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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Chapter XIX. The Shadow of M. Fouquet.


D’Artagnan, still confused and oppressed by the conversation he had just had with the king, could not resist asking himself if he were really in possession of his senses, if he were really and truly at Vaux; if he, D’Artagnan, were really the captain of the musketeers, and M. Fouquet the owner of the chateau in which Louis XIV. was at that moment partaking of his hospitality. These reflections were not those of a drunken man, although everything was in prodigal profusion at Vaux, and the surintendant’s wines had met with a distinguished reception at the fete. The Gascon, however, was a man of calm self-possession; and no sooner did he touch his bright steel blade, than he knew how to adopt morally the cold, keen weapon as his guide of action.

“Well,” he said, as he quitted the royal apartment, “I seem now to be mixed up historically with the destinies of the king and of the minister; it will be written, that M. d’Artagnan, a younger son of a Gascon family, placed his hand on the shoulder of M. Nicolas Fouquet, the surintendant of the finances of France. My descendants, if I have any, will flatter themselves with the distinction which this arrest will confer, just as the members of the De Luynes family have done with regard to the estates of the poor Marechal d’Ancre. But the thing is, how best to execute the king’s directions in a proper manner. Any man would know how to say to M. Fouquet, ‘Your sword, monsieur.’ But it is not every one who would be able to take care of M. Fouquet without others knowing anything about it. How am I to manage, then, so that M. le surintendant pass from the height of favor to the direst disgrace; that Vaux be turned into a dungeon for him; that after having been steeped to his lips, as it were, in all the perfumes and incense of Ahasuerus, he is transferred to the gallows of Haman; in other words, of Enguerrand de Marigny?” And at this reflection, D’Artagnan’s brow became clouded with perplexity. The musketeer had certain scruples on the matter, it must be admitted. To deliver up to death (for not a doubt existed that Louis hated Fouquet mortally) the man who had just shown himself so delightful and charming a host in every way, was a real insult to one’s conscience. “It almost seems,” said D’Artagnan to himself, “that if I am not a poor, mean, miserable fellow, I should let M. Fouquet know the opinion the king has about him. Yet, if I betray my master’s secret, I shall be a false-hearted, treacherous knave, a traitor, too, a crime provided for and punishable by military laws—so much so, indeed, that twenty times, in former days when wars were rife, I have seen many a miserable fellow strung up to a tree for doing, in but a small degree, what my scruples counsel me to undertake upon a great scale now. No, I think that a man of true readiness of wit ought to get out of this difficulty with more skill than that. And now, let us admit that I do possess a little readiness of invention; it is not at all certain, though, for, after having for forty years absorbed so large a quantity, I shall be lucky if there were to be a pistole’s-worth left.” D’Artagnan buried his head in his hands, tore at his mustache in sheer vexation, and added, “What can be the reason of M. Fouquet’s disgrace? There seem to be three good ones: the first, because M. Colbert doesn’t like him; the second, because he wished to fall in love with Mademoiselle de la Valliere; and lastly, because the king likes M. Colbert and loves Mademoiselle de la Valliere. Oh! he is lost! But shall I put my foot on his neck, I, of all men, when he is falling a prey to the intrigues of a pack of women and clerks? For shame! If he be dangerous, I will lay him low enough; if, however, he be only persecuted, I will look on. I have come to such a decisive determination, that neither king nor living man shall change my mind. If Athos were here, he would do as I have done. Therefore, instead of going, in cold blood, up to M. Fouquet, and arresting him off-hand and shutting him up altogether, I will try and conduct myself like a man who understands what good manners are. People will talk about it, of course; but they shall talk well of it, I am determined.” And D’Artagnan, drawing by a gesture peculiar to himself his shoulder-belt over his shoulder, went straight off to M. Fouquet, who, after he had taken leave of his guests, was preparing to retire for the night and to sleep tranquilly after the triumphs of the day. The air was still perfumed, or infected, whichever way it may be considered, with the odors of the torches and the fireworks. The wax-lights were dying away in their sockets, the flowers fell unfastened from the garlands, the groups of dancers and courtiers were separating in the salons. Surrounded by his friends, who complimented him and received his flattering remarks in return, the surintendant half-closed his wearied eyes. He longed for rest and quiet; he sank upon the bed of laurels which had been heaped up for him for so many days past; it might almost have been said that he seemed bowed beneath the weight of the new debts which he had incurred for the purpose of giving the greatest possible honor to this fete. Fouquet had just retired to his room, still smiling, but more than half-asleep. He could listen to nothing more, he could hardly keep his eyes open; his bed seemed to possess a fascinating and irresistible attraction for him. The god Morpheus, the presiding deity of the dome painted by Lebrun, had extended his influence over the adjoining rooms, and showered down his most sleep-inducing poppies upon the master of the house. Fouquet, almost entirely alone, was being assisted by his valet de chambre to undress, when M. d’Artagnan appeared at the entrance of the room. D’Artagnan had never been able to succeed in making himself common at the court; and notwithstanding he was seen everywhere and on all occasions, he never failed to produce an effect wherever and whenever he made his appearance. Such is the happy privilege of certain natures, which in that respect resemble either thunder or lightning; every one recognizes them; but their appearance never fails to arouse surprise and astonishment, and whenever they occur, the impression is always left that the last was the most conspicuous or most important.

“What! M. d’Artagnan?” said Fouquet, who had already taken his right arm out of the sleeve of his doublet.

“At your service,” replied the musketeer.

“Come in, my dear M. d’Artagnan.”

“Thank you.”

“Have you come to criticise the fete? You are ingenious enough in your criticisms, I know.”

“By no means.”

“Are not your men looked after properly?”

“In every way.”

“You are not comfortably lodged, perhaps?”

“Nothing could be better.”

“In that case, I have to thank you for being so amiably disposed, and I must not fail to express my obligations to you for all your flattering kindness.”

These words were as much as to say, “My dear D’Artagnan, pray go to bed, since you have a bed to lie down on, and let me do the same.”

D’Artagnan did not seem to understand it.

“Are you going to bed already?” he said to the superintendent.

“Yes; have you anything to say to me?”

“Nothing, monsieur, nothing at all. You sleep in this room, then?”

“Yes; as you see.”

“You have given a most charming fete to the king.”

“Do you think so?”

“Oh! beautiful!”

“Is the king pleased?”

“Enchanted.”

“Did he desire you to say as much to me?”

“He would not choose so unworthy a messenger, monseigneur.”

“You do not do yourself justice, Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“Is that your bed, there?”

“Yes; but why do you ask? Are you not satisfied with your own?”

“My I speak frankly to you?”

“Most assuredly.”

“Well, then, I am not.”

Fouquet started; and then replied, “Will you take my room, Monsieur d’Artagnan?”

“What! deprive you of it, monseigneur? never!”

“What am I to do, then?”

“Allow me to share yours with you.”

Fouquet looked at the musketeer fixedly. “Ah! ah!” he said, “you have just left the king.”

“I have, monseigneur.”

“And the king wishes you to pass the night in my room?”

“Monseigneur—”

“Very well, Monsieur d’Artagnan, very well. You are the master here.”

“I assure you, monseigneur, that I do not wish to abuse—”

Fouquet turned to his valet, and said, “Leave us.” When the man had left, he said to D’Artagnan, “You have something to say to me?”

“I?”

“A man of your superior intelligence cannot have come to talk with a man like myself, at such an hour as the present, without grave motives.”

“Do not interrogate me.”

“On the contrary. What do you want with me?”

“Nothing more than the pleasure of your society.”

“Come into the garden, then,” said the superintendent suddenly, “or into the park.”

“No,” replied the musketeer, hastily, “no.”

“Why?”

“The fresh air—”

“Come, admit at once that you arrest me,” said the superintendent to the captain.

“Never!” said the latter.

“You intend to look after me, then?”

“Yes, monseigneur, I do, upon my honor.”

“Upon your honor—ah! that is quite another thing! So I am to be arrested in my own house.”

“Do not say such a thing.”

“On the contrary, I will proclaim it aloud.”

“If you do so, I shall be compelled to request you to be silent.”

“Very good! Violence towards me, and in my own house, too.”

“We do not seem to understand one another at all. Stay a moment; there is a chess-board there; we will have a game, if you have no objections.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, I am in disgrace, then?”

“Not at all; but—”

“I am prohibited, I suppose, from withdrawing from your sight.”

“I do not understand a word you are saying, monseigneur; and if you wish me to withdraw, tell me so.”

