List Of Contents | Contents of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Dumas, Pere
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of all ages have always been so artless! - Loret was composing an account
of the _fetes_ at Vaux, before those _fetes_ had taken place.  La
Fontaine sauntered about from one to the other, a peripatetic, absent-
minded, boring, unbearable dreamer, who kept buzzing and humming at
everybody's elbow a thousand poetic abstractions.  He so often disturbed
Pelisson, that the latter, raising his head, crossly said, "At least, La
Fontaine, supply me with a rhyme, since you have the run of the gardens
at Parnassus."

"What rhyme do you want?" asked the _Fabler_ as Madame de Sevigne used to
call him.

"I want a rhyme to _lumiere_."

"_Orniere_," answered La Fontaine.

"Ah, but, my good friend, one cannot talk of _wheel-ruts_ when
celebrating the delights of Vaux," said Loret.

"Besides, it doesn't rhyme," answered Pelisson.

"What! doesn't rhyme!" cried La Fontaine, in surprise.

"Yes; you have an abominable habit, my friend, - a habit which will ever
prevent your becoming a poet of the first order.  You rhyme in a slovenly

"Oh, oh, you think so, do you, Pelisson?"

"Yes, I do, indeed.  Remember that a rhyme is never good so long as one
can find a better."

"Then I will never write anything again save in prose," said La Fontaine,
who had taken up Pelisson's reproach in earnest.  "Ah!  I often suspected
I was nothing but a rascally poet!  Yes, 'tis the very truth."

"Do not say so; your remark is too sweeping, and there is much that is
good in your 'Fables.'"

"And to begin," continued La Fontaine, following up his idea, "I will go
and burn a hundred verses I have just made."

"Where are your verses?"

"In my head."

"Well, if they are in your head you cannot burn them."

"True," said La Fontaine; "but if I do not burn them - "

"Well, what will happen if you do not burn them?"

"They will remain in my mind, and I shall never forget them!"

"The deuce!" cried Loret; "what a dangerous thing!  One would go mad with it!"

"The deuce! the deuce!" repeated La Fontaine; "what can I do?"

"I have discovered the way," said Moliere, who had entered just at this
point of the conversation.

"What way?"

"Write them first and burn them afterwards."

"How simple!  Well, I should never have discovered that.  What a mind
that devil of a Moliere has!" said La Fontaine.  Then, striking his
forehead, "Oh, thou wilt never be aught but an ass, Jean La Fontaine!" he

"_What_ are you saying there, my friend?" broke in Moliere, approaching
the poet, whose aside he had heard.

"I say I shall never be aught but an ass," answered La Fontaine, with a
heavy sigh and swimming eyes.  "Yes, my friend," he added, with
increasing grief, "it seems that I rhyme in a slovenly manner."

"Oh, 'tis wrong to say so."

"Nay, I am a poor creature!"

"Who said so?"

"_Parbleu!_ 'twas Pelisson; did you not, Pelisson?"

Pelisson, again absorbed in his work, took good care not to answer.

"But if Pelisson said you were so," cried Moliere, "Pelisson has
seriously offended you."

"Do you think so?"

"Ah!  I advise you, as you are a gentleman, not to leave an insult like
that unpunished."

"_What!_" exclaimed La Fontaine.

"Did you ever fight?"

"Once only, with a lieutenant in the light horse."

"What wrong had he done you?"

"It seems he ran away with my wife."

"Ah, ah!" said Moliere, becoming slightly pale; but as, at La Fontaine's
declaration, the others had turned round, Moliere kept upon his lips the
rallying smile which had so nearly died away, and continuing to make La
Fontaine speak -

"And what was the result of the duel?"

"The result was, that on the ground my opponent disarmed me, and then
made an apology, promising never again to set foot in my house."

"And you considered yourself satisfied?" said Moliere.

"Not at all! on the contrary, I picked up my sword.  'I beg your pardon,
monsieur,' I said, 'I have not fought you because you were my wife's
friend, but because I was told I ought to fight.  So, as I have never
known any peace save since you made her acquaintance, do me the pleasure
to continue your visits as heretofore, or _morbleu!_ let us set to
again.'  And so," continued La Fontaine, "he was compelled to resume his
friendship with madame, and I continue to be the happiest of husbands."

All burst out laughing.  Moliere alone passed his hand across his eyes.
Why?  Perhaps to wipe away a tear, perhaps to smother a sigh.  Alas! we
know that Moliere was a moralist, but he was not a philosopher.  "'Tis
all one," he said, returning to the topic of the conversation, "Pelisson
has insulted you."

"Ah, truly!  I had already forgotten it."

"And I am going to challenge him on your behalf."

"Well, you can do so, if you think it indispensable."

"I do think it indispensable, and I am going to - "

"Stay," exclaimed La Fontaine, "I want your advice."

"Upon what? this insult?"

"No; tell me really now whether _lumiere_ does not rhyme with _orniere_."

"I should make them rhyme."

"Ah!  I knew you would."

