« AnteriorContinuar »
to the King for mercy in an ode full of feeling, if not of poetry. "Has not Oronte been sufficiently punished by the withdrawal of thy favour? Attack Rome, Vienna, but be merciful to us. La Clemence est fille des Dieux." A copy of this ode found its way to the prisoner. He protested against these lines:—
"Mais si tu crois qu'il est coupnblc
Two years of prison had not broken him down to this point of self-abasement. Could any Sultan, or even the "Oriental Despot" of a radical penny-a-liner, be implored in more abject terms? Madame de Sevigne", Madame de Scudery, Le F&vre, talked, wrote, and spared no expense for their dear friend. Bre'beuf, the poet, who had neither influence nor money, took to his bed and died of grief. Hesnault, author of the "Avorton," a sonnet much admired in those days, and translated with approval into English verse, as,
"Frail spawn of nought and of existence mixed,"
eased his feelings by insulting Colbert in another sonnet, beginning thus :—
"Minitre avare et lache, esclare malheureux."
The poet escaped unpunished. His affront gave Colbert the chance for a mot—an opportunity which Frenchmen seldom throw away. When the injurious verses were reported to the Minister, he asked,—" Is there anything in them offensive to the King I" "No." "Then there can be nothing in them offensive to me." Loret, of the Gazette, was not so lucky. A gentle appeal in his journal for less severity was punished by striking the editor from the pension-list—a fine of fifteen hundred livres a-year. Fouquet heard of it, and found means to send, by the hands of Madame Scude'ry, a year's allowance to the faithful newsman.
The Government was not ready to proceed to trial until 1664. For three years the sharpest lawyers in France had been working on the Act of Accusation. It was very large even for its age. The accompanying "Pieces" were unusually voluminous. The accused had not been idle. His "Defenses" may be seen in fourteen closely-printed Elzevir ISmos.
The unabated rigour of Fouquet's prison had convinced his friends that it was useless to hope for clemency, and that it might be difficult to save his life. The King was as malignant as at first; Colbert and Le Tellier as venomous, as if it had been a question of Fouquet's head or their own. They talked about justice, affected moderation, and deceived nobody. Marshal Turenne, speaking of their respective feelings in the matter, said a thing which was considered good by the bel-esprits—" I think that Colbert is the more anxious to have him hanged, and Le Tellier the more afraid he will not be 1"
But meantime the Parisians had changed their minds about the Surintendant. Now they were all for him. His friends had done much to bring this about; time, and the usual reaction of feeling, had done more. His haughtiness and his pomp were gone and forgotten: there remained only an unfortunate gentleman, crushed, imprisoned, threatened with death, attacked by his enemies with a bitterness which showed they were seeking to destroy the man rather than to punish the criminal—yet bearing up against his unexampled afflictions with unshaken courage. The great Public has strong levelling propensities, both upward and downward. If it delights to see the prosperous humbled, it is always ready to pity the unfortunate; and even in l Cfi-i the popular feeling in Paris was powerful enough to check the ministers of an absolute king, and to save Fouquet's life. His persecutors were so eager to run down their prey that they overran it. "In their anxiety to hang him," someone said, "they have made their rope so thick that they cannot tighten it about his neck!"
In November, 1664, Fouquet was brought before a commission of twenty-two judges, selected from the different parliaments of the kingdom. After protesting against the jurisdiction of the court, he took hie seat upon the sellette, although a chair had been prepa-ed for him beside it. The interrogatories commenced. There were two principal charges against him. First, diversion of the public funds to his own use—embezzlement or defalcation we shou'd call it. Proof: bis great expenditure—too large for any private fortune. Answer: that his expenses were within the income he derived from his salaries, pensions, and the property of himself and wife. He was questioned closely upon his administration of the finances. He was invariably self-possessed and ready with an answer, and he eluded satisfactorily every attempt of the judges to entrap him, although, as one of his best friends confessed, "some places were very slippery." The second charge—treason against the state—was based upon a paper addressed to his wife, and found in his desk. Fifteen years before, after a quarrel with Mazarin, he had drawn up a plan of the measures to be taken by his family and adherents in case of an attack upon his life or liberty. It was a mere rough draught, incomplete, which had umained unburned because forgotten. The fortifications of Belleile, and the number of his retainers, were brought up as evidence of his intention to carry out the "projet," as it was called, if it became necessary. Fouquet's explanations, and the date of the paper, were satisfactory to the majority of the commission. At last even the Chancellor admitted that the proof was insufficient to sustain this part of the accusation. Fouquet's answer to Seguier, during the examination on the "projet," was much admired, and repeated out-of-doors. Seguier asserted more than once, "This is clearly treason." "No," retorted Fouquet, "it is not treason; but I will tell you whr.' is treason
to hold high office, to be in the confidence of the King, then suddenly to desert to the enemies of that King, to carry over relatives, with the regiments and the fortresses under their command, and to betray the secrets of state: that is treason!" And that was exactly what Chancellor Seguier had done in the Fronde.
la French criminal jurisprudence, the theory seems to be that the accused is guilty until he has proved his innocence, and those conversant with French trials need not be told that the judges assist the public prosecutor. In this case they sought, by cross-examinations, to confuse Fouquet, and to entrap him into dangerous admissions. Seguier sternly repressed any leanings in his favour; he even reproved some of the judges for returning the salutation of the prisoner as he entered the court-room.
The trial lasted five weeks: all Paris looked on absorbed, as at a drama of the most exciting interest. Fouquet never appeared so admirable is then, at bay, firmly facing king, ministers, judges, eager for his blood, excited by the ardour of pursuit, and embittered by the roar of applause with which his masterly defence was receiied out-of-doors. Even those who knew the Surintendent best were astonished at his courage and his presence of mind. He seemed greater in his adversity than in his magnificence. Some of the judges began to waver. Renard J., said, "I must confess that this man is incomparable. He never spoke so well when he was Procureur; he never showed so much self-possession." Another (one Nesmond) died during the trial, and regretted openly on his death-bed that he had lent himself to this persecution. The King ordered that this dying speech and confession should not be repeated, but it circulated only the more widely.
"No public man," Voltaire says, "ever had so many personal friends;" and no friends were tin more faithful and energetic. They repeated his happy answers in all quarters, praised his behaviour, pitied his Bufferings, >nd reviled and ridiculed his enemies. They managed to meet him, as he walked to and from the arsenal, where the commission sat, and cheered him with kind looks. Madame de Se"Rne' tells us how she and other ladies of the •ame faith took post at a window to see "nofre fwert ami" go by. "M. d'Artagnau walked by hia side, followed by a guard of fifty mousquet'ures. He seemed sad. D'Artagnau touched him to let him know that we were there. He saluted us with tbat quiet smile we all knew so well" She says that her heart beat and her knees trembled. The lively lady was still grateful for that compliment.
The animosity which the King did not conceal made an acquittal almost hopeless, but great efforts were made to save the life of the Surintendant. Money was used skilfully and abundantly. Several judges yielded to the force of this argument; others were known to incline to mercy. Fouquet himself thought the result doubtful. He begged his friends to let bim
know the verdict by signal, that he might have half-an-hour to prepare himself to receive his sentence with firmness.
The commission deliberated for one week— an anxious period for Fouquet's friends, who trembled lest they had not secured judges enough to resist the pressure from above. At last the court was reopened. D'Ormeson, a man of excellent family and social position, who had favoured the accused throughout the trial, delivered his opinion at length. He concluded for banishment. The next judge voted for decapitation, but with a recommendation to mercy. Next, one Pussort, a malignant tool of the Chancellor, inveighed against Fouquet for four hours, so violently, that he injured his case. His voice was for the gallows, but, in consideration of the criminal's rank, he would consent to ommute the cord for the axe. After him, four voted for death; then five for banishment. Six to six. Anxiety had now reached a distressing point. The Chancellor stormed and threatened; but in vain. On the twenty-fifth of December the result was known. Nine for death, thirteen for banishment. Saved !" I am so glad," Se'vigne' wrote to Simon Arnauld, "that I am beside myself." She exulted too soon. The King was not to be balked of his vengeance. He refused to abide by the verdict of the Commission he himself had packed, and arbitrarily changed the decree of banishment to imprisonment for life in the Castle of Pignerol—to solitary confinement —wife, family, friends, not to be permitted to see the prisoner, or to write to him; even his valet was taken away.
Thus the magnificent Surintendant disappeared from the world forever—buried alive, but indomitable and cheerful. His last message to his wife was, "I am well. Keep up your courage; I have enough for myself, and to spare."