“My dear Monsieur d’Artagnan, your mode of action is enough to drive me mad; I was almost sinking for want of sleep, but you have completely awakened me.”

“I shall never forgive myself, I am sure; and if you wish to reconcile me with myself, why, go to sleep in your bed in my presence; and I shall be delighted.”

“I am under surveillance, I see.”

“I will leave the room if you say any such thing.”

“You are beyond my comprehension.”

“Good night, monseigneur,” said D’Artagnan, as he pretended to withdraw.

Fouquet ran after him. “I will not lie down,” he said. “Seriously, and since you refuse to treat me as a man, and since you finesse with me, I will try and set you at bay, as a hunter does a wild boar.”

“Bah!” cried D’Artagnan, pretending to smile.

“I shall order my horses, and set off for Paris,” said Fouquet, sounding the captain of the musketeers.

“If that be the case, monseigneur, it is very difficult.”

“You will arrest me, then?”

“No, but I shall go along with you.”

“That is quite sufficient, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” returned Fouquet, coldly. “It was not for nothing you acquired your reputation as a man of intelligence and resource; but with me all this is quite superfluous. Let us come to the point. Do me a service. Why do you arrest me? What have I done?”

“Oh! I know nothing about what you may have done; but I do not arrest you—this evening, at least!”

“This evening!” said Fouquet, turning pale, “but to-morrow?”

“It is not to-morrow just yet, monseigneur. Who can ever answer for the morrow?”

“Quick, quick, captain! let me speak to M. d’Herblay.”

“Alas! that is quite impossible, monseigneur. I have strict orders to see that you hold no communication with any one.”

“With M. d’Herblay, captain—with your friend!”

“Monseigneur, is M. d’Herblay the only person with whom you ought to be prevented holding any communication?”

Fouquet colored, and then assuming an air of resignation, he said: “You are right, monsieur; you have taught me a lesson I ought not to have evoked. A fallen man cannot assert his right to anything, even from those whose fortunes he may have made; for a still stronger reason, he cannot claim anything from those to whom he may never have had the happiness of doing a service.”

“Monseigneur!”

“It is perfectly true, Monsieur d’Artagnan; you have always acted in the most admirable manner towards me—in such a manner, indeed, as most becomes the man who is destined to arrest me. You, at least, have never asked me anything.”

“Monsieur,” replied the Gascon, touched by his eloquent and noble tone of grief, “will you—I ask it as a favor—pledge me your word as a man of honor that you will not leave this room?”

“What is the use of it, dear Monsieur d’Artagnan, since you keep watch and ward over me? Do you suppose I should contend against the most valiant sword in the kingdom?”

“It is not that, at all, monseigneur; but that I am going to look for M. d’Herblay, and, consequently, to leave you alone.”

Fouquet uttered a cry of delight and surprise.

“To look for M. d’Herblay! to leave me alone!” he exclaimed, clasping his hands together.

“Which is M. d’Herblay’s room? The blue room is it not?”

“Yes, my friend, yes.”

“Your friend! thank you for that word, monseigneur; you confer it upon me to-day, at least, if you have never done so before.”

“Ah! you have saved me.”

“It will take a good ten minutes to go from hence to the blue room, and to return?” said D’Artagnan.

“Nearly so.”

“And then to wake Aramis, who sleeps very soundly, when he is asleep, I put that down at another five minutes; making a total of fifteen minutes’ absence. And now, monseigneur, give me your word that you will not in any way attempt to make your escape, and that when I return I shall find you here again.”

“I give it, monsieur,” replied Fouquet, with an expression of the warmest and deepest gratitude.

D’Artagnan disappeared. Fouquet looked at him as he quitted the room, waited with a feverish impatience until the door was closed behind him, and as soon as it was shut, flew to his keys, opened two or three secret doors concealed in various articles of furniture in the room, looked vainly for certain papers, which doubtless he had left at Saint-Mande, and which he seemed to regret not having found in them; then hurriedly seizing hold of letters, contracts, papers, writings, he heaped them up into a pile, which he burnt in the extremest haste upon the marble hearth of the fireplace, not even taking time to draw from the interior of it the vases and pots of flowers with which it was filled. As soon as he had finished, like a man who has just escaped an imminent danger, and whose strength abandons him as soon as the danger is past, he sank down, completely overcome, on a couch. When D’Artagnan returned, he found Fouquet in the same position; the worthy musketeer had not the slightest doubt that Fouquet, having given his word, would not even think of failing to keep it, but he had thought it most likely that Fouquet would turn his (D’Artagnan’s) absence to the best advantage in getting rid of all the papers, memorandums, and contracts, which might possibly render his position, which was even now serious enough, more dangerous than ever. And so, lifting up his head like a dog who has regained the scent, he perceived an odor resembling smoke he had relied on finding in the atmosphere, and having found it, made a movement of his head in token of satisfaction. As D’Artagnan entered, Fouquet, on his side, raised his head, and not one of D’Artagnan’s movements escaped him. And then the looks of the two men met, and they both saw that they had understood each other without exchanging a syllable.

“Well!” asked Fouquet, the first to speak, “and M. d’Herblay?”

“Upon my word, monseigneur,” replied D’Artagnan, “M. d’Herblay must be desperately fond of walking out at night, and composing verses by moonlight in the park of Vaux, with some of your poets, in all probability, for he is not in his own room.”

“What! not in his own room?” cried Fouquet, whose last hope thus escaped him; for unless he could ascertain in what way the bishop of Vannes could assist him, he perfectly well knew that he could expect assistance from no other quarter.

“Or, indeed,” continued D’Artagnan, “if he is in his own room, he has very good reasons for not answering.”

“But surely you did not call him in such a manner that he could have heard you?”

“You can hardly suppose, monseigneur, that having already exceeded my orders, which forbade me leaving you a single moment—you can hardly suppose, I say, that I should have been mad enough to rouse the whole house and allow myself to be seen in the corridor of the bishop of Vannes, in order that M. Colbert might state with positive certainty that I gave you time to burn your papers.”

“My papers?”

“Of course; at least that is what I should have done in your place. When any one opens a door for me I always avail myself of it.”

“Yes, yes, and I thank you, for I have availed myself of it.”

“And you have done perfectly right. Every man has his own peculiar secrets with which others have nothing to do. But let us return to Aramis, monseigneur.”

“Well, then, I tell you, you could not have called loud enough, or Aramis would have heard you.”

“However softly any one may call Aramis, monseigneur, Aramis always hears when he has an interest in hearing. I repeat what I said before—Aramis was not in his own room, or Aramis had certain reasons for not recognizing my voice, of which I am ignorant, and of which you may be even ignorant yourself, notwithstanding your liege-man is His Greatness the Lord Bishop of Vannes.”

Fouquet drew a deep sigh, rose from his seat, took three or four turns in his room, and finished by seating himself, with an expression of extreme dejection, upon his magnificent bed with velvet hangings, and costliest lace. D’Artagnan looked at Fouquet with feelings of the deepest and sincerest pity.

“I have seen a good many men arrested in my life,” said the musketeer, sadly; “I have seen both M. de Cinq-Mars and M. de Chalais arrested, though I was very young then. I have seen M. de Conde arrested with the princes; I have seen M. de Retz arrested; I have seen M. Broussel arrested. Stay a moment, monseigneur, it is disagreeable to have to say, but the very one of all those whom you most resemble at this moment was that poor fellow Broussel. You were very near doing as he did, putting your dinner napkin in your portfolio, and wiping your mouth with your papers. Mordioux! Monseigneur Fouquet, a man like you ought not to be dejected in this manner. Suppose your friends saw you?”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan,” returned the surintendant, with a smile full of gentleness, “you do not understand me; it is precisely because my friends are not looking on, that I am as you see me now. I do not live, exist even, isolated from others; I am nothing when left to myself. Understand that throughout my whole life I have passed every moment of my time in making friends, whom I hoped to render my stay and support. In times of prosperity, all these cheerful, happy voices—rendered so through and by my means—formed in my honor a concert of praise and kindly actions. In the least disfavor, these humbler voices accompanied in harmonious accents the murmur of my own heart. Isolation I have never yet known. Poverty (a phantom I have sometimes beheld, clad in rags, awaiting me at the end of my journey through life)—poverty has been the specter with which many of my own friends have trifled for years past, which they poetize and caress, and which has attracted me towards them. Poverty! I accept it, acknowledge it, receive it, as a disinherited sister; for poverty is neither solitude, nor exile, nor imprisonment. Is it likely I shall ever be poor, with such friends as Pelisson, as La Fontaine, as Moliere? with such a mistress as—Oh! if you knew how utterly lonely and desolate I feel at this moment, and how you, who separate me from all I love, seem to resemble the image of solitude, of annihilation—death itself.”

