The king, while these matters were being arranged, had sat down to the supper-table, and the not very large number of guests invited for that day had taken their seats, after the usual gesture intimating the royal permission to be seated. At this period of Louis XIV.’s reign, although etiquette was not governed by the strict regulations which subsequently were adopted, the French court had entirely thrown aside the traditions of good-fellowship and patriarchal affability which existed in the time of Henry IV., and which the auspicious mind of Louis XIII. had gradually replaced by the pompous state forms and ceremonies which he despaired of being able to fully realize.
The king, therefore, was seated alone at a small separate table, which, like the desk of a president, overlooked the adjoining tables. Although we say a small table, we must not omit to add that this small table was the largest one there. Moreover, it was the one on which were placed the greatest number and quantity of dishes, consisting of fish, game, meat, fruit, vegetables, and preserves. The king was young and full of vigor and energy, very fond of hunting, addicted to all violent exercises of the body, possessing, besides, like all the members of the Bourbon family, a rapid digestion and an appetite speedily renewed. Louis XIV. was a formidable table-companion; he delighted to criticise his cooks; but when he honored them by praise and commendation, the honor was overwhelming. The king began by eating several kinds of soup, either mixed together or taken separately. He intermixed or rather, he separated, each of the soups by a glass of old wine. He ate quickly, and somewhat greedily. Porthos, who from the beginning had, out of respect, been waiting for a jog of D’Artagnan’s arm, seeing the king make such rapid progress, turned to the musketeer and said, in a low tone:
“It seems as if one might go on now; his majesty is very encouraging, from the example he sets. Look.”
“The king eats,” said D’Artagnan, “but he talks at the same time; try and manage matters in such manner that, if he should happen to address a remark to you, he should not find you with your mouth full, which would be very disrespectful. “
“The best way, in that case,” said Porthos, “is to eat no supper at all; and yet I am very hungry, I admit, and everything looks and smells most invitingly, as if appealing to all my senses at once.”
“Don’t think of not eating, for a moment,” said D’Artagnan; “that would put his majesty out terribly. The king has a saying, ‘that he who works well, eats well,’ and he does not like people to eat indifferently at his table.”
“How can I avoid having my mouth full if I eat?” said Porthos.
“All you have to do,” replied the captain of the musketeers, “is simply to swallow what you have in it, whenever the king does you the honor to address a remark to you. “
“Very good,” said Porthos; and from that moment he began to eat with a well-bred enthusiasm of manner.
The king occasionally looked at the different persons who were at table with him, and en connoisseur, could appreciate the different dispositions of his guests.
“Monsieur du Vallon!” he said.
Porthos was enjoying a salmi de lievre, and swallowed half of the back. His name pronounced in such a manner had made him start, and by a vigorous effort of his gullet he absorbed the whole mouthful.
“Sire,” replied Porthos, in a stifled voice, but sufficiently intelligible, nevertheless.
“Let those filets d’agneau be handed to Monsieur du Vallon,” said the king; “do you like brown meats, Monsieur du Vallon?”
“Sire, I like everything,” replied Porthos.
“Everything your majesty sends me.”
“Everything your majesty sends me,” an observation which the king apparently received with great satisfaction.
“People eat well, who work well,” replied the king, delighted to have en tête à tête a guest who could eat as Porthos did. Porthos received the dish of lamb, and put a portion of it on his own plate.
“Well?” said the king.
“Exquisite,” said Porthos calmly.
“Have you as good mutton in your part of the country, Monsieur du Vallon?” continued the king.
“Sire, I believe that from my own province, as everywhere else, the best of everything is sent to Paris for your majesty’s use; but on the other hand, I do not eat lamb in the same way your majesty does.”
“Ah! ah! and how do you eat it?”
“Generally, I have a lamb dressed quite whole.”
“In what manner, then?”
“In this, sire: my cook, who is a German, first stuffs the lamb in question with small sausages, which he procures from Strasburg, force-meat balls, which he procures from Troyes, and larks, which he procures from Pithiviers; by some means or other, which I am not acquainted with, he bones the lamb as he would do a fowl, leaving the skin on, however, which forms a brown crust all over the animal; when it is cut in beautiful slices, in the same way as an enormous sausage, a rose-colored gravy pours forth, which is as agreeable to the eye as it is exquisite to the palate.”
And Porthos finished by smacking his lips.
The king opened his eyes with delight, and, while cutting some of the faisan en daubee, which was being handed to him, he said:
“That is a dish I should very much like to taste, Monsieur du Vallon. Is it possible--a whole lamb?”
“Completely so, sire.”
“Pass those pheasants to Monsieur du Vallon; I perceive he is an amateur.”
The order was immediately obeyed. Then, continuing the conversation, he said:
“And you do not find the lamb too fat?”
“No, sire; the fat falls down at the same time as the gravy does, and swims on the surface; then the servant who carves removes the fat with a spoon, which I have had expressly made for that purpose.”
“Where do you reside?” inquired the king.
“At Pierrefonds, sire.”
“At Pierrefonds? Where is that, Monsieur du Vallon--near Belle-Isle?”
“Oh, no, sire; Pierrefonds is in the Soissonnais.”
“I thought you alluded to the lamb on account of the salt marshes.”
“No, sire; I have marshes which are not salt, it is true, but which are not the less valuable on that account.”
The king had now arrived at the entremets, but without losing sight of Porthos, who continued to play his part in the best manner.
“You have an excellent appetite, Monsieur du Vallon,” said the king, “and you make an admirable guest at table.”
“Ah, sire, if your majesty were ever to pay a visit to Pierrefonds, we would both of us eat our lamb together; for your appetite is not an indifferent one, by any means.”
D’Artagnan gave Porthos a severe kick under the table, which made Porthos color up.
“At your majesty’s present happy age,” said Porthos, in order to repair the mistake he had made, “I was in the musketeers, and nothing could ever satisfy me then. Your majesty has an excellent appetite, as I have already had the honor of mentioning, but you select what you eat with too much refinement to be called a great eater.”
The king seemed charmed at his guest’s politeness.
“Will you try some of these creams?” he said to Porthos.
“Sire, your majesty treats me with far too much kindness to prevent me speaking the whole truth.”
“Pray do so, Monsieur du Vallon.”
“Well, sire, with regard to sweet dishes, I only recognize pastry, and even that should be rather solid; all these frothy substances swell the stomach and occupy a space which seems to me to be too precious to be so badly tenanted. “
“Ah! gentlemen,” said the king, indicating Porthos by a gesture, “here is indeed a perfect model of gastronomy. It was in such a manner that our fathers, who so well knew what good living was, used to eat, while we,” added his majesty, “can do nothing but trifle with our food.”
And as he spoke, he took the breast of a chicken with ham, while Porthos attacked a dish of partridges and landrails. The cup-bearer filled his majesty’s glass.
“Give Monsieur du Vallon some of my wine,” said the king.
This was one of the greatest honors of the royal table. D’Artagnan pressed his friend’s knee.
“If you could only manage to swallow the half of that boar’s head I see yonder,” said he to Porthos, “I shall believe you will be a duke and peer within the next twelve-month. “
“Presently,” said Porthos phlegmatically; “I shall come to it by and by.”
In fact, it was not long before it came to the boar’s turn, for the king seemed to take a pleasure in urging on his guest; he did not pass any of the dishes to Porthos until he had tasted them himself, and he accordingly took some of the boar’s head. Porthos showed that he could keep pace with his sovereign; and instead of eating the half, as D’Artagnan had told him, he ate three-quarters of it.
“It is impossible,” said the king, in an undertone, “that a gentleman who eats so good a supper every day, and who has such beautiful teeth, can be otherwise than the most straightforward, upright man in my kingdom.”
“Do you hear?” said D’Artagnan, in his friend’s ear.
“Yes, I think I am rather in favor,” said Porthos, balancing himself on his chair.
“Oh! you are in luck’s way.”
The king and Porthos continued to eat in the same manner, to the great satisfaction of the other guests, some of whom, from emulation, had attempted to follow them, but had been obliged to give up on the way. The king soon began to get flushed, and the reaction of the blood to his face announced that the moment of repletion had arrived. It was then that Louis XIV., instead of becoming gay and cheerful, as most good livers generally do, became dull, melancholy, and taciturn. Porthos, on the contrary, was lively and communicative. D’Artagnan’s foot had more than once to remind him of this peculiarity of the king. The dessert now made its appearance. The king had ceased to think anything further of Porthos; he turned his eyes anxiously toward the entrance door, and he was heard occasionally to inquire how it happened that M. de St. Aignan was so long in arriving. At last, at the moment when his majesty was finishing a pot of preserved plums with a deep sigh, St. Aignan appeared. The king’s eyes, which had become somewhat dull, immediately began to sparkle. The comte advanced toward the king’s table, and Louis arose at his approach. Everybody arose at the same time, including Porthos, who was just finishing an almond-cake capable of making the jaws of a crocodile stick together. The supper was over.