The Vicomte de Bragelonne
Alexandre Dumas, Pere
Part 8 out of 13
feed the garrisons without pay, with what they drew from contributions.
Such a valuable quality made Mazarin think of replacing Joubert, his
intendant, who had recently died, by M. Colbert, who had such skill in
nibbling down allowances. Colbert by degrees crept into court,
notwithstanding his lowly birth, for he was the son of a man who sold
wine as his father had done, but who afterwards sold cloth, and then silk
stuffs. Colbert, destined for trade, had been clerk in Lyons to a
merchant, whom he had quitted to come to Paris in the office of a Chatlet
procureur named Biterne. It was here he learned the art of 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
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?"
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 in 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
"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
"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 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 to
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
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
"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
"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 a 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,
"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.
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 that not 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_
(with a grave over the first e), a sinner, and _pecheur_ (with an accent
circumflex over the first e), a fisherman. It is in very bad taste. –
"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 an 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
"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 arquebusades, 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?"
"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
"The fact is," said the Theatin, "that the generals we have had have not
"Oh!" cried Mazarin, "there was Monsieur le Prince. I have tormented him
"He is not much to be pitied: he has acquired sufficient glory, and
"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
"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
"It has been printed that, to gain that object, I had sold Cambria to the
"You have, perhaps, yourself written pamphlets without severely
"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 he.
"What millions, father?"
"Why, those you possess, my lord."
"Father, that money is mine, why should I speak to you about that?"
"Because, you see, 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 had gained much wealth - in the service of
"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
"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, magnificent property?"
"You have the abbey of Cluny, which is rich?"
"That of St. Medard at Soissons, with a revenue of one hundred thousand
"I cannot deny it."
"That of St. Victor, at Marseilles, - one of the best in the south?"
"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 1644, 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 _ordonances_?"
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."
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 views, 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
"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 I not 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
"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
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 question."
"I am ignorant of nothing, my lord; during ten years, all the columns of
figures which are found in France, have passed into 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
"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
"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 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?"
"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 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
"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
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 much compassion. Colbert was, without
doubt, very much affected, for he quitted the chamber, calling Bernouin
to attend to 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 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 performance, 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
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 a 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 palace 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
Louis turned round sharply. The voice which had pronounced these words
was that of Anne of Austria. The king started, and advanced towards
her. "I hope," said he, "you 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
"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
"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
"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
finances, Fouquet, appeared before his nominal master. It was he who
made the noise in the ante-chamber, it was his horse 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
"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
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
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 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?"
"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
"The king shall have them whenever he wishes," said the superintendent of
"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
"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
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 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 everyone. 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
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 he was on the wrong track.
"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
"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 I have struggled, that you will not have, I hope, that distress to
"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
"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
"I think so," said 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
XIV. 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 had 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
"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,
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 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
"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 towards 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
"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
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
"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 retired.
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 giver 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 an exact bulletin of the
cardinal's state. After having heard that Mazarin was dressed, painted,
and had seen the ambassadors, Louis herd 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 he was 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
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
"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 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?"
"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
"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 that 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
"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
"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."
The king started. "Explain me that, M. Colbert," he said.
"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
"Well, for example," resumed Louis XIV., "if to-day, 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
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 frowned and said, "If it be so, I will get together the
_ordonnances_ to obtain a discharge from the holders, a liquidation at a
"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
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."
"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
"And is the sum you bring me worth the trouble?" asked the king.
"Yes, sire, it is a round sum."
"Amounting to how much?"
"To thirteen millions of livres, sire."
"Thirteen millions!" cried Louis, trembling with joy; "do you say
thirteen millions, Monsieur Colbert?"
"I said thirteen millions, yes, your majesty."
"Of which everybody is ignorant?"
"Of which everybody is ignorant."
"Which are in your hands?"
"In my hands, yes, sire."
"And which I can have?"
"Within two hours, sire."
"But where are they, then?"
"In the cellar of a house which the cardinal possessed in the city, and
which he was so kind as to leave me by a particular clause of his will."
"You are acquainted with the cardinal's will, then?"
"I have a duplicate of it, signed by his hand."
"Yes, sire, and here it is." Colbert drew the deed quietly from his
pocket, and showed it to the king. The king read the article relative to
the donation of the house.
"But," said he, "there is no question here but of the house; there is
nothing said of the money."
"Your pardon, sire, it is in my conscience."
"And Monsieur Mazarin has intrusted it to you?"
"Why not, sire?"
"He! a man mistrustful of everybody?"
"He was not so of me, sire, as your majesty may perceive."
Louis fixed his eyes with admiration upon that vulgar but expressive
face. "You are an honest man, M. Colbert," said the king.
"That is not a virtue, it is a duty," replied Colbert, coolly.
"But," added Louis, "does not the money belong to the family?"
"If this money belonged to the family it would be disposed of in the
testament, as the rest of the fortune is. If this money belonged to the
family, I, who drew up the deed of donation in favor of your majesty,
should have added the sum of thirteen millions to that of forty millions
which was offered to you."
"How!" exclaimed Louis XIV., "was it you who drew up the deed of
"And yet the cardinal was attached to you?" added the king, ingenuously.
"I had assured his eminence you would by no means accept the gift," said
Colbert, in that same quiet manner we have described, and which, even in
the common habits of life, had something solemn in it.
Louis passed his hand over his brow: "Oh! how young I am," murmured he,
"to have command of men."
Colbert waited the end of this monologue. He saw Louis raise his head.
"At what hour shall I send the money to your majesty?" asked he.
"To-night, at eleven o'clock; I desire that no one may know that I
possess this money."
Colbert made no more reply than if the thing had not been said to him.
"Is the amount in ingots, or coined gold?"
"In coined gold, sire."
"That is well."
"Where shall I send it?"
"To the Louvre. Thank you, M. Colbert."
Colbert bowed and retired. "Thirteen millions!" exclaimed Louis, as soon
as he was alone. "This must be a dream!" Then he allowed his head to
sink between his hands, as if he were really asleep. But, at the end of
a moment, he arose, and opening the window violently, he bathed his
burning brow in the keen morning air, which brought to his senses the
scent of the trees, and the perfume of the flowers. A splendid dawn was
gilding the horizon, and the first rays of the sun bathed in flame the
young king's brow. "This is the dawn of my reign," murmured Louis XIV.
"It's a presage sent by the Almighty."
The First Day of the Royalty of Louis XIV.
In the morning, the news of the death of the cardinal was spread through
the castle, and thence speedily reached the city. The ministers Fouquet,
Lyonne, and Letellier entered _la salle des seances_, to hold a council.
The king sent for them immediately. "Messieurs," said he," as long as
monsieur le cardinal lived, I allowed him to govern my affairs; but now I
mean to govern them myself. You will give me your advice when I ask it.
You may go."
The ministers looked at each other with surprise. If they concealed a
smile it was with a great effort, for they knew that the prince, brought
up in absolute ignorance of business, by this took upon himself a burden
much too heavy for his strength. Fouquet took leave of his colleagues
upon the stairs, saying: - "Messieurs! there will be so much the less
labor for us."
And he gayly climbed into his carriage. The others, a little uneasy at the
turn things had taken, went back to Paris together. Towards ten o'clock
the king repaired to the apartment of his mother, with whom he had a long
and private conversation. After dinner, he got into his carriage, and
went straight to the Louvre. There he received much company, and took a
degree of pleasure in remarking the hesitation of each, and the curiosity
of all. Towards evening he ordered the doors of the Louvre to be closed,
with the exception of only one, which opened on the quay. He placed on
duty at this point two hundred Swiss, who did not speak a word of French,
with orders to admit all who carried packages, but no others; and by no
means to allow any one to go out. At eleven o'clock precisely, he heard
the rolling of a heavy carriage under the arch, then of another, then of
a third; after which the gate grated upon its hinges to be closed. Soon
after, somebody scratched with his nail at the door of the cabinet. The
king opened it himself, and beheld Colbert, whose first word was this: -
"The money is in your majesty's cellar."
The king then descended and went himself to see the barrels of specie, in
gold and silver, which, under the direction of Colbert, four men had just
rolled into a cellar of which the king had given Colbert the key in the
morning. This review completed, Louis returned to his apartments,
followed by Colbert, who had not apparently warmed with one ray of
"Monsieur," said the king, "what do you wish that I should give you, as a
recompense for this devotedness and probity?"
"Absolutely nothing, sire."
"How! nothing? Not even an opportunity of serving me?"
"If your majesty were not to furnish me with that opportunity, I should
not the less serve you. It is impossible for me not to be the best
servant of the king."
"You shall be intendant of the finances, M. Colbert."
"But there is already a superintendent, sire."
"I know that."
"Sire, the superintendent of the finances is the most powerful man in the
"Ah!" cried Louis, coloring, "do you think so?"
"He will crush me in a week, sire. Your majesty gives me a _controle_
for which strength is indispensable. An intendant under a
superintendent, - that is inferiority."
"You want support - you do not reckon upon me?"
"I had the honor of telling your majesty, that during the lifetime of M.
de Mazarin, M. Fouquet was the second man in the kingdom; now M. de
Mazarin is dead, M. Fouquet is become the first."
"Monsieur, I agree to what you told me of all things up to to-day; but to-
morrow, please to remember, I shall no longer suffer it."
"Then I shall be of no use to your majesty?"
"You are already, since you fear to compromise yourself in serving me."
"I only fear to be placed so that I cannot serve your majesty."
"What do you wish, then?"
"I wish your majesty to allow me assistance in the labors of the office
"That post would lose its value."
"It would gain in security."
"Choose your colleagues."
"Messieurs Breteuil, Marin, Hervart."
"To-morrow the _ordonnance_ shall appear."
"Sire, I thank you."
"Is that all you ask?"
"No, sire, one thing more."
"What is that?"
"Allow me to compose a chamber of justice."
"What would this chamber of justice do?"
"Try the farmers-general and contractors, who, during ten years, have
been robbing the state."
"Well, but what would you do with them?"
"Hang two or three, and that would make the rest disgorge."
"I cannot commence my reign with executions, Monsieur Colbert."
"On the contrary, sire, you had better, in order not to have to end with
The king made no reply. "Does your majesty consent?" said Colbert.
"I will reflect upon it, monsieur."
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