'We still hope for some relaxation," SeVigne writes again; but none ever came from the narrow-hearted, vindictive King. He exiled Roquesante, the judge who had shown the most kindness to Fouquet, and turned an AvocatG6n4ral out of office for saying that Pussort was a disgrace to the Parliament he belonged to. Madame Fouquet, the mother, famous for her book of prescriptions, "Recueil de Recettes Choiaes," who had cured, or was supposed to have cured the Queen by a plaster of her composition, threw herself at the King's feet, with her son's wife and children. Their prayer was coldly refused, and they soon received an order to reside in remote parts of France. Time seemed to have no mollifying effect upon the animosity of the King. Six years later, a young man, who attempted to carry a letter from Fouquet to his wife was sent to the galleys; and in 1676, fifteen years after the arrest, Madame de Montespan had not influence Snough to obtain permission for Madame Fouquet and her children to visit the prisoner.
This cruel and illegal punishmeWit lasted for twenty years, until an attack of apoplexy placed the Surintendant beyond the reach of his torturer. So lost bad he been in his living tomb, tbat it is a debated point whether he died in Pignerol or not. .He has even been one of the candidates for the mysterious dignity of the Iron Mask. In his dungeon he could learn nothing of what was passing in the world. Lauzun, whose every-day life seemed more unreal and romantic than the dreams of ordinary men, was confined in Pignerol. Active and daring as Jack Shepherd, he dug through the wall of his cell, and discovered that his next neighbour was Fouquet. When he told his fellow-prisoner of his adventures and of his honours, bow be had lost the place of Grand Master of the Artillery through Louvois, and bad only missed being the acknowledged husband of thegrand-daughter of Henry IV. because Madame de Montespan persuaded the King to withdraw his consent, Fouquet, who recollected him as a poor cadet defamille, thought him crazy, and begged the jailer to have him watched and properly cared for.
The Surintendant had twice wounded the vanity of his King. He had presumed to have a more beautiful chateau than his master, and had unluckily fancied the same woman. Louis revenged himself by burying his rival alive for twenty years. That Fouquet had plotted rebellion nobody believed. He was too wise a politician not to know that the French were weary of civil war, and could not be tempted to exchange one master for half-a-dozen military tyrants. That be had taken the public money for his own use was npt denied, even by his friends; and banishment would have been a just punishment, although, perhaps, a harsh one—for it is hardly fyir to judge Fouquet by qur modern standard of financial honesty, low as tbat may be. We at least, try to cover up jobs, contracts, and defalcations by professions or appearances. The difficulty of raising money for the expenses of Government in a state impoverished by years of internal commotion, had accustomed public men to strange and irregular expedients, and unscrupulous financiers patch fine fish in troubled waters. Mazarin openly put thousands of liyres into his pocket; the Surintendant imitated him qn a smaller scale. But, if he paid himself liberally for bis services, he also showed energy and skill in his attempts to restore order and economy in the administration of the revenue. After his disgrace money was not much more plentiful. France, it is true, tranquil and secure within her borders, again showed signs of wealth, and was able to pay heavier taxes: but the King wasted them on his wars, his chateaux, and bis mistresses as recklessly as the Surintendant. He had no misgivings as to his right
to spend the people's money. From his principles, "L'Etat, c'est moi," followed the carollary, "The income of the State is mine." From 1664 to 1690 one hundred and sixteen millions of livres were laid out in unnecessary hotels. chateaux, and gardens. His ministers imitated him at a humble distance. Louvois boasted that he had reached his fourteenth million at Meudon. "I like," said Louis," to have those who manage my affairs skilfully do a good business for themselves."
Before many years had passed, it was evident that Colbert, with all his energy and his systems, did not make both the financial ends meet any better than the Surintendant. A merchant of Paris, with whom he consulted, told him— "You found the cart upset qn one side, and yon have upset it on the other." Colbert had tried to lighten it by striking eight millions of rentes from the funded debt: but it was too deeply imbedded in the mire; the shoulder of Hercules at the wheel could pot have extricated it. After Colbert was removed times grew harder. Long before the King's death the financial distress was greater than in the wars and days of the Fronde. Every possible contrivance by which money could be raised was resorted to. Lotteries were drawn, tontines established, letters of nobility offered for sale at two thousand crowns each. Those who preferred official rank could buy the title of Councillor of State or of Commissioner of Police. New and profitable offices were created and disposed of to the highest bidder -inspectorships of wood, of hay, of wine, of butter. Arbitrary power, no matter whether we call it sovereign prince or sovereign people, falls instinctively into the same ways in all times and countries. The Demos of a neighbouring state, absolute and greedy as any monarch, have furnished us with plenty of examples of this last imposition upon industry. Zealous servants are rewarded and electionexpenses paid by similar inspectorships and commissionerships, not only useless, but injurious, to everyone except those, who hold them.
When these resources became exhausted, a capitation-tax was laid, followed by an »*•««ment of one-tenth, and the adulteration of the currency. The King cut off the pension-list, sold his plate, and dismissed his servants. Misery and starvation laid waste the ni^ At last, the pompous, *' stagy" old monarch died, full of infirmities and of humiliations; and the road from the Boulevard to St. Denis ww lined with booths as for a fete, and the pe°F feasted, sang, and danced for joy that the tyrant was in his coffin. Time, the galantuomo, amply avenged Fouquet.
THE LAST ARRIVAL.
(A New Year's Story.)
There was no man more liked in the regiment than Charlie Grafton, of the —th Light Infantry. All the fairiiM had smiled on bis birth, for Charlie was a tall, good-looking fellow, with a soft, fair moustache, and merry, honest blue eyes; he was none of your ordinary subalterns forced to live on his pay, and finding his mess bills more than his income. The only child of a widowed mother, Charlie Grafton had a liberal allowance and a large property in prospeciu. Then he was by no means an insipid, half-taught dandy: he had been well educated .before a freak of fancy made him enter the army, and he could hold his own in most conversations, even though the discussion strayed beyond regimental chat, or the theory of billiards. To sum up all, he had seen just enough service to establish his character for undoubted pluck, without any o( the annoyances of a long campaign, as Grafton's regiment was ordered home just after he had drawn his "first blood" in India. For all these reasons Charlie Grafton was considered a very fortunate man, and, as is often the case with such men, was universally liked by all who knew him. It would have been difficult to find a more goodtempered fellow, always ready to make or take a joke, equally ready to help a friend out of a scrape. Good-tempered people are generally happy, and Grafton formed no exception to the nile; but the real secret of his happiness lay ra the fact that he was engaged to Nellie Vernon, and was to be married in a few months' time. Marriage is, I suppose, a pleasant thing, at least at the first blush; and when parents are willing as well as the bride, and when there is "gold, gold, nothing but gold" to add a sparkle to the affair, a inan may be excused for feeling rather romantically happy. Besides all this, in Charley Grafton's case there was the knowledge of possessing the love of as pretty, gentle, and winning a girl as ever destroyed the hearts of half the Household Brigade, or made a dean inclined to break the tenth commandment. In one point alone Fortune had lately been unkind to Charlie Grafton, for instead of being quartered at some convenient distance from home, or even from London, he found himself at the close of the autumn with a detachment in one of the most remote of the Channel Isles, where communications' with the outer world, and therefore those peculiar "angels' visits" represented by Nellie Vernon's letters, were "few and far between.''
Charlie Grafton was a man of resources, as well as a man deeply in love can be; and so, while his brother officers—from the gruff old major down to the most callow of ensigns— occupied themselves studiously in doing no
thing, and varying this task by abusing the place and bemoaning their ill-fortune, Grafton found plenty to do—in sketching the wild scenery of the island, in shooting sea-fowl, fishing, and, above all, in writing long letters to Nellie Vernon. There he had a great advantage over the other fellows of the regiment; they not being in love, except for a week or so, could not see any pleasure in filling four sheets of largesized note-paper with accounts of their personal doings, their thoughts and feelings; but Charlie Grafton could and did. Then, too, Charlie did not neglect the few opportunities for enjoying himself which the place of his banishment afforded; it was of no use to sigh for Nellie Vernon's presence, or to dream of the Row and Pall Mall; so Charlie made a virtue of necessity; and walked, talked, and flirted (though very decorously) with the few island belles about him. Every man has something pleasant to look forward to: Charlie Grafton's happiness depended on his leave, which he hoped would enable him to Bpend Christmas time at his mother's house, where Nellie would be a constant visitor. Anxiously did Charlie look out for letters as December arrived with abundance of rough weather, which delayed the mails, and almost made the young soldier lose his temper. The time went on, and Charlie got no leave: it was clear that he must eat his Christmas dinner at mess instead of at Ashton Court, and listen to the Major's recollections of Burmah instead of hearing Nellie Vernon sing in the old drawing-room at the Court. It was too provoking; and now the weather had become so stormy that there was no knowing when he could get away even if his leave arrived. At last the mail brought him the wished-for letter, and, at the same time, a letter from his mother and Nellie Vernon, regretting his absence, and begging him to be at Ashton Court in time for a ball on New Year's Night. Charlie wrote at once to say that if there was a possibility of reaching AJshton in time he would be there; he could not leave till the next steamer went, and her movements were uncertain; still they were to expect him till eleven o'clock at night, a little before which time the last train reached Ashton. To Nellie Vernon he wrote more passionately. She had reproached him with neglect in not coming sooner, and Charlie wrote in his excitement, scarcely knowing what he said, "If 1 do not dance the first dance with you on New Year's Night then believe that I do not love you; give me till eleven to fulfil my pledge."
There was much rejoicing at Ashton Court when these letters arrived.
"He is coming, Nellie," said Mrs. Grafton, with a happy look.
"So he tells me," answered Nellie. "How long these letters have been travelling: to-day is the last of the year, and Charlie will be here to-morrow."
The ball at Ashton Court was to be a grand affair, and carriages arrived from far and near on New Year's Night.
Some officers came over in a drag from the nearest town to meet Grafton, whom they had known when he was at Ashton, and to strive for one dance with the belle of the county, Nellie Vernon. Nellie, however, was resolute in her refusal of all offers to dance: she had seen, perhaps, a deeper meaning in Charlie Grafton's letter than he had intended; but, at all events, she was pledged to him for the first dance, and would not even join a quadrille. She was nervous and uneasy: the mere longing and expectation for his arrival was added to a strange, shuddering anticipation of evil which she could not account for; she sought out Mrs. Grafton, who was herself anxious and excited, but who assured Nellie that she was very foolish, and that if it were possible Charlie would come.
"I know he will come," murmured Nellie, as she returned to her seat, and the thought made her shudder instead of radiant with pleasure. Half-past ten had struck, and the hands of the drawing-room clock, from which Nellie scarcely moved her eyes, were going steadily on. Some late arrivals had come (the invitations had been issued for nine o'clock), and now many of the guests began speculating as to whether Grafton would come or not. The crash of the band and the whirl of dancers, however, engrossed most people's attention; Mrs. Grafton had left the room for a moment, and Nellie Vernon still sat and watched the clock. The little bell of the time-piece sounded eleven; Nellie turned instinctively towards the door of the ante-room, in which she was sitting; and as she did so, the door opened, and Charlie Grafton entered. He was in evening dress, and looked paler and graver than usual. Nellie rose eagerly to meet him, exclaiming " You are most punctual this time: you have come at the very right moment to"—
"To redeem my pledge," he answered, with something of sadness in his tone.
"You are tired with your long journey, my poor Charlie," said Nellie; "do not dance yet."
"Come, dearest, now is the time," he said, in the same grave tone; and the next moment they were among the dancers. In the delightful excitement of once more feeling Charles Grafton's strong arm supporting her, Nellie scarcely noticed the extreme paleness of his face and the deathly coldness of his hands. The dance was a brief one. Then her companion led her back to her seat, and said, in a low, sad voice, "I have fulfilled my pledge, Nellie; are you satisfied i"
"Yes, yes, you foolish boy! why do you look at me in that way?"
He smiled without speaking, and pointed towards a lady who was beckoning to Nellie from the adjoining room,
"In one moment I will rejoin you," she said, and left him; when she returned he bad gone.
"Where is Charlie? have you seen him ?" she asked of Mrs. Grafton, the next moment.
"Seen him, no! Has he arrived? Where is he?" were the hurried questions of the mother.
Two or three guests now came up, and asked if Grafton had arrived.
"Of course he has; did you not see bim dancing with me ten minutes ago?" answered Nellie.
Noonehad noticed him: several persons had seen Miss Vernon dancing, but no one had recognized her partner. Then, for the first time since she had seen Charlie enter that room, a horror came over her—a sinking at the heart seized her, and taking Mrs. Grafton's arm she hurried to her room; declaring, in spite of all that argument or raillery could do, "that something had happened to Charlie." » * * * • » *
Next day a special messenger arrived with news at Ashton Court. Charles Grafton had been drowned by the capsizing of a boat as he attempted to reach the steamer in a heavy set on the last day of the Old Year.
BT JLDJL T H 1 V A X I O X.
From my duelling I stray forth to gaze on the night, Stars stealing from darkness, like sweet thought! of home;
And beneath the broad sea, with one distant sail white, A solemn monotony, billows and gloom.
Looking back, I behold, as if but half awake,
The bay-windowed house 'mid its garden-wilk' damp.
No voice ou the threshold the silence will break;
A shudder comes o'er me, and chills my warm blood,
And yet it was there that, entranced, I once stood,
The treasures he gave can no joy now impart—
The wealth I require is that of the heart:
But the late moon is rising; the eve-hour has fled;
In the silence so sad, that it hints of no dawn, I am free to lament o'er the unheeding dead,
And to sigh for the living who leaves me forlorn.