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Chapter 56

Chapter LVI:
Rivals in Politics.

On his return from the promenade, which had been so prolific in poetical
effusions, and in which every one had paid his or her tribute to the
Muses, as the poets of the period used to say, the king found M. Fouquet
waiting for an audience. M. Colbert had lain in wait for his majesty in
the corridor, and followed him like a jealous and watchful shadow; M.
Colbert, with his square head, his vulgar and untidy, though rich
costume, somewhat resembled a Flemish gentleman after he had been over-
indulging in his national drink - beer. Fouquet, at sight of his enemy,
remained perfectly unmoved, and during the whole of the scene which
followed scrupulously resolved to observe a line of conduct particularly
difficult to the man of superior mind, who does not even wish to show his
contempt, for fear of doing his adversary too much honor. Colbert made
no attempt to conceal his insolent expression of the vulgar joy he felt.
In his opinion, M. Fouquet's was a game very badly played and hopelessly
lost, although not yet finished. Colbert belonged to that school of
politicians who think cleverness alone worthy of their admiration, and
success the only thing worth caring for. Colbert, moreover, who was not
simply an envious and jealous man, but who had the king's interest really
at heart, because he was thoroughly imbued with the highest sense of
probity in all matters of figures and accounts, could well afford to
assign as a pretext for his conduct, that in hating and doing his utmost
to ruin M. Fouquet, he had nothing in view but the welfare of the state
and the dignity of the crown. None of these details escaped Fouquet's
observation; through his enemy's thick, bushy brows, and despite the
restless movement of his eyelids, he could, by merely looking at his
eyes, penetrate to the very bottom of Colbert's heart, and he read to
what an unbounded extent hate towards himself and triumph at his
approaching fall existed there. But as, in observing everything, he
wished to remain himself impenetrable, he composed his features, smiled
with the charmingly sympathetic smile that was peculiarly his own, and
saluted the king with the most dignified and graceful ease and elasticity
of manner. "Sire," he said, "I perceive by your majesty's joyous air
that you have been gratified with the promenade."

"Most gratified, indeed, monsieur le surintendant, most gratified. You
were very wrong not to come with us, as I invited you to do."

"I was working, sire," replied the superintendent, who did not even seem
to take the trouble to turn aside his head in merest respect of Colbert's
presence.

"Ah! M. Fouquet," cried the king, "there is nothing like the country. I
should be delighted to live in the country always, in the open air and
under the trees."

"I should hope that your majesty is not yet weary of the throne," said
Fouquet.

"No; but thrones of soft turf are very pleasant."

"Your majesty gratifies my utmost wishes in speaking in that manner, for
I have a request to submit to you."

"On whose behalf, monsieur?"

"Oh behalf of the nymphs of Vaux, sire."

"Ah! ah!" said Louis XIV.

"Your majesty, too, once deigned to make me a promise," said Fouquet.

"Yes, I remember it."

"The _fete_ at Vaux, the celebrated _fete_, I think, it was, sire," said
Colbert, endeavoring to show his importance by taking part in the
conversation.

Fouquet, with the profoundest contempt, did not take the slightest notice
of the remark, as if, as far as he was concerned, Colbert had not even
thought or said a word.

"Your majesty is aware," he said, "that I destine my estate at Vaux to
receive the most amiable of princes, the most powerful of monarchs."

"I have given you my promise, monsieur," said Louis XIV., smiling; "and a
king never departs from his word."

"And I have come now, sire, to inform your majesty that I am ready to
obey your orders in every respect."

"Do you promise me many wonders, monsieur le surintendant?" said Louis,
looking at Colbert.

"Wonders? Oh! no, sire. I do not undertake that. I hope to be able to
procure your majesty a little pleasure, perhaps even a little
forgetfulness of the cares of state."

"Nay, nay, M. Fouquet," returned the king; "I insist upon the word
'wonders.' You are a magician, I believe; we all know the power you
wield; we also know that you can find gold even when there is none to be
found elsewhere; so much so, indeed, that people say you coin it."

Fouquet felt that the shot was discharged from a double quiver, and that
the king had launched an arrow from his own bow as well as one from
Colbert's. "Oh!" said he, laughingly, "the people know perfectly well
out of what mine I procure the gold; and they know it only too well,
perhaps; besides," he added, "I can assure your majesty that the gold
destined to pay the expenses of the _fete_ at Vaux will cost neither
blood nor tears; hard labor it may, perhaps, but that can be paid for."

Louis paused quite confused. He wished to look at Colbert; Colbert, too,
wished to reply to him; a glance as swift as an eagle's, a king-like
glance, indeed, which Fouquet darted at the latter, arrested the words
upon his lips. The king, who had by this time recovered his self-
possession, turned towards Fouquet, saying, "I presume, therefore, I am
now to consider myself formally invited?"

"Yes, sire, if your majesty will condescend so far as to accept my
invitation."

