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

softly, "will make his majesty lose all the advantage of his speed,
however quick he may be."

"Double ass that you are!" thought D'Artagnan; "if I had any interest or
motive in demolishing your credit with the king, I could do it in ten
minutes.  If I were in the king's place," he added aloud, "I should, in
going to M. Fouquet, leave my escort behind me; I should go to him as a
friend; I should enter accompanied only by my captain of the guards; I
should consider that I was acting more nobly, and should be invested with
a still more sacred character by doing so."

Delight sparkled in the king's eyes.  "That is indeed a very sensible
suggestion.  We will go to see a friend as friends; the gentlemen who are
with the carriages can go slowly: but we who are mounted will ride on."
And he rode off, accompanied by all those who were mounted.  Colbert hid
his ugly head behind his horse's neck.

"I shall be quits," said D'Artagnan, as he galloped along, "by getting a
little talk with Aramis this evening.  And then, M. Fouquet is a man of
honor.  _Mordioux!_  I have said so, and it must be so."

And this was the way how, towards seven o'clock in the evening, without
announcing his arrival by the din of trumpets, and without even his
advanced guard, without out-riders or musketeers, the king presented
himself before the gate of Vaux, where Fouquet, who had been informed of
his royal guest's approach, had been waiting for the last half-hour, with
his head uncovered, surrounded by his household and his friends.

Chapter XIII:
Nectar and Ambrosia.

M. Fouquet held the stirrup of the king, who, having dismounted, bowed
most graciously, and more graciously still held out his hand to him,
which Fouquet, in spite of a slight resistance on the king's part,
carried respectfully to his lips.  The king wished to wait in the first
courtyard for the arrival of the carriages, nor had he long to wait, for
the roads had been put into excellent order by the superintendent, and a
stone would hardly have been found of the size of an egg the whole way
from Melun to Vaux; so that the carriages, rolling along as though on a
carpet, brought the ladies to Vaux, without jolting or fatigue, by eight
o'clock.  They were received by Madame Fouquet, and at the moment they
made their appearance, a light as bright as day burst forth from every
quarter, trees, vases, and marble statues.  This species of enchantment
lasted until their majesties had retired into the palace.  All these
wonders and magical effects which the chronicler has heaped up, or rather
embalmed, in his recital, at the risk of rivaling the brain-born scenes
of romancers; these splendors whereby night seemed vanquished and nature
corrected, together with every delight and luxury combined for the
satisfaction of all the senses, as well as the imagination, Fouquet did
in real truth offer to his sovereign in that enchanting retreat of which
no monarch could at that time boast of possessing an equal.  We do not
intend to describe the grand banquet, at which the royal guests were
present, nor the concerts, nor the fairy-like and more than magic
transformations and metamorphoses; it will be enough for our purpose to
depict the countenance the king assumed, which, from being gay, soon wore
a very gloomy, constrained, and irritated expression.  He remembered his
own residence, royal though it was, and the mean and indifferent style of
luxury that prevailed there, which comprised but little more than what
was merely useful for the royal wants, without being his own personal
property.  The large vases of the Louvre, the older furniture and plate
of Henry II., of Francis I., and of Louis XI., were but historic
monuments of earlier days; nothing but specimens of art, the relics of
his predecessors; while with Fouquet, the value of the article was as
much in the workmanship as in the article itself.  Fouquet ate from a
gold service, which artists in his own employ had modeled and cast for
him alone.  Fouquet drank wines of which the king of France did not even
know the name, and drank them out of goblets each more valuable than the
entire royal cellar.

What, too, was to be said of the apartments, the hangings, the pictures,
the servants and officers, of every description, of his household?  What
of the mode of service in which etiquette was replaced by order; stiff
formality by personal, unrestrained comfort; the happiness and
contentment of the guest became the supreme law of all who obeyed the
host?  The perfect swarm of busily engaged persons moving about
noiselessly; the multitude of guests, - who were, however, even less
numerous than the servants who waited on them, - the myriad of
exquisitely prepared dishes, of gold and silver vases; the floods of
dazzling light, the masses of unknown flowers of which the hot-houses had
been despoiled, redundant with luxuriance of unequaled scent and beauty;
the perfect harmony of the surroundings, which, indeed, was no more than
the prelude of the promised _fete_, charmed all who were there; and they
testified their admiration over and over again, not by voice or gesture,
but by deep silence and rapt attention, those two languages of the
courtier which acknowledge the hand of no master powerful enough to
restrain them.

As for the king, his eyes filled with tears; he dared not look at the
queen.  Anne of Austria, whose pride was superior to that of any creature
breathing, overwhelmed her host by the contempt with which she treated
everything handed to her.  The young queen, kind-hearted by nature and
curious by disposition, praised Fouquet, ate with an exceedingly good
appetite, and asked the names of the strange fruits as they were placed
upon the table.  Fouquet replied that he was not aware of their names.
The fruits came from his own stores; he had often cultivated them
himself, having an intimate acquaintance with the cultivation of exotic
fruits and plants.  The king felt and appreciated the delicacy of the
replies, but was only the more humiliated; he thought the queen a little
too familiar in her manners, and that Anne of Austria resembled Juno a
little too much, in being too proud and haughty; his chief anxiety,
however, was himself, that he might remain cold and distant in his
behavior, bordering lightly the limits of supreme disdain or simple

But Fouquet had foreseen all this; he was, in fact, one of those men who
foresee everything.  The king had expressly declared that, so long as he
remained under Fouquet's roof, he did not wish his own different repasts
to be served in accordance with the usual etiquette, and that he would,
consequently, dine with the rest of society; but by the thoughtful
attention of the surintendant, the king's dinner was served up
separately, if one may so express it, in the middle of the general table;
the dinner, wonderful in every respect, from the dishes of which was
composed, comprised everything the king liked and generally preferred to
anything else.  Louis had no excuse - he, indeed, who had the keenest
appetite in his kingdom - for saying that he was not hungry.  Nay, M.
Fouquet did even better still; he certainly, in obedience to the king's
expressed desire, seated himself at the table, but as soon as the soups
were served, he arose and personally waited on the king, while Madame
Fouquet stood behind the queen-mother's armchair.  The disdain of Juno
and the sulky fits of temper of Jupiter could not resist this excess of
kindly feeling and polite attention.  The queen ate a biscuit dipped in a
glass of San-Lucar wine; and the king ate of everything, saying to M.
Fouquet: "It is impossible, monsieur le surintendant, to dine better
anywhere."  Whereupon the whole court began, on all sides, to devour the
dishes spread before them with such enthusiasm that it looked as though a
cloud of Egyptian locusts was settling down on green and growing crops.

As soon, however, as his hunger was appeased, the king became morose and
overgloomed again; the more so in proportion to the satisfaction he
fancied he had previously manifested, and particularly on account of the
deferential manner which his courtiers had shown towards Fouquet.
D'Artagnan, who ate a good deal and drank but little, without allowing it
to be noticed, did not lose a single opportunity, but made a great number
of observations which he turned to good profit.

When the supper was finished, the king expressed a wish not to lose the
promenade.  The park was illuminated; the moon, too, as if she had placed
herself at the orders of the lord of Vaux, silvered the trees and lake
with her own bright and quasi-phosphorescent light.  The air was
strangely soft and balmy; the daintily shell-gravelled walks through the
thickly set avenues yielded luxuriously to the feet.  The _fete_ was
complete in every respect, for the king, having met La Valliere in one of
the winding paths of the wood, was able to press her hand and say, "I
love you," without any one overhearing him except M. d'Artagnan, who
followed, and M. Fouquet, who preceded him.

The dreamy night of magical enchantments stole smoothly on.  The king
having requested to be shown to his room, there was immediately a
movement in every direction.  The queens passed to their own apartments,
accompanied by them music of theorbos and lutes; the king found his
musketeers awaiting him on the grand flight of steps, for M. Fouquet had
brought them on from Melun and had invited them to supper.  D'Artagnan's
suspicions at once disappeared.  He was weary, he had supped well, and
wished, for once in his life, thoroughly to enjoy a _fete_ given by a man
who was in every sense of the word a king.  "M. Fouquet," he said, "is
the man for me."

The king was conducted with the greatest ceremony to the chamber of
Morpheus, of which we owe some cursory description to our readers.  It
was the handsomest and largest in the palace.  Lebrun had painted on the
vaulted ceiling the happy as well as the unhappy dreams which Morpheus
inflicts on kings as well as on other men.  Everything that sleep gives

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: