Chapter 47: Madame de Belliere’s Plate and Diamonds

  1. 46: La Fontaine as a Negotiator
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 48: M de Mazarin’s Receipt

Hardly had Fouquet dismissed Vanel than he began to reflect for a few moments: “A man never can do too much for the woman he has once loved. Marguerite wishes to be the wife of a procureur-général, and why not confer this pleasure upon her? And now that the most scrupulous and sensitive conscience will be unable to reproach me with anything, let my thoughts be bestowed on the woman who loves me. Madame de Belliere ought to be there by this time”; and he turned towards the secret door.

After Fouquet had locked himself in, he opened the subterranean passage, and rapidly hastened towards the means of communicating between the house at Vincennes and his own residence. He had neglected to apprise his friend of his approach by ringing the bell, perfectly assured that she would never fail to be exact at the rendezvous. In fact, the marchioness had arrived, and was waiting. The noise the superintendent made aroused her; she ran to take from under the door the letter which he had thrust there, and which simply said, “Come, Marchioness; we are waiting supper for you.” With her heart filled with happiness, Madame de Belliere ran to her carriage in the Avenue de Vincennes; in a few minutes she was holding out her hand to Gourville, who was standing at the entrance, where, in order the better to please his master, he had stationed himself to watch her arrival. She had not observed that Fouquet’s black horses had arrived at the same time, smoking and covered with foam, having returned to St. Mandé with Pélisson and the very jeweller to whom Madame de Belliere had sold her plate and her jewels. Pélisson introduced the goldsmith into the cabinet, which Fouquet had not yet left. The superintendent thanked him for having been good enough to regard as a simple deposit in his hands the valuable property which he had had every right to sell. He cast his eyes on the total of the account, which amounted to thirteen hundred thousand livres. Then, going to his desk, he wrote an order for fourteen hundred thousand livres, payable at sight, at his treasury, before twelve o’clock the next day.

“A hundred thousand livres’ profit! cried the goldsmith. “Oh, Monseigneur, what generosity!”

“Nay, nay, not so, Monsieur,” said Fouquet, touching him on the shoulder; “there are certain kindnesses which can never be repaid. The profit is about that which you would have made, but the interest of your money still remains to be arranged”; and saying this, he unfastened from his sleeve a diamond button, which the goldsmith himself had often valued at three thousand pistoles. “Take this,” he said to the goldsmith, “in remembrance of me; and farewell! You are an honest man.”

“And you, Monseigneur,” cried the goldsmith, completely overcome, “are a grand nobleman!”

Fouquet let the worthy goldsmith pass out of the room by a secret door, and then went to receive Madame de Belliere, who was already surrounded by all the guests. The marchioness was always beautiful, but now her loveliness was dazzling.

“Do you not think, gentlemen,” said Fouquet, “that Madame is incomparably beautiful this evening? And do you happen to know why?”

“Because Madame is the most beautiful of women,” said some one.

“No; but because she is the best. And yet-”

“Yet?” said the marchioness, smiling.

“And yet, all the jewels which Madame is wearing this evening are nothing but false stones.”

She blushed.

“Oh! oh!” exclaimed all the guests; “that can very well be said of one who has the finest diamonds in Paris.”

“Well?” said Fouquet to Pélisson, in a low tone.

“Well, at last I have understood you,” returned the latter; “and you have done well.”

“That is pleasant,” said the superintendent, with a smile.

“Supper is ready, Monseigneur,” said Vatel, with majestic air and tone.

The crowd of guests hurried more rapidly than is customary at ministerial entertainments towards the banqueting-room, where a magnificent spectacle presented itself. Upon the buffets, upon the side-tables, upon the supper-table itself, in the midst of flowers and light, glittered most dazzlingly the richest and most costly gold and silver plate that was ever seen,- relics of those ancient magnificent productions which the Florentine artists, whom the Medici family had patronized, had sculptured, chased, and cast for the purpose of holding flowers, at a time when gold yet existed in France. These hidden marvels, which had been buried during the civil wars, had timidly reappeared during the intervals of that war of good taste called the Fronde,- when noblemen, fighting against noblemen, killed but did not pillage one another. All that plate had Madame de Belliere’s arms engraved upon it. “Look!” cried La Fontaine, “here is a P and a B.”

But the most remarkable object present was the cover which Fouquet had assigned to the marchioness. Near her was a pyramid of diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, antique cameos; sardonyx stones, carved by the old Greeks of Asia Minor, with mountings of Mysian gold; curious mosaics of ancient Alexandria, mounted in silver; and massive Egyptian bracelets lay heaped up in a large plate of Palissy ware, supported by a tripod of gilt bronze which had been sculptured by Benvenuto. The marchioness turned pale as she recognized what she had never expected to see again. A profound silence seemed to seize upon every one of the restless and excited guests. Fouquet did not even make a sign in dismissal of the richly liveried servants who crowded like bees round the huge buffets and other tables in the room. “Gentlemen,” he said, “all this plate which you behold once belonged to Madame de Belliere, who having observed one of her friends in great distress, sent all this gold and silver, together with the heap of jewels now before her, to her goldsmith. This noble conduct of a devoted friend can well be understood by such friends as you. Happy, indeed, is that man who sees himself loved in such a manner! Let us drink to the health of Madame de Belliere.”

A tremendous burst of applause followed his words, and made poor Madame de Belliere sink back dumb and breathless on her seat. “And then,” added Pélisson, whom all nobleness aroused and all beauty charmed, “let us also drink to the health of him who inspired Madame’s noble conduct; for such a man is worthy of being worthily loved.”

It was now the marchioness’s turn. She rose, pale and smiling; and as she held out her glass with a faltering hand, and her trembling fingers touched those of Fouquet, her look, full of love, found its reflection and response in that of her ardent and generous-hearted lover.

Begun in this manner, the supper soon became a fête. No one sought for wit, because no one was without it. La Fontaine forgot his Gorgny wine, and allowed Vatel to reconcile him to the wines of the Rhone and those from the shores of Spain. The Abbé Fouquet became so good-natured that Gourville said to him, “Take care, Monsieur l’Abbé! If you are so tender, you will be eaten.”

The hours passed away so joyously that, contrary to his usual custom, the superintendent did not leave the table before the end of the dessert. He smiled upon his friends, delighted as a man is whose heart becomes intoxicated before his head; and for the first time he looked at the clock. Suddenly a carriage rolled into the courtyard; and, strange to say, it was heard high above the noise of the mirth which prevailed. Fouquet listened attentively, and then turned his eyes towards the antechamber. It seemed as if he could hear a step passing across it, and as if this step, instead of touching the ground, pressed upon his heart. Involuntarily his foot parted company with the foot which Madame de Belliere had rested on his for two hours.

“M. d’Herblay, Bishop of Vannes!” the usher announced; and Aramis’s grave and thoughtful face appeared in the door-way, between the remains of two garlands, the thread of which the flame of a lamp had just burned.

  1. 46: La Fontaine as a Negotiator
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 48: M de Mazarin’s Receipt