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

mortally in the hour of danger or of battle.  These men were the best of
courtiers to the hand which fed them - they would lick it; but for the
hand that struck them, oh! the bite that followed!  A little gold on the
lace of their cloaks, a slender stomach in their _hauts-de-chausses_, a
little sparkling of gray in their dry hair, and you will behold the
handsome dukes and peers, the haughty _marechaux_ of France.  But why
should I tell you all this?  The king is master; he wills that I should
make verses, he wills that I should polish the mosaics of his ante-
chambers with satin shoes.  _Mordioux!_ that is difficult, but I have got
over greater difficulties.  I will do it.  Why should I do it?  Because I
love money? - I have enough.  Because I am ambitious? - my career is
almost at an end.  Because I love the court?  No.  I will remain here
because I have been accustomed for thirty years to go and take the
orderly word of the king, and to have said to me 'Good evening,
D'Artagnan,' with a  smile I did not beg for.  That smile I will beg
for!  Are you content, sire?"  And D'Artagnan bowed his silver head, upon
which the smiling king placed his white hand with pride.

 "Thanks, my old servant, my faithful friend," said he.  "As, reckoning
from this day, I have no longer any enemies in France, it remains with me
to send you to a foreign field to gather your marshal's baton.  Depend
upon me for finding you an opportunity.  In the meanwhile, eat of my very
best bread, and sleep in absolute tranquillity."

"That is all kind and well!" said D'Artagnan, much agitated.  "But those
poor men at Belle-Isle?  One of them, in particular - so good! so brave!
so true!"

"Do you ask their pardon of me?"

"Upon my knees, sire!"

"Well! then, go and take it to them, if it be still in time.  But do you
answer for them?"

"With my life, sire."

"Go, then.  To-morrow I set out for Paris.  Return by that time, for I do
not wish you to leave me in the future."

"Be assured of that, sire," said D'Artagnan, kissing the royal hand.

And with a heart swelling with joy, he rushed out of the castle on his
way to Belle-Isle.

Chapter LIV:
M. Fouquet's Friends.

The king had returned to Paris, and with him D'Artagnan, who, in twenty-
four hours, having made with greatest care all possible inquiries at
Belle-Isle, succeeded in learning nothing of the secret so well kept by
the heavy rock of Locmaria, which had fallen on the heroic Porthos.  The
captain of the musketeers only knew what those two valiant men - these
two friends, whose defense he had so nobly taken up, whose lives he had
so earnestly endeavored to save - aided by three faithful Bretons, had
accomplished against a whole army.  He had seen, spread on the
neighboring heath, the human remains which had stained with clouted blood
the scattered stones among the flowering broom.  He learned also that a
bark had been seen far out at sea, and that, like a bird of prey, a royal
vessel had pursued, overtaken, and devoured the poor little bird that was
flying with such palpitating wings.  But there D'Artagnan's certainties
ended.  The field of supposition was thrown open.  Now, what could he
conjecture?  The vessel had not returned.  It is true that a brisk wind
had prevailed for three days; but the corvette was known to be a good
sailer and solid in its timbers; it had no need to fear a gale of wind,
and it ought, according to the calculation of D'Artagnan, to have either
returned to Brest, or come back to the mouth of the Loire.  Such was the
news, ambiguous, it is true, but in some degree reassuring to him
personally, which D'Artagnan brought to Louis XIV., when the king,
followed by all the court, returned to Paris.

Louis, satisfied with his success - Louis, more mild and affable as he
felt himself more powerful - had not ceased for an instant to ride beside
the carriage door of Mademoiselle de la Valliere.  Everybody was anxious
to amuse the two queens, so as to make them forget this abandonment by
son and husband.  Everything breathed the future, the past was nothing to
anybody.  Only that past was like a painful bleeding wound to the hearts
of certain tender and devoted spirits.  Scarcely was the king reinstalled
in Paris, when he received a touching proof of this.  Louis XIV. had just
risen and taken his first repast when his captain of the musketeers
presented himself before him.  D'Artagnan was pale and looked unhappy.
The king, at the first glance, perceived the change in a countenance
generally so unconcerned.  "What is the matter, D'Artagnan?" said he.

"Sire, a great misfortune has happened to me."

"Good heavens! what is that?"

"Sire, I have lost one of my friends, M. du Vallon, in the affair of

And, while speaking these words, D'Artagnan fixed his falcon eye upon
Louis XIV., to catch the first feeling that would show itself.

"I knew it," replied the king, quietly.

"You knew it, and did not tell me!" cried the musketeer.

