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- Ten Years Later - 40/125 -
house for fifteen days, and I shall require - " and he stopped, glancing at Colbert. Fouquet waited without showing discomposure; and the king resumed, answering Colbert's icy smile, "four million francs."
"Four million," repeated Fouquet, bowing profoundly. And his nails, buried in his bosom, were thrust into his flesh, but the tranquil expression of his face remained unaltered. "When will they be required, sire?"
"Take your time, - I mean - no, no; as soon as possible."
"A certain time will be necessary, sire."
"Time!" exclaimed Colbert, triumphantly.
"The time, monsieur," said the superintendent, with the haughtiest disdain, "simply to _count the money_; a million can only be drawn and weighed in a day."
"Four days, then," said Colbert.
"My clerks," replied Fouquet, addressing himself to the king, "will perform wonders on his majesty's service, and the sum shall be ready in three days."
It was for Colbert now to turn pale. Louis looked at him astonished. Fouquet withdrew without any parade or weakness, smiling at his numerous friends, in whose countenances alone he read the sincerity of their friendship - an interest partaking of compassion. Fouquet, however, should not be judged by his smile, for, in reality, he felt as if he had been stricken by death. Drops of blood beneath his coat stained the fine linen that clothed his chest. His dress concealed the blood, and his smile the rage which devoured him. His domestics perceived, by the manner in which he approached his carriage, that their master was not in the best of humors: the result of their discernment was, that his orders were executed with that exactitude of maneuver which is found on board a man-of-war, commanded during a storm by an ill-tempered captain. The carriage, therefore, did not simply roll along - it flew. Fouquet had hardly time to recover himself during the drive; on his arrival he went at once to Aramis, who had not yet retired for the night. As for Porthos, he had supped very agreeably off a roast leg of mutton, two pheasants, and a perfect heap of cray-fish; he then directed his body to be anointed with perfumed oils, in the manner of the wrestlers of old; and when this anointment was completed, he had himself wrapped in flannels and placed in a warm bed. Aramis, as we have already said, had not retired. Seated at his ease in a velvet dressing-gown, he wrote letter after letter in that fine and hurried handwriting, a page of which contained a quarter of a volume. The door was thrown hurriedly open, and the superintendent appeared, pale, agitated, anxious. Aramis looked up: "Good-evening," said he; and his searching look detected his host's sadness and disordered state of mind. "Was your play as good as his majesty's?" asked Aramis, by way of beginning the conversation.
Fouquet threw himself upon a couch, and then pointed to the door to the servant who had followed him; when the servant had left he said, "Excellent."
Aramis, who had followed every movement with his eyes, noticed that he stretched himself upon the cushions with a sort of feverish impatience. "You have lost as usual?" inquired Aramis, his pen still in his hand.
"Even more than usual," replied Fouquet.
"You know how to support losses?"
"What, Monsieur Fouquet a bad player!"
"There is play and play, Monsieur d'Herblay."
"How much have you lost?" inquired Aramis, with a slight uneasiness.
Fouquet collected himself a moment, and then, without the slightest emotion, said, "The evening has cost me four millions," and a bitter laugh drowned the last vibration of these words.
Aramis, who did not expect such an amount, dropped his pen. "Four millions," he said; "you have lost four millions, - impossible!"
"Monsieur Colbert held my cards for me," replied the superintendent, with a similar bitter laugh.
"Ah, now I understand; so, so, a new application for funds?"
"Yes, and from the king's own lips. It was impossible to ruin a man with a more charming smile. What do you think of it?"
"It is clear that your destruction is the object in view."
"That is your opinion?"
"Still. Besides, there is nothing in it which should astonish you, for we have foreseen it all along."
"Yes; but I did not expect four millions."
"No doubt the amount is serious, but, after all, four millions are not quite the death of a man, especially when the man in question is Monsieur Fouquet."
"My dear D'Herblay, if you knew the contents of my coffers, you would be less easy."
"And you promised?"
"What could I _do?_"
"The very day I refuse, Colbert will procure the money; whence I know not, but he _will_ procure it: and I shall be lost."
"There is no doubt of that. In how many days did you promise the four millions?"
"In three days. The king seemed exceedingly pressed."
"_In three days?_"
"When I think," resumed Fouquet, "that just now as I passed along the streets, the people cried out, 'There is the rich Monsieur Fouquet,' it is enough to turn my brain."
"Stay, monsieur, the matter is not worth so much trouble," said Aramis, calmly, sprinkling some sand over the letter he had just written.
"Suggest a remedy, then, for this evil without a remedy."
"There is only one remedy for you, - pay."
"But it is very uncertain whether I have the money. Everything must be exhausted; Belle-Isle is paid for; the pension has been paid; and money, since the investigation of the accounts of those who farm the revenue, is scarce. Besides, admitting that I pay this time, how can I do so on another occasion? When kings have tasted money, they are like tigers who have tasted flesh, they devour everything. The day will arrive - _must_ arrive - when I shall have to say, 'Impossible, sire,' and on that very day I am a lost man."
Aramis raised his shoulders slightly, saying:
"A man in your position, my lord, is only lost when he wishes to be so."
"A man, whatever his position may be, cannot hope to struggle against a king."
"Nonsense; when I was young I wrestled successfully with the Cardinal Richelieu, who was king of France, - nay more - cardinal."
"Where are my armies, my troops, my treasures? I have not even Belle- Isle."
"Bah! necessity is the mother of invention, and when you think all is lost, something will be discovered which will retrieve everything."
"Who will discover this wonderful something?"
"I! I resign my office of inventor."
"Then _I_ will."
"Be it so. But set to work without delay."
"Oh! we have time enough!"
"You kill me, D'Herblay, with your calmness," said the superintendent, passing his handkerchief over his face.
"Do you not remember that I one day told you not to make yourself uneasy, if you possessed courage? _Have_ you any?"
"I believe so."
"Then don't make yourself uneasy."
"It is decided then, that, at the last moment, you will come to my assistance."
"It will only be the repayment of a debt I owe you."
"It is the vocation of financiers to anticipate the wants of men such as yourself, D'Herblay."
"If obligingness is the vocation of financiers, charity is the virtue of the clergy. Only, on this occasion, do you act, monsieur. You are not yet sufficiently reduced, and at the last moment we will see what is to be done."
"We shall see, then, in a very short time."
"Very well. However, permit me to tell you that, personally, I regret exceedingly that you are at present so short of money, because I myself was about to ask you for some."
"For myself, or some of my people, for mine or for ours."
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