List Of Contents | Contents of The Vicomte de Bragelonne, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

being either seen or heard.  But, against all probability, it was only
for the sake of shutting himself up that Fouquet shut himself up thus,
for he went straight to a bureau, seated himself at it, opened the
portfolio, and began to make a choice amongst the enormous mass of papers
it contained.  It was not more than ten minutes after he had entered, and
taken all the precautions we have described, when the repeated noise of
several slight equal knocks struck his ear, and appeared to fix his
utmost attention.  Fouquet raised his head, turned his ear, and listened.

The strokes continued.  Then the worker arose with a slight movement of
impatience and walked straight up to a glass behind which the blows were
struck by a hand, or by some invisible mechanism.  It was a large glass
let into a panel.  Three other glasses, exactly similar to it, completed
the symmetry of the apartment.  Nothing distinguished that one from the
others.  Without doubt, these reiterated knocks were a signal; for, at
the moment Fouquet approached the glass listening, the same noise was
renewed, and in the same measure.  "Oh! oh!" murmured the _intendant_,
with surprise, "who is yonder?  I did not expect anybody to-day."  And
without doubt, to respond to the signal, he pulled out a gilded nail near
the glass, and shook it thrice.  Then returning to his place, and seating
himself again, "_Ma foi!_ let them wait," said he.  And plunging again
into the ocean of papers unrolled before him, he appeared to think of
nothing now but work.  In fact, with incredible rapidity and marvelous
lucidity, Fouquet deciphered the largest papers and most complicated
writings, correcting them, annotating them with a pen moved as if by a
fever, and the work melting under his hands, signatures, figures,
references, became multiplied as if ten clerks - that is to say, a
hundred fingers and ten brains had performed the duties, instead of the
five fingers and single brain of this man.  From time to time, only,
Fouquet, absorbed by his work, raised his head to cast a furtive glance
upon a clock placed before him.  The reason of this was, Fouquet set
himself a task, and when this task was once set, in one hour's work he,
by himself, did what another would not have accomplished in a day; always
certain, consequently, provided he was not disturbed, of arriving at the
close in the time his devouring activity had fixed.  But in the midst of
his ardent labor, the soft strokes upon the little bell placed behind the
glass sounded again, hasty, and, consequently, more urgent.

"The lady appears to be impatient," said Fouquet.  "Humph! a calm!  That
must be the comtesse; but, no, the comtesse is gone to Rambouillet for
three days.  The presidente, then?  Oh! no, the presidente would not
assume such grand airs; she would ring very humbly, then she would wait
my good pleasure.  The greatest certainty is, that I do not know who it
can be, but that I know who it cannot be.  And since it is not you,
marquise, since it cannot be you, deuce take the rest!"  And he went on
with his work in spite of the reiterated appeals of the bell.  At the end
of a quarter of an hour, however, impatience prevailed over Fouquet in
his turn: he might be said to consume, rather than to complete the rest
of his work; he thrust his papers into his portfolio, and giving a glance
at the mirror, whilst the taps continued faster than ever: "Oh! oh!" said
he, "whence comes all this racket?  What has happened, and who can the
Ariadne be who expects me so impatiently.  Let us see!"

He then applied the tip of his finger to the nail parallel to the one he
had drawn.  Immediately the glass moved like a folding-door and
discovered a secret closet, rather deep, into which the superintendent
disappeared as if going into a vast box.  When there, he touched another
spring, which opened, not a board, but a block of the wall, and he went
out by that opening, leaving the door to shut of itself.  Then Fouquet
descended about a score of steps which sank, winding, underground, and
came to a long, subterranean passage, lighted by imperceptible
loopholes.  The walls of this vault were covered with slabs or tiles, and
the floor with carpeting.  This passage was under the street itself,
which separated Fouquet's house from the Park of Vincennes.  At the end
of the passage ascended a winding staircase parallel with that by which
Fouquet had entered.  He mounted these other stairs, entered by means of
a spring placed in a closet similar to that in his cabinet, and from this
closet an untenanted chamber furnished with the utmost elegance.  As soon
as he entered, he examined carefully whether the glass closed without
leaving any trace, and, doubtless satisfied with his observation, he
opened by means of a small gold key the triple fastenings of a door in
front of him.  This time the door opened upon a handsome cabinet,
sumptuously furnished, in which was seated upon cushions a lady of
surpassing beauty, who at the sound of the lock sprang towards Fouquet.
"Ah! good heavens!" cried the latter, starting back with astonishment.
"Madame la Marquise de Belliere, you here?"

