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 © COPYRIGHT 2013 International Education Institute, ATTN: Ken Harvey, 2027 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick WA 99336, USA

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK


by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter I: Two Old Friends

WHILE EVERY ONE AT court was busy with his own affairs, a man mysteriously took up his post behind the Place de Greve, in the house which we once saw besieged by d'Artagnan on the occasion of a riot. The principal entrance of this house was in the Place Baudoyer. The house was tolerably large, surrounded by gardens, enclosed in the Rue St. Jean by the shops of tool-makers, which protected it from prying looks; and was walled in by a triple rampart of stone, noise, and verdure, like an embalmed mummy in its triple coffin.

The man to whom we have just alluded walked along with a firm step, although he was no longer in his early prime. His dark cloak and long sword outlined beneath the cloak plainly revealed a man seeking adventures; and judging from his curling mustaches, his fine and smooth skin, as seen under his sombrero, the gallantry of his adventures was unquestionable. In fact, hardly had the cavalier entered the house, when the clock of St. Gervais struck eight; and ten minutes afterwards a lady, followed by an armed servant, approached and knocked at the same door, which an old woman immediately opened for her. The lady raised her veil as she entered; though no longer a beauty, she was still a woman; she was no longer young, yet she was sprightly and of an imposing carriage. She concealed, beneath a rich toilet of exquisite taste, an age which Ninon de l'Enclos alone could have smiled at with impunity. Hardly had she reached the vestibule, when the cavalier, whose features we have only roughly sketched, advanced towards her, holding out his hand.

"Good-day, my dear Duchess," he said.

"How do you do, my dear Aramis?" replied the duchess.

He led her to an elegantly furnished apartment, on whose high windows were reflected the expiring rays of the setting sun, which filtered through the dark crests of some adjoining firs. They sat down side by side. Neither of them thought of asking for additional light in the room, and they buried themselves thus in the shadow, as if they had wished to bury themselves in forgetfulness.

"Chevalier," said the duchess, "you have never given me a single sign of life since our interview at Fontainebleau; and I confess that your presence there on the day of the Franciscan's death, and your initiation in certain secrets, caused me the liveliest astonishment I ever experienced in my whole life."

"I can explain my presence there to you, as well as my initiation," said Aramis.

"But let us, first of all," replied the duchess, quickly, "talk a little of ourselves, for our friendship is by no means of recent date."

"Yes, Madame; and if Heaven wills it, we shall continue to be friends,- I will not say for a long time, but forever."

"That is quite certain, Chevalier, and my visit is a proof of it."

"Our interests, Madame the Duchess, are no longer the same that they used to be," said Aramis, smiling without reserve in the dim light, which could not show that his smile was less agreeable and less bright than formerly.

"No, Chevalier, at the present day we have other interests. Every period of life brings its own; and as we now understand each other in conversing as perfectly as we formerly did without saying a word, let us talk, if you like."

"I am at your orders, Duchess. Ah! I beg your pardon; how did you obtain my address, and what was your object?"

"You ask me why? I have told you. Curiosity, in the first place. I wished to know what you could have to do with the Franciscan with whom I had certain business, and who died so singularly. You know that on the occasion of our interview at Fontainebleau, in the cemetery, at the foot of the grave so recently closed, we were both so much overcome by our emotions that we omitted to confide anything to each other."

"Yes, Madame."

"Well, then, I had no sooner left you than I repented, and have ever since been most anxious to ascertain the truth. You know that Madame de Longueville and myself are almost one, I suppose?"

"I was not aware of it," said Aramis, discreetly.

"I remembered, then," continued the duchess, "that neither of us said anything to the other in the cemetery; that you did not speak of the relationship in which you stood to the Franciscan, whose burial you had superintended, and that I did not refer to the position in which I stood to him,- all which seemed to me very unworthy of two such old friends as ourselves; and I have sought an opportunity of an interview with you in order to give you proof that I am devoted to you, and that Marie Michon, now no more, has left behind her a ghost with a good memory."

Aramis bowed over the duchess's hand, and pressed his lips upon it. "You must have had some trouble to find me again," he said.

"Yes," answered the duchess, annoyed to find the subject taking a turn which Aramis wished to give it; "but I knew that you were a friend of M. Fouquet, and so I inquired in that direction."

"A friend! Oh," exclaimed the chevalier, "you exaggerate, Madame! A poor priest who has been favored by so generous a protector, and whose heart is full of gratitude and devotion to him, is all that I am to M. Fouquet."

"He made you a bishop?"

"Yes, Duchess."

"So, my fine musketeer, that is your retirement!"

"In the same way that political intrigue is for yourself," thought Aramis. "And so," he said, "you inquired after me at M. Fouquet's?"

"Easily enough. You had been to Fontainebleau with him, and had undertaken a voyage to your diocese,- which is Belle-Isle-en-Mer, I believe."

"No, Madame," said Aramis; "my diocese is Vannes."

"I meant that. I only thought that Belle-Isle-en-Mer-"

"Is a property belonging to M. Fouquet,- nothing more."

"Ah! I had been told that Belle-Isle was fortified; besides, I know that you are a military man, my friend."

"I have forgotten everything of the kind since I entered the church," said Aramis, annoyed.

"Very well. I then learned that you had returned from Vannes, and I sent to one of our friends, M. le Comte de la Fere, who is discretion itself; but he answered that he was not aware of your address."

"So like Athos," thought the bishop; "that which is actually good never alters."

"Well, then, you know that I cannot venture to show myself here, and that the Queen-Mother has always some grievance or other against me."

"Yes, indeed; and I am surprised at it."

"Oh, there are various reasons for it! But, to continue, being obliged to conceal myself, I was fortunate enough to meet with M. d'Artagnan,- one of your old friends, I believe."

"A friend of mine still, Duchess."

"He gave me some information, and sent me to M. de Baisemeaux, the governor of the Bastille."

Aramis started; and a light flashed from his eyes in the darkness of the room which he could not conceal from his keen-sighted friend. "M. de Baisemeaux!" he said; "why did d'Artagnan send you to M. de Baisemeaux?"

"I cannot tell you."

"What can this possibly mean?" said the bishop, summoning all the resources of his mind to his aid, in order to carry on the combat in a befitting manner.

"M. de Baisemeaux is greatly indebted to you, d'Artagnan told me."

"True, he is so."

"And the address of a creditor is as easily ascertained as that of a debtor."

"Also very true; and so Baisemeaux indicated to you-"

"St. Mande, where I forwarded a letter to you-"

"Which I have in my hand, and which is most precious to me," said Aramis, "because I am indebted to it for the pleasure of seeing you."

The duchess, satisfied at having so successfully passed over the various difficulties of so delicate an explanation, began to breathe freely again; which Aramis, however, could not succeed in doing. "We had got as far as your visit to Baisemeaux, I believe?" said he.

"Nay," said the duchess, laughing, "further than that."

"In that case we must have been speaking about your grudge against the Queen-Mother."

"Further still," returned the duchess, "further still; we were talking of the connection-"

"Which existed between you and the Franciscan," said Aramis, interrupting her eagerly; "well, I am listening to you very attentively."

"It is easily explained," returned the duchess, making up her mind. "You know that I am living at Brussels with M. de Laicques?"

"I have heard so, Madame."

"You know that my children have ruined and stripped me of everything?"

"How terrible, dear Duchess!"

"Terrible, indeed! This obliged me to resort to some means of obtaining a livelihood, and particularly to avoid vegetating. I had old hatreds to turn to account, old friendships to serve; I no longer had either credit or protectors."

"You, too, who had extended protection towards so many persons," said Aramis, blandly.

"It is always the case, Chevalier. Well, at that time I saw the King of Spain."

"Ah!" "Who had just nominated a general of the Jesuits, according to the usual custom."

"Is it usual, indeed?"

"Were you not aware of it?"

"I beg your pardon; I was inattentive."

"You must be aware of that,- you who were on such good terms with the Franciscan."

"With the general of the Jesuits, you mean?"

"Exactly. Well, then, I saw the King of Spain, who wished to do me a service, but was unable. He gave me recommendations, however, to Flanders, both for myself and for Laicques, and conferred a pension on me out of the funds of the order."

"Of Jesuits?"

"Yes. The general- I mean the Franciscan- was sent to me; and in order to give regularity to the transaction, in accordance with the statutes of the order, I was reputed to be in a position to render certain services. You are aware that that is the rule?"

"I was not aware of it."

Madame de Chevreuse paused to look at Aramis, but it was quite dark. "Well, such is the rule," she resumed. "I ought, therefore, to seem to possess a power of usefulness of some kind or other. I proposed to travel for the order, and I was placed on the list of affiliated travellers. You understand that it was a formality, by means of which I received my pension, which was very convenient for me."

"Good Heavens! Duchess, what you tell me is like a dagger-thrust to me. You obliged to receive a pension from the Jesuits?"

"No, Chevalier; from Spain."

"Ah! except as a conscientious scruple, Duchess, you will admit that it is pretty nearly the same thing."

"No, not at all."

"But, surely, of your magnificent fortune there must remain-"

"Dampierre is all that remains."

"And that is handsome enough."

"Yes; but Dampierre is burdened, mortgaged, and somewhat in ruins, like its owner."

"And can the Queen-Mother see all that without shedding a tear?" said Aramis, with a penetrating look, which encountered nothing but the darkness.

"Yes, she has forgotten everything."

"You have, I believe, Duchess, attempted to get restored to favor?"

"Yes; but, most singularly, the young King inherits the antipathy that his dear father had for me. Ah, you too will tell me that I am indeed a woman to be hated, and that I am no longer one who can be loved."

"Dear Duchess, pray arrive soon at the circumstance which brought you here; for I think we can be of service to each other."

"Such has been my own thought. I came to Fontainebleau, then, with a double object in view. In the first place, I was summoned there by the Franciscan whom you knew. By the by, how did you know him?- for I have told you my story, and have not yet heard yours."

"I knew him in a very natural way, Duchess. I studied theology with him at Parma; we became fast friends, but it happened, from time to time, that business or travels or war separated us from each other."

"You were, of course, aware that he was the general of the Jesuits?"

"I suspected it."

"But by what extraordinary chance did you come to the hotel where the affiliated travellers had met together?"

"Oh," said Aramis, in a calm voice, "it was the merest chance in the world! I was going to Fontainebleau to see M. Fouquet, for the purpose of obtaining an audience of the King. I was passing by, unknown; I saw the poor dying monk in the road, and recognized him. You know the rest,- he died in my arms."

"Yes, but bequeathing to you so vast a power in Heaven and on earth that you issue sovereign orders in his name."

"He did leave me a few commissions to settle."

"And for me?"

"I have told you,- a sum of twelve thousand livres was to be paid to you. I thought I had given you the necessary signature to enable you to receive it. Did you not get the money?"

"Oh, yes, yes! My dear prelate, you give your orders, I am informed, with so much mystery and such august majesty that it is generally believed you are the successor of the beloved dead."

Aramis colored impatiently, and the duchess continued. "I have obtained information," she said, "from the King of Spain himself; and he dispelled my doubts on the point. Every general of the Jesuits is nominated by him, and must be a Spaniard, according to the statutes of the order. You are not a Spaniard, nor have you been nominated by the King of Spain."

Aramis did not reply to this remark, except to say, "You see, Duchess, how greatly you were mistaken, since the King of Spain told you that."

"Yes, my dear Aramis; but there was something else of which I have been thinking."

"What is that?"

"You know that I do a great deal of desultory thinking, and it occurred to me that you know the Spanish language."

"Every Frenchman who has been actively engaged in the Fronde knows Spanish."

"You have lived in Flanders?"

"Three years."

"And have stayed at Madrid?"

"Fifteen months."

"You are in a position, then, to become a naturalized Spaniard when you like."

"Really?" said Aramis, with a frankness which deceived the duchess.

"Undoubtedly. Two years' residence and an acquaintance with the language are indispensable. You have had three years and a half,- fifteen months more than is necessary."

"What are you driving at, my dear lady?"

"At this,- I am on good terms with the King of Spain."

"And I am not on bad terms," thought Aramis to himself.

"Do you wish me to ask the King," continued the duchess, "to confer the succession to the Franciscan's office upon you?"

"Oh, Duchess!"

"You have it already, perhaps?" she said.

"No, upon my honor."

"Very well, then, I can render you that service."

"Why did you not render the same service to M. de Laicques, Duchess? He is a very talented man, and one whom you love."

"Yes, no doubt; but that is not to be considered. At all events, putting Laicques aside, answer me, will you have it?"

"No, I thank you, Duchess."

She paused. "He is nominated," she thought; and then resumed aloud, "If you refuse me in this manner, it is not very encouraging for me to ask anything of you."

"Oh, ask, pray ask!"

"Ask! I cannot do so if you have not the power to grant what I want."

"However limited my power and ability, ask all the same."

"I need a sum of money to restore Dampierre."

"Ah!" replied Aramis, coldly, "money? Well, Duchess, how much would you require?"

"Oh, a tolerably round sum!"

"So much the worse,- you know I am not rich."

"No, you are not; but the order is. And if you had been the general-"

"You know I am not the general."

"In that case you have a friend who must be very wealthy,- M. Fouquet."

"M. Fouquet! He is more than half ruined, Madame."

"So it is said, but I would not believe it."

"Why, Duchess?"

"Because I have, or rather Laicques has, certain letters in his possession from Cardinal Mazarin, which establish the existence of very strange accounts."

"What accounts?"

"Relative to various sums of money borrowed and disposed of. I do not fully remember; but the point is that the superintendent, according to these letters, which are signed by Mazarin, had taken thirty millions from the coffers of the State. The case is a very serious one."

Aramis clinched his hands in anxiety and apprehension. "Is it possible," he said, "that you have such letters, and have not communicated them to M. Fouquet?"

"Ah!" replied the duchess, "I keep such little matters as these in reserve. When the day of need comes, we will take them from the closet."

"And that day has arrived?" said Aramis.

"Yes."

"And you are going to show those letters to M. Fouquet?"

"I prefer instead to talk about them with you."

"You must be in sad want of money, my poor friend, to think of such things as these,- you, too, who held M. de Mazarin's prose effusions in such indifferent esteem."

"The fact is, I am in want of money."

"And then," continued Aramis, in cold accents, "it must have been very distressing to you to be obliged to have recourse to such a means. It is cruel."

"Oh, if I had wished to do harm instead of good," said Madame de Chevreuse, "instead of asking the general of the order or M. Fouquet for the five hundred thousand livres I require-"

"Five hundred thousand livres!"

"Yes; no more. Do you think it much? I require at least as much as that to restore Dampierre."

"Yes, Madame."

"I say, therefore, that instead of asking for this amount I should have gone to see my old friend the Queen-Mother; the letters from her husband, the Signor Mazarini, would have served me as an introduction, and I should have begged this mere trifle of her, saying to her, 'I wish, Madame, to have the honor of receiving your Majesty at Dampierre. Permit me to put Dampierre in a fit state for that purpose.'"

Aramis did not say a single word in reply. "Well," she said, "what are you thinking about?"

"I am making certain additions," said Aramis.

"And M. Fouquet makes subtractions. I, on the other hand, am trying the art of multiplication. What excellent calculators we are! How well we could understand one another!"

"Will you allow me to reflect?" said Aramis.

"No; to such an overture between persons like ourselves, 'Yes' or 'No' should be the reply, and that immediately."

"It is a snare," thought the bishop; "it is impossible that Anne of Austria would listen to such a woman as this."

"Well!" said the duchess.

"Well, Madame, I should be very much astonished if M. Fouquet had five hundred thousand livres at his disposal at the present moment."

"It is of no use speaking of it further, then," said the duchess, "and Dampierre must get restored how it can."

"Oh, you are not embarrassed to such an extent as that, I suppose?"

"No; I am never embarrassed."

"And the Queen," continued the bishop, "will certainly do for you what the superintendent is unable to do."

"Oh, certainly! But tell me, do you not think it would be better that I should speak myself to M. Fouquet about these letters?"

"You will do whatever you please in that respect, Duchess. M. Fouquet either feels or does not feel himself to be guilty. If he really be so, I know that he is proud enough not to confess it; if he be not so, he will be exceedingly offended at your menace."

"As usual, you reason like an angel," said the duchess, rising.

"And so you are going to denounce M. Fouquet to the Queen," said Aramis.

"Denounce? Oh, what a disagreeable word! I shall not denounce, my dear friend. You now know matters of policy too well to be ignorant how easily these affairs are arranged. I shall merely side against M. Fouquet, and nothing more; and in a war of party against party a weapon is a weapon."

"No doubt."

"And once on friendly terms again with the Queen-Mother, I may be dangerous towards some persons."

"You are at perfect liberty to be so, Duchess."

"A liberty of which I shall avail myself, my dear friend."

"You are not ignorant, I suppose, Duchess, that M. Fouquet is on the best terms with the King of Spain?"

"Oh, I suppose so!"

"If, therefore, you begin a party warfare against M. Fouquet, he will reply in the same way; for he too is at perfect liberty to do so, is he not?"

"Oh, certainly!"

"And as he is on good terms with Spain, he will make use of that friendship as a weapon."

"You mean that he will be on good terms with the general of the order of the Jesuits, my dear Aramis."

"That may be the case, Duchess."

"And that, consequently, the pension I have been receiving from the order will be stopped."

"I am greatly afraid it might be."

"Well, I must contrive to console myself; for after Richelieu, after the Frondes, after exile, what is there left for Madame de Chevreuse to fear?"

"The pension, you are aware, is forty-eight thousand livres."

"Alas! I am quite aware of it."

"Moreover, in party contests, you know, the friends of the enemy do not escape."

"Ah! you mean that poor Laicques will have to suffer."

"I am afraid it is almost inevitable, Duchess."

"Oh, he receives only twelve thousand livres' pension."

"Yes, but the King of Spain has some influence left; advised by M. Fouquet, he might get M. Laicques shut up in some fortress."

"I have no great fear of that, my good friend; because, thanks to a reconciliation with Anne of Austria, I will undertake that France shall insist upon Laicques's liberation."

"True. In that case you will have something else to apprehend."

"What can that be?" said the duchess, pretending to be surprised and terrified.

"You will learn- indeed, you must know it already- that having once been an affiliated member of the order, it is not easy to leave it; for the secrets that any particular member may have acquired are unwholesome, and carry with them the germs of misfortune for whoever may reveal them."

The duchess considered for a moment, and then said, "That is more serious; I will think it over."

Notwithstanding the profound obscurity in which he sat, Aramis seemed to feel a burning glance, like a hot iron, escape from his friend's eyes and plunge into his heart.

"Let us recapitulate," said Aramis, determined to keep himself on his guard, and gliding his hand into his breast, where he had a dagger concealed.

"Exactly, let us recapitulate; good accounts make good friends."

"The suppression of your pension-"

"Forty-eight thousand livres and that of Laicques's twelve make together sixty thousand livres; that is what you mean, I suppose?"

"Precisely; and I was trying to find out what would be your equivalent for that."

"Five hundred thousand livres, which I shall get from the Queen."

"Or which you will not get."

"I know a means of procuring them," said the duchess, thoughtlessly.

This remark made the chevalier prick up his ears; and from the moment when his adversary had committed this error, his mind was so thoroughly on its guard that he seemed every moment to gain the advantage more and more, and she, consequently, to lose it. "I will admit, for argument's sake, that you obtain the money," he resumed; "you will lose twice as much, having a hundred thousand livres' pension to receive instead of sixty thousand, and that for a period of ten years."

"Not so, for I shall only be subjected to this diminution of my income during the period of M. Fouquet's remaining in power,- a period which I estimate at two months."

"Ah!" said Aramis.

"I am frank, you see."

"I thank you for it, Duchess; but you would be wrong to suppose that after M. Fouquet's disgrace the order would resume the payment of your pension."

"I know a means of making the order come down with its money, as I know a means of forcing the Queen-Mother to concede what I require."

"In that case, Duchess, we are all obliged to strike our flags to you. The victory is yours, and the triumph also is yours. Be clement, I entreat you!"

"But is it possible," resumed the duchess, without taking notice of the irony, "that you really draw back from a miserable sum of five hundred thousand livres when it is a question of sparing you- I mean your friend- I beg your pardon, I ought rather to say your protector- the disagreeable consequences which a party contest produces?"

"Duchess, I will tell you why. Supposing the five hundred thousand livres were to be given to you, M. de Laicques will require his share, which will be another five hundred thousand livres, I presume; and then, after M. de Laicques's and your own portions, will come the portions for your children, your poor pensioners, and various other persons; and these letters, however compromising they may be, are not worth from three to four millions. Good heavens! Duchess, the Queen of France's diamonds were surely worth more than these bits of waste paper signed by Mazarin; and yet their recovery did not cost a fourth part of what you ask for yourself."

"Yes, that is true; but the merchant values his goods at his own price, and it is for the purchaser to buy or to refuse."

"Stay a moment, Duchess; would you like me to tell you why I will not buy your letters?"

"Pray tell me."

"Because the letters which you say are Mazarin's are false."

"Nonsense!"

"I have no doubt of it; for it would, to say the least, be very singular that after you had quarrelled with the Queen through M. Mazarin's means, you should have kept up any intimate acquaintance with the latter; it would savor of passion, of treachery, of- Upon my word, I do not like to make use of the term."

"Oh pray say it!"

"Of compliance."

"That is quite true; but what is not less so is that which the letter contains."

"I pledge you my word, Duchess, that you will not be able to make use of it with the Queen."

"Oh, yes, indeed; I can make use of everything with the Queen."

"Very good," thought Aramis. "Croak on, old owl! hiss, viper that you are!"

But the duchess had said enough, and advanced a few steps towards the door. Aramis, however, had reserved a humiliation which she did not expect,- the imprecation of the vanquished behind the car of the conqueror. He rang the bell. Candles immediately appeared in the room; and the bishop found himself completely encircled by lights, which shone upon the worn, haggard face of the duchess. Aramis fixed a long and ironical look upon her pale and withered cheeks, upon her dim, dull eyes, and upon her lips, which she kept carefully closed over her blackened and scanty teeth. He, however, had thrown himself into a graceful attitude, with his haughty and intelligent head thrown back; he smiled so as to reveal his teeth, which were still brilliant and dazzling in the candle-light.

The old coquette understood the trick that had been played upon her. She was standing immediately before a large mirror, in which all her decrepitude, so carefully concealed, was only made more manifest by the contrast. Thereupon, without even saluting Aramis, who bowed with the ease and grace of the musketeer of early days, she hurried away with tottering steps, which her very haste only the more impeded. Aramis sprang across the room like a zephyr to lead her to the door. Madame de Chevreuse made a sign to her huge lackey, who resumed his musket; and she left the house where such tender friends had not been able to understand each other only because they had understood each other too well.

Chapter II: Wherein May Be Seen That a Bargain Which Cannot Be Made with One Person Can Be Carried Out with Another

ARAMIS had been perfectly correct in his supposition. Immediately on leaving the house in the Place Baudoyer, Madame de Chevreuse had proceeded homeward. She was doubtless afraid of being followed, and had sought in this way to cover her steps; but as soon as she had arrived within the door of the hotel, and assured herself that no one who could cause her any uneasiness was on her track, she opened the door of the garden leading into another street, and hurried towards the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, where M. Colbert resided.

We have already said that evening, or rather night, had closed in,- and it was a dark, thick night. Paris had once more sunk into its calm, quiescent state, enshrouding alike within its indulgent mantle the high-born duchess carrying out her political intrigue, and the simple citizen's wife who having been detained late by a supper in the city was proceeding homewards, on the arm of a lover, by the longest possible route.

Madame de Chevreuse had been too well accustomed to nocturnal politics not to know that a minister never denies himself, even at his own private residence, to any young and beautiful woman who may chance to object to the dust and confusion of a public office; or to old women, as full of experience as of years, who dislike the indiscreet echo of official residences. A valet received the duchess under the peristyle, and received her, it must be admitted, with some indifference of manner; he intimated, after having looked at her face, that it was hardly at such an hour that one so advanced in years as herself could be permitted to disturb M. Colbert's important occupations. But Madame de Chevreuse, without disquietude, wrote her name upon a leaf of her tablets,- a blusterous name, which had so often sounded disagreeably in the ears of Louis XIII and of the great cardinal. She wrote her name in the large ill-formed characters of the higher classes of that period, folded the paper in a manner peculiarly her own, and handed it to the valet without uttering a word, but with so haughty and imperious a gesture that the fellow, well accustomed to judge of people from their manners and appearance, perceived at once the quality of the person before him, bowed his head, and ran to M. Colbert's room.

The minister could not control a sudden exclamation as he opened the paper; and the valet, gathering from it the interest with which his master regarded the mysterious visitor, returned as fast as he could to beg the duchess to follow him. She ascended to the first floor of the beautiful new house very slowly, rested herself on the landing-place in order not to enter the apartment out of breath, and appeared before M. Colbert, who with his own hands held open the folding-doors. The duchess paused at the threshold for the purpose of studying well the character of the man with whom she was about to converse. At the first glance the round, large, heavy head, thick brows, and ill-favored features of Colbert, who wore, thrust low down on his head, a cap like a priest's calotte, seemed to indicate that but little difficulty was likely to be met with in her negotiations with him, but also that she was to expect little interest in the discussion of particulars; for there was scarcely any indication that that rude man could be susceptible to the attractions of a refined revenge or of an exalted ambition. But when on closer inspection the duchess perceived the small, piercingly black eyes, the longitudinal wrinkles of his high and massive forehead, the imperceptible twitching of the lips, on which were apparent traces of rough good-humor, she changed her mind and said to herself, "I have found the man I want."

"What has procured me the honor of your visit, Madame?" he inquired.

"The need I have of you, Monsieur," returned the duchess, "and that which you have of me."

"I am delighted, Madame, with the first portion of your sentence; but so far as the second portion is concerned-"

Madame de Chevreuse sat down in the arm-chair which M. Colbert placed before her. "M. Colbert, you are the intendant of finances?"

"Yes, Madame."

"And are ambitious of becoming the superintendent?"

"Madame!"

"Nay, do not deny it! That would only unnecessarily prolong our conversation,- it is useless."

"And yet, Madame," replied the intendant, "however well disposed and inclined to show politeness I may be towards a lady of your position and merit, nothing will make me confess that I have ever entertained the idea of supplanting my superior."

"I said nothing about supplanting, M. Colbert. Could I accidentally have made use of that word? I hardly think so. The word 'replace' is less aggressive in its signification, and more grammatically suitable, as M. de Voiture would say. I presume, therefore, that you are ambitious of replacing M. Fouquet."

"M. Fouquet's fortune, Madame, enables him to withstand all attempts. The superintendent in this age plays the part of the Colossus of Rhodes; the vessels pass beneath him, and do not overthrow him."

"I ought to have availed myself of that very comparison. It is true. M. Fouquet plays the part of the Colossus of Rhodes; but I remember to have heard it said by M. Conrart (a member of the Academy, I believe), that when the Colossus of Rhodes fell from its lofty position, the merchant who had cast it down- a merchant, nothing more, M. Colbert- loaded four hundred camels with the ruins. A merchant!- that is considerably less than an intendant of finances."

"Madame, I can assure you that I shall never overthrow M. Fouquet."

"Very good, M. Colbert, since you persist in showing so much sensitiveness with me, as if you were ignorant that I am Madame de Chevreuse, and also that I am somewhat advanced in years,- in other words, that you have to do with a woman who has had political dealings with the Cardinal de Richelieu, and who has no time to lose,- since, I say, you commit that imprudence, I shall go and find others who are more intelligent and more desirous of making their fortunes."

"How, Madame, how?"

"You give me a very poor idea of the negotiations of the present day, Monsieur. I assure you that if in my time a woman had gone to M. de Cinq-Mars, who was not moreover a man of a very high order of intellect, and had said to him about the cardinal what I have just now said to you of M. Fouquet, M. de Cinq-Mars would by this time have put his irons in the fire."

"Nay, Madame, show a little indulgence."

"Well, then, you do really consent to replace M. Fouquet?"

"Certainly, I do, if the King dismisses M. Fouquet."

"Again a word too much; it is quite evident that if you have not yet succeeded in driving M. Fouquet from his post, it is because you have not been able to do so. Therefore I should be a simpleton if in coming to you I did not bring you the very thing you require."

"I am distressed to be obliged to persist, Madame," said Colbert, after a silence which enabled the duchess to sound the depth of his dissimulation; "but I must warn you that for the last six years denunciation after denunciation has been made against M. Fouquet, and he has remained unshaken and unaffected by them."

"There is a time for everything, M. Colbert; those who were the authors of such denunciations were not called Madame de Chevreuse, and they had no proofs equal to the six letters from M. de Mazarin which establish the offence in question."

"The offence!"

"The crime, if you like it better."

"The crime- committed by M. Fouquet!"

"Nothing less. It is rather strange, M. Colbert; but your face, which just now was cold and indifferent, is now all lighted up."

"A crime!"

"I am delighted to see it makes an impression upon you."

"Oh, that is a word, Madame, which embraces so many things!"

"It embraces the post of superintendent of finance for yourself, and a letter of exile or the Bastille for M. Fouquet."

"Forgive me, Madame the Duchess, but it is almost impossible that M. Fouquet can be exiled; to be imprisoned or disgraced, that alone is much."

"Oh, I am perfectly aware of what I am saying!" returned Madame de Chevreuse, coldly. "I do not live at such a distance from Paris as not to know what takes place there. The King does not like M. Fouquet, and he would willingly sacrifice the superintendent if an opportunity were only presented."

"It must be a good one, though."

"Good enough, and one I estimate to be worth five hundred thousand livres."

"In what way?" said Colbert.

"I mean, Monsieur, that holding this opportunity in my own hands I will not allow it to be transferred to yours except for a sum of five hundred thousand livres."

"I understand you perfectly, Madame. But since you have fixed a price for the sale, let me now see the value of the articles to be sold."

"Oh, a mere trifle,- six letters, as I have already told you, from M. de Mazarin; and the autographs will most assuredly not be regarded as too costly, if they establish in an irrefutable manner that M. Fouquet has embezzled large sums of money from the treasury and appropriated them to his own purposes."

"In an irrefutable manner, do you say?" observed Colbert, whose eyes sparkled with delight.

"Irrefutable; would you like to read the letters?"

"With all my heart! Copies, of course?"

"Of course, the copies," said the duchess, as she drew from her bosom a small packet of papers flattened by her velvet bodice. "Read!" she said.

Colbert eagerly snatched the papers and devoured them.

"Wonderful!" he said.

"It is clear enough, is it not?"

"Yes, Madame, yes. M. Mazarin must have handed the money to M. Fouquet, who must have kept it for his own purposes; but the question is, what money?"

"Exactly,- what money; if we come to terms, I will join to these six letters a seventh, which will supply you with the fullest particulars."

Colbert reflected. "And the originals of these letters?"

"A useless question to ask; exactly as if I were to ask you, M. Colbert, whether the money-bags you will give me will be full or empty."

"Very good, Madame."

"Is it concluded?"

"No; for there is one circumstance to which neither of us has given any attention."

"Name it!"

"M. Fouquet can be utterly ruined, under the circumstances you have detailed, only by means of legal proceedings."

"Well?"

"A public scandal."

"Yes, what then?"

"Neither the legal proceedings nor the scandal can be begun against him."

"Why not?"

"Because he is procureur-general of the parliament; because, too, in France, the government, the army, the courts of law, and commerce are intimately connected by ties of good-will, which people call esprit de corps. So, Madame, the parliament will never permit its chief to be dragged before a public tribunal; and never, even if he be dragged there by royal authority, never will he be condemned."

"Ah! ma foi! M. Colbert, that doesn't concern me."

"I am aware of that, Madame; but it concerns me, and it consequently diminishes the value of what you have brought to me. Of what use to bring me a proof of crime, without the possibility of condemnation?"

"Even if he be only suspected, M. Fouquet will lose his post of superintendent."

"That would be a great achievement!" exclaimed Colbert, whose dark, gloomy features were momentarily lighted up by an expression of hate and vengeance.

"Ah, ah! M. Colbert," said the duchess, "forgive me, but I did not think you were so impressionable. Very good; in that case, since you need more than I have to give you, there is no occasion to speak of the matter further."

"Yes, Madame, we will go on talking of it; only, as the value of your commodities has decreased, you must lower your price."

"You are bargaining, then?"

"Every man who wishes to deal loyally is obliged to do so."

"How much will you offer me?"

"Two hundred thousand livres," said Colbert.

The duchess laughed in his face, and then said suddenly, "Wait a moment, I have another arrangement to propose; will you give me three hundred thousand livres?"

"No, no."

"Oh, you can either accept or refuse my terms; besides, that is not all."

"More still? You are becoming too impracticable to deal with, Madame."

"Less so than you think, perhaps, for it is not money I am going to ask you for."

"What is it, then?"

"A service. You know that I have always been most affectionately attached to the Queen, and I am desirous of having an interview with her Majesty."

"With the Queen?"

"Yes, M. Colbert, with the Queen, who is, I admit, no longer my friend, and who has ceased to be so for a long time past, but who may again become so if the opportunity be only given her."

"Her Majesty has ceased to receive any one, Madame. She is a great sufferer, and you may be aware that the paroxysms of her disease occur with greater frequency than ever."

"That is the very reason why I wish to have an interview with her Majesty. In Flanders we have many diseases of that kind."

"Cancers?- a fearful, incurable disorder."

"Do not believe that, M. Colbert. The Flemish peasant is something of a savage; he has not a wife exactly, but a female."

"Well, Madame?"

"Well, M. Colbert, while he is smoking his pipe, the woman works; it is she who draws the water from the well,- she who loads the mule or the ass, and even bears herself a portion of the burden. Taking but little care of herself, she gets knocked about here and there, sometimes is even beaten. Cancers arise from contusions."

"True, true!" said Colbert.

"The Flemish women do not die the sooner on that account. When they are great sufferers from this disease, they go in search of remedies; and the Beguines of Bruges are excellent doctors for every kind of disease. They have precious waters of one sort or another,- specifics of various kinds; and they give a bottle and a wax candle to the sufferer. They derive a profit from the priests, and serve God by the disposal of their two articles of merchandise. I will take the Queen some of this holy water, which I will procure from the Beguines of Bruges; her Majesty will recover, and will burn as many wax candles as she may think fit. You see, M. Colbert, to prevent my seeing the Queen is almost as bad as committing the crime of regicide."

"You are, Madame the Duchess, a woman of great intelligence. You surprise me; still, I cannot but suppose that this charitable consideration towards the Queen covers some small personal interest of your own."

"Have I tried to conceal it, M. Colbert? You spoke, I believe, of a small personal interest. Understand, then, that it is a great interest; and I will prove it to you by resuming what I was saying. If you procure me a personal interview with her Majesty, I will be satisfied with the three hundred thousand livres I have demanded; if not, I shall keep my letters, unless, indeed, you give me on the spot five hundred thousand livres for them."

And rising from her seat with this decisive remark, the old duchess left M. Colbert in a disagreeable perplexity. To bargain any further was out of the question; not to purchase would involve infinite loss. "Madame," he said, "I shall have the pleasure of handing you over a hundred thousand crowns; but how shall I get the actual letters?"

"In the simplest manner in the world, my dear M. Colbert,- whom will you trust?"

The financier began to laugh silently, so that his large eyebrows went up and down like the wings of a bat upon the deep lines of his yellow forehead. "No one," he said.

"You surely will make an exception in your own favor, M. Colbert?"

"How is that, Madame?"

"I mean that if you would take the trouble to accompany me to the place where the letters are, they would be delivered into your own hands, and you would be able to verify and check them."

"Quite true."

"You would bring the hundred thousand crowns with you at the same time?- for I too do not trust any one."

Colbert colored to the tips of his ears. Like all eminent men in the art of figures, he was of an insolent and mathematical probity. "I will take with me, Madame," he said, "two orders for the amount agreed upon, payable at my treasury. Will that satisfy you?"

"Would that the orders on your treasury were for two millions, Monsieur the Intendant! I shall have the pleasure of showing you the way, then?"

"Allow me to order my carriage."

"I have a carriage below, Monsieur."

Colbert coughed like an irresolute man. He imagined for a moment that the proposition of the duchess was a snare; that perhaps some one was waiting at the door; and that she, whose secret had just been sold to Colbert for a hundred thousand crowns, had already offered it to Fouquet for the same sum. As he still hesitated a good deal, the duchess looked at him full in the face.

"You prefer your own carriage?" she said.

"I admit that I do."

"You suppose that I am going to lead you into a snare or trap of some sort or other?"

"Madame the Duchess, you have the character of being somewhat inconsiderate at times; and as I am clothed in a sober, solemn character, a jest or practical joke might compromise me."

"Yes; the fact is, you are afraid. Well, then, take your own carriage, as many servants as you like. Only, consider well,- what we two may arrange between us, we are the only persons who know it; what a third person may witness, we announce to the universe. After all, I do not make a point of it; my carriage shall follow yours, and I shall be satisfied to accompany you in your own carriage to the Queen."

"To the Queen!"

"Have you forgotten that already? Is it possible that one of the clauses of the agreement, of so much importance to me, can have escaped you already? How trifling it seems to you, indeed! If I had known it, I should have doubled my price."

"I have reflected, Madame, and I shall not accompany you."

"Really,- and why not?"

"Because I have the most perfect confidence in you."

"You overpower me. But how do I receive the hundred thousand crowns?"

"Here they are, Madame," said Colbert, scribbling a few lines on a piece of paper, which he handed to the duchess, adding, "You are paid."

"The trait is a fine one, M. Colbert, and I will reward you for it," she said, beginning to laugh.

Madame de Chevreuse's laugh had a very sinister sound. Every man who feels youth, faith, love, life itself, throbbing in his heart, would prefer tears to such a lamentable laugh.

The duchess opened the front of her dress and drew forth from her bosom, somewhat less white than it once had been, a small packet of papers, tied with a flame-colored ribbon, and still laughing, she said, "There, M. Colbert, are the originals of Cardinal Mazarin's letters. They are now your own property," she added, refastening the body of her dress. "Your fortune is secured; and now accompany me to the Queen."

"No, Madame; if you are again about to run the chance of her Majesty's displeasure, and it were known at the Palais-Royal that I had been the means of introducing you there, the Queen would never forgive me while she lived. No; there are certain persons at the palace who are devoted to me, who will procure you an admission without my being compromised."

"Just as you please, provided I enter."

"What do you term those religious women at Bruges who cure disorders?"

"Beguines."

"Good; you are a Beguine."

"As you please, but I must soon cease to be one."

"That is your affair."

"Excuse me, but I do not wish to be exposed to a refusal."

"That is again your own affair, Madame. I am going to give directions to the head valet of the gentleman in waiting on her Majesty to allow admission to a Beguine, who brings an effectual remedy for her Majesty's sufferings. You are the bearer of my letter, you will undertake to be provided with the remedy, and will give every explanation on the subject. I admit a knowledge of a Beguine, but I deny all knowledge of Madame de Chevreuse. Here, Madame, then, is your letter of introduction."

Chapter III: The Skin of the Bear

COLBERT handed the duchess the letter, and gently drew aside the chair behind which she was standing. Madame de Chevreuse, with a very slight bow, immediately left the room. Colbert, who had recognized Mazarin's handwriting and had counted the letters, rang to summon his secretary, whom he enjoined to go in immediate search of M. Vanel, a counsellor of the parliament. The secretary replied that, according to his usual practice, M. Vanel had just at that moment entered the house, in order to render to the intendant an account of the principal details of the business which had been transacted during the day in the sitting of the parliament. Colbert approached one of the lamps, read the letters of the deceased cardinal over again, smiled repeatedly as he recognized the great value of the papers which Madame de Chevreuse had just delivered to him, and burying his head in his hands for a few minutes reflected profoundly. In the mean time a tall, large-made man entered the room; his spare, thin face, steady look, and hooked nose, as he entered Colbert's cabinet with a modest assurance of manner, revealed a character at once supple and decided,- supple towards the master who could throw him the prey; firm towards the dogs who might possibly be disposed to dispute it with him. M. Vanel carried a voluminous bundle of papers under his arm, and placed it on the desk on which Colbert was leaning both his elbows, as he supported his head.

"Good-day, M. Vanel," said the latter, rousing himself from his meditation.

"Good-day, Monseigneur," said Vanel, naturally.

"You should say 'Monsieur,' and not 'Monseigneur,'" replied Colbert, gently.

"We give the title of 'Monseigneur' to ministers," returned Vanel, with extreme self-possession, "and you are a minister."

"Not yet."

"You are so in point of fact, and I call you 'Monseigneur' accordingly; besides, you are my seigneur, and that is sufficient. If you dislike my calling you 'Monseigneur' before others, allow me, at least, to call you so in private."

Colbert raised his head to the height of the lamps, and read, or tried to read, upon Vanel's face how much actual sincerity entered into this protestation of devotion. But the counsellor knew perfectly well how to sustain the weight of his look, even were it armed with the full authority of the title he had conferred. Colbert sighed. He had read nothing in Vanel's face; Vanel might be sincere. Colbert recollected that this man, inferior to himself, was superior to him in having an unfaithful wife. At the moment he was pitying this man's lot, Vanel coolly drew from his pocket a perfumed letter, sealed with Spanish wax, and held it towards Colbert, saying, "A letter from my wife, Monseigneur."

Colbert coughed, took, opened, and read the letter, and then put it carefully away in his pocket; while Vanel, unconcerned, turned over the leaves of the papers he had brought with him.

"Vanel," Colbert said suddenly to his protege, "you are a hard-working man?"

"Yes, Monseigneur."

"Would twelve hours of labor frighten you?"

"I work fifteen hours every day."

"Impossible! A counsellor need not work more than three hours a day in the parliament."

"Oh! I am working up some returns for a friend of mine in the department of accounts; and as I still have time left on my hands, I am studying Hebrew."

"Your reputation stands high in the parliament, Vanel."

"I believe so, Monseigneur."

"You must not grow rusty in your post of counsellor."

"What must I do to avoid it?"

"Purchase a high place. Small ambitions are the most difficult to satisfy."

"Small purses are the most difficult to fill, Monseigneur."

"What post have you in view?" said Colbert.

"I see none,- not one."

"There is one, certainly; but one need be the King himself to be able to buy it without inconvenience; and the King will not be inclined, I suppose, to purchase the post of procureur-general."

At these words Vanel fixed his dull and humble look upon Colbert, who could hardly tell whether Vanel had comprehended him or not. "Why do you speak to me, Monseigneur," said Vanel, "of the post of procureur-general to the parliament? I know no other post than the one M. Fouquet fills."

"Exactly so, my dear counsellor."

"You are not over-fastidious, Monseigneur, but before the post can be bought, it must be offered for sale."

"I believe, M. Vanel, that it will be for sale before long."

"For sale? What! M. Fouquet's post of procureur-general?"

"So it is said."

"The post which renders him inviolable, for sale! Oh, oh!" said Vanel, beginning to laugh.

"Would you be afraid, then, of the post?" said Colbert, gravely.

"Afraid! no; but-"

"Nor desirous of obtaining it?"

"You are laughing at me, Monseigneur," replied Vanel; "is it likely that a counsellor of the parliament would not be desirous of becoming procureur-general?"

"Well, M. Vanel, since I tell you that the post will be shortly for sale-"

"I cannot help repeating, Monseigneur, that it is impossible; a man never throws away the buckler behind which he maintains his honor, his fortune, and his life."

"There are certain men mad enough, Vanel, to fancy themselves out of the reach of all mischances."

"Yes, Monseigneur; but such men never commit their mad acts for the advantage of the poor Vanels of the world."

"Why not?"

"For the very reason that those Vanels are poor."

"It is true that M. Fouquet's post might cost a good round sum. What would you bid for it, M. Vanel?"

"Everything I am worth."

"Which means-"

"Three or four hundred thousand livres."

"And the post is worth-"

"A million and a half, at the very lowest. I know persons who have offered seventeen hundred thousand livres, without being able to persuade M. Fouquet to sell. Besides, supposing it were to happen that M. Fouquet wished to sell,- which I do not believe, in spite of what I have been told-"

"Ah, you have heard something about it, then! Who told you?"

"M. Gourville, M. Pellisson, and others."

"Very good; if, therefore, M. Fouquet did wish to sell-"

"I could not buy it just yet, since the superintendent will only sell for ready money, and no one has a million and a half to throw down at once."

Colbert suddenly interrupted the counsellor by an imperious gesture; he had begun to meditate. Observing his superior's serious attitude, and his perseverance in continuing the conversation on this subject, Vanel awaited the solution without venturing to precipitate it.

