Chapter 10: Crown and Tiara

  1. 9: The Tempter
  2. Man in the Iron Mask
  3. 11: The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

Aramis was the first to descend from the carriage; he held the door open for the young man. He saw him place his foot on the mossy ground with a trembling of the whole body, and walk round the carriage with an unsteady and almost tottering step. It seemed as if the poor prisoner were unaccustomed to walk on God’s earth. It was the 15th of August, about eleven o’clock at night; thick clouds, portending a tempest, overspread the heavens, and shrouded all light and prospect beneath their heavy folds. The extremities of the avenues were imperceptibly detached from the copse by a lighter shadow of opaque gray, which upon closer examination became visible in the midst of the obscurity. But the fragrance which ascended from the grass, fresher and more penetrating than that which exhaled from the trees around him; the warm and balmy air which enveloped him for the first time in years; the ineffable enjoyment of liberty in an open country,- spoke to the Prince in a language so intoxicating that notwithstanding the great reserve, we should almost say the dissimulation, of which we have tried to give an idea, he could not restrain his emotion, and breathed a sigh of joy. Then, by degrees, he raised his aching head and inhaled the perfumed air, as it was wafted in gentle gusts across his uplifted face. Crossing his arms on his chest as if to control this new sensation of delight, he drank in delicious draughts of that mysterious air which penetrates at night-time through lofty forests. The sky he was contemplating, the murmuring waters, the moving creatures,- were not these real? Was not Aramis a madman to suppose that he had aught else to dream of in this world? Those exciting pictures of country life, so free from cares, from fears and troubles; that ocean of happy days which glitters incessantly before all youthful imaginations,- those were real allurements wherewith to fascinate an unhappy prisoner, worn out by prison life and emaciated by the close air of the Bastille. It was the picture, it will be remembered, drawn by Aramis when he offered to the Prince a thousand pistoles which he had with him in the carriage, the enchanted Eden which the deserts of Bas-Poitou hid from the eyes of the world.

Similar to these were the reflections of Aramis as he watched, with an anxiety impossible to describe, the silent progress of the emotions of Philippe, whom he perceived gradually becoming more and more absorbed in his meditations. The young Prince was offering up an inward prayer to Heaven for a ray of light upon that perplexity whence would issue his death or his life. It was an anxious time for the Bishop of Vannes, who had never before been so perplexed. Was his iron will, accustomed to overcome all obstacles, never finding itself inferior or vanquished, to be foiled in so vast a project from not having foreseen the influence which a few tree-leaves and a few cubic feet of air might have on the human mind? Aramis, overwhelmed by anxiety, contemplated the painful struggle which was taking place in Philippe’s mind. This suspense lasted throughout the ten minutes which the young man had requested. During that eternity Philippe continued gazing with an imploring and sorrowful look towards the heavens. Aramis did not remove the piercing glance he had fixed on Philippe. Suddenly the young man bowed his head. His thoughts returned to the earth, his looks perceptibly hardened, his brow contracted, his mouth assumed an expression of fierce courage; and then again his look became fixed, but now it reflected the flame of mundane splendors,- now it was like the face of Satan on the mountain when he brought into view the kingdoms and the powers of earth as temptations to Jesus. Aramis’s appearance then became as gentle as it had before been gloomy.

Philippe, seizing his hand in a quick, agitated manner, exclaimed: “Let us go where the crown of France is to be found!”

“Is this your decision, Monseigneur?” asked Aramis.

“It is.”

“Irrevocably so?”

Philippe did not even deign to reply. He gazed earnestly at the bishop, as if to ask him if it were possible for a man to waver after having once made up his mind.

“Those looks are flashes of fire which portray character,” said Aramis, bowing over Philippe’s hand. “You will be great, Monseigneur; I guarantee it.”

“Let us resume our conversation. I wished to discuss two points with you: in the first place, the dangers or the obstacles we may meet with. That point is decided. The other is the conditions you intend to impose on me. It is your turn to speak, M. d’Herblay.”

“The conditions, Monseigneur?”

“Doubtless. You will not check me in my course for a trifle, and you will not do me the injustice to suppose that I think you have no interest in this affair. Therefore, without subterfuge or hesitation, tell me the truth.”

“I will do so, Monseigneur. Once a King-”

“When will that be?”

“To-morrow evening- I mean in the night.”

“Explain to me how.”

“When I shall have asked your Highness a question.”

“Do so.”

“I sent to your Highness a man in my confidence, with instructions to deliver some closely written notes, carefully drawn up, which will thoroughly acquaint your Highness with the different persons who compose and will compose your court.”

