The young Prince descended from Aramis’s room in the same way the King had descended from the apartment dedicated to Morpheus. The dome gradually and slowly sank down under Aramis’s pressure, and Philippe stood beside the royal bed, which had ascended again, after having deposited its prisoner in the secret depths of the subterranean passage. Alone, in the presence of all the luxury which surrounded him; alone, in the presence of his power; alone, with the part he was about to be forced to act, Philippe’s soul for the first time opened to the thousand varied emotions which are the vital throbs of a royal heart. But he could not help changing color when he looked upon the empty bed, still tumbled by his brother’s body. This mute accomplice had returned, after having served in the consummation of the enterprise, it returned with the traces of the crime; it spoke to the guilty author of that crime, with the frank and unreserved language which an accomplice never fears to use towards his companion in guilt,- it spoke the truth. Philippe bent over the bed, and perceived a pocket-handkerchief lying on it which was still damp with the cold sweat that had poured from Louis XIV’s face. This sweat-bestained handkerchief terrified Philippe, as the blood of Abel terrified Cain.
“I am now face to face with my destiny,” said Philippe, with his eyes on fire and his face livid. “Will it be more terrifying than my captivity has been sad and gloomy? Forced to pursue at every moment the usurpations of thought, shall I never cease to listen to the scruples of my heart? Yes; the King has lain on this bed. It is indeed his head that has left its impression on this pillow, his bitter tears that have stained this handkerchief; and yet I hesitate to throw myself on the bed, or to press in my hand the handkerchief which is embroidered with my brother’s arms. Away with this weakness! Let me imitate M. d’Herblay, who asserts that a man’s actions should be always one degree above his thought; let me imitate M. d’Herblay, whose thoughts are of and for himself alone, who regards himself as a man of honor, so long as he injures or betrays his enemies only. I, I alone should have occupied this bed, if Louis XIV had not, owing to my mother’s criminal abandonment of me, stood in my way; and this handkerchief, embroidered with the arms of France, would, in right and justice, belong to me alone, if, as M. d’Herblay observes, I had been left in my place in the royal cradle! Philippe, son of France, take your place on that bed; Philippe, sole King of France, resume the blazonry which is yours! Philippe, sole heir presumptive to Louis XIII, your father, show yourself without pity or mercy for the usurper who at this moment has no remorse for all that you have suffered!”
With these words, Philippe, notwithstanding an instinctive repugnance of feeling, and in spite of the shudder of terror which mastered his will, threw himself on the royal bed, and forced his muscles to press the still warm place where Louis XIV had lain, while he buried his burning face in the handkerchief still moistened by his brother’s tears. With his head thrown back and buried in the soft down of his pillow, Philippe perceived above him the crown of France, held, as we have stated, by the angel with the golden wings.
Imagine, then, the royal intruder, his eyes gloomy, his body trembling. He is like a tiger led out of his way by a night of storm, who comes through the reeds by way of a ravine unknown to him, to lie down in the cave of an absent lion. The feline odor has attracted him,- that warm, moist atmosphere of his ordinary habitation. He has found a bed of dry herbs, and bones pulverized and pasty like marrow. He arrives; he turns about his flaming eyes, piercing the gloom; he shakes his streaming limbs and his body, covered with mire, and lies down heavily, his large nose resting on his enormous paws,- ready to sleep, but ready also to fight. From time to time the lightning blazing in the recesses of the cave, the noise of clashing branches, the sound of falling stones, the vague apprehension of danger, draw him from the lethargy occasioned by fatigue.
A man may be ambitious of lying in a lion’s den, but can hardly hope to sleep there quietly. Philippe listened attentively to every sound, his heart almost stifled by all his fears; but confident in his own strength, which was increased by the force of an overpowering resolute determination, he waited until some decisive circumstance should permit him to judge for himself. He hoped that some great danger would show him the way, like those phosphoric lights of the tempest which show the sailors the height of the waves against which they have to struggle. But nothing happened. Silence, the mortal enemy of restless hearts, the mortal enemy of ambitious minds, shrouded in the thickness of its gloom during the remainder of the night the future King of France, who lay there sheltered beneath his stolen crown. Towards the morning a shadow, rather than a body, glided into the royal chamber; Philippe expected his approach, and neither expressed nor exhibited any surprise.
“Well, M. d’Herblay?” he said.
“Well, Sire, all is done.”
“Exactly as we expected.”
“Did he resist?”
“Terribly! tears and entreaties.”
“But at last?”
“Oh, at last a complete victory, and absolute silence.”
“Did the governor of the Bastille suspect anything?”
“The resemblance, however-”
“That was the cause of the success.”
“But the prisoner cannot fail to explain himself. Think well of that. I have myself been able to do that,- I, who had to contend with a power much better established than is mine.”
“I have already provided for everything. In a few days, sooner perhaps, we will take the captive out of his prison, and will send him out of the country to a place of exile so remote-”
“People can return from exile, M. d’Herblay.”
“To a place of exile so distant, I was going to say, that human strength and the duration of human life would not be enough for his return.”
And once more a cold look of intelligence passed between Aramis and the young King.
“And M. du Vallon?” asked Philippe, in order to change the conversation.
“He will be presented to you to-day, and confidentially will congratulate you on your escape from the danger to which that usurper has exposed you.”
“What is to be done with him?”
“With M. du Vallon?”
“A dukedom, I suppose.”
“Yes, a dukedom,” replied Aramis, smiling in a significant manner.
“Why do you laugh, M. d’Herblay?”
“I laugh at the extreme caution of your Majesty.”
“Cautious! why so?”
“Your Majesty is doubtless afraid that poor Porthos may probably become a troublesome witness; and you wish to get rid of him.”
“What! in making him a duke?”
“Certainly; you would assuredly kill him, for he would die from joy, and the secret would die with him.”
“Yes,” said Aramis, phlegmatically; “I should lose a very good friend.”
At this moment, and in the middle of this idle conversation, under the light tone of which the two conspirators concealed their joy and pride at their mutual success, Aramis heard something which made him prick up his ears.
“What is that?” said Philippe.
“The dawn, Sire.”
“Well, before you retired to bed last night, you probably decided to do something this morning at the break of day.”
“Yes; I told my captain of the Musketeers,” replied the young man, hurriedly, “that I should expect him.”
“If you told him that, he will certainly be here, for he is a most punctual man.”
“I hear a step in the vestibule.”
“It must be he.”
“Come, let us begin the attack,” said the young King, resolutely.
“Be cautious, for heaven’s sake; to begin the attack, and with d’Artagnan, would be madness. D’Artagnan knows nothing, he has seen nothing. He is a hundred leagues from suspecting our mystery; but if he comes into this room the first this morning, he will be sure to detect that something has taken place which he will think his business to occupy himself about. Before we allow d’Artagnan to penetrate into this room, we must air the room thoroughly, or introduce so many people into it that the keenest scent in the whole kingdom may be deceived by the traces of twenty different persons.”
“But how can I send him away, since I have given him a rendezvous?” observed the Prince, impatient to measure swords with so redoubtable an antagonist.
“I will take care of that,” replied the bishop; “and in order to begin, I am going to strike a blow which will completely stupefy our man.”
“He too is striking a blow, for I hear him at the door,” added the Prince, hurriedly.
And, in fact, a knock at the door was heard at that moment. Aramis was not mistaken; for it was indeed d’Artagnan who adopted that mode of announcing himself.
We have seen how he passed the night in philosophizing with M. Fouquet, but the musketeer was very wearied even of feigning to fall asleep, and as soon as the dawn illumined with its pale blue light the sumptuous cornices of the superintendent’s room, d’Artagnan rose from his arm-chair, arranged his sword, brushed his coat and hat with his sleeve, like a private soldier getting ready for inspection.
“Are you going out?” said Fouquet.
“Yes, Monseigneur. And you?”
“No; I shall remain.”
“You give me your word?”
“Very good. Besides, my only reason for going out is to try and get that reply: you know what I mean?”
“That sentence, you mean.”
“Stay, I have something of the old Roman in me. This morning, when I got up, I remarked that my sword had not caught in one of the aigulets, and that my shoulder-belt had slipped quite off. That is an infallible sign.”
“Yes; be sure of it,- for every time that that confounded belt of mine stuck fast to my back, it always signified a punishment from M. de Treville, or a refusal of money by M. de Mazarin. Every time my sword hung fast to my shoulder-belt, it always predicted some disagreeable commission or other for me to execute; and I have had showers of them all my life through. Every time, too, my sword danced about in its sheath, a duel, fortunate in its result, was sure to follow; whenever it dangled about the calves of my legs, it was a slight wound; every time it fell completely out of the scabbard, I was booked, and made up my mind that I should have to remain on the field of battle, with two or three months under the surgeon’s care into the bargain.”
“I never knew your sword kept you so well informed,” said Fouquet, with a faint smile, which showed how he was struggling against his own weaknesses. “Is your sword bewitched, or under the influence of some charm?”
