“Be it so. I say that this negotiation must pass through my hands. Let us lose no precious time, then. Tell me the conditions.”
“I have had the honor of assuring your eminence that only the letter of his majesty King Charles II. contains the revelation of his wishes.”
“Pooh! you are ridiculous with your obstinacy, Monsieur Athos. It is plain you have kept company with the Puritans yonder. As to your secret, I know it better than you do; and you have done wrongly, perhaps, in not having shown some respect for a very old and suffering man, who has labored much during his life, and kept the field for his ideas as bravely as you have for yours. You will not communicate your letter to me? You will say nothing to me? Very well! Come with me into my chamber; you shall speak to the king — and before the king. — Now, then, one last word: who gave you the Fleece? I remember you passed for having the Garter; but as to the Fleece, I do not know — "
“Recently, my lord, Spain, on the occasion of the marriage of his majesty Louis XIV., sent King Charles II. a brevet of the Fleece in blank; Charles II. immediately transmitted it to me, filling up the blank with my name.”
Mazarin arose, and leaning on the arm of Bernouin, he returned to his ruelle at the moment the name of M. le Prince was being announced. The Prince de Conde, the first prince of the blood, the conqueror of Rocroi, Lens, and Nordlingen, was, in fact, entering the apartment of Monseigneur de Mazarin, followed by his gentlemen, and had already saluted the king, when the prime minister raised his curtain. Athos had time to see Raoul pressing the hand of the Comte de Guiche, and send him a smile in return for his respectful bow. He had time, likewise, to see the radiant countenance of the cardinal, when he perceived before him, upon the table, an enormous heap of gold, which the Comte de Guiche had won in a run of luck, after his eminence had confided his cards to him. So forgetting ambassador, embassy and prince, his first thought was of the gold. “What!” cried the old man — “all that — won?”
“Some fifty thousand crowns; yes, monseigneur,” replied the Comte de Guiche, rising. “Must I give up my place to your eminence, or shall I continue?”
“Give up! give up! you are mad. You would lose all you have won. Peste!”
“My lord!” said the Prince de Conde, bowing.
“Good-evening, monsieur le prince,” said the minister, in a careless tone; “it is very kind of you to visit an old sick friend.”
“A friend!” murmured the Comte de la Fere, at witnessing with stupor this monstrous alliance of words; — “friends! when the parties are Conde and Mazarin!”
Mazarin seemed to divine the thoughts of the Frondeur, for he smiled upon him with triumph, and immediately, — “Sire,” said he to the king, “I have the honor of presenting to your majesty, Monsieur le Comte de la Fere, ambassador from his Britannic majesty. An affair of state, gentlemen,” added he, waving his hand to all who filled the chamber, and who, the Prince de Conde at their head, all disappeared at the simple gesture. Raoul, after a last look cast at the comte, followed M. de Conde. Philip of Anjou and the queen appeared to be consulting about departing.