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- Ten Years Later - 2/125 -
contented himself with bowing to Fouquet and entered. At this moment the king floated between the joy the last words of Fouquet had given him, and his pleasure at the return of D'Artagnan. Without being a courtier, D'Artagnan had a glance as sure and as rapid as if he had been one. He read, on his entrance, devouring humiliation on the countenance of Colbert. He even heard the king say these words to him: -
"Ah! Monsieur Colbert; you have then nine hundred thousand livres at the intendance?" Colbert, suffocated, bowed but made no reply. All this scene entered into the mind of D'Artagnan, by the eyes and ears, at once.
The first word of Louis to his musketeer, as if he wished it to contrast with what he was saying at the moment, was a kind "good day." His second was to send away Colbert. The latter left the king's cabinet, pallid and tottering, whilst D'Artagnan twisted up the ends of his mustache.
"I love to see one of my servants in this disorder," said the king, admiring the martial stains upon the clothes of his envoy.
"I thought, sire, my presence at the Louvre was sufficiently urgent to excuse my presenting myself thus before you."
"You bring me great news, then, monsieur?"
"Sire, the thing is this, in two words: Belle-Isle is fortified, admirably fortified; Belle-Isle has a double _enceinte_, a citadel, two detached forts; its ports contain three corsairs; and the side batteries only await their cannon."
"I know all that, monsieur," replied the king.
"What! your majesty knows all that?" replied the musketeer, stupefied.
"I have the plan of the fortifications of Belle-Isle," said the king.
"Your majesty has the plan?"
"Here it is."
"It is really correct, sire: I saw a similar one on the spot."
D'Artagnan's brow became clouded.
"Ah! I understand all. Your majesty did not trust to me alone, but sent some other person," said he in a reproachful tone.
"Of what importance is the manner, monsieur, in which I have learnt what I know, so that I know it?"
"Sire, sire," said the musketeer, without seeking even to conceal his dissatisfaction; "but I must be permitted to say to your majesty, that it is not worth while to make me use such speed, to risk twenty times the breaking of my neck, to salute me on my arrival with such intelligence. Sire, when people are not trusted, or are deemed insufficient, they should scarcely be employed." And D'Artagnan, with a movement perfectly military, stamped with his foot, and left upon the floor dust stained with blood. The king looked at him, inwardly enjoying his first triumph.
"Monsieur," said he, at the expiration of a minute, "not only is Belle- Isle known to me, but, still further, Belle-Isle is mine."
"That is well! that is well, sire, I ask but one thing more," replied D'Artagnan. - "My discharge."
"What! your discharge?"
"Without doubt I am too proud to eat the bread of the king without earning it, or rather by gaining it badly. - My discharge, sire!"
"I ask for my discharge, or I will take it."
"You are angry, monsieur?"
"I have reason, _mordioux!_ Thirty-two hours in the saddle, I ride day and night, I perform prodigies of speed, I arrive stiff as the corpse of a man who has been hung - and another arrives before me! Come, sire, I am a fool! - My discharge, sire!"
"Monsieur d'Artagnan," said Louis, leaning his white hand upon the dusty arm of the musketeer, "what I tell you will not at all affect that which I promised you. A king's word given must be kept." And the king going straight to his table, opened a drawer, and took out a folded paper. "Here is your commission of captain of musketeers; you have won it, Monsieur d'Artagnan."
D'Artagnan opened the paper eagerly, and scanned it twice. He could scarcely believe his eyes.
"And this commission is given you," continued the king, "not only on account of your journey to Belle-Isle but, moreover, for your brave intervention at the Place de Greve. There, likewise, you served me valiantly."
"Ah, ah!" said D'Artagnan, without his self-command being able to prevent a blush from mounting to his eyes - "you know that also, sire?"
"Yes, I know it."
The king possessed a piercing glance and an infallible judgment when it was his object to read men's minds. "You have something to say," said he to the musketeer, "something to say which you do not say. Come, speak freely, monsieur; you know that I told you, once and for all, that you are to be always quite frank with me."
"Well, sire! what I have to say is this, that I would prefer being made captain of the musketeers for having charged a battery at the head of my company, or taken a city, than for causing two wretches to be hung."
"Is this quite true you tell me?"
"And why should your majesty suspect me of dissimulation, I ask?"
"Because I have known you well, monsieur; you cannot repent of having drawn your sword for me."
"Well, in that your majesty is deceived, and greatly; yes, I do repent of having drawn my sword on account of the results that action produced; the poor men who were hung, sire, were neither your enemies nor mine; and they could not defend themselves."
The king preserved silence for a moment. "And your companion, M. d'Artagnan, does he partake of your repentance?"
"Yes, you were not alone, I have been told."
"At the Place de Greve."
"No, sire, no," said D'Artagnan, blushing at the idea that the king might have a suspicion that he, D'Artagnan, had wished to engross to himself all the glory that belonged to Raoul; "no, _mordioux!_ and as your majesty says, I had a companion, and a good companion, too."
"A young man?"
"Yes, sire; a young man. Oh! your majesty must accept my compliments, you are as well informed of things out of doors as things within. It is M. Colbert who makes all these fine reports to the king."
"M. Colbert has said nothing but good of you, M. d'Artagnan, and he would have met with a bad reception if he had come to tell me anything else."
"That is fortunate!"
"But he also said much good of that young man."
"And with justice," said the musketeer.
"In short, it appears that this young man is a fire-eater," said Louis, in order to sharpen the sentiment which he mistook for envy.
"A fire-eater! Yes, sire," repeated D'Artagnan, delighted on his part to direct the king's attention to Raoul.
"Do you not know his name?"
"Well, I think - "
"You know him then?"
"I have known him nearly five-and-twenty years, sire."
"Why, he is scarcely twenty-five years old!" cried the king.
"Well, sire! I have known him ever since he was born, that is all."
"Do you affirm that?"
"Sire," said D'Artagnan, "your majesty questions me with a mistrust in which I recognize another character than your own. M. Colbert, who has so well informed you, has he not forgotten to tell you that this young man is the son of my most intimate friend?"
"The Vicomte de Bragelonne?"
"Certainly, sire. The father of the Vicomte de Bragelonne is M. le Comte de la Fere, who so powerfully assisted in the restoration of King Charles II. Bragelonne comes of a valiant race, sire."
"Then he is the son of that nobleman who came to me, or rather to M. Mazarin, on the part of King Charles II., to offer me his alliance?"
"And the Comte de la Fere is a great soldier, say you?"
"Sire, he is a man who has drawn his sword more times for the king, your father, than there are, at present, months in the happy life of your majesty."
It was Louis XIV. who now bit his lip.
"That is well, M. d'Artagnan, very well! And M. le Comte de la Fere is your friend, say you?"
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