“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 impertinence?”
“Oh! my lord, do not be angry with me! It is certainly not your eminence’s word I place in doubt, God forbid!”
“It is the carefulness of your chancery, my lord. What is a letter? A rag. May not a rag be forgotten? And look, my lord, look if I was not right. Your clerks have forgotten the rag; the letter is not in the packet.”
“You are an insolent fellow, and you have not looked,” cried Mazarin, very angrily; “begone and wait my pleasure.” Whilst saying these words, with perfectly Italian subtlety he snatched the packet from the hands of Colbert, and re-entered his apartments.
But this anger could not last so long as 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 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.”