“M. d’Artagnan does not get any older,” said the captain of the harriers to his colleague the falconer; “with ten years more than either of us, he has the seat of a young man on horseback.”
“That is true,” replied the falconer. “I haven’t seen any change in him for the last twenty years.”
But this officer was mistaken; d’Artagnan in the last four years had lived twelve years. Age imprinted its pitiless claws at each corner of his eyes; his brow was bald; his hands, formerly brown and nervous, were getting white, as if the blood began to chill there.
D’Artagnan accosted the officers with the shade of affability which distinguishes superior men, and received in return for his courtesy two most respectful bows.
“Ah! what a lucky chance to see you here, M. d’Artagnan!” cried the falconer.
“It is rather for me to say that to you, Messieurs,” replied the captain, “for nowadays the King makes more frequent use of his Musketeers than of his falcons.”
“Ah! it is not as it was in the good old times,” sighed the falconer. “Do you remember, M. d’Artagnan, when the late King flew the pie in the vineyards beyond Beaugency? Ah, dame! you were not captain of the Musketeers at that time, M. d’Artagnan.”
“And you were nothing but under-corporal of the tiercels,” replied d’Artagnan, laughing. “Never mind that; it was a good time, seeing that it is always a good time when we are young. Good-day, Monsieur the Captain of the harriers.”
“You do me honor, Monsieur the Count,” said the latter. D’Artagnan made no reply. The title of count had not struck him; d’Artagnan had been a count four years.
“Are you not very fatigued with the long journey you have had, Monsieur the Captain?” continued the falconer. “It must be full two hundred leagues from hence to Pignerol.”
“Two hundred and sixty to go, and as many to come back,” said d’Artagnan, quietly.
“And,” said the falconer, “is he well?”
“Who?” asked d’Artagnan.
“Why, poor M. Fouquet,” continued the falconer, still in a low voice. The captain of the harriers had prudently withdrawn.
“No,” replied d’Artagnan, “the poor man frets terribly; he cannot comprehend how imprisonment can be a favor. He says that the parliament had absolved him by banishing him, and that banishment is liberty. He does not imagine that they have sworn his death, and that to save his life from the claws of the parliament would be to incur too much obligation to God.”
“Ah, yes; the poor man had a near chance of the scaffold,” replied the falconer; “it is said that M. Colbert had given orders to the governor of the Bastille, and that the execution was ordered.”
“Enough!” said d’Artagnan, pensively, as if to cut short the conversation.
“Yes,” said the captain of the harriers, approaching, “M. Fouquet is now at Pignerol; he has richly deserved it. He has had the good fortune to be conducted there by you; he had robbed the King enough.”
D’Artagnan cast at the master of the dogs one of his evil looks, and said to him, “Monsieur, if any one told me that you had eaten your dogs’ meat, not only would I refuse to believe it, but, still more, if you were condemned to the whip or the jail for it, I should pity you, and would not allow people to speak ill of you. And yet, Monsieur, honest man as you may be, I assure you that you are not more so than poor M. Fouquet was.”
After having undergone this sharp rebuke, the captain of the harriers hung his head, and allowed the falconer to get two steps in advance of him nearer to d’Artagnan.
“He is content,” said the falconer, in a low voice, to the musketeer; “we all know that harriers are in fashion nowadays. If he were a falconer he would not talk in that way.”
D’Artagnan smiled in a melancholy manner at seeing this great political question resolved by the discontent of such humble interests. He for a moment ran over in his mind the glorious existence of the superintendent, the crumbling away of his fortunes, and the melancholy death that awaited him; and to conclude, “Did M. Fouquet love falconry?” said he.
“Oh, passionately, Monsieur!” replied the falconer, with an accent of bitter regret and a sigh that was the funeral oration of Fouquet.
D’Artagnan allowed the ill-humor of the one and the regrets of the other to pass, and continued to advance into the plain. They could already catch glimpses of the huntsmen at the issues of the wood, the feathers of the outriders passing like shooting stars across the clearing, and the white horses cutting with their luminous apparitions the dark thickets of the copses.
