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  • 1847
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drawing up an account, and the much more valuable one of complicating it.

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 design.

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?”

“To-morrow.”

“To-morrow morning?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

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 Colbert.

“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, angrily.

“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!”

“What then?”

“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 himself.

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 to die.”

“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 little wealth.”

“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 Colbert.

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 not known.”

“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 to-morrow.”

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 rich man.”

Colbert bowed and went into the ruelle.

“Introduce the Theatin father,” said Mazarin, closing the curtains.

CHAPTER 45

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 reprove.”

“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 consequences?”

“What consequences?”

“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 Vincennes?”

“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?”

“Play.”

“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.”

“Search diligently.”

“I have searched as well as possible.”

“Then I shall assist your memory.”

“Do.”

The Theatin coughed several times. “You have said nothing of avarice, another capital sin, nor of those millions,” said he.

“What millions, father?”

“Why, those you possess, my lord.”

“Father, that money is mine, why should I speak to you about that?”

“Because, see you, our opinions differ. You say that money is yours, whilst I — I believe it is rather the property of others.”

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?”

“Yes.”

“The abbeys of St. Clement, St. Arnould, and St. Vincent, all at Metz?”

“Yes.”

“You have the abbey of St. Denis, in France, a magnificent property?”

“Yes, father.”

“You have the abbey of Cluny, which is rich?”

“I have.”

“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 the south?”

“Yes, father.”

“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.”

“Eh!”

“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, good God?”

“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 Theatin.

“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 had entered.

“Oh, good God!” groaned the cardinal. “Come here, Colbert, I am very, very ill indeed, my friend.”

CHAPTER 46

The Donation

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, Colbert.”

“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 earned?”

“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.”

“Monsieur Colbert!”

“I thought your eminence did me the honor to ask my advice?”

“Yes, but you are ignorant of the principal details of the question.”

“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 money.”

“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.”

“How so?”

“That character, if I may venture to express myself thus, resembles that which my lord confessed just now to the Theatin.”

“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 immediately.”

“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?”

“Just so.”

“A young man who is anxious for my death —- “

“My lord!”

“To inherit, yes, Colbert, yes; he is anxious for my death in order to inherit. Triple fool that I am! I would prevent him!”

“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 will disdain.”

“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 dictate them.”

“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 accepting it!”

“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 thus conceived.

“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.

CHAPTER 47

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 the king.

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 happiest dispositions?”

“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 err, madame.”

“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 all-powerful.'”

“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 with anything!”

“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 ill.”

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 behind him.

“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. Mazarin is?”

“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 anything.”

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.”

Louis started.

“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 Fouquet.

“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 king.

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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 their subjects.”

The king remained silent between these two contrary opinions.

“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 conscience.”

“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 the same.”

“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.

CHAPTER 48

Agony

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 temporary complaint.

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 dupes.

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 her.

“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 demonstration.

“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 owe everything.”

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 coffers?”

“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 done.”

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 royally.”

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. Colbert.”

“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 retired.

CHAPTER 49

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.

“Alas! yes.”

“Is it quite certain?”

“Yes.”

“Official?”

“Yes.”

“Has the news been made public?”

“Not yet.”

“Who told you, then, that the cardinal was dead?”

“M. Colbert.”

“M. Colbert?”

“Yes.”

“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.

“Yes, sire.”

“His faithful servant, as his eminence himself told me?”

“Yes, sire.”

“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.”

Colbert bowed.

“You are a financier, monsieur, I believe?”

“Yes, sire.”

“And did monsieur le cardinal employ you in his stewardship?”

“I had that honor, sire.”

“You never did anything personally for my household, I believe?”

“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?”

“Doubtless.”

“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 sea.”

“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 superintendent, sire.”

“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 examination?”

“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 nowhere.”

“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.”

“No, sire.”

“Upon this year, perhaps, I understand that; but upon next year?”

“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 money?”

“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?”

“Yes, sire.”

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 reign.”

“You are, in fact, sire,” said the impassible caster-up of figures.

“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.”

“To you?”

“Yes, sire, with an injunction to remit it to your majesty.”

“What! besides the forty millions of the testament?”

“Yes, sire.”

“M. de Mazarin had still other funds?”

Colbert bowed.

“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 king.