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Chapter 14

Chapter XIV:
The King's Supper.

The king, while these matters were being arranged, was sitting at the
supper-table, and the not very large number of guests for that day had
taken their seats too, after the usual gesture intimating the royal
permission. At this period of Louis XIV.'s reign, although etiquette was
not governed by the strict regulations subsequently adopted, the French
court had entirely thrown aside the traditions of good-fellowship and
patriarchal affability existing in the time of Henry IV., which the
suspicious mind of Louis XIII. had gradually replaced with pompous state
and ceremony, which he despaired of being able fully to realize.

The king, therefore, was seated alone at a small separate table, which,
like the desk of a president, overlooked the adjoining tables. Although
we say a small table, we must not omit to add that this small table was
the largest one there. Moreover, it was the one on which were placed the
greatest number and quantity of dishes, consisting of fish, game, meat,
fruit, vegetables, and preserves. The king was young and full of vigor
and energy, very fond of hunting, addicted to all violent exercises of
the body, possessing, besides, like all the members of the Bourbon
family, a rapid digestion and an appetite speedily renewed. Louis XIV.
was a formidable table-companion; he delighted in criticising his cooks;
but when he honored them by praise and commendation, the honor was
overwhelming. The king began by eating several kinds of soup, either
mixed together or taken separately. He intermixed, or rather separated,
each of the soups by a glass of old wine. He ate quickly and somewhat
greedily. Porthos, who from the beginning had, out of respect, been
waiting for a jog of D'Artagnan's arm, seeing the king make such rapid
progress, turned to the musketeer and said in a low voice:

"It seems as if one might go on now; his majesty is very encouraging,
from the example he sets. Look."

"The king eats," said D'Artagnan, "but he talks at the same time; try and
manage matters in such a manner that, if he should happen to address a
remark to you, he will not find you with your mouth full - which would be
very disrespectful."

"The best way, in that case," said Porthos, "is to eat no supper at all;
and yet I am very hungry, I admit, and everything looks and smells most
invitingly, as if appealing to all my senses at once."

"Don't think of not eating for a moment," said D'Artagnan; "that would
put his majesty out terribly. The king has a saying, 'that he who works
well, eats well,' and he does not like people to eat indifferently at his
table."

"How can I avoid having my mouth full if I eat?" said Porthos.

"All you have to do," replied the captain of the musketeers, "is simply
to swallow what you have in it, whenever the king does you the honor to
address a remark to you."

"Very good," said Porthos; and from that moment he began to eat with a
certain well-bred enthusiasm.

The king occasionally looked at the different persons who were at table
with him, and, _en connoisseur_, could appreciate the different
dispositions of his guests.

"Monsieur du Vallon!" he said.

Porthos was enjoying a _salmi de lievre_, and swallowed half of the
back. His name, pronounced in such a manner, made him start, and by a
vigorous effort of his gullet he absorbed the whole mouthful.

"Sire," replied Porthos, in a stifled voice, but sufficiently
intelligible, nevertheless.

"Let those _filets d'agneau_ be handed to Monsieur du Vallon," said the
king; "do you like brown meats, M. du Vallon?"

"Sire, I like everything," replied Porthos.

D'Artagnan whispered: "Everything your majesty sends me."

Porthos repeated: "Everything your majesty sends me," an observation
which the king apparently received with great satisfaction.

"People eat well who work well," replied the king, delighted to have _en
tete-a-tete_ a guest who could eat as Porthos did. Porthos received the
dish of lamb, and put a portion of it on his plate.

"Well?" said the king.

"Exquisite," said Porthos, calmly.

"Have you as good mutton in your part of the country, Monsieur du
Vallon?" continued the king.

"Sire, I believe that from my own province, as everywhere else, the best
of everything is sent to Paris for your majesty's use; but, on the other
hand, I do not eat lamb in the same way your majesty does."

"Ah, ah! and how do you eat it?"

"Generally, I have a lamb dressed whole."

"_Whole?_"

"Yes, sire."

"In what manner, Monsieur du Vallon?"

"In this, sire: my cook, who is a German, first stuffs the lamb in
question with small sausages he procures from Strasburg, force-meat balls
from Troyes, and larks from Pithiviers; by some means or other, which I
am not acquainted with, he bones the lamb as he would do a fowl, leaving
the skin on, however, which forms a brown crust all over the animal; when
it is cut in beautiful slices, in the same way as an enormous sausage, a
rose-colored gravy pours forth, which is as agreeable to the eye as it is
exquisite to the palate." And Porthos finished by smacking his lips.

The king opened his eyes with delight, and, while cutting some of the
_faisan en daube_, which was being handed to him, he said:

"That is a dish I should very much like to taste, Monsieur du Vallon. Is
it possible! a whole lamb!"

