Chapter 41: Wherein May Be Seen That a Bargain Which Cannot Be Made with One Person Can Be Carried Out with Another

  1. 40: Two Old Friends
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 42: The Skin of the Bear

Aramis had been perfectly correct in his supposition. Immediately on leaving the house in the Place Baudoyer, Madame de Chevreuse had proceeded homeward. She was doubtless afraid of being followed, and had sought in this way to cover her steps; but as soon as she had arrived within the door of the hotel, and assured herself that no one who could cause her any uneasiness was on her track, 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,- and it was a dark, thick night. Paris had once more sunk into its calm, quiescent state, enshrouding alike within its indulgent mantle the high-born duchess carrying out her political intrigue, and the simple citizen’s wife who having been detained late by a supper in the city was proceeding homewards, on the arm of a lover, by the longest possible route.

Madame de Chevreuse had been too well accustomed to nocturnal politics not to know 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 duchess 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 M. Colbert’s important occupations. But Madame de Chevreuse, without disquietude, wrote her name upon a leaf of her tablets,- a blusterous name, which had so often sounded 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, folded the paper in a manner peculiarly her own, and 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 duchess 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 open the folding-doors. The duchess paused at the threshold for the purpose of studying well 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 little interest in the discussion of particulars; for there was scarcely any indication that that rude man could be susceptible to the attractions of a refined revenge or of an exalted ambition. But when on closer inspection the duchess 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, she changed her mind and said to herself, “I have found the man I want.”

“What has procured me the honor of your visit, Madame?” he inquired.

“The need I have of you, Monsieur,” returned the duchess, “and that which you have of me.”

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

Madame de Chevreuse sat down in the arm-chair which M. Colbert placed before her. “M. Colbert, you are the intendant of finances?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“And are ambitious of becoming the superintendent?”


“Nay, do not deny it! That would only unnecessarily prolong our conversation,- it is useless.”

“And yet, Madame,” replied the intendant, “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, M. Colbert. Could I accidentally have made use of that word? I hardly think so. 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 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!- that is considerably less than an intendant of finances.”

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

“Very good, M. 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 de Richelieu, and who has no time to lose,- since, I say, you commit that 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 the negotiations of the present day, Monsieur. I assure you that if in my time 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 now said to you of M. Fouquet, M. de Cinq-Mars would by this time have put his irons in the fire.”

“Nay, Madame, show a little indulgence.”

“Well, then, you do 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 a simpleton if in coming to you I did not bring you the very thing you require.”

“I am distressed to be obliged to persist, Madame,” said Colbert, after a silence which enabled the duchess to sound the depth 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, M. Colbert; those who were the authors of such denunciations were not called Madame de Chevreuse, and they had no proofs equal to the six letters from M. de Mazarin which establish the offence in question.”

“The offence!”

“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 all lighted up.”

“A crime!”

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

“Oh, that is a word, Madame, which embraces so many things!”

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

“Forgive me, Madame the Duchess, but it is almost impossible that M. Fouquet can be exiled; to be imprisoned or disgraced, that alone is much.”

“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 the superintendent if an opportunity were only presented.”

“It must be a good one, though.”

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

“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 livres.”

“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 costly, 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.

“Irrefutable; would you like to read the letters?”

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

“Of course, the copies,” said the duchess, 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.

“Wonderful!” 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, M. 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 circumstances you have detailed, only by means of legal proceedings.”


“A public scandal.”

“Yes, what then?”

“Neither the legal proceedings nor the scandal can be begun against him.”

“Why not?”

“Because he is procureur-général of the parliament; because, too, in France, the government, the army, the courts of law, and commerce are intimately connected by ties of good-will, which people call esprit de corps. So, 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 will he be condemned.”

“Ah! ma foi! M. Colbert, that doesn’t concern me.”

“I am aware of that, Madame; but it concerns me, and it consequently diminishes the value of what you have brought to me. Of what use to bring me a proof of crime, without the possibility of condemnation?”

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

“That would be a great achievement!” exclaimed Colbert, whose dark, gloomy features were momentarily lighted up by an expression of hate and vengeance.

“Ah, ah! M. Colbert,” said the duchess, “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 further.”

“Yes, Madame, we will go on talking of it; only, as the value of your commodities has decreased, you must lower your price.”

“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 livres,” said Colbert.

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

“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, M. 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. In Flanders we have many diseases of that kind.”

“Cancers?- a fearful, incurable disorder.”

“Do not believe that, M. Colbert. The Flemish peasant is something of a savage; he has not a wife exactly, but a female.”

“Well, Madame?”

“Well, M. Colbert, 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 here and there, sometimes is even beaten. Cancers arise 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 Béguines 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 and a wax candle to the sufferer. They derive a profit from the priests, and serve God by the disposal of their two articles of merchandise. I will take the Queen some of this holy water, which I will procure from the Béguines of Bruges; her Majesty will recover, and will burn as many wax candles as she may think fit. You see, M. Colbert, to prevent my seeing the Queen is almost as bad as committing the crime of regicide.”

“You are, Madame the Duchess, a woman of great intelligence. You surprise me; still, I cannot but suppose that this charitable consideration towards the Queen covers some small personal interest of your own.”

“Have I tried to conceal it, M. Colbert? You spoke, I believe, of a small personal interest. Understand, then, that it is a 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 livres I have demanded; if not, I shall keep my letters, unless, indeed, you give me on the spot five hundred thousand livres for them.”

And rising from her seat with this decisive remark, the old duchess left M. Colbert in a disagreeable perplexity. To bargain any further was out of the question; not to purchase would involve infinite loss. “Madame,” he said, “I shall have the pleasure of handing you over a hundred thousand crowns; but how shall I get the actual letters?”

“In the simplest manner in the world, my dear M. 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, M. Colbert?”

“How is that, 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 the 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 duchess 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 a good deal, the duchess looked at him full in the face.

“You prefer your own carriage?” she said.

“I admit that I do.”

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

“Madame the Duchess, you have the character of being somewhat inconsiderate at times; and as I am clothed in 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, consider well,- what we two may arrange between us, we are the only persons who know it; what a third person may witness, we announce to the universe. 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 already? How trifling it seems to you, indeed! If I had known it, I should have doubled my price.”

“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 how do 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 duchess, adding, “You are paid.”

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

Madame de Chevreuse’s laugh had a very sinister sound. Every man who feels youth, faith, love, life itself, throbbing in his heart, would prefer tears to such a lamentable laugh.

The duchess 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, M. 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?”


“Good; you are a Béguine.”

“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 her Majesty to allow admission to a Béguine, 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 Béguine, but I deny all knowledge of Madame de Chevreuse. Here, Madame, then, is your letter of introduction.”

  1. 40: Two Old Friends
  2. Louise de la Valliere
  3. 42: The Skin of the Bear