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The Man in the Iron Mask

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Chapter XXII. Showing How the Countersign Was Respected at the Bastile.


Fouquet tore along as fast as his horses could drag him. On his way he trembled with horror at the idea of what had just been revealed to him.

“What must have been,” he thought, “the youth of those extraordinary men, who, even as age is stealing fast upon them, are still able to conceive such gigantic plans, and carry them through without a tremor?”

At one moment he could not resist the idea that all Aramis had just been recounting to him was nothing more than a dream, and whether the fable itself was not the snare; so that when Fouquet arrived at the Bastile, he might possibly find an order of arrest, which would send him to join the dethroned king. Strongly impressed with this idea, he gave certain sealed orders on his route, while fresh horses were being harnessed to his carriage. These orders were addressed to M. d’Artagnan and to certain others whose fidelity to the king was far above suspicion.

“In this way,” said Fouquet to himself, “prisoner or not, I shall have performed the duty that I owe my honor. The orders will not reach them until after my return, if I should return free, and consequently they will not have been unsealed. I shall take them back again. If I am delayed; it will be because some misfortune will have befallen me; and in that case assistance will be sent for me as well as for the king.”

Prepared in this manner, the superintendent arrived at the Bastile; he had traveled at the rate of five leagues and a half the hour. Every circumstance of delay which Aramis had escaped in his visit to the Bastile befell Fouquet. It was useless giving his name, equally useless his being recognized; he could not succeed in obtaining an entrance. By dint of entreaties, threats, commands, he succeeded in inducing a sentinel to speak to one of the subalterns, who went and told the major. As for the governor they did not even dare disturb him. Fouquet sat in his carriage, at the outer gate of the fortress, chafing with rage and impatience, awaiting the return of the officers, who at last re-appeared with a sufficiently sulky air.

“Well,” said Fouquet, impatiently, “what did the major say?”

“Well, monsieur,” replied the soldier, “the major laughed in my face. He told me that M. Fouquet was at Vaux, and that even were he at Paris, M. Fouquet would not get up at so early an hour as the present.”

“Mordieu! you are an absolute set of fools,” cried the minister, darting out of the carriage; and before the subaltern had time to shut the gate, Fouquet sprang through it, and ran forward in spite of the soldier, who cried out for assistance. Fouquet gained ground, regardless of the cries of the man, who, however, having at last come up with Fouquet, called out to the sentinel of the second gate, “Look out, look out, sentinel!” The man crossed his pike before the minister; but the latter, robust and active, and hurried away, too, by his passion, wrested the pike from the soldier and struck him a violent blow on the shoulder with it. The subaltern, who approached too closely, received a share of the blows as well. Both of them uttered loud and furious cries, at the sound of which the whole of the first body of the advanced guard poured out of the guardhouse. Among them there was one, however, who recognized the superintendent, and who called, “Monseigneur, ah! monseigneur. Stop, stop, you fellows!” And he effectually checked the soldiers, who were on the point of revenging their companions. Fouquet desired them to open the gate, but they refused to do so without the countersign; he desired them to inform the governor of his presence; but the latter had already heard the disturbance at the gate. He ran forward, followed by his major, and accompanied by a picket of twenty men, persuaded that an attack was being made on the Bastile. Baisemeaux also recognized Fouquet immediately, and dropped the sword he bravely had been brandishing.

“Ah! monseigneur,” he stammered, “how can I excuse—”

“Monsieur,” said the superintendent, flushed with anger, and heated by his exertions, “I congratulate you. Your watch and ward are admirably kept.”

Baisemeaux turned pale, thinking that this remark was made ironically, and portended a furious burst of anger. But Fouquet had recovered his breath, and, beckoning the sentinel and the subaltern, who were rubbing their shoulders, towards him, he said, “There are twenty pistoles for the sentinel, and fifty for the officer. Pray receive my compliments, gentlemen. I will not fail to speak to his majesty about you. And now, M. Baisemeaux, a word with you.”

And he followed the governor to his official residence, accompanied by a murmur of general satisfaction. Baisemeaux was already trembling with shame and uneasiness. Aramis’s early visit, from that moment, seemed to possess consequences, which a functionary such as he (Baisemeaux) was, was perfectly justified in apprehending. It was quite another thing, however, when Fouquet in a sharp tone of voice, and with an imperious look, said, “You have seen M. d’Herblay this morning?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“And are you not horrified at the crime of which you have made yourself an accomplice?”

“Well,” thought Baisemeaux, “good so far;” and then he added, aloud, “But what crime, monseigneur, do you allude to?”

“That for which you can be quartered alive, monsieur—do not forget that! But this is not a time to show anger. Conduct me immediately to the prisoner.”

“To what prisoner?” said Baisemeaux, trembling.

“You pretend to be ignorant? Very good—it is the best plan for you, perhaps; for if, in fact, you were to admit your participation in such a crime, it would be all over with you. I wish, therefore, to seem to believe in your assumption of ignorance.”

“I entreat you, monseigneur—”

“That will do. Lead me to the prisoner.”

“To Marchiali?”

“Who is Marchiali?”

“The prisoner who was brought back this morning by M. d’Herblay.”

“He is called Marchiali?” said the superintendent, his conviction somewhat shaken by Baisemeaux’s cool manner.

“Yes, monseigneur; that is the name under which he was inscribed here.”

Fouquet looked steadily at Baisemeaux, as if he would read his very heart; and perceived, with that clear-sightedness most men possess who are accustomed to the exercise of power, that the man was speaking with perfect sincerity. Besides, in observing his face for a few moments, he could not believe that Aramis would have chosen such a confidant.

“It is the prisoner,” said the superintendent to him, “whom M. d’Herblay carried away the day before yesterday?”

“Yes, monseigneur.”

“And whom he brought back this morning?” added Fouquet, quickly: for he understood immediately the mechanism of Aramis’s plan.

“Precisely, monseigneur.”

“And his name is Marchiali, you say?”

“Yes, Marchiali. If monseigneur has come here to remove him, so much the better, for I was going to write about him.”

“What has he done, then?”

“Ever since this morning he has annoyed me extremely. He has had such terrible fits of passion, as almost to make me believe that he would bring the Bastile itself down about our ears.”

“I will soon relieve you of his possession,” said Fouquet.

“Ah! so much the better.”

“Conduct me to his prison.”

“Will monseigneur give me the order?”

“What order?”

“An order from the king.”

“Wait until I sign you one.”

“That will not be sufficient, monseigneur. I must have an order from the king.”

Fouquet assumed an irritated expression. “As you are so scrupulous,” he said, “with regard to allowing prisoners to leave, show me the order by which this one was set at liberty.”

Baisemeaux showed him the order to release Seldon.

“Very good,” said Fouquet; “but Seldon is not Marchiali.”

“But Marchiali is not at liberty, monseigneur; he is here.”

“But you said that M. d’Herblay carried him away and brought him back again.”

“I did not say so.”

“So surely did you say it, that I almost seem to hear it now.”

“It was a slip of my tongue, then, monseigneur.”

“Take care, M. Baisemeaux, take care.”

“I have nothing to fear, monseigneur; I am acting according to the very strictest regulation.”

“Do you dare to say so?”

“I would say so in the presence of one of the apostles. M. d’Herblay brought me an order to set Seldon at liberty. Seldon is free.”

“I tell you that Marchiali has left the Bastile.”

“You must prove that, monseigneur.”

“Let me see him.”

“You, monseigneur, who govern this kingdom, know very well that no one can see any of the prisoners without an express order from the king.”

“M. d’Herblay has entered, however.”

“That remains to be proved, monseigneur.”

“M. de Baisemeaux, once more I warn you to pay particular attention to what you are saying.”

“All the documents are there, monseigneur.”

“M. d’Herblay is overthrown.”

“Overthrown?—M. d’Herblay! Impossible!”

“You see that he has undoubtedly influenced you.”

“No, monseigneur; what does, in fact, influence me, is the king’s service. I am doing my duty. Give me an order from him, and you shall enter.”

“Stay, M. le gouverneur, I give you my word that if you allow me to see the prisoner, I will give you an order from the king at once.”

“Give it to me now, monseigneur.”

“And that, if you refuse me, I will have you and all your officers arrested on the spot.”

“Before you commit such an act of violence, monseigneur, you will reflect,” said Baisemeaux, who had turned very pale, “that we will only obey an order signed by the king; and that it will be just as easy for you to obtain one to see Marchiali as to obtain one to do me so much injury; me, too, who am perfectly innocent.”

“True. True!” cried Fouquet, furiously; “perfectly true. M. de Baisemeaux,” he added, in a sonorous voice, drawing the unhappy governor towards him, “do you know why I am so anxious to speak to the prisoner?”

“No, monseigneur; and allow me to observe that you are terrifying me out of my senses; I am trembling all over—in fact, I feel as though I were about to faint.”

“You will stand a better chance of fainting outright, Monsieur Baisemeaux, when I return here at the head of ten thousand men and thirty pieces of cannon.”

“Good heavens, monseigneur, you are losing your senses.”

“When I have roused the whole population of Paris against you and your accursed towers, and have battered open the gates of this place, and hanged you to the topmost tree of yonder pinnacle!”

“Monseigneur! monseigneur! for pity’s sake!”

“I give you ten minutes to make up your mind,” added Fouquet, in a calm voice. “I will sit down here, in this armchair, and wait for you; if, in ten minutes’ time, you still persist, I leave this place, and you may think me as mad as you like. Then—you shall see!”

Baisemeaux stamped his foot on the ground like a man in a state of despair, but he did not reply a single syllable; whereupon Fouquet seized a pen and ink, and wrote:

“Order for M. le Prevot des Marchands to assemble the municipal guard and to march upon the Bastile on the king’s immediate service.”

Baisemeaux shrugged his shoulders. Fouquet wrote:

“Order for the Duc de Bouillon and M. le Prince de Conde to assume the command of the Swiss guards, of the king’s guards, and to march upon the Bastile on the king’s immediate service.”

Baisemeaux reflected. Fouquet still wrote:

“Order for every soldier, citizen, or gentleman to seize and apprehend, wherever he may be found, le Chevalier d’Herblay, Eveque de Vannes, and his accomplices, who are: first, M. de Baisemeaux, governor of the Bastile, suspected of the crimes of high treason and rebellion—”

“Stop, monseigneur!” cried Baisemeaux; “I do not understand a single jot of the whole matter; but so many misfortunes, even were it madness itself that had set them at their awful work, might happen here in a couple of hours, that the king, by whom I must be judged, will see whether I have been wrong in withdrawing the countersign before this flood of imminent catastrophes. Come with me to the keep, monseigneur, you shall see Marchiali.”

Fouquet darted out of the room, followed by Baisemeaux as he wiped the perspiration from his face. “What a terrible morning!” he said; “what a disgrace for me!”

“Walk faster,” replied Fouquet.

Baisemeaux made a sign to the jailer to precede them. He was afraid of his companion, which the latter could not fail to perceive.

“A truce to this child’s play,” he said, roughly. “Let the man remain here; take the keys yourself, and show me the way. Not a single person, do you understand, must hear what is going to take place here.”

“Ah!” said Baisemeaux, undecided.

“Again!” cried M. Fouquet. “Ah! say ‘no’ at once, and I will leave the Bastile and will myself carry my own dispatches.”

Baisemeaux bowed his head, took the keys, and unaccompanied, except by the minister, ascended the staircase. The higher they advanced up the spiral staircase, the more clearly did certain muffled murmurs become distinct appeals and fearful imprecations.

“What is that?” asked Fouquet.

“That is your Marchiali,” said the governor; “this is the way these madmen scream.”

And he accompanied that reply with a glance more pregnant with injurious allusion, as far as Fouquet was concerned, than politeness. The latter trembled; he had just recognized in one cry more terrible than any that had preceded it, the king’s voice. He paused on the staircase, snatching the bunch of keys from Baisemeaux, who thought this new madman was going to dash out his brains with one of them. “Ah!” he cried, “M. d’Herblay did not say a word about that.”

“Give me the keys at once!” cried Fouquet, tearing them from his hand. “Which is the key of the door I am to open?”

“That one.”

A fearful cry, followed by a violent blow against the door, made the whole staircase resound with the echo.

“Leave this place,” said Fouquet to Baisemeaux, in a threatening tone.

“I ask nothing better,” murmured the latter, to himself. “There will be a couple of madmen face to face, and the one will kill the other, I am sure.”

“Go!” repeated Fouquet. “If you place your foot on this staircase before I call you, remember that you shall take the place of the meanest prisoner in the Bastile.”

“This job will kill me, I am sure it will,” muttered Baisemeaux, as he withdrew with tottering steps.

The prisoner’s cries became more and more terrible. When Fouquet had satisfied himself that Baisemeaux had reached the bottom of the staircase, he inserted the key in the first lock. It was then that he heard the hoarse, choking voice of the king, crying out, in a frenzy of rage, “Help, help! I am the king.” The key of the second door was not the same as the first, and Fouquet was obliged to look for it on the bunch. The king, however, furious and almost mad with rage and passion, shouted at the top of his voice, “It was M. Fouquet who brought me here. Help me against M. Fouquet! I am the king! Help the king against M. Fouquet!” These cries filled the minister’s heart with terrible emotions. They were followed by a shower of blows leveled against the door with a part of the broken chair with which the king had armed himself. Fouquet at last succeeded in finding the key. The king was almost exhausted; he could hardly articulate distinctly as he shouted, “Death to Fouquet! death to the traitor Fouquet!” The door flew open.






Chapter XXIII. The King’s Gratitude.


The two men were on the point of darting towards each other when they suddenly and abruptly stopped, as a mutual recognition took place, and each uttered a cry of horror.

“Have you come to assassinate me, monsieur?” said the king, when he recognized Fouquet.

“The king in this state!” murmured the minister.

Nothing could be more terrible indeed than the appearance of the young prince at the moment Fouquet had surprised him; his clothes were in tatters; his shirt, open and torn to rags, was stained with sweat and with the blood which streamed from his lacerated breast and arms. Haggard, ghastly pale, his hair in disheveled masses, Louis XIV. presented the most perfect picture of despair, distress, anger and fear combined that could possibly be united in one figure. Fouquet was so touched, so affected and disturbed by it, that he ran towards him with his arms stretched out and his eyes filled with tears. Louis held up the massive piece of wood of which he had made such a furious use.

“Sire,” said Fouquet, in a voice trembling with emotion, “do you not recognize the most faithful of your friends?”

“A friend—you!” repeated Louis, gnashing his teeth in a manner which betrayed his hate and desire for speedy vengeance.

“The most respectful of your servants,” added Fouquet, throwing himself on his knees. The king let the rude weapon fall from his grasp. Fouquet approached him, kissed his knees, and took him in his arms with inconceivable tenderness.

“My king, my child,” he said, “how you must have suffered!”

Louis, recalled to himself by the change of situation, looked at himself, and ashamed of the disordered state of his apparel, ashamed of his conduct, and ashamed of the air of pity and protection that was shown towards him, drew back. Fouquet did not understand this movement; he did not perceive that the king’s feeling of pride would never forgive him for having been a witness of such an exhibition of weakness.

“Come, sire,” he said, “you are free.”

“Free?” repeated the king. “Oh! you set me at liberty, then, after having dared to lift up your hand against me.”

“You do not believe that!” exclaimed Fouquet, indignantly; “you cannot believe me to be guilty of such an act.”

And rapidly, warmly even, he related the whole particulars of the intrigue, the details of which are already known to the reader. While the recital continued, Louis suffered the most horrible anguish of mind; and when it was finished, the magnitude of the danger he had run struck him far more than the importance of the secret relative to his twin brother.

“Monsieur,” he said, suddenly to Fouquet, “this double birth is a falsehood; it is impossible—you cannot have been the dupe of it.”

“Sire!”

“It is impossible, I tell you, that the honor, the virtue of my mother can be suspected, and my first minister has not yet done justice on the criminals!”

“Reflect, sire, before you are hurried away by anger,” replied Fouquet. “The birth of your brother—”

“I have only one brother—and that is Monsieur. You know it as well as myself. There is a plot, I tell you, beginning with the governor of the Bastile.”

“Be careful, sire, for this man has been deceived as every one else has by the prince’s likeness to yourself.”

“Likeness? Absurd!”

“This Marchiali must be singularly like your majesty, to be able to deceive every one’s eye,” Fouquet persisted.

“Ridiculous!”

“Do not say so, sire; those who had prepared everything in order to face and deceive your ministers, your mother, your officers of state, the members of your family, must be quite confident of the resemblance between you.”

“But where are these persons, then?” murmured the king.

“At Vaux.”

“At Vaux! and you suffer them to remain there!”

“My most instant duty appeared to me to be your majesty’s release. I have accomplished that duty; and now, whatever your majesty may command, shall be done. I await your orders.”

Louis reflected for a few moments.

“Muster all the troops in Paris,” he said.

“All the necessary orders are given for that purpose,” replied Fouquet.

“You have given orders!” exclaimed the king.

“For that purpose, yes, sire; your majesty will be at the head of ten thousand men in less than an hour.”

The only reply the king made was to take hold of Fouquet’s hand with such an expression of feeling, that it was very easy to perceive how strongly he had, until that remark, maintained his suspicions of the minister, notwithstanding the latter’s intervention.

“And with these troops,” he said, “we shall go at once and besiege in your house the rebels who by this time will have established and intrenched themselves therein.”

“I should be surprised if that were the case,” replied Fouquet.

“Why?”

“Because their chief—the very soul of the enterprise—having been unmasked by me, the whole plan seems to me to have miscarried.”

“You have unmasked this false prince also?”

“No, I have not seen him.”

“Whom have you seen, then?”

“The leader of the enterprise, not that unhappy young man; the latter is merely an instrument, destined through his whole life to wretchedness, I plainly perceive.”

“Most certainly.”

“It is M. l’Abbe d’Herblay, Eveque de Vannes.”

“Your friend?”

“He was my friend, sire,” replied Fouquet, nobly.

“An unfortunate circumstance for you,” said the king, in a less generous tone of voice.

“Such friendships, sire, had nothing dishonorable in them so long as I was ignorant of the crime.”

“You should have foreseen it.”

“If I am guilty, I place myself in your majesty’s hands.”

“Ah! Monsieur Fouquet, it was not that I meant,” returned the king, sorry to have shown the bitterness of his thought in such a manner. “Well! I assure you that, notwithstanding the mask with which the villain covered his face, I had something like a vague suspicion that he was the very man. But with this chief of the enterprise there was a man of prodigious strength, the one who menaced me with a force almost herculean; what is he?”

“It must be his friend the Baron du Vallon, formerly one of the musketeers.”

“The friend of D’Artagnan? the friend of the Comte de la Fere? Ah!” exclaimed the king, as he paused at the name of the latter, “we must not forget the connection that existed between the conspirators and M. de Bragelonne.”

“Sire, sire, do not go too far. M. de la Fere is the most honorable man in France. Be satisfied with those whom I deliver up to you.”

“With those whom you deliver up to me, you say? Very good, for you will deliver up those who are guilty to me.”

“What does your majesty understand by that?” inquired Fouquet.

“I understand,” replied the king, “that we shall soon arrive at Vaux with a large body of troops, that we will lay violent hands upon that nest of vipers, and that not a soul shall escape.”

“Your majesty will put these men to death!” cried Fouquet.

“To the very meanest of them.”

“Oh! sire.”

“Let us understand one another, Monsieur Fouquet,” said the king, haughtily. “We no longer live in times when assassination was the only and the last resource kings held in reservation at extremity. No, Heaven be praised! I have parliaments who sit and judge in my name, and I have scaffolds on which supreme authority is carried out.”

Fouquet turned pale. “I will take the liberty of observing to your majesty, that any proceedings instituted respecting these matters would bring down the greatest scandal upon the dignity of the throne. The august name of Anne of Austria must never be allowed to pass the lips of the people accompanied by a smile.”

“Justice must be done, however, monsieur.”

“Good, sire; but royal blood must not be shed upon a scaffold.”

“The royal blood! you believe that!” cried the king with fury in his voice, stamping his foot on the ground. “This double birth is an invention; and in that invention, particularly, do I see M. d’Herblay’s crime. It is the crime I wish to punish rather than the violence, or the insult.”

“And punish it with death, sire?”

“With death; yes, monsieur, I have said it.”

“Sire,” said the surintendant, with firmness, as he raised his head proudly, “your majesty will take the life, if you please, of your brother Philippe of France; that concerns you alone, and you will doubtless consult the queen-mother upon the subject. Whatever she may command will be perfectly correct. I do not wish to mix myself up in it, not even for the honor of your crown, but I have a favor to ask of you, and I beg to submit it to you.”

“Speak,” said the king, in no little degree agitated by his minister’s last words. “What do you require?”

“The pardon of M. d’Herblay and of M. du Vallon.”

“My assassins?”

“Two rebels, sire, that is all.”

“Oh! I understand, then, you ask me to forgive your friends.”

“My friends!” said Fouquet, deeply wounded.

“Your friends, certainly; but the safety of the state requires that an exemplary punishment should be inflicted on the guilty.”

“I will not permit myself to remind your majesty that I have just restored you to liberty, and have saved your life.”

“Monsieur!”

“I will not allow myself to remind your majesty that had M. d’Herblay wished to carry out his character of an assassin, he could very easily have assassinated your majesty this morning in the forest of Senart, and all would have been over.” The king started.

“A pistol-bullet through the head,” pursued Fouquet, “and the disfigured features of Louis XIV., which no one could have recognized, would be M. d’Herblay’s complete and entire justification.”

The king turned pale and giddy at the bare idea of the danger he had escaped.

“If M. d’Herblay,” continued Fouquet, “had been an assassin, he had no occasion to inform me of his plan in order to succeed. Freed from the real king, it would have been impossible in all futurity to guess the false. And if the usurper had been recognized by Anne of Austria, he would still have been—her son. The usurper, as far as Monsieur d’Herblay’s conscience was concerned, was still a king of the blood of Louis XIII. Moreover, the conspirator, in that course, would have had security, secrecy, impunity. A pistol-bullet would have procured him all that. For the sake of Heaven, sire, grant me his forgiveness.”