"Yes," murmured la marquise.  "Yes; it is I, monsieur."

"Marquise! dear marquise!" added Fouquet, ready to prostrate himself.
"Ah! my God! how did you come here?  And I, to keep you waiting!"

"A long time, monsieur; yes, a very long time!"

"I am happy in thinking this waiting has appeared long to you, marquise!"

"Oh! an eternity, monsieur; oh!  I rang more than twenty times.  Did you
not hear me?"

"Marquise, you are pale, you tremble."

"Did you not hear, then, that you were summoned?"

"Oh, yes; I heard plainly enough, madame; but I could not come.  After
your rigors and your refusals, how could I dream it was you?  If I could
have had any suspicion of the happiness that awaited me, believe me,
madame, I would have quitted everything to fall at your feet, as I do at
this moment."

"Are we quite alone, monsieur?" asked the marquise, looking round the

"Oh, yes, madame, I can assure you of that."

"Really?" said the marquise, in a melancholy tone.

"You sigh!" said Fouquet.

"What mysteries! what precautions!" said the marquise, with a slight
bitterness of expression; "and how evident it is that you fear the least
suspicion of your amours to escape."

"Would you prefer their being made public?"

"Oh, no; you act like a delicate man," said the marquise, smiling.

"Come, dear marquise, punish me not with reproaches, I implore you."

"Reproaches!  Have I a right to make you any?"

"No, unfortunately, no; but tell me, you, who during a year I have loved
without return or hope - "

"You are mistaken - without hope it is true, but not without return."

"What! for me, of my love! there is but one proof, and that proof I still

"I am here to bring it, monsieur."

Fouquet wished to clasp her in his arms, but she disengaged herself with
a gesture.

"You persist in deceiving yourself, monsieur, and will never accept of me
the only thing I am willing to give you - devotion."

"Ah, then, you do not love me?  Devotion is but a virtue, love is a

"Listen to me, I implore you: I should not have come hither without a
serious motive: you are well assured of that, are you not?"

"The motive is of very little consequence, so that you are but here - so
that I see you - so that I speak to you!"

"You are right; the principal thing is that I am here without any one
having seen me, and that I can speak to you." - Fouquet sank on his knees
before her.  "Speak! speak, madame!" said he, "I listen to you."

The marquise looked at Fouquet, on his knees at her feet, and there was
in the looks of the woman a strange mixture of love and melancholy.
"Oh!" at length murmured she, "would that I were she who has the right of
seeing you every minute, of speaking to you every instant! would that I
were she who might watch over you, she who would have no need of
mysterious springs to summon and cause to appear, like a sylph, the man
she loves, to look at him for an hour, and then see him disappear in the
darkness of a mystery, still more strange at his going out than at his
coming in.  Oh! that would be to live like a happy woman!"

"Do you happen, marquise," said Fouquet, smiling, "to be speaking of my

"Yes, certainly, of her I spoke."

"Well, you need not envy her lot, marquise; of all the women with whom I
have had any relations, Madame Fouquet is the one I see the least of, and
who has the least intercourse with me."

"At least, monsieur, she is not reduced to place, as I have done, her
hand upon the ornament of a glass to call you to her; at least you do not
reply to her by the mysterious, alarming sound of a bell, the spring of
which comes from I don't know where; at least you have not forbidden her
to endeavor to discover the secret of these communications under pain of
breaking off forever your connections with her, as you have forbidden all
who come here before me, and who will come after me."

"Dear marquise, how unjust you are, and how little do you know what you
are doing in thus exclaiming against mystery; it is with mystery alone we
can love without trouble; it is with love without trouble alone that we
can be happy.  But let us return to ourselves, to that devotion of which
you were speaking, or rather let me labor under a pleasing delusion, and
believe this devotion is love."

"Just now," repeated the marquise, passing over her eyes a hand that
might have been a model for the graceful contours of antiquity; "just now
I was prepared to speak, my ideas were clear and bold; now I am quite
confused, quite troubled; I fear I bring you bad news."

"If it is to that bad news I owe your presence, marquise, welcome be even
that bad news! or rather, marquise, since you allow that I am not quite
indifferent to you, let me hear nothing of the bad news, but speak of

"No, no, on the contrary, demand it of me; require me to tell it to you
instantly, and not to allow myself to be turned aside by any feeling

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: