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List Of Contents | Contents of Louise de la Valliere, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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"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 religions 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

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