THE FISH FEUD
Cardinal Bernis was in his boudoir. Before him lay the list of those persons whom he had invited to his entertainment of the next day, and he saw with proud satisfaction that all had accepted his invitation.
“I shall, then, have a brilliant and stately society to meet this Austrian archduke,” said the well-contented cardinal to himself. “The elite of the nobility, all the cardinals and ambassadors, will make their appearance, and Austria will be compelled to acknowledge that France maintains the best understanding with all the European powers, and that she is not the less respected because the Marquise de Pompadour is in fact King of France.”
“Ah, this good marquise,” continued the cardinal, stretching himself comfortably upon his lounge and taking an open letter from the table, “this good marquise gives me in fact some cause for anxiety. She writes me here that France is in favor of the project of Portugal for the suppression of the order of the Jesuits, and I am so to inform the pope! This is a dangerous thing, marquise, and may possibly burn your tender fingers. The suppression of the Jesuits! Is not that to explode a powder-barrel in the midst of Europe, that may shatter all the states? No, no, it is foolhardiness, and I have not the courage to apply the match to this powder-barrel! I fear it may blow us all into the air.”
And the cardinal began to read anew the letter of Madame de Pompadour which a French courier had brought him a few hours before.
“Ahem, that will be dangerous for the good father!” said he, shaking his head. “Austria also agrees to this magnificent plan of the Portuguese Minister Pombal, and I am inclined to think that this Austrian archduke has come to Rome only for the purpose of bringing to the pope the consent of the Empress Maria Theresa! Ha, ha! how singular! their chaste and virtuous Maria Theresa and our good Pompadour are both agreed in the matter, and in taking this course are both acting against their own will. The women love the Jesuits, these good fathers who furnish them with an excuse for every weakness, and hold a little back door open for every sin. That is very convenient for these good women! Yes, yes, the women—I think I know them.”
And, smiling, the cardinal sank deeper into himself, dreaming of past, of charming times, when he had not yet counted sixty-five years. He dreamed of Venice, and of a beautiful nun he had loved there, and who for him had often left her cloister in the night-time, and, warm and glowing with passion, had come to him. He dreamed of these heavenly hours, where all pleasure and all happiness had been compressed into one blessed intoxication of bliss, where the chaste priestess of the Church had for him changed to a sparkling priestess of joy!
“Yes, that was long ago!” murmured the cardinal, as at length he awoke from his blissful dreams of the past.