Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 53

Chapter LIII:
The State Secret.

A few moments after the doctor's departure, the confessor arrived. He
had hardly crossed the threshold of the door when the Franciscan fixed a
penetrating look upon him, and, shaking his head, murmured - "A weak
mind, I see; may Heaven forgive me if I die without the help of this
living piece of human infirmity." The confessor, on his side, regarded
the dying man with astonishment, almost with terror. He had never beheld
eyes so burningly bright at the very moment they were about to close, nor
looks so terrible at the moment they were about to be quenched in death.
The Franciscan made a rapid and imperious movement of his hand. "Sit
down, there, my father," he said, "and listen to me." The Jesuit
confessor, a good priest, a recently initiated member of the order, who
had merely seen the beginning of its mysteries, yielded to the
superiority assumed by the penitent.

"There are several persons staying in this hotel," continued the

"But," inquired the Jesuit, "I thought I had been summoned to listen to a
confession. Is your remark, then, a confession?"

"Why do you ask?"

"In order to know whether I am to keep your words secret."

"My remarks are part of my confession; I confide them to you in your
character of a confessor."

"Very well," said the priest, seating himself on the chair which the
Franciscan had, with great difficulty, just left, to lie down on the bed.

The Franciscan continued, - "I repeat, there are several persons staying
in this inn."

"So I have heard."

"They ought to be eight in number."

The Jesuit made a sign that he understood him. "The first to whom I wish
to speak," said the dying man, "is a German from Vienna, whose name is
Baron de Wostpur. Be kind enough to go to him, and tell him the person
he expected has arrived." The confessor, astounded, looked at his
penitent; the confession seemed a singular one.

"Obey," said the Franciscan, in a tone of command impossible to resist.
The good Jesuit, completely subdued, rose and left the room. As soon as
he had gone, the Franciscan again took up the papers which a crisis of
the fever had already, once before, obliged him to put aside.

"The Baron de Wostpur? Good!" he said; "ambitious, a fool, and
straitened in means."

He folded up the papers, which he thrust under his pillow. Rapid
footsteps were heard at the end of the corridor. The confessor returned,
followed by the Baron de Wostpur, who walked along with his head raised,
as if he were discussing with himself the possibility of touching the
ceiling with the feather in his hat. Therefore, at the appearance of the
Franciscan, at his melancholy look, and seeing the plainness of the room,
he stopped, and inquired, - "Who has summoned me?"

"I," said the Franciscan, who turned towards the confessor, saying, "My
good father, leave us for a moment together; when this gentleman leaves,
you will return here." The Jesuit left the room, and, doubtless, availed
himself of this momentary exile from the presence of the dying man to ask
the host for some explanation about this strange penitent, who treated
his confessor no better than he would a man servant. The baron
approached the bed, and wished to speak, but the hand of the Franciscan
imposed silence upon him.

"Every moment is precious," said the latter, hurriedly. "You have come
here for the competition, have you not?"

"Yes, my father."

"You hope to be elected general of the order?"

"I hope so."

"You know on what conditions only you can possibly attain this high
position, which makes one man the master of monarchs, the equal of

"Who are you," inquired the baron, "to subject me to these

"I am he whom you expected."

"The elector-general?"

"I am the elected."

"You are - "

The Franciscan did not give him time to reply; he extended his shrunken
hand, on which glittered the ring of the general of the order. The baron
drew back in surprise; and then, immediately afterwards, bowing with the
profoundest respect, he exclaimed, - "Is it possible that you are here,
monseigneur; you, in this wretched room; you, upon this miserable bed;
you, in search of and selecting the future general, that is, your own

"Do not distress yourself about that, monsieur, but fulfil immediately
the principal condition, of furnishing the order with a secret of
importance, of such importance that one of the greatest courts of Europe
will, by your instrumentality, forever be subjected to the order. Well!
do you possess the secret which you promised, in your request, addressed
to the grand council?"

"Monseigneur - "

"Let us proceed, however, in due order," said the monk. "You are the
Baron de Wostpur?"

"Yes, monseigneur."

"And this letter is from you?"

"Yes, monseigneur."

The general of the Jesuits drew a paper from his bundle, and presented it
to the baron, who glanced at it, and made a sign in the affirmative,
saying, "Yes, monseigneur, this letter is mine."

"Can you show me the reply which the secretary of the grand council
returned to you?"

"Here it is," said the baron, holding towards the Franciscan a letter
bearing simply the address, "To his excellency the Baron de Wostpur," and
containing only this phrase, "From the 15th to the 22nd May,
Fontainebleau, the hotel of the Beau Paon. - A. M. D. G."

Transcriber's note: "Ad majorem Dei gloriam" was the motto of the
Jesuits. It translates to, "For the greater glory of God." - JB

"Right," said the Franciscan, "and now speak."

"I have a body of troops, composed of 50,000 men; all the officers are
gained over. I am encamped on the Danube. I four days I can overthrow
the emperor, who is, as you are aware, opposed to the progress of our
order, and can replace him by whichever of the princes of his family the
order may determine upon." The Franciscan listened, unmoved.

"Is that all?" he said.

"A revolution throughout Europe is included in my plan," said the baron.

"Very well, Monsieur de Wostpur, you will receive a reply; return to your
room, and leave Fontainebleau within a quarter of an hour." The baron
withdrew backwards, as obsequiously as if he were taking leave of the
emperor he was ready to betray.

"There is no secret there," murmured the Franciscan, "it is a plot.
Besides," he added, after a moment's reflection, "the future of Europe
is no longer in the hands of the House of Austria."

And with a pencil he held in his hand, he struck the Baron de Wostpur's
name from the list.

"Now for the cardinal," he said; "we ought to get something more serious
from the side of Spain."

Raising his head, he perceived the confessor, who was awaiting his orders
as respectfully as a school-boy.

"Ah, ah!" he said, noticing his submissive air, "you have been talking
with the landlord."

"Yes, monseigneur; and to the physician."

"To Grisart?"


"He is here, then?"

"He is waiting with the potion he promised."

"Very well; if I require him, I will call; you now understand the great
importance of my confession, do you not?"

"Yes, monseigneur."

"Then go and fetch me the Spanish Cardinal Herrebia. Make haste. Only,
as you now understand the matter in hand, you will remain near me, for I
begin to feel faint."

"Shall I summon the physician?"

"Not yet, not yet... the Spanish cardinal, no one else. Fly."

Five minutes afterwards, the cardinal, pale and disturbed, entered the
little room.

"I am informed, monseigneur, - "stammered the cardinal.

"To the point," said the Franciscan, in a faint voice, showing the
cardinal a letter which he had written to the grand council. "Is that
your handwriting?"

"Yes, but - "

"And your summons?"

The cardinal hesitated to answer. His purple revolted against the mean
garb of the poor Franciscan, who stretched out his hand and displayed the
ring, which produced its effect, greater in proportion to the greatness
of the person over whom the Franciscan exercised his influence.

"Quick, the secret, the secret!" said the dying man, leaning upon his

"_Coram isto?_" inquired the Spanish cardinal.

Transcriber's note: "In the presence of these men?" - JB

"Speak in Spanish," said the Franciscan, showing the liveliest attention.

"You are aware, monseigneur," said the cardinal, continuing the
conversation in Castilian, "that the condition of the marriage of the
Infanta with the king of France was the absolute renunciation of the
rights of the said Infanta, as well as of King Louis XIV., to all claim
to the crown of Spain." The Franciscan made a sign in the affirmative.

"The consequence is," continued the cardinal, "that the peace and
alliance between the two kingdoms depend upon the observance of that
clause of the contract." A similar sign from the Franciscan. "Not only
France and Spain," continued the cardinal, "but the whole of Europe even,
would be violently rent asunder by the faithlessness of either party."
Another movement of the dying man's head.

"It further results," continued the speaker, "that the man who might be
able to foresee events, and to render certain that which is no more than
a vague idea floating in the mind of man, that is to say, the idea of a
future good or evil, would preserve the world from a great catastrophe;
and the event, which has no fixed certainty even in the brain of him who
originated it, could be turned to the advantage of our order."