“But I have already told you, Monsieur Fouquet,” replied D’Artagnan, moved to the depths of his soul, “that you are woefully exaggerating. The king likes you.”

“No, no,” said Fouquet, shaking his head.

“M. Colbert hates you.”

“M. Colbert! What does that matter to me?”

“He will ruin you.”

“Ah! I defy him to do that, for I am ruined already.”

At this singular confession of the superintendent, D’Artagnan cast his glance all round the room; and although he did not open his lips, Fouquet understood him so thoroughly, that he added: “What can be done with such wealth of substance as surrounds us, when a man can no longer cultivate his taste for the magnificent? Do you know what good the greater part of the wealth and the possessions which we rich enjoy, confer upon us? merely to disgust us, by their very splendor even, with everything which does not equal it! Vaux! you will say, and the wonders of Vaux! What of it? What boot these wonders? If I am ruined, how shall I fill with water the urns which my Naiads bear in their arms, or force the air into the lungs of my Tritons? To be rich enough, Monsieur d’Artagnan, a man must be too rich.”

D’Artagnan shook his head.

“Oh! I know very well what you think,” replied Fouquet, quickly. “If Vaux were yours, you would sell it, and would purchase an estate in the country; an estate which should have woods, orchards, and land attached, so that the estate should be made to support its master. With forty millions you might—”

“Ten millions,” interrupted D’Artagnan.

“Not a million, my dear captain. No one in France is rich enough to give two millions for Vaux, and to continue to maintain it as I have done; no one could do it, no one would know how.”

“Well,” said D’Artagnan, “in any case, a million is not abject misery.”

“It is not far from it, my dear monsieur. But you do not understand me. No; I will not sell my residence at Vaux; I will give it to you, if you like;” and Fouquet accompanied these words with a movement of the shoulders to which it would be impossible to do justice.

“Give it to the king; you will make a better bargain.”

“The king does not require me to give it to him,” said Fouquet; “he will take it away from me with the most absolute ease and grace, if it pleases him to do so; and that is the very reason I should prefer to see it perish. Do you know, Monsieur d’Artagnan, that if the king did not happen to be under my roof, I would take this candle, go straight to the dome, and set fire to a couple of huge chests of fusees and fireworks which are in reserve there, and would reduce my palace to ashes.”

“Bah!” said the musketeer, negligently. “At all events, you would not be able to burn the gardens, and that is the finest feature of the place.”

“And yet,” resumed Fouquet, thoughtfully, “what was I saying? Great heavens! burn Vaux! destroy my palace! But Vaux is not mine; these wonderful creations are, it is true, the property, as far as sense of enjoyment goes, of the man who has paid for them; but as far as duration is concerned, they belong to those who created them. Vaux belongs to Lebrun, to Lenotre, to Pelisson, to Levau, to La Fontaine, to Moliere; Vaux belongs to posterity, in fact. You see, Monsieur d’Artagnan, that my very house has ceased to be my own.”

“That is all well and good,” said D’Artagnan; “the idea is agreeable enough, and I recognize M. Fouquet himself in it. That idea, indeed, makes me forget that poor fellow Broussel altogether; and I now fail to recognize in you the whining complaints of that old Frondeur. If you are ruined, monsieur, look at the affair manfully, for you too, mordioux! belong to posterity, and have no right to lessen yourself in any way. Stay a moment; look at me, I who seem to exercise in some degree a kind of superiority over you, because I am arresting you; fate, which distributes their different parts to the comedians of this world, accorded me a less agreeable and less advantageous part to fill than yours has been. I am one of those who think that the parts which kings and powerful nobles are called upon to act are infinitely of more worth than the parts of beggars or lackeys. It is far better on the stage—on the stage, I mean, of another theater than the theater of this world—it is far better to wear a fine coat and to talk a fine language, than to walk the boards shod with a pair of old shoes, or to get one’s backbone gently polished by a hearty dressing with a stick. In one word, you have been a prodigal with money, you have ordered and been obeyed—have been steeped to the lips in enjoyment; while I have dragged my tether after me, have been commanded and have obeyed, and have drudged my life away. Well, although I may seem of such trifling importance beside you, monseigneur, I do declare to you, that the recollection of what I have done serves me as a spur, and prevents me from bowing my old head too soon. I shall remain unto the very end a trooper; and when my turn comes, I shall fall perfectly straight, all in a heap, still alive, after having selected my place beforehand. Do as I do, Monsieur Fouquet, you will not find yourself the worse for it; a fall happens only once in a lifetime to men like yourself, and the chief thing is, to take it gracefully when the chance presents itself. There is a Latin proverb—the words have escaped me, but I remember the sense of it very well, for I have thought over it more than once—which says, ‘The end crowns the work!’”

Fouquet rose from his seat, passed his arm round D’Artagnan’s neck, and clasped him in a close embrace, whilst with the other hand he pressed his hand. “An excellent homily,” he said, after a moment’s pause.

“A soldier’s, monseigneur.”

“You have a regard for me, in telling me all that.”

“Perhaps.”

Fouquet resumed his pensive attitude once more, and then, a moment after, he said: “Where can M. d’Herblay be? I dare not ask you to send for him.”

“You would not ask me, because I would not do it, Monsieur Fouquet. People would learn it, and Aramis, who is not mixed up with the affair, might possibly be compromised and included in your disgrace.”

“I will wait here till daylight,” said Fouquet.

“Yes; that is best.”

“What shall we do when daylight comes?”

“I know nothing at all about it, monseigneur.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, will you do me a favor?”

“Most willingly.”

“You guard me, I remain; you are acting in the full discharge of your duty, I suppose?”

“Certainly.”

“Very good, then; remain as close to me as my shadow if you like; and I infinitely prefer such a shadow to any one else.”

D’Artagnan bowed to the compliment.

“But, forget that you are Monsieur d’Artagnan, captain of the musketeers; forget that I am Monsieur Fouquet, surintendant of the finances; and let us talk about my affairs.”

“That is rather a delicate subject.”

“Indeed?”

“Yes; but, for your sake, Monsieur Fouquet, I will do what may almost be regarded as an impossibility.”

“Thank you. What did the king say to you?”

“Nothing.”

“Ah! is that the way you talk?”

“The deuce!”

“What do you think of my situation?”

“I do not know.”

“However, unless you have some ill feeling against me—”

“Your position is a difficult one.”

“In what respect?”

“Because you are under your own roof.”

“However difficult it may be, I understand it very well.”

“Do you suppose that, with any one else but yourself, I should have shown so much frankness?”

“What! so much frankness, do you say? you, who refuse to tell me the slightest thing?”

“At all events, then, so much ceremony and consideration.”

“Ah! I have nothing to say in that respect.”

“One moment, monseigneur: let me tell you how I should have behaved towards any one but yourself. It might be that I happened to arrive at your door just as your guests or your friends had left you—or, if they had not gone yet, I should wait until they were leaving, and should then catch them one after the other, like rabbits; I should lock them up quietly enough, I should steal softly along the carpet of your corridor, and with one hand upon you, before you suspected the slightest thing amiss, I should keep you safely until my master’s breakfast in the morning. In this way, I should just the same have avoided all publicity, all disturbance, all opposition; but there would also have been no warning for M. Fouquet, no consideration for his feelings, none of those delicate concessions which are shown by persons who are essentially courteous in their natures, whenever the decisive moment may arrive. Are you satisfied with the plan?”

“It makes me shudder.”

“I thought you would not like it. It would have been very disagreeable to have made my appearance to-morrow, without any preparation, and to have asked you to deliver up your sword.”

“Oh! monsieur, I should have died of shame and anger.”

“Your gratitude is too eloquently expressed. I have not done enough to deserve it, I assure you.”

“Most certainly, monsieur, you will never get me to believe that.”

“Well, then, monseigneur, if you are satisfied with what I have done, and have somewhat recovered from the shock which I prepared you for as much as I possibly could, let us allow the few hours that remain to pass away undisturbed. You are harassed, and should arrange your thoughts; I beg you, therefore, go to sleep, or pretend to go to sleep, either on your bed, or in your bed; I will sleep in this armchair; and when I fall asleep, my rest is so sound that a cannon would not wake me.”

