Chapter 24: The False King

  1. 23: The King’s Gratitude
  2. Man in the Iron Mask
  3. 25: In Which Porthos Thinks He Is Pursuing a Duchy

In the mean time, usurped royalty was playing out its part bravely at Vaux. Philippe gave orders that for his petit lever, the grandes entrees, already prepared to appear before the King, should be introduced. He determined to give this order notwithstanding the absence of M. d’Herblay, who did not return, and our readers know for what reason. But the Prince, not believing that the absence could be prolonged, wished, as all rash spirits do, to try his valor and his fortune independently of all protection and all counsel. Another reason urged him to this,- Anne of Austria was about to appear; the guilty mother was about to stand in the presence of her sacrificed son. Philippe was not willing, if he should betray any weakness, to render the man a witness of it before whom he was bound thenceforth to display so much strength.

Philippe opened his folding-doors, and several persons entered silently. Philippe did not stir while his valets de chambre dressed him. He had watched, the evening before, all the habits of his brother, and played the King in such a manner as to awaken no suspicion. He was then completely dressed in his hunting costume when he received his visitors. His own memory and the notes of Aramis announced everybody to him, first of all Anne of Austria, to whom Monsieur gave his hand, and then Madame with M. de Saint-Aignan. He smiled at seeing these countenances, but trembled on recognizing his mother. That figure so noble, so imposing, ravaged by pain, pleaded in his heart the cause of that famous Queen who had immolated a child to reasons of state. He found his mother still handsome. He knew that Louis XIV loved her; and he promised himself to love her likewise, and not to prove a cruel chastisement for her old age. He contemplated his brother with a tenderness easily to be understood. The latter had usurped nothing over him, had cast no shade over his life; a separate branch, he allowed the stem to rise without heeding its elevation or the majesty of its life. Philippe promised himself to be a kind brother to this Prince, who required nothing but gold to minister to his pleasures. He bowed with a friendly air to De Saint-Aignan, who was all reverences and smiles, and tremblingly held out his hand to Henrietta, his sister-in-law, whose beauty struck him; but he saw in her eyes an expression of coldness which would facilitate, as he thought, their future relations.

“How much more easy,” thought he, “it will be to be the brother of that woman than her gallant, if she evinces towards me a coldness that my brother could not have for her, and which is imposed upon me as a duty.” The only visit he dreaded at this moment was that of the Queen; his heart, his mind, had just been shaken by so violent a trial that in spite of their firm temperament they would not, perhaps, support another shock. Happily the Queen did not come.

Then began, on the part of Anne of Austria, a political dissertation upon the welcome M. Fouquet had given to the house of France. She mixed up hostilities with compliments addressed to the King, and questions as to his health with little maternal flatteries and diplomatic artifices. “Well, my son,” said she, “are you convinced with regard to M. Fouquet?”

“Saint-Aignan,” said Philippe, “have the goodness to go and inquire after the Queen.”

At these words, the first which Philippe had pronounced aloud, the slight difference that there was between his voice and that of the King was sensible to maternal ears, and Anne of Austria looked earnestly at her son. De Saint-Aignan left the room, and Philippe continued, “Madame, I do not like to hear M. Fouquet ill-spoken of,-you know I do not; and you have even spoken well of him yourself.”

“That is true; therefore I only question you on the state of your sentiments with respect to him.”

“Sire,” said Henrietta, “I, on my part, have always liked M. Fouquet. He is a man of good taste; he is a superior man.”

“A superintendent who is never sordid or niggardly,” added Monsieur, “and who pays in gold all the orders I have on him.”

“Every one in this thinks too much of himself, and nobody for the State,” said the old Queen. “M. Fouquet- it is a fact- M. Fouquet is ruining the State.”

“Well, Mother,” replied Philippe, in rather a lower key, “do you likewise constitute yourself the buckler of M. Colbert?”

“How is that?” replied the old Queen, rather surprised.

“Why, in truth,” replied Philippe, “you speak that just as your old friend Madame de Chevreuse would speak.”

At that name Anne of Austria turned pale and bit her lips. Philippe had irritated the lioness. “Why do you mention Madame de Chevreuse to me?” said she; “and what sort of humor are you in to-day towards me?”

Philippe continued: “Is not Madame de Chevreuse always in league against somebody? Has not Madame de Chevreuse been to pay you a visit, Mother?”

“Monsieur, you speak to me now in such a manner that I can almost fancy I am listening to your father.”

“My father did not like Madame de Chevreuse, and with good reason,” said the Prince. “For my part, I like her no better than he did; and if she thinks proper to come here as she formerly did, to sow divisions and hatreds under the pretext of begging money, why-”

“Well, what?” said Anne of Austria, proudly, herself provoking the storm.

“Well,” replied the young man, firmly, “I will drive Madame de Chevreuse out of my kingdom,- and with her all who meddle with secrets and mysteries.”

He had not calculated the effect of this terrible speech, or perhaps he wished to judge of the effect of it,- like those who suffering from a chronic pain, and seeking to break the monotony of that suffering, touch their wound to procure a sharper pang. Anne of Austria was near fainting. Her eyes, open but meaningless, ceased to see for several seconds; she stretched out her arms towards her other son, who supported and embraced her without fear of irritating the King. “Sire,” murmured she, “you treat your mother cruelly.”

“In what, Madame?” replied he. “I am only speaking of Madame de Chevreuse; does my mother prefer Madame de Chevreuse to the security of the State and to the security of my person? Well, then, Madame, I tell you Madame de Chevreuse is returned to France to borrow money, and that she addressed herself to M. Fouquet to sell him a certain secret.”

“‘A certain secret!’” cried Anne of Austria.

“Concerning pretended robberies that Monsieur the Superintendent had committed; which is false,” added Philippe. “M. Fouquet rejected her offers with indignation, preferring the esteem of the King to all complicity with intriguers. Then Madame de Chevreuse sold the secret to M. Colbert; and as she is insatiable, and was not satisfied with having extorted a hundred thousand crowns from that clerk, she has sought still higher, and has endeavored to find still deeper springs. Is that true, Madame?”

“You know all, Sire,” said the Queen, more uneasy than irritated.

“Now,” continued Philippe, “I have good reason to dislike this fury, who comes to my court to plan the dishonor of some and the ruin of others. If God has suffered certain crimes to be committed, and has concealed them in the shade of his clemency, I will not permit Madame de Chevreuse to have the power to counteract the designs of God.”

The latter part of this speech had so agitated the Queen-Mother that her son had pity on her. He took her hand and kissed it tenderly; she did not perceive that in that kiss, given in spite of repulsions and bitternesses of the heart, there was a pardon for eight years of horrible suffering. Philippe allowed the silence of a moment to swallow the emotions that had just developed themselves. Then, with a cheerful smile, “We will not go to-day,” said he; “I have a plan.” And turning towards the door, he hoped to see Aramis, whose absence began to alarm him. The Queen-Mother wished to leave the room.

“Remain, Mother,” said he; “I wish you to make your peace with M. Fouquet.”

“I bear no ill-will towards M. Fouquet; I only dreaded his prodigalities.”

“We will put that to rights, and will take nothing of the superintendent but his good qualities.”

“What is your Majesty looking for?” said Henrietta, seeing the Prince’s eyes constantly turned towards the door, and wishing to let fly a little poisoned arrow at his heart,- for she supposed he was expecting La Valliere or a letter from her.

“My sister,” said the young man, who had divined her thought, thanks to that marvellous perspicuity of which fortune was from that time about to allow him the exercise,- “my sister, I am expecting a most distinguished man, a most able counsellor, whom I wish to present to you all, recommending him to your good graces- Ah! come in, then, d’Artagnan.”

“What does your Majesty wish?” said d’Artagnan, appearing.

“Where is M. l’Eveque de Vannes, your friend?”

“Why, Sire-”

“I am waiting for him, and he does not come. Let him be sought for.”

D’Artagnan remained for an instant stupefied; but soon, reflecting that Aramis had left Vaux secretly with a mission from the King, he concluded that the King wished to preserve the secret of it, “Sire,” replied he, “does your Majesty absolutely require M. d’Herblay to be brought to you?”

“Absolutely is not the word,” said Philippe,- “I do not want him so particularly as that; but if he can be found-”

“I thought so,” said d’Artagnan to himself.

“Is this M. d’Herblay, Bishop of Vannes?” said Anne of Austria.

“Yes, Madame.”

“A friend of M. Fouquet?”

“Yes, Madame, an old musketeer.”

Anne of Austria blushed.

“One of the four braves who formerly performed such wonders.”

The old Queen repented of having wished to bite; she broke off the conversation, in order to preserve the rest of her teeth. “Whatever may be your choice, Sire,” said she, “I have no doubt it will be excellent.” All bowed in support of that sentiment.

