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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Chapter XVI. Jealousy.


The torches we have just referred to, the eager attention every one displayed, and the new ovation paid to the king by Fouquet, arrived in time to suspend the effect of a resolution which La Valliere had already considerably shaken in Louis XIV.‘s heart. He looked at Fouquet with a feeling almost of gratitude for having given La Valliere an opportunity of showing herself so generously disposed, so powerful in the influence she exercised over his heart. The moment of the last and greatest display had arrived. Hardly had Fouquet conducted the king towards the chateau, when a mass of fire burst from the dome of Vaux, with a prodigious uproar, pouring a flood of dazzling cataracts of rays on every side, and illumining the remotest corners of the gardens. The fireworks began. Colbert, at twenty paces from the king, who was surrounded and feted by the owner of Vaux, seemed, by the obstinate persistence of his gloomy thoughts, to do his utmost to recall Louis’s attention, which the magnificence of the spectacle was already, in his opinion, too easily diverting. Suddenly, just as Louis was on the point of holding it out to Fouquet, he perceived in his hand the paper which, as he believed, La Valliere had dropped at his feet as she hurried away. The still stronger magnet of love drew the young prince’s attention towards the souvenir of his idol; and, by the brilliant light, which increased momentarily in beauty, and drew from the neighboring villages loud cheers of admiration, the king read the letter, which he supposed was a loving and tender epistle La Valliere had destined for him. But as he read it, a death-like pallor stole over his face, and an expression of deep-seated wrath, illumined by the many-colored fire which gleamed so brightly, soaringly around the scene, produced a terrible spectacle, which every one would have shuddered at, could they only have read into his heart, now torn by the most stormy and most bitter passions. There was no truce for him now, influenced as he was by jealousy and mad passion. From the very moment when the dark truth was revealed to him, every gentler feeling seemed to disappear; pity, kindness of consideration, the religion of hospitality, all were forgotten. In the bitter pang which wrung his heart, he, still too weak to hide his sufferings, was almost on the point of uttering a cry of alarm, and calling his guards to gather round him. This letter which Colbert had thrown down at the king’s feet, the reader has doubtlessly guessed, was the same that had disappeared with the porter Toby at Fontainebleau, after the attempt which Fouquet had made upon La Valliere’s heart. Fouquet saw the king’s pallor, and was far from guessing the evil; Colbert saw the king’s anger, and rejoiced inwardly at the approach of the storm. Fouquet’s voice drew the young prince from his wrathful reverie.

“What is the matter, sire?” inquired the superintendent, with an expression of graceful interest.

Louis made a violent effort over himself, as he replied, “Nothing.”

“I am afraid your majesty is suffering?”

“I am suffering, and have already told you so, monsieur; but it is nothing.”

And the king, without waiting for the termination of the fireworks, turned towards the chateau. Fouquet accompanied him, and the whole court followed, leaving the remains of the fireworks consuming for their own amusement. The superintendent endeavored again to question Louis XIV., but did not succeed in obtaining a reply. He imagined there had been some misunderstanding between Louis and La Valliere in the park, which had resulted in a slight quarrel; and that the king, who was not ordinarily sulky by disposition, but completely absorbed by his passion for La Valliere, had taken a dislike to every one because his mistress had shown herself offended with him. This idea was sufficient to console him; he had even a friendly and kindly smile for the young king, when the latter wished him good night. This, however, was not all the king had to submit to; he was obliged to undergo the usual ceremony, which on that evening was marked by close adherence to the strictest etiquette. The next day was the one fixed for the departure; it was but proper that the guests should thank their host, and show him a little attention in return for the expenditure of his twelve millions. The only remark, approaching to amiability, which the king could find to say to M. Fouquet, as he took leave of him, were in these words, “M. Fouquet, you shall hear from me. Be good enough to desire M. d’Artagnan to come here.”

But the blood of Louis XIV., who had so profoundly dissimulated his feelings, boiled in his veins; and he was perfectly willing to order M. Fouquet to be put an end to with the same readiness, indeed, as his predecessor had caused the assassination of le Marechal d’Ancre; and so he disguised the terrible resolution he had formed beneath one of those royal smiles which, like lightning-flashes, indicated coups d’etat. Fouquet took the king’s hand and kissed it; Louis shuddered throughout his whole frame, but allowed M. Fouquet to touch his hand with his lips. Five minutes afterwards, D’Artagnan, to whom the royal order had been communicated, entered Louis XIV.‘s apartment. Aramis and Philippe were in theirs, still eagerly attentive, and still listening with all their ears. The king did not even give the captain of the musketeers time to approach his armchair, but ran forward to meet him. “Take care,” he exclaimed, “that no one enters here.”

“Very good, sire,” replied the captain, whose glance had for a long time past analyzed the stormy indications on the royal countenance. He gave the necessary order at the door; but, returning to the king, he said, “Is there something fresh the matter, your majesty?”