"_Pronto_, _pronto!_" murmured the Franciscan, in Spanish, who suddenly
became paler, and leaned upon the priest. The cardinal approached the
ear of the dying man, and said, "Well, monseigneur, I know that the king
of France has determined that, at the very first pretext, a death for
instance, either that of the king of Spain, or that of a brother of the
Infanta, France will, arms in hand, claim the inheritance, and I have in
my possession, already prepared, the plan of policy agreed upon by Louis
XIV. for this occasion."

"And this plan?" said the Franciscan.

"Here it is," returned the cardinal.

"In whose handwriting is it?"

"My own."

"Have you anything further to say to me?"

"I think I have said a good deal, my lord," replied the cardinal.

"Yes, you have rendered the order a great service. But how did you
procure the details, by the aid of which you have constructed your plan?"

"I have the under-servants of the king of France in my pay, and I obtain
from them all the waste papers, which have been saved from being burnt."

"Very ingenious," murmured the Franciscan, endeavoring to smile; "you
will leave this hotel, cardinal, in a quarter of an hour, and a reply
shall be sent you." The cardinal withdrew.

"Call Grisart, and desire the Venetian Marini to come," said the sick man.

While the confessor obeyed, the Franciscan, instead of striking out the
cardinal's name, as he had done the baron's, made a cross at the side of
it. Then, exhausted by the effort, he fell back on his bed, murmuring
the name of Dr. Grisart. When he returned to his senses, he had drunk
about half of the potion, of which the remainder was left in the glass,
and he found himself supported by the physician, while the Venetian and
the confessor were standing close to the door. The Venetian submitted to
the same formalities as his two predecessors, hesitated as they had done
at the sight of the two strangers, but his confidence restored by the
order of the general, he revealed that the pope, terrified at the power
of the order, was weaving a plot for the general expulsion of the
Jesuits, and was tampering with the different courts of Europe in order
to obtain their assistance. He described the pontiff's auxiliaries, his
means of action, and indicated the particular locality in the Archipelago
where, by a sudden surprise, two cardinals, adepts of the eleventh year,
and, consequently, high in authority, were to be transported, together
with thirty-two of the principal affiliated members of Rome. The
Franciscan thanked the Signor Marini. It was by no means a slight
service he had rendered the society by denouncing this pontifical
project. The Venetian thereupon received directions to set off in a
quarter of an hour, and left as radiant as if he already possessed the
ring, the sign of the supreme authority of the society. As, however, he
was departing, the Franciscan murmured to himself: "All these men are
either spies, or a sort of police, not one of them a general; they have
all discovered a plot, but not one of them a secret. It is not by means
of ruin, or war, or force, that the Society of Jesus is to be governed,
but by that mysterious influence moral superiority alone confers. No,
the man is not yet found, and to complete the misfortune, Heaven strikes
me down, and I am dying. Oh! must the society indeed fall with me for
want of a column to support it? Must death, which is waiting for me,
swallow up with me the future of the order; that future which ten years
more of my own life would have rendered eternal? for that future, with
the reign of the new king, is opening radiant and full of splendor."
These words, which had been half-reflected, half-pronounced aloud, were
listened to by the Jesuit confessor with a terror similar to that with
which one listens to the wanderings of a person attacked by fever, whilst
Grisart, with a mind of higher order, devoured them as the revelations of
an unknown world, in which his looks were plunged without ability to
comprehend. Suddenly the Franciscan recovered himself.

"Let us finish this," he said; "death is approaching. Oh! just now I was
dying resignedly, for I hoped... while now I sink in despair, unless
those who remain... Grisart, Grisart, give me to live a single hour

Grisart approached the dying monk, and made him swallow a few drops, not
of the potion which was still left in the glass, but of the contents of a
small bottle he had upon his person.

"Call the Scotchman!" exclaimed the Franciscan; "call the Bremen
merchant. Call, call quickly. I am dying. I am suffocated."

The confessor darted forward to seek assistance, as if there had been any
human strength which could hold back the hand of death, which was
weighing down the sick man; but, at the threshold of the door, he found
Aramis, who, with his finger on his lips, like the statue of Harpocrates,
the god of silence, by a look motioned him back to the end of the
apartment. The physician and the confessor, after having consulted each
other by looks, made a movement as if to push Aramis aside, who, however,
with two signs of the cross, each made in a different manner, transfixed
them both in their places.

