Part 12 out of 13
require them to perform impossibilities."
The king, who had the greatest consideration for himself, and who had
begun to acquire over his emotions that command which he preserved over
them all his life, perceived that he was doing an outrage to his own
dignity in displaying so much animosity about so trifling an object.
"No," he said, hastily; "you are mistaken, Saint-Aignan; I am not angry;
I can only wonder that we should have been turned into ridicule so
cleverly and with such audacity by these young girls. I am particularly
surprised that, although we might have informed ourselves accurately on
the subject, we were silly enough to leave the matter for our own hearts
"The heart, sire, is an organ which requires positively to be reduced to
its material functions, but which, for the sake of humanity's peace of
mind, should be deprived of all its metaphysical inclinations. For my
own part, I confess, when I saw that your majesty's heart was so taken up
by this little - "
"My heart taken up! I! My mind might, perhaps, have been so; but as for
my heart, it was - " Louis again perceived that, in order to fill one
gulf, he was about to dig another. "Besides," he added, "I have no fault
to find with the girl. I was quite aware that she was in love with some
"The Vicomte de Bragelonne. I informed your majesty of the circumstance."
"You did so: but you were not the first who told me. The Comte de la
Fere had solicited from me Mademoiselle de la Valliere's hand for his
son. And, on his return from England, the marriage shall be celebrated,
since they love each other."
"I recognize your majesty's great generosity of disposition in that act."
"So, Saint-Aignan, we will cease to occupy ourselves with these matters
any longer," said Louis.
"Yes, we will digest the affront, sire," replied the courtier, with
"Besides, it will be an easy matter to do so," said the king, checking a
"And, by way of a beginning, I will set about the composition of an
epigram upon all three of them. I will call it 'The Naiad and Dryad,'
which will please Madame."
"Do so, Saint-Aignan, do so," said the king, indifferently. "You shall
read me your verses; they will amuse me. Ah! it does not signify, Saint-
Aignan," added the king, like a man breathing with difficulty, "the blow
requires more than human strength to support in a dignified manner." As
the king thus spoke, assuming an air of the most angelic patience, one of
the servants in attendance knocked gently at the door. Saint-Aignan drew
aside, out of respect.
"Come in," said the king. The servant partially opened the door. "What
is it?" inquired Louis.
The servant held out a letter of a triangular shape. "For your majesty,"
"I do not know. One of the officers on duty gave it to me."
The valet, in obedience to a gesture of the king, handed him the letter.
The king advanced towards the candles, opened the note, read the
signature, and uttered a loud cry. Saint-Aignan was sufficiently
respectful not to look on; but, without looking on, he saw and heard all,
and ran towards the king, who with a gesture dismissed the servant. "Oh,
heavens!" said the king, as he read the note.
"Is your majesty unwell?" inquired Saint-Aignan, stretching forward his
"No, no, Saint-Aignan - read!" and he handed him the note.
Saint-Aignan's eyes fell upon the signature. "La Valliere!" he
exclaimed. "Oh, sire!"
And Saint-Aignan read:
"Forgive my importunity, sire; and forgive, also, the absence of the
formalities which may be wanting in this letter. A note seems to be
more speedy and more urgent than a dispatch. I venture, therefore, to
address this note to your majesty. I have retired to my own room,
overcome with grief and fatigue, sire; and I implore your majesty to
grant me the favor of an audience, which will enable me to confess the
_truth_ to my sovereign.
"LOUISE de la VALLIERE."
"Well?" asked the king, taking the letter from Saint-Aignan's hands, who
was completely bewildered by what he had just read.
"Well!" repeated Saint-Aignan.
"What do you think of it?"
"I hardly know."
"Still, what is your opinion?"
"Sire, the young lady must have heard the muttering of the thunder, and
has got frightened."
"Frightened at what?" asked Louis with dignity.
"Why, your majesty has a thousand reasons to be angry with the author or
authors of so hazardous a joke; and, if your majesty's memory were to be
awakened in a disagreeable sense, it would be a perpetual menace hanging
over the head of this imprudent girl."
"Saint-Aignan, I do not think as you do."
"Your majesty doubtless sees more clearly than myself."
"Well! I see affliction and restraint in these lines; more particularly
since I recall some of the details of the scene which took place this
evening in Madame's apartments - " The king suddenly stopped, leaving
his meaning unexpressed.
"In fact," resumed Saint-Aignan, "your majesty will grant an audience;
nothing is clearer than that."
"I will do better, Saint-Aignan."
"What is that, sire?"
"Put on your cloak."
"But, sire - "
"You know the suite of rooms where Madame's maids of honor are lodged?"
"You know some means of obtaining an entrance there."
"As far as that is concerned, I do not."
"At all events, you must be acquainted with some one there."
"Really, your majesty is the source of every good idea."
"You do know some one, then. Who is it?"
"I know a certain gentleman, who is on very good terms with a certain
young lady there."
"One of the maids of honor?"
"With Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, I suppose?" said the king,
"Fortunately, no, sire; with Montalais."
"What is his name?"
"And you can depend on him?"
"I believe so, sire. He ought to have a key of some sort in his
possession; and if he should happen to have one, as I have done him a
service, why, he will let us have it."
"Nothing could be better. Let us set off immediately."
The king threw his cloak over Saint-Aignan's shoulders, asked him for
his, and both went out into the vestibule.
Something That neither Naiad nor Dryad Foresaw.
Saint-Aignan stopped at the foot of the staircase leading to the
_entresol_, where the maids of honor were lodged, and to the first floor,
where Madame's apartments were situated. Then, by means of one of the
servants who was passing, he sent to apprise Malicorne, who was still
with Monsieur. After having waited ten minutes, Malicorne arrived, full
of self-importance. The king drew back towards the darkest part of the
vestibule. Saint-Aignan, on the contrary, advanced to meet him, but at
the first words, indicating his wish, Malicorne drew back abruptly.
"Oh, oh!" he said, "you want me to introduce you into the rooms of the
maids of honor?"
"You know very well that I cannot do anything of the kind, without being
made acquainted with your object."
"Unfortunately, my dear Monsieur Malicorne, it is quite impossible for me
to give you any explanation; you must therefore confide in me as in a
friend who got you out of a great difficulty yesterday, and who now begs
you to draw him out of one to-day."
"Yet I told you, monsieur, what my object was; which was, not to sleep
out in the open air, and any man might express the same wish, whilst you,
however, admit nothing."
"Believe me, my dear Monsieur Malicorne," Saint-Aignan persisted, "that
if I were permitted to explain myself, I would do so."
"In that case, my dear monsieur, it is impossible for me to allow you to
enter Mademoiselle de Montalais's apartment."
"You know why, better than any one else, since you caught me on the wall
paying my addresses to Mademoiselle de Montalais; it would, therefore, be
an excess of kindness on my part, you will admit, since I am paying my
attentions to her, to open the door of her room to you."
"But who told you it was on her account I asked you for the key?"
"For whom, then?"
"She does not lodge there alone, I suppose?"
"No, certainly; for Mademoiselle de la Valliere shares her rooms with
her; but, really, you have nothing more to do with Mademoiselle de la
Valliere than with Mademoiselle de Montalais, and there are only two men
to whom I would give this key; to M. de Bragelonne, if he begged me to
give it to him, and to the king, if he commanded me."
"In that case, give me the key, monsieur: I order you to do so," said the
king, advancing from the obscurity, and partially opening his cloak.
"Mademoiselle de Montalais will step down to talk with you, while we go
up-stairs to Mademoiselle de la Valliere, for, in fact, it is she only
whom we desire to see."
"The king!" exclaimed Malicorne, bowing to the very ground.
"Yes, the king," said Louis, smiling: "the king, who is as pleased with
your resistance as with your capitulation. Rise, monsieur, and render us
the service we request of you."
"I obey, your majesty," said Malicorne, leading the way up the staircase.
"Get Mademoiselle de Montalais to come down," said the king, "and do not
breathe a word to her of my visit."
Malicorne bowed in token of obedience, and proceeded up the staircase.
But the king, after a hasty reflection, followed him, and that, too, with
such rapidity, that, although Malicorne was already more than half-way up
the staircase, the king reached the room at the same moment. He then
observed, by the door which remained half-opened behind Malicorne, La
Valliere, sitting in an armchair with her head thrown back, and in the
opposite corner Montalais, who, in her dressing-gown, was standing before
a looking-glass, engaged in arranging her hair, and parleying the while
with Malicorne. The king hurriedly opened the door and entered the
room. Montalais called out at the noise made by the opening of the door,
and, recognizing the king, made her escape. La Valliere rose from her
seat, like a dead person galvanized, and then fell back in her armchair.
The king advanced slowly towards her.
"You wished for an audience, I believe," he said coldly. "I am ready to
hear you. Speak."
Saint-Aignan, faithful to his character of being deaf, blind, and dumb,
had stationed himself in a corner of the door, upon a stool which by
chance he found there. Concealed by the tapestry which covered the
doorway, and leaning his back against the wall, he could thus listen
without being seen; resigning himself to the post of a good watch-dog,
who patiently waits and watches without ever getting in his master's way.
La Valliere, terror-stricken at the king's irritated aspect, rose a
second time, and assuming a posture full of humility and entreaty,
murmured, "Forgive me, sire."
"What need is there for my forgiveness?" asked Louis.
"Sire, I have been guilty of a great fault; nay, more than a great fault,
a great crime."
"Sire, I have offended your majesty."
"Not in the slightest degree in the world," replied Louis XIV.
"I implore you, sire, not to maintain towards me that terrible
seriousness of manner which reveals your majesty's just anger. I feel I
have offended you, sire; but I wish to explain to you how it was that I
have not offended you of my own accord."
"In the first place," said the king, "in what way can you possibly have
offended me? I cannot perceive how. Surely not on account of a young
girl's harmless and very innocent jest? You turned the credulity of a
young man into ridicule - it was very natural to do so: any other woman
in your place would have done the same."
"Oh! your majesty overwhelms me by your remark."
"Because, if I had been the author of the jest, it would not have been
"Well, is that all you had to say to me in soliciting an audience?" said
the king, as though about to turn away.
Thereupon La Valliere, in an abrupt and a broken voice, her eyes dried up
by the fire of her tears, made a step towards the king, and said, "Did
your majesty hear everything?"
"Everything I said beneath the royal oak."
"I did not lose a syllable."
"And now, after your majesty really heard all, are you able to think I
abused your credibility?"
"Credulity; yes, indeed, you have selected the very word."
"And your majesty did not suppose that a poor girl like myself might
possibly be compelled to submit to the will of others?"
"Forgive me," returned the king; "but I shall never be able to understand
that she, who of her own free will could express herself so unreservedly
beneath the royal oak, would allow herself to be influenced to such an
extent by the direction of others."
"But the threat held out against me, sire."
"Threat! who threatened you - who dared to threaten you?"
"Those who have the right to do so, sire."
"I do not recognize any one as possessing the right to threaten the
humblest of my subjects."
"Forgive me, sire, but near your majesty, even, there are persons
sufficiently high in position to have, or to believe that they possess,
the right of injuring a young girl, without fortune, and possessing only
"In what way injure her?"
"In depriving her of her reputation, by disgracefully expelling her from
"Oh! Mademoiselle de la Valliere," said the king bitterly, "I prefer
those persons who exculpate themselves without incriminating others."
"Yes; and I confess that I greatly regret to perceive, that an easy
justification, as your own would have been, is now complicated in my
presence by a tissue of reproaches and imputations against others."
"And which you do not believe?" exclaimed La Valliere. The king remained
"Nay, but tell me!" repeated La Valliere, vehemently.
"I regret to confess it," repeated the king, bowing coldly.
The young girl uttered a deep groan, striking her hands together in
despair. "You do not believe me, then," she said to the king, who still
remained silent, while poor La Valliere's features became visibly changed
at his continued silence. "Therefore, you believe," she said, "that I
pre-arranged this ridiculous, this infamous plot, of trifling, in so
shameless a manner, with your majesty."
"Nay," said the king, "it was neither ridiculous nor infamous; it was not
even a plot; merely a jest, more or less amusing, and nothing more."
"Oh!" murmured the young girl, "the king does not, and will not believe
"No, indeed, I will not believe you," said the king. "Besides, in point
of fact, what can be more natural? The king, you argue, follows me,
listens to me, watches me; the king wishes perhaps to amuse himself at my
expense, I will amuse myself at his, and as the king is very tender-
hearted, I will take his heart by storm."
La Valliere hid her face in her hands, as she stifled her sobs. The king
continued pitilessly; he was revenging himself upon the poor victim
before him for all he had himself suffered.
"Let us invent, then, this story of my loving him and preferring him to
others. The king is so simple and so conceited that he will believe me;
and then we can go and tell others how credulous the king is, and can
enjoy a laugh at his expense."
"Oh!" exclaimed La Valliere, "you think that, you believe that! - it is
"And," pursued the king, "that is not all; if this self-conceited prince
take our jest seriously, if he should be imprudent enough to exhibit
before others anything like delight at it, well, in that case, the king
will be humiliated before the whole court; and what a delightful story it
will be, too, for him to whom I am really attached, in fact part of my
dowry for my husband, to have the adventure to relate of the monarch who
was so amusingly deceived by a young girl."
"Sire!" exclaimed La Valliere, her mind bewildered, almost wandering,
indeed, "not another word, I implore you; do you not see that you are
"A jest, nothing but a jest," murmured the king, who, however, began to
be somewhat affected.
La Valliere fell upon her knees, and that so violently, that the sound
could be heard upon the hard floor. "Sire," she said, "I prefer shame to
"What do you mean?" inquired the king, without moving a step to raise the
young girl from her knees.
"Sire, when I shall have sacrificed my honor and my reason both to you,
you will perhaps believe in my loyalty. The tale which was related to
you in Madame's apartments, and by Madame herself, is utterly false; and
that which I said beneath the great oak - "
"That is the only truth."
"What!" exclaimed the king.
"Sire," exclaimed La Valliere, hurried away by the violence of her
emotions, "were I to die of shame on the very spot where my knees are
fixed, I would repeat it until my latest breath; I said that I loved you,
and it is true; I do love you."
"I have loved you, sire, from the very first day I ever saw you; from the
moment when at Blois, where I was pining away my existence, your royal
looks, full of light and life, were first bent upon me. I love you
still, sire; it is a crime of high treason, I know, that a poor girl like
myself should love her sovereign, and should presume to tell him so.
Punish me for my audacity, despise me for my shameless immodesty; but do
not ever say, do not ever think, that I have jested with or deceived
you. I belong to a family whose loyalty has been proved, sire, and I,
too, love my king."
Suddenly her strength, voice, and respiration ceased, and she fell
forward, like the flower Virgil alludes to, which the scythe of the
reaper severed in the midst of the grass. The king, at these words, at
this vehement entreaty, no longer retained any ill-will or doubt in his
mind: his whole heart seemed to expand at the glowing breath of an
affection which proclaimed itself in such noble and courageous language.
When, therefore, he heard the passionate confession, his strength seemed
to fail him, and he hid his face in his hands. But when he felt La
Valliere's hands clinging to his own, when their warm pressure fired his
blood, he bent forward, and passing his arm round La Valliere's waist, he
raised her from the ground and pressed her against his heart. But she,
her drooping head fallen forward on her bosom, seemed to have ceased to
live. The king, terrified, called out for Saint-Aignan. Saint-Aignan,
who had carried his discretion so far as to remain without stirring in
his corner, pretending to wipe away a tear, ran forward at the king's
summons. He then assisted Louis to seat the young girl upon a couch,
slapped her hands, sprinkled some Hungary water over her face, calling
out all the while, "Come, come, it is all over; the king believes you,
and forgives you. There, there now! take care, or you will agitate his
majesty too much; his majesty is so sensitive, so tender-hearted. Now,
really, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, you must pay attention, for the king
is very pale."
The fact was, the king was visibly losing color. But La Valliere did not
"Do pray recover," continued Saint-Aignan. "I beg, I implore you; it is
really time you should; think only of one thing, that if the king should
become unwell, I should be obliged to summon his physician. What a state
of things that would be! So do pray rouse yourself; make an effort, pray
do, and do so at once, my dear."
It was difficult to display more persuasive eloquence than Saint-Aignan
did, but something still more powerful, and of a more energetic nature
than this eloquence, aroused La Valliere. The king, who was kneeling
before her, covered the palms of her hands with those burning kisses
which are to the hands what a kiss upon the lips is to the face. La
Valliere's senses returned to her; she languidly opened her eyes and,
with a dying look, murmured, "Oh! sire, has your majesty pardoned me,
The king did not reply, for he was still too much overcome. Saint-Aignan
thought it was his duty again to retire, for he observed the passionate
devotion which was displayed in the king's gaze. La Valliere rose.
"And now, sire, that I have justified myself, at least I trust so, in
your majesty's eyes, grant me leave to retire into a convent. I shall
bless your majesty all my life, and I shall die thanking and loving
Heaven for having granted me one hour of perfect happiness."
"No, no," replied the king, "you will live here blessing Heaven, on the
contrary, but loving Louis, who will make your existence one of perfect
felicity - Louis who loves you - Louis who swears it."
"Oh! sire, sire!"
And upon this doubt of La Valliere, the king's kisses became so warm that
Saint-Aignan thought it was his duty to retire behind the tapestry.
These kisses, however, which she had not the strength at first to resist,
began to intimidate the young girl.
"Oh! sire," she exclaimed, "do not make me repeat my loyalty, for this
would show me that your majesty despises me still."
