He rode on. M. Colbert got into his carriage, and this noble trio began a sufficiently slow pilgrimage towards the wood of Vincennes. Madame de Chevreuse set down Madame Vanel at her husband’s house; and left alone with M. Colbert, she chatted upon affairs while continuing her ride. She had an inexhaustible fund of conversation, had that dear duchess, and as she always talked for the ill of others, always with a view to her own good, her conversation amused her interlocutor, and did not fail to make a favorable impression.
She taught Colbert, who, poor man, was ignorant of it, how great a minister he was, and how Fouquet would soon become nothing. She promised to rally around him, when he should become superintendent, all the old nobility of the kingdom, and questioned him as to the degree of importance it would be proper to assign to La Valliere. She praised him; she blamed him; she bewildered him. She showed him the inside of so many secrets that for a moment Colbert feared he must have to do with the devil. She proved to him that she held in her hand the Colbert of to-day, as she had held the Fouquet of yesterday; and as he asked her, very simply, the reason of her hatred for the superintendent, “Why do you yourself hate him?” said she.
“Madame, in politics,” replied he, “the differences of system may bring about divisions between men. M. Fouquet always appeared to me to practise a system opposed to the true interests of the King.”
She interrupted him. “I will say no more to you about M. Fouquet. The journey the King is about to take to Nantes will give a good account of him. M. Fouquet, for me, is a man quite gone by,- and for you also.”
Colbert made no reply. “On his return from Nantes,” continued the duchess, “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 superintendent 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 duchess, which plainly said, “If M. Fouquet be only disgraced, you will not be the cause of it.”
“Your place, M. Colbert,” the duchess hastened to say, “should be very prominent. 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, M. Colbert. That is idle.”
“I had the honor to tell you, Madame-”
“Oh, yes, I know, 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 ruining M. Fouquet? Answer without evasion.”
“Madame, I ruin nobody.”
“I cannot then comprehend why you should purchase of 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 duchess, and 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.”
“It is,” said the old duchess, “because we must choose what we can have when we can’t have what we choose.”
“You have hit it,” said Colbert, unhorsed by that plain speaking.
“You are not able, eh? Speak.”
“I am not able, I allow, to destroy certain influences near the King.”
“Which contend for M. Fouquet? What are they? Stop, let me help you.”
“Oh! very little influence; no knowledge of affairs, and no resources. M. Fouquet has paid 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 for M. Fouquet a weakness very prejudicial to her son.”
“Never believe that,” said the old duchess, smiling.
“Oh!” said Colbert, with incredulity, “I have often experienced it.”
“Very recently, Madame, at Vaux. It was she who prevented the King from having M. Fouquet arrested.”
“People do not always entertain the same opinions, my dear Monsieur. That which the Queen may have wished recently, she would not 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, all my scruples would be removed.”
“Well, have you never heard a certain secret spoken of?”
“Call it what you like. In short, the Queen-Mother has conceived a horror for all those who have participated, in one fashion or another, in the discovery of this secret; and M. Fouquet I believe to be one of these.”
“Then,” said Colbert, “we may be sure of the Queen-Mother’s assent?”
“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 causing to be pursued with the utmost rancor.”
“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 M. d’Herblay shall be sought for, Madame.”
“Oh, it is well known where he is.” Colbert looked at the duchess.
“Say where, Madame.”
“He is at Belle-Isle-en-Mer.”
“At the residence of M. Fouquet?”
“At the residence of M. Fouquet.”
“He shall be taken.”
It was now the duchess’s turn to smile. “Do not fancy that so easy,” said she, “and do not promise it so lightly.”
“Why not, Madame?”
“Because M. d’Herblay is not one of those people who can be taken just when you please.”
“He is a rebel, then?”
“Oh, M. Colbert, we folks 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 duchess one of those fierce looks of which no words can convey the expression, accompanied by a firmness which was not 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,- that is of very little importance to us.”
And this “us,” a strange word in the mouth of Colbert, made the duchess thoughtful for a moment. She caught herself reckoning inwardly with this man. Colbert had regained his superiority in the conversation, and he was desirous of keeping 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 duchess 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 think of him.”
The hatred of the duchess now disclosed itself. “Game for a woman!” said she; “and the Queen is a woman. If she wishes to have M. d’Herblay arrested, she has her reasons for it. Besides, is not M. d’Herblay the friend of him who is destined 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 Bastille, for instance.”
“I believe a secret better concealed behind the walls of the Bastille than behind those of Belle-Isle.”
“I will speak to the King about it; he will clear up the point.”
“And while waiting for that enlightenment M. l’Eveque de Vannes will have escaped. I would do so.”
“Escaped! he! and whither would 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 did 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,- M. 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 M. l’Eveque de Vannes is shut up in Belle-Isle, well, Madame, the place will be besieged, and he will be taken.”
“You may be very certain, Monsieur, that the zeal which you display for the interests of the Queen-Mother will affect her Majesty warmly, and that you will be magnificently rewarded for it; 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, M. Colbert; and we may say, that, dating from this instant, we have formed a solid alliance, you and I, and that I am entirely 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?”
“More than that.”
“A secret ambassador?”
“Stop; King Philip III of Spain is a bigot. He is, perhaps, the confessor of Philip III.”
“You must go higher 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,- of the Duchesse de Chevreuse, in short. “He must then be the General of the Jesuits.”
“I believe you have guessed at last,” replied the duchess.
“Ah, then, Madame, this man will ruin us all if we do not ruin him; and we must make haste to do it too.”
“That was my opinion, Monsieur, but I did not dare to give it to you.”
“And it is fortunate for us that he has attacked the throne, and not us.”
“But mark this well, M. Colbert. M. d’Herblay is never discouraged; and 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 duchess smiled. “Oh, if you knew,” said she, “how many times Aramis has got out of prison!
“Oh!” replied Colbert, “we will take care he shall not get out this time.”
“But you have not attended to what I said to you just now. Do you remember that Aramis was one of the four invincibles whom Richelieu 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. “We will renounce the idea of the prison,” said he, in a lower tone; “we will find a retreat from which the invincible will not possibly escape.”
“That is well spoken, our ally!” replied the duchess. “But it is getting late. Had we not better return?”
“The more willingly, Madame, from having my preparations to make for setting out with the King.”
“To Paris!” cried the duchess to the coachman.
And the carriage returned towards the Faubourg St. Antoine, after the conclusion of the treaty which gave up to death the last friend of Fouquet, the last defender of Belle-Isle, the ancient friend of Marie Michon, the new enemy of the duchess.
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