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List Of Contents | Contents of The Vicomte de Bragelonne, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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Perhaps the alteration was caused by the cancer which had begun to
consume her breast.  "Yes, madame," said the king; "yes, M. de Mazarin is
very ill."

"And it would be a great loss to the kingdom if God were to summon his
eminence away.  Is not that your opinion as well as mine, my son?" said
the queen.

"Yes, madame; yes, certainly, it would be a great loss for the kingdom,"
said Louis, coloring; "but the peril does not seem to me to be so great;
besides, the cardinal is still young."  The king had scarcely ceased
speaking when an usher lifted the tapestry, and stood with a paper in his
hand, waiting for the king to speak to him.

"What have you there?" asked the king.

"A message from M. de Mazarin," replied the usher.

"Give it to me," said the king; and he took the paper.  But at the moment
he was about to open it, there was a great noise in the gallery, the ante-
chamber, and the court.

"Ah, ah," said Louis XIV., who doubtless knew the meaning of that triple
noise.  "How could I say there was but one king in France!  I was
mistaken, there are two."

As he spoke or thought thus, the door opened, and the superintendent of
finances, Fouquet, appeared before his nominal master.  It was he who
made the noise in the ante-chamber, it was his horse that made the noise
in the courtyard.  In addition to all this, a loud murmur was heard along
his passage, which did not die away till some time after he had passed.
It was this murmur which Louis XIV. regretted so deeply not hearing as he
passed, and dying away behind him.

"He is not precisely a king, as you fancy," said Anne of Austria to her
son; "he is only a man who is much too rich - that is all."

Whilst saying these words, a bitter feeling gave to these words of the
queen a most hateful expression; whereas the brow of the king, calm and
self-possessed, on the contrary, was without the slightest wrinkle.  He
nodded, therefore, familiarly to Fouquet, whilst he continued to unfold
the paper given to him by the usher.  Fouquet perceived this movement,
and with a politeness at once easy and respectful, advanced towards the
queen, so as not to disturb the king.  Louis had opened the paper, and
yet he did not read it.  He listened to Fouquet paying the most charming
compliments to the queen upon her hand and arm.  Anne of Austria's frown
relaxed a little, she even almost smiled.  Fouquet perceived that the
king, instead of reading, was looking at him; he turned half round,
therefore, and while continuing his conversation with the queen, faced
the king.

"You know, Monsieur Fouquet," said Louis, "how ill M. Mazarin is?"

"Yes, sire, I know that," said Fouquet; "in fact, he is very ill.  I was
at my country-house of Vaux when the news reached me; and the affair
seemed so pressing that I left at once."

"You left Vaux this evening, monsieur?"

"An hour and a half ago, yes, your majesty," said Fouquet, consulting a
watch, richly ornamented with diamonds.

"An hour and a half!" said the king, still able to restrain his anger,
but not to conceal his astonishment.

"I understand you, sire.  Your majesty doubts my word, and you have
reason to do so; but I have really come in that time, though it is
wonderful!  I received from England three pairs of very fast horses, as I
had been assured.  They were placed at distances of four leagues apart,
and I tried them this evening.  They really brought me from Vaux to the
Louvre in an hour and a half, so your majesty sees I have not been
cheated."  The queen-mother smiled with something like secret envy.  But
Fouquet caught her thought.  "Thus, madame," he promptly said, "such
horses are made for kings, not for subjects; for kings ought never to
yield to any one in anything."

The king looked up.

"And yet," interrupted Anne of Austria, "you are not a king, that I know
of, M. Fouquet."

"Truly not, madame; therefore the horses only await the orders of his
majesty to enter the royal stables; and if I allowed myself to try them,
it was only for fear of offering to the king anything that was not
positively wonderful."

The king became quite red.

"You know, Monsieur Fouquet," said the queen, "that at the court of
France it is not the custom for a subject to offer anything to his king."

Louis started.

"I hoped, madame," said Fouquet, much agitated, "that my love for his
majesty, my incessant desire to please him, would serve to compensate the
want of etiquette.  It was not so much a present that I permitted myself
to offer, as the tribute I paid."

"Thank you, Monsieur Fouquet," said the king politely, "and I am
gratified by your intention, for I love good horses; but you know I am
not very rich; you, who are my superintendent of finances, know it better
than any one else.  I am not able, then, however willing I may be, to
purchase such a valuable set of horses."

Fouquet darted a haughty glance at the queen-mother, who appeared to
triumph at the false position in which the minister had placed himself,
and replied: -

"Luxury is the virtue of kings, sire: it is luxury which makes them
resemble God; it is by luxury they are more than other men.  With luxury
a king nourishes his subjects, and honors them.  Under the mild heat of
this luxury of kings springs the luxury of individuals, a source of
riches for the people.  His majesty, by accepting the gift of these six
incomparable horses, would stimulate the pride of his own breeders, of
Limousin, Perche, and Normandy; and this emulation would have been
beneficial to all.  But the king is silent, and consequently I am
condemned."

During this speech, Louis was, unconsciously, folding and unfolding
Mazarin's paper, upon which he had not cast his eyes.  At length he
glanced upon it, and uttered a faint cry at reading the first line.

"What is the matter, my son?" asked the queen, anxiously, and going
towards the king.

"From the cardinal," replied the king, continuing to read; "yes, yes, it
is really from him."

"Is he worse, then?"

"Read!" said the king, passing the parchment to his mother, as if he
thought that nothing less than reading would convince Anne of Austria of
a thing so astonishing as was conveyed in that paper.

Anne of Austria read in turn, and as she read, her eyes sparkled with joy
all the greater from her useless endeavor to hide it, which attracted the
attention of Fouquet.

"Oh! a regularly drawn up deed of gift," said she.

"A gift?" repeated Fouquet.

"Yes," said the king, replying pointedly to the superintendent of
finances, "yes, at the point of death, monsieur le cardinal makes me a
donation of all his wealth."

"Forty millions," cried the queen.  "Oh, my son! this is very noble on
the part of his eminence, and will silence all malicious rumors; forty
millions scraped together slowly, coming back all in one heap to the
treasury!  It is the act of a faithful subject and a good Christian."
And having once more cast her eyes over the act, she restored it to Louis
XIV., whom the announcement of the sum greatly agitated.  Fouquet had
taken some steps backwards and remained silent.  The king looked at him,
and held the paper out to him, in turn.  The superintendent only bestowed
a haughty look of a second upon it; then bowing, - "Yes, sire," said he,
"a donation, I see."

"You must reply to it, my son," said Anne of Austria; "you must reply to
it, and immediately."

"But how, madame?"

"By a visit to the cardinal."

"Why, it is but an hour since I left his eminence," said the king.

"Write, then, sire."

"Write!" said the young king, with evident repugnance.

"Well!" replied Anne of Austria, "it seems to me, my son, that a man who
has just made such a present, has a good right to expect to be thanked
for it with some degree of promptitude."  Then turning towards Fouquet:
"Is not that likewise your opinion, monsieur?"

"That the present is worth the trouble?  Yes, madame," said Fouquet, with
a lofty air that did not escape the king.

"Accept, then, and thank him," insisted Anne of Austria.

"What says M. Fouquet?" asked Louis XIV.

"Does your majesty wish to know my opinion?"

"Yes."

"Thank him, sire - "

"Ah!" said the queen.

"But do not accept," continued Fouquet.

"And why not?" asked the queen.

"You have yourself said why, madame," replied Fouquet; "because kings
cannot and ought not to receive presents from their subjects."

The king remained silent between these two contrary opinions.

"But forty millions!" said Anne of Austria, in the same tone as that in
which, at a later period, poor Marie Antoinette replied, "You will tell
me as much!"

"I know," said Fouquet, laughing, "forty millions makes a good round sum,
- such a sum as could almost tempt a royal conscience."

"But, monsieur," said Anne of Austria, "instead of persuading the king
not to receive this present, recall to his majesty's mind, you, whose
duty it is, that these forty millions are a fortune to him."

"It is precisely, madame, because these forty millions would be a fortune
that I will say to the king, 'Sire, if it be not decent for a king to
accept from a subject six horses, worth twenty thousand livres, it would
be disgraceful for him to owe a fortune to another subject, more or less
scrupulous in the choice of the materials which contributed to the
building up of that fortune.'"

"It ill becomes you, monsieur, to give your king a lesson," said Anne of
Austria; "better procure for him forty millions to replace those you make
him lose."

"The king shall have them whenever he wishes," said the superintendent of
finances, bowing.

"Yes, by oppressing the people," said the queen.

"And were they not oppressed, madame," replied Fouquet, "when they were
made to sweat the forty millions given by this deed?  Furthermore, his
majesty has asked my opinion, I have given it; if his majesty ask my
concurrence, it will be the same."

"Nonsense! accept, my son, accept," said Anne of Austria.  "You are above
reports and interpretations."

"Refuse, sire," said Fouquet.  "As long as a king lives, he has no other
measure but his conscience, - no other judge than his own desires; but

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