“But,” resumed d’Artagnan, “will the sport be long? Pray, give us a good swift bird, for I am very tired. Is it a heron or a swan?”
“Both, M. d’Artagnan,” said the falconer; “but you need not be alarmed, the King is not much of a sportsman. He does not sport on his own account; he only wishes to give amusement to the ladies.”
The words “to the ladies” were so strongly accented that it set d’Artagnan listening. “Ah!” said he, looking at the falconer with surprise.
The captain of the harriers smiled, no doubt with a view of making it up with the musketeer.
“Oh, you may safely laugh,” said d’Artagnan; “I know nothing of current news. I arrived only yesterday, after a month’s absence. I left the court mourning the death of the Queen-Mother. The King was not willing to take any amusement after receiving the last sigh of Anne of Austria; but everything has an end in this world. Well! he is no longer sad, so much the better.”
“And everything begins as well as ends,” said the captain of the dogs, with a coarse laugh.
“Ah!” said d’Artagnan a second time,- he burned to know; but dignity would not allow him to interrogate persons below him,- “there is something new, then, it appears?”
The captain gave him a significant wink; but d’Artagnan was unwilling to learn anything from this man. “Shall we see the King early?” asked he of the falconer.
“At seven o’clock, Monsieur, I shall fly the birds.”
“Who comes with the King? How is Madame? How is the Queen?”
“Has she been ill, then?”
“Monsieur, since the last chagrin she had, her Majesty has been unwell.”
“What chagrin? You need not fancy your news is old. I am but just returned.”
“It appears that the Queen, a little neglected since the death of her mother-in-law, complained to the King, who replied to her, ‘Do I not sleep with you every night, Madame? What more do you want?’”
“Ah!” said d’Artagnan,- “poor woman! She must heartily hate Mademoiselle de la Valliere.”
“Oh, no! not Mademoiselle de la Valliere,” replied the falconer.
“Who then-” The horn interrupted this conversation. It summoned the dogs and the hawks. The falconer and his companion set off immediately, leaving d’Artagnan alone in the midst of the suspended sentence. The King appeared at a distance, surrounded by ladies and horsemen. All the troop advanced in beautiful order, at a foot’s pace, the horns of various sorts animating the dogs and the horses. It was a movement, a noise, a mirage of light, of which nothing now can give an idea, unless it be the fictitious splendor or false majesty of a theatrical spectacle. D’Artagnan, with an eye a little weakened, distinguished behind the group three carriages. The first was intended for the Queen; it was empty. D’Artagnan, who did not see Mademoiselle de la Valliere by the King’s side, on looking about for her, saw her in the second carriage. She was alone with two of her women, who seemed as dull as their mistress. On the left hand of the King, upon a high-spirited horse, restrained by a bold and skillful hand, shone a lady of the most dazzling beauty. The King smiled upon her, and she smiled upon the King. Loud laughter followed every word she spoke.
“I must know that woman,” thought the musketeer; “who can she be?” And he stooped towards his friend the falconer, to whom he addressed the question he had put to himself. The falconer was about to reply, when the King, perceiving d’Artagnan said, “Ah, Count! you are returned, then! Why have I not seen you?”
“Sire,” replied the captain, “because your Majesty was asleep when I arrived, and not awake when I resumed my duties this morning.”
“Still the same!” said Louis, in a loud voice, denoting satisfaction. “Take some rest, Count; I command you to do so. You will dine with me to-day.”
A murmur of admiration surrounded d’Artagnan like an immense caress. Every one was eager to salute him. Dining with the King was an honor his Majesty was not so prodigal of as Henry IV had been. The King passed a few steps in advance, and d’Artagnan found himself in the midst of a fresh group, among whom shone M. Colbert.
“Good-day, M. d’Artagnan,” said the minister, with affable politeness; “have you had a pleasant journey?”