“I perused all the notes.”


“I know them by heart.”

“And understood them? Pardon me, but I may venture to ask that question of a poor, abandoned captive of the Bastille. It will not be a requisite in a week’s time to question further a mind like yours, when you will then be in full possession of liberty and power.”

“Interrogate me, then, and I will be a scholar repeating his lesson to his master.”

“We will begin with your family, Monseigneur.”

“My mother, Anne of Austria?- all her sorrows, her painful malady? Oh, I know her, I know her!”

“Your second brother?” asked Aramis, bowing.

“To these notes,” replied the Prince, “you have added portraits so faithfully painted that I am able to recognize the persons whose characters, manners, and history you have so carefully portrayed. Monsieur, my brother, is a fine, dark young man, with a pale face; he does not love his wife, Henrietta, whom I, Louis XIV, loved a little, and still flirt with, even although she made me weep on the day she wished to dismiss Mademoiselle de la Valliere from her service in disgrace.”

“You will have to be careful with regard to watchfulness of the latter,” said Aramis; “she is sincerely attached to the actual King. The eyes of a woman who loves are not easily deceived.”

“She is fair; has blue eyes, whose affectionate gaze will reveal her identity. She halts slightly in her gait. She writes a letter every day, to which I shall have to send an answer by M. de Saint-Aignan.”

“Do you know the latter?”

“As if I saw him; and I know the last verses he composed for me, as well as those I composed in answer to his.”

“Very good. Do you know your ministers?”

“Colbert, an ugly, dark-browed man, but intelligent; his hair covering his forehead; a large, heavy, full head; the mortal enemy of M. Fouquet.”

“We need not disturb ourselves about M. Colbert.”

“No; because necessarily you will require me to exile him, will you not?”

Aramis, struck with admiration at the remark, said, “You will become very great, Monseigneur.”

“You see,” added the Prince, “that I know my lesson by heart; and with Heaven’s assistance, and yours afterwards, I shall seldom go wrong.”

“You have still a very awkward pair of eyes to deal with, Monseigneur.”

“Yes; the captain of the Musketeers, M. d’Artagnan, your friend.”

“Yes; I can well say ‘my friend.’”

“He who escorted La Valliere to Chaillot; he who delivered up Monk, in a box, to Charles II; he who so faithfully served my mother; he to whom the Crown of France owes so much that it owes everything. Do you intend to ask me to exile him also?”

“Never, Sire! D’Artagnan is a man to whom at a certain given time I will undertake to reveal everything. Be on your guard with him; for if he discovers our plot before it is revealed to him, you or I will certainly be killed or taken. He is a man of action.”

“I will consider. Now tell me about M. Fouquet; what do you wish to be done with regard to him?”

“One moment more, I entreat you, Monseigneur; and forgive me if I seem to fail in respect in questioning you further.”

“It is your duty to do so, and, more than that, your right also.”

“Before we pass to M. Fouquet, I should very much regret forgetting another friend of mine.”

“M. du Vallon, the Hercules of France, you mean. Oh! so far as he is concerned, his fortune is assured.”

“No, it is not he of whom I intended to speak.”

“The Comte de la Fere, then?”

“And his son,- the son of all four of us.”

“The lad who is dying of love for La Valliere, of whom my brother so disloyally deprived him? Be easy on that score! I shall know how to restore him. Tell me one thing, M. d’Herblay! Do men, when they love, forget the treachery that has been shown them? Can a man ever forgive the woman who has betrayed him? Is that a French custom; is it a law of the human heart?”

“A man who loves deeply, as deeply as Raoul loves Mademoiselle de la Valliere, finally forgets the fault of the woman he loves; but I do not know whether Raoul will forget.”

“I will provide for that. Have you anything further to say about your friend?”

“No; that is all.”

“Well, then, now for M. Fouquet. What do you wish me to do for him?”

“To continue him as superintendent, as he has hitherto acted, I entreat you.”

“Be it so; but he is the first minister at present.”

“Not quite so.”

“A King ignorant and embarrassed as I shall be, will, as a matter of course, require a first minister of State.”

“Your Majesty will require a friend.”

“I have only one, and that is you.”

“You will have many others by and by, but none so devoted, none so zealous for your glory.”

“You will be my first minister of State.”

“Not immediately, Monseigneur; for that would give rise to too much suspicion and astonishment.”

“M. de Richelieu, the first minister of my grandmother, Marie de Medicis, was simply Bishop of Lucon, as you are Bishop of Vannes.”

“I perceive that your royal Highness has studied my notes to great advantage; your amazing perspicacity overpowers me with delight.”

“I know, indeed, that M. de Richelieu, by means of the Queen’s protection, soon became cardinal.”

“It would be better,” said Aramis, bowing, “that I should not be appointed first minister until after your royal Highness had procured my nomination as cardinal.”

“You shall be nominated before two months are past, M. d’Herblay. But that is a matter of very trifling moment; you would not offend me if you were to ask more than that, and you would cause me serious regret if you were to limit yourself to that.”

“In that case I have something still further to hope for, Monseigneur.”

“Speak! speak!”

“M. Fouquet will not continue long at the head of affairs; he will soon get old. He is fond of pleasure, which at present is compatible with his labors, thanks to the youthfulness which he still retains; but this youthfulness will disappear at the approach of the first serious annoyance, or upon the first illness he may experience. We will spare him the annoyance, because he is a brave and noble-hearted man; but we cannot save him from ill-health. So it is determined. When you shall have paid all M. Fouquet’s debts, and restored the finances to a sound condition, M. Fouquet will be able to remain the sovereign ruler in his little court of poets and painters; we shall have made him rich. When that has been done, and I shall have become your royal Highness’s prime minister, I shall be able to think of my own interests and yours.”

The young man looked at his interlocutor.

“M. de Richelieu, of whom we were speaking just now,” said Aramis, “was very blamable in the fixed idea he had of governing France unaided. He allowed two kings- King Louis XIII and himself- to be seated upon the same throne, when he might have installed them more conveniently upon two separate thrones.”

“Upon two thrones?” said the Prince, thoughtfully.

“In fact,” pursued Aramis, quietly, “a cardinal, prime minister of France, assisted by the favor and by the countenance of his Most Christian Majesty the King of France; a cardinal to whom the King his master lends the treasures of the State, his army, his counsel,- such a man would be acting with two-fold injustice in applying these mighty resources to France alone. Besides,” added Aramis, with a searching look into the eyes of Philippe, “you will not be a King such as your father was,- delicate in health, slow in judgment, whom all things wearied; you will be a King governing by your brain and by your sword. You would have in the government of the State no more than you could manage unaided; I should only interfere with you. Besides, our friendship ought never to be, I do not say impaired, but even grazed by a secret thought. I shall have given you the throne of France; you will confer on me the throne of Saint Peter. Whenever your loyal, firm, and mailed hand shall have for its mate the hand of a pope such as I shall be, neither Charles V, who owned two thirds of the habitable globe, nor Charlemagne, who possessed it entirely, will reach to the height of your waist. I have no alliances; I have no predilections. I will not throw you into persecutions of heretics, nor will I cast you into the troubled waters of family dissension; I will simply say to you: The whole universe is for us two,- for me the minds of men, for you their bodies; and as I shall be the first to die, you will have my inheritance. What do you say of my plan, Monseigneur?”

“I say that you render me happy and proud, for no other reason than that of having comprehended you thoroughly. M. d’Herblay, you shall be cardinal, and when cardinal, my prime minister; and then you will point out to me the necessary steps to be taken to secure your election as pope, and I will take them. You can ask what guarantees from me you please.”

“It is useless. I shall never act except in such a manner that you will be the gainer; I shall never mount until I shall have first placed you upon the round of the ladder immediately above me; I shall always hold myself sufficiently aloof from you to escape incurring your jealousy, sufficiently near to sustain your personal advantage and to watch over your friendship. All the contracts in the world are easily violated because the interest included in them inclines more to one side than to another. With us, however, it will never be the case; I have no need of guarantees.”

“And so- my brother- will disappear?”

“Simply. We will remove him from his bed by means of a plank which yields to the pressure of the finger. Having retired to rest as a crowned sovereign, he will awaken in captivity. Alone, you will rule from that moment, and you will have no interest more urgent than that of keeping me near you.”

“I believe it. There is my hand, M. d’Herblay.”

“Allow me to kneel before you, Sire, most respectfully. We will embrace each other on the day when we shall both have on our temples- you the crown, and I the tiara.”

“Embrace me this very day; and be more than great, more than skilful, more than sublime in genius,- be good to me, be my father!”

Aramis was almost overcome as he listened to the voice of the Prince. He fancied he detected in his own heart an emotion hitherto unknown to him; but this impression was speedily removed. “His father!” he thought; “yes, his Holy Father.”

The two resumed their places in the carriage, which sped rapidly along the road leading to Vaux-le-Vicomte.

  1. 9: The Tempter
  2. Man in the Iron Mask
  3. 11: The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte