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Louise de la Valliere by Alexandre Dumas, Pere

Part 8 out of 12

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"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

"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

"It must be a good one, though."

"Good enough, and one I estimate to be worth five hundred thousand

"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

"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

"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

"Name it!"

"M. Fouquet can be utterly ruined, under the legal circumstances you have
detailed, only by means of legal proceedings."


"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

"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?"

"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

"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

"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?"


"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

"Good day, M. Vanel," said the latter, rousing himself from his

"Good day, monseigneur," said Vanel, naturally.

"You should say monsieur, and not monseigneur," replied Colbert, gently.

"We give the title of monseigneur to ministers," returned Vanel, with
extreme self-possession, "and you are a minister."

"Not yet."

"You are so in point of fact, and I call you monseigneur accordingly;
besides you are seigneur for _me_, and that is sufficient; if you dislike
my calling you monseigneur before others, allow me, at least, to call you
so in private."

Colbert raised his head as if to read, or try to read, upon Vanel's face
how much or how little sincerity entered into this protestation of
devotion. But the counselor knew perfectly well how to sustain the
weight of such a look, even backed with the full authority of the title
he had conferred. Colbert sighed; he could not read anything in Vanel's
face, and Vanel might possibly be honest in his professions, but Colbert
recollected that this man, inferior to himself in every other respect,
was actually his master in virtue of the fact of his having a wife. As
he was pitying this man's lot, Vanel coldly drew from his pocket a
perfumed letter, sealed with Spanish wax, and held it towards Colbert,
saying, "A letter from my wife, monseigneur."

Colbert coughed, took, opened and read the letter, and then put it
carefully away in his pocket, while Vanel turned over the leaves of the
papers he had brought with him with an unmoved and unconcerned air.
"Vanel," he said suddenly to his _protege_, "you are a hard-working man,
I know; would twelve hours' daily labor frighten you?"

"I work fifteen hours every day."

"Impossible. A counselor need not work more than three hours a day in

"Oh! I am working up some returns for a friend of mine in the department
of accounts, and, as I still have spare time on my hands, I am studying

"Your reputation stands high in the parliament, Vanel."

"I believe so, monseigneur."

"You must not grow rusty in your post of counselor."

"What must I do to avoid it?"

"Purchase a high place. Mean and low ambitions are very difficult to

"Small purses are the most difficult ones to fill, monseigneur."

"What post have you in view?" said Colbert.

"I see none - not one."

"There is one, certainly, but one need be almost the king himself to be
able to buy it without inconvenience; and the king will not be inclined,
I suppose, to purchase the post of procureur-general."

At these words, Vanel fixed his peculiar, humble, dull look upon Colbert,
who could hardly tell whether Vanel comprehended him or not. "Why do you
speak to me, monseigneur," said Vanel, "of the post of procureur-general
to the parliament; I know no other post than the one M. Fouquet fills."

"Exactly so, my dear counselor."

"You are not over fastidious, monseigneur; but before the post can be
bought, it must be offered for sale."

"I believe, Monsieur Vanel, that it will be for sale before long."

"For sale! What! M. Fouquet's post of procureur-general?"

"So it is _said_."

"The post which renders him so perfectly invincible, for sale! Ha, ha!"
said Vanel, beginning to laugh.

"Would you be afraid, then, of the post?" said Colbert, gravely.

"Afraid! no; but - "

"Are you desirous of obtaining it?"

"You are laughing at me, monseigneur," replied Vanel. "Is it likely that
a counselor of the parliament would not be desirous of becoming procureur-

"Well, Monsieur Vanel, since I tell you that the post, as report goes,
will be shortly for sale - "

"I cannot help repeating, monseigneur, that it is impossible; a man never
throws away the buckler, behind which he maintains his honor, his
fortune, his very life."

"There are certain men mad enough, Vanel, to fancy themselves out of the
reach of all mischances."

"Yes, monseigneur; but such men never commit their mad acts for the
advantage of the poor Vanels of the world."

"Why not?"

"For the very reason that those Vanels are poor."

"It is true that M. Fouquet's post might cost a good round sum. What
would you bid for it, Monsieur Vanel?"

"Everything I am worth."

"Which means?"

"Three or four hundred thousand francs."

"And the post is worth - "

"A million and a half, at the very lowest. I know persons who have
offered one million seven hundred thousand francs, without being able to
persuade M. Fouquet to sell. Besides, supposing it were to happen that
M. Fouquet wished to sell, which I do not believe, in spite of what I
have been told - "

"Ah! you have heard something about it, then; who told you?"

"M. de Gourville, M. Pelisson, and others."

"Very good; if, therefore, M. Fouquet did wish to sell - "

"I could not buy it just yet, since the superintendent will only sell for
ready money, and no one has a million and a half to put down at once."

Colbert suddenly interrupted the counselor by an imperious gesture; he
had begun to meditate. Observing his superior's serious attitude, and
his perseverance in continuing the conversation on this subject, Vanel
awaited the solution without venturing to precipitate it.

"Explain to me the privileges which this post confers."

"The right of impeaching every French subject who is not a prince of the
blood; the right of quashing all proceedings taken against any Frenchman,
who is neither king nor prince. The procureur-general is the king's
right hand to punish the guilty; the office is the means whereby also he
can evade the administration of justice. M. Fouquet, therefore, would be
able, by stirring up parliament, to maintain himself even against the
king; and the king could as easily, by humoring M. Fouquet, get his
edicts registered in spite of every opposition and objection. The
procureur-general can be made a very useful or a very dangerous

"Vanel, would you like to be procureur-general?" said Colbert, suddenly,
softening both his look and his voice."

"I!" exclaimed the latter; "I have already had the honor to represent to
you that I want about eleven hundred thousand francs to make up the

"Borrow that sum from your friends."

"I have no friends richer than myself."

"You are an honest and honorable man, Vanel."

"Ah! monseigneur, if the world would only think as you do!"

"I think so, and that is quite enough; and if it should be needed, I will
be your security."

"Do not forget the proverb, monseigneur."

"What is it?"

"That he who becomes responsible for another has to pay for his fancy."

"Let that make no difference."

Vanel rose, bewildered by this offer which had been so suddenly and
unexpectedly made to him. "You are not trifling with me, monseigneur?"
he said.

"Stay; you say that M. Gourville has spoken to you about M. Fouquet's

"Yes; and M. Pelisson, also."

"Officially so, or only through their own suggestion?"

"These were their very words: 'The parliament members are as proud as
they are wealthy; they ought to club together two or three millions among
themselves, to present to their protector and leader, M. Fouquet.'"

"And what did you reply?"

"I said that, for my own part, I would give ten thousand francs if

"Ah! you like M. Fouquet, then!" exclaimed Colbert, with a look of hatred.

"No; but M. Fouquet is our chief. He is in debt - is on the high road to
ruin; and we ought to save the honor of the body of which we are members."

"Exactly; and that explains why M. Fouquet will be always safe and sound,
so long as he occupies his present post," replied Colbert.

"Thereupon," said Vanel, "M. Gourville added, 'If we were to do anything
out of charity to M. Fouquet, it could not be otherwise than most
humiliating to him; and he would be sure to refuse it. Let the
parliament subscribe among themselves to purchase, in a proper manner,
the post of procureur-general; in that case, all would go well; the honor
of our body would be saved, and M. Fouquet's pride spared.'"

"That is an opening."

"I considered it so, monseigneur."

"Well, Monsieur Vanel, you will go at once, and find out either M.
Gourville or M. Pelisson. Do you know any other friend of M. Fouquet?"

"I know M. de la Fontaine very well."

"La Fontaine, the rhymester?"

"Yes; he used to write verses to my wife, when M. Fouquet was one of our

"Go to him, then, and try and procure an interview with the

"Willingly - but the sum itself?"

"On the day and hour you arrange to settle the matter, Monsieur Vanel,
you shall be supplied with the money, so do not make yourself uneasy on
_that_ account."

"Monseigneur, such munificence! You eclipse kings even - you surpass M.
Fouquet himself."

"Stay a moment - do not let us mistake each other: I do not make you a
present of fourteen hundred thousand francs, Monsieur Vanel; for I have
children to provide for - but I will _lend_ you that sum."

"Ask whatever interest, whatever security you please, monseigneur; I am
quite ready. And when all your requisitions are satisfied, I will still
repeat, that you surpass kings and M. Fouquet in munificence. What
conditions do you impose?"

"The repayment in eight years, and a mortgage upon the appointment

"Certainly. Is that all?"

"Wait a moment. I reserve to myself the right of purchasing the post
from you at one hundred and fifty thousand francs profit for yourself,
if, in your mode of filling the office, you do not follow out a line of
conduct in conformity with the interests of the king and with my

"Ah-h!" said Vanel, in an altered tone.

"Is there anything in that which can possibly be objectionable to you,
Monsieur Vanel?" said Colbert, coldly.

"Oh! no, no," replied Vanel, nervously.

"Very good. We will sign an agreement to that effect whenever you like.
And now go as quickly as you can to M. Fouquet's friend, obtain an
interview with the superintendent; do not be too difficult in making
whatever concessions may be required of you; and when once the
arrangements are all made - "

"I will press him to sign."

"Be most careful to do nothing of the kind; do not speak of signatures
with M. Fouquet, nor of deeds, nor even ask him to pass his word.
Understand this: otherwise you will lose everything. All you have to do
is to get M. Fouquet to give you his hand on the matter. Go, go."

Chapter XLIII:
An Interview with the Queen-Mother.

The queen-mother was in the bedroom at the Palais Royal, with Madame de
Motteville and Senora Molina. King Louis, who had been impatiently
expected the whole day, had not made his appearance; and the queen, who
was growing impatient, had often sent to inquire about him. The moral
atmosphere of the court seemed to indicate an approaching storm; the
courtiers and the ladies of the court avoided meeting in the ante-
chambers and the corridors in order not to converse on compromising
subjects. Monsieur had joined the king early in the morning for a
hunting-party; Madame remained in her own apartment, cool and distant to
every one; and the queen-mother, after she had said her prayers in Latin,
talked of domestic matters with her two friends in pure Castilian.
Madame de Motteville, who understood the language perfectly, answered her
in French. When the three ladies had exhausted every form of
dissimulation and of politeness, as a circuitous mode of expressing that
the king's conduct was making the queen and the queen-mother pine away
through sheer grief and vexation, and when, in the most guarded and
polished phrases, they had fulminated every variety of imprecation
against Mademoiselle de la Valliere, the queen-mother terminated her
attack by an exclamation indicative of her own reflections and
character. "_Estos hijos!_" said she to Molina - which means, "These
children!" words full of meaning on a mother's lips - words full of
terrible significance in the mouth of a queen who, like Anne of Austria,
hid many curious secrets in her soul.

"Yes," said Molina, "children, children! for whom every mother becomes a

"Yes," replied the queen; "a mother sacrifices everything, certainly."
She did not finish her phrase; for she fancied, when she raised her eyes
towards the full-length portrait of the pale Louis XIII., that light once
more flashed from her husband's dull eyes, and his nostrils grew livid
with wrath. The portrait seemed animated by a living expression - speak
it did not, but it seemed to threaten. A profound silence succeeded the
queen's last remark. La Molina began to turn over ribbons and laces on a
large work-table. Madame de Motteville, surprised at the look of mutual
intelligence which had been exchanged between the confidant and her
mistress, cast down her eyes like a discreet woman, and pretending to be
observant of nothing that was passing, listened with the utmost attention
to every word. She heard nothing, however, but a very insignificant
"hum" on the part of the Spanish duenna, who was the incarnation of
caution - and a profound sigh on that of the queen. She looked up

"You are suffering?" she said.

"No, Motteville, no; why do you say that?"

"Your majesty almost groaned just now."

"You are right; I did sigh, in truth."

"Monsieur Valot is not far off; I believe he is in Madame's apartment."

"Why is he with Madame?"

"Madame is troubled with nervous attacks."

"A very fine disorder, indeed! There is little good in M. Valot being
there, when a very different physician would quickly cure Madame."

Madame de Motteville looked up with an air of great surprise, as she
replied, "Another doctor instead of M. Valot? - whom do you mean?"

"Occupation, Motteville, occupation. If any one is really ill, it is my
poor daughter."

"And your majesty, too."

"Less so this evening, though."

"Do not believe that too confidently, madame," said De Motteville. And,
as if to justify her caution, a sharp, acute pain seized the queen, who
turned deadly pale, and threw herself back in the chair, with every
symptom of a sudden fainting fit. Molina ran to a richly gilded tortoise-
shell cabinet, from which she took a large rock-crystal bottle of scented
salts, and held it to the queen's nostrils, who inhaled it wildly for a
few minutes, and murmured:

"It is hastening my death - but Heaven's will be done!"

"Your majesty's death is not so near at hand," added Molina, replacing
the smelling-bottle in the cabinet.

"Does your majesty feel better now?" inquired Madame de Motteville.

"Much better," returned the queen, placing her finger on her lips, to
impose silence on her favorite.

"It is very strange," remarked Madame de Motteville, after a pause.

"What is strange?" said the queen.

"Does your majesty remember the day when this pain attacked you for the
first time?"

"I remember only that it was a grievously sad day for me, Motteville."

"But your majesty did not always regard that day as a sad one."


"Because three and twenty years ago, on that very day, his present
majesty, your own glorious son, was born at the very same hour."

The queen uttered a loud cry, buried her face in her hands, and seemed
utterly prostrated for some minutes; but whether from recollections which
arose in her mind, or from reflection, or even with sheer pain, was
doubtful. La Molina darted a look at Madame de Motteville, so full of
bitter reproach, that the poor woman, perfectly ignorant of its meaning,
was in her own exculpation on the point of asking an explanation, when,
suddenly, Anne of Austria arose and said, "Yes, the 5th of September; my
sorrow began on the 5th of September. The greatest joy, one day; the
deepest sorrow the next; - the sorrow," she added, "the bitter expiation
of a too excessive joy."

And, from that moment, Anne of Austria, whose memory and reason seemed to
be suspended for the time, remained impenetrable, with vacant look, mind
almost wandering, and hands hanging heavily down, as if life had almost

"We must put her to bed," said La Molina.

"Presently, Molina."

"Let us leave the queen alone," added the Spanish attendant.

Madame de Motteville rose; large tears were rolling down the queen's
pallid face; and Molina, having observed this sign of weakness, fixed her
black vigilant eyes upon her.

"Yes, yes," replied the queen. "Leave us, Motteville; go."

The word "us" produced a disagreeable effect upon the ears of the French
favorite; for it signified that an interchange of secrets, or of
revelations of the past, was about to be made, and that one person was
_de trop_ in the conversation which seemed likely to take place.

"Will Molina, alone, be sufficient for your majesty to-night?" inquired
the French woman.

"Yes," replied the queen. Madame de Motteville bowed in submission, and
was about to withdraw, when suddenly an old female attendant, dressed as
if she had belonged to the Spanish court of the year 1620, opened the
door, and surprised the queen in her tears. "The remedy!" she cried,
delightedly, to the queen, as she unceremoniously approached the group.

"What remedy?" said Anne of Austria.

"For your majesty's sufferings," the former replied.

"Who brings it?" asked Madame de Motteville, eagerly; "Monsieur Valot?"

"No; a lady from Flanders."

"From Flanders? Is she Spanish?" inquired the queen.

"I don't know."

"Who sent her?"

"M. Colbert."

"Her name?"

"She did not mention it."

"Her position in life?"

"She will answer that herself."

"Who is she?"

"She is masked."

"Go, Molina; go and see!" cried the queen.

"It is needless," suddenly replied a voice, at once firm and gentle in
its tone, which proceeded from the other side of the tapestry hangings; a
voice which made the attendants start, and the queen tremble
excessively. At the same moment, a masked female appeared through the
hangings, and, before the queen could speak a syllable she added, "I am
connected with the order of the Beguines of Bruges, and do, indeed, bring
with me the remedy which is certain to effect a cure of your majesty's
complaint." No one uttered a sound, and the Beguine did not move a step.

"Speak," said the queen.

"I will, when we are alone," was the answer.

Anne of Austria looked at her attendants, who immediately withdrew. The
Beguine, thereupon, advanced a few steps towards the queen, and bowed
reverently before her. The queen gazed with increasing mistrust at this
woman, who, in her turn, fixed a pair of brilliant eyes upon her, through
her mask.

"The queen of France must, indeed, be very ill," said Anne of Austria,
"if it is known at the Beguinage of Bruges that she stands in need of
being cured."

"Your majesty is not irremediably ill."

"But tell me how you happen to know I am suffering?"

"Your majesty has friends in Flanders."

"Since these friends, then, sent you, mention their names."

"Impossible, madame, since your majesty's memory has not been awakened by
your heart."

Anne of Austria looked up, endeavoring to discover through the mysterious
mask, and this ambiguous language, the name of her companion, who
expressed herself with such familiarity and freedom; then, suddenly,
wearied by a curiosity which wounded every feeling of pride in her
nature, she said, "You are ignorant, perhaps, that royal personages are
never spoken to with the face masked."

"Deign to excuse me, madame," replied the Beguine, humbly.

"I cannot excuse you. I may, possibly, forgive you, if you throw your
mask aside."

"I have made a vow, madame, to attend and aid all afflicted and suffering
persons, without ever permitting them to behold my face. I might have
been able to administer some relief to your body and to your mind, too;
but since your majesty forbids me, I will take my leave. Adieu, madame,

These words were uttered with a harmony of tone and respect of manner
that disarmed the queen of all anger and suspicion, but did not remove
her feeling of curiosity. "You are right, "she said; "it ill-becomes
those who are suffering to reject the means of relief Heaven sends them.
Speak, then; and may you, indeed, be able, as you assert, to administer
relief to my body - "

"Let us first speak a little of the mind, if you please," said the
Beguine - "of the mind, which, I am sure, must also suffer."

"My mind?"

"There are cancers so insidious in their nature that their very
pulsations cannot be felt. Such cancers, madame, leave the ivory
whiteness of the skin unblemished, and putrefy not the firm, fair flesh,
with their blue tints; the physician who bends over the patient's chest
hears not, though he listens, the insatiable teeth of the disease
grinding onward through the muscles, and the blood flows freely on; the
knife has never been able to destroy, and rarely, even temporarily, to
disarm the rage of these mortal scourges, - their home is in the mind,
which they corrupt, - they gnaw the whole heart until it breaks. Such,
madame, are the cancers fatal to queens; are you, too, free from their

Anne slowly raised her arm, dazzling in its perfect whiteness, and pure
in its rounded outlines as it was in the time of her earlier days.

"The evils to which you allude," she said, "are the condition of the
lives of the high in rank upon earth, to whom Heaven has imparted mind.
When those evils become too heavy to be borne, Heaven lightens their
burdens by penitence and confession. Thus, only, we lay down our burden
and the secrets that oppress us. But, forget not that the same gracious
Heaven, in its mercy, apportions to their trials the strength of the
feeble creatures of its hand; and my strength has enabled me to bear my
burden. For the secrets of others, the silence of Heaven is more than
sufficient; for my own secrets, that of my confessor is enough."

"You are as courageous, madame, I see, as ever, against your enemies.
You do not acknowledge your confidence in your friends?"

"Queens have no friends; if you have nothing further to say to me, - if
you feel yourself inspired by Heaven as a prophetess - leave me, I pray,
for I dread the future."

"I should have supposed," said the Beguine, resolutely, "that you would
rather have dreaded the past."

Hardly had these words escaped her lips, than the queen rose up proudly.
"Speak," she cried, in a short, imperious tone of voice; "explain
yourself briefly, quickly, entirely; or, if not - "

"Nay, do not threaten me, your majesty," said the Beguine, gently; "I
came here to you full of compassion and respect. I came here on the part
of a friend."

"Prove that to me! Comfort, instead of irritating me."

"Easily enough, and your majesty will see who is friendly to you. What
misfortune has happened to your majesty during these three and twenty
years past - "

"Serious misfortunes, indeed; have I not lost the king?"

"I speak not of misfortunes of _that_ kind. I wish to ask you, if, since
the birth of the king, any indiscretion on a friend's part has caused
your majesty the slightest serious anxiety, or distress?"

"I do not understand you," replied the queen, clenching her teeth in
order to conceal her emotion.

"I will make myself understood, then. Your majesty remembers that the
king was born on the 5th of September, 1638, at a quarter past eleven

"Yes," stammered out the queen.

"At half-past twelve," continued the Beguine, "the dauphin, who had been
baptized by Monseigneur de Meaux in the king's and your own presence, was
acknowledged as the heir of the crown of France. The king then went to
the chapel of the old Chateau de Saint-Germain, to hear the _Te Deum_

"Quite true, quite true," murmured the queen.

"Your majesty's conferment took place in the presence of Monsieur, his
majesty's late uncle, of the princes, and of the ladies attached to the
court. The king's physician, Bouvard, and Honore, the surgeon, were
stationed in the ante-chamber; your majesty slept from three o'clock
until seven, I believe."

"Yes, yes; but you tell me no more than every one else knows as well as
you and myself."

"I am now, madame, approaching that which very few persons are acquainted
with. Very few persons, did I say, alas! I might say two only, for
formerly there were but five in all, and, for many years past, the secret
has been well preserved by the deaths of the principal participators in
it. The late king sleeps now with his ancestors; Perronnette, the
midwife, soon followed him; Laporte is already forgotten."

The queen opened her lips as though to reply; she felt, beneath her icy
hand, with which she kept her face half concealed, the beads of
perspiration on her brow.

"It was eight o'clock," pursued the Beguine; "the king was seated at
supper, full of joy and happiness; around him on all sides arose wild
cries of delight and drinking of healths; the people cheered beneath the
balconies; the Swiss guards, the musketeers, and the royal guards
wandered through the city, borne about in triumph by the drunken
students. Those boisterous sounds of general joy disturbed the dauphin,
the future king of France, who was quietly lying in the arms of Madame de
Hausac, his nurse, and whose eyes, as he opened them, and stared about,
might have observed two crowns at the foot of his cradle. Suddenly your
majesty uttered a piercing cry, and Dame Perronnette immediately flew to
your beside. The doctors were dining in a room at some distance from
your chamber; the palace, deserted from the frequency of the irruptions
made into it, was without either sentinels or guards. The midwife,
having questioned and examined your majesty, gave a sudden exclamation as
if in wild astonishment, and taking you in her arms, bewildered almost
out of her senses from sheer distress of mind, dispatched Laporte to
inform the king that her majesty the queen-mother wished to see him in
her room. Laporte, you are aware, madame, was a man of the most
admirable calmness and presence of mind. He did not approach the king as
if he were the bearer of alarming intelligence and wished to inspire the
terror he himself experienced; besides, it was not a very terrifying
intelligence which awaited the king. Therefore, Laporte appeared with a
smile upon his lips, and approached the king's chair, saying to him
'Sire, the queen is very happy, and would be still more so to see your
majesty.' On that day, Louis XIII. would have given his crown away to
the veriest beggar for a 'God bless you.' Animated, light-hearted, and
full of gayety, the king rose from the table, and said to those around
him, in a tone that Henry IV. might have adopted, - 'Gentlemen, I am
going to see my wife.' He came to your beside, madame, at the very
moment Dame Perronnette presented to him a second prince, as beautiful
and healthy as the former, and said - 'Sire, Heaven will not allow the
kingdom of France to fall into the female line.' The king, yielding to a
first impulse, clasped the child in his arms, and cried, 'Oh, Heaven, I
thank Thee!'"

At this part of her recital, the Beguine paused, observing how intensely
the queen was suffering; she had thrown herself back in her chair, and
with her head bent forward and her eyes fixed, listened without seeming
to hear, and her lips moving convulsively, either breathing a prayer to
Heaven or imprecations on the woman standing before her.

"Ah! I do not believe that, if, because there could be but one dauphin
in France, "exclaimed the Beguine, "the queen allowed that child to
vegetate, banished from his royal parents' presence, she was on that
account an unfeeling mother. Oh, no, no; there are those alive who have
known and witnessed the passionate kisses she imprinted on that innocent
creature in exchange for a life of misery and gloom to which state policy
condemned the twin brother of Louis XIV."

"Oh! Heaven!" murmured the queen feebly.

"It is admitted," continued the Beguine, quickly, "that when the king
perceived the effect which would result from the existence of two sons,
equal in age and pretensions, he trembled for the welfare of France, for
the tranquillity of the state; and it is equally well known that Cardinal
de Richelieu, by the direction of Louis XIII., thought over the subject
with deep attention, and after an hour's meditation in his majesty's
cabinet, he pronounced the following sentence: - 'One prince means peace
and safety for the state; two competitors, civil war and anarchy.'"

The queen rose suddenly from her seat, pale as death, and her hands
clenched together:

"You know too much," she said, in a hoarse, thick voice, "since you refer
to secrets of state. As for the friends from whom you have acquired this
secret, they are false and treacherous. You are their accomplice in the
crime which is being now committed. Now, throw aside your mask, or I
will have you arrested by my captain of the guards. Do not think that
this secret terrifies me! You have obtained it, you shall restore it to
me. Never shall it leave your bosom, for neither your secret nor your
own life belong to you from this moment."

Anne of Austria, joining gesture to the threat, advanced a couple of
steps towards the Beguine.

"Learn," said the latter, "to know and value the fidelity, the honor, and
secrecy of the friends you have abandoned." And, then, suddenly she
threw aside her mask.

"Madame de Chevreuse!" exclaimed the queen.

"With your majesty, the sole living _confidante_ of the secret."

"Ah!" murmured Anne of Austria; "come and embrace me, duchesse. Alas!
you kill your friend in thus trifling with her terrible distress."

And the queen, leaning her head upon the shoulder of the old duchesse,
burst into a flood of bitter tears. "How young you are - still!" said
the latter, in a hollow voice; "you can weep!"

Chapter XLIV:
Two Friends.

The queen looked steadily at Madame de Chevreuse, and said: "I believe
you just now made use of the word 'happy' in speaking of me. Hitherto,
duchesse, I had thought it impossible that a human creature could
anywhere be found more miserable than the queen of France."

"Your afflictions, madame, have indeed been terrible enough. But by the
side of those great and grand misfortunes to which we, two old friends,
separated by men's malice, were just now alluding, you possess sources of
pleasure, slight enough in themselves it may be, but greatly envied by
the world."

"What are they?" said Anne of Austria, bitterly. "What can induce you to
pronounce the word 'pleasure,' duchesse - you who, just now, admitted
that my body and my mind both stood in need of remedies?"

Madame de Chevreuse collected herself for a moment, and then murmured,
"How far removed kings are from other people!"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that they are so far removed from the vulgar herd that they
forget that others often stand in need of the bare necessities of life.
They are like the inhabitant of the African mountains, who, gazing from
the verdant tableland, refreshed by the rills of melted snow, cannot
comprehend that the dwellers in the plains below are perishing from
hunger and thirst in the midst of the desert, burnt up by the heat of the

The queen colored, for she now began to perceive the drift of her
friend's remark. "It was very wrong," she said, "to have neglected you."

"Oh! madame, I know the king has inherited the hatred his father bore
me. The king would exile me if he knew I were in the Palais Royal."

"I cannot say that the king is very well disposed towards you, duchesse,"
replied the queen; "but I could - secretly, you know - "

The duchesse's disdainful smile produced a feeling of uneasiness in the
queen's mind. "Duchesse," she hastened to add, "you did perfectly right
to come here, even were it only to give us the happiness of contradicting
the report of your death."

"Has it been rumored, then, that I was dead?"


"And yet my children did not go into mourning."

"Ah! you know, duchesse, the court is very frequently moving about from
place to place; we see M. Albert de Luynes but seldom, and many things
escape our minds in the midst of the preoccupations that constantly beset

"Your majesty ought not to have believed the report of my death."

"Why not? Alas! we are all mortal; and you may perceive how rapidly I,
your younger sister, as we used formerly to say, am approaching the tomb."

"If your majesty believed me dead, you ought, in that case, to have been
astonished not to have received the news."

"Death not unfrequently takes us by surprise, duchesse."

"Oh! your majesty, those who are burdened with secrets such as we have
just now discussed must, as a necessity of their nature, satisfy their
craving desire to divulge them, and they feel they must gratify that
desire before they die. Among the various preparations for their final
journey, the task of placing their papers in order is not omitted."

The queen started.

"Your majesty will be sure to learn, in a particular manner, the day of
my death."

"In what way?"

"Because your majesty will receive the next day, under several coverings,
everything connected with our mysterious correspondence of former times."

"Did you not burn them?" cried Anne, in alarm.

"Traitors only," replied the duchesse, "destroy a royal correspondence."

"Traitors, do you say?"

"Yes, certainly, or rather they pretend to destroy, instead of which they
keep or sell it. Faithful friends, on the contrary, most carefully
secrete such treasures, for it may happen that some day or other they
would wish to seek out their queen in order to say to her: 'Madame, I am
getting old; my health is fast failing me; in the presence of the danger
of death, for there is the risk for your majesty that this secret may be
revealed, take, therefore, this paper, so fraught with menace for
yourself, and trust not to another to burn it for you.'"

"What paper do you refer to?"

"As far as I am concerned, I have but one, it is true, but that is indeed
most dangerous in its nature."

"Oh! duchesse, tell me what it is."

"A letter, dated Tuesday, the 2d of August, 1644, in which you beg me to
go to Noisy-le-Sec, to see that unhappy child. In your own handwriting,
madame, there are those words, 'that unhappy child!'"

A profound silence ensued; the queen's mind was busy in the past; Madame
de Chevreuse was watching the progress of her scheme. "Yes, unhappy,
most unhappy!" murmured Anne of Austria; "how sad the existence he led,
poor child, to finish it in so cruel a manner."

"Is he dead?" cried the duchesse suddenly, with a curiosity whose genuine
accents the queen instinctively detected.

"He died of consumption, died forgotten, died withered and blighted like
the flowers a lover has given to his mistress, which she leaves to die
secreted in a drawer where she had hid them from the gaze of others."

"Died!" repeated the duchesse with an air of discouragement, which would
have afforded the queen the most unfeigned delight, had it not been
tempered in some measure with a mixture of doubt - "Died - at Noisy-le-

"Yes, in the arms of his tutor, a poor, honest man, who did not long
survive him."

"That can easily be understood; it is so difficult to bear up under the
weight of such a loss and such a secret," said Madame de Chevreuse, - the
irony of which reflection the queen pretended not to perceive. Madame de
Chevreuse continued: "Well, madame, I inquired some years ago at Noisy-le-
Sec about this unhappy child. I was told that it was not believed he was
dead, and that was my reason for not having at first condoled with your
majesty; for, most certainly, if I could have thought it were true, never
should I have made the slightest allusion to so deplorable an event, and
thus have re-awakened your majesty's most natural distress."

"You say that it is not believed the child died at Noisy?"

"No, madame."

"What did they say about him, then?"

"They said - but, no doubt, they were mistaken - "

"Nay, speak, speak!"

"They said, that one evening, about the year 1645, a lady, beautiful and
majestic in her bearing, which was observed notwithstanding the mask and
the mantle that concealed her figure - a lady of rank, of very high rank,
no doubt - came in a carriage to the place where the road branches off;
the very same spot, you know, where I awaited news of the young prince
when your majesty was graciously pleased to send me there."

"Well, well?"

"That the boy's tutor, or guardian, took the child to this lady."

"Well, what next?"

"That both the child and his tutor left that part of the country the very
next day."

"There, you see there is some truth in what you relate, since, in point
of fact, the poor child died from a sudden attack of illness, which makes
the lives of all children, as doctors say, suspended as it were by a

"What your majesty says is quite true; no one knows it better than
yourself - no one believes it more strongly than myself. But yet, how
strange it is - "

"What can it now be?" thought the queen.

"The person who gave me these details, who was sent to inquire after the
child's health - "

"Did you confide such a charge to any one else? Oh, duchesse!"

"Some one as dumb as your majesty, as dumb as myself; we will suppose it
was myself, Madame; this some one, some months after, passing through
Touraine - "


"Recognized both the tutor and the child, too! I am wrong, thought he
recognized them, both living, cheerful, happy, and flourishing, the one
in a green old age, the other in the flower of his youth. Judge after
that what truth can be attributed to the rumors which are circulated, or
what faith, after that, placed in anything that may happen in the world!
But I am fatiguing your majesty; it was not my intention, however, to do
so, and I will take my leave of you, after renewing to you the assurance
of my most respectful devotion."

"Stay, duchesse; let us first talk a little about yourself."

"Of myself, madame! I am not worthy that you should bend your looks upon

"Why not, indeed? Are you not the oldest friend I have? Are you angry
with me, duchesse?"

"I, indeed! what motive could I have? If I had reason to be angry with
your majesty, should I have come here?"

"Duchesse, age is fast creeping on us both; we should be united against
that death whose approach cannot be far off."

"You overpower me, madame, with the kindness of your language."

"No one has ever loved or served me as you have done, duchesse."

"Your majesty is too kind in remembering it."

"Not so. Give me a proof of your friendship, duchesse."

"My whole being is devoted to you, madame."

"The proof I require is, that you should ask something of me."

"Ask - "

"Oh, I know you well, - no one is more disinterested, more noble, and
truly loyal."

"Do not praise me too highly, madame," said the duchesse, somewhat

"I could never praise you as much as you deserve to be praised."

"And yet, age and misfortune effect a terrible change in people, madame."

"So much the better; for the beautiful, the haughty, the adored duchesse
of former days might have answered me ungratefully, 'I do not wish for
anything from you.' Heaven be praised! The misfortunes you speak of
have indeed worked a change in you, for you will now, perhaps, answer me,
'I accept.'"

The duchesse's look and smile soon changed at this conclusion, and she no
longer attempted to act a false part.

"Speak, dearest, what do you want?"

"I must first explain to you - "

"Do so unhesitatingly."

"Well, then, your majesty can confer the greatest, the most ineffable
pleasure upon me."

"What is it?" said the queen, a little distant in her manner, from an
uneasiness of feeling produced by this remark. "But do not forget, my
good Chevreuse, that I am quite as much under my son's influence as I was
formerly under my husband's."

"I will not be too hard, madame."

"Call me as you used to do; it will be a sweet echo of our happy youth."

"Well, then, my dear mistress, my darling Anne - "

"Do you know Spanish, still?"


"Ask me in Spanish, then."

"Will your majesty do me the honor to pass a few days with me at

"Is that all?" said the queen, stupefied. "Nothing more than that?"

"Good heavens! can you possibly imagine that, in asking you that, I am
not asking you the greatest conceivable favor? If that really be the
case, you do not know me. Will you accept?"

"Yes, gladly. And I shall be happy," continued the queen, with some
suspicion, "if my presence can in any way be useful to you."

"Useful!" exclaimed the duchesse, laughing; "oh, no, no, agreeable
delightful, if you like; and you promise me, then?"

"I swear it," said the queen, whereupon the duchesse seized her beautiful
hand, and covered it with kisses. The queen could not help murmuring to
herself, "She is a good-hearted woman, and very generous, too."

"Will your majesty consent to wait a fortnight before you come?"

"Certainly; but why?"

"Because," said the duchesse, "knowing me to be in disgrace, no one would
lend me the hundred thousand francs, which I require to put Dampierre
into a state of repair. But when it is known that I require that sum for
the purpose of receiving your majesty at Dampierre properly, all the
money in Paris will be at my disposal."

"Ah!" said the queen, gently nodding her head in sign of intelligence, "a
hundred thousand francs! you want a hundred thousand francs to put
Dampierre into repair?"

"Quite as much as that."

"And no one will lend you them?"

"No one."

"I will lend them to you, if you like, duchesse."

"Oh, I hardly dare accept such a sum."

"You would be wrong if you did _not_. Besides, a hundred thousand francs
is really not much. I know but too well that you never set a right value
upon your silence and secrecy. Push that table a little towards me,
duchesse, and I will write you an order on M. Colbert; no, on M. Fouquet,
who is a far more courteous and obliging man."

"Will he pay it, though?"

"If he will not pay it, I will; but it will be the first time he will
have refused me."

The queen wrote and handed the duchesse the order, and afterwards
dismissed her with a warm embrace.

Chapter XLV:
How Jean de La Fontaine Came to Write His First Tale.

All these intrigues are exhausted; the human mind, so variously
complicated, has been enabled to develop itself at its ease in the three
outlines with which our recital has supplied it. It is not unlikely
that, in the future we are now preparing, a question of politics and
intrigues may still arise, but the springs by which they work will be so
carefully concealed that no one will be able to see aught but flowers and
paintings, just as at a theater, where a colossus appears upon the scene,
walking along moved by the small legs and slender arms of a child
concealed within the framework.

We now return to Saint-Mande, where the superintendent was in the habit
of receiving his select confederacy of epicureans. For some time past
the host had met with nothing but trouble. Every one in the house was
aware of and felt for the minister's distress. No more magnificent or
recklessly improvident _reunions_. Money had been the pretext assigned
by Fouquet, and never _was_ any pretext, as Gourville said, more
fallacious, for there was not even a shadow of money to be seen.

M. Vatel was resolutely painstaking in keeping up the reputation of the
house, and yet the gardeners who supplied the kitchens complained of
ruinous delays. The agents for the supply of Spanish wines sent drafts
which no one honored; fishermen, whom the superintendent engaged on the
coast of Normandy, calculated that if they were paid all that was due to
them, the amount would enable them to retire comfortably for life; fish,
which, at a later period, was the cause of Vatel's death, did not arrive
at all. However, on the ordinary reception days, Fouquet's friends
flocked in more numerously than ever. Gourville and the Abbe Fouquet
talked over money matters - that is to say, the abbe borrowed a few
pistoles from Gourville; Pelisson, seated with his legs crossed, was
engaged in finishing the peroration of a speech with which Fouquet was to
open the parliament; and this speech was a masterpiece, because Pelisson
wrote it for his friend - that is to say, he inserted all kinds of clever
things the latter would most certainly never have taken the trouble to
say of his own accord. Presently Loret and La Fontaine would enter from
the garden, engaged in a dispute about the art of making verses. The
painters and musicians, in their turn, were hovering near the dining-
room. As soon as eight o'clock struck the supper would be announced, for
the superintendent never kept any one waiting. It was already half-past
seven, and the appetites of the guests were beginning to declare
themselves in an emphatic manner. As soon as all the guests were
assembled, Gourville went straight up to Pelisson, awoke him out of his
reverie, and led him into the middle of a room, and closed the doors.
"Well," he said, "anything new?"

Pelisson raised his intelligent and gentle face, and said: "I have
borrowed five and twenty thousand francs of my aunt, and I have them here
in good sterling money."

"Good," replied Gourville; "we only what one hundred and ninety-five
thousand livres for the first payment."

"The payment of what?" asked La Fontaine.

"What! absent-minded as usual! Why, it was you who told us the small
estate at Corbeli was going to be sold by one of M. Fouquet's creditors;
and you, also, who proposed that all his friends should subscribe - more
than that, it was you who said that you would sell a corner of your house
at Chateau-Thierry, in order to furnish your own proportion, and you come
and ask - '_The payment of what?_'"

This remark was received with a general laugh, which made La Fontaine
blush. "I beg your pardon," he said, "I had not forgotten it; oh, no!
only - "

"Only you remembered nothing about it," replied Loret.

"That is the truth, and the fact is, he is quite right, there is a great
difference between forgetting and not remembering."

"Well, then," added Pelisson, "you bring your mite in the shape of the
price of the piece of land you have sold?"

"Sold? no!"

"Have you not sold the field, then?" inquired Gourville, in astonishment,
for he knew the poet's disinterestedness.

"My wife would not let me," replied the latter, at which there were fresh
bursts of laughter.

"And yet you went to Chateau-Thierry for that purpose," said some one.

"Certainly I did, and on horseback."

"Poor fellow!"

"I had eight different horses, and I was almost bumped to death."

"You are an excellent fellow! And you rested yourself when you arrived

"Rested! Oh! of course I did, for I had an immense deal of work to do."

"How so?"

"My wife had been flirting with the man to whom I wished to sell the
land. The fellow drew back form his bargain, and so I challenged him."

"Very good, and you fought?"

"It seems not."

"You know nothing about it, I suppose?"

"No, my wife and her relations interfered in the matter. I was kept a
quarter of an hour with my sword in my hand; but I was not wounded."

"And your adversary?"

"Oh! he wasn't wounded either, for he never came on the field."

"Capital!" cried his friends from all sides, "you must have been terribly

"Exceedingly so; I caught cold; I returned home and then my wife began to
quarrel with me."

"In real earnest?"

"Yes, in real earnest. She threw a loaf of bread at my head, a large

"And what did you do?"

"Oh! I upset the table over her and her guests; and then I got on my
horse again, and here I am."

Every one had great difficulty in keeping his countenance at the exposure
of this heroi-comedy, and when the laughter had subsided, one of the
guests present said to La Fontaine: "Is that all you have brought back?"

"Oh, no! I have an excellent idea in my head."

"What is it?"

"Have you noticed that there is a good deal of sportive, jesting poetry
written in France?"

"Yes, of course," replied every one.

"And," pursued La Fontaine, "only a very small portion of it is printed."

"The laws are strict, you know."

"That may be; but a rare article is a dear article, and that is the
reason why I have written a small poem, excessively free in its style,
very broad, and extremely cynical in its tone."

"The deuce you have!"

"Yes," continued the poet, with assumed indifference, "and I have
introduced the greatest freedom of language I could possibly employ."

Peals of laughter again broke forth, while the poet was thus announcing
the quality of his wares. "And," he continued, "I have tried to excel
everything that Boccaccio, Aretin, and other masters of their craft have
written in the same style."

"Its fate is clear," said Pelisson; "it will be suppressed and forbidden."

"Do you think so?" said La Fontaine, simply. "I assure you I did not do
it on my own account so much as M. Fouquet's."

This wonderful conclusion again raised the mirth of all present.

"And I have sold the first edition of this little book for eight hundred
livres," exclaimed La Fontaine, rubbing his hands together. "Serious and
religions books sell at about half that rate."

"It would have been better," said Gourville, "to have written two
religious books instead."

"It would have been too long, and not amusing enough," replied La
Fontaine tranquilly; "my eight hundred livres are in this little bag, and
I beg to offer them as _my_ contribution."

As he said this, he placed his offering in the hands of their treasurer;
it was then Loret's turn, who gave a hundred and fifty livres; the others
stripped themselves in the same way; and the total sum in the purse
amounted to forty thousand livres. The money was still being counted
over when the superintendent noiselessly entered the room; he had heard
everything; and then this man, who had possessed so many millions, who
had exhausted all the pleasures and honors the world had to bestow, this
generous heart, this inexhaustible brain, which had, like two burning
crucibles, devoured the material and moral substance of the first kingdom
in Europe, was seen to cross the threshold with tears in his eyes, and
pass his fingers through the gold and silver which the bag contained.

"Poor offering," he said, in a softened and affected tone of voice, "you
will disappear into the smallest corner of my empty purse, but you have
filled to overflowing that which no one can ever exhaust, my heart.
Thank you, my friends - thank you." And as he could not embrace every
one present, who were all tearful, too, philosophers as they were, he
embraced La Fontaine, saying to him, "Poor fellow! so you have, on my
account, been beaten by your wife and censured by your confessor."

"Oh! it is a mere nothing," replied the poet; "if your creditors will
only wait a couple of years, I shall have written a hundred other tales,
which, at two editions each, will pay off the debt."

Chapter XLVI:
La Fontaine in the Character of a Negotiator.

Fouquet pressed La Fontaine's hand most warmly, saying to him, "My dear
poet, write a hundred other tales, not only for the eighty pistoles which
each of them will produce you, but, still more, to enrich our language
with a hundred new masterpieces of composition."

"Oh!" said La Fontaine, with a little air of pride, "you must not suppose
that I have only brought this idea and the eighty pistoles to the

"Oh! indeed," was the general acclimation from all parts of the room, "M.
de la Fontaine is in funds to-day."

"Exactly," replied La Fontaine.

"Quick, quick!" cried the assembly.

"Take care," said Pelisson in La Fontaine's ear; "you have had a most
brilliant success up to the present moment; do not go beyond your depth."

"Not at all, Monsieur Pelisson; and you, who are a man of decided taste,
will be the first to approve of what I have done."

"We are talking of millions, remember," said Gourville.

"I have fifteen hundred thousand francs here, Monsieur Gourville," he
replied, striking himself on the chest.

"The deuce take this Gascon from Chateau-Thierry!" cried Loret.

"It is not the pocket you must tap - but the brain," said Fouquet.

"Stay a moment, monsieur le surintendant," added La Fontaine; "you are
not procureur-general - you are a poet."

"True, true!" cried Loret, Conrart, and every person present connected
with literature.

"You are, I repeat, a poet and a painter, a sculptor, a friend of the
arts and sciences; but, acknowledge that you are no lawyer."

"Oh! I do acknowledge it," replied M. Fouquet, smiling.

"If you were to be nominated at the Academy, you would refuse, I think."

"I think I should, with all due deference to the academicians."

"Very good; if, therefore, you do not wish to belong to the Academy, why
do you allow yourself to form one of the parliament?"

"Oh!" said Pelisson, "we are talking politics."

"I wish to know whether the barrister's gown does or does not become M.

"There is no question of the gown at all," retorted Pelisson, annoyed at
the laughter of those who were present.

"On the contrary, it is the gown," said Loret.

"Take the gown away from the procureur-general," said Conrart, "and we
have M. Fouquet left us still, of whom we have no reason to complain;
but, as he is no procureur-general without his gown, we agree with M. de
la Fontaine and pronounce the gown to be nothing but a bugbear."

"_Fugiunt risus leporesque_," said Loret.

"The smiles and the graces," said some one present.

"That is not the way," said Pelisson, gravely, "that I translate

"How do you translate it?" said La Fontaine.

"Thus: The hares run away as soon as they see M. Fouquet." A burst of
laughter, in which the superintendent joined, followed this sally.

"But why hares?" objected Conrart, vexed.

"Because the hare will be the very one who will not be over pleased to
see M. Fouquet surrounded by all the attributes which his parliamentary
strength and power confer on him."

"Oh! oh!" murmured the poets.

"_Quo non ascendam_," said Conrart, "seems impossible to me, when one is
fortunate enough to wear the gown of the procureur-general." (9)

"On the contrary, it seems so to me without that gown," said the
obstinate Pelisson; "what is your opinion, Gourville?"

"I think the gown in question is a very good thing," replied the latter;
"but I equally think that a million and a half is far better than the

"And I am of Gourville's opinion," exclaimed Fouquet, stopping the
discussion by the expression of his own opinion, which would necessarily
bear down all the others.

"A million and a half," Pelisson grumbled out; "now I happen to know an
Indian fable - "

"Tell it to me," said La Fontaine; "I ought to know it too."

"Tell it, tell it," said the others.

"There was a tortoise, which was, as usual, well protected by its shell,"
said Pelisson; "whenever its enemies threatened it, it took refuge
within its covering. One day some one said to it, 'You must feel very
hot in such a house as that in the summer, and you are altogether
prevented showing off your graces; there is a snake here, who will give
you a million and a half for your shell.'"

"Good!" said the superintendent, laughing.

"Well, what next?" said La Fontaine, more interested in the apologue than
in the moral.

"The tortoise sold his shell and remained naked and defenseless. A
vulture happened to see him, and being hungry, broke the tortoise's back
with a blow of his beak and devoured it. The moral is, that M. Fouquet
should take very good care to keep his gown."

La Fontaine understood the moral seriously. "You forget Aeschylus," he
said, to his adversary.

"What do you mean?"

"Aeschylus was bald-headed, and a vulture - your vulture, probably - who
was a great amateur in tortoises, mistook at a distance his head for a
block of stone, and let a tortoise, which was shrunk up in his shell,
fall upon it."

"Yes, yes, La Fontaine is right," resumed Fouquet, who had become very
thoughtful; "whenever a vulture wishes to devour a tortoise, he well
knows how to break his shell; but happy is that tortoise a snake pays a
million and a half for his envelope. If any one were to bring me a
generous-hearted snake like the one in your fable, Pelisson, I would give
him my shell."

"_Rara avis in terres!_" cried Conrart. (10)

"And like a black swan, is he not?" added La Fontaine; "well, then, the
bird in question, black and rare, is already found."

"Do you mean to say that you have found a purchaser for my post of
procureur-general?" exclaimed Fouquet.

"I have, monsieur."

"But the superintendent never said that he wished to sell," resumed

"I beg your pardon," said Conrart, "you yourself spoke about it, even - "

"Yes, I am a witness to that," said Gourville.

"He seems very tenacious about his brilliant idea," said Fouquet,
laughing. "Well, La Fontaine, who is the purchaser?"

"A perfect blackbird, for he is a counselor belonging to the parliament,
an excellent fellow."

"What is his name?"


"Vanel!" exclaimed Fouquet. "Vanel the husband of - "

"Precisely, her husband; yes, monsieur."

"Poor fellow!" said Fouquet, with an expression of great interest.

"He wishes to be everything that you have been, monsieur," said
Gourville, "and to do everything that you have done."

"It is very agreeable; tell us all about it, La Fontaine."

"It is very simple. I see him occasionally, and a short time ago I met
him, walking about on the Place de la Bastile, at the very moment when I
was about to take the small carriage to come down here to Saint-Mande."

"He must have been watching his wife," interrupted Loret.

"Oh, no!" said La Fontaine, "he is far from being jealous. He accosted
me, embraced me, and took me to the inn called L'Image Saint-Fiacre, and
told me all about his troubles."

"He has his troubles, then?"

"Yes; his wife wants to make him ambitious."

"Well, and he told you - "

"That some one had spoken to him about a post in parliament; that M.
Fouquet's name had been mentioned; that ever since, Madame Vanel dreams
of nothing else than being called madame la procureur-generale, and that
it makes her ill and kills her every night she does not dream about it."

"The deuce!"

"Poor woman!" said Fouquet.

"Wait a moment. Conrart is always telling me that I do not know how to
conduct matters of business; you will see how I managed this one."

"Well, go on."

"'I suppose you know,' said I to Vanel, 'that the value of a post such as
that which M. Fouquet holds is by no means trifling.'

"'How much do you imagine it to be?' he said.

"'M. Fouquet, I know, has refused seventeen hundred thousand francs.'

"'My wife,' replied Vanel, 'had estimated it at about fourteen hundred

"'Ready money?' I said.

"'Yes; she has sold some property of hers in Guienne, and has received
the purchase money.'"

"That's a pretty sum to touch all at once," said the Abbe Fouquet, who
had not hitherto said a word.

"Poor Madame Vanel!" murmured Fouquet.

Pelisson shrugged his shoulders, as he whispered in Fouquet's ear, "That
woman is a perfect fiend."

"That may be; and it will be delightful to make use of this fiend's money
to repair the injury which an angel has done herself for me."

Pelisson looked with a surprised air at Fouquet, whose thoughts were from
that moment fixed upon a fresh object in view.

"Well!" inquired La Fontaine, "what about my negotiation?"

"Admirable, my dear poet."

"Yes," said Gourville; "but there are some people who are anxious to have
the steed who have not even money enough to pay for the bridle."

"And Vanel would draw back from his offer if he were to be taken at his
word," continued the Abbe Fouquet.

"I do not believe it," said La Fontaine.

"What do you know about it?"

"Why, you have not yet heard the _denouement_ of my story."

"If there is a _denouement_, why do you beat about the bush so much?"

"_Semper ad eventum_. Is that correct?" said Fouquet, with the air of a
nobleman who condescends to barbarisms. To which the Latinists present
answered with loud applause. (11)

"My _denouement_," cried La Fontaine, "is that Vanel, that determined
blackbird, knowing that I was coming to Saint-Mande, implored me to bring
him with me, and, if possible, to present him to M. Fouquet."

"So that - "

"So that he is here; I left him in that part of the ground called Bel-
Air. Well, M. Fouquet, what is your reply?"

"Well, it is not respectful towards Madame Vanel that her husband should
run the risk of catching cold outside my house; send for him, La
Fontaine, since you know where he is."

"I will go myself."

"And I will accompany you," said the Abbe Fouquet; "I will carry the
money bags."

"No jesting," said Fouquet, seriously; "let the business be a serious
one, if it is to be one at all. But first of all, let us show we are
hospitable. Make my apologies, La Fontaine, to M. Vanel, and tell him
how distressed I am to have kept him waiting, but that I was not was not
aware he was there."

La Fontaine set off at once, fortunately accompanied by Gourville, for,
absorbed in his own calculations, the poet would have mistaken the route,
and was hurrying as fast as he could towards the village of Saint-Mande.
Within a quarter of an hour afterwards, M. Vanel was introduced into the
superintendent's cabinet, a description of which has already been given
at the beginning of this story. When Fouquet saw him enter, he called to
Pelisson, and whispered a few words in his ear. "Do not lose a single
word of what I am going to say: let all the silver and gold plate,
together with my jewels of every description, be packed up in the
carriage. You will take the black horses: the jeweler will accompany
you; and you will postpone the supper until Madame de Belliere's arrival."

"Will it be necessary to inform Madame de Belliere of it?" said Pelisson.

"No; that will be useless; I will do that. So, away with you, my dear

Pelisson set off, not quite clear as to his friend's meaning or
intention, but confident, like every true friend, in the judgment of the
man he was blindly obeying. It is that which constitutes the strength of
such men; distrust only arises in the minds of inferior natures.

Vanel bowed lowly to the superintendent, and was about to begin a speech.

"Do not trouble yourself, monsieur," said Fouquet, politely; "I am told
you wish to purchase a post I hold. How much can you give me for it?"

"It is for you, monseigneur, to fix the amount you require. I know that
offers of purchase have already been made to you for it."

"Madame Vanel, I have been told, values it at fourteen hundred thousand

"That is all we have."

"Can you give me the money immediately?"

"I have not the money with me," said Vanel, frightened almost by the
unpretending simplicity, amounting to greatness, of the man, for he had
expected disputes, difficulties, opposition of every kind.

"When will you be able to bring it?"

"Whenever you please, monseigneur;" for he began to be afraid that
Fouquet was trifling with him.

"If it were not for the trouble you would have in returning to Paris, I
would say at once; but we will arrange that the payment and the signature
shall take place at six o'clock to-morrow morning."

"Very good," said Vanel, as cold as ice, and feeling quite bewildered.

"Adieu, Monsieur Vanel, present my humblest respects to Madame Vanel,"
said Fouquet, as he rose; upon which Vanel, who felt the blood rushing to
his head, for he was quite confounded by his success, said seriously to
the superintendent, "Will you give me your word, monseigneur, upon this

Fouquet turned round his head, saying, "_Pardieu_, and you, monsieur?"

Vanel hesitated, trembled all over, and at last finished by hesitatingly
holding out his hand. Fouquet opened and nobly extended his own; this
loyal hand lay for a moment in Vanel's most hypocritical palm, and he
pressed it in his own, in order the better to convince himself of the
compact. The superintendent gently disengaged his hand, as he again
said, "Adieu." And then Vanel ran hastily to the door, hurried along the
vestibule, and fled as quickly as he could.

Chapter XLVII:
Madame de Belliere's Plate and Diamonds.

Fouquet had no sooner dismissed Vanel than he began to reflect for a few
moments - "A man never can do too much for the woman he has once loved.
Marguerite wishes to be the wife of a procureur-general - and why not
confer this pleasure upon her? And, now that the most scrupulous and
sensitive conscience will be unable to reproach me with anything, let my
thoughts be bestowed on her who has shown so much devotion for me.
Madame de Belliere ought to be there by this time," he said, as he turned
towards the secret door.

After he had locked himself in, he opened the subterranean passage, and
rapidly hastened towards the means of communicating between the house at
Vincennes and his own residence. He had neglected to apprise his friend
of his approach, by ringing the bell, perfectly assured that she would
never fail to be exact at the rendezvous; as, indeed, was the case, for
she was already waiting. The noise the superintendent made aroused her;
she ran to take from under the door the letter he had thrust there, and
which simply said, "Come, marquise; we are waiting supper for you." With
her heart filled with happiness Madame de Belliere ran to her carriage in
the Avenue de Vincennes, and in a few minutes she was holding out her
hand to Gourville, who was standing at the entrance, where, in order the
better to please his master, he had stationed himself to watch her
arrival. She had not observed that Fouquet's black horse arrived at the
same time, all steaming and foam-flaked, having returned to Saint-Mande
with Pelisson and the very jeweler to whom Madame de Belliere had sold
her plate and her jewels. Pelisson introduced the goldsmith into the
cabinet, which Fouquet had not yet left. The superintendent thanked him
for having been good enough to regard as a simple deposit in his hands,
the valuable property which he had every right to sell; and he cast his
eyes on the total of the account, which amounted to thirteen hundred

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