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Louise de la Valliere

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Chapter XL: Two Old Friends.


Whilst every one at court was busily engaged with his own affairs, a man mysteriously took up his post behind the Place de Greve, in the house which we once saw besieged by D’Artagnan on the occasion of the emeute. The principal entrance of the house was in the Place Baudoyer; it was tolerably large, surrounded by gardens, inclosed in the Rue Saint-Jean by the shops of toolmakers, which protected it from prying looks, and was walled in by a triple rampart of stone, noise, and verdure, like an embalmed mummy in its triple coffin. The man we have just alluded to walked along with a firm step, although he was no longer in his early prime. His dark cloak and long sword plainly revealed one who seemed in search of adventures; and, judging from his curling mustache, his fine smooth skin, which could be seen beneath his sombrero, it would not have been difficult to pronounce that gallantry had not a little share in his adventures. In fact, hardly had the cavalier entered the house, when the clock struck eight; and ten minutes afterwards a lady, followed by a servant armed to the teeth, approached and knocked at the same door, which an old woman immediately opened for her. The lady raised her veil as she entered; though no longer beautiful or young, she was still active and of an imposing carriage. She concealed, beneath a rich toilette and the most exquisite taste, an age which Ninon de l’Enclos alone could have smiled at with impunity. Hardly had she reached the vestibule, when the cavalier, whose features we have only roughly sketched, advanced towards her, holding out his hand.

“Good day, my dear duchesse,” he said.

“How do you do, my dear Aramis?” replied the duchesse.

He led her to a most elegantly furnished apartment, on whose high windows were reflected the expiring rays of the setting sun, which filtered gaudily through the dark green needles of the adjacent firs. They sat down side by side. Neither of them thought of asking for additional light in the room, and they buried themselves as it were in the shadow, as if they wished to bury themselves in forgetfulness.

“Chevalier,” said the duchesse, “you have never given me a single sign of life since our interview at Fontainebleau, and I confess that your presence there on the day of the Franciscan’s death, and your initiation in certain secrets, caused me the liveliest astonishment I ever experienced in my whole life.”

“I can explain my presence there to you, as well as my initiation,” said Aramis.

“But let us, first of all,” said the duchess, “talk a little of ourselves, for our friendship is by no means of recent date.”

“Yes, madame: and if Heaven wills it, we shall continue to be friends, I will not say for a long time, but forever.”

“That is quite certain, chevalier, and my visit is a proof of it.”

“Our interests, duchess, are no longer the same as they used to be,” said Aramis, smiling without apprehension in the growing gloom by which the room was overcast, for it could not reveal that his smile was less agreeable and not so bright as formerly.

“No, chevalier, at the present day we have other interests. Every period of life brings its own; and, as we now understand each other in conversing, as perfectly as we formerly did without saying a word, let us talk, if you like.”

“I am at your orders, duchesse. Ah! I beg your pardon, how did you obtain my address, and what was your object?”

“You ask me why? I have told you. Curiosity in the first place. I wished to know what you could have to do with the Franciscan, with whom I had certain business transactions, and who died so singularly. You know that on the occasion of our interview at Fontainebleau, in the cemetery, at the foot of the grave so recently closed, we were both so much overcome by our emotions that we omitted to confide to each other what we may have to say.”

“Yes, madame.”

“Well, then, I had no sooner left you than I repented, and have ever since been most anxious to ascertain the truth. You know that Madame de Longueville and myself are almost one, I suppose?”

“I was not aware,” said Aramis, discreetly.

“I remembered, therefore,” continued the duchesse, “that neither of us said anything to the other in the cemetery; that you did not speak of the relationship in which you stood to the Franciscan, whose burial you superintended, and that I did not refer to the position in which I stood to him; all which seemed very unworthy of two such old friends as ourselves, and I have sought an opportunity of an interview with you in order to give you some information that I have recently acquired, and to assure you that Marie Michon, now no more, has left behind her one who has preserved her recollection of events.”

Aramis bowed over the duchess’s hand, and pressed his lips upon it. “You must have had some trouble to find me again,” he said.

“Yes,” she answered, annoyed to find the subject taking a turn which Aramis wished to give it; “but I knew you were a friend of M. Fouquet’s, and so I inquired in that direction.”

“A friend! oh!” exclaimed the chevalier, “I can hardly pretend to be that. A poor priest who has been favored by a generous protector, and whose heart is full of gratitude and devotion, is all that I pretend to be to M. Fouquet.”

“He made you a bishop?”

“Yes, duchesse.”

“A very good retiring pension for so handsome a musketeer.”

“Yes; in the same way that political intrigue is for yourself,” thought Aramis. “And so,” he added, “you inquired after me at M. Fouquet’s?”

“Easily enough. You had been to Fontainebleau with him, and had undertaken a voyage to your diocese, which is Belle-Ile-en-Mer, I believe.”

“No, madame,” said Aramis. “My diocese is Vannes.”

“I meant that. I only thought that Belle-Ile-en-Mer—”

“Is a property belonging to M. Fouquet, nothing more.”

“Ah! I had been told that Belle-Isle was fortified; besides, I know how great the military knowledge is you possess.”

“I have forgotten everything of the kind since I entered the Church,” said Aramis, annoyed.

“Suffice it to know that I learned you had returned from Vannes, and I sent off to one of our friends, M. le Comte de la Fere, who is discretion itself, in order to ascertain it, but he answered that he was not aware of your address.”

“So like Athos,” thought the bishop; “the really good man never changes.”

“Well, then, you know that I cannot venture to show myself here, and that the queen-mother has always some grievance or other against me.”

“Yes, indeed, and I am surprised at it.”

“Oh! there are various reasons for it. But, to continue, being obliged to conceal myself, I was fortunate enough to meet with M. d’Artagnan, who was formerly one of your old friends, I believe?”

“A friend of mine still, duchesse.”

“He gave me certain information, and sent me to M. Baisemeaux, the governor of the Bastile.”

Aramis was somewhat agitated at this remark, and a light flashed from his eyes in the darkness of the room, which he could not conceal from his keen-sighted friend. “M. de Baisemeaux!” he said, “why did D’Artagnan send you to M. de Baisemeaux?”

“I cannot tell you.”

“What can this possibly mean?” said the bishop, summoning all the resources of his mind to his aid, in order to carry on the combat in a befitting manner.

“M. de Baisemeaux is greatly indebted to you, D’Artagnan told me.”

“True, he is so.”

“And the address of a creditor is as easily ascertained as that of a debtor.”

“Very true; and so Baisemeaux indicated to you—”

“Saint-Mande, where I forwarded a letter to you.”

“Which I have in my hand, and which is most precious to me,” said Aramis, “because I am indebted to it for the pleasure of seeing you here.” The duchesse, satisfied at having successfully overcome the various difficulties of so delicate an explanation, began to breathe freely again, which Aramis, however, could not succeed in doing. “We had got as far as your visit to M. Baisemeaux, I believe?”

“Nay,” she said, laughing, “farther than that.”

“In that case we must have been speaking about the grudge you have against the queen-mother.”

“Further still,” she returned, “further still; we were talking of the connection—”

“Which existed between you and the Franciscan,” said Aramis, interrupting her eagerly, “well, I am listening to you very attentively.”

“It is easily explained,” returned the duchesse. “You know that I am living at Brussels with M. de Laicques?”

“I heard so.”

“You know that my children have ruined and stripped me of everything.”

“How terrible, dear duchesse.”

“Terrible indeed; this obliged me to resort to some means of obtaining a livelihood, and, particularly, to avoid vegetating for the remainder of my existence. I had old hatreds to turn to account, old friendships to make use of; I no longer had either credit or protectors.”

“You, who had extended protection towards so many persons,” said Aramis, softly.

“It is always the case, chevalier. Well, at the present time I am in the habit of seeing the king of Spain very frequently.”

“Ah!”

“Who has just nominated a general of the Jesuits, according to the usual custom.”

“Is it usual, indeed?”

“Were you not aware of it?”

“I beg your pardon; I was inattentive.”

“You must be aware of that—you who were on such good terms with the Franciscan.”

“With the general of the Jesuits, you mean?”

“Exactly. Well, then, I have seen the king of Spain, who wished to do me a service, but was unable. He gave me recommendations, however, to Flanders, both for myself and for Laicques too; and conferred a pension on me out of the funds belonging to the order.”

“Of Jesuits?”

“Yes. The general—I mean the Franciscan—was sent to me; and, for the purpose of conforming with the requisitions of the statues of the order, and of entitling me to the pension, I was reputed to be in a position to render certain services. You are aware that that is the rule?”

“No, I did not know it,” said Aramis.

Madame de Chevreuse paused to look at Aramis, but it was perfectly dark. “Well, such is the rule, however,” she resumed. “I had, therefore, to appear to possess a power of usefulness of some kind or other, and I proposed to travel for the order, and I was placed on the list of affiliated travelers. You understand it was a formality, by means of which I received my pension, which was very convenient for me.”

“Good heavens! duchesse, what you tell me is like a dagger-thrust. You obliged to receive a pension from the Jesuits?”

“No, chevalier! from Spain.”

“Except for a conscientious scruple, duchesse, you will admit that it is pretty nearly the same thing.”

“No, not at all.”

“But surely of your magnificent fortune there must remain—”

“Dampierre is all that remains.”

“And that is handsome enough.”

“Yes; but Dampierre is burdened, mortgaged, and almost fallen to ruin, like its owner.”

“And can the queen-mother know and see all that, without shedding a tear?” said Aramis, with a penetrating look, which encountered nothing but darkness.

“Yes. She has forgotten everything.”

“You, I believe, attempted to get restored to favor?”

“Yes; but, most singularly, the young king inherits the antipathy his dear father had for me. You will, perhaps, tell me that I am indeed a woman to be hated, and that I am no longer one who can be loved.”

“Dear duchesse, pray come quickly to the cause that brought you here; for I think we can be of service to each other.”

“Such has been my own thought. I came to Fontainebleau with a double object in view. In the first place, I was summoned there by the Franciscan whom you knew. By the by, how did you know him?—for I have told you my story, and have not yet heard yours.”

“I knew him in a very natural way, duchesse. I studied theology with him at Parma. We became fast friends; and it happened, from time to time, that business, or travel, or war, separated us from each other.”

“You were, of course, aware that he was the general of the Jesuits?”

“I suspected it.”

“But by what extraordinary chance did it happen that you were at the hotel when the affiliated travelers met together?”

“Oh!” said Aramis, in a calm voice, “it was the merest chance in the world. I was going to Fontainebleau to see M. Fouquet, for the purpose of obtaining an audience of the king. I was passing by, unknown; I saw the poor dying monk in the road, and recognized him immediately. You know the rest—he died in my arms.”

“Yes; but bequeathing to you so vast a power that you issue your sovereign orders and directions like a monarch.”

“He certainly did leave me a few commissions to settle.”

“And what for me?”

“I have told you—a sum of twelve thousand livres was to be paid to you. I thought I had given you the necessary signature to enable you to receive it. Did you not get the money?”

“Oh! yes, yes. You give your orders, I am informed, with so much mystery, and such a majestic presence, that it is generally believed you are the successor of the defunct chief.”

Aramis colored impatiently, and the duchesse continued: “I have obtained my information,” she said, “from the king of Spain himself; and he cleared up some of my doubts on the point. Every general of the Jesuits is nominated by him, and must be a Spaniard, according to the statutes of the order. You are not a Spaniard, nor have you been nominated by the king of Spain.”

Aramis did not reply to this remark, except to say, “You see, duchesse, how greatly you were mistaken, since the king of Spain told you that.”

“Yes, my dear Aramis; but there was something else which I have been thinking of.”

“What is that?”

“You know, I believe, something about most things, and it occurred to me that you know the Spanish language.”

“Every Frenchman who has been actively engaged in the Fronde knows Spanish.”

“You have lived in Flanders?”

“Three years.”

“And have stayed at Madrid?”

“Fifteen months.”

“You are in a position, then, to become a naturalized Spaniard, when you like.”

“Really?” said Aramis, with a frankness which deceived the duchesse.

“Undoubtedly. Two years’ residence and an acquaintance with the language are indispensable. You have upwards of four years—more than double the time necessary.”

“What are you driving at, duchesse?”

“At this—I am on good terms with the king of Spain.”

“And I am not on bad terms,” thought Aramis to himself.

“Shall I ask the king,” continued the duchesse, “to confer the succession to the Franciscan’s post upon you?”

“Oh, duchesse!”

“You have it already, perhaps?” she said.

“No, upon my honor.”

“Very well, then, I can render you that service.”

“Why did you not render the same service to M. de Laicques, duchesse? He is a very talented man, and one you love, besides.”

“Yes, no doubt; but, at all events, putting Laicques aside, will you have it?”

“No, I thank you, duchesse.”

She paused. “He is nominated,” she thought; and then resumed aloud, “If you refuse me in this manner, it is not very encouraging for me, supposing I should have something to ask of you.”

“Oh! ask, pray, ask.”

“Ask! I cannot do so, if you have not the power to grant what I want.”

“However limited my power and ability, ask all the same.”

“I need a sum of money, to restore Dampierre.”

“Ah!” replied Aramis, coldly—“money? Well, duchesse, how much would you require?”

“Oh! a tolerably round sum.”

“So much the worse—you know I am not rich.”

“No, no; but the order is—and if you had been the general—”

“You know I am not the general, I think.”

“In that case, you have a friend who must be very wealthy—M. Fouquet.”

“M. Fouquet! He is more than half ruined, madame.”

“So it is said, but I did not believe it.”

“Why, duchesse?”

“Because I have, or rather Laicques has, certain letters in his possession from Cardinal Mazarin, which establish the existence of very strange accounts.”

“What accounts?”

“Relative to various sums of money borrowed and disposed of. I cannot very distinctly remember what they are; but they establish the fact that the superintendent, according to these letters, which are signed by Mazarin, had taken thirteen millions of francs from the coffers of the state. The case is a very serious one.”

Aramis clenched his hands in anxiety and apprehension. “Is it possible,” he said, “that you have such letters as you speak of, and have not communicated them to M. Fouquet?”

“Ah!” replied the duchesse, “I keep such trifling matters as these in reserve. The day may come when they will be of service; and they can be withdrawn from the safe custody in which they now remain.”

“And that day has arrived?” said Aramis.

“Yes.”

“And you are going to show those letters to M. Fouquet?”

“I prefer to talk about them with you, instead.”

“You must be in sad want of money, my poor friend, to think of such things as these—you, too, who held M. de Mazarin’s prose effusions in such indifferent esteem.”

“The fact is, I am in want of money.”

“And then,” continued Aramis, in cold accents, “it must have been very distressing to you to be obliged to have recourse to such a means. It is cruel.”

“Oh! if had wished to do harm instead of good,” said Madame de Chevreuse, “instead of asking the general of the order, or M. Fouquet, for the five hundred thousand francs I require, I—”

“Five hundred thousand francs!”

“Yes; no more. Do you think it much? I require at least as much as that to restore Dampierre.”

“Yes, madame.”

“I say, therefore, that instead of asking for this amount, I should have gone to see my old friend the queen-mother; the letters from her husband, Signor Mazarini, would have served me as an introduction, and I should have begged this mere trifle of her, saying to her, ‘I wish, madame, to have the honor of receiving you at Dampierre. Permit me to put Dampierre in a fit state for that purpose.’”

Aramis did not return a single word. “Well,” she said, “what are you thinking about?”

“I am making certain additions,” said Aramis.

“And M. Fouquet subtractions. I, on the other hand, am trying my hand at the art of multiplication. What excellent calculators we all three are! How well we might understand one another!”

“Will you allow me to reflect?” said Aramis.

“No, for with such an opening between people like ourselves, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is the only answer, and that an immediate one.”

“It is a snare,” thought the bishop; “it is impossible that Anne of Austria would listen to such a woman as this.”

“Well?” said the duchesse.

“Well, madame, I should be very much astonished if M. Fouquet had five hundred thousand francs at his disposal at the present moment.”

“It is no use speaking of it, then,” said the duchesse, “and Dampierre must get restored how best it may.”

“Oh! you are not embarrassed to such an extent as that, I suppose.”

“No; I am never embarrassed.”

“And the queen,” continued the bishop, “will certainly do for you what the superintendent is unable to do?”

“Oh! certainly. But tell me, do you think it would be better that I should speak, myself, to M. Fouquet about these letters?”

“Nay, duchesse, you will do precisely whatever you please in that respect. M. Fouquet either feels or does not feel himself to be guilty; if he really be so, I know he is proud enough not to confess it; if he be not so, he will be exceedingly offended at your menace.”

“As usual, you reason like an angel,” said the duchesse, as she rose from her seat.

“And so, you are now going to denounce M. Fouquet to the queen,” said Aramis.

“‘Denounce!’ Oh! what a disagreeable word. I shall not ‘denounce’ my dear friend; you know matters of policy too well to be ignorant how easily these affairs are arranged. I shall merely side against M. Fouquet, and nothing more; and, in a war of party against party, a weapon is always a weapon.”

“No doubt.”

“And once on friendly terms again with the queen-mother, I may be dangerous towards some persons.”

“You are at liberty to prove so, duchesse.”

“A liberty of which I shall avail myself.”

“You are not ignorant, I suppose, duchesse, that M. Fouquet is on the best terms with the king of Spain.”

“I suppose so.”

“If, therefore, you begin a party warfare against M. Fouquet, he will reply in the same way; for he, too, is at perfect liberty to do so, is he not?”

“Oh! certainly.”

“And as he is on good terms with Spain, he will make use of that friendship as a weapon of attack.”

“You mean, that he is, naturally, on good terms with the general of the order of the Jesuits, my dear Aramis.”

“That may be the case, duchesse.”

“And that, consequently, the pension I have been receiving from the order will be stopped.”

“I am greatly afraid it might be.”

“Well; I must contrive to console myself in the best way I can; for after Richelieu, after the Fronde, after exile, what is there left for Madame de Chevreuse to be afraid of?”

“The pension, you are aware, is forty-eight thousand francs.”

“Alas! I am quite aware of it.”

“Moreover, in party contests, you know, the friends of one’s enemy do not escape.”

“Ah! you mean that poor Laicques will have to suffer.”

“I am afraid it is almost inevitable, duchesse.”

“Oh! he only receives twelve thousand francs pension.”

“Yes, but the king of Spain has some influence left; advised by M. Fouquet, he might get M. Laicques shut up in prison for a little while.”

“I am not very nervous on that point, my dear friend; because, once reconciled with Anne of Austria, I will undertake that France would insist upon M. Laicques’s liberation.”

“True. In that case, you will have something else to apprehend.”

“What can that be?” said the duchesse, pretending to be surprised and terrified.

“You will learn; indeed, you must know it already, that having once been an affiliated member of the order, it is not easy to leave it; for the secrets that any particular member may have acquired are unwholesome, and carry with them the germs of misfortune for whosoever may reveal them.”

The duchesse paused and reflected for a moment, and then said, “That is more serious: I will think it over.”

And notwithstanding the profound obscurity, Aramis seemed to feel a basilisk glance, like a white-hot iron, escape from his friend’s eyes, and plunge into his heart.

“Let us recapitulate,” said Aramis, determined to keep himself on his guard, and gliding his hand into his breast where he had a dagger concealed.

“Exactly, let us recapitulate; short accounts make long friends.”

“The suppression of your pension—”

“Forty-eight thousand francs, and that of Laicques’s twelve, make together sixty thousand francs; that is what you mean, I suppose?”

“Precisely; and I was trying to find out what would be your equivalent for that.”

“Five hundred thousand francs, which I shall get from the queen.”

“Or, which you will not get.”

“I know a means of procuring them,” said the duchesse, thoughtlessly.

This remark made the chevalier prick up his ears; and from the moment his adversary had committed this error, his mind was so thoroughly on its guard, that he seemed every moment to gain the advantage more and more; and she, consequently, to lose it. “I will admit, for argument’s sake, that you obtain the money,” he resumed; “you will lose twice as much, having a hundred thousand francs’ pension to receive instead of sixty thousand, and that for a period of ten years.”

“Not so, for I shall only be subjected to this reduction of my income during the period of M. Fouquet’s remaining in power, a period which I estimate at two months.”

“Ah!” said Aramis.

“I am frank, you see.”

“I thank you for it, duchesse; but you would be wrong to suppose that after M. Fouquet’s disgrace the order would resume the payment of your pension.”

“I know a means of making the order pay, as I know a means of forcing the queen-mother to concede what I require.”

“In that case, duchesse, we are all obliged to strike our flags to you. The victory is yours, and the triumph also. Be clement, I entreat you.”

“But is it possible,” resumed the duchesse, without taking notice of the irony, “that you really draw back from a miserable sum of five hundred thousand francs, when it is a question of sparing you—I mean your friend—I beg your pardon, I ought rather to say your protector—the disagreeable consequences which a party contest produces?”

“Duchesse, I tell you why; supposing the five hundred thousand francs were to be given you, M. Laicques will require his share, which will be another five hundred thousand francs, I presume? and then, after M. de Laicques’s and your own portions have been arranged, the portions which your children, your poor pensioners, and various other persons will require, will start up as fresh claims, and these letters, however compromising they may be in their nature, are not worth from three to four millions. Can you have forgotten the queen of France’s diamonds?—they were surely worth more than these bits of waste paper signed by Mazarin, and yet their recovery did not cost a fourth part of what you ask for yourself.”

“Yes, that is true; but the merchant values his goods at his own price, and it is for the purchaser to buy or refuse.”

“Stay a moment, duchesse; would you like me to tell you why I will not buy your letters?”

“Pray tell me.”

“Because the letters you claim to be Mazarin’s are false.”

“What an absurdity.”

“I have no doubt of it, for it would, to say the least, be very singular, that after you had quarreled with the queen through M. Mazarin’s means, you should have kept up any intimate acquaintance with the latter; it would look as if you had been acting as a spy; and upon my word, I do not like to make use of the word.”

“Oh! pray do.”

“You great complacence would seem suspicions, at all events.”

“That is quite true; but the contents of the letters are even more so.”

“I pledge you my word, duchesse, that you will not be able to make use of it with the queen.”

“Oh! yes, indeed; I can make use of everything with the queen.”

“Very good,” thought Aramis. “Croak on, old owl—hiss, beldame-viper.”

But the duchesse had said enough, and advanced a few steps towards the door. Aramis, however, had reserved one exposure which she did not expect.

He rang the bell, candles immediately appeared in the adjoining room, and the bishop found himself completely encircled by lights, which shone upon the worn, haggard face of the duchesse, revealing every feature but too clearly. Aramis fixed a long ironical look upon her pale, thin, withered cheeks—her dim, dull eyes—and upon her lips, which she kept carefully closed over her discolored scanty teeth. He, however, had thrown himself into a graceful attitude, with his haughty and intelligent head thrown back; he smiled so as to reveal teeth still brilliant and dazzling. The antiquated coquette understood the trick that had been played her. She was standing immediately before a large mirror, in which her decrepitude, so carefully concealed, was only made more manifest. And, thereupon, without even saluting Aramis, who bowed with the ease and grace of the musketeer of early days, she hurried away with trembling steps, which her very precipitation only the more impeded. Aramis sprang across the room, like a zephyr, to lead her to the door. Madame de Chevreuse made a sign to her servant, who resumed his musket, and she left the house where such tender friends had not been able to understand each other only because they had understood each other too well.






Chapter XLI. Wherein May Be Seen that a Bargain Which Cannot Be Made with One Person, Can Be Carried Out with Another.


Aramis had been perfectly correct in his supposition; for hardly had she left the house in the Place Baudoyer than Madame de Chevreuse proceeded homeward. She was doubtless afraid of being followed, and by this means thought she might succeed in throwing those who might be following her off their guard; but scarcely had she arrived within the door of the hotel, and hardly had assured herself that no one who could cause her any uneasiness was on her track, when she opened the door of the garden, leading into another street, and hurried towards the Rue Croix des Petits-Champs, where M. Colbert resided.

We have already said that evening, or rather night, had closed in; it was a dark, thick night, besides; Paris had once more sunk into its calm, quiescent state, enshrouding alike within its indulgent mantle the high-born duchesse carrying out her political intrigue, and the simple citizen’s wife, who, having been detained late by a supper in the city, was making her way slowly homewards, hanging on the arm of a lover, by the shortest possible route. Madame de Chevreuse had been too well accustomed to nocturnal political intrigues to be ignorant that a minister never denies himself, even at his own private residence, to any young and beautiful woman who may chance to object to the dust and confusion of a public office, or to old women, as full of experience as of years, who dislike the indiscreet echo of official residences. A valet received the duchesse under the peristyle, and received her, it must be admitted, with some indifference of manner; he intimated, after having looked at her face, that it was hardly at such an hour that one so advanced in years as herself could be permitted to disturb Monsieur Colbert’s important occupations. But Madame de Chevreuse, without looking or appearing to be annoyed, wrote her name upon a leaf of her tablets—a name which had but too frequently sounded so disagreeably in the ears of Louis XIII. and of the great cardinal. She wrote her name in the large, ill-formed characters of the higher classes of that period, handed it to the valet, without uttering a word, but with so haughty and imperious a gesture, that the fellow, well accustomed to judge of people from their manners and appearance, perceived at once the quality of the person before him, bowed his head, and ran to M. Colbert’s room. The minister could not control a sudden exclamation as he opened the paper; and the valet, gathering from it the interest with which his master regarded the mysterious visitor, returned as fast as he could to beg the duchesse to follow him. She ascended to the first floor of the beautiful new house very slowly, rested herself on the landing-place, in order not to enter the apartment out of breath, and appeared before M. Colbert, who, with his own hands, held both the folding doors open. The duchesse paused at the threshold, for the purpose of well studying the character of the man with whom she was about to converse. At the first glance, the round, large, heavy head, thick brows, and ill-favored features of Colbert, who wore, thrust low down on his head, a cap like a priest’s calotte, seemed to indicate that but little difficulty was likely to be met with in her negotiations with him, but also that she was to expect as little interest in the discussion of particulars; for there was scarcely any indication that the rough and uncouth nature of the man was susceptible to the impulses of a refined revenge, or of an exalted ambition. But when, on closer inspection, the duchesse perceived the small, piercingly black eyes, the longitudinal wrinkles of his high and massive forehead, the imperceptible twitching of the lips, on which were apparent traces of rough good-humor, Madame de Chevreuse altered her opinion of him, and felt she could say to herself: “I have found the man I want.”

“What is the subject, madame, which procures me the honor of a visit from you?” he inquired.

“The need I have of you, monsieur,” returned the duchesse, “as well as that which you have of me.”

“I am delighted, madame, with the first portion of your sentence; but, as far as the second portion is concerned—”

Madame de Chevreuse sat down in the armchair which M. Colbert advanced towards her. “Monsieur Colbert, you are the intendant of finances, and are ambitious of becoming the superintendent?”

“Madame!”

“Nay, do not deny it; that would only unnecessarily prolong our conversation, and that is useless.”

“And yet, madame, however well-disposed and inclined to show politeness I may be towards a lady of your position and merit, nothing will make me confess that I have ever entertained the idea of supplanting my superior.”

“I said nothing about supplanting, Monsieur Colbert. Could I accidentally have made use of that word? I hardly think that likely. The word ‘replace’ is less aggressive in its signification, and more grammatically suitable, as M. de Voiture would say. I presume, therefore, that you are ambitious of replacing M. Fouquet.”

“M. Fouquet’s fortune, madame, enables him to withstand all attempts. The superintendent in this age plays the part of the Colossus of Rhodes; the vessels pass beneath him and do not overthrow him.”

“I ought to have availed myself precisely of that very comparison. It is true, M. Fouquet plays the part of the Colossus of Rhodes; but I remember to have heard it said by M. Conrart, a member of the academy, I believe, that when the Colossus of Rhodes fell from its lofty position, the merchant who had cast it down—a merchant, nothing more, M. Colbert—loaded four hundred camels with the ruins. A merchant! and that is considerably less than an intendant of finances.”

“Madame, I can assure you that I shall never overthrow M. Fouquet.”

“Very good, Monsieur Colbert, since you persist in showing so much sensitiveness with me, as if you were ignorant that I am Madame de Chevreuse, and also that I am somewhat advanced in years; in other words, that you have to do with a woman who has had political dealings with the Cardinal Richelieu, and who has no time to lose; as, I repeat, you do not hesitate to commit such an imprudence, I shall go and find others who are more intelligent and more desirous of making their fortunes.”

“How, madame, how?”

“You give me a very poor idea of negotiations of the present day. I assure you that if, in my earlier days, a woman had gone to M. de Cinq-Mars, who was not, moreover, a man of a very high order of intellect, and had said to him about the cardinal what I have just said to you of M. Fouquet, M. de Cinq-Mars would by this time have already set actively to work.”

“Nay, madame, show a little indulgence, I entreat you.”

“Well, then, do you really consent to replace M. Fouquet?”

“Certainly, I do, if the king dismisses M. Fouquet.”

“Again, a word too much; it is quite evident that, if you have not yet succeeded in driving M. Fouquet from his post, it is because you have not been able to do so. Therefore, I should be the greatest simpleton possible if, in coming to you, I did not bring the very thing you require.”

“I am distressed to be obliged to persist, madame,” said Colbert, after a silence which enabled the duchesse to sound the depths of his dissimulation, “but I must warn you that, for the last six years, denunciation after denunciation has been made against M. Fouquet, and he has remained unshaken and unaffected by them.”

“There is a time for everything, Monsieur Colbert; those who were the authors of those denunciations were not called Madame de Chevreuse, and they had no proofs equal to the six letters from M. de Mazarin which establish the offense in question.”

“The offense!”

“The crime, if you like it better.”

“The crime! committed by M. Fouquet!”

“Nothing less. It is rather strange, M. Colbert, but your face, which just now was cold and indifferent, is now positively the very reverse.”

“A crime!”

“I am delighted to see that it makes an impression upon you.”

“It is because that word, madame, embraces so many things.”

“It embraces the post of superintendent of finance for yourself, and a letter of exile, or the Bastile, for M. Fouquet.”

“Forgive me, madame la duchesse, but it is almost impossible that M. Fouquet can be exiled; to be imprisoned or disgraced, that is already a great deal.”

“Oh, I am perfectly aware of what I am saying,” returned Madame de Chevreuse, coldly. “I do not live at such a distance from Paris as not to know what takes place there. The king does not like M. Fouquet, and he would willingly sacrifice M. Fouquet if an opportunity were only given him.”

“It must be a good one, though.”

“Good enough, and one I estimate to be worth five hundred thousand francs.”

“In what way?” said Colbert.

“I mean, monsieur, that holding this opportunity in my own hands, I will not allow it to be transferred to yours except for a sum of five hundred thousand francs.”

“I understand you perfectly, madame. But since you have fixed a price for the sale, let me now see the value of the articles to be sold.”

“Oh, a mere trifle; six letters, as I have already told you, from M. de Mazarin; and the autographs will most assuredly not be regarded as too highly priced, if they establish, in an irrefutable manner, that M. Fouquet has embezzled large sums of money from the treasury and appropriated them to his own purposes.”

“In an irrefutable manner, do you say?” observed Colbert, whose eyes sparkled with delight.

“Perfectly so; would you like to read the letters?”

“With all my heart! Copies, of course?”

“Of course, the copies,” said the duchesse, as she drew from her bosom a small packet of papers flattened by her velvet bodice. “Read,” she said.

Colbert eagerly snatched the papers and devoured them. “Excellent!” he said.

“It is clear enough, is it not?”

“Yes, madame, yes; M. Mazarin must have handed the money to M. Fouquet, who must have kept it for his own purposes; but the question is, what money?”

“Exactly,—what money; if we come to terms I will join to these six letters a seventh, which will supply you with the fullest particulars.”

Colbert reflected. “And the originals of these letters?”

“A useless question to ask; exactly as if I were to ask you, Monsieur Colbert, whether the money-bags you will give me will be full or empty.”

“Very good, madame.”

“Is it concluded?”

“No; for there is one circumstance to which neither of us has given any attention.”

“Name it!”

“M. Fouquet can be utterly ruined, under the legal circumstances you have detailed, only by means of legal proceedings.”

“Well?”

“A public scandal, for instance; and yet neither the legal proceedings nor the scandal can be commenced against him.”

“Why not?”

“Because he is procureur-general of the parliament; because, too, in France, all public administrators, the army, justice itself, and commerce, are intimately connected by ties of good-fellowship, which people call esprit de corps. In such a case, madame, the parliament will never permit its chief to be dragged before a public tribunal; and never, even if he be dragged there by royal authority, never, I say, will he be condemned.”

“Well, Monsieur Colbert, I do not see what I have to do with that.”

“I am aware of that, madame; but I have to do with it, and it consequently diminishes the value of what you have brought to show me. What good can a proof of a crime be to me, without the possibility of obtaining a condemnation?”

“Even if he be only suspected, M. Fouquet will lose his post of superintendent.”

“Is that all?” exclaimed Colbert, whose dark, gloomy features were momentarily lighted up by an expression of hate and vengeance.

“Ah! ah! Monsieur Colbert,” said the duchesse, “forgive me, but I did not think you were so impressionable. Very good; in that case, since you need more than I have to give you, there is no occasion to speak of the matter at all.”

“Yes, madame, we will go on talking of it; only, as the value of your commodities had decreased, you must lower your pretensions.”

“You are bargaining, then?”

“Every man who wishes to deal loyally is obliged to do so.”

“How much will you offer me?”

“Two hundred thousand francs,” said Colbert.

The duchesse laughed in his face, and then said, suddenly, “Wait a moment, I have another arrangement to propose; will you give me three hundred thousand francs?”

“No, no.”

“Oh, you can either accept or refuse my terms; besides, that is not all.”

“More still! you are becoming too impracticable to deal with, madame.”

“Less so than you think, perhaps, for it is not money I am going to ask you for.”

“What is it, then?”

“A service; you know that I have always been most affectionately attached to the queen, and I am desirous of having an interview with her majesty.”

“With the queen?”

“Yes, Monsieur Colbert, with the queen, who is, I admit, no longer my friend, and who has ceased to be so for a long time past, but who may again become so if the opportunity be only given her.”

“Her majesty has ceased to receive any one, madame. She is a great sufferer, and you may be aware that the paroxysms of her disease occur with greater frequency than ever.”

“That is the very reason why I wish to have an interview with her majesty; for in Flanders there is a great variety of these kinds of complaints.”

“What, cancers—a fearful, incurable disorder?”

“Do not believe that, Monsieur Colbert. The Flemish peasant is somewhat a man of nature, and his companion for life is not alone a wife, but a female laborer also; for while he is smoking his pipe, the woman works: it is she who draws the water from the well; she who loads the mule or the ass, and even bears herself a portion of the burden. Taking but little care of herself, she gets knocked about first in one direction, and then in another, and very often is beaten by her husband, and cancers frequently rise from contusions.”

“True, true,” said Colbert.

“The Flemish women do not die the sooner on that account. When they are great sufferers from this disease they go in search of remedies, and the Beguines of Bruges are excellent doctors for every kind of disease. They have precious waters of one sort or another; specifics of various kinds; and they give a bottle of it and a wax candle to the sufferer, whereby the priests are gainers, and Heaven is served by the disposal of both their wares. I will take the queen some of this holy water, which I will procure from the Beguines of Bruges; her majesty will recover, and will burn as many wax candles as she may see fit. You see, Monsieur Colbert, to prevent my seeing the queen is almost as bad as committing the crime of regicide.”

“You are undoubtedly, madame la duchesse, a woman of exceedingly great abilities, and I am more than astounded at their display; still I cannot but suppose that this charitable consideration towards the queen in some measure covers a slight personal interest for yourself.”

“I have not given myself the trouble to conceal it, that I am aware of, Monsieur Colbert. You said, I believe, that I had a slight personal interest? On the contrary, it is a very great interest, and I will prove it to you, by resuming what I was saying. If you procure me a personal interview with her majesty, I will be satisfied with the three hundred thousand francs I have claimed; if not, I shall keep my letters, unless, indeed, you give me, on the spot, five hundred thousand francs.”

And rising from her seat with this decisive remark, the old duchesse plunged M. Colbert into a disagreeable perplexity. To bargain any further was out of the question; and not to bargain was to pay a great deal too dearly for them. “Madame,” he said, “I shall have the pleasure of handing over a hundred thousand crowns; but how shall I get the actual letters themselves?”

“In the simplest manner in the world, my dear Monsieur Colbert—whom will you trust?”

The financier began to laugh, silently, so that his large eyebrows went up and down like the wings of a bat, upon the deep lines of his yellow forehead. “No one,” he said.

“You surely will make an exception in your own favor, Monsieur Colbert?”

“In what way, madame?”

“I mean that, if you would take the trouble to accompany me to the place where the letters are, they would be delivered into your own hands, and you would be able to verify and check them.”

“Quite true.”

“You would bring the hundred thousand crowns with you at the same time, for I, too, do not trust any one.”

Colbert colored to the tips of his ears. Like all eminent men in the art of figures, he was of an insolent and mathematical probity. “I will take with me, madame,” he said, “two orders for the amount agreed upon, payable at my treasury. Will that satisfy you?”

“Would that the orders on your treasury were for two millions, monsieur l’intendant! I shall have the pleasure of showing you the way, then?”

“Allow me to order my carriage?”

“I have a carriage below, monsieur.”

Colbert coughed like an irresolute man. He imagined, for a moment, that the proposition of the duchesse was a snare; that perhaps some one was waiting at the door; and that she whose secret had just been sold to Colbert for a hundred thousand crowns, had already offered it to Fouquet for the same sum. As he still hesitated, the duchesse looked at him full in the face.

“You prefer your own carriage?” she said.

“I admit I do.”

“You suppose I am going to lead you into a snare or trap of some sort or other?”

“Madame la duchesse, you have the character of being somewhat inconsiderate at times, as I am reputed a sober, solemn character, a jest or practical joke might compromise me.”

“Yes; the fact is, you are afraid. Well, then, take your own carriage, as many servants as you like, only think well of what I am going to say. What we two may arrange between ourselves, we are the only persons who will know—if a third person is present we might as well tell the whole world about it. After all, I do not make a point of it; my carriage shall follow yours, and I shall be satisfied to accompany you in your own carriage to the queen.”

“To the queen?”

“Have you forgotten that already? Is it possible that one of the clauses of the agreement of so much importance to me, can have escaped you so soon? How trifling it seems to you, indeed; if I had known it I should have asked double what I have done.”

“I have reflected, madame, and I shall not accompany you.”

“Really—and why not?”

“Because I have the most perfect confidence in you.”

“You overpower me. But—provided I receive the hundred thousand crowns?”

“Here they are, madame,” said Colbert, scribbling a few lines on a piece of paper, which he handed to the duchesse, adding, “You are paid.”

“The trait is a fine one, Monsieur Colbert, and I will reward you for it,” she said, beginning to laugh.

Madame de Chevreuse’s laugh was a very sinister sound; a man with youth, faith, love, life itself, throbbing in his heart, would prefer a sob to such a lamentable laugh. The duchesse opened the front of her dress and drew forth from her bosom, somewhat less white than it once had been, a small packet of papers, tied with a flame-colored ribbon, and, still laughing, she said, “There, Monsieur Colbert, are the originals of Cardinal Mazarin’s letters; they are now your own property,” she added, refastening the body of her dress; “your fortune is secured. And now accompany me to the queen.”

“No, madame; if you are again about to run the chance of her majesty’s displeasure, and it were known at the Palais Royal that I had been the means of introducing you there, the queen would never forgive me while she lived. No; there are certain persons at the palace who are devoted to me, who will procure you an admission without my being compromised.”

“Just as you please, provided I enter.”

“What do you term those religious women at Bruges who cure disorders?”

“Beguines.”

“Good; are you one?”

“As you please,—but I must soon cease to be one.”

“That is your affair.”

“Excuse me, but I do not wish to be exposed to a refusal.”

“That is again your own affair, madame. I am going to give directions to the head valet of the gentleman in waiting on the queen to allow admission to a Beguine, who brings an effectual remedy for her majesty’s sufferings. You are the bearer of my letter, you will undertake to be provided with the remedy, and will give every explanation on the subject. I admit a knowledge of a Beguine, but I deny all knowledge of Madame de Chevreuse. Here, madame, then, is your letter of introduction.”






Chapter XLII. The Skin of the Bear.


Colbert handed the duchesse the letter, and gently drew aside the chair behind which she was standing; Madame de Chevreuse, with a very slight bow, immediately left the room. Colbert, who had recognized Mazarin’s handwriting, and had counted the letters, rang to summon his secretary, whom he enjoined to go in immediate search of M. Vanel, a counselor of the parliament. The secretary replied that, according to his usual practice, M. Vanel had just that moment entered the house, in order to give the intendant an account of the principal details of the business which had been transacted during the day in parliament. Colbert approached one of the lamps, read the letters of the deceased cardinal over again, smiled repeatedly as he recognized the great value of the papers Madame de Chevreuse had just delivered—and burying his head in his hands for a few minutes, reflected profoundly. In the meantime, a tall, loosely-made man entered the room; his spare, thin face, steady look, and hooked nose, as he entered Colbert’s cabinet, with a modest assurance of manner, revealed a character at once supple and decided,—supple towards the master who could throw him the prey, firm towards the dogs who might possibly be disposed to dispute its possession. M. Vanel carried a voluminous bundle of papers under his arm, and placed it on the desk on which Colbert was leaning both his elbows, as he supported his head.

“Good day, M. Vanel,” said the latter, rousing himself from his meditation.

“Good day, monseigneur,” said Vanel, naturally.

“You should say monsieur, and not monseigneur,” replied Colbert, gently.

“We give the title of monseigneur to ministers,” returned Vanel, with extreme self-possession, “and you are a minister.”

“Not yet.”

“You are so in point of fact, and I call you monseigneur accordingly; besides you are seigneur for me, and that is sufficient; if you dislike my calling you monseigneur before others, allow me, at least, to call you so in private.”

Colbert raised his head as if to read, or try to read, upon Vanel’s face how much or how little sincerity entered into this protestation of devotion. But the counselor knew perfectly well how to sustain the weight of such a look, even backed with the full authority of the title he had conferred. Colbert sighed; he could not read anything in Vanel’s face, and Vanel might possibly be honest in his professions, but Colbert recollected that this man, inferior to himself in every other respect, was actually his master in virtue of the fact of his having a wife. As he was pitying this man’s lot, Vanel coldly drew from his pocket a perfumed letter, sealed with Spanish wax, and held it towards Colbert, saying, “A letter from my wife, monseigneur.”

Colbert coughed, took, opened and read the letter, and then put it carefully away in his pocket, while Vanel turned over the leaves of the papers he had brought with him with an unmoved and unconcerned air. “Vanel,” he said suddenly to his protege, “you are a hard-working man, I know; would twelve hours’ daily labor frighten you?”

“I work fifteen hours every day.”

“Impossible. A counselor need not work more than three hours a day in parliament.”

“Oh! I am working up some returns for a friend of mine in the department of accounts, and, as I still have spare time on my hands, I am studying Hebrew.”

“Your reputation stands high in the parliament, Vanel.”

“I believe so, monseigneur.”

“You must not grow rusty in your post of counselor.”

“What must I do to avoid it?”

“Purchase a high place. Mean and low ambitions are very difficult to satisfy.”

“Small purses are the most difficult ones to fill, monseigneur.”

“What post have you in view?” said Colbert.

“I see none—not one.”

“There is one, certainly, but one need be almost the king himself to be able to buy it without inconvenience; and the king will not be inclined, I suppose, to purchase the post of procureur-general.”

At these words, Vanel fixed his peculiar, humble, dull look upon Colbert, who could hardly tell whether Vanel comprehended him or not. “Why do you speak to me, monseigneur,” said Vanel, “of the post of procureur-general to the parliament; I know no other post than the one M. Fouquet fills.”

“Exactly so, my dear counselor.”

“You are not over fastidious, monseigneur; but before the post can be bought, it must be offered for sale.”

“I believe, Monsieur Vanel, that it will be for sale before long.”

“For sale! What! M. Fouquet’s post of procureur-general?”

“So it is said.”

“The post which renders him so perfectly invincible, for sale! Ha, ha!” said Vanel, beginning to laugh.

“Would you be afraid, then, of the post?” said Colbert, gravely.

“Afraid! no; but—”

“Are you desirous of obtaining it?”

“You are laughing at me, monseigneur,” replied Vanel. “Is it likely that a counselor of the parliament would not be desirous of becoming procureur-general?”

“Well, Monsieur Vanel, since I tell you that the post, as report goes, will be shortly for sale—”

“I cannot help repeating, monseigneur, that it is impossible; a man never throws away the buckler, behind which he maintains his honor, his fortune, his very life.”

“There are certain men mad enough, Vanel, to fancy themselves out of the reach of all mischances.”

“Yes, monseigneur; but such men never commit their mad acts for the advantage of the poor Vanels of the world.”

“Why not?”

“For the very reason that those Vanels are poor.”

“It is true that M. Fouquet’s post might cost a good round sum. What would you bid for it, Monsieur Vanel?”

“Everything I am worth.”

“Which means?”

“Three or four hundred thousand francs.”

“And the post is worth—”

“A million and a half, at the very lowest. I know persons who have offered one million seven hundred thousand francs, without being able to persuade M. Fouquet to sell. Besides, supposing it were to happen that M. Fouquet wished to sell, which I do not believe, in spite of what I have been told—”

“Ah! you have heard something about it, then; who told you?”

“M. de Gourville, M. Pelisson, and others.”

“Very good; if, therefore, M. Fouquet did wish to sell—”

“I could not buy it just yet, since the superintendent will only sell for ready money, and no one has a million and a half to put down at once.”

Colbert suddenly interrupted the counselor by an imperious gesture; he had begun to meditate. Observing his superior’s serious attitude, and his perseverance in continuing the conversation on this subject, Vanel awaited the solution without venturing to precipitate it.

“Explain to me the privileges which this post confers.”

“The right of impeaching every French subject who is not a prince of the blood; the right of quashing all proceedings taken against any Frenchman, who is neither king nor prince. The procureur-general is the king’s right hand to punish the guilty; the office is the means whereby also he can evade the administration of justice. M. Fouquet, therefore, would be able, by stirring up parliament, to maintain himself even against the king; and the king could as easily, by humoring M. Fouquet, get his edicts registered in spite of every opposition and objection. The procureur-general can be made a very useful or a very dangerous instrument.”

“Vanel, would you like to be procureur-general?” said Colbert, suddenly, softening both his look and his voice.

“I!” exclaimed the latter; “I have already had the honor to represent to you that I want about eleven hundred thousand francs to make up the amount.”

“Borrow that sum from your friends.”

“I have no friends richer than myself.”

“You are an honest and honorable man, Vanel.”

“Ah! monseigneur, if the world would only think as you do!”

“I think so, and that is quite enough; and if it should be needed, I will be your security.”

“Do not forget the proverb, monseigneur.”

“What is it?”

“That he who becomes responsible for another has to pay for his fancy.”

“Let that make no difference.”

Vanel rose, bewildered by this offer which had been so suddenly and unexpectedly made to him. “You are not trifling with me, monseigneur?” he said.

“Stay; you say that M. Gourville has spoken to you about M. Fouquet’s post?”

“Yes; and M. Pelisson, also.”

“Officially so, or only through their own suggestion?”

“These were their very words: ‘The parliament members are as proud as they are wealthy; they ought to club together two or three millions among themselves, to present to their protector and leader, M. Fouquet.’”

“And what did you reply?”

“I said that, for my own part, I would give ten thousand francs if necessary.”

“Ah! you like M. Fouquet, then!” exclaimed Colbert, with a look of hatred.

“No; but M. Fouquet is our chief. He is in debt—is on the high road to ruin; and we ought to save the honor of the body of which we are members.”

“Exactly; and that explains why M. Fouquet will be always safe and sound, so long as he occupies his present post,” replied Colbert.

“Thereupon,” said Vanel, “M. Gourville added, ‘If we were to do anything out of charity to M. Fouquet, it could not be otherwise than most humiliating to him; and he would be sure to refuse it. Let the parliament subscribe among themselves to purchase, in a proper manner, the post of procureur-general; in that case, all would go well; the honor of our body would be saved, and M. Fouquet’s pride spared.’”

“That is an opening.”

“I considered it so, monseigneur.”

“Well, Monsieur Vanel, you will go at once, and find out either M. Gourville or M. Pelisson. Do you know any other friend of M. Fouquet?”

“I know M. de la Fontaine very well.”

“La Fontaine, the rhymester?”

“Yes; he used to write verses to my wife, when M. Fouquet was one of our friends.”

“Go to him, then, and try and procure an interview with the superintendent.”

“Willingly—but the sum itself?”

“On the day and hour you arrange to settle the matter, Monsieur Vanel, you shall be supplied with the money, so do not make yourself uneasy on that account.”

“Monseigneur, such munificence! You eclipse kings even—you surpass M. Fouquet himself.”

“Stay a moment—do not let us mistake each other: I do not make you a present of fourteen hundred thousand francs, Monsieur Vanel; for I have children to provide for—but I will lend you that sum.”

“Ask whatever interest, whatever security you please, monseigneur; I am quite ready. And when all your requisitions are satisfied, I will still repeat, that you surpass kings and M. Fouquet in munificence. What conditions do you impose?”

“The repayment in eight years, and a mortgage upon the appointment itself.”

“Certainly. Is that all?”

“Wait a moment. I reserve to myself the right of purchasing the post from you at one hundred and fifty thousand francs profit for yourself, if, in your mode of filling the office, you do not follow out a line of conduct in conformity with the interests of the king and with my projects.”

“Ah-h!” said Vanel, in an altered tone.

“Is there anything in that which can possibly be objectionable to you, Monsieur Vanel?” said Colbert, coldly.

“Oh! no, no,” replied Vanel, nervously.

“Very good. We will sign an agreement to that effect whenever you like. And now go as quickly as you can to M. Fouquet’s friend, obtain an interview with the superintendent; do not be too difficult in making whatever concessions may be required of you; and when once the arrangements are all made—”

“I will press him to sign.”

“Be most careful to do nothing of the kind; do not speak of signatures with M. Fouquet, nor of deeds, nor even ask him to pass his word. Understand this: otherwise you will lose everything. All you have to do is to get M. Fouquet to give you his hand on the matter. Go, go.”