"Mademoiselle de la Valliere," said the king, suddenly, drawing back with
an air full of respect, "there is nothing in the world that I love and
honor more than yourself, and nothing in my court, I call Heaven to
witness, shall be so highly regarded as you shall be henceforward. I
entreat your forgiveness for my transport; it arose from an excess of
affection, but I can prove to you that I love you more than ever by
respecting you as much as you can possibly desire or deserve." Then,
bending before her, and taking her by the hand, he said to her, "Will you
honor me by accepting the kiss I press upon your hand?" And the king's
lips were pressed respectfully and lightly upon the young girl's
trembling hand. "Henceforth," added Louis, rising and bending his glance
upon La Valliere, "henceforth you are under my safeguard. Do not speak
to any one of the injury I have done you, forgive others that which they
may have attempted. For the future, you shall be so far above all those,
that, far from inspiring you with fear, they shall be even beneath your
pity." And he bowed as reverently as though he were leaving a place of
worship. Then calling to Saint-Aignan, who approached with great
humility, he said, "I hope, comte, that Mademoiselle de la Valliere will
kindly confer a little of her friendship upon you, in return for that
which I have vowed to her eternally."
Saint-Aignan bent his knee before La Valliere, saying, "How happy,
indeed, would such an honor make me!"
"I will send your companion back to you," said the king. "Farewell! or,
rather, adieu till we meet again; do not forget me in your prayers, I
"Oh!" cried La Valliere, "be assured that you and Heaven are in my heart
These words of Louise elated the king, who, full of happiness, hurried
Saint-Aignan down the stairs. Madame had not anticipated this
_denouement_; and neither the Naiad nor the Dryad had breathed a word
The New General of the Jesuits.
While La Valliere and the king were mingling, in their first confession
of love, all the bitterness of the past, the happiness of the present,
and hopes of the future, Fouquet had retired to the apartments which had
been assigned to him in the chateau, and was conversing with Aramis
precisely upon the very subjects which the king at that moment was
"Now tell me," said Fouquet, after having installed his guest in an
armchair and seated himself by his side, "tell me, Monsieur d'Herblay,
what is our position with regard to the Belle-Isle affair, and whether
you have received any news about it."
"Everything is going on in that direction as we wish," replied Aramis;
"the expenses have been paid, and nothing has transpired of our designs."
"But what about the soldiers the king wished to send there?"
"I have received news this morning they arrived there fifteen days ago."
"And how have they been treated?"
"In the best manner possible."
"What has become of the former garrison?"
"The soldiers were landed at Sarzeau, and then transferred immediately to
"And the new garrison?"
"Belongs to us from this very moment."
"Are you sure of what you say, my dear Monsieur de Vannes?"
"Quite sure, and, moreover, you will see by and by how matters have
"Still you are very well aware, that, of all the garrison towns, Belle-
Isle is precisely the very worst."
"I know it, and have acted accordingly; no space to move about, no
gayety, no cheerful society, no gambling permitted: well, it is a great
pity," added Aramis, with one of those smiles so peculiar to him, "to see
how much young people at the present day seek amusement, and how much,
consequently, they incline to the man who procures and pays for their
"But if they amuse themselves at Bell-Isle?"
"If they amuse themselves through the king's means, they will attach
themselves to the king; but if they get bored to death through the king's
means, and amuse themselves through M. Fouquet, they will attach
themselves to M. Fouquet."
"And you informed my intendant, of course? - so that immediately on their
arrival - "
"By no means; they were left alone a whole week, to weary themselves at
their ease; but, at the end of the week, they cried out, saying that
former officers amused themselves much better. Whereupon they were told
that the old officers had been able to make a friend of M. Fouquet, and
that M. Fouquet, knowing them to be friends of his, had from that moment
done all he possibly could to prevent their getting wearied or bored upon
his estates. Upon this they began to reflect. Immediately afterwards,
however, the intendant added, that without anticipating M. Fouquet's
orders, he knew his master sufficiently well to be aware that he took an
interest in every gentleman in the king's service, and that, although he
did not know the new-comers, he would do as much for them as he had done
for the others."
"Excellent! and I trust that the promises were followed up; I desire, as
you know, that no promise should ever be made in my name without being
"Without a moment's loss of time, our two privateers, and your own
horses, were placed at the disposal of the officers; the keys of the
principal mansion were handed over to them, so that they made up hunting-
parties, and walking excursions with such ladies as are to be found in
Belle-Isle; and such other as they are enabled to enlist from the
neighborhood, who have no fear of sea-sickness."
"And there is a fair sprinkling to be met with at Sarzeau and Vannes, I
believe, your eminence?"
"Yes; in fact all along the coast," said Aramis, quietly.
"And now, how about the soldiers?"
"Everything precisely the same, in a relative degree, you understand; the
soldiers have plenty of wine, excellent provisions, and good pay."
"Very good; so that - "
"So that this garrison can be depended upon, and it is a better one than
"The result is, if Fortune favors us, so that the garrisons are changed
in this manner, only every two months, that, at the end of every three
years, the whole army will, in its turn, have been there; and, therefore,
instead of having one regiment in our favor, we shall have fifty thousand
"Yes, yes; I knew perfectly well," said Fouquet, "that no friend could be
more incomparable and invaluable than yourself, my dear Monsieur
d'Herblay; but," he added, laughing, "all this time we are forgetting our
friend, Du Vallon; what has become of him? During the three days I spent
at Saint-Mande, I confess I have forgotten him completely."
"I do not forget him, however," returned Aramis. "Porthos is at Saint-
Mande; his joints are kept well greased, the greatest care is being taken
care of him with regard to the food he eats, and the wines he drinks; I
advise him to take daily airings in the small park, which you have kept
for your own use, and he makes us of it accordingly. He begins to walk
again, he exercises his muscular powers by bending down young elm-trees,
or making the old oaks fly into splinters, as Milo of Crotona used to do;
and, as there are no lions in the park, it is not unlikely we shall find
him alive. Porthos is a brave fellow."
"Yes, but in the mean time he will get bored to death."
"Oh, no; he never does that."
"He will be asking questions?"
"He sees no one."
"At all events, he is looking or hoping for something or another."
"I have inspired in him a hope which we will realize some fine morning,
and on that he subsists."
"What is it?"
"That of being presented to the king."
"Oh! in what character?"
"As the engineer of Belle-Isle, of course."
"Is it possible?"
"Shall we not be obliged, then, to send him back to Belle-Isle?"
"Most certainly; I am even thinking of sending him as soon as possible.
Porthos is very fond of display; he is man whose weakness D'Artagnan,
Athos, and myself are alone acquainted with; he never commits himself in
any way; he is dignity himself; to the officers there, he would seem like
a Paladin of the time of the Crusades. He would make the whole staff
drunk, without getting tipsy in the least himself, and every one will
regard him with admiration and sympathy; if, therefore, it should happen
that we have any orders requiring to be carried out, Porthos is an
incarnation of the order itself, and whatever he chose to do others would
find themselves obliged to submit to."
"Send him back, then."
"That is what I intend to do; but only in a few days; for I must not omit
to tell you one thing."
"What is it?"
"I begin to mistrust D'Artagnan. He is not at Fontainebleau, as you may
have noticed, and D'Artagnan is never absent, or apparently idle, without
some object in view. And now that my own affairs are settled, I am going
to try and ascertain what the affairs are in which D'Artagnan is engaged."
"Your own affairs are settled, you say?"
"You are very fortunate in that case, then, and I should like to be able
to say the same."
"I hope you do not make yourself uneasy."
"Nothing could be better than the king's reception of you."
"And Colbert leaves you in peace."
"In that case," said Aramis, with that connection of ideas which marked
him, "in that case, then, we can bestow a thought upon the young girl I
was speaking to you about yesterday."
"Whom do you mean?"
"What, have you forgotten already? I mean La Valliere."
"Ah! of course, of course."
"Do you object, then, to try and make a conquest of her?"
"In one respect only; my heart is engaged in another direction, and I
positively do not care about the girl in the least."
"Oh, oh!" said Aramis, "your heart is engaged, you say. The deuce! we
must take care of that."
"Because it is terrible to have the heart occupied, when others, besides
yourself, have so much need of the head."
"You are right. So you see, at your first summons, I left everything.
But to return to this girl. What good do you see in my troubling myself
"This. - The king, it is said, has taken a fancy to her; at least, so it
"But you, who know everything, know very differently."
"I know that the king is greatly and suddenly changed; that the day
before yesterday he was crazy over Madame; that a few days ago,
Monsieur complained of it, even to the queen-mother; and that some
conjugal misunderstandings and maternal scoldings were the consequence."
"How do you know all that?"
"I do know it; at all events, since these misunderstandings and
scoldings, the king has not addressed a word, has not paid the
slightest attention, to her royal highness."
"Well, what next?"
"Since then, he has been taken up with Mademoiselle de la Valliere. Now,
Mademoiselle de la Valliere is one of Madame's maids of honor. You
happen to know, I suppose, what is called a _chaperon_ in matters of
love. Well, then, Mademoiselle de la Valliere is Madame's _chaperon_.