"And I have made a hundred thousand such rhymes in my time."

"A hundred thousand!" cried La Fontaine.  "Four times as many as 'La
Pucelle,' which M. Chaplain is meditating.  Is it also on this subject,
too, that you have composed a hundred thousand verses?"

"Listen to me, you eternally absent-minded creature," said Moliere.

"It is certain," continued La Fontaine, "that _legume_, for instance,
rhymes with _posthume_."

"In the plural, above all."

"Yes, above all in the plural, seeing that then it rhymes not with three
letters, but with four; as _orniere_ does with _lumiere_."

"But give me _ornieres_ and _lumieres_ in the plural, my dear Pelisson,"
said La Fontaine, clapping his hand on the shoulder of his friend, whose
insult he had quite forgotten, "and they will rhyme."

"Hem!" coughed Pelisson.

"Moliere says so, and Moliere is a judge of such things; he declares he
has himself made a hundred thousand verses."

"Come," said Moliere, laughing, "he is off now."

"It is like _rivage_, which rhymes admirably with _herbage_.  I would
take my oath of it."

"But - " said Moliere.

"I tell you all this," continued La Fontaine, "because you are preparing
a _divertissement_ for Vaux, are you not?"

"Yes, the 'Facheux.'"

"Ah, yes, the 'Facheux;' yes, I recollect.  Well, I was thinking a
prologue would admirably suit your _divertissement_."

"Doubtless it would suit capitally."

"Ah! you are of my opinion?"

"So much so, that I have asked you to write this very prologue."

"You asked _me_ to write it?"

"Yes, you, and on your refusal begged you to ask Pelisson, who is engaged
upon it at this moment."

"Ah! that is what Pelisson is doing, then?  I'faith, my dear Moliere, you
are indeed often right."


"When you call me absent-minded.  It is a monstrous defect; I will cure
myself of it, and do your prologue for you."

"But inasmuch as Pelisson is about it! - "

"Ah, true, miserable rascal that I am!  Loret was indeed right in saying
I was a poor creature."

"It was not Loret who said so, my friend."

"Well, then, whoever said so, 'tis the same to me!  And so your
_divertissement_ is called the 'Facheux?'  Well, can you make _heureux_
rhyme with _facheux?_"

"If obliged, yes."

"And even with _capriceux_."

"Oh, no, no."

"It would be hazardous, and yet why so?"

"There is too great a difference in the cadences."

"I was fancying," said La Fontaine, leaving Moliere for Loret - "I was
fancying - "

"What were you fancying?" said Loret, in the middle of a sentence.  "Make

"You are writing the prologue to the 'Facheux,' are you not?"

"No! _mordieu!_ it is Pelisson."

"Ah, Pelisson," cried La Fontaine, going over to him, "I was fancying,"
he continued, "that the nymph of Vaux - "

"Ah, beautiful!" cried Loret.  "The nymph of Vaux! thank you, La
Fontaine; you have just given me the two concluding verses of my paper."

"Well, if you can rhyme so well, La Fontaine," said Pelisson, "tell me
now in what way you would begin my prologue?"

"I should say, for instance, 'Oh! nymph, who - '  After 'who' I should
place a verb in the second person singular of the present indicative; and
should go on thus: 'this grot profound.'"

"But the verb, the verb?" asked Pelisson.

"To admire the greatest king of all kings round," continued La Fontaine.

"But the verb, the verb," obstinately insisted Pelisson.  "This second
person singular of the present indicative?"

"Well, then; quittest:

"Oh, nymph, who quittest now this grot profound,
To admire the greatest king of all kings round."

"You would not put 'who quittest,' would you?"

"Why not?"

"'Quittest,' after 'you who'?"

"Ah! my dear fellow," exclaimed La Fontaine, "you are a shocking pedant!"

"Without counting," said Moliere, "that the second verse, 'king of all
kings round,' is very weak, my dear La Fontaine."

"Then you see clearly I am nothing but a poor creature, - a shuffler, as
you said."

"I never said so."

"Then, as Loret said."

"And it was not Loret either; it was Pelisson."

"Well, Pelisson was right a hundred times over.  But what annoys me more
than anything, my dear Moliere, is, that I fear we shall not have our
Epicurean dresses."

"You expected yours, then, for the _fete?_"

"Yes, for the _fete_, and then for after the _fete_.  My housekeeper told
me that my own is rather faded."

"_Diable!_ your housekeeper is right; rather more than faded."

"Ah, you see," resumed La Fontaine, "the fact is, I left it on the floor
in my room, and my cat - "

"Well, your cat - "

"She made her nest upon it, which has rather changed its color."

Moliere burst out laughing; Pelisson and Loret followed his example.  At
this juncture, the bishop of Vannes appeared, with a roll of plans and
parchments under his arm.  As if the angel of death had chilled all gay
and sprightly fancies - as if that wan form had scared away the Graces to
whom Xenocrates sacrificed - silence immediately reigned through the
study, and every one resumed his self-possession and his pen.  Aramis

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