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Chapter 64

Chapter LXIV:
What Took Place at the Louvre During the Supper at the Bastile.

M. de Saint-Aignan had executed the commission with which the king had
intrusted him for La Valliere - as we have already seen in one of the
preceding chapters; but, whatever his eloquence, he did not succeed in
persuading the young girl that she had in the king a protector powerful
enough for her under any combination of circumstances, and that she had
no need of any one else in the world when the king was on her side. In
point of fact, at the very first word which the favorite mentioned of the
discovery of the famous secret, Louise, in a passion of tears, abandoned
herself in utter despair to a sorrow which would have been far from
flattering for the king, if he had been a witness of it from one of the
corners of the room. Saint-Aignan, in his character of ambassador, felt
almost as greatly offended at it as his master himself would have been,
and returned to inform the king what he had seen and heard; and it is
thus we find him, in a state of great agitation, in the presence of the
king, who was, if possible, in a state of even greater flurry than himself.

"But," said the king to the courtier, when the latter had finished his
report, "what did she decide to do? Shall I at least see her presently
before supper? Will she come to me, or shall I be obliged to go to her
room?"

"I believe, sire, that if your majesty wishes to see her, you will not
only have to take the first step in advance, but will have to go the
whole way."

"That I do not mind. Do you think she has yet a secret fancy for young
Bragelonne?" muttered the king between his teeth.

"Oh! sire, that is not possible; for it is you alone, I am convinced,
Mademoiselle de la Valliere loves, and that, too, with all her heart.
But you know that De Bragelonne belongs to that proud race who play the
part of Roman heroes."

The king smiled feebly; he knew how true the illustration was, for Athos
had just left him.

"As for Mademoiselle de la Valliere," Saint-Aignan continued, "she was
brought up under the care of the Dowager Madame, that is to say, in the
greatest austerity and formality. This young engaged couple coldly
exchanged their little vows in the prim presence of the moon and stars;
and now, when they find they have to break those vows asunder, it plays
the very deuce with them."

Saint-Aignan thought to have made the king laugh; but on the contrary,
from a mere smile Louis passed to the greatest seriousness of manner. He
already began to experience that remorse which the comte had promised
D'Artagnan he would inflict upon him. He reflected that, in fact, these
young persons had loved and sworn fidelity to each other; that one of the
two had kept his word, and that the other was too conscientious not to
feel her perjury most bitterly. And his remorse was not unaccompanied;
for bitter pangs of jealousy began to beset the king's heart. He did not
say another word, and instead of going to pay a visit to his mother, or
the queen, or Madame, in order to amuse himself a little, and make the
ladies laugh, as he himself used to say, he threw himself into the huge
armchair in which his august father Louis XIII. had passed so many weary
days and years in company with Barradat and Cinq-Mars. Saint-Aignan
perceived the king was not to be amused at that moment; he tried a last
resource, and pronounced Louise's name, which made the king look up
immediately. "What does your majesty intend to do this evening - shall
Mademoiselle de la Valliere be informed of your intention to see her?"

"It seems she is already aware of that," replied the king. "No, no,
Saint-Aignan," he continued, after a moment's pause, "we will both of us
pass our time in thinking, and musing, and dreaming; when Mademoiselle de
la Valliere shall have sufficiently regretted what she now regrets, she
will deign, perhaps, to give us some news of herself."

"Ah! sire, is it possible you can so misunderstand her heart, which is so
full of devotion?"

The king rose, flushed from vexation and annoyance; he was a prey to
jealousy as well as to remorse. Saint-Aignan was just beginning to feel
that his position was becoming awkward, when the curtain before the door
was raised. The king turned hastily round; his first idea was that a
letter from Louise had arrived; but, instead of a letter of love, he only
saw his captain of musketeers, standing upright, and perfectly silent in
the doorway. "M. d'Artagnan," he said, "ah! Well, monsieur?"

D'Artagnan looked at Saint-Aignan; the king's eyes took the same
direction as those of his captain; these looks would have been clear to
any one, and for a still greater reason they were so for Saint-Aignan.
The courtier bowed and quitted the room, leaving the king and D'Artagnan
alone.

"Is it done?" inquired the king.

"Yes, sire," replied the captain of the musketeers, in a grave voice, "it
is done."

The king was unable to say another word. Pride, however, obliged him not
to pause at what he had done; whenever a sovereign has adopted a decisive
course, even though it be unjust, he is compelled to prove to all
witnesses, and particularly to prove it to himself, that he was quite
right all through. A good means for effecting that - an almost
infallible means, indeed - is, to try and prove his victim to be in the
wrong. Louis, brought up by Mazarin and Anne of Austria, knew better
than any one else his vocation as a monarch; he therefore endeavored to
prove it on the present occasion. After a few moment's pause, which he
had employed in making silently to himself the same reflections which we
have just expressed aloud, he said, in an indifferent tone: "What did the
comte say?"

"Nothing at all, sire."

"Surely he did not allow himself to be arrested without saying something?"

"He said he expected to be arrested, sire."

The king raised his head haughtily. "I presume," he said, "that M. le
Comte de la Fere has not continued to play his obstinate and rebellious
part."

"In the first place, sire, what do you wish to signify by _rebellious?_"
quietly asked the musketeer. "A rebel, in the eyes of the king, is a man
who not only allows himself to be shut up in the Bastile, but still more,
who opposes those who do not wish to take him there."

"Who do not wish to take him there!" exclaimed the king. "What do you
say, captain! Are you mad?"

"I believe not, sire."

"You speak of persons who did not wish to arrest M. de la Fere! Who are
those persons, may I ask?"

"I should say those whom your majesty intrusted with that duty."

"But it was you whom I intrusted with it," exclaimed the king.

"Yes, sire; it was I."

"And yet you say that, despite my orders, you had the intention of not
arresting the man who had insulted me!"

"Yes, sire - that was really my intention. I even proposed to the comte
to mount a horse that I had prepared for him at the Barriere de la
Conference."

"And what was your object in getting this horse ready?"

"Why, sire, in order that M. le Comte de la Fere might be able to reach
Le Havre, and from that place make his escape to England."

"You betrayed me, then, monsieur?" cried the king, kindling with a wild
pride.

"Exactly so."

There was nothing to say in answer to statements made in such a tone; the
king was astounded at such an obstinate and open resistance on the part
of D'Artagnan. "At least you had a reason, Monsieur d'Artagnan, for
acting as you did?" said the king, proudly.

"I have always a reason for everything, sire."

"Your reason cannot be your friendship for the comte, at all events, -
the only one that can be of any avail, the only one that could possibly
excuse you, - for I placed you perfectly at your ease in that respect."

"Me, sire?"

"Did I not give you the choice to arrest, or not to arrest M. le Comte de
la Fere?"

"Yes, sire, but - "

"But what?" exclaimed the king, impatiently.

"But you warned me, sire, that if I did not arrest him, your captain of
the guard should do so."

"Was I not considerate enough towards you, from the very moment I did not
compel you to obey me?"

"To me, sire, you were, but not to my friend, for my friend would be
arrested all the same, whether by myself or by the captain of the guards."

"And this is your devotion, monsieur! a devotion which argues and
reasons. You are no soldier, monsieur!"

"I wait for your majesty to tell me what I am."

"Well, then - you are a Frondeur."

"And since there is no longer any Fronde, sire, in that case - "

"But if what you say is true - "

"What I say is always true, sire."

"What have you come to say to me, monsieur?"

"I have come to say to your majesty, 'Sire, M. de la Fere is in the
Bastile.'"

"That is not your fault, it would seem."

"That is true, sire; but at all events he is there; and since he is
there, it is important that your majesty should know it."

"Ah! Monsieur d'Artagnan, so you set your king at defiance."

"Sire - "

"Monsieur d'Artagnan! I warn you that you are abusing my patience."

"On the contrary, sire."

"What do you mean by 'on the contrary'?"

"I have come to get myself arrested, too."

"To get yourself arrested, - you!"

"Of course. My friend will get wearied to death in the Bastile by
himself; and I have come to propose to your majesty to permit me to bear
him company; if your majesty will but give me the word, I will arrest
myself; I shall not need the captain of the guards for that, I assure
you."

The king darted towards the table and seized hold of a pen to write the
order for D'Artagnan's imprisonment. "Pay attention, monsieur, that this
is forever," cried the king, in tones of sternest menace.

"I can quite believe that," returned the musketeer; "for when you have
once done such an act as that, you will never be able to look me in the
face again."

The king dashed down his pen violently. "Leave the room, monsieur!" he
said.

"Not so, if it please your majesty."

"What is that you say?"

"Sire, I came to speak gently and temperately to your majesty; your
majesty got into a passion with me; that is a misfortune; but I shall not
the less on that account say what I had to say to you."

"Your resignation, monsieur, - your resignation!" cried the king.

"Sire, you know whether I care about my resignation or not, since at
Blois, on the very day when you refused King Charles the million which my
friend the Comte de la Fere gave him, I then tendered my resignation to
your majesty."

"Very well, monsieur - do it at once!"

"No, sire; for there is no question of my resignation at the present
moment. Your majesty took up your pen just now to send me to the
Bastile, - why should you change your intention?"

