List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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will shortly tell you."  And the king turned on his heel, smiling in his
brother's face, to sweeten, as it were, the bitter draught he had given

During this time Colbert was talking with the Duc d'Almeda.

"Monsieur," said Colbert 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 so much 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
secure - answer me frankly - the neutrality of Spain, if we undertake
anything against the United Provinces?"

"Monsieur," replied Aramis, "the interest of Spain is clear.  To embroil
Europe with the Provinces would doubtless be our policy, but the king of
France is an ally of the United Provinces.  You are not ignorant,
besides, that it would infer a maritime war, and that France is in no
state to undertake this with advantage."

Colbert, turning round at this moment, saw D'Artagnan who was seeking
some interlocutor, during this "aside" of the king and Monsieur.  He
called him, at the same time saying in a low voice to Aramis, "We may
talk openly with D'Artagnan, I suppose?"

"Oh! certainly," replied the ambassador.

"We were saying, M. d'Almeda and I," said Colbert, "that a conflict with
the United Provinces would mean a maritime war."

"That's evident enough," replied the musketeer.

"And what do you think of it, Monsieur d'Artagnan?"

"I think that to carry on such a war successfully, you must have very
large land forces."

"What did you say?" said Colbert, thinking he had ill understood him.

"Why such a large land army?" said Aramis.

"Because the king will be beaten by sea if he has not the English with
him, and that when beaten by sea, he will soon be 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 prove stronger," rejoined D'Artagnan.

Colbert admired that sagacity which never touched a question without
enlightening it thoroughly.  Aramis smiled, as he had long known that in
diplomacy D'Artagnan acknowledged no superior.  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 take no heed of these details," replied the captain.  "I am but
an indifferent 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
exits, we might 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 ships."

"Thirty-five ships! impossible!" cried D'Artagnan.

"Something like two thousand pieces of cannon," said Colbert.  "That is
what the king possesses at this moment.  Of five and thirty 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 ship of the line.  We may venture on a contest with them, 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, in a bantering tone, "I have planned all that
this year and a half past, did you not know it?  Do you know M.

"D'Imfreville?" replied D'Artagnan; "no."

"He is a man I have discovered; he has a specialty; he is a man of genius
- he knows how to set men to work.  It is he who has cast cannon and cut
the woods of Bourgogne.  And then, monsieur l'ambassadeur, you may not
believe what I am going to tell you, but I have a still further idea."

"Oh, monsieur!" said Aramis, civilly, "I always believe you."

"Calculating upon the character of the Dutch, our allies, I said to
myself, 'They are merchants, they are friendly 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,

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 do not know him."

"That is another man I have discovered, with a genius for buying.  This
Forant has purchased for me 350,000 pounds of iron in balls, 200,000
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 fabricated in France."

"That is a capital and quaint idea," replied D'Artagnan, "to have Dutch
cannon-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 name.
Destouches - Ah! perhaps you don't know Destouches?"

"No, monsieur."

"He is a man who has a sure glance to discern, when a ship is launched,
what are the defects and qualities of that ship - that is valuable,
observe!  Nature is truly whimsical.  Well, this Destouches appeared to
me to be a man likely to prove useful in marine affairs, and he is
superintending the construction of six vessels of seventy-eight guns,
which the Provinces are building for his majesty.  It results from this,
my dear Monsieur 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 efficient."

D'Artagnan and Aramis looked at each other, wondering at the mysterious
labors this man had undertaken in so short a time.  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 l'ambassadeur," said Colbert, "that, Spain
promising its neutrality, England helping us - "

"If England assists you," said Aramis, "I promise the neutrality of

"I take you at your word," Colbert hastened to reply with his blunt
_bonhomie_.  "And, _a propos_ of Spain, you have not the 'Golden Fleece,'
Monsieur d'Almeda.  I heard the king say the other day that he should
like to see you wear the _grand cordon_ of St. Michael."

Aramis bowed.  "Oh!" thought D'Artagnan, "and Porthos is no longer here!
What ells of ribbons would there be for him in these _largesses!_  Dear

"Monsieur d'Artagnan," resumed Colbert, "between us two, you will have, I
wager, an inclination to lead your musketeers into Holland.  Can you
swim?"  And he laughed like a man in high good humor.

"Like an eel," replied D'Artagnan.

"Ah! but there are some bitter passages of canals and marshes yonder,
Monsieur 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 in war that 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 - but fire warms, Monsieur Colbert."

And D'Artagnan looked so handsome still in quasi-juvenile strength 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 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 lurks in everything the question of
interest, 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 to command all that, and then he would absorb a hundred thousand
livres a year for expenses."

"Well! but do you suppose the king would haggle with you?" said Colbert.

"Eh! monsieur, you have not understood me," replied D'Artagnan, sure of
carrying his point.  "I was telling you that I, an old captain, formerly
chief of the king's guard, having precedence of the _marechaux_ of France
- I saw myself one day in the trenches with two other equals, the captain
of the guards and the colonel commanding the Swiss.  Now, at no price
will I suffer that.  I have old habits, and I will stand or fall by them."

Colbert felt this blow, but he was prepared for it.

"I have been thinking of what you said just now," replied 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, however short it may be," said D'Artagnan.

"Exactly," said Colbert.  "And, therefore, I never heard of an instance
of a _marechal_ of France being drowned."

D'Artagnan became very pale with joy, and in a not very firm voice,
"People would be very proud of me in my country," said he, "if I were a
_marechal_ of France; but a man must have commanded an expedition in
chief to obtain the _baton_."

"Monsieur!" said Colbert, "here is in this pocket-book which you will
study, a plan of campaign you will have to lead a body of troops to carry
out in the next spring." (12)

D'Artagnan took the book, tremblingly, and his fingers meeting 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.

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