Suddenly, just as Louis was on the point of holding his hand out to Fouquet, he perceived in it the paper which, as he believed, La Valliere had dropped at his feet as she hurried away. The still stronger magnet of love drew the young King’s attention to the souvenir of his idol; and by the brilliant light, which increased momentarily in beauty, and drew forth from the neighboring villages loud exclamations of admiration, the King read the letter, which he supposed was a loving and tender epistle that La Valliere had destined for him. But as he read it, a deathlike pallor stole over his face, and an expression of deep-seated wrath, illumined by the many-colored fires, produced a terrible spectacle, which every one would have shuddered at, could they only have read his heart, which was torn by the most stormy passions. For him there was no more truce with jealousy and rage. From the moment when the dark truth was revealed to him, every gentler feeling disappeared,- piety, kindness, the religion of hospitality. In the bitter pang which wrung his heart, still too weak to hide his sufferings, he was almost on the point of uttering a cry of alarm, and calling his guards to gather round him. This letter which Colbert had thrown down at the King’s feet, the reader has doubtless guessed, was the same that had disappeared with the porter Toby, at Fontainebleau, after the attempt which Fouquet had made upon La Valliere’s heart. Fouquet saw the King’s pallor, and was far from guessing the evil. Colbert saw the King’s anger, and rejoiced inwardly at the approach of the storm.
Fouquet’s voice drew the young King from his wrathful reverie. “What is the matter, Sire?” inquired the superintendent, with an expression of graceful interest.
Louis made a violent effort over himself, as he replied, “Nothing.”
“I am afraid your Majesty is suffering?”
“I am suffering, and have already told you so, Monsieur; but it is nothing.” The King, without waiting for the termination of the fireworks, turned towards the château. Fouquet accompanied him; and the whole court followed them, leaving the remains of the fireworks burning for their own amusement. The superintendent endeavored again to question Louis XIV, but obtained no reply. He imagined that there had been some misunderstanding between Louis and La Valliere in the park, which had resulted in a slight quarrel; and that the King, who was not ordinarily sulky by disposition, but completely absorbed by his passion for La Valliere, had taken a dislike to every one because his mistress had shown herself offended with him. This idea was sufficient to reassure him; he had even a friendly and kindly smile for the young King, when the latter wished him good-night. This, however, was not all the King had to submit to; he was obliged to undergo the usual ceremony, which on that evening was marked by the closest adherence to the strictest etiquette. The next day was the one fixed for the departure; it was but proper that the guests should thank their host, and should show him a little attention in return for the expenditure of his twelve millions. The only remark approaching to amiability which the King could find to say to Fouquet, as he took leave of him, was in these words: “M. Fouquet, you shall hear from me. Be good enough to desire M. d’Artagnan to come here!”
The blood of Louis XIV, who had so profoundly dissimulated his feelings, boiled in his veins; he was perfectly ready to get Fouquet’s throat cut, as his predecessor had caused the assassination of the Marechal d’Ancre. He concealed, beneath one of those royal smiles which are the lightning flashes to the thunderbolts of the State, the terrible resolution he had formed. Fouquet took the King’s hand, and kissed it. Louis shuddered throughout his whole frame, but allowed Fouquet to touch his hand with his lips.
Five minutes afterwards, d’Artagnan, to whom the royal order had been communicated, entered Louis XIV’s apartment. Aramis and Philippe were in theirs, still eagerly attentive and still listening. The King did not even give the captain of the Musketeers time to approach his arm-chair, but ran forward to meet him. “Take care,” he exclaimed, “that no one enters here!”
“Very good, Sire,” replied the captain, whose glance had for a long time past analyzed the ravages on the King’s countenance. He gave the necessary order at the door; but returning to the King he said, “Is there some new trouble, your Majesty?”
“How many men have you here?” said the King, without making other reply to the question addressed to him.
“What for, Sire?”
“How many men have you, I say?” repeated the King, stamping upon the ground with his foot.
“I have the Musketeers.”
“Well; and what others?”
“Twenty Guards and thirteen Swiss.”
“How many men will be required to-”
“To do what, Sire?” replied the musketeer, opening his large, calm eyes.
“To arrest M. Fouquet.”
D’Artagnan fell back a step. “To arrest M. Fouquet!” he burst forth.
“Are you going to tell me that it is impossible?” exclaimed the King, with cold and vindictive passion.
“I never said that anything is impossible,” replied d’Artagnan, wounded to the quick.
“Very well; do it, then.”
D’Artagnan turned on his heel, and made his way towards the door,- it was but a short distance, and he cleared it in half a dozen paces. When he reached it he suddenly paused, and said, “Your Majesty will forgive me; but in order to effect this arrest I should like written directions.”
“For what purpose? and since when has the King’s word been insufficient for you?”
“Because the word of a King when it springs from a feeling of anger may possibly change when the feeling changes.”
“No more phrases, Monsieur; you have another thought besides that?”
“Oh, I always have thoughts; and thoughts which, unfortunately, others have not!” d’Artagnan replied impertinently.
The King, in the tempest of his wrath, hesitated, and drew back in the face of that man, just as a horse crouches on his haunches under the strong hand of a rider. “What is your thought?” he exclaimed.
“This, Sire,” replied d’Artagnan: you cause a man to be arrested when you are still under his roof; and passion is alone the cause of that. When your anger shall have passed away you will regret what you have done; and then I wish to be in a position to show you your signature. If that mends nothing, it will at least show us that the King is wrong to lose his temper.”
“Wrong to lose his temper!” shouted the King, with frenzy. “Did not my father, my grandfather too, before me, lose their temper, body of Christ!”
“The King your father and the King your grandfather never lost their temper except in the privacy of their own palace.”
“The King is master wherever he may be.”
“That is a flattering phrase which cannot proceed from any one but M. Colbert; but it happens not to be the truth. The King is at home in every man’s house when he has driven its owner out of it.”
The King bit his lips.
“Can it be possible?” said d’Artagnan. “Here is a man who is ruining himself in order to please you, and you wish to have him arrested! Mordioux! Sire, if my name were Fouquet, and any one treated me in that manner, I would swallow at a single gulp ten pieces of fireworks, and I would set fire to them and blow myself and everybody else up to the sky. But it is all the same; it is your wish, and it shall be done.”
“Go!” said the King; “but have you men enough?”
“Do you suppose I am going to take a whole host to help me? To arrest M. Fouquet is so easy that a child might do it! It is like drinking a glass of bitters: one makes an ugly face, and that is all.”
“If he defends himself?”
“He! not at all likely. Defend himself when such extreme harshness as you are going to practise makes him king and martyr! Nay, I am sure that if he has a million livres left, which I very much doubt, he would be willing enough to give it in order to have such a termination as this. But what does that matter? It shall be done at once.”
“Stay!” said the King; “do not make his arrest a public affair.”
“That will be more difficult.”
“Because nothing is easier than to go up to M. Fouquet in the midst of a thousand enthusiastic guests who surround him, and say ‘In the King’s name, I arrest you.’ But to go up to him, to turn him first one way and then another, to drive him up into one of the corners of the chessboard in such a way that he cannot escape, to take him away from his guests and keep him a prisoner for you without one of them, alas! having heard anything about it,- that, indeed, is a real difficulty,- the greatest of all, in truth; and I hardly see how it is to be done.”
“You had better say it is impossible, and you will have finished much sooner. Mon Dieu! I seem to be surrounded by people who prevent my doing what I wish.”
“I do not prevent your doing anything. Are you decided?”
“Take care of M. Fouquet until I shall have made up my mind by tomorrow morning.”
“That shall be done, Sire.”
“And return, when I rise in the morning, for further orders; and now leave me to myself.”
“You do not even want M. Colbert, then?” said the musketeer, firing this last shot as he was leaving the room.
The King started. With his whole mind fixed on the thought of revenge, he had forgotten the cause and substance of the offence. “No, no one,” he said; “no one here. Leave me!”
D’Artagnan quitted the room. The King closed the door with his own hands, and began to walk up and down his apartment at a furious pace, like a wounded bull in an arena who drags after him the colored streamers and iron darts. At last he began to take comfort in the expression of his violent feelings.
“Miserable wretch that he is! not only does he squander my finances, but with his ill-gotten plunder he corrupts secretaries, friends, generals, artists, and all; he even takes from me my mistress. Ah, that is the reason why that perfidious girl so boldly took his part! Gratitude! and who can tell whether it was not a stronger feeling,- love itself?”
He gave himself up for a moment to his bitter reflections. “A satyr!” he thought, with that abhorrent hate with which young men regard those more advanced in life, who still think of love. “A faun who pursues a course of gallantry and has never met resistance; a man for silly women, who lavishes his gold and jewels in every direction, and who retains his staff of painters in order to take the portraits of his mistresses in the costume of goddesses!” The King trembled with passion as he continued: “He pollutes and profanes everything that belongs to me; he destroys everything that is mine; he will be my death at last! That man is too much for me; he is my mortal enemy, and he shall fall! I hate him,- I hate him,- I hate him!” and as he pronounced these words, he struck the arm of the chair in which he was sitting, violently over and over again, and then rose, like one in an epileptic fit. “To-morrow! tomorrow! oh, happy day!” he murmured; “when the sun rises, no other rival will that bright orb have but me. That man shall fall so low that when people look at the utter ruin which my anger shall have wrought, they will be forced to confess, at least, that I am indeed greater than he.”
The King, who was incapable of mastering his emotions any longer, knocked over with a blow of his fist a small table placed close to his bedside, and in the bitterness of feeling from which he was suffering, almost weeping, and half suffocated by his passion, threw himself on his bed, dressed as he was, and bit the sheets in the extremity of his emotion, trying there to find at least repose of body. The bed creaked beneath his weight; and with the exception of a few broken sounds which escaped from his overburdened chest, absolute silence soon reigned in the chamber of Morpheus.
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