him. M. Fouquet, for me, is a man gone by - and for you also." Colbert made no reply. "On his return from Nantes," continued the duchesse, "the king, who is only anxious for a pretext, will find that the States have not behaved well - that they have made too few sacrifices. The States will say that the imposts are too heavy, and that the surintendant has ruined them. The king will lay all the blame on M. Fouquet, and then - " "And then?" said Colbert. "Oh! he will be disgraced. Is not that your opinion?" Colbert darted a glance at the duchesse, which plainly said: "If M. Fouquet be only disgraced, you will not be the cause of it." "Your place, M. Colbert," the duchesse hastened to say, "must be a high place. Do you perceive any one between the king and yourself, after the fall of M. Fouquet?" "I do not understand," said he. "You _will_ understand. To what does your ambition aspire?" "I have none." "It was useless, then, to overthrow the superintendent, Monsieur Colbert. It was idle." "I had the honor to tell you, madame - " "Oh! yes, I know, all about the interest of the king - but, if you please, we will speak of your own." "Mine! that is to say, the affairs of his majesty." "In short, are you, or are you not endeavoring to ruin M. Fouquet? Answer without evasion." "Madame, I ruin nobody." "I am endeavoring to comprehend, then, why you purchased from me the letters of M. Mazarin concerning M. Fouquet. Neither can I conceive why you have laid those letters before the king." Colbert, half stupefied, looked at the duchesse with an air of constraint. "Madame," said he, "I can less easily conceive how you, who received the money, can reproach me on that head - " "That is," said the old duchesse, "because we must will that which we wish for, unless we are not able to obtain what we wish." "_Will!_" said Colbert, quite confounded by such coarse logic. "You are not able, _hein!_ Speak." "I am not able, I allow, to destroy certain influences near the king." "That fight in favor of M. Fouquet? What are they? Stop, let me help you." "Do, madame." "La Valliere?" "Oh! very little influence; no knowledge of business, and small means. M. Fouquet has paid his court to her." "To defend him would be to accuse herself, would it not?" "I think it would." "There is still another influence, what do you say to that?" "Is it considerable?" "The queen-mother, perhaps?" "Her majesty, the queen-mother, has a weakness for M. Fouquet very prejudicial to her son." "Never believe that," said the old duchesse, smiling. "Oh!" said Colbert, with incredulity, "I have often experienced it." "Formerly?" "Very recently, madame, at Vaux. It was she who prevented the king from having M. Fouquet arrested." "People do not forever entertain the same opinions, my dear monsieur. That which the queen may have wished recently, she would not wish, perhaps, to-day." "And why not?" said Colbert, astonished. "Oh! the reason is of very little consequence." "On the contrary, I think it is of great consequence; for, if I were certain of not displeasing her majesty, the queen-mother, my scruples would be all removed." "Well! have you never heard talk of a certain secret?" "A secret?" "Call it what you like. In short, the queen-mother has conceived a bitter hatred for all those who have participated, in one fashion or another, in the discovery of this secret, and M. Fouquet I believe is one of these." "Then," said Colbert, "we may be sure of the assent of the queen-mother?" "I have just left her majesty, and she assures me so." "So be it, then, madame." "But there is something further; do you happen to know a man who was the intimate friend of M. Fouquet, M. d'Herblay, a bishop, I believe?" "Bishop of Vannes." "Well! this M. d'Herblay, who also knew the secret, the queen-mother is pursuing with the utmost rancor." "Indeed!" "So hotly pursued, that if he were dead, she would not be satisfied with anything less than his head, to satisfy her he would never speak again." "And is that the desire of the queen-mother?" "An order is given for it." "This Monsieur d'Herblay shall be sought for, madame." "Oh! it is well known where he is." Colbert looked at the duchesse. "Say where, madame." "He is at Belle-Ile-en-Mer." "At the residence of M. Fouquet?" "At the residence of M. Fouquet." "He shall be taken." It was now the duchesse's turn to smile. "Do not fancy the capture so easy," said she; "do not promise it so lightly." "Why not, madame?" "Because M. d'Herblay is not one of those people who can be taken when and where you please." "He is a rebel, then?" "Oh! Monsieur Colbert, we have passed all our lives in making rebels, and yet you see plainly, that so far from being taken, we take others." Colbert fixed upon the old duchesse one of those fierce looks of which no words can convey the expression, accompanied by a firmness not altogether wanting in grandeur. "The times are gone," said he, "in which subjects gained duchies by making war against the king of France. If M. d'Herblay conspires, he will perish on the scaffold. That will give, or will not give, pleasure to his enemies, - a matter, by the way, of little importance to _us_." And this _us_, a strange word in the mouth of Colbert, made the duchesse thoughtful for a moment. She caught herself reckoning inwardly with this man - Colbert had regained his superiority in the conversation, and he meant to keep it. "You ask me, madame," he said, "to have this M. d'Herblay arrested?" "I? - I ask you nothing of the kind!" "I thought you did, madame. But as I have been mistaken, we will leave him alone; the king has said nothing about him." The duchesse bit her nails. "Besides," continued Colbert, "what a poor capture would this bishop be! A bishop game for a king! Oh! no, no; I will not even take the slightest notice of him." The hatred of the duchesse now discovered itself. "Game for a woman!" said she. "Is not the queen a woman? If she wishes M. d'Herblay arrested, she has her reasons. Besides, is not M. d'Herblay the friend of him who is doomed to fall?" "Oh! never mind that," said Colbert. "This man shall be spared, if he is not the enemy of the king. Is that displeasing to you?" "I say nothing." "Yes - you wish to see him in prison, in the Bastile, for instance." "I believe a secret better concealed behind the walls of the Bastile than behind those of Belle-Isle." "I will speak to the king about it; he will clear up the point." "And whilst waiting for that enlightenment, Monsieur l'Eveque de Vannes will have escaped. I would do so." "Escaped! he! and whither should he escape? Europe is ours, in will, if not in fact." "He will always find an asylum, monsieur. It is evident you know nothing of the man you have to do with. You do not know D'Herblay; you do not know Aramis. He was one of those four musketeers who, under the late king, made Cardinal de Richelieu tremble, and who, during the regency, gave so much trouble to Monseigneur Mazarin." "But, madame, what can he do, unless he has a kingdom to back him?" "He has one, monsieur." "A kingdom, he! what, Monsieur d'Herblay?" "I repeat to you, monsieur, that if he wants a kingdom, he either has it or will have it." "Well, as you are so earnest that this rebel should not escape, madame, I promise you he shall not escape." "Belle-Isle is fortified, M. Colbert, and fortified by him." "If Belle-Isle were also defended by him, Belle-Isle is not impregnable; and if Monsieur l'Eveque de Vannes is shut up in Belle-Isle, well, madame, the place shall be besieged, and he will be taken." "You may be very certain, monsieur, that the zeal you display in the interest of the queen-mother will please her majesty mightily, and you will be magnificently rewarded; but what shall I tell her of your projects respecting this man?" "That when once taken, he shall be shut up in a fortress from which her secret shall never escape." "Very well, Monsieur Colbert, and we may say, that, dating from this instant, we have formed a solid alliance, that is, you and I, and that I am absolutely at your service." "It is I, madame, who place myself at yours. This Chevalier d'Herblay is a kind of Spanish spy, is he not?" "Much more." "A secret ambassador?" "Higher still." "Stop - King Phillip III. of Spain is a bigot. He is, perhaps, the confessor of Phillip III." "You must go higher even than that." "_Mordieu!_" cried Colbert, who forgot himself so far as to swear in the presence of this great lady, of this old friend of the queen-mother. "He must then be the general of the Jesuits." "I believe you have guessed it at last," replied the duchesse. "Ah! then, madame, this man will ruin us all if we do not ruin him; and we must make haste, too." "Such was my opinion, monsieur, but I did not dare to give it you." "And it was lucky for us he has attacked the throne, and not us." "But, mark this well, M. Colbert. M. d'Herblay is never discouraged; if he has missed one blow, he will be sure to make another; he will begin again. If he has allowed an opportunity to escape of making a king for himself, sooner or later, he will make another, of whom, to a certainty, you will not be prime minister." Colbert knitted his brow with a menacing expression. "I feel assured that a prison will settle this affair for us, madame, in a manner satisfactory for both." The duchesse smiled again. "Oh! if you knew," said she, "how many times Aramis has got out of prison!" "Oh!" replied Colbert, "we will take care that he shall not get out _this_ time." "But you were not attending to what I said to you just now. Do you remember that Aramis was one of the four invincibles whom Richelieu so dreaded? And at that period the four musketeers were not in possession of that which they have now - money and experience." Colbert bit his lips.
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