List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

restrained his anger.  "I did not say that to humiliate you, Heaven
knows, monsieur," he replied.  "Only you are addressing yourself to me in
order to obtain a pardon, and I answer according to my conscience.  And
so, judging by my conscience, the criminals we speak of are not worthy of
consideration or forgiveness."

Fouquet was silent.

"What I do is as generous," added the king, "as what you have done, for I
am in your power.  I will even say it is more generous, inasmuch as you
place before me certain conditions upon which my liberty, my life, may
depend; and to reject which is to make a sacrifice of both."

"I was wrong, certainly," replied Fouquet.  "Yes, - I had the appearance
of extorting a favor; I regret it, and entreat your majesty's

"And you are forgiven, my dear Monsieur Fouquet," said the king, with a
smile, which restored the serene expression of his features, which so
many circumstances had altered since the preceding evening.

"I have my own forgiveness," replied the minister, with some degree of
persistence; "but M. d'Herblay, and M. du Vallon?"

"They will never obtain theirs, as long as I live," replied the
inflexible king.  "Do me the kindness not to speak of it again."

"Your majesty shall be obeyed."

"And you will bear me no ill-will for it?"

"Oh! no, sire; for I anticipated the event."

"You had 'anticipated' that I should refuse to forgive those gentlemen?"

"Certainly; and all my measures were taken in consequence."

"What do you mean to say?" cried the king, surprised.

"M. d'Herblay came, as may be said, to deliver himself into my hands.  M.
d'Herblay left to me the happiness of saving my king and my country.  I
could not condemn M. d'Herblay to death; nor could I, on the other hand,
expose him to your majesty's justifiable wrath; it would have been just
the same as if I had killed him myself."

"Well! and what have you done?"

"Sire, I gave M. d'Herblay the best horses in my stables and four hours'
start over all those your majesty might, probably, dispatch after him."

"Be it so!" murmured the king.  "But still, the world is wide enough and
large enough for those whom I may send to overtake your horses,
notwithstanding the 'four hours' start' which you have given to M.

"In giving him these four hours, sire, I knew I was giving him his life,
and he will save his life."

"In what way?"

"After having galloped as hard as possible, with the four hours' start,
before your musketeers, he will reach my chateau of Belle-Isle, where I
have given him a safe asylum."

"That may be!  But you forget that you have made me a present of Belle-

"But not for you to arrest my friends."

"You take it back again, then?"

"As far as that goes - yes, sire."

"My musketeers shall capture it, and the affair will be at an end."

"Neither your musketeers, nor your whole army could take Belle-Isle,"
said Fouquet, coldly.  "Belle-Isle is impregnable."

The king became perfectly livid; a lightning flash seemed to dart from
his eyes.  Fouquet felt that he was lost, but he as not one to shrink
when the voice of honor spoke loudly within him.  He bore the king's
wrathful gaze; the latter swallowed his rage, and after a few moments'
silence, said, "Are we going to return to Vaux?"

"I am at your majesty's orders," replied Fouquet, with a low bow; "but I
think that your majesty can hardly dispense with changing your clothes
previous to appearing before your court."

"We shall pass by the Louvre," said the king.  "Come."  And they left the
prison, passing before Baisemeaux, who looked completely bewildered as he
saw Marchiali once more leave; and, in his helplessness, tore out the
major portion of his few remaining hairs.  It was perfectly true,
however, that Fouquet wrote and gave him an authority for the prisoner's
release, and that the king wrote beneath it, "Seen and approved, Louis";
a piece of madness that Baisemeaux, incapable of putting two ideas
together, acknowledged by giving himself a terrible blow on the forehead
with his own fist.

Chapter XXIV:
The False King.

