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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/301

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261
INFERI.

Lebel, the valet. Given Louis XIV., Bontemps who makes his bed is more powerful than Louvois who raises his armies, and Turenne who gains his victories. Take Père Joseph from Richelieu, and you have little left. There is mystery at least; his eminence in scarlet is magnificent, his eminence in grey is terrible. What power in being a worm! All the Narvaez combined with all the O'Donnells achieve less than one Sister Patrocinio. Of course, the condition of this power is littleness. If you would remain powerful, remain petty,—be nothing. The serpent in repose, twisted into a circle, is a figure at the same time of the infinite and of naught.

One of these ignoble opportunities had fallen to Barkilphedro. He had crawled where he wanted. Vermin can get in anywhere. Louis XIV. had bugs in his bed and Jesuits in his policy. There is no incompatibility in this. In this world, to gravitate is to oscillate. One pole is attracted to the other. Francis I. is attracted by Triboulet; Louis XV. is attracted by Lebel. There exists a deep affinity between extreme elevation and extreme debasement. It is the scullion who directs; nothing is easier of comprehension. It is the person below who pulls the string. No position could be more convenient. He is the eye, and he has the ear. He is the eye of the government; he has the ear of the king. To have the ear of the king is to draw and shut at will the bolt of the royal conscience, and to throw into that conscience whatever one wishes. The mind of a king is your cupboard; if you are a rag-picker, it is your basket. The ears of kings are not their own; consequently the poor devils are not altogether responsible for their actions. He who is not master of his own thoughts is not accountable for his own deeds.

A king obeys—what? Any evil spirit buzzing from