Part 9 out of 21
drawing up an account, and the much more valuable one of
This stiffness of manner in Colbert had been of great
service to him; it is so true that Fortune, when she has a
caprice, resembles those women of antiquity, who, when they
had a fancy, were disgusted by no physical or moral defects
in either men or things. Colbert, placed with Michel
Letellier, secretary of state in 1648, by his cousin
Colbert, Seigneur de Saint-Penange, who protected him,
received one day from the minister a commission for Cardinal
Mazarin. His eminence was then in the enjoyment of
flourishing health, and the bad years of the Fronde had not
yet counted triple and quadruple for him. He was at Sedan,
very much annoyed at a court intrigue in which Anne of
Austria seemed inclined to desert his cause.
Of this intrigue Letellier held the thread. He had just
received a letter from Anne of Austria, a letter very
valuable to him, and strongly compromising Mazarin; but, as
he already played the double part which served him so well,
and by which he always managed two enemies so as to draw
advantage from both, either by embroiling them more and more
or by reconciling them, Michel Letellier wished to send Anne
of Austria's letter to Mazarin, in order that he might be
acquainted with it, and consequently pleased with his having
so willingly rendered him a service. To send the letter was
an easy matter; to recover it again, after having
communicated it, that was the difficulty. Letellier cast his
eyes around him, and seeing the black and meager clerk with
the scowling brow, scribbling away in his office, he
preferred him to the best gendarme for the execution of this
Colbert was commanded to set out for Sedan, with positive
orders to carry the letter to Mazarin, and bring it back to
Letellier. He listened to his orders with scrupulous
attention, required the instructions to be repeated twice,
and was particular in learning whether the bringing back was
as necessary as the communicating, and Letellier replied
sternly, "More necessary." Then he set out, traveled like a
courier, without any care for his body, and placed in the
hands of Mazarin, first a letter from Letellier, which
announced to the cardinal the sending of the precious
letter, and then that letter itself. Mazarin colored greatly
whilst reading Anne of Austria's letter, gave Colbert a
gracious smile and dismissed him.
"When shall I have the answer, monseigneur?"
The clerk turned upon his heel, after making his very best
bow. The next day he was at his post at seven o'clock.
Mazarin made him wait till ten. He remained patiently in the
ante-chamber; his turn having come, he entered; Mazarin gave
him a sealed packet. On the envelope of this packet were
these words: -- Monsieur Michel Letellier, etc. Colbert
looked at the packet with much attention; the cardinal put
on a pleasant countenance and pushed him towards the door.
"And the letter of the queen-mother, my lord?" asked
"It is with the rest, in the packet," said Mazarin.
"Oh! very well," replied Colbert, and placing his hat
between his knees, he began to unseal the packet.
Mazarin uttered a cry. "What are you doing?" said he,
"I am unsealing the packet, my lord."
"You mistrust me, then, master pedant, do you? Did any one
ever see such impertinence?"
"Oh! my lord, do not be angry with me! It is certainly not
your eminence's word I place in doubt, God forbid!"
"It is the carefulness of your chancery, my lord. What is a
letter? A rag. May not a rag be forgotten? And look, my
lord, look if I was not right. Your clerks have forgotten
the rag; the letter is not in the packet."
"You are an insolent fellow, and you have not looked," cried
Mazarin, very angrily, "begone and wait my pleasure." Whilst
saying these words, with perfectly Italian subtlety he
snatched the packet from the hands of Colbert, and
re-entered his apartments.
But this anger could not last so long as not to be replaced
in time by reason. Mazarin, every morning, on opening his
closet door, found the figure of Colbert like a sentinel
behind the bench, and this disagreeable figure never failed
to ask him humbly, but with tenacity, for the queen-mother's
letter. Mazarin could hold out no longer, and was obliged to
give it up. He accompanied this restitution with a most
severe reprimand, during which Colbert contented himself
with examining, feeling, even smelling, as it were, the
paper, the characters, and the signature, neither more nor
less than if he had to deal with the greatest forger in the
kingdom. Mazarin behaved still more rudely to him, but
Colbert, still impassible, having obtained a certainty that
the letter was the true one, went off as if he had been
deaf. This conduct obtained for him afterwards the post of
Joubert; for Mazarin, instead of bearing malice, admired
him, and was desirous of attaching so much fidelity to
It may be judged by this single anecdote, what the character
of Colbert was. Events, developing themselves, by degrees
allowed all the powers of his mind to act freely. Colbert
was not long in insinuating himself into the good graces of
the cardinal: he became even indispensable to him. The clerk
was acquainted with all his accounts without the cardinal's
ever having spoken to him about them. This secret between
them was a powerful tie, and this was why, when about to
appear before the Master of another world, Mazarin was
desirous of taking good counsel in disposing of the wealth
he was so unwillingly obliged to leave in this world. After
the visit of Guenaud, he therefore sent for Colbert, desired
him to sit down. and said to him: "Let us converse, Monsieur
Colbert, and seriously, for I am very ill, and I may chance
"Man is mortal," replied Colbert.
"I have always remembered that, M. Colbert, and I have
worked with that end in view. You know that I have amassed a
"I know you have, monseigneur."
"At how much do you estimate, as near as you can, the amount
of this wealth, M. Colbert?"
"At forty millions, five hundred and sixty thousand, two
hundred livres, nine cents, eight farthings," replied
The cardinal heaved a deep sigh, and looked at Colbert with
wonder, but he allowed a smile to steal across his lips.
"Known money," added Colbert, in reply to that smile.
The cardinal gave quite a start in bed. "What do you mean by
that?" said he.
"I mean," said Colbert, "that besides those forty millions,
five hundred and sixty thousand, two hundred livres, nine
cents, eight farthings, there are thirteen millions that are
"Ouf!" sighed Mazarin, "what a man!"
At this moment the head of Bernouin appeared through the
embrasure of the door.
"What is it?" asked Mazarin, "and why do you disturb me?"
"The Theatin father, your eminence's director, was sent for
this evening; and he cannot come again to my lord till after
Mazarin looked at Colbert, who rose and took his hat saying:
"I shall come again, my lord."
Mazarin hesitated. "No, no," said he; "I have as much
business to transact with you as with him. Besides, you are
my other confessor -- and what I have to say to one the
other may hear. Remain where you are, Colbert."
"But, my lord, if there be no secret of penitence, will the
director consent to my being here?"
"Do not trouble yourself about that; come into the ruelle."
"I can wait outside, monseigneur."
"No, no, it will do you good to hear the confession of a
Colbert bowed and went into the ruelle.
"Introduce the Theatin father," said Mazarin, closing the
Confession of a Man of Wealth
The Theatin entered deliberately, without being too much
astonished at the noise and agitation which anxiety for the
cardinal's health had raised in his household. "Come in, my
reverend father," said Mazarin, after a last look at the
ruelle, "come in and console me."
"That is my duty, my lord," replied the Theatin.
"Begin by sitting down, and making yourself comfortable, for
I am going to begin with a general confession, you will
afterwards give me a good absolution, and I shall believe
myself more tranquil."
"My lord," said the father, "you are not so ill as to make a
general confession urgent -- and it will be very fatiguing
-- take care."
"You suspect then, that it may be long, father"
"How can I think it otherwise, when a man has lived so
completely as your eminence has done?"
"Ah! that is true! -- yes -- the recital may be long."
"The mercy of God is great," snuffled the Theatin.
"Stop," said Mazarin; "there I begin to terrify myself with
having allowed so many things to pass which the Lord might
"Is not that always so?" said the Theatin naively, removing
further from the lamp his thin pointed face, like that of a
mole. "Sinners are so forgetful beforehand, and scrupulous
when it is too late."
