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Ten Years Later

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Chapter XXV. The Second Floor of la Bertaudiere.


On the second flight of stairs, whether from fatigue or emotion, the breathing of the visitor began to fail him, and he leaned against the wall. “Will you begin with this one?” said Baisemeaux; “for since we are going to both, it matters very little whether we ascend from the second to the third story, or descend from the third to the second.”

“No, no,” exclaimed Aramis, eagerly, “higher, if you please; the one above is the more urgent.” They continued their ascent. “Ask the jailer for the keys,” whispered Aramis. Baisemeaux did so, took the keys, and, himself, opened the door of the third room. The jailer was the first to enter; he placed upon the table the provisions, which the kind-hearted governor called dainties, and then left the room. The prisoner had not stirred; Baisemeaux then entered, while Aramis remained at the threshold, from which place he saw a youth about eighteen years of age, who, raising his head at the unusual noise, jumped off the bed, as he perceived the governor, and clasping his hands together, began to cry out, “My mother, my mother,” in tones which betrayed such deep distress that Aramis, despite his command over himself, felt a shudder pass through his frame. “My dear boy,” said Baisemeaux, endeavoring to smile, “I have brought you a diversion and an extra,—the one for the mind, the other for the body; this gentleman has come to take your measure, and here are some preserves for your dessert.”

“Oh, monsieur!” exclaimed the young man, “keep me in solitude for a year, let me have nothing but bread and water for a year, but tell me that at the end of a year I shall leave this place, tell me that at the end of a year I shall see my mother again.”

“But I have heard you say that your mother was very poor, and that you were very badly lodged when you were living with her, while here—upon my word!”

“If she were poor, monsieur, the greater reason to restore her only means of support to her. Badly lodged with her! Oh, monsieur, every one is always well lodged when he is free.”

“At all events, since you yourself admit you have done nothing but write that unhappy distich—”

“But without any intention, I swear. Let me be punished—cut off the hand which wrote it, I will work with the other—but restore my mother to me.”

“My boy,” said Baisemeaux, “you know very well that it does not depend upon me; all I can do for you is to increase your rations, give you a glass of port wine now and then, slip in a biscuit for you between a couple of plates.”

“Great heaven!” exclaimed the young man, falling backward and rolling on the ground.

Aramis, unable to bear this scene any longer, withdrew as far as the landing. “Unhappy, wretched man,” he murmured.

“Yes, monsieur, he is indeed very wretched,” said the jailer; “but it is his parents’ fault.”

“In what way?”

“No doubt. Why did they let him learn Latin? Too much knowledge, you see; it is that which does harm. Now I, for instance, can’t read or write, and therefore I am not in prison.” Aramis looked at the man, who seemed to think that being a jailer in the Bastile was not being in prison. As for Baisemeaux, noticing the little effect produced by his advice and his port wine, he left the dungeon quite upset. “You have forgotten to close the door,” said the jailer.

“So I have,” said Baisemeaux; “there are the keys, do you do it.”

“I will solicit the pardon of that poor boy,” said Aramis.

“And if you do not succeed,” said Baisemeaux, “at least beg that he may be transferred to the ten-franc list, by which both he and I shall be gainers.”

“If the other prisoner calls out for his mother in a similar manner,” said Aramis, “I prefer not to enter at all, but will take my measure from outside.”

“No fear of that, monsieur architect, the one we are now going to see is as gentle as a lamb; before he could call after his mother he must open his lips, and he never says a word.”

“Let us go in, then,” said Aramis, gloomily.

“Are you the architect of the prisons, monsieur?” said the jailer.

“I am.”

“It is odd, then, that you are not more accustomed to all this.”

Aramis perceived that, to avoid giving rise to any suspicions, he must summon all his strength of mind to his assistance. Baisemeaux, who carried the keys, opened the door. “Stay outside,” he said to the jailer, “and wait for us at the bottom of the steps.” The jailer obeyed and withdrew.

Baisemeaux entered first, and opened the second door himself. By the light which filtered through the iron-barred window, could be seen a handsome young man, short in stature, with closely cut hair, and a beard beginning to grow; he was sitting on a stool, his elbow resting on an armchair, and with all the upper part of his body reclining against it. His dress, thrown upon the bed, was of rich black velvet, and he inhaled the fresh air which blew in upon his breast through a shirt of the very finest cambric. As the governor entered, the young man turned his head with a look full of indifference; and on recognizing Baisemeaux, he arose and saluted him courteously. But when his eyes fell upon Aramis, who remained in the background, the latter trembled, turned pale, and his hat, which he held in his hand, fell upon the ground, as if all his muscles had become relaxed at once. Baisemeaux, habituated to the presence of his prisoner, did not seem to share any of the sensations which Aramis experienced, but, with all the zeal of a good servant, he busied himself in arranging on the table the pasty and crawfish he had brought with him. Occupied in this manner, he did not remark how disturbed his guest had become. When he had finished, however, he turned to the young prisoner and said: “You are looking very well,—are you so?”

