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Louise de la Valliere by Alexandre Dumas, Pere

Part 9 out of 12

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thousand francs. Then, going for a few moments to his desk, he wrote an
order for fourteen hundred thousand francs, payable at sight, at his
treasury, before twelve o'clock the next day.

"A hundred thousand francs 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. This profit is
only what you have earned; 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. Farewell; you are an honest man."

"And you, monseigneur," cried the goldsmith, completely overcome, "are
the noblest man that ever lived."

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 marquise was always beautiful, but now her
loveliness was more dazzling than ever. "Do you not think, gentlemen,"
said Fouquet, "that madame is more than usually beautiful this evening?
And do you happen to know why?"

"Because madame is really the most beautiful of all women," said some one

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

"Yet?" said the marquise, smiling.

"And yet, all the jewels which madame is wearing this evening are nothing
but false stones." At this remark the marquise blushed most painfully.

"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 Pelisson, in a low tone.

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

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

The crowd of guests hurried, more quickly than is usually the case with
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 could possibly be seen - relics of those ancient magnificent
productions the Florentine artists, whom the Medici family patronized,
sculptured, chased, and moulded for the purpose of holding flowers, at a
time when gold existed still in France. These hidden marvels, which had
been buried during the civil wars, timidly reappeared during the
intervals of that war of good taste called La Fronde; at a time when
noblemen fighting against nobleman killed, but did not pillage each
other. All the plate present 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 marquise. 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, set in silver; massive Egyptian bracelets lay heaped on a
large plate of Palissy ware, supported by a tripod of gilt bronze,
sculptured by Benvenuto Cellini. The marquise turned pale, as she
recognized what she had never expected to see again. A profound silence
fell on 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 in her seat. "And then," added
Pelisson, who was always affected by a noble action, as he was invariably
impressed by beauty, "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 marquise'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 mirror in
that of her ardent and generous-hearted lover. Begun in this manner, the
supper soon became a _fete_; no one tried to be witty, but no one failed
in being so. 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 kind and good-natured, that Gourville
said to him, "Take care, monsieur l'abbe; if you are so tender, you will
be carved and 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, 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 ante-
chamber. It seemed as if he could hear a step passing across it, a step
that, instead of pressing the ground, weighed heavily upon his heart.
"M. d'Herblay, bishop of Vannes," the usher announced. And Aramis's
grave and thoughtful face appeared upon the threshold of the door,
between the remains of two garlands, of which the flame of a lamp had
just burnt the thread that once united them.

Chapter XLVIII:
M. de Mazarin's Receipt.

Fouquet would have uttered an exclamation of delight on seeing another
friend arrive, if the cold air and averted aspect of Aramis had not
restored all his reserve. "Are you going to join us at dessert?" he
asked. "And yet you would be frightened, perhaps, at the noise which our
wild friends here 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, as soon as your pleasure is attended to, 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,
Monsieur d'Herblay; we are too happy when matters of business arrive only
at the end of a meal."

As he said this, he 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, he led him towards his cabinet. As soon
as Aramis was there, throwing aside the respectful air he had assumed, 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 Fouquet, phlegmatically.

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

"The old duchesse, 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. A quality always prized, even by the woman who no
longer presumes to look for love."

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

"Indeed! under what pretext?"

"Oh! pretexts are never wanting with _her_. Let me tell you what it is:
it seems that the duchesse 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 rather."

"And accordingly they are less interesting."

"Do you not suspect what I mean?"

"Not at all."

"Have you never heard speak of a prosecution being instituted for an
embezzlement, or appropriation rather, of public funds?"

"Yes, a hundred, nay, a thousand times. Ever since I have been engaged
in public matters I have hardly heard of anything else. It is precisely
your own case, when, as a bishop, people reproach you for impiety; or, as
a musketeer, for your cowardice; the very thing of which they are always
accusing ministers of finance is the embezzlement of public funds."

"Very good; but take a particular instance, for the duchesse asserts that
M. de Mazarin alludes to certain particular instances."

"What are they?"

"Something like a sum of thirteen millions of francs, of which it would
be very difficult for you to define the precise nature of the employment."

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

"Do not laugh, my dear monsieur, for it is very serious. It is positive
that the duchesse has certain letters in her possession, and that these
letters must be as she represents them, since she wished to sell them to
me for five hundred thousand francs."

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

"No; the cardinal made me invest them in my own name, and gave me a

"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 in your
administration; you, of all men, too, who are by nature a poet."

