Fouquet hastened back to his apartment by the subterranean passage, and immediately closed the mirror with the spring. He was scarcely in his closet, when he heard some one knocking violently at the door, and a well-known voice crying: - "Open the door, monseigneur, I entreat you, open the door!" Fouquet quickly restored a little order to everything that might have revealed either his absence or his agitation: he spread his papers over the desk, took up a pen, and, to gain time, said, through the closed door, - "Who is there?"
"What, monseigneur, do you not know me?" replied the voice.
"Yes, yes," said Fouquet to himself, "yes, my friend I know you well enough." And then, aloud: "Is it not Gourville?"
"Why, yes, monseigneur."
Fouquet arose, cast a last look at one of his glasses, went to the door, pushed back the bolt, and Gourville entered. "Ah, monseigneur! monseigneur!" cried he, "what cruelty!"
"I have been a quarter of an hour imploring you to open the door, and you would not even answer me."
"Once for all, you know that I will not be disturbed when I am busy. Now, although I might make you an exception, Gourville, I insist upon my orders being respected by others."
"Monseigneur, at this moment, orders, doors, bolts, locks, and walls, I could have broken, forced and overthrown!"
"Ah! ah! it relates to some great event, then?" asked Fouquet.
"Oh! I assure you it does, monseigneur," replied Gourville.
"And what is this event?" said Fouquet, a little troubled by the evident agitation of his most intimate confidant.
"There is a secret chamber of justice instituted, monseigneur."
"I know there is, but do the members meet, Gourville?"
"They not only meet, but they have passed a sentence, monseigneur."
"A sentence?" said the superintendent, with a shudder and pallor he could not conceal. "A sentence! - and on whom?"
"Two of your best friends."
"Lyodot and D'Eymeris, do you mean? But what sort of a sentence?"
"Sentence of death."
"Passed? Oh! you must be mistaken, Gourville; that is impossible."
"Here is a copy of the sentence which the king is to sign to-day, if he has not already signed it."
Fouquet seized the paper eagerly, read it, and returned it to Gourville. "The king will never sign that," said he.
Gourville shook his head.
"Monseigneur, M. Colbert is a bold councilor: do not be too confident!"
"Monsieur Colbert again!" cried Fouquet. "How is it that that name rises upon all occasions to torment my ears, during the last two or three days? Thou make so trifling a subject of too much importance, Gourville. Let M. Colbert appear, I will face him; let him raise his head, I will crush him; but you understand, there must be an outline upon which my look may fall, there must be a surface upon which my feet may be placed."
"Patience, monseigneur, for you do not know what Colbert is - study him quickly; it is with this dark financier as it is with meteors, which the eye never sees completely before their disastrous invasion; when we feel them we are dead."
"Oh! Gourville, this is going too far," replied Fouquet, smiling; "allow me, my friend, not to be so easily frightened; M. Colbert a meteor! Corbleu, we confront the meteor. Let us see acts, and not words. What has he done?"
"He has ordered two gibbets of the executioner of Paris," answered Gourville.
Fouquet raised his head, and a flash gleamed from his eyes. "Are you sure of what you say?" cried he.
"Here is the proof, monseigneur." And Gourville held out to the superintendent a note communicated by a certain secretary of the Hotel de Ville, who was one of Fouquet's creatures.
"Yes, that is true," murmured the minister; "the scaffold may be prepared, but the king has not signed; Gourville, the king will not sign."
"I shall soon know," said Gourville.
"If the king has signed, the gibbets will be sent this evening to the Hotel de Ville, in order to be got up and ready by to-morrow morning."
"Oh! no, no!" cried the superintendent once again; "you are all deceived, and deceive me in my turn; Lyodot came to see me only the day before yesterday; only three days ago I received a present of some Syracuse wine from poor D'Eymeris."
"What does that prove?" replied Gourville, "except that the chamber of justice has been secretly assembled, has deliberated in the absence of the accused, and that the whole proceeding was complete when they were arrested."