It is for you to take advantage of this state of things. You have no
occasion for me to tell you that. But, at all events, wounded vanity
will render the conquest an easier one; the girl will get hold of the
king, and Madame's secret, and you can scarcely predict what a man of
intelligence can do with a secret."
"But how to get at her?"
"Nay, you, of all men, to ask me such a question!" said Aramis.
"Very true. I shall not have any time to take any notice of her."
"She is poor and unassuming, you will create a position for her, and
whether she tames the king as his lady confessor, or his sweetheart, you
will have enlisted a new and valuable ally."
"Very good," said Fouquet. "What is to be done, then, with regard to
"Whenever you have taken a fancy to any lady, Monsieur Fouquet, what
course have you generally pursued?"
"I have written to her, protesting my devotion to her. I have added, how
happy I should be to render her any service in my power, and have signed
'Fouquet,' at the end of the letter."
"And has any one offered resistance?"
"One person only," replied Fouquet. "But, four days ago, she yielded, as
the others had done."
"Will you take the trouble to write?" said Aramis, holding a pen towards
him, which Fouquet took, saying:
"I will write at your dictation. My head is so taken up in another
direction, that I should not be able to write a couple lines."
"Very well," said Aramis, "write."
And he dictated, as follows: "Mademoiselle - I have seen you - and you
will not be surprised to learn, I think you very beautiful. But, for
want of the position you merit at court, your presence there is a waste
of time. The devotion of a man of honor, should ambition of any kind
inspire you, might possibly serve as a means of display for your talent
and beauty. I place my devotion at your feet; but, as an affection,
however reserved and unpresuming it may be, might possibly compromise the
object of its worship, it would ill become a person of your merit running
the risk of being compromised, without her future being assured. If you
would deign to accept, and reply to my affection, my affection shall
prove its gratitude to you in making you free and independent forever."
Having finished writing, Fouquet looked at Aramis.
"Sign it," said the latter.
"Is it absolutely necessary?"
"Your signature at the foot of that letter is worth a million; you forget
that." Fouquet signed.
"Now, by whom do you intend to send this letter?" asked Aramis.
"By an excellent servant of mine."
"Can you rely on him?"
"He is a man who has been with me all my life."
"Very well. Besides, in this case, we are not playing for very heavy
"How so? For if what you say be true of the accommodating disposition of
this girl for the king and Madame, the king will give her all the money
she can ask for."
"The king has money, then?" asked Aramis.
"I suppose so, for he has not asked me for any more."
"Be easy, he will ask for some, soon."
"Nay, more than that, I had thought he would have spoken to me about the
_fete_ at Vaux, but he never said a word about it."
"He will be sure to do so, though."
"You must think the king's disposition a very cruel one, Monsieur
"It is not he who is so."
"He is young, and therefore his disposition is a kind one."
"He is young, and either he is weak, or his passions are strong; and
Monsieur Colbert holds his weakness and his passions in his villainous
"You admit that you fear him?"
"I do not deny it."
"I that case I am lost."
"My only influence with the king has been through the money I commanded,
and now I am a ruined man."
"What do you mean by 'not so?' Do you know my affairs better than
"That is not unlikely."
"If he were to request this _fete_ to be given?"
"You would give it, of course."
"But where is the money to come from?"
"Have you ever been in want of any?"
"Oh! if you only knew at what a cost I procured the last supply."
"The next shall cost you nothing."
"But who will give it me?"
"What, give me six millions?"
"Ten, if necessary."
"Upon my word, D'Herblay," said Fouquet, "your confidence alarms me more
than the king's displeasure. Who can you possibly be, after all?"
"You know me well enough, I should think."
"Of course; but what is it you are aiming at?"
"I wish to see upon the throne of France a king devoted to Monsieur
Fouquet, and I wish Monsieur Fouquet to be devoted to me."
"Oh!" exclaimed Fouquet, pressing his hand, - "as for being devoted to
you, I am yours, entirely; but believe me, my dear D'Herblay, you are
"In what respect?"
"The king will never become devoted to me."
"I do not remember to have said that King Louis would ever become devoted
"Why, on the contrary, you have this moment said so."
"I did not say _the_ king; I said _a_ king."
"Is it not all the same?"
"No, on the contrary, it is altogether different."
"I do not understand you."
"You will do so, shortly, then; suppose, for instance, the king in
question were to be a very different person to Louis XIV."
"Yes, who is indebted for everything to you."
"His very throne, even."
"You are mad, D'Herblay. There is no man living besides Louis XIV. who
can sit on the throne of France. I know of none, not one."
"_But_ I know one."
"Unless it be Monsieur," said Fouquet, looking at Aramis uneasily; "yet
Monsieur - "
"It is _not_ Monsieur."
"But how can it be, that a prince not of the royal line, that a prince
without any right - "
"My king, or rather your king, will be everything that is necessary, be
assured of that."
"Be careful, Monsieur d'Herblay, you make my blood run cold, and my head
Aramis smiled. "There is but little occasion for that," he replied.
"Again, I repeat, you terrify me," said Fouquet. Aramis smiled.
"You laugh," said Fouquet.
"The day will come when you will laugh too; only at the present moment I
must laugh alone."
"But explain yourself."
"When the proper time comes, I will explain all. Fear nothing. Have
faith in me, and doubt nothing."
"The fact is, I cannot but doubt, because I do not see clearly, or even
"That is because of your blindness; but a day will come when you will be
"Oh!" said Fouquet, "how willingly would I believe."
"You, without belief! you, who, through my means, have ten times crossed
the abyss yawning at your feet, and in which, had you been alone, you
would have been irretrievably swallowed; you, without belief; you, who
from procureur-general attained the rank of intendant, from the rank of
intendant, that of the first minister of the crown, and who from the rank
of first minister will pass to that of mayor of the palace. But no," he
said, with the same unaltered smile, "no, no, you cannot see, and
consequently cannot believe - what I tell you." And Aramis rose to
"One word more," said Fouquet; "you have never yet spoken to me in this
manner, you have never yet shown yourself so confident, I should rather
say so daring."
"Because it is necessary, in order to speak confidently, to have the lips
"And that is now your case?"
"Since a very short time, then?"
"Since yesterday, only."
"Oh! Monsieur d'Herblay, take care, your confidence is becoming
"One can well be audacious when one is powerful."
"And you are powerful?"
"I have already offered you ten millions; I repeat the offer."
Fouquet rose, profoundly agitated.
"Come," he said, "come; you spoke of overthrowing kings and replacing
them by others. If, indeed, I am not really out of my senses, is or is
not that what you said just now?"
"You are by no means out of your senses, for it is perfectly true I did
say all that just now."
"And why did you say so?"
"Because it is easy to speak in this manner of thrones being cast down,
and kings being raised up, when one is, one's self, far above all kings
and thrones, of this world at least."
"Your power is infinite, then?" cried Fouquet.
"I have told you so already, and I repeat it," replied Aramis, with
glistening eyes and trembling lips.
Fouquet threw himself back in his chair, and buried his face in his
hands. Aramis looked at him for a moment, as the angel of human
destinies might have looked upon a simple mortal.
"Adieu," he said to him, "sleep undisturbed, and send your letter to La
Valliere. To-morrow we shall see each other again."
"Yes, to-morrow," said Fouquet, shaking his hands like a man returning to
his senses. "But where shall we see each other?"
"At the king's promenade, if you like."
"Agreed." And they separated.
The dawn of the following day was dark and gloomy, and as every one knew
that the promenade was down in the royal programme, every one's gaze, as
his eyes were opened, was directed towards the sky. Just above the tops
of the trees a thick, suffocating vapor seemed to remain suspended, with
barely sufficient power to rise thirty feet above the ground under the
influence of the sun's rays, which was scarcely visible as a faint spot
of lesser darkness through the veil of heavy mist. No dew had fallen in
the morning; the turf was dried up for want of moisture, the flowers
withered. The birds sang less inspiringly than usual upon the boughs,
which remained motionless as the limbs of corpses. The strange confused
and animated murmurs, which seemed born and to exist in virtue of the
sun, that respiration of nature which is unceasingly heard amidst all
other sounds, could not be heard now, and never had the silence been so
The king had noticed the cheerless aspect of the heavens as he approached
the window immediately upon rising. But as all the necessary directions
had been given respecting the promenade, and every preparation had been
made accordingly, and as, which was far more imperious than anything
else, Louis relied upon this promenade to satisfy the cravings of his
imagination, and we will even already say, the clamorous desires of his
heart - the king unhesitatingly decided that the appearance of the
heavens had nothing whatever to do with the matter; that the promenade
was arranged, and that, whatever the state of the weather, the promenade
should take place. Besides, there are certain terrestrial sovereigns who
seem to have accorded them privileged existences, and there are certain
times when it might almost be supposed that the expressed wish of an
earthly monarch has its influence over the Divine will. It was Virgil
who observed of Augustus: _Nocte pluit tota redeunt spectacula mane_. (10)
Louis attended mass as usual, but it was evident that his attention was
somewhat distracted from the presence of the Creator by the remembrance
of the creature. His mind was occupied during the service in reckoning
more than once the number of minutes, then of seconds, which separated
him from the blissful moment when the promenade would begin, that is to
say, the moment when Madame would set out with her maids of honor.
