"You speak very much at your ease, madame," said Bonacieux, hurt at the little interest his wife showed in him. "Do you know that I was plunged during a day and night in a dungeon of the Bastille?"
"Oh, a day and night soon pass away. Let us return to the object that brings me here."
"What, that which brings you home to me? Is it not the desire of seeing a husband again from whom you have been separated for a week?" asked the mercer, piqued to the quick.
"Yes, that first, and other things afterward."
"It is a thing of the highest interest, and upon which our future fortune perhaps depends."
"The complexion of our fortune has changed very much since I saw you, Madam Bonacieux, and I should not be astonished if in the course of a few months it were to excite the envy of many folks."
"Yes, particularly if you follow the instructions I am about to give you."
"Yes, you. There is good and holy action to be performed, monsieur, and much money to be gained at the same time."
Mme. Bonacieux knew that in talking of money to her husband, she took him on his weak side. But a man, were he even a mercer, when he had talked for ten minutes with Cardinal Richelieu, is no longer the same man.
"Much money to be gained?" said Bonacieux, protruding his lip.
"About how much?"
"A thousand pistoles, perhaps."
"What you demand of me is serious, then?"
"It is indeed."
"What must be done?"
"You must go away immediately. I will give you a paper which you must not part with on any account, and which you will deliver into the proper hands."
"And whither am I to go?"
"I go to London? Go to! You jest! I have no business in London."
"But others wish that you should go there."
"But who are those others? I warn you that I will never again work in the dark, and that I will know not only to what I expose myself, but for whom I expose myself."
"An illustrious person sends you; an illustrious person awaits you. The recompense will exceed your expectations; that is all I promise you."
"More intrigues! Nothing but intrigues! Thank you, madame, I am aware of them now; Monsieur Cardinal has enlightened me on that head."
"The cardinal?" cried Mme. Bonacieux. "Have you seen the cardinal?"
"He sent for me," answered the mercer, proudly.
"And you responded to his bidding, you imprudent man?"
"Well, I can't say I had much choice of going or not going, for I was taken to him between two guards. It is true also, that as I did not then know his Eminence, if I had been able to dispense with the visit, I should have been enchanted."
"He ill-treated you, then; he threatened you?"
"He gave me his hand, and called me his friend. His friend! Do you hear that, madame? I am the friend of the great cardinal!"
"Of the great cardinal!"
"Perhaps you would contest his right to that title, madame?"
"I would contest nothing; but I tell you that the favor of a minister is ephemeral, and that a man must be mad to attach himself to a minister. There are powers above his which do not depend upon a man or the issue of an event; it is to these powers we should rally."
"I am sorry for it, madame, but I acknowledge not her power but that of the great man whom I have the honor to serve."
"You serve the cardinal?"
"Yes, madame; and as his servant, I will not allow you to be concerned in plots against the safety of the state, or to serve the intrigues of a woman who is not French and who has a Spanish heart. Fortunately we have the great cardinal; his vigilant eye watches over and penetrates to the bottom of the heart."
Bonacieux was repeating, word for word, a sentence which he had heard from the Comte de Rochefort; but the poor wife, who had reckoned on her husband, and who, in that hope, had answered for him to the queen, did not tremble the less, both at the danger into which she had nearly cast herself and at the helpless state to which she was reduced. Nevertheless, knowing the weakness of her husband, and more particularly his cupidity, she did not despair of bringing him round to her purpose.
"Ah, you are a cardinalist, then, monsieur, are you?" cried she; "and you serve the party of those who maltreat your wife and insult your queen?"
"Private interests are as nothing before the interests of all. I am for those who save the state," said Bonacieux, emphatically.
"And what do you know about the state you talk of?" said Mme. Bonacieux, shrugging her shoulders. "Be satisfied with being a plain, straightforward citizen, and turn to that side which offers the most advantages."
"Eh, eh!" said Bonacieux, slapping a plump, round bag, which returned a sound a money; "what do you think of this, Madame Preacher?"
"Whence comes that money?"
"You do not guess?"
"From the cardinal?"
"From him, and from my friend the Comte de Rochefort."
"The Comte de Rochefort! Why it was he who carried me off!"
"That may be, madame!"
"And you receive silver from that man?"
"Have you not said that that abduction was entirely political?"
"Yes; but that abduction had for its object the betrayal of my mistress, to draw from me by torture confessions that might compromise the honor, and perhaps the life, of my august mistress."
"Madame," replied Bonacieux, "your august mistress is a perfidious Spaniard, and what the cardinal does is well done."
"Monsieur," said the young woman, "I know you to be cowardly, avaricious, and foolish, but I never till now believed you infamous!"
"Madame," said Bonacieux, who had never seen his wife in a passion, and who recoiled before this conjugal anger, "madame, what do you say?"
"I say you are a miserable creature!" continued Mme. Bonacieux, who saw she was regaining some little influence over her husband. "You meddle with politics, do you — and still more, with cardinalist politics? Why, you sell yourself, body and soul, to the demon, the devil, for money!"
"No, to the cardinal."
"It's the same thing," cried the young woman. "Who calls Richelieu calls Satan."