"To what good?  Your grief, my friend, was so well worthy of respect.  It
was my duty to treat it gently.  To have informed you of this misfortune,
which I knew would pain you so greatly, D'Artagnan, would have been, in
your eyes, to have triumphed over you.  Yes, I knew that M. du Vallon had
buried himself beneath the rocks of Locmaria; I knew that M. d'Herblay
had taken one of my vessels with its crew, and had compelled it to convey
him to Bayonne.  But I was willing you should learn these matters in a
direct manner, in order that you might be convinced my friends are with
me respected and sacred; that always in me the man will sacrifice himself
to subjects, whilst the king is so often found to sacrifice men to
majesty and power."

"But, sire, how could you know?"

"How do you yourself know, D'Artagnan?"

"By this letter, sire, which M. d'Herblay, free and out of danger, writes
me from Bayonne."

"Look here," said the king, drawing from a casket placed upon the table
closet to the seat upon which D'Artagnan was leaning, "here is a letter
copied exactly from that of M. d'Herblay.  Here is the very letter, which
Colbert placed in my hands a week before you received yours.  I am well
served, you may perceive."

"Yes, sire," murmured the musketeer, "you were the only man whose star
was equal to the task of dominating the fortune and strength of my two
friends.  You have used your power, sire, you will not abuse it, will

"D'Artagnan," said the king, with a smile beaming with kindness, "I could
have M. d'Herblay carried off from the territories of the king of Spain,
and brought here, alive, to inflict justice upon him.  But, D'Artagnan,
be assured I will not yield to this first and natural impulse.  He is
free - let him continue free."

"Oh, sire! you will not always remain so clement, so noble, so generous
as you have shown yourself with respect to me and M. d'Herblay; you will
have about you counselors who will cure you of that weakness."

"No, D'Artagnan, you are mistaken when you accuse my council of urging me
to pursue rigorous measures.  The advice to spare M. d'Herblay comes from
Colbert himself."

"Oh, sire!" said D'Artagnan, extremely surprised.

"As for you," continued the king, with a kindness very uncommon to him,
"I have several pieces of good news to announce to you; but you shall
know them, my dear captain, the moment I have made my accounts all
straight.  I have said that I wish to make, and would make, your fortune;
that promise will soon become reality."

"A thousand times thanks, sire!  I can wait.  But I implore you, whilst I
go and practice patience, that your majesty will deign to notice those
poor people who have for so long a time besieged your ante-chamber, and
come humbly to lay a petition at your feet."

"Who are they?"

"Enemies of your majesty."  The king raised his head.

"Friends of M. Fouquet," added D'Artagnan.

"Their names?"

"M. Gourville, M. Pelisson, and a poet, M. Jean de la Fontaine."

The king took a moment to reflect.  "What do they want?"

"I do not know."

"How do they appear?"

"In great affliction."

"What do they say?"


"What do they do?"

"They weep."

"Let them come in," said the king, with a serious brow.

D'Artagnan turned rapidly on his heel, raised the tapestry which closed
the entrance to the royal chamber, and directing his voice to the
adjoining room, cried, "Enter."

The three men D'Artagnan had named immediately appeared at the door of
the cabinet in which were the king and his captain.  A profound silence
prevailed in their passage.  The courtiers, at the approach of the
friends of the unfortunate superintendent of finances, drew back, as if
fearful of being affected by contagion with disgrace and misfortune.
D'Artagnan, with a quick step, came forward to take by the hand the
unhappy men who stood trembling at the door of the cabinet; he led them
in front of the king's _fauteuil_, who, having placed himself in the
embrasure of a window, awaited the moment of presentation, and was
preparing himself to give the supplicants a rigorously diplomatic

The first of the friends of Fouquet's to advance was Pelisson.  He did
not weep, but his tears were only restrained that the king might better
hear his voice and prayer.  Gourville bit his lips to check his tears,
out of respect for the king.  La Fontaine buried his face in his
handkerchief, and the only signs of life he gave were the convulsive
motions of his shoulders, raised by his sobs.

The king preserved his dignity.  His countenance was impassible.  He even
maintained the frown which appeared when D'Artagnan announced his
enemies.  He made a gesture which signified, "Speak;" and he remained
standing, with his eyes fixed searchingly on these desponding men.
Pelisson bowed to the ground, and La Fontaine knelt as people do in
churches.  This dismal silence, disturbed only by sighs and groans, began
to excite in the king, not compassion, but impatience.

"Monsieur Pelisson," said he, in a sharp, dry tone.  "Monsieur Gourville,
and you, Monsieur - " and he did not name La Fontaine, "I cannot, without

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: