“Say no more about that,” said the king.
“Well!” continued Mazarin, “I shall give you something in exchange for these forty millions you have refused so royally.”
Louis XIV. indicated by a movement that these flatteries were displeasing to him. “I shall give you a piece of advice,” continued Mazarin; “yes, a piece of advice — advice more precious than the forty millions.”
“My lord cardinal!” interrupted Louis.
“Sire, listen to this advice.”
“I am listening.”
“Come nearer, sire, for I am weak! — nearer, sire, nearer!”
The king bent over the dying man. “Sire,” said Mazarin, in so low a tone that the breath of his words arrived only like a recommendation from the tomb in the attentive ears of the king — “Sire, never have a prime minister.”
Louis drew back astonished. The advice was a confession — a treasure, in fact, was that sincere confession of Mazarin. The legacy of the cardinal to the young king was composed of six words only, but those six words, as Mazarin had said, were worth forty millions. Louis remained for an instant bewildered. As for Mazarin, he appeared only to have said something quite natural. A little scratching was heard along the curtains of the alcove. Mazarin understood: “Yes, yes!” cried he, warmly, “yes, sire, I recommend to you a wise man, an honest man, and a clever man.”
“Tell me his name, my lord.”
“His name is yet almost unknown, sire; it is M. Colbert, my attendant. Oh! try him,” added Mazarin, in an earnest voice; “all that he has predicted has come to pass; he has a safe glance, he is never mistaken either in things or in men — which is more surprising still. Sire, I owe you much, but I think I acquit myself of all towards you in giving you M. Colbert.”
“So be it,” said Louis, faintly, for, as Mazarin had said, the name of Colbert was quite unknown to him, and he thought the enthusiasm of the cardinal partook of the delirium of a dying man. The cardinal sank back on his pillows.
“For the present, adieu, sire! adieu,” murmured Mazarin. “I am tired, and I have yet a rough journey to take before I present myself to my new Master. Adieu, sire!”
The young king felt the tears rise to his eyes; he bent over the dying man, already half a corpse, and then hastily retired.
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.