“Why, you must know that my sword may almost be regarded as part of my own body. I have heard that certain men seem to have warnings given them by feeling something the matter with their legs, or by a throbbing of their temples. With me, it is my sword that warns me. Well, it told me of nothing this morning. But stay a moment; look here, it has just fallen of its own accord into the last hole of the belt. Do you know what that is a warning of?”
“Well, that tells me of an arrest that will have to be made this very day.”
“Well,” said the superintendent, more astonished than annoyed by this frankness, “if there is nothing disagreeable predicted to you by your sword, I am to conclude that it is not disagreeable for you to arrest me.”
“You? arrest you?”
“Of course. The warning-”
“Does not concern you, since you have been arrested ever since yesterday. It is not you I shall have to arrest, be assured of that. That is the reason why I am delighted, and also the reason why I said that my day will be a happy one.”
And with these words, pronounced with the most affectionate graciousness of manner, the captain took leave of Fouquet in order to wait upon the King. He was on the point of leaving the room when Fouquet said to him, “One last mark of your kindness.”
“What is it, Monseigneur?”
“M. d’Herblay,- let me see M. d’Herblay.”
“I am going to try and get him to come to you.”
D’Artagnan did not think himself so good a prophet. It was written that the day would pass away and realize all the predictions that had been made in the morning. He had accordingly knocked, as we have seen, at the King’s door. The door opened. The captain thought that it was the King who had just opened it himself; and this supposition was not altogether inadmissible, considering the state of agitation in which he had left Louis XIV on the previous evening. But instead of his royal master, whom he was on the point of saluting with the greatest respect, he perceived the long, calm features of Aramis. So extreme was his surprise that he could hardly refrain from uttering a loud exclamation. “Aramis!” he said.
“Good-morning, dear d’Artagnan,” replied the prelate, coldly.
“You here?” stammered out the musketeer.
“His Majesty desires you to report that he is still sleeping, after having been greatly fatigued during the whole night.”
“Ah!” said d’Artagnan, who could not understand how the Bishop of Vannes, who had been so indifferent a favorite the previous evening, had become in half-a-dozen hours the largest mushroom of fortune which had ever sprung up in a sovereign’s bedroom. In fact, to transmit the orders of the King even to the mere threshold of that monarch’s room, to serve as an intermediary of Louis XIV so as to be able to give a single order in his name at a couple of paces from him, he must be greater than Richelieu had ever been to Louis XIII. D’Artagnan’s expressive eye, his half-opened lips, his curling mustache, said as much, indeed, in the plainest language to the chief favorite, who remained calm and unmoved.
“Moreover,” continued the bishop, “you will be good enough, Monsieur the Captain of the Musketeers, to allow those only to pass into the King’s room this morning who have special permission. His Majesty does not wish to be disturbed just yet.”
“But,” objected d’Artagnan, on the point of refusing to obey this order, and particularly of giving unrestrained passage to the suspicions which the King’s silence had aroused,- “but, Monsieur the Bishop, his Majesty gave me a rendezvous for this morning.”
“Later, later,” said the King’s voice from the bottom of the alcove,- a voice which made a cold shudder pass through the musketeer’s veins. He bowed, amazed, confused, and stupefied by the smile with which Aramis seemed to overwhelm him as soon as those words had been pronounced.
“And then,” continued the bishop, “as an answer to what you were coming to ask the King, my dear d’Artagnan, here is an order of his Majesty, which you will be good enough to attend to forthwith, for it concerns M. Fouquet.”
D’Artagnan took the order which was held out to him.
“To be set at liberty!” he murmured. “Ah!” and he uttered a second “ah!” still more full of intelligence than the former,- for this order explained Aramis’s presence with the King. Aramis, in order to have obtained Fouquet’s pardon, must have made considerable progress in the royal favor; and this favor explained, in its tenor, the hardly conceivable assurance with which M. d’Herblay issued the orders in the King’s name. For d’Artagnan it was quite sufficient to have understood something in order to understand everything. He bowed, and withdrew a couple of steps, as if about to leave.
“I am going with you,” said the bishop.
“To M. Fouquet; I wish to be a witness of his delight.”
“Ah, Aramis, how you puzzled me just now!” said d’Artagnan, again.
“But you understand now, I suppose?”
“Of course I understand,” he said aloud; but then he added in a low tone to himself, almost hissing the words through his teeth, “No, no! I do not understand yet. But it is all the same,- here is the order”; and then he added, “I will lead the way, Monseigneur,” and he conducted Aramis to Fouquet’s apartments.
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