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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