But this time Mazarin was foiled in his expectation: he read nothing upon the face of Athos, not even the respect he was accustomed to see on all faces. Athos was dressed in black, with a simple lacing of silver. He wore the Holy Ghost, the Garter, and the Golden Fleece, three orders of such importance, that a king alone, or else a player, could wear them at once.
Mazarin rummaged a long time in his somewhat troubled memory to recall the name he ought to give to this icy figure, but he did not succeed. “I am told,” said he, at length, “you have a message from England for me.”
And he sat down, dismissing Bernouin, who, in his quality of secretary, was getting his pen ready.
“On the part of his majesty, the king of England, yes, your eminence.”
“You speak very good French for an Englishman, monsieur,” said Mazarin, graciously, looking through his fingers at the Holy Ghost, Garter, and Golden Fleece, but more particularly at the face of the messenger.
“I am not an Englishman, but a Frenchman, monsieur le cardinal,” replied Athos.
“It is remarkable that the king of England should choose a Frenchman for his ambassador; it is an excellent augury. Your name, monsieur, if you please.”
“Comte de la Fere,” replied Athos, bowing more slightly than the ceremonial and pride of the all-powerful minister required.
Mazarin bent his shoulders, as if to say: —
“I do not know that name.”
Athos did not alter his carriage.
“And you come, monsieur,” continued Mazarin, “to tell me — "
“I come on the part of his majesty the king of Great Britain to announce to the king of France” — Mazarin frowned — “to announce to the king of France,” continued Athos, imperturbably, “the happy restoration of his majesty Charles II. to the throne of his ancestors.”
This shade did not escape his cunning eminence. Mazarin was too much accustomed to mankind, not to see in the cold and almost haughty politeness of Athos, an index of hostility, which was not of the temperature of that hot-house called a court.
“You have powers, I suppose?” asked Mazarin, in a short, querulous tone.
“Yes, monseigneur.” And the word “monseigneur” came so painfully from the lips of Athos that it might be said it skinned them.
Athos took from an embroidered velvet bag which he carried under his doublet a dispatch. The cardinal held out his hand for it. “Your pardon, monseigneur,” said Athos. “My dispatch is for the king.”
“Since you are a Frenchman, monsieur, you ought to know the position of a prime minister at the court of France.”
“There was a time,” replied Athos, “when I occupied myself with the importance of prime ministers; but I have formed, long ago, a resolution to treat no longer with any but the king.”
“Then, monsieur,” said Mazarin, who began to be irritated, “you will neither see the minister nor the king.”