“Yes, Monsieur,” said d’Artagnan, bowing to the neck of his horse.
“I heard the King invite you to his table for this evening,” continued the minister; “you will meet an old friend.”
“An old friend of mine?” asked d’Artagnan, plunging painfully into the dark waves of the past which had swallowed up for him so many friendships and so many hatreds.
“M. le Duc d’Alameda, who is arrived this morning from Spain.”
“The Duc d’Alameda?” said d’Artagnan, reflecting in vain.
“I!” said an old man, white as snow, sitting bent in his carriage, which he caused to be thrown open to make room for the musketeer.
“Aramis!” cried d’Artagnan, struck with stupor. And, inert as he was, he suffered the thin arm of the old nobleman to rest trembling on his neck.
Colbert, after having observed them in silence for a minute, put his horse forward, and left the two old friends together.
“And so,” said the musketeer, taking the arm of Aramis, “you, the exile, the rebel, are again in France?”
“And I shall dine with you at the King’s table,” said Aramis, smiling. “Yes; will you not ask yourself what is the use of fidelity in this world? Stop! let us allow poor La Valliere’s carriage to pass. See how uneasy she is! How her eye, dimmed with tears, follows the King, who is riding on horseback yonder!”
“With Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, now become Madame de Montespan,” replied Aramis.
“She is jealous; is she then deserted?”
“Not quite yet, but soon will be.”
They chatted together while following the sport, and Aramis’s coachman drove them so cleverly that they got up at the moment when the falcon, attacking the bird, beat him down and fell upon him. The King alighted; Madame de Montespan followed his example. They were in front of an isolated chapel, concealed by large trees, already despoiled of their leaves by the first winds of autumn. Behind this chapel was an enclosure entered only by a latticed gate. The falcon had beat down his prey in the enclosure belonging to this little chapel, and the King was desirous of going in to take the first feather, according to custom. The cortege formed a circle round the building and the hedges, too small to receive so many.
D’Artagnan held back Aramis by the arm as he was about, like the rest, to alight from his carriage, and in a broken voice, “Do you know, Aramis,” said he, “whither chance has conducted us?”
“No,” replied the duke.
“Here repose people I have known,” said d’Artagnan, much agitated.
Aramis, without divining anything, and with a trembling step, penetrated into the chapel by a little door which d’Artagnan opened for him. “Where are they buried?” said he.
“There, in the enclosure. There is a cross, you see, under that little cypress. The little cypress is planted over their tomb. Don’t go to it; the King is going that way,- the heron has fallen just there.”
Aramis stopped, and concealed himself in the shade. They then saw, without being seen, the pale face of La Valliere, who, neglected in her carriage, had at first looked on with a melancholy heart from the door, and then, carried away by jealousy, had advanced into the chapel, whence, leaning against a pillar, she contemplated in the enclosure the King smiling and making signs to Madame de Montespan to approach, as there was nothing to be afraid of. Madame de Montespan complied; she took the hand the King held out to her, and he, plucking out the first feather from the heron, which the falconer had strangled, placed it in the hat of his beautiful companion. She, smiling in her turn, kissed the hand tenderly which made her this present. The King blushed with pleasure; he looked at Madame de Montespan with all the fire of love. “What will you give me in exchange?” said he.
She broke off a little branch of cypress and offered it to the King, intoxicated with hope.
“Humph!” said Aramis to d’Artagnan; “the present is but a sad one, for that cypress shades a tomb.”
“Yes, and the tomb is that of Raoul de Bragelonne,” said d’Artagnan, aloud; “of Raoul, who sleeps under that cross with Athos his father.”
A groan was heard behind them. They saw a woman fall fainting to the ground. Mademoiselle de la Valliere had seen and heard all.
“Poor woman!” muttered d’Artagnan, as he helped the attendants to carry back to her carriage her who from that time was to suffer.
That evening d’Artagnan was seated at the King’s table, near M. Colbert and M. le Duc d’Alameda. The King was very gay. He paid a thousand little attentions to the Queen, a thousand kindnesses to Madame, seated at his left hand, and very sad. It might have been supposed to be that calm time when the King used to watch the eyes of his mother for assent or dissent to what he had just spoken.
Of mistresses there was no question at this dinner. The King addressed Aramis two or three times, calling him Monsieur the Ambassador, which increased the surprise already felt by d’Artagnan at seeing his friend the rebel so marvellously well received at court.
The King, on rising from table, gave his hand to the Queen and made a sign to Colbert, whose eye watched that of his master. Colbert took d’Artagnan and Aramis on one side. The King began to chat with his sister, while Monsieur, very uneasy, entertained the Queen with a preoccupied air, without ceasing to watch his wife and brother from the corner of his eye. The conversation between Aramis, d’Artagnan and Colbert turned upon indifferent subjects. They spoke of preceding ministers; Colbert related the feats of Mazarin, and had those of Richelieu related to him. D’Artagnan could not overcome his surprise at finding this man, with heavy eyebrows and a low forehead, contain so much sound knowledge and cheerful humor. Aramis was astonished at that lightness of character which permitted a serious man to retard with advantage the moment for a more important conversation, to which nobody made any allusion, although all three interlocutors felt the imminence of it.
It was very plain from the embarrassed appearance of Monsieur how much the conversation of the King and Madame annoyed him. The eyes of Madame were almost red; was she going to complain? Was she going to commit a little scandal in open court? The King took her on one side, and in a tone so tender that it must have reminded the Princess of the time when she was loved for herself, “Sister,” said he, “why do I see tears in those beautiful eyes?”
“Why- Sire-” said she.
“Monsieur is jealous, is he not, Sister?”
She looked towards Monsieur,- an infallible sign that they were talking about him. “Yes,” said she.
“Listen to me,” said the King; “if your friends compromise you, it is not Monsieur’s fault.”
He spoke these words with so much kindness that Madame, encouraged,- she who had had so many griefs for so long a time,- was near bursting into tears, so full was her heart.
“Come, come, dear sister,” said the King, “tell me your griefs. By the word of a brother, I pity them; by the word of a King, I will end them.”
She raised her fine eyes, and in a melancholy tone, “It is not my friends who compromise me,” said she. “They are either absent or concealed; they have been brought into disgrace with your Majesty,- they, so devoted, so good, so loyal!”
“You say this on account of De Guiche, whom I have exiled at the desire of Monsieur?”
“And who, since that unjust exile, has endeavored once every day to get himself killed!”
“Unjust, do you say, Sister?”
“So unjust, that if I had not had the respect mingled with friendship that I have always entertained for your Majesty-”
“Well! I would have asked my brother Charles, upon whom I can always-”
The King started. “What then?”
“I would have asked him to have it represented to you that Monsieur and his favorite, M. le Chevalier de Lorraine, ought not with impunity to constitute themselves the executioners of my honor and my happiness.”
“The Chevalier de Lorraine,” said the King,- “that dismal fellow?”
“He is my mortal enemy. While that man lives in my household, where Monsieur retains him and delegates his powers to him, I shall be the most miserable woman in this kingdom.”
“So,” said the King, slowly, “you call your brother of England a better friend than I am?”
“Actions speak for themselves, Sire.”
“And you would prefer going to ask assistance there-”
“To my own country!” said she, with pride; “yes, Sire.”
“You are the grandchild of Henry IV as well as myself, my friend. Cousin and brother-in-law, does not that amount pretty nearly to brother-german?”
“Then,” said Henrietta, “act!”
“Let us form an alliance.”
“I have, you say, unjustly exiled De Guiche.”
“Oh, yes,” said she, blushing.
“De Guiche shall return.”
“So far, well.”
“And now you say that I am wrong in having in your household the Chevalier de Lorraine, who gives Monsieur ill advice respecting you?”
“Remember well what I tell you, Sire: the Chevalier de Lorraine some day- Observe, if ever I come to an ill end, I accuse beforehand the Chevalier de Lorraine; he has a soul capable of any crime!”
“The Chevalier de Lorraine shall no longer annoy you; I promise you that.”
“Then that will be a true preliminary of alliance, Sire,- I sign; but since you have done your part, tell me what shall be mine.”
“Instead of embroiling me with your brother Charles, you must make him my more intimate friend than ever.”
“That is very easy.”
“Oh! not quite so much so as you may think, for in ordinary friendship persons embrace or exercise hospitality, and that only costs a kiss or a return,- easy expenses; but in political friendship-”
“Ah! it’s a political friendship, is it?”
“Yes, my sister; and then, instead of embraces and feasts, it is soldiers- it is soldiers all living and well equipped- that we must serve up to our friend; vessels we must offer, all armed with cannons and stored with provisions. It hence results that we have not always our coffers in a fit state to form such friendships.”
“Ah! you are quite right,” said Madame; “the coffers of the King of England have been very sonorous for some time.”
“But you, my sister, who have so much influence over your brother,- you can obtain more than an ambassador ever could obtain.”
“To effect that I must go to London, my dear brother.”
“I have thought so,” replied the King, eagerly; “and I have said to myself that such a voyage would do your spirits good.”
“Only,” interrupted Madame, “it is possible I should fail. The King of England has dangerous counsellors.”
“Counsellors, do you say?”
“Precisely. If, by chance, your Majesty had any intention- I am only supposing so- of asking Charles II his alliance for a war-”
“For a war?”
“Yes; well, then the counsellors of the King, who are to the number of seven,- Mademoiselle Stewart, Mademoiselle Wells, Mademoiselle Gwyn, Miss Orchay, Mademoiselle Zunga, Miss Daws, and the Countess of Castelmaine,- will represent to the King that war costs a great deal of money; that it is far better to give balls and suppers at Hampton Court than to equip vessels of the line at Portsmouth and Greenwich.”
“And then your negotiations will fail?”
“Oh! those ladies cause all negotiations to fail that they don’t make themselves.”
“Do you know the idea that has struck me, Sister?”
“No; tell me what it is.”
“It is that by searching well around you, you might perhaps find a female counsellor to take with you to your brother whose eloquence might paralyze the ill-will of the seven others.”
“That is really an idea, Sire; and I will search.”
“You will find what you want.”
“I hope so.”
“A pretty person is necessary; an agreeable face is better than an ugly one, is it not?”
“An animated, lively, audacious character?”
“Nobility,- that is, enough to enable her to approach the King without awkwardness; little enough, so that she may not trouble herself about the dignity of her race.”
“And who knows a little English.”
“Mon Dieu! why, some one,” cried Madame, “like Mademoiselle de Keroualle, for instance!”
“Oh! why yes!” said Louis XIV; “you have found- it is you who have found, my sister.”
“I will take her; she will have no cause to complain, I suppose.”
“Oh, no; I will name her seductrice plenipotentiaire at once, and will add the dowry to the title.”
“That is well.”
“I fancy you already on your road, my dear little sister, and consoled for all your griefs.”
“I will go on two conditions. The first is, that I shall know what I am negotiating about.”
“This is it. The Dutch, you know, insult me daily in their gazettes, and by their republican attitude. I don’t like republics.”
“That may easily be conceived, Sire.”
“I see with pain that these kings of the sea- they call themselves so- keep trade from France in the Indies, and that their vessels will soon occupy all the ports of Europe. Such a power is too near me, Sister.”
“They are your allies, nevertheless.”
“That is why they were wrong in having the medal you have heard of struck,- a medal which represents Holland stopping the sun, as Joshua did, with this legend: The sun has stopped before me. There is not much fraternity in that, is there?”
“I thought you had forgotten that miserable affair.”
“I forget nothing, my sister. And if my true friends, such as your brother Charles, are willing to second me-” The Princess remained pensively silent. “Listen to me; there is the empire of the seas to be shared. In this partition, which England submits to, could I not represent the second party as well as the Dutch?”
“We have Mademoiselle de Keroualle to treat that question,” replied Madame.
“Your second condition for going, if you please, Sister?”
“The consent of Monsieur, my husband.”
“You shall have it.”
“Then I have gone, my brother.”
On hearing these words, Louis XIV turned round towards the corner of the room in which d’Artagnan, Colbert, and Aramis stood, and made an affirmative sign to his minister. Colbert then broke the conversation at the point where it happened to be, and said to Aramis, “Monsieur the Ambassador, shall we talk about business?”
D’Artagnan immediately withdrew, from politeness. He directed his steps towards the chimney, within hearing of what the King was going to say to Monsieur, who, evidently uneasy, had gone to him. The face of the King was animated. Upon his brow was stamped a will, the redoubtable expression of which already met with no more contradiction in France, and soon would meet with no more in Europe.
“Monsieur,” said the King to his brother, “I am not pleased with M. le Chevalier de Lorraine. You, who do him the honor to protect him, must advise him to travel for a few months.” These words fell with the crush of an avalanche upon Monsieur, who adored this favorite, and concentrated all his affections in him.
“In what has the chevalier been able to displease your Majesty?” cried he, darting a furious look at Madame.
“I will tell you that when he is gone,” replied the impassive King. “And also when Madame, here, shall have crossed over into England.”
“Madame! into England!” murmured Monsieur, seized with stupor.
“In a week, my brother,” continued the King, “while we two will go whither I will tell you.” And the King turned upon his heel after having smiled in his brother’s face, to sweeten a little the bitter draught he had given him.
During this time, Colbert was talking with the Duc d’Alameda. “Monsieur,” said he to Aramis, “this is the moment for us to come to an understanding. I have made your peace with the King, and I owed that clearly to a man of your merit; but as you have often expressed friendship for me, an opportunity presents itself for giving me a proof of it. You are, besides, more a Frenchman than a Spaniard. Shall we have, answer me frankly, the neutrality of Spain, if we undertake anything against the United Provinces?”
“Monsieur,” replied Aramis, “the interest of Spain is very clear. To embroil Europe with the United Provinces, against which subsists the ancient rancor arising from their acquisition of liberty, is our policy; but the King of France is allied with the United Provinces. You are not ignorant, besides, that it would be a maritime war, and that France is not in a state to make such a one with advantage.”
Colbert, turning round at this moment, saw d’Artagnan, who was seeking an interlocutor, during the “aside” of the King and Monsieur. He called him, at the same time saying in a low voice to Aramis, “We may talk with M. d’Artagnan, I suppose?”
“Oh, certainly,” replied the ambassador.
“We were saying, M. d’Alameda and I,” said Colbert, “that war with the United Provinces would be a maritime war.”
“That’s evident enough,” replied the musketeer.
“And what do you think of it, M. d’Artagnan?”
“I think that to carry on that maritime war you must have a very large land army.”
“What did you say?” said Colbert, thinking he had misunderstood him.
“Why a land army?” said Aramis.
“Because the King will be beaten by sea if he has not the English with him; and when beaten by sea, he will be soon invaded, either by the Dutch in his ports, or by the Spaniards by land.”
“And Spain neutral?” asked Aramis. “Neutral as long as the King shall be the stronger,” rejoined d’Artagnan.
Colbert admired that sagacity which never touched a question without illuminating it thoroughly. Aramis smiled; he had long known that in diplomacy d’Artagnan acknowledged no master. Colbert, who like all proud men dwelt upon his fantasy with a certainty of success, resumed the subject, “Who told you, M. d’Artagnan, that the King had no navy?”
“Oh! I have taken no heed of these details,” replied the captain. “I am but a middling sailor. Like all nervous people, I hate the sea; and yet I have an idea that with ships, France being a seaport with two hundred heads, we should have sailors.”
Colbert drew from his pocket a little oblong book divided into two columns. On the first were the names of vessels, on the other the figures recapitulating the number of cannon and men requisite to equip these ships. “I have had the same idea as you,” said he to d’Artagnan; “and I have had an account drawn up of the vessels we have altogether,- thirty-five vessels.”
“Thirty-five vessels! that is impossible!” cried d’Artagnan.
“Something like two thousand pieces of cannon,” said Colbert. “That is what the King possesses at this moment. With thirty-five vessels we can make three squadrons, but I must have five.”
“Five!” cried Aramis.
“They will be afloat before the end of the year, gentlemen; the King will have fifty ships of the line. With those we may venture on a contest, may we not?”
“To build vessels,” said d’Artagnan, “is difficult, but possible. As to arming them, how is that to be done? In France there are neither foundries nor military docks.”
“Bah!” replied Colbert, with a gay tone, “I have instituted all that this year and a half past, did you not know it? Don’t you know M. d’Infreville?”
“D’Infreville?” replied d’Artagnan; “no.”
“He is a man I have discovered; he has a specialty,- he knows how to set men to work. It is he who at Toulon has had the cannon made, and has cut the woods of Bourgogne. And then, Monsieur the Ambassador, you may not believe what I am going to tell you, but I have a further idea.”
“Oh, Monsieur!’ said Aramis, civilly, “I always believe you.”
“Figure to yourself that, calculating upon the character of the Dutch, our allies, I said to myself, ‘They are merchants, they are friends with the King; they will be happy to sell to the King what they fabricate for themselves. Then the more we buy-’ Ah! I must add this: I have Forant,- do you know Forant, d’Artagnan?”
Colbert, in his warmth, forgot himself; he called the captain simply “D’Artagnan,” as the King did. But the captain only smiled at it. “No,” replied he, “I don’t know him.”
“That is another man I have discovered with a genius for buying. This Forant has purchased for me three hundred and fifty thousand pounds of iron in balls, two hundred thousand pounds of powder, twelve cargoes of Northern timber, matches, grenades, pitch, tar,- I know not what!- with a saving of seven per cent upon what all those articles would cost me made in France.”
“That is a good idea,” replied d’Artagnan,- “to have Dutch balls cast which will return to the Dutch.”
“Is it not,- with loss too?” And Colbert laughed aloud. He was delighted with his own joke. “Still further,” added he, “these same Dutch are building for the King at this moment six vessels after the model of the best of their marine. Destouches- ah! perhaps you don’t know Destouches?”
“He is a man who has a glance singularly sure to discern, when a ship is launched, what are the defects and qualities of that ship,- that is valuable, please to observe! Nature is truly whimsical. Well, this Destouches appeared to me to be a man likely to be useful in a port, and he is superintending the construction of six vessels of seventy-eight guns, which the Provinces are building for his Majesty. It results from all this, my dear M. d’Artagnan, that the King, if he wished to quarrel with the Provinces, would have a very pretty fleet. Now, you know better than anybody else if the land army is good.”
D’Artagnan and Aramis looked at each other, wondering at the mysterious labors this man had effected in a few years. Colbert understood them, and was touched by this best of flatteries. “If we in France were ignorant of what was going on,” said d’Artagnan, “out of France still less must be known.”
“That is why I told Monsieur the Ambassador,” said Colbert, “that Spain promising its neutrality, England helping us-”
“If England assists you,” said Aramis, “I engage for the neutrality of Spain.”
“I take you at your word,” hastened Colbert to reply with his blunt bonhomie. “And, a propos of Spain, you have not the ‘Golden Fleece,’ M. d’Alameda. I heard the King say the other day that he should like to see you wear the grand cordon of Saint Michael.”
Aramis bowed. “Oh!” thought d’Artagnan, “and Porthos is no longer here! What ells of ribbon would there be for him in these largesses! Good Porthos!”
