{tocify}

The Man in the Iron Mask

Chapter

Book

first_page
play_arrow
last_page
00:00
00:00
volume_down_alt volume_up


Chapter VII. Another Supper at the Bastile.


Seven o’clock sounded from the great clock of the Bastile, that famous clock, which, like all the accessories of the state prison, the very use of which is a torture, recalled to the prisoners’ minds the destination of every hour of their punishment. The time-piece of the Bastile, adorned with figures, like most of the clocks of the period, represented St. Peter in bonds. It was the supper hour of the unfortunate captives. The doors, grating on their enormous hinges, opened for the passage of the baskets and trays of provisions, the abundance and the delicacy of which, as M. de Baisemeaux has himself taught us, was regulated by the condition in life of the prisoner. We understand on this head the theories of M. de Baisemeaux, sovereign dispenser of gastronomic delicacies, head cook of the royal fortress, whose trays, full-laden, were ascending the steep staircases, carrying some consolation to the prisoners in the shape of honestly filled bottles of good vintages. This same hour was that of M. le gouverneur’s supper also. He had a guest to-day, and the spit turned more heavily than usual. Roast partridges, flanked with quails and flanking a larded leveret; boiled fowls; hams, fried and sprinkled with white wine, cardons of Guipuzcoa and la bisque ecrevisses: these, together with soups and hors d’oeuvres, constituted the governor’s bill of fare. Baisemeaux, seated at table, was rubbing his hands and looking at the bishop of Vannes, who, booted like a cavalier, dressed in gray and sword at side, kept talking of his hunger and testifying the liveliest impatience. M. de Baisemeaux de Montlezun was not accustomed to the unbending movements of his greatness my lord of Vannes, and this evening Aramis, becoming sprightly, volunteered confidence on confidence. The prelate had again a little touch of the musketeer about him. The bishop just trenched on the borders only of license in his style of conversation. As for M. de Baisemeaux, with the facility of vulgar people, he gave himself up entirely upon this point of his guest’s freedom. “Monsieur,” said he, “for indeed to-night I dare not call you monseigneur.”

“By no means,” said Aramis; “call me monsieur; I am booted.”

“Do you know, monsieur, of whom you remind me this evening?”

“No! faith,” said Aramis, taking up his glass; “but I hope I remind you of a capital guest.”

“You remind me of two, monsieur. Francois, shut the window; the wind may annoy his greatness.”

“And let him go,” added Aramis. “The supper is completely served, and we shall eat it very well without waiters. I like exceedingly to be tete-a-tete when I am with a friend.” Baisemeaux bowed respectfully.

“I like exceedingly,” continued Aramis, “to help myself.”

“Retire, Francois,” cried Baisemeaux. “I was saying that your greatness puts me in mind of two persons; one very illustrious, the late cardinal, the great Cardinal de la Rochelle, who wore boots like you.”

“Indeed,” said Aramis; “and the other?”

“The other was a certain musketeer, very handsome, very brave, very adventurous, very fortunate, who, from being abbe, turned musketeer, and from musketeer turned abbe.” Aramis condescended to smile. “From abbe,” continued Baisemeaux, encouraged by Aramis’s smile—“from abbe, bishop—and from bishop—”

“Ah! stay there, I beg,” exclaimed Aramis.

“I have just said, monsieur, that you gave me the idea of a cardinal.”

“Enough, dear M. Baisemeaux. As you said, I have on the boots of a cavalier, but I do not intend, for all that, to embroil myself with the church this evening.”

“But you have wicked intentions, nevertheless, monseigneur.”

“Oh, yes, wicked, I own, as everything mundane is.”

“You traverse the town and the streets in disguise?”

“In disguise, as you say.”

“And you still make use of your sword?”

“Yes, I should think so; but only when I am compelled. Do me the pleasure to summon Francois.”

“Have you no wine there?”

“‘Tis not for wine, but because it is hot here, and the window is shut.”

“I shut the windows at supper-time so as not to hear the sounds or the arrival of couriers.”

“Ah, yes. You hear them when the window is open?”

“But too well, and that disturbs me. You understand?”

“Nevertheless I am suffocated. Francois.” Francois entered. “Open the windows, I pray you, Master Francois,” said Aramis. “You will allow him, dear M. Baisemeaux?”

“You are at home here,” answered the governor. The window was opened. “Do you not think,” said M. de Baisemeaux, “that you will find yourself very lonely, now M. de la Fere has returned to his household gods at Blois? He is a very old friend, is he not?”

“You know it as I do, Baisemeaux, seeing that you were in the musketeers with us.”

“Bah! with my friends I reckon neither bottles of wine nor years.”

“And you are right. But I do more than love M. de la Fere, dear Baisemeaux; I venerate him.”

“Well, for my part, though ‘tis singular,” said the governor, “I prefer M. d’Artagnan to him. There is a man for you, who drinks long and well! That kind of people allow you at least to penetrate their thoughts.”

“Baisemeaux, make me tipsy to-night; let us have a merry time of it as of old, and if I have a trouble at the bottom of my heart, I promise you, you shall see it as you would a diamond at the bottom of your glass.”

“Bravo!” said Baisemeaux, and he poured out a great glass of wine and drank it off at a draught, trembling with joy at the idea of being, by hook or by crook, in the secret of some high archiepiscopal misdemeanor. While he was drinking he did not see with what attention Aramis was noting the sounds in the great court. A courier came in about eight o’clock as Francois brought in the fifth bottle, and, although the courier made a great noise, Baisemeaux heard nothing.

“The devil take him,” said Aramis.

“What! who?” asked Baisemeaux. “I hope ‘tis neither the wine you drank nor he who is the cause of your drinking it.”

“No; it is a horse, who is making noise enough in the court for a whole squadron.”

“Pooh! some courier or other,” replied the governor, redoubling his attention to the passing bottle. “Yes; and may the devil take him, and so quickly that we shall never hear him speak more. Hurrah! hurrah!”

“You forget me, Baisemeaux! my glass is empty,” said Aramis, lifting his dazzling Venetian goblet.

“Upon my honor, you delight me. Francois, wine!” Francois entered. “Wine, fellow! and better.”

“Yes, monsieur, yes; but a courier has just arrived.”

“Let him go to the devil, I say.”

“Yes, monsieur, but—”

“Let him leave his news at the office; we will see to it to-morrow. To-morrow, there will be time to-morrow; there will be daylight,” said Baisemeaux, chanting the words.

“Ah, monsieur,” grumbled the soldier Francois, in spite of himself, “monsieur.”

“Take care,” said Aramis, “take care!”

“Of what? dear M. d’Herblay,” said Baisemeaux, half intoxicated.

“The letter which the courier brings to the governor of a fortress is sometimes an order.”

“Nearly always.”

“Do not orders issue from the ministers?”

“Yes, undoubtedly; but—”

“And what to these ministers do but countersign the signature of the king?”

“Perhaps you are right. Nevertheless, ‘tis very tiresome when you are sitting before a good table, tete-a-tete with a friend—Ah! I beg your pardon, monsieur; I forgot it is I who engage you at supper, and that I speak to a future cardinal.”

“Let us pass over that, dear Baisemeaux, and return to our soldier, to Francois.”

“Well, and what has Francois done?”

“He has demurred!”

“He was wrong, then?”

“However, he has demurred, you see; ‘tis because there is something extraordinary in this matter. It is very possible that it was not Francois who was wrong in demurring, but you, who are in the wrong in not listening to him.”

“Wrong? I to be wrong before Francois? that seems rather hard.”

“Pardon me, merely an irregularity. But I thought it my duty to make an observation which I deem important.”

“Oh! perhaps you are right,” stammered Baisemeaux. “The king’s order is sacred; but as to orders that arrive when one is at supper, I repeat that the devil—”

“If you had said as much to the great cardinal—hem! my dear Baisemeaux, and if his order had any importance.”

“I do it that I may not disturb a bishop. Mordioux! am I not, then, excusable?”

“Do not forget, Baisemeaux, that I have worn the soldier’s coat, and I am accustomed to obedience everywhere.”

“You wish, then—”

“I wish that you would do your duty, my friend; yes, at least before this soldier.”

“‘Tis mathematically true,” exclaimed Baisemeaux. Francois still waited: “Let them send this order of the king’s up to me,” he repeated, recovering himself. And he added in a low tone, “Do you know what it is? I will tell you something about as interesting as this. ‘Beware of fire near the powder magazine;’ or, ‘Look close after such and such a one, who is clever at escaping,’ Ah! if you only knew, monseigneur, how many times I have been suddenly awakened from the very sweetest, deepest slumber, by messengers arriving at full gallop to tell me, or rather, bring me a slip of paper containing these words: ‘Monsieur de Baisemeaux, what news?’ ‘Tis clear enough that those who waste their time writing such orders have never slept in the Bastile. They would know better; they have never considered the thickness of my walls, the vigilance of my officers, the number of rounds we go. But, indeed, what can you expect, monseigneur? It is their business to write and torment me when I am at rest, and to trouble me when I am happy,” added Baisemeaux, bowing to Aramis. “Then let them do their business.”

“And do you do yours,” added the bishop, smiling.

Francois re-entered; Baisemeaux took from his hands the minister’s order. He slowly undid it, and as slowly read it. Aramis pretended to be drinking, so as to be able to watch his host through the glass. Then, Baisemeaux, having read it: “What was I just saying?” he exclaimed.

“What is it?” asked the bishop.

“An order of release! There, now; excellent news indeed to disturb us!”

“Excellent news for him whom it concerns, you will at least agree, my dear governor!”

“And at eight o’clock in the evening!”

“It is charitable!”

“Oh! charity is all very well, but it is for that fellow who says he is so weary and tired, but not for me who am amusing myself,” said Baisemeaux, exasperated.

“Will you lose by him, then? And is the prisoner who is to be set at liberty a good payer?”

“Oh, yes, indeed! a miserable, five-franc rat!”

“Let me see it,” asked M. d’Herblay. “It is no indiscretion?”

“By no means; read it.”

“There is ‘Urgent,’ on the paper; you have seen that, I suppose?”

“Oh, admirable! ‘Urgent!’—a man who has been there ten years! It is urgent to set him free to-day, this very evening, at eight o’clock!—urgent!” And Baisemeaux, shrugging his shoulders with an air of supreme disdain, flung the order on the table and began eating again.

“They are fond of these tricks!” he said, with his mouth full; “they seize a man, some fine day, keep him under lock and key for ten years, and write to you, ‘Watch this fellow well,’ or ‘Keep him very strictly.’ And then, as soon as you are accustomed to look upon the prisoner as a dangerous man, all of a sudden, without rhyme or reason they write—‘Set him at liberty,’ and actually add to their missive—‘urgent.’ You will own, my lord, ‘tis enough to make a man at dinner shrug his shoulders!”

“What do you expect? It is for them to write,” said Aramis, “for you to execute the order.”

“Good! good! execute it! Oh, patience! You must not imagine that I am a slave.”

“Gracious Heaven! my very good M. Baisemeaux, who ever said so? Your independence is well known.”

“Thank Heaven!”

“But your goodness of heart is also known.”

“Ah! don’t speak of it!”

“And your obedience to your superiors. Once a soldier, you see, Baisemeaux, always a soldier.”

“And I shall directly obey; and to-morrow morning, at daybreak, the prisoner referred to shall be set free.”

“To-morrow?”

“At dawn.”

“Why not this evening, seeing that the lettre de cachet bears, both on the direction and inside, ‘urgent’?”

“Because this evening we are at supper, and our affairs are urgent, too!”

“Dear Baisemeaux, booted though I be, I feel myself a priest, and charity has higher claims upon me than hunger and thirst. This unfortunate man has suffered long enough, since you have just told me that he has been your prisoner these ten years. Abridge his suffering. His good time has come; give him the benefit quickly. God will repay you in Paradise with years of felicity.”

“You wish it?”

“I entreat you.”

“What! in the very middle of our repast?”

“I implore you; such an action is worth ten Benedicites.”

“It shall be as you desire, only our supper will get cold.”

“Oh! never heed that.”

Baisemeaux leaned back to ring for Francois, and by a very natural motion turned round towards the door. The order had remained on the table; Aramis seized the opportunity when Baisemeaux was not looking to change the paper for another, folded in the same manner, which he drew swiftly from his pocket. “Francois,” said the governor, “let the major come up here with the turnkeys of the Bertaudiere.” Francois bowed and quitted the room, leaving the two companions alone.






Chapter VIII. The General of the Order.


There was now a brief silence, during which Aramis never removed his eyes from Baisemeaux for a moment. The latter seemed only half decided to disturb himself thus in the middle of supper, and it was clear he was trying to invent some pretext, whether good or bad, for delay, at any rate till after dessert. And it appeared also that he had hit upon an excuse at last.

“Eh! but it is impossible!” he cried.

“How impossible?” said Aramis. “Give me a glimpse of this impossibility.”

“‘Tis impossible to set a prisoner at liberty at such an hour. Where can he go to, a man so unacquainted with Paris?”

“He will find a place wherever he can.”

“You see, now, one might as well set a blind man free!”

“I have a carriage, and will take him wherever he wishes.”

“You have an answer for everything. Francois, tell monsieur le major to go and open the cell of M. Seldon, No. 3, Bertaudiere.”

“Seldon!” exclaimed Aramis, very naturally. “You said Seldon, I think?”

“I said Seldon, of course. ‘Tis the name of the man they set free.”

“Oh! you mean to say Marchiali?” said Aramis.

“Marchiali? oh! yes, indeed. No, no, Seldon.”

“I think you are making a mistake, Monsieur Baisemeaux.”

“I have read the order.”

“And I also.”

“And I saw ‘Seldon’ in letters as large as that,” and Baisemeaux held up his finger.

“And I read ‘Marchiali’ in characters as large as this,” said Aramis, also holding up two fingers.

“To the proof; let us throw a light on the matter,” said Baisemeaux, confident he was right. “There is the paper, you have only to read it.”

“I read ‘Marchiali,’” returned Aramis, spreading out the paper. “Look.”

Baisemeaux looked, and his arms dropped suddenly. “Yes, yes,” he said, quite overwhelmed; “yes, Marchiali. ‘Tis plainly written Marchiali! Quite true!”

“Ah!—”

“How? the man of whom we have talked so much? The man whom they are every day telling me to take such care of?”

“There is ‘Marchiali,’” repeated the inflexible Aramis.

“I must own it, monseigneur. But I understand nothing about it.”

“You believe your eyes, at any rate.”

“To tell me very plainly there is ‘Marchiali.’”

“And in a good handwriting, too.”

“‘Tis a wonder! I still see this order and the name of Seldon, Irishman. I see it. Ah! I even recollect that under this name there was a blot of ink.”

“No, there is no ink; no, there is no blot.”

“Oh! but there was, though; I know it, because I rubbed my finger—this very one—in the powder that was over the blot.”

“In a word, be it how it may, dear M. Baisemeaux,” said Aramis, “and whatever you may have seen, the order is signed to release Marchiali, blot or no blot.”

“The order is signed to release Marchiali,” replied Baisemeaux, mechanically, endeavoring to regain his courage.

“And you are going to release this prisoner. If your heart dictates you to deliver Seldon also, I declare to you I will not oppose it the least in the world.” Aramis accompanied this remark with a smile, the irony of which effectually dispelled Baisemeaux’s confusion of mind, and restored his courage.

“Monseigneur,” he said, “this Marchiali is the very same prisoner whom the other day a priest confessor of our order came to visit in so imperious and so secret a manner.”

“I don’t know that, monsieur,” replied the bishop.

“‘Tis no such long time ago, dear Monsieur d’Herblay.”

“It is true. But with us, monsieur, it is good that the man of to-day should no longer know what the man of yesterday did.”

“In any case,” said Baisemeaux, “the visit of the Jesuit confessor must have given happiness to this man.”

Aramis made no reply, but recommenced eating and drinking. As for Baisemeaux, no longer touching anything that was on the table, he again took up the order and examined it every way. This investigation, under ordinary circumstances, would have made the ears of the impatient Aramis burn with anger; but the bishop of Vannes did not become incensed for so little, above all, when he had murmured to himself that to do so was dangerous. “Are you going to release Marchiali?” he said. “What mellow, fragrant and delicious sherry this is, my dear governor.”

“Monseigneur,” replied Baisemeaux, “I shall release the prisoner Marchiali when I have summoned the courier who brought the order, and above all, when, by interrogating him, I have satisfied myself.”

“The order is sealed, and the courier is ignorant of the contents. What do you want to satisfy yourself about?”

“Be it so, monseigneur; but I shall send to the ministry, and M. de Lyonne will either confirm or withdraw the order.”

“What is the good of all that?” asked Aramis, coldly.

“What good?”

“Yes; what is your object, I ask?”

“The object of never deceiving oneself, monseigneur; nor being wanting in the respect which a subaltern owes to his superior officers, nor infringing the duties of a service one has accepted of one’s own free will.”

“Very good; you have just spoken so eloquently, that I cannot but admire you. It is true that a subaltern owes respect to his superiors; he is guilty when he deceives himself, and he should be punished if he infringed either the duties or laws of his office.”

Baisemeaux looked at the bishop with astonishment.

“It follows,” pursued Aramis, “that you are going to ask advice, to put your conscience at ease in the matter?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“And if a superior officer gives you orders, you will obey?”

“Never doubt it, monseigneur.”

“You know the king’s signature well, M. de Baisemeaux?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“Is it not on this order of release?”

“It is true, but it may—”

“Be forged, you mean?”

“That is evident, monseigneur.”

“You are right. And that of M. de Lyonne?”

“I see it plain enough on the order; but for the same reason that the king’s signature may have been forged, so also, and with even greater probability, may M. de Lyonne’s.”

“Your logic has the stride of a giant, M. de Baisemeaux,” said Aramis; “and your reasoning is irresistible. But on what special grounds do you base your idea that these signatures are false?”

“On this: the absence of counter-signatures. Nothing checks his majesty’s signature; and M. de Lyonne is not there to tell me he has signed.”

“Well, Monsieur de Baisemeaux,” said Aramis, bending an eagle glance on the governor, “I adopt so frankly your doubts, and your mode of clearing them up, that I will take a pen, if you will give me one.”

Baisemeaux gave him a pen.

“And a sheet of white paper,” added Aramis.

Baisemeaux handed him some paper.

“Now, I—I, also—I, here present—incontestably, I—am going to write an order to which I am certain you will give credence, incredulous as you are!”

Baisemeaux turned pale at this icy assurance of manner. It seemed to him that the voice of the bishop’s, but just now so playful and gay, had become funereal and sad; that the wax lights changed into the tapers of a mortuary chapel, the very glasses of wine into chalices of blood.

Aramis took a pen and wrote. Baisemeaux, in terror, read over his shoulder.

“A. M. D. G.,” wrote the bishop; and he drew a cross under these four letters, which signify ad majorem Dei gloriam, “to the greater glory of God;” and thus he continued: “It is our pleasure that the order brought to M. de Baisemeaux de Montlezun, governor, for the king, of the castle of the Bastile, be held by him good and effectual, and be immediately carried into operation.”

(Signed) D’HERBLAY

“General of the Order, by the grace of God.”

Baisemeaux was so profoundly astonished, that his features remained contracted, his lips parted, and his eyes fixed. He did not move an inch, nor articulate a sound. Nothing could be heard in that large chamber but the wing-whisper of a little moth, which was fluttering to its death about the candles. Aramis, without even deigning to look at the man whom he had reduced to so miserable a condition, drew from his pocket a small case of black wax; he sealed the letter, and stamped it with a seal suspended at his breast, beneath his doublet, and when the operation was concluded, presented—still in silence—the missive to M. de Baisemeaux. The latter, whose hands trembled in a manner to excite pity, turned a dull and meaningless gaze upon the letter. A last gleam of feeling played over his features, and he fell, as if thunder-struck, on a chair.

“Come, come,” said Aramis, after a long silence, during which the governor of the Bastile had slowly recovered his senses, “do not lead me to believe, dear Baisemeaux, that the presence of the general of the order is as terrible as His, and that men die merely from having seen Him. Take courage, rouse yourself; give me your hand—obey.”

Baisemeaux, reassured, if not satisfied, obeyed, kissed Aramis’s hand, and rose. “Immediately?” he murmured.

“Oh, there is no pressing haste, my host; take your place again, and do the honors over this beautiful dessert.”

“Monseigneur, I shall never recover such a shock as this; I who have laughed, who have jested with you! I who have dared to treat you on a footing of equality!”

“Say nothing about it, old comrade,” replied the bishop, who perceived how strained the cord was and how dangerous it would have been to break it; “say nothing about it. Let us each live in our own way; to you, my protection and my friendship; to me, your obedience. Having exactly fulfilled these two requirements, let us live happily.”

Baisemeaux reflected; he perceived, at a glance, the consequence of this withdrawal of a prisoner by means of a forged order; and, putting in the scale the guarantee offered him by the official order of the general, did not consider it of any value.

Aramis divined this. “My dear Baisemeaux,” said he, “you are a simpleton. Lose this habit of reflection when I give myself the trouble to think for you.”

And at another gesture he made, Baisemeaux bowed again. “How shall I set about it?” he said.

“What is the process for releasing a prisoner?”

“I have the regulations.”

“Well, then, follow the regulations, my friend.”

“I go with my major to the prisoner’s room, and conduct him, if he is a personage of importance.”

“But this Marchiali is not an important personage,” said Aramis carelessly.

“I don’t know,” answered the governor, as if he would have said, “It is for you to instruct me.”

“Then if you don’t know it, I am right; so act towards Marchiali as you act towards one of obscure station.”

“Good; the regulations so provide. They are to the effect that the turnkey, or one of the lower officials, shall bring the prisoner before the governor, in the office.”

“Well, ‘tis very wise, that; and then?”

“Then we return to the prisoner the valuables he wore at the time of his imprisonment, his clothes and papers, if the minister’s orders have not otherwise dictated.”

“What was the minister’s order as to this Marchiali?”

“Nothing; for the unhappy man arrived here without jewels, without papers, and almost without clothes.”

“See how simple, then, all is. Indeed, Baisemeaux, you make a mountain of everything. Remain here, and make them bring the prisoner to the governor’s house.”

Baisemeaux obeyed. He summoned his lieutenant, and gave him an order, which the latter passed on, without disturbing himself about it, to the next whom it concerned.

Half an hour afterwards they heard a gate shut in the court; it was the door to the dungeon, which had just rendered up its prey to the free air. Aramis blew out all the candles which lighted the room but one, which he left burning behind the door. This flickering glare prevented the sight from resting steadily on any object. It multiplied tenfold the changing forms and shadows of the place, by its wavering uncertainty. Steps drew near.

“Go and meet your men,” said Aramis to Baisemeaux.

The governor obeyed. The sergeant and turnkeys disappeared. Baisemeaux re-entered, followed by a prisoner. Aramis had placed himself in the shade; he saw without being seen. Baisemeaux, in an agitated tone of voice, made the young man acquainted with the order which set him at liberty. The prisoner listened, without making a single gesture or saying a word.

“You will swear (‘tis the regulation that requires it),” added the governor, “never to reveal anything that you have seen or heard in the Bastile.”

The prisoner perceived a crucifix; he stretched out his hands and swore with his lips. “And now, monsieur, you are free. Whither do you intend going?”

The prisoner turned his head, as if looking behind him for some protection, on which he ought to rely. Then was it that Aramis came out of the shade: “I am here,” he said, “to render the gentleman whatever service he may please to ask.”

The prisoner slightly reddened, and, without hesitation, passed his arm through that of Aramis. “God have you in his holy keeping,” he said, in a voice the firmness of which made the governor tremble as much as the form of the blessing astonished him.

Aramis, on shaking hands with Baisemeaux, said to him; “Does my order trouble you? Do you fear their finding it here, should they come to search?”

“I desire to keep it, monseigneur,” said Baisemeaux. “If they found it here, it would be a certain indication I should be lost, and in that case you would be a powerful and a last auxiliary for me.”

“Being your accomplice, you mean?” answered Aramis, shrugging his shoulders. “Adieu, Baisemeaux,” said he.

The horses were in waiting, making each rusty spring reverberate the carriage again with their impatience. Baisemeaux accompanied the bishop to the bottom of the steps. Aramis caused his companion to mount before him, then followed, and without giving the driver any further order, “Go on,” said he. The carriage rattled over the pavement of the courtyard. An officer with a torch went before the horses, and gave orders at every post to let them pass. During the time taken in opening all the barriers, Aramis barely breathed, and you might have heard his “sealed heart knock against his ribs.” The prisoner, buried in a corner of the carriage, made no more sign of life than his companion. At length, a jolt more sever than the others announced to them that they had cleared the last watercourse. Behind the carriage closed the last gate, that in the Rue St. Antoine. No more walls either on the right or the left; heaven everywhere, liberty everywhere, and life everywhere. The horses, kept in check by a vigorous hand, went quietly as far as the middle of the faubourg. There they began to trot. Little by little, whether they were warming to their work, or whether they were urged, they gained in swiftness, and once past Bercy, the carriage seemed to fly, so great was the ardor of the coursers. The horses galloped thus as far as Villeneuve St. George’s, where relays were waiting. Then four instead of two whirled the carriage away in the direction of Melun, and pulled up for a moment in the middle of the forest of Senart. No doubt the order had been given the postilion beforehand, for Aramis had no occasion even to make a sign.

“What is the matter?” asked the prisoner, as if waking from a long dream.

“The matter is, monseigneur,” said Aramis, “that before going further, it is necessary your royal highness and I should converse.”

“I will await an opportunity, monsieur,” answered the young prince.

“We could not have a better, monseigneur. We are in the middle of a forest, and no one can hear us.”

“The postilion?”

“The postilion of this relay is deaf and dumb, monseigneur.”

“I am at your service, M. d’Herblay.”

“Is it your pleasure to remain in the carriage?”

“Yes; we are comfortably seated, and I like this carriage, for it has restored me to liberty.”

“Wait, monseigneur; there is yet a precaution to be taken.”

“What?”

“We are here on the highway; cavaliers or carriages traveling like ourselves might pass, and seeing us stopping, deem us in some difficulty. Let us avoid offers of assistance, which would embarrass us.”

“Give the postilion orders to conceal the carriage in one of the side avenues.”

“‘Tis exactly what I wished to do, monseigneur.”

Aramis made a sign to the deaf and dumb driver of the carriage, whom he touched on the arm. The latter dismounted, took the leaders by the bridle, and led them over the velvet sward and the mossy grass of a winding alley, at the bottom of which, on this moonless night, the deep shades formed a curtain blacker than ink. This done, the man lay down on a slope near his horses, who, on either side, kept nibbling the young oak shoots.

“I am listening,” said the young prince to Aramis; “but what are you doing there?”

“I am disarming myself of my pistols, of which we have no further need, monseigneur.”






Chapter IX. The Tempter.


“My prince,” said Aramis, turning in the carriage towards his companion, “weak creature as I am, so unpretending in genius, so low in the scale of intelligent beings, it has never yet happened to me to converse with a man without penetrating his thoughts through that living mask which has been thrown over our mind, in order to retain its expression. But to-night, in this darkness, in the reserve which you maintain, I can read nothing on your features, and something tells me that I shall have great difficulty in wresting from you a sincere declaration. I beseech you, then, not for love of me, for subjects should never weigh as anything in the balance which princes hold, but for love of yourself, to retain every syllable, every inflexion which, under the present most grave circumstances, will all have a sense and value as important as any every uttered in the world.”

“I listen,” replied the young prince, “decidedly, without either eagerly seeking or fearing anything you are about to say to me.” And he buried himself still deeper in the thick cushions of the carriage, trying to deprive his companion not only of the sight of him, but even of the very idea of his presence.

Black was the darkness which fell wide and dense from the summits of the intertwining trees. The carriage, covered in by this prodigious roof, would not have received a particle of light, not even if a ray could have struggled through the wreaths of mist that were already rising in the avenue.

“Monseigneur,” resumed Aramis, “you know the history of the government which to-day controls France. The king issued from an infancy imprisoned like yours, obscure as yours, and confined as yours; only, instead of ending, like yourself, this slavery in a prison, this obscurity in solitude, these straightened circumstances in concealment, he was fain to bear all these miseries, humiliations, and distresses, in full daylight, under the pitiless sun of royalty; on an elevation flooded with light, where every stain appears a blemish, every glory a stain. The king has suffered; it rankles in his mind; and he will avenge himself. He will be a bad king. I say not that he will pour out his people’s blood, like Louis XI., or Charles IX.; for he has no mortal injuries to avenge; but he will devour the means and substance of his people; for he has himself undergone wrongs in his own interest and money. In the first place, then, I acquit my conscience, when I consider openly the merits and the faults of this great prince; and if I condemn him, my conscience absolves me.”

Aramis paused. It was not to listen if the silence of the forest remained undisturbed, but it was to gather up his thoughts from the very bottom of his soul—to leave the thoughts he had uttered sufficient time to eat deeply into the mind of his companion.

“All that Heaven does, Heaven does well,” continued the bishop of Vannes; “and I am so persuaded of it that I have long been thankful to have been chosen depositary of the secret which I have aided you to discover. To a just Providence was necessary an instrument, at once penetrating, persevering, and convinced, to accomplish a great work. I am this instrument. I possess penetration, perseverance, conviction; I govern a mysterious people, who has taken for its motto, the motto of God, ‘Patiens quia oeternus.’” The prince moved. “I divine, monseigneur, why you are raising your head, and are surprised at the people I have under my command. You did not know you were dealing with a king—oh! monseigneur, king of a people very humble, much disinherited; humble because they have no force save when creeping; disinherited, because never, almost never in this world, do my people reap the harvest they sow, nor eat the fruit they cultivate. They labor for an abstract idea; they heap together all the atoms of their power, so from a single man; and round this man, with the sweat of their labor, they create a misty halo, which his genius shall, in turn, render a glory gilded with the rays of all the crowns in Christendom. Such is the man you have beside you, monseigneur. It is to tell you that he has drawn you from the abyss for a great purpose, to raise you above the powers of the earth—above himself.” 1

The prince lightly touched Aramis’s arm. “You speak to me,” he said, “of that religious order whose chief you are. For me, the result of your words is, that the day you desire to hurl down the man you shall have raised, the event will be accomplished; and that you will keep under your hand your creation of yesterday.”

“Undeceive yourself, monseigneur,” replied the bishop. “I should not take the trouble to play this terrible game with your royal highness, if I had not a double interest in gaining it. The day you are elevated, you are elevated forever; you will overturn the footstool, as you rise, and will send it rolling so far, that not even the sight of it will ever again recall to you its right to simple gratitude.”

“Oh, monsieur!”

“Your movement, monseigneur, arises from an excellent disposition. I thank you. Be well assured, I aspire to more than gratitude! I am convinced that, when arrived at the summit, you will judge me still more worthy to be your friend; and then, monseigneur, we two will do such great deeds, that ages hereafter shall long speak of them.”

“Tell me plainly, monsieur—tell me without disguise—what I am to-day, and what you aim at my being to-morrow.”

“You are the son of King Louis XIII., brother of Louis XIV., natural and legitimate heir to the throne of France. In keeping you near him, as Monsieur has been kept—Monsieur, your younger brother—the king reserved to himself the right of being legitimate sovereign. The doctors only could dispute his legitimacy. But the doctors always prefer the king who is to the king who is not. Providence has willed that you should be persecuted; this persecution to-day consecrates you king of France. You had, then, a right to reign, seeing that it is disputed; you had a right to be proclaimed seeing that you have been concealed; and you possess royal blood, since no one has dared to shed yours, as that of your servants has been shed. Now see, then, what this Providence, which you have so often accused of having in every way thwarted you, has done for you. It has given you the features, figure, age, and voice of your brother; and the very causes of your persecution are about to become those of your triumphant restoration. To-morrow, after to-morrow—from the very first, regal phantom, living shade of Louis XIV., you will sit upon his throne, whence the will of Heaven, confided in execution to the arm of man, will have hurled him, without hope of return.”

“I understand,” said the prince, “my brother’s blood will not be shed, then.”

“You will be sole arbiter of his fate.”

“The secret of which they made an evil use against me?”

“You will employ it against him. What did he do to conceal it? He concealed you. Living image of himself, you will defeat the conspiracy of Mazarin and Anne of Austria. You, my prince, will have the same interest in concealing him, who will, as a prisoner, resemble you, as you will resemble him as a king.”

“I fall back on what I was saying to you. Who will guard him?”

“Who guarded you?”

“You know this secret—you have made use of it with regard to myself. Who else knows it?”

“The queen-mother and Madame de Chevreuse.”

“What will they do?”

“Nothing, if you choose.”

“How is that?”

“How can they recognize you, if you act in such a manner that no one can recognize you?”

“‘Tis true; but there are grave difficulties.”

“State them, prince.”

“My brother is married; I cannot take my brother’s wife.”

“I will cause Spain to consent to a divorce; it is in the interest of your new policy; it is human morality. All that is really noble and really useful in this world will find its account therein.”

“The imprisoned king will speak.”

“To whom do you think he will speak—to the walls?”

“You mean, by walls, the men in whom you put confidence.”

“If need be, yes. And besides, your royal highness—”

“Besides?”

“I was going to say, that the designs of Providence do not stop on such a fair road. Every scheme of this caliber is completed by its results, like a geometrical calculation. The king, in prison, will not be for you the cause of embarrassment that you have been for the king enthroned. His soul is naturally proud and impatient; it is, moreover, disarmed and enfeebled, by being accustomed to honors, and by the license of supreme power. The same Providence which has willed that the concluding step in the geometrical calculation I have had the honor of describing to your royal highness should be your ascension to the throne, and the destruction of him who is hurtful to you, has also determined that the conquered one shall soon end both his own and your sufferings. Therefore, his soul and body have been adapted for but a brief agony. Put into prison as a private individual, left alone with your doubts, deprived of everything, you have exhibited the most sublime, enduring principle of life in withstanding all this. But your brother, a captive, forgotten, and in bonds, will not long endure the calamity; and Heaven will resume his soul at the appointed time—that is to say, soon.”

At this point in Aramis’s gloomy analysis, a bird of night uttered from the depths of the forest that prolonged and plaintive cry which makes every creature tremble.

“I will exile the deposed king,” said Philippe, shuddering; “‘twill be more human.”

“The king’s good pleasure will decide the point,” said Aramis. “But has the problem been well put? Have I brought out of the solution according to the wishes or the foresight of your royal highness?”

“Yes, monsieur, yes; you have forgotten nothing—except, indeed, two things.”

“The first?”

“Let us speak of it at once, with the same frankness we have already conversed in. Let us speak of the causes which may bring about the ruin of all the hopes we have conceived. Let us speak of the risks we are running.”

“They would be immense, infinite, terrific, insurmountable, if, as I have said, all things did not concur to render them of absolutely no account. There is no danger either for you or for me, if the constancy and intrepidity of your royal highness are equal to that perfection of resemblance to your brother which nature has bestowed upon you. I repeat it, there are no dangers, only obstacles; a word, indeed, which I find in all languages, but have always ill-understood, and, were I king, would have obliterated as useless and absurd.”

“Yes, indeed, monsieur; there is a very serious obstacle, an insurmountable danger, which you are forgetting.”

“Ah!” said Aramis.

“There is conscience, which cries aloud; remorse, that never dies.”

“True, true,” said the bishop; “there is a weakness of heart of which you remind me. You are right, too, for that, indeed, is an immense obstacle. The horse afraid of the ditch, leaps into the middle of it, and is killed! The man who trembling crosses his sword with that of another leaves loopholes whereby his enemy has him in his power.”

“Have you a brother?” said the young man to Aramis.

“I am alone in the world,” said the latter, with a hard, dry voice.

“But, surely, there is some one in the world whom you love?” added Philippe.

“No one!—Yes, I love you.”

The young man sank into so profound a silence, that the mere sound of his respiration seemed like a roaring tumult for Aramis. “Monseigneur,” he resumed, “I have not said all I had to say to your royal highness; I have not offered you all the salutary counsels and useful resources which I have at my disposal. It is useless to flash bright visions before the eyes of one who seeks and loves darkness: useless, too, is it to let the magnificence of the cannon’s roar make itself heard in the ears of one who loves repose and the quiet of the country. Monseigneur, I have your happiness spread out before me in my thoughts; listen to my words; precious they indeed are, in their import and their sense, for you who look with such tender regard upon the bright heavens, the verdant meadows, the pure air. I know a country instinct with delights of every kind, an unknown paradise, a secluded corner of the world—where alone, unfettered and unknown, in the thick covert of the woods, amidst flowers, and streams of rippling water, you will forget all the misery that human folly has so recently allotted you. Oh! listen to me, my prince. I do not jest. I have a heart, and mind, and soul, and can read your own,—aye, even to its depths. I will not take you unready for your task, in order to cast you into the crucible of my own desires, of my caprice, or my ambition. Let it be all or nothing. You are chilled and galled, sick at heart, overcome by excess of the emotions which but one hour’s liberty has produced in you. For me, that is a certain and unmistakable sign that you do not wish to continue at liberty. Would you prefer a more humble life, a life more suited to your strength? Heaven is my witness, that I wish your happiness to be the result of the trial to which I have exposed you.”

“Speak, speak,” said the prince, with a vivacity which did not escape Aramis.

“I know,” resumed the prelate, “in the Bas-Poitou, a canton, of which no one in France suspects the existence. Twenty leagues of country is immense, is it not? Twenty leagues, monseigneur, all covered with water and herbage, and reeds of the most luxuriant nature; the whole studded with islands covered with woods of the densest foliage. These large marshes, covered with reeds as with a thick mantle, sleep silently and calmly beneath the sun’s soft and genial rays. A few fishermen with their families indolently pass their lives away there, with their great living-rafts of poplar and alder, the flooring formed of reeds, and the roof woven out of thick rushes. These barks, these floating-houses, are wafted to and fro by the changing winds. Whenever they touch a bank, it is but by chance; and so gently, too, that the sleeping fisherman is not awakened by the shock. Should he wish to land, it is merely because he has seen a large flight of landrails or plovers, of wild ducks, teal, widgeon, or woodchucks, which fall an easy pray to net or gun. Silver shad, eels, greedy pike, red and gray mullet, swim in shoals into his nets; he has but to choose the finest and largest, and return the others to the waters. Never yet has the food of the stranger, be he soldier or simple citizen, never has any one, indeed, penetrated into that district. The sun’s rays there are soft and tempered: in plots of solid earth, whose soil is swart and fertile, grows the vine, nourishing with generous juice its purple, white, and golden grapes. Once a week, a boat is sent to deliver the bread which has been baked at an oven—the common property of all. There—like the seigneurs of early days—powerful in virtue of your dogs, your fishing-lines, your guns, and your beautiful reed-built house, would you live, rich in the produce of the chase, in plentitude of absolute secrecy. There would years of your life roll away, at the end of which, no longer recognizable, for you would have been perfectly transformed, you would have succeeded in acquiring a destiny accorded to you by Heaven. There are a thousand pistoles in this bag, monseigneur—more, far more, than sufficient to purchase the whole marsh of which I have spoken; more than enough to live there as many years as you have days to live; more than enough to constitute you the richest, the freest, and the happiest man in the country. Accept it, as I offer it you—sincerely, cheerfully. Forthwith, without a moment’s pause, I will unharness two of my horses, which are attached to the carriage yonder, and they, accompanied by my servant—my deaf and dumb attendant—shall conduct you—traveling throughout the night, sleeping during the day—to the locality I have described; and I shall, at least, have the satisfaction of knowing that I have rendered to my prince the major service he himself preferred. I shall have made one human being happy; and Heaven for that will hold me in better account than if I had made one man powerful; the former task is far more difficult. And now, monseigneur, your answer to this proposition? Here is the money. Nay, do not hesitate. At Poitou, you can risk nothing, except the chance of catching the fevers prevalent there; and even of them, the so-called wizards of the country will cure you, for the sake of your pistoles. If you play the other game, you run the chance of being assassinated on a throne, strangled in a prison-cell. Upon my soul, I assure you, now I begin to compare them together, I myself should hesitate which lot I should accept.”

“Monsieur,” replied the young prince, “before I determine, let me alight from this carriage, walk on the ground, and consult that still voice within me, which Heaven bids us all to hearken to. Ten minutes is all I ask, and then you shall have your answer.”

“As you please, monseigneur,” said Aramis, bending before him with respect, so solemn and august in tone and address had sounded these strange words.