"What day have you fixed?"

"Any day your majesty may find most convenient."

"You speak like an enchanter who has but to conjure up in actuality the
wildest fancies, Monsieur Fouquet. I could not say so much, indeed,
myself."

"Your majesty will do, whenever you please, everything that a monarch can
and ought to do. The king of France has servants at his bidding who are
able to do anything on his behalf, to accomplish everything to gratify
his pleasures."

Colbert tried to look at the superintendent, in order to see whether this
remark was an approach to less hostile sentiments on his part; but
Fouquet had not even looked at his enemy, and Colbert hardly seemed to
exist as far as he was concerned. "Very good, then," said the king.
"Will a week hence suit you?"

"Perfectly well, sire."

"This is Tuesday; if I give you until next Sunday week, will that be
sufficient?"

"The delay which your majesty deigns to accord me will greatly aid the
various works which my architects have in hand for the purpose of adding
to the amusement of your majesty and your friends."

"By the by, speaking of my friends," resumed the king; "how do you intend
to treat them?"

"The king is master everywhere, sire; your majesty will draw up your own
list and give your own orders. All those you may deign to invite will be
my guests, my honored guests, indeed."

"I thank you!" returned the king, touched by the noble thought expressed
in so noble a tone.

Fouquet, therefore, took leave of Louis XIV., after a few words had been
added with regard to the details of certain matters of business. He felt
that Colbert would remain behind with the king, that they would both
converse about him, and that neither of them would spare him in the least
degree. The satisfaction of being able to give a last and terrible blow
to his enemy seemed to him almost like a compensation for everything they
were about to subject him to. He turned back again immediately, as soon,
indeed, as he had reached the door, and addressing the king, said, "I was
forgetting that I had to crave your majesty's forgiveness."

"In what respect?" said the king, graciously.

"For having committed a serious fault without perceiving it."

"A fault! You! Ah! Monsieur Fouquet, I shall be unable to do otherwise
than forgive you. In what way or against whom have you been found
wanting?"

"Against every sense of propriety, sire. I forgot to inform your majesty
of a circumstance that has lately occurred of some little importance."

"What is it?"

Colbert trembled; he fancied that he was about to frame a denunciation
against him. His conduct had been unmasked. A single syllable from
Fouquet, a single proof formally advanced, and before the youthful
loyalty of feeling which guided Louis XIV., Colbert's favor would
disappear at once; the latter trembled, therefore, lest so daring a blow
might overthrow his whole scaffold; in point of fact, the opportunity was
so admirably suited to be taken advantage of, that a skillful, practiced
player like Aramis would not have let it slip. "Sire," said Fouquet,
with an easy, unconcerned air, "since you have had the kindness to
forgive me, I am perfectly indifferent about my confession; this morning
I sold one of the official appointments I hold."

"One of your appointments," said the king, "which?"

Colbert turned perfectly livid. "That which conferred upon me, sire, a
grand gown, and a stern air of gravity; the appointment of procureur-
general."

The king involuntarily uttered a loud exclamation and looked at Colbert,
who, with his face bedewed with perspiration, felt almost on the point of
fainting. "To whom have you sold this department, Monsieur Fouquet?"
inquired the king.

Colbert was obliged to lean against a column of the fireplace. "To a
councilor belonging to the parliament, sire, whose name is Vanel."

"Vanel?"

"Yes, sire, a particular friend of the intendant Colbert," added Fouquet;
letting every word fall from his lips with the most inimitable
nonchalance, and with an admirably assumed expression of forgetfulness
and ignorance. And having finished, and having overwhelmed Colbert
beneath the weight of this superiority, the superintendent again saluted
the king and quitted the room, partially revenged by the stupefaction of
the king and the humiliation of the favorite.

"Is it really possible," said the king, as soon as Fouquet had
disappeared, "that he has sold that office?"

"Yes, sire," said Colbert, meaningly.

"He must be mad," the king added.

Colbert this time did not reply; he had penetrated the king's thought, a
thought which amply revenged him for the humiliation he had just been
made to suffer; his hatred was augmented by a feeling of bitter jealousy
of Fouquet; and a threat of disgrace was now added to the plan he had
arranged for his ruin. Colbert felt perfectly assured that for the
future, between Louis XIV. and himself, their hostile feelings and ideas
would meet with no obstacles, and that at the first fault committed by
Fouquet, which could be laid hold of as a pretext, the chastisement so
long impending would be precipitated. Fouquet had thrown aside his
weapons of defense, and hate and jealousy had picked them up. Colbert
was invited by the king to the _fete_ at Vaux; he bowed like a man
confident in himself, and accepted the invitation with the air of one who
almost confers a favor. The king was about writing down Saint-Aignan's
name on his list of royal commands, when the usher announced the Comte de
Saint-Aignan. As soon as the royal "Mercury" entered, Colbert discreetly
withdrew.

Alexandre Dumas pere