“M. d’Artagnan,” resumed Colbert, “between us two, you will have, I would wager, an inclination to lead your Musketeers into Holland. Can you swim?” and he laughed like a man in a very good humor.
“Like an eel,” replied d’Artagnan.
“Ah! but there are some rough passages of canals and marshes yonder, M. d’Artagnan, and the best swimmers are sometimes drowned there.”
“It is my profession to die for his Majesty,” said the musketeer. “Only as it is seldom that in war much water is met with without a little fire, I declare to you beforehand that I will do my best to choose fire. I am getting old; water freezes me, fire warms, M. Colbert.”
And d’Artagnan looked so handsome in juvenile vigor and pride as he pronounced these words that Colbert, in his turn, could not help admiring him. D’Artagnan perceived the effect he had produced. He remembered that the best tradesman is he who fixes a high price upon his goods when they are valuable. He prepared, then, his price in advance.
“So then,” said Colbert, “we go into Holland?”
“Yes,” replied d’Artagnan; “only-”
“Only?” said M. Colbert.
“Only,” repeated d’Artagnan, “there is in everything the question of interest and the question of self-love. It is a very fine title,- that of captain of the Musketeers; but observe this: we have now the King’s Guards and the military household of the King. A captain of Musketeers ought either to command all that, and then he would absorb a hundred thousand livres a year for expenses of representation and table-”
“Well; but do you suppose, by chance, that the King would haggle with you?” said Colbert.
“Eh, Monsieur, you have not understood me,” replied d’Artagnan, sure of having carried the question of interest; “I was telling you that I,- an old captain, formerly chief of the King’s guard, having precedence of the marshals of France,- I saw myself one day in the trenches with two equals, the captain of the Guards and the colonel commanding the Swiss. Now, at no price will I suffer that. I have old habits; I will stand to them.”
Colbert felt this blow, but was prepared for it. “I have been thinking of what you said just now,” said he.
“About what, Monsieur?”
“We were speaking of canals and marshes in which people are drowned.”
“Well; if they are drowned, it is for want of a boat, a plank, or a stick.”
“Of a stick [baton], however short it may be,” said d’Artagnan.
“Exactly,” said Colbert; “and therefore I never heard of an instance of a marshal of France being drowned.”
D’Artagnan became pale with joy, and in not a very firm voice, he said, “People would be very proud of me in my country, if I were a marshal of France; but a man must have commanded an expedition as chief to obtain the baton.”
“Monsieur,” said Colbert, “here is in this pocket-book, which you will study, a plan of a campaign; you are to carry it into execution next spring with a body of troops which the King puts under your orders.”
D’Artagnan took the book tremblingly and his fingers meeting with those of Colbert, the minister pressed the hand of the musketeer loyally. “Monsieur,” said he, “we had both a revenge to take, one over the other. I have begun; it is now your turn!”
“I will do you justice, Monsieur,” replied d’Artagnan, “and implore you to tell the King that the first opportunity that shall offer, he may depend upon a victory or seeing me dead.”
“Then I will have the fleurs-de-lis for your marshal’s baton prepared immediately,” said Colbert.
On the morrow of this day, Aramis, who was setting out for Madrid to negotiate the neutrality of Spain, came to embrace d’Artagnan at his hotel.
“Let us love each other for four,” said d’Artagnan; “we are now but two.”
“And you will perhaps never see me again, dear d’Artagnan,” said Aramis; “if you knew how I have loved you! I am old, I am extinguished, I am dead.”
“My friend,” said d’Artagnan, “you will live longer than I shall. Diplomacy commands you to live; but, for my part, honor condemns me to die.”
“Bah! such men as we are, Monsieur the Marshal,” said Aramis, “only die satiated with joy or glory.”
“Ah!” replied d’Artagnan, with a melancholy smile, “I assure you, Monsieur the Duke, I feel very little appetite for either.”
They once more embraced, and two hours later they were separated.
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