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List Of Contents | Contents of Louise de la Valliere, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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who sees himself loved in such a manner.  Let us drink to the health of
Madame de Belliere."

A tremendous burst of applause followed his words, and made poor Madame
de Belliere sink back dumb and breathless in her seat.  "And then," added
Pelisson, who was always affected by a noble action, as he was invariably
impressed by beauty, "let us also drink to the health of him who inspired
madame's noble conduct; for such a man is worthy of being worthily loved."

It was now the marquise's turn.  She rose, pale and smiling; and as she
held out her glass with a faltering hand, and her trembling fingers
touched those of Fouquet, her look, full of love, found its mirror in
that of her ardent and generous-hearted lover.  Begun in this manner, the
supper soon became a _fete_; no one tried to be witty, but no one failed
in being so.  La Fontaine forgot his Gorgny wine, and allowed Vatel to
reconcile him to the wines of the Rhone, and those from the shores of
Spain.  The Abbe Fouquet became so kind and good-natured, that Gourville
said to him, "Take care, monsieur l'abbe; if you are so tender, you will
be carved and eaten."

The hours passed away so joyously, that, contrary to his usual custom,
the superintendent did not leave the table before the end of the
dessert.  He smiled upon his friends, delighted as a man is whose heart
becomes intoxicated before his head - and, for the first time, looked at
the clock.  Suddenly a carriage rolled into the courtyard, and, strange
to say, it was heard high above the noise of the mirth which prevailed.
Fouquet listened attentively, and then turned his eyes towards the ante-
chamber.  It seemed as if he could hear a step passing across it, a step
that, instead of pressing the ground, weighed heavily upon his heart.
"M. d'Herblay, bishop of Vannes," the usher announced.  And Aramis's
grave and thoughtful face appeared upon the threshold of the door,
between the remains of two garlands, of which the flame of a lamp had
just burnt the thread that once united them.


Chapter XLVIII:
M. de Mazarin's Receipt.

Fouquet would have uttered an exclamation of delight on seeing another
friend arrive, if the cold air and averted aspect of Aramis had not
restored all his reserve.  "Are you going to join us at dessert?" he
asked.  "And yet you would be frightened, perhaps, at the noise which our
wild friends here are making?"

"Monseigneur," replied Aramis, respectfully, "I will begin by begging you
to excuse me for having interrupted this merry meeting; and then, I will
beg you to give me, as soon as your pleasure is attended to, a moment's
audience on matters of business."

As the word "business" had aroused the attention of some of the
epicureans present, Fouquet rose, saying: "Business first of all,
Monsieur d'Herblay; we are too happy when matters of business arrive only
at the end of a meal."

As he said this, he took the hand of Madame de Belliere, who looked at
him with a kind of uneasiness, and then led her to an adjoining _salon_,
after having recommended her to the most reasonable of his guests.  And
then, taking Aramis by the arm, he led him towards his cabinet.  As soon
as Aramis was there, throwing aside the respectful air he had assumed, he
threw himself into a chair, saying: "Guess whom I have seen this evening?"

"My dear chevalier, every time you begin in that manner, I am sure to
hear you announce something disagreeable."

"Well, and this time you will not be mistaken, either, my dear friend,"
replied Aramis.

"Do not keep me in suspense," added Fouquet, phlegmatically.

"Well, then, I have seen Madame de Chevreuse."

"The old duchesse, do you mean?"

"Yes. "

"Her ghost, perhaps?"

"No, no; the old she-wolf herself."

"Without teeth?"

"Possibly, but not without claws."

"Well! what harm can she meditate against me?  I am no miser with women
who are not prudes.  A quality always prized, even by the woman who no
longer presumes to look for love."

"Madame de Chevreuse knows very well that you are not avaricious, since
she wishes to draw some money of you."

"Indeed! under what pretext?"

"Oh! pretexts are never wanting with _her_.  Let me tell you what it is:
it seems that the duchesse has a good many letters of M. de Mazarin's in
her possession."

"I am not surprised at that, for the prelate was gallant enough."

"Yes, but these letters have nothing whatever to do with the prelate's
love affairs.  They concern, it is said, financial matters rather."

"And accordingly they are less interesting."

"Do you not suspect what I mean?"

"Not at all."

"Have you never heard speak of a prosecution being instituted for an
embezzlement, or appropriation rather, of public funds?"

"Yes, a hundred, nay, a thousand times.  Ever since I have been engaged
in public matters I have hardly heard of anything else.  It is precisely
your own case, when, as a bishop, people reproach you for impiety; or, as
a musketeer, for your cowardice; the very thing of which they are always
accusing ministers of finance is the embezzlement of public funds."

"Very good; but take a particular instance, for the duchesse asserts that
M. de Mazarin alludes to certain particular instances."

"What are they?"

"Something like a sum of thirteen millions of francs, of which it would
be very difficult for you to define the precise nature of the employment."

"Thirteen millions!" said the superintendent, stretching himself in his
armchair, in order to enable him the more comfortably to look up towards
the ceiling.  "Thirteen millions - I am trying to remember out of all
those I have been accused of having stolen."

"Do not laugh, my dear monsieur, for it is very serious.  It is positive
that the duchesse has certain letters in her possession, and that these
letters must be as she represents them, since she wished to sell them to
me for five hundred thousand francs."

"Oh! one can have a very tolerable calumny got up for such a sum as
that," replied Fouquet.  "Ah! now I know what you mean," and he began to
laugh very heartily.

"So much the better," said Aramis, a little reassured.

"I remember the story of those thirteen millions now.  Yes, yes, I
remember them quite well."

"I am delighted to hear it; tell me about them."

"Well, then, one day Signor Mazarin, Heaven rest his soul! made a profit
of thirteen millions upon a concession of lands in the Valtelline; he
canceled them in the registry of receipts, sent them to me, and then made
me advance them to him for war expenses."

"Very good; then there is no doubt of their proper destination."

"No; the cardinal made me invest them in my own name, and gave me a
receipt."

"You have the receipt?"

"Of course," said Fouquet, as he quietly rose from his chair, and went to
his large ebony bureau inlaid with mother-of-pearl and gold.

"What I most admire in you," said Aramis, with an air of great
satisfaction, "is, your memory in the first place, then your self-
possession, and, finally, the perfect order which prevails in your
administration; you, of all men, too, who are by nature a poet."

"Yes," said Fouquet, "I am orderly out of a spirit of idleness, to save
myself the trouble of looking after things, and so I know that Mazarin's
receipt is in the third drawer under the letter M; I open the drawer, and
place my hand upon the very paper I need.  In the night, without a light,
I could find it."

And with a confident hand he felt the bundle of papers which were piled
up in the open drawer.  "Nay, more than that," he continued, "I remember
the paper as if I saw it; it is thick, somewhat crumpled, with gilt
edges; Mazarin had made a blot upon the figure of the date.  Ah!" he
said, "the paper knows we are talking about it, and that we want it very
much, and so it hides itself out of the way."

And as the superintendent looked into the drawer, Aramis rose from his
seat.

"This is very singular," said Fouquet.

"Your memory is treacherous, my dear monseigneur; look in another drawer."

Fouquet took out the bundle of papers, and turned them over once more; he
then grew very pale.

"Don't confine your search to that drawer," said Aramis; "look elsewhere."

"Quite useless; I have never made a mistake; no one but myself arranges
any papers of mine of this nature; no one but myself ever opens this
drawer, of which, besides, no one, myself excepted, is aware of the
secret."

"What do you conclude, then?" said Aramis, agitated.

"That Mazarin's receipt has been stolen from me; Madame de Chevreuse was
right, chevalier; I have appropriated the public funds, I have robbed the
state coffers of thirteen millions of money; I am a thief, Monsieur
d'Herblay."

"Nay, nay, do not get irritated - do not get excited."

"And why not, chevalier? surely there is every reason for it.  If legal
proceedings are well arranged, and a judgment given in accordance with
them, your friend the superintendent will soon follow Montfaucon, his
colleague Enguerrand de Marigny, and his predecessor, Semblancay."

"Oh!" said Aramis, smiling, "not so fast as that."

"And why not? why not so fast?  What do you suppose Madame de Chevreuse
has done with those letters - for you refused them, I suppose?"

"Yes; at once.  I suppose that she went and sold them to M. Colbert."

"Well?"

"I said I supposed so; I might have said I was sure of it, for I had her
followed, and, when she left me, she returned to her own house, went out
by a back door, and proceeded straight to the intendant's house in the
Rue Croix des Petits-Champs."

"Legal proceedings will be instituted, then, scandal and dishonor will
follow; and all will fall upon me like a thunderbolt, blindly,
pitilessly."

Aramis approached Fouquet, who sat trembling in his chair, close to the
open drawers; he placed his hand on his shoulder, and in an affectionate
tone of voice, said: "Do not forget that the position of M. Fouquet can
in no way be compared to that of Semblancay or of Marigny."

"And why not, in Heaven's name?"

"Because the proceedings against those ministers were determined,

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