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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Chapter X. Crown and Tiara.


Aramis was the first to descend from the carriage; he held the door open for the young man. He saw him place his foot on the mossy ground with a trembling of the whole body, and walk round the carriage with an unsteady and almost tottering step. It seemed as if the poor prisoner was unaccustomed to walk on God’s earth. It was the 15th of August, about eleven o’clock at night; thick clouds, portending a tempest, overspread the heavens, and shrouded every light and prospect underneath their heavy folds. The extremities of the avenues were imperceptibly detached from the copse, by a lighter shadow of opaque gray, which, upon closer examination, became visible in the midst of the obscurity. But the fragrance which ascended from the grass, fresher and more penetrating than that which exhaled from the trees around him; the warm and balmy air which enveloped him for the first time for many years past; the ineffable enjoyment of liberty in an open country, spoke to the prince in so seductive a language, that notwithstanding the preternatural caution, we would almost say dissimulation of his character, of which we have tried to give an idea, he could not restrain his emotion, and breathed a sigh of ecstasy. Then, by degrees, he raised his aching head and inhaled the softly scented air, as it was wafted in gentle gusts to his uplifted face. Crossing his arms on his chest, as if to control this new sensation of delight, he drank in delicious draughts of that mysterious air which interpenetrates at night the loftiest forests. The sky he was contemplating, the murmuring waters, the universal freshness—was not all this reality? Was not Aramis a madman to suppose that he had aught else to dream of in this world? Those exciting pictures of country life, so free from fears and troubles, the ocean of happy days that glitters incessantly before all young imaginations, are real allurements wherewith to fascinate a poor, unhappy prisoner, worn out by prison cares, emaciated by the stifling air of the Bastile. It was the picture, it will be remembered, drawn by Aramis, when he offered the thousand pistoles he had with him in the carriage to the prince, and the enchanted Eden which the deserts of Bas-Poitou hid from the eyes of the world. Such were the reflections of Aramis as he watched, with an anxiety impossible to describe, the silent progress of the emotions of Philippe, whom he perceived gradually becoming more and more absorbed in his meditations. The young prince was offering up an inward prayer to Heaven, to be divinely guided in this trying moment, upon which his life or death depended. It was an anxious time for the bishop of Vannes, who had never before been so perplexed. His iron will, accustomed to overcome all obstacles, never finding itself inferior or vanquished on any occasion, to be foiled in so vast a project from not having foreseen the influence which a view of nature in all its luxuriance would have on the human mind! Aramis, overwhelmed by anxiety, contemplated with emotion the painful struggle that was taking place in Philippe’s mind. This suspense lasted the whole ten minutes which the young man had requested. During this space of time, which appeared an eternity, Philippe continued gazing with an imploring and sorrowful look towards the heavens; Aramis did not remove the piercing glance he had fixed on Philippe. Suddenly the young man bowed his head. His thought returned to the earth, his looks perceptibly hardened, his brow contracted, his mouth assuming an expression of undaunted courage; again his looks became fixed, but this time they wore a worldly expression, hardened by covetousness, pride, and strong desire. Aramis’s look immediately became as soft as it had before been gloomy. Philippe, seizing his hand in a quick, agitated manner, exclaimed:

“Lead me to where the crown of France is to be found.”

“Is this your decision, monseigneur?” asked Aramis.

“It is.”

“Irrevocably so?”

Philippe did not even deign to reply. He gazed earnestly at the bishop, as if to ask him if it were possible for a man to waver after having once made up his mind.

“Such looks are flashes of the hidden fire that betrays men’s character,” said Aramis, bowing over Philippe’s hand; “you will be great, monseigneur, I will answer for that.”

“Let us resume our conversation. I wished to discuss two points with you; in the first place the dangers, or the obstacles we may meet with. That point is decided. The other is the conditions you intend imposing on me. It is your turn to speak, M. d’Herblay.”

“The conditions, monseigneur?”

“Doubtless. You will not allow so mere a trifle to stop me, and you will not do me the injustice to suppose that I think you have no interest in this affair. Therefore, without subterfuge or hesitation, tell me the truth—”

“I will do so, monseigneur. Once a king—”

“When will that be?”

“To-morrow evening—I mean in the night.”

“Explain yourself.”

“When I shall have asked your highness a question.”

“Do so.”

“I sent to your highness a man in my confidence with instructions to deliver some closely written notes, carefully drawn up, which will thoroughly acquaint your highness with the different persons who compose and will compose your court.”

“I perused those notes.”

“Attentively?”

“I know them by heart.”

“And understand them? Pardon me, but I may venture to ask that question of a poor, abandoned captive of the Bastile? In a week’s time it will not be requisite to further question a mind like yours. You will then be in full possession of liberty and power.”

“Interrogate me, then, and I will be a scholar representing his lesson to his master.”

“We will begin with your family, monseigneur.”

“My mother, Anne of Austria! all her sorrows, her painful malady. Oh! I know her—I know her.”

“Your second brother?” asked Aramis, bowing.

“To these notes,” replied the prince, “you have added portraits so faithfully painted, that I am able to recognize the persons whose characters, manners, and history you have so carefully portrayed. Monsieur, my brother, is a fine, dark young man, with a pale face; he does not love his wife, Henrietta, whom I, Louis XIV., loved a little, and still flirt with, even although she made me weep on the day she wished to dismiss Mademoiselle de la Valliere from her service in disgrace.”

“You will have to be careful with regard to the watchfulness of the latter,” said Aramis; “she is sincerely attached to the actual king. The eyes of a woman who loves are not easily deceived.”

“She is fair, has blue eyes, whose affectionate gaze reveals her identity. She halts slightly in her gait; she writes a letter every day, to which I have to send an answer by M. de Saint-Aignan.”

“Do you know the latter?”

“As if I saw him, and I know the last verses he composed for me, as well as those I composed in answer to his.”

“Very good. Do you know your ministers?”

“Colbert, an ugly, dark-browed man, but intelligent enough, his hair covering his forehead, a large, heavy, full head; the mortal enemy of M. Fouquet.”

“As for the latter, we need not disturb ourselves about him.”

“No; because necessarily you will not require me to exile him, I suppose?”

Aramis, struck with admiration at the remark, said, “You will become very great, monseigneur.”

“You see,” added the prince, “that I know my lesson by heart, and with Heaven’s assistance, and yours afterwards, I shall seldom go wrong.”

“You have still an awkward pair of eyes to deal with, monseigneur.”

“Yes, the captain of the musketeers, M. d’Artagnan, your friend.”

“Yes; I can well say ‘my friend.’”

“He who escorted La Valliere to Le Chaillot; he who delivered up Monk, cooped in an iron box, to Charles II.; he who so faithfully served my mother; he to whom the crown of France owes so much that it owes everything. Do you intend to ask me to exile him also?”

“Never, sire. D’Artagnan is a man to whom, at a certain given time, I will undertake to reveal everything; but be on your guard with him, for if he discovers our plot before it is revealed to him, you or I will certainly be killed or taken. He is a bold and enterprising man.”

“I will think it over. Now tell me about M. Fouquet; what do you wish to be done with regard to him?”

“One moment more, I entreat you, monseigneur; and forgive me, if I seem to fail in respect to questioning you further.”

“It is your duty to do so, nay, more than that, your right.”

“Before we pass to M. Fouquet, I should very much regret forgetting another friend of mine.”

“M. du Vallon, the Hercules of France, you mean; oh! as far as he is concerned, his interests are more than safe.”

“No; it is not he whom I intended to refer to.”

“The Comte de la Fere, then?”

“And his son, the son of all four of us.”

“That poor boy who is dying of love for La Valliere, whom my brother so disloyally bereft him of? Be easy on that score. I shall know how to rehabilitate his happiness. Tell me only one thing, Monsieur d’Herblay; do men, when they love, forget the treachery that has been shown them? Can a man ever forgive the woman who has betrayed him? Is that a French custom, or is it one of the laws of the human heart?”

“A man who loves deeply, as deeply as Raoul loves Mademoiselle de la Valliere, finishes by forgetting the fault or crime of the woman he loves; but I do not yet know whether Raoul will be able to forget.”

“I will see after that. Have you anything further to say about your friend?”

“No; that is all.”

“Well, then, now for M. Fouquet. What do you wish me to do for him?”

“To keep him on as surintendant, in the capacity in which he has hitherto acted, I entreat you.”

“Be it so; but he is the first minister at present.”

“Not quite so.”

“A king, ignorant and embarrassed as I shall be, will, as a matter of course, require a first minister of state.”

“Your majesty will require a friend.”

“I have only one, and that is yourself.”

“You will have many others by and by, but none so devoted, none so zealous for your glory.”

“You shall be my first minister of state.”

“Not immediately, monseigneur, for that would give rise to too much suspicion and astonishment.”

“M. de Richelieu, the first minister of my grandmother, Marie de Medici, was simply bishop of Lucon, as you are bishop of Vannes.”

“I perceive that your royal highness has studied my notes to great advantage; your amazing perspicacity overpowers me with delight.”

“I am perfectly aware that M. de Richelieu, by means of the queen’s protection, soon became cardinal.”

“It would be better,” said Aramis, bowing, “that I should not be appointed first minister until your royal highness has procured my nomination as cardinal.”

“You shall be nominated before two months are past, Monsieur d’Herblay. But that is a matter of very trifling moment; you would not offend me if you were to ask more than that, and you would cause me serious regret if you were to limit yourself to that.”

“In that case, I have something still further to hope for, monseigneur.”

“Speak! speak!”

“M. Fouquet will not keep long at the head of affairs, he will soon get old. He is fond of pleasure, consistently, I mean, with all his labors, thanks to the youthfulness he still retains; but this protracted youth will disappear at the approach of the first serious annoyance, or at the first illness he may experience. We will spare him the annoyance, because he is an agreeable and noble-hearted man; but we cannot save him from ill-health. So it is determined. When you shall have paid all M. Fouquet’s debts, and restored the finances to a sound condition, M. Fouquet will be able to remain the sovereign ruler in his little court of poets and painters,—we shall have made him rich. When that has been done, and I have become your royal highness’s prime minister, I shall be able to think of my own interests and yours.”

The young man looked at his interrogator.

“M. de Richelieu, of whom we were speaking just now, was very much to blame in the fixed idea he had of governing France alone, unaided. He allowed two kings, King Louis XIII. and himself, to be seated on the self-same throne, whilst he might have installed them more conveniently upon two separate and distinct thrones.”

“Upon two thrones?” said the young man, thoughtfully.

“In fact,” pursued Aramis, quietly, “a cardinal, prime minister of France, assisted by the favor and by the countenance of his Most Christian Majesty the King of France, a cardinal to whom the king his master lends the treasures of the state, his army, his counsel, such a man would be acting with twofold injustice in applying these mighty resources to France alone. Besides,” added Aramis, “you will not be a king such as your father was, delicate in health, slow in judgment, whom all things wearied; you will be a king governing by your brain and by your sword; you will have in the government of the state no more than you will be able to manage unaided; I should only interfere with you. Besides, our friendship ought never to be, I do not say impaired, but in any degree affected, by a secret thought. I shall have given you the throne of France, you will confer on me the throne of St. Peter. Whenever your loyal, firm, and mailed hand should joined in ties of intimate association the hand of a pope such as I shall be, neither Charles V., who owned two-thirds of the habitable globe, nor Charlemagne, who possessed it entirely, will be able to reach to half your stature. I have no alliances, I have no predilections; I will not throw you into persecutions of heretics, nor will I cast you into the troubled waters of family dissension; I will simply say to you: The whole universe is our own; for me the minds of men, for you their bodies. And as I shall be the first to die, you will have my inheritance. What do you say of my plan, monseigneur?”

“I say that you render me happy and proud, for no other reason than that of having comprehended you thoroughly. Monsieur d’Herblay, you shall be cardinal, and when cardinal, my prime minister; and then you will point out to me the necessary steps to be taken to secure your election as pope, and I will take them. You can ask what guarantees from me you please.”

“It is useless. Never shall I act except in such a manner that you will be the gainer; I shall never ascend the ladder of fortune, fame, or position, until I have first seen you placed upon the round of the ladder immediately above me; I shall always hold myself sufficiently aloof from you to escape incurring your jealousy, sufficiently near to sustain your personal advantage and to watch over your friendship. All the contracts in the world are easily violated because the interests included in them incline more to one side than to another. With us, however, this will never be the case; I have no need of any guarantees.”

“And so—my dear brother—will disappear?”

“Simply. We will remove him from his bed by means of a plank which yields to the pressure of the finger. Having retired to rest a crowned sovereign, he will awake a captive. Alone you will rule from that moment, and you will have no interest dearer and better than that of keeping me near you.”

“I believe it. There is my hand on it, Monsieur d’Herblay.”

“Allow me to kneel before you, sire, most respectfully. We will embrace each other on the day we shall have upon our temples, you the crown, I the tiara.”

“Still embrace me this very day also, and be, for and towards me, more than great, more than skillful, more than sublime in genius; be kind and indulgent—be my father!”

Aramis was almost overcome as he listened to his voice; he fancied he detected in his own heart an emotion hitherto unknown; but this impression was speedily removed. “His father!” he thought; “yes, his Holy Father.”

And they resumed their places in the carriage, which sped rapidly along the road leading to Vaux-le-Vicomte.






Chapter XI. The Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte.


The chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte, situated about a league from Melun, had been built by Fouquet in 1655, at a time when there was a scarcity of money in France; Mazarin had taken all that there was, and Fouquet expended the remainder. However, as certain men have fertile, false, and useful vices, Fouquet, in scattering broadcast millions of money in the construction of this palace, had found a means of gathering, as the result of his generous profusion, three illustrious men together: Levau, the architect of the building; Lenotre, the designer of the gardens; and Lebrun, the decorator of the apartments. If the Chateau de Vaux possessed a single fault with which it could be reproached, it was its grand, pretentious character. It is even at the present day proverbial to calculate the number of acres of roofing, the restoration of which would, in our age, be the ruin of fortunes cramped and narrowed as the epoch itself. Vaux-le-Vicomte, when its magnificent gates, supported by caryatides, have been passed through, has the principal front of the main building opening upon a vast, so-called, court of honor, inclosed by deep ditches, bordered by a magnificent stone balustrade. Nothing could be more noble in appearance than the central forecourt raised upon the flight of steps, like a king upon his throne, having around it four pavilions at the angles, the immense Ionic columns of which rose majestically to the whole height of the building. The friezes ornamented with arabesques, and the pediments which crowned the pilasters, conferred richness and grace on every part of the building, while the domes which surmounted the whole added proportion and majesty. This mansion, built by a subject, bore a far greater resemblance to those royal residences which Wolsey fancied he was called upon to construct, in order to present them to his master from the fear of rendering him jealous. But if magnificence and splendor were displayed in any one particular part of this palace more than another,—if anything could be preferred to the wonderful arrangement of the interior, to the sumptuousness of the gilding, and to the profusion of the paintings and statues, it would be the park and gardens of Vaux. The jets d’eau, which were regarded as wonderful in 1653, are still so, even at the present time; the cascades awakened the admiration of kings and princes; and as for the famous grotto, the theme of so many poetical effusions, the residence of that illustrious nymph of Vaux, whom Pelisson made converse with La Fontaine, we must be spared the description of all its beauties. We will do as Despreaux did,—we will enter the park, the trees of which are of eight years’ growth only—that is to say, in their present position—and whose summits even yet, as they proudly tower aloft, blushingly unfold their leaves to the earliest rays of the rising sun. Lenotre had hastened the pleasure of the Maecenas of his period; all the nursery-grounds had furnished trees whose growth had been accelerated by careful culture and the richest plant-food. Every tree in the neighborhood which presented a fair appearance of beauty or stature had been taken up by its roots and transplanted to the park. Fouquet could well afford to purchase trees to ornament his park, since he had bought up three villages and their appurtenances (to use a legal word) to increase its extent. M. de Scudery said of this palace, that, for the purpose of keeping the grounds and gardens well watered, M. Fouquet had divided a river into a thousand fountains, and gathered the waters of a thousand fountains into torrents. This same Monsieur de Scudery said a great many other things in his “Clelie,” about this palace of Valterre, the charms of which he describes most minutely. We should be far wiser to send our curious readers to Vaux to judge for themselves, than to refer them to “Clelie;” and yet there are as many leagues from Paris to Vaux, as there are volumes of the “Clelie.”

This magnificent palace had been got ready for the reception of the greatest reigning sovereign of the time. M. Fouquet’s friends had transported thither, some their actors and their dresses, others their troops of sculptors and artists; not forgetting others with their ready-mended pens,—floods of impromptus were contemplated. The cascades, somewhat rebellious nymphs though they were, poured forth their waters brighter and clearer than crystal: they scattered over the bronze triton and nereids their waves of foam, which glistened like fire in the rays of the sun. An army of servants were hurrying to and fro in squadrons in the courtyard and corridors; while Fouquet, who had only that morning arrived, walked all through the palace with a calm, observant glance, in order to give his last orders, after his intendants had inspected everything.

It was, as we have said, the 15th of August. The sun poured down its burning rays upon the heathen deities of marble and bronze: it raised the temperature of the water in the conch shells, and ripened, on the walls, those magnificent peaches, of which the king, fifty years later, spoke so regretfully, when, at Marly, on an occasion of a scarcity of the finer sorts of peaches being complained of, in the beautiful gardens there—gardens which had cost France double the amount that had been expended on Vaux—the great king observed to some one: “You are far too young to have eaten any of M. Fouquet’s peaches.”

Oh, fame! Oh, blazon of renown! Oh, glory of this earth! That very man whose judgment was so sound and accurate where merit was concerned—he who had swept into his coffers the inheritance of Nicholas Fouquet, who had robbed him of Lenotre and Lebrun, and had sent him to rot for the remainder of his life in one of the state prisons—merely remembered the peaches of that vanquished, crushed, forgotten enemy! It was to little purpose that Fouquet had squandered thirty millions of francs in the fountains of his gardens, in the crucibles of his sculptors, in the writing-desks of his literary friends, in the portfolios of his painters; vainly had he fancied that thereby he might be remembered. A peach—a blushing, rich-flavored fruit, nestling in the trellis work on the garden-wall, hidden beneath its long, green leaves,—this little vegetable production, that a dormouse would nibble up without a thought, was sufficient to recall to the memory of this great monarch the mournful shade of the last surintendant of France.

With a perfect reliance that Aramis had made arrangements fairly to distribute the vast number of guests throughout the palace, and that he had not omitted to attend to any of the internal regulations for their comfort, Fouquet devoted his entire attention to the ensemble alone. In one direction Gourville showed him the preparations which had been made for the fireworks; in another, Moliere led him over the theater; at last, after he had visited the chapel, the salons, and the galleries, and was again going downstairs, exhausted with fatigue, Fouquet saw Aramis on the staircase. The prelate beckoned to him. The surintendant joined his friend, and, with him, paused before a large picture scarcely finished. Applying himself, heart and soul, to his work, the painter Lebrun, covered with perspiration, stained with paint, pale from fatigue and the inspiration of genius, was putting the last finishing touches with his rapid brush. It was the portrait of the king, whom they were expecting, dressed in the court suit which Percerin had condescended to show beforehand to the bishop of Vannes. Fouquet placed himself before this portrait, which seemed to live, as one might say, in the cool freshness of its flesh, and in its warmth of color. He gazed upon it long and fixedly, estimated the prodigious labor that had been bestowed upon it, and, not being able to find any recompense sufficiently great for this Herculean effort, he passed his arm round the painter’s neck and embraced him. The surintendant, by this action, had utterly ruined a suit of clothes worth a thousand pistoles, but he had satisfied, more than satisfied, Lebrun. It was a happy moment for the artist; it was an unhappy moment for M. Percerin, who was walking behind Fouquet, and was engaged in admiring, in Lebrun’s painting, the suit that he had made for his majesty, a perfect objet d’art, as he called it, which was not to be matched except in the wardrobe of the surintendant. His distress and his exclamations were interrupted by a signal which had been given from the summit of the mansion. In the direction of Melun, in the still empty, open plain, the sentinels of Vaux had just perceived the advancing procession of the king and the queens. His majesty was entering Melun with his long train of carriages and cavaliers.

“In an hour—” said Aramis to Fouquet.

“In an hour!” replied the latter, sighing.

“And the people who ask one another what is the good of these royal fetes!” continued the bishop of Vannes, laughing, with his false smile.

“Alas! I, too, who am not the people, ask myself the same thing.”

“I will answer you in four and twenty hours, monseigneur. Assume a cheerful countenance, for it should be a day of true rejoicing.”

“Well, believe me or not, as you like, D’Herblay,” said the surintendant, with a swelling heart, pointing at the cortege of Louis, visible in the horizon, “he certainly loves me but very little, and I do not care much more for him; but I cannot tell you how it is, that since he is approaching my house—”

“Well, what?”

“Well, since I know he is on his way here, as my guest, he is more sacred than ever for me; he is my acknowledged sovereign, and as such is very dear to me.”

“Dear? yes,” said Aramis, playing upon the word, as the Abbe Terray did, at a later period, with Louis XV.

“Do not laugh, D’Herblay; I feel that, if he really seemed to wish it, I could love that young man.”

“You should not say that to me,” returned Aramis, “but rather to M. Colbert.”

“To M. Colbert!” exclaimed Fouquet. “Why so?”

“Because he would allow you a pension out of the king’s privy purse, as soon as he becomes surintendant,” said Aramis, preparing to leave as soon as he had dealt this last blow.

“Where are you going?” returned Fouquet, with a gloomy look.

“To my own apartment, in order to change my costume, monseigneur.”

“Whereabouts are you lodging, D’Herblay?”

“In the blue room on the second story.”

“The room immediately over the king’s room?”

“Precisely.”

“You will be subject to very great restraint there. What an idea to condemn yourself to a room where you cannot stir or move about!”

“During the night, monseigneur, I sleep or read in my bed.”

“And your servants?”

“I have but one attendant with me. I find my reader quite sufficient. Adieu, monseigneur; do not overfatigue yourself; keep yourself fresh for the arrival of the king.”

“We shall see you by and by, I suppose, and shall see your friend Du Vallon also?”

“He is lodging next to me, and is at this moment dressing.”

And Fouquet, bowing, with a smile, passed on like a commander-in-chief who pays the different outposts a visit after the enemy has been signaled in sight. 2






Chapter XII. The Wine of Melun.


The king had, in point of fact, entered Melun with the intention of merely passing through the city. The youthful monarch was most eagerly anxious for amusements; only twice during the journey had he been able to catch a glimpse of La Valliere, and, suspecting that his only opportunity of speaking to her would be after nightfall, in the gardens, and after the ceremonial of reception had been gone through, he had been very desirous to arrive at Vaux as early as possible. But he reckoned without his captain of the musketeers, and without M. Colbert. Like Calypso, who could not be consoled at the departure of Ulysses, our Gascon could not console himself for not having guessed why Aramis had asked Percerin to show him the king’s new costumes. “There is not a doubt,” he said to himself, “that my friend the bishop of Vannes had some motive in that;” and then he began to rack his brains most uselessly. D’Artagnan, so intimately acquainted with all the court intrigues, who knew the position of Fouquet better than even Fouquet himself did, had conceived the strangest fancies and suspicions at the announcement of the fete, which would have ruined a wealthy man, and which became impossible, utter madness even, for a man so poor as he was. And then, the presence of Aramis, who had returned from Belle-Isle, and been nominated by Monsieur Fouquet inspector-general of all the arrangements; his perseverance in mixing himself up with all the surintendant’s affairs; his visits to Baisemeaux; all this suspicious singularity of conduct had excessively troubled and tormented D’Artagnan during the last two weeks.

“With men of Aramis’s stamp,” he said, “one is never the stronger except sword in hand. So long as Aramis continued a soldier, there was hope of getting the better of him; but since he has covered his cuirass with a stole, we are lost. But what can Aramis’s object possibly be?” And D’Artagnan plunged again into deep thought. “What does it matter to me, after all,” he continued, “if his only object is to overthrow M. Colbert? And what else can he be after?” And D’Artagnan rubbed his forehead—that fertile land, whence the plowshare of his nails had turned up so many and such admirable ideas in his time. He, at first, thought of talking the matter over with Colbert, but his friendship for Aramis, the oath of earlier days, bound him too strictly. He revolted at the bare idea of such a thing, and, besides, he hated the financier too cordially. Then, again, he wished to unburden his mind to the king; but yet the king would not be able to understand the suspicions which had not even a shadow of reality at their base. He resolved to address himself to Aramis, direct, the first time he met him. “I will get him,” said the musketeer, “between a couple of candles, suddenly, and when he least expects it, I will place my hand upon his heart, and he will tell me—What will he tell me? Yes, he will tell me something, for mordioux! there is something in it, I know.”

Somewhat calmer, D’Artagnan made every preparation for the journey, and took the greatest care that the military household of the king, as yet very inconsiderable in numbers, should be well officered and well disciplined in its meager and limited proportions. The result was that, through the captain’s arrangements, the king, on arriving at Melun, saw himself at the head of both the musketeers and Swiss guards, as well as a picket of the French guards. It might almost have been called a small army. M. Colbert looked at the troops with great delight: he even wished they had been a third more in number.

“But why?” said the king.

“In order to show greater honor to M. Fouquet,” replied Colbert.

“In order to ruin him the sooner,” thought D’Artagnan.

When this little army appeared before Melun, the chief magistrates came out to meet the king, and to present him with the keys of the city, and invited him to enter the Hotel de Ville, in order to partake of the wine of honor. The king, who expected to pass through the city and to proceed to Vaux without delay, became quite red in the face from vexation.

“Who was fool enough to occasion this delay?” muttered the king, between his teeth, as the chief magistrate was in the middle of a long address.

“Not I, certainly,” replied D’Artagnan, “but I believe it was M. Colbert.”

Colbert, having heard his name pronounced, said, “What was M. d’Artagnan good enough to say?”

“I was good enough to remark that it was you who stopped the king’s progress, so that he might taste the vin de Brie. Was I right?”

“Quite so, monsieur.”

“In that case, then, it was you whom the king called some name or other.”

“What name?”

“I hardly know; but wait a moment—idiot, I think it was—no, no, it was fool or dolt. Yes; his majesty said that the man who had thought of the vin de Melun was something of the sort.”

D’Artagnan, after this broadside, quietly caressed his mustache; M. Colbert’s large head seemed to become larger and larger than ever. D’Artagnan, seeing how ugly anger made him, did not stop half-way. The orator still went on with his speech, while the king’s color was visibly increasing.

“Mordioux!” said the musketeer, coolly, “the king is going to have an attack of determination of blood to the head. Where the deuce did you get hold of that idea, Monsieur Colbert? You have no luck.”

“Monsieur,” said the financier, drawing himself up, “my zeal for the king’s service inspired me with the idea.”

“Bah!”

“Monsieur, Melun is a city, an excellent city, which pays well, and which it would be imprudent to displease.”

“There, now! I, who do not pretend to be a financier, saw only one idea in your idea.”

“What was that, monsieur?”

“That of causing a little annoyance to M. Fouquet, who is making himself quite giddy on his donjons yonder, in waiting for us.”

This was a home-stroke, hard enough in all conscience. Colbert was completely thrown out of the saddle by it, and retired, thoroughly discomfited. Fortunately, the speech was now at an end; the king drank the wine which was presented to him, and then every one resumed the progress through the city. The king bit his lips in anger, for the evening was closing in, and all hope of a walk with La Valliere was at an end. In order that the whole of the king’s household should enter Vaux, four hours at least were necessary, owing to the different arrangements. The king, therefore, who was boiling with impatience, hurried forward as much as possible, in order to reach it before nightfall. But, at the moment he was setting off again, other and fresh difficulties arose.

“Is not the king going to sleep at Melun?” said Colbert, in a low tone of voice, to D’Artagnan.

M. Colbert must have been badly inspired that day, to address himself in that manner to the chief of the musketeers; for the latter guessed that the king’s intention was very far from that of remaining where he was. D’Artagnan would not allow him to enter Vaux except he were well and strongly accompanied; and desired that his majesty would not enter except with all the escort. On the other hand, he felt that these delays would irritate that impatient monarch beyond measure. In what way could he possibly reconcile these difficulties? D’Artagnan took up Colbert’s remark, and determined to repeated it to the king.

“Sire,” he said, “M. Colbert has been asking me if your majesty does not intend to sleep at Melun.”

“Sleep at Melun! What for?” exclaimed Louis XIV. “Sleep at Melun! Who, in Heaven’s name, can have thought of such a thing, when M. Fouquet is expecting us this evening?”

“It was simply,” replied Colbert, quickly, “the fear of causing your majesty the least delay; for, according to established etiquette, you cannot enter any place, with the exception of your own royal residences, until the soldiers’ quarters have been marked out by the quartermaster, and the garrison properly distributed.”

D’Artagnan listened with the greatest attention, biting his mustache to conceal his vexation; and the queens were not less interested. They were fatigued, and would have preferred to go to rest without proceeding any farther; more especially, in order to prevent the king walking about in the evening with M. de Saint-Aignan and the ladies of the court, for, if etiquette required the princesses to remain within their own rooms, the ladies of honor, as soon as they had performed the services required of them, had no restrictions placed upon them, but were at liberty to walk about as they pleased. It will easily be conjectured that all these rival interests, gathering together in vapors, necessarily produced clouds, and that the clouds were likely to be followed by a tempest. The king had no mustache to gnaw, and therefore kept biting the handle of his whip instead, with ill-concealed impatience. How could he get out of it? D’Artagnan looked as agreeable as possible, and Colbert as sulky as he could. Who was there he could get in a passion with?

“We will consult the queen,” said Louis XIV., bowing to the royal ladies. And this kindness of consideration softened Maria Theresa’s heart, who, being of a kind and generous disposition, when left to her own free-will, replied:

“I shall be delighted to do whatever your majesty wishes.”

“How long will it take us to get to Vaux?” inquired Anne of Austria, in slow and measured accents, placing her hand upon her bosom, where the seat of her pain lay.

“An hour for your majesty’s carriages,” said D’Artagnan; “the roads are tolerably good.”

The king looked at him. “And a quarter of an hour for the king,” he hastened to add.

“We should arrive by daylight?” said Louis XIV.

“But the billeting of the king’s military escort,” objected Colbert, softly, “will make his majesty lose all the advantage of his speed, however quick he may be.”

“Double ass that you are!” thought D’Artagnan; “if I had any interest or motive in demolishing your credit with the king, I could do it in ten minutes. If I were in the king’s place,” he added aloud, “I should, in going to M. Fouquet, leave my escort behind me; I should go to him as a friend; I should enter accompanied only by my captain of the guards; I should consider that I was acting more nobly, and should be invested with a still more sacred character by doing so.”

Delight sparkled in the king’s eyes. “That is indeed a very sensible suggestion. We will go to see a friend as friends; the gentlemen who are with the carriages can go slowly: but we who are mounted will ride on.” And he rode off, accompanied by all those who were mounted. Colbert hid his ugly head behind his horse’s neck.

“I shall be quits,” said D’Artagnan, as he galloped along, “by getting a little talk with Aramis this evening. And then, M. Fouquet is a man of honor. Mordioux! I have said so, and it must be so.”

And this was the way how, towards seven o’clock in the evening, without announcing his arrival by the din of trumpets, and without even his advanced guard, without out-riders or musketeers, the king presented himself before the gate of Vaux, where Fouquet, who had been informed of his royal guest’s approach, had been waiting for the last half-hour, with his head uncovered, surrounded by his household and his friends.