"Sinners?" replied Mazarin. "Do you use that word
ironically, and to reproach me with all the genealogies I
have allowed to be made on my account -- I -- the son of a
fisherman, in fact?"*
*This is quite untranslatable -- it being a play upon the
words pecheur, a sinner, and pecheur, a fisherman. It is in
very bad taste. -- TRANS.
"Hum!" said the Theatin.
"That is a first sin, father; for I have allowed myself made
to descend from two old Roman consuls, S. Geganius Macerinus
1st, Macerinus 2d, and Proculus Macerinus 3d, of whom the
Chronicle of Haolander speaks. From Macerinus to Mazarin the
proximity was tempting. Macerinus, a diminutive, means
leanish, poorish, out of case. Oh! reverend father! Mazarini
may now be carried to the augmentative Maigre, thin as
Lazarus. Look! ' and he showed his fleshless arms.
"In your having been born of a family of fishermen I see
nothing injurious to you; for -- St. Peter was a fisherman;
and if you are a prince of the church, my lord, he was the
supreme head of it. Pass on, if you please."
"So much the more for my having threatened with the Bastile
a certain Bounet, a priest of Avignon, who wanted to publish
a genealogy of the Casa Mazarini much too marvelous."
"To be probable?" replied the Theatin.
"Oh! if I had acted up to his idea, father, that would have
been the vice of pride -- another sin."
"It was excess of wit, and a person is not to be reproached
with such sorts of abuses. Pass on, pass on!"
"I was all pride. Look you, father, I will endeavor to
divide that into capital sins."
"I like divisions, when well made."
"I am glad of that. You must know that in 1630 -- alas! that
is thirty-one years ago ---- "
"You were then twenty-nine years old, monseigneur."
"A hot-headed age. I was then something of a soldier, and I
threw myself at Casal into the arquebuscades, to show that I
rode on horseback as well as an officer. It is true, I
restored peace between the French and the Spaniards. That
redeems my sin a little."
"I see no sin in being able to ride well on horseback," said
the Theatin; "that is in perfect good taste, and does honor
to our gown. As a Christian, I approve of your having
prevented the effusion of blood; as a monk I am proud of the
bravery a monk has exhibited."
Mazarin bowed his head humbly. "Yes," said he, "but the
"Eh! that damned sin of pride has roots without end. From
the time that I threw myself in that manner between two
armies, that I had smelt powder and faced lines of soldiers,
I have held generals a little in contempt."
"Ah!" said the father.
"There is the evil; so that I have not found one endurable
since that time."
"The fact is," said the Theatin, "that the generals we have
had have not been remarkable."
"Oh!" cried Mazarin, "there was Monsieur le Prince. I have
tormented him thoroughly."
"He is not much to be pitied: he has acquired sufficient
glory, and sufficient wealth."
"That may be, for Monsieur le Prince; but M. Beaufort, for
example -- whom I held suffering so long in the dungeon of
"Ah! but he was a rebel, and the safety of the state
required that you should make a sacrifice. Pass on!"
"I believe I have exhausted pride. There is another sin
which I am afraid to qualify."
"I can qualify it myself. Tell it."
"A great sin, reverend father!"
"We shall judge, monseigneur."
"You cannot fail to have heard of certain relations which I
have had -- with her majesty the queen-mother; -- the
malevolent ---- "
"The malevolent, my lord, are fools. Was it not necessary
for the good of the state and the interests of the young
king, that you should live in good intelligence with the
queen? Pass on, pass on!"
"I assure you," said Mazarin, "you remove a terrible weight
from my breast."
"These are all trifles! -- look for something serious."
"I have had much ambition, father."
"That is the march of great minds and things, my lord."
"Even the longing for the tiara?"
"To be pope is to be the first of Christians. Why should you
not desire that?"
"It has been printed that, to gain that object, I had sold
Cambria to the Spaniards."
"You have, perhaps, yourself written pamphlets without
severely persecuting pamphleteers."
"Then, reverend father, I have truly a clean breast. I feel
nothing remaining but slight peccadilloes."
"What are they?"
"That is rather worldly: but you were obliged by the duties
of greatness to keep a good house."
"I like to win."
"No player plays to lose."
"I cheated a little."
"You took your advantage. Pass on."
"Well! reverend father, I feel nothing else upon my
conscience. Give me absolution, and my soul will be able,
when God shall please to call it, to mount without obstacle
to the throne ---- "
The Theatin moved neither his arms nor his lips. "What are
you waiting for, father?" said Mazarin.
"I am waiting for the end."
"The end of what?"
"Of the confession, monsieur."
"But I have ended."
"Oh, no; your eminence is mistaken."
"Not that I know of."
"I have searched as well as possible."
"Then I shall assist your memory."
The Theatin coughed several times. "You have said nothing of
avarice, another capital sin, nor of those millions," said
"What millions, father?"
"Why, those you possess, my lord."
"Father, that money is mine, why should I speak to you about
"Because, see you, our opinions differ. You say that money
is yours, whilst I -- I believe it is rather the property of
Mazarin lifted his cold hand to his brow, which was beaded
with perspiration. "How so?" stammered he.
"This way. Your excellency has gained much wealth -- in the
service of the king."
"Hum! much -- that is, not too much."
"Whatever it may be, whence came that wealth?
"From the state."
"The state, that is the king."
"But what do you conclude from that, father?" said Mazarin,
who began to tremble.
"I cannot conclude without seeing a list of the riches you
possess. Let us reckon a little, if you please. You have the
bishopric of Metz?"
"The abbeys of St. Clement, St. Arnould, and St. Vincent,
all at Metz?"
"You have the abbey of St. Denis, in France, a magnificent
"You have the abbey of Cluny, which is rich?"
"That of St. Medard at Soissons, with a revenue of one
hundred thousand livres?"
"I cannot deny it."
"That of St. Victor, at Marseilles, -- one of the best in
"A good million a year. With the emoluments of the
cardinalship and the ministry, I say too little when I say
two millions a year."
"In ten years that is twenty millions, -- and twenty
millions put out at fifty per cent give, by progression,
twenty-three millions in ten years."
"How well you reckon for a Theatin!"
"Since your eminence placed our order in the convent we
occupy, near St. Germain des Pres, in 1641, I have kept the
accounts of the society."
"And mine likewise, apparently, father."
"One ought to know a little of everything, my lord."
"Very well. Conclude, at present."
"I conclude that your baggage is too heavy to allow you to
pass through the gates of Paradise."
"Shall I be damned?"
"If you do not make restitution, yes."
Mazarin uttered a piteous cry. "Restitution! -- but to whom,
"To the owner of that money, -- to the king."
"But the king did not give it all to me."
"One moment, -- does not the king sign the ordonnances?"
Mazarin passed from sighs to groans. "Absolution!
absolution!" cried he.
"Impossible, my lord. Restitution! restitution!" replied the
"But you absolve me from all other sins, why not from that?"
"Because," replied the father, "to absolve you for that
motive would be a sin for which the king would never absolve
me, my lord."
Thereupon the confessor quitted his penitent with an air
full of compunction. He then went out in the same manner he
"Oh, good God!" groaned the cardinal. "Come here, Colbert, I
am very, very ill indeed, my friend."
Colbert reappeared beneath the curtains.
"Have you heard?" said Mazarin.
"Alas! yes, my lord."
"Can he be right? Can all this money be badly acquired?"
"A Theatin, monseigneur, is a bad judge in matters of
finance," replied Colbert, coolly. "And yet it is very
possible that, according to his theological ideas, your
eminence has been, in a certain degree, in the wrong. People
generally find they have been so, -- when they die."
"In the first place, they commit the wrong of dying,
"That is true, my lord. Against whom, however, did the
Theatin make out that you had committed these wrongs?
Against the king?!"
Mazarin shrugged his shoulders. "As if I had not saved both
his state and his finances."
"That admits of no contradiction, my lord."
"Does it? Then I have received a merely legitimate salary,
in spite of the opinion of my confessor?"
"That is beyond doubt."
"And I might fairly keep for my own family, which is so
needy, a good fortune, -- the whole, even, of which I have
"I see no impediment to that, monseigneur."
"I felt assured that in consulting you, Colbert, I should
have good advice," replied Mazarin, greatly delighted.
Colbert resumed his pedantic look. "My lord," interrupted
he, "I think it would be quite as well to examine whether
what the Theatin said is not a snare."
"Oh! no; a snare? What for? The Theatin is an honest man."
"He believed your eminence to be at death's door, because
your eminence consulted him. Did not I hear him say --
`Distinguish that which the king has given you from that
which you have given yourself.' Recollect, my lord, if he
did not say something a little like that to you? -- that is
quite a theatrical speech."
"That is possible."
"In which case, my lord, I should consider you as required
by the Theatin to ---- "
"To make restitution!" cried Mazarin, with great warmth.
"Eh! I do not say no."
"What, of all! You do not dream of such a thing! You speak
just as the confessor did."
"To make restitution of a part, -- that is to say, his
majesty's part; and that, monseigneur, may have its dangers.
Your eminence is too skillful a politician not to know that,
at this moment, the king does not possess a hundred and
fifty thousand livres clear in his coffers."
"That is not my affair," said Mazarin, triumphantly; "that
belongs to M. le Surintendant Fouquet, whose accounts I gave
you to verify some months ago."
Colbert bit his lips at the name of Fouquet. "His majesty,"
said he, between his teeth, "has no money but that which M.
Fouquet collects: your money, monseigneur, would afford him
a delicious banquet."
"Well, but I am not the superintendent of his majesty's
finances -- I have my purse -- surely I would do much for
his majesty's welfare -- some legacy -- but I cannot
disappoint my family."
"The legacy of a part would dishonor you and offend the
king. Leaving a part to his majesty is to avow that that
part has inspired you with doubts as to the lawfulness of
the means of acquisition."
"I thought your eminence did me the honor to ask my advice?"
"Yes, but you are ignorant of the principal details of the
"I am ignorant of nothing, my lord; during ten years, all
the columns of figures which are found in France have passed
in review before me, and if I have painfully nailed them
into my brain, they are there now so well riveted, that,
from the office of M. Letellier, who is sober, to the little
secret largesses of M. Fouquet, who is prodigal, I could
recite, figure by figure, all the money that is spent in
France from Marseilles to Cherbourg."
"Then, you would have me throw all my money into the coffers
of the king!" cried Mazarin, ironically; and from whom, at
the same time, the gout forced painful moans. "Surely the
king would reproach me with nothing, but he would laugh at
me, while squandering my millions, and with good reason."
"Your eminence has misunderstood me. I did not, the least in
the world, pretend that his majesty ought to spend your
"You said so clearly, it seems to me, when you advised me to
give it to him."
"Ah," replied Colbert, "that is because your eminence,
absorbed as you are by your disease, entirely loses sight of
the character of Louis XIV."
"That character, if I may venture to express myself thus,
resembles that which my lord confessed just now to the
"Go on -- that is?"
"Pride! Pardon me, my lord, haughtiness, nobleness; kings
have no pride, that is a human passion."
"Pride, -- yes, you are right. Next?"
"Well, my lord, if I have divined rightly, your eminence has
but to give all your money to the king, and that
"But for what?" said Mazarin, quite bewildered.
"Because the king will not accept of the whole."
"What, and he a young man, and devoured by ambition?"
"A young man who is anxious for my death ---- "
"To inherit, yes, Colbert, yes; he is anxious for my death
in order to inherit. Triple fool that I am! I would prevent
"Exactly: if the donation were made in a certain form he
would refuse it."
"Well, but how?"
"That is plain enough. A young man who has yet done nothing
-- who burns to distinguish himself -- who burns to reign
alone, will never take anything ready built, he will
construct for himself. This prince, monseigneur, will never
be content with the Palais Royal, which M. de Richelieu left
him, nor with the Palais Mazarin, which you have had so
superbly constructed, nor with the Louvre, which his
ancestors inhabited; nor with St. Germain, where he was
born. All that does not proceed from himself, I predict, he
"And you will guarantee, that if I give my forty millions to
the king ---- "
"Saying certain things to him at the same time, I guarantee
he will refuse them."
"But those things -- what are they?"
"I will write them, if my lord will have the goodness to
"Well, but, after all, what advantage will that be to me?"
"An enormous one. Nobody will afterwards be able to accuse
your eminence of that unjust avarice with which pamphleteers
have reproached the most brilliant mind of the present age."
"You are right, Colbert, you are right; go, and seek the
king, on my part, and take him my will."
"Your donation, my lord."
"But, if he should accept it; if he should even think of
"Then there would remain thirteen millions for your family,
and that is a good round sum."
"But then you would be either a fool or a traitor."
"And I am neither the one nor the other, my lord. You appear
to be much afraid that the king will accept; you have a deal
more reason to fear that he will not accept."
"But, see you, if he does not accept, I should like to
guarantee my thirteen reserved millions to him -- yes, I
will do so -- yes. But my pains are returning, I shall
faint. I am very, very ill, Colbert; I am very near my end!"
Colbert started. The cardinal was indeed very ill; large
drops of sweat flowed down upon his bed of agony, and the
frightful pallor of a face streaming with water was a
spectacle which the most hardened practitioner could not
have beheld without compassion. Colbert was, without doubt,
very much affected, for he quitted the chamber, calling
Bernouin to attend the dying man and went into the corridor.
There, walking about with a meditative expression, which
almost gave nobility to his vulgar head, his shoulders
thrown up, his neck stretched out, his lips half open, to
give vent to unconnected fragments of incoherent thoughts,
he lashed up his courage to the pitch of the undertaking
contemplated, whilst within ten paces of him, separated only
by a wall, his master was being stifled by anguish which
drew from him lamentable cries, thinking no more of the
treasures of the earth, or of the joys of Paradise, but much
of all the horrors of hell. Whilst burning-hot napkins,
physic, revulsives, and Guenaud, who was recalled, were
performing their functions with increased activity, Colbert,
holding his great head in both his hands, to compress within
it the fever of the projects engendered by the brain, was
meditating the tenor of the donation he would make Mazarin
write, at the first hour of respite his disease should
afford him. It would appear as if all the cries of the
cardinal, and all the attacks of death upon this
representative of the past, were stimulants for the genius
of this thinker with the bushy eyebrows, who was turning
already towards the rising sun of a regenerated society.
Colbert resumed his place at Mazarin's pillow at the first
interval of pain, and persuaded him to dictate a donation
"About to appear before God, the Master of mankind, I beg
the king, who was my master on earth, to resume the wealth
which his bounty has bestowed upon me, and which my family
would be happy to see pass into such illustrious hands. The
particulars of my property will be found -- they are drawn
up -- at the first requisition of his majesty, or at the
last sigh of his most devoted servant,
Jules, Cardinal de Mazarin."
The cardinal sighed heavily as he signed this; Colbert
sealed the packet, and carried it immediately to the Louvre,
whither the king had returned.
He then went back to his own home, rubbing his hands with
the confidence of a workman who has done a good day's work.
How Anne of Austria gave one Piece of Advice
to Louis XIV., and how M. Fouquet gave him another
The news of the extreme illness of the cardinal had already
spread, and attracted at least as much attention among the
people of the Louvre as the news of the marriage of
Monsieur, the king's brother, which had already been
announced as an official fact. Scarcely had Louis XIV.
returned home, with his thoughts fully occupied with the
various things he had seen and heard in the course of the
evening, when an usher announced that the same crowd of
courtiers who, in the morning, had thronged his lever,
presented themselves again at his coucher, a remarkable
piece of respect which, during the reign of the cardinal,
the court, not very discreet in its preferences, had
accorded to the minister, without caring about displeasing
But the minister had had, as we have said, an alarming
attack of gout, and the tide of flattery was mounting
towards the throne. Courtiers have a marvelous instinct in
scenting the turn of events; courtiers possess a supreme
kind of science; they are diplomatists in throwing light
upon the unraveling of complicated intrigues, captains in
divining the issue of battles, and physicians in curing the
sick. Louis XIV., to whom his mother had taught this axiom,
together with many others, understood at once that the
cardinal must be very ill.
Scarcely had Anne of Austria conducted the young queen to
her apartments and taken from her brow the head-dress of
ceremony, when she went to see her son in his cabinet,
where, alone, melancholy and depressed, he was indulging, as
if to exercise his will, in one of those terrible inward
passions -- king's passions -- which create events when they
break out, and with Louis XIV., thanks to his astonishing
command over himself, became such benign tempests, that his
most violent, his only passion, that which Saint Simon
mentions with astonishment, was that famous fit of anger
which he exhibited fifty years later, on the occasion of a
little concealment of the Duc de Maine's. and which had for
result a shower of blows inflicted with a cane upon the back
of a poor valet who had stolen a biscuit. The young king
then was, as we have seen, a prey to a double excitement;
and he said to himself as he looked in a glass, "O king! --
king by name, and not in fact; -- phantom, vain phantom art
thou! -- inert statue, which has no other power than that of
provoking salutations from courtiers, when wilt thou be able
to raise thy velvet arm, or clench thy silken hand? when
wilt thou be able to open, for any purpose but to sigh, or
smile, lips condemned to the motionless stupidity of the
marbles in thy gallery?"
Then, passing his hand over his brow, and feeling the want
of air, he approached a window, and looking down, saw below
some horsemen talking together, and groups of timid
observers. These horsemen were a fraction of the watch: the
groups were busy portions of the people, to whom a king is
always a curious thing, the same as a rhinoceros, a
crocodile, or a serpent. He struck his brow with his open
hand, crying, -- "King of France! what title! People of
France! what a heap of creatures! I have just returned to my
Louvre; my horses, just unharnessed, are still smoking, and
I have created interest enough to induce scarcely twenty
persons to look at me as I passed. Twenty! what do I say?
no; there were not twenty anxious to see the king of France.
There are not even ten archers to guard my place of
residence: archers, people, guards, all are at the Palais
Royal! Why, my good God! have not I, the king, the right to
ask of you all that?"
"Because," said a voice, replying to his, and which sounded
from the other side of the door of the cabinet, "because at
the Palais Royal lies all the gold, -- that is to say, all
the power of him who desires to reign."
Louis turned sharply round. The voice which had pronounced
these words was that of Anne of Austria. The king started,
and advanced towards her. "I hope," said he, "your majesty
has paid no attention to the vain declamations which the
solitude and disgust familiar to kings suggest to the
"I only paid attention to one thing, my son, and that was,
that you were complaining."
"Who! I? Not at all," said Louis XIV.; "no, in truth, you
"What were you doing, then?"
"I thought I was under the ferule of my professor, and
developing a subject of amplification."
"My son," replied Anne of Austria, shaking her head, "you
are wrong not to trust my word; you are wrong not to grant
me your confidence. A day will come, and perhaps quickly,
wherein you will have occasion to remember that axiom: --
`Gold is universal power; and they alone are kings who are
"Your intention," continued the king, "was not, however, to
cast blame upon the rich men of this age, was it?
"No," said the queen, warmly; "no, sire; they who are rich
in this age, under your reign, are rich because you have
been willing they should be so, and I entertain against them
neither malice nor envy; they have, without doubt, served
your majesty sufficiently well for your majesty to have
permitted them to reward themselves. That is what I mean to
say by the words for which you reproach me."
"God forbid, madame, that I should ever reproach my mother
"Besides," continued Anne of Austria, "the Lord never gives
the goods of this world but for a season; the Lord -- as
correctives to honor and riches -- the Lord has placed
sufferings, sickness, and death; and no one," added she,
with a melancholy smile, which proved she made the
application of the funeral precept to herself, "no man can
take his wealth or greatness with him to the grave. It
results, therefore, that the young gather the abundant
harvest prepared for them by the old."
Louis listened with increased attention to the words which
Anne of Austria, no doubt, pronounced with a view to console
him. "Madame," said he, looking earnestly at his mother,
"one would almost say in truth that you had something else
to announce to me."
"I have absolutely nothing, my son; only you cannot have
failed to remark that his eminence the cardinal is very
Louis looked at his mother, expecting some emotion in her
voice, some sorrow in her countenance. The face of Anne of
Austria appeared a little changed, but that was from
sufferings of quite a personal character. Perhaps the
alteration was caused by the cancer which had begun to
consume her breast. "Yes, madame," said the king; "yes, M.
de Mazarin is very ill."
"And it would be a great loss to the kingdom if God were to
summon his eminence away. Is not that your opinion as well
as mine, my son?" said the queen.
"Yes, madame; yes, certainly, it would be a great loss for
the kingdom," said Louis, coloring; "but the peril does not
seem to me to be so great; besides, the cardinal is still
young." The king had scarcely ceased speaking when an usher
lifted the tapestry, and stood with a paper in his hand,
waiting for the king to speak to him.
"What have you there?" asked the king.
"A message from M. de Mazarin," replied the usher.
"Give it to me," said the king; and he took the paper. But
at the moment he was about to open it, there was a great
noise in the gallery, the ante-chamber, and the court.
"Ah, ah," said Louis XIV., who doubtless knew the meaning of
that triple noise. "How could I say there was but one king
in France! I was mistaken, there are two."
As he spoke or thought thus, the door opened, and the
superintendent of the finances, Fouquet, appeared before his
nominal master. It was he who made the noise in the
ante-chamber, it was his horses that made the noise in the
courtyard. In addition to all this, a loud murmur was heard
along his passage, which did not die away till some time
after he had passed. It was this murmur which Louis XIV.
regretted so deeply not hearing as he passed, and dying away
"He is not precisely a king, as you fancy," said Anne of
Austria to her son; "he is only a man who is much too rich
-- that is all."
Whilst saying these words, a bitter feeling gave to these
words of the queen a most hateful expression; whereas the
brow of the king, calm and self-possessed, on the contrary,
was without the slightest wrinkle. He nodded, therefore,
familiarly to Fouquet, whilst he continued to unfold the
paper given to him by the usher. Fouquet perceived this
movement, and with a politeness at once easy and respectful,
advanced towards the queen, so as not to disturb the king.
Louis had opened the paper, and yet he did not read it. He
listened to Fouquet paying the most charming compliments to
the queen upon her hand and arm. Anne of Austria's frown
relaxed a little, she even almost smiled. Fouquet perceived
that the king, instead of reading, was looking at him; he
turned half round, therefore, and while continuing his
conversation with the queen, faced the king.
"You know, Monsieur Fouquet," said Louis, "how ill M.
"Yes, sire, I know that," said Fouquet; "in fact, he is very
ill. I was at my country-house of Vaux when the news reached
me; and the affair seemed so pressing that I left at once."
"You left Vaux this evening, monsieur?"
"An hour and a half ago, yes, your majesty," said Fouquet,
consulting a watch, richly ornamented with diamonds.
"An hour and a half!" said the king, still able to restrain
his anger, but not to conceal his astonishment.
"I understand you, sire. Your majesty doubts my word, and
you have reason to do so, but I have really come in that
time, though it is wonderful! I received from England three
pairs of very fast horses, as I had been assured. They were
placed at distances of four leagues apart, and I tried them
this evening. They really brought me from Vaux to the Louvre
in an hour and a half, so your majesty sees I have not been
cheated." The queen-mother smiled with something like secret
envy. But Fouquet caught her thought. "Thus, madame," he
promptly said, "such horses are made for kings, not for
subjects; for kings ought never to yield to any one in
The king looked up.