The king, instead of being touched by the picture, so faithfully drawn in all details, of Aramis’s generosity, felt himself most painfully and cruelly humiliated. His unconquerable pride revolted at the idea that a man had held suspended at the end of his finger the thread of his royal life. Every word that fell from Fouquet’s lips, and which he thought most efficacious in procuring his friend’s pardon, seemed to pour another drop of poison into the already ulcerated heart of Louis XIV. Nothing could bend or soften him. Addressing himself to Fouquet, he said, “I really don’t know, monsieur, why you should solicit the pardon of these men. What good is there in asking that which can be obtained without solicitation?”

“I do not understand you, sire.”

“It is not difficult, either. Where am I now?”

“In the Bastile, sire.”

“Yes; in a dungeon. I am looked upon as a madman, am I not?”

“Yes, sire.”

“And no one is known here but Marchiali?”

“Certainly.”

“Well; change nothing in the position of affairs. Let the poor madman rot between the slimy walls of the Bastile, and M. d’Herblay and M. du Vallon will stand in no need of my forgiveness. Their new king will absolve them.”

“Your majesty does me a great injustice, sire; and you are wrong,” replied Fouquet, dryly; “I am not child enough, nor is M. d’Herblay silly enough, to have omitted to make all these reflections; and if I had wished to make a new king, as you say, I had no occasion to have come here to force open the gates and doors of the Bastile, to free you from this place. That would show a want of even common sense. Your majesty’s mind is disturbed by anger; otherwise you would be far from offending, groundlessly, the very one of your servants who has rendered you the most important service of all.”

Louis perceived that he had gone too far; that the gates of the Bastile were still closed upon him, whilst, by degrees, the floodgates were gradually being opened, behind which the generous-hearted Fouquet had restrained his anger. “I did not say that to humiliate you, Heaven knows, monsieur,” he replied. “Only you are addressing yourself to me in order to obtain a pardon, and I answer according to my conscience. And so, judging by my conscience, the criminals we speak of are not worthy of consideration or forgiveness.”

Fouquet was silent.

“What I do is as generous,” added the king, “as what you have done, for I am in your power. I will even say it is more generous, inasmuch as you place before me certain conditions upon which my liberty, my life, may depend; and to reject which is to make a sacrifice of both.”

“I was wrong, certainly,” replied Fouquet. “Yes,—I had the appearance of extorting a favor; I regret it, and entreat your majesty’s forgiveness.”

“And you are forgiven, my dear Monsieur Fouquet,” said the king, with a smile, which restored the serene expression of his features, which so many circumstances had altered since the preceding evening.

“I have my own forgiveness,” replied the minister, with some degree of persistence; “but M. d’Herblay, and M. du Vallon?”

“They will never obtain theirs, as long as I live,” replied the inflexible king. “Do me the kindness not to speak of it again.”

“Your majesty shall be obeyed.”

“And you will bear me no ill-will for it?”

“Oh! no, sire; for I anticipated the event.”

“You had ‘anticipated’ that I should refuse to forgive those gentlemen?”

“Certainly; and all my measures were taken in consequence.”

“What do you mean to say?” cried the king, surprised.

“M. d’Herblay came, as may be said, to deliver himself into my hands. M. d’Herblay left to me the happiness of saving my king and my country. I could not condemn M. d’Herblay to death; nor could I, on the other hand, expose him to your majesty’s justifiable wrath; it would have been just the same as if I had killed him myself.”

“Well! and what have you done?”

“Sire, I gave M. d’Herblay the best horses in my stables and four hours’ start over all those your majesty might, probably, dispatch after him.”

“Be it so!” murmured the king. “But still, the world is wide enough and large enough for those whom I may send to overtake your horses, notwithstanding the ‘four hours’ start’ which you have given to M. d’Herblay.”

“In giving him these four hours, sire, I knew I was giving him his life, and he will save his life.”

“In what way?”

“After having galloped as hard as possible, with the four hours’ start, before your musketeers, he will reach my chateau of Belle-Isle, where I have given him a safe asylum.”

“That may be! But you forget that you have made me a present of Belle-Isle.”

“But not for you to arrest my friends.”

“You take it back again, then?”

“As far as that goes—yes, sire.”

“My musketeers shall capture it, and the affair will be at an end.”

“Neither your musketeers, nor your whole army could take Belle-Isle,” said Fouquet, coldly. “Belle-Isle is impregnable.”

The king became perfectly livid; a lightning flash seemed to dart from his eyes. Fouquet felt that he was lost, but he as not one to shrink when the voice of honor spoke loudly within him. He bore the king’s wrathful gaze; the latter swallowed his rage, and after a few moments’ silence, said, “Are we going to return to Vaux?”

“I am at your majesty’s orders,” replied Fouquet, with a low bow; “but I think that your majesty can hardly dispense with changing your clothes previous to appearing before your court.”

“We shall pass by the Louvre,” said the king. “Come.” And they left the prison, passing before Baisemeaux, who looked completely bewildered as he saw Marchiali once more leave; and, in his helplessness, tore out the major portion of his few remaining hairs. It was perfectly true, however, that Fouquet wrote and gave him an authority for the prisoner’s release, and that the king wrote beneath it, “Seen and approved, Louis”; a piece of madness that Baisemeaux, incapable of putting two ideas together, acknowledged by giving himself a terrible blow on the forehead with his own fist.






Chapter XXIV. The False King.


In the meantime, usurped royalty was playing out its part bravely at Vaux. Philippe gave orders that for his petit lever the grandes entrees, already prepared to appear before the king, should be introduced. He determined to give this order notwithstanding the absence of M. d’Herblay, who did not return—our readers know the reason. But the prince, not believing that absence could be prolonged, wished, as all rash spirits do, to try his valor and his fortune far from all protection and instruction. Another reason urged him to this—Anne of Austria was about to appear; the guilty mother was about to stand in the presence of her sacrificed son. Philippe was not willing, if he had a weakness, to render the man a witness of it before whom he was bound thenceforth to display so much strength. Philippe opened his folding doors, and several persons entered silently. Philippe did not stir whilst his valets de chambre dressed him. He had watched, the evening before, all the habits of his brother, and played the king in such a manner as to awaken no suspicion. He was thus completely dressed in hunting costume when he received his visitors. His own memory and the notes of Aramis announced everybody to him, first of all Anne of Austria, to whom Monsieur gave his hand, and then Madame with M. de Saint-Aignan. He smiled at seeing these countenances, but trembled on recognizing his mother. That still so noble and imposing figure, ravaged by pain, pleaded in his heart the cause of the famous queen who had immolated a child to reasons of state. He found his mother still handsome. He knew that Louis XIV. loved her, and he promised himself to love her likewise, and not to prove a scourge to her old age. He contemplated his brother with a tenderness easily to be understood. The latter had usurped nothing, had cast no shades athwart his life. A separate tree, he allowed the stem to rise without heeding its elevation or majestic life. Philippe promised himself to be a kind brother to this prince, who required nothing but gold to minister to his pleasures. He bowed with a friendly air to Saint-Aignan, who was all reverences and smiles, and trembling held out his hand to Henrietta, his sister-in-law, whose beauty struck him; but he saw in the eyes of that princess an expression of coldness which would facilitate, as he thought, their future relations.

“How much more easy,” thought he, “it will be to be the brother of that woman than her gallant, if she evinces towards me a coldness that my brother could not have for her, but which is imposed upon me as a duty.” The only visit he dreaded at this moment was that of the queen; his heart—his mind—had just been shaken by so violent a trial, that, in spite of their firm temperament, they would not, perhaps, support another shock. Happily the queen did not come. Then commenced, on the part of Anne of Austria, a political dissertation upon the welcome M. Fouquet had given to the house of France. She mixed up hostilities with compliments addressed to the king, and questions as to his health, with little maternal flatteries and diplomatic artifices.

“Well, my son,” said she, “are you convinced with regard to M. Fouquet?”

“Saint-Aignan,” said Philippe, “have the goodness to go and inquire after the queen.”

At these words, the first Philippe had pronounced aloud, the slight difference that there was between his voice and that of the king was sensible to maternal ears, and Anne of Austria looked earnestly at her son. Saint-Aignan left the room, and Philippe continued:

“Madame, I do not like to hear M. Fouquet ill-spoken of, you know I do not—and you have even spoken well of him yourself.”

“That is true; therefore I only question you on the state of your sentiments with respect to him.”

“Sire,” said Henrietta, “I, on my part, have always liked M. Fouquet. He is a man of good taste,—a superior man.”

“A superintendent who is never sordid or niggardly,” added Monsieur; “and who pays in gold all the orders I have on him.”

“Every one in this thinks too much of himself, and nobody for the state,” said the old queen. “M. Fouquet, it is a fact, M. Fouquet is ruining the state.”

“Well, mother!” replied Philippe, in rather a lower key, “do you likewise constitute yourself the buckler of M. Colbert?”

“How is that?” replied the old queen, rather surprised.

“Why, in truth,” replied Philippe, “you speak that just as your old friend Madame de Chevreuse would speak.”

“Why do you mention Madame de Chevreuse to me?” said she, “and what sort of humor are you in to-day towards me?”

Philippe continued: “Is not Madame de Chevreuse always in league against somebody? Has not Madame de Chevreuse been to pay you a visit, mother?”

“Monsieur, you speak to me now in such a manner that I can almost fancy I am listening to your father.”

“My father did not like Madame de Chevreuse, and had good reason for not liking her,” said the prince. “For my part, I like her no better than he did, and if she thinks proper to come here as she formerly did, to sow divisions and hatreds under the pretext of begging money—why—”

“Well! what?” said Anne of Austria, proudly, herself provoking the storm.

“Well!” replied the young man firmly, “I will drive Madame de Chevreuse out of my kingdom—and with her all who meddle with its secrets and mysteries.”

He had not calculated the effect of this terrible speech, or perhaps he wished to judge the effect of it, like those who, suffering from a chronic pain, and seeking to break the monotony of that suffering, touch their wound to procure a sharper pang. Anne of Austria was nearly fainting; her eyes, open but meaningless, ceased to see for several seconds; she stretched out her arms towards her other son, who supported and embraced her without fear of irritating the king.

“Sire,” murmured she, “you are treating your mother very cruelly.”

“In what respect, madame?” replied he. “I am only speaking of Madame de Chevreuse; does my mother prefer Madame de Chevreuse to the security of the state and of my person? Well, then, madame, I tell you Madame de Chevreuse has returned to France to borrow money, and that she addressed herself to M. Fouquet to sell him a certain secret.”

“A certain secret!” cried Anne of Austria.

“Concerning pretended robberies that monsieur le surintendant had committed, which is false,” added Philippe. “M. Fouquet rejected her offers with indignation, preferring the esteem of the king to complicity with such intriguers. Then Madame de Chevreuse sold the secret to M. Colbert, and as she is insatiable, and was not satisfied with having extorted a hundred thousand crowns from a servant of the state, she has taken a still bolder flight, in search of surer sources of supply. Is that true, madame?”

“You know all, sire,” said the queen, more uneasy than irritated.

“Now,” continued Philippe, “I have good reason to dislike this fury, who comes to my court to plan the shame of some and the ruin of others. If Heaven has suffered certain crimes to be committed, and has concealed them in the shadow of its clemency, I will not permit Madame de Chevreuse to counteract the just designs of fate.”

The latter part of this speech had so agitated the queen-mother, that her son had pity on her. He took her hand and kissed it tenderly; she did not feel that in that kiss, given in spite of repulsion and bitterness of the heart, there was a pardon for eight years of suffering. Philippe allowed the silence of a moment to swallow the emotions that had just developed themselves. Then, with a cheerful smile:

“We will not go to-day,” said he, “I have a plan.” And, turning towards the door, he hoped to see Aramis, whose absence began to alarm him. The queen-mother wished to leave the room.

“Remain where you are, mother,” said he, “I wish you to make your peace with M. Fouquet.”

“I bear M. Fouquet no ill-will; I only dreaded his prodigalities.”

“We will put that to rights, and will take nothing of the superintendent but his good qualities.”

“What is your majesty looking for?” said Henrietta, seeing the king’s eyes constantly turned towards the door, and wishing to let fly a little poisoned arrow at his heart, supposing he was so anxiously expecting either La Valliere or a letter from her.

“My sister,” said the young man, who had divined her thought, thanks to that marvelous perspicuity of which fortune was from that time about to allow him the exercise, “my sister, I am expecting a most distinguished man, a most able counselor, whom I wish to present to you all, recommending him to your good graces. Ah! come in, then, D’Artagnan.”

“What does your majesty wish?” said D’Artagnan, appearing.

“Where is monsieur the bishop of Vannes, your friend?”

“Why, sire—”

“I am waiting for him, and he does not come. Let him be sought for.”

D’Artagnan remained for an instant stupefied; but soon, reflecting that Aramis had left Vaux privately on a mission from the king, he concluded that the king wished to preserve the secret. “Sire,” replied he, “does your majesty absolutely require M. d’Herblay to be brought to you?”

“Absolutely is not the word,” said Philippe; “I do not want him so particularly as that; but if he can be found—”

“I thought so,” said D’Artagnan to himself.

“Is this M. d’Herblay the bishop of Vannes?”

“Yes, madame.”

“A friend of M. Fouquet?”

“Yes, madame; an old musketeer.”

Anne of Austria blushed.

“One of the four braves who formerly performed such prodigies.”

The old queen repented of having wished to bite; she broke off the conversation, in order to preserve the rest of her teeth. “Whatever may be your choice, sire,” said she, “I have no doubt it will be excellent.”

All bowed in support of that sentiment.

“You will find in him,” continued Philippe, “the depth and penetration of M. de Richelieu, without the avarice of M. de Mazarin!”

“A prime minister, sire?” said Monsieur, in a fright.

“I will tell you all about that, brother; but it is strange that M. d’Herblay is not here!”

He called out:

“Let M. Fouquet be informed that I wish to speak to him—oh! before you, before you; do not retire!”

M. de Saint-Aignan returned, bringing satisfactory news of the queen, who only kept her bed from precaution, and to have strength to carry out the king’s wishes. Whilst everybody was seeking M. Fouquet and Aramis, the new king quietly continued his experiments, and everybody, family, officers, servants, had not the least suspicion of his identity, his air, his voice, and manners were so like the king’s. On his side, Philippe, applying to all countenances the accurate descriptions and key-notes of character supplied by his accomplice Aramis, conducted himself so as not to give birth to a doubt in the minds of those who surrounded him. Nothing from that time could disturb the usurper. With what strange facility had Providence just reversed the loftiest fortune of the world to substitute the lowliest in its stead! Philippe admired the goodness of God with regard to himself, and seconded it with all the resources of his admirable nature. But he felt, at times, something like a specter gliding between him and the rays of his new glory. Aramis did not appear. The conversation had languished in the royal family; Philippe, preoccupied, forgot to dismiss his brother and Madame Henrietta. The latter were astonished, and began, by degrees, to lose all patience. Anne of Austria stooped towards her son’s ear and addressed some words to him in Spanish. Philippe was completely ignorant of that language, and grew pale at this unexpected obstacle. But, as if the spirit of the imperturbable Aramis had covered him with his infallibility, instead of appearing disconcerted, Philippe rose. “Well! what?” said Anne of Austria.

“What is all that noise?” said Philippe, turning round towards the door of the second staircase.

And a voice was heard saying, “This way, this way! A few steps more, sire!”

“The voice of M. Fouquet,” said D’Artagnan, who was standing close to the queen-mother.

“Then M. d’Herblay cannot be far off,” added Philippe.

But he then saw what he little thought to have beheld so near to him. All eyes were turned towards the door at which M. Fouquet was expected to enter; but it was not M. Fouquet who entered. A terrible cry resounded from all corners of the chamber, a painful cry uttered by the king and all present. It is given to but few men, even those whose destiny contains the strangest elements, and accidents the most wonderful, to contemplate such a spectacle similar to that which presented itself in the royal chamber at that moment. The half-closed shutters only admitted the entrance of an uncertain light passing through thick violet velvet curtains lined with silk. In this soft shade, the eyes were by degrees dilated, and every one present saw others rather with imagination than with actual sight. There could not, however, escape, in these circumstances, one of the surrounding details; and the new object which presented itself appeared as luminous as though it shone out in full sunlight. So it happened with Louis XIV., when he showed himself, pale and frowning, in the doorway of the secret stairs. The face of Fouquet appeared behind him, stamped with sorrow and determination. The queen-mother, who perceived Louis XIV., and who held the hand of Philippe, uttered a cry of which we have spoken, as if she beheld a phantom. Monsieur was bewildered, and kept turning his head in astonishment from one to the other. Madame made a step forward, thinking she was looking at the form of her brother-in-law reflected in a mirror. And, in fact, the illusion was possible. The two princes, both pale as death—for we renounce the hope of being able to describe the fearful state of Philippe—trembling, clenching their hands convulsively, measured each other with looks, and darted their glances, sharp as poniards, at each other. Silent, panting, bending forward, they appeared as if about to spring upon an enemy. The unheard-of resemblance of countenance, gesture, shape, height, even to the resemblance of costume, produced by chance—for Louis XIV. had been to the Louvre and put on a violet-colored dress—the perfect analogy of the two princes, completed the consternation of Anne of Austria. And yet she did not at once guess the truth. There are misfortunes in life so truly dreadful that no one will at first accept them; people rather believe in the supernatural and the impossible. Louis had not reckoned on these obstacles. He expected that he had only to appear to be acknowledged. A living sun, he could not endure the suspicion of equality with any one. He did not admit that every torch should not become darkness at the instant he shone out with his conquering ray. At the aspect of Philippe, then, he was perhaps more terrified than any one round him, and his silence, his immobility were, this time, a concentration and a calm which precede the violent explosions of concentrated passion.

But Fouquet! who shall paint his emotion and stupor in presence of this living portrait of his master! Fouquet thought Aramis was right, that this newly-arrived was a king as pure in his race as the other, and that, for having repudiated all participation in this coup d’etat, so skillfully got up by the General of the Jesuits, he must be a mad enthusiast, unworthy of ever dipping his hands in political grand strategy work. And then it was the blood of Louis XIII. which Fouquet was sacrificing to the blood of Louis XIII.; it was to a selfish ambition he was sacrificing a noble ambition; to the right of keeping he sacrificed the right of having. The whole extent of his fault was revealed to him at simple sight of the pretender. All that passed in the mind of Fouquet was lost upon the persons present. He had five minutes to focus meditation on this point of conscience; five minutes, that is to say five ages, during which the two kings and their family scarcely found energy to breathe after so terrible a shock. D’Artagnan, leaning against the wall, in front of Fouquet, with his hand to his brow, asked himself the cause of such a wonderful prodigy. He could not have said at once why he doubted, but he knew assuredly that he had reason to doubt, and that in this meeting of the two Louis XIV.s lay all the doubt and difficulty that during late days had rendered the conduct of Aramis so suspicious to the musketeer. These ideas were, however, enveloped in a haze, a veil of mystery. The actors in this assembly seemed to swim in the vapors of a confused waking. Suddenly Louis XIV., more impatient and more accustomed to command, ran to one of the shutters, which he opened, tearing the curtains in his eagerness. A flood of living light entered the chamber, and made Philippe draw back to the alcove. Louis seized upon this movement with eagerness, and addressing himself to the queen:

“My mother,” said he, “do you not acknowledge your son, since every one here has forgotten his king!” Anne of Austria started, and raised her arms towards Heaven, without being able to articulate a single word.

“My mother,” said Philippe, with a calm voice, “do you not acknowledge your son?” And this time, in his turn, Louis drew back.

As to Anne of Austria, struck suddenly in head and heart with fell remorse, she lost her equilibrium. No one aiding her, for all were petrified, she sank back in her fauteuil, breathing a weak, trembling sigh. Louis could not endure the spectacle and the affront. He bounded towards D’Artagnan, over whose brain a vertigo was stealing and who staggered as he caught at the door for support.

“A moi! mousquetaire!” said he. “Look us in the face and say which is the paler, he or I!”

This cry roused D’Artagnan, and stirred in his heart the fibers of obedience. He shook his head, and, without more hesitation, he walked straight up to Philippe, on whose shoulder he laid his hand, saying, “Monsieur, you are my prisoner!”

Philippe did not raise his eyes towards Heaven, nor stir from the spot, where he seemed nailed to the floor, his eye intently fixed upon the king his brother. He reproached him with a sublime silence for all misfortunes past, all tortures to come. Against this language of the soul the king felt he had no power; he cast down his eyes, dragging away precipitately his brother and sister, forgetting his mother, sitting motionless within three paces of the son whom she left a second time to be condemned to death. Philippe approached Anne of Austria, and said to her, in a soft and nobly agitated voice:

“If I were not your son, I should curse you, my mother, for having rendered me so unhappy.”

D’Artagnan felt a shudder pass through the marrow of his bones. He bowed respectfully to the young prince, and said as he bent, “Excuse me, monseigneur, I am but a soldier, and my oaths are his who has just left the chamber.”

“Thank you, M. d’Artagnan.... What has become of M. d’Herblay?”

“M. d’Herblay is in safety, monseigneur,” said a voice behind them; “and no one, while I live and am free, shall cause a hair to fall from his head.”

“Monsieur Fouquet!” said the prince, smiling sadly.

“Pardon me, monseigneur,” said Fouquet, kneeling, “but he who is just gone out from hence was my guest.”

“Here are,” murmured Philippe, with a sigh, “brave friends and good hearts. They make me regret the world. On, M. d’Artagnan, I follow you.”

At the moment the captain of the musketeers was about to leave the room with his prisoner, Colbert appeared, and, after remitting an order from the king to D’Artagnan, retired. D’Artagnan read the paper, and then crushed it in his hand with rage.

“What is it?” asked the prince.

“Read, monseigneur,” replied the musketeer.

Philippe read the following words, hastily traced by the hand of the king:

“M. d’Artagnan will conduct the prisoner to the Ile Sainte-Marguerite. He will cover his face with an iron vizor, which the prisoner shall never raise except at peril of his life.”

“That is just,” said Philippe, with resignation; “I am ready.”

“Aramis was right,” said Fouquet, in a low voice, to the musketeer, “this one is every whit as much a king as the other.”

“More so!” replied D’Artagnan. “He wanted only you and me.”