The Man in the Iron Mask, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter ii.

How Mouston Had Become Fatter without Giving Porthos Notice Thereof, and of the Troubles Which Consequently Befell that Worthy Gentleman.

Since the departure of Athos for Blois, Porthos and D’Artagnan were seldom together. One was occupied with harassing duties for the king, the other had been making many purchases of furniture which he intended to forward to his estate, and by aid of which he hoped to establish in his various residences something of the courtly luxury he had witnessed in all its dazzling brightness in his majesty’s society. D’Artagnan, ever faithful, one morning during an interval of service thought about Porthos, and being uneasy at not having heard anything of him for a fortnight, directed his steps towards his hotel, and pounced upon him just as he was getting up. The worthy baron had a pensive — nay, more than pensive — melancholy air. He was sitting on his bed, only half-dressed, and with legs dangling over the edge, contemplating a host of garments, which with their fringes, lace, embroidery, and slashes of ill-assorted hues, were strewed all over the floor. Porthos, sad and reflective as La Fontaine’s hare, did not observe D’Artagnan’s entrance, which was, moreover, screened at this moment by M. Mouston, whose personal corpulency, quite enough at any time to hide one man from another, was effectually doubled by a scarlet coat which the intendant was holding up for his master’s inspection, by the sleeves, that he might the better see it all over. D’Artagnan stopped at the threshold and looked in at the pensive Porthos and then, as the sight of the innumerable garments strewing the floor caused mighty sighs to heave the bosom of that excellent gentleman, D’Artagnan thought it time to put an end to these dismal reflections, and coughed by way of announcing himself.

“Ah!” exclaimed Porthos, whose countenance brightened with joy; “ah! ah! Here is D’Artagnan. I shall then get hold of an idea!”

At these words Mouston, doubting what was going on behind him, got out of the way, smiling kindly at the friend of his master, who thus found himself freed from the material obstacle which had prevented his reaching D’Artagnan. Porthos made his sturdy knees crack again in rising, and crossing the room in two strides, found himself face to face with his friend, whom he folded to his breast with a force of affection that seemed to increase with every day. “Ah!” he repeated, “you are always welcome, dear friend; but just now you are more welcome than ever.”

“But you seem to have the megrims here!” exclaimed D’Artagnan.

Porthos replied by a look expressive of dejection. “Well, then, tell me all about it, Porthos, my friend, unless it is a secret.”

“In the first place,” returned Porthos, “you know I have no secrets from you. This, then, is what saddens me.”

“Wait a minute, Porthos; let me first get rid of all this litter of satin and velvet!”

“Oh, never mind,” said Porthos, contemptuously; “it is all trash.”

“Trash, Porthos! Cloth at twenty-five livres an ell! gorgeous satin! regal velvet!”

“Then you think these clothes are —”

“Splendid, Porthos, splendid! I’ll wager that you alone in France have so many; and suppose you never had any more made, and were to live to be a hundred years of age, which wouldn’t astonish me in the very least, you could still wear a new dress the day of your death, without being obliged to see the nose of a single tailor from now till then.”

Porthos shook his head.

“Come, my friend,” said D’Artagnan, “this unnatural melancholy in you frightens me. My dear Porthos, pray get it out, then. And the sooner the better.”

“Yes, my friend, so I will: if, indeed, it is possible.”

“Perhaps you have received bad news from Bracieux?”

“No: they have felled the wood, and it has yielded a third more than the estimate.”

“Then there has been a falling-off in the pools of Pierrefonds?”

“No, my friend: they have been fished, and there is enough left to stock all the pools in the neighborhood.”

“Perhaps your estate at Vallon has been destroyed by an earthquake?”

“No, my friend; on the contrary, the ground was struck with lightning a hundred paces from the chateau, and a fountain sprung up in a place entirely destitute of water.”

“What in the world is the matter, then?”

“The fact is, I have received an invitation for the fete at Vaux,” said Porthos, with a lugubrious expression.

“Well! do you complain of that? The king has caused a hundred mortal heart-burnings among the courtiers by refusing invitations. And so, my dear friend, you are really going to Vaux?”

“Indeed I am!”

“You will see a magnificent sight.”

“Alas! I doubt it, though.”

“Everything that is grand in France will be brought together there!”

“Ah!” cried Porthos, tearing out a lock of hair in his despair.

“Eh! good heavens, are you ill?” cried D’Artagnan.

“I am as firm as the Pont–Neuf! It isn’t that.”

“But what is it, then?”

“’Tis that I have no clothes!”

D’Artagnan stood petrified. “No clothes! Porthos, no clothes!” he cried, “when I see at least fifty suits on the floor.”

“Fifty, truly; but not one which fits me!”

“What? not one that fits you? But are you not measured, then, when you give an order?”

“To be sure he is,” answered Mouston; “but unfortunately I have gotten stouter!”

“What! you stouter!”

“So much so that I am now bigger than the baron. Would you believe it, monsieur?”

Parbleu! it seems to me that is quite evident.”

“Do you see, stupid?” said Porthos, “that is quite evident!”

“Be still, my dear Porthos,” resumed D’Artagnan, becoming slightly impatient, “I don’t understand why your clothes should not fit you, because Mouston has grown stouter.”

“I am going to explain it,” said Porthos. “You remember having related to me the story of the Roman general Antony, who had always seven wild boars kept roasting, each cooked up to a different point; so that he might be able to have his dinner at any time of the day he chose to ask for it. Well, then, I resolved, as at any time I might be invited to court to spend a week, I resolved to have always seven suits ready for the occasion.”

“Capitally reasoned, Porthos — only a man must have a fortune like yours to gratify such whims. Without counting the time lost in being measured, the fashions are always changing.”

“That is exactly the point,” said Porthos, “in regard to which I flattered myself I had hit on a very ingenious device.”

“Tell me what it is; for I don’t doubt your genius.”

“You remember what Mouston once was, then?”

“Yes; when he used to call himself Mousqueton.”

“And you remember, too, the period when he began to grow fatter?”

“No, not exactly. I beg your pardon, my good Mouston.”

“Oh! you are not in fault, monsieur,” said Mouston, graciously. “You were in Paris, and as for us, we were at Pierrefonds.”

“Well, well, my dear Porthos; there was a time when Mouston began to grow fat. Is that what you wished to say?”

“Yes, my friend; and I greatly rejoice over the period.”

“Indeed, I believe you do,” exclaimed D’Artagnan.

“You understand,” continued Porthos, “what a world of trouble it spared for me.”

“No, I don’t — by any means.”

“Look here, my friend. In the first place, as you have said, to be measured is a loss of time, even though it occur only once a fortnight. And then, one may be travelling; and then you wish to have seven suits always with you. In short, I have a horror of letting any one take my measure. Confound it! either one is a nobleman or not. To be scrutinized and scanned by a fellow who completely analyzes you, by inch and line —’tis degrading! Here, they find you too hollow; there, too prominent. They recognize your strong and weak points. See, now, when we leave the measurer’s hands, we are like those strongholds whose angles and different thicknesses have been ascertained by a spy.”

“In truth, my dear Porthos, you possess ideas entirely original.”

“Ah! you see when a man is an engineer —”

“And has fortified Belle–Isle —’tis natural, my friend.”

“Well, I had an idea, which would doubtless have proved a good one, but for Mouston’s carelessness.”

D’Artagnan glanced at Mouston, who replied by a slight movement of his body, as if to say, “You will see whether I am at all to blame in all this.”

“I congratulated myself, then,” resumed Porthos, “at seeing Mouston get fat; and I did all I could, by means of substantial feeding, to make him stout — always in the hope that he would come to equal myself in girth, and could then be measured in my stead.”

“Ah!” cried D’Artagnan. “I see — that spared you both time and humiliation.”

“Consider my joy when, after a year and a half’s judicious feeding — for I used to feed him up myself — the fellow —”

“Oh! I lent a good hand myself, monsieur,” said Mouston, humbly.

“That’s true. Consider my joy when, one morning, I perceived Mouston was obliged to squeeze in, as I once did myself, to get through the little secret door that those fools of architects had made in the chamber of the late Madame du Vallon, in the chateau of Pierrefonds. And, by the way, about that door, my friend, I should like to ask you, who know everything, why these wretches of architects, who ought to have the compasses run into them, just to remind them, came to make doorways through which nobody but thin people can pass?”

“Oh, those doors,” answered D’Artagnan, “were meant for gallants, and they have generally slight and slender figures.”

“Madame du Vallon had no gallant!” answered Porthos, majestically.

“Perfectly true, my friend,” resumed D’Artagnan; “but the architects were probably making their calculations on a basis of the probability of your marrying again.”

“Ah! that is possible,” said Porthos. “And now I have received an explanation of how it is that doorways are made too narrow, let us return to the subject of Mouston’s fatness. But see how the two things apply to each other. I have always noticed that people’s ideas run parallel. And so, observe this phenomenon, D’Artagnan. I was talking to you of Mouston, who is fat, and it led us on to Madame du Vallon —”

“Who was thin?”

“Hum! Is it not marvelous?”

“My dear friend, a savant of my acquaintance, M. Costar, has made the same observation as you have, and he calls the process by some Greek name which I forget.”