In the meantime, usurped royalty was playing out its part bravely at
Vaux.  Philippe gave orders that for his _petit lever_ the _grandes
entrees_, already prepared to appear before the king, should be
introduced.  He determined to give this order notwithstanding the absence
of M. d'Herblay, who did not return - our readers know the reason.  But
the prince, not believing that absence could be prolonged, wished, as all
rash spirits do, to try his valor and his fortune far from all protection
and instruction.  Another reason urged him to this - Anne of Austria was
about to appear; the guilty mother was about to stand in the presence of
her sacrificed son.  Philippe was not willing, if he had a weakness, to
render the man a witness of it before whom he was bound thenceforth to
display so much strength.  Philippe opened his folding doors, and several
persons entered silently.  Philippe did not stir whilst his _valets de
chambre_ dressed him.  He had watched, the evening before, all the habits
of his brother, and played the king in such a manner as to awaken no
suspicion.  He was thus completely dressed in hunting costume when he
received his visitors.  His own memory and the notes of Aramis announced
everybody to him, first of all Anne of Austria, to whom Monsieur gave his
hand, and then Madame with M. de Saint-Aignan.  He smiled at seeing these
countenances, but trembled on recognizing his mother.  That still so
noble and imposing figure, ravaged by pain, pleaded in his heart the
cause of the famous queen who had immolated a child to reasons of state.
He found his mother still handsome.  He knew that Louis XIV. loved her,
and he promised himself to love her likewise, and not to prove a scourge
to her old age.  He contemplated his brother with a tenderness easily to
be understood.  The latter had usurped nothing, had cast no shades
athwart his life.  A separate tree, he allowed the stem to rise without
heeding its elevation or majestic life.  Philippe promised himself to be
a kind brother to this prince, who required nothing but gold to minister
to his pleasures.  He bowed with a friendly air to Saint-Aignan, who was
all reverences and smiles, and trembling held out his hand to Henrietta,
his sister-in-law, whose beauty struck him; but he saw in the eyes of
that princess an expression of coldness which would facilitate, as he
thought, their future relations.

"How much more easy," thought he, "it will be to be the brother of that
woman than her gallant, if she evinces towards me a coldness that my
brother could not have for her, but which is imposed upon me as a duty."
The only visit he dreaded at this moment was that of the queen; his heart
- his mind - had just been shaken by so violent a trial, that, in spite
of their firm temperament, they would not, perhaps, support another
shock.  Happily the queen did not come.  Then commenced, on the part of
Anne of Austria, a political dissertation upon the welcome M. Fouquet had
given to the house of France.  She mixed up hostilities with compliments
addressed to the king, and questions as to his health, with little
maternal flatteries and diplomatic artifices.

"Well, my son," said she, "are you convinced with regard to M. Fouquet?"

"Saint-Aignan," said Philippe, "have the goodness to go and inquire after
the queen."

At these words, the first Philippe had pronounced aloud, the slight
difference that there was between his voice and that of the king was
sensible to maternal ears, and Anne of Austria looked earnestly at her
son.  Saint-Aignan left the room, and Philippe continued:

"Madame, I do not like to hear M. Fouquet ill-spoken of, you know I do
not - and you have even spoken well of him yourself."

"That is true; therefore I only question you on the state of your
sentiments with respect to him."

"Sire," said Henrietta, "I, on my part, have always liked M. Fouquet.  He
is a man of good taste, - a superior man."

"A superintendent who is never sordid or niggardly," added Monsieur; "and
who pays in gold all the orders I have on him."

"Every one in this thinks too much of himself, and nobody for the state,"
said the old queen.  "M. Fouquet, it is a fact, M. Fouquet is ruining the

"Well, mother!" replied Philippe, in rather a lower key, "do you likewise
constitute yourself the buckler of M. Colbert?"

"How is that?" replied the old queen, rather surprised.

"Why, in truth," replied Philippe, "you speak that just as your old
friend Madame de Chevreuse would speak."

"Why do you mention Madame de Chevreuse to me?" said she, "and what sort
of humor are you in to-day towards me?"

Philippe continued: "Is not Madame de Chevreuse always in league against
somebody?  Has not Madame de Chevreuse been to pay you a visit, mother?"

"Monsieur, you speak to me now in such a manner that I can almost fancy I
am listening to your father."

"My father did not like Madame de Chevreuse, and had good reason for not
liking her," said the prince.  "For my part, I like her no better than
_he_ did, and if she thinks proper to come here as she formerly did, to
sow divisions and hatreds under the pretext of begging money - why - "

"Well! what?" said Anne of Austria, proudly, herself provoking the storm.

"Well!" replied the young man firmly, "I will drive Madame de Chevreuse
out of my kingdom - and with her all who meddle with its secrets and

He had not calculated the effect of this terrible speech, or perhaps he
wished to judge the effect of it, like those who, suffering from a
chronic pain, and seeking to break the monotony of that suffering, touch
their wound to procure a sharper pang.  Anne of Austria was nearly
fainting; her eyes, open but meaningless, ceased to see for several
seconds; she stretched out her arms towards her other son, who supported
and embraced her without fear of irritating the king.

"Sire," murmured she, "you are treating your mother very cruelly."

"In what respect, madame?" replied he.  "I am only speaking of Madame de

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: