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Chapter 47

Chapter XLVII:
The Orderly Clerk.

The king, anxious to be again quite alone, in order to reflect well upon
what was passing in his heart, had withdrawn to his own apartments, where
M. de Saint-Aignan had, after his conversation with Madame, gone to meet
him. This conversation has already been related. The favorite, vain of
his twofold importance, and feeling that he had become, during the last
two hours, the confidant of the king, began to treat the affairs of the
court in a somewhat indifferent manner: and, from the position in which
he had placed himself, or rather, where chance had placed him, he saw
nothing but love and garlands of flowers around him. The king's love for
Madame, that of Madame for the king, that of Guiche for Madame, that of
La Valliere for the king, that of Malicorne for Montalais, that of
Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente for himself, was not all this, truly,
more than enough to turn the head of any courtier? Besides, Saint-Aignan
was the model of courtiers, past, present, and to come; and, moreover,
showed himself such an excellent narrator, and so discerningly
appreciative that the king listened to him with an appearance of great
interest, particularly when he described the excited manner with which
Madame had sought for him to converse about the affair of Mademoiselle de
la Valliere. While the king no longer experienced for Madame any remains
of the passion he had once felt for her, there was, in this same
eagerness of Madame to procure information about him, great gratification
for his vanity, from which he could not free himself. He experienced
this pleasure then, but nothing more, and his heart was not, for a single
moment, alarmed at what Madame might, or might not, think of his
adventure. When, however, Saint-Aignan had finished, the king, while
preparing to retire to rest, asked, "Now, Saint-Aignan, you know what
Mademoiselle de la Valliere is, do you not?"

"Not only what she is, but what she will be."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that she is everything that woman can wish to be - that is to
say, beloved by your majesty; I mean, that she will be everything your
majesty may wish her to be."

"That is not what I am asking. I do not wish to know what she is to-day,
or what she will be to-morrow; as you have remarked, that is my affair.
But tell me what others say of her."

"They say she is well conducted."

"Oh!" said the king, smiling, "that is mere report."

"But rare enough, at court, sire, to believe when it is spread."

"Perhaps you are right. Is she well born?"

"Excellently; the daughter of the Marquis de la Valliere, and step-
daughter of that good M. de Saint-Remy."

"Ah, yes! my aunt's major-domo; I remember; and I remember now that I saw
her as I passed through Blois. She was presented to the queens. I have
even to reproach myself that I did not on that occasion pay her the
attention she deserved."

"Oh, sire! I trust that your majesty will now repair time lost."

"And the report - you tell me - is, that Mademoiselle de la Valliere
never had a lover."

"In any case, I do not think your majesty would be much alarmed at the
rivalry."

"Yet, stay," said the king, in a very serious tone of voice.

"Your majesty?"

"I remember."

"Ah!"

"If she has no lover, she has, at least, a betrothed."

"A betrothed!"

"What! Count, do you not know that?"

"No."

"You, the man who knows all the news?"

"Your majesty will excuse me. You know this betrothed, then?"

"Assuredly! his father came to ask me to sign the marriage contract: it
is - " The king was about to pronounce the Vicomte de Bragelonne's name,
when he stopped, and knitted his brows.

"It is - " repeated Saint-Aignan, inquiringly.

"I don't remember now," replied Louis XIV., endeavoring to conceal an
annoyance he had some trouble to disguise.

"Can I put your majesty in the way?" inquired the Comte de Saint-Aignan.

"No; for I no longer remember to whom I intended to refer; indeed, I only
remember very indistinctly, that one of the maids of honor was to marry
the name, however, has escaped me."

"Was it Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente he was going to marry?" inquired
Saint-Aignan.

"Very likely," said the king.

"In that case, the intended was M. de Montespan; but Mademoiselle de
Tonnay-Charente did not speak of it, it seemed to me, in such a manner as
would frighten suitors away."

"At all events," said the king, "I know nothing, or almost nothing, about
Mademoiselle de la Valliere. Saint-Aignan, I rely upon you to procure me
every information about her."

"Yes, sire, and when shall I have the honor of seeing your majesty again,
to give you the latest news?"

"Whenever you have procured it."

"I shall obtain it speedily, then, if the information can be as quickly
obtained as my wish to see your majesty again."

"Well said, count! By the by, has Madame displayed any ill-feeling
against this poor girl?"

"None, sire."

"Madame did not get angry, then?"

"I do not know; I only know that she laughed continually."

"That's well; but I think I hear voices in the ante-rooms - no doubt a
courier has just arrived. Inquire, Saint-Aignan." The count ran to the
door and exchanged a few words with the usher; he returned to the king,
saying, "Sire, it is M. Fouquet who has this moment arrived, by your
majesty's orders, he says. He presented himself, but, because of the
lateness of the hour, he does not press for an audience this evening, and
is satisfied to have his presence here formally announced."

"M. Fouquet! I wrote to him at three o'clock, inviting him to be at
Fontainebleau the following day, and he arrives at Fontainebleau at two
o'clock in the morning! This is, indeed, zeal!" exclaimed the king,
delighted to see himself so promptly obeyed. "On the contrary, M.
Fouquet shall have his audience. I summoned him, and will receive him.
Let him be introduced. As for you, count, pursue your inquiries, and be
here to-morrow."

The king placed his finger on his lips; and Saint-Aignan, his heart
brimful of happiness, hastily withdrew, telling the usher to introduce M.
Fouquet, who, thereupon, entered the king's apartment. Louis rose to
receive him.

"Good evening, M. Fouquet," he said, smiling graciously; "I congratulate
you on your punctuality; and yet my message must have reached you late?"

"At nine in the evening, sire."

"You have been working very hard lately, M. Fouquet, for I have been
informed that you have not left your rooms at Saint-Mande during the last
three or four days."

"It is perfectly true, your majesty, that I have kept myself shut up for
the past three days," replied Fouquet.

"Do you know, M. Fouquet, that I had a great many things to say to you?"
continued the king, with a most gracious air.

"Your majesty overwhelms me, and since you are so graciously disposed
towards me, will you permit me to remind you of the promise made to grant
an audience?"

"Ah, yes! some church dignitary, who thinks he has to thank me for
something, is it not?"

"Precisely so, sire. The hour is, perhaps, badly chosen; but the time of
the companion whom I have brought with me is valuable, and as
Fontainebleau is on the way to his diocese - "

"Who is it, then?"

"The bishop of Vannes, whose appointment your majesty, at my
recommendation, deigned, three months since, to sign."

"That is very possible," said the king, who had signed without reading;
"and he is here?"

"Yes, sire; Vannes is an important diocese; the flock belonging to this
pastor needed his religious consolation; they are savages, whom it is
necessary to polish, at the same time that he instructs them, and M.
d'Herblay is unequalled in such kind of missions."

"M. d'Herblay!" said the king, musingly, as if his name, heard long
since, was not, however, unknown to him.

"Oh!" said Fouquet, promptly, "your majesty is not acquainted with the
obscure name of one of your most faithful and valuable servants?"

"No, I confess I am not. And so he wishes to set off again?"

"He has this very day received letters which will, perhaps, compel him to
leave, so that, before setting off for that unknown region called
Bretagne, he is desirous of paying his respects to your majesty."

"Is he waiting?"

"He is here, sire."

"Let him enter."

Fouquet made a sign to the usher in attendance, who was waiting behind
the tapestry. The door opened, and Aramis entered. The king allowed him
to finish the compliments which he addressed to him, and fixed a long
look upon a countenance which no one could forget, after having once
beheld it.

"Vannes!" he said: "you are bishop of Vannes, I believe?"

"Yes, sire."

"Vannes is in Bretagne, I think?" Aramis bowed.

"Near the coast?" Aramis again bowed.

"A few leagues from Bell-Isle, is it not?"

"Yes, sire," replied Aramis; "six leagues, I believe."

"Six leagues; a mere step, then," said Louis XIV.

"Not for us poor Bretons, sire," replied Aramis: "six leagues, on the
contrary, is a great distance, if it be six leagues on land; and an
immense distance, if it be leagues on the sea. Besides, I have the honor
to mention to your majesty that there are six leagues of sea from the
river to Belle-Isle."

"It is said that M. Fouquet has a very beautiful house there?" inquired
the king.

"Yes, it is said so," replied Aramis, looking quietly at Fouquet.

"What do you mean by 'it is said so?'" exclaimed the king.

"He has, sire."

"Really, M. Fouquet, I must confess that one circumstance surprises me."

"What may that be, sire?"

"That you should have at the head of the diocese a man like M. d'Herblay,
and yet should not have shown him Belle-Isle."

"Oh, sire," replied the bishop, without giving Fouquet time to answer,
"we poor Breton prelates seldom leave our residences."

"M. de Vannes," said the king, "I will punish M. Fouquet for his
indifference."

"In what way, sire?"

"I will change your bishopric."

Fouquet bit his lips, but Aramis only smiled.

"What income does Vannes bring you in?" continued the king.

"Sixty thousand livres, sire," said Aramis.

"So trifling an amount as that; but you possess other property, Monsieur
de Vannes?"

"I have nothing else, sire; only M. Fouquet pays me one thousand two
hundred livres a year for his pew in the church."

"Well, M. d'Herblay, I promise you something better than that."

"Sire - "

"I will not forget you."

Aramis bowed, and the king also bowed to him in a respectful manner, as
he was accustomed to do towards women and members of the Church. Aramis
gathered that his audience was at an end; he took his leave of the king
in the simple, unpretending language of a country pastor, and disappeared.

"He is, indeed, a remarkable face," said the king, following him with his
eyes as long as he could see him, and even to a certain degree when he
was no longer to be seen.

"Sire," replied Fouquet, "if that bishop had been educated early in life,
no prelate in the kingdom would deserve the highest distinctions better
than he."

"His learning is not extensive, then?"

"He changed the sword for the crucifix, and that rather late in life.
But it matters little, if your majesty will permit me to speak of M. de
Vannes again on another occasion - "

"I beg you to do so. But before speaking of him, let us speak of
yourself, M. Fouquet."

"Of me, sire?"

"Yes, I have to pay you a thousand compliments."

"I cannot express to your majesty the delight with which you overwhelm
me."

"I understand you, M. Fouquet. I confess, however, to have had certain
prejudices against you."

"In that case, I was indeed unhappy, sire."

"But they exist no longer. Did you not perceive - "

"I did, indeed, sire; but I awaited with resignation the day when the
truth would prevail; and it seems that that day has now arrived."

"Ah! you knew, then, you were in disgrace with me?"

"Alas! sire, I perceived it."

"And do you know the reason?"

"Perfectly well; your majesty thought that I had been wastefully lavish
in expenditure."

"Not so; far from that."

"Or, rather an indifferent administrator. In a word, you thought that,
as the people had no money, there would be none for your majesty either."

"Yes, I thought so; but I was deceived."

Fouquet bowed.

"And no disturbances, no complaints?"

"And money enough," said Fouquet.

"The fact is that you have been profuse with it during the last month."

"I have more, not only for all your majesty's requirements, but for all
your caprices."

"I thank you, Monsieur Fouquet," replied the king, seriously. "I will
not put you to the proof. For the next two months I do not intend to ask
you for anything."

"I will avail myself of the interval to amass five or six millions, which
will be serviceable as money in hand in case of war."

"Five or six millions!"

"For the expenses of your majesty's household only, be it understood."

"You think war probable, M. Fouquet?"

"I think that if Heaven has bestowed on the eagle a beak and claws, it is
to enable him to show his royal character."

The king blushed with pleasure.

"We have spent a great deal of money these few days past, Monsieur
Fouquet; will you not scold me for it?"

