“The captain of the Musketeers will excuse me, I am sure, for I am engaged.”
“Eh! yes, on the King’s costumes; I know that, my dear M. Percerin. You are making three, they tell me.”
“Five, my dear monsieur,- five!”
“Three or five, ’tis all the same to me, my dear Monsieur; and I know that you will make them most exquisitely.”
“Yes, I know. Once made, they will be the most beautiful in the world, I do not deny it; but that they may be the most beautiful in the world, they must first be made; and to do this, Captain, I am pressed for time.”
“Oh, bah! there are two days yet; ’tis much more than you require, M. Percerin,” said d’Artagnan, in the coolest possible manner.
Percerin raised his head with the air of a man little accustomed to be contradicted, even in his whims; but d’Artagnan did not pay the least attention to the airs which the illustrious tailor began to assume.
“My dear M. Percerin,” he continued, “I bring you a customer.”
“Ah! ah!” exclaimed Percerin, crossly.
“M. le Baron du Vallon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds,” continued d’Artagnan.
Percerin attempted a bow, which found no favor in the eyes of the terrible Porthos, who from his first entry into the room had been regarding the tailor askance.
“A very good friend of mine,” concluded d’Artagnan.
“I will attend to Monsieur,” said Percerin, “but later.”
“Later? but when?”
“Why, when I have time.”
“You have already told my valet as much,” broke in Porthos, discontentedly.
“Very likely,” said Percerin; “I am nearly always pushed for time.”
“My friend,” returned Porthos, sententiously, “there is always time when one chooses to find it.”
Percerin turned crimson,- a very ominous sign indeed in old men blanched by age. “Monsieur,” said he, “is very free to confer his custom elsewhere.”
“Come, come, Percerin,” interposed d’Artagnan, “you are not in a good temper to-day. Well, I will say one more word to you, which will bring you on your knees: Monsieur is not only a good friend of mine, but more,- a friend of M. Fouquet.”
“Ah! ah!” exclaimed the tailor, “that is another thing.” Then turning to Porthos, “Monsieur the Baron is attached to the superintendent?” he inquired.
“I am attached to myself,” shouted Porthos, at the very moment when the tapestry was raised to introduce a new speaker in the dialogue. Moliere was all observation; d’Artagnan laughed; Porthos swore.
“My dear Percerin,” said d’Artagnan, “you will make a dress for the baron? ’Tis I who ask you.”
“To you I will not say nay, Captain.”
“But that is not all; you will make it for him at once.”
“‘Tis impossible before eight days.”
“That, then, is as much as to refuse, because the dress is wanted for the fête at Vaux.”
“I repeat that it is impossible,” returned the obstinate old man.
“By no means, dear M. Percerin, above all if I ask you,” said a mild voice at the door,- a silvery voice which made d’Artagnan prick up his ears. It was the voice of Aramis.
“M. d’Herblay!” cried the tailor.
“Aramis!” murmured d’Artagnan.
“Ah, our bishop!” said Porthos.
“Good-morning, d’Artagnan; good-morning, Porthos; good-morning, my dear friends’” said Aramis. “Come, come, M. Percerin, make the baron’s dress, and I will answer for it you will gratify M. Fouquet”; and he accompanied the words with a sign which seemed to say, “Agree, and dismiss them.”
It appeared that Aramis had over M. Percerin an influence superior even to d’Artagnan’s; for the tailor bowed in assent, and turning round upon Porthos, “Go and get measured on the other side,” said he, rudely.
Porthos colored in a formidable manner. D’Artagnan saw the storm coming, and addressing Moliere said to him in an undertone, “You see before you, my dear Monsieur, a man who considers himself disgraced if you measure the flesh and bones that Heaven has given him; study this type for me, Aristophanes, and profit by it.”
Moliere had no need of encouragement, and his gaze dwelt upon the baron Porthos. “Monsieur,” he said, “if you will come with me, I will make them take your measure without the measurer touching you.”
“Oh!” said Porthos, “how do you make that out, my friend?”
“I say that they shall apply neither line nor rule to the seams of your dress. It is a new method we have invented for measuring people of quality, who are too sensitive to allow low-born fellows to touch them. We know some susceptible persons who will not put up with being measured,- a process which, as I think, wounds the natural dignity of man; and if perchance Monsieur should be one of these-”
“Corboeuf! I believe I am one of them.”
“Well, that is a capital coincidence, and you will have the benefit of our invention.”
“But how in the devil can it be done?” asked Porthos, delighted.
“Monsieur,” said Moliere, bowing, “if you will deign to follow me, you will see.”
Aramis observed this scene with all his eyes. Perhaps he fancied from d’Artagnan’s liveliness that he would leave with Porthos, so as not to lose the conclusion of a scene so well begun. But clear-sighted as he was, Aramis deceived himself. Porthos and Moliere left together. D’Artagnan remained with Percerin. Why? From curiosity, doubtless; probably to enjoy a little longer the society of his good friend Aramis. As Moliere and Porthos disappeared, d’Artagnan drew near the Bishop of Vannes,- a proceeding which appeared particularly to disconcert him. “A dress for you also, is it not, my friend?”
Aramis smiled. “No,” said he.
“You will go to Vaux, however?”
“I shall go, but without a new dress. You forget, dear d’Artagnan, that a poor Bishop of Vannes is not rich enough to have new for every fête.”
“Bah!” said the musketeer, laughing; “and do we write no more poems now, either?”
“Oh, d’Artagnan,” exclaimed Aramis, “I have long given over all these follies!”
“True,” repeated d’Artagnan, only half convinced.
As for Percerin, he had relapsed into his contemplation of the brocades.
“Don’t you perceive,” said Aramis, smiling, “that we are greatly boring this good gentleman, my dear d’Artagnan?”
“Ah! ah!” murmured the musketeer, aside; “that is, I am boring you, my friend.” Then aloud, “Well, then, let us leave. I have no further business here; and if you are as disengaged as I, Aramis-”
“No; not I- I wished-”
“Ah! you had something private to say to M. Percerin? Why did you not tell me so at once?”
“Something private, certainly,” repeated Aramis, “but not from you, d’Artagnan. I hope you will believe that I can never have anything so private to say that a friend like you may not hear it.”
“Oh, no, no! I am going,” said d’Artagnan, but imparting to his voice an evident tone of curiosity; for Aramis’s annoyance, well dissembled as it was, had not escaped him, and he knew that in that impenetrable mind even the most apparently trivial thing was designed to some end,- an unknown one, but one which from the knowledge he had of his friend’s character the musketeer felt must be important.
On his part, Aramis saw that d’Artagnan was not without suspicion, and pressed him. “Stay, by all means!” he said; “this is what it is.” Then turning towards the tailor, “My dear Percerin,” said he.- “I am even very happy that you are here, d’Artagnan.”
“Oh, indeed!” exclaimed the Gascon, for the third time, even less deceived this time than before.
Percerin never moved. Aramis roused him violently, by snatching from his hands the stuff upon which he was engaged. “My dear Percerin,” said he, “I have near at hand M. Lebrun, one of M. Fouquet’s painters.”
“Ah, very good!” thought d’Artagnan; “but why Lebrun?”
Aramis looked at d’Artagnan, who seemed to be occupied with an engraving of Mark Antony. “And you wish to have made for him a dress similar to those of the Epicureans?” answered Percerin; and while saying this in an absent manner, the worthy tailor endeavored to recapture his piece of brocade.
“An Epicurean’s dress?” asked d’Artagnan, in a tone of inquiry.
“I see,” said Aramis, with a most engaging smile; “it is written that our dear d’Artagnan shall know all our secrets this evening. Yes, my friend, you have surely heard speak of M. Fouquet’s Epicureans, have you not?”
“Undoubtedly. Is it not a kind of poetical society, of which La Fontaine, Loret, Pélisson, and Moliere are members, and which holds its sittings at St. Mandé?”
“Exactly so. Well, we are going to put our poets in uniform, and enroll them in the service of the King.”
“Oh, very well! I understand,- a surprise M. Fouquet is getting up for the King. Be at ease; if that is the secret about M. Lebrun, I will not mention it.”
“Always agreeable, my friend! No, M. Lebrun has nothing to do with this part of it; the secret which concerns him is far more important than the other.”
“Then, if it is so important as all that, I prefer not to know it,” said d’Artagnan, making a show of departure.
“Come in, M. Lebrun, come in!” said Aramis, opening a side-door with his right hand and holding back d’Artagnan with his left.
“I’ faith, I too am quite in the dark,” quoth Percerin.
Aramis took an “opportunity,” as is said in theatrical matters. “My dear M. Percerin,” he continued, “you are making five dresses for the King, are you not?- one in brocade, one in hunting-cloth, one in velvet, one in satin, and one in Florentine stuffs?”
“Yes; but how do you know all that, Monseigneur?” said Percerin, astounded.
“It is all very simple, my dear Monsieur. There will be a hunt, a banquet, a concert, a promenade, and a reception; these five kinds of dress are required by etiquette.”
“You know everything, Monseigneur!
“And a great many more things too,” murmured d’Artagnan.
“But,” cried the tailor, in triumph, “what you do not know, Monseigneur, prince of the church though you are; what nobody will know; what only the King, Mademoiselle de la Valliere, and myself do know,- is the color of the materials, the nature of the ornaments, and the cut, the ensemble, the finish of it all!”
“Well,” said Aramis, “that is precisely what I have come to ask you, dear Percerin.”
“Ah, bah!” exclaimed the tailor, terrified, though Aramis had pronounced these words in his sweetest and most honeyed voice. The request appeared, on reflection, so exaggerated, so ridiculous, so monstrous to M. Percerin that first he laughed to himself, then aloud, and finished with a shout. D’Artagnan followed his example, not because he found the matter so “very funny,” but in order not to allow Aramis to cool.
Aramis suffered them to laugh, and then, when they had become quiet, “At first view,” said he, “I appear to be hazarding an absurd question, do I not? But d’Artagnan, who is incarnate wisdom itself, will tell you that I could not do otherwise than ask you this.”
“Let us see,” said the attentive musketeer, perceiving with his wonderful instinct that they had only been skirmishing till now, and that the moment of battle was approaching.
“Let us see,” said Percerin, incredulously.
“Why, now,” continued Aramis, “does M. Fouquet give the King a fête? Is it not to please him?”
“Assuredly,” said Percerin.
D’Artagnan nodded assent.
“By delicate attentions, by some happy device, by a succession of surprises, like that of which we were talking,- the enrollment of our Epicureans?”
“Well, then, this is the surprise we intend, my good friend. M. Lebrun, here, is a man who draws most exactly.”
“Yes,” said Percerin; “I have seen his pictures, and observed that the dresses were highly elaborated. That is why I at once agreed to make him a costume,- whether one to agree with those of the Epicureans, or an original one.”
“My dear Monsieur, we accept your offer, and shall presently avail ourselves of it; but just now M. Lebrun is not in want of the dresses you will make for himself, but of those you are making for the King.”
Percerin made a bound backwards, which d’Artagnan, calmest and most appreciative of men, did not consider overdone,- so many strange and startling aspects wore the proposal which Aramis had just hazarded. “The King’s dresses! Give the King’s dresses to any mortal whatever! Oh, for once, Monseigneur, your Grace is mad!” cried the poor tailor, in extremity.
“Help me now, d’Artagnan,” said Aramis, more and more calm and smiling. “Help me now to persuade Monsieur; for you understand, do you not?”
“Eh! eh!- not exactly, I declare.”
“What! you do not understand that M. Fouquet wishes to afford the King the surprise of finding his portrait on his arrival at Vaux; and that the portrait, which will be a striking resemblance, ought to be dressed exactly as the King will be on the day it is shown?”
“Oh, yes, yes!” said the musketeer, nearly convinced, so plausible was this reasoning. “Yes, my dear Aramis, you are right; it is a happy idea. I will wager it is one of your own, Aramis.”
“Well, I don’t know,” replied the bishop; “either mine or M. Fouquet’s.” Then scanning Percerin, after noticing d’Artagnan’s hesitation, “Well, M. Percerin,” he asked, “what do you say to this?”
“I say that-”
“That you are, doubtless, free to refuse. I know well,- and I by no means count upon compelling you, my dear Monsieur. I will say more; I even understand all the delicacy you feel in taking up with M. Fouquet’s idea,- you dread appearing to flatter the King. A noble spirit, M. Percerin, a noble spirit!” The tailor stammered. “It would indeed be a very pretty compliment to pay the young Prince,” continued Aramis; “but as the superintendent told me, ‘If Percerin refuse, tell him that it will not at all lower him in my opinion, and I shall always esteem him; only-”
“Only?” repeated Percerin, rather troubled.
“Only?” continued Aramis, “‘I shall be compelled to say to the King,’- you understand, my dear M. Percerin, that these are M. Fouquet’s words,- ‘I shall be constrained to say to the King, “Sire, I had intended to present your Majesty with your portrait; but owing to a feeling of delicacy, exaggerated perhaps, but creditable, M. Percerin opposed the project.”’”
“Opposed!” cried the tailor, terrified at the responsibility which would weigh upon him; “I to oppose the desire, the will of M. Fouquet when he is seeking to please the King! Oh, what a hateful word you have uttered, Monseigneur! Oppose! Oh, ’tis not I who said it, thank God! I call the captain of the Musketeers to witness it! Is it not true, M. d’Artagnan, that I have opposed nothing?”
D’Artagnan made a sign indicating that he wished to remain neutral. He felt that there was an intrigue at the bottom of it, whether comedy or tragedy; he was disgusted at not being able to fathom it, but in the mean while wished to keep clear.
But already Percerin, goaded by the idea that the King should be told he had stood in the way of a pleasant surprise, had offered Lebrun a chair, and proceeded to bring from a wardrobe four magnificent dresses, the fifth being still in the workmen’s hands; and these masterpieces he successively fitted upon four lay figures, which imported into France in the time of Concini had been given to Percerin II by Marechal d’Ancre after the discomfiture of the Italian tailors ruined in their competition. The painter set to work to draw and then to paint the dresses. But Aramis, who was closely watching all the phases of his toil, suddenly stopped him.
“I think you have not quite got it, my dear Lebrun,” he said; “your colors will deceive you, and on canvas we shall lack that exact resemblance which is absolutely requisite. Time is necessary for observing the finer shades.”
“Quite true,” said Percerin; “but time is wanting, and on that head you will agree with me, Monseigneur, I can do nothing.”
“Then the affair will fail,” said Aramis, quietly, “and that because of a want of precision in the colors.”
Nevertheless, Lebrun went on copying the materials and ornaments with the closest fidelity,- a process which Aramis watched with ill-concealed impatience.
“What in the devil, now, is the meaning of this imbroglio?” the musketeer kept saying to himself.
“That will certainly never do,” said Aramis. “M. Lebrun, close your box, and roll up your canvas.”
“But, Monsieur,” cried the vexed painter, “the light is abominable here.”
“An idea, M. Lebrun, an idea! If we had a sample of the materials, for example, and with time and a better light-”
“Oh, then,” cried Lebrun, “I would answer for the effect!”
“Good!” said d’Artagnan, “this ought to be the knot of the whole thing; they want a sample of each of the materials. Mordioux! will this Percerin give it now?”
Percerin, beaten in his last retreat, and duped moreover by the feigned good-nature of Aramis, cut out five samples and handed them to the Bishop of Vannes.
“I like this better. That is your opinion, is it not?” said Aramis to d’Artagnan.
“My dear Aramis,” said d’Artagnan, “my opinion is that you are always the same.”
“And, consequently, always your friend,” said the bishop, in a charming tone.
“Yes, yes,” said d’Artagnan, aloud; then, in a low voice, “If I am your dupe, double Jesuit that you are, I will not be your accomplice; and to prevent it, ’tis time I left this place. Adieu, Aramis,” he added, aloud, “adieu; I am going to rejoin Porthos.”
“Then wait for me,” said Aramis, pocketing the samples; “for I have done, and shall not be sorry to say a parting word to our friend.”
Lebrun packed up, Percerin put back the dresses into the closet, Aramis put his hand on his pocket to assure himself that the samples were secure, and they all left the study.
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