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

these words in his softest and most honeyed tones.  The request appeared,
on reflection, so exaggerated, so ridiculous, so monstrous to M. Percerin
that first he laughed to himself, then aloud, and finished with a shout.
D'Artagnan followed his example, not because he found the matter so "very
funny," but in order not to allow Aramis to cool.

"At the outset, I appear to be hazarding an absurd question, do I not?"
said Aramis.  "But D'Artagnan, who is incarnate wisdom itself, will tell
you that I could not do otherwise than ask you this."

"Let us see," said the attentive musketeer; perceiving with his wonderful
instinct that they had only been skirmishing till now, and that the hour
of battle was approaching.

"Let us see," said Percerin, incredulously.

"Why, now," continued Aramis, "does M. Fouquet give the king a _fete?_ -
Is it not to please him?"

"Assuredly," said Percerin.  D'Artagnan nodded assent.

"By delicate attentions? by some happy device? by a succession of
surprises, like that of which we were talking? - the enrolment of our


"Well, then; this is the surprise we intend.  M. Lebrun here is a man who
draws most excellently."

"Yes," said Percerin; "I have seen his pictures, and observed that his
dresses were highly elaborated.  That is why I at once agreed to make him
a costume - whether to agree with those of the Epicureans, or an original

"My dear monsieur, we accept your offer, and shall presently avail
ourselves of it; but just now, M. Lebrun is not in want of the dresses
you will make for himself, but of those you are making for the king."

Percerin made a bound backwards, which D'Artagnan - calmest and most
appreciative of men, did not consider overdone, so many strange and
startling aspects wore the proposal which Aramis had just hazarded.  "The
king's dresses!  Give the king's dresses to any mortal whatever!  Oh! for
once, monseigneur, your grace is mad!" cried the poor tailor in extremity.

"Help me now, D'Artagnan," said Aramis, more and more calm and smiling.
"Help me now to persuade monsieur, for _you_ understand; do you not?"

"Eh! eh! - not exactly, I declare."

"What! you do not understand that M. Fouquet wishes to afford the king
the surprise of finding his portrait on his arrival at Vaux; and that the
portrait, which be a striking resemblance, ought to be dressed exactly as
the king will be on the day it is shown?"

"Oh! yes, yes," said the musketeer, nearly convinced, so plausible was
this reasoning.  "Yes, my dear Aramis, you are right; it is a happy
idea.  I will wager it is one of your own, Aramis."

"Well, I don't know," replied the bishop; "either mine or M. Fouquet's."
Then scanning Percerin, after noticing D'Artagnan's hesitation, "Well,
Monsieur Percerin," he asked, "what do you say to this?"

"I say, that - "

"That you are, doubtless, free to refuse.  I know well - and I by no
means count upon compelling you, my dear monsieur.  I will say more, I
even understand all the delicacy you feel in taking up with M. Fouquet's
idea; you dread appearing to flatter the king.  A noble spirit, M.
Percerin, a noble spirit!"  The tailor stammered.  "It would, indeed, be
a very pretty compliment to pay the young prince," continued Aramis; "but
as the surintendant told me, 'if Percerin refuse, tell him that it will
not at all lower him in my opinion, and I shall always esteem him, only
- '"

"'Only?'" repeated Percerin, rather troubled.

"'Only,'" continued Aramis, "'I shall be compelled to say to the king,' 
you understand, my dear Monsieur Percerin, that these are M. Fouquet's
words, - 'I shall be constrained to say to the king, "Sire, I had
intended to present your majesty with your portrait, but owing to a
feeling of delicacy, slightly exaggerated perhaps, although creditable,
M. Percerin opposed the project."'"

"Opposed!" cried the tailor, terrified at the responsibility which would
weigh upon him; "I to oppose the desire, the will of M. Fouquet when he
is seeking to please the king!  Oh, what a hateful word you have uttered,
monseigneur.  Oppose!  Oh, 'tis not I who said it, Heaven have mercy on
me.  I call the captain of the musketeers to witness it!  Is it not true,
Monsieur d'Artagnan, that I have opposed nothing?"

D'Artagnan made a sign indicating that he wished to remain neutral.  He
felt that there was an intrigue at the bottom of it, whether comedy or
tragedy; he was at his wit's end at not being able to fathom it, but in
the meanwhile wished to keep clear.

But already Percerin, goaded by the idea that the king was to be told he
stood in the way of a pleasant surprise, had offered Lebrun a chair, and
proceeded to bring from a wardrobe four magnificent dresses, the fifth
being still in the workmen's hands; and these masterpieces he
successively fitted upon four lay figures, which, imported into France in
the time of Concini, had been given to Percerin II. by Marshal d'Onore,
after the discomfiture of the Italian tailors ruined in their
competition.  The painter set to work to draw and then to paint the
dresses.  But Aramis, who was closely watching all the phases of his
toil, suddenly stopped him.