"Sire, your majesty has still twenty years of youth to enjoy, and a
thousand million francs to lavish in those twenty years."

"That is a great deal of money, M. Fouquet," said the king.

"I will economize, sire. Besides, your majesty as two valuable servants
in M. Colbert and myself. The one will encourage you to be prodigal with
your treasures - and this shall be myself, if my services should continue
to be agreeable to your majesty; and the other will economize money for
you, and this will be M. Colbert's province."

"M. Colbert?" returned the king, astonished.

"Certainly, sire; M. Colbert is an excellent accountant."

At this commendation, bestowed by the traduced on the traducer, the king
felt himself penetrated with confidence and admiration. There was not,
moreover, either in Fouquet's voice or look, anything which injuriously
affected a single syllable of the remark he had made; he did not pass one
eulogium, as it were, in order to acquire the right of making two
reproaches. The king comprehended him, and yielding to so much
generosity and address, he said, "You praise M. Colbert, then?"

"Yes, sire, I praise him; for, besides being a man of merit, I believe
him to be devoted to your majesty's interests."

"Is that because he has often interfered with your own views?" said the
king, smiling.

"Exactly, sire."

"Explain yourself."

"It is simple enough. I am the man who is needed to make the money come
in; he is the man who is needed to prevent it leaving."

"Nay, nay, monsieur le surintendant, you will presently say something
which will correct this good opinion."

"Do you mean as far as administrative abilities are concerned, sire?"

"Yes."

"Not in the slightest."

"Really?"

"Upon my honor, sire, I do not know throughout France a better clerk than
M. Colbert."

This word "clerk" did not possess, in 1661, the somewhat subservient
signification attached to it in the present day; but, as spoken by
Fouquet, whom the king had addressed as the superintendent, it seemed to
acquire an insignificant and petty character, that at this juncture
served admirably to restore Fouquet to his place, and Colbert to his own.

"And yet," said Louis XIV., "it was Colbert, however, that,
notwithstanding his economy, had the arrangement of my _fetes_ here at
Fontainebleau; and I assure you, Monsieur Fouquet, that in now way has he
checked the expenditure of money." Fouquet bowed, but did not reply.

"Is it not your opinion too?" said the king.

"I think, sire," he replied, "that M. Colbert has done what he had to do
in an exceedingly orderly manner, and that he deserves, in this respect,
all the praise your majesty may bestow upon him."

The word "orderly" was a proper accompaniment for the word "clerk." The
king possessed that extreme sensitiveness of organization, that delicacy
of perception, which pierced through and detected the regular order of
feelings and sensations, before the actual sensations themselves, and he
therefore comprehended that the clerk had, in Fouquet's opinion, been too
full of method and order in his arrangements; in other words, that the
magnificent _fetes_ of Fontainebleau might have been rendered more
magnificent still. The king consequently felt that there was something
in the amusements he had provided with which some person or another might
be able to find fault; he experienced a little of the annoyance felt by a
person coming from the provinces to Paris, dressed out in the very best
clothes which his wardrobe can furnish, only to find that the fashionably
dressed man there looks at him either too much or not enough. This part
of the conversation, which Fouquet had carried on with so much
moderation, yet with extreme tact, inspired the king with the highest
esteem for the character of the man and the capacity of the minister.
Fouquet took his leave at a quarter to three in the morning, and the king
went to bed a little uneasy and confused at the indirect lesson he had
received; and a good hour was employed by him in going over again in
memory the embroideries, the tapestries, the bills of fare of the various
banquets, the architecture of the triumphal arches, the arrangements for
the illuminations and fireworks, all the offspring of the "Clerk
Colbert's" invention. The result was, the king passed in review before
him everything that had taken place during the last eight days, and
decided that faults could be found in his _fetes_. But Fouquet, by his
politeness, his thoughtful consideration, and his generosity, had injured
Colbert more deeply than the latter, by his artifice, his ill-will, and
his persevering hatred, had ever yet succeeded in hurting Fouquet.

Alexandre Dumas pere