"And yet," interrupted Anne of Austria, "you are not a king,
that I know of, M. Fouquet."
"Truly not, madame; therefore the horses only await the
orders of his majesty to enter the royal stables; and if I
allowed myself to try them, it was only for fear of offering
to the king anything that was not positively wonderful."
The king became quite red.
"You know, Monsieur Fouquet," said the queen, "that at the
court of France it is not the custom for a subject to offer
anything to his king."
"I hoped, madame," said Fouquet, much agitated, "that my
love for his majesty, my incessant desire to please him,
would serve to compensate the want of etiquette. It was not
so much a present that I permitted myself to offer, as the
tribute I paid."
"Thank you, Monsieur Fouquet," said the king politely, "and
I am gratified by your intention, for I love good horses;
but you know I am not very rich; you, who are my
superintendent of finances, know it better than any one
else. I am not able, then, however willing I may be, to
purchase such a valuable set of horses."
Fouquet darted a haughty glance at the queen-mother, who
appeared to triumph at the false position in which the
minister had placed himself, and replied: --
"Luxury is the virtue of kings, sire: it is luxury which
makes them resemble God: it is by luxury they are more than
other men. With luxury a king nourishes his subjects, and
honors them. Under the mild heat of this luxury of kings
springs the luxury of individuals, a source of riches for
the people. His majesty, by accepting the gift of these six
incomparable horses, would stimulate the pride of his own
breeders, of Limousin, Perche, and Normandy, and this
emulation would have been beneficial to all. But the king is
silent, and consequently I am condemned."
During this speech, Louis was, unconsciously, folding and
unfolding Mazarin's paper, upon which he had not cast his
eyes. At length he glanced upon it, and uttered a faint cry
at reading the first line.
"What is the matter, my son?" asked the queen, anxiously,
and going towards the king.
"From the cardinal," replied the king, continuing to read;
"yes, yes, it is really from him."
"Is he worse, then?"
"Read!" said the king, passing the parchment to his mother,
as if he thought that nothing less than reading would
convince Anne of Austria of a thing so astonishing as was
conveyed in that paper.
Anne of Austria read in turn, and as she read, her eyes
sparkled with a joy all the greater from her useless
endeavor to hide it, which attracted the attention of
"Oh! a regularly drawn up deed of gift," said she.
"A gift?" repeated Fouquet.
"Yes," said the king, replying pointedly to the
superintendent of finances, "yes, at the point of death,
monsieur le cardinal makes me a donation of all his wealth."
"Forty millions," cried the queen. "Oh, my son! this is very
noble on the part of his eminence, and will silence all
malicious rumors; forty millions scraped together slowly,
coming back all in one heap to the treasury! It is the act
of a faithful subject and a good Christian." And having once
more cast her eyes over the act, she restored it to Louis
XIV., whom the announcement of the sum greatly agitated.
Fouquet had taken some steps backwards and remained silent.
The king looked at him, and held the paper out to him, in
turn. The superintendent only bestowed a haughty look of a
second upon it; then bowing, -- "Yes, sire," said he, "a
donation, I see."
"You must reply to it, my son," said Anne of Austria; "you
must reply to it, and immediately."
"But how, madame?"
"By a visit to the cardinal."
"Why, it is but an hour since I left his eminence," said the
"Write, then, sire."
"Write!" said the young king, with evident repugnance.
"Well!" replied Anne of Austria, "it seems to me, my son,
that a man who has just made such a present has a good right
to expect to be thanked for it with some degree of
promptitude." Then turning towards Fouquet: "Is not that
likewise your opinion, monsieur?"
"That the present is worth the trouble? Yes madame," said
Fouquet, with a lofty air that did not escape the king.
"Accept, then, and thank him," insisted Anne of Austria.
"What says M. Fouquet?" asked Louis XIV.
"Does your majesty wish to know my opinion?"
"Thank him, sire ---- "
"Ah!" said the queen.
"But do not accept," continued Fouquet.
"And why not?" asked the queen.
"You have yourself said why, madame," replied Fouquet;
"because kings cannot and ought not to receive presents from
The king remained silent between these two contrary
"But forty millions!" said Anne of Austria, in the same tone
as that in which, at a later period, poor Marie Antoinette
replied, "You will tell me as much!"
"I know," said Fouquet, laughing, "forty millions makes a
good round sum, -- such a sum as could almost tempt a royal
"But monsieur," said Anne of Austria, "instead of persuading
the king not to receive this present, recall to his
majesty's mind, you, whose duty it is, that these forty
millions are a fortune to him."
"It is precisely, madame, because these forty millions would
be a fortune that I will say to the king, `Sire, if it be
not decent for a king to accept from a subject six horses,
worth twenty thousand livres, it would be disgraceful for
him to owe a fortune to another subject, more or less
scrupulous in the choice of the materials which contributed
to the building up of that fortune.'"
"It ill becomes you, monsieur, to give your king a lesson,"
said Anne of Austria; "better procure for him forty millions
to replace those you make him lose."
"The king shall have them whenever he wishes," said the
superintendent of finances, bowing.
"Yes, by oppressing the people," said the queen.
"And were they not oppressed, madame," replied Fouquet,
"when they were made to sweat the forty millions given by
this deed? Furthermore, his majesty has asked my opinion, I
have given it; if his majesty ask my concurrence, it will be
"Nonsense! accept, my son, accept," said Anne of Austria.
"You are above reports and interpretations."
"Refuse, sire," said Fouquet. "As long as a king lives, he
has no other measure but his conscience, -- no other judge
than his own desires; but when dead, he has posterity, which
applauds or accuses."
"Thank you, mother," replied Louis, bowing respectfully to
the queen. "Thank you, Monsieur Fouquet," said he,
dismissing the superintendent civilly.
"Do you accept?" asked Anne of Austria, once more.
"I shall consider of it," replied he, looking at Fouquet.
The day that the deed of gift had been sent to the king, the
cardinal caused himself to be transported to Vincennes. The
king and the court followed him thither. The last flashes of
this torch still cast splendor enough around to absorb all
other lights in its rays. Besides, as it has been seen, the
faithful satellite of his minister, young Louis XIV.,
marched to the last minute in accordance with his
gravitation. The disease, as Guenaud had predicted, had
become worse; it was no longer an attack of gout, it was an
attack of death; then there was another thing which made
that agony more agonizing still, -- and that was the
agitation brought into his mind by the donation he had sent
to the king, and which, according to Colbert, the king ought
to send back unaccepted to the cardinal. The cardinal had,
as we have said, great faith in the predictions of his
secretary; but the sum was a large one, and whatever might
be the genius of Colbert, from time to time the cardinal
thought to himself that the Theatin also might possibly have
been mistaken, and that there was at least as much chance of
his not being damned, as there was of Louis XIV. sending
back his millions.
Besides, the longer the donation was in coming back, the
more Mazarin thought that forty millions were worth a little
risk, particularly of so hypothetic a thing as the soul.
Mazarin, in his character of cardinal and prime minister,
was almost an atheist, and quite a materialist. Every time
that the door opened, he turned sharply round towards that
door, expecting to see the return of his unfortunate
donation; then, deceived in his hope, he fell back again
with a sigh, and found his pains so much the greater for
having forgotten them for an instant.
Anne of Austria had also followed the cardinal; her heart,
though age had made it selfish, could not help evincing
towards the dying man a sorrow which she owed him as a wife,
according to some; and as a sovereign, according to others.
She had, in some sort, put on a mourning countenance
beforehand, and all the court wore it as she did.