"A chief!" they both murmured.

Aramis slowly advanced into the room where the dying man was struggling
against the first attack of the agony which had seized him. As for the
Franciscan, whether owing to the effect of the elixir, or whether the
appearance of Aramis had restored his strength, he made a movement, and
his eyes glaring, his mouth half open, and his hair damp with sweat, sat
up upon the bed. Aramis felt that the air of the room was stifling; the
windows were closed; the fire was burning upon the hearth; a pair of
candles of yellow wax were guttering down in the copper candlesticks, and
still further increased, by their thick smoke, the temperature of the
room. Aramis opened the window, and fixing upon the dying man a look
full of intelligence and respect, said to him: "Monseigneur, pray forgive
my coming in this manner, before you summoned me, but your state alarms
me, and I thought you might possibly die before you had seen me, for I
am but the sixth upon your list."

The dying man started and looked at the list.

"You are, therefore, he who was formerly called Aramis, and since, the
Chevalier d'Herblay? You are the bishop of Vannes?"

"Yes, my lord."

"I know you, I have seen you."

"At the last jubilee, we were with the Holy Father together."

"Yes, yes, I remember; and you place yourself on the list of candidates?"

"Monseigneur, I have heard it said that the order required to become
possessed of a great state secret, and knowing that from modesty you had
in anticipation resigned your functions in favor of the person who should
be the depositary of such a secret, I wrote to say that I was ready to
compete, possessing alone a secret I believe to be important."

"Speak," said the Franciscan; "I am ready to listen to you, and to judge
the importance of the secret."

"A secret of the value of that which I have the honor to confide to you
cannot be communicated by word of mouth. Any idea which, when once
expressed, has thereby lost its safeguard, and has become vulgarized by
any manifestation or communication of it whatever, no longer is the
property of him who gave it birth. My words may be overheard by some
listener, or perhaps by an enemy; one ought not, therefore, to speak at
random, for, in such a case, the secret would cease to be one."

"How do you propose, then, to convey your secret?" inquired the dying

With one hand Aramis signed to the physician and the confessor to
withdraw, and with the other he handed to the Franciscan a paper enclosed
in a double envelope.

"Is not writing more dangerous still than language?"

"No, my lord," said Aramis, "for you will find within this envelope
characters which you and I alone can understand." The Franciscan looked
at Aramis with an astonishment which momentarily increased.

"It is a cipher," continued the latter, "which you used in 1655, and
which your secretary, Juan Jujan, who is dead, could alone decipher, if
he were restored to life."

"You knew this cipher, then?"

"It was I who taught it him," said Aramis, bowing with a gracefulness
full of respect, and advancing towards the door as if to leave the room:
but a gesture of the Franciscan accompanied by a cry for him to remain,
restrained him.

"_Ecce homo!_" he exclaimed; then reading the paper a second time, he
called out, "Approach, approach quickly!"

Aramis returned to the side of the Franciscan, with the same calm
countenance and the same respectful manner, unchanged. The Franciscan,
extending his arm, burnt by the flame of the candle the paper which
Aramis had handed him. Then, taking hold of Aramis's hand, he drew him
towards him, and inquired: "In what manner and by whose means could you
possibly become acquainted with such a secret?"

"Through Madame de Chevreuse, the intimate friend and _confidante_ of the

"And Madame de Chevreuse - "

"Is dead."

"Did any others know it?"

"A man and a woman only, and they of the lower classes."

"Who are they?"

"Persons who had brought him up."

"What has become of them?"

"Dead also. This secret burns like vitriol."

"But you survive?"

"No one is aware that I know it."

"And for what length of time have you possessed this secret?"

"For the last fifteen years."

"And you have kept it?"

"I wished to live."

"And you give it to the order without ambition, without acknowledgement?"

"I give it to the order with ambition and with a hope of return," said
Aramis; "for if you live, my lord, you will make of me, now you know me,
what I can and ought to be."