Besides, as a matter of course, everybody at the chateau was ignorant of
the interview which had taken place between La Valliere and the king.
Montalais, perhaps, with her usual chattering propensity, might have been
disposed to talk about it; but Montalais on this occasion was held in
check by Malicorne, who had securely fastened on her pretty lips the
golden padlock of mutual interest. As for Louis XIV., his happiness was
so extreme that he had forgiven Madame, or nearly so, her little piece of
malice of the previous evening. In fact, he had occasion to congratulate
himself rather than to complain of it. Had it not been for her ill-
natured action, he would not have received the letter from La Valliere;
had it not been for the letter, he would have had no interview; and had
it not been for the interview he would have remained undecided. His
heart was filled with too much happiness for any ill-feeling to remain in
it, at that moment at least. Instead, therefore, of knitting his brows
into a frown when he perceived his sister-in-law, Louis resolved to
receive her in a more friendly and gracious manner than usual. But on
one condition only, that she would be ready to set out early. Such was
the nature of Louis's thoughts during mass; which made him, during the
ceremony, forget matters which, in his character of Most Christian King
and of the eldest son of the Church, ought to have occupied his
attention. He returned to the chateau, and as the promenade was fixed
for midday, and it was at present just ten o'clock, he set to work
desperately with Colbert and Lyonne. But even while he worked Louis went
from the table to the window, inasmuch as the window looked out upon
Madame's pavilion: he could see M. Fouquet in the courtyard, to whom the
courtiers, since the favor shown towards him on the previous evening,
paid greater attention than ever. The king, instinctively, on noticing
Fouquet, turned towards Colbert, who was smiling, and seemed full of
benevolence and delight, a state of feeling which had arisen from the
very moment one of his secretaries had entered and handed him a pocket-
book, which he had put unopened into his pocket. But, as there was
always something sinister at the bottom of any delight expressed by
Colbert, Louis preferred, of the smiles of the two men, that of Fouquet.
He beckoned to the superintendent to come up, and turning towards Lyonne
and Colbert, he said: - "Finish this matter, place it on my desk, and I
will read it at my leisure." And he left the room. At the sign the king
had made to him, Fouquet had hastened up the staircase, while Aramis, who
was with the superintendent, quietly retired among the group of courtiers
and disappeared without having been even observed by the king. The king
and Fouquet met at the top of the staircase.
"Sire," said Fouquet, remarking the gracious manner in which Louis was
about to receive him, "your majesty has overwhelmed me with kindness
during the last few days. It is not a youthful monarch, but a being of
higher order, who reigns over France, one whom pleasure, happiness, and
love acknowledge as their master." The king colored. The compliment,
although flattering, was not the less somewhat pointed. Louis conducted
Fouquet to a small room that divided his study from his sleeping-
"Do you know why I summoned you?" said the king as he seated himself upon
the edge of the window, so as not to lose anything that might be passing
in the gardens which fronted the opposite entrance to Madame's pavilion.
"No, sire," replied Fouquet, "but I am sure for something agreeable, if I
am to judge from your majesty's gracious smile."
"You are mistaken, then."
"For I summoned you, on the contrary, to pick a quarrel with you."
"With me, sire?"
"Yes: and that a serious one."
"Your majesty alarms me - and yet I was most confident in your justice
"Do you know I am told, Monsieur Fouquet, that you are preparing a grand
_fete_ at Vaux."
Fouquet smiled, as a sick man would do at the first shiver of a fever
which has left him but returns again.
"And that you have not invited me!" continued the king.
"Sire," replied Fouquet, "I have not even thought of the _fete_ you speak
of, and it was only yesterday evening that one of my _friends_," Fouquet
laid a stress upon the word, "was kind enough to make me think of it."
"Yet I saw you yesterday evening, Monsieur Fouquet, and you said nothing
to me about it."
"How dared I hope that your majesty would so greatly descend from your
own exalted station as to honor my dwelling with your royal presence?"
"Excuse me, Monsieur Fouquet, you did not speak to me about your _fete_."
"I did not allude to the _fete_ to your majesty, I repeat, in the first
place, because nothing had been decided with regard to it, and, secondly,
because I feared a refusal."
"And something made you fear a refusal, Monsieur Fouquet? You see I am
determined to push you hard."
"The profound wish I had that your majesty should accept my invitation - "
"Well, Monsieur Fouquet, nothing is easier, I perceive, than our coming
to an understanding. Your wish is to invite me to your _fete_, my own is
to be present at it; invite me and I will go."
"Is it possible that your majesty will deign to accept?" murmured the
"Why, really, monsieur," said the king, laughing, "I think I do more than
accept; I rather fancy I am inviting myself."
"Your majesty overwhelms me with honor and delight," exclaimed Fouquet,
"but I shall be obliged to repeat what M. Vieuville said to your
ancestor, Henry IV., _Domine non sum dignus_." (11)
"To which I reply, Monsieur Fouquet, that if you give a _fete_, I will
go, whether I am invited or not."
"I thank your majesty deeply," said Fouquet, as he raised his head
beneath this favor, which he was convinced would be his ruin.
"But how could your majesty have been informed of it?"
"By a public rumor, Monsieur Fouquet, which says such wonderful things of
yourself and the marvels of your house. Would you become proud, Monsieur
Fouquet, if the king were to be jealous of you?"
"I should be the happiest man in the world, sire, since the very day on
which your majesty were to be jealous of Vaux, I should possess something
worthy of being offered to you."
"Very well, Monsieur Fouquet, prepare your _fete_, and open the door of
your house as wide as possible."
"It is for your majesty to fix the day."
"This day month, then."
"Has your majesty any further commands?"
"Nothing, Monsieur Fouquet, except from the present moment until then to
have you near me as much as possible."
"I have the honor to form one of your majesty's party for the promenade."
"Very good; indeed, I am now setting out; for there are the ladies, I
see, who are going to start."
With this remark, the king, with all the eagerness, not only of a young
man, but of a young man in love, withdrew from the window, in order to
take his gloves and cane, which his valet held ready for him. The
neighing of the horses and the crunching of the wheels on the gravel of
the courtyard could be distinctly heard. The king descended the stairs,
and at the moment he appeared upon the flight of steps, every one
stopped. The king walked straight up to the young queen. The queen-
mother, who was still suffering more than ever from the illness with
which she was afflicted, did not wish to go out. Maria Theresa
accompanied Madame in her carriage, and asked the king in what direction
he wished the promenade to drive. The king, who had just seen La
Valliere, still pale from the event of the previous evening, get into a
carriage with three of her companions, told the queen that he had no
preference, and wherever she would like to go, there would he be with
her. The queen then desired that the outriders should proceed in the
direction of Apremont. The outriders set off accordingly before the
others. The king rode on horseback, and for a few minutes accompanied
the carriage of the queen and Madame. The weather had cleared up a
little, but a kind of veil of dust, like a thick gauze, was still spread
over the surface of the heavens, and the sun made every atom glisten
within the circuit of its rays. The heat was stifling; but, as the king
did not seem to pay any attention to the appearance of the heavens, no
one made himself uneasy about it, and the promenade, in obedience to the
orders given by the queen, took its course in the direction of Apremont.
The courtiers who followed were in the very highest spirits; it was
evident that every one tried to forget, and to make others forget, the
bitter discussions of the previous evening. Madame, particularly, was
delightful. In fact, seeing the king at the door of her carriage, as she
did not suppose he would be there for the queen's sake, she hoped that
her prince had returned to her. Hardly, however, had they proceeded a
quarter of a mile on the road, when the king, with a gracious smile,
saluted them and drew up his horse, leaving the queen's carriage to pass
on, then that of the principal ladies of honor, and then all the others
in succession, who, seeing the king stop, wished in their turn to stop
too; but the king made a sign to them to continue their progress. When
La Valliere's carriage passed, the king approached it, saluted the ladies
who were inside, and was preparing to accompany the carriage containing
the maids of honor, in the same way he had followed that in which Madame
was, when suddenly the whole file of carriages stopped. It was probable
that Madame, uneasy at the king having left her, had just given
directions for the performance of this maneuver, the direction in which
the promenade was to take place having been left to her. The king,
having sent to inquire what her object was in stopping the cavalcade, was
informed in reply, that she wished to walk. She most likely hoped that
the king, who was following the carriages of the maids of honor on
horseback, would not venture to follow the maids of honor themselves on
foot. They had arrived in the middle of the forest.