"Absolutely an entire lamb, sire."

"Pass those pheasants to M. du Vallon; I perceive he is an amateur."

The order was immediately obeyed. Then, continuing the conversation, he
said: "And you do not find the lamb too fat?"

"No, sire, the fat falls down at the same time as the gravy does, and
swims on the surface; then the servant who carves removes the fat with a
spoon, which I have had expressly made for that purpose."

"Where do you reside?" inquired the king.

"At Pierrefonds, sire."

"At Pierrefonds; where is that, M. du Vallon - near Belle-Isle?"

"Oh, no, sire! Pierrefonds is in the Soissonnais."

"I thought you alluded to the lamb on account of the salt marshes."

"No, sire, I have marshes which are not salt, it is true, but which are
not the less valuable on that account."

The king had now arrived at the _entrements_, but without losing sight of
Porthos, who continued to play his part in the best manner.

"You have an excellent appetite, M. du Vallon," said the king, "and you
make an admirable guest at table."

"Ah! sire, if your majesty were ever to pay a visit to Pierrefonds, we
would both of us eat our lamb together; for your appetite is not an
indifferent one by any means."

D'Artagnan gave Porthos a kick under the table, which made Porthos color
up.

"At your majesty's present happy age," said Porthos, in order to repair
the mistake he had made, "I was in the musketeers, and nothing could ever
satisfy me then. Your majesty has an excellent appetite, as I have
already had the honor of mentioning, but you select what you eat with
quite too much refinement to be called for one moment a great eater."

The king seemed charmed at his guest's politeness.

"Will you try some of these creams?" he said to Porthos.

"Sire, you majesty treats me with far too much kindness to prevent me
speaking the whole truth."

"Pray do so, M. du Vallon."

"Will, sire, with regard to sweet dishes I only recognize pastry, and
even that should be rather solid; all these frothy substances swell the
stomach, and occupy a space which seems to me to be too precious to be so
badly tenanted."

"Ah! gentlemen," said the king, indicating Porthos by a gesture, "here is
indeed a model of gastronomy. It was in such a manner that our fathers,
who so well knew what good living was, used to _eat_, while we," added
his majesty, "do nothing but tantalize with our stomachs." And as he
spoke, he took the breast of a chicken with ham, while Porthos attacked a
dish of partridges and quails. The cup-bearer filled his majesty's
glass. "Give M. du Vallon some of my wine," said the king. This was one
of the greatest honors of the royal table. D'Artagnan pressed his
friend's knee. "If you could only manage to swallow the half of that
boar's head I see yonder," said he to Porthos, "I shall believe you will
be a duke and peer within the next twelvemonth."

"Presently," said Porthos, phlegmatically; "I shall come to that by and
by."

In fact it was not long before it came to the boar's turn, for the king
seemed to take pleasure in urging on his guest; he did not pass any of
the dishes to Porthos until he had tasted them himself, and he
accordingly took some of the boar's head. Porthos showed that he could
keep pace with his sovereign; and, instead of eating the half, as
D'Artagnan had told him, he ate three-fourths of it. "It is impossible,"
said the king in an undertone, "that a gentleman who eats so good a
supper every day, and who has such beautiful teeth, can be otherwise than
the most straightforward, upright man in my kingdom."

"Do you hear?" said D'Artagnan in his friend's ear.

"Yes; I think I am rather in favor," said Porthos, balancing himself on
his chair.

"Oh! you are in luck's way."

The king and Porthos continued to eat in the same manner, to the great
satisfaction of the other guests, some of whom, from emulation, had
attempted to follow them, but were obliged to give up half-way. The king
soon began to get flushed and the reaction of the blood to his face
announced that the moment of repletion had arrived. It was then that
Louis XIV., instead of becoming gay and cheerful, as most good livers
generally do, became dull, melancholy, and taciturn. Porthos, on the
contrary, was lively and communicative. D'Artagnan's foot had more than
once to remind him of this peculiarity of the king. The dessert now made
its appearance. The king had ceased to think anything further of
Porthos; he turned his eyes anxiously towards the entrance-door, and he
was heard occasionally to inquire how it happened that Monsieur de Saint-
Aignan was so long in arriving. At last, at the moment when his majesty
was finishing a pot of preserved plums with a deep sigh, Saint-Aignan
appeared. The king's eyes, which had become somewhat dull, immediately
began to sparkle. The comte advanced towards the king's table, and Louis
rose at his approach. Everybody got up at the same time, including
Porthos, who was just finishing an almond-cake capable of making the jaws
of a crocodile stick together. The supper was over.

Alexandre Dumas pere