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List Of Contents | Contents of Louise de la Valliere, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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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 you 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 _espirit 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?"

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