“Good-day, Monseigneur,” replied the musketeer; “how did you get through the journey?”
“Tolerably well, thank you.”
“And the fever?”
“But sadly. I drink as you see. I am scarcely arrived, and I have already levied a contribution of tisane upon Nantes.”
“You should sleep first, Monseigneur.”
“Eh, corbleu! my dear M. d’Artagnan, I should be very glad to sleep.”
“Who hinders you?”
“Why, you, in the first place.”
“I? Ah, Monseigneur!”
“No doubt you do. Is it at Nantes as it was at Paris; do you not come in the King’s name?”
“For Heaven’s sake, Monseigneur,” replied the captain, “leave the King alone! The day on which I shall come on the part of the King for the purpose you mean, take my word for it, I will not leave you long in doubt. You will see me place my hand on my sword, according to the ordonnance, and you will hear me say at once in my ceremonial voice, ‘Monseigneur, in the name of the King, I arrest you!’”
Fouquet trembled in spite of himself, the tone of the lively Gascon had been so natural and so vigorous. The representation of the fact was almost as frightful as the fact itself would be.
“You promise me that frankness?” said Fouquet.
“Upon my honor! But we are not come to that, believe me.”
“What makes you think that, M. d’Artagnan? For my part, I think quite the contrary.”
“I have heard of nothing of the kind,” replied d’Artagnan.
“Eh, eh!” said Fouquet.
“Indeed, no. You are an agreeable man, in spite of your fever. The King ought not, cannot help loving you, at the bottom of his heart.”
Fouquet’s face implied doubt. “But M. Colbert?” said he; “does M. Colbert also love me as much as you say?”
“I don’t speak of M. Colbert,” replied d’Artagnan. “He is an exceptional man, is that M. Colbert. He does not love you,- that is very possible; but, mordioux! the squirrel can guard himself against the adder with very little trouble.”
“Do you know that you are speaking to me quite as a friend?” replied Fouquet; “and that, upon my life! I have never met with a man of your intelligence and your heart?”
“You are pleased to say so,” replied d’Artagnan. “Why did you wait till today to pay me such a compliment?”
“How blind we are!” murmured Fouquet.
“Your voice is getting hoarse,” said d’Artagnan; “drink, Monseigneur, drink!” And he offered him a cup of tisane with the most friendly cordiality; Fouquet took it, and thanked him by a bland smile. “Such things happen only to me,” said the musketeer. “I have passed ten years under your very beard, while you were rolling about tons of gold. You were clearing an annual income of four millions; you never observed me; and you find out there is such a person in the world just at the moment-”
“I am about to fall,” interrupted Fouquet. “That is true, my dear M. d’Artagnan.”
“I did not say so.”
“But you thought so; and that is the same thing. Well, if I fall, take my word as truth, I shall not pass a single day without saying to myself, as I strike my brow, ‘Fool! fool!- stupid mortal! You had a M. d’Artagnan under your eye and hand, and you did not employ him, you did not enrich him!’”
“You quite overwhelm me,” said the captain. “I esteem you greatly.”
“There exists another man, then, who does not think as M. Colbert does,” said the superintendent.
“How this M. Colbert sticks in your stomach! He is worse than your fever!”
“Oh, I have good cause,” said Fouquet. “Judge for yourself”; and he related the details of the course of the lighters, and the hypocritical persecution of Colbert. “Is not this a clear sign of my ruin?”
D’Artagnan became serious. “That is true,” said he. “Yes; that has a bad odor, as M. de Treville used to say.” And he fixed upon M. Fouquet his intelligent and significant look.
“Am I not clearly aimed at in that, Captain? Is not the King bringing me to Nantes to get me away from Paris, where I have so many supporters, and to possess himself of Belle-Isle?”
“Where M. d’Herblay is,” added d’Artagnan. Fouquet raised his head. “As for me, Monseigneur,” continued d’Artagnan, “I can assure you the King has said nothing to me against you.”
“The King commanded me to set out for Nantes, it is true, and to say nothing about it to M. de Gesvres.”
“To M. de Gesvres, yes, Monseigneur,” continued the musketeer, whose eyes did not cease to speak a language different from the language of his lips. “The King, moreover, commanded me to take a brigade of Musketeers, which is apparently superfluous, as the country is quite quiet.”
“A brigade,” said Fouquet, raising himself upon his elbow.
“Ninety-six horsemen, yes, Monseigneur. The same number as were employed in arresting Messieurs de Chalais, de Cinq-Mars, and Montmorency.”
Fouquet pricked up his ears at these words, pronounced without apparent value. “And besides?” said he.
“Well! nothing but insignificant orders,- such as guarding the castle, guarding every lodging, allowing none of M. de Gesvres’s Guards to occupy a single post,- M. de Gesvres, your friend.”
“And for myself,” cried Fouquet, “what orders had you?”
“For you, Monseigneur? Not the smallest word.”
“M. d’Artagnan, the safety of my honor, and perhaps of my life, is at stake. You would not deceive me?”
“I? and to what end? Are you threatened? Only there really is an order with respect to carriages and boats-”
“Yes; but it cannot concern you,- a simple measure of police.”
“What is it, Captain,- what is it?”
“To forbid all horses or boats to leave Nantes without a pass signed by the King.”
“Great God! but-”
D’Artagnan began to laugh. “All that is not to be put into execution before the arrival of the King at Nantes. So that you see plainly, Monseigneur, the order in no wise concerns you.”
Fouquet became thoughtful, and d’Artagnan feigned not to observe his preoccupation, and said, “It is evident from my thus confiding to you the orders which have been given to me that I am friendly towards you, and that I endeavor to prove to you that none of them are directed against you.”
“Without doubt! without doubt!” said Fouquet, still absent-minded.
“Let us recapitulate,” said the captain, his glance beaming with earnestness. “A special and severe guard of the castle, in which your lodging is to be, is it not? Do you know that castle? Ah, Monseigneur, a true prison! The total absence of M. de Gesvres, who has the honor of being one of your friends; the closing of the gates of the city, and of the river without a pass, but only when the King shall have arrived. Please to observe, M. Fouquet, that if, instead of speaking to a man like you, who are one of the first in the kingdom, I were speaking to a troubled, uneasy conscience, I should compromise myself forever! What a fine opportunity for any one who wished to be free! No police, no guards, no orders, the water free, the roads free, M. d’Artagnan obliged to lend his horses, if required! All this ought to reassure you, M. Fouquet, for the King would not have left me thus independent if he had had any evil designs. In truth, M. Fouquet, ask me whatever you like, I am at your service; and in return, if you will consent to it, render me a service,- that of offering my compliments to Aramis and Porthos, in case you embark for Belle-Isle, as you have a right to do, without changing your dress, immediately, in your robe de chambre,- just as you are.”
Having said these words, with a profound bow the musketeer, whose looks had lost none of their intelligent kindness, left the apartment. He had not reached the steps of the vestibule when Fouquet, quite beside himself, hung to the bell-rope, and shouted, “My horses! my lighter!” But nobody answered. The superintendent dressed himself with everything that came to hand.
“Gourville! Gourville!” cried he, while slipping his watch into his pocket; and the bell sounded again, while Fouquet repeated, “Gourville! Gourville!”
Gourville at length appeared, breathless and pale.
“Let us be gone! let us be gone!” cried the superintendent, as soon as he saw him.
“It is too late!” said the friend of poor Fouquet.
“Too late! why?”
“Listen!” And they heard the sounds of trumpets and drums in front of the castle.
“What does that mean, Gourville?”
“It is the King coming, Monseigneur.”
“The King, who has ridden double stages, who has killed horses, and who is eight hours in advance of your calculation.”
“We are lost!” murmured Fouquet. “Brave d’Artagnan, all is over; thou hast spoken to me too late!”
The King, in fact, was entering the city, which soon resounded with the cannon from the ramparts, and from a vessel which replied from the lower parts of the river. Fouquet’s brow darkened; he called his valets de chambre, and dressed in ceremonial costume. From his window, behind the curtains, he could see the eagerness of the people and the movement of a large troop, which had followed the Prince. The King was conducted to the castle with great pomp, and Fouquet saw him dismount under the portcullis, and speak something in the ear of d’Artagnan, who held his stirrup. D’Artagnan, when the King had passed under the arch, directed his steps towards the house Fouquet was in; but so slowly, and stopping so frequently to speak to his Musketeers, drawn up as a hedge, that it might be said he was counting the seconds or the steps before accomplishing his message. Fouquet opened the window to speak to him in the court.
“Ah!” cried d’Artagnan, on perceiving him, “are you still there, Monseigneur?” And that word “still” completed the proof to Fouquet of how much information, and how many useful counsels were contained in the first visit the musketeer had paid him.
The superintendent sighed deeply. “Good heavens! yes, Monsieur,” replied he. “The arrival of the King has interrupted me in the projects I had.”
“Oh! then you know that the King is arrived?”
“Yes, Monsieur, I have seen him; and this time you come from him-”
“To inquire after you, Monseigneur; and if your health is not too bad, to beg you to have the kindness to repair to the castle.”
“Directly, M. d’Artagnan, directly!”
“Ah, damn it!” said the captain; “now the King is come, there is no more walking for anybody- no more free-will; the password governs all now, you as well as me, me as well as you.”
Fouquet heaved a last sigh, got into his carriage, so great was his weakness, and went to the castle, escorted by d’Artagnan, whose politeness was not less terrifying now than it had but just before been consoling and cheerful.
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