was closely watching all the phases of his toil, suddenly stopped him.

“I think you have not quite got it, my dear Lebrun,” he said; “your colors will deceive you, and on canvas we shall lack that exact resemblance which is absolutely requisite. Time is necessary for attentively observing the finer shades.”

“Quite true,” said Percerin, “but time is wanting, and on that head, you will agree with me, monseigneur, I can do nothing.”

“Then the affair will fail,” said Aramis, quietly, “and that because of a want of precision in the colors.”

Nevertheless Lebrun went on copying the materials and ornaments with the closest fidelity—a process which Aramis watched with ill-concealed impatience.

“What in the world, now, is the meaning of this imbroglio?” the musketeer kept saying to himself.

“That will never do,” said Aramis: “M. Lebrun, close your box, and roll up your canvas.”

“But, monsieur,” cried the vexed painter, “the light is abominable here.”

“An idea, M. Lebrun, an idea! If we had a pattern of the materials, for example, and with time, and a better light—”

“Oh, then,” cried Lebrun, “I would answer for the effect.”

“Good!” said D’Artagnan, “this ought to be the knotty point of the whole thing; they want a pattern of each of the materials. Mordioux! Will this Percerin give in now?”

Percerin, beaten from his last retreat, and duped, moreover, by the feigned good-nature of Aramis, cut out five patterns and handed them to the bishop of Vannes.

“I like this better. That is your opinion, is it not?” said Aramis to D’Artagnan.

“My dear Aramis,” said D’Artagnan, “my opinion is that you are always the same.”

“And, consequently, always your friend,” said the bishop in a charming tone.

“Yes, yes,” said D’Artagnan, aloud; then, in a low voice, “If I am your dupe, double Jesuit that you are, I will not be your accomplice; and to prevent it, ‘tis time I left this place.—Adieu, Aramis,” he added aloud, “adieu; I am going to rejoin Porthos.”

“Then wait for me,” said Aramis, pocketing the patterns, “for I have done, and shall be glad to say a parting word to our dear old friend.”

Lebrun packed up his paints and brushes, Percerin put back the dresses into the closet, Aramis put his hand on his pocket to assure himself the patterns were secure,—and they all left the study.






Chapter V. Where, Probably, Moliere Obtained His First Idea of the Bourgeois Gentilhomme.


D’Artagnan found Porthos in the adjoining chamber; but no longer an irritated Porthos, or a disappointed Porthos, but Porthos radiant, blooming, fascinating, and chattering with Moliere, who was looking upon him with a species of idolatry, and as a man would who had not only never seen anything greater, but not even ever anything so great. Aramis went straight up to Porthos and offered him his white hand, which lost itself in the gigantic clasp of his old friend,—an operation which Aramis never hazarded without a certain uneasiness. But the friendly pressure having been performed not too painfully for him, the bishop of Vannes passed over to Moliere.

“Well, monsieur,” said he, “will you come with me to Saint-Mande?”

“I will go anywhere you like, monseigneur,” answered Moliere.

“To Saint-Mande!” cried Porthos, surprised at seeing the proud bishop of Vannes fraternizing with a journeyman tailor. “What, Aramis, are you going to take this gentleman to Saint-Mande?”

“Yes,” said Aramis, smiling, “our work is pressing.”

“And besides, my dear Porthos,” continued D’Artagnan, “M. Moliere is not altogether what he seems.”

“In what way?” asked Porthos.

“Why, this gentleman is one of M. Percerin’s chief clerks, and is expected at Saint-Mande to try on the dresses which M. Fouquet has ordered for the Epicureans.”

“‘Tis precisely so,” said Moliere.

“Yes, monsieur.”

“Come, then, my dear M. Moliere,” said Aramis, “that is, if you have done with M. du Vallon.”

“We have finished,” replied Porthos.

“And you are satisfied?” asked D’Artagnan.

“Completely so,” replied Porthos.

Moliere took his leave of Porthos with much ceremony, and grasped the hand which the captain of the musketeers furtively offered him.

“Pray, monsieur,” concluded Porthos, mincingly, “above all, be exact.”

“You will have your dress the day after to-morrow, monsieur le baron,” answered Moliere. And he left with Aramis.

Then D’Artagnan, taking Porthos’s arm, “What has this tailor done for you, my dear Porthos,” he asked, “that you are so pleased with him?”

“What has he done for me, my friend! done for me!” cried Porthos, enthusiastically.

“Yes, I ask you, what has he done for you?”

“My friend, he has done that which no tailor ever yet accomplished: he has taken my measure without touching me!”

“Ah, bah! tell me how he did it.”

“First, then, they went, I don’t know where, for a number of lay figures, of all heights and sizes, hoping there would be one to suit mine, but the largest—that of the drum-major of the Swiss guard—was two inches too short, and a half foot too narrow in the chest.”

“Indeed!”

“It is exactly as I tell you, D’Artagnan; but he is a great man, or at the very least a great tailor, is this M. Moliere. He was not at all put at fault by the circumstance.”

“What did he do, then?”

“Oh! it is a very simple matter. I’faith, ‘tis an unheard-of thing that people should have been so stupid as not to have discovered this method from the first. What annoyance and humiliation they would have spared me!”

“Not to mention of the costumes, my dear Porthos.”

“Yes, thirty dresses.”

“Well, my dear Porthos, come, tell me M. Moliere’s plan.”

“Moliere? You call him so, do you? I shall make a point of recollecting his name.”

“Yes; or Poquelin, if you prefer that.”

“No; I like Moliere best. When I wish to recollect his name, I shall think of voliere [an aviary]; and as I have one at Pierrefonds—”

“Capital!” returned D’Artagnan. “And M. Moliere’s plan?”

“‘Tis this: instead of pulling me to pieces, as all these rascals do—of making me bend my back, and double my joints—all of them low and dishonorable practices—” D’Artagnan made a sign of approbation with his head. “‘Monsieur,’ he said to me,” continued Porthos, “‘a gentleman ought to measure himself. Do me the pleasure to draw near this glass;’ and I drew near the glass. I must own I did not exactly understand what this good M. Voliere wanted with me.”

“Moliere!”

“Ah! yes, Moliere—Moliere. And as the fear of being measured still possessed me, ‘Take care,’ said I to him, ‘what you are going to do with me; I am very ticklish, I warn you.’ But he, with his soft voice (for he is a courteous fellow, we must admit, my friend), he with his soft voice, ‘Monsieur,’ said he, ‘that your dress may fit you well, it must be made according to your figure. Your figure is exactly reflected in this mirror. We shall take the measure of this reflection.’”

“In fact,” said D’Artagnan, “you saw yourself in the glass; but where did they find one in which you could see your whole figure?”

“My good friend, it is the very glass in which the king is used to look to see himself.”

“Yes; but the king is a foot and a half shorter than you are.”

“Ah! well, I know not how that may be; it is, no doubt, a cunning way of flattering the king; but the looking-glass was too large for me. ‘Tis true that its height was made up of three Venetian plates of glass, placed one above another, and its breadth of three similar parallelograms in juxtaposition.”

“Oh, Porthos! what excellent words you have command of. Where in the word did you acquire such a voluminous vocabulary?”

“At Belle-Isle. Aramis and I had to use such words in our strategic studies and castramentative experiments.”

D’Artagnan recoiled, as though the sesquipedalian syllables had knocked the breath out of his body.

“Ah! very good. Let us return to the looking-glass, my friend.”

“Then, this good M. Voliere—”

“Moliere.”

“Yes—Moliere—you are right. You will see now, my dear friend, that I shall recollect his name quite well. This excellent M. Moliere set to work tracing out lines on the mirror, with a piece of Spanish chalk, following in all the make of my arms and my shoulders, all the while expounding this maxim, which I thought admirable: ‘It is advisable that a dress should not incommode its wearer.’”

“In reality,” said D’Artagnan, “that is an excellent maxim, which is, unfortunately, seldom carried out in practice.”

“That is why I found it all the more astonishing, when he expatiated upon it.”

“Ah! he expatiated?”

“Parbleu!”

“Let me hear his theory.”

“‘Seeing that,’ he continued, ‘one may, in awkward circumstances, or in a troublesome position, have one’s doublet on one’s shoulder, and not desire to take one’s doublet off—‘”

“True,” said D’Artagnan.

“‘And so,’ continued M. Voliere—”

“Moliere.”

“Moliere, yes. ‘And so,’ went on M. Moliere, ‘you want to draw your sword, monsieur, and you have your doublet on your back. What do you do?’

“‘I take it off,’ I answered.

“‘Well, no,’ he replied.

“‘How no?’

“‘I say that the dress should be so well made, that it will in no way encumber you, even in drawing your sword.’

“‘Ah, ah!’

“‘Throw yourself on guard,’ pursued he.

“I did it with such wondrous firmness, that two panes of glass burst out of the window.

“‘’Tis nothing, nothing,’ said he. ‘Keep your position.’

“I raised my left arm in the air, the forearm gracefully bent, the ruffle drooping, and my wrist curved, while my right arm, half extended, securely covered my wrist with the elbow, and my breast with the wrist.”

“Yes,” said D’Artagnan, “‘tis the true guard—the academic guard.”

“You have said the very word, dear friend. In the meanwhile, Voliere—”

“Moliere.”

“Hold! I should certainly, after all, prefer to call him—what did you say his other name was?”

“Poquelin.”

“I prefer to call him Poquelin.”

“And how will you remember this name better than the other?”

“You understand, he calls himself Poquelin, does he not?”

“Yes.”

“If I were to call to mind Madame Coquenard.”

“Good.”

“And change Coc into Poc, nard into lin; and instead of Coquenard I shall have Poquelin.”

“‘Tis wonderful,” cried D’Artagnan, astounded. “Go on, my friend, I am listening to you with admiration.”

“This Coquelin sketched my arm on the glass.”

“I beg your pardon—Poquelin.”

“What did I say, then?”

“You said Coquelin.”

“Ah! true. This Poquelin, then, sketched my arm on the glass; but he took his time over it; he kept looking at me a good deal. The fact is, that I must have been looking particularly handsome.”

“‘Does it weary you?’ he asked.

“‘A little,’ I replied, bending a little in my hands, ‘but I could hold out for an hour or so longer.’

“‘No, no, I will not allow it; the willing fellows will make it a duty to support your arms, as of old, men supported those of the prophet.’

“‘Very good,’ I answered.

“‘That will not be humiliating to you?’

“‘My friend,’ said I, ‘there is, I think, a great difference between being supported and being measured.’”

“The distinction is full of the soundest sense,” interrupted D’Artagnan.

“Then,” continued Porthos, “he made a sign: two lads approached; one supported my left arm, while the other, with infinite address, supported my right.”

“‘Another, my man,’ cried he. A third approached. ‘Support monsieur by the waist,’ said he. The garcon complied.”

“So that you were at rest?” asked D’Artagnan.

“Perfectly; and Pocquenard drew me on the glass.”

“Poquelin, my friend.”

“Poquelin—you are right. Stay, decidedly I prefer calling him Voliere.”

“Yes; and then it was over, wasn’t it?”

“During that time Voliere drew me as I appeared in the mirror.”

“‘Twas delicate in him.”

“I much like the plan; it is respectful, and keeps every one in his place.”

“And there it ended?”

“Without a soul having touched me, my friend.”

“Except the three garcons who supported you.”

“Doubtless; but I have, I think, already explained to you the difference there is between supporting and measuring.”

“‘Tis true,” answered D’Artagnan; who said afterwards to himself, “I’faith, I greatly deceive myself, or I have been the means of a good windfall to that rascal Moliere, and we shall assuredly see the scene hit off to the life in some comedy or other.” Porthos smiled.

“What are you laughing at?” asked D’Artagnan.

“Must I confess? Well, I was laughing over my good fortune.”

“Oh, that is true; I don’t know a happier man than you. But what is this last piece of luck that has befallen you?’

“Well, my dear fellow, congratulate me.”

“I desire nothing better.”

“It seems that I am the first who has had his measure taken in that manner.”

“Are you so sure of it?’

“Nearly so. Certain signs of intelligence which passed between Voliere and the other garcons showed me the fact.”

“Well, my friend, that does not surprise me from Moliere,” said D’Artagnan.

“Voliere, my friend.”

“Oh, no, no, indeed! I am very willing to leave you to go on saying Voliere; but, as for me, I shall continued to say Moliere. Well, this, I was saying, does not surprise me, coming from Moliere, who is a very ingenious fellow, and inspired you with this grand idea.”

“It will be of great use to him by and by, I am sure.”

“Won’t it be of use to him, indeed? I believe you, it will, and that in the highest degree;—for you see my friend Moliere is of all known tailors the man who best clothes our barons, comtes, and marquises—according to their measure.”

On this observation, neither the application nor depth of which we shall discuss, D’Artagnan and Porthos quitted M. de Percerin’s house and rejoined their carriages, wherein we will leave them, in order to look after Moliere and Aramis at Saint-Mande.






Chapter VI. The Bee-Hive, the Bees, and the Honey.


The bishop of Vannes, much annoyed at having met D’Artagnan at M. Percerin’s, returned to Saint-Mande in no very good humor. Moliere, on the other hand, quite delighted at having made such a capital rough sketch, and at knowing where to find his original again, whenever he should desire to convert his sketch into a picture, Moliere arrived in the merriest of moods. All the first story of the left wing was occupied by the most celebrated Epicureans in Paris, and those on the freest footing in the house—every one in his compartment, like the bees in their cells, employed in producing the honey intended for that royal cake which M. Fouquet proposed to offer his majesty Louis XIV. during the fete at Vaux. Pelisson, his head leaning on his hand, was engaged in drawing out the plan of the prologue to the “Facheux,” a comedy in three acts, which was to be put on the stage by Poquelin de Moliere, as D’Artagnan called him, or Coquelin de Voliere, as Porthos styled him. Loret, with all the charming innocence of a gazetteer,—the gazetteers of all ages have always been so artless!—Loret was composing an account of the fetes at Vaux, before those fetes had taken place. La Fontaine sauntered about from one to the other, a peripatetic, absent-minded, boring, unbearable dreamer, who kept buzzing and humming at everybody’s elbow a thousand poetic abstractions. He so often disturbed Pelisson, that the latter, raising his head, crossly said, “At least, La Fontaine, supply me with a rhyme, since you have the run of the gardens at Parnassus.”

“What rhyme do you want?” asked the Fabler as Madame de Sevigne used to call him.

“I want a rhyme to lumiere.”

“Orniere,” answered La Fontaine.

“Ah, but, my good friend, one cannot talk of wheel-ruts when celebrating the delights of Vaux,” said Loret.

“Besides, it doesn’t rhyme,” answered Pelisson.

“What! doesn’t rhyme!” cried La Fontaine, in surprise.

“Yes; you have an abominable habit, my friend,—a habit which will ever prevent your becoming a poet of the first order. You rhyme in a slovenly manner.”

“Oh, oh, you think so, do you, Pelisson?”

“Yes, I do, indeed. Remember that a rhyme is never good so long as one can find a better.”

“Then I will never write anything again save in prose,” said La Fontaine, who had taken up Pelisson’s reproach in earnest. “Ah! I often suspected I was nothing but a rascally poet! Yes, ‘tis the very truth.”

“Do not say so; your remark is too sweeping, and there is much that is good in your ‘Fables.’”

“And to begin,” continued La Fontaine, following up his idea, “I will go and burn a hundred verses I have just made.”

“Where are your verses?”

“In my head.”

“Well, if they are in your head you cannot burn them.”

“True,” said La Fontaine; “but if I do not burn them—”

“Well, what will happen if you do not burn them?”

“They will remain in my mind, and I shall never forget them!”

“The deuce!” cried Loret; “what a dangerous thing! One would go mad with it!”

“The deuce! the deuce!” repeated La Fontaine; “what can I do?”

“I have discovered the way,” said Moliere, who had entered just at this point of the conversation.

“What way?”

“Write them first and burn them afterwards.”

“How simple! Well, I should never have discovered that. What a mind that devil of a Moliere has!” said La Fontaine. Then, striking his forehead, “Oh, thou wilt never be aught but an ass, Jean La Fontaine!” he added.

“What are you saying there, my friend?” broke in Moliere, approaching the poet, whose aside he had heard.

“I say I shall never be aught but an ass,” answered La Fontaine, with a heavy sigh and swimming eyes. “Yes, my friend,” he added, with increasing grief, “it seems that I rhyme in a slovenly manner.”

“Oh, ‘tis wrong to say so.”

“Nay, I am a poor creature!”

“Who said so?”

“Parbleu! ‘twas Pelisson; did you not, Pelisson?”

Pelisson, again absorbed in his work, took good care not to answer.

“But if Pelisson said you were so,” cried Moliere, “Pelisson has seriously offended you.”

“Do you think so?”

“Ah! I advise you, as you are a gentleman, not to leave an insult like that unpunished.”

“What!” exclaimed La Fontaine.

“Did you ever fight?”

“Once only, with a lieutenant in the light horse.”

“What wrong had he done you?”

“It seems he ran away with my wife.”

“Ah, ah!” said Moliere, becoming slightly pale; but as, at La Fontaine’s declaration, the others had turned round, Moliere kept upon his lips the rallying smile which had so nearly died away, and continuing to make La Fontaine speak—

“And what was the result of the duel?”

“The result was, that on the ground my opponent disarmed me, and then made an apology, promising never again to set foot in my house.”

“And you considered yourself satisfied?” said Moliere.

“Not at all! on the contrary, I picked up my sword. ‘I beg your pardon, monsieur,’ I said, ‘I have not fought you because you were my wife’s friend, but because I was told I ought to fight. So, as I have never known any peace save since you made her acquaintance, do me the pleasure to continue your visits as heretofore, or morbleu! let us set to again.’ And so,” continued La Fontaine, “he was compelled to resume his friendship with madame, and I continue to be the happiest of husbands.”

All burst out laughing. Moliere alone passed his hand across his eyes. Why? Perhaps to wipe away a tear, perhaps to smother a sigh. Alas! we know that Moliere was a moralist, but he was not a philosopher. “‘Tis all one,” he said, returning to the topic of the conversation, “Pelisson has insulted you.”

“Ah, truly! I had already forgotten it.”

“And I am going to challenge him on your behalf.”

“Well, you can do so, if you think it indispensable.”

“I do think it indispensable, and I am going to—”

“Stay,” exclaimed La Fontaine, “I want your advice.”

“Upon what? this insult?”

“No; tell me really now whether lumiere does not rhyme with orniere.”

“I should make them rhyme.”

“Ah! I knew you would.”

“And I have made a hundred thousand such rhymes in my time.”

“A hundred thousand!” cried La Fontaine. “Four times as many as ‘La Pucelle,’ which M. Chaplain is meditating. Is it also on this subject, too, that you have composed a hundred thousand verses?”

“Listen to me, you eternally absent-minded creature,” said Moliere.

“It is certain,” continued La Fontaine, “that legume, for instance, rhymes with posthume.”

“In the plural, above all.”

“Yes, above all in the plural, seeing that then it rhymes not with three letters, but with four; as orniere does with lumiere.”

“But give me ornieres and lumieres in the plural, my dear Pelisson,” said La Fontaine, clapping his hand on the shoulder of his friend, whose insult he had quite forgotten, “and they will rhyme.”

“Hem!” coughed Pelisson.

“Moliere says so, and Moliere is a judge of such things; he declares he has himself made a hundred thousand verses.”

“Come,” said Moliere, laughing, “he is off now.”

“It is like rivage, which rhymes admirably with herbage. I would take my oath of it.”

“But—” said Moliere.

“I tell you all this,” continued La Fontaine, “because you are preparing a divertissement for Vaux, are you not?”

“Yes, the ‘Facheux.’”

“Ah, yes, the ‘Facheux;’ yes, I recollect. Well, I was thinking a prologue would admirably suit your divertissement.”

“Doubtless it would suit capitally.”

“Ah! you are of my opinion?”

“So much so, that I have asked you to write this very prologue.”

“You asked me to write it?”

“Yes, you, and on your refusal begged you to ask Pelisson, who is engaged upon it at this moment.”

“Ah! that is what Pelisson is doing, then? I’faith, my dear Moliere, you are indeed often right.”

“When?”

“When you call me absent-minded. It is a monstrous defect; I will cure myself of it, and do your prologue for you.”

“But inasmuch as Pelisson is about it!—”

“Ah, true, miserable rascal that I am! Loret was indeed right in saying I was a poor creature.”

“It was not Loret who said so, my friend.”

“Well, then, whoever said so, ‘tis the same to me! And so your divertissement is called the ‘Facheux?’ Well, can you make heureux rhyme with facheux?”

“If obliged, yes.”

“And even with capriceux.”

“Oh, no, no.”

“It would be hazardous, and yet why so?”

“There is too great a difference in the cadences.”

“I was fancying,” said La Fontaine, leaving Moliere for Loret—“I was fancying—”

“What were you fancying?” said Loret, in the middle of a sentence. “Make haste.”

“You are writing the prologue to the ‘Facheux,’ are you not?”

“No! mordieu! it is Pelisson.”

“Ah, Pelisson,” cried La Fontaine, going over to him, “I was fancying,” he continued, “that the nymph of Vaux—”

“Ah, beautiful!” cried Loret. “The nymph of Vaux! thank you, La Fontaine; you have just given me the two concluding verses of my paper.”

“Well, if you can rhyme so well, La Fontaine,” said Pelisson, “tell me now in what way you would begin my prologue?”

“I should say, for instance, ‘Oh! nymph, who—’ After ‘who’ I should place a verb in the second person singular of the present indicative; and should go on thus: ‘this grot profound.’”

“But the verb, the verb?” asked Pelisson.

“To admire the greatest king of all kings round,” continued La Fontaine.

“But the verb, the verb,” obstinately insisted Pelisson. “This second person singular of the present indicative?”

“Well, then; quittest:

“Oh, nymph, who quittest now this grot profound, To admire the greatest king of all kings round.”

“You would not put ‘who quittest,’ would you?”

“Why not?”

“‘Quittest,’ after ‘you who’?”

“Ah! my dear fellow,” exclaimed La Fontaine, “you are a shocking pedant!”

“Without counting,” said Moliere, “that the second verse, ‘king of all kings round,’ is very weak, my dear La Fontaine.”

“Then you see clearly I am nothing but a poor creature,—a shuffler, as you said.”

“I never said so.”

“Then, as Loret said.”

“And it was not Loret either; it was Pelisson.”

“Well, Pelisson was right a hundred times over. But what annoys me more than anything, my dear Moliere, is, that I fear we shall not have our Epicurean dresses.”

“You expected yours, then, for the fete?”

“Yes, for the fete, and then for after the fete. My housekeeper told me that my own is rather faded.”

“Diable! your housekeeper is right; rather more than faded.”

“Ah, you see,” resumed La Fontaine, “the fact is, I left it on the floor in my room, and my cat—”

“Well, your cat—”

“She made her nest upon it, which has rather changed its color.”

Moliere burst out laughing; Pelisson and Loret followed his example. At this juncture, the bishop of Vannes appeared, with a roll of plans and parchments under his arm. As if the angel of death had chilled all gay and sprightly fancies—as if that wan form had scared away the Graces to whom Xenocrates sacrificed—silence immediately reigned through the study, and every one resumed his self-possession and his pen. Aramis distributed the notes of invitation, and thanked them in the name of M. Fouquet. “The superintendent,” he said, “being kept to his room by business, could not come and see them, but begged them to send him some of the fruits of their day’s work, to enable him to forget the fatigue of his labor in the night.”

At these words, all settled down to work. La Fontaine placed himself at a table, and set his rapid pen an endless dance across the smooth white vellum; Pelisson made a fair copy of his prologue; Moliere contributed fifty fresh verses, with which his visit to Percerin had inspired him; Loret, an article on the marvelous fetes he predicted; and Aramis, laden with his booty like the king of the bees, that great black drone, decked with purple and gold, re-entered his apartment, silent and busy. But before departing, “Remember, gentlemen,” said he, “we leave to-morrow evening.”

“In that case, I must give notice at home,” said Moliere.

“Yes; poor Moliere!” said Loret, smiling; “he loves his home.”

“‘He loves,’ yes,” replied Moliere, with his sad, sweet smile. “‘He loves,’ that does not mean, they love him.”

“As for me,” said La Fontaine, “they love me at Chateau Thierry, I am very sure.”

Aramis here re-entered after a brief disappearance.

“Will any one go with me?” he asked. “I am going by Paris, after having passed a quarter of an hour with M. Fouquet. I offer my carriage.”

“Good,” said Moliere, “I accept it. I am in a hurry.”

“I shall dine here,” said Loret. “M. de Gourville has promised me some craw-fish.”

“He has promised me some whitings. Find a rhyme for that, La Fontaine.”

Aramis went out laughing, as only he could laugh, and Moliere followed him. They were at the bottom of the stairs, when La Fontaine opened the door, and shouted out:

“He has promised us some whitings, In return for these our writings.”

The shouts of laughter reached the ears of Fouquet at the moment Aramis opened the door of the study. As to Moliere, he had undertaken to order the horses, while Aramis went to exchange a parting word with the superintendent. “Oh, how they are laughing there!” said Fouquet, with a sigh.

“Do you not laugh, monseigneur?”

“I laugh no longer now, M. d’Herblay. The fete is approaching; money is departing.”

“Have I not told you that was my business?”

“Yes, you promised me millions.”

“You shall have them the day after the king’s entree into Vaux.”

Fouquet looked closely at Aramis, and passed the back of his icy hand across his moistened brow. Aramis perceived that the superintendent either doubted him, or felt he was powerless to obtain the money. How could Fouquet suppose that a poor bishop, ex-abbe, ex-musketeer, could find any?

“Why doubt me?” said Aramis. Fouquet smiled and shook his head.

“Man of little faith!” added the bishop.

“My dear M. d’Herblay,” answered Fouquet, “if I fall—”

“Well; if you ‘fall’?”

“I shall, at least, fall from such a height, that I shall shatter myself in falling.” Then giving himself a shake, as though to escape from himself, “Whence came you,” said he, “my friend?”

“From Paris—from Percerin.”

“And what have you been doing at Percerin’s, for I suppose you attach no great importance to our poets’ dresses?”

“No; I went to prepare a surprise.”

“Surprise?”

“Yes; which you are going to give to the king.”

“And will it cost much?”

“Oh! a hundred pistoles you will give Lebrun.”

“A painting?—Ah! all the better! And what is this painting to represent?”

“I will tell you; then at the same time, whatever you may say or think of it, I went to see the dresses for our poets.”

“Bah! and they will be rich and elegant?”

“Splendid! There will be few great monseigneurs with so good. People will see the difference there is between the courtiers of wealth and those of friendship.”

“Ever generous and grateful, dear prelate.”

“In your school.”

Fouquet grasped his hand. “And where are you going?” he said.

“I am off to Paris, when you shall have given a certain letter.”

“For whom?”

“M. de Lyonne.”

“And what do you want with Lyonne?”

“I wish to make him sign a lettre de cachet.”

“‘Lettre de cachet!’ Do you desire to put somebody in the Bastile?”

“On the contrary—to let somebody out.”

“And who?”

“A poor devil—a youth, a lad who has been Bastiled these ten years, for two Latin verses he made against the Jesuits.”

“‘Two Latin verses!’ and, for ‘two Latin verses,’ the miserable being has been in prison for ten years!”

“Yes!”

“And has committed no other crime?”

“Beyond this, he is as innocent as you or I.”

“On your word?”

“On my honor!”

“And his name is—”

“Seldon.”

“Yes.—But it is too bad. You knew this, and you never told me!”

“‘Twas only yesterday his mother applied to me, monseigneur.”

“And the woman is poor!”

“In the deepest misery.”

“Heaven,” said Fouquet, “sometimes bears with such injustice on earth, that I hardly wonder there are wretches who doubt of its existence. Stay, M. d’Herblay.” And Fouquet, taking a pen, wrote a few rapid lines to his colleague Lyonne. Aramis took the letter and made ready to go.

“Wait,” said Fouquet. He opened his drawer, and took out ten government notes which were there, each for a thousand francs. “Stay,” he said; “set the son at liberty, and give this to the mother; but, above all, do not tell her—”

“What, monseigneur?”

“That she is ten thousand livres richer than I. She would say I am but a poor superintendent! Go! and I pray that God will bless those who are mindful of his poor!”

“So also do I pray,” replied Aramis, kissing Fouquet’s hand.

And he went out quickly, carrying off the letter for Lyonne and the notes for Seldon’s mother, and taking up Moliere, who was beginning to lose patience.