“You will find in him,” continued Philippe, “the depth and penetration of M. de Richelieu, without the avarice of M. de Mazarin!”

“A prime minister, Sire?” said Monsieur, in a fright.

“I will tell you all about that, Brother; but it is strange that M. d’Herblay is not here!” He called out, “Let M. Fouquet be informed that I wish to speak to him- Oh, before you, before you; do not retire!”

M. de Saint-Aignan returned, bringing satisfactory news of the Queen, who only kept her bed from precaution, and to have strength to carry out all the King’s wishes. While some were seeking M. Fouquet and Aramis, Philippe quietly continued his experiments, and no one of the family, officers, or servants had the least suspicion; his air, voice, and manners were so like the King’s. On his side, Philippe, applying to all countenances the faithful description furnished by his accomplice Aramis, conducted himself so as not to give birth to a doubt in the minds of those who surrounded him.

Nothing from that time could disturb the usurper. With what strange facility had Providence just reversed the most elevated fortune of the world to substitute the most humble in its stead! Philippe admired the goodness of God with regard to himself, and seconded it with all the resources of his admirable nature. But he felt at times something like a shadow gliding between him and the rays of his new glory. Aramis did not appear. The conversation had languished in the royal family; Philippe, preoccupied, forgot to dismiss his brother and Madame Henrietta. The latter were astonished, and began by degrees to lose all patience. Anne of Austria stooped towards her son’s ear, and addressed some word to him in Spanish. Philippe was completely ignorant of that language, and grew pale at this unexpected obstacle. But as if the spirit of the imperturbable Aramis had covered him with his infallibility, instead of appearing disconcerted, Philippe rose. “Well! what?” said Anne of Austria.

“What is all that noise?” said Philippe, turning round towards the door of the second staircase.

And a voice was heard saying, “This way! this way! A few steps more, Sire!”

“The voice of M. Fouquet,” said d’Artagnan, who was standing close to the Queen-Mother.

“Then M. d’Herblay cannot be far off,” added Philippe.

But he then saw what he little thought to see so near to him. All eyes were turned towards the door at which M. Fouquet was expected to enter; but it was not M. Fouquet who entered. A terrible cry resounded from all corners of the chamber. It is not given to men, even to those whose destiny contains the strangest elements and accidents the most wonderful, to contemplate a spectacle similar to that which presented itself in the royal chamber at that moment. The half-closed shutters admitted the entrance of only an uncertain light, passing through large velvet curtains lined with silk. In this soft shade the eyes were by degrees dilated, and every one present saw others rather with faith than with positive sight. In these circumstances, however, not one of the surrounding details could escape; and any new object which presented itself appeared as luminous as if it had been enlightened by the sun. So it was with Louis XIV, when he showed himself pale and frowning in the doorway of the secret stairs. The face of Fouquet appeared behind him, impressed with sorrow and sternness. The Queen-Mother, who perceived Louis XIV, and who held the hand of Philippe, uttered the cry of which we have spoken, as if she had beheld a phantom. Monsieur was bewildered, and kept turning his head in astonishment from one to the other. Madame made a step forward, thinking she saw the form of her brother-in-law reflected in a glass; and, in fact, the illusion was possible.

The two Princes, both pale as death,- for we renounce the hope of being able to describe the fearful state of Philippe,- both trembling, and clinching their hands convulsively, measured each other with their looks, and darted their eyes, like poniards, into each other. Mute, panting, bending forward, they appeared as if about to spring upon an enemy. The unheard-of resemblance of countenance, gesture, shape, height, even of costume,- produced by chance, for Louis XIV had been to the Louvre and put on a violet-colored suit,- the perfect likeness of the two Princes completed the consternation of Anne of Austria. And yet she did not at once guess the truth. There are misfortunes in life that no one will accept; people would rather believe in the supernatural and the impossible. Louis had not reckoned upon these obstacles. He expected that he had only to appear and be acknowledged. A living sun, he could not endure the suspicion of parity with any one. He did not admit that every torch should not become darkness at the instant he shone out with his conquering ray. At the aspect of Philippe, then, he was perhaps more terrified than any one round him, and his silence, his immobility, were this time a concentration and a calm which precede violent explosions of passion.

But Fouquet! who could paint his emotion and stupor in presence of this living portrait of his master! Fouquet thought Aramis was right,- that this new-comer was a King as pure in his race as the other, and that for having repudiated all participation in this coup d’etat, so skilfully got up by the General of the Jesuits, he must be a mad enthusiast unworthy of ever again dipping his hands in a political work. And then it was the blood of Louis XIII which Fouquet was sacrificing to the blood of Louis XIII; it was to a selfish ambition he was sacrificing a noble ambition; it was to the right of keeping he sacrificed the right of having! The whole extent of his fault was revealed to him by the simple sight of the pretender. All that passed in the mind of Fouquet was lost upon the persons present. He had five minutes to concentrate his meditations upon this point of the case of conscience; five minutes,- that is to say, five ages,- during which the two Kings and their family scarcely found time to breathe after so terrible a shock.

D’Artagnan, leaning against the wall in front of Fouquet, with his hand to his brow, asked himself the cause of such a wonderful prodigy. He could not have said at once why he doubted, but he knew assuredly that he had reason to doubt, and that in this meeting of the two Louis XIV’s lay all the mystery which during late days had rendered the conduct of Aramis so suspicious to the musketeer. These ideas were, however, enveloped in thick veils. The actors in this assembly seemed to swim in the vapors of a confused waking.

Suddenly Louis XIV, more impatient and more accustomed to command, ran to one of the shutters, which he opened, tearing the curtains in his eagerness. A flood of living light entered the chamber, and made Philippe draw back to the alcove. Louis seized upon this movement with eagerness, and addressing himself to the Queen, “My mother,” said he, “do you not acknowledge your son, since every one here has forgotten his King?” Anne of Austria started, and raised her arms towards Heaven, without being able to articulate a single word.

“My mother,” said Philippe, with a calm voice, “do you not acknowledge your son?” And this time, in his turn, Louis drew back.

As to Anne of Austria, struck in both head and heart with remorse, she was no longer able to stand. No one aiding her, for all were petrified, she sank back in her fauteuil, breathing a weak, trembling sigh. Louis could not endure this spectacle and this affront. He bounded towards d’Artagnan, upon whom the vertigo was beginning to gain, and who staggered as he caught at the door for support. “A moi, mousquestaire!” said he. “Look us in the face and say which is the paler, he or I!”

This cry roused d’Artagnan, and stirred in his heart the fibre of obedience. He shook his head, and without more hesitation, he walked straight up to Philippe, upon whose shoulder he laid his hand, saying, “Monsieur, you are my prisoner!” Philippe did not raise his eyes towards Heaven, nor stir from the spot, where he seemed nailed to the floor, his eye intently fixed upon the King, his brother. He reproached him by a sublime silence with all his misfortunes past, with all his tortures to come. Against this language of the soul Louis XIV felt he had no power; he cast down his eyes, and led away precipitately his brother and sister, forgetting his mother, sitting motionless within three paces of the son whom she left a second time to be condemned to death. Philippe approached Anne of Austria, and said to her in a soft and nobly agitated voice, “If I were not your son, I should curse you, my mother, for having rendered me so unhappy.”

D’Artagnan felt a shudder pass through the marrow of his bones. He bowed respectfully to the young Prince, and said as he bent, “Excuse me, Monseigneur; I am but a soldier, and my oaths are his who has just left the chamber.”

“Thank you, M. d’Artagnan; but what is become of M. d’Herblay?”

“M. d’Herblay is in safety, Monseigneur,” said a voice behind them; “and no one, while I live and am free, shall cause a hair to fall from his head.”

“M. Fouquet!” said the Prince, smiling sadly.

“Pardon me, Monseigneur,” said Fouquet, kneeling; “but he who is just gone out from hence was my guest.”

“Here are,” murmured Philippe, with a sigh, “brave friends and good hearts. They make me regret the world. On, M. d’Artagnan, I follow you!”

At the moment the captain of the Musketeers was about to leave the room with his prisoner, Colbert appeared, and after delivering to d’Artagnan an order from the King, retired. D’Artagnan read the paper, and then crushed it in his hand with rage.

“What is it?” asked the Prince.

“Read, Monseigneur,” replied the musketeer.

Philippe read the following words, hastily traced by the hand of the King:-

“M. d’Artagnan will conduct the prisoner to the ile Ste. Marguerite. He will cover his face with an iron visor, which the prisoner cannot raise without peril of his life.”

“It is just,” said Philippe, with resignation; “I am ready.”

“Aramis was right,” said Fouquet, in a low voice to the musketeer, “this one is quite as much of a King as the other.”

“More,” replied d’Artagnan. “He needs only you and me.”

  1. 23: The King’s Gratitude
  2. Man in the Iron Mask
  3. 25: In Which Porthos Thinks He Is Pursuing a Duchy