Louis, in order not to show on his face what was passing at
the bottom of his heart, persisted in remaining in his own
apartments, where his nurse alone kept him company; the more
he saw the approach of the time when all constraint would be
at an end, the more humble and patient he was, falling back
upon himself, as all strong men do when they form great
designs, in order to gain more spring at the decisive
moment. Extreme unction had been administered to the
cardinal, who, faithful to his habits of dissimulation,
struggled against appearances, and even against reality,
receiving company in his bed, as if he only suffered from a
Guenaud, on his part, preserved profound secrecy; wearied
with visits and questions, he answered nothing but "his
eminence is still full of youth and strength, but God wills
that which He wills, and when He has decided that man is to
be laid low, he will be laid low." These words, which he
scattered with a sort of discretion, reserve, and
preference, were commented upon earnestly by two persons, --
the king and the cardinal. Mazarin, notwithstanding the
prophecy of Guenaud, still lured himself with a hope, or
rather played his part so well, that the most cunning, when
saying that he lured himself, proved that they were his
Louis, absent from the cardinal for two days; Louis with his
eyes fixed upon that same donation which so constantly
preoccupied the cardinal; Louis did not exactly know how to
make out Mazarin's conduct. The son of Louis XIII.,
following the paternal traditions, had, up to that time,
been so little of a king that, whilst ardently desiring
royalty, he desired it with that terror which always
accompanies the unknown. Thus, having formed his resolution,
which, besides, he communicated to nobody, he determined to
have an interview with Mazarin. It was Anne of Austria, who,
constant in her attendance upon the cardinal, first heard
this proposition of the king's, and transmitted it to the
dying man, whom it greatly agitated. For what purpose could
Louis wish for an interview? Was it to return the deed, as
Colbert had said he would? Was it to keep it, after thanking
him, as Mazarin thought he would? Nevertheless, as the dying
man felt that the uncertainty increased his torments, he did
not hesitate an instant.
"His majesty will be welcome, -- yes, very welcome," cried
he, making a sign to Colbert, who was seated at the foot of
the bed, and which the latter understood perfectly.
"Madame," continued Mazarin, "will your majesty be good
enough to assure the king yourself of the truth of what I
have just said?"
Anne of Austria rose; she herself was anxious to have the
question of the forty millions settled -- the question which
seemed to lie heavy on the mind of every one. Anne of
Austria went out; Mazarin made a great effort, and, raising
himself up towards Colbert: "Well, Colbert," said he, "two
days have passed away -- two mortal days -- and, you see,
nothing has been returned from yonder."
"Patience, my lord," said Colbert.
"Are you mad, you wretch? You advise me to have patience!
Oh, in sad truth, Colbert, you are laughing at me. I am
dying, and you call out to me to wait!"
"My lord," said Colbert, with his habitual coolness, "it is
impossible that things should not come out as I have said.
His majesty is coming to see you, and no doubt he brings
back the deed himself."
"Do you think so? Well, I, on the contrary, am sure that his
majesty is coming to thank me."
At this moment Anne of Austria returned. On her way to the
apartments of her son she had met with a new empiric. This
was a powder which was said to have power to save the
cardinal; and she brought a portion of this powder with her.
But this was not what Mazarin expected; therefore he would
not even look at it, declaring that life was not worth the
pains that were taken to preserve it. But, whilst professing
this philosophical axiom, his long-confined secret escaped
him at last.
"That, madame," said he, "that is not the interesting part
of my situation. I made, two days ago, a little donation to
the king; up to this time, from delicacy, no doubt, his
majesty has not condescended to say anything about it; but
the time for explanation is come, and I implore your majesty
to tell me if the king has made up his mind on that matter."
Anne of Austria was about to reply, when Mazarin stopped
"The truth, madame," said he -- "in the name of Heaven, the
truth! Do not flatter a dying man with a hope that may prove
vain." There he stopped, a look from Colbert telling him
that he was on a wrong tack.
"I know," said Anne of Austria, taking the cardinal's hand,
"I know that you have generously made, not a little
donation, as you modestly call it, but a magnificent gift. I
know how painful it would be to you if the king ---- "
Mazarin listened, dying as he was, as ten living men could
not have listened.
"If the king ---- " replied he.
"If the king," continued Anne of Austria, "should not freely
accept what you offer so nobly."
Mazarin allowed himself to sink back upon his pillow like
Pantaloon; that is to say, with all the despair of a man who
bows before the tempest; but he still preserved sufficient
strength and presence of mind to cast upon Colbert one of
those looks which are well worth ten sonnets, which is to
say, ten long poems.
"Should you not," added the queen, "have considered the
refusal of the king as a sort of insult?" Mazarin rolled his
head about upon his pillow, without articulating a syllable.
The queen was deceived, or feigned to be deceived, by this
"Therefore," resumed she, "I have circumvented him with good
counsels; and as certain minds, jealous, no doubt, of the
glory you are about to acquire by this generosity, have
endeavored to prove to the king that he ought not to accept
this donation, I have struggled in your favor, and so well
have I struggled, that you will not have, I hope, that
distress to undergo."
"Ah!" murmured Mazarin, with languishing eyes, "ah! that is
a service I shall never forget for a single minute of the
few hours I still have to live."
"I must admit," continued the queen, "that it was not
without trouble I rendered it to your eminence."
"Ah, peste! I believe that. Oh! oh!"
"Good God! what is the matter?"
"I am burning!"
"Do you suffer much?"
"As much as one of the damned."
Colbert would have liked to sink through the floor.
"So, then," resumed Mazarin, "your majesty thinks that the
king ---- "he stopped several seconds -- "that the king is
coming here to offer me some small thanks?"
"I think so," said the queen. Mazarin annihilated Colbert
with his last look.
At that moment the ushers announced that the king was in the
ante-chambers, which were filled with people. This
announcement produced a stir of which Colbert took advantage
to escape by the door of the ruelle. Anne of Austria arose,
and awaited her son, standing. Louis IV. appeared at the
threshold of the door, with his eyes fixed upon the dying
man, who did not even think it worth while to notice that
majesty from whom he thought he had nothing more to expect.
An usher placed an armchair close to the bed. Louis bowed to
his mother, then to the cardinal, and sat down. The queen
took a seat in her turn.
Then, as the king looked behind him, the usher understood
that look and made a sign to the courtiers who filled up the
doorway to go out, which they instantly did. Silence fell
upon the chamber with the velvet curtains. The king, still
very young, and very timid in the presence of him who had
been his master from his birth, still respected him much,
particularly now, in the supreme majesty of death. He did
not dare, therefore, to begin the conversation, feeling that
every word must have its weight not only upon things of this
world, but of the next. As to the cardinal, at that moment
he had but one thought -- his donation. It was not physical
pain which gave him that air of despondency, and that
lugubrious look; it was the expectation of the thanks that
were about to issue from the king's mouth, and cut off all
hope of restitution. Mazarin was the first to break the
silence. "Is your majesty come to make any stay at
Vincennes?" said he.
Louis made an affirmative sign with his head.
"That is a gracious favor," continued Mazarin, "granted to a
dying man, and which will render death less painful to him."
"I hope," replied the king, "I am come to visit, not a dying
man, but a sick man, susceptible of cure."
Mazarin replied by a movement of the head.
"Your majesty is very kind; but I know more than you on that
subject. The last visit, sire," said he, "the last visit."
"If it were so, monsieur le cardinal," said Louis, "I would
come a last time to ask the counsels of a guide to whom I
Anne of Austria was a woman; she could not restrain her
tears. Louis showed himself much affected, and Mazarin still
more than his two guests, but from very different motives.
Here the silence returned. The queen wiped her eyes, and the
king resumed his firmness.
"I was saying," continued the king, "that I owed much to
your eminence." The eyes of the cardinal devoured the king,
for he felt the great moment had come. "And," continued
Louis, "the principal object of my visit was to offer you
very sincere thanks for the last evidence of friendship you
have kindly sent me."
The cheeks of the cardinal became sunken, his lips partially
opened, and the most lamentable sigh he had ever uttered was
about to issue from his chest.
"Sire," said he, "I shall have despoiled my poor family; I
shall have ruined all who belong to me, which may be imputed
to me as an error; but, at least, it shall not be said of me
that I have refused to sacrifice everything to my king."
Anne of Austria's tears flowed afresh.
"My dear Monsieur Mazarin," said the king, in a more serious
tone than might have been expected from his youth, "you have
misunderstood me, apparently."
Mazarin raised himself upon his elbow.
"I have no purpose to despoil your dear family, nor to ruin
your servants. Oh, no, that must never be!"
"Humph!" thought Mazarin, "he is going to restore me some
scraps; let us get the largest piece we can."
"The king is going to be foolishly affected and play the
generous," thought the queen; "he must not be allowed to
impoverish himself; such an opportunity for getting a
fortune will never occur again."
"Sire," said the cardinal, aloud, "my family is very
numerous, and my nieces will be destitute when I am gone."
"Oh," interrupted the queen, eagerly, "have no uneasiness
with respect to your family, dear Monsieur Mazarin; we have
no friends dearer than your friends; your nieces shall be my
children, the sisters of his majesty; and if a favor be
distributed in France, it shall be to those you love."
"Smoke!" thought Mazarin, who knew better than any one the
faith that can be put in the promises of kings. Louis read
the dying man's thought in his face.
"Be comforted, my dear Monsieur Mazarin," said he, with a
half-smile, sad beneath its irony; "the Mesdemoiselles de
Mancini will lose, in losing you, their most precious good;
but they shall none the less be the richest heiresses of
France; and since you have been kind enough to give me their
dowry" -- the cardinal was panting -- "I restore it to
them," continued Louis, drawing from his breast and holding
towards the cardinal's bed the parchment which contained the
donation that, during two days, had kept alive such tempests
in the mind of Mazarin.
"What did I tell you, my lord?" murmured in the alcove a
voice which passed away like a breath.
"Your majesty returns my donation!" cried Mazarin, so
disturbed by joy as to forget his character of a benefactor.
"Your majesty rejects the forty millions!" cried Anne of
Austria, so stupefied as to forget her character of an
afflicted wife, or queen.
"Yes, my lord cardinal; yes, madame," replied Louis XIV.,
tearing the parchment which Mazarin had not yet ventured to
clutch; "yes, I annihilate this deed, which despoiled a
whole family. The wealth acquired by his eminence in my
service is his own wealth and not mine."
"But, sire, does your majesty reflect," said Anne of
Austria, "that you have not ten thousand crowns in your
"Madame, I have just performed my first royal action, and I
hope it will worthily inaugurate my reign."
"Ah! sire, you are right!" cried Mazarin; "that is truly
great -- that is truly generous which you have just done."
And he looked, one after the other, at the pieces of the act
spread over his bed, to assure himself that it was the
original and not a copy that had been torn. At length his
eyes fell upon the fragment which bore his signature, and
recognizing it, he sunk back on his bolster in a swoon. Anne
of Austria, without strength to conceal her regret, raised
her hands and eyes toward heaven.
"Oh! sire," cried Mazarin, "may you be blessed! My God! May
you be beloved by all my family. Per Baccho! If ever any of
those belonging to me should cause your displeasure, sire,
only frown, and I will rise from my tomb!"
This pantalonnade did not produce all the effect Mazarin had
counted upon. Louis had already passed to considerations of
a higher nature, and as to Anne of Austria, unable to bear,
without abandoning herself to the anger she felt burning
within her, the magnanimity of her son and the hypocrisy of
the cardinal, she arose and left the chamber, heedless of
thus betraying the extent of her grief. Mazarin saw all
this, and fearing that Louis XIV. might repent his decision,
in order to draw attention another way he began to cry out,
as, at a later period, Scapin was to cry out, in that
sublime piece of pleasantry with which the morose and
grumbling Boileau dared to reproach Moliere. His cries,
however, by degrees, became fainter; and when Anne of
Austria left the apartment, they ceased altogether.
"Monsieur le cardinal," said the king, "have you any
recommendations to make to me?"
"Sire," replied Mazarin, "you are already wisdom itself,
prudence personified; of your generosity I shall not venture
to speak; that which you have just done exceeds all that the
most generous men of antiquity or of modern times have ever
The king received this praise coldly.
"So you confine yourself," said he, "to your thanks -- and
your experience, much more extensive than my wisdom, my
prudence, or my generosity, does not furnish you with a
single piece of friendly advice to guide my future."
Mazarin reflected for a moment. "You have just done much for
me, sire," said he, "that is, for my family."
"Say no more about that," said the king.
"Well!" continued Mazarin, "I shall give you something in
exchange for these forty millions you have refused so
Louis XIV. indicated by a movement that these flatteries
were displeasing to him. "I shall give you a piece of
advice," continued Mazarin; "yes, a piece of advice --
advice more precious than the forty millions."
"My lord cardinal!" interrupted Louis.
"Sire, listen to this advice."
"I am listening."
"Come nearer, sire, for I am weak! -- nearer, sire, nearer!"
The king bent over the dying man. "Sire," said Mazarin, in
so low a tone that the breath of his words arrived only like
a recommendation from the tomb in the attentive ears of the
king -- "Sire, never have a prime minister."
Louis drew back astonished. The advice was a confession -- a
treasure, in fact, was that sincere confession of Mazarin.
The legacy of the cardinal to the young king was composed of
six words only, but those six words, as Mazarin had said,
were worth forty millions. Louis remained for an instant
bewildered. As for Mazarin, he appeared only to have said
something quite natural. A little scratching was heard along
the curtains of the alcove. Mazarin understood: "Yes, yes!"
cried he warmly, "yes, sire, I recommend to you a wise man,
an honest man, and a clever man."
"Tell me his name, my lord."
"His name is yet almost unknown, sire; it is M. Colbert, my
attendant. Oh! try him," added Mazarin, in an earnest voice;
"all that he has predicted has come to pass, he has a safe
glance, he is never mistaken either in things or in men --
which is more surprising still. Sire, I owe you much, but I
think I acquit myself of all towards you in giving you M.
"So be it," said Louis, faintly, for, as Mazarin had said,
the name of Colbert was quite unknown to him, and he thought
the enthusiasm of the cardinal partook of the delirium of a
dying man. The cardinal sank back on his pillows.
"For the present, adieu, sire! adieu," murmured Mazarin. "I
am tired, and I have yet a rough journey to take before I
present myself to my new Master. Adieu, sire!"
The young king felt the tears rise to his eyes; he bent over
the dying man, already half a corpse, and then hastily
The First Appearance of Colbert
The whole night was passed in anguish, common to the dying
man and to the king: the dying man expected his deliverance,
the king awaited his liberty. Louis did not go to bed. An
hour after leaving the chamber of the cardinal, he learned
that the dying man, recovering a little strength, had
insisted upon being dressed, adorned and painted, and seeing
the ambassadors. Like Augustus, he no doubt considered the
world a great stage, and was desirous of playing out the
last act of the comedy. Anne of Austria reappeared no more
in the cardinal's apartments; she had nothing more to do
there. Propriety was the pretext for her absence. On his
part, the cardinal did not ask for her: the advice the queen
had given her son rankled in his heart.
