“What do you mean by that?” replied D’Artagnan.
“I mean that your note — will you let me see your note, if you please?”
“Very willingly; here it is.”
Colbert seized the paper with an eagerness which the musketeer did not remark without uneasiness, and particularly without a certain degree of regret at having trusted him with it. “Well, monsieur, the royal order says thus: — ’At sight, I command that there be paid to M. d’Artagnan the sum of five thousand livres, forming a quarter of the pension I have made him.’”
“So, in fact, it is written,” said D’Artagnan, affecting calmness.
“Very well; the king only owed you five thousand livres; why has more been given to you?”
“Because there was more; and M. Fouquet was willing to give me more; that does not concern anybody.”
“It is natural,” said Colbert with a proud ease, “that you should be ignorant of the usages of state-finance; but, monsieur, when you have a thousand livres to pay, what do you do?”
“I never have a thousand livres to pay,” replied D’Artagnan.
“Once more,” said Colbert, irritated — “once more, if you had any sum to pay, would you not pay what you ought?”
“That only proves one thing,” said D’Artagnan; “and that is, that you have your own particular customs in finance, and M. Fouquet has his own.”
“Mine, monsieur, are the correct ones.”
“I do not say that they are not.”
“And you have accepted what was not due to you.”
D’Artagnan’s eyes flashed. “What is not due to me yet, you meant to say, M. Colbert; for if I have received what was not due to me at all, I should have committed a theft.”
Colbert made no reply to this subtlety. “You then owe fifteen thousand livres to the public chest,” said he, carried away by his jealous ardor.
“Then you must give me credit for them,” replied D’Artagnan, with his imperceptible irony.
“Not at all, monsieur.”
“Well! what will you do, then? You will not take my rouleaux from me, will you?”
“You must return them to my chest.”
“I! Oh! Monsieur Colbert, don’t reckon upon that.”
“The king wants his money, monsieur.”
“And I, monsieur, I want the king’s money.”
“That may be so; but you must return this.”