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List Of Contents | Contents of The Vicomte de Bragelonne, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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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.

"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 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
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 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
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."

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
light."

"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
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 frowned and said, "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.

"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."


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