"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."

And as the superintendent looked into the drawer, Aramis rose from his

"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 grew 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, myself excepted, is aware of the

"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, Monsieur

"Nay, nay, do not get irritated - do not get excited."

"And why not, chevalier? surely there is every reason for it. If legal
proceedings are well arranged, and a judgment given in accordance with
them, your friend the superintendent will soon follow Montfaucon, his
colleague Enguerrand de Marigny, and his predecessor, Semblancay."

"Oh!" said Aramis, smiling, "not so fast as that."

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

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


"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,

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 Semblancay or of Marigny."

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

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

"Another blow, why not? A peculator is, under any circumstances, a

"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, he said, laying a stress on every distinct syllable,
"You are procureur-general no longer, do you say?"


"Since when?"

"Since the last four or five hours."

"Take care," interrupted Aramis, coldly; "I do not think you are in the
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
francs for the appointment, and that I sold it."

Aramis looked as though he had been struck by lightning; the intelligent
and mocking expression of his countenance assumed an aspect of such
profound gloom and terror, that it 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 Belliere's generosity, and the manner in which he
had thought it but right to discharge that act of generosity.

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

"Exactly the fourteen hundred thousand francs - the price of my

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

"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 yet been paid."

"But the goldsmith?"

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

"Stay a moment; it is at six o'clock, this very morning, that I am to

"Oh! I will answer that you do not sign."

"I have given my word, chevalier."

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

"Can I believe what I hear?" cried Fouquet, in a most expressive tone.
"Fouquet recall his word, after it has once been pledged!"

Aramis replied to the almost stern look of the minister by a look full of
anger. "Monsieur," he said, "I believe I have deserved to be called a
man of honor? As a soldier, I have risked my life five hundred times; as
a priest I have rendered still greater 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, he endangers his life and incurs an amount of risk far greater
than that which his adversary is likely to derive of profit. In such a
case, monsieur, he appeals to Heaven and to justice."

Fouquet bent down his head, as he replied, "I am a poor, self-determined
man, a true Breton born; my mind admires and fears yours. I do not say
that I keep my word from a proper feeling only; I keep it, if you like,
from custom, practice, pride, or what you will; but, at all events, the
ordinary run of men are simple enough to admire this custom of mine; it
is my sole good quality - leave me such honor as it confers."

"And so you are determined to sign the sale of the very appointment which
can alone 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 me 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 the 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 absolutely master to do what you please."

"Whom are you in treaty with? What manner of man is it?"

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

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

"No; only a counselor, of the name of Vanel."

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


"Of your former mistress?"

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

Aramis walked straight up 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 been this evening to take him Mazarin's letters, which she wishes to

"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 utterly 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 all the while," 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 being opened in the vestibule was heard, and Gourville
came to the door of the cabinet to inquire if Fouquet would received M.
Vanel. Fouquet turned his eyes from the gaze of Aramis, and then desired
that M. Vanel should be shown in.

Chapter XLIX:
Monsieur Colbert's Rough Draft.

Vanel, who entered at this stage of the conversation, was nothing less
for Aramis and Fouquet than the full stop which completes a phrase. But,
for Vanel, Aramis's presence in Fouquet's cabinet had quite another
signification; and, therefore, at his first step into the room, he paused
as he looked at the delicate yet firm features of the bishop of Vannes,
and his look of astonishment soon became one of scrutinizing attention.
As for Fouquet, a perfect 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 resort to expedients; he held
his head proudly erect, and indicated by a gesture that Vanel could
enter. He was now the first minister of the state, and in his own
palace. Aramis knew the superintendent well; the delicacy of the
feelings of his heart and the exalted nature of his mind no longer
surprised him. He confined himself, then, for the moment - intending to
resume later an active part in the conversation - to the performance of
the difficult part 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 here," he said.

"You are punctual, Monsieur 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 in
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, a truce to these ceremonies; let us proceed to the
matter itself."

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

"On the contrary, I am waiting," replied Fouquet.

"What for, may I be permitted to ask, monseigneur?"

"I thought that you had perhaps 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 again ready to repeat to you now."

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

"Certainly, monseigneur; fourteen hundred thousand francs is an important

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

"You have been reflecting, do you say, monseigneur?" exclaimed Vanel,

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

"Oh, monseigneur!"