The promenade, in fact, was not ill-timed, especially for those who were
dreamers or lovers. From the little open space where the halt had taken
place, three beautiful long walks, shady and undulating, stretched out
before them. These walks were covered with moss or with leaves that
formed a carpet from the loom of nature; and each walk had its horizon in
the distance, consisting of about a hand-breadth of sky, apparent through
the interlacing of the branches of the trees. At the end of almost every
walk, evidently in great tribulation and uneasiness, the startled deer
were seen hurrying to and fro, first stopping for a moment in the middle
of the path, and then raising their heads they fled with the speed of an
arrow or bounded into the depths of the forest, where they disappeared
from view; now and then a rabbit, of philosophical mien, might be noticed
quietly sitting upright, rubbing his muzzle with his fore paws, and
looking about inquiringly, as though wondering whether all these people,
who were approaching in his direction, and who had just disturbed him in
his meditations and his meal, were not followed by their dogs, or had not
their guns under their arms. All alighted from their carriages as soon
as they observed that the queen was doing so. Maria Theresa took the arm
of one of her ladies of honor, and, with a side glance towards the king,
who did not perceive that he was in the slightest degree the object of
the queen's attention, entered the forest by the first path before her.
Two of the outriders preceded her majesty with long poles, which they
used for the purpose of putting the branches of the trees aside, or
removing the bushes that might impede her progress. As soon as Madame
alighted, she found the Comte de Guiche at her side, who bowed and placed
himself at her disposal. Monsieur, delighted with his bath of the two
previous days, had announced his preference for the river, and, having
given De Guiche leave of absence, remained at the chateau with the
Chevalier de Lorraine and Manicamp. He was not in the slightest degree
jealous. He had been looked for to no purpose among those present; but
as Monsieur was a man who thought a great deal of himself, and usually
added very little to the general pleasure, his absence was rather a
subject of satisfaction than regret. Every one had followed the example
which the queen and Madame had set, doing just as they pleased, according
as chance or fancy influenced them. The king, we have already observed,
remained near La Valliere, and, throwing himself off his horse at the
moment the door of her carriage was opened, he offered her his hand to
alight. Montalais and Tonnay-Charente immediately drew back and kept at
a distance; the former from calculated, the latter from natural motives.
There was this difference, however, between the two, that the one had
withdrawn from a wish to please the king, the other for a very opposite
reason. During the last half-hour the weather also had undergone a
change; the veil which had been spread over the sky, as if driven by a
blast of heated air, had become massed together in the western part of
the heavens; and afterwards, as if driven by a current of air from the
opposite direction, was now advancing slowly and heavily towards them.
The approach of the storm could be felt, but as the king did not perceive
it, no one thought it proper to do so. The promenade was therefore
continued; some of the company, with minds ill at ease on the subject,
raised their eyes from time to time towards the sky; others, even more
timid still, walked about without wandering too far from the carriages,
where they relied upon taking shelter in case the storm burst. The
greater number of these, however, observing that the king fearlessly
entered the wood with La Valliere, followed his majesty. The king,
noticing this, took La Valliere's hand, and led her to a lateral forest-
alley; where no one this time ventured to follow him.
The Shower of Rain.
At this moment, and in the same direction, too, that the king and La
Valliere had taken, except that they were in the wood itself instead of
following the path, two men were walking together, utterly indifferent to
the appearance of the heavens. Their heads were bent down in the manner
of people occupied with matters of great moment. They had not observed
either De Guiche or Madame, the king or La Valliere. Suddenly something
fell through the air like a colossal sheet of flame, followed by a loud
but distant rumbling noise.
"Ah!" said one of them, raising his head, "here comes the storm. Let us
reach our carriages, my dear D'Herblay."
Aramis looked inquiringly at the heavens. "There is no occasion to hurry
yet," he said; and then resuming the conversation where it had doubtless
been interrupted, he said, "You were observing that the letter we wrote
last evening must by this time have reached its destination?"
"I was saying that she certainly has it."
"Whom did you send it by?"
"By my own servant, as I have already told you."
"Did he bring back an answer?"
"I have not seen him since; the young girl was probably in attendance on
Madame, or was in her own room dressing, and he may have had to wait.
Our time for leaving arrived, and we set off, of course; I cannot,
therefore, know what is going on yonder."
"Did you see the king before leaving?"
"How did he seem?"
"Nothing could have passed off better, or worse; according as he be
sincere or hypocritical."
"And the _fete?_"
"Will take place in a month."
"He invited himself, you say?"
"With a pertinacity in which I detected Colbert's influence. But has not
last night removed your illusions?"
"With respect to the assistance you may be able to give me under these
"No; I have passed the night writing, and all my orders are given."
"Do not conceal it from yourself, D'Herblay, but the _fete_ will cost
"I will supply six; do you on your side get two or three."
"You are a wonderful man, my dear D'Herblay."
"But," inquired Fouquet, with some remaining uneasiness, "how is it that
while you are now squandering millions in this manner, a few days ago you
did not pay the fifty thousand francs to Baisemeaux out of your own
"Because a few days ago I was as poor as Job."
"To-day I am wealthier than the king himself."
"Very well," said Fouquet; "I understand men pretty well; I know you are
incapable of forfeiting your word; I do not wish to wrest your secret
from you, and so let us talk no more about it."
At this moment a dull, heavy rumbling was heard, which suddenly developed
into a violent clap of thunder.
"Oh, oh!" said Fouquet, "I was quite right in what I said."
"Come," said Aramis, "let us rejoin the carriages."
"We shall not have time," said Fouquet," for here comes the rain."
In fact, as he spoke, and as if the heavens were opened, a shower of
large drops of rain was suddenly heard pattering on the leaves about them.
"We shall have time," said Aramis, "to reach the carriages before the
foliage becomes saturated."
"It will be better," said Fouquet, "to take shelter somewhere - in a
grotto, for instance."
"Yes, but where are we to find a grotto?" inquired Aramis.
"I know one," said Fouquet, smiling, "not ten paces from here." Then
looking round him, he added: "Yes, we are quite right."
"You are very fortunate to have so good a memory," said Aramis, smiling
in his turn, "but are you not afraid that your coachman, finding we do
not return, will suppose we have taken another road back, and that he
will not follow the carriages belonging to the court?"
"Oh, there is no fear of that," said Fouquet; "whenever I place my
coachman and my carriage in any particular spot, nothing but an express
order from the king could stir them; and more than that, too, it seems
that we are not the only ones who have come so far, for I hear footsteps
and the sound of voices."
As he spoke, Fouquet turned round, and opened with his cane a mass of
foliage which hid the path from his view. Aramis's glance as well as his
own plunged at the same moment through the aperture he had made.
"A woman," said Aramis.
"And a man," said Fouquet.
"It is La Valliere and the king," they both exclaimed together.
"Oh, oh!" said Aramis, "is his majesty aware of your cavern as well? I
should not be astonished if he were, for he seems to be on very good
terms with the dryads of Fontainebleau."
"Never mind," said Fouquet; "let us get there. If he is not aware of it,
we shall see what he will do if he should know it, as it has two
entrances, so that whilst he enters by one, we can leave by the other."
"Is it far?" asked Aramis, "for the rain is beginning to penetrate."
"We are there now," said Fouquet, as he pushed aside a few branches, and
an excavation in the solid rock could be observed, hitherto concealed by
heaths, ivy, and a thick covert of small shrubs.
Fouquet led the way, followed by Aramis; but as the latter entered the
grotto, he turned round, saying: "Yes, they are entering the wood; and,
see, they are bending their steps this way."
"Very well; let us make room for them," said Fouquet, smiling and pulling
Aramis by his cloak; "but I do not think the king knows of my grotto."
"Yes," said Aramis, "they are looking about them, but it is only for a
Aramis was not mistaken, the king's looks were directed upward, and not
around him. He held La Valliere's arm within his own, and held her hand
in his. La Valliere's feet began to sleep on the damp grass. Louis
again looked round him with greater attention than before, and perceiving
an enormous oak with wide-spreading branches, he hurriedly drew La
Valliere beneath its protecting shelter. The poor girl looked round her
on all sides, and seemed half afraid, half desirous of being followed.
The king made her lean back against the trunk of the tree, whose vast
circumference, protected by the thickness of the foliage, was as dry as
if at that moment the rain had not been falling in torrents. He himself
remained standing before her with his head uncovered. After a few
minutes, however, some drops of rain penetrated through the branches of
the tree and fell on the king's forehead, who did not pay any attention
"Oh, sire!" murmured La Valliere, pushing the king's hat towards him.
But the king simply bowed, and determinedly refused to cover his head.
"Now or never is the time to offer your place," said Fouquet in Aramis's
"Now or never is the time to listen, and not lose a syllable of what they
may have to say to each other," replied Aramis in Fouquet's ear.
In fact they both remained perfectly silent, and the king's voice reached
them where they were.
"Believe me," said the king, "I perceive, or rather I can imagine your
uneasiness; believe me, I sincerely regret having isolated you from the
rest of the company, and brought you, also, to a spot where you will be
inconvenienced by the rain. You are wet already, and perhaps cold too?"
"And yet you tremble?"
"I am afraid, sire, that my absence may be misinterpreted; at a moment,
too, when all the others are reunited."
"I would not hesitate to propose returning to the carriages, Mademoiselle
de la Valliere, but pray look and listen, and tell me if it be possible
to attempt to make the slightest progress at present?"
In fact the thunder was still rolling, and the rain continued to fall in
"Besides," continued the king, "no possible interpretation can be made
which would be to your discredit. Are you not with the king of France;
in other words, with the first gentleman of the kingdom?"
"Certainly, sire," replied La Valliere, "and it is a very distinguished
honor for me; it is not, therefore, for myself that I fear any
interpretations that may be made."
"For whom, then?"
"For you, sire."
"For _me?_" said the king, smiling, "I do not understand you."
"Has your majesty already forgotten what took place yesterday evening in
her royal highness's apartments?"
"Oh! forget that, I beg, or allow me to remember it for no other purpose
than to thank you once more for your letter, and - "
"Sire," interrupted La Valliere, "the rain is falling, and your majesty's
head is uncovered."
"I entreat you not to think of anything but yourself."
"Oh! I," said La Valliere, smiling, "I am a country girl, accustomed to
roaming through the meadows of the Loire and the gardens of Blois,
whatever the weather may be. And, as for my clothes," she added, looking
at her simple muslin dress, "your majesty sees there is but little room
"Indeed, I have already noticed, more than once, that you owed nearly
everything to yourself and nothing to your toilette. Your freedom from
coquetry is one of your greatest charms in my eyes."
"Sire, do not make me out better than I am, and say merely, 'You cannot
possibly be a coquette.'"
"Because," said La Valliere, smiling, "I am not rich."
"You admit, then," said the king, quickly, "that you have a love for
"Sire, I only regard those things as beautiful which are within my
reach. Everything which is too highly placed for me - "
"You are indifferent to?"
"Is foreign to me, as being prohibited."
"And I," said the king, "do not find that you are at my court on the
footing you should be. The services of your family have not been
sufficiently brought under my notice. The advancement of your family was
cruelly neglected by my uncle."
"On the contrary, sire. His royal highness, the Duke of Orleans, was
always exceedingly kind towards M. de Saint-Remy, my step-father. The
services rendered were humble, and, properly speaking, our services have
been adequately recognized. It is not every one who is happy enough to
find opportunities of serving his sovereign with distinction. I have no
doubt at all, that, if ever opportunities had been met with, my family's
actions would have been as lofty as their loyalty was firm: but that
happiness was never ours."
"In that case, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, it belongs to kings to repair
the want of opportunity, and most delightedly do I undertake to repair,
in your instance, and with the least possible delay, the wrongs of
fortune towards you."
"Nay, sire," cried La Valliere, eagerly; "leave things, I beg, as they
"Is it possible! you refuse what I ought, and what I wish to do for you?"
"All I desired has been granted me, when the honor was conferred upon me
of forming one of Madame's household."
"But if you refuse for yourself, at least accept for your family."
"Your generous intentions, sire, bewilder me and make me apprehensive,
for, in doing for my family what your kindness urges you to do, your
majesty will raise up enemies for us, and enemies for yourself, too.
Leave me in the ranks of middle life, sire; of all the feelings and
sentiments I experience, leave me to enjoy the pleasing instinct of
"The sentiments you express," said the king, "are indeed admirable."
"Quite true," murmured Aramis in Fouquet's ear, "and he cannot be
accustomed to them."
"But," replied Fouquet, "suppose she were to make a similar reply to my
"True!" said Aramis, "let us not anticipate, but wait the conclusion."
"And then, dear Monsieur d'Herblay," added the superintendent, hardly
able to appreciate the sentiments which La Valliere had just expressed,
"it is very often sound calculation to seem disinterested with monarchs."
"Exactly what I was thinking this very minute," said Aramis. "Let us
The king approached nearer to La Valliere, and as the rain dripped more
and more through the foliage of the oak, he held his hat over the head of
the young girl, who raised her beautiful blue eyes towards the royal hat
which sheltered her, and shook her head, sighing deeply as she did so.
"What melancholy thought," said the king, "can possibly reach your heart
when I place mine as a rampart before it?"
"I will tell you, sire. I had already once before broached this question,
which is so difficult for a young girl of my age to discuss, but your
majesty imposed silence on me. Your majesty belongs not to yourself
alone: you are married; and every sentiment which would separate your
majesty from the queen, in leading you to take notice of me, will be a
source of profoundest sorrow for the queen." The king endeavored to
interrupt the young girl, but she continued with a suppliant gesture.
"The Queen Maria, with an attachment which can be well understood,
follows with her eyes every step of your majesty which separates you from
her. Happy enough in having had her fate united to your own, she
weepingly implores Heaven to preserve you to her, and is jealous of the
faintest throb of your heart bestowed elsewhere." The king again seemed
anxious to speak, but again did La Valliere venture to prevent him. -
"Would it not, therefore, be a most blamable action," she continued, "if
your majesty, a witness of this anxious and disinterested affection, gave
the queen any cause for jealousy? Forgive me, sire, for the expressions
I have used. I well know it is impossible, or rather that it would be
impossible, that the greatest queen of the whole world could be jealous
of a poor girl like myself. But though a queen, she is still a woman,
and her heart, like that of the rest of her sex, cannot close itself
against the suspicions which such as are evilly disposed, insinuate. For
Heaven's sake, sire, think no more of me; I am unworthy of your regard."
"Do you not know that in speaking as you have done, you change my esteem
for you into the profoundest admiration?"
"Sire, you assume my words to be contrary to the truth; you suppose me to
be better than I really am, and attach a greater merit to me than God
ever intended should be the case. Spare me, sire; for, did I not know
that your majesty was the most generous man in your kingdom, I should
believe you were jesting."
"You do not, I know, fear such a thing; I am quite sure of that,"
"I shall be obliged to believe it, if your majesty continues to hold such
language towards me."
"I am most unhappy, then," said the king, in a tone of regret which was
not assumed; "I am the unhappiest prince in the Christian world, since I
am powerless to induce belief in my words, in one whom I love the best in
the wide world, and who almost breaks my heart by refusing to credit my
regard for her."
"Oh, sire!" said La Valliere, gently putting the king aside, who had
approached nearer to her, "I think the storm has passed away now, and the
rain has ceased." At the very moment, however, as the poor girl, fleeing
as it were from her own heart, which doubtless throbbed but too well in
unison with the king's, uttered these words, the storm undertook to
contradict her. A dead-white flash of lightning illumined the forest
with a weird glare, and a peal of thunder, like a discharge of artillery,
burst over their heads, as if the height of the oak that sheltered them
had attracted the storm. The young girl could not repress a cry of
terror. The king with one hand drew her towards his heart, and stretched
the other above her head, as though to shield her from the lightning. A
moment's silence ensued, as the group, delightful as everything young and
loving is delightful, remained motionless, while Fouquet and Aramis
contemplated it in attitudes as motionless as La Valliere and the king.
"Oh, sire!" murmured La Valliere, "do you hear?" and her head fell upon
"Yes," said the king. "You see, the storm has not passed away."
"_It is a warning, sire_." The king smiled. "Sire, it is the voice of
Heaven in anger."
"Be it so," said the king. "I agree to accept that peal of thunder as a
warning, and even as a menace, if, in five minutes from the present
moment, it is renewed with equal violence; but if not, permit me to think
that the storm is a storm simply, and nothing more." And the king, at
the same moment, raised his head, as if to interrogate the heavens. But,
as if the remark had been heard and accepted, during the five minutes
which elapsed after the burst of thunder which had alarmed them, no
renewed peal was heard; and, when the thunder was again heard, it was
passing as plainly as if, during those same five minutes, the storm, put
to flight, had traversed the heavens with the wings of the wind. "Well,
Louise," said the king, in a low tone of voice, "do you still threaten me
with the anger of Heaven? and, since you wished to regard the storm as a
warning, do you still believe it bodes misfortune?"
The young girl looked up, and saw that while they had been talking, the
rain had penetrated the foliage above them, and was trickling down the
king's face. "Oh, sire, sire!" she exclaimed, in accents of eager
apprehensions, which greatly agitated the king. "Is it for me," she
murmured, "that the king remains thus uncovered, and exposed to the
rain? What am I, then?"
"You are, you perceive," said the king, "the divinity who dissipates the
storm, and brings back fine weather." In fact, even as the king spoke, a
ray of sunlight streamed through the forest, and caused the rain-drops
which rested upon the leaves, or fell vertically among the openings in
the branches of the trees, to glisten like diamonds.
"Sire," said La Valliere, almost overcome, but making a powerful effort
over herself, "think of the anxieties your majesty will have to submit to
on my account. At this very moment, they are seeking you in every
direction. The queen must be full of uneasiness; and Madame - oh,
Madame!" the young girl exclaimed, with an expression almost resembling
This name had a certain effect upon the king. He started, and
disengaged himself from La Valliere, whom he had, till that moment, held
pressed against his heart. He then advanced towards the path, in order
to look round, and returned, somewhat thoughtfully, to La Valliere.
"Madame, did you say?" he remarked.
"Yes, Madame; she, too, is jealous," said La Valliere, with a marked tone
of voice; and her eyes, so timorous in their expression, and so modestly
fugitive in their glance, for a moment, ventured to look inquiringly into
"Still," returned Louis, making an effort over himself, "it seems to me
that Madame has no reason, no right to be jealous of me."
"Alas!" murmured La Valliere.
"Are you, too," said the king, almost in a tone of reproach, "are you
among those who think the sister has a right to be jealous of the
"It is not for me, sire, to seek to penetrate your majesty's secrets."
"You _do_ believe it, then?" exclaimed the king.
"I believe Madame is jealous, sire," La Valliere replied, firmly.
"Is it possible," said the king with some anxiety, "that you have
perceived it, then, from her conduct towards you? Have her manners in
any way been such towards you that you can attribute them to the jealousy
you speak of?"
"Not at all, sire; I am of so little importance."
"Oh! if it were really the case - " exclaimed Louis, violently.
"Sire," interrupted the young girl, "it has ceased raining; some one is
coming, I think." And, forgetful of all etiquette, she had seized the
king by the arm.
"Well," replied the king, "let them come. Who is there who would venture
to think I had done wrong in remaining alone with Mademoiselle de la
"For pity's sake, sire! they will think it strange to see you wet
through, in this manner, and that you should have run such risk for me."
"I have simply done my duty as a gentleman," said Louis; "and woe to him
who may fail in his, in criticising his sovereign's conduct." In fact,
at this moment a few eager and curious faces were seen in the walk, as if
engaged in a search. Catching glimpses at last of the king and La
Valliere, they seemed to have found what they were seeking. They were
some of the courtiers who had been sent by the queen and Madame, and
uncovered themselves, in token of having perceived his majesty. But
Louis, notwithstanding La Valliere's confusion, did not quit his
respectful and tender attitude. Then, when all the courtiers were
assembled in the walk - when every one had been able to perceive the
extraordinary mark of deference with which he had treated the young girl,
by remaining standing and bare-headed during the storm - he offered her
his arm, led her towards the group who were waiting, recognized by an
inclination of the head the respectful salutations which were paid him on
all sides; and, still holding his hat in his hand, he conducted her to
her carriage. And, as a few sparse drops of rain continued to fall - a
last adieu of the vanishing storm - the other ladies, whom respect had
prevented from getting into their carriages before the king, remained
altogether unprotected by hood or cloak, exposed to the rain from which
the king was protecting, as well as he was able, the humblest among
them. The queen and Madame must, like the others, have witnessed this
exaggerated courtesy of the king. Madame was so disconcerted at it, that
she touched the queen with her elbow, saying at the same time, "Look
there, look there."
The queen closed her eyes as if she had been suddenly seized with a
fainting-spell. She lifted her hands to her face and entered her
carriage, Madame following her. The king again mounted his horse, and
without showing a preference for any particular carriage door, he
returned to Fontainebleau, the reins hanging over his horse's neck,
absorbed in thought. As soon as the crowd had disappeared, and the sound
of the horses and carriages grew fainter in the distance, and when they
were certain, in fact, that no one could see them, Aramis and Fouquet
came out of their grotto, and both of them in silence passed slowly on
towards the walk. Aramis looked most narrowly not only at the whole
extent of the open space stretching out before and behind him, but even
into the very depth of the wood.
"Monsieur Fouquet," he said, when he had quite satisfied himself that
they were alone, "we must get back, at any cost, that letter you wrote to
"That will be easy enough," said Fouquet, "if my servant has not given it
"In any case it must be had, do you understand?"
"Yes. The king is in love with the girl, you mean?"
"Deeply, and what is worse is, that on her side, the girl is passionately
attached to him."
"As much as to say that we must change our tactics, I suppose?"
"Not a doubt of it; you have no time to lose. You must see La Valliere,
and, without thinking any more of becoming her lover, which is out of the
question, must declare yourself her most devoted friend and her most
"I will do so," replied Fouquet, "and without the slightest feeling of
disinclination, for she seems a good-hearted girl."
"Or a very clever one," said Aramis; "but in that case, all the greater
reason." Then he added, after a moment's pause, "If I am not mistaken,
that girl will become the strongest passion of the king's life. Let us
return to our carriage, and, as fast as possible, to the chateau."
Two hours after the superintendent's carriage had set off by Aramis's
directions, conveying them both towards Fontainebleau with the fleetness
of the clouds the last breath of the tempest was hurrying across the face
of heaven, La Valliere was closeted in her own apartment, with a simple
muslin wrapper round her, having just finished a slight repast, which was
placed upon a marble table. Suddenly the door was opened, and a servant
entered to announce M. Fouquet, who had called to request permission to
pay his respects to her. She made him repeat the message twice over, for
the poor girl only knew M. Fouquet by name, and could not conceive what
business she could possibly have with a superintendent of finances.
However, as he might represent the king - and, after the conversation we
have recorded, it was very likely - she glanced at her mirror, drew out
still more the ringlets of her hair, and desired him to be admitted. La
Valliere could not, however, refrain from a certain feeling of
uneasiness. A visit from the superintendent was not an ordinary event in
the life of any woman attached to the court. Fouquet, so notorious for
his generosity, his gallantry, and his sensitive delicacy of feeling with
regard to women generally, had received more invitations than he had
requested audiences. In many houses, the presence of the superintendent
had been significant of fortune; in many hearts, of love. Fouquet
entered the apartment with a manner full of respect, presenting himself
with that ease and gracefulness of manner which was the distinctive
characteristic of the men of eminence of that period, and which at the
present day seems no longer to be understood, even through the
interpretation of the portraits of the period, in which the painter has
endeavored to recall them to being. La Valliere acknowledged the
ceremonious salutation which Fouquet addressed to her by a gentle
inclination of the head, and motioned him to a seat. But Fouquet, with a
bow, said, "I will not sit down until you have pardoned me."
"I?" asked La Valliere, "pardon what?"
Fouquet fixed a most piercing look upon the young girl, and fancied he
could perceive in her face nothing but the most unaffected surprise. "I
observe," he said, "that you have as much generosity as intelligence, and
I read in your eyes the forgiveness I solicit. A pardon pronounced by
your lips is insufficient for me, and I need the forgiveness of your
heart and mind."
"Upon my honor, monsieur," said La Valliere, "I assure you most
positively I do not understand your meaning."
"Again, that is a delicacy on your part which charms me," replied
Fouquet, "and I see you do not wish me to blush before you."
"Blush! blush before _me!_ Why should you blush?"
"Can I have deceived myself," said Fouquet; "and can I have been happy
enough not to have offended you by my conduct towards you?"
"Really, monsieur," said La Valliere, shrugging her shoulders, "you speak
in enigmas, and I suppose I am too ignorant to understand you."
"Be it so," said Fouquet; "I will not insist. Tell me, only, I entreat
you, that I may rely upon your full and complete forgiveness."
"I have but one reply to make to you, monsieur," said La Valliere,
somewhat impatiently, "and I hope that will satisfy you. If I knew the
wrong you have done me, I would forgive you, and I now do so with still
greater reason since I am ignorant of the wrong you allude to."
Fouquet bit his lips, as Aramis would have done. "In that case," he
said, "I may hope, that, notwithstanding what has happened, our good
understanding will remain undisturbed, and that you will kindly confer
the favor upon me of believing in my respectful friendship."
La Valliere fancied that she now began to understand, and said to
herself, "I should not have believed M. Fouquet so eager to seek the
source of a favor so very recent," and then added aloud, "Your
friendship, monsieur! you offer me your friendship. The honor, on the
contrary, is mine, and I feel overpowered by it."
"I am aware," replied Fouquet, "that the friendship of the master may
appear more brilliant and desirable than that of the servant; but I
assure you the latter will be quite as devoted, quite as faithful, and
La Valliere bowed, for, in fact, the voice of the superintendent seemed
to convey both conviction and real devotion in its tone, and she held out
her hand to him, saying, "I believe you."
Fouquet eagerly took hold of the young girl's hand. "You see no
difficulty, therefore," he added, "in restoring me that unhappy letter."
"What letter?" inquired La Valliere.
Fouquet interrogated her with his most searching gaze, as he had already
done before, but the same ingenious expressions, the same transparently
candid look met his. "I am obliged to confess," he said, after this
denial, "that your heart is the most delicate in the world, and I should
not feel I was a man of honor and uprightness if I were to suspect
anything from a woman so generous as yourself."
"Really, Monsieur Fouquet," replied La Valliere, "it is with profound
regret I am obliged to repeat that I absolutely understand nothing of
what you refer to."
"In fact, then, upon your honor, mademoiselle, you have not received any
letter from me?"
"Upon my honor, none," replied La Valliere, firmly.
"Very well, that is quite sufficient; permit me, then, to renew the
assurance of my utmost esteem and respect," said Fouquet. Then, bowing,
he left the room to seek Aramis, who was waiting for him in his own
apartment, and leaving La Valliere to ask herself whether the