Chapter 56: Rival Politics

  1. 55: Change of Residence
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 57: Rival Lovers

On his return from the ride which had been so prolific in poetical effusions, and in which everyone had paid tribute to the Muses, as the poets of the period used to say, the King found M. Fouquet waiting for an audience. Behind the King came M. Colbert, who had met the King in the corridor, as if on the watch for him, and followed him like a jealous and watchful shadow,- M. Colbert, with his square head, and his vulgar and untidy though rich costume, which gave him some resemblance to a Flemish gentleman after drinking beer. Fouquet, at the sight of his enemy, remained unmoved, and during the whole of the scene which followed observed that line of conduct so difficult to a man of refinement whose heart is filled with contempt, but who wishes to suppress every indication of it, lest he may do his adversary too much honor. Colbert did not conceal his insolent joy. 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; he saw, then, all there was in that heart,- hatred and triumph. But as he wished, while observing everything, to remain himself impenetrable, he composed his features, smiled with that charmingly sympathetic smile which 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 had a pleasant ride.”

“Charming, indeed, Monsieur the Superintendent, charming! 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 take the trouble to turn aside his head even in recognition 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.”

“Oh! your Majesty is not yet weary of the throne, I trust?” said Fouquet.

“No; but thrones of soft turf are very delightful.”

“Your Majesty gratifies my utmost wishes in speaking in that manner, for I have a request to submit to you.”

“On whose behalf, Monsieur?”

“On behalf of the nymphs of Vaux, Sire.”

“Ah! ah!” said Louis XIV.

“Your Majesty once deigned to make me a promise,” said Fouquet.

“Yes, I remember it.”

“The fête at Vaux, the celebrated fête, is it not, 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, so far as he was concerned, Colbert had not spoken. “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 the Superintendent?” said Louis, looking at Colbert.

“Wonders? Oh, no, Sire! I do not undertake that; but 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.’ Oh, you are a magician! We know your power; we know that you could find gold, even were there none in the world. And, in fact, people say you make 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; they know it only too well, perhaps. Besides,” he added proudly, “I can assure your Majesty that the gold destined to pay the expenses of the fête at Vaux will cost neither blood nor tears; hard labor it may, perhaps. But that can be paid for.”

Louis remained silent; he wished to look at Colbert. Colbert, too, wished to reply; but a glance as swift as an eagle’s,- a proud, loyal, 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 it pleases your Majesty.”

“For what day?”

“Any day your Majesty may find most convenient.”

“You speak like an enchanter who improvises, M. Fouquet. I could not say so much, indeed.”

“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; so far as he was concerned, Colbert did not exist.

“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 to which they were about to subject him. He turned back again immediately, when he had already reached the door, and addressing the King, “Pardon, Sire,” said he,- “pardon!”

“Pardon for what?” said the King, graciously.

“For a serious fault which I committed unawares.”

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

“Against all propriety, Sire. I forgot to inform your Majesty of a circumstance of considerable importance.”

“What is it?”

Colbert trembled; he expected a denunciation. His conduct had been unmasked. A single syllable from Fouquet, a single proof formally advanced, and before the youthful loyalty of Louis XIV Colbert’s favor would disappear at once. The latter trembled, therefore, lest so daring a blow might not overthrow his whole scaffold. In point of fact, the opportunity was so admirably suited to be taken advantage of, that a skilful player like Aramis would not have let it slip. “Sire,” said Fouquet, with an easy air, “since you have had the kindness to forgive me, I am 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 livid. “That which conferred upon me, Sire, a grand gown and an air of gravity,- the appointment of procureur-général.”

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 appointment, M. Fouquet?” inquired the King.

Colbert was obliged to lean against the side of the fire-place.

“To a councillor belonging to the parliament, Sire, whose name is Vanel.”


“A friend of the intendant Colbert,” added Fouquet, letting every word fall from his lips with inimitable nonchalance, and with an admirably assumed expression of forgetfulness and ignorance which neither painter, actor, nor poet could reproduce with brush, gesture, or pen. Then having finished, 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. That thought promised him revenge. His hatred was augmented by jealousy; and a threat of disgrace was now added to the plan he had arranged for his ruin. Colbert felt assured that for the future, as between Louis XIV and himself, his hostile 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 impending over him would be precipitated. Fouquet had thrown aside his weapons of defence; Hate and Jealousy had picked them up.

Colbert was invited by the King to the fête at Vaux; he bowed like a man confident in himself, and accepted the invitation with the air of one who confers a favor. The King was about writing down De Saint-Aignan’s name on his list of invitations, when the usher announced the Comte de Saint-Aignan. As soon as the royal “Mercury” entered, Colbert discreetly withdrew.

  1. 55: Change of Residence
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 57: Rival Lovers