“How many men have you here?” inquired the king, without making any other reply to the question addressed to him.

“What for, sire?”

“How many men have you, I say?” repeated the king, stamping upon the ground with his foot.

“I have the musketeers.”

“Well; and what others?”

“Twenty guards and thirteen Swiss.”

“How many men will be required to—”

“To do what, sire?” replied the musketeer, opening his large, calm eyes.

“To arrest M. Fouquet.”

D’Artagnan fell back a step.

“To arrest M. Fouquet!” he burst forth.

“Are you going to tell me that it is impossible?” exclaimed the king, in tones of cold, vindictive passion.

“I never say that anything is impossible,” replied D’Artagnan, wounded to the quick.

“Very well; do it, then.”

D’Artagnan turned on his heel, and made his way towards the door; it was but a short distance, and he cleared it in half a dozen paces; when he reached it he suddenly paused, and said, “Your majesty will forgive me, but, in order to effect this arrest, I should like written directions.”

“For what purpose—and since when has the king’s word been insufficient for you?”

“Because the word of a king, when it springs from a feeling of anger, may possibly change when the feeling changes.”

“A truce to set phrases, monsieur; you have another thought besides that?”

“Oh, I, at least, have certain thoughts and ideas, which, unfortunately, others have not,” D’Artagnan replied, impertinently.

The king, in the tempest of his wrath, hesitated, and drew back in the face of D’Artagnan’s frank courage, just as a horse crouches on his haunches under the strong hand of a bold and experienced rider. “What is your thought?” he exclaimed.

“This, sire,” replied D’Artagnan: “you cause a man to be arrested when you are still under his roof; and passion is alone the cause of that. When your anger shall have passed, you will regret what you have done; and then I wish to be in a position to show you your signature. If that, however, should fail to be a reparation, it will at least show us that the king was wrong to lose his temper.”

“Wrong to lose his temper!” cried the king, in a loud, passionate voice. “Did not my father, my grandfathers, too, before me, lose their temper at times, in Heaven’s name?”

“The king your father and the king your grandfather never lost their temper except when under the protection of their own palace.”

“The king is master wherever he may be.”

“That is a flattering, complimentary phrase which cannot proceed from any one but M. Colbert; but it happens not to be the truth. The king is at home in every man’s house when he has driven its owner out of it.”

The king bit his lips, but said nothing.

“Can it be possible?” said D’Artagnan; “here is a man who is positively ruining himself in order to please you, and you wish to have him arrested! Mordioux! Sire, if my name was Fouquet, and people treated me in that manner, I would swallow at a single gulp all sorts of fireworks and other things, and I would set fire to them, and send myself and everybody else in blown-up atoms to the sky. But it is all the same; it is your wish, and it shall be done.”

“Go,” said the king; “but have you men enough?”

“Do you suppose I am going to take a whole host to help me? Arrest M. Fouquet! why, that is so easy that a very child might do it! It is like drinking a glass of wormwood; one makes an ugly face, and that is all.”

“If he defends himself?”

“He! it is not at all likely. Defend himself when such extreme harshness as you are going to practice makes the man a very martyr! Nay, I am sure that if he has a million of francs left, which I very much doubt, he would be willing enough to give it in order to have such a termination as this. But what does that matter? it shall be done at once.”

“Stay,” said the king; “do not make his arrest a public affair.”

“That will be more difficult.”

“Why so?”

“Because nothing is easier than to go up to M. Fouquet in the midst of a thousand enthusiastic guests who surround him, and say, ‘In the king’s name, I arrest you.’ But to go up to him, to turn him first one way and then another, to drive him up into one of the corners of the chess-board, in such a way that he cannot escape; to take him away from his guests, and keep him a prisoner for you, without one of them, alas! having heard anything about it; that, indeed, is a genuine difficulty, the greatest of all, in truth; and I hardly see how it is to be done.”

“You had better say it is impossible, and you will have finished much sooner. Heaven help me, but I seem to be surrounded by people who prevent me doing what I wish.”

“I do not prevent your doing anything. Have you indeed decided?”

“Take care of M. Fouquet, until I shall have made up my mind by to-morrow morning.”

“That shall be done, sire.”

“And return, when I rise in the morning, for further orders; and now leave me to myself.”

“You do not even want M. Colbert, then?” said the musketeer, firing his last shot as he was leaving the room. The king started. With his whole mind fixed on the thought of revenge, he had forgotten the cause and substance of the offense.

“No, no one,” he said; “no one here! Leave me.”

D’Artagnan quitted the room. The king closed the door with his own hands, and began to walk up and down his apartment at a furious pace, like a wounded bull in an arena, trailing from his horn the colored streamers and the iron darts. At last he began to take comfort in the expression of his violent feelings.

