List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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epoch itself.  Vaux-le-Vicomte, when its magnificent gates, supported by
caryatides, have been passed through, has the principal front of the main
building opening upon a vast, so-called, court of honor, inclosed by deep
ditches, bordered by a magnificent stone balustrade.  Nothing could be
more noble in appearance than the central forecourt raised upon the
flight of steps, like a king upon his throne, having around it four
pavilions at the angles, the immense Ionic columns of which rose
majestically to the whole height of the building.  The friezes ornamented
with arabesques, and the pediments which crowned the pilasters, conferred
richness and grace on every part of the building, while the domes which
surmounted the whole added proportion and majesty.  This mansion, built
by a subject, bore a far greater resemblance to those royal residences
which Wolsey fancied he was called upon to construct, in order to present
them to his master form the fear of rendering him jealous.  But if
magnificence and splendor were displayed in any one particular part of
this palace more than another, - if anything could be preferred to the
wonderful arrangement of the interior, to the sumptuousness of the
gilding, and to the profusion of the paintings and statues, it would be
the park and gardens of Vaux.  The _jets d'eau_, which were regarded as
wonderful in 1653, are still so, even at the present time; the cascades
awakened the admiration of kings and princes; and as for the famous
grotto, the theme of so many poetical effusions, the residence of that
illustrious nymph of Vaux, whom Pelisson made converse with La Fontaine,
we must be spared the description of all its beauties.  We will do as
Despreaux did, - we will enter the park, the trees of which are of eight
years' growth only - that is to say, in their present position - and
whose summits even yet, as they proudly tower aloft, blushingly unfold
their leaves to the earliest rays of the rising sun.  Lenotre had
hastened the pleasure of the Maecenas of his period; all the nursery-
grounds had furnished trees whose growth had been accelerated by careful
culture and the richest plant-food.  Every tree in the neighborhood which
presented a fair appearance of beauty or stature had been taken up by its
roots and transplanted to the park.  Fouquet could well afford to
purchase trees to ornament his park, since he had bought up three
villages and their appurtenances (to use a legal word) to increase its
extent.  M. de Scudery said of this palace, that, for the purpose of
keeping the grounds and gardens well watered, M. Fouquet had divided a
river into a thousand fountains, and gathered the waters of a thousand
fountains into torrents.  This same Monsieur de Scudery said a great many
other things in his "Clelie," about this palace of Valterre, the charms
of which he describes most minutely.  We should be far wiser to send our
curious readers to Vaux to judge for themselves, than to refer them to
"Clelie;" and yet there are as many leagues from Paris to Vaux, as there
are volumes of the "Clelie."

This magnificent palace had been got ready for the reception of the
greatest reigning sovereign of the time.  M. Fouquet's friends had
transported thither, some their actors and their dresses, others their
troops of sculptors and artists; not forgetting others with their ready-
mended pens, - floods of impromptus were contemplated.  The cascades,
somewhat rebellious nymphs though they were, poured forth their waters
brighter and clearer than crystal: they scattered over the bronze triton
and nereids their waves of foam, which glistened like fire in the rays of
the sun.  An army of servants were hurrying to and fro in squadrons in
the courtyard and corridors; while Fouquet, who had only that morning
arrived, walked all through the palace with a calm, observant glance, in
order to give his last orders, after his intendants had inspected

It was, as we have said, the 15th of August.  The sun poured down its
burning rays upon the heathen deities of marble and bronze: it raised the
temperature of the water in the conch shells, and ripened, on the walls,
those magnificent peaches, of which the king, fifty years later, spoke so
regretfully, when, at Marly, on an occasion of a scarcity of the finer
sorts of peaches being complained of, in the beautiful gardens there -
gardens which had cost France double the amount that had been expended on
Vaux - the _great king_ observed to some one: "You are far too young to
have eaten any of M. Fouquet's peaches."

Oh, fame!  Oh, blazon of renown!  Oh, glory of this earth!  That very man
whose judgment was so sound and accurate where merit was concerned - he
who had swept into his coffers the inheritance of Nicholas Fouquet, who
had robbed him of Lenotre and Lebrun, and had sent him to rot for the
remainder of his life in one of the state prisons - merely remembered the
peaches of that vanquished, crushed, forgotten enemy!  It was to little
purpose that Fouquet had squandered thirty millions of francs in the
fountains of his gardens, in the crucibles of his sculptors, in the
writing-desks of his literary friends, in the portfolios of his painters;
vainly had he fancied that thereby he might be remembered.  A peach - a
blushing, rich-flavored fruit, nestling in the trellis work on the garden-
wall, hidden beneath its long, green leaves, - this little vegetable
production, that a dormouse would nibble up without a thought, was
sufficient to recall to the memory of this great monarch the mournful
shade of the last surintendant of France.

With a perfect reliance that Aramis had made arrangements fairly to
distribute the vast number of guests throughout the palace, and that he
had not omitted to attend to any of the internal regulations for their
comfort, Fouquet devoted his entire attention to the _ensemble_ alone.
In one direction Gourville showed him the preparations which had been
made for the fireworks; in another, Moliere led him over the theater; at
last, after he had visited the chapel, the _salons_, and the galleries,
and was again going downstairs, exhausted with fatigue, Fouquet saw
Aramis on the staircase.  The prelate beckoned to him.  The surintendant
joined his friend, and, with him, paused before a large picture scarcely
finished.  Applying himself, heart and soul, to his work, the painter
Lebrun, covered with perspiration, stained with paint, pale from fatigue
and the inspiration of genius, was putting the last finishing touches
with his rapid brush.  It was the portrait of the king, whom they were
expecting, dressed in the court suit which Percerin had condescended to
show beforehand to the bishop of Vannes.  Fouquet placed himself before
this portrait, which seemed to live, as one might say, in the cool
freshness of its flesh, and in its warmth of color.  He gazed upon it
long and fixedly, estimated the prodigious labor that had been bestowed
upon it, and, not being able to find any recompense sufficiently great
for this Herculean effort, he passed his arm round the painter's neck and
embraced him.  The surintendant, by this action, had utterly ruined a
suit of clothes worth a thousand pistoles, but he had satisfied, more
than satisfied, Lebrun.  It was a happy moment for the artist; it was an
unhappy moment for M. Percerin, who was walking behind Fouquet, and was
engaged in admiring, in Lebrun's painting, the suit that he had made for
his majesty, a perfect _objet d'art_, as he called it, which was not to
be matched except in the wardrobe of the surintendant.  His distress and
his exclamations were interrupted by a signal which had been given from
the summit of the mansion.  In the direction of Melun, in the still
empty, open plain, the sentinels of Vaux had just perceived the advancing
procession of the king and the queens.  His majesty was entering Melun
with his long train of carriages and cavaliers.

"In an hour - " said Aramis to Fouquet.

"In an hour!" replied the latter, sighing.

"And the people who ask one another what is the good of these royal
_fetes!_" continued the bishop of Vannes, laughing, with his false smile.

"Alas!  I, too, who am not the people, ask myself the same thing."

"I will answer you in four and twenty hours, monseigneur.  Assume a
cheerful countenance, for it should be a day of true rejoicing."

"Well, believe me or not, as you like, D'Herblay," said the surintendant,
with a swelling heart, pointing at the _cortege_ of Louis, visible in the
horizon, "he certainly loves me but very little, and I do not care much
more for him; but I cannot tell you how it is, that since he is
approaching my house - "

"Well, what?"

"Well, since I know he is on his way here, as my guest, he is more sacred
than ever for me; he is my acknowledged sovereign, and as such is very
dear to me."

"Dear? yes," said Aramis, playing upon the word, as the Abbe Terray did,
at a later period, with Louis XV.

"Do not laugh, D'Herblay; I feel that, if he really seemed to wish it, I
could love that young man."

"You should not say that to me," returned Aramis, "but rather to M.

"To M. Colbert!" exclaimed Fouquet.  "Why so?"

"Because he would allow you a pension out of the king's privy purse, as
soon as he becomes surintendant," said Aramis, preparing to leave as soon
as he had dealt this last blow.

"Where are you going?" returned Fouquet, with a gloomy look.

"To my own apartment, in order to change my costume, monseigneur."

"Whereabouts are you lodging, D'Herblay?"

"In the blue room on the second story."

"The room immediately over the king's room?"


"You will be subject to very great restraint there.  What an idea to
condemn yourself to a room where you cannot stir or move about!"

"During the night, monseigneur, I sleep or read in my bed."

"And your servants?"

"I have but one attendant with me.  I find my reader quite sufficient.
Adieu, monseigneur; do not overfatigue yourself; keep yourself fresh for
the arrival of the king."

"We shall see you by and by, I suppose, and shall see your friend Du

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