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Chapter 61

Chapter LXI:
The Storm.

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_.

Transcriber's note: "It rained all night long; the games will be held
"tomorrow." - JB

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."

"I, sire?"

"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
and goodness."

"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_."

Transcriber's note: "Lord, I am not worthy." - JB

"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.

Alexandre Dumas pere