Fouquet smiled. “I expect, however,” continued the musketeer, “the case of a door being opened, whether a secret door, or any other; or the case of any one going out of, or coming into, the room—for anything like that my ear is as quick and sensitive as the ear of a mouse. Creaking noises make me start. It arises, I suppose, from a natural antipathy to anything of the kind. Move about as much as you like; walk up and down in any part of the room, write, efface, destroy, burn,—nothing like that will prevent me from going to sleep or even prevent me from snoring, but do not touch either the key or the handle of the door, for I should start up in a moment, and that would shake my nerves and make me ill.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said Fouquet, “you are certainly the most witty and the most courteous man I ever met with; and you will leave me only one regret, that of having made your acquaintance so late.”

D’Artagnan drew a deep sigh, which seemed to say, “Alas! you have perhaps made it too soon.” He then settled himself in his armchair, while Fouquet, half lying on his bed and leaning on his arm, was meditating on his misadventures. In this way, both of them, leaving the candles burning, awaited the first dawn of the day; and when Fouquet happened to sigh too loudly, D’Artagnan only snored the louder. Not a single visit, not even from Aramis, disturbed their quietude: not a sound even was heard throughout the whole vast palace. Outside, however, the guards of honor on duty, and the patrol of musketeers, paced up and down; and the sound of their feet could be heard on the gravel walks. It seemed to act as an additional soporific for the sleepers, while the murmuring of the wind through the trees, and the unceasing music of the fountains whose waters tumbled in the basin, still went on uninterruptedly, without being disturbed at the slight noises and items of little moment that constitute the life and death of human nature.






Chapter XX. The Morning.


In vivid contrast to the sad and terrible destiny of the king imprisoned in the Bastile, and tearing, in sheer despair, the bolts and bars of his dungeon, the rhetoric of the chroniclers of old would not fail to present, as a complete antithesis, the picture of Philippe lying asleep beneath the royal canopy. We do not pretend to say that such rhetoric is always bad, and always scatters, in places where they have no right to grow, the flowers with which it embellishes and enlivens history. But we shall, on the present occasion, carefully avoid polishing the antithesis in question, but shall proceed to draw another picture as minutely as possible, to serve as foil and counterfoil to the one in the preceding chapter. The young prince alighted from Aramis’s room, in the same way the king had descended from the apartment dedicated to Morpheus. The dome gradually and slowly sank down under Aramis’s pressure, and Philippe stood beside the royal bed, which had ascended again after having deposited its prisoner in the secret depths of the subterranean passage. Alone, in the presence of all the luxury which surrounded him; alone, in the presence of his power; alone, with the part he was about to be forced to act, Philippe for the first time felt his heart, and mind, and soul expand beneath the influence of a thousand mutable emotions, which are the vital throbs of a king’s heart. He could not help changing color when he looked upon the empty bed, still tumbled by his brother’s body. This mute accomplice had returned, after having completed the work it had been destined to perform; it returned with the traces of the crime; it spoke to the guilty author of that crime, with the frank and unreserved language which an accomplice never fears to use in the company of his companion in guilt; for it spoke the truth. Philippe bent over the bed, and perceived a pocket-handkerchief lying on it, which was still damp from the cold sweat which had poured from Louis XIV.‘s face. This sweat-bestained handkerchief terrified Philippe, as the gore of Abel frightened Cain.

“I am face to face with my destiny,” said Philippe, his eyes on fire, and his face a livid white. “Is it likely to be more terrifying than my captivity has been sad and gloomy? Though I am compelled to follow out, at every moment, the sovereign power and authority I have usurped, shall I cease to listen to the scruples of my heart? Yes! the king has lain on this bed; it is indeed his head that has left its impression on this pillow; his bitter tears that have stained this handkerchief: and yet, I hesitate to throw myself on the bed, or to press in my hand the handkerchief which is embroidered with my brother’s arms. Away with such weakness; let me imitate M. d’Herblay, who asserts that a man’s action should be always one degree above his thoughts; let me imitate M. d’Herblay, whose thoughts are of and for himself alone, who regards himself as a man of honor, so long as he injures or betrays his enemies only. I, I alone, should have occupied this bed, if Louis XIV. had not, owing to my mother’s criminal abandonment, stood in my way; and this handkerchief, embroidered with the arms of France, would in right and justice belong to me alone, if, as M. d’Herblay observes, I had been left my royal cradle. Philippe, son of France, take your place on that bed; Philippe, sole king of France, resume the blazonry that is yours! Philippe, sole heir presumptive to Louis XIII., your father, show yourself without pity or mercy for the usurper who, at this moment, has not even to suffer the agony of the remorse of all that you have had to submit to.”

With these words, Philippe, notwithstanding an instinctive repugnance of feeling, and in spite of the shudder of terror which mastered his will, threw himself on the royal bed, and forced his muscles to press the still warm place where Louis XIV. had lain, while he buried his burning face in the handkerchief still moistened by his brother’s tears. With his head thrown back and buried in the soft down of his pillow, Philippe perceived above him the crown of France, suspended, as we have stated, by angels with outspread golden wings.

A man may be ambitious of lying in a lion’s den, but can hardly hope to sleep there quietly. Philippe listened attentively to every sound; his heart panted and throbbed at the very suspicion of approaching terror and misfortune; but confident in his own strength, which was confirmed by the force of an overpoweringly resolute determination, he waited until some decisive circumstance should permit him to judge for himself. He hoped that imminent danger might be revealed to him, like those phosphoric lights of the tempest which show the sailors the altitude of the waves against which they have to struggle. But nothing approached. Silence, that mortal enemy of restless hearts, and of ambitious minds, shrouded in the thickness of its gloom during the remainder of the night the future king of France, who lay there sheltered beneath his stolen crown. Towards the morning a shadow, rather than a body, glided into the royal chamber; Philippe expected his approach and neither expressed nor exhibited any surprise.

“Well, M. d’Herblay?”

“Well, sire, all is accomplished.”

“How?”

“Exactly as we expected.”

“Did he resist?”

“Terribly! tears and entreaties.”

“And then?”

“A perfect stupor.”

“But at last?”

“Oh! at last, a complete victory, and absolute silence.”

“Did the governor of the Bastile suspect anything?”

“Nothing.”

“The resemblance, however—”

“Was the cause of the success.”

“But the prisoner cannot fail to explain himself. Think well of that. I have myself been able to do as much as that, on former occasion.”

“I have already provided for every chance. In a few days, sooner if necessary, we will take the captive out of his prison, and will send him out of the country, to a place of exile so remote—”

“People can return from their exile, Monsieur d’Herblay.”

“To a place of exile so distant, I was going to say, that human strength and the duration of human life would not be enough for his return.”

Once more a cold look of intelligence passed between Aramis and the young king.

“And M. du Vallon?” asked Philippe in order to change the conversation.

“He will be presented to you to-day, and confidentially will congratulate you on the danger which that conspirator has made you run.”

“What is to be done with him?”

“With M. du Vallon?”

“Yes; confer a dukedom on him, I suppose.”

“A dukedom,” replied Aramis, smiling in a significant manner.

“Why do you laugh, Monsieur d’Herblay?”

“I laugh at the extreme caution of your idea.”

“Cautious, why so?”

“Your majesty is doubtless afraid that poor Porthos may possible become a troublesome witness, and you wish to get rid of him.”

“What! in making him a duke?”

“Certainly; you would assuredly kill him, for he would die from joy, and the secret would die with him.”

“Good heavens!”

“Yes,” said Aramis, phlegmatically; “I should lose a very good friend.”

At this moment, and in the middle of this idle conversation, under the light tone of which the two conspirators concealed their joy and pride at their mutual success, Aramis heard something which made him prick up his ears.

“What is that?” said Philippe.

“The dawn, sire.”

“Well?”

“Well, before you retired to bed last night, you probably decided to do something this morning at break of day.”

“Yes, I told my captain of the musketeers,” replied the young man hurriedly, “that I should expect him.”

“If you told him that, he will certainly be here, for he is a most punctual man.”

“I hear a step in the vestibule.”

“It must be he.”

“Come, let us begin the attack,” said the young king resolutely.

“Be cautious for Heaven’s sake. To begin the attack, and with D’Artagnan, would be madness. D’Artagnan knows nothing, he has seen nothing; he is a hundred miles from suspecting our mystery in the slightest degree, but if he comes into this room the first this morning, he will be sure to detect something of what has taken place, and which he would imagine it his business to occupy himself about. Before we allow D’Artagnan to penetrate into this room, we must air the room thoroughly, or introduce so many people into it, that the keenest scent in the whole kingdom may be deceived by the traces of twenty different persons.”