"Do not make yourself uneasy on that score, Monsieur Vanel; I shall not
blame you for a failure in your word, which evidently may arise from
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 either be very imprudent, or a
fool, to undertake engagements which he cannot keep; and I, at least,
have always regarded a thing agreed on as a thing actually carried out."

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

"You would be wrong to exaggerate such notions as those, monsieur," said
the superintendent; "for a man's mind is variable, and full of these very
excusable caprices, which are, however, sometimes estimable enough; and a
man may have wished for something yesterday of which he repents to-day."

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

Aramis, who was delighted to find the superintendent carry 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 Monsieur Vanel," he said, "I will explain to you
how I am situated." Vanel began to tremble.

"Yesterday I wished to sell - "

"Monseigneur did more than wish to sell, he actually sold."

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

"I received your _word_ as a satisfactory assurance that it would be

"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 effect 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 as if he wished to penetrate the recesses 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 Monsieur 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
particular, the necessary signatures have been attached to it, and it is
made payable at sight; it is ready money, in fact, and, in one word, the
whole affair is complete."

"My dear Monsieur Vanel, there is not a matter of business in this world,
however important it may be, which cannot be postponed in order to oblige
a man, who, by that means, might and would be made a devoted friend."

"Certainly," said Vanel, awkwardly.

"And much more justly acquired would that friend become, Monsieur Vanel,
since the value of the service he had received would have been so
considerable. Well, what do you say? what do you decide?"

Vanel preserved a perfect silence. In the meantime, Aramis had continued
his close observation of the man. Vanel's narrow face, his deeply sunken
eyes, 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 that M. Fouquet was defeated - morally
subdued - and so he came to his rescue with fresh weapons in his hands.
"Excuse me, monseigneur," he said; "you forgot 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 belonging to his
wife; well, that is no slight matter; for one cannot displace, as he has
done, fourteen or fifteen hundred thousand francs without some
considerable loss, and very serious inconvenience."

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

"Inconveniences such as these are matters of great expense and
calculation, and whenever a man has money matters to deal with, the
expenses are generally the very first thing thought of."

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

Vanel remained perfectly 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 generous feelings.

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 perfect rascal!" thought the bishop, "well, we must offer the
five hundred thousand francs at once," and he made a sign to Fouquet

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

There was not a gleam of delight or desire on Vanel's face, which
remained perfectly impassible; not a muscle of it changed in the
slightest degree. Aramis cast a look almost of despair at Fouquet, and
then, going straight up to Vanel and taking hold of him by the coat, in
a familiar manner, he said, "Monsieur 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 more important still. I can well understand it; so pay
particular attention to what I am going to say."

"Yes, monseigneur," Vanel replied, beginning to tremble in every limb, as
the prelate's eyes seemed almost ready to devour 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 francs."

"Come, monsieur," said Fouquet, "you can hardly refuse that. Answer - do
you accept?"

"Impossible," murmured Vanel.

Aramis bit his lips, and something like a cloud seemed to pass over his
face. The thunder behind this cloud could easily be imagined. He still
kept his hold on Vanel. "You have purchased the appointment for fifteen
hundred thousand francs, I think. Well, you will receive these fifteen
hundred thousand francs back again; by paying M. Fouquet a visit, and
shaking hands with him on the bargain, you will have become a gainer of a
million and a half. You get honor and profit at the same time, Monsieur

"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.

"Does the fellow presume to speak?" said Aramis, with the tone of an

"Fellow!" repeated Vanel.

"The scoundrel, I meant to say," added Aramis, who had now resumed his
usual self-possession. "Come, monsieur, produce your deed of sale, - you
have it about you, I suppose, 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 pocket-
book, a paper fell out of it, while Vanel offered the other to Fouquet.
Aramis pounced upon the paper which had fallen out, as soon as he
recognized the handwriting. "I beg your pardon," said Vanel, "that is a
rough draft of the deed."

"I see that very clearly," retorted Aramis, with a smile more cutting
than a lash of a whip; "and what I admire most is, that this draft is in
M. Colbert's handwriting. Look, monseigneur, look."

And he handed the draft to Fouquet, who recognized the truth of the fact;
for, covered with erasures, with inserted words, the margins filled with
additions, this deed - a living 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 hole
wherein to hide himself.

"Well!" said Aramis, "if your name were not Fouquet, and if your enemy's
name were not Colbert - if you had not 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 the deed at once." 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 draft 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 under M. Colbert's own
handwriting even; and I write, 'The handwriting is approved of.'" He
then signed, and said, "Here it is, Monsieur Vanel." And the latter
seized the paper, dashed down the money, and was about to make his

"One moment," said Aramis. "Are you quite sure the exact amount is
there? It ought to be counted over, Monsieur Vanel; particularly since
M. Colbert makes presents of money to ladies, I see. 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 or discharges a beggar or a

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, at the very moment he is on the point of entering
into a conflict with an enemy armed from head to foot, panting for his
life, presents himself for the contest utterly defenseless, throws down
his arms, and smiles and kisses his hands to his adversary in the most
gracious manner? Good faith, M. Fouquet, is a weapon which scoundrels
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
dishonest means against such scoundrels. You would soon see how strong
they would become, without ceasing to be men of honor."

"What they did would be termed the acts of a scoundrel," replied Fouquet.

"Far from that; it would be merely coquetting or playing with the truth.
At all events, 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, for the purpose of being used against
yourself, the only weapon which can ruin you - "

"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 can be saved - you shall see. But first of all
let us talk about business. Did you not some time ago," he continued, as
Fouquet looked at him with a bewildered air, "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 invited himself of his own

"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 happier days, as I said just now, I had a kind of
pride in showing my enemies how inexhaustible my resources were; I felt
it a point of honor to strike them with amazement, by creating millions
under circumstances where they imagined nothing but bankruptcies and
failures would follow. But, at present, 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
from to-morrow my equipages shall be sold, my mansions mortgaged, my
expenses curtailed."

"From to-morrow," interrupted Aramis, quietly, "you will occupy yourself,
without the slightest delay, with your _fete_ at Vaux, which must
hereafter be spoken of as one of the most magnificent productions of your
most prosperous days."

"Are you mad, Chevalier d'Herblay?"

"I! do you think so?"

"What do you mean, then? Do you not know that a _fete_ at Vaux, one 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, in a perfectly
calm voice.

"Where shall I get them?" exclaimed Fouquet.

"That is my affair, monsieur le surintendant; and do not be uneasy for a
moment about it. The money shall be placed at once at your disposal, the
moment you 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 only, you could have saved me; whilst to-day - "

"Whilst 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 the million which you had need of at my disposal, whilst now I
can easily procure the twenty millions we require."

"May Heaven hear you, and save me!"

Aramis resumed his usual smile, the expression of which was so singular.
"Heaven never fails to hear me," he said.

"I abandon myself to your unreservedly," Fouquet murmured.

"No, no; I do not understand it in that manner. I am unreservedly
devoted to you. Therefore, as you have the clearest, the most delicate,
and the most ingenious mind of the two, you shall have entire control
over the _fete_, even to the very smallest details. Only - "

"Only?" said Fouquet, as a man accustomed to understand and 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 major-domo, 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 me. They will pass through my lips, to reach those
for whom they are intended - you understand?"

"No, I am very far from understanding."

"But you agree?"

"Of course, of course, my friend."

"That is all I care about, then. Thanks; and now go and prepare your
list of invitations."

"Whom shall I invite?"

"Everybody you know."

Chapter L:
In Which the Author Thinks It Is High Time to Return to the Vicomte de

Our readers will have observed in this story, the adventures of the new
and of the past generation being detailed, as it were, side by side. He
will have noticed in the former, the reflection of the glory of earlier
years, the experience of the bitter things of this world; in the former,
also, that peace which takes possession of the heart, and that healing of
the scars which were formerly deep and painful wounds. In the latter,
the conflicts of love and vanity; bitter disappointments, ineffable
delights; life instead of memory. If, therefore, 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 tablet, where two pictures are seen side by side, mingling and
harmonizing their severe and pleasing tones. The repose of the emotions
of one is found in harmonious contrast with the fiery sentiments of the
other. After having talked reason with older heads, one loves to talk
nonsense with youth. Therefore, if the threads of the story do not seem
very intimately to connect the chapter we are now writing with the one 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 accordingly 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 power or will of his
own, - hardly knowing what he was doing, - he fled swiftly, after the
scene in La Valliere's 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 almost on his arrival this
appearance of danger was manifest. Was not this 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 very
quarter where more jealous or less timid lovers would have done. He did
not go straightaway 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 blindly the word 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 wounds, and to walk about a little in his room. He uttered a
cry of joy as he saw Raoul, with the eagerness of friendship, enter the
apartment. Raoul was unable to refrain from a cry of grief, when he saw
De Guiche, so pale, so thin, so melancholy. A very 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?"


"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," said Raoul; "so much the better, provided it lasts."

"It is over. I have had enough happiness to last me to my dying day,

"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."

"Yes, your health, in the first place - "

"It is not that, I know."

"My dear friend, you would be wrong. I think, to ask me any questions
_you_ of all persons in the world;" 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 have
finished telling me of all your own pleasures and your pains."

"My dear friend, I am entirely at your service."

"Thank you; I have hurried, I have flown here; I came 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 must have been something else, I suppose?"

"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, I say, have planted jealousy in
my heart, merely to say to me, 'It is all right, be perfectly easy.'"

"I do not say to you, Raoul, 'Be perfectly easy;' but pray understand me;
I never will, nor can I, indeed, tell you anything else."

"What sort of person do you take me for?"

"What do you mean?"

"If you know anything, why conceal it from me? If you do not know
anything, why did you write so warningly?"

"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 and anxiously
wait to hear what one hardly dare tell him, is very difficult."

"Dare! I have courage enough, if you have not," exclaimed Raoul, in

"See how unjust you are, and how soon you forget you have to do with a
poor wounded fellow such as your unhappy friend is. So, calm yourself,
Raoul. I said to you, 'Come' - you are here, so ask me nothing further."

"Your object in telling me to come was your hope that I should see with
my own eyes, was it 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 saw Louise much 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, is it not the king?"

"I say nothing."

"Oh! you say a thousand times more than nothing. Give me facts, for
pity's sake, give me proofs. My friend, the only friend I have, speak
tell me all. My heart is crushed, wounded to death; I am dying from

"If that really be so, as I see it is, indeed, dear Raoul," replied De
Guiche, "you relieve me from my difficulty, and I will tell you all,
perfectly sure that I can tell you nothing but what is consoling,
compared to the despair from which I see you suffering."

"Go on, - go on; I am listening."

"Well, then, I can only tell you what you might learn from every one you

"From every one, do you say? It is talked about, then!"

"Before you say people talk about it, learn what it is that people have
to 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 already
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 the king is so very courteous and

"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 meet
may be either evilly disposed or a fool, - if the former, he will tell me
a lie to make me suffer more than I do now; if the latter, he will do
worse still. 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 the worst always?"

"But I know nothing, I tell you; I was wounded, attacked by fever: out
of my senses; and I have only a very faint recollection of it all. But
there is on 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!"

"Got to him, then. He will be able to throw sufficient light upon the
subject." 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 in grief, overwhelmed, like the miner
upon whom a vault has just fallen in, who, wounded, his life-blood
welling fast, his thoughts confused, endeavors to recover himself, to
save his life and to retain his reason. A few minutes were all Raoul
needed to dissipate the bewildering sensations 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! She will be able to tell me the whole 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 a 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
tells De Guiche that he is the happiest of men. He at least is lying on
roses." And so he hastily quitted the comte's apartments, reproaching
himself as he went for having talked of nothing but his own affairs to De
Guiche, and soon reached D'Artagnan's quarters.

Chapter LI:
Bragelonne Continues His Inquiries.

The captain, sitting buried in his leathern armchair, his spurs fixed in
the floor, his sword between his legs, was reading a 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 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 - 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 you have returned? I do not understand that at all."

Raoul was already pale enough; and he now began to turn his hat round and
round in his hand.

"What the deuce is the matter that you look as you do, and what makes you
so dumb?" said the captain. "Do people nowadays assume that sort of airs
in England? I have been in England, and came here again as lively as a
chaffinch. Will you not say something?"

"I have too much to say."

"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

"I am, indeed; and you know the reason very well, Monsieur d'Artagnan."


"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, an absolute noodle. I have neither
head nor arm; do not despise, but help me. In two words, I am the most
wretched of living beings."

"Oh, oh! why that?" inquired D'Artagnan, unbuckling his belt and thawing
the asperity 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 smoke. It is ridiculous, perhaps, but
it is so."

"Therefore you _do_ believe me?" 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 will 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 vowed my father!"

"The deuce take it, you are really ill - from curiosity."

"No, it is not from curiosity, it is from love."

"Good. Another big 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 really 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 completely lost my senses 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 go far. 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 in love affairs."

"Monsieur d'Artagnan, you know all; and yet you plunge me in perplexity
and despair, in death itself."