"I think you have not quite got it, my dear Lebrun," he said; "your
colors will deceive you, and on canvas we shall lack that exact
resemblance which is absolutely requisite.  Time is necessary for
attentively observing the finer shades."

"Quite true," said Percerin, "but time is wanting, and on that head, you
will agree with me, monseigneur, I can do nothing."

"Then the affair will fail," said Aramis, quietly, "and that because of a
want of precision in the colors."

Nevertheless Lebrun went on copying the materials and ornaments with the
closest fidelity - a process which Aramis watched with ill-concealed

"What in the world, now, is the meaning of this imbroglio?" the musketeer
kept saying to himself.

"That will never do," said Aramis: "M. Lebrun, close your box, and roll
up your canvas."

"But, monsieur," cried the vexed painter, "the light is abominable here."

"An idea, M. Lebrun, an idea!  If we had a pattern of the materials, for
example, and with time, and a better light - "

"Oh, then," cried Lebrun, "I would answer for the effect."

"Good!" said D'Artagnan, "this ought to be the knotty point of the whole
thing; they want a pattern of each of the materials.  _Mordioux!_  Will
this Percerin give in now?"

Percerin, beaten from his last retreat, and duped, moreover, by the
feigned good-nature of Aramis, cut out five patterns and handed them to
the bishop of Vannes.

"I like this better.  That is your opinion, is it not?" said Aramis to

"My dear Aramis," said D'Artagnan, "my opinion is that you are always the

"And, consequently, always your friend," said the bishop in a charming

"Yes, yes," said D'Artagnan, aloud; then, in a low voice, "If I am your
dupe, double Jesuit that you are, I will not be your accomplice; and to
prevent it, 'tis time I left this place. - Adieu, Aramis," he added
aloud, "adieu; I am going to rejoin Porthos."

"Then wait for me," said Aramis, pocketing the patterns, "for I have
done, and shall be glad to say a parting word to our dear old friend."

Lebrun packed up his paints and brushes, Percerin put back the dresses
into the closet, Aramis put his hand on his pocket to assure himself the
patterns were secure, - and they all left the study.

Chapter V:
Where, Probably, Moliere Obtained His First Idea of the Bourgeois

D'Artagnan found Porthos in the adjoining chamber; but no longer an
irritated Porthos, or a disappointed Porthos, but Porthos radiant,
blooming, fascinating, and chattering with Moliere, who was looking upon
him with a species of idolatry, and as a man would who had not only never
seen anything greater, but not even ever anything so great.  Aramis went
straight up to Porthos and offered him his white hand, which lost itself
in the gigantic clasp of his old friend, - an operation which Aramis
never hazarded without a certain uneasiness.  But the friendly pressure
having been performed not too painfully for him, the bishop of Vannes
passed over to Moliere.

"Well, monsieur," said he, "will you come with me to Saint-Mande?"

"I will go anywhere you like, monseigneur," answered Moliere.

"To Saint-Mande!" cried Porthos, surprised at seeing the proud bishop of
Vannes fraternizing with a journeyman tailor.  "What, Aramis, are you
going to take this gentleman to Saint-Mande?"

"Yes," said Aramis, smiling, "our work is pressing."

"And besides, my dear Porthos," continued D'Artagnan, "M. Moliere is not
altogether what he seems."

"In what way?" asked Porthos.

"Why, this gentleman is one of M. Percerin's chief clerks, and is
expected at Saint-Mande to try on the dresses which M. Fouquet has
ordered for the Epicureans."

"'Tis precisely so," said Moliere.

"Yes, monsieur."

"Come, then, my dear M. Moliere," said Aramis, "that is, if you have
done with M. du Vallon."

"We have finished," replied Porthos.

"And you are satisfied?" asked D'Artagnan.

"Completely so," replied Porthos.

Moliere took his leave of Porthos with much ceremony, and grasped the
hand which the captain of the musketeers furtively offered him.

"Pray, monsieur," concluded Porthos, mincingly, "above all, be exact."

"You will have your dress the day after to-morrow, monsieur le baron,"
answered Moliere.  And he left with Aramis.

Then D'Artagnan, taking Porthos's arm, "What has this tailor done for
you, my dear Porthos," he asked, "that you are so pleased with him?"

"What has he done for me, my friend! done for me!" cried Porthos,

"Yes, I ask you, what has he done for you?"

"My friend, he has done that which no tailor ever yet accomplished: he
has taken my measure without touching me!"

"Ah, bah! tell me how he did it."

"First, then, they went, I don't know where, for a number of lay figures,
of all heights and sizes, hoping there would be one to suit mine, but the

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: