This magnificent palace had been got ready for the reception of the greatest reigning sovereign of the time. M. Fouquet’s friends had transported thither, some their actors and their dresses, others their troops of sculptors and artists; others still their ready-mended pens,- floods of impromptus were contemplated. The cascades, somewhat rebellious nymphs though they were, poured forth their waters brighter than crystal; they scattered over the bronze tritons and nereids their waves of foam, which glistened in the rays of the sun. An army of servants were hurrying to and fro in squadrons in the courtyard and corridors; while Fouquet, who had only that morning arrived, moved about with a calm, observant glance, giving his last orders, after his intendants had inspected everything.
It was, as we have said, the 15th of August. The sun poured down its burning rays upon the heathen deities of marble and bronze; it raised the temperature of the water in the conch shells, and ripened, on the walls, those magnificent peaches of which the King, fifty years later, spoke so regretfully when, at Marly, on an occasion of a scarcity of the finer sorts of peaches being complained of in the beautiful gardens there,- gardens which had cost France double the amount that had been expended on Vaux,- the great King observed to some one, “You are too young to have eaten any of M. Fouquet’s peaches.”
Oh, fame! Oh the blazonry of renown! Oh the glory of the earth! That very man whose judgment was so sound where merit was concerned,- he who had swept into his coffers the inheritance of Nicholas Fouquet, who had robbed him of Lenotre and Lebrun, and had sent him to rot for the remainder of his life in one of the State prisons,- remembered only the peaches of that vanquished, crushed, forgotten enemy! It was to little purpose that Fouquet had squandered thirty million livres in the fountains of his gardens, in the crucibles of his sculptors, in the writing-desks of his literary friends, in the portfolios of his painters; vainly had he fancied that thereby he might be remembered. A peach- a blushing, rich-flavored fruit, nestling in the trellis-work on the garden-wall, hidden beneath its long green leaves,- this small vegetable production, that a dormouse would nibble up without a thought, was sufficient to recall to the memory of this great monarch the mournful shade of the last superintendent of France.
With a complete assurance that Aramis had made arrangements fairly to distribute the vast number of guests throughout the palace, and that he had not omitted to attend to any of the internal regulations for their comfort, Fouquet devoted his entire attentions to the ensemble. In one direction Gourville showed him the preparations which had been made for the fireworks; in another, Moliere led him over the theatre; at last, after he had visited the chapel, the salons, and the galleries, and was again going downstairs, exhausted with fatigue, Fouquet saw Aramis on the staircase. The prelate beckoned to him. The superintendent joined his friend, who paused before a large picture scarcely finished. Applying himself, heart and soul to his work, the painter, Lebrun, covered with perspiration, stained with paint, pale from fatigue and inspiration, was putting the last finishing touches with his rapid brush. It was the portrait of the King, whom they were expecting, dressed in the court suit which Percerin had condescended to show beforehand to the Bishop of Vannes. Fouquet placed himself before this portrait, which seemed to live, as one might say, in the cool freshness of its flesh and in its warmth of color. He gazed upon it long and fixedly, estimated the prodigious labor that had been bestowed upon it, and not being able to find any recompense sufficiently great for this herculean effort, he passed his arm round the painter’s neck, and embraced him. The superintendent, by this action, had ruined a suit of clothes worth a thousand pistoles, but he had invigorated Lebrun. It was a happy moment for the artist; it was an unhappy one for M. Percerin, who was walking behind Fouquet, and was engaged in admiring, in Lebrun’s painting, the suit that he had made for his Majesty,- a perfect work of art, as he called it, which was not to be matched except in the wardrobe of the superintendent. His distress and his exclamations were interrupted by a signal which had been given from the summit of the mansion. In the direction of Melun, in the still empty, open plain, the sentinels of Vaux had perceived the advancing procession of the King and the Queens. His Majesty was entering into Melun with his long train of carriages and cavaliers.
“In an hour-” said Aramis to Fouquet.
“In an hour!” replied the latter, sighing.
“And the people who ask one another what is the good of these royal fetes!” continued the Bishop of Vannes, laughing with his forced smile.
“Alas! I, too, who am not the people, ask the same thing.”
“I will answer you in four-and-twenty hours, Monseigneur. Assume a cheerful countenance, for it is a day of joy.”
“Well, believe me or not, as you like, d’Herblay,” said the superintendent, with a swelling heart, pointing at the cortege of Louis, visible in the horizon, “the King certainly loves me but very little, nor do I care much for him; but I cannot tell you how it is that since he is approaching my house-”
“Well, then, since I know Louis is on his way hither, he is more sacred to me; he is my King, he is almost dear to me.”
“Dear!- yes,” said Aramis, playing upon the word, as the Abbé Terray did, at a later period, with Louis XV.
“Do not laugh, d’Herblay; I feel that if he were really to wish it, I could love that young man.”
“You should not say that to me,” returned Aramis, “but to M. Colbert.”
“To M. Colbert!” exclaimed Fouquet. “Why so?”
“Because he would allow you a pension out of the King’s privy purse, as soon as he becomes superintendent,” said Aramis, preparing to leave as soon as he had dealt this last blow.
“Where are you going?” returned Fouquet, with a gloomy look.
“To my own apartment, to change my costume, Monseigneur.”
“Where are you lodging, d’Herblay?”
“In the blue room on the second story.”
“The room immediately over the King’s room?”
“You will be subject to very great restraint there. What an idea to condemn yourself to a room where you cannot stir or move about!”
“During the night, Monseigneur, I sleep or read in my bed.”
“And your servants?”
“I have only one person with me. I find my reader quite sufficient. Adieu, Monseigneur! Do not overfatigue yourself; keep yourself fresh for the arrival of the King.”
“We shall see you by and by, I suppose, and your friend Du Vallon also?”
“He is lodging next to me, and is at this moment dressing.”
Then Fouquet, bowing, with a smile passed on, like a commander-in-chief who pays the different outposts a visit after the enemy has been signalled.
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