“Miserable wretch that he is! not only does he squander my finances, but with his ill-gotten plunder he corrupts secretaries, friends, generals, artists, and all, and tries to rob me of the one to whom I am most attached. This is the reason that perfidious girl so boldly took his part! Gratitude! and who can tell whether it was not a stronger feeling—love itself?” He gave himself up for a moment to the bitterest reflections. “A satyr!” he thought, with that abhorrent hate with which young men regard those more advanced in life, who still think of love. “A man who has never found opposition or resistance in any one, who lavishes his gold and jewels in every direction, and who retains his staff of painters in order to take the portraits of his mistresses in the costume of goddesses.” The king trembled with passion as he continued, “He pollutes and profanes everything that belongs to me! He destroys everything that is mine. He will be my death at last, I know. That man is too much for me; he is my mortal enemy, but he shall forthwith fall! I hate him—I hate him—I hate him!” and as he pronounced these words, he struck the arm of the chair in which he was sitting violently, over and over again, and then rose like one in an epileptic fit. “To-morrow! to-morrow! oh, happy day!” he murmured, “when the sun rises, no other rival shall that brilliant king of space possess but me. That man shall fall so low that when people look at the abject ruin my anger shall have wrought, they will be forced to confess at last and at least that I am indeed greater than he.” The king, who was incapable of mastering his emotions any longer, knocked over with a blow of his fist a small table placed close to his bedside, and in the very bitterness of anger, almost weeping, and half-suffocated, he threw himself on his bed, dressed as he was, and bit the sheets in his extremity of passion, trying to find repose of body at least there. The bed creaked beneath his weight, and with the exception of a few broken sounds, emerging, or, one might say, exploding, from his overburdened chest, absolute silence soon reigned in the chamber of Morpheus.






Chapter XVII. High Treason.


The ungovernable fury which took possession of the king at the sight and at the perusal of Fouquet’s letter to La Valliere by degrees subsided into a feeling of pain and extreme weariness. Youth, invigorated by health and lightness of spirits, requiring soon that what it loses should be immediately restored—youth knows not those endless, sleepless nights which enable us to realize the fable of the vulture unceasingly feeding on Prometheus. In cases where the man of middle life, in his acquired strength of will and purpose, and the old, in their state of natural exhaustion, find incessant augmentation of their bitter sorrow, a young man, surprised by the sudden appearance of misfortune, weakens himself in sighs, and groans, and tears, directly struggling with his grief, and is thereby far sooner overthrown by the inflexible enemy with whom he is engaged. Once overthrown, his struggles cease. Louis could not hold out more than a few minutes, at the end of which he had ceased to clench his hands, and scorch in fancy with his looks the invisible objects of his hatred; he soon ceased to attack with his violent imprecations not M. Fouquet alone, but even La Valliere herself; from fury he subsided into despair, and from despair to prostration. After he had thrown himself for a few minutes to and fro convulsively on his bed, his nerveless arms fell quietly down; his head lay languidly on his pillow; his limbs, exhausted with excessive emotion, still trembled occasionally, agitated by muscular contractions; while from his breast faint and infrequent sighs still issued. Morpheus, the tutelary deity of the apartment, towards whom Louis raised his eyes, wearied by his anger and reconciled by his tears, showered down upon him the sleep-inducing poppies with which his hands are ever filled; so presently the monarch closed his eyes and fell asleep. Then it seemed to him, as it often happens in that first sleep, so light and gentle, which raises the body above the couch, and the soul above the earth—it seemed to him, we say, as if the god Morpheus, painted on the ceiling, looked at him with eyes resembling human eyes; that something shone brightly, and moved to and fro in the dome above the sleeper; that the crowd of terrible dreams which thronged together in his brain, and which were interrupted for a moment, half revealed a human face, with a hand resting against the mouth, and in an attitude of deep and absorbed meditation. And strange enough, too, this man bore so wonderful a resemblance to the king himself, that Louis fancied he was looking at his own face reflected in a mirror; with the exception, however, that the face was saddened by a feeling of the profoundest pity. Then it seemed to him as if the dome gradually retired, escaping from his gaze, and that the figures and attributes painted by Lebrun became darker and darker as the distance became more and more remote. A gentle, easy movement, as regular as that by which a vessel plunges beneath the waves, had succeeded to the immovableness of the bed. Doubtless the king was dreaming, and in this dream the crown of gold, which fastened the curtains together, seemed to recede from his vision, just as the dome, to which it remained suspended, had done, so that the winged genius which, with both its hand, supported the crown, seemed, though vainly so, to call upon the king, who was fast disappearing from it. The bed still sunk. Louis, with his eyes open, could not resist the deception of this cruel hallucination. At last, as the light of the royal chamber faded away into darkness and gloom, something cold, gloomy, and inexplicable in its nature seemed to infect the air. No paintings, nor gold, nor velvet hangings, were visible any longer, nothing but walls of a dull gray color, which the increasing gloom made darker every moment. And yet the bed still continued to descend, and after a minute, which seemed in its duration almost an age to the king, it reached a stratum of air, black and chill as death, and then it stopped. The king could no longer see the light in his room, except as from the bottom of a well we can see the light of day. “I am under the influence of some atrocious dream,” he thought. “It is time to awaken from it. Come! let me wake.”

Every one has experienced the sensation the above remark conveys; there is hardly a person who, in the midst of a nightmare whose influence is suffocating, has not said to himself, by the help of that light which still burns in the brain when every human light is extinguished, “It is nothing but a dream, after all.” This was precisely what Louis XIV. said to himself; but when he said, “Come, come! wake up,” he perceived that not only was he already awake, but still more, that he had his eyes open also. And then he looked all round him. On his right hand and on his left two armed men stood in stolid silence, each wrapped in a huge cloak, and the face covered with a mask; one of them held a small lamp in his hand, whose glimmering light revealed the saddest picture a king could look upon. Louis could not help saying to himself that his dream still lasted, and that all he had to do to cause it to disappear was to move his arms or to say something aloud; he darted from his bed, and found himself upon the damp, moist ground. Then, addressing himself to the man who held the lamp in his hand, he said:

“What is this, monsieur, and what is the meaning of this jest?”

“It is no jest,” replied in a deep voice the masked figure that held the lantern.

“Do you belong to M. Fouquet?” inquired the king, greatly astonished at his situation.

“It matters very little to whom we belong,” said the phantom; “we are your masters now, that is sufficient.”

The king, more impatient than intimidated, turned to the other masked figure. “If this is a comedy,” he said, “you will tell M. Fouquet that I find it unseemly and improper, and that I command it should cease.”

The second masked person to whom the king had addressed himself was a man of huge stature and vast circumference. He held himself erect and motionless as any block of marble. “Well!” added the king, stamping his foot, “you do not answer!”

“We do not answer you, my good monsieur,” said the giant, in a stentorian voice, “because there is nothing to say.”

“At least, tell me what you want,” exclaimed Louis, folding his arms with a passionate gesture.

“You will know by and by,” replied the man who held the lamp.

“In the meantime tell me where I am.”

“Look.”

Louis looked all round him; but by the light of the lamp which the masked figure raised for the purpose, he could perceive nothing but the damp walls which glistened here and there with the slimy traces of the snail. “Oh—oh!—a dungeon,” cried the king.

“No, a subterranean passage.”

“Which leads—?”

“Will you be good enough to follow us?”

“I shall not stir from hence!” cried the king.

“If you are obstinate, my dear young friend,” replied the taller of the two, “I will lift you up in my arms, and roll you up in your own cloak, and if you should happen to be stifled, why—so much the worse for you.”

As he said this, he disengaged from beneath his cloak a hand of which Milo of Crotona would have envied him the possession, on the day when he had that unhappy idea of rending his last oak. The king dreaded violence, for he could well believe that the two men into whose power he had fallen had not gone so far with any idea of drawing back, and that they would consequently be ready to proceed to extremities, if necessary. He shook his head and said: “It seems I have fallen into the hands of a couple of assassins. Move on, then.”

Neither of the men answered a word to this remark. The one who carried the lantern walked first, the king followed him, while the second masked figure closed the procession. In this manner they passed along a winding gallery of some length, with as many staircases leading out of it as are to be found in the mysterious and gloomy palaces of Ann Radcliffe’s creation. All these windings and turnings, during which the king heard the sound of running water over his head, ended at last in a long corridor closed by an iron door. The figure with the lamp opened the door with one of the keys he wore suspended at his girdle, where, during the whole of the brief journey, the king had heard them rattle. As soon as the door was opened and admitted the air, Louis recognized the balmy odors that trees exhale in hot summer nights. He paused, hesitatingly, for a moment or two; but the huge sentinel who followed him thrust him out of the subterranean passage.

“Another blow,” said the king, turning towards the one who had just had the audacity to touch his sovereign; “what do you intend to do with the king of France?”

“Try to forget that word,” replied the man with the lamp, in a tone which as little admitted of a reply as one of the famous decrees of Minos.

“You deserve to be broken on the wheel for the words that you have just made use of,” said the giant, as he extinguished the lamp his companion handed to him; “but the king is too kind-hearted.”

Louis, at that threat, made so sudden a movement that it seemed as if he meditated flight; but the giant’s hand was in a moment placed on his shoulder, and fixed him motionless where he stood. “But tell me, at least, where we are going,” said the king.

“Come,” replied the former of the two men, with a kind of respect in his manner, and leading his prisoner towards a carriage which seemed to be in waiting.

The carriage was completely concealed amid the trees. Two horses, with their feet fettered, were fastened by a halter to the lower branches of a large oak.

“Get in,” said the same man, opening the carriage-door and letting down the step. The king obeyed, seated himself at the back of the carriage, the padded door of which was shut and locked immediately upon him and his guide. As for the giant, he cut the fastenings by which the horses were bound, harnessed them himself, and mounted on the box of the carriage, which was unoccupied. The carriage set off immediately at a quick trot, turned into the road to Paris, and in the forest of Senart found a relay of horses fastened to the trees in the same manner the first horses had been, and without a postilion. The man on the box changed the horses, and continued to follow the road towards Paris with the same rapidity, so that they entered the city about three o’clock in the morning. They carriage proceeded along the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, and, after having called out to the sentinel, “By the king’s order,” the driver conducted the horses into the circular inclosure of the Bastile, looking out upon the courtyard, called La Cour du Gouvernement. There the horses drew up, reeking with sweat, at the flight of steps, and a sergeant of the guard ran forward. “Go and wake the governor,” said the coachman in a voice of thunder.

With the exception of this voice, which might have been heard at the entrance of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, everything remained as calm in the carriage as in the prison. Ten minutes afterwards, M. de Baisemeaux appeared in his dressing-gown on the threshold of the door. “What is the matter now?” he asked; “and whom have you brought me there?”

The man with the lantern opened the carriage-door, and said two or three words to the one who acted as driver, who immediately got down from his seat, took up a short musket which he kept under his feet, and placed its muzzle on his prisoner’s chest.

“And fire at once if he speaks!” added aloud the man who alighted from the carriage.

“Very good,” replied his companion, without another remark.

With this recommendation, the person who had accompanied the king in the carriage ascended the flight of steps, at the top of which the governor was awaiting him. “Monsieur d’Herblay!” said the latter.

“Hush!” said Aramis. “Let us go into your room.”

“Good heavens! what brings you here at this hour?”

“A mistake, my dear Monsieur de Baisemeaux,” Aramis replied, quietly. “It appears that you were quite right the other day.”

“What about?” inquired the governor.

“About the order of release, my dear friend.”

“Tell me what you mean, monsieur—no, monseigneur,” said the governor, almost suffocated by surprise and terror.

“It is a very simple affair: you remember, dear M. de Baisemeaux, that an order of release was sent to you.”

“Yes, for Marchiali.”

“Very good! we both thought that it was for Marchiali?”

“Certainly; you will recollect, however, that I would not credit it, but that you compelled me to believe it.”

“Oh! Baisemeaux, my good fellow, what a word to make use of!—strongly recommended, that was all.”

“Strongly recommended, yes; strongly recommended to give him up to you; and that you carried him off with you in your carriage.”

“Well, my dear Monsieur de Baisemeaux, it was a mistake; it was discovered at the ministry, so that I now bring you an order from the king to set at liberty Seldon,—that poor Seldon fellow, you know.”

“Seldon! are you sure this time?”

“Well, read it yourself,” added Aramis, handing him the order.

“Why,” said Baisemeaux, “this order is the very same that has already passed through my hands.”

“Indeed?”

“It is the very one I assured you I saw the other evening. Parbleu! I recognize it by the blot of ink.”

“I do not know whether it is that; but all I know is, that I bring it for you.”

“But then, what about the other?”

“What other?”

“Marchiali.”

“I have got him here with me.”

“But that is not enough for me. I require a new order to take him back again.”

“Don’t talk such nonsense, my dear Baisemeaux; you talk like a child! Where is the order you received respecting Marchiali?”

Baisemeaux ran to his iron chest and took it out. Aramis seized hold of it, coolly tore it in four pieces, held them to the lamp, and burnt them. “Good heavens! what are you doing?” exclaimed Baisemeaux, in an extremity of terror.

“Look at your position quietly, my good governor,” said Aramis, with imperturbable self-possession, “and you will see how very simple the whole affair is. You no longer possess any order justifying Marchiali’s release.”

“I am a lost man!”

“Far from it, my good fellow, since I have brought Marchiali back to you, and all accordingly is just the same as if he had never left.”

“Ah!” said the governor, completely overcome by terror.

“Plain enough, you see; and you will go and shut him up immediately.”

“I should think so, indeed.”

“And you will hand over this Seldon to me, whose liberation is authorized by this order. Do you understand?”

“I—I—”

“You do understand, I see,” said Aramis. “Very good.” Baisemeaux clapped his hands together.

“But why, at all events, after having taken Marchiali away from me, do you bring him back again?” cried the unhappy governor, in a paroxysm of terror, and completely dumbfounded.

“For a friend such as you are,” said Aramis—“for so devoted a servant, I have no secrets;” and he put his mouth close to Baisemeaux’s ear, as he said, in a low tone of voice, “you know the resemblance between that unfortunate fellow, and—”

“And the king?—yes!”

“Very good; the first use that Marchiali made of his liberty was to persist—Can you guess what?”

“How is it likely I should guess?”

“To persist in saying that he was king of France; to dress himself up in clothes like those of the king; and then pretend to assume that he was the king himself.”

“Gracious heavens!”