"And as I am dying," exclaimed the Franciscan, "I constitute you my
successor... Thus." And drawing off the ring, he passed it on Aramis's
finger. Then, turning towards the two spectators of this scene, he said:
"Be ye witnesses of this, and testify, if need be, that, sick in body,
but sound in mind, I have freely and voluntarily bestowed this ring, the
token of supreme authority, upon Monseigneur d'Herblay, bishop of Vannes,
whom I nominate my successor, and before whom I, an humble sinner, about
to appear before Heaven, prostrate myself, as an example for all to
follow." And the Franciscan bowed lowly and submissively, whilst the
physician and the Jesuit fell on their knees. Aramis, even while he
became paler than the dying man himself, bent his looks successively upon
all the actors of this scene. Profoundly gratified ambition flowed with
life-blood towards his heart.

"We must lose no time," said the Franciscan; "what I had still to do on
earth was urgent. I shall never succeed in carrying it out."

"I will do it," said Aramis.

"It is well," said the Franciscan, and then turning towards the Jesuit
and the doctor, he added, "Leave us alone," a direction they instantly

"With this sign," he said, "you are the man needed to shake the world
from one end to the other; with this sign you will overthrow; with this
sign you will edify; _in hoc signo vinces!_"

Transcriber's note: "By this sign, you shall conquer." - JB

"Close the door," continued the Franciscan after a pause. Aramis shut
and bolted the door, and returned to the side of the Franciscan.

"The pope is conspiring against the order," said the monk; "the pope must

"He shall die," said Aramis, quietly.

"Seven hundred thousand livres are owing to a Bremen merchant of the name
of Bonstett, who came here to get the guarantee of my signature."

"He shall be paid," said Aramis.

"Six knights of Malta, whose names are written here, have discovered, by
the indiscretion of one of the affiliated of the eleventh year, the three
mysteries; it must be ascertained what else these men have done with the
secret, to get it back again and bury it."

"It shall be done."

"Three dangerous affiliated members must be sent away into Tibet, there
to perish; they stand condemned. Here are their names."

"I will see that the sentence be carried out."

"Lastly, there is a lady at Anvers, grand-niece of Ravaillac; she holds
certain papers in her hands that compromise the order. There has been
payable to the family during the last fifty-one years a pension of fifty
thousand livres. The pension is a heavy one, and the order is not
wealthy. Redeem the papers, for a sum of money paid down, or, in case of
refusal, stop the pension - but run no risk."

"I will quickly decide what is best to be done," said Aramis.

"A vessel chartered from Lima entered the port of Lisbon last week;
ostensibly it is laden with chocolate, in reality with gold. Every ingot
is concealed by a coating of chocolate. The vessel belongs to the order;
it is worth seventeen millions of livres; you will see that it is
claimed; here are the bills of landing."

"To what port shall I direct it to be taken?"

"To Bayonne."

"Before three weeks are over it shall be there, wind and weather
permitting. Is that all?" The Franciscan made a sign in the
affirmative, for he could no longer speak; the blood rushed to his throat
and his head, and gushed from his mouth, his nostrils, and his eyes. The
dying man had barely time to press Aramis's hand, when he fell in
convulsions from his bed upon the floor. Aramis placed his hand upon the
Franciscan's heart, but it had ceased to beat. As he stooped down,
Aramis observed that a fragment of the paper he had given the Franciscan
had escaped being burnt. He picked it up, and burnt it to the last
atom. Then, summoning the confessor and the physician, he said to the
former: "Your penitent is in heaven; he needs nothing more than prayers
and the burial bestowed upon the pious dead. Go and prepare what is
necessary for a simple interment, such as a poor monk only would
require. Go."

The Jesuit left the room. Then, turning towards the physician, and
observing his pale and anxious face, he said, in a low tone of voice:
"Monsieur Grisart, empty and clean this glass; _there is too much left in
it of what the grand council desired you to put in_."

Grisart, amazed, overcome, completely astounded, almost fell backwards in
his extreme terror. Aramis shrugged his shoulders in sign of pity, took
the glass, and poured out the contents among the ashes of the hearth. He
then left the room, carrying the papers of the dead man with him.

Alexandre Dumas pere