“The king shall have them whenever he wishes,” said the superintendent of finances, bowing.
“Yes, by oppressing the people,” said the queen.
“And were they not oppressed, madame,” replied Fouquet, “when they were made to sweat the forty millions given by this deed? Furthermore, his majesty has asked my opinion, I have given it; if his majesty ask my concurrence, it will be the same.”
“Nonsense! accept, my son, accept,” said Anne of Austria. “You are above reports and interpretations.”
“Refuse, sire,” said Fouquet. “As long as a king lives, he has no other measure but his conscience, — no other judge than his own desires; but when dead, he has posterity, which applauds or accuses.”
“Thank you, mother,” replied Louis, bowing respectfully to the queen. “Thank you Monsieur, Fouquet,” said he, dismissing the superintendent civilly.
“Do you accept?” asked Anne of Austria, once more.
“I shall consider of it,” replied he, looking at Fouquet.
The day that the deed of gift had been sent to the king, the cardinal caused himself to be transported to Vincennes. The king and the court followed him thither. The last flashes of this torch still cast splendor enough around to absorb all other lights in its rays. Besides, as it has been seen, the faithful satellite of his minister, young Louis XIV., marched to the last minute in accordance with his gravitation. The disease, as Guenaud had predicted, had become worse; it was no longer an attack of gout, it was an attack of death; then there was another thing which made that agony more agonizing still, — and that was the agitation brought into his mind by the donation he had sent to the king, and which, according to Colbert, the king ought to send back unaccepted to the cardinal. The cardinal had, as we have said, great faith in the predictions of his secretary; but the sum was a large one, and whatever might be the genius of Colbert, from time to time the cardinal thought to himself that the Theatin also might possibly have been mistaken, and there was at least as much chance of his not being damned, as there was of Louis XIV. sending back his millions.
Besides, the longer the donation was in coming back, the more Mazarin thought that forty millions were worth a little risk, particularly of so hypothetic a thing as the soul. Mazarin, in his character of cardinal and prime minister, was almost an atheist, and quite a materialist. Every time that the door opened, he turned sharply round towards that door, expecting to see the return of his unfortunate donation; then, deceived in his hope, he fell back again with a sigh, and found his pains so much the greater for having forgotten them for an instant.
Anne of Austria had also followed the cardinal; her heart, though age had made it selfish, could not help evincing towards the dying man a sorrow which she owed him as a wife, according to some; and as a sovereign, according to others. She had, in some sort, put on a mourning countenance beforehand, and all the court wore it as she did.