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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Man In The Iron Mask - Chapter XXXIX - How the King, Louis XIV, Played His Little Part
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The Man In The Iron Mask - Chapter XXXIX - How the King, Louis XIV, Played His Little Part Post by :gregw Category :Long Stories Author :Alexandre Dumas Date :February 2011 Read :2343

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The Man In The Iron Mask - Chapter XXXIX - How the King, Louis XIV, Played His Little Part

As Fouquet was alighting from his carriage, to enter the castle of
Nantes, a man of mean appearance went up to him with marks of the
greatest respect, and gave him a letter. D'Artagnan endeavored to
prevent this man from speaking to Fouquet, and pushed him away, but the
message had been given to the surintendant. Fouquet opened the letter
and read it, and instantly a vague terror, which D'Artagnan did not fail
to penetrate, was painted on the countenance of the first minister.
Fouquet put the paper into the portfolio which he had under his arm, and
passed on towards the king's apartments. D'Artagnan, through the small
windows made at every landing of the donjon stairs, saw, as he went up
behind Fouquet, the man who had delivered the note, looking round him on
the place and making signs to several persons, who disappeared in the
adjacent streets, after having themselves repeated the signals. Fouquet
was made to wait for a moment on the terrace of which we have spoken, - a
terrace which abutted on the little corridor, at the end of which the
cabinet of the king was located. Here D'Artagnan passed on before the
surintendant, whom, till that time, he had respectfully accompanied, and
entered the royal cabinet.

"Well?" asked Louis XIV., who, on perceiving him, threw on to the table
covered with papers a large green cloth.

"The order is executed, sire."

"And Fouquet?"

"Monsieur le surintendant follows me," said D'Artagnan.

"In ten minutes let him be introduced," said the king, dismissing
D'Artagnan again with a gesture. The latter retired; but had scarcely
reached the corridor at the extremity of which Fouquet was waiting for
him, when he was recalled by the king's bell.

"Did he not appear astonished?" asked the king.

"Who, sire?"

"_Fouquet_," replied the king, without saying monsieur, a peculiarity
which confirmed the captain of the musketeers in his suspicions.

"No, sire," replied he.

"That's well!" And a second time Louis dismissed D'Artagnan.

Fouquet had not quitted the terrace where he had been left by his guide.
He reperused his note, conceived thus:

"Something is being contrived against you. Perhaps they will not dare to
carry it out at the castle; it will be on your return home. The house is
already surrounded by musketeers. Do not enter. A white horse is in
waiting for you behind the esplanade!"

Fouquet recognized the writing and zeal of Gourville. Not being willing
that, if any evil happened to himself, this paper should compromise a
faithful friend, the surintendant was busy tearing it into a thousand
morsels, spread about by the wind from the balustrade of the terrace.
D'Artagnan found him watching the snowflake fluttering of the last scraps
in space.

"Monsieur," said he, "the king awaits you."

Fouquet walked with a deliberate step along the little corridor, where
MM. de Brienne and Rose were at work, whilst the Duc de Saint-Aignan,
seated on a chair, likewise in the corridor, appeared to be waiting for
orders, with feverish impatience, his sword between his legs. It
appeared strange to Fouquet that MM. Brienne, Rose, and de Saint-Aignan,
in general so attentive and obsequious, should scarcely take the least
notice, as he, the surintendant, passed. But how could he expect to find
it otherwise among courtiers, he whom the king no longer called anything
but _Fouquet? He raised his head, determined to look every one and
everything bravely in the face, and entered the king's apartment, where a
little bell, which we already know, had already announced him to his
majesty.

The king, without rising, nodded to him, and with interest: "Well! how
are you, Monsieur Fouquet?" said he.

"I am in a high fever," replied the surintendant; "but I am at the king's
service."

"That is well; the States assemble to-morrow; have you a speech ready?"

Fouquet looked at the king with astonishment. "I have not, sire,"
replied he; "but I will improvise one. I am too well acquainted with
affairs to feel any embarrassment. I have only one question to ask; will
your majesty permit me?"

"Certainly. Ask it."

"Why did not your majesty do his first minister the honor of giving him
notice of this in Paris?"

"You were ill; I was not willing to fatigue you."

"Never did a labor - never did an explanation fatigue me, sire; and since
the moment is come for me to demand an explanation of my king - "

"Oh, Monsieur Fouquet! an explanation? An explanation, pray, of what?"

"Of your majesty's intentions with respect to myself."

The king blushed. "I have been calumniated," continued Fouquet, warmly,
"and I feel called upon to adjure the justice of the king to make
inquiries."

"You say all this to me very uselessly, Monsieur Fouquet; I know what I
know."

"Your majesty can only know the things that have been told to you; and I,
on my part, have said nothing to you, whilst others have spoken many,
many times - "

"What do you wish to say?" said the king, impatient to put an end to this
embarrassing conversation.

"I will go straight to the facts, sire; and I accuse a certain man of
having injured me in your majesty's opinion."

"Nobody has injured you, Monsieur Fouquet."

"That reply proves to me, sire, that I am right."

"Monsieur Fouquet, I do not like people to be accused."

"Not when one is accused?"

"We have already spoken too much about this affair."

"Your majesty will not allow me to justify myself?"

"I repeat that I do not accuse you."

Fouquet, with a half-bow, made a step backward. "It is certain," thought
he, "that he has made up his mind. He alone who cannot go back can show
such obstinacy. Not to see the danger now would be to be blind indeed;
not to shun it would be stupid." He resumed aloud, "Did your majesty
send for me on business?"

"No, Monsieur Fouquet, but for some advice I wish to give you."

"I respectfully await it, sire."

"Rest yourself, Monsieur Fouquet, do not throw away your strength; the
session of the States will be short, and when my secretaries shall have
closed it, I do not wish business to be talked of in France for a
fortnight."

"Has the king nothing to say to me on the subject of this assembly of the
States?"

"No, Monsieur Fouquet."

"Not to me, the surintendant of the finances?"

"Rest yourself, I beg you; that is all I have to say to you."

Fouquet bit his lips and hung his head. He was evidently busy with some
uneasy thought. This uneasiness struck the king. "Are you angry at
having to rest yourself, M. Fouquet?" said he.

"Yes, sire, I am not accustomed to take rest."

"But you are ill; you must take care of yourself."

"Your majesty spoke just now of a speech to be pronounced to-morrow."

His majesty made no reply; this unexpected stroke embarrassed him.
Fouquet felt the weight of this hesitation. He thought he could read
danger in the eyes of the young prince, which fear would but
precipitate. "If I appear frightened, I am lost," thought he.

The king, on his part, was only uneasy at the alarm of Fouquet. "Has he
a suspicion of anything?" murmured he.

"If his first word is severe," again thought Fouquet; "if he becomes
angry, or feigns to be angry for the sake of a pretext, how shall I
extricate myself? Let us smooth the declivity a little. Gourville was
right."

"Sire," said he, suddenly, "since the goodness of the king watches over
my health to the point of dispensing with my labor, may I not be allowed
to be absent from the council of to-morrow? I could pass the day in bed,
and will entreat the king to grant me his physician, that we may endeavor
to find a remedy against this fearful fever."

"So be it, Monsieur Fouquet, it shall be as you desire; you shall have a
holiday to-morrow, you shall have the physician, and shall be restored to
health."

"Thanks!" said Fouquet, bowing. Then, opening his game: "Shall I not
have the happiness of conducting your majesty to my residence of Belle-
Isle?"

And he looked Louis full in the face, to judge of the effect of such a
proposal. The king blushed again.

"Do you know," replied he, endeavoring to smile, "that you have just
said, 'My residence of Belle-Isle'?"

"Yes, sire."

