“Forty millions,” cried the queen. “Oh, my son! this is very noble on the part of his eminence, and will silence all malicious rumors; forty millions scraped together slowly, coming back all in one heap to the treasury! It is the act of a faithful subject and a good Christian.” And having once more cast her eyes over the act, she restored it to Louis XIV., whom the announcement of the sum greatly agitated. Fouquet had taken some steps backwards and remained silent. The king looked at him, and held the paper out to him, in turn. The superintendent only bestowed a haughty look of a second upon it; then bowing, — “Yes, sire,” said he, “a donation, I see.”
“You must reply to it, my son,” said Anne of Austria; “you must reply to it, and immediately.”
“But how, madame?”
“By a visit to the cardinal.”
“Why, it is but an hour since I left his eminence,” said the king.
“Write, then, sire.”
“Write!” said the young king, with evident repugnance.
“Well!” replied Anne of Austria, “it seems to me, my son, that a man who has just made such a present, has a good right to expect to be thanked for it with some degree of promptitude.” Then turning towards Fouquet: “Is not that likewise your opinion, monsieur?”
“That the present is worth the trouble? Yes, madame,” said Fouquet, with a lofty air that did not escape the king.
“Accept, then, and thank him,” insisted Anne of Austria.
“What says M. Fouquet?” asked Louis XIV.
“Does your majesty wish to know my opinion?”
“Thank him, sire — "
“Ah!” said the queen.
“But do not accept,” continued Fouquet.
“And why not?” asked the queen.
“You have yourself said why, madame,” replied Fouquet; “because kings cannot and ought not to receive presents from their subjects.”
The king remained silent between these two contrary opinions.
“But forty millions!” said Anne of Austria, in the same tone as that in which, at a later period, poor Marie Antoinette replied, “You will tell me as much!”
“I know,” said Fouquet, laughing, “forty millions makes a good round sum, — such a sum as could almost tempt a royal conscience.”
“But, monsieur,” said Anne of Austria, “instead of persuading the king not to receive this present, recall to his majesty’s mind, you, whose duty it is, that these forty millions are a fortune to him.”
“It is precisely, madame, because these forty millions would be a fortune that I will say to the king, ’Sire, if it be not decent for a king to accept from a subject six horses, worth twenty thousand livres, it would be disgraceful for him to owe a fortune to another subject, more or less scrupulous in the choice of the materials which contributed to the building up of that fortune.’”
“It ill becomes you, monsieur, to give your king a lesson,” said Anne of Austria; “better procure for him forty millions to replace those you make him lose.”