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Chapter 14

Chapter XIV
A Gascon, and a Gascon and a Half
D’Artagnan had lost no time; in fact, he was not in the habit of doing so. After having inquired for Aramis, he had looked for him in every direction until he had succeeded in finding him. Now, no sooner had the King entered Vaux than Aramis had retired to his own room, meditating doubtless some new piece of gallant attention for his Majesty’s amusement. D’Artagnan desired the servants to announce him, and found on the second story, in a beautiful room called the blue room on account of the color of its hangings, the Bishop of Vannes in company with Porthos and several of the modern Epicureans. Aramis came forward to embrace his friend, and offered him the best seat. As it was after a while generally remarked among those present that the musketeer was reserved, apparently wishing for an opportunity to converse privately with Aramis, the Epicureans took their leave. Porthos, however, did not stir; having dined exceedingly well, he was fast asleep in his arm-chair, and the freedom of conversation therefore was not interrupted by a third person. Porthos had a deep, harmonious snore; and people might talk in the midst of its loud bass without fear of disturbing him.

D’Artagnan felt that he was called upon to open the conversation. The encounter he had come to seek would be rough; so he delicately approached the subject. “Well, and so we have come to Vaux,” he said.

“Why, yes, d’Artagnan. And how do you like the place?”

“Very much; and I like M. Fouquet also.”

“Is he not a charming host?”

“No one could be more so.”

“I am told that the King began by being very distant in his manner toward M. Fouquet, but that his Majesty became much more cordial afterwards.”

“You did not notice it, then, since you say you have been told so?”

“No; I was engaged with those gentlemen who have just left the room about the theatrical performances and the tournament which are to take place to-morrow.”

“Ah, indeed! You are the comptroller-general of the fetes here, then?”

“You know I am a friend of all kinds of amusement where the exercise of the imagination is required; I have always been a poet in one way or another.”

“Yes, I remember the verses you used to write; they were charming.”

“I have forgotten them; but I am delighted to read the verses of others, when those others are known by the names of Moliere, Pélisson, La Fontaine, etc.”

“Do you know what idea occurred to me this evening, Aramis?”

“No; tell me what it was, for I should never be able to guess it, you have so many.”

“Well, the idea occurred to me that the true King of France is not Louis XIV.”

“What!” said Aramis, involuntarily, looking at the musketeer full in the eyes.

“No; it is M. Fouquet.”

Aramis breathed again, and smiled. “Ah! you are like all the rest,- jealous,” he said. “I would wager that it was M. Colbert who turned that pretty phrase.”

D’Artagnan, in order to throw Aramis off his guard, related Colbert’s misadventures with regard to the vin de Melun.

“He comes of a mean race, does Colbert,” said Aramis.

“Quite true.”

“When I think, too,” added the bishop, “that that fellow will be your minister within four months, and that you will serve him as blindly as you did Richelieu or Mazarin-”

“And as you serve M. Fouquet,” said d’Artagnan.

“With this difference, though, that M. Fouquet is not M. Colbert.”

“True, true,” said d’Artagnan, as he pretended to become sad and full of reflection; and then, a moment after, he added, “Why do you tell me that M. Colbert will be minister in four months?”

“Because M. Fouquet will have ceased to be so,” replied Aramis.

“He will be ruined, you mean?” said d’Artagnan.

“Completely so.”

“Why does he give these fetes, then?” said the musketeer, in a tone so full of thoughtful consideration, so natural, that the bishop was for the moment deceived by it. “Why did you not dissuade him from it?”

The latter part of the sentence was just a little too much, and Aramis’s former suspicions were again aroused. “It is done with the object of humoring the King.”

“By ruining himself?”

“Yes, by ruining himself for the King.”

“A singular calculation that!”

“Necessity.”

“I don’t see that, dear Aramis.”

“Do you not? Have you not remarked M. Colbert’s daily increasing antagonism, and that he is doing his utmost to drive the King to get rid of the superintendent?”

“One must be blind not to see it.”

“And that a cabal is formed against M. Fouquet?”

“That is well known.”

“What likelihood is there that the King would join a party formed against a man who will have spent everything he had to please him?”

“True, true,” said d’Artagnan slowly, hardly convinced, yet curious- to broach another phase of the conversation. “There are follies and follies,” he resumed; “and I do not like those you are committing.”

“To what do you allude?”

“As for the banquet, the ball, the concert, the theatricals, the tournaments, the cascades, the fireworks, the illuminations, and the presents,- these are all well and good, I grant; but why were not these expenses sufficient? Was it necessary to refurnish the entire house?”

“You are quite right. I told M. Fouquet that myself. He replied, that if he were rich enough he would offer the King a château new from the vanes at the top of the house to the very cellar, completely new inside and out; and that as soon as the King had left, he would burn the whole building and its contents, in order that it might not be made use of by any one else.”

“How completely Spanish!”

“I told him so, and he then added this: ‘Whoever advises me to spare expense, I shall look upon as my enemy.’”

“It is Positive madness; and that portrait too!”

“What portrait?” said Aramis.

“That of the King; that surprise.”

“That surprise?”

“Yes, for which you procured some samples at Percerin’s.” D’Artagnan paused. The shaft was discharged, and all he had to do was to wait and watch its effect.

“That is merely an act of graceful attention,” replied Aramis.

D’Artagnan went up to his friend, took hold of both his hands, and looking him full in the eyes said, “Aramis, do you still care for me a little?”

“What a question to ask!”

“Very good. One favor, then. Why did you take some samples of the King’s costumes at Percerin’s?”

“Come with me and ask poor Lebrun, who has been working upon them for the last two days and two nights.”

“Aramis, that may be the truth for everybody else; but for me-”

“Upon my word, d’Artagnan, you astonish me.”

“Be a little considerate for me. Tell me the exact truth; you would not like anything disagreeable to happen to me, would you?”

“My dear friend, you are becoming quite incomprehensible. What devil of a suspicion have you, then?”

“Do you believe in my instincts? Formerly you had faith in them. Well, then, an instinct tells me that you have some concealed project on foot.”

“I- a project?”

“I am not sure of it.”

“What nonsense!”

“I am not sure of it, but I would swear to it.”

“Indeed, d’Artagnan, you cause me the greatest pain. Is it likely, if I have any project in hand that I ought to keep secret from you, I shall tell you about it? If I had one that I ought to reveal to you, I should have already told it to you.”

“No, Aramis, no. There are certain projects which are never revealed until the favorable opportunity arrives.”

“In that case, my dear fellow,” returned the bishop, laughing, “the only thing now is, that the ‘opportunity’ has not yet arrived.”

D’Artagnan shook his head with a sorrowful expression. “Oh, friendship, friendship!” he said, “what an idle word! Here is a man who, if I were but to ask it, would suffer himself to be cut in pieces for my sake.”

“You are right,” said Aramis, nobly.

“And this man, who would shed every drop of blood in his veins for me, will not open the smallest corner of his heart. Friendship, I repeat, is nothing but a shadow and a delusion, like everything else that shines in this world.”

“It is not thus you should speak of our friendship,” replied the bishop, in a firm, assured voice; “for ours is not of the same nature as those of which you have been speaking!”

“Look at us, Aramis! We are three out of the four. You are deceiving me, I suspect you, and Porthos sleeps; an admirable trio of friends, don’t you think so?- a beautiful relic!”

“I can only tell you one thing, d’Artagnan, and I swear it on the Bible: I love you just as much as formerly. If I ever distrust you, it is on account of others, and not on account of either of us. In everything I may do and succeed in, you will find your share. Will you promise me the same favor?”

“If I am not mistaken, Aramis, these words of yours, at the moment you pronounce them, are full of generous intention.”

“That is true.”

“You are conspiring against M. Colbert. If that be all, mordioux! tell me so at once. I have the instrument, and will pull out the tooth.”

Aramis could not restrain a smile of disdain which passed across his noble features. “And supposing that I were conspiring against Colbert, and what harm would there be in that?”

“No, no; that would be too trifling a matter for you to take in hand, and it was not on that account you asked Percerin for those samples of the King’s costumes. Oh, Aramis, we are not enemies, we are brothers! Tell me what you wish to undertake, and, upon the word of d’Artagnan, if I cannot help you, I will swear to remain neutral.”

“I am undertaking nothing,” said Aramis.

“Aramis, a voice speaks within me, and seems to enlighten my darkness; it is a voice which has never yet deceived me. It is the King you are conspiring against.”

“The King!” exclaimed the bishop, pretending to be annoyed.

“Your face will not convince me. The King, I repeat.”

“Will you help me?” said Aramis, smiling ironically.

“Aramis, I will do more than help you,- I will do more than remain neutral,- I will save you.”

“You are mad, d’Artagnan.”

“I am the wiser of us two.”

“You suspect me of wishing to assassinate the King!”

“Who spoke of that at all?” said the musketeer.

“Well, let us understand each other. I do not see what any one can do to a legitimate king as ours is, if he does not assassinate him.” D’Artagnan did not say a word. “Besides, you have your guards and your musketeers here,” said the bishop.

“True.”

“You are not in M. Fouquet’s house, but in your own. You have at the present moment M. Colbert, who counsels the King against M. Fouquet all which perhaps you would wish to advise if I were not on his side.”

“Aramis! Aramis! for mercy’s sake, one word as a friend!”

“A friend’s word is the truth itself. If I think of touching, even with one finger, the son of Anne of Austria, the true King of this realm of France; if I have not the firm intention of prostrating myself before his throne; if, according to my wishes, to-morrow here at Vaux will not be the most glorious day my King ever enjoyed,- may Heaven’s lightning blast me where I stand!” Aramis had pronounced these words with his face turned towards the alcove of his bedroom, where d’Artagnan, seated with his back towards the alcove, could not suspect that any one was lying concealed. The earnestness of his words, the studied slowness with which he pronounced them, the solemnity of his oath, gave the musketeer the most complete satisfaction. He took hold of both Aramis’s hands, and shook them cordially. Aramis had endured reproaches without turning pale; he blushed as he listened to words of praise. D’Artagnan, deceived, did him honor; but d’Artagnan, trustful and reliant, made him feel ashamed. “Are you going away?” he said, as he embraced his friend in order to conceal the flush on his own face.

“Yes; my duty summons me. I have to get the watchword.”

“Where are you lodged?”

“In the King’s anteroom. And Porthos?”

“Take him away with you if you like, for he snores like a park of artillery.”

“Ah! he does not stay with you, then?” said the captain.

“Not at all. He has his room to himself, but I don’t know where.”

“Very good!” said the musketeer, from whom this separation of the two associates removed his last suspicion; and he touched Porthos roughly on the shoulder. The latter replied by a yawn. “Come!” said d’Artagnan.

“What! d’Artagnan, my dear fellow, is that you? What a lucky chance! Oh, yes,- true; I am at the fête at Vaux.”

“With your fine suit?”

“Yes; it was very attentive on the part of M. Coquelin de Voliere, was it not?”

“Hush!” said Aramis. “You are walking so heavily that you will make the flooring give way.”

“True,” said the musketeer; “this room is above the dome.”

“And I did not choose it for a fencing-room, I assure you,” added the bishop. “The ceiling of the King’s room has all the sweetness and calm delights of sleep. Do not forget, therefore, that my flooring is merely the covering of his ceiling. Good-night, my friends! In ten minutes I shall be fast asleep”; and Aramis accompanied them to the door, smiling pleasantly.

As soon as they were outside, Aramis bolted the door hurriedly, closed up the chinks of the windows, and then called out, “Monseigneur! Monseigneur!”

Philippe made his appearance from the alcove, pushing aside a sliding panel placed behind the bed. “M. d’Artagnan entertains a great many suspicions, it seems,” he said.

“Ah! you recognized M. d’Artagnan, then?”

“Before you called him by his name, even.”

“He is your captain of Musketeers.”

“He is very devoted to me,” replied Philippe, laying a stress upon the personal pronoun.

“As faithful as a dog; but he bites sometimes. If d’Artagnan does not recognize you before the other has disappeared, rely upon d’Artagnan to the end of the world; for in that case, if he has seen nothing, he will keep his fidelity. If he sees, when it is too late, he is a Gascon, and will never admit that he has been deceived.”