"Explain fully to me," said Colbert, at length, "the privileges of the office of procureur-general."

"The right of impeaching every French subject who is not a Prince of the blood; the right of quashing all proceedings taken against any Frenchman who is neither King nor Prince. The procureur-general is the arm of the King to strike the evil-doer,- his arm also to extinguish the torch of justice. M. Fouquet, therefore, will be able, by stirring up the parliament, to maintain himself even against the King; and the King also, by humoring M. Fouquet, can get his edicts registered without opposition. The procureur-general can be a very useful or a very dangerous instrument."

"Vanel, would you like to be procureur-general?" said Colbert, suddenly, softening both his look and his voice.

"I!" exclaimed the latter; "I have already had the honor to represent to you that I want about eleven hundred thousand livres to make up the amount."

"Borrow that sum from your friends."

"I have no friends richer than myself."

"You are an honorable man, Vanel."

"Ah, Monseigneur, if the world were to think as you do!"

"I think so, and that is quite enough; and if it should be needed, I will be your security."

"Remember the proverb, Monseigneur."

"What is that?"

"'The endorser pays.'"

"Let that make no difference."

Vanel rose, quite bewildered by this offer, which had been so suddenly and unexpectedly made to him by a man who treated the smallest affairs in a serious spirit. "You are not trifling with me, Monseigneur?" he said.

"Stay! we must act quickly. You say that M. Gourville has spoken to you about M. Fouquet's post?"

"Yes, and M. Pellisson also."

"Officially or officiously?"

"These were their words: 'These parliamentary people are ambitious and wealthy; they ought to get together two or three millions among themselves, to present to their protector and great luminary, M. Fouquet.'"

"And what did you reply?"

"I said that, for my own part, I would give ten thousand livres if necessary."

"Ah, you like M. Fouquet, then!" exclaimed Colbert, with a look full of hatred.

"No; but M. Fouquet is our chief. He is in debt,- is on the high-road to ruin; and we ought to save the honor of the body of which we are members."

"This explains to me why M. Fouquet will be always safe and sound so long as he occupies his present post," replied Colbert.

"Thereupon," said Vanel, "M. Gourville added: 'If we were to do anything out of charity to M. Fouquet, it could not be otherwise than most humiliating to him; and he would be sure to refuse it. Let the parliament subscribe among themselves to purchase in a proper manner the post of procureur-general. In that case all would go on well; the honor of our body would be saved, and M. Fouquet's pride spared.'"

"That is an opening."

"I considered it so, Monseigneur."

"Well, M. Vanel, you will go at once, and find out either M. Gourville or M. Pellisson. Do you know any other friend of M. Fouquet?"

"I know M. de la Fontaine very well."

"La Fontaine, the rhymester?"

"Yes; he used to write verses to my wife, when M. Fouquet was one of our friends."

"Go to him, then, and try to procure an interview with the superintendent."

"Willingly- but the sum?"

"On the day and hour when you arrange to settle the matter, M. Vanel, you shall be supplied with the money; so do not make yourself uneasy on that account."

"Monseigneur, such munificence! You eclipse kings even,- you surpass M. Fouquet himself."

"Stay a moment! Do not let us mistake each other. I do not make you a present of fourteen hundred thousand livres, M. Vanel, for I have children to provide for; but I will lend you that sum."

"Ask whatever interest, whatever security you please, Monseigneur; I am quite ready. And when all your requisitions are satisfied, I will still repeat that you surpass kings and M. Fouquet in munificence. What conditions do you impose?"

"The repayment in eight years, and a mortgage upon the appointment itself."

"Certainly. Is that all?"

"Wait a moment! I reserve to myself the right of purchasing the post from you at one hundred and fifty thousand livres' profit for yourself, if in your mode of filling the office you do not follow out a line of conduct in conformity with the interests of the King and with my projects."

"Ah! ah!" said Vanel, in a slightly altered tone.

"Is there anything in that which can possibly be objectionable to you, M. Vanel?" said Colbert, coldly.

"Oh, no, no!" replied Vanel, quickly.

"Very good. We will sign an agreement to that effect whenever you like. And now go as quickly as you can to M. Fouquet's friends, and obtain an interview with the superintendent. Do not be too difficult in making whatever concessions may be required of you; and when once the arrangements are all made-"

"I will press him to sign."

"Be most careful to do nothing of the kind; do not speak of signatures with M. Fouquet, nor of deeds, nor even ask him to pass his word. Understand this, otherwise you will lose everything. All you have to do is to get M. Fouquet to give you his hand on the matter. Go, go!"

Chapter IV: An Interview with the Queen-Mother

THE Queen-Mother was in her bedroom at the Palais-Royal, with Madame de Motteville and the Senora Molina. The King, who had been impatiently expected the whole day, had not made his appearance; and the Queen, who had grown quite impatient, had often sent to inquire about him. The whole atmosphere of the court seemed to indicate an approaching storm; the courtiers and the ladies of the court avoided meeting in the antechambers and the corridors, in order not to converse on compromising subjects.

Monsieur had joined the King early in the morning for a hunting-party; Madame remained in her own apartments, cool and distant to every one; and the Queen-Mother, after she had said her prayers in Latin, talked of domestic matters with her two friends in pure Castilian. Madame de Motteville, who understood the language perfectly, answered her in French. When the three ladies had exhausted every form of dissimulation and politeness to reach at last the charge that the King's conduct was causing grief to the Queen and the Queen-Mother and all his family, and when in guarded phrases they had fulminated every variety of imprecation against Mademoiselle de la Valliere, the Queen-Mother terminated these recriminations by an exclamation indicative of her own reflections and character. "Estos hijos!" said she to Molina (which means, "These children!"- words full of meaning on a mother's lips,- words full of terrible significance in the mouth of a Queen who, like Anne of Austria, hid many curious and dark secrets in her soul).

"Yes," said Molina, "these children! for whom every mother becomes a sacrifice."

"To whom," replied the Queen, "a mother has sacrificed everything."

Anne did not finish her phrase; for she fancied, when she raised her eyes towards the full-length portrait of the pale Louis XIII, that light had once more flashed from her husband's dull eyes, and that his nostrils were inflated by wrath. The portrait became a living being; it did not speak, it threatened.

A profound silence succeeded the Queen's last remark. La Molina began to turn over the ribbons and lace of a large work-table. Madame de Motteville, surprised at the look of mutual intelligence which had been exchanged between the confidante and her mistress, cast down her eyes like a discreet woman, and pretending to be observant of nothing that was passing listened with the utmost attention. She heard nothing, however, but a very significant "Hum!" on the part of the Spanish duenna, who was the image of circumspection, and a profound sigh on the part of the Queen. She looked up immediately. "You are suffering?" she said.

"No, Motteville, no; why do you say that?"

"Your Majesty just groaned."

"You are right; I do suffer a little."

"M. Vallot is not far off; I believe he is in Madame's apartment."

"Why is he with Madame?"

"Madame is troubled with nervous attacks."

"A very fine disorder, indeed!" said the Queen. "M. Vallot is wrong in being there, when another physician might cure Madame."

Madame de Motteville looked up with an air of great surprise, as she replied, "Another doctor instead of M. Vallot! Who, then?"

"Occupation, Motteville, occupation! Ah! if any one is really ill, it is my poor daughter."

"And your Majesty too."

"Less so this evening, though."

"Do not believe that too confidently, Madame," said De Motteville.

As if to justify the caution, a sharp pain seized the Queen, who turned deadly pale, and threw herself back in the chair, with every symptom of a sudden fainting-fit. "My drops!" she murmured.

"Ah! ah!" replied Molina, who went without haste to a richly gilded tortoise-shell cabinet, from which she took a large rock-crystal smelling-bottle, and brought it, open, to the Queen, who inhaled from it wildly several times, and murmured, "In that way the Lord will kill me; His holy will be done!"

"Your Majesty's death is not so near at hand," added Molina, replacing the smelling-bottle in the cabinet.

"Does your Majesty feel better now?" inquired Madame de Motteville.

"Much better," returned the Queen, placing her finger on her lips, to impose silence on her favorite.

"It is very strange," remarked Madame de Motteville, after a pause.

"What is strange?" said the Queen.

"Does your Majesty remember the day when this pain attacked you for the first time?"

"I remember only that it was a grievously sad day for me, Motteville."

"But your Majesty had not always regarded that day as a sad one."

"Why?"

"Because twenty-three years before, on that very day, his present Majesty, your own glorious son, was born at the very same hour."

The Queen uttered a loud cry, buried her face in her hands, and seemed utterly lost for some moments. Was it remembrance or reflection, or was it grief? La Molina darted a look at Madame de Motteville almost furious in its reproachfulness. The poor woman, ignorant of its meaning, was about to make inquiries in her own defence, when suddenly Anne of Austria arose and said: "Yes, the 5th of September; my sorrow began on the 5th of September. The greatest joy, one day; the deepest sorrow, the next,- the sorrow," she added in a low voice, "the bitter expiation of a too excessive joy."

And from that moment Anne of Austria, whose memory and reason seemed to have become entirely suspended for a time, remained impenetrable, with vacant look, mind almost wandering, and hands hanging heavily down, as if life had almost departed.

"We must put her to bed," said La Molina.

"Presently, Molina."

"Let us leave the Queen alone," added the Spanish attendant.

Madame de Motteville rose. Large and glistening tears were fast rolling down the Queen's pallid face; and Molina, having observed this sign of weakness, fixed her vigilant black eyes upon her.

"Yes, yes," replied the Queen. "Leave us, Motteville; go!"

The word "us" produced a disagreeable effect upon the ears of the French favorite; for it signified that an interchange of secrets or of revelations of the past was about to be made, and that one person was de trop in the conversation which seemed likely to take place.

"Will Molina be sufficient for your Majesty to-night?" inquired the Frenchwoman.

"Yes," replied the Queen.

Madame de Motteville bowed in submission, and was about to withdraw, when suddenly an old female attendant, dressed as if she had belonged to the Spanish Court of the year 1620, opened the door and surprised the Queen in her tears, Madame de Motteville in her skilful retreat, and Molina in her strategy. "The remedy!" she cried delightedly to the Queen, as she unceremoniously approached the group.

"What remedy, Chica?" said Anne of Austria.

"For your Majesty's sufferings," the former replied.

"Who brings it?" asked Madame de Motteville, eagerly- "M. Vallot?"

"No; a lady from Flanders."

"From Flanders? Is she Spanish?" inquired the Queen.

"I don't know."

"Who sent her?"

"M. Colbert."

"Her name?"

"She did not mention it."

"Her position in life?"

"She will answer that herself."

"Her face?"

"She is masked."

"Go, Molina; go and see!" cried the Queen.

"It is needless," suddenly replied a voice, at once firm and gentle in its tone, which proceeded from the other side of the tapestry hangings,- a voice which startled the attendants and made the Queen tremble. At the same moment a woman, masked, appeared between the curtains, and before the Queen could speak, added, "I am connected with the order of the Beguines of Bruges, and do indeed bring with me the remedy which is certain to effect a cure of your Majesty's complaint."

No one uttered a sound, and the Beguine did not move a step.

"Speak!" said the Queen.

"I will when we are alone," was the answer.

Anne of Austria looked at her attendants, who immediately withdrew. The Beguine thereupon advanced a few steps towards the Queen, and bowed reverently before her. The Queen gazed with increasing mistrust at this woman, who in her turn fixed a pair of brilliant eyes upon the Queen through openings in the mask.

"The Queen of France must indeed be very ill," said Anne of Austria, "if it is known at the Beguinage of Bruges that she stands in need of being cured."

"Your Majesty, thank God, is not ill beyond remedy."

"But tell me, how do you happen to know that I am suffering?"

"Your Majesty has friends in Flanders."

"And these friends have sent you?"

"Yes, Madame."

"Name them to me."

"Impossible, Madame, since your Majesty's memory has not been awakened by your heart."

Anne of Austria looked up, endeavoring to discover through the concealment of the mask and through her mysterious language the name of this person who expressed herself with such familiarity and freedom; then suddenly, wearied by a curiosity at odds with her pride, she said, "You are ignorant, perhaps, that royal personages are never spoken to with the face masked."

"Deign to excuse me, Madame," replied the Beguine, humbly.

"I cannot excuse you; I will not forgive you if you do not throw your mask aside."

"I have made a vow, Madame, to go to the help of those who are afflicted or suffering, without ever permitting them to behold my face. I might have been able to administer some relief to your body and to your mind; but since your Majesty forbids me, I will take my leave. Adieu, Madame, adieu!"

These words were uttered with a harmony of tone and respect of manner that destroyed the Queen's anger and suspicion, but did not remove her feeling of curiosity. "You are right," she said; "it ill becomes those who are suffering to reject the means of relief which Heaven sends them. Speak, then; and may you indeed be able, as you assert you are, to administer relief to my body. Alas! I think that God is about to make it suffer."

"Let us first speak a little of the mind, if you please," said the Beguine,- "of the mind, which I am sure must also suffer."

"My mind?"

"There are cancers so insidious in their nature that their very pulsation is invisible. Such cancers, Madame, leave the ivory whiteness of the skin untouched, and marble not the firm, fair flesh with their blue tints; the physician who bends over the patient's chest hears not, though he listens, the insatiable teeth of the disease grinding its onward progress through the muscles, as the blood flows freely on; neither iron nor fire has ever destroyed or disarmed the rage of these mortal scourges; their home is in the mind, which they corrupt; they grow in the heart until it breaks. Such, Madame, are these other cancers, fatal to queens: are you free from these evils?"

Anne slowly raised her arm, as dazzling in its perfect whiteness and as pure in its rounded outlines as it was in the time of her earlier days. "The evils to which you allude," she said, "are the condition of the lives of the high in rank upon earth, to whom Heaven has imparted mind. When those evils become too heavy to be borne, the Lord lightens their burden by penitence and confession. Thus we lay down our burden, and the secrets which oppress us. But forget not that the same sovereign Lord apportions their trials to the strength of his creatures; and my strength is not inferior to my burden. For the secrets of others I have enough of the mercy of Heaven; for my own secrets not so much mercy as my confessor."

"I find you, Madame, as courageous as ever against your enemies; I do not find you showing confidence in your friends."

"Queens have no friends. If you have nothing further to say to me, if you feel yourself inspired by Heaven as a prophetess, leave me, I pray; for I dread the future."

"I should have supposed," said the Beguine, resolutely, "that you would dread the past even more."

Hardly had these words escaped the Beguine's lips, when the Queen rose proudly. "Speak!" she cried, in a short, imperious tone of voice; "explain yourself briefly, quickly, entirely; or else-"

"Nay, do not threaten me, your Majesty!" said the Beguine, gently. "I have come to you full of compassion and respect; I have come on the part of a friend."

"Prove it, then! Comfort, instead of irritating me."

"Easily enough; and your Majesty will see who is friendly to you. What misfortune has happened to your Majesty during these twenty-three years past?"

"Serious misfortunes, indeed! Have I not lost the King?"

"I speak not of misfortunes of that kind. I wish to ask you if, since- the birth of the King,- any indiscretion on a friend's part has caused your Majesty distress?"

"I do not understand you," replied the Queen, setting her teeth hard together in order to conceal her emotion.

"I will make myself understood, then. Your Majesty remembers that the King was born on the 5th of September, 1638, at quarter-past eleven o'clock."

"Yes," stammered the Queen.

"At half-past twelve," continued the Beguine, "the Dauphin, who had been baptized by Monseigneur de Meaux in the King's and in your own presence, was acknowledged as the heir of the crown of France. The King then went to the chapel of the old Chateau de St. Germain to hear the Te Deum chanted."

"Quite true, quite true," murmured the Queen.

"Your Majesty's confinement took place in the presence of Monsieur, his Majesty's late uncle, of the princes, and of the ladies attached to the court. The King's physician, Bouvard, and Honore, the surgeon, were stationed in the antechamber; your Majesty slept from three o'clock until seven, I believe?"

"Yes, yes; but you tell me no more than every one else knows as well as you and myself."

"I am now, Madame, approaching that with which very few persons are acquainted. Very few persons, did I say? Alas! I might say two only; for formerly there were but five in all, and for many years past the secret has been assured by the deaths of the principal participators in it. The late King sleeps now with his ancestors; Peronne, the midwife, soon followed him; Laporte is already forgotten."

The Queen opened her lips as though about to reply; she felt beneath her icy hand, with which she touched her face, the beads of perspiration upon her brow.

"It was eight o'clock," pursued the Beguine. "The King was seated at supper, full of joy and happiness; around him on all sides arose wild cries of delight and drinking of healths; the people cheered beneath the balconies; the Swiss Guards, the Musketeers, and the Royal Guard wandered through the city, borne about in triumph by the drunken students. Those boisterous sounds of the general joy disturbed the Dauphin, the future King of France, who was quietly lying in the arms of Madame de Hausac, his nurse, and whose eyes, when he should open them, might have observed two crowns at the foot of his cradle. Suddenly your Majesty uttered a piercing cry, and Dame Peronne flew to your bedside.

"The doctors were dining in a room at some distance from your chamber; the palace, abandoned in the general confusion, was without either sentinels or guards. The midwife, having questioned and examined your Majesty, gave a sudden exclamation of surprise, and taking you in her arms, bewildered, almost out of her senses from sheer distress of mind, despatched Laporte to inform the King that her Majesty the Queen wished to see him in her room.

"Laporte, you are aware, Madame, was a man of the most admirable calmness and presence of mind. He did not approach the King as if he were the bearer of alarming intelligence and, feeling his importance, wished to inspire the terror which he himself experienced; besides, it was not a very terrifying intelligence which awaited the King. At any rate, Laporte, with a smile upon his lips, approached the King's chair, saying to him, 'Sire, the Queen is very happy, and would be still more so to see your Majesty.'

"On that day Louis XIII would have given his crown away to the veriest beggar for a 'God bless you.' Animated, light-hearted, and full of gayety, the King rose from the table, and said to those around him, in a tone that Henry IV might have used, 'Gentlemen, I am going to see my wife.' He came to your bedside, Madame, at the very moment when Dame Peronne presented to him a second Prince, as beautiful and healthy as the former, and said, 'Sire, Heaven will not allow the kingdom of France to fall into the female line.' The King, yielding to a first impulse, clasped the child in his arms, and cried, 'Oh, Heaven, I thank thee!'"

At this part of her recital the Beguine paused, observing how intensely the Queen was suffering. She had thrown herself back in her chair, and with her head bent forward and her eyes fixed, listened without seeming to hear, and her lips moved convulsively, breathing either a prayer to Heaven or imprecations against the woman before her.

"Ah! do not believe that if there has been but one Dauphin in France," exclaimed the Beguine, "if the Queen allowed the second child to vegetate far from the throne,- do not believe that she was an unfeeling mother. Oh, no, no! There are those who know the floods of bitter tears she shed; there are those who have known and witnessed the passionate kisses she imprinted on that innocent creature in exchange for the life of misery and gloom to which State policy condemned the twin brother of Louis XIV."

"Oh, Heaven!" murmured the Queen, feebly.

"It is known," continued the Beguine, quickly, "that when the King perceived the effect which would result from the existence of two sons, both equal in age and pretensions, he trembled for the welfare of France, for the tranquillity of the State. It is known that the Cardinal de Richelieu, by the direction of Louis XIII, thought over the subject with deep attention, and after an hour's meditation in his Majesty's cabinet pronounced the following sentence: 'A King is born, to succeed his Majesty. God has sent another, to succeed the first; but at present we need only the first-born. Let us conceal the second from France, as God has concealed him from his parents themselves. One Prince is peace and safety for the State; two competitors are civil war and anarchy.'"

The Queen rose suddenly from her seat, pale as death, her hands clinched together. "You know too much," she said in a hoarse, thick voice, "since you refer to secrets of State. As for the friends from whom you have acquired this secret, they are false and treacherous. You are their accomplice in the crime which is now committed. Now, throw aside your mask, or I will have you arrested by my captain of the Guards. Do not think that this secret terrifies me! You have obtained it; you shall restore it to me. It will freeze in your bosom; neither your secret nor your life belongs to you from this moment."

Anne of Austria, joining gesture to the threat, advanced two steps towards the Beguine. "Learn," said the latter, "to know and value the fidelity, the honor, and the secrecy of the friends you have abandoned." She then suddenly threw aside her mask.

"Madame de Chevreuse!" exclaimed the Queen.

"With your Majesty, the sole living confidante of the secret."

"Ah," murmured Anne of Austria, "come and embrace me, Duchess! Alas! you kill your friend in thus trifling with her terrible distress."

The Queen, leaning her head upon the shoulder of the old duchess, burst into a flood of bitter tears. "How young you are still!" said the latter, in a hollow voice; "you can weep!"

Chapter V: Two Friends

THE Queen looked steadily at Madame de Chevreuse, and said: "I believe you just now made use of the word 'happy' in speaking of me. Hitherto, Duchess, I had thought it impossible that a human creature could anywhere be found less happy than the Queen of France."

"Your afflictions, Madame, have indeed been terrible enough; but by the side of those illustrious misfortunes to which we, two old friends separated by men's malice, were just now alluding, you possess sources of pleasure, slight enough in themselves it may be, but which are greatly envied by the world."

"What are they?" said Anne of Austria, bitterly. "How can you use the word 'pleasure,' Duchess,- you who just now admitted that my body and my mind both are in need of remedies?

Madame de Chevreuse collected herself for a moment, and then murmured, "How far removed Kings are from other people!"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that they are so far removed from the vulgar herd that they forget that others ever stand in need of the bare necessaries of life. They are like the inhabitant of the African mountain who gazing from the verdant table-land, refreshed by the rills of melted snow, cannot comprehend that the dwellers in the plains below him are perishing from hunger and thirst in the midst of their lands burned up by the heat of the sun."

The Queen slightly colored, for she now began to perceive the drift of her friend's remark. "It was very wrong," she said, "to have neglected you."

"Oh, Madame, the King has inherited, it is said, the hatred his father bore me. The King would dismiss me if he knew I were in the Palais-Royal."

"I cannot say that the King is very well disposed towards you, Duchess," replied the Queen; "but I could- secretly, you know-" The duchess's disdainful smile produced a feeling of uneasiness in the Queen's mind. "Duchess," she hastened to add, "you did perfectly right to come here."

"Thanks, Madame."

"Even were it only to give us the happiness of contradicting the report of your death."

"Has it been said, then, that I was dead?"

"Everywhere."

"And yet my children did not go into mourning."

"Ah! you know, Duchess, the court is very frequently moving about from place to place; we see the gentlemen of Albert de Luynes but seldom, and many things escape our minds in the midst of the preoccupations which constantly engage us."

"Your Majesty ought not to have believed the report of my death."

"Why not? Alas! we are all mortal; and you may perceive how rapidly I- your younger sister, as we used formerly to say- am approaching the tomb."

"If your Majesty had believed me dead, you ought to have been astonished not to have received any communication from me."

"Death not unfrequently takes us by surprise, Duchess."

"Oh, your Majesty, those who are burdened with secrets such as we have just now discussed have always an urgent desire to divulge them, which they must gratify before they die. Among the preparations for eternity is the task of putting one's papers in order." The Queen started. "Your Majesty will be sure to learn in a particular manner the day of my death."

"Why so?"

"Because your Majesty will receive the next day, under several coverings, everything connected with our mysterious correspondence of former times."

"Did you not burn it?" cried Anne, in alarm.

"Traitors only," replied the duchess, "destroy a royal correspondence."

"Traitors, do you say?"

"Yes, certainly; or rather they pretend to destroy, and keep or sell it. The faithful, on the contrary, most carefully secrete such treasures; for it may happen that some day or other they will wish to seek out their Queen in order to say to her: 'Madame, I am getting old; my health is fast failing me. For me there is danger of death; for your Majesty, the danger that this secret may be revealed. Take, therefore, this dangerous paper, and burn it yourself.'"

"A dangerous paper? What one?"

"So far as I am concerned, I have but one, it is true; but that is indeed most dangerous in its nature."

"Oh, Duchess, tell me, tell me!"

"A letter dated Tuesday, the 2d of August, 1644, in which you beg me to go to Noisy-le-Sec to see that unhappy child. In your own handwriting, Madame, there are those words, 'that unhappy child!'"

A profound silence ensued. The Queen's mind was wandering in the past; Madame de Chevreuse was watching the progress of her scheme. "Yes unhappy, most unhappy!" murmured Anne of Austria; "how sad the existence he led, poor child, to finish it in so cruel a manner!"

"Is he dead?" cried the duchess, suddenly, with a curiosity whose sincere accents the Queen instinctively detected.

"He died of consumption, died forgotten, died withered and blighted like the flowers a lover has given to his mistress, which she leaves to die secreted in a drawer where she has hidden them from the world."

"Died?" repeated the duchess, with an air of discouragement which would have afforded the Queen the most unfeigned delight had it not been tempered in some measure by a mixture of doubt. "Died- at Noisy-le-Sec?"

"Yes, in the arms of his tutor,- a poor, honest man who did not long survive him."

"That can be easily understood. It is so difficult to bear up under the weight of such a loss and such a secret," said Madame de Chevreuse, the irony of which reflection the Queen pretended not to perceive. Madame de Chevreuse continued: "Well, Madame, I inquired some years ago at Noisy-le-Sec about this unhappy child. I was told that it was not believed he was dead; and that was my reason for not at once condoling with your Majesty. Oh, certainly, if I had believed it, never should the slightest allusion to so deplorable an event have reawakened your Majesty's legitimate distress."

"You say that it is not believed that the child died at Noisy?"

"No, Madame."

"What did they say about him, then?"

"They said- But no doubt they were mistaken."

"Nay, speak, speak!"

"They said that one evening about the year 1645 a lady, beautiful and majestic in her bearing, which was observed notwithstanding the mask and the mantle which concealed her figure,- a lady of rank, of very high rank no doubt,- came in a carriage to the place where the road branches off,- the very same spot, you know, where I awaited news of the young Prince when your Majesty was pleased to send me there."

"Well, well?"

"That the boy's tutor, or guardian, took the child to this lady."

"Well, what next?"

"That both the child and his tutor left that part of the country the very next day."

"There! you see there is some truth in what you relate, since in point of fact the poor child died from a sudden attack of illness, which up to the age of seven years makes the lives of all children, as doctors say, suspended as it were by a thread."

"What your Majesty says is quite true. No one knows it better than you; no one believes it more than myself. But yet how strange it is-"

"What can it now be?" thought the Queen.

"The person who gave me these details, who had been sent to inquire after the child's health-"

"Did you confide such a charge to any one else? Oh, Duchess!"

"Some one as dumb as your Majesty, as dumb as myself; we will suppose it was myself, Madame. This 'some one,' some months after, passing through Touraine-"

"Touraine!"

"Recognized both the tutor and the child too! I am wrong; he thought he recognized them, both living, cheerful, happy, and flourishing,- the one in a green old age, the other in the flower of his youth. Judge, after that, what truth can be attributed to the rumors which are circulated, or what faith, after that, can be placed in anything that may happen in the world. But I am fatiguing your Majesty; it was not my intention, however, to do so; and I will take my leave of you, after renewing to you the assurance of my most respectful devotion."

"Stay, Duchess! Let us first talk a little about yourself."

"Of myself, Madame? I am not worthy that you should bend your looks upon me."

"Why not, indeed? Are you not the oldest friend I have? Are you angry with me, Duchess?"

"I, indeed! What motive could I have? If I had reason to be angry with your Majesty, should I have come here?"

"Duchess, age is fast creeping on us both; we should be united against that death whose approach threatens us."

"You overpower me, Madame, with the kindness of your language."

"No one has ever loved or served me as you have done, Duchess."

"Your Majesty remembers it?"

"Always. Duchess, give me a proof of your friendship."

"Ah, Madame, my whole being is devoted to your Majesty."

"The proof I require is that you should ask something of me."

"Ask?"

"Oh, I know you well,- no one is more disinterested, more noble, more truly royal."

"Do not praise me too highly, Madame," said the duchess, becoming uneasy.

"I could never praise you as much as you deserve to be praised."

"And yet, age and misfortune effect a great change in people, Madame."

"So much the better; for the beautiful, the haughty, the adored duchess of former days might have answered me ungratefully, 'I do not wish for anything from you.' Blessed be misfortunes, if they have come to you, since they will have changed you, and you will now perhaps answer me, 'I accept.'"

The duchess's look and smile became more gentle; she was under the charm, and no longer concealed her wishes.

"Speak, dearest!" said the Queen; "what do you want?"

"I must first explain to you-"

"Do so unhesitatingly."

"Well, then, your Majesty can confer on me a pleasure unspeakable, a pleasure incomparable."

"What is it?" said the Queen, a little distant in her manner, from an uneasiness of feeling produced by this remark. "But do not forget, my good Chevreuse, that I am quite as much under my son's influence as I was formerly under my husband's."

"I will not be too hard, Madame."

"Call me as you used to do; it will be a sweet echo of our happy youth."

"Well, then, my dear mistress, my darling Anne-"

"Do you know Spanish still?"

"Yes."

"Ask me in Spanish, then."

"Here it is: Will your Majesty do me the honor to pass a few days with me at Dampierre?"

"Is that all?" said the Queen, stupefied.

"Yes."

"Nothing more than that?"

"Good Heavens! Can you possibly imagine that in asking you that, I am not asking you the greatest conceivable favor? If that really be the case, you do not know me. Will you accept?"

"Yes, gladly. And I shall be happy," continued the Queen, with some suspicion, "if my presence can in any way be useful to you."

"Useful," exclaimed the duchess, laughing,- "oh, no, no! agreeable, delicious, delightful,- yes, a thousand times yes! You promise me, then?"

"I swear it," said the Queen, whereupon the Duchess seized her beautiful hand and covered it with kisses. The Queen could not help murmuring to herself, "She is a good-hearted woman, and very generous too."

"Will your Majesty consent to wait a fortnight before you come?"

"Certainly; but why?"

"Because," said the duchess, "knowing me to be in disgrace, no one would lend me the hundred thousand crowns which I require to put Dampierre in a state of repair. But when it is known that I require that sum for the purpose of receiving your Majesty at Dampierre properly, all the money in Paris will be at my disposal."

"Ah!" said the Queen, gently nodding her head with an air of intelligence, "a hundred thousand crowns! you want a hundred thousand crowns to put Dampierre into repair?"

"Quite as much as that."

"And no one will lend them to you?"

"No one."

"I will lend them to you, if you like, Duchess."

"Oh, I shouldn't dare to accept!"

"You would be wrong if you did not. Besides, a hundred thousand crowns is really not much. I know but too well that your discreetness has never been properly acknowledged. Push that table a little towards me, Duchess, and I will write you an order on M. Colbert,- no, on M. Fouquet, who is a far more courteous and obliging man."

"Will he pay it?"

"If he will not pay it, I will; but it will be the first time he will have refused me."

The Queen wrote and handed the duchess the order, and afterwards dismissed her with a warm and cheerful embrace.

Chapter VI: How Jean de la Fontaine Wrote His First Tale

ALL these intrigues are exhausted; the human mind, so complicated in its exhibitions, has developed itself freely in the three outlines which our recital has afforded. It is not unlikely that in the future we are now preparing, politics and intrigues may still appear; but the springs by which they work will be so carefully concealed that no one will be able to see aught but flowers and paintings,- just as at a theatre, where a Colossus appears upon the scene walking along moved by the small legs and slender arms of a child concealed within the framework.

We now return to St. Mande, where the superintendent was in the habit of receiving his select society of epicureans. For some time past the host had been severely tried. Every one in the house was aware of and felt the minister's distress. No more magnificent and recklessly improvident reunions! Finance had been the pretext assigned by Fouquet; and never was any pretext, as Gourville wittily said, more fallacious, for there was not the slightest appearance of money.

M. Vatel was most resolutely painstaking in keeping up the reputation of the house, and yet the gardeners who supplied the kitchens complained of a ruinous delay. The agents for the supply of Spanish wines frequently sent drafts which no one honored; fishermen, whom the superintendent engaged on the coast of Normandy, calculated that if they were paid all that was due to them, the amount would enable them to retire comfortably for the rest of their lives; fish, which at a later period was to be the cause of Vatel's death, did not arrive at all. However, on the ordinary day of reception, Fouquet's friends flocked in more numerously than ever. Gourville and the Abbe Fouquet talked over money matters,- that is to say, the abbe borrowed a few pistoles from Gourville. Pellisson, seated with his legs crossed, was engaged in finishing the peroration of a speech with which Fouquet was to open the parliament; and this speech was a masterpiece, because Pellisson wrote it for his friend,- that is to say, he inserted everything in it which the latter would most certainly never have taken the trouble to say of his own accord. Presently Loret and La Fontaine would enter from the garden, engaged in a dispute upon the facility of making verses. The painters and musicians, in their turn, also were hovering near the dining-room. As soon as eight o'clock struck, the supper would be announced; for the superintendent never kept any one waiting. It was already half-past seven, and the guests were in good appetite.

As soon as all the guests were assembled, Gourville went straight up to Pellisson, awoke him out of his reverie, and led him into the middle of a room the doors of which he had closed.

"Well," he said, "anything new?"

Pellisson raised his intelligent and gentle face, and said, "I have borrowed twenty-five thousand livres of my aunt, and I have them here in good money."

"Good!" replied Gourville; "we want only one hundred and ninety-five thousand livres for the first payment."

"The payment of what?" asked La Fontaine.

"What! absent-minded as usual? Why, it was you who told us that the small estate at Corbeil was going to be sold by one of M. Fouquet's creditors; and you, also, who proposed that all his friends should subscribe. More than that, too, it was you who said that you would sell a corner of your house at Chateau-Thierry in order to furnish your own proportion; and now you come and ask, 'The payment of what?'" This remark was received with a general laugh, which made La Fontaine blush. "I beg your pardon," he said, "I had not forgotten it,- oh, no! only-"

"Only you remembered nothing about it," replied Loret.

"That is the truth; and the fact is, he is quite right. There is a great difference between forgetting and not remembering."

"Well, then," added Pellisson, "you bring your mite in the shape of the price of the piece of land you have sold?"

"Sold? no!"

"And have you not sold the field, then?" inquired Gourville, in astonishment, for he knew the poet's disinterestedness.

"My wife would not let me," replied the latter, at which there were fresh bursts of laughter.

"And yet you went to Chateau-Thierry for that purpose," said some one.

"Certainly I did, and on horseback."

"Poor fellow!"

"I had eight different horses, and I was almost jolted to death."

"You are an excellent fellow! And you rested yourself when you arrived there!"

"Rested! Oh! of course I did, for I had an immense deal of work to do."

"How so?"

"My wife had been flirting with the man to whom I wished to sell the land. The fellow drew back from his bargain, and so I challenged him."

"Very good; and you fought?"

"It seems not."

"You know nothing about it, I suppose?"

"No; my wife and her relations interfered in the matter. I was kept a quarter of an hour with my sword in my hand; but I was not wounded."

"And the adversary?"

"Neither was the adversary, for he never came on to the field."

"Capital!" cried his friends, from all sides; "you must have been terribly angry."

"Exceedingly so; I had caught cold. I returned home, and then my wife began to quarrel with me."

"In real earnest?"

"Yes, in real earnest; she threw a loaf of bread at my head, a large loaf."

"And what did you do?"

"Oh! I upset the table over her and her guests; and then I got upon my horse again, and here I am."

Every one had great difficulty in keeping his countenance at the relation of this tragic comedy; and when the laughter had somewhat ceased, one of the guests present said to him, "Is that all you have brought us back?"

"Oh, no! I have an excellent idea in my head."

"What is it?"

"Have you noticed that there is a good deal of sportive, jesting poetry written in France?"

"Yes, of course," replied every one.

"And," pursued La Fontaine, "only a very small portion of it is printed."

"The laws are strict, you know."

"That may be; but a rare article is a dear article, and that is the reason why I have written a small poem extremely licentious."

"Oh, oh, dear poet!"

"Extremely obscene."

"Oh! oh!"

"Extremely cynical."

"Oh, the devil!"

"Yes," continued the poet, with cold indifference; "I have introduced in it the greatest freedom of language I could possibly employ."

Peals of laughter again broke forth, while the poet was thus announcing the quality of his wares. "And," he continued, "I have tried to exceed everything that Boccaccio, Aretino and other masters of their craft have written in the same style."

"Good God!" cried Pellisson, "it will be condemned!"

"Do you think so?" said La Fontaine, simply. "I assure you, I did not do it on my own account so much as on M. Fouquet's."

This wonderful conclusion raised the mirth of all present to a climax.

"And I have sold the first edition of this little book for eight hundred livres," exclaimed La Fontaine, rubbing his hands together. "Serious and religious books sell at about half that rate."

"It would have been better," said Gourville, laughing, "to have written two religious books instead!"

"It would have been too long, and not amusing enough," replied La Fontaine, tranquilly. "My eight hundred livres are in this little bag; I offer them as my contribution."

As he said this, he placed his offering in the hands of their treasurer. It was then Loret's turn, who gave a hundred and fifty livres. The others stripped themselves in the same way; and the total sum in the purse amounted to forty thousand livres. Never did more generous coins rattle in the divine balances in which charity weighs good hearts and good intentions against the counterfeit coin of devout hypocrites.

The money was still being counted over when the superintendent noiselessly entered the room. He had heard everything. This man, who had possessed so many millions, who had exhausted all pleasures and all honors, this generous heart, this inexhaustible brain,- Fouquet, who had, like two burning crucibles, devoured the material and moral substance of the first kingdom in the world, crossed the threshold with his eyes filled with tears, and passed his white and slender fingers through the gold and silver. "Poor offering," he said, in a tone tender and filled with emotion, "you will disappear in the smallest corner of my empty purse; but you have filled to overflowing that which nothing can ever exhaust,- my heart. Thank you, my friends,- thank you!" And as he could not embrace everyone present,- all were weeping a little, philosophers though they were,- he embraced La Fontaine, saying to him, "Poor fellow! so you have on my account been beaten by your wife and damned by your confessor?"

"Oh, it is a mere nothing!" replied the poet. "If your creditors will only wait a couple of years, I shall have written a hundred other tales, which at two editions each will pay off the debt."

Chapter VII: La Fontaine as a Negotiator

FOUQUET pressed La Fontaine's hand most warmly, saying to him, "My dear poet, write a hundred other tales, not only for the eighty pistoles which each of them will produce you, but still more to enrich our language with a hundred other masterpieces."

"Oh! oh!" said La Fontaine, with a little air of pride, "you must not suppose that I have brought only this idea and the eighty pistoles to the superintendent."

"Oh! indeed!" was the general acclamation from all parts of the room; "M. de la Fontaine is in funds to-day."

"Heaven bless the idea, if it brings me one or two millions," said Fouquet, gayly.

"Exactly," replied La Fontaine.

"Quick, quick!" cried the assembly.

"Take care!" said Pellisson in La Fontaine's ear. "You have had a most brilliant success up to the present moment; do not go too far."

"Not at all, M. Pellisson; and you, who are a man of taste, will be the first to approve of what I have done."

"Is it a matter of millions?" said Gourville.

"I have fifteen hundred thousand livres here, M. Gourville," he replied, striking himself on the chest.

"The deuce take this Gascon from Chateau-Thierry!" cried Loret.

"It is not the pocket you should touch, but the brain," said Fouquet.

"Stay a moment, Monsieur the Superintendent!" added La Fontaine; "you are not procureur-general,- you are a poet."

"True, true!" cried Loret, Conrart, and every person present connected with literature.

"You are, I repeat, a poet and a painter, a sculptor, a friend of the arts and sciences; but acknowledge that you are no lawyer."

"Oh, I do acknowledge it!" replied M. Fouquet, smiling.

"If you were to be nominated at the Academy, you would refuse, I think."

"I think I should, with all due deference to the academicians."

"Very good; if therefore you do not wish to belong to the Academy, why do you allow yourself to form one of the parliament?"

"Oh! oh!" said Pellisson; "we are talking politics."

"I wish to know," persisted La Fontaine, "whether the barrister's gown does or does not become M. Fouquet."

"There is no question of the gown at all," retorted Pellisson, annoyed at the laughter of the company.

"On the contrary, the gown is in question," said Loret.

"Take the gown away from the procureur-general," said Conrart, "and we have M. Fouquet left us still, of whom we have no reason to complain; but as he is no procureur-general without his gown, we agree with M. de la Fontaine, and pronounce the gown to be nothing but a bugbear."

"Fugiunt risus leporesque," said Loret.

"The smiles and the graces," said some one present.

"That is not the way," said Pellisson, gravely, "that I translate lepores."

"How do you translate it?" said La Fontaine.

"Thus: 'The hares run away as soon as they see M. Fouquet.'"

A burst of laughter, in which the superintendent joined, followed this sally.

"But why hares?" objected Conrart, vexed.

"Because the hare will be the very one who will not be over-pleased to see M. Fouquet retaining the elements of strength which belong to his parliamentary position."

"Oh! oh!" murmured the poets.

"Quo non ascendam," said Conrart, "would seem to me impossible with a procureur's gown."

"And it seems so to me without that gown," said the obstinate Pellisson. "What is your opinion, Gourville?"

"I think the gown in question is a very good thing," replied the latter; "but I equally think that a million and a half is far better than the gown."

"And I am of Gourville's opinion," exclaimed Fouquet, stopping the discussion by the expression of his own opinion, which would necessarily bear down all the others.

"A million and a half!" Pellisson grumbled out. "Now I happen to know an Indian fable-"

"Tell it to me," said La Fontaine; "I ought to know it too."

"Tell it, tell it!" said the others.

"There was a tortoise which was as usual well protected by its shell," said Pellisson. "Whenever its enemies threatened it, it took refuge within its covering. One day some one said to it, 'You must feel very hot in such a house as that in the summer, and you are altogether prevented from showing off your graces; here is a snake who will give you a million and a half for your shell."

"Good!" said the superintendent, laughing.

"Well, what next?" said La Fontaine, much more interested in the apologue than in its moral.

"The tortoise sold his shell, and remained naked and defenceless. A vulture happened to see him, and being hungry broke the tortoise's back with a blow of his beak and devoured it. The moral is that M. Fouquet should take very good care to keep his gown."

La Fontaine understood the moral seriously. "You forget AEschylus," he said to his adversary.

"What do you mean?"

"AEschylus was bald-headed; and a vulture- your vulture probably- who was a great lover of tortoises mistook at a distance his head for a block of stone, and let a tortoise which was shrunk up in his shell fall upon it."

"Yes, yes, La Fontaine is right," resumed Fouquet, who had become very thoughtful. "Whenever a vulture wishes to devour a tortoise, he well knows how to break his shell; and but too happy is that tortoise to which a snake pays a million and a half for his envelope. If any one were to bring me a generous-hearted snake like the one in your fable, Pellisson, I would give him my shell."

"Rara avis in terris!" cried Conrart.

"And like a black swan, is he not?" added La Fontaine; "well, then, the bird in question, black and very rare, is already found."

"Do you mean to say that you have found a purchaser for my post of procureur-general?" exclaimed Fouquet.

"I have, Monsieur."

"But the superintendent has never said that he wished to sell," resumed Pellisson.

"I beg your pardon," said Conrart; "you yourself spoke about it-"

"Yes, I am a witness to that," said Gourville.

"He seems very tenacious about his brilliant idea," said Fouquet, laughing. "Well, La Fontaine, who is the purchaser?"

"A perfect black bird, a counsellor belonging to the parliament, an excellent fellow."

"What is his name?"

"Vanel."

"Vanel!" exclaimed Fouquet,- "Vanel, the husband of-"

"Precisely,- her husband; yes, Monsieur."

"Poor fellow!" said Fouquet, with an expression of great interest; "he wishes to be procureur-general?"

"He wishes to be everything that you have been, Monsieur," said Gourville, "and to do everything that you have done."

"It is very agreeable; tell us all about it, La Fontaine."

"It is very simple. I see him occasionally; and a short time ago I met him walking about on the Place de la Bastille, at the very moment when I was about to take the small carriage to come down here to St. Mande."

"He must have been watching his wife," interrupted Loret.

"Oh, no!" said La Fontaine; "he is far from being jealous. He accosted me, embraced me, and took me to the inn called L'Image-Saint-Fiacre, and told me all about his troubles."

"He has his troubles, then?"

"Yes; his wife wants to make him ambitious."

"Well, and he told you-"

"That some one had spoken to him about a post in parliament; that M. Fouquet's name had been mentioned; that ever since, Madame Vanel dreams of nothing else but being called Madame the Procureuse-Generale, and that she is dying of it every night she is not dreaming of it."

"The deuce!"

"Poor woman!" said Fouquet.

"Wait a moment! Conrart is always telling me that I do not know how to conduct matters of business; you will see how I manage this one."

"Well, go on!"

"'I suppose you know' said I to Vanel, 'that the value of a post such as that which M. Fouquet holds is by no means trifling.' 'How much do you imagine it to be?' he said. 'M. Fouquet, I know, has refused seventeen hundred thousand livres.' 'My wife,' replied Vanel, 'had estimated it at about fourteen hundred thousand.' 'Ready money?' I asked. 'Yes; she has sold some property of hers in Guienne, and has received the purchase-money.'"

"That's a pretty sum to touch all at once," said the Abbe Fouquet, who had not hitherto said a word.

"Poor Madame Vanel!" murmured Fouquet.

Pellisson shrugged his shoulders. "A fiend!" he said in a low voice to Fouquet.

"That may be; it would be delightful to make use of this fiend's money to repair the injury which an angel has done herself for me."

Pellisson looked with a surprised air at Fouquet, whose thoughts were from that moment fixed upon a fresh object.

"Well!" inquired La Fontaine, "what about my negotiation?"

"Admirable, my dear poet!"

"Yes," said Gourville; "but there are some persons who are anxious to have the steed who have not money enough to pay for the bridle."

"And Vanel would draw back from his offer if he were to be taken at his word," continued the Abbe Fouquet.

"I do not believe it," said La Fontaine.

"What do you know about it?"

"Why, you have not yet heard the denouement of my story."

"If there is a denouement, why do you beat about the bush so much?"

"Semper ad adventum. Is that correct?" said Fouquet, with the air of a nobleman who condescends to barbarisms. The Latinists clapped their hands.

"My denouement," cried La Fontaine, "is that Vanel, that determined black bird, knowing that I was coming to St. Mande, implored me to bring him with me, and, if possible, to present him to M. Fouquet."

"So that-"

"So that he is here; I left him in that part of the grounds called Bel-Air. Well, M. Fouquet, what is your reply?"

"Well, it is not fitting that the husband of Madame Vanel should catch cold on my grounds. Send for him, La Fontaine, since you know where he is."

"I will go myself."

"And I will accompany you," said the Abbe Fouquet; "I can carry the money-bags."

"No jesting," said Fouquet, seriously; "let the business be a serious one if it is to be one at all. But, first of all, let us be hospitable. Make my apologies, La Fontaine, to that gentleman, and tell him that I am distressed to have kept him waiting, but that I was not aware he was there."

La Fontaine set off at once, fortunately accompanied by Gourville; for absorbed in his own calculations, the poet would have mistaken the route, and was hurrying as fast as he could towards the village of St. Maur.

Within a quarter of an hour afterwards M. Vanel was introduced into the superintendent's cabinet, the description and details of which have already been given at the beginning of this history. When Fouquet saw him enter, he called Pellisson, and whispered a few words in his ear: "Do not lose a word of what I am going to say. Let all the silver and gold plate, together with the jewels of every description, be packed up in the carriage. You will take the black horses; the jeweller will accompany you; and you will postpone the supper until Madame de Belliere's arrival."

"Will it be necessary to notify Madame de Belliere?" said Pellisson.

"No, that will be useless; I will do that."

"Very well."

"Go my friend!"

Pellisson set off, not quite clear as to his friend's meaning or intention, but confident, like every true friend, in the judgment of the man he was blindly obeying. It is that which constitutes the strength of such men; distrust is awakened only by inferior natures.

Vanel bowed low to the superintendent, and was about to begin a speech.

"Be seated, Monsieur!" said Fouquet, politely. "I am told that you wish to purchase a post I hold. How much can you give me for it?"

"It is for you, Monseigneur, to fix the price. I know that offers of purchase have already been made to you for it."

"Madame Vanel, I have been told, values it at fourteen hundred thousand livres."

"That is all we have."

"Can you give me the money immediately?"

"I have not the money with me," said Vanel, frightened almost by the unpretending simplicity, amounting to greatness, of the man; for he had expected disputes and difficulties, and opposition of every kind.

"When will you be able to have it?"

"Whenever you please, Monseigneur"; and he began to be afraid that Fouquet was trifling with him.

"If it were not for the trouble you would have in returning to Paris, I would say at once; but we will arrange that the payment and the signature shall take place at six o'clock to-morrow morning."

"Very good," said Vanel, as cold as ice, and feeling quite bewildered.

"Adieu, M. Vanel! Present my humblest respects to Madame Vanel," said Fouquet, as he rose; upon which Vanel, who felt the blood rushing up to his head, for he was quite confounded by his success, said seriously to the superintendent, "Will you give me your word, Monseigneur, upon this affair?"

Fouquet turned round his head, saying, "Pardieu! and you, Monsieur?"

Vanel hesitated, trembled all over, and at last finished by hesitatingly holding out his hand. Fouquet opened and nobly extended his own. This loyal hand lay for a moment in Vanel's moist, hypocritical palm; and he pressed it in his own, in order the better to convince himself. The superintendent gently disengaged his hand, as he again said, "Adieu." Vanel then ran hastily to the door, hurried along the vestibules, and fled.

Chapter VIII: Madame de Belliere's Plate and Diamonds

HARDLY had Fouquet dismissed Vanel than he began to reflect for a few moments: "A man never can do too much for the woman he has once loved. Marguerite wishes to be the wife of a procureur-general, and why not confer this pleasure upon her? And now that the most scrupulous and sensitive conscience will be unable to reproach me with anything, let my thoughts be bestowed on the woman who loves me. Madame de Belliere ought to be there by this time"; and he turned towards the secret door.

After Fouquet had locked himself in, he opened the subterranean passage, and rapidly hastened towards the means of communicating between the house at Vincennes and his own residence. He had neglected to apprise his friend of his approach by ringing the bell, perfectly assured that she would never fail to be exact at the rendezvous. In fact, the marchioness had arrived, and was waiting. The noise the superintendent made aroused her; she ran to take from under the door the letter which he had thrust there, and which simply said, "Come, Marchioness; we are waiting supper for you." With her heart filled with happiness, Madame de Belliere ran to her carriage in the Avenue de Vincennes; in a few minutes she was holding out her hand to Gourville, who was standing at the entrance, where, in order the better to please his master, he had stationed himself to watch her arrival. She had not observed that Fouquet's black horses had arrived at the same time, smoking and covered with foam, having returned to St. Mande with Pellisson and the very jeweller to whom Madame de Belliere had sold her plate and her jewels. Pellisson introduced the goldsmith into the cabinet, which Fouquet had not yet left. The superintendent thanked him for having been good enough to regard as a simple deposit in his hands the valuable property which he had had every right to sell. He cast his eyes on the total of the account, which amounted to thirteen hundred thousand livres. Then, going to his desk, he wrote an order for fourteen hundred thousand livres, payable at sight, at his treasury, before twelve o'clock the next day.

"A hundred thousand livres' profit! cried the goldsmith. "Oh, Monseigneur, what generosity!"

"Nay, nay, not so, Monsieur," said Fouquet, touching him on the shoulder; "there are certain kindnesses which can never be repaid. The profit is about that which you would have made, but the interest of your money still remains to be arranged"; and saying this, he unfastened from his sleeve a diamond button, which the goldsmith himself had often valued at three thousand pistoles. "Take this," he said to the goldsmith, "in remembrance of me; and farewell! You are an honest man."

"And you, Monseigneur," cried the goldsmith, completely overcome, "are a grand nobleman!"

Fouquet let the worthy goldsmith pass out of the room by a secret door, and then went to receive Madame de Belliere, who was already surrounded by all the guests. The marchioness was always beautiful, but now her loveliness was dazzling.

"Do you not think, gentlemen," said Fouquet, "that Madame is incomparably beautiful this evening? And do you happen to know why?"

"Because Madame is the most beautiful of women," said some one.

"No; but because she is the best. And yet-"

"Yet?" said the marchioness, smiling.

"And yet, all the jewels which Madame is wearing this evening are nothing but false stones."

She blushed.

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed all the guests; "that can very well be said of one who has the finest diamonds in Paris."

"Well?" said Fouquet to Pellisson, in a low tone.

"Well, at last I have understood you," returned the latter; "and you have done well."

"That is pleasant," said the superintendent, with a smile.

"Supper is ready, Monseigneur," said Vatel, with majestic air and tone.

The crowd of guests hurried more rapidly than is customary at ministerial entertainments towards the banqueting-room, where a magnificent spectacle presented itself. Upon the buffets, upon the side-tables, upon the supper-table itself, in the midst of flowers and light, glittered most dazzlingly the richest and most costly gold and silver plate that was ever seen,- relics of those ancient magnificent productions which the Florentine artists, whom the Medici family had patronized, had sculptured, chased, and cast for the purpose of holding flowers, at a time when gold yet existed in France. These hidden marvels, which had been buried during the civil wars, had timidly reappeared during the intervals of that war of good taste called the Fronde,- when noblemen, fighting against noblemen, killed but did not pillage one another. All that plate had Madame de Belliere's arms engraved upon it. "Look!" cried La Fontaine, "here is a P and a B."

But the most remarkable object present was the cover which Fouquet had assigned to the marchioness. Near her was a pyramid of diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, antique cameos; sardonyx stones, carved by the old Greeks of Asia Minor, with mountings of Mysian gold; curious mosaics of ancient Alexandria, mounted in silver; and massive Egyptian bracelets lay heaped up in a large plate of Palissy ware, supported by a tripod of gilt bronze which had been sculptured by Benvenuto. The marchioness turned pale as she recognized what she had never expected to see again. A profound silence seemed to seize upon every one of the restless and excited guests. Fouquet did not even make a sign in dismissal of the richly liveried servants who crowded like bees round the huge buffets and other tables in the room. "Gentlemen," he said, "all this plate which you behold once belonged to Madame de Belliere, who having observed one of her friends in great distress, sent all this gold and silver, together with the heap of jewels now before her, to her goldsmith. This noble conduct of a devoted friend can well be understood by such friends as you. Happy, indeed, is that man who sees himself loved in such a manner! Let us drink to the health of Madame de Belliere."

A tremendous burst of applause followed his words, and made poor Madame de Belliere sink back dumb and breathless on her seat. "And then," added Pellisson, whom all nobleness aroused and all beauty charmed, "let us also drink to the health of him who inspired Madame's noble conduct; for such a man is worthy of being worthily loved."

It was now the marchioness's turn. She rose, pale and smiling; and as she held out her glass with a faltering hand, and her trembling fingers touched those of Fouquet, her look, full of love, found its reflection and response in that of her ardent and generous-hearted lover.

Begun in this manner, the supper soon became a fete. No one sought for wit, because no one was without it. La Fontaine forgot his Gorgny wine, and allowed Vatel to reconcile him to the wines of the Rhone and those from the shores of Spain. The Abbe Fouquet became so good-natured that Gourville said to him, "Take care, Monsieur the Abbe! If you are so tender, you will be eaten."

The hours passed away so joyously that, contrary to his usual custom, the superintendent did not leave the table before the end of the dessert. He smiled upon his friends, delighted as a man is whose heart becomes intoxicated before his head; and for the first time he looked at the clock. Suddenly a carriage rolled into the courtyard; and, strange to say, it was heard high above the noise of the mirth which prevailed. Fouquet listened attentively, and then turned his eyes towards the antechamber. It seemed as if he could hear a step passing across it, and as if this step, instead of touching the ground, pressed upon his heart. Involuntarily his foot parted company with the foot which Madame de Belliere had rested on his for two hours.

"M. d'Herblay, Bishop of Vannes!" the usher announced; and Aramis's grave and thoughtful face appeared in the door-way, between the remains of two garlands, the thread of which the flame of a lamp had just burned.

Chapter IX: M. de Mazarin's Receipt

FOUQUET would have uttered an exclamation of delight on seeing another friend arrive, if the cold air and constrained appearance of Aramis had not restored all his reserve. "Are you going to join us at our dessert?" he asked. "And yet you would be frightened, perhaps, at the noise we madcaps are making."

"Monseigneur," replied Aramis, respectfully, "I will begin by begging you to excuse me for having interrupted this merry meeting; and then I will beg you to give me, after your pleasure, a moment's audience on matters of business."

As the word "business" had aroused the attention of some of the epicureans present, Fouquet rose, saying, "Business first of all, M. d'Herblay; we are too happy when matters of business arrive only at the end of a meal."

As he said this, Fouquet took the hand of Madame de Belliere, who looked at him with a kind of uneasiness, and then led her to an adjoining salon, after having recommended her to the most reasonable of his guests. And then, taking Aramis by the arm, the superintendent led him towards his cabinet.

Aramis, on reaching the cabinet, forgot respect and etiquette; he threw himself into a chair, saying, "Guess whom I have seen this evening?"

"My dear Chevalier, every time you begin in that manner I am sure to hear you announce something disagreeable.

"Well, and this time you will not be mistaken, either, my dear friend," replied Aramis.

"Do not keep me in suspense," added the superintendent, phlegmatically.

"Well, then, I have seen Madame de Chevreuse."

"The old duchess, do you mean?"

"Yes."

"Her ghost, perhaps?"

"No, no; the old she-wolf herself."

"Without teeth?"

"Possibly, but not without claws."

"Well! what harm can she meditate against me? I am no miser, with women who are not prudes. Generosity is a quality that is always prized, even by the woman who no longer dares to provoke love."

"Madame de Chevreuse knows very well that you are not avaricious, since she wishes to draw some money out of you.

"Indeed! under what pretext?"

"Oh, pretexts are never wanting with her! Let me tell you what hers is. It seems that the duchess has a good many letters of M. de Mazarin's in her possession."

"I am not surprised at that, for the prelate was gallant enough."

"Yes; but these letters have nothing whatever to do with the prelate's love-affairs. They concern, it is said, financial matters."

"And accordingly they are less interesting."

"Do you not suspect what I mean?"

"Not at all."

"You have never heard that there was a charge of embezzlement?"

"Yes, a hundred, nay, a thousand times. Since I have been engaged in public matters I have hardly heard anything else but that,- just as in your own case when you, a bishop, are charged with impiety, or a musketeer, with cowardice. The very thing of which they are always accusing ministers of finance is the embezzlement of public funds."

"Very good. But let us specify; for according to the duchess, M. de Mazarin specifies."

"Let us see what he specifies."

"Something like a sum of thirteen million livres, the disposal of which it would be very embarrassing for you to disclose."

"Thirteen millions!" said the superintendent, stretching himself in his arm-chair, in order to enable him the more comfortably to look up towards the ceiling,- "thirteen millions! I am trying to remember them out of all those I have been accused of stealing."

"Do not laugh, my dear monsieur; it is serious. It is certain that the duchess has certain letters in her possession; and these letters must be genuine, since she wished to sell them to me for five hundred thousand livres."

"Oh, one can have a very tolerable calumny for such a sum as that!" replied Fouquet. "Ah! now I know what you mean"; and he began to laugh heartily.

"So much the better," said Aramis, a little reassured.

"I remember the story of those thirteen millions now. Yes, yes, I remember them quite well."

"I am delighted to hear it; tell me about them."

"Well, then, one day Signor Mazarin, Heaven rest his soul! made a profit of thirteen millions upon a concession of lands in the Valtelline; he cancelled them in the registry of receipts, sent them to me, and then made me advance them to him for war expenses."

"Very good; then there is no doubt of their proper disbursement?"

"No; the Cardinal placed them under my name, and gave me a receipt."

"You have the receipt?"

"Of course," said Fouquet, as he quietly rose from his chair, and went to his large ebony bureau, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and gold.

"What I most admire in you," said Aramis, with an air of great satisfaction, "is your memory, in the first place; then, your self-possession; and finally, the perfect order which prevails with you,- you, a poet par excellence."

"Yes," said Fouquet, "I am orderly out of a spirit of idleness, to save myself the trouble of looking after things; and so I know that Mazarin's receipt is in the third drawer under the letter M. I open the drawer, and place my hand upon the very paper I need. In the night, without a light, I could find it"; and with a confident hand he felt the bundle of papers which were piled up in the open drawer. "Nay, more than that," he continued, "I remember the paper as if I saw it. It is thick, somewhat crumpled, with gilt edges. Mazarin had made a blot upon the figure of the date. Ah!" he said, "the paper knows we are talking about it, and that we want it very much, and so it hides itself out of the way." As the superintendent looked into the drawer, Aramis rose from his seat. "This is very singular," said Fouquet.

"Your memory is treacherous, my dear Monseigneur; look in another drawer."

Fouquet took out the bundle of papers, and turned them over once more; he then became very pale.

"Don't confine your search to that drawer," said Aramis; "look elsewhere."

"Quite useless. I have never made a mistake. No one but myself arranges any papers of mine of this nature; no one but myself ever opens this drawer, of which, besides, no one but myself is aware of the secret."

"What do you conclude, then?" said Aramis, agitated.

"That Mazarin's receipt has been stolen from me. Madame de Chevreuse was right, Chevalier; I have appropriated the public funds; I have robbed the State coffers of thirteen millions of money; I am a thief, M. d'Herblay."

"Nay, nay; do not get irritated, do not get excited!"

"And why not, Chevalier? Surely there is every reason for it. If the legal proceedings are well arranged, and a judgment is given in accordance with them, your friend the superintendent can follow to Montfaucon his colleague Enguerrand de Marigny and his predecessor Samblancay."

"Oh," said Aramis, smiling, "not so fast!"

"And why not? Why not so fast? What do you suppose Madame de Chevreuse will have done with those letters,- for you refused them, I suppose?"

"Yes; at once. I suppose that she went and sold them to M. Colbert."

"Well?"

"I said I supposed so. I might have said I was sure of it, for I had her followed; and when she left me, she returned to her own house, went out by a back door, and proceeded straight to the intendant's house in the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs."

"Legal proceedings will be instituted, then scandal and dishonor will follow; and all will fall upon me like a thunderbolt, blindly, harshly, pitilessly."

Aramis approached Fouquet, who sat trembling in his chair, close to the open drawers; he placed his hand on his shoulder, and in an affectionate tone of voice said, "Do not forget that the position of M. Fouquet can in no way be compared to that of Samblancay or of Marigny."

"And why not, in Heaven's name?"

"Because the proceedings against those ministers were determined, completed, and the sentence carried out; while in your case the same thing cannot take place."

"Another blow! Why not? A peculator is, under any circumstances, a criminal."

"Those criminals who know how to find a safe asylum are never in danger."

"What! Make my escape,- fly?"

"No; I do not mean that. You forget that all such proceedings originate in the parliament; that they are instituted by the procureur-general, and that you are the procureur-general. You see that unless you wish to condemn yourself-"

"Oh!" cried Fouquet suddenly, dashing his fist upon the table.

"Well, what? What is the matter?"

"I am procureur-general no longer."

Aramis at this reply became as livid as death; he pressed his hands together convulsively, and with a wild, haggard look, which almost annihilated Fouquet, said, laying a stress upon every syllable, "You are procureur-general no longer, do you say?"

"No."

"Since when?"

"Since four or five hours ago."

"Take care!" interrupted Aramis, coldly. "I do not think you are in full possession of your senses, my friend; collect yourself!"

"I tell you," returned Fouquet, "that a little while ago some one came to me, brought by my friends, to offer me fourteen hundred thousand livres for the appointment, and that I have sold it."

Aramis looked as if he had been thunder-stricken; the intelligent and mocking expression of his countenance was changed to an expression of gloom and terror which had more effect upon the superintendent than all the exclamations and speeches in the world. "You had need of money, then?" he said at last.

"Yes; to discharge a debt of honor"; and in a few words he gave Aramis an account of Madame de la Belliere's generosity, and of the manner in which he had thought he ought to repay that generosity.

"Yes," said Aramis; "that is, indeed, a fine trait. What has it cost?"

"Exactly the fourteen hundred thousand livres,- the price of my appointment."

"Which you received in that manner, without reflection. Oh, imprudent friend!"

"I have not yet received the amount; but I shall to-morrow."

"It is not yet completed, then?"

"It must be carried out, though; for I have given the goldsmith, for twelve o'clock to-morrow, an order upon my treasury, into which the purchaser's money will be paid at six or seven o'clock."

"Heaven be praised!" cried Aramis, clapping his hands together; "nothing is yet completed, since you have not been paid."

"But the goldsmith?"

"You shall receive the fourteen hundred thousand livres from me at a quarter before twelve."

"Stay a moment! It is at six o'clock, this very morning, that I am to sign."

"Oh, I tell you that you will not sign!"

"I have given my word, Chevalier."

"If you have given it, you will take it back again; that is all."

"Ah! what are you saying to me?" cried Fouquet, in a most expressive tone. "Fouquet recall his word, after it has been once pledged!"

Aramis replied to the almost stern look of the minister with a look full of anger. "Monsieur," he said, "I believe I have deserved to be called a man of honor, have I not? As a soldier I have risked my life five hundred times; as a priest I have rendered great services, both to the State and to my friends. The value of a word, once passed, is estimated according to the worth of the man who gives it. So long as it is in his own keeping it is of the purest, finest gold; when his wish to keep it has passed away, it is a two-edged sword. With that word, therefore, he defends himself as with an honorable weapon, considering that when he disregards his word,- that man of honor,- he endangers his life, he courts the risk rather than that his adversary should secure advantages. And then, Monsieur, he appeals to Heaven- and to justice."

Fouquet bent down his head, as he replied: "I am a poor Breton, opinionated and commonplace; my mind admires and fears yours. I do not say that I keep my word from a moral instinct; I keep it, if you like, by force of habit. But at all events, the ordinary run of men are simple enough to admire this custom of mine. It is my single virtue; leave me the honor of it."

"And so you are determined to sign the sale of the office which would defend you against all your enemies?"

"Yes, I shall sign."

"You will deliver yourself up, then, bound hand and foot, from a false notion of honor, which the most scrupulous casuists would disdain?"

"I shall sign," repeated Fouquet.

Aramis sighed deeply, and looked all round him with the impatient gesture of a man who would gladly dash something to pieces, as a relief to his feelings. "We have still one means left," he said; "and I trust you will not refuse to make use of that?"

"Certainly not, if it be loyal and honorable,- as everything is, in fact, which you propose."

"I know nothing more loyal than a renunciation of your purchaser. Is he a friend of yours?"

"Certainly; but-"

"'But'!- if you allow me to manage the affair, I do not despair."

"Oh, you shall be absolute master!"

"With whom are you in treaty? What man is it?"

"I am not aware whether you know the parliament?"

"Most of its members. One of the presidents, perhaps?"

"No; only a counsellor-"

"Ah, ah!"

"Who is named Vanel."

Aramis became purple. "Vanel!" he cried, rising abruptly from his seat, "Vanel! the husband of Marguerite Vanel?"

"Exactly."

"Of your former mistress?"

"Yes, my dear fellow. She is anxious to be Madame the Procureuse-General. I certainly owed poor Vanel that slight concession; and I am a gainer by it, since I at the same time confer a pleasure on his wife."

Aramis walked straight to Fouquet, and took hold of his hand. "Do you know," he said very calmly, "the name of Madame Vanel's new lover?"

"Ah! she has a new lover, then? I was not aware of it; no, I have no idea what his name is."

"His name is M. Jean Baptiste Colbert; he is intendant of the finances; he lives in the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, where Madame de Chevreuse has this evening carried Mazarin's letters, which she wishes to sell."

"Gracious Heaven!" murmured Fouquet, passing his hand across his forehead, from which the perspiration was starting.

"You now begin to understand, do you not?"

"That I am lost,- yes."

"Do you now think it worth while to be so scrupulous with regard to keeping your word?"

"Yes," said Fouquet.

"These obstinate people always contrive matters in such a way that one cannot but admire them," murmured Aramis.

Fouquet held out his hand to him; and at the very moment a richly ornamented tortoise-shell clock, supported by golden figures, which was standing on a console table opposite to the fireplace, struck six. The sound of a door opening in the vestibule was heard.

"M. Vanel," said Gourville, at the door of the cabinet, "inquiries if Monseigneur can receive him."

Fouquet turned his eyes from those of Aramis and replied, "Let M. Vanel come in."

Chapter X: M. Colbert's Rough Draught

VANEL, who entered at this stage of the conversation, was for Aramis and Fouquet the full stop which terminates a sentence. But, for Vanel, Aramis's presence in Fouquet's cabinet had quite another signification. At his first step into the room he fixed upon the delicate yet firm countenance of the Bishop of Vannes a look of astonishment which soon became one of scrutinizing inquiry. As for Fouquet, a true politician,- that is to say, complete master of himself,- he had already, by the energy of his own resolute will, contrived to remove from his face all traces of the emotion which Aramis's revelation had occasioned. He was no longer, therefore, a man overwhelmed by misfortune and reduced to expedients; he held his head proudly erect, and extended his hand with a gesture of welcome to Vanel. He was prime minister; he was in his own house. Aramis knew the superintendent well; the delicacy of the feelings of his heart and the exalted nature of his mind could no longer surprise him. He confined himself, then, for the moment- intending to resume later an active part in the conversation- to the difficult role of a man who looks on and listens in order to learn and understand.

Vanel was visibly overcome, and advanced into the middle of the cabinet, bowing to everything and everybody.

"I am come," he said.

"You are exact, M. Vanel," returned Fouquet.

"In matters of business, Monseigneur," replied Vanel, "I look upon exactitude as a virtue."

"No doubt, Monsieur."

"I beg your pardon," interrupted Aramis, indicating Vanel with his finger, but addressing himself to Fouquet; "this is the gentleman, I believe, who has come about the purchase of your appointment?"

"Yes, I am," replied Vanel, astonished at the extremely haughty tone with which Aramis had put the question; "but in what way am I to address you, who do me the honor-"

"Call me Monseigneur," replied Aramis, dryly.

Vanel bowed.

"Come, gentlemen," said Fouquet, a truce to these ceremonies! Let us proceed to business."

"Monseigneur sees," said Vanel, "that I am waiting his pleasure."

"On the contrary, it is I who wait," replied Fouquet.

"What for, Monseigneur?"

"I thought that perhaps you would have something to say."

"Oh," said Vanel to himself, "he has reflected on the matter, and I am lost!" But resuming his courage he continued, "No, Monseigneur, nothing,- absolutely nothing more than what I said to you yesterday, and which I am ready to repeat now."

"Come, now, tell me frankly, M. Vanel, is not the affair rather a burdensome one for you?"

"Certainly, Monseigneur; fourteen hundred thousand livres is an important sum."

"So important, indeed," said Fouquet, "that I have reflected-"

"You have been reflecting, do you say, Monseigneur?" exclaimed Vanel, anxiously.

"Yes, that you might not yet be in a position to purchase."

"Oh, Monseigneur!"

"Do not make yourself uneasy on that score, M. Vanel! I shall not blame you for a failure in your word, which evidently will be due to inability on your part."

"Oh, yes, Monseigneur, you would blame me, and you would be right in doing so," said Vanel: "for a man must be either imprudent or a fool to undertake engagements which he cannot keep; and I, at least, have always regarded a thing agreed upon as a thing done."

Fouquet colored, while Aramis uttered a "Hum!" of impatience.

"You would be wrong to emphasize such notions as those, Monsieur," said the superintendent: "for a man's mind is variable and full of little caprices, very excusable, and sometimes very worthy of respect; and a man may have wished for something yesterday, and to-day have changed his mind."

Vanel felt a cold sweat trickle down his face. "Monseigneur!" he muttered.

Aramis, who was delighted to find the superintendent carrying on the debate with such clearness and precision, stood leaning his arm upon the marble top of a console table, and began to play with a small gold knife with a malachite handle. Fouquet did not hasten to reply; but after a moment's pause, "Come, my dear M. Vanel," he said, "I will explain to you how I am situated." Vanel began to tremble. "Yesterday I wished to sell-"

"Monseigneur has done more than wish to sell; Monseigneur has sold."

"Well, well, that may be so; but to-day I ask you, as a favor, to restore me my word which I pledged you."

"I received your word as a perfect assurance that it would be kept."

"I know that; and that is the reason why I now entreat you,- do you understand me?- I entreat you to restore it to me."

Fouquet suddenly paused. The words "I entreat you," the force of which he did not immediately perceive, seemed almost to choke him as he uttered it. Aramis, still playing with his knife, fixed a look upon Vanel which seemed to search the inmost recess of his heart.

Vanel simply bowed as he said, "I am overcome, Monseigneur, at the honor you do me to consult me upon a matter of business which is already completed; but-"

"Nay, do not say but, dear M. Vanel."

"Alas! Monseigneur, you see," he said, as he opened a large pocket-book, "I have brought the money with me,- the whole sum, I mean. And here, Monseigneur, is the contract of sale which I have just effected of a property belonging to my wife. The order is authentic in every way, the necessary signatures have been attached to it, and it is made payable at sight; it is ready money. In one word, the affair is complete."

"My dear M. Vanel, there is not a matter of business in this world, however important it may be, which cannot be postponed in order to oblige-"

"Certainly," said Vanel, awkwardly.

"To oblige a man who by that means might and would be made a devoted friend."

"Certainly, Monseigneur."

"And the more completely a friend, M. Vanel, in proportion to the importance of the service rendered, since the value of the service he had received would have been so considerable. Well, what do you decide?"

Vanel preserved silence. In the mean time Aramis had continued his observations. Vanel's narrow face, his deeply sunk orbits, his arched eyebrows, had revealed to the Bishop of Vannes the type of an avaricious and ambitious character. Aramis's method was to oppose one passion by another. He saw Fouquet defeated, demoralized; he threw himself into the contest with new weapons. "Excuse me, Monseigneur," he said; "you forget to show M. Vanel that his own interests are diametrically opposed to this renunciation of the sale."

Vanel looked at the bishop with astonishment; he had hardly expected to find an auxiliary in him. Fouquet also paused to listen to the bishop.

"Do you not see," continued Aramis, "that M. Vanel, in order to purchase your appointment, has been obliged to sell a property which belongs to his wife? Well, that is no slight matter; for one cannot displace fourteen or fifteen hundred thousand livres, as he has done, without considerable loss and very serious inconvenience."

"Perfectly true," said Vanel, whose secret Aramis had with his keen-sighted gaze wrung from the bottom of his heart.

"Such embarrassments," pursued Aramis, "resolve themselves into expenses; and when one has a large disbursement to make, expenses are to be considered."

"Yes, yes," said Fouquet, who began to understand Aramis's meaning.

Vanel remained silent; he, too, had understood him.

Aramis observed his coldness of manner and his silence. "Very good," he said to himself, "you are waiting, I see, until you know the amount; but do not fear! I shall send you such a flight of crowns that you cannot but capitulate on the spot."

"We must offer M. Vanel a hundred thousand crowns at once," said Fouquet, carried away by his generosity.

The sum was a good one. A prince, even, would have been satisfied with such a bonus. A hundred thousand crowns at that period was the dowry of a king's daughter.

Vanel, however, did not move.

"He is a rascal!" thought the bishop; "we must offer the five hundred thousand livres at once!" and he made a sign to Fouquet.

"You seem to have spent more than that, dear M. Vanel," said the superintendent. "The price of money is enormous. You must have made a great sacrifice in selling your wife's property. Well, what can I have been thinking of? It is an order for five hundred thousand livres that I am about to sign for you; and even in that case I shall feel that I am greatly indebted to you."

There was not a single gleam of delight or desire on Vanel's face, which remained impassive; not a muscle of it changed in the slightest degree. Aramis cast a look of despair at Fouquet, and then, going straight up to Vanel and taking hold of him by the coat with the gesture used by men of high rank, he said: "M. Vanel, it is neither the inconvenience, nor the displacement of your money, nor the sale of your wife's property even, that you are thinking of at this moment, it is something still more important. I can well understand it, so pay particular attention to what I am going to say."

"Yes, Monseigneur," Vanel replied, beginning to tremble. The fire in the eyes of the prelate scorched him.

"I offer you, therefore, in the superintendent's name, not three hundred thousand livres, nor five hundred thousand, but a million. A million,- do you understand me?" he added, as he shook him nervously.

"A million!" repeated Vanel, as pale as death.

"A million; in other words, at the present rate of interest, an income of seventy thousand livres!"

"Come, Monsieur," said Fouquet, "you can hardly refuse that. Answer! Do you accept?"

"Impossible!" murmured Vanel.

Aramis bit his lips, and something like a white cloud passed over his face. That cloud indicated thunder. He still kept his hold on Vanel. "You have purchased the appointment for fifteen hundred thousand livres, I think? Well, we will give you these fifteen hundred thousand livres; by paying M. Fouquet a visit, and shaking hands with him, you will have become a gainer of a million and a half. You get honor and profit at the same time, M. Vanel."

"I cannot do it," said Vanel, hoarsely.

"Very well," replied Aramis, who had grasped Vanel so tightly by the coat that when he let go his hold Vanel staggered back a few paces,- "very well; one can now see clearly enough your object in coming here."

"Yes," said Fouquet, "one can easily see that."

"But-" said Vanel, attempting to stand erect before the weakness of these two men of honor.

"The fellow presumes to speak!" said Aramis, with the tone of an emperor.

"Fellow?" repeated Vanel.

"The wretch, I meant to say," added the prelate, who had now resumed his usual self-possession. "Come, Monsieur, produce your deed of sale! You should have it there, in one of your pockets, already prepared, as an assassin holds his pistol or his dagger concealed, under his cloak."

Vanel began to mutter something.

"Enough!" cried Fouquet. "Where is this deed?"

Vanel tremblingly searched in his pockets; and as he drew out his pocketbook, a paper fell out of it, while Vanel offered the other to Fouquet. Aramis pounced upon the paper which had fallen out, the handwriting of which he recognized.

"I beg your pardon," said Vanel; "that is a rough draught of the deed."

"I see that very clearly," retorted Aramis, with a smile more cutting than a lash of a whip would have been; "and what surprises me is that this draught is in M. Colbert's handwriting. Look, Monseigneur, look!" And he handed the paper to Fouquet, who recognized the truth of his remark; for, covered with erasures, with inserted words, the margins filled with additions, this deed- an open proof of Colbert's plot- had just revealed everything to its unhappy victim.

"Well!" murmured Fouquet.

Vanel, completely humiliated, seemed as if he were looking for some deep hole where he could hide himself.

"Well!" said Aramis, "if your name were not Fouquet, and if your enemy's name were not Colbert,- if you had to deal only with this mean thief before you, I should say to you, 'Repudiate it!' Such a proof as this absolves you from your word. But these fellows would think you were afraid; they would fear you less than they do; therefore sign, Monseigneur!" and he held out a pen towards him.

Fouquet pressed Aramis's hand; but instead of the deed which Vanel handed to him, he took the rough draught of it.

"No, not that paper," said Aramis, hastily; "this is the one. The other is too precious a document for you to part with."

"No, no!" replied Fouquet. "I will sign upon the paper of M. Colbert; and I write, 'The writing is approved.'" He then signed, and said, "Here it is, M. Vanel"; and the latter seized the paper, laid down his money, and was about to retreat.

"One moment!" said Aramis. "Are you quite sure the exact amount is there? It ought to be counted over, M. Vanel, particularly since it is money which M. Colbert presents to the ladies. Ah, that worthy M. Colbert is not so generous as M. Fouquet!" and Aramis, spelling every word, every letter of the order to pay, distilled his wrath and his contempt, drop by drop, upon the miserable wretch, who had to submit to this torture for a quarter of an hour. He was then dismissed, not in words, but by a gesture, as one dismisses a beggar or discharges a menial.

As soon as Vanel had gone, the minister and the prelate, their eyes fixed on each other, remained silent for a few moments.

"Well," said Aramis, the first to break the silence, "to what can that man be compared, who, entering into a conflict with an enemy armed from head to foot, thirsting for his life, strips himself, throws down his arms, and sends kisses to his adversary? Good faith, M. Fouquet, is a weapon which scoundrels very frequently make use of against men of honor, and it answers their purpose. Men of honor ought in their turn, also, to make use of bad faith against such scoundrels. You would soon see how strong they would become without ceasing to be men of honor."

"It would be rascally conduct," replied Fouquet.

"Not at all; it would be merely coquetting or playing with the truth. And now, since you have finished with this Vanel, since you have deprived yourself of the happiness of confounding him by repudiating your word, and since you have given up, to be used against yourself, the only weapon which can ruin us-"

"My dear friend," said Fouquet, mournfully, "you are like the teacher of philosophy whom La Fontaine was telling us about the other day: he saw a child drowning, and began to read him a lecture divided into three heads."

Aramis smiled as he said, "Philosophy,- yes, teacher,- yes; a drowning child,- yes; but a child that can be saved,- you shall see. And, first of all, let us talk about business." Fouquet looked at him with an air of astonishment. "Did you not some time ago speak to me about an idea you had of giving a fete at Vaux?"

"Oh," said Fouquet, "that was when affairs were flourishing!"

"A fete, I believe, to which the King, without prompting, invited himself?"

"No, no, my dear prelate; a fete to which M. Colbert advised the King to invite himself!"

"Ah! exactly; as it would be a fete of so costly a character that you would be ruined in giving it?"

"Precisely so. In other times, as I said just now, I had a kind of pride in showing my enemies the fruitfulness of my resources; I felt it a point of honor to strike them with amazement, in creating millions under circumstances where they had imagined nothing but bankruptcies possible. But at the present day I am arranging my accounts with the State, with the King, with myself; and I must now become a mean, stingy man. I shall be able to prove to the world that I can act or operate with my deniers as I used to do with my bags of pistoles; and beginning to-morrow, my equipages shall be sold, my houses mortgaged, my expenses contracted."

"Beginning with to-morrow," interrupted Aramis, quietly, "you will occupy yourself, without the slightest delay, with your fete at Vaux, which must hereafter be spoken of with the most magnificent productions of your most prosperous days."

"You are mad, Chevalier d'Herblay."

"I? You do not think that."

"What do you mean, then? Do you not know that a fete at Vaux, of the very simplest possible character, would cost four or five millions?"

"I do not speak of a fete of the very simplest possible character, my dear superintendent."

"But since the fete is to be given to the King," replied Fouquet, who misunderstood Aramis's idea, "it cannot be simple."

"Just so; it ought to be on a scale of the most unbounded magnificence."

"In that case I shall have to spend ten or twelve millions."

"You shall spend twenty if you require it," said Aramis, calmly.

"Where shall I get them?" exclaimed Fouquet.

"That is my affair, Monsieur the Superintendent; and do not be uneasy for a moment about it. The money will be placed at once at your disposal, sooner than you will have arranged the plans of your fete."

"Chevalier! Chevalier!" said Fouquet, giddy with amazement, "whither are you hurrying me?"

"Across the gulf into which you were about to fall," replied the Bishop of Vannes. "Take hold of my cloak and throw fear aside!"

"Why did you not tell me that sooner, Aramis? There was a day when with one million you could have saved me."

"While to-day I can give you twenty," said the prelate. "Such is the case, however. The reason is very simple. On the day you speak of I had not at my disposal the million which you needed, while now I can easily procure the twenty millions we require."

"May Heaven hear you, and save me!"

Aramis smiled, with the singular expression habitual with him. "Heaven never fails to hear me," he said; "perhaps because I pray with a loud voice."

"I abandon myself to you unreservedly," Fouquet murmured.

"No, no; I do not understand it in that manner. It is I who am entirely at your service. Therefore you, who have the clearest, the most delicate, and the most ingenious mind,- you shall have entire control over the fete, even to the very smallest details. Only-"

"Only?" said Fouquet, as a man accustomed to appreciate the value of a parenthesis.

"Well, then, leaving the entire invention of the details to you, I shall reserve to myself a general superintendence over the execution."

"In what way?"

"I mean that you will make of me, on that day, a majordomo, a sort of inspector-general, or factotum,- something between a captain of the guard and manager or steward. I will look after the people, and will keep the keys of the doors. You will give your orders, of course; but will give them to no one but to me. They will pass through my lips, to reach those for whom they are intended,- you understand?"

"No, I do not understand."

"But you agree?"

"Of course, of course, my friend."

"That is all I care about. Thanks; and prepare your list of invitations."

"Whom shall I invite?"

"Every one."

Chapter XI: In Which the Author Thinks It Is Now Time to Return to the Vicomte de Bragelonne

OUR readers have observed in this history the adventures of the new and of the past generation unrolled, as it were, side by side. To the former, the reflection of the glory of earlier years, the experience of the bitter things of this world; to the former, also, the peace which takes possession of the heart, and the healing of the scars which were formerly deep and painful wounds. To the latter, the conflicts of love and vanity, bitter disappointments and ineffable delights,- life instead of memory. If any variety has been presented to the reader in the different episodes of this tale, it is to be attributed to the numerous shades of color which are presented on this double palette, where two pictures are seen side by side, mingling and harmonizing their severe and pleasing tones. The repose of the emotions of the one is found in the midst of the emotions of the other. After having talked reason with older heads, one likes to share in the wildness of young people. Therefore, if the threads of this story do not seem very intimately to connect the chapter we are now writing with that we have just written, we do not intend to give ourselves any more thought or trouble about it than Ruysdael took in painting an autumn sky after having finished a spring-time scene. We wish our readers to do as much, and to resume Raoul de Bragelonne's story at the very place where our last sketch left him.

In a state of frenzy and dismay,- or rather without reason, without will, without purpose,- Raoul fled heedlessly away after the scene in La Valliere's room. The King, Montalais, Louise, that chamber, that strange exclusion, Louise's grief, Montalais's terror, the King's wrath,- all seemed to indicate some misfortune. But what? He had arrived from London because he had been told of the existence of a danger, and at once this danger showed itself. Was not that sufficient for a lover? Certainly it was; but it was insufficient for a pure and upright heart such as his. And yet Raoul did not seek for explanations in the quarter where all jealous or less timid lovers would have sought them. He did not go straightway to his mistress, and say, "Louise, is it true that you love me no longer? Is it true that you love another?" Full of courage, full of friendship, as he was full of love; a religious observer of his word, and believing the words of others,- Raoul said within himself, "Guiche wrote to put me on my guard; Guiche knows something; I will go and ask Guiche what he knows, and tell him what I have seen."

The journey was not a long one. Guiche, who had been brought from Fontainebleau to Paris within the last two days, was beginning to recover from his wound, and to walk about a little in his room. He uttered a cry of joy as he saw Raoul enter his apartment with the eagerness of friendship. Raoul uttered a cry of grief on seeing De Guiche so pale, so thin, so melancholy. A few words, and a simple gesture which De Guiche made to put aside Raoul's arm, were sufficient to inform the latter of the truth.

"Ah! so it is," said Raoul, seating himself beside his friend; "one loves and dies."

"No, no, not dies," replied Guiche, smiling, "since I am now recovering, and since, too, I can press you in my arms."

"Ah! I understand."

"And I understand you too. You fancy I am unhappy, Raoul?"

"Alas!"

"No; I am the happiest of men. My body suffers, but not my mind or my heart. If you only knew- Oh, I am, indeed, the very happiest of men!"

"So much the better," replied Raoul; "so much the better, provided it lasts."

"It is over. I have had enough happiness to last me to my dying day, Raoul."

"I have no doubt you have had; but she-"

"Listen! I love her, because- But you are not listening to me."

"I beg your pardon."

"Your mind is preoccupied."

"Well, yes; your health, in the first place-"

"It is not that."

"My dear friend, you would be wrong, I think, to ask me any questions,- you!" and he laid so much weight upon the "you" that he completely enlightened his friend upon the nature of the evil and the difficulty of remedying it.

"You say that, Raoul, on account of what I wrote to you."

"Certainly. We will talk over that matter a little when you shall have finished telling me of all your own pleasures and pains."

"My dear friend, I am entirely at your service now."

"Thank you. I have hurried, I have flown here,- I came here from London in half the time the government couriers usually take. Now, tell me, my dear friend, what did you want?"

"Nothing whatever, but to make you come."

"Well, then, I am here."

"All is quite right, then."

"There is still something else, I imagine?"

"No, indeed."

"De Guiche!"

"Upon my honor!"

"You cannot possibly have crushed all my hopes so violently, or have exposed me to being disgraced by the King for my return, which is in disobedience of his orders,- you cannot, in short, have planted jealousy in my heart, merely to say to me, 'It is all right, sleep quietly!'"

"I do not say to you, Raoul, 'Sleep quietly!' But pray understand me; I never will, nor can I indeed, tell you anything else."

"Oh, my friend, for whom do you take me?"

"What do you mean?"

"If you know anything, why conceal it from me? If you do not know anything, why did you warn me?"

"True, true! I was very wrong, and I regret having done so, Raoul. It seems nothing to write to a friend and say, 'Come'; but to have this friend face to face, to feel him tremble and breathlessly wait to hear what one hardly dare tell him-"

"Dare! I have courage enough, if you have not," exclaimed Raoul, in despair.

"See how unjust you are, and how soon you forget you have to do with a poor wounded fellow,- the half of your heart! Calm yourself, Raoul! I said to you, 'Come'; you are here. Ask nothing further of the unhappy De Guiche."

"You summoned me in the hope that I should see with my own eyes, did you not? Nay, do not hesitate, for I have seen all."

"Oh!" exclaimed De Guiche.

"Or at least I thought-"

"There now, you see you are not sure. But if you have any doubt, my poor friend, what remains for me to do?"

"I have seen Louise agitated, Montalais in a state of bewilderment, the King-"

"The King?"

"Yes. You turn your head aside. The danger is there, the evil is there! tell me, is it not so,- it is the King?"

"I say nothing."

"Oh, you say a thousand upon a thousand times more than nothing! Give me facts! for pity's sake, give me proofs! My friend, the only friend I have, speak! My heart is crushed, wounded to death; I am dying from despair."

"If that really be so, my dear Raoul," replied De Guiche, "you relieve me from my difficulty, and I will tell you all, sure that I can tell you nothing but what is consoling, compared to the despair in which I now see you."

"Go on, go on! I am listening."

"Well, then, I can only tell you what you can learn from the first-comer."

"From the first-comer? It is talked about?" cried Raoul.

"Before you say people talk about it, learn what it is that people can talk about. I assure you, solemnly, that people only talk about what may in truth be very innocent; perhaps a walk-"

"Ah! a walk with the King?"

"Yes, certainly, a walk with the King; and I believe the King has very frequently before taken walks with ladies, without on that account-"

"You would not have written to me, shall I say again, if there had been nothing unusual in this promenade?"

"I know that while the storm lasted, it would have been far better if the King had taken shelter somewhere else than to have remained with his head uncovered before La Valliere; but-"

"But?"

"The King is so courteous!"

"Oh, De Guiche, De Guiche, you are killing me!"

"Do not let us talk any more, then."

"Nay; let us continue. This walk was followed by others, I suppose?"

"No- I mean yes; there was the adventure of the oak, I think. But I know nothing about the matter at all." Raoul rose; De Guiche endeavored to imitate him, notwithstanding his weakness. "Well, I will not add another word; I have said either too much or not enough. Let others give you further information if they will, or if they can; my duty was to warn you, and that I have done. Watch over your own affairs now, yourself!"

"Question others? Alas! you are no true friend to speak to me in that manner," said the young man, in utter distress. "The first man I shall question may be either evilly disposed or a fool,- if the former, he will tell me a lie to torment me; if the latter, he will do still worse. Ah! De Guiche, De Guiche, before two hours are over, I shall have been told ten falsehoods, and shall have as many duels on my hands. Save me, then! Is it not best to know one's whole misfortune?"

"But I know nothing, I tell you. I was wounded, in a fever; my senses were gone, and I have only effaced impressions of it all. But there is no reason why we should search very far, when the very man we want is close at hand. Is not d'Artagnan your friend?"

"Oh, true, true!"

"Go to him, then. He will throw light on the subject and without seeking to injure your eyes."

At this moment a lackey entered the room. "What is it?" said De Guiche.

"Some one is waiting for Monseigneur in the Cabinet des Porcelaines."

"Very well. Will you excuse me, my dear Raoul? I am so proud since I have been able to walk again."

"I would offer you my arm, De Guiche, if I did not guess that the person in question is a lady."

"I believe so," said De Guiche, smiling, as he quitted Raoul.

Raoul remained motionless, absorbed, overwhelmed, like the miner upon whom a vault has just fallen in: he is wounded, his life-blood is welling fast, his thoughts are confused; he endeavors to recover himself, and to save his life and his reason. A few minutes were all Raoul needed to dissipate the bewildering sensations which had been occasioned by these two revelations. He had already recovered the thread of his ideas, when suddenly through the door he fancied he recognized Montalais's voice in the Cabinet des Porcelaines. "She!" he cried. "Yes; it is indeed her voice! Oh! here is a woman who can tell me the truth; but shall I question her here? She conceals herself even from me; she is coming, no doubt, from Madame. I will see her in her own apartment. She will explain her alarm, her flight, the strange manner in which I was driven out; she will tell me all that,- after M. d'Artagnan, who knows everything, shall have given me fresh strength and courage. Madame- a coquette, I fear, and yet a coquette who is herself in love- has her moments of kindness; a coquette who is as capricious and uncertain as life or death, but who causes De Guiche to say that he is the happiest of men. He at least is lying on roses." And so he hastily quitted the count's apartments; and reproaching himself as he went for having talked of nothing but his own affairs to De Guiche, he arrived at d'Artagnan's quarters.

Chapter XII: Bragelonne Continues His Inquiries

THE captain was sitting buried in his leathern arm-chair, his spur fixed in the floor, his sword between his legs, and was occupied in reading a great number of letters, as he twisted his mustache. D'Artagnan uttered a welcome full of pleasure when he perceived his friend's son. "Raoul, my boy," he said, "by what lucky accident does it happen that the King has recalled you?"

These words did not sound over-agreeably in the young man's ears, who as he seated himself replied, "Upon my word, I cannot tell you; all that I know is that I have come back."

"Hum!" said d'Artagnan, folding up his letters and directing a look full of meaning at him. "What do you say, my boy?- that the King has not recalled you, and that you have returned? I do not at all understand that."

Raoul was already pale enough, and he began to turn his hat round and round in his hand with an air of constraint.

"What the deuce is the matter, that you look as you do, and what makes you so dumb?" said the captain. "Do people catch that fashion in England? I have been in England, and came back again as lively as a chaffinch. Will you not say something?"

"I have too much to say."

"Ah! ah! how is your father?"

"Forgive me, my dear friend; I was going to ask you that."

D'Artagnan increased the sharpness of his penetrating gaze, which no secret was capable of resisting. "You are unhappy about something," he said.

"I am, indeed; and you know very well what, M. d'Artagnan."

"I?"

"Of course. Nay, do not pretend to be astonished."

"I am not pretending to be astonished, my friend."

"Dear captain, I know very well that in all trials of finesse, as well as in all trials of strength, I shall be beaten by you. You can see that at the present moment I am an idiot, a fool. I have neither head nor arm; do not despise, but help me. In a few words, I am the most wretched of living beings."

"Oh! oh! why that?" inquired d'Artagnan, unbuckling his belt and softening the ruggedness of his smile.

"Because Mademoiselle de la Valliere is deceiving me."

"She is deceiving you?" said d'Artagnan, not a muscle of whose face had moved. "Those are big words. Who makes use of them?"

"Every one."

"Ah! if every one says so, there must be some truth in it. I begin to believe there is fire when I see the smoke. It is ridiculous, perhaps, but so it is."

"Therefore you do believe?" exclaimed Bragelonne, quickly.

"I never mix myself up in affairs of that kind; you know that very well."

"What! not for a friend, for a son?"

"Exactly. If you were a stranger, I should tell you- I should tell you nothing at all. How is Porthos, do you know?"

"Monsieur," cried Raoul, pressing d'Artagnan's hand, "I entreat you, in the name of the friendship you have vowed to my father!"

"The deuce take it, you are really ill- from curiosity."

"No, it is not from curiosity; it is from love."

"Good! Another grand word! If you were really in love, my dear Raoul, you would be very different."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that if you were so deeply in love that I could believe I was addressing myself to your heart- But it is impossible."

"I tell you I love Louise to distraction."

D'Artagnan could read to the very bottom of the young man's heart.

"Impossible, I tell you," he said. "You are like all young men,- you are not in love, you are out of your senses."

"Well, suppose it were only that?"

"No sensible man ever succeeded in making much of a brain when the head was turned. I have lost my bearings in the same way a hundred times in my life. You would listen to me, but you would not hear me; you would hear, but you would not understand me; you would understand, but you would not obey me."

"Oh, try, try!"

"I say more. Even if I were unfortunate enough to know something, and foolish enough to communicate it to you- You are my friend, you say?"

"Indeed, yes."

"Very good. I should quarrel with you. You would never forgive me for having destroyed your illusion, as people say of love-affairs."

"M. d'Artagnan, you know all; and yet you plunge me in perplexity, in despair, in death."

"There, there!"

"I never complain, as you know; but as Heaven and my father would never forgive me for blowing out my brains, I will go and get the first person I meet to give me the information which you withhold; I will tell him he lies, and-"

"And you will kill him? A fine affair that would be! So much the better. What should I care for it? Kill my boy, kill, if it can give you any pleasure. It is exactly like a man with the toothache, who keeps on saying, 'Oh, what torture I am suffering! I could bite iron.' My answer always is, 'Bite, my friend, bite; the tooth will remain all the same.'"

"I shall not kill any one, Monsieur," said Raoul, gloomily.

"Yes, yes; you fellows of to-day put on those airs. Instead of killing, you will get killed yourself, I suppose you mean? Very fine indeed! How much I should regret you! I should say all day long: 'Ah! what a high-flown simpleton that Bragelonne was,- doubly an ingrate! I have passed my whole life almost in teaching him how to hold his sword properly, and the silly fellow has got himself spitted like a lark.' Go, then, Raoul, go and get yourself disposed of, if you like. I don't know who taught you logic; but, God damn me,- as the English say,- whoever it was, Monsieur, has stolen your father's money."

Raoul buried his face in his hands, murmuring, "No, no; I have not a single friend in the world!"

"Oh, bah!" said d'Artagnan.

"I meet with nothing but raillery or indifference."

"Idle fancies, Monsieur! I do not laugh at you, although I am a Gascon. And as for being indifferent, if I were so I should have sent you to all the devils a quarter of an hour ago; for you would sadden a man who was wild with joy, and would kill one who was sad. How now, young man! Do you wish me to disgust you with the girl to whom you are attached, and to teach you to execrate women, who are the honor and happiness of human life?"

"Oh, tell me, Monsieur, and I will bless you!"

"Do you think, my dear fellow, that I can have crammed into my brain all that business about the carpenter and the painter and the staircase and the portrait, and a hundred other tales to sleep over?"

"A carpenter! what do you mean?"

"Upon my word, I don't know. Some one told me there was a carpenter who made an opening through a floor."

"In La Valliere's room?"

"Oh, I don't know where!"

"In the King's apartment, perhaps?"

"Of course! If it were in the King's apartment, I should tell you, I suppose."

"In whose room, then?"

"I have told you for the last hour that I know nothing of the whole affair."

"But the painter, then,- the portrait?"

"It seems that the King wished to have the portrait of one of the ladies belonging to the court."

"La Valliere's?"

"Why, you seem to have only that name in your mouth! Who spoke to you of La Valliere?"

"If it be not her portrait, then, why do you suppose it would concern me?"

"I do not suppose it will concern you. But you ask me all sorts of questions, and I answer you; you wish to know the current scandal, and I tell you. Make the best you can of it!"

Raoul struck his forehead with his hand, in utter despair. "It will kill me! he said.

"So you have said already."

"Yes, you're right"; and he made a step or two as if he were going to leave.

"Where are you going?"

"To find some one who will tell me the truth."

"Who is that?"

"A woman."

"Mademoiselle de la Valliere herself, I suppose you mean?" said d'Artagnan, with a smile. "Ah, a famous idea that! You wish to be consoled by some one, and you will be so at once. She will tell you nothing ill of herself, of course. So be off!"

"You are mistaken, Monsieur," replied Raoul; "the woman I mean will tell me all the evil she possibly can."

"Montalais, I'll wager."

"Yes, Montalais."

"Ah! her friend, a woman who in that capacity will exaggerate all that is either bad or good in the matter. Do not talk to Montalais, my good Raoul."

"You have some reason for wishing me not to talk with Montalais?"

"Well, I admit it. And, in point of fact, why should I play with you as a cat does with a poor mouse? You distress me,- you do indeed. And if I wish you not to speak to Montalais just now, it is because you will be betraying your secret, and people will take advantage of it. Wait, if you can!"

"I cannot."

"So much the worse. Why, you see, Raoul, if I had an idea- but I have not got one."

"Promise that you will pity me, my friend,- that is all I need,- and leave me to get out of the affair by myself."

"Oh, yes, indeed, in order that you may get deeper into the mire! A capital idea, truly! Go and sit down at that table and take a pen in your hand."

"What for?"

"To write to ask Montalais to give you an interview."

"Ah!" said Raoul, snatching eagerly at the pen which the captain held out to him.

Suddenly the door opened; and one of the musketeers, approaching d'Artagnan, said, "Captain, Mademoiselle de Montalais is here, and wishes to speak to you."

"To me?" murmured d'Artagnan. "Ask her to come in. I shall soon see," he said to himself, "whether she wishes to speak to me or not."

The cunning captain was quite right in his suspicions; for as soon as Montalais entered, she saw Raoul and exclaimed, "Monsieur! Monsieur!- I beg your pardon, M. d'Artagnan."

"Oh, I forgive you, Mademoiselle," said d'Artagnan; "I know that at my age those who look for me have great need of me."

"I was looking for M. de Bragelonne," replied Montalais.

"How fortunate! and I was looking for you!"

"Raoul, won't you accompany Mademoiselle Montalais?"

"Oh, certainly!"

"Go along, then," he said, as he gently pushed Raoul out of the cabinet; and then taking hold of Montalais's hand, he said in a low voice, "Be kind towards him; spare him, and spare her too."

"Ah!" she said in the same tone of voice, "it is not I who will speak to him."

"Who, then?"

"It is Madame who has sent for him."

"Very good," cried d'Artagnan; "it is Madame, is it? In an hour's time, then, the poor fellow will be cured."

"Or else dead," said Montalais, in a voice full of compassion. "Adieu, M. d'Artagnan!" she said; and she ran to join Raoul, who was waiting for her at a little distance from the door, very much puzzled and uneasy at the dialogue, which promised no good to him.

Chapter XIII: Two Jealousies

LOVERS are very tender towards everything which concerns the person with whom they are in love. Raoul no sooner found himself alone with Montalais than he kissed her hand with rapture. "There, there," said the young girl, sadly, "you are throwing your kisses away; I will guarantee that they will not bring you back any interest."

"How so? Why? Will you explain to me, my dear Aure?"

"Madame will explain everything to you. I am going to take you to her apartments."

"What!"

"Silence! and throw aside your wild and savage looks. The windows here have eyes; the walls have ears. Have the kindness not to look at me any longer; be good enough to speak to me aloud of the rain, of the fine weather, and of the charms of England."

"At all events-" interrupted Raoul.

"I tell you, I warn you, that somewhere, I know not where, Madame is sure to have eyes and ears open. I am not very desirous, you can easily believe, to be dismissed or thrown into the Bastille. Let us talk, I tell you; or rather, do not let us talk at all."

Raoul clinched his hands, and assumed the look and gait of a man of courage, but of a man of courage on his way to the torture. Montalais, glancing in every direction, walking along with an easy swinging gait, and holding up her head pertly in the air, preceded him to Madame's apartments, where he was at once introduced. "Well," he thought, "this day will pass away without my learning anything. De Guiche had too much consideration for my feelings. He has no doubt an understanding with Madame; and both of them, by a friendly plot, have agreed to postpone the solution of the problem. Why have I not here a good enemy,- that serpent De Wardes, for instance? That he would bite is very likely, but I should not hesitate any more. To hesitate, to doubt,- better by far to die!"

Raoul was in Madame's presence. Henrietta, more charming than ever, was half lying, half reclining in her arm-chair, her little feet upon an embroidered velvet cushion; she was playing with a little kitten with long silky fur, which was biting her fingers and hanging by the lace of her collar.

Madame was thinking; she was thinking profoundly. It required both Montalais's and Raoul's voice to disturb her from her reverie.

"Your Highness sent for me?" repeated Raoul.

Madame shook her head, as if she were just awakening, and then said: "Good-morning, M. de Bragelonne. Yes, I sent for you. So you have returned from England?"

"Yes, Madame, and I am at your royal Highness's commands."

"Thank you. Leave us, Montalais!" and the latter left the room.

"You have a few minutes to give me, M. de Bragelonne, have you not?"

"All my life is at your royal Highness's disposal," Raoul returned, with respect, guessing that there was something serious under all these outward courtesies of Madame; nor was he displeased, indeed, to observe the seriousness of her manner, feeling persuaded that there was some sort of affinity between Madame's sentiments and his own. In fact, every one at court of any perception at all well knew the capricious fancy and absurd despotism of the princess's singular character. Madame had been flattered beyond all bounds by the King's attentions; she had made herself talked about; she had inspired the Queen with that mortal jealousy which is the gnawing worm at the root of every woman's happiness. Madame, in a word, in her attempts to cure a wounded pride, had found that her heart had become deeply and passionately attached.

We know what Madame had done to recall Raoul, who had been sent out of the way by Louis XIV. Raoul did not know of her letter to Charles II, although d'Artagnan had guessed its contents. Who will undertake to account for that seemingly inexplicable mixture of love and vanity, that passionate tenderness of feeling, that prodigious duplicity of conduct? No one can, indeed; not even the bad angel who kindles the love of coquetry in the heart of woman.

"M. de Bragelonne," said the princess, after a moment's pause, "have you returned satisfied?"

Bragelonne looked at Madame Henrietta, and seeing how pale she was, from what she was keeping back, from what she was burning to disclose, replied: "Satisfied? What is there for me to be satisfied or dissatisfied about, Madame?"

"But what are those things with which a man of your age and of your appearance is usually either satisfied or dissatisfied?"

"How eager she is?" thought Raoul, terrified. "What is it that she is going to breathe into my heart?" and then, frightened at what she might possibly be going to tell him, and wishing to put off the moment so wished for but so dreadful, when he should learn all, he replied, "I left behind me, Madame, a dear friend in good health, and on my return I find him very ill."

"You refer to M. de Guiche," replied Madame Henrietta, with the most imperturbable self-possession; "I have heard he is a very dear friend of yours."

"He is, indeed, Madame."

"Well, it is quite true he has been wounded; but he is better now. Oh, M. de Guiche is not to be pitied!" she said hurriedly; and then, recovering herself, added, "But has he anything to complain of? Has he complained of anything? Is there any cause of grief or sorrow with which we are not acquainted?"

"I allude only to his wound, Madame."

"So much the better, then; for in other respects M. de Guiche seems to be very happy,- he is always in very high spirits. I am sure that you, M. de Bragelonne, would far prefer to be, like him, wounded only in the body,- for what indeed, is such a wound, after all?"

Raoul started. "Alas!" he said to himself, "she is returning to it." He made no reply.

"What did you say?" she inquired.

"I did not say anything, Madame."

"You did not say anything. You disapprove of my observation, then. You are perfectly satisfied, I suppose?"

Raoul approached closer to her. "Madame," he said, "your royal Highness wishes to say something to me, and your instinctive kindness and generosity of disposition induce you to be careful and considerate as to your manner of conveying it. Will your royal Highness throw this kind forbearance aside? I am strong, and I am listening."

"Ah!" replied Henrietta, "what do you understand, then?"

"That which your royal Highness wishes me to understand," said Raoul, trembling, notwithstanding his command over himself, as he pronounced these words.

"In point of fact," murmured the princess, "it seems cruel; but since I have begun-"

"Yes, Madame, since your Highness has deigned to begin, will you deign to finish-"

Henrietta rose hurriedly, and walked a few paces up and down her room. "What did M. de Guiche tell you?" she said suddenly.

"Nothing, Madame."

"Nothing! Did he say nothing? Ah, how well I recognize him in that!"

"No doubt he wished to spare me."

"And that is what friends call friendship. But surely M. d'Artagnan, whom you have just left, must have told you."

"No more than De Guiche, Madame."

Henrietta made a gesture full of impatience, as she said, "At least, you know all that the court has known?"

"I know nothing at all, Madame."

"Not the scene in the storm?"

"Not the scene in the storm."

"Not the tete-a-tete in the forest?"

"Not the tete-a-tete in the forest."

"Nor the flight to Chaillot?"

Raoul, whose head drooped like the flower which has been cut down by the sickle, made an almost superhuman effort to smile as he replied with the greatest gentleness: "I have had the honor to tell your royal Highness that I am absolutely ignorant of everything,- that I am a poor unremembered outcast, who has this moment arrived from England. There have been so many stormy waves between myself and those whom I left behind me here, that the rumor of none of the circumstances your Highness refers to has been able to reach me."

Henrietta was affected by his extreme pallor, his gentleness, and his great courage. The principal feeling in her heart at that moment was an eager desire to hear the nature of the remembrance which the poor lover retained of her who had made him suffer so much. "M. de Bragelonne," said she, "that which your friends have refused to do, I will do for you, whom I like and esteem. I will be your friend. You hold your head high, as a man of honor should do; and I should regret that you should have to bow it down under ridicule, and in a few days, it may be, under contempt."

"Ah!" exclaimed Raoul, perfectly livid. "Has it already gone so far?"

"If you do not know," said the princess, "I see that you guess; you were affianced, I believe, to Mademoiselle de la Valliere?"

"Yes, Madame."

"By that right, then, you deserve to be warned about her, as some day or other I shall be obliged to dismiss her from my service-"

"Dismiss La Valliere!" cried Bragelonne.

"Of course! Do you suppose that I shall always be accessible to the tears and protestations of the King? No, no; my house shall no longer be made a convenience for such practices. But you tremble!"

"No, Madame, no," said Bragelonne, making an effort over himself. "I thought I should have died just now; that was all. Your royal Highness did me the honor to say that the King wept and implored you-"

"Yes; but in vain," returned the princess, who then related to Raoul the scene that took place at Chaillot, and the King's despair on his return. She told him of his indulgence to herself, and the terrible word with which the outraged princess, the humiliated coquette, had dashed aside the royal anger.

Raoul bowed his head.

"What do you think of it all?" she said.

"The King loves her," he replied.

"But you seem to think she does not love him!"

"Alas, Madame, I still think of the time when she loved me."

Henrietta was for a moment struck with admiration at this sublime disbelief; and then, shrugging her shoulders, she said: "You do not believe me, I see. Oh, how deeply you love her! And you doubt if she loves the King?"

"Until I have proof. Pardon! I have her word, you see; and she is a noble child."

"You require a proof? Be it so! Come with me."

Chapter XIV: A Domiciliary Visit

THE princess, preceding Raoul, led him through the courtyard towards that part of the building which La Valliere inhabited; and ascending the same staircase which Raoul had himself ascended that very morning, she paused at the door of the room in which the young man had been so strangely received by Montalais. The opportunity had been well chosen to carry out the project which Madame Henrietta had conceived, for the chateau was empty. The King, the courtiers, and the ladies of the court had set off for St. Germain; Madame Henrietta alone, aware of Bragelonne's return, and thinking over the advantages which might be drawn from this return, had feigned indisposition in order to remain behind. Madame was therefore confident of finding La Valliere's room and Saint-Aignan's apartment unoccupied. She took a pass-key from her pocket, and opened the door of her maid-of-honor's room. Bragelonne's gaze was immediately fixed upon the interior of the room, which he recognized at once; and the impression which the sight of it produced upon him was one of the first tortures that had awaited him. The princess looked at him, and her practised eye could at once detect what was passing in the young man's heart.

"You asked me for proofs," she said; "do not be astonished, then, if I give you them. But if you do not think you have courage enough to confront them, there is still time to withdraw."

"I thank you, Madame," said Bragelonne; "but I came here to be convinced. You promised to convince me; do so."

"Enter, then," said Madame, "and shut the door behind you."

Bragelonne obeyed, and then turned towards the princess, whom he interrogated by a look.

"You know where you are, I suppose?" inquired Madame Henrietta.

"Everything leads me to believe that I am in Mademoiselle de la Valliere's room."

"You are."

"But I would observe to your Highness that this room is a room, and is not a proof."

"Wait," said the princess, as she walked to the foot of the bed, folded up the screen into its several compartments, and stooped down towards the floor. "Look here," she continued; "stoop down, and lift up this trap-door."

"A trap-door!" said Raoul, astonished; for d'Artagnan's words recurred to his mind, and he remembered that d'Artagnan had made vague use of that word. He looked in vain for some cleft or crevice which might indicate an opening, or a ring to assist in lifting up some portion of the planking.

"Ah! that is true," said Madame Henrietta, smiling; "I forgot the secret spring,- the fourth plank of the flooring. Press on the spot where you will observe a knot in the wood. Those are the instructions. Press, Viscount! press, I say, yourself!"

Raoul, pale as death, pressed his finger on the spot which had been indicated to him; at the same moment the spring began to work, and the trap rose of its own accord.

"It is very ingenious, certainly," said the princess; "and one can see that the architect foresaw that it would be a small hand which would have to employ that device. See how easily the trap-door opens without assistance!"

"A staircase!" cried Raoul.

"Yes; and a very pretty one too," said Madame Henrietta. "See, Viscount, the staircase has a balustrade, intended to prevent the falling of timid persons, who might be tempted to descend; and I will risk myself on it accordingly. Come, Viscount, follow me!"

"But before following you, Madame, may I ask whither this staircase leads?"

"Ah! true; I forgot to tell you. You know, perhaps, that formerly M. de Saint-Aignan lived in the very next apartment to the King's?"

"Yes, Madame, I am aware of that,- that was the arrangement, at least, before I left; and more than once I have had the honor of visiting him in his old rooms."

"Well, he obtained the King's leave to change that convenient and beautiful apartment for the two rooms to which this staircase will conduct us, and which together form a lodging for him twice as small and at ten times greater distance from the King,- a close proximity to whom is by no means disdained, in general, by the gentlemen belonging to the court."

"Very good, Madame," returned Raoul; "but go on, I beg, for I do not yet understand."

"Well, then, it accidentally happened," continued the princess, "that M. de Saint-Aignan's apartment is situated underneath the apartments of my maids of honor, and particularly underneath the room of La Valliere."

"But what was the motive of this trap-door and this staircase?"

"That I cannot tell you. Would you like to go down to M. de Saint-Aignan's rooms? Perhaps we shall there find the solution of the enigma."

Madame set the example by going down herself; and Raoul, sighing deeply, followed her. At every step Bragelonne took, he advanced farther into that mysterious apartment which had been witness to La Valliere's sighs, and still retained the sweetest perfume of her presence. Bragelonne fancied that he perceived, as he inhaled his every breath, that the young girl must have passed through there. Then succeeded to these emanations of herself, which he regarded as invisible though certain proofs, the flowers she preferred to all others, the books of her own selection. Had Raoul preserved a single doubt on the subject, it would have vanished at the secret harmony of tastes and disposition of the mind shown in the things of common use. La Valliere, in Bragelonne's eyes, was present there in every article of furniture, in the color of the hangings, in everything that surrounded him. Dumb, and completely overwhelmed there was nothing further for him to learn, and he followed his pitiless conductress as blindly as the culprit follows the executioner. Madame, as cruel as all women of delicate and nervous temperaments are, did not spare him the slightest detail. But it must be admitted that notwithstanding the kind of apathy into which he had fallen, none of these details, even had he been left alone, would have escaped him. The happiness of the woman who loves, when that happiness is derived from a rival, is a torture for a jealous man; but for a jealous man such as Raoul was, for that heart which for the first time was steeped in gall and bitterness, Louise's happiness was in reality an ignominious death, a death of body and soul. He divined all,- their hands clasped in each other's, their faces drawn close together, and reflected, side by side, in loving proximity, as they gazed upon the mirrors around them,- so sweet an occupation for lovers, who, as they thus see themselves twice over, impress the picture more enduringly in their memories. He divined the kiss unseen behind the heavy curtains falling free of their bands. He translated into feverish pains the eloquence of the couches hid in their shadow. That luxury, that studied elegance, full of intoxication; that extreme care to spare the loved object every annoyance or to occasion her a delightful surprise; that strength and power of love multiplied by the strength and power of royalty itself,- struck Raoul a mortal blow. O, if there be anything which can assuage the tortures of jealousy, it is the inferiority of the man who is preferred to yourself; while, on the very contrary, if there be a hell within hell, a torture without name in language, it is the almightiness of a god placed at the disposal of a rival, together with youth, beauty, and grace. In moments such as these, God himself seems to have taken part against the rejected lover.

One final pang was reserved for poor Raoul. Madame Henrietta lifted a silk curtain, and behind the curtain he perceived La Valliere's portrait. Not only the portrait of La Valliere, but of La Valliere eloquent of youth, beauty, and happiness, inhaling life and enjoyment at every pore, because at eighteen years of age love itself is life.

"Louise!" murmured Bragelonne, "Louise! is it true, then? Oh, you have never loved me, for never have you looked at me in that manner!" and he felt as if his heart were crushed within his bosom.

Madame Henrietta looked at him, almost envious of his extreme grief, although she well knew there was nothing to envy in it, and that she herself was as passionately loved by De Guiche as Louise by Bragelonne. Raoul interpreted Madame Henrietta's look.

"Oh, forgive me, forgive me, Madame! In your presence I know I ought to have greater mastery over myself. But may the Lord God of Heaven and of earth grant that you may never be struck the blow which crushes me at this moment; for you are but a woman, and would not be able to endure so terrible an affliction. Forgive me! I am but a poor gentleman, while you belong to the race of the happy, of the all-powerful, of the elect-"

"M. de Bragelonne," replied Henrietta, "a heart such as yours merits all the consideration and respect which a queen's heart even can bestow. I am your friend, Monsieur; and as such, indeed, I would not allow your whole life to be poisoned by perfidy and covered with ridicule. It was I, indeed, who with more courage than any of your pretended friends,- I except M. de Guiche,- was the cause of your return from London; it is I, also, who have given you these melancholy proofs,- necessary however for your cure, if you are a lover with courage in his heart, and not a weeping Amadis. Do not thank me; pity me even, and do not serve the King less faithfully than you have done."

Raoul smiled bitterly. "Ah! true, true; I was forgetting that! The King is my master."

"Your liberty, nay, your very life, is at stake."

A steady, penetrating look informed Madame Henrietta that she was mistaken, and that her last argument was not likely to affect the young man. "Take care, M. de Bragelonne," she said; "for if you do not weigh well all your actions, you might throw into an extravagance of wrath a prince whose passions, once aroused, exceed the limits of reason, and you would thereby involve your friends and family in distress. You must bend; you must submit, and must cure yourself."

"I thank you, Madame. I appreciate the advice your royal Highness is good enough to give me, and I will endeavor to follow it; but one final word, I beg."

"Name it."

"Should I be indiscreet in asking you the secret of this staircase, of this trapdoor,- a secret which you have discovered?"

"Oh, nothing is more simple! For the purpose of exercising a surveillance over the young girls who are attached to my service, I have duplicate keys of their doors. It seemed very strange to me that M. de Saint-Aignan should change his apartments; it seemed very strange that the King should come to see M. de Saint-Aignan every day; and finally, it seemed very strange that so many things should be done during your absence,- that the very habits and customs of the court seemed to be changed. I do not wish to be trifled with by the King, nor to serve as a cloak for his love-affairs; for after La Valliere, who weeps, he will take a fancy to Montalais, who laughs, and then to Tonnay-Charente, who sings. To act such a part as that would be unworthy of me. I have thrust aside the scruples which my friendship for you suggested. I have discovered the secret. I have wounded your feelings, I know, and I again entreat you to excuse me; but I had a duty to fulfill. I have discharged it. You are now forewarned. The tempest will soon burst; protect yourself."

"You naturally expect, however, that a result of some kind must follow," replied Bragelonne, with firmness; "for you do not suppose I shall silently accept the shame which is thrust upon me, or the treachery which has been practised against me?"

"You will take whatever steps in the matter you please, M. Raoul; only, do not betray the source whence you derived the truth. That is all I have to ask; that is the only price I require for the service I have rendered you."

"Fear nothing, Madame!" said Bragelonne, with a bitter smile.

"I bribed the locksmith in whom the lovers had confided. You can just as well do so as myself, can you not?"

"Yes, Madame. Your royal Highness, however, has no other advice or caution to give me, except that of not betraying you?"

"None other."

"I am, therefore, about to beg your royal Highness to allow me to remain here for one moment."

"Without me?"

"Oh, no, Madame! It matters very little, for what I have to do can be done in your presence. I only ask one moment to write a line to some one."

"It is dangerous, M. de Bragelonne. Take care!"

"No one can possibly know that your royal Highness has done me the honor to conduct me here. Besides, I shall sign the letter I am going to write."

"Do as you please, then."

Raoul drew out his tablet, and wrote rapidly on one of the leaves the following words:-

"MONSIEUR THE COUNT: Do not be surprised to find here this paper signed by me. The friend whom I shall very shortly send to call on you will have the honor to explain the object of my visit to you.

"VICOMTE RAOUL DE BRAGELONNE."

Rolling up the paper, and slipping it into the lock of the door which communicated with the room set apart for the two lovers, Raoul satisfied himself that the paper was so apparent that De Saint-Aignan could not but see it as he entered; then he rejoined the princess, who had already reached the top of the staircase. They then separated,- Raoul pretending to thank her Highness; Henrietta pitying, or seeming to pity, with all her heart the unhappy man she had just condemned to so fearful torture. "Oh," she said as she saw him disappear, pale as death, his eye injected with blood, "if I had known this, I should have concealed the truth from that poor young man!"

Chapter XV: Porthos's Plan of Action

THE multiplicity of the personages we have introduced into this long history compels that each shall appear only in his own turn and according to the exigencies of the recital. The result is that our readers have had no opportunity of again meeting our friend Porthos since his return from Fontainebleau. The honors which he had received from the King had not changed the tranquil, affectionate character of that worthy man; only, he held up his head a little higher than usual, and a majesty of demeanor as it were betrayed itself, since the honor of dining at the King's table had been accorded him.

His Majesty's banqueting-room had produced a certain effect upon Porthos. Le Seigneur de Bracieux et de Pierrefonds delighted to remember that during that memorable dinner the numerous array of servants and the large number of officials who were in attendance upon the guests gave a certain tone and effect to the repast, and seemed to furnish the room. Porthos proposed to confer upon Mouston a position of some kind or other, in order to establish a sort of hierarchy among his domestics, and to create a military household,- which was not unusual among the great captains of the age, since in the preceding century this luxury had been greatly encouraged by Messieurs de Treville, de Schomberg, de la Vieuville, without alluding to Messieurs de Richelieu, de Conde, and de Bouillon-Turenne. And, therefore, why should not he,- Porthos, the friend of the King and of M. Fouquet, a baron, an engineer, etc.,- why should not he indeed enjoy all the delightful privileges attached to large possessions and great merit? Somewhat neglected by Aramis, who we know was greatly occupied with M. Fouquet; neglected also, on account of his being on duty, by d'Artagnan; tired of Truchen and Planchet,- Porthos was surprised to find himself dreaming, without precisely knowing why; but if any one had said to him, "Do you want anything, Porthos?" he would most certainly have replied, "Yes."

After one of those dinners, during which Porthos attempted to recall to his mind all the details of the royal banquet,- half joyful, thanks to the excellence of the wines; half melancholy, thanks to his ambitious ideas,- Porthos was gradually falling off into a gentle doze, when his servant entered to announce that M. de Bragelonne wished to speak to him. Porthos passed into an adjoining room, where he found his young friend in the disposition of mind of which we are already aware. Raoul advanced towards Porthos, and shook him by the hand. Porthos, surprised at his seriousness of aspect, offered him a seat.

"Dear M. du Vallon," said Raoul, "I have a service to ask of you."

"Nothing could happen more fortunately, my young friend," replied Porthos. "I have had eight thousand livres sent me this morning from Pierrefonds; and if you want any money-"

"No, I thank you; it is not money, my dear friend."

"So much the worse, then. I have always heard it said that that is the rarest service, but the easiest to render. The remark struck me; I like to cite remarks that strike me."

"Your heart is as good as your mind is sound and true."

"You are too kind, I'm sure. Will you have your dinner immediately?"

"No; I am not hungry."

"Eh! What a dreadful country England is!"

"Not too much so; but-"

"Well, if such excellent fish and meat were not to be procured there, it would hardly be endurable."

"Yes. I have come-"

"I am listening. Only allow me to take something to drink. One gets thirsty in Paris"; and Porthos ordered a bottle of champagne to be brought. Then, having first filled Raoul's glass, he filled his own, took a large draught, and resumed: "I needed that, in order to listen to you with proper attention. I am now quite at your service. What have you to ask me, dear Raoul? What do you want?"

"Give me your opinion upon quarrels in general, my dear friend."

"My opinion? Well- but- Explain your idea a little," replied Porthos, rubbing his forehead.

"I mean,- are you generally of accommodating disposition whenever any misunderstanding arises between your friends and strangers?"

"Oh! of excellent disposition, as always."

"Very good; but what do you do in such a case?"

"Whenever any friend of mine has a quarrel, I always act upon one principle."

"What is that?"

"That all lost time is irreparable, and that one never arranges an affair so well as when the dispute is still warm."

"Ah! indeed, that is your principle?"

"Thoroughly; so, as soon as a quarrel takes place, I bring the two parties together."

"Exactly."

"You understand that by this means it is impossible for an affair not to be arranged."

"I should have thought," said Raoul, with astonishment, "that, treated in this manner, an affair would, on the contrary-"

"Oh, not the least in the world! Just fancy now! I have had in my life something like a hundred and eighty to a hundred and ninety regular duels, without reckoning hasty encounters or chance meetings."

"It is a very handsome number," said Raoul, unable to resist a smile.

"A mere nothing; but I am so gentle. D'Artagnan reckons his duels by hundreds. It is very true he is a little too hard and sharp,- I have often told him so."

"And so," resumed Raoul, "you generally arrange the affairs of honor your friends confide to you."

"There is not a single instance in which I have not finished by arranging every one of them," said Porthos, with a gentleness and confidence which surprised Raoul.

"But the way in which you settle them is at least honorable, I suppose?"

"Oh, rely upon that! And at this stage I will explain my other principle to you. As soon as my friend has confided his quarrel to me, this is what I do: I go to his adversary at once, armed with a politeness and self-possession which are absolutely requisite under such circumstances."

"That is the way, then," said Raoul, bitterly, "that you arrange the affairs so safely?"

"I believe so. I go to the adversary, then, and say to him, 'It is impossible, Monsieur, that you are ignorant of the extent to which you have insulted my friend.'" Raoul puckered his brows.

"It sometimes happens,- very often indeed," pursued Porthos,- "that my friend has not been insulted at all; he has even been the first to give offence. You can imagine, therefore, whether my language is not well chosen"; and Porthos burst into a peal of laughter.

"Decidedly," said Raoul to himself, while the formidable thunder of Porthos's laughter was ringing in his ears' "I am very unfortunate. De Guiche treats me with coldness, d'Artagnan with ridicule, Porthos is too tame; no one is ready to 'arrange' this affair in my way. And I came to Porthos because I wished to find a sword instead of cold reasoning. Ah, what wretched luck!"

Porthos, who had recovered himself, continued: "By a simple expression, I leave my adversary without an excuse."

"That is as it may happen," said Raoul, indifferently.

"Not at all; it is quite certain. I have not left him an excuse; and then it is that I display all my courtesy, in order to attain the happy issue of my project. I advance, therefore, with an air of great politeness, and taking my adversary by the hand-"

"Oh!" said Raoul, impatiently.

"'Monsieur,' I say to him, 'now that you are convinced of having given the offence, we are sure of reparation; between my friend and yourself the future can offer only an exchange of gracious ceremonies. Consequently I am instructed to give you the length of my friend's sword-'"

"What!" said Raoul.

"Wait a minute!- 'the length of my friend's sword. My horse is waiting below; my friend is in such and such a spot, and is impatiently awaiting your agreeable society. I will take you with me; we can call upon your second as we go along. The affair is arranged.'"

"And so," said Raoul, pale with vexation, "You reconcile the two adversaries on the ground."

"I beg your pardon," interrupted Porthos. "Reconcile? What for?"

"You said that the affair was arranged."

"Of course! since my friend is waiting for him."

"Well, what then? If he is waiting-"

"Well, if he is waiting, it is merely to stretch his legs a little; the adversary, on the contrary, is stiff from riding. They place themselves in proper order, and my friend kills his opponent; the affair is ended."

"Ah! he kills him?" cried Raoul.

"I should think so," said Porthos. "It is likely I should ever have as a friend a man who allows himself to get killed? I have a hundred and one friends; at the head of the list stand your father, Aramis, and d'Artagnan,- all of whom are living and well, I believe."

"Oh, my dear baron!" exclaimed Raoul, delightedly, as he embraced Porthos.

"You approve of my method, then?" said the giant.

"I approve of it so thoroughly that I shall have recourse to it this very day, without a moment's delay,- at once, in fact. You are the very man I have been looking for."

"Good! Here I am, then. You want to fight?"

"Absolutely so."

"It is very natural. With whom?"

"With M. de Saint-Aignan."

"I know him,- a most agreeable man, who was exceedingly polite to me the day I had the honor of dining with the King. I shall certainly return his politeness, even if that were not my usual custom. So, he has given you offence?"

"A mortal offence."

"The devil! I can say 'mortal offence'?"

"More than that, even, if you like."

"That is very convenient."

"I may look upon it as all arranged, may I not?" said Raoul, smiling.

"As a matter of course. Where will you be waiting for him?"

"Ah! I forgot. It is a very delicate matter. M. de Saint-Aignan is a great friend of the King."

"So I have heard it said."

"So that if I kill him-"

"Oh, you will kill him certainly; you must take every precaution to do so! But there is no difficulty in these matters now; if you had lived in our early days,- oh, that was something like!"

"My dear friend, you have not quite understood me. I mean that M. de Saint-Aignan being a friend of the King, the affair will be more difficult to manage, since the King might learn beforehand-"

"Oh, no; that is not likely. You know my method: 'Monsieur, you have injured my friend, and-'"

"Yes, I know it."

"And then: 'Monsieur, I have horses below.' I carry him off before he can have spoken to any one."

"Will he allow himself, think you, to be carried off like that?"

"I should think so! I should like to see it fail! It would be the first time, if it did. It is true, though, that the young men of the present day- Bah! I would carry him off bodily, if it were necessary"; and Porthos, adding gesture to speech, lifted Raoul and his chair.

"Very good," said Raoul, laughing. "All we have to do is to state the grounds of the quarrel to M. de Saint-Aignan."

"Well; but that is done, it seems."

"No, my dear M. du Vallon, the usage of the present day requires that the cause of the quarrel be explained."

"By your new method, yes. Well, then, tell me what it is-"

"The fact is-"

"Deuce take it! See how troublesome this is! In former days we never had any occasion to talk. People fought then for the sake of fighting; and I, for one, know no better reason than that."

"You are quite right, my friend."

"However, tell me what the cause is."

"It is too long a story to tell; only, as one must particularize to some extent-"

"Yes, yes, the devil!- with the new method."

"As it is necessary, I said, to be specific, and as on the other hand the affair is full of difficulties and requires the most absolute secrecy-"

"Oh! oh!"

"You will have the kindness merely to tell M. de Saint-Aignan that he has insulted me,- in the first place, by changing his lodgings."

"By changing his lodgings? Good!" said Porthos, who began to count on his fingers; "next?"

"Then, in getting a trap-door made in his new apartments."

"I understand," said Porthos; "a trapdoor! Upon my word, this is very serious; you ought to be furious at that. What the deuce does the fellow mean by getting trap-doors made without first consulting you? Trap-doors! Mordioux! I haven't any, except in my dungeons at Bracieux."

"And you will add," said Raoul, "that my last motive for considering myself insulted is the portrait that M. de Saint-Aignan well knows."

"Is it possible? A portrait too! A change of residence, a trap-door, and a portrait! Why, my dear friend, with but one of those causes of complaint there is enough, and more than enough, for all the gentlemen in France and Spain to cut one another's throats; and that is saying but very little."

"Well, my dear friend, you are furnished with all you need, I suppose?"

"I shall take a second horse with me. Select your own rendezvous; and while you are waiting there you can practise some of the best passes, so as to get your limbs as elastic as possible."

"Thank you. I shall be waiting for you in the wood of Vincennes, close to Minimes."

"All's right, then. Where am I to find this M. de Saint-Aignan?"

"At the Palais-Royal."

Porthos rang a huge hand-bell. "My court suit," he said to the servant who answered the summons, "my horse, and a led horse to accompany me." Then turning to Raoul as soon as the servant had quitted the room, he said, "Does your father know anything about this?"

"No; I am going to write to him."

"And d'Artagnan?"

"No, nor d'Artagnan, either. He is very cautious, you know, and might have diverted me from my purpose."

"D'Artagnan is a sound adviser, though," said Porthos, astonished that in his own loyal faith in d'Artagnan any one could have thought of himself so long as there was a d'Artagnan in the world.

"Dear M. du Vallon," replied Raoul, "do not question me any more, I implore you. I have told you all that I had to say; it is prompt action that I now expect, as sharp and decided as you know how to arrange it. That, indeed, is my reason for having chosen you."

"You will be satisfied with me," replied Porthos.

"Do not forget, either, that except ourselves no one must know anything of this meeting."

"People always find these things out," said Porthos, "when a dead body is discovered in a wood. But I promise you everything, my dear friend, except concealing the dead body. There it is; and it must be seen, as a matter of course. It is a principle of mine not to bury bodies. That has a smack of the assassin about it. Every risk must take its risk, as they say in Normandy."

"To work, then, my dear friend!"

"Rely upon me," said the giant, finishing the bottle, while the servant spread out upon a sofa the gorgeously decorated dress trimmed with lace. Raoul left the room, saying to himself with a secret delight: "Perfidious King! traitorous monarch! I cannot reach thee. I do not wish it; for the person of a king is sacred. But your accomplice, your panderer,- the coward who represents you,- shall pay for your crime. I will kill him in thy name, and afterwards we will think of Louise."

Chapter XVI: The Change of Residence, the Trap-door, and the Portrait

PORTHOS, to his great delight intrusted with this mission, which made him feel young again, took half an hour less than his usual time to put on his court suit. To show that he was a man acquainted with the usages of the highest society, he had begun by sending his lackey to inquire if M. de Saint-Aignan were at home, and received, in answer, that M. le Comte de Saint-Aignan had had the honor of accompanying the King to St. Germain, as well as the whole court, but that Monsieur the Count had just at that moment returned. Immediately upon this reply, Porthos made haste, and reached De Saint-Aignan's apartments just as the latter was having his boots taken off.

The expedition had been delightful. The King, who was in love more than ever and of course happier than ever, had behaved in the most charming manner to every one. Nothing could possibly equal his kindness. M. de Saint-Aignan, it may be remembered, was a poet, and fancied that he had proved that he was so under too many memorable circumstances to allow the title to be disputed by any one. An indefatigable rhymester, he had during the whole of the journey overwhelmed with quatrains, sextains and madrigals, first the King, and then La Valliere. The King was, on his side, in a similarly poetical mood, and had made a distich; while La Valliere, like all women who are in love, had composed two sonnets. As one may see, then, the day had not been a bad one for Apollo; and therefore, as soon as he had returned to Paris, De Saint-Aignan, who knew beforehand that his verses would be extensively circulated in court circles, occupied himself, with a little more attention than he had been able to bestow during the excursion, with the composition as well as with the idea itself. Consequently, with all the tenderness of a father about to start his children in life, he candidly asked himself whether the public would find these fruits of his imagination sufficiently elegant and graceful; and in order to make his mind easy on the subject, M. de Saint-Aignan recited to himself the madrigal he had composed, and which he had repeated from memory to the King, and which he had promised to write out for him on his return,-

    "Iris, vos yeux malins ne disent pas toujours
     Ce que votre pensee a votre coeur confie;
     Iris, pourquoi faut-il que je passe ma vie
     A plus aimer vos yeux qui m'ont joue ces tours?"

This madrigal, graceful as it was, failed to satisfy De Saint-Aignan when it had passed from oral delivery to the written form of poetry. Many had thought it charming,- its author first of all; but on second view it was not so pleasing. So De Saint-Aignan, sitting at his table, with one leg crossed over the other, and rubbing his brow, repeated,-

    "Iris, vos yeux malins ne disent pas toujours-

"Oh! as to that, now," he murmured, "that is irreproachable. I might even add that it is somewhat in the manner of Ronsard or Malherbe, which makes me proud. Unhappily, it is not so with the second line. There is good reason for the saying that the easiest line to make is the first." And he continued:-

    "Ce que votre pensee a votre coeur confie-. 

 

Ah, there is the 'thought' confiding in the 'heart'! Why should not the heart confide with as good reason in the thought? In faith, for my part, I see nothing to hinder. Where the devil have I been, to bring together these two hemistiches? Now, the third is good,-

     Iris, pourquoi faut-il que je passe ma vie- 

 

although the rhyme is not strong,- vie and confie. My faith! the Abbe Boyer, who is a great poet, has, like me, made a rhyme of vie and confie in the tragedy of 'Oropaste, or the False Tonaxare'; without reckoning that M. Corneille did not scruple to do so in his tragedy of 'Sophonisbe.' Good, then, for vie and confie! Yes; but the line is impertinent. I remember now that the King bit his nail at that moment. In fact, it gives him the appearance of saying to Mademoiselle de la Valliere, 'How does it happen that I am captivated by you?' It would have been better, I think, to say,-

     Que benis soient les dieux qui condamnent ma vie- 

 

Condamnent! ah! well, yes, there is a compliment!- the King condemned to La Valliere- no!" Then he repeated:-

    "Mais benis soient les dieux qui- destinent ma vie. 

 

Not bad, although destinent ma vie is weak; but, good Heavens! everything can't be strong in a quatrain. A plus aimer vos yeux,- in loving more whom, what? Obscurity. But obscurity is nothing; since La Valliere and the King have understood me, every one will understand me. Yes; but here is something melancholy,- the last hemistich: qui m'ont joue ces tours. The plural necessitated by the rhyme! And then to call the modesty of La Valliere a trick,- that is not happy! I shall be a byword to all my quill-driving acquaintances. They will say that my poems are verses in the grand-seigneur style; and if the King hears it said that I am a bad poet, he will take it into his head to believe it."

While confiding these words to his heart and engaging his heart in these thoughts, the count was undressing himself. He had just taken off his coat, and was putting on his dressing-gown, when he was informed that M. le Baron du Vallon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds was waiting to be received.

"Eh!" he said, "what does that bunch of names mean? I don't know him."

"It is the same gentleman," replied the lackey, "who had the honor of dining with you, Monseigneur, at the King's table, when his Majesty was staying at Fontainebleau."

"With the King, at Fontainebleau?" cried De Saint-Aignan. "Eh! quick, quick! introduce that gentleman."

The lackey hastened to obey. Porthos entered. M. de Saint-Aignan had an excellent recollection of persons, and at the first glance he recognized the gentleman from the country who enjoyed so singular a reputation, and whom the King had received so favorably at Fontainebleau, in spite of the smiles of some of those who were present. He therefore advanced towards Porthos with all outward signs of good-will, which Porthos thought but natural, considering that he himself, whenever he called upon an adversary, hoisted the standard of the most refined politeness. De Saint-Aignan desired the servant to give Porthos a chair; and the latter, who saw nothing unusual in this act of politeness, sat down gravely, and coughed.

The ordinary courtesies having been exchanged between the two gentlemen, the count, since to him the visit was paid, said, "May I ask, Monsieur the Baron, to what happy circumstance I owe the favor of your visit?"

"The very thing I am about to have the honor of explaining to you, Monsieur the Count; but, I beg your pardon-"

"What is the matter, Monsieur?" inquired De Saint-Aignan.

"I regret to say that I have broken your chair."

"Not at all, Monsieur," said De Saint-Aignan; "not at all."

"It is the fact, though, Monsieur the Count; I have broken it,- so much so, indeed, that if I remain in it I shall fall down, which would be an exceedingly disagreeable position for me in the discharge of the very serious mission which has been intrusted to me with regard to yourself."

Porthos rose; and but just in time, for the chair had given way several inches. De Saint-Aignan looked about him for something more solid for his guest to sit upon.

"Modern articles of furniture," said Porthos, while the count was looking about, "are constructed in a ridiculously light manner. In my early days, when I used to sit down with far more energy than now, I do not remember ever to have broken a chair, except in taverns, with my arms." De Saint-Aignan smiled at this remark. "But," said Porthos, as he settled himself on a couch, which creaked but did not give way beneath his weight, "that unfortunately has nothing whatever to do with my present visit."

"Why unfortunately? Are you the bearer of a message of ill omen, Monsieur the Baron?"

"Of ill omen,- for a gentleman? Certainly not, Monsieur the Count," replied Porthos, nobly. "I have simply come to say that you have seriously offended a friend of mine."

"I, Monsieur?" exclaimed De Saint-Aignan,- "I have offended a friend of yours, do you say? May I ask his name?"

"M. Raoul de Bragelonne."

"I have offended M. Raoul de Bragelonne!" cried De Saint-Aignan. "I really assure you, Monsieur, that it is quite impossible; for M. de Bragelonne, whom I know but very slightly,- nay, whom I know hardly at all,- is in England; and as I have not seen him for a long time past, I cannot possibly have offended him."

"M. de Bragelonne is in Paris, Monsieur the Count," said Porthos, perfectly unmoved; "and I repeat, it is quite certain you have offended him, since he himself told me you had. Yes, Monsieur, you have seriously offended him, mortally offended him, I repeat."

"It is impossible, Monsieur the Baron, I swear,- quite impossible."

"Besides," added Porthos, "you cannot be ignorant of the circumstance, since M. de Bragelonne informed me that he had already apprised you of it by a note."

"I give you my word of honor, Monsieur, that I have received no note whatever."

"This is most extraordinary," replied Porthos.

"I will convince you," said De Saint-Aignan, "that I have received nothing in any way from him"; and he rang the bell. "Basque," he said to the servant who entered, "how many letters or notes were sent here during my absence?"

"Three, Monsieur the Count,- a note from M. de Fiesque, one from Madame de Laferte, and a letter from M. de las Fuentes."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, Monsieur the Count."

"Speak the truth before this gentleman,- the truth, you understand! I will take care you are not blamed."

"There was a note, also, from- from-"

"Well, from whom?"

"From Mademoiselle de la Val-"

"That is quite sufficient," interrupted Porthos. "I believe you, Monsieur the Count."

De Saint-Aignan dismissed the valet and followed him to the door in order to close it after him; and when he had done so, looking straight before him, he happened to see in the keyhole of the adjoining apartment the paper which Bragelonne had slipped in there as he left. "What is this?" he said.

Porthos, who was sitting with his back to the room, turned round. "Oh, oh!" he said.

"A note in the keyhole!" exclaimed De Saint-Aignan.

"That is not unlikely to be the one we want, Monsieur the Count," said Porthos.

De Saint-Aignan took out the paper. "A note from M. de Bragelonne!" he exclaimed.

"You see, Monsieur, I was right. Oh, when I say a thing-"

"Brought here by M. de Bragelonne himself," the count murmured, turning pale. "This is infamous! How could he possibly have come here?" and the count rang again.

"Who has been here during my absence with the King?"

"No one, Monsieur."

"That is impossible. Some one must have been here."

"No one could possibly have entered, Monsieur; since I kept the keys in my own pocket."

"And yet I find this letter in that lock yonder. Some one must have put it there; it could not have come alone."

Basque opened his arms, as if signifying the most absolute ignorance on the subject.

"Probably it was M. de Bragelonne himself who placed it there," said Porthos.

"In that case he must have entered here."

"Without doubt, Monsieur."

"How could that have been, since I have the key in my own pocket?" returned Basque, perseveringly.

De Saint-Aignan crumpled up the letter in his hand, after having read it.

"There is something mysterious about this," he murmured, absorbed in thought.

Porthos left him to his reflections; but after a while returned to the mission he had undertaken. "Shall we return to our little affair?" he said, addressing De Saint-Aignan, as soon as the lackey had disappeared.

"I think I can now understand it, from this note which has arrived here in so singular a manner. M. de Bragelonne says that a friend will call."

"I am his friend, and am the one he alludes to."

"For the purpose of giving me a challenge?"

"Precisely."

"And he complains that I have offended him?"

"Mortally so."

"In what way, may I ask?- for his conduct is so mysterious that it at least needs some explanation."

"Monsieur," replied Porthos, "my friend cannot but be right; and so far as his conduct is concerned, if it be mysterious, as you say, you have only yourself to blame for it."

Porthos pronounced these words with an amount of confidence which for a man who was unaccustomed to his ways must have indicated an infinity of sense.

"Mystery? Be it so; but what is the mystery about?" said De Saint-Aignan.

"You will think it best, perhaps," Porthos replied, with a low bow, "that I do not enter into particulars, and for excellent reasons."

"Oh, I perfectly understand you! We will touch very lightly upon it, then. So speak, Monsieur; I am listening."

"In the first place, Monsieur," said Porthos, "you have changed your apartments."

"Yes, that is quite true."

"You admit it, then," said Porthos, with an air of satisfaction.

"Admit it? of course I admit it. Why should I not admit it, do you suppose?"

"You have admitted it. Very good," said Porthos, lifting up one finger.

"But how can my having moved my lodgings have done M. de Bragelonne any harm? Have the goodness to tell me that, for I positively do not comprehend a word of what you are saying."

Porthos stopped him, and then said with great gravity: "Monsieur, this is the first of M. de Bragelonne's complaints against you. If he makes a complaint, it is because he feels himself insulted."

De Saint-Aignan began to beat his foot impatiently on the floor. "This looks like a bad quarrel," he said.

"No one can possibly have a bad quarrel with the Vicomte de Bragelonne," returned Porthos; "but, at all events, you have nothing to add on the subject of your changing your apartments, I suppose?"

"Nothing. And what is the next point?"

"Ah, the next! You will observe, Monsieur, that the one I have already mentioned is a most serious injury, to which you have given no answer, or rather have answered very indifferently. So, Monsieur, you change your lodgings; that offends M. de Bragelonne, and you do not attempt to excuse yourself? Very well!"

"What!" cried De Saint-Aignan, who was irritated by the coolness of his visitor,- "what! Am I to consult M. de Bragelonne whether I am to move or not? You can hardly be serious, Monsieur."

"Absolutely necessary, Monsieur; but, under any circumstances, you will admit that it is nothing in comparison with the second ground of complaint."

"Well, what is that?"

Porthos assumed a very serious expression as he said, "How about the trap-door, Monsieur?"

De Saint-Aignan turned exceedingly pale. He pushed back his chair so abruptly that Porthos, simple as he was, perceived that the blow had told. "The trap-door?" murmured De Saint-Aignan.

"Yes, Monsieur, explain that if you can," said Porthos, shaking his head.

De Saint-Aignan held down his head. "Oh, I have been betrayed," he murmured; "everything is known!"

"Everything," replied Porthos, who knew nothing.

"You see me overwhelmed," pursued De Saint-Aignan,- "overwhelmed to such a degree that I hardly know what I am about."

"A guilty conscience, Monsieur! Your affair is a bad one."

"Monsieur!"

"And when the public shall learn all about it, and will judge-"

"Oh, Monsieur!" exclaimed the count, hurriedly, "such a secret ought not to be known, even by one's confessor!"

"That we will think about," said Porthos; "the secret will not go far, in fact."

"But, Monsieur," returned De Saint-Aignan, "is M. de Bragelonne, in penetrating the secret, aware of the danger to which he exposes himself and others?"

"M. de Bragelonne incurs no danger, Monsieur, nor does he fear any either,- as you, if it please Heaven, will find out very soon."

"This fellow is a perfect madman," thought De Saint-Aignan. "What, in Heaven's name, does he want?" He then said aloud: "Come, Monsieur, let us hush up this affair."

"You forget the portrait!" said Porthos, in a voice of thunder, which made the count's blood freeze in his veins.

As the portrait in question was La Valliere's portrait, and as no mistake could any longer exist on the subject, De Saint-Aignan's eyes were completely opened. "Ah," he exclaimed,- "ah, Monsieur, I remember now that M. de Bragelonne was engaged to be married to her."

Porthos assumed an imposing air- all the majesty of ignorance, in fact- as he said: "It matters nothing whatever to me, nor to yourself indeed, whether or not my friend was, as you say, engaged to be married. I am even astonished that you should have made use of so indiscreet a remark. It may possibly do your cause harm, Monsieur."

"Monsieur," replied De Saint-Aignan, "you are the incarnation of intelligence, delicacy, and loyalty of feeling united. I see the whole matter now clearly enough."

"So much the better," said Porthos.

"And," pursued De Saint-Aignan, "you have made me comprehend it in the most ingenious and the most delicate manner possible. Thank you, Monsieur, thank you." Porthos drew himself up. "Only, now that I know everything, permit me to explain-"

Porthos shook his head as a man who does not wish to hear; but De Saint-Aignan continued: "I am in despair, I assure you, at all that has happened; but how would you have acted in my place? Come, between ourselves, tell me what would you have done?"

Porthos raised his head. "There is no question at all of what I should have done, young man; you have now," he said, "been made acquainted with the three causes of complaint against you, I believe?"

"As for the first, my change of rooms,- and I now address myself to you, as a man of honor and of great intelligence,- could I, when the desire of so august a personage was so urgently expressed that I should move, ought I to have disobeyed?"

Porthos was about to speak, but De Saint-Aignan did not give him time to answer. "Ah! my frankness, I see, convinces you," he said, interpreting the movement in his own interest. "You perceive that I am right?"

Porthos did not reply. De Saint-Aignan continued: "I pass to that unfortunate trap-door," placing his hand on Porthos's arm,- "that trap-door, the occasion and the means of so much unhappiness, and which was constructed for- you know what. Well, then, in plain truth, do you suppose that it was I who, of my own accord, in such a place too, had that trap-door made? Oh, no! you do not believe it; and here, again, you feel, you guess, you understand the influence of a will superior to my own. You can conceive the infatuation,- I do not speak of love, that madness irresistible! But, thank Heaven! happily the affair is with a man who has so much sensitiveness of feeling. If it were not so, indeed, what an amount of misery and scandal would fall upon her, poor girl! and upon him- whom I will not name."

Porthos, confused and bewildered by the eloquence and gestures of De Saint-Aignan, made a thousand efforts to stem this torrent of words, of which, by the by, he did not understand a single one; he remained upright and motionless on his seat, and that was all he could do.

De Saint-Aignan continued, and gave a new inflection to his voice, and an increasing vehemence to his gesture: "As for the portrait,- for I readily believe the portrait is the principal cause of complaint,- tell me candidly if you think me to blame? Who was it that wished to have her portrait? Was it I? Who is in love with her? Is it I? Who desires her? Who has won her? Is it I? No, a thousand times no! I know M. de Bragelonne must be in a state of despair; I know these misfortunes are most cruel. But I, too, am suffering as well; and yet there is no possibility of offering any resistance. If he struggles, he will be derided; if he resists, he is lost. You will tell me, I know, that despair is madness; but you are reasonable,- you have understood me. I perceive by your serious, thoughtful, embarrassed air, even, that the importance of the situation in which we are placed has not escaped you. Return, therefore, to M. de Bragelonne; thank him- as I have indeed reason to thank him- for having chosen as an intermediary a man of your merit. Believe me that I shall, on my side, preserve an eternal gratitude for the man who has so ingeniously, so cleverly corrected the misunderstanding between us. And since ill-luck would have it that the secret should be known to four instead of to three, why, this secret, which might make the most ambitious man's fortune, I am delighted to share with you, Monsieur; from the bottom of my heart I am delighted at it. From this very moment you can make use of me as you please; I place myself entirely at your mercy. What can I possibly do for you? What can I solicit, nay, require even? Speak, Monsieur, speak!"

According to the familiarly friendly fashion of that period, De Saint-Aignan threw his arms round Porthos, and clasped him tenderly in his embrace. Porthos allowed him to do this with the most complete indifference.

"Speak!" resumed De Saint-Aignan; what do you require?"

"Monsieur," said Porthos, "I have a horse below; be good enough to mount him. He is a very good one, and will play you no tricks."

"Mount on horseback! What for?" inquired De Saint-Aignan, with no little curiosity.

"To accompany me where M. de Bragelonne is awaiting us."

"Ah! he wishes to speak to me, I suppose? I can well believe that; he wishes to have the details, very likely. Alas! it is a very delicate matter; but at the present moment I cannot, for the King is waiting for me."

"The King will wait," said Porthos.

"But where is M. de Bragelonne expecting me?"

"At the Minimes, at Vincennes."

"Ah, indeed! but we are going to laugh over the affair when we get there?"

"I don't think it likely,- not I, at least"; and the face of Porthos assumed a stern hardness of expression. "The Minimes is a rendezvous for duels."

"Very well; what, then, have I to do at the Minimes?"

Porthos slowly drew his sword, and said, "That is the length of my friend's sword."

"Why, the man is mad!" cried De Saint-Aignan.

The color mounted to Porthos's face, as he replied: "If I had not the honor of being in your own apartment, Monsieur, and of representing M. de Bragelonne's interests, I would throw you out of the window. It will be merely a pleasure postponed, and you will lose nothing by waiting. Will you come to the Minimes, Monsieur?"

"Eh!"

"Will you go thither of your own free will?"

"But-"

"I will carry you if you do not come. Take care!"

"Basque!" cried M. de Saint-Aignan. As soon as Basque appeared, he said, "The King wishes to see Monsieur the Count."

"That is very different," said Porthos; "the King's service before everything else. We will wait there until this evening, Monsieur." And saluting De Saint-Aignan with his usual courtesy, Porthos left the room, delighted at having arranged another affair.

De Saint-Aignan looked after him as he left; and then hastily putting on his coat again, he ran off, arranging his dress as he went along, muttering to himself: "The Minimes! the Minimes! We will see how the King will like this challenge; for it is for him, after all, pardieu!"

Chapter XVII: Rival Politics

ON HIS return from the ride which had been so prolific in poetical effusions, and in which everyone had paid tribute to the Muses, as the poets of the period used to say, the King found M. Fouquet waiting for an audience. Behind the King came M. Colbert, who had met the King in the corridor, as if on the watch for him, and followed him like a jealous and watchful shadow,- M. Colbert, with his square head, and his vulgar and untidy though rich costume, which gave him some resemblance to a Flemish gentleman after drinking beer. Fouquet, at the sight of his enemy, remained unmoved, and during the whole of the scene which followed observed that line of conduct so difficult to a man of refinement whose heart is filled with contempt, but who wishes to suppress every indication of it, lest he may do his adversary too much honor. Colbert did not conceal his insolent joy. In his opinion, M. Fouquet's was a game very badly played and hopelessly lost, although not yet finished. Colbert belonged to that school of politicians who think cleverness alone worthy of their admiration, and success the only thing worth caring for. Colbert, moreover, who was not simply an envious and jealous man, but who had the King's interest really at heart, because he was thoroughly imbued with the highest sense of probity in all matters of figures and accounts, could well afford to assign as a pretext for his conduct, that in hating and doing his utmost to ruin M. Fouquet he had nothing in view but the welfare of the State and the dignity of the crown.

None of these details escaped Fouquet's observation. Through his enemy's thick, bushy brows, and despite the restless movement of his eyelids, he could, by merely looking at his eyes, penetrate to the very bottom of Colbert's heart; he saw, then, all there was in that heart,- hatred and triumph. But as he wished, while observing everything, to remain himself impenetrable, he composed his features, smiled with that charmingly sympathetic smile which was peculiarly his own, and saluted the King with the most dignified and graceful ease and elasticity of manner. "Sire," he said, "I perceive by your Majesty's joyous air that you have had a pleasant ride."

"Charming, indeed, Monsieur the Superintendent, charming! You were very wrong not to come with us as I invited you to do."

"I was working, Sire," replied the superintendent, who did not take the trouble to turn aside his head even in recognition of Colbert's presence.

"Ah! M. Fouquet," cried the King, "there is nothing like the country. I should be delighted to live in the country always, in the open air and under the trees."

"Oh! your Majesty is not yet weary of the throne, I trust?" said Fouquet.

"No; but thrones of soft turf are very delightful."

"Your Majesty gratifies my utmost wishes in speaking in that manner, for I have a request to submit to you."

"On whose behalf, Monsieur?"

"On behalf of the nymphs of Vaux, Sire."

"Ah! ah!" said Louis XIV.

"Your Majesty once deigned to make me a promise," said Fouquet.

"Yes, I remember it."

"The fete at Vaux, the celebrated fete, is it not, Sire?" said Colbert, endeavoring to show his importance by taking part in the conversation.

Fouquet, with the profoundest contempt, did not take the slightest notice of the remark, as if, so far as he was concerned, Colbert had not spoken. "Your Majesty is aware," he said, "that I destine my estate at Vaux to receive the most amiable of princes, the most powerful of monarchs."

"I have given you my promise, Monsieur," said Louis XIV, smiling; "and a King never departs from his word."

"And I have come now, Sire, to inform your Majesty that I am ready to obey your orders in every respect."

"Do you promise me many wonders, Monsieur the Superintendent?" said Louis, looking at Colbert.

"Wonders? Oh, no, Sire! I do not undertake that; but I hope to be able to procure your Majesty a little pleasure, perhaps even a little forgetfulness of the cares of State."

"Nay, nay, M. Fouquet," returned the King; "I insist upon the word 'wonders.' Oh, you are a magician! We know your power; we know that you could find gold, even were there none in the world. And, in fact, people say you make it."

Fouquet felt that the shot was discharged from a double quiver, and that the King had launched an arrow from his own bow as well as one from Colbert's. "Oh!" said he, laughingly, "the people know perfectly well out of what mine I procure the gold; they know it only too well, perhaps. Besides," he added proudly, "I can assure your Majesty that the gold destined to pay the expenses of the fete at Vaux will cost neither blood nor tears; hard labor it may, perhaps. But that can be paid for."

Louis remained silent; he wished to look at Colbert. Colbert, too, wished to reply; but a glance as swift as an eagle's,- a proud, loyal, king-like glance, indeed,- which Fouquet darted at the latter, arrested the words upon his lips. The King, who had by this time recovered his self-possession, turned towards Fouquet, saying, "I presume, therefore, I am now to consider myself formally invited?"

"Yes, Sire, if it pleases your Majesty."

"For what day?"

"Any day your Majesty may find most convenient."

"You speak like an enchanter who improvises, M. Fouquet. I could not say so much, indeed."

"Your Majesty will do, whenever you please, everything that a monarch can and ought to do. The King of France has servants at his bidding who are able to do anything on his behalf, to accomplish everything to gratify his pleasures."

Colbert tried to look at the superintendent in order to see whether this remark was an approach to less hostile sentiments on his part. But Fouquet had not even looked at his enemy; so far as he was concerned, Colbert did not exist.

"Very good, then," said the King; "will a week hence suit you?"

"Perfectly well, Sire."

"This is Tuesday; if I give you until next Sunday week, will that be sufficient?"

"The delay which your Majesty deigns to accord me will greatly aid the various works which my architects have in hand for the purpose of adding to the amusement of your Majesty and your friends."

"By the by, speaking of my friends," resumed the King; "how do you intend to treat them?"

"The King is master everywhere, Sire; your Majesty will draw up your own list and give your own orders. All those you may deign to invite will be my guests,- my honored guests indeed."

"I thank you!" returned the King, touched by the noble thought expressed in so noble a tone.

Fouquet therefore took leave of Louis XIV, after a few words had been added with regard to the details of certain matters of business. He felt that Colbert would remain behind with the King, that they would both converse about him, and that neither of them would spare him in the least degree. The satisfaction of being able to give a last and terrible blow to his enemy seemed to him almost like a compensation for everything to which they were about to subject him. He turned back again immediately, when he had already reached the door, and addressing the King, "Pardon, Sire," said he,- "pardon!"

"Pardon for what?" said the King, graciously.

"For a serious fault which I committed unawares."

"A fault! You! Ah, M. Fouquet, I shall be unable to do otherwise than forgive you. In what way or against whom have you been found wanting?"

"Against all propriety, Sire. I forgot to inform your Majesty of a circumstance of considerable importance."

"What is it?"

Colbert trembled; he expected a denunciation. His conduct had been unmasked. A single syllable from Fouquet, a single proof formally advanced, and before the youthful loyalty of Louis XIV Colbert's favor would disappear at once. The latter trembled, therefore, lest so daring a blow might not overthrow his whole scaffold. In point of fact, the opportunity was so admirably suited to be taken advantage of, that a skilful player like Aramis would not have let it slip. "Sire," said Fouquet, with an easy air, "since you have had the kindness to forgive me, I am indifferent about my confession: this morning I sold one of the official appointments I hold."

"One of your appointments?" said the King; "which?"

Colbert turned livid. "That which conferred upon me, Sire, a grand gown and an air of gravity,- the appointment of procureur-general."

The King involuntarily uttered a loud exclamation and looked at Colbert, who with his face bedewed with perspiration felt almost on the point of fainting. "To whom have you sold this appointment, M. Fouquet?" inquired the King.

Colbert was obliged to lean against the side of the fire-place.

"To a councillor belonging to the parliament, Sire, whose name is Vanel."

"Vanel?"

"A friend of the intendant Colbert," added Fouquet, letting every word fall from his lips with inimitable nonchalance, and with an admirably assumed expression of forgetfulness and ignorance which neither painter, actor, nor poet could reproduce with brush, gesture, or pen. Then having finished, having overwhelmed Colbert beneath the weight of this superiority, the superintendent again saluted the King and quitted the room, partially revenged by the stupefaction of the King and the humiliation of the favorite.

"Is it really possible," said the King, as soon as Fouquet had disappeared, "that he has sold that office?"

"Yes, Sire," said Colbert, meaningly.

"He must be mad," the King added.

Colbert this time did not reply; he had penetrated the King's thought. That thought promised him revenge. His hatred was augmented by jealousy; and a threat of disgrace was now added to the plan he had arranged for his ruin. Colbert felt assured that for the future, as between Louis XIV and himself, his hostile ideas would meet with no obstacles, and that at the first fault committed by Fouquet which could be laid hold of as a pretext, the chastisement impending over him would be precipitated. Fouquet had thrown aside his weapons of defence; Hate and Jealousy had picked them up.

Colbert was invited by the King to the fete at Vaux; he bowed like a man confident in himself, and accepted the invitation with the air of one who confers a favor. The King was about writing down De Saint-Aignan's name on his list of invitations, when the usher announced the Comte de Saint-Aignan. As soon as the royal "Mercury" entered, Colbert discreetly withdrew.

Chapter XVIII: Rival Lovers

DE SAINT-AIGNAN had quitted Louis XIV hardly two hours before; but in the first effervescence of his affection, whenever Louis XIV did not see La Valliere he was obliged to talk of her. Now, the only person with whom he could speak about her at his ease was De Saint-Aignan, and that person had therefore become indispensable to him.

"Ah! is that you, Count?" the King exclaimed, as soon as he perceived him,- doubly delighted, not only to see him again, but also to get rid of Colbert, whose scowling face always put him out of humor,- "so much the better. I am very glad to see you; you will make one of the travelling-party, I suppose?"

"Of what travelling-party are you speaking, Sire?" inquired De Saint-Aignan.

"The one we are making up to go to the fete the superintendent is about to give at Vaux. Ah! De Saint-Aignan, you will at last see a fete, a royal fete, by the side of which all our amusements at Fontainebleau are petty, contemptible affairs."

"At Vaux?- the superintendent going to give a fete in your Majesty's honor? Nothing more than that!"

"'Nothing more than that!' do you say? It is very diverting to find you treating it with so much disdain. Are you, who express such indifference on the subject, aware that as soon as it is known that M. Fouquet is going to receive me at Vaux next Sunday week, people will be striving their very utmost to get invited to the fete? I repeat, De Saint-Aignan, you shall be one of the invited guests."

"Very well, Sire; unless I shall in the mean time have undertaken a longer and less agreeable journey."

"What journey?"

"The one across the Styx, Sire."

"Bah!" said Louis XIV, laughing.

"No, seriously, Sire," replied De Saint-Aignan, "I am invited there; and in such a way, in truth, that I hardly know what to say or how to act in order to refuse it."

"I do not understand you. I know that you are in a poetical vein; but try not to sink from Apollo to Phoebus."

"Very well; if your Majesty will deign to listen to me, I will not keep you in suspense any longer."

"Speak!"

"Your Majesty knows the Baron du Vallon?"

"Yes, indeed,- a good servant to my father, the late King, and an admirable companion at table; for I think you are referring to him who dined with us at Fontainebleau?"

"Precisely; but you have omitted to add to his other qualifications, Sire, that he is a most charming killer of people."

"What! does M. du Vallon wish to kill you?"

"Or to get me killed,- which is the same thing."

"Bless my heart!"

"Do not laugh, Sire, for I am not saying a word that is not the exact truth."

"And you say he wishes to get you killed?"

"That is that excellent person's present idea."

"Be easy; I will defend you, if he be in the wrong."

"Ah! there is an 'if'."

"Of course! Answer me as candidly as if it were some one else's affair instead of your own, my poor De Saint-Aignan: is he right or wrong?"

"Your Majesty shall be the judge."

"What have you done to him?"

"To him, personally, nothing at all; but it seems I have to one of his friends."

"It is all the same. Is his friend one of the celebrated 'four'?"

"No! It is only the son of one of the celebrated 'four.'"

"What have you done to the son? Come, tell me."

"Why, I have helped some one to take his mistress from him."

"You confess it, then?

"I cannot help confessing it, for it is true."

"In that case you are wrong."

"Ah! I am wrong?"

"Yes; and my faith, if he kills you-"

"Well?"

"Well, he will do what is right."

"Ah! that is your Majesty's way of reasoning, then?"

"Do you think it a bad way?"

"It is a very expeditious way."

"'Good justice is prompt'; so my grandfather Henry IV used to say."

"In that case your Majesty will immediately sign my adversary's pardon, for he is now waiting for me at the Minimes to kill me."

"His name, and a parchment!"

"There is a parchment upon your Majesty's table; and as for his name-"

"Well, what is it?"

"The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Sire."

"The Vicomte de Bragelonne!" exclaimed the King, changing from a fit of laughter to the most profound stupor; and then after a moment's silence, while he wiped his forehead, which was bedewed with perspiration, he again murmured, "Bragelonne!"

"No other than he, Sire."

"Bragelonne, who was affianced to-"

"Yes, Sire."

"He was in London, however."

"Yes; but I can assure you, Sire, he is there no longer."

"Is he in Paris?"

"He is at the Minimes, Sire, where he is waiting for me, as I have already had the honor of telling you."

"Does he know all?"

"Yes; and many things besides. Perhaps your Majesty would like to look at the letter I have received from him"; and De Saint Aignan drew from his pocket the note with which we are already acquainted. "When your Majesty has read the letter, I will tell you how it reached me."

The King read it in great agitation, and immediately said, "Well?"

"Well, Sire; your Majesty knows a certain carved lock, closing a certain door of ebony-wood, which separates a certain apartment from a certain blue and white sanctuary?"

"Of course! Louise's boudoir."

"Yes, Sire. Well, it was in the keyhole of that lock that I found that note. Who placed it there? Either M. de Bragelonne, or the devil himself; but inasmuch as the note smells of amber and not of sulphur, I conclude that it must be, not the devil, but M. de Bragelonne."

Louis bent down his head, and seemed absorbed in sad and melancholy reflections. Perhaps something like remorse was at that moment passing through his heart. "Oh!" he said, "that secret discovered!"

"Sire, I shall do my utmost that the secret dies in the breast of the man who possesses it," said De Saint-Aignan, in a tone of bravado, as he moved towards the door; but a gesture of the King made him pause.

"Where are you going?" he inquired.

"Where I am waited for, Sire."

"What for?"

"To fight, in all probability."

"You fight!" exclaimed the King. "One moment, if you please, Monsieur the Count!"

De Saint-Aignan shook his head, as a rebellious child does whenever any one interferes to prevent him from throwing himself into a well or playing with a knife.

"But yet, Sire-" he said.

"In the first place," continued the King, "I require to be enlightened a little."

"Upon that point, if your Majesty will be pleased to interrogate me," replied De Saint-Aignan, "I will throw what light I can."

"Who told you that M. de Bragelonne had penetrated into that room?"

"The letter which I found in the keyhole told me so."

"Who told you that it was De Bragelonne who put it there?"

"Who but himself would have dared to undertake such a mission?"

"You are right. How was he able to get into your rooms?"

"Ah! that is very serious, inasmuch as all the doors were closed, and my lackey, Basque, had the keys in his pocket."

"Your lackey must have been bribed."

"Impossible, Sire; for if he had been bribed, those who did so would not have sacrificed the poor fellow, whom it is not unlikely they might want to turn to further use by and by, in showing so clearly that it was he of whom they had made use."

"Quite true. And now there remains but one conjecture."

"Let us see, Sire, if it is the same that has presented itself to my mind."

"That he effected an entrance by means of the staircase."

"Alas! Sire, that seems to me more than probable."

"There is no doubt that some one sold the secret of the trap-door."

"Either sold it or gave it."

"Why do you make that distinction?"

"Because there are certain persons, Sire, who being above the price of a treason give, and do not sell."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, Sire, your Majesty's mind is too clear-sighted not to guess what I mean, and you will save me the embarrassment of naming any one."

"You are right: you mean Madame!"

"Ah!" said De Saint-Aignan.

"Madame, whose suspicions were aroused by your changing your lodgings."

"Madame, who has keys of the apartments of her maids of honor, and is powerful enough to discover what no one but yourself or she would be able to discover."

"And you suppose, then, that my sister has entered into an alliance with Bragelonne?"

"Eh! eh! Sire-"

"So far as to inform him of all the details of the affair?"

"Perhaps even further still."

"Further? What do you mean?"

"Perhaps to the point of going with him."

"Which way,- through your own apartments?"

"You think it impossible, Sire? Well, listen to me! Your Majesty knows that Madame is very fond of perfumes?"

"Yes, she acquired that taste from my mother."

"Vervain particularly."

"Yes, it is the scent she prefers to all others."

"Very good, Sire! my apartments smell very strongly of vervain."

The King remained silent and thoughtful for a few moments, and then resumed: "But why should Madame take Bragelonne's part against me?" De Saint-Aignan could very easily have replied: "A woman's jealousy!" In his question the King had probed his friend to the bottom of his heart to ascertain if he had learned the secret of his flirtation with his sister-in-law. But De Saint-Aignan was not an ordinary courtier; he did not lightly run the risk of finding out family secrets; and he was too good a friend of the Muses not to think very frequently of poor Ovidius Naso, whose eyes shed so many tears in expiation of his crime for having once beheld something, one hardly knows what, in the palace of Augustus. He therefore passed by Madame's secret very skilfully. But since he had exhibited his sagacity in proving Madame's presence in his rooms with Bragelonne, it was now necessary for him to pay interest on that self-conceit, and reply clearly to the question, "Why has Madame taken Bragelonne's part against me?"

"Why?" replied De Saint-Aignan. "Your Majesty forgets, I presume, that the Comte de Guiche is the intimate friend of the Vicomte de Bragelonne?"

"I do not see the connection, however," said the King.

"Ah! I beg your pardon then, Sire; but I thought the Comte de Guiche was a very great friend of Madame."

"Quite true," the King returned. "There is no occasion to search any further; the blow came from that direction."

"And is not your Majesty of the opinion that in order to ward it off it will be necessary to deal another blow?"

"Yes; but not one of the kind given in the Bois de Vincennes," replied the King.

"You forget, Sire," said De Saint-Aignan, "that I am a gentleman, and that I have been challenged."

"The challenge neither concerns nor was it intended for you."

"But it is I who have been expected at the Minimes, Sire, during the last hour and more; and I shall be dishonored if I do not go there."

"The first honor and duty of a gentleman is obedience to his sovereign."

"Sire!"

"I order you to remain."

"Sire!"

"Obey, Monsieur!"

"As your Majesty pleases."

"Besides, I wish to have the whole of this affair explained; I wish to know how it is that I have been so insolently trifled with as to have the sanctuary of my affection pried into. It is not you, De Saint-Aignan, who ought to punish those who have acted in this manner; for it is not your honor they have attacked, but my own."

"I implore your Majesty not to overwhelm M. de Bragelonne with your wrath; for although in the whole of this affair he may have shown himself deficient in prudence, he has not been so in his feelings of loyalty."

"Enough! I shall know how to decide between the just and the unjust, even in the height of my anger. But take care that not a word of this is breathed to Madame!"

"But what am I to do with regard to M. de Bragelonne? He will be seeking me in every direction, and-"

"I shall either have spoken to him, or taken care that he has been spoken to before the evening is over."

"Let me once more entreat your Majesty to be indulgent towards him."

"I have been indulgent long enough, Count," said Louis XIV, frowning; "it is time to show certain persons that I am master in my own palace."

The King had hardly pronounced these words, which betokened that a fresh feeling of dissatisfaction was mingled with the remembrance of an old one, when the usher appeared at the door of the cabinet. "What is the matter," inquired the King, "and why do you presume to come when I have not summoned you?"

"Sire," said the usher, "your Majesty desired me to permit M. le Comte de la Fere to pass freely at any time when he might wish to speak to your Majesty."

"Well?"

"M. le Comte de la Fere is now waiting to see your Majesty."

The King and De Saint-Aignan at this reply exchanged a look which betrayed more uneasiness than surprise. Louis hesitated for a moment, but almost immediately forming a resolution, he said: "Go, De Saint-Aignan, and find Louise; inform her of the plot against us. Do not let her be ignorant that Madame is beginning again her persecutions, and that she has set to work those who would have done better had they remained neutral."

"Sire-"

"If Louise gets nervous and frightened, reassure her; tell her that the King's love is an impenetrable shield over her. If, as I suspect is the case, she already knows everything, or if she has already been herself subjected to an attack, tell her, be sure to tell her, De Saint-Aignan," added the King, trembling with passion,- "tell her, I say, that this time, instead of defending her, I will avenge her, and that too so terribly that no one will in future even dare to raise his eyes towards her."

"Is that all, Sire?"

"Yes; all. Go quickly, and remain faithful,- you who live in the midst of this hell without having, like myself, the hope of paradise."

De Saint-Aignan almost exhausted himself in protestations of devotion, took the King's hand, kissed it, and left the room radiant with delight.

Chapter XIX: King and Nobility

THE King endeavored to recover his self-possession as quickly as possible, in order to meet M. de la Fere with an undisturbed countenance. He clearly saw that it was not mere chance which had induced the count's visit. He had a vague impression of the serious import of that visit; but he felt that to a man of Athos's tone of mind, to a person so distinguished, nothing disagreeable or disordered should be presented. As soon as the King had satisfied himself that so far as appearances were concerned he was perfectly calm again, he gave directions to the ushers to introduce the count.

A few minutes afterwards Athos, in full court dress and with his breast covered with the orders that he alone had the right to wear at the Court of France, presented himself with so grave and solemn an air that the King perceived at the first glance that he had not been mistaken in his anticipations. Louis advanced a step towards the count, and with a smile held out his hand to him, over which Athos bowed with the air of the deepest respect.

"M. le Comte de la Fere," said the King, rapidly, "you are so seldom here that it is a very great happiness to see you."

Athos bowed and replied, "I should wish always to enjoy the happiness of being near your Majesty."

That reply, made in that tone, evidently signified, "I should wish to be one of your Majesty's advisers, to save you from the commission of faults." The King so understood it, and determined in this man's presence to preserve all the advantages of calmness along with those of rank.

"I see you have something to say to me," he said.

"Had it not been so, I should not have presumed to present myself before your Majesty."

"Speak quickly; I am anxious to satisfy you," returned the King, seating himself.

"I am persuaded," replied Athos, in a slightly agitated tone of voice, "that your Majesty will give me every satisfaction."

"Ah!" said the King, with a certain haughtiness of manner, "you have come to lodge a complaint here, then?"

"It would be a complaint," returned Athos, "only in the event of your Majesty- But if you will deign to permit me, Sire, I will begin the conversation at the beginning."

"I am listening."

"Your Majesty will remember that at the period of the Duke of Buckingham's departure I had the honor of an interview with you."

"At or about that period I think I remember you did; only, with regard to the subject of the conversation, I have quite forgotten it."

Athos started, as he replied: "I shall have the honor to recall it to your Majesty. It was with regard to a demand which I addressed to you respecting a marriage which M. de Bragelonne wished to contract with Mademoiselle de la Valliere."

"Ah!" thought the King, "we have come to it now. I remember," he said, aloud.

"At that period," pursued Athos, "your Majesty was so kind and generous towards M. de Bragelonne and myself that not a single word which then fell from your lips has escaped my memory; and when I asked your Majesty to accord me Mademoiselle de la Valliere's hand for M. de Bragelonne, you refused."

"Quite true," said Louis, dryly.

"Alleging," Athos hastened to say, "that the young lady had no position in society."

Louis could hardly force himself to listen patiently.

"That," added Athos, "she had but little fortune."

The King threw himself back in his arm-chair.

"That her extraction was indifferent."

A renewed impatience on the part of the King.

"And little beauty," added Athos, pitilessly.

This last bolt buried itself deep in the King's heart, and made him almost bound from his seat.

"You have a good memory, Monsieur," he said.

"I invariably have, on all occasions when I have had the distinguished honor of an interview with your Majesty," retorted the count, without being in the least disconcerted.

"Very good; it is admitted I said all that."

"And I thanked your Majesty, because those words testified an interest in M. de Bragelonne, which did him much honor."

"And you may possibly remember," said the King, very deliberately, "that you had the greatest repugnance to this marriage?"

"Quite true, Sire."

"And that you solicited my permission against your own inclination?"

"Yes, Sire."

"And, finally, I remember also,- for I have a memory nearly as good as your own,- I remember, I say, that you observed at the time: 'I do not believe that Mademoiselle de la Valliere loves M. de Bragelonne.' Is that true?"

The blow told well, but Athos did not shrink. "Sire," he said, "I have already begged your Majesty's forgiveness; but there are certain particulars in that conversation which will be intelligible in the denouement."

"Well, what is the denouement, Monsieur?"

"This: your Majesty then said that you would defer the marriage out of regard for M. de Bragelonne's own interests."

The King remained silent.

"M. de Bragelonne is now so exceedingly unhappy that he cannot any longer defer asking your Majesty for a solution of the matter."

The King turned pale; Athos looked at him with fixed attention.

"And what," said the King, with considerable hesitation, "does M. de Bragelonne request?"

"Precisely the very thing that I came to ask your Majesty for at my last audience; namely, your Majesty's consent to his marriage."

The King remained silent.

"The obstacles in the way are all now quite removed for us," continued Athos. "Mademoiselle de la Valliere, without fortune, birth, or beauty, is not the less on that account the only good match in the world for M. de Bragelonne, since he loves this young girl."

The King pressed his hands impatiently together.

"Does your Majesty hesitate?" inquired the count, without losing a particle either of his firmness or his politeness.

"I do not hesitate,- I refuse," replied the King.

Athos paused a moment, as if to collect himself. "I have had the honor," he said in a mild tone, "to observe to your Majesty that no obstacle now interferes with M. de Bragelonne's affections, and that his determination seems unalterable."

"There is my will,- and that is an obstacle, I should imagine!" "That is the most serious of all," Athos replied quickly.

"Ah!"

"And may we therefore be permitted to ask your Majesty, with the greatest humility, for your reason for this refusal?"

"The reason! A question to me!" exclaimed the King.

"A demand, Sire!"

The King, leaning with both his hands upon the table, said in a deep tone of concentrated passion: "You have lost all recollection of what is usual at court. At court no one questions the King."

"Very true, Sire; but if men do not question, they conjecture."

"Conjecture! What may that mean?"

"Almost always the conjecture of the subject impugns the frankness of the King."

"Monsieur!"

"And a want of confidence on the part of the subject," pursued Athos, intrepidly.

"You are forgetting yourself," said the King, hurried away by his anger in spite of his control over himself.

"Sire, I am obliged to seek elsewhere for what I thought I should find in your Majesty. Instead of obtaining a reply from you, I am compelled to make one for myself."

The King rose. "Monsieur the Count," he said, "I have now given you all the time I had at my disposal."

This was a dismissal.

"Sire," replied the count, "I have not yet had time to tell your Majesty what I came with the express object of saying, and I so rarely see your Majesty that I ought to avail myself of the opportunity."

"Just now you spoke of conjectures; you are now becoming offensive."

"Oh, Sire, offend your Majesty! I? Never! All my life have I maintained that kings are above all other men, not only in rank and power, but in nobleness of heart and dignity of mind. I never can bring myself to believe that my sovereign- he who passed his word to me- did so with a mental reservation."

"What do you mean? What mental reservation?"

"I will explain my meaning," said Athos, coldly. "If in refusing Mademoiselle de la Valliere to M. de Bragelonne your Majesty had some other object in view than the happiness and fortune of the viscount-"

"You perceive, Monsieur, that you are offending me."

"If in requiring the viscount to delay his marriage your Majesty's only object was to remove the gentleman to whom Mademoiselle de la Valliere was engaged-"

"Monsieur! Monsieur!"

"I have heard it said so in every direction, Sire. Your Majesty's love for Mademoiselle de la Valliere is spoken of on all sides."

The King tore his gloves, which he had been biting for some time. "Woe to those," he cried, "who interfere in my affairs! I have chosen my course; I will crush all obstacles."

"What obstacles?" said Athos.

The King stopped short, like a runaway horse whose bit being turned in his mouth bruises his palate. "I love Mademoiselle de la Valliere," he said suddenly, with nobleness and with passion.

"But," interrupted Athos, "that does not preclude your Majesty from allowing M. de Bragelonne to marry Mademoiselle de la Valliere. The sacrifice is worthy of so great a monarch; it is fully merited by M. de Bragelonne, who has already rendered great service to your Majesty, and who may well be regarded as a brave and worthy man. Your Majesty, therefore, in renouncing the affection you entertain, offers a proof at once of generosity, gratitude, and good policy."

"Mademoiselle de la Valliere does not love M. de Bragelonne," said the King, hoarsely.

"Does your Majesty know that to be the case?" remarked Athos, with a searching look.

"I do know it."

"Within a short time, then; for doubtless had your Majesty known it when I first preferred my request, you would have taken the trouble to inform me."

"Within a short time."

Athos remained silent for a moment, and then resumed: "In that case I do not understand why your Majesty should have sent M. de Bragelonne to London. That exile, and with good reason, is a matter of astonishment to all who love the honor of the King."

"Who presumes to speak of my honor, M. de la Fere?"

"The King's honor, Sire, is made up of the honor of his whole nobility. Whenever the King offends one of his gentlemen,- that is, whenever he deprives him of the smallest particle of his honor,- it is from him, from the King himself, that that portion of honor is stolen."

"M. de la Fere!" said the King, haughtily.

"Sire, you sent M. de Bragelonne to London either before you were Mademoiselle de la Valliere's lover or since you have become so."

The King, irritated beyond measure, especially because he felt that he was mastered, endeavored to dismiss Athos by a gesture.

"Sire," replied the count, "I will tell you all; I will not leave your presence until I have been satisfied either by your Majesty or by myself,- satisfied if you prove to me that you are right, satisfied if I prove to you that you are wrong. Oh, you will listen to me, Sire! I am old now, and I am attached to everything that is really great and true in your kingdom. I am a gentleman who shed my blood for your father and for yourself, without ever having asked a single favor either from yourself or from your father. I have never inflicted the slightest wrong or injury on any one in this world, and have put kings under obligations to me. You will listen to me. I have come to ask you for an account of the honor of one of your servants whom you have deceived by a falsehood or betrayed through weakness. I know that these words irritate your Majesty; but on the other hand, the facts are killing us. I know you are inquiring what penalty you will inflict for my frankness; but I know what punishment I will implore God to inflict upon you when I set before him your perjury and my son's unhappiness."

The King during these remarks was walking hurriedly to and fro, his hand thrust into the breast of his coat, his head haughtily raised, his eyes blazing with wrath. "Monsieur," he cried suddenly, "if I acted towards you as the King, you would be already punished; but I am only a man, and I have the right to love in this world every one who loves me,- a happiness which is so rarely found."

"You cannot pretend to such a right as a man any more than as a king, Sire; or if you intended to exercise that right in a loyal manner, you should have told M. de Bragelonne so, and not have exiled him."

"I think I am condescending to dispute with you, Monsieur!" interrupted Louis XIV, with that majesty of air and manner which he alone was able to give to his look and his voice.

"I was hoping that you would reply to me," said the count.

"You shall know my reply, Monsieur, very soon."

"You already know my thoughts on the subject," was the Comte de la Fere's answer.

"You have forgotten you are speaking to the King, Monsieur. It is a crime."

"You have forgotten you are destroying the lives of two men, Sire. It is a mortal sin."

"Go!- at once!"

"Not until I have said to you: Son of Louis XIII, you begin your reign badly, for you begin it by abduction and disloyalty! My race- myself, too- are now freed from all that affection and respect towards you to which I bound my son by oath in the vaults of St. Denis, in the presence of the relics of your noble forefathers. You are now become our enemy, Sire; and henceforth we have nothing to do save with Heaven, our sole master. Be warned!"

"Do you threaten?"

"Oh, no!" said Athos, sadly; "I have as little bravado as fear in my soul. The God of whom I spoke to you is now listening to me. He knows that for the safety and honor of your crown I would even yet shed every drop of blood which twenty years of civil and foreign warfare have left in my veins. I can well say, then, that I threaten the King as little as I threaten the man; but I tell you, Sire, you lose two servants,- for you have destroyed faith in the heart of the father, and love in the heart of the son: the one ceases to believe in the royal word, the other no longer believes in the loyalty of man or the purity of woman; the one is dead to every feeling of respect, the other to obedience. Adieu!"

Thus saying, Athos broke his sword across his knee, slowly placed the two pieces upon the floor, and saluting the King, who was almost choking from rage and shame, quitted the cabinet.

Louis, who sat near the table, completely overwhelmed, spent several minutes in recovering himself, then suddenly rose and rang the bell violently. "Tell M. d'Artagnan to come here," he said to the terrified ushers.

Chapter XX: After the Storm

OUR readers will doubtless have been asking themselves how it happened that Athos, of whom not a word has been said for some time past, arrived so very opportunely at court. Our claim, as narrator, being that we unfold events in exact logical sequence, we hold ourselves ready to answer that question.

Porthos, faithful to his duty as an arranger of affairs, had immediately after leaving the Palais-Royal set off to join Raoul at the Minimes in the Bois de Vincennes, and had related everything, even to the smallest details, which had passed between De Saint-Aignan and himself. He finished by saying that the message which the King had sent to his favorite would not probably occasion more than a short delay, and that De Saint-Aignan, as soon as he could leave the King, would not lose a moment in accepting the invitation which Raoul had sent him.

But Raoul, less credulous than his old friend, had concluded, from Porthos's recital, that if De Saint-Aignan was going to the King, De Saint-Aignan would tell the King everything, and that the King would therefore forbid De Saint-Aignan to obey the summons he had received to the hostile meeting. The consequence of his reflections was that he had left Porthos to remain at the place appointed for the meeting, in the very improbable case that De Saint-Aignan would come there; and had urged Porthos not to remain there more than an hour or an hour and a half. Porthos, however, formally refused to assent to that, but on the contrary installed himself in the Minimes as if he were going to take root there, making Raoul promise that when he had been to see his father, he would return to his own apartments, in order that Porthos's servant might know where to find him in case M. de Saint-Aignan should happen to come to the rendezvous.

Bragelonne had left Vincennes, and had proceeded at once straight to the apartments of Athos, who had been in Paris during the last two days, and had been already informed of what had taken place by a letter from d'Artagnan. Raoul arrived at his father's.

Athos, after having held out his hand to him, and embraced him most affectionately, made a sign for him to sit down. "I know you come to me as a man would go to a friend, Viscount, whenever he is suffering; tell me, therefore, what it is that brings you now."

The young man bowed, and began his recital; more than once in the course of it his tears choked his utterance; and a sob checked in his throat compelled him to pause in his narration. However, he finished at last. Athos most probably already knew how matters stood, as we have just now said that d'Artagnan had already written to him; but preserving until the conclusion that calm, unruffled composure of manner which constituted the almost superhuman side of his character, he replied: "Raoul, I do not believe there is a word of truth in the rumors; I do not believe in the existence of what you fear, although I do not deny that persons most entitled to the fullest credit have already conversed with me on the subject. In my heart and soul I think it impossible that the King could be guilty of such an outrage upon a gentleman. I will answer for the King, therefore, and will soon bring you back the proof of what I say."

Raoul, wavering like a drunken man between what he had seen with his own eyes and the imperturbable faith he had in a man who had never told a falsehood, bowed, and simply answered, "Go, then, Monsieur the Count; I will await your return"; and he sat down, burying his face in his hands.

Athos dressed, and then left him in order to wait upon the King; what occurred in the interview with the King is already known to our readers.

When he returned to his lodgings, Raoul, pale and dejected, had not quitted his attitude of despair. At the sound, however, of the opening doors and of his father's footsteps, as he approached him, the young man raised his head. Athos's face was very pale, his head uncovered, and his manner full of seriousness; he gave his cloak and hat to the lackey, dismissed him with a gesture, and sat down near Raoul.

"Well, Monsieur," inquired the young man, "are you quite convinced now?"

"I am, Raoul; the King loves Mademoiselle de la Valliere."

"He confesses it, then?" cried Raoul.

"Yes," replied Athos.

"And she?"

"I have not seen her."

"No; but the King spoke to you about her. What did he say?"

"He says that she loves him."

"Oh, you see,- you see, Monsieur!" said the young man, with a gesture of despair.

"Raoul," resumed the count, "I told the King, believe me, all that you yourself could possibly have said; and I believe I did so in becoming language, though sufficiently firm."

"And what did you say to him, Monsieur?"

"I told him, Raoul, that everything was now at an end between him and ourselves; that you would never serve him again. I told him that I, too, should remain aloof. Nothing further remains for me, then, but to be satisfied of one thing."

"What is that, Monsieur?"

"Whether you have determined to adopt any steps."

"Any steps? Regarding what?"

"With reference to your disappointed affection and-"

"Finish, Monsieur!"

"And with reference to revenge; for I fear that you think of avenging your wrongs."

"Oh, Monsieur, with regard to my affection, I shall perhaps, some day or other, succeed in tearing it from my heart; I trust I shall do so, aided by Heaven's merciful help and your wise exhortations. So far as vengeance is concerned, it occurred to me only when under the influence of an evil thought, for I could not revenge myself upon the one who is actually guilty; I have therefore already renounced every idea of revenge."

"And so you no longer think of seeking a quarrel with M. de Saint-Aignan?"

"No, Monsieur. I sent him a challenge. If he accepts it, I will maintain it; if he does not take it up, I will leave it where it is."

"And La Valliere?"

"You cannot, I know, have seriously thought that I should dream of revenging myself upon a woman?" replied Raoul, with a smile so sad that a tear started even to the eyes of his father, who had so many times in the course of his life been bowed beneath his own sorrows and those of others.

Athos held out his hand to Raoul, which the latter seized most eagerly.

"And so, Monsieur the Count, you are quite satisfied that the misfortune is without a remedy?" inquired the young man.

Athos shook his head. "Poor boy!" he murmured.

"You think that I still hope," said Raoul, "and you pity me. Oh, it is indeed a horrible suffering for me to despise, as I ought to do, her whom I have loved so devotedly. If I but had some real cause of complaint against her, I should be happy, and should be able to forgive her."

Athos looked at his son with a sorrowful air. The few words which Raoul had just pronounced seemed to have issued out of his own heart. At this moment the servant announced M. d'Artagnan. This name sounded very differently to the ears of Athos and of Raoul.

The musketeer entered the room with a vague smile upon his lips. Raoul paused. Athos walked towards his friend with an expression of face which did not escape Bragelonne. D'Artagnan answered Athos's look by a simple movement of the eyelid; and then, advancing toward Raoul, whom he took by the hand, he said, addressing both father and son, "Well, you are trying to console the boy, it seems."

"And you, kind and good as usual, are come to help me in my difficult task."

As he said this, Athos pressed d'Artagnan's hand between both his own. Raoul fancied he observed in this pressure something beyond the sense his mere words conveyed.

"Yes," replied the musketeer, smoothing his mustache with the hand that Athos had left free,- "yes, I have come also."

"You are most welcome, Chevalier; not for the consolation you bring with you, but on your own account. I am already consoled," said Raoul; and he attempted to smile, but the effect was far more sad than any tears d'Artagnan had ever seen shed.

"That is all well and good, then," said d'Artagnan.

"Only," continued Raoul, "you have arrived just as the count was about to give me the details of his interview with the King. You will allow the count to continue?" added the young man, as with his eyes fixed on the musketeer he seemed to search the depths of his heart.

"His interview with the King?" said d'Artagnan, in a tone so natural and unassumed that there was no reason to doubt his astonishment. "You have seen the King then, Athos?"

Athos smiled as he said, "Yes, I have seen him."

"Ah, indeed! you were ignorant, then, that the count had seen his Majesty?" inquired Raoul, half reassured.

"My faith, yes! entirely."

"In that case I am less uneasy," said Raoul.

"Uneasy- and about what?" inquired Athos.

"Forgive me, Monsieur," said Raoul; "but knowing so well the regard and affection you have for me, I was afraid you might possibly have expressed somewhat plainly to his Majesty my own sufferings and your indignation, and that the King had consequently-"

"And that the King had consequently-" repeated d'Artagnan; "well, go on, finish what you were going to say."

"I have now to ask you to forgive me, M. d'Artagnan," said Raoul. "For a moment, and I cannot help confessing it, I trembled lest you had come here, not as M. d'Artagnan, but as captain of the Musketeers."

"You are mad, my poor boy," cried d'Artagnan, with a burst of laughter in which an exact observer might perhaps have desired a little more frankness.

"So much the better," said Raoul.

"Yes, mad; and do you know what I would advise you to do?"

"Tell me, Monsieur; for the advice is sure to be good, as it comes from you."

"Very well, then. I advise you, after your long journey from England, after your visit to M. de Guiche, after your visit to Madame, after your visit to Porthos, after your journey to Vincennes,- I advise you, I say, to take a few hours' rest; go and lie down, sleep for a dozen hours, and when you wake up, go and ride one of my horses until you have tired him to death." And drawing Raoul towards him, d'Artagnan embraced him as if he were his own child. Athos did the like; only, it was very apparent that the father's kiss was more tender and his embrace closer than those of the friend.

The young man again looked at his companions, endeavoring with the utmost strength of his intelligence to read what was in their minds; but his look was powerless upon the smiling countenance of the musketeer or upon the calm and composed features of the Comte de la Fere.

"Where are you going, Raoul?" inquired the latter, seeing that Bragelonne was preparing to go out.

"To my own apartments," replied Raoul, in his soft and sad voice.

"We shall be sure to find you there, then, if we should have anything to say to you?"

"Yes, Monsieur; but do you suppose it likely you will have something to say to me?"

"How can I tell?" said Athos.

"Yes, new consolations," said d'Artagnan, pushing him gently towards the door.

Raoul, observing the perfect composure which marked every gesture of his two friends, quitted the count's room, carrying away with him nothing but the individual feeling of his own particular distress. "Thank Heaven!" he said; "since that is the case, I need only think of myself." And wrapping himself in his cloak, in order to conceal from the passers-by in the streets his gloomy face, he started out to return to his own rooms, as he had promised Porthos.

The two friends watched the young man as he walked away with a feeling akin to pity; only, each expressed it in a very different way.

"Poor Raoul!" said Athos, sighing deeply.

"Poor Raoul!" said d'Artagnan, shrugging his shoulders.

Chapter XXI: Heu! Miser!

"POOR RAOUL!" Athos had said; "Poor Raoul!" d'Artagnan had said: to be pitied by both these men, Raoul must indeed have been most unhappy. And when he found himself alone, face to face as it were with his own troubles, leaving behind him the intrepid friend and the indulgent father; when he recalled the avowal of the King's affection, which had robbed him of Louise de la Valliere, whom he loved so deeply,- he felt his heart almost breaking; as indeed we all have at least once in our lives, at the first illusion destroyed, at the first love betrayed. "Oh," he murmured, "all is over then! Nothing is now left me in this world,- nothing to look for, nothing to hope for! Guiche has told me so; my father has told me so, and M. d'Artagnan likewise. Everything is a mere idle dream in this life. That future which I have been hopelessly pursuing for the last ten years, a dream! that union of our hearts, a dream! that life formed of love and happiness, a dream! Poor fool, to publish my dreams in the face of my friends and my enemies,- that my friends may be saddened by my troubles and my enemies may laugh at my sorrows! So my unhappiness will soon become a notorious disgrace, a public scandal; so to-morrow I shall be ignominiously pointed at."

Despite the composure which he had promised his father and d'Artagnan to observe, Raoul could not resist uttering a few words of dark menace. "And yet," he continued, "if my name were De Wardes, and if I had the pliant character and strength of will of M. d'Artagnan, I should laugh, with my lips at least; I should convince other women that this perfidious girl, honored by my love, leaves me only one regret,- that of having been deceived by her counterfeit of honesty. Some men might perhaps make favor with the King at my expense: I should put myself on the track of those jesters; I should chastise a few of them,- the men would fear me, and by the time I had laid three at my feet I should be adored by the women. Yes, yes; that indeed would be the proper course to adopt, and the Comte de la Fere himself would not object to it. Has not he also been tried, in his earlier days, in the same manner as I have just been tried myself? Did he not replace love by intoxication? He has often told me so. Why should not I replace love by pleasure? He must have suffered as much as I suffer,- even more so, perhaps. The history of one man is the history of all men,- a lengthened trial, of greater or less duration, more or less bitter or sorrowful. The voice of human nature is nothing but one prolonged cry. But what are the sufferings of others compared to those from which I am now suffering? Does the open wound in another's breast soften the pain of the gaping wound in our own? Or does the blood which is welling from another man's side stanch that which is pouring from our own? Does the general anguish of our fellow-creatures lessen our own private and particular anguish? No, no; each suffers on his own account, each struggles with his own grief, each sheds his own tears. And besides, what has my life been up to the present moment? A cold, barren, sterile arena, in which I have always fought for others, never for myself,- sometimes for a king, sometimes for a woman. The King has betrayed me; the woman disdained me. Miserable, unhappy wretch that I am! Women! Can I not make all expiate the crime of one of their sex? What does that require? To have a heart no longer, or to forget that I ever had one; to be strong, even against weakness itself; to lean always, even when one feels that the support is giving way. What is needed to attain that result? To be young, handsome, strong, valiant, rich. I am, or shall be, all that. But, honor? What is honor, after all? A theory which every man understands in his own way. My father tells me: 'Honor is the consideration of what is due to others, and particularly of what one owes to one's self.' But De Guiche and Manicamp, and De Saint-Aignan particularly would say to me, 'Honor consists in serving the passions and pleasures of one's King.' Honor such as that, indeed, is easy and productive enough. With honor like that I can keep my post at the court, become a gentleman of the chamber, and have the command of a regiment. With honor such as that, I can be both duke and peer.

"The stain which that woman has just stamped upon me, the grief with which she has just broken my heart,- mine, Raoul's, her friend from childhood,- in no way affect M. de Bragelonne, an excellent officer, a courageous leader, who will cover himself with glory at the first encounter, and who will become a hundred times greater than Mademoiselle de la Valliere is to-day, the mistress of the King; for the King will not marry her,- and the more publicly he proclaims her as his mistress, the more will he enlarge the band of shame which he places as a crown upon her brow; and when others shall despise her as I despise her, I shall have become famous. Alas! we had walked together side by side, she and I, during the earliest, the brightest, and best portion of our existence, hand in hand along the charming path of life, covered with the flowers of youth, and now we come to a cross road, where she separates herself from me, whence we shall follow different roads, which will lead us always farther apart. And to attain the end of this path, oh Heaven! I am alone, I am in despair, I am crushed. Oh, unhappy man that I am!"

Such were the sinister reflections in which Raoul was indulging when his foot mechanically paused at the door of his own dwelling. He had reached it without noticing the streets through which he had passed, without knowing how he had come; he pushed open the door, continued to advance, and ascended the staircase. The staircase, as in most of the houses at that period, was very dark, and the landings were obscure. Raoul lived on the first floor; he paused in order to ring. Olivain appeared, and took Raoul's sword and cloak from his hands. Raoul himself opened the door which from the antechamber led into a small salon, richly furnished enough for the salon of a young man, and completely filled with flowers by Olivain, who knowing his master's tastes had shown himself studiously attentive in gratifying them without caring whether his master perceived his attention or not. There was a portrait of La Valliere in the salon, which had been drawn by herself and given by her to Raoul. This portrait, fastened above a large easy-chair covered with dark-colored damask, was the first point towards which Raoul bent his steps, the first object on which he fixed his eyes. It was, moreover, Raoul's usual habit to do so; every time he entered his room, this portrait, before anything else, attracted his attention. This time, as usual, he walked straight up to the portrait, placed his knees upon the armchair, and paused to look at it sadly. His arms were crossed upon his breast, his head slightly thrown back, his eyes filled with tears, his lips curved in a bitter smile. He looked at the portrait of her whom he so tenderly loved; and then all that he had said passed before his mind again, and all that he had suffered assailed his heart. After a long silence he murmured for the third time, "Miserable, unhappy wretch that I am!"

He had hardly pronounced these words, when he heard the sound of a sigh and a groan behind him. He turned sharply round, and perceived in the angle of the salon, standing up, a bending veiled female figure, which the opening door had concealed as he entered, and which, since he had not turned around, he had not perceived. He advanced towards this figure, whose presence in his room had not been announced to him; and as he bowed, and inquired at the same moment who she was, she suddenly raised her head, and removed the veil from her face, revealing her pale and sorrow-stricken features.

Raoul staggered back, as if he had seen a ghost. "Louise!" he cried, in a tone of such despair as one could hardly believe the human voice could express without breaking all the fibres of the heart.

Chapter XXII: Wounds Upon Wounds

MADEMOISELLE DE LA VALLIERE (for it was indeed she) advanced a few steps toward him. "Yes- Louise," she murmured.

But this interval, short as it had been, was quite sufficient for Raoul to recover himself. "You, Mademoiselle?" he said; and then added, in an indefinable tone, "You here!"

"Yes, Raoul," the young girl replied; "I have been waiting for you."

"I beg your pardon. When I came into the room I was not aware-"

"I know- but I entreated Olivain not to tell you-"

Louise hesitated; and as Raoul did not attempt to interrupt her, a moment's silence ensued, during which the sound of their throbbing hearts might have been heard, no longer in unison with each other, but the one beating as violently as the other. It was for Louise to speak, and she made an effort to do so. "I wished to speak to you," she said. "It was absolutely necessary that I should see you- myself- alone. I have not hesitated to adopt a step which must remain secret; for no one, except yourself, could understand my motive, M. de Bragelonne."

"In fact, Mademoiselle," Raoul stammered out, almost breathless from emotion, "so far as I am concerned, and despite the good opinion you have of me, I confess-"

"Will you do me the great kindness to sit down and listen to me?" said Louise, interrupting him with her soft, sweet voice.

Bragelonne looked at her for a moment; then, mournfully shaking his head, he sat, or rather fell down, on a chair. "Speak!" he said.

Louise cast a glance all round her. This look was a timid entreaty, and implored secrecy far more effectually than her expressed words had done a few minutes before.

Raoul rose, and went to the door, which he opened. "Olivain," he said, "I am not within for anyone"; and then turning towards Louise, he added, "Is not that what you wished?"

Nothing could have produced a greater effect upon Louise than these few words which seemed to signify, "You see that I still understand you." She passed a handkerchief across her eyes, in order to remove a rebellious tear; and then, having collected herself for a moment, she said: "Raoul, do not turn your kind, frank look away from me! You are not one of those men who despise a woman for having given her heart to another, even though that love might render him unhappy or might wound his pride."

Raoul did not reply.

"Alas!" continued La Valliere, "it is only too true. My cause is a bad one, and I know not in what way to begin. It will be better for me, I think, to relate to you very simply everything that has befallen me. As I shall speak the truth, I shall always find my path clear before me in the obscurity, hesitation, and obstacles which I have to brave in order to solace my heart, which is full to overflowing, and wishes to pour itself out at your feet."

Raoul continued to preserve the same unbroken silence. La Valliere looked at him with an air that seemed to say, "Encourage me; for pity's sake, but a single word!" But Raoul did not open his lips; and the young girl was obliged to continue.

"Just now," she said, "M. de Saint-Aignan came to me by the King's directions." She cast down her eyes as she said this; while Raoul, on his side, turned his away, in order to avoid looking at her. "M. de Saint-Aignan came to me from the King," she repeated, "and told me that you knew all"; and she attempted to look Raoul in the face, after inflicting this further wound upon him in addition to the many others he had already received; but it was impossible to meet Raoul's eyes.

"He told me you were incensed with me,- justly so, I admit."

This time Raoul looked at the young girl, and a smile full of disdain passed across his lips.

"Oh," she continued, "I entreat you, do not say that you have had any other feeling against me than that of anger merely! Raoul, wait until I have told you all,- wait until I have said to you all that I had to say, all that I came to say!"

Raoul, by the strength of his own iron will, forced his features to assume a calmer expression; and the disdainful smile upon his lip passed away.

"In the first place," said La Valliere,- "in the first place, with my hands raised in entreaty towards you, with my forehead bowed to the ground before you, I entreat you, as the most generous, as the noblest of men, to pardon, to forgive me. If I have left you in ignorance of what was passing in my own bosom, never, at least, would I have consented to deceive you. Oh, I entreat you, Raoul,- I implore you on my knees,- answer me one word, even though you wrong me in doing so! Better an injurious word from your lips than a suspicion in your heart!"

"I admire your subtlety of expression, Mademoiselle," said Raoul, making an effort to remain calm. "To leave another in ignorance that you are deceiving him is loyal; but to deceive him- it seems that that would be very wrong, and that you would not do it."

"Monsieur, for a long time I thought that I loved you better than anything else; and so long as I believed in my love for you, I told you that I loved you. At Blois I loved you. The King visited Blois; I believed I loved you still. I could have sworn it on the altar; but a day came when I was undeceived."

"Well, on that day, Mademoiselle, knowing that I still continued to love you, true loyalty of conduct ought to have obliged you to tell me you had ceased to love me."

"But on that day, Raoul,- on that day, when I read in the depths of my own heart, when I confessed to myself that you no longer filled my mind entirely, when I saw another future before me than that of being your friend, your life-long companion, your wife,- on that day, Raoul, you were not, alas! any more beside me."

"But you knew where I was, Mademoiselle; you could have written to me."

"Raoul, I did not dare to do so. Raoul, I have been weak and cowardly. I knew you so thoroughly- I knew how devotedly you loved me- that I trembled at the bare idea of the sorrow I was going to cause you; and that is so true, Raoul, that at this very moment I am now speaking to you, bending thus before you, my heart crushed in my bosom, my voice full of sighs, my eyes full of tears,- it is so perfectly true, that I have no other defence than my frankness, I have no other sorrow greater than that which I read in your eyes."

Raoul attempted to smile.

"No," said the young girl, with a profound conviction, "no, no; you will not do me so foul a wrong as to disguise your feelings before me now! You loved me, you were sure of your affection for me, you did not deceive yourself, you did not lie to your own heart; while I- I-" And pale as death, her arms thrown despairingly above her head, she fell on her knees.

"While you," said Raoul,- "you told me you loved me, and yet you loved another."

"Alas, yes!" cried the poor girl,- "alas, yes! I do love another; and that other- oh, for Heaven's sake, let me say it, Raoul, for it is my only excuse- that other I love better than my own life, better than my own soul even. Forgive my fault or punish my treason, Raoul. I came here in no way to defend myself, but merely to say to you, 'You know what it is to love!' Well, I love! I love to that degree that I would give my life, my very soul, to the man I love. If he should ever cease to love me, I shall die of grief and despair, unless God helps me, unless the Lord shows pity upon me. Raoul, I came here to submit myself to your will, whatever it might be,- to die, if it were your wish I should die. Kill me, then, Raoul, if in your heart you believe I deserve death!"

"Take care, Mademoiselle!" said Raoul; "the woman who invites death is one who has nothing but her heart's blood to offer to her deceived and betrayed lover."

"You are right," she said.

Raoul uttered a deep sigh as he exclaimed, "And you love without being able to forget!"

"I love without a wish to forget, without a wish ever to love any one else," replied La Valliere.

"Very well," said Raoul. "You have said to me, in fact, all you had to say, all I could possibly wish to know. And now, Mademoiselle, it is I who ask your forgiveness; for it is I who have almost been an obstacle in your life. I, too, have been wrong; for in deceiving myself I helped to deceive you."

"Oh," said La Valliere, "I do not ask you so much as that, Raoul!"

"I only am to blame, Mademoiselle," continued Raoul. "Better informed than yourself of the difficulties of this life, I should have enlightened you. I ought not to have relied upon uncertainty; I ought to have extracted an answer from your heart, while I hardly even sought an acknowledgement from your lips. Once more, Mademoiselle, it is I who ask your forgiveness."

"Impossible, impossible!" she cried; "you are mocking me."

"How, impossible?"

"Yes, it is impossible to be good and excellent and perfect to that extent."

"Take care!" said Raoul, with a bitter smile; "for presently you may say perhaps that I did not love you."

"Oh, you love me like an affectionate brother; let me hope that, Raoul."

"As a brother? Undeceive yourself, Louise! I loved you as a lover, as a husband, with the deepest, the truest, the fondest affection."

"Raoul, Raoul!"

"As a brother? Oh, Louise! I loved you so much I would have given all my blood for you, drop by drop; all my flesh, shred by shred; all my eternity, hour by hour."

"Raoul! Raoul! for pity's sake!"

"I loved you so much, Louise, that my heart is dead, my faith extinguished, my eyes have lost their light. I loved you so much that I see nothing more either on earth or in Heaven."

"Raoul, dear Raoul! spare me, I implore you!" cried La Valliere. "Oh, if I had known-"

"It is too late, Louise. You love, you are happy; I read your happiness through your tears,- behind the tears which the loyalty of your nature makes you shed; I feel the sighs which your love breathes forth. Louise, Louise, you have made me the most abjectly wretched man living; leave me, I entreat you! Adieu! adieu!"

"Forgive me, I entreat you!"

"Have I not done more? Have I not told you that I love you still?" She buried her face in her hands. "And to tell you that,- do you understand me, Louise?- to tell you that at such a moment as this, to tell you that as I have told you, is to pronounce my own sentence of death. Adieu!"

La Valliere wished to hold out her hands to him.

"We ought not to see each other again in this world," he said; and as she was on the point of calling out in bitter agony at this remark, he placed his hand on her mouth to stifle the exclamation. She pressed her lips upon it and fell fainting.

"Olivain," said Raoul, "take this young lady and bear her to the carriage which is waiting for her at the door."

As Olivain lifted her up, Raoul made a movement towards La Valliere, as if to give her a first and last kiss, but stopping abruptly, he said, "No, she is not mine; I am not the King of France, to steal!" And he returned to his room; while the lackey carried La Valliere, still fainting, to the carriage.

Chapter XXIII: What Raoul Had Guessed

AFTER Raoul's departure, and the two exclamations which had followed him, Athos and d'Artagnan found themselves alone, face to face. Athos immediately resumed the earnest manner which had possessed him when d'Artagnan arrived.

"Well," Athos said, "what have you come to announce to me, my friend?"

"I?" inquired d'Artagnan.

"Yes; I do not see you in this way without some reason for it," said Athos, smiling.

"The deuce!" said d'Artagnan.

"I will place you at your ease. The King is furious, is he not?"

"Well, I must say he is not altogether pleased."

"And you have come-"

"By his direction; yes."

"To arrest me, then?"

"My dear friend, you have hit the very mark."

"Oh, I expected it! Come!"

"Oh! oh! The devil!" said d'Artagnan; "what a hurry you are in!"

"I am afraid of delaying you," said Athos, smiling.

"I have plenty of time. Are you not curious, besides, to know how things went on between the King and me?"

"If you will be good enough to tell me, I will listen with the greatest pleasure," said Athos, pointing out to d'Artagnan a large chair, in which the latter stretched himself in an easy attitude.

"Well, I will do so willingly enough," continued d'Artagnan, "for the conversation is rather interesting. In the first place, the King sent for me."

"As soon as I had left?"

"You were just going down the last steps of the staircase, as the musketeers told me. I arrived. My dear Athos, the King was not red in the face merely, he was positively purple. I was not aware, of course, of what had passed; only I saw a sword broken in two lying on the floor. 'Captain d'Artagnan,' cried the King, as soon as he saw me. 'Sire,' I replied. 'I abandon M. de la Fere; he is an insolent man.' 'An insolent man!' I exclaimed, in such a tone that the King stopped suddenly short. 'Captain d'Artagnan,' resumed the King, with his teeth clinched, 'you will listen to me and obey me.' 'That is my duty, Sire.' 'I have wished to spare that gentleman, of whom I retain some kind recollections, the affront of having him arrested in my presence.' 'Ah! ah!' I said quietly. 'But you will take a carriage.' At this I made a slight movement. 'If you object to arrest him yourself,' continued the King, 'send me my captain of the Guards.' 'Sire,' I replied, 'there is no necessity for the captain of the Guards, since I am on duty.' 'I should not like to annoy you,' said the King, kindly, 'for you have always served me well, M. d'Artagnan.' 'You do not annoy me, Sire,' I replied; 'I am on duty, that is all.' 'But,' said the King, in astonishment, 'I believe the count is your friend?' 'If he were my father, Sire, it would not make me less on duty than I am.' The King looked at me; he saw how unmoved my face was, and seemed satisfied. 'You will arrest M. le Comte de la Fere, then?' he inquired. 'Most certainly, Sire, if you give me the order to do so.' 'Very well; I order you to do so.' I bowed and replied, 'Where is the count, Sire?' 'You will look for him.' 'And I am to arrest him wherever he may be?' 'Yes; but at his own house if possible. If he has started for his own estate, leave Paris at once, and arrest him on his way thither.' I bowed; but as I did not move, he said, 'Well?' 'I am waiting, Sire.' 'What are you waiting for?' 'For the signed order.' The King seemed annoyed; for in point of fact it was the exercise of a fresh act of authority,- a repetition of the arbitrary act, if indeed it is to be considered as such. He took his pen slowly, and in no very good temper; then he wrote, 'Order for M. le Chevalier d'Artagnan, captain of my Musketeers, to arrest M. le Comte de la Fere, wherever he is to be found.' He then turned towards me; but I was looking on without moving a muscle of my face. In all probability he thought he perceived something like bravado in my tranquil manner, for he signed hurriedly; and then handing me the order, he said, 'Go!' I obeyed; and here I am."

Athos pressed his friend's hand. "Well, let us set off," he said.

"Oh! surely," said d'Artagnan, "you must have some trifling matters to arrange before you leave your apartments in this manner?"

"I? Not at all."

"Why not?"

"Why, you know, d'Artagnan, I have always been a very simple traveller on this earth, ready to go to the end of the world by order of my sovereign, ready to quit it at the summons of my Maker. What does a man who is thus prepared require in such a case?- a portmanteau or a shroud. I am ready at this moment, as I have always been, dear friend, and can accompany you at once."

"But Bragelonne-"

"I have brought him up in the same principles I laid down for my own guidance; and you observed that as soon as he perceived you he guessed, that very moment, the motive of your visit. We have thrown him off his guard for a moment; but do not be uneasy,- he is sufficiently prepared for my disgrace not to be too much alarmed at it. So, let us go."

"Very well, let us go," said d'Artagnan, quietly.

"As I broke my sword in the King's presence, and threw the pieces at his feet, I presume that will dispense with the necessity of delivering it over to you."

"You are quite right; and besides that, what the devil do you suppose I could do with your sword?"

"Am I to walk behind or before you?" inquired Athos, laughing.

"You will walk arm-in-arm with me," replied d'Artagnan, as he took the count's arm to descend the staircase; and in this manner they arrived at the landing. Grimaud, whom they had met in the anteroom, looked at them, as they went out together in this manner, with some little uneasiness; his experience of affairs was quite sufficient to give him good reason to suspect that there was something wrong.

"Ah! is that you, Grimaud?" said Athos, kindly. "We are going-"

"To take a turn in my carriage," interrupted d'Artagnan, with a friendly nod of the head.

Grimaud thanked d'Artagnan by a grimace, which was evidently intended for a smile, and accompanied the two friends to the door. Athos entered first into the carriage; d'Artagnan followed him, without saying a word to the coachman. The departure had taken place so quietly that it excited no disturbance or attention even in the neighborhood. When the carriage had reached the quays, "You are taking me to the Bastille, I perceive," said Athos.

"I?" said d'Artagnan. "I take you wherever you may choose to go; nowhere else, I can assure you."

"What do you mean?" said the count, surprised.

"Pardieu!" said d'Artagnan, "you quite understand that I undertook the mission with no other object in view than that of carrying it out exactly as you liked. You did not think that I would have you thrown into prison like that, brutally, without reflection. If I had not anticipated that, I should have let the captain of the Guards undertake it."

"And so-" said Athos.

"And so, I repeat, we will go wherever you may choose."

"My dear friend," said Athos, embracing d'Artagnan, "how like you that is!"

"Well, it seems simple enough to me. The coachman will take you to the barrier of the Cours-la-Reine; you will find a horse there which I have ordered to be kept ready for you; with that horse you will be able to do three posts without stopping; and I, on my side, will take care not to return to the King, to tell him that you have gone away, until it will be impossible to overtake you. In the mean time you will have reached Havre, and from Havre you will go to England, where you will find the charming residence which my friend M. Monk gave me,- to say nothing of the hospitality which King Charles will not fail to show you. Well, what do you think of this project?"

"Take me to the Bastille," said Athos, smiling.

"You are an obstinate-headed fellow, dear Athos," returned d'Artagnan; "reflect for a few moments."

"Upon what?"

"That you are no longer twenty years of age. Believe me,- I speak according to my own knowledge and experience,- a prison is certain death for men of our time of life. No, no; I will never allow you to languish in prison. Why, the very thought of it turns my head."

"Dear d'Artagnan," Athos replied, "happily God made me as strong in body as in mind; and rely upon it, I shall be strong up to my last breath."

"But this is not force; it is folly."

"No, d'Artagnan, it is the highest order of reasoning. Do not suppose that I should in the slightest degree in the world discuss the question with you, whether you would not be ruined in endeavoring to save me. I should have done precisely as you have arranged, if flight had seemed proper to me; I should therefore have accepted from you what without any doubt you would have accepted from me. No! I know you too well even to breathe a word upon the subject."

"Ah, if you would only let me do it," said d'Artagnan, "how I would send the King running after you!"

"He is the King, dear friend."

"Oh, that is all the same to me; and King though he be, I would plainly tell him, 'Sire! imprison, exile, kill every one in France and Europe; order me to arrest, and even poniard whom you like,- even were it Monsieur, your own brother; but do not touch one of the four musketeers, or, if so, mordioux!'"

"My dear friend," replied Athos, quietly, "I should like to persuade you of one thing; namely, that I wish to be arrested,- that I desire above all things that my arrest should take place." D'Artagnan made a movement of his shoulders. "What does that mean? It is so. If you were to let me escape, it would be only to return of my own accord, and constitute myself a prisoner. I wish to prove to this young man, who is dazzled by the power and splendor of his crown, that he can be regarded as the first among men only by proving himself to be the most generous and the wisest among them. He may punish, imprison, or torture me,- it matters not. He abuses his opportunities, and I wish him to learn the bitterness of remorse, while Heaven teaches him what a chastisement is."

"Well," replied d'Artagnan, "I know only too well that when you have once said 'No,' you mean 'No.' I do not insist any longer. You wish to go to the Bastille?"

"I do wish to go there."

"Let us go, then! To the Bastille!" cried d'Artagnan to the coachman; and throwing himself back in the carriage, he gnawed the ends of his mustache with a fury which to Athos, who knew him well, signified a resolution either already taken or in course of formation. A profound silence ensued in the carriage, which continued to roll on, but neither faster nor slower than before.

Athos took the musketeer by the hand. "You are not angry with me, d'Artagnan?" he said.

"I? Oh, no! certainly not, of course not! What you do from heroism, I should have done from obstinacy."

"But you are quite of opinion, are you not, that Heaven will avenge me, d'Artagnan?"

"And I know some persons on earth who will lend a helping hand," said the captain.

Chapter XXIV: Three Guests Astonished to Find Themselves at Supper Together

THE carriage arrived at the outer gate of the Bastille. A soldier on guard stopped it; but d'Artagnan had only to utter a single word to procure admittance, and the carriage passed on. While they were proceeding along the covered way which led to the courtyard of the governor's residence, d'Artagnan, whose lynx eye saw everything, even through the walls, suddenly cried out, "What is that out yonder?"

"Well," said Athos, quietly, "what is it?"

"Look yonder, Athos!"

"In the courtyard?"

"Yes, yes; make haste!"

"Well, a carriage; very likely conveying a prisoner like myself."

"That would be too droll."

"I do not understand you."

"Make haste and look again, and look at the man who is just getting out of that carriage."

At that very moment a second sentinel stopped d'Artagnan; and while the formalities were gone through, Athos could see at a hundred paces from him the man whom his friend had pointed out to him. He was, in fact, getting out of the carriage at the door of the governor's house. "Well," inquired d'Artagnan, "do you see him?"

"Yes; he is a man in a gray suit."

"What do you say of him?"

"I cannot very well tell. He is, as I have just now told you, a man in a gray suit, who is getting out of a carriage; that is all."

"Athos, I will wager anything it is he."

"He?- who?"

"Aramis."

"Aramis arrested? Impossible!"

"I do not say he is arrested, since we see him alone in his carriage."

"Well, then, what is he doing here?"

"Oh, he knows Baisemeaux, the governor!" replied the musketeer, slyly. "My faith! we have arrived just in time."

"What for?"

"In order to see what we can see."

"I regret this meeting exceedingly. When Aramis sees me, he will be very much annoyed,- in the first place at seeing me, and in the next at being seen."

"Very well reasoned."

"Unfortunately, there is no remedy for it. Whenever any one meets another in the Bastille, even if he wished to draw back to avoid him, it would be impossible."

"Athos, I have an idea: the question is, to spare Aramis the annoyance you were speaking of, is it not?"

"What is to be done?"

"I will tell you; or, in order to better explain myself, let me relate the affair in my own manner. I will not recommend you to tell a falsehood, for that would be impossible for you to do."

"Well, what is it?"

"Well, I will lie for both of us; it is so easy to do that, with the nature and habits of a Gascon."

Athos smiled. The carriage stopped where the one we have just now pointed out had stopped; namely, at the door of the governor's house.

"It is understood, then?" said d'Artagnan, in a low voice to his friend.

Athos consented by a gesture.

They ascended the staircase. There will be no occasion for surprise at the facility with which they had entered the Bastille, if it be remembered that before passing the first gate- in fact, the most difficult of all- d'Artagnan had announced that he had brought a prisoner of State. At the third gate, on the contrary,- that is to say, when he had once fairly entered the prison,- he merely said to the sentinel, "To M. Baisemeaux"; and they both passed on. In a few minutes they were in the governor's dining-room; and the first face which attracted d'Artagnan's observation was that of Aramis, who was seated side by side with Baisemeaux, and awaited the announcement of a good meal, whose odor impregnated the whole apartment. If d'Artagnan pretended surprise, Aramis did not pretend at all; he started when he saw his two friends, and his emotion was very apparent. Athos and d'Artagnan, however, made their salutations; and Baisemeaux, amazed, completely stupefied by the presence of those three guests, began to perform a few evolutions around them.

"Ah, there!" said Aramis, "by what chance-"

"We were just going to ask you," retorted d'Artagnan.

"Are we going to give ourselves up as prisoners?" cried Aramis, with an affectation of hilarity.

"Ah! ah!" said d'Artagnan; "it is true the walls smell deucedly like a prison. M. de Baisemeaux, you know you invited me to sup with you the other day."

"I?" cried Baisemeaux.

"Ah! one would say you had fallen from the clouds. You do not recall it?"

Baisemeaux turned pale and then red; looked at Aramis, who looked at him; and finally stammered, "Certainly- I am delighted- but- upon my honor- I have not the slightest- Ah! I have such a wretched memory."

"Well, I am wrong, I see," said d'Artagnan, as if he were offended.

"Wrong, how?"

"Wrong to remember, it seems."

Baisemeaux hurried towards him. "Do not stand on ceremony, my dear captain," he said. "I have the poorest head in the kingdom. Take me from my pigeons and their pigeon-house, and I am no better than the rawest recruit."

"At all events, you remember it now," said d'Artagnan, boldly.

"Yes, yes," replied the governor, hesitating; "I think I remember."

"It was when you came to the palace to see me; you told me some story or other about your accounts with M. de Louviere and M. de Tremblay."

"Oh, yes! perfectly."

"And about M. d'Herblay's kindness to you."

"Ah!" exclaimed Aramis, looking the unhappy governor full in the face; "and yet you just now said you had no memory, M. de Baisemeaux."

Baisemeaux interrupted the musketeer in the midst of his revelations. "Yes, yes, you're quite right; it seems to me that I am still there. I beg a thousand pardons. But now, once for all, my dear M. d'Artagnan, be sure that at this present time, as at any other, whether invited or not, you are master here,- you and M. d'Herblay, your friend," he said, turning towards Aramis; "and this gentleman too," he added, bowing to Athos.

"Well, I thought it would be sure to turn out so," replied d'Artagnan. "This is the occasion of my coming: Having nothing to do this evening at the Palais-Royal, I wished to judge for myself what your ordinary style of living was like; and as I was coming along I met Monsieur the Count." Athos bowed. "The count, who had just left his Majesty, handed me an order which required immediate attention. We were close by here; I wished to call in, even if it were for no other object than that of shaking hands with you and of presenting the count to you, of whom you spoke so highly in the King's presence that very evening when-"

"Certainly, certainly- M. le Comte de la Fere, is it not?"

"Precisely."

"Monsieur the Count is welcome."

"And he will sup with you two, I suppose; while I, unfortunate dog that I am, must run off on a matter of duty. Oh, what happy beings you are, compared to myself!" D'Artagnan added, sighing as loud as Porthos might have done.

"And so you are going away?" said Aramis and Baisemeaux together, with the same expression of delighted surprise, the tone of which was immediately noticed by d'Artagnan.

"I leave you in my place," he said, "a noble and excellent guest"; and he touched Athos gently on the shoulder, who, astonished also, could not help exhibiting his surprise a little,- which was noticed by Aramis only, for M. de Baisemeaux was not quite equal to the three friends in point of intelligence.

"What! are you going to leave us?" resumed the governor.

"I shall be away only about an hour or an hour and a half. I will return in time for dessert."

"Oh, we will wait for you!" said Baisemeaux.

"No, no; that would be really disobliging me."

"You will be sure to return, though?" said Athos, with an expression of doubt.

"Most certainly," he said, pressing his friend's hand confidentially; and he added in a low voice, "Wait for me, Athos; be cheerful and lively as possible, and above all, don't allude to business affairs, for Heaven's sake!" and a renewed pressure of the hand impressed upon the count the necessity of being discreet and impenetrable.

Baisemeaux led d'Artagnan to the gate. Aramis, with many friendly protestations of delight, sat down by Athos, determined to make him speak; but Athos possessed all the virtues in their highest excellence. If necessity had required it, he would have been the finest orator in the world; but when there was need of silence he would die rather than utter a syllable.

Ten minutes after d'Artagnan's departure, the three gentlemen sat down to table, which was covered with the most substantial display of gastronomic luxury. Large joints, exquisite dishes, preserves, the greatest variety of wines, appeared successively upon the table, which was served at the King's expense, and of which expense M. Colbert would have no difficulty in saving two thirds, without any one in the Bastille being the worse for it.

Baisemeaux was the only one who ate and drank resolutely. Aramis allowed nothing to pass by him, but merely touched everything he took; Athos, after the soup and three hors d'oeuvres, ate nothing more. The style of conversation was such as it necessarily would be between three men so opposite in temper and ideas.

Aramis was incessantly asking himself by what extraordinary chance Athos was at Baisemeaux's when d'Artagnan was no longer there, and why d'Artagnan did not remain when Athos was there. Athos sounded all the depths of the mind of Aramis, who lived in the midst of subterfuge, evasion, and intrigue; he studied his man well and thoroughly, and felt convinced that he was engaged upon some important project. And then he too began to think of his own personal affair, and to lose himself in conjectures as to d'Artagnan's reason for having left the Bastille so abruptly, and for leaving behind him a prisoner so badly introduced and so badly looked after by the prison authorities.

But we shall not pause to examine into the thoughts and feelings of these personages; we will leave them to themselves, surrounded by the remains of poultry, game, and fish, mutilated by the generous knife of Baisemeaux. We are going to follow d'Artagnan instead, who, getting into the carriage which had brought him, cried out to the coachman, "To the King! and burn the pavement!"

Chapter XXV: What Took Place at the Louvre During the Supper at the Bastille

M. DE SAINT-AIGNAN had executed the commission with which the King had intrusted him for La Valliere, as we have already seen in one of the preceding chapters; but whatever his eloquence might have been, he did not succeed in persuading the young girl that she had in the King a protector powerful enough for her under any combination of circumstances, and that she had no need of any one else in the world when the King was on her side. In point of fact, at the very first word which the favorite mentioned of the discovery of the famous secret, Louise, in a passion of tears, abandoned herself in utter despair to a sorrow which would have been far from flattering for the King, if he had been a witness of it from a corner of the room. De Saint-Aignan, in his character of ambassador, felt greatly offended at it, as his master himself would have been, and returned to announce to the King what he had seen and heard. It is there that we now find him, in a state of great agitation, in the presence of the King, still more agitated than he.

"But," said the King to the courtier, when the latter had finished his report, "what did she decide to do? Shall I, at least, see her presently before supper? Will she come to me, or shall I be obliged to go to her room?"

"I believe, Sire, that if your Majesty wishes to see her, you will not only have to take the first step in advance, but will have to go the whole way."

"Nothing for me! Does that Bragelonne still possess her heart?" muttered the King between his teeth.

"Oh, Sire, that is not possible; for it is you alone whom Mademoiselle de la Valliere loves, and that, too, with all her heart. But you know that De Bragelonne belongs to that proud race who play the part of Roman heroes."

The King smiled feebly; he knew how true the illustration was, for Athos had just left him.

"As for Mademoiselle de la Valliere," De Saint-Aignan continued, "she was brought up under the care of the Dowager Madame; that is to say, in austere retirement. This engaged young couple coldly exchanged their little vows in the presence of the moon and the stars; and now, when they find they have to break those vows, it plays the very deuce with them."

De Saint-Aignan thought he should have made the King laugh; but on the contrary, from a mere smile Louis passed to the greatest seriousness of manner. He already began to experience that remorse which the count had promised d'Artagnan he would inflict upon him. He reflected that, in fact, these young persons had loved and sworn fidelity to each other; that one of the two had kept his word, and that the other was too conscientious not to feel her perjury most bitterly; and with remorse, jealousy sharply pricked the King's heart. He did not say another word; and instead of going to pay a visit to his mother or the Queen or Madame, in order to amuse himself a little and make the ladies laugh, as he himself used to say, he threw himself into the huge arm-chair in which his august father, Louis XIII, had passed so many weary days and years in company with Baradas and Cinq-Mars.

De Saint-Aignan perceived that the King was not to be amused at that moment; he tried a last resource, and pronounced Louise's name, which made the King look up immediately. "What does your Majesty intend to do this evening? Shall Mademoiselle de la Valliere be informed of your intention to see her?"

"It seems she is already aware of that," replied the King. "No, no, Saint-Aignan," he continued, after a moment's pause; "we will both of us pass our time in dreaming. When Mademoiselle de la Valliere shall have sufficiently regretted what she now regrets, she will deign, perhaps, to give us some news of herself."

"Ah, Sire, is it possible you can so misunderstand that devoted heart?"

The King rose, flushed with vexation; he was a prey to jealousy in its turn. De Saint-Aignan was just beginning to feel that his position was becoming awkward, when the curtain before the door was raised. The King turned hastily round. His first idea was that a letter from Louise had arrived; but instead of a letter of love, he saw only his captain of Musketeers standing upright and silent in the doorway. "M. d'Artagnan!" he said. "Ah! well, Monsieur?"

D'Artagnan looked at De Saint-Aignan; Louis's eyes took the same direction as those of his captain. These looks would have been clear to any one, and they were especially so to De Saint-Aignan. The courtier bowed and quitted the room, leaving the King and d'Artagnan alone.

"Is it done?" inquired the King.

"Yes, Sire," replied the captain of the Musketeers, in a grave voice, "it is done!"

The King was unable to say another word. Pride, however, obliged him not to pause there. Whenever a sovereign has adopted a decisive course, even though it be unjust, he is compelled to prove to all witnesses, and particularly to himself, that he was quite right in so adopting it. A good means for effecting that- an almost infallible means, indeed- is to try to prove his victim to be in the wrong. Louis, brought up by Mazarin and Anne of Austria, knew better than any one else his vocation as a monarch; he therefore endeavored to prove it on the present occasion. After a few moments' pause, which he had employed in making silently to himself the same reflections which we have just expressed aloud, he said in an indifferent tone, "What did the count say?"

"Nothing at all, Sire."

"Surely he did not allow himself to be arrested without saying something?"

"He said he expected to be arrested, Sire."

The King raised his head haughtily. "I presume," he said, "that M. le Comte de la Fere has not continued to play his obstinate and rebellious part?"

"In the first place, Sire, what do you term rebellious?" quietly asked the musketeer. "Is that man a rebel, in the eyes of the King, who not only allows himself to be shut up in the Bastille, but who even opposes those who do not wish to take him there?"

"Who do not wish to take him there!" exclaimed the King. "What do you say, Captain? Are you mad?"

"I believe not, Sire."

"You speak of persons who did not wish to arrest M. de la Fere?"

"Yes, Sire."

"And who are they?"

"Those whom your Majesty intrusted with that duty, apparently."

"But it is you whom I intrusted with it," exclaimed the King.

"Yes, Sire; it is I."

"And you say that, despite my orders, you had the intention of not arresting the man who had insulted me!"

"Yes, Sire, that was really my intention. I even proposed to the count to mount a horse that I had had prepared for him at the Barriere de la Conference."

"And what was your object in getting this horse ready?"

"Why, Sire, in order that M. le Comte de la Fere might be able to reach Havre, and from that place make his escape to England."

"You betrayed me then, Monsieur?" cried the King, kindling with a wild pride.

"Exactly so."

There was nothing to say in answer to statements made in such a tone; the King was astounded at such an obstinate and open resistance on the part of d'Artagnan. "At least you had a reason, M. d'Artagnan, for acting as you did?" said the King, proudly.

"I have always a reason, Sire."

"Your reason cannot be your friendship for the count, at all events,- the only one that can be of any avail, the only one that could possibly excuse you,- for I placed you entirely at your ease in that respect."

"Me, Sire?"

"Did I not give you the choice to arrest or not to arrest M. le Comte de la Fere?"

"Yes, Sire; but-"

"But what?" exclaimed the King, impatiently.

"But you warned me, Sire, that if I did not arrest him, your captain of the Guards should do so."

"Was I not considerate enough towards you when I did not compel you to obey me?"

"To me, Sire, you were, but not to my friend; for my friend would be arrested all the same, whether by myself or by the captain of the Guards."

"And this is your devotion, Monsieur,- a devotion which argues and reasons! You are no soldier, Monsieur!"

"I wait for your Majesty to tell me what I am."

"Well, then,- you are a Frondeur."

"And since there is no longer any Fronde, Sire, in that case-"

"But if what you say is true-"

"What I say is always true, Sire."

"What have you come to say to me, Monsieur?"

"I have come to say to your Majesty: Sire, M. de la Fere is in the Bastille."

"That is not your fault, it would seem."

"That is true, Sire. But, at all events, he is there; and since he is there, it is important that your Majesty should know it."

"Ah, M. d'Artagnan, so you set your King at defiance!"

"Sire-"

"M. d'Artagnan, I warn you that you are abusing my patience."

"On the contrary, Sire."

"What do you mean by 'on the contrary'?"

"I have come to get myself arrested too."

"To get yourself arrested,- you!"

"Of course. My friend will be lonely down there; and I have come to propose to your Majesty to permit me to bear him company. If your Majesty will but give the word, I will arrest myself; I shall not need the captain of the Guards for that, I assure you."

The King darted towards the table and seized a pen to write the order for d'Artagnan's imprisonment. "Pay attention, Monsieur, that this is forever!" cried the King, in a tone of stern menace.

"I can quite believe that," returned the musketeer; "for when you have once done such an act as that, you will never be able to look me in the face again."

The King dashed down his pen violently. "Leave the room, Monsieur!" he said.

"Oh, not so, Sire, if it please your Majesty!"

"How, not so?"

"Sire, I came to speak temperately to your Majesty. Your Majesty got into a passion with me: that is a misfortune; but I shall not the less on that account say what I had to say to you."

"Your resignation, Monsieur,- your resignation!" cried the King.

"Sire, you know whether I care about my resignation or not, since at Blois, on the day when you refused King Charles the million which my friend the Comte de la Fere gave him, I tendered my resignation to your Majesty."

"Very well, then, do it at once!"

"No, Sire; for there is no question of my resignation at the present moment. Your Majesty took up your pen just now to send me to the Bastille,- why should you change your intention?"

"D'Artagnan! Gascon that you are! who is the King, allow me to ask,- you or myself?"

"You, Sire, unfortunately."

"What do you mean by 'unfortunately'?"

"Yes, Sire; for if it were I-"

"If it were you, you would approve of M. d'Artagnan's rebellious conduct, I suppose?"

"Certainly."

"Really?" said the King, shrugging his shoulders.

"And I should tell my captain of the Musketeers," continued d'Artagnan,- "I should tell him, looking at him all the while with human eyes and not with eyes like coals of fire, 'M. d'Artagnan, I have forgotten that I am King; I have descended from my throne to insult a gentleman.'"

"Monsieur!" cried the King, "do you think you can excuse your friend by exceeding him in insolence?"

"Oh, Sire! I shall go much further than he did," said d'Artagnan; "and it will be your own fault. I shall tell you what he, a man full of delicacy, did not tell you; I shall say: 'Sire, you sacrificed his son, and he defended his son; you sacrificed him; he addressed you in the name of honor, of religion, of virtue,- you repulsed, pursued, imprisoned him.' I shall be harder than he was, for I shall say to you: 'Sire, choose! Do you wish to have friends or lackeys, soldiers or slaves, great men or puppets? Do you wish men to serve you or to crouch before you? Do you wish men to love you or to fear you? If you prefer baseness, intrigue, cowardice,- oh! say it, Sire! We will leave you,- we who are the only surviving illustrations, nay, I will say more, the only models of the valor of former times; we who have done our duty, and have exceeded, perhaps, in courage and in merit the men already great for posterity. Choose, Sire, and without delay! Whatever remains to you of the grand nobility, guard it with a jealous eye; of courtiers you will always have enough. Delay not- and send me to the Bastille with my friend; for if you have not known how to listen to the Comte de la Fere, that is to say, to the most sweet and noble voice of honor; if you do not know how to listen to d'Artagnan, that is to say, to the most candid and rough voice of sincerity,- you are a bad king, and to-morrow will be a poor king. Now, bad kings are hated; poor kings are driven away.' That is what I had to say to you, Sire; you are wrong to have driven me to it."

The King threw himself back in his chair, cold and livid. Had a thunderbolt fallen at his feet, he could not have been more astonished; he appeared as if his respiration had ceased, and as if he were at the point of death. That rough voice of sincerity, as d'Artagnan had called it, had pierced through his heart like a sword-blade.

D'Artagnan had said all that he had to say. Comprehending the King's anger, he drew his sword, and approaching Louis XIV respectfully, placed it on the table. But the King, with a furious gesture, thrust aside the sword, which fell on the ground and rolled to d'Artagnan's feet. Notwithstanding his mastery over himself, d'Artagnan too, in his turn, became pale and trembled with indignation. "A king," he said, "may disgrace a soldier,- he may exile him, and may even condemn him to death; but were he a hundred times a king, he has no right to insult him by casting dishonor on his sword! Sire, a king of France has never repulsed with contempt the sword of a man such as I am! Stained with disgrace as this sword now is, it has henceforth no other sheath than either your heart or my own. I choose my own, Sire; give thanks for it to God, and my patience." Then snatching up his sword, he cried, "My blood be upon your head!" and with a rapid gesture he placed the hilt upon the floor and directed the point of the blade towards his breast. The King, however, with a movement still more rapid than that of d'Artagnan, threw his right arm round the musketeer's neck, and with his left hand seized hold of the blade by the middle, and returned it silently to the scabbard. D'Artagnan, upright, pale, and still trembling, suffered the King to do all, without aiding him, to the very end. Then Louis, overcome, returned to the table, took a pen, wrote a few lines, signed them, and offered the paper to d'Artagnan.

"What is this paper, Sire?" inquired the captain.

"An order for M. d'Artagnan to set the Comte de la Fere at liberty immediately."

D'Artagnan seized the King's hand and kissed it; he then folded the order, placed it in his belt, and quitted the room. Neither the King nor the captain spoke a word.

"Oh, human heart, director of kings! murmured Louis, when alone; "when shall I learn to read in your recesses, as in the leaves of a book? No, I am not a bad king, nor am I a poor king; but I am still a child."

Chaper XXVI: Political Rivals

D'ARTAGNAN had promised M. de Baisemeaux to return in time for dessert, and he kept his word. They had just reached the finer and more delicate class of wines and liqueurs with which the governor's cellar had the reputation of being most admirably stocked, when the spurs of the captain resounded in the corridor, and he himself appeared at the threshold.

Athos and Aramis had played a close game; neither had been able to gain the slightest advantage over the other. They had supped, talked a good deal about the Bastille, of the last journey to Fontainebleau, of the intended fete that M. Fouquet was about to give at Vaux; they had generalized on every possible subject, and no one, excepting Baisemeaux, had alluded to private matters.

D'Artagnan arrived in the very midst of the conversation, still pale and disturbed by his interview with the King. Baisemeaux hastened to give him a chair; d'Artagnan accepted a glass of wine, and set it down empty. Athos and Aramis both remarked his emotion; as for Baisemeaux, he saw nothing more than the captain of the King's Musketeers, to whom he endeavored to show every attention. To be near the King entitled any one to all privileges, in the eyes of M. de Baisemeaux.

But although Aramis had remarked that emotion, he had not been able to guess the cause of it. Athos alone believed that he had detected it. To him, d'Artagnan's return, and particularly the manner in which he, usually so impassive, seemed overcome, signified, "I have just asked the King something which he has refused me." Thoroughly convinced that his conjecture was correct, Athos smiled, rose from the table, and made a sign to d'Artagnan, as if to remind him that they had something else to do than to sup together. D'Artagnan immediately understood him, and replied by another sign. Aramis and Baisemeaux watched this silent dialogue, and looked inquiringly at each other. Athos felt that he was called upon to give an explanation of what was passing.

"The truth is, my friends," said the Comte de la Fere, with a smile, "that you, Aramis, have been supping with a State criminal, and you, M. de Baisemeaux, with your prisoner."

Baisemeaux uttered an exclamation of surprise and almost of delight. That worthy man took pride in his fortress. Profit aside, the more prisoners he had, the happier he was; and the higher the prisoners were in rank, the prouder he felt.

Aramis assumed an expression which he thought the situation required, and said: "Well, dear Athos, forgive me; but I almost suspected what has happened. Some prank of Raoul or La Valliere, is it not?"

"Alas!" said Baisemeaux.

"And," continued Aramis, "you, a high and powerful nobleman as you are, forgetful that there are now only courtiers,- you have been to the King, and told him what you thought of his conduct?"

"Yes, you have guessed right."

"So that," said Baisemeaux, trembling at having supped so familiarly with a man who had fallen into disgrace with the King,- "so that, Monsieur the Count-"

"So that, my dear governor," said Athos, "my friend d'Artagnan will communicate to you the contents of the paper which I perceive just peeping out of his belt, and which assuredly can be nothing else than the order for my incarceration."

Baisemeaux held out his hand with his accustomed eagerness. D'Artagnan drew two papers from his belt, and presented one of them to the governor, who unfolded it, and then read, in a low tone of voice, looking at Athos over the paper, as he did so, and pausing from time to time: "'Order to detain in my chateau of the Bastille M. le Comte de la Fere.' Oh, Monsieur! this is indeed a very melancholy honor for me."

"You will have a patient prisoner, Monsieur," said Athos, in his calm, soft voice.

"A prisoner, too, who will not remain a month with you, my dear governor," said Aramis; while Baisemeaux, still holding the order in his hand, transcribed it upon the prison registry.

"Not a day, or rather not even a night," said d'Artagnan, displaying the second order of the King; "for now, dear M. de Baisemeaux, you will have the goodness to transcribe also this order for setting the count immediately at liberty."

"Ah!" said Aramis, "it is a labor that you have spared me, d'Artagnan"; and he pressed the musketeer's hand in a significant manner, and that of Athos at the same time.

"What!" said the latter, in astonishment, "the King sets me at liberty!"

"Read, my dear friend!" returned d'Artagnan.

Athos took the order and read it. "It is quite true," he said.

"Are you sorry for it?" asked d'Artagnan.

"Oh, no, on the contrary! I wish the King no harm; and the greatest evil or misfortune that any one can wish kings is that they should commit an act of injustice. But you have had a difficult and painful task, I know. Tell me, have you not, d'Artagnan?"

"I? Not at all," said the musketeer, laughing; "the King does everything I wish him to do."

Aramis looked fixedly at d'Artagnan, and saw that he was not speaking the truth. But Baisemeaux had eyes for nothing but d'Artagnan, so great was his admiration for a man who could make the King do all he wished.

"And does the King exile Athos?" inquired Aramis.

"No, not precisely. The King did not explain himself upon that subject," replied d'Artagnan; "but I think the count could not do better, unless indeed he wishes particularly to thank the King-"

"No, indeed," replied Athos, smiling.

"Well, then, I think," resumed d'Artagnan, "that the count cannot do better than to retire to his own chateau. However, my dear Athos, you have only to speak, to tell me what you want. If any particular place of residence is more agreeable to you than another, I can obtain it for you."

"No, thank you," said Athos; "nothing can be more agreeable to me, my dear friend, than to return to the solitude beneath my noble trees on the banks of the Loire. If Heaven be the overruling physician of the evils of the mind, Nature is a sovereign remedy. And so, Monsieur," continued Athos, turning again towards Baisemeaux, "I am now free, I suppose?"

"Yes, Monsieur the Count, I think so,- at least, I hope so," said the governor, turning over and over the two papers in question; "unless, however, M. d'Artagnan has a third order to give me."

"No, my dear M. Baisemeaux, no," said the musketeer; "the second is quite enough. We can stop there."

"Ah! Monsieur the Count," said Baisemeaux, addressing Athos, "you do not know what you are losing. I should have placed you at thirty livres, like the generals- what am I saying?- I mean at fifty livres, like the princes; and you would have supped every evening as you have supped to-night."

"Allow me, Monsieur," said Athos, "to prefer my mediocrity"; and then, turning to d'Artagnan, he said, "Let us go, my friend."

"Let us go," said d'Artagnan.

"Shall I have the happiness of having you as my companion?"

"To the city gate only," replied d'Artagnan; "after which I will tell you what I told the King: 'I am on duty.'"

"And you, dear Aramis," said Athos, smiling; "will you accompany me? La Fere is on the road to Vannes."

"Thank you, my dear friend," said Aramis; "but I have an appointment in Paris this evening, and I cannot leave without very serious interests suffering by my absence."

"In that case," said Athos, "I must say adieu, and take my leave of you. My dear M. de Baisemeaux, I have to thank you exceedingly for your good will, and particularly for the specimen you have given me of the Bastille fare"; and having embraced Aramis, and shaken hands with M. de Baisemeaux, and having received their wishes for an agreeable journey from them both, Athos set off with d'Artagnan.

While the denouement of the scene of the Palais-Royal was taking place at the Bastille, let us relate what was going on at the lodgings of Athos and of Bragelonne. Grimaud, as we have seen, had accompanied his master to Paris; and, as we have said, he was present when Athos went out. He had seen d'Artagnan gnaw the corners of his mustache; he had seen his master get into the carriage; he had narrowly examined both their countenances, and he had known them both for a sufficiently long period to read and understand, through the mask of their impassiveness, that serious events were taking place. As soon as Athos had gone, he began to reflect; then he remembered the strange manner in which Athos had taken leave of him, the embarrassment- imperceptible to any one but himself- of his master,- that man of clear ideas and straightforward will. He knew that Athos had taken nothing with him but the clothes he had on him at the time; and yet he thought he saw that Athos had not left for an hour merely, or even for a day: a long absence was signified by the manner in which he pronounced the word "Adieu." All these circumstances recurred to his mind, with all his feelings of deep affection for Athos, with that horror of emptiness and solitude which invariably besets the minds of those who love; and all these, combined, rendered poor Grimaud very melancholy and particularly very apprehensive. Without being able to account to himself for what he did after his master's departure, he wandered about the apartment, seeking as it were for some traces of him, like a faithful dog, who is not exactly uneasy about his absent master, but at least is restless. Only, as to the instinct of the animal Grimaud joined the reason of a man, he had at the same time restlessness and anxiety. Not having found any indication which could serve as a guide, and having neither seen nor discovered anything which could satisfy his doubts, Grimaud began to imagine what could have happened. Now, the imagination is the resource, or rather the punishment, of good and affectionate hearts. In fact, never does a good heart represent its absent friend to itself as being happy or cheerful. Never does the pigeon who travels inspire anything but terror to the pigeon who remains at home.

Grimaud soon passed from anxiety to terror; he carefully went over, in his own mind, everything that had taken place,- d'Artagnan's letter to Athos, the letter which had seemed to distress Athos so much; then Raoul's coming to Athos, upon which Athos had asked for his orders and his court dress; then his interview with the King, at the end of which Athos had returned home so gloomy; then the explanation between the father and the son, at the termination of which Athos had embraced Raoul with such sadness of expression, while Raoul himself went away sorrowfully; and finally, d'Artagnan's arrival, biting his mustache, and his leaving again in the carriage, accompanied by the Comte de la Fere. All this composed a drama in five acts, very plain, especially so to an analyst as skilful as Grimaud.

In the first place Grimaud resorted to grand measures: he searched in his master's coat for M. d'Artagnan's letter; he found the letter still there, and this is what it contained:

"MY DEAR FRIEND: Raoul has been to ask me for some particulars about the conduct of Mademoiselle de la Valliere during our young friend's residence in London. I am a poor captain of Musketeers, whose ears are battered every day by the scandal of the barracks and the bedchamber. If I had told Raoul all I believe I know, the poor fellow would have died from it; but I am in the King's service, and cannot speak of the King's affairs. If your heart tells you to do it, set off at once; the matter concerns you more than myself, and almost as much as Raoul."

Grimaud tore, not a handful, but a finger-and-thumbful of hair out of his head; he would have torn out more if his hair had been more abundant.

"Yes," he said, "that is the key of the whole enigma. The young girl has been playing her pranks. What people say about her and the King is true, then. Our young master has been deceived; he ought to know it. Monsieur the Count has been to see the King, and has given him a piece of his mind; and then the King sent M. d'Artagnan to arrange the affair. Ah, my God!" continued Grimaud, "Monsieur the Count, I now remember, returned without his sword."

This discovery made the perspiration break out all over poor Grimaud's face. He did not waste any more time in useless conjecture, but clapped his hat on his head and started for Raoul's lodgings.

Raoul, after Louise had left him, had mastered his grief, if not his affection; and compelled to look forward on that perilous road on which madness and rebellion were hurrying him, he had seen, from the very first glance, his father exposed to the royal obstinacy, since Athos had immediately exposed himself to that obstinacy. In this moment, when sympathy gave him insight, the unhappy young man recalled the mysterious signs which Athos had made, and the unexpected visit of d'Artagnan. The probable result of the conflict between a sovereign and a subject revealed itself to his terrified vision. As d'Artagnan was on duty, that is, fixed to his post, he certainly had not come to pay Athos a visit merely for the pleasure of seeing him. He must have come to say something to him. This something, in a crisis so serious, was either a misfortune or a danger. Raoul shuddered at his selfishness in having forgotten his father for his love,- in having occupied himself with dreams or the fascinations of despair at a time when it was perhaps necessary to repel an imminent attack directed against Athos. The idea nearly drove him wild; he buckled on his sword and ran towards his father's lodgings. On his way thither he encountered Grimaud, who having set off from the opposite direction was running with equal eagerness in search of the truth. The two men embraced each other warmly; they were both at the same point of the parabola described by their imagination.

"Grimaud!" exclaimed Raoul.

"M. Raoul!" cried Grimaud.

"Is the count well?"

"Have you seen him?"

"No; where is he?"

"I am trying to find out."

"And M. d'Artagnan?"

"Went out with him."

"When?"

"Ten minutes after you had left."

"In what way did they go out?"

"In a carriage."

"Where did they go?"

"I have no idea at all."

"Did my father take any money with him?"

"No."

"Or his sword?"

"No."

"Grimaud!"

"M. Raoul!"

"I have an idea that M. d'Artagnan came to-"

"Arrest Monsieur the Count, do you not think, Monsieur?"

"Yes, Grimaud."

"I could have sworn it."

"What road did they take?"

"The way leading towards the quays."

"To the Bastille, then?"

"Ah, my God! yes."

"Quick, quick! let us run."

"Yes, let us run."

"But whither?" said Raoul, overwhelmed.

"We will go to M. d'Artagnan's first; we may perhaps learn something there."

"No; if he has kept it from me at my father's, he will do the same everywhere. Let us go to- Oh, good Heavens! why, I must be mad to-day, Grimaud."

"Why so?"

"I have forgotten M. du Vallon-"

"M. Porthos?"

"Who is waiting for and expecting me still! Alas! I have told you correctly, I am mad!"

"Where is he, then?"

"At the Minimes of Vincennes."

"Thank goodness, that is in the direction of the Bastille. I will run and saddle the horses, and we will go at once," said Grimaud.

"Do, my friend, do!"

Chapter XXVII: In Which Porthos Is Convinced Without Having Understood Anything

THE worthy Porthos, faithful to all the laws of ancient chivalry, had determined to wait for M. de Saint-Aignan until sunset; and as De Saint-Aignan did not come, as Raoul had forgotten to communicate with his second, and as he found that waiting so long was very wearisome, Porthos had desired one of the gate-keepers to fetch him a few bottles of good wine and a good joint of meat,- so that he at least might have the diversion of enjoying from time to time a glass of wine and a mouthful of something to eat. He had just finished when Raoul arrived escorted by Grimaud, both of them riding at full speed. When Porthos saw the two cavaliers riding at such a pace along the road, he did not for a moment doubt but that they were the men he was expecting; and he rose from the grass upon which he had been indolently reclining, and began to stretch his legs and arms, saying, "See what it is to have good habits! The fellow has come, after all. If I had gone away, he would have found no one here, and would have taken an advantage from that." He then threw himself into a martial attitude, and drew himself up to the full height of his gigantic stature. But instead of De Saint-Aignan, he saw only Raoul, who with the most despairing gestures accosted him by crying out, "Pray forgive me, my dear friend! I am most wretched."

"Raoul!" cried Porthos, surprised.

"You have been angry with me?" said Raoul, embracing Porthos.

"I? What for?"

"For having forgotten you. But, you see, I have lost my head."

"Ah, bah!"

"If you only knew, my friend!"

"You have killed him?"

"Whom?"

"De Saint-Aignan."

"Alas! we are far from De Saint-Aignan."

"What is the matter, then?"

"The matter is that M. le Comte de la Fere has been arrested."

Porthos gave a start that would have thrown down a wall. "Arrested!" he cried out; "by whom?"

"By d'Artagnan."

"It is impossible," said Porthos.

"It is nevertheless true," replied Raoul.

Porthos turned towards Grimaud, as if he needed a second confirmation of the intelligence. Grimaud nodded his head. "And where have they taken him?"

"Probably to the Bastille."

"What makes you think that?"

"As we came along we questioned some persons who saw the carriage pass, and others who saw it enter the Bastille."

"Oh, oh!" muttered Porthos; and he moved forward two steps.

"What do you intend to do?" inquired Raoul.

"I? Nothing; only, I will not have Athos remain at the Bastille."

"Do you know," said Raoul, advancing nearer to Porthos, "that the arrest was made by order of the King?"

Porthos looked at the young man as if to say, "What does that matter to me?" This dumb language seemed so eloquent of meaning to Raoul that he did not ask another question. He mounted his horse again; and Porthos, assisted by Grimaud, did the same.

"Let us arrange our plan of action," said Raoul.

"Yes," returned Porthos; "that is the best thing we can do."

Raoul sighed deeply, and then paused suddenly.

"What is the matter?" asked Porthos; "are you faint?"

"No; powerless. Can we three pretend to go and take the Bastille?"

"Well, if d'Artagnan were only here," replied Porthos, "I don't know about that."

Raoul was struck with admiration at the sight of that confidence, heroic in its simplicity. These were the celebrated men who by three or four attacked armies and assaulted castles, who had terrified death itself, and who survived the wrecks of an age, and were still stronger than the most robust among the young. "Monsieur," said he to Porthos, "you have just given me an idea; we absolutely must see M. d'Artagnan."

"Undoubtedly."

"He ought by this time to have returned home, after having taken my father to the Bastille. Let us go to his house."

"First inquire at the Bastille," said Grimaud, who was in the habit of speaking little, but to the purpose.

Accordingly they hastened towards the fortress, when one of those chances which Heaven bestows on men of strong will caused Grimaud suddenly to perceive the carriage which was entering by the great gate of the drawbridge. This was at the moment when d'Artagnan was, as we have seen, returning from his visit to the King. In vain Raoul urged on his horse to overtake the carriage and see whom it contained. The horses had already gained the other side of the great gate, which again closed, while one of the sentries struck the nose of Raoul's horse with his musket. Raoul turned about, only too happy to find that he had ascertained something respecting the carriage which had contained his father.

"We have him," said Grimaud.

"If we wait a little, it is certain that he will leave; don't you think so, my friend?"

"Unless, indeed, d'Artagnan also be a prisoner," replied Porthos, "in which case everything is lost."

Raoul returned no answer, for any hypothesis was admissible. He instructed Grimaud to lead the horses to the little Rue Jean-Beausire, so as to give rise to less suspicion, and himself with his piercing gaze watched for the exit either of d'Artagnan or the carriage. It was a fortunate plan; for twenty minutes had not elapsed before the gate reopened and the carriage reappeared. A dazzling of the eyes prevented Raoul from distinguishing what figures occupied the interior. Grimaud averred that he had seen two persons, and that one of them was his master. Porthos kept looking at Raoul and Grimaud by turns, in the hope of understanding their idea.

"It is clear," said Grimaud, "that if the count is in the carriage, either he is set at liberty or they are taking him to another prison."

"We shall soon see that by the road he takes," answered Porthos.

"If he is set at liberty," said Grimaud, "they will conduct him home."

"True," rejoined Porthos.

"The carriage does not take that way," cried Raoul; and indeed the horses were just disappearing down the Faubourg St. Antoine.

"Let us hasten," said Porthos; "we will attack the carriage on the road, and tell Athos to flee."

"Rebellion," murmured Raoul.

Porthos darted a second glance at Raoul, quite worthy of the first. Raoul replied only by spurring the flanks of his steed. In a few moments the three cavaliers had overtaken the carriage, and followed it so closely that their horses' breath moistened the back of it. D'Artagnan, whose senses were ever on the alert, heard the trot of the horses at the moment when Raoul was telling Porthos to pass the chariot so as to see who was the person accompanying Athos. Porthos complied, but could not see anything, for the blinds were lowered. Rage and impatience were gaining mastery over Raoul. He had just noticed the mystery preserved by Athos's companion, and determined on proceeding to extremities. On his part d'Artagnan had clearly recognized Porthos, and Raoul also, from under the blinds, and had communicated to the count the result of his observation. They were desirous only of seeing whether Raoul and Porthos would push the affair to the uttermost. And this they speedily did. Raoul, presenting his pistol, threw himself on the leader, commanding the coachman to stop. Porthos seized the coachman and dragged him from his seat. Grimaud already had hold of the carriage door. Raoul threw open his arms, exclaiming, "Monsieur the Count! Monsieur the Count!"

"Ah! is it you, Raoul?" said Athos, intoxicated with joy.

"Not bad, indeed!" added d'Artagnan, with a burst of laughter; and they both embraced the young man and Porthos, who had captured them.

"My brave Porthos, best of friends!" cried Athos, "it is still the same with you.

"He is still only twenty," said d'Artagnan. "Bravo, Porthos!"

"Confound it!" answered Porthos, slightly confused, "we thought that you were arrested."

"While," rejoined Athos, "I was, in fact, only taking a drive in M. d'Artagnan's carriage."

"But we followed you from the Bastille," returned Raoul, with a tone of suspicion and reproach.

"Where we had been to take supper with our good friend M. Baisemeaux. You recollect Baisemeaux, Porthos?"

"Very well, indeed."

"And there we saw Aramis."

"In the Bastille?"

"At supper."

"Ah!" said Porthos, again breathing freely.

"He gave us a thousand messages for you."

"Thanks."

"And where is Monsieur the Count going?" asked Grimaud, already recompensed by a smile from his master.

"We are going home to Blois."

"How is that,- at once?"

"Yes; right forward."

"Without any luggage?"

"Oh! Raoul would have been instructed to forward me mine, or to bring it with him on his return, if he returns."

"If nothing detains him longer in Paris," said d'Artagnan, with a glance firm and cutting as steel, and as painful (for it reopened the poor young fellow's wounds), "he will do well to follow you, Athos."

"There is nothing to keep me any longer in Paris," said Raoul.

"Then we will go immediately," replied Athos.

"And M. d'Artagnan?"

"Oh! as for me, I was only accompanying Athos as far as the barrier, and I return with Porthos."

"Very good," said the latter.

"Come, my son," added the count, gently passing his arm round Raoul's neck to draw him into the carriage, and again embracing him. "Grimaud," continued the count, "you will return quietly to Paris with your horse and M. du Vallon's, for Raoul and I will mount here and give up the carriage to these two gentlemen to return to Paris in; and then, as soon as you arrive, you will take my clothes and letters, and forward the whole to me at home."

"But," observed Raoul, who was anxious to make the count converse, "when you return to Paris, there will not be a single thing there for you,- which will be very inconvenient."

"I think it will be a very long time, Raoul, ere I return to Paris. The last sojourn we have made there has not been of a nature to encourage me to repeat it."

Raoul hung his head, and said not a word more. Athos descended from the carriage, and mounted the horse which had brought Porthos, and which seemed no little pleased at the exchange. Then they embraced, clasped one another's hands, and interchanged a thousand pledges of eternal friendship. Porthos promised to spend a month with Athos at the first opportunity. D'Artagnan engaged to take advantage of his first leave of absence; and then, having embraced Raoul for the last time, "To you, my boy," said he, "I will write." Coming from d'Artagnan, who he knew wrote but very seldom, these words expressed everything. Raoul was moved even to tears. He tore himself away from the musketeer, and departed.

D'Artagnan rejoined Porthos in the carriage. "Well," said he, "my dear friend, what a day we have had!"

"Indeed, yes," answered Porthos.

"You must be quite worn out?"

"Not quite; however, I shall retire early to rest, so as to be ready tomorrow."

"And wherefore?"

"Why, to complete what I have begun."

"You make me shudder, my friend; you seem to me quite angry. What the devil have you begun which is not finished?"

"Listen! Raoul has not fought; it is necessary that I should fight."

"With whom?- with the King?"

"How!" exclaimed Porthos, astounded, "with the King?"

"Yes, I say, you great baby! with the King."

"I assure you it is with M. de Saint-Aignan."

"Look now, this is what I mean: you draw your sword against the King in fighting with this gentleman."

"Ah!" said Porthos, staring; "are you sure of it?"

"Indeed, I am."

"How shall we arrange it, then?"

"We must try and make a good supper, Porthos. The captain of the Musketeers keeps a tolerable table. There you will see the handsome De Saint-Aignan, and will drink his health."

"I!" cried Porthos, horrified.

"What!" said d'Artagnan, "you refuse to drink the King's health?"

"But, body alive! I am not talking to you about the King at all; I am speaking of M. de Saint-Aignan."

"But since I repeat that it is the same thing-"

"Ah, well, well!" said Porthos, overcome.

"You understand, don't you?"

"No," said Porthos; "but no matter."

"Yes, it is all the same," replied d'Artagnan; "let us go to supper, Porthos."

Chapter XXVIII: M. de Baisemeaux's "Society"

THE reader has not forgotten that, on quitting the Bastille, d'Artagnan and the Comte de la Fere had left Aramis in close confabulation with Baisemeaux. When once these two guests had departed, Baisemeaux did not in the least perceive that the conversation suffered by their absence. He thought that wine after supper, and that of the Bastille in particular, was excellent; and that it was a stimulant quite sufficient to make an honest man talk. But he little knew his Greatness, who was never more impenetrable than at dessert. His Greatness, however, perfectly understood M. de Baisemeaux, when he reckoned on making the governor discourse by the means which the latter regarded as efficacious. The conversation, therefore, without flagging in appearance, flagged in reality; for Baisemeaux not only had it nearly all to himself, but further, kept speaking only of that singular event,- the incarceration of Athos, followed by so prompt an order to set him again at liberty. Nor, moreover, had Baisemeaux failed to observe that the order of arrest and that of liberation were both in the King's hand. But the King would not take the trouble to write such orders except under pressing circumstances. All this was very interesting, and, above all, very puzzling to Baisemeaux; but as, on the other hand, all this was very clear to Aramis, the latter did not attach to the occurrence the same importance as did the worthy governor. Besides, Aramis rarely put himself out of the way for anything, and he had not yet told M. de Baisemeaux for what reason he had now done so; and so, at the very climax of Baisemeaux's dissertation, Aramis suddenly interrupted him.

"Tell me, my dear M. Baisemeaux," said he, "have you never had any other diversions at the Bastille than those at which I have assisted during the two or three visits I have had the honor to pay you?"

This address was so unexpected that the governor, like a vane which suddenly receives an impulsion opposed to that of the wind, was quite dumfounded at it. "Diversions!" said he; "but I take them continually, Monseigneur."

"Oh, to be sure! And these diversions-"

"Are of every kind."

"Visits, no doubt?"

"No, not visits. Visits are not frequent at the Bastille."

"What! are visits rare, then?"

"Very rare."

"Even on the part of your society?"

"What do you mean by my 'society,'- the prisoners?"

"Oh, no! Your prisoners, indeed! I know well it is you who visit them, and not they you. By your society I mean, my dear M. Baisemeaux, the society of which you are a member."

Baisemeaux looked fixedly at Aramis, and then, as if the idea which had flashed across his mind were impossible, "Oh!" he said, "I have very little society at present. If I must own it to you, my dear M. d'Herblay, the fact is, to stay at the Bastille appears for the most part distressing and distasteful to persons of the gay world. As for the ladies, it is never without a dread, which costs me infinite trouble to allay, that they come to my quarters. And, indeed, how should they avoid trembling a little, poor things, when they see those gloomy dungeons, and reflect that they are inhabited by prisoners  who-" In proportion as the eyes of Baisemeaux concentrated their gaze on the face of Aramis, the worthy governor's tongue faltered more and more, until finally it stopped altogether.

"No, you don't understand me, my dear M. Baisemeaux,- you don't understand me. I do not at all mean to speak of society in general, but of a particular society,- of the society, in a word, to which you are affiliated."

Baisemeaux nearly dropped the glass of muscat which he was in the act of raising to his lips. "Affiliated?" cried he, "affiliated?"

"Yes, affiliated, undoubtedly," repeated Aramis, with the greatest self-possession. "Are you not a member of a secret society, my dear M. Baisemeaux?"

"Secret?"

"Secret or mysterious."

"Oh, M. d'Herblay!"

"See! you don't deny it."

"But, believe me-"

"I believe what I know."

"I swear to you."

"Listen to me, my dear M. Baisemeaux! I say 'yes,' you say 'no.' One of us two necessarily says what is true; and the other, it inevitably follows, what is false."

"Well, and then?"

"Well, we shall come to an understanding presently."

"Let us see," said Baisemeaux; "let us see."

"Now drink your glass of muscat, dear M. Baisemeaux," said Aramis. "What the devil! you look quite scared."

"No, no, not the least in the world; no."

"Drink, then."

Baisemeaux drank, but he swallowed the wrong way.

"Well," resumed Aramis, "if, I say, you are not a member of a society, secret or mysterious, whichever you like to call it,- the epithet is of no consequence,- if, I say, you are not a member of a society similar to that I wish to designate, well, then, you will not understand a word of what I am going to say, that is all."

"Oh! be sure beforehand that I shall not understand anything."

"Well, well!"

"Try now; let us see."

"That is what I am going to do. If, on the contrary, you are one of the members of this society, you will immediately answer me 'yes' or 'no.'"

"Begin your questions, then," continued Baisemeaux, trembling.

"You will agree, dear M. de Baisemeaux," continued Aramis, with the same impassiveness, "that it is evident a man cannot be a member of a society, it is evident that he cannot enjoy the advantages it offers to the affiliated, without being himself bound to certain little services."

"In short," stammered Baisemeaux, "that would be intelligible if-"

"Well," resumed Aramis, "there is in the society of which I speak, and of which, as it seems, you are not a member-"

"Allow me," said Baisemeaux; "I should not like to say absolutely."

"There is an engagement entered into by all the governors and captains of fortresses affiliated to the order." Baisemeaux grew pale. "Now the engagement," continued Aramis, firmly, "is of this nature."

Baisemeaux rose, manifesting unspeakable emotion. "Go on, dear M. d'Herblay; go on!" said he.

Aramis then spoke, or rather recited, the following sentence, in the same tone as if he had been reading it from a book: "The aforesaid captain or governor of a fortress shall allow to enter, when need shall arise, and on demand of the prisoner, a confessor affiliated to the order." He stopped. Baisemeaux was quite distressing to look at, being so wretchedly pale and trembling. "Is not that the text of the agreement?" quietly asked Aramis.

"Monseigneur!" began Baisemeaux.

"Ah, well, you begin to understand, I think."

"Monseigneur," cried Baisemeaux, "do not trifle so with my unhappy mind! I find myself nothing in your hands, if you have the malignant desire to draw from me the little secrets of my administration."

"Oh, by no means! Pray undeceive yourself, dear M. Baisemeaux; it is not the little secrets of your administration that I aim at, but those of your conscience."

"Well, then, my conscience be it, my dear M. d'Herblay! But have some consideration for the situation I am in, which is no ordinary one."

"It is no ordinary one, my dear Monsieur," continued the inflexible Aramis, "if you are a member of this society; but it is quite a natural one if, free from all engagements, you are answerable only to the King."

"Well, Monsieur, well! I obey only the King. Good God! whom else would you have a French gentleman obey?"

Aramis did not yield an inch; but with that silvery voice of his continued: "It is very pleasant for a French gentleman, for a prelate of France, to hear a man of your mark express himself so loyally, dear De Baisemeaux, and having heard you, to believe no more than you do."

"Have you doubted, Monsieur?"

"I? Oh, no!"

"And so you doubt no longer?"

"I have no longer any doubt that such a man as you, Monsieur," said Aramis, gravely, "does not faithfully serve the masters whom he voluntarily chose for himself."

"Masters!" cried Baisemeaux.

"Yes, masters, I said."

"M. d'Herblay, you are still jesting, are you not?"

"Oh, yes! I understand that it is a more difficult position to have several masters than one; but the embarrassment is owing to you, my dear Baisemeaux, and I am not the cause of it."

"Certainly not," returned the unfortunate governor, more embarrassed than ever; "but what are you doing? You are leaving the table?"

"Assuredly."

"Are you going?"

"Yes, I am going."

"But you are behaving very strangely towards me, Monseigneur."

"I am behaving strangely,- in what respect?"

"Have you sworn, then, to put me to the torture?"

"No, I should be sorry to do so."

"Remain, then."

"I cannot."

"And why?"

"Because I have no longer anything to do here; and, indeed, I have duties to fulfil elsewhere."

"Duties so late as this?"

"Yes; understand me now, my dear M. de Baisemeaux. They told me at the place whence I came, 'The aforesaid governor or captain will allow to enter, as need shall arise, on the prisoner's demand, a confessor affiliated with the order.' I came; you do not know what I mean, and so I shall return to tell them that they are mistaken, and that they must send me elsewhere."

"What! you are-" cried Baisemeaux, looking at Aramis almost in terror.

"The confessor affiliated to the order," said Aramis, without changing his voice.

But, gentle as the words were, they had the same effect on the unhappy governor as a clap of thunder. Baisemeaux became livid, and it seemed to him as if Aramis's beaming eyes were two forks of flame, piercing to the very bottom of his soul. "The confessor!" murmured he; "you, Monseigneur, the confessor of the order!"

"Yes, I; but we have nothing to unravel together, seeing that you are not one of the affiliated."

"Monseigneur!"

"And I understand that, not being so, you refuse to comply with its commands."

"Monseigneur, I beseech you, condescend to hear me."

"And wherefore?"

"Monseigneur, I do not say that I have nothing to do with the society."

"Ah! ah!"

"I say not that I refuse to obey."

"Nevertheless, M. de Baisemeaux, what has passed wears very much the air of resistance."

"Oh, no, Monseigneur, no! I only wished to be certain."

"To be certain of what?" said Aramis, in a tone of supreme contempt.

"Of nothing at all, Monseigneur." Baisemeaux lowered his voice, and bending before the prelate said, "I am at all times and in all places at the disposal of my masters, but-"

"Very good. I like you better thus, Monsieur," said Aramis, as he resumed his seat, and put out his glass to Baisemeaux, whose hand trembled so that he could not fill it. "You were saying 'but'-" continued Aramis.

"But," replied the unhappy man, "having no notice, I was far from expecting."

"Does not the Gospel say, 'Watch, for the moment is known only of God'? Do not the rules of the order say, 'Watch; for that which I will, you ought always to will also'? And on what pretext is it that you did not expect the confessor, M. de Baisemeaux?"

"Because, Monseigneur, there is at present in the Bastille no prisoner ill."

Aramis shrugged his shoulder. "What do you know about that?" said he.

"But nevertheless, it appears to me-"

"M. de Baisemeaux," said Aramis, turning round in his chair, "here is your servant, who wishes to speak with you"; and at this moment Baisemeaux's servant appeared at the threshold of the door.

"What is it?" asked Baisemeaux, sharply.

"Monsieur," said the man, "they are bringing you the doctor's return."

Aramis looked at Baisemeaux with a calm and confident eye.

"Well," said Baisemeaux, "let the messenger enter."

The messenger entered, saluted, and handed in the report. Baisemeaux ran his eye over it, and raising his head said, in surprise, "No. 2 Bertaudiere is ill."

"How was it, then," said Aramis, carelessly, "that you told me everybody was well in your hotel, M. de Baisemeaux?" and he emptied his glass without removing his eyes from Baisemeaux.

The governor then made a sign to the messenger, and when he had quitted the room said, still trembling, "I think that there is in the article, 'on the prisoner's demand.'"

"Yes, it is so"; answered Aramis. "But see what it is they want with you now, dear M. de Baisemeaux."

At that moment a sergeant put his head in at the door. "What do you want now?" cried Baisemeaux. "Can you not leave me in peace for ten minutes?"

"Monsieur," said the sergeant, "the sick man, No. 2 Bertaudiere, has commissioned the turnkey to request you to send him a confessor."

Baisemeaux very nearly sank on the floor; but Aramis disdained to reassure him, just as he had disdained to terrify him. "What must I answer?" inquired Baisemeaux.

"Just what you please," replied Aramis, compressing his lips; "that is your business. I am not governor of the Bastille."

"Tell the prisoner," cried Baisemeaux, quickly,- "tell the prisoner that his request is granted." The sergeant left the room. "Oh, Monseigneur, Monseigneur," murmured Baisemeaux, "how could I have suspected?- how could I have foreseen this?"

"Who told you to suspect, and who asked you to foresee?" contemptuously answered Aramis. "The order suspects, the order knows, the order foresees,- is not that enough?"

"What do you command?" added Baisemeaux.

"I?- nothing at all. I am nothing but a poor priest, a simple confessor. Have I your orders to go and see the sufferer?"

"Oh, Monseigneur, I do not order; I pray you to go."

"'Tis well; then conduct me to him."

Chapter XXIX: The Prisoner

SINCE Aramis's singular transformation into a confessor of the order, Baisemeaux was no longer the same man. Up to that period the place which Aramis had held in the worthy governor's estimation was that of a prelate whom he respected and a friend to whom he owed a debt of gratitude; but after that revelation which had upset all his ideas, he felt himself an inferior, and that Aramis was his master. He himself lighted a lantern, summoned a turnkey, and said, returning to Aramis, "I am at your orders, Monseigneur."

Aramis merely nodded his head, as much as to say, "Very good"; and signed to him with his hand to lead the way. Baisemeaux advanced, and Aramis followed him.

It was a beautiful starry night; the steps of the three men resounded on the flags of the terraces, and the clinking of the keys hanging from the jailer's girdle made itself heard up to the stories of the towers, as if to remind the prisoners that liberty was out of their reach. It might have been said that the alteration effected in Baisemeaux had extended itself even to the prisoners. The turnkey, the same who on Aramis's first arrival had shown himself so inquisitive and curious, had now become not only silent, but even impassible. He held his head down, and seemed afraid to keep his ears open. In this wise they reached the basement of the Bertaudiere, the first two stories of which were mounted silently and somewhat slowly; for Baisemeaux, though far from disobeying, was far from exhibiting any eagerness to obey. Finally, they arrived at the door. The jailer had the key ready, and opened the door. Baisemeaux showed a disposition to enter the prisoner's chamber; but Aramis, stopping him on the threshold, said, "The rules do not allow the governor to hear the prisoner's confession."

Baisemeaux bowed, and made way for Aramis, who took the lantern and entered, and then signed to them to close the door behind him. For an instant he remained standing, listening to learn whether Baisemeaux and the turnkey had retired; but as soon as he was assured by the dying sound of their footsteps that they had left the tower, he put the lantern on the table and gazed around. On a bed of green serge, similar in all respects to the other beds in the Bastille, save that it was newer, under ample curtains half drawn, reposed a young man to whom we have once before introduced Aramis. According to custom, the prisoner was without a light. At the hour of curfew he was bound to extinguish his lamp; it may be seen how much he was favored in being allowed to keep it burning until that hour. Near the bed a large leathern arm-chair, with twisted legs, held his clothes. A little table- without pens, books, paper, or ink- stood deserted near the window; while several plates, still unemptied, showed that the prisoner had scarcely touched his recent repast. Aramis saw that the young man was stretched upon his bed, his face half concealed by his arms. The arrival of a visitor did not cause any change of position; either he was waiting in expectation or he was asleep. Aramis lighted the candle from the lantern, pushed back the arm-chair, and approached the bed with an appearance of mingled interest and respect.

The young man raised his head. "What is it?" said he.

"Have you not desired a confessor?" replied Aramis.

"Yes."

"Because you are ill?"

"Yes."

"Very ill?"

The young man gave Aramis a piercing glance, and answered, "I thank you." After a moment's silence, "I have seen you before," he continued.

Aramis bowed.

Doubtless the scrutiny which the prisoner had just made of the cold, crafty, and imperious character stamped upon the features of the bishop of Vannes was little reassuring to one in his situation, for he added, "I am better."

"And then?" said Aramis.

"Why, then, being better, I have no longer the same need of a confessor, I think."

"Not even of the haircloth, of which the note you found in your bread informed you?"

The young man started; but before he had either assented or denied, Aramis continued, "Not even of the ecclesiastic from whom you were to hear an important revelation?"

"If it be so," said the young man, sinking again on his pillow, "it is different; I listen."

Aramis then looked at him more closely, and was struck with the easy majesty of his mien,- one which can never be acquired unless Heaven has implanted it in the blood or in the heart.

"Sit down, Monsieur!" said the prisoner.

Aramis bowed and obeyed.

"How does the Bastille agree with you?" asked the bishop.

"Very well."

"You do not suffer?"

"No."

"You have nothing to regret?"

"Nothing."

"Not even your liberty?"

"What do you call liberty, Monsieur?" asked the prisoner, with the tone of a man who is preparing for a struggle.

"I call liberty the flowers, the air, light, the stars, the happiness of going whithersoever the nervous limbs of twenty years of age may wish to carry you."

The young man smiled,- whether in resignation or contempt, it would have been difficult to tell. "Look!" said he; "I have in that Japanese vase two roses gathered yesterday evening in the bud from the governor's garden. This morning they have blown and spread their vermilion chalices beneath my gaze; with every opening petal they unfold the treasures of their perfume, filling my chamber with fragrance. Look now on these two roses; even among roses these are beautiful, and the rose is the most beautiful of flowers. Why, then, do you bid me desire other flowers when I possess the loveliest of all?"

Aramis gazed at the young man in surprise.

"If flowers constitute liberty," sadly resumed the captive, "I am free, for I possess them."

"But the air!" cried Aramis,- "air so necessary to life!"

"Well, Monsieur," returned the prisoner, "draw near to the window; it is open. Between Heaven and earth the wind whirls its storms of hail and lightning, wafts its warm mists, or breathes in gentle breezes. It caresses my face. When mounted on the back of this arm-chair, with my arm around the bars of the window to sustain myself, I fancy I am swimming in the wide expanse."

The countenance of Aramis darkened as the young man spoke.

"Light!" continued the prisoner,- "I have what is better than light! I have the sun,- a friend who comes to visit me every day without the permission of the governor or the jailer's company. He comes in at the window, and traces in my room a quadrilateral which starts from the window and reaches to the hangings of my bed. This luminous figure increases from ten o'clock till midday, and decreases from one till three slowly, as if, having hastened to come, it sorrowed at leaving me. When its last ray disappears, I have enjoyed its presence for four hours. Is not that sufficient? I have been told that there are unhappy beings who dig in quarries, and laborers who toil in mines, who never behold the sun at all."

Aramis wiped the drops from his brow.

"As to the stars which are so delightful to view," continued the young man, "they all resemble one another save in size and brilliancy. I am a favored mortal; for if you had not lighted that candle, you would have been able to see the beautiful star which I was gazing at from my couch before your arrival, and whose rays were playing over my eyes."

Aramis lowered his head; he felt himself overwhelmed by the bitter flow of that sinister philosophy which is the religion of the captive.

"So much, then, for the flowers, the air, the daylight, and the stars," tranquilly continued the young man; "there remains freedom of movement. Do I not walk all day in the governor's garden if it is fine; here, if it rains; in the fresh air, if it is warm; in the warm, thanks to my fireplace, if it be cold? Ah, Monsieur, do you fancy," continued the prisoner, not without bitterness, "that men have not done everything for me that a man can hope for or desire?"

"Men!" said Aramis, raising his head; "be it so! But it seems to me you forget Heaven."

"Indeed, I have forgotten Heaven," murmured the prisoner, without emotion; "but why do you mention it? Of what use is it to talk to a prisoner of Heaven?"

Aramis looked steadily at this singular youth, who possessed the resignation of a martyr with the smile of an atheist. "Is not God in everything?" he murmured in a reproachful tone.

"Say, rather, at the end of everything," answered the prisoner, firmly.

"Be it so," said Aramis; "but let us return to our starting-point."

"I desire nothing better," returned the young man.

"I am your confessor."

"Yes."

"Well, then, you ought, as a penitent, to tell me the truth."

"All that I wish is to tell it to you."

"Every prisoner has committed some crime for which he has been imprisoned. What crime, then, have you committed?"

"You asked me the same question the first time you saw me," returned the prisoner.

"And then, as now, you evaded giving me an answer."

"And what reason have you for thinking that I shall now reply to you?"

"Because this time I am your confessor."

"Then, if you wish me to tell what crime I have committed, explain to me in what a crime consists; for as my conscience does not accuse me, I aver that I am not a criminal."

"We are often criminals in the sight of the great of the earth, not alone for having ourselves committed crimes, but because we know that crimes have been committed."

The prisoner manifested the deepest attention. "Yes, I understand you," he said, after a pause; "yes, you are right, Monsieur. It is very possible that in that light I am a criminal in the eyes of the great."

"Ah! then you know something," said Aramis, who thought he had pierced not merely through a defect in the harness, but through the joints of it.

"No, I am not aware of anything," replied the young man; "but sometimes I think, and I say to myself in those moments-"

"What do you say to yourself?"

"That if I were to think any further, I should either go mad or I should divine a great deal."

"And then- and then-" said Aramis, impatiently.

"Then I leave off."

"You leave off?"

"Yes; my head becomes confused, and my ideas melancholy. I feel ennui overtaking me; I wish-"

"What?"

"I don't know; but I do not like to give myself up to longing for things which I do not possess, when I am so happy with what I have."

"You are afraid of death?" said Aramis, with a slight uneasiness.

"Yes," said the young man, smiling.

Aramis felt the chill of that smile, and shuddered. "Oh, as you fear death, you know more than you admit!" he cried.

"And you," returned the prisoner, "who bade me to ask to see you,- you, who when I did ask for you came here promising a world of confidence,- how is it that, nevertheless, it is you who are silent, and 't is I who speak? Since, then, we both wear masks, either let us both retain them or put them aside together."

Aramis felt the force and justice of the remark, saying to himself, "This is no ordinary man." "Are you ambitious?" said he suddenly to the prisoner, aloud, without preparing him for the alteration.

"What do you mean by ambition?" replied the youth.

"It is," replied Aramis, "a feeling which prompts a man to desire more than he has."

"I said that I was contented, Monsieur; but perhaps I deceive myself. I am ignorant of the nature of ambition; but it is not impossible I may have some. Come, open my mind; I ask nothing better."

"An ambitious man," said Aramis, "is one who covets what is beyond his station."

"I covet nothing beyond my station," said the young man, with an assurance of manner which yet again made the bishop of Vannes tremble.

Aramis was silent. But to look at the kindling eye, the knitted brow, and the reflective attitude of the captive, it was evident that he expected something more than silence. That silence Aramis now broke. "You lied the first time I saw you," said he.

"Lied!" cried the young man, starting up on his couch, with such a tone in his voice and such lightning in his eyes that Aramis recoiled in spite of himself.

"I should say," returned Aramis, bowing, "you concealed from me what you knew of your infancy."

"A man's secrets are his own, Monsieur," retorted the prisoner, "and not at the mercy of the first chance-comer."

"True," said Aramis, bowing still lower than before, "'t is true; pardon me, but to-day do I still occupy the place of a chance-comer? I beseech you to reply, Monseigneur."

This title slightly disturbed the prisoner; but nevertheless he did not appear astonished that it was given to him. "I do not know you, Monsieur," said he.

"Oh, if I but dared, I would take your hand and would kiss it!"

The young man seemed as if he were going to give Aramis his hand; but the light which beamed in his eyes faded away, and he coldly and distrustfully withdrew his hand. "Kiss the hand of a prisoner!" he said, shaking his head; "to what purpose?"

"Why did you tell me," said Aramis, "that you were happy here? Why, that you aspired to nothing? Why, in a word, by thus speaking, do you prevent me from being frank in my turn?"

The same light shone a third time in the young man's eyes, but died as before, without leading to anything.

"You distrust me," said Aramis.

"And why say you so, Monsieur?"

"Oh, for a very simple reason! If you know what you ought to know, you ought to mistrust everybody."

"Then be not astonished that I am mistrustful, since you suspect me of knowing what I know not."

Aramis was struck with admiration at this energetic resistance. "Oh, Monseigneur, you drive me to despair!" said he, striking the arm-chair with his fist.

"And on my part I do not comprehend you, Monsieur."

"Well, then, try to understand me." The prisoner looked fixedly at Aramis. "Sometimes it seems to me," said the latter, "that I have before me the man whom I seek, and then-"

"And then your man disappears,- is it not so?" said the prisoner, smiling. "So much the better."

Aramis rose. "Certainly," said he; "I have nothing further to say to a man who mistrusts me as you do."

"And I, Monsieur," said the prisoner, in the same tone, "have nothing to say to a man who will not understand that a prisoner ought to be mistrustful of everybody."

"Even of old friends?" said Aramis. "Oh, Monseigneur, you are too cautious!"

"Of my old friends?- you one of my old friends,- you?"

"Do you no longer remember," said Aramis, "that you once saw in the village where your early years were spent-"

"Do you know the name of the village?" asked the prisoner.

"Noisy-le-Sec, Monseigneur," answered Aramis, firmly.

"Go on!" said the young man, without expression of assent or denial on his countenance.

"Stay, Monseigneur!" said Aramis; "if you are positively resolved to carry on this game, let us break off. I am here to tell you many things, 't is true; but you must allow me to see that, on your side, you have a desire to know them. Before revealing the important matters I conceal, be assured that I am in need of some encouragement, if not candor; a little sympathy, if not confidence. But you keep yourself intrenched in a pretended ignorance which paralyzes me. Oh, not for the reason you think; for ignorant as you may be, or indifferent as you feign to be, you are none the less what you are, Monseigneur, and there is nothing- nothing, mark me!- which can cause you not to be so."

"I promise you," replied the prisoner, "to hear you without impatience. Only it appears to me that I have a right to repeat the question I have already asked, 'who are you?'"

"Do you remember, fifteen or eighteen years ago, seeing at Noisy-le-Sec a cavalier, accompanied by a lady plainly dressed in black silk, with flame-colored ribbons in her hair?"

"Yes," said the young man; "I once asked the name of this cavalier, and was told that he called himself the Abbe d'Herblay. I was astonished that the abbe had so warlike an air, and was told that there was nothing singular in that, seeing that he was one of Louis XIII's musketeers."

"Well," said Aramis, "that musketeer of other times, that abbe afterwards, then bishop of Vannes, is to-day your confessor."

"I know it; I recognized you."

"Then, Monseigneur, if you know that, I must add a fact of which you are ignorant,- that if the King were to know this evening of the presence here of this musketeer, this abbe, this bishop, this confessor, he who has risked everything to visit you would to-morrow see glitter the executioner's axe at the bottom of a dungeon more gloomy and more obscure than yours."

While hearing these words, delivered with emphasis, the young man had raised himself on his couch and gazed more and more eagerly at Aramis. The result of this scrutiny was that he appeared to derive some confidence from it. "Yes," he murmured, "I remember perfectly. The woman of whom you speak came once with you, and twice afterwards with the woman-" He hesitated.

"With another woman who came to see you every month,- is it not so, Monseigneur?"

"Yes."

"Do you know who this lady was?"

The light seemed ready to flash from the prisoner's eyes. "I am aware that she was a lady of the court," he said.

"You remember that lady well, do you not?"

"Oh, my recollection can hardly be very confused on this head!" said the young prisoner. "I saw that lady once with a gentleman about forty-five years old. I saw her once with you, and with the lady dressed in black with flame-colored ribbons. I have seen her twice since with the same person. These four persons, with my tutor and old Perronnette, my jailer and the governor of the prison, are the only persons with whom I have ever spoken, and, indeed, almost the only persons I have ever seen."

"Then, you were in prison?"

"If I am a prisoner here, there I was comparatively free, although in a very narrow sense. A house which I never quitted, a garden surrounded with walls I could not clear,- these constituted my residence; but you know it, as you have been there. In a word, being accustomed to live within these bounds, I never cared to leave them. And so you will understand, Monsieur, that not having seen anything of the world, I can desire nothing; and therefore, if you relate anything, you will be obliged to explain everything to me."

"And I will do so," said Aramis, bowing; "for it is my duty, Monseigneur."

"Well, then, begin by telling me who was my tutor."

"A worthy and above all an honorable gentleman, Monseigneur; fit guide both for body and soul. Had you ever any reason to complain of him?"

"Oh, no; quite the contrary. But this gentleman of yours often used to tell me that my father and mother were dead. Did he deceive me, or did he speak the truth?"

"He was compelled to comply with the orders given him."

"Then he lied?"

"In one respect. Your father is dead."

"And my mother?"

"She is dead for you."

"But then she lives for others, does she not?"

"Yes."

"And I- and I, then [the young man looked sharply at Aramis], am compelled to live in the obscurity of a prison?"

"Alas! I fear so."

"And that because my presence in the world would lead to the revelation of a great secret?"

"Certainly, a very great secret."

"My enemy must indeed be powerful, to be able to shut up in the Bastille a child such as I then was."

"He is."

"More powerful than my mother, then?"

"And why do you ask that?"

"Because my mother would have taken my part."

Aramis hesitated. "Yes, Monseigneur; more powerful than your mother."

"Seeing, then, that my nurse and preceptor were carried off, and that I also was separated from them,- either they were, or I am, very dangerous to my enemy?"

"Yes; a peril from which he freed himself by causing the nurse and preceptor to disappear," answered Aramis, quietly.

"Disappear!" cried the prisoner; "but how did they disappear?"

"In the surest possible way," answered Aramis: "they are dead."

The young man turned visibly pale, and passed his hand tremblingly over his face. "From poison?" he asked.

"From poison."

The prisoner reflected a moment. "My enemy must indeed have been very cruel, or hard beset by necessity, to assassinate those two innocent persons, my sole support; for that worthy gentleman and that poor woman had never harmed a living being."

"In your family, Monseigneur, necessity is stern. And so it is necessity which compels me, to my great regret, to tell you that this gentleman and the unhappy lady were assassinated."

"Oh, you tell me nothing I am not aware of!" said the prisoner, knitting his brows.

"How?"

"I suspected it."

"Why?"

"I will tell you."

At this moment the young man, supporting himself on his elbows, drew close to Aramis's face, with such an expression of dignity, of self-command, and of defiance even, that the bishop felt the electricity of enthusiasm strike in devouring flashes from that seared heart of his into his brain of adamant.

"Speak, Monseigneur! I have already told you that by conversing with you I endanger my life. Little value as it has, I implore you to accept it as the ransom of your own."

"Well," resumed the young man, "this is why I suspected that they had killed my nurse and my preceptor-"

"Whom you used to call your father."

"Yes; whom I called my father, but whose son I well knew I was not."

"Who caused you to suppose so?"

"Just as you, Monsieur, are too respectful for a friend, he was also too respectful for a father."

"I, however," said Aramis, "have no intention to disguise myself."

The young man nodded assent, and continued: "Undoubtedly, I was not destined to perpetual seclusion," said the prisoner; "and that which makes me believe so now, above all, is the care that was taken to render me as accomplished a cavalier as possible. The gentleman attached to my person taught me everything he knew himself- mathematics, a little geometry, astronomy, fencing, and riding. Every morning I went through military exercises, and practised on horseback. Well, one morning during summer, it being very hot, I went to sleep in the hall. Nothing up to that period, except the respect paid me by my tutor, had enlightened me, or even roused my suspicions. I lived as children, as birds, as plants, as the air and the sun do. I had just turned my fifteenth year-"

"This, then, was eight years ago?"

"Yes, nearly; but I have ceased to reckon time."

"Excuse me; but what did your tutor tell you, to encourage you to work?"

"He used to say that a man was bound to make for himself in the world that fortune which Heaven had refused him at his birth. He added, that, being a poor obscure orphan, I had no one but myself to look to; and that nobody either did or ever would take any interest in me. I was, then, in the hall I have spoken of, asleep from fatigue in fencing. My tutor was in his room on the first floor, just over me. Suddenly I heard him exclaim; and then he called, 'Perronnette! Perronnette!' It was my nurse whom he called."

"Yes; I know it," said Aramis. "Continue, Monseigneur!"

"Very likely she was in the garden; for my tutor came hastily downstairs. I rose, anxious at seeing him anxious. He opened the garden door, still crying out, 'Perronnette! Perronnette!' The windows of the hall looked into the court. The shutters were closed; but through a chink in them I saw my tutor draw near a large well, which was almost directly under the windows of his study. He stooped over the brim, looked into the well, again cried out, and made wild and affrighted gestures. Where I was, I could not only see, but hear; and see and hear I did."

"Go on, I pray you!" said Aramis.

"Dame Perronnette came running up, hearing the governor's cries. He went to meet her, took her by the arm, and drew her quickly towards the edge; after which, as they both bent over it together, 'Look, look!' cried he; 'what a misfortune!' 'Calm yourself, calm yourself,' said Perronnette; 'what is the matter?' 'The letter!' he exclaimed; 'do you see that letter?' to the bottom of the well. 'What letter?' she cried. 'The letter you see down there,- the last letter from the Queen.' At this word I trembled. My tutor- he who passed for my father, he who was continually recommending to me modesty and humility- in correspondence with the Queen! 'The Queen's last letter!' cried Perronnette, without showing other astonishment than at seeing this letter at the bottom of the well; 'but how came it there?' 'A chance, Dame Perronnette,- a singular chance. I was entering my room; and on opening the door, the window too being open, a puff of air came suddenly and carried off this paper,- this letter from the Queen; I darted after it, and gained the window just in time to see it flutter a moment in the breeze and disappear down the well.' 'Well,' said Dame Perronnette; 'and if the letter has fallen into the well, 't is all the same as if it were burned; and as the Queen burns all her letters every time she comes-' 'Every time she comes!' So this lady who came every month was the Queen," said the prisoner.

"Yes," nodded Aramis.

"'Doubtless, doubtless,' continued the old gentleman; 'but this letter contained instructions,- how can I follow them?' 'Write immediately to her; give her a plain account of the accident, and the Queen will no doubt write you another letter in place of this.' 'Oh! the Queen would never believe the story,' said the good gentleman, shaking his head; 'she will imagine that I want to keep this letter instead of giving it up like the rest, so as to have a hold over her. She is so distrustful, and M. de Mazarin so- This devil of an Italian is capable of having us poisoned at the first breath of suspicion.'"

Aramis almost imperceptibly smiled.

"'You know, Dame Perronnette, they are both so suspicious in all that concerns Philippe.' 'Philippe' was the name they gave me," said the prisoner. 'Well, 't is no use hesitating,' said Dame Perronnette; 'somebody must go down the well.' 'Of course; so that the person who goes down may read the paper as he is coming up.' 'But let us choose some villager who cannot read, and then you will be at ease.' 'Granted; but will not any one who descends guess that a paper must be important for which we risk a man's life? However, you have given me an idea, Dame Perronnette; somebody shall go down the well, but that somebody shall be myself.' But at this notion Dame Perronnette lamented and cried in such a manner, and so implored the old nobleman, with tears in her eyes, that he promised her to obtain a ladder long enough to reach down, while she went in search of some stout-hearted youth, whom she was to persuade that a jewel had fallen into the well, and that this jewel was wrapped in a paper. 'And as paper,' remarked my preceptor, 'naturally unfolds in water, the young man would not be surprised at finding nothing, after all, but the letter wide open.' 'But perhaps the writing will be already effaced by that time,' said Dame Perronnette. 'No consequence, provided we secure the letter. On returning it to the Queen, she will see at once that we have not betrayed her; and consequently, as we shall not rouse the distrust of Mazarin, we shall have nothing to fear from him.' Having come to this resolution, they parted. I pushed back the shutter, and seeing that my tutor was about to re-enter, threw myself on my couch, in a confusion of brain caused by all I had just heard. My tutor opened the door a few moments after, and thinking I was asleep, gently closed it again. As soon as ever it was shut, I rose, and listening heard the sound of retiring footsteps. Then I returned to the shutter, and saw my tutor and Dame Perronnette go out together. I was alone in the house. They had hardly closed the gate before I sprang from the window and ran to the well. Then, just as my tutor had leaned over, so leaned I. Something white and luminous glistened in the green and quivering ripples of the water. The brilliant disk fascinated and allured me; my eyes became fixed, and I could hardly breathe. The well seemed to draw me in with its large mouth and icy breath; and I thought I read, at the bottom of the water, characters of fire traced upon the letter the Queen had touched. Then, scarcely knowing what I was about, and urged on by one of those instinctive impulses which drive men upon their destruction, I made fast one end of the rope to the bottom of the well-curb; I left the bucket hanging about three feet under water,- at the same time taking infinite pains not to disturb that coveted letter, which was beginning to change its white tint for a greenish hue,- proof enough that it was sinking,- and then, with a piece of wet canvas protecting my hands, slid down into the abyss. When I saw myself hanging over the dark pool, when I saw the sky lessening above my head, a cold shudder came over me, I was seized with giddiness, and the hair rose on my head; but my strong will mastered all. I gained the water, and at once plunged into it, holding on by one hand, while I immersed the other and seized the precious paper, which, alas! came in two in my grasp. I concealed the fragments in my coat, and helping myself with my feet against the side of the pit, and clinging on with my hands, agile and vigorous as I was, and above all pressed for time, I regained the brink, drenching it as I touched it with the water that streamed from all the lower part of my body. Once out of the well with my prize I rushed into the sunlight, and took refuge in a kind of shrubbery at the bottom of the garden. As I entered my hiding-place, the bell which resounded when the gate was opened, rang. It was my tutor returning. I had but just time. I calculated that it would take ten minutes before he would gain my place of concealment, even if, guessing where I was, he came straight to it; and twenty if he were obliged to look for me. But this was time enough to allow me to read the cherished letter, whose fragments I hastened to unite again. The writing was already fading, but I managed to decipher it all."

"And what read you there, Monseigneur?" asked Aramis, deeply interested.

"Quite enough, Monsieur, to see that my tutor was a man of noble rank, and that Perronnette, without being a lady of quality, was far better than a servant; and also to perceive that I must myself be high-born, since the Queen, Anne of Austria, and Mazarin, the prime minister, commended me so earnestly to their care."

Here the young man paused, quite overcome.

"And what happened?" asked Aramis.

"It happened, Monsieur," answered he, "that the workmen they had summoned found nothing in the well, after the closest search; that my tutor perceived that the brink was watery; that I was not so well dried by the sun as to escape Dame Perronnette's observing that my garments were moist; and, lastly, that I was seized with a violent fever, owing to the chill and the excitement of my discovery, an attack of delirium supervening, during which I related the whole adventure; so that, guided by my avowal, my tutor found under the bolster the two pieces of the Queen's letter."

"Ah!" said Aramis, "now I understand."

"Beyond this, all is conjecture. Doubtless the unfortunate lady and gentleman, not daring to keep the occurrence secret, wrote all to the Queen, and sent back to her the torn letter."

"After which," said Aramis, "you were arrested and removed to the Bastille?"

"As you see."

"Then your two attendants disappeared?"

"Alas!"

"Let us not take up our time with the dead, but see what can be done with the living. You told me you were resigned?"

"I repeat it."

"Without any desire for freedom?"

"As I told you."

"Without ambition, sorrow, or thought?"

The young man made no answer.

"Well," asked Aramis, "why are you silent?"

"I think that I have spoken enough," answered the prisoner, "and that now it is your turn. I am weary."

Aramis gathered himself up, and a shade of deep solemnity spread itself over his countenance. It was evident that he had reached the crisis in the part he had come to the prison to play. "One question," said Aramis.

"What is it? Speak!"

"In the house you inhabited there were neither looking-glasses nor mirrors, were there?"

"What are those two words, and what is their meaning?" asked the young man; "I do not even know them."

"They designate two pieces of furniture which reflect objects; so that, for instance, you may see in them your own lineaments, as you see mine now, with the naked eye."

"No; there was neither a glass nor a mirror in the house," answered the young man.

Aramis looked round him. "Nor is there here, either," he said; "they have taken the same precaution."

"To what end?"

"You will know directly. Now, you have told me that you were instructed in mathematics, astronomy, fencing, and riding; but you have not said a word about history."

"My tutor sometimes related to me the principal deeds of the King Saint Louis, King Francis I, and King Henry IV."

"Is that all?"

"That is about all."

"This also was done by design; just as you were deprived of mirrors, which reflect the present, so you were left in ignorance of history, which reflects the past. Since your imprisonment books have been forbidden you; so that you are unacquainted with a number of facts by means of which you would be able to reconstruct the shattered edifice of your recollections and your interests."

"It is true," said the young man.

"Listen, then: I will in a few words tell you what has passed in France during the last twenty-three or twenty-four years,- that is, from the probable date of your birth; in a word, from the time that interests you."

"Say on!" and the young man resumed his serious and attentive attitude.

"Do you know who was the son of Henry IV?"

"At least I know who his successor was."

"How?"

"By means of a coin dated 1610, which bears the effigy of Henry IV; and another of 1612, bearing that of Louis XIII. So I presumed that, there being only two years between the two dates, Louis was Henry's successor."

"Then," said Aramis, "you know that the last reigning monarch was Louis XIII?"

"I do," answered the youth, slightly reddening.

"Well, he was a prince full of noble ideas and great projects, always, alas! deferred by the troubles of the times and the struggle that his minister Richelieu had to maintain against the great nobles of France. The King himself was of a feeble character, and died young and unhappy."

"I know it."

"He had been long anxious about having an heir,- a care which weighs heavily on princes, who desire to leave behind them more than one pledge that they will be remembered and their work will be continued."

"Did King Louis XIII die without children?" asked the prisoner, smiling.

"No; but he was long without one, and for a long while thought he should be the last of his race. This idea had reduced him to the depths of despair, when suddenly his wife, Anne of Austria-"

The prisoner trembled.

"Did you know," said Aramis, "that Louis XIII's wife was called Anne of Austria?"

"Continue!" said the young man, without replying to the question.

"When suddenly," resumed Aramis, "the Queen announced an interesting event. There was great joy at the intelligence, and all prayed for her happy delivery. On the 5th of September, 1638, she gave birth to a son." Here Aramis looked at his companion, and thought he observed him turning pale. "You are about to hear," said Aramis, "an account which few could now give; for it refers to a secret which is thought to be buried with the dead or entombed in the abyss of the confessional."

"And you will tell me this secret?" broke in the youth.

"Oh!" said Aramis, with unmistakable emphasis, "I do not know that I ought to risk this secret by intrusting it to one who has no desire to quit the Bastille."

"I listen, Monsieur."

"The Queen, then, gave birth to a son. But while the court was rejoicing over the event, when the King had shown the new-born child to the nobility and people, and was sitting gayly down to table to celebrate the event, the Queen, who was alone in her room, was again taken ill, and gave birth to a second son."

"Oh!" said the prisoner, betraying a better acquaintance with affairs than he had admitted, "I thought that Monsieur was only born in-"

Aramis raised his finger. "Let me continue," he said.

The prisoner sighed impatiently, and paused.

"Yes," said Aramis, "the Queen had a second son, whom Dame Perronnette, the midwife, received in her arms."

"Dame Perronnette!" murmured the young man.

"They ran at once to the banqueting-room, and whispered to the King what had happened; he rose and quitted the table. But this time it was no longer happiness that his face expressed, but something akin to terror. The birth of twins changed into bitterness the joy to which that of an only son had given rise, seeing that in France (a fact of which you are assuredly ignorant) it is the oldest of the king's sons who succeeds his father-"

"I know it."

"And that the doctors and jurists assert that there is ground for doubting whether he who first makes his appearance is the elder by the law of Heaven and of Nature."

The prisoner uttered a smothered cry, and became whiter than the coverlet under which he hid himself.

"Now you understand," pursued Aramis, "that the King, who with so much pleasure saw himself repeated in one, was in despair about two; fearing that the second might dispute the claim of the first to seniority, which had been recognized only two hours before, and so this second son, relying on party interests and caprices, might one day sow discord and engender civil war in the kingdom,- by these means destroying the very dynasty he should have strengthened."

"Oh, I understand, I understand!" murmured the young man.

"Well," continued Aramis, "this is what is related; this is why one of the Queen's two sons, shamefully parted from his brother, shamefully sequestered, is buried in the profoundest obscurity; this is why that second son has disappeared, and so completely that not a soul in France, save his mother, is aware of his existence."

"Yes; his mother, who has cast him off!" cried the prisoner, in a tone of despair.

"Except also," Aramis went on, "the lady in the black dress; and, finally, excepting-"

"Excepting yourself, is it not,- you, who come and relate all this,- you, who come to rouse in my soul curiosity, hatred, ambition, and perhaps even the thirst of vengeance;- except you, Monsieur, who, if you are the man whom I expect, to whom the note I have received applies, whom, in short, Heaven ought to send me, must possess about you-"

"What?" asked Aramis.

"A portrait of the King, Louis XIV, who at this moment reigns upon the throne of France."

"Here is the portrait," replied the bishop, handing the prisoner a miniature in enamel, on which Louis was depicted life-like, with a handsome, lofty mien. The prisoner eagerly seized the portrait, and gazed at it with devouring eyes. "And now, Monseigneur," said Aramis, "here is a mirror."

Aramis left the prisoner time to recover his ideas.

"So high, so high!" murmured the young man, eagerly comparing the likeness of Louis with his own countenance reflected in the glass.

"What do you think of it?" at length said Aramis.

"I think that I am lost," replied the captive; "the King will never set me free."

"And I- I demand," added the bishop, fixing his piercing eyes significantly upon the prisoner,- "I demand which of the two is the King,- the one whom this miniature portrays, or the one whom the glass reflects?"

"The King, Monsieur," sadly replied the young man, "is he who is on the throne, who is not in prison, and who, on the other hand, can cause others to be entombed there. Royalty is power; and you see well how powerless I am."

"Monseigneur," answered Aramis, with a respect he had not yet manifested, "the King, mark me, will, if you desire it, be he who quitting his dungeon shall maintain himself upon the throne on which his friends will place him."

"Tempt me not, Monsieur!" broke in the prisoner, bitterly.

"Be not weak, Monseigneur," persisted Aramis, "I have brought all the proofs of your birth: consult them; satisfy yourself that you are a king's son; and then let us act."

"No, no; it is impossible."

"Unless, indeed," resumed the bishop, ironically, "it be the destiny of your race that the brothers excluded from the throne shall be always princes without valor and without honor, as was your uncle M. Gaston d'Orleans, who ten times conspired against his brother Louis XIII."

"What!" cried the Prince, astonished; "my uncle Gaston 'conspired against his brother,'- conspired to dethrone him?"

"Exactly, Monseigneur; for no other reason."

"What are you telling me, Monsieur?"

"I tell you the truth."

"And he had friends,- devoted ones?"

"As much so as I am to you."

"And, after all, what did he do?- Failed!"