"Well! do you not remember," continued the king in the same cheerful
tone, "that you gave me Belle-Isle?"

"That is true again, sire. Only, as you have not taken it, you will
doubtless come with me and take possession of it."

"I mean to do so."

"That was, besides, your majesty's intention as well as mine; and I
cannot express to your majesty how happy and proud I have been to see all
the king's regiments from Paris to help take possession."

The king stammered out that he did not bring the musketeers for that
alone.

"Oh, I am convinced of that," said Fouquet, warmly; "your majesty knows
very well that you have nothing to do but to come alone with a cane in
your hand, to bring to the ground all the fortifications of Belle-Isle."

"_Peste!_" cried the king; "I do not wish those fine fortifications,
which cost so much to build, to fall at all. No, let them stand against
the Dutch and English. You would not guess what I want to see at Belle-
Isle, Monsieur Fouquet; it is the pretty peasants and women of the lands
on the sea-shore, who dance so well, and are so seducing with their
scarlet petticoats! I have heard great boast of your pretty tenants,
monsieur le surintendant; well, let me have a sight of them."

"Whenever your majesty pleases."

"Have you any means of transport? It shall be to-morrow, if you like."

The surintendant felt this stroke, which was not adroit, and replied,
"No, sire; I was ignorant of your majesty's wish; above all, I was
ignorant of your haste to see Belle-Isle, and I am prepared with nothing."

"You have a boat of your own, nevertheless?"

"I have five; but they are all in port, or at Paimboeuf; and to join
them, or bring them hither, would require at least twenty-four hours.
Have I any occasion to send a courier? Must I do so?"

"Wait a little, put an end to the fever, - wait till to-morrow."

"That is true. Who knows but that by to-morrow we may not have a hundred
other ideas?" replied Fouquet, now perfectly convinced and very pale.

The king started, and stretched his hand out towards his little bell, but
Fouquet prevented his ringing.

"Sire," said he, "I have an ague - I am trembling with cold. If I remain
a moment longer, I shall most likely faint. I request your majesty's
permission to go and fling myself beneath the bedclothes."

"Indeed, you are in a shiver; it is painful to behold! Come, Monsieur
Fouquet, begone! I will send to inquire after you."

"Your majesty overwhelms me with kindness. In an hour I shall be better."

"I will call some one to reconduct you," said the king.

"As you please, sire; I would gladly take the arm of any one."

"Monsieur d'Artagnan!" cried the king, ringing his little bell.

"Oh, sire," interrupted Fouquet, laughing in such a manner as made the
prince feel cold, "would you give me the captain of your musketeers to
take me to my lodgings? An equivocal honor that, sire! A simple
footman, I beg."

"And why, M. Fouquet? M. d'Artagnan conducts me often, and extremely
well!"

"Yes, but when he conducts you, sire, it is to obey you; whilst me - "

"Go on!"

"If I am obliged to return home supported by the leader of the
musketeers, it would be everywhere said you had had me arrested."

"Arrested!" replied the king, who became paler than Fouquet himself, -
"arrested! oh!"

"And why should they not say so?" continued Fouquet, still laughing; "and
I would lay a wager there would be people found wicked enough to laugh at
it." This sally disconcerted the monarch. Fouquet was skillful enough,
or fortunate enough, to make Louis XIV. recoil before the appearance of
the deed he meditated. M. d'Artagnan, when he appeared, received an
order to desire a musketeer to accompany the surintendant.

"Quite unnecessary," said the latter; "sword for sword; I prefer
Gourville, who is waiting for me below. But that will not prevent me
enjoying the society of M. d'Artagnan. I am glad he will see Belle-Isle,
he is so good a judge of fortifications."

D'Artagnan bowed, without at all comprehending what was going on.
Fouquet bowed again and left the apartment, affecting all the slowness of
a man who walks with difficulty. When once out of the castle, "I am
saved!" said he. "Oh! yes, disloyal king, you shall see Belle-Isle, but
it shall be when I am no longer there."

He disappeared, leaving D'Artagnan with the king.

"Captain," said the king, "you will follow M. Fouquet at the distance of
a hundred paces."

"Yes, sire."

"He is going to his lodgings again. You will go with him."

"Yes, sire."

"You will arrest him in my name, and will shut him up in a carriage."

"In a carriage. Well, sire?"

"In such a fashion that he may not, on the road, either converse with any
one or throw notes to people he may meet."

"That will be rather difficult, sire."

"Not at all."

"Pardon me, sire, I cannot stifle M. Fouquet, and if he asks for liberty
to breathe, I cannot prevent him by closing both the windows and the
blinds. He will throw out at the doors all the cries and notes possible."

"The case is provided for, Monsieur d'Artagnan; a carriage with a trellis
will obviate both the difficulties you point out."

"A carriage with an iron trellis!" cried D'Artagnan; "but a carriage with
an iron trellis is not made in half an hour, and your majesty commands me
to go immediately to M. Fouquet's lodgings."

"The carriage in question is already made."

"Ah! that is quite a different thing," said the captain; "if the carriage
is ready made, very well, then, we have only to set it in motion."

"It is ready - and the horses harnessed."

"Ah!"

"And the coachman, with the outriders, is waiting in the lower court of
the castle."

D'Artagnan bowed. "There only remains for me to ask your majesty whither
I shall conduct M. Fouquet."

"To the castle of Angers, at first."

"Very well, sire."

"Afterwards we will see."

"Yes, sire."

"Monsieur d'Artagnan, one last word: you have remarked that, for making
this capture of M. Fouquet, I have not employed my guards, on which
account M. de Gesvres will be furious."

"Your majesty does not employ your guards," said the captain, a little
humiliated, "because you mistrust M. de Gesvres, that is all."

"That is to say, monsieur, that I have more confidence in you."

"I know that very well, sire! and it is of no use to make so much of it."

"It is only for the sake of arriving at this, monsieur, that if, from
this moment, it should happen that by any chance whatever M. Fouquet
should escape - such chances have been, monsieur - "

"Oh! very often, sire; but for others, not for me."

"And why not with you?"

"Because I, sire, have, for an instant, wished to save M. Fouquet."

The king started. "Because," continued the captain, "I had then a right
to do so, having guessed your majesty's plan, without you having spoken
to me of it, and that I took an interest in M. Fouquet. Now, was I not
at liberty to show my interest in this man?"

"In truth, monsieur, you do not reassure me with regard to your services."

"If I had saved him then, I should have been perfectly innocent; I will
say more, I should have done well, for M. Fouquet is not a bad man. But
he was not willing; his destiny prevailed; he let the hour of liberty
slip by. So much the worse! Now I have orders, I will obey those
orders, and M. Fouquet you may consider as a man arrested. He is at the
castle of Angers, this very M. Fouquet."

"Oh! you have not got him yet, captain."

"That concerns me; every one to his trade, sire; only, once more,
reflect! Do you seriously give me orders to arrest M. Fouquet, sire?"

"Yes, a thousand times, yes!"

"In writing, sire, then."

"Here is the order."

D'Artagnan read it, bowed to the king, and left the room. From the
height of the terrace he perceived Gourville, who went by with a joyous
air towards the lodgings of M. Fouquet.

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Fouquet had gone to bed, like a man who clings to life, and wishes toeconomize, as much as possible, that slender tissue of existence, ofwhich the shocks and frictions of this world so quickly wear out thetenuity. D'Artagnan appeared at the door of this chamber, and wassaluted by the superintendent with a very affable "Good day.""_Bon jour! monseigneur," replied the musketeer; "how did you getthrough the journey?""Tolerably well, thank you.""And the fever?""But poorly. I drink, as you perceive. I am scarcely arrived, and Ihave already levied a contribution of _tisane upon Nantes.""You should sleep first, monseigneur.""Eh! _corbleu! my
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