"There, there now."

"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 would kill him. And a fine affair that would be. So much the
better. What should I care? Kill any one you please, my boy, if it
gives you any pleasure. It is exactly like a man with a toothache, who
keeps on saying, "Oh! what torture I am suffering. I could bite a piece
of iron in half.' 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 now assume a different tone: instead of killing, you will
get killed yourself, I suppose you mean? Very fine, indeed! How much I
should regret you! Of course I should go about all day, saying, 'Ah!
what a fine stupid fellow that Bragelonne was! as great a stupid as I
ever met with. I have passed my whole life almost in teaching him how to
hold and use 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 hardly know who can have taught you logic, but deuce take
me if your father has not been regularly robbed of his 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 about
your business a quarter of an hour ago, for you would make a man who was
out of his senses with delight as dull as possible, and would be the
death of one who was out of spirits. How now, young man! do you wish me
to disgust you with the girl you are attached to, and to teach you to
execrate the whole sex who constitute the honor and happiness of human

"Oh! tell me, monsieur, and I will bless you."

"Do you think, my dear fellow, that I can have crammed into my brain all
about the carpenter, and the painter, and the staircase, and a hundred
other similar tales of the same kind?"

"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 certain flooring."

"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

"In whose room, then?"

"I have told you for the last hour that I know nothing of the whole

"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?"

"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 positively will learn all the scandal
of the affair, 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 are right," and he made a step or two, as if he were going to

"Where are you going?"

"To look for 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."

"You allude to Montalais, I suppose - her friend; a woman who, on that
account, will exaggerate all that is either bad or good in the matter.
Do not talk to Montalais, my good fellow."

"You have some reasons 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 me 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

"What for?"

"To write and 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 exclaimed, "Oh, monsieur! monsieur! I beg your
pardon, Monsieur d'Artagnan."

"Oh! I forgive you, mademoiselle," said D'Artagnan; "I know that, at my
age, those who are looking for me generally need me for something or

"I was looking for M. de Bragelonne," replied Montalais.

"How very fortunate that is; he was looking for you, too. Raoul, will
you accompany Mademoiselle de 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, if you can."

"Ah!" she said, in the same tone of voice, "it is not I who am going to
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,
Monsieur 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
thoroughly uneasy at the dialogue, which promised no good augury for him.

Chapter LII:
Two Jealousies.

Lovers are tender towards everything that forms part of the daily life of
the object of their affection. 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


"Silence! and throw away your dark 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 wherever people may be, I know not how,
Madame is sure to have eyes and ears open. I am not very desirous, you
can easily believe, of being dismissed or thrown in to the Bastile. Let
us talk, I tell you, or rather, do not let us talk at all."

Raoul clenched his hands, and tried to assume the look and gait of a man
of courage, it is true, but of a man of courage on his way to the torture
chamber. 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. Guiche
showed too much consideration for my feelings; he had no doubt come to an
understanding with Madame, and both of them, by a friendly plot, agreed
to postpone the solution of the problem. Why have I not a determined,
inveterate 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, far, to die."

The next moment Raoul was in Madame's presence. Henrietta, more charming
than ever, was half lying, half reclining in her armchair, her small feet
upon an embroidered velvet cushion; she was playing with a kitten with
long silky fur, which was biting her fingers and hanging by the lace of
her collar.

Madame seemed plunged in deep thought, so deep, indeed, that it required
both Montalais 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, Monsieur de Bragelonne; yes, I sent for you; so you have
returned from England?"

"Yes, Madame, and am at your royal highness's commands."

"Thank you; leave us, Montalais," and the latter immediately left the

"You have a few minutes to give me, Monsieur de Bragelonne, have you not?"

"My life is at your royal highness's disposal," Raoul returned with
respect, guessing that there was something serious in these unusual
courtesies; 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, knew perfectly well the capricious fancy and
absurd despotism of the princess's singular character. Madame had been
flattered beyond all bounds by the king's attention; she had made herself
talked about; she had inspired the queen with that mortal jealousy which
is the stinging scorpion at the heel of every woman's happiness; Madame,
in a word, in her attempts to cure a wounded pride, 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 a
woman. "Monsieur 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, not
alone from what she was keeping back, but also from what she was burning
to say, said: "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, almost terrified; "what venom is it
she is going to distil into my heart?" and then, frightened at what she
might possibly be going to tell him, and wishing to put off the
opportunity of having everything explained, which he had hitherto so
ardently wished for, yet had dreaded so much, he replied: "I left,
Madame, a dear friend in good health, and on my return I find him very

"You refer to M. de Guiche," replied Madame Henrietta, with 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 that we
are not acquainted with?"

"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,
Monsieur de Bragelonne, would far prefer to be, like him, wounded only in
the body... for what, in deed, is such a wound, after all!"

Raoul started. "Alas!" he said to himself, "she is returning to it."

"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 able to bear everything; 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, once your highness has deigned to begin, will you
condescend 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 the court knows."

"I know nothing at all, Madame."

"Not the scene in the storm?"

"No, Madame."

"Not the _tete-a-tete_ in the forest?"

"No, Madame."

"Nor the flight to Chaillot?"

Raoul, whose head dropped like a blossom cut down by the reaper, made an
almost superhuman effort to smile, as he replied with the greatest
gentleness: "I have had the honor of telling 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 rolled so
many stormy waves between myself and those 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 the woman who had made him suffer so much. "Monsieur de
Bragelonne," she said, "that which your friends have refused to do, I
will do for you, whom I like and esteem very much. I will be your friend
on this occasion. You hold your head high, as a man of honor should; and
I deeply regret that you may have to bow before ridicule, and in a few
days, it might be, contempt."

"Ah!" exclaimed Raoul, perfectly livid. "It is as bad as that, then?"

"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, you deserve to be warned about her, as some day or
another I shall be obliged to dismiss Mademoiselle de la Valliere from my
service - "

"Dismiss La Valliere!" cried Bragelonne.

"Of course. Do you suppose I shall always be amenable 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, you cannot stand - "

"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 quashed the
royal anger.

Raoul stood with his head bent down.

"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 was thinking 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. How deeply you must love her. And you doubt if she
loves the king?"

"I do, until I have a proof of it. Forgive me, Madame, but she has given
me her word; and her mind and heart are too upright to tell a falsehood."

"You require a proof! Be it so. Come with me, then."

Chapter LIII:
A Domiciliary Visit.

The princess, preceding Raoul, led him through the courtyard towards that
part of the building La Valliere inhabited, and, ascending the same
staircase which Raoul himself had 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 was remarkably well chosen to
carry out the project Madame Henrietta had conceived, for the chateau was
empty. The king, the courtiers, and the ladies of the court, had set off
for Saint-Germain; Madame Henrietta was the only one who knew of
Bragelonne's return, and thinking over the advantages which might be
drawn from this return, she had feigned indisposition in order to remain
behind. Madame was therefore confident of finding La Valliere's room and
Saint-Aignan's apartment perfectly empty. She took a pass-key from her
pocket and opened the door of her maid of honor's apartment.
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 torture. The princess looked at him, and her
practiced eye at once detected what was passing in the young man's heart.

"You asked 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 I am in Mademoiselle de la Valliere's

"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 yourself."

"A trap-door!" said Raoul, astonished; for D'Artagnan's words began to
return to his memory, and he had an indistinct recollection that
D'Artagnan had made use of the same word. He looked, but uselessly, for
some cleft or crevice which might indicate an opening or a ring to assist
in lifting up the planking.

"Ah, I forgot," said Madame Henrietta, "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, vicomte! 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 ingenious enough, certainly," said the princess; "and one can see
that the architect foresaw that a woman's hand only would have to make
use of this spring, for see how easily the trap-door opened without

"A staircase!" cried Raoul.

"Yes, and a very pretty one, too," said Madame Henrietta. "See, vicomte,
the staircase has a balustrade, intended to prevent the falling of timid
persons, who might be tempted to descend the staircase; and I will risk
myself on it accordingly. Come, vicomte, follow me!"

"But before following you, madame, may I ask where 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?"

"Yes, Madame, I am aware of that; that was the arrangement, at least,
before I left; and more than once I had the honor of visiting his rooms."

"Well, he obtained the king's leave to change his former convenient and
beautiful apartment for the two rooms to which this staircase will
conduct us, and which together form a lodging for him half the size, and
at ten times greater the 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
understand yet."

"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 by a further coincidence, exactly 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 Monsieur de Saint-
Aignan's rooms? Perhaps we shall be able to find the solution of the
enigma there."

And Madame set the example by going down herself, while Raoul, sighing
deeply, followed her. At every step Bragelonne took, he advanced further
into that mysterious apartment which had witnessed La Valliere's sighs
and still retained the perfume of her presence. Bragelonne fancied he
perceived, as he inhaled the atmosphere, that the young girl must have
passed through. Then succeeded to these emanations of herself, which he
regarded as invisible though certain proofs, flowers she preferred to all
others - books of her own selection. If Raoul retained a single doubt on
the subject, it would have vanished at the secret harmony of tastes and
connection of the mind with the ordinary objects of life. La Valliere,
in Bragelonne's eyes, was present there in each article of furniture, in
the color of the hangings, in all that surrounded him. Dumb, and now
completely overwhelmed, there was nothing further for him now to learn,
and he followed his pitiless conductress as blindly as the culprit
follows the executioner; while Madame, as cruel as women of overstrung
temperaments generally 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 living torture for a jealous man;
but for a jealous man such as Raoul was, for one whose heart for the
first time in its existence was being steeped in gall and bitterness,
Louise's happiness was in reality an ignominious death, a death of body
and soul. He guessed all; he fancied he could see them, with their hands
clasped in each other's, their faces drawn close together, and reflected,
side by side, in loving proximity, and they gazed upon the mirrors around
them - so sweet an occupation for lovers, who, as they thus see
themselves twice over, imprint the picture still more deeply on their
memories. He could guess, too, the stolen kiss snatched as they
separated from each other's loved society. The luxury, the studied
elegance, eloquent of the perfection of indolence, of ease; the extreme
care shown, either to spare the loved object every annoyance, or to
occasion her a delightful surprise; that might and majesty of love
multiplied by the majesty and might of royalty itself, seemed like a
death-blow to Raoul. If there be anything which can in any way assuage
or mitigate the tortures of jealousy, it is the inferiority of the man
who is preferred to yourself; whilst, on the very contrary, if there be
one anguish more bitter than another, a misery for which language lacks a
word, it is the superiority of the man preferred to yourself, superior,
perhaps, in youth, beauty, grace. It is in such moments as these that
Heaven almost seems to have taken part against the disdained and rejected

One final pang was reserved for poor Raoul. Madame Henrietta lifted up a
silk curtain, and behind the canvas he perceived La Valliere's portrait.
Not only the portrait of La Valliere, but of La Valliere radiant with
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 self-control. But Heaven grant that you may never be struck
by similar misery to that 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 again entreat you, Madame; I am but a man without rank or
position, while you belong to a race whose happiness knows no bounds,
whose power acknowledges no limit."

"Monsieur de Bragelonne," replied Henrietta, "a mind such as your merits
all the consideration and respect which a queen's heart even can bestow.
Regard me as 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 now give you the 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 in danger."

A steady, penetrating look informed Madame Henrietta that she was
mistaken, and that her last argument was not a likely one to affect the
young man. "Take care, Monsieur 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 bounds of reason,
and you would thereby involve your friends and family in the deepest
distress; you must bend, you must submit, and you 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 trap-door; a secret, which, it seems, you have discovered?"

"Nothing 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 appeared 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 incessantly, he will take a fancy to
Montalais, who is always laughing; and then to Tonnay-Charente, who does
nothing but sing all day; to act such a part as that would be unworthy of
me. I thrust aside the scruples which my friendship for you suggested.
I discovered the secret. I have wounded your feelings, I know, and I
again entreat you to pardon me; but I had a duty to fulfil. I have
discharged it. You are now forewarned; the tempest will soon burst;
protect yourself accordingly."

"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 thus thrust upon me, or the treachery which has
been practiced against me?"

"You will take whatever steps in the matter you please, Monsieur Raoul,
only do not betray the source whence you derived the truth. That is all
I have to ask, - the only price I require for the service I have rendered

"Fear nothing, Madame," said Bragelonne, with a bitter smile.

"I bribed the locksmith, in whom the lovers confided. You can just as
well have done 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?"


"I am about, therefore, 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

"It is dangerous, Monsieur 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

"Do as you please, then."

Raoul drew out his tablet, and wrote rapidly on one of the leaves the
following words:

"MONSIEUR LE COMTE, - Do not be surprised to find this paper signed by
me; the friend I shall very shortly send to call on you will have the
honor to explain the object of my visit.

He rolled up the paper, slipped it into the lock of the door which
communicated with the room set apart for the two lovers, and satisfied
himself that the missive was so apparent that Saint-Aignan could not but
see it as he entered; he rejoined the princess, who had already reached

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