“But how can I send him away, since I have given him a rendezvous?” observed the prince, impatient to measure swords with so redoubtable an antagonist.

“I will take care of that,” replied the bishop, “and in order to begin, I am going to strike a blow which will completely stupefy our man.”

“He, too, is striking a blow, for I hear him at the door,” added the prince, hurriedly.

And, in fact, a knock at the door was heard at that moment. Aramis was not mistaken; for it was indeed D’Artagnan who adopted that mode of announcing himself.

We have seen how he passed the night in philosophizing with M. Fouquet, but the musketeer was very weary even of feigning to fall asleep, and as soon as earliest dawn illumined with its gloomy gleams of light the sumptuous cornices of the superintendent’s room, D’Artagnan rose from his armchair, arranged his sword, brushed his coat and hat with his sleeve, like a private soldier getting ready for inspection.

“Are you going out?” said Fouquet.

“Yes, monseigneur. And you?”

“I shall remain.”

“You pledge your word?”

“Certainly.”

“Very good. Besides, my only reason for going out is to try and get that reply,—you know what I mean?”

“That sentence, you mean—”

“Stay, I have something of the old Roman in me. This morning, when I got up, I remarked that my sword had got caught in one of the aiguillettes, and that my shoulder-belt had slipped quite off. That is an infallible sign.”

“Of prosperity?”

“Yes, be sure of it; for every time that that confounded belt of mine stuck fast to my back, it always signified a punishment from M. de Treville, or a refusal of money by M. de Mazarin. Every time my sword hung fast to my shoulder-belt, it always predicted some disagreeable commission or another for me to execute, and I have had showers of them all my life through. Every time, too, my sword danced about in its sheath, a duel, fortunate in its result, was sure to follow: whenever it dangled about the calves of my legs, it signified a slight wound; every time it fell completely out of the scabbard, I was booked, and made up my mind that I should have to remain on the field of battle, with two or three months under surgical bandages into the bargain.”

“I did not know your sword kept you so well informed,” said Fouquet, with a faint smile, which showed how he was struggling against his own weakness. “Is your sword bewitched, or under the influence of some imperial charm?”

“Why, you must know that my sword may almost be regarded as part of my own body. I have heard that certain men seem to have warnings given them by feeling something the matter with their legs, or a throbbing of their temples. With me, it is my sword that warns me. Well, it told me of nothing this morning. But, stay a moment—look here, it has just fallen of its own accord into the last hole of the belt. Do you know what that is a warning of?”

“No.”

“Well, that tells me of an arrest that will have to be made this very day.”

“Well,” said the surintendant, more astonished than annoyed by this frankness, “if there is nothing disagreeable predicted to you by your sword, I am to conclude that it is not disagreeable for you to arrest me.”

“You! arrest you!”

“Of course. The warning—”

“Does not concern you, since you have been arrested ever since yesterday. It is not you I shall have to arrest, be assured of that. That is the reason why I am delighted, and also the reason why I said that my day will be a happy one.”

And with these words, pronounced with the most affectionate graciousness of manner, the captain took leave of Fouquet in order to wait upon the king. He was on the point of leaving the room, when Fouquet said to him, “One last mark of kindness.”

“What is it, monseigneur?”

“M. d’Herblay; let me see Monsieur d’Herblay.”

“I am going to try and get him to come to you.”

D’Artagnan did not think himself so good a prophet. It was written that the day would pass away and realize all the predictions that had been made in the morning. He had accordingly knocked, as we have seen, at the king’s door. The door opened. The captain thought that it was the king who had just opened it himself; and this supposition was not altogether inadmissible, considering the state of agitation in which he had left Louis XIV. the previous evening; but instead of his royal master, whom he was on the point of saluting with the greatest respect, he perceived the long, calm features of Aramis. So extreme was his surprise that he could hardly refrain from uttering a loud exclamation. “Aramis!” he said.

“Good morning, dear D’Artagnan,” replied the prelate, coldly.

“You here!” stammered out the musketeer.

“His majesty desires you to report that he is still sleeping, after having been greatly fatigued during the whole night.”

“Ah!” said D’Artagnan, who could not understand how the bishop of Vannes, who had been so indifferent a favorite the previous evening, had become in half a dozen hours the most magnificent mushroom of fortune that had ever sprung up in a sovereign’s bedroom. In fact, to transmit the orders of the king even to the mere threshold of that monarch’s room, to serve as an intermediary of Louis XIV. so as to be able to give a single order in his name at a couple paces from him, he must have become more than Richelieu had ever been to Louis XIII. D’Artagnan’s expressive eye, half-opened lips, his curling mustache, said as much indeed in the plainest language to the chief favorite, who remained calm and perfectly unmoved.

“Moreover,” continued the bishop, “you will be good enough, monsieur le capitaine des mousquetaires, to allow those only to pass into the king’s room this morning who have special permission. His majesty does not wish to be disturbed just yet.”

“But,” objected D’Artagnan, almost on the point of refusing to obey this order, and particularly of giving unrestrained passage to the suspicions which the king’s silence had aroused—“but, monsieur l’eveque, his majesty gave me a rendezvous for this morning.”

“Later, later,” said the king’s voice, from the bottom of the alcove; a voice which made a cold shudder pass through the musketeer’s veins. He bowed, amazed, confused, and stupefied by the smile with which Aramis seemed to overwhelm him, as soon as these words had been pronounced.

“And then,” continued the bishop, “as an answer to what you were coming to ask the king, my dear D’Artagnan, here is an order of his majesty, which you will be good enough to attend to forthwith, for it concerns M. Fouquet.”

D’Artagnan took the order which was held out to him. “To be set at liberty!” he murmured. “Ah!” and he uttered a second “ah!” still more full of intelligence than the former; for this order explained Aramis’s presence with the king, and that Aramis, in order to have obtained Fouquet’s pardon, must have made considerable progress in the royal favor, and that this favor explained, in its tenor, the hardly conceivable assurance with which M. d’Herblay issued the order in the king’s name. For D’Artagnan it was quite sufficient to have understood something of the matter in hand to order to understand the rest. He bowed and withdrew a couple of paces, as though he were about to leave.

“I am going with you,” said the bishop.

“Where to?”

“To M. Fouquet; I wish to be a witness of his delight.”

“Ah! Aramis, how you puzzled me just now!” said D’Artagnan again.

“But you understand now, I suppose?”

“Of course I understand,” he said aloud; but added in a low tone to himself, almost hissing the words between his teeth, “No, no, I do not understand yet. But it is all the same, for here is the order for it.” And then he added, “I will lead the way, monseigneur,” and he conducted Aramis to Fouquet’s apartments.






Chapter XXI. The King’s Friend.


Fouquet was waiting with anxiety; he had already sent away many of his servants and friends, who, anticipating the usual hour of his ordinary receptions, had called at his door to inquire after him. Preserving the utmost silence respecting the danger which hung suspended by a hair above his head, he only asked them, as he did every one, indeed, who came to the door, where Aramis was. When he saw D’Artagnan return, and when he perceived the bishop of Vannes behind him, he could hardly restrain his delight; it was fully equal to his previous uneasiness. The mere sight of Aramis was a complete compensation to the surintendant for the unhappiness he had undergone in his arrest. The prelate was silent and grave; D’Artagnan completely bewildered by such an accumulation of events.

“Well, captain, so you have brought M. d’Herblay to me.”

“And something better still, monseigneur.”

“What is that?”

“Liberty.”

“I am free!”

“Yes; by the king’s order.”

Fouquet resumed his usual serenity, that he might interrogate Aramis with a look.

“Oh! yes, you can thank M. l’eveque de Vannes,” pursued D’Artagnan, “for it is indeed to him that you owe the change that has taken place in the king.”

“Oh!” said Fouquet, more humiliated at the service than grateful at its success.

“But you,” continued D’Artagnan, addressing Aramis—“you, who have become M. Fouquet’s protector and patron, can you not do something for me?”

“Anything in the wide world you like, my friend,” replied the bishop, in his calmest tones.

“One thing only, then, and I shall be perfectly satisfied. How on earth did you manage to become the favorite of the king, you who have never spoken to him more than twice in your life?”

“From a friend such as you are,” said Aramis, “I cannot conceal anything.”

“Ah! very good, tell me, then.”