"What! are they, then, arrested?"
"No doubt they are."
"But where, when, and how have they been arrested?"
"Lyodot, yesterday at daybreak; D'Eymeris, the day before yesterday, in the evening, as he was returning from the house of his mistress; their disappearance had disturbed nobody; but at length M. Colbert all at once raised the mask, and caused the affair to be published; it is being cried by sound of trumpet, at this moment in Paris, and, in truth, monseigneur, there is scarcely anybody but yourself ignorant of the event."
Fouquet began to walk about his chamber with an uneasiness that became more and more serious.
"What do you decide upon, monseigneur?" said Gourville.
"If it really were as you say, I would go to the king," cried Fouquet. "But as I go to the Louvre, I will pass by the Hotel de Ville. We shall see if the sentence is signed."
"Incredulity! thou art the pest of all great minds," said Gourville, shrugging his shoulders.
"Yes," continued he, "and incredulity! thou ruinest, as contagion destroys the most robust health, that is to say, in an instant."
"Let us go," cried Fouquet; "desire the door to be opened, Gourville."
"Be cautious," said the latter, "the Abbe Fouquet is there."
"Ah! my brother," replied Fouquet, in a tone of annoyance, "he is there, is he? he knows all the ill news, then, and is rejoiced to bring it to me, as usual. The devil! if my brother is there, my affairs are bad, Gourville; why did you not tell me that sooner: I should have been the more readily convinced."
"'Monseigneur calumniates him," said Gourville, laughing, "if he is come, it is not with a bad intention."
"What, do you excuse him?" cried Fouquet; "a fellow without a heart, without ideas; a devourer of wealth."
"He knows you are rich."
"And would ruin me."
"No, but he would like to have your purse. That is all."
"Enough! enough! A hundred thousand crowns per month, during two years. Corbleu! it is I that pay, Gourville, and I know my figures." Gourville laughed in a silent, sly manner. "Yes, yes, you mean to say it is the king pays," said the superintendent. "Ah, Gourville, that is a vile joke; this is not the place."
"Monseigneur, do not be angry."
"Well, then, send away the Abbe Fouquet; I have not a sou." Gourville made a step towards the door. "He has been a month without seeing me," continued Fouquet, "why could he not be two months?"
"Because he repents of living in bad company," said Gourville, "and prefers you to all his bandits."
"Thanks for the preference! You make a strange advocate, Gourville, to-day - the advocate of the Abbe Fouquet!"
"Eh! but everything and every man has a good side - their useful side, monseigneur."
"The bandits whom the abbe keeps in pay and drink have their useful side, have they? Prove that, if you please."
"Let the circumstance arise, monseigneur, and you will be very glad to have these bandits under your hand."
"You advise me, then, to be reconciled to the abbe?" said Fouquet, ironically.
"I advise you, monseigneur, not to quarrel with a hundred or a hundred and twenty loose fellows, who, by putting their rapiers end to end, would form a cordon of steel capable of surrounding three thousand men."
Fouquet darted a searching glance at Gourville, and passing before him, - "That is all very well, let M. l'Abbe Fouquet be introduced," said he to the footman. "You are right, Gourville."
Two minutes after, the Abbe Fouquet appeared in the doorway, with profound reverences. He was a man of from forty to forty-five years of age, half churchman half soldier, - a spadassin, grafted upon an abbe; upon seeing that he had not a sword by his side, you might be sure he had pistols. Fouquet saluted him more as an elder brother than as a minister.
"What can I do to serve you, monsieur l'abbe?" said he.
"Oh! oh! how coldly you speak to me, brother!"
"I speak like a man who is in a hurry, monsieur."
The abbe looked maliciously at Gourville, and anxiously at Fouquet, and said, "I have three hundred pistoles to pay to M. de Bregi this evening. A play debt, a sacred debt."
"What next?" said Fouquet bravely, for he comprehended that the Abbe Fouquet would not have disturbed him for such a want.
"A thousand to my butcher, who will supply no more meat."
"Twelve hundred to my tailor," continued the abbe; "the fellow has made me take back seven suits of my people's, which compromises my liveries, and my mistress talks of replacing me by a farmer of the revenue, which would be a humiliation for the church."
"What else?" said Fouquet.
"You will please to remark," said the abbe, humbly, "that I have asked nothing for myself."
"That is delicate, monsieur," replied Fouquet; "so, as you see, I wait."
"And I ask nothing, oh! no, - it is not for want of need, though, I assure you."
The minister reflected a minute. "Twelve hundred pistoles to the tailor; that seems a great deal for clothes," said he.
"I maintain a hundred men," said the abbe, proudly; "that is a charge, I believe."
"Why a hundred men?" said Fouquet. "Are you a Richelieu or a Mazarin, to require a hundred men as a guard? What use do you make of these men? - speak."
"And do you ask me that?" cried the Abbe Fouquet; "ah! how can you put such a question, - why I maintain a hundred men? Ah!"
"Why, yes, I do put that question to you. What have you to do with a hundred men? - answer."
"Ingrate!" continued the abbe, more and more affected.
"Why, monsieur the superintendent, I only want one valet de chambre, for my part, and even if I were alone, could help myself very well; but you, you who have so many enemies - a hundred men are not enough for me to defend you with. A hundred men! - you ought to have ten thousand. I maintain, then, these men in order that in public places, in assemblies, no voice may be raised against you, and without them, monsieur, you would be loaded with imprecations, you would be torn to pieces, you would not last a week; no, not a week, do you understand?"
"Ah! I did not know you were my champion to such an extent, monsieur l'abbe."
"You doubt it!" cried the abbe. "Listen, then, to what happened, no longer ago than yesterday, in the Rue de la Hochette. A man was cheapening a fowl."
"Well, how could that injure me, abbe?"
"This way. The fowl was not fat. The purchaser refused to give eighteen sous for it, saying that he could not afford eighteen sous for the skin of a fowl from which M. Fouquet had sucked all the fat."
"The joke caused a deal of laughter," continued the abbe; "laughter at your expense, death to the devils! and the canaille were delighted. The joker added, `Give me a fowl fed by M. Colbert, if you like! and I will pay all you ask.' And immediately there was a clapping of hands. A frightful scandal! you understand; a scandal which forces a brother to hide his face."
Fouquet colored. "And you veiled it?" said the superintendent.
"No, for it so happened I had one of my men in the crowd; a new recruit from the provinces, one M. Menneville, whom I like very much. He made his way through the press, saying to the joker: `Mille barbes! Monsieur the false joker, here's a thrust for Colbert!' `And one for Fouquet,' replied the joker. Upon which they drew in front of the cook's shop, with a hedge of the curious round them, and five hundred as curious at the windows."
"Well?" said Fouquet.
"Well, monsieur, my Menneville spitted the joker, to the great astonishment of the spectators, and said to the cook: - `Take this goose, my friend, it is fatter than your fowl.' That is the way, monsieur," ended the abbe, triumphantly, "in which I spend my revenues; I maintain the honor of the family, monsieur." Fouquet hung his head. "And I have a hundred as good as he," continued the abbe.
"Very well," said Fouquet, "give the account to Gourville, and remain here this evening."
"Shall we have supper?"
"Yes, there will be supper."
"But the chest is closed."
"Gourville will open it for you. Leave us, monsieur l'abbe, leave us."
"Then we are friends?" said the abbe, with a bow.
Oh yes. friends. Come Gourville."
"Are you going out? You will not stay to supper, then?"
"I shall be back in an hour; rest easy, abbe." Then aside to Gourville - "Let them put to my English horses," said he, "and direct the coachman to stop at the Hotel de Ville de Paris."