"I hoped, madame," said Fouquet, much agitated, "that my love for his majesty, my incessant desire to please him, would serve to compensate the want of etiquette.
"Thank you, Monsieur Fouquet," said the king politely, "and I am gratified by your intention, for I love good horses; but you know I am not very rich; you, who are my superintendent of finances, know it better than any one else.
Fouquet darted a haughty glance at the queen-mother, who appeared to triumph at the false position in which the minister had placed himself, and replied: --
Anne of Austria read in turn, and as she read, her eyes sparkled with a joy all the greater from her useless endeavor to hide it, which attracted the attention of Fouquet.
Fouquet had taken some steps backwards and remained silent.
"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?"
Yes madame," said Fouquet, with a lofty air that did not escape the king.
"You have yourself said why, madame," replied Fouquet; "because kings cannot and ought not to receive presents from their subjects."
"I know," said Fouquet, laughing, "forty millions makes a good round sum, -- such a sum as could almost tempt a royal conscience."
"And were they not oppressed, madame," replied Fouquet, "when they were made to sweat the forty millions given by this deed?
"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, Monsieur Fouquet," said he, dismissing the superintendent civilly.