“No, no, my lord.”
“I insist upon it, I tell you. Oh! give me a month, and for every one of those thirty days I will pay you a hundred thousand crowns.”
“My lord,” replied Guenaud, in a firm voice, “it is God who can give you days of grace, and not I. God only allows you a fortnight.”
The cardinal breathed a painful sigh, and sank back down upon his pillow, murmuring, “Thank you, Guenaud, thank you!”
The physician was about to depart; the dying man, raising himself up: “Silence!” said he, with flaming eyes, “silence!”
“My lord, I have known this secret two months; you see that I have kept it faithfully.”
“Go, Guenaud; I will take care of your fortunes; go, and tell Brienne to send me a clerk called M. Colbert. Go!”
Colbert was not far off. During the whole evening he had remained in one of the corridors, chatting with Bernouin and Brienne, and commenting, with the ordinary skill of people of court, upon the news which developed like air-bubbles upon the water, on the surface of each event. It is doubtless time to trace, in a few words, one of the most interesting portraits of the age, and to trace it with as much truth, perhaps, as contemporary painters have been able to do. Colbert was a man in whom the historian and the moralist have an equal right.
He was thirteen years older than Louis XIV., his future master. Of middle height, rather lean than otherwise, he had deep-set eyes, a mean appearance, his hair was coarse, black and thin, which, say the biographers of his time, made him take early to the skull-cap. A look of severity, of harshness even, a sort of stiffness, which, with inferiors, was pride, with superiors an affectation of superior virtue; a surly cast of countenance upon all occasions, even when looking at himself in a glass alone — such is the exterior of his personage. As to the moral part of his character, the depth of his talent for accounts, and his ingenuity in making sterility itself productive, were much boasted of. Colbert had formed the idea of forcing governors of frontier places to 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.