“What! my remark is not then original?” cried Porthos, astounded. “I thought I was the discoverer.”

“My friend, the fact was known before Aristotle’s days — that is to say, nearly two thousand years ago.”

“Well, well, ’tis no less true,” said Porthos, delighted at the idea of having jumped to a conclusion so closely in agreement with the greatest sages of antiquity.

“Wonderfully — but suppose we return to Mouston. It seems to me, we have left him fattening under our very eyes.”

“Yes, monsieur,” said Mouston.

“Well,” said Porthos, “Mouston fattened so well, that he gratified all my hopes, by reaching my standard; a fact of which I was well able to convince myself, by seeing the rascal, one day, in a waistcoat of mine, which he had turned into a coat — a waistcoat, the mere embroidery of which was worth a hundred pistoles.”

“’Twas only to try it on, monsieur,” said Mouston.

“From that moment I determined to put Mouston in communication with my tailors, and to have him measured instead of myself.”

“A capital idea, Porthos; but Mouston is a foot and a half shorter than you.”

“Exactly! They measured him down to the ground, and the end of the skirt came just below my knee.”

“What a marvelous man you are, Porthos! Such a thing could happen only to you.”

“Ah! yes; pay your compliments; you have ample grounds to go upon. It was exactly at that time — that is to say, nearly two years and a half ago — that I set out for Belle–Isle, instructing Mouston (so as always to have, in every event, a pattern of every fashion) to have a coat made for himself every month.”

“And did Mouston neglect complying with your instructions? Ah! that was anything but right, Mouston.”

“No, monsieur, quite the contrary; quite the contrary!”

“No, he never forgot to have his coats made; but he forgot to inform me that he had got stouter!”

“But it was not my fault, monsieur! your tailor never told me.”

“And this to such an extent, monsieur,” continued Porthos, “that the fellow in two years has gained eighteen inches in girth, and so my last dozen coats are all too large, from a foot to a foot and a half.”

“But the rest; those which were made when you were of the same size?”

“They are no longer the fashion, my dear friend. Were I to put them on, I should look like a fresh arrival from Siam; and as though I had been two years away from court.”

“I understand your difficulty. You have how many new suits? nine? thirty-six? and yet not one to wear. Well, you must have a thirty-seventh made, and give the thirty-six to Mouston.”

“Ah! monsieur!” said Mouston, with a gratified air. “The truth is, that monsieur has always been very generous to me.”

“Do you mean to insinuate that I hadn’t that idea, or that I was deterred by the expense? But it wants only two days to the fete; I received the invitation yesterday; made Mouston post hither with my wardrobe, and only this morning discovered my misfortune; and from now till the day after tomorrow, there isn’t a single fashionable tailor who will undertake to make me a suit.”

“That is to say, one covered all over with gold, isn’t it?”

“I wish it so! undoubtedly, all over.”

“Oh, we shall manage it. You won’t leave for three days. The invitations are for Wednesday, and this is only Sunday morning.”

“’Tis true; but Aramis has strongly advised me to be at Vaux twenty-four hours beforehand.”

“How, Aramis?”

“Yes, it was Aramis who brought me the invitation.”

“Ah! to be sure, I see. You are invited on the part of M. Fouquet?”

“By no means! by the king, dear friend. The letter bears the following as large as life: ‘M. le Baron du Vallon is informed that the king has condescended to place him on the invitation list —’”

“Very good; but you leave with M. Fouquet?”

“And when I think,” cried Porthos, stamping on the floor, “when I think I shall have no clothes, I am ready to burst with rage! I should like to strangle somebody or smash something!”

“Neither strangle anybody nor smash anything, Porthos; I will manage it all; put on one of your thirty-six suits, and come with me to a tailor.”

“Pooh! my agent has seen them all this morning.”

“Even M. Percerin?”

“Who is M. Percerin?”

“Oh! only the king’s tailor!”

“Oh, ah, yes,” said Porthos, who wished to appear to know the king’s tailor, but now heard his name mentioned for the first time; “to M. Percerin’s, by Jove! I was afraid he would be too busy.”

“Doubtless he will be; but be at ease, Porthos; he will do for me what he wouldn’t do for another. Only you must allow yourself to be measured!”

“Ah!” said Porthos, with a sigh, “’tis vexatious, but what would you have me do?”

“Do? As others do; as the king does.”

“What! do they measure the king, too? does he put up with it?”

“The king is a beau, my good friend, and so are you, too, whatever you may say about it.”

Porthos smiled triumphantly. “Let us go to the king’s tailor,” he said; “and since he measures the king, I think, by my faith, I may do worse than allow him to measure me!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dumas/alexandre_pere/man-in-the-iron-mask/chapter2.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37