“Very well. You think that I have seen the king only twice, whilst the fact is I have seen him more than a hundred times; only we have kept it very secret, that is all.” And without trying to remove the color which at this revelation made D’Artagnan’s face flush scarlet, Aramis turned towards M. Fouquet, who was as much surprised as the musketeer. “Monseigneur,” he resumed, “the king desires me to inform you that he is more than ever your friend, and that your beautiful fete, so generously offered by you on his behalf, has touched him to the very heart.”

And thereupon he saluted M. Fouquet with so much reverence of manner, that the latter, incapable of understanding a man whose diplomacy was of so prodigious a character, remained incapable of uttering a single syllable, and equally incapable of thought or movement. D’Artagnan fancied he perceived that these two men had something to say to each other, and he was about to yield to that feeling of instinctive politeness which in such a case hurries a man towards the door, when he feels his presence is an inconvenience for others; but his eager curiosity, spurred on by so many mysteries, counseled him to remain.

Aramis thereupon turned towards him, and said, in a quiet tone, “You will not forget, my friend, the king’s order respecting those whom he intends to receive this morning on rising.” These words were clear enough, and the musketeer understood them; he therefore bowed to Fouquet, and then to Aramis,—to the latter with a slight admixture of ironical respect,—and disappeared.

No sooner had he left, than Fouquet, whose impatience had hardly been able to wait for that moment, darted towards the door to close it, and then returning to the bishop, he said, “My dear D’Herblay, I think it now high time you should explain all that has passed, for, in plain and honest truth, I do not understand anything.”

“We will explain all that to you,” said Aramis, sitting down, and making Fouquet sit down also. “Where shall I begin?”

“With this first of all. Why does the king set me at liberty?”

“You ought rather to ask me what his reason was for having you arrested.”

“Since my arrest, I have had time to think over it, and my idea is that it arises out of some slight feeling of jealousy. My fete put M. Colbert out of temper, and M. Colbert discovered some cause of complaint against me; Belle-Isle, for instance.”

“No; there is no question at all just now of Belle-Isle.”

“What is it, then?”

“Do you remember those receipts for thirteen millions which M. de Mazarin contrived to steal from you?”

“Yes, of course!”

“Well, you are pronounced a public robber.”

“Good heavens!”

“Oh! that is not all. Do you also remember that letter you wrote to La Valliere?”

“Alas! yes.”

“And that proclaims you a traitor and a suborner.”

“Why should he have pardoned me, then?”

“We have not yet arrived at that part of our argument. I wish you to be quite convinced of the fact itself. Observe this well: the king knows you to be guilty of an appropriation of public funds. Oh! of course I know that you have done nothing of the kind; but, at all events, the king has seen the receipts, and he can do no other than believe you are incriminated.”

“I beg your pardon, I do not see—”

“You will see presently, though. The king, moreover, having read your love-letter to La Valliere, and the offers you there made her, cannot retain any doubt of your intentions with regard to that young lady; you will admit that, I suppose?”

“Certainly. Pray conclude.”

“In the fewest words. The king, we may henceforth assume, is your powerful, implacable, and eternal enemy.”

“Agreed. But am I, then, so powerful, that he has not dared to sacrifice me, notwithstanding his hatred, with all the means which my weakness, or my misfortunes, may have given him as a hold upon me?”

“It is clear, beyond all doubt,” pursued Aramis, coldly, “that the king has quarreled with you—irreconcilably.”

“But, since he has absolved me—”

“Do you believe it likely?” asked the bishop, with a searching look.

“Without believing in his sincerity, I believe it in the accomplished fact.”

Aramis slightly shrugged his shoulders.

“But why, then, should Louis XIV. have commissioned you to tell me what you have just stated?”

“The king charged me with no message for you.”

“With nothing!” said the superintendent, stupefied. “But, that order—”

“Oh! yes. You are quite right. There is an order, certainly;” and these words were pronounced by Aramis in so strange a tone, that Fouquet could not resist starting.

“You are concealing something from me, I see. What is it?”

Aramis softly rubbed his white fingers over his chin, but said nothing.

“Does the king exile me?”

“Do not act as if you were playing at the game children play at when they have to try and guess where a thing has been hidden, and are informed, by a bell being rung, when they are approaching near to it, or going away from it.”

“Speak, then.”

“Guess.”

“You alarm me.”

“Bah! that is because you have not guessed, then.”

“What did the king say to you? In the name of our friendship, do not deceive me.”

“The king has not said one word to me.”

“You are killing me with impatience, D’Herblay. Am I still superintendent?”

“As long as you like.”

“But what extraordinary empire have you so suddenly acquired over his majesty’s mind?”

“Ah! that’s the point.”

“He does your bidding?”

“I believe so.”

“It is hardly credible.”

“So any one would say.”

“D’Herblay, by our alliance, by our friendship, by everything you hold dearest in the world, speak openly, I implore you. By what means have you succeeded in overcoming Louis XIV.‘s prejudices, for he did not like you, I am certain.”

“The king will like me now,” said Aramis, laying stress upon the last word.

“You have something particular, then, between you?”

“Yes.”

“A secret, perhaps?”

“A secret.”

“A secret of such a nature as to change his majesty’s interests?”

“You are, indeed, a man of superior intelligence, monseigneur, and have made a particularly accurate guess. I have, in fact, discovered a secret, of a nature to change the interests of the king of France.”

“Ah!” said Fouquet, with the reserve of a man who does not wish to ask any more questions.

“And you shall judge of it yourself,” pursued Aramis; “and you shall tell me if I am mistaken with regard to the importance of this secret.”

“I am listening, since you are good enough to unbosom yourself to me; only do not forget that I have asked you about nothing which it may be indiscreet in you to communicate.”

Aramis seemed, for a moment, as if he were collecting himself.

“Do not speak!” said Fouquet: “there is still time enough.”

“Do you remember,” said the bishop, casting down his eyes, “the birth of Louis XIV.?”

“As if it were yesterday.”

“Have you ever heard anything particular respecting his birth?”

“Nothing; except that the king was not really the son of Louis XIII.”

“That does not matter to us, or the kingdom either; he is the son of his father, says the French law, whose father is recognized by law.”

“True; but it is a grave matter, when the quality of races is called into question.”

“A merely secondary question, after all. So that, in fact, you have never learned or heard anything in particular?”

“Nothing.”

“That is where my secret begins. The queen, you must know, instead of being delivered of a son, was delivered of twins.”

Fouquet looked up suddenly as he replied:

“And the second is dead?”

“You will see. These twins seemed likely to be regarded as the pride of their mother, and the hope of France; but the weak nature of the king, his superstitious feelings, made him apprehend a series of conflicts between two children whose rights were equal; so he put out of the way—he suppressed—one of the twins.”

“Suppressed, do you say?”

“Have patience. Both the children grew up; the one on the throne, whose minister you are—the other, who is my friend, in gloom and isolation.”

“Good heavens! What are you saying, Monsieur d’Herblay? And what is this poor prince doing?”

“Ask me, rather, what has he done.”

“Yes, yes.”

“He was brought up in the country, and then thrown into a fortress which goes by the name of the Bastile.”

“Is it possible?” cried the surintendant, clasping his hands.

“The one was the most fortunate of men: the other the most unhappy and miserable of all living beings.”

“Does his mother not know this?”

“Anne of Austria knows it all.”

“And the king?”

“Knows absolutely nothing.”

“So much the better,” said Fouquet.

This remark seemed to make a great impression on Aramis; he looked at Fouquet with the most anxious expression of countenance.

“I beg your pardon; I interrupted you,” said Fouquet.

“I was saying,” resumed Aramis, “that this poor prince was the unhappiest of human beings, when Heaven, whose thoughts are over all His creatures, undertook to come to his assistance.”

“Oh! in what way? Tell me.”

“You will see. The reigning king—I say the reigning king—you can guess very well why?”

“No. Why?”

“Because both of them, being legitimate princes, ought to have been kings. Is not that your opinion?”

“It is, certainly.”

“Unreservedly?”

“Most unreservedly; twins are one person in two bodies.”

“I am pleased that a legist of your learning and authority should have pronounced such an opinion. It is agreed, then, that each of them possessed equal rights, is it not?”

“Incontestably! but, gracious heavens, what an extraordinary circumstance!”

“We are not at the end of it yet.—Patience.”

“Oh! I shall find ‘patience’ enough.”

“Heaven wished to raise up for that oppressed child an avenger, or a supporter, or vindicator, if you prefer it. It happened that the reigning king, the usurper—you are quite of my opinion, I believe, that it is an act of usurpation quietly to enjoy, and selfishly to assume the right over, an inheritance to which a man has only half a right?”

“Yes, usurpation is the word.”

“In that case, I continue. It was Heaven’s will that the usurper should possess, in the person of his first minister, a man of great talent, of large and generous nature.”

“Well, well,” said Fouquet, “I understand you; you have relied upon me to repair the wrong which has been done to this unhappy brother of Louis XIV. You have thought well; I will help you. I thank you, D’Herblay, I thank you.”

“Oh, no, it is not that at all; you have not allowed me to finish,” said Aramis, perfectly unmoved.

“I will not say another word, then.”

“M. Fouquet, I was observing, the minister of the reigning sovereign, was suddenly taken into the greatest aversion, and menaced with the ruin of his fortune, loss of liberty, loss of life even, by intrigue and personal hatred, to which the king gave too readily an attentive ear. But Heaven permits (still, however, out of consideration for the unhappy prince who had been sacrificed) that M. Fouquet should in his turn have a devoted friend who knew this state secret, and felt that he possessed strength and courage enough to divulge this secret, after having had the strength to carry it locked up in his own heart for twenty years.

“Go no farther,” said Fouquet, full of generous feelings. “I understand you, and can guess everything now. You went to see the king when the intelligence of my arrest reached you; you implored him, he refused to listen to you; then you threatened him with that secret, threatened to reveal it, and Louis XIV., alarmed at the risk of its betrayal, granted to the terror of your indiscretion what he refused to your generous intercession. I understand, I understand; you have the king in your power; I understand.”

“You understand nothing—as yet,” replied Aramis, “and again you interrupt me. Then, too, allow me to observe that you pay no attention to logical reasoning, and seem to forget what you ought most to remember.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know upon what I laid the greatest stress at the beginning of our conversation?”

“Yes, his majesty’s hate, invincible hate for me; yes, but what feeling of hate could resist the threat of such a revelation?”

“Such a revelation, do you say? that is the very point where your logic fails you. What! do you suppose that if I had made such a revelation to the king, I should have been alive now?”

“It is not ten minutes ago that you were with the king.”

“That may be. He might not have had the time to get me killed outright, but he would have had the time to get me gagged and thrown in a dungeon. Come, come, show a little consistency in your reasoning, mordieu!”

And by the mere use of this word, which was so thoroughly his old musketeer’s expression, forgotten by one who never seemed to forget anything, Fouquet could not but understand to what a pitch of exaltation the calm, impenetrable bishop of Vannes had wrought himself. He shuddered.

“And then,” replied the latter, after having mastered his feelings, “should I be the man I really am, should I be the true friend you believe me, if I were to expose you, whom the king already hates so bitterly, to a feeling more than ever to be dreaded in that young man? To have robbed him, is nothing; to have addressed the woman he loves, is not much; but to hold in your keeping both his crown and his honor, why, he would pluck out your heart with his own hands.”

“You have not allowed him to penetrate your secret, then?”

“I would sooner, far sooner, have swallowed at one draught all the poisons that Mithridates drank in twenty years, in order to try and avoid death, than have betrayed my secret to the king.”

“What have you done, then?”

“Ah! now we are coming to the point, monseigneur. I think I shall not fail to excite in you a little interest. You are listening, I hope.”

“How can you ask me if I am listening? Go on.”

Aramis walked softly all round the room, satisfied himself that they were alone, and that all was silent, and then returned and placed himself close to the armchair in which Fouquet was seated, awaiting with the deepest anxiety the revelation he had to make.

“I forgot to tell you,” resumed Aramis, addressing himself to Fouquet, who listened to him with the most absorbed attention—“I forgot to mention a most remarkable circumstance respecting these twins, namely, that God had formed them so startlingly, so miraculously, like each other, that it would be utterly impossible to distinguish the one from the other. Their own mother would not be able to distinguish them.”

“Is it possible?” exclaimed Fouquet.

“The same noble character in their features, the same carriage, the same stature, the same voice.”

“But their thoughts? degree of intelligence? their knowledge of human life?”

“There is inequality there, I admit, monseigneur. Yes; for the prisoner of the Bastile is, most incontestably, superior in every way to his brother; and if, from his prison, this unhappy victim were to pass to the throne, France would not, from the earliest period of its history, perhaps, have had a master more powerful in genius and nobility of character.”

Fouquet buried his face in his hands, as if he were overwhelmed by the weight of this immense secret. Aramis approached him.

“There is a further inequality,” he said, continuing his work of temptation, “an inequality which concerns yourself, monseigneur, between the twins, both sons of Louis XIII., namely, the last comer does not know M. Colbert.”

Fouquet raised his head immediately—his features were pale and distorted. The bolt had hit its mark—not his heart, but his mind and comprehension.

“I understand you,” he said to Aramis; “you are proposing a conspiracy to me?”

“Something like it.”

“One of those attempts which, as you said at the beginning of this conversation, alters the fate of empires?”

“And of superintendents, too; yes, monseigneur.”

“In a word, you propose that I should agree to the substitution of the son of Louis XIII., who is now a prisoner in the Bastile, for the son of Louis XIII., who is at this moment asleep in the Chamber of Morpheus?”

Aramis smiled with the sinister expression of the sinister thought which was passing through his brain. “Exactly,” he said.

“Have you thought,” continued Fouquet, becoming animated with that strength of talent which in a few seconds originates, and matures the conception of a plan, and with that largeness of view which foresees all consequences, and embraces every result at a glance—“have you thought that we must assemble the nobility, the clergy, and the third estate of the realm; that we shall have to depose the reigning sovereign, to disturb by so frightful a scandal the tomb of their dead father, to sacrifice the life, the honor of a woman, Anne of Austria, the life and peace of mind and heart of another woman, Maria Theresa; and suppose that it were all done, if we were to succeed in doing it—”

“I do not understand you,” continued Aramis, coldly. “There is not a single syllable of sense in all you have just said.”

“What!” said the superintendent, surprised, “a man like you refuse to view the practical bearing of the case! Do you confine yourself to the childish delight of a political illusion, and neglect the chances of its being carried into execution; in other words, the reality itself, is it possible?”

“My friend,” said Aramis, emphasizing the word with a kind of disdainful familiarity, “what does Heaven do in order to substitute one king for another?”

“Heaven!” exclaimed Fouquet—“Heaven gives directions to its agent, who seizes upon the doomed victim, hurries him away, and seats the triumphant rival on the empty throne. But you forget that this agent is called death. Oh! Monsieur d’Herblay, in Heaven’s name, tell me if you have had the idea—”

“There is no question of that, monseigneur; you are going beyond the object in view. Who spoke of Louis XIV.‘s death? who spoke of adopting the example which Heaven sets in following out the strict execution of its decrees? No, I wish you to understand that Heaven effects its purposes without confusion or disturbance, without exciting comment or remark, without difficulty or exertion; and that men, inspired by Heaven, succeed like Heaven itself, in all their undertakings, in all they attempt, in all they do.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, my friend,” returned Aramis, with the same intonation on the word friend that he had applied to it the first time—“I mean that if there has been any confusion, scandal, and even effort in the substitution of the prisoner for the king, I defy you to prove it.”

“What!” cried Fouquet, whiter than the handkerchief with which he wiped his temples, “what do you say?”

“Go to the king’s apartment,” continued Aramis, tranquilly, “and you who know the mystery, I defy even you to perceive that the prisoner of the Bastile is lying in his brother’s bed.”

“But the king,” stammered Fouquet, seized with horror at the intelligence.

“What king?” said Aramis, in his gentlest tone; “the one who hates you, or the one who likes you?”

“The king—of—yesterday.”

“The king of yesterday! be quite easy on that score; he has gone to take the place in the Bastile which his victim occupied for so many years.”

“Great God! And who took him there?”

“I.”

“You?”

“Yes, and in the simplest way. I carried him away last night. While he was descending into midnight, the other was ascending into day. I do not think there has been any disturbance whatever. A flash of lightning without thunder awakens nobody.”

Fouquet uttered a thick, smothered cry, as if he had been struck by some invisible blow, and clasping his head between his clenched hands, he murmured: “You did that?”

“Cleverly enough, too; what do you think of it?”

“You dethroned the king? imprisoned him, too?”

“Yes, that has been done.”

“And such an action was committed here, at Vaux?”

“Yes, here, at Vaux, in the Chamber of Morpheus. It would almost seem that it had been built in anticipation of such an act.”

“And at what time did it occur?”

“Last night, between twelve and one o’clock.”

Fouquet made a movement as if he were on the point of springing upon Aramis; he restrained himself. “At Vaux; under my roof!” he said, in a half-strangled voice.

“I believe so! for it is still your house, and it is likely to continue so, since M. Colbert cannot rob you of it now.”

“It was under my roof, then, monsieur, that you committed this crime?”

“This crime?” said Aramis, stupefied.

“This abominable crime!” pursued Fouquet, becoming more and more excited; “this crime more execrable than an assassination! this crime which dishonors my name forever, and entails upon me the horror of posterity.”

“You are not in your senses, monsieur,” replied Aramis, in an irresolute tone of voice; “you are speaking too loudly; take care!”

“I will call out so loudly, that the whole world shall hear me.”

“Monsieur Fouquet, take care!”

Fouquet turned round towards the prelate, whom he looked at full in the face. “You have dishonored me,” he said, “in committing so foul an act of treason, so heinous a crime upon my guest, upon one who was peacefully reposing beneath my roof. Oh! woe, woe is me!”

“Woe to the man, rather, who beneath your roof meditated the ruin of your fortune, your life. Do you forget that?”

“He was my guest, my sovereign.”

Aramis rose, his eyes literally bloodshot, his mouth trembling convulsively. “Have I a man out of his senses to deal with?” he said.

“You have an honorable man to deal with.”

“You are mad.”

“A man who will prevent you consummating your crime.”

“You are mad, I say.”

“A man who would sooner, oh! far sooner, die; who would kill you even, rather than allow you to complete his dishonor.”

And Fouquet snatched up his sword, which D’Artagnan had placed at the head of his bed, and clenched it resolutely in his hand. Aramis frowned, and thrust his hand into his breast as if in search of a weapon. This movement did not escape Fouquet, who, full of nobleness and pride in his magnanimity, threw his sword to a distance from him, and approached Aramis so close as to touch his shoulder with his disarmed hand. “Monsieur,” he said, “I would sooner die here on the spot than survive this terrible disgrace; and if you have any pity left for me, I entreat you to take my life.”

Aramis remained silent and motionless.

“You do not reply?” said Fouquet.

Aramis raised his head gently, and a glimmer of hope might be seen once more to animate his eyes. “Reflect, monseigneur,” he said, “upon everything we have to expect. As the matter now stands, the king is still alive, and his imprisonment saves your life.”

“Yes,” replied Fouquet, “you may have been acting on my behalf, but I will not, do not, accept your services. But, first of all, I do not wish your ruin. You will leave this house.”

Aramis stifled the exclamation which almost escaped his broken heart.

“I am hospitable towards all who are dwellers beneath my roof,” continued Fouquet, with an air of inexpressible majesty; “you will not be more fatally lost than he whose ruin you have consummated.”

“You will be so,” said Aramis, in a hoarse, prophetic voice, “you will be so, believe me.”

“I accept the augury, Monsieur d’Herblay; but nothing shall prevent me, nothing shall stop me. You will leave Vaux—you must leave France; I give you four hours to place yourself out of the king’s reach.”

“Four hours?” said Aramis, scornfully and incredulously.

“Upon the word of Fouquet, no one shall follow you before the expiration of that time. You will therefore have four hours’ advance of those whom the king may wish to dispatch after you.”

“Four hours!” repeated Aramis, in a thick, smothered voice.

“It is more than you will need to get on board a vessel and flee to Belle-Isle, which I give you as a place of refuge.”

“Ah!” murmured Aramis.

“Belle-Isle is as much mine for you, as Vaux is mine for the king. Go, D’Herblay, go! as long as I live, not a hair of your head shall be injured.”

“Thank you,” said Aramis, with a cold irony of manner.

“Go at once, then, and give me your hand, before we both hasten away; you to save your life, I to save my honor.”

Aramis withdrew from his breast the hand he had concealed there; it was stained with his blood. He had dug his nails into his flesh, as if in punishment for having nursed so many projects, more vain, insensate, and fleeting than the life of the man himself. Fouquet was horror-stricken, and then his heart smote him with pity. He threw open his arms as if to embrace him.

“I had no arms,” murmured Aramis, as wild and terrible in his wrath as the shade of Dido. And then, without touching Fouquet’s hand, he turned his head aside, and stepped back a pace or two. His last word was an imprecation, his last gesture a curse, which his blood-stained hand seemed to invoke, as it sprinkled on Fouquet’s face a few drops of blood which flowed from his breast. And both of them darted out of the room by the secret staircase which led down to the inner courtyard. Fouquet ordered his best horses, while Aramis paused at the foot of the staircase which led to Porthos’s apartment. He reflected profoundly and for some time, while Fouquet’s carriage left the courtyard at full gallop.

“Shall I go alone?” said Aramis to himself, “or warn the prince? Oh! fury! Warn the prince, and then—do what? Take him with me? To carry this accusing witness about with me everywhere? War, too, would follow—civil war, implacable in its nature! And without any resource save myself—it is impossible! What could he do without me? Oh! without me he will be utterly destroyed. Yet who knows—let destiny be fulfilled—condemned he was, let him remain so then! Good or evil Spirit—gloomy and scornful Power, whom men call the genius of humanity, thou art a power more restlessly uncertain, more baselessly useless, than wild mountain wind! Chance, thou term’st thyself, but thou art nothing; thou inflamest everything with thy breath, crumblest mountains at thy approach, and suddenly art thyself destroyed at the presence of the Cross of dead wood behind which stand another Power invisible like thyself—whom thou deniest, perhaps, but whose avenging hand is on thee, and hurls thee in the dust dishonored and unnamed! Lost!—I am lost! What can be done? Flee to Belle-Isle? Yes, and leave Porthos behind me, to talk and relate the whole affair to every one! Porthos, too, who will have to suffer for what he has done. I will not let poor Porthos suffer. He seems like one of the members of my own frame; and his grief or misfortune would be mine as well. Porthos shall leave with me, and shall follow my destiny. It must be so.”

And Aramis, apprehensive of meeting any one to whom his hurried movements might appear suspicious, ascended the staircase without being perceived. Porthos, so recently returned from Paris, was already in a profound sleep; his huge body forgot its fatigue, as his mind forgot its thoughts. Aramis entered, light as a shadow, and placed his nervous grasp on the giant’s shoulder. “Come, Porthos,” he cried, “come.”

Porthos obeyed, rose from his bed, opened his eyes, even before his intelligence seemed to be aroused.

“We leave immediately,” said Aramis.

“Ah!” returned Porthos.

“We shall go mounted, and faster than we have ever gone in our lives.”

“Ah!” repeated Porthos.

“Dress yourself, my friend.”

And he helped the giant to dress himself, and thrust his gold and diamonds into his pocket. Whilst he was thus engaged, a slight noise attracted his attention, and on looking up, he saw D’Artagnan watching them through the half-opened door. Aramis started.

“What the devil are you doing there in such an agitated manner?” said the musketeer.

“Hush!” said Porthos.

“We are going off on a mission of great importance,” added the bishop.

“You are very fortunate,” said the musketeer.

“Oh, dear me!” said Porthos, “I feel so wearied; I would far sooner have been fast asleep. But the service of the king....”

“Have you seen M. Fouquet?” said Aramis to D’Artagnan.

“Yes, this very minute, in a carriage.”

“What did he say to you?”

“‘Adieu;’ nothing more.”

“Was that all?”

“What else do you think he could say? Am I worth anything now, since you have got into such high favor?”

“Listen,” said Aramis, embracing the musketeer; “your good times are returning again. You will have no occasion to be jealous of any one.”

“Ah! bah!”

“I predict that something will happen to you to-day which will increase your importance more than ever.”

“Really?”

“You know that I know all the news?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Come, Porthos, are you ready? Let us go.”

“I am quite ready, Aramis.”

“Let us embrace D’Artagnan first.”

“Most certainly.”

“But the horses?”

“Oh! there is no want of them here. Will you have mine?”

“No; Porthos has his own stud. So adieu! adieu!”

The fugitives mounted their horses beneath the very eyes of the captain of the musketeers, who held Porthos’s stirrup for him, and gazed after them until they were out of sight.

“On any other occasion,” thought the Gascon, “I should say that those gentlemen were making their escape; but in these days politics seem so changed that such an exit is termed going on a mission. I have no objection; let me attend to my own affairs, that is more than enough for me,”—and he philosophically entered his apartments.