“I thought so. What are we to do, now?”

“You will go and take up your post at our place of observation, and watch the moment of the King’s retiring to rest, so as to learn how that ceremony is performed.”

“Very good. Where shall I place myself?”

“Sit down on this folding-chair! I am going to push aside a portion of the flooring; you will look through the opening, which answers to one of the false windows made in the dome of the King’s apartment. Can you see?”

“Yes,” said Philippe, starting as at the sight of an enemy; “I see the King!”

“What is he doing?”

“He seems to wish some man to sit down close to him.”

“M. Fouquet!”

“No, no; wait a moment.“

“The notes, my Prince, the portraits!”

“The man whom the King wishes to sit down in his presence is M. Colbert.”

“Colbert sit down in the King’s presence!” exclaimed Aramis; “it is impossible.”

“Look!”

Aramis looked through the opening in the flooring. “Yes,” he said, “Colbert himself! Oh, Monseigneur! what are we about to hear, and what can result from this intimacy?”

“Nothing good for M. Fouquet, at all events.”

The Prince was not mistaken.

We have seen that Louis XIV had sent for Colbert, and that Colbert had arrived. The conversation began between them by the King’s according to him one of the highest favors that he had ever given,- it is true that the King was alone with his subject,- “Colbert,” said he, “sit down!”

The intendant, overcome with delight, for he had feared he should be dismissed, refused this unprecedented honor.

“Does he accept?” said Aramis.

“No; he remains standing.”

“Let us listen, then”; and the future King and the future pope listened eagerly to the simple mortals whom they beheld under their feet in a position to crush them if they had liked.

“Colbert,” said the King, “you have annoyed me exceedingly to-day.”

“I know it, Sire.”

“Very good; I like that answer. Yes, you knew it, and there was courage in doing it.”

“I ran the risk of displeasing your Majesty, but I risked also concealing what were your true interests from you.”

“What! you were afraid of something on my account?”

“I was, Sire, even if it were of nothing more than an indigestion,” said Colbert; “for one does not give his King such banquets as that of to-day, except it be to stifle him under the weight of good living.”

Colbert awaited the effect of this coarse jest upon the King; and Louis XIV, who was the vainest and the most fastidiously delicate man in his kingdom, forgave Colbert his pleasantry. “The truth is,” he said, “that M. Fouquet has given me too good a meal. Tell me, Colbert, where does he get all the money required for this enormous expenditure,- can you tell?”

“Yes, I know, Sire.”

“You will show me?”

“Easily; to the very farthing.”

“I know you are very exact.”

“It is the principal qualification required in an intendant of finances.”

“But all are not so.”

“I thank your Majesty for a compliment so flattering from your lips.”

“M. Fouquet, then, is rich, very rich; and I suppose every man knows he is so.

“Every one, Sire,- the living as well as the dead.”

“What does that mean, M. Colbert?”

“The living are witnesses of M. Fouquet’s wealth,- they admire and applaud the result produced; but the dead, wiser than we, know its sources and they accuse him.”

“So that M. Fouquet owes his wealth to certain sources?”

“The occupation of an intendant very often favors those who engage in it.”

“You have something to say to me more confidentially, I perceive; do not be afraid, we are quite alone.”

“I am never afraid of anything under the shelter of my own conscience and under the protection of your Majesty,” said Colbert, bowing.

“If the dead, therefore, were to speak-”

“They do speak sometimes, Sire. Read!”

“Ah!” murmured Aramis in the Prince’s ear, who close beside him listened without losing a syllable, “since you are placed here, Monseigneur, in order to learn the vocation of a king, listen to a piece of infamy truly royal. You are about to be a witness of one of these scenes which God alone, or rather which the devil alone, can conceive and execute. Listen attentively,- you will find your advantage in it.”

The Prince redoubled his attention, and saw Louis XIV take from Colbert’s hand a letter which the latter held out to him.

“The late cardinal’s handwriting,” said the King.

“Your Majesty has an excellent memory,” replied Colbert, bowing; “it is an immense advantage for a king who is destined for hard work to recognize handwritings at the first glance.”

The King read Mazarin’s letter; but as its contents are already known to the reader, in consequence of the misunderstanding between Madame de Chevreuse and Aramis, nothing further would be learned if we stated them here again.

“I do not quite understand,” said the King, greatly interested.

“Your Majesty has not yet acquired the habit of going through the public accounts.”

“I see that it refers to money which had been given to M. Fouquet.”

“Thirteen millions,- a tolerably good sum.”

“Yes. Well, and these thirteen millions are wanting to balance the total of the accounts? That is what I do not very well understand. How was this deficit possible?”

“Possible, I do not say; but there is no doubt about its reality.”

“You say that these thirteen millions are found to be wanting in the accounts?”

“I do not say so; but the registry does.”

“And this letter of M. Mazarin indicates the employment of that sum, and the name of the person with whom it was deposited?”

“As your Majesty can judge for yourself.”

“Yes; and the result is, then, that M. Fouquet has not yet restored the thirteen millions.”

“That results from the accounts, certainly, Sire.”

“Well, and consequently-”

“Well, Sire, consequently, inasmuch as M. Fouquet has not given back the thirteen millions, he must have appropriated them to his own purposes; and with those thirteen millions one could incur four times and a fraction as much expense and display as your Majesty was able to do at Fontainebleau, where we spent only three millions altogether, if you remember.”

For a blunderer, the souvenir he had evoked was a very skilfully contrived piece of baseness, for in remembering his own fête the King, thanks to a word of Fouquet, had for the first time perceived its inferiority. Colbert received at Vaux what Fouquet had given him at Fontainebleau; and as a good financier, he returned it with the best possible interest. Having once disposed the King’s mind in that way, Colbert had nothing further to accomplish. He perceived it; the King had become gloomy. Colbert awaited the first word from the King’s lips with as much impatience as Philippe and Aramis did from their place of observation.

“Are you aware what is the natural consequence of all this, M. Colbert?” said the King, after a few moments’ reflection.

“No, Sire, I do not know.”

“Well, then, the fact of the appropriation of the thirteen millions, if it can be proved-”

“But it is so already.”

“I mean if it were to be declared, M. Colbert.”

“I think it will be to-morrow, if your Majesty-”

“Were we not under M. Fouquet’s roof, you were going to say, perhaps,” replied the King, with something of nobleness in his manner.

“The King is in his own palace wherever he may be, and especially in houses for which his own money has paid.”

“I think,” said Philippe, in a low tone to Aramis, “that the architect who constructed this dome ought, anticipating what use could be made of it, so to have contrived that it might easily be made to fall on the heads of scoundrels such as that M. Colbert.”

“I thought so, too,” replied Aramis; “but M. Colbert is so very near the King at this moment.”

“That is true, and that would open the succession.”

“Of which your younger brother would reap all the advantage, Monseigneur. But, stay! let us keep quiet and listen.”

“We shall not have long to listen,” said the young Prince.

“Why not, Monseigneur?”

“Because, if I were the King, I should not say anything further.”

“And what would you do?”

“I should wait until to-morrow morning to give myself time for reflection.”

Louis XIV at last raised his eyes, and finding Colbert attentively waiting for his next remark, said, hastily changing the conversation, “M. Colbert, I perceive it is getting very late, and I shall now retire to bed.”

“Ah!” said Colbert, “I should have-”

“Till to-morrow. By to-morrow morning I shall have made up my mind.”

“Very good, Sire,” returned Colbert, greatly incensed, although he restrained himself in the presence of the King.

The King made a gesture of adieu, and Colbert withdrew with a respectful bow. “My attendants!” cried the King; and they entered the apartment.

Philippe was about to quit his post of observation.

“A moment longer,” said Aramis to him, with his accustomed gentleness of manner. “What has just now taken place is only a detail, and to-morrow we shall have no occasion to think anything more about it; but the ceremony of the King’s retiring to rest, the etiquette observed in undressing the King,- that, indeed, is important. Learn, Sire, and study well how you ought to go to bed. Look! Look!”

Alexandre Dumas pere