presence with the king, and that Aramis, in order to have obtained Fouquet's pardon, must have made considerable progress in the royal favor, and that this favor explained, in its tenor, the hardly conceivable assurance with which M. d'Herblay issued the order in the king's name. For D'Artagnan it was quite sufficient to have understood something of the matter in hand to order to understand the rest. He bowed and withdrew a couple of paces, as though he were about to leave. "I am going with you," said the bishop. "Where to?" "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 added in a low tone to himself, almost hissing the words between his teeth, "No, no, I do not understand yet. But it is all the same, for here is the order for it." And then he added, "I will lead the way, monseigneur," and he conducted Aramis to Fouquet's apartments. Chapter XXI: The King's Friend. Fouquet was waiting with anxiety; he had already sent away many of his servants and friends, who, anticipating the usual hour of his ordinary receptions, had called at his door to inquire after him. Preserving the utmost silence respecting the danger which hung suspended by a hair above his head, he only asked them, as he did every one, indeed, who came to the door, where Aramis was. When he saw D'Artagnan return, and when he perceived the bishop of Vannes behind him, he could hardly restrain his delight; it was fully equal to his previous uneasiness. The mere sight of Aramis was a complete compensation to the surintendant for the unhappiness he had undergone in his arrest. The prelate was silent and grave; D'Artagnan completely bewildered by such an accumulation of events. "Well, captain, so you have brought M. d'Herblay to me." "And something better still, monseigneur." "What is that?" "Liberty." "I am free!" "Yes; by the king's order." Fouquet resumed his usual serenity, that he might interrogate Aramis with a look. "Oh! yes, you can thank M. l'eveque de Vannes," pursued D'Artagnan, "for it is indeed to him that you owe the change that has taken place in the king." "Oh!" said Fouquet, more humiliated at the service than grateful at its success. "But you," continued D'Artagnan, addressing Aramis - "you, who have become M. Fouquet's protector and patron, can you not do something for me?" "Anything in the wide world you like, my friend," replied the bishop, in his calmest tones. "One thing only, then, and I shall be perfectly satisfied. How on earth did you manage to become the favorite of the king, you who have never spoken to him more than twice in your life?" "From a friend such as you are," said Aramis, "I cannot conceal anything." "Ah! very good, tell me, then." "Very well. You think that I have seen the king only twice, whilst the fact is I have seen him more than a hundred times; only we have kept it very secret, that is all." And without trying to remove the color which at this revelation made D'Artagnan's face flush scarlet, Aramis turned towards M. Fouquet, who was as much surprised as the musketeer. "Monseigneur," he resumed, "the king desires me to inform you that he is more than ever your friend, and that your beautiful _fete_, so generously offered by you on his behalf, has touched him to the very heart." And thereupon he saluted M. Fouquet with so much reverence of manner, that the latter, incapable of understanding a man whose diplomacy was of so prodigious a character, remained incapable of uttering a single syllable, and equally incapable of thought or movement. D'Artagnan fancied he perceived that these two men had something to say to each other, and he was about to yield to that feeling of instinctive politeness which in such a case hurries a man towards the door, when he feels his presence is an inconvenience for others; but his eager curiosity, spurred on by so many mysteries, counseled him to remain. Aramis thereupon turned towards him, and said, in a quiet tone, "You will not forget, my friend, the king's order respecting those whom he intends to receive this morning on rising." These words were clear enough, and the musketeer understood them; he therefore bowed to Fouquet, and then to Aramis, - to the latter with a slight admixture of ironical respect, - and disappeared. No sooner had he left, than Fouquet, whose impatience had hardly been able to wait for that moment, darted towards the door to close it, and then returning to the bishop, he said, "My dear D'Herblay, I think it now high time you should explain all that has passed, for, in plain and honest truth, I do not understand anything." "We will explain all that to you," said Aramis, sitting down, and making Fouquet sit down also. "Where shall I begin?" "With this first of all. Why does the king set me at liberty?" "You ought rather to ask me what his reason was for having you arrested." "Since my arrest, I have had time to think over it, and my idea is that it arises out of some slight feeling of jealousy. My _fete_ put M. Colbert out of temper, and M. Colbert discovered some cause of complaint against me; Belle-Isle, for instance." "No; there is no question at all just now of Belle-Isle." "What is it, then?" "Do you remember those receipts for thirteen millions which M. de Mazarin contrived to steal from you?" "Yes, of course!" "Well, you are pronounced a public robber." "Good heavens!" "Oh! that is not all. Do you also remember that letter you wrote to La Valliere?" "Alas! yes." "And that proclaims you a traitor and a suborner." "Why should he have pardoned me, then?" "We have not yet arrived at that part of our argument. I wish you to be quite convinced of the fact itself. Observe this well: the king knows you to be guilty of an appropriation of public funds. Oh! of course _I_ know that you have done nothing of the kind; but, at all events, the king has seen the receipts, and he can do no other than believe you are incriminated." "I beg your pardon, I do not see - " "You will see presently, though. The king, moreover, having read your love-letter to La Valliere, and the offers you there made her, cannot retain any doubt of your intentions with regard to that young lady; you will admit that, I suppose?" "Certainly. Pray conclude." "In the fewest words. The king, we may henceforth assume, is your powerful, implacable, and eternal enemy." "Agreed. But am I, then, so powerful, that he has not dared to sacrifice me, notwithstanding his hatred, with all the means which my weakness, or my misfortunes, may have given him as a hold upon me?" "It is clear, beyond all doubt," pursued Aramis, coldly, "that the king has quarreled with you - irreconcilably." "But, since he has absolved me - " "Do you believe it likely?" asked the bishop, with a searching look. "Without believing in his sincerity, I believe it in the accomplished fact." Aramis slightly shrugged his shoulders. "But why, then, should Louis XIV. have commissioned you to tell me what you have just stated?" "The king charged me with no message for you." "With nothing!" said the superintendent, stupefied. "But, that order - " "Oh! yes. You are quite right. There _is_ an order, certainly;" and these words were pronounced by Aramis in so strange a tone, that Fouquet could not resist starting. "You are concealing something from me, I see. What is it?" Aramis softly rubbed his white fingers over his chin, but said nothing. "Does the king exile me?" "Do not act as if you were playing at the game children play at when they have to try and guess where a thing has been hidden, and are informed, by a bell being rung, when they are approaching near to it, or going away from it." "Speak, then." "Guess." "You alarm me." "Bah! that is because you have not guessed, then." "What did the king say to you? In the name of our friendship, do not deceive me." "The king has not said one word to me." "You are killing me with impatience, D'Herblay. Am I still superintendent?" "As long as you like." "But what extraordinary empire have you so suddenly acquired over his majesty's mind?" "Ah! that's the point." "He does your bidding?" "I believe so." "It is hardly credible." "So any one would say." "D'Herblay, by our alliance, by our friendship, by everything you hold dearest in the world, speak openly, I implore you. By what means have you succeeded in overcoming Louis XIV.'s prejudices, for he did not like you, I am certain." "The king will like me _now_," said Aramis, laying stress upon the last word. "You have something particular, then, between you?" "Yes." "A secret, perhaps?" "A secret." "A secret of such a nature as to change his majesty's interests?" "You are, indeed, a man of superior intelligence, monseigneur, and have made a particularly accurate guess. I have, in fact, discovered a secret, of a nature to change the interests of the king of France." "Ah!" said Fouquet, with the reserve of a man who does not wish to ask any more questions. "And you shall judge of it yourself," pursued Aramis; "and you shall tell me if I am mistaken with regard to the importance of this secret." "I am listening, since you are good enough to unbosom yourself to me; only do not forget that I have asked you about nothing which it may be indiscreet in you to communicate." Aramis seemed, for a moment, as if he were collecting himself. "Do not speak!" said Fouquet: "there is still time enough." "Do you remember," said the bishop, casting down his eyes, "the birth of Louis XIV.?" "As if it were yesterday." "Have you ever heard anything particular respecting his birth?" "Nothing; except that the king was not really the son of Louis XIII." "That does not matter to us, or the kingdom either; he is the son of his father, says the French law, whose father is recognized by law."
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