Towards midnight, while still painted, Mazarin's mortal
agony came on. He had revised his will, and as this will was
the exact expression of his wishes, and as he feared that
some interested influence might take advantage of his
weakness to make him change something in it, he had given
orders to Colbert, who walked up and down the corridor which
led to the cardinal's bed-chamber, like the most vigilant of
sentinels. The king, shut up in his own apartment,
dispatched his nurse every hour to Mazarin's chamber, with
orders to bring him back the exact bulletin of the
cardinal's state. After having heard that Mazarin was
dressed, painted, and had seen the ambassadors, Louis heard
that the prayers for the dying were being read for the
cardinal. At one o'clock in the morning, Guenaud had
administered the last remedy. This was a relic of the old
customs of that fencing time, which was about to disappear
to give place to another time, to believe that death could
be kept off by some good secret thrust. Mazarin, after
having taken the remedy, respired freely for nearly ten
minutes. He immediately gave orders that the news should be
spread everywhere of a fortunate crisis. The king, on
learning this, felt as if a cold sweat were passing over his
brow; -- he had had a glimpse of the light of liberty;
slavery appeared to him more dark and less acceptable than
ever. But the bulletin which followed entirely changed the
face of things. Mazarin could no longer breathe at all, and
could scarcely follow the prayers which the cure of
Saint-Nicholas-des-Champs recited near him. The king resumed
his agitated walk about his chamber, and consulted, as he
walked, several papers drawn from a casket of which he alone
had the key. A third time the nurse returned. M. de Mazarin
had just uttered a joke, and had ordered his "Flora," by
Titian, to be revarnished. At length, towards two o'clock in
the morning, the king could no longer resist his weariness:
he had not slept for twenty-four hours. Sleep, so powerful
at his age, overcame him for about an hour. But he did not
go to bed for that hour, he slept in a fauteuil. About four
o'clock his nurse awoke him by entering the room.
"Well?" asked the king.
"Well, my dear sire," said the nurse, clasping her hands
with an air of commiseration. "Well, he is dead!"
The king arose at a bound, as if a steel spring had been
applied to his legs. "Dead!" cried he.
"Is it quite certain?"
"Has the news been made public?"
"Who told you, then, that the cardinal was dead?"
"And was he sure of what he said?"
"He came out of the chamber, and had held a glass for some
minutes before the cardinal's lips."
"Ah!" said the king. "And what is become of M. Colbert?"
"He has just left his eminence's chamber."
"Where is he?"
"He followed me."
"So that he is ---- "
"Sire, waiting at your door, till it shall be your good
pleasure to receive him."
Louis ran to the door, opened it himself, and perceived
Colbert standing waiting in the passage. The king started at
sight of this statue, all clothed in black. Colbert, bowing
with profound respect, advanced two steps towards his
majesty. Louis re-entered his chamber, making Colbert a sign
to follow. Colbert entered; Louis dismissed the nurse, who
closed the door as she went out. Colbert remained modestly
standing near that door.
"What do you come to announce to me, monsieur?" said Louis,
very much troubled at being thus surprised in his private
thoughts, which he could not completely conceal.
"That monsieur le cardinal has just expired, sire; and that
I bring your majesty his last adieu."
The king remained pensive for a minute; and during that
minute he looked attentively at Colbert; -- it was evident
that the cardinal's last words were in his mind. "Are you,
then, M. Colbert?" asked he.
"His faithful servant, as his eminence himself told me?"
"The depositary of many of his secrets?"
"Of all of them."
"The friends and servants of his eminence will be dear to
me, monsieur, and I shall take care that you are well placed
in my employment."
"You are a financier, monsieur, I believe?"
"And did monsieur le cardinal employ you in his
"I had that honor, sire."
"You never did anything personally for my household, I
"Pardon me, sire, it was I who had the honor of giving
monsieur le cardinal the idea of an economy which puts three
hundred thousand francs a year into your majesty's coffers."
"What economy was that, monsieur?" asked Louis XIV.
"Your majesty knows that the hundred Swiss have silver lace
on each side of their ribbons?"
"Well, sire, it was I who proposed that imitation silver
lace should be placed upon these ribbons, it could not be
detected, and a hundred thousand crowns serve to feed a
regiment during six months; and is the price of ten thousand
good muskets or the value of a vessel of ten guns, ready for
"That is true," said Louis XIV., considering more
attentively, "and, ma foi! that was a well placed economy;
besides, it was ridiculous for soldiers to wear the same
lace as noblemen."
"I am happy to be approved of by your majesty."
"Is that the only appointment you held about the cardinal?"
asked the king.
"It was I who was appointed to examine the accounts of the
"Ah!" said Louis, who was about to dismiss Colbert, but whom
that word stopped; "ah! it was you whom his eminence had
charged to control M. Fouquet, was it? And the result of the
"Is that there is a deficit, sire; but if your majesty will
permit me ---- "
"Speak, M. Colbert."
"I ought to give your majesty some explanations."
"Not at all, monsieur, it is you who have controlled these
accounts, give me the result."
"That is very easily done, sire; emptiness everywhere, money
"Beware, monsieur; you are roughly attacking the
administration of M. Fouquet, who, nevertheless, I have
heard say, is an able man."
Colbert colored, and then became pale, for he felt that from
that minute he entered upon a struggle with a man whose
power almost equaled the sway of him who had just died.
"Yes, sire, a very able man," repeated Colbert, bowing.
"But if M. Fouquet is an able man, and, in spite of that
ability, if money be wanting, whose fault is it?"
"I do not accuse, sire, I verify."
"That is well; make out your accounts, and present them to
me. There is a deficit, you say? A deficit may be temporary;
credit returns and funds are restored."
"Upon this year, perhaps, I understand that; but upon next
"Next year is eaten as bare as the current year."
"But the year after, then?"
"Will be just like next year."
"What do you tell me, Monsieur Colbert?"
"I say there are four years engaged beforehand.
"They must have a loan, then."
"They must have three, sire."
"I will create offices to make them resign, and the salary
of the posts shall be paid into the treasury."
"Impossible, sire, for there have already been creations
upon creations of offices, the provisions of which are given
in blank, so that the purchasers enjoy them without filling
them. That is why your majesty cannot make them resign.
Further, upon each agreement M. Fouquet has made an
abatement of a third, so that the people have been
plundered, without your majesty profiting by it. Let your
majesty set down clearly your thought, and tell me what you
wish me to explain."
"You are right, clearness is what you wish, is it not?"
"Yes, sire, clearness. God is God above all things, because
He made light."
"Well, for example," resumed Louis XIV., "if today, the
cardinal being dead, and I being king, suppose I wanted
"Your majesty would not have any."
"Oh! that is strange, monsieur! How! my superintendent would
not find me any money?"
Colbert shook his large head.
"How is that?" said the king, "is the income of the state so
much in debt that there is no longer any revenue?"
The king started. "Explain me that, M. Colbert," added he
with a frown. "If it be so, I will get together the
ordonnances to obtain a discharge from the holders, a
liquidation at a cheap rate."
"Impossible, for the ordonnances have been converted into
bills, which bills, for the convenience of return and
facility of transaction, are divided into so many parts that
the originals can no longer be recognized."
Louis, very much agitated, walked about, still frowning.
"But, if this is as you say, Monsieur Colbert," said he,
stopping all at once, "I shall be ruined before I begin to
"You are, in fact, sire," said the impassible caster-up of
"Well, but yet, monsieur, the money is somewhere?"
"Yes, sire, and even as a beginning, I bring your majesty a
note of funds which M. le Cardinal Mazarin was not willing
to set down in his testament, neither in any act whatever,
but which he confided to me."
"Yes, sire, with an injunction to remit it to your majesty."
"What! besides the forty millions of the testament?"
"M. de Mazarin had still other funds?"
"Why, that man was a gulf!" murmured the king. "M. de
Mazarin on one side, M. Fouquet on the other, -- more than a
hundred millions perhaps between them! No wonder my coffers
should be empty!" Colbert waited without stirring.
"And is the sum you bring me worth the trouble?" asked the