“Quite well, I thank you, monsieur,” replied the young man.

The effect of the voice was such as almost to overpower Aramis, and notwithstanding his control over himself, he advanced a few steps towards him, with his eyes wide open and his lips trembling. The movement he made was so marked that Baisemeaux, notwithstanding his preoccupation, observed it. “This gentleman is an architect who has come to examine your chimney,” said Baisemeaux; “does it smoke?”

“Never, monsieur.”

“You were saying just now,” said the governor, rubbing his hands together, “that it was not possible for a man to be happy in prison; here, however, is one who is so. You have nothing to complain of, I hope?”

“Nothing.”

“Do you ever feel weary?” said Aramis.

“Never.”

“Ha, ha,” said Baisemeaux, in a low tone of voice; “was I right?”

“Well, my dear governor, it is impossible not to yield to evidence. Is it allowed to put any question to him?”

“As many as you like.”

“Very well; be good enough to ask him if he knows why he is here.”

“This gentleman requests me to ask you,” said Baisemeaux, “if you are aware of the cause of your imprisonment?”

“No, monsieur,” said the young man, unaffectedly, “I am not.”

“That is hardly possible,” said Aramis, carried away by his feelings in spite of himself; “if you were really ignorant of the cause of your detention, you would be furious.”

“I was so during the early days of my imprisonment.”

“Why are you not so now?”

“Because I have reflected.”

“That is strange,” said Aramis.

“Is it not odd?” said Baisemeaux.

“May one venture to ask you, monsieur, on what you have reflected?”

“I felt that as I had committed no crime, Heaven could not punish me.”

“What is a prison, then,” inquired Aramis, “if it be not a punishment.”

“Alas! I cannot tell,” said the young man; “all that I can tell you now is the very opposite of what I felt seven years ago.”

“To hear you converse, to witness your resignation, one might almost believe that you liked your imprisonment?”

“I endure it.”

“In the certainty of recovering your freedom some day, I suppose?”

“I have no certainty; hope, I have, and that is all; and yet I acknowledge that this hope becomes less every day.”

“Still, why should you not again be free, since you have already been so?”

“That is precisely the reason,” replied the young man, “which prevents me from expecting liberty; why should I have been imprisoned at all if it had been intended to release me afterwards?”

“How old are you?”

“I do not know.”

“What is your name?”

“I have forgotten the name by which I was called.”

“Who are your parents?”

“I never knew them.”

“But those who brought you up?”

“They did not call me their son.”

“Did you ever love any one before coming here?”

“I loved my nurse, and my flowers.”

“Was that all?”

“I also loved my valet.”

“Do you regret your nurse and your valet?”

“I wept very much when they died.”

“Did they die since you have been here, or before you came?”

“They died the evening before I was carried off.”

“Both at the same time?”

“Yes, both at the same time.”

“In what manner were you carried off?”

“A man came for me, directed me to get into a carriage, which was closed and locked, and brought me here.”

“Would you be able to recognize that man again?”

“He was masked.”

“Is this not an extraordinary tale?” said Baisemeaux, in a low tone of voice, to Aramis, who could hardly breathe.

“It is indeed extraordinary,” he murmured.

“But what is still more extraordinary is, that he has never told me so much as he has just told you.”

“Perhaps the reason may be that you have never questioned him,” said Aramis.

“It’s possible,” replied Baisemeaux; “I have no curiosity. Have you looked at the room? it’s a fine one, is it not?”

“Very much so.”

“A carpet—”

“Beautiful.”

“I’ll wager he had nothing like it before he came here.”

“I think so, too.” And then again turning towards the young man, he said, “Do you not remember to have been visited at some time or another by a strange lady or gentleman?”

“Yes, indeed; thrice by a woman, who each time came to the door in a carriage, and entered covered with a veil, which she raised when we were together and alone.”

“Do you remember that woman?”

“Yes.”

“What did she say to you?”

The young man smiled mournfully, and then replied, “She inquired, as you have just done, if I were happy, and if I were getting weary.”

“What did she do on arriving, and on leaving you?”

“She pressed me in her arms, held me in her embrace, and kissed me.”

“Do you remember her?”

“Perfectly.”

“Do you recall her features distinctly?”

“Yes.”

“You would recognize her, then, if accident brought her before you, or led you into her person?”

“Most certainly.”

A flush of fleeting satisfaction passed across Aramis’s face. At this moment Baisemeaux heard the jailer approaching. “Shall we leave?” he said, hastily, to Aramis.

Aramis, who probably had learnt all that he cared to know, replied, “When you like.”