“That is the reason why I have brought him back again, my dear friend. He is mad and lets every one see how mad he is.”

“What is to be done, then?”

“That is very simple; let no one hold any communication with him. You understand that when his peculiar style of madness came to the king’s ears, the king, who had pitied his terrible affliction, and saw that all his kindness had been repaid by black ingratitude, became perfectly furious; so that, now—and remember this very distinctly, dear Monsieur de Baisemeaux, for it concerns you most closely—so that there is now, I repeat, sentence of death pronounced against all those who may allow him to communicate with any one else but me or the king himself. You understand, Baisemeaux, sentence of death!”

“You need not ask me whether I understand.”

“And now, let us go down, and conduct this poor devil back to his dungeon again, unless you prefer he should come up here.”

“What would be the good of that?”

“It would be better, perhaps, to enter his name in the prison-book at once!”

“Of course, certainly; not a doubt of it.”

“In that case, have him up.”

Baisemeaux ordered the drums to be beaten and the bell to be rung, as a warning to every one to retire, in order to avoid meeting a prisoner, about whom it was desired to observe a certain mystery. Then, when the passages were free, he went to take the prisoner from the carriage, at whose breast Porthos, faithful to the directions which had been given him, still kept his musket leveled. “Ah! is that you, miserable wretch?” cried the governor, as soon as he perceived the king. “Very good, very good.” And immediately, making the king get out of the carriage, he led him, still accompanied by Porthos, who had not taken off his mask, and Aramis, who again resumed his, up the stairs, to the second Bertaudiere, and opened the door of the room in which Philippe for six long years had bemoaned his existence. The king entered the cell without pronouncing a single word: he faltered in as limp and haggard as a rain-struck lily. Baisemeaux shut the door upon him, turned the key twice in the lock, and then returned to Aramis. “It is quite true,” he said, in a low tone, “that he bears a striking resemblance to the king; but less so than you said.”

“So that,” said Aramis, “you would not have been deceived by the substitution of the one for the other?”

“What a question!”

“You are a most valuable fellow, Baisemeaux,” said Aramis; “and now, set Seldon free.”

“Oh, yes. I was going to forget that. I will go and give orders at once.”

“Bah! to-morrow will be time enough.”

“To-morrow!—oh, no. This very minute.”

“Well; go off to your affairs, I will go away to mine. But it is quite understood, is it not?”

“What ‘is quite understood’?”

“That no one is to enter the prisoner’s cell, expect with an order from the king; an order which I will myself bring.”

“Quite so. Adieu, monseigneur.”

Aramis returned to his companion. “Now, Porthos, my good fellow, back again to Vaux, and as fast as possible.”

“A man is light and easy enough, when he has faithfully served his king; and, in serving him, saved his country,” said Porthos. “The horses will be as light as if our tissues were constructed of the wind of heaven. So let us be off.” And the carriage, lightened of a prisoner, who might well be—as he in fact was—very heavy in the sight of Aramis, passed across the drawbridge of the Bastile, which was raised again immediately behind it.






Chapter XVIII. A Night at the Bastile.


Pain, anguish, and suffering in human life are always in proportion to the strength with which a man is endowed. We will not pretend to say that Heaven always apportions to a man’s capability of endurance the anguish with which he afflicts him; for that, indeed, would not be true, since Heaven permits the existence of death, which is, sometimes, the only refuge open to those who are too closely pressed—too bitterly afflicted, as far as the body is concerned. Suffering is in proportion to the strength which has been accorded; in other words, the weak suffer more, where the trial is the same, than the strong. And what are the elementary principles, we may ask, that compose human strength? Is it not—more than anything else—exercise, habit, experience? We shall not even take the trouble to demonstrate this, for it is an axiom in morals, as in physics. When the young king, stupefied and crushed in every sense and feeling, found himself led to a cell in the Bastile, he fancied death itself is but a sleep; that it, too, has its dreams as well; that the bed had broken through the flooring of his room at Vaux; that death had resulted from the occurrence; and that, still carrying out his dream, the king, Louis XIV., now no longer living, was dreaming one of those horrors, impossible to realize in life, which is termed dethronement, imprisonment, and insult towards a sovereign who formerly wielded unlimited power. To be present at—an actual witness, too—of this bitterness of death; to float, indecisively, in an incomprehensible mystery, between resemblance and reality; to hear everything, to see everything, without interfering in a single detail of agonizing suffering, was—so the king thought within himself—a torture far more terrible, since it might last forever. “Is this what is termed eternity—hell?” he murmured, at the moment the door was closed upon him, which we remember Baisemeaux had shut with his own hands. He did not even look round him; and in the room, leaning with his back against the wall, he allowed himself to be carried away by the terrible supposition that he was already dead, as he closed his eyes, in order to avoid looking upon something even worse still. “How can I have died?” he said to himself, sick with terror. “The bed might have been let down by some artificial means? But no! I do not remember to have felt a bruise, nor any shock either. Would they not rather have poisoned me at my meals, or with the fumes of wax, as they did my ancestress, Jeanne d’Albret?” Suddenly, the chill of the dungeons seemed to fall like a wet cloak upon Louis’s shoulders. “I have seen,” he said, “my father lying dead upon his funeral couch, in his regal robes. That pale face, so calm and worn; those hands, once so skillful, lying nerveless by his side; those limbs stiffened by the icy grasp of death; nothing there betokened a sleep that was disturbed by dreams. And yet, how numerous were the dreams which Heaven might have sent that royal corpse—him whom so many others had preceded, hurried away by him into eternal death! No, that king was still the king: he was enthroned still upon that funeral couch, as upon a velvet armchair; he had not abdicated one title of his majesty. God, who had not punished him, cannot, will not punish me, who have done nothing.” A strange sound attracted the young man’s attention. He looked round him, and saw on the mantel-shelf, just below an enormous crucifix, coarsely painted in fresco on the wall, a rat of enormous size engaged in nibbling a piece of dry bread, but fixing all the time, an intelligent and inquiring look upon the new occupant of the cell. The king could not resist a sudden impulse of fear and disgust: he moved back towards the door, uttering a loud cry; and as if he but needed this cry, which escaped from his breast almost unconsciously, to recognize himself, Louis knew that he was alive and in full possession of his natural senses. “A prisoner!” he cried. “I—I, a prisoner!” He looked round him for a bell to summon some one to him. “There are no bells in the Bastile,” he said, “and it is in the Bastile I am imprisoned. In what way can I have been made a prisoner? It must have been owing to a conspiracy of M. Fouquet. I have been drawn to Vaux, as to a snare. M. Fouquet cannot be acting alone in this affair. His agent—That voice that I but just now heard was M. d’Herblay’s; I recognized it. Colbert was right, then. But what is Fouquet’s object? To reign in my place and stead?—Impossible. Yet who knows!” thought the king, relapsing into gloom again. “Perhaps my brother, the Duc d’Orleans, is doing that which my uncle wished to do during the whole of his life against my father. But the queen?—My mother, too? And La Valliere? Oh! La Valliere, she will have been abandoned to Madame. Dear, dear girl! Yes, it is—it must be so. They have shut her up as they have me. We are separated forever!” And at this idea of separation the poor lover burst into a flood of tears and sobs and groans.

“There is a governor in this place,” the king continued, in a fury of passion; “I will speak to him, I will summon him to me.”

He called—no voice replied to his. He seized hold of his chair, and hurled it against the massive oaken door. The wood resounded against the door, and awakened many a mournful echo in the profound depths of the staircase; but from a human creature, none.

This was a fresh proof for the king of the slight regard in which he was held at the Bastile. Therefore, when his first fit of anger had passed away, having remarked a barred window through which there passed a stream of light, lozenge-shaped, which must be, he knew, the bright orb of approaching day, Louis began to call out, at first gently enough, then louder and louder still; but no one replied. Twenty other attempts which he made, one after another, obtained no other or better success. His blood began to boil within him, and mount to his head. His nature was such, that, accustomed to command, he trembled at the idea of disobedience. The prisoner broke the chair, which was too heavy for him to lift, and made use of it as a battering ram to strike against the door. He struck so loudly, and so repeatedly, that the perspiration soon began to pour down his face. The sound became tremendous and continuous; certain stifled, smothered cries replied in different directions. This sound produced a strange effect upon the king. He paused to listen; it was the voice of the prisoners, formerly his victims, now his companions. The voices ascended like vapors through the thick ceilings and the massive walls, and rose in accusations against the author of this noise, as doubtless their sighs and tears accused, in whispered tones, the author of their captivity. After having deprived so many people of their liberty, the king came among them to rob them of their rest. This idea almost drove him mad; it redoubled his strength, or rather his will, bent upon obtaining some information, or a conclusion to the affair. With a portion of the broken chair he recommenced the noise. At the end of an hour, Louis heard something in the corridor, behind the door of his cell, and a violent blow, which was returned upon the door itself, made him cease his own.

“Are you mad?” said a rude, brutal voice. “What is the matter with you this morning?”

“This morning!” thought the king; but he said aloud, politely, “Monsieur, are you the governor of the Bastile?”

“My good fellow, your head is out of sorts,” replied the voice; “but that is no reason why you should make such a terrible disturbance. Be quiet; mordioux!”

“Are you the governor?” the king inquired again.

He heard a door on the corridor close; the jailer had just left, not condescending to reply a single word. When the king had assured himself of his departure, his fury knew no longer any bounds. As agile as a tiger, he leaped from the table to the window, and struck the iron bars with all his might. He broke a pane of glass, the pieces of which fell clanking into the courtyard below. He shouted with increasing hoarseness, “The governor, the governor!” This excess lasted fully an hour, during which time he was in a burning fever. With his hair in disorder and matted on his forehead, his dress torn and covered with dust and plaster, his linen in shreds, the king never rested until his strength was utterly exhausted, and it was not until then that he clearly understood the pitiless thickness of the walls, the impenetrable nature of the cement, invincible to every influence but that of time, and that he possessed no other weapon but despair. He leaned his forehead against the door, and let the feverish throbbings of his heart calm by degrees; it had seemed as if one single additional pulsation would have made it burst.

“A moment will come when the food which is given to the prisoners will be brought to me. I shall then see some one, I shall speak to him, and get an answer.”

And the king tried to remember at what hour the first repast of the prisoners was served at the Bastile; he was ignorant even of this detail. The feeling of remorse at this remembrance smote him like the thrust of a dagger, that he should have lived for five and twenty years a king, and in the enjoyment of every happiness, without having bestowed a moment’s thought on the misery of those who had been unjustly deprived of their liberty. The king blushed for very shame. He felt that Heaven, in permitting this fearful humiliation, did no more than render to the man the same torture as had been inflicted by that man upon so many others. Nothing could be more efficacious for reawakening his mind to religious influences than the prostration of his heart and mind and soul beneath the feeling of such acute wretchedness. But Louis dared not even kneel in prayer to God to entreat him to terminate his bitter trial.

“Heaven is right,” he said; “Heaven acts wisely. It would be cowardly to pray to Heaven for that which I have so often refused my own fellow-creatures.”

He had reached this stage of his reflections, that is, of his agony of mind, when a similar noise was again heard behind his door, followed this time by the sound of the key in the lock, and of the bolts being withdrawn from their staples. The king bounded forward to be nearer to the person who was about to enter, but, suddenly reflecting that it was a movement unworthy of a sovereign, he paused, assumed a noble and calm expression, which for him was easy enough, and waited with his back turned towards the window, in order, to some extent, to conceal his agitation from the eyes of the person who was about to enter. It was only a jailer with a basket of provisions. The king looked at the man with restless anxiety, and waited until he spoke.

“Ah!” said the latter, “you have broken your chair. I said you had done so! Why, you have gone quite mad.”

“Monsieur,” said the king, “be careful what you say; it will be a very serious affair for you.”

The jailer placed the basket on the table, and looked at his prisoner steadily. “What do you say?” he said.

“Desire the governor to come to me,” added the king, in accents full of calm and dignity.

“Come, my boy,” said the turnkey, “you have always been very quiet and reasonable, but you are getting vicious, it seems, and I wish you to know it in time. You have broken your chair, and made a great disturbance; that is an offense punishable by imprisonment in one of the lower dungeons. Promise me not to begin over again, and I will not say a word about it to the governor.”

“I wish to see the governor,” replied the king, still governing his passions.

“He will send you off to one of the dungeons, I tell you; so take care.”

“I insist upon it, do you hear?”

“Ah! ah! your eyes are becoming wild again. Very good! I shall take away your knife.”

And the jailer did what he said, quitted the prisoner, and closed the door, leaving the king more astounded, more wretched, more isolated than ever. It was useless, though he tried it, to make the same noise again on his door, and equally useless that he threw the plates and dishes out of the window; not a single sound was heard in recognition. Two hours afterwards he could not be recognized as a king, a gentleman, a man, a human being; he might rather be called a madman, tearing the door with his nails, trying to tear up the flooring of his cell, and uttering such wild and fearful cries that the old Bastile seemed to tremble to its very foundations for having revolted against its master. As for the governor, the jailer did not even think of disturbing him; the turnkeys and the sentinels had reported the occurrence to him, but what was the good of it? Were not these madmen common enough in such a prison? and were not the walls still stronger? M. de Baisemeaux, thoroughly impressed with what Aramis had told him, and in perfect conformity with the king’s order, hoped only that one thing might happen; namely, that the madman Marchiali might be mad enough to hang himself to the canopy of his bed, or to one of the bars of the window. In fact, the prisoner was anything but a profitable investment for M. Baisemeaux, and became more annoying than agreeable to him. These complications of Seldon and Marchiali—the complications first of setting at liberty and then imprisoning again, the complications arising from the strong likeness in question—had at last found a very proper denouement. Baisemeaux even thought he had remarked that D’Herblay himself was not altogether dissatisfied with the result.

“And then, really,” said Baisemeaux to his next in command, “an ordinary prisoner is already unhappy enough in being a prisoner; he suffers quite enough, indeed, to induce one to hope, charitably enough, that his death may not be far distant. With still greater reason, accordingly, when the prisoner has gone mad, and might bite and make a terrible disturbance in the Bastile; why, in such a case, it is not simply an act of mere charity to wish him dead; it would be almost a good and even commendable action, quietly to have him put out of his misery.”

And the good-natured governor thereupon sat down to his late breakfast.