"D'Artagnan! Gascon that you are! who is king, allow me to ask, - you or
myself?"

"You, sire, unfortunately."

"What do you mean by 'unfortunately'?"

"Yes, sire; for if it were I - "

"If it were you, you would approve of M. d'Artagnan's rebellious conduct,
I suppose?"

"Certainly."

"Really!" said the king, shrugging his shoulders.

"And I should tell my captain of the musketeers," continued D'Artagnan,
"I should tell him, looking at him all the while with human eyes, and not
with eyes like coals of fire, 'M. d'Artagnan, I had forgotten that I was
the king, for I descended from my throne in order to insult a gentleman.'"

"Monsieur," said the king, "do you think you can excuse your friend by
exceeding him in insolence?"

"Oh! sire! I should go much further than he did," said D'Artagnan; "and
it would be your own fault. I should tell you what he, a man full of the
finest sense of delicacy, did not tell you; I should say - 'Sire, you
have sacrificed his son, and he defended his son - you sacrificed
himself; he addressed you in the name of honor, of religion, of virtue
you repulsed, drove him away, imprisoned him.' I should be harder than
he was, for I should say to you - 'Sire; it is for you to choose. Do you
wish to have friends or lackeys - soldiers or slaves - great men or mere
puppets? Do you wish men to serve you, or to bend and crouch before
you? Do you wish men to love you, or to be afraid of you? If you prefer
baseness, intrigue, cowardice, say so at once, sire, and we will leave
you, - we who are the only individuals who are left, - nay, I will say
more, the only models of the valor of former times; we who have done our
duty, and have exceeded, perhaps, in courage and in merit, the men
already great for posterity. Choose, sire! and that, too, without
delay. Whatever relics remain to you of the great nobility, guard them
with a jealous eye; you will never be deficient in courtiers. Delay not
- and send me to the Bastile with my friend; for, if you did not know how
to listen to the Comte de la Fere, whose voice is the sweetest and
noblest in all the world when honor is the theme; if you do not know how
to listen to D'Artagnan, the frankest and honestest voice of sincerity,
you are a bad king, and to-morrow will be a poor king. And learn from
me, sire, that bad kings are hated by their people, and poor kings are
driven ignominiously away.' That is what I had to say to you, sire; you
were wrong to drive me to say it."

The king threw himself back in his chair, cold as death, and as livid as
a corpse. Had a thunderbolt fallen at his feet, he could not have been
more astonished; he seemed as if his respiration had utterly ceased, and
that he was at the point of death. The honest voice of sincerity, as
D'Artagnan had called it, had pierced through his heart like a sword-
blade.

D'Artagnan had said all he had to say. Comprehending the king's anger,
he drew his sword, and, approaching Louis XIV. respectfully, he placed it
on the table. But the king, with a furious gesture, thrust aside the
sword, which fell on the ground and rolled to D'Artagnan's feet.
Notwithstanding the perfect mastery which D'Artagnan exercised over
himself, he, too, in his turn, became pale, and, trembling with
indignation, said: "A king may disgrace a soldier, - he may exile him,
and may even condemn him to death; but were he a hundred times a king, he
has no right to insult him by casting a dishonor upon his sword! Sire, a
king of France has never repulsed with contempt the sword of a man such
as I am! Stained with disgrace as this sword now is, it has henceforth
no other sheath than either your heart or my own! I choose my own, sire;
and you have to thank Heaven and my own patience that I do so." Then
snatching up his sword, he cried, "My blood be upon your head!" and, with
a rapid gesture, he placed the hilt upon the floor and directed the point
of the blade towards his breast. The king, however, with a movement far
more rapid than that of D'Artagnan, threw his right arm around the
musketeer's neck, and with his left hand seized hold of the blade by the
middle, and returned it silently to the scabbard. D'Artagnan, upright,
pale, and still trembling, let the king do all to the very end. Louis,
overcome and softened by gentler feelings, returned to the table, took a
pen in his hand, wrote a few lines, signed them, and then held it out
to D'Artagnan.

"What is this paper, sire?" inquired the captain.

"An order for M. d'Artagnan to set the Comte de la Fere at liberty
immediately."

D'Artagnan seized the king's hand, and imprinted a kiss upon it; he then
folded the order, placed it in his belt, and quitted the room. Neither
the king nor the captain had uttered a syllable.

"Oh, human heart! thou guide and director of kings," murmured Louis, when
alone, "when shall I learn to read in your inmost recesses, as in the
leaves of a book! Oh, I am not a bad king - nor am I poor king; I am but
still a child, when all is said and done."

Alexandre Dumas pere