The young man saw them prepare to leave, and saluted them politely. Baisemeaux replied merely by a nod of the head, while Aramis, with a respect, arising perhaps from the sight of such misfortune, saluted the prisoner profoundly. They left the room, Baisemeaux closing the door behind them.

“Well,” said Baisemeaux, as they descended the staircase, “what do you think of it all?”

“I have discovered the secret, my dear governor,” he said.

“Bah! what is the secret, then?”

“A murder was committed in that house.”

“Nonsense.”

“But attend; the valet and nurse died the same day.”

“Well.”

“And by poison. What do you think?”

“That is very likely to be true.”

“What! that that young man is an assassin?”

“Who said that? What makes you think that poor young fellow could be an assassin?”

“The very thing I was saying. A crime was committed in his house,” said Aramis, “and that was quite sufficient; perhaps he saw the criminals, and it was feared that he might say something.”

“The deuce! if I only thought that—”

“Well?”

“I would redouble the surveillance.”

“Oh, he does not seem to wish to escape.”

“You do not know what prisoners are.”

“Has he any books?”

“None; they are strictly prohibited, and under M. de Mazarin’s own hand.”

“Have you the writing still?”

“Yes, my lord; would you like to look at it as you return to take your cloak?”

“I should, for I like to look at autographs.”

“Well, then, this one is of the most unquestionable authenticity; there is only one erasure.”

“Ah, ah! an erasure; and in what respect?”

“With respect to a figure. At first there was written: ‘To be boarded at fifty francs.’”

“As princes of the blood, in fact?”

“But the cardinal must have seen his mistake, you understand; for he canceled the zero, and has added a one before the five. But, by the by—”

“What?”

“You do not speak of the resemblance.”

“I do not speak of it, dear M. de Baisemeaux, for a very simple reason— because it does not exist.”

“The deuce it doesn’t.”

“Or, if it does exist, it is only in your own imagination; but, supposing it were to exist elsewhere, I think it would be better for you not to speak of about it.”

“Really.”

“The king, Louis XIV.—you understand—would be excessively angry with you, if he were to learn that you contributed in any way to spread the report that one of his subjects has the effrontery to resemble him.”

“It is true, quite true,” said Baisemeaux, thoroughly alarmed; “but I have not spoken of the circumstance to any one but yourself, and you understand, monseigneur, that I perfectly rely on your discretion.”

“Oh, be easy.”

“Do you still wish to see the note?”

“Certainly.”

While engaged in this manner in conversation, they had returned to the governor’s apartments; Baisemeaux took from the cupboard a private register, like the one he had already shown Aramis, but fastened by a lock, the key which opened it being one of a small bunch which Baisemeaux always carried with him. Then placing the book upon the table, he opened it at the letter “M,” and showed Aramis the following note in the column of observations: “No books at any time; all linen and clothes of the finest and best quality to be procured; no exercise; always the same jailer; no communications with any one. Musical instruments; every liberty and every indulgence which his welfare may require; to be boarded at fifteen francs. M. de Baisemeaux can claim more if the fifteen francs be not sufficient.”

“Ah,” said Baisemeaux, “now I think of it, I shall claim it.”

Aramis shut the book. “Yes,” he said, “it is indeed M. de Mazarin’s handwriting; I recognize it well. Now, my dear governor,” he continued, as if this last communication had exhausted his interest, “let us now turn over to our own little affairs.”

“Well, what time for repayment do you wish me to take? Fix it yourself.”

“There need not be any particular period fixed; give me a simple acknowledgement for one hundred and fifty thousand francs.”

“When to be made payable?”

“When I require it; but, you understand, I shall only wish it when you yourself do.”

“Oh, I am quite easy on that score,” said Baisemeaux, smiling; “but I have already given you two receipts.”

“Which I now destroy,” said Aramis; and after having shown the two receipts to Baisemeaux, he destroyed them. Overcome by so great a mark of confidence, Baisemeaux unhesitatingly wrote out an acknowledgement of a debt of one hundred and fifty thousand francs, payable at the pleasure of the prelate. Aramis, who had, by glancing over the governor’s shoulder, followed the pen as he wrote, put the acknowledgement into his pocket without seeming to have read it, which made Baisemeaux perfectly easy. “Now,” said Aramis, “you will not be angry with me if I were to carry off one of your prisoners?”

“What do you mean?”

“By obtaining his pardon, of course. Have I not already told you that I took a great interest in poor Seldon?”

“Yes, quite true, you did so.”

“Well?”

“That is your affair; do as you think proper. I see you have an open hand, and an arm that can reach a great way.”

“Adieu, adieu.” And Aramis left, carrying with him the governor’s best wishes.






Chapter XXVI. The Two Friends.


At the very time M. de Baisemeaux was showing Aramis the prisoners in the Bastile, a carriage drew up at Madame de Belliere’s door, and, at that still early hour, a young woman alighted, her head muffled in a silk hood. When the servants announced Madame Vanel to Madame de Belliere, the latter was engaged, or rather was absorbed, in reading a letter, which she hurriedly concealed. She had hardly finished her morning toilette, her maid being still in the next room. At the name—at the footsteps of Marguerite Vanel, Madame de Belliere ran to meet her. She fancied she could detect in her friend’s eyes a brightness which was neither that of health nor of pleasure. Marguerite embraced her, pressed her hands, and hardly allowed her time to speak. “Dearest,” she said, “have you forgotten me? Have you quite given yourself up to the pleasures of the court?”

“I have not even seen the marriage fetes.”

“What are you doing with yourself, then?”

“I am getting ready to leave for Belliere.”

“For Belliere?”

“Yes.”

“You are becoming rustic in your tastes, then; I delight to see you so disposed. But you are pale.”

“No, I am perfectly well.”

“So much the better; I was becoming uneasy about you. You do not know what I have been told.”

“People say so many things.”

“Yes, but this is very singular.”

“How well you know how to excite curiosity, Marguerite.”

“Well, I was afraid of vexing you.”

“Never; you have yourself always admired me for my evenness of temper.”

“Well, then, it is said that—no, I shall never be able to tell you.”

“Do not let us talk about it, then,” said Madame de Belliere, who detected the ill-nature that was concealed by all these prefaces, yet felt the most anxious curiosity on the subject.

“Well, then, my dear marquise, it is said, for some time past, you no longer continue to regret Monsieur de Belliere as you used to.”

“It is an ill-natured report, Marguerite. I do regret, and shall always regret, my husband; but it is now two years since he died. I am only twenty-eight years old, and my grief at his loss ought not always to control every action and thought of my life. You, Marguerite, who are the model of a wife, would not believe me if I were to say so.”

“Why not? Your heart is so soft and yielding,” she said, spitefully.

“Yours is so, too, Marguerite, and yet I did not perceive that you allowed yourself to be overcome by grief when your heart was wounded.” These words were in direct allusion to Marguerite’s rupture with the superintendent, and were also a veiled but direct reproach made against her friend’s heart.

As if she only awaited this signal to discharge her shaft, Marguerite exclaimed, “Well, Elise, it is said you are in love.” And she looked fixedly at Madame de Belliere, who blushed against her will.

“Women can never escape slander,” replied the marquise, after a moment’s pause.

“No one slanders you, Elise.”

“What!—people say that I am in love, and yet they do not slander me!”

“In the first place, if it be true, it is no slander, but simply a scandal-loving report. In the next place—for you did not allow me to finish what I was saying—the public does not assert that you have abandoned yourself to this passion. It represents you, on the contrary, as a virtuous but loving woman, defending yourself with claws and teeth, shutting yourself up in your own house as in a fortress; in other respects, as impenetrable as that of Danae, notwithstanding Danae’s tower was made of brass.”

“You are witty, Marguerite,” said Madame de Belliere, angrily.

“You always flatter me, Elise. In short, however, you are reported to be incorruptible and unapproachable. You cannot decide whether the world is calumniating you or not; but what is it you are musing about while I am speaking to you?”

“I?”

“Yes; you are blushing and do not answer me.”

“I was trying,” said the marquise, raising her beautiful eyes brightened with an indication of growing temper, “I was trying to discover to what you could possibly have alluded, you who are so learned in mythological subjects, in comparing me to Danae.”

“You were trying to guess that?” said Marguerite, laughing.

“Yes; do you not remember that at the convent, when we were solving our problems in arithmetic—ah! what I have to tell you is learned also, but it is my turn—do you not remember, that if one of the terms were given, we were to find the other? Therefore do you guess now?”

“I cannot conjecture what you mean.”

“And yet nothing is more simple. You pretend that I am in love, do you not?”

“So it is said.”

“Very well; it is not said, I suppose, that I am in love with an abstraction. There must surely be a name mentioned in this report.”

“Certainly, a name is mentioned.”

“Very well; it is not surprising, then, that I should try to guess this name, since you do not tell it.”

“My dear marquise, when I saw you blush, I did not think you would have to spend much time in conjectures.”

“It was the word Danae which you used that surprised me. Danae means a shower of gold, does it not?”

“That is to say that the Jupiter of Danae changed himself into a shower of gold for her.”

“My lover, then, he whom you assign me—”

“I beg your pardon; I am your friend, and assign you no one.”

“That may be; but those who are ill disposed towards me.”

“Do you wish to hear the name?”

“I have been waiting this half hour for it.”

“Well, then, you shall hear it. Do not be shocked; he is a man high in power.”

“Good,” said the marquise, as she clenched her hands like a patient at the approach of the knife.

“He is a very wealthy man,” continued Marguerite; “the wealthiest, it may be. In a word, it is—”

The marquise closed her eyes for a moment.

“It is the Duke of Buckingham,” said Marguerite, bursting into laughter. This perfidy had been calculated with extreme ability; the name that was pronounced, instead of the name which the marquise awaited, had precisely the same effect upon her as the badly sharpened axes, that had hacked, without destroying, Messieurs de Chalais and de Thou upon the scaffold. She recovered herself, however, and said, “I was perfectly right in saying you were a witty woman, for you are making the time pass away most agreeably. This joke is a most amusing one, for I have never seen the Duke of Buckingham.”

“Never?” said Marguerite, restraining her laughter.

“I have never even left my own house since the duke has been at Paris.”

“Oh!” resumed Madame Vanel, stretching out her foot towards a paper which was lying on the carpet near the window; “it is not necessary for people to see each other, since they can write.” The marquise trembled, for this paper was the envelope of the letter she was reading as her friend had entered, and was sealed with the superintendent’s arms. As she leaned back on the sofa on which she was sitting, Madame de Belliere covered the paper with the thick folds of her large silk dress, and so concealed it.

“Come, Marguerite, tell me, is it to tell me all these foolish reports that you have come to see me so early in the day?”

“No; I came to see you, in the first place, and to remind you of those habits of our earlier days, so delightful to remember, when we used to wander about together at Vincennes, and, sitting beneath an oak, or in some sylvan shade, used to talk of those we loved, and who loved us.”

“Do you propose that we should go out together now?”

“My carriage is here, and I have three hours at my disposal.”

“I am not dressed yet, Marguerite; but if you wish that we should talk together, we can, without going to the woods of Vincennes, find in my own garden here, beautiful trees, shady groves, a green sward covered with daisies and violets, the perfume of which can be perceived from where we are sitting.”

“I regret your refusal, my dear marquise, for I wanted to pour out my whole heart into yours.”

“I repeat again, Marguerite, my heart is yours just as much in this room, or beneath the lime-trees in the garden here, as it would be under the oaks in the woods yonder.”

“It is not the same thing for me. In approaching Vincennes, marquise, my ardent aspirations approach nearer to that object towards which they have for some days past been directed.” The marquise suddenly raised her head. “Are you surprised, then, that I am still thinking of Saint-Mande?”

“Of Saint-Mande?” exclaimed Madame de Belliere; and the looks of both women met each other like two resistless swords.

“You, so proud!” said the marquise, disdainfully.

“I, so proud!” replied Madame Vanel. “Such is my nature. I do not forgive neglect—I cannot endure infidelity. When I leave any one who weeps at my abandonment, I feel induced still to love him; but when others forsake me and laugh at their infidelity, I love distractedly.”

Madame de Belliere could not restrain an involuntary movement.

“She is jealous,” said Marguerite to herself.

“Then,” continued the marquise, “you are quite enamored of the Duke of Buckingham—I mean of M. Fouquet?” Elise felt the allusion, and her blood seemed to congeal in her heart. “And you wished to go to Vincennes,—to Saint-Mande, even?”

“I hardly know what I wished: you would have advised me perhaps.”

“In what respect?”

“You have often done so.”

“Most certainly I should not have done so in the present instance, for I do not forgive as you do. I am less loving, perhaps; when my heart has been once wounded, it remains so always.”

“But M. Fouquet has not wounded you,” said Marguerite Vanel, with the most perfect simplicity.

“You perfectly understand what I mean. M. Fouquet has not wounded me; I do not know of either obligation or injury received at his hands, but you have reason to complain of him. You are my friend, and I am afraid I should not advise you as you would like.”

“Ah! you are prejudging the case.”

“The sighs you spoke of just now are more than indications.”

“You overwhelm me,” said the young woman suddenly, as if collecting her whole strength, like a wrestler preparing for a last struggle; “you take only my evil dispositions and my weaknesses into calculation, and do not speak of my pure and generous feelings. If, at this moment, I feel instinctively attracted towards the superintendent, if I even make an advance to him, which, I confess, is very probable, my motive for it is, that M. Fouquet’s fate deeply affects me, and because he is, in my opinion, one of the most unfortunate men living.”

“Ah!” said the marquise, placing her hand upon her heart, “something new, then, has occurred?”

“Do you not know it?”

“I am utterly ignorant of everything about him,” said Madame de Belliere, with the poignant anguish that suspends thought and speech, and even life itself.

“In the first place, then, the king’s favor is entirely withdrawn from M. Fouquet, and conferred on M. Colbert.”

“So it is stated.”

“It is very clear, since the discovery of the plot of Belle-Isle.”

“I was told that the discovery of the fortifications there had turned out to M. Fouquet’s honor.”

Marguerite began to laugh in so cruel a manner that Madame de Belliere could at that moment have delightedly plunged a dagger in her bosom. “Dearest,” continued Marguerite, “there is no longer any question of M. Fouquet’s honor; his safety is concerned. Before three days are passed the ruin of the superintendent will be complete.”

“Stay,” said the marquise, in her turn smiling, “that is going a little fast.”

“I said three days, because I wish to deceive myself with a hope; but probably the catastrophe will be complete within twenty-four hours.”

“Why so?”

“For the simplest of all reasons,—that M. Fouquet has no more money.”

“In matters of finance, my dear Marguerite, some are without money to-day, who to-morrow can procure millions.”

“That might be M. Fouquet’s case when he had two wealthy and clever friends who amassed money for him, and wrung it from every possible or impossible source; but those friends are dead.”

“Money does not die, Marguerite; it may be concealed, but it can be looked for, bought and found.”

“You see things on the bright side, and so much the better for you. It is really very unfortunate that you are not the Egeria of M. Fouquet; you might now show him the source whence he could obtain the millions which the king asked him for yesterday.”

“Millions!” said the marquise, in terror.

“Four—an even number.”

“Infamous!” murmured Madame de Belliere, tortured by her friend’s merciless delight.

“M. Fouquet, I should think, must certainly have four millions,” she replied, courageously.

“If he has those which the king requires to-day,” said Marguerite, “he will not, perhaps, possess those which the king will demand in a month or so.”

“The king will exact money from him again, then?”

“No doubt; and that is my reason for saying that the ruin of poor M. Fouquet is inevitable. Pride will induce him to furnish the money, and when he has no more, he will fall.”

“It is true,” said the marquise, trembling; “the plan is a bold one; but tell me, does M. Colbert hate M. Fouquet so very much?”

“I think he does not like him. M. Colbert is powerful; he improves on close acquaintance; he has gigantic ideas, a strong will, and discretion; he will rise.”

“He will be superintendent?”

“It is probable. Such is the reason, my dear marquise, why I felt myself impressed in favor of that poor man, who once loved, and even adored me; and why, when I see him so unfortunate, I forgive his infidelity, which I have reason to believe he also regrets; and why, moreover, I should not have been disinclined to afford him some consolation, or some good advice; he would have understood the step I had taken, and would have thought kindly of me for it. It is gratifying to be loved, you know. Men value love more highly when they are no longer blinded by its influence.”

The marquise, bewildered and overcome by these cruel attacks, which had been calculated with the greatest nicety and precision, hardly knew what to answer in return; she even seemed to have lost all power of thought. Her perfidious friend’s voice had assumed the most affectionate tone; she spoke as a woman, but concealed the instincts of a wolf.

“Well,” said Madame de Belliere, who had a vague hope that Marguerite would cease to overwhelm a vanquished enemy, “why do you not go and see M. Fouquet?”

“Decidedly, marquise, you have made me reflect. No, it would be unbecoming for me to make the first advance. M. Fouquet no doubt loves me, but he is too proud. I cannot expose myself to an affront.... besides, I have my husband to consider. You tell me nothing? Very well, I shall consult M. Colbert on the subject.” Marguerite rose smilingly, as though to take leave, but the marquise had not the strength to imitate her. Marguerite advanced a few paces, in order that she might continue to enjoy the humiliating grief in which her rival was plunged, and then said, suddenly,—“You do not accompany me to the door, then?” The marquise rose, pale and almost lifeless, without thinking of the envelope, which had occupied her attention so greatly at the commencement of the conversation, and which was revealed at the first step she took. She then opened the door of her oratory, and without even turning her head towards Marguerite Vanel, entered it, closing the door after her. Marguerite said, or rather muttered a few words, which Madame de Belliere did not even hear. As soon, however, as the marquise had disappeared, her envious enemy, not being able to resist the desire to satisfy herself that her suspicions were well founded, advanced stealthily like a panther, and seized the envelope. “Ah!” she said, gnashing her teeth, “it was indeed a letter from M. Fouquet she was reading when I arrived,” and then darted out of the room. During this interval, the marquise, having arrived behind the rampart, as it were, of her door, felt that her strength was failing her; for a moment she remained rigid, pale and motionless as a statue, and then, like a statue shaken on its base by an earthquake, tottered and fell inanimate on the carpet. The noise of the fall resounded at the same moment as the rolling of Marguerite’s carriage leaving the hotel.






Chapter XXVII. Madame de Belliere’s Plate.


The blow had been the more painful on account of its being unexpected. It was some time before the marquise recovered herself; but once recovered, she began to reflect upon the events so heartlessly announced to her. She therefore returned, at the risk even of losing her life in the way, to that train of ideas which her relentless friend had forced her to pursue. Treason, then—deep menaces, concealed under the semblance of public interest—such were Colbert’s maneuvers. A detestable delight at an approaching downfall, untiring efforts to attain this object, means of seduction no less wicked than the crime itself—such were the weapons Marguerite employed. The crooked atoms of Descartes triumphed; to the man without compassion was united a woman without heart. The marquise perceived, with sorrow rather than indignation, that the king was an accomplice in the plot which betrayed the duplicity of Louis XIII. in his advanced age, and the avarice of Mazarin at a period of life when he had not had the opportunity of gorging himself with French gold. The spirit of this courageous woman soon resumed its energy, no longer overwhelmed by indulgence in compassionate lamentations. The marquise was not one to weep when action was necessary, nor to waste time in bewailing a misfortune as long as means still existed of relieving it. For some minutes she buried her face in her cold fingers, and then, raising her head, rang for her attendants with a steady hand, and with a gesture betraying a fixed determination of purpose. Her resolution was taken.

“Is everything prepared for my departure?” she inquired of one of her female attendants who entered.

“Yes, madame; but it was not expected that your ladyship would leave for Belliere for the next few days.”

“All my jewels and articles of value, then, are packed up?”

“Yes, madame; but hitherto we have been in the habit of leaving them in Paris. Your ladyship does not generally take your jewels with you into the country.”

“But they are all in order, you say?”

“Yes, in your ladyship’s own room.”

“The gold plate?”

“In the chest.”

“And the silver plate?”

“In the great oak closet.”

The marquise remained silent for a few moments, and then said calmly, “Let my goldsmith be sent for.”

Her attendants quitted the room to execute the order. The marquise, however, had entered her own room, and was inspecting her casket of jewels with the greatest attention. Never, until now, had she bestowed such close attention upon riches in which women take so much pride; never, until now, had she looked at her jewels, except for the purpose of making a selection according to their settings or their colors. On this occasion, however, she admired the size of the rubies and the brilliancy of the diamonds; she grieved over every blemish and every defect; she thought the gold light, and the stones wretched. The goldsmith, as he entered, found her thus occupied. “M. Faucheux,” she said, “I believe you supplied me with my gold service?”

“I did, your ladyship.”

“I do not now remember the amount of the account.”

“Of the new service, madame, or of that which M. de Belliere presented to you on your marriage? for I have furnished both.”

“First of all, the new one.”

“The covers, the goblets, and the dishes, with their covers, the eau-epergne, the ice-pails, the dishes for the preserves, and the tea and coffee urns, cost your ladyship sixty thousand francs.”

“No more?”

“Your ladyship thought the account very high.”

“Yes, yes; I remember, in fact, that it was dear; but it was the workmanship, I suppose?”

“Yes, madame; the designs, the chasings—all new patterns.”

“What proportion of the cost does the workmanship form? Do not hesitate to tell me.”

“A third of its value, madame.”

“There is the other service, the old one, that which belonged to my husband?”

“Yes, madame; there is less workmanship in that than in the other. Its intrinsic value does not exceed thirty thousand francs.”

“Thirty thousand,” murmured the marquise. “But, M. Faucheux, there is also the service which belonged to my mother; all that massive plate which I did not wish to part with, on account of the associations connected with it.”

“Ah! madame, that would indeed be an excellent resource for those who, unlike your ladyship, might not be in position to keep their plate. In chasing that they worked in solid metal. But that service is no longer in fashion. Its weight is its only advantage.”

“That is all I care about. How much does it weigh?”

“Fifty thousand livres at the very least. I do not allude to the enormous vases for the buffet, which alone weigh five thousand livres, or ten thousand the pair.”

“One hundred and thirty,” murmured the marquise. “You are quite sure of your figures, M. Faucheux?”

“The amount is entered in my books. Your ladyship is extremely methodical, I am aware.”

“Let us now turn to another subject,” said Madame de Belliere; and she opened one of her jewel-boxes.

“I recognize these emeralds,” said M. Faucheux; “for it was I who had the setting of them. They are the most beautiful in the whole court. No, I am mistaken; Madame de Chatillon has the most beautiful set; she had them from Messieurs de Guise; but your set, madame, comes next.”

“What are they worth?”

“Mounted?”

“No; supposing I wished to sell them.”

“I know very well who would buy them,” exclaimed M. Faucheux.

“That is the very thing I ask. They could be sold, then?”

“All your jewels could be sold, madame. It is well known that you possess the most beautiful jewels in Paris. You are not changeable in your tastes; when you make a purchase it is of the very best; and what you purchase you do not part with.”

“What could these emeralds be sold for, then?”

“A hundred and thirty thousand francs.”

The marquise wrote down upon her tablets the amount which the jeweler mentioned. “The ruby necklace?” she said.

“Are they balas-rubies, madame?”

“Here they are.”

“They are beautiful—magnificent. I did not know your ladyship had these stones.”

“What is their value?”

“Two hundred thousand francs. The center one is alone worth a hundred thousand.”

“I thought so,” said the marquise. “As for diamonds, I have them in numbers; rings, necklaces, sprigs, ear-rings, clasps. Tell me their value, M. Faucheux.”

The jeweler took his magnifying-glass and scales, weighed and inspected them, and silently made his calculations. “These stones,” he said, “must have cost your ladyship an income of forty thousand francs.”

“You value them at eight hundred thousand francs?”

“Nearly so.”

“It is about what I imagined—but the settings are not included?”

“No, madame; but if I were called upon to sell or to buy, I should be satisfied with the gold of the settings alone as my profit upon the transaction. I should make a good twenty-five thousand francs.”

“An agreeable sum.”

“Very much so, madame.”

“Will you then accept that profit, then, on condition of converting the jewels into money?”

“But you do not intend to sell you diamonds, I suppose, madame?” exclaimed the bewildered jeweler.

“Silence, M. Faucheux, do not disturb yourself about that; give me an answer simply. You are an honorable man, with whom my family has dealt for thirty years; you knew my father and mother, whom your own father and mother served. I address you as a friend; will you accept the gold of the settings in return for a sum of ready money to be placed in my hands?”

“Eight hundred thousand francs! it is enormous.”

“I know it.”

“Impossible to find.”

“Not so.”

“But reflect, madame, upon the effect which will be produced by the sale of your jewels.”

“No one need know it. You can get sets of false jewels made for me, similar to the real. Do not answer a word; I insist upon it. Sell them separately, sell the stones only.”

“In that way it is easy. Monsieur is looking out for some sets of jewels as well as single stones for Madame’s toilette. There will be a competition for them. I can easily dispose of six hundred thousand francs’ worth to Monsieur. I am certain yours are the most beautiful.”

“When can you do so?”

“In less than three days’ time.”

“Very well, the remainder you will dispose of among private individuals. For the present, make me out a contract of sale, payment to be made in four days.”

“I entreat you to reflect, madame; for if you force the sale, you will lose a hundred thousand francs.”

“If necessary, I will lose two hundred; I wish everything to be settled this evening. Do you accept?”

“I do, your ladyship. I will not conceal from you that I shall make fifty thousand francs by the transaction.”

“So much the better for you. In what way shall I have the money?”

“Either in gold, or in bills of the bank of Lyons, payable at M. Colbert’s.”

“I agree,” said the marquise, eagerly; “return home and bring the sum in question in notes, as soon as possible.”

“Yes, madame, but for Heaven’s sake—”

“Not a word, M. Faucheux. By the by, I was forgetting the silver plate. What is the value of that which I have?”

“Fifty thousand francs, madame.”

“That makes a million,” said the marquise to herself. “M. Faucheux, you will take away with you both the gold and silver plate. I can assign, as a pretext, that I wish it remodeled on patters more in accordance with my own taste. Melt it down, and return me its value in money, at once.”

“It shall be done, your ladyship.”

“You will be good enough to place the money in a chest, and direct one of your clerks to accompany the chest, and without my servants seeing him; and order him to wait for me in a carriage.”

“In Madame de Faucheux’s carriage?” said the jeweler.

“If you will allow it, and I will call for it at your house.”

“Certainly, your ladyship.”

“I will direct some of my servants to convey the plate to your house.” The marquise rung. “Let the small van be placed at M. Faucheux’s disposal,” she said. The jeweler bowed and left the house, directing that the van should follow him closely, saying aloud, that the marquise was about to have her plate melted down in order to have other plate manufactured of a more modern style. Three hours afterwards she went to M. Faucheux’s house and received from him eight hundred francs in gold inclosed in a chest, which one of the clerks could hardly carry towards Madame Faucheux’s carriage—for Madame Faucheux kept her carriage. As the daughter of a president of accounts, she had brought a marriage portion of thirty thousand crowns to her husband, who was syndic of the goldsmiths. These thirty thousand crowns had become very fruitful during twenty years. The jeweler, though a millionaire, was a modest man. He had purchased a substantial carriage, built in 1648, ten years after the king’s birth. This carriage, or rather house upon wheels, excited the admiration of the whole quarter in which he resided—it was covered with allegorical paintings, and clouds scattered over with stars. The marquise entered this somewhat extraordinary vehicle, sitting opposite the clerk, who endeavored to put his knees out of the way, afraid even of touching the marquise’s dress. It was the clerk, too, who told the coachman, who was very proud of having a marquise to drive, to take the road to Saint-Mande.